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[Col. 1223]

Lingmian – The Life and Beauty in Our Shtetl

(Linkmenys, Lithuania)

55°18'/25°57'

By Zvi Zaar

Translation by Anita Frishman Gabbay

 

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With awe and dread, with respect and admiration, with sorrow and heartache, I take my pen in hand in order to write about our heartfelt shtetl Lingmian. This should serve as a monument to perpetuate our Yiddish “kibbutz”, a murdered Jewish community, a Jewish shtetl, that evaporated in fire and smoke, together with those wonderful people that were murdered in the most barbarous ways.

Not one trace, not one memory of this former little shtetl remains. No documents can be found anywhere about its origins and its development. Even the former residents did not leave any written memoirs to tell about its glory, nor any writer gave any accounts of its way of life. What we know about her, we were told in our youth by the older generation. Just from those few words we can catch a glimpse of her beauty and daily routine, so that our children and grandchildren and all future generations can have a small idea, what a dear “family” we lost with the destruction of the shtetl, we, her children, and together with us the children of Israel and all the people in the world.

The writer of these few lines, who remained in the “land” (Israel) and is one of the few that remained from Lingmian, believes it is his Holy duty to tell us how the community of Jews existed and lived with pride and devotion before its destruction.

It is one's duty and a “mitzvah” (great deed) to forever remember them, our nearest and dearest, in a Yiskor book, about their lives and during the Holocaust. May their memory be a blessing, “Yisgadal Ve'yiskadash”… (opening words of the Kaddish prayer…“Magnified and sanctified.”)

[Col. 1225]

Lingmian, a small shtetl in the Vilna province, great in respect and blessings, simply didn't have anything with what and with whom to praise/brag or have any pretensions of grandeur. All the Jews were simple and honest, hard– working, who had to work hard and with great difficulties to earn their piece of “bread”.

 

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Partizanka (female partisan) Mira Minaizki–Grinshpan

 

There were no factories or large shops in the shtetl. There was no electricity, no water mill and no train station. However, the shtetl was close and dear to us. We loved our small town, our homes, our beloved ones and our friendly Jewish neighbours, the bare forest, the endless fields and deep lakes, that surrounded the shtetl.

The first Jewish families settled here over 100 years ago. These families first lived in the nearby villages and on the “noble” estates. My grandfather Avraham and my grandmother Elka originated from a village by the name: Pokevne. They were considered amongst the earliest settlers of Lingmian.

I remember this shtetl from my early childhood years. I remember when I sat by the dim candle in the Synagogue, rocking back and forth as I read from the Gemara: “ Our Rabbis, said that Abaye* claimed”…father of the Jewish Talmud (Little Father, after his grandfather)

From those years, every road and every alley is woven with memories and “fantasies of our youth”.

The desire to build and educate myself drove me in my later years to a larger world, however, wherever I went, I never forgot my small birth–shtetl.

Until today I can still see before my eyes the wooden houses with the straw roofs, which defined it more as a village than a shtetl. We didn't even have our own market day like in the other shtetelach of the region. Only once a year we celebrated a fair and this was on the holiday of the “Troitze”. (Christian holiday)

As this shtetl was blessed with many fields,

[Col. 1226]

and lakes, most of the population was employed either in the wood or fish business.

The Jews of Lingmian leased the abundant lakes from the nearby estate owners and after a generation they became professional fish–mongers. The lakes contributed to the economic situation of the shtetl.

The second means of economic activity were from the Baranover forests. In Lingmian lived the wealthiest wood merchant of the Vilna province, Meir Gavenda, who had business dealings in Hamburg and sent his relatives to Danzig as his representatives.

The wood commerce gave many people a livelihood, they were called: “Voszhakes”. (Russian word=trucked wood back and forth)

For many months they were gone from their homes and lived in a collective, deep in the forests. However, they always stayed close to their Judaism, prayed and studied, ate “kosher” and obeyed the Sabbath and holidays.

As a child I heard a story, bandits attacked the Jews in the forest and wanted to steal their horses. This happened on a Shabbos day and the Jews were at their Tehillah prayers, the bandits observed how the Jews were wrapped in their Tefillim and prayed. The eldest of them became so enthralled, he gave an order not to harm the Jews; servants of the Holy God. The bandits left and later the Christians told a story of a miracle that happened to the “Voszhakes” in the forest.

Besides fishermen, Voszhakes and wood merchants, Lingmian had Jewish blacksmiths, shoemakers, butchers, and of course, shopkeepers, small merchants and pedlars.

All the wealthier Jews of Lingmian took care of the needs of those less fortunate around them.

The well– known sage and young Gaon, Efraim Zar, came from Lingmian. Our shtetl was also known for the religious Rabbi Akiva, who was a great teacher of the “Sha's” (Shisha sedarim, the 6 volumes of the Mishna and “verdicts/decisions and determinations that important Rabbis published answering questions posted to them) ”.

This is how the Jews led a quiet and honest life for many years, until the wild German

[Col. 1227]

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Jewish victims that were murdered by the Lithuanians, in Lingmian

 

barbarians invaded our nest and all our beautiful “birds” were murdered in a gruesome manner

The Jews of the Lingmian community were erased by those murders under God's skies.

The Holy and the Pure will forever remain etched in our hearts and in every generation we will not forget them.

 

The pedlar from Lingmian

It was a hot summer day, not even a leaf stirred, a branch did not move. The old wind mill, which was next to the stream by the Lidekener nobleman's estate, stood before us, we could still see the broken boards from the former walls and the remains of the shingle roof.

Through the stretch of huts which divided the fields from the gardens of the shtetl, we could see a bent over, white bearded Jew “dragging” his body with a patched– up sack on his shoulders.

This was Mordechai Nachman, the pedlar from Lingmian. He was wearing large, stuffed boots, a torn coat and on his head–a hat, which barely had any color left.

The sun stung his eyes and large droplets of sweat were pouring down his weary, creased face.

With his parched lips he quietly said his Tehillah, a psalm…

[Col. 1228]

It got very hot and Reb Mordechai Nachman searched for a shady spot under a tree, and stopped to pray “Shachrit” . (the morning prayer)

Slowly he placed his sack, which was packed with ladies' trimmings, pins and needles, glass beads, fine green smelling soaps, ribbons, strings, buttons, rings and other colorful objects.

He went over to the nearby water where he washed his hands and wiped them on a handkerchief. Then he took out a yellow, torn Tallith and wrapped himself in it. From a suede sack he pulled out his Tefillim, turned to the east and started his “davening” (praying) with great zeal.

When the hooligans approached the stream and saw the white bearded person, they became frightened and started to cross themselves.

One of them recognized him and started to scream:

–Oh, Jesus, this is only a sinning Jew from the shtetl.

One little gentile bent over immediately grabbed a few stones and threw it at him. A second one taunted the dogs: a third one hurled dirty curses at him.

Reb Mordechai Nachman didn't stop his “Shachrit”, with tears in his eyes he yelled: Hear our voice… and he continued with his psalms, the hooligans eventually got fed up with him and they left to enjoy their pranks elsewhere.

When he finished praying, he put back his Tallith and Tefillim in his patched– up sack, he washed his hands in the nearby water. He took out a small piece of black corn bread with a little salt, he sat on a stone and ate his breakfast.

He gathered some dry branches, made a fire and baked some potatoes which he had with him. He filled himself up with water, said the after– meal prayer, and again he put his sack on his shoulders to continue his journey.

He crossed over lakes and fields, passing peasants, who didn't receive him in a friendly manner and several hours later arrived at the edge of the village, Zezdrele.

He went from hut to hut,

[Col. 1229]

knocked on doors and propositioned the peasants to buy his merchandise.

In a house with colored curtains, he encountered a young gentile woman, with a red kerchief on her head and knew instantly she was preparing to get married.

Her laid out the merchandise on the table and knew this time he would be lucky. She chose an apron, a ring, a piece of soap, a necklace and other small items. But she didn't have any money to pay for these items.

She went to the shed, and brought back several pelts and proposed to make a trade.

However, this was not enough.

Meanwhile the mother of the bride entered the house. She proposed to give this Jew a bundle of onions, a sack of flour, some barley and a little flax.

The pedlar left very satisfied.

God helped him. He had enough to return home. It was Friday, Mordechai Nachman decided not to make any more stops in other villages and to return home. This time he can prepare a fine Shabbos, thanks to mercy of the Almighty.

