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[Page 319]


R'Avraham-Yitzhak Chinitz

by Avraham Yitzhak Slutzki (New-York)

Translated by Yocheved Klausner




He was tall, thin and very handsome. Any one who saw him for the first time would stop and admire his stature again and again: “Has Dr. Herzl raised from his grave?!”… Because R'Avraham-Yitzhak looked exactly like Dr. Herzl: the same tall stature, the same excellence and splendor, the same black beard and the same beautifully shaped lips.

He was one of the six sons-in-law of R'David Grayew, and was always worrying about getting enough “parnose” [livelihood, making a living]. His large house, in the center of the Shtetl served as a guest-house (hotel) and he was devoted to serve the community.

Thanks to his initiative the New Synagogue was built, and for many years he was the gabbay.

He was blessed with a pleasant voice, and our people enjoyed having him pray as cantor, and even more so on the High Holydays – Rosh-Hashana and Yom Kipur.

His children immigrated to America, and in 1921 R'Avraham-Yitzhak left Lenin as well and joined his children. He served as Rabbi in one of the synagogues in Brooklyn.

After the First World War, when the economic situation in Lenin became worse and the number of the needy people grew every day, R'Avraham-Yitzhak devoted himself, with soul and life, to organizing an aid-campaign among our Landsmanshaft in America for their impoverished brothers at home.

No obstacle could have prevented R'Avraham-Yitzhak Chinitz from making the effort and come to the meetings of the Landsleit – not bad weather nor his advanced age… His house was always the center of activity… Together with his daughter Itka, they carried the heaviest burden, more than their strength could endure. And now, when R'Chinitz died, she continues his work, may God give her strength.

His funeral was one of the biggest in Brooklyn. Great rabbis eulogized him, and thanks to him our Landsmashaft is active to this day.

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Uncle R'Moshe

by Aharon (Arke) son of Avraham-Yitzhak Chinitz

Translated by Yocheved Klausner




He was my grandmother Henye's brother. We called him Uncle Moshe; in town he was known as “R'Moishe.”

He made his meager living by being a melamed [Torah teacher of young children]. What did he need? A cup of tea and a pack of tobacco was all he needed in this world, he never felt the need of cash in his pocket. The tuition he was paid was managed by his wife aunt Bashe. He never asked for anything, the most important thing for him was study. All day long he was busy with his Cheder, and at four o'clock before dawn he would begin his own study, after he had studied until late at night.

Uncle Moshe's life consisted of learning without end. When he needed to visit his sick mother in Bobruisk, he took with him the necessary books, and studied while on the wagon or the train. Many, many pages of the Talmud he knew by heart.

On the Sabbath he would entirely remove himself from this world, as if a thick wall would be raised as a border between him and everything else. All week he did not speak words that were not connected with Torah study, but on the Sabbath he did not speak at all. All day he prayed and studied passionately, almost angrily, as if he wanted to chase “bad thoughts” out of his mind. His utterance of the word EHAD in the prayer of Shema Israel was recognized in the entire town: long and loud, with much truthfulness, dedication and zeal. In the Bet Midrash, he did not seek the Mizrach seat [the honored seat in the East side of the synagogue]; he sat in the corner, in the West side, among the “simple people,” at the long table where he would give a Mishna lesson after prayer. On Sabbath he was the last to leave the synagogue, and walked not seeing the street; he would recite all the time verses from the Bible. When someone greeted him “Gut Shabes” [A good Sabbath] he would reply “Sabbath,” “Sabbath,” without the word “good” because the word “good” was a weekday word, a secular, not holy word.

I liked more the weekday uncle Moshe, because on the Sabbath he was too strict, too far away. On Shabbath afternoon, when I

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would come to him to learn “Perek” [Pirkei Avot = The Wisdom of the Fathers], he was strict, not the weekday Uncle Moshe with the childish smile on his beautiful shining face. He loved people and people loved him. He saw everything and everyone on the side of merit. I remember, once somebody came to him and told him that the dentist Noah, Berl Baruchin's son, does not participate in prayer. –“At least he puts on the Tefillin?” – “No, Rabbi.” – “Impossible, impossible” – he cried with pain. He could not believe that a Jew would not put on his Tefillin. Such a thing was unthinkable.

When one came to him with a Shale [question, religious problem] when the Rabbi of the shtetl was not at home, he would work very hard and make every effort to give a verdict of “Kasher” – everything to the side of merit.

