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[Page 169]

Our Town – Memoirs,
Images, Short stories

 

[Pages 169-172]

Voronova: A Town of Blue and White

by Yekhezkel Poz-Puziriski

Translated by Meir Bulman

Today, in the Jewish State that stretches from Shlomo Bay to the Golan, the blue-and-white Keren Kayemet collection box has lost its initial meaning. Zionism, the central focus of which was fundraising to redeem the Holy land, also has lost the glow that illuminated the Jews during their exile in the towns of Poland and Lithuania. However, before WWI, things were different. Our town, Voronova, was relatively small and was home to 220 Jewish families of ultra-Orthodox Jewish culture, where Zionism was almost unneeded and unwanted. The Torah was the residents' nearly sole focus of study and nationalism. Teacher Miller's was the only house of study to teach Hebrew, and that too was without a defined goal. I was 16 at the time and cannot recall any Zionist organization in town, although there was already the Bund, and other leftist organizations.

I traveled to Russia during WWI. When I returned after the war's end in 1918, I sensed a change of atmosphere. The scent of Zionism began spreading through the air, and with it, hope. A longing for a Jewish life was evident, a life connected to the awakening Jewish world. We founded our first community committee, which I joined. There was a need and desire for a genuine Hebrew-Jewish school, which I had the honor of taking an active role in establishing. A general communal awakening began. Our school was not part of the Tarbut network, as the town rabbi, Rabbi Luski, objected to a non-religious school. Parents and the community council joined in their desire for a religious Hebrew school. Since by that time the Rabbi was a fully-fledged Zionist, the school was founded as compromise between Hebrew and Religion. At the same time, a drama club reconvened and I too took part in its activities. The club contributed much to the Jewish atmosphere and culture.

One day, a letter arrived from the regional office of Keren Kayemet in Vilna, addressed to Nekhemiah Shapira. Nekhemiah was one of the first Zionists in the town who had encouraged the town to establish local chapters of the Zionist Organization and Keren Kayemet. Nekhemiah invited a few people to his home including me. He told us about the letter and its content, and the mitzvah of founding a chapter. He told us an envoy from the Zionist Organization in Vilna would arrive in town. Our souls were ignited and we sensed that we were on the verge of joining the organized Zionist movement. Suddenly there was a purpose to our lives and a goal to achieve.

The envoy from Vilna was spoken about in every Jewish home. His arrival was anticipated like he was the messenger of Geula[1], and many preparations were made for his arrival. When he finally arrived I was proud to be among those who greeted him. In his first meeting with the organized committee, the representative spoke of Zionist activity and Keren Kayemet’s goal to redeem the Holy Land to house on it those who would return to Zion to establish the Jewish state.

 

Vor170.jpg
HaKhaluts - Zionist Youth

 

Such ideas took hold of us and filled our minds to capacity. We approached the holy mission enthusiastically. We set a high goal of putting a Keren Kayemet box in every Jewish home, which was accomplished. A committee for KK was established, including as its members Esther Olkenitski as secretary and Avraham Eliahu Dvilianski as treasurer. Meetings were held at Avraham Yitzach Poditvianski's home. Additional members included Yosef Shmerkovitsh who was an educated Zionist, Gottleib Trotsky, Yaakov Trotsky, Shmuel Berkovski, and me.

A short time later the shipment of boxes arrived. Few days passed before a box was honorably displayed in every Jewish home in the town. There were many families who lacked the means to contribute and we did not approach them. However, when they became aware of their exclusion they were deeply offended and insisted they too receive a KK box, so they could, as they insisted, fulfill their national obligation of redeeming the Holy Land. Their request was happily granted. The town rabbi also insisted that a box be placed in his home. There was not a home in Voronova lacking a KK box. Members of the youth groups HaHalutz HaMizrachi and HaHalutz General emptied the boxes. We did not make do with collection boxes alone, and would also fundraise at every celebration and gathering. If there was a wedding in town, we arrived with our box, as we did for a bris or any other occasion like 15 Shvat and 20 Tamuz. We fulfilled the fundraising obligation even on Erev Yom Kippur by placing a KK collection plate in the synagogue. Even the drama club set aside a percentage of ticket sales to KK.

On 20 Tamuz, we would hold a ceremony in the synagogue commemorating Dr. Theodore Herzl. I recall that one year 20 Tamuz was on a Tuesday, the town's market day. Since on market day all town residents were busy, we prepared the synagogue for the celebration the day before. We placed Dr. Herzl's portrait on the eastern wall and decorated the synagogue. The next day, at the height of business, Treasurer A.E. Dvilianski and I were urgently called to the rabbi. Nu, when the rabbi calls, you go - even on market day. We approached the rabbi, wondering, and slightly angry. “The portrait,” said the rabbi, “the portrait- and on top of that he's bare-headed. 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness,' I ask that you remove the image from the synagogue wall.” “Is this why his honor had bothered us on market day, our day of income?” we asked: “Rabbi, your honor, you prayed here yesterday afternoon and evening, and this morning, and said nothing, why now?” We concluded categorically, “We will not remove the portrait. We will not dishonor Dr. Herzl.” We began deliberating and eventually reached a compromise. We promised to cover the portrait in thin, transparent, black cloth so Dr. Herzl could look at us during the gathering. We suspected the rabbi's demand was due to external pressure.

The town gained new character: Zionism was now at the center of communal activity. Slowly but surely Zionism allowed for a practical consideration of fulfilling the dreams and desires of so many generations: to emigrate to Eretz Israel, to build a home, and hold the land. At that time the youth movements were strong. Their central activity and goal were aliyah. Occasionally, one Jew, and then another, disappeared from the town's horizon and left to enrich the horizon of Eretz Israel.

Before I made aliyah, we received a letter from KK headquarters in Vilna with news that we had received a commendation for our devoted, productive activities. KK found that our town had raised more money per capita than the larger towns. Later, when I announced my decision to make aliyah, some attempted to dissuade me so that I could continue my activity for KK. To this day I am proud of the gold medal I received from KK headquarters in Warsaw. I feel that without that pure devotion my friends and I had towards the blue collection box, we would not have gotten so far. I am proud of my blue-and-white clad Voronova.

