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[Page 491]

Appendage Material


On the Threshold of Life

by Zalman Wendroff*

Translated by Pamela Russ

At the “Large samovar” [hot water urn]

In front of the yellowed page of the leather bound book “Moreh Nevukhim” [“Guide for the Perplexed”; written by Maimonides, published in 1204], my father would mark off the most important dates of the family chronicles; birthdays on one side of the page, yahrzeits [date of death] – on the other side.

My birth was recorded by the family historian on the ninth line of the empty side of the page.

It is easy to figure that they could very much have gone on without me.

For the circumcision ceremony, as I later heard many times, my father tried to be very proud, as is appropriate for the host of the festivity. But my mother did not demonstrate much joy. She knew – another child, another worry on her head.

My father, a scholar, a maskil [“intellectual” person], “a thinker,” – was more of an enhancer of the family rather than a provider. The main provider, the active one, was my mother.

My mother greatly respected my father, just as if he was the head of the household. But I knew, and everyone else knew, that the house was being completely upheld by her, by my mother.

I loved my father very much, but did not fear him in the least. My love for my mother was more like awe of G–d, mixed with real fear. This G–d–fearing sense was like a stone wall between us and did not permit any warmth between my mother and me, even though I longed for her warmth with all my limbs.

In my childish mind, I always imagined my mother with her hand stretched out straight, as if she would be saying: “Not so close!”

My mother never raised her voice, was never angry – never with her own family, not with others.

When she did not like something, she furrowed her thick, entangled eyebrows, and quietly but strongly she said:

“This is not good.”

In worse situations:

Feh! This can make you faint! This is not what you do!”

This is how she behaved with strangers, and this is what she did with her own children.

And these few words were a lot more effective than my father's, “You can go out of your mind.”

People held my mother in great esteem.

– Zelda, so smart!

– A wise woman! A knowledgeable woman!

– A man's head! A person with a clear head!

– Such an active person, Zelda!

These are the things I constantly heard about my mother even before I could figure out what they meant.

A stately woman, proud, authoritative, always calm and controlled, it was only with me that her outward appearance evoked fear of her.

In her dress with the velvet collar at the throat, and with the velvet design at the bottom, and with a black satin burnous [hooded cloak] in the winter, and in a black satin pelerine [short cape] in the summer, with proud, measured steps – prouder and more measured than during the week – she went on Shabbath across the street looking as if the entire city belonged to her.

According to the rich “Good Shabbath” that everyone – even important

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businessmen – would greet her with, I felt that “my mother was not just anyone,” and even I began to feel myself a prestigious person.

But with all her “G–dly” grandeur, my vision of her is on Friday night at the “large samovar.”

We owned two samovars. One for twenty glasses, which was simply called – the samovar, and a second one, for sixty glasses, that was called “the large samovar.”

This samovar was “large” not only in size, but in the role it played in the house.

The samovar, the simple samovar, we set up every morning and every evening. Drinking tea from this simple samovar is a weekday concept, just like eating, or having supper. The simple samovar stands on the table from five a.m., when my mother and father wake up, until midday, when the middle sister, the “monitzipatzya” [“emancipated one”] who read until the late hours of the night and slept until late in the day, often drinks tea. Several times during the morning, they pour water into the simple samovar and pour hot coals underneath. Everyone drinks tea from there, when he wants and as often as he wants. In the early morning, neighbors come in to boil up some candy for their child, “If you don't mind.” And once in a while a neighbor comes in to “rinse off the sleep from his heart” with a lively cup of tea, “If you have one.”

But the large samovar is put up only during festive nights – on Shabbath [Friday] nights.

My mother says that these Shabbath nights are the only evenings when she feels that she is still alive on this earth. All week long, she is “not alive.” On those Shabbath evenings, lying on my bed in the second room, I hear how my mother is complaining to my father that she is suffocating, that she does not know how to manage for herself, that the finances are consuming her, that the Friday night “large samovar” was one of the means of maintaining the reputation of an “open house.”

For the Shabbath night “large samovar” event, neighbors, acquaintances, important people, scholars, and maskilim [“enlightened” people”] gather together, to hear or recite a good word, discuss worldly topics, and simply to spend an evening in a “refined environment.”

Our neighbor Shmuel–Yosef Rabinowycz comes, an intellectual thinker, who is studying the Tanakh [Bible] with Mendelsohn's Be'ur [“Explanation” 1780–1783, written with commentaries in German by Moses Mendelsohn, “Father of the Enlightenment”], and is wearing a black shirt with a black ribbon instead of a tie; the old man Salanter comes, a maskil who writes critiques in “Hamelitz” [“The Judge,” first Hebrew newspaper in Russian Empire]; Zisel “Ertszemikhoset,” [“hear me out”] a Jew with many ideas in his head and who cuts into everyone's talk with his “hear me out!” A regular guest at the Shabbath evening “large samovar” is Uncle Hessel – a little bit of crude person, but a happy Jew, who always has a story to tell, that happened to him “the other day.” Some refined young people come, who are not really there for the refined talk and refined setting, as much as for spending some time with my sisters, particularly with the “emancipated” one who is preparing to go study and is a lovely girl on top of that.

In the dining room, the large lamp burns brightly; the “large samovar” on the table is giving off an impressive amount of steam and rumbles comfortably underneath like a good humored head of the household after his Shabbath afternoon nap. My father is telling of his insights on the “kempernem” of the day's Torah portion, and recites by heart pieces of the “Moreh Nevukhim.” Smart words are spoken, and “intelligent thoughts” are expressed; Alter Salanter tells of the latest news from Hamelitz, and a discussion ensues of high politics … It's festive, homey, and cozy. And over everything and everyone, my mother reigns. – – –


Golden Hands

My mother ran a soap factory with a worker load of one, and only one person, the soap maker.

My mother said that he “owns golden hands, but that he is like the “white of an egg.” You cannot leave him alone for a minute.

Certainly, we wanted to see a person with golden hands, especially if he himself was like the white of an egg. This must be as curious as a magical elf, a disguised person, as something that sees but cannot be seen (sees but cannot be seen: Hebrew)… The factory itself, where there are people with golden hands, must be a magical palace where wondrous things happen.

With difficulty, I pleaded with my older sister to at least once allow me to take some hot food for my mother to the factory.

But instead of a magical palace I found a half darkened house with smoky walls and with a wet, slippery floor. It smelled like carcasses, with rancid fat, and the air was filled with moist humidity, as in a bath.

Even mother herself, in my eyes, lost a lot of her royalty in the factory. This was not the same proud, poised, refined mother that I knew from home, the queen of the “large samovar.”

Nervous, anxious, and sweaty, every once in a whole, she would urge the soap–maker:

“Watch the barrel … Look at it, questioning

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if the fat is ready… if the corrosive chemicals are weighed properly? … Don't pour in so much soda… You are pouring in so many materials that this will soon turn into vinegar…. Don't forget the colophony [rosin] and salt…”

“Am I cooking soap for the first time, do you think?” the Jew with the yellow beard bristled. My mother hardly noticed me.

“So, are you bringing me something warm? Where is love?” she remarked jokingly. She took my hands off the cup, put it on the windowsill, and immediately forgot about me and about the warm things.


Choosing a job

– Nothing else, but that he became crazy.

– So, suddenly you are a skilled worker! Did you have to blind your eyes for many nights with those books?

– You can be a tailor or a shoemaker without history or geography!

It was with that type of talk that my family countered the news that I wanted to be a skilled worker.

Only my older brother, the one who “hated the Kaiser,” and therefore chose to leave for America as soon as he would get a ship's travel ticket from his bride – agreed that maybe “it is not as bad an idea as you think.”

Sooner or later – he'll have to go to America, so he may as well learn a skill. It will be very useful for him there. In America, it is not an embarrassment to have a skill.

But when he heard that I was going to become a bookbinder, he also shrugged his shoulders.

“Why specifically a bookbinder? Why not a watchmaker or a goldsmith? It's also a fine skill.”

“I prefer bookbinding.”

“If you can't read Pushkin or Gogol, at least you kind bind their books, right?” my brother the focused one teased.

“One can read Pushkin and Gogol, and even bind their books.”


“What is it that you don't understand here? He wants to be reassured with poverty for the rest of his life, so he'll become a bookbinder.” I heard this and smiled to myself. If they would only know the truth about my “craziness”!

Having selected bookbinding from all other trades, and of all the bookbinders – having selected Hirshel the yellow one, from whom to learn the trade, I had in mind: Shprintzel. Next door to Hirshel the yellow one, lived the first desired love of my heart. This alone was enough to make bookbinding the most interesting thing for me in the entire world, and Hirshel the yellow – the “greatest artist in his field.” To always be next door to Shprintzel, to see her and speak to her every day, a few times in the day, whenever I wanted, every minute these opportunities showed her my commitment to her, my love – this is what chose a profession for me! – – –


The First Strike

Taller than the average height, broad shoulders, with a “Russian” beard around full, red cheeks, with a wide and confident stride of a person who is happy both with himself and with the world – was Polye Kravitz, who with not even one hair was similar to our familiar Jewish tailor – the hungry but happy beggar.

