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[Page 11]

The Shtetl in its
Life and Work


Our shtetl

The shtetl of my birth, Vysotsk, was far from the railway station and as if cut off from the whole world. It was integrated into the expanse of meadows and rivers that quietly flow in summer. These rivers pass by the borders of the fields and pour out at the beginning of spring. This is the time when the rivers close in on the shtetl and cut it off from the outside. And in winter the rivers freeze.

I don't know anything about the beginnings of the shtetl, when it was founded, its history, its distant past. For me its history begins with my grandfather Moyshe of blessed memory. I heard about the Lopatyn family, which split into different branches, whose surnames differ because there were many brothers and they were destined for the danger of 'kidnappers'.

I remember a small, poor shtetl where there were no rich people. All of them were poor 'house-owners'. But the poor were not poor in the usual sense of the word.

Wooden houses, straw roofs. A number of alleyways that were called streets, and one of the main streets was called the market (der mark [Yidd.]). Concentrated in this street were the tiny shops, from each of which hung a sign with the same meaning: sklep mieszany (a shop selling miscellaneous goods). A sort of kolbo[24] in miniature.

There we did all our shopping, bought our groceries such as salt, groats, salt fish, a bottle of kerosene for the oil lamps (there was no electricity), material for clothes and so on.

Also prominent in the same street was 'the pump', a source of fresh water.

Men, women and children thronged around it, waiting their turn to fill their buckets with water.

The shtetl was surrounded by streets belonging to the Goys[25]. There were three streets, very long and straight, with little wooden houses, grey, without decoration.

Behind the houses huddled the farm buildings: stables and cowsheds, pig sties and haystacks. Whenever Jewish children ventured into the area they were very frightened of the dogs that were there.

The shtetl contained within itself the whole of life. The Jews earned a living from petty trade and crafts. The craftsmen were builders, tailors and cobblers. They would begin their work at sunrise and finish at sunset. And in the winter, when the days were short, they would continue to work by the light of oil lamps until late at night.

Craftsmen wandered among the nearby Goy villages in order to find sustenance. On Sunday they would put on their sack of tools and their talis[26] and tefilin[27] and walk to a village. On Friday they would return home for the Sabbath, when the meagre bundles of pay were handed over to their wives.

The majority of craftsmen had two trades: building, which they worked at during the summer months, and tailoring or shoemaking in the winter. The Jews were healthy and strong and extremely honest. They were imbued with the tradition of generations who had kept the commandments, the Sabbath and the religious festivals.

On the Sabbath songs and prayers rose up from their houses and from the three synagogues in the shtetl. They ate Sabbath and holiday meals, and on Sabbath

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afternoon the shtetl slumbered its slumber, the sleep of the Sabbath. Marriage ceremonies would always take place on Friday. They would then make the many Sabbath preparations early in order to join the chupa[28] ceremony. All the members of the shtetl would go to see the chupa, which was next to the big synagogue.

The newly married couple would be accompanied from the chupa by a large crowd, while the kleyzmorim[29] from Dombrovitze, Gabriel and his sons, played their sweet melodies.

And then there were the funeral ceremonies. Almost all the shtetl would take part in the burial.

Sabbaths were always full of joy and light when the rebbe[30] visited the shtetl.

The rebbe from Stolin or from Pinsk was known as der karliner[31]. On the eve of Sabbath they crowded around the windows of the house where the rebbe was staying; a large crowd of all ages watched lively Chassidic dances and listened to their tunes and they all enjoyed them as one.

There were many long ordinary days in the shtetl, dreadful, boring days, days when it was as if nothing in the world was happening.

I knew the generation of young adults who, in their lives and activities, were the beginning of the revolution towards a new set of values. They were the ones who established a Hebrew school, a large Hebrew and Yiddish library and who shaped active public life.

They were already organised in Zionist or non-Zionist political organisations.

They argued about Zionism, socialism, Bundism[32] and communism. They worked for Keren Kayemet[33] and Keren HaYesod[34]. And they were called by various names: Poalei-Tzion[35], Tzeirei Tzion[36], the HeKhalutz HaBoger[37].

Fresh winds blew into the shtetl, remote and frozen in its traditions, awakening the growing generation of the young. The Hebrew school and the Khalutz HaTzair[38] organisation were a source of nourishment for the revolution. There our eyes were opened to see and feel the reality in which we were living; there the strong desire to change the order of things was aroused.

