A song to the tune of a Lithuanian folksong
Kur Bega Sesupe
There among the shores of the Sesupe
And along the Neiman river
There was a fatherland once -
The beautiful Lithuania.
There farmers spoke Lithuanian
There pioneers spoke Hebrew
There was Yurburg on the shores of the rivers:
The Neiman river, the Mitova,
And the Imstra in the middle
There dreams were dreamt
Much hope was there.
Only some of them managed to realize their hope
To come to Eretz Yisrael and settle there
Others were not so fortunate
And remained behind:
Some fought and survived
Others were destroyed.
Only some of them finally joined us
After they went through the sufferings of the Holocaust
And were able to build a new life.
May the memory of Yurburg
Remain in our hearts forever
Its inhabitants, its public personalities
Its prominent citizens and institutions;
The "Tarbut" Gymnasium
Its books in the name of Brenner
The "Talmud Torah"
"Hahalutz" in the little town
And the training kibbutz
The steamships that set sail
Along the Neiman river
To the capital and back.
The beautiful girls in town
Remembered by all
To this very day.
Along the shores of the Neiman river
And coach owners
Strange types in the streets:
The "Turks" ("Die Turken")
And other crazy people.
Dondolis, the postman
Who could be relied upon in days of distress.
There were many honorable Jews there
Who are no longer!
All of them enhanced the glory
Of the little town
Where we were born
And which we left to go to Israel
But we shall never forget it!
About sixty years ago we left our town
To go on our way
Some to Eretz Yisrael, some elsewhere
Our ways parted
And many of our friends
Are no longer!
Nowadays we meet those who are left
Of the little group of good and kind Jews
Who lived peacefully in their little town
With all their worries to make a living
And bring up their children
They wanted to realize
The dream of better days
But these did not come
Times only got worse
We here in Israel
Had a better life
Although we too had our problems:
World War II
And our little wars with our neighbors.
A lot of blood was spilt here too
And sorrow and loss
We saw - heroism and victory.
Now we are in a country
That belongs to us and us alone
And it does not matter if someone thinks
He can question this right.
We have the power
To face each enemy
Thanks to our sons who hold the gun
Of whom we are very proud!
Thanks to this power
We had the privilege of welcoming the new immigrants
Who joined us
From behind the iron curtain that was opened
From East and West.
And can't believe
Is it true that all of them came
And are with us here?
We wish that all those from our town
Who arrived from nearby
Settle down and become citizens
And absorb new immigrants in their turn
As many others did
Who arrived before us
Yurberik was not a town of fanatics, but everybody loved the theater sinfully.
At an evening play the theater would fill with Yurberikers of both genders.
Yurberikers simply adored the theater.
Apparently, wind of the ardent Yurberik fans reached the professional actors, and they would come to Yurberik often.
Shows were presented by such groups as "Kadish and Khash", Sokolov, actor Rotblum and often by our local ensemble. We can remind you the names of our local actors: Beinish Levinzon, Rokhele Portnoi (she would play "mother" roles), Hilel Flier, Hinde Levinberg, the script writer, Yisrael'ke Ziser (the agent), Avraham Altman, Fanichke Altman, Khanah Meirovitz, Yehudah Arshtein and others.
Yehuda Arshtein would present a special monologue from "The Madman in the Hospital" where he would climb the table and announce: "Today I will become the king of Spain-I will split the sun and the moon", and then with great enjoyment he would engage in an hour-long monologue.
We played the "The Empty Bar Room" by Hirshbein, "The Spanish Inquisition" by Shamer, we organized rehearsals of "Moshke the Swine" by Berkovitz (but never played this play on stage). In the hall of the Hebrew high school we played "Two Deaf People " and at the front terrace we staged a "Parody on the Jewish Theater" by Tunkeler. The play would begin like this:
(Here several rhymes from the play in Yiddish follow, not translated)
For whom we played? (for whom we donated the income?)
One person, Mr. Feinberg was in charge of the theater finances. We were happy we had an audience to play to. And there was nothing missing as far as we were concerned.
We had our own directors who attempted to direct the plays. The directors were Mr. Khanokh Lintupsky, a teacher at the Hebrew high school, Mr. Kopelov-the dentist, Mr. Zundelovitz, the manager of the Folksbank and others.
Different props needed for the show could be found in our own town, and people lent us their things willingly.
I once borrowed a crinoline and a lorgnette, and at a fancy ball I impersonated an old woman from a century before and won the first prize.
