Translated by Judy Montel
Who can count and who number the communal activists of Zhetl, who faithfully dealt with the needs of the community, became tired, went hungry, worked and didn't stop, from morning until night, and all of this for no reward.
Among them were activists in philanthropic organizations in the traditional fashion, and there were a young group of public servants in political and public organizations. Both groups dedicated all of their strength and souls to ease the suffering of their fellows and to bring progress to the life of the town.
In the cover page of this section two salient community activists of Zhetl: Reb Hertz Leib Kaplinski, a man of noble virtues, learned in Torah, a grandfather who knew how to do community work alongside his sons and grandsons, and Reb Menachem Vernikovski, who both preached and fulfilled Zionism, active in the Talmud Torah school and friend of the Socialist Zionists.
And how could we not mention Reb Yisrael Ozer Brishenski, from the younger generation. Worn and thin, desperately poor in his personal life, he was rich in activity and wealthy in projects for the good of the many. He risked his life but stood tall to protect the town in times of trouble and hardship. Who can be compared to him? Who is his equal?
May we be forgiven for not succeeding in putting on paper the glorious names and magnificent deeds of ALL of the activists of Zhetl. May our efforts bear witness that we greatly desired to memorialized their holy characters
We have also unfurled a wide canvas of social characters who were simple, honest, modest, unambitious, but how wonderful were their figures! In memory of all of these, may we say: may their names be amplified and sanctified.
by Moishe Man (Buenos Aires)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Reb Avrom Patzovsky was born in Zhetl in 1835. Already at a young age he was known as a very gifted and intelligent young man. He knew Russian which in those years was rare for a Jewish boy from a small provincial town. He also had great success in business but he was never a rich man. In addition he was very generous and with an open hand supported the needy.
I will recount a few episodes which will describe the personality of the The Zhetl Starosta (town elder, an official civic position) as we used to call him.
It was 1905 at the height of the revolution. One morning they arrested a Jewish revolutionary. The same day, one of the town's Jews died. The revolutionaries decided to inform the Russian authorities that an innocent man was arrested, as the deceased was the one who committed the offense against the Russian government…They proposed they return the arrested man to Zhetl and the Starosta, Reb Avrom Patzovsky confirmed this was the truth. The organizer of the plan was Mayrim Epshteyn, or as we called him Mayrim Mashkes.
When they came to Avrom Patzovsky with the plan he trembled with fear. If the Russian authorities learned God forbid we tried fooling them, he would be sent to a forced labour camp in Siberia. He did not give an answer right away as he wanted to examine the possibility of realizing this plan.
He went to the regional police superintendent. They greeted each other warmly and had a long discussion until the police brought the arrested revolutionary. When Reb Avrom Patzovsky saw him he said he was a good friend and was innocent…it was the deceased that was involved in revolutionary work.
Reb Avrom Patzovsky prevailed in having this man immediately freed. When he got home he called Mayrin Epshteyn over, gave him 100 ruble and asked him to escort the revolutionary out of town.
He did many favours for the Jews of Zhetl as the Starosta, especially when it came to military conscription. Thanks to him many youngsters were exempt from serving the Czarist regime.
I remember an episode involving my grandfather. He had a relative named Mania Mnuskin. In 1905 she was active in the revolutionary movement. Thanks to my grandfather she escaped arrest because he sent her and her fiancÚ to Germany.
One day in Berlin she went to the market to buy food, carrying a linen handbag. She was noticed by a policeman who suspected her of carrying a bomb in her bag. When he asked her what was in the bag she did not want to answer so he brought her to the police station.
With great caution experts opened her bag and to their great disappointment found pumpkin seeds. She was accused of deceiving the German police and they sent her out of the country. She notified my grandfather in a telegram and asked for his help. He sent her money and told her to go to Switzerland.
Just before the First World War my grandfather was very old and had difficulties carrying out the tasks of the Starosta. He recruited my brother Motl to help him with his work.
Before the Germans entered Zhetl my grandfather burned a lot of papers except for the most important which he gave to Motl.
On the 15th day of Sivan in 1918 my grandfather died at the age of 83.
First row: Khaim Hershl Man, Moishe Man
Second row: Reb Avrom Patzovsky, Malke Patzovsky, Soreh Man
Third row: Dien Man, Etl Man, Motl Man, Dvoyreh Man
by Yudis Ostrovsky (Tel Aviv)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Reb Hertz Leyb Kaplinsky was born in the village Dubrovke near Zhetl in 1860. His parents were Yisroel Hillel and Rokhl Leah.
When remembering Zhetl, the persona of Hersh Leyb Kaplinsky emerges. I don't think there was one institution in Zhetl he was not involved with. Unfortunately I cannot provide exact details of his activity because I left Zhetl in 1915. I returned in 1922 and left again in 1923.
In 1928 I visited Zhetl for the last time. By this time there was a Tarbut School. The entire burden of the school was carried by Reb Hertz Leyb of blessed memory.
When we say the most important part of a person is kindness, Reb Hertz Leyb of blessed memory is a true example. He sacrificed everything for the community at large with his whole being and he and his family suffered from his communal activities.
Knowing him as a man of high morals, we must say, he counted his family as a part of him and included them in his communal work.
In his old age when he was physically weak he would draw water from the well to make it easier for their servant. His daughter would reprimand him saying: why is the servant different from you, that you can do this and not her? He demanded the Christian servant eat with everyone at the table and not alone in the kitchen as was common.
We can of course find in Reb Hertz Leyb's personality even kinder, gentler characteristics but everyone remembers the features that are close to his own heart.
Reb Shmuel Kustin of blessed memory
Reb Shmuel Kustin was born in Deretchin in 1890 to Eliyahu and Khane Kustin. In his youth he studied at the Yeshivas in Mir and Volozhin. In 1914 he withdrew to Russia. In 1919 he returned to Poland and settled in Zhetl. He opened a shoe business and in 1921 was elected head of the Jewish communal council. He held this position until the first slaughter in 1942.
As head of the Jewish communal council he excelled with tact and patience and was considered a peacemaker. In his communal work he often faced personal insults but he always reacted calmly and with dignity.
As an educated Jew he would read the Ein Yakov to the craftsmen every Friday evening in the new House of Study. He was also sympathetic to Zionism, supporting the funds and the Tarbut School.
Besides his communal activity he was active in the merchant union, the Popular Bank, and the Interest Free Loan Society. He played a leading role in all the institutions and worried about the poor and needy Jews. Although he was closer to orthodox Judaism, he found a common language with all the groups in Zhetl gaining respect from all.
As chairman of the Judenrat he did a lot to ease the destitution in the ghetto. He was killed with all the Zhetl martyrs in the first slaughter in 1942.
Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky of blessed memory
Reb Menakhem Vernilovsky was born in Slonim in 1862 to Avrom Yosef and Khane Feygl Vernikovsky. In his youth he joined the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) and later became a member of Ahad Ha'am's B'nei Moshe, and later, a Herzlian Zionist. He was a great Talmudic scholar as well as an enlightener, orthodox yet progressive.
After he married Soreh Dvoyre Zeltzer he move to Zhetl and opened a shoe business and a drug store.
In 1905 the Zhetl shoemakers, fearing competition from his shoe business, shot into his house with the intention of frightening him to ruin his business. Fortunately there were no casualties.
A second attack on his house was carried out by Zhetl revolutionaries. They surrounded his house, forced themselves in and split his head. The doctor who came to help was not allowed in. This attack was a revenge against his extensive Zionist activity.
Before the First World War all the Zionist meetings took place in his cellar. He was the permanent chairman of all Zionist youth meetings.
To begin with, all his children immigrated to the Land of Israel, and then in 1925 he emigrated as well. By then he was sick and exhausted but did not turn down any communal work. He would go to the old people's home and synagogue of the artisan's centre and give lessons in Talmud.
On the 20th day of Elul in 1930, he died in Tel Aviv.
by Mordecai Dunetz (Flint, Michigan America)
Translated by Janie Respitz
Reb Zhame was one of the most colourful characters in Zhetl. He was called Zhame the postman because for years he administered the mail in Zhetl.
Everyone, old and young knew him. There was not one institution in Zhetl where he did not help out.
A. Ivenitsky wrote about him in the YEKAPO Book: Zhame was a tall Jew, well built with a greyish black beard and smiling, lively black eyes which looked out from under thick eyebrows. He was among the first Hovevei Zion and then later the first member of Mizrachi in Zhetl. He was a true passionate fanatical supporter of Mizrachi and settlement in Eretz Yisrael. He grasped all favourable news about Eretz Yisrael and dispersed it among opponents as well as those who were indifferent. By nature he was a truly good, simple man and a passionately devoted Jew.
