** Webmaster Note: The following
is a translation from Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov
as sponsored by George Zilbergeld.Notes for clarity or
explanation have been provided in brackets.
TO DAYS GONE BY
carries me far from the white, lovely homes of the Hebrew city,
from Tel Aviv, to that small town, to Vladimirets, which lies
between the forests and fields of Volhynia.Many generations of Jews shaped their lives in its houses
small houses of wood and stone.
Prior to World
War I, life flowed calmly through the town.The view of Volhynia was lovely; the fields were wide and
from them rose the fragrance of grasses the fragrance of
fields, and the singing of birds; combined with all these was
also an unique, sweet and melancholy song a Chassidic song,
full of longings for the Promised Land and for everything
exalted and good
The lives of
the Jews in this small town were not easy their lives were a
struggle for existence.But over their grey days there always shone the light of
their longing, and it was that which sweetened the bitternesses
of life.Our town
knew many situations:days of joy and sorrow, despair and danger, but the spark
of hope for a better life and the redemption of our brothers
always flickered Here, I see in my imagination our faraway
childhood, a childhood of the compassion and caresses of our
mothers, in the light of sweet dreams.Here, there appear before me the cheder and the
beit midrash [study hall] , the songs of the Chassidim and
the Sabbath candles, the narrow lanes, the quiet view of the
surrounding woods and forests; the market, full of villagers in
their colorful clothing bartering and selling, noise and
confusion a lively, bustling town.
IN MY MIND'S
In my mind's
eye, I raise the image of my father, which is connected to the
Sabbath day, and especially to the pleasing, sorrowful melodies
of the chapters of Psalms and the weekly Torah portion, Sabbath
and holiday songs "and Jacob was a flawless man, sitting in
the tents of Torah."
My father spent most of the hours of the day busy with Torah,
learning "Chok L'Yisrael" ["Law for Israel"] and
would enter our textile shop only occasionally to give a bit of
help to my mother, who bore the burdens of our livelihood, the
household and the children.
knowledge of Torah was very deep.He also was familiar with Hebrew, Russian and Polish
nature, he was far removed from everything having to do with
trade, with bartering and selling.He was an honest, innocent man.In this respect, my father acquired a great deal of good
will, even among the farmers, but especially among the Jews.If one of the customers wanted to be certain about the
nature and quality of the merchandise, he would go out of the
store and into our house to ask my father's advice, and his
opinion was always accepted without argument.
I remember an
incident that occurred at the time of World War I: the situation
in our shop was bad and the turnover was very small.Reb Chaim-Leib, the shoemaker, came to buy fabrics for
wedding clothes for his son-in-law, and after he had already
chosen an expensive English fabric for the jacket, he
nevertheless went into the house to hear my father's opinion
about the quality of the goods.After my father checked the fabric, he told the buyer
that the goods were indeed of very good quality, but not of the
choicest kind that Reb Chaim-Leib was looking for.The customer took my father's opinion into consideration
and the purchase was cancelled.This matter caused my mother a great deal of sorrow, but
she greatly respected my father and bore her pain in silence
that there was written, in my father's handwriting, on the first
page of my father's chumash [book containing the first
five books of the Bible], an order of the Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon of
Karlin, whom the Chassidim called "the great Rebbe Aharon":
"Joy is not a commandment" was written at the top of the page "but
joy causes fulfillment of commandments.Sadness is not a sin, but it can cause a sin!"
[Father] never spoke about his parents and entire family, all of
whom had been murdered by robbers and their bodies burnt, in the
village Osovyetz [probably now Ostrowiec, Poland] in Polesia
[Poland], which is near Drogoczyn [now Drohiczyn, Poland].I found out about this terrible tragedy afterwards, from
would wake up early and recite Psalms, and then he would review
the weekly Torah portion.The tune he sang when he recited Psalms was so pleasing
and so full of faith and exhilaration that I would also wake up
just to listen to his voice.
Beloved by all
of us was my sister Nechama an intelligent, understanding
girl, not only regarding household matters, but also in matters
of trade; at the same time, she was very sensitive.During the long winter nights she would sing folk songs
to us in Yiddish, Russian and Ukrainian.Of all of her songs, my favorites were the sweet
Ukrainian song "I Saw the Wind Break the Birch Trees" and "The
Waggoner Is Urging the Horses Onward."
parties and celebrations on holidays and Sabbaths, when we
exchanged visits and we all were sitting together at the holiday
table, the joy was multiplied. My
Uncle Moshe Eisenberg, of blessed memory, who originated from
the town Motol, loved to tell us his insights from the Zohar.He studied the holy books all his life, especially the
Zohar, and he had a great talent for explaining and reciting
different matters from the Torah.
with Uncle Moshe, our Uncle Gedalyahu Shlita, of blessed memory,
who was witty and had already tasted the waters of the
Emancipation, was accustomed to season his statements with
stated the minimum, which included the maximum.My father, who had been branded by the murder of his
entire family near Drogoczyn, nevertheless aroused in himself
the obligatory joy at these family gatherings, and his unique
songs cast some of his good spirits over us.
educated in the cheder schools the Rabbi was overly
strict with us, especially on Thursdays, when we were ordered to
review the entire weekly Torah portion with commentaries and
Elkele's was the trouble-maker among the children.He rained his questions on our teacher, Henich, whose
patience would end, and he would honor Mottel with the strap.
are there dots over the word vayeshakehu?" asks Mottel.
"Don't ask so
because Eisau wanted to bite him, but his pity was aroused."
"And why did
Eisau, who was Yaakov's brother, want to bite him?"
was an evil person."
found a new question for every answer
Wolock, who was called by us children "Sarah's Gedila" in his
mother's name, would bring all kinds of things from the forest
and garden with him to the cheder mushrooms, seeds and
fruits.In the month
of May, he would honor us with a box that let out a strange
noise.The box was
full of "May crawlers" that we would shake out of the trees.When World War I ended, their family left the town for
America.We children remembered Gedalya and missed him greatly.
speaker for the group of children in the cheder was
Mendele's son Eli.
We were very polite to him, because of his brave deeds in the
skirmishes and wars that we children loved to conduct among
also was wonderful at telling us horrible stories about robbers
and ghosts a story about a Jew who travelled in his wagon
bringing goats to a fair, and in the middle of the road,
suddenly the goats got up, applauded and disappeared, because
they weren't really goats; they were demons.And other stories of that nature, which filled us with
fear.I woke up in
the middle of the night with nightmares about these stories more
than once, and my mother would calm my fears with soft words.
Moshe Shlita, or, as we children called him, "Gedalya's Moshe,"
loved to tease us with all kinds of nicknames, and because he
was blessed, like his father, with a sense of humor, he knew how
to touch the vulnerable point in each of us.Since he was the landlord's son, he would ride a bicycle,
which he would bring inside the cheder with him.The Rebbe would see this and remain silent.We children looked at him with envy, and also with
remember that once, when he came to the verse "for I stood in
awe of the wrath" [Deuteronomy 9:19] he pointed at my nose [the
Hebrew word af for "wrath" also means "nose"], which was
swollen after I had received a blow from the horse belonging to
"Shlomke the Bird," or Shlomka Patichka, as he was known in the
town.And why, at
the age of 80, was he called "Shlomke the Bird"?Once upon a time so it was told at the "time of the
panic," when he was 13 years old, they married him to a
When he was called up to the Torah, he took out a "little bird"
from under his tallit that he had put there to play with,
and the name stuck to him for the rest of his life
songs of my childhood, I loved:
Temple, in the corner of the room, the
widow Bat-Zion sits alone,
The widow is
putting her son Yudele to sleep
And she sings
to him a song about the life of his wanderings in the world."
