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Yitzhak Katznelson in Slutsk

by Y. D. Berkowitz

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Jane S. Gabin


From right to left: Hillel Dobrov, Yitzhak Katznelson, Avraham Epstein, Y.D. Berkowitz


In the summer of 1904, when I returned from the place where I lived abroad to spend the summer months in Slutsk, I invited my friend Yitzchak Katznelson, who was already well known for his first Hebrew poems and songs, and to whom I became attached with a great love when I lived with him in his parents' house in Lodz. Katznelson willingly accepted my invitation and came to stay with me for a few weeks at my parents' house. Yitzchak Katznelson, the great lamenter of the last terrible destruction, who was murdered, together with his wife and sons, along with millions of our brothers, by the hands of the corrupting Satan's soldiers, and left behind him “the lamentation over the Jewish people who were killed”, which agitated the Jewish world, - was in those days a nineteen-year-old boy, handsome, cheerful, nice and pleasant to the people. At that time, the Zionist youth in Slutsk would gather at the well-known Zionist “teahouse”, and in the evenings they would gather at the private home of the midwife Abigail Karon (Pesach Karon's daughter-in-law), who had a reputation in the city as a kind of an intelligence committee house, and Yitzhak Katznelson made a great impression there, he was liked by everyone, and in particular he won the hearts of the young girls in Slutsk.

A memory of those days is this photo, that was preserved in my archives. Before we parted from Katznelson, the four of us went out in the “Khila” to tour the towns around Slutsk, of which Neswij and Timkovitz are remembered (the latter greeted us with a large fire and almost all

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the town caught fire). When Katznelson later wrote his book “On the Borders of Lithuania,” he also incorporated something from his notes, which he perceived in Slutsk and the surrounding area.

Episodes from “These Are the Generations of Adam”
(Eleh toldot Adam)

by Ephraim E. Lisitzky

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Jane S. Gabin


Slutsk's Jews

It is said of a Jew from Slutsk that his little finger is always bent. What is the reason for that? Nine tenths of pride went down into the world and all of them were taken by the Slutsk Jews, and when a Jew from Slutsk is asked: Why did you take upon yourself this excessive pride? he places his right finger on the little finger of his left, bends it and begins to say his praises: First of all, I am from Slutsk! And secondly... there is no second to his beginning, it is its beginning and its end - and his little finger remains bent.

Slutsk was famous for its poverty, the same Israeli poverty in the cities and towns bordering the moshav area, and of which it took a leading part. Most of its Jews were destitute poor people living in misery, wearing rags, living in ruins and eating bran bread and grain soup, called Krupnik in a foreign language, - a kind of a stew in Slutsk's style, which was nothing more than distilled water with a few potatoes and grains floating far from each other. Slutsk was a poor city - but it was a Torah place that accepted its poverty and its path in a life of sorrow. Its rabbis were a chain of mighty and great in the Torah people and there was an abundance of outstanding scholars in it, and they set times in its Beit Midrash houses to study and teach the houseowners and the common people in the population, and even vacuous people of Israel enjoyed it. Slutsk had yeshivas for the young and the old, and poor boys and young men flocked to them from near and far, and they come to study Torah in them, and the Jews of Slutsk, who were themselves poor, shared their bread and grain soup with them, and the synagogues offered them a place to sleep. The glory of the Torah and its respect were preserved in Slutsk and it was the Jews' pride.

I spent eight years, years of childhood and youth, in which the image of a person's being is shaped, in Slutsk, and it was the one which shaped my spiritual being and embedded in me its nature. From studying the Pentateuch and the Prophets I moved to studying the Gemara, and the world of nobility in the Pentateuch and the Prophets was replaced by the practical world of the Gemara. In this world there is no discussion in the act of the creation or in a very complex matter, as it is done is the world of the Bible, but a discussion in the existence of the world and the reality, and yet its power strips them of their reality, while the faces of the Tannaim and the Amoraim that discusses these issues are clothed with realistic portraits, in the form of the elders of Slutsk's Beit Midrash houses. I can see them clashing over the interpretation of a difficult issue, with frowning faces, frowning brows and sparking eyes, debating with each other while pointing their thumbs ups and giving shrugs, as they are about to interrupt each other's lives. But these Tannaim and Amoraim treated me with grace and pleasantly explained me the secrets of Torah, and my loneliness is sweetened in their company.


Ephraim E. Lisitzky


I had a desire to be tested in my studies, if not in the presence of my parents – then at least in the presence of my grandfather. And not by my Rabbi, towards whom I had bitterness that I was discriminated compared to the rest of his students - but by one of the scholars of whom I had heard.

Those days I studied in the cheder the issue of “Tigray Lod,” and I decided to memorize it for the exam. When it became understandable, I began to forcefully ask my grandfather to take me to be examined by Rabbi Hischa - an old scholar, a former Rosh Yeshiva, who used to pray in the synagogue of the yeshiva that my grandfather attended. My grandfather initially refused my request: his place in that synagogue was on a bench behind the bimah, among all the other poor and inferior people like him. How would he dare to approach Rabbi Hischa, whose place of honor is next to the Holy Ark, and to discuss the act of creation or very complex matters? Where it was customary to stand up at his entrance and exit, and discuss this issue with him? Finally, my grandfather gave in to my pleas and took me to Rabbi Hischa on one of the Shabbat

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afternoons. With great fear and trepidation, he approached the place of honor in the synagogue, and I followed him with a great fear, and Rabbi Hischa– 's head and most of his body were in the Gemara open before him and he did not notice us. My grandfather coughed a few times and Rabbi Hischa stopped his studying. I began lecturing in front of him the “Tigray Lod” issue orally, with my eyes lowered in shame and awe at his sullen face. When my lecture was over, he began asking questions, both relevant and unrelated, and I answered correctly, and my eyes were slightly raised and I caught a glimpse of him and saw a contented expression on his face.

