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[Page 505]

Reb Shlomo Chasid
(Reb Shlomo Shepsenwohl)

by David Cohen (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

Translation edited by Jerrold Landau


Shlomo “Chasid” Shepsenwohl


There was never a minyan (i.e. a quorum of ten) of Hassidim in Volozhin. The people of Volozhin would say that if one more Hassid was added, and there was a chance that there might be a minyan, one of the Hassidim would pass away. Amongst the few Hassidim, there was a Slonim Hassid named Shlomo Chasid, who merited the description Malach (angel). He acquired this name by virtue of this story: Shlomole's legs became sick, and an operation was necessary. When he awakened after surgery and realized that they had amputated one leg, he groaned and said, “It is unfortunate that I will no longer be able to dance in a group.” When the Rebbe heard this, he said, “This story is fitting for an angel.”[1] The Rebbe said about him that his mind is greater than his heart.

I got to know this Hassid from Sabbath nights when we students would sit together and sing. I began with a typical Slonim melody. Then the door opened, and a Jew with a white beard, lame with his single leg, entered and asked with great emotion, “Who is this who is singing the Slonim melody?” From that point, I would visit him on Sabbath nights. He acted in accordance with the custom of Hassidim of Slonim, who do not sleep on Sabbath eves. He would sit alone in his home, and “recite” the melody with his radiant countenance. When he reached the hymn, full of longing: “G-d, I long for the pleasantness of the Sabbath” (Kah Echsof), his voice would rise as if it were stemming from the depths of the depths. I would forget that I had distanced myself from Hassidism. I would follow after him with devotion and an outpouring of the soul, “Holy Sabbath, my soul is sick with your love.” The Jews of Volozhin, even including some of the Yeshiva students, would stand outside and listen. One would state, “There is no minyan of Hassidim in Volozhin, but indeed there is Hassidism.”

Shlomo told me: “Once, I stood before the Admor of Slonim, and he asked me, ‘Shlomole, how are you able to worship with the Misnagdim every day and every Sabbath?’ I responded, ‘Before I enter the synagogue, I say to myself: Behold, I am entering the meadow. Many bulls are walking and mooing, and you are the only human among them.’ The face of the Admor clouded over and he said, ‘How can you look upon so many Jews as if they are bulls? Rather say: Many humans are in the meadow, and there is only one bull among them.’ This is the parable that accompanies me all my life, not to disparage others.”

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[2]Mr. Binyamin Shapir (Shishko) notes: “When I was in Tiberias on Purim of the year 5727 (1967), in the synagogue of the Slonimer Hassidim in Kiryat Shmuel, I heard from an old man, Reb Moshe, may he live long and well, wonderful stories about the spiritual greatness of Reb Shlomo Chasid.” Here is one song of our Reb Shlomo[3]

No lambs, no herds
No wife, no children.
Only Yismechu Bemalchutecha[4] Editor's note: This song is brought down in Zichron Rishonim in the name of Rabbi Gadol. No gold or silver
No lambs or herds
No wife or children –
Only in Your Kingdom alone!

(This song is published in Hillel Zeitlin's book “Introduction to Hassidism in the way of Chabad” Farlang Publishing, New York, page 263.)

“Anyone who is anguished over a living soul among Israel causes benefit to his generation; and anyone who erects a monument to those souls that have passed on, it is as if he has sustained an entire world, a world that had gone on to be destroyed. These people stand before you and demand a rectification: we have drawn, we have written a book, so that the latter generation shall know.”

(Sholom Aleichem, introduction to “Between Man and his Fellow”)

Translator's Footnotes

  1. There is a Jewish tradition that an angel only has one leg. Return
  2. At this point, Eilat Gordin Levitan refers the reader to the story about Reb Shlomo Chasid on page 426 of this book. Return
  3. The song is written in English, with a “free translation” (i.e. non-literal translation) into Hebrew at the side. Return
  4. Literally “Let them rejoice in Your kingdom,” a phrase from the Sabbath Shacharit Amida. “Let those who observe the Sabbath and call it a delight rejoice in Your kingdom.” Return

[Page 506]

Figures I Knew

By Reuven Rogovin


Oizer (Eyzer) Der Raznoshtshik (Oizer the Postman)

I knew Reb Oizer the Postman well. He was called: “Diedushka (Grandfather) Yevzier.” He was about seventy years old, with a solid build, an above average height, and a square, chestnut-colored beard (reminiscent of Czar Nikolai Aleksander's beard). In summer as in winter he always wore

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a cape (pelerina) and a large bag overflowing with mail over it.

By what merit did he attain such a government position? By the merit that he had served as a Cantonist, a dedicated and faithful soldier of the Czar, and had earned a medal for outstanding service. He received good recommendations when he left the army, through which he was accepted as a “servant of the state.” He was the only Jewish mail carrier in the entire region.

As he walked, laden with his mailbag to the point of weariness, all the children would run after him yelling, “Diedushka Yevzier, is there letter?” He would turn his head toward them in a sternway and respond, “Nikak Niet!” [“There is none!”] This response was insufficient for us tykes, and we would chase after him shouting loudly: “Diedushka Yevzier, pisma iz do?” [“Grandfather Oizer, is there a letter?”] He would stop in his normal kindly way and say “Riebiata pierestantia shalit!” [Children, stop your mischief!]. This warning scared us, and we left him alone until the following morning.

When the cantor in the synagogue chanted “He Who grants salvation to kings and authority to princes,” the prayer for the welfare of the Czar and his family, Reb Oizer the mail carrier would stand at attention the entire time, with dignity and respect, until the end of the prayer.

