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Sefer Vladimirets

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Our Town That Was And Is No More

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Rabbi Moshe Shlita

** Webmaster Note: The following is a translation from Hebrew by Dr. Yaakov Levi as commissioned by Victor Feldman. Additional clarifications are provided in parenthesis ( ).  This chapter provides an in-depth look into the town and town life and reveals Rabbi Moshe Shlita’s deep love for his town, its people and customs.

** Name note: Although Shlita is usually an acronym for the words "Sheyichye L'orech Yamim Tovim Aruchim." meaning "May he live many long and good days, Amen." As a word, "Shlita" means that the Rabbi is a person of "leadership." From this chapter, we find that so many of Rabbi Moshe's line were called Shlita, it became used as the family name. 

Our Town That Was And Is No More

The Jews called our town Vlodimiretz, but in Russian it was called Vladimirets and in Polish Wlodzimierzec. Because of their close sounds, it was easy to confuse the name Vladimirets with the name of the big town Ludmir, which was called Vladimir-Volynski in Russian, and Włodzimierz-Volynsk in Polish. Therefore, during Russia's Tsarist regime Vladimirets’ post office was called Stakhovka – the name of a village next to our town. On mail items, therefore, they had to write, Vladimirets post Stakhovka. Since the Polish would not write this entire address, it often caused address confusion, so that mail from Ludmir would come to our town, and vice versa. On the map for the register of The Council of Four Lands (Va'ad Arba' Aratzot) from 1766, Vladimirets was called Little Ludmir. 

The pine forests, which were abundant around Vladimirets, probably attracted the first settlers, and from this core group the town started developing. Jews looking for a source of income settled here and built incinerators to extract and process tar from the woods.  From the tar they would make tar oil and wagon ointment needed for the surrounding villagers. This is perhaps the origin of a saying frequently used among the townspeople, that the “benches of the village are smeared with tar.” The real meaning of this saying is that each person in the town is glued to his/her place and does not move from it. This reference was to those people who were capable of moving to a big city and settling there, but yet, did not do so. 

Around Vladimirets there were other Jewish villages, like Zhëlutsk and Olizarka, whose land was already given to the Jews in the times of Nicolai the First. Also, there were many other villages around our town and Vladimirets served as a center for them. The big farm Kartchamky, which was close to Vladimirets, belonged to a Jew named Weiner. When the Jewish community in Vladimirets was confirmed by the laws of the communities in Poland, those Jewish villages, including Old and New Rafalovka, became part of it.  

We do not know much about the time in which Vladimirets was established. In the town, they found a register of “Chevrat Tehillim.” On the first page there was a letter “Mikhtav Tehillah” by Rabbi Shlomo Yaakov, son of Yehuda Leib. The letter begins with the words “When I passed through my hometown” it was written in 1803.

In the Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary (an extensive Russian encyclopedia) it is written: In the year 1765 Vladimirets was under the ruling of the Polish government (before the division), in the district of Vohlyn, the province Lutsk, with a Jewish community of 110 members, who bought 33 houses. In the area there were then an additional 49 Jews, and all together there were 159 members in Vladimirets. With the decrease of the general population in Vohlyn, the Jewish population in Vladimirets has also decreased. In the Polish census from 1787 we find only 64 Jews in the town – and 109 in the whole area. After the division of Poland, Vladimirets moved to the hands of the Russians, and in the Russian census from 1847 it had already 251 Jews. In the census 50 years later their number had increased to 1024, which was half of the overall population in that place. 

In those early days, the Jews of our town were very modest in their way of life. Their clothing was a dress of simple fabric which they would buy from the nearby villagers, or which they would weave themselves. Buying a white fabric in a store was considered waste and luxury. Even buying fresh bread at the baker’s was considered a waste, since the housewife would bake the bread in her own oven. The suits were also made from the same fabric, but they would dye it in different colors, each according to their own taste. Even the buttons were self-made – they made them out of wood and coated them with the fabric of the suit. 

There is a story about a young man from one of those towns who married a woman from Vladimirets and was living with his father-in-law. This young man did not behave like the local people, and he sewed shirts with a collar and sleeves out of white fabric.  The older people did not like it, since they saw it as a dangerous crack in their modest life. The first time the young man came to the public bath, one of the old people called him and said: “Come here, you young squanderer!”

When the young man came close, the old man rebuked him and said: “These collar and sleeves will eventually cause your father-in-law bankruptcy. You need to know that the white fabric is not only much more expensive than the regular fabric, but you will also need to send the shirt to the laundry twice a week. Can your father-in-law afford that?...” 

On rainy days, when the streets of the town were muddy, most of the citizens would wear high leather boots, and only the wealthy among them would wear shoes with galoshes. Those who were wearing galoshes gained respect and were looked at as important people. The same was true for those who wore glasses… There is a story about a young man who rode to a nearby town to begin a courtship with a young woman; in order to impress the family he borrowed galoshes from one of the prominent people of the town. 

 The furniture inside the home was also simple. In the middle of the room there was a big wooden table. Around it there were wooden benches. Next to the wall, there were also wooden benches. A small black wall-cabinet for holy books was hung in the corner. On the wall there was a painted “Mizrach” (Jerusalem) picture. In the bedroom there were wooden beds and in them mattresses filled with straw which would be replaced from time to time. A console with iron plating, movable by casters, was used as a clothing cabinet. 

In those days, people were not particularly interested in politics. Everyone was busy making a living and dealing with personal matters. What little free time they had was used for studying Torah, doing Mitzvot and good deeds. The following description will show their interest in politics, which was told by a very old man: Saturday afternoon for the third meal, the townspeople were sitting around the table at the Rabbi’s house just finishing singing “Yom Zeh Mechubbad,” and there was silence. Suddenly they heard the sigh of the old Rabbi, who was sitting at the end of the table.

“Why are you sighing, Rabbi Yossi?” asked the Rabbi.

“How would I not sigh,“ answered Rabbi Yossi. I was in a village and talked to the gentiles who were in Volost (the local city board), and they told me that soon a war will break out.”

“What do you care if a war breaks out?” asked the Rabbi again.

“Of course I care. They owe me a lot of money, and if there is war, they will avoid paying it back.” 

In early times, light at night was through a little kerosene lamp, which they called in Russian “kornik.” – “ashnan” in Hebrew. It was a glass lamp which produced smoke, and hence its name (in Hebrew “ashan” means “smoke.”). Perhaps it would have been better to have called it “ashashit.” It was a little jar or little can, in which they poured kerosene, and put a wick in it, like the Chanukkah candles. The “korniks” would not burn for a long time, since the local people would go to bed early and get up early – with the first call of the rooster. The kerosene lamp, with all its accessories, as we know it today, was not known to the people of Vladimirets at that time. It was first introduced by a wood trader who brought it from the big city, when he stayed in Vladimirets for business. At night, the windows of his room shone with a bright light, the light of the lamp, while the other windows were dark. 

When he lit the kerosene lamp the first time, all the townspeople came to watch the spectacle of the wonder lamp, which was not like the “korniks,” which  hardly gave enough light to light themselves. 

In one of the villages there was a wedding at that time. The in-law wanted to magnify and glorify the “simcha”, so he came to the guest from the big city and asked him to lend him the kerosene lamp for the wedding night. Since the wedding was on Friday and the lamp was supposed to burn into the Sabbath, they put a non-Jew to watch over the lamp all night. After the meal, when the in-laws became enthusiastic and began dancing, an explosion was suddenly heard. The glass exploded somehow and broke into pieces. The guests got very scared, and the lamp interrupted the celebration. Now it was up to the non-Jew, who extinguished the wonder lamp, and instead, lit ordinary candles. 

There is a story about the gramophone – the news went from mouth to mouth about this other wonder.

“Have you heard?” Rabbi Yitzchak-Yaakov Grushko brought a magic box which they call gramophone, and it talks like a real human being! Not only that, but it also sings songs, and even does cantorial chanting in the voices of the famous cantors.” 

The news came to the Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzchak-Eliyahu. He was also interested in it, and asked Rabbi Yitzchak-Yaakov to bring the gramophone to his house, so he can see the great wonder in his own eyes. The appropriate time they found was Saturday night, after Havdalah. That evening, almost all people of the town gathered at the Rabbi’s house. The house was too small to hold all of them and many people crowded together outside. Chassidim and working people were skeptical about this at first, but when they heard that the Rabbi considered it seriously, they changed their minds, and the mocking tone quickly disappeared from their lips. 

When the prominent people were sitting around the table for a Saturday night cup of tea, Yitzchak-Yaakov appeared with the magic box under his arm. He made his way through the crowd and with a victorious look, put the gramophone in the middle of the table. With extra care, Rabbi Yitzchak-Yaakov opened the box, put the record in it, and alas, the prayer “hashkivenu” was heard in a voice so sweet it touched the heart. The windows were opened so that the audience outside could hear as well, and all listened with great excitement. The gramophone played some more cantorial pieces, the “mavdil,” to the joy of the gathered people. Among the audience there was someone who was so excited,  that he wanted to ask the Rabbi if listening to it exempted him from hearing the cantor.

That evening was a very exciting one for the Jews of that town. 

Times of Changes 

It was in this spirit of innocence and simplicity that the Jews of the town lived until World War I. From then on however, the town underwent many changes each of which left its mark. Following World War I, Vladimirets again reverted to being under Polish rule, and in the governmental census from 1930 the town population listed about 1500 Jews. 

During the Russian regime, the town was part of the province Lutsk, but during the Polish rule, when the city Sarny – which was 40 km from Vladimirets – became a district city, Vladimirets became part of it. Sarny and its surroundings belonged to the province of Polsia, whose main city was Brisk, but in the end it became part of Vohlyn, where Shluzk was the main city.  

Since it was located far from the railroad, Vladimirets did not experience any noticeable development, and some Jew even moved to live next to the train station in the little village “Palitz,” from which the town Rafalovka developed.  

During the times of revolution and changes occurring in Russia and Ukraine in the years 1917-1919, the Jews of Vladimirets were not especially hurt. Nevertheless, the military units who passed through the town, robbed it and impoverished it.  

When the Bolsheviks entered in 1919, they suspected a Polish priest of having ties to the Polish army and they arrested him. He was expected to be executed, but the Jews lobbied on his behalf, he was sent free. The priest returned the kindness and in 1920, when the soldiers started getting wild and plundering, he stood behind the Jews and did not let the Polish harm them. The soldiers who beat the Jews were punished and were forced to return the robbed properties. Also during the Holocaust of World War II, he stood behind the Jews and convinced his congregation to help them and give them shelter. And indeed, because of him some Jews survived. 

The town suffered a lot from fires. The biggest fire was in 1934, in the beginning of the summer. It was a Saturday afternoon, when the older people were enjoying their Sabbath nap and the young people where walking in the forest far from the town. The fire consumed two thirds of the town.  

The Polish government fully paid the insurance compensations, without deductions and without difficulties. An engineer from the government was sent and the new buildings were built according to a modern plan. The streets were made broader, and in place of the unstable old houses, large and beautiful buildings were built. In the main streets only buildings surrounded by walls were built, by order of the government. The years of building were years of wealth for the town. For other families the fire was now a good opportunity to close their businesses and immigrate to Israel. 

From the Scenes of the Town 

In the middle of the city square there was the Pravoslavic church. This, too, was plastered in white and had a stone fence around it. The roof was painted in green and two domes stuck out from it – one rounded and one pointed, with crosses on top of them. Inside the domes there were big bells, which rang on Sunday, the civil day of rest, calling the believers for services. 

To the left of the Pravoslavic church was the Catholic church. This, too, was plastered in white and had stone fencing around it, but the two domes on the roof were pointed. The bells were not inside the domes, but rather inside the outside wall, in two arched windows. The church bells were also used for alarm in case of fire. Travelers who came to the city would see the domes with the crosses first, a sign that they were really close to the town. 

The two churches seemed to divide the town. South of them were the market and the main streets.  The wealthy people lived there.  North of them lived the ordinary people, most of them workers. There they had their own house of study, which was called the Tailors’ Synagogue. 

Between the Pravoslavic church and the residences in the south there was a big, wide public square. There they had large public gatherings and various folk festivals. Here was also the parking place for the vehicles of the farmers who brought their goods for sale or who came to the court. In 1919, during the Bolshevik regime, a big stage was built here. From this stage the preachers would speak to the people. There they also had various plays or concerts to entertain the public. 

During the Polish regime, when a specific day was set for the market in Vladimirets, this place was used as the market square. The farmers came here with their goods. But after the fire, when new buildings were built, and the streets around declared as main streets, the number of people who came to the market increased, and the place became too small for them, so the market moved to a side street. 

There was no river either in Vladimirets, or next to it. Only a small creek, called “linkes,” passed through the city, and this was only rarely used for swimming. Because of the absence of a river, they could not arrange a “get” (divorce document) here, but rather in the nearby towns of Berezhnitsa or Rafalovka. 

The buildings were wooden buildings, and almost all of them had one floor. Only two two-storey buildings were in the town, the wall-building of Zvi Weiner and the wall-building of Dov Vishnia.  The first one housed the police.  The hospital in the second building, excelled in its internal and external luxury. A huge impression was created by the marble tiles inside it, in contrast to the floors in other buildings, which were made of wood. 

As in all towns, the Jews lived in the center and the main streets, while the non-Jews lived in the periphery and side streets. Also the buildings were different. The buildings of the Jews were tall, with large windows, and the roofs covered with metal sheets or wood shingles. The buildings of the farmers were low, and their windows very small, close to the ground, and the roofs covered with straw. When they wanted to indicate a small house they would say “a hut of a non-Jew.” 

The streets were unpaved. In rainy days, or when the snow melted, there was lots of mud. On the sides there were wooden sidewalks. 

The main street was the “market” street, where most of the shops were concentrated, and it had outlets to the other streets. In the summer, mainly on Sabbath, the streets were filled with many travelers. The Polish had names for the streets. In the streets’ corners they had signs with the street names. Every house owner had to put a sign on the house with the house number, his first name, and his last name.  The main street was named after Filsodsky (Polish General of WWI).  Besides that, there were streets named after King Kazimierz the Great, after the capital city of Warsaw, etc. But for all practical purposes, the citizens did not use those names, and when they needed to indicate a place, they would refer to a specific building next to it. They would say “next to the post office,” “next to the hospital,” “next to the mill,” etc. Or they called the street according to a prominent person who lived there. 

