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Vasilishki portion of Shchuchin Yizkor Book

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Community of Vasilishki

Abny (Boyarsky) Josef, Alpert Abraham, Boyar (Boyarsky) Sara, 
Arkovitz (Avial) Tzipora, Kopelman Khesya, Kravitz (Alpert) Chaya  

 Organization of the Emigres from Vasilishki in Israel    

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An Introduction to the Book Vasilishki 

Translated by Robert Moretsky

  In the second half of the year 1944, many areas in Eastern Europe earned their freedom from the Nazi burden via the Russian army. These areas were liberated after the cursed Nazis succeeded in annihilating most of the Jewish population because of their cursed plan. Unsurprisingly, therefore, these Jews suddenly found themselves between the "Jaws of the Dragon" and became the first victims of these bloodthirsty people. Only a few remnants of these people were saved from the burning and emerged from their hiding places. They were saved either because they were soldiers in the Red Army or partisans in the endless forests.

These lonely ones returned to their demolished homes and tried to establish connections with the Jewish population in the land of Israel and the USA. The people from Vasilishki already residing in the land of Israel received the shocking news about the fate of their dear ones by a letter sent by Moshe Aaron FEIGUS (may he rest in peace) and by a letter received from Eliyahu VOLOCHINSKY . These were the first to confirm the destruction of the village. The news immediately dictated action to help the needy. Indeed, a group of activists was established and organized for purpose of raising money, clothes, and food to support the needy and help those who wanted to go to the land of Israel.

The group that initiated the project was:

It was only natural that the survivors of "The Valley of Death" could not continue to sit on the ruins of their homes; therefore, they went on their way. Passing through most of Europe, they finally arrived in Italy, the last stop before their wandering ended. From this point, they hoped to reach their destination---The Land of Israel. After a short stay in Italy, the writer of this document was able to contact people from Vasilishki living in New York whose leader was Mr. Stoler. Thanks to his influence, we found a listening ear and people from that city transferred money and clothing for distribution among the refugees of Vasilishki living in Italy. In the year 1949, I immigrated to Israel; and one year later, we commemorated the first Memorial Day in memory of the martyrs of our village. It was that same evening, the 23 rd of the month of Iyar, when we, orphaned (ones) from all that is dear to us, gathered in the synagogue in Tel Aviv- on the corner of Yehuda Halev and Hachashmonayim Streets. We communed with the memory of our sacred ones as we said Kaddish together for the eternal bliss of their souls. Yet, all this was not enough. We knew the needs of the hour. We had to buckle down immediately and take real action that would bring about the realization of our goals: raising large sums of money to establish a fund to help and support to the needy and also to commemorate the memory of the Martyrs.

The committee that was chosen included the following members:

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This committee approached the execution of this task with great momentum. By the year 1953, they established the fund "Gemilut Hesed" in memory of the martyrs (with help of the descendants of our town living in America). This fund is still active to this day and, in the last ten years, has distributed many loans. The fact that the activities of the fund did not reach larger proportions is distressing. The reason is that other "members", "stand on the side" and do not join actively, and consequently leave the entire burden on two or three members. Parallel to being active in establishing this fund, the committee devoted itself to different activities of commemorating the dear ones by planting a grove in the Martyr's Forest in the mountains of the Judea near Jerusalem. Our member, Menachem BOYARSKY , put forth much effort in this direction, working day and night to complete the project of this commemoration. Indeed, in the year 1955, the monument in the grove carrying the names of the martyrs of Vasilishki was unveiled.

One must view the third stage of this project, commemorating these martyrs in the yizkor book that hopefully will be published in the year 1966. This will be part of a yizkor collection of other small villages in Shtutchin district, as it was called.

The idea of commemorating the memory of our martyrs in a book did not come upon us suddenly. The entire time, we were looking for the right way to implement this idea. Every time the idea was pushed aside for different reasons but mainly because of lack of people willing to devote themselves to this public activity. Finally in the year 1962, the possibility of implementation appeared. The following members took this task upon themselves:

My house served as the committee's permanent place; and indeed, for two years, a thorough job was conducted in the collection of the material, its processing, and its translation.

