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[Page 55]

The Synagogue in Radzivil
and the Holy Ark That Was Hit by Lightning
[1]

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

The synagogue in Radzivil was famous in all of Ukraine because of its original, unique architecture. Even though it was built completely of wood, it was still very tall, adorned with beautiful hand–carved cornices and carved balconies; curved steps led to the women's gallery and, from there, further on to a fenestrated, turret–like clerestory on the roof. From this clerestory, a large vault rose, looking like a velvet cap. Inside on the ceiling were paintings of the 12 signs of the zodiac. The walls were decorated with wonderful drawings based on the subjects of Biblical verses, such as “The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like sheep,” “Our hands were spread like the eagles of the heavens,” “He made my feet like a doe's feet,” “Horse and rider He has thrown into the sea,” and others.

And like the paintings, the Biblical verses themselves were also painted in magnificent colors, with large, beautifully adorned letters, thought to have been done by an unknown graphic artist of exceptional quality; the intention was to write Biblical verses and verses from prayers in magnificent script because they decorated the four walls of the original synagogue.

In the register of the Radzivil community, there is a reference that in the days of the righteous one R' Itsikel, a Radzivil native, R' Velvele of Zbaraz, son of R' Yechiel Mikhel of Zloczow, came to spend the Sabbath in Radzivil and pray in the Great Synagogue. He was so impressed with the synagogue that he could not stop praising it. Before leaving, he made a blessing as he departed the town, as is the custom, and in his blessing he prayed that the synagogue would never be destroyed and that fire would not overcome it.

As it later became clear, his blessing was completely realized.

It was in 1883, 1 Shevat, Torah portion Va–etchanan, 10:00 a.m., when the great fire broke out. The fire began in the butcher's house, in which they were frying fat. It was a hot summer day, and the fire consumed almost the entire town.

[Page 56]

 

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The Old Great Synagogue

 

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The New Great Synagogue

 

[Page 57]

Numerous houses in Radzivil were built of wood, and quite a few had straw walls; these were the first to be consumed by the fire. And then even the stone houses, of which there were few, caught fire. The fire raged for two days. Residents of Radzivil, children and women, fled to the cemetery, which was far away from the city, with all the possessions they managed to rescue from the fire. The whole town was completely obliterated, with the fire consuming everything–nothing survived except the old synagogue, even though it was made of wood. The fire didn't even touch it.

All the other holy places–such as the Husiatyn Hasidic kloyz, the Trisk kloyz, the Rabbi's Study Hall, the Barani Study Hall, and all the houses of prayer near the Great Synagogue–were all consumed by the fire. But the old, wooden Great Synagogue itself withstood the fire entirely. It would not let the fire overcome it.

Eyewitnesses later reported seeing a flock of white doves appear on all four sides when the fire raged there. The doves scattered onto the roof of the synagogue, flapped their wings, and didn't let the fire approach.

The old folks of Radzivil like to talk about another incredible thing that happened later in the same synagogue, 10 years after the Great Fire.[2] Radzivil had then already been rebuilt with the help of our people, the children of Israel, merciful sons of merciful fathers, and Radzivil's Jews returned to the routines of commerce and found contentment in earning their living. The congregation decided to honor the memory of the miracle that saved the synagogue from the fire, as well as Torah scrolls brought from other holy places that had been burnt by the fire, with a new, large ark with the appropriate degree of splendor. For this effort, the head of the Kremenets community procured a woodcarver who was famous throughout Ukraine.

For a full year, the woodcarver worked on the ark with delicate tools, creating wonderful drawings: engraved lions and tigers, gazelles and deer, eagles, doves, large and small beasts, and all sorts of different flowers.

Those who heard about the ark came from far away to see it, and they would pray for the construction and its progress.

After the artist had completed his work, he engraved his name on the lower edges of ark: Ozer son of Yechye–a magnificent work …

[Page 58]

After five months, when the ark was complete, at 2:00 in the afternoon on the first day of Shavuot, it suddenly started raining, and there was also thunder and lightning. A lightning bolt hit the synagogue, split the vault on the roof, penetrated the interior, and struck the edge of the ark with the name of the wood sculptor, specifically the words “a magnificent work.”

Shortly, it was learned that this very same woodcarver had previously done similar engraving projects for a Catholic church. This was considered sacrilegious, and it was understood that the heavens would be angry because those words “a magnificent work” were engraved on the Holy Ark.

During the delegation's visit to Radzivil, no one recalled the former splendors of the Great Synagogue. The millionaire R' Moshe Ginzburg, known as the Baron of Port Arthur, who was born in Radzivil and was a supplier during the Russo–Japanese war, supported the town of his birth from afar and built many of its social institutions. At the same time, he also rebuilt the Great Synagogue in a modern style, both inside and out. He replaced the bronze candelabra and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and installed electric lamps in their place. On the walls, there was no trace of any of the paintings that used to be there. Thus, in one stroke, the memory of the lightning strike and the beauty of Radzivil's beloved former Great Synagogue were erased.


