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[Page 107]

Comunal Workers,
Writers and Teachers in Kamenets–Litowsk

 

About the Maggid of Kamenetz,
Rabbi Ḥaim Zundl Maccoby, of Blessed Memory
[1]

by P. Rabi[2],[3]

Translated by Allen Flusberg

The Maggid [Orator, Preacher] of Kamenetz, R.[4] Ḥaim Zundl, son of Simḥa Maccoby, was born in 1856 in a village near Kobryn[5]. While still a child Ḥaim Zundl was known for his sharp mind. He never tolerated any injustices from anyone. While still in ḥeder[6], when he would see someone mistreating someone else, he would berate him to his face. Already then, the way he would fight for fairness and justice was indicative of the “nationalist orator” he would become in the future.

When Ḥaim-Zundl started out in ḥeder he showed signs of being a prodigy. At six years of age he began to study the Prophets, which he became very enthusiastic about. And after several years, when he had already begun to study Gemara [Talmud], he never put aside his Tanach [Bible]. At the age of 12 he moved to Brisk-Litowsk[7], where he studied in the local yeshiva for 3 years.

When he was sixteen, Ḥaim-Zundl married the daughter of R. Mordechai Blecher, a distinguished man from Pruzhany. His father-in-law promised to cover his provisions for an extended period on the condition that he would study to become a rabbi. Meanwhile, Ḥaim-Zundl began to learn languages and to read secular books.

A disagreement between Ḥaim-Zundl and his father-in-law forced him to leave the latter's house: When he wanted to give his first drasha [lecture] in Pruzhany[8], his father-in-law forbade him. What did Ḥaim-Zundl do? He put up notices that on a particular day a maggid would be giving a talk, but he did not specify the maggid's name in the notices. The audience came to the Bet Midrash[9], waiting for the maggid to appear. When no maggid came to lecture, Ḥaim-Zundl went up to the podium and announced that since the maggid had not shown up, he was requesting permission to speak in his place. And in this very first lecture of his he demonstrated the capability and oratory talent that he was later renowned for after he became the Maggid of Kamenetz.

[Page 108]

During the Intermediate days of Passover, 5634[10], R. Ḥaim-Zundl was appointed maggid of Kamenetz-Litowsk, and from then and on he became known as “The Maggid of Kamenetz”. When he was 25 years old the maggid was sent by the central committee of Ḥovevei-Tzion[11] on a mission to travel through the cities of Russia as a “nationalist maggid”. He would go from one city to another and preach on the rebuilding of Zion and Jerusalem. His lectures greatly helped enlist supporters for the idea of Ḥibbat-Tzion.

How profound an influence R. Ḥaim-Zundl Maccoby had on the people of his generation can be seen from the words of Rabbi Tz. H. Orliansky[12] in his book Toldot Ḥayai [My Autobiography]. He wrote as follows: “I was then about ten years old, and I was studying in the Bet Midrash of a small city, Janova[13]. I recall that in the winter of 5634 [1873-1874] a young yeshiva student, about twenty-three years old, went over to the shamash [beadle] of the old Bet Midrash and said that he was a maggid and that he would like to lecture after the minḥa [afternoon] prayer service. The shamash then announced that a maggid would speak that evening. After the prayer service this young man went up to the podium and said that he was the maggid of the town of Kamenetz that was near Brisk. He started his lecture at 4 PM and finished at 10 PM. And after that he spoke again on Friday night after dinner until midnight; and at dawn of the next morning from 5 AM until the morning prayer service began. And after that—in the afternoon, and again after the afternoon service. All the townspeople, men and women, from one end of the town to the other, came to hear his lectures—and even residents of the nearby villages came, as if they were grabbing in the very last rain of the season. This young man was a source of huge inspiration for me, and afterwards I would always be picturing him and thinking about him—the Maggid of Kamenetz…”

For nine years the maggid travelled around the entire country and preached to the Jewish Diaspora. There were occasions when entire groups of Maskilim [progressives], lay scholars and those who appreciated good drash [learned lectures] would follow him around, travelling from one city to the next in order to hear him give more and more learned talks. He founded more than three hundred new societies dedicated to settling the Land of Israel; the largest and foremost associations, located in Odessa, Vilna, Minsk, Kovno, Bialystok, Kiev etc., were founded by him. The newspapers HaMaggid, HaTzefira and HaMelitz considered him the greatest nationalist preacher of his generation.

Yet Ḥaim-Zundl had no small share of foes: rabbis and community leaders who were opposed to Ḥibbat-Tzion. On one occasion Ḥaim-Zundl was invited by the Maskilim and scholars of Navahrudak[14] to give a nationalist lecture. The city rabbi, Rabbi Michl HaLevi Epstein (author of the book Aruch HaShulḥan)[15], one of the foremost opponents of the idea of settling the Land of Israel, prohibited him from giving any lectures. Between the minḥa [afternoon] and maariv [evening] service the large Bet Midrash filled up and was crowded, and the congregation was standing packed together in a stifling crush, with hundreds of people left outside in the courtyard of the Bet Midrash, unable to enter. Those who had gathered there were shouting in unison that if the maggid did not give his lecture they would not take it quietly—they were going to wreck the Bet Midrash and the entire city. When the rabbi saw that the congregation did not accept his “decree”, he ordered the gabbais [functionaries] of the Bet Midrash to go to the inn where the maggid was staying and ask the maggid to come to preach to the congregation.

As a matter of principle and in practice R. Haim-Zundl was a vegetarian. He was also very strict in the religious laws of eating and dressing. He never wore leather shoes; instead he purchased rubber shoes as a special order from a factory. He was also persecuted by the government, which refused to give him a passport, since he had not paid the 300-ruble fine[16] that they had imposed on him because of his younger brother, who had run away from army service.

