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[Page 13]

Voronovo History and Importance

 

[Pages 13-19]

Voronova in the Sources and in the Voronova Book

by H. Rabin

Translated by Meir Bulman

 

A. Bibliography

I. Slovnik Geographytshni
Velveskli Publishing, 1884
Editors: Bronislav and Philip Hlibolinski,

“Voronov – a town and estate on the Blozianka Yovlo[1] of the Zhizmeh[2] is situated 32 versts[3] from Lida, 59 from Vilna,[4] and 20 from Eyshishok.[5] Part of the Lida District, Benakani Municipality.

“… There are 42 homes in the town, 18 Russian Orthodox residents, 177 Catholics, and 333 Jews. There are two synagogues, 2 leather workshops, 12 shops and a wind mill operated by a stream and waterfall. V. is famous for its baked bagels.

“… It is known that the town was under the complete ownership of the now defunct Geshtuld[6] dynasty. It is therefore inferred that Voronov existed before the 14th century, when those rulers ceased to exist. It is not mentioned in the royal certificate and judicial proceedings. 13 villages are a part of Voronov.”

 

II. Encyclopedia Pubshkhna, 1867

“… named Voronov situated about 60 versts from Vilna,[7] a part of the Lida district and the Benakani municipality.

“…V. does not appear in the royal ledgers and judicial proceeding, because, as is well known, was owned by the Shlohim[8] Family. In 1730, Yan Shlohim built a Collegium and schools for writing and accounting in Voronov.

“…it was once a rich estate profitable for its owner. Today, it is a very poor town and has 52 houses and 334 residents

 

III. Yevreyskaya Encyclopedia, 1908
Edited by Dr. A. Harkabi and Dr. L. Katznelson

“Vornovo – a town in the Lida district, Vilna region. In 1847, the “Vornovo Community” included 199 individuals.

“In 1897, the whole of Vornovo included for 1574 individuals, 1432 of them Jews.”

 

B. History and Order

We have quoted Slovnik Geographychni first, although Pubshkhna Encyclopedia was published earlier, because according to the Slovnik Voronova had already existed in the 14th century. Additionally, it is known that Slovnik was funded by the Polish Catholic Church, which conducted its research thoroughly; the objectivity of its conclusions is assured due to its primary editor (who was Jewish).

According to Slovnik, Voronova was “a town and estate”, meaning a town center for village–estates founded by members of some dynasty. As is known, estate owners were warriors who received their estates as rewards for war efforts, and to maintain royal control over estate residents. As warriors, who knew nothing about agricultural administration and communal matters, estate owners always hired Jews as customs officials, tax collectors, and farm handlers, whose central focus was not agricultural planning but expanding production outcomes by encouraging work produced by contracted villagers.

It should be presumed that from its inception Voronova as a community was different than others as it was the center of 13 villages situated on the shores of a high river nourishing its surroundings. The presumption rises when one reads that in a community of 333 Jewish residents there was both a synagogue and a study house. Two conclusions follow: the financial ability of the community to establish two religious institutions, and its ability to maintain both. One also learns this way of the differences among community members: a class whose religion was manifested in prayer alone, and another whose religion is manifested in a study house where both prayer and study are mixed. Such religious groupings are also inferred from histories of other communities. What is unusual is that this was manifested in such a small community at that time. No sources mention small communities where there was such a differentiation –– not in that century and not with that population size.

The distance between Voronova and the metropolitan areas and the length of forest between them indicate that it was a self–sustaining community. We add that the estate owners did not use Jewish workers from Lida or Vilna, instead they saw the need of establishing their own town. Therefore, we can infer that they were Jews [in Voronova] recognized as possessing the necessary skills. Such skills were also of a different kind, which is quite interesting: failures of estate owners stemmed from a lack of ability to maximize production from laborers in spite of the pressures of serfdom, or perhaps resulting from those methods. Thus, the Jews invited to [administer estates] were faced with a social/communal challenge. Jews were tasked with gaining control of apathetic human dust and motivating productivity. They did so by organizing villages and linking laborers to the land, so laborers looked upon these fields as a blessing. Jews had to change the historical relationship of masters and peasant by turning servants into tenant–farmers who received a share of the yield. By increasing workers' interests in the fields and the work, Jews also turned masters into partners who cared about the wellbeing and social spirit of the workers.

