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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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        In the years 1923-26, a second drama group was active, a confirmation of the first.

        Belonging to this second group of artists were Dora ZLOTNICK (BERKOVICH), Alte BOYARSKY, Fridl BOYARSKY, Aaronchik the hairdresser, and others. The new artists, together with some of the artists of the first group, continued the Vasilishok tradition of presenting theatrical productions.

        The second group played in the Sarai of Pozharna (fire hall).

        For each performance, all the barrels and pumps of water were removed from the premises. The public sat on long benches -- boards spread on barrels. At the slightest move, the benches would let out a squeak. When someone

PHOTOGRAPH: The Drama Society

sitting up front obstructed the view of someone further back, they would stand up. Often, the public would watch the entire performance standing. The children and youth did not have the pleasure of being inside so they climbed up on the walls of the building and look through the cracks. Others simply enjoyed themselves with throwing stones at the wooden doors and on the roof of the fire hall.

        When there was a fire in the shtetl during the performance, they secured themselves as follows. Those who were on duty with their horses that evening got free tickets to the performance.

        The fire hall was poor. The stage curtain was drawn by hand. Still, the public enjoyed themselves immensely at the performances. There was hearty laughter at comic types or situations; and many a tear fell at the suffering of a poor orphan girl or of another tragic hero.

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        In this manner, years passed.

        Former prima donnas married, became mothers. Others immigrated to distant lands.

        Male stars got busy looking after their children. Their heads were occupied with earning a living. A generation comes; and a generation goes. Talented artists appeared on the Vasilishok stage.

        The last drama group existed in the years 1927-39, until the outbreak of World War II.

PHOTOGRAPH: A Picture of the Performance "Leahvke Moldetz"

        The main actors were Lisa VOLOCHINSKY (prima donna), Cherna BOYARSKY, Hesia Irke GLEMBOTSKY, Rosa MEDLINSKY, Chaike DOLINSKY, Chana GOTLIEB, Chayele KRAVIETZ, Dora MASHEVSKY, Yidel VOLOPIANSKY, Herman SENDIK, Motel BASS (Suflov) MIFELOV, Yosef SHVETSKY, Yisrael GORDON, Yehuda KOPELMAN, Shmuel MASHEVSKY, Yakov GLEMBOTSKY and Yitzak FINKELSTEIN.

        The last drama group was very active and presented many performances.

        It is worthwhile to mention the following plays: "Tzipke Fier", "The Rumanian Wedding", "Dos Groise Gevins" (The Big Prize), "Lovke Molditz", Milchome Carbones" (War Victims), and "Cinke Pinke".

        The best presentation that the drama group gave was the Dybuk. For a long time after, the popular songs of that production were sung in Vasilishok.

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Some plays were performed in a special place, at the brothers KILWARSKY. A choir, under the conductor YANKELE GLEMBOTSKY accompanied all the musical plays.

        The GLEMBOTSKY family was blessed with musical talent, beautiful voices, and artistic capabilities. Several from this talented family participated as soloists in the choir of the plays.

        The heart and sole of the drama group was the registrar [sic], Yitzhak FINKELSTEIN. A tailor by trade, he was always ready to put his needle and thread aside and devote himself to managing the theater. He was a very talented artist, able to play both comic and tragic roles.

        For a short time, Yitzhak FINKELSTEIN left for Uruguay. The shtetl remained like an orphan. After a year abroad, FINKELSTEIN returned to Vasilishok. The whole shtetl rejoiced in his return. The theater revived.

        The proceeds from the theater always went to philanthropic and cultural needs. In the last years, total proceeds went to the Tarbut School. From time to time, Vasilishok artists would go on tour in the nearby shtetlach where they had great success.

        For many long years, ordinary folk performed in the drama group. With limited means, and modest funds, the Vasilishok community established a fine cultural institution that was the Drama Group.

Tzipora and Chaya

"Sale of Joseph"

        In the first years, the Tarbut School operated with large deficits. Because of this, the Parents Committee decided that the parents themselves should present a performance for the benefit of the school.

        The main initiators were Shlomo Zalman PUPKO, Yisrael SHAPIRO, Avraham BOYARSKY, and others.

        After much discussion, they decided to perform "M'Chirat Yosef." No sooner said, than done. Roles were distributed among the parents.

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        And here it appeared that there was nobody to play the part of Joseph. A search was made and a girl was found -- Sonya REMZ.

        The rehearsal went on for several months. Busy people, fathers of children devoted several evenings each week for rehearsals. Yisrael SHAPIRO played the part of Turk (Ishmael). Abraham BOYARSKY taught how to speak Turkish ("barilde, lachumbe, katziper").

        The play was presented at the fire hall and was very well received by the public.

        With great tension, the audience watched the drama. With deep sorrow, they watched the brothers throw Joseph into the pit.

        When Joseph the Tsadik sang out from the pit: "Snakes and scorpions, close your mouths. I'm a grandchild of Avraham Avinu [our forefather Abraham], the women broke out crying.

        The "artists" were invited to present the same performance in surrounding shtetlach but did not go.

        For many weeks, the songs from the drama of Joseph and his brothers rang in the houses of Vasilishok.


A Chapter of a Jewish Kehillah [Community]

The first locale of the Jewish Kehilla was Shulhoif Street at Reb Nachman GORDON's house. It was in the year 1930, when the government decree came that empowered the Jews to choose members of their Kehilla and send the list to the civil government [Starosta].

        Without experience of this nature because there was not a sovereign setup for so many years, it was understandably hard to visualize such a thing. All of a sudden to become members of a wider legal community, under the strict control of the ones in power--to allow us to carry out certain orders--and in spite of all this to still feel a bit "one's own boss." [sic]

        This institution had clear duties: to be the Jewish representatives to those in power, meaning that all problems of the Jewish population would be concentrated in one place in order to be properly solved.