Footnotes

  1. From the book Jewish Ethnography and Folklore, by Avraham Rekhtman. Memoirs of the ethnography delegation organized by Sh. Ansky, published by YIVO, Buenos Aires, 1958. return
  2. After so many fires in the city, it became common to date events from a fire, for example, such and such after the second fire and the like. return


A Note on the Great Synagogue and Its Holy Ark

by Mrs. Rachel Gurman

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

At the request of Mr. Ts. Zagoroder, chairman of Radzivilov's Memorial Book Publication Committee, I copied the section on the damage to Radzivilov's Great Synagogue from A. Rekhtman's book on Jewish ethnography. There are a few things that should be pointed out:

1. Radzivil was not called “Radzivil” but rather Radzivilov–Volhynia until World War I. After that, during Polish rule, the town was called “Radzivilov near Brody,” and the Jews simply called it “Radivil.” The town was also mentioned in the story “Motl, Peysi the Cantor's Son,” by Sholem Aleichem. There it said, among other things, that “Radzivil is big–because you can steal a border.”

2. The Great Synagogue was blown up with strategic precision by the Austrians during World War I. The synagogue stood in the way of the army's view of the machinery in the Brody forest. When I came to Radivil after World War I, they told me that during the war a particular young person had succeeded in photographing an Austrian officer giving the hand signal to blow up the synagogue.

[Page 59]

I then sent the photograph to the YIVO Institute in Vilna, and Mr. Zagoroder also had a copy. It was clear from the beginning that after the synagogue was blown up, nothing was left but empty space, and nothing remained of the synagogue walls.

Accordingly, it is not correct that “they replaced the bronze candelabra and chandeliers that were hanging from the ceiling,” as Mr. Rekhtman, the researcher, wrote. But he is not to be blamed. He received incorrect information. I must repeat that after the synagogue was blown up, the candelabra and hanging chandeliers did survive. In addition, Zeylig Fershtut told me that all during Austrian rule in Radivil, the Christians of Radivil excavated the debris in the synagogue yard, believing that the Jews had hidden their precious possessions there. They apparently carried off the hanging chandeliers and other objects they found there.

3. Also, the story about the synagogue's reconstruction is somewhat distorted. The truth is completely different. When the first families returning to Radivil found the yard empty, they decided to temporarily reconstruct the synagogue. My father, Moshe Sheyn, of blessed memory, went to Antonovitsh, the mayor, who had been a major in the border guard corps before the war, and convinced him to allow the army hospital sheds, which were still in the town, to be used as a synagogue. Antonovitsh considered my father's request and, having full authority, gave my father and Zeylig Fershtut, of blessed memory, permission to renovate the sheds with their own hands to serve a synagogue.

After some time, after daily life returned to its regular rhythm, a committee was formed–if my memory is correct, Shmuel Fidel, of blessed memory, was the chairman–to collect donations from local residents. They also got $10,000 from Moshe Ginzburg, of blessed memory, and built a new synagogue. But unfortunately, they didn't raise enough for artistic decorations. No one wished, therefore, God forbid, “to erase the glory of the past.”


[Page 60]

Radzivilov, 1900–1916

by Menachem Goldgart

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

In 1905, after the pogroms in Russia, there was a massive immigration of Jews to America through the Brody/Radzivilov border. Apart from the carefully guarded border, the émigrés faced very serious hazards even before they reached it. Many émigrés traveled by train until they were about 50 kilometers from the border, and then they continued by wagon or on foot to the actual crossing. But one day something terrible happened to a large group of our children of Israel: when they were found crossing into a forest in Belokrinitsa, about 3 kilometers from Radzivilov, the notorious thief Ivan Rodigody attacked them, and they were robbed. Destitute, the people reached the town and reported what had happened to them. Of course, it was impossible to go the police, and the townspeople were not interested. But Ayzik Ayzvozchik (the wagoner) had heard of the robbery, and it angered him. He collected a few of his friends, including Ozer Lubar and Moshe Munkhes, and they left town to protect the Jews who were there. They found Ivan Rodigody and fought him. Rodigody fell and never rose again. From that time on, the route to the border was open.

Close to the outbreak of World War I, Austrian–Russian defenses were fortified for readiness near Kremenets and along the banks of the Ikva River, but in the summer of 1915, General Brusilov, commander of the Galician forces, breached them, and in a very few days he crossed these defenses. His campaign completely destroyed numerous cities and towns near the battle, causing an exodus of Jewish refugees from Radzivilov and Pochaev to Kremenets. The wealthy families had already left Radzivilov, but now the iron door slammed shut on those setting out on foot to Kremenets, either openly or in secret. All their belongings had been burned. And they now found themselves fleeing for their lives behind the hordes who had marched into battle. Many wounded men were with them. By day, they would hide in villages along the way, and by night, they would continue on their way. It was a 35–kilometer march from Radzivilov to Kremenets, but it took the refugees weeks to make this journey. The plight of the refugees on the roads came to the attention of some of the town's “operators.” An ad hoc committee was organized to help the refugees.