My grandmother Soreh Rokhl of blessed memory, had a small grocery store for many years. She worked from morning until late in the evening. She supported my grandfather Reb Zhame he was rarely home as he was busy with communal matters. After working ten years at the Zhetl post office they dismissed him. He took this well as he now saw the opportunity to devote all his time to communal activity. In a letter to his son Yudl in America he wrote the following from Jerusalem:
I assume you remember I worked at the post office in Zhetl for more than ten years. When the time came and Rabbi Avrom Namiyat of blessed memory, told me the post office no longer needed a manager, and he would give me three months to find another job, I told your mother, may she live long, she cried, but I took the money, tossed it into the charity box of Reb Meir Ba'al Nes and said: This is all for the good. As you can see, the Almighty took pity on us and we have survived over 40 years.
If I would have remained in Zhetl or Novoliyenie at the post office, like your mother may she live long wanted, I would not have come to Eretz Yisrael forty years ago for approximately ten months and I would not have been able to do all I have for the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. I also could not have been a well respected man in Zhetl for over twenty years and do what I did for the town in general and specifically for the Houses of Study. I also would not be in Jerusalem today, may the holy city be built and maintained soon in our day, Amen.
I wish my children, grandchildren and all of our good friends will live out their hundred and twenty years as I have lived until today. Let us hope to God that He will provide for us until our last days, as our sages said: Whoever lives well will be provided for. Every man should know that all that happens to him is God's will.
His devotion to the welfare of others went as far as self sacrifice. He would leave his wife and children for months on end to collect money for Yeshivas. He was a regular visitor to Reb Shmuel Mohilever in Bialystok, the chief rabbi in Moscow, Dr. Chlenov and others. Reb Zhame was a close friend of the founder of Mizrachi, Rabbi Yitzkhak Raynes from Lida.
Seventy years ago he decided to leave Zhetl for Eretz Yisrael. After wandering for many months by foot he arrived in Odessa where he boarded a ship. While in Odessa he saw Jews desecrating the Sabbath in public. He would stop young people in the street and strongly reprimand them. They would insult him but Reb Zhame took it all in with love and hoped perhaps they would listen.
After a ten month visit in Eretz Yisrael he returned to exile in order to devote his time and energy to building a national home. He infected the youth with his fanatic love and enthusiasm for Eretz Yisrael. He considered collecting money for the Jewish National Fund as holy work.
I was told that once Reb Zhame came to a meeting at the Yiddish school. All he needed to see was a Jewish map of Palestine Reb Zhame created a scandal as to why they used a non Jewish name for our land.
They took the map off the wall and promised they would change the name to Eretz Yisrael.
Avrom Ivenitsky, of blessed memory, recounted the following episode: the opponents would often provoke Zhame with unfavourable news about Eretz Yisrael. However, Zhame would take the opportunity to take revenge in his own way.
Once, an opponent, the Zhetl businessman Dovid Shaykes approached him with a venomous smile and announced that Delfiner liquidated his silk factory in Eretz Yisrael. Zhame looked at him bitterly and turned away.
One morning Dovid Shaykes was awakened by a loud noise on his window. Neither dead nor alive he went to the window and ran into a laughing radiant Zhame who shouted in his face:
-Ha! Dudkeh, I wish you apoplexy in your bones! What do you say now?Dovid stood there confused.
-What?!Skeptics and progressive elements in Zhetl, who in those years were very involved in the revolutionary movement often made fun of Reb Zhame's arguments in favour of a national home in Eretz Yisrael. However they loved to have heated discussions with him and were amazed by his stubbornness and passion. Reb Zhame used all his strength to spread the ideas of Hibat Zion (Love of Zion) and later Mizrachi (Religious Zionist) movement. He expressed his love of Hebrew in a letter to his son's children in America:
-What?! You don't know?! Look how he's pretending!
-What is it? Talk!!!
-Delfiner reopened his silk factory!
-Phooey on you, you crazy Jew! said Dovid as he spit and returned to bed wishing Zhame bad dreams
I ask my grandchildren to write me greetings in any language they can. If in Hebrew, of course that is good, and if in jargon (Yiddish), also good. Ask your parents to teach you Hebrew. I am sure there are teachers and courses in New York where you can learn Hebrew. The Almighty will also help and with God's will, when you get older, you will see and feel how good it is to know Hebrew. I am sure that if God forbid you will not learn Hebrew you will regret you did not learn it as children. I hope you will do what I write to you (October 31, 1927).According to Jews in Zhetl, Reb Zhame was considered to be not only a Zionist activist but also a scholar and a good leader of prayers. His heartfelt praying was renowned in Zhetl. He united the enlightened and orthodox within himself. His life's task was to observe the 613 mitzvot (good deeds) and his love of Jewish customs reached a level of fanatic perfection. Reprimanding strangers for not living according to Jewish law was for him a holy mission, especially when it involved his own family.
When his son Yudl, in America wrote to him with pride about his son's Bar Mitzvah, Reb Zhame was not impressed and replied to him with fatherly anger:
what you wrote, that you invited friends on October 28th to celebrate your son's Bar Mitzvah is only for American patriots the 28th of October is not the date of your son's Bar Mitzvah. You yourself wrote that on the Saturday when your son became a Bar Mitzvah he was called up to the Torah, and he made a speech as he properly should. After prayers, they came to your home to make Kiddush (the blessing on the wine). You also said a few words and everyone celebrated. If you would have, on that same Sabbath made a festive third Sabbath meal and after Havdalah (the ceremony ending Sabbath and bringing in the new week) an evening meal marking the end of the Sabbath with music, and it would have cost you a hundred times more than what you did on October 28th, your mother, may she live long and I and all of our friends would be so happy for you as this is what a Mitzvah Feast is all about. You should not even look at the fact if you can or cannot afford a Mitzvah Feast. The Almighty gives many times over.Reb Zhame was never satisfied with short letters. His letters were always filled with quotes from the Torah, lessons in morality, longing for Zion and filled with chronicles of daily life in Zhetl.
If you wanted to make a party for good friends, you could have invited them for Chanukah which is a national holiday and we recited Hallel during prayers, but not the 28th of October!!!(1925).
At age seventy he still wrote letters with a beautiful handwriting. His letters were like pearls, clear and distinct as if he was writing an important document. He never forgot to attach a stamp from the Jewish National Fund on the top of the page and filled the paper until the very last line. The family therefore preserved Reb Zhame's letters and kept them for many years as a family treasure.
Communal life in Zhetl was an integral part of him and it is no surprise this was always expressed in his letters.
Here is an excerpt from a letter Reb Zhame wrote to his son when he was in Scotland on his way to America.
you must keep your promise that you will live as you did at home and obey everything I write to you. For that reason I am writing to you now, so that you will, for the sake of God, observe the Sabbath, pray and the correct time when everyone prays, and do everything in a Jewish manner, and God give you health and luck in all you do.Reb Moishe Novogrudsky from Siratavchine died and they took 300 ruble from his inheritors for burial, one hundred ruble for the burial society, one hundred ruble for the Talmud Torah and one hundred ruble for a medical clinic.
I will send you, God willing, a book of Zionist songs with musical note, if you need. I will send the Haynt newspaper by mail. I assume they read Haynt in Glasgow as they do in Russia.
When they went to dig the grave, Reb Ber Dvoretsky from Khadzielan and a few others, asked the young guys not to purify the corpse before burial. They took the board upon which the body of the deceased is placed for purification and locked it in the shed of the fire house. This lasted a few hours, until they gave another hundred ruble to build a clinic.
Reb Yishayahu, the painter's son, who was a reservist at the Minsk quarantine station, had already come to Zhetl. There was a strike in Novoredok and the following people from Zhetl were arrested: Moishe Shatzkes, Reb Noyakh Eli's son and Leybe the peddler's son. Others were let go.Here is an excerpt from another letter which describes the life story of one of Zhetl's important citizens, Reb Borukh Mirsky.
This week the tax collector left for Aziad. The young Manifalshchikh left for Kobrin.
For the past two weeks they have already been baking Matzah in Zhetl in eight matzah bakeries. The ten thousand military reservists that were in Slonim were sent off to war. (Zhetl, 1905).
did you know Reb Borukh Mirsky, of blessed memory? He worked with poplar and was very poor. When he would go to Vilna to sell poplar he would borrow a coat from me. When he came from Plesk to Zhetl, he rented our house. We had two workbenches in our house. He would work on one and working on the second was Reb Mordkhai Feyvl Yarmovsky of blessed memory, with whom we lived in Sefianovitch's house. There was a kiln where wooden boards were placed to dry in what is now the small house.Reb Borukh Mirsky of blessed memory was a Slonim Hasid.
