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52°44' 27°28'

Starobin – 3213 souls, a church, a school, a post office, large stretches of swamp.
Other than business, the city Jews were occupied with vegetation and cultivating large stretches of straw and grass.


My Town Starobin

by Rabbi Nissen Waxsman

Translated by Pamela Russ

Many years have already passed since I have said goodbye to you, my place of birth. I have experienced much over time, and traveled through many countries, lived through many events. I have seen many larger and even more beautiful cities than you. But still, you stand before my eyes, with all your faults and merits, with all your forests and fields, with your mud and swamps, with your simpletons and your bright, refined, deep Jews who will never be erased from my memory.

Caption: HaRav Nissen Waxsman and his mother Shayna Laya (Photo Yukhnin, Slutsk 1908)

Starobin was a town of about 300 Jewish families, and is located in the Minsk province, 35 viorst from the prestigious city of Slutsk. In addition to the general Jewish vocations such as shoemaker, tailor, and shopkeeper, Starobin had its own industry from which the majority of Jews drew their income. In Starobin, Jews used to have large gardens in which they grew cucumbers. In the summertime, they guarded the cucumbers like an eye in the head, and at the end of the summer, they picked them in the fields, and with their hands, they cut them in half lengthwise, removed the seeds, then washed and dried them in the sun. Then merchants would come from deep in Russia and buy the seeds for planting and then grow the cucumbers in their own place, and they would pay twenty or thirty ruble a pood, a high price, but you can imagine how much work went into this until there was a pood (40 pounds) of dried “seeds.” One can also imagine how much profit you could make with this.

Because of this, Starobin was rich with prominent Jewish souls, with rare Jewish types of which it could be very proud.

Starobin was actually divided into three parts. Slutsker Street, that was called “edge of town,” the marketplace, that was called the “upper class neighborhood,” and Israel Street (yes, that was what the street was called). Each of these three had its own Beis Medrash [Study Hall], with its own charm.

In the Beis Medrash of the “edge of town,” there were really no great scholars, but they studied diligently. Pesakh the teacher prayed there. He was the Gemara teacher of the town. He would take 10-15 children and “work” with them from the morning until late at night, with all his energies. He worked like that, with young Jewish boys, for 25 years, until he became hoarse, and would speak with the voice of a duck. In fact, a gang of jokers called him “Pesach the quacker.” And if this Jew wasn't already exhausted from his teaching, every day, between mincha [afternoon prayer] and

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maariv [evening prayer] he would recite a chapter of mishnayos in front of the congregants – not for money, Heaven forbid, and during the Shabbath day, he would recite Chumash.

In the “upper class” Beis Medrash, the more intellectual crowd prayed – those who were more educated in the worldly and Jewish sense.

Caption: Reb Zelig Velvel's (Khinitz)
A Gemara teacher in the “edge of town” and a beadle of that synagogue in Starobin. He was the grandfather of HaRav Avrohom Khnitz and of the writer Chaim Liff and his brothers in New York.

The city's Maskilim [“enlightened ones”] and half-modern teachers prayed there. They argued that a Jew must know Tanach [acronym for Torah: Five Books of Moses, Neviim: Prophets, and Kesuvim: Writings] actually with its grammar. Each Shabbath, they would study a page of Gemara there, and in attendance were about 20-30 fine Jews. The Rebbi was Reb Shlomo Landau, a great Torah scholar, who earned his livelihood from the post office that his father-in-law Yankel Itche Chaim's had in the lease of “Kozno,” and he gave this over to him as an eternal dowry when he took him as a son-in-law for his only daughter. So Reb Shlomo sat and learned and was involved with community work, and the father-in-law took care of the horses and coaches along with all the tools that were required to provide the area with postal services, and for this he was very proud of his son-in-law. In that Beis Medrash there was someone who was called Hirshke the shoemaker. He had an outstanding voice and would lead the prayers during the Days of Awe [High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur]. The maskilim would shrug their shoulders a bit, complaining about why it was just in their synagogue that such a simple Jew was leading the prayers, a former shoemaker; but no one had the audacity to say a word to him, because they knew that no one could compare to Hirshke's Yaaleh [significant part of the Yom Kippur prayer] and his Yom Kippur mussaf [afternoon prayers].

Hirshke's wife, Chasha Merke's, was a real pious woman. She worked as for ten women. Wherever there was a poor person, wherever there was an orphan boy or girl that needed to get married, or a poor person's funeral to be arranged, Chasha Merke's was the first to arrange everything discreetly so that no one would realize that they “got lucky,” so she was very careful that even the person in question for whom she was working, did not know how or through whom he or she was helped.

