by L. Shmeltzinger, of Blessed Memory (Rio de Janeiro)
For one year, I worked in Sokoly as a teacher of religious studies at the public school. I spent my vacation days at the nearby city of Wysokie Mazowieckie, where my family lived. In Sokoly, I found a wonderful community life among a group of teachers and educated young people, both local and from outside. I slowly began to recognize the lifestyle and people of the town. Among the intelligentsia of the town, there were those who were completely assimilated and those who were partly assimilated. Among these were a Russian Jew, a forest merchant named Turkenitz, and his partner (or agent), Henis Klinlein. I also remember a man by the name of A. Zaks, who spoke German mixed with Hebrew words.
Among the teachers, I remember the principal, Maurice Lev, a typical official. He had the disagreeable habit of standing behind the door to check the teachers' behavior. However, he knew how to develop reasonable relationships with his companions, the teachers.
I also remember the teacher Salla (Sara) Zimmerman, who came from a traditional Jewish home in Lomza. She was the only one among the teachers who protected the worldview of the nationalist Jews, and she supported the position that schools for Jewish children should change their language of instruction from Polish to Yiddish.
Celina Kozovna, from Plotsk, was completely assimilated. Her only connection to her Jewishness was that she knew how to recite, in Yiddish, one of the poems of the Polish poetess Maria Konofniczka (The King Went Out to War), translated by Avraham Reisen. Her Plotsk accent, in Polish Yiddish, was funny; she herself related to her language with a measure of seriousness.
The teacher Tzasha Murstein, also from Plotsk, was an assimilated daughter to a Chassidic family. I rarely heard a word of Yiddish from her; however, she enjoyed spending time in Yiddish-speaking groups.
Occasionally, teachers from Sokoly would meet for recreation with teachers from Wysokie-Mazowieckie. These meetings were held in the house of the wealthy, educated Moshe Tomkewitz, in Wysokie.
Rachel Ginzburg was a member of our group of teachers. She was a pretty girl, intelligent and a gentle soul, and a close friend of Moshe Olsha, a pleasant young man of noble behavior. Moshe was familiar with both Hebrew and Polish literature. In his relationships with others, he kept a distance from the local youth, appropriate to his educational level.
David Kotik, an elderly bachelor and a baker by trade, was a man of natural intelligence. He admired Yiddish theatre and poetry. He had a feeling for music, and even wrote melodies for chapters of the Psalms. At every opportunity, he organized choirs and drama clubs. His field of activity in Sokoly was very limited, and this caused him more than a little distress. He excitedly brought up memories from other towns where his cultural activities had reached the peak of success.
|Students and Teachers|
The youth in Wysokie-Mazowieckie, neighboring Sokoly, admired David Kotik and they spoke of him with enthusiasm.
That is all I remember from the time I was in Sokoly.
by Tzipora Zatorsky (Montevideo)
I don't remember exactly in what year it happened. Possibly, I was then at the age of six or seven, or maybe less. The period during which it all happened is drawn in my memory, when the delivery of the mail was still entirely in the hands of a resident of the town, Mordechai Shlomo Blustein (Mondaritzky), a name that, in the Polish language, means the wise man. To this day, I do not know if this was his real name, or only a nickname because of his intelligence. I do know that this name was passed on as an inheritance to his sons and grandsons.
He appears in my memory as an older man, of medium height, with a healthy body, a pleasant maturity and a graying beard that added majesty and importance to his appearance.
I also remember his wife, Gutka, a solidly built, healthy Jewess, generally dressed in a wide apron and having a confident, commanding voice that proved her importance and unchallenged standing in ruling the house.
They supported themselves by [operating] a very superior coaching service.
The matter began during the time when there was not as yet any train service in the vicinity of Sokoly, and Mondaritzky dealt in transporting passengers from Sokoly to the train station in Lapy in his diligence. He also brought the mail to and fro, for the residents of the town. Mordechai Shlomo's dwarfish daughter, who had a dark, masculine face, delivered the mail to the people's homes. People also came to their house to ask if any letters had come for them, and to receive them.
