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Personalities and Characters


Yanov and its Jews

By Yona Kravetz

Translated by David Goldman

I can see the four-cornered market right before my eyes with its two circles of shops, the two churches (the Russian and Polish) and the large church bells that would strike fear with their clanging of bim-bam, bim-bam. There was also the water well in the middle of the market and the sounds of the chains of the pails pulling up water that echoed throughout the market and awakened the sleeping goats around the well. The five synagogues where Jews would pour out their heavy hearts to G-d were located near the market. Circumcisions and weddings were also held in those synagogues, and children would study Talmud there using the special melody for learning Talmud resounding and delighting the hearts of their Jewish parents.

I can see before me the town beadle who would call on Jews every Friday afternoon to go to the public bath and prepare for the Sabbath in synagogue, reminding the dozing shopkeepers in their shops. He also reminded the tailors and shoemakers who were toiling away from morning until late in the evening to earn a few groshens to hurry and close their businesses to prepare for the arrival of the holy Sabbath day - the day when everyone casts off all weekday worries and concerns, stand tall to become the sons of kings, and joyfully welcome the Sabbath angels, the angels of peace. All of this made a life of harmony that provided the framework for our beloved little town of Yanov.

Our bitter tears were left within the large spring of Jewish tears because of the destruction of little town of Yanov.

Our dear Jews: R. Yossel the rabbi, Wolfke the ritual slaughterer, a warm and quiet man who tested us Talmud Torah children every Friday. Was I ever happy when the wonderful rabbi, R. Yossel would pinch my cheek after a successful test! I will never forget how much I enjoyed once receiving a ten-piece

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coin (five copper kopeks) accompanied by a hard cheek pinch as a gift following a successful test. I kept that coin wrapped in paper for a long time. G-d is my witness that did everything I possibly could not to exchange that coin.

Moshele the preacher and his silky pointy beard and sweet warm voice would show his affection to the poorest in town with a pat on the back. He really loved people, and no one saw him ever get angry at anyone. He was a great cantor, and I can still hear his tunes which I still thing were the best music in the world. His two sons, Motke Mosheles and Yisrael Mosheles, of blessed memory, and a few other singers were his accompanists. Over my long life I have heard a lot of great music, but Moshele the preacher 's heartfelt tunes are unforgettable.

Wolfke the ritual slaughterer was a good-hearted person, and everyone loved him. He always had a good word for everyone and was a devoted community activist, synagogue custodian and a tester of Talmud Torah children. People were even able to forgive him for being obsessed about grammar.


R. Shalom Moshe the Ritual Slaughterer of blessed memory

My first memories as a child were of the fast of the Ninth of the month of Av commemorating the destruction of the Temple. There was a huge fire in Yanov approximately seventy years ago. [Maybe 1890s or early 1900s?] Jews wore themselves out either by extinguishing the fire or cleaning the roofs of the houses that were in danger.

Someone ran through the streets with his arms spread out with his long coat's sleeves tied around his belt, yelling , “Jews, you can go eat, I am telling you to go home and eat lunch.” This was the “Angry One” but a friendly and warm Shalom the Ritual Slaughterer. He didn't think about cleaning his own roof. It bothered him so much that “his” Jews were hungry.

He was very tough on his children and wanted to fill their heads with as much Torah as possible. He was also very harsh with those who violated the Sabbath. His house was next door to the post office where there was no Sabbath ritual boundary called an eruv. It was reported to him that young people where getting their mail on the Sabbath, and on his way home from synagogue on the Sabbath he would stand in the middle of the street and search all the young people's pockets. He once found a letter in David Fissor the local heretic's pocket. The punches he got could be felt on the street, but the “heretic” was unaffected and didn't stop him from treating him day and night for weeks when the holy Shalom Moshe became ill and passed away. There wasn't a single misfortune affecting somebody in town that R. Shalom Moshe didn't know about and assist with using all possible means. One person had promised

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promised to pay the dowry before the wedding when the bride was seated before the ceremony. However the groom's side refused to allow him to approach the chupah until the dowry was paid.

No money was available and there was no alternative. R. Shalom Moshe was successful in many cases, he was beloved and respected, but there were also exceptions where people were stubborn and refused to listen to him. However, R. Shalom Moshe had a suggestion. He had people who trusted him, and one of them lent him 10 rubles, while others lent him more, so he was able to come up with the amount and pay off the dowry bringing happiness to the town. The newlyweds were escorted from the chupah, and Shalom Moshe the weakling brought joy to the new couple with enthusiastic dancing. Since his wife stuffed geese to be sold, he would gradually take money from her and pay off his debts, while Smuniker appears to have remained heavily in debt.

Whenever two Jews got into a dispute R. Shalom Moshe would suddenly show up and straighten it out. R. Shalom Moshe knew about any home where there were domestic disputes or where a sick person was. I remember that I once came down with typhus and noticed that R. Shalom Moshe was standing there and rocking back and forth over me while he prayed until the moment arrived when G-d accepted his prayer. I once studied together with a young boy. Aside from that day of study, we would get up in the early morning and R. Shalom Moshe, of blessed memory, would study with each of us individually.

My parents, of blessed memory were poor, and began thinking about my future. So I went to the train under the bench [sic] arrived in Pinsk and became a painter. G-d helped me, and I climbed up a high scaffold and felt weak as I became dizzy and fell down like a clump. I was taken over to the Pinsk hospital and lay there covered in bandages. A few days later I saw R. Shalom Moshe standing next to my bed. He had come to make a sick call and be a witness that G-d had punished me for giving up my Torah studies. I had to swear to him that I would start studying again and G-d would heal my wounds. He didn't just say prayers for me, he made sure that I would be able to get back to studying.

