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Vasilishki portion of Shchuchin Yizkor Book (cont.)

Translation donated by Eric Cohen

Translated by Miriam Dashkin Beckerman

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The Shtetl Vasilishok

        Close to the historical borders: Poland, Lithuania (Lita) and Russia, on the route that led from Grodno to Vilna and from Lida to SHCHUTCHIN is where the village of Vasilishok was situated.

        Separated from the world beyond, (the nearest train station SKRIBOVA, was sixteen kilometers from the village), the Vasilishok Jews lived for generations with their established way of life.

        The Czarist powers considered Vasilishok as a part of Vilna province within Lida district (uezd). For the Poles, [it was part of] Novogrudok, district of Szczuczyn.

        Prior to World War II, the population of the shtetl numbered 2,700, among them two thousand Jews (approximately four hundred families.)

        The majority of the Christian population was mainly Polish (Catholics.) The population of the tens of villages of the surrounding area was White Russian.

        Very close to the village, Polish nobility lived. Jewish villagers held mill and other leases. All of these were strongly connected to the Jewish population in Vasilishok.

        The Jews of Vasilishok occupied themselves with trade and crafts. The struggle for the day's bread was a tough one, but despite all the difficulties, every Jew set up his life according to his means. Children were raised, studied Torah, and gave their parents "naches. [pleasure]"

        Spiritual richness existed in the shtetl, love of fellow human beings, family ties, religious content and national pride.

        This is the way the shtetl lived, created and carried the "goldene keit" [golden chain] of Jewish continuity.

        Until … the Hitleristic Nazi murderers ruthlessly destroyed the Jewish yeshuv that had its root for generations.

        With the yizkor book, we are erecting a modest monument for our unforgettable, cut-off past, our community and our dearest families, friends, and acquaintances, who lost their lives sanctifying G-d's name. (Kiddush Hashem)

Dr. Abraham ALPERT

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Places Just Outside the Shtetl

        Vasilishok was blessed with beautiful surroundings. Forests, large and small, encircled the area on all four sides. Streams/rivers cut through the fields and flowed gently at the borders of the shtetl.

        Immediately adjacent to the shtetl, not far from the last houses, the "Market Creek" flowed gently. Very shallow with little water, this gave a lot of joy to the cheder-boys. Here, we splashed around during the hot summer days. This stream flowed into the "Sandikes."

        Jewish women came to Market Stream to wash clothes. With "pranikes", the clothes would be beaten on a stone to get ride of the last bit of dirt.

PHOTOGRAPH: "The Market Creek"

        Winter, when the pool was frozen, the youth rode on their "konkes"[horse-drawn vehicle], slid, and threw snowballs. Blocks of snow would be hacked out and taken to the "ladovnies:" [icehouse?] It was used for making ice cream and kvass, as well as for compresses for those sick with fever.

        At the end of Kranker Street, the "Glozer Stream flowed. Here, also, we came to swim and have fun.

        The largest river, close to the shtetl, was the Sandikes, which flowed into the Nieman. This was a deep river on which wooden logs were floated from the surrounding forests.

        The water from the Sandikes flowed quite speedily beside the bridge. It was said that there was a sand sinkhole that was feared by everyone who

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swam there. The wagoners used to come to bathe themselves and their horses in the Sandikes.

        Springtime, when the snow would melt, the water level rose in the surrounding rivers. Often, they would overflow their banks and flood the surrounding meadows.

        A kilometer away from the shtetl was a water-mill that belonged to Hirsh BOYARSKI, the "Verchiner". A rushing flow turned the large wooden wheel that was covered with green moss. The whole shtetl went to swim in the Water-mill River, near the Radrim [Radun?]. Good swimmers felt like a fish in water here and showed off their swimming feats. In the deeper sections, one did the crawl, did all kinds of tricks, and enjoyed G-d's world.

        Near the fields was a special place for women. On the hot summer days, attractive Jewish girls would go to swim in cold water.

        There were fellows, who would quietly swim over to that spot and catch a glimpse of Eve's daughters.

        On the opposite side of the watermill was a dam. After the dam, the Stav flowed. Young couples used to linger by the Stav in the moonlight until late at night.

        When the dam was opened, many fish would appear on the shore of the Stav. The whole shtetl used to run with straw baskets to catch fish.

        In 1922, a great flood destroyed all the bridges, large and small, of the shtetl and the surrounding area.

        Forests extended for two or three kilometers from Vasilishok. They surrounded the shtetl with a green belt.

        The nearest forest was the "Arubchkes." Here, people gathered berries and mushrooms. On Shabbat, people went for walks there. Close to the " Arubchkes " in the area of forests and nice tree-lined streets/avenues, the Kaperchoyer Hoif (Kaperchoer Courtyard) was situated. After Shabbat evening for enjoyment in the Arubchkes, Jewish youth would stroll over to the KAPELECHOYER house, the home of Raizl KAPELECHOYER (KRAVITZ). There, we would eat "Shalles-Sudas" [the third meal of Shabbat]: cheese, sour cream, and cold "schav" [sorrel soup]. Raizl Kalechoyer did not take any money on Shabbat. During the week, everyone would pay her what was owed. About one hundred meters from the shtetl, on Grodner Street, were Polish and Russian "mogilkes." The Russian "mogilnik" was the resort of the shtetl.

