Everything I've done to bring this book into existence I've done for my father, Professor Jack Otis. My grandfather, Abraham Osipowitz, came here from Antopol, and my grandmother, Esther Goldberg Osipowitz, came from a nearby region. They came here as immigrants, speaking little English, and raised my father to be a success in America. He became dean of the school of social work at the University of Texas, fought hard for the rights of people suffering from poverty and injustice, and accomplished more than they could have ever hoped for.
My grandfather died before I was born, and my grandmother died when I was five years old. I can't say that I really knew them well or understood anything of my family's past until my mid-20s, when I began incessantly asking my father questions about where we came from.
Part of becoming a successful American meant forgetting the past. He couldn't answer my questions, and out of his love for me, took me to Israel, to meet my grandmother's sister and the family members who had never known America. They welcomed us with a warmth that eased the distance, the lingering questions, and the stories untold.
Finding this book happened during our trip to Israel. We met a first cousin, Chaim Ossip, who had actively participated in the creation of the Yizkor Memorial Book, published in 1972 by the Antopol Committee in Israel. We took a copy of the book back to the United States, sensing somehow that we had discovered a key to understanding our past, and consequently, our present.
My father arranged for the translation of the Hebrew and Yiddish sections, by a modest, dedicated Yiddish scholar at the University of Texas by the name of Nathan Snyder. He spent over five years working on the translation, sending us typewritten pieces of the past, two or three pages at a time.
Due to prejudice and social pressure in the 1940s, even in the land of the free, my father felt compelled to change his last name to Otis. My fervent desire to embrace our heritage forced me to change my name back to my grandmother's maiden name of Goldberg.
Although our names have changed and somewhere along the way our identity became indistinguishable from other Americans, our hearts are forever linked to the Jewish people scattered around the globe and especially to the individuals who closely hold the fragments of our forgotten past.
This Memorial book was written in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew by gathering the stories of numerous individuals originally from Antopol, now residing in Israel, Canada, and the United States. It offers a glimpse into the lives of the Jews of Antopol. May the strength of their stories encourage us to speak the truth and stand up for what is right, regardless of the consequences.
With a heavy heart and spirit, full with sorrow, I am writing in memory of our beloved Jewish community, which was annihilated, in our town Antopol, where I was born and where I spent my youth the spring of my life. Ben I left our town Antopol in the year 1921 in order to immigrate to Israel, I parted from all my dear and beloved and from a town in which dear and fine Jews were living, satisfied with their fate, productive artisans, decently educated in Jewish tradition and spirit, a town which was renowned by its Rabbis and scholars and by the very old and nice synagogue and numerous Batei-Mdrashim. Also the hard-working Jews used to spend there every day, early in the morning as well as till late in the evening in learning Torah and in doing charity and aid to those in need, thus symbolizing the splendor of human nature which was found throughout all generations in Antopol for over 500 years.
Much to our regret and sorrow, the bitter and cruel destiny cut off the life of the whole dear Jewish community, and all our good and bright hopes entertained by us and by them for the future, disappeared with their souls into the high heavens in Sanctification of the Holy Name, and their blood was shed by the Nazi and Polish murderers and their heirs, may their name be blotted out, Amen!
We the Antopol landsleit, the bereaved orphans, who left Antopol more than 50 years ago and immigrated to far countries overseas, with the ardent wish and aim to extend relief to our parents and families, who were left behind in the old home, and numerous families did get relief at the end of the first world war by their children, husbands and relatives who remitted the first aid through delegates, and since them many families and youths, with the help of American relatives, did immigrate to all States of America as well as to Eretz-Israel, with the desire and hope to send relief for their families and take them out of the Polish anti-Semitic regime and people.
Alas, to our deep regret we were too late and had not the privilege to let our beloved join us, so that it has just been left to us the orphans to set up monuments in their memory. We have already erected many monuments, and now, with the publishing of the nice Antopol Memorial Book we have set up a really great and magnificent monument. The erection of this monument has taken many years, since I met the first rescued remnant from Antopol who arrived in Israel, from whom I became aware of the heavy disaster which had befallen us with the annihilation of the whole beloved Jewish community of Antopol, of blessed memory. Since then I started outlining the Antopol plan, marking all houses, just as I recalled them to my mind from the eve of the first world war, having contributed to the Book many articles which I had taken out of my memorial book, as I noted many years ago.
I have also been active in demanding and collecting some material from local and American landsleit, who have very warmly responded in contributing plenty of material, pictures and money towards the publishing of this nice and monumental book. Following our ardent wish and tendency that our Antopol Book should include contributions of our landsleit who knew Antopol, the writers and poets, who are capable of perpetuating the memory of destroyed Antopol, in eulogy and lamentation over the ruin and destruction of the Jewish Antopol community of blessed memory, and in this way publish the Memorial Book, in its proper form and appearance. We shall, however, refrain from being arrogant and giving compliments to ourselves.
We did it because this is our ardent duty and devotion for the memory and honor of our perished families of our dear townlet Antopol. I highly appreciate the activities of all devoted landsleit of all the America Committees, with respect and gratitude for their nice and gigantic help and assistance, which continues already for over 50 years, and for their great help extended to our institutions, that all of us, of the Antopol landsleit in Israel highly appraise and appreciate with innermost gratitude, all that they have done for us and for Israel, and especially for the magnificent Antopol Book. I express my special thanks to our devoted friends; Max Futerman, Leizer Volynieta, Israel Pernik and to all those who assisted us in publishing the Book.
Note: This is the only edition that includes all three sections in English. Since the English Messages were originally extracted from the Yiddish and Hebrew sections, some stories will be told twice.
By Prof. P. Czerniak
Antopol is one of about 30 similar little towns in Polesia, the greatest area marshes in Europe. The district lies 150 meters above sea level, at 52 degrees 11'N and 24 degrees 42'E. The town is situated between Kobrin, Drohichin, Radostov, Zafrod, near the great marshes which extend south, east and north-east, and occupy about 56% of Polesia. Antopol, like other similar settlements, lies on a small elevation of land, but in its immediate vicinity we find already the beginning of marshes, especially to the east.
There is no river near Antopol, but 7 miles from the town lies the Karolevski Canal, 50 miles long, 20- 30 meters wide, and two meters deep. As long back as 1795 the Poles began the project, which was finished by the Russians during the Czarist regime. The Soviets in 1941-42 deepened and extended it in order to adapt it to the shipment of vessels carrying wheat to Nazi Germany, and bringing back coal and metal ores. These were the times after the treaty between the German and Soviet foreign ministers. In the winter of 1941-42 they brought to Antopol about 5,000 prisoners from Russian concentration camps, who extended the canal and also built an airport for military use. The zone, in which Antopol is situated, belongs to the border of the plateau separating the Baltic basin from the Black Sea basin. A smaller canal, named after Oginski, 30 miles long, 12 meters wide was dug in the eighteenth century. A total length of 1,250 miles of other canals was counted in 1935. The ground water is very high in Antopol. Many wells were dug in the backyards in town, especially in the years 1930-1940, when cement pipes were manufactured by a local citizen, Podorewski.
Climate and Precipitation
The climatology of Antopol is affected by its being situated in an enclosed area, low and marshy, in a continent extending from the Ural to the Atlantic, from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. The summer lasts from the end of May till the middle of September, and the temperature is about 17.6°C. In the summer there are western and north-western winds, sometimes also storms with rains. After the hot day come nights with heavy fogs rising from the marshes. The winter is severe, full of snow which lasts three months, and the frozen water, especially in the marshes, serve for transportation. Spring is short, and this is the time when the marshes melt again. Autumn is usually a rainy season. Precipitation reaches 600mm per annum.
Geologically the soil has a granite basis with varying layers of lime and sand. During the Diluvial period the whole area was covered with huge glaziers. The granite hills prevented them from moving, and thus were formed the Polesian marshes. In these marshes began to grow layers of Torf, which occupy about a third of the area. In other zones we find layers of Kaolin and Black Soil. Around the 16th century, after beginning to dry the marshes, they began to till the land in an orderly manner. Most of the good land belonged to different princes. In the 20th century, with the abolition of servitudes the land was parcelled and colonization began in 1927-33. After World War II the soviets established two agricultural groups (Kolhoz): Pervomaiski and Gubemia.
Wild flora abounds in the region, especially in the marshy region. Large areas are covered with forests, which occupy 25% of the region, with 65% pine trees, as well as other indigenous species. These forests are full with mushrooms and berries. The agrarian flora includes: Wheat, barley, flax, as well as potatoes, onions, cabbage, garlic etc. In Antopol itself there were many plots tilled by both Jews and non-Jews. The Jews perfected their production of industrial crops, mainly two: pickles and ganders for export.
The region boasts of riches in fauna. Forest animals include all the known varieties, from bears and wolves to rabbits and beavers. Hunting was therefore very popular in the area. Also fowl is abundant, and there is a variety of 40 different species of fish, as well as insects indigenous to marshy areas.
The population numbered up to 3,000 in good times, but epidemics, pogroms and immigration did not allow it to grow. The majority were Jews, and the others were: Polishuks, Belorussians, Russians and Poles. The inhabitants lived in primitive huts, wore hand made clothes, until manufactured goods arrived. Their countenance is pale, long oval faces, wide foreheads, straight noses, auburn hair. Quiet people, calculated, patient, conservative, not industrious, and in spite of availability of water unclean. The adults often sleep on the furnace. The prevailing religion is Pravoslavic, but the peasants believe in many superstitions. Poles began swarming into the area in the 16th century. In various periods their immigration increased or decreased. After World War I, immigration increased and with this wave came also the postman Chrominsky, the cursed hangman of Jewish Antopol.
