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[Page 15]

Mariampol Then and Now

By M.A.S. Bulletin Staff of Chicago

Lithuania, and Lithuanian towns, whatever their names may be, mean very little to us now. Our people, our near ones are gone, brutally murdered. Yet, some place deep within us, memories of the old town and surroundings do creep in. We recall what life there once was and never will be again. A Landsman who survived and visits Mariampole now and then sent in a letter with a description of the present day Mariampole, and of Lithuania in general. There's a big building boom there now. Houses and homes, government and privately owned are going up like mushrooms. The cheapest thing there is rent since most of the real estate belongs to the government. Clothes and shoes are prohibitive, since their cost is above the reach of the average person. There's only a skeleton left from the large Jewish population that was once in Lithuania, Jews now live in Vilno and in Kovno. the once agricultural Lithuania is fast becoming industrialize. Factories of all kinds are opening up. Mariampole is entirely rebuilt with new industries. It would be hard to recognize it. There's no Jewish life in our home town, as there is a lack of Jewish activities all over the country. The martyrs' graves are still neglected. No monument is over it. There they lay, our brothers and sisters, as a silent protest. The few Mariampoler Jews who survived, live also in Kovno and in Vilna. The terrible ordeal they went through made most of them hard and bitter and suspicious of each other. “I heard about Mariampolers unity in America, of the reunions you hold each year when Mariampolers get together. There's no such thing here”, says the writer. “The gifts which some of us are getting from our Chicago Landslite (The M.A.S.) are to a certain degree a morale lifter. It rebuilds confidence. When one gets a package from you, he and his family cry for joy, and it isn't so much what the package contains, as the knowledge that there are still friends thinking of them. And, by the way, the materials in your packages are of the greatest use.”

Cold weather in the States recalls the real cold winters of Old Mariampole. The winter spelled the real thing. Below zero weather – streets filled high with frozen snow – ovens in homes were heated to capacity. Wood and turf were the heating materials. The Sheshupe river was solidly frozen so that people from Mariampole could easily walk over the solid ice to “Terputs”, a village near Mariampole. Sleighing and ice skating were the order of the day for the youngsters. Not all of the kids were able to own ice skates, but they would supplement same with a piece of wood tied solidly to the shoe. Youngsters were envious of people who owned a sleigh. Some who possessed a sleigh and horse would arrange sleighing parties. What rides they were! Happy youngsters smothered in Mama's best woolen blankets. A “Kapishon” or as some called it, “Bashliek” wrapped tightly over their ears. The driver cracks his whip as the merry parties sleigh on in the crispy winter air. Remember?

“As we see 'em” – If Mr. Sam Solomon would know that we are to write about him, we know he would say, “Please don't because Sam is the type of fellow who never pushes himself to the front. What he does for others he does out of the goodness of his heart; we feel that we owe a bouquet to Sam, because he does a lot to help out in our charity work. Sam was the first one to make contact with surviving Mariampolers. And ever since he acts as their Angel of Mercy. Often Sam digs in his own pocket and adds to our packages. He writes to Mariampolers here and abroad. Indeed, he is the Good Will ambassador of the M.A.S. Wherever Sam goes he preaches M.A.S. He acquaints Mariampolers about our work and efforts. He contacts Mr. Samuel Gold in Los Angeles and enrolled him as a member. In New York he did likewise. Sam makes good use of his vacations during the summer to make friends and to raise a few more dollars for his M.A.S. Sam has a helpful partner in his loving wife Belle. We salute Sam and Belle and hope that they will carry on with us for many more years to come.”

“Wash days” – There's nothing romantic or exotic about washing dirty clothes. It's a necessary and boring chore for the housewife, but the process of washing in old Mariampole is so much in contrast to the American way of washing. Besides even humble wash days are part of a life in the Old World now vanished. And now, let's travel many years back to a wash day in Old Mariampole. The preparations there for washing up clothes were many. It began with the gathering of “leg” a mixture of rain water and wood ashes. The rain water was