In 1915, when almost all the Russian armies went through White Russia, a nation of Cossaks arrived in Starobin right on Yom Kippur in the middle of the day. When they saw a few Jews in the street, they began to taunt them. The Jews ran to the Beis Medrash and began to scream that Cossaks were beating Jews. Chaos erupted and the majority of the Jewish men and women ran to their homes. The beadles ran over to Hirshke, who was standing at the podium leading the mussaf prayers, and pleaded with him to end the prayers because there was a life threatening situation and the congregants must go home.

Caption: Reb Osher Domnycz (renowned as a teacher, an enlightened individual, and a Zionist, with his wife and son Zev)

But Hirshke waved them away with his hands and shouted in surprise, “Avodah!” That means how can one allow himself to interrupt while reciting the Avodah [highpoint of prayers] where no interruption is permitted. He did not budge from his place and continued his mussaf as if nothing had happened.

Seeing his determination, many Jews remained in the synagogue, and in a short while, a group of Don Cossaks with their long sabres entered into the synagogue, but

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when they saw Hirshke with his kittel [white robe] and talis [prayer shawl] standing at the podium and saying “Ve'hakohanim…” [the opening words of the priests's blessings for the congregation], and then all the men dropping down to the ground for Kor'im [the word at which the men bow and drop to the ground in reverence during the priestly prayer], they became unsettled and left quietly.

Caption: HaRav Reb Yosef Rozowsky studied in Starobin, Poltawa, Mir. He died in Russia.

The third section of the town was concentrated around the large Beis Medrash, that was the main synagogue. The Rav and all those who held positions in the religious field, prayed there, and that was the “kingdom” of Moishe Nomi's. This was a rare type of Jew that you don't find already for many years. Actually, he was only the beadle of the great synagogue, but in truth, he was the manager of religious life in town. First, he was a genius in the Talmud and responsa, with a touch of Kabbalah [mysticism] as an addition. There was no limit to his religiousness. He would literally sit day and night in the Beis Medrash and study. Elderly Jews used to say that in fifty years it never happened that someone would come into the synagogue, either by day or at night, and not find Moishe. Even though in Starobin there were always great rabbis of world renown, it was Moishe who would be the one to be learning a page of Gemara in the great synagogue and the great rabbi would be one of the listeners. As the city beadle, he would go through the city every Thursday and collect money for those poor who needed bread.

Starobin, as good as the entire Slutsker Jewish area was, did not have chassidim with the whole “rebbe” [chassidic leader] atmosphere. But they would come to Moishe as to a good Jew even from other cities in the area to receive a blessing. Not only Jews, but often non-Jews would also come to him with requests, and the only payment that he would take from them was candles and towels for the Beis Medrash, when their wishes were fulfilled.

In Starobin, there was also a yeshiva for a few years before World War One, and it was run by HaRav Reb Zelig Fortman. I too studied there. It happened once that he had to leave town for a few weeks, so he asked Moishe to conduct the classes for the yeshiva, and on one day, in the middle of his conducting a class, a peasant entered with a large package of towels and wanted to see him. Moishe excused himself from us, and conversed for a while with the peasant, and took the towels from him. When he came back to us, he noticed that the incident had made an impression on us, the young men, so he said to us with a divine smile:

“Two cows ran away from this peasant, so he came to me a week ago so that I would “charm them” [remove any “charm” or evil eye from the peasant so that this would not happen again]. Why would it bother me if a peasant believes in such things? He now brought towels that will provide for the Beis Medrash for a year! When peasants believe, then it's good. You can't laugh at them because when they stop believing, then it becomes terrible!” …
In the large synagogue, sitting in a corner was Reb Avrohom Reuven Hinde's (Rubnitz) reciting Alshich [a Midrashic commentator]. He was the eldest of his brothers, son of Pesach the teacher and Elye Hinde's. In town they were called the “sons of Reuven,” likely because of their grandfather after whom they were named – Rubnitz. Along with the Khinitzes, they were the largest family in town. According to my memory, Avrohom Reuven was already in his high eighties and he had already long before given up his business. He used to be a merchant of fur and boar hair, of which he considered himself to be the consummate expert. But all this “foolishness” was only with things. His main interest in life was something else. For over sixty consecutive years, he recited Alshich. That means, he studied with a group of Jews every day between minchah [afternoon prayers] and maariv [evening prayers] the Torah portion of the week along with the commentaries of Alshich. Among his listeners were those who had been there from when he began this learning – those such as Moteh Yankel the wagon driver and Moishe Berl the glazier, who themselves were also elderly Jews. For all his students who were from the working class elements of town, Avrohom Reuven was the symbol of Torah and intellect. His word was a piece of wisdom, even though he considered himself to be a simpleton, and would often make unnecessary comments.