By A. Ben-Ezra
Location and Origin
Antopol (Antipolie, in the Jewish slang) is situated near the railway Pinsk-Kobrin, 8 kilometers east of Horodetz and 28 kilometers west of Drochichin, in the subdistrict of Kobrin, district of Grodno.
The town is part of Polesia, known for its vast marshes and forests. Antopol is therefore known by its nickname marshes of Antopol. Near Antopol, on the west side, there used to be a large forest beginning from the road to Kobrin. To the south, on the road leading to the village Rusheve, there was another dense forest.
It seems that ancient Antopol began to develop from the Kobrin road; where the forest ended, and stretched until the site of the old cemetery, which by religious law was outside the town limits. When was Antopol founded? When did Jewish settlement begin there? There is little documentation, which can be relied upon, and we must contend ourselves with assumptions that Jewish settlement in Antopol began about 1604. According to documents in Polish, the town is mentioned in relation to the building of a monastery around 1718. In the same documents it is mentioned that the good lady Antonina Zamoiska built the monastery, and the town was named after her Antopol, Antonina's town (=polis in Greek).
Changes in Government
The region of Polesia has undergone many occupations, following revolutions and counterrevolutions. In 1315-1341, Polesia was conquered by the Lithuanian archduke Gdimin.
After the unification of Poland and Lithuania in 1386, the Lithuanian archduchy opened its gates to Polish culture, and especially to its Roman Catholic religion. The Roman Catholic church extended its influence everywhere. Gradually and successfully it completed the Polanization of Polesia. This situation
aroused the anger of the Cosacks and caused the famous Chmelnitzky Rebellion. The Cosacks looted the country for two years. Much Jewish blood was shed in those two years in Polesia, until the Polish army drove out the rebels. In the spring of 1706, the Swedes, led by Karol XII, declared war on Poland, but the marshes of Polesia caused them to withdraw in the same year. History does not give us details about the fate of Antopol Jews in those years, but in Jewish folklore there remained the saying it remembers the Swedes as signifying an old story. Poland was saved and remained intact until 1772, the year of its first partition.
In 1793-1795 Russia annexed the-districts of Minsk, Vilno, and Grodno. The district of Grodno contained the following eight subdistricts: Grodno, Lidda. Novogrodsk, Slonim, Volkovisk, Prozhani, Brrsk, and Kobrin. Antopol was then part of the subdistrict of Kobrin.
In the 1812 Franco-Russian war, Antopol also took its share of misfortunes. During the battles in the town the inhabitants suffered much and the Jews most of all. The Polish residents were not happy under Russian rule, and tried twice to rebel against the foreigners, in 1830 and in 1863, but they failed in both attempts. These Jews supported the Poles. They provided them with food and shelter, even though the Poles in the Jewish shelter did not forget to shout at their saviors: Filthy Jew, take off your hat!
The Russians did not forgive the Jews for harboring the Poles, and punished them very hard for their support of their enemies. Punishing Jews was an easy undertaking under Czarist Russia. The land of Antopol and environs belonged to the squires, the noble landowners, and the Jews used to pay taxes.
In 1904 the Jews paid taxes to Lady Sofia Martina Voitosh. Her property in land was immense and her business manager was an Antopol Jew by the name of Mordechai Sheinboim, through whose initiative she did for the Jews of Antopol many favors.
The region had been resting from wars about 100 years when World War I broke out. In the summer of 1915 the Germans conquered Antopol. Many Jewish houses were burned down and the Jews settled in the houses of the gentiles who had fled to Russia. The few Jews who remained reorganized life in the little town but the German rule was very strict. The young people were hurt most of all. They were seized and sent to labor camps. The German conquerors began to establish German public schools to spread the German language and culture. Antopol was under German rule until November 1918, when the Germans began to return to Germany. Anarchy spread in town.
When eventually Antopol was annexed to the new Poland, legal terror began to reign. The Polish regime protected the terrorists who continued to loot and riot. Later Antopol became a zone of fighting between the Russians and the Poles.
In 1919, the Bolsheviks arrived in Antopol and they began to introduce their new order. They did not stay long and the Poles returned to Antopol. Upon their return they avenged themselves on the Jews who suffered much during this period.
The region began to quiet down, and the population began to rehabilitate its life, when Poland and the Bolsheviks began fighting in July 1920. At first the Russians succeeded in getting to the gates of Warsaw, but finally the Poles repelled them. In the meantime the soldiers of General Belachovitz, leader of the White Russians, join forces with the Poles.
This union is written with blood and tears in Jewish history. In 1921, a truce was signed in Riga and Antopol was incorporated in Poland. The Polish government introduced strict laws against the Jewish people, including compulsory education in Polish schools and service in the army. In spite of that, many Jews excelled themselves in their army service.
When World War II broke out, the Bolsheviks took over Antopol and environs. The Soviet regime lasted, for better or for worse, until June 1941, when the Nazis crossed the Russian border and conquered all of Poland and the Ukraine, on their way to Moscow and Leningrad. Under the Nazis, the Jews
of Antopol were persecuted, tortured, and imprisoned in a ghetto, but they did not surrender. They fought back, joined the partisans and took an active part in the underground. But eventually they were executed and murdered by the cursed Nazis. In July 1944, the Red Army reconquered Antopol, which is now incorporated in the district of Kobrin in White Russia, but her Jews, our dear families are no more. Thus came an end to Jewish life in Antopol.
Economic Life in Antopol
We do not know much about economic life in old Antopol. We also lack information about its Jewish population in those years. Nevertheless we know that the Jewish population was constantly increasing. About 200 years after its establishment in 1847 the Jewish population numbered 1,108 inhabitants. By 1860 they increased to 1,259 out of a general population of 1,563. If we take into account the fires in town which drove away many people, the net increase is remarkable. In 1897, the Jews were already in the majority, 3,137 out of 3,867. In 1904, when the total population numbered 5,235, the Jews accounted for at least half that number. During that period the town developed, roads were extended and the side streets were inhabited by Jews.
What did the Jews do for a living? What caused them to spread out? Most Antopol Jews tilled the land, grew potatoes, onions, carrots, cucumbers etc. Those agricultural workers were called Morgovniks and worked the land in the back of their houses, especially along the roads to Pinsk and Kobrin. Some worked by themselves and others employed gentile hired workers. The vegetables were loaded on wagons and sent to the markets in nearby towns. In the beginning of the 20th century an industrial crop came to the fore pickled cucumbers, which were stored in cellars to protect them from the cold. Later they were sent as far as Warsaw.
The second agricultural industry was the goose trade. They used to import them from far away Russia, feed them and raise them in special poshornies. When they became fat, they were transported to Lithuania or to Germany. Merchants and commercial agents from other towns used to come to Antopol, and Antopol merchants were also constantly going to Vilno (capital of Lithuania).
There were also other enterprises in town, such as mills, brick factories, lime factories etc. In the middle of the town stood the market place, numbering 42 stores. On Sundays, the inhabitants of the neighboring villages used to come to Antopol for the weekly fair to exchange goods in the local market which attracted also merchants from far away. There were also two yearly fairs which were famous all over the region. In 1840, when the Royal Canal was dug from Pinsk to Horodetz, a local Jewish contractor supplied workers for the project. In the 1880's, the Lifshitzes, famous forest traders, supplied lumber for a regional railway. Another large project was the road between Horodetz and Antopol in 1908-1910. This road gave Antopol access to the Horodetz railway station. A traders loan association began operating in Antopol in the beginning of the 20th century. Merchants were granted loans without interest from its bank. Its chief accountant was Peretz Gurewitz.
In the period between the two world wars, a Gmilus Hassodim Fund was established following the initial generous contribution of Mrs. Esther Cornblum from the U.S.A. This fund was a significant aid in the economic development in Antopol. About 1928 a bus line was inaugurated, connecting Antopol with Kobrin, thus helping also the trade of the town. In 1935 a small power station was constructed to supply electricity and power. The U.S.A. was an immense source of income for Antopol. Many men who had immigrated to America used to support the families left behind. After World War I, the amount of aid increased, especially when the Polish regime proclaimed restrictions on the Jews. Two waves of immigration began then: one to Israel and the other to South America. The Jews who immigrated from Antopol were the ones who remained alive to tell the world of the destruction of their birth town and the murder of their families by the Nazi inhumans.
Culture in Antopol
Antopol, like many other Jewish towns in Polesia, was a religious town. Religion was the framework for everyday life. The rabbis were the leaders in all walks of life, and everything went by religious law. Even some young people who went astray did so within the religious sphere. Such a man was Dr. Israel M. Rabinowitz, son of the rabbi Moshe-Hirsh, who went for secular studies, and became known as the translator of the Talmud into French.
The thirst for knowledge spread more and more, and the public demanded teachers for Hebrew, Russian, and mathematics, and when they were brought they had an increasing number of students for these subjects.
