Berl Zakon (Berlartser)
Translated by Judie Goldstein
Krinik lay in a valley surrounded by springs, from which the name Krinik comes from, and therefore during the autumn there was always a lot of mud.
It was said that during the Polish uprising in 1863, Polish agitators arrived in Krinik and spoke to the population about how good and nice it will be for you when you belong to us, instead of to the Russians. With us you will have everything in abundance. Kelman the butcher asked them a question: And will you give us pasture for our goats? (Jews did not pasture any goats, especially butchers). At the time they answered: Yes. But that night they came with rope to hang him for making fun of them. (Kelman knew that he was allowed to make fun of them, because he was not dependent on the porets [landowner, noble] like other Jews who therefore had to hide their thoughts, and doff their hats for him). But Kelman was smarter than the Polish rebels and he did not go home to sleep. But there was another Jew staying at his house at the time and they took him for Kelman's father. They already had the rope around his neck, but at the last minute they realized they had made a mistake and let him go.
Krinik had a large synagogue, 4 large botei medrashim [houses of study], Hasidim shtiblach [houses of prayer] and minyonim [minions, ten males necessary for public worship] (in private houses).
Besides rabbis, ritual slaughterers and judges, the shtetl also had enlightened men. I remember one of them Motl Arje the Staroste [village head in Polish, Governor in Russian]. First he would read Hamelitz and later HaZfira [both Hebrew newspapers]. Hebrew was the holy language for him. He would search through the newspapers from the first to the last line, including the price of the advertisements.
Krinik was in Grodno Province and was considered a city but only because of its industry and it revolutionary zest, it still did not belong to this sort of community.
When the Bund [socialist labor party] put up a candidate from our Grodno Province for the second Duma [Russian parliament] (the first was boycotted by the Socialists). The candidate was the renown, at that time, Bund activist Shmuel Goshanski, who was famous under his pen name lanu [ours] but he was not elected - so in Krinik we decided, lo lanu [not ours] (a prayer in Hillel).
Before the First World War there was prosperity in Krinik (a flourishing, good times): whoever wanted and was able to work made a good living. There was even more work than Krinkers could fill. People came to work in Krinik from the surrounding villages and towns. The relations between Jews and Christians were friendly.
Krinik had rich manufacturers, two of them were distinguished: the first, Nachum Anschel Knishinski with his wealth, knowledge and practical wisdom.
Once Itche Nathan's the shames [sexton in a synagogue] in the rabbinical court and the shames in the large synagogue in which the factory owners prayed, came to Nachum Anschel for Chanukah gelt [money] ( this is what it was then called). Both of them were scholars, had studied in the famous Volozhyn yeshiva. Nachum Anschel bless the Chanukah candles and said to Itche Nathan's: I will of course give, but one must not make use of the light from the Chanukah candles . Itche Nathan's answered him: But for a shames one may. (A scholarly word game).
and high shames in the large synagogue
The second manufacturer, Leybe Matus's was a distinguished for his scholarship and benevolence. When a poor man did not even have the smallest of coins for the Sabbath, he would go to Leybe Matus's to beg for his help. And it just happened that there were two weddings taking place the same evening and there was only one hall in Krinik. So they went to Leybe Matus's and he made place for the other wedding in his own large house.
There is another manufacturer worthy of mention, Gamliel Levin. It was said that when he was young he sang in the St. Petersburg Royal Opera.
One of the large fires that broke out in Krinik burned down most of the city: Meyerim the melamed [teacher] was burned in that fire. Very few houses remained, but as the factories still stood, everyone worked and in a short time people rebuilt and Krinik looked better than it had before.
Our shtetl was proud of its great Jews and with its noted rabbis. And so it was with Reb Boruch Lavski who was the author of Mnoches Boruch a book for scholars that was very current for them. He was greatly respected in the city and when he would walk through the synagogue, everyone would stand up and make room for him.
Reb Zelman Sender Shapiro, known in the world as a sage and pious man to whom men would come from every region for a blessing, brought his famous Maltcher yeshiva to Krinik. But here he did not get much pleasure from it. Krinik was an industrial and revolutionary community and a yeshiva student only had a ruble and fifty kopecks a week for sustenance, and therefore a lot of them needed help. Evidently being lenient in interpreting the article of our sages, blessed be their memory, not to finish eating and not to finish drinking. Not one yeshiva student rebelled, violated a law, left the lectern to work in the factory or exchanged the rabbis of the 3rd to 5th centuries C.E., whose discussions of the Mishnah [post biblical laws and rabbinical discussions of the 2nd century, B.C.E.] are included in the Talmud, for Marx and Engels. Several would call the workers by names from the Gemore [part of the Talmud which comments on the Mishnah] such as: Rabbi Pappa, Rabbi Chuna and so forth.