There was aroused in us a hatred of idleness and of doing nothing, a hatred of exile. Implanted in us were feelings of national and human longing for freedom and open spaces. We began to speak Hebrew, we devoured the Hebrew literature that was building a new man. I had already read Jean Christof, the HaTkufa[39] books and so on in Vysotsk.

We learned that there was a big wide world and the ambition to study and the striving for knowledge matured within us. How we loved to study! Some of us escaped and went to Vilne and Rovne, to study in the Hebrew gymnasia and Hebrew training colleges. Later we ran away, contrary to our parents'

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wishes, for training and afterwards to aliyah[40] and the realisation of our dreams in the Land…

The shtetl and our dear parents, also many of the young people, remained behind after we had gone. We began a new life in Israel, a life of construction and creation, while over them hovered and fell the terrible Shoah.

  Zehava Shtoper-Zamir
Ramat HaKovesh


  1. ‘everything in it’ - a general store (the writer had a typical kibbutz store in mind) return
  2. non-Jews return
  3. prayer mantle return
  4. small leather box containing hand-written passages from the Bible return
  5. wedding canopy (pronounced khupa) return
  6. Yiddish: musicians (singular: kleyzmer) return
  7. dynastic Chassidic rabbi return
  8. from Karlin, a suburb of Pinsk return
  9. The Bund was the main non-Zionist Jewish socialist movement, founded in 1897 to represent Jews in Imperial Russia. It supported the 1917 February Revolution but opposed the October Revolution. It ceased its activities in the Soviet Union in 1921 but remained active in Poland (and the United States) return
  10. Jewish National Fund, founded in 1901 in order to buy and develop land in Palestine for Jewish settlement return
  11. United Jewish Appeal, founded in 1920, the main international fund-raising organisation return
  12. Workers of Zion, an independent Zionist-socialist party, members of the right-wing section of which later played key roles in the new State of Israel return
  13. Youth of Zion return
  14. Adult Pioneers return
  15. Young Pioneers return
  16. 'The Era', Hebrew-language quarterly, founded in Moscow in 1918, moved to Warsaw in 1922 13 wishes, for training and afterwards to aliyah return
  17. emigration to Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel) return

Jews of Vysotsk

There were many generations of Jews in Vysotsk. They had established their community according to the customs of their forefathers in the spirit of religion, imbued with the Chassidism[41] of the older generation. Until the end of the previous century no progress was known in the shtetl, at a time when its neighbours, Dombrovitze on the one hand and Stolin on the other, were developing to a greater or lesser extent. Far from there being any rivalry in the shtetls in the economic or cultural field, its unique way of life remained the same even at the beginning of the present century; there was no new wind blowing there. There was no thought of any of life's luxuries because the majority of the Jews were very poor, getting by on no more than a crust of bread. Anyone who was conscious of this and was sad about it dreamed of getting out of the shtetl. Everything was geared to the grey everyday life and was filled with material cares.

Sometimes when there was an argument between Chassidim of Stolin and Chassidim of Brezne[42] and they were confronted by a schism in the synagogue or when there was an argument about slaughter etc there came the intervention of the local rov, Yehuda Abelson of blessed memory, who was respected by all members of our faith and who knew how to solve matters. Through his influence the arguments were settled peacefully and with respect; the Jews of the shtetl were reconciled one with another in peace, in their homes, in their streets, in the synagogue and not least in the public baths.

Vysotsk was a typical Jewish shtetl, with its 127 buildings, homes of the Jews.

According to the Russians' census of 1897, there were 800 Jews alongside 32 non- Jews. Even 25 years later the Jewish community, which numbered about 106 families, had not grown. But the number of non-Jews had increased considerably. It

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In the 80s in the last century Reb Moyshe Rabinovych sat on the rabbinical seat. They called him Reb Mushke. He died 45 years ago, approximately, on the 10th day of Tevet [December]. He was a father devoted to the Jews of the shtetl, and even the Goys venerated him and would turn to him. He didn't leave a successor for his son, Reb Leybush, was the butcher in the shtetl and his son Mordekhai was merely a 'good Jew', who gave up everything and made do with very little. Reb Leybush the butcher was a progressive man for whom the limitations of Vysotsk were difficult so he wandered off to Berdichev. There he studied, researched and wrote a commentary on the Bible.