The social movements during the Russian revolution had a great influence in Antopol. Antopol Jews tell about Fradel Stavsky, one of the organizers of subversive activities in town. She was exiled to Siberia. Zionist movements followed and many young people joined them. Young boys and girls learned also in Russian public schools and continued in high schools in Brick and other cities.
The traditional Heider was reformed by Reb Aharon Lifshitz (Lief). The reformed Heider was later followed by another one established by Reb Israel Wall-Wollowelsky, who introduced also a teacher for the Russian language. A private school for girls was conducted by Mrs. Teibe Shagan. Also private teachers were brought to teach languages and sciences. After World War I, a Hebrew School Tarbut was founded, in which Hebrew was the language used. There was also a library called The I. L. Peretz library. Talmud Torah schools and Yeshivot were opened in town and Jewish studies gave the tone until the Soviets closed the schools and the Nazis executed the population.
Colonies of Antopol Jews
Jews from Antopol spread also over Russia and Poland. Already in the 1880's there were famous branches in Kishinev and in Warsaw. An important center for Antopol immigrants was the U.S.A. Although it was far away one had to prepare a passport, cross frontiers, and travel by boat 2-3 weeks, and upon arrival they could not observe religion as they used to back home the desire to wider horizons overcame everything.
They used to come to New York and Chicago, and other metropolitan cities, where they could make a living and build a home, but people went also to Brownsville which was nicknamed Jerusalem of America on account of its Jewish population. There they established a union with immigrants from Kobrin and Horodetz called Hevra Gmilus Hassodim Agudas Achim Anshei Kobrin, Horodetz and Antepolie. One helped another to settle in the new country, but some did not find their place and returned back to the old country. Many of Antopol immigrants in America advanced themselves in American industry, like the Farbers in silverware and Margolies in gas stations. In music we all know: Cantor David Putterman who was dean of the cantors association, and Roberta Peters (also a Putterman) star of the Metropolitan Opera in New-York. In science Antopol is represented by: Prof. P. Berman, who was director of the large hospital in Pasadena; Dr. M. Kletsky, for many years chief dentist of Arbieter Ring and contributor to professional magazines; and Prof. Herbert L. Henderson, who took an active part in the development of the first atom bomb. Antopol Jews have earned prominent places also in Chicago.
They established organizations and various associations. Their synagogue in Chicago was famous in the city. Rabbi Jacob Greenberg founded the Beit Midrash LeTorah in Chicago and presided over the institution all his life. In Argentina, there is an important chapter of Antopol landsleit, especially in Buenos Aires, and it is said that they were of the first immigrants there. In the building of the State of Israel the Jews from Antopol wrote (and are still writing) a brilliant chapter. The Holy Land was always the dream of the Jews in Antopol. Already 200 years ago they began coming to Israel. Seventy
Hassidim of the followers of Hagra came to Zefat in 1808. Others came individually in the same century, like Reb Moshe Ben Akiva and Reb Moshe Zvi, Reb Benjamin Yahalom and Reb Jacob Benjamin, Reb Nethaniel Haim Pape and his family, and the whole Saharov family.
In 1960, our dear brother, the late Prof. P. Berman, wrote a letter to the governor of Antopol. In his letter he inquired what had become of his birth town. After two years came the answer in the form of a newspaper article in the local paper published in Minsk, capital of White Russia. The reporter described a Jewish citizen named Isaac Berkovitz, who told him about the suffering of Belorussians, Jews and Poles. He did not point out that the ghetto imprisoned only Jews and that the Nazis killed all the Jews with the help of the local population. He tells happily about the progress which the Soviet regime brought to town. He tells about schools, libraries, bookstores etc. but no Hebrew or Yiddish is mentioned, because no Jews were left to enjoy it. There is a church in town. But where are the synagogues and the prayer houses? Why does he not mention any of them? And so, with this report we seal a 300 years chapter of the Jewish community in Antopol.
By Dr. P. Berman (O.B.M.)
We called it in Yiddish, Shut-heyf (-court, plaza). It was a court in the center of the town, around which were grouped the religious and communal institutions of the Jewish community. This was probably the center of the first Jewish settlers in ancient times, and from here they gradually spread out to the other parts of the town of Antopol, extending pretty far out. I remember that, when I was a boy, the court was the only paved, or, rather, cobbled, area in town, and was therefore less severely affected by the large puddles of water in the fall and in the spring. The court was square-shaped and surrounded on its four sides, by: The Cold Synagogue; the two B'eiss Medresh (prayer house); one new and the other old; and the Beiss Horau (-rabbinical residence).
Behind the old Beiss Medresh stood the Bad (-communal bath-house) and the Hekdesh (-poorhouse, hostel). There, too, began the old Jewish cemetery. The Cold Synagogue was the tallest building in town, excepting the Greek-Orthodox church, which stood in the market place, a distance away from the. Jewish synagogues. The architecture of the Cold Synagogue was of the well-known type of the Jewish synagogues of Poland and Lithuania, as depicted in literature, and I have seen pictures of such synagogues which looked to me like copies of our own.
I do not know how old that synagogue was. It must have undergone many repairs and thorough rebuilding in olden times. I remember it as a solid edifice, clean-looking, devoid of any external ornaments and, in my boyish eyes, the greatest and most beautiful building in town. There was a Polesh (-lobby) in the synagogue, and to its right there was a chapel which served as a classroom for one of the classes of the Talmud-Torah (-Jewish earIy public school). The main cIassrooms were located in the Old Prayerhouse. The chapel was also used for daily prayers on weekdays. To the left of the lobby there was a room, which was used as the center of the Hevrah Kadisho (-burial society), for there were to be found the Tohoroh-Bret (-cleansing board) and the Mittoh (-couch for the dead) as well as other utensils. As boys we used to avoid getting near that place, being afraid of the assortment of burial utensils. The tall Gothic windows were situated about two floors above the ground, right under the ceiling, and therefore permanent darkness reigned inside the synagogue. Even the walls were painted dark grey. A small, metal frame hung on one of the walls, containing unleavened bread.
The ceiling was a dome, resting on a single rafter, which was etched out with designs like a pleated Halla (-Sabbath loaf). It was painted in whiteand- gold and extended from wall to wall. The domed ceiling itself was decorated with figures of animals deer, lions and even, as I recall, the mythological unicorn.
Underneath the animals were painted the twelve planets, with Hebrew legend. Hebrew captions were painted also under the animals, quoting verses or idioms like Mighty as a Lion. As a child, I was strongly attracted to the pictures described above, and I could never have my fill of contemplating them, whenever I had the opportunity. In the center of the synagogue, nearer to the doorway, stood the Bimah (-pulpit), while at the Eastern Wall, as usual, was the Ark containing the Sifrei Thorah (-Holy Scrolls), and on top of it over the various designs were drawn two hands in the position of the priestly benediction. In a corner of the synagogue stood the Chair of Elijah, on which used to sit the Sandak (the man who holds the male child on his knees during the ceremony of circumcision). Nearby there was a large copper vessel on a stand, filled with sand, into which were thrown the foreskins.
The women's section was on the second floor, over the lobby and the chapel. This section was fairly large. Its Eastern Wall was built up only to half its height, and protruded into the main synagogue like a gallery with grillwork, through which the womenfolk could look into the men section and follow the reading of the prayers. The Cold Synagogue was used for services on Sabbaths and holidays. Unlike the prayer study houses, it was used only for prayer and the recitation of psalms.
Many legends circulated in town about the Cold Synagogue. It was said that a great rabbi once blessed it and it would never be consummated by fire. As a result, the synagogue survived the numerous fires which had happened in Antopol.
Another legend related that one of the Poreiches (-curtain of the Ark) had been bought from a Cossack who had it salvaged from a synagogue pillaged in the time of Bogdan Khmelnitzky's massacres of the Jews.
One of the earlier sextons of the Cold Synagogue was a man by the name of Avreml, a small old man, who used to find enough strength to come to the market place every Friday at eventide to call the people to finish their business and trade and go to the synagogue.
The sexton in my days was Elyeh, a handsome man with a wide red beard. He also served as teacher in the Talmud Torah classes, which took place in the chapel of the Cold Synagogue.
The New Beiss Medresh was not really new. The old one was a much newer building, but it was erected in place of the older prayer house which had been destroyed by fire and therefore kept the name. The New Beiss Medresh consisted of two large rooms, divided by a long brick stove which separated the men's section from the women's section, Here worshipped some of the leading Jews of Antopol, such as Reb Hersch one of the three rabbis who reigned in Antopol after the demise of the religious leader of the prayer-house, Reb Pinchas Michael, of blessed memory, who won great fame among the leading rabbis of that time. Other notables were: Efraim Lifshitz the richest man in town, and his family; Shmuel Sborschik the sturosta (-mayor, elder) of the town. He was also the Reader of the Scrolls and on High Holidays, the leader of the services.
Chaim the hunchback was one of the important storekeepers in the market place, owner of the only two-story brick structure in Antopol in which the town's pharmacy was located. Reb Hatzkel the Rushever an impressive looking man, a great scholar and so much engrossed in his studies that he was hardly conscious of the world around him. He used to read and interpret for the congregants the Book of Ein-Yuukov, a collection of stories, parables and homilies selected from the Talmud and Talmudic literature.
Reb Yaakev Chaim, the sheyhet ritual slaughterer was a shrewd man who took an interest in many communal affairs, and was one of the main leaders in the welfare societies in our town, which occupied themselves with charitable and other communal activities. Leizer, the sexton of the new Beiss Medresh, was a tall, powerfully built man, with a long beard and nimble in his motions.
