Translated by Janie Respitz
The chronicles of Zhetl are not simply a book.
It is a memorial tablet on the grave of three thousand bodies from a productive Jewish community, an endeavour from a total of 450 years of Jewish life in a Jewish town (Shtetl) in White Russia (Belarus).
Not Your Average Shtetl
Zhetl was not your average town, it was enterprising, lively and progressive. It was a town with higher religious, national and social force, and a small base for growing Zionism and militant socialism.
Its businessmen were active, devoted and prominent.
Its institutions possessed a lot of initiative and zest.
The Jews were proud fighters and pioneers of untraversed paths.
They were among the pioneers to fulfill the good deed to settle in the Land of Israel in the first half of the 19th century.
They were among the first immigrants to America, in search for bread and freedom in the second half of the 19th century.
They were among the daring partisans who sowed revenge and death on the Nazi fascists in the 40s of this century.
The orthodox wing put forth religious authority and clever teachings.
The national wing excelled with progressive enlightened Jews, passionate Zionists and pugnacious pioneers.
The socialist group generated flaming revolutionaries who preached Marxism and rebelled against the Czarist regime.
Zhetl Takes Pride in her Sons
Two of her sons were the greatest rabbinic authorities in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries: The Preacher of Dubne, Rabbi Yakov Krantz of blessed memory, and the Chefetz Chaim (Desire of Life), Rabbi Yisroel Meir HaCohen, of blessed memory. (Translator's note: Many great Jewish scholars were known by the titles of their books).
Another son of Zhetl was the well known Hebrew writer A. Ben Avigdor.
The great Zionist dreamer and fighter: Yehoshua Barzilay Eyznshtat, of blessed memory.
For many years the chair of Chief Rabbi was held by Rabbi Zalman Sarartzky, a great rabbinic authority in Poland, now in Israel.
In the chronicle we take into account many businessmen on local and nationallevels, who illuminated the eastern wall of communal life in Zhetl.
This was Zhetl. A town which excelled in the collective and the individual.
Could we allow all of this to be forgotten?
Therefore we are publishing this chronicle. Did we achieve our goal?
We believe we did, despite the many difficulties we stumbled upon.
Perhaps there are materials about the history of the Jews from Zhetl and vicinity in Soviet Russia and Poland. However, here in Israel there is very little, except for a few notices in the Hebrew press, a few court documents and scant notices in Polish and Russian encyclopaedias. We have not found substantive material. All of this is not enough to restore the past of the Jews of Zhetl.
Zhetl excelled with a lively communal life, but only a small portion of these activities were recorded. We hoped to get most of our information from memoirs. It turns out the survivors from Zhetl can be divided in two groups: those who have already forgot a little and those who do not remember because they were too young. The consequence therefore is not enough attention has been payed to: certain Zhetl institutions and issues, customs and lifestyle, which should have been illuminated.
The Nature of This Chronicle
The Zhetl Chronicle is a collective creation by 100 authors who were unable to collaborate on the content of their work, even if they wanted to. Therefore this chronicle is not free of repetition, even thought the editor was strict, and removed a lot with his pen, of course with compassion.
It was not easy for us to decide to give almost all people from Zhetl the opportunity to tell about themselves and the town in their own language and style. The result therefore, is that a few works are a bit drawn out, but with great simplicity and even more authenticity.
We really wanted this chronicle to appear in the language of the record books of the Zhetl societies: the Free Loan Society and the Burial Society, in the language of the State of Israel, in the language of our children, the Sabras (born in Israel). Finally, our chronicle is not intended for those who know and remember Zhetl, rather for our children who know very little about it.
After long deliberation we decided to publish this chronicle almost exclusively in Yiddish, in the daily language of Zhetl and the language which is understood by everyone from Zhetl in all countries all over the world.
It was not easy to arrive at an agreement on spelling from among the many writers and various Yiddish spellings. In order to solve this we turned, early in this project to instructions from the following friends: Y. Paner and S. Pines to whom we are very grateful. Thanks to their instructions we published in a uniform spelling.
The Zhetl Chronicle A Collective Work
The Zhetl Chronicle is a collective work of initiators, memoirists, collectors of material, editors and fund raisers. Thanks to their effort and tight collaboration we were able to publish this chronicle in this format and with this content.
Permit us here to thank all the pioneers of this chronicle, especially the tireless initiators, our friends Dr. Avraham Alpert (Ramat Gan) and Mordkhai Dunitz (The United States), who took the first steps in the realization of this chronicle and with great devotion collected material in Israel and the United States.