Every day, when I went to my first rebbe, Reb Mordechai Shmuel, I would pass by Mordechai Shlomo's house, which stood in an alleyway near the market. The Rabbi also lived there with his childless wife, Fridka.
The opening of a real post office branch in Sokoly is engraved in my memory as a big event, perhaps because of the fact that it was located near our house, in Zerach Maik's building.
The street where we lived, in a two-story house that was occupied entirely by our large family of nine children, bore the undistinguished name Bathhouse Street. Apparently it was so called by coincidence. This matter vexed me very much, and I never forgave the fathers of the town for choosing that name, which negated every aesthetic feeling. It is true that a mikva and a bathhouse were located on our street; however, the Rabbi's house was also located there, as well as the new Beit Midrash, and the street led, by way of an unpaved road one kilometer long, to Kruczewa, to the train station that passed there twice a day. Because of that, during my childhood I carried a grudge in my heart, why they didn't call our street, for example, Train Street. It is a fact that what is crooked cannot be made straight, and therefore the name remained, as long as the Jews were in Sokoly.
Everybody called Zerach Maik's brick building [in Yiddish] der moiyer, and there were not many like it in Sokoly. Its height stood out from the other, small wooden houses around it. It had two pairs of large, wide windows and the entrance was in the center. In front of the door there was a kind of porch with a railing, with benches on both sides. A number of stairs led up to the entrance. In my childhood, I was envious of the nice porch; in comparison to the flat stone that was set at the threshold of our house, polished and shining with wear.
At the side of our house stood a long bench, which remained in the same place all the time we lived in Sokoly. Later, when I was growing up, that bench gained special importance. It became a meeting place for the youth, and was used first, among other things, by my older sister and brother, and later by me. There, during the terrible days of World War I, fierce and fervent arguments took place about classic literature and the creations of the giants of literature, such as Tolstoy, Leonid Andriev, [Ivan] Goncharov, and others. To this day, I have not forgotten the names of the heroes of these creations, who were so real in our eyes and so close to our hearts.
In those days, many read the revolutionary creation of [Mikhail] Artsybashev, Sanin, which shook public opinion with its audacity and its new, daring plunge into ideas that were not previously heard and which did not, until then, find a place in the innocent minds of the youth of the towns.
The liberal Polish author, Eliza Orzeszkowa, also awakened deep echoes in the heart with her humanistic descriptions, especially in stories of admiration for the Jews and general social matters regarding wealth and poverty in the Poland of the days of the squires [paritzim]. She acquired admiration and recognition for herself among the intellectual Jewish youth.
If that bench had a mouth and was able to speak, it would certainly tell about the flaming passions that were formed on it and the heights of youthful dreams on moonlit summer nights in my tranquil and friendly town, where I was born and grew up.
As I have already told, the post office was arranged in the lovely house with the railing at the side of its entrance, and inside, on the wall opposite the entrance, was a picture of the Czar [Nicholas] Batiushka II.
The first manager of the post office (naczelnik [Polish]) was a good-looking, tall man in his early thirties with Slavic blue eyes, who amazingly resembled Betyushka, whose picture was on the wall. He was married and the father of three children. His oldest daughter, who was my age, had straight, light blond hair, and her name was Vyra. Not having any girlfriends on the Jewish street, she chose me as her playmate. It was natural for me to be proud of this, but my knowledge of the Russian language included only one word Nyet (No). Even though I didn't understand what she said, this did not prevent us from going to spend time playing together all day. Vyra brought me into her house, which was in the same building with the post office, and there I saw the differences in the arrangements compared to those in Jewish homes. I was impressed by the greasy smells of the foods of the goyim. I don't know exactly how long the friendship between Vyra and me continued, but it is clear to me that her father, the naczelnik did not keep his position for very long, and he was quickly replaced by another naczelnik.