I recall how, on Friday evenings before sundown, he used to walk with vigorous strides from bench to bench, lighting the numerous candles of the large candelabras. The function which he performed in the prayer-house was his secondary occupation. He drew most of his livelihood from bookbinding. At his place I always found many books in different languages which were entrusted to him by the Polish and Russian nobility of the manors around our town Antopol. At that time there was no general public library in town, and Reb Leizer's bookbinding establishment was thus the only place where one could find so many old and new books.
I believe that that was where I first acquired my urge for reading books. I used to spend a great deal of my time there, because Leizer's son, Ahron, was my close friend.
The Old Beiss Medresh had new walls, although as mentioned above it was called old. As a matter of fact, even after the rebuilding of the prayerhouse, they left a few wooden pieces of the old edifice in their place, follows the instruction of Reb Pinchas Michael, of blessed memory. The path between the Old Beiss bledresh and the rabbinical residence was paved with several wooden planks, to enable the rabbi to walk the path without stepping into the mud and soiling his shoes. The Old Beiss Medresh was a much larger and much more modem structure than the new one. The entrance faced directly the entrance to the rabbinical residence. There was much room for worshippers and students. The long tile stove occupied nearly all of the Western Wall, behind the pulpit. Long tables stood along all the walls in the prayerhouse. Here, too, was a chapel in which there were classes of the Talmud Torah.
The women's section was on the second floor and had a separate entrance. As mentioned above, the prayer houses were used also as houses of study, in which young men spent their whole days at the folios of the Talmud or the codes. One of these students was Yaakev Shleyme Henech's. The father, Shleyme Henech, ran a coach service which brought each week goods from Brest-Litovsk for the Antopol traders, but he, too, like the others, dedicated much time to study. My father used to spend most of his time in the Old Beiss Medresh.
I, as a child, used the place as part of my home. On coming back from the Heider (Hebrew religious school) during weekdays, or on Saturdays and holidays, when there was little homework to be prepared, I would stop off at the prayerhouse. When I grew up, I used the place of study for learning under my father's supervision. Some of the many congregants who worshipped at the prayerhouse, left interesting impressions in my memory: There was Yekussiel, Beile Chanke's, who used to sit at the comer of the Eastern Wall near the Ark. His wife, Beile Chanke, was the provider who carried on the business for the whole family.
Reb Yekussiel spent all of his time in the prayerhouse. He was a short man whose beard and earlocks were dark black, and he had a quiet somewhat hoarse voice. He was always studying, and took little interest in worldly matters. His two sons were the only young men in my memory of the Beiss Medresh, who had long black beards.
Then there was Bezalel Troika, who owned a dry goods store in the market place. I remember him as the Reader, the man who used to read the portion of the week, or of the day, from the Scrolls, on the Sabbath and on holidays. He was a very learned man, but very naive in respect to many things. In matters concerning every day life he displayed childish simplicity.
Here worshipped another mayor-elder, Reb Avigdor Sirota. He was one of the leading Budei Batim (-house holders) in Antopol. Because of his
official position in town he was involved in all relations between the Jewish community and the Russian authorities, as well as taking part in all communal and philanthropic activities. In the Old Beiss Medresh he occupied a prominent pew.
Reb Binyomen, the Rosh Yeshiva (Dean of the Yeshiva) was a fine-looking elderly man with a flowing white beard. His title had nothing to do with his occupation, at the time Yeshiva Students from Antopol that I knew him. He lived near the synagogue court and had a soda-water business. Another one of the regular worshippers in this prayerhouse was Shmuel the Scribe, a miniature man with a dusky face, who was always busying himself with communal affairs. You could often see him in the midst of a crowd discussing local politics, especially on late Saturday afternoons, before the evening services. He was honest, honorable, and devoted, and did nothing but good for all the inhabitants of Antopol.
Avreml Shmuel Farber, was one of the leading butchers in our town, an ardent follower of my father's. I often used to see him early in the morning already busy with the Mishna study group of the congregation, the Hevra Mishnayess.
Yankl the Healer, was one of the most attractive personalities. He was indeed an expert in the medical sciences of the day, so far as general practice went, and was called for help, much more than the Polish doctor. Thus it was that the state of health of the town depended very largely on Reb Yankl. He also took an active interest in all leading local institutions. He was honest, honorable, and devoted, and did nothing but good for all the inhabitants of Antopol.
Avrom Aron, the old man, used to spend the whole day in the prayerhouse, studying. I do not know what he did in his youth. In his old age he took his meals at the houses of charitable. People took weekly turns donating his daily meal. It was called eating days. He spent his days near the large tile stove, bent over a folio of the Talmud or some other book. As a child, I always marveled at his spectacles: one frame had a tin-piece instead of a glass lens, and the other frame was hollow. He did use a lens when reading, but that he held in his hand over the text. He would explain that one of his eyes did not function at all, and the other could see better through the empty frame.
The Old Beiss Medresh had two sextons: Gedaliah, the chief sexton, and Yankl Menkes, his assistant. Yankl Menkes used to do all the hard tasks; such as sweeping, heating, and cleaning the building. His ritual functions, so to speak, consisted of reciting the Psalms and the Slihos (-prayers of penitence) during the weeks before the High Holidays. He was also one of the grave-diggers of the burial society. Naturally, he was a very poor man and his wife supplemented the income of the family by working for the more prosperous households.
Gedaliah himself, the chief sexton, was also the general manager of the congregation. He handled the accounts, looked after the collections, etc. During the services he called the man for attending the reading of the Torah, and he also made the Mi Shebeirah (-blessing after reading the portion of the Torah). Frequently he also led services or read from the Torah, substituting for others. Outside his functions at the prayerhouse, he was a master of all trades: He could build a house, a brick-stove, do carpentry work, and other skills.
Once, when he was carving an inscription on a stone monument, his hand was injured as a result of an explosion of the material and he was confined to the hospital for a time. When he came out he had a stiff arm which he could not use. Nevertheless he continued to work with one arm. Gedaliah was killed in the war between the Poles and the Bolsheviks in 1920. In the evenings the prayerhouse housed study groups seated at the lit tables: Talmud-study group, Mishna-study-group, Ein Yaacov study group, and individuals, usually young men, who spent their time studying for themselves. The chanting of the scholars filled the house day and night, except during services.
Sometimes the prayerhouse would be lit up all night, when young Talmud students kept watch all night over their studies. This all night study was known as Mishmar (-watch). It was usually from sundown on Thursday till sunrise on Friday. The Betis Horau (rabbinical residence) was a fairly large house which was probably built in the days of Reb Pinchas Michael. It had five large rooms and a kitchen, and a built-in succah (tabernacle) which was used most of the year as a pantry, and on the Succoth Holiday for its original ritual purpose. The large baking oven and the long heating stove which obtruded into every room keeping the whole house warm in the winter, occupied a substantial portion of the house. The large dining room served also as a waiting room for the many people who came to see the rabbi, and as a sales-room for yeast every Thursday, since this was the major source of the rabbi's income. The many shelves which filled the room from the floor to the ceiling, were lined up with old books.
A few years after the demise of Reb Pinchas Michael, his eldest son, Avrom Meyshe, took the books to his home in Brest- Litovsk, where they were destroyed by fire a short time later. In my memory, I see this room with the unpainted spot right above the rabbi's seat. This unpainted spot was In Memory of the Destruction. The second large room in the rabbinical residence was the court-room, where the rabbi presided over rabbinical tribunal hearings, where questions of Kashrut (dietary laws) were answered and decided, and where disputes between individuals were arbitrated. There was a small cupboard in that room, built into the wall, about which my father told me an interesting anecdote relating to Reb Pinchas Michael.
The old rabbi once invited the members of the congregation to come to his house on Purim- Day, after the service, promising to treat them to wine out of the wall. The guests were somewhat disappointed, when the rabbi took out a small flask out of the small cupboard, and good-naturedly drank Lehayim with his guests.
In front of the rabbi's residence, near the entrance, stood a long bench, where we used to sit in the evenings, enjoying the fresh air and listening to the familiar sounds of prayer and study in the house of worship. The town-bath stood a short distance behind the Old Beiss Medresh, while its windows gave out on the Old Cemetery. Men went to the bathhouse every Friday. To accommodate the women, the bath-house was heated on the other days of the week. The Mikve (pool for ritual bathing), was used every day, not only for women but for men as well, who performed immersions of purification whenever necessary.
There was a whistle fixed on top of the steam boiler, which could be heard all over town. On Fridays the whistle blew twice once, to summon the people to come to the bath-house, and the second time to announce the time for lighting the Sabbath candles. The attendant of the bath-house lived in a house nearby, half of which was taken up by the Hekdesh (traditional poor men's hospital). I remember also the assisting attendant, David-Ber the madman, one of the number of demented people who were taken care of by the community. Dovid-Ber used to come to our house, where he kept his Tefillin (philacteries). He never wore a Tallis (prayer shawl), presumably because he was never married. I remember him as a middle-aged man, short of stature, with a black beard. He spoke very little, but often complained that Man is done for, This phrase of his was known in town, and served as an object of jokes usually at the expense of anybody complaining of his health.
