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[Page 110]

Way of Life in the Town

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Libraries of Ruzhany



Eliahu Itzkowich the bookbinder (“Eliahu der Einbinder”) was the disseminator of literature in our town and the owner of the first library of the town. He had books of all types: from books of Sheme'r[1] which were enjoyed by the girls of the town to the serious book of Smolniskin and others. For five kopecks, one could read for an entire month. If you only wanted a single book, you would pay one kopeck and get it. Great interest was aroused among the youths of the city when Eliahu left the city and returned with a load of new books. They would hurry to grab the books that had not yet been bound, “as a firstborn before the summer”[2]. The books were only bound in some sort of fashion after they had passed through many hands and their pages had become tattered and scattered. Then, they were able to continue to fulfill their honorable task of disseminating knowledge in the city. This first library included many Russian books: approximately 1,500 for adults and 500 for youths. Similarly, there were approximately 200 Hebrew books from the Haskalah period.

(From Bulia Chowjnik)



It had already been stated in the earlier chapters that during the First World War, the members of “Hazamir” set up a library in Ruzhany that included books in Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, German, etc. The library broke up when the organization broke up. One part formed the foundation of the Y. L. Peretz Public Library and became a Yiddish library, most of whose readers were Bundists or those close to them in spirit. In one corner of that library there were indeed a few Hebrew books published by Shtibel. The second part of the “Hazamir” library formed the foundation of the Hebrew library that was housed in the “Tarbut” Hebrew School and served as a center for nationalistic literature. Most of its readers were active Zionists and their supporters.



The Ruzhany youth also did not hide their hands in the plate, and through the efforts of some of them such as Yeshayahu Kaplan, Moshel Eisenstein, Yisrael Yosef Lewiatan and Zeev Ruszkin, a library was set up in the small room of Yeshaya Kaplan, providing books for several tens of youths for a certain period of time.

From Zeev Ruszkin


The Library in Pavlova

The settlement of Pavlova also followed the path of Ruzhany and founded its own library in the year 1925. There is a story to its founding. A general meeting was called in the women's gallery of the local Beis Midrash, a leadership committee was chosen including

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progressive members such as the tailor Yom Tov Epshteyn and others. Activity began. A one-time fee was imposed upon all of the members, and membership dues were also set. Raffles were organized, and plays were performed in the barn of Dov Sobolsky. Within a short period the needed funds were collected, which were used to purchase the approximately 130 first books in Yiddish that were ordered from the capital Warsaw.

There was a private library in our house, which had many books in Yiddish and Hebrew. I gave them over to the public library that had just been founded, raising the number of books in the library to 350. I was chosen as the secretary of the library, and dedicated myself to that task. For two or three hours each evening, I swapped books with those who wanted them. The library maintained itself for a few years, and served as an important cultural institution in the settlement.

Rafael Karelitz

ruz111.jpg [24 KB] - The Library in Pavlova
The Library in Pavlova
Right to left: Leibel Rubenstyn, Mulia Meller, Avrahamel Lissovsky (standing).
Yom-Tov Epshteyn, Chaim Berkowich, Zeidel Karlits, Yosef Kaplan (standing)


Memories of Childhood


The Symphony of the Eve of the Sabbath

Captivating sounds rose up from the local Talmud Torah. They were going over the weekly Torah Portion (Sedrah). It was the eve of the Sabbath. The voices of the children were not like on other days. One could sense in them the melody of joy and freedom. The voices of the Rebbes were also quite different. They taught the cantillation of the Haftarah with a melody of sublimeness, joy,

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pleasant rest, and a feeling of the approaching Sabbath. The voices were those of the teachers: Aharon Yaakov, the Hebrew teacher who was dedicated to the Talmud Torah (who celebrated with the bride and groom at every wedding, and collected donations for the educational institution that was in need, since most of his students were children of poor families); the second teacher was the week and pale Baron, who taught Chumash and Rashi; behind them was the short Chaim Zerach Rotstein, who smoothed his long beard and swayed as a worshipper when he was teaching Bible and Gemara. The broad-shouldered Rebbe Shmuel Chaim Epltreger, who delved into the sea of Talmud with his students, also lifted up his voice. Conducting all of them was Avigdor Michel Goldberg, who had a splendid visage. He was the principal of the institution, and was dedicated to his holy task. He was imbued with sevenfold pleasure on Friday, as if he was rejoicing with the joy of the children and the students together, enjoying the ambiance of the approaching Sabbath that reminds one of the ultimate redemption that will eventually come.