We add that those Jews were willing to uphold their Judaism even while detached from the world of central Torah and religion. Despite Voronova's forest–covered conditions and the poor communication methods of the time, the Jews remained consciously firm in their faith.

Thus, Voronova originated as a planned settlement intended to change agricultural and social standards. We therefore infer the first Jews in Voronova were administratively talented men, just as from a Jewish perspective they were firm in their faith and adherents of a Jewish historical vision.

 

Residents and Employment

The sources are in dispute as to the population size. The cause of this inaccuracy is important, but we are not currently interested in exploring that here. Instead, we will contrast the figures and the conclusions arising from each.

The Encyclopedia Pubsh. notes that in 1867 “the town had 52 houses and 334 residents.” In contrast, Slovnik notes that in 1884 there were 42 houses. Yet, the number of residents is 468, and the number of Jews is like the general population figures in En. Pubsh.

Moreover, the Yevreyskaya Encyclopedia, the sole Jewish source, states that in 1847, the community, meaning the Jews, numbered 199 and in 1897, fifty years later, 1432 Jews.

It is difficult to determine what is fact and what is hypothetical, and we will assist those seeking to draw conclusions with two pieces of information:

1. The Y. Encyclopedia editorial board based its figures on two censuses conducted in Czarist Russia in the territories annexed by the partitions of Poland. The first, in 1847, was done under rushed circumstances during regime changes and its figures are usually inaccurate. The census in 1897 was done under Russian control and was conducted and funded by Jews, mostly founded by the famed Baron Ginsberg, and should be assumed it is the correct one. The inaccuracy of the figure of 199 Jews in 1847 is also refuted by the two Gentile sources which are paralleled in their size and time. We are left to wonder only about the large increase of 333 Jews in 1884 (Slov. Georg.) to 1432 in 1897, a rapid 430% increase that we have not seen in any other Jewish town.

We have no sources explaining the sudden increase. It is indicative of a local tragedy which caused wandering Jews to seek refuge in a sibling community, or of [economic] abundance in Voronova which attracted Jews. Demographic changes in Jewish towns always followed similar patterns. Seeking refuge or relief were always motives for wandering in the history of Jewish exile. We are uncertain about the reasons for the attraction. We have no sources documenting the abundance or the absorption capabilities in Voronova, and we are left solely with logical inferences, but not written facts.

2. A second fact on population size figures is that the two Christian versions were based solely on tax payer figures, and thus do not speak as to people but residents. Therefore, one should assume the final figure of the Yevreyskaya Encyclopedia (Russian) is correct, as 333 taxpayers mean a much larger number of people.

We emphasize the part about 12 flour mill stores, 2 leather processing workshops, and the famous bagel bakeries. Those figures serve as evidence of our assumption of the quality of the early Jewish residents of the town.

 

C. Voronova in this Book

This book is both a community ledger and an effort to complete the community's history for the sake of future generations. Voronova in its communal activities comes across as a town tired of activism where few jumped at the chance of community leadership as a means of quickly achieving fame or fortune. For many years, secular communal issues were determined by men of noble appearance who arrived to the town and were appointed as ‘staroste’. The staroste was a quasi–mayor who the community did not choose nor was obligated to obey. At times, they were a positive force for their brethren and communal matters progressed due to their guidance.

Occasionally, people volunteered for certain projects, ceasing the activity once the task was completed. Yet, communal activism was not pronounced in Voronova.

Residents did not enthusiastically jump at the chance of maintaining Godly matters or of administering the synagogue. Even if people witnessed their houses of worship decaying, nobody paid any attention nor repaired them. It happened that at certain times there was a Gabbai who devoted himself to some issue and raised funds to repair the synagogues. The community did not examine him further and would pay him any amount levied upon them in his rounded, illegible handwriting in deep gratitude for a service which no other person had accepted. Sometimes the community was blessed with a respectable Gabbai, a man of many deeds who invested energy in quality administration. Such a man was respectable in a manner befitting the role and he and his image were honored by the community.

