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[Page 227]

Persons of Quality

 

[Page 229]

Mr. Yosef Shmerkovitsh

by M.S.V.

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

 

Vor229.jpg

 

Mr. Yosef was a person of new–age erudition who never stopped learning and constantly expanding his knowledge, biblical as well as secular. He spent his nights studying all that was written on halakha[1] and the general law. That is why his opinions were so progressive. He was way ahead of the town's people. He was known as a pioneer fighting for knowledge, education, and progress. Long before the youth raised the flag of Hebrew education, he spoke fluent Hebrew, and enjoyed its ancient sound and grammar. Its simple poetic words took his imagination to the nation's past, when the people were settled in their homeland with their Lord and Kings. This made him a warm Zionist, and a proud Jew. From there he drew his strength and his manner of dealing with all the hardships and financial difficulties of life. He never complained or was depressed, because his soul was always up–lifted by looking back on his people's past, gaining from there hope and tolerance.

Mr. Yosef had several crises in his life. From rich wood trader he descended to small shopkeeper. Later the shop also went into financial hardship, so he rented it. And yet, nobody ever saw him in a bad mood and you wouldn't see any signs of crisis in him.

His wife Shtisl, a simple and na´ve woman, knew her husband well and tried to help him with his ideological aspirations. She took upon herself the management of the small shop, and like every Kosher Bat Israel she raised her children and did performed all duties of a Jewish wife and mother. Thus her husband had the freedom to devote himself to his “hobby”: knowledge.

You could see Mr. Yosef at night bent above books by the light of a candle, studying. According to legend, a visitor to town wandering the streets at night discovered that Mr. Yosef was studying the Roman language in order to read the books of Yosefus Flavius in the original.

*

He loved agricultural work, which combined the symbolism and goal of hard work and soil, mutually connected. He saw in agricultural work a path to salvation for the nation that had lost its land and devoted itself to spiritualism and spiritual life. He believed that when a Jew works the land he gives up his pride and gains the modesty that will keep him from exaggerated feelings of intellectual superiority, and wean him from a life of comfort. Only then would salvation come and become an existing fact. Furthermore, he saw agriculture as a symbol of growth and renovation, of a temporary withering giving way to new beginnings. This is why he constantly worked in his private garden. He not only brought provision to his children from the vegetables and the dairy of his milk cow, he also enjoyed watching his garden grow and bloom, and the earth giving way to his hard work. In the blooming flowers he saw national revival and the primary meaning of his own life, the life of his sons, and the young generation.

He tried in different ways to pass on his ideas of rebirth and Hebrew language to his children and to the town's youth. He loved the youth. In their company he felt young and renewed, and he conducted himself as one of them. It was an ideology that said:

‘If a person has aspiration for renewal and revival, then renewal and revival already exist in him de facto.’

Mr. Yosef's perception of youth was not as a temporary biological period, but as a continuous state of mind which has to be preserved by prolonged spiritual effort, according to each political era and historical developments. This was the reason for his sympathies towards HaShomer Hatsair which emphasized the tsair [“youth”] as a symbol of renovation and the establishment of a new society. He believed in social education, which was the primary goal of this movement above all other values. He also admired the national labor movement, even the extreme lefties, because he believed that a man of labor brings hope (by his opinion) to the whole nation. He was ready to forgive any deviation from Judaism if it was for the sake of labor, turning a Jewish man into a working man. He saw labor as a tool of education.

*

Yosef Shmerkovitsh was an outstanding father, sensitive to his children's emotional needs, and one who always made space for their desires, and implemented them. Shabbat nights around the table were always emotional and joyful. He used to challenge his children with an unusual idea just for the sake of an argument, and they like a “herd released” came up with their own ideas, shocking existing notions. In the end Mr. Joseph would stand up, calm everyone down, huddle the extremists close, and finish with:

“We need the rebellion of the youth, but only in one field, in Aliyah, which involves changes in the family structure, leaving behind parents and towns, and mutiny against father–mother. But in all other fields, honor and respect to parents is the guarantee of a continued existence.”

