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Sefer Vladimirets

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A Well of Nostalgia

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Sender Chernik

** Webmaster Note: The following translation was generously provided by Diane Moore.  We have presented it here exactly as it was translated for us. 

A Well of nostalgia

Around our native town of Vladimirets were many villages, like Kananits, Dubivke, Kratshamke, Azira, Navaki, Andreye, Palavle, Zhelenitse, Davalye, Zhulkin, and many more. Each village had its Jewish families, for whom our town was a center. It was so on weekdays, and still more on holidays, like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Between our town and the villages were links of trade and provisions.  A lot of families, and especially the “peddlers”, made the rounds of all the villages and came home for Shabbos.  Among them were some who used to go over the villages, week in week out, and others who went around the villages at special seasons, for instance, harvest time, or winter.  They would buy whatever they could, and do whatever business presented itself – pigs’ bristles, hides, various plants; also animals, like a calf, a cow, or a horse, a hen or a rooster, and so on.

Also traveling around the villages were various tradesmen – tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, blacksmiths and others – a long chain made up of different links; and so people lived, one from another.  Life flowed in its habitual channels.  One cannot say that these were very grand businesses and that people lived wealthy lives; on the contrary, many were far from that, but need was not excessive either, and it was characteristic of our Vladimirets Jews to be contented with what they had.

In the shtetl were indeed richer people, who were the merchants and businessmen.  The population there was not homogeneous.  Russians, Poles, Ukrainians and even Gypsies lived in the shtetl.  There were several families who considered themselves real plutocrats – anyway, in the eyes of the shtetl-dwellers.  I still don’t know exactly in what their wealth consisted.  To such “rich” people one might bring his bit of savings, for a daughter’s dowry or some other purpose, and the rich ones would act as bankers.  They also lent money at a certain percentage.  One must stress that the whole town was like one big family.  All the inhabitants were bound to one another, by real kinship or by marriage, and all participated in various Chasidic congregations, each with its synagogue, ritual slaughterer, and cantor. [unreadable sentence not translated]

I recall young people who studied at cheders and yeshivas, and then became teachers.  But in the shtetl they couldn’t make a living that way.  They had to set out into the wider world, to find a career.  Mostly these youngsters stayed in the shtetl.  And a son generally followed in his father’s footsteps, and learned his father’s trade.  The daughters followed their mothers’ example.  And when the time came, each of them was glad to marry, and not wait too long.  Most of the young people in those years were not caught up in dreams and ideas, and they relied on God’s commandments.

Thus life went on in the old days.  But with the coming of the 20th century, the way of life was shaken up.  The broad world began to draw the young people.  The world even imposed itself on the shtetl.  New winds began to blow.  Many began to realize that the holy studies learned in cheder and yeshiva were no longer enough, and started learning foreign languages as well.  People already understood that one must educate oneself and get around. .  Now we became eager witnesses not only to the wanderings from Vladimirets to the nearby villages, but also to long distance roaming, to the big cities, in search of fortune and the light of progress.  Young men went out to find work or learn a trade.  Everyone talked about the stream of immigration to the great Russian cities.  Emigration to America is a chapter of its own; such a breaking from the shtetl was a spiritual crisis, for the roots in the shtetl were deep and to tear oneself away from one’s origins and family was a frightening thing.

In the old days, when a daughter married, the custom was that her husband would board with his father-in-law.  In those days this seemed natural and self-evident, although it did bring financial difficulties.  Life was simple and modest.  But when one was away from the shtetl and met the great world, the contact could be difficult and the disruption great.  It might happen that a son would leave the shtetl, go to a big city, settle there, and bring his whole family after him.  In the shtetl too, there were great changes – new outlooks, a new way of life – expressed in costume and in the way houses were arranged.  Teachers began to come to the shtetl and a lot of the youth of the town became teachers themselves.  The effect was great, especially at holidays when all the young people who had gone away started coming home.  So it went until the first World War, which was a sort of earthquake to the old way of life. 

The emigration to America was at first for economic reasons – to earn money and send dollars home.  And when they came back to Vladimirets, some went out again in pairs, two strong workers, calculating that the earnings would be better for two.  Many of them had no trade.  Many arranged to bring out their families.  The greater number settled in Detroit, and spread out from there.  Also they branched out to Canada and Argentina, and even to Brazil, Uruguay and other places.  The emigration was a miracle for us, because without it they would have been destroyed along with all the Jews in Vladimirets.

In the years of the first World War, many Vladimiretsers in America   took advantage of prosperous times, and became rich.  Their children put down roots and many of them rose to the highest positions in American society; for example, the son of David from Androye, who became a well-known lawyer.  A big family descended from the midwife Charna included a lot of doctors, engineers, lawyers, and big businessmen in the American way.  There was also the family who were called in the town “angels” Or the family of Shalom Leibkes; I can’t recall them all, and will be satisfied with the names I’ve mentioned, who are a like a reflection of the rest. I will only mention one family, that of Chaim-Leib the shoemaker, from which came many well-known people.  This is just a selection from our town.

The fact that the connection among our people is still strong today, in America as in Israel, shows how deep the spiritual bond was among Vladimiretsers, even when separated.  Thus it becomes clear, the bond to the old home and the willingness always to help and support, a habit which found its highest expression after World War II when it led to setting up the committee in Detroit which began at once to seek out and actively support surviving Vladimirets Jews after the destruction.

They were the first who put together a list of the rescued; they joined with the Vladimiretsers in Israel and began to offer support to all Vladimiretsers whose whereabouts were known.  They got word to the families about who had survived.  And thus the Committee fulfilled a very important task.  Its work reverberated and there came to the Committee’s address money and various packages for the survivors.  I won’t mention the especially distinguished contributions here.  In truth everyone took appropriate part in the mitzvah of help and support.  The Vladimiretsers in Washington did wonders in the way of helping.  The landsmen from Detroit were the initiators and the spirit of the movement, and they sent the instructions to the other cities.  This was characteristic of the Detroit landsmen even before the war.  They had laid the foundations of charity, with the help of the Vladimiretsers in Israel.  I don’t know how much their contributions amounted to, but I believe it added up to tens of thousands of dollars, in help for individuals and for institutions.  Another tradition took root among our landsmen; when a guest from Israel came to America, he awakened a general joy.  Everyone rejoiced with him and was drawn to him, just as if he were really family.  And it was the same when an American was a guest in Israel.

I stress this fact, because the idea of Vladimirets Jews is not bounded by geography and has become a noble way of life, for the quality of our town belongs to all who have common roots, and now they are scattered over the whole world.  All remember the old home and are linked to it.  Our landsmen in Israel form an important center, in which is reflected the many-sided being of our town.  And all of that is expressed in times of joy and of sorrow.

It seems to me that the concept of a magnetic attraction fits our town.  Its nature has become for its people a source of nostalgia and longing.  The former village peddlers longed to come home for Shabbos; its children who wandered to far cities to educate themselves wished to come home for the holidays.  And in the same way its children who have become emigrants and have wandered over wide seas, they too still awaken in their memory its special being.  Even after its destruction.

The Vladimirets of the dead is no more.  It still lives in us as a Vladimirets of the spirit, imbued with all its good qualities and uniting all the dispersed in a bond of deep friendship.


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