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[Page 262]

Our Town

by David Carmel (New York)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Our town, Bender, in Bessarabia, was situated between the cities of Kishinev and Odessa. In town, there was a large iron bridge over the Dniester River, a jailhouse, army barracks and a big fortress. The fortress had been built during the Turkish occupation and it had locks and broad canals. These could be flooded in times of need so that the enemy would not be able to conquer them.

The port of Bendery was located near the village of Varnitza. There, Turkish workers (Banibakes) would carry, on their backs, heavy sacks filled with wheat. These were to be loaded on barges (about a hundred wagons daily) and they would go down the Dniester to the border of Austria–Hungary.

The port commissioners were Hirsh Golris and Avraham Weisser. The commissioner of the passenger boats that traveled between Mogilev–Podolsk, Bendery, Mayak and Akkerman was Benny Kleiman. Several merchants imported lumber, bound with ropes, from the forests of Galicia to Austria. Then they were sawn into boards and shingles.

In the heat of summer, Bulgarian farmers from Giska, Malayesht, Farkan, Kitzkan, Ternikove, Butar, Tashlik, Speye and Varnitza brought poultry, eggs, wheat, fruit and grapes to sell.

Young farmers, working for the grape merchants, would squash the grapes with their bare feet and the juice was placed in casks. Observant Jews used to make their own wine so as not to spoil it.

The Bendery merchants who dealt in fashion and haberdashery would, on Saturday night, rent wagons from the drivers in order to load different goods that would be sent to markets in Pokorov, Bovey, Einshsikrak, Valantirovka, Artsiz, Tchimishilie and Romanovka. In addition to regular goods, there were also tarpaulins, tents, ropes and wooden planks. Some of these merchants would travel three times a year to the market in Tiraspol, the German colony of Soltes, or to Lenovo.

 

The Leaders of Bendery

Rabbi Aryeh–Leib Wertheim and my great grandfather, the ritual slaughterer Azriel–Moshe Eidelman, lived in Fishan in 1812. That year, when Bessarabia became part of Russia, the Bendery community, following the recommendation of the previous Rabbi, the author of the book “Lover of Israel”, chose Rabbi Aryeh–Leib Wertheim to succeed him. He agreed to take the position, but he insisted that my great grandfather would be the ritual slaughterer. He also insisted that both families would be given houses next to each other. The two families moved to Bendery.

The sainted Rabbi Itzikel, grandson of Rabbi Aryeh–Leib, took over the rabbinical seat in 1875. He built a large synagogue with the help of the town leaders. On the outside, the building looked much as other houses of worship. Inside the walls were painted with oil paint and on one wall there was a picture of the Western Wall. On another wall fruit of Eretz Israel were depicted and on a third wall there were two people carrying a stick with grapes hanging from it. The latter was a reminder of what the twelve spies brought Moshe Rabenu. On the ceiling there were drawings of the symbols and names of the twelve tribes.

Rabbi Itzikel, in addition to being a Rabbi, was a really “good Jew” – a true leader with followers. He had a special room where he studied Torah, accepted notes with requests, gave blessings and distributed amulets. He was the Head of the Community and he was in charge of charitable institutions – “Help for the Sick,” “Help for Women,” “Help for poor Brides,” and “Help for the Poor.”

In 1880 the bath house burned down. Rabbi Itzikel, with the help of the community, built a new one. Since he was the head of the community the new bath house was named in his honor. However, since in the eyes of the Russian authorities there was no Jewish community, the new bath house was called “Institution of Relief Bath House.”

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Some community leaders, headed by the generous donor Itzy Nissenboim, protested the fact that Rabbi Itzikel handled community funds. A new group took over all charitable institutions and suspended the employment of Rabbi Itzikel and his son Rabbi Shloimke for a year and a half. This caused them to live in dire straits.

Rabbi Itzikel's treasurer was Nahman Kishinevsky, a learned man and a follower of Chabad. He had brought up his grandson Leibel (orphaned at the age of 5). Leibel was related to me. He and my brother Berke studied together in the Yeshiva in Kishinev. My brother, after his marriage, became a Rabbi in Peshterov. He was also a ritual slaughterer in Odessa in Soviet times. Leibel Kishinevsky moved to Sweden where he educated a generation of learned Jews. He visited the State of Israel before he died and he was received by President Zalman Shazar with great honor.

