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[Pages 36-44]

Sislevitch and its Teachers

by Elijah Ein

Translated by Joseph Rozenberg and William K. Rosenbloom

Aaron Isaac Ein and his wife - svi036.jpg [16 KB]
The Teacher, Aaron Isaac Ein and his Wife

Yedidya The Author, with a happy face and a very nice little trimmed beard, sneaked behind a young man who was sitting in front of the Post Office and grabbed a corner of the newspaper which the man was reading.

“Why are you grabbing the piece of paper,” did my step-brother Aaron Isaac Ein, the Russian Teacher call out with anger. “Tell me you want the paper! I will give it to you.”

“I don't want the paper,” explained Yedidya. “I only want the advertisement for the bottle of wine that is advertised there.”

Every Shabbos afternoon, a lot of people, especially the young and intelligent, used to walk over to the Post Office at the end of Amstibover Street in Sislevitch, and when walking about used to carry a newspaper or magazine which arrived that day.

In the first decade of this century (1900), all the parents of children demanded that their children also get a secular education (in addition to a religious education); especially for the girls, because they never attended chader (religious school).

Yedidya was not a teacher and not an educator. He was in a special class of his own, between educator and teacher, with the title “Author”.

He was greatly loved by his girl students and also by the Talmud Torah boys when he gave a class, one hour's time.

He used to entertain the children with jokes and anecdotes, which they used to enjoy very much.

The teaching was very easy and was mostly done by copying the answer with their own handwriting. After copying the answer for a few weeks, or maybe months, Yedidya used to give them another answer.

To a girl who was learning at his home where he had a class, he often used to tell her, “you, yourself, pick the answer.” She used to walk over to the box of answers and pick one out; any answer she wanted; a short one, a middle sized one, or a long answer.

Aaron Isaac. He was a tall (man) with a nice built front and starched white cuffs, a bib, a starched collar with cuff links and a black top hat. His pride was in his brown mustache and pointy beard.

It was known that the Czar for a while expected that the Russian Language and its culture should all spread among the Jewish People.

Later on, they (the Russians) decided that it is better that the Jews should be less educated. Aaron Isaac, together with a few Jewish boys went through the later 80's (1880's) to the last century with a diploma as “First Class Jewish Teacher,” a Jewish Private Teacher.

Until today (when this letter was written) if you meet somebody in America or Israel, a landsman from Sislevitch or a lady from Sislevitch, who learned Russian when she was young, if it's a him or a her, without exception, it was learned from Aaron Isaac.

In 1892, I was at his wedding to Zeesle Eisenstadt's in Volp. The father-in-law was a tall and well built man, a strong man. Once, a drunkard attacked him at the hardware stand (in the market). He took a horseshoe and bent it with his hand, and told the drunkard “you see now what I can make out of you.” He told the farmer to shut up.

Another time, it happened at the time of the pogrom.

Two attackers became too bold. Eisenstadt took his one hand, took one attacker by the collar, and in his other hand the 2nd one. He carried them both out and dropped them to the ground.

One class Aaron Isaac held at the home of the town's Rabbi, Reb Shnearzalman.

Once when he taught the older children he noticed that in the corner was sitting a little boy about 5 years old, and he was listening to us. So Aaron Isaac asked him “ What is more 2/3 or 3/3?” The little boy answered the right answer and proved that he knew as much as the older children had learned.

The little boy was Arka, the city rabbi's boy, the now famous scholar Reb Aaron Kotlar who is the head of Kletzker Yeshiva in New York.

The Rabbi's oldest child was Malka. They used to say that she knows how to write a good Hebrew. Just like Nachum Sokolov, and that she is a very nice and refined girl. She is now a medical doctor in Paris.

Aaron Isaac is now a very busy man with his classes, so much that he didn't have time to eat peacefully. On top of it, he was a very strict man. That is why there is no wonder that he had ulcers in his stomach. After 16 years of being a teacher he was forced to change his occupation---and became a cutter of horse hides in a leather factory.

And on top of it, he was a book-keeper. He was the head book-keeper and administrator in Sislevitch, at the Sislevitcher Dep't. of the Jewish Cooperative Bank. And we Jews used to call it “Dos Benkele” where hundreds of Jews used to get loans at very small interest.

A group of Teachers - svi039.jpg [28 KB]
A Group of Teachers

Once it happened in the Amstibover Street Bet Midrash, by the trenches, a dispute broke out because of aliyoy ( honors given for one to go to the Torah and give a blessing). Aaron Isaac went up to the podium and after the Cohayn and Levi, the first and second aliyot he told them to call the President of the Bet Midrash who sat on one side of the bench; after him they called up the 2nd person who sat on the 2nd place of the bench, and then the 3rd one. It didn't take long and they didn't fight over aliyot any more.

In the First World War, Sislevitch was occupied by different armies. When something bad happened, they used to run to Aaron Isaac. Once, they let him know that the Russian soldiers are looting Hershal Bozhik's store. Right away, he looked up the officer of the Army and stopped the looting.

The Germans drove out the Russians and made Aaron Isaac a peacemaker. The farmers used to say to the Jews, “You have it good with the Germans. You can talk to them”. The farmers used the Jews to protect themselves from the German soldiers.

A German officer would stop a Russian or Polish farmer and tell him something. When the farmer didn't understand him he became angry. He would beat him without mercy.

As a peacemaker, Aaron Isaac protected everybody as much as he could. A lot of people thought he was dumb to do that for no pay. He could have made a lot of money for translating.

When the Polish People came back to power they made the Mayor of the town a Dr. Bittner. He was embarrassed the way the Polish Army took advantage of their new found freedom.

Chofetz-Chaim, from Raadio, Blessed Be He, once told to a Polish Minister (government official) “I saw once how the Russians led a group of Polish People handcuffed in chains. I cried when I saw it; and why did they deserve that? Because I thought they were fighting for their freedom, but now, when I see what they are using their freedom for and what they are doing with their freedom, I doubt that their freedom will last long.”

The Minister told the translator that he did not need to translate into Polish; “that one heart feels another” (I understand what they say and feel).

When we used to hear loud sounds in town, we knew that the Polish Soldiers are looting and pulling beards (it was a common practice and way of humiliating Jews). So Aaron Isaac would run to Dr. Bittner for help.

For the short time, when the Bolsheviks were in Sislevitch, they cleaned out the town. The production and commerce stopped altogether. Everything was like dead. Everybody was enjoying their leaving town, more than any other occupiers.

Aaron Isaac's closest friend was Abraham the Pharmacist. Avramka Rothbart was some year in Krinik before he immigrated to Canada. In a short time, he made the license for Pharmacy. He was the first Jewish druggist in Toronto ( maybe all of Canada) with whom the immigrants from Europe could talk to.

Very early on, Aaron Isaac started his career as a teacher in Russian together with Hebraist Shlomo Belkin and had a chader (school) in the market for girls who wanted to learn both languages. Belkin was a very restless skinny Jew. He was studying at the Mirer Yashiva but he didn't want to become a Rabbi. He was the local correspondent and contributor at the Petersburg Daily, “Hamaylitz”. Almost all of the teachers were Zionists. The older ones were, of course, even before Herzl.

The first time I tried to read a number of the daily paper “Der Freind” I was embarrassed very much that, I, a little boy who could read already the Torah, had such a hard time reading a few lines in “jargon” (Yiddish).

Shlomo Belkin used to lend his own books to everybody with a desire to read. The first Hebrew book I read, I borrowed from him.

A son of his is now the famous Dr. Samuel Belkin, President of Yeshiva University of New York.

Shlomo Belkin was once in a cheder of a young teacher. He, the big Hebraist, admitted to himself, without shame, that he was jealous of the teacher; how he keeps order and discipline in his class.

The teachers name was Sukenik and he, later became the world famous Professor of Archeology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Sukenik looked shorter than he really was, because of his wide built body. He belonged to the S.S. (Territorialists, Jews who advocated the establishment of an autonomous state other than Palestine) but was not active in it. My brother David, the ex S.S. man gave two possible reasons for this; the first one, as a teacher he couldn't be an outspoken revolutionary, and second, he was really a sympathizer of Poalei Zion (Zionist Socialist Party, which didn't exist in Sislevitch).

One time in Sislevitch, possibly in 1907, news arrived that a pogrom is going on in Bialystok. Sukenik's parents and family lived in Bialystok, and he became hysterical. They knew in Sislevitch what was going on. All of the town's people got together around the house of Gershon Slutzky, the leather manufacturer and Zionist, where Sukenik was also present.

