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[Page 149]

A Good Deed (Mitzvah)

Episode

by Boruch Meren[1], Baltimore

Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah B. Fischthal, PhD

Edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD

©

It happened in 1921, in Mlynov. Those were restless years. The First World War was actually over, but bloody battles between the Bolsheviks and the Polish armies were still continuing. The small shtetlekh, mainly the Polish-Ukraine shtetlekh, went through the frights of having opposing armies continuously coming in and getting out—the Bolsheviks would come and leave, and immediately the Poles would come in. The power could change several times in one week just like that…

Mlynov, as it turned out, was strategically important in the Great War. The Austrian-Russian battles left the shtetl in a terrible condition with ruined, burned houses. The shtetl was unrecognizable. High, black chimneys had been knocked down. The number of fallen soldiers in the middle of the shtetl was frightening.

Nevertheless, many Jewish families courageously began to come back to the shtetl and they started, with hard work, to build over the ruins and to re-establish a normal life. Enough being a wanderer among strangers!

And now to the plot of the story, attesting to the character of those abnormal times:

It was in the summertime. For two weeks, the shtetl was empty, meaning, there was no government. Our “strategy experts” predicted that the Bolsheviks would come back, and so it was. On a nice morning—the enemy is here. The Bolsheviks were in the shtetl again on the two main streets, Market and Synagogue Streets. They put out their wagons and horses—starving, tired, and wearing dirty, torn clothes.

[Page 150]

They started to make themselves at home in the shtetl. Odors of sweat from the soldiers and horses carried through the air. The cauldron, in which the soldiers' soup was cooking, gave a separate smell…

Many soldiers were distributed into the houses. It so happened that a soldier who was assigned to our house was a Jewish boy from Rivne, whom my father immediately recognized. As it turned out, we had been neighbors of his parents two years ago in Rivne. He, the soldier, had been a student then. His father was Cantor in the city. When my father questioned what he was doing in that Russian echelon, and how does a Cantor's son become a Bolshevik, the young man answered briefly:

“There is a revolution in the world. We need to fight for a better and more beautiful world. My girlfriend is with me too, in the same echelon. She works in the office.”

“Like that?” my father asks. “You are engaged? Is she at least a Jewish girl?”

“Yes, she is also from Rivne, totally devoted with body and soul to our struggle.”

“If you would listen to me, Grisha, you would marry your girlfriend! Really, here by us, with familiar people, who know your parents,” my father says. “What, it is no big deal, Moyshele the Cantor from the large synagogue? Believe me, it will not hurt your revolution. Instead of shlepping around with a girlfriend, is it not better with your own wife?”

“Now is not the time to devote oneself to these incidental matters, Reb Ben-Tsiyon,” answered the boy, “And it is also forbidden. You know how that smells?”[2]

But my father did not want to hear about it. For two days my parents worked on the soldiers, gave them food and drink, almost took away the last crumbs from us children, all with the hope that they would maybe agree to my father's proposal and get married.

[Page 151]

And actually, it helped. It was agreed to have the wedding as soon as possible, because who knows, either the pair could regret the decision, or the echelon could leave.

The ceremony had to happen quietly, so that no soldier would see nor hear it. It could not come to the Commander's attention. That the wedding would be “quiet,” the Cantor did not need to be afraid, because no musicians played, no jester performed, and no large noise of spoons and plates were heard. It was truly a “quiet” ceremony.

In a small, dimly lit little room, the floor recently scrubbed with yellow sand in honor of the celebration, the Red soldier and his girlfriend were standing under the chuppah and reciting the vows, with shaky voices, word by word: “Behold you are consecrated to me” (hare ot mekudeshet li…).[3]

 

Mly151.jpg
By the stores of Kipergluz and Holtzeker
From the photos of A. Harari

 

My father, may he rest in peace, was the officiate. He was dressed in his black, Shabes kapote.[4] His face was shining… Reb Peysakh Shoykhet[5] and other important people were present. My mother, with a few other neighbors, set the table with a clean, white paper, and they served a fine supper—two herrings with a bread, and tea to drink. In those circumstances that was a meal fit for a king.

After supper everyone dispersed happily—a small thing, to accomplish such a good deed! The couple was also happy; their faces were witnesses. The bride especially could not control herself, and she left a tear under the chuppah.

[Page 152]

The newlyweds heartily thanked everyone, said good-night, and went out of the room into the dark night, arm in arm, quietly. They had to sleep on the wagons, because any minute they could get an order to depart. And so it was.

The next morning, we looked out of the window. Synagogue Street was empty, quiet, not a trace of any soldier.. no Bolsheviks, no Poles.

We were informed from Dubno, that the Poles were already in charge there. Jews were afraid to go out into the street, because Poles cut off Jewish beards. The same week, around 200 Polish soldiers came to us in Mlynov. Jews were afraid for their beards… How could a Jew not have a beard on his face in that time? But a miracle happened. Not a beard was touched. My father said that he was sure it was only because of the wonderful mitzvah, the good deed of marrying the Jewish Red soldiers, that the shtetl was protected from harm. And the Jews in the shtetl remained with their beards.

 

Mly152.jpg
The local council hall, an assembly of area marksmen

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. Boruch Meren (1908–1996) was son of Ben-Tzion Meren (1867–1942) and Miriam Goldseker (1870–1942), daughter of Hirsch and Ida Goldseker. A photo of Boruch's parents and his sister Seril, who all died in the Mlynov liquidation, appears on page 456 of this volume. Boruch's father, a teacher and observant Jew, forbid Boruch's participation in the Zionist Youth groups popular in the 1920s and 30s. Nonetheless, Boruch had a romance with Rosa Berger, who made aliyah from Mlynov in 1933. The two corresponded between Mlynov and Palestine until 1938 when Rosa was able to secure a scarce British immigration certificate for Boruch and he made aliyah. Boruch's love relationship saved his life. Unfortunately, Boruch and Rosa's romance fell apart because life in Palestine had changed Rosa substantially. In a later essay in this volume (220-225), Boruch writes about his visit during this period in Palestine to Moshe Fishman, in Balfouria, among the first to make aliyah and another contributor to this volume. In 1938, Amelia “Milka” Shargel, a young Mlynov woman who immigrated to Baltimore in 1929, came to Palestine to meet Boruch and the two got married there. Amelia secured Boruch a US passport and in 1940, he traveled from Naples, Italy to New York, arriving on April 11, 1940. He settled in Baltimore with Amelia and they had a son Allen J. Meren. To see the photos and postcards Boruch sent to Rosa during their romance, see https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Mlyniv/Ravings_of_a_genealogist.html#LoveStory. Return
  2. It appears the young man is referring to fact the when the Bolsheviks came to power they viewed the family as a bourgeois institution.–HS Return
  3. The traditional words of bethrothal in Hebrew.–HS Return
  4. Kapote is man's long coat of medieval origin worn especially byJewsof eastern Europe.–HS Return
  5. Kosher slaughterer–HBF Return

 

[Page 153]

When I was a lad …[1]

by Lipa Halperin,[2] z”l Yifat

Edited and translated by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD, with Hanina Epstein

©

[When I was a lad] … and I first climbed up on a chair on my own, I stood to look out at the world through the window of our house. It was a spring morning and my gaze was draw to the fields of lilac shrubs, purple flowers along the length of Church's fence. A distance across the river, in the thicket of trees, shined the whiteness of the estate palace. Close to [my] house was a road that led down to the river. Along this road, each and every day – in morning and evening time – passed pairs of horses of different colors: brown, black, white and gray and with each pair, a single rider. There was a rider who passed at a gallop, with a delicate, darling foal hurrying behind him. And another, an old farmer, his hat sloping towards his ear, his two legs on one side of the horse, and he relaxes the reigns and sings softly to it. A young rider holds the reigns in one hand and with the second tosses sunflower seeds into his mouth and the shells fall from his mouth with astonishing speed. This is how the farmers and coachmen routinely brought their horses to the river for watering and immersion. And upon their return from the river, the crowd grew larger and the calls of coachmen spurring on [the horses] mixed with the whinnying of the horses into a terrible commotion, swallowed by clouds of dust. Man and horse, horse and man – this pair rooted itself in my consciousness in those days and inseparable. Our most beloved toy was the horse, and the most beloved game – playing horses. One lad would grab the rope between his teeth–and he was the horse, and the other grabbed the ends of the rope and snapped the whip …

* * *

In the center of town there was a market square. There was a plot of land for parking the many farmers' wagons that would come here from the surrounding villages on days off work and went to the two churches, the Catholic and the Russian Orthodox.[3] With their wagons weighed down they would go to the intersection of the roads to the towns of Dubno, Rovno, and Lutzk.

