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[Page 117]

Memories of Bygone Times[1]

by Y. Ben–David

Translated by Yael Chaver

Two intersecting roads divided Zinkov into four parts. At the crossroads stood a tall pole with a kerosene lamp, which created a pool of light underneath. The children were drawn to the light like moths, continuing their play that had stopped when it grew dark.


Yosef Ben–David


It was the time of the First World War. The supervision of children by parents and teachers slacked off. From time to time, the schools would close, because the ruling gangs requisitioned them; the buildings seemed to have been planned to house soldiers. The children were affected by their surroundings, and tried to imitate the adults as they played. Their favorite game was “soldiers.” Each street would have its own army unit, complete with officers, to fight the children of the next street. There were imaginary captives and casualties in these battles; sometimes, the wounds were far from imaginary.

Control of the town often changed hands. Every once in a while a gang that had formed in the vicinity appeared. Bullets began flying about. The residents would hide indoors until it grew quieter. That was life in those days: economic concerns on the one hand, and mortal danger on the other hand. Our fatalities were relatively low, compared with the other towns in the area. This was apparently due to the “self–defense” group, which was well–organized and deterred the robbers and thugs. The core of the group was students who had returned home from Odessa, and brought weapons with them.[2] Many homes also had their own weapons. Our house, for example, contained a long–barreled Parabellum pistol, which I often took out of its drawer and examined.[3] I was very proud of myself when I held the large instrument in my small hands, and sometimes tried to use it. To this day, I can't understand how I escaped injury in those exercises.

* * *

It was nighttime, frosty, snowy. Suddenly, shots rang out. As we were experienced,

[Page 118]

and prepared for disaster, we gathered in an inner room whose walls did not face the street, where we would be safe from intentional, or stray, bullets. Once the first moments of panic were over, we listened intently to gauge the amount and direction from which the shots came. We found that they were coming from the area of rebbe Moyshele's house. Once the shooting stopped and things grew a bit calmer, we found out that the tavern just behind the rabbi's house was occupied by a gang that was planning to take over the town. Once the self–defense group found this out, they decided to foil the plan. A face–to–face battle broke out between gang members and self–defense fighters. Our guys advanced, taking one room after another from the gang in the tavern, all the way up to the attic. In this way, they managed to overpower the gang and place them under arrest in the firehouse. A serious problem now arose: they had no way to shackle the gang members. The answer was supplied by the Yoshpe family, many of whom belonged to the self–defense group. That night, they opened up their store, brought out iron chains, and the gang members were secured.

* * *

It was Friday evening. All was quiet and peaceful in the town; but we had not finished our meal before shots were heard once again. Within a few seconds, shots and explosion echoed from every corner of town. Father (may his memory be for a blessing) took his weapon and went out. All Mother's efforts to get us to bed were in vain. We sneaked out of our beds, rushed down the stairs, and stood on the ground floor, in the living room. We were very curious about what was going on outside. Late that night, we found out that a gang had been organized in the “Kalinovka” neighborhood, with the goal of taking over the town; it was only thanks to the efforts of the “self–defense” group that the gang was fended off and the town was saved.

* * *

Eventually, we became used to the rumors that swept over town every now and then about robberies and murders perpetrated by gangs in various towns. These became a regular part of our childhood experiences, until we got word one Friday night about approaching danger. The sun was still high. Grandma (may she rest in peace) ordered us to come in, wash, and change our clothes for Shabbes. At first we refused, because it was still early and we could have played outdoors for a while. But I understood the situation after hearing Grandma's conversation with the adults. She told my parents, “If we have to die, at least we'll be buried with clean bodies and fresh clothes.” The rumors were that the threatening gang had decided to carry out a massacre in Zinkov, like the one it had earlier perpetrated in Proskurov.[4]

* * *

It was night. We were already in bed, when the wall next to my bed suddenly lit up.

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Flames from a nearby house illuminated the entire neighborhood. Immediately, there was a commotion on the street. The firefighter's carts hurried toward the fire. Alarmed people ran around, trying as they ran to find out what had happened. It soon became clear that the house of Levi the carpenter was on fire. Rescue operations were soon under way and the firefighters started to extinguish the fire, but suddenly stopped because explosions were coming from the attic of the house. It turned out that the owner, a member of the self–defense organization, had stored different types of ammunition in the attic for safe–keeping. The firefighting efforts had to stop until all the ammunition was gone.

* * *

One day we heard that the school was closed. A gang that had taken over the town took up housing in the large school building and its spacious rooms. As this “vacation” went on, Father (may his memory be for a blessing) decided that I had to fill in the gap in my studies with the aid of a tutor. Our family friend Shmuel Fridman (may his memory be for a blessing) was to be the tutor. I went to his home, near the slaughterhouse, every day. One day, when I showed up for my regular lesson, the tutor was surprised: “Are you coming to study today? How could they let you leave the house in this situation?” I was surprised; Fridman began explaining that a gang had entered the town and it was dangerous to be on the street, especially as it was a long way from my home to his. As generous and warm–hearted as he was, he could not understand me: was I, a child, to blame for the war, and the presence of gangs in cities and towns? Was that a reason to deny myself the pleasure of learning?

