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[Page 267]

My Ilya

Aryeh - Miriam's Husband

Donated by Florence Koplow

Translated by Milette Shamir

Ilya, my tiny birth town,
You were like a crown to me then.
In my childhood I imagined you a metropolis,
Grand, and of perfect splendor.
Your little houses seemed as castles,
And your small population - a mass.
Your narrow alleys - splendid avenues,
And the Market place - a wonder.
The synagogue lofty and exalted,
Erect, and of wide dimensions.
It served the public for prayer,
Especially the “opposers”.
The simple folk had a separate synagogue,
In order to feel comfortable.
Anyone could lead the prayers,
Provided he finished up quickly.
CHABAD too had their own place,
And their version was to make things pleasant.
To study a little “Tnaya”
And then raise a glass of wine in cheer.

My river Ilya, how dear you were to me,
My childhood and adolescence flow in you,
You give me intoxicating memories,
Of happiness and the joys of youth.
Your clear waters are cold and bubbling,
Meandering in your pure bed.
On your banks thick bushes grow,
That serve you for adornment and as a border.
Your were a shelter for bodies from the scorching sun,
Your refreshed the tired and the weary.
At evening time boats sailed in your streams,
Youth groups, that sang songs in merriment.
You were a shelter to doting couples,
And spread your wings over them.
You brought young, enthralled hearts together,
And hid them from the public eye.
In the summer you quenched the thirst of the residents,
At winter you were a trail for sleds.
Generously you gave of your fish,
To all the Jewish residents.

Your ancient forest is a gift of God,
Intended for strolling, for health and for leisure.
It served as a hideout for lovers,
And allowed for some release and freedom.
In the shade of your trees you made life pleasant,
And served your guests with berries.
Your wonderful scenery charmed all,
And you revived your visitors' spirit.

[Page 268]

My Town,
You saw your Jews being led to slaughter,
Digging their own graves in the ground.
You saw with your own eyes the massacre committed,
By the conspiring murderers.

My Forest!
You were witness to horrendous scenes,
When the man-beast raged on,
You spread your wings on the survivors,
And allowed them to be saved.

My River!
Now the curtain has gone down,
We were brutally cut off from your banks.
Our descendants have left you forever,
But will remember your kindness with warmth.

Eliezer Dinerstein/U.S.A.

[Page 269]

From the Remembrance Notebook

Donated by Florence Koplow

Translated by Milette Shamir

Even though my father told me that I was born in Vyazin and reached Ilya only after the fire, when I was a year old, I still think of myself as an Ilya born and bred. There I was brought up, educated, and made friends and companions.

That Ilya, the Jewish one, that is engraved in my memory, no longer exists. Its Jewish inhabitants were eradicated, their houses burnt, their property robbed, and no trace is left of the ancient community and its rich history.

Many years have gone by since I left it, but still it stands clearly before my eyes; its streets, alleys, and the market - in the center of which stood the houses of “Yankel Rashas,” “Yochanan Shimon Hotnares” and others, looking as if they were an island in the midst of the ocean.

In our youth, Sabbaths were devoted to wars against the street gangs, that always took place in the market place. When we felt that they were stronger, we would retreat to the

ily269.jpg [10 KB]
Eliezer Dinerstein

entrance of the synagogue and reorganized for a planned and calculated attack. We now began our major onslaught. With reenforcement we advanced as far as the school. We ambushed them in the secret passage between the house of Tzemach Shapira and the house of Rabbi Bare Levin and began to retreat. When the gang saw that we were retreating, they began an assault on us and we retreated as if under their pressure and incredible force. But when the attackers passed by the ambush, the sign was given and we stopped as our ambush attacked them from behind. They finally found themselves at war from front and back and were badly defeated.

As most of Lithuania's towns, Ilya too was mainly an oppositional town, and had three synagogues; in two the opposers prayed and in the third the people of CHABAD. A deep hatred ruled the “shtibel” between many families, but no one knew why.