The flow increased especially during the fairs. Appearing already early in the morning were the heavily laden wagons of the merchants who set up stalls filled with a rich variety of goods. The market days during the summer are remembered: voices of the merchants announcing their wares and the music boxes of the jugglers[4] drowned out by the tumult of crowing roosters, mooing cows, squealing pigs, and whinnying of the horses. A complete mixture of human and animal sounds, a combination of sweat and dust– – –

[Page 154]

When I got older I would run to the home of my grandmother Pesya and uncle Yosel.[5] There was a narrow alleyway there in which the “naughty boys” (shaktzim)[6] spent time in games and mischief, evading adult scolding. They were all there: Yosele, Shelomoleh, Benzi, Pinchasal …

Yosele and I had hiding places known only to the two of us. In the barrier of the fence around the church was a narrow gate of iron, which was always closed. When I peeked inside the first time, I saw the statute of the cross on the wall. The hands and feet bound to the cross and the head leaning sideways. At twilight, it seemed like he was alive.

“Who is this?” I asked Yoseleh in fear.

“Be quiet. It is forbidden to look.”

“But who is this? Who is this?”

“This…jeez, it is forbidden to say; this is their God.”

“Why is he hanging there?”

“Don't talk so loud. You know, he flies but he doesn't have wings. Come on, let's escape quickly, they…”

We ran to the length of the street and reached the wood fence made of planks. We peeped through the cracks. Inside, large, fattened pigs moved about, pressed together and sniffing around. In the corner of the square, on a tree stump was stationed a strange character, like a monster. It had a sleepy expression, its miniature eyes were sunken and the bones of its jaws protruded. The body was covered in a gold cloth shirt and its legs extended forward. The hand carelessly moved around with a feather and the head fell alternatively right and left.

“This is the son of Shelilkah Bazirnik,” Yosele whispered to me. “And it is a kind of man-pig golem,[7] and always thirsty for blood…”

Suddenly, this golem moved from its place. We quickly fled – – –

* * *

On the Sabbath, we walked to Hagranik[8]– that hill along the river, from which there were views of the entire town. We stood there, and Yosele told a story:

“Many years ago, a large church stood in this place. One time a great tzadik (righteous man) from Dubno traveled here, and when he passed by the magnificent church, the Count's large dogs attacked him, which guarded the palace which was opposite it. It was similar to the Jews who fled Egypt – in front of them was the sea and behind them the Egyptians and on both sides animals of prey. The tzadik ran towards the church and cried out [an incantation]: “Abominable thing, we abhor; detestable thing, we detest, you are banned.”

That's what he said, repeated a second time and a third time …and the earth opened its mouth and the church and all that was in it was swallowed by the earth and was covered by soil [creating the hill]–––

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* * *

One time, at sunset, Yosele quickly burst into our house.

“Look, the sky…How red! …”

“It is like a flame of fire,” I said.

“Like blood, like blood and fire,” I heard people talking –they said there will be war. “Blood and fire, is a sign of war…”

From morning until night the convoys went by. Soldiers with guns and bayonets were marching and laden down wagons traveled behind them. Wagons harnessed to six horses carried the canons. And there were also calvary. All of them walked on the main road of Berestechko.[9]

We stood full of wonder watching the spectacle. The dukes[10] in particular captured our hearts. They were more wonderful in our eyes than even the calvary. During my sleep I would continue to hear the unceasing marching of the horses and men.

I was exceedingly happy. Everyone bought horses and wagons, even Father. “Kashtan” was a sweet horse and they even permitted me to ride him.

Every day Yosele would appear and with emotional news to relate:

“Come quickly to look. Boznikim[11] (refugees) are passing by…they say they are Jews from Brody[12]…” I saw Mother wipe away tears, but Yosele and I were happy. These were Jews who were also gypsies…”.

“Perhaps we also will travel like gypsies,” I whispered to Yosele. “Gosh, how wonderful that would be…”

One morning I stood along the front of the house, looking forward to the arrival of Yosele. Not an hour passed and he came running and yelling from afar: “The bridges are on fire!”

We ran to look. We yearned to look at the burning bridges, and we were angry that flames were not rising from them. But that same night, when I woke up, I saw Father and Mother packing up everything. Light was in the room and it appeared Mother was crying. I fell back asleep again.

When I opened my eyes a second time, a dark night was above me. I was sitting in the upper part of the wagon and the cold wind whipped my face. A sea of fiery sparks burned.

“Mother, fire! Fire is in my eyes! M–o–t–h–e–r–––”

“This is only a spotlight,” mother reassured with a quiet voice. “They will not shoot us, we are refugees. Do not ask why everything is burning and red. These are the fires. And there, also our house is burning. Everything is no more–––.”

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. Apparent allusion, likely with irony, to the verse in Palms 37:25: “I have been young and am now old, but I have never seen a righteous man abandoned, or his children seeking bread.” Lipa would pass away before this essay was published. Return
  2. Lipa Halperin, a descendant of the Hirsch and Halperin families, was born in 1907 in Mlynov, made aliyah in 1937 and passed away in Israel in 1969 after writing this essay but before the Yizkor book was published in 1970. He contributed a number of other essays to this volume. Return
  3. The Russian Orthodox Church has diverging doctrinal views particularly around the pope's role that differentiates it from the Catholic tradition from which it split in the 11th century.--HS Return
  4. Could also be magicians.--HS Return
  5. Pesia (Hirsch) Halperin, his paternal grandmother, and Uncle Yosel, his father's brother, Yosel Halperin.--HS Return
  6. A derogatory term from the Hebrew Bible meaning detestable things sometimes applied to non-Jewish boys, applied here as a term of endearment to Jewish boys who misbehave.--HS Return
  7. A golem is a kind of monstrous creature in Jewish folklore created entirely from inanimate matter.--HS Return
  8. This hill is called Grinik or Greenik elsewhere in the essays, which Aaron Harari mentions as a place where Zionist youth groups met (p. 70), and which the younger children called, “Mount Sinai.” See especially the essay by Moshe Teitelman, “My Hill,” p. 30, this volume--HS Return
  9. The road to Berestechko heads due west and then somewhat south from Mlynov.--HS Return
  10. Perhaps viewing the captains as “dukes” through childhood eyes.--HS Return
  11. Meaning of word uncertain, possibly a foreign word meaning “refugees,” possibly in Russian.--HS Return
  12. The city of Brody was part of Austria from 1772–1919. It is south of Berestechko and it would be natural for refugees from Brody to head north to Berestechko and then east along the road to Mlynov. Possibly refugees from the Battle of Galicia (Lemberg) the first major battle on the Eastern Front in August-September 1914 which was near Lemberg (Lviv).--HS Return

 

[Page 156]

Our Former Way of Life in Mlynov

by G. Goldberg[1], Jackson Heights

Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah B. Fischthal, PhD

Edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD

©

Memories. I imagine friends and acquaintances, radiant and smiling, lively, happy, joyous. With songs on our lips, we walk together in the count's forest to pick green gooseberries, strawberries, and grapes. All our hearts beat together, rhythmically and full of hope. And here Shmuelik - Mendele's [son],[2] full of aspirations, who had just returned home from a distant yeshiva, proposes creating a troupe of amateur actors. We eagerly take steps to form such a troupe.[3]

The troupe consisted of Dvoyre Berger, Feygel - Sholem's [child], Peyse Zutelman,[4] Henye – Khaye-Malke's [daughter], Gershon Goldberg,[5] Pese - Ranye's [daughter], Itsik –Yente-Brayndl's [Shargel],[6] Saul the bookbinder, Soreke - Shulman's [daughter][7] and Malke,[8] a daughter of Yehuda-Leyb Lamdan, from a very prestigious family, the brothers Hertsik and Shimeon [Shulman], the sisters Khayeke and Pepe [Shulman].[9] Shmuelik – Mendele's [son] himself, the director without a crown, began to assign and edit roles for every member. As makeup man, Yankl Tsirulnik was outstanding in the group. Revenue was dedicated to the poor and the sick.

* * *

The heder. Our generation established strict teachers who really sacrificed for their students. They planted in their pupils' hearts the most beautiful ideals and the finest ethical principles, based on the holy Torah. Their methods were old-fashioned, mostly based on the long wooden pointers they used to help push Torah into the heads of the students. I remember the actions of the rabbi who used to hit naked backsides with his pointer, while the other students used to stand opposite, clapping their hands, and singing:

[Page 157]

Whipped
With all the beautiful blessings
On one head,
What is pride
Should be driven out of another head.

The young students did not make any boycotts, nor did they know from any protests; instead, they quietly swallowed their running tears. They crushed the shame inside themselves, and … they continued learning. These teachers produced brilliant scholars and geniuses who made their way in the world.