The arrival of a theater group would quickly become news in Yurberik, and we, the theater fans, would gather outside the widows of the Bilman Hotel to listen to the singing at the rehearsals. From the other side of the windows sweet tunes of operettas would fill the air around us.
Actress Nekhamah Khash from the "Kadish and Khash" ensemble was a beautiful brunette, with a slender body and black eyes, a perfect gypsy type - She would appear dressed in a hussar uniform with a small cane in her arm and would sing the part of Malkah'le from the play "Malkah'le the soldier". (Three rhymes of the play are not translated).
Believe me, it was impossible to remain untouched by this, and nobody could really remain indifferent to Nekhamah Khash !.....
Professional actors played "God, Man and Devil" from Y.Gordin and other Gordin's plays. "The Golem" by Leivik was staged as well. I envied the role of Golem- such a rewarding part. I dreamed to play this role.....
The play had a nice plot: the Golem (made of clay) created by the Maharal rises against its creator. At the end he is defeated and when Maharal takes away the note with the inscription "Shadai" (God) from him, he becomes again a lump of clay.....
To my regret my dream to play the role of the Golem never materialized.
Yurburg Youth Theater Ensemble 1938 -1939
Yacov-Yosef Kharif was born in Kruz. His father was a poor workman. At an early age he went to look for places of Torah. When he arrived in Kovna he became the pupil of Rabbi Israel Salanter, who advocated the Musar movement in Lithuania in the nineteenth century. Rabbi Israel Salanter shaped his character and guided his way in life. At an early age he was already accepted as a rabbi in the small town of Vilan and he opened a proper yeshiva there, with special hours for studying Musar. The yeshiva was successful and attracted students from all over Lithuania.
After five years of service in Vilan he was accepted as rabbi in Yurburg where he became popular among the town's Jews. He exerted a very strong influence on the community.
In 1883 he was invited to serve as Moreh Tzedek and Magid Damta in Vilna. Here too the masses were fascinated by his sermons.
A few years later he was invited to be the rabbi of a Kolel in New York, where he organized the community and also had to take care of public and educational activities.
Rabbi Yacov-Yosef Kharif passed away in 1902. About 50,000 people took part in his funeral. A yeshiva was established in his name in New York - the "Rabbi Yacov -Yosef Kharif Yeshiva". Before he died the rabbi published a compilation of sermons and Tora called "For the House of Yacov" which was also translated into English.
For a number of years he was the Rabbi of Yurburg, where he was greatly respected by the community.
From Yurburg he was invited to serve as rabbi in Kalish until he died.
His publications: When he was young he published songs in the "Ha'asif" compilations. He translated stories about the life of Jews from Germany. He signed under the name: "Fast Writer." His main book "The Midrash and the deed" - sermons in three parts.
After a while he was chosen to head the rabbis in Poland. In 1929 he took part in the founding conference of the expanded Jewish Agency in Zurich (Switzerland) and was also elected to the Administrative Council of the Jewish Agency.
Yurburg had a coachman. Manly and unusually strong. When a wagon full of merchandise ran into mud, he would volunteer, load the wagon onto his shoulders and extricate it from the mud. I was told that in winter, when the Neiman river was frozen and the tradesmen would travel to Kovna for business in sleighs this coachman would take them on his sleigh. Once tradesmen went to Kovna with him in the afternoon and spent the night at Vilan (Veliuona), a small town almost midway between Yurburg and Kovna.
Early in the morning the tradesmen were about to leave. They ordered an affluent meal, for themselves and the coachman. The moment the innkeeper left the kitchen the coachman jumped inside, threw a handful of salt into the pot and ran away. When the tradesmen wanted to eat their breakfast they were unable to do so, for the food was very salty. However, the coachman went to the pot of food and finished it all.. . .
Father saves his son from drowning
One day a young boy, still a student at the Hebrew Gymnasium, went for a walk on the ice of the river near the beach. It was before the Passover holiday, when the Neiman river started to melt. All of a sudden the block of ice detached itself and started to flow away from the coast. People ran to the father and told him what had happened to his son. What did the valiant father do? He jumped onto a horse and rode while the horse was swimming in the Neiman among the blocks of ice, he overtook his son and saved him from drowning. The name of the father was Aharon Smolnik.
Who does not remember crazy Etka, whose father used to live near the Tiflah (their plot was adjacent to the Talmud -Torah). She would pass along Rasanio street and the German street every day and close the gates.
The Rabbi's daughter The Rabbi's daughter, blessed be her memory, fell in love with Doctor Gershtein, a tall and handsome man. However, the Rabbi's daughter was not on the doctor's mind. She would wander around the windows of his house for hours, hoping to catch a glance of him.