One of his comments circulated around the town, that he did not believe that “in this world” there were such places as Moscow and Petersburg. “Well, at least places like Vilna and Warsaw”

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he used to say – “you can't deny because you see the names in black and white – on the Talmud.” From Minsk and Smolensk he himself saw merchants who came to buy his furs and boar hair, but the others – created falsehoods and deceits, a made-up story with which those who were idle used to drive you crazy, because they were too lazy to attend the class on Alshich and preferred to discuss nonsense!

Who can deny this? Maybe he was right after all!

As was mentioned earlier, there were always famous rabbis in Starobin. In the last tens of years, the
Rav there was Reb Dovid Feinstein, of blessed memory, who was a renowned name in the rabbinic world, known for his genius and extraordinary behavior. He was a brother-in-law to Reb Elye Pruzhiner, who was also a Rav in Starobin.

In general, Starobin was a city filled with Torah. In all the great yeshivos, they knew that Starobin was a reservoir of yeshiva students in comparison to the population. They would joke in town that the name of the town, in fact, was “sto rabin” which in Russian means – one hundred rabbis.

The last we heard from there before the Nazis invaded was that the Bolsheviks dried out the swamps there and lit everything up with electricity, but at the same time, they dried out the minds of Jewish life and left not even a spark of light of the glory and richly spiritual town Starobin.

Remarks of the editor:

The attached letter was the last one that was received from HaRav Reb Yosef Leyb Kaplan from his father Reb Moishe Nomi's in Starobin.

For certain reasons, the letter was delayed and it could not be entered into the Hebrew section. So, we are printing this letter in the Starobiner Yiddish section, because this letter mirrors the life of the great Torah scholar, Reb Moishe Nomi's, as well as the life of Starobiner Jews, in the twenties of this century.

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The Destruction of Starobin

(as related by the Starobiner partisan Chaim-Simcha Rubnitz, written by R. Rivin)

Translated by Pamela Russ

Seven days after the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, the Hitlerist mobs entered Starobin. The first victim to fall was Yosel Isser's, the second Yankel Dovid's grandson who tried to protect himself from them and beat up one of their soldiers. First they herded all the Jews from the market to a designated area where the Bojana was, and there they were murdered. After that, they herded together a large number of city Jews on the road to Slutsk into the Koziharer forest and they murdered them there. Some remained in the city, and at night, in the dark, many fled to Slutsk, Pahost, and to other surrounding towns. Of those remaining, the Germans selected twenty skilled workers: such as Grojnem the tailor, Herzel the butcher, and others like that, in order that they teach their skills to the Christian residents. The active helpers of the Germans were the former chief Valadya and Oxenke Karpowyczes. They were the main instigators and evictors of the Jewish population. The old chief, who considered himself of the most prominent people of the Christian population, and the medical assistant's son Karpowycz, who earned his entire living from the Jews, showed themselves to be the worst enemies and murderers. They helped expel all the Jews except for 20 skilled workers that the Germans left alone. These 20 skilled workers were allowed to live for a whole year, and after that they too were murdered.

Among those who fled into the forest and survived were: Shmulik Pisarewytz, Boruch Kalman Stubke's grandson, Hirshel Swercinuwski, Yankel Elye's son, Yankel Lipzyc, Zelig the tailor's grandson, and my sister Surke's son, Sender Menke, Shaya Avremel's grandson, Aharel Khinitz, Yisroel Mekhnewicer's son, Avremel Priwiszjer and his two children, Yisrolek Kaplan, Artze the wagon driver's son.

We organized ourselves into partisan groups together with the non-Jews in the forests of the village Dominowyc, in Polesia. In the beginning we did not have enough ammunition. There were few guns for one hundred people. We acquired food and clothing from those times that we attacked the villages at night. Later, when the number of partisans increased, it became easier for us. Our first organized attack on the Germans was on the road to Pahost on the Tczew “estate.” The Tczew village was exceptional in helping the Germans capture Jews, so we had to first attack Pahost, and kill the commandant and his staff. Then we burned down the courtyard. During this attack, the Starobin partisan Shmulik Pisarewyc was extraordinary. Also, the first of the Starobin partisans was killed, Yedidya Rapaport, son of Yerachmiel the carpenter, who earlier had lived in a village near Starobin. After this attack, we had more ammunition and increased our units. When we acquired more weapons we were able to decrease the number of Jewish victims that were killed by Christian hands, that hurried to receive a large reward for each Jewish head.