He didn't pay attention to the fact that he had to carry such a heavy sack on his shoulders, he increased his pace. With “such” a sack he wanted his wife and children to enjoy the fruits of his labour.

The sack pinched his shoulders but he didn't pay attention. He must return before the blessing of the Shabbos candles, it would be even better if he arrived in time to take his bath in the market square.

The entire week he slept in the sheds, slept in his clothes and didn't eat any cooked meals. He was longing for a warm bed and a cooked soup.

Oh, how lucky he would be if he found short–cut and he arrived home earlier than expected.

He “shleps” his bundle and asks God that, the very least, it should not rain. And luck is with him from all directions.

It is a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. He arrives in the shtetl before the sunset and decides not to eat or rest, but to hurry to the bath.

[Col. 1230]

When he got closer to his house he noticed his loveliness, Esterel, waiting by the door. She looked thin and overworked.

Seeing him she immediately ran over to relieve him of his heavy sack, Itzikel also ran out of the house, a thin little boy, barefoot and pale and went straight for the sack. He wanted to know what father had brought home.

Mother understands his look and says to him that we are lucky to have father return to us in good health. They all enter the house and start kissing each other. Separately he embraces his small daughter Surke'le.

Esther, his wife, wants to prepare the table immediately and give him his meal. He excuses himself and says he want to go to the bathhouse.

He took out a patched, but clean shirt from the drawer, in white linen, a towel and soap and left in a hurry for his bath.

It was very slippery in the bath, tight and dark.

Over the black coals trickled cold water, naked Jews poured pails of cold water over the hot coals to make more steam.

Mordechai Nachman threw off his clothes and eagerly immersed himself in the steam bath.

An entire week he roamed around in mud, and now he needs to sweat! So that his body is cleansed from the dirt! With a “broom” in his hand he is enjoying his time – Oiy, oiy,oiy, such a bath…

When Mordechai Nachman left the bath, one could hardly recognize the sloppy pedlar. He was dressed in his Shabbos coat, clean and combed, a Jew like all the other Jews. It was getting late, he took his Itzikel and his Siddur (prayer book) and left for the Synagogue.

There all his neighbours and friends greeted him with a warm “Shalom Aleichum” and welcomed him as his week was off to a good start ” (this was a good fortune for him) .

––Baruch Hashem (Blessed be God) , the pedlar greeted them.

After the prayers he approached the Rabbi

[Col. 1231]

and greeted him with a “Gut Shabbos” and then left quietly for home.

The floor of his house was covered with yellow, clean sand. Two small candles were burning in the metal candleholders, Izikel and Surk'ele were impatient with hunger, waiting for their Shabbos meal.

Reb Mordechai Nachman said the “Kiddush” and was fortunate to eat his first cooked soup of the week. He prayed again. The candles burnt out and the house became dark.

The family of this poor pedlar, content and always happy, went to sleep.

He got up early the next morning, content, and went off to the synagogue to pray with delight and to thank God, who has not forsaken him and provides for him.

The Holy Shabbos soon ended, and the difficult, weekly, routine began once again on Sunday.

Reb Mordechai Nachman began his weekly wandering through the villages with the sack on his shoulders.

Only in the summer days was this “ideal” way of life suitable for a pedlar. It became more difficult when winter approached, with its cold, strong frosts and deep snow.

Reb Mordechai Nachman knew he had a false sense of security.

When all the roads were covered in snow and a storm was brewing, the frost stung bitterly, one had to have a strong faith to continue in such conditions.

He had this strong will and fortitude of character. On such a winter morning, he said out loud: “Father–father, take pity on me” and left in the freezing cold. Nothing seemed to bother him.

One day he left, with his torn boots filled with straw and rags, bound with pieces of sack, covered his head until his eyes, dressed in an old coat, took a stick

[Col. 1232]

In his hand and his sack on his shoulders and left on his journey.

Esther and the children, with tears in their eyes, begged him to take pity on himself and on them and not to go. The roads were invisible. How can he go out in this weather, no living being can survive outdoors.

He didn't give in. – God is our father, and thus calmed them. One cannot sit at home and die of hunger. “God and Peace”. We must go and earn our piece of bread.

– Stay in good health, my children, good health to you Esterel, and he left the house.

He quickly made his way through the shtetl, fearful that he could encounter someone. He passed the last home on Goyisher Street and came to the wide– open fields.

First, the road wasn't too bad, then a large whistle and the wild wind stabbed at him. Soon the snow started to fall and the roads and alleys were buried.

He didn't see anything besides snow and a blanket of white. The wind whistled, jabbed and entered his body from all sides.

He couldn't see the road and had to continue with his instincts that this direction would lead him to the small town. The wind howled and the hurled large piles of snow. The pedlar felt he was sinking, and it became more difficult to lift his boots out of the heavy snow drifts.

He felt his strength leaving his body, but he didn't give in. He is a Jew, with strong beliefs, and how can he be weak in front of God?

He preached to his wife and children that God is the father, and he is in his hands. This is the way it will be, there can be no other way.

He was a follower of the commandments, he was on his way to earn a piece of bread, in order to save his family from hunger.

Reb Mordechai Nachman relied on God's will and continued on his way, as a true believer that God will “take care of him”.

Not a living soul was seen.

[Col. 1233]

Not a soul, not a wagon. No one to ask if he is going in the right direction.

Outside a “frost is burning”, but sweat is pouring from him. Before he knew the direction, now he was getting lost but he can't turn back, he will not be able to find his way home..

– Oy, God in heaven, Father–father, help a poor Jew, take pity on him.

Thus goes the pedlar, still saying his Tehillah (prayer) in his quiet manner.

Suddenly a white horse appeared next to him, with a rider and a rifle on his shoulders. He was dressed in a thick fur coat and a sheepskin hat nearly to his eyes.

The pedlar at first thought this was a dream, but suddenly he recognized him.

This is the “leshnik”, from the nearby forests. He knows him very well. In the summer time he was even at his home, where he sold his daughters strings of colored beads and rings.

The “leshnik” looked him over, shook the snow off his sheepskin hat and suddenly yelled out with pity: –oh, Jesus– Maria, where are you going in this cursed weather? The wolves are going to eat you!

The “leshnik” thought awhile and then said–today you should not have left your house. This is a certain death for you. You will be snowed under or be eaten by wolves–good, so what do you propose?– Reb Mordechai asked him with tears in his eyes. What can I do now?

– You must return to Lingmian and I will show you the way. You will still manage to return to your shtetl before sundown.

Then the “leshnik” took from his bundle a long piece of bread, a piece of cheese and gave it to the pedlar.

[Col. 1234]

– You will bring this home to your children. We will make a trade with your goods. Now every minute counts. You must go home at once.

He turned around with his horse and showed the pedlar every step. They arrived at some trees, and pointed out the Lidekener hamlet, and when he arrived there he could easily find his way to his home.

Mordechai tied his head scarf tighter around his head and thanked the “leshnik” for his help and left for home.

The wind was now on his back and this made his return easier. He reached the trees and from there he already knew the way to Lingmian, a few hours later he was home.

Esther and the children were very worried and when they saw him back home, they all jumped for joy.

Mordechai Nachman unbundled himself from all those rags and brought out the bread and cheese.

They all attacked the “bargain” and asked where this came from?

After eating and warming himself, he began to tell of his great miracle with great enthusiasm, what the “one above” did for him.

The “leshnik” that saved him, was a sign from above, which came exactly at the right moment. He was spared from a certain death and he must go pray “Gumel”.

Several days later the frost eased, and the pedlar once again left to the nearby towns to sell his wares.

In this manner the years went by, summer or winter, the pedlar could be seen with his sack on his shoulders through fields and forests, roads and alleyways.

This was a difficult existence, but was able to provide for his family and didn't need the assistance of others…

When the Hitlerite–beasts arrived and destroyed Lingmian and everything in its path with fire and blood, Mordechai Nachman together with his family and all the Jews, met their fate.

[Col. 1235]

“Troitze”–The Green Holiday

Lingmian did not have a market day the entire year. Only once a year a fair took place. This was the day the Christians celebrated their holiday, which they called “Troitze”.

This holiday always was after Shavouth, and that is why it was called the “green holiday.”

At night, before the fair, the excitement started. A great “tumult” started on the square next to the church. The Christian shopkeepers from the parish were already running around and setting up their wares for the fair next day.