“He is blessed,” he told my grandfather. “he is a wise scholar! Happy is his mother in the world of truth and his father in America.”

Tears were in my grandfather's eyes, and I felt discomfort in my heart and my throat choked. And my grandfather turned his grumpy face towards him, saying: “What is your wish, Jewish Rabbi?” ”My wish,” my grandfather said hesitating ”my wish, that is, his wish... this is my grandson, the son of my dead daughter... his father is in America... he is a young Torah scholar... he wants... he wants... that is, he asks to be tested in his studies, Rabbi.”

When Rabbi Hischa asked me the name of the treatise and the issue which I studied, he ordered me to go to the bookcase and take it out.

“My son,” Rabbi Hischa said to me, “study persistently, and may your father be happy with you in America and your mother be happy in the world of truth, as it is written: Your father will be happy.” A cry burst from my mouth, and every insult about my loneliness was concentrated in one whimpered word: Father! father!



My friends Berl and our Rabbi, Rabbi Nehemiah

A rabbi does a lot and a friend does a lot, and sometimes the influence of a friend is greater than the influence of a rabbi. My friends influenced me a lot in those days of my loneliness, and I became much closer to them, especially to Berl, just Berl, without the addition of his last name by which he was famous in our Hebrew library. For about a year and a half we studied together with Rabbi Yossel at the “synagogue for the homeowners” and for a year with Rabbi Nehemiah at his yeshiva, and from the moment we got to know each other, we were bound by bonds of love and brotherhood that never stopped until we parted from each other.

His image is preserved in my memories, as it was then in his youth: his face was white, tense and rigid, and his look was rather sadness or sullen, that was sometimes softened a little with a suppressed smile, his eyes were black and dreamy, and the flickering of grief was in their pupils. His hair was black and shining and brightened his white face even more. I keep in my memory very clearly the sight of his fingers: nobility prevailed in the whiteness and gentleness of their shape. There was a kind of heaviness in him, which was not a heaviness of body or sloppiness of movement, but a seriousness of behavior and burden of thought, which was expressed in his walk, which was balanced and moderate. And his mindset was similar to his walk. He was gifted with scholastic talents, and they distinguished him from the rest of Rabbi Yossel's students, and in addition, he was gifted with the talent of imitating actors. When he was amused, he would imitate, with the cutting of his speech and the grimaces of his face, big and small, and hitting their weak points with banter, which was mainly a poignant and sharp humor. Every day we would repeat together the Gemara lesson that we learned from Rabbi Yossel, and between Minchah and Ma'ariv, we would go to a corner in the synagogue, put aside the Torah issues and turn to a daily conversation, mostly about things in the heart, we would talk and tell stories to each other, I told him my memories of the days of my mother's life and the time of her death, and he told me miraculous stories he read in Hebrew books that he received, such as “Emek Arazim,” “Shlumat Reshayim,”and “Kur Oni.” Sometimes we would sail in our imaginations to distant lands and reveal hidden treasures there, shake hands and make an oath of friendship for eternity.

One day, the days between times, Berl persuaded me to join him going to Rabbi Nehemiah to be examined by him for entry into his yeshiva. I did not believe that our Gemara knowledge would suffice to enter Rabbi Nehemiah's yeshiva, which was a well-known yeshiva in Slutsk and its surroundings. Nevertheless, some of the degree of confidence in Berl was also conferred on me and I agreed to join him. We entered Rabbi Nehemiah's house, he was at the head, in a bit of awe, and I followed him, full of fear and trepidation, and when we entered, Berl spoke for us and told Rabbi Nehemiah of our wish. Rabbi Nehemiah accepted his request and gave us two pages in the Gemara, for him a page in tractate Baba Metzia and for me a page in tractate Baba Kama, and ordered us to go over them ourselves and come to him tomorrow for an examination. We immediately went to the synagogue where we studied and began to study these pages of the Gemara, he separately and I separately, and we helped each other in difficult places, and we did not move from there until everything was clear and understandable to us. The next day we came to Rabbi Nehemiah, and upon finishing our exam he ordered us, after he learned from us that both his father and my father were in America, to send our mothers to him. We knew the meaning of sending our mothers to him: we were accepted into the yeshiva. We hurried to our homes, Berl's walk also became reckless this time. We rushed to Rabbi Nehemiah with our mothers - he his mother and I my stepmother - and when they entered his house we stayed outside silently, in this moment that was so important to us! After a little while, both of them, his mother and my stepmother, came out shining, and told us the good news: we were accepted to Rabbi Nehemiah's yeshiva, and he even told them that if they are unable to pay the tuition, he intended to appoint us as helpers to two of his lagging students, so that their parents would pay him the tuition in our favor. That day was a real Yom Tov for us, a real Simchat Torah.

