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[Page 221]

Landscape and Being

 

Yaakov Fichman

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Yaakov Fichman was born in Balti (Bessarabia) on 25.11.1881 to a veteran Bessarabian family that was active in commerce and agriculture. (His father was a merchant, leaser of fields and a breeder of sheep).

He studied sacred Jewish subjects and was a diligent reader, but he was avidly interested in nature and scenery. This interest followed him all his life and continued during his years spent in Eretz Israel.

He died in Tel Aviv on 18.5.1958.

In the poem below Fichman expresses his love of his origins and the bitter lot of the residents in the Jewish communities in Bessarabia.

(Biographical details taken from “Lexicon of Hebrew Literature in recent generations, Part 2, page 602)

Bessarabia

The scenery of my origins where animals roam
The earth in the fields is warm and shallow
The wheat there is abandoned in the sun
The yellow grain moves slowly.

Such clear scenery; in the vineyards an almond tree
Throws its shadow on a brown plain;
In the depth of the fields is a mournful rampart
Inside the valley there are dreams and music.

There simple Jews, quiet like clods of earth,
Crush the grapes and produce cheese with vigor
In the summers they wind their way.

Where are they now? A night wind carries their ashes
And spreads them in cold, foreign places
Their blood streams through the sands.


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Figures and Shadows Which Have Disappeared

by Mordehai (ben Moshe) Sever (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Is it only with the ascending waves that there will be a song for the sea?

Will we not hear the songs with the descending waves?…

Rabindranath Tagore

 

There are many, many figures from the past which accompany me in my lifetime. It seems as if I continue my conversation with them to this day.

This time I will not discuss those who stood out as leading lights in our town, but I will write about ordinary people in Bendery. They struggled daily for their existence and disappeared quietly.

Clearly, it is not possible to describe the lives of all my teachers, relatives, friends and acquaintances from those days. Still, I will attempt to discuss, even if only a little, some memories of them as they are reflected in the prism of my childhood and youthful dreams in Bendery.

These figures of the past stand out in my memory as if I were seeing them at present. It is like a movie.

Here are Rabbi Herschel, the teacher and Rabbi Mordehai the redheaded Bible instructor continuing to complain to the board of the Talmud Torah of Bendery about the lack of salary raises.

I can see my most admired teacher –the elderly Rabbi Mordehai. He is short in stature and sports a white beard and a velvet kippa on his head. He is the only one of all my teachers that taught me, in addition to Gemara and Commentaries, French and Logic. He did not ask my parents for permission.

Now I see my beautiful and graceful teacher– Clara Schrybman. She prepared me for entrance examinations to the Hebrew High School. She had perfect diction when reading out loud.

I recall that one day, the young and promising poet Milya Leandres came to my father. He had written “Exit from Egypt” which was published in the Russian language newspaper in our town called Yuzhni Krai (southern corner). To this day I can hear and remember the sentence about the ”Egyptian oppressor that left his mark on the back of the Jewish slave”.

I will never forget the first Morning Prayer before the school day began in the Hebrew High School. It opened with the famous national tune of “Cry Israel”. It was played by the violinist Y. Reidiboim, my classmate. Reidiboim was orphaned when he was in First Form when his father, a well respected lawyer, died. My friend soon lost his hearing for no reason. He was dealt a cruel blow at a young age and could not take part in normal youthful activities. He disappeared from view.

I remember with great sorrow my friend, younger than I, –Meir Dikler. He was killed defending Stalingrad against the Nazis and he left behind a young widow.

In my early youth I would pray with my father in the Sadigura Synagogue. I was taught musical notes by Pinny, the Cantor, to prepare me for participation in his choir at the end of the High Holidays. His son, Shmarya, opposed including me among the singers since I was so young. I tried to convince him to allow me to sing by offering him a few coins I received from my mother, but I was unsuccessful.

In that same synagogue I was once told by Leibel the Sexton the story of his life. He arrived alone in Bendery from Lutsk to look for work. He spoke about his life with a sad smile and while washing the floors and dusting the benches.

I remember the carrier Meishel(Moshe) laden with packages. He did not speak much and toted his suffering in silence. Even then I thought of him as exemplifying the saying: “You will eat bread by the sweat of your work”.

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After Meishel the carrier, I turn to the blind beggar who sat in the mud near a shack in the fish market. I would hand him a penny I had received at home in order to buy a bagel on my way to Heder. Near the beggar were the fish mongers, vegetable and chicken sellers trying to warm their frozen hands over glowing embers.

In my memory I see the Sabbath and Holiday eves and the market days when our town was filled with Jews. Among them were agents, matchmakers, collectors – not like established merchants and vintners. Also the craftsmen who were a little more certain of their income as well as “luftmenchen” (wind people) who were always struggling to earn their keep.

Two figures in our town stand out. One is Idel, the Blind one, who was loyal to the Russian Duma and joked about his condition by saying that he would love to “see” the famous minister Gutshkov who was passing through our town. Another was a revolutionary who sold notions in the row of stores near the church. When the October Revolution broke out I saw him riding a horse adorned with a red flag and blowing a trumpet. As he progressed along the main street he announced: “Redemption has come!”

The line of figures of men, women, the elderly and the young continues as we saw and heard them in our youth. It was in front of the synagogue during Torah reading on Shabbat or holidays, in the Hebrew–Russian library, in the movie theatres and municipal auditorium near the park, on the main street, in the stock exchange and in the market, in gatherings and youth movement parades and even at the train station. These were moments of saying good–bye to those leaving– either going to Eretz Israel or to other countries. Then we received news of terrible events during WWII and the Holocaust that followed. The beautiful people of Bendery were sent to Transnistria, Caucasus, Central Asia, Siberia, etc. Those who remained were eliminated in a cruel way.

My article is dedicated to all those mentioned above, explicitly and implicitly, who were members of the Bendery community and died as Jews sacrificing themselves. To everyone that filled our lives with meaning in happy and sad times. They are gone forever now.