 

Vor172.jpg
Grove of Voronova martyrs in the forest of martyrs
Pictured: Nekhama Shur-Shapira and Yehoshua Gol

 

Translator's Footnote
  1. The beginning of the period of redemption promised in the Old Testament. Return

 


[Pages 173-176]

A Town with a Marketplace and Neighborhoods

by Shimon Levin

Translated by Meir Bulman

 

Herem[1] on the Neighborhood

Our neighborhood stood at the bottom of the hill, on the road to the river and bridge. Though we realized it only after some time had passed, our neighborhood was quite picturesque, as it extended down the hill, dipping its feet in the river. The neighborhood was a part of Voronova the town, yet different.

The town was surrounded by woods and immersed in various evergreen flora. Straight ahead continued the Belrovski Forest grove, where we would walk at summer's end and harvest various berries. Separated between our neighborhood and the forests were large plots of land that surrounded it on all sides and gave it a pristine panoramic look of greenery. Those fields belonged to a Polish landowner, Count Shvanbach. Voronova was built on those lands, including its homes and public buildings. For years the town residents paid the Count land royalties and rent, until one day it was decided to purchase the land: with assistance from the Joint[2] and ICA[3] those fields became their permanent property.

On some of that land a new neighborhood was established, dubbed “The New Plan”, and the remainder of the purchased land served as grazing land for cattle. It should be remembered that every household in Voronova owned a cow.

The new neighborhood was not planned by an urban engineer, so the two house–rows were built far apart; in between them, in the Fall and Spring, large puddles formed, leading to endless mud and swamps.

The residents of the new neighborhood wanted to transfer the marketplace to their area so it would contribute to its growth and success. On that matter, their activists showed much initiative in dealing with the authorities, and their efforts reached the district and region officials in Lida and Navaradok. However, the [Jewish] town institutions rigidly opposed that plan, and when methods of persistent dissuasion did not pan out, the community and the rabbi decided to enact a boycott, so that they would be dissuaded from further activism on the matter and not cause the authorities to transfer the marketplace.

On an evening just before Passover the town erupted. Arguments and shouting matches intensified with each passing moment. Occasionally a fight broke out accompanied by insults and cursing. Once the boycott verdict arrived, all neighborhood residents joined together and marched to attempt and put a stop to it. They started a shouting choir, made noise, pretended to fight amongst themselves, all to disrupt the initiators of the boycott. But their efforts were futile, the boycott would take place. But when the rabbi began announcing the actual verdict they began yelling, “Fire! The town is on fire, everything is in flames!” The rabbi had to pause. The offensive boycotters were close to despair and the boycott was near to being called off. But when the crowd wanted to disperse, the rabbi took advantage of the situation, and when they exhausted themselves and the shouting stopped, he read the ceremonial text and the censure became a reality.

In fact, the marketplace was transferred anyway, but not to the neighborhood and not all of it, meaning only the horse marketplace.

The plot that was designated to become the marketplace in the new neighborhood later became a mass–grave for both the boycotters and the boycotted.

 

The marketplace

It spanned across the town center and was the source of income for many residents. We children did not like it. On market days, the church at its center was crowded with prayer attendees, and its bells struck fear in our hearts. They reminded us of the pogroms and the [Spanish] Inquisition. They tolled three times on market day; their notes seemed to us like a call for blood and murder. On market days, hatred of Jews rose up through the air. It originated at that house of impurity, its sole purpose being to remind the Gentiles of their God's murder, and point a finger at the murderers, supposedly the Jews.

The farmers in the area were in fact not the worst of the lot, because they too hated the government. They got close to the Jews regarding strategy. We still feared every gathering of Gentiles, and detested that area on market days. By contrast, our parents awaited that day like the day of salvation and income, from which they sustained themselves for half a week or longer. This pattern continued for generations.

The peasants would gather and come here twice a week, bring their products, and sell them to various Jews, especially to the Vilne travelers – the commissary merchants. It functioned as a middle ground in transferring village products to the Vilne metropolitan area. There were some Jews who owed that marketplace their position, respect, and wealth. It was the root of their existence and the source of their pride, week after week, month after month. But it reminded us children of Torquemada; it seemed like at any moment we would see a murder procession decked with colorful statuettes, walking delicately from the house of impurity to a large arena, as dust would rise along with cries of agony, and as dirt would mix with red Jewish blood.

On the other weekdays we were attracted to the marketplace, where we would play soccer and other games. The large field compensated us for the perils of our childhoods with its spaciousness and light, childhoods of Cheder in cramped rooms during dark daytime hours.

 

Vor175.jpg
Market day in town

 

We would be especially entertained in the marketplace when firefighters would train there. That happened with regular frequency; with each fire that flamed in town, the firemen felt they were lacking training, and would go and supplement their “education”. The entire town was in the state of glee that accompanies such pronounced masculinity. It was a day devoted to the body, contrasting the qualities of mind, faith, Judaism, and body–torment that usually pervaded in the Jewish community. Everyone had a personal reason to be proud of someone out there on the field, to enjoy the beauty of speed and physical talents, but we children and youths were the most engaged. We enjoyed that the adults too were playing and expressing lightheartedness and absentmindedness, as we always did. Childhood ruled that day and, concurrently, victory belonged to us. We would release and go wild around the trainees, a short distance from them. An undeclared holiday took place and the pleasure was ours.

When market day returned the curtain came down once more, and heavyheartedness overtook the children.

