by Nachum Chinitz
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The area around Slutsk was noted for its pleasant forests, vegetable gardens, and splendid fruit orchards. The fertile ground yielded ample produce. The word Slucizna testified to the good soil and its yield. It is no wonder that many Jews were involved in forestry, grain, flaxseed, pig hair, and skins, either directly or as middlemen. A variety of vegetable gardens were in the suburbs of the city, and Jews tended to them with diligent hands. The cucumbers of Wigoda Street were well known in the entire region. Wigoda Street was noted for its vegetable gardens. Slutsk cucumbers were considered to be something. Jews leased plots of land from the poretz [landowner] Salwyta and tilled the vegetable gardens.
On Wigoda Street there were taverns; the storehouses of the Wigodski brothers, who were grain wholesalers; and the grain storehouses of Mote Eila. The pears of Slutsk were tasty and pleasant. They were kept throughout the winter until they rotted. There were none better for eating. Slutsk was blessed with a wide variety of apples and other fruit. Entire families leased fruit plantations, and devoted their entire energies to them. There, they slept and lived for months, and earned their livelihood from this. The pears of Slutsk, Bere Wasofpozanks, were marketed throughout Russia. Bread with a pear was literally the food of kings, and served as a satisfying and nutritious meal for both young and old.
On occasion, an entire family would move to the garden to live until the end of the harvest season. In the bosom of nature, in the clear, healthy air, the Jew guarded his property so that it should not be damaged by strangers. At the same time, things worked out that the garden would sustain him throughout all the days of the year.
The large market that straddled both sides of the street was well known. Rows and rows of stalls and booths filled the area, so that there was no space. On Sundays or the days of the various fairs, the farmers of the region gathered there, spread themselves out, and took over every place. It was possible only with difficulty to squeeze between the wagons, whose shafts were very high. It is impossible to describe the noise and the tumult. The farmers came with their produce and wares, and the Jews were noisy and quivering. A handshake or a pat on the back was testimony to a deal being sealed. On occasion, curses and arguments were heard, a sign of reneging. The farmers covered the market with fowl, eggs, strands of flax, pig hair, and flaxseed. They brought to market flasks of butter, a variety of cheeses, and also cows, calves, pigs and horses.
The Jews had great ability at business. After negotiation and haggling, the deal would be signed at a propitious time, and then they conducted the magaritz: they removed small or large liquor bottles from their pockets, and after an appropriate shot accompanied by a piece of pastry, both sides went out satisfied.
The farmers then would go to the stores to purchase their needs with the money that they earned. Butter and cheese of all varieties from the entire region was collected together by the merchants and sent to the large cities. Many Jews went around to the villages to purchase agricultural products. They paid cash, but for the most part they paid with varieties of haberdashery. Various businesses were attracted to Shasina Street on both sides of the market. Some of the buildings were of wood and others were of stone. Some were meager, small stores, and others were larger with show windows displaying shoes and clothing.
In the midst of the well-known stores that included those of Gachuv, Mendel Kantrovitch, Orah Zhidna, and Derchin, there were also stores for textiles, work implements, iron and skins. There were well-known stores for the sale of salted fish, kerosene, naphtha, glass implements, earthenware, and household implements.
People would remove their hats as they entered the pharmacies of Tsipchin and Franchikovski on the Street of the Road 1 . The healing potions gave off an intoxicating and irritating odor, and a semblance of a feeling of awe was felt as one entered; as if there awaited the fate of the sick person, whether to life or, Heaven forbid, to death. Aside from the pharmacies, there were the medicine and spice stores of Bronstein, Vitkin, Shaykovitch and Karmin.
The stores of Zeev Greisvach and Malka Eila were also well known. They specialized in the sale of fruit from outside the country that were not common in Slutsk, and the prices were outrageous. There, they sold grapes, watermelon for the blessing of shehecheyanu on the night of Rosh Hashanah 2 , aromatic oranges even though their skin was yellowing, and a lemon that had shrunk with age. These fruits were purchased by well to do Jews and were used in particular for the ill.
The vast majority of the businesses were in the hands of the Jews, with the exception of a large store in the house of Efrat that sold valuable textiles. It belonged to a Christian by the name of Muchov. That store was nicknamed Fania.
There were two watermills in the city that became obsolete with the establishment of the steam mills of Feiberg, Gutzeit, and Neikrug-Mishlov. These mills were located in three story buildings. A sawmill for planks was next to the flourmill of Gutzeit. Jewish middlemen and flour merchants earned their livelihood due to these enterprises.