I think another Sislevitcher man needs to be mentioned here, even though he is not a local teacher. Rav Shimon Langbard is a writer and also head of the Volozheener Yeshiva in Jerusalem. His family were neighbors of ours for many years.

His father would comb down his beard with an open palm to the pointed end of his beard and say “if I want, I'm Arye” and then he would go over his beard with a half open palm to the two points of his beard and say , “now if I want, I am 'Rav Arye' .”

One of the first Hebrew teachers was Shlomo Rozpinsky.

He made a good living.

He was married to a Sislevitcher girl.

The progress in town drew lots of teachers from out of town. Very few teachers were from Sislevitch. When there was a slowdown in the leather industry, Rozpionsky moved to Krinik.

The outstanding teachers were the ones brought to town by the Zionists Aaron Isaac, Gershon Slutzky, Pyshe The Forest Commissioner, and others who brought teachers for their own children.

His name was Kulik. Right away in the beginning he introduced teaching Hebrew in the Hebrew Language. After 2-3 semesters with him, his students conversed a good Hebrew on the streets of town. One student, a girl, was composing Hebrew songs. One song she wrote was “El Hatsipor.” The famous author Abraham Reisen met her a few times in New York. Her name is Dobie Eden. She resides now in Tel Aviv.

The “old fashioned way” teachers were scared. They started to call the new way school, “dangerous chaders”. Thereafter, all the Hebrew Schools had the same good success. It was the wonderchild of Chaim Brisker, the manufacturer, and owner of underwear and other knitted goods.

Chaim Bagon traveled to Brest especially to tell Rav Chaim Brisker about the new method of teaching; that you can teach a child in months what took earlier years to teach the same thing. But all that didn't impress Rav Chaim, since he believed that the new way of learning is the way of heretics.

Sucharevsky. He was really loved by his students, as is his last name's meaning in Russian; in reality he was dry bones and skin.

Yoshe Tzivie's, a grain dealer, an enlightened man in Hebrew and Russian, used to spend a few hours a week teaching at the Talmud-Torah. He came straight from his basement in dusty clothes to school and gives as good a lecture as any educator can.

Half teacher, half tutor, he was a middle-aged man from the town of Porozove. He dressed sportily. He wore also rings on his fingers. He also let his thumbnail grow as the style of the time, which very few people followed. The rumor was that he was in the process of writing a book.

Lurie was a good teacher in the Russian Language. He was handsome, delicate and educated. He tried his best to get in at a University, but for Jewish sophomores it was very hard to accomplish. He was doomed for life to stay at a teacher's level.

At the end, he married, became a father and practiced teaching in Sislevitch.

Schneider, a young Russian, the son of a widow and very handsome. He made a decent living by giving Russian classes to Jewish children. He did purposely work with Jewish students as time demanded. He was also a revolutionary. He told me that the S.S.nik's are Chauvinists, and that he would be indoctrinated by the Bundists1. But the Russian Socialists thought of the Bundists also as Chauvinists; because the Bundists program was just for national cultural autonomy.

By the way, the program of the Bund was voted down at their own conference. And when it was all over, the Bund Members still didn't realize what (had) happened.

I observed once how Velie Catzenelenboigen, the Zionist and red- headed lady Hebrew Teacher had a very hard time conversing in the Hebrew. All the time, she used the slogan “kemuvan” (which means self-evident), just like the bad Russian Teachers used often the expression “vobshtchay” which means “in general”. At the same time, students from the new school system could easily converse a fluent Hebrew.

To finish this off, I must mention the Zionist and public servant Velie's husband Yoshka, the tall Catzenelenboigen who was instrumental in getting rid of all hindrance to bringing in a secular education for the Talmud Torah.

Signed Elijah Ein (Canada)

Translator's Footnote

  1. Jewish Labor Bund was defined as the Socialist Labor Party influential in Poland and other East European Countries until WWII. They did not believe in the necessity of a Jewish State, but believed Jews should be accepted in any land and allowed to live as Jews through Socialist ideals in the land they chose. Return

[Page 45]

The Modern Cheder

by N. Eden

The Modern Cheder was a transitional phase between a cheder and a Hebrew school. It was founded in our town by a group of Zionist activists: Reb Yossel Katzenelboigen, Reb David Meisel, Reb Aharon Yitzchak Ayin, Reb Daniel Gershon Halperin, Reb Gershon Slutski of blessed memory, and others. It started out with the Hebrew in Hebrew methodology. It accepted students of the age of 6–7. The first teacher was Shlomo Rozpinski. The education was in the Zionist spirit. On Sabbath and festival eves, we heard Zionist speeches and sang Zionist songs, led by the teacher Rozpinski and Reb Yosef Katzenelboigen, who conducted enthusiastically with his baton.

In school, we spent most of the day in Hebrew and spoke among ourselves in Hebrew, which became fluent on our lips. This made an impression even on the opponents – the Orthodox, the traditionalists, and the avowed Yiddishists who were forced to acknowledge our success.

The teacher Rozpinski immigrated to England at the time of the Russo–Japanese war, and his place was filled by the excellent teacher Kulik, in whose classes an exemplary orderliness prevailed. During his time, the cheder was in the home of Reb David Meisel. The following served as teachers in the cheder: Lipa Soknik (later a professor in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem), the Maskil Shlomo Belkin, Mordechai Pelman, and Reb Yaakov Finkelstein who was known for his sharpness and sharp statements. The teacher Rozpinski returned to teaching at the end of the Russo–Japanese war. With the passage of time, the Russian language was also taught. The teachers of this language were Reb Aharon Yitzchak Ayin, Serlin, Arnonski, Luria, the engineer Rosenblum, Mrs. Glin, and others.

The modern cheder closed when the First World War broke out.

[Pages 46-49]

The Hebrew School in Svisloch

by Shimon Finkelstein

Photo page 46: The Public Hebrew School in Svisloch
Standing from right to left are the principals and teachers of the school:
Reb Avraham Elkanitzki, Reb Chaim–Shlomo Shabzin, Yisrael Azerovitch, Naftali Eden,
Yosef Katzenelboigen, Chaim Watnik, Kayla Eden, Alter Goldberg.


Its History and Development

It began at the end of the battles of the First World War. Already in 1920, after the death of Yosef Trumpeldor, a memorial ceremony for him was conducted. The first school was established in the building that had formerly served as a hospital.

Hebrew education had already existed in the town in the form of cheders taught by the melamdim (cheder teachers). They were liquidated by decree of the Germans during the First World War, although remnants remained. Later, even they came to an end through a decree of liquidation. With the death of the most of the teachers, there was nobody to renew them.

However, a modern cheder was established even during the time of the cheders. As I have heard, it was coeducational, however I do not believe that the modern cheder served as a bridge between the cheders and the school.


Its Founders

The local Zionist activists founded the school. The most prominent of them was the veteran Zionist Reb Yosef Katzenelboigen, who served as the secretary of the school for many years. Practically, he was even more than this: he was its spokesman for the Land of Israel. His speeches on Tu Bishvat and on other holidays, emotional and stormy, brought him to shortness of breath. At times, he had to struggle strongly with members of the left who would disrupt. He spared no effort to instill a Zionist spirit into us. Through his personality, the Land of Israel was painted for us. Mr. Avraham Elkanitzki served as chairman of the school committee for many years.


The Teaching Faculty

From all perspectives, the image of the school was a result of a long period of development, and its curriculum was influenced by many sources. Religious studies had a recognizable role as a legacy from the cheders. The teacher Chaim Shlomo Shabzin was accustomed to the spirit of the times, and he was employed by the school as a teacher of religious studies for a few years. He taught prayers and Torah. The explanations were in Yiddish. Teachers of Gemara were specially invited. The rabbis had great influence on this matter. Rabbi Rozen was involved in this activity, and later Rabbi Miszkinski continued with even greater involvement. Prayers for the boys took place every day before the studies. The Torah trope was taught, and Pirke Avot (the mishnaic tractate of Chapters of the Fathers) was taught on the Sabbath. Rabbi Miszkinski examined the students. I still have a siddur (prayer book) that was given to me in recognition of my excellence in Talmud, signed by the rabbinate in 1929.

It is appropriate to note that the study of Talmud interested us, and I would bother my grandfather Reb David Meisel with questions. From his side, he exhibited patience to me and to my friends with regard to the Talmudic discussions that we brought forth. Evidently, he hoped that we would continue in our Talmudic studies.

The influence of the rabbinate met with a spirit of opposition from some of the activists, who wished to run the school along the lines of the Tarbut schools.