Or the song:"On the road a rose is rolling."
Sender loved to sing these songs, and I would listen to them
with great emotion.
OUT IN THE
At the end of
summer, I found an enormous pleasure in the potato harvest.This was our actual contact with "Mother Earth" and the
wonderful view of Volhynia, which we were so far away from
during the rest of the year.
In our town,
almost every Jewish family had a milk cow.Every Jew would sell the refuse from his cowshed to one
of the farmers.In
exchange, the farmer would allot a field to the Jew for planting
potatoes, according to the number of wagons of refuse he
At the end of
the summer, before the holidays, we would go out early in the
morning with the farmer in his wagon to the field, to harvest
were accustomed to giving our refuse to our acquaintance, the
farmer Jozef Shamay, whose lands bordered the forest.
The sun had
just risen when we went out to the harvest; creation was only
beginning to awaken.
The aromas of the grasses in the fields mingled with those of
the pine trees in the forest.As soon as we arrived at our field, the farm women began
to work.With hoes,
they dug the potatoes out of the ground and threw them into
baskets, the crop was emptied into sacks, which were put down
next to the wagon.
songs of the birds and the sound of a shepherd's flute filled
the air.At noon, we
all would sit around a bonfire, in which we baked potatoes.In the afternoon, the farm women began to sing the
Ukrainian song, "The Winds Are Blowing."They finished their work toward evening.At sunset, when the wagon was loaded with sacks of
potatoes, we would return home.
Of all our
games, we loved flying kites best.And don't think it was easy to make a kite.To do that, one needed agility and skill, as well as
varied materials, such as the appropriate paper; planed,
lightweight and thin boards; glue, fabric for the tail, and
string, a great deal of string.We did this task with love and fear.Indeed, we invested a lot of energy in doing it, but the
greatest pleasure was mainly when the kite lifted higher and
higher in the sky, until it looked like a tiny whirling dot, and
we children held onto the string and led the kite, controlling
We would look
at the kite that we had made, flying like a bird in the sky,
with awe and reverence, and more than once, we worried lest the
string break and the kite disappear with the wind.And the wind that was what we prayed for, for this
game.A light, but
not strong, wind was the most desirable for the day on which we
flew a kite.More
than once, we went out of the town and ran with the kite all the
way to the mariak, the tower that was two kilometers from
the town on the road to Polovlya.
We left the
town at a run, and our hearts beat faster with fear when we
passed the street of the goyim [gentiles], lest the
non-Jewish boys come out and set their dogs upon us, but it was
all worth it for this pleasure to fly our kite near the
It was two
years before World War I. I
looked out our bedroom window toward the meadow stretching
toward the road leading to the villages of Lipno and Chinocz and
saw a spectacular sight:there was an air balloon on the horizon, and running
after it, all excited, were Jews and farmers from all over the
town.At the head of
the pursuers, riding on horses, were the priest and the police.With a single jump, I found myself among the crowd.
Young and old
alike, all were excited and wondering:Where did this balloon come from?The knowledgeable said that a man was riding in it.It was unbelievable, an absolute miracle.And in order to solve this riddle, all of us were running
after the riders.
Here, the balloon began to drop lower and lower, until it fell
in front of the forest, on the road to Lipno.
The riders had
already reached it, and we pushed after them, rubbing our eyes
to see the strange man in the air balloon what kind of
creature was he?Did
the creature have wings?Or maybe some magic?To our disappointment, a man carrying a rod and a strange
kind of umbrella came out of the balloon.The police began to roll up the balloon, from which a
strange odor was issuing.Finally, when they finished rolling it up, they picked it
up and carried it to the police station, accompanied by the
entire large crowd old and young alike, Jews and goyim.
guest and his balloon made an enormous impression upon the Jews
of Vladimirets, and I thought about it more than once.There was a rumor in the town that he was a German spy
who had come to us, but for us, the matter remained a mystery.And always, when we flew our kite, we remembered this
visitor and his air balloon.
I can see the holiday parties of those days all of
us eating in the large hall in the new, luxurious house built by
The table was magnificently set, and we enjoyed the food, served
on shining silver trays.The entire family gathered here, old and young, each one
sitting in his allotted place.
In my childhood, I loved to imitate the movements of
the adults and thirstily drink their words.In such a meeting as this, there was a great deal of
fascination for a child's eye that could look at everything, and
his ear, that could listen to everything being said.
It was especially pleasant for us children when Uncle
Gedalyahu would lovingly pinch our cheeks and distribute holiday
gifts to us.Our
Uncle always had an attractive smile.He was full of jokes and cheerfulness.Yitzchak Levin, whose countenance inspired love, was a
It was said of him that his mouth spewed precious gems.Each one of the relatives was a world in himself, and the
uniqueness of each one of my relatives aroused my curiosity
Uncle Moshe Eisenberg was a man of the Book, immersed
all his days in the revealed and hidden Torah.At holiday parties, he took the trouble to clarify and
explain a verse or vague chapter.But his sons, Zeev and Yaakov, were fervent for life,
mixed with the farmers, and loved farming and horses.
What all of the diners had in common was their strong
love for the Jewish life of the town and Jewish tradition.At the Purim party, the town shed its worries and
great and small Purim actors mixed with the diners in the
feeling was that a thread of comradeship connected all of them
In those days, we were not yet familiar with the game
of soccer, and before the Pesach holiday and during
summer vacation our favorite game was the nut game.
When the time came and we were freed of the burden of
cheder, we joyfully burst out into the square between our house, the
Pravoslavic house of worship and the Polish [Catholic] church.Our pockets were filled with large and small nuts that we
received at home, and here we began our games.The game had many forms:in the "eye game" one of the children would put a few
nuts on the ground and his friend would shoot a nut at them from
a distance of several steps.If he succeeded in hitting the target, he would win the
nuts, and if he missed, he would lose.In the "hole game" we would dig a hole in the ground and
carefully roll a nut into the hole.Whoever succeeded in getting it inside would win, and
whoever didn't succeed would lose.
There also were different
bets in the hole game, by pairs or alone, and there was a
guessing game about a nut hidden in one's fist "round or
pointy?" In other words, which part of the nut was upward, the
upper, pointy part or the lower, rounded part?
All of the children, large
and small, of the town gathered in this square, and the
happiness was great.
When the supply of nuts
dwindled and our pockets became empty, my cousin Moshe Shlita
and I ran to our good Aunt Yenta, who would take nuts out of her
pantry drawer and fill our pockets again, and then we returned
to the square.
Sometimes we met our good
Uncle Gedalyahu as he came out of his office, and he would cheer
us with his encouraging smile.When we made noise in the house during our games, he
never rebuked us.He
would hint to us with a finger and smile.Consequently, he remains engraved in my memory as "the
good, smiling uncle."Sometimes, when the office door was open, we saw our
uncle absorbed in a chess game with Rabbi Shlomo Shlita.But most of the time, the door of his room was closed and
we were careful not to make noise and not to disturb the
Out in the square, we felt
like fish in water among all of the boys hopping and jumping
around the holes.As
soon as we appeared in the square with full pockets, we
immediately were surrounded by our friends, and all of them
would invite us to play with them.I could always rely on the look in my cousin's eyes; he
knew who to choose.