[Page 16]

caught in large barrels which were placed for that purpose beneath the shingled roofs. The family wash was done there two or three times a year. The home took on a “new look” on wash days. Planks of wood were placed near the open brick oven. large wooden wash tubs, with plenty of long bars of soap were the next important items. A large copper “kessel” kettle found its place of honor on the oven. The washing was done at night time by professional women. All night long they would scrub and wash. From time to time they would fortify themselves with liberal portions of “rozeve” pumpernickel bread, herring, tea. the process was simple; wash the clothes, place them in the copper kettle which was kept boiling “full steam ahead”. On the next day the clothes were taken to the “Sheshupe” river or to the “Yevonke” creek where they were thoroughly rinsed and beaten with a “pralnik”. Now a “pralnik” – you'll recall – was a wooden grooved trowel. Satisfied with the rinsing, t he clothes were hung for drying. The usual drying place was the attic. Next, it was taken to Chaye Liebes' mangler. The mangler or “Mangle” as it was better known, was a contraption of a large wooden box filled with rocks to weigh it down. Wooden rollers, around which the linens were wrapped, were placed under the mangler, which kept moving back and forth by means of a pulley and a large wheel. When the clean laundry finally reached home again, it was mended where needed and neatly placed in a linen place, ready for the family to change their undies on Shabbas. Remember?

 

Echo of the Beilis Trial

An echo of the not so far past has reached us in Chicago with the passing of Dimitri G. Barsky. In 1911 Mr Barsky made international headlines as the result of his role in the Beilis ritual murder trial in Kiev. He was then an attorney in the Czarist government of Nicholas the Second. It tried to prove that Mandel Beilis, a Jew who lived in Kiev, killed a young boy in compliance with an alleged blood ritual. Protesting against what he believed to be a spurious legal case, Mr. Barsky resigned his post as Government Attorney and joined several other lawyers in defending Beilis. The trial lasted two years. Prominent figures the world over denounced the Czarist prosecution of Beilis, charging it constituted a deliberated act of Anti–Semitism. Your correspondent remembers a protest meeting of that kind here in Chicago. It was held in the Auditorium Theater. Rabbi Efraim Epstein, and if memory recalls right, the Governor of Indiana were among the speakers at that meeting. Mendel Beilis was finally acquitted.

The charge that Jews use blood for ritual was proven false. Mr. Barsky earned the gratitude of Jews everywhere for human part in the Beilis trial. We join in honoring the memory of this noble man. Mr. Barsky was not Jewish.

Help us out, we need it, is the plea from the few Mariampolers who survived the terrible Nazi period. These – our own people – are now in Vilno, in Kovno, in Siberia, and in other parts of the world. You M.A.A. is helping these survivors to the best of our ability. It's clothes and shoes that they need. Some also ask for medicine. Mrs. Sonia Kurs and Mr. Sam Solomon see that packages go out. All of these survivors are remnants from once large families. When they come across the name of our M.A.S., they immediately write to us and we do what we can in our small way. Names of our survivors are constantly mentioned in our Bulletins. If you happen to recognize a name, or maybe it's a kinfolk to you, please contact us. Write to our Secretary, Mrs. Sonia Kurs, and she will be glad to furnish you the address.

In the heart of each one is the desire to do good, to help his fellow man. Some people are fortunate to have the means to carry out their wish to do good to others. Groups such as our M.A.S. gives them an outlet for their desire to help–. It's really you, by your donations and work who is helping those in need through your M.A.S. Collectively we can do things which would have been denied to us as individuals. Support your M.A.S.! Obey that impulse!

 

Slaughter of the Mariampole Jews

The following was received by Mr. Sam Solomon from a boyhood friend who survived the terrible slaughter of Mariampole Jews. “Dear Sam: In answer to your question as to how our people died – while recently in our home town, Mariampole, I spoke to several Christians about it. They told me that the Jews from our town were given an order to dig a number of trenches. the place was near the “kazarmes” army barracks on the “Samankes”. On Friday, September 2, 1941, our people were driven to the barracks. They were forced to dig the trenches. When they learned on Saturday that the trenches they were digging were graves for themselves, they threw down the shovels, and refused to dig any further. Next day, Sunday, the first of the killings began. They were shot down, men, women, and babies in their mothers' arms, and thrown into the open trenches. On Monday the killings were continued until some eight thousand Jews, all of the Jewish people of Mariampole and the surrounding country were murdered.”