His family had a building material shop on Kovna street, next to the Elyashov family's grocery store. Shlomele liked to play the guitar and he played very well. The residents would ask him: "Shlomele, play us a happy tune" and Shlomele played a happy tune. In winter he would volunteer to play a funeral tune" "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty" (Palms - 91)
Shlomo the mute
Shlomo the mute lived in the synagogue yard of the tailors, Die Schneidersche Shul. And what happened? - He fell in love with the daughter of Motta Kimmel, who lived in the corner, opposite the building of Shahnowitz, a wealthy Jew. However, she did not want him and he decided - to keep silent.
The shames (caretaker) who sees with his senses
The shames and his family lived near the inn, the "hostel for the poor", at the end of the market, not far from the Neiman and the magnificent synagogue "Die groise Shul".
His family name was Markir. The shames had a blind son called Meir, who had a special sense of knowing people by touching their body. Apparently he remembered people even after he had met them only once. . . .
Early in the morning Meir the shames would go to the synagogue to light the oven, only using his senses, for after all he was blind.
The war of the ritual slaughtering
I remember Rabbi Shlomo Shachnovitz who was the children's tutor. He used to read the Torah scroll at the synagogue. He was also a cantor. He lived in poverty and distress and wanted to be slaughterer, apparently he knew the job. However, the ritual slaughterers in Yurburg did not agree.
He then took the initiative to announce to the public that he was willing to receive poultry for slaughtering. The Rabbinate in Yurburg forbade his slaughtering. Instantly the "war of the ritual slaughtering" broke out in Yurburg. . .
Nehemia Yozpar an expert on Torah and Talmud. He taught at the "Talmud Torah", and later on at the "Tarbut" school.
Leibchik Gut. A nice and good man, he also taught Jewish subjects at the "Tarbut" school. His son was a Maskil (enlightened). He liked Yiddish and its literature.
Rabbi Nehemia. He taught children at the "Feinberg" school at Yatkouwer Gasse. Went to America. I remember one of his sayings: "And the boys moved around in her womb" - referring to Rivka our Mother.
Who remembers the revolution?
I moved to another school. From the Yiddish school to the Hebrew school. The main person active on behalf of the Hebrew school was the "Zuckernik", Rabbi Bishko, owner of the candy factory. He used to live near Dayan Rabbi Rubinstein, in the yard of the Polawain family. Rabbi Bishko was active in two matters - Torah and "Zuckerkes" (sweets). . .
Tel Aviv Park
There was great joy in Yurburg when a park was bought and called "Tel Aviv Park". Here the Hebrew Gymnasium was founded. There were beautiful paths in the park and the Jewish youngsters played here in the intermission and after classes . . . in the romantic corners.
The Jewish youth was composed of "Hashomer Hatzair" members. The chief leader of "Hashomer Hatzair" was Haim Siger, a teacher at the "Tarbut" school; the "Maccabi" sports federation with the devoted and active Yitzhak Rahza; and the "Beitar Camp".
There was also a semi-leftist youth organization called I.A.K. which fought against Zionism, and issued a newspaper "Volks- Stimme". All this was like "a storm in a teacup".. . .
Rabbi Diamant - the Rabbi of "Beth Hillel"
Rabbi Diamant, may he rest in peace, was a wonderful and clever Rabbi. Most of his sermons were given before Passover and the New Year (Rosh Hashanah). I remember how glorious he looked. Once he was asked: "What should we do with an egg that has a drop of blood in it?" And he answered: "If it is possible to separate the drop of blood from the egg - it is kosher, but if the owner of the egg is a wealthy man - he should throw it away." He was the kind of Rabbi who decided in the way of "Beth Hillel", whereas it was said about Dayan Rubinstein that he was stricter and that his decisions were of the "Beth Shamai" school.
I remember one of Rabbi Diamant's sermons on the Lithuanian Day of Independence, in Yiddish. I hope, he said in a festive manner about the Nazis, that the day will come
"when the red cocks will save the world".
Dayan Rubinstein speaks to the "Yinglich and Medlich"
He once urged the youngsters to donate money to charity. He said in Yiddish:
"Yinglech and Medlich - boys and girls - get together and make children"
he meant: arrange a party to collect money for the poor.
Pogrom in Yurburg
In the early years of the rule of the antisemitic Waldmaras an annual mobilization was carried out. The mobilization took place on the Sabbath at the "Talmud Torah" building.
