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[Page 129]

Shumsk Through
Experiences & Memoirs

 

Editor's Note: The recollections in this section are about Shumsk, but they are not in chronological order. I hope that these chapters will be read to Jewish children so that they will know about and appreciate the life of our people in the diaspora. We also learn a great deal about Shumsk itself from these writings.
Ch. R. [Chaim Rabin]

[Pages 129-135]

The Move to Shumsk

by Yisrael Sudman

Translated by Sandy Bloom

 

 

Translation Project Coordinator's Note: Yisrael Sudman, son of Miriam (Shtriker) and Naftali Hirsh Sudman, was born in 1881. In 1900 he went from Vyshgorodok to Shumsk (about 25 miles away) to marry Sara Peltz, daughter of Menachem Mendel Peltz. He became very active in the religious, Zionist and communal life of Shumsk. He was later elected president of the Zionist organization in Shumsk. In 1934 Yisrael and his wife emigrated to Palestine, where they joined their daughter and son-in-law Esther and Pesach Lerner. Yisrael Sudman wrote these memories of episodes of his life in Shumsk shortly before he died in 1964. Yisrael was a very learned, scholarly person, and this is reflected in the Hebrew language he used in his writing.[1]

 

When I recall the town of Shumsk, I see it in my mind's eye as I saw it for the very first time in my life when I arrived there half a century ago to marry and settle there.

It was in the middle of the summer. The sun was burning, the winds were warm, and here I was in the company of my family, relatives and friends on wagons hitched to horses on the main road leading into the town, waiting for the reception party. In front of us we see our group on their horses. The riding horses sport saddle cloths of different colors, while the riders themselves have masks on their faces and colored pointed paper hats on their heads. They are singing a traditional Jewish wedding song and holding flags with the words of the song, “May we soon hear the sound of joy and happiness, the sound of the bridegroom and bride.”

Following them is a convoy of carriages from the bride's family, playing many kinds of musical instruments. Numerous people, men and women and children, follow them.

They transferred me to the carriage of my in-laws and placed me in the middle. I was overjoyed to see my dear brother-in-law, Mordechai Peltz, sitting next to me; and Shimon Wechsler, a very dear man, on the other side. We approached the town from the right and passed through the outlying part of Shumsk called “the New Town” and saw homes neatly spaced on a hill. There were numerous people of all ages crowded on the sidewalks, until we reached the town center. There I saw shops set up around a square. We were taken on a walk through the marketplace; my dear brother-in-law explained to me that that is the custom here. The musical instruments were playing; the city was full of people. That evening we had the “seuda (feast) for the bridegroom,” which was held in the home of my future father-in-law. There was a hall for the dancing and a number of rooms where the meal was served, including a large room set aside to serve the poor of the town who had been invited for the meal.

On the following day, I walked to the open square in front of the great synagogue to the sounds of joyous singing; candles and flares were burning even though it was still daylight. Words cannot describe the magnificent vision. I was impressed how the streets of the city extended out in four directions, completely straight, reaching up to the large, holy synagogue. The entire surroundings were impressive.

In front of my very eyes, waiting under the bridal canopy, I saw the town's venerable Rabbi Mordechai, his face shining and his eyes lit up. I immediately sensed his special presence.

I digress here to tell a story about this illustrious rabbi: Some time after the wedding, I went with my father-in-law to visit Rabbi Mordechai. The rabbi told my father-in-law that I, his son-in-law, am closely related to his family, and that he should “keep me healthy and strong.” The rabbi thought that I looked a bit weak and had lost some weight. He explained to my father-in-law that I probably was very scrupulous to not eat anything until after the morning prayers but had always eaten breakfast then. But now in Shumsk, he said, I went to the Beit Midrash (study hall in the synagogue) where I prayed the morning prayers at sunrise and then immediately continued with the morning session of studying Gemara (Talmud) and thus I only ate breakfast much later in the day. “And this is not right,” Rabbi Mordechai said. “My father told me that after he married the [daughter of the] Tzadik of Radzivilov, he would spend a long time in prayer and then study until after midday. One day, when his father -- my grandfather --visited him, my grandfather intimated to him that it's better to drink and eat a bit in the mornings, in order to pray with a pure heart -- and not to pray in order to eat and drink. I have always remembered these wise words.”

Now I will continue my narrative about the wedding.