Unlike other communities, Voronova was inert concerning its future. Everything seemed on a downward path, and folks hoped for a change to come allowing redemption from the town, but nobody lifted a finger. Therefore, town elders were thrilled when the youth moved towards any activity promising redemption, and such activity won the support and encouragement of all.

The Voronova community was weary; no person worked on its behalf. As a town close to Vilna, it survived on Vilna's personal and cultural life. Voronova knew not of Hasidism and was unaware of the dispute concerning Hasidism. That lively rejuvenation passed over it. Voronova was spared the trickery of “miracle–working rabbis” and other such elements offering a mirage of redemption to the people. However, this lack of liveliness discouraged any desire for community activism. In most communities activism was a main contributing factor to redemption and the search for a national path.

As stated, only the youth strove for such activism, and all others approved. However, most of the community was steeped in the depths of a difficult livelihood and most hearts were not veered towards matters such as the duties or privileges of community.

Occasionally, lone people rose and paved paths to redemption from their hearts and were pioneers of Zionism, but they were few: although they were admired, they did not become role models or leaders to follow.

The glory of Voronova in its older times attracted rabbis of fame and stature. Rabbis were honored to have the title of “Rabbi of Voronova,” and the town was blessed to be led by noteworthy rabbis. As time passed, those rabbis were cured of the delusion called the ‘Voronova community’. The community's apathy eventually discouraged them and they would leave.

Such events were repeated several times and caused something of a beneficial shock within the community. Of course, no Jew wants to stay without a rabbi present, because perhaps one's Judaism would be harmed, condemning one's soul, and delaying the footsteps of the messiah. Suddenly, the community would show great concern about appointing a rabbi and an emotional swirl would take place.

Disputes concerning rabbis were an unusual occurrence in the calm life of the Voronova community. Once such a dispute erupted, it was difficult to stop. It became a chance for town notables to examine their scholarliness. More than a mere concern for finding a rabbi befitting the town, these moments saw a tendency of town notables to face off against the nominated rabbi and his rivals for the crown of Torah. Men of Torah whose Torah skills had declined, suddenly found an opportunity to test themselves and see if their Torah within was still alive, and if the community still had any use for their knowledge. In the end, the Voronova community was ‘blessed’ by a startling awakening and had no other choice but to bear the financial burden of providing for two rabbis, for the sake of peace and to repair its previously harmed image. From then on, there was no “Rabbi of Voronova,” and instead there was the Kletzker Rav and the Myadler Rav, and the town's diminishing glory fell even further.

 

Culture and Education

– As in every Jewish town, Voronova too was a fortress of tradition where education was concerned. As regimes changed, the community withstood pressure from authorities for a dictated education, and the town remained loyal the cheder education. When assessing the risk of educating children for a life fully devoted to heaven, obstructing any chance of professional and educational progress, there too they decided on siding with the heavens.

Children were educated in various institutions founded by individuals as a source of income. Here the great naïvete of the founders was reflected by the parents' inability to make crucial changes. Parents showed an amazingly strong will as to their children's fate, forming an unshakeable will to link their children to the nation's fate, a nation that rejected the nonsense of the Gentiles and accepted the burden of waiting for the messiah. The decision was made at the expense of the well–being of the children and of fortifying their future as individuals, and in spite of the fact that one still had to pass the national test. Without objection, the children were handed over to be educated by teachers who were loyal to the Torah but were disappointing as educators and path–setters.

As the Zionist awakening took place, a school was founded by Tarbut with the consent of the rabbi. Since then, the children of Voronova encountered a true education, including a concern for both the Jewish individual and the nation.