Shortly after the death of Reb Mushke of blessed memory the admor[43] of Stolin, the 'heir' Reb Isroel Perlov, invited Reb Yehuda Abelson, who was the rebbe[44]in Petrikov. Although he wasn't a zealous Chassid from the Stolin dynasty, he was sent to serve as the rov[45] in Vysotsk. Reb Yehuda was expert in the Torah[46], easy to deal with and quickly made friends with all the people in the shtetl. The common folk related to him and studied a passage from the Mishnah[47] with him between afternoon and evening prayers. On Sabbath afternoons they listened to him reciting the passage of the week. This was not customary in the old Chassidic camp, so at first they didn't join in his lessons or his sermons. One of Yehuda Abelson's four sons, Reb Yehoshua, who was wiped out with all of the Jews of Vysotsk in the last catastrophe, remained as successor to Yehuda Abelson.

Most of the people of the shtetl belonged to three clans: 1) the 'Yakov Leyblekh' – owners of important houses, students of the Torah of long lineage who considered it a disgrace to marry tradesmen. They came from the rabbi 'Asher Yakov Leybs' (a Jew who was a great scholar of the Torah and law). In the absence of the rabbi they would turn to him regarding questions of meat and milk and so on. His grandson, the butcher Reb Chaim, was a man of honour and zealous in his religion.

2) the 'Nisalekh' [Yidd.:'little nuts'] – who were considered a family of second rank. The tradesmen were also part of them. They were called by the name of Reb 'Nisn Leahs', a Jew of high standing and good temperament, whose house was always open to anyone in need. Although the hostel, the only hotel in Vysotsk, was in his house, all the same he never demanded payment from a guest, but those who wanted to and were able to would pay. Most of the guests would leave without paying. Anybody who showed up or any parasite found with him a place of rest and food free of charge.

In public affairs he also did not seek any reward. On all occasions he responded to his fellow man and acted well towards his Jewish brethren; he conducted himself in public matters warmly as a righteous man.

The family of Nisalekh were owners of houses and people of influence in all matters in the town and there were many interesting characters among them: Reb Nisl Meirs, a cobbler by trade, and his wife Feyge-Mirl. In his spirit and soul he was entirely just. A couple who didn't know the meaning of the word 'I'. They were always full of cares and burdened with work looking after and sorting out the affairs of the poor of the town and matters concerning the guests, the sick of the town and also those in need of help in the town. He was always running somewhere.

Whenever they asked him: Reb Nisn, vos loift ihr? [Reb Nisn, why are you running?] the

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answer would be: es fehlt nit keyn tsores in shtetil [There's never any lack of worries in the shtetl]; Reb Nisn, vos makht ihr? [Reb Nisn, how are you?]; Shver tsu helfn di noitike [Trying to help those in need]; ober ihr aleyn vos makht? [But how are you yourself?] ; adank dem reboyne-shel-oylem, mir fehlt gornisht [Thanks to the Creator of the world, I don't lack anything]. Although he was very poor himself, he was one of those people who are satisfied with their lot. He would open the doors of the synagogue for 'those in need' at midnight. On Sabbath eve he would rouse the congregation of Israel two hours before sunset by sounding in the streets the traditional melodies: 'Isroel, am kadushim, shteyt oyf, shteyt oyf leavodas hobore [Israel, holy people, rise to worship God], for that is what you were created for …' At the close of the Sabbath he always looked after arrangements for the melave malka[48] in the public house of study, singing songs superbly and with devotion. The third family – Reb Yitzhok Berchiks – was more extended. Almost all of its sons were craftsmen, particularly builders. Every summer, in some of the villages, there would be fires because the houses were of wood and straw. That is how they made most of their income. Early every Sunday they would go out into the villages, armed with talis[49]and tefilin[50] and tools. They would return home on the eve of Sabbath with produce from the village and also with some roubles in their pockets, the wages for their work. These simple and honest Jews made do with little, they read a lot of psalms and they spent the holy Sabbath not only in rest and prayer, but also in studying the Talmud[51]and Torah[52], in singing etc. There were among them a few who knew how to study the Midrash[53]and are worth remembering: Eliahu Moyshe, Reb Shleyme Yakov the glazier and the gravedigger and his son Moyshe, the rov Dovid Kaftan, Reb Aaron Yoynes and others like them.