        However, the main responsibility was to assure the necessary budget in order to be able to pay the rabbi his monthly pension, as well as to the shochets, cantor, and others under the employ of the kehilla.

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        One cannot fault a stable income for the above-mentioned purposes. Even on this account alone, it seemed appropriate to establish a Jewish kehilla--a factor that would save competition from taking place among the shochets, complaints of a rabbi about his lack of livelihood, or regrets from a cantor, etc.
        The proposition from the government to give Jewish life an orderly form seemed positive.

        The difficulties only consisted in gathering the necessary sums to assure normal activity. Burdening the Jewish population with taxes in the difficult economic situation in which the Jewish population then found itself was not easy.

        There was no choice though. Work started to appoint the five members and chairman. For this purpose, a large number of Jews met in the large Beit Midrash to elect the following: President - Avraham KULWARSKY and members -- Itche SEGALOVICH, Yakov KAUFMAN, Avraham GORDON, all of blessed memory, and Leizer KUSHNER. The fifth member was Reb Israel GINZBERG from Nowy Dwor.

        The secretary was Avraham BOYARSKY.

        As known, Jews are a wise and understanding people. Thus, adjusting their position was not difficult. They did indeed as they took on their job, quick as lightening, like tong-time hands.

        Possibly, the Jews of Vasilishok expected a lot from the elected ones, but quickly, they were informed through notices in the Beit Midrashim during prayers that, from that moment, a new era began and that Jews are strictly commanded to carry out all the new demands being enforced.

        A summary was given at the first meeting about the methods of taxation of "balebatim". However, the main income was from the "Shchita" [kosher ritual slaughter]. A price established for each poultry or cattle [product] was strictly monitored to assure that this law was not trespassed. Gradually, both the population and the Kehilla members got used to this situation.

        Actually, this situation was not for Vasilishok alone. On the contrary, the other shtetlach where this was done became examples. This served to mold Jewish public opinion. In time, the Jewish Kehilla became the factual regulator of communal undertakings. Gradually, they crawled out of their encircling courtyards as their further work took on a wider scope.

        The Kehilla no longer dealt only with material matters, that is to say, concerning itself only with the budget. It also spread out a wide net of spiritual activities needing a Holy Hand. Under its wing,

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the synagogues were taken over as were the pedagogic elements.

        As a normal result, more than once, conflicts arose among the members, who started to represent specific parties. They also were not free of political struggle. However, this did not lay to rest the feelings, causing constant vigilance and struggle about a specific goal. Aims changed as did the people. Mentioned with honor are the veterans of the Jewish kehilla: Avraham GORDON, Reb Zalman Leib GLAZER, and Shmuel GLEMBOTSKY, who was the last in the chain of presidents.

        The only one who was not replaced and lived through all the shtetl problems was the secretary, the late Avraham BOYARSKY. He did everything possible to ease and unite everyone, to reduce misunderstandings as much as possible, and to raise the level of the kehilla, as deemed necessary for a representative of Jewish life in the shtetl.

        Avraham BOYARSKY was there for all the problems of the Kehilla--from the beginning until its destruction.


A Wedding in the Shtetl

        A wedding in the shtetl was a great event. The whole shtetl participated in the simcha. In-laws, friends, neighbors, girlfriends of the bride, friends of the bridegroom -- everything in preparation for the wedding. The wedding ceremony usually took place on Friday evening. The bride, all dressed up in a white dress and a garland, sat on a high armchair surrounded by her best friends. Here, the "bodkin" [jester] "bajetzt" [ ] the bride.

        In a nearby house, the groom sat with the in-laws and men. In the presence of the rabbi and cantor, the ketuba [marriage contract] would be written. The groom was brought to "badeck" [place the veil over the bride's face]. Then, the bride and groom were brought separately through the entire shtetl to the wedding canopy [chupah] set between both Beit Midrashim.

        At the head of the procession went Yankel the Cossack's orchestra, playing happy wedding marches. Mothke KALECHEWY played the drum. The entire shtetl heard the happy music. Old and young accompanied bride and groom. Wintertime, snowballs were thrown at the bride and groom.

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        Friday evening, after the ceremony, a sumptuous meal was served for the closest relatives. On Shabbat morning, the women led the bride to synagogue.

        After prayers, there was a "rumple." Cake and whiskey were served. This was followed by a hot cholent with kishke and all kinds of kugel, a noodle pudding and a yeast pudding filled with fruit. Every "seudah" culminated with the blessing after a meal.

        During the "Shalois-Seudos", the "sheva-brochot" were performed. People ate and drank, spoke words of Torah, sang Jewish nigunim, and rejoiced.

        Saturday night, the real simcha started for the youth.

        As soon as the klezmer played a happy "gute voch" (wish for a good week) the young people started to enjoy themselves. To the music of the cobblers' orchestra, the dancing went on all night. Often, the older generation also joined in the dancing and showed their abilities. An old man might spring into a kazachok (dance). A grandmother might dance a "sherele" and flirt with her old husband in a "brogez" dance.

        Many days after the wedding, various guests visited the young couple. Each brought a gift--money or necessary household items.

        The poor of the shtetl also benefited from the wedding. They were generously fed.

        Long afterwards, the wedding melodies resounded in the shtetl.

Tzipora BERKOVICH and Yosef BOYAR

Holidays in the Shtetl

        The holidays in the shtetl were beautiful. However, two of them -- Pesach and Shavuot -- especially engrained themselves in my memory. I will try, as much as possible, to describe them.

Erev Pesach

        The long and gloomy winter passed. The sun started to shine more often. The sky got blue; and the grass started to sprout. Beautiful spring arrived, and with it, the beloved holiday, Passover.

        In the shtetl, feverish preparations started for the holiday. The first thought was for matzot. Everyone contributed generously for the fund to provide the needy with matzo, etc. so that no Jew would be without matzo on Passover, G-d forbid.

