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[Page 117]

Daily Life

The “Office” and the Farm

by Mordechai Zaytshik

Translated by Sara Mages

The estate, which was located one kilometer southwest of the city, covered a large area. It belonged to Agrekov, who spent most of his days abroad or in Southern Russia and rarely came to visit it. It was built according to a well designed plan: At the center stood a beautiful perfect house, the “White House” (“Bia³y Dom”), whose windows were decorated with various carved ornaments. Agrekov and his entourage stayed there during their few visits. Next to it stood the “Red House” that was built entirely from red bricks. The offices and the service-buildings concentrated a distance away from them. Around the center, but a considerable distance away, stood the houses of the officials and the employees. Two beautiful manicured boulevards – a boulevard of pine trees and a boulevard of birch trees- extended from the center to the entrance gates.

A large fruit garden stretched along the estate. Every summer the administration office leased the garden to a Jewish resident. The tenants sold the fruits in town, and in a blessed year the fruit was also sold to other cities.

The town's residents visited the estate frequently and walked in its boulevards. The entry to the estate and the access to bears' cage were free. Many came to see the bears and give them pieces of sugar or other delicacies.

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Characters and Customs

by Mordechai Zaytshik

Translated by Sara Mages

It is permitted to point out with a certain pride, that there were tradesmen in our town Lenin who were learned not “ignorant”.

Many tradesmen and cart owners used to interweave sayings and verses in their speech and debate chapters from the Book of Yeshayahu, and there were also those who were proficient in Talmud

  1. Yisrael Gelenson, or as he was called Yisrael the blacksmith, worked all of his life in his smithy. He dedicated his free hours for the studies of the Gemara, which he knew and understood well.
  2. Binush the shoemaker, a tall quiet Jew who walked with his hands clasped behind his back. He used to spend most of his time studying a “Tractate” [a section of the Talmud dealing with specific subject], and he also knew a chapter in the Gemara.
  3. Chaim-Cheikel, a simple God-fearing Jew who worked very hard all the days of the week. It was possible to see him stepping heavily in the mud in his bulky boots, carrying a skin that he just stripped from a young calf. But on the Sabbath, he cleaned up the filth, threw the worries of the week behind his back, and dedicated the whole day to the synagogue. From his place next to the pillar he recited psalms, and the congregation repeated after him. Surely he knew Tehillim well, and his recitation of the psalms became his “strength”.
The cart owners also excelled in their Jewish knowledge. The passengers, who had the opportunity to travel

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with them on the long muddy road leading to the train station in Mikashevichi, weren't bored thanks to the sayings, verses, legends and tales, that the carters amused their passengers with.

They even talked to their horses in a special holy-language, in the style of “Tevye the dairyman”…

I should also mention a special character, and he is Bezalel Zaytchik or Bezalel the “Greek” as he was called.

This nickname was attached to him because he was one of the “Kidnapped” (Cantonists) from the days of Czar Nicholas I, when Jewish children were abducted, placed in the army and served for 25 full years! He was kidnapped at the age of 11, and served for 25 years in all kinds of army barracks. Despite living for so long among the Christians – so he said – he almost never ate non-Kosher food and never desecrated the Sabbath.

In the army he reached the rank of “Feldfebel” [Sergeant], which was considered to be a high level military rank, especially for a Jew.

His appearance was the appearance of a real military man, erect with a well-developed body. From his time in the army he kept his abusive language that he used when he was angry.

In 1928, when the Polish general Skladowski visited Lenin, Bezalel Zaytchik approached him together with the rest of the delegation. He introduced himself and asked for a pension for the many years that he served in the Russian Army. At the same time, he showed the medals that he won during his military service, and told the general that he participated in the suppressing of the Polish rebellion of 1863. The matter angered the general and he shouted: What?! You fought against us and you demand a pension as a prize?! It is obvious that Bezalel Zaytchik never received a pension…

He reached an old age and he was healthy and fully conscious to his last day. He died in 1933 at the age of 94.

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The Village Jews

by Mordechai Migdalovitsh

Translated by Sara Mages

Dedicated to the memory of the martyrs - My father Eliyakim son of R' Ovadia;
my mother Miriam daughter of R' Yitzchak Rubinstein; my sister Sarke; my sister
Sheindil and her child; and the rest of the Jews, who lived in the villages, whose life,
life of honest workers, were cut by the defiled Nazi beasts. And in memory of my
brother Yitzchak, a Red Army soldier, who fell in the battlefield among those who fought
the murderers of our nation.
There were many villages around our town Lenin, where a number of Jewish families lived among the White Russian farmers. Those Jews earned their living from the labor of their hands. Most of them were tradesmen: blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers and carpenters. One or two earned their living from a tiny store that supplied the farmers' needs. Some traded with anything that came to their hands. They wandered around the villages - in a horse-drawn cart or on foot – to the farmers homes and granaries, and bought everything they could lay their hands on. They brought their merchandise to the town and sold it there.