Longing for Zion

Indeed, this faith was pulsating in his heart. On Sabbath afternoon she would gather us together in one of the rooms of the Talmud Torah that was empty on that day and sing songs of Zion with us: “On the road there, a rose rolls...”, “There in the place of cedars”, and others. These first seeds of Zionism fell upon the furrows of my heart, the heart of a young child who grew into a lad and became a man, and did not find rest in the Diaspora until the day of his aliya arrived, when he fulfilled the words of the song that was sung on one of the Sabbath afternoons in the ears of the young children such as him:

I am a small Jew
But filled with strength and might.
My love is great,
To my nation, and also to my land,
That is there, far away.
There, under the azure skies,
Over the sea.
Another year, another two years,
Time passes quickly.
There I will travel and even prepare for myself:
A horse, a plow, a spade.
Then I will work my land,
And I will have a bountiful harvest,
I will also plant a vineyard for myself.
That produces good wine.

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Friday Afternoon

Now I will return to Fridays. The Rebbe freed us in the afternoon, and I barely touched the stones of the cobblestone road, for I flew, and in an instant I reached my house that was located not far from the Talmud Torah. My mother asks me about the great haste, and serves me aromatic soup, wafting with the aroma of meat and bones, along with a piece of fresh, white challah that had been baked by her hands. These disappeared into my mouth in the blink of an eye.

I was free for a few hours, for my mother was busy with her preparations for the Sabbath. However, how pleasant was this freedom. I “turned worlds” until I was called into the house. Mother was astonished at the filth that clung to me and was happy she had dressed me in old clothes when I had returned from the cheder. Of course, she sentenced me to “boiling water” that cleansed and purified me, combed my wet hear, and dressed me in Sabbath clothes.

The sun set. I went out with father. Quiet! The king and the prince are walking to greet the queen. We directed our steps to the Great Synagogue. We are walking, and we are large in our eyes seeing that we are members of a large nation streaming together with us from the Schloss Gasse, and the Kanal to the holy place. We are not a small stream of people. Additional masses are coming from Bliznajer and Klibner Streets through the marketplace to the house of worship. Many householders from Chazir Gasse, Milner Gasse and other streets between the house of Shimon the shochet and the Aguda synagogue. The rabbi, tall and with a splendid aged appearance is seen leaving his home next to the Tehillim Synagogue and approaching the Great Synagogue that is near to our home, with the throngs clearing a way from him and greeting him with “Peace be upon you, our Rabbi.”


The Synagogue

I enter the lofty synagogue. When I was small, I imagined it as a splendid, high palace resting on four gigantic supporting pillars, with a high platform between them upon which they place the Torah scroll when it is read. When I got older I imagined it as a giant fortress in which the Jews gathered during times of tribulation, therefore its windows are so tall and it has an additional door as an emergency exit. Indeed, the frightful stories of what took place to us in the Diaspora that I learned in school caused this change of image.

We approached our place in the synagogue. My father had his place in the second row behind the eastern wall, next to the cantor's lectern. It was an excellent spot. From there we could see the cantor Gershon Kaplan and his young and old choir singers. I was one of them for some time.

The service of the welcoming of the Sabbath commences. The voice of the cantor and his singers rings in our ears, comforting our hearts. We participate with them as we sing the Lecha Dodi prayer (“Come my beloved to greet the bride, let us greet the Sabbath”) and welcome the Sabbath Queen that fills our synagogue with its honor.


In the Home

We feel its presence also when we return home after services. The street is lit up with rays of sparkling light breaking forth from the windows of the house.