        On the summer days, the mogalnik was full of Jewish vacationers. Among the beautiful pine trees, hammocks were strung. During the day, the fully packed food baskets that were brought would be emptied completely.

        All week long, happiness filled the "mogilkes" with laughter and good-spirited fun. Boys climbed trees, threw pinecones at one another, and rolled on the fragrant grass.

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Young and old enjoyed the fresh air and lovely surroundings of the magilkes."

        When outsiders came to the shtetl in summertime, the chief attraction was the "mogilkes."

        On lovely moonlit summer nights, groups of Jewish boys and girls would go on the outskirts of the shtetl for walks. No matter where one went, the meeting place was always the mogilkes."

        Nearby Yiddish folksongs, Hebrew nigunim, songs of love and longing, rang in the quiet of the night. Many romances got their start there. The night-silence absorbed many secrets. The "mogilkes" attracted and drew. [sic] They lived their nightlife.


Jewish Livelihoods

        In Vasilishok, there was no central marketplace that was so typical of all other shtetlach.

        In the center of the shtetl, between Grodno and Vilna Streets, were two rows of wooden stores, twenty-two stores in a row. From these forty-four stores, most of the shtetl earned their livelihood.

        Behind the shtetl was also a horse market where horses and cattle were sold. All week, it was very quiet in the stores. Impatiently, the storekeepers waited for Tuesday, Market Day.

        Every Tuesday, the peasants from the surrounding area brought their agricultural produce to sell. From their earnings, the peasants purchased all kinds of articles for their household and agricultural needs.

        From the income of the Market Day, the Jews would live all week, make Shabbat, and educate and rear their children.

        Major merchants in the shtetl occupied themselves with purchasing flax, seeds, mushroom, and grains.

        The sole industries were the few mills that were owned by Jews.

        On Grodno Street, near them both, was the "parove" mill of the BOYARSKY brothers,

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Aaron and Chaim. This mill gave electric lighting to the shtetl since 1929. A kilometer from the shtetl was the water mill that belonged to Hirsch VUCHINER-BOYARSKY.

        The mill in the Karnofel (hoif courtyard), a kilometer from the shtetl, also was leased by Jewish millers.

        Near the shtetl also were two smelters that belonged to the KORN family.

PHOTOGRAPH: The Commercial Center

        Jewish cobblers, tailors, carpenters, tinsmiths, furriers, leather workers, and smiths served the residents of the shtetl as well as the peasants of the surrounding countryside.

        There were many carters/wagoners, who used to buy all kinds of consumer items, products like eggs, butter, and cheese, to sell in Vilna or to Grodno. On their return trip, they brought back goods for the storekeepers of the shtetl. Carters transported grain from the grain merchants of the shtetlach to Lida.

        A special kind of wagon took passengers to the train station "SKRIBOVA" (fifteen kilometers away) and brought passengers to the shtetl on the return trip.

        Gradually, the technology of the outside world entered Vasilishok. The machine started to compete with the horse. The wagoners struggled to earn a living. In time, some sooner, some later, succumbed. In most cases, the wagoners themselves became owners of the trucks.

        The first truck started to course through the city in 1930. The one that belonged to the KOPELMAN family transported goods from Lida and Vilna.

        The same year, the KACHNIK and WEINER families bought a truck that transported agricultural products to Warsaw. On their return trip, they brought goods for the shtetl storekeepers.

        The family of Yakov Izalye KRAVITZ operated the first passenger car [bus?] on the Vasilishok-Lida line in 1932.

        That same year, Chaim Osher KOPELMAN and family organized a passenger transport on the Vasilishok-Lida line. A sharp competition went on, at the start, between these two entrepreneurs. Afterwards, the two owners became partners.

        When the passenger cars [bus?] arrived in the evening, it was an attraction for the young people of the shtetl. People went to await their guests.

        In the shtetl at various times were Jewish doctors. There was always one Jewish and one Christian doctor. Known doctors were GROSSMAN, BREMBURG, GITEL, and KAPLINSKY.

        In the shtetl and the surrounding area [was] the very popular Jewish feldsher [barber-surgeon], Aaron VOLOCHINSKY.

        The contact persons with the Polish authorities were Herman SENDIK and Berl GORDON.

        During the last years, the Jewish storekeepers and merchants suffered greatly from the economic boycott. There were no brutal attacks or excesses, but the anti-Semitic rules of the Polish authorities and institutions were felt badly in Vasilishok.


Before World War I

        The only significant signs of czarist power in the shtetl were the Russian Pravaslovne, White Tzerkve, and the Russian Pristov.

        There was also a Jewish official –Aaron KAPLAN. He carried out the registration of the Jews. He also issued birth certificates and passports. He supplied Jewish recruits for conscription.

        In the Beit Midrashim, a _____ was displayed in honor of Czar Nicholas and his dynasty. On holidays, the cantor would say a blessing for the czar and his family.

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        The stormy waves of revolutionary uprising on the eve of 1905 reached Vasilishok and resounded.

        Illegal groups were S.R., Z.O., and Bund. In the S.R., the brothers Yisrael and Aaron Leibel YASINOVSKY were active.