Polye Kravitz was not just any tailor – he was a princely tailor, “for men or women, for the civilian or the military” – which was broadly described in words and in pictures at the entrance to his workshop.

On one of the posters, there was a young man with red cheeks looking down, wearing a morning coat with lapels, in striped pants and a cylinder hat on his head. Opposite that, on the second poster, a no less elegant woman smiled, wearing a green dress with a long train and with a deep décolleté, that even for a woman in a poster was a little too deep. On one hand of the blond beauty was a raincoat, and in the other hand she was carrying a rider's whip that said anything could be sewn here – from a ball dress to a raincoat. From the third poster, a brave military personnel in a “Nikolayevski” cloak with a cape over his arm, and with a big beaver–skin collar, looked out severely with a hard look. “Here, here,” he says with a shout, “Silence!” or “Calm down!” … A military uniform, completely covered in medals, and a vice–uniform with silver buttons, both of them with strong male chests, were in the same manner set up on the fourth poster. – – –

Polye Kravitz did not need any advertisements. Everyone in the city and in the district also knew that from Polye Kravitz you can order – from your own or from the tailor's material – “local or foreign” – whatever your heart desires: from the casual to the uniform, from the working pants to the military uniform, from a wedding dress to a female fighter's dress, in which the marshall's various daughters were dressed when they went riding. The notices, that covered the entire front wall

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of his fine house on the main street of the city, were only a small part of the decorations on his home, where there were for example carved ledges, colored chips in the glazed balcony, a colored weather vane on the top of the roof.

Polye Kravitz was by nature a great lover and patron of art. His home, like a museum, was filled with works of art: with clay, red–faced, smiling, and capped Germans holding foaming beer mugs in their hands, and with long tobacco pipes in their mouths; with plaster Italian young boys in patched up pants, in hats with their brims turned to the side, and with cigarettes in their mouths; with porcelain dogs; with stone elephants; with pictures and engravings, for example: “Moses Montefiore Goes to Visit Queen Victoria,” “Three Generations,” “Cash and Credit,” – a picture of ethical instruction for merchants, and other such works of art slowly bought up during his travels for merchandise in Lodz, Bialystok, and Tomaszew.

When a few itinerant actors were lost in town – leftovers from a splintered, traveling Jewish theater – Polye was the first to take them into his house, give them food and drink, negotiated with the chief official of the town for permission for a few performances of the “Jewish–German” troupe, sponsoring them with Jabrow for the printing of the posters, getting the fire station for free for performances, standing himself at the door and watching that more than half the crowd without tickets should not enter the theater. In short, he put forth his life to help the “troupe” not leave the city as they came in – on foot.

Cantors went to his house first, before going to their own. The entire cantorial world – from Lithuania to Wolhyn – knew that food and lodging, both for the cantor and for the choir members, was taken care of by Polye. On the contrary, if someone dared not go to Polye, he would earn an enemy for his entire life.

A minor rabbi who would carry his obligation from house to house [collect charity], a lost preacher, a poor bride, a rider from a traveling circus, a drunken official who was languishing for another drop to revive himself after a full day of drinking, the Talmud Torah, and the “Wolne–official–commando,” the yeshiva, the city baths and the courtyard – for everything and for everyone, there was a ruble at Polye's.

Polye Kravitz could afford to be a patron and a philanthropist; other than sewing for all the foremen in town and for the aristocrats for about twenty miles around the town, he also took orders for clothing the policemen, the prison guards, the city firemen, the couriers, those from the “Vojenske Presence,” from the gymnasium, and from the police.

Polye had work all year round. He managed, you can say, an entire factory with ten or twelve associates and a few apprentices, other than the simpler work that he gave to the “peasants,” to the poor tailors in their homes.

Polye was an entrance to the aristocrats, his own person with the authorities, a trusted person with the officials. Small bureaucrats, teachers in the gymnasium, and impoverished princes, who had tailoring done by him on loan and badly repaid debts, came to visit him showing respect on Shabbath, for some Jewish gefilte fish [special cooked ground fish eaten on Shabbath] and Russian whisky.

If a Jew had to “register” a child in gymnasium, “remove” himself from the false accusation of a suspicious fire, “crush” a protocol, do a favor in conscription issues, or get a contract from the city – he would ask Polye to throw in a good word, and Polye did “whatever he could.”

Polye never took any money for these things. He did this, he said, because it was a mitzvah [religious mandate] and because he naturally loved to do a favor for another Jew.

“They” don't believe in mitzvos, they believe in the ruble. And in each of these cases, Polye figured out about how much this would cost.

“I will do for them as I would do for myself. A Jewish kopek is very dear to me. But better to give a few ruble more, and it will straighten out… If you grease the wheel, things move better.”

And even though prestigious Jews, wealthy businessmen, belittled the nouveau riche contemptible tailor, nonetheless, they called him “Reb Refoel” and sat with him at one table at all community events.

If you wish, he is not really a tailor, but more of a contractor than a tailor. – – – He probably had not held a needle in his hands for ten years. People work for him, and still he has an open hand.

Only the workers did not look for any privileges from him nor heed his honor, not in his own eyes or under his eyes. Polye Kravitz was the first and only one in town who had organized piece work in his workshop.

“In piece work, everyone is his own boss,” Polye convinced his associates. “If you wish, you can work an hour longer and earn more gilden. If you don't want, you can make Shabbath on time. It won't bother you, you'll see that piece work is more worth your while.”

But soon workers saw that they

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were very wronged. The earnings were even smaller, some by a quarter, and some by even a third. Polye demanded work of “the first quality sort.” But somehow, the knife slid through the knot, there was unstitching from top to bottom, a rip on a lapel, and then he would throw it in the face of the worker: “Do it again! Like this you'll end up sewing for village weddings.” – – –

Understandably, he did not pay for redoing the work.

“It doesn't bother him if I have to redo this three times. It doesn't cost him anything, right?”

“His daily earnings are taken care of.”

“Even for boasting about himself with nice donations.”

“A philanthropist with someone else's pocket…”

“He is bragging about himself, he does, may the evil spirit enter the belly of his fat father!” That's how the workers cooled their hearts.


Shloimke turned to the tables where all the people were still sitting with their feet still under them and the pieces of work on their knees, and he, with a ringing voice, said: “Fellow workers, if you have respect for yourselves, if you want that the Polish woman, Polish women exploiters should not become fat from your blood and sweat – – – , then show that you are skilled workers – , put away the work, and let the Polish woman see who lives from whom: we from them, or them from us.

“Call a strike! Nothing else, but a strike!” the young workers declared.

With hesitation, the older workers also put aside their work, some unwillingly, and they slid away from the work tables…


The strikers put the following demands to Polye:

  1. Abolish piece work and reinstate weekly wages.
  2. Establish a 10–hour work day.
  3. Abolish work on the winter Friday nights when work has ended ––– on the winter Fridays.
  4. No beating and taunting the young men apprentices. Do not use them for housework.
    Teach them the skills from the very first term. From the third year on, no less than one ruble a week as wages.
  5. All strikers will be rehired for work.

Polye used all his connections with the city officials to break the strike. – – –

Each striker sat in his own home and did not bother anyone. It was only in the evenings that they would gather together in the tailors' synagogue.

The Rav [main rabbi] also intervened in a conflict between Polye and the people.

Editor's comments:

* The famous writer Z. Wendroff is, as is known, a Slutsker.
Until now, we did not have the opportunity to publish some of his literary works in the Slutsk Pinkus [chronicles, history book]. Recently, when completing the book, we by chance received several issues of “Morgen Freiheit” [“Morning Freedom,” New York based newspaper, established in 1922, as a self–described “Communistic fighting newspaper” in the Yiddish language; folded in 1988.] with the first chapters of his autobiography, “On the Threshold of Life,” in which Slutsker daily life of 81 years ago is reflected. We are pleased to publish several excerpts of these chapters which are in our possession. Return

[Pages 495 - 499]

Setting Out from Romanova

by Meyshe Yehude Mayzl (Staten Island)

Translated by Sheldon Clare, Paul Pascal and Judie Ostroff Goldstein
(Last version: Sh. Tsivion)

The Rabbi

Long ago in Romanova there lived a rabbi, a good, honest, holy, and pious man. Possibly one of the world's legendary “thirty-six saintly souls.” His name was revered far and wide. Bursting into this man's life of sanctity, there came a desperate woman, as beautiful as she was alien – the landowner's wife. “Save me, rabbi! I am about to lose my estate, all of my property!”