The cultural life of older generations of Voronovans was limited to a few classes studying The Life of Man and Mishna. Centuries passed like that until the awakening in the Jewish world arrived. As oppressed nations and exploited classes began awakening, Voronova too was affected by the spirit pf progress. The youth founded libraries, theater companies, and discussion groups. There was still no solid formation of views on worldly issues, but there was a curiosity and a search for a path, an examination of everything, and a move towards a new life and a new culture.

Since then, Voronova joined its counterparts and tied its liveliness with the liveliness of the Jewish nation and exited its cultural and national isolation.

Form this perspective the last days of Voronova were days of public alertness, cultural activism, and intensive Hebrew education. Matters in town continued as usual, but activism focused on redemption and the paths to redemption. Many groups formed; a common path led them all to Zion. There lies greatness and change.

Economy and Livelihood – Like all Jewish towns in Poland, Voronova struggled greatly for its livelihood. Poland, land of oversights and barren economic regimes, left its naturally rich land to remain in an agricultural slumber and Jewish territory continually decreased. Poland's hatred for Jews left no room allowing Jews to develop industry and trade, as they so diligently knew. Instead of encouraging the Jews, Poland imposed taxes on them and excluded them from existing industries. That situation left an even greater mark on Voronova. Voronova was a town hostile to Poland, which turned the exclusion of Jews into political necessity. The residents' anger at the authorities was turned towards the Jews, “the blood suckers,” and instilled in the Gentile residents a sense of gratitude to the authorities. From that perspective the town's struggle was like that of other Jewish towns, but more difficult due to its Lithuanian location. Jews lived from crumbs of income as middlemen between the villages and Vilna, as the ground dropped beneath their own feet. Because of anti–Semitic economic discrimination, Voronova's status as a town gradually diminished, nearly disappeared, and remained a middle–point between villages and the city. Livelihood depended on a combination of trade, acting as a middleman, and delivery of goods. Tradesmen descended to the level of middlemen, middlemen became coachmen delivering merchandise, and coachmen searched for constructive use of any available, vacant horse. This was strengthened with some supporting income from minor agriculture, which many in town did for generations, increasing in the final years of the town.

The most depressing days in the town were market days. Those were days of economic activity with big hopes at the start and then big disappointments by their end.

The economic downturn signaled the end and was felt more and more strongly, causing all to think about emigration and Aliyah. But the poor odds of being able to emigrate erased the will or initiative for change. Voronova was split in its final years: on one side, a helpless older population, and on the other side, a lively and energetic youth jumping at the chance of desirable and crucial emigration.

As the Holocaust arrived, the Enemy found a town whose residents desirous of leaving the country and waited only for the chance to leave. If not for bloodlust, the Enemy could have “purified” Voronova of its Jews by allowing them to travel to Israel and this perceived problem would have been solved, but instead the choice was for massacre.

The criminal partnership between the Enemy and his collaborators is highlighted by the Holocaust of Voronova and other towns. The Enemy spilled the blood of Jews to intoxicate the occupied masses, and they drank our blood willingly to intoxication. It was murder for murder's sake without economic or demographic justification.

When Voronova stopped existing, it was a community of hard workers, living on the fruits of their labor, looking for a place to invest, to make a living, and wait for the day when they could leave the nation. Voronova was a community of pure and kind Jews who sacrificed generations at the altar of the great hope, remaining loyal to the nation, yet disappointed in their efforts.

For historians, Voronova will serve as a lesson and example, like a good man who remains loyal to leaders who are too weak to solve his problems. For anthropologists, Voronova will remain a social experiment of people who wanted to remain a society without government, army, or bloodshed but were mistaken and paid for that mistake with their existence.

Researchers of the Nazi crimes will find the tragic testament of a minority nation seeking to co–exist under an experimental social existence commanded by its own doctrines and morals. The existence of Voronova and communities like it posed a threat, so the Nazis destroyed them in a murderous rage.

Voronova was 600 years old when it ceased to exist.

