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[Pages 80-82]

A Little Bit From A Lot

by Rabbi Yitzhak Dov Oshpal

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

My father and my teacher, the genius Rabbi Shlomo Elie Oshpal Z”L, was a Hasidic Jew. He was born in a small village near the shtetl of Novi Sventzian, in the Vilna Goberneia. His forefathers were amongst the giants of the Chabad Hasids. They were renowned for their knowledge and devotion to the Chabad movement. Ever since his early childhood, my father was known for the purity of his heart and for his special spiritual qualities, his great talent, and his dedication to the study of the Torah. When he was just a teenager, he was accepted in the famous yeshiva in the town of Dvinsk, and there he was respected even amongst the older yeshiva students who studied the Torah and adhered to all the rules of Judaism. During those days, Rabbi Josef Razin Z”L, who was known as Der Ragatchaver, was appointed as Rabbi and Av Beit Din in the town of Dvinsk. He was a true genius and a minister of the Torah. His home was filled with committees of the very learned, and amongst them my father, Z”L. My father seemed to have hardly left his tent and the genius rabbi was very entertained by my father, and had a lot of love and endearment towards him. He would have many sessions of questions and answers with him. Pretty often he would say to him, “I am sure that in the future you will be a great teacher in Israel.” It turned out to be true. Not many years passed, and my father, Z”L, was certified by this genius of the generation to be a rabbi.

For a few years, my father studied and taught in the Dvinsk yeshiva, and since he was very devoted he was able to acquire a large amount of knowledge about the details of religious studies. But even there he did not abandon the spirit of the Hasidut and its particular style, which he was accustomed to in the house of his fathers. He was very interested in learning the old tales of the Hasids, and he gathered them one by one, as if they were precious pearls. The history of my father, Z”L, and the way of his life through fifty years were one long thread of devotion to the Torah, in the particular way that the Chabad Hasid would experience the religion, and if I would attempt to give details here, there is too much to say so I will just give a sketch of his life.

In the summer of 1926, my father was appointed to be the Av Beit Din in the town of Kurenets and he sat there on the throne of the rabbinut until the year 1941, a period of fifteen years. My father did much for the benefit of the town to improve the physical situation and to encourage and support the congregation in days of rain and wind. Out of his mouth came pearls, and the strength of his sermons would pull the hearts of those listening, bringing them near G-d in heaven. And the congregation would never get tired of listening to his sermons that he would spend some hours in delivering. In a very logical and commonsensical manner, he would discuss the rules of the Torah with regards to business issues and disputes between the people – and it wasn't just the residents of Kurenets that he advised, but also people in the entire surrounding region. He had the special talent of mediating and he would be able to peacefully resolve even the most hostile and complicated conflicts. He did it all with a shining face and with intelligence and knowledge. His wisdom and generous heart during all those disputes and conflicts were renowned in the entire area.

My father was very well connected with benefactors in the US and with his influence they contributed for the aid of poor students and enabled them to study for free in the Talmud Torah of Kurenets. They would also send funds for the poverty-stricken residents of the town. He would devote much of his time to public service. He felt very comfortable with going to the Polish officials, to the ruler of the region in Vilejka, and sometimes he would even go to Vilna to see the minister for the entire province. With his dedication and his pleasantness, he did much for the public and all his requests would be approved.

Here again I can name many, many particular details of his success but I will just mention a few examples about this subject. In one of the neighboring villages, the small community of Ouzla, about 25 km from Kurenets, my father found out that they had buried Jewish soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War. But they had not been buried as customary in Jewish cemeteries, but were put in village cemeteries with Christians. My father could not rest and went through every kind of obstacle so that he could bring them to be buried in the Jewish custom in a Jewish cemetery. It took him a few years to accomplish this holy mission, but finally he was able to transfer the deceased to Kurenets, and to bury them again in the Jewish cemetery. Every Jew in town, men, women and children, took part in the common funeral. My father found out the names and hometowns of each Jewish soldier, and spent much time trying to locate relatives so he could let them know about the impending ceremony. He found that one of these men was a high-ranking officer in the Russian Army and had lived in the town of Lodz. He was able to locate his family and they came to town to take part in the ceremony, and with big, big tears in their eyes they thanked my father for letting them take part in the ceremony.