On the day of the wedding, there was also much joy in the streets as musicians played while the bride danced; they call this the olishina. I cannot describe the great happiness of all the participants, which included almost all the town's residents. I saw how my father-in-law Menachem Mendel Peltz was a good friend of Herzl Millman. Herzl was a melamed -- a teacher -- who taught the young children as well as being a counselor for the teenage Zionists. These two men had married on the same day, in my hometown of Vyshgorodok, and continued to study Torah together there in the kloyz (small synagogue), after their marriage. Also, many of my old friends came to take part in my joyous wedding; they were friends I had made earlier when we had met at [a sermon by] an Admor, the Magid of Trisk.[2] Even though they lived far away, they made the long trip.

On Shabbat, I went to the small shul near the alleyway of the Beit Medrash called the Oliker Kloyz. I went down the steps, and saw that the heater lacked a chimney. I decided, then and there, that I would fix that heater, as befits a proper kloyz; and I did not rest till it was done. I prayed in that kloyz every single day, I learned Torah there and in the Beit Medrash HaGadol (the large study hall). That was where I became acquainted with a superb student of Talmud, Feibush, who wanted to learn the laws of Yorah Deyah according to the Or HaChaim with me.

Slowly but surely I became acquainted with almost all of the town's residents; proper and upright Jews, both in their outward behavior and in their inner beliefs. […] We lived together, in peace and harmony, like one family.

* * *

But there are amongst us people who are under the influence of Satan, the yetzer ha'ra (Evil Inclination): people who pursue honor, who create dissension, like Korach in his generation, Dotan and Aviram in theirs. Even Shumsk was no exception, and a small group of people planted seeds of dissension between the rabbis and ritual slaughterers (shochetim). This led to the desecration of God's name.

 

[The following three paragraphs are the translator's summarization, rather than translation, because of the dense and archaic language.]

Sudman devotes several paragraphs to criticizing a small group of people in the town for creating dissension and desecrating God's name, but without explaining the specifics of their actions. He does state that one of the ritual slaughterers, Yitzhak, “an upright man, with all the attributes of justice and honesty who feeds the poor from his own limited meals” was “weakened” due to the dissension. Yitzhak and his brother Binyamin, who is also portrayed in a positive light, both were imprisoned by the non-Jewish authorities, because of what the “small group” did.

The dissension developed in such a way that there were townspeople who would only eat the meat slaughtered by one of the slaughterers and not the other.

The author then writes about the birth of his “only son” and the subsequent brit milah (circumcision), which was supposed to be held in the house of his father-in-law, followed by the traditional seudah (festive meal). Yisrael Sudman's father-in-law had been scrupulous not to be involved at all in the dispute. In order to avoid any further dissension, the author and his father-in-law decided to invite two rabbis, two mohels and two shochets -- one from each side of the controversy.to the brit -- and also to invite additional important rabbis from other towns and a well-known mohel from the town of Yampol to perform the circumcision. This way, they would anger no one. But it turned out that the circumcision had to be pushed off and thus the invited rabbis and mohel from out of town could not attend. Instead only the feuding rabbis attended, but lo and behold, they no longer feuded: happy ending for all. In the words of the author, “I saw, with my own eyes, that there was no hatred or jealousy between them, nor between the town residents. It was not hard to restore peace, brotherhood and love between all – once the instigators were removed from the picture.”

I consulted with a good friend and neighbor, Yonah Kreizelman. Together, a committee of two, we sold shekalim[3] to many Jews in Shumsk even though this was considered illegal by the Russian government authorities. We were both deeply touched by the great idea of the revival of our people and of the return to Zion and succeeded in kindling this idea in the hearts of many, many Jews of Shumsk, among them the rabbis and ritual slaughterers, including the late Rabbi Zusya Aharon Rozin.

Then, all the Jews of Shumsk were invited to a general assembly; the assembly was to choose an executive board regarding taxation and tax collection. (Only Jews had to pay two additional taxes, a kosher meat tax and a ritual slaughter tax.) By this time, most of the Jews were sick and tired of the infighting and dissension, so they chose someone who was not affiliated with any “side”: my father-in-law, Menachem Mendel, an upright and honest man. He demanded that the salaries for rabbis and ritual slaughterers be reinstated. Then he handed over the administration of all this to me, and blessed me to restore peace in the community.

Thus we brought the rabbis and ritual slaughterers to reconciliation. The local Jews got used to having two leading rabbis and inviting them both to family celebrations, and to buying and eating kosher meat from different slaughterers, and social ties were restored.