The rabbi had been sitting alone, poring over his religious books. “What does this hussy want from me?” He was frightened to the point of fainting. Everyone in the house, large and small, ran to the study, trying to help, to revive their cherished and beloved father, so badly shaken. He managed to stand now, and was peering sternly out through the window. From outside, the landowner's wife studied him and wondered, “What is the pale man whispering? I've heard that this is how he makes a blessing. So will his blessing be fulfilled? Is my happiness then assured?”


Itshe Gittes the Hebrew Teacher

Let me tell you about my Hebrew teacher, Itshe Gittes, the Torah tutor of Romanova. He would instruct a class of nine or ten students, tackling gemora [Talmud] using the simplest of approaches. He didn't delve into the subtleties or the knotty conundrums. When a difficult passage in an obtuse chapter would present itself, he would go for the easy, literal meaning, the interpretation most common-sensical and logical. But when it came to Hebrew grammar – whether the accent on a word was on the last syllable or the second-last, whether a vowel was unstressed or a consonant doubled – for this he had a distinct gusto. “You rascal!" he would scold a pupil good-naturedly, “this is Hebrew, our holy language! Don't forget, if you are careless with it, you'll really catch it from me!”

Earning a wage? Getting paid for his teaching? It was the last thing on his mind. One boy, a lad named Hayimke, had an aptitude for Biblical Hebrew. Hayimke's clothing was tattered, one patch on top of another, His father long since dead, his mother a widow who survived on alms, the boy had found, however, a permanent place in the rabbi's heart – he was treasured. Certainly far more than the boy who came to heder dressed in a brand-new suit, his father a magnate, always offered the place of honor, a boy who peered at a holy book with no more understanding than a rooster would have, looking into the same book.


My Zeyde

The mayor of Romanova was a feeble, old Jew – my zeyde [grandfather], Reb Yankl, may he rest in peace. His face was stern, his expression cold. (This is how I still often see him in my dreams.) But in his heart he was as gentle and sweet as a child. He would regularly take in boys, strangers, to his home, clandestinely, so that they could study Torah rather than be caught by the authorities to serve in the Czar's army. He did this, even though in gemore he himself wasn't that well versed.

One particular Sabbath, my zeyde was standing before the congregation, taking his turn leading the morning prayers. The synagogue was festive, and full of people. Suddenly, pandemonium! What's going on? What happened? Soldiers, pointing rifles, were rushing into the synagogue, going in after a particular young man, a brilliant Torah scholar, who had been hiding there to escape military service. They even brought a rope to tie him up and take him. But he “got lucky." He was able to disappear. How did he do it? My zeyde had figured out what was happening, and in the middle of the kedusha prayer, started coughing and hacking, with increasing intensity, then fell down. There was such a turmoil, even the soldiers got swept up in it. But thanks to that turmoil, the young victim was able to save his skin. And my zeyde ? My zeyde had died on the spot!

My father, who then had to sit Shiva [ritual mourning], but who neither cried nor lamented, later explained, “My child, your zeyde's death was a holy sacrifice. But now, in heaven, he is without doubt very happy; for his death liberated a learned Jew from the clutches of heathens.”


The Ritual Slaughterer

My uncle Leybke was a shoykhet [community ritual slaughterer] in Romanova, as well as being a judge, an ordained rabbi, and a cantor. A person of stately appearance, he had a glorious beard and a sunny countenance. His clothing was inevitably spick and span, always neat and tidy. He was ready and willing, at a moment's notice, to help settle disputes between a husband and a wife, any kind of quarrels between people. On the go non-stop, he constantly tried to fulfill the holy obligation of peacemaking, like Aaron ha-Kohen [Moses' brother, renowned as a peacemaker par excellence].

In his role as shoykhet, do you think he would take home his own portion of the slaughtered meat, as was his right? God forbid! On the way home from the slaughterhouse, butchering knife still in hand, he would divide up his share to give to this person or that in the street. And to whom? Anyone he felt needed it, a pauper, a widow...

On top of all this, my uncle was highly knowledgeable in worldly matters, too, political issues, and he would read newspapers and journals in various foreign languages. If a war broke out, his left hand would delineate the battle fronts as well as any map hanging on the wall, as he named all the mountains and valleys, rivers and oceans.

Today, the Sabbath morning prayers he customarily led were not up to the usual standard. As it happened, my uncle the rabbi was away today, solving religious queries for the community. His life looked at as a whole, my uncle was accomplished in all things that mattered. He had it all.


Reb Itshe the Preacher

Reb Itshe of Muravka was the inn-keeper's son-in-law, and was from Muravka. However, as it happened, this tragic story took place in Romanova, where his bad luck and his feet had brought him. He had gotten advice on how he could earn a living. Blessed with a talent for oratory, he threw his pack of things over his shoulder and took a gnarled walking stick in his hand, transforming himself into an itinerant preacher. The process itself accorded him confidence. Traveling only on foot, this tall and athletic figure never accepted a seat on a wagon. In this manner, he wandered from village to village, town to town, teaching the world how to live an ethical life, as our forebears had done, to sbe pious, to be honest, and to keep God's commandments.

A talented preacher was our Reb Itshe, and an advocate of the common folk. His voice flickered with fire and flame, his eyes blazed like rays of the sun, and his words resounded and roared like waves of the sea. Subsisting on bread and salt, and a ladleful of water, he never knew the taste of meat or fish. Yet despite all this, he was always cheerful, with healthy color in his cheeks and all his limbs fit and hardy.

One frosty day he came to Romanova and went directly to his lodgings. And where was it? The synagogue, where he finally laid his pack down, on one of the benches. This was his “hotel” throughout Lithuania, Belorussia, and Poland.

Mikhl the baker invited him for dinner. Mikhl was a pious Jew who had no truck with hypocrisy or falsehood. Sitting there at this unpretentious Sabbath meal, he began reflecting on the day's Torah reading, the last chapters of the Book of Exodus. He went up the two or three steps to the curtain that covered the synagogue's Holy Ark and kissed it, evidencing a particular physical and spiritual exertion. He stood by the Holy Ark enveloped in his talis [prayer shawl]. Here he was at ease. He knew the village well; he knew everyone and everything here. He began his presentation low-key, with some simple scriptural problem, answering it straightaway with a solution from [the famous interpreter of Holy Writ] Rashi. Then suddenly and forcefully, out poured a mystical, esoteric insight, which was quickly absorbed into his discourse like a spark consumed by its fire.

“In the desert our forefathers built a holy tabernacle. They were celebrating its dedication when presently the news spread that Nadav and Avihu [sons of Aaron the High Priest] had been struck dead...The festivities were thrown into chaos, the entire pageant ground to a halt. We learned from this, and it's well-known to everyone now, that the two had presumed to bring “strange fire” to the sacrificial altar. And why was the sentence of the court so severe? Why was consumption by fire the decision to be meted out upon these priests, the two older sons of Aaron? Strange fire, my friends, strange fire!”

His voice, now full of pathos, seemed almost to be singing. “For strange fire, one pays dearly!” His tone was laced with urgency. “Our own fire, my friends, our own fire, fire that is authorized and sanctioned, such fire is holy. Our own fire is from the divine World-to-Come. Strange fire, alien fire, is from “That Other Place,” that world where Satan has dominion, from man's Evil Side, which tempts him into doing that which is forbidden.

“Strange fire! This is a world in which no one takes responsibility! On today's equivalent of Mount Sinai there stands, shamelessly, the god of money. Everyone is trying to get to it. They go on their hands and knees, they fall, they get up and crawl some more. They contort themselves with their crawling, along their crooked, narrow, alien paths. Drained of all decency, all their spiritual resources are dammed up. Our precious inheritance, God's 613 commandments to us, are left to rot.”

The preacher would heap guilt upon guilt on the congregation, like slaps in the face. He would lose all sense of rationality, all sense of composure. He was more a wild tempest than a human preacher – savage, thunderous – searing the assembly with lightning. He would throw the congregation into the numbing cold, then into the agony of conflagration. Sins, transgressions of all kinds, in That World – you'll pay for them all, this was his message.

Sinners, sinners! Boys, girls, men, women, all are guilty! Before long, a screeching wail would break out from the women's section of the synagogue. And all of the preacher's harangues would be backed up with solid quotes from the Torah, biblical exegeses, Talmudic references. Yes, it's on account of our unspeakable sins that the Exile – our dispersion and banishment – has been brought upon us, with all its evil consequences and pain.

Where is it he is referring to? Obviously, he means Hell, where the Angels of Torture, all seven categories of them, are howling savagely, screaming and shrieking, lashing at their victims with red-hot pokers. “Burn them! Roast them!” they cackle. “Tear strips from their skin!” Let evildoers never forget: there is judgment in this universe and there is a Judge!”

With screams, roaring, and stirred up colors he described heaven and earth, life and death with fearsome, terrible images; as if he had just now come from there – not from Lazava, not from Romanova.

Everyone was upset, excited and consciences were aroused. Itshe, Itshe, you such and such, do not place such heavy stones on people's hearts…understand your people whom you teach. They are not so difficult, not so bad. Restrain yourself, come to your senses. Give them a smile for once.