My grandfather, Leyzer Kishinevsky, ritual slaughterer and cantor in Tiraspol and his friend, Pinhas Minkovsky – cantor at the Odessa Broder Synagogue – used to chant Hassidic melodies for their Rabbi Itzikel. My other grandfather, Haim Hirsh Eidelman, ritual slaughterer in Bendery, a follower of the Sadigura Rebbe, was a prayer leader for many years in Rabbi Itzikel's synagogue.

Itzy Nissenboim was a wealthy man with an open hand. He built the Jewish Hospital with his own money and poor Jews were cured there for free. Daily, he would check how the patients were being treated and that Kashrut was followed. On the way he would stop at the home of the widow Feiga since the teacher Aaron Nimover taught his students there. He would listen to the sounds of Gmara learning. Feiga's house was wooden with a roof made of stones and rain would seep through. Itzy built her a new house made with bricks with a metal roof, so that the students would not suffer wetness while they studied.

Nissenboim accused Itzel Goldfarb of falsifying promissory notes in the amount of 40 000 rubles by using his signature. The trial took several years, but, in the end, Itzel Goldfarb was sentenced to three years in jail. In town he was nicknamed Itzel the Arrestee. The Goldfarb family hired the greatest experts and lawyers and a new trial was announced. Goldfarb was freed after sitting in jail for 8 months and his sentence was reversed. Nissenboim had to pay 40 000 rubles in penalties. Goldfarb used the money to build a two–storey brick house. On the first floor he opened a dry goods shop while on the second there was the largest wedding hall in Bendery. The ceiling had an opening so that a Jewish marriage ceremony could be performed in plain air. After the ceremony the guests went to the hall to eat food prepared by Eli Bidnik, to see how his servers assisted in the “Golden Evening” and to listen to Yankel the Jester sing to the bride and groom. The parents would dance until dawn and the musicians would accompany them to the groom's house.

 

Synagogues in Bendery

In 1895 it was decided to build a new synagogue at the cost of 40 000 rubles. Yitzhak Nissenboim was among the first to donate funds and others gave according to their ability. Cantor Zaslavsky and his choir came in from Kiev and the concert brought in a considerable sum of money.

Building was started in 1900 and for three years the position of the eastern wall was changed several times. Finally, an Italian engineer was invited and the synagogue was built in Italian Renaissance style. In the center of the ceiling hung 4 large eagles surrounded by many golden stars and small blue electric lights. This created the effect of a night sky. A large chandelier nested among the eagles and it had 300 electric bulbs decorated with crystal. There were also 12 massive pillars reaching the ceiling.

[Page 264]

When the funds did not suffice for the completion of the building, the well–known wealthy woman, Mrs. Ashkenazi of Odessa, was approached. She donated 10 000 rubles. However, the two new treasurers Mendel Kreposter and David Stoliar were suspected of misusing the accounts and a large meeting was convened. The treasurers swore, on the Torah, that they were not guilty. The building was completed with a less ornate finish. The opening of the synagogue was done with speeches, prayers, Hassidic chanting and dancing.

The OLD SHUL was famous for the fact that every Friday night, after services, the town leaders would take a guest for Shabbat. It could have been a book seller who came to town to offer prayer books or cheap romance novels; an emissary from Jerusalem or simply poor people.

The Old Shul had a free kosher kitchen for Jewish soldiers who would eat there on Shabbat or Holidays. David Garfield ran the kitchen and he would bring poultry, meat and fish. We, the youngsters, used to help peel onions and potatoes and serve food at the tables. Those praying in the mornings would always recite Psalms and study “Eye of Jacob.”

 

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Rabbi Itzikel's Shul

 

Sometimes lecturers would come to town and they spoke in the Alte Shul. They had special tunes for moralizing and telling fables with a moral – all with the hope that the Messiah will come and bring the Zionist dream.

One time, a child became extremely ill and the despondent mother ran into the Alte Shul and put her head in the Holy Ark. She was crying and begging God to have pity on her child and cure him completely. Another time a widow, on Shabbat, would go up to the reading desk with complaints and thus she disturbed the Torah reading. She would not allow the opening of the Torah scroll for reading until the leaders agreed to give her the help she needed.

The Butchers' Shul included among its worshippers the defenders of Bendery. Right after WWI the youth organized themselves as defenders who would stop drunken Cossacks from attacking Jews. They would beat these Cossacks to teach them a lesson. The leader of these defenders was Zeidel Markman.