I would also like to tell about his devotion to save 21 Torah books that fell into the hands of the Soviets. He found out that during the First World War, Torah books were taken out of Kurenets and transferred to Petersburg. The circumstances of that transfer were that during the battles, the holy community that there was much danger, so they were able to transfer the books. At the time when the books were given to the Jewish community in Petersburg, they sent a receipt for the books to Kurenets. My father, who was in Petersburg during the First World War, was given the responsibility by the committee of rabbis there to write down the list of all the books that had come there from different shtetls. All together ethere were 600 books. I will never be able to describe all the troubles and tribulations that my father encountered in this holy matter. Many times he had to go to Warsaw and plead with the Polish religious minister. Finally he got permission from the Polish government, but then there were new obstacles: the Soviets demanded one thousand golden dollars as a tax for sending the books. My father, who was very clever, was able to cancel this evil taxation. He argued that tax was only taken from profitable businesses, and there was no rationale for demanding any taxation for something that is given for safekeeping during dangerous times. This plea was effective and the Torah books were sent to the Soviet Embassy in Warsaw, and from there they were transferred to the minister who ruled the Vilna region.

In 1929, three huge boxes arrived in Kurenets, and in them there were 21 Torah books. It would be very hard to describe the joy in town. Singing and dancing, the entire community came to receive the holy packages. When they opened the boxes, they found a few books that had belonged to other towns in the area, such as Ilia, and all of them were sent to their rightful owners. This event received much publicity, both in the Jewish newspapers as well as in the Polish papers.

Another aspect of my father's personality that I would like to talk about was his dedication to improve the situation of the poverty-stricken residents of the town. He knew each and every one of them, and would often follow their daily situation, and did whatever he could do for them. Many times I would see with my own eyes how he would take from his pocket a few gold coins and would pay for the stamps that they were supposed to put on all the birth certificates that he had to sign for. All that he did was done with modesty, pleasantness, and secrecy. He avoided any possibility of humiliating those who he helped.

My father was a truly dedicated scholar. Daily he would study the Torah, and we greatly enjoyed hearing his voice when he said passages. Sometimes even passers by would stop to listen to him. From early morning until the night hours, he was busy studying the Torah, telling sermons to the congregation, and teaching the Torah to many. Passages would come from his heart and enter the hearts of his listeners. In the large library that we had in our house, there were also very old and valuable manuscripts. There were also some handwritten manuscripts by my father that dealt with revision of the Torah. One of these manuscripts was given to be printed in a publishing house by the name of Ayelet Hashakhar, but my heart breaks knowing that it fell into the hands of the Nazis.

A short time before the destruction of Kurenets, the evil ones sent him to the town of Sventzian. For three days our family, together with 8000 Jewish people, lived in an open field under the sky, with no food or drink. On a Sunday in 1942, they were slaughtered. On that Sunday they murdered all the men, and the next day all the women and children were slaughtered. They are all buried in one huge grave that is three hundred meters long and it is situated near Nevis Sventzian, which is in the vicinity of Vilna. My father walked at the head of the martyrs, enveloped in his tallit. This was told to me by Mr. Tzirtoka. My father gave a sermon in front of the holy martyrs, and his last words were about kiddush hashem [to die as a martyr, to bring glory to God's name]. He did this to comfort them in their last walk…May his soul be melded in the bouquet of the living.

