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[Page 327]



[Pages 327-328]

A Letter from America to the Yizkor Book
from Akiva ben Mordechai Peltz

Translated by Robert Stein

Note: Akiva Peltz (1906-2000) was one of seven children born in Shumsk to Chaya Zissel (Peltz) and Mordechai Peltz. He immigrated to the United States in 1921. In the U.S., Akiva was known as Keith and his parents were called Ida and Max. Keith was the maternal grandfather of Robert Stein, who translated this letter.

I was requested to write something about my memories of Shumsk for the Yizkor Book. I don't remember much except for one experience connected with my beloved uncle, Reb[1] Yisrael Sudman[2] , who was known for his humility and scrupulous honesty. Among his many blessed qualities was also an affinity for public service. He was one of the daily worshipers at the kloyz named for the rabbi from Oliki.[3] This kloyz was situated in a narrow corridor inside the Beit Midrash[4], and my uncle initiated the construction of a separate synagogue for these worshipers. The lack of a synagogue had already been felt in the south of our town, near the neighborhood called “the new town.”


Eliyahu Roichman


Among those who also contributed to the construction of the synagogue I remember the late Zvi Neta Roichman and his sons Eliyahu, Isaac, and Yosef who donated a large plot of land in the vicinity of their orchards and gardens; my grandfather Reb Menachem Mendel Peltz[5], who as a lumber merchant donated lumber; the late Reb Lipa Wilskier and his sons Zvi, Shimon, Avraham, and Azriel; the late Reb Sander Offengendler[6], the late Yaakov Greenberg, and a number of others whose names I don't remember.

After the funds were procured my uncle Yisrael devoted all his energy and enthusiasm and dedication to executing the construction. He devoted day and night to all the technical and engineering tasks, drafting and drawing with his own hands. With his guidance an elaborate synagogue — and a magnificent holy ark, for which he traveled specially to Ostrog to copy parts of the ark of the Maharsha Synagogue — were erected. Under his inspiration many symbols were also placed in the synagogue. For example, there were 12 windows, each symbolizing one of the 12 tribes of Israel, and other things of that nature. Customs were adopted in this synagogue that were not found in any other synagogue in our town. For example, the aliyot for the Torah reading[7] were divided equally among all worshipers, whether rich or poor, and not given to the highest bidder. The late Zvi Geler, who was an ardent Zionist, unfurled the national flag with the Star of David, especially on the holiday of Simchat Torah; and it was carried around at the head of the hakafot[8] through the marketplace, accompanied by Zionist and Hasidic songs. This served as an attraction to the young people in the town. Over the years this synagogue also served as the venue for Zionist lectures, meetings and conferences.

The most significant and moving experience was the day when the newly completed holy ark was transferred from my uncle's home to the synagogue, accompanied by the sounds of musical instruments. All of the townspeople, including children and the elderly, participated in this rare mitzvah. The face of my uncle, who walked at the head of this dignified procession, shone with happiness.

I will never forget this my entire life.

Akiva son of Mordechai
A grandson of Aryeh and Menachem Mendel Peltz
Omaha, Nebraska, USA

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Reb, the Yiddish pronunciation of the Hebrew word Rav, is an honorific similar to “Mr.” Return
  2. An English translation of Yisrael Sudman's contribution to the Shumsk Yizkor Book, “The Move to Shumsk,” is on pages 129-135. Yisrael Sudman was married to Sarah, daughter of Menachem Mendel Peltz. Sarah was the sister of Chaya Zissel (Peltz) Peltz, known in America as Ida Peltz. Ida was Akiva/Keith Peltz's mother. Return
  3. A kloyz is a small synagogue. This was one was called the Oliker Kloyz. Return
  4. A Beit Midrash is a study hall or Jewish school, often located within a synagogue or other building. It is distinct from a synagogue, although many synagogues are also used as such places of study and vice versa. Return
  5. Menachem Mendel Peltz was the maternal grandfather of Akiva/Keith Peltz. Return
  6. The surname Offengendler became Gendler in the United States. Sander Offengendler's son Alter Gendler married Akiva Peltz's sister Esther in Shumsk prior to immigration to America. Return
  7. Aliyot (Heb.), plural of aliyah: Literally “going up,” an aliyah is the calling of a member of a Jewish congregation to go up to the bimah (a raised platform where the Torah is read) for a segment of Torah reading. The person has the honor of reciting blessings over the Torah before and after the Torah portion is read. Return
  8. Hakafot (Heb.), plural of Hakafah: Literally meaning “circles,” or “to circle,” hakafot are traditional Jewish dancing or walking processions around a certain object. On Simchat Torah the custom is to take the Torah scrolls out of the ark and to encircle the reader's platform and proceed throughout the synagogue with great joy, singing and dancing. Return


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