        The leader of the O.Z. (Zionist Socialists) was the pharmacist, Leibel MILLER. Those active in the Bund were Ghenesia KAUFMAN, Moishele KRAVITZ, Alte KOPELMAN, Menye SHARSKY, Yisrael KOPELMAN, Berl BUTENSKY, Shmuel EPSTEIN (PSARETSKY), Etel KRAVITZ, Hinda KOPELMAN, and Yehoshua KOPELMAN.

        Agitators arrived from time to time, with each group, coming mainly from Lida and Vilna. The illegal meetings took place in a very conspiratorial atmosphere. Proclamations would be read; and revolutionary songs would be sung.

        In 1905, a demonstration took place with red flags. The demonstration passed undisturbed. After the demonstration, the civil officer came to the householder, Yashe Nachum-Avramel's [KOPELMAN] and advised him to send his son away, that revolutionary, to America, because he takes pity on him.

        During the years 1903-1910, a wave of emigration started from Vasilishok to America. Some emigrated our of fear of political persecution – others for fear of conscription. However, the majority sought a livelihood in America.

        At the start of World War I, the Russian Cossacks, while retreating, robbed Jewish homes and tried to set fire to the shtetl. The Jews succeeded in putting out the fire.

        During the war's battles, Jews hid in the surrounding forests and villages. For Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur, the Jews were in the forest. As soon as the front line moved away, the Jews returned to the shtetl.


After World War I

        With the establishment of an independent Poland, winds started to blow in Jewish circles.

        The struggle for social freedom and seasonal revival that was going on in the main centers of Jewish life in Poland reached Vasilishok. The shtetl youth started to look for new ways, new ideas, to go on with life. As a result of

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all this searching, a number of cultural societies and institutions arose. Also, the former institutions and societies had to adapt and slowly change, in view of new circumstances.

        The greatest changes took place in the sphere of education. Though up to the year 1925, the traditional Talmud Torah still existed, various attempts already had been made to modernize and secularize learning.

        In 1921, a private school for boys and girls was established to teach Yiddish, Hebrew, and general studies. The teacher for Polish was the daughter of the first Polish mayor [called Oarye-Comissag_u and not mayor].

        The school closed after a short time.

        From time to time, students from the surrounding shtetlach, who had not yet completed their studies, came to Vasilishok as gymnasts. They gave private lessons in the shtetl. Usually, girls studied with these private teachers. The well-known Hebrew teachers were ENGEL, LECHOVITSKY, and AVROMSON.

Vasilishker [i.e., anonymous]

The Social and Spiritual Life

Cultural Activity before the First Germans

        The years 1916-1918 were years of societal revival and cultural renewal in all Jewish shtetlach in Poland, as it was in Vasilishok.

The Library

        At the time, a library was founded in Vasilishok with books in many languages such as Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, and German. The library attracted a large readership from all classes. We got books from various sources, mainly from Vilna.


        We had a Jewish School where, aside from religious studies, the children also learned Hebrew and Yiddish.

        Kalmen VASILSKY often presented literary lectures about Jewish writers and all sorts of cultural issues. The lectures were well attended by the Jewish population.

        For a short time, a newspaper with a small format appeared in Vasilishok. A number of intelligent elite concentrated around this publication. The editor of this newspaper was Chaim COHEN, of blessed memory.

PHOTOGRAPH: The German School (1918)

Drama Group

        The main cultural activity revolved around the Drama Group. Every performance was a major event in the shtetl. Everyone waited with much anticipation for the moment of leaving for the "Theater."

        With piety and love, I recall the talented artists, who were in the drama group: Henia and Sonia VOLOCHINSKY, Molie FOSHTER, Shlomo GORDON, Margolit BOYARSKI, dentist Zina CHARTIN, and Bryba ORLANSKY.

        The drama group presented various plays, among them: Hasye, "The Orphan" (Di Yesoime), "The Shchita," "Got Mensch en Teivl," "Der Vilder Mensch," "Mirele Ephros", "Yankel the Blacksmith,", " etc. The performances took place in Pojarnem Sarai, and from time to time, also in the stone Beit Midrash. (The Germans occupied it for their needs but allowed us to perform there.) All the income from the performances were

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donated to the synagogue, library, and for other needy purposes.

        In this way, with modest means, we carried on cultural activities.

"Tzeirai Tzion" [Zionist Youth Organization]

        When the Germans left our shtetl, Vasilishok was, for a certain time, without a government. The Poles had not yet taken control, so the shtetl was left without protection for a random period of time.


        At that time, the Jews organized self-defense. Those belonging were Feivel KUSHNER, Mendel MASHEVSKY, Tanchum GORDON, and others.

        Our ammunition consisted of a few revolvers that the Germans had left us when they left the shtetl.

        We patrolled the streets. The residents treated us with great trust and respect. There were no incidents of robbery.

PHOTOGRAPH: Founders of the Cultural Society (1916-1918)

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        Trouble only started when the Poles entered the shtetl. At first, the Jews locked themselves in their homes, fearing to go outside.

        The Jews endured difficult times during the Bolshevik-Polish War in 1920. During the retreat, the Poles let loose on the Jews and robbed Jewish homes.