 


The Jewish National Fund Corps in Shumsk,
18 Tamuz 5695 (July 19, 1935)
[4]

 

* * *

Another important issue that arose was the government's demand that we fix and renovate the one and only public bathhouse (which also contained the ritual bath) in our town. When this was not done, the bathhouse was closed down. This was terrible for the town in general, and especially in the winter when everyone suffered from not having a place to bathe. The women were forced to go to other towns to use their mikvaot (ritual baths.) Finally, a well-respected person named Yaakov Chazen took it upon himself to fix and set up the bathhouse; then another fellow, Leib Yaninger, agreed to lease the site and manage it. We, representatives of the community, made the following agreement with Yaninger: The place would be heated three times a week, entrance was free for those who only wished to use the mikvah, and minimal prices were set for the use of the showers/bathtubs. Everyone was happy, everyone got along, like one happy family.

Under my leadership, we succeeded in creating a [Jewish] national revival in the hearts of the townspeople. We held various Zionist fundraising campaigns over the years, especially: the “sale of shekalim” and Keren HaYesod campaigns, and use of the Keren Kayemet boxes that we distributed to all the homes. Zionist youths participated in these campaigns. Every month, more money was contributed.

One day I went to the rabbi with a Keren Kayemet box, and suggested that he might want to contribute to such an important mitzvah (good deed), while I quoted, “The land shall be redeemed.” He said, “There are other organizations that are collecting for the settling of the Land of Israel.” I answered what I answered, then I added, “Actions are being taken these days to acquire land for housing projects; the land must also be revived so that we may plant trees and more.” At that point, the gracious rebbetzin (rabbi's wife) accepted the KK box with her husband's permission; and every month, there was money in the box.

I also approached Pinchas, a scion of tzadikim (holy ones), and explained about the importance of building up our holy land and about the Keren HaYesod campaign. Willingly he agreed and signed his name.

I must make special mention of another special Jew, Rabbi Beirinyo, who was also blessed with special yichus (family pedigree). He was not only a righteous judge; he also was involved in good deeds and charity, and not involved in politics. He literally risked his own life to save others during times of emergency; he acted with great devotion and dedication.

* * *

Earlier I mentioned the Olikar Kloyz -- the small shul -- near the alleyway of the Beit Medrash HaGadol. It was small, had a low ceiling and was uncomfortable. Most of the men who came to pray there were from villages near the town. One of them, an elderly but very knowledgeable man, was Zvi Neta. Once, we walked together after Yom Kippur was over, all the way from the shul to Zvi's house. I saw how tired and weary the elderly man was from the long walk, after a fast day. I told him that it's time we think about finding a more appropriate site in his area to erect a real synagogue. He immediately said, “I am willing to donate the plot of land next to my house, for such an important mitzvah.”

It didn't take long; on Sukkot I announced to those who attended the shul that we had a plot of land on which to build. Everyone unanimously agreed to participate in the construction of a synagogue named the “Oliker Kloyz” on that same plot. The Vilskers were the first of the founders and, slowly but surely, a magnificent house of worship was built. Still, I didn't feel it was complete. I added a hall before the entrance; the hall led into a room for the shamash (caretaker) and guard. I built a women's section upstairs. Within the synagogue itself, I placed a very special shulchan (table on which the Torah scroll is read) built and decorated by Mattityahu Geller and his sons, a true work of art.

Still, the Holy Ark was unadorned, simple. So I took apart the Eastern wall and built a place for a proper Holy Ark. […] I adorned the Holy Ark with decorations, paintings, and well-known inscriptions such as, “Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven.” Finally, it was time to transfer the Holy Ark into its new venue. A large crowd participated in the ritual, singing and dancing while moving the Holy Ark. It was a truly joyous occasion.

Our kloyz was a magnet for the young people of Shumsk. I recall how one very important, respected rabbi came to visit us and talk at a general meeting of our kloyz. He said, “Here, in this synagogue, I actually sense the atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) in this room.” And it seemed to me that all the young people who entered our synagogue felt the same way.

Yes, I was in charge of that Beit Knesset, but not for honor or esteem. I was never paid, and I even made someone else the gabbai (beadle). I did organize the aliyot to the Torah, making sure that all were given this honor; young and old, large and small. The costs of the shul were covered by the participants who made monthly contributions -- each according to his ability.