 

The dangerous neighborhood

Our town was free of Gentiles and not one resided on their streets. It knew of Gentiles only from afar, from the surrounding villages which functioned as the home front. Those peasants were agreeable and kind in their dealings with Jews. It is difficult to define these farmers' nationality. They themselves could not answer that question when asked, and would reply, “We are Ktulim Vadi,” which was a sort of underground of White Russians and Lithuanians who loathed the Poles with a passion, and that is what brought them closer to the Jews. Farmers would joke around with their Jewish friends, call them antichrist, God killer, etc. but that was done in good spirit and always jokingly. The bond between the area Jews and their lands, as cattle milk farmers and from working gardens near their homes, also created a sort of understanding bridge between the two populations.

And so it seemed that “it would not happen to us, our Gentiles [are better], etc.” And so what they later did to us and their murderous collaborations with the Germans came as a surprise.

There was only one neighborhood where ten or so Gentile families lived among the Jews. We called that neighborhood Das Khasirishe Gessel, Swine Street.[4] Among those Gentiles were those who depended on the Jews and ate from their bread, but with every misfortune that took place in Voronova when regimes and governments were changed, they were the first to volunteer and participate in inflicting harm and to grease the wheels of the machinations.

That was the case in 1919 when the Poles arrived as the new masters and violence was unleashed, shedding Jewish blood was permissible as became the case during the Holocaust. Evil acts directed at Voronovan Jews originated in that mixed neighborhood and its crimes expanded to the rest of the town.

The homes of the Novokovski brothers were at the root of incitement. The doctrinal, burning hatred towards Jews came from them. Ranked after them in malice and lust for murder and looting was the Orshulka family. They would eat of their Jewish neighbors' bread and grind their teeth while doing so. When the Holocaust arrived they fulfilled their wishes by collaborating with the Russians in pointing out “typical anti–revolutionary” Jews. They also collaborated with the Germans closely and diligently, at first pointing towards “Communist revolutionaries” and then assisting them in murdering, torturing, looting and destroying. Like them were Yashka Vashavitz the priest's butler, and Yan Borisha the cobbler and his wicked wife Helenka. Yan, Helenka, and their sons volunteered with the German police to maximize the murder of Jews on behalf of the regime.

The Jews were never comfortable with that minority of Gentiles. We had this feeling that no good would come of them, but the dimensions of the horror far exceeded what we felt.

May they be damned for eternity.

 

Footnotes
  1. Ed. Note: Exclusion of a person, or persons, from the community. In this case the term means ‘boycott’. Return
  2. Ed. Note: ‘Joint’ (aka JDC) refers to The Joint Distribution Committee of the American Funds for Jewish War Sufferers, founded in 1914. Return
  3. Ed. Note: The ICA (aka JCA) was founded in 1891 by Maurice de Hirsch to assist Jews facing depressed economic circumstances and/or persecution. (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jewish-colonization-association-ica) Return
  4. Ed. Note: The street's name is due to the fact that pork might be consumed there by the Gentiles. Return


[Pages 177-178]

A Town of Unsettled Youth

by Aharon Konikhovski (Krani)

Translated by Meir Bulman

Voronova was very small, yet filled with uncertainty, problems, path–searching, and solutions more than any other comparable town.

Due to its proximity, Voronova benefited from the treasures of Vilna, where Voronovan broadened their horizons, touched the sky, but then returned, clipped of their wings, to the reality of troubles and limitations.

Voronova was alert, responsive, and full of traditional values and progressive culture. Voronova was in the throes of redemption along with preservation of what once was: traditions inherited from forefathers intersected with the paving of a new path towards national freedom and the redemption represented by Israel. All this caused an inner turmoil in the generation before the Holocaust.

Voronova was also a backwards town without sources of income nor opportunities for expansion. Most Voronova residents worked as craftspeople. Almost everyone groaned in the discouraging battle for existence. The youth were raised in an atmosphere of desperation, forced to see that same situation becoming its own. The troubles of their beloved ancestors were also their troubles; their youthful souls were rooted in the local past.

Spiritual and social matters were addressed at the synagogue, but only in reaction to external facts. The synagogue's answers did not replace [external facts] or continue [an alternative way of life], but merely provided a consolation for aching hearts as a remedy for helplessness.

The youth remained in an empty space, uprooted from the source of their upbringing, and detached from horizons of development. No spark of hope could be seen in the town and its reality. The love of parents and the familial environment burdened the youth who were caught between the weakness of family sentiments and their preparations for personal heroism. The youth were called to action on the barricades of struggle in a newly formed world. The youth were attracted to Aliyah. The center of the youth's interests were concentrated now at the movement clubhouses, where one suppressed personal uncertainties, was consoled by the collective struggle, and quieted his cries for redemption with hora dancing and songs of Israel.

Together we began to reorient in the dark. We searched for the ‘something’ in the ‘nothing’ of our surroundings. We searched for release, a way to exit to a wider space.

When the envoy came from Vilne and organized HaShomer HaTsair we did not examine the values, outlook, or solutions offered within that movement. We entered as if entering a youth temple to sanctify our sacrifices. There we found a continuation of the striving awakened in our childhood. “Tehezakna,” “Hatikva,”[1] gatherings, conferences, sailing, and summer colonies opened our heavy young hearts and showed us the general exit to the open space. There we learned to turn general hardship into a crane with an immense power–lift, able to break down fences and build safety walls. Romanticism, dreams, the waking nightmares, all became desired assets. Here, in this youthful company, weaknesses were mended into affirmations which created paths towards the redemption of the individual and the masses.

Everything combined into a single stream towards Eretz Israel. Hakhshara[2] and Aliyah changed values and renewed life patterns.

Later, other youth movements were formed in the town. There were splits and debates about trivial issues, but we were all unified in our desire for Aliyah. We all knocked on Zion's locked gates, and together we encouraged soldiers to stand guard, faithful of our rightful path. All the youth were happy when the first two pioneers departed Voronova for Eretz Israel, and it was then made clear we had found a pathway shared by both parents and offspring and the various factions of the younger generation.