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I was born in the village of Herizinovich, a distance of fourteen kilometers from Lenin.

The road from the town to the village passed through lakes and swamps. The transportation into town wasn't easy or convenient. The road flooded when the snow melted in the spring and during the rainy autumn days, and the water covered the wagon's wheels. We knew how to walk across the slippery wooden beams that were placed in the swamp. We used to walk on them equipped with a long stick. When necessary, the walker leaned on it, sinking its lower end near a tree trunk, and woe to the one who stuck his stick into the bogy swamp – then, that person fell head first into the swamp. Although I was careful and accustomed to this walk, I often slipped on the slippery beam and fell into the deep swamp. I fell seven times and held on to the beam seven times, I climbed, empted the water from my boots, and kept on walking on the beams until I arrived to the village. There were fifty to sixty farmers' huts with straw roofs in the village. They were arranged in two rows on both sides of the street. There were two or three wells in the middle of the street for drawing water.

The home of the “richest” Jew in the village, Chaim-Yakov Ginsberg, stood out among the huts. He was a simple Jew, but an experienced trader and a supplier of cattle cars to Warsaw (towards his old age he immigrated to the United States, to his sons and daughters who lived there. He left two daughters in the village, both of them widows who perished along with the members of our town. They are: Liba and her children and Yentel and her children).

My grandfather, Ovadia Migdalovitsh, and his two sons – my father Eliyakim and my uncle Avraham – earned a living from their work in small trade and excelled in their hospitality. They received every passing guest with kindness and happiness. My mother Miriam served the meal to the guest with a warm welcome, and when she found out that a Jew was staying in a Christian home, she went to look for him and bring him to our home.

These village Jews, despite their hard work and worries about their income, did everything they could, and over their ability, to educate their children. Two, three or four Jewish families, that God graced them with small school age children, had to bring a teacher, pay his wages and support him.

The first teacher that was brought to our village was Avrahamle, who was known by his nickname “The organized”. He was the son of Eliyahu Slutsky, a resident of the village of Puzitz. He was tall and had long legs. I remember that one morning I saw a person sleeping on the couch between the table and the wall, and his legs were hanging down to the floor. My mother realized that I was wondering who and what he was, and told me that he was the “rabbi” who came to teach us reading. He taught us for half a year. Two years later, during the days of the First World War, he was called to the Russian Army. He was sent to the battlefield and didn't return to his home. It is unknown if he fell in the war or died in German's captivity behind “barbed wire”.

Our second teacher was Moshe, son of Reb Aharon-Leib Zaytchik. Later, he graduated, with honors, from the teachers' seminar in Vilna. A few years later, he became famous as one of the finest teachers and outstanding educator in “Tarbut” schools in Poland. He died a martyr's death in the city of Kremenets among the other martyrs of our nation.

Also our third teacher, Eliezer son of Yosef (Yosel) Zaretsky, had a high school education,

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rewarded with superior teachers. Also our teacher, Eliezer Zaretsky, fell under the cruel hand of the reaper...

After he spent half a year in our village, he traveled abroad where he studied medicine and became a good doctor. He provided free medical help to the poor in our town and in other cities.

How our village, which was cut off from other settlements and stuck in the swamps, was rewarded that two inspirational gifted young men would come to teach a number of children?

Time caused it. These were the days of the First World War, which brought in its wake satiety to the village and hunger and shortage to the city. These young teachers weren't paid in money but by foodstuff: flour, potatoes and other vegetables, that they gave their parents in the town. The families of these young men had food to eat, and we were rewarded with superior teachers. Also out teacher, Eliezer Zaretsky, fell under the cruel hand of the reaper…

After the First World War, the situation of Jews in the village worsened. The few members of our village couldn't bear the heavy burden - paying the teacher's wages and supporting him.

The few Jewish families in our village had another burden besides their children's education: they couldn't provide their religious needs without help from the outside.

For the High-Holidays it was necessary to bring a cantor from the town, who could also read the Torah to blow the Shofar. It wasn't easy to find a person who was perfect in all of them. There were years when three men were brought for that purpose –a cantor, a reader and a blower. This matter cost the village people a lot of running around and a lot of money, because it was necessary to pay each person for his travel and for his sacred work

During the last years we found a man who knew everything. The veteran teacher R' Aharon-Leib Zaytchik, who prayed the “Musaf “[additional] prayer, read the Torah and was a regular Shofar blower in Lenin's old synagogue. In addition to those, he also knew to say words of admonishment and awakening before “Kol Nidre” to the small congregation of rural Jews, who stood and listened attentively to his great words.

I also remember a year; when the members of our village couldn't compromise on the distribution of the payments for the religious needs. They traveled to town for the High-Holidays to pray there with the community, and left the daughter in the village to protect the house and everything in it.