I lower my head in respect and in memory of these people.

 

A socialism lesson in the synagogue

“About Moses it is written: a prayer for Moses, a God–fearing man. About the poor it is written: a prayer for the poor who will speak in front of God. They are both prayers – to tell you that everyone is even in prayer”

(Exodus Raba, 21)

“A prayer of a poor man comes first in front of the Almighty…”

(Zohar, 8–1, 168)

“There is nothing closer to the heavens and more desired than the prayer of the oppressed.”

(Emanuel the Roman)

When I was very young my father, of blessed memory, made a deal with me. He agreed to allow me to study in the Hebrew High School in our town as long as I continued to do the morning prayers in the synagogue and I studied religious subjects at home. Indeed, daily, early in the morning, I prayed with the first minyan in the synagogue named for Rahman in Bendery.

As a rule, those who had a yahrtzeit (Memorial Day for their departed) for family members would be given the honor of leading services. One morning a short Jew came to the praying stand. He looked down trodden and was dressed in torn clothes– his occupation was collecting rags in town. When one of the sextons saw the rag collector at the praying stand he scolded him and shouted that he would not allow him to lead services because he was so badly dressed… A tumult arose and whatever the poor man said about his yahrtzeit for his dearly departed family did not convince the rude sexton.

I was very young, before my Bar Mitzvah, but I was horrified by this event and I told the sexton off. I reminded him that according to Jewish tradition all people are equal in the eyes of God. I even quoted Raba, a famous Gemara scholar. He used to wear rags on purpose to pray to God as a poor and humble person. I even said that it is a sin to stop a Jew from leading the service on the day of his yahrtzeit.

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The sexton peered at me wondering who could be this upstart youngster in his synagogue. He was ready to eat me alive. However, when he was told I was the son of Moshele the Shohet he left me alone. The rag collector now had the courage to threaten to take him to the Rabbi for arbitration. After other congregants defended him, he was finally allowed to lead the services. He prayed with great meaning as if to prove that one had to seem poor to pray to God.

This was my first lesson in democracy and socialism.

 

The Hanging

One day when I was on my way to Heder in the morning I saw a large crowd in the gate to the courtyard on the corner of Kishinievskaya and Harozinskaya streets, near Velvel Chulak's grocery store.

I went into the courtyard and there, near the wooden structure containing the storage units and outhouses of the tenants, I saw a well–known teacher, Mr. Leandres. He was reading, in a Litvak accent, from a sheet in front of him. As I came nearer I saw an old man hanging by a rope. He was dead.

It turned out that the old man had committed suicide and had left a letter as his will. In it he said that no one was to blame for his death and that he had killed himself because he was all alone and could not support himself.

This event happened more than 50 years ago, but I still remember the mournful reading of the letter by Mr. Leandres. He also spoke of the lot of a lonely and down–trodden person.

In Bendery there were several such lonely people and only because some kind souls helped them did they survive. However, not everyone benefitted from a helping hand.

 

The day I was born will be cursed…
(Job, 3, 3)

I was a sensitive and alert young child, but I was not studious and successful in school. However, many events in our history, described in the Bible and fables, left their stamp on me for the rest of my life. For example, to this day I remember how I was shaken when I learned the story of the death of Moses. He was not allowed to enter the Promised Land after all the travels and suffering in the desert. Moses was the person who carried his thankless people with their complaints throughout their wanderings.

In addition, I was deeply touched by the story of Job. He was a good and honest man, God–fearing and the father of seven sons and three daughters. He also had sheep and camels, cattle and she–asses. He was quite wealthy and an important person in the community. When Satan had discussions and struggles with God, Job was the victim. He lost his children and his animals were struck by terminal illness. He never turned away from God, but cursed himself: “The day I was born will be cursed…”

I was quite impressed with such stories and when one evening, I returned from Heder, I saw a young man wearing torn clothing. He was sitting near the wood shed of Moshe Terer with his hands on his arms. There was a crowd of children near him. As I came closer I heard him say, in Yiddish,–the day I was born will be cursed!

This was quite a depressing scene and I was shaken by the fact that what I learned in Heder about Job was being applied in real life. I felt God was testing me…

I was a young child and I was upset that I was unable to help the poor soul. I came home depressed.

For me this was an allegorical comparison between what I had learned and what I saw. However, for this unknown young man this was the tragedy of a lonely person who had no roof over his head and was hungry. No one could help him.

I will never forget this event in our town.

 

The anonymous Jewish soldier

Some events and sounds follow a human being all his life. This is in addition to personal experiences. This is how I remember an event from my childhood.

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One morning I found myself on Pavelavkaya Street near the Butchers' synagogue and I heard women howling from inside the apartment of a dressmaker. As I came closer I saw a large crowd around the keeners and inside there was a wooden coffin. It seems that there was a Jewish soldier in it. He fell in a battle in WWI and the authorities brought the body to his family as per their request. The soldier was the fiancé of the young dressmaker who was crying by his side.

The war inspired Jews to create sad folk songs that were often sung by the dressmakers, tailors and other craftsmen. I clearly remember verses describing how family members say good–bye to a soldier (in Yiddish):

Let us say good–bye, Yasha (Yaakov) is leaving us.
And the reply: ‘Stay well, my dear sisters
You were the best and the most attractive’

There were many folk songs that accompanied the Jewish soldiers who served in the Tsar's army. Many died in foreign lands without knowing why this war was fought. There were also Jews in the opposing armies.

To this day I bow my head in memory of these soldiers who were sacrificed.

Let these words be a memorial to our dear town members and family who left us too early.

 

The Beloved and Loved in Life and Death

We were two young dark–haired boys dressed in school uniform with shiny buttons when we sat together in class in the Hebrew High School of Bendery. My friend, Yitzhak Bauch, was a good–looking young man, alert and smiling. He often sang folk songs and prayers. Even after he transferred to the municipal high school, I remembered him for his aristocratic behavior.