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The Yahrzeit for our murdered kin should be on Yom Kippur. When we attended services during the recent Yom Kippur, we all said “Yizkor” for our dead. On the walls of the synagogues of Lithuania are marked down the towns and number of people killed by the cursed fascists. “Adonai Yinkom es domom” May God take revenge for the innocently spilled blood.”

Each mail brings to us a few letters from newly found surviving landslite. The stories in these letters are all the same. “I was the only one left,” etc. They all ask for help – mainly clothes. No old clothes are accepted for shipment to Lithuania; it has to be new material. Our Society is doing its best to fulfill each applicant's wish. Each package costs us duty included, seventy or more dollars.

 

A Salute to Youth –

fifty years of M.A.S. activities lies behind us. With the celebration last year of our Golden anniversary, we closed a glorious chapter of noble efforts to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We shall now stand on our record and let history judge us. We now enter the first year of a new half–century mark – the fifty–first year of M.A.S. activity. I would like to dedicate this year's Reunion as a salute to our youth – to the sons and daughters, yes, even to our grandchildren! I hereby extend an earnest invitation to our children to come in to the M.A.S. – join us and take over, lock, stock and barrel. For us, your parents, it's hard to think of our little M.A.S. as a “last man's club”. Old timers, men and women who worked all through their lives for their M.A.S. are leaving with a very fast pace. It's up to you youngsters to step in and fill in the ever diminished ranks. Come in, make the M.A.S. whatever you believe it should be. We realize that the name Mariampole may mean to you only the place where your parents came from. To us, your elders, that name stands for memories of youth and childhood, for calls and traditions as we knew them in the Old World, of living parents, sisters, brothers, of youthful hopes. to you, our American born children, Mariampole can't hold the tender memories as re recall them. You, living in blessed America, have accumulated different memories. Impressions of men and women born in a free world – as free citizens. If that is what you youngsters would want to perpetuate, by all means come in to your parents' M.A.S. and make it whatever you want it to be. Take over the leadership. Plan affairs, doings. You already have the start of a new administration who joined the M.A.S. int he person of Mrs. Morris Seidler, a recently elected vice–president. Come in and give this fine young lady a hand. Sons and daughters of ours – our own flesh and blood – this is a direct appeal to you. Come in, join up, and may the M.A.S. live for many more years to come.

  Sincerely,
Albert Margowsky, President

A “Yishuv” is the Hebrew for a settlement. A “Yishuvnik” is one who lives in the settlement or in a Russian village, isolated from other Jews. Living away from Jewish surroundings and environments, the “Yishuvnik” was lax in the observances of Jewish religious laws and customs. Indeed, he sometimes had forgotten most of them. Nevertheless, he felt himself as a Jew, wanted to right himself with God, and his fellow Jews of larger populated Jewish communities. If he was a man of means, he would hire a Hebrew teacher to teach his children Hebrew, the Bible and the fundamentals of the Jewish faith. For the High Holidays, he would bring his family to the nearest town, so as to be able to attend services in a Synagogue. Of course there were some “Yishuvniks” who settle in villages through marriage. Prior to his marriage he might have been a poor “Yeshiva Bochur” a Talmudic student who was recommended to a “Yishuvnik” as a good husband for his daughter. Such a man knew of Jewish ritual and law, but wasn't able to follow them due to his surroundings. But this “Yishuvnik” of whom we want to talk about right now was born in a small Russian village. He married and raised a family there, and wanted them to fulfill the obligation incumbent upon a Jew. With the approach of Passover, he made a special trip to the nearby town where he purchased all the special “Pesachdige” food. However, on the eve o Pesach, he was sorely distressed. He hadn't the faintest idea of how to conduct a Seder. His wife too was of no help to him. A Jewish neighbor lived not far from our “Yishuvnik”, so he sent his wife to look in his neighbor's window and to note how a “Seder” is conducted. It was quite a walk for the wife but here she was at the other Jew's window. But, alas, what she saw there made her shiver. That fellow was slapping his wife's face, and beating her up unmercifully. Believing that this scene she witnessed was part of a “Seder” ritual, the woman came back to her home very depressed. “Well, how's a Seder conducted?” asked her husband. She remained silent. Time and again he asked her, but still she remained silent. The result was that our “Yishuvnik” lost his patience and began to slap his wife. “If you know how a Seder is conducted, why did you send me to look in other people's window?” the wife meekly complained.