* * *

The Rebbe, Moyshele (may his memory be for a blessing) lived next door, in a large, spacious house. One wing of the house was vacant, as it had been damaged by a fire. The rabbi and his extended family lived on the ground floor, and the upper floor was used as a synagogue, including a womens' section as well as a private room for the rabbi. The synagogue was large and well–lit, and the light coming from outside was amplified by the rabbi's inner light. Rebbe Moyshele was young. His behavior was unassuming and pleasant with everyone. He greeted everyone graciously, whether unlearned or scholarly, old or young, or someone who had simply come to ask his advice. People knew that the rabbi would find an answer to their questions and a remedy for problems that bothered them. The rabbi (may his memory be for a blessing) was especially fond of children, and would greet them with a friendly tug on the cheek.

* * *

The last night of Sukkes, Simkhes–Toyre, was celebrated with hakofes––circles of people dancing inside the synagogue.[5] Despite the late hour, a large crowd of the Rebbe's followers waited reverently for him to emerge from his room. The synagogue was very crowded. When the Rebbe appeared, his followers started clapping and singing. Each circuit around the hall added more enthusiasts to the dancing circles. The Rebbe himself would join the celebrants later. He held a small Torah scroll as he danced, and his followers would dance along with him deep into the night. The people of Zinkov certainly knew how to rejoice, even if it was only on Simkhes–Toyre.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Pp. 117–119 have been translated from the Hebrew original. Return
  2. Odessa was a major center of higher education. Return
  3. Semi–automatic Parabellum pistols were in widespread use in Europe at the time. Return
  4. The massacre in Proskurov was on February 15, 1919. Return
  5. Sukkes (Sukkot, literally “booths”), the autumn harvest holiday, lasts for seven days and is the last of the High Holidays. It is named for the temporary dwellings of the Israelites during their wanderings in the desert. An additional day at its end, Simkhes–Toyre (Simhat Torah, “the joy of the Torah”)¸ marks the end of the annual weekly cycle of Torah–readings. In the celebration, which starts on the eve of the holiday, the last reading of the previous year is immediately followed by the first reading of the new year. All the Torah scrolls are taken out of the ark and paraded around the synagogue seven times, accompanied by dancing, singing, and rejoicing. The celebration continues the next day. Hakofes is the plural of hakofe–circular procession. Return

[Page 120]

My Childhood in Zinkov

by Dovid Fuks

Translated by Yael Chaver

If God had miraculously commanded the four towns of Zinkov, Michalpole, Vinkivci, and Salapkovits to become one city and adjoin each other on the semicircular area of the clifftop near the former Turkish fortress, which we called “the castle,” Zinkov would have been a large city, and I would have been happy to introduce myself whole–heartedly as “a Zinkovite.”[1] However, the four towns were spread over a large area. Vinkivci was separated from Zinkov by a large, dense forest; Salapkovits – by a valley and a steep path; and Michalpole, especially, was separated from the other three towns by a small lake that had to be skirted along a clayey uphill road. On most days, the road was covered with thick, clayey mud that never dried between rains. It was even worse in winter. Severe frost would harden the wet clay into jagged lumps that were again hard to cross.

It was in this “clayey town,” of all places, that my mother chose to bring me into the world, though her own family was in Zinkov. My father Fayvish (may he rest in peace) soon moved with his family to the village of Pakutenits, several versts away from Zinkov, and was known as “Fayvish of Pakutenits.”[2] My great–grandfather had already been a yishuvnik in that village.[3] When I was all of three years old, my parents took me to Michalpole, where I had been born, and handed me over to my grandfather, Eliyohu the cantor, so that he would bring me up and send me to kheyder along with other Jewish children and I would not become a non–Jewish child, God forbid. I would be brought home for the High Holidays, and taken back to Michalpole afterwards. The foundations of my Jewish education were laid in

[Page 121]

that isolated Jewish town, Michalpole, which I will remember fondly all my life. Hitler, may his name be blotted out, turned all these Jewish towns into a giant rubble heap, but at that quiet, calm time, everyone all lived as good neighbors.

The most deeply engraved on my heart is Zinkov, because the few years that I spent there were the best of my youth. As I mentioned, my parents settled in the village of Pakutenits, about 5 versts from Zinkov. A few Jewish families already lived there, and when the children grew a bit older they brought a teacher to the village. Those were the peaceful years, before the First World War. A small boy had a very good life in the village. Apples and pears grew profusely in the orchard behind the house, and juicy plums as well. It was a joy to run barefoot in the grass, even if it was not your home or your grass; who cared? The other Jewish families also had children, with whom I could play; it was such a joy to run from one end of the village to the other, up to the mill (the miller was Jewish), and bathe there with the other guys under the waterfalls created by the mill's paddles. We lived peacefully with our peasant neighbors. It seemed that we could go on living like this happily for years, but the war fell upon us, followed by the turmoil of the armed bands which turned their murderous instincts primarily towards Jews.