Many people, from the villages, presented themselves. All of a sudden the villagers started to riot in the streets, broke windows, beat and hit the Jews. The police went away . . . All the Jews, myself among them, went out onto the street to defend ourselves; we gathered heaps of stones. The commander of the action on Yatkauwer Gasse was Alter Patrikansky, the father of Zevulun Patrikansky, who had experience in the organization of self-defense in southern Russia. When the gentile hooligans saw the courage of the Jews they dispersed in all directions and ran away terrified . . .
I remember that one warm summer day, on Sabbath eve, a few youngsters went to bathe in the Neiman River. When they were already in the water, they saw a steamship (Damper) returning from Kovna. The swimmers wanted to show how they could swim against the waves created by the steamship, but were unable to do so. They started to drown. three youngsters drowned: Itzik Zarnitzky, Feinberg, his neighbor from across the road, who lived near the water pump (Pluma), and the name of the third boy I don't remember. I will never forget that tragedy. All the residents of the town weeped, but continued to bathe in the Neiman ....
(Noted added: The third boy was Natan Bernstein. Information supplied by Bella Abramson Kaplan in Dec. 1997)
Acts of heroism
Young couples used to walk in the large park on summer nights, near the large "mushroom" near the Pravoslavic church in the large park.
At 22.00 hours three "ghosts" covered in white sheets approached the couples, and threatened to strangle them. This happened every evening. The youngsters consulted each other as to what they should do, and they decided to come to the park dressed up as couples.
The dressed up couples were only men who stood on a few dark corners of the park and waited . . . . the "ghosts" appeared, of course, and were beaten up by the guys. Since then quiet returned.
Ara Schmar, der Turk - a peculiar character in Yurburg's streets
Shaya der Turk
The old Shaya would distribute the "Yiddische Stimme" newspaper. His sons were tailors and they were a very peculiar family. Why was Shaya called "der Turk"? - really why? . . . One of his sons was Ara -Schmar der Turk . . . a peculiar person. Turk the son of Turk.
Everyone knew about the devotion of Frieda Shachnovitz - may she rest in peace- to the "Shomer Hatzair" group. The parties she would organize each Friday were fantastic. With her knowledge and sensitivity, she was an outstanding person.
The magnificent synagogue
We cannot forget the magnificent synagogue, with its high Torah scroll adorned with many animals from Noah's Ark. On the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) the cantor and his choir would pray next to the beautiful Holy Ark. Sometimes the slaughterer (shohet) the pleasant ba'al koreh (lector) would replace him.
Yes, those were the days . . . .
(Don Levinsohn's Great-great-great grandfather)
From the history of these rabbis we learn that some of them, who left Yurburg, were appointed rabbis of large and esteemed communities. Among the Yurburg rabbis were heads of yeshivas and gifted writers who left behind valuable books in field of Jewish learning. The chief rabbi of Yurburg was always a luminary, steeped in the halakha [the part of the Talmud dealing with religious laws], esteemed and honored by the public. One must not overlook that a good number of learned Jews lived in Yurburg, who were Torah scholars and not just any rabbi could be the first among them. In addition to the rabbi, the Yurburg community had a Dayan' [judge under Jewish law], who also performed administrative duties, such as keeping the community register, etc. He, too, was expected to be well versed in Jewish learning.
We have compiled the list of Yurburg rabbis from a variety of sources, including from the Book of Lithuanian Jewry. We hope that the following compilation of short articles on the Yurburg rabbis of last generations will give us some insight into their personalities, their esteem and the work they did for their community.
Among Yurburg's rabbis: Rabbi Aizik son of Rabbi Eliezer; Rabbi Aryeh- Yehuda-Leib; Rabbi Moshe son of Rabbi Shmuel Levinson (5621-5645 [1861-1885]); Assistant Rabbi Zetev-Wolf Shteinfeld (5639-5640 [1879-1880]); Rabbi Yehezkiel Lifshitz (5649 ); Rabbi Abraham Dimant; Rabbi Chayim-Reuben Rubinshtein, may God avenge his blood (the auther of "Divrei Reuben" [Sayings of Reuben].
(Don Levinsohn's Great-great-great grandfather)
In the name of this community I address myself to the rabbi sages, who may wish to come here to occupy the Rabbinate seat, that they should not hurry here, to our town, to prevent any disputes in this town; in particular since our community will not wish to make the appointment to the Rabbinate as if it were a piece of property. The rabbi who will be selected after careful consultation and is found to be worthy and the right choice to be the Rabbi, he will be given the honor and called to come here, and in this manner both the rabbi's and the community's honor will be enhanced.