  I would not fulfill my obligation if I neglect to mention even with just a few words, the dedicated, painstaking work that this group of friends did. I am unable to adequately describe and express the full depth of our appreciation that these friends deserve. Of special mention are Yoseph AVNI , who helped with advice and execution, Chasya KOPELMAN , and my wife-- the driving force behind the project. Without the dedication of these three people, it is doubtful that we could have arrived at these results. "Well done" to the rest of the friends, who have donated so much to this sacred task, some by raising money and some by other tasks. May they all be blessed!

As the Organization of the Descendants of Vasilishki, we did our best to give a suitable expression to the memory of our dear ones. At the same time, we did not ignore the need to keep continuity between us. We tried to create a suitable framework in which to keep these connections. For this purpose, we chose the holiday of Purim as our regular day to spend time together around beautifully set tables to remember the good days--- the days of our youth.

By Avraham ALPERT

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By Kalman Dagni

Before the First World War 

Vasilishki (Wasilishok, as it was known in Yiddish), was a small town in the Jewish settlement area, in the district of Lida in the province of Vilna. The Jewish population was just three hundred families. Nothing in the scenery was beautiful or attractive. Gray was the exterior; and there were no flowers, ornamental gardens, or elaborate structures. The entire town was on only one street shaped like a giant boat, continuously extending throughout the town. This street was wide in the middle and narrow at the two ends. However, the street had two names. Part of the street was named Grodna Street and part was named Vilna Street. Perhaps, they were named for those cities, in order to highlight the direction for those people in business. Indeed, a connection was always from the center of Vasilishki toward those cities by wagon that departed once a week to Vilna and twice a week to Grodna.

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There were also side streets: Kronki Street and N Street that branched and intersected with Grodna Street and a street in Vilitza. The branches from Grodna Street and the Gentile Street were small and unimportant to the life of the town. The life and business of the town were centered in the two center streets. The shops located in the commercial center were on Vilna Street; and Market Square was on Grodna Street.

There were no factories or parks in Vasilishki or anywhere near. The source of their livelihood centered on farmers who assembled once a week on Tuesday in the market place. There were farms all around the town that needed a place to distribute their produce. The people of the town were excellent craftsmen and professionals with good reputations and were able to trade with the farmers.

I remember an event about the great church that was found not far from the town, when the Gentiles desired to affix a new cross to their church.   Since there were no Gentiles who could accomplish this task, they turned to the Jewish craftsmen in Vasilishki. The stubborn Jews would not begin because they thought that it was forbidden to do business with church. The craftsmen turned to the Rabbi; and he decided to be lenient and permit the performance of this work to the desired satisfaction of all the church leaders. They paid generously and gave bonuses for this giant cross.

Clearly, the relationship of the benefactors and the mutual connections between the Jews of the town and the non-Jewish farmers went well. This day [Market Day] was fateful for the residents of the town and surrounding areas as it was a day that would set the standard of living for the rest of the week. On this day, the town that was normally quiet and peaceful became noisy and bustling. Even the town leaders and landlords, who were usually quiet and reserved during their many free hours during the day, went to the market and became occupied and busy. The general rule was that those who are busy were hired for jobs first. Even the Gentiles got up early to be the first ones there. The market was busy with wagons full of produce from the fields, dairy products, and live stock for meat. Some distance from the wagons was a market for the sale of animals. Inside the market, the farmers were the sellers; and the Jews the buyers. In the shops was the opposite-- the Jews, the sellers, and the farmers, the buyers.    