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         I remember how my father, of blessed memory, hired Leizer the Chimneysweep to clean the chimney, Wolfie Toles the Water Carrier to bring kosher-for-Passover water; and the work would begin. Women kneaded the dough. Girls rolled it out. Boys did the perforating and put nice round matzot in the oven. Everyone did his or her best so all was thoroughly kosher.

        When the matzot were finished, as well as wine, beets and shmaltz [chicken fat], whitewashing the houses would start. For days, meals would be eaten outside so that no "chometz" was brought into the freshly whitewashed houses. The girls would decorate the walls with all kinds of pictures and flowers of colored paper.

        Two days before Pesach, the pots and pans, etc. were taken to the bathhouse for koshering. Zalman the Bathkeeper heated a huge kettle/boiler. Immersed in this boiling vessel, Vasilishok Jews koshered their polished copper frying pans, roasting pans, knives, forks, and spoons tied on a string that Zalman the Bathkeeper dunked three times in the boiling water.

        The following day, Erev Pesach, Jews rushed to sell their "chometz" and ran to burn it in the same kettle near the bathhouse.

        In the evening, people went in their new clothes to pray. Young and old reflected the shine of the holiday.

At the Seder

        On the night of the Seder, the whole family sat together around the holiday table covered with white tablecloths. G-d's presence is in every corner. The white tablecloth was really special. Candlesticks glistened. The lit candles glowed with a special festivity. The Seder table was set with special sparkling dishes and good food. The youngest child said the Four Questions. Throughout, the familiar "nigunim" of the Hagadah could be heard.

        For the children, a new world opened up. They "stole" the afikomen [ritual dessert] from beneath father's cushion. Father must promise to pay money to redeem it. One did not remove one's eyes from Elijah's cup. One fell asleep at the table with sweet dreams about Elijah the Prophet.

        The following day, they went out on the street to display their new clothes and play with nuts.


        Immediately after Yom Kippur, one felt Erev Sukhot in the air. From all sides, one heard the sound of saws and hammers. The sukkahs were built.

        The children took an active roll in building

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the sukkah. They gathered boards and nails from all over as well as "schach" (a bamboo-like covering material.) Everyone tried to build the nicest sukkah. When the sukkah was ready, the men got busy buying the Etrog and green Lulav.

        The houses were decorated for the holiday--holiday in the shtetl.

        In the intervening days, many guests from various surrounding shtetlach came to Vasilishok. Some simply came to visit relatives. Others came to find a Vasilishok bride or groom. Such visits often culminated in shudachim [matches].

        When the one and only bus arrived in the shtetl and stopped at Vilna Street near the pump, young and old gathered to get a look at the guests.

        Great was the joy at Simchat Torah. Jews came to the late Rabbi Eliahu EIZENBUD to make a "L'Chaim". Then, they led the rabbi, with great ceremony, to the synagogue.

        The synagogue was packed with people. The children marched with lit candles struck onto decorated colored flags that they had made themselves. Everyone sang. All were happy when the rabbi was led to the "Hakofes."

        The following day, Simchat Torah, after praying, my late father, who was the gabai (synagogue office holder) in the Tzigelner Shul, went with a large white sack filled with candies and cake to hand out to the children. He invited all, who came to the synagogue to pray, to come to our house for Kiddush. They all drank and were joyful. Those who were customarily earnest, sober Jews, became jolly, laughed, and joked. The songs rang though the Jewish streets.


The First Aliyah

        In 1921, Tziere-Zion organized the first group of "Olim."

        A group of six young people included Sara and Yosef BOYARSKY, Eliahu BOYARSKY, Zeidl PAIKOVSKY, Moishe-Aaron FEIGUS, and Yitzak PUPKO were among the first to depart of Eretz Israel.

        The first group of chalutzim was accompanied out of the shtetl with great ceremony.

        When the group reached Grodno, they discovered that the Aliyah was stopped. For a week, they wandered in Grodno with their packs, attempting to go further but without success. They had to return home and wait.

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         In a few months, when the aliyah was resumed, only one made it--Eliahu BOYARSKY.

        At the start of 1923, Yosef BOYARSKY left for Eretz Israel, together with Bashe Tsinke OLKENITSKY, and Shmuel DELATITSKY

        In later years, many smaller groups of chalutzim left of Eretz Israel, members from Mizrachi and Hechalutz.

Yosef and Sara BOYARSKY (BOYAR)

Yom Kippur in the Forest in 1915

        In 1915 when the Germans stormed the Grodno fortress, the retreating Russian Army streamed in from all sides.

        Through Vasilishok, for weeks on end, night and day, retreating Russian Army transports passed.

        Since our house faced the street, soldiers often woke us in the night to ask directions to where they had to go. When the military had to spend the night in the shtetl, the houses were full of officers. The soldiers slept outdoors.

        The Jewish population in our shtetl was fearful and confused. They did not know what to do. People went from one to the other, seeking advice as to how to rescue oneself because one heard that when the Russians leave, they cause pogroms, rape women, destroy everything, and set fire to the shtetl. This caused everyone to be deathly afraid. A rumor circulated that a number of village Jews had fled to Russia, leaving everything behind. Not knowing exactly what they would do and where to go, Jews started to prepare. Storekeepers started to empty their stores and hide their goods wherever possible. Things were packed in boxes/crates; and dugouts were excavated in the cellars of the stores where they buried things. One family, FEIGUS, had a large manufacturing business. The business was on the same premises as their living quarters. In this cellar, they first hid their own stock from the store. When room remained, they allowed

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property of friends and others to be stored there. After completing the packing, the windows facing the street were covered with bricks that matched the rest of the property, large and beautiful. At the entrance to the basement, they disguised the entry with a heavy piece of furniture. This gave the impression that a stranger would not recognize that a cellar was there.