Ingeniously he changed his manner of speech to one of gentleness and refinement. He would start with a tasty melody, like a yiddeshe mama rocking her tiny child in the cradle and singing a song about the little white goat.

Now I will tell you story from Hell: Once, during a short Sabbath the synagogue sexton yelled: “Repent you sinners in Hell. It is already late!” They turned to him with a plea: Wait a while, have pity. In Yaneva it is not yet time for Havdalah [blessing at the end of Sabbath], also in Romanova. That is indeed right! Soon I will know. Sometimes a passionate preacher talks and talks and cannot be interrupted. You should benefit from his merit. What be done with him? He is a man inclined to anger! Once again, “Repent you sinners in Hell!”

A certain merchant, Reb Detz, headed the delegation and stood and argued. “It is still before Maariv [evening prayers] in my Hotzeplotz! [town proverbial for its remoteness].”

Pani [Polish title for gentry] Detz! You respectable man, you have lost your memory entirely. You know very well that in Hotzeplotz men play cards now, they drink liquor and snack on cakes. Aha! You forgot…Repent you sinners in Hell! Too many already remain unmarried.”

He continued singing an amazing story about two pious men who separately knocked on the gates of paradise. Understandably, both were accepted with great honor. But the pious men found no joy there. Why? We will see together. Now listen, gentlemen! This is what happened: those two made an alliance and ran away from paradise. One of them was a lamedvav [one of the thirty-six hidden saintly men without whom the world could not exist], a pious man, “one who is hidden.” The second one was a very poor Hasid, a simple man, a “wise man from Chelm.” But do you know where they ran? There, to the sinners in Hell…the devils. The Angels of Torture screamed at them with terrible, savage voices and with raised fists drove the two out. But the two strange men were stubborn and did not want to go back to paradise. They stayed in the middle of the road, neither here nor there. This is a deep subject…one must understand this.

This was not like him, was not his style. The uninspired congregation listened calmly and quietly. The clock struck half past nine and people were thinking: it is already late, time to finish. He has understood the message. And if in passing the road takes us to paradise, we will talk abut them a little. He paints various pictures, compares each tenderly and gently, gives his evidence taken from judgements, Midrash[a body of post-Talmudic literature of Biblical exegesis] and Shas [the Talmud]. But the images were watery and pale, the similes, the examples, dry, cold, thrashed out and old. There sit pious men everywhere, good, religious men before G-d, prophets, angels, rishoynim, akhroynim, tanayim, amorim and gaonim [sages] from every generation until now. Their names shine forth from both Torahs, Babylonian and Jerusalem. Among the tanayim, the famous Chananya, who made a measure of carob last an entire week and there are more pious men, and more and more. They sit crowned by the shade of the canopy of the divine presence. The fathers and the mothers are in the seats of honor. If I am not mistaken, there are the benevolent from “the nations of the world,” the gentiles who saved Jews from murderers and even men. With crossed hands they listen to the song, the songs of praise of the angels/ choir…without good deeds, without sins, without drink, without food. They sat like that constantly and so will they eternally sit. Their task? To defend and protect the people of Israel.

In the middle he considered throwing in a subtle hint to ignite that what was dear to him. Perhaps it will kindle a spark, a little fire – but no fire was lit. For a short time he was silent, then he sang a sweet melody. When Messiah comes I wish for you all, brothers, good and religious, that while still being in good health, you should enjoy the ox and fish that is prepared for the pious at the time of the Messiah. Me? He who does not already know, shall know: I belong to a society, an association, spread over the Russian and Romanian Diaspora, who observe a new commandment; no meat and no fish, no G-d fearing man should talk about it, on our table. Therefore this is my desire: leave me a small bottle of wine, reserved for the righteous at the time of the Messiah, he declared with good, courageous humor. As it is stated in scriptures: a glass of wine puts joy in people's hearts, illuminating faces embittered and dark from pain and suffering. Even the end of the sermon left the congregation with a cold smile. Because time is short, I will stop here for today about the world to come and about paradise in the other world. We will with G-d's help begin the month of Nissan. Herewith I conclude the lecture. Praised is the Master of the Universe, praised be his name, and come to Zion, Redeemer, and we say amen.”

Reb Michl sat at the table. The silver and copper coins clinked in the plate. Young heder boys ran to eat supper. As Reb Itshe spoke, the young boys frolicked and ran through the snow and in my memory I am one of them.

On a beautiful morning the synagogue sexton, Borach Rosh's and a middle-class man went to collect money in the shtetl to pay the preacher for his lectures. “He has, may the evil eye not harm them, a large family that needs to be supported. The Muravaker has legitimately earned the right to be healthy and alive, for he leaves to the mercy of the Almighty the task of planting justice and faith in human hearts.” The sexton took some of the collection for his trouble, but there still remained a large sum. The main thing was that that these pious, middle class men opened the knots of their pouches. The heavy, filled handkerchief is soon carried off to Reb Michl, the baker.

Wednesday evening after a rare sermon, the preacher was again invited to Reb Michl's. The religious, honest man showed his respect by serving a dairy supper with a glass of liquor and a cake. The preacher exchanged the coin for bank notes and thought: It will be sufficient for the holidays, for wine, matzah [unleavened bread], prayer books, hats, shoes and clothes for the boys and girls. Also there is enough for a gift for Tema, a warm shawl like the one on the shoulders of Reb Michl's wife. The balance will go to support me and for tuition fees. After Passover, if I will still be left in this world with G-d's help and without any holy promise, I will go on foot, without a horse and wagon, to another district for the entire summer. Do I have then a choice? What can one do? It is indeed wrong to leave children with only a mother. Parents are obliged to protect their children together like young saplings before they bloom.

Thinking about this, he took his leave: “Go in good health – be healthy, thank you!” He left and went to his place on his bench. Under his head there was a folded towel for a pillow. He lay down near the heated stove and covered himself with a fur coat that had lost most of its fur, (the father-in-law's gift – the former fur coat). He soon slept and dreams came, dream after dream:

He is at home…Shalom Aleichem! [Peace unto you, a greeting] Aleichem Shalom! [unto to you peace, a greeting]. The children are happy, there is the furniture. Tema's bright face…tears from her eyes that laugh…in the dream as in reality, everything distinct, substantial and clear…

That week a beggar was staying at the synagogue, a lame wretch, an idiotic short man. Reb Itshe thought him curious. “Mister, what do people call you?”

The beggar kept silent and looked the preacher right in the eye. The preacher asked again, this time properly. “What are you called, my friend?”

In response the beggar was silent and shook his head.

“Why are you silent? What is your name? You are not a mute. I heard you say amen after a blessing and you pray as a pious Jews. I do not mean you, G-d forbid, any harm.”
The beggar let out a groan, spoke a couple of words with a sniffling reprove. “What do you want? I am called Leyzer.”
“Leyzer? Good!”
Reb Itshe thinks, even though the man's an idiot, he is still a pious Jew. Who damaged him? This god fearing, poor, punished soul; it will be a good deed to speak to him more often.

After going from house to house, Leyzer arrived at the synagogue ready for his feast. He took his sack off his shoulder, put it down next to his prayer shawl, took out two half challahs [twisted egg loaf], washed and made the blessings over the bread. Laid out on the bench were pieces of cheese and a hard boiled egg. A housewife gave him a sour pickle from the pot and two onions. He also had a bottle of kvass [drink made from fermented bread]. He ate with great gusto, gulped, swallowed, and guzzled from the kvass bottle that a storekeeper had given him in the street.

Reb Itshe sat on the side contemplating and thinking about deep mysteries. He noticed that Leyzer smiled while reciting the Grace after Meals. What is the condition of such a Jew? A cripple, an idiot, who eats and is happy. A thought chases a thought, a supposition that Leyzer, his short-term neighbor, this beggar is one who relies on G_d. Suddenly he lifts his head from the gemore. He has made made a decision:

“Reb Leyzer, let us talk a little. It will be nicer and pleasanter for both of us.”

But Leyzer is a hard nut. “I do not want to, leave me alone. What do we have to say to each other? You are a teacher and I am a beggar with a thick skull. I do not want to and you cannot make me.” Not another word, neither good nor bad, did he utter.

And that is how four days and four nights passed. Itshe sat or lay on one bench and the beggar remained opposite him on another. This Layzer was a criminal, one who could make himself seem crooked when he needed to, or blind. He crept around in chinks and peepholes and came out to make quick swindles. He was, as it is said, like the wind in a field. This Leyzer only made himself seem idiotic. He knew that the preacher slept deeply. He had seen the bulging wallet. This was his trade and he was a master. With nimble fingers he took the pouch from Reb Itshe and quietly, carried it away. Noiselessly he opened the door, did not close it, and disappeared into the snowy night.

All morning men came to pray in the synagogue and they noticed that the preacher was still lying on his bench. What is wrong, Reb Itshe? Are you sick?