At first, the curriculum of the studies was not restricted. Along with the brief subjects, there were main in–depth subjects. The first graduating class was, as I recall, in 1925. At that time, Zalman Margolis, Pinchas Brzanicki and others graduated. They suffered from disadvantages when they continued their studies in the high schools.

The curriculum consolidated with the passage of time. The principal Brom put great effort into organization the school from a social perspective. He established an organization for children called Ezrat Achim. In this framework, they were trained in independent organization. A chairman, treasurer and secretary were elected. Meetings of the directors took place at set times, in which they deliberated about the various activities, including assistance to needy students. At the conclusion of their studies, the students published a booklet called “The Fruits of our Thoughts”.

During the tenure of Brom, they began to distribute a cup of cocoa and a bun to the students on a daily basis. This was appropriate for the times, for there was no shortage of needy students at the time. In the upper grades, literary activities were arranged, and literary judgements were conducted on various topics. All of this was thanks to Brom, who earned the appreciation and love of the students. During his time, several classes graduated, starting in 1927. A significant portion of the students continued in higher studies in Volkovisk, Bialystock, Vilna and Grodno.

The principal Szlachter improved the protocols and curriculum of the school. He and his wife came from Congress Poland. His language was Polish, and he was particular about the teaching of the Polish language. We did not relate favorably to this language, but we nevertheless got used to the principal. He improved the external form of the school. He added physics and chemistry equipment. The level of the studies rose to the level that the school was able to measure up with any other school in the region.

In the realm of cultural life, the students of the school performed many performances in the fire hall. The income was dedicated to the development of the school. Its livelihood was based on the tuition fees that were progressive, so that the poor could study for free. An active parent organization also existed. My father was numbered among its members. When I concluded my studies at the institution, they arranged a goodbye party for him.

A well–furnished and orderly kindergarten existed alongside the school.


The Yiddish School

Photo page 49: Grade 3 of the school and its teachers.

Through the efforts of the supporters of Yiddish, a Yiddish kindergarten and school was established at the beginning of the1930s in Shacor's house on Rudbaka Street. Similarly, there was a Polish public government school in which some of the local children studied. Jews were not accepted to the government teachers' seminary in Svisloch, aside from a few exceptional cases. Of all these schools, the Hebrew school was the only one that educated in the spirit of Zionism and practical realization of aliya. Organizers of the local pioneering movement arose from amongst its graduates, and many made aliya to the Land of Israel. Had the way been open, all would have made aliya, for this was their sole desire.

From among the other cultural institutions, it is worthwhile to point out the two libraries, Hebrew and Yiddish. I estimate that they were founded at the beginning of the 20th century. The libraries were run on volunteer power, including for the binding of books. The activists in the library in the latter years included Sender Mintz and Zalman Margolis of blessed memory, and, may he live long, Tzvi Finkelstein.

Binyamin Lis worked with dedication in the Yiddish library.

[Pages 50-51]

Memories and Experiences
from my Studies at School

by Shimon Finkelstein

I was accepted to the preparatory program in 1924. Our teacher was Dina Dorchinski. She was very particular that we sit with hands crossed over the chest (as she said, “Hands on the chests”), or crossed behind us. We had a non–local teacher in grades 1 and 2. I only recall her externals – short and dark, and her place of residence – with my uncle Finkelstein of blessed memory.

Brom was hired as principal when I was in grade 3. His personality was felt in the school. Alter Goldberg was our teacher in grades 4 and 5. We loved him and also made him angry.

Our class became consolidated starting from grade 6. The teacher was the wife of the principal Szlachter. We got used to her and related to her even though her language was Polish. I disparaged the study of the Polish language and claimed that I did not need it, since I expected to make aliya to the Land. She wanted to convince me that I should study Polish, with the reason that I would require it if I were to work in the Polish diplomatic corps, but I was not convinced. She worked very hard at educating us in social studies. She conducted discussions with us on these matters, and also arranged educational activities in this direction. She set up a mailbox in the classroom into which each student had the right to place letters of complaint, advice, thoughts from the heart, or social difficulties.

At the end of our sixth year of study, we published a wonderful booklet called “The Fruits of our Thoughts”, of course in the Polish language. I still have it.

In the final grade, grade 7, she worked to prepare us for life. We dealt with many problems in social studies. We concluded that year as well with a fine booklet.

On the day of graduation and the distribution of report cards, we arranged a party with the parents. We then went to spend the night in the Vishbanik Forest.

Who would have imagined that in this place, the cord of life of the many Jews of Svisloch would be cut off by the accursed enemy, and that the grave of our dear parents would be there, after they were tortured and murdered with cruelty.

[Pages 52-55]

My Town Svisloch

by Yaakov Niv

I stretch the eyes of my spirit and see it spread out before me as it was when I left it in 1921 to make aliya to the land of Israel. It was so pleasant with its streets, markets, houses, fields, institutions, and residents. I, as all residents of the town, knew them all. I knew their status and their nature, with their weaknesses and fine points. There was no shortage of plutocrats and wealthy people, fine people who lived in proper stone houses, as there was no shortage of desperately poor people who withered away in their agony. However, they were all dear to me – for all of them were graced with the authentic Jewish soul, which united them all and merged them together into one unified body. They bore all the conditions and situations with purity and faith, and they created mutual benefit organizations out of concern for the future.

They were immersed in all aspects of the struggle for existence, but with all this, they bore the yoke of Torah. Complete ignoramuses were rare in the town. Everyone studied until a certain age, and many continued to delve into Torah to an even older age. I will commence my description from the marketplace, and you will forgive me if I begin with my father Reb Daniel of blessed memory. His small store served as a gathering place for tens of Jews who would gather each morning for Torah and to discuss the matters of the day. One could hear lively discussion about what was transpiring in world politics, and later, about issues of life in the city: Zionism, the workers movement, and finally literal words of Torah – a novel idea that my father or someone else discovered in Halacha, and idea that came to the fore in a Talmudic section, on Rashi's commentary on a verse in the Torah, and the like. During the protracted conversation, words of gossip were also not absent (my father was revolted by words of gossip). Finally, the first customers would peer in and be embarrassed to enter because of the guests. My father was often angry in his heart about the guests who at times disturbed him from his livelihood, but he never said anything to them, until they themselves realized that they had to leave the store.

In our neighborhood was ‘Zadnowitz’ store, the store of the intelligentsia, where they often spoke the vernacular. Behind it was the house of Rubin and his children who introduced me to the Hebrew language… Eden's store, a family that was completely devoted to Hebrew culture… Azerovitch's store… and Lisin's flour store. The family was forsaken in its externals, but completely saturated with Torah and knowledge. His son Matot (Matchked) became one of the leaders of the Bolsheviks immediately after the Bolshevik conquest. He did me a favor by taking me under his protection and giving me a job so that I could earn a bit of money for our extended family. Later, he fired me in anger because I spoke to him in Yiddish rather than Russian, and called him by his first name and not Comrade Lisin. There was the house of the extended Meisel family, the Nazovitches, the Mintzes, the Finkelsteins, and the Schreibmans… all of these I remember, precious people of grace…

Behind the synagogue courtyard there were three structures – the old Beis Midrash, the new Beis Midrash, and the splendid synagogue. There I grew up, and there I studied Torah throughout the years. The old Beis Midrash was the house of worship of my father of blessed memory. It was a place of Torah and mitzvos. To the right of the Holy Ark was the seat of Rabbi Yosef Rozen during my time. Along the wall was a row of the city notables, opposite them were rows of lecterns, and tables surrounding the Torah reading table, running as far as the two heating ovens. At one of these tables I studied Talmud with my “friend” Reb Moshe, who was 50 years old (and I was 12!). By the tables near the ovens until the “Lizanka”, groups studied Talmud and Mishna, dedicated themselves to the mysteries of the Talmudic discussion, freed for a brief moment from their worries of livelihood. The melody that accompanied them in their studies still echoes in my ears, just as the similar melody of my father as he studied his page of Gemara in the early hours of the morning still rings in my soul. The small rooms behind the oven were the places where I studied Torah from the mouths of Reb Eliahu Egosevitch and Reb Chaim Shlomo. The women's gallery was the place of the cheder of the Velfer teacher, from whose mouth I obtained knowledge along with my friends who were older then I – Yisrael Azerovitch and Yeshayahu Slutski.

There were the “vigils”. On every Thursday night at midnight we would stop our studies and go Bordosz's bakery to purchase fresh buns and pastries. We would then return to our studies. In the morning, we would play with buttons, and we would often go around with pants tired with a rope, as we had removed the buttons for the game. I also recall the ice cellar next the Beis Midrash. We would wait for the ice porters so that we could grab the chips that scattered outside.