PHOTOGRAPH: The Jewish Folk School (1921)

        One morning, the scream of a woman was heard suddenly: "Jews, save us." It was Frau SADOVIK, who lived on Vilna Street. She was running and crying that a Polish hooligan wants to set her house on fire. He brought a bundle of straw and placed it by her house. He wanted bribe money.

        Immediately, the rabbi of the shtetl, Yacob KAUFMAN, with Alter SHWARTZ and the author of these lines went out in the street and gathered a substantial amount of money to pay for these Polish hooligans.

        When we reached SADOVICK's house, we found a bundle of straw in front of her house. The Polish hooligan was sitting on his horse with a gun pointed at us. As soon as we gave him the money, he quickly rode away through Grodno Street in the direction of the "Mogilkes." In a few moments, the first Russian military intelligence entered the shtetl.

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        I recall another incident engraved in my memory. When the Poles returned to the shtetl, they immediately took control. Among the Polish policemen was Alfons' son, a shaigetz from the shtetl and a well-known Jew-hater.

        This was shortly after the Balfour Declaration. The Hechalutz organization started. We, in Hechalutz, would, from time to time, practice various drill exercises. Our instructor was Chaim KAUFMAN (Yakov Kaufman's nephew.)

PHOTOGRAPH: Jewish Self-Defense in 1916-1918

        The policeman, Alfons MILKOVSKI, found out about this and came to arrest all the participants, accusing them of organizing against the Polish government.

        Somehow, we bought our way out from Alfons for a certain sum of money. With this, our drill exercises ended.

Mendel MASHEVSKY (South Africa)

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Business and Social Institutions

        The Jewish shopkeepers and the craftsmen often needed a loan. Sometimes, they had to pay a draft. Sometimes, the shopkeeper was threatened with an auction (of his shop) because he could not pay his taxes.

        The Jews of Vasilishok helped one another with a "gemilut chesed", an interest-free loan.

Savings and Loan 'Kaseh' (Bank)

        The bank played an important role in granting loans.

        The first bank in Vasilishok was established in the year 1908 before the Russians took over.

        The name of this bank was the Savings and Loan Bank. A committee of prominent and successful shtetl Jews, "balebatim" was the head of this bank. The treasurer and head of the bank was Reb Reuven Yona RABINOVICH.

Folks Bank

        For the Poles, a bank in the shtetl, called "Folks Bank," was included in the country's central Folks Banks.

        Local and American supporters provided the capital of the bank.

        The head of the bank was Zeidel PEKOVSKY.

        The bank issued loans for various sums and terms. Each loan required two guarantors.

        More than once, such a loan enabled a shopkeeper or craftsman to get back on his feet.

        A Society of Merchants also existed in Vasilishok, as did a Craftsmen's Guild. Both of these societies helped their members as much as they could, with advice and deeds.

        Active members of the Merchants Society were Yakov KAUFMAN and Herman SENDIK.

        The most active member of the Craftmen's Guild was Yitzhak FINKELSTEIN.

"Bikur Cholim" [Society for Visiting the Sick]

        In Vasilishok, all the customary communal institutions that helped out in a time of need existed, assisting with money, advice, encouragement, and hope.

        Tens of men and women, young and old, from all

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segments of the community volunteered time, effort, and money in order to collect help and supply assistance and hope in time of misfortune, illness, or other needs. One of the most active social institutions among these was the "Bikur Cholim."

        Bikur Cholim was a philanthropic chevra that gave much support to elderly without family.

        In wintertime, "Bikur Cholim" would prepare a supply of emergency ice. Ice packs were one of the main treatments for headache and fever.

        For many years, the tireless businessman, Notl YUCHNOVICH (the shoemaker) from Kranker Street, and Motel the Ston. [sic]

Vasilishoker (Anonymous)

Cheders and Melamdim [Teachers]

        One of the chief concerns of the parents in Vasilishok was that their children learn and know the Holy Torah. Together with their mother's milk, Jewish children absorbed the love of Torah.

        At the age of four to five, children were taken to the teachers. The first day when the child started to learn was a "yomtov" [good day/holiday] for the parents.

        The father would carry the child in his arms, wrapped in a tallit [prayer shawl]. The mother accompanied her child with a happy heart and a tear in her eye. She quietly said a prayer for her son to grow up a "ben-Torah" [knowledgeable in Torah].

        The cheders were in the homes of the teachers. Every teacher had his own method of teaching. They all had one means of punishing the talmidim (students) – the strap.

        Reb Leib the Melamed taught only in biblical Hebrew [Loshen Kodesh]. He was paid around eight rubles for a semester. Other than teaching, Reb Leibel had another occupation. He engraved tombstones.

        Reb Shmuel the Melamed, nicknamed "der arbul" [ ], taught his talmidim Chumash with Rashi and Tanach. With a long pointer, he pointed to the letters and sections.

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Often, the pointer would land on the hand of the talmid, who did not know where the class was.

        Reb Sholom the Melamed was an enlightened man. He had a more modern approach to teaching. Reb Sholom the Melamed taught Chumash, Rashi, Tanach, Ivrit, grammar and the beginning of Gemora.

        In Reb Sholom's cheder, the talmidim subscribed to "Olam Kaban" and "Kob Agadot Yisrael." Every week, he examined the talmidim and give them marks. He would give the best students a gift.