[Page 109]

In the year 1890 he made his way to England, where he was appointed Maggid of the Oraḥ Tzedek Society. The Jewish Chronicle wrote the following about his first lecture [in London]: “He gave a terrific lecture. The hall was completely full; Jewish women from wealthy families of 'the City' attended, as well as important, prominent men. The maggid did not limit himself to speak before the Jews of London only; he made himself available to respond to the demand of other large cities that invited him to visit their many congregations. He made a name for himself among all the Jews of Britain.” Rabbi Tz. H. Masliansky[17], the famous orator of American Jewry, wrote the following in his “Memoirs”: “The Maggid of Kamenetz inspired all the hearts of his audience. Indeed, he was a terrific and genial speaker. He had an amazing talent for oratory, and a great deal of erudition in both ancient and modern Hebrew literature. When he came to London several years ago, he was able to focus the interest of all English Jews around himself. It was because of his wonderful talent and the feelings of his Jewish heart—a heart that was alert to all that touched upon Zion and its rebuilding, and to all that was holy in the eyes of the people.”

He became a British citizen. The citizenship document was presented to him by the congregation Netzaḥ Israel at a banquet in his honor chaired by the Chief Rabbi.

Lord Rothschild once invited him to visit him in his house, and after a long conversation during the visit, he wrote him two checks, each for £100[18], asking the rabbi to keep the first for himself and distribute the second among the poor people of the East End of the city. The rabbi accepted the second check with great thanks, but he refused the first check, explaining that he was opposed to taking personal donations.

He was offered the position of Dayan [religious judge] to replace the deceased Dayan, Reverend Spiers[19]. But he had to turn down this important, respectable position because, as a vegetarian, he would feel uncomfortable ruling on the kashrut [ritual fitness] of meat…After a difficult but very active life, having accomplished so much for the Jewish people of Russia and England, he passed away in 1916, in the prime of life, at the age of about 60.


Footnotes

  1. From Kamenetz-Litovsk, Zastavije and Colonies Memorial Book, edited by S. Eisenstadt and M. Galbert, published by the Israel and America Committee of Kamenetz Litovsk and Zastavya, (Orly, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1970), pp. 107-109. Return
  2. Footnote in original reads: “Collected and compiled [by Rabi], based on the book Imrei-Ḥaim”. This collection of writings by Maccoby is introduced by a biography authored by the publisher, M. Mansky, on which this article is based. The book is available at the following website (in Hebrew, retrieved Aug 2020): https://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=2831&st=&pgnum=1&hilite= The translator of the present article has referred to Mansky's book to clarify some of the text in this article. Return
  3. Biography of author, Pinḥas Rabi (Rabinowitz), may be found on pp. 157-158 of this volume. Return
  4. R. = Reb, a title similar to English “Mr.” Return
  5. Kobryn, Belarus, is located ~35km southeast of Kamenetz. Return
  6. ḥeder = religious school for young children (also spelled chayder, cheider) Return
  7. Brisk = Brest, 40km south of Kamenetz Return
  8. Pruzhany, Belarus, is located ~50km northeast of Kamenetz. Return
  9. Bet Midrash = study hall, often also used as synagogue Return
  10. April, 1874 Return
  11. Ḥovevei-Tzion = Lovers of Zion, also known as Ḥibbat-Tzion ( = Love of Zion), was a late-19th-century movement encouraging Jews to found settlements in the Land of Israel. See the following link (retrieved Sep 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hovevei_Zion Return
  12. Tzvi Hirsh Orliansky (1864-1940) Return
  13. Janova = Jonava, Lithuania, 20km northeast of Kovno (Kaunas, Lithuania), about 400km north of Kamenetz Return
  14. Navahrudak, Belarus, is located ~200km northeast of Kamenetz. Return
  15. Yechiel Michl Epstein (1829-1908). See the following website (retrieved Sep 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yechiel_Michel_Epstein Return
  16. See the following link (retrieved July 2020): https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/lida-district/wages.htm. In 1900, a typical worker might earn 180 rubles yearly, hence 300 rubles would be equivalent to nearly two years of salary of such a worker. From a different perspective, in 1900 1 ruble was worth US$0.78. The inflation in the period 1900-2019 was a factor of 31, hence 300 rubles of the year 1900 would be equivalent to $7,000 in 2019 dollars (see the following link, retrieved July 2020: https://westegg.com/inflation/). Return
  17. Tzvi Hirsch Masliansky (1856-1943). See the following website (retrieved Sep 2020): https://www.clevelandjewishhistory.net/silver/masliansky-biography.html Return
  18. In 1900, 100 was equivalent to $500 (See the following link, retrieved September 2020: https://www.exchangerates.org.uk/articles/1325/the-200-year-pound-to-dollar-exchange-rate-history-from-5-in-1800s-to-todays.html). Accounting for inflation, 100 would be equivalent to approximately $15,000 in 2019 dollars (see Footnote 16). Return
  19. Dayan Bernard Spiers (1835-1900). See the following websites (retrieved September 2020): https://www.geni.com/people/Reverend-Dayan-Bernard-Dov-Ber-Spiers/6000000025793863483; https://jewishmiscellanies.com/2020/04/26/the-threefold-cord-by-dayan-bernard-spiers-london-wertheimer-lea-co-1891/ Return


 

[Page 110]

Menachem Mendel of Kamenetz–Litowsk[1]
5593–5594 (1833–1834)[2]

Translated by Allen Flusberg

R.[3] Menachem–Mendel, son of Aharon of Kamenetz–Litowsk was born around the year 5560 (1800). He went up to Israel in Elul, 5593 (1833), and died in Jerusalem in 5633 (1873).[4]

During a cholera epidemic that swept through the town, he made a vow that if he survived the epidemic he would go up to the Land of Israel. On the Eve of the New Moon of Tammuz 5593 (18 June 1833[5],[6]) he fulfilled his vow and, together with his wife and son, traveled from the town to Odessa, where they arrived a month later. From there they sailed on an Italian ship on the 10th of Av (26 July 1833), and after three days arrived in Constantinople [Istanbul]. After staying there for nine days they set sail on the Mediterranean Sea and arrived in Haifa on the 1st of Elul (16 August 1833). Since there was not a single Ashkenazi Jewish community there at that time, they sent a message to the Kolel [Community] of Safed to let them know they had arrived. From Safed someone was sent to hire donkeys for them and bring them to Safed.