While I lived in the village with my parents, we would often go to Zinkov, either together or separately. We would go to buy necessities or to sell something we had bought from the peasants. Family members also lived there: my aunt Gitl (may she rest in peace) with her family; one of these was her daughter Sonia, now my wife. They had previously lived near the Austrian–Russian border, moved to Zinkov when the war began, and lived in a house on the same street that has been so eloquently described by our friend Yisro'el Roytburd. The first friend I made in Zinkov was actually Yisro'el Sani's (Sani Roytburd's son). First of all, his house was always open to young people. Yisro'el's father liked to spend time and have fun in company with young people. A relative of theirs also lived in the house, a pretty girl named

[Page 122]

Basya, who was an orphan; both her parents had died. She was a good friend of my cousin Sonia. We all formed a strong bond.

Sani's house was also the place where my intellectual education began. Sani would initiate conversations about various issues; by then, Yisro'el had already subscribed to the Russian illustrated journal Nivo, which would award prizes to the work of the best Russian writers.[4] Those books, which I read with enthusiasm, had a decisive effect on my intellectual development. From time to time I would also read the Yiddish daily newspapers Moment and Haynt, to which my father in the village subscribed, as well as the Kievskaya Misl, to which one of the Jews in the village subscribed.[5]

* * *

Our quiet lives did not last long. The difficult days of conflict between revolutionary and counter–revolutionary forces now began. Murderous bandits started to rampage in our area. There was a pogrom at my parents' house in the village. Everything was robbed, and my library, that I had worked so hard to collect, was turned into a pile of Hebrew words that scattered in every direction with the winds that blew through the broken windows.[6] The situation was such that the entire family moved to Zinkov, “under duress,” as it were.

On my earlier visits to Zinkov, I had come to know all the young people who were involved in community activism. Now we grew closer, and I became a member of HeHalutz, despite the opposition of my parents, who did not want to let their only son vanish into the wide world. They succeeded only in stopping me from joining the first group of Zionist settlers from Zinkov. I left with the second group, in spite of my parents' protests. I assured them that I would bring them to Eretz–Yisro'el at the first opportunity. Unfortunately, this was not to be. My father died of natural causes in Zinkov, and my mother was slaughtered by the Nazi murderers. May their memory be honored forever, along with that of Zinkov, where I spent my youthful years.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. I could not identify the place name transliterated as Salapkovits, Solopkovits, Salafkovits, or Solofkovits. The corresponding Yiddish letters in the text lack vowel signs. Return
  2. I could not identify the place name transliterated as Pakutenitz or Pokutenits. A verst is a Russian measure of length, about 0.66 mile. Return
  3. A yishuvnik was a Jew who lived in a village with no Jewish community and was considered unlearned, and thus inferior to Jews more involved in Jewish culture. Return
  4. I was not able to identify a periodical by that name. The Russian “Nivo” is roughly “level” (as in “level of achievement”). Return
  5. The Kievskaya Misl was a major Ukrainian newspaper. Der Moment (1910–1939) and Haynt were the two main Yiddish daily newspapers in Poland, published in Warsaw; they were in very wide circulation. Return
  6. The writer uses the Hebraic term sheymes (which I have translated as “words”), to indicate the importance of these books for him. Sheymes is the Yiddish word for fragments of a holy book written in Hebrew letters that are not to be discarded, but buried in consecrated ground. It is not clear whether all these books were holy, in the conventional meaning of the term, or in Hebrew, but he clearly considered them sacred. Return

[Page 123]

My Childhood Years in Zinkov

by Moyshe Grinman

Translated by Yael Chaver

My father Yisro'el (may he rest in peace) was a community activist in our town, Zinkov, along with a group of friends who joined him in working for the good of the community. In those years, there were several kheyders in Zinkov, with teachers who taught the children Torah with Rashi, as well as Talmud.[1] There was also a talmud–toyre, which was more progressive than the kheyders, but used almost the same methods. The community activists, including my father, realized that the children also needed to be taught Russian and to receive a secular education. They therefore decided to establish a new talmud–toyre near the existing one and to bring in teachers from larger cities, who could point education in a new direction.