The opening of the Sokoly post office was a turning point for the residents of the town, especially the youth. Every day, between the hours of 5 and 6, the mailman appeared next to the railing and called out the names of those who had received letters to the crowd who gathered there. People came there especially for that, from all parts of the town. Happy was the man who heard his name called out by the mailman, and with extra feeling and in a loud voice, he would call, above the heads of the crowd, Yest! (Here I am!). The letter would be passed from person to person, hand to hand, until it reached the outstretched hand of its recipient, who had already lost patience.
Going to the post office became an entertainment for the youth. Many of them were accustomed to prepare themselves for this event all day, being attentive to their clothing. More than one match was successfully made there. The young girls would run to ask if post restante (general delivery) letters had arrived for them.
I remember that once they mocked an older, single woman, who was not very attractive, who was accustomed to bother the official every day with the question: Is there a letter for me? and she always received the same answer: They aren't writing yet.
In total, the post office only existed for a few years in the Jewish quarter. In the end, it was moved to Church Street in the Christian quarter. This caused me, personally, a generous amount of sadness, because until then I didn't have to walk far and I was able to approach the railing at the moment the mailman appeared there with a bunch of letters in his hand. However, I did enjoy going in the evening to the more distant post office so as to be among the people and hear the calling of the names of those who were waiting for letters.
With time, the custom of going to the post office was harmed. A large gathering of Jews among the goyim awakened the anger of the Christians and caused problems and rude injuries to our brothers, the Children of Israel. Going to the post office almost stopped, except for urgent matters. From that time, the mail was brought to every house in the town.
For me, as a young, growing girl, the post office fulfilled an inestimable position, and I had more than a few moments of happiness and heartfelt experiences when I heard my name called out by the mailman and when he put into my hands a letter that was addressed only to me.
Later, with the passing of the years, and the changes that occurred around me and in my personal life, letters arrived for me through that same mail from across the sea, and finally, a ticket to travel on a ship, which I had waited for so much, to bring me to those lands.
Thus, I parted from Sokoly and from the post office, to which I was attached from the beginning of my childhood.
by Liba Lapichinsky-Langleib (Buenos Aires)
I wish to write about the thirst of our youth for knowledge, and about the great difficulties they had in learning. The desire for knowledge was unusually great, and the possibilities minimal.
A basis for education did not yet exist, not even a public school. The old cheder was regarded as a gymnasia [high school], and the yeshiva as a university.
We had male and female teachers the teaching corps. One of these teachers was Rebbitzen Malka, the wife of Yankel the Melamed. She taught me the Hebrew alphabet. Later, I went to learn with Teacher Zelig [Zilka] Sorasky, a more modern teacher. He taught us the Yiddish language, arithmetic and a little bit of Hebrew.
Here, I pause to describe Teacher Zilka, who was from a poor family. He learned without the assistance of teachers. He read a lot of the Enlightenment literature, and was far from religious fanatacism. He was a Jew with a progressive outlook, but he was passive enough not to be active in any political movement. He was a teacher dedicated to his work. Over time, he established a school in partnership with Itzka Levin, Mendel Bialodvorsky's son-in-law. This school was more or less similar to a real school. When the Germans entered Poland in 1916 during World War I, the teachers Itzka and Zelig began to teach the German language to their students.
A short time later, a new teacher, named Tzimbel, came to Sokoly.
Over time, experienced modern teachers came to Sokoly, who were experts in educational pedagogy and knew how to reveal and develop the talents of their students. They taught music and rhythm, recitation, sports, various games, and the staging of plays before holidays and in commemoration of national events.
When the Polish government was formed in 1918, a government school was established in Sokoly. The school had three levels and the principal was Teacher Hote. But when a student completed his education in that school, there was nothing else. Most of the students were upset; their desire to continue learning was great, but it involved enormous efforts and expenses that were difficult to maintain. A few of the students continued their learning in Bialystok or Vilna. Some of them encountered difficulties and returned, disappointed, to Sokoly, without any possibility of continuing their education.