[Page 61]

The first concern was to feed the refugees even before they reached the city, but it was soon a concern to help them as they continued on their way. If the refugees came to the city, they were to be housed in various public buildings: the Talmud Torah building, which had been used as a stable for the Russian army, became a place for refugees. A few wealthy young people from Zionist youth groups organized ways to help them. They opened a kitchen for refugees that fed three meals a day to more than 3,000 souls.

Our town was almost completely destroyed, but some unclaimed property remained buried in basements. After many lobbying efforts, the committee got permission from government officials to go around Radzivilov collecting whatever property could be retrieved. The committee rented 100 wagons from local farmers, and a large caravan left Radzivilov filled with the collected items, such as undergarments, clothing, dresses, and all sorts of basic necessities. Because the government suspected that the Jews would aid the enemy, they permitted only two Jews to accompany the caravan: the associate rabbi, Mr. Barats, of blessed memory, and the writer of these lines.

 

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Youth Committee to Aid Refugees, 1916

Seated (from right): Veser, …, M. Goldgart, …,Sonye Landsberg–Poltorak
Standing (first row): Belter, …, …, Zamberg, Sonye Poltorak, …
Standing (second row): Yitschak Eydelman, Dr. Binyamin Landsberg, Bezdieski …

 

[Page 62]

With great trepidation, we succeeded in rescuing undergarments, clothing, dresses, and everything related from the basements and bringing it all to Kremenets. There, it was all put into a warehouse and, from there, distributed among the refugees by a core group of young people who were also dedicated to the welfare of refugee children and had organized a temporary school for them.

 

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Tarbut School Second Grade and Teacher

 


[Page 63]

Radzivilov, 1914–1922

by Aleksander Balaban

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

For a long time, the town of Radzivilov was considered a small town. It was close to the free area that lay between the Russian and Austrian frontiers until the actual line of the border was finally determined to be between it and Brody. From then on, Radzivilov became a Russian border town. Following the expulsion of the Jews from the town of Krupets at the decree of the Russian government, the refugees fled en masse to Radzivilov, which was about 5 versts from Krupets. Radzivilov suddenly grew. Another reason for Radzivilov's sudden growth was that it was close to the railroad crossings, so tax collection offices had been located there to supervise railroad affairs. During Russian rule, Jewish citizens prospered during the years leading up to the outbreak of the World War I. Border administration was important for the town, especially since the Russian army and Cossacks were stationed there, the latter being troublesome to the Jews.

With the declaration of war in July 1914, the Cossacks organized a security force to search Jews: they were looking for “hidden telephones.” They looted and robbed in their wake, but finding none, they nevertheless arrested a few Jews. As a result of this, they exiled some Jewish families, whose sad fate it was to be sent far away to Siberia.

During the war years, Radzivilov changed hands many times, like night and day, between the Russians and the Austrians and back again. And because of this, many townspeople were completely bewildered. Life in town was paralyzed; many Jewish inhabitants dispersed, and only a few stayed. During the Austrian occupation, it was easy for the Jews. The occupying forces allowed them to govern themselves as they wished, and they elected Mr. Zaks as head of the community, but soon enough the Russians returned to town. In the meantime, the revolution broke out, and Radzivilov felt its far–reaching effects. Residents who had been exiled and dispersed returned to their town to cope with the new situation. Stores opened, businesses revived, and the town's life regained its rhythm. But the local Ukrainians saw that the Jews were returning and rebuilding the town, and plotted against the Jews. A Jewish home was set ablaze almost every night, so it became necessary to organize a nightly Jewish guard detail.

[Page 64]

When it became clear that the Jews could defend themselves and their property, the Ukrainians stopped their harassment.

This first public effort to organize a security force in town did not result only in the protection of the town's weakest. It also resulted in the organization of a democratic community. This was not unlike current tendencies in the government of both Russia and Ukraine toward self–governing committees. Such a central committee was chosen, and its leader was R' Moshe Duvid Balaban, one of the town's most ardent Zionists and successful businessmen. The youth of the town volunteered to clean out a local school and prepare it for use, and there he established a special committee for social aid–its purpose was to collect and to distribute basic provisions, such as wood, money, and other supplies, in the town and its vicinity.

At the same time, there was a perceived overall demand in Russia for goods that were available in neighboring Galicia, such as kerosene, matches, etc. The Radzivilov Jews began to trade in these commodities, bringing them from Galicia to Russia. Ukrainians were involved in transporting these commodities, working for very high wages, and this strengthened relations between the Jews and their neighbors. No one could have predicted what would incite Ukrainians to rob the Jews, and even the Ukrainians themselves can't answer for their looting.