They also decided to build a new bathhouse in town, so that Jews should not have to walk far in the winter cold to the old bathhouse, outside town. With this in mind, two large buildings were erected on the old meadow, near the old talmud–toyre. However, when the walls were finished, the structures could not be completed; the town treasury had run out of money. The community activists then started collecting money throughout the city, to complete the buildings. At first, they turned to the few rich men in town and demanded a larger contribution for this purpose. However, as is well known, rich people are not too considerate. A few of them flatly refused to donate money. What's to be done in such a situation? A solution was found: “If they won't contribute in life, they'll contribute after death.” Simply put, these people would not be buried until their heirs made good on the important social debt imposed on them by the town: to complete the two buildings that were so vital to the Jewish population. Surprisingly, the rich misers were in no hurry to die, and the buildings remained unfinished for a very long time. However, we youngsters

[Page 124]

wished the rich misers long lives; we used the two unfinished structures as forts when we played war: one group barricaded itself in one of the buildings and the other – in the second. We would climb up the walls and discover the positions of the “enemy.” Over time, the walls crumbled completely.

My father (may he rest in peace) realized that there was no point in waiting for the completion of the modern talmud–toyre, and turned to the only Russian school in Zinkov. However, they had a quota for Jewish children. My father overcame this decree by using the time–honored method that had served during the Czarist regime… and Simnevitch, the principal of the Russian school, allowed me through the doors of the school.[2] At this point, I would like to recount an episode that happened in the school. One of the few Jewish students in the school was our friend Nokhem Yoshpe. He was the son of Yekhiel–Itzi (Manish's son) and has been living in Israel for years. His only son was killed in Israel's War of Independence (honor to his memory!). Nokhem Yoshpe was than a boy of about twelve. One day at noon, when the children were let out of school for their midday meal, Nokhem made a “fig” gesture at the image of Czar Nikolai the Second, that was hanging on the wall.[3] One of the Christian students noticed this and told Principal Simnevitch, who then took Nokhem into a separate room and gave him a beating. Nokhem emerged from the room black and blue. We Jewish children sat trembling with fear that there would be new regulations affecting Jewish children. But Simnevitch made better use of the incident,

and extorted money from Nokhem's father for the “crime,” as it were, of his 12–year–old son.

This incident was typical of Jewish life in Zinkov during the Czarist period; and not only in Zinkov.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Rashi is the acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040–1105), a medieval French rabbi and author of a comprehensive commentary on the Bible and the Talmud. His commentaries are still in very wide use. Return
  2. There is no description of this “method,” but it was most likely bribery. The ellipsis is in the original. Return
  3. The “fig” sign is a mildly obscene gesture that apparently originated in the Mediterranean region and was adopted Slavic cultures. The gesture uses a thumb wedged in between two fingers. Return

[Page 124]

The Life and Death of a Jewish Family

Translated by Yael Chaver

I will begin with my own distant past, with my own family.

My father (may he rest in peace) was Yisro'el Aynkoyfer; everyone in Zinkov knew Yisro'el Aynkoyfer?[1] He was so called because he would travel to the larger cities of our region, such as Proskurov, Kamenetz, and even as far as

[Page 125]

Odessa, to buy merchandise for the Zinkov shopkeepers as well as other things needed in the town that were difficult to obtain. When a storekeeper needed goods to fill the shelves in his business, he couldn't allow himself to travel and make the purchases. He would write out a list and give it to my father. When enough lists had accumulated, my father would hire a pair of peasant carts and go to the larger cities, to buy everything and bring it to Zinkov. Of course, my father received some compensation for his work; nowadays we would term it a commission. My father also took care of the talmud–toyre, the Russian school, and students who had private tutors, and supplied them with the necessary schoolbooks. I can still see the mountains of books throughout our home, books of different colors and languages; I would happily go through them to satisfy my curiosity. My father even supplied the Jews of Zinkov with wine for Peysekh (Passover). He would bring anything people ordered. That is why he was called Yisro'el Aynkoyfer rather than by his actual last name (Grinman); in general, Zinkov did not approve of last names. My mother's name was Miriam, and she was called by her father's name: Miriam, Shloyme's daughter.


Yisro'el Aynkoyfer's family. Except for one survivor, the entire family of 30 was murdered

[Page 126]

I begin my memories with my earliest childhood, when we were still only two children in the home, before more children appeared in succession, and our family tree grew and branched out more and more.

My father was not a rich man, but he made a good living. He sent all his children to school, first to kheyders and then to the two–class Russian school.[2] He gave girls and boys equal chances to study. He also had an iron–goods store in Khayim Kluger's house. When I grew older I helped to run this store, and later managed it almost completely on my own. This freed my father to continue his purchasing travels.

The First World War came along, and disrupted life in the whole world, including my family. The time came when I was called up. I was good looking, healthy and strong. We knew that “Fonye” would snatch me up with both arms and make a soldier of me.[3] My parents could not let their son go into Czarist military service, especially during wartime. Jews were second–class citizens, possibly even lower than that. In addition, they were treated badly once they were in the army; they were hated and persecuted. People accused the Jews of cowardice, plain and simple. All these accusations were proven absolutely false. The heroic actions of our young people were soon famous in every place where they had a specific goal, such as later, in the Red Army, or in America, or, especially, in Israel's army during the War of Independence. My father therefore made every effort to make sure I would not have to join the Czarist war.