It was a rare case. The Jews of our village always reached an understanding and organized their public affairs together. They were innocent people. They lived from their hard work until the predators arrived and put an end to their lives, their work, their happiness and grief together.

Natives of our village were rewarded to come to Israel to see the revival of our nation and our people.

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The Sluch River

by Mordechai Zaitchik

Translated by Jerrold Landau

There were various bathing places in the town. The Sluch River flowed close to the town. Its waters were clear and light, and it flowed calmly in many places. The Jewish children loved it and flocked to it. They threw themselves into its bosom, and played in its lapping waters until they got tired. Then the river ejected them to the shore, where they would spread themselves out on the sand or the soft grass, rest, and then return to the river.

Thus did the Jewish children spend hour after hour – from the water to the shore and from the shore to the water, until they heard the voice of Mother standing on the porch of their house, calling: “Moshe, Yaakov, where are you? Come home!” The children would be silent and not answer, so as not to reveal to Mother where they had spent the day. They would return home in a roundabout manner, with faces of complete innocence. It was not only the cheder students who loved the river, but all the residents of the town.

Old and young awaited the bathing season in the summer. The set bathing area was next to the bridge over the river. To the right of it, about 200 meters away, the women bathed. The river was not deep there. A person of average height was able to cross it on foot. The men bathed to the left of the bridge, right next to it. There, the river was deeper, and only those who knew how to swim would dare to venture forth from the edge of the river to the middle, or to swim to the other side.

There were many people in the town who excelled at swimming. Some of the young swimmers would sometimes go under the bridge, overcome the strong currents and dangerous eddies between the wooden pillars, and venture as far as the bathing place of the women. They would go to it, but not enter it. Nobody would dare enter the women's bathing place. In those days, there were not bathing suits in the town, and a youth who crossed the border would bring disgrace upon himself.

The bathing places were crowded with people on Fridays. The bathers were different than those of the other days of the week. For the most part, they were adults and the elderly. The youth who knew how to swim, headed by Zelig the son of Mordechai Yulovitch, crossed the bridge to the other side of the river, and distanced themselves about 1.5 kilometers to the “Bein Haalonim” (Among the Oaks) . There was a beautiful beach there, with a steep slope. The river was wide and deep, even at its bank, and the bather would immediately fall into deep water when he descended from the beach and dipped his foot in the water. In short, this was a bathing place for those who knew how to swim.

Suddenly, to everyone's surprise, Reb Moshe Tomashov, a man who studied Torah day and night, appeared. Even he permitted himself to leave his book for an hour, and to enjoy himself by bathing in the river in honor of the Sabbath. In honor of the Sabbath Queen, he, the serious Jew, permitted himself childhood enjoyments. He demonstrated his ability to swim well. When did he learn this? During his youth? Was he also once a boy? Did he at one time also spend hours on the banks of the river?

However, it is proper not to be suspicious of proper people. We are sure that when he finished his bathing, he would go to the bathhouse to immerse in the mikva (ritual bath) in accordance with his holy custom. He would then return to his simple house, sing enthusiastically

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the “Song of Songs” and sanctify himself to greet the Sabbath day. Then he would once again close himself in the four ells of study and prayer.

One would think about the bathers and ponder: what was the great enchantment of the river and its cool waters. The Jewish community, burdened with worries all of their days, toiling to earn their livelihood – took off all of their clothes and simultaneously removed all of the heavy burdens under which they were buckling. They jumped into the bosom of the river, and they enjoyed themselves and disported themselves as children – they returned to their childhood…

The river was a friend and brother to our town. From it, we drew the pleasant spirit of life that restored the souls. Then peace returned between Russia and Poland. The peace treaty that was signed in the city of Riga stole the blessing of the river from the town. According to the treaty, the Sluch River became the international border. Half of it was in the bounds of Poland, and the other side was in the bounds of Russia. The bridge over the river was also divided into two halves and two booths were erected on both sides: one for the Polish border guards and the second for the Russian border guards.

At first, the Polish government established a bathing place near the bridge. It was small, and there was a fence in the middle of the river that divided between the two regions so that nobody would sneak over the boundary. Only very few came to bathe with such bathing conditions. After some time the Polish authorities saw that soldiers of the Red Army would come to bathe on the Russian side of the river, and they would engage in conversation with the bathers of the town. After they saw this, bathing in the river became completely forbidden.

With time, any wise person was wary of approaching the river, for they knew that a suspicious eye was watching out for those who approached. Informers from one side and Red agents from the other side wandered about town, and at times it was difficult to distinguish between them.

Thus did our river betray us. It turned an angry face to us, restricted our steps, distanced relatives from each other, and separated those who were together.

It was sevenfold bad and bitter for us on that terrible day when the dark, impure troops of the Nazis came to us. That day, the river closed off the escape route of many refugees and did not let them cross the border – the border that divided between annihilation and salvation.