With the development of public life in town, the library was restored and organized to showcase plays and cultural activities. A few political parties also sprang up: Zionists, Labor Zionists, and Betar, which was well known in the community. And everyone went to poetry readings. But then came a period of uprising, a change of government, and then–attacks on Jews. This period of blood and tears for the Jews of Ukraine also gripped Radzivilov. People became aware of the suffering of Jews in the vicinity, and the danger was coming closer. The children of Radzivilov foresaw the danger and began to organize Jewish Haganah [self–defense] brigades to protect lives and property. The community was quite strong, composed of 12 men, as both security workers and guards, and the town's youth were at their disposal at a moment's notice.

The local governing authorities were aware of the existence of the Jewish Haganah, and there was even an open dialogue between them until they asked a few members of the Haganah to watch over a government storage warehouse when there was a lack of trained soldiers. And so on one day, the army in town spread fear about a platoon of soldiers who had robbed Jewish stores in Rovno and were about to come to Radzivilov. Out of fear of the army and its soldiers, they fled the town, leaving the Jews, who were in a panic to gain control and set up a strong defense. At midnight, about 20 armed soldiers appeared and tried to open fire on the Jewish guards, but after it was explained to them that these civilian security guards had no authority–either political or military–they withdrew.

[Page 65]

 

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General Bank (In honor of esteemed board member Tsvi Zagoroder)

Standing (from right): Velye Rushteyn, Moshe Boym, Simche Plem, Psachye Viser, Shlome Marder, Shmuel Kufman, Yekel Shtinberg, Tsvi Landis
Standing: Eli Chomut, Zelig–Hirsh Fishman, Leyb Spektor, Tsvi Zagoroder, Leyzer Zinger, Yekutiel Cherniak, Arye Treybitsh

 

[Page 66]

The soldiers had wanted a pretext for robbery, but they contented themselves with the pressure of their presence. But in the minds of the town's Jews, awareness of their heavily armed guards caused the soldiers to back down and leave.

This situation caused a decline in the economy, because few commodities were exported from the town and imports were curtailed. Also, the currencies of the various governments lost their value, and in addition, a shortage of basic foodstuffs grew. As a result, their prices went sky–high. A depression affected all aspects of life, but the community took charge of the situation.

The committee for social aid instituted a centralization policy and, in particular, the rationing of bread, tobacco, sugar, and other goods. Rioters came to the town to incite, rob, and complain that the Jews were hiding goods on speculation. They were disabused of this notion. But the rioters in their turn then demanded a lot of money, and therefore it was necessary to impose a heavy tax on local Jews to satisfy these rioters' needs. They came and went, they went and they returned, and the tax was collected frequently and in an orderly fashion; meanwhile, the situation worsened, and the town continued to decline.

Exchanging money was difficult. The peasants saw that the Ukrainian government was at death's door, and there was no solution for it. They depended on the Jews' kindness for small purchases. And this was no small matter, because against this background, the seeds of many conflicts and poisonous relationships were planted. Thus daily matters developed, each day had its share of hard times, and worries multiplied: the population was enveloped in fear, and no one knew what the next day would bring. And the community was standing in the breach.

In the last days of the raucous Ukrainian–Petliura government, it was learned that a few ministers had arrived at the Radzivilov railroad station train. A distinguished delegate was sent to meet with a Jewish community leader. He listened to the delegate and then told him that the situation in the town was the worst it had ever been and that if he couldn't help, no one else could. And he added, “We're not sure whether there will soon be an uprising against the government.” This was the situation–complete chaos.

During the one of the final days, the Ukrainian army commander ordered the community to send a man to his office a day after his departure. The order was carried out, and the man who was sent guarded the office, but the commander never returned; government rule had changed, and for some days the town remained without any government. All eyes turned to the community. Various rumors circulated, some good tidings and some bad and depressing. According to one rumor, the French army was advancing toward the town, enlisting recruits. However, one Friday morning, an army official did appear: someone who had once lived in the town had a commission from the Ukrainian army to announce in Polish that the Poles had conquered the remnants of the Ukrainian army in the vicinity. If the town desired peace, the Polish army would advance and occupy the town.

[Page 67]

Yisrael Balaban, son of the head of the community, was sent as a delegate to meet with the Poles with a white flag in his hand. He met with a few Polish officers and was received with honor. In the evening, the regular army occupied the town.

The town's Jews hoped that Polish rule would mean stability and liberalism. The day after the surrender, which was the Sabbath, the synagogues were filled with worshippers praising their conquerors. But the next day they were all disappointed: on Sunday, the head of the community, R' Moshe–Duvid Balaban, was summoned to the military commander, who was encamped at the railroad station, and ordered to find a decent quantity of flour for the army and barley for the horses, all to be brought at a specific time. In the meantime, as Polish soldiers under the command of General Halir began sauntering around town, they attacked older Jews who got in their way. This caused great fear that the town had never experienced. In the space of the month that Halir's army camped in town, Jews were blackmailed and extorted, until the head of the community saw no other choice but to flee on foot to neighboring Brody.

