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Lippe the Wagon Master

Akiva Glikstein

When I emerged from my mother's womb I felt cold, they wrapped me in diapers and I calmed down. But then I felt terribly hungry. I was the last of the children, and my parents – middle aged. My mother, may her memory be for a blessing, used to tell that she was embarrassed to visit the synagogue during the period of her pregnancy, lest people say: “she is old and isn't embarrassed to engage in nonsense like this.” Artificial feeding wasn't known in those times. There were women, Christian and also Jewish, who served as wet nurses for a wage. In our house there lived a widow woman, Michla was her name. My father made it her responsibility to find a wet nurse for me as soon as possible, before I would join my grandfather, who was no longer alive. Michla brought Tzipke. Father signed her to a contract, according to which she was obligated to keep me in her house for a year, and we had the permission to extend the time until I would stand on my feet. The natural food, the milk – she was obligated to provide – the artificial feeding, porridges, etc., was on our account. Father was obligated to supply her with 35 bottles of beer every week, which increased the milk, as is known. The wet nurse wrapped me in a white sheet, took me under her arm as one carries a log, and carried me to her house. There I found a friend my age. We became friends, and divided the field of action between us.

The wet nurse had a father whose name was Reb Lippe. A strong Jew, with a majestic presence, a long beautiful grey beard. He resembled Professor Schreiber in Konigsberg, to whom the wealthy women in the area used to travel. He was expert in the written Torah,[1] loved to season his conversation with verses from the Tanakh with an Ashkenazi accent; he also loved the alcoholic beverage, as it is written: “Drunk and not from wine,”[2] apparently, from brandy. He was an excellent coachman, expert in his profession. His horses had a beautiful appearance. He also engaged in trading horses, but of a special kind. As is known, a merchant, before he sells merchandise, has to acquire it. He never bought a horse, because he would, excuse me, steal it. Lippe had a “principle:”[3] he would never steal a horse from a gentile. A gentile would run to the police, who would then find the horse with him, and they would send him (not the horse) to a sanitarium in Kalvaria (the prison there was less comfortable than today's “Sing-Sing”[4] which is in America.) His family would be left without a breadwinner – not worth it. A Jew, compared with this, as is known, is a “merciful one, son of a merciful one.” A Jew would not turn over a Jew, God forbid, to the hands of the gentiles. Informing, for generations, arouses nausea (“to the informers let there be no hope”).[5] A Jew will not place another Jew in trouble because of a horse, which is worth a few tens of rubles. To steal from Jews, therefore, had no danger in it. Lippe was a decent man. He would sell the horse to its legal owner, specifically at a cheap price. I remember him, when he went out to “penzia.”[6] His sons and his sons' sons worked in his profession. Lippe had a second “principle.” He would not steal from the same Jew more than twice a year. He had a ledger, in which was listed: “Parashat Vayikra[7] - next to the owner of the flour mill; Parashat

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Acharei Mot[8] next to the Polish lord (a young black horse, valuable); and so on. Before midnight he would say to his students: “Group! To work!” Take the “musical instruments” (that is to say: pliers, scalpel, screwdriver, keys of various shapes and sizes, etc.); be careful of the Ashmedai[9] (The Chief of Police); if they were to fall into the hands of the “angels of destruction”[10] give them “a blow on his side” (that is to say, a ruble). Go in peace and “Hashem[11] will help you.” They would bring the horse into a secret place. They would give him hardly any food, only enough that he wouldn't die, and wait for his owner to redeem him.

I was a boy of about 10. My father had horses for the purpose of transporting building materials. Especially trees from the forest for his buildings. Two waggoneers worked for us: Shmerke the Jew, and Frank the Pole. Once, early in the morning, as the ox licks,[12] I heard in my bed, that someone was knocking on the shutter of the parents' bedroom, and yelling in Polish: “Mr. Leibnu” (my father's name was Leib), I found the stable open, the lock broken, and the “bulan” (a color of horse) gone.” “Good” my father answers sleepily in Polish, and adds to himself: “Again the work of Lippe, may his name be erased, Master of the Universe.” He got dressed and washed. I understand that he is going to Lippe, and I ask that he take me with him. Lippe's house is known to me, after all I was raised there from age 0 – 1 , by his daughter Tzipke. Lippe stands at the eastern wall of the room, wrapped in a tallis and tefillin,[13] as if he did not see us, totally focused on prayer. Finally he spit, as was the custom, at “Aleinu.”[14] He finished. Lippe approached my father, entirely surprised. “Peace be to you Reb Leib, what an honor that you came to visit in my house” he says. “Certainly you want me to hitch my “lions” and travel with you to Suwalk (the District city, a distance of 28 kilometers from my city). “This time I did not come for that purpose” - my father says – “Frank woke me and said that my stable was open, the lock was broken, and “the boy was gone,”[15] that is to say, the bulan.” Lippe: “Am I my brother's keeper?”[16] My father (carefully, so as not to damage his honor), “isn't it known to me that you trade in horses (not steal, God forbid), certainly the thief would bring my horse to you, please ransom it, I will return to you what you are owed.” Lippe is tapping quietly with his fingers on the table as if to recite: “cast your bread on the waters and after many days it will return to you.”[17] Father: “How much is it?” Lippe: “The more, the more praiseworthy.”[18] Father takes his wallet out of his pocket, pulls out of it a blue 5-ruble bill, and puts it on the table. Lippe gently pushes the bill away from himself and says: “Give me some of that red, red, stuff…”[19] (a 10-ruble bill was red). Father says: “Lippe, God be with you, 10 rubles for the bulan?” If I sell it, they would not give much more than that; isn't his left eye, not upon you, crossed, and the right hind leg is shorter than the other 3, 10 rubles, aren't you embarrassed?” Lippe gently taps with his right hand on the table, and says: “tell my Lord.”[20] Which is to say, “talk to the wall.” My father again takes his wallet out of his pocket, returns the 5-ruble bill to its place, and takes out a 10-ruble bill. Lippe puts the bills in his pocket and says: “Take yourself to your land, and to the land of your birth,”[21] that is to say, that the horse would be returned to the stable that same night. The next day, in the morning, we found the bulan next to the trough, as if nothing had happened. My father was a smart and practical Jew. Once he said to Lippe: “Listen, Lippe, let's talk openly. Why do you have to steal a horse twice a year, each time to get 10 liras,[22] in addition to this you cause damage, since you break the lock, and a pair of horses with a coachman are idled? I have a suggestion: leave my horses be, come to my house twice a year, the eve of Rosh Hashanah and the eve of Pesach, each time you will receive 10 rubles, and peace on Israel, both of us will be satisfied.”

