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[Page 422]

Horki and its Environs

(Gorki, Belarus)

5302' 2802'

By Joseph Nozick

Translated by Sandra Herzog and Phyllis G. Schulberg

[Photo page 422 right middle: Reb Mordechai Joseph, Father of Sender Tumoshov]

[ Photo page 422 lower left: Reb Herzl Reznick]

There were actually two Horkis: the little town and the village Horki. The little town was near a highway. Two times a day the carts would travel (from Slutsk to Staryye Dorogi, Bobruisk, and back) harnessed to four horses which carried passengers and a small amount of goods. I remember when the autobus appeared for the first time in 1910 in our little town. All the people, small and big, old and young, came out of their houses staring in wonder. In the little town of Horki there were around 30 Jewish families—tailors, cobblers, blacksmiths, carpenters and several coachmen and also a few shopkeepers.

The village of Horki had a few hundred Christian families and fifteen Jewish families. In the fall when it rained, and in the spring, the mud would be up to your knees.

During the war, the district and its chief extended into the small town of Horki where one always found the one who rents out the land (duke/count) and a pair of security guards.

Several intellectuals and rich Jews, a few scholars, lived in the town. We didn't have a rabbi. Reb Leib Freinkman, from Novosholk, a Jewish teacher ordained as a rabbi, was the owner of a steam engine and a sawmill where we sawed blocks on board and boards and took them to the railroad station at Staryye Dorogi. Reb Leib had five sons, Yeshiva students. From Novosholk to Horki there was a Tihum Shabbas (a limit to the distance one was permitted to walk on the Sabbath); Reb Leib would come to shul with his sons. We afforded him a great honor.

I remember an accident as a child before a holiday. Itshe the butcher had slaughtered a cow and Reb Noach Alihi, the shochet, found an adhesion and declared the meat non-kosher. Itshe, the butcher, a poor Jew, got confused. He was a worthy, poor man. And the Jews remained without meat for the holiday. He went to Reb Leib of Novosholk and with tears in his eyes told him the story. Reb Leib consulted the holy books and told the butcher to go home and sell the meat. He decided this way for two reasons. First, the butcher was a poor Jew. Secondly, it was a holiday and Jews were not to be without meat on a holiday.

[Page 423]

[Photo page 423 lower right: Reb Zev and Gitl Nozick, Joseph Nozick's parents]

[Photo page 423 middle left: Gitl Kaplan, Reb Dovid of Rozhishche's daughter]

Another important Jew in Horki was Shmuel Shaul Reznick and his wife Rachel, an employee of an automobile company. Shmuel would deliver the mail from Slutsk, Staryye Dorogi, and Horki by horse and wagon. Velvl Tomoshov was a shopkeeper from the town, a learned Jew, a trustee of the synagogue and reader of the Torah in the shul. He took care of the books for the shul.1 On the eve of Yom Kippur, people would pay for the Torah honors and donations. He and his wife, Chosheh, would give charity anonymously. The second shopkeeper was Yisrael and his wife Chaya Deborah. Reb Herzl Reznick from the village of Horki, an observant, intelligent Jew, a scholar, the mohel (circumciser) for the whole surrounding community, was also a good reader of prayers (i.e. cantor). There was a minyan in Herzl's house all year. But for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, all of the village Jews came to the shtetl. Reb Herzl would pray Musof (the additional holiday prayer) on Rosh Hashanah and recite Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur. He davened Maariv (evening prayer) and the next day Musof and Ne'ilah. Shimon, the wagon driver had a claim on the honor of opening the Holy Ark for Ne'ilah (the last prayer on Yom Kippur). No matter how much he was asked, he outbid others and paid the most for the mitzvoh (honor) of opening the ark.

There were a number of other important Jews, for example: Reb Shloyme the Cohen (from the priestly family, descendants of Aaron), a god-fearing person who loved people; a poor man, he supported himself by working the land. His wife Ese was known as the bubbeh (grandmother) of the neighborhood. Also of mention were Reb Dovid Leib Ostrover and his son Nachum; Yidl Seigalovich; Beril the miller; and Reb Michael.

Reb Fayvl, the wagon driver, was once in America and returned. He was no great scholar. He was a good prayer reader (cantor) and an even better Torah reader. His claim was leading the shacharit (morning prayer) on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (starting from the prayer) Hamelech (The King).2 On Tisha B'Av when he read the Lamentation prayers, tears poured from his eyes. It was said that the walls of the shul cried with him. Boys would take aim from all sides and throw thistles straight into his beard.