During the First World War, the Volozhin Jews would engage in “politics” in the synagogue, and would debate amongst themselves, arguing which side would defeat the other: Germany will defeat Russia, or Russia will defeat Germany. Reb Oizer remained faithful to the Romanov Dynasty and provided with signs and portents that the Czar who gave him his bread would overcome.


Reb Chaim der Shnayder (the Tailor)


Rabbi Chaim der Shnayder (Chaim Tzirulnik) and his wife Chaike


The elder [literally Grandfather] Mendele Mocher Seforim of blessed memory wrote: “As the Jews among the nations of the world, so the artisans are held in low respect and humiliation among the Jews.” (From his book: “In those days,” Chapter 12). These words

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do not apply to Reb Chaim “the Tailor.” Despite his being a tradesman, he was numbered amongst the important householders and was close to the town leaders.

His family name was Tzirulnik, but everyone knew him simply as Chaim “der Shnayder” (the Tailor). He was Oizer the Postman's son. I never saw Reb Chaim with a thimble on his finger or with a thread and needle in his hand. He was a tailoring contractor and employed two workers. One was Hillel Moshe Yudel's, a tall, very thin, and very poor young man. The second one was Yaakov “with the weak eye.” How was he able to thread a needle remains a mystery until this day.

Reb Chaim's main work was as a communal activist. He was the head spokesperson for the Chevra Kadisha [burial society]. When any Jew departed from this world and needed to acquire a “place” [in the cemetery], things could not be settled without Reb Chaim. He had been always the first invited to sit on the table head at the annual dinner of the Chevra Kadisha that was held every year on the tenth of the month of Tevet.

Reb Chaim also served on the board of directors of the “Folks Bank.” As one of the community administrators [parnassim], he was always ready to defend tradespeople or small-scale businesspeople who were failing or needed help. He was also an ardent Zionist, and supported all the parties who worked for the Land of Israel. The trust he had among the people was acquired because of his honesty and good heart. He was never known to hold a grudge or take revenge, he hated gossip, and kept away from falsehood. He had always a friendly smile on his face.

After the war between Poland and the Bolsheviks, we founded a large library in the house of Chayke di Krever (Chayke from Krevo) on Smorgon Street. On the days when books were exchanged – twice a week – Reb Chaim would visit the library to discover if many people were reading. He was always interested in knowing what was going on in the world of the spirit and he respected those who read and studied.

Chaim “der Shnayder” and his wife were murdered during the Holocaust in Volozhin, together with all the Jews of the city. I am sure that even in the cramped, dark ghetto he was still making efforts to help those in need. I am sure that he would not be discouraged even when his request was refused, and the next day he would return to ask for a little hot soup for the elderly and the sick. Thus did he act for the benefit of the community even under the inhuman conditions of the ghetto, until he returned his soul to the Creator in sanctity and purity.

Reb Itche der Balegole (the Coachman)

By Reuven Rogovin

Translated by Moshe Porat z”l edited by Jerrold Landau

Reb Itche owned a horse and a covered wagon, in which he used to carry passengers from Volozhin to the railway station. First it was to Molodetchno, then to Polochany, Listopad, Horodchki, and finally to the Volozhin station.

The alley on which Reb Itche lived was known as “Tsarskiy Dvoretz” (“The Czar's estate”). So it was called in a figure of speech, as in actuality, the alley was covered with quicksand. It was impossible to get to Reb Itche's house without a bridge made of wood and planks.

A group of elderly Jews used to study in the Kleizl. Every Sabbath, after the Mincha service,

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they would read from the 119th chapter of Psalms, from “Fortunate are those of pure ways, who follow the Torah of G-d.” [Ashrei temimei derech… Psalms 119:1] until the end of the book of Psalms. They would begin again from Ashrei if the time for Maariv had not yet arrived.

The oldest man of the group was Reb Moshe Shmuel, an elderly Jew with a long white beard. He used to conclude each chapter of Psalms with a pleasant melody. Among the participants were his three sons – Feive, Yehoshua, and Mates (only one person survived from this family – Yaakov Girzon, Mates' son, who lives today in Israel). The other participants were Michael Gavriel the carpenter (Reb Moshe Shmuel's brother), Yitzchak Getzel the cobbler, Avraham Itche the butcher, Itche the coachman, Moshe the tailor, Shmuel Itche der Gendzler (goose man), and others.

While Reb Moshe Shmuel would start to read with his pleasant melody Ashrei Temimei Derech – all the participants used to pull out their glasses from the pockets. Each pair of spectacles had a serious problem. One pair lacked a lens and an arm, another just an arm, a third one was repaired with a bandage around the arm, and a fourth was completely unsuitable to be used. Each set of spectacles had a kind of plastic prosthesis. Only Reb Itche's glasses were more or less in proper order.

Reb Itche used to read from the Book of Psalms with emotion and sweetness, for he, Itche the coachman, a simple Jew, had the ability to thank and praise the Creator of the Universe with his own mouth. When Reb Moshe Shmuel would begin to read “Rivers of Water poured down from my eyes, because they did not guard Your Torah” (Psalms, 119: 136), Reb Itche would take out a huge red handkerchief from his pockets to dry his tears.

I continued to worship in this Kleizl after my wedding. Reb Itche the coachman sat opposite me. On his right sat Reb Berl Potashnik and to his left – Reb Moshe Shlomo, the melamed and Torah reader. Reb Itche's shtender [lectern] was as damaged as his glasses. He never repaired it, just as he never fixed his glasses.