The Zionists Shul was full of educated people who were followers of the great authors from Odessa –Ch.N. Bialik, Achad Haam and Zeev Zhabotinsky. Every Shabbat before the reading of the Torah, there were lectures about Hebrew writers and Zionism. The speakers – Moshe Haham, Yoel Vodoboz and David Pisterov – elevated the intellectual level of the Shul.

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In 1937 when I was in Bender I heard arguments between the General Zionists and the Revisionists. At the time the Zionist movement had grown and the striving for Eretz Israel was bigger than in the 1920s.

 

The Tailors' Shul

In this Shul the worshippers were poorer than in other shuls, but they splurged and spent a lot of money on importing the best cantors from larger cities. They were experts in cantorial music and over the years they develop a musical sense. Even at work they would chant tunes sung by different cantors in all their variations.

The Reichman Shul was built by Haim and Sarah Feiga Reichman. It was actually a house of learning on one of the main streets. It was run by Haim's son Gershon and his wife Devorah. Gershon's son and his wife belong to the Bendery Society in New York.

In my time the Gabbai was a fruit commissioner, Aaron–Yossel Kramer. On Simchat Torah the worshippers would bring a Torah scroll to the Gabbai's house, accompanied by some musicians. Children would carry candles and accompanied the Gabbai back to Shul in a parade–dancing and singing.

 

House of Learning of Yasha (Yosef) Shaposnick

Yasha was a learned man and an important member of the Bendery Community. He was head of the Mishna group. He was married to the daughter of Rabbi Israel from Rizishin. His wife – Esther–Sima – was a leader in the “Fund for Poor Brides”. She was killed in the Holocaust.

Yasha was, for many years, the host of many rabbis who visited Bendery. Among them were Rabbi Nachumtche and Rabbi Dudel from Zlotopolie, the commentator Rabbi Yehuda–Leib Friedman and Rabbi Nachumtche, the Talner Rabbi. Yasha always paid the expenses of the special tables for these rabbis.

Yasha built his House of Learning by himself and every Thursday evening the teacher Hershel Tulchiner taught young boys about life. Among the worshippers there were some fine teachers who were able to explain the most difficult passages.

My father, Ben Zion Shohet, z”l, was the prayer leader on the High Holidays.

Yasha's son, Abba, was elected at the age of 19 by the Bendery Community. In 1938–1939 he was in charge of refugees in Galatz. These people were on their way from Poland to Eretz Israel. He was active in Mizrahi and is a resident of Israel. For a long time he was head of the community in Givat Shmuel. For over twenty years he has been a member of the Rabbinical Council of Tel Aviv where he takes care of poor families and he also performs as a cantor.

 

Rabbi Shloimke Wertheim, Z”L

When Rabbi Itzikel died his son, Rabbi Shloimke, succeeded him in the rabbinical seat. Rabbi Shloimke was a brilliant scholar, a questioner and a modern man. He, together with his friend, Rabbi Yehuda–Leib Fishman, published a monthly journal in Hebrew called “The Dove”. Rabbi Fishman is now I.L. Maimon, the Minister for Religious Affairs in Israel.

Rabbi Shloimke's son, Israel, was my childhood friend. He was murdered by the Nazis. I used to be a steady visitor to their house. Rabbi Shloimke would receive many letters from Jews in surrounding villages with questions about laws, family matters and money disputes. There was a big division then in Tiraspol between the Talner and Sadigura Chassidim. They would not agree to have anything to do one with the other and this problem made them into enemies. Rabbi Shloimke and my grandfather, Rabbi Haim–Hirsh Shohet, became involved. The two rabbis told them off and warned them that this hatred would cause the destruction of the Tiraspol Jewish community. The conflict was resolved and a young man by the name of Israel Chaplik, a nephew of Rabbi Eli Shohet, wrote the peace agreement. Both sides accepted and signed the contract.

Rabbi Shloimke's sexton was Zalman. He used to get up at 4 a.m. in order to wake up the observant Jews to do the work of the Creator. He used to clean the building, to attend to the Rabbi and to dress the Rabbi's children. He was a God fearing man and immersed himself in the Mikvah daily. In winter or summer he used to wear high boots.