The whole shtetl participated, the words of the speaker was heard from all directions, the clapping of the participants, the clanging of dozens of bells, neighing of horses, and the air of the whole shtetl was filled with “disorder”.

The shtetl became alive, young and old were on their feet. Everywhere there was a noise of wagons and people, action and disorder.

Merchants arrived from the entire region. Different wares were displayed on tables which attracted people from all over. Leib'ke, with one eye, from Smorgon, would come and sell those famous “beigeles”. (sweet rolls that were famous near and far) . Many Christian wagons arrived very early. Christians crawled out of their wagons to shake the straw off their clothing. The peasant women wore large shawls, the gentile lads–in fancy, shiny boots and the gentile girls–in patterned, colored dresses, with red aprons and necklaces on their necks.

The music from the harmonicas and the singing from the market players was heard through the entire village.

The fair began with a large Huh–Hah! Crowds of Christian men and women descended on the shops and stalls. Woman and men were taking leisurely walks, hand in hand, through the streets cracking nuts and seeds.

In a corner, next to Bune Gilinski's house, seated young woman looked over their wares. Hens, geese, cheese, butter, honey, eggs and other things. In another corner, next to the high cross (church) other peasants were selling their goods,

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like pig–hair, strings of dried mushrooms, and homemade baked goods.

Next to Shloime Yankel the tavern–keeper's house, peasant women sat eating black berries, “pozemkes”, radishes, and other vegetables. Next to the stall of Leike the Smorgoner, bread and onions were sold.

Yoske the cutter (barber) stood with a leather case and was sharpening a razor–knife and shaved the peasants. Not far from Brunem's, next to the old shochet, stood Chaim the tar maker selling his black sticky tar to the peasants. His beard and payot (sidelocks) were stuck and his face looked like a “negro”.

Next to the iron gate sat a Gypsy woman, throwing cards and telling everyone's fortune.

All the Lingmianer shops were packed with customers and at least once a year we made a good amount of money.

Flies were buzzing overhead and the children were crawling beneath their parents' feet.

Here and there peasants created a scene and cursed everyone's fathers' fathers.

The shtetl smelled of people and horses, of tar and gasoline, of garlic and onions, of flowers, fruit and vegetables.

This lasted until sundown. When it got dark the stalls were disassembled, the horses were harnessed, and everyone left in the direction of their villages and homes. Everything settled down in Lingmian, quiet, until the next year, for another fair to take place.

 

Simche Hirshe in the Shtetl

When Shimche Hirshe arrived, the shtetl was filled with joy and in a festive mood. It seemed, that every tree and every street was overjoyed together with all of its Jews. That day everyone forgot his problems and worries, they all took part to celebrate the holiday of the Torah.

It was even wintery outside, the “mud” was increasingly becoming deeper, winds were blowing, but in all the homes the sun was shining.

On that day, even the town ‘s watchmaker

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smiled with pride. During all the holidays, year– round, he went around bitter and angry at everyone.

The official festivities were carried out with great ceremony and singing throughout the streets. The leader of this day, naturally, was the teacher and mayor of the shtetl, Reb Akiva. His relatives were the teacher Reb Shimon Volak, an important Jew, a scholar, with a red spot on his face. On Simchat Torah the red spot grew brighter than usual.

Reb Akiva's second helper was the Transporter, Reb Chaim Yitzhak. The whole year he transported merchandise to all the shopkeepers and he never considered himself a great “Tzadik” (man of learning) . It was whispered in the shtetl, that he did not obey all the commandments. Simchat Torah all was forgiven. The whole day he sang and danced and showed his love for the Torah like all the Jews.

A very important role in all these holidays, was the Chasid Bertzik, the tall one. That day he played a wonderful role.

The preparations for Simchat Torah took place several days prior. Several volunteers went from house to house to collect various articles. Jews would give cakes, pletzeles, tzimmes, taigelach, tarts that were prepared this for this special day.

Everyone gave, old and young, rich and poor. Even Feiga, the fat one, who everyone labelled the “cheap Jewess in the shtetl,” for this celebration she did not refuse. Young people went to bring these goods and they amassed so much food that after the holiday there were leftovers.

Everything was then sold and the proceeds went to the synagogue.

The Simcha started in the evening before the actual day of rejoicing. The synagogue was packed with people. The Chazzan sang the first passage and the entire audience repeated with great enthusiasm. Jews with Sefer Torahs in hand danced and sang. When they came to the part: “help for the poor”, the clamouring was already at its peak in the synagogue.

[Col. 1238]

The Simcha lasted until very late at night. In the dark streets, drunk Jews could be seen tapping on the houses in order to find their way home.

This was a traditional Jewish holiday. It was said in the entire region, and with just cause, if Simchat Torah did not take place in Lingmian, one would never experience such a wonderful and cheerful folk (people) holiday in their lifetime.

It is no wonder, that all those holidays remain engraved in our memories.

 

Nata the Shoemaker–the Undertaker of the Shtetl

Nata was well known in the shtetl. He was a short Jew, with a pointed grey beard. Most of the time he wore a white coat with holes and torn from years of use.

He considered himself a specialist in boot–making. But when he finally, with luck, sewed together a pair of boots for a client, it never was the right size, either too large or too small.

He lived in a low house with small windows, without land. When Tuvia the fisherman, the Lingmianer giant, had too bend over when he entered his house.

Natan was often found sitting on a small bench, banging the small nails and singing the popular folk song:

“Hammer, hammer, bang, bang a nail and another nail, we have no bread at home”.

It was a catchy tune, but very sad when Natan sang it, it was true, that quite often there was no bread in his home. Misfortune came from all sides. Nevertheless, Natan was happy, always in a good mood. Honest words and jokes came from his mouth.

When the community saw that Natan was unable to make ends meet, help arrived from the shtetl, and from here on things got better.

Still, he held on to his “airs” and would say to the rich folk: –Jews, don't be cheap, you will not take anything with you to the grave”.

[Col. 1239]

When he was questioned in a dispute: – Natea, how do people live in the other world?

– The life they make, that is their face that will represent them–he didn't back down and answered in such a manner. But he then added:

– Sure. It's been several days, I don't have any Chometz left in my house, the container for the matzo is prepared in the corner and the flasks for mead and wine are in another corner. Like you can see, I have a great God who will help me.

 

The Blacksmiths of Lingmian

We were blessed with 3 blacksmiths in Lingmian. All 3 were giants in their own style. Their fingers were like their pliers and their fists were like hammers. They were not only physically giants, but also giants in their spirituality. They also had other means of earning a living. Each one had a strong personality. They served the entire region from the shtetl Taragin to Kaltinian, about 24 kilometers away. No blacksmiths of the region could compete with them. All 3 were both good tradesmen and honest. In short, the peasants and the entire community didn't have more than an axle to repair or a wagon to make, and so went the work of the blacksmiths of Lingmian.

One of them was of simple pedigree, not a big “learned” person, and we used to called him: Ahron –Moishe, we didn't proceed with the Reb title, as was the usual custom when addressing an elderly Jew.

The Jews also called him by the wife's name, calling him: Ahron–Moishe, Raske Rutke's. The peasants labelled him with the name: “Faika Nasas”, which in Lithuanian translates, crooked nose.

He could barely pray and say Tehillim. Four o'clock, in the afternoon, he would run to the synagogue, to say his Tehillim and pray with the first minyan.

As a blacksmith, he mostly received basic repairs of (peasant) wagons and wagons of the “Vozsakes”, that brought the wood from the forests. He worked skillfully and the peasants waited weeks for his handiwork, so he alone could do the job.

He was broad shouldered, with a long yellow overgrown beard, barely making his face visible.

[Col. 1240]

He walked with a heavy gait, the earth trembled under his feet.

He went to Cheder for a short time and started working with his father in his workshop. He loved to work therefore making Shabbos and holidays endless for him.

He couldn't wait for Shabbos to end, and right after Ma'ariv, he would run home, quickly said the Havdalla, ate, took off his Shabbas attire and returned to his workshop, next to his anvil.

The second blacksmith of Lingmian, was already a different person. We called him Reb Hirsh Leib, and the addition, Reb, wasn't just out of habit. We honored him, as he was a man of learning and was well versed in Gemara and translations.