His Rebbe, Reb Avrom said he should give him 5 kopeks for Eretz Yisrael for every poplar he sold. This would bring him success. Reb Borukh obeyed and had great success.
Reb Borukh of blessed memory had a brother in law, a great scholar, God fearing and trustworthy, who would lend him money for materials.
Reb Borukh of blessed memory also had two daughters. When he had to find a match for his older daughter he paid six hundred ruble and chose a Jew, a scholar, Reb Zalmen Yoel Kaplinsky and in addition provided room and board for a few years. People in town said Reb Borukh took the dowry from his business. He also rented a large dwelling with a large garden where he made a kiln. His business was successful because he gave his Rebbe five kopeks for Eretz Yisrael from every poplar he sold.
A few years passed and Reb Borukh had to make a match for his younger daughter. This time he gave one thousand ruble for a dowry and a few years of room and board, and chose a scholar who was also an enlightened man, Reb Avrom Kravchik. He studied to be a ritual slaughterer but he threw it all away and left for America.
Reb Borukh of blessed memory bought a house for 6-8 hundred ruble, married off two sons, left his business for his children and moved to Eretz Yisrael. There, his wife got sick so they returned to Zhetl. He left 800 ruble for a guest house and old people's home. People say the Reb Borukh also left hundreds of ruble to the Rebbe for Eretz Yisrael and a Torah for the Hasidic House of Study.
Reb Zhame's constant dream was to settle and live out his years in Eretz Yisrael. The land of his forefathers beckoned. His life in exile was
filled with longing and in no way did he want to find his eternal rest there. However, for a Jew, a family man, aged seventy, this was not an easy trip to undertake.
His wife, Soreh Rokhl did not even want to consider giving up her small shop where she had spent practically her entire life, and leave for Eretz Yisrael. In Zhetl she had her family, friends and village customers who called her Sorkeh. They were for her like members of her family, and they will surely not come to Eretz Yisrael so why should she join him?...her answer was therefore: No! She did not want to suddenly tear herself away from her home soil in which she was so deeply rooted.
This was no answer for Reb Zhame. He stubbornly claimed that his life would not be a life if he could not live out his last years in the holy land. This was his life's goal and nothing would stop him from reaching it. His younger son Shmuel had left to Eretz Yisrael as a pioneer a few years before. This only strengthened his decision.
After long discussions with his stubborn wife and family he prevailed. It was a difficult yet important step but old Zhame's love for Eretz Yisrael outweighed all his personal feelings for his wife and family.
All of Zhetl came out on the first day of Chanukah 1926 to say goodbye to the old beloved Zhame the postman. He blessed the second candle with a radiant face and got into the car that was taking him to the train station in Novoliyenie. Reb Zhame was finally on his way to Eretz Yisrael the land of his dreams and aspirations.
He settled in Jerusalem. The economic situation was very difficult. A man of his age could not even think about earning a living. He had to resolve himself to accept support from family in Zhetl. However there too the situation was not good and they could not send money too often. Reb Zhame never complained about his poverty as the joy of living in Eretz Yisrael was more important than everything else.
His greatest joy was to walk from settlement to settlement in the Jezreel Valley in order to see with his own eyes the settlement of Zion.
With special enthusiasm he would go to the market on the 15th of Shevat in order to buy fruits from the Land of Israel. For him it was a privilege sent from heaven to be able to breathe the air of the holy land in his older years.
Reb Zhame began to suffer from loneliness. His son Shmuel who worked in Petach Tikva and saw rarely, could not help him much as for weeks he had been unemployed. So Reb Zhame decided to move to an old people's home where he could be together with people of his age.
But here he discovered a whole strand of difficulties. The old people's homes in Jerusalem were very small and in order to get in you had to pay a lot of money. Reb Zhame wrote home asking for money. Others that promised him help were the former chief rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Kook, and a townsman from Zhetl Rabbi Tevel Mirsky.
With great difficulty the family collected the money and sent it to Jerusalem. This is the report Reb Zhame sent home providing an account of what he did with the money:
I gave the beadles of the old people's home 40 pounds, the burial society for a plot on the Mt. of Olives 3 pounds, a burial shroud 1 pound, a tombstone 1 pound, digging and covering the grave a half pound. Carrying and other expenses 2 pounds. In total 7 pounds. 10 pounds had to be paid to the old people's home. This was paid by Tevel Mirsky with a promissory note. In total I need 70 dollars more in cash.Thank God I have lived to see Jerusalem, the holy city.
Reb Zhame lived in the old people's home for four years where with other Jews, he studied a page of Talmud every day, and was involved in discussions. With quiet steps he approached the final days of his life.
In a letter to the family, his son Shmuel from Petach Tikva reported on Reb Zhame's death:
On the 13th day of Kislev 1933 I received a letter from Jerusalem that father is very sick. I was there by three o'clock that afternoon. I found him very weak. He was no longer speaking and almost gone. I gave him my hand. I don't remember if he gave me his hand or I took it myself.
He had a very difficult night and the following morning at 11:45 he died.
The funeral took place at 4 o'clock that afternoon. Rabbi Tevel Mirsky delivered a moving eulogy.
This is how one of the most interesting and beloved characters of Zhetl Jewry lived, and died at the age of 76.
by Avrom Ivenitzky of blessed memory
Translated by Janie Respitz
Yisroel Ozer Barishansky, was actually called Sroyleyzer. This name, until a few years ago, embodied all of Zhetl, more accurately, the power of communal Zhetl in every aspect.
|Yisroel Ozer Barishansky|
Small, thin and lively, with dark blue nearsighted eyes, with a trimmed yellowish grey beard and hair Sroyleyzer, in the horrible days, right after the German occupation, when Zhetl was surrounded on all sides by terrifying forest bandits, from pitiless hunger and deprivation: in the horrible days, when every few weeks the authority would change; today, Poles, tomorrow, Bolsheviks; when soldier's debauchery terrified Jewish Zhetl; when everyone feared for their lives, for all the possessed, in those days, Sroyleyzer was the only one who ran from one powerful representative to another with requests, brought bribes, joked with the hooligans and saved more than one Jew, more than one Jewish family from destruction.
He was well known by the Poles and the Bolsheviks. They would listen attentively to what this young assistant rabbi said, because Sroyleyzer was no fool. They knew, what he promised, was sacred.
In those days Sroyleyzer would run through the streets of Zhetl, where you would rarely see a Jew, knock on closed shutters, awaken, encourage, demand, shout, bring news, and most importantly, calm everyone down. During the terrifying days and nights, when one power left and all of Zhetl waited fearfully for the next soldiers to arrive; when all of Jewish Zhetl would bury themselves wherever they found a hole, dazed and trembling, listening to the banging of the window panes and the desperate cries for help in those days and nights Sroyleyzer was the only one who was not afraid, but ran from one commandant to another, organized a procession of soldiers at the rabbi's house where they were given cigarettes and tea; where there were negotiations with the commandant in those terrifying transition days Sroyleyzer was literally the saviour - angel of the town.
However the chapter about Sroyleyzer does not begin during these days. Back in the good old days there was not an institution or Jewish communal society where he was not the initiator or the most active member. He brought liveliness and gusto wherever he went. He received a few slaps when he bought the hospital from the Russian government and turned it into a Jewish hospital. During various disputes, quarrels with a rabbi, a doctor or an institute, he would often be berated but he would not get excited. He would shout, make noise, tell his opponent exactly what he thought and go on his way.
Without Sroyleyzer there would not have been a Talmud Torah, bathhouse, old people's home or Jewish hospital in Zhetl. In the bitter years of hunger, 1919 -1922, when Zhetl ran the American kitchen for children, the adult kitchen of the Joint, when they would distribute money, clothing, underwear, shoes, that is when you would see Sroyleyzer running through the streets of Zhetl, disheveled, tattered, with one torn old shoe and one woman's cloth shoe, with an open scolding mouth, surrounded by a group of noisy, shouting, crying, wailing women each with her own complaints and demands to the committee, to Sroyleyzer
Sroyleyzer now has a second wife and small children and lives off his post at the electric company. This is how it has been these past few years. Until now no one knew how he earned a living and when Sroyelyzer did something for himself. But no one ever suspected him of dishonesty, or abuse of communal funds which he would often have in disorder. Nobody claimed this. In Zhetl, everyone knows that Sroyleyzer is absolutely honest.
Let us Perpetuate his Deeds
It is the obligation of everyone from Zhetl to perpetuate one of the most remarkable Jews of our time. I don't think such Jews are born every day, I mean: Yisroel Ozer Barishansky, or as we used to call him Podrabinek (assistant to the rabbi). This is a person who gave everything to the town and did not take anything for himself.