The most honorable householders of Volozhin sat at the eastern wall: Rabbi Naftali Hertz Eskind (who served as the rabbi of Volozhin after Rabbi Refoel Shapira's departure to Minsk), Areh Polak, Hershel Rogovin, Yankele Yochanan's, Avrahamel Rode's, Michel Meir Itche's (a flax merchant) and other important householders. As time passed, major changes took place with the occupants of the eastern wall of the Kleizel. Leizer the baker and Menahem Mendel Potashnik (both gabbaim), took over the places of Rabbi Eskind and Areh Polak. They passed the first place on to his son-in-law the physician Avraham Tzart, and the second, to his grandson Akiva Potashnik. Feive Rode's, the grandson of Avrahamel Rode's, took over his place. The place of Michel Meir Itche's was taken over by his son Yaakov Weisbord.

On Yom Kippur, Reb Itche would be transformed to someone otherworldly. He turned his attention away from the physical world, and immersed himself in the holy, awesome day. His spirit was very stormy, and his heart was aching and pained. He would shake up worlds with his prayers, until he slunk down on his bench, as if he fainted.

Reb Itche would change his clothes twice a year – at Passover and Sukkot. When they recited

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the Prayer for Dew at Musaf on the first day of Passover, he would remove his winter clothes (even if it was still cold in the world); and when they recited the Prayer for Rain on Shemini Atzeret (the final day of Sukkot), he would remove his summer clothes (even if it was still hot and stifling outside).

Reb Itche's end was like the end of all the Jews of Volozhin. His sojourn in the ghetto weakened him completely. He wore a long, torn kapote, tied with a rope. Reuven Lavit (Reuven der Pakter) and Avraham Berkovitch supported him spiritually.

R' Avraham Chaim Marshak

By Yisrael Ben-Nachum (Holoventshits) (Givatayim)

Translated by Moshe Porat z”l

Edited by Dr. H. Mendelssohn

Further edited by Jerrold Landau

Grandmother Rucha Reiza, may she rest in peace, told me that the journey to the Holy Land of her father, Reb Avraham Chaim Maharshak, was wondrous and full of sublime strength of the soul. He bid farewell to the Jews of the city and set out on foot to “Your city of Jerusalem.” He reached the border, and since he did not have a permit to cross the border, the border guards beat him to the point of bleeding, robbed of all his meager possessions, and turned him back. He returned to Volozhin full of wounds and sores. When he recovered, he immediately set out on the journey again. He set out and returned seven times, and “from the bottom of his foot until his head, there was no soundness” [Isaiah 1:6]. On the eighth time, he set out and did not return.

In Volozhin, nobody knew what happened to him, for no message or contact arrived. It was as if he had drowned in the water. A rabbinical emissary came to our town about a year later, with a letter written in large letters, “Mazel Tov!” The Jews of the city were surprised, and did not know the meaning of the Mazel Tov. However, when they began to read the letter, they figured out the meaning. After suffering from difficult tribulations of the journey, Reb Avraham Chaim merited to see the land from afar, for he was attacked by bandits who beat him until he died. His body was brought to Jerusalem for burial.

Reb Avraham Chaim became known among the great sages of Jerusalem. This is evident from the following story: There was a holy burial spot in the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, prepared to receive the body of a great Tzadik. On the day that the body of Reb Avraham Yaakov was brought to Jerusalem, a great scholar died in Jerusalem. The Jews of Jerusalem could not decide which of he two great deceased individuals should get that grave. Lots were drawn, and the lot fell upon Reb Avraham Chaim.

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From that, it seems that the emissary was informing, by way of the Mazel Tov, that Reb Avraham Chaim had merited being buried in a grave designated for a great Tzadik.


Reb Avraham Chaim Marshak's tombstone on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
(Translation of the gravestone: Here is buried a pure, upright man.
Renown in Torah and fear of Heaven.
Our teacher, Reb Avraham Chaim the son of Reb Moshe of Volozhin, of blessed memory.
Died 8 Tishrei, 5644 [1884].
May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.)


Years passed, and I made aliya to the Land of Israel. This wonderful story of my grandfather was etched in my memory. I made my way to the Mount of Olives to verify if Reb Avraham Chaim was indeed buried there. To my dismay, I could not identify the grave. However, my brother informed me that he had visited the Mount of Olives during the Mandate period, and asked that he be shown the grave of Avraham Chaim. The old record books of the deceased were opened, and it was found written in one of them: Reb Avraham Chaim of Volozhin. They were able to identify the grave from this.

Now, with the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem, I ascended the Mount of Olives to supplicate over the grave of Reb Avraham Chaim. I saw with my own eyes that the story of my grandmother was not a fable.


b. Grandmother Roche Reize

Grandmother Roche Reize, the daughter of Reb Avraham Chaim Maharshak, was a unique personality. She was more stringent than the rabbi in religious matters. She fought with humor and jokes against the new winds – the winds of apostacy – that began to blow in Volozhin .

In those days (at the beginning of the 20th century), boys and girls would go to the forest on the Sabbath

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with books in their hands. One of the lads wanted to vex her. He turned to her in a mocking fashion, “See, Grandmother Rucha Reiza, how the girls of Volozhin carry books in the woods. [trogn bicher in vald]” Grandmother retorted in her typical sharp manner, “That they are carrying [trogn] in the forest does not interest me. Only they should not carry [i.e. get pregnant] [trogn] from the forest.” (in Yiddish, trogn also means “to become pregnant.”)

Grandmother used to begin the preparations for Passover already after Chanukah. First of all, she had to pickle beets. She required a barrel for this purpose. In the middle of a busy market day, Grandmother would leave her shop and run to the market to search for a kosher barrel. When she brought the barrel home, turmoil overtook the house: “Don't stand here.” “Don't sit here.” “Don't walk here.” Having no choice, they emptied a special room in the house. When the beets were pickled and it was necessary to carry the barrel to the cellar, a mishap took place. The panels of the barrel burst, and everything poured out. Poor Grandmother, like Sisyphus in his time, was forced to start everything from the beginning.