R. Menachem–Mendel settled in Safed and joined the Community of the Perushim[7], followers of the Gaon of Vilna[8], headed by R. Yisrael of Shklov[9]. At the time there was a community of 2000 Jewish families in Safed, serving as a hub for immigration of Perushim from Lithuania and Hasidim from Reisin[10] and Poland. R. Menachem–Mendel had hoped to support himself from the money that he had brought along, but he was not to live in the country in peace and quiet. Three months after his arrival his son died in a plague[11] epidemic. He describes this event in plain but poignant language: “And thanks to God who rescued me and my wife from this; but my son died then, meriting burial in the Land of Israel on the New Moon of Kislev.”[12]

What pious innocence emerges here in his voice! A father who has lost his child tells how his son died of plague, but notes that this personal calamity is outweighed by the great merit of being buried in the Holy Land!

Nine months after he arrived a terrible calamity befell the Jews of Safed: the fellahin [peasant farmers] who lived around Safed rebelled against Pasha Ibrahim, who was then governing the country in the name of his father Mohammed Ali, ruler of Egypt.[13] The rebels attacked the Jews of Safed on the 8th of Sivan, 5594 (15 June 1834), robbing, pillaging, wounding and tormenting; and the riots continued for over a month. The Jews of Safed had not yet fully recovered from this misfortune when an earthquake took place on the 24th of Tevet 5594 [sic][14] (1 January 1837). In this earthquake more than two thousand people were killed and the city was devastated, becoming little more than rubble.

[Page 111]

After these events R. Menachem–Mendel was left “naked, without clothing” and found it necessary to leave the country for a while. The leader of the Perushim, R. Yisrael of Shklov, gave him permission to leave, asking him to join the emissary of the Perushim, R. Natan Neta, son of Menachem–Mendel of Shklov, who was then leaving for Lithuania to encourage the Jews there to send monetary aid to the Land of Israel. They set out from Israel at the end of the summer of 5598 [1838] via Constantinople and Odessa.

 

kam111.jpg

 

In the year 5600 (1840), while he was on this mission, R. Menachem–Mendel printed in Vilna a short book called Korot HaItim [Events of the Times][15], in which he described his coming up to the Land, his short visit to Jerusalem and Hebron, and the frightening incidents that had taken place in Safed. In a particular chapter entitled Maalot HaAretz [Advantages of the Land], he realistically described the lifestyle of the Land of Israel in detail and with a keen eye: the climate; types of food; the vegetables and the fruits; how food was customarily cooked and baked; the utensils; trade and craft; weights and coins; prices; customs of the Sephardim; the graves of the righteous; as well as a short dictionary of Arabic providing requisite everyday vocabulary.

In his book he intended to encourage the Jewish people to send aid to the Jewish Yishuv[16], “each person according to what he has been blessed with and can afford”; and “whoever has the means…let him take his bag of coins and leave for the Holy Land.” He also described how he himself had gone up to Israel and how he had visited Jerusalem and Hebron, “so that all the people may know how one can get to the Land of Israel.” And in addition he hoped to reestablish himself from the sales of the book.

[Page 112]

In the year 5602 (1842) he returned from his mission and settled in Jerusalem, where he opened the very first hotel.[17] This hotel served as a temporary lodging place for new immigrants.

“It was a hostel that welcomed rent–paying guests, as well as a temporary lodging place for new immigrants before they found permanent places to settle in the country. At the same time it served as a free place of lodging for quite a few impoverished guests.” One of the old–time residents of Jerusalem, R. Yosef HaLevi Horowitz, goes on to recount that it served not only poor lodgers, but also religious scholars of Jerusalem who had no means of support; these would be coming and going to this unique “hotel” and sitting down for meals together with all of R. Menachem–Mendel's family members.

Although the “hotel” was created to provide livelihood, the owners of the business, R. Menachem–Mendel of Kamenetz and his wife, Tzipa, fulfilled the commandment of hospitality selflessly, as a labor of love.[18]

For many years this “hotel” and “restaurant” were unique in Jerusalem. In one or two of Montefiore's trips to Jerusalem with his wife, food was brought for him from R. Menachem–Mendel's kitchen.

R. Menachem–Mendel's wife, Tzipa, was the housewife, the Jewish woman of valor who managed all of the business. It was to Tzipa's credit that her husband was able to spend most of his time engaged in the study of Torah and in prayer services.[19]

Their son Eliezer Lipa, born in the year 5605 [1845], followed in his parents' footsteps: After many years (in the year 5640 [1880]) he opened a modern hotel, the first one run by Jews, in Jerusalem. It was called the “Kaminitz Hotel” or the well–known “Eshel Yerushalayim”.[20]