 

Vor178.jpg
The first two who made Aliyah:
Shabtai Grodzenchik–Goren and Shlomo Aviel

 

As we look back we see our town Voronova as joining in the creation of a national solution which the youth reached by its own right and liveliness. The heart aches when we remember the Voronova which is no longer and the youth who were cut down whilst forming their dream of leaving Voronova forever. They were unfortunate to not leave Voronova and their desires are buried in mass–graves with the skeletons of their young bodies. We will never forget and will forever mourn the youth severed in their prime.

 

Editor's Footnote
  1. Ed. Note: These are the names of popular Zionist songs from the period. Hatikva eventually became the national anthem of the State of Israel. Return
  2. Ed. Note: Hebrew word meaning ‘preparation’. Applies here to describe the training programs for migration to Israel. Return


[Page 179]

“Chayei Adam” Society and “Mishniyot” Society

by S. Levine

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

There were no religious institutions in Voronova during all the years of its existence as a respectful community seeking light and Judaism. It was blessed with many Rabbis and a vibrant community, but not one of its members thought to build a yeshiva or a religious school, though there was a great thirst for knowledge which was felt in all socio–economical groups.

So what did Jews do? They established their own Torah study groups, if not to expand and glorify the Torah, at least to not let it be forgotten.

The first such society was “Mishniyot”. Its members were Jews who thought themselves scholars and Torah experts, and conducted themselves with great self–importance. Each night between minha and maariv, and also on Sabbath and holidays, they used to gather in the synagogue, to the right of the entrance, sit around a long table, and listen to Torah by Reb Shlomo Goldberg, bible teacher in the Tarbut, Torah, and Knowledge school.

The second society was “Chevrat Chayei Adam” – who used to sit to the left of the entrance, behind the stage, opposite from the “Mishniyot” society. They were also seated around a long table, at the head of which a maggid[1] taught lessons from Torah. Those were simple folk, “amcha,”[2] looking for something beyond there apprehension, knowing that something beyond did exist but not quite comprehending it.

These simple people, strong in their belief and strong in their action, were also strong in their hearts. They knew the limitations of their knowledge and of their poor understanding of Torah, so they were ready to become pupils of someone more knowledgeable; the first group considered themselves scholars, commensurate with their social status. They'd have been better off putting their status aside and opening their minds to absorb some knowledge.

Actually, all were graduates of the same schools in town as were their friends across the stage, but the privileged ones couldn't exist without the Torah crown, as if something troubled their souls. And how can you gain a crown if not by crowning yourself, so they announced themselves scholars. For example, an interesting explanation by a grumpy Jew about himself to himself:

“My father, of blessed memory, was a scholar, and I, may I live a long and good life,[3] I am also a scholar and a talmid chokhem. I don't have proof of my being a scholar, but I do have proof about my predecessor, and I am his follower.”

Among them was Reuven the Mohel. For 50 years there wasn't one person in town who was circumcised without Reuben's mila.[4] There was also Itze Shelovski, Feyvl Pupko and other rich[5] Jews. The whole lesson was taught in a dry, precise manner. The topics chosen were important for a Jew to know, but didn't touch the heart. It is a fact that many Rabbis, Shohets and other religious worshippers make an effort to live their lives strictly, according to duty and mitzvah.

It was different in “Chayei Adam”, where the lesson was taught by Reb Avraml the tinsmith, an honest and na´ve Jew, a religious believer who followed his fate day and night, when he went to sleep and when he woke up. His friends and co–scholars were all men of labor, craftsmen, shoemakers, tailors, carpenters and tinsmiths. They crossed their tired, calloused hands on the table, and listened attentively to his every word. Reb Avraml read from the book, emphasized every word, and commented according to his grasp. For the sake of variety he read from the book “Menorat haMaor[6], accompanied by examples and short stories, and this was Torah Shebealpeh[7] in its greatness. As soon as he came to a segment not written in the book – then he rose to the level of a talented story teller who fascinated his audience. He always found an allegory or legend to make his argument spicier. Usually he did so when coming upon an “obstacle” in the book, something beyond his knowledge. Oh, then he used to take his audience to other worlds and ascended together with them to the highest levels of beauty and fantasy, to the deeds and the wisdom of the sages, to heaven and hell, he exposed them to the dilemma of reward and punishment,[8] and shared with them all his thoughts that went “beyond his comprehension”. In his stories he spoke so vividly about The End of The Days[9] and the arrival of the Savior that his audience could hear the bells of the Messiah. When he described the torments awaiting the evil ones in Hell, these good Jews were terrified and decided for the thousandth time that it would not be wise to challenge the Almighty and risk ending up in the horrors of Hell. On the contrary, in Heaven a person is happy, after long life of labor, to study Torah day and night, to enrich one's soul with tales of the wild bull and the whale, and for desert the Persimmon River.

Reb Avraml was a very religious man and didn't want any of his friends to fail in their good measures and thus lose their way to Heaven. There were some who challenged him with difficult questions and doubts about the laws, or about “honesty” and loyalty, and about their reward, and other contradictions for which they requested explanations. In these cases, Avraml listened to their doubts and questions, and replied in his classic manner:

Nu, you doubt Him, the Almighty? With him everything is possible and everything can happen, you can't doubt him.”

There were huge social differences between those two groups. The “Mishniyot” crowd was united during the lesson and dispersed outside. Their connection in Synagogue was like a love that depends on something else, and when this something ended, in this particular case it was the lesson, the love and friendship also ended. For those in the “Chayei Adam” society, the meeting around the table was only an alibi, the real reason was their interest in people and people's lives. They were united in love, comradeship and mutual support, both during the lesson and after. If somebody missed a lesson, immediately everybody wanted to know the reason, they went to his home to find out the reason and to assist him if he needed any help. They operated as a support group in sorrow and in joy, in suffering and in pleasure. If somebody got sick, the whole group came to visit, sat with him for long hours to diminish his pain and study at his bedside to ensure health to the body and soul.

Such were our parents and our ancestors and such was their spiritual activity.