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The Lag Baomer Celebration

by Yocheved Amit (nee Furman)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

At any time of trial and tribulation, the comforting adage would be in the mouths of every Jewish man: “We will yet have days when we will joyously tell about all of the tribulations that we endured”. This adage, full of faith that the bad days would pass and good would come, strengthened the aching hearts and breathed faith and comfort to the downtrodden.

Alas, something different was decreed against those of my age. Our hearts are pained as we remember the days of youth. The agony and pressure is almost unbearable. Nevertheless, the desire to write memoirs overcomes this.

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My years of study in the school of our town were spent in a large, spacious home in the center of town, surrounded by a spacious yard (which in our day was the home of the shopkeeper Tetel Oko). It had been built years ago by one of the wealthy people of the town. Approximately 120 children boys and girls of our town studied there. I am certain that I can serve as a mouthpiece for all those of my age, my friends from the school bench, if I state that we loved this school with all our hearts, with its fine protocols and exemplary cleanliness, and with the studies that we studied calmly and with desire.

Our school had a tradition of Zionist Hebrew study for many years. The teaching staff who taught during my years of study included: Reb Aharon Leib Zaitchik of blessed memory (he was murdered by the accursed Nazis on the day that they slaughtered the people of our town); and may they live, Mr. Meir Boktzin, and my father Ben-Zion Furman (both living today in Israel). In 1918, the well known pedagogue Yitzchak Katznelson (not the poet) was added to the staff. He arrived in our town from the far off city of Berdiansk. He was sent to us by the center for culture in Kiev, and he led our school for more than a year with great ability and wisdom. We studied the following subjects there: Hebrew, Bible, arithmetic, geography, physical education, singing, as well as the Russian language. The cantor conducted the singing lessons.

During the time that Katznelson was the principal, our school held a Lag Baomer celebration that left an unforgettable impression. There was a fine parade in the schoolyard and afterwards a procession through the streets of our town. 120 students participated, marching in rows of four. This parade was a sign of the days of freedom that had come upon us at the end of the world war and the fall of the Czarist police which had restricted all of our steps and deeds. Here were Jewish children going out without asking permission from the police, marching upright before everyone. They passed through the streets, each class with its blue and white flag. They were signing songs of Zion, and all the townsfolk, young and old, men and woman, Jews and gentiles, were watching the parade and accompanying them with hand clapping and shouts of joy and mirth!

Thus did we parade through the main street, cross the bridge over the pond, and go all the way to the council building (Volost). From there we retraced our steps over the river. We crossed the bridge and traversed the forest until we arrived at the Green Mountain (a small valley that was approximately 15 meters higher than the area around it, and was called the “Green Mountain” by the youths who loved a joke.)

The school continued to exist even during the difficult times that came upon us after that. It displayed its power of endurance through all changes of governments – Poles, Bolsheviks, Ukrainians, and around again – that passed through our town. The principal Yitzchak Katznelson left our town, for he was invited to direct a large school in one of the cities of Volhynia. Our school continued to educate the children of our town, to impart in them the values of Hebrew culture and to instill in their hearts the idea of the renaissance of our nation in its land.

We owe thanks to this school for the young generation that arose in our town and merited for the most part to actualize Zionism in body and spirit. They arose and made aliya to Israel – with the language of our people, the Hebrew language, living on their lips.

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Len124.jpg [31 KB] - The Lag Ba'Omer outing
The students of the Tarbut School on a Lag Baomer excursion, 1930

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A Winter Eve Wedding

by Michael Rechavi

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Memories from my childhood

A winter evening descended upon the town. The snow covered the streets with a thick, white, soft covering. Even the pond was covered with a thick sheet of ice and snow. The haystacks and wood storage attics were covered with a thick, white blanket, whose edges were decorated with icicles. The bright stars were beckoning…

The sounds of the violin, flute, drum, and cymbals were echoing from one of the houses on the street. The street was lit up with great light that night. This was before electricity had reached our town, but the women hastened to place burning candles in the windows of their houses to light up the way of the bride and groom to their chupa (marriage canopy) and to thereby express their good wishes and blessing that the path of that young couple through life should be full of light, joy and gladness. After they did this, they went out to the lit up street to fulfill the commandment of entertaining the bride.

Tulia the assistant shamash (sexton) hurried to the storage place of the synagogue to take out the chupa canopy. The children hurried after him and offered their assistance, so that they would be able to help hold up the poles during the marriage ceremony.

The groom was already standing under the chupa. His friends, the joyous youths, were standing opposite him, winking their eyes at him and making funny faces at him to see if he would be able to control his nerves. Indeed, the groom stood strong, calm, without responding to the funny gestures of his friends. There was not even a trace of a smile on his lips. They were already bringing the bride. The entire town accompanied her to the chupa, everyone with a lit candle in his hand.

– Who were the in-laws?