[Pages 344 - 345]
Rabbi Avraham Diamant - son of Rabbi Asher-Diamant.
Rabbi Avraham Diamant was one of Lithuania's most important Rabbis. The Jews of Yurburg were very fortunate to have such an illustrious personality as Rabbi Diamant as their teacher and rabbi. He became the rabbi of Yurburg at the beginning of the century and served till his last day. He passed away on Monday, 24 Adar 1940.
Rabbi Avraham Diamant was a learned man and a great bible scholar. He was sharp-witted and intelligent. He studied day and night, learning and exploring. He was a learned man and a gifted teacher. Jews in Yurburg avidly absorbed his words, and respected and admired him. The Rabbi, with his pleasant personality, was very popular and everyone treated him with respect. He was always smartly dressed and looked very respectful. We remember his words on the eve of Yom Kippur when he would address a large crowd at the great Synagogue, taking moral stock of the individual and the community in general. The public would tremble when he stressed " For here we are as clay in the hands of the Creator. . ." - his words sounded philosophical.The Rabbi knew there were highly educated people among his flock but also "common" people, and he knew how to make himself understood by all. The Rabbi was clever enough to know that he could not ignore the cultural and spiritual revolution of his generation and therefore he always looked for the best ways to explain and convince his listeners. Rabbi Diamant never reprimanded his followers, did not moralize or intimidate but explained the importance of belief and the happiness of man living in accordance with the religious laws and tradition. He always knew how to emphasize the positive and the beautiful, for he loved man and believed he was good.
However, his innocent belief was disappointed. Inhuman people came to power in the neighboring country of Germany and they cruelly trampled on human morals and the humanistic ideals of the enlightened community of man. A year after his death these wicked people destroyed the community of Yurburg. Rabbi Diamant did not witness the terrible scenes, but deep in his heart he felt them coming and they hastened his death.
The Dayan would assist the Rabbi in guiding the community in his way. He would also address a mixed public at the synagogue. He had a pleasant personality and was an educated man. He knew how to explain the Halacha and wrote a number of books on the subject, which he published at his own expense. His books were translated into German for the benefit of the Jews in Germany. The Rabbi-Dayan was a social person and loved to talk to old and young, without any arrogance.
As a child, the undersigned knew Rabbi Rubinstein, who lived nearby, had the privilege of perusing his publications and listening to his explanations about their profound meaning.
When Rabbi Diamant died, Rabbi Rubinstein took his place as the Rabbi of the community, for only one year. His name was thus registered as the last Rabbi in the history of the Yurburg community.
When the Nazis entered Yurburg - his fate was as bitter as that of all his followers. The murderers tortured him and forced him to bring his rich library to the large pile of Holy Books which were put on fire, while the Jews, men and women, were ordered to sing and dance . . . the wicked barbarians humiliated him and tortured him to his death.
He was murdered by the German-Nazi beasts in the summer of 1941, together with his community at the cemetery, when he bitterly protested against the evil actions of the Nazis and their Lithuanian helpers.
The building of the Old Synagogue which was destroyed by the murderers.
Rabbi Shlomo Son of Rabbi Arie-Leib
Rabbi Shlomo's pupils thought he was a very charming and highly moral person, of sensitive mind and noble spirit. He had a broad European and Jewish education.
Rabbi Yitzhak Elyahu was a Jewish delegate at the Rabbi's Conference in Petersburg in 1868. Later on he was asked to serve in Vilna.
He wrote and published many books on religious and Jewish subjects.
In 1857 he settled in Kovna and married Baroness Rosa Von Harnstein from Vilna. He became a well-known philanthropist. He lent a helping hand to all the needy inhabitants of Lithuania. He was also noted for his deeds of charity. He particularly assisted those who studied the Torah and observed religious duties. He had a wide range of business enterprises all over Russia. In 1887 the Czarist government granted him the title "Commercial Counselor".
After a while he moved to Koenigsberg (Prussia) and here too he became famous for his charity. He took an active part in public life and participated in various councils and committees in Vilna and Berlin. He also took part in the Rabbinical Conference in Petersburg in 1881. Famous for many deeds of charity, he passed away in 1893.
The Feinberg dynasty in Yurburg continued until the last tragic days of Yurburg.
Blessed be his memory.
Great rabbis, famous and distinguished men
faithfully and devotedly served
the Jewish public in Yurburg.
Each one in his time did all he could
to strengthen the religious- spiritual
moral-social life of the community.
This they did for many generations, one after another,
the spiritual leaders and their special moral contribution
to the shaping of the Jewish personality and deepening of the Jewish faith.
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