I was amazed when I met youths of my age, who knew a lot more than I did. They were familiar with Jewish literature and world literature. They knew theories of sociology, things I knew nothing about and to which I was a stranger. These youths completed their own education and read a great deal. They received the appropriate literature from Michael Maik, who knew correctly what to give to whom. He had books in Yiddish, published by Folks Universitat, the periodical Literarisha Blater, and others.
Thanks to Michael Maik, the Mendele Bookseller of Sokoly, as he was called, it was possible to quench the blazing thirst for knowledge of the youth. When we encountered difficulties, or there was something we didn't understand, we immediately turned to Michael. He had enough patience to clarify every problem and explain to us every doubt that arose. When he saw that his explanations were understood, he was very happy and glowed with satisfaction.
|School for Girls, Tova Tzimbel, Principal|
We read a mixture of everything: romances and political economics, meditation and astronomy, astrology and sexology, without any order, all in a chaotic manner!
Nevertheless, we began to have a clearer view of the world and events. We even dared to criticize events, movements, literary creations and political problems.
Our cultural center and educational institution were located in the middle of Vagel Street. We would gather there in the hours of the evening to discuss politics first, the events of the day and after that, books that we had read. These discussions and arguments would last until midnight. In spite of the different approaches to every matter, we were tolerant and respected everyone's opinion. We always parted in true friendship. However, these meetings were held by a certain, defined group of youth.
There were many who were jealous of us and sought ways to become closer to us and enjoy our knowledge, which, though modest, was greater than theirs. We joined them in conversations and gave them guidance. We started to teach them first, the Yiddish and Polish languages, a bit of arithmetic, nature studies, the development of culture, and later, sociology. We tried to awaken their curiosity, to get them to read fictional literature. Of course, we chose the book. It is possible that alone, we found it difficult to find correct solutions to many of the problems. However, we acted in the belief that we were doing something important and good.
Thus, it is not surprising that groups were formed among us with different political ideologies and that there was a struggle for economic requirements. The political ideologies were Zionism and socialism.
Our activities endangered the freedom of our young lives more than a little. These dangers were expressed by financial difficulties, a lack of sources of income, the too narrow surroundings, the growing anti-Semitism, and the fact that every step and path we took was subject to investigation by the police. All of these reasons caused some emigration to all the countries of the world, which, as later became clear, was beneficial. But unfortunately, this was possible for only a few.
The seed that was planted by the adults of the town struck roots and brought forth fighters. During the Nazi period, these youths fought among the partisans and as ghetto fighters. They revealed supreme heroism in honor of the Jewish nation and humanity. They did not suffer delusions and did not allow anything to cause them to stray from their correct path.
The Jews of Sokoly contributed to all facets of life, as well as in their last struggle, when they were martyred in G-d's name, for example, our brothers Chaim Shimon Lapchinsky, Nyomka Rachelski, David Zolti and many others who died a hero's death. We bow our heads before them!
With the huge and terrible pain in our hearts, we are comforted by the fact that not all of our brothers marched to their deaths like sheep to the slaughter. They believed, until the last moment, that justice will prevail and mankind will change its ways!
Many of those who left Sokoly have contributed their share to the establishment of the State of Israel. We from Sokoly were not deficient in the project of the entire nation, and we fully believe in the progress of mankind.
by Masha Kaplinsky, of blessed memory (Kibbutz Lochamei HaGettaot)
Yankel-Chaim and Mirka Zugato were water drawers in Sokoly already in the 1890's. They lived in the attic of my grandmother Leah's [Leahche] house. Their apartment, which consisted of only one room, was small, but it always had an air of cleanliness and warmth.
The family comprised eight souls: the parents; three sons, Shmuel, Hershel, and Yossele; and three daughters, Chana, Yosefa and Sara-Leah.
In that small room in the attic, Mirka bore and raised all six of her children. Yankel-Chaim, a thin, bent Jew, was a good man. He was religious and good-hearted. He spent his spare time in saying chapters of the Psalms.