He led prayers on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and the heavens were split open.


R. Nyomke the Teacher and his good-hearted wife Miriam

He was a dear and beloved neighbor, a warm and good person and Jew who always shared his food with everyone. He let his house be used for Sabbath and Yomtov prayers and honored the early arrivals with

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a glass of sweet tea and milk. When he subsequently became a teller at the Folksbank he assisted the poor as a cosigner, which he frequently paid for them. His good-hearted wife Miriam ran a store and lent money for flour to the poor for the Sabbath and never asked to be reimbursed so she wouldn't have to embarrass whomever was unable to repay her.


Binyamin the Furrier (Kotchikovitch)

He was everyone's friend and would frequently get up on a frosty night to do a favor for someone else. It's impossible to describe his honesty, and these days it sounds like an incredible legend.


Moshe the Furrier, Moshe Senders

His home was a place for the poor to stay overnight. He would bring along from synagogue the poorest people, and would prepare borscht soup and potatoes for them. They would put their coats onto the ground and sleep on them, and the next morning honor them with a glass of warm soup.


Alter Ashers (Lifschitz) and his wife Sarah Riva, of blessed memory

He was one of the only so-called wealthy people who we had in town in those days when there was terrible poverty (the situation improved somewhat later on in large part because of America). Alter Ashers would assist many poor people in a quiet way and paid tuition for many children (including myself). His wife Sarah Riva would cook up some preserves and give it out to the sick poor all year round. As a distinguished businessman he was accepted by the local town council and would frequently bail out Jews who found themselves in violation of the authorities. On Purim he was invite them to his meal and all the various Purim performers would entertain the people with their fees covered by R. Alter Ashers (there were also good actors performing plays such as Joseph and His Brothers and Queen Esther).


Yossel the Shoemaker and his wife, of blessed memory

An ordinary Jew who attended synagogue together and studied chapters of Mishnah with ordinary Jews in the Tailors Synagogue, where he did many good deeds. His wife her own charity fund that quietly

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assisted people with contributions that did not have to be returned. All their friends asked them for advice and often received assistance from them. They worked hard and for that time period were successful businesspeople, may their memory be for a blessing.


Zalman Gorodetsky, of blessed memory

People considered him to be a hard-nosed businessman, but in his own quiet way he was a very good person. Let me tell you a story. I was living in Byalistock and could not count on any assistance from my poor parents while I was going hungry. In order to spare them any suffering I wrote that things are going well for me. R. Zalman Gordodetsky, of blessed memory, once came to Byalistock on business. He looked me up and didn't return home until he was able to help me with whatever he was able. It is worthwhile noting that he never breathed a word to anyone about what he did for me.


Moshe Adler, of blessed memory

He was a Jew with a large heart. He would search out the needy on his own and often leave work and go on distant journeys if he felt it would be of help to someone for him to provide assistance or advice. There is a lot to write about him, for example the following typical story: He once needed a large amount of money for a family and had difficulty obtaining it. He became friendly with young people, the “good people” as we called them. As a joke they suggested he walk through town wearing a coat and a gentile fur hat and felt shoes, and they would come up with the money he needed. He accepted their ridiculous offer, and the town turned upside down. However, the needy families got the help they needed.


Rabbi Chaim Yitzchak Weingarten

I had the honor of studying with him under his holy father, of blessed memory, founded the yeshiva school in Yanov. Thereafter when he was already the local rabbi in Lieges, Belgium, I ended up there myself as an illegal immigrant . One Sabbath evening a man and woman with families from both sides arrived to obtain a religious divorce. The sides argued strenuously with each other, but because the fear of involving the police (because R. Yitzchak was not yet a citizen in Lieges and furthermore to hide an illegal immigrant and send away an entire family, I had to leave the house and didn't know when to

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return. They looked for me all over town. When his wife, of blessed memory, pointed out the danger to the entire family, he replied that he would never kick out a Jew from his house no matter how great the danger. His wife and he did their utmost for me until I attained legal status.


My Parents

Others will certainly write about my parents - about their great poverty and their great honesty is legendary. Six years ago, when I was in America, Moshe Adler, of blessed memory, told me that when my father, of blessed memory, was in America he came home to find his pay envelope holding 7 dollars instead of six. He ran all the way back to the store to return the dollar. His boss told him that he had raised his salary, and my father was unhappy because he said he “didn't come to rob America.”

As poor as she was, my holy mother, of blessed memory, always shared her last meal with others during the day and during the night. No matter how weak she was, she was always ready to help others as much as possible. When the children started helping her, no sacrifice for anyone was ever too great for her.

Many other Yanovers should forgive us for not mentioning them. Unfortunately, my memory is not so strong anymore. Even while I was a child I almost left Yanov, and then later I lived there very little. I also don't have the strength to describe everything that today sounds like a legend. The town was so poor in those day (most residents didn't earn more than 8 - 10 gilden a week), and yet they supported a Talmud Torah for children and a yeshiva for teenagers. The poorest provided one meal a day for a yeshiva boy.

If the house of a poor person burned down (they had no money for insurance) a new one went up quickly. The builders took hardly any money for their work. Among them I remember R. Moshe Velvel, of blessed memory and his hatchet, Todros the Builder, of blessed memory, and Yankel the Builder, of blessed memory, who built the cemetery.