The Old Cemetery extended for a fairly long stretch as far as the Rusheva highway. It is difficult to tell how old the old cemetery was. It was probably as old as the town itself. There were altogether three cemeteries in my time. There was the new cemetery, at the other end of town, in which Reb Pinchas Michael was buried, and a third cemetery was opened beyond the fields, a good distance away from town.
In my childhood, the proximity of the Old Cemetery to our house, the many funerals which I saw and the horror stories about the dead, had a profound effect on my mind and soul. I retained, through the years, a strong hatred for death and a great respect for human life. These attitudes were later reflected in my make-up when, in ensuing years, I became the medical superintendent of a large municipal hospital. It was a place where many births and deaths took place daily, and my greatest concern was always the possibility of a medical error which might cost a human life. In my frequent lectures to young physicians and nurses I never missed an opportunity to speak of the absolute sanctity of life and the importance of applying every possible means to avert a death and to prolong life under all circumstances.
The Synagogue courtyard was the nerve center, as well as the barometer, of the inner life of the community. Here started the meetings and assemblies of various organizations where resolutions and general regulations were adopted, which not infrequently affected the life of the whole community. The joys and the sorrows of Antopol Jews found their echoes in the synagogue courtyard. Most wedding ceremonies were performed here. The canopy would be put up in the yard for the bride and groom from the farthest parts of town. First the groom was brought here, accompanied by musicians walking through the streets, and then the same band would go back to bring the bride while the groom stood alone waiting under the canopy, his face turned towards the synagogue.
While waiting, the groom was not allowed to move, and we, the urchins, hanging around the yard, would sneak up to stick a pin into his pants and laugh at his helplessness. The ceremony itself always impressed me deeply. The many lighted candles, the long pleated wax tapers (at the rich people's weddings), in the hands of happy, festively dressed men and women, the flames moving in the breeze; the familiar standard tune of the benedictions and the festal pleasing voice of the cleric performing the ceremony with a flair of pomp, all these remained indelibly stamped in my memory. When returning from the wedding canopy, the band would strike up a sorrowful march, which used to evoke the jocular comment that the music sounded like Bagroben dem Kop (Ruined for life ).
Deep sorrow would descend on the synagogue courtyard each time a funeral procession passed. When the deceased was an important member of the community, the procession would stop at the plaza for a eulogy.
Every misfortune that happened in our town was reflected in the synagogue court. Epidemics sometimes struck Antopol, especially during the winter months, and many children fell ill with Diphtheria or scarlet fever. Those were occasions for the reciting of psalms in the synagogue courtyard. Now and then a loud wail would be heard and a woman would rush into one of the prayerhouses to come before the Ark and, wringing her hands and weeping loudly, would pray for the life of her child, who had been stricken ill.
On Saturdays and holidays the courtyard was full of worshippers and students dressed in their finest clothes. A festive mood reigned in every corner. Also on an ordinary weekday, crowds were sometimes attracted when a well-known Maggid (itinerant preacher) came to speak in one of the prayer houses. Some preachers could draw a large crowd in a winter evening when the windows were shut and the air was close and the flames in the lamps flickered, But the audience was thirsty for a good word, especially for the fiery preachments of the Zionist propagandists. They were ready to stand for a long time, tightly packed like herring in a barrel and listen.
The all-pervading joyousness of Simhut-Torah, the sacred grief of The Ninth of Ab, the solemn melancholy soul-searching of The Day of Atonement, all these are associated in my memory with the Synagogue Courtyard of Antopol of fifty years ago.
There was a small pool of water in the plaza, which would spread out during the rainy season as far as Reb Hersh's house. The pool was useful on occasions. In the first place, it provided water for putting out fires which broke out frequently in Antopol. In the second place, it was convenient for Tashlich (the ritual of shedding one's sins into the water on the day of Rosh Hashana. Before Passover the townspeople would throw the unleavened bread and the wooden utensils of non-Passover use into the pool. In the wintertime, when it froze over, the boys would skate on the frozen pool. In the summertime the water would dry up and the air would be filled with microbes spreading diseases. Finally the city fathers decided that the pool served no useful purpose and filled it with earth and branches. In the end only a memory remained of the pool.
(Of Blessed Memory)
There is an accepted premise among us: The rebbe status is one thing and the rabbinate is another, and one does not wear both crowns simultaneously. For the rebbe is a wonder worker, a performer of miracles and a guide to the common people. The rabbi, on their other hand, is a teacher of law, a father and a leader for scholars. One realm does not infringe on the other. Historical facts, however, contradict the above premise. There have been several great and revered personalities both who there were combined the traits of the rebbe, goodhearted and concerned with the problems of the individual and the community, as well as learned, the epitome of scholarship, building spiritual worlds and destroying them. These personalities come and rebuke our premise about the rebbe and the rabbi. Even before the Baal Shem Tov, we had such luminaries as Rabbi Yehuda Hechassid, the Maharal of Prague and others who combined in themselves the fine traits enumerated in the rebbe and the rabbi.
After the spread of the influence of Baal Shem Tov, there were revealed here and there great crowns of a good name, such as R. Zekiel Leib Wormser (Baa1 Shem of Mitchaelstaadt), R. Joshua Gottmacher of Greiditz and others. A rabbi of this category was R. Pinchas Michael O.B.M., who combined in himself the proficiency and keen analysis of the Talmud, and at the same time diffused through his noble personality light and warmth to everyone created in the image of G-d, drawing to himself thousands of people, Jews and Gentiles, who flocked to him to enjoy the light of his countenance and to receive his blessing.
R. Pinchas Michael was born in 1808 to his father R. Yitzhok Isaac and his mother Braina Henia, in the city of Shereshov (Grodno County). R. lsaac was a grandson of R. Joshua of Pinsk, a descendant of R. Elazar of Amsterdam, author of Maasay Rokeach. On his mother's side he was a descendant of the author of Ponim Meiros.
R. Pinchas Michael was an only son, but he did not behave like one. An only son tends to become spoiled and seek to escape the burden of Torah. But this was not the way of Pinchas Michael. From his earliest childhood he dedicated himself to Torah and good deeds. The ideals of his parents were not secular in nature, to increase wealth and material possessions, but to increase Torah and wisdom. They, therefore, exempted him from worries of a livelihood and the burdens of life. The boy Pinchas Michael spent day and night over the Torah and thirstily drank the words of the sages.
Of the teachers who impressed him we know only one whose influence was great. He was R. Asher Ha-Cohen, author of Birchas Rosh. R. Pinchas Michael tried to go in the footsteps of this teacher in his humble behavior. From R. Asher he learned the trait of being content with little, and he refused to accept the crown of the rabbinate until he was close to fifty, as was the case with his teacher R. Asher. Also in authorship he followed the path of his teacher. The latter authored a commentary on tractate Nazir so he also wrote a commentary on this
tractate. Like his teacher, he attained the height of constancy in study and deprived himself of sleep, until his father used his paternal prerogative to get him to nap one hour in the afternoon. From his father, R. Yitzhok Isaac, he inherited his great love for Israel and his dedication to matters of charitableness.
In accordance with the custom of those days, his parents married him off at an early age. He married Mushka, daughter of the well-to-do R. Yahiel Michal of Pavsal, a descendant of the author of Seder HaDoros. His wife operated a store and managed the household, and thus removed from him the burden of livelihood so that he could devote himself to Torah. Even in those days, when he was still a youth, R. Pinchas Michael became renowned as one of the great negotiators of the sea of the Talmud.
At that time he began to correspond with the luminaries of Torah in matters of law and the comments of the early and later sages. They all saw in him a keen mentality and an expert analyst in coming up with the correct conclusions. These innovations in the Shas, Rashi, Tosefos, Rif, Rosh and Ran, he began to note down until they accumulated to a heavy tome. But all this he did with modesty and without fanfare. And not only in matters of jurisprudence did R. Pinchas Michael demonstrate his prowess, but he also favored matters of legendary nature.
Shereshev, the birthplace of R. Pinchas Michael was known for its rabbis, outstanding in Torah and wisdom. Among those who served there were R. David, author of the book Ramparts of Jerusalem. It is said about this rabbi that he planned to appoint three days of Rosh Hodesh and that he also used to read the Megillah on Shushan-Purim as well. The rabbinical chair in this town was also occupied by R. Pinchas Halevi, son of Azriel of Amsterdam, author of the book Nachlas Azriel on Yoreh De'oh. Another who served there was R. Isaac HaCohen, author of the book Shaaray Yitzhok. In this town also served R. Asher HaCohen, a pupil of R. Chayim of Wolosin, author of the book Birchas Rosh on the Tractate of Brochos and editing of the interpretations of Rashi and Tosephos, and Birchas Rosh on the Tractate Nazir and editing and commentaries on Rashi, Tosephos and Maimonides.
At first R. Asher HaCohen refused to make a livelihood from Torah. To his fiftieth year he was a merchant in Shereshev, and during his free time he sat and studied Torah. Finally at the insistence of the town's leaders he agreed to occupy the rabbinical post. He did not serve there long, for the leaders of the community of Ticktin (Grodno County) turned their attention to him, and in 1853 he was appointed Rabbi of Ticktin.