In Krinik Reb Zelman Sender got as much attention as in tiny, poor Maltch, where besides respect, for such a rabbi, a sage and pious man, he created the shtetl-- his yeshiva almost brought a livelihood. So, Jews blessed with girls would board students in their homes and with after several years, depending on the conditions and the dowry they would marry the daughters.
But industrial Krinik was in need of a rabbi, a judge, who would treat and judge business disputes. Reb Zelman Sender would have nothing to do with lawsuits and would send those who did not have the necessary authority to the person who decided matters of rabbinical law. The manufacturers were not too happy about this.
Reb Zelman Sender's wife would ask the parties to a lawsuit a puzzling question: Why do you have so many lawsuits? I lived in Maltch for forty years and I never sued anyone!
From among our luminous figures I would first like to mention Moshe Yehoshe the Teper [potter]. He was a Jew who sat and studied day and night and at the same time was a spreader of Torah publicly. He studied with friends. He was a poor Jew in a community with so many rich manufacturers all the city money lay with him and it was safe and secure. The breadwinner was his wife who had a pottery store on the marketplace. Only on Thursdays, the market day in Krinik, would Moshe Yehushe leave the besmedresh and go help his wife sell pottery. A peasant woman haggled forcefully with him and wanted him to give it to her at less than cost price. He answered her by paraphrasing the gemore: You do not want to buy the pot then do not buy it.
When he left the marketplace he went back to studying with his friends Velvel the Kvasnik and after him Tzalke the Tailor who later became a teacher. He was a Jew who in his youth had studied very little and knew even less. Therefore when he was older, like the Mishnah sage Akiva, he began to study Torah with such diligence that he had reached the same level of study as his friends.
The heder of Reb Shmuel the Rebetzin's [rabbi's wife], who was the gemore melamed, in Krinik was esteemed like Harvard or Princeton Universities in America. If parents did not care for their son's behavior, he would be reproved and told that it was not suitable for him to do this. He studied this at Shmuel the Rebetzin's.
There were in Krinik Jews penetrated with deep religious faith. One of them was Zundel Ite's. His entire life he had a lawsuit with Monye the Dyer. When he became very ill, my uncle went to visit him. Seeing as his days were numbered, my uncle said to him: I will go to Monye for you and beg him to forgive you.. Oh, no answered Zundel, I will end my lawsuit with him in the celestial court.
There were also feeble believers. One was Yudel Berchekov's. From the Elul [August] on and especially during the ten days between New Year and the Day of Atonement, he would say only one thing: Already it will soon be the Day of Atonement and I have not committed any sins.
During the First World War, due to the then difficult economic situation, a lot of Jews took to horses and wagons as a livelihood even some who were better suited to be teachers than wagon drivers. These were Jews who knew how to teach but did not know anything about horses. One of those was driving me to a nearby shtetl. As soon as we were seated in the wagon, the horse did not want to go. I said to the wagon driver: The horse wants to get into the wagon. That should give him a sense of justice. He should sit in the wagon and we should pull him. The drive answered: When I say ey-no! (a command to the horse that he should start moving) this makes the horse go. The horse answered: My strength, I have no strength, my days are short (paraphrased from Psalms Chapter 102, line 24 He drained my strength in mid-course. He shortened my days.)
As everywhere, there were types in Krinik like the kapitzes for example who would speak together in their own idiomatic language. That was the case with Smuelke and his buyer Leybke. Shmuel would give him money to go to the markets and buy horses for him. Once Leybke brought back from Amdur a mare that was not worth what he paid for her. Shmuel said to him in these words: You Leybke-eybke for such a mare you paid twenty rubles-ubles. Oh, oh, you should fight this misfortune!
This same Shmuel once while walking home, suddenly fell down near our house and it looked as if he was dead. I quickly ran to get his wife. Perhaps he was suffering from apoplexy. But his wife, from the smell, had soon figured out that this was simply a shnaps [liquor] attack. She gave him a slap on his cheek and the dead man Shmuelke suddenly got up from the ground and stood on his feet, as if there was a spirit in him.