        To become a talmid of Reb Sholom was a privilege. He charged ten to fifteen rubles per semester.

        After completing studies with Reb Sholom, students went to Talmud Torah.

        The Talmud Torah was in its own brick building. In addition to students from Vasilishok, students from surrounding shtetlach and villages also attended. In the morning, all the talmidim would daven. Afterward, they studied Chumash, Rashi, Tanach, Chayai Adam, and most importantly, Gemora. The main melamed was Shneir the Melamed.

        Once a week, Rabbi RUBENSTEIN of the shtetl and Maier KAUFMAN came to hear the students. Kaufman was greatly respected as a Talmud-Chochem (learned man.) Aaron, the Starosta gave much financial support for the Talmud Torah. Talmidim from poor homes went free. Reb Yankel Tsoles: The best talmidim of the Talmud Torah came to learn with Reb Yankel Tzoles. Reb Yankel Tzoles took talmidim who could already study a page of Gemora by themselves.

        Some very capable talmidim continued to learn in the yeshivas of Radun, Grodno and Vilna.

        Only boys learned in the cheders. Girls learned from Nachmashe, the Rebbitzen. Nachmashe taught Loshen Kodesh and davening, Chumash in Yiddish translation and also how to write a letter in Yiddish. Nachmache the Rebbetzin's husband was Eliahu (Elye), a wagoner.

        During the czarist rule, there was a private Russian school in Vasilishok. The manager and teacher was MEYEROVICH.

        Some boys attended there for two to three hours per day. The boys studied Russian and arithmetic, geography, and history. The main students at the Russian school were girls from the better-off homes. The girls learned separately and the boys separately. In the private Russian school, the students sat at school desks that looked quite novel and a great accomplishment in those days.


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The Tarbut School

        A group of nationally-inclined Jews, together with the Zionist groups in the school, entertained a plan to establish a Tarbut School, such those in other shtetlach, to give their children a modern, worldly, nationalistic education.

        The Tarbut interested ones, with Yakov GORDON at their head, made great efforts to realize their plan. For this purpose, they rented the house of Sheina-Etel BERKOVICH, since it was more or less suitable for a schoolhouse. The necessary school inventory was acquired; and parents registered their children if they were interested.

        The main concern of the Tarbut School was to find suitable, qualified teachers.

        The only Teachers Seminary in Vilna could not supply enough teachers for all the shtetlach that needed Tarbut teachers. They sent three teachers to Vasilishok.

        The first Tarbut School opened at the beginning of the school year, 1925, with these three teachers and the local teacher, Yitzhak KUZNIETZ.

        At the beginning, there was not a standardized program. Most of the classes were taught in Hebrew with some in Yiddish. The religious and secular were mixed.

        From the very first day, the Tarbut School had financial worries. The low school fee did not cover the school budget. The teachers were paid with great difficulty.

        The Tarbut officers make every effort to cover the constant deficits. From the first day that the school opened, the Rav of the school, Reb Eliahu EISENBUD and those close to him, for whom every modern method of education was foreign, strongly and vehemently opposed the Tarbut type school. The previous melamdim also saw the establishment of this school as a threat to their livelihood. The Orthodox and other interested parties did everything in their power to destroy the newly-opened school, calling it "Tarbut ra'a." [bad education]

        The parents committee of the Tarbut School asked the Rav many times to take a closer interest in the school. The Rav, however, did not want to even cross the threshold of the "heretic" school.

        In spite of all the difficulties, the teachers went on with their work. The first Chanukah evening program made a deep impression on the parents. In a short time, the talmidim had learned to sing freely and to perform and recite in Hebrew.

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        However, the more success the Tarbut School had, the Orthodox groups fought all the more. The rav of the shtetl used his authority. After long intervention and promises, the parents committee fired the teachers after Pesach. The rav took responsibility for bringing new teacher immediately after Pesach, teachers who would be good "for G-d and the folk."

PHOTOGRAPH: The Parents Committee and Teachers of the Tarbut School

        Immediately after Pesach, the Rav brought two religious teachers from Vilna, who together with some Vasilishok melamdim, opened another school.

        The rav took charge of the school. It was conducted in an entirely different spirit.

        With this, there ended the first attempt at establishing a Tarbut School in Vasilishok.

        However, a great portion of the parents of children, who had more or less tasted a normal education in the Tarbut School, were not satisfied with the cheder system in the new school. These parents, together with the support of Zionist groups, decided to reopen the Tarbut School for the next year.

        Soon, a mass meeting was called in the synagogue. There, a parents' committee and

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a building committee were elected consisting of Yisrael SHAPIRO (PREZES), Avraham KULVARSKY, Leizer-Itche BERNSHTEIN, Avraham-Yehoshua DRAZNIN, Yakov GORDON, Chaya JURAVSKY, Soreh-Gitel BOYARSKY, Lisa KAUFMAN, Paula KULEVASKY, Moishe David BERNSHTEIN, Asher REZNICK, Bat-Sheva DRAZNIN, Tanchem KUSHNER, and Nekhah GORDON.

        There was a Talmud Torah building in the shtetl. Until the World War, all the poor children of the shtetl learned there. After the war, this building remained empty.