 

Translator's Footnote
  1. Ed. Note: The word ‘Yovlo’ is spelled yud–vov–beyz (or veyz)–lamed–vov in the original text. Return
  2. Ed. Note: The word ‘Zhizmeh’ is spelled zayen–(apostrophe)–yud–zayen–mem–hey in the original text. Return
  3. Ed. Note: 32 versts is approximately 21.21 miles. Return
  4. Ed. Note: 59 versts is approximately 39.10 miles. Return
  5. Ed. Note: 20 versts is approximately 13.25 miles. Return
  6. Ed. Note: The word ‘Geshtuld’ is spelled giml–shin–tes–vov–lamed–daled in the original text. Return
  7. Ed. Note: 60 versts is approximately 39.77 miles. Return
  8. Ed. Note: The name ‘Shlohim’ is spelled shin–lamed–hey–mem in the original text. Return


[Pages 20-24]

Image of Voronova, My Town

by Shlomo Aviel Shmerkovitsh

Translated by Meir Bulman

Voronova my home town: here are the roads, the pathways, the streets, the open fields and forests, rivers. A town where everyone is Jewish, except for a Shabbos Goy[1] or the pork salesman on market day, or a remnant of past nobility, or a few more, but the rest are Jews, sons of the covenant. Some are studious Torah scholars, some are educated, but most are ordinary Jews, hardworking, honest, innocent, god–fearing, lovers of the people and land of Israel.

We never had very wealthy people among us, but there were owners of nice homes, businessmen and the unique half–coachmen–half–businessmen, who traveled twice a week to Vilne and returned with various stocks of food items or sewing items for sale in exchange for cash or credit to the owners of small stores. There were also various manufacturing shops that sold products to the peasants of the area, and there were several Jews who received gifts from their relatives overseas – a few dollars before holidays who–– there were the town's rich men. The vast majority, however, were limited merchants, in their stores they sold a mix of needles and threads, oil and sugar, flour and grain, candies and salt, oil for the coaches, etc.

Most of the income was generated on Tuesdays which was the market day, and some of it on Sundays, because on those days the peasants came in droves to the market and church. The town was very busy that day, and many had high hopes on that day. At dawn, the family would prepare for the big day, the day of livelihood. Some worked as salespeople, and others as assistant salespeople to aid against thieves and shoplifters. Jews traded everything at the marketplace: grains, various furs that were specially purchased from hunters in wintertime, swine hair, flax, dried mushrooms, and zrza[2] which was a type of plant the gentiles gathered in the woods and, after drying, turned into a wound–healing powder that was also exported abroad. Animals such as horses were traded, as were dairy products, chickens, and eggs.

Many in town were craftsmen, among them blacksmiths whose bulk–work came from shoeing horses, and from fashioning plow blades, scythes, and sickles for harvesting grain. There were also cobblers, tailors, leather workers, seamstresses, carpenters, hatters, etc. There were some professions that were considered respectable because they involved trade, and less respectable ones that did not require trading.

That is how Jews made a living for many generations, and that is how they educated and raised children in the ways of Torah and civilization. In addition to the usual sources of livelihood, nearby to most homes in town there was a plot of land that assisted in providing nourishment to the family, on regular days and on troubled days.

Most had a cow or even two. The cow provided milk and many luxuries to the household, such as milk for the children, some sour milk, cheese, sour cream, and sometimes butter. Because of the vast amounts of fertilizer that piled up in the cowsheds over winter, plots of land were leased from the gentiles to plant potatoes (an important food item for the Jews in the area). Many had their own plots that spanned 10–20 flowerbeds, 120 meters in length. Many vegetables were cultivated: carrots, onions, cucumbers, radishes, and other vegetables. All of those filled the basements and lasted, for men and animals, until the next season. Many had fruit gardens near their homes, and all made a living according to the will of God, some comfortably and others less so. The most pressing issue was clothing, as those cannot be planted in a field nor in a garden, and obtaining a golden coin was very difficult, especially for the youth.

As summer arrived, Voronova would be filled with happiness and laughter. Immediately following the Pentecost, many homes were filled with vacationers of all kinds who came from distant cities to rest and refresh, because Voronova was blessed with many surrounding forests. That too helped with making a living. A kingdom of youth would then take over the town and youthful cheers dominated Voronova.