  The Social Structure 

 There were two social strata: one who worked with his hands and one who did not, such as merchants and professionals (the highest level of the social strata). All the residents lived with hope that their children would not continue in the crafts, but elevate themselves to the higher strata. Those of the upper strata were careful not to let someone in the crafts into their families and into the leadership of the town and matters pertaining to the town. As for craftsmen, there was no chance that they would be involved with matters of the community. If they did speak out, they would be silenced instantly. The view was inherited from their forefathers and accepted by all the people.

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The large midrash [school] or "the white" and the small midrash [school] "rectangle" were built on a special group of large lots. Clustered together, these two institutions were called the Talmud Torah. On the other hand, the Synagogue Hahakodosh stood between them. 

A school was not only a religious place for the soul of the town, but it also was central to all the social and group activities. It was also a house of prayer and a community center. There, they gathered to seek advice about all the troubles of the area; and there, they gathered to discuss and plan all the town's internal business. They donated charity and did good deeds, assisting the needy during their difficult days. They developed ways to care for those members, helping them when tax collectors came to town. However, they also occasionally gave help to people who were in a difficult situation during a certain period and needed help to maintain their standard of living. Such was a wagon owner whose horse gave out and could no longer be of use or a working husband, who could not support his family due to an injury. In some cases, they turned to the town leaders for donations. If they refused, they would delay the reading of the Torah on Shabbat. This was like a sit-down strike because, without the reading of the Torah on Shabbat, a person could not leave the Synagogue. These tactics were known to work; and the prayers often gave in to the demands. 

However, the congregation was also in need of money that would be used to pay the salary of the rabbi, the religious school teachers in the "Talmud Torah", and to support their needs. For the sake of the entire congregation, they would maintain those directing the business of these institutions. They assessed a fee on essential items of foods, generally on meat. The people paid the butcher a fee to cover the ritual slaughter; and a person would leave the job to collect the fees. The job of collecting the fees was done competitively in the synagogue. The winner was the man who offered the greatest sum of money.

Education and Instruction 

An inspiring nationalistic revival arose in Russia at the end of the last century. Besides secular schools that opened throughout the country, there was a trend to recapture the Hebrew language and Hebrew history and to repair the troubled school system. With planning and help, they were able to open more modern Hebrew schools that would stand equal to the teaching that occurred in the Land of Israel. 

For example, there was a small glimmer of hope that the instruction from Sealman and Shifman together with religious studies and Hebrew language studies would be adequate for advanced studies. In Grodno, they started science courses in order to prepare teachers for advanced students to go to the national schools. In Lida, Rabbi Reines, of blessed memory, dated to open a yeshiva in Tucha to teach Hebrew and general studies. 

As soon as all these developments were in place, there was a great awakening in the province (in Tucha and Vasilishki), not unlike the education in other areas. Here, in the chederim in the fortress, they studied together in the ways of their fathers and forefather since ancient times, with the same kind of teachers, who would guide their studies without leniency until they were exhausted. They scheduled the students from morning hours until eight in the evening. 

Besides the chederim, there was a private school in Vasilishki and also a Talmud Torah where more than half of the town's boys studies since many could not afford to study in the chederim. The school administrative was empowered by the community.  

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The synagogue manager and the town supported the teachers and paid their entire salaries. They also took care of their needs and treated them well, especially the distinguished town leader, Mr. ARCHIK, who did not have children of his own to fulfill the mitzvah: "You should teach them to your children," so he took it upon himself to assure that poor children were educated. He would visit the school daily. Any students not in class were punished. This was how the day went; and in this environment, "you learned." The school had four classes and two teachers. One of them was Reb HIRSHA, who was about fifty years old with a large gray beard that covered his face, giving him an intense and energetic look to his students.