But soon after the successful exchange of the town, the advance company left Radzivilov, and another army with a new Polish officer took its place, with the result that conditions quieted and tensions relaxed; equilibrium came to the Jewish residents. The Poles, who were suspicious of Jews and also of some Ukrainians who were thought to have aided the Bolsheviks, carried out an investigation, and after a few days they arrested six young Jews and six Ukrainians. They were brought to Brody and tortured there. Afterward, they were transferred to a jail in Lemberg and there contracted typhus. The rabbi of Radzivilov, a Polish priest, and others from the town tried to plead with governing officials to free the prisoners. Eventually they were able to convince the government that the prisoners had no connection to the Bolsheviks. Once the prisoners were well again, they were freed and returned to Radzivilov

At the same time, with a sense of urgency, the town's youth organized a Pioneer chapter and began to discuss immigration to the Land of Israel. In Sivan 1921, the first four pioneers set out on foot from Radzivilov to Brody and made their way from there through Lemberg, Warsaw, and Trieste. Three of them got to the Land of Israel: Dov Kemchi, Tsvi Sley, and Aleksander Balaban.

Eventually life in Radzivilov regained its course under Polish rule. Public institutions dedicated to public affairs and charity appeared; the group called Pioneer, comprising some 150 persons, began to be recognized for its work and continued its local inroads; the Hebrew school grew, Zionist youth organizations appeared, and the Labor Zionists expanded.


[Page 68]

Memories of the Town

by Menachem Goldgart

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

The factory manager was Pini Liberman, a courageous man who didn't have an ounce of fear in him. Here is one of the many events that earned him his reputation.

Ivan “Roza–Guza,” the well–known thief in the surrounding area in those days, was feared by all of the inhabitants and even more so by the Jews. One day, he appeared in our town and assaulted Shlome, Pini's young son. Shlome rushed home in tears and told his father about Ivan the Terrible's brutality. Without hesitation, but with empty hands, Pini headed out to the place where Ivan was known to be passing the time drinking. The Jewish bartender, who was totally terrified of the criminal, was serving him drinks on demand. And then here comes Pini Liberman with a stick in his hand that he grabbed from a gentile who by chance happened to come to the same place. And without saying a word, he began to beat the thief mercilessly. Ivan collapsed, powerless, falling off his chair and just managing to say, “Pini dobra baya” –Pini really knows how to land a punch.

After Pini's aggressive actions, Ivan the Terrible's retribution spread among those on the streets. But that didn't faze Pini at all. He walked out and went on his way.

I also remember another event connected to Pini that happened after World War I, when the town was already under Polish rule.

One of the Polish army “gun–butts” beat Pini's youngest, Mishka, a son of his old age. After confronting the man, Pini overpowered him, took his gun, struck him, and then went on his way, taking the man's gun with him. The soldier went back to his platoon and returned soon afterward with a few of his companions. Pini then returned his gun. But no one failed to recognize the courage involved in this event. Everyone throughout the region talked about it.

 

About Moshe Mendil Ginzburg

Moshe Mendil Ginzburg has certainly been mentioned many times in this memorial book. Therefore, I will describe only one incident connected with him.

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Moshe Goldgart and his family

 

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Chana Goldgart

 

It is well known that Moshe Mendil Ginzburg contributed large sums of money to repair the Great Synagogue in our town, and, at his own expense, he also brought a painter from Lemberg, who painted all the interior and exterior walls. When his work was done, the painter wrote on one of the walls that everything had been done through Moshe Mendil's contributions via the efforts of Chana and Moshe Goldgart and Velvel Zaks. A few groups in town believed this to be scandalous, because, in the opinion of many worshippers, writing anything like that in a holy place was forbidden. One Sabbath after the afternoon prayers, the people gathered to protest and threatened the elderly sexton; but the Eighteen Blessing prayers of grandfather Chana Goldgart calmed him down and soothed the other worshippers' anger.

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But in the meantime, Yehoshue, the son of his old age, hurried to his elderly father's aid and leveled punches for the poor sexton …

In the aftermath, this deed consequently raised the price by three rubles as compensation for the teeth that suffered from the protruding arm of the son of his old age …


The Life and Character of
Moshe Mendil Ginzburg (Mes)
[1]

From the Russian: Duvid Zahavi

English translation by: Elizabeth Kessin Berman

Moshe Mendil Mes was born in Radzivilov on December 19, 1851, to Akiva and Rosye Mes. The family was poor. Moshe Mendil was five when he started cheder, and he was also admitted to the town's Russian elementary school. There he excelled in his studies, and he was considered a promising student and suitable for further studies.