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Lippe: “Oy Reb Leib, aren't you a smart Jew, how can you suggest such a thing to me? What am I in your eyes? A beggar? I should take donations? I receive the money for work, as it written: “By your sweat of your brow you will eat your bread.”[23] In Lippe's yard there was a kind of beauty parlor for horses. When they wanted to sell an old horse for a good price, they would bring it to Lippe a few days before the “fair.” Lippe would take a small file, a small scalpel, he would place a device into the horse's mouth so that he would not close it, and remove the signs on the edges of the teeth that indicate the true age of the horse. A few hours before the start of the fair, the owner of the horse would again bring his horse to Lippe, and he would spread spicy pepper under its tail. The horse would turn into a war horse, stamping his feet, and swinging his tale like a young horse. The buyer would be very impressed. After an exhausting negotiation, accompanied by pats on the palms of the seller and buyer, the two of them would enter the public house to “wet” the deal (with the expense on the buyer's account). After a few hours the influence of the paprika dissipated, the horse returned to being sad, his head lowered, quiet, ready to be delivered to be “a carcass skinned in the market,”[24] but the money was already in the hand of the seller, and go scream “alive and well.” Lippe would also dye stolen horses. A white horse would turn to black with shoe cream, to brown with chicory, to yellow with onion skins, the way they color eggs for Pesach. On that night they transfer the horse to the nearby eastern Prussia, and sell it to a farmer at dusk, when vision is weak. On the next day in the morning the farmer would wonder that the black horse from yesterday had turned white. Lippe had a heart of gold. He would give a donation to the poor, buy an “aliyah,”[25] precisely the third one on Simchat Torah, precisely the “Chatan Torah.”[26] When a Jew would approach Lippe and say to him” “Lippe, I need to travel to Suwalk, but I have no money,” Lippe would smile and say: “If there is no flour there is no Torah,”[27] and immediately add “Reb Ploni son of Reb Almoni, we honor you with an aliyah to the Torah (that is to say, to get up on the wagon), and the price – when conditions improve.” He was honored and beloved by all, especially by children. When I began to visit the “cheder” at the age of 6, I would encounter Lippe nearly every morning, when he was standing in the market with his wagon master friends. He was always a little tipsy. When he would see me, he would approach with a smile on his lips, would grasp my cheek with the two rough fingers of his right hand (this was a pinch of fondness, of course, that brought tears from my eyes), and he would say: “Do you remember, Kivele, how Tzipke the wicked woman, would let you wail all night like a puppy, and I used to rock your cradle, since I am a Jew. Honor me with a shot cup.” Five kopeks, the price of the shot cup, were always in my pocket, but I was not able to give it to him, because Lippe owed money in every public house in the city. He did not receive on credit anymore, and if he offered the money in advance they would credit it to his account, but they would not give him a shot cup. I was compelled, therefore, to disturb my honor, to enter the pub, request a shot, and serve it to him. Lippe would make the “that everything is created by his word”[28] blessing. He would upturn the shot into his throat, and he would say: “if only I was a king, I would hang the owner of the factory that manufactures tiny cups like these.” He begins to sing loudly from the Passover Haggadah: “Who knows two? I know two.” Which is to say, it will not hurt at all if Reb Leib's son would pour him another one. Finally, I am not Rothschild. When I was convinced that Lippe was waiting for me every morning, and because of him I couldn't buy a pear or an apple for myself, I began to walk to the “cheder” by a circuitous route. But when it became known to him from the mouth of a friend that I continued to attend the “cheder,” he came, waited until the break, and when I went out to play with my friends, he approached me, smiled, and said: “I raised sons and elevated, and they transgressed against me,”[29] ai, ai

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not nice.” I had no choice, but to continue and supply him with brandy. To my joy, my parents transferred me to a “cheder” in the district city of Suwalk, and the unfortunate Lippe remained without worry. My father told about an event that happened with Lippe, which is worth bringing here. In our area there lived a Pole, owner of a large holding, an exalted rich man. He had a carriage, which he ordered specially from outside of the country with all the amenities. His coachman looked like a prince, the bridle with silver ornaments, etc. A pair of horses that he bought in Denmark was harnessed to the carriage. There they had high quality pedigreed horses. He was proud of these horses, because their color was rare, white patches on a brown background. These 2 horses were twins, young, about 3-4 years old, and the patches on their bodies was the same size and arrangement, a very rare thing. Really a wonder. A tragedy happened; one of the horses got sick and died. The “Fritz”[30] mourned as if one of the members of his family died. All his aspiration was to find a matching horse. He photographed the living horse and sent his picture outside of the country to famous horse sellers, but it was all in vain. Finally he bought a less praiseworthy pair of horses for his carriage, and instructed the manager of his farm to sell the orphaned horse at any price, in order not to see him in his sorrow. The matter became known to Lippe. When the Fritz went out for a walk, Lippe entered the property. When the manager of the farm saw him he was very happy to greet him, and offered him the horse at a good price. Lippe tied the horse behind his wagon, and travelled in the direction of the place from where the Fritz had to return to his castle. And here the Fritz appeared in his wonderful carriage with the decorated coachman and his armed bodyguard. Lippe, as usual, lowers his hat, stands and blesses him. The Fritz's eyes lit up. Tied to Lippe's wagon was a horse that he was seeking. In vain, for more than a year now. He doesn't believe what his eyes are seeing, and orders the coachman to get down and check the horse. The coachman gets down, checks the horse, crosses himself, mentions Jesus[31] and the Holy Mother; a miracle happened; a double of the horse which is up for sale has been found. Lippe tells the “Fritz” that he bought the horse at a “fair” in Grodno from a Gypsy. The “Fritz” did not negotiate a price, and paid for the horse the amount that Lippe asked for. On the next day, in the morning, when the manager of the farm entered the stable he saw that the horse he had sold yesterday is standing in the stable. An act of sorcery. Father used to tell that over the course of years Lippe was afraid to pass by the estate. For the Fritz the 100 rubles was no loss, but his neighbors made fun of him on how he fell victim to Lippe's ability.