His wife, Mirka, was outwardly the exact opposite of her husband. She was broad-shouldered and fat. From her round face, she looked at you with smiling eyes. She was always happy and content.
The couple was energetic. At dawn, they would wake to their work. Even the severe cold or snowstorms did not prevent them from fulfilling their task: distributing water to the residents of the town. Mirka, in her wide dress, with a wool scarf over her head, her husband, wrapped in a thin kapote with red piping around the collar, hurried to the well, whose waters were excellent, to fill their pails. The price for a pair of pails of water was three agurot [a small coin].
Thus this family lived for many years, happy with their portion and without complaint.
Their children grew, and the parents began to worry about their future. They wished to improve the lot of their children. Two of the sons, Yossele and Shmuel, learned shoemaking, excelled in their work and began to make shoes for children. They sold their products at the fairs in Sokoly or wandered with them to the nearby towns.
With the help of the sons, the family's situation improved and poverty was less apparent in their home.
I was very close to this family, as the result of a particular incident:
I was a little girl of five or six, when my family was struck with tragedies. My parents lost children, and only I remained. My parents were very fearful and worried about me a great deal. Then my mother was advised to sell me to the water drawers' family, which was supposed to be protection against calamity. And so it was. At the price of a kopek, they sold me. After that, my parents made it a rule to give gifts to the water drawers' family for every holiday. In addition, my parents promised them that, with G-d's help, when I grew up and married, Mirka would get a new dress and Yankel-Chaim a new kapote. From the day I was sold, I became one of their family. Their children regarded me as a sister, and I loved them.
In my parents' house, I was a spoiled child. I lacked an appetite. The foods that my mother prepared didn't appeal to me, but that was not the case in Mirka's house, where I hungrily swallowed the bean and barley soup. I, together with the members of the family, sat on low shoemaker's benches around the small table. In the middle of the table stood a bowl full of hot soup, and with wooden spoons we filled our mouths with its contents. The soup was delicious, and its taste was better than all of my mother's good dishes.
I especially remember the early morning hours of the winter. Most of the residents of the town would still be asleep, covered with warm blankets. From my warm bed, I saw Mirka come into our house. She was all red from the cold; icicles hung on the edges of her dress, and her footsteps rang. With quick movements, she emptied the pails of water into the barrel. Then she came to my bed, put her frozen hands under the covers, and in her soft voice, she turned to me, saying, Nu, when will you get married already, it should be at a propitious time? I want that new, beautiful dress that they promised me.
The years passed. The wave of emigration that came over Eastern Europe did not pass over our town. Many of the craftsmen left their towns to wander to the golden land America. Yankel-Chaim's sons were swept up in the current.
Yankel-Chaim and Mirka! You were very dear to me during your lives, and your memory is precious. You secretly wove the thread of your lives, and their song was quietly ended.
The silent monuments on your graves also are gone. The Nazis poured out their wrath also on the Jewish cemeteries. Their blood-soaked hands also desecrated and destroyed the Jewish cemetery in Sokoly, and no memory of it was left.
|Masha Kaplinsky and her grandson, Yaakov Kalisher|
by Leon Lorinsky (Haifa)
I remember the city of Sokoly of 20 years ago, when I, with all of the members of my family, left Poland. Sokoly was a small city, populated by about 400 Jewish families, who were about 70% of the total population. There were no very wealthy people there, but there also were no great beggars. Like everywhere else, in Sokoly there were shopkeepers and craftsmen.
Many families lived on support that they received from their children or relatives in America and other countries. In the center of the town there was a market, from which five streets branched out toward the roads that led to Bialystok, Wysokie Masovietzk and Tiktin. There also were unpaved roads that led to the various villages. There were no rivers in Sokoly, but there were small ponds where ducks would swim. These ponds would dry up in the summer. However, our region was blessed with forests, that caused the town to awaken to new life in the summer season. There were many vacation camps in the forests.