Work on the homes of the wealthy was stopped so they could finish the house of the poor guy who lost his house. If a poor wagon driver's horse fell, they bought a new horse right away.

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Avrahamke the Religious Teacher

The Talmud Torah class was located in the women's section of the larger synagogue. It was there that the poorest children of our dear Yanov studied, including me. During that period of awful poverty only G-d knows how he survived. They simply saved bread from every meal, and teachers were hired to teach writing and arithmetic, and simply did their work with self-sacrifice. Without regard for their infrequent meager salaries they raised several generations of good precious Jews. One of the teachers was Mr. Dobovsky, the son of Mordechai Hirsch, and apparently the heretic David Fissor. We shouldn't forget to mention Avrahamke the teacher, of blessed memory. Despite the fact that he was always filled with worry about caring for his own large family, he had patience to teach the children (who included many learning disabled children) many of whom were hit by him but who always remained good friends with him. During the First World War, when we suffered from hunger, his students at that time supported him. I was in Kiev at that time and would send him a few rubles at the first opportunity.


Todros the Furrier

He was an honest Jew who was happy with little. He used to work endlessly in his job and would stitch peasant furs just to be able to earn his bread and pay for his children's tuition. His poverty didn't stop him from competing with R. Moshe Senders, though not in work, but rather in rounding up the poor people who were hanging around the synagogues and bringing them home to his wife, a fine modest woman who walked in his ways. She would honor them with hot potatoes and cold sour milk. She would make up beds for them on the floor using peasant furs and when these poor people were well rested they would bless her and thank her for the way she hosted them.

One of their neighbors, a widow who used to bake bread to support her own children used to say that without the help she received from her good-hearted neighbors she would never have been able to feed her children or give them an education. During the First World War the Germans ordered her to bake bread and caused her great suffering. Her good-hearted neighbors devoted themselves to helping the widow and her orphans.

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The acts of forefathers is an example to their descendants

After being in America for half a year I had the opportunity to meet many Jews from Yanov including many who were not people of means but who went beyond their abilities to help their friends and families. Our dear friend Louis Wicker and his good-hearted wife excelled in this, from their building the Yanov synagogue in Chicago to their charity in Israel. His hand was always open for all the needy.


Almost all the Jews from our town of Yanov were these kinds of people, and now they are no longer with us. May their memories be for a blessing.

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Yishai Adler

By S. Ernst

Translated by Martin Jacobs

Yishai[1] (the name is an acronym for Yisrael Yehuda = Israel Judah) Adler was born on Rosh Hodesh Nisan in 5630 [1874] in the town of Janova near Pinsk, Russia. His father, Shlomo [Solomon], was a scholar, an honorable man, a diligent worker for the community, who acquired a good reputation with the townspeople for his intelligence and distinguished character. He brought up his son in the manner of the haredim[2] of his day. At the center of instruction was the Talmud and the other holy subjects, but along with this, because of his great love of the holy tongue[3], he permitted his son to read various books of the Haskala[4] also, of course only proper ones. He also engaged a teacher to teach him Russian, which was not very common there at that time. At three and a half he entered heder[5], and after half a year he began to study Torah[6], and at six and a half, Talmud. He was instructed by the best teachers in the city: Dov (Berko), Aharon, Mordekhay Tsvi, Tovia, Borukh, and Rabbi Isur. The boy was distinguished by his wonderful memory and his straightforward intelligence. Arguments of the Talmud occupied his brain and sharpened his thinking. The lad absorbed ideas from all the treasure houses of our ancient literature. He was attracted not only by the halakhic literature but also the agada.[7] While still a lad he showed a tendency to community work; he founded an organization called “clothing the naked”, whose members were lads of his own age.

Among the books of the Haskala which his father permitted him to read were the poems of Adam HaKohen and the books of Ribal[8]. He was especially impressed by the book “Love of Zion” by Abraham Mapu, which captivated the lad. He used to close his eyes and see in a day dream the city of the great king, Jerusalem crowned. Night and day he dreamed of the return to Zion. He nurtured his soul with the kingdom of Israel, with the Messiah. At home he did not speak much of this, but within the walls of the bet hamidrash[9] he was freer; he revealed everything that was on his mind when speaking to his friends; he bared his soul; he preached his first Zionist sermon.

From the year 5646 [1886] up to the end of 5655 [1895] he taught in the villages and cities. In 5651 [1891] he was married in Pinsk to Berakha, daughter of Rabbi Yishayahu Mordekhay Eisenberg (of blessed memory), also known as “the Pious One”. who was from the family of the Tsaddik Mafto. After living for a year (5653 [= 1893]) in Radom (according to their register), he went at the beginning of 5654 [1894] to Aleksandrovsk, in the region of Yekaterinoslav. Here he taught and began his first community activity. He was active here as a member of the “Lovers of Zion” and he was the moving spirit of everything that was done in that territory, in the city and in its environs. Before he arrived the “Love of Zion” movement was not active at all anywhere in the city; there wasn't even one member of the Odessa Committee[i]. In the course of time the membership grew and they even chose him to be a delegate to a conference in Odessa (Tammuz of 5656 [= 1896]). His ability as an organizer and speaker stood him in good stead and he quickly become popular everywhere. He successfully founded a mutual aid society for workers with special permission of the government, something very difficult in those days. He also founded one of the most important societies, “Lovers of the Hebrew language”. Persons from the best of the youths in the town up to elders among the scholars, including the venerable Rabbi Abraham David Lavut of blessed memory, eventually belonged to it. He likewise organized evening lessons and Shabbath lessons and lectures on Judaic subjects and he distributed Hebrew newspapers and Hebrew books without taking any compensation.