Footnotes

  1. From Kamenetz–Litovsk, Zastavije and Colonies Memorial Book, edited by S. Eisenstadt and M. Galbert, published by the Israel and America Committee of Kamenetz Litovsk and Zastavya, (Orly, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1970), pp. 110–112. Footnote in original: Transcribed following Sefer Mea Shana [ = Centennial Book] and Masaot Eretz Yisrael [= Journeys to the Land of Israel]. Return
  2. The years 5593–5594 (1833–1834) in the title are apparently the first years he spent in Israel. Return
  3. R. stands for Reb, an honorific similar to “Mr.” in English. Return
  4. For additional information, see the Encyclopedia Judaica article “Baum, Menahem Mendel Ben Aaron of Kamenetz”, available at the following link (retrieved January 2020): https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias–almanacs–transcripts–and–maps/baum–menahem–mendel–ben–aaron–kamenetz Return
  5. All secular dates in the original article follow the Gregorian calendar; but note that the official calendar used by the Russian authorities in Kamenetz–Litowsk at the time was still the Julian calendar. Return
  6. 1 Tammuz 5593 = 18 June 1833. The first day of the New Moon of Tammuz is a day earlier, 30 Sivan, hence the secular date of the Eve of the New Moon was 16 June. Return
  7. Perushim = those who had separated themselves. A large group of Perushim left Lithuania and settled in the Land of Israel in the beginning of the 19th century. See the following link, retrieved January 2020: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perushim Return
  8. Eliyahu son of Shlomo Zalman of Vilna (1720–1797), known as the Vilna Gaon, was a prodigious scholar who led the Jewish opposition to the Hasidic movement. See the following link (retrieved January 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vilna_Gaon Return
  9. Yisrael son of Shmuel of Shklov (~1770–1839), a follower of the Vilna Gaon, emigrated to Israel. See the following link (retrieved January 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yisroel_ben_Shmuel_of_Shklov Return
  10. Reisin = Ruthenia. See the following link (retrieved January 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rusyns Return
  11. Hebrew dever = plague, pestilence Return
  12. November 12–13, 1833. Return
  13. See following link (retrieved February 2020) for more details on this insurrection: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peasants%27_revolt_in_Palestine Return
  14. 24 Tevet 5594 = Jan 5 1834; 24 Tevet 5597 = Jan 1 1837. Apparently the misprint is the year 5594, which should read 5597, as can be confirmed from the account given in Menahem–Mendel's book Korot HaItim (see Footnote 15), as well as the following link (retrieved February 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galilee_earthquake_of_1837 Return
  15. The book Korot HaItim (written in Hebrew) can be read at the following link, retrieved January 2020: https://benyehuda.org/read/2695 Return
  16. Yishuv = pre–state Jewish communities of the Land of Israel, particularly in the Ottoman period. See the following link (retrieved February 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yishuv Return
  17. This hotel was located near the Tower of David in the Old City of Jerusalem. See the following link (in Hebrew, retrieved January 2020): https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/מנחם_מנדל_מקאמיניץ Return
  18. Hebrew lishma = for its own sake Return
  19. Hebrew yashaval haTorah vehaAvoda Return
  20. Also known as “Hotel Jerusalem”, it was the first modern hotel in West Jerusalem that was under Jewish ownership. What is left of the building entrance can be seen in a parking lot behind Neviim Street [Street of the Prophets] 65. See the following links, retrieved January 2020: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Street_of_the_Prophets#Hotels
    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kaminitz_Hotel_Street_of_Prophets_02.jpg
    A more detailed history of the hotel, in Hebrew, can be found at the following link (retrieved January 2020): https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/מלון_קאמיניץ Return


[Page 113]

R. Yisrael Ashkenazi[1]
One of the First Settlers in Yesud HaMaala

Translated by Allen Flusberg

 

kam113.jpg

 

In the year 5644[2], a young man named Yisrael Ashkenazi of Kamenetz–Litowsk, a member of the family of R.[3] Fishl Salomon[4] of Brisk–Litowsk[5], set out to go up to the Land of Israel.[6] He was a diligent young man, adept in and experienced at agricultural labor—and he had a talent for taking action. As soon as he reached the moshava [agricultural village], he energetically applied himself to the work and began to organize all the other settlers to follow his lead. Following R. Yisrael's advice they enlarged the orchard, dug a well, ploughed the land up thoroughly and planted various vegetables. And thus the first settlers' labor started out under R. Yisrael's sensible, experience–based guidance.

The poverty and suffering of these first settlers was great: one of the women of that group tells how they were going around barefoot and without clothing. Yisrael Ashkenazi, the instructor who was carrying the burden of the work—he himself would go down to the sea, take off his garment, wash it while naked (pardon the expression), then dry it in the sun, put it back on and go home.

As an agricultural laborer for R. Fishl Salomon, Ashkenazi received a salary that consisted of a postage stamp and a packet of smoking tobacco. After many trials and tribulations, Ashkenazi became independent and began to set up his own private farm; this farm of his served as a model for all the farmers of the moshava.

He was one of the first to defeat the northern wilderness, the swamp wilderness of the Ḥula—the place where Yesud HaMaala[7] was established. From morning to evening R. Yisrael, dressed in a long tallit–katan[8], strode behind his plough as his lips murmured holy psalms.

The Turkish government did not grant them rukhsas[9] [permits] to build houses. R. Yisrael saw that the Arabs were living in huts that were made of reeds they had brought from the Ḥula swamp. It dawned on him that huts did not require any building permit. When he told his comrades what he was thinking, they agreed it made sense. Carrying tools, all of them went out to the lake, where they collected reeds and bound them into sheaves. They made rafts out of them and floated them along the lake back to the moshava. After a relatively short time, two rows of reed huts, plastered with clay and whitewashed with lime, stood on the shore of the Sumkhi Sea [Ḥula Lake].

R. Yisrael's hut played multiple roles. It served as a dwelling for him and his household; as a shed for hay and for bags of flour; as a place of shelter for nursing calves; and as a shelter for hens sitting on eggs and on newly hatched chicks. The mats spread out on the ground of the hut served as beds for the people living there. In the middle of the night R. Yisrael would wake up to sit in a corner, studying the Book of Zohar by the light of a little lamp to conduct Tikkun Ḥatzot[10].

[Page 114]

Blackwater fever[11] severely afflicted the members of Yesud HaMaala. However, R. Yisrael used to say that “fever is not an illness”. The fever burning within him would not prevent him from going out to work during a part of the agricultural season that demanded fervent, immediate attention.