        The newly elected parents committee decided at a general meeting, with the consent of the majority of the residents, to take this vacant Talmud Torah building for the renewed Tarbut School.

        At the beginning of the school year 1926-27, the Tarbut School reopened. The central Tarbut office sent two teachers -- SHIKSULSKI and ZIMELEVICH. A teacher from Lida, Rochelleh SAVITSKY, taught Polish; and the teacher Yitzak KUZNIETZ taught religious studies.

        Overtaking Talmud Torah by the Tarbut School caused bitterness on the opposite side.

        The Tarbut School encountered financial, communal, and pedagogical difficulties and struggled for its existence. As a result of this, there was also friction between the teachers themselves.

        The principal of the school, the qualified teacher BRONSHTEIN, could not get along with the teacher, KUZNIETZ and with the teacher who had been sent in, ZIMELEVICH. The teacher, BRONSHTEIN, wanted to modernize the school more. The other two teachers, who were melamdim for many years, wanted the schoolwork to proceed according to the old cheder method.

        Financial difficulties increased from day to day. The parents committee sought means to alleviate the school deficit. It was decided that for the new school year of 1927/28, the school personnel would be reduced, to discontinue the senior classes with few children anyhow and start with only the lower school.

        On the eve of the school year 1927-28, the principal of the school, BRONSHTEIN, unexpectedly left Vasilishok and went to work in the Tarbut School in Ostrin. Vasilishok was once more without a Tarbut School. Some of the talmidim transferred to the religious school; some went to the private melamdim.

        The parents committee of the Tarbut School closed the Talmud Torah building.

        Because of this building, serious conflicts took place. The Rav demanded the building for a religious school. The Tarbut activists did not want to give them the building. They still sought a means of reopening the Tarbut School. They strongly and stubbornly guarded this building for the future Tarbut School.

        In the middle of the school year 1927-28, the parents committee brought two teachers

[Page 195 {281}]

from Vilna, young students, YUDELBOIM and KLANOFSKY; and the locked doors of the Talmud Torah opened once more.

        The two new young teachers approached their work with much enthusiasm and energy. The tireless members of the parents committee contributed a lot, with Perzem Yizrael SHAPIRO at its head.

Photograph: The Reopened Building of the Tarbut School

        The constant school deficits were partially covered by the local Drama Group. The main portion of their income went to the school. The Women's Committee of the Tarbut School showed much initiative and devotion. They arranged for evening teas and a variety of social events that raised significant income in the constantly empty school treasury.

        Gradually, pupils returned from the religious school and from the melamdim.

        The two teachers started to work with six children. By the end of the first month, there were thirty talmidim. By the end of the school year of the summer of 1928, the Tarbut School had around fifty talmidim. During the vacation, the new parents committee did a lot of soliciting. For the school year 1928-29, classes started with eighty talmidim. In addition to the two young teachers, a teacher came from Bialistok, Nechama SERLIN.

        The pedagogic work in the school improved greatly. The examinations, school celebrations,

[Page 196 {282}]

and the school displays demonstrated the high achievements of the school. The circle of Tarbut sympathizers and helpers continued to grow for the school year 1929/30. By then, four teachers were working. The teacher, Nechama SERLIN, and three teachers were sent from Tarbut; the teachers were FINGER, KUTZIKOVICH, and BURSHTEIN for Polish.

        The old Talmud Torah building, with its four rooms, grew too small for the ever-growing number of students.

        The parents committee considered enlarging the building. The Tarbut officers carried through many events for this purpose.

        Lag B'Omer of 1930 celebrated the laying of the cornerstone for the new building. For this occasion, two special guests came from Vilna's Tarbut Seminary. The guests held impressive speeches for the sizeable gathering. The members of the specially elected building committee searched out the parents of the students and sympathizers generally. Each one contributed something for the construction. Some gave money; some gave construction materials; some gave workdays.

        Yakov GORDON took upon himself the whole responsibility for the construction. He was occupied all day with the construction. His wife, Kreina, as well as Sara-Gitel BOYARSKY, helped a lot in the endeavor.

        For the new school year 1930-31, two rooms were completed. The other two unfinished rooms were used as a theater hall in the meantime.

        During the time, there was some change in teachers. The Tarbut office sent young qualified teachers, who added much life to the school and the shtetl because, aside from their schoolwork, they also engaged in community educational, cultural and political activities.

        Chanukah 1930: The opening of the school building was celebrated festively. The enlarged building enabled the educational work to be broadened.

        A library for the students existed beside the school. There were also various group activities for handicrafts, arts, and culture.

        The students and teachers worked very hard for Keren Kayemet (JNF). On Tu B'Shvat and other holidays, special money collections were made.

        The bitter struggle with the religious circles and with the newly founded Yavneh School went on non-stop. This struggle increased even more when the new principal of the Yavneh School, the teacher STEIN, arrived.

        Besides being a good teacher, Stein was also a good organizer and exceptional orator. Every Friday evening, he spoke before a large crowed in the Beit Midrash. At every opportunity, he attacked the Tarbut School.

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        At first, it seemed that Stein's speeches would influence a lot of the Tarbut School parents, who might withdraw their children and register them in the Yavneh School, but when the school year commenced, only a small number of children transferred to the Yavneh School.