A tangible symbol of Shammai's portrait was that of Rabbi Nehemiah: a very sharp man, refined in halacha and sharp in appearance - his facial features were pointed, his sideburns and beard were pointed, and above all were his eyes – prominent and staring eyes, which pierced like sharpened spears. His yeshiva was famous not only for the quality of the studies but also for the quality of the manners: its students had a great fear towards him, similar to their fear of God. It was his sharp appearance that helped him intimidating his younger and older students. After he finished his daily lesson in both of his classes, he used to move around the bimah, round after round, hammering while perusing an issue and his eyes were wandering and watching his students that stood by their lecterns and repeated the lesson he taught today and prepared themselves for the lesson he would teach tomorrow. Woe to the student who stopped learning or turned to small talk with a nearby friend - he would stare his pointed face at him

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and became annoyed. He responded willingly to the students who asked whenever they encountered difficult issues and explained to them thoroughly, but he never spoke with them a daily conversation, even if it was just about courtesy and good behavior. He treated his students as if they were babies, when the left side was rejected, he added to the rejection on the left half of the rejection on the right side. Nevertheless, he was loved and respected by his students: he was eloquent and knowledgeable and had the power of explanation, and reciting his daily lesson enlightened their eyes with the Gemara, solved their issues and brought it closer to their intellect.

For half a year we studied together, Berl and I, in the small “small table” class at Rabbi Nehemiah's yeshiva, and even before we ended the first half, I noticed a change in him: he was no longer open with me, the frown on his face was more than his sadness, his desire to study had loosened and the love and brotherhood towards me decreased materially.

For the second half of the year, Reb Nehemiah separated me from the rest of his students in the “small table” class and transferred me to the “big table” class. I counted this great honor as a loan I should repay and I devoted myself to my studies with all my might. Rabbi Nehemiah's eyes were softened whenever they looked at me and I was proud, while Berl - his heart was no longer with me and our friendship broke up! Finally, Berl withdrew from the yeshiva and we were distanced. We became citizens in two worlds that were differentiated and distant from each other: I delved deeper in the gardens of the Torah, and he, who peeked and was hurt, uprooted himself from it and began to delve in the garden of education. Our relationship ended.

We met by chance one day in the hallway of the house owners' synagogue, he had a book of songs of Judah Leib Gordon under his lap, and I had a thick Gemara in my hand. We started a conversation, I spoke about my studies and the Gemara pages I reviewed and the glory of “Maharam Schiff” and “Pnei Yehoshua,” and he spoke about the Hebrew literature and the books he read and the glory of “kotzo shel yud”, and “the religion and life” and “the sin of youth” and the like, wonderful names that I have never heard of. We did not hear each other's language - we were relatives at a distance. From that time on, we did not meet again in Slutsk. Berl disappeared from my life and I didn't know where he was and what he was doing.

Six years later, when I was in America, I also replaced the garden of Torah with the garden of Hebrew literature. I met with one of my friends who studied with me at Rabbi Nehemiah's yeshiva. We began reminiscing about the past and when our conversation turned to the rest of our friends and Berl among them, an exclamation of astonishment came out of his mouth: “Who could imagine then that Berl is about to occupy a place of honor in our Hebrew literature and will be among its leading narrators!” In a flash, my memory put before the young people the Hebrew narrators that I knew, and I said: “He is Y. D. Berkowitz!”



Rabbi Pesach

A new yeshiva was founded in Slutsk, and it was founded and headed by Rabbi Pesach, known as Rabbi Pesach the Moshi, after Mosh, the city of his residence from which he came to Slutsk. My heart swept after this new yeshiva and I considered moving to it after spending one year in Rabbi Nehemiah's yeshiva.

Just as Shammai's portrait was reflected in Rabbi Nehemiah, so was Hillel's portrait reflected in Rabbi Pesach, and just as the title “A man who is sharp in everything” well suited Rabbi Nehemiah, the same way suited Rabbi Pesach the title “A man who is smooth in everything” - a kind of silky smoothness was in his body and within him. His face was pure and shone with the light of the Torah and the light of an exceeding soul (neshama yetira), and the tiny clefts in them, the traces of a former smallpox disease, looked like dimples. His eyes were black, glowing and producing good faith and pureness of the soul; Also, the hair of his head and his beard, every hair and hair a thread of glory. He had a beautiful soul, used to care for himself and was meticulous in his clothes, which should be ironed, and in his shoes, which should be polished, and in his walking, which should be upright and one step at a time, and the like in those outwardly minutiae. And this behavior was free from pride, even from that eighth of the eighth that was commanded on a wise scholar. He was not arrogant; He loved the simple and poor people and treated them with brotherhood.

That is why he chose the synagogue of the blacksmiths to house his yeshiva. The blacksmiths in Slutsk were considered the inferior among the craftsmen. They were clumsy Jews, and it was easier for them to wrestle with a rebellious horse when they put his horseshoe to his hoof and with a reluctant wheel that requires an iron hoop, than to handle the letters in the siddur. Due to the disdain on the part of the Torah followers for the artisans, they also withdrew, as did the tailors and hatters and butchers, from the synagogues where the Torah snobbishness prevailed and built synagogues for themselves - the Blacksmiths' Synagogue.

The synagogue of the blacksmiths housing Rabbi Pesach's Yeshiva in it, became a place of Torah for these artisans as well; From time to time, Rabbi Pesach would preach in front of them, and he would recite a lesson in “Chayei Adam” (the life of a person) in front of them every day, between Minchah and Ma'ariv.” This lesson that he recited in front of them included written things, which he recited and explained to them, and oral things, which he added, words of admonishment and things that were intended to carry away the hearts and encourage the soul, with a melody that yearns the heart and brings tears to the eye. He was sitting at the head of the table and they were sitting around it, their calloused and charred palms under their beards, and their eyes looked at him with murmurs of thanks and blessing for this hour of joy that they have with his grace - a taste of the world to come, and it is more beautiful to them than all the life of this world.