Footnotes

  1. Yisrael Sudman's manifold activities in Shumsk and in the Land of Israel, especially those connected with helping survivors of the Holocaust from Shumsk, are described in chapters in this book written by Yitzchak Geler (pages 211-213) and Yaakov Weiner (pages 214-216) and in a letter written in 1967 specifically for publication in this yizkor book by Sara and Yisrael Sudman's nephew Akiva Peltz, son of Chaya Zisel (also known as Ida) and Mordechai Peltz (also known as Max Peltz). Akiva Peltz (also known as Keith Peltz) lived in the United States, in Omaha, Nebraska, at that time. Return
  2. Admor is an acronym for “Adonainu, Morainu, VeRabbeinu,” a phrase meaning “Our Master, Our Teacher, and Our Rabbi.” This is an honorific title given to great Hasidic leaders. A magid is an itinerant Jewish preacher. Return
  3. The “shekel” was a kind of membership dues for the nascent Zionist movement. Return
  4. There is no photo caption in the original yizkor book. The date is in the star formation at the bottom, and the identification of the group is in the handheld sign, which also notes the participation of “Y. Hiftman.” Yoseph Hiftman was a Zionist who traveled from Palestine to Eastern Europe in 1934 on a speaking tour of many small Jewish communities, fundraising for Zionist projects. Judging from Yisrael Sudman's photo on page 219 of this book, the man second from right in the top row of this picture is Sudman. Return


 

[Pages 136-137]

Shumsk of Blessed Memory

by Rafael Sapir

Translated by Sandy Bloom

Note: Rafael Sapir (the name originally was Sforim) was on the editorial board for this yizkor book and wrote three chapters, including the chapter “Rabbi Beirinyo,” about Rabbi Yisroel Dov Ber Lerner, beginning on page 188

Shumsk was a town like all the others: a traditional, typical Jewish Volhynian town with all its lights and shadows, its happy occasions and tragic ones, its community leaders and institutions. But it had special qualities which distinguished it from many other similar towns -- its many wonderful people, its originality, steadfastness, and determination.

I became acquainted with the town beginning in 1915; we moved to Shumsk that year as refugees from another town in the Russian Empire but which was near the border with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and which had fallen to the latter's army. I only lived in Shumsk for a number of years, I wasn't an “old timer.” But even this short time span was enough to show me how special were the Jews living there; all holy, precious Jews who died the death of martyrs. I cannot possibly describe all of them but I have written about a few, those who made a major impression on me, and may these figures represent the rest

I close my eyes, and Shumsk appears in my mind's eye. I see the town's market, surrounded by a square of buildings. Close to them are the homes of Shumsk's poor, filled with Jews who worked hard to earn their livelihood. In my mind's eye I also see Shumsk's youths, who work with dedication and enthusiasm for Eretz Israel

 


In the forest of the Shumsk martyrs[1]

 

I close my eyes once again and this time, I see Shumsk's pride and joy: The Gorka, the lovely grove of trees on the hilltop. Stalks of grain encircle the Gorka and “guard” the forest, full of magic. Here is the river, surrounded by meadows; people sail in boats on the river under the moonlight and enjoy the lovely sights. Now I sniff the scent of hay and of spelt fields. It was here, in these meadows on the riverbank, where we absorbed the spirit of the revival of the Jewish people and created a vision of redemption. Our witnesses were the moon and the stars.

And now I recall the people of Shumsk; in my mind's eye, I see them in their way of life, in their piety and study of Torah, in sad times and happy ones. Happy times -- in weddings, for example, there is natural, not artificial, joy. The mother-in-law dances in honor of the couple, with lit candles in her hands that add to the inner light emanating from her face.

Who knows how many days of effort preceded the wedding, how many days the woman denied herself food; how many sleepless nights preceded the event. Perhaps tomorrow she will be unhappy, creditors will come to collect their debt -- but now all that is still far away.

This mother's joy is complete: She has reached a pinnacle in her life, and has been blessed to witness the continuation of the next generation. But alas, that was not to be. An enemy destroyed those plans -- forever.

