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Page 85

Chapter 4

Fragments of Being (Formation)

Page 87

Mutual Help

The feeling on mutual help was very developed among the Jewish population of the town. There is a doubt if elsewhere in another town was such a nearness and mutual help as it was in Sopotkin.

Hospice (Hostel) for the Poor

From all the institutions engaged in mutual help, we must mention first of all "Linas Hatsedek" (hostel for the poor). Sitting and watching a sick person during the night was a holy obligation of this very noble institution. A committee was formed which regulated the work of the members of "Linas Hatsedek". When a person was very sick, the members of "Linas Hatsedek" used to sit at the bed of the sick during the long and cold winter nights, letting the family have a resting break. In the new synagogue was a special room where different medical tools and instruments were kept for the need of those who were sick.

The Storehouse for Ice

In the courtyard of the synagogue was a special storehouse for ice for the needs of the town. Everyone volunteered a few working days and in winter they used to travel to the Augustov canal, cut pieces of ice, and stored them in the storehouse.

The common Baking of Matzos

An excellent example of common help was the baking of matzos for Passover. Families got together in groups and together baked matzos for each family large or small. The people worked hard until their work was finished to everyone's satisfaction.

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Common Support

In case a misfortune happened to a family that became poor without a source of making a living, immediate help was organized. Everyone donated as much as he could. There were not hungry Jews in town. If a family needed help, the Rebetsin (the Rabbi's wife) saw to it that the family should get the financial help secretly. We call this kind of act "Matan b'seter".

On the Shabbat days between the afternoon service ("Mincha") and evening service ("Maariv"), preachers ("Magidim") used to preach. Some of them were talented speakers, some – not so. The purpose of their appearance was to collect some money as dowry for their daughters. Volunteers walked from house to house and collected donations for the preachers. This was a very important and positive commandment. In the days of the month Elul (last month on the Jewish calendar, before the High Holidays), Sopotkin, which was famous for giving charity ("Tsedaka"), was crowded with poor Jews.

Gemilut Chasidim (acts of kindness, benevolence)

The storekeepers, the merchants and the peddlers were organized in a group of common help. The members of this group used to help each other by doing acts of kindness. It was a wonderful society of borrowers and lenders. This way they helped each other.

Small National Bank (Gemilut Charadim Bank)

With the end of World War I the Sopotkin Jews returned to their town from deep Russia. They were very poor and the main question was: how to make a living? Most of them became small storekeepers or craftsmen. The main problem was: where and how to get some credit for their business?

For this purpose a small bank (Gemilut Charadim) was established. The operating capital of the small national bank consisted of three sources:

  1. Stocks
  2. Help from the United States
  3. Help from the territorial organization of "Gemilut Charadim" Bank in Poland.
Every member of the bank was eligible to get a loan without interest for a certain period of time. Instead of interest the members used to pay monthly dues to cover the expenditure of the bank.

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The National Bank

Parallel with the "Gemilut Chasadim" small bank, was founded a real national bank based on exact banking rules. The base of the bank was a sufficient sum of money that the bank in Sopotkin received from the territorial organization of national banks in Poland, from stocks that every member had to purchase and from deposits that gave interest (%). Everyone in good standing could receive a much bigger loan than from the "Gemilut Chasadim" bank (small).

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sop090.jpg [19 KB]
The management of “Gemilut Chasadim” (small bank)
Sitting (from right to left):
1. David Eliyahu Gotkovski, 2. Rabbi Menachem Mendl Rabinovitch, 3. Nachum Pikover
Standing (from right to left):
1. Simon Dunski, 2. Moshe Yechezkiel Samborski, 3. Ben-Zion Zarl Shadzunski,
4. Joseph Kramlat, 5. Samuel Kovnianski, 6. Chim Ozer Pozat, 7. Fayvl Mashkots

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Common Responsibility and Self-Defense

Common Responsibility

In the period of the First World War appeared in town some horse thieves. To one of the thieves was known that the Germans accumulated in one of the houses a big amount of Russian money which they took away from the Russians. He broke into that house and stole the money.

When the theft was discovered, the Germans arrested ten Jews and told them if the money was not returned in a few hours, they would be executed. The arrested Jews knew, more or less, who stole the money, but nobody wanted to betray the horse thief. The Jews were taken outside the town to be killed. Only because of the special endeavor of Nina Zelkin, who was the owner of the tavern in town, were the Jews spared from death.

And another incident happened. Two Jews from the village of Rudovki came to the town and stole horses from the German army. They brought the horses to Grodno and kept them there. The Germans arrested a number of Jews and demanded the return of the horses immediately, otherwise they all would be killed. The town Jews knew who the thieves were, but did not give them over to the German authority and were ready to die. After endeavor and supplications the Jews were saved from death.

Groups of Self Defense

With the end of the First World War, Sopotkin became a Polish town. The Poles began to attack the Jewish houses and robbed their possessions. The brave Jewish youth organized defense groups which patrolled the town from end to end. They watched over the safety of the Jews. The young and brave people used to hide outside the town and attacked the robbers, inflicting on them heavy losses. Fear fell upon the attackers and the riots came to an end.

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Self Defense

The population of Sopotkin was divided in two parts. In the center of the town lived Jews and in the ends of the town lived Poles. The town was surrounded with villages.

In the last years before World War II, Polish anti-Semitism found its way in the town at large.

Almost week after week, after the traditional market day in the town during which many of the peasants were drunk, riots against the Jews began.

In deed, the Jews of Sopotkin knew very well how to defend themselves. The Jews of Sopotkin were brave, healthy in body and spirit, and always ready to defend the Jewish honor.

The brave young people of the town knew how to convince the rioters that the Jew was not a stray and anyone who plans to hurt him must pay a very high price.

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The Volunteer Fire Brigade

At the head of the firefighter-volunteers stood Anoch, the Baker. He organized the fire fighters brigade and was their leader. This was his darling baby.

His face was shining from happiness when he was wearing his brass hat. His co-worker and co-leader was Yankl Tuviyah.

The fire fighters underwent all kinds of training and exercises. They had a band, the only one in town. They appeared at different celebrations, parties and performances. Among the fire fighters were also Poles.

The big fire in the town broke out during the last years. The new cinema served a short time. It was a wooden building at the end of Teolin Street opposite the public bath. It went in flames, burned down to the ground, just before the first movie was shown. The Pole, Netka, decorated with medals and marks of distinction from the period of Polish Legionaries, set fire to the new cinema building. He did not have patience to wait and immediately began thinking about fire insurance, before he showed the first film.

He himself called the fire fighters. The fire fighters of Sopotkin could not put out the spreading fire themselves and fire fighters from Grodno were called in. At the end the fire was extinguished. Together with the movie building, burned down two Jewish homes and the public bath.

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Sopotkin’s Fire Fighter Brigade

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