In the meantime, the stormy days of revolution and counter–revolution came. For a while, chaos and anarchy reigned in the region. Young people stopped going into the army, and we were called “non–Kosher hares” and “wicker–covered jars.”[4] The police carried out frequent raids in the town to catch deserters; but there was always advance word of these raids, as the policeman received a suitable “gift”… Much later, when the Soviet regime was established, we – a group of young men from Zinkov – started working for the provisioning office of the

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Soviet army and the civilian population. This released us from active military duty. It was soon announced that Petlyura's bands were nearing Proskurov. The office in which we worked was quickly evacuated and we were supposed to travel with them. However, we Zinkov natives decided to make our way back to our home town.


Rabbi Meir Yoysef (the “Black Rabbi”) with some family members.
The parents and some of their children were murdered.
Shachna and Sore Vasserman, their son Yoysef and his family.
All were murdered.


Here I must tell a story of an event that was very typical of that chaotic time. The cart–drivers of Zinkov, who drove passengers to Proskurov and back, no longer dared to make the trip, fearing they would fall into the hands of the Petlyura bandits. We didn't think too long, and decided to walk. One bright summer's day we, four guys from Zinkov (myself, Moyshe Garber, Izi Baytlman, and Lyova Finkl – who later became my brother–in–law) set out for Michalpole. We were so naïve that we did not inquire about the direction from which the murderous bands were coming. Scared and sweaty, we arrived at a nearby village; our hearts sank when we saw that the village was full of soldiers. It was too late to turn back–they had already noticed us. We continued on our way nervously, pretending we did not know what had happened. Our dread was even greater, because we had dared to place the Bolshevik papers inside the lining of our hats. However, we were happily surprised: it was a Red Army unit. We could continue our trip from the village in peace, with no questioning.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. “Aynkoyfer” translates as “buyer.” Return
  2. I'm not sure what the “two–class” qualifier refers to. Return
  3. “Fonye” is a derogatory Yiddish personification of Russia and/or the Czar. It may be derived from “Vanya,” a diminutive of the common Russian name Ivan. Return
  4. Hares are considered non–Kosher, and are synonymous with “cowards” in Russian; the nickname “wicker–covered jar” may refer to the supposed physical fragility of Jews. Return
  5. The translation follows the original text. Return

[Page 128]

Zinkov–My Home Town![1]

by Shlomo Ben–David (Blinder), Netanya

Translated by Yael Chaver

I vaguely remember you, my town, fifty years after my departure. When my dear father, David Blinder (may his memory be for a blessing) married our beloved mother, Ahuva (daughter of Ya'akov and Rivka Hasid, may their memory be for a blessing), they moved to the border town of Husiatyn. As he was a pharmacist, he opened a pharmacy there. I returned to you, my town, after the First World War broke out, when we were expelled from the border town; I left you forever when I was Bar–Mitzvah, on our way to Eretz–Yisra'el.[2] After many long years, I portray you, my town, and present memories which, though fragmented, are very typical.




I remember well that our town was divided into four quarters by the main streets, which intersected. The crossing was occupied by the tall lamp, which functioned as the center for news and town talk, especially in the evenings. One quarter was focused on the home of the rabbi, Rebbe Moyshele (may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing), where his many followers would gather.[3] My grandfather, Ya'akov, also lived nearby. Another quarter consisted of the large market square with its lodgings and the well from which the townspeople,

[Page 129]

bearing yokes with buckets, drew water for home use and filled barrels for using all week.[4]

The third quarter was centered around the home of Rebbe Pinkhesl (may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing), who had followers of his own. The fourth quarter was the oldest, with the synagogue at its center. The synagogue was said to date to the times of Khmelnitsky.[5] It was called “Movshivka,” apparently because of the name's connection to sewing; tailors and shoemakers lived nearby.[6] Most of the townspeople made their living as small shopkeepers and peddlers. There were some larger stores in town as well. As in other small towns, most commercial life occurred on market days (every Tuesday), when peasants from nearby villages would bring their farm produce to sell and would buy merchandise that they needed.

After we returned to Zinkov, and my father took care of our basic livelihood, as it were, he devoted much energy to his childrens' education. Being an ardent Zionist and a delegate to the 11th Zionist Congress in Vienna, he did not want us to be educated in the old–style kheyder or talmud–toyre, or in the Russian school, and started agitating for the establishment of a Hebrew school in town.[7] And in fact, after much struggle and thanks to the work of a few other devotees, such a school was created. Among its teachers were S. Fridman (may his memory be for a blessing), S. Steinberg (brother of the writer Yehuda Steinberg), Goldshteyn, and Himelfarb.[8] My father's organizational work in education was helped mainly by the Vartzman, Aberbukh, Kaplan, and Frenkel families, as well as by my uncle Yekhiel Yoshpe (may his memory be for a blessing) and my uncle Yitzchak Sadikov, who were Zionist activists in our town.