It is worth describing the beauty of nature and the view of the Itchke Forest, which was next to the village Itchke. The houses stood very close to the forest. The road to Tiktin crossed the forest, and a beautiful view was formed. On one side of the forest, extending for many kilometers, stood a high, sloping mountain that led to a region known to the residents as Switzerland, because of the beauty of the view and its many plants.
There, the youth of Sokoly would spend their leisure afternoon hours on Sabbaths and holidays. I was a young lad, and was jealous of the pretty girls who relaxed in hammocks attached to the trees, swinging with enjoyment. The boys who were with them would play songs and popular Polish tunes on mandolins, or would sing Hebrew songs together in chorus, and the echoes would be heard from one end of the forest to the other.
The youth of Sokoly were educated and enlightened. They were members of various parties, movements and organizations. Celebrations were rare in the town, but occasionally there were lectures, readings and exhibitions by local amateurs. From time to time, lecturers and speakers from Warsaw and Bialystok were invited to town, so that our people could also enjoy cultural activities. There also were excellent speakers in Sokoly, who were as good as the speakers from the big cities. The many talented people of the town did not have the possibility to learn and perfect themselves. Not every Jew was accepted to the public school. The economic situation of the Jews in Poland during the period before World War II was very bad, and it was impossible for them to privately learn science and the arts. They wished to emigrate to the U.S. and other countries, or to the Land of Israel.
Very rarely, there was a holiday atmosphere in our town. A sign was posted on the notice board in the center of the market, known as the Budka, proclaiming in large letters that a group of actors had come to town to put on a play. The Budka was the information center of the town. Nachum Trotsky was filled with a special happiness. It is worth describing this interesting character.
How, and why, did he get the nickname Trotsky? I don't know precisely. It was clear to everyone that he was a type of city spokesman, and took care of all its needs. When the actors arrived, he immediately began to run around, to sweep the theatre hall, to bring benches and stand them in rows.
During the winter, he put heating stoves in the bathhouse. At weddings, he carried the four posts of the chupa [marriage canopy]. At funerals, he took care of all the necessary arrangements.
He had a pleasant voice and knew how to sing. His favorite song at that time was the hit Rebka, which he sang enthusiastically without understanding the meaning of the words, because he didn't know a word of Polish. He even added what he thought were appropriate body movements and mimicking. It was enough to say to him, Nachum, sing a song, and he would immediately be ready to do so. Then he would straighten his hat, which covered his eyes as usual, wipe his nose on his sleeve, and begin to sing, keeping time with his feet. Trotsky was an orphan, and grew up in the home of his relatives. In time, he left Sokoly and went to a nearby town, where he was married. Thus Sokoly lost an exceptional persona.
Sokoly is certainly an ancient town, as is shown by the old cemetery, which has existed for hundreds of years. There was no mention of pogroms against the Jews of Sokoly until the Polish Indatzia began to run wild in the area during the 1930's. At that time, their gangs murdered a Jewish man, who went out of the beit midrash one morning after the morning prayers, with his tallit under his arm.
In 1934, my family and I left Sokoly and emigrated to Uruguay. I still remember the day we left Sokoly, the town where we were born. It was June. A heavy rain fell from morning to night. Only then did the sky clear, and everyone in our town, from the smallest to the oldest, women and children, came out to accompany us to the train station.
All of the company wept and sighed at parting from our family. Many of them wished to send regards to their relatives in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, and to ask them to try to bring the members of their families out of the vale of tears and rescue them from Hell, because the heavy, black clouds of the destruction of Europe already covered the horizon and did not refrain from passing over Sokoly.
by Ida Shwitzer (Ettel Cherbonitz) (Tel Aviv)
|Ida (Ethel) Shwitzer|
The distance of years makes us forget, to a certain extent, our past. But there are events in life, such as, for example, the Day of Remembrance, when my thoughts go to the city of my birth, to the days of my youth, as if it all happened yesterday.
