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{Page 8}

Heavenly Slutsk

by Y. D. B.

Translated by Sara Mages

Slutsk, the ancient Jewish city in Raysn [Belarus], which sits on the border of Polesia, surrounded by dense forests and swampy fields, decorated with extensive vegetable gardens and fine fruit gardens. The deep Sluch River, which flows in a narrow channel but in a clear stream, cuts it to its length and breadth. Slutsk is established, its old houses and shops are sturdy although most of them were made of wood. It is praised for its synagogues and schools, big and small yeshivot, which attract young men and boys, who seek education, from the surrounding cities and towns. Its Jewish inhabitants, who are God-fearing and pious, hold on to the old and do not stay away from the new. They are all important homeowners and honest craftsmen, almost all of them are well-versed in the book and even the owners of wagons enter Beit HaMidrash with their whip under their armpit to hear a lesson in the Gemara. The same Slutsk, which was considered to be an important Jewish metropolis, is gone, lost from the world. The beginning of its collapse and destruction took place immediately after the First World War. With the outbreak of the Great Revolution in Russia, gangs of Polish soldiers destroyed the area and abandoned it to all evil and cruel. They attacked cities and towns, carried out pogroms, murdered, robbed and abused their defenseless Jewish inhabitants. Later, the Bolsheviks took control and, apart from bringing distress and hunger to the Jews living in the cities, who were deprived of the means of existence in times of chaos, they also destroyed everything sacred in their lives, everything that exists and lifted their spirit throughout the generations. With brutal malice, under the guise of redeeming the people and repairing the world, it suppressed the Jewish soul and uprooted it with the rage of tyrants. The Jewish population, which was miraculously saved in these places, was destroyed by the beast of horror, the scum of a human race, in the decree of madness of the evil Satan. Slutsk, with all the thousands of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, was erased from the face of the earth, and no one survived there.

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Therefore, we, the natives of Slutsk and her daughters, the nearby towns, which were bound to it with substance and spirit, need to direct our eyes and our hearts to the Slutsk that once existed, the one that is still in our memory, the nest of our good and warm childhood. It is revealed to us now, out of the fog of the past, as a “Heavenly Slutsk “ as a homeland that no longer exists on the earth, but hovering in the heavens, rising sometimes, in moments of solitude, in our thoughts, in our minds, in our longing for what was and is not - the one that we carry within us, without knowing the best of its inheritance, the influence of her nature and spiritual atmosphere.

“Know where you came from” - this command, in its supreme sense, should serve as a great guide for members of a nation as a whole, but also, to a small extent, for members of the private public in a small corner. We should remember, and we will also tell future generations after us, that we weren't collected from the market, that we are the sons of a father and a mother, natives of a homeland excellent in its virtues, that it is good and pleasant to cling to it, that it is better to receive something from it and learn something from it for the future.

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The City and Its Fullness

by Y. D. Abramsky

Translated by Sara Mages

In the past, a sack of soil from Eretz-Yisrael was brought to a “resting place” in every Jewish city, whereas now, the sons of the Diaspora are awakening to bring a handful of soil from their land in a foreign country to a grave in Eretz-Yisrael, because the soil has turned to ashes.

A fire came out and ate Jewish dwellings.
And there is no survivor.
Only the calamity, the disaster, the memory of destruction survived.
And also Slutsk is nothing but a memory, a story that was…
And Slutsk's hand, which is usually clenched, is now fully open, to spread praises to Slutsk with a wide open hand, to erect a monument for her and thank her for past kindness.


How is my city from other cities?

Slutsk was specific and recognizable by its own distinguishing features

Slutsk - cities and towns around it - and it wasn't able to subsist without outside help. Slutsk was one of the open cities, open to all four directions, and it took in new forces from there: Kapyl and Timkovits (not only the place of Mendele Mocher Sforim, but also the home of genius rabbis), Uzda (Dvorah Baron), Grozovo and Pohost (Gerzovsky), Viznah (Reuven Valenrod), Strobin and Lyuban (Yitzchak and Zalman Epstein, Rachel Feinberg, HaRav S. Asaf). All were the sons of the city of Slutsk, because each town is like a limb of the city itself, from it, and in it. Slutsk was “Beit HaMoked” [The Hearth], the fire of the Torah blazed there and each “Beit Hanitzutz” [House of Sparks], from near and far, was lit by its fire.