 

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Reb Hirsh Leib (a blacksmith)

 

He learned his blacksmith trade while still a young student in Vilna and there he often attended the Synagogue of the “Tiffereth Young Men”

He was also a giant, broad shouldered, with a large forehead, with an overgrown full beard. Smart eyes protruded from his face, his lips emanated a sweet smile, he greeted everyone with a “good morning”. Everyone loved him and respected him.

He was an outstanding craftsman and harnessed the horses, made axels for the wagons and all the wealthy noblemen were his steady clients.

On Sundays at the Church, the peasants lined up outside his workshop and the sounds of the horses could be heard throughout the shtetl. It happened, that a fight would break out amongst them, angry, and Reb Hirsh Leib had to interfere and make peace amongst them.

Amongst the Jewish folk he was held in high esteem. He didn't only teach Torah with simple folk,

[Col. 1241]

he was also a community activist, one who dealt with the public needs in disputes. He had time for everything. He was involved in all the shtetl's activities. He would run to the synagogue to lead prayers and to the Mikvah to do repairs. He was the father of all the orphans in the shtetl and the provider of all the widows, a blessed person who didn't expect praise, a truly devoted townsperson, the best one can describe in words.

After the First World war, when Lingmian didn't have a Rabbi, all he wealthy folks came to Reb Hirsh Leib, to be the interim Rabbi in the shtetl.

Reb Hirsh Leib didn't want to burden (financially) the Rabbinate, so he chose to work half days at his workshop.

In this manner, Lingmian had a Rabbi a blacksmith and everyone was pleased with this arrangement.

The third blacksmith of Lingmian was also an interesting person. We called him Reb Yitzhak Nepucha, this was a Jew who knew the “Zochar” very well, a “Tikun–Hatzut” Jew, to whom other rabbis had great respect and valued his interpretations of the laws.

He was also a giant, tall and thin, with a thin black beard and a high forehead, always lost in deep thought, as it was said in the shtetl, he wanted to enter the next world and focused on the next life.

Besides all these things he was also a master of his trade. Next to his workshop stood many beautiful “Britczkes”, lavish coaches that belonged to the wealthy noblemen.

Every Friday he closed his workshop at exactly 2 o'clock, both summer and winter. As he was a Kabbalah–Jew, he went very early to prepare for the Sabbath.

Many wonderful stories were told about Rabbi Yitzhak Nepucha in the shtetl, one especially resonates like a legend.

One time, it was told, that the old prince from the Pokever estate ordered a fancy wagon, the princes from the region wanted to present the prince this gift for his 70th birthday. That particular day fell on a Friday

[Col. 1242]

and the parade for the prince was scheduled for Sunday. What shall he do? It was a few hours before his Kaballah–Shabbos and the carriage was not ready.

Reb Yitzak, from this great angst burst out crying. He was truly sorry for the old prince, who was also a true friend of the Jews. From time to time he gave a (measure) of wood to the synagogue. Erev Pesach, he already prepared sacks of potatoes for the poor of Lingmian.

The prince was at the mayor's house playing chess. Someone told him that the blacksmith finds himself in a difficult predicament and doesn't know what to do.

The prince got up and immediately got on his horse and went to Reb Yitzhak's workshop. When he saw the blacksmith sitting and crying he got very frightened and asked him: what tragedy happened to you? He told him the story that he promised to complete an important job and wanted to complete it as promised, as suits a very important prince, but very soon arrives a “special guest” and he cannot complete the task.

With every word the prince understood the entire story.

– Tell me, if so, who is the guest? Who is coming?

– This is our Holy Shabbat, answered the blacksmith

The prince thought it over and then answered.

– Actually, Sunday is a very important holiday for me, my entire family will be visiting and I would very much like for them to see the wonderful gift from the noblemen, but God's “calling” is more important than my birthday.

Close your shop and go prepare yourself for the Sabbat like you always do.

Reb Yitzhak Nepucha was deeply moved by the gentle words and thanked the prince. When they said their goodbyes, the blacksmith said:

– Blessings from our Holy Sabbath, that you didn't allow to stand in your way, you will be blessed with a long life,

[Col. 1243]

like any man in our region has never been honored before.

The prince lived another 30 years and he died at 102 years old.

The prince loved to tell the story on each birthday that his long life was attributed to Reb Yitzhak Nepucha the Jewish blacksmith, who had given him the “blessing”.

Reb Yitzhak Nepucha donated a beautiful “gift”, which he nurtured his entire life; every week he gave 10 percent of his earnings to the poor of the shtetl. This is how he conducted himself, according to the laws, earning him a place in the next world.

After Ma'ariv he didn't go home, he stayed in the synagogue to study and until late you could hear his beautiful Gemara “nigun” (melody) .

When the young people would return late at night from a meeting or a play, you would always meet Reb Yitzhak on the way, coming from the synagogue.

Erev Yom Kippur it was customary to go to Reb Yitzhak Nepucha to ask him for his blessings for the new year.

He married his daughters to each Sefer and Gemara scholar. He was also a Gemara scholar. When he died, his day of mourning was declared “a day of sorrow” in Lingmian. The Melamdim (teachers) closed the Cheders and requested all the students to participate in the funeral. The shopkeepers closed their stores, the fishermen didn't go out into the lakes: young and old, women and children, everyone came to give him his last “koved” (pay their respects) . Even Christians from the entire region assembled and were led by the prince of the Pakavner estate, who praised the virtues of the Jewish blacksmith to all his followers.

Rabbis from the surrounding shtetls arrived, as well as the eulogizer, to honor him as if he was the greatest “Gaon”.

One of the Rabbis began the eulogy with the following words: A” cedar” tree fell (reference was used: the trees used by King Solomon to build the Temple) amongst the Jews–…

The 3 blacksmiths were an example how one can live “with Torah and with work”.

[Col. 1244]

Fishermen of Lingmian

Lingmian was surrounded by many lakes. Each side had its own name, like, Zezdrele, Ultaksne, Pashekst, and other names according to the hamlets which lay at the edges.

The most beautiful, which was clear from stones, and wasn't deep; the young people came in the summertime to swim and the wives came to wash their clothes and beat them with a special stick on a grate all year long, was call Zezdrele.

This bank was very interesting. It stretched lengthwise and from it many fields on which grew high, old Berozes (name for a tree) . The entire area was filled with singing of various types of birds. The air was pure, so pleasing to smell and breathe.

Not far from the bank was the Bath. This was an old bath house, with small smoked up windows with a crooked shingle roof, and with the so–called “podmur”, which was full of holes and cracks.

Friday after lunch, the Jews of Lingmian came to prepare their duty for the Sabbath.

There was much activity during the summertime along the bank of the Zezerele, day and night. Friends and girls, gentile boys and girls, had their love trysts there, singing, playing and dancing.

At night the people of the surrounding hamlets lit the bank with lanterns, and on these lanterns many fires were lit, to deter the wolves so they wouldn't come to eat the animals who were grazing on the luscious fields.

The important people of these banks were the fishermen. For them the lake was the principle source of income. From the banks they cast their nets. From the fishing they supported their families.

For these Fishermen the bank had another name. Here they lived the entire week, they ate, they drank, they slept. For them this was not a place to enjoy pleasurable moments, it was just their work–place. A place of income.

The Jewish fishermen of Lingmian were interesting persons and it is difficult to describe.

One of them was called Tuvia. He was a tall man,

[Col. 1245]

with a yellow beard and large brows over small eyes, and his entire face was full of summer–spots. He was very difficult, he often had disputes with the helpers and even fought with some and it would take a while before peace was re–established.

With one thing Tuvia was full of himself, that, when he was young he had spent some time in Sweden and this he could never forget. He brought back a hat and plastic (synthetic) shoes. Friday night he actually put on all his fine Swedish clothing and appeared in the synagogue like a true “lord”.

Saturdays he paraded around the shtetl with his coat and fine shoes and his face shone with pride.

A second, interesting fisherman, was Berke, Raitze's, they called him by his mother's name, as his father Leizer, z'l, died while still a young man. Raitza, the widow, continued in the fish business after her husband's death, raised Berke and trained him in the fish business.

She taught him, sent him to Cheder and he wasn't particularly interested, he was a different type. He knew how to sing and dance, belonged to the shtetl's youth groups and took part in all the meetings, at simchas and also sad occasions. In the summertime, Berke's singing broke the silence of the Lingmian nights, which came from the direction of the lake and was known to all:

“Karasnaya Davitza,…. (Russian or Polish song…)

A third fisherman of Lingmian was called Yoske Lipa Mates. Or Yoske the fighter. He was of medium weight, broad–shouldered, with a red face with fiery eyes. He was hot tempered, not one Goy of the shtetl could feel his might with his fat hands.