Rabbi Pesach minimized himself with the simple and humble people and with his disciples. He did not impose authority on them, he was their friend, a great friend who minimized himself and glorified them. Nevertheless, its yeshiva was privileged from this friendship: he did not impose a great fear on them but great love of a rabbi for them, and they rewarded him with doubled love for the rabbi and love for his Torah.

And here is a story that happened one day:

It was the season “between times” and the time of the melting of the snows, when the ground of Slutsk's streets and alleys became muddy and swampy, and I and three of my friends went to visit Rabbi Pesach at his home, to discuss a matter that he wanted to consult with us about. A festive whiteness overflowed from the walls of his house that were whitewashed in honor of Pesach. Torah nobility was reflected from the

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bookcases of the thick books with the elegant covers that were inside them, and his wife, a young lady, who was all grace and pleasantness, instilled in it a gentleness of soul. We sat before him, just as students sit before their rabbi, and he, our rabbi, discussed with us, as with his fellows, the matter for which we were asked to come to his house and he asked for our advice. When we finished, he turned the conversation to the story of his life, telling us a story of adventures that happened to him until he reached teaching, and what he saw that caused him to replace the rabbinate in which he served as the head of a yeshiva, and turned to teaching Torah to the people of Israel. And his wife occasionally entered into his words with a beautiful folk parable or a story that happened in her hometown.

Suddenly a shriek of indignation was heard from outside, and when we looked out the window, we saw a farmer standing next to his cart stuck in the mud and whipping the horse, cursing and snarling, and his poor horse pulling with all his might but the cart did not move from its place.

“Let's go,” Rabbi Pesach hastened us, “let's go out to fulfill the mitzvah that has reached us!” Rabbi Pesach hurried and went out into the street and we followed him, wallowing with him in the mud and getting closer to the cart, and pushing with our shoulders and pulling with our hands, together with the trembling and frightened horse, to get the cart out of the swampy mud. As we left the cart, we gazed at Rabbi Pesach and did not recognize him: our rabbi, who has always worn clean and ironed cloths, from his feet to his head, was covered in mud, with mud marks on his face and puddles of mud in his beard. Awestruck we stood before him: From the dirt on him, we felt the light of his noble soul. The farmer also stood awestruck before him, his mouth open, astonished and silent, and finally he took off his hat and crossed himself.

Rabbi Pesach influenced me and instilled in me his nature more than my other teachers and rabbis. He was my rabbi and like a father to me, a rabbi in Torah and my father in guidance. I loved him a profound love, and because of my love, I dedicated myself to my studies with extreme persistence. My mind did not cool down until I began to sit “Mishmar” (learning Torah at night) once a week, on Thursday night. I was weak in my body, and the sleepless nights of Torah studies exhausted my strength, and more than once Rabbi Pesach would rebuke me for the sin that I was committing by studying nights at the yeshiva and disrespecting the health of the body, as the people of Israel were warned to guard their body equally to guarding their soul.

Rabbi Pesach rebuked me, but I continued with my study nights: physical torture in them, but the pleasure of the soul is on the other side. I enjoyed adding a study night to my days of study, and had even more enjoyment in actually studying in the dark silence that filled the space of the synagogue. I was blessed to engage in the Torah, in the future I hope to be a teacher in Israel, and my father would be exalted by me and would receive glory and honor, reparations for his sufferings and insults. Only a few days passed and the students of the yeshiva raised me to be their “chozer” (repeater): every day, after Rabbi Pesach finished reciting his daily lesson, they gathered around me and I would lecture them, in great details, all the innovations of the Torah that he recited in his lesson, his innovations as well as innovations of others, and he, Rabbi Pesach, would sit aside, and from the smile on his face it seemed that he enjoyed listening to his “chozer”.

After we finished two years at the yeshiva, I and one of my friends decided to leave Rabbi Pesach's yeshiva after the celebration of the end of the tractate we studied that season and to move to the higher yeshiva from which we could later go to teaching. We held this graduation celebration with great splendor and with a large crowd - the students' parents and their relatives, including the owners of the “Blacksmiths' Synagogue.” The synagogue seemed as if it was the night of Simchat Torah: its lanterns and chandeliers were lit and it was full of joy, and the crowd filled its space with joy and happiness - happy and cheerful in this Simchat Torah that they celebrate on a secular day. They were happy and Rabbi Pesach was doubly happy. He was the “Chatan Torah” in this Simchat Torah celebration, and his joy shone in his face and sparkled in his eyes. There was also joy in his voice when he said the “Hadran” (the concluding reading in the final study of a tractate in the Talmud) in front of us in which he bound together a halacha and a legend, but there was a note of sadness encapsulated in it. We knew what this sadness means: saying this “Hadran” is saying a farewell blessing for him, a farewell blessing to his students who were retiring from him, and this sadness was absorbed in us as well: We were sorry to retire from our beloved rabbi!