How can children forget a week visiting a woman who just had a baby boy, where they were taken to say Krishme[10] before the bris, and the Bobe[11] Leybtsikhe used to give every child a little honey cake or cookie? Nobody ever succeeded in getting two cookies by lying, for example by saying that his little brother was sick. If a clever boy would succeed in untying the Bobe's wide apron, where she held the treasures, and the cookies then fell on the floor–then the children grabbed them…

* * *

Gutkele the teacher was very strict with the children; he used to whip, pinch, hit, punch without mercy. Moyshe the Pentateuch instructor and Hershl the Gemara instructor were also quite strict. They did not spare any slaps and hits with open hands. The elite, the cream of the shtetl, learned with Aharon Glezer, an outstanding scholar of the Talmud. These boys included the writer of these lines, Shike Moyshe-Nakhman's [son], Dovid Nisele's [son], Khayim Itsikl's [son], and so on. Boys also learned under Reb Ahron-Shmuel. Motl Chizik (Tzizik)[12] was really a “murderer,” a strict disciplinarian: he used to teach the bible by heart, and for the slightest sin, he would slap a student's face. I had to learn with him together with Aleph Katz[13] and Yitzhak Lamdan,[14] may he rest in peace.

I only remember two aristocratic teachers–they were Shmuel Katz–Henye Ahrele's [son],[15] and Nokhum Shvarts–Khayim Peretz's [son].[16] They punished the sinning children not on their bodies, but on their little fingers and hands with a wooden ruler.

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Remarkably, with their tough discipline and physical punishments, these teachers raised a generation of proud and worthy Jews, Jews concerned with social issues, people who with their culture and intellect reached the highest levels of the societal ladder, people with an international reputation on many subjects of culture and civilization–among them: Shloyme Mandelkern,[17] Yitzhak Lamdan, Aleph Katz, and so on.

Yes, I miss the beautiful bride–Mlynov. Over there was my baby carriage; there I took my first steps in the wide world. In my great struggles and wanderings, through all the stages that my family and I went through–I carried Mlynov in my heart. You, my shtetele, were my eternal light that lit up and warmed my long exile, like the pillar of fire for the Jews in the dessert. I have respect for you, my beautiful Mlynov, my comfort and consolation.

 

Mly158.jpg
A group of youth on a fieldtrip on the “Greenik.”[18]
Original photo courtesy of Hagar Lipkin.[19]

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. George (Gershon / Joe) Goldberg (1896–1984) was the youngest child of Labish Goldberg and Eta Leah (Schuchman). He followed a number of his siblings to America arriving in April 1921. He subsequently married Sylvia Barditch who is an editor and contributor to this volume. On the Goldberg family history, see https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Mlyniv/families.html#Gelbergs --HS Return
  2. People were known by the name of a parent or spouse. This was probably Shmuelik, Mendele's son.--HBF Return
  3. See also Mendel's recollections of returning to Mervits after WWI from yeshiva in Baranovitsh in the essay “People in a Shtetl,” 90-99. See similarly, Aaron Harari's discussion of the plays put on in the Shulman house after WWI, “Culture, Education, and Social Life in the Small Town,” 66. --HS Return
  4. He became Paul Shulman in Baltimore. --HS Return
  5. The author of this essay. --HS Return
  6. Probably Yentel Brendel Shargel's son Julius (Itsik), who immigrated to New York in January 1911 and later Baltimore. --HS Return
  7. Likely the Shulman sister, Sarah, who later married Peyse Zutelman in Baltimore. --HS Return
  8. Referring to Malcah Lamdan who was a teacher in Mlynov and subsequently married Shmuel Mandelkern [also Mandelkoren] and made aliyah.--HS Return
  9. Referring to the other Shulman siblings, Simon and Hertz, Clara and Pepe Shulman. They all arrived in Baltimore in 1921.--HS Return
  10. The prayer that begins with “Hear O Israel”--HBF Return
  11. A midwife, called a Bobe [grandmother], was usually hired to deliver the baby, and if it was a boy, she would stay until after the bris.--HBF Return
  12. Refers to Mordechai Chizik (Tzizik). His son, Moshe, made aliyah and married Rosa Berger. Return
  13. Aleph Katz (1898-1969) was the pen name of well-respected Yiddish poet, born Moshe Katz in Mlynov, who arrived in New York with his mother and siblings in 1913. His father was Chaim Yerukhim Katz and his mother was Henie (Hirsch) Katz. On the Hirsch family from Mlynov, see https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Mlyniv/families.html#Hirsch Return
  14. Yitzhak Lamdan (1899–1954) born in Mlynov was the author of the famous Hebrew poem, “Masada.” See the essay about Lamdan's visit back to Mlynov in this volume, “In the presence of Yitzhak Lamdan in Mlynov ,” written by an admiring Moishe Teitelman, 32-37. Return
  15. Shmuel Katz was the brother of Aleph Katz and the son of “Henia Ahrele” [Annie (Hirsch) Katz]. A photo of Henia Ahrele appears in the Yizkor book, p. 500. Return
  16. Refers to Norton Schwartz, son of Chaim Schwartz (who was son of Peretz). Norton arrived in Baltimore with his family, and his sibling, my grandfather, Paul Schwartz, in 1912. On the Schwartz family, see https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Mlyniv/families.html#Schwartz Return
  17. On Shmuel Mandelkern's activity invigorating the Zionist youth groups in Mlynov, see the above essay by Aaron Harari, “Culture, Education, and Social Life” mly065.html#Page66 Return
  18. This hill, called Greenik here, is probably also the one the children called “Mt Sinai” and described in “My Hill,” p. 30, by Moishe Teitelman. Greenik is also referred to as a place the Zionist youth group met in the essay, “The Youth Movement,” 69-74, by Aaron Harari. Return
  19. This photo has a story. It was sent to Hagar's mother, Rosa Berger, in Palestine from Mlynov by Boruch Meren during their courtship. On their love story which saved Boruch's life, see https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Mlyniv/Ravings_of_a_genealogist.html#LoveStory Return

 

[Page 159]

Local Color of the Synagogue

by Aaron Harari[1]

Edited and translated by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD
with Hanina Epstein

©

In addition to communal prayer and the study of a Mishnah chapter, the large synagogue served as a center for meetings and secular discussions. During the weekdays they would assemble only in the large synagogue, which in the evenings filled with visitors. During the break between afternoon (minha) and evening (Maariv) prayers, the erudite teachers would spread out, one to a table in this corner and another to different corner, and they would study the holy books. Others gathered in various circles and discussed the issues of the day. What wasn't discussed there? Business, taxes, politics, and just gossip. These matters were very interesting. There were many who came, not in order to pray, but just to meet friends. On the Sabbaths, usually before the reading of the weekly Torah portion, they would break for a period of time in order to take up shared communal concerns. The head of the community would bang on the table, announce something — and calls from the different corners of the room could be heard and the noise would continue to get bigger. The community would argue without order and it was possible only with difficulty to hear and understand what was “going” on there. Occasionally, the air would become so heated that it led to fisticuffs.

Twice a week, after the evening prayers, there was a study group on the books of the Chofetz Chayyim[2] etc., for Jews who didn't know [how to study] a chapter of the Mishnah;[3] the leader of them was Rabbi Eliezer [Mohel][4] the shochet, z”l, the father of Yehuda, Yaakov, Devorah and Chaika, who are living in Israel. This study group was modeled on the discussions of the older youth group in the nest [group] of The Young Guard (Hashomer Hatzair). Since Rabbi Eliezer's home housed the leadership committee of the movement, where meetings and preparations took place and occasionally continuing education discussions of the older youth, and he related to us with much friendliness — I have a reason to conclude, that he borrowed the [educational] model from us ...

The synagogue served also as a hall for the people's gatherings; there emissaries of the national funds gave addresses, [as did] sermonizers of various kinds, cantors [performed] who came from outside [town] for concerts, [as did] election gatherings for the Zionist congress as well as various elections.

During the Sabbath and festivals the synagogue was packed shoulder to shoulder. Each homeowner sat in his established place, and the most esteemed sat along the Eastern wall.[5] Opposite them were many praying people who did not have established places and who sat on regular benches or stood and moved about without a spot. The average Jewish folks sat in the back. The teenagers and crowded together by the entrance and the hallway (“the Palush”)[6] and would talk loudly and raise a rukus, an occurrence that regularly annoyed those sitting at the eastern wall. Not infrequently calls could be heard from the benches on the eastern wall directed towards the youth, “Outside, you vermin (shegatzim[7])!” But this was not very effective.