When we saw the authorities next to the old inn in Lingmian we knew that they were searching for Yoske, for his “good deeds”.

The day of the fair, “Troitze” in Lingmian, Yoske didn't go to his work on the lake,

[Col. 1246]

in case, the Jews of the shtetl needed him to deal with troublemakers.

Another fisherman was the well– known Lipa Mate, the Tehillim–person. His face was overgrown with a white, thin beard. He had broad shoulders, a red nose and long payot (side locks) and was considered the oldest of the fishermen. He controlled the fishing nets very well, made sure no problems and had his own song, which he always sang when working.

He was the leader at the services, the Tehillim reader, before Ma'ariv in the synagogue. That is the reason we actually named him : Lipa the Tehillah–reader.

The head–boss of the fishing industry in Lingmian was the wealthy Reb Meir Gavenda. He leased the lakes from the nobles and employed many Jewish fishermen.

Meir Gavenda came from a hamlet, next to Lingmian, and as a young man came to the shtetl and later became successful in the forestry industry.

The fish he transported to the larger towns. In the last years he lived in Vilna and even there he became a successful merchant.

Meir Gavenda's sons were all well– known wood merchants.

The dress code for the fishermen were always the same. They all wore long, rubber boots, and overalls covered with a coating in order the water not penetrate and wet them. Besides this they wore heavy overcoats, made of a material to keep the cold and humidity out. The “sermege” was tied with cord.

Going to the lake, they carried a small case with a piece of black corn bread, a “pot” to cook some fish.

Each one had his own taste and beloved fish. Tuvia, only cooked “platkes”, Berke Raitze's and Yoske the “fighter” loved “shli'en” (type of fish), Lipe Mate, only small fish.

Yoske used to say, that ‘shle'in” increased a man's life. If he is healthy and has the strength, it is only thanks to the “shle'in”.

[Col. 1247]

When the fishermen came ashore and sorted their fish and then hung out the nets. Later they each took their pot and cooked their fish.

When they finished eating, they took off their boots and hung them from the trees to dry out.

In the summertime Berke spread himself out on the field and played his whistle, which he made himself from a soft branch. Mote Lipa, after the meal, said several passages from the Tehillim. Tuvia oiled on the nets, quite late they fell asleep and slept in the open air.

Tuvia, around 6 in the morning, started screaming: get up, you lazy ones, it is already late, the sun has long been out.

They got up quickly, said their prayers, ate and went back onto the lake. A new day began.

This is how the fishermen of Lingmian lived without any free time, working dy and night, however they were happy, glad to make a living.

They were hard working, simple peasant folk, loved by all the Jewish and Christian folk.

 

Shloime Yankel the Tavern–keeper, and the Miracle that happened to him

It was Friday evening. It was quiet and still around Shloime Yankel's tavern. The peasants of the region had left in all directions. The place around him was empty. On the street, next to his tavern, there were the remains of straw and horse dirt.

It became dark. Shloime Yankel and both his sons left for the synagogue. In the large hall, the Shabbos lights glittered. On the long beautifully laid out table there were fresh baked challahs, covered with a cloth, which was a gift from the son in law Chaia Hodel.

Laia'ke, the tavern keepers' wife, with her 6 daughters sat around the table, in their Shabbos attire, and waited, that the father with his sons return from praying.

[Col. 1248]

Soon 3 men entered and said “Gut Shabbos”.

Shloime Yankel was a learned Jew and everyone in the shtetl respected him. Two fiery smart black eyes, peeked out from his wide forehead. The thick and messy bear gave him a rabbinic face.

Leah'ka, his wife, was the opposite of him. Thin and small, with sharp eyes, she became known for it, that each year she gave birth to another daughter.

Coming home he immediately greeted her with delight , “Shalom Aleichem, Queen of the Sabbath, Queen of the House”, walking around the large room, from one wall to another.

A beaker with wine was ready for the Kiddush. Everyone waited, for him to finish and go to the table.

Suddenly the “Shabbos–Goya” (Christian lady who looked after lighting the fire on Shabbos) Staschike, barely catching her breath, frightened and screaming: “noblemen are coming, very important guests”.

Shloime Yankel made a sour face and asked Laia'ke, his wife, to escort them to the guest room in order to rid himself of them. It is Shabbos and he doesn't want to sell them anything.

Before all was said, the guest showed up in this eating room and Shloime Yankel immediately recognized them as the noblemen from the Lidekener estate.

They entered the house like gazelles, with hunting rifles on their shoulders and muddy boots. Leike couldn't get a word in and they, not waiting for a separate invitation, sat themselves down at the Shabbos–prepared table and I could do anything about it.

The aromatic gefilte fish, the fresh challahs and the flask of wine immediately went to their senses.

They were ravenous, one grabbed a challah and torn it in half and without hesitation, began to eat.

Staschike, tried, with all her goodness to beg them, that they should go to the guest room, that the Jews must continue with their Shabbos preparations.

The noblemen had a good laugh. They were very comfortable here in this spot and no special guest room was necessary.

[Col. 1249]

When they finished the challah, they asked Laia'ke to bring a flask of beer.

With tears in her eyes, she told them that on the holy Shabbat, she couldn't sell them any beer.

One them pounded on the tables with his fists, the candle lights shaking, and said:

––cursed, Jewess, bring a few flasks of beer, if not, we will make trouble for you.

Shloime Yankel and his two sons stood in the corner the entire time, with bloodshot eyes, fearful to utter a word.

The noblemen were insulted by the Jewish “chutzpa” and started breaking glasses, plates, hurling insults and even wanting to shoot their rifles.

When one of the noblemen ran to his eldest daughter and started to bother her, Shloime Yankel started to yell and make a commotion:

“Murderers, ruffigans”

These screams of the family could be heard on the other side of town.

Their bullets tore through the sky. At one moment we thought, that some Jewish blood would be spilled.

Suddenly all stopped. The bells of the church suddenly began to ring, and at that moment the drunkards left, as if thunder had struck them.

They became very nervous and left the house, mounted their horses and left the shtetl.

Shloime Yankel's family became anxious from fright of death and the from mess they left behind.

The Shabbos ended and the family couldn't believe what had just happened and how they were saved. Sunday morning, their poor Christian neighbour, Jozepke, came by and told them the entire story.

Friday night he heard the commotion and came running, looked through the windows to see what was happening.

He noticed the Tavern–keeper and her family were in a difficult predicament, breaking glasses and attempting to molest their daughter, we wanted to run for help. But he noticed,

[Col. 1250]

that the hooligans were no ordinary ruffians, but the young noblemen of the Lidekener estate, he saw their hunting rifles and in the courtyard stood the beautiful horses with their adornments.

The Tavern keeper brought out some brandy for Jozepke and thanked him heartfully for his concern. He also sent a separate heartfelt thanks to the priest.

Many years had passed and still the story of this great miracle was told throughout Lingmian; that Friday night at Shloime Yankel's.

 

Reb Afroim the “White Head”

Reb Afroim who was known to all in the shtetl by the name “the white head”, he was considered to be one the most beloved “noble” (wealthier class) of Lingmian. He was not only a great scholar amongst Jewish scholars, he also had business skills and could read and write Russian. Everyone went to him to write an address or a letter in Russian. It was a rarity 40–50 years ago in a Jewish shtetl and therefore people had great respect for him. He was a tall man, with curly, long payot and black, intelligent eyes, which peaked through his large brows. His pointer finger was yellow from tobacco, he was always dressed in a black frock: his rubber boots were smeared with oil. He was very devout and led his life according to the Schulchan Aruch and used to say, an honest Jew must live according to the (Jewish) law.

Reb Akiva, the devout mayor and Shmuel Michal, the skeptic looked up to him as a great leader but he didn't reciprocate these feelings. He

[Col. 1251]

owned a large house, with a glass porch. In the courtyard there was a large stable where the peasants kept their horses.

His livelihood was derived from two things: he was in the transportation business and he owned a brewery where he sold beer and one could get drunk. Every Sunday his house was filled with commotion and cooking. Peasants came on Sundays to the shtetl Church from the surrounding hamlets and used the this time to buy various stuff from the Jewish shopkeepers. They also frequented the brewery.