She was very diligent in giving charity to the poor. On the eve of Yom Kippur, she had her own charitable plate among the other plates, and she made sure it would be filled.

Grandmother was stubborn. Through the power of her stubbornness, she achieved something that became the talk of all the Jews of Volozhin. On Simchat Torah, she strongly informed the gabbai to stop the Hakafot [Torah processions] if they do not give a Torah scroll to the women's section, so that the women could also fulfil the mitzvah of Hakafot. A tumult started in the synagogue. Is this possible? Has such a thing ever been heard of? Hakafot for women? This is a violation of the Torah! However, the protests and shouts did not help: Grandmother Roche Reiza got a Torah and made seven Hakafot in the women's section.

Grandmother performed a different sort of heroic deed in the year 5665 (1905). On one of the Sabbaths of that year, during the Torah reading, the Bund people closed the doors of the synagogue and prevented the worshipers from dispersing, so as to force them to listen to revolutionary speeches against the Czar. Grandmother could not tolerate such a violation of sanctity, and she began to shout aloud, “The Cossacks are coming!” The Bundists were petrified, and fled for their lives.

When they realized that Grandmother had tricked them, they decided to pay her back in measure. They brought a large beet in a sack, hung it at the entrance to her store, with a warning sign, “Caution, bomb!” Grandmother was petrified until some strong person volunteered to take down the “bomb” from the shop.

Grandmother lived to an old age. She slipped and died as she was carrying two buckets of water.

Translator's Footnote

Mr. M. Porat embellished the final paragraph as follows: It was an excellent omen in Volozhin to meet a person carrying a pair of buckets full with water. Grandma reached very old age, but was active spiritually and physically. One day she fell on her way home with two full buckets of water in her hands. It was a good sign. The straight and pious Bobe Rohe Reyze had arrived in Gan-Eden. (the Garden of Eden - the Paradise).

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The Famous Hostel Owner

A. Litvin

Translated by Meir Razy

I spent my most enjoyable hours in Volozhin with Patcholke, the famous owner of the Hostel where I used to stay. He gained this nickname because he used to call each of his guests “Patcholke”, “my honeybee”.

I dedicate this chapter to my host in Volozhin as a “Thank You” note for the time we spent together. This is also a thank you for the stories he told me about Rabbi Chaim, the son of Rabbi Yitzhak, about Baruch “the Galicianer”, about the “Lion's Roar” and Graf Tishkivitz. I am writing because Patcholke was the most unique and original character I have ever met in all my travels to Jewish towns.

I met him when he was ninety-four years old, but his age did not show. He considered himself young, his back was straight and his step was light, like a “running gazelle”. One of his neighbors told me about an encounter they had in the public bathhouse. “Four years ago, I met Patcholke in a public bathhouse. We both went downstairs into the pool of the Mikveh and on the way back I offered to support him on the stairs. I took his arm and said “ninety is an advanced age. You can lean on me to make the climb easier.” He gave me a look that almost killed me and shouted “get lost, young man! Who needs your help? I will get upstairs before you'll blink your eyes!”. And by the time I reached the fifth stair he was on the fifteenth stair.”

Patcholke was proud of his strength and when he squeezed a young man's hand, the man's eyes would twitch from the pain.

Patcholke was blessed with one hundred and forty grandchildren and great-grandchildren, although he had only three sons and two daughters. All his sons were Torah scholars, observant men. One son and one daughter lived in the U.S.A. The children who stayed in Volozhin are all dead by now, and he had said Kadish for them instead of the “normal” way in which children pray for their deceased parents. One son who lived with him in the Hostel died recently. The eyes of the old man tear-up when he talks about his son.

Patcholke receives money from his son in America but he does not need it. The Hostel he inherited from his grandfather provides for all his needs. The Hostel stands in the center of a wide yard where cattle and goats roam free. It also boasts a large and beautiful orchard of fruit-bearing trees. He planted these trees when he was seventy years old and the orchard is rented for an annual fee of thirty-five Rubles. He keeps several trees for himself, collects their fruit, dries it or cooks it, and distributes it to family and friends.

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When he thinks he is short of cash he goes to Minsk where his millionaire brother, who made his money in forestry, lives. His relatives open their purses for him and encourage him to take as much as he wants, but he always takes only one, one-hundred Ruble note.

Patcholke is proud of his extended family lineage. The father of his son-in-law was Rabbi Menashe of Ilya, a student of the Gaon of Vilna. People everywhere respect him and even at his advanced age, he studies a daily page of Talmud and does not need reading glasses. He did many things during his active life, and he likes to tell about his revolutionary activities and the risks involved.

All this had happened some sixty or seventy years ago, but he still gets involved in present affairs. During the disagreement between the NATZIV and Rabbi Israel of Salantai (who wanted to introduce Moral studies (Musar) at the Yeshiva), the NATZIV sent Patcholke to deliver a message to Rabbi Israel of Salantai. Patcholke went to see Rabbi Israel and stood in front of him quietly, like one of his students. When the GAON asked what he had come for, he replied in a docile voice: “I came to remind the GAON that all the people who attempted to hurt the great Yeshiva of Volozhin, the Yeshiva that produced many GAONs, experienced bad outcomes. This one died suddenly, that one lost his mind and the third one became very sick. Therefore, Rabbi, I came to warn him”. Rabbi Israel of Salantai took this warning to heart and ceased his initiative.

Patcholke was very proud that he met many Rabbis as most of the Rabbis who visited Volozhin stayed in his Hostel. He made it a rule to take each visiting Rabbi's shoes off their feet at night, and he had been blessed by one hundred Rabbis to live for one hundred and twenty years.