This went so far that he was pauper his entire life. He was a man that always worried about the poor while his wife and children did not have enough food or clothing. A person who experienced all the dangers during the war in order to save the town. If Zhetl was not destroyed during the Russian German and Bolshevik Polish war, it is thanks to Yisroel Ozer.
The Poles came into Zhetl for the first time in 1919. Later, they came and went. The officers would always stay with us. A few days before Passover a company of soldiers arrived preparing to attack Novogrudek. The population was not allowed to go out in the street after 8:00 p.m.
It was the first night of Passover. There were two officers staying with us, one was a Jew from Galicia. In the middle of the night there was a knock on our door. We ran to open. It was Yisreol Ozer.
How is it possible for you to be here? You are risking your life. Yisroel Ozer shouted that we must wake up the officers because the town was being robbed. We woke up the Jewish officer and told him. He immediately got dressed, sounded the alarm, assembled the soldiers and saved the town.
The next morning Yisroel Ozer was there with a pair of black boots. We called in the officer, he tried on the boots, but they would not get on his feet and he had to leave for Novolenyia that evening. Yisroel Ozer ran to bring Herzl the shoemaker, he took measurements and by evening brought a pair of finished yellow boots. No one but Yisroel Ozer could accomplish this.
He did not earn a living. In his thirties he became a baker. My sister Dina would go to him specially to buy bread because he was Yisroel Ozer. One day she went to him as he was kneading rolls for market day. She spoke to him and asked: Tell me, are you at least making some money from this?
He replied: Listen Dinakeh, if at my age I have to knead rolls and birds and have to think on which side the bird should hold its head, can I earn a living?
If Yisroel Ozer had two pairs of shoes he would take away one pair and give it to someone who did not have any shoes.
Let's collect more facts about Yisroel Ozer, and because during his life he never earned a living, let us at least perpetuate his good deeds.
by Moishe Mirsky (Man)
Translated by Janie Respitz
I would live to remember the two Barishansky brothers in Zhetl. The older one, Yisroel Ozer Podrabinek was a smart Jew with a lot of energy which he devoted for the good of others, while he remained a very poor man. He belonged to all the societies in town, was a regular guest of the rabbi, knew everyone in town, and knew what was cooking in everyone's pot. In addition he had great influence on people and helped to solve personal and municipal conflicts. He would help the town in all hazardous and serious instances.
When someone falsely accused Motl Man and the false Christian witnesses had to be gratified, the mediator was Yisroel Ozer. After the First World War, during the Polish Bolshevik conflict, they were beating, torturing and shooting Jews. Yisroel Ozer would, with large sums of money, have all the decrees annulled.
His brother, Avrom Moishe, belonged to the youth wing of the Bund and was one of the founders of the Literary Dramatic Society and later, the Yiddish School. He was involved throughout his life in world politics. In the morning at the marketplace there were two circles. One group was vigorously discussing municipal matters, and Yisroel Ozer had the last word. The second group relentlessly discussed world politics with Avrom Moishe in the centre. People in town would ask:
What's all the noise at the marketplace?
They would answer: These are the discussions of the Barishansky brothers. One is guiding the town, the other, the world.
by Leah Rozenblum (Raanana)
Translated by Janie Respitz
A tall, thin figure in a black, long caftan, his face pale from age and suffering, his beard, white, his forehead wrinkled and his blue eyes looked out from their deep sockets. His steps, proud and slow. This is how my grandfather appeared to me when I was a small child. My grandfather was old and weak, but he did not lose his intellect until he died.
Every morning, before praying he would wash from a small jug of water which my grandmother prepared beside his bed as he did not want to begin his day before he performed the ritual hand washing. Then, quietly on tip toe, he would get out of bed, God forbid wake anyone, and leave for prayers. He would pray for a long time and return late for breakfast. When my mother would ask: why do you come so late from synagogue he would reply: Let the children eat first, I don't need to eat so much anymore.
When we came home from school he would greet us with his bright blue eyes and a smile on his lips and ask us in Hebrew:
What did you children learn today in school? Which Torah portion? Perhaps also a little Rashi? if he liked our answers he would smile and say a blessing.
We loved our grandfather and our love for him was expressed through respect to the holiness which hovered over him. Since I remember, he was dressed in black, studied from holy texts, at times the Pentateuch with 43 commentators, sometimes a thick prayer book filled with prayers for the entire year (the pages were yellow and wrinkled from so much use). Often he would look into the Talmud with the commentaries. When grandfather read, a sweet melody would fill the house. His melody would take me to a higher spiritual world. I would see before my eyes Bialik's student as he swayed at the lectern and studied: Oy, said Rabba, Oy said Abay. Then my grandfather turned his pious eyes toward heaven and gestured with his thumb. How pious he appeared at that moment!
My grandfather would seldom pray at home. If he felt he was disturbing anyone, he would go straight to the synagogue. He never wanted to make things difficult for our household. He never asked anyone to bring him anything, he would get it himself, even though his feet did not serve him well.
Friday, on the Sabbath eve when there was so much work to do, he would prepare the candle sticks, set up the prayer books and come to the kitchen to ask if he could help us with anything. When we told him he should go eat and we did not need any help he would say:
Today is the beginning of the Sabbath, there is no time to eat, hurry children. When he said children he meant all of us including our grandmother, of blessed memory.
I will always wonder about the relationship between my grandfather and grandmother. They both showed one another respect and love. They were always quiet and smiled at one another.
My grandmother died suddenly, and my grandfather soon after. After her Shiva he would sit in the synagogue for many hours and come home late. My mother would send food to the synagogue and we would barely convince him to taste something. He was tormented by deep sadness. Not long after he became ill, stopped walking and remained bed ridden until his death.
The corner where my grandfather's bed stood was holy to us. We never heard him complain about his health. He would hum his melody and we would lovingly feed him. He would always ask if we had already eaten and although he said yes, he would always leave over something for us.
I will never forget the white pillow where my grandfather laid his head which was covered with a black skull cap. His depleted body was covered with a white blanket and the colour of his face and beard merged with the whiteness of the bed linens.
A sadness poured from that corner when my grandfather fell into eternal sleep. His large prayer book sat on the shelf dishonoured and not consoled, however his melody soared through the house reminding us that our grandfather had passed away.
by Moishe Man (Buenos Aires)
Translated by Janie Respitz
There were three well known sons in law in Zhetl: Reb Avrom Shloime Zhikovshchiner's son in law, Reb Shmuel Rabinovitch.
Reb Eliyahu Meir's son in law from Dvoretzer Street, Reb Shmuel Khaim.
And Reb Borukh Man, Avrom Patzovske's son in law.
These three Talmudic scholars would sit all day and study.
The first of the three sons in law was a rabbi in Moscow, the second, Reb Shmuel Khaim was the rabbi in Aginitshisk (Russia).
The third, Reb Borukh Man, was wanted as rabbi in Kiev. Besides his Talmudic scholarship he was also an enlightened Jew and a bible expert. If anyone wanted to brag about their biblical knowledge he would refer to Reb Borukh Man. At the time he was the best devotee of the Hebrew language in Zhetl and also knew Russian and German perfectly. During the German occupation he served as secretary of the town committee.
As mentioned he was an enlightened Jew and did not want to become a rabbi. He became a lumber surveyor. Thanks to his honesty, he had a good reputation. He was well trusted and earned a good living, however it was difficult work, in the heat of summer standing bent over rafts and measuring the lumber.
On the 18th day of Av it will be 35 years since he died. On that day, even though it was war time, and the Sabbath, everyone learned of his death.
Reb Yisroel Avrom Sokolovsky was a great scholar. He was Reb Arye's son in law. He served as a religious judge in Lodz for three years and then returned to Zhetl. At this time the rabbi in Zhetl was Reb Borukh Avrom, an old man. Reb Yisroel Sokolovsky would give a Talmud lesson every day and displayed expertise and insight.
Reb Leyb Khabadkier was so respected, the old nobleman Stravinsky did not allow him to leave town and did not charge him to lease his mill so that he could sit and study in peace.
Reb Noyekh Eli was a Gemara teacher in Zhetl for 75 years. His knowledge was so vast that when he lost his sight in his old age he would sit at the platform where services were led in the synagogue and mumble along with Rabbi Yitzkhak Raytzer. When the rabbi would glance at the text he realized Reb Noyekh Eli, now blind, knew the whole Gemara by heart.
The old cantor's name was Reb Eli Ber Kamenetzky. I believe, today, in America and in Israel there are many Jews who remember how he prayed. He was a ritual slaughterer, a great scholar and very devout. He would answer all questions pertaining to Jewish law himself except those dealing with what was permitted or forbidden.
The last cantor was Reb Yitzkhak Kagan. He had a unique, beautiful voice.