All the days of his life, all of the sixty years that he lived in the moshava, he labored with a plough, a scythe, and a pitchfork. And in his old age he worked in his famous fruit orchard, also with a hoe. He was straight–backed, tall and never hunched over—an oak tree whose roots had been planted on streams of water.

Armed with a rifle, R. Yisrael also knew how to defend his possessions. One dark night R. Yisrael's mules were stolen from his yard. He knew full well that this was the work of a well–known local robber. He armed himself and went straight to the robber's house at a time of night when he knew that the robber would be out doing his usual work on the roads. And indeed, he did find his mules tied to the trough in the robber's yard—the robber had been so convinced that no one would dare cross the threshold of his yard that he had not even bothered to hide the mules. R. Yisrael brought the mules back to his own yard.

But the robber could not forgive this violation of his “honor”: a Jew had boldly entered his lair, removed his prey and departed unharmed! And so one night the robber, crawling like a viper, sneaked into the moshava, stabbed R. Yisrael in the back with a dagger, and fled. For many months R. Yisrael had to lay in a sickbed, until he mended and recovered his strength.

In 1920[12] the Druze rebellion against the French broke out in Syria. An echo of the disturbances reached the Ḥula region as well. Gangs of bandits organized to attack field laborers and shepherds—to rob the former of their animals and the latter of their flocks. After the attack on Tel–Ḥai[13] and the murder of Trumpeldor and his comrades[14], the attacks by these gangs intensified. In the moshava of Yesud HaMaala information arrived that a gang of bandits was prowling around in the mountains adjacent to the moshava's land. The farmers were hesitant to go out to work in the fields. Then R. Yisrael stood up and said: “If we stop working in the more distant fields today, the gang will realize it and then come to the fields closest to the moshava tomorrow; and then the day after they will put a siege around us within the moshava itself. We must continue our labor, and God will come to our aid.

The next day R. Yisrael and his son, Alter, went out to plough. The son led the pair of mules, and R. Yisrael carried a German rifle; he took along a Book of Psalms as well. R. Yisrael set up a position for himself in the field while his son began ploughing. He continued ploughing until the afternoon. Suddenly a volley of shots, coming from three directions, were fired on R. Yisrael and his son from the mountains. R. Yisrael returned fire towards the attackers. Fearing for his son he left his position, going towards the mountain in order to get closer to him. The shots had killed the mules, and when the son crawled towards his father he found him in the middle of the field, wounded in the leg. The son dragged R. Yisrael along until they got to the slope, which the enemy's bullets could not reach. In the end help came from the moshava, and R. Yisrael was brought to the hospital. He had held a plough in one hand and a weapon in the other.

[Page 115]

Around then the poet Naphtali Imber[15] was roaming around in the fields of the Galilee while the poem HaTikva was forming in his mind. The poet wandered along the length of the Jordan River and was mesmerized by the blue of the Sumkhi Sea. His feet carried him further, into the valley, and as he continued to walk, singing, his feet began sinking into the soft clay that led to the swamps. As the poet pulled one foot out of the mud, his other leg sank in above the knee. He began to realize that he was going to drown. Beads of cold sweat enveloped his face, and his hair stood on end. How could he ever be rescued? Just as Imber was preparing himself for the worst, the voice of a man reached his ears: “Mister, what has happened to you?” It was R. Yisrael, who had come to the edge of the swamp. Right away R. Yisrael threw Imber a rope, telling him “Tie it tightly around your waist.” R. Yisrael began pulling hard on the rope; slowly dragging the poet out. After a half hour the poet was laying exhausted next to R. Yisrael.

R. Yisrael lifted Imber up, placed him on his shoulders, and began marching home with his “load” as the clay and mud were dripping from him. At home R. Yisrael washed Imber off himself, put him to bed and revived him.

The figure of R. Yisrael combined a pioneering spirit with a will of iron. He was a symbol of labor. When they first brought a combine into the moshava, the elderly R. Yisrael came over and stroked it with his hand…In R. Yisrael's times there had been no combine, no machines—everything had been done by hand, with oxen. There was no road, no permanent place to live, only wilderness. He was a man of the earth, a pioneer and the instructor of the encampment.

In the year 5673[16] a delegation of the most prominent rabbis of the country, Rabbis Kook[17], Sonnenfeld[18], Ḥarlap[19] and Horowitz[20], paid a visit to the Galilee in order to repair and strengthen the religious situation in the settlements. One of their stops was at Yesud HaMaala. A festive meal was set up in their honor in the home of R. Yisrael. When the rabbis were about to leave the moshava to continue on to Metula[21], a group of people, both young and old, gathered around them to accompany them as they left. And when the rabbis mounted their horses, these people formed a large circle around them. Rabbi Kook was very moved by the sight and burst out singing, El Yivne HaGalil [God will build the Galilee][22] as the large group of people coalesced around the rabbis, singing along and dancing to El Yivne HaGalil. And as they sang Rabbi Kook made his horse prance to the beat as he himself participated, his face glowing with joy and devotion.

R. Yisrael Ashkenazi's mother, Gitl Chaya, used to live in a separate room. She owned a cow that she herself milked every day. On the last day of her life, the eve of the New Moon of Nisan, 5669[23], she managed to milk the cow. Then she called her son Yisrael and complained she wasn't feeling well. Yisrael wanted to help her into bed, but she went into bed herself, without his helping hand, and after a few minutes she passed away at the age of 95.