– Do not ask, for all the people of the town were in-laws. Everyone was rejoicing, and making the bride and groom happy.

– Was this the wedding of wealthy people?

– Not necessarily. This was not the well-known band from the city of Turow who was leading the procession, and not even that of Kozhan Horodock, but rather the local “Capelia” at the head of the procession. He was the barber-musician Efraim, who put down his razor and scissors at night and took hold of the violin and bow. To his right was the drummer whose name was also Efraim. To his left was the youth playing his flute. They played to the best of their ability, and the town was joyous and mirthful.

All the people of the town had gathered around the chupa next to the old synagogue: men, women, youths, elderly people and children. The cantor was singing and leading everyone. The men sung after him, while the women were wiping their eyes with the edges of their winter kerchiefs out of joy.

Mazel Tov! Mazel Tov!

The wedding moved from the synagogue to the home of the bride. The bride, groom, and marriage party marched at the front. The musicians were playing loudly. An elderly woman was dancing in front of the couple. Children were running around and attempting to peek at the faces of the bride and groom. The entire town was marching behind the couple… The violin was being played with feeling, the flute was trilling with a still, small whisper.

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In the Counsel of the Poor People

by Sarah Fogelman (Kolpenitzky)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

On one of the streets of our town, in which the majority of the residents were Christians and where there were only a few Jews, there lived a family with young children. The father, who was weak and sickly, was not able to provide his family with proper sustenance. Hunger and want often frequently visited the family.

The father would go around to the villages of the region on Sundays in order to provide food for his family. He would make the rounds in the villages for six days, and the mother would be burdened with caring for the children. She was a small, thin woman. She toiled from early in the morning until late at night in order to assuage the hunger of the nine children and the elderly father who was also supported at this impoverished table, and he lived together with the entire family in this single room house.

Indeed, as in any small town, every woman of our town knew what was taking place and what was found in the oven of all her friends and neighbors. The neighbors of the mother of this family would support her: one with a measure of flour on Thursday to bake challas for the Sabbath, another with a glass of milk for the sick child or to restore the soul of the old man so he would be able to get down from his bed, and the third with a jug of sour milk to spread over the fried potatoes. With all this, the small, thin woman had to gird all of her strength, exert her mind with great energy, and keep her hands busy without stop in order to sustain their hungry souls.

Everyone who knew her was amazed at the great diligence and energy of this mother, for despite the many concerns, this small, poor house excelled in its cleanliness. The path to the entranceway was always sprinkled with clean yellow sand. The woman was always busy: washing sheets, patching the clothes of the children, cleaning and polishing anything that needed to be cleaned or polished, or preparing lunch for the family – for the most part a soup made out of grits and potatoes.

I knew this home and its residents well. The children were my age, and I would go to play with them. I was often present as the children were eating around the table, as they were waiting anxiously for a morsel of bread. At times, one of the children was not satisfied with his portion (it seemed to him that the portion of his older brother was thicker than his piece…) The mother would chastise the complainer with a chastisement accompanied by sighing and weeping – and she would return silently to her toil.

I remember that at the sight of the hunger and desires of the members of this household, and at the sight of how they ate with an appetite and were concerned with every crumb of bread – a strange appetite would also be aroused within myself, the satiated one, and if the woman would give me a morsel of bread, I would devour it while it was still in my hands…

The children would wait anxiously for their father to arrive on Friday. They would go out to greet him and to help him carry the sack on his shoulders that contained the food provisions that he had toiled to obtain.

The woman made peace with her lot, and waited for the time when the children would get older and the heavy burden that she bore would be lessened. It was not in vain that she comforted herself with this hope: her two eldest sons studied and became professionals.

The living room served as the workshop for all of them, and this too did not affect the cleanliness and order in this home of the impoverished toilers. The two beds were made, with white clean sheets spread over them. The pillows were spread with bright covers that were embroidered by the mother in days of yore, when she was still a girl or when she was engaged.

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Two beds and the wide elevated platform of the oven served as the sleeping place for all the residents of the household. The mistress of the household never forgot to change the embroidered, ironed pillowcases with regular pillowcases every night. Similarly, she removed the nighttime pillowcases from all the pillows at night and replaced them with the pretty covers.

Thus was the life of this family (and the lives of other similar families): a life of poverty, toil and suffering, a life of trust and hope for good days. They were silent in the face of their suffering and toil. They did not curse nor complain, and they also kept their trust and hope hidden in the depths of their hearts. In suffering, toil and difficulty they raised their children and educated them to Torah and livelihood. They guided them on a proper, modest path, and merited to see them living off the toil of their hands in an honorable fashion.