Water would be drawn from a few wells. The three important wells which supplied water to the majority of the citizens were known by their names: “Voftchok Well,” which was a Jewish well, “Shamshah Well,” named after a non-Jew with this name, and “The Well of Hovolost” (i.e. the local municipality). The best water was from The Well of Hovolost, and even those who lived next to other wells would come to draw water from this well, at least for making tea. They would draw the water with a long  rod which was mounted on a board, called in the Jewish sources “kilon.” Or they would draw using a chain instead of rod. In some of the wells the bucket was tied to the rod or chain. In these wells, they would draw water using the fixed bucket, and empty it to the container they brought from home. Sometimes, the bucket would fall off the rod or chain into the well. In this case, they would bring a long pole with a hook attached to one end, which they called “Bosyak,” and they would stir with it in the well’s water until they caught the drowned bucket. 

In the winter, the water running into the well would freeze, and the access to it was dangerous, requiring extra care. In this case, they would hire someone to remove the ice around the well to enable access to it. All house owners who drew water from this well would participate in these expenses. 

For Passover, the wells would be made kosher, i.e. they would draw all of the water from the well, clean it and shut it, until the new water came up. These expenses too were shared by all those who used the well. Sometimes, the non-Jewish kids wanted to enrage the Jews and they poured bread crumbs into the water and made it leavened.  Such acts succeeded in making the Jews very angry. 

In every house there was a wooden or metal barrel, which they would fill for a day or two. Those who were extra picky in religious matters had a big barrel, which they would fill with water for the eight days of the holiday. A day or two before Passover they would sometimes call the water drawer and give him clean clothes to bring them water for Passover. And indeed, it was an entertaining scene, when the non-Jewish water drawer would go out in the streets with the buckets, dressed like a Jew. 

We need to also mention Asher and Zeev, who were mentally disabled, but were not considered a burden for the citizens of the town. In fact, they made a living working. These two were the formal water drawers of the town. Asher, the tall one, with a black beard, would go barefoot and with pants folded above his knees, and a rope on his hips. Asher was a stutterer, and his big, black eyes always showed fear and wonder. 

As a compensation for his work, besides food, he would ask only for newspapers, the more the better. This was his main desire. His pockets were always filled with newspapers. 

He used to say that he is collecting the newspapers to pad the road from the cemetery to his house, for his dead mother. When the day comes, and the dead will be resurrected, she will not have to walk on a hard ground. Asher died after World War I in the attic where he lived. After his death they found a lot of newspapers there. 

Zeev (he was called “Wolf”) was a little shorter than average. He had a strong body and a yellow beard coming down his face. He, too, was stuttering with heavy speech, but when he carried the two buckets he would sing. Wolf had a pleasant tenor voice, and one could hear his voice from a distance. He was always proud to be a member of “Chevra Kaddisha” (burial society), but he was always complaining that they did not make him the tax collector for “Chevra Kaddisha.” When he was unhappy with somebody, he would immediately say the prayer “El Male Rachamim” as they say it after the dead. In funerals, he would run with his yarmulke to beg for money and shout “Charity will save from death.” He was murdered by the Nazis during the holocaust when he showed resistance. 

There was also a disabled woman in our town, Susia. She would go from house to house to beg for money, carrying two bags, one on her back and one in her hand. In the end of her life, when she became weak, some goodhearted women took the responsibility to care for her. They rented a room for her and took care of all her needs. 

Like Family Members 

The public life in the small town was not like in a big city. In a big city, everyone has a circle of friends – whether from work or political party.  However, a citizen of a big city usually does not know the neighbors in his street, and even neighbors living in the same building. Of course, there were no friendship relations. It is different in a small town. Here, the citizens know each other and are connected to each other as friends, even if they did not have any common business or political matters. In this sense, the people in the town were like family members. When something happened to one – the whole town talked about it. When somebody celebrated – everyone came to celebrate with them. If someone had any affliction, the public representatives would try to provide help. 

In this sense, our town was similar to other towns, and perhaps even better. I will not exaggerate if I say that the Jews here lived like brothers and sisters, in joy and sorrow. It is reflected in an event from World War I. At that time, there was the epidemic typhus in our town and the young people volunteered to support the sick people, stay with them at their houses and care for them. Many participated in helping, even though a great risk was involved. 

When a male baby was born, the honorary officer in the synagogue would declare that everybody is invited to the event. When there was a Brith (circumcision) in town, they would not say the “Tachanun” (prayer for mercy) in the synagogues or Minyan gatherings because they all saw themselves as part of the celebration. 

Usually, the people were not called by their last name, but rather by the names of their father, mother, or in-laws. For example, Mosheh Khonires, Yankel Khayes, Hershel Ahrens, etc. Some were called after their occupation: Simcha the carpenter, Yosef the leatherworker, Zvi the tailor, etc. Those who had two names he did not need an additional name. Like Yitzchak-Mendel, Eliezer-Leib, Shimon-Dov. People who came from villages or other towns to live in our town were called after their previous place: Yoel Voronker, Abba Ostrovtzer, etc. People were not called by their last name, was because of the atmosphere of brotherhood in the town. Only later, when the people started going out of the town and became part of the big world, they started adapting new manners, including having a last name. There were extended families with one name, named after the first to the family or after an event that happened to the family in the past. They used this name when they wanted to emphasize a specific character common to that family.  

In the square between the big synagogue and the Bet-Midrash of the Trisk Chassidim, which were across from each other, they would have the marriage ceremonies. The musicians (know as “Kleizmers”) had a special melody for the moment of bringing the bridegroom and the bride to the ceremony. As was the custom, they would bring the bridegroom first. Before coming under the Chuppah, he would go to the synagogue, walk to the Bema, and kiss the Sefer Torah and the Parochet (curtain). Only then he would go under the Chuppah and wait for the bride. The “Kleizmer” would meanwhile go to the bride’s house to bring her to the synagogue’s yard, and she, too, was accompanied with a melody and songs. 

A big procession of in-laws and ordinary citizens would accompany the bridegroom and the bride, in the front and the back many children. Every celebration was their celebration. 

The Rabbi conducted the marriage ceremony, in a traditional melody. When they would return from the ceremony, one of the female in-laws would dance in front of the bride and the bridegroom, holding a big braided challah – a symbol for luck and abundance. The dancer would face the young couple, and thus she would move backwards. 

The wedding day was a happy day for the bridegroom and the bride. When they returned to the house of the in-laws after the ceremony, they would first serve them the “golden soup” to pull themselves together. Then they would declare the “Drasha gifts,” announce the name of the donor and say what the donation was. After every such announcement they would play a melody in honor of the donor.

The Jews of the villages were special people, rough on the outside. Their accent, too, was special and a little rough. They were ignorant in regard to Jewish laws and customs, but under the outer layer they had a warm Jewish heart, with love and desire for Judaism. Since most of the time they were involved with non-Jews because of their occupation, their desire to be among Jews was therefore deeper. They would give their children Jewish education at any cost. Sometimes they would hire a private teacher from the town for their child, let him stay with them, provide food and drink, and pay him well, so that he can teach more Torah to the child. 

Some Jews from the villages would send their children to school to the nearby town. The children would stay with their relatives, and their parents would pay a big amount of money, sometimes more than they could afford. They wanted the children to grow up as good Jews. These villagers were known for their hospitality, which was their great characteristic. Traveler visiting the village would be received with open arms. The villagers gave them the best food and drink, and in winter time they would make them a bed next to the fireplace. If the guest was poor, they would also give him a fair amount of money. 

I recall that once I came to a distant village. It was early evening, and  I had to stay in the village overnight so I could take the train back home in the next morning. I entered to the first Jewish house I found and asked if I could stay with them and buy something to eat. They answered yes to both. I was hungry I sat at the table, and ordered a good meal – eggs, milk, butter, and cheese. They filled the table with goodies – a loaded table. And indeed, I ate a lot. After the meal they brought me to a room with a clean made bed. Also in the morning I ordered a good meal and ate until I was full. Before leaving, I asked the owner of the house for the bill, and I was stunned when he refused to accept any payment. First, I tried gently to explain to him that I ordered the meals as one does in a restaurant, but slowly I had to be more aggressive and demand that he take the money. But the man was decisive: “Sir, I will not sell the good deed of hospitality. Whatever you ate here will be for your health, and do not talk to me about paying.” 

For the High Holidays the Jews of some villages would gather in a central village to pray in Minyan. They would hire a person from the town to lead the services and pay him a lot of money. There were Jews who lived in isolated, distant villages and did not have a Minyan. Some of them wanted to be among Jews and absorb the holiness of the days. These Jews would come to Vladimirets. They had a place to stay every year. When they came, they would bring the host from the best of their goods. They would bring a box full of books – Siddur, Slichot, Machazor, Siddur Korban Mincha; for the women, Techina, Tzeina Ureina, Chok Leyisrael, etc. 

A week before Passover these villagers would be seen in the town, coming to the Rabbi to sell the chametz (leavened) and shop for the holiday. On Passover Eve, early in the morning, the faces of the first-born villagers were seen in the synagogues to hear the conclusion of the tractate, so they did not have to fast. This was the Day of Fast of the First-Born. Following the conclusion of the tractate, they would generously participate in the Se’udat Mitzvah (the public meal), and if the person concluding the tractate was needy, they would generously give him gifts for the holiday. 

Public Needs 

Our town awaited many dangers. The citizens gathered themselves against the small dangers, like theft, especially in the long autumn and winter nights. They guarded the town, and all citizens in the town had to participate in guarding. The persons responsible for fair share of the participation were the leaders –Jews and Christians, and they served as official representatives to deal with the authorities. Guarding was organized among the citizens by turn, house by house, neighbor by neighbor. The weapon was a long thick stick with which the guard would defend the town. Officially, they were supposed to use it in time of danger, and practically they used to hit the shops’ doors and thus indicate that the guard is not sleeping. 

Each night, one Jew and one non-Jew would guard. The next morning, one would pass the stick to his neighbor next door, a sign that this is his turn to fulfill his duty. That neighbor would pass the stick to his neighbor the next morning, and so on. Often, the guards would enter the bakeries, where they worked all night, and have a conversation with the baker. In winter nights, they would sit and warm themselves next to the burning oven. 

Finally, one Jew made guarding his occupation, to make a living, and a citizen whose turn was to guard would pay him, and this person would suffer all night long. Everybody knew Shneor the Guard, walking around at night with his stick, and those thinking about Shneor’s image would see him with his stick, as if he and his stick were one.  

Fires, which broke once in a while in the town, set bigger danger than theft. This is why they established the fire fighters organization, which consisted mainly of volunteers. It was a joint organization for Jews and Christians. Many Jews were awarded for their dedicated work. The property of this organization was a big barrel with a hand-pump, filled with water and placed on a wagon, ready for emergency time, with long hoses to splash water when needed. This property was in the yard of the local municipality. 

Officially, extinguishing fires was the job of this fire fighters organization, but in times of danger all citizens would join together, and it was difficult to say who did a better job. When hearing the shout “Fojar! Fojar!” (fire, fire), everyone knew that there was fire in one of the houses and the diligent ones would run to the Catholic church to ring the bells and thus sound an alarm to all citizens to gather, until the fire fighters would come. 

Chevra Kaddisha was very active in the town. When a Jew from the town or from one of the surrounding villages would pass away, the members of the Chevra would get together and discuss the matter. They would set the amount for the inheriting family members based on the person’s deeds in his life. If that person was generous and gave money for charity, according to his economic status, they would set a small amount of money. If the person was rich and tightwad, they would set a large amount of money. After deducting expenses, they would give the money for charity purposes and public foundations. If the amount was small, they would leave it for the expenses of Chevra Kaddisha. 

Anybody who wanted to be a member of the Chevra had to pay entrance fees for activities, including providing drinking and desert for the Chevra. The Chevra had a big register book in which they would write the names of the members. They wrote with the ink pen of a Torah scriber, and the script was in Hebrew printed letters. 

Accepting new members for the Chevra was usually on the weekdays of the Sukkot holiday. At that time they would also appoint the honorary officers for the Chevra for a whole year. There were three honorary officers for the Chevra, but practically they would elect two only, a second and a third honorary officer. The first honorary officer was always the Rabbi – sort of honorary president. The real manager, the leading and the decision making person in the Chevra was the second honorary officer, and the third honorary officer was his assistant. The following was the order of the election: 

On Chol HaMoed Sukkot, in the evening, all members of the Chevra would gather at the Rabbi’s house. They would write the names of the members on a piece of paper, each name on a separate piece. They would also prepare blank pieces of paper in the same amount, and only on 5 of them they would right “electing.” Now they would mix the notes with the names of the members and put them together. Then they would put the blank pieces of paper and the ones with “electing” separately. They would call two people, one person would take a note from one pile, and the other person would take a note from the other pile. They would first open the one from the blank pile. If it was blank, they would throw it away together with the name without looking at it. Only when the note from the pile said “electing” they would read the one with the name. When all five notes with the word “electing” were found, they now had the electing body appoint the honorary officers for the Chevra – the “second honorary officer and the third honorary officer.” Following the elections, they would eat and drink all kinds of food and sing and dance. 

On Hoshana Rabba the new honorary officer would arrange a big Kiddush for all members of the Chevra, and on Simchat Torah the Shammash would go all over the town with a very big platter filled with big pieces of cake – sent by the Chevra. 

The transportation communication from Vladimirets to nearby cities and towns was usually by coach and horses. Thus was the connection to Sarny, Rafalovka, and Dubrovitsa. Even to Rovno (Rivne), which was 120 km farther, they sometimes rode the coach. Stolin Chassidim would travel to their Rabbi for the holiday in a wagon harnessed to a horse, and the coachman would wait there till the end of the holiday and then bring them back home. 

But there was a small train, departing once a day, to the big railroad station Antonovka, 18 km from Vladimirets. From Antonovka the train would go for the route “Kovel-Sarny. The train would leave early in the evening from Vladimirets to Antonovka, and in the morning from Antonovka to Vladimirets. The communication was inconvenient, since all those arriving to Antonovka in the evening had to stay there overnight in order to take the train the next morning to Vladimirets. And vice versa, those who wanted to take the morning train from Antonovka would have to leave the evening before and stay overnight in Antonovka. The train administration tried to arrange that the train would leave also in the morning from Vladimirets to Antonovka, but this arrangement did not last for long. The reason was the small number of travelers. Therefore, they had two hotels in Antonovka. One of them belonged to a Jew from Vladimirets, Rabbi Simcha Melamed  Twice a week the train would also leave for Dubrovitsa and back. The connection to Lubinitz and Pinsk was through Dubrovitsa. 