I remember a mass meeting on the occasion of the Balfour Declaration[54]by the synagogue. There I made a speech in front of the crowd concerning the importance of the declaration. After the speech I was approached by Reb Aaron Yoynas the tailor. With tears in his eyes he asked me: 'Tell me Chaim, do you believe we shall really see Isroel with our own eyes?' And how could I not recall Reb Avram Yitzhok Gedaliahs, the eminent scholar of the Torah and the doer of good deeds who went to David Horodok? Or Reb Asher Khayat who was at the head of everything to do with the public? He was the adresn-shrayber[55]who also wrote requests to institutions in Russian and Polish; the proszenia[56] to the gmina[57] and the head of the village were always done without payment. And many others like them, generations of honest folk, for whom respect is awakened by their memory.

And the last – Reb Feybush the blacksmith who never uttered an empty word and was honest and saintly in his conduct with God and man. The man was just, hovering always in higher thoughts. And when the days of Elul[58]arrived in the town it was felt that the terrible days, days of judgement, were approaching, and all private dealings were connected to the whole community. Then everybody felt in truth that the sons of Israel were responsible towards one another. In this spirit of tradition and

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religion, of fraternity and devotion, the young generation grew up, devoted with all its soul to the people of Israel and their destiny.

Then came the revolution of 1917 and with it changes in the patriarchal life of the Jews of Vysotsk. New spirits began to blow in the hearts of the young and a light was lit in the Hebrew school, which was established with difficulty and helped greatly in educating the children in the national spirit. The camp of youth, bearing ideals and ambitions, appeared on the stage of life in the shtetl. In particular Zionist activity developed in the shtetl during the time of Polish rule (1920-1939). The shtetl bloomed in all areas, even though the hand of the ruler pressed hard on the Jews. Many of the young people left for pioneer training, and it is no wonder that the little shtetl of Vysotsk provided over 150 pioneers.

  Chaim Ayznberg of blessed memory

Stesya and son Chaim Ayznberg


  1. founded by Rabbi Israel de Eliezer (1698-1760), known as Baal Shem Tov, Chassidism (chassid: righteous or pious) emphasises prayer and devotion, in contrast to the academic rabbinical orthodoxy prevalent in Lithuania return
  2. now Berezne, north-east of Rivne 14 was only in the last years of the Polish period that the Jewish community grew a little, even though the numbers leaving were quite significant return
  3. acronym for adoneinu (our Master) moreinu (our Teacher) verabeinu (our Rabbi) return
  4. Dynastic Chassidic religious leader return
  5. local Chassidic religious leader return
  6. Five Books of Moses, Pentateuch return
  7. written about 200 AD, this is the first written record of the 'oral law' which, according to tradition, God gave Moses on Mount Sinai but which was not incorporated in the Bible return
  8. Accompanying the Queen', the third and final meal of the Sabbath return
  9. prayer mantle return
  10. small leather box containing hand-written passages from the Bible return
  11. a collection of rabbinical discussions on the Bible, Jewish law, ethics etc return
  12. Five Books of Moses, Pentateuch return
  13. commentaries on and interpretations of the Bible return
  14. On 2 November 1917 the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, confirming that the British government favoured the ‘establishment in Palestine of a national homeland for the Jewish people’ return
  15. Yiddish: letter writer return
  16. Polish: requests/applications return
  17. Pol.: local authority return
  18. the 12th month, August-September return

The First Days of Awakening

We were four friends, aged 14 to 16. The idea that culture and education are the basis of progress took hold of us. This idea was the basis of the proposal to establish a library in our shtetl. My friend, Zeydil Lopatyn, together with whom I studied for about eight years, agreed to my proposal. Zeydil, who had lost his father (killed by lightning), was small of stature, very clever and sympathetic, and he had the ability to help in bringing this mission to fruition. Dovid Shtoper, whose family were friends of our family, had a good and active nature. Yitzhok Yakhnyuk, an orphan, gifted from birth but lacking the means to develop his talent, had the motivation to make up for what he missed in lessons in the evenings and on Sabbaths. So he moved from group to group looking for companionship. In the end he had to study the trade of shoemaker. In his nature a talented boy, he was able to contribute a great deal to our cause.


First library

We four friends met and decided to send one of us to Dombrovitza[59] to meet Avram Binder, secretary of the Hebrew library in the town, and Avram Shvartz, secretary of the Bundist Jewish library[60]. Since I was the lazybones of the group I was the one chosen to be 'the envoy' to Dombrovitza.