Patcholke is a happy man. He does not have any complaints before G-D or the world. He took good care of his finances and has a nice bank account. However, he knows that no one lives forever and he “prepares himself for the long trip”. But he does not mean it. He is like a young man full of vitality. He is sure that the six years he needs to reach the age of a hundred is like “money in the bank”.

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This is because he has blessings from one hundred Rabbis. He keeps a list with all their names, quoting the proverb “A Tzadik decrees and G-D fulfills.”

I am sure that Patcholke does not need the blessing of one hundred Rabbis. He is healthy and strong, and when he squeezes a young man's hand, the man's eyes twitch from the pain.

(from the book “Yiddish Souls”)

Dov Ber Kaplan

Yehuda Chaim Kotler (New York)

Translated by Meir Razy

We, the students from Volozhin in the Agriculture School in Volitchny, called him “our Berl”. He was a Pioneer.

The year was 1918. The first World War was coming to an end and we were students at the Yeshiva of Vilna. Both day and night, Berl was focusing on Talmudic questions but some rumors about him started to spread. The rumor said he was reading “forbidden” history and philosophy books!

And then, one day he announced that it was time for a change; to leave the religious books and to go to Eretz Israel. He did not loose his Jewish beliefs, he decided it was time to switch from the spiritual world to the physical one.

It was one year after the Russian Revolution. Many young Jews considered the Revolution as a precursor to the arrival of the Messiah - but not him. Berl analyzed the Revolution and concluded that it will not treat Jews the way they deserve. Unfortunately, his prediction was correct.

In October 1918, we left the Yeshiva and became students of the Agriculture School in Volitchny near Vilna. We learned and practiced work in the fields. Berl, a quiet and modest son of a Rabbi, worked diligently but did not forget his origins. He attracted a group of people from Volozhin to join our school in order to become Pioneers, productive workers in Eretz Israel.

In the autumn of 1918 and the winter of 1919, more students joined the school, including a group of members of the “Po'alei Zion” Party from Kovno. Our goal was to get a degree in Agronomy and then to immigrate to Eretz Israel.

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In the spring of 1919, the Army of the New Poland established its control over Polish lands and approached Vilna. We feared for our lives and organized a self-defense team to protect ourselves and the school's grounds. Berl was fearless and being the organizer - he instilled a sense of power and security in all of us.

During this period, he spoke to our group many times, combining his Jewish knowledge with world history. He discussed the future of the Jewish nation. He did not see any Jewish future in Marx, Lenin, and Trozky's ideology. He found Jewish socialism in the Bible and the Talmud and believed that this would be the way that will deliver national and social independence.

Some of his ideas were not always clear, but most of his ideas made sense and his energetic delivery convinced us all.

After several weeks of rampaging and lawlessness, the Polish Government established itself in the area. One day, on an excursion to Velikiy, we saw several Polacks attacking an old Jew. He was standing crying and they circled him, pulling his beard. Berl wanted to interfere and fight the men but we stopped him thinking the situation was too dangerous. He was very upset. How would we be able to protect our international interests in Eretz Israel if we cannot even protect our honor here where we live?

The school flourished and the local farmers were impressed by the dedication and hard work we invested in it. The school started a competition to grow the biggest cabbage. Berl took it personally and used to wake me up at midnight so that we could cover the cabbage in order to protect it from freezing. He was elated when we won first prize.

In the winter of 1920, he decided to go to Eretz Israel. He went to Kovna, where his father was the Rabbi, to say goodbye and to receive his blessing. His departure from the school was very emotional and animated and sentimental.

Years later I immigrated to the U.S.A. There, I heard that in 1921 Berl worked on a farm near Kedainiai and was very dedicated. His friends gave him the name “Nikolay” and this name followed him to Eretz Israel.

Several years later I heard that he was working draining swamps and building roads in Eretz Israel. Later I saw a photograph marked as “A Quarry in Jerusalem” in a book published by the United Jewish Appeal. It showed Berl holding a large hammer.

By the time of my visit to Israel in 1965, he was no longer alive.
Let this short note serve as a memorial candle for Berl.

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A “Luft Gesheft”[1] Story
(a story I heard from my father, Rabbi Mordechai Shishko)

Benyamin Shafir (Shishko)

Translated by Meir Razy




The Jewish brain is a miraculous creation. If all the oceans were full of ink and all the trees were pens and the sky was writing sheets and all the people were scribes – it would not be enough to describe the depth of the Jewish mind. Its ability to invent is limitless. Here is a story I heard from the older generation of Volozhin, a story that shows the uniqueness of the Jewish mind.

A Russian businessman from the town of Petrograd complained to the Tzar: We are brothers, both of us were born Christian, we both hate Jews, we know that they crucified the Son of God, but after all of this you, the Russian Tzar, do all your business with Jews. They build bridges, pave roads, lay railroads, excavate tunnels and supply the army. Why aren't you doing business with good Christians?

The Tzar listened and did not respond, and the man went home disappointed and upset.

Two weeks later a messenger from the Tzar came to the merchant and ordered him to come back for a meeting with the Tzar.

The Tzar said: I thought about your argument and realized you were right. From now on I will give my business only to Christians, no more Jews. I have a great business proposition for you. It will enrich you and all I am asking is a commission of ten thousand Rubles.

What is this business?

I will sell you all the air in the districts of Vilna, Grodno, and Minsk.

[Page 518]

The merchant was flabbergasted! Air? What business can one make of air? How can one become rich from the air? The Tzar must be joking!

The merchant looked for a quick way to get out of the deal and replied: I've just invested all my money in a new business and I am short of cash to start a new business right now. He left the Tzar feeling lucky that he had found a way out.

The next day the Tzar called Yankel, his long-term business partner, and offered him the same deal. Yankel was elated. Immediately he saw how he could convert air into gold. He told the Tzar they must sign a detailed contract stating that the air of the three districts now belonged to him. They wrote the contract and it was signed with the Seal of the Tzar. Yankel immediately gave the Tzar two ten-thousand Ruble notes, saying: I believe in this business, so I am adding another ten thousand for your charities.