In our town they said that one day they had a plan that the railroad Pinsk-Rovno would pass through Vladimirets. This caused a loud noise in the town: who knows what a destructive effect this would have for the town? Which evil spirits would follow from the big world? They say that some Jews discussed the matter and found a solution: they gathered a fair amount of money as a gift for the engineer in charge of the work so that he will cancel the original plan. This person indeed found an excuse to cancel the plan. Finally, the issue came to the chief engineer and the plan-changer was seriously punished and committed suicide. 

Source of Living

Vladimirets was not blessed by industry and major businesses to provide employment for the citizens. There was only one winery in the town, which  belonged to a wealthy Jew. The workers there were villagers. There were a few brick incinerators outside the town, and which belonged to Jews. But the work there was seasonal, and most of the workers were non-Jews. Finally, they built a big, modern flour mill, but it was used only for the needs of the local people, from the town and the outskirts. Therefore, it could not employ more than three-four people. Besides that there were in town some grocery stores, produce stores, fancy food stores, textile stores, and hardware stores. Some of these were big, but most of the owners of these stores could hardly make a living. In the small stores, the shopkeepers would sit and wait for hours for customers to come. In winter time they would sit wrapped with warm coats. On the shop counter there was a big pot with coals burning slowly in which they would warm their freezing hands. When there was a hefty cold and the legs froze from standing on one spot or from sitting, they would walk back and forth to the center of the shop, rubbing their hands to warm themselves. In summer time, they would take a nap because they were bored or it was hot. Sometimes, one shop owner would visit his neighbor, the shopkeeper next to his, to have a conversation about different topics, what is happening in the world and politics. The conversation took place while the shopkeeper would stand at the threshold, once in a while glancing at his own shop, perhaps someone would come – a customer, or… a thief. 

However, it would be a mistake to think that those shopkeepers would rest physically. On the contrary, they would indeed apply the verse “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread.” Usually, they would travel once a week or once every other week to a big city for shopping, and this travel would cost them two sleepless nights. They would ride a coach harnessed to horses, at night, so that the next day they would be able to shop. In the evening, they would leave for a night ride back home. There was also the stress of unloading the goods, arranging everything in the store, making a price list, and go through the accounting. When a villager would come to buy something, they would take the list and negotiate with him. Sometimes, the shopkeeper was forced to walk to the villages to collect money which the non-Jews owed him. When he came back, he would carry on his back products for that debt, or even cheaper. On market days in the neighboring towns, the shopkeepers from Vladimirets would pack their goods and go there. Indeed, the words of the New Year prayer “with his soul he will obtain his bread” are a suitable expression for these shopkeepers. 

Some Jews made a living by peddling. These would go from door to door in the villages all week long with their goods, mainly of small items, such as colorful threads, shawl, fabric for summer dresses, etc. The villagers did not pay them in cash for these goods, but rather exchanged with their products, such as simple fabric, eggs, chickens, pig’s hair, mushrooms, unprocessed animals’ skin, etc. Each peddler had his own territory of villages, and nobody would trespass someone else’s territory. 

There were Jews who made a living from seasonal businesses. In the beginning of the spring, before the fruit season, they would lease orchards from landowners or wealthy farmers. They would pay them a specific amount which they agreed upon, by assessment, and after that those Jews were constantly busy with that orchard, guarding it until the ripening season, then pick the fruits, sort them and sell them, whether in retail trade or wholesale – sending out of town with wagons. 

Some of Vladimirets’ Jews were agents. They would travel to bigger towns with wagons, bringing goods to shopkeepers, mainly to haberdashery and stationeries. They would also bring medicines which one could not find in town. Among the well-known agents before World War I were Avner-Baruch, who would travel to nearby Dubrovitsa, Shalom Susnuik, who would travel to Pinsk, and Yosef Leifer, who would travel to Lutsk. Leifer was also the mail contractor at that time, i.e. he would provide horses for delivering the mail against payment. 

Of course, Vladimirets, like all neighboring towns, did not have a shortage in cattle or horse traders, who would go from market to market and do business. 

Since Vladimirets had plenty of forests, there were also forests traders in our town. Some of them made a living as experts of sorting timber in the forests. The forests traders were among the richest in our town. Traders would sometimes come from distant places and stay in town for long time. These brought a spirit of distant places, and our little and monotonous town had thus the chance to have contact with the big world. 

Most craftsmen in our town were shoemakers and tailors. Some were so skilled that they sewed only new fashion clothing for the wealthy people, others sewed mainly for the neighboring farmers – pants and coats, especially for winter days. Those would do their work very fast, with no strictness or accuracy; this is why they would call them “tandetnikes.” There were also craftsmen whose main occupation was patching old clothes or shoes. 

The town also had carpenters, plasterers, and builders. The smiths were usually located in the outskirts, so that farmers coming to town would go to them immediately and shoe their horses or fix the rims for their wagon wheels. There were also jobs which only a few would have – there were two glaziers, and two wheel makers, who would make wooden wheels for wagons. At first there was one watchmaker, and then another one added. There was only one photographer. The town also had presses for oil and cotton, and workshop for grinding beans. The wheels in these workshops were driven by horses. 

The market days were always an important source of living for the Jews of the town. In those days there were only annual markets, on known Ukrainian holidays, but the Polish started fixed market days – every Wednesday. In the beginning, the farmers refused to accept this change and they banned the market day. The police, therefore, would go to the villagers and force them to come to town. But slowly, all of them got used to the change and they would come willingly, bringing their goods to town – crop and crafts. As time passed, the weekly market drew many villagers and thus served as an important source of living to the Jews of the town. The local governors did whatever they could to improve the market days. At first, the marketplace was the square in front of the Pravoslavic church, and later it moved to another square, which was spacious and more appropriate. Also, the authorities allocated a special place for the horse and animal market. 

The governors established weekly markets also in the neighboring towns, a different day in each town. Those who made a living in the markets would go with their goods from place to place, from town to town, starting Monday (since Sunday was the formal rest day) through Thursday – each day somewhere else. 

An important factor in the economic life of the town was the government court, which was the only one in the surroundings. Every day, the farmers from neighboring places would come to court, often because of conflicts between them – mainly trespassing. Since such suits would never end at once, farmers would come more to town from their villages – the parties and the witnesses. While coming, they would bring their goods for sale or buy necessities. Of course the town benefited from that. The town also benefited from judges and court clerks – lawyers and others. 

Like all little towns, every Jew in Vladimirets also used to have a small auxiliary farm. Almost every Jew had a cow. People would say “If there is a cow in the yard, the house is filled with all kinds of goodies – milk, butter, sour cream, and yogurt.” Anybody who built a house would also have a cowshed. There were those who had two cows, and they would sell the extra milk products. The poor people would posses one or two goats. 

They would also find use for the manure. At the end of winter they would give the manure to one of the farmers to fertilize the fields, and then they would share half of a third of the yield, all according to their agreement. 

When summer came, they started worrying for pasture and shepherds. They would lease the pasture fields from the landowners. Each of the cow owners would pay some guldens for the summer. 

The landowners would treat the poor people fairly, reduce prices and sometimes free them from paying. After getting the pasture, some ten Jews would join together and hire a shepherd for the summer. Almost every family had a garden, which the housewife would cultivate and take care of. Some hens would run back and forth in the yard, pecking garbage. 

A serious issue was taking care of the young people who matured and wanted to reside in town and build their house. Here there was a huge difference between the children of the craftsmen and the children of traders and landlords. The craftsmen found their way easily, since they studied their profession very well – tailoring, shoemaking, carpentry, etc. Their living was secured. The town, and especially the neighboring villages, provided more than enough work for craftsmen. 

The children of traders, however, had difficulties finding their way. Not once, those couple, immediately after the wedding, would think hard where to begin. As mentioned, the town had neither industry, nor major businesses. Administrative jobs were out of reach for Jews, and this situation affected them greatly. Young men would help their fathers in the shops, as partners, or open a store for themselves. Young women would stay with their parents and help their mothers in household or their father with business until they got married. 

Later, many young people would travel to big cities to study – whether in teachers college or gymnasium. Many moved to places where they could study Torah in big Yeshivot, such as the Yeshivot of Mir, Radom, Kaltzek, and others. And indeed, some of the people from Vladimirets became certified teachers, but they mainly settled in other cities. 

The Rabbi’s source of income, as in all towns in Lithuania and Vohlyn had been his exclusive privilege of selling kerosene, yeast, and candles. This privilege was kept for the Rabbi and no shopkeeper would carry those items in his shop. Everyone would by them at the Rabbi, and not only Jews. Even non-Jews had to buy these from the Rabbi. There is a story about one shopkeeper who dared to bring kerosene to his shop, claiming that he brought it for his non-Jewish customers. This angered the house owners in the town, so they came and poured the kerosene out. 

Jokingly they would say that the Rabbi’s source of living was “g’zelah” – robbery (in Yiddish it is the acronym of “gaze, licht, haivin” – namely kerosene, candles, and yeast). 

There were kerosene barrels with big pumps in the long corridor of the Rabbi’s house. The floor and the walls in the corridor were absorbed with kerosene. Kids would come here with bottles and some coins to by oil for lighting. The main sale was usually early in the evening, when people would want to light the lamp and realized that they did not have oil at home. 

They would make the candles in the Rabbi’s house, in the attic. There, they built an oven with a big pot, in which they would melt the wax. They would twist the sticks and then submerge them in the pot. The candles had different sizes – for a quarter, half, or a whole coin. The main income was from candles early in the evening on Thursday. 

Yeasts were also self-made. These were liquid yeasts which they poured into cups, and they would sell them by size. After World War I– by customer request – they started bringing dry yeasts from the big cities. Housewives would come to buy the yeast Thursday night to bake the challot for the Sabbath. 

The person who was in charge of sales was the Rabbi’s wife, and there was a woman who helped her. The Rabbi did not deal with these matters, since he was sitting and studying Torah. All this was until they established the congregations in Poland. After that the Rabbis received their salary from the congregation’s money. 

Spirituality and Culture

Most Jews of the town, especially of the previous generation, were the product of the Cheder and Bet-HaMidrash (house of study). They were naïve and flawless people, most of them knowledgeable in Torah, religion, and its laws. These were the characteristics which shaped the image of the Jew of the old generation and gave him substance in life. He would follow them in his daily life and by them he would live the special times in the circle of the year. 

Waking up in the morning, every Jew knew that he first has to go to the synagogue to participate in the Minyan. After praying and adding some psalms, he would eat quickly and then go to his work. Early in the evening he would then again feel the obligation to go to synagogue and pray. Between Mincha (afternoon prayer) and Maariv (evening prayer) or after Maariv he would study a chapter of Mishna or Ein Yaakov, and even a page in the Talmud. If one day, for a work reason, he could not fulfill his duty, he would feel emptiness and guilt in his heart. 

On Friday he would have a different schedule, and on Sabbath or holiday he, again, would have another schedule. From the beginning of the month of Elul, especially in the days of Selichot, until after Yom Kippur, Jews would pray a lot and had many good deeds and charity. After Yom Kippur, the heart would be filled with a sense of relief and confidence in the future. With this joy they would start building the Sukkah (booth). Those who helped the public would carry the load of the religious needs – studying Torah, synagogue, or bath, Erub (permitting the movement beyond Sabbath limits – 2000 cubits), etc. 

Thus they used to do in all towns, and thus did they do in Vladimirets. 

Even later, when the wall of religion was cracked a little, public life was still characterized by loyalty to religion and tradition. This was especially recognizable on Sabbath and holidays – days of complete rest. 

In order to cover religious expenses, at least partially, the Tsarist government at that time allowed a special tax on kosher meat. In order not to let every buyer pay the tax while buying, the government would deduct it from one person, for a given annual amount. They called this payment “taxa.” That person would pay the income governmental department in the city of Jitomir, and then the government would give the money back to the town’s Jewish tax collector as participation in the religious needs of the Jewish community. 

The elderly of the town recall days when an orthodox Jew who was wearing a kippah under his hat had to pay a special tax. They also recall that from, orthodox Jew, Rabbi Leib-Yosef, who used to be in charge of collecting that tax. 

Besides the three Chassidic synagogues, which we will discuss later, there was also a general synagogue, called The Big Synagogue, or the Community Synagogue (from Yiddish “De Kehilashe Shul”). They gave it this name to distinguish it from other Chassidic synagogues, one of them was affiliated with a famous Chassidic ancestry, and their names were the Trisk Synagogue (for the Trisk Chassidim), the Stolin Synagogue (for the Stolin Chassidim), and the Stepan Synagogue (for the Stepan Chassidim). The Rabbis prayed always in the Big Synagogue. The caretaker of the spiritual needs of this synagogue was Rabbi Michel, the son-in-law of old Rabbi Yitzchak-Eli, a knowledgeable Jew who every few years would finish the whole Talmud. He was the Torah reader and the Musaf reader on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. 

There was also a little house of study called “the Tailors’ Synagogue”, in which most of the craftsmen prayed. In 1934, when most houses, including the synagogues, were burnt, the Tailors’ Synagogue received a higher status and all Jews came to pray there. Since this synagogue was too little for the big crowd, so they would wait in line for Minyan. 

In the synagogue one could hear not only the prayers, but also the Torah. It was the custom then, that every young man who finished studying and left the Cheder, i.e. after he himself knew how to study a Talmud page, would move to the house of study and continue to study until he got married. Also, some Yeshiva students who would be supported by their father-in-law would continue to study a few years after the marriage. The voices of the praying people and the Torah students would be heard from the synagogue from early in the morning to late at night. 

The simple, long tables would be covered with drops of candle wax which the students would hold while studying at night. But time has changed, and young men started thinking about purpose when they’re young. They stopped the custom of being supported by the father-in-law after marriage. On the contrary, the father of the bride and the bride herself would in advance – while considering a marriage offer – inquire about the occupation of the young man and how he intends to care for the family after the wedding. Young people would now study a profession, and the synagogue became empty from students. Anyway, groups of learners got together to study Mishna, Talmud, and Ein Yaakov. They studied in fixed times, between Mincha and Maariv or following Maariv. Some would study also in the morning, following Shacharit (Morning Prayer). Every literate person saw it as a duty to participate in one of the groups. But also simple Jews, who did not participate in those groups, would study every day, whether a chapter in Chok LeYisrael or some psalms. 

Once in a while they would celebrate the conclusion of a tractate of Talmud or Mishna, and this conclusion would include a festive meal. The Rabbi or the teacher would say the conclusion sermon, and they would celebrate the Mitzvah with joy, sing and dance until late at night. 