In the winter, we would skate on the frozen slope between the synagogue and the old Beis Midrash! After the skating, we would divide into two groups and have a snowball fight. We would remain there until the fathers came to take us home, and then we would walk with glass lanterns in our hand.

At the side of the old Beis Midrash was the new Beis Midrash, the place where Reb Shmuel Malshinker was the gabbai. I could clearly hear the sounds of prayer from the Beis Midrash in my house. For some reason, we had no relationship with this institution. It seemed as if a secular atmosphere pervaded there, in contrast to the old Beis Midrash. Prayers on Sabbaths and festivals concluded there at an earlier time. In the dispute between the two “sides” there was the majority who cleaved to Yosef Rozen the “city rabbi”, and the minority who opposed him. The people of this Beis Midrash had less attachment to the “city rabbi” than those of the old one. The spirits were stormy in this dispute. Even I, a youth, was caught up in this, even though I did not understand the situation clearly.

In the center was the synagogue in all its glory. Services were only conducted there on Sabbaths. On weekdays, they worshiped in the side rooms called the “shtibelach”. I still remember the decorations of the dome of this building. For years they worked to beautify the synagogue. Expert cantors were invited to beautify the services. A cantor was selected after many examinations by people who understood music. The experts were specifically from the working class of the town: the builder, the butcher, etc. Nevertheless, people did not stream to this sanctuary. A coldness permeated it, and the old timers preferred to worship in the Beis Midrash. Even we children did not enjoy sitting in it. We sufficed ourselves with a brief interval, to listen the cantor for a bit. Services in this synagogue lasted longer than in the other houses of worship, for the cantor would elongate things. Finally, the Beis Midrash on Amstivova Street should be mentioned. It served that street and the “Okopes”, which was sort of a poor neighborhood in the town. For some reason, the fortune of this Beis Midrash was poor, and it did not merit the honor and splendor that was befitting of it on account of its pleasant interior form.

It is worthwhile to note the bathhouse that was behind the synagogue courtyard. We visited this house every Friday and enjoyed the warm, pleasant vapors, the scrubbing of the back with twigs, as we lay on the steps naked as on the day of our birth, absorbing the warm vapors that came from the glowing stones in the oven as buckets of cold water were poured over them. I was happy when I was honored with the pouring of water from the bucket onto the stones.

In the summer we would pass by the bathhouse without paying attention. We walked on to the river. There, there was a section for women and a section for men. People swam without bathing suits, and if the eye peered into the wrong place, the hand would strike the breast with Al Chet[1].

The town was permeated with Zionism and Hebrew culture. Even the elders never ceased from praying on behalf of Zion. They dedicated their deeds to hasten the redemption. There were also members of the Bund who rejected Zionism and advocated for Yiddish, but the decisive majority was committed to Zionism in its different factions. They struggled greatly with the opponents. I recall Mendel Wigonski, an enthusiastic Bundist, organizing the tannery workers and publishing a bulletin. We desired some fun, and we sent “ The Small Angel” of Frishman to their newspaper, signed by one of our members. They printed it with this signature, which mocked their glory, for they were experts in literature.

The various Zionist organizations united into a common organization called “The Center for Zionism”. This center established a Hebrew school. Even the rabbi of the city participated in its establishment. It was located in the old hospital building in the synagogue courtyard. Reb Chaim Shlomo taught Torah and Mishna there, and the writer of this article taught history and math. There were also the teachers Goldberg, Levkovski, and Berlinkovski. A Hebrew library was established in the attic of Reb Shmuel Malshinker. Groups were created for the speaking of Hebrew, and a wide branched pioneering movement sprung up, affiliated with the central pioneering organization of Bialystock and with the center in Warsaw. Keren Kayemet stamps were distributed. It is worthwhile to point out the first and foremost of our teachers and rabbis, the head of the Zionist organization in our town Reb Yosef Katzenelboigen. He and his wife spoke only Hebrew between themselves. We also were careful to speak only Hebrew. The rest of the factions were also active: there were meetings, deliberations, debates, and above all else – a theater troupe. They set up a hall and performed Goldfaden's plays: the Witch, Mirele Efrat, and others. We also performed “The Sale of Joseph”, “Saul and David”.

Thanks to the Zionist activity, many of the townsfolk were saved, for they left the town and made aliya while there was still time. Among those who yearned for Zion were the poor, despite their depressed economic and social situation. Many of them were known by nicknames such as: pepper, chicken, gnome, and telegraph, due to some event or another. Even this stratum of the people was enthusiastic about the efforts for the upcoming redemption. They were the first to send their children to Chalutz and to donate to the Zionist funds. On November 2, at the time of the Balfour Declaration, joy enveloped everyone. The city took on the air of a festival. The Beis Midrashes were teaming with people Blue and white flags decorated every house.

After I left the town, news came to me about the continuation of the activities. Father of blessed memory refused to accede to my request to make aliya, lest he fall as a burden upon the shoulder of his children. He continued to describe to me the life in the town, the innovations that took place there, and the people who had made aliya or prepared to make aliya.

Alas! The fate of Polish Jewry in general was the fate of my townsfolk. The hand of the evil executioners, may their names be blotted out, struck them. The natives of Svisloch will bear in their hearts and souls the memories of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. A father will tell his child about the preciousness and splendor of the holy brethren who fell as Jews upon the altar of their people. May their memories be blessed.

Translator's Footnote

  1. The Yom Kippur confessional. Return

[Pages 56-58]

From My Memories in One Article

by Naphtali Eden

Photo page 56: The Hechalutz Organization

In memory of the soul of my sister Dina and her family who perished in the Holocaust.

Forty–one years ago.

It was an era of ideals that were nurtured from the love of Zion on the one hand, and the progressive movement in Russia on the other hand.

I was the secretary of the Zionist and Hebrew cultural movement in the town. (I still have a list of the 24 members of the Herzliya group that formed the kernel of the Young Zion Organization, Svisloch branch. Beneath the list is the date February 19, 1919, and the seal.)

Our headquarters were in the home of Chaim Epstein. The different groups gathered there: to study Hebrew, to read Hebrew newspapers, the dramatic club, the music club, and others. At the time of an approaching election to the communal council there was also a municipal club. We prepared for defense, out of fear of pogroms due to the preparations of the Germans to empty the town. We received several guns from the Germans. I recall Avraham Ayin of blessed memory appearing with his gun on his shoulder.

Our office was a regional office, for the Germans made decrees on Svisloch as on the entire region, and we were able to provide use of organization and cultural forces for the entire area. Indeed, people from the region turned to us regarding matters of security and culture.

We debated a great deal with the Bundists: Berl David Ayin, Yosef Auerbach, Moshe Lash and others. They too were idealists. Moshe Lash immigrated to Canada and his son Louis is the head of the workers' movement there.

{The funeral of the teacher Chanoch Minsky.}

From among the finest of the veteran Zionist orators, the following should be noted: Reb David Meisel of blessed memory, Reb Aharon Yitzchak Ayin of blessed memory, Reb Gershon Slutski of blessed memory, Reb Avraham Elkanitzki may G–d avenge his blood, Reb Daniel Gershon Halperin of blessed memory, and others. Through the efforts of these people, the Hebrew School was founded. Reb Alter Goldberg, Mordechai Pelman, Reb Chaim Shlomo Shabzin, Chanoch Minsky who died of typhus, my sister Dina may G–d avenge her blood – a graduate of educational courses in Warsaw, and serves as a kindergarten teacher and teacher of the younger grades – and, may they live, Yaakov Halperin and the writer of these lines all served as the first teachers at this school.

Children of the towns and villages of the region streamed to the school. This increased our influence on the entire region. All of this wide branched work was performed voluntarily, and in the light of our era, it seems as if this was a dream.

The following is a list of the members of the Herzliya Group:

Moshe Bratnovski, Shmuel Meisel, Shimon Vatnik, Moshe Rubin, Pinchas Meltz, Naftali Eden, Yeshayahu Slutski, Moshe Satur, Yisrael Azerovitch, Feivel Zaionce, Zeidel Fuchs, Nachman Aleksandrowski, Perl Mintz, Sara Walski, Mordechai Halperin, Yehoshua Muchnik, Tzipora Epstein, Efraim Zadnovitch, Leib Lew, Leib Stopaczewski, Eliezer Shevelevitch, Doba Rubin, Pnina Zadnovitz, Kalman Slapak.

[Pages 59-62]

Sislevitch Enlighteners

by Elijah Ein, Montreal

It says in the Book of Ethics (Talmud) “If there is no bread there is no Torah”. When one makes a living and on top of it also has peace, then there is Torah, and of course, knowledge.