The organization which Adler created for reviving the Hebrew language quickly became known also in nearby towns and in those too, similar organizations were founded. One of his contemporaries who heard his speeches reports that Adler captivated everyone who heard him, that he expressed in a pleasant manner his aspirations, the aspirations of the generation of the revival.

In the year 5660 [1900] he was invited by the committee headed by Mr. A.Y. Sheffer (now a farmer in a village of hasidim) to the city of Davyd-Horodok. There he was the first to introduce the method of learning Hebrew through Hebrew and made his name as a pedagogue who broke new ground. He was so successful that the distinguished Bundist Helfand[ii] (whose pseudonym was A. Litvak), sent at that time by the government to Davyd-Horodok as an atonement for his sins, this strong mitnaged[10], who fought with Adler about Zionism and his Hebraism, grew closer to him through his visits to his school. He won him over to such an extent that he used to go with him to Pinsk (the city in which the first modern hadarim were founded in Russia using the translation method), to the pedagogical meetings convened by Adler. There he supported him in his defense of the method of Hebrew through Hebrew.

In this city Adler also worked through word and deed for the sake of Zionism. After the fire in the city he was invited by representatives of Pinsk to start an elementary school there for the Hebrew-through-Hebrew method. Adler agreed to go to Homel in 5661 [1901] at the request of the Zionists of Homel to the Zionists of Pinsk. Adler's fame was growing especially here, with great strength, in the nationalist movement and in the teaching of Hebrew. Here there were at the time many activists among the veteran Zionists: Mordekhay ben Hillel HaKohen, the authors S. Berman and Hillel Zeitlin, Rabbi Brishnesky, Dr. Tsvi Bruk; among the younger Zionists: Y.H. Berger, the Gansin brothers, Y.L.G. Kahanovits, Barukh Rubinstein, Bergman, Haikin, the Heiligman brothers, and others. They approached the organizing of the Zionists into an association with vigor and energy and shared the Zionist work, some concentrating on money matters (and afterwards also on shares of the colonial bank and the National Fund), some on Zionist publicity, some on literature and culture. Among the other cultural matters there was also attention to the state of national education in the city, for he was not satisfied with the old existing “heder” and the accepted methods of instruction. After much discussion and a thorough investigation of the matter, they decided to open a modern heder, first and foremost for the children of the members of the Zionist association, who lent their support to it. A special committee was selected to attend to the opening of the modern heder. Yishai Adler was invited to be its leader, and Dr. Chaim Weitzman also recommended him. He was already generally becoming well known as a multi-faceted pedagogue, insistent on protecting the methods of the school and the importance of great accuracy in instruction.

Adler then stayed in Homel at the center of the activity of renewing the Hebrew heder. He also introduced the natural method there, an ideal in which he was encouraged even more after his distinguished success the previous year in this method, to which he held fast because of the direct relationship to the nationalist movement and the revival of the Hebrew language, and especially for pedagogical reasons, that is, reform of the corruptions originating in the translation method. This was the era of the awakening of the concept of nationhood, and, together with this awakening, the thought of again reviving the language, which had completely ceased to be spoken for over a thousand years, also entered the minds of certain elite individuals. The elite in the Zionist movement came to recognize that if we wished again to live as a people in our own land, a people one and united, we would also have to have a common language, which is Hebrew, for the revival of our people would be impossible as long as our national language was not also revived as a living tongue.

Adler was one of those who thought that one should devote especially strong efforts to reviving the language among children, because it is more difficult for adults to change the language which they had been accustomed to speak their whole life. And he was one of the first to speak it outside the Land of Israel.

As in the rest of his endeavors Adler revealed himself here too as a fighter for new values, for an upright life. He had in him sufficient strength to oppose the teaching method then accepted in the world of pedagogy. The chief spokesmen for the latter were the late Y.H. Tevyov, M. B. Schneider, and others; their text books were the most important in teaching the Hebrew language.

The author Mordekhay ben Hillel HaKohen, in his autobiography “My World” (vol. 3 p. 167) reported the following details about Adler and his “modern heder” :

“In the modern heder Adler began a great cultural endeavor in Homel. The school houses were especially clean and spacious, and not for any use other than study. The furniture was schoolroom furniture, and had aids for teaching and physical training. The lessons were given at fixed times and there were rest breaks between lessons. Among the subjects a place was set aside for singing and for physical training. The teachers were meticulous about the cleanliness of the pupils and their clothing. The teachers were for the most part masters, to some extent, of the Enlightenment, both Jewish and general. The methods of instruction were very much improved. Pupils were accepted at age six or seven and studied until their tenth year, and those who left afterwards for general schools continued to visit the modern heder an hour or more in the afternoon. The curriculum was: Hebrew, Bible, Talmud (using a guide book), Jewish history, explanations of the prayers, and also arithmetic and geometry - all taught in Hebrew from the very first day.

“The oldest of my three small children reached school age and I was very happy that I was able to give him into the hands of Adler, the teacher in the modern heder in Homel, the town in which he lived. It was as though a sprit of revival breathed upon me from the benches of this house. I had no other joy but to visit the heder and spend hours in the company of the children murmuring and chattering in Hebrew and their teachers doing holy work….”