There were also many in Zhetl who read from the Torah: Reb Hertz Leyb Kaplinsky, in the old House of Study. In the small prayer house, Reb Itche Razvosky. Reb Khaim Leyzerovitch the Zhibertaychiner lived on our street. He would read from the Torah on the High Holidays. I remember on Purim when he read the Megillah he would bring a tin sheath. Later, he led morning services at the old House of Study.
It is worthwhile remembering Hirschl the blacksmith. He led services in the small prayer house. He was a very honest man. He became blind in his old age but would still walk alone to the prayer house every morning and evening.
The following can be included among the great scholars of that time: Reb Moishe Tentzer, Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky, and Reb Hertz Leyb Kaplinsky. It is worthwhile mentioning Reb Yisroel Ber Epshteyn the gravedigger. He taught Ein Yakov at the new House of Study to a large group.
The manager of the old House of Study was Khaim Itche. People said he had many pockets and in each one was the money from a different society.
Beadles: Nokhem Shloime in the middle House of Study, a tall fat man with a long beard. Friday evening he would call on everyone to come to synagogue. He would direct his face to the sky and cry out three times with a melody: To synagogue, to synagogue, to synagogue!
The manager for the old House of Study was Moteh Nokhem Dubkovsky. Later it was Yisroel Mordkhai Leyzerovitch, a tailor and an honest, warm hearted Jew. Everyone loved him. The last years, Yoyneh Leyb Khlebnik was the manager of the old House of Study.
For years, the manager of the middle House of Study was Moishe Yehuda, for a short time Asher Lusky and finally, Shaul the tutor.
The Burial Society in Zhetl, like everywhere was comprised of two parts: managers and volunteers. The managers were the illustrious respected men and the volunteers would take care of the corpse.
For many years the managers of the Burial Society were: Reb Yisroel Bom, Reb Shmuel Mirsky and Reb Moishe Tentzer. Reb Berl Mirsky was one of the most active volunteers.
Hirshke Khayke's was a small man who lived on Novoredker Street. He would never go further than 5 kilometres from town because God forbid, if someone died, he would not be there to give him a proper Jewish burial.
It was very difficult to join the Burial Society as membership was inherited. A new member had to be extremely devout. The butchers had to pay a tax on every piece they slaughtered. The tax collector would give a portion of the tax to the Jewish community and a large amount to the government.
For a time, the tax collector in town was Yakov Meylekh Dvoretzky. Later it was Avrom Moishe. He also supervised kashrut in the Talmud Torah.
There was also a tax on yeast. Besides the tax collector, no one was permitted to sell yeast. After the First World War the revenue of this tax went to the rabbi to pay his salary. Yeast in Zhetl was very expensive.
Until the yeast was transferred to the rabbi, the yeast tax collector was Yisroel Bom and after, Shmuel Shvedsky.
The Society to Spend the Night with the Sick and the Society to Visit the Sick were under one administration in Zhetl. Members of the society would spend the night with every sick person. The moral and physical help they offered the patient and the household should not be underestimated. Besides this, if someone needed material help, he would receive it.
I remember Moishe Ruven Mordkovsky ran these societies for many years. It is superfluous to emphasize that these were the only institutions without political overtones.
In 18961897 a well known preacher would come and the entire town would go hear him. One time, when he came to Zhetl, the old House of Study was packed. In the middle of his sermon a plank of wood on the floor of the women's section broke. There was a huge commotion. 12 women were trampled on and suffocated. My mother miraculously survived.
by Efraim Pasaf (New York)
Broad shouldered, not very tall with a four cornered, not very long beard, woven with white silver hair, a full face with happy bright eyes, always with a smile on his lips. A heavy step but agile. His clothes, always clean and tidy, were composed of a long black caftan with ritual fringes hanging out. This is the portrait of Reb Avrom the Recluse, of blessed memory or how we called him, Reb Nokhem Shloime's son in law.
We would always see him in the same corner of the middle House of Study where he would sit in front of a big book and study. He would arrive at dawn as the day would break, prayed with the first quorum and then he would finish saying all the selections from scripture and psalms. After, he would sit and study until one o'clock when he would go home to eat. Two hours later he would return to the same House of Study, the same spot at his large lectern and continue studying until late at night.
He was a reserved man. He only spoke when necessary, when he needed something. On the Sabbath he would be completely silent. If children would enter the House of Study he would not let them leave before they recited a chapter of psalms. When he prayed he would stand straight as if before an elder, without swaying or rocking, just praying quietly from his heart.
The outside world on the other side of the House of Study never interested him. He had no business with anyone. His world was Talmud and the House of Study. He was not a great scholar however his perseverance was outstanding.
Everyone in town liked him. They had the utmost respect for him because he was a simple man, almost a legendary persona.
Older men recounted that before he was Nokhem Shloime's son in law he was an ordinary carpenter, who barely knew how to pray. But because his wife's first husband had been a prodigy, he decided to dedicate his life to Torah. People said he would sit all night and study with his feet in a basin of cold water to prevent him from falling asleep. He was not embarrassed to go up to a Yeshiva student and ask to study with him.
This is one of the most modest personalities of my small town of Zhetl who has remained etched in my memory.
A very simple Jew, a house painter, Moishe Ruveh, as he was called in Zhetl was the only one who was totally devoted to orphans and gave them all his time and energy. He chaired the orphan committee and the Aid to the Sick Society. A day did not go by when Moishe Ruveh did not visit the orphans who were under his guardianship, to check how they were living, learning and working. He also worried about their physical and moral education. His devotion, which was truly sincere was successfully rewarded. He was popular in town and fittingly respected.
Shloime Mutchnik (Tel Aviv)
My father, Yosef Mutchnik was born in Navaredok in 1874. His parents were Avrom and Khane. His father was head of the Yeshiva in Navaredok.
My father received a religious and secular education. At first he went to Heder, later, he attended Yeshivas among which, the famous Slobodke Yeshiva.
At the age of 18 he began to study Hebrew on his own and later became a Hebrew teacher.
He got married in Zhetl to Menukha Alpert, the daughter of Berl Alpert (Berl the harness maker).
In Zhetl he taught at the Talmud Torah which was rebuilt in 1909. My father taught all grades Hebrew, grammar and Jewish History. He was the first teacher in Zhetl to promote the Hebrew language. He organized performances to raise money to support the school. At the same time, he ran a private school.
My father was one of the founders of the Zionist organization and helped spread Zionist thought in Zhetl. He was a diligent worker and a good pedagogue. He died in the Polish Soviet war.
According to Avrom Ivenitsky
Yosef Vinetsky, the author of the article During the German Occupation which is published in this book, died in 1929 just over the age of 60. He was one of the most remarkable people from Zhetl. His last years, he lived off an inheritance from his sister in America. Because of this inheritance, in his older years, with the help of dictionaries, he corresponded with lawyers in English and handled it all himself.
Until he received this inheritance he supported himself writing administrative requests, addresses and the like. He translated Krilov into Yiddish. He showed his work to literary experts and even travelled to Warsaw to the writers union. However, his translation was never published.
In general he was distinct, original and not dependent on material things.
He was also known in Zhetl for his great love of the clarinet. He played the clarinet for twenty five years. Up until his death you could hear him play every evening at the marketplace where he lived in his own brick house. He was also known for his love of bicycles.
He was a long time volunteer with the Zhetl fire brigade and knew a lot about Zhetl.
Borukh Kaplinsky (Tel Aviv)
Reb Shaul Kaplinsky was born in 1882 in the village Hantshri near Zhetl. His father leased a mill in the village from the Polish nobleman Stravinsky. He was a learned man and spent all his years learning.
His wife Tcherne Rokhl ran the mill.
Reb Shaul Kaplinsky received the foundations of a Jewish religious education at first in Zhetl with the best teachers, and then in Navaredok at the Yeshiva.
The Jewish enlightenment leanings on the street and the revolutionary struggle had a great influence on his development. Slowly, he began to look at enlightenment books and revolutionary proclamations and, influenced by them, left the Yeshiva when he was 22.
He was hired to work for a rich German Jewish forestry firm called Pupko and worked there until his marriage to Lize Mazovietsky in 1912.
After his wedding he was independent and worked in the forest industry.
With the outbreak of the First World War he lost his assets, which remained stuck in the Nieman and were confiscated by the Germans.
During the First World War
he played an active role in communal life in Zhetl. He was one of the most active volunteers in the soup kitchen and one of the founders of the Yiddish school in Zhetl. He made great efforts to increase the amount of Hebrew taught in the Yiddish school but when he saw he wasn't making any progress among the Yiddishist teachers, he resigned from the board of the school.