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On Shavuot 1908 a great fire broke out. Rabbi Itzikel's house of learning burned down. The building had been insured. However, those who suffered were the neighbors – Yerucham Beker, the book binder, Zeidel Gafman, Bendery ritual slaughterer Velvel Eidelman and the ritual slaughterer Ben Zion Berdichevsky. The community helped each one of them by giving 2 000 rubles so that they could repair their homes and put on new roofs.

 

Teachers in Bendery

In the years 1895–1900 it was the custom that when a three–year–old child was brought, for the first time, to Yossel Fefer's Heder, he would be put on a chair and a talit placed on him. On the table there was a tablet with printed letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The child would have to repeat, several times, “Aleph,” “Beit,” “Gimmel.” After the child completed this task his parents would throw candies at him and they said that angels from heaven had done it.

The teacher, Moshe “the deformed one” taught his pupils Tanach and some written Hebrew and Yiddish. Shimon the teacher was more modern and he taught a few hours of Russian language. Aaron Nimover, another teacher, lived near the jailhouse and had few pupils. When he rented a large room in the house of Feiga, the widow on the Teachers Street, he had more students. He taught them Gmara and commentaries. Another teacher, Alter Shuster was an angry person. If he was unhappy with a student he would throw anything he found at him. However, he was an excellent teacher. If a child knew Bible with Rashi commentary he would give him a few coins.

My teacher, Eli Gamburd, was outstanding. He was well–versed in Talmud and Jewish knowledge. He taught us Bible, Rashi, Gmara, Yiddish and Hebrew and translations into Russian. He gave lectures on Oral and Written law, their roots and their development. Not everyone appreciated his teaching methods. It was easier to go from Gamburd's Heder to Schwartzman's Hebrew High School.

 

The Idea of Zion

In Bendery, prior to WWI, there was a group of young boys and girls who would meet every Shabbat afternoon in a conspiring way. They would discuss Zionist and cultural themes. Leibl Garfield was one of the leading members of this group.

At that time, the idea of Zion had deep roots in many circles of Bendery youth. There were already branches of Poalei Zion and Zeirei Zion. They would meet and dream of Zion. They read and sang many Hebrew songs. Their hymn was Hachniseni (Bring me in) by Ch. N. Bialik with its familiar melody.

 

Jewish Evening Courses

The Zionist movement had a strong influence on our youth due to the proximity of Odessa with its Zionist leaders and important Jewish–Russian and Hebrew writers. Anyone who knew the conditions in Bendery and its Jewish components realized the importance of organizing Jewish evening courses. The small established circle was enhanced by a wish to broaden Jewish education.

Leib Garfield fitted well into this group when he visited from America. He helped to teach youngsters Jewish knowledge and grammar without being paid. Leibel Garfield's friend David Prozhshansky, who helped him, was a wonderful educator.

The “Culture League,” also founded then was, for us, the youngsters, a door to Jewish literature. We absorbed the works of our important poets and writers. We brought, from Lipcani, the writer Moshe Alterman who used to recite his poems and the fabulist Eliezer Steinberg who used to tell as his fables. All this brought warmth, happiness and much singing.

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David Wertheim

David Wertheim studied in Kiev in his young days.

In 1917–1918 the Russian revolution and many pogroms in Ukraine resulted in an influx of refugees into Bessarabia. Bessarabia had been conquered by Romania by then. David became one of these refugees and until he was settled he became a Hebrew teacher for the chosen. I was one of his first students – in the women's auxiliary of his grandfather's house of learning. I later got closer to him when we formed a Jewish independent defence group against pogroms. Our arsenal consisted of axes and long knives which the butchers brought, the blacksmiths – long iron sticks, and the carriers – long strings to tie the attackers. We, a group of ten boys, helped to carry the arsenal. The older defenders would spend whole nights on watch duty.

David Wertheim saw as his goal to develop the Zeirei Zion party. His modest and attractive personality immediately made him an important factor in the development of the Zionist movement. At the time Bendery was cut off from the millions of Jews in Russia, Jewish newspapers and even school texts. Our teacher, Yitzhak Reznikov, put together and printed some textbooks for the students in Schwartzman's Hebrew High School. He also brought in a newspaper in Yiddish – “the Jewish People” – which was published by Bundist writers. David Wertheim, together with Haim Grinberg, Moshe Fustan (editor of the newspaper “Jewish” Kishinev), Leybele Glantz and Shimon Schechter helped to establish three Zionist groups: “Hechalutz”, “Gordonya” and “Hahaver” (the friend). The groups were under the influence of Zeirei Zion. The party had also established a Hahshara farm (preparatory) called “Masada.” There the pioneers learned difficult tasks and proved that Jews could perform physical labor. They were preparing themselves for Aliyah to Eretz Israel.