When it was time to build a “yeshiva,” the Ridvaz [Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Wilovsky] set a place for it next to an uncultivated field, outside the city. When he was asked why he wanted to distance the yeshiva from the settlement and its residents, he replied: “If a “patron” [ball in Yiddish, and a nickname for a yeshiva student] will fall - it would fall far from a settlement… However, the “patron” fell in a settlement. Slutsk became the father and the patron of the Torah, Slutsk was the place of study. It firmly sat there.

Slutsk had an abundance of Batei Midrash and synagogues. Its many craftsmen - tailors, blacksmiths and slaughterers, built synagogues for themselves. Wherever a Jew walked in Slutsk, his feet stood in the confines of a synagogue. Everywhere he turned, he was in a synagogue's courtyard. And when you want to know the number of synagogues in Slutsk, you always come to the wrong number: you always remember one too many synagogues, and you always add it to the first ones that you remembered. In any event, Slutsk's houses of worship and synagogues were in the shape of a “Star of David.” At each end, at each angle - a house of worship, and in the center - the heart, the “spiritual center,” Der Shul Hoyf, the synagogues' courtyard, the houses of worships' square.

The houses of worship were full and stuffed, until they gasped.

Slutsk was a city of Mitnagdim [opponents of Hasidim]. Mitnagdim and “extreme,” but not “Hasidim”… The elders of my generation knew to tell a story about R' Yisrael Baal Shem Tov who came to Slutsk, to the city's abyss, and they wanted to hurt him, tie him to a stone in the chilly synagogue (“Di Kalt Shul”) and punish him for disobedience. Baal Shem Tov escaped and the city's gates, which were closed, were torn off and lifted up, and to this day they are suspended in the air. The story of this act can be interpreted: this is Slutsk, gates carried themselves there, bore their head to the name of the Torah, and Slutsk's gate was always a high and elevated. “A city full of sages and writers” wrote about it the emissary of Sabbatai Zvi.

And at the same time Baal Shem Tov said: the Messiah will come when there is a minyan of Hasidim in Slutsk.

During the First World War a group of Hasidim gathered in Slutsk and had their own minyan at the “Shtiebel” of the Synagogue of Mishnayot, and the Messiah has not yet arrived. They said: “Baal Shem Tov didn't say what he said, only when all the Hasidim are followers of one rabbi, while those are not of one rabbi and not of one skin”…

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In the days of “Va'ad Arba' Aratzot” [”Council of Four Lands”], Slutsk's letters were interpreted to say: Solet, LOmdim,Tzadikim, Kzinim [the finest, study, righteous, leaders]. The community leaders were also among the learners, and from them - great scholars. And when they attended the “fairs,” the councils of the lands, their answer was raised to the place of worship, because the home of the city's proprietors was in the synagogues,


Slutsk was more than a “city of gold,” a “crown of gold” was on its head: Slutsk wore a necklace to its neck and each genius rabbi was a necklace. Slutsk strung a necklace of rabbis, one after another: R' Yosef Feimer (the first), R' Yosef Ber, the Ridvaz, R' Isar Zalman Meltzer (“Even HaEzel”), R' Yehezkel Abramsky (“Hazon Yehezkel”), all of them, the Cedars of Lebanon, the mighty of the Torah.

However, Slutsk didn't conceive and give birth to the “children of this necklace.” They only “lowered the light” on Slutsk. And against them you find the “children of the house,” Slutskaim, sons-of-Sluts aim:  Dr. P. Lifshitz who built the basic law for social sciences in Hebrew, he started out as an economist and sociologist in Hebrew (in his book, “ Social Sciences in Hebrew,” Mr. Gezel Kressel gives P. Lifshitz credit for this primacy), Y.D. Berkowitz, Yakov Cohen, A. A. Lissitzky and Dr. Y. N. Simchoni praised their birthplace among the gates of Slutsk.

And two of them: Avraham Epstein and Meir Waxman, Baruch Katzenelson and the rest of Slutsk's sons, each gave as much as he could, each according to what he is.