Reb Hirsha was considered to be the best teacher because of his ability to inspire students to learn. His orders were quick and short: "Down! Sleep!" Student dishonesty was not tolerated; and relevant punishment was applied legally, specifically using knowledge and fear. From the beginning, he set an example for his students to be inside studying the Gemora. This was the beginning: Egg-fetus; newborn-Vos gavaran, gavoran [What happens, happens]; "Kinderlach, bei mir iz azakan der vos get ein alten beit midrash--3 shmeetz!" [Children, to me there are strengths in what one gets in this old school.]. And so it went. As a method to gauge what was learned in the Gemora, you were tested. Also, "the friends" would learn in the school and, at times, would cheat. His [Reb Hirsha] seat was next to the window so that when his back was turned toward it, what did the students do? They pasted the answers on the window and were able to read them during a test without Reb Hirsha's knowledge. 

The opposite of Reb Hirsha was Reb YAKOV TSALS, of blessed memory. He was a thin, modest Jew, very scholarly and the most educated teacher in town. To the students, he was a superior, benevolent teacher. Also, in time, we were able to use the wisdom gleaned from many teachers on how to train and on how to study. A student did not study at his home, but on the porch of the old synagogue. You, in fact, were in a small dwelling with about twenty-five boys, aged twelve to thirteen, who came here for advanced study of Gemora. Here, they did not see a strap or stick and heard no rebukes. One look from the rebbe was all that was need and was worse than many slaps and screams. Authority here was an atmosphere of love and friendship; his lofty and noble personality radiated to all the students in his care.

The Other Side of the Coin 

The traditional education that was described above, indeed still prevailed in the city because, until this point in time, no other force could cope with that which was created or occurred; but the roots (of this traditional education) were rotten. The youth detested it. It existed because the opinion-shapers of the town were people of an older generation. The young ones, whose parents did not teach tem an occupation or skill, were dependent for support on their parents and dared not rebel against their parents. However, within themselves, they hated study in chederim and yeshivot. They turned to general studies -- or as they expressed it then -- to study Russian meant to distance oneself from their culture. The ambitions were meager. By obtaining a four-year diploma of a high school, which was eight years of elementary school in Israel, would suffice. This level of higher education provided the privilege of obtaining a license as a home tutor, one who gave private lessons in a home, or the privilege of being a pharmacist's assistant if one learned a little Latin. Home tutors, like those already active in Vasilishki, were respected. 

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However, these tutors were more than just teachers. They were revolutionaries, emissaries of different political parties. They were active on behalf of those parties. Besides those, who came from the "outside", were local youths, who traveled to the big cities to teach in secondary school as well as "external" students seeking higher education or a skilled vocation. They returned home with a "load" of different (revolutionary) ideas. 

All these together, with the help of outside propagandists visiting the town sometimes to spread propaganda and to acquire friends and admirers for their political parties, stirred up the local youth, removing their indifference and complacency. Especially affecting were the new ideas that promised equality to man, wherever he was. The poorest strata youth were the apprentices of craftsmen, who used these young men for every task in their households instead of teaching them their trade. Also, young girls studied sewing were worked twelve hours on a day before the holidays, even finishing work after midnight. 

The youth, who were divided into two groups, based on their political affiliation, took the town out of its frozen state. Arguments between the two groups on matters of their political agenda reverberated late into the evening through the town's streets. They were not just busy with arguments but also took action to improve their members' working conditions, especially those of their female members. They organized strikes and forced employers to change their attitudes, improving the apprentices' working conditions. Eventually, the employers began to pay serious attention to the demands of their works because they knew very well that these young men were not walking around empty-handed. In their pockets, they carried clubs; some had guns. We knew they would not hesitate to use their weapons in a moment of anger. How to use these weapons was learned on Shabbat days. On these days, they would disappear from town and gather in the outlying groves to hear lectures, to receive pamphlets and books, and to learn how to use these weapons.

One can summarize the mood of the first decade of the new century: The upper stratum that managed the business matters of the city were astounded and embarrassed. These people felt that their days were numbered but did budge from the lifestyle handed down from their fathers and forefathers. They continued to manage the city affairs in spirit. 