 

Footnotes
  1. Trans. Note: a teacher Return
  2. Ed. Note: ‘everyday’ people Return
  3. Trans. Note: a traditional Jewish expression said when mentioning a living person directly after mentioning a person who has died Return
  4. Trans. Note: prayer, blessing Return
  5. Trans. Note: the phrase used means, literally: house owners Return
  6. Ed. Note: The Menorah of Light by Isaac Aboab, a book from circa 1300CE, which according to the Jewish Encyclopedia “…has contributed probably more than any other medieval book to the popularization of rabbinical lore and to the religious edification and elevation of the masses.” Originally written for the Sephardic, Arabic speaking community, the book was translated into Yiddish in Vilna in 1880. (Aboab, Jewish Encyclopedia, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/344–aboab) Return
  7. Trans. Note: the oral law Return
  8. Trans. Note: this phrase is written in the original text as “tzadik vera lo” Return
  9. Trans. Note: this phrase is written in the original text as “aharit hayamim” Return


[Page 182]

The Boulevards of Voronova

by Shlomo Aviel-Shmerkovitsh

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

Ancient trees with wide strong branches
Stand in a long boulevard.
Under each tree a naked rock
Lonely, bleeding, and sad.

These trees live for generations,
Whisper and tell the chain of legends,
Tell stories and secrets
In their language – the language of trees.

The rocks are sad,
They never knew life.
They are lonely and silent
But they keep deep secrets.

I have good memories of you, boulevard,
From my young years, the nights
I found shelter in the shade of the trees and the rocks
While dreaming dreams of a youth.

Days and nights of grief and joy,
Gaiety, happiness and heavy breath,
Disappointment and pain, moments of forgiveness
And that girl in the light of the moon.

That girl, most beautiful of all,
With her black penetrating eyes,
Sometimes sad or tired,
But usually happy and laughing.

Her braids fall on her shoulders
And her body smells like fruit,
Her pulse sounds like a calling,
And she is all so sweet and precious.

We sit together hugging,
Above us the moon with shining stars.
The trees are asleep, the rocks are silent
Only she and I are awake and in love.

The night was covered with silence,
We were both quiet, not to disturb it,
Silent and quiet in the shade,
Not to desecrate the purity of youth.

The trees and boulevards kept the secret
And never told anyone.
They live and feel
The loving friendly hearts.

Year 40, days of war,
The sword kills outside, terror at home.
Polish legions retreat on the roads
Jewish children hungry at homes.

The granaries are empty, the shops burglarized
No comers or goers, no visitors.
The travelers look for alternative paths.
All the roads are deadly dangerous.

A Jew wakes up early
To visit his friend Ivan in the village.
To obtain some grain for his home.
He leaves alone.

He sneaks between trees and bushes.
Got up early, came to the village,
Quickly entered the farmer's house,
But the host hastily said:

Quick! Come Yosel! Be quick!
I'll take you to the granary, hide there.
Look, from afar, on the horizon
Two armed horsemen are approaching.

Yosel declined and didn't hide.
The goy was begging, crying.
Meanwhile the two came to the yard
Tied their horses to the well.

Jew! Zhid! Here is a traitor!
Jewish blood flows in your veins.
Quickly! Pray! If you have a God!
To the forest! Quickly, to shoot him.

They also ordered the farmer:
Quickly prepare a meal.
Fry eggs and meat in butter
And oat for the horses in stable.

The two eat and drink till they get drunk.
Reb Yosel came up with a thought.
He sneaked and jumped into the bushes,
And from there crawled towards the boulevard.

The trees and boulevards kept the secret
And never told anyone.
They live and feel
The hearts of the miserable

Excuse me my motherland,
Please don't be jealous of my song.
There were trees and rocks in my town
Their loyalty is still in my memory.

Now we are back here, motherland,
We found you empty and dry.
For long time, a plow didn't cut your earth
And the spirit deserted your highlands.

We returned to you to save you from your disgrace,
Disgrace of emptiness in your lands.
Look around and see,
Begin dancing and drumming.

Felds and vineyards are growing.
Combines and tractors working joyfully in the fields,
Hundreds of settlements in the desert.
Yesterday almost gone, revived today.

Between the rocks, in the mountains,
The number of trees is growing, new seedlings are planted.
In the dry fields a plow is stuck,
A new railway is paved between roads and fields.

Forgive me my motherland,
Don't be jealous of my song.
There were trees and rocks in my town
And their memory is still with me.

My father and mother stayed behind in Galuth,[1]
My brother, relatives, and family members.
This song is devoted only to them.
Their memory will always stay with me.

 

Footnote
  1. Ed. Note: exile Return


 

[Pages 186-187]

The Rabbis and The Rabbinical Dispute

by S. Levine

Translated by Meir Bulman

For many years Voronova knew rabbis of greater stature than the town's size and the number of its Torah scholars would justify. Things began with a single rabbi, each one serving in successive periods, and then, later, two became necessary. The two rabbis came due to a dispute in our town, a dispute which further intensified because of the differences and scholarly disagreements between the two rabbis.

The grandeur of our rabbis was very pronounced. They were men who were satisfied with very little and avoided luxury. Whatever the community designated for them as a living ration was enough for them, and their sole interests were Torah and the guidance of the community in the Torah's ways and commands.

I heard many tales about our rabbis from aged men, but I will tell only of those I knew. At the end of the first war Rabbi Nafatali David sat on the rabbinate throne. He was a man of great manners, a devoted scholar, sharp and knowledgeable, a scholar by merit, and an excellent conveyor of his knowledge to the residents of his city.

After him, Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin filled the position. A wise scholar, a clear public personality, and a great lecturer, Rabbi Zalman was well loved by the community, as he was a peace–maker, a lover of peace, and devoted to it in every situation.

The Jews of Voronova felt that he was too great for their town, especially as his reputation spread far and wide, and large communities laid eyes him.

Eventually the Lutsk community, which followed him for many years, was fortunate to receive him. He was greeted there like royalty, and quickly gained the admiration of many in Lutsk and its surrounding area. In a relatively short time, Rabbi Sorotzkin became famous throughout Poland, and was appointed chairman of the national Agudath Israel.[1] He later made Aliyah as a representative of Agudath Israel, after representing it at gatherings and conventions. Eventually he was appointed chairman of Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah[2] in Jerusalem, a position he kept until old age.