He was silent. They lit a candle and brought it near to light his face. When they turned to look at him his mouth was contorted from pain and troubles. Why are you silent, Reb Itshe? Speak to us. Where is your tongue? From his open eyes, tears ran – their fire, their ardor extinguished.

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My Father

by Rabbi Dr. Raphael Gold of New York

Translated by Jerrold Landau

When the elders of the city of Izabelin near Wolkowisk came to the head of the Yeshiva of Volozhin, the Netzi'v of blessed memory, to request a fitting rabbi, they turned to him and said, “Despite the small size of our community, it has a special merit, for the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor began his rabbinical service there.”

The Netzi'v listened to their words and recommended to them his dear student, who was known as the “Ilui [Genius] of Grajewo,” my late father Rabbi Yaakov Meir Krawczynski.

By nature, my father was very diligent from his youth. He used to have an adage, “A Torah personality must study for at least eight hours per day, for Torah is his profession, and his law is like that of an employee.” On the other hand, he did not consider the study of foreign languages as a waste of time, and he found a free hour to read secular literature. This behavior, and his splendid countenance endeared him to all the residents of Kapoly [Kapyl]. Almost all of them, including the Christians, appreciated him, through the influence of the local priest Sawicz, who honored Father and spread his name amongst the farmers.

In Father's praise, I will tell an interesting story here: An important Jew of the family of the author of Afikei Yehuda lived in Kapoly. His family name was Edel. Once, the Jews of Hamburg imprisoned him due to some libel. My father of blessed memory travelled to Hamburg, appeared before the Parliament-Freistadt, and vouched for the innocence of Mr. Edel. Thanks to his intervention, the man was set free.

The well-known battle between the Gaonim the Ridba'z and Rabbi Meier Feimer of blessed memory broke out during the time that Father served as the rabbi of Kapoly. They both urged Father to stand at their side. He stood afar since his soul was disgusted when he heard the details of the dispute. However, when the Ridba'z brought the Gaon Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer with his Yeshiva from Slobodka to Slutsk, Father decided to send me to that splendid Yeshiva. I was eleven years old then, and this was my first journey from Kapoly to Slutsk in the company of my father of blessed memory. When I was still young, I entered under the wings of Rabbi Shachna, who taught in the Beis Midrash on Hapaszker Street. Rabbi Isser Zalman promised Father to keep an eye on me and test me from time to time.

However, it was not my fate to benefit from that wonderful atmosphere for a long time. My older brother, Rabbi Zeev, who already served as a rabbi in Chicago, urged Father to send me to him. It was very hard for my parents to part from me and remain alone. The difficulties of the situation in Russia at that time caused my parents to finally agree to let me go. I returned to Kapoly, and my parents accompanied me to Baranovich.

When the train started moving, I heard the voice of Father full of trembling and love: “My dear son, be a faithful Jew even in the far-off land.”

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The Rabbi from Kapoly

by Rabbi Yaakov Meir of blessed memory

Translated by Jerrold Landau


Rabbi Yaakov Meir Krawczynski


Rabbi Yaakov Meir Krawczynski, who was renowned as the rabbi from Kapoly, was born around 5627 [1867] in the city of Grajewo to his father Rabbi Avraham Mordechai, a friend of the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Mohilewer.

The aforementioned Rabbi Yaakov Meir studied in the Yeshiva of Volozhin under the supervision of Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, along with the following family Gaonim: Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the rabbi of the Land of Israel; Rabbi Avraham Dov Shapira, the rabbi of Kovno; Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, the rabbi of Slutsk who served as the head of the Eitz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem at the end of his days. His father-in-law was Rabbi Yehoshua Menachem Goldwasser of Szczuczyn, a wealthy merchant, a wise man, a scribe, and an activist of the Chovevei Zion movement.

Rabbi Yaakov Meir continued to study in the Yeshiva of Volozhin with a group of excellent young men, who were supported by the well-known manufacturer and merchant Brodsky, and were called “Avreichei Brodsky.” He also studied in the Beis Midrashes of the cities of Eishishok [Eišiškės] and Sislovich [Svislach]. About ten years after his marriage, in the year 5657 [1897], he was accepted as rabbi in the city of Izabelin near Wolkowisk, the place of the first rabbinical tenure of Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor. He occupied the rabbinical seat of Kapoly from the year 5660 [1900], where the famous Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman, the author of the books Kedushat Yom Tov and Melechet Yom Tov on the Talmud, had previously served.

Rabbi Yaakov Meir earned a good name as one of the great rabbis of the vicinity. He was a great scholar, a splendid orator, wise in the ways of the world, with a noble personality. His son Rabbi Zeev Gold of blessed memory expresses his memories in the following words, “There was no rabbi as handsome and with such a fine appearance as him in the entire country. He was tall, with a noble countenance and large, bright eyes, whose mouth exuded pearls.”

He also excelled in his traits and his fine relations with his fellow.

Rabbi Gold gives over a characteristic fact from which we can learn a great deal about the character and behavior of his father of blessed memory.

A certain householder, great in Torah lived in Kapoly. He could trace his lineage to the Rema. He was very wealthy. He behaved in a high manner due to his greatness, and his relations with the local rabbis were always haughty. Rabbi Yaakov also suffered from him, for he impinged on his honor from time to time. Nevertheless, due to his great wisdom, he knew how to manage with him.

One day, that wealthy man sat with a group of studiers in the Beis Midrash, and talked in a denigrating fashion about the rabbi. Suddenly, he suffered a stroke and died on the spot. The residents of the town, who knew about his relations with the rabbi, were surprised that the rabbi burst out in bitter weeping, and eulogized him with warm words, emanating from the heart.

Around the time of the First World War, Rabbi Yaakov Meir was accepted as the rabbi of Mariupol. The city was conquered by the Germans at the outbreak of the war. When it was conquered by the Russians, the Christians slandered the rabbi, that they saw him signalling to the Germans. The Russian commander sentenced him to death within 24 hours. However, a miracle occurred, and the commanders changed at that time. The new commander had mercy on him and ordered him to leave the place immediately. This event affected his health badly.

He died suddenly of a heart attack on the train to Minsk. He was taken off the train in the town of Gorodi, and buried there on 20 Kislev, 5674 [1913][1].

His wife, Rebbetzin Freda-Dvora, who was an intelligent woman with a wise heat, wandered to cities in Russia, and from there traveled to her children in the United States. After the war, she made aliya to the Land of Israel and settled in Tel Aviv. She was honored for her intelligence and her activities in communal institutions. She died in 5701 [1941].

Rabb Yaakov Meir left behind two sons of renown. One was Rabbi Zeev Gold of blessed memory, who served as rabbi in various communities of the United States, and was one of the heads of worldwide Mizrachi and a member of the leadership of the Jewish agency. He died in 5716 [1956].

His second son is Rabbi Dr. Rafael Tzvi Gold, who also served as rabbi in different communities of the United States. He currently serves as a professor of psychiatry in a university in New York, and heads various institutions of Mizrachi.

The wife and children of the writer of these lines, currently in Israel, are among the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Rabbi Yaakov Meir.

In the estate of Rabbi Yaakov Meir, there were compositions on halachic novellae on the four sections of the Code of Jewish Law, but they were lost during his time of wandering during the time of war.


Translator's Footnote
  1. The Hebrew date given here precedes the First World War, and therefore may be in error. Return

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Rabbi Zeev Gold of blessed memory

Translated by Jerrold Landau


Rabbi Zeev Gold


Among the people of renown who originate from Kapoly, we should note Rabbi Zeev Gold, the son of the rabbi of Kapoly, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Krawczynski.

Rabbi Zeev Gold was born in the year 5649 [1889] in the city of Szczuczyn. He came to Kapoly with his father's family at the age of ten. There, he studied Torah from the melamdim Reb Shlomo Szwyzycer and Reb Shmuel Zaricki, and later in the group of lads who heard Torah from his father.

He spent a brief period in the nearby Mir Yeshiva. At the age of 18, his father decided to remove him from the bounds of Russia out of concern for being drafted in the army.

Equipped with letters of ordination from his father and the rabbi of Minsk, Rabbi Eliezer Rabinowitz, the young Zeev arrived in the United States. When he arrived in America, he found himself in dire straits and literally suffered from hunger. However, thanks to his wonderful rhetorical talents, he found favor in the eyes of those who heard him, and they supported him. In the interim, he gained experience in teaching and also in the English language, and began to travel from city to city, preaching to the masses.

Thus did he arrive in Utica, where he met his wife Yocheved Reichler, the daughter of the local rabbi, who had died a few years previously.

From that time, he had great success, and moved from one rabbinical position to the next in various cities until he arrived in San Francisco. In all the places, he endeared himself to the community as one of the most talented rabbis. He perfected the American art of public speaking and communal mannerisms. He gained worldly wisdom and life wisdom. He was graced with a penetrating voice and a clear style. He also stood out in his fine appearance. He enthused the hearts and aroused the spirits.