Sislevitch, Grodno Gubrnia, has in the first decade of this century (20th), enjoyed an economic boom from the income generated by the leather industry. This called out a jealousy from the neighboring towns, who called them (Sislevitchers) “Little Warsaw”.

Because characteristically it is the same in other towns and cities, I believe that the Sislevitch Enlighteners deserve to be written about. Chananya Ourbach, skinny and very agile, was just the opposite of the slowpoke Leibee Matles. Leibee Matles humbly knew very much geography, geometry and other sciences, and without using the maps at hand followed every move of the Russian–Japanese War of 1904–05. They used to always argue and discuss everything that went on there. They felt there was no danger that their arguments would be reported by an informer to the authorities.

When the most important fortress at Port Arthur fell, the Russian Czar, a little person, and a big monster, didn't get to put this news in his daybook (diary). On the other hand in his daybooks he put what he had for dinner and what luck he had hunting. But not so relaxed were our two strategists. When news came to Chananya in the middle of the night, he went straight away, pounded on the window and cried out to Leibee, “Port Arthur fell”! I doubt they could continue to sleep that night.

Just as Leibee Matles didn't have any use for his knowledge, a lot of the educated Enlighteners had a lot of science knowledge but did not practice it. Prominent was the family of Berensteins. The father, Meyer, was very knowledgeable in science and literature, as well as in Yiddish and secular. For every occasion, in studies and meetings, he used the right and most interesting words. Once he explained the spirit of Joshua, the prophet: “There will come a time when all the jails will turn to schools, and penitentiaries into middle schools.”

The second from the youngest son, Myshka (Mosha), used to play chess all the time. From time to time they would arrange contests and Myshka played 10 sets of chess against 10 contenders. At that time, when everyone had to bring their own chess board, Myshka would sit in another room. We, who used to help him, would come and report (to him) that certain contenders had made certain moves from one square to another.

He would then have us tell them (the contenders) what move he would make. Seldom did he lose a game.

Once, when they were young boys, Myshka and his present brother–in–law, Haskell Arleen from Montreal, got together to learn a page of the Talmud. Suddenly Myshka said, “I envy you”.

Haskell asked, “How can it be? You know a lot more of the Talmud than I do.”

[Page 60]

Myshka answered him. ”It's true I know more than you–but you know more the depth of it than I do”.

Haskell is still thinking to this day that this was the best compliment he ever received.

Yoshe Dretcheeiner, the merchant of textiles, was Berenstein's father–in–law. He was the only merchant (in the market) who would never use an oath when dealing with customers. (Some sellers might say something like, “I swear on my children's life that this is the best cloth in the world,” and this is the way they advertised and drew customers.) Everybody believed him (Dretcheeiner) on his word. The way he did business was by purchasing a piece of material and charging his cost for a suit plus a 10% profit.

When another dealer used to use an oath (“on my honor”) people used to answer him, “Just like the Shalom Aleichems' heroes. I believe you without the oath.”

A researcher, a mystic and a self–made philosopher was Shimon the Beerer. He studied a few books but was in constant contact with the intelligencia. Meyer Berenstein also made a big impression on him.

When they discussed religion with the Polish priest they used to change the subject as soon as the priest's niece came in. Because this is the way they did it in Poland. They kept his niece to run the house.

Talking once with the Russian Greek Orthodox priest he asked, If you would be a Jew, what would be your opinion about being a Jew with the knowledge you have now?” The priest answered, “I would be hanging to Judaism with all my strength”.

We should not forget that the Greek Orthodox religion at that time was not much better than Paganism: full of libels against Jews. Its real boss was not the Archimandrite or a Metropolis (Church Official) but an officer appointed by the Czar and not a religious person. The Prosecutor from the Holy Synod was called Pobedonostsev, a terrible creature in Russia, and was appointed by the Czar. The name meant “The Carrier of Victory”, but we used to call him, Bedonostsev, “The Carrier of Misfortune.”

As I can see it, the only ones who benefited from the Greek Orthodox religion at the time were the idiots. Just like the Moslem religion. Spiritual people are supposed to be possessed with the Holy Ghost. That's the way the masses of the Greek Orthodox believed. The idiots are supposedly possessed by the third person of the Holy Trinity, the triple of godliness, the Holy Ghost. That's why the Russians were good to the idiots.

Rachmiel the Teacher, a skinny one, with an intelligent friendly look, was a teacher with a logical mind. They used to call him often for arbitration between the lumber dealers.

Esther Rachael's Motke was a stutterer. He used to go for months proof reading, editing, and preparing the books for press, which, somewhere, a Rabbi had written.

[Page 61]

In great poverty, in a dark attic in the town hall, west from the famous big market, there lived Israel Zaam. Very close by the little panes of the window, with a yarmulke on his head. He was always sitting, very deep into reading science books and especially astronomy. When he was young, he shared his eagerness for science with Chaim Zalek Slominsky who later became an astronomer and publisher of the Hebrew Newspaper “Hatzfeyrah.”

They used to tell stories that the Russian Government had announced it would give a big prize to one who would invent something which would measure the alcohol content in drinks. Israel Zaam sent in his invention, which he invented. And it was for the same invention which won the prize money, but his came in a day late.

One boy, a diplomat, but not educated in diplomacy was Kopl Rubenstein from Amstibover Street. Abraham Ein from New York was the father–in–law of his (Kopl's) cousin, Avramtcha Mosha Nissen. Ein, since the Second World War, had been tireless and accomplished so much in finding helpless refugees from Sislevitch's surrounding areas and connected them to their relatives in America.

Kopl: He was a tall, very nicely built man, with long vertical lines on his beautiful face, surrounded with cut red hair and a pointed little French beard on his chin. He always carried with him the look of an easy going, understanding and in a good mood person.

The name Rubenstein, like any other surname, we heard very often. We used to call him “Kopl the Redhead”. He mostly used to negotiate with the clerks of the Russian Government. He was cold blooded, smart and experienced. He understood well where and how much to give for a bribe. He talked Russian not only fluently, but also a literate Russian. Once, when he needed to seal a contract to build a school, he started to look in all his pockets and said without his glasses he is an invalid. He signed it. At the end the clerk looked at the signature and said, “It looks like sticks and spades,” then he looked at Kopl, then again at the signature, and in excitement he said, “I thought you were a highly educated person.”

So Kopl answered, “First, without my glasses, I do not see how to write and second, my father was always a poor man and he was not able to provide me with an education.”

In Sislevitch, a Polack doctor (M.D.) practiced since he graduated. His name was Linde: he was loved by the Jews and so assimilated with them he talked a perfect Yiddish, even with all the Hebrew words used in Yiddish. When he used to tell a sick Jew that he cannot fast on Yom Kippur, he used to tell him, “Just take small bites and small sips of the soup.” Linde knew this was the Jewish Law. During Linde's funeral Kopl stopped the whole procession in the market and made a eulogy for him in Polish. Kopl knew the power of his language and he loved to see what else he could do with it.

[Page 62]

One time to the grain dealer, Yosha Tsivia, came a friendly Pole farmer with his old mother and brought him (Yosha) an arbitration case to handle. And it was about food. And Yosha called his neighbor and it was Kopl.

Kopl started to interview the mother and son in Polish, a rotten dialect of the Russian language: so wide ranging and so detailed (were the questions) that they both started to cry. At the end they both were crying. They hugged each other and cried harder and stopped arguing.

Kopl had a contract to supply horses to deliver the post (mail) to other towns and villages. One summer day, early in the morning, his son heard a noise in the direction of the horse barn. He jumped off the bed and ran outside. He had time to see 2 people run away on the post horses. Barefooted, he started to run after and followed them, over the little streets and gutters, and past the tanneries. Between the thieves you could find Jews––––but horse thieves are only Poles. Back he came riding one horse and leading the other horse by hand.

[Pages 65-67]

Communal Life in Svisloch
in our Generation

by David Zilberblatt

Svisloch was a small, quiet town until the final years of the 19th century. Its Jewish residents supported themselves primarily from business and crafts, such as shoemaking, tailoring, carpentry, etc. The sons did not learn a profession, for this was considered as a lessening of their honor. They were supported by their parents, were somewhat part of the intelligentsia, went about idle, and spent their times on wantonness.

When the industry of the town began to develop, a new wind blew through the town. The sons of the householders began to study tanning.