In this way, Lippe was my “grandfather.” Decades went by and I had a family, a father to two children; a son who was 4 years old, and a daughter who was 1. I was working in Egypt for a German company. On May 1, 1912, I received a vacation to travel to Europe, after an exhausting year of working in the wet heat in the area of Aswan and Luxor. My wife, may her memory be for a blessing, wanted to see her relatives in Suwalk, and I, the city of my birth, Augustow. On the day after my arrival in the city, I went to visit Lippe. The small house had aged like its owner. On the roof the wooden roofing tiles gushed with leaks. On the “prizbah” (a kind of bench next to the outer wall of the house, with a shielding wall of wooden planks), he sits. White as snow, his eyes almost closed, his chin adorned with a long beard, leaning on a stick, maybe sleeping, maybe awake. I approached him, took his right hand into mine, and I blessed him with peace. “Reb Lippe!” I shouted in his deaf ear. He opened his eyes and asked: “Who are you?” Before I had time to answer Tzipke, my wet nurse, came running out of the house. This was a very dramatic meeting. The two of us wept from an abundance of emotion. I asked about my friend my age, who had emigrated to America. The stable in the yard was open, there were no horses, only a wagon, on the trash heap decaying wagon parts were laying. Tzipke screamed: “This is our Kivele, the son of Reb Leib!” He recovered: “Your father is in the land of Israel. I envy him. The land of Israel. Jerusalem!

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He is happy. I would have wanted to be buried on the Mt. of Olives, and be exempt from the rolling tunnels[32] in the coming of the Messiah.” “Lippe” – I asked – what about the virtue of “wine will gladden the heart of a person?”[33] “Tzipke the wicked doesn't give.” I remember, how I used to hitch the lions and travel with your father to Suwalk. In every public house I drank brandy in a tea cup, 92 proof, I used to feel a tickling in the belly. There are no proprietors like those now. In the “kloiz” tailors and shoemakers sit now, ignoramuses. “Do me a favor – I said to Tzipke - here is money, go to the “Monopol” (a government store for beverages) and buy him a bottle of brandy, but the strongest, that he should drink to his health.” She brought the bottle, and poured him a large cup. He took the cup with trembling hands, gulped, and said: “This is brandy? “The pony” (a derogatory name for the Tsar's government) knows how to make brandy? Thieves! They dilute it with too much water, I don't feel any tickle in the belly.” “Nu, Lippe” I said, “be healthy, until 120.”[34] “Feh,[35] it is boring – Lippe sighed “soon the “Hetzel” will take me (a professional who kills sick horses and strips the hides from them).


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The Tanakh is the Written Torah; the Talmud is the Oral Torah. Return
  2. Isaiah 51:21 “…Therefore, listen to this, unhappy one, who is drunk, but not with wine!” Return
  3. The English word written in Hebrew letters is used here. Return
  4. Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a maximum-security prison operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in the village of Ossining, New York. It is not known for its amenities. Return
  5. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, The Order of Prayer 2:13, found in the morning service in most Jewish prayerbooks. Return
  6. Retirement. Return
  7. The name of the weekly Torah portion that was the first one in the book of Leviticus. Return
  8. The name of the weekly Torah Portion “After the Death,” also in Leviticus, that begins after the death of the sons of Aaron. Return
  9. The head of the demons in Jewish mythology. Babylonian Talmud Gittin 68a: “Solomon brought a male demon and a female demon and tormented them together, and they said: We do not know where to find the shamir. Perhaps Ashmedai, king of the demons, knows.” Return
  10. Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 55a: “…And inscribe a tav of blood on the foreheads of the wicked as a sign so that the angels of destruction will have dominion over them.” Return
  11. “The Name,” a euphemism for God. Return
  12. Numbers 22:4 ““Now this horde will lick clean all that is about us as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” Return
  13. A prayer shawl and phylacteries. Return
  14. In this concluding prayer, which begins with the words “It is upon us to praise the Master of all,” there is a rare custom of spitting after the words “lahevel varek” which literally means: “that they (the gentiles) bow to vapor and emptiness,” because the word for emptiness, “rek,” sounds like “rok” which means spit. Return
  15. Genesis 37:30 “Returning to his brothers, he said, “The boy is gone! Now, what am I to do?”” Return
  16. Genesis 4:9 “The LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?” Return
  17. Ecclesiastes 11:1 Return
  18. From the Passover Haggadah: “The more one tells of the Exodus from Egypt, the more praiseworthy it is.” Return
  19. Genesis 25:30. Return
  20. 1 Kings 20:9 “So he said to Ben-hadad's messengers, “Tell my lord the king…” Return
  21. Genesis 12:1 “The LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your land and from the place of your birth…” Return
  22. The currency of the State of Israel from June 9, 1952 until February 23, 1980. Return
  23. Genesis 3:19. Return
  24. There is an error in the original, which gives the phrase as “a carcass skinned outside,” but the correct expression is found in the Talmud and makes more sense. Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 113a: “…Rav further said: Skin a carcass in the market and take payment…” Return
  25. The honor of being called up to the podium to recite the blessing for the Torah reading. Return
  26. On Simchat Torah, after completing the reading of the Torah at the end of the book of Deuteronomy, it is a special honor to receive the last aliyah of the Book of Deuteronomy. The person who receives that aliyah is called the Chatan Torah, the groom of the Torah, or Kallat Torah, the bride of the Torah, in synagogues where women receive an aliyah. Return
  27. Pirke Avot 3:21. Return
  28. The blessing appropriate for alcoholic beverages other than wine. “Blessed are You, Adonoi our God, Ruler of the universe, by Whose word all things came to be.” Return
  29. Isaiah 1:2. Return
  30. A Polish nobleman. Return
  31. Named here as Yeshu, the usual rabbinic name for him, which is the abbreviation for “May his name and Memory be erased.” Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zarah 17a: “…I found a man who was one of the students of Yeshu the Nazarene…” Return
  32. Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 111a: “Abaye said: Tunnels are prepared for them in the ground, through which they pass to Eretz Yisrael.” Those buried on the Mt. of Olives, facing the Temple Mount on the east, will already be in place for the arrival of the Messiah, who will come through the eastern gate of Jerusalem. In Ezekiel 46:12 we read that there is one person, a “prince,” who may enter via the eastern gate: “When the prince provides a freewill offering to the LORD . . . the gate facing east is to be opened for him…Then he shall go out, and after he has gone out, the gate will be shut.” Return
  33. Psalm 104:15. Return
  34. It is traditional to bless someone that they live to be 120 years old, the age of Moses at his death. Return
  35. An exclamation of disgust. Return