He set times for Torah study, and broadened his knowledge in halacha. He specialized in Aggadaic midrashim. He gained competence in various subject, especially ancient and modern philosophy. He read and studied a great deal, and became a basket full of books [i.e., a man full of learning]. Due to this, his sermons were full of content, built on the foundations of our sages of blessed memory, and constructed with values of thought, philosophy, and knowledge, in the form of old wine in a new bottle. He was enthusiastic about every mitzvah. He had a wide heart and an open hand for charity and benevolence.

Since he was enthusiastic about Chibat Tzion already from his youth, he joined the Mizrachi movement, and then dedicated himself to it with all his energy, devoting his life to it. He wandered from city to city setting up branches of that movement and disseminating it broadly.

When Rabbi Meir Berlin came to the United States, he stood at his right side. Through their efforts, they turned Mizrachi into an all-encompassing national movement. From that time, he participated in all the Mizrachi conventions in the United States and throughout the world, and took a leading position. He served as a delegate from the 13th to the 23rd Zionist Congresses, and was one of the illustrious leaders. He also participated in the Zionist convention in London in the year 5679 [1919], after the Balfour Declaration, which led to the foundations of the national homeland in the Land of Israel.

After the First World War, when the Yeshiva heads of Europe began to visit the United States to conduct fundraising campaigns for their institutions, Rabbi Gold became their first address. He would host them in his home and work a great deal for their benefit.

He also dedicated himself to Torah educational activity in the United States, and was among the founders of various educational institutions, including the Torah Vodaath Yeshiva of New York. Rabbi Gold made aliya to the Land with some of his family and settled in Tel Aviv around the year 5684 [1924]. After he made several journeys in the world for the benefit of Mizrachi and the national funds, he was invited by the Chief Rabbi of Israel, the Gaon Rabbi A. Y. Kook, to make the rounds to the various settlements of the Land as an itinerant rabbi, to strengthen the Jewish spirit in them. He then worked a great deal to firm up the spiritual and religious situation in the various settlements in the Land. Rabbi Gold noted that this role was the most precious role he fulfilled during his lifetime.

For various reasons, he returned to the United States and was accepted as a rabbi in Brooklyn, where he continued his work for strengthening Judaism and building the Land. At times, he served as the president of the Mizrachi organization of the United States, and stood at the helm of various Zionist institutions. Some of his family remained in the Land. Rabbi Gold would visit the Land every year and spend some time there. In the meantime, two of his daughters got married and set up their families in Israel.

After several years, he settled again in the Land, and was chosen as the chairman of the world Mizrachi center. In this role as well, he not only had to travel through the Land, but also to all the countries of the world to work for the benefit of Mizrachi and the upbuilding of the Land.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was summoned to return to the United States to work there for the benefit of the settlement of the Land, both in the economic and political realms. He was appointed to the Jewish delegation on behalf of the Jewish Agency in Lake Success[1], and played an active role in the declaration of the State of Israel as the Jewish State. With the declaration of the State in 5708 [1948], he was chosen as the vice president of the provisional council of the state.

In the year 5707 [1947], he was chosen as a member of the leadership of the Jewish Agency, where he was given the role of heading the division for the development of Jerusalem. From that time, he settled in Israel and dedicated himself to that task. Much of the development of that city after it was emptied of part of its residents during the time of the battle of independence can be attributed to him. In his time, he was one of the initiators of the idea

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of Binyanei Hauma [The Jerusalem International Convention Center], and he placed great effort in setting it up. In the year 5712 [1952], the Zionist Congress gave him the role of setting up the division for Torah culture and education in the Diaspora, and to stand at it head. He dedicated himself to this task with his entire soul, in order to save the youth from defilement and foreign influences. He once again took up the wandering staff and traveled to many countries to set up Torah educational institutions and to encourage the Jewish residents to make aliya to the Land. The Jews of North Africa (Morocco, Tunis, and other places) revered and appreciated him. He founded a rabbinical and teachers seminary in Ramsgate, England for students who came from South Africa. He also came up with the idea of bringing talented students as well as teachers from the lands of the Diaspora to Israel to complete their Torah education, so that they can return and fulfil their tasks as teachers, educators, and counselors.

He did a great deal of activity a head of the Mizrachi organization in the Land and as a member of the world center, as well as in various Torah endeavors.

Despite the fact that he suffered from a heart ailment in the latter years, he continued with energy and great activity in many endeavors. He participated in all the issues of the country. He made appearances with stormy speeches, and read and wrote a great deal.

In the year 5709 [1949], he published the first volume of his book Nivei Zahav. In the last year of his life, he also began to lecture on the philosophy of Judaism at Bar Ilan University.

At the age of 67, when he was still full of spiritual energy, he fell under the burden of his important, heavy work. On 27 Nissan 5657 [1957] his large heart stopped, and the orator, Zionist leader, and veteran Torah personality was gathered unto his people.


Translator's Footnote
  1. Where the U. N. resolution in favour of the founding of the State of Israel was passed in 1947. Return

Chaim Kriwicki

by Rafael Rivin

Translated by Jerrold Landau


Chaim Kriwicki


He was born in 1896 in Starobin. He was the son of a working family. He received a traditional education in the cheder and yeshiva. He was drafted to the army in 1916, sent to the war front, and volunteered for the Red Army at the end of the war.

He was attracted to the Zionist movement already at a young age. At the beginning of the First World War, when Zionist activity was prohibited, people would gather in his house in the village outside the town. The small Zionist library, shekalim [tokens of membership in the Zionist movement], Keren Kayemet stamps, and other such items were transferred there. He returned to Zionist and communal activities when he was freed from the army. He was a member of the committee of the Zionist chapter in the town, and one of the heads of the military Hechalutz that began to organize in Russia in 1917. He was also among the founders of the defense of the town, which suffered at that time from regime changes as well as lack of government. He founded the first group that was organized for aliya to the Land before the final conquest of the town by the Red Army in 1920. When he was living in Poland, his family members in America sent him money and papers to come to them, but he forewent this and distributed the money to his friends who did not have the means to make aliya to the Land.

He worked on the Neve-Shaanan - Haifa Road for about half a year. From there, his group was transferred to Atlit to work in the salt company there. He was among the first workers in that company, where he worked until his last day. While he was still working on the road, he stood at the head of the guard. When he moved to work in Atlit, he was among the organizers of the Haganah [defense] in the district, and stood at its head until the outbreak of the War of Independence.

He was beloved by his friends, and helped his fellow already from his youth. He saw his purpose in the Land as a life of labor, and in renewing the society on the foundations of labor and social justice.

He died on 5 Cheshvan 5622 [1961].

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Among Our Landsleit [Compatriots] Who
Contributed to the Publication of the Slutsk Chronicles

N. W.


(According to the “Alef–Beis”)

The landsleit [compatriots] of Slutsk and the surrounding areas hold a very respected place among the professional and commercial fields in America. To write about each person individually and in detail would fill many books, and this would certainly be interesting. But here we will limit ourselves with a few lines about several individuals who held important positions in American Jewish life and who were very instrumental in effecting this project of the Yizkor Book. Their extensive aid inspired all the friends of the New York committee to follow through with this difficult work, despite many difficulties and challenges. The following people, being pioneers in their very nature, did not consider the current circumstances, and this helped them to develop their personal projects. Therefore, they also had the strength to support this critical work of the Yizkor Book, ignoring the many others who ignored or mocked this entire issue. Because of the commitment of these persons, it is worthwhile to relate their life stories.


Eliyahu and Sarah Altman

Eliyahu Altman, son of Yehuda Leyb and Rivka, was born in Slutsk. Their home was in the synagogue courtyard. Their oldest son, Reuvke [Reuven] Altman, was a “prominent” person in Slutsk. After having learned in the Slutsk and Slabodka yeshivos, he returned to Slutsk, became a maskil [“enlightened” intellectual] , and threw himself into the Hebrew–Zionist movement, and together with the teacher Yitzkhok Katzenelson, they established a “Kheder Metukan” [“improved school”], where, together with others, they spread the Hebrew culture among the Slutsker youth.

His younger brother Eliyahu, also studied in the Slutsker “Mekhina” [“Preparatory” program] with Reb Nekhemiah, and in the “great yeshiva.” After that, he went to study in the half–modern Lieder yeshiva. When he came back to Slutsk, he completed the course in the “Real–School.” He and his brother were very active in all areas of national thought and education. He was also active in founding the “Tzeirei–Tzion” [“Youth of Zion”] party, and also the local “Hekhalutz” group [“The Pioneer,” preparing youth for agricultural work in Israel]. Many of these people are now in Israel.

In 1920, Eliyahu, along with a group of “pioneers,” began their journey to Israel. For a short time, Eliyahu stayed in Poland, where he worked energetically for the Tzeirei–Tzion and Hekhalutz movements. He went from city to city, recruiting pioneers for Israel, and finally, he himself arrived in Israel.

