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[Page 260]

Jewish Theatre

by Shlomo Rubin

Translated by Rabbi Ezra Boyarsky

I am not in a position to offer a detailed description of the development of the Yiddish theatre in Rakishok. I recall that as a child of ten, I thought of an idea as to how to entertain the wedding guests after the musicians had already left and the young people danced, but without music. So I sang and acted out a folk song that was popular in those days. The song dealt with an elderly man who was isolated in a foreign land away from his family who had abandoned him. I dressed up in old, long clothes and assumed the role of the old man. This was my debut as an actor. At that age I had no idea what theatre was all about. As a matter of fact, I did not even know that such a thing existed in the world.

A short while later there came to Rakishok a dramatic director from Warsaw who, with the cooperation of some interested townspeople, produced a play in the hall of the fire department. I went to see the play and, as was then the custom, dancing followed the end of the performance. I mingled with the dancing couples, hoping to bump into the performing artists, but no such luck. My ambition was to meet real flesh and blood artists face to face, and to experience the feeling of what it is like to actually stand on the stage.

A few years later, a wonderful theatre company came to Rakishok. The director chose some local talent, including me, and together with the actors he brought, we successfully performed a number of plays. I played the part of the matchmaker in the play “Hertzele Meyuchos.” To this day I remember the poke I received from the “mekhutn” (son-in-law’s or daughter-in-law’s father). In those days the theatre performances were more realistic--a poke was actually a poke, and a slap was a slap.

The theatre fascinated me, so I decided to produce a play in a private home, and for this I chose “Mit Dem Shrum” (With the Current) by the well-known Yiddish author, Sholom Ash. I was also instrumental in establishing a small amateur theatre and musical group. One of the performances was: “Oh, You Tiny Little Candles"--a reference to the Hanukah lights. I gave my little sister a part in the play.

We followed this up with one-act plays by the famous humorist author Sholom Aleichem. Admission was free, and we always had a full house. Those who could not find room inside stood on the window sills. We enlivened the town, and enjoyed the popularity and the acclaim of the viewers.

Years later, we put on plays from the repertoire of the famous playwright, Y. Gordin. With the passage of time, new business enterprises were opened in our town and Rakishok experienced a period of growth. A bank was opened which necessitated the importation of bookkeepers from larger cities. Some of the newcomers also had a passion to perform in Yiddish theatre, and their enthusiasm gave Rakishok a shot in the arm. This brought intensive theatre activity, and the theatre was now moved to a large auditorium with a real stage where we could have stage scenery, props, and decorations.

In 1915 I was mobilized and served in the Russian army. At the end of 1922, I returned home and brought with me many plays from the Russian theatre where I worked as a make-up artist. Rakishok received me with open arms, and I found in the theatre there a wide range of activity. We concentrated on plays and dramas by Sholom Aleichem, Yaakov Gordin, D. Pinsky, and Yud Leib Peretz. It became clear to us that through the medium of the theatre, we could disseminate Yiddish culture: every performance made a cultural impact on the audience and brought joy to the town. Throughout, we maintained a high standard, and our repertoire contained only the best creations of the Yiddish classicists. We never considered literary trash.

I left for South Africa, but the Yiddish theatre continued to function in Rakishok. According to the reports I received in 1928, there were several dramatic groups with talented actors who performed under a collective directorship. Evidently, each group wanted to preserve its own character. Some of the actors belonged to the Culture League which at that time was illegal.

I regret that I do not have precise details concerning the Rakishok Yiddish Theatre, which occupied a respectable position in the communal and cultural life of the town.

[Pages 264-268]

The People's Bank

by M. B.

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Pursuant to an unpublished book about “the Jewish People's Bank in Lithuania,” in which there is information collected by the inspectors from the Jewish banking system – B. Entelis and Y. Borvin – during the course of the 21st of December 1926 to the 28th of February, 1927, we learn about the Rakishok People's Bank and several important figures among the Jews in Rakishok.

The inspection report begins with the following introduction:

“Rakishok (the name of the train station is the same name) counts 2,013 souls in the number of its Jewish population.*)
The main pursuit of the Jewish population is the usual small trade and as artisans; the flax and seed trade (export) particularly developed here.

Before the war [World War One] a Jewish loan and savings fund functioned here that failed with the start of the war; the present People's Bank was founded in July 1920 (according to the initiative of the national council) and includes in its circle of activity, in addition to Rakishok itself, several surrounding towns: Abele [Obeliai] (10 members), Kamay (7 members), Ponedel [Pandëlys] (6 members), Anisishak [Anèiðkis] and Panemunok [Panemunëlis], and so on (7 members).

A Jewish “Society for Mutual Credit” also exists here.”

According to the Rakishok bank report, which was put together by the above mentioned inspectors – on the 10th of March, 1927, we learn the following:

“The Rakishok People's Bank numbered 464 members whose professional standing was the following: tradesmen-204; artisans-123; merchants and industrialists-44; agricultural workers and gardeners-6; workers and wagon drivers-25; employees-25; independent professionals-37.”
Fifteen Christians were also included in the Rakishok general membership.

The People's Bank in Rakishok provided long term and short term loans.