After saying the “Hadran” and eating some sweet delicacies, we held each other's hands, with Rabbi Pesach in the middle, and danced around the bimah with joy and happiness and later we went outside and danced in the square in front of the synagogue in the open air. The days were the days before the eve of Passover. The winter passed by with its snows and ices, storms and colds. A bleached moon, as if it was ready for Passover, floated in the azure of the sky, and its white light was woven in the puddles of water that flowed in the canals towards the street. A warm wind soaked with fresh moisture blown through the air, patted our faces with affection, curled our hair and whispered in our ears a whisper of good news, good news that spring is about to affect the world, and the branches of the bushes near the synagogue that have begun to burst out the first buds, moved and responded amen to its good news. In addition, from a bakery came the sound of the ladies who were rolling matzah cakes - a sound that heralded good news: the spring holiday was approaching and it was time for joy! Also, the croaking of the frogs somewhere and the chirping of the crickets on the wall of the synagogues - their grief had turned into happiness, they were chanting for the good news of spring that was being heard in the world. It seemed as if the whole world was dancing with us, dancing and singing: Sisu vesimchu beSimchat Torah (rejoice and be happy in Simchat Torah)! Rejoice and be happy with the joy of spring!

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Rabbi Rafael Yosel

by Ephraim E. Lisitzky

Translated by Jerrold Landau


He was a tailor in his youth: for the work
In Torah he was designated while still a lad,
His Torah was restricted: the reading of the Siddur,
Prayer from it to the G-d Who awakened his soul.

One day - when he was already married -
He decided and said: I will separate from work
And to Torah, study Torah, to its study
He dedicated himself with his entire soul, his entire means.

His wife agreed, and her neck
Took upon itself the yoke of a livelihood - her husband imparted to her
A half of the recompense for Torah - he left his work
And sat studying Torah day and night.

The studiers of the Beis Midrash acceded to him,
For he urged them, and they set times for him
They volunteered to teach him: this one a portion
In Chumash, and this one a chapter in Mishnah.

This one a page of Midrash, and this one a folio of Gemara -
He added day to day and night to night, he did not depart
From the Beis Midrash - the study was difficult to him
But his will was ironclad, may the flint rock forgive!

After years of toil, he was ordained for teaching
Rabbi Yossel the Gaon, he was the rabbi of the city
And the heads of the nearby community gave him a writ of rabbinate
Urging him to accept it.

But he refused to serve as a rabbi: His Torah will be disseminated
To his brethren like him, the simple masses,
To the tailor, the shoemaker, the smith, the woodcutter
And the water drawer, his trust was with them.

They gave him space in the wing of the Beis Midrash
So he separated. He studied Torah there, and he
Taught Torah to his brethren of his type
To them he cleaved, and he imbued his light upon them.

He imbued his light on them through the illumination of his countenance
Through which his noble heart shone,
And the words of his mouth dripped out, as medicine drips
To those who are hurt, he bandages their afflictions.

He paid attention to the downtrodden and those with a lowly spirit
Saying G-d will be with them. He granted a blessing
To those who were encountering difficulties. Hope to the despairing heart,
And comfort to the groaning soul.

Anyone who had a bad dream would hasten to his door
And tell it to him with a palpitating, trembling heart.
He would interpret it in a positive way, and as he left -
With a crestfallen spirit, he would encourage him.

He would extend his benevolence to the crazies of the city
Peering at him like fungus and mushrooms,
Wandering about on the streets during the day, and at night
Hanging out in the synagogues.

If a crazy person played a prank
And the one without mercy urged him to have mercy!
And at times, those brazen ones who heard his reproof
Were sullied by the sin of the crazy ones.

He would corner them and haul them to the bathhouse
Until they started to scream, like those dragged
To slaughter there. He would wash them, and they would exchange
Their worn-out clothes with donated clothes.

If he heard that a quarrel had broken out between a man and his wife
He would go to them in the morning, and make peace between them -
He would plead with them, and would not leave
Until they made up with each other.

It once happened that a certain person was angry with his wife
Before the seven days of
Marriage celebration had passed - as he got angry
With his father-in-law for tricking him, and a dispute broke out.

Rabbi Rafael Yosel would demand from their neighbors
To inform him of the reason for the dispute, and he would
Speak with the person, he would speak at length
And in his voice was soft with moans of mercy:

“No my son, abandon the dispute! Did you find something wrong
With your wife?” “No but,” he answered,
“I found something wrong with her father, Rabbi,
For he did not come through with what he promised to give:”

“He promised to give a Ritonda but a cloak
He gave her instead, and she was silent!”
Even though he had formerly been a tailor
He made male clothes, but not female clothes --

And he will ask him: “My son, of what use are these clothes
That he promised to give, that you call Ritonda?”
- “This is an outer garment made without sleeves
For beauty and splendor of a bedecked woman.”

“My son” - he innocently said to him - “There is a remedy,
You can fix it with her extra cloak:
Undo the sleeves and remove them
And this will be a Ritonda for splendor.”

“Tear off a pair of sleeves from the cloak
But do not, my son, disrupt a united couple with discord.
Make peace with your partner, and may it be His will
That you shall merit to sew her a Ritonda yourself!”


And remember him, Rabbi Rafael Yosil
Positively also for me, for he stood to save me
When I was in difficulties, in the bathhouse, in the boiling water
For my grandfather was going to judge me on Friday.

On the eve of that day, the evil people snuck out of
Gehinnom [Hell], and their punishments stopped.
For me, Gehinnom was prepared: the bathhouse, my grandfather
Was going to drag me there by force.