After I finished doing my homework I would play with my eight–year old neighbor – Zina. She had platinum hair and clear eyes. I remember her dressed in a white Ukrainian dress embroidered by her mother Massya. When she grew up, Zina was a beautiful high school girl. She was active in Maccabi as was her brother – well–known coach and trainer – Soonya Etlis. Our family moved to a different area of town and I was busy with Hashomer Hatzair (Young Guard). I lost touch with Zina and we would only meet occasionally.

Years passed and our youth were dispersed to many countries. At the age of 17, I made Aliyah with the first members of Hashomer Hatzair in 1923. Those who remained were integrated into life in Bendery with all the changes in regimes.

One day I heard, in Eretz Israel, that Zina married Yitzhak Bauch who was then a law student. They even had a child. I was happy since both of them were very dear to me.

After WWII and the Holocaust I found out that Yitzhak, an officer in the Red Army, had been critically injured in the battle for Stalingrad. Zina and her mother and young child had wandered to eastern Asia. They were ‘fortunate’ to see Yitzhak who was brought to them. He died in front of the wife, her mother and the young child. They had to bury him there. Zina was in mourning, but was consoled by an older Jewish refugee. This man helped her, her mother and her son Efraim and she married him. She kept her former name– Zina Bauch.

After 44 years of absence, I visited Bendery in 1966. I had been given a special permit in Kishinev. I first went to Zina's house, near the Dniester – my childhood home. When I banged the gate, Zina came out towards me and we immediately recognized each other. In spite of the years, I saw in Zina's face the beauty and charm of former years. In the house I found her elderly mother and her 29 year–old son, Efraim. He already had a son, worked as a geologist and his hobby was poetry. The old mother and Zina received me like a long lost relative with warmth and tears of joy. Efraim gave me, as a memento of my visit, a book, in Russian, of his poetry, dedicated to me. The book was called “Electrifying Night”. I translated and published, in this book, the touching poem “The Little Boy from the Ghetto”.


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The Little Boy from the Ghetto

by A. Bauch

Translated by Ala Gamulka

He made bread from sand at mealtime
On a hot summer's day in the scorching sun
The sad dwarf with huge eyes–
The little boy from the ghetto.
Without knowing the urgency of the times
He suddenly laughed
But he realized he was wrong to laugh
The little boy from the ghetto.

At night, bent over him with his tangled beard
With intelligent and sad eyes
His grandfather Baruch prayed for him
His face yellow and lined
Afterwards the elderly men wrapped in white
Swept the floor with their hands–
They sat like immobile hillocks,
Murmuring prayers with their lips.

It is not that it is difficult to appease God
So many tears were shed
He was tiny, but understood so much
The little boy from the ghetto.
The sad dwarf who saw much
He did not live there alone
He had friends – the twinkling stars
They were not yellow, the ones in the night
These were white stars, so clearly visible
He waited for them as it became dark
He knew: when they redden in the sky
Everything will be good and happy

May I see in the clouds so I can come closer to the stars!
I am a little boy and my life is bad
My father and mother, grandmother and grandfather
Why were they the first?
They said–it will be better there–different
The chimney is large and emits
Beautiful black clouds.

Why is my old man crying?
Did he not know?
You are lucky; soon you will become a cloud
My little boy from the ghetto.

There will be peace and children
Will roll hoops on a hot summer day
Above them will hover a cloud in the heavens
My little boy from the ghetto.

Translated from Russian into Hebrew by Mordehai Sever

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Before I left Kishinev, Zina and her husband came from Bendery, by train, to say good–bye. We talked for hours and reminisced. Zina's eyes told me more than her words. They begged me: “Take me with you to Israel!” When we stood face to face she whispered, as if excusing herself: “…I was alone and helpless with my elderly mother and my child in eastern Asia. This man (her husband) saved us from a bitter end!”

On the way to the train station in Kishinev I said goodbye to her and her husband with warm hugs and kisses. When I returned home I stayed in touch by corresponding with Zina. Three years ago I found out that Zina died of a heart attack.

The images of Zina and Yitzhak Bauch, beloved and loved in life and death, with their bitter end in a foreign land, will never leave me.

 

Death Games….

Simcha the shoemaker was a simple, but respected personality. When he was dressed up for Shabbat and Holidays he reminded us of Theodore Herzl with his black beard. He served as the sexton of the Tailors' synagogue and other synagogues for about 18 years. On Shabbat and holidays he would lead services. He was devoted to the needs of the observant and I would compare him to people like Yohanan the Shoemaker and Yitzhak Nafha.

His wife, Henya, was an outstanding homemaker. Together, she and Simcha brought up their 3 daughters and 5 sons in good Jewish tradition. She supervised her household and even baked her own bread. On Shabbat and holidays she would read prayers and sayings to the women in the synagogue from the Korban Minha – the holiday prayer book. The women around her stood when she stood and sat down when she did. When she cried, they followed her example. It is not surprising that she was dubbed “The Leader”.

We were neighbors in one courtyard and I was a very close friend of her sons Yossel and Moshe who were born after her daughters Rosa and Hannah. Yossel stood out from an early age with his beautiful voice. His brother Moshe, a year older than me, was my childhood playmate.

Once Moshe scared me when he took out his father's siddur from the cupboard and told me he would pray to God that I would die if I do not follow his instructions in our games. I remember, with a smile, this innocent playfulness and I often wondered why Moshe had to threaten me with death when I was only five years old? It was only 60 years later, when Moshe died in the battle for Sevastopol during WWII, that I became sad when I recalled how we, the children, played games of life and death. We did not know how tragic could be the lot of man upon this earth. Death shortened many lives and this childhood game became a bitter reality for him, his family, his relatives and friends.