One time a very interesting story happened to Reb Afroim. This was during the holiday, “Troitze”. The entire shtetl was in a “tumult”. Hundred of peasants arrived from the region, they were near and around his ale house, the smoke from the fire in the lanterns were suffocating in his house. Reb Afroim busied himself in the shop, overseeing that no one disappear without paying.

One time, he noticed a package in a corner. He bent over, picked it up and put it in his pocket. With great surprise he said the blessing: thank you God for this present. He went into a nearby room and took out this package of money and to his great surprise saw several hundred rubles. Reb Afroim jumped for joy. Such a small thing, this present! On such a clear day, a miracle from the heavens…

Several hours barely past after he found this package, when suddenly Reb Itze the Innkeeper burst into his shop. Reb Itze lived in a hamlet, which lay on the road from Puptishak–Otian (Utian) , where he owned an Inn. When the small train was installed and passed through the hamlet, a station was built, Reb Itze started a business where he sold fruit, pig–hair, and fur pelts. He often went to the markets and fairs to buy goods.

When Reb Itze arrived at the brewery at night

[Col. 1252]

he was white as chalk. His forehead was covered with a cold sweat. His black beard was completely disheveled and large hot tears poured from his eyes. He was delirious and was barely able to tell Afroim the terrible tragedy that occurred to him that day.

Going to the fair he took with him a large sum of money to buy merchandise. When he was ready to pay the peasants, he realized that he had lost his money someplace. He searched everywhere but couldn't find his money. Suddenly he remembered he was in the brewery and decided to come here, maybe someone had found his money?

Reb Afroim calmed him down, and said in a cold an indifferent manner:

– The truth, I don't want to lie to you, I actually found the money. This package lay here on my floor. There were many people in my house today and anyone of them could have found the package of money. If the package was meant to have been lost, then the found package belongs, according to Jewish law, to the finder.

Reb Itze started to scream and beg:

– How do you not have any pity on me and my children? You are a thief, you have no heart. What is your piety worth? Your teaching, you do not have a Jewish heart?

Reb Afroim didn't want to back down. He lived according to the (Jewish) law and will follow the orders of the (Jewish) court.

Reb Itze gave him some offers, Reb Itze offered 5, then 10 rubles, but Reb Afroim saw that he couldn't rid himself, so he wanted to go before the Rabbi to settle the matter.

Reb Itze had no choice, so after Mincha, they both left to the Rabbi. Reb Afroim took the Shulchan Aruch from the “Olmer”, looked into the passages, and happily said to himself approaching the Rabbi:

– Don't be afraid of anything. The court is on my side.

The Rabbi heard both sides of the story,

[Col. 1253]

And then called Reb Afroim into a nearby room and said something to him. Soon Reb Afroim left the room with anger and fire in his eyes and again yelled at the Rabbi:

– Rabbi, I demand a trial. The court will be on myside and the “gift” will be mine.

Reb Itze Leizer the Innkeeper could no longer hold back and started to yell:

– This is a trick. Reb Afroim does not possess a Jewish heart. He knows well that this is my hard–earned money. How can a religious Jew be such a miserable person? Without this money I cannot return home. I am now an unlucky man. Rabbi, take pity, tell him to return the “gift”.

Reb Afroim refused and declared:

– I lived my entire life according to the law and now I demand a court of law.

Itze Leizer's quarrels were heard through the shtetl and crowds gathered around the Rabbi's house, they all felt sorry for the unlucky Innkeeper and insisted Afroim to make the right decision, he should not be so stubborn. The end was, that both “Tzadakim” (men of learning) left the Rabbis house, but the “gift” still was with Afroim. He approached the crowd and quietly said:

– Jews, you need to have faith. There is a God and Itze Leizer will soon get his money back.

After this incidence it was talked about in the shtetl, that Reb Akiva the religious mayor, discussed the matter with Reb Afroim , the lawful verdict he will obey. His advice was that his wife should return the money in installments. And this is how it finally ended. The gentle Chaia–Riva (wife of R'Akiva) returned the money in this manner.

 

Reb Akiva–The Religious Mayor

With respect and love, with great esteem we must describe to all our beloved and important personality of our shtetl, Reb Akiva Aizikovitch, who we named the religious mayor.

The affair started many years ago. A representative from Sventzian arrived in Lingmian and brought an interesting announcement.

[Col. 1254]

They were planning to build a small train to tie Sventzian to Poneveshz, therefore they needed to build a station in Lingmian. Our shtetl welcomed progress in this manner, and we nominated one of our own as the mayor of the region. He will institute many reforms, means for growth and other necessities. The shtetl and village folk will no longer need to manage their affairs with the Sventzian authorities.

Quick as lightening, the idea was spread in the entire region and the occasion was a rejoicing for all, it didn't take long and Reb Akiva Itzikovitch was chosen as the mayor of the region.

 

Sve1254.jpg
Reb Akiva Aizikovitch, the mayor of Lingmian

 

He was a Jew, a great Talmud scholar, a son of a Schohet (ritual slaughterer) from Paliush, and a son– in– law of the known Tzadik Reb Yitzhak Nafcha. He was a tall and well– built young man, with intelligent eyes and was always well dressed, with a patriarchal beard. He was good–hearted, full of humour and from his mouth he spoke truthful and important words. He was a source of information and a Torah scholar, from his father and his father– in– law he inherited Torah and humour. For every occasion he recited the words of the Torah, passages from the Gemara and Midrash.

He was respected in the entire community and everyone came to him for advice. He was at every conflict, and everyone wanted him to preside, as everyone knew that Reb Akiva was the essence of honesty and practicality. For his rule of law everyone had the utmost respect and admiration.

He was also considered an expert in forestry–trade and even the noblemen came to him to discuss the issues of forestry and wood trade.

He knew Russian perfectly, writing, reading

[Col. 1255]

and speech and owned a large cupboard full of different books. Religious and worldly, current events and literary. He was all known to be a brilliant chess player: a personality in every sense of the word.

Every Shabbos he invited a guest to his home, and he knew how to choose specifically a magid (preacher) or a mesholach (rabbinical emissary) , learned person, in order to have someone to talk about Torah topics all day Shabbos.

He had a large family and was not close to being wealthy. However, he gave charity generously. his wife was also a great charity doer/donor and brought up his 5 daughters in the spirit of modesty , doing good deeds and devoted to their Yiddishkeit.

He had a beautiful tradition where every Friday, Kabbalat Shabbos, he gathered the youth of the shtetl to recite to them “Shir Ha'Shirim” (song of songs) .

It was said that in all the world's literature, there was never a more beautiful, spiritual, sweet and holy song than “Shir Ha'shirim”. In addition he read to us various psalms and proverbs/fables. He especially liked to say to us:

– He would love to give such an interpretation: SH'CHORA ANI V'NAVA–I am black and lovely.

You know children, it means that Jewish life in the Diaspora is as black as the earth, Nava–Lovely means however, when we arrive home in the land of Eretz Israel, our lives will be beautiful and blessed.

At the High Holidays, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Reb Akiva was the leader in the shtetl services. He went up to the “Bima” with great anticipation, dressed in a white “kitel” (coat) , and wrapped in a Tallith with silver threads. The shofars were decorated and he stood up to have a “fight/war” with the Devil.

When he started chanting “Hear Oh Zion…” amongst his worshippers, the women were separate, he broke out in heart–wrenching tears.

It was also his turn to recite the Yom Kippur Tehillim with the audience. The entire shtetl, young and old, came to pray with him the passages of the Tehillim. Even the heretic, the free–thinker, Shmuel Michal, couldn't pass up the opportunity to say Tehillim with everyone, so he could join them: ”Do not leave the others….”

In short, Reb Akiva was a master of an honest community activist, who was an honest and virtuous man,” Do not separate yourself from the community” (Talmud, Avot 2,4)

[Col. 1256]

He was considered the “crown jewel” and brought glory to himself, the shtetl of Lingmian and the whole region.

Every Jew who was lucky and blessed to hear Reb Akiva praying in the large wooden synagogue of Lingmian will never in their entire lives forget him.

His blessed memory will be engraved in our hearts for glory and fame forever.

 

From Both Sides of the Border

From 1924–1928, fate suddenly smiled upon Lingmian and the shtetl became famous throughout the world.