Even though the synagogue was mainly a place of prayers and Torah, practically, all public matters were decided there, and it also had an important role in personal matters. It was not only a house to which they came with reverence, but also a house of a father, whose sons came to express their words and soul. Not the tension of a servant in front of his master was felt here, but rather the warmth of father’s house, whose sons come once in a while to feel the good atmosphere. After bitter experiences, insults and disgrace from their non-Jewish neighbors, they would come here to free themselves, at least for a short time, from the hardship, and make it easier for the heart, thirsty for spirituality. Even the daily conversations after the prayer or between Mincha and Maariv were a time of brotherhood and friendship, which connected all Jews one to another. 

If they had to decide on any public matter – a Mitzvah, like Mikveh (ritual bath), Torah study, or a secular issue, like electing a leader or representative to bring a Jewish issue to the local authority, and even a topic like recruiting volunteers to the fire fighters – for all these purposes they would gather in the synagogue and here they would decide. Any important public issue which has not been resolved would sometimes cause delay of the Torah reading on Sabbath. Thus they would emphasize the importance of the matter and rush the solution. When promising charity, Jews sometimes would vow and even left their talitot in the synagogue, as a deposit, so that there will be no excuse to violate the vow, because a Jew will not remain a Jew without a talit, even not for one day. 

If a preacher would come to town and preach in the synagogue; if there are elections to the governmental authorities and the parties attack each other – even now, the place where they let there voice be heard is the synagogue. 

Already on Thursday they would feel the Sabbath coming. The grocery stores would be filled with women coming to buy for the Sabbath. Every housewife would bake challot and cakes and other goodies for Sabbath. On Friday, every housewife would get up when it is still dark, heat the big baking oven, and start baking and cooking for Sabbath. People who would walk on the street on Friday at that time would see the smoke rising from the chimneys on the roofs. Usually, they would stop eating dark bread already on Friday. For breakfast they would prepare, as it was the custom, pancake or thin bread, which in summer time they would wrap with butter or sour cream (blintz), and in winter time with fried duck fat. On Friday they would eat lunch earlier that other week days, so that the appetite would not be diminish during the Friday evening meal. 

After lunch, the women would rush to prepare the Sabbath dishes – gefilte fish, croquettes, meat, soup, dessert, and mainly – the pie. The dishes to eat warm they would put in an oven with additional heating. They would cover the oven opening with a special cover and would smear the edges so that it kept the heat until the next day. 

The non-Jews would always talk with jealousy about the Jewish Sabbath, which the Jews would make delightful with all kinds of delicacies. With this jealousy they forgot that all these delicacies cost less than the spirits which the non-Jew would drink till he gets drunk on his resting day. However, everyone makes his day of rest according to his ability and feelings. After the housewife would finish baking and cooking, she would start preparing the house for Sabbath, coating the oven, the stove, and the walls from the center to the bottom, washing the floor and scatter yellow sand on it to give the house a festive look. 

When the women are busy preparing the house for the Sabbath, the men would go to the public bath. The bath went through many changes until it received its last form later. They had many meetings in the Rabbi’s house and in the house of study. Endless times, the prominent people of the congregation went from house to house to collect donations for the bath. In the beginning, it was a small bath, one room, almost collapsing, but thanks to those who cared and were active, it became a big, three-room building, an apartment for the bath attendant, and another wing which remained unfinished. 

An hour before lighting the candles, in a house which was neat and clean, on the table there was a white tablecloth with the lighting and challot on it. In one end of the table – the candlesticks with the candles; in the kitchen the kettle is boiling and the family members sitting and drinking steaming tea and tasting from the cakes and cookies. 

Outside, too, one could see the Sabbath coming. The children were washed nicely, dressed with Sabbath clothes. The girls – their hair washed, and the hair which had not the chance to dry is braided and tied with a band, all kids running, reacting to their parents’ requests to bring something they forgot to prepare for the Sabbath. 

Suddenly they would hear the voice of Rabbi Yoel Voronker, going early to the synagogue. Rabbi Yoel would rebuke the shopkeepers, urging them to close the shops. He was very old; his white beard long, and now he was scolding prominent house owners like scolding kids. He would stand next to the shop, not leaving until the shopkeeper comes out and closes. 

An hour before lighting the candles, the men would hurry to the synagogue for the reception of the Sabbath. Before the services they would read Song of Songs with a nice melody, then they would say the prayers with joy of the soul. Following the services, they would greet each other with “Shabbat Shalom,” stay in the synagogue a little more and talk about the news. Those who read the newspapers would tell the listeners the news from the big world and also add something about politics. The conversation would thus continue until the “Sabbath Goy” came to extinguish the candles and the kerosene lamps. 

On Saturday morning they usually would come to services a little late, in all synagogues. Whoever wanted to get up from bed later than in weekdays. Indeed, on Friday night the Jew was tired from working all week. But on Sabbath the serenity was there. Their bending body would straighten and they would walk more vividly. But many Jews would get up early on Sabbath; go to Trisk Synagogue, where the “Tehillim Group” would finish psalms every Sabbath. They had “Tehillim Groups” in other synagogues, too. 

Before services they would drink the coffee with boiling milk, which they took out of the oven, where it was since Friday evening. The milk film shrunk from yesterday and became brown. Its taste was excellent and the smell of Sabbath came out of it. 

The Jews would also have a portion of spiritual food before services. They would read in the weekly parasha – read two portions in Hebrew and one in translation, reading Rashi’s commentary, Or Chayyim, and other commentators, and the scholars among them would even make it to read a page of Mishna or Talmud. Following services they had the Sabbath meal with a few courses, some were traditional Sabbath dishes. 

Rabbi Lifa Pinchuk, from the Stolin Chassidim, would cut the pie with his hands to honor the Sabbath by occupying himself with this activity. Then he would give a piece to each family member, and with a special melody he would sing to his children “Chayyim, Chayyim, here, have a pie; Alta, Alta, take a pie, etc.” 

After the meal came the sleep – to keep the saying “Shenah BeShabbat Ta’anug” (A sleep on Sabbath is joy). In the afternoon, they again would gather in the synagogue. In summer time, it was to study a chapter in Pirkei Avot (the Mishna tractate “Ethics of our Fathers”). In winter time they would study Chumash (one of the Five Books of Moses) with Rashi, or other studies. Following the Mincha prayer they would have the third meal in the synagogues, while the Chassidic melodies would be heard on the streets. The Maariv they would pray with sorrow, knowing that the weekdays are getting close and missing the Sabbath. 

There was one Jew in our town who was poor, with many kids, and his family was starving all week long, but before Sabbath, the money collectors for mitzvot would come and care for him so that he lacks nothing. The clowns of our town would say about him that on Saturday morning he would get up and openly say: “You know - what should I tell you, my dear? On Sabbath morning, when I look at the oven and remember what pie and what dishes are in it, I can hardly go out of the house to pray.” 

Passover – the Festival of Spring! A lot has been written about this holiday, but the sweetness and the wealth of impressions in these words can only feel someone who lived in a Jewish town. Many weeks before the holiday, when they read the weekly portion “Bo,” – “seven weeks you shall eat unleavened bread,” they would say: “this is the first invitation to Passover.” 

From that time, the Jews who hardly earned their living all year long would now try to earn money for Passover. These words were like a slogan in the mouth of many citizens, even Wolf, the retarded water drawer, would work more before Passover, saying “One needs to earn money for Passover.” 

A month before Passover one could feel the holiday approaching. In those days, people started baking matzot, unlike today, when one can just go into a store and buy prepared matzot. Everyone had to bake matzot himself, not only bake, but also grind the wheat in grinding mills, koshered by the Rabbi. They would bring the matzot from the baking places with clean, extra-white sheets, and their smell would spread out all over the street. In none of the other holidays one could feel the atmosphere like in this holiday. People were happy that they finally could “let Passover into the house.” The women were happy, because they finally could rest from the hard household work. The children were happy because they would get new clothes already for “Shabbat HaGadol” (the Sabbath preceding Passover). 

Careful of leavened, they would not eat at one another’s house, but on the seventh day of Passover the Chassidim would gather, drink wine, with songs and praises, and this celebration was cold “Splitting of the Sea,” memorizing the miracle which happened this night when the Israelites went out of Egypt. 

On the last day of Passover, in the evening, the Stolin Chassidim would continue to sing until late at night. They would especially sing “Addir Bimluchah.” Each of the Chassidim would sing alone the first words of each rhyme, for example, “Addir bimluchah, bachur kahalacha,” and then they would all answer him together: “gedudav yomru lo, etc.” Many people, also from other synagogues, especially young people coming to the Stolin Synagogue, would come to celebrate the holiday with them. It was so sad to separate from the holiday. 

About Shavuot (Feast of Weeks) they would say that there is nothing good like it, since one could eat whatever he wanted and wherever he wanted, unlike Passover, when one could not eat what he wanted, and unlike Sukkot, when one could not eat where he wanted. 

The first two days, Shemini Atzeret (the Eight Day of Sukkot) and Simchat Torah (the Rejoicing of the Law) were different from each other. They were like two opposites. On Shemini Atzeret one could still breathe the air of the Days of Awe, when they mentioned the people who passed away and then the prayer for rain, a prayer during which the cantor would wear the white robe like on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, the Days of Judgment. But when evening came, the stress changed to unrestrained joy of the congregation. 

The Maariv prayer was said in already celebrating voice. The children threw off all adult restrictions and freed their naughty behavior. They lit candles and put them in flashlights made of colorful papers which they had prepared in advance. They ran with them back and forth in the synagogue and the yard in front of it, shouting with joy. Between Maariv and the Hakafot (going round in the synagogue with the Torah scrolls on the last day of Sukkot) it was a custom in our town to have a long break and have different drinks.  Then they would gather for the Hakafot and sing and dance till late at night. But the main joy was the next day, felt already early in the morning. With the first light they would see Yitzchak Chayyim Meires and Yehoshua “the angel.” They both were wearing silk coats with the “Shtreimlach” (In our places only the Chassidic Rabbis wore such cloth) while waking the citizens of the town, calling: “Wake up, Jews, wake up to the Creator’s service, since the day is short and the task is great.” 

Later, they would see the Shammash (caretaker) of Chevra Kaddisha, caring slices of a nice cake on a platter, going around the town and leaving a slice in each house. 

When the services were over, the people would go from the synagogue to the streets singing, from house to house. When they would enter a house, they would take from what was there, eat and drink and have fun. If the house members would make it to eat before the people came, they would be lucky. If not – they would perhaps remain with no food. Singing “Se’u She’arim Rasheichem” they would go to the oven and take out whatever they found. And who did not prepare goodies for Simchat Torah? The traditional dish for Simchat Torah was cabbage filled with meat and sweetened with sugar and honey (in Yiddish: “halopatches”). For desert they had cookies fried with honey (“pirajkes”). The non-Jews, too, knew that Simchat Torah is the holiday when the Jews drink a lot and it was possible to see a drunken Jew, unlike other days of the year, when Jews did not become drunk. 

More than others did the Karlin Chassidim. They would go on the streets and in houses, singing. Rabbi Shlomo Bera would walk, his body moving from side to side and his hand on his ear, singing non-stop until he became hoarse. And here is Rabbi Elimelech Slipak, his face fiery, his eyes blinking up and down as though he is saying a quiet prayer. Here is Rabbi Zelig Tcherniak, the choirmaster, giving a sign when to start or stop singing, and no one could make a noise without his sign, and so was Rabbi Leib Teitelbaum. The last night of the holiday they would dance in their house of study till late, singing “Shanah Tovah” and “Next year in Jerusalem.” 

Chassidism

Like most towns in Vohlyn, Vladimirets was a Chassidic town from early on. The Rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai of Tchernovil (the son of Nachum of Tchernovil, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov) already visited Vladimirets twice. The Chassidim would tell that after each of his visits in town, fire broke out in town and a large part of it would completely burn out, and all this happened because the citizens of the town did not pay him the appropriate respect. The Chassidim would also tell that the first time he came to town he said to his Chassidim that he wants to see the bed in which he is going to sleep. They brought him to the room and showed him the bed. When he saw the bed, he ordered to take it out of the room since he is not going to sleep in this bed. They brought him other beds, and he rejected all of them. One Chassid recalled that in his storage he had a bed in bad condition for years, inherited from his father. The Rabbi ordered to bring the bed and he immediately like it. He said: This is the bed in which I will sleep. 

Also Rabbi Aharon of Stolin (the author of “Beit Aharon”) visited Vladimirets, and also about him the Chassidim would tell stories: There is a story about a Chassid who did not have children and he wanted to be helped by the visit of Rabbi Aharon. He came to him and asked him to stay in his house. That Chassid was hoping that during the visit of Rabbi Aharon he and his wife would have children. Rabbi Aharon agreed, and at a specific time he left to meet with the people who accompanied him and visit the house of the Chassid. That Chassid had also a neighbor who also did not have children, and the Rabbi mistakenly went to his house. He recognized the mistake, but since it already happened, he did not leave the house and acted as if he was invited there. The host, who was scared in the beginning, quickly became encouraged and ran to bring treats. The Rabbi sat for a moment, drank “l’chayim” (“to health”), blessed the host for children, and then left. When the Chassidim tried to ask him to enter the house he was invited to he refused. And indeed, the wife of the host gave birth to a son the next year, and the other Chassid did not have a child to the end of his life. 

The Chassidim in Vladimirets belonged to three ancestries: Trisk, Stepan, and Stolin. Each of them had its own house of study and its own Shokhet (ritual slaughterer). The Shokhet also used to be the informal leader of the Chassidim. He served as the cantor in the synagogue during the Selichot (Penitential Prayers/hymns recited during the month of Elul and the first days of the month of Tishri, until the Yom Kippur), during the Days of Awe, and other holidays. He was the shofar (horn) blower, and also the Torah reader all year long. For Sukkot he would buy lulav (palm branch used on Sukkot as one of the four species) and etrog (citron, also used on Sukkot as one of the four species) and the other plants (species) for the people of the synagogue. He would charge them “etrog fees.” He also had times of study in his house of study on weekdays and Sabbaths. On the memorial day of the Admorim (acronym for “our master and teacher,” a title of Chassidic Rabbi) they would have a celebration meal in the Shokhet’s house. When the Rabbi would visit his Chassidim, he would usually stay in the house of the Shokhet. 