Excerpt from In the Tunnel[3]

Trubbe tunnel, Bezmuk in a foreign language
I remember you from long ago [for the ages]

Your cold water flowed in silence
Gave life and quenched the wilderness

On Sabbath, holiday, and festival [as we do]
We would walk to you

We would swim and float in your waters,
Our youthful delight we brought with us

The echo of laughing youths
Was carried between your shade– providing woods

We would collect A fistful of berries
Wild grapes, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries

As dessert to the joys of immersion
While happy, silly, gleeful with delightful relaxation.

Evenings would then continue until midnight, with gleeful songs and sleeping in the barn on piles of fragrant hay. Those were days of forgetting school and other troubles.

But here comes fall, town is emptying out from guests and boredom takes over everything. The youth have nothing to do, there is no future or meaning. Continuing education in high school or university in the big city is reserved for a lucky few, because that was expensive, and the supposed rich men saw it as unfit to teach their children a trade. Still, many youths found employment, mainly in sewing. In those days, a number of factories were established in town, such as in clothing mass production, which employed many youths in exploitative conditions from dusk till dawn. Thus a workers uprising was organized. The communist ideal penetrated the hearts of many, Polish police watched them, and many were arrested, tortured, and sentenced to years in prison.

Excerpt from In the Tunnel

Once in The Tunnel in the dark of night
With silence surrounding
On the balcony they sat resting
Workers, laboring tailors called a meeting

Ben–Zion Alter's son of the cobbler's
spoke and said:
Dear friends! Laboring friends!
How long will we be exploited

How long will we sew them clothes
While we walk naked.
Kheikeh the seamstress asked to speak
And she had a proposal, to call a strike

That was accepted and implemented by all
And in town heaven and earth are moved
It is inconceivable, such a chutzpah!
In the synagogue opinions differ

In a discrete and silent tone, many then said
said many parents
They are laborers, they work
thus they are right.

One day a messenger came with the message that redemption arrived. Hundreds of youths came to the meeting and his voice like that of the redeemer: laboring on the land of Israel, swamp–drying, conquering the wilderness, training, kibbutz, and Aliyah. There was enthusiasm that grew into large flames, therefore the HaShomer HaTzair[4] chapter took form and became a reality. There were conversations, debates, field trips. The town took on a new living form. As time passed, Beitar[5] was formed, HaMizrachi[6] and HeKhalutz[7] were strengthened, and the communist party was deserted by its members.

The library and the drama club were transferred to Zionist management, and all town residents, old and young, enjoyed the spirit of Zion and Jerusalem. Enthusiasm overtook all.

 

Vor023.jpg
A local meeting we held for HaShomer HaTsair

 

I remember some unusual episodes from that time: Motl the Leather Maker was glued to the eastern window at the HaShomer HaTzair branch––– glued, attached, and did not let go, and said, “You will never know, will not understand how big my love for you is, when I see you in your uniforms and your enthusiasm, as you dance together while singing the lovely Hora, lebn zal Bistritski mit zeyn horeh lebn zalt ir ale,[8] how I love you, how much I envy you, I swear to God, I would fly there with you like on the wings of eagles, but unfortunately I am too old, so, take my Moshke, take my Rishkke, take my soul. Lebn zal Bistritski mit zeyn horeh, lebn.” And he left.

Before making Aliyah, while I was saying goodbye to friends, relatives, and strangers, Eliahu Dvilinski told me, “I know that I will not get to fulfill my dream, God did not bless me to reach the beloved land, to feel its earth beneath my feet and work it.” “Indeed,” said with a sigh his brother Ze'ev Dvilinski.

Many like those were left behind. When the holocaust arrived, many relatively young people managed to break the siege and escape to the woods, organized in Partisan squads, fought and avenged much of the blood of our fathers, brothers, and sisters, but the rest were mostly murdered by the cruel enemy and his assistants.

Voronova is now emptied of Jews, we will no longer hear their voices for they are gone. They are now silent forever.