Children whose pockets
were empty of nuts found other games to play.
If an argument broke out
among the players and someone was given a "hole in his head," we
would run excitedly to Chava Bas' pharmacy, which was nearby,
and she would kindly bandage our wounds and send us home.
Every child in the
town knew the four questions of the [Passover] Haggada by heart, as well as the
explanation "We were slaves in Egypt " but the questions that
bothered me in my childhood and that awakened my innermost
thoughts were not in the Haggada.I
could not find any answers to them; even the Rabbi did not know
how to solve them.
One of the
questions that bothered me was what purpose did the Angel of
Death see in grabbing Leizer ben Yehoshua, "the Angel," from us
when he was so young?A handsome boy lived in our town, and his name was Leizer.His footsteps were light; his appearance was endearing.Suddenly we found out that "Leizer is no longer here."With a heart filled with confusion, a while later I
entered their bakery to buy bagels and I was afraid to look into
the beautiful blue eyes of the girl named "Bushke," Leizer's
Why did the Angel
of Death also steal our Uncle Avraham-Moshe, the father of
Yitzchak Levin and Rachel Gellerstein, in the prime of his life?That was the second question.
I remember that
once, when Rachel Gellerstein and her husband Baruch-Leib from
Brisk were visiting our town, when Aunt Chayaserved the guests at her table the splendid, delicious
raisin wine which she made herself I looked into Rachel's
attractive shining eyes and thought of the story that my mother
would tell about Avraham-Moshe, as if he were one of the 36
Righteous Men. All his
life he sat and learned Torah in the synagogue of the Trisk
Chassidim and suddenly he was taken away, a few years after his
mother's story was wrapped completely in the unknown.
I wondered about
this story a lot during the beautiful nights, in the light of
the moon that travelled between the banks of clouds.My heart would fill with fear of the Angel of Death, who,
as told by the children in the
cheder, had thousands of eyes, and would sneak into the
dwellings of Man as one who sees but is unseen.But on the night of the [Passover] Seder, when we reached the song
"Chad Gadya" and the verse "and the Holy One, blessed be He,
came and killed the Angel of Death," I would be seized by a
spirit of revenge:
here, finally, that evil Angel was killed by the Holy One,
blessed be He, Himself, in all His glory.But after Passover, the black Angel again spread his
then, to wonder about the secrets of Creation and the reason for
life; many questions gnawed at my little brain, for which I had
I began to also
study the world closest to us, among our gentile neighbors, who
lived in the streets that were so far away, yet so close to us.
Once, on my way
home from cheder, I was surprised to find strange guests on our
corner sat the village priest.To the side stood Arsin, the farmer.He was the one who had the best horses, fast as eagles.Also standing there was a Jew from Olizarka, the nearby
village.All of them
were speaking in whispers with my brother Sender and Yaakov
"What are these
visitors doing in our house?" I asked my brother Gedalyahu.
In time, the matter
was explained by what happened.
On one of my
brother Sender's trips from Rivne [now Rowne, Ukraine],
when he was bringing
packages of merchandise with him, one package fell off the
farmer's wagon in a village near the town.It was a large package of goods, worth a great deal of
money.This was a
very great loss.In
the beginning, they thought it was an ordinary loss, but after a
time they found out that it was not a loss, rather, the package
goy waggoner purposely dropped the package.The matter took place at night, when the young lad
sitting in the wagon dozed off.The farmer hid the package under a tree and later sold it
to a Jew from the nearby village.
When the priest
found out about the matter, they began to consult as to how to
rescue the Jew and the goy alike from the "Chad Gadya" in other words, from
that the goy was
not at all afraid, because he knew that no evil would come to
him from these Jews, especially since a Jew was involved.And my cousin Yaakov Eisenberg could be trusted to know
how to arrange the matter.
The event of the
package, and the terrible tragedy at that time in the village of
Molczadz [in Belarus], where a Jewish family was burned alive by
gentile robbers these two events caused my rest to be upset,
and I began to wonder about the gentile world around us.And this gentile world was so far away, yet so near.Every Sunday the neighboring farmers would come to us.They would sit on the fence around our house, smoking
their long pipes, talking and telling their stories.
neighbor, Jozef Shamay, befriended me.
He invited me to sit
down.He loved to
tell about those days "when Grandfather Chenia was still alive."The man was old and sturdy; he had the contentment of the
villagers. The town was surrounded by forests and fields.More than once, I went out with Jozef to the wide-open
spaces of field and forest, enjoying the wonderful views.But nevertheless, this was a gentile world, and the
connection to it was accompanied by questions.
STREETS AND IMAGES
Our town, its view,
its alleyways and streets, are strongly connected in my memory
with its images.
Every street had its nickname; every person had his nickname.The first street you would enter, coming from the
narrow-gauge railroad station that we called the "Koleika," is the street that the Jews of the town called
"the street of the craftsmen."It is connected in my memory with its swamp and the
croaking frogs, with the muscular Jews who lived from the work
of their hands.The
name of the street brings to mind Reb Chaim-Lev Kamin, the
shoemaker with his box of tobacco, who prays in the synagogue of
the Trisk Chassidim, and Reb Shlomo, the tailor and klezmer
musician, with his long white beard, who served under two crowns
at Jewish weddings the crown of his craft and the crown of his
remember Reb Shlomo the tailor, in whose house I sat more than
once, impatiently waiting for my new Passover suit, I
immediately remember the tune he would always play after a
wedding ceremony was over:
"Why, my kitten,
are you angry?
And why do you go
with a lowered nose?
Perhaps you want to
know your pedigree
I will tell you who
and what you are."
Or, in Yiddish
"Far vos bist du kotikil berogez
Un far vos gais du arafgelest dem noz?
Efshar vils du vissen var is dein yichus
Ken ich dir dartseilen vew un vos."
Playing this tune on his flute, he would accompany the young
couple on their way from the ceremony, which was held in the
open space between two synagogues the large synagogue, known
as the Synagogue of the Congregation, and the synagogue of the
This tune, and this open space, bring to mind the image of our
town's young rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Shlita, who was always
He looked like a university professor.He spoke quietly, was very scrupulous about aesthetics,
and loved works of art.I also remember Reb Michel, the cantor of the large
synagogue a short, lean Jew who was an outstanding Torah
In our small town, the distance between the two streets
the street of the craftsmen and the street of the yeshiva
students was not large.The continuous meeting between the images of both of
these worlds was in the study hall.All of the Jews of the town would flee to the study hall,
which they embraced on weekdays, but mainly on Sabbaths and
holidays they came there not only to pour out their
conversations with the Creator of the World, but also to bring
up their longings for the Jewish world.At the hour when the cantor would trill, in his tender
voice, "and our eyes will see your return to Zion," the heart
would fill with a strong desire and longing and the eyes would
fill with tears by themselves, and the entire congregation would
a single person, and a single song would burst from its
heart "when will You rule in Zion?"
The most elegant wedding in our town, which is engraved in
my memory from the days of my childhood, was the wedding of
Beila, the daughter of the elderly Rabbi Yitzchak Eliyahu Shlita
and the mother of Rabbi Moshe Shlita, who lives at present in
the holy city of Jerusalem.
At this wedding, when I was a boy, I saw for the first time
a Jewish celebration that exceeded all boundaries.I remember the "Cossacks" these were Jews who dressed
up like Cossacks and danced through the streets of the town.The sewers Zeev Kanonicz and Baruch Shuch were costumed
in strange garments with red sashes, and they sang the Yiddish
"Der bester ma'achal
Iz faren beichel
Borscht mit kartoffel."