Unlike the other synagogues, the Stolin-Karlin Chassidim would have a Minyan (ten adult male Jews, the minimum for congregational prayer), and they would start the prayer later. They would pray with enthusiasm and devotion and loud. After the passing away of Rabbi Yisrael of Stolin, his Chassidim in Vladimirets were divided into two groups. One group went with his son, Rabbi Elimelech of Karlin, who was elected to be the successor of his father, and the second – with his son, Rabbi Yochanan of Lutsk.  

Once in a while, the Admorim would visit their followers in town. The Trisk Admor, Rabbi Zeev, who lived in Kobal, would come every summer. Usually he would come on Thursday and stay until Monday or Tuesday. They respected the Trisk Rabbi immensely, not only his Chassidim, but also ordinary people. His modesty and righteousness were great, and many would come and give him money, and receive his blessing. 

The Admor from Karlin or the Admor from Lutsk would come once in two or three years. Just as the Chassidim were great in their prayers and worshipping the Creator, so were they great in receiving the Rabbi. The days of the Rabbi’s visit were like holidays for them. They would to a spring (Krintzia) two kilometers from the town to draw water for the Rabbi. While riding, they would sing aloud “Ush’avtem Mayim BeSasson Mima’yanei HaYeshu’ah” (“You will draw water with joy from the spring of salvation”). On Sabbath evening they would bring a Kleizmer (popular musician for weddings etc.) to where the Rabbi would stay and sing and dance till the morning. On the day he left, they would prepare a big meal in which all Chassidim participated. 

The rarest guest was the Rabbi of Stepan. He lived in America, and only once in a few years he would visit his Chassidim. Therefore, the connection between him and his Chassidim was loose. But also the Stepan Chassidim would show great joy and devotion when they were next to the Rabbi. 

In the Tent of Torah 

In Vladimirets, as in other cities and towns, the Jews cared about the education of their children. Without a governmental support or mandatory education, the Jew would try to educate his children as much as he could afford, and even more. With his last coins he would pay the tuition. He was worried and scared that his son, G-d forbid, would not be able to say the Kaddish (the prayer recited after a parent’s or close relative’s death) after his death, or be able to say the prayers at the reader’s stand (in the synagogue). No child left the study bench before he knew reading and writing. A child who would skip class would be called “Ivan,” a name of a non-Jew who symbolized ignorance. They would say to him: “What will be you become in the end? You will be a shepherd?” 

There were very poor people who in no way could pay tuition for their children. In such cases, the people in charge of the town would make sure that their children would study Torah for free. The saying of the sages – “Be careful with the children of the poor, because Torah would come from them” was their motto. 

At the age of three or four they would bring the children to the Cheder (religious elementary school). It was the custom that the first time they brought the child to the Cheder, he was wrapped with the talit (praying shawl). Thus they would bring the child to the study of Torah. The first time the child would sit at the study desk and look in a siddur (prayer book), sweets and ringing coins would fall above his head. The Rabbi explained to him that it was a gift from an angel who loves him and wants him to be diligent with his study. 

The Ministry of Education did not have a unified curriculum. Each of the teachers would teach as he wished and according to his understanding. Despite that, there was sort of agreement between the teachers regarding the content and the level of study. They would start with a teacher for the youngsters and finish with a teacher of Talmud. In the Cheder they would also study writing and elementary knowledge of secular studies, like the four rules of arithmetic, writing letters, etc. 

The master teacher for the youngsters was Rabbi Yisrael of Anishin, or as some would call him “Yisrael and the kitties” (in Yiddish: “Yisrael mit di ketzelach”), probably because of his little students. Yisrael had a long beard, an eagle nose, and with his look he would scare his little students. Almost all citizen of the town used to be his students. There were kids whose fathers and grandfathers went under his “stick,” and that was his pride. Children would be brought to his Cheder when they were very little, at the age of three or four. Here they got to know the letters and how to read. He also taught the children rules and customs, such as the blessing over washing the hands in the morning and washing the hands before meal, the prayer “Modeh Ani” (“I am thankful”) in bed, and all other blessings, starting with “HaMotzi” (blessing over bread) and ending with the blessing over thunder and rainbow. 

In the room there were two wooden benches and the children would sit there and wait for their turn to study, whether with the Rabbi or his assistant. It was the custom, that he would not study with all children together, but rather with each student separately for a few moments. All other children, whose turn was later, or those who finished their study with the Rabbi, were allowed to play in the yard.  

Even though there were no children’s games in the Cheder, nor desks and tables for the children, the children would invent very interesting games. Each little thing served as a game – little river rocks, colorful buttons, old pens and blank or written sheets of paper. They would also exchange different toys. 

“I am giving you a button and a broken pen, and you will give me an empty box of matches or a wheel from a broken watch.”
The pockets of the children were always filled with toys or toy pieces. They were economical and modest with their games, like their parents with their housekeeping. Many of the children had an artistic sense, and they would invent interesting games, make all kinds of toys from papers: horses, boxes, boats, etc. Colorful pieces of glass served as binoculars, with which they watched the world in different colors.  

From Rabbi Yisrael’s Cheder they would move to Ephraim Katan’s Cheder, a tall and skinny, sparsely-bearded Jew. Here they would learn to pray faster and even started studying Chumash (a Pentateuch book). The first Sabbath after the child started studying Chumash, it was a custom that the father would arrange Kiddush meal and invite guests. The main guest, sitting with the child, was the Rabbi who tested him in the sermon which he taught him all that week. Usually, they would start with the Book of Leviticus. The child would start reading and interpreting:

“Vaiykra – “he called.”

And then the Rabbi would ask:

“Who called? The synagogue caretaker to come to the synagogue?”

And the child would answer:

“No. God called Moses.”

“And why is the letter aleph in “vayikra” so little?”

The child would answer:

“To tell us that the little child must start studying in this book.”

“And why from vaikra” (the Book of Leviticus)?” The Rabbi would continue to ask.

“Because the Book of Leviticus deals with offerings, to tell us that such as the offerings are holy, so is the Jewish child who is studying Torah holy." 

Rabbi Ephraim’s successor was Rabbi Henich, who taught Torah (Pentateuch) with Rashi’s commentary, and the Prophets and Scriptures. He was an under-average height Jew, with long, yellow beard, straight from all sides. 

His wife would negotiate with the farmers who came to her house. Sometimes, Rabbi Henich would take the opportunity and ask the farmer for a cigarette. Usually, the farmers had their own tobacco, which they grew in their fields. The tobacco did not have good taste as that of the factory, and one could immediately recognize the smell of the self-made cigarette. Anyway, many used this tobacco and enjoyed it. 

The years of study in Rabbi Henich’s Cheder left a mark in the heart of his students. These were already six-eight years old, and they were aware of what is happening around them. The curriculum also contributed to that – the materials were more diverse. Also his method of teaching left its impression on the children. 

It was the custom in those days that the children would spend the whole day in the Cheder, mostly studying, and a little playing. In the summer, they would study until early in the evening, and the winter also in the evening. Who could describe the feelings of the child, hearing the pleasant news from the Rabbi, that they would start studying in the evening, too? The Rabbi would go and say the Mincha and Maariv, and the children would stay in the room. In the darkness, they would get together in a circle and tell each other horror stories which they read or heard. Often, these were scary stories about forest robbers or dead who prayed in the synagogue at midnight. There was a story about the synagogue caretaker who spent the night in the synagogue and clearly heard that the dead called him to have aliyah (being called up for the reading of the Torah). 

The darkness added fear to the tension of the story. And the little bodies would huddle together until the Rabbi came in and lit the small kerosene lamp, which projected big shadows on the walls. All children sat at the table to study. Studying at this hour was not a burden. Usually, they studied the Torah portion. The stories about the patriarchs and the tribes aroused great interest among the children. Also, the special melody with which they would read verses from the Torah felt as though it blended with the evening atmosphere and the semi-darkness. After two hours of studying they would go back home with the lamps in their hands. Each lamp had four glasses, one on each side, with a wax candle lit inside. 

When they got to Parsha (portion) “Bo” in the Torah, which deals with the Passover sacrifice, the children felt that the winter is coming to an end and Passover is slowly approaching. Though studying these portions was tiring and less interesting, the children’s hearts would be filled with joy, feeling the spring coming from each line of the Torah.  

Besides Torah, the children also studied with Rabbi Henich, Rashi, Prophets, and reading and writing Hebrew and Yiddish. In writing, there was a well-known specific method. The Rabbi would write the letters of the alphabet in their order, and the child would go over them with a pencil. This was done to bring the children to be accustomed to nice handwriting. Once the hand was trained to copy, the child would start writing by his own. Once the child was used to the order of the alphabet, the Rabbi would write the alphabet in a descending order. They called this order TaSHReK after the first 4 descending letters. In order to develop nice handwriting, the Rabbi would write for him one line at the top of the page in the notebook, and the child had to copy this line in the lines under it, trying to imitate the Rabbi’s handwriting.  

Each Thursday, the children were tested on the material they studied during the week. With this test, the Rabbi would make sure that the children are perfectly knowledgeable.  

The children used to call this day “the Day of Judgment.” Usually, they had problems when, besides words, they had to study what the sages said about the verse(s) as reflected in Rashi’s commentary, or as they called it in Yiddish “Oisredechtz.” One of those verses, which remained in the children’s memory, even when they were older, was the verse from the Torah portion “Vayechi” (Gen 48:7), “And as for me, when I came from Paddan…” This verse would be recited approximately as follows: “And as for me, I am asking you to take me out of Egypt and bury me in the land of Canaan, but I did not do the same to your mother. I buried her on the way to Ephrath, and did not bring her to Bethlehem. I know that you have something against me because of that. But know that I buried her there by God’s word, so she will help her children one day. When Nebuzaradan will send them from their land to exile, she will come out of her grave and cry and ask god to have for mercy for them. God will answer her (Jer 31:15) “There will be a reward for your toil and they will return from the enemy’s land.” 

Besides the regular studies throughout the year there were seasonal studies. Before each holiday they would study the Megillah (scroll) dealing with that holiday and which they would read at the synagogue on that holiday. Before Passover they studied the Song of Songs; before Shavuot – the Book of Ruth and Akdamot; and before Tish’ah Be’av – the Book of Lamentations (Eichah). They studied each scroll with its own tune. The children would study the scroll with lots of passion, and they accepted even the many “Oisredechtz” with joy. They all remembered the first verse of Song of Songs, which they used to say with a special tune: “Song of Song – this is a song which God accepts and it is important for Him more than any other song, because all other songs are holy, and this one is holy of holiness; because a prophet said all those songs, and this one was said by a prophet, son of a prophet; and because a king (i.e. David) said all other songs, and this one was said by a king, son of a king…” 

For the verse “Turn back, turn back, O maid of Shulem!” the clowns among the children composed the following:

Turn back, turn back,

Zeidel the caretaker come in.

O maid of Shulem!

Turn Back, turn back,

That we may gaze upon you -

And he says “a gute voch” (good week).

Why will you gaze at the Shulamite –

What do you want, Zeidel the caretaker.

In the Machanayim dance?

I came to invite you to the Tanaim (sages of the Mishnah).

(Based on Song of Songs 7:1)

 Rabbi Yaakov Voronker, one of the important Karlin Chassidim, was the same type of teacher. His “cheder” was not far from Rabbi Henich’s house. The children of the two chadarim not once fought against each other.  

The children would tell about one of the teachers that he would rebuke his children in alphabetical order, and this is what he used to say in Yiddish:

“Ach Besyekes, Ganavim, Dvarim Acherim

Hint Vet ir zegt.

Chazirim Tarpanyekes Yungetshet.

Klumrsht Lernen Meint ir.

Nemen Sfarim Efenen

Papireslech Tzinerelach Kent ir Reichern.

Sheine Talmidim!”

 Rabbi Zvi of Rafalovka was a famous Talmud teacher, good looking man, with shiny face and long beard. His students were ten, twelve years old, and older. When he would explain a Talmudic topic it seemed that more than he wanted to teach, he himself would enjoy his own explanation. Besides religious studies he would teach also Hebrew writing, Yiddish, Russian, and math. He would recite the texts from memory, and while reciting, he would probably say to himself, what do they understand in this? It is too bad that such supreme ideas get lost and nobody appreciates them. 

Rabbi Bezalel of Moltchitz was also a Talmud teacher. He suffered a lot from his students because he was warmhearted person, and the students bullied him. He lived with financial shortage all his life, and all he was interested in was studying Talmud. Even when his students went home he would sit and study Torah without stop. On Passover eve he would finish a few tractates. If somebody came late to the synagogue for the conclusion of a tractate, he would come to Rabbi Bezalel and find a ready conclusion. 

There were also special teachers for secular studies, Hebrew, Russian, and general studies. They were Chaim Shalom Boxer and Noach Vorona. They were religious Jews, but a little modern. Unforgotten is Pinechas Shlita, son of Rabbi Yitzchak Eliyahu, the last teacher who was complete modern. He had deep knowledge and understanding, and had many students. 

There were times when they had descent Yeshiva in Vladimirets. It would be closed and opened again. The Yeshiva was established before World War I. Children from all neighboring places would come to study, and it was the custom at that time, they would provide them with food. The custom was called “days.” During the week, each child would eat at rich families, each day at another family. The Jews of Vladimirets took this burden willingly. They would have a nice reception for the children and they tried to give them the feeling of being at home and thus prevent them from being home sick. The head of the Yeshiva was Rabbi Zvi of Rafalovka. They brought two other teachers from other places. One of them was Rabbi Peretz Holovshko, who was strict, but a great scholar and with great explanations. 

He arranged the school benches in the form of the letter Chet and he used to sit in the middle with a stick in his hand. He used to teach the text with his eyes closed, both Rashi and Gemara.  

Rabbi Zalman of Rovno, unlike Rabbi Peretz, was more easygoing and the children respected him a lot. But the Yeshiva did not exist for a long time. After World War I, when the Polish government stabilized itself, the Yeshiva was renewed and had a higher level. They elected a committee, headed by Rabbi Shlomo Yaakov Shlita. Besides religious studies there was a curriculum for secular studies. It had a teacher for general studies, and also a Polish Christian teacher who taught the Polish language. This Yeshiva, too, did not exist for long, and education moved back to private teachers and tutors. 

For a short while they had the “Tarbut” school, but it was closed because the Polish government requested moving it to a school building. They did not have such a building in town. Talmud Torah School continued to operate non-stop and children of poor families studied there with no tuition. Thanks to the dedicated generosity of Rabbi Chaim Pinchuk, a righteous and dear Jew. In his old age he dedicated his time for charity, and first in line was the Talmud Torah School. 