        One had to be very careful when speaking to a Russian soldier. They were suspicious of the Jews, thinking that they might want to get rid of them and were just awaiting the moment that the Germans would enter. One Jew, who was not too bright (actually nicknamed Moishe Chochem) actually approached a soldier asking if the Germans were close. He was immediately arrested and taken off to a distant place in Russia. Nobody ever knew what happened to him.

        This was on Rosh Hashana. The officers suddenly left the shtetl. No sign remained of the field-post and telegraph. The Red Cross hospital also no longer existed. The city was empty of Russian power. It was known that the last Russian soldiers to show up would surely destroy everything. We understood that we must run from the shtetl, but no one knew where to go. There were a lot of wagoners in our shtetl, each with horse and wagon. My late father, who dealt in grain and needed to ride to the "pritzim" [landowners], always had a horse and wagon. Many Jews, who all their lives did not know how to even approach a horse much less harness one, bought a horse and wagon. At daybreak, when it was essential to leave the shtetl, everyone prepared to be on the way.

        Sad as it was, one felt like laughing at the Jews, who suddenly became wagoners.

        The Christians of the shtetl did not want to leave their homes. They dug pits beside their homes to protect themselves in case of danger. Jews, though, had to run away. But not all Jews had enough money to buy a horse and wagon so they remained in the shtetl.

        The day after Rosh Hashanah, all those who had horses and wagons were ready to leave the shtetl. They packed some food and bare necessities, took their families on the wagons and set out. Everyone stuck together. People still did not know where they were going so everyone road off and stopped at the windmill. They unharnessed the horses and planned to spend the night there. Suddenly, shots were heard. The horses started to rear up. Children started to cry; women were wringing their hands. A terrible terror struck. The horses were harnessed quickly as people started to run off

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as soon as possible. People headed for the Aratish Forest that was two viorsts from the shtetl.

        The shooting explosions were so strong that the earth trembled beneath one's feet. While riding away, people continually looked back to see if the shtetl was burning. When the forest was reached, the firing quieted. Since night had fallen already, they decided to remain in the forest for the night.

        The weather was nice and warm so the horses were unharnessed. People bedded down outdoors on their bedding that they had taken with them.

        Early the following morning, people thought of how to settle there until the Russian and German soldiers arrived. No danger was seen from that direction because they were far from a main road. The retreating Russians used the main roads.

        The only worry was that maybe it would rain. Because of fear that there might be more shooting, people started to dig pits.

        Food was not a concern because people had brought food along. Some even took their cows into the forest. It was possible to buy milk. Since the shochet of the shtetl, the late Reb Yosef COHEN, was also with us in the forest, we went to the nearest village and bought sheep and poultry there. Cooking was done on an oven made from a few stones. Water was brought from a nearby river.

        From time to time, someone would arrive from the shtetl to see us. No soldiers were seen there. They ran through other roads so we felt more secure. We got word about a Jew from our shtetl, who was caught on the bridge and killed by a bullet. His name was Moishe-Chaim SHVETZKI. Among us was a woman, Rivka ZAKROISKY, who gave birth to a son.

        Erev Yom Kippur, the sky became cloudy and light rain started. Hearts saddened. Where to go? Children started to cry. We wanted to protect them from the rain in the pits but they were afraid to be there. In the late afternoon, we started to eat the last meal before the fast. Everyone sighed and cried.

        My late mother gave me something to eat so I crawled under the wagon and had my "seudah" there. The good was swallowed together with my fears.

        After the seudah, the men gathered in six large dugouts for Kol Nidre. Great sorrow and fear overtook everyone..

        At daybreak the following day, someone came from the shtetl and told us that the soldiers had broken in FEIGUS cellar. They poured kerosene on the goods and set it afire. Many people wanted put out the fire but the soldiers stood with guns and let no one approach.

        In the evening for Neilah Service, the Jews from the shtetl came to tell us that the Russians had left. The Germans were already in the shtetl. Great joy broke out. We all returned to the shtetl.

        Upon returning to the shtetl, we found the houses whole but empty. The last Russian soldiers obviously thought they would still fight against the Germans so they made themselves dugouts and took everything they found into them.

        The closing of that Yom Kippur was a happy one. It was a holiday meal. As soon as we came home, we saw lights. From the outside, a German military senior played on a musical instrument that he had with him. That improved the mood.

        That Sukkoth was truly a time of rejoicing for the Jews of Vasilishok.

Sara-Gitel BOYAR

Aaron the Feldsher [Barber-Surgeon]

        Who had not heard of him? Who had not had a visit from Aaron the Feldsher? Children, young and old folks, everyone without exception had stories to tell about Aaron the Feldsher. When one saw him walking on the street, tens of pairs of eyes followed him to see where he was going. It was a sign that someone was not well in that house.

        We were used to seeing him striding through the streets with his familiar bag of cupping glasses under his arm. Nobody escaped treatment from his cupping. Children simply ran away in fear. They thought that Aaron the Feldsher was going to them in order to cut out their navels. (With this, the mothers threatened their children so that they would eat.)

        When a child had measles, who was there to call, if not the feldsher? An epidemic of scarlet fever, whom else to call other than the feldsher? Who else could help in a case of laryngitis or a cold? Who, indeed, except the feldsher.

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        Aside from the fact that the shtetl had a few doctors, the feldsher was the one who was called for help. He was really an important man for the whole community and the surrounding district. His wide experience made him very popular. Non-Jews drove up to his house with a sick person to take him in their wagon or sleigh to their village in order to visit a few sick ones.

        Aaron was a frequent guest in our house. He was a chum of my father, Avraham the pharmacist. In the long evenings, they would enjoy a cup of tea or a game of cards. I even remember how Aaron, in a good mood, would sing spontaneously, "SuiI-di-di-di" or "Hob ich amol a ferdl gedungn, hot er gehirshet un geshprungen, hot mit im di velt geklungen, taderitza dim." [I once hired a horse, he neighed and sprang, and the whole world spoke of it.]