Yankel hurried to see the local governor. When the guards stopped him, saying that the Governor does not see Jews, he showed them the Seal of the Tzar and immediately was led inside.

He instructed the Governor to publish an order that would be posted in each city, town, village, or farm stating, in the name of the Tzar, that the air belongs to Yankel. The owner of any opened hatch must pay him an annual fee of a quarter Ruble. For an open window, he would pay a half Rubble. A door would cost him one Ruble, a chimney – three and a windmill – ten Rubles a year.

The Governor did not like it, but it was an order in the name of the Tzar. He published the order. It was a hot summer and people kept their doors and windows open.

[Page 519]

Yankel collected the fees and very quickly grew very rich. But the citizens could not keep on paying and soon they complained to the Tzar.

The Tzar called Yankel and told him that he wanted to respect their deal but in the current political instability, he was afraid that it might start a revolution. Therefore, here is your twenty thousand and let's cancel the contract.

Yankel replied: Your Majesty, this deal made me so much money that I want you to keep that money and I am adding another twenty thousand. I wish you a long and healthy life and soon we shall make more deals.

The Tzar then called the Russian businessman, told him the story, and asked: do you now understand why I work with Jews? Their brain converts air to gold!


Translator's footnote:
  1. A Business without Foundation Return

Mera Schnyder - “Merke Ela's”

Dina & Lea Faygenboym (Netanya & Tel Aviv)

Translated by Meir Razy

Among the everyday Volozhin people who dedicated their lives to helping other people was Mera Schnyder (who was known as “Merka Ela's”). She was known as a “people person” and was a one-woman Social Help institution. At any time, she was busy helping people and every person who asked for her assistance would receive it.

Making a living in Volozhin was not easy. Market days were a significant source of income for many people. Many merchants used to ask Mara for her assistance in securing loans so that they could stock-up for market days. She would help anyone who asked her to negotiate a loan from the bank. On occasion, the merchant was late in repaying the bank and he would come to her, asking for help to negotiate a new date with the Bank Manager.

[Page 520]

She knew who could not afford a fish for Shabbat, who could not replace torn shoes and who needed new clothes. She helped the poor discreetly and did not seek glory or recognition.

Mara did not have much pleasure in her personal life. She herself was poor, the owner of a small store. Of her two sons one, Eliyahu Shani, immigrated to Eretz Israel in 1926 and passed away in Kfar Saba. Her husband Moshe immigrated in 1935. He worked in orange orchards, paved roads and had other hard-labor jobs. However, he returned to Volozhin when she became ill.

Even during her illness, she continued helping people. With her bent back, she limped from place to place looking for a dress for an orphan girl, a wedding dress for a poor bride, or money to pay a ticket to Eretz Israel for a Pioneer who had received an Immigration Certificate from the British Mandate Government.

All her good deeds did not save her life and she died several months before the start of WW-2. Many people mourned her death and joined the funeral service.

We shall remember them

Benyamin Shafir (Shishko)

Translated by Meir Razy


Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Brodno




Shlomo Chaim Brodno was the son of Rabbi Velvele (Ze'ev) “Patcholke”, the owner of a famous hostel in Volozhin. He was an intelligent and honest man, an outstanding public activist who was among the founders of the local Vaad (the Community Leadership Committee), the first Community Bank and many charities. He never used his positions to advance himself. On the contrary – he enlisted several young people to participate in managing public affairs so there would be a generation of skilled successors in the future.

[Page 521]

His wife, Pesla-Raizel Weisbord, managed the hostel. It was a nice and clean hotel, visited by many guests who came for vacation or for business with the different Government offices located in town. Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Brodno was not involved in managing the hotel. His business was in selling brandy to local people and wholesale distribution of salt to local stores.


Rabbi Yeshayahu Kahanovich

Yeshayahu Kahanovich and his wife Henya Tabachovitz


Yeshayahu was born in Volozhin. He was a dedicated Zionist and one of the founders of “Zeirey Zion Association” in town. He was one of the founders of the Tarbut School Organization and was its Managing Director as well.

[Page 522]

The stamp of the Tarbut School


Yeshayahu dedicated much effort to the support of the Hebrew language and one of his life goals was the success of the Tarbut school. He was one of the leaders of the JNF in town and opened his home up to any activity in support of Zionism. Yeshayahu was known as a very laid-back person, a deep thinker who was a symbol of Zionism in Volozhin. He married Henya, the daughter of Rabbi Yaakov Tabachovitz.

Just before the Holocaust he wrote me a letter in which he expressed his wish to bring his family to Eretz-Israel. We were saddened to see that he did not succeed in fulfilling this goal. He died along with the teacher Noach Perski.


Rabbi Avraham Horvitz

Avraham was the son of Rabbi Yehoshua Horvitz of Krakow. Rabbi Yehoshua was a Torah scholar and Zionist who arrived in Volozhin during the First World War. His home was a place where both Torah scholars and Zionists gathered.

Rabbi Avraham followed in his father's footsteps. He was an honest, measured man who was well liked by the people. He married Sonia Shrira.


Rabbi Yakov Tabachovitz

Yaakov was famous as a Torah Scholar. A tall, handsome man, he also arrived in Volozhin during the First World War. He was a skillful Chazan and his Yom Kippur “I am the poor” prayer moved and opened the hearts of his listeners.

His daughter Henya married Yeshayahu Kahanovich and his second daughter Sonia married Ze'ev Perski. His son Shimon was a Zionist and represented the Volozhin branch of “Zeirei Zion” in the “Zeirei Zion” congress in Vilna.