Before my eyes, I see our house, which was a center for the youth in Sokoly, most outstanding in which was the impressive image of my father, with his happy, heart-felt smile and his sparkling, gentle eyes. He never moralized to anyone, and he permitted his family to conduct themselves as they wished, in their own ways. We found in him a faithful friend, who was devoted to us with all his heart and soul.
We children revealed our personal secrets to our father, with confidence and without hesitation. Abba would listen to us with great attention and understanding, and advised us with wisdom. When there were party conflicts and hot arguments, he would try to calm the hotheads and compromise between the parties, and prevent fights among the youth.
I see my father, busily concerned with his business from dawn until the late hours of the evening. Here, he would be worried that he hadn't found appropriate teachers for his sons. In moments like these, he came to the conclusion that he should invite a good teacher from another town. For this purpose, he called a meeting of a group of parents who were interested in the matter. They decide that the new teacher who would be accepted, would eat for a month at the home of each of six families, each month with a different family. He would sleep at the home of another family, and the rest of the parents of the students would pay him a salary, to be determined.
In general, my father was the personification of an honest, energetic tradesman and a faithful, ideal father to his children. He was not satisfied with his own private affairs, and also took care to work for the good of everyone. He was an active participant in the establishment of a Talmud Torah with modern teachers, with a girls' department where they taught Hebrew, Tanach and religious studies. One of those teachers from then, Mr. Tzimbel, is now in Israel.
For a time, my father was the gabbai in the new Beit Midrash. He would frequently be absent from his business in order to provide help to someone after a tragedy, or a family in financial difficulty. I remember that in any rescue activity, he was among the first volunteers.
The Jews of the town would turn to my father in matters of arbitration and inheritance conflicts. He had a good name and was known as a wise, intelligent Jew. There were times when the rabbis of the area invited my father to help them in solving complicated conflicts.
Of course my mother, ah, suffered from the fact that Abba dedicated most of his time to matters outside the house. But she respected and appreciated him very much, and didn't dare to prevent him from participating in public activities.
When the holy Sabbath arrived, Abba wore a different, higher image. His secularism disappeared, and in its place a special soul entered him. On the Sabbath, he would sit and learn in a sweet, full melody. To this day, the tune that Abba sang when he read a lesson to the Gemara group in the Beit Midrash on Sabbath mornings, rings in my ears.
I still remember one fact from my childhood. It was a Sabbath during the winter. I was still a little girl and I didn't know that Abba was accustomed to read a page of Gemara to the study group in the Beit Midrash. Snow was falling and covered the ground. I suddenly woke up, before daylight, and heard the voice of Moshe Koppel, the shamash, under our window: Reb Yosef, Reb Yosef, please get up for Psalms! I saw that the hands of the clock pointed to the hour of 3:30. There was only one wish in my heart, that Abba wouldn't hear Moshe Koppel's call.
But I immediately heard the footsteps of Abba in the next room. After a few minutes he left the house. I burst into tears and complained to Ima, how does she let Abba's rest and sleep be disturbed and let him go out of his warm bed when it still is night, especially on the day of rest?
When Abba came back from the Beit Midrash after a number of hours, Ima told him about my feelings and anger. Abba came to me with a smile. He quieted and stroked me, saying, Please calm down, my dear girl. I went to give good people what they need and what they want to hear from me. It is my holy obligation to do so with all my heart and all my soul. He explained everything to me, until I couldn't oppose him.
My father did not seek honor. He did what he did with idealism and simplicity.
I remember a ceremony on Dr. Hertzl's memorial day, the date of his death, 20 Tammuz. My father gave a speech in the large Beit Midrash, with the enthusiasm of a national Zionist who was dedicated with all his might to the fate of his nation. His sons, my brothers, inherited many of his characteristics and followed in his path, but were murdered by the Nazis. May G-d avenge their blood!
|Girls' Class and Teachers in the Popular School, 1922|
|Ida and Zeev Shwitzer|
|Yosef ben Mottel Cherbonitz,
the grandson of Yosef Cherbonitz
by Moshe Goldberg (Givatayyim)
It wasn't the easiest thing to prepare a performance in Sokoly. First, an appropriate play had to be selected, and then the right actors had to be found for each role. However, it should be pointed out that the youth related nicely to the theatre and the understanding they showed toward the art of acting helped to make the performances a success.