He saw parenting during this era of revival as a mission, like the ‘last generation of slavery’. He treated his sons as leaders of the future army who he had to train and nourish. He insisted on speaking Hebrew whenever he had a chance, eager to show how far his knowledge of the language had progressed. On every Simhat Torah holiday he was one of the organizers of the Zionist minyan.[2] He did it with great enthusiasm, as someone throwing away the troubles of the past year and giving in to the future, when the Temple would be rebuilt and the youth would be happy. At times of anger, he used to fling upon whoever annoyed him:

“May the Temple be built on you!”

To the rebuked it sounded like a Russian curse, but to the youth and to himself it meant:

“We are awaiting the “Reconstruction of the Temple” and you are obstructing.”

The biggest punishment he could put on his children was to read 25 times and learn by heart 5 Torah chapters, mostly from the books of Yesheyahu Ben Amotz and Micha HaMorashti.[3] As a reward he would allow them to play with their mates. The idea behind this punishment was to draw a parallel between irresponsibility and perseverance, as expressed in the Prophets and their prophecies, showing that this was their obligation, and that fun is permitted only after following strict laws.

Only three people in town received the Hatzfira newspaper – Mr. Nekhemia Shapiro, Mr. Velvl Shelovski and he. But the three of them received one paper, because they signed for it together, so the arrangement was that Mr. Joseph was the last to read it in order to keep it for a longer time, in order to read it slowly and most importantly in order to keep the papers at his home for future reading. Packs of newspapers piled up in his home and he used to look at them from time to time, tasting old wine as if it was new. But his favorites were the pages for kids, attached to the newspapers once a week. He used to browse them from a to z, and at every opportunity would sit with his children and read to them with two explanations for each sentence, in order to connect their world of imagination to the reality of the Hebrew language, and to make them absorb and make Hebrew the language of their dreams and thoughts.

In the summer, on Shabbat mornings, he used to take his children out for a hike in a nearby forest, when everything was lit by dawn's rays. He taught his children folk songs and Zionist songs: “Faraway in the Land of Cedars”, “With my Plow”, “We are the Macabees”. He used to sing, tap with his feet, and urge the children to join in. The combination of human song with the song of nature, of human joy with the joy of Creation, was a product of his educational skills and wild imagination. As a result his children remained forever enchanted with these Shabbat mornings filled with yearning for a homeland, and they were the first candidates to make Aliyah.

When his oldest son was among the first Voronovers to make Aliyah, he was the happiest of fathers, and he used to read his letters to the other parents with heartfelt feeling. It was a day of celebration when he received every two weeks the Davar newspaper from Israel, which literally brought the scent of Israel into his home, and his heart brimmed with happiness. Between the pages his son hid Israeli cigarettes with Hebrew writing such as Adin,[4] Malka,[5] Latif.[6] He used to hide them and bring them to Beit Midrash on a Holidays, share with everyone and say in Hebrew:

“Here, take a papirosa[7] from Erets Israel with Hebrew writing and a very, very pleasant taste.”

His close relationship with the youth finally paid off for him – when he went totally bankrupt he was accepted as a teacher in the Tarbut school, and no one was happier than he. Although he was dependent on the low salary and on donations from parents, his true reward was the love of and thirst for knowledge demonstrated by the children. It filled his heart with joy.

*

Mr. Yosef walked around the streets of Voronova as if floating, as if preparing himself to walk along the flowerbeds of a reborn Israel. He was totally devoted to preparing for the big transition, which would be happening for sure, and he would be there to work the land, be safe, and speak in the language of his people and of his dreams. But this did not come to pass and he had to be satisfied with his role in the National Revival of having sent his son to fulfill his dream. This was a consolation for his aching heart, and it kept him strong and determined in his belief in redemption until, at the verge of death, he cried out to his German murderers:

“You won't destroy me, your hands are too short. I have a son in Israel, and you will never reach him or the deeds of his generation, because by then your evil hands will be cut off.”