The youth was divided into three groups. The apprentices and part of the intelligencia were members of the Socialist Party, Bund, S.R., and S.D. The other parts of the intelligencia were career-seeks. Political matters and activity of the community did not interest them. They required education that they knew would benefit them later in life. The third group was the Zionists. They were few and did not leave a lasting impression on the community.

On the Eve of World War I 

Upon my return after five years absence from the town in the year 1913, I found lively youths, who loved life and society, thirsty for knowledge and education. However, not only the youths, but also the parents were swept away in this trend. A new spirit was felt in town. A quiet revolution took place in their outlook on life and within social relations. The expression of this new state of mind was the new girls' school established by the teacher [Gevoinet?]. In this school, they taught general studies in the Russian language and Hebrew studies in Hebrew.

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The main purpose of these studies was to acquire general knowledge and Russian language skills in order to leave the town and go to the big cities for jobs in offices or institutions as clerks. The ambition to leave the town for the big cities not only appealed to the children, but also to the parents, since they had a keen commercial sense. They felt that shop-keeping was on a downward spiral that did not promise a livelihood, nor did it afford the respect that they wanted for their children. They worked very hard to give their children the education needed for success, so that they would not become "herring vendors" like their parents. Implied in all that was said was the main goal of a little education, both for children and the parents, of a materialistic lifestyle. [Picture (middle of Page): A Group of Friends Meeting in a Field. (1916)] 

Yet despite being draw to the big cities, only a few managed to succeed outside of their small towns. Most of them remained in their villages. Even those privileged to live in the big cities remained in contact with their towns. On vacation days, and at other opportunities, they would return to their friends in the town and report to them about life in the city, about youth activity, and about a well-mannered society.

How did the youth in Vasilishki spend their free time?

The social life of the youth was quite developed, and the connection among them very tight. In a spontaneous and carefree manner, they joined different groups, united only by their age, not by political affiliation. These groups of four to five youths started at age 16 or17. Only at this age, could a young man and young woman go out on the street together without being regarded as immoral in the eyes of the adults. Mostly, the places of entertainment were the streets and trips together outside the city to the bosom of nature. 

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The Evacuation of the Residents from the Town to the Forest

Out of fear that the Germans would attack the city, the military authorities decided to evacuate the residents of the city. The evacuation was to be carried out, as soon as possible, to a forest five kilometers from the town. Within hours, the entire town left their homes and possessions with a promise from the military to watch over them. They left in a large caravan, some by foot, some by car, and some with cooking objects in hand. They carried foodstuff to last a few days and those who had wagons carried more.

        In the forest, the people arranged themselves by groups, not far from each other. A list of guards was organized to watch the camp. All men were obligated to stand guard duty. Public prayer was arranged, because this period was during the ten days of Yom Kippur. The Army ordered silent pray only; and women were warned not to cry.

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On the second day in the forest, early in the morning, two strangers wearing army uniforms appeared in camp. They ordered the guards to remove all white objects from packages and were told to transfer all the people to the other side of the forest, because there would be enemy airplane bombing soon. Some of the guards were former military people who thought this was an unusual order. The guards organized a group of the stronger men; mainly wagon owners to watch the camp. Indeed, their suspicions were well founded, since after a short time, three more men appeared and began to search the wagons and packages while two armed soldiers watched. The thieves were jumped and disarmed and bound hand and foot. As they were getting ready to transfer the prisoners to the military post nearby, "Kozaks" appeared in the forest. The Kozaks were patrolling nearby, because they had heard that there was trouble in the forest. The Kozaks did not investigate too much; however, they tied the thieves to their horses and took them to the military post. After this episode, the guard duty was increased inside the camp; and the military post sent personnel to check on the camp.

During the next ten days, they strolled around the forest, afraid of robbers and worried about their possessions that were left. The nights were cold; and the children suffered from cold and lack of food. The days seemed endless as they anticipated the fatigue. The adults were fortunate. They were able to pass the time and distract themselves from the situation by praying and reciting Psalms. However, the young people were perplexed and did not know what to do. They walked around the camp watching for strangers who might want to enter the camp. Sometimes, they tried to distance themselves from the rest, but their mothers were always watching them and did not allow them to leave the forest.