        Furthermore, I remind myself that I once got sick so my mother asked the feldsher to examine me. Usually, he would come at the first beckoning, look down one's throat with a large spoon and tell the sick one to say, "Ahhhhh!!" After this, he would press on one's stomach, etc. and would not discover anything. Nevertheless, he tried to strike fear in my heart by cupping and said, "The rumbling that is going on in your stomach is because you have foxes in your stomach." From that day forth, whenever he would see me he would grab my stomach and demand little foxes.

        He did not take any money for his visits to us, so my friends said that I could afford to be sick a lot because I did not have to pay for a doctor or medicine.

        Aaron (VOLOCHINSKY) was beloved and popular, not only as feldsher. His community work already has been mentioned in this book in connection with World War I, when he was the leader of the German kitchen for children. Also, his help for the drama group is known; he established and expanded it in his house.

        Aaron the Feldsher was one of the outstanding and very characteristic types of our shtetl.


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Fredek Krusha -- The Ger Tzedek [Righteous Gentile]

        In 1926, a teacher, Sonya, started to work in the Vasilishok Yavneh School. She came from Lodz and was a very sympathetic young woman. However, her young body was stricken with an incurable illness, so she did not want to make her sweetheart suffer.

PHOTOGRAPH: The Ger Tzedek

        Fredek sought her out; however, and came to Vasilishok.

        He agreed to convert, so badly did he want to marry Sonya. Reb Zalman-Leib GLAZER took it upon himself to make a Jew of Fredek. He taught him all the rules and mitzvot. After the conversion, Fredek married Sonya. Being a teacher by profession, both of them worked together

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in the Talmud Torah for a few years. Fredek was a devoted Jew and observed all the rules and mitzvot.

        Simchat Torah, the whole shtetl came to see how Fredek goes to Hokofes with the Torah. He spoke Polish and German

        He was very friendly with the youth of the shtetl and was very active also in the drama group. The whole time he had no contact with the gentile population.

        In 1931, the couple left the shtetl. Shortly, thereafter, Sonya died. Fredek remained a Jew.

        During the Hitler occupation, Fredek first lived in the Vilna Ghetto and afterwards hid in the home of Christians as a Jew.

        After the war, Dr. ALPERT and his wife met Fredek in the Lodz Jewish Kehilla where he worked. Dr. Alpert suggested to him to go to Eretz Israel. Fredek replied with a sigh: "I am too broken up to begin a new life."

Chaya ALPERT and Tzipora BERKOVICH

My Brother, the Late Moishe-Gedaliahu

        My brother Moishe-Gediliahu was a fervent Zionist. He devoted his best years to Zionism. He garnered his ideas from the Yeshiva and from much reading. He was a talented speaker, who attracted the youth with his speeches. When he returned, as a sixteen-year old from the Vilna Seminary, where he studied just one year, he founded the Beitar and drew into it nearly the whole shtetl.

        In 1929, when the riots started in Eretz-Israel, my brother gave a fiery lecture in the brick Beit Midrash in front of a large crowd. With his pearly words, he so captured the audience that more than one of the audience quietly wiped away a tear. From all sides, people gave money for the building-up of Eretz-Israel.

        The chaverim of Beitar had so much trust in him that they said: "We will do; and we will listen." Give us an order; and we will carry it out well. Whatever you tell us for the building of Eretz-Israel we will do. A striving for Eretz Israel was very strong.

        News of his outreach work reached the executive officers in Warsaw. They appointed him the executive officer of Beitar in Vasilishok and the surrounding district. He traveled around giving speeches in order to enlist members. He received tens of letters of thanks from the executive as well as from many Beitar groups in the surroundings where he had been the founder and leader.

        In 1933, at a gathering of the whole region in Lida, he gave such an impressive speech that the chaverim carried him off the stage in their arms. At the large conference in Vilna, he was the second speaker after Propes. At the Aliya Bet time,

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he accomplished a lot. With many illegal means, he sent chaverim of Beitar, as well as nonmembers of Beitar, to Eretz-Israel.

        I believe that to be found here in Israel are some, who arrived with my brother's help; they will confirm this. Unfortunately, though he himself was not privileged to make Aliya in order to see with his own eyes the fruit that he and his chaverim planted.

        The German beast cut down his young impulsive life. Perishing together with him were his wife Rivele and two lovely children, as well as many Beitar friends who helped him with his work.

        May his memory be blessed.


About the Old Home [Country]

        Grey monotonous days were the content of our lives that stretched long weeks and years. However, when holidays arrived, a happy mood would spring forth in the shtetl.

        The approach of a holiday was felt in the air, especially when it was Rosh Hashana.

        For a while before that, all the tailors were loaded with work and had to provide outfits for young and old. The same applied to cobblers who made shoes, boots, and other footwear. The tradesmen actually were the first to let the Jews know that the holiday was at the door.

        Even before Rosh Chodesh Elul, the air was full of awe and fear for the Day of Judgment. The older generation prepared for the fateful hour as is customary, the hour when one pours out one's bitter heart and prays to the Creator of the Universe for health and "parnoseh." In the Beit Midrashim, all the preparations were made: whitewashing, painting, and repairing as necessary.

        Early in the morning, the sound of the shofar blowing could be heard. Young boys simply let out their own voices that filled the entire synagogue courtyard. In addition, the rehearsals of the cantor and his choirboys added to this. It all combined into a grand symphony.

        Erev Rosh Hashanah, the stores closed promptly. Everything was done quickly for there was little time. Here and there, Jews could already be seen returning from the mikveh [ritual bath], clean and with a pack of their worn clothes under their arm. Their wet beards are witnesses that the "whiskbroom" was not bad at all and that Velvel (TOLUS), the water carrier, did not spare the hot water.