In the wake of the decrees against the Jews and their expulsion from the villages, those expelled moved to the towns. They also joined the group of shopkeepers since they had no professions; however the industry that came to the town helped them from their straits. At first, gentiles from the surrounding villages were engaged in the working of hides. This improved the business situation, for there was more trade. However, with the passage of time, there was also a change with respect to the Jews. They began to realize that even though the economic situation had improved, there would be no permanence in this improvement if the industry remained in the hands of the Christians, and the livelihood of the Jews would be supported by naught. Therefore, people of the town began to stream to various types of industry. In the year 1900, with the additional development of industry, tradesmen from other places came to our town. There were for the most part influenced by the Bund[1], which was popular among the Jews.

The Bund had great influence on the circles of workers due to their battle for the improvement of the conditions of the workers. The ideology of the Bund also penetrated into the circles of workers. Our youth, who were educated in the nationalistic spirit, did not make peace with the ideology of the Bund. Their exclusive offer of protecting the conditions of the workers was also not particularly attractive. A united national feeling increased in light of the anti–Semitic feelings of the Russians and Poles. We realized that first of all, we must penetrate into all branches of the tanning industry. After a short time, we achieved an important place, and we tried to bring members of the Socialist Zionists and Poale Zion to the workplaces. Our influence grew among the workers thanks to the fact that the owner of the Mintz factory married off his daughters to two enthusiastic Zionists: Binyamin Minkes and Efraim Zadnowicz, who assisted him in his work.

We began to conduct political activity in the spirit of Poale Zion and Socialist Zionism. I recall one incident when we invited Chodikow to our town. He spoke wonderfully. The whole town was astir after his Zionistic speech. The Bund asked for a public debate and we agreed. The public assembly took place at the residence of Reb David Meizel. Aside from Chodikow, the veteran Zionist Yosef Katzenelboigen, David Meizel and other influential young people participated. They invited influential people from outside, over and above the local people. These included Moshe Bernstein, the grandson of Reb Yosef Drazner. As a result of the debate, our organization strengthened, and we started to conduct widespread activity on behalf of the Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod. It is important to point out that the Aguda[2] also opposed us and disturbed our efforts. To our good fortune, the rabbi of the city was at the time Rabbi Moszkinski, who was the son–in–law of Rabbi Pines of Bialystock – a veteran Zionist who supported us. I began to work in the tanning factory in 1902. I began to study the trade of cutting. I began to earn an income, and I left my parents' home. I rented a dwelling along with the teacher Serlin who was also a member of Poale Zion, and I dedicated myself to work with the movement. Most of the meetings took place in our room in an illegal fashion. We printed propaganda flyers. I would travel to Bialystock on occasion to bring publicity material. I was successful, and I never once failed.

Photo page 66: The committee of the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund).

Public life in the town developed well. A Hebrew school was founded, with the curriculum of the primary schools. We brought in teachers from outside. They had an understanding of Zionism and conducted a wide range of activity. They assisted in the education of the younger generation, who were instilled with the spirit of nationalism and Zionism.

Later, two important forces joined us. These were Avraham Eiliknicki, who was a fine organizer and good speaker, and Dr. Meizel who was also one of the important Zionist activists. Similarly, Binyamin Minkes and Efraim Zadnowicz were also very dedicated to the movement. Thanks to them, we penetrated all strata of the community, and had all of the movements joint us in action: including Poale Zion, the general Zionists and Mizrachi. Of course, the ideological deliberations and debates did not let up. However, the main task – canvassing the community for the Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod, was conducted in a joint fashion.

At first it was customary to enlist the help of the schoolchildren for canvassing, but I insisted that the adults should also help in the effort. This was for the best, both from a Zionistic educational perspective and also from a financial perspective.

We also helped to our fullest extent the advisors and speakers who came from outside. We developed a widespread activity, and did not pass up on any opportunity. We arranged an activity for the benefit of the Land of Israel at every holiday and festive occasion.

With the passage of time, an understanding of Zionism penetrated to most of the strata of the community, primarily to the young generation who had already been educated on the knees of Zionism.

The activities of Hechalutz began to move toward actualization and aliya to the Land. Several families made aliya. In 1926, my son Reuven, who was a member of Hechalutz, made aliya.

Pioneers for Hachsharah[3] began to arrive in Sviloch. We received them pleasantly, and attempted to set them up with work in the factories, primarily in tanning and in the sawmill of Kalman Slapak. At the time, I was the foreman in the tanning factory of Bendet Meizel and his sons. I accepted several male and female pioneers (Chalutzim) to work. The Bund looked upon our activities with a bad eye, and hatched some plans to foil us. They demanded the owners to fire the Chalutzim and hire others in their stead. The owners, who were Zionists, were undecided, however I stood my own. The Bund then declared a strike, and the owners came to me with the complaint that this bad situation was my fault. However, I offered them the choice – them or me. The workers returned to work after three days, and the matter ended with the opinion of the community on our side.

In praise of our town we should point out that in general, the townsfolk were good people, imbued with a sense of responsibility. They participated in all charitable institutions: Bikur Cholim, Gemilat Chesed, Linat Tzedek[4], and others.

In 1934, when the anti–Semitic spirit began to blow through Poland and reached our city as well, I understood that I had no place in Poland, and I began to prepare for my aliya to the Land of Israel. I made aliya. To my great anguish, my friends remained there, and the evil hand, may its name be blotted out forever, annihilated them. Their memory will not depart from us.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. A secular, non-Zionist, left wing Jewish movement. Return
  2. A non-Zionist orthodox movement. Return
  3. Hachsharah is a term for preparations for making aliya. Return
  4. Bikur Cholim is visiting the sick, Gemilat Chesed in the granting of charitable loans, Linat Tzedek is the provision of shelter for wayfarers. Return

[Page 68]

The Beginning of the Young Zion
(Tzeirei Tzion) Party in Svisloch

by Yitzchak Dov Egosewicz

I remember when I was still a young child. At the beginning of the 20th century, there a recognizable Zionist movement existed in Svisloch, that stood out in nationalistic education, Hebrew culture (with the modern Cheder), a Hebrew library, and donations and canvassing for the Keren Kayemet Leyisrael through plates on the eve of Yom Kippur in the synagogue. The prominent activists were Reb Yosef Katzenelboigen, Reb Moshe Tzvi Watnik (the Siberian), and Aharon Yitzchak Ayin. The Hebrew teachers were Shlomo Belkin and Yechezkel the son–in–law of Akiva Einbinder. From among the young activists, I remember Avraham Eiliknicki, Minkes, the teacher Alter Goldberg, and others. All of these were for the elderly or young adults. On the other hand, I do not remember strong Zionist activity among the youth. The situation became extinguished at the beginning of the First World War and the German occupation. Only toward the end of the war, particularly after the Balfour Declaration, did the movement awaken amongst the youth. At that time, a Zionist club opened in the home of Chaim Epstein. Lectures on literature and personalities of the movement took place every evening. We conducted debates. The following were among the activists of the youth: Chaim and Shimon Watnik, Eizerowicz, and Reuven Egosewicz. The primary aim was Hachsharah and preparations for aliya to the Land. This continued until the 1920s, particularly 1921. During those years, with the first disturbances in the land and the closing of aliya, the movement dwindled recognizably among the youth. Some of the activists left Svisloch, and the rest struggled fiercely with the Bundists and Communists, who raised their heads at that time with the successes of the Bolsheviks in establishing their rule. A strange situation was created: even though in truth most of the Zionist members were from among the families of the householders, tradesman, small scale shopkeepers and workers – all from the non–wealthy classes – the Zionists identified with the bourgeoisie at all opportunities, such as in the elections for the Polish Sejm. This was because the factory owners were the leaders of the Zionists, whereas the Bund was considered the sole representative of the workers and poorer strata of the population. Therefore, we saw the need to found a left wing Zionist organization that would be able to measure up the Bundists.

This took place around 1922. A small number of people gathered together, including Naftali Eden, Shmuel Watnik, Knacipolski, Krabcki, and the writers of these lines. After deliberating for a short time, we decided to found a Socialist Zionist party. We immediately established contact with the center in Warsaw, received directives from there, and acted in accordance with the directives. We would meet several times a week, and study the literature and problems of the Land of Israel. Aside from the aforementioned objectives, the main objective was aliya to the Land. As time went on, more members joined us. In our wake, the Berezanicki brothers went out and founded Hechalutz. Together, this encompassed several dozen members, perhaps most of the youth of Svisloch. After I had made aliya, I heard that members came from outside the city to prepare themselves for aliya in Svisloch.

Most of the aforementioned people were murdered by the Nazis, may their names be blotted out.