We enter our house that is full of light shining forth from the chandelier hanging from the ceiling,

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lit in honor of the holy evening; from the eyes of Mother greeting us with love; from the bottle of red wine on the table waiting for father to recite Kiddush; from the white cloth covering the challas, resting on a tablecloth as white as snow. The words of the Kiddush then rise up, bringing us under the wings of the Divine presence that is filling the room and turning it into a miniature sanctuary.

The tasty food, the hymns that broaden the mind and bring joy to the heart with their sublime melodies, the words of Torah spoken at the Table about the weekly Torah portion and what the children had learned during the week -- merge together to form the table of the Dweller on High.


The Sabbath Symphony Continues

The meal concludes. Father and Mother start singing Yiddish songs about a Jew, the son of a king who is content with his lot -- on his Sabbath, with a mother waiting for a letter from her son who wandered to far-off places, about the exodus from Egypt, etc. Songs of the Sabbath, songs of longing from the wandering child, songs of redemption fill our hearts with alternating feelings of sadness and joy.

Your tunes, oh Father, and your songs oh Mother, flow through my veins and sing themselves to this day.

Slowly the songs of my parents cease. They go to their room and go to bed. We also go to sleep with a feeling of a night of restfulness. The hours of sleep have no bounds. Outside, however, on nearby Schloss Gasse, the older youths stroll, talking vibrantly, conversing loudly, and singing.

Sleep falls upon us, while the Sabbath symphony continues outside

Meir Sokolowski


Longing for the Land

I spent some time in the Land as a tourist and returned home. My decision was to liquidate my affairs in the Diaspora and make aliya to the Land. I rented a carriage in Slonim (there were no cars yet) and traveled slowly to Ruzhany, for the horses did not pay attention to the fact that I was hurrying to return to my family. I had already gone most of the way, and had exited the Slonim Forest that was about four kilometers from Ruzhany. It was midnight. I suddenly sensed someone walking in the darkness of the night. Who could it be? Was it not a robber? Then this man raised his hand and requested that we stop the carriage. We responded to his request, looked at him, and recognized him. It was Nota Lisowicki. I asked him what he was doing at such a time so far from the city. His answer was that he wanted to be the first Jew to greet his friend who was returning from the Land of Israel. I said to him, “Have not many Jews already shook hands with me in Slonim”. He answered that he wanted to be the first from among the Jews of Ruzhany.

I brought with me about ten packages of Israeli cigarettes. I gave two packages to my relative Leib Lerman the carpenter. He lit a cigarette and closed the window. I asked him to explain his actions, and he did not hesitate with his answer, saying that he did not want the smoke of the Israeli cigarette to be scattered in the winds. I distributed the rest of the cigarettes among my acquaintances, giving each person one cigarette. They thanked me profusely.

Go forth and see how great was the longing of the Jews of Ruzhany for the Land of Israel.

From Tzvi Lerman


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Maot Chittim
(Charity for Passover)

The holiday of Purim passed, and Passover was approaching. One must prepare everything needed for this holiday, and the needs of the Jewish people for this holiday are great. However, there are those who do not have the means to celebrate this holiday appropriately -- for they cannot afford it! Therefore the concept of “Maot Chittim” was instituted, an enterprise to rectify what fate had denied. From where do the “Maot Chittim” funds come? Every resident of Ruzhany donated generously to Mr. Leib Tzadik (Mrucnk) who sat in a small side room of the Great Synagogue, issuing a receipt for every sum of money that was received from each person.

However, exceptional things also took place. I was an eyewitness to two such events, about which I will now relate. I was sitting next to Leib Tzadik after I had brought my contribution to “Maot Chittim” when Levi the weaver entered. After exchanging greetings, he asked:

“How much should I give to the Maot Chittim fund?”

“Like last year.”

“And how much did I give then?”

“Thirty kopecks.”

“For you it is easy to register amounts. I cannot give that much, I will give only 25 kopecks.”

I knew that his situation was not bad. The sum that was set for him was low for his status, but his heart did not move him to give what was asked of him, so he disputed the amount to lessen it. I was embarrassed and thought, “It is not from such people that the poor of my nation will be saved.”