Footnote

  1. In the hills overlooking the road to Jerusalem, the Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael (Jewish National Fund) funded the planting of trees to create a forest to memorialize Jewish communities that had been decimated in the Holocaust. Each community had an area, with funds raised by people from that town, and people would go to see "their forest." In this photo, apparently taken early on in the Shumsk project, Esther (Sudman) Lerner is sitting above the big rock. Her father, Yisrael Sudman, is second from right. Return


 

[Pages 138-139]

To Shumsk from the Heart

by Mordechai Gervitz

Translated by Sandy Bloom

Notes: Mordechai Gervitz was born in Shumsk to Josef Fischel Gerwic and Hana (Roichman). He was a grandson of Dov and Golda Gerwic. Mordechai Gervitz lost his entire family in the Holocaust except for his sister Zahava, who had emigrated to Palestine in 1936. Mordechai's first wife and their 3-year-old daughter, Shifra, were killed. His brother and sister Eliezer and Rachel perished with his parents in Shumsk. His brother Yitzchak, who served as an officer in the Russian army during World War II, was declared missing in action by military authorities. His married sister, Chaya Rosenberg, and her daughter were killed in Lanowitz. Mordechai Gervitz wrote two other chapters in this Yizkor Book (his picture appears on page 96) and served as the secretary of the Shumsk Organization in Israel. He passed away in December 1986.

 

When I bring up memories of my hometown Shumsk, I am surprised to discover that my heart still yearns for that place. I had thought that would not happen after so many years had passed, but I was wrong. On the contrary: my emotions regarding my hometown have only gotten stronger. Even when I hear someone mention a city in the Ukraine, our unforgettable town of Shumsk appears before my eyes.

On the day that it was decided to publish a book, I pondered and mulled over the idea. How will I be part of that project, and what should I write about?

I thought that perhaps I would describe the personalities of the different people in the town; or commemorate the development of the educational and cultural institutions while emphasizing the town's physical structure, street, shacks and modern buildings that have sprouted in recent years. One of its streets was the marketplace with its old, dilapidated stores that seemed ready to fall; also new stores, and the weekly market that was the source of the livelihoods of a large section of the town's residents. I could also describe Ukraine's typical landscape with its gray expanses that extended the length of the Vilya waterway, which fed into the Horyn river. Or perhaps the grove, called “Gorka” in Polish; we used to hike there on Jewish holidays, in the shade of the pine trees.

Perhaps I should describe those memories that are deeply engraved in my heart, regarding the Friday eves, Jewish holidays and religious festivals celebrated by the Jewish population.

I thought about listing the invasions of foreign armies into our town, the change of regimes when the [first] world war broke out. Since our town was on the very border, Shumsk suffered greatly from these events.

I am aware that myself and many others like me are likely to repeat information that others have already provided. We have the need to pour out our hearts regarding all the events and people that formed our personalities and left major impressions on our souls; many of these people are no longer alive today.

For example, I bring up the name of Rabbi Beirinyo,[1] may he rest in peace. Our house stood directly opposite his; we used to see him coming and going. The rabbi embodied every positive feature a human being can have. In my mind's eye I can still visualize his imposing, majestic figure and unforgettable, heartwarming smile. Rabbi B., with the invisible, holy crown on his head, was venerated by all. We lament the great loss of our deceased, irreplaceable rabbi.

I will mention the Jews in our town who, on Shabbos, would search for Jews to invite for a Shabbos meal. This was despite the fact that the local Jew himself could barely make a living. Or the local Jews would help others by giving charity in secret, especially to those who had become impoverished but could not bring themselves to beg for charity.

One of these Jews was, for example, Reb Binyamin Shochet, of blessed memory, who welcomed everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, with great hospitality. Shochet would share his last piece of bread with his fellow man; he was happy with his lot, he would gladden the bride and groom on their wedding day, and was very active in the town's various charity enterprises. He brought in Shabbos early, and only parted from it very late (he extended the Purim holiday as well). It was as if a beam of light accompanied his every move, and a halo lit up his Jewish face.

I will not skip over the dozens of Jews who lived in villages surrounding Shumsk. These were good Jews who did all kinds of jobs to support their families, and tried very hard to educate their children.

I will never forget Reb Yosef Lerner the barber; his was a mixture of the simple proletarian who tried to help his fellow Jew anonymously, without publicizing his good deeds. Lerner's fatherly comments to the younger generation were spiced with sayings and jokes, hints rather than outright criticisms.

I will never forget the day that I became a student in the Tarbut school. It started out in the women's section of the Great Bet Knesset; my very first teacher to teach me Hebrew was Rafael Sapir (originally Sefarim).