Rabbi Dov Potashnik

Dov was not a rich man but his qualities and good deeds were his “gold nuggets”. He had a unique quality – he did not expect the poor to come to him for help. Rather, he approached them. He knew who had problems and very discretely, without any fanfare, helped many people and literally saved lives. He loved all Jews for being Jews and did not expect any recognition.

[Page 523]

Most of his children escaped the tragic end of the town and joined the partisans in the nearby forest and then moved to Israel. One son and one daughter moved to the U.S.A. The son was one of the founders of the Yeshiva “Tiferet Bachurim” in Bnei Brak.

The adage “Light is sown for the righteous and joy for the upright in heart” (Psalm 97, 11) could have been said of Rabbi Dov Potashnik.


Zviya Zart, a midwife

Zvia was the wife of Doctor Avraham Zart, a daughter of Elazar the baker and his wife Fruma. She was intelligent, wise and kindhearted. She was both graceful and charming and considered quite beautiful. She was a G-D fearing woman. Her qualities made her both special and unique.

As we know, half of Volozhin was perched out on a hill, which made it quite dangerous to descend during winter. However, Zvia was not deterred by the weather - blizzards, strong winds and torrential rains did not stop her from fulfilling her sacred mission - to be the “mother of all living beings” in Volozhin.

It could be said about her: “When it snows, she has no fear for her household” [Proverbs 31,21], “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy” [Proverbs 31,20]. She was a supporter of her husband, the Doctor, and their home was magnificent. It was like an aristocrat's mansion that housed the love of Zion.

When Mr. Menachem Begin (a member of the Knesset) visited Volozhin, the community welcomed him with a very warm and friendly reception which took place in the Zart's home. The reception was organized by Zviya and her friend Rykla Shepensvol (the daughter-in-law of Rabbi Shlomo Chassid). The house could not accommodate all the well-wishers who came to see the guest and many gathered outside near the door.

People still remember that party. All the attendees joined hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder singing “Am Israel Chai” while dancing for hours at the home of Avraham and Zviya Zart.


Rabbi David Yitzhak Kantorovitz

Rabbi David was a special person. He was a farmer who plowed his field, an early “Jewish Pioneer”. He planted a vegetable garden on the banks of the Volozhynka River, a place that was later used for teaching Jewish pioneers the secrets of agriculture.

I remember beautiful summer nights on the banks of the river with the stars shining above us, standing among the rows of cucumbers, tomatoes and beets that we had planted with our own hands. We were in the West, but our hearts were in the East (translator's note: this is a reference to a famous poem written in the eleventh century by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi 1075- 1141 in Spain).

[Page 524]

Those of us who survived the Holocaust and today live in Israel still fondly remember our friend David Yitzhak Kantorovitz, a farmer who promoted the Hebrew language, Hebrew schools, and the Torah.


Rabbi Shalom Leib Rubinstein

Rabbi Shalom was the son of Rabbi Eliezer (Leizer Pinia Natas) who was a Beadle in the Talmud Torah and educated his children to both study the Torah and to help people.

He studied at the Yeshiva of Telz, was a modest man, intelligent and honest. Rabbi Shalom never stood out nor did he serve in any public or religious organization. He followed the Talmudic edict “.. and receive every man with a pleasant countenance” [Avot 1, 15].

His wife Lifsha (the daughter of a rabbi) gave birth to two daughters, Bracha and Golda. He made his living from a small store and studied the Talmud between customer visits. He helped the poor and people in need. When someone asked for a loan and he himself did not have the money, he would borrow it from another merchant. He donated for “Passover Flour” and other necessities before the Passover Holiday. His wife used to cook in large pots, always ready for a poor person to join them for a meal. He was a “Chovev Zion” and bought land in Eretz-Israel.

During the Holocaust, the Germans wanted to detain the daughters as workers. However, the girls refused to leave their parents and, subsequently, died along with them, following David's lamentation “those who were lovely and pleasant in their lives, even in their death they were not separated”.


Rabbi Yaakov Shmuel Ruchamkin

Rabbi Yaakov was a student of the Yeshiva “Etz Chaim” in Volozhin, where he was a follower of the NATZIV. His first wife, Gittel Levison, died at a young age before she had any children. His second wife was Zvia Levit, a daughter of Rabbi Israel Levit, a Torah Scholar.

His business was a metal supply- store, but he did not focus on his trade. Rabbi Yaakov spent most of his time studying and teaching Torah and you could find him during most hours of the day sitting in the synagogue explaining the Torah and Talmud to anyone who asked questions.

He spoke very wisely and loved sharing his knowledge with the many people who benefited from his guidance.

[Page 525]

Prior to the Holocaust

Volozhin in the Shadow of the Holocaust

By Bella Saliternik (Kramnik) of Haifa

Translated by Jerrold Landau, based on an earlier translation
by M. Porat z”l that was edited by E. Levitan

I visited Volozhin close to the outbreak of the World War Two. At that time, it was possible to reach Poland by LOT Polish Airlines, or by one of two Polish ships, the Polonia and the Kosciuszko, which sailed from Haifa to Constanta [Romania], from where one would travel to Warsaw by international train. Polish functionaries and military people were among the passengers of the train I took. I recall that during one of the railway stops, Jews stood up and took leave with tears and kisses from those who were departing to the Land of Israel. The Polish nationals reacted to this heartrending and emotional scene with arrogance and denigration. It was difficult for me to bear such a degrading attitude toward the Jews, for I had forgotten somewhat about the existence of anti-Semitism during the years that I had lived in the Land of Israel.