 

Yosele Schwartzman– the cantor
(26.1.1902 – 25.2.1969)

He was known from childhood as an honest and refined person. He charmed everyone with his pleasant voice as a soloist in the choirs of the “New” and “Sadigura” synagogues. He performed with the cantors Gedalya Gurman and Piny the Cantor – Pinhas Misonzshnik. After studies in Heder and Yeshiva he went to New York at the age of 18. There he studied music with Prof. Olaf of the Metropolitan Opera and others. He soon became an accomplished cantor and joined the company of other greats – David Roitman, D.M. Shteinberg, Leybele Glantz, etc. He served for thirty years in the Ahavat Achim congregation in Atlanta. He earned the love and respect of the congregants. He also received an honorary degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. In addition, he was elected as a board member of the Association of Cantors in United States and Canada.

I came to Eretz Israel in the 1920s and I heard that Yosele Schwartzman was located in the United States. I had great affection for him and I tried for many years to write to him. I was unsuccessful. It is only recently, in the 1960s, that I reconnected with him through our mutual friend David Carmel. From then on our friendship flourished through constant correspondence. Once, when I did not respond to his letter within a week, I received an urgent telegram from him because he was worried.

In his lengthy letters to me, Yosele recalled events from the time of Hazamir in Bendery. The choir traveled to give concerts in other locations in the area. When the choir traveled by boat on the Dniester it would give concerts and the singing could be heard on both banks of the river. He also remembered his participation in theatrical productions in town in plays by Goldfaden, Gordin, etc. He listed the names of all synagogues, cantors, sextons and teachers. He even promised to send me a special article about the development of cantorial music in Bendery. In the picture of Hazamir that I received there was a dedication in Russian to the soloist alto Yosef Schwartzman dated 25.8.1913

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ben228a.jpg
Right to left: Ahrale Gelfand, Kipnis (folk songs) and Moshe Koussevitzky

 

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Pinhas Misonzshnik (Piny the cantor)
Cantor in the synagogue of the followers of Sadigura in Bendery

 

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Cantor Yosef Schwartzman with his singers in the Butchers' Synagogue in Bendery

 

In the many letters I received from him he told me about his life and his development as a cantor. His lot was cruel as his father and brother were killed in the Holocaust and the war and his two sisters died young. His youngest brother survived in Bendery, but when he visited Yosele in Atlanta he was afraid to open his mouth since he feared the authorities when he returned home. His oldest sister in the United States was widowed, as was he. This is what he wrote about his father: “the Nazis murdered my father and I keep his yahrtzeit on Yom Kippur”.

He found it difficult to accept that we had lost touch for so many years and he wanted to come to Israel to visit. In his letter dated 6.10.68 Yosele wrote, in Hebrew: “…my soul is tied up with your soul. I am your true friend…”. I was angry when he wrote to me in a letter dated 6.1.69: “…Motele, when you go to the Western Wall, pray to God on my behalf..I am Yosef, son of Simcha and Henya…” In the next letter from 20.2.69, he said: “If God wills it I will come to Israel to see you. However, if we are not successful, you must feel my true friendship. This is especially so since I am alone and have been so for many years.” This was his last letter to me from the United States. Five days later, on 25.2.69, my unforgettable friend, my Yosele, died of a stroke in his house in Atlanta.

A short time after his death, his daughter brought me, from the United States, a pack of letters, pictures and handwritten notes which she found on his desk. Among them was a letter he started to write two days before he died, on 23.2.69, but which he did not complete. In this letter he described in colorful language how we stood together as children watching the big fire in the synagogue and the rabbi's house. It was rumored that during the fire many “names” of siddurs and mahzors flew in the wind directly to the old cemetery. A few days earlier Rabbi Itzikel Wertheim, from the famous dynasty, had been buried there.

Letters flying on wings of the winds…childhood memories that are gone…dreams that remained unsolved…The beloved image of Yosele comes from them and remains part of my being.

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My friend Israel

When I studied in the Heder of Rabbi Shmuel Krassilover, z”l, my friend, Israel, was a year older than I. He was a redhead, freckled, and imaginative. He was good–hearted and loved to help others. I believe he was very young when his mother died and he sought warmth in others. He used to tell confusing stories.

I recall that he was the one first told me about the wonderful atmosphere in the Schwartzman Hebrew High School. He described, with excitement, the unforgettable Isaac Borisovitch (Yitzhak Reznikov, z”l), the great Hebrew teacher who became a true friend to his students. I fell in love with this teacher even before I had met him.

What really excited my friend Israel was the high school uniform with its shiny buttons and the hat encircled by blue tubing. He was especially keen on the silver insignia of our school.

He worshipped those who wore uniforms, in particular, the soldiers and officers. He was fixated on this and he could not find a solution. Every once in a while I would see him run, with other children, after a group of soldiers passing in the streets singing.

Eventually, my friend Israel dropped out of the high school (perhaps even during the first year). To my great sorrow I found out that he was deficient in a social and intellectual sense. I worried about what would become of my friend.

It is more than 50 years since we said good–bye in the Diaspora. I, along with many friends, made Aliyah. From time to time friends and acquaintances came from Bendery and I would always ask them about my childhood friend.

“Oh, him”–I would be answered immediately –“He works as a firefighter in Bendery and wears his colorful uniform with pride…” Some years later, one of my friends who made Aliyah informed me that he saw Israel wearing the uniform of a ticket collector on the train.

Since the end of WWII and the Holocaust I have not heard anything about him. As I was writing these lines, my friend B. told me that he heard that Israel had not survived.

 

The Teacher Yosef Rivkin–a resident of Bendery

One winter morning our principal entered at the beginning of class and said the following: a refugee, a teacher, has just arrived in town and his name is Yosef Rivkin. He gives private lessons in Hebrew language, Bible, Mathematics, etc. I recommend him to the students and their parents since he could help them with their studies and he could also prepare them for examinations. Anyone interested should contact me.

That week teacher Rivkin was invited to our house to teach my younger brother Hebrew, Bible and Mathematics. This took place after my brother's regular Heder studies. Slowly Yosef Rivkin became a part of our household. One cold and snowy winter day, the teacher came to our house. Here was a Litvak (Lithuanian) Jew, wearing glasses, skinny and dressed in wrinkled summer clothes. He was shivering from the cold and was coughing often. Instead of a warm winter coat he had an old women's scarf around his chest.