And what it means is:
"A heavenly blessing
And vitality for the intestines
Potatoes and borscht."
The large congregation completely filled the Rabbi's house
and also stood crowded together outside to see the reception of
the groom's parents, who had come with the groom, Rabbi Shlomo
Yaakov, from Galicia, and to
hear the choir-orchestra of Pisi from Kolki, which had become
famous all over Volhynia.
Reb Pisi's violin sang with both happiness and sadness as
one, and the flute and bass answered it.The comic told jokes to the bride and groom.The bride was dressed in beautiful clothing and the groom
in his Galician outfit a velvet kapote [in Yiddish, a
bekishe, a long caftan-like coat worn for holidays &
modest and shy, and after the ceremony he was dragged, against
his will, into the circles of dancers.
The Jewish freilechs was played in honor of all the
supplied, as required.The in-laws and the guests mingled with the Jews of the
town those from Galicia
were dressed in shtreimels and velvet kapotes, and
those from the town, in clothing made of fabrics from
Lodz and Kiev.Everyone danced:Stolin Chassidim, Trisk Chassidim, and the ordinary
people, circles within circles.And it appeared to me that our entire town, including its
youth and its elderly, was dancing at this celebration.
Suddenly, they began,
like they do on Simchat Torah, to exchange shtreimels and
hats.I saw our
uncle, Gedalia Shlita, wearing the shtreimel belonging to
the rabbi's son, Shlomo Shlita.The klezmer musicians played, conducted by Pisi,
the famous chief klezmer.
Years later, when the Poles were in our town, Pisi conducted
a concert in the synagogue of the Stolin Chassidim.Many of the Russian and Polish intellectuals were present
at that concert.I
remember that the Jew from Kolki with a white beard conducted
the concert with the assistance of his violin, and amazed his
enthusiastic listeners with his playing.This concert remains engraved on my heart to this very
day.I remember that
several of the Polish teachers who had completed studies at a
conservatory were very excited and full of amazement at the
elderly artist, who had never formally learned to play the
violin and who took off to such heights of artistry.Recently, when I heard a concert by Yehuda Menuhin, I
thought to myself that also Pisi the klezmer from Kolki
was no less an artist.But the world was open to Menuhin
This concert, that Pisi the klezmer dedicated to us
in the synagogue of the Stolin Chassidim, was for the purpose of
"supporting the fallen."My sister Nechama and my brother-in-law Nathan Tscherniak
were devoted to the matter with all of their warm souls, and
because of that they did not encounter any opposition by the
zealots among the Stolin Chassidim to holding this concert in
the synagogue. The chairman of this organization was Mrs. Beyla
Kushner, the daughter of Shimon Weisblat.
On summer Sabbaths, we children would learn Pirkei Avot
[Ethics of the Fathers] at home with our father."He who travels and stops his learning, saying 'how
lovely this tree is' and 'how lovely this plowed field,' is
regarded as if he were guilty against his own soul."And how difficult it was for us children to sit in the
cheder or at home, when we were entranced by the nearby
lovely views of the town the blooming trees; the small pool
next to Yisrael Beider's brickyard
hinting at us, and in the air, birdsong.
THE DAYS OF QUIET ARE OVER
With the outbreak of World War I, the days of quiet were
over, and many troubles came to our town.On the Ninth of Av, 1915, when we came out of the
synagogue, we heard weeping and wailing coming from the home of
the mother of Yaakov and Eliyahu Kotz.Mrs. Kotz' husband was among the first sacrifices of this
that "the Cossacks are coming."In his imagination, every Jew saw Cossacks as violent men
galloping on small white horses, with Tartar daggers in their
belts and thirsty for Jewish blood
One day, many battalions of soldiers arrived in our town
like a band of locusts, in cars, on horses and on foot.To us, the children of the cheder, it looked like
we were seeing Midian and Amalek descending like locusts on the
Israel.That evening, a large fire broke out in the liquor
factories in town.
Soldiers were entering the houses and taking everything they
wanted.A great fear
fell upon us, and people began leaving the town.
All of the Jews of the town went out to the neighboring
that our family and a few dozen others went to Ozero, named for
the lake next to the village [The Polish word "ozero" means
wagons and horses from the German settlers who had been banished
to Russia, and loaded the wagons with
all our possessions mainly clothing and merchandise and went
out on the road.The
entire exodus and journey of the Jewish families from the town
to the villages was drawn in my imagination like the Exodus from
Egypt.The picture of the long line of refugees still hovers
before my eyes.
At dawn, we were already outside the town.I was a young child then, and I was very happy that our
family had been fated to obtain a wagon, in which I sat with my
The wagon was hitched to a small horse that we called "Muchik."On this journey to the villages, there were many funny
things before we came close to the village, when we were
passing through the forest, a rumor spread through the camp that
"Uncle Velvel" (meaning, the German Army) was approaching the
town.The news took
wing and the women of our town, who were afraid of the Cossacks,
began to fall upon each other's necks with kisses and tears and
blessings of "mazal tov" because, here "Uncle Velvel is
quickly found out that this was a celebration in vain, and the
Redeemer was still far away
We arrived, tired, at the lovely village next to the lake.Our family, the family of Uncle Gedalya Shlita and the
Eisenberg family, were welcomed by Moshe from Ozero, a
warm-hearted Jew who was very happy to fulfill through us the
custom of welcoming guests.The days we spent in the village are preserved in my
memory as a very pleasant experience.The beautiful view stole my heart.Here, we are going out to the pasture with my big
cousins, Yaakov and Zeev Eisenberg.The pasture was large, and the horses were grazing next
to the lovely lake.
Here, the first rays of the sun kiss the waters of the lake, and
here is evening and nightfall.My cousins Zeev and Yaakov Eisenberg tether the horses,
make a large bonfire, and sit down to bake potatoes.
These days, which to me were very beautiful, passed quickly.Here, we are parting from the village.My Uncle Gedalyahu Shlita, the landlord of the town and
his family, are preparing to travel far from the battlefront to
the city of Rostov.Our family, and all the rest of the Jews of our town,
Before the War broke out, my Uncle built a beautiful house
according to a Petersburg plan, and now he was selling this
house to us.When we
returned from the village, we found the town full of soldiers
a Russian battalion with many, many officers and thousands of
was ruled by a military atmosphere.I was a small boy, and I was drawn by the shiny buttons
of the Russian officers.I wanted officers to be quartered in our house, not
simple soldiers, and I wanted these officers to be quartered in
the houses of my relatives:in Uncle Eisenberg's house, in the neighbors' houses, in
Zeev Kanonicz' house, in the Beiders' house, and in Chava Bas'
It was 1915, and I was ten years old.One morning, I was on the way to the large synagogue for
the morning prayers, and when I reached my good Uncle
Gedalyahu's big house, I heard a Russian army tune through the
notes of the song drew me to quietly sneak up to see the new
tenants, the Russian officers of the military command, who had
arrived in our town and were billeted in my uncle's big house.
I peeped into the large hall.I saw the officers' coats hung on the walls and shiny
boots in the corners of the room.I saw tall officers walking around inside.I remembered my uncle's song that he would hum during a
chess game and my cousin, the little girl with curly hair, and I
was overcome by feelings of mercy for my relatives who had gone
far away from the town.Something began to bother me.For a time, I was unable to move from the place.I turned toward the window of the "office" to see the
commander who had taken Uncle Gedalyahu's room, and suddenly I
was frightened by a voice calling out, in Russian, "Boy, what
are you looking for here?"