Even though he was hard at work at his studies, he still had time to work to help his parents, whose own situation was very dire. After Moshe Mendil had acquired a reputation for his German and Russian skills, he decided to try his luck in the greater world. He traveled to Odessa. There he found work as a junior clerk; but after two years of trying to get ahead and improve his position, he decided to go to America along with the many others who were seeking opportunities there. With no belongings, he traveled to Hamburg and from there sailed on to America in steerage. After 46 days of rough sailing, he arrived in the land of opportunity. There he worked at many jobs, gaining a command of English and changing his family name to Ginzburg, a name favored by his relatives, who were peddlers there. While dealing with a number of fellow workers who were Chinese, he suddenly got it into his head to travel to China. He believed that a wealth of trading opportunities were to be had there.

On his way to China, his boat stopped at the Japanese port of Yokohama. He was deeply impressed with the liveliness of this port city and swore in his heart that he would settle there. And so his trading career began.

He began working as a clerk in a trading house, and after a year and a half, after he had saved up 250 yen, he opened his own small trading company. Almost immediately, his business began to flourish and grow.

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In the beginning, Ginzburg's trading contacts were the Russians who frequently came to Yokohama. But gradually, as the Russian language became more familiar in Japan and relations between Russians and Japanese became friendlier, Ginzburg succeeded in gaining confidence among the Japanese, and he thus began to cater to their needs.

The Russians were very impressed with Ginzburg's efforts, talent, and trustworthiness, and within a short time, Ginzburg was the man of choice for half the Russians of the Far East and in his town, Port Arthur.

 

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Moshe Mendil Ginsburg

 

[Page 72]

Ginzburg was also instrumental in giving aid to the Russian fleet during the Boxer days in China, and for that he was given an official thanks from the head of the czar's special staff in the Far East.

When the Russo–Japanese War broke out and the Russian fleet encountered hostility in the so–called neutral ports of the Far East, Ginzburg was able, merely on the strength of his talent and ingenuity, to acquire fuel and other equipment for the Russian fleet. This was a great moment for Ginzburg, and he became even greater. He received the title Actual State Councilor, a title that was unprecedented among the Jews of czarist Russia. All the Russian fleet officers, even the Russian fleet's highest officer in the Far East, Admiral Makarov, showered praise upon him.

It was said that when the minister of the naval fleet reported to the czar on supplying the Russian naval fleet on the open ocean, the czar answered him, “They don't have Ginzburg there!” But Ginzburg was not insulted.

It should be pointed out that Moshe Mendil never forgot his family, nor his town Radzivilov, during all those years. He loved his mother very much and wrote her heartfelt letters even though he was so far away. He supported his brother, Shmuel, and his wife, Ratsi Mes, and their four children[a]: Kostye, Yozye, Asye, Sonye, and Roze. And in addition he supported these people: all elderly people (even if they were not connected specifically to the town of Radzivilov). If there was a money matter or a matter related to a license to live outside the Pale of Settlement, they would turn to him; his mother, who had a sympathetic Jewish heart; or his brother Shmuel. The matters would be sent on to Ginzburg, and they would be settled in the best possible way.

Ginzburg founded a hospital, a magnificent synagogue, a school, and much more in Radzivilov. When he came to visit Radzivilov many years after he had left the town, it was a holiday not only for his mother and his family but also for the entire town. Even the local authorities heaped praise on him, aware of his high stature. Also, while living in Port Arthur and Yokohama, Ginzburg supported the local Jewish communities and established magnificent institutions there.

However, the zenith of Ginzburg's charitable work for the public came when he settled in Petersburg. There he was very much influenced by Baron Gunzberg, and the pair spent much of their time working for the betterment of the local Jewish community. Accordingly, it should be recalled that Ginzburg achieved prominence by supporting Russian causes and giving significant funds to non–Jewish Russian institutions and individuals, under the influence of Rabbi Ayzenshtadt, chief rabbi of Petersburg, and under the well–known lawyer Sliozberg. He founded a magnificent old–age home in Petersburg, and next to it a social hall and museum.

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Moshe–Mendil Ginzburg, His Mother, and His Sister

 

For this museum, which abutted the old–age home, he hired the renown folklorist, the writer Sh. An–sky, who brought to it his collections of antiquities, ritual objects, and other items that demonstrated Jewish life in Russia, which he had gathered during his ethnographic explorations in Russian towns and villages.[2]

When the revolution broke out, Ginzburg and his wife traveled from Argart to Paris. And even there in Paris, he continued to donate funds to help both Jews and non–Jews, although his fortune was greatly reduced. He supported yeshivas that had been transplanted from Russia and Poland to Paris. He founded a cultural institution in Paris called Yakov's Tent, at whose head were Rabbi Ayzenshtadt, Baron Gunzberg, lawyer Sliozberg, and other elite Russian Jews. But again it was Ginzburg who financed the work.

With Ginzburg's aid, an evening school was established. And he also gave money to support the Jewish student federation as well as non–Jewish students. At the same time, the Radzivilov community asked for his help in restoring the Great Synagogue, which had been destroyed during the war.

[Page 74]

And he answered immediately, sending $5,000. When he was told that that sum was not enough, he sent another $2,500.