When it was necessary to enforce an assistance regulation in favor of the pioneers, David Wertheim mobilized Haim Grinberg to hold a lecture in a hall. There was a holiday atmosphere in town. The wagon drivers decorated their horses and wagons with flowers and Zionist flags. Our observant parents and the clergy also came to this meeting. At the time Rabbi Tsirelson was against Zionism, but he changed his mind in 1935 and became pro Eretz Israel.

After Haim Grinberg finished his lecture the crowd of several thousand were quite enthusiastic. Men gave up golden watches, women took off their earrings and everything was thrown on tablecloths – prepared in advance. Whether it was in Bendery or in America David Wertheim was one of our beloved and popular speakers. His speeches were filled with Jewish humor and folklore. He died while on a mission on behalf of the State of Israel.

 

Jewish Refugees Travel to Eretz Israel

In 1918–20 there was an upheaval in Bendery. In April 1918 the Bolsheviks sent dozens of spies from Ukraine. In May 1918 several thousand “Red Guards” crossed the Dniester on fishing boats which were loaded with machine guns, guns and revolvers. They convinced the Bendery railroad workers to call a strike. There were rumors that the Romanian militia had hung a white flag on the fortress to show capitulation. There was also talk that they had arrested the Bendery Secret Service, released all political prisoners and shot the chief Popovitch.

At that time there were, in Bendery, some French citizens who stayed in town in fear of the Red Guards.

There were battles with hundreds dead and wounded. In 89 Pratigolevsky Street there was a medical clinic. The “Reds” and the railroad workers of Bendery had failed in battle, but they did capture some French and Romanian citizens. They were taken, by boat, to the Tiraspol side. When they wanted to return they no longer had any boats and the Romanians shot hundreds of “Reds” and railroad workers – without trial.

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Zeirei Zion in Bendery

 

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A group of Zeirei Zion members in 1931

 

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Yosef Shprintzak, z”l, visiting Zeirei Zion in Bendery – 23 July 1935

 

[Page 269] The Romanian authorities began to search for “Red Guards” and investigated every home. More than 300 Jewish refugees from Ukraine were discovered and they were pulled out of bed. This happened also in Kishinev since these Jewish refugees were considered to be spies. The Bendery community was bewildered. It was decided to speak to the representative, Rabbi Tsirelson from Kishinev. He was always ready to put his life in danger for Jewish honor in the struggle with the Romanian authorities. They also approached Shlomo Hillels, the Yiddish–Hebrew writer, a representative and director of the American Joint. The appeal in Bucharest continued for 24 hours until all the refugees were released. The proviso was that within 2 weeks they had to leave for America, Canada or Eretz Israel. In order to go to Eretz Israel there was a requirement by the British government that certificates be in hand. The Bendery community rented a printing press in Kishinev and in the evenings false documents were printed. Dozens of refugees were thus saved and they went to Eretz Israel.

 

Simcha Tzakhoval

Simcha Tsakhoval was a Shreibman from his father Shalom's side and his mother Kayla came from a family of ritual slaughterers in Tiraspol. These were the Kishinevsky family who were highly involved in Hassidic life.

Simcha resembled his father Shalom who was in charge of the municipal scales (the trading place). There was not really enough income for 7 people. Still, he sent his sons to the Schwartzman Hebrew High School and his daughters to the Grassimenko's Gymnasium. Simcha's brother Levi became a good artist.

I remember how Simcha used to sing his grandfather Rafael Kishinevsky's cantorial tunes. In the Schwartzman Hebrew High School he entertained us by playing various roles in our presentations.

In Eretz Israel, Moshe Halevy, the founder of Ohel Theater, invited Simcha to join his troupe of 36 actors. Simcha weighed and measured every word he spoke, but he was masterful on stage. He spent 30 years on the theater stage and he is part of the history of the theater in Israel.

Mania Tzakhoval's talented daughter, Tamar Lazar, was born in Israel. She studied at Teachers college, served in the IDF and was a fine painter, sculptor and writer. She published 55 books for children. Her books about Kofiko and Tsipopo were very successful. In her stories about monkeys and their tricks there is a great deal of information about Israel and other countries. This enriches children's knowledge and fantasy.