I found Volozhin in a similar state from when I left it. There were no obvious signs of change. The only change that took place in the city was the paving of the road from the railway station in Horodki, and the exchange of the wagon that travelled to the railway station with a bus. Furthermore, the pond on Vilna Street was improved, as trees were placed around it and benches were installed. People sailed on the pond with boats in the summer, and skated on the ice in the winter.

As previously, the youth were involved with the Zionist youth organizations, and were occupied primarily in cultural and leadership activities. The economic situation was quite poor. The Jewish businesses were virtually liquidated for the tax burden was oppressive. Therefore, they borrowed money on interest. This endless loop reduced many of the Jews of Volozhin down to a morsel of bread. The poverty was severe, and the ability of the Jews of our town to get by had been weakened.

The anti-Semitism has burst through all dams, reaching the point where it had become dangerous to cross the street. Christian children threw stones at me as I walked next to the Pravoslavic Church on Vilna Street. A sign with large letters was hanging in the window of the government store in the marketplace, saying “Swoj do swego” [“everyone to his own”] (in free literary translation: “Every bird should dwell with their kind, and a Polish person is similar to that”). The general anti-Semitic meaning of that sign was that it was forbidden for a Pole to engage in business with a Jew; it was forbidden to purchase from a Jew; it was forbidden to do business with him, and an economic boycott must be imposed upon the Jews.

Some of the customers of our mother's shop in the Ponizhe village, whom I had known to be members of the Communist party, informed me that the Polish government is conducting wild incitement against the Jews in the villages. The coexistence of Jews and Poles, which was never more than an illusion during the “good times,” had come to its end. The Poles had deliberated and decided to eliminate the Jews from an economic perspective.

[Page 526]

The longing of the Jews of Volozhin for the Land of Israel was boundless. Every piece of news from the Land would take on wings and be immediately disseminated to the public, who looked upon it with great interest. I experienced this myself. Masses of people came to greet me, and it was with difficult that I forged my way home. The ecstasy of the Jews of Volozhin at the sight of someone from the Land of Israel was exceptional. People pushed their way toward me. They were hungry and thirsty to hear news from the Land from me. They wanted to hear more than I was able to tell.

This curiosity was a form of expression of the knowledge that all bridges had been broken, and there was no redemption other than in the Land of Israel. They placed their desire toward the Land of Israel. The situation of the Jews of Volozhin at that time can be described in the words of Chaim Nachman Bialik, in his poem Igeret Ketana [The Little Letter]: “We have no hope here, my brothers, the end has already been determined, there is no hope for the dove in the hawk's talons – and now I my eyes turn eastward.” However, to our great sorrow, they reached this conclusion a bit too late. They were late, too late, to escape to the Land of Israel. The “German thunder” was already rolling in, and Volozhin was standing at the eve of the scene of blood, the likes of which are unparalleled in the history of our nation. However, no person in Volozhin could have imagined exactly what was awaiting. There was the feeling, a prophecy of the heart, that something was about to happen, but nobody could have imagined that this was “the final days” that stand before “the time of the end.” No, the “imagination” within the soul of the Jews of Volozhin could not imagine this. On the contrary, the present was shaky, the anti-Semitic dogs were wandering around doing what they were doing to the Jews, but even with this, they could not see a sign of what was coming, that the “main actors” were arriving from German to play the true game, the great, terrible game upon the Jews of Volozhin.

When I bid farewell to my mother and to all those who were so dear to me, I recalled the wonderful “Farewell” poem of Chaim Nachman Bialik. I too recited the words of the poem:

“Shalom, Shalom to you all,
And I wish Shalom and blessing to you as well, the clay houses,
The poor dwellings, with leaky roofs and shaky walls,
Sinking in the dust to the belly,
Shalom Shalom to you all!
And double Shalom to the last of the last,
To the lowest and more forlorn of you, to the shamed, weak tent…”

At midnight, when I departed Volozhin on my way back to the Land of Israel, masses gathered next to the bus. They came to bid me farewell, with tears flowing from their eyes. They wished themselves that they would merit to meet me in the Land of Israel. It is difficult for me to forget their eyes. It is difficult for me to forget their appearance, filled with agony. It is difficult for me to forget Volozhin of that night, the last night that my feet stood on the ground of Volozhin. I parted from them with fear – a strong fear of what was to come – and with love – boundless love for our dear ones. What were our dear ones thinking that night? I will never forget their appearance and their sad faces. The pen is weeping between my fingers as I write these memories with the clear knowledge that the Jews of Volozhin are no more.

Translator's Footnote

Mr. M. Porat z”l added the following picture and note:

Bella Saliternik-Kramnik;
Daughter Mika, born on eve of WW2;
their second daughter Tammie;
Yaakov Saliternik Bela's husband. (1950)


Bella Saliternik – Kramnik was born in Kurenets in 1914. At the end of World War One, after her father Michael's death, Mrs. Freydl Kramnik with her daughters, 4 years old Bella and 6 months old Feygl resettled in Volozhin, where mother Freydl established and managed a clothing store. Bella was part of the first students in the Volozhin Tarbut Hebrew School and has been involved in the Betar movement activities. In 1932, Bella made aliya to Erets Israel. She made many efforts to provide an aliya visa for her sister Feygl, but without success. In 1935 Bella was married to Yakov Saliternik. A year later, when pregnant, she decided to give birth to her baby in her mother's home. She made her long journey by ship (Polonia) and train to Volozhin where Mika was born.

Bella's home in Tel Aviv became a second home for many of the Volozhin Shoa survivors during their first years of their life in the fighting for the independence of Israel. The family warmly and very friendly welcomed me with upon my arrival and immediate enlisting in the IDF. In Saliternik's home the marriages of some of the newly arrived Volozhinerst took place (Feygl Shepsnvoll, Yakov Kagan and others). Bella lives now in Haifa after the successive deaths of her daughter Mika and husband Yaakov.


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