But everything comes to an end; and the stay in the forest came to an end. A message was received that the Russians were retreating fast in order to save themselves from the jaws of the German movement. The Germans entered the city without firing a shot; and the inhabitants were ordered by the Germans to return to their homes. This news breathed new life into the camp dwellers. Their happiness was doubled: 1. They were saved from the forest. 2. Their village was saved undamaged, intact, and with nothing missing.

Life in Occupied Vasilishki

The Jewish inhabitants of the town happily accepted the Germans. Their ability to communicate with the Germans using Yiddish helped facilitate mutual trust. But, this happiness faded fast as matters of livelihood began to annoy them. When the Germans arrived, they were very hungry. The first thing they did was search for food in all the neighboring villages. When the Jews returned from the forest, they were commanded to open their stores. The German took everything they needed, especially German foods. Of coarse, they paid for what they took at set prices based on cost. This caused panic among the population. Commerce, the main source of Jewish livelihood, was completely paralyzed.

Foods that were abundant before, disappeared. A black market was established that caused prices to go sky high. Dealing in the black market involved heavy penalties; and only those people with much courage, who wanted to take risks to engage in this business for the exorbitant profits, were involved.

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Clearly under these conditions, all respected merchants left the commercial trade to the adventure-seekers; and among them were many educated young people willing to participate in smuggling and black market. They smuggled mainly flour, sugar, and pork. Many were caught and paid for their deeds, but most became very rich. Most of the villagers, who made their living from trade and small shops, went without sufficient livelihood, causing hunger. Youths came to help those people in need who were suffering from shortages. These youths, who were idle, now found a wide area for public service.

They decided that it was their obligation to help the sufferers and lighten their load. The question was how? It was decided that a soup kitchen with handouts of a piece of bread and a hot meal to the needy would be the best way to help. A few members took it upon themselves to plan and execute those plans. After a short time passed, they announced the opening. They obtained a license from the army to buy food and a steady allowance to purchase sugar and other necessities for the soup kitchen. Finally, the soup kitchen opened and was able to serve hundreds of hot meals and a piece of bread each day.

By virtue of the license that allowed the purchase of food, the young people became grain traders, who bought wheat in the villages and sold it to the needy people in the village. The villagers who knew about the license provided their merchandise to the Jewish villagers; and this is how the majority of the town dwellers obtained a little flour and vegetables.

The Dramatic Group

The soup kitchen grew unexpectedly. As the number of needy grew, the management of the soup kitchen followed Talmudic Law and did check those that requested food. None were turned away. Help was given to all persons in need including those persons of refined taste who were too shy to ask for tzedakah. It was given anonymously. As business grew, so did expenses. The came the idea to establish a dramatic group.

The youth did not lack talent; therefore, this idea was accepted enthusiastically among the young people, who were bored during the long winter evenings. The dramatic group would resolve the boredom and would serve as a source of income for the soup kitchen. Triumphantly, the group was formed. The first problem was where to perform. This was immediately resolved by picking an empty warehouse at the edge of the street. They fixed it with the help of the Germans, who generously gave them boards and actually helped erect the stage. The structure served for rehearsals and shows. The shows were chosen from works by Gordon, Golfaden, Peretz, Hirschbon, and others. The shows took place almost every month and brought life into the town, since it was the only entertainment in town. The actors relieved their boredom by immersing themselves in matters pertaining to the plays. The income, being the main thing, did not disappoint the group. Here, I have to mention the threesome, although this does not mean

that only these three were the lively ones. First of all, there was Henia VOLOCHINSKY, a pure soul full of love and compassion to every person. She was never tired of doing for others.

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Secondly, there was her loyal friend Braynka ASHRAS, a dedicated actress, from the pillars of the dramatic circle. The third one was Moolka FOSHTER, a loyal dedicated friend, a company and friendship man, and one of the people who established and was active in the circle.