Tamar's oldest daughter is following in her footsteps and she shows great poetic and journalistic talent.

 

Prof. Zvi Orlinsky

Prof. Avi Orlinsky was not born in Bendery, but his wife Donya was a daughter of Meir Pines. He teaches Tanach at Hebrew Union College and he has earned a world–wide reputation with his interpretations of the Tanach and his original ideas. His monumental work is the translation of the Torah from our holy language into English. He is the chief editor, and along with other scholars he brings new interpretations of the Torah. Many experts agree with him, but many Orthodox rabbis disagree.

Zvi Orlinsky received many commendations for enriching Jewish American culture. He is an outstanding speaker and is extremely knowledgeable.

 

Honoring Prof. Yitzhak Fein

When Zionist ideology spread in Bendery, Meir Fein sent his son Yitzhak, after his Bar Mitzvah, to Palestine to study at Herzliah High School in Tel Aviv. When Yitzhak returned for his summer holidays to Bendery, WWI broke out.

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Later he studied in Odessa and he came to America in 1923 with his wife Haike, daughter of Rabbi Shloimke Wertheim, z”l. In America, Yitzhak became a Hebrew teacher in Jewish schools. In 1934 he obtained his doctorate from Dropsy College in Philadelphia. For 25 years he was a professor of Jewish Literature in Baltimore Hebrew College.

Prof. Fein was honored by Dropsy College for his essays, literary articles and especially for his book “The Birth of the American Jewish Community.” The book describes nearly 200 years of Jewish life in American cities. It is not merely a chronological collection of facts and material, but a description of the long journey and hardships of the Jewish immigrant until they integrated religion, culture and life in America, and especially in Baltimore. The book contains descriptions of scholars, students, leaders, rabbis, businessmen, political leaders of the Baltimore Jewish community and the personality of Dr. Herman Zeindel, head of Poalei Zion and organizer of the Jewish Legion in Baltimore in 1917.

 

I. Manik (Lederman) Z”l

I. Manik came from a Hassidic family. His father was a respected prayer leader and a wonderful Jew. Manik studied Bible, Rashi and Gmara with a private tutor and secular studies with two students from the Schwartzman Hebrew High School – Zelig Sofer and Simcha Tsakhoval. At a young age he showed a talent for poetry.

In America Manik studied Jewish subjects at the University of Chicago. His first poems, the series called New York Skies, were published in New York in 1930–1934. After 10 years spent in America he moved to Eretz Israel. He worked in kibbutzim, in construction and as a security guard. He took part in the War of Independence in 1948. His outstanding work was written during the war years – 1941–1942. These were the poems “One day of Winning,” “What the River Tells,” “After the Fire Storm” and “In the Womb of Chaos.” In Eretz Israel he was famous for the publishing of his books, poems, satires and songs: “Metal Receipts,” “Steps at Dawn,” “In My Glass Tower,” “Steps in your Wandering.” His work was reviewed by Prof. Saul Liptzin, Yekhezkel Bronstein, Yosef Sheh–Lavan, Sh. Glatstein, Zrubabavel A.A. In the book “Steps in Your Wandering” he writes about the period of the Hitler catastrophe. He describes interesting personalities from our home of Bendery who were annihilated by the Nazis. In the descriptions of these personalities he brings out his own feelings and emotions, his reactions and his reflections about his grandfather, his father, his neighbor Ben Zion Shohet and Sachar Diarde who used to wake people up to recite Psalms. Manik writes songs, fables, children's stories and even philology – “The Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language.”

I. Manik died in September 1973 in Bat Yam (Israel)

 

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Wertheim

In his adolescence, Arale used to visit his grandfather, Rabbi Shloimke in Bendery. When he finished his studies in the Tachkemoni Yeshiva in Poland he was ordained as a rabbi by Rabbi Tsirelson in Kishinev. In 1924 when Rabbi Shloimke died, his grandson took over his position as chief rabbi in Bendery. In 1926 Arale came to America as a delegate to the Mizrahi conference in Boston.

For the past 40 years he has been the chief rabbi of the Linden Heights B'nai Israel Synagogue in Brooklyn. Rabbi Wertheim is devoted to the Rabbi Kook Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He makes sure that funds are sent annually to this important institution. He is also involved with the Jewish Teachers Seminary and the Folk University of the Judaic Sciences. His doctorate was earned at Dropsy College in Philadelphia. His topic was Hassidism.