[Page 160]

The youth couldn't stand the insults and responded to the homeowners with acts of “vengeance”: they would take towel from the sink after a visit to the restroom[8] (“asher yatzar”) that was always wet, roll and fold it, and throw it indiscriminately on the heads of those seated along the eastern wall. Tempers flared but the thrower was not revealed. This was executed quickly and was difficult to detect in a crowd. There was also no snitching [on the perpetrator]. Yechiel Sherman[9] told me, that in his youth he was among those youth, who gathered by the corridor (“the Palush”) and those who sat at the eastern wall attempted to keep in order and he [Yechiel] also absorbed [the reprimand] “You vermin, outside!” Among those who shouted [this way] was my father, z”l.[10] And one time when he [Yechiel] passed by our house and saw the samovar boiling and ready for tea, he snuck up, opened the tap ...the samovar emptied out and of course broke down. This also was an act of “revenge” for the insulting call, “You vermin, outside!”

Sometimes some rebbe would come to town, whose Hasidic pedigree I didn't know. Many Hasids came from Olyk[11], Trisk,[12] Stolin[13] and so forth. Meals on Sabbath eve, the three meals of Sabbath were arranged in the large synagogue for everyone. People from all the strata and ages would come to watch and to listen to words of Torah from the Rebbe and to earn some leftovers from the meal. Every evening, during the week, the Rebbe would receive the community in his room in the guest house, and the synagogue manager (gabbai) would write notes the content of which were requests for health, livelihood, a wonderful match for a daughter, a pregnancy in the near future, and so on. In addition to reading the notes, the Rebbe would speak personally with the visitors (male and female) — and this was for sure a great psychological influence on the visitor. For the Torah processions (hakafot) on Simhat Torah, children, women and infants would come to kiss the Torah. The congregation crowded together for a long hour until the processions ended. On Simhat Torah after prayers, small repasts (kiddushim) were organized that were fitting for the occasion.

Jews drank schnapps to drunkenness, and to fulfill the [Scriptural] obligations that “You shall rejoice in your festival” (Deuteronmy 16:14) and that “wine will gladden the heart” (Psalm 104:15), happiness and celebration surpassed all bounds. They danced on the tables, sang and until the throat was horse. The youth in the group would gather in the home Mr. Hersch Holtzeker and organized a modern style kiddush of their own, with the fairer gender in attendance, who arranged the table and worried over the gastronomic aspects.

On Sabbaths at sunset, pleasing Hasidic songs burst forth, which were Hasidic songs for the “three meals” [required on the Sabbath]. The song was harmonious, quiet, and not offkey. Some of those songs are song today in Israel, in new arrangements and in different styles.

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. Aaron (Berger) Harari (19081984) was a member of the Book Committee for this volume and contributed a number of other essays about life in Mlynov as well as many of the photos from his trip back to his birthplace in 193738. Return
  2. Yisrael Meir Kagan (18381933), known by the title of one of the books he wrote, was an influential rabbi of the Musar movement. Return
  3. A compendium of law and foundational text of rabbinic Judaism, which forms the basis of the Talmud. The Mishnah is much easier to learn than the give and take discussions in the Gemara. Return
  4. Rabbi Leizer Mohel (18721942) and his wife, Hanna Beila (Kaszkiet) (18821942) came to Mlynov from Boremel in 19241925 when Rabbi Eliezer, a shochet and mohel, was hired for a position in town. His son, Yitzhak Mohel, contributed “A Murdered Family,” to this volume. A photo of the Mohel home and the Mohel sisters appears on page 411 of this volume. The son Yehuda Mohel appears in several photos in the essay about the Zionist Youth Movement, “The Young Guard.” The amazing life story of Yehuda Mohel is told in a full length book, by his son Dani Tracz (Issachar Mohel ), Riva and Yehuda: Life Story of Trancman, Mohel, Tracz and Ben-Eliezer Families, 2015).--HS Return
  5. Rabbinic law (Berakhot 30a) indicates a person should face towards Jerusalem during prayer and that synagogues should orient themselves in that direction. “Facing east” was normally associated with facing Jerusalem among Jewry west of Jerusalem. However, Jerusalem would be in a southernly direction from Mlynov. The fact that the most respected Jews of Mlynov were along the eastern wall of the synagogue seems to imply that prayers were facing in that direction, though that is not ever explicitly stated. If that were the case, it is not clear why they weren't facing in the southerly direction. There are other opinions in rabbinic law that allow for prayer to be facing in other directions.--HS Return
  6. Shmuel Mandelkern identifies this same hallway called the “Palush” as the place where meetings of the the self-defense units would take place.--HS. Return
  7. The term used is “sheygetzim” (plural of sheygetz), which comes from the biblical term for a detested thing and is used as a term for naughty children or as a derogatory term for non-Jewish youth.--HS Return
  8. According to Jewish law, “asher yatzar” (“who created”) is the blessing over the wondrous workings of the body that is said after use of the bathroom. It is not clear if there was a lavatory inside the synagogue, but apparently there was a sink with towels for washing the hands after bathroom functions.--HS Return
  9. Yechiel Sherman is a contributor to this volume. He was survived WWII in the Russian and Polish armies and reunited with his brother Ezra Sherman, who survived as a young boy in the countryside.--HS Return
  10. Aaron Harari's father was Zeev Berger (18781942). His photo appears in Aaron's earlier essay Jewish Farmers in Mlynov.--HS Return
  11. Olyka is 34 km (21 m) northeast from Mlynov and was the cradle of the Olyker Hasidic dynasty that was founded by the famous Rabbi Hersh Leib Landa the first Olyker rebbe.--HS Return
  12. The Trisk dynasty is a Hasidic dynasty, a branch of the Chernobyl dynasty, originating in Turiisk, Ukraine, 121 km (75 m) north of Mlynov. According to other essays in this volume, the largest synagogue in Mlynov was oriented towards the Trisk Hasidim.--HS Return
  13. Karlin-Stolin (today Karolin and Stolin, Belarus) is the name of the Hasidic dynasty, originating with Rebbe Aaron the Great of Karlin in present-day Belarus. Karlin is 247 km (153 m) north of Mlynov today. Karlin and Stolin were one of the first centers of Hasidim to be set up in Lithuania. The rebbe who died in Mlynov was the third in line of this dynasty.--HS Return

 

[Page 161]

Days of Celebration in the Shtetl

by Sonia and Mendel Teitelman, Haifa

Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah Bereliner Fischthal, PhD

Commissioned and edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD

©

In our shtetlekh in the Mlynov kehilla, as in all the other kehillas in the diaspora, practically 100% of the men, from the youngest to the oldest, were religious, and they observed the Jewish traditions, some more and some less. All men, from school-age children to grandfathers, came to pray in the synagogue. Most of them prayed every afternoon for the afternoon and evening services. At the same time, some would study a page of the Talmud. Others would enter into a little conversation about daily matters, including business, professions, and all kinds of local concerns. That was during the weekdays.

In Mlynov and Mervits, and in all the surrounding shtetlekh, Shabbes and holidays had an entirely different appearance, as though there was a presence of Jerusalem. In our shtetl, like in all surrounding shtetlekh, Jews populated the streets, but surrounding them was a much larger majority of Christians. On Shabbes, however, there was complete rest in the shtetl. Only on a rare occasion could one see a wagon driven by a non-Jew. In the shtetl, everything was strictly locked with keys; everything rested on Shabbes. Everyone, according to his means, dressed in Shabbes clothes. Men spent the early morning hours, until noon, in the synagogue. The women's synagogue, similarly, was full during those times.

Returning home after the prayers, everything was holiday-like. Tasty treats had been prepared. It was an honor, according to tradition, to bring a poor man home as a guest for lunch. The lunch was mostly cholent with fatty treats. Sometimes a kiddush[1] was made in the synagogue, or in a private room, for a happy occasion like a bar mitzvah, a calling up of a prospective bridegroom to the Torah, a bris,[2] and so on.

Every holiday had its specialties. Preparations for Passover, for example, included whitewashing the walls, koshering, baking matzas, preparing shmaltz[3] and eggs, and more.

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New clothes were almost always made for holidays. In our old home with its cold climate, Passover would often be cold and wet.

In contrast, Shavuot had no equal, as we used to say. The weather was beautiful, warm, sunny, and dry. Greenery was all around. All kinds of tasty treats were eaten, both dairy and meat; traditional blintzes were a popular treat. In short, this holiday was a happier one than all the others, including even the longer holidays.

As is known, in the diaspora, every holiday, without exception, is held a minimum of two days. After Shavuot and a long break came Rosh Hashanah, the Days of Awe, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Already from the beginning of the month of Elul, a penitential mood was felt. Penitential prayers, the treasure of the days of repentance, the sacrificial ceremony, and fasting were brought into the shtetl with the first trumpet of the shofar.

This was all stricter in the beginning of the century, when my parents and my grandparents, may they rest in peace, were still alive. The Day of Judgement in our shtetl was very serious.

The Days of Awe were regarded differently in the thirties of this century, that is, not with such fear and anxiety, but still within the framework of religious order and tradition.