But the path of the “modern hadarim” was not strewn with roses. The Russian government was always fearful lest politically inappropriate learning come out of these schools, at a time when every subject of the state was at all times a focus of suspicion. The opening of even a private school required special permission, and the inspector's eye was always upon it. But Adler overcame this obstacle. In fact the inspector became a devotee of Adler, and used to exhibit him and his school as an example for teachers of the state schools…

(from the Jubilee Book of Yishai Adler, Tel Aviv, 5707 [1947], pp. 10-17)

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Yishai can be a name in its own right (= English Jesse) but is here an acronym. Return
  2. Haredim are often called “Ultra-Orthodox” in English. Return
  3. Hebrew. Return
  4. The Jewish Enlightenment movement, which was at times a force for secularization. Return
  5. Traditional Jewish elementary school, emphasizing religious studies. Return
  6. Specifically the humash, the first five books of the Bible. Return
  7. Halakhic literature is legalistic and ritualistic (and therefore considered more important); agadic literature consists of narrative and legends. Return
  8. That is, Rabbi Yitskhak Ber Levinsohn, 19th century Hebrew writer. Return
  9. Jewish study house. Return
  10. Opponent of the hasidim. Return

  1. The Odessa Committee, officially known as the Society for the Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Palestine, was a charitable, pre-Zionist organization in the Russian Empire, which supported emigration to the Biblical Land of Israel, then Ottoman Syria. The pogroms of 1881-1884 and the May Laws of 1882 gave impetus to political activism among Russian Jews and mass emigration. More than two million Jews fled Russia between 1881 and 1920, the vast majority emigrating to the United States. The Tsarist government sporadically encouraged Jewish emigration. In 1882, members of Bilu and Hovevei Zion made what came to be known the First Aliyah to Eretz Israel, then a part of the Ottoman Syria. Initially, these organizations were not official, and in order to attain a legally recognized framework, a Jewish organization had to be registered as a charity in various European countries and the United States that provided most of the funding. After arduous negotiations, the Russian government approved the establishment of the "Society for the Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Palestine" early in 1890.[2] It was based in Odessa (now in Ukraine), headed by Leon Pinsker, and dedicated to practical aspects of establishing Jewish agricultural settlements in the Palestine. It helped to establish Rehovot and Hadera and rehabilitate Mishmar HaYarden in early 1890s. Before the First Zionist Congress in 1897 the Odessa Committee counted over 4,000 members. When the Zionist Organization was founded (1897), most of the Hovevei Zion societies joined it. The Odessa Committee continued to function until it was closed in 1913. Return
  2. (1874-1932), pseudonym of Khayim Yankl Helfand, socialist, Yiddish writer, translator, and editor. Helfand was born in Vilna to a strictly observant Jewish family. He went to heder until the age of 12 and subsequently studied at a yeshiva and taught himself Russian. At the age of 19, he joined an illegal study group in Vilna organized by the Jewish Social Democratic Group in Russia, the organization that later established the Bund in 1897.
    The Jewish socialist intelligentsia in Vilna immediately recognized Helfand's usefulness to the movement, as he was a native Yiddish speaker with a traditional Jewish background and competency in Russian. In 1895-1896, he participated in the work of the Zhargon Committee, which translated works of fiction, science, and politics into Yiddish, created workers' libraries, and published materials in Yiddish for dissemination among Jewish workers. Along with other so-called “half intellectuals” (young recruits to the movement educated in heders rather than in Russian schools and universities), he played a major role in spreading Yiddish-language socialist publications.
    Helfand was arrested and exiled to Siberia, but returned to Vilna in 1904. From 1905, he began writing under the pseudonym A. Litvak. Between 1905 and 1914, he was one of the most influential and prolific Yiddish writers for the Bund. He edited Der varshaver arbayter in 1905, organ of the Bund's Warsaw division, and wrote regularly for the party's legal daily press: Der veker (1905-1906), Folks-tsaytung (1906-1907), and Di hofnung (1907). As a leader of the Bund's national wing, Litvak opposed reunification with the Russian Social Democratic Party in 1906. Between 1908 and 1910, he came out publicly against the ideology of national neutralism, and thus opposed Vladimir Medem's position that the Bund should declare neutrality about the future of the Yiddish language, Yiddish culture, and Jewish nationality. In 1910, Litvak was elected to the Bund's central committee.
    During World War I, Litvak settled in America, where he supported the Jewish labor movement. Following the Russian Revolution, he returned to Russia and was active in the anti-Bolshevik faction of the Bund. In 1921, after the liquidation of the Bund in Soviet Russia, he moved again to Vilna. There he played an important role in the party as well as in secular Yiddish cultural institutions, including the Central Yiddish School Organization (TSYSHO) and the Kultur-lige. In 1925, he returned to America, joined the Jewish Socialist Farband (the anticommunist wing of the Jewish socialist movement), and edited its organ, Veker. In 1925, a collection of Litvak's writings was published in Vilna as Vos geven: Etyudn un zikhroynes (What Was: Writings and Memoirs; 1925); the volume contained his celebrated essay on the Zhargon Committee, and is the most important primary source on the subject. Return

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About Yishai Adler


Translated by Smadar Gilboa

Edited by Yocheved Klausner


Our Yishai

“The people of Israel have been liberated from Egypt because they did not change their names and language”. Our own Israel, the one I am writing about here, was liberated from his Yanova because he changed his name, Israel Leib to Israel Yehuda, and his language from Yiddish to Hebrew.