Here he became active in “Hapoel Hatzair” [“The Young Labourer,” Labour Party] and “Histadrut” [“General Organization of Workers”] and participated as a member in the refugee committee of the “Moetzes Hapoalim” [“Workers' Council”] in Yaffa – Tel–Aviv.


Sarah and Eliyahu Altman


In 1923, when Eliyahu came to New York, he also gave much of his time for nationalist and cultural projects.

In the first years, he devoted himself to teaching and at the same time, he proceeded with his own personal studies of jurisprudence and law. Eventually, in 1931, he received his diploma from the Department of Law in New York University. And from then on he practiced as a lawyer with great devotion. During that time, Eliyahu married Sarah Klajnman, the daughter of Khaim and Tzippe.

[Page 504]

Her father, from the small town of Pogrebyscz near Kiev, was a passionate nationalist Jew, and already as a successful merchant, at the beginning of century, left all his business activities and went to settle in Israel. He even succeeded to buy baths near Khedera, but unfortunately he was unable to settle himself and returned, and tried his fortune in Turkey. There, in Constantinople, a group of Russian Khovevei Tzion [“Lovers of Zion” promoted immigration to Israel] created a colony by the name of “Mesila Khadasha” [“New Path” in Istanbul] where they hoped to prepare themselves for immigration to Israel. The father of Sarah Klajnman also settled in that same colony. Within a few years, the plan fell through, and the Klajnmans were forced to immigrate to America and once again wait for the right moment to go to Israel.

Eliyahu Altman was one of the first to warmly come forward and offer to work on the Yizkor Book, and served as secretary for the entire time on the New York committee. His wife Sarah helps him alongside in this work.


Dovid and Sarah Bezborodka

Dovid Bezborodka is a Slusker for many generations back, and despite the fact that his grandfather Reb Hershel Hillel had already left Slutsk in 1866 to go to Peterburg, fate always brought the family back to Slutsk and they never really went far from there.

His grandfather, Reb Hershel Hillel, was a learned and good–hearted man. He was of the first Jews in Russia, and he ran a glass factory very successfully.

His name is remembered among the esteemed people of Slutsk as part of the committee of the great fire in the year 1868 (see page 30).

As was mentioned, he moved his business in the year 1866 to Sestroreck near Peterburg, and within several years, he moved to Moscow. At the same time, he did not want to totally remove himself from his birthplace, and so he opened a second glass factory also in Hancewycz, which he visited several times a year.

His major projects and businesses did not distance him from Jews and Judaism, which he also infused into his children. He sent his son Yosef, after completing his gymnasium course, to study in the Mirer yeshiva for several years.

In 1890, when Hershel Hillel was elderly but still active in his business, a Jewish soldier


Reb Yosef and his wife Mashe Laya Bezborodka (second generation)


from Slutsk visited him in Moscow and told him that there was a severe penalty on his head because someone had informed on him. His wife and children remained “lost” in Slutsk. Reb Hershel Hillel's heart was so moved by this that he left his business “helter skelter” and went to Slutsk to deal with the dangers that faced this soldier. In fact, he succeeded in freeing the soldier, but this affected him so strongly, that he became very ill. The Rav of Slutsk of that time, Reb Yakov Dovid, visited the “Moscovite” Hershel Hillel and gave him a blessing that because of what he had done [for the soldier] he would merit that his own children would not fall into the hands of the Czarist powers. But this blessing did not save him from the Angel of Death, and he was buried near his parents in the Slutsk cemetery.

Several years later, his wife came to visit his gravesite, and also ‘by chance’ died in Slutsk.


Reb Tzvi Hillel and his wife Perl Bexborodka, a well–known businessman [community leader], at the beginning of the 19th century

[Page 505]

In 1891, during the “Moscow expulsion,” the son, Yosef Bezborodka, who was conducting business alongside his father, left everything behind, and at the age of 24, packed up and went to Orsza, into the “Jewish quarter” [so–called Jewish area in Czarist Russia], and there opened a new glass and mirror factory, but was not successful.

In 1901, Reb Yosef and his wife visited the factory in Hancewycz, and to “make the trip” [enrich the trip], they went to the cemetery in Slutsk. While in Slutsk, the wife Bezborodka gave birth to their son – Dovid (July 26, 1901).

In 1907, Yosef moved his factory to Czestochow. He, the Litvak [from Lithuania], the misnaged [anti–Chassidic philosophies] from generations back, in a new world with all kinds of Chassidic circles, still evoked great respect from all sides of the population. He infused into his children a love for Torah and a nationalistic interest, particularly for Israel. In 1919, there was a pogrom in Czestochow. His Polish workers protected him and his family with their lives, and did not allow any harm at all to befall them.

Yosef died in 1922 at the age of 55, and the Czestochower Jewish community honored him, this very Slutsker misnaged, with a cemetery plot near the prominent gravesite of their beloved Pilczer Rebbe!


Dovid Bezborodka (third generation)


With time, Dovid grew up, studied and perfected the mirror and glass production. His business often demanded his visits to all different countries. In this way, while traveling, he settled in Paris and there opened two factories of glass and mirrors – one in Saverne and one in Paris.

In Paris he also met Miss Sarah Cuker, daughter of a very prominent Polish–Jewish family,


Yosef Aron Bezborodka (fourth generation)


whom he married (1930). His factories in France grew greatly.

When the Nazis occupied France, Dovid Bezborodka left behind his entire fortune, and with just his soul and with his household, and with the help of the French League for Human Rights,” in which he was active, he arrived in New York.

As a dedicated branch of the family that was fated to keep moving, always building and start over with even more energy, Dovid B. also threw himself into this in New York, with his particular family rhythm, in order to set up a mirror factory. This was even more difficult for him than his father in Orsza and in Czestokhow. According to the New York manufacturing regulations, and the large amount of capital that is required for this, the project seemed impossible for someone who brought with him his name only. But here, Dovid's inborn Slutsker intelligence came to use – in that it ignited people with its enthusiasm and won over their loyalty. Until today, the “Mechanical Mirror Company”: is a prominent factory which employs tens of Jews. As a fiery nationalist and devoted friend of Hapoel Hamizrachi [pioneering labor movement in Israel], Dovid had all kinds of other ideas about his family's future. His father, the Slutsker born glass manufacturer, once told him that the best raw material for the glass industry was found

[Page 506]

in Israel, because in the Biblical verse “sefunei temunei chol” [“hidden treasures of the sand” Deuteronomy 33:19], Rashi [principal Biblical commentary] explains: “Toris ve'khilozon u'zekhukhis levanah ha'yotzim minhayam u'min ha'khol” [“The taris” (type of fish, in the tuna family) and the khilozon (type of fish) and white glass which came out of the sea and are in the sand], and would translate: “Taris” a type of fish, “Khilozon” and another type of snail which produces [purple] dye, “u'zekhukhis levanah” and sand for white glass.

This explanation of Rashi, Dovid Bezborodka carried with him in his long traveling years, and he realized this with a factory that is being built in Acco, and he hopes to employ hundreds of Jewish workers in the “mirror and glass industry.”


Moshe and Aidel Himelstayn (Gimelstayn)

Moishe Himelstayn – born in Slutsk. His parents – Pesakh son of Moishe HaKohen [the priest] and Rokhel daughter of Reb Yakov (Gersowycz).

His father Pesakh studied Torah and was also a Maskil [enlightened person]. On his Hebrew letters he would sign his name as “Pesakh Even–Shamayim (Himel–Stayn). [Even, Hebrew–stone, Yiddish– stayn; Shamayim, Hebrew–sky, Yiddish– himel].

Pesakh earned a living from cheese production in a cellar on the main road, and from upstairs in a shop of dairy products. He did business with Dutch cheese which he exported even to Siberia.

When the Polish legions receded from White Russia in 1920, the young Moishe Pesakh's decided to go along with them to Poland and not remain in Red Slutsk. He remained in Poland for three years. In 1923, Moishe went to Cuba. As all new immigrants, he struggled hard in the beginning, but slowly good fortune smiled upon him, and he bought stretches of land and built up many projects, and they brought him a fine annual income. He figured that if his father could manage a dairy business in Slutsk, then why could he not manage a factory in Havana? While he was in Poland, for a short time he worked in a perfume store and “infused” himself with some knowledge about this type of work. He really did prove his good fortune, and opened a factory of cosmetic products.