Itshe the coachman had a good voice. On the Sabbath when the blessing was said for the new month, when he would come to the words, “May it be Thy will that the new month be blessed…,” one would feel great passion, for his heart and soul were in the prayer.

Near Horki lived Reb Moishe Gezel of Rozhishche, an intelligent, well-to-do, earnest man. He had a big business and was a distinguished Jew. Rozhishche was six to seven viorst3 from Horki. Reb Moishe Gezel would not come to Horki very often. Shabbas and Yom Tov there were minyans in his house with the nearby residents, for example: Mote Lazar and his son Beril from Kuchin, Itshe Leib from Kasarichi with his sons. And from a neighboring village, Starevo,4 the Jews would come on Shabbas and on the holidays to the minyans.

Reb Dovid Margolin from Rozhishche was known through the whole community as a rich countryman and hospitable Jew—the tablecloth was never taken off the table. Everyone could sit and eat as much as the heart desired. He was a great charity giver and beloved even by the Christians in the village. He sponsored his sons-in-law, students in whom he took pride, such as Reb Zelig Chinitz and Reb Mendl Kaplan from Bobruisk. At a Shabbas minyan they convened in the inn of Reb Dovid from Rozhishche. Also there were Reb Moishe Gezel and Reb Shmerl with their grandchildren. Also many nearby residents, visitors and transients. During refreshment time, they would joke that it was as if they were at the table of the king.

Reb Noach Elia, the Horki shochet, had a handsome beard in addition to being fanatically religious. While he prepared the ritual knife, no one dared be in the room in order not to disturb him.

[Page 424]

[Photo page 424: Mones Gelfand and his wife Raynele]

The Jews from both Horkis were poor. Each one, with great difficulty, earned a little bit of bread, but when a poor man or a guest came to the shtetl on a special Shabbas, he was treated with honor.

We would start to prepare for Passover right after Purim. At my parents house almost each year we would have the puhdroch5 during which we would bake matzoh. Everyone would bring their own meal (i.e. ingredients) to bake the matzohs. My father and mother, two or three weeks before the puhdroch, labored very hard day and night in order to earn rubles to make a wonderful holiday. The day before Passover, we would bake Shmurah matzohs6 in our house. All the Jews from the shtetl and from the village would come to fulfill the mitzvoh (fulfilling the commandment) (of baking the shmurah matzohs). One would knead the dough; another would bring and pour the water; another would roll it; a fourth would put the matzohs in the oven. In general, each one was involved in the mitzvoh and at the same time we said and sang the holiday prayer, 'Hallel.'

At the Passover Seder in my parents' house voices were very high. Holiness prevailed.

At one corner of the table, I remember, stood six candlesticks. Sparkling, burning lights. A fourteen-branched lamp lit up the house. My father, may he rest in peace, was not educated, but a very honest, observant Jew. He sat reclining on two pillows at the table prepared with matzohs, choroses, horseradish, etc. And with a cheerful singing voice he would conduct the seder. My mother wasn't as religious as my father but she had pleasure when we were all around her. There were times when her face showed a melancholy from misery and hardship, worrying about us all. My father, always a great believer, would always say, “God will help.”

Mones, the coachman, was considered a rich man in the shtetl. He owned four horses with harnesses. He and his wife, Riva Leah, had three sons and a daughter. The two older sons, Nachum Beril and Malkiel, worked with him when they grew up and also hired a Christian. It was said that they saved a good few hundred rubles and it could be noticed since they lived better and they dressed nicer. When Shmuel Shaul Reznick moved to Staryye Dorogi, Mones bought his beautiful house. His chazaka (entitlement) was to lead services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur beginning with the morning prayers up until 'Hamelech' (the name of a prayer). Their son, Malkiel, emigrated to America, and lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sholem's son, Ruven, a coachman, was a strong (heroic) Jew. His manner of praying was marked by many mistakes. I remember that for Passover, Ruven and I would go collecting alms for the poor.

There were more coachmen, for instance Meshl and his son Melakh, and Yerukham. They lived a virtuous, difficult life.