Abba Gordin,
May His Memory Be For a Blessing

Chaim Dan

Secluded and isolated, he used to sit alone in his abode in Ramat Gan, with his weapons upon him. His quill in his hand, bent over his manuscripts, ready for battle and for creation – and he was more than seventy.

A remnant of the generation of illegal immigration that the Jewry of Russia and Poland established at the beginning of the present century,[1] a generation that wrestled with beings Divine and human…[2] A personality rich in spirit, a wise scholar son of a wise scholar, expert and sharp. In his articles and books, he integrated words of the first and the last together. A swimmer in the sea of the Talmud and the “Zohar,”[3] with a hand in Marx and Kropotkin, and frequently quoting from all sides, without a barrier. His furrow delved into various fields: science and philosophy, prose and poetry, essay and story, article and feuilleton.[4] Intellectual curiosity that did not know satiation, and that had no limit to its range.

The man knew many incarnations. From Poland to Russia, from Russia to America, and from America – in old age – to Israel. From piety to heresy, and to piety in heresy, until anarchism.

In Russia, in the days of the revolution, he was one of the first of the speakers of anarchism, who competed with the Bolsheviks over the seizure of power. He came into personal contact with the greats of the revolution: Lenin, Kamenev, Dzerzhinsky, etc. An opponent of their tactics in the name of revolutionary consistency… How he, the son of a rabbi, a seeker of morality and splendor, careful with the honor of every person, encountered this milieu – the irony of fate.

By a miracle, he left there and sailed for America. Keeping faith with the ideas of anarchism, there too he found his place in the elite of the anarchists, of the generation of the veteran emigres, and became their teacher.[5]

Full of wandering and disappointment, he left there and reached Israel.

When you came in his presence you saw how tragic was the fate of the part of the Jewish intelligentsia

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in the generation that passed by. And among all of them, wasn't the fate of the part that held fast to this discarded movement that served anarchism on the street of the Jewish workers more tragic? What is the face of that same faction today? A movement without successors, without heirs, a movement whose horizon is sealed by the erosion of time. In effect, it shrank altogether in groups of individuals above middle age, without a public, without a living reality.

His liveliness stood him in good stead – and the fire of his youth did not go out despite the changes in the times and the changing climate on the landscape and in the surroundings. At the end of his days he aroused his spirit in worlds that were closer to him than the dawn of his youth. In the last years, he was given to the writing of a novel from the period of King Solomon, and monographic books about the Maharal,[6] Rashi, and the Holy Ari.[7]

Old and weakened, he did not know fatigue in his literary work until his last day. All who knew him were surprised by him, and in their eyes the matter was a symbol of the supremacy of spirit over the material. And while he still carried in his heart rich worlds, and sought to bequeath them to many, he was taken, and is no more.

He died August 21, 1964. He was 77 years old at his death. Peace to his dust.[8]


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The 20th century. Return
  2. Genesis 32:29 “Said he, your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” Return
  3. The primary work of Jewish mysticism. Return
  4. A part of a newspaper or magazine devoted to criticism, light literature, or fiction. Return
  5. This phrase, “moreh-hora'ah,” generally refers to a teacher of Jewish law. Its use here seems ironic. Return
  6. Judah Loew ben Bezalel, 1520 - 1609, known as the Maharal of Prague, or The Maharal, the Hebrew acronym of “Moreinu Ha-Rav Loew” (“Our Teacher, Rabbi Loew”). Return
  7. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534-1572, is commonly known as the Ari, an acronym standing for Eloki Rabbi Yitzchak, “the Godly Rabbi Isaac”; ari is also the Hebrew word for “lion.” Isaac Luria was the father of Lurianic kabbalah. Return
  8. May he rest in peace. Return


Members of the Enlightenment and Chovevei Tzion

by M. Tzinovitz

The Hebrew Writer Yisrael Ze'ev Sperling

A zealot for the enlightenment, and battling with the conservative “rebels against the light,”[1] who were afraid that the enlightenment would weaken the foundations of the religion and change the traditional ways of life. In his articles in “HaMelitz” he sharply attacked the young Rabbi Reb Katriel Natan, the local Av Beit Din, who stood on guard for the life of the patriarchal[2] religion, so that it would not be harmed by the enlightenment.

At the end of the seventies of the previous century,[3] he was renowned as a Hebrew translator. Within two years, 5637-5639 [1877-1879], he published translations of two books by Jules Verne: “In the Depths of the Sea” and “In the Belly of the Earth,” which achieved great attention in the groups of Hebrew readers.

In the opening to the translation it is written that the book contains: “stories of knowledge of the nature of the sea and its wonders in the deep, wrapped in a charming, even pleasant, story from a journey around the globe of the earth in the heart of great and small seas, under the cover of the water and awesome ice. They derive from the language of France, and were copied freely to the language of Ever, clearly and simply, for the benefit of the youth seeking enlightenment.”

