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[Page 441]


(Timkovichi, Belarus)

5304' 2659'

by Sonja Kazhdan-Nachmani

Translated by Pamela Russ

Tymkowicz, my home town, ten viorst [measurement slightly longer than a kilometer] from Kopulie. The majority of the population was Christian. There were about 400 Jewish families. Among them were big merchants, such as, for example, the Dworecki brothers, who conducted a lot of trade: exported eggs to the entire Russia and outside of that; the Pjolka brothers, great forest merchants; the Dayan [rabbinic judge] Reb Avrohom Moishe Perlin, an ordained scholar, and also big wholesale merchant of dried fruit. The same was Areh Gershon Meyer's Rockewycz, a Jew, a scholar. These two sat and studied Torah day and night, and their businesses were managed by their wives Yudis Perlin and Soroh Rochel. Mordechai Mockewycz managed the Tymkowiczer estate of big manufacturing merchandise – Grunem and his wife Esther Rabinowycz, Polye Sodowski, Meyer Goldberg and others; grain merchant – Velvel and Nachman Kiewicki, Leybel Michol's and from the Sodowskis.

The Tymkowiczer Jews did business with oxen trade, herding them to the train in Gorodaj (Zomiria), and from there exported them to foreign countries. There were many shops in the marketplace, packed with all kinds of goods, especially for the village population, who, twice a week, on Sundays and Tuesdays, would bring their products to the town's small merchants, and then buy for their own needs: land working tools, kerosene, tar, herring, handmade ornaments, sugar, manufactured goods. There were large fairs twice a year. There was lots of noise and activity

[Page 442]

with a busy animal trade of horses, flax, linseed, hoar hair. Many merchants from distant regions would come to the fairs, gypsies with their fast, trained horses (sometimes even stolen ones). Through Tymkowicz, four times a week, the famous Slutsker “Oriol” would travel back and forth to Zamiriya to the train, and onwards. These were large wagons covered with canvas, packed with merchandise from the blessed Slutsker and returned with products from distant places. The drivers of the “Oriol” were exclusively Slutsk Jews. Other than that, the Tymkowicz wagon drivers, such as the well-known Pulka, rode daily to Slutsk with passengers and goods.

Caption: Yitzchok and Taibel Kazhdan (after their wedding) 71 years ago

In Tymkowicz there were Jewish people who worked the soil – plowing, sowing, reaping, harvesting. They lived from work in the field. The best known of these workers was Volf Yelin, who took care of the horses in the estate. There were inns in the town, for those who were passing through, and “clinics” for the peasants who came to town for trade and wanted medical help from health care providers or doctors in town. Among the inn owners were Areh Tzernogubowski, Shifrin, Fraide Chaya Leibes, Fruma Tolyes-Kulakowski, Sodowski.

In Tymkowicz there was a provincial hospital with a Christian doctor, and as I remember, there was always a private doctor in the town, that changed from time to time. The names of some were: Gersonowycz, Levinson, Roginski. For consultations, they would bring over doctors Slepian or Katzenelenboigen from Neswyzh.

In the provincial hospital, there was a Christian health care provider by the name of Grynyok, but the largest practice for the peasants and aristocrats in the surrounding areas was with my father, Itche Kazhdan, of blessed memory (his father Leizer Kazhdan was the doctor's assistant in Tymkowicz). He was a steady guest by the Cekhoike prince Domanski and in the courtyard of the Tymkowiczer prince (he was from the Radziwills).

During the great market days and fairs, our yard and home was filled with peasants' wagons. My father, may he rest in peace, did not rest, rode around day and night, even on Shabbath and on the Jewish holidays. He distributed necessary medicines for free, even leaving behind a bottle of wine to strengthen a poor, sick peasant. During the time of the Soviet government, he worked in the provincial hospital. (He died on the second of Shevat in the year 5695 [January 18, 1934] at the age of 70). That same year, on Lag b'Omer, my mother Taibe died as well.

A noteworthy story with the Tymkowiczer pharmacist. The pharmacist's family name was Cernomordik. In Chekhov's famous story “At the Pharmacy,” the name of the main character was Cernomordik. So there was a rumor in town that since he was a military doctor, Chekhov passed through Tymkowicz and stopped in the pharmacy, and this served as the central theme for his story.

In the Tymkowicz estates, there was a brewery for alcohol, a water mill, and a windmill.

In every estate, there was a Jewish lease holder who would produce Dutch cheese: in Sowycz, Tymkowicz, Cekhoike, and others. There were all kinds of artisans in the town: famous coppersmiths, smithies, carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, furriers. All these worked for the neighboring princes, for the peasants, and for the local Jews.