At that time, a drama club for older youth was founded, and staged plays in Hebrew and Yiddish. We younger children created the “Flowers of Zion” association, and used our savings as well as some contributions, established the first Hebrew library in the hall of the firehouse (which had become a cultural and entertainment center for youth and adults). We received our earliest Zionist education in this library, and the library books in this library supplied the raw material for our dreams of immigrating to Eretz Yisra'el.

The famous Turkish fort and the winding path that led down from it to the spring, 100 meters away, were an unexpected source of special fun and activities for the young people of Zinkov. It was also the way to the nearby river in summer. The way to the fort passed through the village, where we were often ambushed by the non–Jewish boys and encountered sticks and stones. We often came back with ripped clothes; but sometimes we fought back properly, especially when our cousin Nokhem Yoshpe was the leader. The non–Jewish boys called him “Red–Haired Tribe.”[9] He frightened not only the boys from the nearby villages; even hardened criminals were afraid to meet him due to his reputation. Nokhem headed the self–defense group during the time of pogroms, and we younger kids were his squires.

As we were Rebbe Moyshele's neighbors, we spent time in his home and played with his children. I remember that one year, on the eve of Sukkes, he tweaked my ear and told me, speaking Ashkenazi Hebrew (he usually talked Yiddish), “Go to Zerach and get me the sukkah–sher.” At first, I thought he was asking for shears to cut the greenery, but

[Page 130]

after I had gone back and forth and come back empty–handed, I understood that he had been joking.[10]

I was embarrassed when I returned to his home, but the rebbe patted me and promised that he would come and grace us with his presence on the holiday.

One more episode. The rebbe, who was a wonderful person, modest and highly educated, liked to debate Father on philosophical issues. If I remember correctly, they spoke of Hegel, Kant, and mainly Spinoza. I especially remember the vivid images I conjured up of the burning candles and the resounding shofars when Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated.[11] The rebbe would end the conversation with a keen comment: “We'll see how you behave there in the Holy Land.”

After the pogroms in Proskurov and elsewhere in our vicinity, Father (may his memory be for a blessing) started to pressure Grandfather and Grandmother to close their businesses and make aliyah to Eretz–Yisra'el. The Balfour Declaration made an indelible impression.[12] We considered it a harbinger of national salvation. The Zionists of Zinkov donated their jewelry to the salvation fund, as an expression of support and participation in the great historical events.[13] The first He–Halutz group was organized, headed by our cousin Nokhem Yoshpe, and we stole across the Polish border at Husyatin in the winter of 1919, on our way to Eretz–Yisra'el. Our dear father did not live to reach the goal of his aspirations and dreams. He died when we were on our way, and was buried in a foreign land. It is our great good fortune to have been able to reach Eretz–Yisra'el and take part in the defense of the community while Haganah was still underground, and later to join the Israel Defense Army and do our part to liberate our homeland.[14]

It is our sacred duty to pass on to our children and grandchildren, down to the last generation, information about their parents' birthplace. Let them know and remember that we came to the land to preserve our people's life flame, and our future as a free and independent nation. We hold very dear the pledge entrusted to us by former generations.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Original pp. 128–130 have been translated from Hebrew. Return
  2. Boys have their Bar–Mitzvah ceremony at age 13. Return
  3. The phrase “may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing” usually follows the name of a deceased rabbi. Return
  4. The lodgings served travellers who would come to the market. Return
  5. Bohdan Khmelnitsky was a 17th–century Cossack leader who led a revolt against the Polish–Lithuanian regime; he is revered in Ukraine as a freedom fighter but infamous in Jewish history. Between 1648 and 1656, tens of thousands of Jews–due to the lack of reliable data, it is impossible to establish more accurate figures–were killed in pogroms by the rebels. The massacres spread to other parts of Europe. The Khmelnitsky uprising and its accompanying pogroms is still considered by Jews to be one of the most devastating events in their history. The trauma contributed to a contemporaneous revival of the ideas of Isaac Luria, who revered the Kabbalah, and the identification of Sabbatai Zevi as the Messiah. Return
  6. I could not find any connection between “Movshiv” with the Russian for “sewing.” Return
  7. Hebrew had for centuries been used by Jews solely for religious purposes. It was brought into use as a modern secular language in the late 19th century, and became a linchpin of Zionist ideology. Return
  8. Yehuda Steinberg (1863–1908) was a well–known Hebrew and Yiddish writer. Return
  9. There is a long–standing tradition identifying red–haired people as Jews which deserve persecution. The anti–Semitic association persisted into modern times in Soviet Russia. Return
  10. This practical joke is particularly suitable for Sukkes, when the sukkah roof is covered with foliage. The Yiddish sher means “scissors,” and the child Shlomo understood it literally as a tool for cutting the greenery. However, the phrase Sukkah–sher means “wild–goose chase.” Evidently, Shlomo was not familiar with the phrase. His reward–having the Rabbi join his family for the holiday–was an honor. Return
  11. Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) was a Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Sephardi origin. One of the early thinkers of the Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, including modern conceptions of the self and the universe, he is considered one of the great rationalists of 17th–century philosophy. He was excommunicated as a heretic in 1656. Excommunication (cherem) is an extremely solemn ceremony, which involves candle–lighting and shofar–blowing. Return
  12. The Balfour Declaration (named for Arthur James Balfour, then the British Foreign Secretary) was a public statement issued by the British government in 1917, during the First World War, announcing its support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in then–Ottoman Palestine. Return
  13. I could not identify the “salvation fund.” Return
  14. Haganah is the Hebrew word for “defense” and was the name of the main paramilitary organization of the Zionist Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine between 1920 and 1948, Return