When R. Asher HaCohen became Rabbi of Ticktin the community leaders of Shereshev began to look for a rabbi who could continue the rabbinic tradition of Shereshev. Finally they selected R. Pinches Michael to fill the place of R. Asher HaCohen. They saw in him the counterpart of their rabbi greatly proficient in the Talmud, in the first and latter sages, a modest man of high virtue. When the crown of the rabbinate was placed on the head of R. Pinchas Michael he did not change his former behavior and he conducted himself with the same modesty as prior to his assumption of the rabbinate. As always he was a close friend of the masses. He gave heed to their conversation, he participated in their sorrow and helped them in their hour of trouble. He was particularly beloved by the children, whom he treated with respect and addressed as he did their elders.
Despite his democratic behavior, R. Pinchas Michael became renowned for his Torah knowledge and he became the cynosure of all eyes. On the one hand he received responses in theory and fact from famous rabbis, and on the other the masses flocked to him for advice in matters of daily living. His home was open wide to every pauper and misery stricken individual.
Thus he conducted his rabbinical post for six years in Shereshev until 1864. This year marked a
milestone in the life of R. Pinchas Michael, for on that year he left his native town of Shereshev where he grew up and went to the town of Antipolia, (Antopol in Russian) in Kobryn County, in the State of Grodno.
Antopol, or Antipolia as it was known among the Jews, was famous not only in the State of Grodno but outside its confines as well. It is true that this town had practically been overlooked by the Russian Government, but the Jews regarded it highly because of its rabbis, famous for Torah and Kabalah. In town lived the famous Kabalist R. Moshe Zvi for forty-four years, from 1818 to 1862. R. Moshe Zvi was known not only for his vast erudition in matters known as secret but also for his generous soul and for his sensitive heart. He was sought after in spiritual and mundane matters, in problems of livelihood as well as matters of healing body or soul.
Following the death of R. Moshe Zvi, the rabbinical post was occupied by R. Chayim Zalman of Breslav, a descendant of the illustrious R. Yosef David of Mir. Evidently there was some argument about this post and after two years R. Chayim Zalman was forced to leave Antipolia and settle in Mir. The post of Rabbi of Antipolia waited its rightful heir. Several rabbis, renowned in Torah and teaching, were candidates for the rabbinical post in this small town, but none satisfied its Jewish residents, for the rabbi who was to occupy the rabbinical post would also have to continue the tradition of Antipolia's rabbis and to be acceptable to all the segments of the people because of his paternal attitude everyone created in the image of Gd.
It was not an easy matter to be acceptable to the Jews of Antipolia, who at that time numbered more than a thousand souls, for almost all of them were scholars and men of erudition, instructors in Gemora, such as R. Yekusiel the blacksmith, etc. The heads of the community of Antipolia could not find a rabbi more suited to this post than R. Pinchas Michael, who was thoroughly imbued with Talmudic erudition and was also devoted to every human being in distress. The heads of the community paid no attention to the fault that he had, namely his impaired speech. They knew that this was not a physical imperfection but the result of the quick thinking and lightning-like grasp that R. Pinchas Michael had. They saw his simplicity, both in study and in daily life, and his broad heartedness and his tremendous knowledge in the Talmud. These virtues recommended R. Pinchas Michael as the occupant of the rabbinic post in Antipolia.
Before accepting the rabbinate in Antipolia, R. Pinchas Michael stipulated with the heads of the community that he would not gain anything materially from the rabbinate, and that he would live on the sale of yeast by his wife. On Rosh Hodesh Heshvan 5624, the residents of Antipolia were blessed with the arrival of R. Pinchas Michael. The entire town rejoiced in welcoming its new rabbi. At last Antipolia was privileged to a rabbi worthy of two crowns, the crown of Torah and the crown of good repute. Everyone was eager to hear his inaugural sermon, which would certainly be of the first magnitude, as was the custom of the Torah greats in those days. But R. Pinchas Michael's sermon was nothing like that. They heard not words of legalism but words of legendary and moralistic nature. Only as a matter of course did he add words of jurisprudence, for this was the way of the Holy One, who spoke naught to the children of Israel on the first day of their arrival at Mt. Sinai because of the toilsome way.
Such was also the course of the commandments that the Lord gave. First he gave the light commandments, such as Chalah and the Omer, and later offering tithe, seventh year and jubilee which are weightier, When the Lord gave us His commandments He taught us the ways of righteousness gradually, how to behave in ways of grace. From legendary material he goes on to speak of moralistics. He repeatedly admonishes concerning the light commandments, such as praying on time and the value of Torah study. At this point he expanded his speech and almost his entire sermon centered on this theme.
And these were his words: Everyone, even if he is busy with his work or business, must set aside a definite time for study, more or less as he is able, or to listen to others, each according to his own mentality. The Holy One comes to no one with a demand that he study involved matters, only as G-d has endowed him. Only let him not go about idle. Let him also beware of idle conversation, especially in the Beth Hamisdrosh and the Synagogue. Great is the importance of Torah study and the woman who helps her husband and lightens his burden of livelihood, her reward is very great, as was the reward of Isaachor and Zebulun.
The first sermon that R. Pinchas Michael delivered in Antipolia set the program for his behavior during his stay in that town. In it he explained the principles of his procedure in Torah and general matters, for first and foremost in everything was the study of Torah. And these thoughts he would repeat in almost every sermon. The study of Torah had to be done simply without undue sophistry. One had to direct the heart in study, and to learn outwardly with the lips and every individual had to study according to his nature. One may be able to study more before retiring and another may find it easier earlier in the morning when a persistent mind is more at rest.
In addition to the pillars of Torah there are two other pillars: prayer and acts of consideration. On these three pillars he would build his sermons and his private conversations. R. Pinchas Michael veered away from the accepted custom that the rabbi sermonized twice a year, on the Great Sabbath and the Sabbath of Repentance. He delivered a sermon on every holiday. On the Sabbath of Repentance he would ascend the pulpit, envelop himself in the Talit and burst into tears, and the congregation would follow. This was his sermon, designed to awaken the hearts for repentance and good deeds. Most of his sermons were not studded with disputation and argument, but with words of moralism and admonitions about daily affairs, such as the observance of the Sabbath, act of consideration, provision of food for the poor and proper weights. These things he would stress every opportunity he had.
R. Pinchas Michael approved the method of explanation and kept away from disputation. In his reply to one individual he says: Continue with your good method of study, my dear man, and see to it that you make your mark in Shas. And this you will not be able to achieve unless you drop the method of disputation and stick to proficiency. The study according to the elucidated text was his course.
He studied and taught others according to this method; in other words, to elucidate the hidden meaning without disputation and an overflow of words, but with logical explanation and the correct norm briefly stated. R. Pinchas Michael followed this course in his brief commentaries on the Tractates of Nazir, Temura, Meila and Tamid. And this is what he says: I have seen that this tractate (of Nazir) is more hidden and impenetrable than all the other tractates in the Shas, in that even the commentary of Rashi is not like the Shas Rashi Commentaries, and it is likely that it is not Rashi's commentary at all, in that it is not his customary language because of the paucity of interest in this tractate, the bulk of which does not apply to the present, it suffers from many errors of omission and superfluity even though it has had many commentators who dwelled on it at great length, nevertheless many chapters are still obscure and one must teach his pupils intensively because of the lack of time I have set my goal to set forth the chapters of the Talmud explicitly and to abandon disputation. I have not made the compilation for the luminaries of our age, but for people of my level.
Whoever peruses his Leket Hakotzrim sees that R. Pinchas Michael does not compile indiscriminately. This commentary though brief includes a great deal. He knew the secret of conciseness. He knew what to include and what to exclude.
He thus also acted with his commentary on Ternura, Meilah and little of the Tractate Tamid and
in the case of his preface to Nazir, so does he say apologetically in this commentary: I appreciate the paucity of my attainment and of my intellect. I have other shortcomings no doubt of which I am not aware. Evidently, R. Pinchas Michael kept this manuscript with him for several years, probably because of the lack of funds, until he was notified from above (see the story of the dream) that he was duty bound to publish the manuscript in question. He then placed it for publication, and immediately his commentary on these tractates received wide circulation, because it was brief but outstanding.
Directly and indirectly, R. Pinchas Michael influenced thousands of Jews, both those who were privileged to hear from him words of moralism and wisdom and those who merely knew him by reputation. When still among the living he became a legend which was passed on from father to son and from grandfather to grandson. All spoke about the righteous one, who lent his ear to every one who turned to him, and who did not differentiate between Jew and Gentile, for a Gentile also has to live. He was a father and patron for every embittered soul and downhearted that came to him even from far away.
Among these, were scholars, merchants, artisans, women and children. If a tragedy occurred in a home, immediately they ran to the righteous one. If the overlord refused to renew the lease, R. Pinchas Michael was asked for advice. When an individual became seriously ill, they called on the righteous one for aid. And he would say: I know not, but the Lord will bless you. Pinchas Michael became the emissary of whoever turned to him, and when he prayed the Shmoneh Esreh he added prayers for those who had handed in notes of supplication. He did not handle these notes like the Chassidic rabbis. He did not accept redemption money. At most he accepted a few coins for the poor students. He had a purse tied about his neck into which he put these coins, which he spent for charity.
The act of charity is one of the foundations on which the Jewish world is built. He continually admonished about this commandment. He was concerned not only with problems which demanded immediate solution. His keen eye penetrated into the life of our people which had just began to take shape in distant America. At that time, when the Jewish community was yet small and Judaism there was weak, he would advise those who asked him about immigrating to America: Go to America. You will make a living there. And he would add: Observe the Sabbath.