In the year 1925 they established a school. It was a project in which all Jews in town participated. The day they laid the corner stone was a celebration for all Jews in town. Outside, they arranged tables with drinks and bakeries. After they drank “Lechayyim” they got together young and old, people of all ideologies, all dancing with enthusiasm singing “We are blessed, how lucky we are” and “How good is it when brothers get together.” That day was a clear expression for Israel’s unity by Israel’s Torah. 

Charity

Charity and care for the fellow Jews, which were part of Jewish life everywhere, have been expressed in the lofty phrase “Jewish heart.” Those characteristics created various charity institutions which were also reflected in Vladimirets. 

During World War I, when the Jews of Vohlyn experienced riots, many Jews came to Vladimirets, where it was relatively quiet. Since there was a shortage in food and clothing items, the local Jews established a charity committee whose aim was to care for the refugees and also to the local needy Jews. Among them were Rabbi Yaakov Shlita, Shlomo Goldberg, David Tenenbaum, Natan Tcherniak, Asher Fishbein, and others. The committee also received money and items from the Joint. They opened a public kitchen in the house of Gedalyahu Shlita, whose house was the bigger and nicer in town. There they distributed meals for the needy, especially for children of poor people. 

When the second war broke, and all of the western Ukrainian region was taken by the Soviets, many refugees came to Vladimirets from Polish areas occupied by the Nazis.  The local people received them wholeheartedly, open their houses to them, let them stay in their houses and gave them food. They also opened a public kitchen in the factory of Ben-Zion Zhuk and all Jews in town participated in maintaining it. 

Not only in times of trouble did the Jews of Vladimirets practice hospitality, but also in regular days. This was a characteristic of all Jews of Vohlyn in general. Preachers, cantors and emissaries knew what they would receive when they came to Vladimirets. There was a special honorary officer, Rabbi Shmuel Rosenberg the watchmaker, in charge of taking care of the poor guests who came to town, whether on Sabbath or weekdays. He used to write notes to the local citizens who hosted the people. He used to write “please give one meal,” “please give two meals.” These notes have been accepted like bank bills and were paid graciously. 

The mitzvah of charity was rooted deep inside the Jewish heart and everyone who could do the mitzvah saw it as a great privilege when they could fulfill it, not only with their money, but with their body. When they hosted people, they used to treat them with love and serve them. With their own hands they used to make their beds, not merely sending the wife or one of their family members to do it. The poorer the guests were, the more they tried to care for them and with more dedication. If a Jew got into trouble with the authorities, whether physically or financially, anybody who could came to help and “save a Jew” or “do a favor to a Jew.”  These phrases were expressed by everyone with a deep feeling. 

It was the custom in Jewish communities that slaughterers would practice charity with their body. It was the desire to find a mental balance and make up for the act of slaughtering, which could be seen as cruel by others. With this, they tried to show that slaughtering was not a cruel act. 

Among the charity institutions in Vladimirets one could mention “Kuppat Gemilut Chesed,” which was extensively active. This distributed loans without interest for anybody who applied. It was a branch of the central Gemilut Chesed of the Joint (the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) in Warsaw. Another continuous institution was “Chevrat Somech Noflim.”  This institution provided weekly support for the poor citizens. Its budget was mainly based on weekly payment of all residents on various donations, and on constant support by people of our town living in America. This institution was mainly headed by women: Beila Kushnir, Fredl Kanonitz, and Chava Eisenberg. 

It was a custom in Vladimirets, as in other towns, that a few days after the beginning of the month of Adar, the Rabbi and two prominent people of the town would go and raise money for poor people for Passover. This was called Ma’ot Chittim.” People would donate willingly. 

For “Ma’ot Chittim” needs they would sometimes have auctions of expensive items, such as silver candle holders, Mishna volumes, etc. The auction took place in the Rabbi’s house, with many people and good mood. 

There were also individuals who by their own initiatives helped with charity. We will mention here Rabbi Chaim Pinchuk, who was a great host and on Sabbath he would invite two-three guests to his house. Even though he himself lived on small income, he would devote times to support Talmud Torah School, an institution where children of poor people studied. Rabbi Avraham Yosef Volok would go around Friday evening with a bag on his shoulders to collect bread and challot to distribute to poor people for the Sabbath. Even though he was an old man, he would be consistent in doing it, and with lots of energy. Charity fund raiser Mrs. Golda Leah would give more of hers in raising money, from what she would get from her children who lived in America. She made sure that her gifts were anonymous, so that, God forbid, the receivers would not be ashamed. 

Rabbi Gershon Pinchuk had a special Mitzvah. He was in charge of the Eruv, allowing people to move things from one municipal area to another on Sabbath. He would go around on Friday evening to see if the Eruv is OK and correct what needed to be corrected. If there was something in the Eruv on Friday evening and there was no time to correct it, he would ask the honorary officers of the synagogues to announce it on Sabbath that one is not allowed to move things this Sabbath. 

In the Revival of the Nation

 Vladimirets participated in the national revival. Thanks to the initiative of Natan Tcherniak they founded a Zionist organization. The active members were Yosef Kagan, Shlomo Goldberg, Aharon Vishnia, and others. Young people were also inspired by Zionism and were members of Zionist youth movements. It was a dynamic group of young people whose national revival and immigration to Israel was close to their hearts. Later, they founded the Mizrahi movement, headed by Asher Fishbein. 

Following Balfour’s declaration (1917), the national revival became greater. Many religious people also believed that this was the beginning of redemption. There were parades in the middle of the town in which most of the citizens participated, carrying flags and banners on the streets. In central places in the town they had impassioned speeches. Also, the day of the dedication of the Hebrew University was celebrated greatly in our town. On the streets there was a festive atmosphere and in the evening most citizens gathered in the Big Synagogue. There, the Active members of the Zionist organization held their speeches in honor of the occasion. 

The Jews of the town, with no exception, would donate generously to Zionist funds and various fund raisings. Every month, young couples would walk in the town and make people donate to the Jewish National Fund. The JNF blue box was found in many houses. Once a year, an emissary would come to raise funds for the Jewish Foundation Fund. Many of the citizens in Vladimirets committed to pay large amounts of money in monthly bills, which they would get repaid later. Both funds received donations from individuals and also from special occasions, such as some of the bowls on Yom Kippur, weddings, parties, etc.

On High Holidays, the young Zionists used to have a special Minyan, and the revenue from the Aliyot would go to JNF. 

The Hakafot of the Zionists on Simchat Torah were well-known. They used to have late splendor Hakafot. The whole town would come to see this great scene. They used to sell the prayer “You have shown” verse by verse, and the revenue would go to JNF. The verse “for from Zion the Torah shall come” was especially expensive. They would celebrate with dancing and singing until late at night. During the Polish regime, many young people of the Zionist organization immigrated to Israel. Those were young people who prepared themselves in advance in different preparation places. Also ordinary Jews of the middle class immigrated to Israel.  

Every journey to Israel brought excitement to the town. They had departure party for each person who immigrated to Israel. The citizens of the town separated from that person as if he/she was a family member. Before leaving, the person immigrating to Israel would go from house to house to get the Blessing for the journey.

Personalities and Figures

The Rabbis’ family “Shlita” continued its ancestry in Vladimirets for many generations. The first known one is Yehuda Leib, whose grave is found in a special tent Vladimirets’ cemetery. His brother Yosef was the president of the religious court and the head of a Yeshiva in Pinsk. His sun Rabbi Shlomo Yaakov succeeded him. He served by Rabbi Aharon, the Admor of Stolin, the author of the book “Beit Aharon.” They tell a story, that once the Rabbi saw a tin tobacco box shining like silver with him, and he commented: “It is inappropriate for a Rabbi from Vladimirets to mislead people.”  

When the Russian regime once prohibited Jews from wearing the traditional long clothing and had a special tax for those who wore a kippah under their hat, he saw that as a sign of religious persecution and escaped with his two sons, Rabbi Asher and Rabbi Yosef across the Austrian border and settled in the town Leshnov, close to Brody. Because of his modesty, he changed his last name from “Shlita” to “Katan.” From the diary in “Pinkas Tehillim” in his handwriting, starting with the words “when I passed through my hometown” we learn that he visited Vladimirets after he left it. His son, Asher, was appointed Rabbi in the town Zalozhtsy, next to Ternopol, and after his death, his son Yosef succeeded him in Leshnov.  

His successor in Vladimirets was his third son, Rabbi Benyamin. He married the granddaughter of one of the great printers in Slavuta, son of the Rabbi Pinchas of Korets. His grandchildren have a set of Mishna printed especially for him, on a quality paper, with very large margins. Besides his greatness in Torah, he was a great Kabbalist. He left a parchment scroll, which he drew the sky system with his own hands, in great art,  This scroll is called “Illan HaKodesh” (Tree of holiness). He was known as a very strict person

who did not favor anybody, even prominent people, although he thus risked his job.  Once, a glazier allowed himself to go to villages on Chol HaMoed to fix window panes. When Rabbi Benyamin heard about it, he took two people with him and went to the glazier’s house. When he realized that he wasn’t home, they took the polished brass items (which almost every Jewish house had in those days) with them as deposit, and when the glazier came back, they fined him with a specific amount of money for charity purposes, and only then returned the brass items. 

In his times, the Maggid (preacher), Rabbi Avraham of Trisk, sent a Shokhet (ritual slaughterer) for his Chassidim in Vladimirets. Rabbi Benyamin did not like the Shokhet and he prohibited him from slaughtering. This incident caused a conflict between Rabbi Benyamin and the Trisk Chassidim, so much that they delayed his salary and he had to mortgage his house items to provide for the Sabbath. Despite all, he did not change his mind and did not submit to them. 

His successor for the Rabbinate was his son in law (his nephew, son of Rabbi Asher of Zalozhtsy), Rabbi Yitzchak Eliyahu Shlita. Prior to that, he served as a Rabbi in the town of Pohost (Pohost Zarzeczny), near Pinsk. After the death of his father-in-law he succeeded him in Vladimirets. Unlike his father-in-law, Rabbi Yitzchak Eliyahu was easy-going and social. Despite that, there have been cases when he suffered from powerful prominent people, though in rare cases. Once, a son was born to one of his opponents, and he refused to invite the Rabbi to the bris (circumcision). It was the custom in the town to invite the Rabbi to every bris. A few days later, the child died, and the father saw that as a punishment from heaven for insulting the Rabbi and he came to him to ask for forgiveness. Later, his wife again gave birth to a son, and this time he not only invited the Rabbi, but also honored him to be the godfather. During that celebration, the grandfather of that child also made peace with the Rabbi, and since then he became his best friend. 

The successors after the death of Rabbi Yitzchak Eliyahu were his son, Rabbi Shlomo Yaakov Shlita, and his son-in-law, Rabbi Yaakov Katan. They were the last Rabbis of Vladimirets, and during the Holocaust they died with all members of their communities. 

Formally, Rabbi Shlomo Yaakov Shlita was the Rabbi, and since he also had a secular education, he served as a Rabbi designated by the Tsarist Russian regime. He managed the register books for the Jews which he received from the county city of Lutsk – from Vladimirets and it surroundings, and also from the nearby towns of Dombrovitz, Bereznitz, Rafalovka, and others. He would issue birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc. During the revolution days of Krinsky he was elected to the legislative council as representative of the “Achdut” religious party, which was then founded by Rabbi Ahronson of Zhitomir, who later served as the first Rabbi of the city of Tel-Aviv. 

They tell about Rabbi Yaakov the First, that before he died he called his sons and among others he told them the following as his will:

Mr. X in our town is known as a wealthy person. Every month, he used to give me money, and so before every holiday. Two years ago, he came to me and revealed a secret that his financial situation got worse and he is collapsing. Despite that, he continued to support me as before. But since I realized his situation, I stopped using his money for my own needs. And indeed, I heard that not long ago he went bankrupt and that he has many creditors. Please know that in a specific room, in a cabinet, there his money is hidden in a wallet and in it is all the money I received from him since he revealed his secret to me. I leave you with the wallet with the money and you, in your wisdom, will find the way how to return the money to his creditors and thus ease his distress somehow. 

Once, people of his village came to Rabbi Yaakov Shlita, the last Rabbi of Vladimirets, and told him that they intend to bring a hokhet to their village, who would also be the cantor and teach Torah to the public and manage all spiritual matters of the village. The Rabbi heard their request and answered: It is a great idea. I have an excellent Yeshiva student who would fit to this job. The Jews of the village heard his answer and said, “but we are Chassidim of Rabbi X, and we cannot do anything without his approval. The Rabbi said to them: “Then contact your Rabbi and inform him, and he will definitely give you his approval.” 

Not long later, the villagers came again to the Rabbi with the same request as before. They also added that they already wrote to their Rabbi, but did not receive any respond. The Rabbi explained to them that in this matter, of bringing a Shokhet to the village there is no need for the Rabbi’s approval and that he probably would not oppose that. That Jews asked: “How come? We are affiliated with the Rabbi and how could we do something like that without his approval?” The story repeated itself a few times, the Rabbi tries to convince them to hire the Yeshiva student and every time they would say that they really want the Yeshiva student but they need the approval of their Rabbi. Finally, he lost his patience and he said to them: “I will tell you a story. Once upon a time, two children played the horse and the carter (a carter is the driver of a horse & carriage) . The boy who played the carter put a bridle in the mouth of the other boy and they both ran in the streets back and forth playing. When they got tired, the boy who played the carter took the one who played the horse and tied him to a post as the carters used to do, and left. The tied child waited an hour, two hours, and his friend did not come. When the boy saw that night is approaching and his friend is not there, he started crying. The people who walked there asked “Why are you crying, boy?” The boy told them the story about the game they played and how his friend the “carter” tied him to the post. They said to him: “So what are you waiting for? Your hands and legs are free. Take off the bridle and go home.” The boy said to them, crying: “I am a horse, and a horse cannot untie himself.” The people said to him: “If this is the case, there is no choice and you have to remain tied.” 