[Page 18]

“Biersze” of “Green” Ones

The anniversary of the great Chicago fire on Oct. 8–9, 1871 was observed by the fire department during Fire Prevention Week. Mrs. O'Leary's cow is blamed for that conflagration. It's interesting to note that 5588 De Doven Street, where the fire started, and the neighborhood around, was at one time an entirely Jewish neighborhood. Many a newcomer to America, including many of our Landslite, got their first “foot–warming” on the old West side around Maxwell Street. Hasted and Twelfth Streets was the “Bierze” the meeting place and promenade of many a “Green” one. One was always sure to run into a familiar face who just came from a– cross the sea and was looking for friends. Jewish neighborhoods kept pushing on further west to the beautiful Douglas Park district, nicknamed “Deutschland” and from there it spread to parts north, west and south.

Mariampolers will recall the old “Schul” building and its peculiar construction. It was very tall. The windows in the Schul were small and way up to the top, almost near the roof top. Part of the Schul was dug in the ground. The Beth Hamedrash was nearby. It was all surrounded by a stockade of wooden blocks. Miss Anna Kurs recalls her grandfather Hirshel Chaneles tell of why the Schul was built that way, almost like a fortress; it was meant to be a protection against hostile mobs. The Schul had a fine hand carved “Oren Kodesh” ark and it reached from the bottom up to a height of about three stories. The Mariampole Schul also had rare hand–paintings representing scenes and places in the Holy Land. The Schul, we are told, is still standing, and is now being used by Lithuanians as a storage house.

Judge Harry Fisher – Chicago lost a great jurist and lost a great champion with the passing of Judge Fisher. The Judge came to Chicago when he was only 10 years old. To help out his family he sold newspapers. At 13 he had to go to work. Young Harry became a cap maker and when the cap makers went on strike in 1901, he was their leader. While he worked days, he went to school at night and was admitted to the Bar in 1904. He was elected to the Municipal Court in 1912. In 1931 he became Chief Justice of the Criminal Court. Judge Fisher was also a warm Jew; he was an ardent Zionist and championed the cause of a free Israel. The Judge was a Landsman of ours. He was born in Lithuania, was great friends with late Captain Harris, Ike Harris, who was M.A.S. President for several terms. Together they were instrumental in organizing the Knights of Zion, a Jewish semi–military uniformed unit which was the first to carry the Flag of Zion besides the Stars and Stripes in Memorial Day parades on Michigan Avenue.

The family of Mrs. Sadie Cohen lost a devoted mother, and we in M.A.S. have lost a dear friend

 

mare018.jpg
View of the “MARK” Market Place in Mariampole, Lithuania

 

[Page 19]

with the passing of Mrs. Sadie Cohen of South Haven, Michigan. Sadie was an active woman all of her life. When the family lived in Chicago she was the secretary of the Auxiliary of Congregation B'nei Moshe; her husband Jacob was the president of the congregation. They were in the bakery business here and a good portion of their merchandise was passed out free to the needy. When the family moved to South Haven they took on a leading role in Jewish and community activities. Their daughter, Miss Pauline Cohen, is active in Synagogue and communal work in South Haven even now. Her son, Dr. Hymen Cohen,is an ordained Rabbi and a leader among Jewish scholars. Landslite will miss kind Mrs. Cohen when they will go to the South Haven resorts. It was always a must for Landslite to visit the Cohens there, and whenever they visited them, Mrs. Cohen always gave along a donation for her M.A.S. in Chicago. Our sincere sympathy to the bereaved family on their and our loss. Mrs. Cohen was laid to rest Tuesday, December 2, 1958.

Says Mr. Jonathan Batnitzky, “I was very happy to have been amongst you, my friends and Landslite.” It was always my fervent vision to have the opportunity to visit my brother in Chicago and the “Sheritt Hapleta” of our beloved Mariampole. This was the sole aim of my visit to the States and to Chicago. This I accomplished, plus the many friendly Landslite whom I found here. Our town Mariampole was a great Jewish cultural center in Lithuania. We are proud of our heritage, of the cultural institutions in our former home town. I was very touched by our hospitality during my visit; your warm welcome shall remain with me all my life. My thanks to your president Albert Margowsky, to Sonia Kurs, to Louis Lieberman, to Anna Kurs, to Sam Solomon, to Sol Freeman, and all of the M.A.S. members and dear Landslite who made my visit so pleasant. I can truly state that your group is keeping up the spark of brotherly love of our people of Old Mariampole. There are so few Mariampolers living in South Africa, my home, but we look upon you as the continuation of the Mariampole spirit. Our hope and prayers are that, God be willing, you shall be able to continue with your good work for many more years to come.