On the Day of Atonement he would come to the large besmedresh [house of study, synagogue] and scream the entire day: Repentance, prayer, charity! It never went further than this with him, poor thing.
There was a Polish doctor, Jejkovski, in Krinik. He liked to joke with people. Water was brought to him by Yudel the Waser-treger [water carrier]. Once the doctor treated him to a glass of tea no sugar and shnaps, because after dragging the pails old Yudel had fits of coughing, sneezing and who knows what. When Jejkovski asked him: So, Yudel, how is the liquor? A little water should not get into to it answered Yudel quite ready for a refill.
The Nazi animals cut down everyone. Once upon a time there was a Krinik a kind and dear Krinik and it is no more.
Moishe Weinberg (Pinkes)
During my childhood there were two blind men living in Krinik: Itche and my zeyde [grandfather] Yankel. I remember him and will describe here several of my zeyde's mannerisms.
He was a carpenter and once he fell from a scaffold, split his head open and became blind. His house on the synagogue courtyard was close to the large besmedresh. He sold it to Michel the tailor and had a contract with him that he keep one room to live in, for as long as he lived so that he could go by himself, despite being blind, to the besmedresh.
Some mornings before going to the besmedresh he would leave out a saucer with a little milk for the cat, a constant visitor in his room. He never spilled any of the milk while he was pouring it.
He knew a lot of stories by heart and I would look in the book and pay attention to make sure that he did not miss a word.
Also I remember: Yudel Berchekove's who would read HaZfira [Hebrew newspaper] told my zeyde he had read that in St. Peterburg there were doctors who could operate on the blind and restore their sight. So, Yudel advised my zeyde to write his two daughters in America and tell them that they should send money for this operation. My zeyde answered him: No, Yudel, I will never see again and begin to sin anew!
And so he continued his G-d fearing, religious life and then he left for Israel, still blind, in 1903. He died there and is buried in Jerusalem.
And a couple of words about Michel belartser, my rabbi who was murdered by the Nazi animals with all the Krynki martyrs. He was a kind Jew who would be greatly vexed when he would have to slap a student for bad behavior.
His wife Rachel-Leah was not careful about her language. He would beg her with a cry: Gracious, Rachel-Leah, why must you curse everybody it is better to bless them! Often he would try to influence her to be good.
Berl Zakon (Belartzer)
There were religious Jews in Krinik but no fanatics. They did not shave a woman's head after the wedding. Marrying two orphans and putting up the marriage canopy in the cemetery in order to stop the appetite of the Angel of Death [to stop an epidemic] that these things happened, I first found out from Mendele Mocher Sforim's book Fishke Der Krumer [Fishke the Crooked].
A wedding was an important event. Many years ago the khupa [marriage canopy] stood in the synagogue courtyard. The bride and groom would be accompanied to the khupa by masses of people. They were led there from the farthest houses. At the front were the musicians with their leader Moshe Kreyne's. The last thing was to put up the khupa near the hall.
From Thursday on, the Krinker wives would work to bring the Sabbath into the house. Friday afternoon one could already smell the fresh challah [bread, braided egg loaf]. The cholent [stew eaten Sabbath at lunch] in the oven, the houses set in order, the candlesticks polished, the Sabbath feeling had taken over. A little later, the traditional Jews having washed will put on their Sabbath clothes, go to the synagogue to welcome the Sabbath. The pious women have already said the blessing and lit the Sabbath candles and the Sabbath already ruled in all its magnificence. With the Sabbath spirit the men went home from praying, with echoes of gut shabes! [a good Sabbath], the Scholem aleichem malachey hashores [peace be upon the ministering angels], the benediction on the wine and bread and later Sabbath songs.
Sabbath morning, coming from praying, the men receive a veritable feast for lunch, which they look forward to the entire week. Here in Krinik the Jews knew nothing about dieting and people ate as an appetizer mashed eggs with onions, radish with chicken fat; after that fatty meat (people would complain that the fattest meats would be sold to the wealthy, not to the poor) and a cholent with noodle pudding (even with two puddings), Tsimmes [vegetable/fruit stew] and so forth. The Krinik revolutionaries were freethinkers. But as for the resurrection of the dead, they believed a sign, they would say. The men lay down for a nap after such a heavy meal, and later got up and were healthy.
After their nap, the older Jews went to the synagogue to study as a group, or to recite a chapter (summer), borkhi nafshi [bless my soul] (winter), or perhaps a couple of chapters of Psalms.