The second book, “In the Belly of the Earth,” contains: “geologic knowledge and wonders from the workings of nature in the lap of the inner land. Wrapped in a charming, even pleasant story from a journey to the center of the earth, by way of volcanic channels carved by fire. They derive from the language of France, and were copied freely to the language of Ever, clearly and simply, for the benefit of the youth seeking enlightenment.”

With the occurrence of the pogroms in south Russia, Y. Z. Sperling was disappointed and sobered, as an example of other Hebrew writers, in “heavenly education.”[4] He joined the “Chibbat Tzion” movement, which was developed in the Jewish public in Russia, and was one of its heads in Augustow, the city where he resided.

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When he died in the year 5670 [1910], an article in his memory was published in the daily Hebrew newspaper “Hed HaZman,”[5] which appeared in Vilna, edited by Ben-Tzion Katz. The writer of the note, the Shaliach Tzibur and Shochet U'bodek, Yosef Chaim Ratner, writes: “another one of the enlightened of the old generation in our city went to his eternity. One of these types that are becoming fewer in our generation. The writer Yisrael Sperling translated the French writer Jules Verne's “In the Belly of the Earth” and “In the Deeps of the Sea.” The deceased sage was great in Torah and God-fearing, and expert in research books. He dedicated a great part of his time to general sciences. He knew the German, Polish and Russian languages well. The deceased left behind a book which is still in manuscript, by the name “Validation of Wisdom on the Science of Physics,” that the sage Chaim Zelig Slonimski (founder, editor, and publisher of “HaTzefirah”) supported. The deceased was 90 years old at his death. The members of our community accorded him great respect. All the shops were closed, and many thronged behind his bier.”

Yisrael Ze'ev Sperling served for decades as “Rabbi on behalf”[6] in Augustow. He also became the speaker and the advocate of the Jewish community of the city of his residence in relation to the Russian authority and the district officials of Augustow, which included the Jewish town of Sapotzkin. When Rabbi Katriel Natan left Augustow, he served as rabbi in Bodki and Sapotzkin. He supported the invitation of Rabbi Leib Gordin from Michaelishok to be the Rabbi Av Beit Din in Augustow. Y.Z. Sperling ascribed great importance to Rabbi Gordin and emphasized this matter in his letters in “HaTzefirah.”

 

Reb Arieh Leib Glikstein

Born in Grayevo in 5594 [1834] to his father Yaakov. He received a traditional education in cheder and yeshiva. He was a merchant in Augustow and one of the activists of “Chovevei Tzion” in the place. In correspondence on the “Chibbat Tzion” movement,” his name is always mentioned. He went up to the land in the year 1904. He engaged in public needs on the moshava Zikhron Yaakov. His daughters were Esther, the wife of Chaim Margalit Kalvariski, and Rivka, the wife of Dr. Hillel Yaffa. His son Akiva was born in the year 5641 [1881]. Akiva completed university in engineering. He went up to the land. He built many buildings in the land. He helped his brother-in-law, Dr. Hillel Yaffa, in cleaning and drying out the swamp that was adjacent to Merchaviah.

In the year 1912 he established the Institute for Irrigation, the first in the land, next to the Yarkon. In the First World War, he built buildings and roads in the Sinai Desert for the Turkish army. In the year 1919 he established the Institute for Water on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv. He also built the school building for teachers in Beit Karem, and the “Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael” building in Rechavia, Jerusalem. In World War Two he worked as a contractor for the British Army in Syria and Lebanon. (According to the “Tidhar” Encyclopedia).

 

The Writer and Enlightened One E.Y. Shapira

Elazar Yitzchak Shapira was born in the year 5596 [1836] in Seirijai to his father Reb Moshe. In his youth he learned in the yeshiva of Sejny. When the yeshiva was closed he moved to Augustow, and continued to learn with his uncle, who was the Rabbi of the city.

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With the influence of his relative Tuvia Pesach Shapira, who was a Hebrew teacher, Reb Elazar Yitzchak became a Hebrew teacher in Augustow and preached the Enlightenment. When the place in this town, where his uncle officiated as Rabbi, became too restricted for him, he settled in Warsaw, in the year 5624 [1864]. There he opened a bookstore, which was famous as a meeting place for sages and writers. He also became one of the first Hebrew publishers. A. Y. SH. [his initials], the nickname “Ish,”[7] for some time edited the “Boker Or,”[8] of A.B. Gotlover, and contributed to “HaMaggid,” “HaTzefirah,” “HaMelitz,” “HaYom,” “HaAsif,” with articles, feuilletons, and translations. In “HaAsif” of the year 5646 [1886], He published a story about Daniel Deronda, and translated the story of the German-Jewish writer Shlomo Cohen, “The Redeemer and the Savior,” which in its time was a book read widely by the youth.

Is”h also knew Polish, and published articles in this language on Jewish topics in the Polish-Jewish newspaper “Yotshanka” that appeared in Warsaw.

One must further point out that in the year 5631 [1871], the book “Letters in a Book” was printed, which contained 100 letters to youth in addition to the story “Rephael,” which achieved great distribution among yeshiva students who became enlightened, and served for them as the first fundamental material for their recognition of the Hebrew language and its grammar. In that year he also published two booklets “Meged Yerachim[9] and also a collection of stories “Yad HaRotzim.”[10]

In the weekly “HaOlam,”[11] year two, he published his memories of A.Tz.[12] HaCohain Zweifel.

 

Chaim Rozental

A functionary and merchant, who went up to the land of Israel in the year 5682 [1922], and died at the age of 93. He was born in Augustow on 13 Tevet, 5626 (1865). He learned in “cheder” in Augustow, continued his studies at the gymnasia in Suwalk, and afterwards at the University of Warsaw. He was crowned with a Master's degree in law.