After that, our town greeted Rabbi Mishkuvski, a Jerusalem native, descendent of an extensive rabbinical dynasty. He too was a respectable Agudath man, a public activist with an appearance that was quite impressive. His family acclimated well to the town, each with his own age group. His sons Chaim–Leyb, and Avraham, currently rabbis in Israel, were members of the Zionist youth groups as were his daughters. They returned to their home country near the eruption the Holocaust. When he left Voronova, a large town accepted him, where he served honorably until he returned to Israel.

Following this, our town greeted Rabbi Moshe Aharon Luski. He was a young man when he arrived in our town, having recently completed his studies at the Volozhin Yeshiva. He was sharp and well–versed, witty in his speeches, and an innovative lecturer. His rabbinic role was different form that of his predecessors. He was more involved in community matters and representation, serving also as a respected and top leader of the community. His activism brought him to the district and regional capitols, to lobby for the residents of his town with various ministers and officials. It was said about him that at times he prayed without a minyan[3] due to the abundance of public troubles and matters. His three brothers were seminary graduates and certified teachers. They befriended the youth of Voronova and were similar to them in every aspect. The family troubles that befell him broke the spirits of the energetic Rabbi Luski; he was sadden by the death at a young age of his two sons, Pinya'li and Yosef. He was taken to serve as a rabbi in Zhtel, but his light had dimmed, and he decayed there until he died, depressed after many trials and tribulations. The town remembered his fiery speeches many years after he left us.

*

With Rabbi Luski's departure from Voronova, the golden age of the Voronova rabbinate concluded. After him, the community became divided beyond unification, and each sect brought its own rabbi. Thus the grand town of Voronova perished, divided into factions, and its two rabbis sank to the depths along with it.

That development was rooted in the various pretensions that overtook the community leaders, who saw themselves as experts in examining the extent of scholarly capabilities possessed by the many rabbinical candidates that blessed our town. Our activists were willing to concede many things, but they did not have the strength to remove their scholar hats. There was no other option: the town received two rabbis.

The first was Rabbi Yakov Tsipkovitsh, son in law of the Kletzk Rabbi, thus nicknamed “The Kletzker”. The second was Rabbi Tsiplovitsh who came to us from Myadl and was nicknamed “the Myadler.”

Rabbi Tsipkovitsh was a scholar and a man of deeply original thoughts, while Rabbi Tsiplovitsh was a majestic figure with a talent for public–speaking who knew how to attract the attention of his listeners.

Both rabbis were respectable, but the 10 years in which they served turned out to be a decade of mutual insults and conflicts in speeches, with every Sabbath destined to affronts and arguments unrelated to the Torah or its mitzvot.[4]

It is distressing that this scholarly dispute did not elevate the level of the community and did not increase yeshivot and the study of Torah.[5]

And so when Voronova sank to the depths of hell, it was a community regretful of the years that had passed without a search for common ground and a resolution. At that time all public attention was then drawn to a matter which rouses instincts and numbs the mind: on the edge of the mass grave, it was told, the two rabbis united as brothers–– but that was too late.

 

Footnotes
  1. Ed. Note: Literally, the Isrealite Union, the Agudath was established in the early 20th Century as the political wing of traditional Orthodoxy, being largely religiously oriented and hostile to Zionism as a movement. (“The ‘Aguddat Israel’ Movement”, http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/363_Transp/Orthodoxy/Aguddah.html, last accessed 10 October 2017) Return
  2. Ed. Note: Council of Torah Sages Return
  3. Ed. Note: the required minimum prayer quorum of ten men Return
  4. Ed. Note: religious commandments Return
  5. While other communities in our area flourished and established Torah institutions, Voronova was a community that abandoned the advancement of Torah, and no yeshiva or other study structures were established. Return


[Pages 188-189]

Yakov “Yankel” Kaminetski

by M.S.V.

Translated by Meir Bulman

 

Vor188.jpg
Yankel (Yakov) Kaminetski[1]

 

Yankel was a from a long lineage of Voronova residents. He was tied to this community, even if he made his living elsewhere.

He began by selling pharmaceuticals, but when that was outlawed for those who were unlicensed, Yankel returned to his old trade: he worked as a forestry and tree consultant.

He spent most of his days wandering outside of his home town, but he still maintained a family bond in his own unique manner.

Yankel was notable for three traits: (a) his belief in general education and culture necessary for the Jewish people to go out to the political and social arena, (b) his love for Zion, and (3) the wonderful sense of humor he was blessed with.

As a product of those three traits, another trait emerged in his personality: the love for youth–– as the subjects of education, Zionist groups, and fearless levity.

His Zionism was rooted both in instinct and logic. He was one of the first Zionists in town. He read HaTzfira[2], and did not let go of Haynt[3] and Der Moment[4], whose content was to his liking and discussed mostly Zionism in their pages. He especially liked Itsheleh – Yaushzon[5] – Yustman, who wrote essays on deep and serious topics in an easy to digest form that did not sadden the reader. As the Zionist movement splintered, he [Yankel] became an admirer of Jabotinsky, who he saw as the fruition of practical Zionism, and whose approach to Zionism was adjusted into a rational and practical form. When the riots against Jewish students in Polish universities began, he told his son, who studied in Vilne, to part with his Polish school and make Aliyah. He wanted to support that expense, despite his financial limitations. His whole life he dreamed of returning to Zion but was not fortunate enough, so his son's Aliyah served as a consolation and a symbol of hope. When he was dying in the Holocaust, so they say, he did not cease speaking of Zion and his son who was already there.

He allowed his sons to study in Vilne from a young age, to extract them from the Cheder atmosphere and the “cultural mold” which he so feared. When Yankel's wife proposed to relocate to Vilne and build a home so the children could study, he agreed fully.