In contrast, Sukkot and Simchat Torah were celebrated by most people with splendor. Outside of the traditional sukkah, which was different for everyone, a good mood ruled, as though we had actually taken the abundance from our fields to enjoy God's generous gifts. Unfortunately, many families sadly and anxiously feared the cold winter coming, since they had no wood, nor warm clothes, nor potatoes. In general, however, there was a good mood, and we celebrated Simchat Torah in splendor, with drinks and good pastries and assorted meats. The celebration started right after carrying the Torahs in synagogue. Most of the community, after synagogue service, sat down at tables spread with honey cake and liquor. Shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, we made a large circle around the stage, singing and dancing for hours.

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Our true devotion and love for Judaism is indescribable.

I still remember from my childhood days, when my grandfather, Reb Asher,[4] may he rest in peace, used to celebrate Simchat Torah magnificently, and everything was done in the Russian language. (Until today I do not understand why only in Russian?) He used to grab Hershl Goldenberg's long beard, may he rest in peace, with his left hand; he kept his right hand ready to slap him. For every inexact repetition, my grandfather slapped his face and said in Russian:

“Take your tallis and tefillin under your arm, put your white shirt in your bag, and walk to Trisk.”[5] He repeated this several times with conviction. We all stood around him, enjoying the happy play. We only regretted that we had to wait an entire year for such fun. (It seems as though we had no other worries).

When we became older and less religious, we were able to make up a Zionistic quorum for Simchat Torah, with vows honoring the Jewish National Fund. When the celebration was already in progress, we all went from house to house, usually singing and chanting various slogans, like “Next Year in Jerusalem!” And before ending the holiday, we all got together again in the synagogue. The cantor dressed up in disguise, anything to make it jolly! One thing that is important to remember, is that this was the only holiday in the year in which men and women celebrated together. It was different the rest of the year, when men and women were strictly separate.

Also years ago, at the end of the Sukkot holiday, a Jewish man wearing a prayer shawl and carrying a lulav[6] would go up onto the roof. He would sit on the chimney and shake the lulav, and sing out various arias made of his own prayers: “I have enemies in the east, west, north, south, I hope to you above, that they will all be buried.” He referred to the evil governments of the Tsars with their anti-Semitic edicts.

Throughout the year there were more usual, minor holidays.

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Hanukah was celebrated in the synagogue, but a happy holiday mood was created in homes, too. Firstly, there were the popular delicious latkes, which we used to eat on Hanukah. There was also the tradition of playing cards (but not everywhere).

On Tu B'shvat (new year of the trees), it was a good deed to eat fruits of the earth, like carob pods and figs. Purim is also a minor holiday, but it felt important. During all the minor holidays there was a collection of funds for charity; Purim took top place in raising money. As usual, Purim started with a fast, but in the same evening, we read the megilla[7] and booed Haman[8] with all our might, feeling that we made all the Hamans in all times disappear. Coming home from synagogue, we felt a Purim holiday mood in all the houses. The next day, we went again to the synagogue to hear the megilla, and we came back home to a holiday table. And before night–the Purim feast. I want to mention and praise here the sending of food gifts from one to another, as it was a beautiful tradition in those times. In addition, practically the entire Jewish population in the shtetl went to gatherings devoted to raising funds for all kinds of needs. Jews gave with open hands, to the best of their capacity. This was a tradition in all of the Eastern European diaspora.

Tisha B'Av is a sad day. However, in the synagogue, along with public mourning, there was a kind of odd situation: A little laughter crept in on the lips of the young people from the tradition of throwing sticky burrs onto one another. Woe to the Jew with the long beard who had done something not honorable to a young person. Everybody threw his burrs on his beard, and it was not possible to get them out… Nu, whether you want to or not, you must give a smile.

The beadles in our synagogues in our shtetlekh were born to the job, which was, by the way, never with a decent salary.

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They were generally supplied with an apartment in the synagogue but with a reduction in salary for it. And until this day I do not know how they managed to live, and still raise children, and among them also good children. With what they nourished and raised them I do not know.

* * *

There were a few more celebrations in relation to the synagogue, which were held irregularly, such as when Rebbes used to come to the shtetl, or when a new Torah was brought into the synagogue, or when there was a bar mitzvah or the calling up of a bridegroom to the holy ark. In addition, from time to time, there were political speeches about Zionism and courses which I still remember; they also brought joy into my life.

And with that I want to mention a course in Mlynov, on a certain Shabbes, when a speaker from Mizoch[9] came during the time of the trial of Stawski-Arlozorov.[10] Standing in a tallis at the Holy Ark, so that in case of danger he could claim to be giving a religious sermon, Ribe Litvak,[11] may his memory be a blessing, heatedly screamed, “Lies!” This was only an interjection, but the audience became aroused, and sides were soon created. It took a while until people quieted down. The revisionist[12] speaker did not continue any more.

Such courses were given quite often. In addition to overviews and various opinions, which were conducted in various places of the shtetl among friends of the Zionist parties, right, left, and so on, there were talks led by older Jews in the synagogue next to the warm oven, on the same themes; the audience never came to an agreement.

* * *

Another of the celebrations in which all sections of the local population took part, was the calling up of the groom-to-be to the Torah. On Shabbes, a kiddush was given in the synagogue. There was also a kiddush at home for close family and friends. The same was true for a bris. A Torah being led to the synagogue was celebrated in high style. But that was rare, just one time in several years.

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The celebration was accompanied by drums and dances, in which the largest portion of the local population took part.

When their Rebbe used to come for his yearly visit to the shtetl, his Hasidim would celebrate. He would stay with Fayvil Berger.[13] During the course of his stay in Mlynov, the Hassidim used to visit him, and a few also invited him to visit their homes. My brother-in-law Nahum Teitelman did this. And usually, wherever the Rebbe used to be, Hasidim came in order to sweeten his evening, and it was entirely interesting and jolly. It is appropriate to note here, that in a certain discussion with the Rebbe, which I myself heard, he was in favor of making aliyah to Palestine. Not like other Rebbes, who were opposed. The Rebbe also paid a visit to Mervits.

* * *

This is how the Jewish community in our old home celebrated happy occasions during the course of their lives. There was no entirely happy occasion, as it was for our Christian neighbors, in my opinion. Seldom-seldom was an occasion celebrated that was not mixed with tears. And there was always a reason for the tears. The Jew did not need to swear, “If I do not go up to Jerusalem I will be happy,” because he never had a perfectly happy occasion. Even in his best times, the occasions were accompanied by fear and oppression. And out of familiarity, we used to, for the most part, not emphasize such things, but just continue on…

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. A small meal, such as herring and challah, after services--HBF Return
  2. Bris means “covenant” and refers to the rite of circumcision of a Jewish male on the eighth day after birth. --HS Return
  3. Rendered chicken fat--HBF Return
  4. Mendel is speaking about his grandfather Reb Asher Teitelman. Reb here is likely a title of respect like “Mr.” and may not signify he was a rabbi.--HS Return
  5. This phrase, a mix apparently of Aramaic, Yiddish and Hebrew, was translated with the help of Mlynov Schwartz descendant, Jack Nudelman. Trisk today is Turiisk, Ukraine, 120 km from Mlyniv today --HS Return
  6. A bouquet of palm, myrtle, and willow branches used in the synagogue service during Sukkot. They are shaken in a special way to send blessings to all creation. --HBF Return
  7. The Book of Esther--HBF Return
  8. Evil antagonist in the Book of Esther who planned to kill all the Jews in ancient Persia.--HBF Return
  9. Town in Ukraine, 50 km east of Mlynov.--HS Return
  10. Abraham Stawski was an activist member of Betar, the Zionist youth group. On June 18, 1933, Stawski was arrested by British police in Palestine for the murder of Chaim Arlosorov. He was convicted and sentenced to death June 8, 1934. This decision was condemned by the Jewish community. The conviction was overturned in 1934.--HBF Return
  11. Probably refers to Motel Litvak, father of the writer Yosef Litvak in this volume, p. 53.--HS Return
  12. Revisionist Zionism was an ideology developed by Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who advocated a “revision” of the “practical Zionism” of David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann. Revisionism differed from other types of Zionism primarily in its territorial maximalism. Revisionists had a vision of occupying the full territory, and insisted upon the Jewish right to sovereignty over the whole of Eretz Yisrael, which they equated to the whole territory covered by the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, including Transjordan. --HS Return
  13. Faivel Berger was the uncle of Aaron (Berger) Harari, one of the contributors to this volume. On the Berger family in Mlynov, see https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Mlyniv/families.html#Bergers --HS Return

 

[Page 167]

Joys And Sorrows In Mervits

by S. M. T.[1]

Translated from the Yiddish by Hannah B. Fischthal, PhD

Commissioned and edited by Howard I. Schwartz, PhD

©

Celebrations and mourning in Mervits took place in an entirely different way than in other Jewish communities. I want to say here that there were individual celebrations, as, for example, an engagement, a wedding, a bris, and other family celebrations (We used to say: “They eat honey-cake—a daughter is getting married”); and there were community celebrations, like Shabes, ushering out the sabbath feast, holidays, leading a new Torah into the synagogue, and so on. I do not remember any other special opportunities to celebrate. There were more similar community celebrations, like fundraising parties dedicated to the Jewish National Fund, to United Israel Appeal, and to local needy inhabitants.