I ran away with a jump, and fled to my Uncle Moshe
Uncle Moshe was absorbed in a treatise of the Talmud, and his
sons were not at home.I remembered the morning prayers, and headed toward the
intended to enter the large synagogue, but suddenly I heard a
voice coming from the synagogue of the Stolin Chassidim.It was a powerful voice not a voice, but rather a
entered and saw the Chassid, Reb Chaim-Avraham Yitzchaks, in
tallis and tefillin, praying alone.
Reb Chaim did not stand in one place, but ran back and forth
near the holy ark.
His face was glowing; his speech was fiery.His entire body was swaying and he was moving heaven and
earth, in the sense that "all his bones were speaking."
Of course we knew that the Stolin Chassidim prayed with
devotion and fervor, but this was the first time that I heard
such prayer, the prayer of a man who reached the summit of upper
worlds until he did not sense anything around him.After Reb Chaim the Chassid finished his prayer, I took
out my siddur and began my own prayers.
And again, my inner thoughts of the morning arose: "Merciful
and compassionate G-d," I prayed, "grant peace and blessing to
the world and return to us from Rostov our good Uncle and his
family and Aunt Rachel and her family, and gather us together
from the four corners of the earth."My heart yearned, and when I finished my prayers, I felt
relieved and ran home.
That day I left the house and ran down the path leading to
the "Ksyondezh Woods."The fields spread out on both sides of the path.Light breezes came and caressed me.It was quiet all around.At a distance, Pinchas Malach's windmill could be seen.I found a place next to one of the trees.I laid down in the grass and fell asleep.
The War brought changes in the livelihood and occupations of
the residents of our town.Many of the town's Jews began to bake "bolotchki"
rolls and cakes, for the armies that camped there and for
those who passed through the town.A very great number of army battalions passed through the
town on their way to the front a Russian army of all of the
peoples and of all types.They came by foot and by car, and there also were
battalions of horsemen Cossacks galloping on their horses and
Circassian horsemen and they all bought baked goods from the
Jews.Many of the
town's merchants now began to deal in new livelihoods.Trade became broader and branched off, but at the same
time, the town clearly began feeling the suffering of war.Women were widowed of their husbands, who fell at the
beatings at the hands of soldiers and Cossacks.And to this day, I remember how Aharon Reznik was beaten
fear of what was to come was great.There was an incident involving a Circassian officer who
came to our house and threatened my brother Sender that he would
hang him if he didn't sell him some brown velvet.My brother Sender was totally confused and didn't know
what to do.My
father approached the Circassian, held out the keys to the shop,
and suggested that he enter the shop himself and take what he
calmed down, took the keys, and opened the shop.He cut a piece off the package of velvet, and left behind
payment for it.
WINDS OF SPRING
But happy and amusing things were not lacking, especially
for us children.At
the time when the Russians returned and conquered
from the Germans, they made a public celebration in the market
square next to the church.They lit barrels of tar and made a large bonfire, and the
Russian captain announced a prize for youngsters who would come
out to wrestle.The
first two volunteers were Nissel, the Jew from Bila village, and
Staczek, the Pole.
And when Nissel lifted Staczek in the air and threw him on the
ground, the joy of the Jews was indescribable.Was it a small matter? A Jew defeated a goy and
won a prize!Nissel
defeated Staczek three times, accompanied by cheers.
Two weeks later, we watched a Circassian and Cossack dance,
in which the Circassians danced in their native costumes to the
sound of the Russian accordion.Some of them were costumed in horse and camel skins.Indeed, the War also brought with it some hours of
The many changes that took place in the town during the War
were also apparent afterwards.The winds of spring began to blow in the vicinity.No longer was the town quiet and conservative the
contact with the armies that had come from the wide world
awakened desires for that world the youth began to leave the
town for the big cities and when they returned, they brought
with them new ideas.
More people began to read secular books and to learn Russian.Various social sciences drew the hearts of the youth, who
began to establish various organizations.I remember the Bnei Zion Association, which was
composed mostly of 13-14-year-old boys.There even were two girls Bushka Rizhy and Perel
Weisblat who were members of this Association.At that time, Sender Tscherniak organized the first
Bnei Zion choir and taught us the first Hebrew songs:"Carry a flag-pole and flag to Zion," "Be Strong," "HaTikva,"
Most of our parents did not, however, regard the value
received and the excitement in a positive light.More than once, arguments erupted between fathers and
sons on the background of ideology.But generally, our fathers were tolerant and matters did
not reach severance.
The Rabbi, Rav Shlomo Shlita, who was part of the Agudat
Yisrael camp, was learned and had broad knowledge of the
world, also related to Zionism with tolerance.Even the Stolin Chassidim, who were more religious than
the rest of the Jews of the town, did not regard us with hatred.
Here, I am reminded of a dispute that broke out in the large
synagogue because of the priestly blessing.It was a Passover holiday which fell on the Sabbath, and
the custom in this synagogue apparently was not to say the
priestly blessing on a holiday that fell on the Sabbath.But since the War was still at its height and our young
Rabbi was holding a reception that Sabbath for Jewish soldiers
who were guests in our town, he found it necessary to say the
priestly blessing that day.Many Jews in the congregation were upset by this, and the
matter caused a serious dispute.
The Zionist fortress in town was the home of the Tscherniak
family the sons and daughters of Zelig Tscherniak, the
Stoliner Chassid, all were Zionists and were dedicated with all
their hearts and souls to Zionism.They would receive delegations from the Jewish National
Fund and Keren HaYesod, conduct public meetings, organize
parties and even present plays by amateur actors.
In fact, no great events took place in Vladimirets.However, an ordinary event, such as a lecturer coming to
town, was enough to arouse excitement.An ordinary lecturer or speaker would come and the
large synagogue, or, as we called it in Yiddish, "de
kahalishe shul" would be filled with a large audience to
hear rebuke and consolation, or the arousing speeches of
delegates from the Zionist movement.Mottel Burko, for example, would listen to a lecturer
with his hand supporting his ear, and it could be seen that he
lived the words of the preacher with all his soul and might.More than once, one of the listeners would shed tears.That is how it was among the men, and no more so among
the women in the women's section.This would occur mainly when the lecturer would describe
the sufferings of Gehinnom.Sometimes there were lecturers whose intention was not
merely to tell, but to bind.I remember one speaker from
who saw that the audience was not paying much attention to his
lecture, and in order to welcome evil, he turned to those
present with these words:
"Gentlemen, you must rescue a Jew from the fire of
The large audience suddenly paid attention to the preacher's
and amazement were apparent in everyone:what Jew is this lecturer, wrapped in his talis,
referring to?Is he
requesting mercy from the audience for himself?And his words were heard again, this time with an
"Gentlemen, you must rescue an innocent and honest Jew from
the fires of Gehinnom.Because in the World of Truth," the lecturer
continued, "they interrogate every person who dies regarding his
deeds in this world, and the results are determined according to
the testimony and proof in the hands of the person being
examined, whether he will be sent to the Garden of Eden or,
Heaven forbid, to Gehinnom.That is how it is with an ordinary Jew.But with a preacher, they use a special unit of measure
in other words:the
enjoyment that the public had from his words when he spoke.They certainly will ask:how is it possible to measure and estimate this
matter is very simple.The amount of enjoyment is measured according to the
money that the preacher receives from the public.If the public gives generously, that is a sign that his
words were words that came from the heart.And if they do not give, it is a sign that his words were
not accepted in the hearts of the Children of Israel.Therefore, I request from you, Gentlemen:treat me with justice and kindness and rescue me from
preacher concluded his words with a heartbreaking melody.