David Zalmanovski, the son of the animal slaughterer was my friend. I stayed at his house, had fun and studied, even in the slaughtering lessons he got at the slaughterhouse I participated. Despite that, we clashed a lot, mainly over the right to escort the old rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Shlomo, to his house. David claimed this privilege based on usucaption

Dear David, where are you now? Who are the bloody murderers who executed such a congenial and pleasant man.

The controversy over the new Rabbi that split the town into two sides is engraved deep in my memory. The fight increased to huge dimensions and spread over all areas of life; in the synagogue, in the streets and at home. On Sabbath morning I would pass from one synagogue to the next to see where was there more “action.”

During the first year of World War I we did not especially suffer. Only later, c 1915, when the front advanced towards us - because of the Germans' constant advances and the burning of the town by the Cossacks, we moved to Minsk. There we met the Germans for the first time, and compared to the Russians they treated us with cordiality and fairness. Who could imagine that the sons of those Germans would become cruel murderers, thirsty for Jewish blood.

Ilya, and everything it represented, is no longer there.

Aryeh - The brother of Malka K.

[Page 271]

With the Hebrew Brigades

During the First World War

Donated by Florence Koplow

Translated by Milette Shamir

Today, as we immortalize the town of our birth, we are proud to mark the historical fact, that three of its sons served in the Hebrew Brigade during the First World War - and took part in the liberation of the country from the Turks. For fairness' sake we must emphasize, that the three volunteers did not arrive at the brigade straight from Ilya, but along with other volunteers from the United States, but this is of no principal importance. The patriotic sentiment that beat in their hearts and moved them to volunteer to the brigade did not enter their bloodstream in the United States, where they were relatively new immigrants, but was brought from father's home.

The writer of these lines has not yet had the privilege of meeting them personally and does not know the details of their biographies, but from the little he has heard it is possible to paint, albeit sketchedly, a portrait of their positive character: a Zionist character, that of public servants and Hebrew educators. It seems that, like many others, they migrated from the town to America about fifty years ago, aiming to improve their economic situation, like all immigrants to the New World, but they did not succeed. Their education and character prevented them from becoming one of the “allrightniks” and fate had a different mission in store for them, one that they respectfully carry on to this day: as Zionists, volunteers to the brigade, public servants and Hebrew educators, who transferred to the youth of Israel traditional values, love of the land and the Hebrew language.

For truth's sake we should mention that we knew nothing of their actions, thanks to which our tiny town was represented in the Hebrew brigade, a fact that fills our hearts with pride and raises our respect for them. Only accidentally we found out about it, when we discovered among the material passed on to us by our friend Mr. Eliezer Shapira from Mexico, a poem, from which we gathered that its writer belonged to the volunteers of the First Hebrew Brigade.

We turned, therefore, to Mr. Yehuda Lichterman - the writer of the poem - and asked him to put on paper some of his impressions of the brigade, to include it in the book. But he responded humbly and modestly. “Maybe my brother should do that....” he too was among the volunteers to the Hebrew Brigade. For lack of alternative we turned to his brother, Mr. Shimon Lichterman. But he, too, wasn't too excited...

All we can therefore do is immortalize their names in the Book of Ilya for eternal remembrance and mark down the names of the volunteers to the First Hebrew Brigade from our town.

  1. Lichterman Yehuda
  2. Lichterman Shimon
  3. Cohen Leibel.

On this opportunity we will also publish some of the poems of the educator Yehuda Lichterman, written somewhere in the Middle East during his service in the first Hebrew Brigade.

ily272.jpg [10 KB]
Yehuda Lichterman, U.S.A.,
during his service in
the First Hebrew Brigade

A Ring

A tear drop fell in the ocean
And around it - formed a ring.
The hand cannot touch it
Until such time, as to the bride -
The groom will come and save her.