This went on until the profane enemies put an end to both their despair and joy. Their joy and worries, suffering and toil, happiness and mirth all ended. Whatever these working hands built up, raised and nurtured, day after day and year after year, with patience, suffering, agony, creative joy , hope and life – the murderers came with their profane hands and destroyed everything – man, beast and tree all together. Everything went down into a communal grave – in your midst, my town of Lenin…

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Father Johann Popenko – A Righteous Gentile
(Lines to the image of the town's priest)

by Eliyahu Shalev

Translated by Sara Mages

Every year in the autumn, during the recruitment season, the new recruits from the villages used to gather in town to behave wildly and have a drink in the tavern. While they were trying to unwind, they teased the Jews and tormented them. In one of these seasons, when the new recruits gathered in town, the town's anti-Semites tried to incite them to perform acts of violence against the Jews. The matter became known in time, and the Jews turned to the priest with a plea to influence the recruits not to carry out the inciters' scheme. The priest promised to help. He assembled the young men in front of the church, spoke to them, calmed them down, and in this fashion he prevented a riot in town.

A similar thing happened at the outbreak of the First World War when all the reservists, up to the age of forty, were recruited. Among them were many dangerous types, who wanted to attack the Jews and rob their property. Also then, Father Johann assembled them in front of the church, took out the icons, and headed the procession holding a thurible in his hand. He walked and pulled them out of town where he blessed them. He parted from them with words of appeasement and sent them to the county seat. And so the town was saved from trouble.


The body of a murdered Christian was found on the road from the town to one of the villages. The authorities picked on a Jew, a resident of the village, and accused him of the murder. The investigation began. From time to time, the Jew was forced to come to the county seat for an additional investigation, and his life was in danger. They turned to Father Johann and asked him to do something for the Jew, because he knew him and knew his integrity. Surely, he fulfilled his promise: he went and testified that one of his parishioners confessed to him that his hand was in the murder. Since then, they ceased to harass the Jew.


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During the winter, the boys went out at dusk to the big lake in the middle of the town to skate on the ice. The teacher, R' Yehudah Rubinstein, walked on the ice to cross the lake. One of the Christian boys tripped him with his leg, and the teacher fell on the ice. At that moment a voice was heard from the bridge “come here”- Father Johann shouted to the Christian boy. The boy came to him and in a crying voice apologized that it happened inadvertently. "You bastard", the priest said in anger, “I saw with my own eyes that you did it on purpose. Go ask for forgiveness, next time, you'll receive the appropriate punishment for such an act”.


It happened after the Russian Revolution when chaos reigned in Polesie. The “Whites” wandered around the area. It was dangerous to leave the town because different gangs dominated the roads and the forests. They robbed passers-by and killed them. From time to time they also came to town, and sometimes they became unruly. The principal of the Russian school where we studied wasn't a resident of our town. He left during those troubled days because he was afraid of the gangs, and Father Johann was appointed as a temporary school principal.

One morning, when we came to school, we found a message written in big letters on the main door: “Beat the Jews and save the homeland”. We, the Jewish students, started to investigate and search for the writer. After a long search a Christian student gave us the writer's name.

We decided to teach the owner of the message a lesson. We lured him into one of the classrooms, locked the door behind him, and started to beat him with strong blows. His shouts reached the teachers' lounge and the ears of the principle Father Johann, who came early to school on that day. He hurried to the location of the act and knocked on the locked door. When we heard his voice, we let the student go and fled through the windows.

The priest turned to the weeping student and asked him to tell him what happened. He told him that the Jewish students attacked him and wanted to kill him, and gave him the names of his attackers.

Immediately, we were summoned to teachers' lounge to report before the school principal. There, he asked us for the meaning of our act, and explained to us that we could be brought to justice for such a bad act. We listened carefully to his words and his admonition, and then we told him about the message that was written on the door. We asked him to come out with us and see it with his own eyes.

He went out and saw it. He let us go and called the student, the young thug, to come and see him in the teachers' lounge. We didn't hear what the principle told him, but after a while, the student came out from the room with tears in his eyes and a wet cloth in his hand, and erased the wiring from the door with his own hands.

Our victory was complete.

The next day we saw the boy's brother, who was an engineer in Agrekov's farm, a typical anti-Semite and a member of the “Black Hundreds*, knocking on the principle's door. Also this time we didn't hear what he said to the principle and what the principal said to him, but we saw him leaving the teachers' lounge accompanied by the priest- principle who said to him in an angry voice:

“As long as I'm here, I will not allow and will not permit such acts”!


[Page 129]

The home of the Rabbi, R' Yehudah Trotzaki of blessed memory, was about fifty paces behind the old synagogue. This was the range of his daily walk, to synagogue and back

When he and the priest met on the way, the Jews stood and watched the meeting with curiosity. The priest took off his hat, approached him, greeted him and asked with interest what was happening in his community. The Rabbi, who didn't know the country's language, answered with a hand gesture and said: “Thank God, thank you”. The priest blessed him, cleared the way for the rabbi, and the Jews enjoyed the respect that the priest gave the rabbi. The rabbi walked saying to himself "a true lover of Israel".