In the year 1890 he was appointed as the agent of a kerosene and oil company. Afterwards he became the owner of a soap factory in Odessa. He took to wife Miriam the daughter of Eliyahu HaCohain Kaplan, a well-known lover of Zion.

He was drawn further to Zion when he sat on the benches of the University of Warsaw. He administered intensive Zionist propaganda among the Jewish students. When the “Bnei Moshe[13] organization was found in the year 5649 [1889], he joined it.

For many years he dwelt, for the purpose of his business, in cities that were outside the area of “the Pale of Settlement.” And in every place that he resided, he served as a faithful one of Zion.

In the year 1893 he served as the Deputy Chief of the community and attorney for “Chovevei Tzion” in Saratov. When he moved to Gur Levko, he was appointed there as head of the community council (in the year 1901). He was always taking care of great ventures, yet he always found time for communal and Zionist action. In the year 1906 he moved to live in Odessa, and was chosen as a member of the “Chovevei Tzion” Council. In the year 1911 he visited in the land and travelled its length and its breadth. When he returned to Odessa M. Ussishkin appointed him to be the publisher and official editor of the weekly “HaOlam,” which was transferred to Odessa at the beginning of 1912. Besides this he was active in Zionist educational and cultural institutions in Odessa, and also was a member of the community council. In addition, he founded the “Kinneret” book publisher, which published books about Judaism and Zionism.

In the year 1919 he was imprisoned together with a group of Zionists in Odessa (among them: Ze'ev Tiomkin, the attorney Pen, Yaakov Vasserman). Only thanks to the investigator Svarny, a friend of his son-in-law Dr. Leib Tshartkov,

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they were saved from a death sentence. In the year 1920 he reached the land of Israel and immediately undertook public action. He was chosen for the administration of “Savings and Loan” in Tel Aviv, and served as the administrator of the institution over the course of 10 years. With the outbreak of the events of 5681 [1921], hundreds of Jews that lived in Jaffa were left without a roof over their heads. At his initiative, and the initiative of Dr. Bogroshov, they organized and founded the society of “The Homeless.” Thanks to his action and his energy (he was the head of the association), the association succeeded in obtaining land from “the Keren Kayemet,” and mortgage loans for building, and the neighborhood was erected with a speed outside of the regular restrictions. In the year 1929, at his initiative, the monthly “Cooperation” was founded, in which he participated for a long time as writer and editor. His articles were translated afterwards in the literature of the Cooperation in Poland. He was the head of the “Covenant of the First Ones”[14] after the death of Alter Druyanov. He died in Tel Aviv, 24 Tammuz 5706 (July 23, 1946), and was buried in the old cemetery. His descendants: Lydia (Leah), the wife of Dr. Leib Tshartkov (doctor of the “Herzliya” gymnasium); Aharon, a lawyer in Tel Aviv.

 

Reb Shaul Mendel Rabinovitz

The son-in-law of Reb Dovid Mordechai Markus. Learned in Torah, an enlightened Hebrew and veteran Zionist. He dwelled for a number of years in Augustow. He moved afterwards to Pinsk, the city of his birth, and became the manager of a factory of the house of Luria in that city.

He was a quintessential Zionist. A delegate to the 7th Zionist Congress. Head of the local Zionist organization. He died in the year 5679 [1919] in Pinsk. His wife Malkah (Regina),[15] was born in Augustow, and was head of the WIZO[16] organization in Pinsk, and head of the orphans' homes in that city. Their son was Dr. Ze'ev Rabinovitz, the doctor of the Haifa municipality, a researcher of Chassidism, who won a prize for his book “The History of Chassidism in Lithuania.”

 

Yosef Guviansky

Born in the year 5607 [1847] in Lipsk, which is adjacent to Augustow. He became enlightened in the yeshiva of Volozhin and settled in Augustow. The enlightened writer Y. Z. Sperling drew him near. He supported himself by the teaching of Tanakh and Hebrew to a small group of youth who were the sons of householders in the city. His influence on the young yeshiva students was great.

From Augustow he moved to Krynki, his wife's birthplace. The zealots pursued him, and on account of them he wandered from place to place. He found a few years of calm in Plonsk, where he succeeded in implanting knowledge of the Hebrew language and literature in wide groups of youth of the generation. He published articles in the Hebrew press of those days. Finally he settled in Warsaw as a modern teacher of the children of the Lithuanian “Mitnagdim[17] that were settled in that city.

Yosef Guviansky died close to the outbreak of the First World War.

 

Kalman Avigdor Perla

Kalman Avigdor Perla was born in Kolno. One time he saw letters that were not Hebrew in the gate of a book. It aroused in him the desire to know what these letters were. He began to follow men who knew

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foreign letters, and with their help he learned the Polish and Russian letters. He connected the letters into words, and succeeded, after much labor, in learning to read.

He married a wife from the daughters of Lomza. When he was dependent on his father-in-law's table, he made the acquaintance of the teacher Shvartzenberg, who used to lend him books to read. When the matter became known to his father-in-law, he began to make his life miserable, until he was compelled to flee from his house and move to Augustow, where his brother-in-law the doctor Yazlovski lived, who he called “seedling doctor.” In Augustow Kalman Avigdor learned Polish, Russian, German, French, Italian, and Greek well.

He engaged in teaching in various places for many days. Finally, he settled in Lublin, and founded there a school for young men.

His book “Treasury of the Language of the Sages” is a study of the Hebrew language. In his last years he composed his book “The Interpreter and the Translator,” a study of the “foreign” words in Rashi's commentary.

Kalman Avigdor Perla died in the year 5673 [1913]. He was 84 at his death.

According to HaTzefirah 1913 No. 93

 

Dovid Arieh Aleksandrovitz

Aug261.jpg

 

A Jew of the “amcha” type. He lived by the fruit of his labors, from his work in tanning leather. A man of action, and industrious. He did not withhold time and effort for the good of the collective and the private. For a certain time he served as Head of the Jewish community in Augustow.

In the year 1920 a serious war was fought between the Russians and the Poles, and the Russian army had already reached the gates of Warsaw, the capital city of Poland. The Russians conquered city after city, and tarried in our city for about a month of days.