Similarly, there were individual moments of sadness, as, for example, difficult illnesses, funerals, and conversions. The attempt to convert a person occurred once in my life. The sadness and willingness to sacrifice oneself for God's name, and the facing of danger to save a Jewish soul, was also grief for the community. We will begin with celebrations.

 

Engagements

In Mervits before the First World War, as I remember, nobody fell in love, God forbid. To get married for love, God forbid—that did not happen. If anyone really did love someone, marriage without a matchmaker was against the law, or just plain not Jewish. Matchmakers were sent for, and most of them came from the initiative of the bride's family.

First there was bargaining over the dowry; not a thing could be settled without the dowry. It was said, “For a pretty girl, a dowry helps.” After a lengthy bargaining session, when both sides came to an agreement, they set the engagement for a good and a lucky hour. The wedding was usually a year later. There were instances where the bargaining over the dowry took a very long time, and after lengthy negotiations, the mother of the groom said finally to the matchmaker: “Listen, Reb Moyshe, to my final decision: if this and that total is not given, then let him suffer another year.

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OK, he will be sick of wandering. But he will not become any cheaper.”

And that is how the couple was matched up. This does not mean that there never were any nicer ways. Quite possibly, but seldom, and mostly not until after the First World War. Then the youth of Mervits started to adopt more pleasing paths to love. It even happened that a marriage took place without a dowry. The parents, who adhered to the older way of life, looked very askance at this, but they lost.

“What a world we have today!” they used to say with a sigh.
When it was time for the engagement, the bride's family started to bake honey cakes and all kinds of egg cookies. The shames[2] was sent to invite the entire shtetl, from end to end, without exception, regardless of relationship or honor. All gathered in the home of the bride, with the Rabbi at the head. The bridegroom was told to be seated, similar to the king, by the eastern wall. The commotion in the home was enormous. Everybody came dressed up in Shabbes clothes, the women in the most beautiful and best dresses.

The Rabbi sat with a goose quill in his hand, which he kept dipping into the inkwell next to him, and he wrote and wrote.[3] Finally, he started to search for two kosher witnesses who were not related to either side, and that was very rare, because by us everyone was a relative, some further and some closer, but everyone without exception. So a search started for pure witnesses who were not related to each other, until the Rabbi finally decided, that an eighth of an eighth [relationship] may be a witness.[4] So he found witnesses, but they could not write well. The rabbi put his hand over where the witness needed to sign, and he said all the time: “Reb Yukl, draw with the quill a small line, and afterwards a longer one, and afterwards a little bit until”… until it is good. “Kosher kosher, a kosher signature,” the rabbi ruled. The same procedure for the second witness, and all was kosher and honest.

Now the rabbi slowly pulled out of his pocket, from under his frock coat, the red handkerchief, which was used more than once on a cold day as a shawl around his throat. He gave the groom a corner of it, and he held the rest himself, and said to him: “Nu, dear groom, receive the property, in a good and lucky hour!”

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And the groom took the handkerchief, and he felt in it a little dampness from tobacco, but anyway, if the Rabbi says do it, probably it has to be like that. He took the handkerchief, and he sent it to the bride. She also needed to take a corner of it in agreement.

The shames pushed himself through the crowd and screamed loudly, “Let me through, let me through to the bride. She needs to take the handkerchief in agreement; the Rabbi ordered it.”

The wives, who were separated from the men, concentrated around the bride. Hearing that the Rabbi sent the shames, they started to wipe their wet eyes with their aprons, shaking their heads, and praying to the heavenly father, “Oy, sweet Father, may it only be in a lucky hour.”

And the shames pushed through to the bride, and said to her: “Nu, bride, take the handkerchief in agreement; the Rabbi orders this.”

Hearing that the Rabbi ordered it, there is no argument. Probably this is the “contract.”

With a trembling hand, the bride touched the red handkerchief with the scent of tobacco. The shames wound back through the crowd, screaming, “Let me through, I must give the Rabbi the 'contract' that I took from the bride. Let me through, let through, let through!”

All in the audience, with great respect and with a smile on their lips because of the occasion, listened to the Aramaic words that the Rabbi read, as though he would be sending a telegram to the Lord of the Universe: “Dear God, I am marrying another Jewish couple for You, and I pray here with my Aramaic words, that You bless them with all kinds of good things and with children and with sustenance.-- And may the groom with this maiden soon rise to greatness today, Amen.”

At this the Rabbi raised a plate high, and quickly let it drop with the shout, “Mazl-tov, mazl-tov!” Then came real sobs as well as good wishes, an entire dictionary of good wishes, an ocean of all kinds of blessings, kisses, hugs, and hot tears. And again and again good wishes, may it be in a good hour, with luck and with income, with health and with children and grandchildren. Amen selah. And all the good wishes together with the crying and wiping eyes take up quite a bit of time --

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Then they start to do something really important, which means, to put something in their mouths. They toast “L'khayim”[5] with wine, Wishniak (cordial), and liquor. And now the mouths are put to work to sing, sing and sing until daylight, and not stop. Singing and talking took up the entire evening. We ate, we snacked, who needs it; the main thing is the singing and being joyous, and our townsfolk knew well the art of singing.

The engagement evening, during which the bride had a good time with her friends until the light of day, and the groom celebrated with the clergy and townspeople, was over. The crowd started to say good- bye. It was already daytime and time for prayers, and the parents of the groom of course needed to go pray, in order to give praise to the Creator of the world, who sent their son his true match.

And so the week went slowly. The first Shabbes afterwards, everyone sent the groom drinks, and everyone sent drinks to the prospective bride; and she sent liquor to her fiancé, and he sent it to her. The drink consisted, mostly, of a saucer of preserves, covered on top with a shawl. Those who did not own this (there were many) sent two bottles of beer. And with that came another series of good wishes.

Family of the couple started to prepare clothes and bedding. Furniture and apartments were seldom given.

 

A Wedding

This is about the wedding of a couple before the the First World War. A wedding was a happy attraction. It could stretch out to a week, meaning, over the Sheva Brokhes.[6] And usually the preparations started much earlier than the wedding. I stress this because the preparations alone were an entire matter by themselves. It was not the same in all houses, in all families, because the poor families did not have the same opportunities as the rich. The preparations took place up until the chuppah[7]… and, God willing, up to the bris. In those days, that practically meant that one needed to rely on the Creator of the Universe—probably He would not neglect them, and He would nourish them the same as all Jews.

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An apartment is also not a problem—An attic in the home of parents is good. What more does a couple after their wedding need than a separate alcove? You see, clothes and bedding—that yes, that is a problem, that has to be managed as well as possible. I remember that my grandmother, may she rest in peace, even in her extreme old age, for whatever celebration it was, would put on her wedding dress with her wedding cape. People had to worry about clothing, in case, God forbid, one could not make clothes later for oneself, because soon the little children will have to be taken care of, one after the other.

This is generally describing well- to- do families. Poor families also prepared up until a short time before the wedding, but, unfortunately, they prepared entirely differently and not as much.

Well, the preparations for the wedding. First of all, for the year after the engagement until the wedding, geese were raised, killed, and plucked for their feathers, in order to make several pillows and covers; that was done by both sides. Having already a mass of feathers which had been plucked, with great efforts, during winter nights by the shine of a lit naphtha lantern, they started to think about linens; those were generally purchased while buying the general clothes for the bridegroom and the members of his household, and especially for the bride-to-be and members of her household.

The travel to Malke Stul in Dubne to buy dresses for the wedding is a chapter in itself. As usual, neither the prospective groom nor the prospective bride went with their parents to make the purchases. Everything was done by the parents, with the help of specialists and with the advice and trust of Reuven and Malke Stul, may they be remembered with praise. The manufacturing businessmen of the Stul family were honest and dependable people; the entire area trusted them.

The first thing was the bed cover, and afterwards the underwear. For a well-to-do groom-to-be, two dozen pairs were made, meaning shirts with undershorts, apart from body coverings and other details, because nobody wore any other kind of underwear. And the overclothes, meaning a kapote, a robe from alpaca, and several overcoats: a winter one with fur, and an autumn one with a velvet collar, and sometimes also a dust coat, or a fur coat; for the wealthiest, a European polecat or a fox coat.

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And whoever could afford it took along a tailor from home who measured the centimeters. The tailor would use all his expertise and he sweated. Usually, he did not receive a reward for the journey, because he was, after all, the tailor hired for the year, the family tailor, who more than once had sewed a pair of pants or a robe for the family over the past months.