In his book “Ways and Laws in Hassidism” it can be seen the author possesses the appropriate background for it. His deep research and his thorough analysis bring out the Halachic point of view. For his approach he is given an important place in the exploration of Hassidism. He discusses the ways of Chabad led by Rabbi Shneor–Zalman of Liadi.

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He tells of the time when Rabbi Shneor–Zalman had some doubts he shouted, “I do not want your Heaven. I do not want the World to Come. I only want you (God)!” In his book he analyzes the methods of establishing Hassidism: the Baal Shem Tov, his father–in–law Rabbi Avraham Gershon from Kitov, and their students. He speaks of Rabbi Levi–Yitzhak Berdichover, when he prayed he was full of wonder, in Yiddish: “Father in Heaven, dear Father.” Instead of the word “Merciful God” in Hebrew he would say it in Yiddish. This is why he was nicknamed “The Merciful One.”

The author also describes how in Tsarist Russia one had to pay a special penalty of 5 rubles a year for wearing a yarmulke.

Rabbi Wertheim takes the reader through a labyrinth of laws, the study of Torah, praying, customs of the Hassidim and the behavior of various rabbis – the celebratory table, the notes sent to them, different houses of learning and synagogues within Hassidism.

The book sheds light on the Hassidim and is an important contribution to the study of Hassidism.


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At The Dniester

by Itzik Manger

The Dniester River whispers and rumbles
It pounds the waves onto its banks,
It brings doom to us here,
And carries longing far away
Far from the black waves
The tired breaths of calm and death
Darkness quietly pokes as the
Tired water fowl's wings
Bewildered darkness sees me and asks:
“What brings you here, stranger?
Let me rest, my heart is tired,
My dream is deep and heavy”.
The calm and tired Dniester whispers,
A quivering fever–dream trembles
Over the dark surface,
Its endlessly hidden dark song.
I hold the rifle, aim and fire
The darkness has a red splash
The heavy fever–dream
Dies at the gray water's edge
I fall on my knees
My eyes burn with fear
The Dniester whispers and rumbles
It carries longing far away.

 

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At the Dniester

 


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Bendery as Seen in History

by Leon Garfield (New York)

In 1912 there were big celebrations in the Bendery summer army camp. The Russian regime was then celebrating 100 years since Bendery remained within the borders of Russia.

Bendery was on the division line between old and new Bessarabia – Old Bessarabia in the north and new Bessarabia in the south at the Black Sea. Bendery together with the rest of Bessarabia had suffered through many wars.

The history of Bessarabia starts with the beginning of Christianity. It was situated on one of the routes to the Byzantine Empire and it was part of various nations and races. In the 8th century it belonged to the “Bessa” race and thus the area was named Bessarabia.

In the mid 1300s Old Bessarabia belonged to the Galician kingdom and soon was under the rules of the Tatars. In the mid 1400s Galicia was divided between Poland, Lithuania and Hungary. In those years Lithuania pushed to spread itself over Bessarabia. In 1362 Duke Olgyard started a war with the Tatars and took away Karshov on the Dniester. Olgyard also conquered Podolia and together with the Lithuanian Dukes reached the Black Sea.

At the beginning of the 500s many new towns were built on the right side of the Dniester. Bendery belonged to the Lithuanian–Russian Duke Vitavet (L. S. Berg; Bessarabia. 1918)

In time, the Romanians took over Bessarabia. However, in the middle of the 1600s the Turks captured the fortresses of Kiliya and Akkerman and eventually Bendery (called Tighina by the Romanians). From time to time the Crimean Tatars and Cossacks attacked Bessarabia and destroyed much of it. In order to defend himself the Turkish Sultan, Suleiman II, brought over 30 000 families to Kaushany and the area. This is how the southern part of Bessarabia became larger than Moldavia.

In 1572 Moldavia again was at war with Turkey and took over Brailia, Akkerman and Bendery. Peter the Great tried to take the upper part of Bessarabia from the Turks. He even joined with Moldavia. However, the Turks repelled the Russian army –it suffered a terrible loss. Later, during the reign of Catherine II, there were plans to unite Bessarabia with Moldavia, under the Russian Empire. Catherine caused a war with the Turks and the Galician Duke conquered Iasi and Khotin. Thirteen years later Potemkin took Otchokov. (In 1768–1774) Suvorov beat the Turks and took Pashkan and Romanic and then Khadozshivi (now Odessa), Akkerman, Izmail and Bender. In a village in Small Russia near Bendery, there is a small hill which is designated as the grave of Suvorov.