[Pages 69-70]

The History of Zionism in our Town

by Feivel Zaonce z”l

The Zionist movement was not organized in our town until the First World War. We made mention of the Land of Israel in our prayers, and there were charity boxes for Rabbi Meir Baal Haness and the Ground of the Land of Israel in the home of my teacher Rabbi Chaim Shlomo. He had a small bag of earth in his snuffbox. He would stroke his brown beard with his hand and say: “This is holy earth, which awakens the feelings of the holiness of the Land in our imagination.”

From a cultural perspective, there were two groups – the Hebraists and the Yiddishists. Each of their activities was limited to the maintenance of a library of about 200 books. The groups were not adversarial to each other. Each group attempted to educate their children in accordance with their spirit; however, in general, most of them received their education from the cheders. There were no schools, and when Y. Finkelstein attempted to set up a modern cheder, he did not succeed.

However, this elder Zionist did not merit to make aliya to the Land and to witness the birth of the State.

[Pages 71-73]

“Before the Candle of G–d is Extinguished”

by Naphtali Eden

Photo page 72: Aid for Orphans.


Houses of Prayer

These were the focal point for the religious and national life of the Jews, and therefore, they and their contents were guarded as an especially valuable possession. If the Beis Midrash excelled in its inside form, with its rich religious library and quality of its students, the synagogue was a symbol of the Temple, and therefore an attempt was made to bring its external splendor into its walls. Thus was the synagogue in our town.

The synagogue was burnt along with a large portion of the town in 1910. Reb Yosef Katzenelboigen was very active in its rebuilding. He went abroad for this purpose to collect money from the natives of our town, which would be used to build it up and beautify it. By chance, a professional artist passed through our town, and remained there on account of the First World War. A contract was signed with him to beautify the inside of the synagogue. The artists requested biblical pictures for his work, and I gave him various pictures, including Rachel's Tomb, “and it shall be at the end of days”, etc. These pictures were drawn by him in oil paint on the walls. The dome was colored in the form of the sky, strewn with stars. He also drew various decorations on the Holy Ark.

The synagogue was beautiful and attractive to the eye. I did not see any like it in beauty among other synagogues that were larger than it. I enjoyed worshipping there with my father of blessed memory who sat at the east side. Reb Yehuda Szpak, may he live, sat across from him.


The Episode of Might

Despite the gray life of the Jews, various deeds of bravery took place as needed. I will tell about one of these here. Sometime in 1918, the Germans had to retreat from the conquered areas in accordance with the cease–fire agreement. Then, they wished to remove the grain from the Praboslavic Church on Rodowka Street, which the Germans had turned into a grain storehouse during the war. We found the need to oppose the removal of the grain, which we needed for our hunger. One day earlier, the members of the Bundist club came to the Zionist club that was then located in the second floor of the home of Chaim Epstein, and asked us to join together in opposing the removal of the grain and its transport to Germany, which was hungry for grain. We agreed.

The next morning, the stores, workshops and factories were closed. We gathered in the marketplace in crowds. When the German wagons laden with grain attempted to cross the marketplace on their way to Grodno Street, which led to the road to Bialystock, masses of Jews stormed the wagons. The horses were startled, and the wagons were overturned. A great tumult broke out. In any case, the German regional governor, who was supervising the removal of the grain, began to shoot. Matityahu Leisin was injured in his hand. However, this did not stop the opposition, until the captain called the German Army that was encamped in the seminary. They came with full arms and declared a state of emergency. Only then did the crowds disperse to their homes, and the Germans succeeded in their objective

[Pages 74-77]

The Synagogue Courtyard (Shul Hauf)

by Tzvi Finkelstein, Nachalat Yitzchak

“The Synagogue Street” – this was its name from Russian times, until the Poles came and changed its name to “Berek Joselowicz Street”. The Russians came once again and changed its name to “Gorki Street”. We did not have time to become accustomed to the new name until the Germans came and destroyed it completely. However, the “Synagogue Courtyard” still lives in my memory, as it was etched in my brain from my childhood, and as I left it at the beginning of the 1930s. I will erect some monuments in its memory and in memory of its residents.

I will commence with the house of Kalman Epstein at the entrance to the street. He was Kalman the rope–maker. His was a stone house with a cellar below. This cellar served all of us, his neighbors, as a shelter during the time of war. In those days, the front passed through the town. The women and children slept in the cellar and the men slept in the house upstairs. The property of the Bikur Cholim society, which was lent out to anyone in need in return for a specified surety, was also found upstairs in those days.

If you went out from the house of Kalman Epstein and went to the house of Tzipa Kaplan and her sons Archik and Avrahamel, you would already be in the courtyard of the synagogue itself. As it continued on, there was the Beis Midrash, and on its left the New Beis Midrash. The Old Beis Midrash had smoke stains on it that testified to the fact that it survived the great fire that had broken out in our town before the war. The rabbi worshipped there, and prayers were conducted on all the days of the week – unlike in the other two, where prayers were only conducted on Sabbaths and Festivals – with the exception of the “Shuln Shtibel” at the entrance of the synagogue. Gemara was studied in the Old Beis Midrash in the evenings, and Ein Yaakov and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch[1] were studied in the Shuln Shtibel.

The synagogue itself was filled with drawings. Its roof was domed, and the dome was decorated with illustrations with captions below, such as: light as a deer, brave as a lion, strong as a leopard, etc.[2] On the walls the illustrations included: a vision of the end of days, you who are burnt by fire ask about the welfare of your mourners[3], the musical instruments of the Temple, verses from the Bible and Talmud, etc. The colors were alive and bright. Legends circulated about the wonderful artist who drew all of this, and also engraved the doors of the Holy Ark with his own hands. Some people said that his own image was hidden in one of the pictures, and others said that in the dark, one could see the flames of the burning of Jerusalem as live flames. The entire community was proud of its beautiful synagogue, which was unique in the area. A cantor and a choir led services in the synagogue. On the High Holy Days, many came to hear the singing, and the crowding was great.

The new synagogue was founded and established through the efforts of Reb Shmuel Mechnik. After the death of Reb Shmuel, the gabbai (trustee) was his son–in–law Avraham Eliknicki, who was a very active Zionist activist, and one of the important men of the city. The first tribulations were taken out on this Beis Midrash. The Soviets turned it into a movie theater. It is also the only one that was not destroyed – oy, woe! All of its worshippers are no longer alive. Near the synagogue was a large wooden house in which Reb Aharon the shochet (ritual slaughterer) Leibel the carpenter, the orphans Rudy and Paltiel Lipszitz – that is Paltiel the engraver – lived next to each other. Paltiel was a wood engraver, who produced fine works. He and his son Avrahamel created all sorts of utensils and toys as souvenirs. His wife would distribute these products to rest houses far afield.

Photo page 75: The synagogue.

Next to Paltiel's house, adjacent to the New Beis Midrash, lived the widow Minia Belkin and her daughter. There was also a small grocery store in her house, the only store in the Synagogue Courtyard. Minia had another son who studied in yeshiva and came home only on occasions. (He is Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin, the head of Yeshiva University of New York[4].)

Izak Bordosz lived on the other side of the New Beis Midrash. He was Izak the pretzel baker. Every afternoon, Izak went around to all the houses of the town with a basket of fresh pretzels. Until today, there is no Svisloch native who does not remember the taste of Izak's tasty pretzels.

Behind the Old Beis Midrash was the communal ice cellar, where ice was stored throughout the entire summer season, particularly for medicinal purposes. A large vegetable garden stood next to it. This was the garden of Binyamin Rabinowicz, who was Niomesheine Lahs[5]. He was the only person in the town whose entire livelihood was derived solely from the growing and sale of vegetables. His neighbor was the veteran Zionist in town, Yosef Katzenelboigen and his wife Vella. They were both people of culture, and they spoke Hebrew to each other. Some said that they also spoke German. Continuing along the Synagogue Road, immediately after the Old Beis Midrash, there stood a fine wooden house, which was the house of the rabbi. Rabbi Rozen of blessed memory lived there until he immigrated to America. Rabbi Eidelberg of blessed memory lived there until he move to Makow and Plock, and Rabbi Moszkinski, may G–d avenge his blood, lived there until the Holocaust.

The last two teachers lived next to each other, next to the house of the rabbi. There was the teacher of children who was called Der Klein Rebbele[6] on account of his short height. The second one was Chaim Shlomo Szabzyn. The cheders closed down when the Hebrew School developed, but Chaim Shlomo continued teaching Torah in the school. He educated more than two generations of students, and he called each of his students with a unique nickname. Many of these nicknames stuck with his students throughout their lives. He would say to us, “Dr. Meizel was also my student, and in truth, he was not one of my better students.”