He loved his work and worked often for many reasons. One of them was his love of the forest. The main motivator was the fulfillment of his dream of educating his children in his spirit. Yankel did not force–feed Zionism to his children, because he thought his children would reach similar conclusions as proud, professionally trained individuals, capable of independent thought, and who would reach their potential only in a country of their own. Thus, his sons were not Zionists, but when he commanded one son to travel to study in Jerusalem, his son did not object. The son made Aliyah, and at least one of Yankel's Zionist wishes was fulfilled.

His letters to his son are a continuous stream of fatherly love and Zionism. In those letters, he reached a degree of passionate expression that revealed the man and his Zionist passion.

He spoke often at Zionist gatherings. When he spoke, he was always very excited, bordering on shedding tears. Memorable was his outburst in 1936, when news of the riots in Israel arrived and his son was already there. Yankel wanted to express his happiness that his son was among those defending the security of Eretz Israel. In the middle of his words, he stopped speaking as he choked back tears.

Yankel was a symbol of witty humor. His jokes were famous in Voronova. The youth adhered to Yankel and admired him, preserving the respect of old age. Despite the age differences, the youth saw him as one of their own, yet recognized his greater experience, personal trials, and his manners which encouraged respect.

Yankel loved reading serious books and took an interest in everything that happened around him. Because he was more knowledgeable than others on world events, he was always surrounded by people who listened carefully to his opinions and varied knowledge.

The looming Holocaust and the sadness of the Zionist leadership harmed his health. The Russian occupation, which seemed to him would last long, extinguished any hope of fulfilling his Zionist dream. As the Germans arrived, he was afflicted by an illness from which he never recovered. The cantor of the town of Konopki, who was fortunate to make Aliyah in old age, told that Kaminetski died still speaking of the homeland.

He was 64 when he died.

Yankel spent most of his time outside of Voronova, but he drew from it all his doubts, dreams, and hopes, and so his name will be commemorated in the last ledger of our town.

 

Footnotes
  1. Ed. Note: inferred to be photo of subject of article Return
  2. Ed. Note: The first Hebrew–language newspaper in Poland. Return
  3. Ed. Note: A Yiddish–language daily newspaper published in Warsaw. Return
  4. Ed. Note: A Yiddish–language daily newspaper published in Warsaw. Return
  5. Ed. Note: The name ‘Yaushzon’ is spelled yud–aleph–vov–shin–zayen–vov–langer nun in the original text. Return


[Pages 190-193]

Illustrative Curiosities

by Khaye Levine (Rothbart)

Translated by Meir Bulman

Friendly Strumille

Father owned a department store for food, beverages and agriculture. He much loved agriculture and was quite knowledgeable in that field, so may gentiles would come to him and buy their materials, consult him, and listen to his advice.

Shombakh the castle owner was also in correspondence with us, and his farm custodian was a customer. The friendship between him and father flourished: we gained a close friend of the family.

Once, father came to him to compare transactions, which Strumille viewed as an honor and went out of his way to entertain him. Among other things, he gave father a slice of meat, summoned his large dog, and told father, “try and give him the meat.” Father tried. The dog approached, and when he was about to take the meat in his mouth, Strumille said, “to od Żyda (that's from the Jew).” The dog folded its tail and turned away. He then told the dog, “od Poliaka.” The dog ate. Father got up, slammed the door, and walked away.

When he returned home he was pale and agitated. We could not calm him, nor would he tell us what had happened,

Then Strumille himself arrived and began begging father for forgiveness, asking him to understand that he did not mean it as an insult. With my own eyes I witnessed his degradation, how he kneeled and kissed father's boots, but father was not willing to forgive. We persuaded him and only then did he accept the apology.

But he did not forgive him until Strumille swore that his intention was not to mock Jews, but simply that the Jews who visited his property were afraid of the dog and he was told that they were planning to poison him–– so he had trained the dog to not accept any food without his permission.

Since that incident he regarded father with great respect and said, “I respect you because you are not a ‘Moshk'e’[1] who allows himself to be humiliated.”

My takeaway from this was: “If this is Polish friendship, it must be avoided, and if the respect for Jews is determined by the trials they must pass, then what point is there to stay in their country?”

 

Antushke our Housemaid

Antushke served with us for ten years, understood Yiddish like one of us and was bound to our customs, loved her employers, and enjoyed full freedom in her work.

Antushke was pleasant to us all year, except for Easter, when she would travel to Vilne, to their Kalwaria. That spot in Vilne was very famous. It was a site with rows of sanctified statues, spanning dozens of meters, and the gentiles would pass through while crawling on their knees, and the priests would sprinkle holy water on them, reminding them of the evil the Jews committed by crucifying the Savior.

After a visit like that, the maid would return to us with distorted senses, and for two days one could not return her to her former life and work routine, after which she would sober up and return to normal and relax, and once more she would do her work in silence, with devotion and homeliness.

After one such visit, during the days leading up to our Passover, she returned immersed in delusions, and at night while sleeping she began yelling, “Help!”

When we asked what had happened to her, she said that my brother Arke approached her with a plucking knife and wanted to slaughter her to use her blood for baking matzah. Father immediately ran to the police inspector, a gentile who lived on our vodka and father's bribes. He came and slapped her a few times, freed her from her hysteria, and thus we were saved from a pogrom and the blood libel.

We fired her the next day, but I decided that even those eating from our bread are thirsty for our blood, and that even ten years of mutual trust would not help with the way the gentiles regarded us.

 

Murder of the Small Gardner

We used to distill liquor in secret and sell it as an extras source of income. Gentiles would come to drink and keep quiet. The police too came and kept quiet.

Once, the small gardener came, drank his fix, and then wanted more. I kicked him out, as I did not want him to leave drunk and endanger us. He went to Pokribke and continued drinking there. Once he was intoxicated, he quarreled with his two drinking companions and he had to escape them. They chased him and he ran towards our house. They caught up near our door. My brother, who had heard him screaming, went out with a flashlight to see what had happened, and the two threatened him, “Arke go back inside, otherwise we will murder you too.”