The Holy Sabbath is passing, and it will be missed. The women say G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob . Out with the Sabbath spirit, the gray weekdays are coming.
The revolutionary youth lived with its oneg shabat [enjoyment of the Sabbath] by going to the woods to a meeting or to lectures and discussions and these voices would not be silenced by the leaving of the Sabbath.
From the beginning of the month of Elul [August] the women went to the cemetery. A lot of women would take Sarah Rachel the Fat as their intercessor, so that she would plead for them.
During the Days of Awe [from New Year through the Day of Atonement] the synagogue would be packed, even the old men, who during the week could not be counted on to form the ten man quorum needed for public prayer.
The eve of the Day of Atonement during afternoon prayers the choice honors would be auctioned. The straw had already been spread on the floor. And for Kol Nidre [declaration on the eve of the Day of Atonement concerning vows] all the synagogues were full of people. (When Reb Zelman Sender decreed, because of the fires and the unhealthy times, that the women's section should be closed, the Krinker women considered it a great decree that not even a ruler would try to pass). The men were wrapped in prayer shawls and a lot in white caftans. Solemnly, in a fear soaked silence, everyone listened to Kol Nidre. And after the evening prayers and the Yeyles [prayer on the Day of Atonement], a lot of men stayed to say Shir Hayekhod [hymn of the unity of G-d] and Psalms. My father would not come home to sleep that night. He would not eat all day, so that he would not be thirsty during the fast on the Day of Atonement. His health was not good and was sick for a long time.
At Sukes the young boys would carry the lulav [palm branch] from house to house so that everybody would be able to bless an esrog [citron, an expensive fruit which is blessed during the Sukkoth holiday]. On the intermediate days, vacation time, proposed marriages were finalized, and teachers would attend to enrolling students.
The night of Hoyshayne rabeh [the Great Hosanah, the seventh day of Tabernacles] religious Jews sat the entire night studying Torah and saying Psalms. That night the sky would split and all petitions would be granted. It was said that somebody had pleaded the entire night for kol tuv [all manner of good], but it came out as koltun [a tuft of twisted hair] and the Master of the Universe really fulfilled his petition.
Simkhes Toyre [holiday on the day following Sukkoth, celebrating the completion of the year's reading cycle of the Torah] was the most joyous day of the year in Krinik. Nach Keyle's would scream out tsone kodoshim! [holy flock, the Jewish people] All the children would answer: me! [baa, bleating] like lambs. After prayers everyone would have honey cake and liquor.
Hanukah [feast of the Maccabees] was a national holiday [not a religious holiday]. But, dedicated to the miracle that came to pass, everyone would eat latkes [fried potatoe pancakes] and play with dreidels [a spinning top with Hebrew letters on each side].
The second happiest holiday of the year was Purim. After reading the megillah [book in the form of a scroll] money would be given to the poor. Today people send shalakhmones [presents exchanged by friends and neighbors on Purim] to each other! Purim actors would go around to as many houses as possible to entertain people and get a couple of coins for Passover.
Soon after Purim, Passover eve would arrive. After the hard winter with its cold and snow, came the season of our freedom together with the rebirth of nature. The contractors were busy baking matzah. The porter carried the first baked pieces of matzah to the wealthier citizens (each of them had paid well and he would wish them: all manner of good). Passover eve, when the contractors would be extra strict as they were baking matzah shmurah [watched with special care]. All the work, from the flour to putting them in oven they would do with their own hands.
The children had new clothes and shoes for Passover. A child would be filled with grief if the tailor or the shoemaker could not manage to finish the clothes or the shoes.
Us schoolboys derived a special pleasure at Passover. After the hard winter with the deep snow, going home at night from school with a paper lantern (not once did paper catch fire on the way) we would, with the coming of Spring, feel like those arrested on being freed from jail. We ran straight away to Yenta's courtyard and Virion's forest and of course not forgetting playing with the nuts.
Shvues although people ate dairy foods it was a much appreciated holiday. First because of the gift of the Torah, and second because on Shvues people are freer. It was said, During Passover one can eat as one will, but must not eat what one will. However on Shvues one may eat what one will and as one will.
Tishebov [the ninth day of Ab, a day of fasting and mourning to commemorate the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem] is a day of sorrow, but in Krinik people did not make a big fuss about it. But Tishebov 1914 there was great sorrow in Krinik because the day before the reserve had been mobilized and sent to the front to fight the Germans.
