Arie Avi Avihud
Donated by Florence Koplow
Translated by Milette Shamir
Ilya is in the Vileika region and about 30 kilometers away from the town; it's in the Vilna District and about 150 kilometers away from it, and was built on the western bank of a brook called Ilya, which is a rivulet of the river Vilya that flows into the Nimen, on its way to the Baltic sea.
The origins of our town are clouded in thick fog. Different opinions set different dates for its supposed origination, ranging between the 14th and the 15th centuries A.D., but there is no doubt that it is hundreds of years old. The only reliable facts that testify to its early existence we found in a Polish historical geographical dictionary from the year 1882, part 3, pages 258-269, according to which as early as in 1634, that is in the first half of the 17th century, there was a Christian church, a Jewish synagogue, and more in Ilya. In addition, the afore said geographical dictionary establishes the fact that our town Ilya developed from the mansion of a prince of the house of Redzivil, which name was Ilya as well.
One of the theories as to the origins of our town has a credible historical-legendary background, and is fit to be presented to you:
At the end of the 14th century Prince Witold ruled over the Lithuanian princedom. He was a brave, heroic man who fought courageously all his life, and struggled against the Tartars and overcame them. He encouraged his soldiers to acts of heroism by granting knighthoods and large estates for mansions. The prince was a distinguished soldier but also a wise statesman and settler. By these actions he achieved two aims simultaneously: the widening of the borders and their protection on the one hand, and the loyalty of his knights on the other. One of his heroes, to whom he granted large areas around our town, was called Redzivil. It seems that this Redzivil was the father of that famous dynasty in Polish history, the Counts of the House of Redzivil.
The ancient legend tells: when this Redzivil first reached the spot, to survey the area and find a location for his mansion, he did not find one piece of land worthy of immediate cultivation. Thick forests lay in front and behind, especially huge pine trees. His searches throughout that day yielded no results. The man despaired and in the meantime the sun had set. His fatigue increased moment to moment, and he thus hurried along, aiming to reach the border of the forest. Suddenly he came across a river that blocked his way. Before the man made a final attempt to get out of this unlucky situation, he decided to rest a bit to gather strength. In the meantime, night had descended, the man's fatigue overtook him, and he fell asleep. He dreamt that, lo and behold, Elijah the Prophet stood near him, encouraging him and whispering: upon dawn you will find your way, don't be afraid, I will be with you, and you will expand westward and eastward, and your descendants will be men of fame.
The man who woke up in fright, discovered that Elijah the prophet has disappeared, and made an oath to call the river and the mansion that will be built - Ilya, after Elijah the prophet who came to him in his dream. And the man indeed fulfilled his oath; the mansion that was built on the spot and the river were called Ilya.
Prince Witold - who was kind to the Lithuanian Jews, granted them rights and even published statutes for their protection - continued in his settlement policies. The forest withdrew to make room for the plough, and many mansions were built in the area. Thus the first Jews appeared in the mansions; as tenants, managers and tax officers, who for obvious reason chose of their own free will to concentrate in one spot and live together. Thus our town Ilya originated and became a historical given.
Now it is no longer there.
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