Moshe Reznik lived behind the house of the rabbi. He was a simple Jew with a noble spirit. He played the violin, and also gave lessons to young people. He was the only person whom I recall playing at weddings. However, more than he knew how to play himself, he was known as someone who understood music. His advice was solicited when it came time to select a cantor. It was sufficient to look at the face of Moshke to know whether or not the cantor was succeeding.

The building of the Hebrew School stood at the edge of the road. This building formerly served as a hospital; however later a wing was added, and it was renovated, furnished, and turned into a school. Various teachers from the town and from outside taught there for some terms. One constant teacher from the beginning of the school until the end was my respected teacher Alter Goldberg. He was a modest and proper man. He attempted with all of his energy to impart to us, his students, and the values of Judaism in general and Zionism in particular. Hebrew was spoken in his home. This was the mother tongue of his children Emanuel and Hadassah. His wife Malka was an educator in the Herzliya Gymnasium prior to the world war. Behind the school was a large field. At its edge, behind a small residential house, was the slaughterhouse of the town. All of this belonged to Moshe Begun, who was also a builder and monument maker. One day Moshe Begun arose, left all of his large estate and many businesses, and made aliya to the Land of Israel as the head of his entire family.

To the left of the school was a lane that led to the fields and the river. To the right of the lane was the estate of the wealthy man of the town, Alter Mintz. There was a large courtyard that included the tanning factory and residential homes of Alter Mintz and his two sons–in–law, Minkes and Zadnowicz. Parallel to this lane was a narrow lane that led to the bathhouse. Motke the bath attendant lived on this lane. All of the wagons of the beggars who passed through the town would park in his yard. From there, the beggars spread throughout the town to collect donations. They rested there until they left for the next town.

I will describe a few other homes. Next to the synagogue, to the east of it, stood three houses. On one wide was the home of Yosef Slapak. This house was at one time the office of the communal council. On the other side was the house of Riva the fruit seller. In the middle was the home of my father, Reb David Finkelstein of blessed memory.

From the window of our house that overlooked the Street of the Synagogue, I could look at out at all of the dear Jews of our town, as they went to worship. They filled the entire Shul Hauf on Sabbaths and festivals. Children ran to school. The butchers ran to the slaughterhouse. Women carried foul to the slaughterers. Some went to the Beis Midrash, and others to the home of the rabbi. Some went to the bathhouse and others to the rivers. Was indeed all of this cut off, and is now no more?

Tzvi Finkelstein, Nachalat Yitzchak, June 8, 1959

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Ein Yaakov is a compendium of the Aggada (story or legend type) material of the Talmud. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is a compendium of practical Jewish Law. Return
  2. Similes used in Jewish law to describe how man's actions should be with respect to the service of G–d. Return
  3. A depiction of the destroyed Jerusalem, as taken from the Tisha BeAv dirges. Return
  4. See http://www.ou.org/about/judaism/rabbis/belkin.htm for a brief biography of Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin. Return
  5. I am not sure of the meaning of this term. Return
  6. The Small Rebbe. Return

[Pages 78-79]

My Grandfather Reb David Meizel
of blessed memory

by Shimon Finkelstein

Photo page 78: Uncaptioned. Probably the Meizel family

His image is etched in my imagination as he is hunched over the Gemara next to the eastern wall of the New Beis Midrash. Despite the fact that he took part in conducting his business, his main occupation was in Torah.

He was known as an expert in Talmud and Jewish legal decisions, and as a sharp scholar in the town. People would come to him to adjudicate legal questions despite the fact that he did not serve on a rabbinical seat. He was an exceptional person in the extended family of Reb Shimon Meizel of blessed memory, and honored, powerful person in the town. He was the only one who dedicated himself to Torah. He studied with the son of the Chofetz Chaim[1]. His mouth did not desist from study throughout all his days. He did not only engage in study, but also Torah research. We still have a manuscript of his whose purpose was to answer questions about Rashi through fixing the errors in the text of Rashi. He was greatly honored in the town. They waited him for the repetition of the Shmone Esrei[2], for Kol Nidre and the shofar blowing[3].

He loved Zion, and enjoyed Hebrew books and newspapers. He was one of the founders of the modern Cheder, and set aside a place for it in his house. He was assisted in this by his daughter Rivka, may she live long, who now lives in Israel.

Already in 1914, he purchased a plot of land in Israel, in the village of Melel. It is still is in the possession of the family to this day, and is tended to by one of sons Shmuel Meizel, and the daughter of his old age.

Photos page 79: Reb David Meizel, Basha Meizel.

Grandfather educated his children in the spirit of the love of Land of Israel and the Hebrew language. Most of them obtained Hebrew and secular knowledge. He directed all of them in the direction of aliya – and he succeeded. His daughter Rivka made aliya in 1908. She occupied herself in teaching. Later, after her sister Chaya made aliya in 1912, who studied in the Herzliya Gymnasium and completed her studies in France, they together opened a Montessori kindergarten in Haifa. His son Chaim, who excelled in his talents and was an alumnus of the Reines Yeshiva in Lida, made aliya in 1912. He completed his studies in the Turkish army. After the end of the war, he completed his engineering degree in France. He now lives in Montreal, Canada, and woks on behalf of the Hebrew language and culture.

The third daughter Ahuva also completed her studies in the Herzliya Gymnasium. She studied medicine, and now works as a doctor in Itlit.

Grandfather made aliya in 1932. Masses of people took leave of him in the New Beis Midrash. He settled in Petach Tivka. He set a place for himself in the central Beis Midrash, and dedicated all of his time to the study of Torah. People were very content with him, and they related to him with love and reverence. He continued writing his major work there.

I will dedicate a few lines to Grandmother Batya of blessed memory. She enabled Grandfather to conduct his Torah studies and his communal work. Despite the large family of twelve children, she found time to assist Grandfather in conducting his business. She was a daughter of the fine Wolf family, who found their final resting-place on the Mount of Olives already in the 18th century.

Grandmother was very much involved in charitable works. She loved assisting her fellow with words and deeds. She died at the old age of 85 years old, and was buried near Grandfather in Petach Tivka

Written by his grandson Shimon Finkelstein.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. One of the leading rabbis of the time, who died in 1933 in his 90s. Return
  2. The Shmone Esrei is the main component of the daily prayer services. It is recited silently at first, and then repeated out loud by the prayer leader (except for the evening service, where it is not repeated). It is customary to wait for the rabbi to conclude his silent recitation before the repetition is begun. Return
  3. I am not sure what the reference to Kol Nidre is here – other than perhaps he might have been honored by holding one of the Torah scrolls during the service (Kol Nidre is the opening prayer of Yom Kippur). The shofar blowing here most probably refers to the shofar blowing that was conducted in the middle of the silent Shmone Esrei. Once again, it would be customary to wait for the rabbi before these shofar blasts are sounded. Return

[Page 80]

Shmuel Goldberg of blessed memory

by Tz. F-N

He was a native of Krynki. He was a brother to the teacher Alter Godlberg and Chaicha the wife of Reb Efraim Berezanicki. He married a woman from Svisloch, and lived there for a period before he made aliya.

He had an alert and enthusiastic personality. During his youth, he took part in the revolutionary movement against the Czarist government in Russia. He made efforts to escape abroad. He spent time in several countries in Europe and America. He then returned to Russia, and served in the Russian army until the First World War. He was on the front, and was taken captive by the Germans. When the major Russian Revolution began, and when he saw that the Jew was the scapegoat in all of the tribulations, he gave up on the revolution and turned into an enthusiastic Zionist. He remained faithful until his last day.

He made aliya to the Land of Israel along with a group of shareholders of “Minzar”, whose plan was to establish a collective factory for textiles in Jada, and to earn their livelihood from the work in the factory and an auxiliary farm.

The enterprise failed due to the difficult conditions and lack of water. The settlers dispersed. Shmuel and his family moved to live in Tel Aviv. He opened up a store on Ahad Haam Street, near the Herzliya Gymnasium. This became a meeting place for all of the natives of our town. The first news of the extermination reached him, and we conducted the first memorial for the martyrs of our town in his home.

His heart was open to everyone. His sense of humor, sharp adages, and thrilling stories filled with adventure, his intelligence and power of speech – all of these joined together and charmed the hearts of all who heard him. He was excited about every small matter that was added to the Jewish community of the Land. This enthusiasm took hold of his family as well, who were also dedicated to the Jewish community of the Land. When the members of the Jewish community were called upon to join the British army in its war against Hitler may his name be blotted out, all three of his daughters enlisted. His only son, who helped him in his business, worked day and night in the Hagana.

He merited in witnessing the founding of the state. However, he suddenly died of a heart attack during its first year. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.

Tel Aviv, May 1, 1960


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