As mentioned, the largest synagogue in the city was called “Di Kalt Shul,” to differentiate it from the Great Synagogue (“Di Grosse Shul”), and there is something in the name to teach you about: it became cold in the synagogue. A chill entered the hearts towards religion and conventional tradition. Another voice was heard with the voice of the Torah, of “new birds.” The letters began to blossom in the Jewish “spring,” the new Hebrew was confused, and it seemed that the old “parchments” were burnt or hidden deeper into a corner. The young people were drawn away from the Torah, drawn to the Hebrew language and its literature. They were the first Zionists and teachers of those who aspired to learn Hebrew.


But the Torah cannot extinguish its past. There was light and fire in Slutsk, but its shadow was also great. There was someone who once said about Slutsk: Slutsk - to say: Slutsk, Leizanim and [O] TZiknim Kamzanim [Slutsk clowns and stingy cowards]. Slutsk was well known for its stinginess, and the city's clowns were telling about Binyamin Avin (who was a rich man, but not a rich man to his brothers. His hand was clenched, as was the case with every man in Slutsk who was fond of his money the way he was fond of his body, and even more than that). Avin asked a carpenter to make him a wooden box and covered it with white cloth. It was always placed on his table and everyone who saw it said: Ah-Ha, the “rich man” eats cheese every day. A loaf of cheese per day…

This and more: there was a yeshiva student in Minsk who was a great spender. His wife's family tried to convince him to change his taste and way of life. He said to them: what can I do that God made me like that, how can I change for the better? They pleaded with him to travel to Slutsk to learn stinginess from Avin. He was moved by their humble request and traveled. Came, entered the best hostel, ate the heartiest meal and went to Avin. Avin was happy that his reputation precedes him, he found a student worthy of learning from him, and invited him to his home for the Sabbath. He would show him the doctrine of stinginess. On the Sabbath, the yeshiva student from Minsk saw black candles burning and thought: a person, who wants to be a miser, should know that black candles are cheaper than white candles. Then he saw that Avin was making a blessing over coarse-bread, not over fine-bread. He pondered: is this all the wisdom of stinginess? It turns out that I didn't have to spend a fortune on this journey. And when he saw herring instead of fish, he said to himself: the expenses I spent were not worth the damage of time because I didn't acquire more wisdom. And so it was the next day. He was uncomfortable with what he saw until it was time for the “cholent.” And here he sees: the lady of the house, Mrs. Avin, unties the stuffed intestines and hangs the strings on a hook on the wall. What is the reason for that? - asked the yeshiva student. Avin answered and said: these strings can be used several more times.

{Page 13}

The “Cold” Synagogue (Di Kalt Shul)


The yeshiva student was immediately satisfied and his heart was no longer troubled: this thing would not have occurred to me, and if I only came for this thing only - my expenses are justified.

However, Slutsk's stinginess was a fable, kind of tale, but not a real act. Things were exaggerated.

The story of Slutsk, the reality of Slutsk: the moneylenders in it. There were, there were loan sharks in Slutsk.


The “Community Book” of Slutsk is, in general, the “Community Book” of the entire “community,” and other communities in those days. From the description of each community you can learn about Slutsk and, the other way around, from what you discover about Slutsk you are allowed to tap on other Jewish settlements. The history researchers of Slutsk would probably reveal much of what was wrapped in mystery to this day. It is a place for scholars and persons of powerful memory to study and explore.

In the past, Slutsk, like any other Jewish metropolis, it was a “place” and not “time”: it was a Jewish settlement and it seemed to stand still, frozen, beyond all time. Whereas now - the place is destroyed and desolate. There's only “time,” a memory of the days that were. In the words of one, who observes, looks and sees, and knows what he sees: “geography ended, history has begun again.”


Was Slutsk a rich city with great poverty, or a poor city with great wealth? I catch that last expression: poor and rich in poverty, meager - and proud. There was a lively Jewish life there. Slutsk was rich in power: there was Jewish charm, Jewish friendship, and Jewish brain. The children of the poor had a strong will and, therefore, didn't kneel under the burdens of their lives. They, the porters, who shouldered the suffering, looked up: to education, Zionism, and socialism. The ideal got them to their feet, gave them strength to live. They ate a little bread, bread of poverty, but not bread of nerves. They ate their bread happily and hopefully, a small amount of bread and a lot of vision, a narrow plot of land and vast horizon. The sky over Slutsk was vastly larger than the land of Slutsk. Life and hopes fermented in the depths of poverty.