Since the end of the 18th century there was a Linat HaZedek-Bikur Holim [staying overnight with the sick and visiting the sick] Society in Krinik whose members were young unmarried women. They took the place of nurses staying overnight with the sick and if possible giving the patient needed help. Whereas making banquets for women was then not done, they would once a year bring a cake to the house. Poor patients would be given medicine without charge and during the First World War dairy products.
Medicine bottles would be left out as they were needed. All year long the bottles were at our house. In the middle of the week there was very little demand. But Friday night there would be a run on the medicine. Krinik was an industrial city and people could not take to their sick bed during the week, but they could on the Sabbath.
Meyerim Shveygidiker a tall, nice man with black hair and beard, who would keep silent, would have fits of wild laughter. He was the water carrier and slept in the besmedresh and during the summer he went around barefoot.
It was said that he was from a great lineage, graduated a university and could speak. He would write addresses for letters being sent abroad, would help the externs study mathematics, algebra, geometry and languages English and French.
Nobody knew when he had come to Krinik and when he left. It was said that in 1920, when the Bolsheviks arrived in Krinik they found him alone in the besmedresh and wanted to question him he remained mute. When they found out that he could speak they beat him so badly that he never recovered and died soon afterwards.
It was also said that one of the Krinker city leaders once asked Meyerim why there was so much mud in Krinik? Meyerim answered: that the Mast of the Universe gave a look and saw that you are a leader in the city, so he spit on this place and since then there is mud here.
Motke His craziness consisted of talking to his dead father. He beat his mother, a small, stooped woman (had a hardware store). They would both yell and scream and create such fusses that the shtetl would shrink from them.
Motke would take food to his father's grave and scream that it is dinner. He would attack his mother when she had not prepared dinner or forbid him to the cemetery.
Meyer Tzitzun always filthy would say that his mother had weaned him too young.
Shimon a wife strong man had broad shoulders and a thick, blond, curly beard. He would beg for an arranged marriage, a wife. He would say I am insane, completely insane!
Itche Kugelach or Angel of Death always unbuttoned, in a unbuttoned shirt, with disheveled hair and pop eyes; would yell in the shtetl that somebody was going to die.
Yenta Kleinkepele had beautiful red cheeks and would speak with half words. Her parents kept her in the house but she would sneak out from time to time. When she became pregnant she said that the ardent one did it.
Kutiel Was a quiet man with a family, a teacher, a tanner and a Kobriner Hasid. In the month of Tamuz he would say that the shtetl could only be cleansed of sin by immersion and he would run barefoot to the river.
Simcha Rachel Motchke's was a scholar and had a rabbinical and ritual slaughterer diploma. But he was not allowed to devote himself to this so he killed himself.
People possessed by an evil spirit were brought to Krinik to the Tarars from Krushenian, where the evil spirit was exorcised.
Itke-Kitke, Alte Sabbath loaf, the botchkes [half boots], the Bebelach [small beans], the Gimzlach, Drotch, Lapontz with the Bells, Leyzer Drole's, Match-Patch, Mukholap, Mitl-Shtikl, Moth, Slavic, Skreytchik, the Ardent one, Braid, the Kugelach, Pumpkin.
Amstobover, Grodner, Lapinitzer, Spodviler, Shchuchiner, etc.
The first time I heard about Krinik was when I was studying at the yeshiva in Brestovitz. I heard some Jews in the besmedresh talking disparagingly about the Krinker factory workers who were mainly Socialists and committed sins to hurt other Jews. They ate in the open on the Day of Atonement [a fast day] and on top of that non-kosher kielbasa [Polish sausage]. I thought that the Krinker young men were licentious and had no feelings for their fellow Jews.
Brestovitzer young men were the exact opposite the middle class children were students. Many of them were enlightened. They were truly infected with apostasy from the secular books they read, but they were respectful, well behaved children. They did not trample on Jewish laws and traditions and the feelings of their fellow Jews.
The first time I met Krinkers face to face was about a dozen years ago in America in Chicago. Then I realized that the impression I had of them was false they were exactly the opposite of what I had heard. At that time not one of the former Brestovitzer middle class young men heeded my call to do something together for the needy in our shtetl. The former Krinker young men, the non-religious, arranged to assist all the Krinker institutions, including the religious ones, fulfilling the needs of all the Jewish elements in Krinik. I joined the Krinik Relief Union and even became an active member.
I corrected my error.
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