Hos modesty was unlimited. I was a witness once, when somebody brought him a present, a chicken for the Holiday of Shavuot. He smiled with satisfaction that he was not forgotten, and sighed with pleasure: “Why did I deserve this?” – it was too good for him, to enjoy something of this world. His wife, aunt Bashe, would complain against him, why he was so distanced from this world. Even in front of me, a boy of 12 years, she complained that uncle Moshe neglects her as a wife. “Only Talmud and TANACH, Talmud and TANACH. This is all he knows” – she grumbled. To calm her a little, uncle Moshe promised her that he will give her half of his Olam Haba [the World to come]…

I shall never forget how easy it was for me to obtain from him the copper dreidl as a Chanuka gift (Chanuka money). As soon as the door opened he carried it to me with joy. It was the only time in the year when he had his own little money, to use as Chanuka money for the children who came to claim it.

I remember: one summer afternoon, uncle Moshe studied with us a page of the Talmud. He moved his body back and forth and spoke loudly from the depths of his heart. Suddenly my sister ran in shouting: “Uncle, uncle, a Paritz is calling you, right in our house!” And when the Paritz is calling, one asks no questions. Our uncle, scared, got up from his chair, entered the other room and put on his Sabbath Kapote, and walked to our house, with me running right after him. My father met him outside, and told him the good news, that the “Paritz” was no other than his own brother, Zalman from Baku, whom he had not seen over thirty years.

One has to have a sharp pen, in order to describe the meeting between the two brothers. First of all, uncle Moshe recited a blessing, then they embraced each other and cried like little children. All present, and I among them, helped them cry.

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The weeping could be heard in the entire house. It was like the story of Yosef and his brothers in the Book of Genesis. After they cried out their hearts, they served drinks and the atmosphere became joyful – a real holiday. The festivity continued three days – eating, drinking and having a good time. The whole shtetl was excited and happy. This was the first time that uncle Moshe has spent time dealing with secular matters. For three days he didn't hold his lessons regularly, and we, his pupils, did not go to the cheder. However he did compensate for that after uncle Zalman left. Uncle Zalman, who had become rich in Baku through the sugar commerce, left a few nice rubles for uncle Moshe.

I remember: uncle Moshe received a letter from his other brother, Hillel from Odessa, from whom he hadn't heard for many years. Hillel became rich from the grain trade. The letter was signed: Grenadi Zundelevitch; it means Hillel son of Zundel. Uncle Moshe looked at the signature and became angry: “Well, you want to be Grenadi, let it be; but what do you have against our father?”

The last time that I saw my uncle was before I went into service, when I came to say good-bye to him. He accompanied me to the door and said to me, angrily: “I am telling you, a soldier you will never be, this is what I'm telling you!” – he repeated this several times.

He died while I was in the Russian army. I was not at his funeral. I was told, that while in his sick bed, he was very sad that he had to skip several times “putting on the Tefillin.

His study was also interrupted many times during the First World War, because of lack of petrol to light the lamp. He studied “by heart” as much as he could. By the end of his life he had a small “collision” with the sergeant. It was Friday evening, during the war, when it was not permitted to use lights at night because of the airplanes. Uncle Moshe was studying by the light of his small lamp. The sergeant ran in shouting angrily: “Turn it off, turn it off!” But my uncle – would he possibly desecrate the Holy Sabbath? – nonsense. The sergeant was yelling “off!” and uncle Moshe was running around murmuring to himself “off' off.” Naturally, at the end the sergeant was the one who extinguished the lamp, not uncle Moshe.

[Page 323]

Autobiography of Avrohom-Yitskhok Slutsky

by Mordkhai Zaytshik

Translated by Stephen M. Cohen, Ph.D.

I was born in the month of Kislev, in the year 5648 (December 1888). I was the third son. The two children before me (boys) did not survive their third birthday, and before I entered the world, my mother, as she used to say, remained with “empty hands”. The cause of their early death was the crowdedness, poverty, and want, and, above all, the epidemic childhood diseases that rampaged wildly and untamed in those days. They therefore could say, “eyn beys, asher eyn sham meys” [no house without death therein]. Very rarely were there parents who raised all their children to adulthood.

When my mother came to the time to bring me into the world, she decided to change residence and tried to give birth in Lakhva, whence she originated, and where she had her whole family. And actually in Lakhva, on a frosty night, my mother (upon her be peace), at her uncle's home, behind the oven, brought me into the world. And there, behind the oven, I noticed for the first time the bright shine of—an oil lamp….

Thereafter, they brought me into the covenant of Avraham Avinu [Abraham our Ancestor], gave me the name “Avrohom Yitskhok”, and blessed me, “zeh hakotn godol yihyeh” [This little one will be great], and I was already a youth of 4 weeks old, when my mother had to return home to Lenin. Burdened with fear for the life of her child, she took me to the old Lakhva rabbi, the esteemed sage R' Dov Ber Zts”l, who blessed me, that I should extend my days and my parents should live to see me raised to Torah, to the marriage canopy, and to good deeds. Because of this, the rabbi laid upon me a third name, Alter [the old one]. So I still call myself “Alter Avrohom Yitskhok”. If all the attempted methods caused me to be able to write this in my sixty-fourth year—I don't know, perhaps yes….Because in the house into which my mother brought me and where her elder two children died, it is really a great miracle that I survived. Even greater is the miracle and wonder that after me were born five more children in that alleged “house”, of which only one, a boy aged three, died of diphtheria. That is amshteygns said was no house, but a grave. A little room with one window, without a bit of sunshine. And so in the “house”, a family of seven souls crammed itself in. Until today, when I think of that time, I get a chill, that grave with many other similar living corpses are gone with the fire in the great conflagration that came about in the year 1904.