A couple of days later I returned from Dombrovitza. In my hands were 25 Hebrew books, among them the novel 'Love of Zion' by A. Mapu[61]. And books by Frishman[62] and Lilienblum[63]. From Shvartz I ordered 60 books which would be sent

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from Vilne. These were books by Peretz[64], Mendele[65], Frug[66], Sholem-Aleikhem[67], Weissenberg[68] and so on.

I had to get hold of a sum of 25 roubles to cover the price of the books plus 20 roubles for binding. Each of us undertook to give the sum of three roubles and it was up to us to collect the balance of the sum from honorary membership contributions. That is how we found our way to Chaim Ayznberg, the only son among sisters. He was accepted as an honorary member after he paid a rouble. The others were honorary members without voting rights: the chemist Berl Reznik, Yakov Fishman, Aaron and Yakov Olevsky, Itzik Lopata, and Itzik Rabinovych.

The balance of the sum we collected by means of lotteries. Thus after a month of work we obtained 85 books. But where were we to go from there? We needed to look for a room where it would be pleasant for boys and girls to come. To do the binding I found Nakhman Itzhok, the son of the second wife of Hillel. We found a room at Tzirl's place, the mother of Zeydil Lopatyn, despite the fact that her daughters and their husbands and children were living in the house.

None of Zeydil's family was opposed to this, and his mother was happy to see her son, who as a child had been a handful, doing constructive work. I felt uncomfortable, being the grandson of the rov and the son of Yakov Rabinovych, the devout Chassid[69]. I was accused of introducing an abomination into the shtetl. This is what the Chassidim called these books.

This was the first library in the shtetl. We succeeded in establishing our library in spite of the conflicts with the old people. The first female readers were: Pesil Zakhries and Lea Eliezer Zakhries who belonged to the youth socialist circle. There were few teachers of Hebrew, but we did our best to read and understand by ourselves. More than once we were called to the rov of the shtetl Abelson, who rebuked us regarding the library, in spite of the fact that his son and my brother Yitzhok were regular readers of HaTsfira[70] from Warsaw and HaZman[71] from Vilne.

In March 1911 Yakov Fishman told me that he was bringing shkalim[72] from Rovne and suggested that as a culture circle we should sell the shkalim for the next congress. We took the proposal to the committee to decide and it was accepted. It was a large amount of shkalim in relation to our shtetl, where Zionism had not yet taken root. Proud of our work in selling the shkalim, we began to work for the library energetically. The circle of readers and believers in Zionism began to grow. Twice a week we studied Hebrew with Dovid Leyb Paskhas, the son of the cobbler. We received new Zionist literature and letters from M. Usyshkin from Odessa. Chaim Ayznberg and Yakov Fishman gave us moral and social support. The meeting place at the friends of Zeydil Lopatyn was very pleasant and many visited. Both Avram Khizhy and Itzik Lopata joined us. Our circle grew, we received new books and that really gave the Chassidim something to talk about.

When I returned from Yekaterinoslav in May 1917 I was enthused by socialism and by the revolution of Kerensky and by the movement of awakening of the

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workers. We were swept along by the great current; and so I came to Vysotsk a Zionist and 'half a Red'. And indeed I did not know in my soul the boundary between Zionism and socialism.


Zionist organisations

Avram Binder visited us in June 1917. We then founded the Zionist organisation in the shtetl. Lieb Zelmans Lopatyn was the chairman, I was the secretary, Batya Shmuels Shtoper the treasurer. Sara Lea Shar, Dovid Shtoper, Zeydil Lopatyn, Bril Ryzhy and Gitl Lykhtnfeld were members of the committee. We chose Yikhiel Borovyk as manager of the library, which was a part of the Zionist movement. We rented a two-room apartment and continued our work on the library with great energy.

As representatives of KKL[73] the following were chosen: Malka Ayznberg, Etil Vaks, Rivka Borovyk and Sonya Lopatyn. They distinguished themselves in their fundraising activity. Every Saturday evening we arranged meetings chaired by Leyb Lopatyn. Our arguments lasted 4 to 5 hours. As a result of the frictions and the differences of opinion between Sara and Lea Sher, the socialist comrades on the committee, the organisation broke up.