Footnotes

  1. From Kamenetz–Litovsk, Zastavije and Colonies Memorial Book, edited by S. Eisenstadt and M. Galbert, published by the Israel and America Committee of Kamenetz Litovsk and Zastavya, (Orly, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1970), pp. 113–115. Return
  2. 5644 = secular year 1883–1884 Return
  3. R. = Reb, a title similar to English “Mr.” Return
  4. In 1883, Ephraim Fishl Salomon (1849–1924) had purchased the land for Yesud HaMaala from the Abu family of Safed. He led the group that settled there. See the following link (in Hebrew, retrieved Aug 2020): https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%90%D7%A4%D7%A8%D7%99%D7%9D_%D7%A4%D7%99%D7%A9%D7%9C_%D7%A1%D7%9C%D7%95%D7%9E%D7%95%D7%9F Return
  5. Brest–Litowsk, which lies ~40km south of Kamenetz Return
  6. For more information on Yisrael Ashkenazi, see the following link (in Hebrew, retrieved Aug 2020): https://dubrovin-farm.com/ Return
  7. Yesud HaMaala lies 13km northeast of Safed. Return
  8. tallit–katan = four–cornered garment with fringes at the corners, ritually worn during the day to fulfil the Biblical commandment (Numbers 15:38–39) of placing fringes on the four corners of one's garment. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tallit#Tallit_katan Return
  9. rukhsa (Arabic) = ruhsat (Turkish) = permit or license Return
  10. Tikkun Ḥatzot = custom of arising during the night to recite prayers lamenting the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikkun_Chatzot Return
  11. Blackwater fever is a complication of malaria. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackwater_fever Return
  12. The Franco–Syrian War took place in 1920. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franco-Syrian_War
    The Druze rebellion against the French—a later rebellion—broke out in 1925 and lasted until 1927. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Syrian_Revolt Return
  13. Tel–Ḥai (which has been absorbed into Kfar Giladi) lies 25km north of Yesud HaMaala. Return
  14. In March 1920, Yosef Trumpeldor and some of his men were killed defending Tel Ḥai, in the Northern Galilee, against Shiite militias. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tel_Hai Return
  15. Naftali Herz Imber (1856–1909), the author of the poem HaTikva that became the Zionist Hymn and then later Israel's national anthem, spent the years 1882–1887 in the Land of Israel. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naftali_Herz_Imber Return
  16. 5673 = secular year 1912–1913 Return
  17. Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935), later the first Chief Rabbi in Mandatory Palestine. He was the leader of this 1913 rabbinical delegation to the Galilee, whose purpose was to strengthen Jewish observance in the remote settlements. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Isaac_Kook Return
  18. Rabbi Yosef Ḥaim Sonnenfeld (1848–1932), who led the Ḥaredi community in Jerusalem. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yosef_Chaim_Sonnenfeld Return
  19. Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Ḥarlap (1882–1951) was a disciple of Rabbi Kook. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaakov_Moshe_Charlap Return
  20. Rabbi Yonatan Binyamin Horowitz (1862–1940). See the following link (in Hebrew, retrieved Aug 2020): https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%9E%D7%A1%D7%A2_%D7%94%D7%9E%D7%95%D7%A9%D7%91%D7%95%D7%AA
    Rabbi Horowitz wrote an account of the rabbis' journey to the Galilee. Entitled Eileh Masa'ai, (in Hebrew), it is available for reading or download at the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://www.hebrewbooks.org/36617 Return
  21. Metula lies 30km north of Yesud HaMaala. Return
  22. El Yivne HaGalil was a late–19th–century song of unknown authorship, often accompanied by a hora dance. See the following link (in Hebrew, retrieved Aug 2020): https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%90%D7%9C_%D7%99%D7%91%D7%A0%D7%94_%D7%94%D7%92%D7%9C%D7%99%D7%9C Return
  23. 29 Adar 5669 = March 22, 1909 Return


[Page 116]

The Writer Moshe Eliyahu Jacques-Zhernensky,
of Blessed Memory
[1],[2]

by Leah Aloni-Bobrowski

Translated by Allen Flusberg

Moshe Eliyahu Zhernensky was born in Kamenetz-Litowsk to parents who were God-fearing, humble and learned in the Torah, scions of religious judges and rabbis. When he was young, he studied in the yeshivas of Brest-Litowsk[3] and Novogrudok[4]. After being educated in Torah in these yeshivas he continued wandering until he reached distant Slobodka[5], in order to bask in the Mussar[6] teaching—at the advanced yeshiva Knesset-Yisrael[7]—taught by the Old One, the brilliant Natan Tzvi Finkel[8], may the memory of the righteous be a blessing.

 

kam116.jpg

 

His material life was extremely difficult, and he supported himself in great deprivation. His aspiration for knowledge, study and a secular education roused his pure heart, and in secret he began reading secular books.

[Page 117]

At that time he found a loyal friend in the yeshiva, Natan Greenblatt-Goren[9], a native of Slobodka, who was also one of the progressives, and when they met and realized that both of them were reading secular books that were forbidden in the yeshiva, they made a pact to keep their activities secret. They also vowed to speak to one another in Hebrew only for the rest of their lives (a vow they did indeed keep). For two years he lived a double life: studying in the yeshiva by day, and delving into secular books by night. This behavior was fraught with great “danger”, however, because there were “yeshiva snoops” who were ambushing anyone who was pursuing secular knowledge. For this reason, Zhernensky decided to leave the yeshiva, and he moved from Slobodka to Kovno[10], moving into a house whose owners had gone abroad. He had found an apartment, but not a way to earn a living. And yet even though he was going about hungry, he was living in a world of absolute nobility, immersed in reference and science books.

When his misery became unbearable, he left Kovno and made his way to Vilna[11]. But he did not find peace of mind in Vilna, either; he had no bread to eat and was unable to replace his tattered clothing. It was then that he decided to move to a small town in Podolia[12], where he had been invited to serve as a teacher.

In this town he recovered from the indignity of hunger and suffering. He taught Hebrew to teenagers, who liked him as a teacher and instructor with good qualities. He still longed to get a higher education, however. After much wandering and hardship, he reached Odessa[13]. His humility and shyness prevented him from obtrusively inserting himself among the prominent, but he quickly gained a reputation in the Hebrew circles of the city. Two of the Great Ones, Ussishkin[14] and Lewinsky[15], invited him to teach their children Hebrew.