A unique, interesting type was Reb Elye Yessil's Gowiznianski, a businessman, a community activist. He always made sure there was enough wood for heating and warming the Beis Medrash [Study Hall] during the winter. He also made sure that the bathhouse was in order. With all his capacity, he helped orphans, the poor, needy mothers of newborns. He collected money for new brides, and who could compare to him when he found a bride that he could help. His face shone and his eyes lit up. When Reb Elye Yessil's went to America for a year, they said in town that during that year there were no

[Page 443]

funerals or brides. Simply said, there was no one to escort the dead, nor anyone to celebrate with the bride and groom.

Caption: Reb Elye Yessil's Gowiznianski

Of the teachers in town, I remember Reb Yosef Yudel, Reb Leizer, Reb Nochum Bruks, and Reb Shloime Perles. Reb Shlomo was an exceptional Talmud teacher, and when he eulogized a deceased, he would have the entire town in tears.

At the beginning of the Zionist movement, these were well known: Zelig Zelikowski, an enlightened intellect and a Talmudist; Yakov Moishe Kozak, Velvel Sodowski (Dr. Herzl's picture hung in his home). In the later times, Sonja Kogan and Tzemach, the assistant pharmacist, were outstanding in their Zionist activities. In town, Nisel Kontor established a library of Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian books.

The teacher Mandel opened a modern cheder [religious school for young children], where they studied Hebrew (not Hebrew in Hebrew). After that, a certain Grinberg from Kopulie, and his wife (the daughter of the Nieswiezer Rav Szerszewski) opened a school for Russian and other subjects, and also for Hebrew – Hebrew in Hebrew.

There were many Bundists [secular Jewish socialists], social democrats such as the Bundist Yehoshua, Yelena Rabinowycz, Moishe Rabinowycz. His brother Shimon was locked in the Slutsk prison. Tymkowiczer girls studied courses in the Slutsk gymnasium to be health care providers in Vitebsk, in schools for dentists, and so on.

A well-known person in Tymkowicz was the Jewish elder official Feitel Kozak, and before him, his father Chaim Leyb. One of Sonja Kogan's brothers, Moishke Kogan, was known for his participation in Captain Smith's expedition to the North Pole.


In Tymkowicz there was a misnagdishe shul [synagogue that opposed chassidic philosophy], a chassidic shtiebel, [small, informal synagogue], and a cold shul, and, to differentiate, a Greek Orthodox church and a Catholic church.

The chassidic shtiebel in town was an infrequently used place because in the entire area there was no chassidic minyan [quorum]. At the head of the small chassidic court in Tymkowicz were the businessman Pole Sodowski and my father.

Summer 1914, before World War One, I and my husband Shimshon Nachmani, left Tymkowicz and went to Israel.

Caption: A youth group in Tymkowicz. Sitting from right to left: Dolgin, Rosa Kazhdan (died in Tzfat), Soroh Yelin, Moishe Yelin. Standing: Meyer Kazhdan, Ida Yelin, Dr. Leizer Kazhdan (died in Sklow), Moishe Yelin's wife…

May my memories serve as a memorial for my deceased family, comrades, friends, and for the Jewish population in my home town, which was erased by Nazi murderers' hands.

[Pages 444-445]


by Mendele Moykher Sforim

Translated by Hershl Hartman

(A fragment of [Mendele's novel,] “Shloyme Reb Hayim's: A Picture of Jewish Life in Lithuania”)

On a flat, open field, only nine or ten verst from Kopyl [about 6 miles], your eyes suddenly become aware of some sort of hamlet off in the distance. As soon as you get there, you immediately recognize this to be a Jewish shtetl. The clear signs of this are the marketplace with its booths, the grounds of the shul with its little sanctuary and tiny house of study, and – not to be compared, of course – the bath-house with its ritual bath. The market, the shul, and the bath-house are three institutions that are set up as soon as a handful of Jews gather together, share life together. It is as impossible to live without them as it would be for fish to live without water.

The name of the shtetl is Timkovichi! There are several minyanim [prayer groups] there, and at the beginning of a particular summer one more soul joins them – a young boy, a stranger, who sits all day in the house of study, poring over the holy texts.

Is Timkovichi a center of Torah-learning, then? Is there a yeshiva there? No – by no means, no! The Jews who live there are struggling just to earn a living. The minute that prayers are finished, the house of study is suddenly empty. The grounds of the shul become totally bare, not a single foot treading there, not one person to be seen, as if all were dead. The crowd has scattered. This one – home. Another – to the marketplace. Everyone has his affairs to attend to.