The Polish army wore strength and succeeded in driving the Russians out to Minsk in White Russia. The Russians fled in panic, starving and thirsty. While in flight they threw off their weapons. A situation was created between them: the Russians left the Polish cities, and the Poles had not yet entered. Then hard days came to the Polish Jews, a situation “between kings, a time when each person did what was right in their own eyes.”[18]

Jewish youth from all the cities of Poland accompanied the fleeing Russians from all the cities of their retreat. The Jewish youth fled from fear of the Polish army, which was likely to make false accusations against them… the number of Jewish refugees reached the thousands.

The goal of those fleeing was the border of the neutral country of Lithuania. This border was signposted a few kilometers past Augustow, on the way to the town of Ratzk. Many of them, however, succeeded in crossing the border and reaching the place that they sought. However, those that did not succeed remained stuck in Augustow.

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The Lithuanian border was suddenly closed and placed under meticulous guard. Among the Jewish refugees were youth from all the echelons: intelligentsia, workers, yeshiva boys. All of them were miserable, hungry and thirsty, their feet were swollen and wounded from much walking. All of them were terrified and desperate with fear for the future.

The Polish army reached Augustow, the regiment of General Heller, who was notorious as the quintessential anti-Semite, and also his soldiers did his will. The soldiers scattered in all the Jewish houses, on the pretext of searching for Bolsheviks, and in the meantime arrested all the refugees that they could.

After a certain time, when their spirits calmed down a little, the Jews came out of their hiding places. Most of the people began to worry about their livelihoods, and how to get back their looted property. However, Dovid Arieh Aleksandrovitz preferred the communal worries to the private worries.

He shut the doors of his workshop, and engaged in opening the doors of the prison. He enthusiastically took care of freeing the Jewish boys – among them were people without a name, lacking passports, who were expecting severe punishments. He did not hesitate and entered with devotion into a bad and dangerous business, and this in a warlike atmosphere, days of emergency, when every Jew was suspected of spying and of Bolshevism.

At a time like this, Dovid Arieh Aleksandrovitz found pathways between the people of the regime and the Polish secret police. He acted and he succeeded. The doors of the prison were opened, and the arrested Jewish refugees went out to freedom, group by group, in order that the evil eye of the high windows would not control them.

He was respected by all the residents of the city, for they knew his faithfulness to the public, and the work of his hands – was magnificent.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Those who opposed the light of the enlightenment. Return
  2. This word is missing one letter, but can only be “patriarchal.” Return
  3. The 19th century. Return
  4. Enlightenment. Return
  5. “The Echo of the Time.” Return
  6. The Rabbi appointed by the community and ratified by the Russian governor. Return
  7. “Man.” Return
  8. “Morning of Light.” Return
  9. “The Bounty of Moons.” Deuteronomy 33:14 “With the bounteous yield of the sun, And the bounteous crop of the moons;” Return
  10. “The Hand of Those Who Want.” Return
  11. “The World.” Return
  12. Eliezer Tzvi. Return
  13. “Children of Moses.” Return
  14. Leviticus 26:45 “I will remember in their favor the covenant with the ancients, whom I freed from the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God: I, the LORD.” Return
  15. Regina is a translation of the Hebrew name Malkah. Both mean queen. Return
  16. The Women's International Zionist Organization. Return
  17. Opposers. Return
  18. Babylonian Talmud Chullin 57b “Or perhaps it was between king and king, as it is written: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).” Return


Reuven Rotenberg

Zelda Edelstein (Koshelevski), daughter of the rabbi

 

Aug262.jpg

 

He was a magnificent figure, a good man who did good, ran like a deer and brave as a lion to do the mitzvot between a person and God, and between people. He was always ready to extend help to others. In every event of tragedy or saving a life, Reuven Rotenberg always stood out, at the head of those offering help. Even in the middle of the night, in the cold, in the rain and snow, he hurried to the bedside of the sick and lonely. Even before they had time to summon a doctor, Reuven Rotenberg would roll up his sleeves, put wood in the stove, heat water, wash the sick with alcohol, etc. He was expert in offering first aid, and was not afraid of contagion. He believed with complete faith that “the keeper of mitzvot will not know evil.”

There was an incident when a respected Jew turned to Reuven Rotenberg with a request to provide him with gemilut chasadim,[1] on condition that it remain a secret, and he would not let his wife know about it. He was in need of money in order to marry off his sister, a poor and lonely orphan. Reuven hurried, went out to the market, and found a Jew that gave him gemilut chasadim without asking even for an IOU. In this way

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Reuven R. provided the needed amount, and kept the secrecy over the course of many years, until the payment of the debt. Reuven was happy that he merited to do two mitzvot at one stroke: the mitzvah of bringing in the bride, and the mitzvah of gemilut chasadim.

Reuven R., who was enthusiastic about doing mitzvot, took an active part in the mitzvah of accompanying the dead,[2] as President of the “Chevra Kadisha.”[3]

The crowning glory of his activity was the mitzvah of rescuing captives.

At the end of the 19th century, there were a few yeshiva boys in the regiment of the Russian Infantry that camped in Augustow. These were entirely unable to serve in the military, but they were unable to be freed, due to the lack of money for paying a bribe.

Reuven Rotenberg befriended the military doctor of the regiment. He began to provide old wine to his house from his wine cellar, the work of his own hands, something to be proud of. (He would sell his wine, and other beverages, to Jews – for Shabbatot and festivals, for the four cups of the seder night, for Kiddush and Havdalah.[4] The gentiles purchased sharp beverages for guzzling into drunkenness.) He began to be a regular visitor in the house of the military doctor. Once he entered into conversation with him about the beverages, about his friends, the officers of the regiment, who were valiant men who knew how to drink, as well as the soldiers of the regiment, who were commendably brave, except for an insignificant number of “Yehudunim” of feeble strength. The doctor agreed with the opinion of Reuven Rotenberg that it was not worth spoiling the good name of the regiment, and that the unsuccessful soldiers should be freed.