Meanwhile, he married Aidel Skolnik,


Reb Pesakh Himelstayn with his wife Rokhel and their daughter


a real Slutsker, daughter of Zelig the teacher. She became not only his lifelong companion, but also


Beryl Skolnik (Aidel Himelstayn's brother)


… the main salesperson of his cosmetic products. That's how the two Slutskers developed quite a nice business in Havana. Their income grew from year to year. But one fine day, Fidel Castro arrived, and he nationalized all the privatized businesses in Cuba, and among them also Himelstayn's. Fortunately, he was lucky to pre–empt some of this and he invested some of his capital in Florida. Now the Himelstayns and some other Jews and non–Jews are sitting in Florida, having run from Cuba, and as they sit at the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, under the rays of the burning sun, they are thinking about all their migrations, from the Slutsker mud pools to the rich Miami ocean shore. But in spite of all these experiences, Moishe Himlestayn is fresh and upbeat, and he still hopes to build new worlds in his adopted Havana, Cuba, larger and more beautiful ones than in his hometown of Slutsk. The more that this sweet dream poured out in the present, the stronger was the feeling and the longing for Slutsk, his childhood home. At the beginning of the activity for the Yizkor Book project, Moishe Himelstayn came right to work and since then gave a hand, and helped compile the memories.

[Page 507]


English translation is provided in the text of the Yizkor Book.

[Page 508]

Dovid Juzdon



Dovid Juzdon was born to his parents Nasanel Tzvi and Dvoire–Bashe Juzdon, on June 19, 1893, in Hrozewie (Shabbath eve, 25 Sivan, 5653).

His father, whom they used to call Sanye Dodzhe's (Nasanel Dovid's), was a respected merchant in Hrozewie. They used to call this son Dovid Dodzhe Sanye's. His first Rebbi [religious teacher] in Hrozewe was the well–known teacher Burstayn, Yehuda Leyb Grozowski's brother–in–law from Pohost.

When Dovid got older, his parents sent him to Slutsk, where he studied for two years with Reb Yoshe Triconer.

In 1910, Dovid went to America and worked in a gross–paper store that was run by a German Jew by the name of Heller.

Even though Dovid was just then a mere eighteen years old, he demonstrated a great business acuity, and in a short time, Heller invited Dodzhe Sanye's to become a partner in the company. So they gave it a name “Heller and Judzon Paper Store” and the company proudly bears this same name until today.

In 1917, when America entered World War One, David volunteered as a matross [type of gunner] in the American navy. The entire time during the war, he participated in many clashes.

Once, when a warship was in the middle of the ocean in great danger, Dovid swore that if God would help him survive the war and come home safely, he would go to Hrozewie and bring over his entire family to America. After the war, he really fulfilled his promise and in the year 1920, he brought over seventeen souls from Hrozewie to New York and helped each of them settle in.

In 1923, Dovid married Miriam Yaffa, daughter of a prominent Lithuanian family of great refinement and lineage.

In time, his company grew bigger, and today “Heller and Juzdon” is one of the most respected companies in the paper industry in New York.

During all this time, Dovid Juzdon was active in all the Jewish welfare organizations and institutions, locally and nationally. For many years he was chairman of the “Hebrew Institute in Long Island” and Far Rockway, New York, one of the largest and most beautiful traditional high schools in the New York area. Also, for many years he was president of the large “Beth Shalom” synagogue in Lawrence, Long Island, that is also one of the richest and intellectual traditional schools in that area. For a long time, Dovid Juzdon was director of the “Jewish War Veterans,” former soldiers of the American army.

Other than in local activities, Mr. Juzdon was also very devoted to working for Israel, such as for the UJA [United Jewish Appeal], and Israel Bonds, where he was exemplary, and also for regular Jewish cultural institutions such as for yeshivos [religious schools], and so on, and everything that he does, is always with humility, refinement, and discretion.

Mr. and Mrs. Juzdon merited to raise a beautiful generation, and their children, who worked along with them in the business, are also devoted to Jewish tradition and activity.

When we began to think about the Slutsker Yizkor Book, Juzdon was the first to provide all the paper for the entire book. His great support largely inspired all the friends and compatriots, and helped realize the idea.

Generally, one can say that the Hrozowier teacher Burstayn, together with Reb Yoshe Tricaner can be proud with what they implanted into their student Dodzhe Sanye's from Hrozowie.

[Page 509]

Harry and Sarah Lefrak



Harry Lefrak is one of the most popular Slutsker compatriots in New York, both because of his great participation in all the welfare interests and also because of his phenomenal growth in the business world, that sounds like a legend.

His Jewish name is Hershel Meilekh, and he was born to his parents – Aron, Moishe Beryl the glazier's son from Slutsk and his wife Dvoire Henye from Kozlowyc, a village near Urecze. The parents lived in Bobruysk at the time that Hershel was born on the first seder night of Passover, year 5645 (March 30, 1885). Right after that, they moved back to Slutsk, which remained as the home for the family for many years.

It seems that Moishe Beryl at that time already had relatives in Israel with whom he was closely connected, and he tried to figure out how to get there.

When he was already there for a few years, Aron Lefrak learned of his father's death, and because of an heir's dispute he and his family returned to Slutsk.

In 1897, once again he wanted to try his luck, and again went with his family to Israel. They remained there until after Hershel Meilekh's bar mitzvah, that took place in Jerusalem in the year 5658 [1898].

Unfortunately, once again they had to return to Slutsk through the Black Sea to Odessa. But instead of going along with his entire family, Hershel Meilekh convinced his father to allow him to stay over in Odessa. The father relented, even though Hershel Meilekh was still young, but since he came from a family of glaziers, and knowing the details of the work, he immediately got a job in the field and demonstrated great skill. It did not take long, and he soon began earning about four ruble a week, a great sum in those days.

Hershel Meilekh spent about two years in Odessa and he saved a great amount of money. So in 1901, he returned to Slutsk.

Since he had already “seen the world,” and since he was independent, it was now difficult for him to fit in with the small–town life of his father's house and lifestyle. Therefore, conflicts arose between the two of them. Hershel Meilekh hardly made it through three years, and one day, after Passover 1904, he ran away from home to steal across the German border at Lomzo. Unfortunately, the Russian police caught him and brought him back “hotly” to Slutsk. Eventually, he convinced his father to allow him to go to America, and on January 5, 1905, Arel the glazier arrived in New York together with Hershel Meilekh and with another younger son, leaving behind the wife and daughters in Slutsk. When the immigration officials asked Arele how he thought he was going to make a living, he took out 150 ruble from his pocket and pointing at his two sons, he replied: “With this in hand and with my two sons, I hope that the Creator will not abandon me.”

In the beginning, they, as the other immigrants of those years, struggled very hard and did all kinds of heavy work, and even shoveled snow in the New York streets, but their main business was as glaziers – their call for generations.

In 1906, they began to build the

[Page 510]

large tenements in New York, on 28th Street between First and Second Avenues, and the young Hershel Meilekh talked to the builders and told them how to save money with the glass [for windows, etc.]. For this, he immediately received a position and in one year he saved more than $3,000 and met Sarah Schwartz, a Slutsker girl, and she became his bride. At the time, in 1907, there was a crisis in America, and Hershel Meilekh lost his few dollars and had to start all over again.

Finally, he married on June 7, 1907, and right away he taught his wife the glass business and they worked together. In 1910, in the electricity station of the train center, there was an explosion. When they were rebuilding the station, Hershel Meilekh took on the job of glazier, and demonstrated great skill in this vocation. He acquired a wide knowledge and began to work for seven insurance companies with a balance of $80,000 a month.

In 1914, the glass business fell significantly, and Lefrak lost his entire capital, a sum of $35,000. But in about several years, glass once again became valuable, and in 1920, he worked himself up to having a fortune of $300,000. Then he threw himself into the building industry and rose higher and higher. 1930 was the time of the great crisis in America, and Harry Lefrak lost around $650,000 and remained with barely $100,000. A few years later, he once again began to rise in the construction industry, until today. Now about 134 buildings carry his name. All of them in large New York, the value of about $100,000,000, and this brings in about $15,000,000 of rent per year.

Harry Lefrak is very active in all kinds of community matters, and particularly in the United Slutsker Relief Committee, where he was treasurer for many years and greatly supported and aided the work. Also, he was a great contributor with a generous hand to yeshivos and all other national–cultural organizations.

In 1950, there was a great tragedy in his family, when his son–in–law, Mr. William (Zev) Lampert died in an airplane tragedy. Harry Lefrak decided to perpetuate his name in Israel and, in a hospital in Ramat Gan, he opened a room in his name, and also, in Yad Eliyahu, there is a clinic of Kupat Kholim [provides health plan] specially built by the Lefraks in his memory.

Their son Shmuel is also a follower of his father's ways. He participates in all important community matters with a generous hand and great finesse.

When the Yizkor Book committee was organized, Harry Lefrak was one of the first supporters who enabled the printing of this book and encouraged others to participate as well in this project.


Avrohom and Khaike Maizel at a family gathering for the Slutsker Pinkus [book of records] in Los Angeles
Seated from right to left: Shmuel Kohen, Akiva Aizenstat, and Avrohom Maizel
Standing: Rawycz, his sisters: Zelda Kohen, Faigel Aizenstat, Khaike Maizel, and her niece Lila with her husband Dr. Eliyahu Epstayn.


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