 

Vor024.jpg
The ancient windmill

 

Footnotes
  1. Ed. Note: a gentile person able to do tasks forbidden to Jews on the sabbath Return
  2. Ed. Note: possibly refers to zarza (Smilax ornata), a plant introduced to Europe from the Americas and then used there to treat various ailments including syphillis. Return
  3. Tr. Note: the poem is written in rhyming couplets Return
  4. Ed. Note: Zionist self–defense movement Return
  5. Ed. Note: Revisionist Zionist youth movement Return
  6. Ed. Note: One of two religious, Zionist parties that later in 1955 combined to form the National Religious Party, or Mafdal, in Israel (the other party being HaPoel HaMizrachi). Return
  7. Ed. Note: a Zionist youth movement Return
  8. Ed. Note: ‘long live Bistriski and his hora [Ed. Note: a hora is a type of Jewish dance], long live you all’: these are lyrics from a song often sung at HaShomer HaTzair gatherings; the identity of Bistriski has not yet been fully determined; possibly it is a reference to Nathan Bistriski, a director of Youth and Information at the Jewish National Fund in Jerusalem from 1922–1952, and who was also a playwright; in the 1930s his works were amongst the first Hebrew plays presented in Palestine. The rest if the lyric is as follows: Nit keyn rekhter, nit keyn linker, nor a Mizrakhist a flinker: ‘not a right–winger, not a left–winger, but a deft [Ed. Note: as in nimble or clever] Mizrachist’. Return

[Pages 25-30]

Profile of a Town

by Shlomo Pikovski

Translated by Meir Bulman

Our town excelled in its lively youth which was alert to all world events and paid particular attention to events in the Jewish world, and so a variety of youth groups flourished in Voronova expressing a range of ideas. HaShomer HaTsair,[1] Gordonia[2] Zionists, and general HeKhaluts,[3] as well as HeKhaluts HaTsair. There was also no shortage of Bundists, Trotskyites, and other splintered movements.

Hebrew was spoken in town. It was one of the only towns in which there were Hebrew speaking households. On the school street, the language most spoken was that dead language resurrected with its nation. Interestingly, the plays produced by members of the various movements were purely in Hebrew though the target audience was the town's Jews, average people of “sher u eisen” [Tr. Note: shears and herbs].

A typical town in White Russia, it had also a special charm. It was a town where none fell to extremism. Its public charm was that all wanted the success of the Jewish People regardless of the movement one belonged to. Arguments and disagreements remained even–tempered and never reached the highest most dangerous level. Moves were made with everyone's participation, or at least with their blessing. With the abundance of energy among the youth and in spite of the arguments and activities separated according to faction, all joined together for general activities of mutual assistance, spreading education, and encouraging culture among the youth and general town population. Everyone searched for ways to study; be it in the yeshivas, seminaries, or secondary schools in local owns, and all helped one another with advice, congratulations, and more.

*

Given the general economic subsections, it can be said that Voronova was very diverse. Aside from the moderately rich people, most of the townspeople were small businesspeople and merchants, along with some laborers who made a difficult living while preserving their homey human dignity. It had all the roles typical for Jews in the diaspora such as tailors, cobblers, blacksmiths, and tinsmiths, alongside the freelancers like doctors and dental technicians, pharmacists, and more.

It was difficult to make a living in town. The market square at the center of town was empty all week aside from market day when it was filled with wagons loaded with agricultural products prepared by area Gentiles. Jews purchased a variety of products like butter and cheese, fruits and vegetables, grains, firewood and construction wood, goats and sheep, skins and furs, for self–consumption or resale.

Most of the residents of Voronova spoke the local languages, so every person could speak to the Gentile he had dealings with. They spoke Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian, all on a basic level based on economic needs. Those were means of communication acquired not by formal study but absorbed through negotiations, and spoken only during those interactions, but the primary language was Yiddish. It was a language influenced by all languages and woven with idioms, proverbs, and metaphors from all languages, but our Yiddish was particularly decorated by Torah sayings and the eternal wisdom of the Mishna, Talmud, and lessons from musar, midrash, and prayers.