My mother received him nicely and served him hot tea. She even invited him to come every morning to drink hot tea. He now joined our other regular guests for breakfast: the sexton of the nearby synagogue Issachar Diarde and a Jewish soldier named Meir–Leib who was serving with his unit in our town. The new teacher and the other guests would go to the large samovar and drink tea. He felt comfortable in our home and even had conversations about different topics. However, when we tried to find out if he had a family or any relatives anywhere we failed. Yosef Rivkin stubbornly refused to answer our questions and would change the topic.

As we got to know him we discovered an interesting and cultured man, a Litvak who was knowledgeable in many fields. “A Litvak always knows everything”. Truly, Yosef Rivkin was a Misnaged (opposer) and he would scorn the Hassidim who depended on their Rabbi to save them from all troubles… He also made fun of the boors who pretended to give a sermon on biblical topics of which they were quite ignorant. Once on a Friday night in our home he told us that a neighbor asked him if he had already welcomed the Sabbath saying: “…did you already degrade the Sabbath.” Instead of asking if he had celebrated Shabbat.

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Rivklin would ask those who pretended to be Torah students: “Tell me, when you do not understand a word or a phrase in the Gemara, why do you hum endless tunes?”

I do not remember if he had many students after the recommendation by Dr. Schwartzman and if he ever got a proper winter coat. On my last visit in his cold and miserable room I saw a new small table and some books my father had given him. This was just before we made Aliyah.

Some years later some of my friends made Aliyah and when I asked about Yosef Rivkin they told me he remained alone in Bendery for the rest of his life. No one ever knew if he had any family.

He took his secret to his grave.

 

Rabbi Shmuel Krassilover– my Rabbi

Each one of us carries memories of his distant childhood and the images of those beloved at that time. These were authorities to be trusted at all times and they are engraved in our hearts.

One of these authorities whose image is with me since childhood was my Gemara teacher– Rabbi Shmuel Krassilover (of the house of Horowitz). The name Krassilover probably came from the village where he or his parents had lived– Krassilov or Krassilivka.

In Bendery, Rabbi Shmuel was well–versed Jew and a wise man. He had a great sense of humor and would tell good jokes. He had a nice appearance – a white beard and hypnotic eyes that would see right through people. His students were more afraid of his stare than of his crop made out of several layers of leather.

If truth be told, his students were more afraid of the thumb in his right hand. It was rumored that it had been cut off on purpose so he would not have to serve in the Tsar's army. This unseen thumb would be used to pinch the students in a certain place. The students would really suffer.

I personally do not remember that he either hit or pinched me. Perhaps it was because I was usually quiet. However, I know he really disliked it when I would burst out in loud laughter for no reason. There was a reason because my relative, Itzik, sat next to me and when we looked at each other we would burst out laughing… In order to control myself I put my fingers in my nostrils, but then I would laugh even louder. Everyone in class heard me and this angered the Rabbi even more: “To laugh without reason in the middle of class?” Since he was smart and kind he would forgive our childhood nonsense and would joke: “Do you see how idiocy gets them?”

 

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R. Shmuel Krassilover (Horowitz) – the famous teacher in Bendery

 

To this day many of his students recall his jokes as if they had just happened. I remember that I once came to Heder with a swollen eye. R. Shmuel greeted me: “Look at him. He sinned in the eye”– a play on words. This was based on something we had learned the previous week about Jacob's mourning the death of Rachel.

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If a student hesitated a moment prior to reading the Rabbi would hurry him up by saying: “Read, read…I am the water carrier…”. Another instance was when Jacob is dying and he gathers his sons to his bedside saying: “Come on guys (in Russian)”. When a student had difficulty with a portion of the Gemara where different opinions were offered, the Rabbi said “the ducks are walking shoeless”.

I am not sure it was so good for him to be joking so much, but I remember a patrician man in front of me. In my childish mind he seemed to be like Abraham and his wife Rachel was similar to Sarah. His daughters Malka and Sarah looked to me like our biblical mothers Leah and Rachel.

One day when I was 8 years old, Rabbi Shmuel paired me with Khilik, my classmate, and told us: “You are beginning to learn Gemara with me. This is a secret and you must not tell anyone at home”. He opened a large tome of Gemara and on the first page was written in large letters –Baba Metz'ia. He began to chant the first Mishna: “Two people are holding a talit and each one says I found it, I found it”. He pointed to me and my friend Khilik and in my imagination I saw us holding such a talit and each one claiming it to be his. We walked home with pride that we were now learning Gemara. We hummed the song of Shalom Aleichem in his story “Hey, Hey, it is nothing”. The song said: “We are not afraid of anyone, only of God”.

We are already learning Baba Metz'ia! When we came home we could not contain ourselves and we told our parents and neighbours the “secret”– that we are learning Gemara. The next day when the Rabbi asked us if we had kept the secret as we promised, I burst out crying. The Rabbi comforted me and even made me laugh out loud when he deliberately mispronounced some words.

We learned material that would make us afraid of spirits and ghosts, snakes, scorpions and beasts. The Rabbi would scare us by saying we should not think of these things at night.

I liked all his explanations and my imagination was stirred so much that I began to draw on paper images of what we had learned and he had described. My first drawing was that of the ten tribes as described in the Torah as well as other biblical figures. Rabbi Shmuel Krassilover and his wife Rachel looked at my drawings and murmured: “Beautiful, beautiful”.

More than 50 years have passed since I had last seen Rabbi Shmuel Krassilover. His wife Rachel died before him and he, too, passed away. His eldest daughter Malka is gone and only the younger daughter, Sarah was left (in the United States). There are many grandchildren here in Israel and outside it and they remember with pride their ancestor. The special blessing is the fact that so many of his students are with us here and in the Diaspora and they all remember with love the image of their wonderful and exceptional teacher. We often repeat his many jokes as he paraphrased important phrases. His puns were amusing and legendary.