After World War II, Rabbi Shlomo Shlita was active in establishing a school for the children of the town. He gathered the parents and explained to them the benefit of an organized school, but for that purpose, the parents must dedicate themselves to the matter, with their body and money. Some of the parents claimed at the meeting that maintaining a school could be a burden for the citizen of the town. Therefore, they must accept the situation and deliver Jewish education through private teachers as in the past, and secular studies in a governmental Polish school. They said that they indeed see the advantage of a Jewish school, but this is beyond their ability and it is not their fault if they have to give up on Jewish school. The Rabbi interpreted their answer as avoidance and said to them: “I will tell you to what it is like. One man gave the Tefillin (Phylacteries) to a scriber for proofreading. The proofreader found that one letter is missing in one of the fragments. He notified the owner of the Tefillin and said to him that now he needs repentance, since he did not fulfill the Mitzvah of Tefillin. He said: ‘why do I need repentance? It is not my fault that the letter is missing, but rather the fault of the scriber who wrote it.’ One early morning, the proofreader went to the synagogue for services and saw the owner of the Tefillin yelling: ‘Thieves, thieves! Catch the thieves!’ Oh, they stole all my possessions!’ The proofreader said to him: ‘Why are you yelling so? The stealing is not your fault, but rather the fault of the thieves. Are you crazy?’ The man answered him with anger: ‘What does it help me if it is their fault? My possessions were taken from me and now I have nothing.’ The proofreader said to him: ‘And why didn’t you understand it then, when I told you that you did not fulfill the Mitzvah of Tefillin? Then you thought that it was the scriber’s sin and you did not understand that you also were left without the Mitzvah of Tefillin.” Now the Rabbi continued to say to the parents: “Indeed, you were right about the fact that maintaining a school is beyond our ability. But meanwhile, our children remain without Jewish education and this would not be resolved with excuses. Therefore, we have to do what is beyond our ability and no sacrifice is too much to achieve our goal.” 

In Krensky’s times (Alexander Krensky – labor leader who was a major part of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia), the government issued small coins, known as “Krenskies.” Bills were only of 20 Rouble and higher. If somebody wanted to by something for less than that it was a problem. To prevent troubles, Rabbi Shlomo Yaakov Shlita issued bills of his own, of smaller amounts, from one rouble and higher, and when they would bring him his bills in the amount of 20 rouble he would exchange it for a bill of 20 Krensky rouble. 

The Rabbi’s bills were accepted in the town and its surroundings, and even the non-Jews trusted them. The bills had interesting look. They were white, with four small seals, with flowers and blossoms drawn at the edges, and the amount of the bill was written in the middle in Hebrew letters – one Rouble, three Roubles, five Roubles, etc. 

rouble promissory note

 5 Rouble bill with the Rabbi’s signature

(On the bill it says 5 “Promissory-Note in the sum of 5 Roubles”)

 During the Polish regime, when the Jewish community in Vladimirets has been legally established by governmental law, some other neighboring towns joined Vladimirets. Rabbi Shlomo Shlita was elected community Rabbi. In 1929 he was on the candidates’ list for the Siem (the Polish parliament) as a representative of Agudat Yisrael, but Agudat Yisrael did not get any representative. Rabbi Shlomo Shlita was also a talented author and speaker. Many of his articles have been published in the newspapers and periodicals of Agudat Yisrael for many years. He was also a member of the executive committee of the Rabbis’ Association in Poland. 

Rabbi Shlomo Shlita also published a halachic book on the laws of Nikkur (removal of vein to make meat kosher, Jews being forbidden to eat veins), entitled “The Origins of Nikkur.” The book has been published in 1939 and was relevant at that time because of the slaughtering decree by the Polish government. This decree limited kosher slaughtering. They started practicing Nikkur in those places, even in places where it was never practiced before. Since the Nikkur laws are not clearly explained in details in Shulchan Aruch (the authoritative code of Jewish laws, written by Yosef Caro, 1488-1575) and people would only learn them orally, there was a need for a basic book like “The Origin of Nikkur” to explain the laws based on ancient text, both theoretically and practically. Indeed, the Rabbis’ Association in Poland considered this book as important and made it mandatory for Rabbis and Menakrim (removers of vein to make meat kosher) to purchase it and teach it. He added a table with a list of all meat parts that need Nikkur and translated the various non-Hebrew terms into Hebrew. For this purpose, he corresponded with Va’ad HaLashon (The Hebrew Language Committee, which proceeded The Academy of the Hebrew Language) in Jerusalem. The book, however, had a very limited distribution, since the war started and the fate of the book was the fate of its author. 

Rabbi Baruch the slaughterer, the Old Trisk Chassid, was very knowledgeable and God’s fearing person. He used to fast every Monday and Thursday, and even on other week days he contented himself with little. Despite that, he was always happy. Once in a while he would use humor. In his old age he left his job as slaughterer and started teaching. His students were young men who studied with him until they got married. They told about him that once a young student came to him and said “Rabbi, I have news for you. I am going to get married…”

Oh, nice, nice – said Rabbi Baruch – you are just starting the way. You get married, have children, raise them, get them spouses, and then you will be left with your wife comfortably…” 

They ascribed many of the jokes in town to Rabbi Baruch. They told about him that when he was old and married his second wife from the neighboring town of Rafalovka, he said to her jokingly: “ You can’t imagine how satisfied I am with you, and I promise you that every time I will get married I will take a wife from Rafalovka…” 

The jokers in town used to say that when Rabbi Baruch married off his daughter he promised his son-in-law a marriage portion. As it was the custom, he gave some of the portion before the wedding and promised to give the rest on a designated time after the wedding. Since he could not keep his promise, his son-in-law came angry to his house one day and took the faucet of the samovar as a deposit. Since Rabbi Baruch loved drinking the hot drink, his son-in-law thought that by that he would force him to pay his debt.

When they asked Rabbi Baruch how he manages without the hot drink he answered:

Very simple. First I drink a glass of cold water, then I take some tea flakes and swallow them, then I direct my stomach to the heater for a little while, until all that cooked inside me and becomes hot drink.” 

He used to say: Our sages taught us that there are cases where a person can practice evil acts; jealousy, for example. One can practice it in scholars rivalry. The verse (II Chronicles 17:6) “He took pride in the service of the Lord” proofs that in fearing God, for example, a person is allowed to search for ways how to be better than his fellow. Sometimes, so he used to say, one can even practice skepticism. For example, if someone comes to you asking for favor, do not pretend to be God’s fearing person, saying “trust God and He will help you,” but rather think that at that moment there is nobody else in the world to help him besides you. 

Rabbi Chonio Shlita was a wealthy man in the town. He loved Torah and gave generously for charity. He also supported needy individuals. For example, the big Bet-Midrash (house of study) was built mainly with his money. Once, he was going to sign a contract with a wealthy man. This contract could have given him a great benefit, but it turned out that the deal was supposed to be signed on Friday. Rabbi Chonio went to the wealthy man to confirm the deal legally, but the negotiations continued until late, since the notary clerks were busy. Suddenly, Rabbi Chonio looked at his watch and realized that soon it will be time for lighting the candles. He could not stay there anymore and left to prepare for the Sabbath reception. The wealthy man got very angry and canceled the deal. Rabbi Chonio not only did not regret it, but he was happy that he passed this test successfully. Rabbi Chonio’s sons-in-law, Rabbi Asher Yaakov Appelboim and Rabbi Moshe Eisenberg were very knowledgeable in Torah. His son, Mr. Gedalia Shlita, was  also knowledgeable in Torah, and he also had secular education. 

The following Chassidim of all Chassidic schools need to be praised:

From the Trisk Chassidim: Rabbi Zion Milstein, the slaughterer from the house of study, who was a great Torah student and had universal wisdom. He used to regularly teach in his house of study and attracted his students with his great skills of explaining. He also excelled as a cantor, with a pleasant voice. Once, he was late for candle lighting on Friday night because of business issues, and since then he decided to have Sabbath reception an hour earlier. He then would be the first to come to the synagogue and with his pleasant voice sing chapters from the Song of Songs.  

His son, Moshe, succeeded his father in his last years, and even though he was still young man, he had to accept the slaughtering job to support his widow mother and his young siblings. He studied in the Lithuanian Yeshivot in Vilna and Kletzk, was a very good student with great understanding skills. He was also an enthusiastic Zionist and had the desire to immigrate to Israel, but the responsibility for his family delayed that, and he died in the Holocaust. 

Rabbi Ben-Zion Friedman was a great Torah student and dedicated most of his time for Torah study. He had an outstanding memory and was fluent in the whole Talmud. He loved to come to the Rabbi’s house and discuss with him difficult Talmudic texts. Until his old age, he was the most popular person in town. There wasn’t any general issue which he was not involved in, and his opinion was accepted by all. He knew Chassidic stories, especially those from the Chernobyl and Trisk Admorim. His sayings were sharp and accurate. He was familiar with medicine, and often they would consult with him. With him he had Rabbi Zeev Kanonitz, who used to be the cantor in the Trisk Chassidic house of study. He feared God and helped with public needs. 

Asher Fishbein was the owner of a factory workshop, active in public issues, and one of the wealthiest persons in town. He had logical and straight judgment. He was the Jewish representative in the municipal board and knew how to defend Jewish interests loyally. He generously participated in projects in town as well as in national projects. When he was young, he studied in the Yeshiva in Zvihel for talented students and had comprehensive knowledge of the Talmud. When Rabbi Ben-Zion the slaughterer passed away, the Trisk Rabbi would stay in his house when he came to visit his Chassidim. When the Soviets came to Vladimirets, he left the town to a place where nobody knew him. There he found a job as a guard in one of the factories.  

From the Stolin Chassidim it is worthy to mention Rabbi Asher Yisrael, the slaughterer. He was a quiet and modest person, and because of his modesty he was not one of the leading personalities among the Chassidim. He lived with his wife in love and friendship, and their only problem was that they did not have children.  

Rabbi Zelig Tcherniak was a Torah student and an enthusiastic Chassid. He used to substitute for the slaughterer in matters of leadership and was one of the leaders of the Stolin Chassidim. He also was a cantor during the High Holidays and a Torah reader all year long. He was fiery in his prayer and as well as in his Torah reading, with emotions and dedication. His reading of Akdamot on Shavuot was especially memorable. He would sing with a loud voice, coming from the heart. Rabbi Zelig was very pleasant, but at the same time he was religiously zealous. He mainly attacked those who were looking for luxurious life. “Luxury,” Rabbi Zelig would say, “is like a contamination in our lives and provides great danger to Jewish life.” 

He would not only preach, but also practice his preaching. Even though his sons were wealthy and provided for him generously, he did not want to enjoy it more than he needed. He would be angry at his daughters when they served for him a good dish which he considered an only Sabbath dish. “Bread, salty fish, and Krupnik (a dish made with grain, which was a simple and popular dish) – this is all I need, not more!”

Rabbi Zelig died in the Holocaust and was among those who were willingly ready to be martyrs. 

Rabbi Shmuel Elimelech Slipak was a zealous Chassid and God fearing. He had a big family and low income, and despite that his main concern was to educate his children for Torah and fear of God. And indeed, with God’s help he succeeded, and his son, Moshe, became a Rabbi in a town in the Gorodnya County. His other son, Avraham, was appointed a slaughterer in Vladimirets following the death of Rabbi Asher Yisrael.  

From the Stepan Chassidim we will mention Rabbi Yaakov the slaughterer. He was a modest and honest person, and an expert in his job. He would teach Mishna in his house of study and was pleasant with people. During the Holocaust he found a hiding place, but his non-Jewish neighbor delivered him in the hand of the Germans.  

His brother, Rabbi Yosef-Chaim Reznik, was a wise Torah student who would devote most of his time for study. Since he was a God fearing person, he did not want to accept the slaughtering profession. Following his father’s death he passed the job’s “privilege” to his younger brother. In his old age he was forced to move to America, and then he moved to Israel and died there. 

Rabbi Nachum Boxer was a Torah student who made a living by teaching, and somehow he got the nickname “shopkeeper.” They would call him “Nachum the shopkeeper.” In the end of his life, when he could not make a living from his occupation anymore and he became lonely and abandoned, his students cared for him regularly. 

Rabbi Leib Teitelboim, or, as many used to call him “Liba Yoses, was a very special person. He lived in poverty, and despite that he used to entertain people. Before he opened his mouth, people knew that he is going to say a sharp joke and make people laugh.  

Once, a Maggid (preacher) came to town, and in his sermon in the synagogue he mentioned a Rabbi who knew the whole Talmud by ear. Rabbi Leib started a conversation with him, and among others said: “I am not like that Rabbi about whom your honor spoke, but anyway, if you take any page in a Talmudic tractate and read to me the first two lines, I will continue, “go on.”

The Maggid wondered, how in a small Vohlyn town one can find such a knowledgeable student, and yet not a Rabbi, just a simple man. He wanted to find out with his own eyes if this is true, so he took A Talmud volume from the table, turned a few pages and read two lines. Rabbi Leib said “Go on!” The Maggid continued to read one more line, and Rabbi Leib repeated “Go on!” He read another two lines, and Rabbi Leib continued with “Go on!”

“Well, I almost read the whole page for you,” said the Maggid,

“This is exactly what I told you, said Rabbi Leib.” You will read for me and I will say “Go on.” 

On one winter day, when they finished the morning prayer and the cantor repeated it, Rabbi Leib knocked hard on the table and said in a loud voice: “The 20th day of Sivan!” (Knocking on the table after the cantor repeated the prayer indicates that one does not say the Tachanun prayer because it is a free day).

The cantor rushed to say the half Kaddish, skipping the Tachanun. At that moment, Rabbi Leib approached him and said: “What kind of cantor are you that you can’t hear correctly? I declared ‘the 20th of Sivan’ and you did not understand that there are two incorrect things here. First, it is a winter day, and it is impossible that the 20th of Sivan falls in winter. Secondly, is the 20th of Sivan a holiday on which you do not say Tachanun?” (The 20th of Sivan is a fasting day, and besides Tachanun they read more Selichot, and some people even fast on that day). 

In town they use to tell stories about Rabbi Zvi that he was tightwad, and they probably exaggerated with the stories. One thing was sure, that he was an honest person and was careful not to cheat anybody for money. When he used to be a shopkeeper he would weigh the groceries very carefully and accurately. He would add and take out over and over again until it was completely precise. Once, the buyer was tired of it and said “Enough, Rabbi Zvi. Give me less and finish weighing already.” He answered: “No, no! I don’t want to give you from mine, and I don’t want to take anything from you.” He hated presents and never wanted to take anything from anybody, not even a cigarette or a bit of tobacco. He wanted to live only from his work, and not enjoy anything of others. 

When he got old, he closed his store and lived mainly on the rental money he received from people who lived in his house with him. He would sit in the synagogue most of the day and study. He would go there early for services, and following the services he would read chapters from the Book of Psalms, from Chok LeYisrael, Mishna and Talmud, and Zohar. While studying, he would listen to the prayers chanted by the cantors of other Minyanim, and here and there tried to answer “Amen!” If he did not pay attention and did not say “Amen,” he felt bad. 