In order to strengthen the decision of the doctor, R. Rotenberg increased the sending of gifts to his house. The soldiers, the yeshiva boys, received an order to appear for a medical examination, and were declared unsuitable for service in the army.

In the period of the regime of Tsar Nicholas, the period of the pogroms and the dispossession of the Jews of their economic positions, masses of Jews streamed from the Russian cities to the Prussian border, in order to cross it and reach America, the free land.

Augustow is a border city, which sits next to the eastern Prussian border. Smugglers of illegal immigrants transferred migrants from it across the border by the masses. It happened that the border patrol caught infiltrators like these, and arrested and imprisoned them.

He alleviated the gate of people's suffering.

Reuven R. did not rest and was not quiet. He ran around day and night until he succeeded in redeeming and freeing these unfortunate ones. He was friendly to all the clerks and under-clerks who visited the tavern in his house, and filled their throats at every opportunity, free, without paying.

In his twilight days he merited going up to the land of Israel. On Shabbat, before he left Augustow, after the reading of the Torah in the Beit Midrash, Reuven R. kissed the Torah scrolls, exchanged kisses with all the worshippers, and wept greatly. All of them wept with him, as if their hearts prophesied for them the Holocaust that was about to come and destroy all of the Jewish community in Augustow, without leaving any remnant of it.

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Fania Bergstein

 

Aug264.jpg

 

Fania was born on 10 Nisan, 5668 (11 April 1908), in the town of Stutzin, Lomza District in White Russia. In her father's house, a teacher and Hebrew Maskil, the first seeds of love of the Hebrew language and literature are buried in the aware and impressionable soul of the child. In her wanderings with her teacher-father from town to town, with the outbreak of the First World War, the family reaches the city of Sumy, which is in the Ukraine. Here Fania attends the White Russian gymnasia, learning the Russian language and its literature. Here also are revealed the first sparks of her ability, the first fruits of her attempts at writing.

When it was decreed, after the revolution, against the teaching of the Hebrew language in the schools of Soviet Russia, the parents' decision was made to return to Poland. In the year 1922, the family settles in the city of Augustow.

In Augustow Fania, fourteen years old, encounters the Zionist movement. She joins “HeChalutz HaTzair,” and afterwards, “HeChalutz,” taking an active part in the work of the branch and carries the burden of the mitzvot.[5] Fania tells: “Simple wooden steps led to the dwelling place of the “HeChalutz” branch. Here there blew an enchanting wind of far-off places, here there peeked from the eyes of all these simple young men and women the mute and radiant light of satisfaction that the soul so desired to be let into its secret.

As the place of precious light, “The House of the Pioneer” called at the edge of the town. And the heart called forward, to the fields of toil, to the road, to the road. For isn't it incumbent on the pioneer to be the first, to go, to march. Immediately, without delay.” From the time that the first seminar of “HeChalutz” was organized in the year 1926, Fania was called to participate in it. From a late impression, at the end of years, Fania brings up something from the memory of those years: “The influence of the house, the town, was still impressed on us, the young people, and in our tender souls. Much of the old still clung to the hems of our garments, to our words, and in our thoughts. And especially we, the young women, the web of the dreams of youth hung on our brows, and the soul still shrank, shied away from, the crowded group, the happy circle of friends.”

Yet the heart was beating, the song was captivating, the words of the lecturers were received like seeds on the soil of the hearts, and slowly, like the fading of fog in the face of the sun, the lines begin to become apparent, the dream removes the shining finery, the path awaits, the command is clear, and the heart is prepared and ready.”

Fania returned from the seminar drunk from the pioneer Torah. But there was not enough in that. Fania faced towards the realization of the imperative of the movement. And first of all, going out for training. Tcharlona was set at the place of her training – an estate on the banks of the River Niemen.

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In Tcharlona, during a visit to the doctor, the heart disease that had settled in her first became known to Fania. This was the disease that in the future would hang a dark shadow over all of her life.

With her return from the training Fania was called for work in the administration of the movement. She visited the towns, the branches, guiding and lecturing in the summer settlements, establishing new branches and conquering hearts for pioneering.

In that period Fania began to write and participate in the journalism of the pioneer youth, “Lahavot,”[6] and “HeChalutz HaTzair.” In the newspaper “HaYom,” which was published in Warsaw, the first fruits of her poems were published.

In the year 1930, when she was 22 years old, she built her family house and went up to the land with her life companion, Aharon Viener (an Israeli), a man of the pioneer movement, from Pinsk. And their home here was the group named for the martyrs of Pinsk, Gevat, which is in the Jezreel Valley.

From the year 1932 her poems “Word,” “On the Ascent,” “From Within,” “The Matter of the Woman Worker,” were published in anthologies of the Writers' Association and others.

In the year 1945 the condition of her health worsened. From then she was confined to her bed and did not get up from it again in the last five years of her life. Despite her great suffering, her spiritual awareness did not weaken, her deep interest in all that was going on in her settlement, in the movement, and in the land, did not dissipate. She never let her quill fall from her hand.

On the 7th of Tishre, 5710 (September 18, 1950), her soul departed.

Fania Bergstein gave her strength primarily to the poem and to writing, but she also wrote stories and plays for children. Until now 14 of her books have appeared, 7 of them in her lifetime, and all of her literary legacy has still not been completely extracted.

On Fania's gravestone, which is in Gevat, are engraved the opening lines from her poem “Gift”:

I said to give the gift
The big one, the one.
To carry it with head upright,
With lucid eyes smiling,
With hands spread out before me,
And with a happy step, spring-like…


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. An act of lovingkindness; sometimes a gift of money, sometimes a loan, sometimes other assistance. Return
  2. Burying the dead. Return
  3. Literally “The Holy Society,” this refers to the Burial Society. Return
  4. Kiddush is the sanctification of Shabbat recited over wine, and Havdalah is the ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat, which also includes a blessing over wine. Return
  5. She takes on observance of the mitzvot. Return
  6. “Flames.” Return

 

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