[Page 233]

Rabbi Shmuel Krassilover educated several generations of students. They remember him with love and kindness for the fun they had in his classes during those bad times when there were no civil, cultural, social and economic rights. He probably never imagined that after so many years his students would remember him with so much appreciation and gratitude.


Recollections From Jerusalem of the 1920s

by Rivka (Riva) Terer–Drobetsky

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Riva Drobetsky, the first wife of Z. Drobetsky and daughter of Rabbi Moshe Terer, z”l, was a beloved, kind and aristocratic woman. She stood out in her gentleness and was quite modest. She walked through life with purpose and sweetness. She never looked for honor, even if she deserved it. In addition to all these qualities one should add the fact that she had a keen eye and could write about all events. She had a great literary talent, in an excellent Russian style. The reader always read eagerly everything she published. It is incumbent upon us to include two articles in remembrance of her good reputation– for all who cherish her.

These two articles were sent to the Diaspora while she lived in Eretz Israel and they were published in various newspapers in Bessarabia, in Russian.

This is the first letter about Jerusalem and her impressions of the city (Published 21. 12. 1923 in Yuzhnaya Bessarabia)

 

A. A letter from Jerusalem

“Up to now you know very little about Jerusalem. The European press is not very interested in this corner of the globe. Our capital is above all other capitals in the world. She is in the thoughts and feelings of all Jews.

I will begin with the road to Jerusalem from Jaffa.

I went with a group in public transport, even though there is a train to Jerusalem. The trip by train is quite tiring and uncomfortable and takes two hours. The ride by car is only one and a half hours. The scenery is unbelievably beautiful. It is difficult to paint it, even for the best artist. When you leave Jaffa you do not, at first, feel anything different since you see a flat plain. Here and there you can glimpse orange trees and sometimes even groves. When you reach half–way the scenery changes completely. Suddenly the colorful mountains appear. Jerusalem is 800 meters above sea level and the air is cooler and clearer than Jaffa's.

In the summer Jerusalem serves as a resort for people from the south and the seacoast who escape the heat. In the winter it is extremely cold and sometimes there is even snow – up to 36 inches. The hills around Jerusalem stand out in their beauty.

[Page 234]

The road from Jaffa to Jerusalem snakes its way through the hills. The car we were in seemed like a fly climbing a wall and constantly in danger of falling into the valley. There are places where the road is actually on the verge of deep valley. On one side the hills reach the sky, so to speak, and on the other side there is a deep crevasse and the trees in it look like tufts of grass. The path loops like a snake with dangerous sections. Your breath stops when you look down. It is difficult to understand how one passes this edge of the crevasse, but the car continues as if nothing matters and nothing would stop it. It seems as if the driver steers it by feel only.

 

ben234.jpg
Riva Terer–Drobetsky

 

The air is sharp like needles and the fear leaves you when you observe the beauty of nature around. You almost do not notice the precipice. You want to fly like a bird, but when you reach the outskirts of Jerusalem you wake up as if from a sweet dream. How sad that the dream is over!

Jerusalem leaves a mixed impression on you. If you expect a European city you are quickly disappointed, but it does not look like a typical oriental town – large and full of people. Some buildings were erected hundreds of years ago and others are very modern. The city does not have a homogeneous look. It is so beautiful that it is difficult to describe it. What caught my eye and I want to tell you about it is the feeling that you are on holy ground. This is where our prophets walked.

I want to discuss some symbols this holy city represents. It is a historical city, full of rich memories that touch the Jewish heart. I will begin with the Western Wall, the remnant of our temple that was destroyed. This remnant brings people to pray by it. There are always people praying there and asking the almighty to help them.

Not far from the Western Wall, on a higher hill, is the Dome of the Rock– a beautiful building.

It was built about 1000 years ago by a Turkish Sultan on the site where our temple had stood. The interior and the structure were kept as originally built so many years ago. When you enter the Dome of the Rock you cannot even see all the richness inside. It is difficult to express this. The roof of the Dome is covered with precious stones. The inside is covered in expensive carpets and there is a rock in the middle. It is as if the rock is growing out of the ground and is surrounded by a banister. It is believed that it is the altar to which the Kohanim would bring the sacrifices. (It is believed, according to tradition, that it is the rock from which water was extracted.) You feel an inner tremor as you come nearer to this place. You begin to think about our history since the destruction and the exile. You whisper so as not to wake previous generations. In the wall there are two stone thrones and according to legend this is where the kings would sit on their visits to the temple.

In the fort nearby you can find the stables of King Solomon, under the floor of the building. They look as if they have been built recently.

From there I went to visit the grave of our matriarch Rachel. It is located in Bethlehem. It is only during the month of Elul that the Arabs allow the Jews to visit this holy place.

It is very difficult for me to forget this rare experience and that is why I am writing about it.

[Page 235]

B. Recollections from the Fourth Aliyah

A second letter from Riva T. sent to the editor of Nashy Vremya on 16.9.1924.

Editor's note: I just received this letter from Eretz Israel. Its author wrote it without an angle – as someone looking at both sides. The author describes in simple and sincere words how he sees the new Eretz Israel. I find that it is proper to bring a few sections for our readers who hold the country close to their hearts:

There is no tendency here to immigrate to the United States. No one is leaving. On the contrary, lately there is an increase in emigration from Poland. The newcomers are not only laborers, but some wealthy people running away from the Polish authorities. There are also some from Russia, victims of the revolution, but they are penniless. There is great hope placed on the emigrants from Poland. There are plans for them to establish factories and plants. It is clear that Tel Aviv benefits the most from these plans since it is in the center of the country. Tel Aviv is becoming an industrial and commercial center. Since it is a new city it draws the attention of many with its modern architecture and colorful ambience. There is much culture there. The women coming from Poland are impressed with the modernity of the city since they were prepared for a primitive and wild Asian town. They see here many things Europe does not yet have especially clothing, furniture. All these are produced within the country. In addition there is much grown in our farming communities by our brethren – fruit, vegetables, animals. The women wonder and ask: “Are these the Jews who are considered as parasites in the Diaspora? Wonder of wonders.”