And they indeed murdered the gardener.

The two of them, along with Pokribke, ran off immediately and claimed that the gardener had gotten drunk at our place. Father once more arranged the matter with the inspector. Once more we were saved from the murder–libel, or the accusation of having caused a murder. I knew that was how it was: the gentiles would murder each other in a friendly brawl and we would be blamed because of their friendship with the murder victim. Truth is that I also grew tired of that underground income.

 

Are You Getting Off?

On Passover Seder nights, Father would praise the land of Israel and tell of the love of the Jewish people towards it. Once he told of a lessee (I forgot his name), who sat at Passover with his wife, recited the Hagadah, stuffed himself with knaidels, very much enjoying Judaism. He lived among the gentiles, but his heart was elsewhere, and when it was towards the end and had reached the part where one prays for “the next year in Jerusalem,” he said to his wife, “Shprintze my love, every Jew must see Jerusalem. Next year, God willing, we will harness the wagon and travel to see it.”

Shprintze was excited by the idea, but he warned her that, “it is no game, because the road to Jerusalem is long and full of troubles, and when we reach it is also difficult, because Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains, and one of us must get off the wagon and let the horse rest. And so,” he concluded, “you, Shprintze, will have to get off the wagon and let the horse rest.”

That upset her. “Why me? You get off! How could I schlep near the wagon after such a long and exhausting road? Is it for me to jump and hop off wagons?”

An argument erupted, and the lessee lifted the table, and over the voice of cracking porcelain he shouted, “Shprintze, are you getting off the wagon or not?”

Master of the Universe, how big was the love of ordinary Jews to this foreign mountainous, hilly land!

I too was attached to that love and stuck to it. I loved the land of my mysteries so much that in my dreams I saw it and its non–sloped roofs. When I arrived in Israel I saw that my dreams were accurate and did not know how.

 

Translator's Footnote
  1. This is a generic name that is used in many Jewish folktales about Jews dealing with Polish noblemen; the ‘Moshke’ is often depicted as an exploited victim. Return


[Page 194]

Women of Our Town

by Aharon Karni (Konikhovski)

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

Reyzl – Ida–Yakhe's was a happy mother sending her daughter Yocheved as a harbinger to Erets Israel. She walked around proudly holding letters from the Palestine Government, and told stories of miracles and wonders in the Dream Land.

Soon after, the second in line, Avraham, made aliyah to Erets Israel. Our mother Reyzl's satisfaction rose even more. Who could compare and compete with her with 2 from the household making aliyah? In those days this was a great privilege. And with God's help, Reyzl lived to see her third daughter, Khayeh, make aliyah. Well? So much honor to one family was rare to find.

After some time, when the fourth, Yankele, was going to make aliyah, on exactly that same day, a tragedy occurred… the horse died, the source of income for his brother Eliezer who provided for the whole family. Reyzl went out with a smile on her face and said: The horse died? We all will die one day. Whatever could, God forbid, happen to Yankele on his way, happened to the horse… kaparah[1]

And Yankele made it safely to Erets Israel.

 

Footnote
  1. Trans. Note: Forget about it! Return


[Page 195]

A Tale About a Telephone

by Yekhezkel Poz (Puziriski)

Translated by Meir Bulman

There once was a Jew in our town who was about to marry off his son to a rich man's daughter from a neighboring town.

The engagement was conducted properly when the bride's father arrived. A few days after the engagement, a messenger arrived from the post office – the site of the only telephone in our town – and urgently announced that the bride's father from the neighboring town was calling the groom to the telephone.

The groom was excited, ran to his father, and notified him. The father commanded his son to wear his best clothes: the dark suit, the white shirt, the new tie, and hat. “My dear son,” he concluded, “don't forget to shine your shoes!” and the father accompanied his son to the wonder machine – the telephone.

During the conversation the father stood near his son and nodded his head to the beat of his son's words. He stood there, his mouth agape, until the call ended.

In the evening between afternoon and evening prayers, the father sat in the synagogue and spoke to congregants who stood there and interrogated him on the details of the sensational telephone conversation. “Do you understand?” he repeated a second and third time, “The boy stands there and speaks to my future in–law as if face–to–face, deliberates, disagrees, and eventually agrees, all like they were standing next to each other, just like I'm speaking to you now, no distance, no kilometers. It is witchcraft!”


A Tale About a Handshake

by Yekhezkel Poz (Puziriski)

Translated by Meir Bulman

There once was a Jew, a fur trader. He traveled to the villages near our town and purchased and sold various animals. He had an indecent habit: he spent nights wasting money playing card games.

While he played cards, his wife and children sat at home and eagerly awaited his arrival, desperate and hungry. After the wife had had enough, she approached the town rabbi and told him of her troubles. The rabbi quickly summoned her husband and severely scolded him. The rabbi preached to the husband on the duties a Jew has towards his wife and children, and the sins of the husband's behavior. The rabbi then demanded that the husband cease playing cards. With no other options, our Jew agreed to not go to any more card games, sealed with a handshake.

One Saturday night, he gave in to temptation and left the house, claiming that he was promised merchandise in a neighboring village. He then boarded his wagon and traveled directly to the card game. The Jewish night guards in the town saw the fur trader's wagon parked near the casino. Since they knew of the promise he had made to the rabbi, they decided to act. They freed the horse to run home. Not long afterwards the fur trader's wife ran out to the street crying, “My husband, My husband! The gentiles murdered him! The horse returned without its owner and his coat is in the wagon, my husband was murdered, woe is me!”

All the town's Jews left their homes, including the rabbi. The night guards announced that the ‘promiser’ was in a certain house, absorbed in his card game.

The next day, the rabbi summoned the fur trader. “You broke a promise sealed with a handshake,” the rabbi scolded.

“No, rabbi,” the Jew passionately replied, “I promised I would not go [on foot] to another card game and kept my promise. I rode: I did not promise not to ride to another game.”

 

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