When the priest found out that the rabbi broke his leg and fell ill, he came to visit him and asked with interest about his illness and his recovery.


When the Russian Revolution broke out, the Bolsheviks took over and started to harass the clergies, including Father Johann. They confiscated all of his property, including his cows, and he was left naked, hungry, and in great poverty. My uncle Avraham Yitzchak Chinitz of blessed memory, who was already in America, sent him thirty five Dollars right after his first request, to buy a cow and have money to live on. There wasn't an end to the priest's delight. He wrote a letter of thanks to my uncle in America, and asked him to send him his picture so he could put it between the icons of all the saints. My uncle, who was a religious man, didn't fulfill his request.


When the Poles occupied the town, it remained in Poland after the signing of the peace treaty. The priest returned to his role as the spiritual leader of the Provoslavic Church. When the priest celebrated forty years of service, a group of clergies headed by an archbishop gathered in town. The priest received a Jewish delegation and praised them in the presence of all the important clergies. The Jews gave him a gilded bound Bible with an inscription that he kept as a precious memento.

* “Black Hundreds” - Russian reactionary, antirevolutionary and anti-Semitic groups formed in Russia during and after the Russian Revolution of 1905.

[Page 129]

Chaim Grune Yente's

by Avrom – Yitzchak Slutzky (United States)

Translated by Sara Mages

He was a handsome Yeshiva student, tall, strong, flexible and straight. His pale bright face was adorned with a light narrow beard.

All the townspeople knew that he was a great scholar. He sat in the old synagogue and studied together with R' Yitzchak, the son of the old rabbi. He was named after his wife: Grune-Yente. They had a daughter, Michal, who is living in the United States.

As I remember, his mental illness was expressed by his solitary walks in the roads and paths out of town. At that time he was already separated from his wife and daughter. He was liked by the town's children, who gathered around him and drank his words with thirst. He told them various short stories, legends and proverbs. The little children weren't the only ones who liked him, also the adults and the young students. The forests' merchants and their clerks liked to chat with him and greatly enjoyed his sharp sayings. When he appeared in the street, they surrounded him with affection and talked to him. Obviously, he wasn't short

[Page 130]

of small change and meals. He never degraded himself by begging for money or by asking for a gift. On the contrary, it was a great honor for a man that R' Chaim agreed to take a coin from or eat at his home. On the Sabbath and on the holidays he was a regular guest of R' Zechariah Slutsky (R' Zechariah had an established claim to that).

Many clerks of the forest trade lived at the home of Baruch-Yakov Baruchin. Pesil, Baruch-Yakov's wife, turned to Chaim in the present of her guests, and asked him to tell them something. He didn't think long and answered her:

- I wonder about your father. I knew him as a Jew who observed the commandments and the Torah. How he allowed himself to violate one of the most serious 'don't' in the Torah?!

- What is the 'don't', that according to yours words my father allowed himself to violate? Pesil wondered.

- It is written in the “Ten Commandments” – “You shall not make for yourself a Pesel [idol]!”, and your father created himself a Pesil, answered Reb Chaim.

Chaim's name was also famous among the Christian population. They also knew that it was possible to hear a sharp answer from his mouth. A number of farmers, who came from one of the nearby villages, told that they met Chaim on Sunday when they walked from the village to the church. They turned to him and said:”Chaimke, we have to kill you”.
- What for and why? - ask Chaim in amazement.

- Because Lenin's Jews – the farmers answered – killed our God.

- God forbid - Chaim replied as if he was serious - Lenin's Jews didn't spill his pure blood, but Starobin's Jews committed this murder.

Pinchas Kaplan, a forest merchant, was gifted with a sense of humor. He used to tell various jokes and also liked to hear a beautiful saying. One day, he sat on Ben-Zion Ziklig's porch together with other people. Suddenly, Chaim walked by, and as always, he was lost in his thoughts and in his hallucinations. Pinchas turned to him and said:
- Chaim, please tell us something nice and I'll give you a Ruble.
Chaim answered:
- Well, I'll ask you a question, and the person who will answer it properly will win all of my assets. He took out a twenty Kopek coin and said: “this is all of my property, it is all before you”.

- Ask Chaim ask, and we will listen, answered Pinchas Kaplan.

- Please hear me, Chaim opened his speech, I've just arrived from a trip along the riverbank. I climbed on the bridge and looked into the water. I looked at them pretty well and was surprised to see a second Chaim, who looked like the Chaim who is standing before you right now. His shirt collar was open as the collar of my shirt, and the leather strap that held his pants to his waist was exactly like the leather strap around my waist. He was exactly like me, but he stood with his feet up and his head down. So, tell me why the other Chaim needed a leather strap? When he stood in that manner his pants couldn't fall without it.