Photograph: A Group of Collectors of KKL (JNF)

        The "culture war" between the Tarbut and Yavneh followers took on very sharp forms at times. Good friends often became enemies because of the school. The Tarbut people even organized a minyan for themselves where they prayed Shabbat and holidays. Especially before the start of a new school years, tempers would rise as new students registered. More than once, the Polish powers had to intervene in order to calm both sides.

        Years passed. The Tarbut School in Vasilishok struck deep roots in the life of the school. During the last years, the following teachers worked in the Tarbut School: BURJINSKY, BUGANIN (female teacher), Yosef GORDON, GOLUB (female), ZIMNIAK, YANOS (taught Polish), MIROVSKY, Tziporah NAMIAT, CLANITSKY, ROZENSTREICH, and SHALITA and his wife.

        In time, the situation stabilized. Each school had its own pupils and followers.

        In the narrow lanes of Vasilishok, the Hebrew language rang loud and clear. The children's presentations, Chanukah, Purim, and the end of the school year were major events in the shtetl.

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A Thank You Letter to Sara Gitel Boyarsky for her Devoted Work
on behalf of the Tarbut School (at the farewell banquet in 1935)
with many signatures and a stamp of the Tarbut School in Vasilishok.

[Page 199 {285}]

        Every Lag B'Omer, the school children and the teachers went out on special hikes in the Arabushker Forest where they played all day and enjoyed themselves. In the evening, the glowing children returned to the shtetl singing.

        Tarbut School planted in the hearts of the children, a love for the Jewish people and the historic homeland--Eretz Israel. Jewish children in Vasilishok learned about Mount Carmel and Emek Israel, sang songs about the Jordan and Kinneret. They dreamed about being chalutzim in their old-new homeland.

        The German Nazi murderers destroyed all their dreams and hopes in a murderous way. The Moishelach and Shloimelach, Chayelach and Sorelach of the Tarbut School and the Yavneh School all met the same destiny, the destiny of the murdered Jewish people.


Surrounding Villages

        In the surrounding area, Jewish villagers lived in quite comfortable homes and in villages.

        I was born in a small courtyard in OSTROVA, four viorsts from Vasilishok. When I was six- years old, my parents moved to a larger place, YANOVTZINA. There, I grew up and lived until I was seventeen.

        My parents, as well as the other villagers who lived not far from us, leased the nobleman's cows. Villagers did this on a yearly basis and others by the day. That is to say, everyday, the nobleman would measure with a container how much milk the cows gave and record it.

        There were wealthy villagers who leased not only the cows but also the whole farm from the landlord: the fruit orchards, fields, etc. They had to do this under false names because during the period of the czars, Jews were forbidden to own land.

        Near us was a Jewish innkeeper, Yakov the Shvakfaliyer. In this inn, the villagers of the surrounding area gathered for a minyan every Shabbat. On the High Holidays, many villagers gathered there for prayers. When a wedding took place in the village, the host invited all the villagers from the surrounding areas. Shabbat and holidays, the villagers visited one another. There was no lack of refreshments and people to enjoy them quite well.

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         Our closest neighbors were, as already mentioned, Yakob the Shvakpoliyer, Alter the Vaaykovzher, Velvel the Kurganer, and many others.

        A prominent villager was Leizer the Ribakier, but he did not come to our minyan in the inn, though he lived not far away. Leizer was a very religious Jew and a great learner. All year, he learned and prayed alone. Only for High Holidays did he and his whole family ride to the shtetl.

        Leizer the Ribukiyer observed all the mitzvot and traditions. At his place, everyone and everything rested--the manservant, the maid, and the horse.

        The villagers were connected with Vasilishok. They purchased all their needs in Vasilishok. When one died, he was brought for burial to the shtetl's Jewish cemetery. For a wedding, the chupah would be brought; and the rabbi or the shamesh of the shtetl would perform the ceremony. The villagers hired Vasilishok students to teach their children Jewish studies. Every Tuesday, the villagers came to the shtetl to do their shopping on Market Day. Tuesday, during the week of Chanukah, the cantor would make the special blessing of the Chanukah candles in the synagogue. The villagers contributed generously for tzedakah and religious purposes and for needy Jews. Though they looked like ignorant, boorish ones in their high boots and heavy furs, they were good Jews with warm Jewish hearts.


A Villager's Holiday

        Many villagers lived around Vasilishok. The youth of the shtetl were friends with their children. On Shabbat and holidays, they often visited one another.

        An aruv [traditional marking off of an area for carrying things] permitted passage on Shabbat. For further certainty, pockets were emptied out and handkerchiefs tied around necks. Some sons and daughters of the villagers were members in the Vasilishok Zionist Youth organizations.

        One Shavuot, we, a group of Hechalutz Haoeli-HaMizrachi members, went for a hike to the village of LEBYATKI. There, resided a villager, Yanchuk. We wanted to visit his daughter, who was also a Hechalutz member.

        We were very nicely received and served blintzes, butter, cheese, cold beets, and shav.

[Page 201 {287}]

         We spent several hours in the lovely surroundings and prepared to go home. The daughter of the villager told us a secret that in their oven was still a potato dish. We returned to the villager's house and asked for it.

        The villager knew very well what the result of handing this over to us would be so he said to us as follows: "Kids, go home. There is a dark cloud approaching. There will soon be a downpour."