Other than Shmulik, another Starobin partisan that was exceptional was Aharel Khinitz. Because of the effective advice that he gave to the general of the partisans, thanks to his instruction, our units were enlarged and strengthened. One of his smartest suggestions was that after our attack on the villages we should take people from the villages with us so that the families could unite with the partisans. This is how we maintained ourselves until 1942, and when the partisan units grew, we began to deal with the Germans. That's how we conducted partisan slaughters until 1944. That was when I came back to Starobin, but I did not find any Jews there. Also, the town was almost completely destroyed. Slutsker Street, the marketplace, Poworcicer, Kropilanka streets, were all wiped out. On the long Slutsker Street, I found two houses – Sender Khinitz's and Zameh the shoemaker's. There was nothing left of the cemeteries. The Bolsheviks even took down the tombstones of the old cemetery, and in the new cemetery, the Germans burned and destroyed the tombstones. Here and there a broken tombstone was still standing.

That's how the destruction was in all the surrounding towns, and the same destruction was in Slutsk. The main thing that the Germans destroyed was – the center. There was nothing left of the large synagogue courtyard. Before that, the ghetto was located there. Of Slutsk, all that remained was Wigoda Street, and some small side streets around Kolonya. Parts of the Slutsk houses and of the houses in the surrounding areas were taken by the Christians to their villages. I found my father's house in the village of Paworcic. The Starobin partisans returned to the town, and then later those few

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who remained alive in White Russia came as well. About 300 Jews gathered in Slutsk. At first, we would drag ourselves from Starobin to Slutsk and back. On one of my Slutsker visits with Yisroel Artzig, who was usually a little drunk, in order to drown out his problems, while walking on Khaposzker Street, Yisrolik suddenly met his daughter, a young child. She fell on him with hysterical cries: “Father! Father!” How did she survive, and how did she get here? She related the following…

When the Germans took over Slutsk, there were fugitives in Slutsk from many different towns. From Slutsk, the Germans would chase out camps of Jews, and on the roads the Germans would murder them all. Once, when the Germans assembled a camp of 500 children, and chased them out to the Starodoroger highway to kill them on the road, a peasant family from a nearby village snuck her [Yisrolik's daughter] out of the camp and took her to their home, and hid her as their child. They kept her like that until the time that she met up with her father. But she did not want to leave those who had saved her. They had no children of their own and kept her as their own child. She became as close to them as to her own parents. In the end, Yisrolek also went to their home to be together with his daughter and with her rescuers.

That's how I wandered in loneliness and sadness, lost my entire family, my wife and children, until I left Starobin, and as a former Polish citizen before the war, I continued wandering and then finally arrived in Israel.


A Wise Lesson

There is a town called Szwerzna, and there is a town Nieswizh; a town Krinok and a Nowy-Krinok. There is also a town Starobin and two other towns – one Wysoka and the other Gluboka. There is a difficult question: Why is one town called this way, and the other the exact opposite?

The answer is this:

The Creator created the entire world for the Jews, as it is written in the verse: “In the beginning, G-d created,” so Rashi [famous Biblical commentary] says: “It was created for Israel,” “first, – Israel is chosen of His produce.” And He created the Jews that they go in His ways and they should be good and pious, as it states in the verse: “It is only in the merit of Torah study that G-d keeps the world running.” Therefore, every Jew must know that the whole dance [of the world] keeps spinning only because of him, and he must spin and spin for the Creator and always be fresh in Torah studies and in keeping the mitzvos [positive commandments]. As it states in the verse: “Every day there should be novelties in your eyes.”

This is the translation of the name “czwerzne,” which means “fresh,” lively, enthusiastic before the Creator.

But how is it that the Creator takes a look and sees that it is “not so fresh”? A Jew is a little lazy to do a mitzvah, but he runs sharply, like an arrow in a bow, to commit a sin.

The Creator says: Dear little Jew, I have a little town for you, “Krinak,” I'll bring you a “krenk” [play on word for “sickness”], then you'll consider why you are here in this world.