It was the days when the Yanova's elders would bitterly pursue the Zionists, and would scold them with ”Those people with Hutzpah are daring to talk about Zion in a holy place”. They called the Heder Metukan, Heder Mesukan [1]. On The Tarbut School they would say that those going there are subject to Tarbut Raah [2], and they are not in their right mind. Someone dared to say a blessing honoring Theodor Herzl's birthday during the “Mi Sheberach [3]”; in response one of the elders called for order and read “Hanoten Teshua [4]”. He ended by announcing with emphasis “He is our king and savior, he and no one else” - which, by the way, can be understood in two ways. When the head of the Gubernia agreed to the town's youth proposal and ordered the construction of desperately needed paved sidewalks, to avoid getting knee-deep in the mud - you could still find those who in the name of God, and for the sake of making a point would walk through the mud in the middle of the road, saying: “Are you expecting me to walk on sidewalks made by the infidel Zionist hooligans? - This will never happen!”

Yanova had an old falling apart Beit Midrash, which they did not bother to fix it until one of the Magids [preacher] called from the Bima: “what a terrible place this is, someone may die here when the ceiling will fall. If it was a private house it would have been renovated long ago. I am afraid that when the Messiah will come and take all the Jews to Eretz Israel, you Yanova's Jews will remain here. I do not know how you imagine that day - in my imagination I see a pair of seraphim descending from the sky for each and every town. They will gather all the Jews into the Beit Midrash, then they will take a long log and place it through two windows. One seraph on each end of the log will lift the building with all the people in it on their shoulders and fly to Eretz Israel. But when they will do it here, the roof will separate from the decayed walls, and you will be left here”. Not long after they fixed the Yanova's Beit Midrash.

In this environment and atmosphere Yishai started his persistent work and his propaganda for the Zionist ideas and for reviving the Hebrew language. The very strong opposition to his ideas proved to him that Yanova was not yet ready; he left to do his work for Zion in Pinsk. Despite this, when the Colonial Bank was opened the Pinsk, the Zionists sent him to Yanova to sell some shares. He gave a speech in the temple and managed to sell shares. But the negative attitude toward Zionism was so strong in Yanova that even after 25 years you could still feel it. I am talking from my own experience. When I returned to Yanova from Russia in 1922, I joined an activist from Warsaw who came to collect donations for Keren Hayesod [5]. We came upon a large bodied Jew [6] in the middle of a prayer, he asked us what we want but did not stop praying, but when he finally realized the purpose of our visit he angrily spitted on our faces, and turned away.

Yishai moved from Pinsk to Radom, and from there to Alexandrovska, and to Krynki, and in all these towns he worked successfully on behalf of the Jewish community, Zionism, and for the Hebrew language and culture. His reputation came to him from his distinction as an excellent Hebrew teacher in the Davyd-Haradok's Heder Metukan. This town was under the influence of the Bund, when one of the busiest Bunds activists from Vilna was sentenced by the government to live there. He was very influential and if it was not for Yishai we would have lost many Zionist souls. But our Yishai spread his Zionist spirit among his friends and his students, and they stood on his side in the war against him.

Certainly it was Yisahi's work that allowed Zionism to be established in Davyd-Haradok, more than in any other town in this area. His friends and students continued his work after he left town. His influence continued even a few years later when a ten-year-old boy organized his friends to refuse talking in any language but Hebrew. Their mothers were outraged; they could not hold a conversation with their own kids! But even that did not change the children's minds. Eventually a Tarbut Hebrew school was opened in this town.

Once Yishai visited me in Kremenchug, in Amstislevsky's office where I worked, and when he talked with me in Hebrew everybody around us was amazed and shocked. But he was not moved at all, he said “when we use our language we are our own masters”. One should add that the well-to-do people in Kremenchug did not want to hear about Eretz Israel. They built houses, planted vineyards, and opened factories, completely ignoring the political views of the Tsar's government. One time when the head of the Gubernia visited in town and saw Reb Wolborski's new house across from the government's bank, he said “what a miserable Jew! He thinks he is in Eretz Israel”. Yishai could see in his mind what the Jewish wealthy men could not see with their own eyes; he left the Diaspora and made Aliya to Eretz Israel. His fame and reputation in Israel reflects his many activities and his contribution to this country.

I wish him health, and may we be worthy to be here for his 120th birthday.

(From the Jubilee Book of Yishai Adler, Tel Aviv, 5707 [1947], pp 122-125)

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Heder Metukan is a modern heder. Metukan literally means repaired while Mesukan means dangerous. Return
  2. Tarbut Raah is said when someone is not living up to the standards in the old days; it probably meant not following the Jewish religion in the traditional way. ZD'Ks footnote: they finally opened Tarbut schhol in Yanova, and it became quite popular. Return
  3. A mi sheberach is the prayer said in shul, blessing a particular person or group. The name comes from the opening of the prayer, which means May the One who blesses. http://www.thejc.com/judaism/jewish-words/mi-sheberach Return
  4. Hanoten Teshua prayer was the most popular prayer for the government until the twentieth century http://judaism.about.com/od/conservativegolinkin/a/israel_prayers_3.htm Return
  5. Keren Hayesod was established at the World Zionist Conference in London on July 7-24, 1920, and officially declared on December 24, 1920. The resolution adopted called on “the whole Jewish people”, Zionists and non-Zionists alike to contribute toward the building of the Land of Israel through Keren Hayesod Return
  6. The author used the term “Arieh Ba'al Guf” a bodied lion, term likely borrowed from the 1899 H. N. Bialik's story with the same title. Return

[Page 130]

Memories from Grandfather's House
– Rabbi Moshe'l Megidas

by Asher Karni

Donated by Rebecca Entwisle

Who in Yanov and its surroundings hadn't heard of Rabbi Moshe'l Megidas! His name traveled far and wide for all the good measures and virtues God had bestowed upon him: a righteous and blameless man, God-fearing and honest, a learned scholar yet pleasant and courteous even to the commonest folk, generous, humble and unassuming. I remember, not long after I had made my Aliyah (over forty years ago) Rabbi Yishai Adler published an article in one of the religious weeklies that used to circulate in the Land of Israel (if I am not mistaken, the name of the newspaper was “HaYessod” – “The Foundation”), in which he compared my grandfather, Rabbi Moshe'l Megidas to the Chofetz Chaim because of their similar superior traits and qualities.