At that time his oldest brother, D.Y. Zhernensky, got a job as a clerk in Moriah[16], and through him Moshe Eliyahu got close to Bialik[17] and Rawnitzki[18], the founders of Moriah. In that period, he began to write and publish articles in HaOlam[19]. Afterwards he and his friend, Natan Goren, published the collection Tal, and a literary anthology Pekaim in memory of U.N. Gnessin[20], who had passed away that year. He was also one of the pillars of Shacharit, which was published by him, Natan Goren and Dr. S. Eisenstadt (may the latter continue to live a long life). While he was living in Odessa, he used to visit his parents in Kamenetz-Litowsk twice a year, on Passover and on the High Holy Days. At those times he showed a great deal of interest in the education of our town's young people; occasionally he would assemble us as a group, encouraging us to learn the Hebrew language and arousing in us a great deal of interest in the Land of Israel and Zionism. He would also particularly emphasize that we should aspire to a higher education, which we could only attain by leaving our town.

About a year before the First World War broke out, he fulfilled his aspiration to obtain a higher education in the sciences: he left for France, enrolled in the Sorbonne and dedicated himself completely to knowledge and science. And at that time he was publishing notes in HaTzefira[21].

The war uprooted all his dreams, and again he was cast into misery, torment and suffering as a prisoner in Germany. After the war he settled in Germany, got married and took up literary work in HaTekufa (published by Stybel)[22] and in the company Eshkol. He became well known in literary circles and published his first book of essays, MiSaviv.

[Page 118]

When Hitler came to power, he left Germany and immigrated to the Land of Israel, something he had longed to do from the very first days of his youth. Here he went through the suffering of absorption—acclimation to a new land. His job as a proofreader in the newspaper HaBoker frustrated him; he left it after some time and moved to Jerusalem. The entire time he lived in Israel he was really tormented in a vise of stress and deprivation.

One day, after the Second World War had ended, my husband and I visited him at his home in Jerusalem. We told him about how our townspeople's organization was aspiring to publish a special book that would be dedicated to the memory of our fellow townspeople who had perished during the Holocaust. Excited by the idea of erecting a monument to the martyrs of our town, Zhernensky expressed his willingness to help edit the book. And although his economic situation was so difficult, he stated twice, emphatically: “But not for any compensation.”

Moshe Eliyahu was always huddled in the shadows, staying on the sideline, and carrying his yoke of suffering within him. He lived and died like his humble ancestors, who were also able to silently bear the hardships they lived in. He passed away in Jerusalem on the 17th of Elul, 5708, corresponding to 21 September 1949 [sic].[23]

May his memory be a blessing.


Footnotes

  1. From Kamenetz-Litovsk, Zastavije and Colonies Memorial Book, edited by S. Eisenstadt and M. Galbert, published by the Israel and America Committee of Kamenetz Litovsk and Zastavya, (Orly, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1970), pp. 116-118. Return
  2. The last name "Jacques" was a pseudonym that he used. See a short biography at the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/zhernensky-moshe-eliyahu Return
  3. Brest-Litowsk, Belarus is located about 40km south of Kamenetz. Return
  4. Novogrudok = Navahrudak, Belarus, located about 200km northeast of Kamenetz. Return
  5. Slobodka = Slobotka (Vilijampole), Lithuania, located about 350km north of Kamenetz. It is also spelled "Slabodka". Return
  6. Mussar (or Musar) is the name of a Jewish movement that arose in Eastern Europe in the 19th century; it combined religiosity and study with a strong emphasis on ethical behavior. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musar_movement Return
  7. For a history of the yeshiva, see the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeshivas_Knesses_Yisrael_(Slabodka)#:~:text=Yeshivas%20Knesses%20Yisrael%20was%20a,century%20until%20World%20War%20II. Return
  8. Finkel, known as "the Alter [Old One] of Slabodka", was the founder of the Knesset-Israel Yeshiva. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nosson_Tzvi_Finkel_(Slabodka) Return
  9. Natan Goren (1887-1956) was a Hebrew writer, journalist and essayist. See the following link (in Hebrew, retrieved Aug 2020): https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%A0%D7%AA%D7%9F_%D7%92%D7%95%D7%A8%D7%9F Return
  10. Kovno = Kaunas, Lithuania, located 6km southeast of Slobodka, on the other side of the Neman River. Return
  11. Vilna = Vilnius, Lithuania, about 100km east of Kovno Return
  12. Podolia is a region in southwestern Ukraine, bordering on Moldova. It lies about 800km south of Vilna, and about 600km southeast of Kamenetz. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podolia Return
  13. Odessa, Ukraine lies about 150km southeast of the southeastern edge of Podolia. Return
  14. Menachem Ussishkin (1863-1941) was a Zionist leader who headed the Jewish National Fund. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menachem_Ussishkin Return
  15. Elḥanan Leib Lewinsky (1857-1910) was a Zionist leader, writer and publisher who spent the last years of his life in Odessa. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lewinsky-elhanan-leib Return
  16. Moriah was a Hebrew publishing house founded in Odessa by Bialik, Rawnitzki and several others in 1901-1902. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Moriah Return
  17. Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873-1934), a writer whose Hebrew poetry led him to be recognized as Israel's national poet. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayim_Nahman_Bialik Return
  18. Yehoshua Ḥana Rawnitzki (1859-1944), an author and editor in Hebrew and Yiddish who lived in Odessa for many years. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yehoshua_Hana_Rawnitzki Return
  19. HaOlam was a weekly Hebrew periodical, published beginning in 1907. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/haolam Return
  20. Uri Nissan Gnessin (1879-1913), a pioneering writer of modern Hebrew literature. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uri_Nissan_Gnessin Return
  21. HaTzefira (or HaTsfira) was a Hebrew-language newspaper published in Poland. See the following link (retrieved Aug 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ha-Tsfira Return
  22. HaTekufa was a Hebrew literary magazine that appeared quarterly. See the following link (in Hebrew, retrieved Aug 2020): https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%94%D7%AA%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%A4%D7%94 Return
  23. 17 Elul 5708 corresponds to September 21, 1948. Return


[Page 119]

Falek Zolf, of Blessed Memory[1]

by Zelda Saperstein

Translated by Allen Flusberg

Falek was one of the few in our town who excelled in his talent and intelligence. Falek Zolf, a dear person. Falek Zolf: affable and pleasant, the maskil [enlightened] and Judaic scholar, the teacher and educator, the writer and author. Falek Zolf, persistent and diligent, who had strong feelings for his family, his people and his land.