        Slowly, the glow of lit candles starts to appear through the windows and then the call of the shames (beadle): "In shul arein." [Into the synagogue]

        The mothers are decked out in their finest clothes for the holiday, according to the latest style, of course. For instance, one could see a long black dress of eyelet material, though which one could see white trim. Hands would be in muffs. The hat would have a feather on the side. Or, one could see an older woman with a colored, checkered kerchief, carrying a heavy Korban Minche Siddur under her arm.

        Dressed to the hilt people hurried to synagogue. Neighbors wish one another a good year. Those who did not speak to one another all year, now find the opportunity to reconcile. They wish one another L'Shana Tova Tikataivu." [May you be inscribed for a good year.]

        The two days of Rosh Hashanah pass with great awe and heartfelt prayer in the belief that the One on High will accept the prayers. After all, why not? Are the Jews of Vasilishok so bad?

        On the Eve of Yom Kippur, right after praying and hatarut nedarim [ ], all preparations were made. In both Beit Midrashim, collection plates were placed. The Jews used this to distribute funds for the needy. The "kaarot" [ collection plates ] were for various purposes. There were some tin plates on which was written in large letters, words such as "For the sick" [bikur cholim], "For poor brides" [Hachnasat Kallah], "Poor Folk" [Oreme Leit], and various other plates. Nor was there a plate missing for Zionist purposes such as JNF and Keren Hayesod.

        Jews deposited a coin in every plate, thus fulfilling the mitzvah of Tzedakah, as it is stated in the prayer: Tshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah mavirin et raa Hagzaira.

        At the setting of the sun, all the lanes leading to the Beit Midrashim were full of people. People were on their way to the purification prayer called "tefilla zacha" and to Kol Nidre. Friends and acquaintances wish one another the best of everything and shed a tear. They are off to put their case before the Almighty.

        For a full twenty-four hours, they davened and prayed. Everyone wanted to assure himself or herself before the sunset that he or she would be inscribed for a good year. With special feeling were the "unsana toka" prayer at Musaf and Shar Shomayim Patuach at Neilah.

        We youngsters would daven along with our fathers, nevertheless, from time to time, we would sneak into the second beit midrash to see what was going on there and to meet friends, to chat a bit and show our white tongues to prove that we were fasting. Even before Yom Kippur, we prepared "Yom Kippur Drops" (ammonia) with which to revive a faint Jew or simply wake up a sleepy one by holding it to their nose and quickly run away so that they would not know who did it.

        The women's section followed the davening and looked into the women's prayer books. Though there wagoners lack of those who could not hear what the cantor said, they would proceed on their own and say what was easier for them. However, all cried, without exception.

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         Not only the Jews felt Yom Kippur. The Christians felt it also. The stillness and restfulness of the day was felt all over. Some Christians even came into the synagogue on Kol Nidre and wished a good year.

        When the High Holidays were over, it was as though a stone had fallen off one's heart. Everyone believed that the compassionate and Merciful One had listened to their prayers and will probably inscribe them for a good year.

        With special joy, one started to erect a sukkah. Nearly every house had a sukkah. Only adding the covering on the top was necessary. Draw a curtain, tie a string to the flap in the roof and -- fini!

        The holiday was celebrated with great joy with particular joy on Simchat Torah. Simchat Torah is no small thing. With the learned men at the head, nearly all the shtetl Jews followed with the Rav, accompanied by nigunim, all the way to the beit midrash. There was dancing until late into the night.

        On the bimah [prayer platform], beside the Aron Kodesh [Holy Ark], the late Reb Berl Hirsch stood and "sold" portions of the Holy readings and Hakofes. It was very special when the Shatz said: Helper of the poor, help us/save us. The whole congregation would call out: "send us good luck and prosperity" as they went around the bimah, the children with flags following after them. Most of the flags looked as follows: a stick with a pointy end on which was placed a potato with a hole surrounded with goose and other colored feathers. Children would not intentionally set fire to another's hair. You can imagine what went on. This all continued until the feathers caught fire; the smell of smoldering candle wax could be detected.

        The following day, at the reading of the Torah, it once more became lively. Aliyot were bought. Chatan Torah, Chatan Bereshet, and Kol Hanaarim (the young children) made their way under the Tallit…

        Everyone wanted to partake, as it says in the pasuk: Sisu V'simeh B'Simchat Torah and so do so with all the particulars with Kiddush, with song, and with dance.

        With the holidays over, the shtetl once more returned to the gray days with the daily struggle for existence. The long, cold winter froze all exhilaration.

        After Purim, the shtetl came to life. Preparations started for Pesach. This is not such a complicated holiday. One does not have so much to do with the Creator. One only has to prepare matzo and kosher dishes…

        Immediately after Purim, preparations for the baking of matzo began. Everyone was involved in this work. The youth found, in these preparations, an opportunity to break the boredom. There were volunteers to roll the perforations, or to do the rolling out of the dough.

        Every family that baked its matzot, immediately set to work to prepare matzo flour. For this,

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there was a special container, that is a flour box made of thick, fine boards with a thick wood that had nails hammered into the end so that it would chop better. This container would be held between the legs, sitting on a high stool. Only certain people could get this container; therefore, there was a rush for them.

        Baking the matzot was just a small part of the big job. The whole shtetl was busy in cleaning. There was whitewashing, and airing of bedding, closets, and bags. Wherever one went, there was turmoil. There was actually no place to go in. Leizer the Chimneysweep climbed over the roofs with a broom, in order to push the ash down through the chimney.

        Truly, one could not recognize the river. It took on wild colors. Pieces of various materials remained stuck at the sides of Riga as they floated down. They hindered the natural flow of the water. Because of this, however, the houses looked like newly born and symbolized the hard work in honor of Pesach, as it is said: "From slavery to freedom."