"Liberty and Revival"

This was the name of the youth group that I established in 1920. The organization was composed of more than thirty youths, ages 13 to 16 who finished their studies in Vasilishki, and either could not or did want to continue their studies, but were aware of world affairs and what was occurring among our people.

Picture of the group "Liberty and Revival", middle of page 128

During these days after four years of suffering from the war, they heard that many small nations of the world experienced their political independence. The Jewish People as well counted the days until independence. Especially after the Balfour Declaration, breathed new life and hope into the hearts of the Jewish People. Now indeed, they felt that the hour of redemption had arrived for them as well. The name Zion was carried on everyone's lips including the Socialists who caught on to Zionism.

The national awakening reverberated throughout the country in every Jewish settlement, Jewish group, and Jewish organization. They organized toward the Zionist activities including immigration to Israel. The awakening did not skip the youth who were bound to the town with nothing to do during the war. They too, began to organize in order to take part in this national activity that captivated them. Thus was established in every Jewish settlement, a youth group, called by many different names with one goal, the "Land of Israel". Thus the condition was prepared for the establishment of the organization, "Liberty Revival" in Vasilishki. I believe the name

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Liberty Revival was Taken from the Youth Group in Grodno

by Kalman DEGANI

The purpose of this organization was:

A) To participate in this great mission that fell upon this generation to establish a Hebrew State

B) To prepare themselves to immigrate to Israel, since this was the aspiration of the youth.

To achieve these goals, the members of the organization received lessons in the Hebrew language, history, and Bible. They heard lectures about the geography of the Land of Israel. They arranged study sessions in the evening, and were busy doing practical work at other times, such as putting the Blue Box in every home and emptying them on time.

They carried out movie days; and the money collected was for redemption of the land. They worked diligently and faithfully serving as an example for the surrounding villages. They excelled not only in Zionist work, but also in matters of the society.

This was a self-directed, organized, and disciplined society. It had a dramatic troop that performed a few times in good taste with revenue from the show going to the redemption of the Land of Israel.

One could mention that the public work of the Liberty and Revival, as well as the social life and the relationships among the members, was at a very high level. It is a pity that the days of the organization were very short, and the mutual relationships did not have enough time to take shape for long solid life pattern. I regret deeply that as soon as I left Vasilishki in March 1921, the organization ceased to exist.

Memories from the Years 1913-1920

Busy with Religious Studies and Talmud

The new shochet came to Vasilishki in 1913 and brought the story to us from elsewhere of how smart the Jews of Vasilishki were in matters of the Talmud and commentary; and about the finest in their generation who were the heads of the Haredi.

Rabbi Yaacov BERKOWITZ was, at that time, the religious judge of the town. He was one of the sharpest among the Torah scholars. He was the one that prepared the young men who finished Talmud Torah for the continuation of their studies at the Yeshivas in Radon.

Even with all of his knowledge, he could not be compared to the town Rabbi, Rabbi RUBINSTEIN, who would be invited to the surrounding villages for judgments. He was invited even though these villages did not lack people who were important in the Torah studies. How were the people in Vasilishki so fortunate to have these very smart Rabbis? Here is the story: "A few years ago the former Rabbi of Vasilishki departed our village for a position in another village. Many Rabbis heard about the opening and wanted the vacant seat of the Rabbinate. Each one showed his ability in good speeches in knowing the Talmud and the commentaries. Among those new comers was Rabbi RUBINSTEIN, who was above all the others in his profound knowledge of the Torah and his very sharp mind. After the people decided they wanted him for the position, they found out he wanted the Rabbinate for his son-in-law. As soon as the people got over their initial disappointment, they organized a committee that same evening.