Newspaper– correspondence and writers of the largest Jewish newspapers and even Jews from all parts of Poland and Lithuania, sought every piece of news from our small shtetl.

The result of this was the community became involved either in a political–historical or in a national way.

After the first world war, when borders shifted from time to time and new administrations took over, many of the people were making the best of the situation, the border near us, finally stabilized between Lithuania and Poland.

Our small shtetl of Lingmian as a result was divided into 2 parts. The larger part belonged to Poland and the smaller–to Lithuania.

The fate was that the Jewish cemetery would be the “neutral zone” and accessible for both communities.

Both communities were on good terms, but the border between them was strict and it was difficult to cross from one part to the other.

For the Jewish population this was a great tragedy, both from social side and from the economic side.

The Jews lived together for many years, worked and traded and suddenly we were” cut in half” and caught between 2 administrations.

Children were torn from their elderly parents, brothers and sisters, one from another.

Families were torn apart and this came without warning. We didn't have the time to talk this over and how we were to live together.

[Col. 1257]

Several years past and the Jews of Lingmian sought out different ways and ideas to solve the problem of reuniting and with the relatives and friends on both sides of the border.

In the end we came up with a brilliant idea. As the cemetery was the neutral zone, Jewish custom was on Tish A'bav, Jews went to the cemetery to pay respects to their deceased relatives.

We asked the Polish regime to allow the Jewish people to visit their relatives' graves once a year. And thanks to the intervention of the senator Rabbi Rubinsten of Vilna, the permits were received.

Immediately the same procedure was followed by the second side, requesting permits from the Lithuanian regime, which also agreed. Nothing more, understandably, was needed. And the cemetery was the place, where friends and relatives could visit once a year peacefully and speak with one another. This was a “special” day both in Poland and Lithuania.

Several weeks before the meeting, preparations were already being made, for this historical meeting. The shopkeepers arrived in Vilna with their various goods, knowing that thousands of guests would assemble there that day. They will need to eat and they will surely bring gifts for one another.

Etel, the baker, began her baking several days prior, especially that famous bread. Dobe and Moishe baked a large quantity of their delicious “beigelach”. Shloime Yacov the Tavern keeper prepared the beer and appetizers. Everyone was involved in these preparations, just like for an important holiday.

The religious Jews were not so happy with this idea, because they knew, that this reunion would not be according “Jewish law” with the “day of mourning”. But they came to terms with this “sin” and a lot of them came along as well to visit their relatives from the other side.

Tish B'av, exactly 6 oclock in the morning, the soldiers, the “green” and the “yellow” from both sides took their places, as they were called in the shtetl, because the Lithuanian soldiers wore yellow uniforms and the Polish, green ones.

From both sides of the border the Jews descended upon the cemetery.

[Col. 1258]

All at once, the politics of the 2 regimes were forgotten. The cemetery on that day was filled with long separated relatives, fathers, children and grandchildren, brothers and sisters, friends and mothers, who didn't see each other for many years. They cried and they laughed.

 

Sve1258.jpg
A meeting at the cemetery of Lingmian, of Lithuanian and Polish Jews
The family of Chaim Faiva Shutan, New–Sventzian, Elperin family and Tzikinski family

Sitting below: Chaim Faiva, Guta Shutan, Yacov Shutan, Raitze Elperin
Sitting: Lieve Shutan, Leibe Chaim Elperin, Eidel Elperin, Chana Elperin, Liba Elperin, Perel Elperin
Standing: Chana Shutan–Fishman, Chana–Laia Elperin, Mina Muler, Chana Elperin, Muler, Meir Muler, Loibe Svirski, Shimon Svirski, Itele Elperin, Dina Muler, Tzeikunski Raiza, Feige Elperin, Peretz Zeikunski

 

Here and there they sat in groups on the ground, between the tombstones, a tablecloth was spread out, they brought out their gifts that brought for one another. They ate, made a “L'Chaim”, and spoke about everything and everyone.

The Jewish merchants of Lingmian also profited nicely on this day. They all did well. The peasants of the surrounding villages also took advantage of this day and brought their wares and fruits of many colors to the cemetery.

They spent the entire day running from one friend to another, from one group to another. Everyone knew each other, everyone was a friend. Here one met a friend from their childhood, and there a student from the Folk–Shul, with whom they sat on the same bench.

This lasted until late in the evening. When it was dark, the soldiers, the green and the yellow, reappeared.

[Col. 1259]

This was the warning sign, that we had to say our goodbyes and return home. Each in his direction. The border closed until the next year.

Several years passed this way with the yearly meeting, until both regimes, instead of visiting their relatives' tombstones', they saw “living” Jews, and soon their permits were rescinded and the meetings were stopped.

Again the Lithuanian–Polish border was hermetically sealed, and to our great misfortune, it opened when the second world war broke out, which brought death and destruction for both the Polish and Lithuanian Jewry.

 

My Grandfather's House–the “Pekerne”

My grandfather's house stands before me, which we called the “pekerne”.

My grandfather Reb Abraham was born and raised in a hamlet called “Pokevne”, 5 kilometers from Lingmian.

My grandmother Elka, was born in a hamlet “Krivashele”. They were counted as amongst the first settlers of the Lingmian community. They had a wooden house, which stood on a small hill, on the road to Utian (Utena) . This was a typical village hut, without a floor, covered with straw roof and with small windows. Before you entered, it was fenced off for the wagon and Bunen's horse. In a corner stood a thin goat.

Near the door stood a large and deep oven, without a chimney. When it heated up, it filled the room with smoke and we choked in the house, the smoke covered the walls, and they always looked like they were painted with black oil “paint.”

In the middle of the house was the wooden table of gathered planks of wood, surrounded by long, wide benches. Which we called “sapzenes”. (probably served as sofas)

Not far from their house ran a tired stream, where frogs always croaked.

[Col. 1260]

Grandfather was a short Jew, with a white beard with deep black eyes. He was broad shouldered and had the appearance of a wealthy man.

Grandmother Elka was a slender Jewess, tall with a pale face, and bright blue eyes. Her smiling face always was filled with goodness and love.

Every Wednesday grandfather left for New–Sventzian to the market, where he brought his various goods from his village, like, flax, pig–hair, peas and so forth. Returning home he brought pots made out of lime, kettles and other household articles. He then spent the entire week going from hamlet to hamlet selling these wares. He already had his loyal customers and sold to them on “loan” or traded them for produce. From this he had a difficult but steady income.

 

Sve1260.jpg
Grandmother Elka,
one of the first settlers of Lingmian

 

Grandmother Elka was considered the midwife of Lingmian. No one knew where she learned her trade. In those times she didn't attend any Gymnasia nor was she ever in a hospital. She was nevertheless an excellent midwife and delivered the children of the shtetl.

Every month she went to visit the religious mayor and present him with an update of the children, who were born that month.

According to her information he recorded it in his ledger. She didn't receive payment for this work. When the patient was a poor woman, she would bring her some soup afterwards.

Grandmother Elka was a shining light, she was known for her charity throughout the region. Every poor person, whether a teacher or an orphan, knew that a warm bed and good meal was readily available.

Often she gave up her own food and her last piece of bread. She made a wedding for all the poor girls

[Col. 1261]

in the shtetl, helped widows and raised orphans.

No one knew how difficult my grandfather worked to earn a living, going from hamlet to hamlet. He ate at the peasants' only a piece of black corn bread followed by cold water.

He had to be careful going from hamlet to hamlet, as the earthenware pots were fragile, breaking easily.

It is hard to imagine that such a poor family had the means to still give charity and look after orphans and still managed to lead such a beautiful and well defined Jewish life.

Erev Shabbos, grandfather beamed with “nachos” (pride) . The community also helped him. When grandmother lit the Shabbos candles and did the blessing, tears ran from her eyes.

Friday evening, grandmother looked like a princess. She wore a black silk shawl in honor of the Sabbath and lit the kerosene lamp.

She loved her grandchildren very much. Once, when my father was sick, she said to me: Hirshenke–go pray and ask God to make your father well.

Two things that brought honor to my grandfather and grandmother in their quiet, simple and charitable life: 1–good deeds–they helped everyone and loved everyone, 2–they served their God and commandments–with love and life. “Glory and glory to the Holy One!”

 

My Brother, the Genius

Our shtetl was widely known throughout the entire region with her young “Gaon”, who studied in the Radin Yeshiva of Cheifetz–Chaim and was known as the Lingmianer genius.