When Ginzburg reached the age of 80, the institutions he founded in Paris decided to celebrate this auspicious occasion. Non–Jewish organizations also participated in this event, among them the Russian navy officials, many of whom were generals and admirals who had fled the Bolshevik regime to Paris and, because of Ginzburg's help, were not idle there.

The party was held not in an auditorium, but in a home, as Ginzburg and his friends requested. Many toasts were offered by private citizens and those from the institutions he had founded, and there were many speeches by Jews and non–Jews alike. Everyone praised his dedication to helping the needy and the depth of his heart. The main speech was delivered by Rabbi Ayzenshtadt, who stressed among other things that Ginzburg, in spite of all that he did, was a man of extreme humility and modesty. Ginzburg received a letter from the town of Radzivilov, and in it, it was announced that Ginzburg was named a distinguished citizen of the town and that one of the town's boulevards would be named for him.

So it was with this man called Ginzburg, and these were his good deeds.

Ginzburg's brother, Shmuel Mes, died in 1913, and his children and grandchildren[3] perished along with all of the Jews of Radzivilov, murdered by the Nazis and their Ukrainian collaborators.


Footnotes

  1. From the book published in 1933 in Paris by the Friends of M. Ginzburg return
  2. I remember that during his investigations in Radzivilov, An–sky photographed old tombstones in the old Jewish cemetery and deposited these photographs in the museum in Petersburg. return
  3. Among those who survived were his daughter Sonye in Paris and his daughter Roze in New York. return

Footnote

  1. Translator's footnote: Although the author writes “four children,” five names are given return


[Page 75]

In Memory of Teacher
Avraham Yehuda Poliak, of Blessed Memory

by Alexander Balaban

Translated by Rivka Schiller with Judy Fixler

 

rad075.jpg
Avraham Yehuda Poliak

 

Avraham Yehuda was born in a village. He studied in yeshivas and in synagogues until he was taken to Berestechko, which is next to Radzivilov, and affianced to the daughter of one of the town's well–respected families.

The young prodigy was accepted enthusiastically by the Torah–oriented Hasidic family, which enabled him to continue to study even after the wedding. He devoted nights as well as days to the study of Talmud and the Gemara, Rashi commentary, and medieval commentaries; and his musical voice, solo at night and during the morning watch, when he would rise to do the Creator's work, is remembered by the townspeople.

That period–it was during the Enlightenment, which did not elude the town. Naturally, he was one of the first to be captured by it. And once he was captured, his special character stood out here, as well; he did not know what compromise or adaptation was. And in his “apostatizing,” he transferred all his piety to the new worlds being revealed to him. And from then on, that same tune that indicated the devotion while learning the words of Abaye and Rava began to remerge from the special room in his apartment. And chapters of Mapu, Yehuda Leyb Gordon, Manet, and issues of Hamelits and Hatsefira were heard. And years later, Bialik, Shneur, Hashiloach, and alongside them, philosophy, natural science, and social science: Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, various articles on physiology, and the structure of elements. The daily and periodic press was bound by date, since the man knew how to collect and preserve every page of human and national contemplation. Beginning with issues of Avigdor and ending with Hatekufah, Haolam, etc., the bookshelves in the rooms filled up with every new item emerging in the Hebrew literature.

[Translator's note: Abaye and Rava were two Talmudic scholars in Babylonia, friends who frequently debated one another.]

At home, people do not have enough to eat, but he does not skip one printed Hebrew letter, especially not the select ones.

[Page 76]

He had a retentive memory like a cistern that does not lose a drop and is like an inexhaustible fountain. For he does not gather together only for himself; he brings together people and shares his knowledge and information with them.

From here on, he took the path to instructing adults and teaching children under all conditions: in the narrow living room in Berestechko and, later on, with the growth and expansion of the instruction, the establishment of the schools in the town and in Radzivilov.

This was before the orderly organization of various societies and associations. The entire burden fell on this man's shoulders, and, out of a sense of communal responsibility, he neglected matters of livelihood and normal family life for matters of society, the general community, and the nation over his personal affairs.

And another thing: In his new way of thinking, there was no room to continue with the idyllic traditional family life of the prodigal son–in–law supported by his father–in–law. This was also in contrast to his comprehension of the social structure and the individual's obligations within it; and thus arose the question of material existence. He attempted trade, but soon gave up.

The first signs of Zionism appeared. It is a given that he was one of the first to be caught up in it, and again he was committed body and soul. For him, Zionism was not only an impulse for him to go to the Land of Israel; for him, Zionism was the emergence of a new Jew, proud of the nation's past and its future. And he devoted himself to the education of school–age children, instructed adolescents, and under his influence, the Second Immigration from Berestechko began a couple of years before it did in our town of Radzivilov.

He infected the youth within his family with his enthusiasm: his sisters–in–law absorbed the glory of the Enlightenment movement and Zionism and left with the Second Immigration to Israel, taking with them Bilhah, his 12–year–old eldest daughter (she died young and left behind one son in Israel).