I bring all this to you to awaken your interest in our country.

R.D.

Translated from the Russian by P.B.

*

When we read these letters we see how sharp the eyes of R.D. were as she saw much and she was alert to all problems – be they public or national.

Riva Drobetsky lived in the country from 1921 to 1927. She returned to Bendery for health reasons and died there in 1930. She was only 30 years old.

 

ben235.jpg
Picture taken before he made Aliyah.
Right to left: Senya Tzehoval, Zelig Sofer, (Yosef P. in the middle) Avraham Zoberman? and Kleyman

 

Some handwriting is unclear.

(Goes with the article about Simcha Zehoval on Page 236)


[Page 236]

Simcha Tzehovel

by I. Gabbai

Translated by Ala Gamulka

 

ben236.jpg
Simcha (Senya) Tzehovel

 

It is customary in all theatre schools in the world to include in the curriculum talks and discussions about important actors from the past. It is important from a professional and an ethical point of view to do it. However, we do not have it yet here. We have a short history and we do not teach about it. It is to be hoped that this attitude will change in the future, but in the meantime, we owe a great deal to our important actors who founded the Hebrew theatre in Israel.

I am dedicating this article to my friend, like a brother to me, Simcha Tzehovel, z”l. We sat next to each other putting on makeup for thirty years. We were also close friends.

Simcha Tzehovel was a great actor who was quite creative, but he had a strong temperament. He knew how to excite his fellow actors with his deep and powerful voice. He was reserved and quiet in his daily life and was dedicated to the theatre. He spoke clearly and slowly whether in conversation with a friend or a general discussion. We would joke with him: “Senka, say something concrete…” He would smile in a good natured way even if we did not accept what he said. On the stage he spoke well.

His “Olympian calm” when roles were distributed for a new play was an example to all of us. He did not compare roles. Tzehovel believed in Stanislavsky's classical saying – “There are no small roles, there are only small actors.” He believed in it until the end of his days. The roles of the butcher and the policeman in The Witch, the bath attendant in The Travels of Binyamin III, the elderly general Krotitzky in The Wise Man and many others were turned by Tzehovel into brilliant performances. He portrayed these roles with love and happiness. He performed them as he had done his unforgettable starring roles in “Jacob and Rachel”, “Jeremiah”, “King Lear”, “King Solomon and the Shoemaker,” “The Forest” and others. It seems to me that when he performed he did not do it for the audience, but for his friends in the cast. It was as if he wished to demonstrate what one should do in the theater.

The theater was his home and his colleagues were his family. He was one of the few who were always happy with the success of a friend and he knew how to encourage others. He distanced himself from any publicity that did not directly have anything to do with his craft. He used to say: “No cafe, not even an artists' cafe, ever produced a good actor…” He never boasted and never talked about himself in the third person. He never bragged about his successes.

[Page 237]

Tzehovel managed to perform eighty–five roles on the stage of our “Ohel” theater. Very few others managed to be so versatile – tragic and comic, leading and character roles. These were quite different, but he always undertook each assignment with a full heart.

Ten years have passed since his amazing voice was silenced. The number of actors has increased since then and new theater groups have been formed. The greatness of one of the first actors on the Hebrew stage– Simcha Tzehovel, z”l, must be told to all the new actors.


Tzehovel and His Roles

by Israel Gur

Translated by Ala Gamulka

 

ben237.jpg
Simcha Tzehovel – Mendel in “Fishke the Cripple” by Mendele Mocher Seforim

 

The wonderful harmony between his clear voice and his body movements comes from deep within his early biography. Tzehovel grew up in the Russian village of Tiraspol on the banks of the Dniester and he then lived in Bendery, Bessarabia. He was always interested in performing on stage. His maternal grandfather was a cantor and a ritual slaughterer. Tzehovel was influenced by his grandfather in spite of the fact that he had a Russian education. The grandfather's tunes soon were heard in the grandson's pleasant voice and everyone predicted he would become a cantor. Tzehovel always said that this is where he first thought of performing. Another nurturing place was the fact that the family resided right across from the municipal summer theater. It was mainly used for circus events. Many of the performers rented rooms from the Tzehovel family. The young boy was delighted to have such close contact with them. He was enthralled by the circus and soon joined them. Morning and evening he would train on the trapeze. A few months before he died, Tzehovel told me that to this day he feels sentimental about the circus and cantorial music. (We all felt this when he performed on stage. Do you remember his leap as Joe Dunmore in Priestley's “The City of Tomorrow” or Mack the Knife in Three Penny Opera? Or as Kurt in “The Pure Race” by Kedelburg? We cannot forget his energetic dancing in the wedding scene in Fishke the Cripple.)

In high school he was one of the regular performers in many holiday productions. Even then he stood out in his dramatic abilities. The drama teacher recognized his talents and recommended him to a well–known theater school. However, the revolution of 1917 put a stop to these plans. Only his ambitions remained.

Many Jewish theater groups came to town and many of us joined them. These performers exaggerated their naturalism and lived a poverty–stricken life.

From the book: “Those who played kings and the poor” 1957.


[Page 238]

The Poet Y. Manic (Lederman), z”l

by Y. Manic

Translated by Ala Gamulka

 

ben238.jpg
Y. Manic

 

Manic was born in Bendery. In his youth he studied in Heders and dedicated himself to acquiring a general education. He went to America and studied at the University of Chicago.

In 1935 he made Aliyah as a pioneer and continued his literary work.

He published, in Yiddish, five books: poems, proverbs, satires and sometimes children's books.

His works have been translated into Hebrew and English.

He had positive reviews in Israel and in the Diaspora.

 

Deep in Autumn Nights

Deep in autumn nights
I wander through destroyed villages

A stream of blood snakes
And follows me and blocks my way.