He would sentence me to lashes first
For he would take me up to the upper balcony
With the section of rope in it, and he would bind me
As someone sentenced to have the verdict carried out, on the back.

And I would be whipped with a small bundle of twigs
My body would be flogged, not forty minus[1]
And the punishment of strangulation[2] is added to the verdict
For I will be tormented there by the mist.

I will fall apart without recourse from my suffering
When the flogging and the strangulation end
And I will cry out from the violence - and the sound of my cries
Will be stifled by the mist, hoarse and heavy.

And my grandfather will not tell you: the sentence of boiling water
On my body will make a mist, completely cleansing -
And it is literally boiling: if you put an egg into it
In a moment you will take it out cooked!

My flesh, the majority of it will be fried
It will be purged well in the bathhouse
With the boiling water drawn from a pail, and I in it will be disgusted
To me, it tastes like a burning pressure!

I will be cleansed in my pain, and my voice
Will scream out. It will not itch, and the mist will no longer be obscured

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And Rabbi Rafael Yosil
Will instill fear in my grandfather, for he has heard.

And he will beg him, “O, arouse your mercy
For your grandson. And mix cold water
Into the boiling water of your pail - G-d will also bless
You for blending the trait of justice with mercy!”

And my grandfather will agree - one does not refuse
The modest Rabbi Rafael Yosil! -
And he will cool the boiling waters for me - and in that way, his mercy
He will extend to me every Friday.

G-d will also not judge me from that time
With boiling water. I am filled with its shots
I supplicate, suffer from it, and in my prayers it seems like:
The voice of Rabbi Rafael Yosil I hear:

“Merciful Father, cool down your wrath,
O, mercy to judgment and merit to guilt
Come and join for him!” And when I hear his prayer
I am encouraged, and hope for salvation soon.


And blessed is that Rabbi Rafael Yosil
Who saves me from the judgment of the boiling water of my grandfather, naïve
In the bathhouse I am on Fridays, for
My nightmare has been interpreted positively.

And I did not dream this dream about myself -
About someone else, my friend, the friend of my youth

From when we got to know each other,
We were bound in bonds of brotherhood and friendship.[3]

We were both students in the Cheder of Rabbi Yosil.
It was housed in the Beis Midrash, its anteroom was the Yeshiva,
And we were both diligent in the study of Gemara.
Rabbi Yosel paved our path for us

We both reviewed the lesson every day,
And prepared for the new lesson.
We helped each other, and in the evening we moved over to
The wing of the Beis Midrash, the secret corner.

We talked there together, a secret discussion
Yearning hearts and effervescent hearts,
We even discussed dreams while awake,
For we were both dreamers.

We traveled in our dreams to hidden places
Where wonderful treasures are buried,
And we made a covenant to divide them between us
The desired treasure would be split in half.

And that Beis Midrash in which we studied
Can be compared to a river. Old and young
During the comforting summer days
Went to enjoy themselves in bathing and swimming.

We too were both among the group of bathers.
We learned to swim properly with our arms and legs,
Even though we did not put a great effort into swimming,
It is a very serious issue!

And one night I dreamt: We are both swimming
In the river. Floating in splendor like the splendor of light gold
And suddenly my friend immersed himself
And before he came up - he sunk into the depths!

His body reddened in the depths for some time
But as it sunk deeper
It got covered up, disappeared, and was no more!
And I woke up, and my voice rose in a scream.

Sleepless the rest of the hours of the night
I tossed and turned in my bed, overtaken by trembling
I rose quickly in the morning, and hurried
To Rabbi Rafael Yosil, pacing quickly.

I met him in the wing of his Beis Midrash
In the early minyan, where he had
Concluded his prayers. And I told him my dream.
My voice was talking through a treasury of tears.

“Calm down, my son!” - he answered me. His voice
Was speaking pleasantly, with love -
“It is a good dream, my son, you saw in your dream
Only good and fine things you prophesied for your friend.

“For water is a sign of blessing. For a blessing
This will be to your friend. And water
Is compared to Torah - he dove to its depths
And dredged up from there unique pearls.

“However, today, my son, your friend
Should avoid bathing in the river!
G-d will have mercy on you, and cast his shadow at your right hand
Through his Torah. It will protect you from all evil.”

And that day my friend asked me
To go bathe. His desire for it
Was sevenfold. With a strong force
The river attracted him! - and I followed after him:

When he was still a lad, the reading of Hebrew books
Took hold of his heart. He swallowed them as his birthright.
From them, as we talked as friends,
He would tell me wonders and secrets.

And within a few days, good news
He told me. He was happy as if he found a hidden treasure:
He had the opportunity to read a book of wonders
From then he would seek it, “Emek Haarazim.”

With this book, I used a pretext
To turn his mind away from bathing: I asked him: What are
The wonderful adventures in this book of wonders?
Tell them to me, so I can enjoy them and know them!

I opened a concealed faucet in the midst of his soul
And precious things came from his mouth, from the recesses
Adventures from days of yore - the vibrancy of his soul
With his voice in wonder and his eyes shining

He told me about adventures from old times
His wellsprings and senses were swallowed up
He was alert to them when the time of our studies stopped
And we returned to study for the second half of the day.

However, a river can also describe the suburb
In which my friend lived. And before the end
Of the day, for it was long, when our studies finished
We would go there for dangerous bathing!