[Page 84]

Self Defense

by Levik, son of Mendel and Gitel Alperovitch

Translated by Nir, Levik's grandson

kur084a.jpg [11]
Levik Alperovitch

The story that I am about to tell you took place when I was still a very young boy not yet studying in the Cheder. From those days, I was left with deep yet imprecise memories of days of fear and tension in our shtetl. I remember that the adults kept saying the word "pogrom". I didn't know what that word meant but that word made me very fearful. Fearful from the sound and the statement people had when they said the word. It was at the beginning of winter, a few days before Hanukkah, the sky was very gray, and the weather so cold that it chilled your bones. In our house we had double windows, although it was very cold, it still wasn't cold enough that the frost would cover them. I stuck my face to the glass, as most kids like to do and looked at the market. In those days, we lived at the house of Israel Itze the Shochet. The market had patches of frozen snow on the ground white spots of snow covered the dark earth hay that were left by the farmers who came with the horses and wagons to sell their produce. I still remember the snow falling covering the dark ground. All of a sudden, a large group of Cossacks riding horses came roaming by the houses. Mixed with that image, I remember that my father Mendel Chetzkales' (Son Of Yechezkel, son of Binia Alperovitz), and my uncle Zalman Chazkeles' Hurriedly left the house. They went to the yard. I swiftly ran to the other side of the room and looked through the window facing the yard, to see what they were doing. Cognizant that they seemed extremely worried I watched them approaching a heap of logs.

kur084b.jpg [21 KB]
Mendel Alperovitz during a visit to Israel in 1938 with son,
Levik and grandson, Amram

They pushed the snow aside, they took the logs one by one and put them against the gate so no one could enter as if there was impending danger coming. Then they returned home and whispered to each other as if they were looking for some solution, shortly after they left our home. I still remember when evening time came. On the table, there was a little candle with flickering light. I remember my father and uncle sitting around the table with other people whispering to each other. I could hear words like "sticks" and "iron gloves" and "rods" to be prepared to "scare off" someone.

Years later when I matured, I was curious about those memories. I started asking questions trying to clear it for myself my frightful memories. I was told that in the year 1905. Many young men and women would gather in the forest near our town and they would plan how a revolution against the czar. There were many Jews from the town amongst them. Some of the Christian people of the town and the surrounding area wanted to harm the Jews who they claimed were all revolutionaries. Just before Hanukkah we always had a huge event called "Hanes" where people from the surrounding town would come to buy and sell, (a big festive Swap meet). The heads of the Jewish community in Kurenets were very fearful since they heard that on swap meet day, some of the villagers planed to harm the Jews. So they sent a committee to the governor of the area and they gave him a "bribe" so he would help. He sent the Cossacks to defend the town, but the Jews still knew not to just rely on the Cossacks. So they organized in secret their own army of self defense. To finance this army, they taxed the Jewish community. Some Jews of the community didn't want to accept the tax and they had to enforce it by using threat and sometimes-physical force. The weapons the mainly gathered were rods with spikes and iron gloves and sticks with nails. They hid the weapons in a large hall that was dug in the cemetery. The same winter, on a Saturday morning, a policeman was found dead. The policeman was found on the highest bench in the steam room and logically people thought his heart weakened from the heat but truly, it was very different. This policeman was known in town as a "Staraznik" someone who works for the czarist government an informant.

He found out about secret army. Therefore, the Jews gave him a lot of alcohol before he entered the steam room. Then while he was lying there, they made the room very hot, so hot that it caused him death. When the swap meet came, the Jewish defense patrolled the town. Each patrol unit had about four people, ready for any trouble. The swap meet turned to be very peaceful other than isolated cases of stealing baked goods from the salespeople.

kur084c.jpg [29 KB]
Argentina c 1923
Bottom row left; Levik Alperovitz on the right; Meir Gurevitz

kur084d.jpg [24 KB]
On the right: Levik Alperovitz, next to him: Meir Gurevitz

kur084e.jpg [21 KB]
kur084f.jpg [14 KB]
Brother of Levik: Yosef Alperovitz [sitting on the right]
with Ze'ev Kooperstock and Shacna Stoler

They all perished in the Holocaust. Yosef was killed
on the last days of the war in the area while fighting the Germans
  Rachel (wife of Levik) Alperovitz
[daughter of Nechama Risha née Gelman
and Menachem Mendel Alperovitz]
Died in Israel of illness in 1946

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