In the shtetl there were three blacksmiths: Bentsha, Mendl and Shaul, the mute. Shaul's wife, Malka, was surely not a mute. She possessed an abusive tongue. We trembled from her mouth. In 1923, their son, Isaac, married one of my sisters. According to the latest information, they are now in Slutsk. I remember Itshe, the tailor, Elchanan, the cobbler, and his brother Sholem. Also, Khatshe, the tailor from the village.

In 1920, when there wasn't any white flour, my father would on Friday night make kiddish over a loaf of black bread. Or over a glass of cold tea and make the proper blessing. In those days, a little salt, sugar and white flour were among the most expensive and hardest to obtain.

All of the coachmen, whom I had earlier mentioned, would draw their livelihood from Boris Kletzkin, from Vilna, the proprietor of the publishing house 'Kletzkin.' He had a glassworks factory in Starevo, ten viorsts from Horki. The coachmen would travel to Starevo, unload the wagons—special flat wagons with crates of glass—and take them to the Starevo village to the railroad. Sometimes they would also take goods from Starevo village to Slutsk.

Most of the workers in the glassworks were Poles and a few Germans. But there were white-collar workers who were mechanics, bookkeepers, overseers, barbers. The shopkeepers were Jews; the majority not orthodox.

After Hitler's invasion, everything in those regions was washed away. No more shtetl! No bright images! Honor their memories!

[Page 425]

[Photo page 425 upper right: Reb Yitzkhok Tomoshov with his wife, Horki residents]

[Photo page 425 left middle: Reb Shmuel Tomoshov with his wife Libe and their son]

Horki people: Chaim Zedes

Reb Shmuel Shaul Reznick with his wife Rachel, were well known in Horki, and also over the whole Slutsker region. Apart from their good works in charity and acts of kindness, hospitality to guests, Reb Reznick was very accomplished in a variety of languages.

All brokers from Slutsk-Bobruisk knew that Shmuel Shaul sought the best Jewish teachers for his four sons and price was no deterrent.

When a Horker Jew was in trouble, Shmuel Shaul was the person who helped him out of trouble. When a Jew needed to send his son or son-in-law to America, and needed money, Shmuel Shaul's funds were available for the needy. When the Horker bathhouse was burned, Shmuel Shaul was one of the first to come up with a great amount of money. Many Jewish teachers exulted in that they were worthy to be teachers for Shmuel Shaul.

Reb Shmuel Shaul played an important role everywhere. He was held in high esteem by everyone. Since he was a rich man, he had an open hand for everyone. Every holiday he hired Noach Elyu, the slaughterer to slaughter several calves, and sometimes a cow too, and distributed the meat to poor families. His wife, Rachel, helped to distribute charity to all. He was held in great esteem in the eyes of Horki landowners and also the regional officials. Everyone respected him. In the days when Nicholas ruled, Jews weren't allowed to have their own fields. But as Shmuel Shaul held the government contracts, he occupied many fields. He produced oats for the postal service horses. And in those days Shmuel Shaul had a mill to thresh oats.7

Shmuel Shaul treated all his farmhands and servants very well. Everyone was bound to him heart and soul. They called him master (balehbus) and his wife mistress (balebusteh). The peasants didn't want to leave them.

After the World War I, everything went to the Bolsheviks. The rich Shmuel Shaul with his wife Rachel were driven from their beautiful residence. Everything was taken from them.

The proud, rich Shmuel Shaul Reznick died from heartache. All of his children scattered. The once rich wife, Rachel Reznick, remained living in Staryye Dorogi lonely and poor.

As quickly as her countrymen in America learned of her difficult situation, many people offered their help.

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  1. It is not clear if this meant he did the accounting, or that he physically maintained the prayer books. Return
  2. Synagogue honors: The honors of opening the Ark, being called to the Torah, and leading certain parts of the service were very important, and they traditionally went to the same men year after year. The men clung tenaciously to these honors, and it is not clear if anyone knows on what basis they were assigned. Return
  3. A viorst is 3500 English feet. Return
  4. The translation of this town from the original Yiddish document would be “Sareve;” we believe this was a typographical error and that the town should be Starevo as shown. Return
  5. An event at which the entire town came together to bake matzohs for Passover. Return
  6. Shmurah matzoh is traditionally eaten at the Seder. The Shmurah matzoh is watched even more carefully than ordinary matzoh during every phase of its production, to be sure that no leavening has taken place. Return
  7. Remove from chaff. Return

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