Yet notwithstanding all of my grandfather's fine and resplendent virtues, he was most lauded and renowned for his beautiful and jubilant prayers. He was not a cantor, but a “prayer master”, and not just any “prayer master” at that! His voice, though not particularly strong, was pleasing to the ear, filling one's soul with joy and setting one's heart aquiver. His singing and prayers during the High Holy Days would draw not only the regular worshipers of the resisters' synagogue, where my grandfather used to pray, but many others from other synagogues around the town would hasten to finish praying early so they could make it to the big synagogue in time to hear the delightful and beautiful melodies of Rabbi Moshe'l Megidas's prayer. Even the town's goyim would come to listen to his High Holy Days prayers, including the most notable among them: the “Pristav” (the chief of police), the postmaster, the trainmaster. When Moshe'l Megidas would pronounce, during the Rosh HaShana Mussaf prayer, “sound loud the Shofar,” or “all mankind pass before you,” great awe and trembling would seize all listeners! The mellow melodies of his prayers were memorized not only by the singers, who would accompany him in a choir, but by the whole congregation and many a worshipper would croon the melodies along with the choir. Many of those who hail from Yanov still remember the lovely melodies of my grandfather's prayers to this day.

I remember, when I was already living in the Land of Israel, I ran into Rabbi Yishai Adler at the wedding of Shulamit Weiss, daughter of the Rabbi Abraham Aharon Weiss, and shortly after the ceremony we retired the three of us – Rabbi Yishai Adler, Rabbi Abraham Aharon Weiss and I (the three of us had been singers in my grandfather's choir) – and spent a good few hours chanting and singing the beautiful melodies of my grandfather's prayers. Even as recently as five years ago, or thereabouts, when I had encountered a few old Yanovites – Berl Gorodetsky, Shmaryahu Kossovsky, Yishayahu Feldman and others – at the house of my uncle Ya'akov (the son of Rabbi Moshe'l Megidas) in New York, we also spent a large portion of the evening singing my grandfather's prayer melodies. Curiously, not many people in Yanov knew that my grandfather was an “music savant”: he could read music and he even collected all of his prayer melodies in a stave book, writing them down by hand. Even to me it became known only later, when my father, God rest his soul, made his Aliyah and brought my grandfather's stave book over with him. The wonder of it was that it was very rare in Yanov for people to learn to read music over 50 years ago, especially for a God-fearing man and a member of the town's Rabbinical council such as my grandfather. This stave book was lent by my father to a prayer master from Pinsk by the name of Novak, who was living in Tel-Aviv at the time, and the latter was veritably astounded by this collection of music. He also used it throughout the many years he spent before the Torah ark at one of the synagogues in Tel-Aviv. It was only 3 years ago, when my uncle Ya'akov came over to Israel for a visit, that I got the book back from Mr. Novak and gave it to my uncle, who took it with him back to the United States.

As a town council member, my grandfather dealt with public affairs, such as the upkeep of the Beth Midrash and the Mikveh, visiting the sick, helping the poor, and so on and so forth. Thus it was that many came to darken his doorway from the early hours of the morning to hear him speak words of wisdom and of the Torah, or, in the time leading up to the High Holy Days, to attend the prayer rehearsals he would hold in his house together with the choir. Among the regular visitors at my grandfather's house were: Reb Wolfke, the butcher, a dear man with mild manners and a pleasant countenance, who liked to watch and “kibbitz” while we played chess (our house was the meeting place for the chess players in town: Shmuel Bourstein, Binyamin Feygin, Rabbi Hershel Tzadoks, the teacher Fialkov, and many more), and sometimes, while “kibitzing”, advise those playing white to strike at white pieces! (because of his poor eyesight, of course, due to his advanced age); Rabbi Hershel Tzadoks, who was my Gemara teacher and Rabbi, as well as my regular chess partner; Valya Minsky, known for his sense of humor, who used to play a joke every time he came into the house and saw the kibitzers crowding around and leaning over the seated chess players, he would grab the wooden chess piece container and strike it against the behind of all the leaning kibitzers, loudly commanding: “Gentlemen sit down!”; Moshe-Shaya the Klezmer musician, who would come into our house inebriated. Sometimes he would kiss not only my grandfather and all his guests, but also my grandmother.