However, social development in the town during that same period had not yet reached the height that it attained over time. Family members of those who immigrated saw themselves as negatively affected by the “inciter and distance,” and there were episodes in which a mother or father of one of those who immigrated even attacked and took out all of his or her anger on Avraham Yehuda. The family's material troubles increased, and Avraham Yehuda was forced to leave town.

He came to Radzivilov and found a fertile field there. For Radzivilov was always Zionist, first on the list of monetary donors, even in comparison to larger towns.

His first act here was to open a school with the help of a group of Zionists in partnership with the teacher, Binyamin Finkelshteyn, of blessed memory. It was not easy to compete with the Russian government school, where you did not have to pay tuition.

[Page 77]

Nevertheless, according to Avraham Yehuda, this was not at all a problem, as the essential thing was the goal; and for that he was prepared to be satisfied with the most meager of the meager: bread and tea and some potatoes. But even with this, there was no money to pay for the cleaning of the school–one does not mock such work; and in the evenings, when he finished his lessons, not for monetary compensation, naturally, he himself took care of the cleaning. The essential thing was that the school exist, and indeed it existed until World War I broke out.

 

rad077.jpg
Pioneer in 1923

Standing (right to left): Dore Balaban, M. Stirt, Frida Gershgorin, Keselman, Yehoshue Felman, Avraham Lindner, Tzvi Geler, Yehoshue Goldgart, Chave Halbershtet, … Save Zaks
Seated: Yoel Charap, Simche Ayzen, Ester Blekhman, Shimon Goldgart, Tsvi Kitayksher, Ester Margolis, Yozek Zaks, Brokhe Grubshteyn
Below: Leyb Fik, R. Valigore, Munye Margolis, Geler, Bentsion Grubshteyn, Sore Mafshit, M. Geler.

 

Before long, Avraham Yehuda's blessed influence with regard to the Second Immigration began to show its signs in Radzivilov as well. In this manner, the Shtofer brothers,[*] farmers in Be'er Tuvia; Tsvi Ben–Artsi (Luzman);[**] Menachem Mendel Goldgart; Mordekhay Peker, member of Degania Alef; Bentsion Batlin (he did not stay); and others.

[Page 78]

In 1918, when the refugees were returning after the war, Avraham Yehuda also appeared, and with the help of the Jewish community, he reopened the school. In 1919, he began to organize Pioneer. I recall that when Avraham Yehuda entered Yafe Broyda's house and found 92 pioneers there who had come for the founding assembly–nearly every youth from Radzivilov–his face shone, and there was no limit to his joy and happiness.

Although he was open–minded in his views, disputes with him were most persistent, for he was resolute in his view that everything in Israel must be built in accordance with the local Jewish spirit.

In 1920, the minute it was possible to reach Warsaw, the first four pioneers took leave of him and set out on their way; and throughout the Third Immigration, dozens and dozens of his protégés, many of whom live on kibbutzim and moshavim today, streamed out. Indeed, unfortunately and shamefully, we must acknowledge that there is not a single individual, even from among his friends and protégés, those from the Second Immigration, who attempted to obtain a certificate for the teacher and educator who gave his soul for Zion, and it would have been only right to give him this small compensation for all his blessed work on behalf of Zionism. He was shattered and died at a young age in the Diaspora. May his memory be a blessing.


Footnotes

    * Footnote in original: One of the brothers, Binyamin, died several years ago. return
    ** Footnote in original: Tzvi Ben–Artzi died of yellow fever in Poriah during World War I. return


In Memory of the Teacher

by U. and R. Oren

Translated by Rivka Schiller with Judy Fixler

If not for the destruction of the cemetery in Berestechko, a town near Radzivilov, the visitor's eye would have been drawn to the strange inscription on one of the headstones. It was written according to the deceased's will, part of which is engraved in my memory: “Herein is buried a grain of eternity, foreign and strange to its surroundings, which once existed, and returned to its source.” And a line from the written will that passed from the world along with its guard–the son: … “Following my death, my remains should be cared for by people who are not my blood relatives, whose relationship is by chance and compulsion, but rather by kindred spirits whose relationship is likened to a hammer splitting a rock.”

Indeed, the man was unusual within his surroundings, since he was one of the few who aspired to the wholeness that was imprinted in his character, woven into the fabric of the soul, as a foundational part of it. For this man was blessed with an extensive, strong intellectual capacity and much integrity. And so, from the religious study hall to the Enlightenment, to pedagogy and teaching. Teaching means “with all your resources,”[1] and not just for show. It also means a great desire to influence, instill faith in the hearts of those who waiver, to summon to the merciless struggle, without acquiescence, and compromise, for the great ideal of the nation's resurrection.

Such was the man who was totally devoted to the nation's resurrection, in its own land, which he himself never reached.


Footnote

  1. Translator's note: From Deuteronomy 6:5, also uttered daily in the Shema prayer. return

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