There were people in Slutsk who earned their livelihoods by issuing loans for interest. Among these were some who served only as middlemen and to whom people related to with an unusual level of trust. These would lend money to the poretzes, who were the owners of large properties. The names of Bere Efrat, Leiba Baslovski and Reb Yosef Chernichov were considered pleasant in this area, for they would not wrong their customers, nor leave their money on the horns of a deer 3. Aside from them, there were numerous middlemen and agents, who lived off the air and earned their livelihood in a meager fashion and with difficulty from various opportunities. They wore shabby clothing and were gratingly poor.
One of them, Zushe Der Mekler [broker], was very poor and had a large family. He was upright and straightforward. Later, he moved to the United States to join his children, who sustained him in an honorable fashion. Apparently, they spoiled him. Yet for with all this, he longed for his meager life in Slutsk, which had occupied him and kept him busy.
Slutsk was known for its famous conditoriums 4. One of them was owned by Solomiak and was on Soan Street 5. It was known for its cakes and baked delicacies that beckon and hinted: come in and taste of the taste of the Garden of Eden, and of the tasty treats that come to whet the appetite and attract the eye.
The studying youth loved to sit and spend time in the tavern hall of the Turkish Conditorium on Zaretze Street. Although it was of the second tier, it had fine and tasty baked goods. Most of its clientele came from the masses and the youth. This place was first and foremost a store, with a bakery in its back. It was owned by the two Turks and their families who settled in Slutsk. One of them used to go out on the streets in his Turkish garb, with a decorated basket on his head, full of treats. He would shout out maraz merchandise, and women, children, and wayfarers would immediately surround him until he had sold all of his wares.
The woman Feigel the cake maker was known in Slutsk. Her home made products fried pieces of dough and honey, a tasty pastry were cut into pieces with a small saw, and were literally grabbed up from her hands. These Slutsk cakes were something special, and nobody could duplicate her products. She literally ran a small factory in her house, and her hands were always busy, for she received hundreds of orders, even from the depths of Russia.
Slutsk also excelled in the working of Garibalnies skins. Tanners provided leather to the local shoemakers, and also for sale outside the city. Skins were also produced for the needs of holy objects 7 on Podbalania Street, Shul Gasse, and Shkolania Street.
There were many artisans and craftsmen of various types. Scribes (Sofrei Stam ) wrote Torah scrolls, Megillas, Mezuzas and Tefillin. These products were exported particularly to America and the breadths of Russia. The well-known scribes included Reb Hillel Nuzik the scribe, a scholarly Jew who conducted a study group in the Kranim synagogue; the son-in-law of Reb Shmuel the shamash [sexton] of the kloiz, Ben Zion Shpilkin; the son-in-law of Reb Refael Yosef, Chaim Leib the scribe, who also organized the eating rotation for the Yeshiva students 8.
Combs and shofars were also produced from the horns of animals, and entire families were employed in these endeavors. The combs of Slutsk were famous for their quality. Many people earned their livelihood from this manufacturing. The Kranim synagogue was established with their effort and support 9.
One of them, Zelig the comb maker, excelled in his generosity for the benefit of the poor. During his free time, he went around with a sack in his hand to collect bread and challas for the poor and needy. Even the father of the head of the Yeshiva Reb Berl Grebenchik occupied himself with combs, and indeed his name testifies to this Grebenchik a maker of combs.
The hat makers produced hats and caps in various sizes, both for the summer and winter seasons. The members of their families worked on this endeavor in their homes, and their stores were in the marketplace, on the Street of the Road and on Zaretze Street. They even had their own synagogue, known as Kirznershe Shul 10. For the most part, they supported themselves by the sale of hats to the farmers of the area, who loved to outfit themselves by wearing these various glittering hats on their heads.
The water drawers walked along the street with a pole and two buckets, Bagrashan buckets 11. At times they lowered the price in accordance with the competition. Other water drawers provided higher quality water from a pitcher on top of a wagon, hitched to a horse. They were considered to be well-placed people. Each had his own territory. People would eagerly await their drinking water. They had a different fee, depending upon whether the water was provided in a corner or at the home itself. The water drawer would wait a bit, he would remove the stopper from the pitcher, and the water would flow out into the buckets. The children loved to watch with curiosity the streaming of the water and the filling of the buckets.