I accompanied him when he returned
Home in the evening, and I tarried
In his house, I talked with him a great deal
Until the danger passed: the sun set!
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dreams follow after the mouth - the holy mouth
Interpreted the dream well to me: I was a blessing
For my friend. Many special pearls
Did he dredge up from the depths in which he swam -

The depths of Torah and also the depths of literature,
The light of Torah illuminated from its perplexity -
And perhaps in the merit of Rabbi Rafael Yosil
A writer was raised in Israel!


Translator's footnotes:
  1. The Biblical punishment of lashes is 40 (Deuteronomy 25:3), but it is in actuality reduced to 39. It is the custom in a bathhouse to be whipped by a bundle of twigs for health reasons - and the author is comparing this to the Biblical edict of flogging. Return
  2. One of the four types of capital punishment in the Torah. (The author clearly does not like the bathhouse to which is grandfather takes him - although he is using the entire experience as a simile for extrication of the suffering of the Jewish people as a whole). Return
  3. There is an editor's footnote here: The author is referring to his friend Y. D. Berkowitz. Return


[Page 169]

Excerpt from the book
“When there is no generation”

Reuven Valenrod

The main street in the provincial town of Slutsk is paved with stones and is called “Shusey”. Horses' hooves are tapping with rapid sounds, carts and carriages are rattling on the edges of the stones, and new faces that he has not seen before, - perhaps he will never see them again - pass in front of the boy, who came from the town, and expand his world. Once in a while, a car belonging to one of the Polish noblemen passes in front of the hotel of Butnitsky (Bukshitsky); Grocers and homeowners go out into the street, arguing and estimating its price, and children run after it in noise and commotion.

Isaac walks down the street with a crowd of high schoolers, his uniform ironed and his buttons shiny. Isaac wouldn't run after the car, even though he wanted to run like those boys. He will be laughed at if he does so. He misses and does not miss the wide market of his town, where he used to run fast from the Beit Midrash to the low fence of the House of Awe.

It's good that he found here in the high school (gymnasia) Alyosha Yaakobovitz, the son of the owner of a remote and tiny estate. One of the visitors of his father's house, who reminds him of oblivion. Alyosha's father is one of the poor Shlyachtits, that the “Polish noblemen”, who own the big estates, see them as peasants, but they actually see themselves as nobles. That's why he was such a man, who usually lived at the edge of the village, or in a four-by-four estate, who loses out from both ways. Usually, he would connect with one of the wealthy Jews and tell him about his troubles.

This is how Yaakobovitz also socialized with Fayvel Halber. When he came from the village to the town, he would park his horse and cart in Fayvel's yard, enter the kitchen, put his things down, speak loudly to the maid and hand out hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, apples and pears to the children.

Isaac's studies seem easy, the grades are good, and he would proudly await to the teacher calling him to the blackboard. It's nice to repeat the things he acquired during his studies. Speaking in front of the department summarizes his knowledge and, in this manner, he clarifies himself the subject. It's quiet in the department and he hears the sound of his voice. The theorems in geometry are placed on top of each other and the conclusions come from each other. “Quod Erat Demonstrandum” …(what should have been proved). Even these words themselves, heavy and strong, are a nice taste of the victory... “Quod Erat Demonstrandum” - metal scraps are ringing... Sometimes these words seem like the trees of the great forest, that was seen from the window of his father's house.

The boy with the light hair stands by the blackboard and speaks Russian with the rustic intonation of Policia residents, and the teachers smile at him, at this excellent boy, with sympathy. And so do the students, thanking Isaac for bringing the skinny little Alyosha close to him, even though they themselves did not express any closeness to him. Apart from that, Isaac serves as a sort of middleman between the Russians and the Jews in his department. Those and those speak to him with excessive closeness, although he has not yet become friends with one group or another. - - -

The first years of the war did not bring with them a noticeable change during the life of the boy studying at the high school in the district city: the paved road of exams and grades, sailing on the river that flows to the Prift, and sitting in the evenings on the hotel's balcony, continued. It seems as if the war broke out in another country and it did not reach the hotel or the high school, except for dull echoes.

Isaac read the newspapers every day and knew what was going on: somewhere in the Galician towns the wounded and the dead rolled in, in East Prussia thousands died in the swamps. Isaac heard about this horrible death from an eyewitness soldier: the swamp soil slowly pulls and absorbs the man and he sees his death with his eyes, tries in horror to pull out one leg and the other sinks deeper. After that, the despairing man stops his war on his life and helplessly waits for the impending death. From the refugees, Isaac also knew about the acts of the Cossacks in Galicia and Poland. But all these were nothing but stories, such as he read in books: the stories of Versayev about the war with Japan or Tolstoy's descriptions in “War and Peace”. - - -

Over time, the heavy, threatening feeling also spread to the district city. Near Bukshitsky's balcony, the noise and commotion grew significantly. Horses' hooves and carts wheels now rattled day and night. The front drew closer, the soldiers multiplied, and the “Shusey” was filled with convoys of deportees from Poland and Galicia: Jews in long clothes, wearing small hats, who spoke in a soft and prolonged tone. Isaac heard their stories and the events became closer to him and touched his heart.