  M.A.S. BULLETIN CHICAGO – 1958

 

mare019.jpg
Reunion Jewish Academicians, Mariampole – 1933

 


[Page 20]

The Story of M.A.S.[1]

by Albert Margowsky

The story which we are about to hear narrated and enacted is a real story from life. It's the story of a group who didn't want to get lost in this American melting pot. They wished to follow the ideals and the rich heritage of love, kindness and charity which they brought along from across the sea. Through their M.A.S. they carried on their mission of charity, helping the need, healing the sic and cheering the depressed.

Long before our M.A.S. was organized in Chicago, Jews from Mariampole had already settled in Chicago. Historic records mention a Mariampoler Aid Society as far back as 1870, with Duber Ginsburg as its president. In 1870 there also was a Mariampoler “Minyan”. It was located on Polk near Deaborn Streets where the Polk Street Depot now stands. In 1876, the Mariampoler Cemetery in Oakwood on the South Side was founded. Our present M.A.S. came into being on June 7, 1907, at the home and at the call of the late Gedaliah Wolf.

Believe it or not, it was due to a horse that our society became organized. The story goes like this: a Landsman–Peddler lost his horse and the poor man was deprived of earning his living. Gedaliah Wolf heard about it and he immediately called several Mariampolers to his home on Newberry Avenue. Together they talked the thing over. A sufficient sum was given by them for the purchase of a new horse. But this needy Landsman was then not the only one. there were also many others who were unable to make ends meet here. For some it meant the paying of a gas bill, rent, or even the bare necessities of life. So the group decided to found a permanent unit to help our Landslite in need. The name of “Mariampoler and Society” was chosen for the new organization. The date was June 7, 1907. those present at that historic gathering were: Jake Berkson, Archie Hilfman, Elick and Shmaye Berkson, Jake Passman, Lester Paradise, Bernard and Israel Lewis, Gedaliah Wolf and his sons Mendel and Julius, Louie Lieberman happened to visit his Uncle Wolf's home and he was also present.

Hard was the task of the early immigrants – trying to feel their way in a new and strange land. to earn a living, some took to peddling, others went to work in shops of various trades. The hours were long, the pay was small, their environment not too cheerful, having to board out with some family. Their only pleasure and relaxation was, to write letter to folks back home. When the M.A.S. began to take on shape, the lonely Landslite found great relief in their Society to which each new arrival flocked. There he found friends, there he could express himself in his broken English without anyone making fun of him There he would often get “Grussen” (regards) from loved ones back home from the many new immigrants who kept on coming to Chicago. He was among Friends!

When World War One ended, money, clothing, and other help was now being sent to our home town Mariampole. The name for refugees in the Old Country was “Bezintses”. Many of our people in Mariampole had to leave town on account of the war. When they returned they needed everything and we gave it to them to the best of our ability. Institutions there were also in ruins, and we helped them get started again. We carried on in this way for a number of years. But then our activities slowed down. The reason for this was: the single man of yesteryear now began to marry off. Families came, bringing to them new responsibilities. Old timers like Israel Lewis, Jake Passman, Archie Hilfman and others saw their beloved M.A.S. slipping.

1939…A black cloud began to spread over Europe. Nazism, an ideal fostered by a mad man, that the Germans are a super race and the Jew is of lower race and blood. “Kill them, exterminate them,” this man decreed. World War Two now started in full swing. We knew that our people in the Old Home Town were in danger, but we could not reach them…a black curtain of uncertainty was pulled over our people. 1941…On December 7, 1941, the Japanese made their treacherous attack on Pearl Harbor…and America was forced into World War Two. Many of our sons and daughters joined the colors and served America in time of emergency, just as their fathers answered the call in 1917–18. A great number of our children were in the American armed forces during the second great war…all served

[Page 21]

honorably and some with great distinction. Let's just take for an example, Captain Berkson…Yes, our own Abe, the son of Mr. Jake Berkson, who was wounded and received many decorations. Sammy Passman, the sone of the late Jake and Ella Passman, also wounded in the battle of St. Lo. Morrey Travis, son of Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Travis, was wounded at sea. And they were not the only ones. Yes, it could be truthfully said, that we of the M.A.S. have done our share as loyal patriotic Americans when our duty called us and we are still doing it.