Regarding preachers such as these, Ben-Zion Fridman gave his
He would say:"Do
you know why, in our Holy language, a preacher is called a
darshan [interpreter]?To teach you that first of all, they interpret for
Ben-Zion, who would come and go in and out of our house, was a
learned and sharp Jew, and he always knew how to weave the
proper verse into the proper place.He would fulfill the commandment to visit the sick, and,
as a Trisk Chassid who didn't like sadness, he would spice his
words with jokes.
"Your teeth are sharp and grinding, and don't you know what
Rashi says about the angels 'and they ate'? - They pretended to
eat, because the food burnt in their mouths.""Don't regard yourself as being sick," he said to me once
when I got out of bed after being ill with typhoid, "consider
the years and find your health."
The Russian Revolution brought a spirit of awakening and
rejoicing to the town.I remember one stormy demonstration in which all of the
residents of the town gathered and went out to the marketplace.Soldiers, with flags in their hands, marched at the head,
followed by two groups of citizens the Russians and the Jews.The military band played a Russian march the whole time.After the general demonstration, the Jews conducted a
private gathering next to the large synagogue, in which they
expressed their hope that the great miracle of the Revolution
would bring redemption to the world and to the Nation of Israel.
After fiery speeches by several youngsters, many of those
gathered blessed each other, and everyone stood up straight to
his full height and went out to the street, feeling that he was
a person with equal rights.The Russian word "citizen" was heard in every direction.At the end of several weeks, we were surprised to see the
Jewish citizen Alter Bik dressed in an official uniform, with a
pistol in his belt.
Bik had been chosen as the civilian police officer.This was regarded by everyone as a sign that the
Revolution had really brought salvation to our people.I remember how Alter hurried with his pistol to chase a
robber, and behind him ran a group of children from all corners
of the town.
Simultaneously, news of the Balfour Declaration arrived, and
the heart was drunk with all of the good things expected for us.I remember the large meeting that then took place in the
great, Zionist speech was given at the time, I think by Shlomo
middle of his speech, the son of Velvel the Shoemaker suddenly
stood up and shot with his pistol into the air.By doing this, the lad wanted to teach us two things:first, that he was a revolutionist, and second, that he,
as a revolutionist, was not satisfied with the Balfour
Declaration and was opposed to Zionism.These events flung the town about like assaults by
destructive storms which also bring the clouds of blessing and
youth began to leave the town.Those who returned from far away brought with them new
doctrines that split the youth into streams, each stream with
its anthem and its flag.In the flood of the Revolution, part of the youth was
swept into the large, stormy Russian sea, but the majority of
the youth remained faithful to the eternal yearnings of
and its ancient hope.This period before and during the Bolshevik Revolution
was overflowing with events and changes regimes departed and
regimes arrived, and with every regime, new troubles and new
At that time, a minor yeshiva was established in the town.The yeshiva was concentrated in the synagogue.We, the Talmud students, learned in the women's section
of the large synagogue.I remember our Talmud teachers, each of whom was an image
Peretz, a learned and powerful Jew with a lot of energy.He required us to review every problem a hundred and one
times, so that our learning would be well-known to us.We began with the Mishna "four main types of
damages" and reviewed it until we had memorized it.
The clothing and outward appearance of Reb Peretz did not
arouse the respect he deserved.In comparison, we were fond of the head of the yeshiva,
Reb Hirsch, who was a Jew of majestic appearance and whose words
were a pleasure to hear.He would explain the contents of the problem and the
conflict among the sages before we learned it; he gave us a
survey of the entire matter and Rashi's commentary, and
afterwards we would begin our actual learning.
My brothers Yehuda and Gedalyahu also learned in this
yeshiva, as well as several boys from Rafalovka.Among them I remember Yaakov Sarid, who is presently the
Deputy Minister of Education and Culture in Israel.
At that time, in the town there also were teachers of
Russian who came to teach the state language to the Children of
were young people who had lived for a number of years in Russian
cities and had returned to the town, who were beginning to
aggrandize themselves with their clothing and to spice their
mama-loshen [native tongue] with all kinds of Russian and
secular expressions, until the town jokers began to make fun of
FAR AND NEAR
The guests who came to town from the cities of Russia and
the natives of the town who returned after they had spent
periods of time in the big cities, as well as the villagers of
Polesia who settled in Vladimirets during the years of the War,
would tell us their impressions of faraway places about the
Dneiper and its tributaries, about the steppes of Ukraine, and
more. One of the relatives of my mother's family, Benjamin
Suskin, whom we called "Benjamin from Nowosilka," lived at that
time in a room in our house, and he would tell us about the
rafts that sailed down the Styr and VistulaRivers
to Danzig [Gdansk].
The forest trade began to spread in our area.Jews would buy forests from the landowners they would
cut down trees and process them into rails for the railroad
in Russia dealt in
this branch of trade, and thousands of Jews in Polesia and
Volhynia found their livelihoods in it.One of the forest traders who would come to us from
was our cousin Yitzchak Levin.
Yitzchak Levin emanated a special magic upon us youngsters
he had a good temperament and his appearance awakened respect.He knew how to tell about the Jews and describe their
about Chassidism and Judaism were pleasant to hear.
But all of this contact with the wide, far-away world did
not take from me my love for our own assets, assets of our
nearby world. Thus, I loved to occasionally enter the old study
hall of the Trisk Chassidim.It is true that I entered in order to warm up a bit on
cold winter days, but I also loved the atmosphere in there.In this study hall the heated stove spread its warmth on
very cold days.Most
of those who prayed in the Trisk synagogue were simple people
working-class Jews, craftsmen and peddlers, who travelled around
to the villages and bought goods from the farmers:mushrooms, skins, pig hairs and the like.Among them were Jewish scholars, such as Ben-Zion
Millstein, the shob [ritual slaughterer and examiner,
e.g., of the lungs] for this synagogue; Ben-Zion Fridman, and
more.Most of those
who recited Psalms early in the morning before the first prayer
quorum were working men and craftsmen.
When the Rabbi arrived, the study hall would be filled from
end to end. All of the Trisk Chassidim would sit around the
Sabbath table, their faces radiant from the Torah of Rebbi
Nachumche, the Rebbi with two voices.
The air was as if it were saturated with secrets and
mysteries that the Rebbi brought from "the orchard."Even those who did not understand the depth of his Torah
would sit and listen out of devotion and would enjoy his
Chassidism of Trisk was full of an aura of mystery.It did not have many songs; a film of sadness was spread
The Stolin Chassidism was different.It was full of happiness and joy.The speech of Rebbi Yisraelke from Stolin was full of
with his followers.
One of the most frequent things among the Stolin Chassidim was
dancing, and their prayers tore the heavens.Among the veteran Chassidim of Stolin that I remember
were Reb Zelig Tscherniak, Reb Shmuel Volok, Shmuel Frumis, Reb
Aharon Reznik, and more.I enjoyed the synagogue of the Stolin Chassidim on the
last day of Pesach, when they would dance all evening,
singing the songs of the Haggada.They also had a custom of enacting the splitting of the
Red Sea they would pour pails of water on the
floor and then the dancers would dance over the "sea."Even during the times of emergency, the flame was not
extinguished and the Jewish soul continued to find warmth and
radiance in Chassidism.