[Page 131]

Our Town

by Rivka Katz

Translated by Yael Chaver

The town of Zinkov was sprawled over a high hill, and had a population of five thousand Jews. Looking across the deep valley, one could see many similar hills, covered in a soft lush carpet of grass, stretching all the way to the horizon. This valley surrounded the town on three sides and contained hundreds of small peasant homes. Winding around the banks of the calm little Ushitsa River were many orchards and gardens that yielded various fruits and vegetables. A wide road stretched along the fourth side of the town, between large areas of flourishing fields, surrounded in turn by dense forests. Thus, the vicinity of Zinkov presented a truly beautiful panorama that captivated all onlookers.

All these forests and fields, fruit orchards and gardens, supplied the town with rich produce. Many Jews earned a comfortable living by dealing with this produce. The poorer segments of the population also dealt with the peasants who would bring their wares into market daily. These wares consisted of fruit, vegetables, and eggs. Thus, the market and stores that were located in the center of town were constantly humming, and Ukrainian villagers were always in contact with the town's Jews. Zinkov was also famous for its manufacture of clay pots. Peasants (so–called antchars) in the region made clay pots, which were a cheap and important product at the time.[1] Jews would buy up wagon–loads of pots, which were then sent off to be sold elsewhere places for good prices. At some distance from the town lay “phosphorus pits,” and those who dealt in that substance became rich. All these forests and fields, fruit orchards and gardens, supplied the town with rich produce. Many Jews earned a comfortable living by dealing with this produce. The poorer segments of the population also dealt with the peasants who would bring their wares into market daily. These wares consisted of fruit, vegetables, and eggs. Thus, the market and stores that were located in the center of town were constantly humming, and Ukrainian villagers were always in contact with the town's Jews. Zinkov was also famous for its manufacture of clay pots. Peasants (so–called antchars) in the region made clay pots, which were a cheap and important product at the time.[2]

Any conversation about the spiritual life of Zinkov should start

[Page 132]

by mentioning the two rabbis, Rebbe Moyshele and Rebbe Pinchesl, who played a prominent role in the life of the town. Although there weren't many observant Jews in Zinkov, the rabbis added much variety to town life and attracted numerous followers from the surrounding towns and cities. Zinkov had many fine, capable, and idealistic young people, who had, since the late 19th century, become famous for their initiative and rejection of all the superstitions of the time. They quickly adopted the new winds that were blowing in from western Europe: winds of freedom, education, and progress. These young people constantly nudged the town toward a new way of life. As early as the beginning of 20th century, Zinkov could confidently call itself a modern, civilized town. Everyone was reading, studying, and working to achieve a better, finer life. The town already had a private library where all could come to read, spend leisure time, and discuss various issues. It also had a modern talmud–toyre with capable teachers, which had higher standards than the outdated old kheyders. Various clubs and political organizations were created in the town: Zionists, Bundists, and others. Each of these addressed current issues very seriously.

How interesting that time was, how beautiful, how lovely life was in our Zinkov. How hard it is to forget it all!

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. I could not translate antchar. Return
  2. These “pits” were apparently a source of phosphate deposits. Return

[Page 133]

From the Distant Past: People and Life

by Moyshe Grinman

Translated by Yael Chaver

I have taken up much space with the sad and sentimental story of my own family in Zinkov, and incidentally included events of general life in the town. However, I cannot ignore some episodes in the lives of people who remain so prominent in my memory, and which have not been mentioned in other chapters of our documentary book.

Our two rabbis, the brothers Rebbe Moyshele and Rebbe Pinkhesl (may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing), have been mentioned several times. But nothing has been said about the old Rebbe Yisro'elke, who was a close relative of the above–mentioned rabbis. His house was old and unusually, with a broken roof full of holes. It stood off in a corner close to the greenhouse, behind Moyshe's courtyard, not far from the house where we lived, and not far from the place where the large stone building used to stand; it used to be called “the history” and later belonged to Markivsky, the tavern–keeper. Old Rabbi Yisro'elke was still making every effort to continue his rabbinical leadership. He even had a manager, Motl. The manager and his wife were quiet, sincere people. They were childless, and would invite the congregation to kiddush on holidays.[1]

I remember my father taking me along as a child, which made me very happy.