World War Two finally came to an end. V.E. and V.J. days were celebrated by us together with all America. The Nazis were crushed in defeat. The moment for which we all prayed for – that with the end of the war we would again help our people, was finally here. But what did we discover? To our grief and sorrow, we learned that all of our people in Mariampole, some 8,000 souls, were brutally murdered by the Germans, and what was more painful, by our former neighbors, the Lithuanians. Only a straggling few, a mere handful, survived. Centuries of old Jewish culture and tradition was torn out by the roots…and an empty space is left in our hearts. The question, “Why?” often arises – but who can give the answer?

 

mare021.jpg
Mariampoler Aid Society, Aug. 9 1911, Taylor and Paulina Hall, Chicago
L.J. Shapiro, Sam goldberg, Morris Fries, Fred Hyman, Morris Silver, Joe Goldberg, Aleck Rogoff, Mr. Epton, Mr. Brem, Albert Margowsky, Leo Teeter, Meyer Berkson, Louis Silver, Mendel Wolf, Sam Berkson, Jack Siegel, Harry Hyman, Ben Berkson, Mr. Goodman, Lester Paradise, Meyer Broude, I. Ofsanick, Bernard Lewis, Harry Rubin, Joe Rubin, Meyer Rabin, Jacob Berkson, Jacob Golan, Israel Lewis, Shmaye Berkson, Barney Tayne, Jacob Passman, Mr. Sindlar, Harry Rabinowitz, Nathan Kahn, Morris Hilfman, Chas. Fine, Herman Angel, Jocob Aling, Joe Budzinsky, Louis Alling, Albert Shapiro, Morris Warsaw, Nathin Rabinowitz

 

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take over. Let's be thankful for America, a land where we are free to practice what we think is right.

We in the M.A.S. are also proud of our M.A.S. Bulletin, a monthly publication which is dedicated to the charitable ideals of our fathers in Old Mariampole, but which is now destroyed forever. The Bulletin keeps Mariampolers the World over united and informed about news concerning Mariampolers. I reaches many foreign countries and many states in the Union.

The M.A.S. is a “Society with a Heart”, and therefore, is well supported by Landslite and their friends.

The M.A.S. has been successful in most of its undertakings, except that somehow we failed to get our American born children interested in the organization that their fathers built.

With the destruction of Old Mariampole, was also destroyed the natural reservoir of potential new members. It's up to the young generation of American born men and women to carry on with the ideas such as the M.A.S. represents.

 

A Greeting from Sonia Kurs, Secretary

To my Friends Everywhere:

It is not easy for us in the M.A.S. to carry on. Much as we hate to admit it, time is catching up with us. We are getting older. Often thoughts creep in, how long shall we be able to carry on? Our membership is now limited, our workers are few.

It's you my dear friends, who are deciding the fate of our beloved M.A.S. As long as you are with us, we shall carry on, and may God grant that you be with us and backing us for many more years to come.

Not that we want to boast about our work, but it would take books and books to enumerate the many things we did and are still doing. Let the future historian talk about us and of our work.

 

Secretary Louis Lieberman's Message

Our hearts are full of thanks and gratitude for this privilege of meeting again with dear friends at this, the Fifty–Second Reunion of our Mariampoler Aid Society.

We are not as young as when this group was organized in 1907. Our hair is now gray, our step has slowed down too, but our will to help those less fortunate than ourselves is just as strong today. With life's experience, it is even stronger than it was these many years ago. We pray Thee, oh God, to grant us strength so that we may be able to carry on with the noble ideals of charity which our Mariampoler Aid Society has followed for more than half a century.

In this hour of joy of meeting with old friends again, we can't help but also recall those of the many loyal founders and friends who are now under thine wings. We feel that from Heaven they look down upon this assembly and say to us, “Carry on – carry on.”

 

mare022.jpg
Maccabi Youth – Mariampole


Footnote

  1. Published on the 50th anniversary of M.A.S. Chicago Return

 

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