After the fall of Kerensky, there was chaos in the land.The regime was unstable and everyone did whatever he
visited the town and claimed from the Jews sums of money that
they were unable to pay.The streets were flooded with Bolshevik propaganda
were used up, and we were forced to fulfill the verse "you will
eat bread and salt, and you will drink small measures of water."My brothers Yehuda and Gedalyahu would trudge 30
kilometers to Borynicze to bring from there 10 kilograms of
salt, a provision that was scarce in those days.In exchange for salt, it was possible to obtain potatoes
and bread from the farmers.
The disease of typhoid spread among the soldiers that were
living in our house, and the family became infected by them and
also fell ill.This
disease caused the death of our father.
Afflictions and troubles of all kinds assailed the town.A regime departed, and a regime arrived.The Bolsheviks fought with Petlura's gangs and other
gangs.Fear of them
compelled the youth to organize themselves for the purpose of
TO PLOW AND TO SOW
Something happened in Vladimirets.Storeowners deserted their shops; peddlers deserted their
stands and went out to the field to plow and to sow.Among them was also the Rabbi, Rav Shlomo Shlita, of
blessed memory, in person.
How did this happen, and when?
It was after the October Revolution in 1917.Light and darkness were mixed.Next to the post office and the city council flew banners
with multicolored drawings.On top was written the slogan in Russian, "Whoever
doesn't work, doesn't eat," and below it a drawing of a poor
village woman with a basket of eggs, kneeling and groaning under
the burden of a kulak [a wealthy Russian peasant] who was
fellow was riding on the kulak, an intermediary, and over
all of them was a fat priest in a black gown, trampling them
with a heavy boot.
In those days, Yudel Rabin, the barber, or as he was called,
"Yudel der sherer" would quote a verse while he was
written in their holy Torah," he would say to those sitting in
the barbershop and listening to him "Fahn yidda a subaka
berasha these village goyim, who gathered from all
of their holes, are fighting with the Panehs Nu, what
will the Jews say about this?"
And in the study hall of the Trisk Chassidim, Mendele
Yisraels is dancing.
During Kedusha , when the word "kadosh"
[holy] is said three times, he sighs, "Oy, oy, Master of
the Universe, gevalt!"His handkerchief is stained red from his kapote.
After the morning prayers, Ben-Zion Fridman, the town's
doctor, enters, swinging his cane and surrounded by a group of
"Nu, comrades" he begins, with joking words."What will you do with your sharp, grinding teeth? 'I
will give you clean teeth in all of your cities.'"
And the rumors become true.The Poles are withdrawing, and the Polish residents of
the village farms near the town Vydymir and Khoromtsy are
accompanying the Polish Army.They are leaving their homes to join their brothers.
The Holy One, Blessed be He, sends the cure before the
are selling their parcels of land and the Jews of the town hurry
to jump at the opportunity and buy.Whoever was able to, went and bought.We bought part of a holding in partnership with the
Kantor family, who are presently located in America; the
Eisenberg family bought, as well as many others.Rabbi Shlomo Shlita, of blessed memory, also bought
himself a parcel of land in Khoromtsy.
Little by little, the shop-owners took the merchandise out
of their stores and hid it in their homes.Now they were prepared to receive the guests returning to
town for the second time.
The first battalion of the Red Army appeared.The soldiers are standing in the market street after the
review, next to the shops of Chaim Pinchuk and Meir Weiner.Their chests are bare, their hair is wild and their
clothes are wrinkled and torn.Their footwear was odd and strange.Some of them had leather boots and some had felt shoes,
sandals and shoes made of straw (fustulehs).They were wearing all kinds of hats.Seen among them, in the first row miracle of miracles
was the "vasser-treger"- the water drawer of Vladimirets
"What kind of an army is this?" wondered the women of the
town among themselves, "if Korilo the water drawer is marching
at the head of the line?!"
The entire town made fun of this stupid goy, who
filled the water barrels for the town's Jews.
"Korilo," Avrahamele Beider once asked him when he had
already filled two barrels of water for the Bas family, the
owner of the pharmacy, "how much is six plus seven?"
The goy from the village began to count:"Five, and another five there must be.And so I estimate ten, and another one and another one. "
And in the middle, he forgot the calculation "No, apparently
you want to fool me.
This is a complicated calculation."
And here, this Korilo now appears in the first ranks of the
is open a bit, and little children stand next to him, pulling on
his clothes, and he is smiling and enjoying himself.
That is how the town welcomed this mixed multitude of
Ten portions of speech now descended upon the town, and a
strange language that our forefathers never heard:"requisitions," "contributions;" commissars go and
the Jews escape from the houses and go out to the fields.
Who is this that is exploiting us, because we are a nation
"And because of our sins we were exiled from our country,
and we were distanced from our land," prays the town, and wakes
up at dawn to plow and sow the fields.
And they sleep in the threshing floors, in the fresh straw,
like in the days of Boaz and Ruth.
And the rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Shlita, works diligently as
required by law, and he does not flinch from any labor, because
Rabbi Shlita, of blessed memory, was a man of purpose and firm
Rabbi's brother, the town's Hebrew teacher Reb Pinchas Shlita,
who played the violin and taught mathematics, also had this
stubborn characteristic. Rabbi Shlita acquired good will in
Volhynia, as a Torah scholar and an active rabbi.
The town's shopkeepers breathed the wonderful air of the
fields and listened to the sounds of the forests, and the days
passed, until harvest time arrived.
"Did you see the Rabbi with the scythe in his hand?"
whispered the jesters of the town, among them Yehoshua Kushner.
"'He who works his land, will be full to satisfaction with
bread.'This is a
verse from Mishlei (Proverbs)," argued Reb Michel,the son-in-law of the elderly Rabbi Eli.And the Rabbi held the scythe, and cut the wheat.
Once, during the harvest, he didn't straighten the scythe,
and he cut his finger.And on the Sabbath, at morning prayers, the Rabbi walked
erect in his pleasant way to the congregation's synagogue, and
his hand was bandaged.
And all around everyone was whispering:"The Rabbi hurt his hand at the harvest.The Rabbi's hand was hurt."
"The value of these things cannot be measured:corners of the field, and the first fruits, and seeing
the service in the
HolyTemple, and charitable
acts."The tune is
sad.It is full of
longings and pouring-out of the soul for other fields, with
corners and first fruits - " and
to your city Jerusalem you will return, with mercy," the
cantor, Reb Michel, cries tearfully.
"Our Father, our King, be compassionate and answer us "
I remember the first Sabbath on the farm.The night between Thursday and Friday, I slept with Chaim
Kantor on the threshing floor, in the hay we had harvested
during two days.But
the next day, on the Sabbath, my longings for home increased,
and because the distance was 10 kilometers from the town, I
walked home with Chaim.I snuck into the house so my father wouldn't see me,
because I knew that he would be very angry with me if he knew
that I had walked farther than was allowed on the Sabbath.