Oil floats above the abyss
And around it - a ring.
It is hidden from every eye
Until such time, as to the bride -
The groom will come and save her.

A speck of light in the heavens - -
Surrounded by a ring-like circle.
And it amazes all
Until such time, as to the bride -
The groom will come and save her.

New York 1920.

[Page 273]

The Graves Open...

“behold I will open your graves...and I will bring you home into the land of Israel.”

Ezekiel 37, 12.

The graves open... The dead awake
From their heavy sleep, the slumber of generations;
The wrath of the squires kindles a flame...
The convoys stretch indefinitely... innumerable...

The cables disjoin...the locks are broken...
The walls of slavery are shattered down....
Hearts come together, hands interlock -
In a straight line they march with swords and spears.

New skies and new land
The eastern horizon reveals -
With beating hearts and enthralled souls
They swarm the road and emerge like waves...

In their eyes - the holy spark, in their right hand - the spear
With joy they hurry to Zion, the treasured-
To the ancient land, youthful and obsolescent,
Where salvation is granted, and they will find theirs.

The Hebrew Brigade, The Mediterranean (1917).

“O Lord, from men whose portion in life is of the world
may their belly be filled with what thou hast stored up for them,
may their children have more than enough, may they leave
something over to their babes.”

Psalms 17, 14.


In the depth of an oasis dune

A well hidden, dear treasure lies:
A pearl-treasure is safe-kept

Never to be robbed by evil hands.
And near it - as a garrison

A mute juniper tree stands.
The desert, used to silence, hushes--

Quavering, it smiles for the birth of law...
The desert is flooded by the moonlight!--

Come and solve the secret mystery!--

New York, 1920

[Page 274]

The Sea-Desert Voyage

“Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorn - whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away.”
Psalms 58, 9.

On the silent, desolate desert-coast

A wrathful, conspiring ocean lies.
On its waves sail herds

of fishermen in boats.
Flocks and flocks, in the beginning of the night,

They came to spread their fishing nets.
They are all joyful and merry--

And around them circle plenty of fish.
Their hearts are merry and content--

And suddenly, oh, cursed fiends!
On the face of the desert stands alone

Naked, base and dejected-- a thorn!
By its flaming light

The dessert skies are lit, the shadow of death.
They saw but did not understand--

They approached and did not dare...
The sea roared, the waves ebbed--

The boats were carried ahead...
The faces of the net-bearers turned white--

Every eye was emboldened by the sight.

New York, 1920

Since for reasons that are not under our control we cannot describe these Ilyites during their service, we will at least quote a few sentences from the “Scroll of the Brigade” by Ze'ev Zabotinski, that describe the singularity of the Americans in the Brigade.

“By numbers, they constitute the largest group in the brigade (34%). In terms of intelligence, education, and personal courage, exhibited during the Jordan Valley battles, they also excelled. Physically and in terms of health they were among the first.

Although most of them were still new to America, they already had time to absorb the local tempo. The American thinks quickly and clearly and makes a decision without hesitation: yea or nay. And be it yea, he acts so that it will indeed be achieved. If he begins a certain action he knows what is required, and every step he makes is directed towards that final aim...

Having descended on the coast of Alexandria, they immediately asked: where is the front? Even though they did not participate in the struggle much, due to the English temper... Then a “new goal” was set: peace. They understood its meaning to be that “the land of Israel must be built.” Most of the Americans were good Zionists, and therefore demanded: “give us a hoe,” but this wasn't given to them either.... Since the gunshots stopped and the hoe not yet provided, and to clean guns... that are useless anyway, they did not feel enthusiastic about, they began to demand, loudly, their release.

But upon their return to the United States, they enthusiastically geared themselves towards performing the Zionist task, and formed the foundation of a strong Zionist organization in the United States; one that earned much privilege in developing the land and building it, in financial aid, in exerting a strong political pressure on famous American leaders, in encouraging -- and participating in -- the building of an independent state of Israel.”

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