It is not long ago that life was gone from here
There is no more evening tune
I knew well the surrounding sounds
From the forest and the area
It is here, not long ago, that my childhood was spent…
Now, one can hear an owl keening
The windmill hovers like a ghost
That has lost its wings…

It seems that God himself
Is moving about in forsaken alleys
He is pursued by angry shouts
That hit like stones and make him cry.

A small synagogue– a memorial to the destruction
The sound of prayers is silent forever
An orphaned Torah scroll
No one is left to rejoice with it

An old Menorah
Is flickering and dying
All the Sabbaths are gone…

Translated from Yiddish by Mordehai Sever


[Page 239]

The Wertheim Family in the Real World

by Dr. Yosef Kruk

Translated by Ala Gamulka

We All Have But One Rabbi – Rabbi Avraham Wertheim

The Russian intelligentsia stood out along its own special lines. Their status gave them additional rights, but it was a burden for them. Their hearts identified with the down–trodden, those with little or no rights. The slogan “Go with the people” was part of their identity for many years.

“Going with the People” was well received by the Jewish intelligentsia as well. They and their nation stood at the head of the list of the down–trodden and persecuted. For many years, the youth, the university students and even the high school ones, believed in the theme of “go to the Jewish street.” Avraham Wertheim, z”l, belonged to the latter group.

He was a scion of a large rabbinic family which consisted of many geniuses, righteous ones (Baal Shem Tov, the Chernobyl rabbi, the Maharasha and Shore the grain merchant). His mother came from Volyn and was the daughter of the chief rabbi of Brezhne. Avraham Wertheim stood out from an early age as someone with a keen mind and everyone predicted for him a great future in the rabbinic world. He was an outstanding student, but he did not use Torah as a tool.

There were many Jewish intellectuals who became famous later on and who made their way from Yeshiva to Russian culture. There were many reasons for their turning their backs on the Yeshiva. They saw their personal success in Russian culture (later in the Polish one, too). Avraham Wertheim devoted himself quite energetically to Russian culture. Truth must be said that he never really left the Yeshiva in order to cross to the other side. He always searched for integration of the secular and the Jewish cultures – the union of national Jewish redemption with the universal one.

 

WWI

During WWI Avraham Wertheim's activities truly stood out. The Tsarist authorities, under terrible conditions, exiled the Jewish population from the cities and sometimes even from entire districts. This is when the young Jewish intelligentsia showed a wonderful spirit of volunteerism. There were people who had never done physical labor – writers, scientists, students and Yeshiva boys –– who left their homes and went to save Jews during this horrible time. Avraham Wertheim was one of these good people – representatives of Jewish institutions helping the refugees.

When WWI was over, the problems for the Jews did not disappear. There were pogroms – attacks on Jews – in Ukraine and southern Russia. Entire towns and villages were destroyed and it was dangerous to offer help. Avraham Wertheim stood out with his tremendous energy, great love for his people and his wisdom. He found solutions in the most complicated predicaments.

He often traveled to dangerous locations where there were pogroms expected. He sometimes even arrived in the middle of the pogrom, or right after in order to try to save whatever possible. In 1919 Wertheim was a representative of the Red Cross and offered help in the name of this neutral organization. He ran the department of “Victims of Pogroms” of the Red Cross and organized help.

Many times I asked Wertheim to write his memoirs from those days (perhaps he left some notes in his will). There was great importance to his activities as he often placed himself in great danger in order to save Jews – his brothers in trouble and in prison.

 

In Poland

It proved later on, for many Jews in Russia and Ukraine that their only salvation was in escaping this hell by immigrating. Avraham Wertheim moved to Poland.

[Page 240]

his time he did not come as a private person – in order to save himself –– but in order to continue helping and organizing. He joined the American Jewish Joint Committee, in particular the department for the homeless and those in need of repatriation. He organized a section for charitable banks and supervised them. He was not an official, just a good person who loved his people and saw their needs. He traveled to many parts of Congress Poland, Galicia, Lithuania and Volyn.

 

In Eretz Israel

He made Aliyah in 1933 and began to work in the labor department of the Jewish Agency. When Israel was declared a state, he was in charge of the department dealing with disputes under the Labor department.

This was not an easy job. The State was young and its future depended on successful economic development. There was a great need to have a country that was run intelligently, with foresight and still give rights to its workers. In addition, it was necessary to make certain that there was room for industrial and technical development and that it was done with efficiency and innovation. It was not easy to organize relations between employers and workers. After all, we are speaking of the capricious Jewish temperament… Wertheim helped a great deal with small and large disputes with his tact, professional acumen and his insistence on solving issues. There is no doubt that he wrote an important chapter in the difficult work of the Labor Department.

 

We all have but one Rabbi

Avraham Wertheim was a Zionist and a socialist from his early days. He stood out with his true love of the Jewish people and his grasp of the socialist–humanist world. He was inspired by his desire to establish a new society, following socialist tenets. He was a member of the party and he understood the need for unity of workers. In the last years he helped to found the “Socialist Unaffiliated Club” in Jerusalem in order to allow for free discussion within all streams of the labor movement and to establish true unity. Typical of his point of view was his speech in 1953 to the first conference of government employees. The prime minister and other cabinet members also participated. This is what he said:

“There is the story of two Hassidim who were drinking wine after Havdalah on Saturday night. In their enthusiasm they each spoke of the greatness of their own rabbi. One said: my rabbi is inspired by Elijah and he studies with him and other holy personalities. The second one was excited and replied: who is your rabbi in comparison to my rabbi who was fortunate enough to ascend to heaven? The two Hassidim began to quarrel about whose rabbi was greater. The dispute became a fist fight and they had to be separated. Afterwards each one was asked–who is your rabbi? The first answered R. Yitzhak from Chernobyl and the second gave the same reply. It turned out they had the same rabbi. Why did they fight, then?”

He finished by saying: “We may have differences of opinion and we sometimes fight amicably. It seems to me that have only one rabbi – our rabbi is the State of Israel.”

A wonderful Jew has left us.

(Davar, 8.1.1958)

 

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