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The committee was made up town dignitaries headed by Rabbi Yaacov the Judge. They went to Rabbi RUBINSTEIN to ask him to take the position of the Rabbinate of Vasilishki. They tried to persuade him with stories about the Talmud Torah and its teachers, who were masters in the Torah, and the "Chafetz Chaim" from Radon, who studied there once, and about the small yeshiva and other distinguished scholars. All this influenced him; and he changed his position. He promised that he would reconsider the offer and give them a final answer when he returned to his village.

Indeed, after Rabbi RUBINSTEIN returned to his community, he did not hesitate and sadly announced to his community that he was moving to Vasilishki. He, G-d forbid, had no complaints, but he wished to be among Talmudic scholars, who were in Vasilishki. He felt that there was no other place like it in the surrounding area".

Vasilishki was able to pass this spiritual-social test; and so it was seen in the eyes of the shochet and the rabbi in their first contact with the congregation.

May all the names of those who were able to attract these people who came in contact with them, be commemorated forever. May their names be glorified for many generations:

Reb Yaacov BERKOWITZ the Judge

Reb Yosef KAGAN the Shochet


Reb Velvel RAFNIK

Reb Ruevin Yoneh RUBINOWITZ

Reb Mordechai-Ber PUPKO

Reb Shlomo Yeshia DOLINSKY

Reb Mordechai PUPKO


Reb Eliyahu EIZENBUD

Reb Shlomo Mordechai MUSENZAHON


Reb Berl Leib FEIGUS

Reb Yaacov BOYARSKY (Yankel Yoshua Zelman's)

Reb Leibe KOPELMAN (Leibe Yake's)

Reb Hirsh KOPELMAN (Hirsh Eshe's)

Reb Leibe LIS

Reb Zalman Leib GLAZER

Reb Kalman GAVORIN (Kalman the Scribe [sofer])

Reb Maier Leib GERSHOWITZ (the Shochet)

Reb Shlomo Chaim DEICHOVSKY

Reb Aryeh KOPELMAN (Aryeh the Chazan) [cantor]

Reb Aryeh MERETSKY (Artsik Melces)

Reb Sender TZESLER

Reb Moshe Avraham GORDON

Reb Yaacov SHAPIRA

Reb Berl Hirsh MOYVOSKY

[Page 131]

The First Marks of Zionism


The First World War brought me into a prisoner of war camp in Germany. I worked at the camp's office and obtained a permit that allowed me to visit the nearby city "Olen". During one of my visits, I met Dr. SCHRASBURGER, who invited me to a meeting. There, I heard for the first time the arguments about the need for a Jewish State. Some were for it; and some were against it. For me, the question was not yes or no, but when?

The Balfour Declaration immediately followed this period, so a few other prisoners of war and I turned to the Zionist movement in Berlin with a request for relocation to Israel. Our request included expenses for the move. The newspaper "Yiddishe Rondshow" in German, quickly announced that the Jews of Poland are "sitting on their suitcases", waiting for their documents. The truth was that the suitcases were not packed, but the Zionist associations were established everywhere.

A year after the end of the war, I returned to Vasilishki to find the movement --"the young Zionists". The involvement and activities were weak still; but you could sense that there were signs of awakening to Zionism. In one of the committee meeting that I attended, I was told that Leib LIS and another partner rented a farm nearby and purchased work tools for the farm from money received from the Pioneers in Vilna and from the "Joint".

The goal was clear: to train pioneers for agricultural work. They immediately looked for candidates; however, not to many responded to this opportunity. I agreed to work with them. After five months, because of lack of candidates, Russian soldiers visited the farm and chased us off. It is clear that the Russian Communists oppressed every Zionist movement; and this continued for a few years, until the Zionistic movement was reestablished with renewed momentum and became quite active.

The government of the British mandate gave many entry certificates; and the young people flocked to the lines of the General and Eastern "Chalutz" (movement). From here on, I began to be active and was at the head of the Eastern Chalutz in Vasilishki. Many young men and I made aliyah to Israel in spite of the world recession that was especially severe in Israel. This was 1929.

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