To all those who came to our house my grandfather extended a warm welcome and greeted them always with his gentle smile. They never managed to tease him into a state of anger or make him irate, or small-talk him into slandering or disrespecting any man, even when they tried. I remember one intriguing incident. As everyone knows, most Jews in Yanov, like any small town, had nicknames or epithets based on their distinguishing traits. For example, who in Yanov had ever heard of Moshe Ratnovsky, or Shlomo Eisenstein? On the other hand, were you to mention Moshe Peyos (“sidelocks”) or Shlomo Zhulik (“crook”), everyone would know straight away exactly who you meant. One evening there was a gathering at my grandfather's table, and among the guests were a few jokers who wanted to wind up my grandfather by intentionally directing the conversation to the subject of Shlomo Zhulik just so they could hear my grandfather explicitly pronounce the name: “Shlomo Zhulik”. When my grandfather mentioned the name “Shlomo”, they pretended not to understand and asked him: “Which Shlomo? Who exactly do you mean?” My grandfather, in response, began to evade the trap using his own tricks and describing him by different traits: “Don't you know the Shlomo I am talking about? He is the one who lives on Pinsk street, across from Faygl Nathans's creamery, next to the wholesale grocer who sells flour and foodstuff.” That wholesale grocer, by the by, also had a nickname – “Dar Bulan”, and they never did manage to get Moshe's nickname out of his mouth, for it was a sign of disrespect. Yet he was kind even to those who wished to make jokes at his expense.

I remember another incident. Aside from his role as a member of the Rabbinical council, which most likely didn't pay enough for a living, my grandfather also sold yeast and postage stamps. At that time, the Shohat family had arrived in Yanov from Russia. They were relatives of the Kashtan family, and among them was a young man who had just returned from serving in the army, a fellow with a robust sense of humor and great talent for jollity, who also became a regular visitor at our house. This young man also wanted to play a prank on my grandfather and on the eve of Purim dressed up as a postal inspector who had come up from Moscow to inspect the stamps my grandfather was selling. He entered the house wearing a postal service uniform and a mask, and demanded that my grandfather present to him the stamps he was offering for sale. During the inspection he found fault with a few of the stamps and proclaimed that they looked counterfeit. He even began to write up a protocol for the counterfeit stamps. My grandfather, of course, was startled initially, however when the “inspector” could keep up the act no longer, he removed his mask and everyone burst out in a fit of laughter. My grandfather too had a great big laugh and patted the young man on the shoulder: “You rascal!”

Such was the man. Not for naught was he beloved by all the town folk. When my grandfather, God rest his soul, passed away, not only the residents of Yanov, but people from towns all over the surrounding region came to mourn his demise. And when the great eulogizer from Pinsk (Dar Vakzalner Rav) stood by my grandfather's coffin and delivered his eulogy, the entire congregation wept bitter tears. Bless his memory for all eternity!

[Page 144]

The First Female Pioneer from Yanov
who Emigrated to Palestine

(in memory of Mina Plotnick, of blessed memory)

By Aharon Rothblatt

Translated by David Goldman

From her youth Mina Plotnick was imbued with the spirit of the Zionist pioneer because she acquired the Hebrew national tradition in her parents' home that was expressed in her faithfulness to Judaism and love of Zion. She was involved in the nationalist youth groups in Yanov that were raised on Jewish literature and the Hebrew language. These groups included the best of the local young men and women during the years 1910 - 1914 in the towns of Russia who studied and dreamt about changes in values and better lives in their ancestral homeland. They were influenced by the courageous activities of the members of the Second Aliyah [1904 - 1914], the conquest of labor, the establishment of foundations for Jewish life in Palestine in both cities and villages, and the triumph of the Hebrew language at home and in public.

Young Mina Plotnick was also attracted to the idea of the national rebirth which was the legacy of fine youth. For the most part these feelings did not get expressed or come to fruition.

Mina Plotnick was fortunate that the hope and opportunity to realize the idea of migrating to the Holy Land became a reality for her. In 1912 she happened to meet a young man from Ukraine who had made plans to travel to Palestine and had already made the required preparations.

Mina was still young and enjoying life, not older than 17 years of age. Her enthusiasm for this idea led her to join the young man on his pioneer voyage, and she ignored all the difficulties involved in this process to leave her home and family and to emigrate to a far-off land. So this bold and resourceful adventure emerged and they agreed that the young man would leave first and prepare the way for them to establish their home in the pioneering spirit of the Galilee community.

In June 1914 Mina left for Palestine following preparations that lasted a year and a half to the chagrin of her family and her friends and girlfriends. She was joined by her sister Sarah (Sonya) and children. Many of Yanov's young people were envious of Mina and hoped to see her soon in Palestine.

However, unfortunately World War One broke out about one week after Mina arrived in Palestine with her sister and her children. Depression took over the Jewish population, and all foreign representatives hurried to return to their countries. The Turkish government projected fear on the Jewish community. Many wanted to leave the country and return to their native countries because of fear of war under the Turkish regime.

Mina was not deterred from remaining in the country and accepted life in Palestine in an angry way.

She wanted her sister and her children to remain in the country until the situation ended, and they all remained and planted roots there.

Mina went through five difficult years in the Kfar Tavor settlement in the Lower Galilee during the four war years. She had to provide a livelihood for eight people - three of her own and five of her sister's family - under difficult circumstances for the economy in Palestine and food shortages.

Mina got through those four and a half years of the war with patience and dedication. She settled down quickly to life in the country and in the village. She gave birth to a son and looked to the future after the frightful war to establish a home with her husband, A. Rothblatt. Everyone breathed easier once the war ended and the conquest of Palestine by the British, who promised to assist in building a Jewish Home for the Jewish People.

However, there was no time for Mina Plotnick-Rothblatt to recover from the hardships of the war. The worldwide epidemic that struck Europe and the Middle East affected the Holy Land and seven residents of Kfar Tavor, including Mina, who was only 22 years old. She passed away on the 17th of Cheshvan, 5678 - November 1918, [correct English date should be November 17, 1918] and thus ended the short life of the pioneer, Mina Plotnick of Yanov.

May her soul be bound with the living.


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