        Unfortunately, only a small portion of the shtetl survived to be free, to feel their freedom in a Jewish homeland. A small portion lives in other lands. All our closest ones did not live to see the day. They, instead of having the privilege of Judgment Day, were destined to be annihilated.

Yosef Ben-Abraham

My Shtetl of Birth

Between the transparent blue Vilia River and the gray Nieman that flow through White Russian fields and forests, there lay my birthplace, a typical small Jewish shtetl with rabbis, shochets, tradesman, merchants and ordinary folk who lived a hard but honest life.

        Daybreak: The shtetl is quiet. Somewhere a Jew is rushing with his tallit under his arm to the first minyan. Herdsmen are driving their cows and horses. Church bells are ringing. The call to the work of the day. A new day is born.

        The streets come alive with Jewish children. They run to school, some to the Tarbut school, some to the Talmud-Torah and some to the Povshechner school.

        Tuesday is market day in the shtetl. Peasants from near and far villages arrive from all directions with wagons loaded with their farm produce and at the same time to buy what they need for their household. Meanwhile, they would get quite drunk in Payes and Chaim Asher's restaurant. It's noisy and boisterous. Shutters and doors for stores get opened wide. Multi-colored goods get hung up outside in order to attract customers. The struggle for a livelihood is difficult

PHOTOGRAPH: The Market Place

        In the center of the market, around the stores that were full of peasants, there were many stands with all kinds of things: furriers, cobblers, bakers, grain dealers, flax dealers, leather workers, as well as small tables with various haberdashery, and tricot goods. Quite often, they competed with one another, pulling the customer from one to the other; and more than once, they had quite a fight--all because of a livelihood.

        Down Vilna Street, below the Polish school opposite the Jewish cemetery, there was the horse market. Jewish butchers and horse dealers found their livelihood there.

        After Tuesday, the market place remained empty. It was once more quiet in the shtetl. During those days, dealers loaded up their wagons with all kinds of goods that they bought from the wholesalers and head off to the village to do business.

        At daybreak on Friday, Jewish housewives were already on their feet. They cooked, baked, fried, and prepared for the Holy Shabbat. In the streets and lanes, as well as around the synagogue courtyard was the fragrance of baked goods,

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challah, and gefilte fish. There were those who placed carrot pudding in the big oven; others put in another sort of pudding and some, a cholent with a stuffed derma.

        Girls washed floors, polished the brass candlesticks, and carried water for tea from the bubbling spring near the watermill. They spread golden yellow sand around the houses, all in honor of the Holy Shabbat.

        Friday afternoon, the Shabbat was ready. The table was set with the polished candlesticks on a white tablecloth, the challahs covered with challah cover, children with fine-combed hair, dressed in Shabbat clothes awaited the call of the "pursh" [town crier] to cry out: In shul arein. (Get to synagogue). Friday before nightfall, Jews quickly close their stores and hurry home. Shabbat gets wrapped in a Holy Shabbat spirit. Shabbat candles shine out through the windows. Jews, clad in their best clothes, head for synagogue to pour out their prayers to God to give them health, a livelihood, and "nachas" from their children. The girls played in front of the house waiting impatiently for the return from synagogue. Father says, "Gut Shabbas" as he comes into the house. We children, together with mother, answer: "Gut Shabbas, gut yahr!"

        Father, walking back and forth, says: "Shalom Aleichem, Malachai Hasharet." He looks pleasingly towards us children. I feel as though good angels are floating over our house. We sit down at the table and wait respectfully for the Shabbat meal. Father recited the Kiddush. To this day I hear, ringing in my ears, father's Kiddush nigun. I always believed that my father's Kiddush was the finest in the world. In my later years, I often heard Kiddush at others' tables. My eyes would fill with tears of longing for my father's Kiddush nigun.

        Friday evening, after the meal, the youth went to various organizations: to Hechalutz, Beitar, Shomer Hatzair. Song and laughter of the young people can be heard throughout the Vasilishok streets. Youth discussed Eretz-Israel and Zionist problems. More than once, these discussions developed into sharp arguments among the members of Hechalutz and Beitar.

        Early Shabbat morning, the parents went to shul to daven and afterward to chat about politics and shtetl matters. Shabbat, after the meal, singing of "zmiros" could be heard, blessings. The parents used to take a nap. "Sleep like that on Shabbat is considered a mitzvah."

        Shabbat evening, singing was once more heard across the fields, forest, and roads, on the outskirts of the town, at the magilkes, and on the hills of the water mill. This was how the youth of Vasilishok went out to send off the Shabbat-Kodesh, singing their longing and belief in Zion. Their singing mingles with the mother's and "bobehs" [grandmothers] chanting of "Got fun Abraham." Afterwards, one hears from every house

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"Hamavdil ben Kodesh L'chol" and all wish one another: "Gutte Voch, a gut voch, a gezunt voch."

        I especially remember the awesome days of the High Holidays--Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur-- the special lament nigunim that the cantors and the choirboys sang.

        Deeply engraved in my memory are the melodies of Cantor PLOTKIN and his choirboys.

        I want to mention here the drama group also. We met at the home of Reb Aaron VOLOCHINSKY for rehearsals that took place under the direction of Yitzak FINKELSTEIN and the songs under the leadership of Yankele GLEMBOTSKY.

        Nearly all the performances were carried out with much success. Each performance netted quite an income, proceeds of which went to build the Tarbut School and other cultural institutions.

        That's how I remember my shtetl Vasilishok. That is how I will remember you forever.

        Today, it is quiet in the shtetl. No trace, no sign of our dear Jews with their impulsive way of life.

        The murderous German hand has cut it all down.


A Collection of Memories

        My second home place is Vasilishok where I lived for nearly thirteen years. And this is natural too because in Vasilishok I got married. My first child was born there. There I lived a life full of content. There I wove sweet drams of my future as a doctor (after completing the Faculty of Mathematics at Vilnius University, I started to study medicine.) Stormy and horrible events destroyed all dreams and visions. What remains is merely a bundle of memories, no more.