Someone has already written about the community leadership of Zinkov, whose mission it was to manage all the town affairs at that time (when the authorities were not yet obstructing them). I would like to present some episodes and names of people whom the previous writer did not know or remember. Among others elected were Sani Alter (Sani's son), Yisro'el Grinman, Avstrayanik the lawyer, Trachtenberg, as well as Leybl–Itzi (Mayke's son) or Leybl Shraybman. The leadership did much to help the poor

[Page 134]

of the town. Most noteworthy, however, is the organized help extended to women and children of local Jews who had gone to America and were cut off from their families in 1914 because of the war. At the initiative of Sani Roytburd, Arke Shenkelman (the secretary), Rebbe Moyshele, and several others, a plan for basic help was set out. Representatives went through the town, going from house to house and asking for voluntary weekly contributions for the needy. A group of young people was also designated to go through the town every Friday with bags over their shoulders, collecting challahs for the hungry. People were generous with their own food.

Above all, I would like to mention our close neighbor Sani Alter (Sani's son) and his gentle wife, Itta (may she rest in peace). Sani was an eminent and fine householder in Zinkov. He was handsome, with a short, trimmed beard and dressed in modern style.[2] However, he did not give himself airs, and was very unpretentious. He was observant, but not a frumak–a hypocritical religious fanatic. He was a product of the Enlightenment movement, a good Hebraist, familiar with the old literature, and an enthusiastic Zionist. His closest friend was Arke Avrom (Idl's son). Sani would often visit Rebbe Moyshele, and was good friends with the Rebbe's entire family. Rebbe Moyshele liked to spend long hours in Sani's company; they had extended conversations concerning everyday matters as well as world problems. A special topic was Jewish religious and cultural issues.

Sani was unremarkable. He wasn't influential, he never shouted, but worked for the community quietly and calmly. In addition to this work, he also played a major role in the organization and maintenance of the Linas–Tzedek and Bikur–Khoilim societies.[3] At that time, there were no hospitals or nurses in Zinkov to serve the sick. When someone was sick, and no one in the family could tend to them, people would turn to Linas–Tzedek. The society would send little Hershele to the member whose turn it was, and that person would go and fulfil his duty. This humanitarian act was really a great mitzvah.[4]

During the harrowing time when everyone fled from Zinkov, Sani sold his home and abandoned his grain business, which was hardly a business at all by then.

[Page 135]

He and his loyal wife crossed the border, and their son Yisro'el then brought them to America. As far as I know, Sani could not adjust to his new location here in America. He missed the atmosphere he had been used to his entire life. He missed his friends and those with whom he could continue to live a meaningful intellectual life. Unfortunately, he lived here for only a few years, and died. He found eternal rest in the Zinkov cemetery.

Sani's wife, Itta, could be termed a compassionate and pious woman. She was kind, quiet, and gentle. She greeted everyone in a friendly manner, and found negative traits in no one. She was a truly caring mother, who lived for many more years with her children, and found solace in her only grandchild, Moyshele, to whom she was deeply devoted. Now she rests alongside her husband, the formerly respected business owner and community activist in their home town, Zinkov.


Ezra Kagan (Aaron's son) and his family, 1914


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Kiddush is the blessing said over wine. The term also refers to a small meal held on Shabbes or festival mornings in the synagogue after the prayer services. Return
  2. At the time, a trimmed beard and non–traditional dress were hallmarks of Jews who were less observant. Return
  3. Linas–Tzedek and Bikur–Khoilim were community societies that lodged travelers and aided the sick. Return
  4. Mitzvah in the biblical sense means “one of God's commandments.” It also refers to a deed performed in order to fulfill such a commandment. As such, the term mitzvah has come to express an individual act of human kindness in keeping with the law. Return

[Page 136]

Short Sketches

by Avrom Shenkelman (Arke's son), Philadelphia

Translated by Yael Chaver

I remember my cozy home town, Zinkov. It was not a listless town. After the First World War, it was only napping, out of exhaustion and the heavy burden its residents had to bear. Hundreds of its young people were mobilized, and had laid down their lives for the unfortunate exploits of Czar Nikolai. But not everyone was willing to do this; people spent months hiding in various refuges, never seeing the light of day. Surprisingly, they were not discovered. Degenerate as the Czarist empire was, they could easily have been located. Apparently, the regime was not too interested in finding our boys and giving them rifles.

When the revolution took place, a volcano seemed to have exploded among the Jewish population of Zinkov (there were no non–Jews in our town). People suddenly woke into political awareness, and political movements developed. The Zionist movement occupied a very prominent position, especially the halutz pioneers. We young folks were organized under the leadership of Nokhem Yoshpe and began preparing to move to Eretz–Yisro'el (then Palestine). It's important to mention and honor the members of the first group of halutzim, who left for Eretz–Yisro'el at that time; this has been done elsewhere in our Yizkor Book.


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