As we know, the school was founded before it was legally authorized by the Polish government. The initiative to have it authorized came from the School Committee (including my father, of blessed memory), who expended great efforts. The license was received in Kremenets, and the school took up its official residence in the home of Mrs. Brientza Roichman, of blessed memory. The teachers were: Ackerman, Herman, Groman, Polyakovna Monderer, Mordechai Zilber (religious Torah study), Vinokur, and Tzvi Rosenberg (Segal), may he live a long life.

We all remember the library in the Roichman house, which became an integral part of the lives of the Shumsk youths.

The academic level of the Shumsk institutions was high, and they had much influence over the Jewish population. The cultural institutions in particular were a source of inspiration for the youths, from which they drew their nationalist pride and longings for redemption.

The Roichman house was also host to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Keren Hayesod committees. These organizations grew and developed over time in making serious fundraising efforts and house calls to empty the blue JNF donation boxes. They also held various parties including on Chanukah and Purim, in order to raise money for the organizations.

I have tried above to describe our town briefly, especially in the spheres of culture and education. May the names I mentioned be remembered forever and may they be written in the Book of Life of our eternal nation. These people were the ones to inspire us and give us life, the life of the Jew with national pride who continues to exist despite all the efforts of our enemies: those who hate Zion and Jerusalem.

Footnote

  1. Rabbi Beirinyo was Yisroel Dov Ber Lerner. He was born in 1867 and died in 1919 during a typhus epidemic after he had been wounded in the head during a pogrom. He is pictured and described in detail by Rafael Sapir in the chapter of this Yizkor Book beginning on page188. Return


[Pages 140-143]

Shumsk – Landscape of My Youth

by Simcha Roich

Translated by Sandy Bloom

Notes: Simcha Roich died July 13, 1982, and is buried in Holon Cemetery near Tel Aviv, Israel. On his gravestone it says (in Hebrew): “Simcha Roich, son of Yoel Zelig, from Shumsk; among the builders of our Land.”

 

In 1925, I went on aliyah with Shmuel Yukelson.

We were the first two Shumsk halutzim (pioneers) from the Fourth Aliyah.

Forty-one years have passed since then. I have never visited Shumsk again, and my heart sometimes yearns to visit the town of my youth. But Shumsk has long ceased to exist in reality.

I do visit that town frequently in my memories; I sink into the lovely past and recall the town's personality, its sights and seasons, the people who lived there, its sunsets. I recall the days of my youth, the town's streets, the simple members of the community. It is all mixed up in my mind: people and landscape, sun and heartfelt emotions – are all combined in my memory into one unit.

Yes, Shumsk was the cradle of our personalities, our native country where we learned to seek a real homeland. It was the potter's wheel which impelled its children to yearn for a land of their own, without forgetting the few simple pleasures of the town in which we were born.

* * *

Spring, beauty and joy, Passover – Shavuot. The sun is setting slowly in a variety of hues behind Rachmanov, the old city that preceded Shumsk but decayed and turned into a village. Now its red line is reflected in the river that separates Rachmanov and Shumsk and continues until behind the city's bathhouse. That is where the well-respected Naftali Pomeranc from Surazh lived. Everyone knew him and especially his daughter, the prettiest of the Shumsk girls, called Ita Pomeranc. You could hear Naftali Pomeranc from afar when he laughed; his energetic chortles sounded like the shofar blows, and they were contagious. He also had a pleasant singing voice and assisted the cantor in the great synagogue on the High Holy Days as a kind of contribution of his God-given talent as a tenor. All the young men were attracted to his beautiful daughter; they watched her when she walked outside and listened to her singing Russian songs with an authentic Russian accent, as if she had been born that way. She had studied in Nikolaev where she acquired a higher education: Russian literature, music and poetry. Then she returned home as a perfect Slav without any connection to Judaism, even though she was clearly aware of her Jewish origins. She could not put down Jewish roots again and her soul was divided; she was a sacrificial victim of the foreign culture she was “forced” to acquire since she lacked a culture of her own. Indeed, she married a (non-Jewish) Polish veterinarian, and no one knew what happened to her afterwards.

 

*

A typical evening in which we stroll around Shumsk.

Our leisurely walks around the town were a way in which we could escape the narrow domains of community, home, tradition, and atrophy. Our hearts were drawn to the redemptive journey; perhaps it would bring us to the beloved Land.