All purchases were packed up with a straw mat and with an iron hoop, and Reb Reuven Stul wrote out the bill. Either everything was paid for immediately, or the parents made payments for many years after, depending on how well off they were. And in the several weeks before the wedding, the tailor was taken into the house, and he sewed everything from A to Z. The same was happening with the bride-to-be.

Shoes were also bought for the wedding, including a pair of boots with thick rubber. There were instances when grooms, having a desire to dress up more for the wedding, and regardless that the weddings were taking place in the summertime, they donned their new thick rubber boots, wishing to look good and wealthy.

If the bride was from another shtetl a distance of 15, 20, or 25 kilometers away, then, in addition to all the wagon drivers in the town who were mobilized for the day, several village farmers were hired to harness their horses and wagons. They were happy to drive to a wedding, because in addition to the payment, they also benefitted from a good Jewish meal with a white roll, as well as a drink of liquor.

 

The Bridegroom is Coming!

About two kilometers from the shtetl, the entire travelling convoy stopped, and one of the foremen rode to the town to announce that the bridegroom and his parents were not far away. Hearing this news, a delegation from the bride's side rode out to meet them. With great honor, the groom and his parents were led to the shtetl. They went to the prepared area, where they were joined by people and musicians for the badeken ceremony, when the groom put the veil on the bride.

[Page 173]

After that, they went to the chuppah, the wedding canopy.

The place which had been prepared for the groom with his in-laws was called the bridegroom's station. They stayed there until after the wedding, and from there the parents rode back home, leaving the groom. Going to the chuppah was not talked about until the groom was in his station, because it sometimes happened, that due to complications like huge mud puddles or snowstorms, there would be a delay, and the groom either was late, or he could not get out altogether, and he could not even send a messenger. I do not wish on my friends such an obstacle to the celebration.

If everything was in order, the joy was of course huge. And as the groom, with his family, got closer to the town, a band of musicians, as well as everyone in the entire shtetl, greeted him. After completing the preparations for the ceremony, they went to put the veil on the bride, and then they went straight to the chuppah. Before the ceremony there was, as usual, crying upon hearing the wedding badkhen[8] whose job it was to seat the bride and groom, and to provide witty songs. Tears poured like water; if the bride were, God forbid, an orphan, then the badkhen's smart material was especially tear-jerking. Everything finished, they went to the chuppah. Most times the ceremony took place at the synagogue. The bride and groom with their parents were brought in separately. Some walked with burning candles in their hands, and some with kerosene or oil torches. Sometimes there was even fireworks, which kept on showering sparks. The entire procedure to and from the chuppah was accompanied by the musicians. And there were endless good wishes! It is indescribable.

After the ceremony, the couple was quickly given something to eat after the long fast. They were served golden soup and other good things, accompanied by music. After the meal and the blessings, the dancing started. There was a row of wedding gifts. The gifts, who gave what, were announced separately by the badkhen, and humorously. In general, the badkhen worked hard the entire evening, making everybody happy at the meal and after the meal.

When all the formalities were over, the custom was to sing and dance.

[Page 174]

Only a few knowledgeable women could dance. And men danced themselves, because dancing with women cannot even be mentioned! God forbid, men and women dancing together, nobody heard of it. They danced until the second half of the next day. At the end, everybody danced a parting song, the so-called Retshke. This dance was the precursor to the end of the wedding night.

After the Retshke dance, everyone, all tired, packed everything up and went back home to their regular weekly lives. There were weddings where even after the out-of-town in-laws left for their homes, the celebration continued. I still remember, in my childhood years, the wedding of my Uncle Zelig's daughter Ester,[9] z”l. the wedding itself lasted an entire week, with all kinds of attractions, with dancers riding on horses, and the horses coming into their home. We children had never seen a bigger celebration in our lives. The wedding was talked about for many years. Life continued from generation to generation almost in the same form.

 

A Bris[10]

A bris was also a very nice celebration, because almost everyone in the shtetl came together. And even those not well off exerted themselves to make a nice feast. The celebration was usually without musicians and without other attractions which were necessary for a wedding. After all, there was just one wedding, but baby boys----

So they were a small celebration, but beautifully observed. It is well known that in those times births took place at home. A midwife delivered the child. When the woman felt labor pains, her husband ran to call the midwife. If this happened in the night, he had to wake up the midwife, who was usually an old woman. In a great rush, she did not dress exactly correctly, or her face had become smeared with soot while searching in the dark near the chimney for matches. When she came running in like that, the woman in labor had to laugh through her pains, and that was a happy remedy.

[Page 175]

Other Celebrations

When the Sabbath was ushered out, it was often celebrated with a feast. And if God had helped to make it a good week, there was also a goose, not to mention herring with white Challah.

And when a new Torah was led into the synagogue, or a new ark—that was equal to a wedding celebration. There was music and a chuppah for the Torah. People danced, and the musicians played. All enjoyed themselves throughout the evening until full daylight. There was no difference if the Torah were given by an individual or by a group; it was the same celebration.

As, for example, I remember when a new Torah was given by the family of Hirsh Moliner, in memory of their daughter Feyge, who had died young; that was before the First World War. The celebration began with the scribe writing letters in the Torah. Everything took place in the home of Vigdor Zisyen, because he had a large house and an inn. The celebration was taken from Hirsh Moliner's home, which was a large business house, into his son-in-law Vigdor's house which had enough room for many guests.

I still remember quite well how my grandfather, Reb Asher,[11] z”l, went first to the mikve, the ritual bath, before he would inscribe a letter in the Torah, and so did many other elderly Jews. (By the way, my grandfather also had sponsored a Torah, but that happened before I was born). And when they finished inscribing the letters, the chuppah was brought over and it was erected in front of the door of Vigdor's house. Berke the shames, may he rest in peace, called out all those with honors to the Torah. All the youths of the shtetl, with torches in their hands, and all the musicians, who were especially brought in, came to the chuppah. The musicians began to play; the drum beats were a sign of celebration. And even though the synagogue was nearby, just across the way, the Torah was led to the chuppah with song and music throughout the marketplace, and up to the other synagogues, which were all lit up with lanterns. We carried the other Torahs out in our arms, and we introduced the new Torah to them.

[Page 176]

We returned it to the Trisk Hasidic synagogue[12], where it was supposed to reside forever. The cantor and the congregation recited the blessings for Simchat Torah, and they paraded around like on that holiday. With every procession we danced and sang, and the musicians played, until the late hours of the night.

When the synagogue procedure was finished, then there was a feast. All participants washed their hands and made the blessings over challah. Meat, fish, liquor, and beer were served. We danced to the music until daylight. I, like many others, thought then that those who have never witnessed this joy were unfortunate. This was how a wealthy person donated a Torah.

On the other hand, soon after the First World War, a society called “No workers Party” (because workers-yes, union—no) donated a Torah. It was a big celebration, with practically all particulars, but not with the same religious spirituality. The leader of the artisans was Shaye Miler,[13] may he rest in peace. Everything was concentrated in his house, the inscribing the letters, and starting the parade. But it was not the same as Moliner's celebration. It had more of the character of a demonstration against the rich, than a celebration of writing a Torah.

The poor workers of the small shtetl wanted to make this kind of celebration quite often, because they always felt that they were not given the same honors as more esteemed Jews, such as rich businessmen, scholars, important Hasidim, and so on. Practically every artisan felt this, and he always carried a hidden hatred towards the non-artisans. When they celebrated a Torah, they made sure to invite the entire shtetl without exception, both in honor of the Torah, and as a statement, as I have already written, to express their equal rights.

I remember, before the First World War, I was led up to the ark in the synagogue. The ark was given by Leyzer Opshteyn,[14] may he rest in peace, and his family, called Leyzer–Eli Moyshe's [son]. The ark was decorated by his son Khonina, may he rest in peace.

[Page 177]

Then it was very joyous too, with musicians and with songs up to the synagogue and inside it. That also was etched into my childhood memories. The musicians playing, the singing, and the dancing while carrying the holy ark as though it would be carried into the large synagogue in Jerusalem. Then we ate a whole night until daylight. I will never forget it!

 

Celebrations For the Sake of the Land of Israel

In addition to the monthly gatherings for various land of Israel funds, in which my wife Sonia and I and others participated, we also made parties from time to time.

The earnings were dedicated to the Jewish National Fund, and so on. Younger people than us also participated in the work. Mostly they carried through the technical work. They were: Malke Lokrits, z”l, Yitskhok Epshtayn,[15] who celebrated a special birthday,[16] Chaim Grinshtayn, z”l, Mayer Kleynbord, and others.