Together with Hertz Leyb Kaplinsky, Feyvl Epshteyn and others, he founded a Hebrew kindergarten in 1927 and then the Tarbut School in 1929.
For ten years he was active in the Tarbut Hebrew School, especially their building campaign.
In 1935 he was chosen as chairman of the Zionist organization in Zhetl. He was also active in all the fund raising for Keren Hayesod (the Jewish Agency) often neglecting his own personal business.
Thanks to his deep Jewish erudition, logic and business sense, he was a sought out arbitrator for complicated controversies in Zhetl.
With the arrival of the Soviets he moved away from communal work and worked in the forest industry.
During the German occupation he was chosen to sit on the Judenrat and dedicated all his energy and devotion to the Zhetl ghetto. During the first slaughter on April 30th, 1942, he was killed at the hands of the criminals.
Ruven Mirsky (Ramat Hasharon)
My father, Mendl Mirsky, was born in Zhetl in 1881 to Yosl (Yosele Mende's) and Rivka. Like all boys in Zhetl he went to Heder and then to Yeshiva. He got married in 1904.
He was a ritual scribe by profession. His works were exported to America.
During the First World War he was active in the Poalei Zion (the Labour Zionist Movement). I remember during those years many Zionist evenings and parties took place in our home. After the First World War he joined the General Zionist Organization and was a passionate supporter of Yitzkhak Greenboym.
His entire life he was very active in Zionist fundraising. Until he immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1937 he was chairman of the Jewish Agency in Zhetl and treasurer for all the Zionist funds. The money raised would be sent from our house to Warsaw. All the young pioneers in Zhetl would come to him before they left to receive permission from the Zionist organization.
He loved the Land of Israel and raised us, his children to love the land.
My father was not a talker. He was not gifted with this talent, so for that reason he became a devoted active volunteer.
In 1937 he immigrated to the Land of Israel and settled in a middle income Moshav, Beit Yania, near Kfar Vitkin. At age 56 he became a pioneer and began to build a farm in the arid area near Kfar Vitkin.
The orchard we received from the community was in bad shape and did not provide any income. My father accepted everything with love. Just the fact he was living in the Land of Israel was a great emotional experience.
The difficult work affected him greatly and he died at the age of 58.
In our town everyone knew my father, but here in the Land of Israel, he was unknown. Only a few individuals came to his funeral. There was not even a death announcement.
His death was just like his life: modest.
His children in the Land of Israel are: Ruven Mirsky, a farmer in Ramat Hasharon, Mordkhai Mirsky, a farmer in Beit Yanai and Khaya Hararit in Ramat Gan.
Yitzkhak Rabinovitch (Haifa)
There were many devoted volunteers in Zhetl who devoted a lot of time to communal work. One of them was Avrom Langbart. He was the son of Aron Langbart who was devoted to the Hovevei Zion and among the first political Zionist activists in Zhetl.
His son Avrom, from an early age was also a Zionist. For many years he was a teacher at the Talmud Torah and later at the Tarbut School. For a while he was the chairman of the Zionist Organization and a long serving member on the Jewish Community Council. He was especially dedicated to the Jewish National Fund.
Every year he would be elected unanimously by the Zionist parties as the representative of the Jewish National Fund in Zhetl. He held this position until the Soviet occupation. I would like to stress that in his work for the Jewish National Fund, Avrom Langbart
attempted to avoid friction and with tact and moderation carried out this work. He was held in high esteem by all parties.
His house was always open for Zionist meetings and consultations. With great faith and pathos he encouraged and awoke members for the sacred work of the Jewish National Fund. He was always so happy when he received a report about a successful campaign.
Avrom Langbart was also considered one of the best speakers in Zhetl. He used this talent to popularize Zionist thought in Zhetl.
Our Jewish National Fund committee was the first in Poland to organize a yearly bazar for the Jewish National Fund during the interim days of Passover. The bazar raised a lot of money. This accomplishment was publicized by the Warsaw JNF central office and circulated to all local committees. I believe the great success of the bazars in Zhetl is largely due to the efforts of Avrom Langbart. His wife Pesieh helped him a lot in his communal work.
Sarah Gal (Jerusalem)
Avrom Nakhman Gal was born in Zhetl in 1884. He studied at the Slonim Yeshiva and married Mertche Levit in Zhetl. He later moved to Russia. Until the revolution he lived with his family Yevpotoria and worked there as a teacher.
In Yevpotoria he was known as a communal activist. Before the Bolsheviks he worked as a manager of all the kitchens in Yevpotoria.
He was arrested for his Zionist activity. When he was freed due to his Polish citizenship, he returned home. Despite his poor health, it was not hard for him to continue his communal work. He sat on the board of the Yiddish school until it fell under the influence of the Bundists.
He was the founder of the Interest Free Loan Society in Zhetl. Every person in need received help and he took joy in their happiness. He lived among the masses and died among the masses.
Khaim Lusky (Natanya)
Noyekh Mikulitzky was born in 1901 to Yitzkhak and Esther Hinde. His father died when he was four years old and he moved with his mother and sister Peshe to Zhetl.
Noyekh went to Heder and Yeshiva. In 1920 he left the Yeshiva and began to study secular subjects, particularly Hebrew literature. In the years 192223 he began to give private lessons in the spirit of the modern Hebrew schools which did not yet exist in Zhetl.
Noyekh was one of the most active volunteers in in Hechalutz Hatzair (The Young Pioneer), Hechalutz, the General Zionist Organization, The Jewish National Fund and others. Between the years 19241929 there was not any Zionist work in Zhetl that Noyekh was not involved with. The pioneers of the Fourth Aliya particularly remember his activity.
His room was the centre of Zionist activity in Zhetl. This is where all the appeals, placards and plans were made for all the public Zionist events. Noyekh was also one of the founders of the Tarbut School in Zhetl. Besides Zionist activity he devoted a lot of time to social work. He spent many years as secretary of the Society to Spend the Night With the Sick.
In 1929 he moved to Novoyelnie where he continued his work until 1932, then returned to Zhetl. Noyekh then joined the Revisionist Movement where he remained active until 1935 when he married and moved to Lida.
The Second World War brought him to Zhetl. During the first slaughter he was among those allowed to remain alive but he refused to be separated from his family and was killed with them.
Khaim Lusky (Natanya)
Yehuda Lusky, or as we called him in Zhetl Idl, was born in July 1911 to Pinkhas and Esther Hinde Lusky. He studied in Heder, at the Talmud Torah and in Yeshiva.
In 1928 he left the Yeshiva to help his sick parents.
In 1929 he joined Betar, the youth movement of the Revisionists.
As long as the Revisionists were part of the Zionist organization, Idl was active in their work for the National fund.
When the Germans entered Zhetl he was elected to the Judenrat and together with Alter Dvoretzky helped the partisans who left for the forests.
Before the first slaughter when they arrested the Judenrat, Alter Dvoretzky consulted with Idl about escaping to the forest. However, they decided to remain in Zhetl
and not cause panic among the population.
That same night when they came to arrest them, Alter Dvoretzky managed to escape and Idl tried to hide at home, however, with the help of other members of the Judenrat, the Germans found him and arrested him. He was killed after he was tortured for a long time.
Moishe Man (Buenos Aires)
Yehoshua Ovseyevitch, or as he we called him, Shikeh Ovseyevitch, was born in Zhetl in 1892. His father Nekhemiah was a well dressed Jew with a trimmed beard and was a strict and honest man. His mother Sokheh was a smart and serious woman. Besides Shikeh there were three more brothers and one sister in the family.
All the children received a Jewish religious education. The oldest son, Yitzkhak, was stunned in the North American army in the years 19141918 by an artillery shot. Nevertheless, he returned to Zhetl and sat studying day and night in the House of Study.
Yehoshua did not become a ritual scribe like many young men in Zhetl from good homes at that time. He moved to a wealthy rural Jewish community where he worked as a teacher. In those days he joined the Bund and worked with Beynish Mikhalevitch.
I personally do not remember him as a member of the Bund, but rather a sympathizer.
Right after the First World War he was one of the founders of the Yiddish School in Zhetl.
The Yiddish school in Zhetl experienced difficult years: they did not have a program or a financial base and fought for their existence.
Yehoshua devoted himself to help the school through these difficult times. As a member of the Immigration Society which helped send immigrants to America, he often had to be in Warsaw. While in Warsaw, Shike would try to seek help for the school.
In 1939, when I was already in Argentina I received a letter from him. He wrote to me. He said as my brother in law, he was satisfied with his wife's writing to us, but now, he was writing to me as a delegate of the Yiddish school. He pointed out that since the majority of the children in the school came from poor families it would be only fair for Zhetl Jews in Argentina to support it.
Although Shikeh was a non believer and a socialist his whole life, when his mother died he said the mourners prayer three times a day.