Around 1910 when the street surrounding the old fortress was dug up in order to prepare it for repaving, bones a few thousand years old were found covered by earth. These were remains of soldiers who had fought in the above mentioned battles. It seems that the bodies were left where they had fallen and over the years dust covered them.

In 1897 the population of Bessarabia consisted of 47.6% Moldavians, 19.6% Russians and 11.8% Jews. The rest came from 12 other nationalities. Bendery district itself had about half of its population as Moldavians, especially in the southern section. Around the town there were mainly Russians. In 1905 the Jews in Bessarabia constituted 37.4% of the entire population.

[Page 274]

Jews had lived in Bessarabia from olden days. Beginning in the 1600s many Jews immigrated from Poland and Germany. Around 1818 there were 5,000 Jews in Bessarabia. In the 1900s many Jews came from Poland and Lithuania to find better economic conditions. Other Jews were “sent” by the Russian authorities to Bessarabia for various sins.

 

ben274.jpg
The fortress in Bendery

 

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the Jewish population of Bendery, in 1939, came to 12 000. The total population was 32 000.

The Jews in Bendery had a good life from the point of view of economics. Most of them dealt in commerce. There were small and large workshops and factories, two big flour mills, a beer distillery and a soap plant. In addition, all of them had Jewish employees. The Bendery train station only employed Christians.

In Bendery there was a Russian language newspaper with a Jewish publisher. There were two free Talmud Torahs; teachers with good Heders – modern and old–fashioned; a science high school for boys and a high school for girls; public elementary schools and later a Hebrew High school for boys. Many of the youth studied as external students. It is important to note that almost all the Jewish youth that attended Russian schools came to a Heder at three o'clock to continue their Jewish education. We also had a fine Jewish library.

Bendery was situated in a strategic location. Geographically – it was in the middle between Kishinev and Odessa and Old and New Bessarabia. As a result, it had the best theatrical performances from Odessa the state–theater. We also had visits from the circus and the Yiddish troupes from Odessa and Warsaw. There was also our own amateur theater group and some cinema houses. In the summers, on the boulevard and in the summer theater, there were fine orchestras from the military camp as well as private ones. There was the Dniester River with its boats and on its shores were cultivated very good grapes and other fruit. The air smelled of fruit, acacias, roses, lilacs and flowers. Vacations were spent there during the summer. On Shabbat afternoons young men and women went to the gardens and they enjoyed themselves. Bendery also had visits from world–famous cantors. There were also great musical concerts, lectures etc.

[Page 275]

The majority of the Jews were Zionists. There was a large group of territorialists (who advocated the establishment of an autonomous Jewish state other than in Palestine). Two youths – Haim Glass and David Prozhshansky – were sent to Bendery by the authorities to “organize” the community. In 1909 the Poalei Zion movement was established and it was active in social life. The Zeirei Zion movement came later after WWI. There were hardly any Bundists in Bendery, at least not as an organized group. There were some individuals who were active in the general revolutionary movement and they joined Russian workers from the railroad warehouse. There were also some Jewish Communists after the Bolsheviks appeared on the other side of the Dniester.

When life in Greater Bessarabia, including parts of Bukovina, became more orderly under the Romanian authorities, the Jewish Culture League in Bendery was founded. It offered free Jewish evening courses and arranged for concerts and lectures.

Bendery was a lively town up to WWI. The Jews were happy with their lot and they did not even dream of leaving. As in other parts of Bessarabia, very few Jews immigrated to America. After the war and under Romanian rule, Bendery began to slowly degenerate in many ways. The youth went away – many to France – and others to England, Israel and America. The murders during WW II and the pitiless treatment by the Bolsheviks of the few remaining Jews terminated the idyllic life in the town called Bendery.

The last rabbi of Bendery, Rabbi Efrati said: “a beautiful Jewish town has fallen. Jews had a great life there and every Shabbat one would see Jews coming on the street out of 20 synagogues.” It was a real Jewish life in Bendery and now this is only a dream. It must be remembered.

 

ben275.jpg
A Bendery baggage carrier passes by Rabbi Shloimke's Shul

 

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