We also had a right-wing party which did not participate in the fundraising, and that was Betar.[17] More than once fights broke out on principles, and there even was hitting. I remember an evening when Betar people hid in a place on the way to Mlynov, near the house of Yankev Kiniver, and they wounded Yitskhok Blinder, may he rest in peace, with a stone; the differences of opinion went that far.

I will mention another institution which demanded frequent fundraisers, and that was the women's union, in which my wife Sonia actively participated. From time to time this union had entertainment which always brought in money. All the women used to bake assorted sweets which were auctioned off. The customer who received it divided it among his friends. Everyone had to put aside money, and all this brought in a total that increased the earnings of the union.

On such evenings, women and men in the entire shtetl would have a very good time.

[Page 178]

Mourning in the Shtetl

If something sad happened in the shtetl, practically everyone took part. Every person shared in the mourning. If someone got sick, he or she was never abandoned. There were continuous visits, every day. Whatever could be done to ease the family and the patient was done.

There were examples of sleeping with the sick person, or financial help, or traveling with the patient to a large town to see an important doctor; such help was always available. For a funeral, the entire shtetl participated, without exceptions.

* * *

In my childhood years there was a conversion plague, and someone was rescued from conversion. To make this rescue, the entire shtetl stood ready, even to the point of martyrdom. I do not remember all the particulars, but I will mention a few. May this praise the residents, who were ready to sacrifice their lives, as long as they could save a Jewish woman from conversion.

That happened around 1908, when Khayke, daughter of Avrom-Yankev Brizgal, was a young widow of 36-37. In her best blooming years, she was a pretty woman who was caught in the net by the compliments of a Christian, about 10 years older than she, from a neighboring village. The Christian, with his nice words, tricked her. She was going to pick cherries with him, and for payment, she would be permitted to bring home half. Not having an occupation and staying with her three children at the home of her not wealthy parents, this seemed to be an easy job for her. She had no suspicions. Once there, the Christian did not spare any compliments until she fell under his influence, and meanwhile she stayed for another day of cherry-picking. Their relationship became more and more romantic, and she finally agreed to stay with him. The Christian, who was more cunning than she, foresaw that her family would certainly resist, so he took her away a few dozen kilometers from his home in an unknown direction.

My mother, may she rest in peace, and my wife's mother, may she rest in peace, being sisters-in-law[18] and then young, capable women, went to that village.

[Page 179]

They went to a neighbor, a trustworthy one, and begged him to spy. They had the thought that she would be taken in the direction of Pochayiv,[19] the well-known holy place for Christians, where conversion ceremonies took place.

When they returned home with this notion, it became Tisha B'Av[20] in the shtetl. All, without exception, mourned. It was decided that the next day before dawn all the men would ride out on a rescue action. In the morning, all the men, without difference of age and social standing, prayed and went out on the road in the direction of Pochayiv. And they rode with the determination that the woman would be grabbed out of whatever place she was. I remember, being tired from riding on the distant and dusty road, we stopped in a nearby village not far from Pochayiv to feed the horses and dust ourselves off a little. By accident, a local peasant found out that the entire group, wearing their kapotes and their long sideburns, were riding in order to kidnap a Jewish woman who wanted to enter his God's faith. From jealousy and disappointment with the unbelieving Jews, he alarmed the entire village. The incited Christians all came out wielding sticks, and they beat up the Jews going by. With great efforts, the Jews barely succeeded in tearing themselves out of the murderous hands.

The Jews who went to Pochayiv were met with the same terrible pogrom-like welcome. With great effort and suffering, they succeeded in coming home, broken and beat up, insulted, and the end with empty hands, without the so-called convert.

[Page 180]

So what do Hasidim do, injured, insulted and robbed of the convert? -- To the Rebbe! The Rebbe advised, that as the woman had an 18-year-old son, who worked in Kyiv as a clerk, the son should come as soon as possible. Only the son and his uncle from Lutsk should ride to Pochayiv, without words and without entreaties. They should stay around for a day, just walking among the laurels. In short, this method helped. The same day, when she, being stuck in the closed rooms of the monks for a long time, and looked out of a window from boredom, she noticed her elegant, handsome, blonde son from Kyiv walking near the church with her brother Yehoshue. She did not look at anything, but she went out and threw herself on her son's neck. With hot tears, she swore regret over everything, and in the same day they came home with her to Mervits.

All the Jews in the shtetl were very happy with the good deed. The end was, that her brother Shaye took her away to London. As of today, nobody knows where her body is lying.

It is in order here to mention the measure of sympathy in the community during the mortal danger posed by fires, which were very frequent. This plague lasted a long time. The reason for this is quite simple: the poor Jews seldom covered their roofs with sheet metal, tiles, or shingles. Their roofs were covered with straw, which did not cost much, and that burned very easily and caused fires. As is known, fire drags fire. Once it started, the entire shtetl could be burned up. I remember many such fires. The last one happened after the First World War, when a spark came out of Zelig's mill from the steam machine, and it burned down Leye Sherman's house, and Benyomin Grinshpan's house. There were not many houses then in the neighborhood after the war. Usually, if it had happened before the war, then certainly the entire shtetl would have been in flames. By the last years before the First World War, people started to live more modernly, so that the apartments where all the time becoming more covered with tiles.

That led to the creation of factories in Mervits.

For many years, people talked about the fire of the large, beautiful synagogue. The fire began from a certain Khane-Rokhl Yusele-Smalikops' house, and spread to nearby houses covered with straw, and then it ended with the large, beautiful synagogue.

 

Editor's footnotes:
  1. Abbreviation for Sonia and Mendel Teitelman. Sonia and Mendel Menachem Teitelman were among a number of Shoah survivors from the Teitelman family. Mendel was born in Mervits, the son of Abraham Teitelman (1850–1922) and Rivka Halperin, and one of nine siblings, most of whom died in the Shoah. His year of birth is given variously as 1900 and 1905. Mendel married his first cousin, Sonia Gruber (1900–1980), daughter of Yosef Moshe Gruber and Shifra (Teitelman). Sonia and Mendel had no children but remained close with the family of Sonia's sister, Rachel (Gruber) Teitelman and her husband Nahum, who are also contributors to this volume. Return
  2. Multi-tasking Synagogue aide--HBF Return
  3. Apparently writing the Ketubah, the marriage document.--HS Return
  4. Rabbinic law required that the Ketubah be signed by two witnesses who could are not related to each other. This was difficult in the small shtetls since all the families had intermarried and were related to each other. The expression here seems to suggest two witnesses who share great-grandparents (3rd cousins) or more distantly related could be witnesses since one has eight great-grandparents. Return
  5. “To Life.” --HS Return
  6. Seven Blessings recited during the wedding ceremony, after the wedding feast, and for seven days following a festive meal.--HBF Return
  7. The chuppah refers to the wedding canopy when the actual wedding took place. Return
  8. The wedding badkhen, the entertainer, acted like a Master of Ceremonies. He also composed songs in rhyme about the couple.--HBF Return
  9. Possibly a reference to Mendel's first cousin, Ester, daughter of Abraham Teitelman, who married Meir Gruber. Return
  10. Ritual circumcision of a baby boy when he is eight days old--HBF Return
  11. Asher Teitelman, grandfather of both Mendel and Sonia, since they were first cousins. Return
  12. https://historicsynagogueseurope.org/browser.php?mode=set&id=7898 Return
  13. Likely referring to the person remembered as Saul Meiler (or Malar) who married Nechama, one of the Shulman daughters. Return
  14. A Yad Vashem record filled out by Mendel Teitelman indicates Eliezer Upstein, son of Eli Moyshe, was born in 1865 in Mervits and died in Mlynov or Dubno in the Shoah. He is the father of Hanina Upstein and the grandfather of Yitzhak Upstein (1910), who survived the Shoah while in the Russian Army and who subsequently married Bunia Steinberg, another survivor. Yitzhak and Bunia made aliyah after the War. The family story is told in A Struggle to Survive. https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Mlyniv/documents/A_Struggle_to_Survive.pdf Return
  15. Possibly “Yitzhak Upstein,” grandson of Leazar Opshteyn in the previous paragraph.--HS Return
  16. The Yiddish appears to have an acronym “Yb”la” which appears to be a misspelling of yoyvel (Jubilee), signifying reaching a special birthday or wedding anniversary.--HBF Return
  17. A revisionist Zionist youth movement founded by Jabotinsky in 1923--HBF Return
  18. Mendel and his wife Sonia were first cousins. Mendel's father, Abraham Teitelman, was a brother of Sonia's mother, Shifra (Teitelman) Gruber. Therefore, their mothers were sister-in-laws. Return
  19. Likely Pochaiv (or Pochayev), Ukraine today, a town 93 km due south of Mlyniv. The monastery there, belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, has been a spiritual center in Ukraine--HBF Return
  20. Saddest Jewish holiday, a fast day of mourning the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem--HBF Return

 

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