He was killed with all the Zhetl martyrs in 1942.
Shmuel Mnuskin (Kfar Saba)
Alter Gertzovsky held an important place in Zhetl's Jewish communal life. We used to call him Alter Mordkhai Kikke's.
His father was a poor bookbinder. There was always great poverty in their home since bookbinding was not a profitable business. The poverty greatly influenced Alter's view of the world.
He participated actively in the revolutions of 1905 and 1917. He was one of the first builders of the Zhetl Professional Union, the drama club and the Yiddish School. When they had to raise money for an important cause, Alter was influential: when someone needed help, they turned to Alter. Not because Alter could give money, rather because he could arrange for it. He was connected to all the charitable institutions like the Interest Free Loan Society, the Popular Bank and others where everyone knew, if Alter was the intermediary, they would not be refused.
He was of medium height, thin with a pale face, beautiful eyes and always smiling. This is how I remember him. When he was around, everything seemed happier. He infected everyone with his humour.
Alter brought pleasure to so many of Zhetl's workers and craftsmen when he performed on stage. He always played comic roles. His jokes and witticisms had everyone rolling with laughter. He was filled with original ideas and plans.
After the death of Avrom Patzovsky, my brother Motl Man took over the supervision of the town documents which remained in our house. When immigration increased abroad at the beginning of the 20th century, Motl helped the wandering Jews who did not have documentation. Motl made them documents risking his own life.
He helped many small town Jews during the First World War. Being the chief of the fire brigade he convinced the Bolsheviks, and later
the Poles, not to take the firefighters into the army so they could remain and serve the city. For this purpose he went to Slonim many times with Mendl Solomiyansky through dangerous and risky roads. However, he could not include his own brother, Khaim Hershl, in the fire brigade and he had to run away to Lithuania to avoid military service.
He was a person who lived in great poverty but he was always ready to help another however possible. He knew the entire code of law by heart, better than any average lawyer, however he did not attempt to use this to improve his financial situation.
In 1925 he was elected as magistrate in the township. At the time there was no magistrate in Zhetl. The Christians could not accept the idea that a Jew would be the head of the town. Therefore, with the help of the postmaster, Regiyevich, they denounced him to the Polish authorities.
Motl was immediately arrested and one day later sent to prison in Slonim. Thanks to a huge outcry by the population and intervention, Motl was later freed on bail. Later at his trial he was acquitted. This took a toll on his health and he died on the second day of Passover, 1928.
The entire town attended his funeral. He was eulogized as a devoted, beloved communal activist. Zhetl honoured his memory for a long time.
Moishe Man (Buenos Aires)
When remembering the activists in Zhetl it is necessary to mention Reb Yakov Obershteyn, or as we used to call him Yenkl Avrom Avigdor's. He was a fine man, always smiling and with a warm Jewish heart.
Who does not remember, on a winter Sabbath after evening prayers, how he would go onto to the Bimah (where prayers were led from), bang the table and with his hoarse voice, in a traditional religious melody sing a sad psalm. He had the tenure as the manager of Psalm Society at the new House of Study.
I would like to present a few facts about his activities.
For a long time the new House of Study did not pay their insurance as they did not have the funds. During the second fire in 1935 the new House of Study burned down. Obviously, everyone in town was sure they would not be able to rebuild.
That is when Yenkl Obershteyn appeared and announced he had paid the insurance from his own pocket, but nobody knew.
At that time I was living in Slonim and was very friendly with the lecturers at the insurance company and I intervened on this issue. However, since Yenkl Obershteyn paid the insurance in his own name, I suggested they form a building committee to rebuild the House of Study and he should receive the entire amount, I don't remember exactly how much, but I think it was 18,000 zloty.
In 1938, before I left for Argentina I returned home to say goodbye. I went to pray that evening in the newly rebuilt House of study and said goodbye to that place forever.
The last years before the Second World War, anti Semitism was raging. This had a particularly difficult impact on those who bought to resell, those who travelled to the villages for business and the wagon drivers. If one of them would have an accident and lose a horse there was not enough money to buy another horse and the family would be left without bread.
Yenkl Avrom Avigdor's created a type of insurance fund. Every Jew who had a horse paid 1 zloty a week. This served as a fund to purchase a new horse.
One had to live in other towns then in order to appreciate the importance of this fund.
Yenkl Obershteyn was also one of the most active volunteers of the Society to Aid the Sick, one of the most important institutions in the poor small Jewish towns in Poland at that time.
I would also like to mention his life partner Peshke Sokhe's. She was a lovely woman. Her house was almost like a guest house. In the last years when they lived a bit better it was understood that anyone who was hungry, would get something to eat.
by Binyomin Kaplinsky of blessed memory
Translated by Janie Respitz
My father came from Smorgon. However he spent little time in his hometown. He spent his youth at the Yeshiva in Bialystok.
He came to Zhetl in 1898 as an administrative deportee. It did not take long before all the young workers in town were inspired by him to join the revolutionary movement.
My father was one of the first pioneers of the Bund. He joined the movement in the 1890s while he was studying at the Yeshiva where he received his rabbinic ordination.
He was arrested for the first time in Bialystok in 1897. Later he sat in a Warsaw prison where, by the way, he learned a lot.
He was also sent to Eastern Siberia for 5 years. During the Russian Japanese war he was sent to Archangel then freed from there in 1905 during the revolution.
In 1907, after the suppression of the revolutionary wave, he worked in Berditchev where he was sentenced to a year in jail and sat out his punishment in Kiev. Later, he worked in other cities including Vilna.
Educated in a Yeshiva he achieved a lot through self education. Besides Russian he knew German and a little French and English. He had a lot of information about natural science and geography. Teachers who would meet him were amazed by his knowledge.
My father is a man who hates hypocrisy and loves the truth. He was known for this in our town and in the surrounding region. I sometimes have a strong desire to be as rectilinear and sincere in relations with people as he is.
My father is not religious and never goes to pray at the House of Study. There were years in town when he was the only one who did not go to pray on Yom Kippur. Four or five years ago, older and younger people gathered around me to ask if: does your father fast on Yom Kippur?
Since the war my father is not active in the movement although he is still interested. He subscribes to and regularly reads the party press, however the burden of our home and the present conditions do not allow him. He regrets this very much. He said the lion has remained but his nails have been filed so he cannot scratch.
Until the war my father was a teacher. He would give Urok the Russian word for lessons. In 19121913 he was a teacher at the Talmud Torah.
My father is exceptionally reserved and very modest. He hates outward decorations in his personal and communal life.
During the German occupation, my father was practically the only one who knew German. Since his Russian classes were cancelled he began writing requests in German.
The surrounding Christians knew him as an honest man and he quickly became known in the region. I remember how our house was always filled with farmers. They would often spend the night awaiting their turn.
The first request my father wrote was an accusation by a farmer of a German gendarme who illegally took his cow. My father would also write letters for women to their husbands who were in prison camps in Germany and those in exile mainly in the sawmills in Haynavke.
The farmers and their wives did not pay my father for his writing. However they would bring, hidden in their bosom, a few pounds of rye, a few eggs, or grain. All of this was better than money. Someone else may have made a lot of money from this however my father did not want to build his fortune on someone else's misfortune and was satisfied with whatever they gave him.
During the German occupation the Jewish soup kitchen was founded in Zhetl. This was one of the most important institutions in town. My father was one of the most active volunteers and devoted a lot of his free time to the kitchen.
There were tours of duty in the kitchen to cook and distribute the food. By the way, there was a rule that the food had to be eaten there.
The suffering in town in those years was indescribable. There were times the kitchen handed out 700 800 meals a day.
The meetings of the kitchen volunteers would take place at our house. The board would meet every Saturday.
The volunteers, except for a few married men, were young boys and girls who would fill our home with laughter. Every year they would have a party for the volunteers where they would have fun all night.
The culminating point of the kitchen was in 19161917. Later, many of the volunteers left and many of the needy returned to their hometowns.
I would often go with my father to observe the facility where he introduced a novelty to cook on steam. First they would heat stones and then pour water to create steam.
There was order in the kitchen and the apparatus worked exceedingly well.
After the evacuation of the Germans we experienced years of hunger and unrest. I was 7 when the Poles entered Zhetl for the first time. Everyone ran to see the new rulers. (Poland a state, socks a garment, and Zhetl a catastrophe).
The Poles came to us in search of weapons, but in actuality, they took whatever they could. People would say they looked in dressers and drawers for hidden Bolsheviks.
My father would often oppose the arbitrariness. Once he was told the soldiers wanted to take a wagon full of grain which was designated for the soup kitchen. My father ran and opposed them. He told them the grain was for the poor and he will absolutely not give it away. He risked his life with this resistance because according to the Poles, a person's life was worthless, but he did it anyway. They did not touch the grain.