Rabbi Chaim-Leib the shoemaker was a tall Jew, strong and had strong opinions. He loved to comment on all public matters. Once, when he was a member of the Passover Charity committee as a representative of the craftsmen, one of the participants suggested somebody’s name as a needy to be eligible to get the financial support. Rabbi Chaim-Leib stated in a forceful voice: “You can’t put him on the list!”

Everybody was astonished because of his resistance and explained to him that the person is very needy. Rabbi Leib thought for a moment and said: “If it is really as you said, put him on the list.”

This repeated itself every time.

Rabbi Leib’s intention was to show that there must be responsibility and one should ask him for his opinion. The other committee members knew him and in the end they all were satisfied with the list. 

Once they had a lottery of expensive items for Maot Chittim and it ended late at night. Jokers went to Rabbi Leib, woke him up and informed him that he won a silver Menorah. He quickly dressed himself and went happy to the Rabbi’s house to receive what he won, but he was very disappointed to realize that he was a target of a joke. First, he started yelling at the jokers who lied to him and woke him up, but then he calmed down, took a bit of tobacco from a box made of cow horn, and in a forgiving voice he said: “OK, whoever won, won. The most important thing is that the poor of our town will have money for Passover needs.”

On the Threshold of Disaster

In 1937-38 anti-semitism in Poland was intensified. Members of the Polish Siem claimed that all businesses are in the hand of Jews. There was the famous slaughtering decree, and people of the authorities demanded taking the businesses away from Jews and give them to Polish people. All these were felt in our town, too, though not like in the Congress Polish cities, where they put guards in front of Jewish stores to prevent Polish people to enter the stores. But the waves of anti-semitism arrived to our town. The government excluded Jews from granted rights to sell tobacco and alcohol, and Polish people who worked as partners with Jews were required by the government to manage their own businesses separately. The Polish government limited the Jews also in the free market. These haters tried to convince Polish people to start businesses and open stores. And indeed, some unemployed Polish people opened stores. 

The “fresh” business people soon got disappointed because of their “businesses,” and soon after opening them they wanted to close. They tell an episode from those days that a “fresh” one non-Jewish retailer came to a Jew to buy a “kilogram” of socks, because he thought that socks are sold by weight, like groceries. Those people, who used to be farmers, could not adapt themselves to this unsecured job, such as waiting for buyers in a store in a little town to buy a little thing, pay a large amount of money at once to buy the items, and then slowly, slowly get it back with small money, often sell with credit without knowing when they are going to get the money. The store did not attract them anymore, but the incitement did what it was intended to do. 

They also founded a Polish bank, like the Jewish “Kuppat Gemilut Chassadim,” which would lend money without interest, and thus people could hold their business. The signs in large letters said “Catholic Store,” so that the farmers would distinguish between this store and a Jewish store. The local authority also participated in this and instructed all store owners to put their full name on the signs, not only their last name. Their goal was to make it easy for Polish buyers to distinguish between Jewish and Christian stores.

In those years, the Rabbis allowed the sale of flour on Passover to non-Jewish buyers for their holidays. Usually, the Jewish and non-Jewish holidays fell at the same time. Christians always knew that Jews do not sell groceries on Passover because of the danger of unleavened items, and therefore they used to prepare all their needs before Passover. Now, when there were so many Christian stores, they did not rush to prepare for the holidays in advance before Passover. There was the danger that Jewish stores of those who used to sell to Christians would close. This is why the Rabbis allowed Jewish stores to sell items that were not really unleavened, such as flour, oil, sugar, etc. 

On one of the summer days in June 1939 the citizens of the town woke up at night to a very loud sound. They hear the sound of coaches’ wheels and horses’ neighing. Along the big square, between the police station and the Pravoslavic church stood harnessed coaches of farmers from the neighboring villages. The Jews got very scared, and nobody knew what it was. Only the next afternoon the farmers were allowed to go back to their houses. Then they realized that it was a drill to recruit all vehicles in the town and around it. From that day on they felt scared and unsecured. 

Once in a while they heard on the radio about conflicts on the Polish-German border. The Germans were always the attackers, and the Polish the defenders. Not long later, the Germans demanded that Poland return the city of Poznan and its counties. Everybody knew that a disaster is coming, but they did not want to believe that a war is going to break on. Every day, the young people in town would gather in houses with radios to listen to the news with fear. The Berlin radio instructed its Polish farmers in Polish to rush and finish the harvest. Everybody knew that bad things are coming. 

People lived in continuous fear for the war to come, and the famous day indeed came. September 1, 1939 was the day the war between Poland and Germany started and was the first day of World War II. 

Since early in the morning they put signs from President Ignacy Mościcki (Polish President 4 June 1926 - 30 September 1939), calling people to for army service against the Germans, the eternal rival. There was confusion in town. People ran back and forth scared, and women cried loud. It was not clear from which age people need to go to army service. The local army authority also was confused and did not know anything. Therefore, they sent all people who served in the army in the past, young and old, to the gathering place in Lutsk. Then they found out that only few individuals needed to be recruited. They established civil militia from among the youth, whose role was to guard the entrance to the town and inform the police about every suspicious movement. The events happened very fast, and a message was silently heard that the Polish army was defeated, and that the communication between the chief staff and the fighting soldiers was completely lost. Two days later we received other news – the Russians crossed the eastern border and they, too, are going into Poland. 

Soon, the local Polish authority was undermined. One day, we saw the Polish policemen gathered into a line and they left town. We need to praise the behavior of the Polish police in Vladimirets in their last days of controlling the town:

About two days before the police left town citizens already felt that the regime had been undermined. Many farmers from the neighboring villages came to the town, loaded with big bags and all kinds of weapons for riots against Jews and taking their possessions. The policemen then went to the streets with speared guns and drove them out of the town. Before they left, the policemen called Jewish young men and gave those guns and bullets for any case. 

The town was left without authorities for a few days. But the rumor that the Russians are approaching and that the Soviet regime punishes severely acts of murder and robbery scared the non-Jews, and therefore they did not dare touch the Jews or their possessions. The civil militia kept defending the Jews until the Soviets came. 

Under Soviet Regime

On Yom Kippur of 1940 the first Russian soldiers appeared in town. They entered the town with tanks and other vehicles. A voice was heard in Yiddish from one of the tanks: “Jews, why are you standing here? Go and pray!” 

The army only passed through Vladimirets and did not stay there. On that day, the communists among the citizens, who until then were in underground, gathered and elected a local committee from among their members. In the late afternoon there were posters declaring that Soviet laws apply here from now on. The citizens were required to obey the rules of the local committee. Those posters were signed by a member of the local committee, a citizen of Vladimirets. 

A few days later, administrators from Russia came to organize the local authority and the different offices. Military and security forces came with them. There was a lack of accommodation places. The authorities took away rooms from families who had spacious houses, leaving for each family only one room and a kitchen. Some bigger houses have been completely taken as offices, and the owners were forced to look for a place to live. The residence issue was solved somehow by families living together. The source of income, however, worsened. Most of the Jews in town, whose income was based mainly on businesses found themselves in an unsecured situation. They had to sell their goods for very low prices. The authorities declared one Polish gulden as one Soviet rouble. One could not buy new merchandise, since they used to buy them in Warsaw and Lodje, which were now found under German ruling. The stores have been closed. The Russians brought a lot of money with them and bought everything. If somebody tried to hide some goods somewhere, the policemen came and took them away. Only a few stores were left open. Those were the stores which got their goods from neighboring towns. But even these did not exist for long. The regime set heavy taxes with the intention to close them. The terms “shopkeeper” and “trader” indicated from now on shame and scorn. 

With the support of local communists, the authorities tried to nationalize all residences. They even wanted to take the big synagogue and turn it into the newly founded club for young communists. But the citizens, most of them from the middle class, complained, and the nationalization was canceled, except some houses. Also, the exorbitance of the synagogue has been temporarily canceled. Rabbi Mordechai Burko, the honorary officer of the synagogue, worked hard to cancel the nationalization. He, with some old members of the synagogue, went to a meeting with the communists, and with tears in their eyes begged to cancel the decree, and they succeeded.  

With the closing of the stores the prices went up, and one could not get any merchandise. The authorities opened a grocery store where they sold various goods, but it did not satisfy the demand. The prices were extremely high and the quality was very low. There were rumors that the same situation existed in Russia. In those days they composed a song in Yiddish to the tune of “Adir Bimlucha Bachur KaHalacha,” a Passover song reflecting the situation. 

Only a few of the Jews in town were employed in governmental offices. Those were mainly Jewish communists or people whom the soviets needed because of their expertise. Most of the people were left out, either because they could not adapt to the new order, or because they were religious, since they had to work on the Sabbath, and also because they were afraid that the Polish would come back. Many were banned because of their past as Zionists or traders etc. 

Social life in town has also been deteriorated. The Jews of the town, who until then lived like a big family, were afraid and look at each other suspiciously. The wealthy people among them left town to places where people did not know them. 

Despite all negative events mentioned above, life started normalizing and the citizens became used to the new order. They were happy that they at least were saved from the hands of the Germans. This was until the day the news came, that the Germans were fighting the Soviet Union. 

Days of Extermination

In the morning of the second day of the month of Tammuz, 1941, they sent military recruit orders to all young people. They all had to station themselves in a specific place with all their baggage. About 500 people gathered, and they were sent on foot to Sarny, where the absorption center was for the whole region. They had a whole battalion from the Jews and non-Jews of Vladimirets and the neighboring places. After ten days, the Red Army started retreating back east, and with them went the Vladimirets’ battalion. All soldiers of this battalion were captured by the German army, and the Jews were speared and shot to death. There were only a few Jews who escaped.  

With the retreat of the Soviets from the town came a total confusion. The Soviets announced that any citizens who want to leave town can join them, but only a few took advantage of that. Those were mainly people who supported the communist regime. Most of the Jews decided to stay. There were a few reasons for that. First, they did not realize what the situation really was and did not expect that the German cruelty would be so extreme. They knew that the Germans will punish those who supported the communist regime and that some Jews will suffer, but not more than that. For many it was very difficult to separate from their houses and leave with their families to dangerous roads. Very quickly, all of them will realize that they were wrong, but it was too late. 

Two days after the Soviets left, the radio broadcasted the following statement in Ukrainian: “Jews have always been your true enemies. Now is the time to take revenge for the thousand years you suffered because of them.”  

For the blood-thirsty Ukrainians, who were already waiting for the opportunity, it was like adding fuel to the fire to start their pogroms against the Jews. They also had local instigators, especially the son of the pastor from Ostrovetz, who during the times of the Soviets served as the director of the Ukrainian elementary school, but was actually nationalistic and renowned anti-Semite. He made hatred speeches against the Jews. Now, all local non-Jews and those from the surroundings came to rob and kill. The first two victims were Mordechai Burko and Eliezer Leizerov, who tried to stand against the robbers.  

When the Germans came, they ordered to establish a Judenrat (a Jewish council) through which they wanted to communicate with the Jews in town. The members of the Judenrat were responsible for obeying the orders. The first Gestapo order for the Jews was to give all the animals to the military authorities, from a cows and horses to hens and roosters. The Jews had to bring them with their own hands to the village Horodziec, a few kilometers from town. 

On the eve of Yom Kippur 1942 the order came, that Jews are not allowed to go to the streets without the yellow star on the front and back of their clothes. The Jews obeyed this order, and instead of the ordinary Yom Kippur meal they sat to stitch the sign of shame on their clothes. Jews were forbidden to use the sidewalk. They had to walk in the middle of the street. Jews who saw Germans had to remove their hat and greet them.  

Later, they established a ghetto in town. They designated a few streets for this purpose. They moved all Jews of the town and Jews from the surroundings to this ghetto, altogether about 3000 people. Christians were forbidden to have any contact with the Jews of the ghetto. With the isolation of the Jews they lost all sources of income, and most of them had to suffer hunger. 

There came the time of abuse, torture, and forced labor. The Germans took away Jewish possessions through quotas of silver, gold, clothing, etc. This was just the preparation for the bitter end. It was like a work of a spider, spinning the webs around the body of the victim. 

Eyewitnesses said that the Jews knew in the last week of their lives what is going to happen to them. Scary rumors came about digging deep holes not far from the town, and about SS units coming from the center, circling the town. Many Ukrainian citizens came to the Jews and asked them to give them their possessions as if they want to keep them for the Jews. It was a clear sign that they are facing the end. 

The day of disaster came – Friday, the fifteenth of the month of Elul, 1942, the last day for the Jews of Vladimirets. The night before, the Jews gathered in groups to say the great Viduy (the confessional prayer before death), crying to heaven. In the morning of the next day the Ukrainians and the Nazis started taking the Jews out of their houses. It was the last time those dear people looked at the walls of their houses, where they were born and lived – they and their ancestors for many generations. With tears in their eyes they looked at the babies who did not know yet what life is and at their children who looked at them with silent questions: Why? The terrible shouting of the policemen were heard: “Hurry out! Line up!” They drove them out, cursing and beating. They did not let them pause and think. Family after family they started marching to their death. There were people among them with strong faith, especially from among the Stolin Chassidim, who saw that as a verdict from heaven, which they were not supposed to think about and they accepted it. With clear mind they were ready to be martyrs. They got up very early in the morning, bathed, and wrapped themselves with their talitot (praying shawls) to their grave. All Jews have been brought to the center of the town, and from there they were brought to the ready holes in the grove, outside the town. They were brought down into the holes in groups of five, and there they were shot to death. Some of them dared to run away from the gathering place, and some also tried to escape from the holes, even those who were already shot. Some of them succeeded in escaping to the forests. Many of those who escaped to the forests were later captured and murdered. The Ukrainian neighbors helped the Germans because they received a kilogram of salt for each living Jew. Those who were not captured suffered cold and hunger, which eliminated any sense of resistance they had. They thought they were the last living Jews, so they went back to the wild animals to put an end to their lives. The Gestapo soldiers left the remains in the holes all week long, and on the Sabbath, intentionally, they killed them. Only a few, those who joined the partisans, survived.

Pinchas Slipak joined the partisans. He sneaked into the town a few times to avenge against the Germans, but he was finally captured and put to death in a cruel way.

We must praise here the Polish pastor who preached to his congregation, warning them not to go with the Germans. He tried to encourage them to help the Jews who survived as much as they can. And indeed, thanks to him, many of those who escaped to the forests received materialistic and moral support from Polish people, whether directly or indirectly.

Thus, Jewish Vladimirets was eliminated, a Jewish community rooted in this place for hundreds of years.

Oh earth, earth, do not cover their blood! (This is a saying, meaning punish the murderers).


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