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Indeed, there was a thing called “the instinct of existence.” If not for this instinct of existence, how, how were they able to be enlightened with the light of the living and emerge from this darkness of Slutsk, Slutsk the poor and the dark?

Slutsk was also compared to a king who had thin glasses. The king said: “if I put hot liquid in them - they crack, cold - they collapse.” And what did he do? He mixed hot with cold, put it in them, and they stood. Slutsk was a vessel that collapsed and lost its original form. But Slutsk was twisted, “black - and beautiful.” This vessel lasted for many years, and for many years this vessel held Judaism and preserved Judaism. Slutsk, which blackened and rotted, wasn't only a virtue of smoke, but also a virtue of grace and beauty…

At the doorstep of Kiryat Sefer [republic of letters] sits Efraim E. Lisitzky, a native of Slutsk, son of poverty, and he is tortured and bleeding.

Mendele [Mocher Sfarim] wrote “Sefer Hakabzanim” [The Book of Baggers]. Bialik is the “poet of poverty” of a good family (Shirati, Yatmot, Shivah), Lisitzky wrote in “The History of Man” that he is not only a man of the poor class, but also from the edge of society, from the most outcasts who have no attribution. His father was a water-drawer, “Givony” [woodcutter and water drawer for the entire community]. And he drank the cursed bitter water, the poisoned water.

And they turned in him into living water.

A thorn sat in his heart. Lisitzky turned the crown of thorns into a bouquet of flowers, not the “flowers of evil,” but flowers of glory and majesty.

A personal binding, Lisitzky was sacrificed in Slutsk: according to his origin and birth. He's Iyyov [Job] that was and became - for example, to be an example, a sign and a wonder. Even God, so it seems to me, is watching Lisitzky with honor. God examined him carefully and found him worthy to be filled with life experiences.

An autobiography was not written for Shlomo Maimon in Lisitzky's autobiography, “The History of Man.” You cannot find many books like this one in any nation and language. In Hebrew literature there's no one more pure and more holy than Lisitzky.

He was born - in the furnace of poverty. He grew up - in purgatory, the purgatory of suffering. Berger was his brother and Lisitzky was greater than him as a man, as the writer of a biography, the history of life. His revelation is nothing more than the events of his life and the circumstances surrounding his life. This is the history of all the poor people of Slutsk who lived in darkness and drew light.


About the end, about the parting from Slutsk, told me Akivah Barski, my soul mate, and the story, the story of us all:

One day, the place became too narrow for me in Slutsk, as if I was bigger than Slutsk, A city which is actually a town, a big town, a family unit, or a home, with many branches and wings. And I was a stranger in my family, cut off from them. I became alienated and also fell into great terror and darkness. I didn't have a bright and polished perspective, I only saw blackness. I saw an act: a brother rose up against his brother - in the market! - and killed him with a log: two brothers - natives of the place and sons of the sons of Avraham Avinu - one of them was Cain and the other was Abel. The light in my soul darkened, my soul suffered. And I saw more: the arrest of Zionists in Slutsk and their prosecution, their stand in the trial with Jewish dignity and Jewish pride. These two things filled my whole heart, and my soul found no other interest to deal with. I wanted to escape, to escape to the big city. The big city is bigger than me, there's “no end” there, there's serenity there. You see clearly, the city is too big to hold in your arms. Your arms will not contain it, and it will contain you. And there was a vague hope in your heart that you would meet a group of pioneers and cross the border with them in secret. I ran away once, and failed, and ran away for the second time, and failed again. In the end, I came to a large city in Russia. Slutsk dropped from my memory, as if it had fallen to the bottom of my knowledge and lay hidden deep in my soul.
I also didn't find my place in the big city, and in the end, God revived me and I arrived to Eretz-Yisrael.

And I drew Slutsk from of the depths of my soul. I turned back to her.

And behold, it shines in the light of the Torah, illuminates many lights: Torah and enthusiasm, enthusiasm for Hebrew, literature and spiritual renewal. Rich, rich, was Slutsk, and from Slutsk's well, the well of life, the heart will go forth and irrigate the past with the drug of life, and the future with a drink of grace, innocence and hope...

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