Like his contemporary, R. Israel Salanter, his heart ached for the condition of his people, and he sided with the idea of immigration to America, for his vision foresaw the wave of pogroms about to inundate the Jews of Russia. As for himself, he yearned to go to the Land of Israel, but his townspeople would not let him go. With deep longing he would send off whoever went up to the Land, whether it was a tailor, a shoemaker or a merchant and an investor. He would accompany them on foot a mile outside the town. Settlement in the Holy land was very important in his eyes. Not only residence itself, but even he who desired to return to the land was entitled to redemption and thus he comments in the passage: Because of these matters were our forefathers redeemed from Egypt that they did not change their tongue and name. For he who intends to settle permanently in another land changes his language, name and attire and becomes accustomed to the ways of the land. But he who intends to return to his father's house is the opposite. They therefore had this great merit, that during the entire harsh enslavement they did not lose their faith to return to their land, and therefore they emerged from slavery to redemption.
R. Pinchas Michael had a formula for redemption from the harshness of slavery and from all oppressors the observance of the Sabbath. He would therefore ask his audience to hasten and inaugurate the Sabbath early. For instance, the artisans and their employees should leave their work benches early so that they may be through at the bath
house in time. R. Pinchas Michael would himself take the trouble to be in the bath house a good hour before sunset every Friday eve, and in his hand he had a switch with which he prompted those who were late in leaving. This switching was one of affection, since R. Pinchas Michael objected to corporal punishment. Once he slapped a boy of fourteen Meir Utenof, the Cantor's son for having beaten his companion, and he regretted his act to such an extent that his prayer became confused. R. Pinchas Michael approached the stricken boy several times and asked his forgiveness. When the boy forgave him, he grasped his hand with great joy.
By nature R. Pinchas Michael was forgiving, foregoing upon the honor and respect due to a man of his station. Many exploited this weakness of his and used it for their own ends. One instance of this sort is told by R. Pinchas Michael himself. One crook forged his signature and traveled about from town to town to collect funds for the Talmud Torah in Antipolia. R. Pinchas Michael reacted to this matter in the press and asked the rabbis in the towns where the crook might appear to take away the document and the forged letter and burn them. Evidently this crook perpetrated his act following the conflagration that took place in Antipolia in the summer of 1885. Some eighty houses went up in flames at that time.
On the 20th of Sivan of the same summer a second conflagration broke out and 120 homes burned down. The Jews of Antipolia became completely impoverished and emissaries went forth to gather contributions for the victims. This situation was fertile ground for acts of deception. Antipolia was famous for its conflagrations. The elders of the town used to tell about the first one, in 1860, as though it were an historic event in the life of the town, for at that time almost the entire town went up in flames. In that year R. Pinchas Michael together with R. Natanel Chayim Pappe, one of the foremost townspeople, went forth long distances in behalf of the victims. They went as far as St. Petersburg. Everywhere they were cordially received. Thanks to these distinguished men the town was rebuilt and Jewish life began to pulsate there again, with all its light and shadows.
R. Pinchas Michael returned to his town and its Jews. He cared not only for his congregation but also for the problems of the entire Jewish community. Once he said to R. Jekutiel, the husband of Beila Hannah You are better off than I am, for the world is not upon you. From all corners of the earth people turned to him and gave him no rest, neither for the soul nor for the body. His wife, Mushks, would drive away those who besieged the rabbi's home saying, He is not able and he does not know. Let him alone.
The more she drove them away, the more they came. And what about the study of the Torah? After all, one had to carry out, thou shalt dwell on it day and night. He therefore followed the dictum of the Talmud The night was not created but for study (Erubin 55). He slept intermittently, and spent almost the entire night studying, and as a result his proficiency in Shas and Poskim was marvelous, so that all his distinguished contemporaries had the greatest respect for him.
Lack of sleep, his innumerable burdens and his strong concentration on his studies begot R. Pinchas Michael a severe case of hemorrhoids, and on orders of his physicians he went to Berlin for an operation. On leaving for Berlin he prepared for a journey to the hereafter, for who knows what the next day might bring? One must issue his testament to his household. R. Pinchas Michael then wrote his will. Ostensibly the will was for his sons, but whoever reads it with open eyes would see that this will constituted R. Pinchas Michael's credo, and witness thereby his inner, higher world, one of harmony and equity for one and all. Here we see his democratic attitude and viewpoint towards the status of the poor and the artisans, for in his day the artisan was looked down upon. All important in his eyes was the Scholar. He therefore orders his sons to marry off their sons to the daughters of scholars and do not
seek out the wealthy and for your daughters provide good and scholarly men, even from families of artisans. For this is no stigma at all, as the fools would have us believe. It is a greater stigma for those of wealthy families who lose other people's money. But the artisans who enjoy the fruits of their labor are precious in the eyes of the Lord. As it has been said, R. Pinchas Michael gave priority to scholars. He therefore orders his sons to purchase Shas and Poskim and all the other sacred books, for sometimes it is the lack of books that hampers study.
R. Pinchas Michael also possessed a sense of the esthetic, for he asks them to bind the books handsomely, for this brings glory to those who do so in this world and in the world to come. R. Pinchas Michael admonishes let not any curse come from your lips, even against gentiles or animals and raise your children gently, not by beatings, only goodly words and beware of being inconsiderate toward anyone, especially the maid servants, for they like you are descendants of our forefathers. Be careful to earn their respect and you will merit much goodness. He also admonishes at great length about peace in the household. A man must be easy going with his spouse, even though she may at time embitter his spirit. He advises not to argue with her, since it is difficult to vanquish them, and they should be judged affirmatively and kindly. He also admonishes his daughters and daughters-in-law to be careful to respect their husbands and not to irritate them even with slight speech. Concerning moodiness and anger he warns several times, for with aggravation you will not in any way repair the matter and remove the traits of aggravation and anger, and trust in the Lord in all your dealings. He therefore cautions concerning the giving of tithe for the benefit of the poor and other sacred matters. Such funds should be kept in trust as though they did not belong to the giver. If conditions of livelihood are not so good, there should be no journeying for the aid of a tzaddik in another town for in every town there are G-d-fearing people who would intercede with the Lord for the needy.
The same applies to physical matters. One must ask the grace of the Lord for himself first and then turn to others to request grace for him. And as he was the emissary of every pauper and downhearted in his lifetime, so he promises to intercede for those who seek his help in the hereafter. Reading the admonitions of R. Pinchas Michael O.B.M., we are reminded of the admonitions of R. Asher of Stolin O.B.M., the son of R. Aaron of Karlin, founder of the Karlin Chassidism. He too cautions several times about the observance of the Sabbath and the extension of the secular into the sacred, about the appointment of time for Torah study, about the contribution of tithe, etc. And one asks, was R. Pinchas Michael influenced by the Baal Shem Tov Chassidism, was he inclined toward Chasidism? The latter question can be definitely answered in the negative. On the contrary, from the numerous tales told in his name we learn that he was a strong opponent of the ways of Chassidim and its leadership. How then can two extremes exist in one entity? In truth, both opinions are correct. In his youth, R. Pinchas Michael was a strong opponent of the system of Chassidim, especially where it concerned the belated hour of prayer. But during his last years he came near to Chassidism, and at times prayed in the Chapel of the Stolin Chassidim.
For more than twenty years, R. Pinchas Michael occupied the rabbinic chair of Antipolia. Not all of them were years of peace and serenity. More than once someone was offensive and R. Pinchas Michael passed over the insult in silence and in his heart he forgave the offender. And the truth must be said that not all the residents of Antipolia recognized the greatness of their rabbi. This is a psychological truth: the townspeople do not give their rabbi recognition. An anecdote told in the name of R. Pinchas Michael reflects the attitude of the Jews of Antipolia toward him. Once he was asked, Why is he not as important in Antipolia as elsewhere? R. Pinchas Michael replied, The sedra Pinchas in its place and season is not especially important since it is read during the season of depression. But when it is
read outside its environment, as in the case of Maftir on the festivals, which is taken from Pinchas, one pays a large sum for this Aliyah. For Pinchas in its place is not so noteworthy, while Pinchas outside its place is more important.
Only after his demise did people begin to recognize the great importance of their Zaddick rabbi who lived like a saint and left the world in holiness. It is said that in 1890 (Rosh Hodesh Adar 5650), R. Pinchas Michael was stricken with typhoid. For two weeks he did not leave his bed, but his mind was clear. When prayer time came he woke up and prayed. On the last Sabbath of his life he went up to the Torah, saying to his household, I am a guest, and a guest must receive an Aliyah. On Sabbath night after Havdalah he sent a card by messenger to the Rabbi of Pinsk, informing him about his death and inviting him to his funeral, and in the same card he asked for his forgiveness. He also notified him that in the case of one place in the Rambam the law was according to the writer of the card.