The latrine cleaners came around at night, and did their work for a set fee. They entered into every courtyard and house with special wagons with special buckets atop the wagons. As soon as these wagons came into view, the windows would shut and people would begin to plug their noses, for the odor wafted from afar. The owners of these wagons would say: See how well-placed and honorable are the people of the holy community of Slutsk! The latter did not desist from the sarcasm 12, and they called the cleaners: The leaders of the holy community of Slutsk
An entire street bustled with the banging of paddles and wheels, the clanging of wagons, and the pulsating of fasteners. Weary, sweaty men operated wheels, and thrust together parts of wheels. These were the workers who produced their wares for the needs of the city and the environs. The name of the street testified to them and their activities Kalesnichkia Ulicha the street of the wagoneers. They would say Vehaofanim Yeshoreru this is the song of the workers 13, who earn their livelihood from the toil of their hands. They worked on a narrow and poor street, with small houses poor wooden houses that were covered with moss. On both sides of the street could be found a mixed variety of wheels and wagon parts that were awaiting repair in the world of the wheel of fortune.
The smiths had their own street Shmidshe Gas. It was a narrow side street with small, forlorn houses, as well as a few new houses. On both sides, the welding machines were fired, as the anvils, hammers, and sledgehammers rose and fell. There would be sparks of fire, pieces of white hot metal, and by their side were the smiths, second generation smiths, with narrow, thin, and poor faces. Some would be strong of heart, with thick heads of hair, and the fire of rebellion inside them. They would place shoes on stubborn horses, who did not want to have iron shoes. There would be scraps of junk and pieces of metal wherever your eye would alight. Women and children would conduct business, and wait for their various vessels to be fixed. These smiths also had their own small, clean synagogue in the middle of that street, known as the Shmidshe Shul. It was their own, and they would define its characteristics and way of conduct. Reb Zalman Zitzin was a Rosh Yeshiva (Yeshiva Head) who opened up a small yeshiva in that synagogue. The ears of the studiers would also hear the sound of implements of horsemen, and the riding of horses. The voice is the voice of Jacob and the hands are also the hands of Jacob would be intermixed 14.
There were butchers and cattle merchants who earned their livelihood by selling meat to others. There were butcher stalls next to the Kalte Shul shtibel. The synagogue of the butchers Zovchei Tzedek 15, known as the Katzavishe Shul, was not far from these butcher stands. This fulfilled the statement, And all sons of flesh shall call in your name 16. It was said regarding them: They slaughter the Tzadik, and therefore they have no righteousness, so why do you complain about them? The cattle merchants sold their wares throughout the depths of Russia.
The shoemakers and carpenters earned their livelihoods with difficulty. Many immigrated to the United States and other places. The great poverty that prevailed in the city did not allow for the residents to purchase many shoes or other items. Boots were sold in great numbers on account of the mud and grime in the city.
Two wheeled wagons, known as the Slutsk Rickshaws, were prevalent in the city. A thick rope was bound to the wagon, to which the drawer was hitched. For a few coins, objects and merchandise would be ported from place to place. These were personages such as Tovia the Porter of Y. L. Peretz, who was always waiting from whence his help should come, and whose corners of his garments were hitched with a rope around his waist. He was ready and prepared to port carry anything on his shoulders if only someone should stop by.
The steady wagon drivers had a different honorable task to carry on their long wagons (drages) all types of merchandise from Bobruisk or Starye Dorogi, and later from Urechye to Slutsk. They unloaded all of the merchandise from the train, and also loaded merchandise from Slutsk onto the train. Wagon drivers from nearby villages worked along their set lines: Kopyl, Starobin, Grozovo, and Glusk. These men of labor had set days when they would go along their journey, and days when they would not. They were known as the Slutsker wagon drivers, Glusker, Urechyer, Starobiner, Lyubaner, etc.
During the summer, these wagon drivers would drive wagons, and in the winter they would drive sleighs. Some were only involved in the transport of merchandise, and many others brought passengers from the nearby towns and the train. With the laying of the railway line into the city, their livelihood dwindled, and they were forced to add routes to various towns. A portion of them got used to the conditions, and began to transport merchandise from the train station, and others sold their wagons and purchased carriages to transport passengers to various destinations. Many claimed that, just as they had adapted at first to the diligens [stage coaches] that transported passengers from Bobruisk and Leshchevtsy to Slutsk, and later from Starye Dorogi to Slutsk, they would also get used to the train.
The double decker automobile also plied its route on the road from Starye Dorogi to Slutsk, despite the comfort of the train.