 

 

We'd start by the Catholic church close to Shimon Duchovny's. Then we'd pass the homes of Ita-Fayge, of Mordish, of the Krajzelmans and Feival's grocery store; then walk via the wide market. We'd pass by the home of Malka, who was Pesach Lerner's mother, then reach Avraham Moshe Gejlichen's, continue on and pass by Dovid Shteinberg's and Nachman Milman's; we'd hop on the wooden sidewalks which were about a half-meter wide. We entered the alleyways in which lived the town's poor and penniless, and also the workmen and craftsmen. Then, afterwards, we reached a respectable street: here live the shoe-maker, tailor, hat-maker; Pinni's house, Mendil's, the merchant, the honey-merchant; his honor the Rabbi -- the “new” rabbi who has long since moved to the town but is still referred to as “new.” The new rabbi had a graceful daughter Rachel who became part of our crowd and she was friends with the boys as well.

And there in the corner is Hasya Roichman's home, from there the voices of the choir pierce the air. The conductor of the choir was the late Meir Ackerman. So much joy, energy and conviction! Thus, the Shumsk youths sing their hearts out, thinking about aliyah, rejoicing, believing in the future of our people; boys and girls and adults too, members of the Hechalutz movement. And the various songs: Let us go to war; cheers for the Maccabim; young men of our people, rejoice and be happy day and night, and more. The songs sharply penetrate the air, calling on every young boy and girl, and they are drawn to this place. There is no better publicity for Eretz Israel than this singing which calls upon every boy and girl to join Hechalutz, to build the Land, to fight and to work.

Next to Hasya Roichman was the home of Reb Eliyahu and Miriam Roichman. In this house was the town's community center and library, the center of Hechalutz and the young people; hardly a day passed that we didn't frequent this venue. It was a warm, pleasant home for all the city's good sons; the family members including the parents were good friends of us all; Manush, Pessy Roichman and Tzipora Roichman were our true friends. I will never forget this wonderful home.

*

One day we leave home at sunrise to take a hike in the direction of Surazh-Chodak, and A. C., a girl, joins us. We go by the homes of Kovka Berensztejn, Yudil the son of Gershon, Fayge “the Stolirka,” continuing via the lovely Divan alley with the gardens. That's where Izak Miller the plaster-builder lives and his brother Michael Molar the house painter, and also Shmuel Bleicher the tinsmith. We walk via the vegetable-patch footpath to the large flour mill that belongs to Kovka Berensztejn, Yankil Mechil Lazarus and Avraham Wilskier. We cross the bridge to walk on the path (the path is on the banks of the Vilya river), crossing the lovely, flowering meadow, treading on the fragrant grass and walking alongside the river stream leading to Surazh and Chodak. Surrounding us was a wide variety of colored flowers on the flat ground. Our ears were filled with the tweeting of birds, of reptiles, insects and jumping bugs. The hum of the insects and birds and the splashing of the water – all this, filled our hearts with great joy and a desire to live in this wonderful, sumptuous universe!

We walked along the coast of the river and reached Surazh, a large village. From there we continued via bridges and streams, hills and valleys on the way to Chodak, the “kingdom” of Reb Yoel-Zelig Rojch, known as the Chodaker, the only Jewish family in a non-Jewish village.

And here is the Chodak flour mill; this was leased to Reb Yisrael Sudman, may he rest in peace, a former Shumsk person, a Zionist in heart and deed.

The hike involved sleeping in the village. Something about that gave us a sense of throwing off the chains of old, dry traditions and conventions. The moon was bright, the view was wonderful and our hearts taste the Land of Israel, to which we intended to spend most of our lives.

The next day, we returned to Shumsk.

On the way, we'd bathe in the cool river water. Once again, we walk via the green, flowery lowland; what a magical, godly carpet with flowers – tulips.

We return home to Shumsk.

*

Friday nights in Shumsk; young fellows meet up with girls on the wide, paved street. They stroll to behind the cemetery, to Gorka. There the Shumsk youths, boys and girls, allow themselves to spend time together. and there was no better way to pass the time in those innocent days than to sing, jump, run, tell jokes, discuss literature and compare Russian and Hebrew. And especially to dream; to distance ourselves, if only for a short time, if only in a dream, from our beloved Shumsk, rooted as it was in the diaspora. During these Shabbatot, the blossoms of “first loves” emerged. Here, on the background of this landscape of nature, first loves developed.

*

This is Shumsk in my memories. The city of youth and longing, the basis of great dreams in our hearts.

We will not forget it.

 

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