And so it wasn't for love of Torah that the young boy came here from afar – he came, quite simply, for food. That is to say, to take meals on specified days of the week, on a rotation basis, at the homes of the shtetl's well-to-do. Neither did he come here of his own free will, but was driven here by need. His mother, Sarah, a widow with little children, lacked any means of support. She, alas, had to acquiesce and send her dearest child, the eldest of her youngsters, to the shtetl, and to count on the cordiality of acquaintances there.

Swaying over the gemore [part of the Talmud] with religious intensity, humming bits of a lonely melody, Shloymele spends his time in the deserted house of study alone. When he tires of swaying, he just sits there, frozen on a bench, staring blankly, not moving a hair. Or he wanders into the yard outside the shul where there is no one but himself, stands, yawns, gazes fixedly to one side, not knowing who or where he is.

Prayer – that was the one bright sunbeam that could tear through his clouds of melancholy, that shone into his darkened, orphaned soul. In Timkovichi he clearly could not advance his Torah learning, but somehow the sweet taste of prayer moved him. This was a hasidic form of prayer, a prayer with a burning fervor. It was here in Timkovichi that he first laid eyes on hasidim, on the hasidic world, of which there was not a trace in Kopyl. In Kopyl, hasidim were the occasion only for brusque epithets, nasty stories that were spread by vitriolic misnagdim [opponents of Hasidism], as if against enemies of the Jewish people – wild creatures, no better than cattle.

The householder with whom he would stay overnight and dine on shabbes [Sabbath], a good friend of his father's, may he rest in peace, was a hasid, but still a Jew. And, moreover, a passionate Jew, a fine person – a Jew in the best sense of the word! Shloymele prayed where his host did, in a hasidic shtibl [small gathering-place for prayer], and both the overall conduct there and the manner of their praying were to his liking. Shloymele was indebted to little Timkovichi, because it gave him his first push toward a deeper understanding in the whole matter of Jewishness, which in later years advanced further and further. For Shloymele Timkovichi was a new discovery – like, for example, a newly-discovered island in the world's vast oceans. Hasidim are really Jews, too! But still there is a difference between them and the misnagdim, among whom he had grown up in his shtetl up until this point. A misnagid has a frozen soul. All that matters to him is reason; his heart – ice-cold. His Torah learning and his prayer life are carried out only according to the letter of the law, they do not extend any further than what is written down in the texts. The misnagid is like an honest debtor who pays off what he owes exactly on time, because those are the rules. “Well,” he thinks, “I paid off my debt and I'm done.” His God is an angry one: as soon as something is askew, He feels insulted, He grows angry, He gets red-hot, and He inflicts punishment. The hasid, on the other hand, as Shloymele now could see, is passionate. The main thing for a hasid lies in service to the Creator – joyfulness: “Let Israel rejoice in its Maker” [as the Psalms urge us], in that kind of God – the good, merciful Father that He is.

“While praying you should have nothing weighing on your mind, not even concern for the sins that you have committed.” So said the holy Ar”i[1]. Here in the shtibl, the praying is enthusiastic.

However, the [luminosity of the] praying – that bright sunbeam – shone only temporarily in Shloymele's soul, which was so sad. The rest of the time Shloymele felt defeated, vacuous, less than conscious, almost like some sort of golem [creature of clay]. Soon he was in a reverie, imagining a fat red cheek under a closed, blind eye, floating in the air in front of him. [But the eye was real, and it] belonged to the daughter of the household where he was lodging – a strong, beefy, corpulent, and broad-boned young woman. Shloymele would normally not have been concerned at all with the young woman as such. Well, so she is blind in one eye, so what? The problem, though, was this: they wanted, so he learned, to make her his bride, and this concerned him greatly. He would picture her [in his mind's eye] and a great resentment would begin seething inside him: “As if all your troubles aren't enough, all you need now is to get married! And to whom? To a blind spinster!”

And, too, Shloyme would be gripped at times by a deep yearning for home, for his shtetl, for everything that existed there in the good years.

But once, during slikhes time[2], is yearning became overwhelming and fantasies haunted him. Fantasy overcame reality. She carried him on her eagle's wings and brought him to his home, to his mother, sweating, panting, and in a single breath. Mother and child looked at one another, and bathed in each other's tears.


  1. Acronym of Adoneinu [our Master] Rabbi Isaac – Rabbi Isaac Luria of Safad, leading Cabbalist (1534-1572). Return
  2. Slikhes, or slikhot, is a period of penitential prayers, said during the last days of the Jewish year, and through Yom Kippur. Return


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