There were many fires in Slutsk, which on occasion wreaked havoc in the city and destroyed the livelihood of many, to the point where all that was left was a loaf of bread. For the most part, the fault lay with the homeowners, the artisans, the contractors, and the owners of lumber storehouses, who would anonymously start fires so that they would be able to sell their merchandise, which would be sitting like a stone with no turnover. The guilt became so great that a ban of excommunication was issued by order of the rabbinate. I was present at such a declaration of excommunication in the kloiz, where black candles were lit, a coffin covered in black was brought in, and Reb Shachna the Shammas read the ban of excommunication at the behest of the rabbis. The faith that the guilty would be punished found support, at times, with attacks upon people whose fate came upon them by chance. It was seen as the finger of G-d when Yankel Minnes, the owner of a storehouse of wooden building materials and who was suspected of arson, severed an artery in his hand with the knife as he was cutting the Sabbath challas, and subsequently bled to death.
Most of the structures in the city were made of wood, and when a fire broke out, it spread quickly from house to house and destroyed complete blocks. The firefighters did not always have the appropriate means to put out the fire, due to the lack of modern fire fighting equipment. With the building of entire blocks of stone structures, the danger abated, but, nevertheless, fires broke out from time to time.
Four Jewish doctors were involved in tending to the sick. The most well known of these included Dr. Shildkraut and Dr. Feinberg. The important ones published a monthly called Grayev. There were also Christian doctors in the city, who functioned as private doctors and also at the government hospital. These include Vatsur and Yanishevitch. Dr. Shildkraut and other important doctors worked at the poorhouse.
The most well known of the slaughterers of Slutsk were Necha the Shochet, Areh the Shochet, and Alter Maharshek. Necha the slaughterer, with a white beard, a tall stature, and pleasant mannerism had a name among the shochtim. He used to say: Most of the boys of Slutsk passed under my hand, as I brought them into the covenant of Abraham our father. 18 Areh the shochet was a faithful Jew, an expert shochet, pleasing to his fellow man. His son Nathan also served as a shochet. Alter Maharshek was a Zionist with all his soul and money. His house was a gathering place for the wise and for the Zionists. He was a faithful Hebrew speaker, who loved the Hebrew language. He published articles from time to time in the Hebrew newspapers, and authored books.
Guards, whose job was to chase away thieves, circulated in the streets of the city during the night. They were armed with Kalakatekes blez wooden noisemakers similar to the type that children would use during the reading of the scroll of Esther to blot out the name of Haman 19. These guards would go from street to street, making noise with their noisemakers in order to assure the property owners that there is an eye that sees and an ear that hears. The residents of Slutsk were disappointed with their policemen, who stood on guard in their booths. The guards took pride in their implements and in their song--Do not fear, my servant Jacob 20.
The inns and hotels excelled in their cleanliness and in their special meals. There was a special place set aside for the wagons and carriages of the guests.
The guests included tenants and portly people who were involved in business, and who came to visit the city with their wives and children. The Migdal Hotel and Europe Hotel were considered to be first class hotels. Their guests included government officials and squires (poretzes), as well as other individuals of high rank. Second class inns included Bokshitzki, Kreines, Yabrob, and others. They had separate rooms for merchants, agents, and other guests from the middle class.
Lower class inns served for the most part the average people and townsfolk who would come to the city to shop or to attend to their affairs. These inns included Neiman, Tatelech, Lewik, Chaim Itzkes, Der Teitzel, and Nakritz. The wagon drivers set up their headquarters at these inns, which served as a gathering place, a meeting place, and waiting area for guests from the region.
The well-known sellers of drinks were Chaim Itzkes, and Ratner who owned a government concession. They sold wine in measured amounts for Kiddush and Havdalah 21. On Fridays, there was a long lineup of purchasers. The wine was poured out into bottles of various sizes, some smaller and some larger. Not far from there was the tavern of Yoshe Pozniak, who sold wine. People would sit around his tables and enjoy an abundant meal, along with a bottle of wine or a can of bear.
Meir Rips sold wine on Kapola Street. Finkelstein had a brewery on Vilna Street.
There were two bands that would play at weddings. One, headed by Eizel the Klezmer 22, was well versed in music and well organized. Its members knew how to gladden the hearts of the audience. They would move the audience to tears when they played sad tunes. The head of the second Klezmer band was Shimon Leib. He was still quite young, but he gathered around himself Jews who had a good sense for music, who thrived under his direction. The poretzes would from time to time throw parties and celebrations on their estates, and they would invite these two groups to gladden the hearts of the poretzes, their families, their guests, and their many servants. The Orthodox Jews pretended not to notice that the members of the bands went bareheaded, and some of them even clean-shaven. One Orthodox musician, Chaim David the Badchan 23, was well known. A book of Psalms stuck out of his pocket, and he would read from it at every available moment. He was good looking, with a smiling face, a full-grown beard, and sparkly, black eyes. On the eve of the Sabbath, he would concern himself with insuring that the Yeshiva students had a place to eat. If he could not find a host, he would invite them to his house where he would feed them in a generous manner.