We are including language skills in the economic sub–section since the language in Voronova was used in a dual trading capacity; the Gentiles' languages in literal trade and Yiddish in a uniquely Jewish trading of wisdom, manners, relationships, good deeds, status and livelihood, contacts, and loans. Both served the desire to make a living and preserve relationships and respect across the stark class divides, and to subsist. Language offered physical support which may be why it was enjoyed by its speakers.

*

To erect a monument to that national institution that was the Voronova community, I will name the streets to paint a picture. I am not relating official names, as I do not remember such, and I think there were no signs. We called the streets Yiddish names and the generations knew those alone. And so I will be loyal to the reality that was and will commemorate it as it was. The exact list: Vilner Gas, Lider Gas, Benakner Gessel, Eyshishoker Gessel, Zhreminer Gessel, Harminishker Gessel, der Nyer Plan, Bad Gessel, Ban Gessel, Der Mark, Nyer Mark, Der Galech, Khazerishe Gessel, Di Brick, Arap–Berg di Boyne, Zamak Veldel, Di Prasadis, Smoliarnia, Di Lanke (mit di balatess).

*

Tradition was maintained in our town for many generations. Family meals took place on weekdays too, but that was not always possible due to financial troubles and work schedules. But on holidays and Shabbat, after family members returned from the houses of worship, the festive meals took place in their full traditional frame. The head of the household was at the head of the table, his wife beside him or facing him, and the children surrounding. When the main activity was not dining but rather the hymns, many songs were sung aside from the standard hymns, including Zionist songs, cantorial songs, and even Yiddish folk songs.

There were holidays on which joy was in the public domain and flowed outward. Those were Passover, Shavuot, and most of all Simchat Torah, when Jews expressed their joy in public and levity was permitted and honored. Hanukkah was very special since joy was accompanied by a lesson necessary to that small town surrounded by countless forests and villages, the lesson of the victory of the few over the many. It was a lesson relevant to the town and the entirety of the Nation of Israel, the small sheep among the wolves.

Without diminishing the rest of the Jewish holidays, it can be said we drew strength from Hanukkah more so than others, as faith in our revival and honor was elevated.

*

In summary and memoriam, Voronova was a fortress to preserve our national character and traditions and all descriptions of it are valuable to the world and to ourselves. It is important the world knows that we preserved small islands of prayer and longing for Zion and virtue among the kingdoms of blood and the cruelty of the nations. It is also important to remember that our uniqueness stems from that. Our parents who were born and raised among those dark and hopeless alleys nurtured much hope in the chance for a state of their own, full of light and horizons. Princes who dreamed of a kingdom and a state walked those narrow streets. There are few nations who can say they withstood the test of time in their attachment to a kingdom of their own while distant from the soil of that kingdom across space and many centuries of time. Voronova was destroyed and lost not only to our descendants but to the world and humanity as a social and national experiment. We cannot return what was lost but in writing our memorial books we can at least reconstruct its image which will stand forever within printed pages.

Our descendants will know how our ancestors were and will know there is something of which to be proud.

As the towns of Poland were engulfed in the flames of destruction, their descendants walked here on the walls of the State of Israel. The image of their parents being exterminated before their eyes gave them the strength to battle a foreign invader and be victorious. May we not forget that vision and armored in these memories we will draw a strength that will withstand any turmoil in our country and nation.

 

Vor028a.jpg
Meeting of Voronova alumnae in Petach Tikva on Hanukah 1933

 

Vor028b.jpg
Voronova Once Upon A Time, 1971

 

Footnotes
  1. Ed. Note: HaShomer HaTsair (“The Young Guard”) was a more left–leaning youth movement with the same Zionist goals as HeKhaluts. Return
  2. Ed. Note: A youth Zionist movement based on the ideals and principles of Aaron David Gordon (non–Marxist). Return
  3. Ed. Note: An organization that prepared immigrants for Aliyah. Return

 

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