        Vasilishok was a typical Polish White Russian shtetl that was populated approximately 80% by Jews. Their occupations, a varied one -- merchants, storekeepers and a large number of regular handicraft workers such as tailors, cobblers, carpenters, glaziers, and others. They served not only the shtetl, but also the Christian population of the surrounding villages. Masons and builder were also Jews. Jewish hands carried out all the construction in the shtetl and surrounding villages. They were the only engineers and builders. Though the Jews built without plans, the work was solid and the best.

        The majority of the Jewish population worked very hard and struggled bitterly for their daily existence.

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        They lived with faith in G-d in their hearts and spun the Golden Chain of Jewish continuity--each one in his own way.

        For many Jews, the synagogue, holidays, Shabbat, religious law, and Jewish traditions were the spiritual content and support in life.

        In synagogue, between Mincha and Maariv, and most prominently Shabbat and holidays was when the weekly world was shed, Jews lived more in the world of spirituality. Some, on the other hand, particularly the youth, sought a new content in their lives. Zionism, chalutzism, self-realization--aliyah to Eretz-Israel and to join the builders and pioneers.

        There were also those who were swept along with the progressive radical ideas--socialism, communism--that were supposed to solve the general problems of the world in general, for all mankind, and among them, also the specifically Jewish problems.

        The Jewish masses that lived in the Diaspora created various institutions of social and cultural community organizational character. In Vasilishok, there were two Hebrew schools, a Talmud Torah, a Jewish Folks Bank, a gemilut chesed, and other institution.

        These institutions were completely sustained through the Jewish population, without any support whatever from the Polish rules.

        Both the central Polish power and the local powers did not want to subsidize the Jewish institutions, though the Jews paid taxes in full measure.

        Great reverence and concern was shown by the Jewish communal organizations for education. Nothing was too difficult for crating the means to raise the children in the spirit of Judaism. Some put more stress on religious education. Others concerned themselves more with general studies.

        Vasilishok was blessed with talented businessmen who put their stamp on the events and activities in the shtetl. They showed a lot of initiative and devoted much time to create the financial means to support the institutions of the school.

        I want to mention here two wonderful people who belong to the above category of community works.

The Late Yakov KAUFMAN

        Yakov KAUFMAN was the shtetl's representative to the local Polish government. He represented the Jewish small merchants and the tax section of the circle.

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         In addition, he was active in many institutions of the shtetl and for every one of them, he devoted a lot of time.

        A good, honest person, with a loving smile on his face, he was always ready to help others. There was no welfare institution that Yakov KAUFMAN did not support generously. In this way, he provided a good example for many residents of the shtetl.

        Yakov KAUFMAN was a druggist. He had a storehouse. Unofficially, he prepared prescriptions. The Jewish and Christian intelligentsia of the shtetl used to gather in his house.

        During World War I, Kaufman was a leaseholder of a house [hoif]. In the years of hunger, he greatly supported the poor folk of the shtetl.

        In the difficult days of the Nazi occupation, I often talked with him about our tragic situation. After the first large slaughter, I spoke with him about going to the forest to the partisans. He was broken spiritually, dispirited and broken, without hope and resigned, with the remainder of the Jews from the Szczuczyn circle, he was led to the Lida ghetto.

        In September 1943, Kaufman was led out to Maidanek with the last two Jews of Lida circle. Together with him, his wife Lisa perished, as did his youngest son, Borke. His second son, Pavke, fell as a soldier of the Red Army during the fighting at Koenigsburg.

The Late Yisrael SHAPIRO

        Israel SHAPIRO was the most active participant and most tireless fighter for the Tarbut School in Vasilishok.

        He was active in all Zionist fundraising: JNF and Keren Hayesod.

        For many years, he was a member of the Jewish Kehilla and in the executive of the small Merchants' Farein [Association]. . This gave him wide opportunity for communal activity.

        Nobody could imagine the Tarbut School without Yisrael Shapiro. With exceptional devotion, he worried for the proper development of the Tarbut School, so that it would be able to educate the young generation in the spirit of national rebirth.

        Yisrael Shapiro perished with his whole family in the first "shchita" [slaughter] (10 May 1942)

        I only mentioned two of the most outstanding active ones with whom I was closely connected. The shtetl Vasilishok had other small merchants who contributed, whose memory is engraved in my memory.

Dr. Avraham ALPERT


A Photocopy of a Brochure, Published by the Vasilishok Society in America

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Types from the Shtetl


My father was called the NOVARIDKER Tinsmith
Made tinware and strainers and he did some roofing.
But tin dishes only Vasilishok made,
So what is a stranger doing here, the residents thought.

But, no 'tzores' were lacking in the shtetl.
Chaim the Baker needed a fortune for 'nadn'
And bakers there were in the shtetl any number.
Gesheften [stores] there also were many, let us not count.

There was Chaya Tzvia a true busybody.
Stores, businesses and mills were in her full operation
Smoked a cigarette as would suit a man
Also drove a horse and like a train.

But "Sender the Shamas" was a Haman
Beat us kids, we knew not why.
So we threw down the prayer reading stands
Then, he pulled at our ears and crowed like a rooster.

Zalman the Joker from Shiduchim did not earn a penny.
Hard as he worked, his income was small.
All his life, slept on Chaim-Asher's wagon or bench
A shtetl worker without pay or thanks.

Take, for instance, a Jew like Yankel the Bass
Could be seen baking bagels in the middle of the street.
And chazonim never had such a bass
The voice of a lion in an empty container.

And do you think that Leibe was crazy or not?
His face and eyes were clear and charming
It probably was fearful darkness
From seeking the aburund in the Talmud.

But who can name here all the people of the shtetl?
We have already turned over the faded yellow page.
The book is long though, it has no end,
It is old and new, like a nice legend.
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