[Page 131]

The people, who were sitting on the porch, started to answer this way and that way, but Chaim wasn't satisfied with any of their answers. They turned to him and said:

- Let's hear what you have to say
And Chaim answered:
- It is very simple. If the other Chaim didn't have a leather strap around his waist, the pants of the Chaim who is standing before you would have fallen off.
Chaim had a special attraction to the river and its water. It was possible to see him standing by the river bank looking at the small fish swimming back and forth. At times, he used to sigh from the bottom of his heart and cry:
- It would have been better if I was a small fish among these small fish, then I could have escaped from my terrible headaches.
He knew how to swim very well and saved a number of children from drowning during the swimming season.

Mr. Aharon Singalovzki, who knew Chaim very well and had a lot of conversations with him, said: a living encyclopedia walked in Lenin's streets, which is Chaim the “crazy”. He was knowledgeable in the six orders of the Mishnah and Poskim, in "questions and answers", and the entire sea of rabbinical literature. He knew very well the history of our nation. He didn't draw his knowledge from the history books but from the sources. With all of that, this wonderful man knew that we liked him and appreciated him very much, because he was sick. At times he complained about it. As far as we remember him, he was quiet and polite, but an elder from Lenin, Mr. Avner Golob, said that he used to go wild during the first days of his illness. Once, Moshe-Yakov Temkin saw him running wild in the street. He tried to calm him down, but Chaim slapped Moshe-Yakov in the face. A few hours later, Chaim calmed down, came to Moshe-Yakov and asked for forgiveness.

When he felt better he divorced his wife, who immigrated later on to the United States together with her daughter. Chaim remained lonely, and since then slept at the home of
Yehiel Temkin.

[Page 131]

Bere'le the Bookseller

by Yitzchak Slutzky

Translated by Sara Mages

No one knew from where this man came to the town of Lenin and for what reason, and when he was asked about it, he avoided giving a clear answer.

Some said that was forced to leave his hometown, somewhere around Vilna, for family reasons. There were those who said, that his town's rabbi ordered him to be a wanderer in a foreign land because he committed a sin. Some whispered that this man was involved in a political movement, and escaped his town from the agents of the Tsarist regime. It was impossible to believe that this uneducated man had a position in a political movement.

He was short but sturdy, and his beard and mustache were slightly trimmed. His boots, with the folded gaiters, were polished to a shine, an act of a soldier.

[Page 132]

If someone from our town wore such shoes, and put a hat with a shiny visor on his head –our townspeople would scorn him, and see in it a sign of imitation to the way the young gentiles dressed in the city. But no one wondered about him because he was weird in his manners, and everyone attributed his habits to his unknown place of origin.

When he arrived to our town he settled in the small room in the new synagogue, and became a helper to Mordechai Steinbeck, the head sexton. All the cleaning work was done by Bere'le the bookseller, and everything was sparkling clean. Everything that came to his hands was fixed. This man loved to work and made sure that everything was clean.

On Sabbath eve, after his hands gave the synagogue the look of a parlor, the head sexton would appear dressed in sparkling clean Sabbath clothes, wearing a hat and sometimes a top hat. His beard was combed and his mustache was made. He lit the lamps and the candles with a gesture of greatness, like he was saying: “Surely, I'm an educated man but I'm not ashamed to be a sexton, and I don't see any degradation in it. On the contrary, I bring the duty of a sexton to a higher level”.

As can be learned from the nickname bookseller, Bere'le had another occupation: he sold books – Siddurim, Tkhinot [supplications], Tehillim, Mezuzot, Tallitot and Tzitziot. He also sold reading books in Yiddish, the stories of “Hershale of Ostropoler”, and others. He kept his books in locked boxes that he stored in the synagogue's “eastern” benches. When the “Cheder Metukan” [reformed school] was opened, he became a textbook supplier, and saw himself as the only bookseller in town. Woe to the one who failed, and brought back a Hebrew book for his son or daughter, when he returned from a business trip to Minsk.

Bere'le also had another business: he was a water drawer, especially river water for the town's privileged, and who boasted that hard well water won't reach their samovars, only soft river water. When they invited a person for a cup of tea, they promised and assured him, that he'll only drink river water. Bere'le was an inventor. In the summer he installed two wheels to a barrel, harnessed himself to the barrel, and pulled it to the town. In the winter he attached a small sled the same barrel.

Bere'le the bookseller had another occupation: he was a night watchman. He also fulfilled this duty with joy and elation. There was no one like him when he wandered in the town's streets at midnight, announcing with the Purim gragger that he held in his hand, that “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep”. The sound of the gragger was rhythmical and measured. This duty gave him a lot of pleasure. He saw himself as the patron of the town, as if the town's security was placed in his hands, because Bere'le had a great imagination.

Bere'le was also a collector of weird items: empty match boxes and materials that he stored in the synagogue's attic.

As no one knew from where and why he came to our town, no one knew why he suddenly left and disappeared. Some said they saw him around Vilna, old and tired, begging from door to door---


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