However, I had already said that the majority gave generous donations to Maot Chittim, and some even gave more than asked. Here is the second incident:

Yerucham Marminski entered. His means had declined in the latter period. He was an independent weaver, not the owner of a factory. However, as he did possess a few looms, he was entered into the list of the wealthy of the town. He would bring a very proper donation each year with a full heart. However, the wheel of fortune turns about. That year had been difficult for him. The cloth for uniforms that had been manufactured had not been sold. The previous orders had been canceled, and new ones had not arrived. His machines were idle. The bundles of material that had already been prepared remained as stones without anyone to turn them over, and coins disappeared from his pocket. When I saw him entering, I wished to exit, so as not to see him in his straits and embarrass him. I was sure that he would not be able to bring his donation this year, and, on the contrary, perhaps he would receive assistance this time. However, he removed a silver ruble and gave it over for Maot Chittim, as in previous years. I was certain that he himself did not have the means to purchase the needs for Passover. But our sages were wise when they said, “G-d wants hearts” -- it is not the pocket that donates, but rather the heart!


From A. Lewiatan


The Eve of Passover in our Town

The pleasant aroma of the Passover holiday was already wafting through the air. One must prepare fine flour, from the best of the best, for the purposes of baking matzos. Our hearts swelled and rejoiced at the sight of the holiday preparations. We impatiently awaited the great day that was approaching -- the day of the baking of matzos. Who can describe an enjoyment greater than this? All the people of the town had the same feelings that we did. There was excitement.

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There were a few matzo bakeries in town. The bakeries were cleaned and made kosher for this purpose. The families of the city took turns baking their matzos there. Who could imagine when our turn would come?

Father removed the flour from the wagon and brought it to the bakery. The horses pushed the wagon from our house, through the Kanal, until the bridge next to the bathhouse. The precious cargo crossed the bridge over the Kanal Stream, and we arrived at the bakery. Mother and we children accompanied the wagon.


The Baking of the Matzos

We entered the bakery, which was filled with men, women and youths. One woman kneaded the dough in a shiny copper bowl. Two boys stood next to her and brought her the correct measure of flour and water so that the kneading would not stop and the dough would not become leavened. Another woman apportioned the dough to the women who were dividing up the dough into the portions for the matzos. From then, the matzos passed to a table covered with a clean metal sheet, upon which several youths are making holes in the dough with hollow rolling pins.

During the work, the girls conducted conversations spiced with local gossip. Laughter filled the rooms. Laughter and diligence of the hands. The perforated matzos were transferred to the hands of the baker, who used a baker's shovel to put them into the oven. He would remove the baked matzos in about a minute. Most of them were white, but a few were brown as they were slightly singed. We received some of both. They were hot, and the heat spread to all parts of the body. We spent most of the day in the bakery, and when the day was finished, we were sorry that such a happy day had passed.


Preparing the “Mead”

We had other such days before the festival arrived. One of them was the day of the preparation of the mead.

The day of the preparation of the mead was a holiday for us. Mother cooked the honey, tasting it from time to time, but the drink was already good and fitting to be served on the table of kings. We children did not put our hands into the plate. Rather, we surrounded Mother, cupping our hands and asking her if we could taste the steaming liquid. We drank it and praised the drink, for it was good. This was not Mother's opinion, for she continued to cook and taste, and we continued to request and receive additional portions of this sweet, sweet drink.


Whitewashing the House

The days of cleaning the house were additional days of joy. The order of the world changed when they arrived. Everything that filled the rooms of the house until this time was taken outside. Only the walls and ceiling could be seen. Where was the floor? It was covered with straw so that it would not get too dirty during the whitewashing.

The white angels -- that is the whitewashers -- appeared, wearing clothing that was white from the whitewash that stuck to them. The work began. Our empty rooms, which grew and broadened in our eyes due to the removal of the furniture, continued to grow with their new whitewash and shining white. We entered the rooms and stretched out our necks to see the whitewashing. However, we were chased out by the adults who asked that we do not run between their legs and not dirty ourselves from the drops of whitewash that were dropping all over the place. We fled outside, wandered around the furniture,

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and played hide-and-seek. We were served food at irregular times. We ate at times eating on a bookshelf and at times standing next to a table, all outside. After the hasty meal, we were free. What was demanded of us further? How good was it for us? How good was our lot.