* * *

The winds blowing during the war also broke through the walls of the school. The one who was a high schooler some time ago was now an officer, who goes around freely for his pleasure and does what his heart desires. The boys and girls looked enviously at these young officers and looked forward to the day when they too could get rid of their books. As the prices increased, the salary of a respected teacher, dressed in uniforms, was not enough for them, and restlessness was imposed on their faces and movements. You should now smile at the boy, whose father is rich and you can get a favor from him, and you should be wary of a cheeky boy, because who knows how the boy will act the next day. The mood of the boys is also changing for the worse from day to day, and the paved roads to their heart are weakened. And when a student is called to explain a theorem in geometry to the department, he stands and answers boldly and arrogantly, and the students smile in anticipation. One must therefore overcome regular and accepted habits and smile. At a time when the house is being destroyed, what is the point of taking care of every tool and tool, that it be standing in the place designated for it in advance?

Isaac did not feel and did not know how and when this happened. Suddenly he realized that his knowledge had become an obstacle.

* * *

In the midst of this chaotic laxity, which is felt within the walls of the school, Isaac's diligence is weakening. The excitement that accompanied the writing of the essays faded due to the tensions. The visions no longer accumulate to a single point, but rater wander here and there.

[Page 170]

A Symphony of Generations

by Baruch Katznelson

In memory of my city of Slutsk

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The symphony of generations suffering in exile, longing for life and redemption
Enters my heart like strong wine of agony in the loneliness of night;
Illuminating me and causing me to have tears, and refusing to die
Of them only it remains.

The symphony of generations, the progeny of the funeral of an elderly, faithful person;
The violin of their soul during their wanderings in the hallways of time –
It is still in its sadness with refreshing, flowing clearness
As it was born in sadness.

Like a ray of light shining forth from the heart in the darkness of the netherworld
In it shines the faith and bereavement smiles.
A ray of anguish opposite G-d, calling out loudly,
And dancing with the melody.

A wonderful symphony, moving every heart without words
Imbued with sweet suffering, pride in the depths.
And it is a ladder, in it is a ladder on which those who thrust off the yoke ascend
To the heights of “One.”

Generations raised the symphony, and it raised them
In the depths of despair, in the hopeless agony, the seed of the holiness of the age
Dancing on pyre with them, pouring out nauseating joy
And it is burned with them.

Now, old and childless, flowing over the graves –
A silent violin with no hand to move the strings.
It is silent and will be silent: no more will the generations of singing be heard.
Their voices have been silenced forever – – –

The symphony of generations suffering in exile, longing for life and redemption
Comes into my heart like strong wine of agony in the loneliness of night;
Illuminating me and causing me to have tears, and refusing to die
Of them only it remains.


Natives of Slutsk and its environs in Tel Aviv at a memorial ceremony for the martyrs of the community on 3 Adar

[Page 171]

Avraham Epstein*

Y.N. Adler

Avraham Epstein was a personality studded with charming gems, some bright and some modest. He was an esteemed and humbled man with God and people and a noble man in his manners - to the point of weaving a thin partition between him and the other person - while his heart was a heart that listens, in fact, to every heartbeat of the other person; He was tired of wanderings and tribulations, he was uprooted and exiled from place to place - while his spirit was not turbid and the character of his nobility was not blurred in any way.

I remember that once, when Epstein returned from his wanderings and tribulations all over the “settlments area” to his beloved city, he was in total despair and gripped by doubts from various sources, about the way he captured himself - he was half a Hebrew teacher and half an external - swifts in the stream of the detached people, without a visible safe harbor. In this mental crisis Epstein found himself surrounded by enthusiastic followers, who followed him in the evenings during the group walks along the road and listened passionately to his words, which were seasoned with witty intelligence and a touch of forgiving wisdom. While the little ones, his students in the “reformed cheder”, would also, upon the completion of the study, follow their admired teacher. And why should it be surprising? Their teacher was then a children's poet; A modest and unknown poet – he was of high quality and comprehensive. However, these little ones found with the power of intuitive achievement peculiar to them (and to the poets) - the spring of poetry that was repulsive in their teacher's soul; they found it and drank from it thirstily, to their pleasure and the teacher's pleasure as well. To the appearance it seemed that the little followers had finally brought a cure to the sad soul of the teacher and the mental crisis has already passed. After all, there was a brightness on the face of a teacher. But who can understand the spirit of a poet? And even more so when it comes to a children's poet. And indeed, one day Epstein got up and took his walking stick and his cape and went to an unknown destination and he never again returned to his beloved city, if I'm not mistaken.

The last stop on Epstein's life path was America. And this is where Epstein was “discovered”. And this is also where one enigmatic issue is revealed, as precisely here, in loud America, Epstein, who is humble, found himself as a critic writer who earned him the right of citizenship in Hebrew literature; Unexpectedly here, in the material and feverish America, Epstein was able to praise with thin and pleasant explanatory threads and heartfelt words of praise for the poets and writers who conquered Epstein's heart. Admittedly, it is to be regretted that Epstein for some reason did not write about the issues of Hebrew education in America that he himself debated about - at the time: in that first and difficult period at the Etz Haim Yeshiva, in Borough Park, and later at the Flatbush Yeshiva and finally in Herzliya. Indeed, this is also an enigmatic issue. Here are the necessary signs: an observing eye, a listening heart, hard trials and a writing talent. And why does his educational canvas remain empty, most of it intact? It is an enigma. However, who can understand the spirit of a man full of inspiration? Whether it is one way or another - this chapter, the Avraham Epstein chapter, is one of the most beautiful chapters, even if few in number, in the tractate of Hebrew America.

* This list (printed in “ HaDoar” (The Post)), was received late and due to its importance for the evaluation of the personality of the late A. Epstein, we print it in this section.


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