The organisation Tzeirei Tzion[74] was established, a branch of the popular fraction of the national Tzeirei Tzion. The majority of the members of the former Zionist Organisation came over to Tzeirei Tzion. Yeshayahu, Yosil Fibuz and Ternopolsky enriched our organisation on their return from Kiev. Ternopolsky, an active and energetic student, was elected as chairman of the branch. At the same time the general Zionist Organisation[75] continued to exist. Leybil Lopatyn and Dovid Shtoper were active in it. A general committee was set up and activity was begun on behalf of KKL and Keren Hayesod[76]. Also Nisn Borovyk was elected on to the committee. But our work was interrupted several times by the pogroms in the vicinity and by changes of regime.

While we were up to our necks in our work in the library we were also hit by persecution and pogroms by Petlyura gangs[77]. In particular our friend and comrade Ternopolsky suffered persecution. The rov from Vysotsk was called to the commandant who demanded that he hand Ternopolsky over within 24 hours. My mother, who hid him in the loft, was very afraid, and his friend Khayke Shtoper, who helped him in everything, called some friends to consult as to what to do to save him and us. The next day we sent an envoy to Brodetz, four km from Vysotsk, a place where the Red Army was encamped, to call for help. A fight broke out between four Red Army soldiers and their commander, who arrived in the shtetl, and two Petlyura guards, who were wounded. The following day the Red Army entered Vysotsk and Ternopolsky was nominated commander of the 21st brigade and sent to the front, where he was wounded. We never heard any more about him.

From the headquarters of Tzeirei Tzion Dr Peker and Malkhin visited our shtetl. Our activities turned to an additional field: the field of Hebrew education which was

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expressed in the struggle against the cheyder[78] and in the establishing of the Hebrew Tarbut school[79]. The first teachers in the school were: Shokhet, Kant and Geklman (her name now is Yaffa Anavi). Thanks to this school a young generation grew up and was educated, the majority of whom came to Israel to a life of labour and fulfilment.

The general Zionist committee was dissolved. The ways of the two parties, Tzeirei Tzion and Tzionim Klalliim[80] parted. A new young generation came, excited and active. And we, more mature, were at their disposal for advice and assistance. We continued our Zionist activities for KKL, selling shkalim[81] and so on. We sold shkalim even to people who were far from the Zionist idea like Asher Lapinsky, the rov, Nisn Lopatyn and so on. In total we sold 200 shkalim. When, in Warsaw in May, I handed over the money to Yehoshua Khefetz, chairman of Tzeirei Tzion, his response was 'I am proud of you, Vysotskaim [people of Vysotsk]'.

And indeed the sons of Vysotsk have reason to be proud: many of them came to Israel and were among those who built and fulfilled the dream. Blessed are you, sons and daughters! May your hands be strengthened in the work of the people of the State of Israel!

  Shlomo Rabinovych
London, August 1960

The Zionist Committee in Vysotsk, 1918
from right to left: Dovid Shtoper, Avram-Nisn Khizhy, Zeydl Lopata, Sara Lea Sher, the teacher Ternopolsky, Ben-Tzion Ryzhy, Gitl Lykhtnfeld, Leybl Lopata