This was my brother Afroim.

Even as a young boy, all the teachers already knew that this child was growing into–a Gaon. After the early death of our father, he studied with the renowned teacher of our shtetl, Reb Akiva. Afroim was a great scholar and studied late into the night.

Onetime mother woke from her sleep and caught him studying and called out to him:

– Enough, child, it is so late, go to sleep.

Afroim called out to her with his gentle smile: “Maminke, learning is never enough, the Talmud is a deep ocean, without a bottom and without a “shore”.

[Col. 1262]

Sve1262.jpg
Ha'Goan Afroim Zar

 

Soon Afroim, aged 14, saw there were no more teachers for him in Lingmian and left the shtetl for the Radin yeshiva of Cheifetz–Chaim to continue his Torah learning (larger shtetl had teachers of higher learning) . All the Yeshiva lads were older than him, but he didn't get lost (he felt comfortable amongst them) . He knew his strength and would surpass them in his studies. The head of the yeshiva saw his talents and loved him like “the eyes in your head”.

Quite soon, the Yeshiva noticed that this young lad was a genius. Everyone treated him with respect and wanted to study with him.

The years flew by, he went from teacher to teacher and grew up to become a great Torah scholar.

At 22 years old he became the head of the Novorudker Yeshiva. (maybe Novagrudek)

At 25 years he left for the great center of Rabbis in Vilna and there Rabbi Chaim Oder Grodzenski called him: “Ha'Goan Ha'Tzair”.

When World War 11 broke out, he joined his family and all the Yeshiva “bocherim” (lads) in Vilna and hoped, from there that he would be able to immigrate to a larger and freer, democratic world.

To our immense heartache, he was unable to save himself from the Hitlerite animals. They brought him to Ponar together with all the Rabbis, Doctors and all the important people of the city.

My brother Afroim was a tall and thin young man. He had beautiful blue eyes, a wide forehead and was always in a good mood and tolerated all men, people of different nations and religions.

His teachers said, he possessed a phenomenal memory which was a blessing and therefore his teaching of the Talmud, its comprehension and explanations were so valuable.

[Col. 1263]

He didn't limit himself only to the Talmud, he read books by important writers and lecturers. Separately, he admired greatly our national writer Chaim Nachum Bialik, who also was a Yeshiva –bocher (lad) from Volozhin.

In the Rabbinic world there was a day of mourning, when the news came, that Afroim, the genius, perished in Ponar.

 

The Tehillim –Sayers (preachers)

Shabbos, after Schlosha Seudah, is considered a sad day by every Religious Jew. In the Jewish soul, this was a day of soul–searching, about good deeds and bad. Between Shabbos–keit (obeying the Shabbat) and weekly events. No one wanted to throw themselves in the bustle of the work week. Everyone knew that the week meant dragging those sacks on their backs throughout the long roads, from village to village in order to earn a small piece of bread for themselves and their families. The week days were filled with hardships and anxiety.

Every Jew searched for a different way to prolong the Shabbos. If only for a short time. And there many such ways. The most important of them were: you have to learn Torah until sunset or say Tehillim.

Therefore in Lingmian a group Tehillim–sayers became very fashionable. Saturday evening they all gathered at the synagogue and with great devotion, said “sentence” after “sentence” (psalms) , this “band of psalm–sayers”.

The leader of this group was the fisherman Reb Lipa Mate.

He was a healthy Jew, with a wide forehead and grey eyes. Afterwards he worked on the lakes and was known as a successful fisherman. The whole week it was difficult for him to find a minyan, listen to a Kiddush or a portion of the Torah. It was said in the shtetl, that he didn't have time to “eat a Jewish word”.

So Lipa Mote, on the Shabbos, after 3 Seudath, immersed himself. It was felt, that he found his true soul during these hours of higher spiritual immersion.

[Col. 1264]

Several others gathered around Lipe Mota, devout Tehillim sayers, these were hard working, simple Jews, like: Aharon Moishe, Feife Gases, Tuvia the pedlar, Eliahu the tailor, Moishe the orchard–tender, and Chaim the butcher. Lipe Mota was a very spiritual leader. It was said, that before he began his “blessed are those who walk the righteous way–ASHREI TMIMEI DERECH”, he quietly whispered a prayer.

The start of the Tehillah was as follows: Beloved God, I am not a scholar. I didn't have the opportunity to study Torah like all the other children. Nights are spent wandering through villages and fields, crossing over roads and alleys, and I don't have the means to serve and honor you like other Jews. Help me today. Cleanse my heart and my soul, so I am prepared to sing praises to you from the Tehillim, together with all the Jews. I want to be like the green grass on your great field, like a drop of water in your wide ocean. Take away all my sins that stand in my way and allow me to be the leader of these simple Jews.

Suddenly, as if he awoke from a deep dream, with great enthusiasm, he began to recite one after the other and they all followed. The entire synagogue was filled with a new energy. A feeling of spiritual holiness filled the air. The sadness of the prayers lessened. A group of Jews were always present to honor the Shabbat.

In those times, even the scholars and the intelligent folk were jealous of the so called Tehillim–sayers, who wouldn't allow others to read Ma'ariv. When one wanted to smoke a cigarette, or go to their shops, Lipe Mota didn't interfere. With great patience he continued to uphold the holy Shabbat, even for another few minutes.

He considered himself a preacher, as a writer holds a pen in his hand.

In Lingmian Ma'ariv was prayed much later than in other shtetls. This was because of Mote Lipe, who we called with respect, The Tehillim–sayer.


[Col. 1275]

The Economic Situation in Lingmian Between The Two Wars
According to the Pinchas of Lithuania, Yekapo register, 1931

Translation by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Of the 150 families of Lingmian, 50 were Jewish.

Before WW1, Lingmian was a lively city of trade. The main product was fruit, mainly cherries, mushrooms and berries.

The trade of these products was sold on a large scale.

In the shtetl there were several important large Jewish merchants who dealt in flax and other produce. Another important source of trade came from fish and lobsters.

Then, by 1914, there were over 130 Jewish families, about 25 shopkeepers and dozens of artisans.

Everyone earned a living and in hindsight, everyone in Lingmian made a good living.

In 1915, when the Germans occupied our region, many Jewish families fled to Russia. Only part of them returned when the area was returned to the former regime.

In 1919, Lingmian became the border between Lithuania and Poland. The border went right through the city and the cemetery found itself both on Polish and on Lithuanian territory.

It happened that in one family, part had to enter the cemetery through the Polish gate, the other through the Lithuanian gate. The Lithuanian regime was very strict, and made sure no one used the wrong gate.

All the fields belonging to the Christian population were on the Lithuanian side and every day, in order to work their fields, they had to get special permission from the Sventzian authorities to cross the border.

Also the animals that left for the fields needed a different “pass”. In the evening, the border patrol reviewed their list to check who returned to their shtetl.

Until 1929 no one was able to enter the shtetl without this special pass from the Sventzian mayor. Life in the shtetl was similar to the days when the front existed, a war was going on.

At night, when the sun went down, a signal using the chiming church bells was given, and this meant it was strictly forbidden to leave your home until five the next morning.

If someone was caught in the streets after hours, he was arrested by the military patrol and he had a hefty fine to pay.

It is understood, that this way of life for ten years eventually ruined the shtetl. In this type of situation it was difficult to arrange a market day, as was organized in the other shtetls. The situation was more difficult in Lingmian, even the peasants didn't have the means with which to attend Church on Sundays

Eventually everyone got used to not coming to Lingmian. It is no wonder that the shopkeepers of Lingmian barely made a living. The bakeries and the Inns closed. The merchants closed their shops. No one wanted to get permits and pay taxes, it was worthless.

Having no choice, a small barter–trade between towns emerged, but earnings were smaller.

In the village we bought some products, flax, groats, a calf, butter. The Jewish tradesmen sold the Christian folk various products such as trimmings, pottery, and textile–goods.

Earnings were small. The labour was very tiresome and the tax collectors added to our problems when they came for their tax. Other ways to pay the tax was with a cow, a horse, a cushion, corn meal or other such things.

In the end, the younger generation began to leave the shtetl. Many immigrated to America and Africa and the rest to Eretz Israel. The only ones that remained were the poor people home with these poor souls who found the situation very difficult.

Thanks to the help of our American friends many souls were saved from starvation and poverty.

 

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