The writing of requests which was his main source of income during the German occupation came to nought when the power switched hands. The material situation in our home was not the best. Father was hired as a secretary at city hall.
The boycott of Jewish workers and employees was not apparent to us at the time. Here in Zhetl for example, there was a Jewish letter carrier, the mayor was a Christian from our town. The authorities in city hall were from the military led by a commandant who was in principle a drunk and a trouble maker.
My father did not hold this position in city hall for long. City hall was soon liquidated and my father returned to giving private lessons, mainly Polish language. Later, in 19231924 when the Popular Bank was founded, my father worked there as a bookkeeper. He worked in the bank for 56 years. Then he worked as an employee at the sawmill.
In 1923 we bought our own home with original conditions. My father's brother in America wrote and told us to buy a house and he would help. Our luck was favourable. An inexpensive house presented itself for $500 and the sale took place. Good friends were persuaded and lent us money. My uncle's money never came through. We were left with a house which until today, 11 years after the purchase we still owe almost the entire amount.
My mother, who is very skillful, runs around for days borrowing from the Interest Free Loan Society, because if we would borrow the money at interest we would not sustain ourselves for a month.
No one in our house smokes. We spend the bare minimum on clothes. I don't remember the last time my father had a suit made. Our material situation was such that we managed to sustain ourselves. If it would have been possible to save on rent for 10 years, the debt on our house would have been paid off long ago.
My father ran an account of the household. Every expense, even the smallest was recorded. Every expenditure was weighed and measured.
My mother was exceptionally overworked. She would spend days and weeks running around town borrowing from the Interest Free Loan Society. She borrowed from shopkeepers who could only loan for a few days so she had to change loans often. She would often return home crying, troubled and humiliated from asking for favours. Sometimes she would cry so hard and talk about selling the house to cover our debts. There were times when she fell in the street running over the footbridges to get a loan.
On more than one occasion I wanted to run away from home seeing the anguish and suffering of my mother when she would return home exhausted, worn out and crying bitterly. I choked on every morsel of food I ate at home.
There are homes where the parents argue, but not in ours. Only my mother often reproached my father for his exaggerated honesty. I will always side with my father.
According to My Life's Description Zhetl, June 1934.
by Rishe Kaplinsky Kovensky (Ramat Gan)
Translated by Janie Respitz
The survivors from Zhetl remember Niameh Kaplinsky the Yiddish cultural activist and freedom fighter whose life ended in Soviet exile.
His name embodies the period of the awakening of Yiddish cultural and social life in the small Jewish towns. Already at the age of 14 he began his cultural and socialist activity. At that young age he was arrested for the first time for organizing the May Day demonstrations for the Bund.
Niameh graduated from the Folkshul (The Yiddish elementary school). As it was not possible for him to continue his studies he continued to learn and read on his own. This is how he obtained a secular education, studied foreign languages, and studied the works of Marx and Engels and other social science books.
With his bubbly personality, he threw himself into political and communal work. He was one of the founders and leaders of Tsukunft (Future) and later the Socialist Children's Society SKIF. Niameh later organized the Cultural League as well as the library where he worked for many years as librarian. As director of the library he had a great influence on the readers with whom he would have long discussions about the books they read.
The young Niameh knew nothing about a private life. He devoted his time and energy to the Bund and cultural communal work: he led groups, worked in SKIF, in Tsukungt, in the Cultural League and gave lectures to members of the party. He also gave lessons to young illiterates who he taught to read and write.
Besides all this he was busy with cultural work, collected folklore for YIVO and was rewarded by them for his work: The Biography of a Youth.
After graduating from the Folkshul, Niameh threw himself into working for the school with heart and soul. He worked for many years as the school secretary and was a member of the board of directors until the police noticed his activities and took away his moral certificate. They never discovered any illegal acts. They just took away his right to be secretary of the school.
However, Niameh was not lacking communal work. He was one of the organizers of the Professional Union which was also involved in cultural work.
Niameh was the main speaker at the May 1st gathering of Jewish and Polish Workers. There was not any political or cultural communal work that Niameh refused to do. He carried and sold the newspaper Di Folkstzeytung and the Polish Workers newspaper which he distributed to the surrounding villages. He would often go in rain and snow and enjoyed every success in recruiting a new subscriber for the socialist press.
Every May 1st they would search our home and after the search Niameh had to report to the police twice a day.
In 1937, after the 1st of May, 17 Bundists and communists were arrested including Niameh. The locales of the Bund and the Professional Union were closed. Some of the members were released after a short time, but Niameh and one of his friends remained in jail. They were put on trial for anti state agitation. Disregarding all the efforts of the prosecutor, the court did not find any proof of illegal activity and freed the accused…the prosecutor appealed the verdict and Niameh remained in jail. Thanks to the defense by the lawyer Emanuel Sherer, the Court of Appeal in Vilna released him.
While Niameh sat in jail, his young friends tried to continue his cultural, political and Bundist activities. They contacted the central committee of the party and the Bundist teacher Miss Goldman and consulted with her on how to continue with this work in Zhetl.
After, when the Zhetl police declared the Bund illegal, the illegal organization was created. The young members of SKIF divided into groups of three and ten. Each was responsible for three members which he would have to bring to the circles.
They would prepare discussions according to instructions from the central committee. They would gather in private homes, read the papers together and discuss political questions. Every week another member would prepare a political review of the week.
After 3 months Niameh was released from jail and disregarding his weak health, returned to his work. He would regularly come to the decided meeting place which was different every time. Once at Rivka Dzhenchelsky's, another time at Khane Orlinsky's or at Asneh Gertzovsky's in the attic. In all these places they would hold clandestine meetings, organize lectures with the participation of guests like Zheleznikov and Abrashe Blum.
From 1937 until the outbreak of the war the Bund in Zhetl was illegal, but the work led by Niameh was not interrupted. They illegally carried out elections to the Congress Against AntiSemitism which was later banned by the Polish authorities. Niameh was elected as the delegate from Zhetl.
When the war broke out Bundist activity ceased in Zhetl. Niameh received work under Soviet rule in the municipal hospital situated in the old palace. The Jewish population needed him to continue to participate in its communal and cultural life. However, the new authorities persecuted and arrested Bundists as criminals. None of the local communists denounced Niameh because officially the Bund did not exist and there was not one ideological opponent who did not love Niameh.
The members of the newly created town council consulted with Niameh on various problems. Our father asked him not to mix into Jewish communal issues until the situation stabilized. The truth is, Niameh no longer was involved in broader communal activity as all his energy was focused on his new position at the hospital. He worked there as a bookkeeper but actually managed the whole administration.
This lasted until March 5th 1940 when the militia entered our home searching for weapons. The search was short. Of course they did not find weapons. But, they did arrest Niameh and he never returned home.
As he was arrested in the Zhetl Township, the militia, who were Niameh's acquaintances, permitted those close to him to visit, even late in the evening. One day, Niameh had a bad toothache. They permitted Ella Kuperman to come to him in the middle of the night to ease his pain. He told her they wanted to force him to sign that he was a counter revolutionary and he was never persecuted by the Polish authorities. He responded to them that he would never sign such a document.
Family members ran to RAIKOM (the Organization of the Communist Party in Soviet Union). The doctors and other staff who worked with him also made an effort. Ana Shapiro, Christians and communists offered to pledge for him and asked for his release. Nothing helped. After seven days they came to our house and ordered us to pack up all our things in an hour. They deported us to Russia.
In Russia, at the beginning of May 1941 we received the first postcard from Sukhobezvadne, Gorky region. He wrote that he loves onions and biscuits and asked us to send clothes because his were torn. In addition he mentioned he was learning a new trade, braiding slippers, in exchange for his old specialty, clearing snow off the planks. On one page of the letter he wrote the number of the paragraph which dealt with his accusation. This paragraph spoke about political activity against the Soviet regime and he was sentenced to 5 years in a camp.
After receiving such a letter we began to send him parcels including the last things we had knowing he was weak and would not be able to handle the conditions in the camp.
Finally he wrote: Hold up dear brother and sister, I am making an effort to live. These were his last words.
After amnesty was granted to the Poles who were arrested we waited for his release. Many arrested Poles returned from the camps and exile. Niameh did not return.
We continued to write demanding his return. After many appeals over a period of two years we received a short notice: Died May 12th 1941 and 60 ruble for the food and items sent.
This is how a person died, who never thought about himself, did not have a personal life as he lived for society. He believed strongly in the ideal of justice and socialism and deeply loved the Jewish people and Jewish traditions.
Let these memories serve as a monument on his unknown grave.
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