  1. now Dubrovytsya return
  2. The Bund was the main non-Zionist Jewish socialist movement, founded in 1897 to represent Jews throughout Imperial Russia. It supported the 1917 February Revolution but opposed the October revolution. In 1921 it ceased activities in the Soviet Union but remained active in Poland (and the United States) return
  3. Avraham Mapu, who was born in Kovno (Kaunus) in 1808 and died in Konigsberg (Kaliningrad) in 1867, wrote in Hebrew – his Ahavat Tzion (Love of Zion) is regarded as the first Hebrew novel return
  4. David Saulovich Frishman, born 1864 in Zgierz, a town just north of Łodź, died in Berlin in 1922 return
  5. Moshe Leyb Lilienblum (1843-1910) wrote in both Russian and Hebrew return
  6. Yitzhok Leybush Peretz, born 1852 in Zamošć, died in Warsaw in 1915. Regarded, with Mendele and Sholem Aleichem, as one of the three classical Yiddish writers return
  7. Mendele Mokher Sforim (1835-1915), second most famous Yiddish writer after Sholem Aleikhem return
  8. Shimon Frug (1860-1916), Yiddish writer return
  9. nom de plume of Sholem Naumovich Rabinovych (1859-1916), the most famous Yiddish writer return
  10. Isaak Meir Weissenberg (or Vaysenberg) (1881-1938), a leading Yiddish literary figure in Warsaw return
  11. founded by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1698-1760), known as Baal Shem Tov, Chassidism, which quickly attracted a huge following among the Jewish masses of the Ukraine, emphasised prayer and devotion, in contrast to the academic rabbinical orthodoxy prevalent in Lithuania return
  12. 'The Dawn', the first Hebrew-language journal in Poland. Founded in 1862, it ceased publication in 1927 return
  13. 'The Time', a daily Hebrew-language newspaper published in Vilna (Vilnius) from 1904 until 1915 return
  14. certificates given in return for payment of annual dues to the World Zionist Organisation return
  15. Keren Kayemet l'Israel, the Jewish National Fund, founded in 1901 in order to buy and develop land in Palestine for Jewish settlement return
  16. Zionist Youth return
  17. the umbrella organisation of the Zionist movement, founded in 1897 at the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland return
  18. United Jewish Appeal, founded in 1920, the main international fund-raising organisation return
  19. Symon Petlura (Petlyura), born in 1879, was a Ukrainian nationalist who became head of the government of the short-lived Ukrainian National Republic (1919-1921). Jews held him responsible for the wave of pogroms. He was assassinated in Paris in 1926 return
  20. private school providing a traditional religion-based education return
  21. Tarbut ('Culture'), was a network of Hebrew-language educational institutions founded in 1922 return
  22. General Zionists, centrists politically return
  23. certificates given in return for payment of annual dues to the World Zionist Organisation return

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During the Pogroms

It was on Yom Kippur[82] at the end of the First World War. I was then a small child, I was sitting next to my father in the synagogue and because I was hungry my father of blessed memory sent me home to eat something. On the way I heard women shouting. Goys[83] had broken into some houses and pillaged everything that came to hand, especially food. I went back to the synagogue and told my father, but he didn't pay attention to it, for after all they were only the words of a small child.

Towards evening, during the prayer for the close of Sabbath loud voices and shouts were heard outside. Then two armed soldiers burst into the synagogue straight on to the bimah[84] – threatening that 'in five minutes not a soul will remain in the synagogue, and anybody defying the command will be killed on the spot!' Then there was a general riot and commotion. Fathers searched for their little children. Men's voices, women crying and soldiers' threats all mixed together in confusion.

Everybody was very afraid. The lights were not turned off; dread reigned in the shtetl. In many houses the doors had been broken down. The food was pillaged and there wasn't anything to break the hunger after the fast. It was clear that a gang of those that were then roaming in the neighbourhood had burst into the shtetl. Later it was said that the rov remained alone in the synagogue in his corner to finish the prayer and only went back to his house at a late hour of the evening.

On the next day they were saying in the shtetl that in the shtetls of the vicinity there were pogroms against Jews and there were casualties. A great fear fell on the people of the shtetl in dread of what was to come. Two days after Yom Kippur a strange Goy came into our house asking for bread and candles. He told us that in two days time a gang would come to the shtetl. This filled us with dread. It was well known that the sole aim of such a gang was - pogroms against Jews! It was said that in the nearby shtetl of Plotnitze forty Jews had been killed, most of the houses were destroyed and pillaged. We waited in dread for what was to come.

And indeed in the morning of the Sunday of Sukkot[85], a time when Jews of the shtetl are at prayer, there burst into the shtetl an armed member of the gang on horseback. Those who had been praying quickly left the synagogue, Jews hid in cowsheds, in roofs belonging to Goys, and some disguised themselves as Goys by putting on their clothes… I remember how our family hid in the pile of straw in the loft of the cowshed and how my father sent me, a small child (as though I were not in danger), to reconnoitre what was happening outside… Things continued like this for two days; relative peace reigned over the shtetl. Only on the third day when they left two of the gang burst into the house of Reb Moyshe Ayznberg and killed him on the spot.

Dejection and grief reigned in the shtetl; the festival turned to mourning.

  Dov Tkach


  1. Day of Atonement return
  2. non-Jews return
  3. reader's platform in a synagogue return
  4. 7-day Feast of Tabernacles (between late September and late October), when some Jews eat (and sometimes sleep) in temporary structures partially open to the sky, recalling the 40 years in the desert following the Exodus from Egypt return

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