Splendor, Beauty, the Glory of the World[4]

The vacation was complete. The month of Nisan was the month between school semesters. G-d did a kindness for the school children, and the yoke of studies was lifted from them. We no longer sat in the closed cheder from morning until evening. We were able to enjoy the glory of the world. How many interesting, attractive things were there!

The day shone down from hour to hour. Look up. The winter clouds have disappeared. The sun, which had hidden its face for weeks and months, appeared. It was bright and brilliant, warm and caressing. Look down. The white covering had melted and the earth was exposed. Puddles gathered on the ground, sparkling with the colors of the sun. Many images were scattered over the face of the earth. Pleasant aromas arose from it and spiced the air.

How high was the sky! The firmament of the sky! It is blue! An azure sea atop your head. And a sea also beneath your feet. This was the small river that passed close to our house, the “Kanal Teichl” changed its form and became a mighty river. It had a meager flow all year, and now it overflowed all of its banks. Its quiet flow turned into a mighty, noisy stream.


Guests for the Festival

Now you raise your head again, and a family of storks had arrived, passing sleepily from their peaceful kingdom. They arrived, and with them came the month of Nisan, the month of spring. A pair of storks were nesting in the tall chimney rising up from between the buildings of the liquor still on Schloss Gasse, heralding the advent of spring.

However they are not the only ones that arrived. Many birds of all types fill the sky with joyful chirping, a new song. There are so many of them! Who told them about the renewal of our world? Who told them about its return to life? From where did they appear? Indeed, they came from the lands of the south for the festival of spring and renewal, the time when our town is filled with song and melodies (of the matzo bakers, the house whitewashers, the children on vacation, with splendor in their eyes, songs in their ears, and desire for redemption in their hearts). They, the birds, tell me about our Land and our birthplace where we came from. The heart is filled with pangs of longing. If the joy of Passover is so great here, how great would our joy be if we celebrated it there, in our native Land.

Oh, would it be soon!


In the Synagogue

The eve of Passover arrives. After bathing, we don our new clothes and new shoes. The sun is about to set. We walk with Father with deliberate steps to the synagogue, like the sons of kings with their king. People are streaming to the house of worship from all sides. The Great Synagogue is filled with joy and light. Thousands of candles light up this holy place. Thousands of bright eyes

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are lit up with the joy and happiness of the Festival of Freedom. The synagogue is filled with song and joy. Cantor Kaplan and his choir perform splendidly. The echoes of freedom emanate from their throats with wide hearts and clear intellect.

The service ends, and the masses of Jews stream to their houses to conduct the Seder and tell about the Exodus from Egypt. There is a pleasant tumult in the streets. Light is planted along the entire route, bursting forth from the windows of the houses lit up with extra lights.


In the Home

We arrive to our home, which is not far from the synagogue. The house is filled with light and joy. The Seder plate is set up, the goblets are arranged, with the cup of Elijah rising above them. The wine for the four cups is on the table. Father puts on his white kittel [ceremonial garment] and his appearance is that of an angel. He reclines on a pillow like a king. Mother is dressed up as a queen. The faces of my mother and father are beaming. They look upon us children with satisfaction, joy and bright eyes. It is good for us, and our hearts are warm. The youngest child asks the questions in a festive voice, and father reads the answer with a sense of great importance, as we read after him. A unified voice, lofty and festive, a voice filled with faith in the freedom that will yet come continues until a late hour of the night; a voice saturated with love, from which the Song of Songs[5] naturally emanates.

Meir Sokolowski


Translator's Footnotes
  1. This is likely “Shemot Rabba” -- a Midrashic exegetical work on the book of Exodus. return
  2. I am not sure of the etymology of this phrase. Obviously, it expresses haste return
  3. Literally “Money for wheat”, referring to the wheat needed for the baking of the Passover matzos. return
  4. A quote form one of the Sabbath hymns. return
  5. It is customary to read the Song of Songs following the Seder. return

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