When I arrived in Sokoly in 1925, I found a drama club and a team of good actors under the direction of David Kotik. At that time, the plays presented in Sokoly were Wild Man, G-d, Adam and the Devil, King Lear, The Slaughter, The Stranger, and others by Yaakov Gordin.
The chief roles in the plays were filled by Sima Rosenovitz, Sara Tova Jelazo, Alter Pious and his wife, Feigel Lachover, Avraham Yitzchak Lev, Nisska Lachover, Chaim Yehoshua Olsha, Fishel Olsha, Moshka Olsha, Leah Maik and others.
The Beitar group was established in Sokoly in 1928, and under its auspices a drama club was organized under my direction. During that period, the following plays were presented: Broken Hearts, The Superfluous Man, The Brothers Luria, Tzipka Asch, The plays took place in Abraham Jelazo's hall in the social center of the Christian church, and sometimes in Grabovsky's house. Participants were Rachel Itzkovsky (Wasserman), Rachel Jelazo, Rachel Sorasky, Chaya Rivka Somovitz, Tzippa Sarnawitz, Sarah Gernistensky (prima donna), Shmulke Sains, Zeidel Rachikovsky, Yaakov Tzentkovsky, Ben Zion Rosenowitz, Rachel Baidenowitz, Moshe Aharon and others.
For the three weeks preceding a performance, the actors ran around all over town, for the purpose of finding requisites for the play (costumes for the actors, make-up materials and lighting for the stage).
A week before the performance, notices giving the date it was to take place were posted on the walls of the shack in the middle of the market, with the name of the play written in different colors, in script letters.
It was difficult to acquire a permit for a performance from the authorities. First of all, it was required to translate the entire play into the Polish language before submitting the request for the permit.
During the last rehersals, the town would be noisy with people. On the last Friday night, many people sought special favors so as to be present at the performance. After the Sabbath, as soon as the Havdala candle was lit, the box office was opened for selling tickets. Shlomo Goldberg and Netta Cherniovsky filled the role of ushers and carefully inspected the tickets of those entering the hall. The lighting and make-up took many hours, sometimes until 11 o'clock at night. I did most of these jobs myself. The audience would lose patience and begin to call out Start already!
And here we were, all prepared. The third bell rang and the curtain lifted. During these moments, the call Sit down! was heard. Finally, it was quiet, and the audience became fascinated by what was happening on the stage.
|Sitting, left to right: Chaim Yehoshua Olsha, Leah Maik, Zundel Sokolovitz
Middle row: Moshka Olsha, Rachel Olsha, Sara Tova Jelazo
Standing: Yehuda Olshker, Chana Levinsky, Noah Markus, Nina Levinsky, Fishel Olsha
|Right to left: Nissel Lachover, Yehuda Olshker, Zvi Kaplinsky (from Bransk), Zvi Zilberstein, Nissel Lachover (Malfi), Avraham Yitzchak Lev|
The acts of the play are over, one after the other. The intermissions are too long. Changes should be made; things should be moved. And of course it is necessary to drink something in order to wet the throat and satisfy one's thirst. The audience is spellbound and the play comes to an end. Outside, it is already dawn. On the way home from the performance, we meet shepherds taking their cattle out to pasture.
The experiences of the performance remain in our hearts for many days, and everywhere songs from the play are being sung. This continues until it becomes public knowledge that we are preparing another, new performance.
That is how the youth of Sokoly was entertained, to their great enjoyment. They knew how to appreciate art and talent.
The end of the entertainment and enjoyment of its residents came when our dear town, Sokoly, was destroyed. May its memory be blessed!
may G-d avenge her blood
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