On the eve of the 17th of Adar, his soul departed in purity. Immediately the entire town went into mourning. Messengers were dispatched to Horodetz and Kobrin to announce the bad tidings about the death of the Zaddik. Many inhabitants of these towns, Jews and gentile alike, came to the funeral. And these rabbis eulogized him: R. Joshua Jacob Rabinowitz, rabbi of Horodetz, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Rabinowitz and R. Moshe Berman, son-in-law of R. Pinchas Michael, the later rabbi of Antipolia, eulogized him at the synagogue. At the Beth Hamedrash in Pinsk Street he was eulogized by the dayan of Antipolia, R. David Rushkin and R. Pinchas, son of R. Elijah of Lida, dayan of Kobrin. Then they went to the old Beth Hamedrash where the deceased used to pray and the eulogy was delivered by the Gaon R. Joseph Saul Epstein, Rabbi of Kobrin. Thus came to an end the history of R. Pinchas Michael O.B.M. With his passing there closed a bright chapter in the history of Antipolia, whose Jews participated in its writing.
By P. Licht
Rabbi Moshe Berman was born in 1864 in Razinoi, White Russia, where his father Reb Feitl had been Rosh-Yeshiva for many years. Both his parents having died when he was still a boy, young Moshe grew up at the house of the famous charitable woman Hodeske, who was related to him through her husband. This wonderful woman had an enormous influence on the boy, and contributed immensely to the formation of his moral and personal character. He learned at the Razinoi Yeshiva, and later at Volozin and Minsk. Finally he came to Antopol, where he studied under the guidance of Rabbi Pinchas Michael O.B.M. In Antopol he married Breine-Henie, granddaughter of Rabbi Pinchas Michael, and following the wedding he spent some time in Kobrin.When R. Pinchas Michael died, and following the Grand Dispute about his successor, Rabbi Moshe became Rabbi together with Rabbi Hersh. After that Rabbi Hersh passed away, and Rabbi Moshe continued as the only successor.
Rabbi Moshe was a quiet man, always at study with the interests of the community close to his heart. He was a Zionist and also alert to worldly affairs. He tried once a business partnership with Reb Avraham- Moshe, son of the R.P.M., but he used to return his profits to the customers, for he would not take extra money from them. Eventually he sent back the merchandise to his partner, and went out of business.
After the end of World War I, he was brought over to the U.S.A. by his devoted sons, who had long before preceded him: Dr. P. Berman, and Mr. P. Berman. In 1921, Rabbi Moshe was appointed Rabbi of the Agudath Achim Congregation in Los Angeles. He soon received recognition from most of the orthodox Jewry, and was elected to be Chief Justice of the orthodox rabbinical court of Los Angeles. Being aware of the special circumstances in keeping Judaism in America, he was an understanding judge in religious matters. He himself sat all day long studying in the synagogue, and upon coming back
home he continued till late at night. Rabbi Moshe carried a continuous correspondence with many rabbis in the U.S.A. and was respected by all who knew him. Ten years he sat on the rabbinical chair in Los Angeles, until he was called to Heaven in 1930 (Heshvan 22, 5691).
For many years after his death they used to hold a special mourning meeting in his honor on the day of his Yorzeit, even after the synagogue had moved to another suburb. His blessed memory will always be with us.
By Abraham Warsaw
I came to the commander, who stood in the middle of the market place, surrounded by soldiers. He introduced himself as commander of those who killed in Kamin-Kashirsk over 300 Jews. His battalion camps not far away waiting for the fulfillment of their requisition. Otherwise they will come down to extinguish everything. I asked him for his requirements and he gave me a list of meat, corn, boots, salt, etc. which made me shiver.While we were thus talking he shouted: Why are we talking like this in the middle of the market? let us go into my office. Upon arrival he sat down and added to his list more and more provisions. In his office we were joined by the town mayor and leaders of the community. He then demanded that the whole requisition should be in his office within 4 hours. We pleaded for more time but to no avail. In the meantime came in the owners of the cattle which he had confiscated and offered to replace them with meat. He finally' agreed to exchange them for an additional ransom of 60,000 marks. They asked my advice, and I told them that he would take both the money and the cattle. They did not listen to me and found out later that I was right. We collected the items which he demanded while realizing that we will have robbed ourselves of everything after the completion of this task.
It all ended unexpectedly. When the owners of the cattle came asking for their cattle, the Belachovitzes began shooting at them, and when the soldiers stationed at the bakery heard the shooting they started shooting at the robbers who fled and left town to our great relief.
Winter was over early that year. The snow had already melted. Spring was coming from the warmer lands. The little town was still lying under the dirt of the heavy winter, which had kept the few alleys, as if under siege for full five months. Now it looked as if it has just started breathing again. The people themselves felt as if they had just grown a new skin, and accepted the deep marshes patiently.
In the prayer houses, Jews have been predicting an early spring, but the favorable predictions caused some of them to worry about provisions for the coming holidays Purim and Pesach, and they relied on the Almighty to help them solve their problems.
It was quite late after the third morning service. Shloime had participated in all three, after which he also took in a chapter of Psalms, and went home for
breakfast. The street was quiet. The sun had just emerged, and was biting, mercilessly into every hiding piece of ice. Birds were singing in the clear air and Shloime was overwhelmed with the beauty of God's world.
He was nearing the Kobriner Street, when he observed a cart approaching towards him out of the marshes. The man traveling in the cart was Mordche, who greeted Shloime wholeheartedly. Shloime returned the greeting, adding his own wishes for a happy good month, meanwhile indicating that he was not working these days. Mordche then spoke up, saying, As a matter of fact, I wanted to call you, Shloime. You see, my roof is getting rusty.
What did you say?, exclaimed Shloime as if s mitten with a club. What did I hear you say? Only about two weeks ago I went by your house and saw your roof shining like a mirror. As a matter of fact I enjoyed seeing it, after that the weather and the sun had brought out its true color of shining copper.
Yes, this is true about the front of the house, answered Mordche, but it did corrode on the other side.
Shloime could not refuse the invitation to come and see what could be done to repair the roof, and the two men bade each other farewell. Continuing on his way home, Shloime became gloomy, on account of his roof needing repair. Coming home, he kissed the mezuza, greeted the family and waited for his wife to call him to breakfast. His wife came towards him right out of the kitchen, where she was preparing a special breakfast in honor of Rosh-Hodesh (First day of the month), cut herring, skinned potatoes and sweet chicory, plus a white pletzl from Raphael the baker. Noticing the breakfast table, Shloime praised the Lord for His kindness, and later told his wife about Mordche's roof. But Leine Feigl never claimed any understanding in mending roofs, and consequently Shloime put on his coat and left the house, on his way to examine the roof. Shloime was walking with sure steps, encouraged by his wife's farewell blessing.
While walking he remembered his childhood days when he and Mordche went to the same Cheiders and later to the same Russian school. Both of them stood up bravely against the Russian boys. He, Mordche, was of the Sheinboim family, and Shloime was himself known for being of a good family. Later in life they separated. Mordche traveled over the world, seeking his fortune, which he did not find neither in America, nor in Africa. His fortune turned out to be right at his door, and he became a millionaire. But Shloime neither pursued his fortune, nor did fortune seek him out. Still he thanked God for everything and did not begrudge Mordche and felt equal to him in this mundane world. Walking like this, deep in thought, he did not feel the road, or the deep marshes. He approached the gate of Mordche's courtyard, the dogs greeting him in a friendly manner. He remembered the saying: When dogs play in town, it is a good omen. He is thankful for the friendly welcome, and his eyes begin to examine the roof. He goes around once and twice. The roof smiles at its master. There is no sign of rust. The gardener sees Shloime and greets him wholeheartedly:
Panie Shliomka, what brings you here ?
Tell me, have you noticed any rust on the roof? The gentile put away his gardening tools and gazed at Shloime:
Who was kidding you?
The landlord himself told me about it.
Oh! Panie Shliomka, you are a great friend of the landlord, and you drink tea with him. Don't you know that he is a kidder?
Now the driver approached, and he remembered the meeting on the road between his landlord and Shloime. Although he did not understand Yiddish, he knew what they talked about.
What do you say, Stepan Stepanowich, is the roof rusty?
I do not know what goes on the roof. You have
to see for yourselfmeaning, we all see there is no rust. Shloime came near the steps leading to the kitchen, cleaned his boots and entered the house. Somebody had told Mordche about Shloime's arrival, and he came towards his guest to greet him and invited him for a glass of tea.
Well, have you examined the roof? A smile appeared on Shloime's face as he was staring at Mordche. But Mordche did not let up, waiting for a reply.
Mt do you kid me? Do you think that I have enjoyed your kidding these last few hours?
Never mind. Listen to me. The roof did come out beautifully, and therefore, come summer, I want you to go over it for protection.
Bless you, exclaimed Shloime in relief, there is no need for it.
But I am the landlord here, and I want to have it painted.
It won't make it any better. You will throw away your money.
Here, put some brandy in your tea, suggested Mordche.
Well, in honor of Rosh-Hodesh it is nice to have a drink, but still I will not paint your roof.
Listen, in order to be sure that you will paint the roof, here is an advance payment of 25 rubles.
I won't take it. If you insist, I will paint your roof, but I won't take any payment in advance. I trust you.
Today I have it, maybe tomorrow I won't.
Leave me, go. I won't take it.
Mordche could not control himself any longer, and with a fraternal impulse stuffed the banknote into his friend's hand. At this gesture, Shloime froze, and like in a haze looked at Mordche as at an angel from heaven. He could not utter a single word of all he wanted to say. They both finished their tea and Shloime left the house with a mere, Good day, Mordche. Upon leaving the house, and being a little further away from the aristocratic courtyard, Shloime envied his friend Mordche for the first time in his life.
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