My education

The only education that Jewish children received during that time was the kheyder [Hebrew school]. Among parents of the better teachers, they taught beyond that Chumash with Rashi, Tanakh and Gemara, and also writing Yiddish a little, with arithmetic. Russian I learned almost by myself. I was always fluent and had a good head for learning. Four semesters I learned in the Lakhva Talmud-Torah, which had at that time was famous in our area. Many Lenin youths traveled to study in Lakhva. The teachers in Lakhva were straight from Lenin; one, Moyshe the stiblevitsher, the second, Avrohom Bregman, Nisn Bregman's father. Both of them were great Talmudists. The ladder of the Talmud-Torah was at that time Hershl Mendl, Pinye Kaplan's son.

After the four semesters of studying in Lakhva, I could already read a page of Gemara with Tosafot. To my good head for learning I added a good little voice, and I sang for four years with the old cantor, R' Yisroel Khayim (upon him be peace), and used to gain pleasure from my singing the prayers in synagogue. And certainly, with all my abilities, I was no rabbi, as many have suggested, but also no famous cantor. I was a tradesman—a carpenter. In the conditions and circumstances in which I found myself, it was impossible—regardless of my will and diligence—that I could reach something higher. Being a fourteen-year-old youth, I came to Avner Golub in Kantor to learn carpentry. Also, the arrival in Avner's in Kantor was a big thing, to which not all of my equals could attain. In the Kantor carpentry-shop, one worked according to one's own hours, with a two-hour break for lunch. In the other town workshops, they slaved the whole day, including Saturday night. At age 18, I went away to Ekaterinoslav. There, in the big city, I opened up a new world for myself. I joined a reading group, read and learned a lot, and acquired a certain amount of knowledge in Yiddish and Russian literature. I also learned to play a musical instrument (guitar). Politically, I belonged to the “S.S.” (Zionist-Socialists), today's Po'alei-Tsiyon. In general, my three years in Ekaterinoslav were the best years of my life. Attaining 21 years of age, I came home to military conscription. That was at the end of 1909, I was freed from service as a first legotnik, i.e., provider for the family. Six months later, in March 1910, I married my cousin Khave, the daughter of my mother's sister, and in October of the same year we left for America.

Hard, very hard it was for me to separate from my poor, unlucky parents, whose only consolation in their dark life I was. Very dear also were my relatives and friends, and also my dear pals. In America, in the golden land, at the beginning we were just like all greenhorns, going not birdlike. In March of 1911, towards the anniversary of our marriage, my wife gave birth to our first and only son (after him came our three daughters), and life began to flow its normal course.


Landslayt [home-town people]

At that time in America, we already found a quite a few landslayt from Lenin. Some were already here since before the end of the previous century, such as the brothers Benyomin and Mordkhe Zaytshik, the sons of Leybe Feykun. Also Yenkl Medvedyev, who returned to Mikashevitsh, and many others, who came with the immigrant stream at the beginning of the new century. In 1910 I already found here quite a nice fareyn [society]. The goal of the fareyn was at that time to get together twice a month, in order to drive out the feeling of loneliness and pining for the old hometown. Thereby also to help out each other in need, or, God forbid, sickness. The landsmanshaft [home-town society] was founded in October, Khol Ha-Moed Sukkot, 1906, and already owned its own cemetery plot (that is the first thing that landsmanshaftn worry about).

The first week after coming to America, I was immediately attached to my brother landslayt. I came to their get-together, and that was the initiation of my lifelong activities in America. I provided my whole energy, all my abilities for my brother and sister landslayt in all domains, both in joy, and, God forbid, in sorrow. In brief, I took part in all activities of our landslayt organization: philanthropic activities, communal and national ones, such as the “United Jewish Appeal”, etc.

Our landsmanshaft has nothing to be ashamed of, with its work in all domains. Just the opposite, in fact: it brings itself closer to the moment when our landsmanshaft will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. We will have much to explain, as a small bunch of immigrants showed so much accomplishment.

I am proud that I and my wife Khave have a big share in all the good deeds.

[N.B.: Lakhva and Mikashevitsh are nearby shtetls; Kantor is a town whose non-Yiddish name I have not researched. All words and names are transliterated according to YIVO conventions. The abbreviation R' stands for “Reb”, a respectful honorific for Jews similar to “Mr.”, and is left untranslated.]


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