From among the chimneysweeps, one character stood out. He was a tall Jew, thin, with a face covered with soot. He would stand on the roof and clean out the chimney with a long brush, as the soot came out through the kitchen stove.
Kaniuch would occupy themselves with horse corpses. They would take rejected colts 24 to a place outside the city, kill them, strip their skin and sell it to a tanner.
Plikers pluckers were poor women who earned their livelihood by plucking feathers at the slaughterhouse in exchange for a few coins.
Men and women stood next to the cheders with pots in their hands. These pots would be enclosed in baskets and covered in rags. Inside were various types of cooked legumes. There were three measures in the pot, the largest was two Kopeks, the middle was one Kopek, and the smallest was ½ Kopek, known as Groshn. The children would hover over the baskets, and obtain food to sustain themselves.
Men and women busied themselves with fattening geese and ganders in order to sell gribenes (hunks of hardened fat). The fattening began at the beginning of the fall, and continued until Chanukah. As a result of standing in one place and being stuffed, the geese became fat. Then they were slaughtered. Their thick skin was fried with onions, and the fat was separated. The rest was the tasty gribenes. This was a very tasty food, and even the poor people would purchase it. They would purchase the fried onions and also a very small amount of the hunks of fat, either a quarter or an eight of a liter of griben.
At Chanukah time, there would be a woman sitting over a pot of burning coals in the market. She would be covered with layers of clothing, and she would weigh out a bit of griben for a few small coins. The women would spread this on bread for young children.
The Shamash of the Beis Din [rabbinical court of law] had the task of summoning litigants to judgement in front of the judges, and of proclaiming communal affairs in the synagogues on Sabbaths and festivals in the name of the rabbis.
It is worthwhile to mention one other lowly form of work licking of eyes. Rabbi Goldberg of blessed memory of New Orleans related that once during his youth, he was chopping wood. Grains of soil injured his eyes, and his world became darkened. They brought him to the eye licker (oygen lekere), and she put the tip of her tongue onto his eyes, removed the granules of soil with a quick lick, and his eyes were healed. Her face was thin and wrinkled, and her house was poor. She was very poor. People wanted to pay her for her efforts, but she refused to receive any money for the mitzvah 25. Since the High Holy Days were approaching, she requested that Reb Kadish the melamed [teacher of young children] pray that she be blessed with a good inscription and sealing 26.
Yochnin on the Street of the Road was considered to be a first class photographer. His photographs received awards at various competitions. Residents of Slutsk and its environs streamed to his studio by the thousands in order to be photographed. Rakuva also had a studio, as did Grozobski. These three photographers also employed several employees. There were private cheders in Slutsk that employed hundreds of melamdim and tutors. There were 18 Beis Midrashes served by various clergy: cantors, chief shamashes, collectors, emissaries, shochtim, dayanim [rabbinical judges], two rabbis, and Yeshiva heads.
The residents of Slutsk earned their livelihood from the gentiles and from their environments, and they also fulfilled in themselves the adage: Go forth and earn your livelihood one from another.
The peddlers, referred to as Koder [rags], were also known. They would purchase scraps, bones, and rags, and collect various objects and old items in the city and in the neighboring villages.
The famous interior decorations of the synagogue of Mohilev on the Dnieper were drawn in 1740 by Chaim the son of Reb Yitzchak Eizik Segal of holy blessed memory of Slutsk, who engaged in this holy work. It is related that this Segal produced the interior designs for two other synagogues, in Kapust and Dolhinov.
(Rimon, volume 3, 5683 1923, Berlin)
The stories of the Magid Moshe Yedaber 27 and of Reb Aryeh Leib Neimark (the Dayan of Slutsk) called Even Yaakov , with the acronym of Aryeh the son of Nissan, were published in the printing press of M. Tomashov, in the Yagdil Torah anthology.
The book of Reb Meir Soloveitchik (the name of the book is not known) was also published in that publishing house, as was a commentary on the Torah by Reb Zeev (Velvel Prizivitzer) Katznelson a well-known melamed in Slutsk.
Various publications, the majority in Russian and the minority in Hebrew, were published in the printing presses of M. Yavrov and Friedlind.
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