AT THE END OF THE WAR
There was a war between the Poles and the Bolsheviks.The Russians withdrew to Korosten.We heard that the Hallerchiks, the Polish rescue
forces [led by General Jozef Haller] were moving back and forth,
and we heard the same regarding the forces of General
great fear fell over the town.Rumors reached us that immediately upon the arrival of
Balachowicz' forces, they rioted against the Jews.But we were lucky.The Balachowicz and Ukrainian forces were not the first
to enter the town, but rather it was the Polish Hallerchiks,
who "only" chopped and cut off the Jews' beards.
The first sacrifice whose white beard was chopped off was
Pinchas Rizhy, who was nicknamed "the Angel."He came on the Sabbath to the synagogue with his face
covered by a handkerchief, so no one would see him without a
Hallerchiks grabbed him at his flour mill outside the town,
and there they brutalized him.Who knows what lengths the Hallerchiks would have
reached in their sadism, were it not for the Polish priest, who
went up to their officer and requested that he stop the cruelty
I remember that Pinchas Rizhy had in his possession some
remaining notes of money from all of the regimes that he had
saved from his hard work at the flour mill.We still had mostly 500 ruble notes, which were called "tahkers,"
a lot of Kerensky's "Kerbubenchi" notes, and more.And it appears to me that it was Yehoshua Kushner, who
loved to joke, who said that Reb Pinchas could decorate all the
walls of his house with these notes as if they were wallpaper,
because overnight the notes became worthless paper.
World War I and the years of the Revolution caused storms in
our town.The events
that came suddenly upon us exacted payment in many homes.The previous, ideal contentment was cut off.Another period began.In spite of the ravages of time, our town knew the
agitation and activity of youth.The kids became Billy-goats, and those who played in
their childhood with nuts now embraced musical instruments.Groups of friends went on hikes in the neighboring
forests, singing the songs that the town had learned from its
surroundings songs of the farmers and soldiers' songs that
they had brought from Russia, and also Yiddish and Hebrew
We would spend the evenings together, sitting on the fence
of the Kotz family's house, or next to the Bas family's
Melamed would play the mandolin, Yerachmiel Bas accompanied him
on his guitar, and the singing could be heard from afar.
The years of war and the hardships could not cut off the
connection between those who remained in the town and our
relatives in Rostov.My brother Sender described his impressions of Rostov
when he returned from there, and on the Sabbaths he told us
about the life of Gedalyahu Shlita's family, and the life of
Rachel Goldstein, who had been widowed in Rostov of her husband
And after the war, when the news reached us that they had
returned to us, I remember how great the joy was when we met.Rachel Goldstein's sons were dressed in Russian
overcoats, and I wanted to hear their stories from there.And again we sat down to eat together, and this was not
like the luxurious party in the big house, but a party around
the samovar in Uncle Moshe Eisenberg's house.A snowstorm howled outside.The windows were frozen, decorated with all kinds of
frost flowers, and we sat in the warm house, listening to
Yitzchak Levin's descriptions of the days of the Revolution.After that, spring broke out this was the Russian song
of spring that echoed in our home, a song that Uncle Gedalyahu
Shlita's daughters brought back with them.
Now, there wasn't enough room in our small town for all of
the superbly talented people, and many wished to conquer new
fields of science and culture.Among these were Uncle Gedalyahu Shlita's daughters, who
were excellent students in the Polish gymnasia [high
school] and all of whom completed their education at the
university in Warsaw, but mainly
Breindele, who immediately found a respected position in the
field of medicine.
During this period, the HaChalutz, HaShomer
HaTzair and Beitar movements began to operate in our
town.Many of the
town's youth went out for pioneer training and merited
certificates [from the British Mandate, allowing them to
immigrate to the
of Israel].This aliya brought with it a wave of awareness and
The youth worked and acted on behalf of the funds, and from time
to time there were Zionist meetings and speeches of a high
that the classic speaker in town was Reb Shlomo Goldberg, who
always began his Zionist speeches in the synagogue with the
"For almost 2,000 years, we have been in exile."
A HEAVY SHADOW
I left the town for a number of years, and I realized that I
was always homesick for the home of my childhood.From the last years there, an incident remains in my
memory that happened with the lawyer, Mr. Greenberg, who came to
our town from Plonsk and lived in our house.
Lawyer Greenberg, who came to find a livelihood in our town,
was experienced in his profession, but his nature was to push
himself into a place where he was not wanted.The town's Judge Gen and his Ukrainian secretary Karil,
who took sweet counsel together in matters of law, were harmed
by the appearance of the guest in the courtroom, who wanted to
prove that matters of jurisdiction were more familiar to him
than to them, and that he was more expert than they in legal
matters.It was the
evening of a summer day, a Friday, and Mr. Greenberg went out to
walk and breathe the air.The townspeople had already lit the Sabbath candles, and
were enjoying the pleasant Sabbath songs.Here, there were frightening cries suddenly, Greenberg
appeared at our door his head was wounded and dripping blood.Unknown persons had pulled out knives and stabbed him
three times in the head, and then disappeared
There was great fear in the town, but there were
wise-hearted men in the congregation who knew how to announce
their opinion the next day in the synagogue and to make
conclusions from the incident:this was the fruit of a person who was accustomed to
sticking his nose into a place where he wasn't wanted.
The relatively quiet times that the Jews knew in the first
years of the Polish regime changed completely.
Before Hitler came into power in Germany, the atmosphere became more
oppressive from day to day. These days were a chain of worries
about livelihood, a hard struggle for existence. Heavy taxes were imposed on the shop-owners, and
everything was put under the fear of what tomorrow would bring.
The town continued in its path of inner life life of
trade, life of the study hall, life of culture and Zionism, as
his home, the Jew, when he went outside, when he travelled, when
he visited a government office, felt the bubbling hatred of his
Polish and Ukrainian neighbors.And here, the news also arrived of the new oppressor of
the Jewish nation who had arisen in Germany, and the arms of hatred and
poison began to spread farther and father.The heavy shadow that was seen grew gloomier; it spread
over all the neighboring countries.The black forces of hatred began to flood
Poland.The earth was burning under our feet, and many young
people began to leave our town and join the illegal immigrants
who were leaving the exile and going up to the land of their
dreams any way they could.Groups of pioneers who had completed years of training,
or those who received other emigration permits, left the town
for the Land
of Israel.Those who remained behind in the town looked at those
leaving with disappointment.I remember that we would accompany people who were
leaving in a large procession up to the train tracks.These parades of wagons and pedestrians, singing songs of
Zion, were frequent then.Every one of the escorts prayed in his heart that the day
would come when he also would be able to sail in the ship "Polania,"
which in those days gained a praiseworthy reputation.
I remember the last days that I spent in our town, before I
emigrated to the
in 1936.The day
before I left, I sat at a party overflowing with love, with my
sisters and brothers, at the home of our Uncle, the Eisenberg
family, of blessed memory.I parted from my sister Nechama and her precious, dear
children Yaakovel and Lifsheli, with warm kisses.
And here, I am on the ship Polania," and it is
sailing over the blue sea.My eyes see the sea, but my spirit is still in my town,
In those days, I saw in my dreams the traditional ladder
from the Bible, standing on the ground.But its top did not reach the heavens, rather to one of
the miraculous ships.And on this ladder all of the Jews of our town women,
children and the elderly are climbing, to the sound of song,
headed for the Land of Israel.
But miracles occurred only in dreams.Cruel fate wished otherwise In truth, the town was
similar to a ship the town was similar, not to a miraculous
ship, but rather to one that the stormy sea was tossing around
people on board feel the coming tragedy, but only a few of them
succeed in saving themselves