Congratulations to our many friends in Israel, the United States, Argentina and Canada who wrote and collected memoirs.
Congratulations to our friends who searched for documents and newspaper notices, compiled a list of the martyrs, identified photographs and collected funds.
Congratulations to our fellow townspeople in America, especially our friend Efraim Pasaf (New York), whose efforts resulted in the book being printed on extraordinarily good paper.
Our deepest appreciation to all!
Thanks to them, the Zhetl Chronicle is lying in front of me!
By Borukh Kaplinsky
Translated by Janie Respitz
Do you remember Zhetl?
In a fog? Like in a dream?
It's no surprise. You left Zhetl 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago. But now, wherever you are, in Israel or America, in Europe or Africa, I'm sure you want, occasionally, even for a short time, to walk down its streets, see the houses and people, and glance at their faces.
So come. Take this book. Turn the pages and look at the pictures. What stories do they tell?
Here stands Zhetl, here are the lanes and streets, the people and houses. They are running, hustling and bustling.
They do not even know themselves. It is before 1939 and of course, before the sorrowful 1942. Look further. Remember the warm houses and complete families. What a pleasure!
Everything becomes so warm and homey, and for a moment it seems nothing has happened.
Zhetl is still alive!
Everyone is still alive! All the fathers, mothers, all the women and children, all the brothers and sisters.
Although far, far from here…
|You have arrived from the outside world in Zhetl and are greeted by Novoredek Street. This was the gate to the city. A mixed street where both Christians and Jews lived. Leybe Kaplinsky's house stood at the entrance of town, nicely fenced and surrounded by white birch trees. The neighbouring houses were thatched roofed Christian houses. Their hats and waistcoats remind us of Zhetl 30 -35 years ago.||
|We are nearing the market place.
The following live on the right side: Velvl Alpert, Yoyne Leyb Khlebnik, Artchik Efraim Hirshl's and on the other side of the street Yisakhar Berman.
The First World War is raging in the outside world, but all is quiet and calm in Zhetl. Germans march through the streets and farmers from the region rush to church to pray.
||The marketplace is the heart of the town. It is quadrilateral and wide. Nine streets lead from town to the marketplace. Here you will find the pharmacy and the church, the shops and hotels. Only Jews live here. Christians come here to pray to God and do business with Jews. Here is a bird's eye view of the Zhetl marketplace. You can see the church and the shops, the roofs and chimneys of the Jewish houses and in the middle of the marketplace, a few tables with merchandise and lots of movement.|
||The marketplace from north- west. When you come from Novolienie you are standing at this part of the marketplace. Wagons are standing behind the church and big and small are posing for the camera, in an attempt to perpetuate their faces.|
||Majestically standing out from the marketplace are Avrom Moishe's porch, Hendl's fence, Khaim Koyfman's two story house and nearby, military trucks, a few wagons and many Germans. Is this perhaps 1915 or 1917?|
||Here is the other end of the marketplace. Two streets lead out from here: the Priest's Street and Estate Street. Here you can find the pharmacy and Binyomin Krigel's brick house with its characteristic four steps to the porch and the attic with two windows. The revolutionary Dovid Nadlshteyn lived in the attic. In 1905 Zhetl's youth would gather there for secret meetings where they would read the works of Karl Marx and plan on how to get rid of Czar Nikolai. (Nicholas II).|
|A stampede. What happened? The bus Novolienie Zhetl has arrived. Everyone runs to see. Perhaps an acquaintance has arrived?||
|It is apparently Friday. A small market. Wagons wait, farmers have come to buy and they look upon the large signs: pharmacy, warehouse etc…||
|The eastern part of the marketplace where the finest houses in Zhetl are situated. The brick houses stand like a line of soldiers with sloping roofs and closed porches. The following live here: Shmuel Shvedsky's family, Berl Rabinovitch (previously Feyvl from Skvid), Solomiyansky and the three Dvoretzky families. From the idleness we can assume this was not a Sunday, Tuesday and also not Friday.||
|We are in the Synagogue courtyard. Here are the old and the middle Houses of Study. The inscription of the middle House of Study reads: Year - but the year is illegible. There are one or two notices on the door. Where are the rest? Maybe there is no news in Zhetl. The old cemetery. This is where our great grandfather's grandfathers are buried. The Jewish community in Zhetl began in this area.||
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