 

Kam119.jpg
Falek Zolf, of blessed memory

 

Yes, Falek Zolf is no more. The pain is deep; he is hard to forget.

I was in contact with Falek Zolf for seven years. I started exchanging letters with him in the United States. His letters were interesting: Each letter was an entire book; each word was a pearl. There were times when I had a strong desire to put what he had written into a frame so that they would remain forever. In his last letter to me he describes his illness. A letter 12 pages long, packed with descriptions. Falek describes his illness somewhat jokingly and somewhat with complete despair. His illness was very serious. Apparently Falek died of a malignant disease. He wrote to me that he had gone to the hospital because of a heart attack. The doctors discovered that he had a spot on his lung—or, as he expresses it in his letter—“a flekl oif die lungen” [a little spot on the lungs]. This, he thought, was a great joke! For when he was a young boy in Zastavya his friends used to compose songs making fun of his odd name, such as “Falek, flekn flekl” (as he also mentions in his book Oif Fremde Erd [On Foreign Soil]). And so a flekl [spot] was teasing him once more; but not as a joke, in a very tragic manner, for this flekl did him in before his time. He had surgery twice, once on his lungs and a second time on his stomach. His heart, though weak, sustained it, and he wrote to me as follows: “Die harinte mein harts hot geshvigen” [my lady heart was silent]. Falek survived the two surgeries, and returned home very pleased…but his happiness did not last very long. Falek passed away. After years of suffering and despair he was gone. His path through life was not a bed of roses, not easy at all. Falek suffered physically, but he did have a satisfying spiritual life. As I wrote above, he was a persistent scholar throughout his life. Aside from his professional work in education, he would sit for days and nights, writing and studying literature. As we know, Falek wrote two books about Kamenetz: Oif Fremder Erd [On Foreign Soil] and Die Letste fun a Dor [The Last of a Generation]. In addition, he wrote educational and psychological articles. He wrote stories for children, and more recently he wrote a journal of his life, A Teacher's Journal. And during his illness he added a word to its name, renaming it An Ill Teacher's Journal.

[Page 120]

He sent me two articles that he had written in Hebrew; they were clipped from newspapers. In these articles of his he describes in a general way how things look around a teacher after he dies. While he was writing these articles he was still healthy, but apparently he had a premonition that something terrible was about to happen. When I wrote back to him, I commented with two questions: For what reason is he thinking so much about death? And where did he get such a deep and rich Hebrew from? After all, he has always lived outside Israel and does not hear our language spoken on a daily basis; so how did he obtain such a culturally rich, fluent facility in Hebrew?

Falek replied to me in the words of Bialik[2]:

“The light I've achieved did not come for free.
I've gouged it out of my own rock and stone
And carved it out of my heart.
Nor have I borrowed or stolen it from anyone,
For it comes from me myself, it lies within me.”
Adding: “I did not sit around with folded arms for the 34 years I lived in Canada. Asiti laylot k'yamim [I toiled by night as by day]” (these were his own words).

All his life Falek longed to come to Israel and see the Land of our Forefathers with his own eyes—but he did not achieve it.


Footnotes

  1. From Kamenetz-Litovsk, Zastavije and Colonies Memorial Book, edited by S. Eisenstadt and M. Galbert, published by the Israel and America Committee of Kamenetz Litovsk and Zastavya, (Orly, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1970), pp.119-120. Return
  2. Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873-1934) is considered the national poet of Israel. Many have tried their hand at translating this famous poem, which has also been put to music. For some other translations see the following (retrieved July 2020): http://www.soulandgone.com/2014/05/03/hayim-nahman-bialik-lo-zakhiti-be-or-min-ha-hefqeir/,https://lyricstranslate.com/en/lo-zakhiti-baor-min-ha-hefker- For more on Bialik, see the following link (retrieved July 2020): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayim_Nahman_Bialik Return


[Page 121]

Baruch Eisner, of Blessed Memory[1]

by Ḥ. K.

Translated by Allen Flusberg

Baruch Eisner, a native of Kamenetz-Litowsk. was an intellectual, an enthusiastic Zionist and someone who was active in communal affairs. His public activity was focused mainly on the adolescents, whom he would guide and encourage to seek a higher education. Sometimes he would gather the young people together to speak to them about Hebrew authors and also about literature, both Hebrew and general. He would try to imbue them with a love for Zion.

 

Kam121.jpg

Baruch was one of the founders of the town library that served as a reliable source of knowledge for most of the youth. It was through his effort that new books were occasionally acquired, to the great satisfaction of the readers, especially the young people. With his pleasant demeanor and politeness, and in his great devotion to educating the younger generation, he was a model for all his peers.

Baruch made plans for the establishment of educational facilities in which Kamenetz children of all ages would be schooled. But he was not fortunate enough to achieve these aspirations of his. Several years before the First World War, at a young age, he passed away from a harsh ailment.

May his memory be a blessing forever!


Footnote

  1. From Kamenetz-Litovsk, Zastavije and Colonies Memorial Book, edited by S. Eisenstadt and M. Galbert, published by the Israel and America Committee of Kamenetz Litovsk and Zastavya, (Orly, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1970), p. 121. Return

 

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