If the dear Jew repents, then it is good. But if not, then the Creator says: “Nowy Krinak” [new sickness], I will bring upon you a new krenk [sickness], a stronger one that will awaken you from your sleep.

If the Jew catches himself in time, then it is good. But if not, the Creator says: “Dear Jew, it won't help. I have a town for you, Starobin, and you have to do the “starb” (in the Slutsk region, the “sh” sound is pronounced like an “s”, therefore it really sounds like “shtarb,” to die), and there they will see what they can do with you.”

And even if he is close to dying, if he awakens himself

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and turns to the “Father in Heaven,” the Creator says: “Fine! I'll accept you and send you to “Wysoka,” up high [Polish: wysoka means “high]. Your body will be burned and roasted but your soul will be washed and polished until it becomes like crystal – pure, and then it will be sent to the glorious Garden of Eden.”

But if the person is stubborn and says: “No, I don't want to repent!” then the Creator says: “I have a town Gluboka – first you will be killed by a nasty death and then you will go deep, deep [Russian: gluboka: “deep”] into the ground and sink ten fathoms deep in the earth!”


by Refoel Rivin

Translated by Pamela Russ



Every town had its nickname, such as:
Kopulier naronim [fools], Hrozower ladishkes [milk pots], Lekhewyczer peltzlekh [animal skins], Kletzker ganovim [thieves], Nieswyzher lasunes [fancy people], Starobiner dekhtzarnikes [?], and so on.
A story was told: Kopulier Jews, for whom the mountain obstructed a vision of the world, decided to push away the mountain. So they pushed and they pushed, and did not know whether the mountain had moved from its spot. What to do? So they went and took Lekhewyczer peltzlekh [animal skins], placed them beneath the mountain, and once again took to pushing the mountain.

They sent a messenger, and he heard that the skins had disappeared. But the truth was that the Kletzker had taken away the skins. Meanwhile, however, the Kopulier became exhausted from the grueling job of pushing, so they brought a krupnik [barley vegetable soup] filled up in Hrozower ladishkes [milk pots], so that they could enjoy this. In between all that, when the Kopulier went to wash their hands after using the bathroom before reciting “Asher Yatzar” [blessing recited after bathroom use], the Nieswyzher lasunes [fancy people] came and gobbled up the entire krupnik. And that's how the Kopulier remained. With the mountain and with the milk cans they really did earn their nickname.



If you grease the wheel – it goes smoothly.

Starobiner Jews were primarily transporters. The drivers [haulers] transported wood chopped down from the surrounding forests and took them to designated places. Many would drive through the villages to sell their own products.

Wagon drivers were busy with their surroundings and since painting the wheels with grease was a good way to maintain the standard of wheels, horse collars, bags, and leather straps, it was easy to sell this in the immediate areas.

With the abundance of grease, the Starobiner Jews also used this to polish their shoes and tall boots that shone, and you could smell the sharp odor of grease from a distance.

So the Starobiner really deserved the nickname “dekhtzarnikes [?].”


Starobiner Heretics


Reuve Mote-Yankel's, as a young man, was the one who introduced the Bund [secular Jewish socialist movement] to Starobin. Always busy, he would come home late at night, and finding the windows and doors locked, he would bang on the door and call out: “There is no G-d, no Kaiser, no father or mother, Mote-Yankel, open the door!”



Artze the teacher, a religious and a naïve man, could not in any way understand how it was possible that a Jew could be a heretic and not believe in G-d. It states explicitly in the Torah: “And G-d spoke to Moses and He said, I am your G-d.” And with a victorious tune, he would sing out loud, “So, what do you say about that!”



A debate between a wagon driver and a Komsomol member [Communist youth of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union].

Alter Taker suddenly became a heretic and stopped praying. And he also laughed at the Jews who were going to pray. Since Alter was almost a genius in black dots [mathematical/multiplication calculations], Artchik the wagon driver asked him: “Tell me, Alter, on the spot, how much is six times thirteen?” For Taker this was too difficult and he could not answer the question. So, Artchik sang a “kal ve'khomer” [“how much more so”] in his face: “Thickhead, you, such an exception and so outstanding, and yet, you can't even answer such an easy question. So with your simpleton common sense, how can you talk against the prayers?”


Mendele tells about Starobin that they caught a tailor in town committing a terrible robbery. One morning, he was called up twice to the reading of the Torah. The first time was in the tailors' small shtiebel [small, informal synagogue], and the second time was in the large Beis Medrash.


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