Long term loans were given the debtor for up to 500 lit, terms – to six months with further prolonged charges – 15% a year; (partly as a pledge). An exception of no pledge was made for the Rakishok Artisans Union that paid 10% yearly – under the guarantee of a private promissory note.

Short term loans were given on one account, in a sum up to 5,000 lit; interest 24% yearly; terms – up to three months; guarantee – promissory note in a deposit bond.

In the course of 26 years were distributed:

Long-term loan in the sum of 59,576 lit;
Short-term loans in the sum of 224,516 lit.
In addition to loans, the bank carried out various collections and cashier operations both in cash and with cargo, took deposits and it figured in the typical credit for those who emigrated to South Africa. The bank report provides the following version:
“The bank still gives in several cases a great deal of specific credit, namely: it buys a check for 35 pounds (the minimum that an emigrant needs to possess according to certain decrees) for this or that person, who emigrates from here to Africa, taking for it a promissory note, guaranteed by another local person. Thus, for example, at the moment of the inspection, the shown sum (35 pounds – 1,729 lit) was charged to the account of a certain Mr. Sher, a relative of someone who traveled to Africa.”
The People's Bank had its own building, the worth of which was (according to its [bank] balance) – 36,908 lit.

It had its own statute that was registered on the 23rd of June, 1920.

The system also had, among other items, an item concerning the size of fee that was 10 lit and also the maximum credit to one member – in the sum of 5,000 lit.

The leadership of the bank consisted of: a council (nine people), a managing committee (three people) and an audit commission of three people.

The personnel of the bank consisted of:

Bookkeeper Mr. German with a salary of 400 lit;
Treasurer Mr. Milner with a salary of 300 lit;
Assistant bookkeeper Mr. Lipovitz with a monthly salary of 300 lit;
Secretary Mr. Bar with a monthly salary of 300 lit;
Clerk Mr. Idelson with a monthly salary of 200 lit;
Courier with a monthly salary of 125 lit.
The bank's balances up to the 1st of January, 1927, were the following:

Passive Active
Cash for Immediate Disbursements17,687 lit Receipts1,920 lit
Reserve and other capital51,600 lit Amounts in correspondent loans15,136 lit
Deposits51,543 lit Loans:
Savings Deposits2,630 lit     Long Term61,130 lit
Credit from Central Bank:      Short Term223,612 lit
Bonds60,000 lit Renewals50,472 lit
Renewals56,000 lit Artisan Loans125 lit
Current Accounts91,495 lit Discounts79,676 lit
Promissory Note-Credit35,280 lit Past Due Amounts3,300 lit
Installment Payments3,466 lit Committed Amounts309,424 lit
Drafts74,214 lit Household36,908 lit
Committed Amounts375,053 lit Stocks, Bonds and Mortgages15,283 lit
 Receipts/Income: % of Loans32,842 lit
Payments Repaid18,604 lit
Miscellaneous18,969 lit Protest Costs331 lit
 Recurring Expenses362 lit
 Insurance Society1,000 lit
 Salaries and Personnel20,914 lit
 Miscellaneous Expenses8,191 lit
 Interest from Commissions16,760 lit
 Income from Stocks7,640 lit
 ---------------  ---------------
Sum Total870,788 lit Sum Total870,788 lit

There are a series of statements about the general performance and instructions from Inspector B. Entielis which also characterize the economic crisis in the shtetl at that time and it is therefore worthwhile to publish several:

“Excluding the 'Recurring Expenses' about which inadequate movement is noticed here in the extensions that are widely applied, only old debts are recorded here. Debts of around 112,000 lit (40% of the long and short term loans), among which the bank itself counts up to the present moment, 40,000 lit, as entirely lost.

“All hopeless debts (including also long term debts) to be terminated (disbursed at approximate dates) and the terms that will be established need the approximate sums to be strictly observed.

“No loans can be given out without a determined term and, at that, the long term loans must be given out to be repaid in installments (and not all at once).

“Credit should not be given to the same person simultaneously with various accounts (such as running accounts, discounts, renewed amounts and so on), as is now done in the bank and is a factor in that several people actually owe very significant amounts.

“The collection process needs to be taken care of accurately.

“The disbursed collected freight without the backing of security money (guarantees) cannot be practiced further in what is an immoderate manner.

“The fictitious loans and deposit accounts must no longer be carried.”

All of the conclusions in the bank report provide evidence that the Jewish economic situation in the shtetl and its surroundings was at that time not a good one and the Jewish merchant did not stand on a firm foundation.

* According to a letter from YIVO, with the signature of Mark Yoweliner, dated the 24th of May, 1951 and addressed to Sh. Rubin, secretary of the Landsleit Union of Rakishok and Surroundings, the following information is presented:

“In the Evreiskaya Entsiclopediya (Russian), published by Brockhaus and Efron, Petersburg, vol. 13, column 298, there is a note about Rakishok that we present here in Yiddish translation:

“Rakishok, Kovno Gubernia, Novoaleks County. According to the Census of 1847, 'the Rakishok Jewish community' (kehile?) consisted of 593 souls. According to the enumeration of 1897 there were 2,736 residents in Rakishok. Of them 2,067 Jews.” Return

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