        We answered: "We won't leave before asking what is in the oven, even if we get soaked in the rain. The end result was that we ate up the baked dish and returned home dry.


Musicians of Vasilishok

There were Jewish cobblers in every shtetl in Poland but only Vasilishok was blessed with singing cobblers.

        Whole cobbler families, father and sons played, each on his particular instrument. Some of them learned to play in the czarist army.

        When on a midweek day music was heard in the shtetl, one knew that the cobblers had put aside their awls and other tools to play for sheer pleasure or that they were rehearsing.        

        During all the years, an orchestra in Vasilishok existed; and all its musicians were cobblers.

        Most of the musicians could not read notes. There were blessed, though, with a musical ear and a love of music.

        They played with a lot of spirit and added much life to the shtetl. Their playing enhanced every simcha in the shtetl.

        The tone giver and orchestra leader, Yankel the Cossack, played the clarinet. His eldest son, Moishke, played the trumpet. When he played, he really let loose on the high notes.

        His second son, Niskeh, played the baritone. Niskeh was a sentimental player. The whole orchestra based itself on him.

        The other five children of Yankel the Cossack all played on altos or drums.

[Page 202 {288}]

        An important contribution was that of Shlomeh Shier the Cobbler (DOLINSKY) and both his sons with their fiddles, Michel the Cymbalist, and Moske KALETCHINE on drums.

        The repertoire of the cobbler orchestra was a limited and stable one. Still, the repertoire was sufficient for the homey simchas.

        Until the establishment of the firemen's orchestra, the cobblers' orchestra was the only one in the surrounding area. They were invited to the noblemen's balls and to village weddings and other functions. More than once, the cobbler-musicians accompanied a gentile bride with a Jewish 'nigun.'

        All Polish parades, the 3rd of May and others, took place accompanied by the music of Jewish musicians.

        In 1931, the firemen organized an orchestra. The main musicians were Yankel the Coassack's sons, Niske and Moishke. The other players also were Jews.

        The sons carried on the musical tradition of their parents until the outbreak of World War II.

        The German murderers destroyed the Vasilishok Jews together with the unique musicians.


The Pozharne Command [Fire Brigade]

        One of the most important institutions in Vasilishok was the Pozharne Command. Only Jewish fellows belonged to this.

        The members wore special uniforms and shiny peaked-caps on their heads. They often would have fire drills. Every alarm was an event in the shtetl and a great joy for the children.

        During the Polish national holidays, they marched in parades, decked out in their uniforms.

        In "sarai", there always stood barrels of water. [sic] When a fire broke out, those who had horses were required to line up with their horses at the water supply (sarai) of the Fire Brigade.

        It would happen more than once that until the horses were harnessed, the wooden house would already have, long before, gone up in flames.

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         During the last years, there were water-pumps that helped a lot in putting out fires.

        Every year, a competition would take place, in Szczuczyn, of the fire brigades in the whole region.

PHOTOGRAPH: The Fire Brigade

        The Vasilishok Fire Brigade always would distinguish itself and win various medals.

        For many years, the leader of the fire brigade was Avram FOSHTER.

Abraham (Aba) KOPELMAN

Fires in the Shtetl

        Fires were quite a common event in Vasilishok. The small wooden houses on the narrow streets allowed the fire to spread quickly.

        The fist major fire took place in 1902. It started on Rosh Hashana when all the Jews were in the Beit Midrash.

        The fire started at Archik KRASNER's house and ended up burning all the houses on the right side of Vilna Street, all the way to the "Ychilitze."

[Page 204 {290}]

        Another major fire occurred in 1914. This fire erupted in the house of Maier SHEBACH (VENDROVSKY).

        At that time, the Beit Midrashim, Miezhanski Street, and the major part of the shtetl burned down.

        In 1922, the windmill caught fire. The sails, with the help of the wind, carried the fire over to the shtetl. Part of Vilna Street was victim of this fire.

        In 1936, a Christian storekeeper, Kalinkevich, who had a store amongst the Jewish stores, set fire to the store. More than forty Jewish stores burned down at that time. The whole Jewish trade center went up in smoke.

        The Christian storekeeper was arrested. He was accused of setting fire to his store in order to collect insurance money.

A folk saying is: "After a fire, one gets rich." After every fire, construction would start again. Nicer houses would be built, and larger stores -- some with insurance money and some with help from relatives in America.

Sara Gitel BOYER and Etel KRAVITZ

Drama Groups

        Vasilishok liked to go to theater productions and to have performances with their own actors.

        The drama groups had their traditions, their "prima donnas" and stars.

        There were complete families with artistic talent. Young sisters often followed in the footsteps of their artistic older sisters. With such artistic talent, the VOLOCHINSKY family was blessed. One of the first talented artists of this Vasilishok family was Henia VOLOCHINSKY. Henia was exceptional in various aspects of community life. She was especially outstanding on stage, with her great talent and seriously artistic approach to each role that she played. After her premature death, her two younger sisters, Sonya and Lisa, continued her work.

        The barber surgeon (feldsher), Reb Aaron VOLOCHINSKY, showed much interest in the activities of the drama group. The rehearsals took place in his house.

        The first drama group started in 1918.

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