We will remember him as a man who dreamed of our current glory and who could only feel the glory from afar.

 

Footnotes
  1. Tr. Note: the Jewish law Return
  2. Tr. Note: most likely this refers to the traditional Simhat Torah celebration Return
  3. Ed. Note: the biblical books of the prophets Isaiah and Micah Return
  4. Tr. Note: mild (cigarette type) Return
  5. Tr. Note: queen (cigarette type) Return
  6. Tr. Note: a brand of cigarette Return
  7. Tr. Note: a cigarette Return


[Page 233]

Reyzl Moltsadski

by M.S.V.

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

The pharmacist couple, the Moltsadskis, were considered to be in an economic class of their own–as were all the free professionals in all the towns. Unlike in other towns though they didn't behave like nobility. They were not arrogant and didn't separate themselves from others. They tried to stay involved in community life along other simpler folk.

This was especially true of the pharmacist Reyzl Moltsadski. A smart, dynamic woman, energetic and assertive, Reyzl was the only woman in town who took part in political arguments and public debates, and dared to oppose men involved in politics and win them over in argument.

She had special charisma when she spoke, and endless enthusiasm. For these reasons she had a great influence on her audience. Nobody promised to change his opinion or follow her beliefs, but everyone enjoyed listening to her, hearing her passionate speech, and witnessing the extraordinary show presented by this high class woman trying to be one of the people, and seeking their moral support and approval.

Her tendency among the various Zionist movements was towards HaShomer HaTsair. We can't remember if this tendency was caused by the fact that her sons had joined the movement, or whether, conversely, her sons joined the movement because of her tendency. Anyway, it was known in town that Reyzl and HaShomer HaTsair were one organic, inseparable unit with no possibility of change. She was the Politruk for the parents. From time to time she addressed certain parents so that they send their children to HaShomer HaTsair, and tried to convince them in every possible way.

Her affinity with the movement was ideological, as strange as this may sound. It wasn't her professional–economical status as a rich woman which drew her to a movement gradually turning towards the ideological left, but rather her duty as a parent who despised the religious influences of the cheder.[1] She liked the emphasis on social education, the gender equality, and European–style uniform, which became this movement's identifying mark.

Her house became a hostel for all the emissaries who came to visit the local ‘nest’, and her name was known all over Poland as the patron of the Voronova ‘nest’ who could solve any accommodation or financial problem related to her guests.

In time she shared HaShomer's friendly or hostile attitude towards the other movements. She used to praise certain movements, and send her force towards others, all according to their relations with HaShomer HaTsair.

She used to give special privileges to movement members. The cherries that grew in all the yards in town, also grew in her backyard, and were being constantly protected from little thieves that might sneak into the gardens to pick them. Reyzl guarded her fruits and crops like the apple of her eye, but if she found out that the thief was one a movement scout, she was more forgiving:

“Never mind, children, eat, don't be shy, they are very good.”

But when she found out about the murder of Arlozorov[2] and that suspicion had fallen on the movement's ex–members she was the first to react with great anger to her movement's representatives in Israel. At all hours of the day during this sensationally painful month she used to gather a small crowd in the street and spit fire, using expressions like “blacker than black”, “dark person”, “retarded reaction” and other offensive adjectives.

In any other matter that didn't concern HaShomer HaTsair, Reyzl was an enthusiastic Zionist and acted in every possible way to further its course with great energy and organizational skills. She initiated fundraising events for the benefit of national funds, organized bazaars, and made fundraising activities on a daily basis.

Every piece of news from Eretz Israel concerned her, for better or worse, and when her sons were the first from our pioneers to make Aliyah, Reyzl felt personally connected to the newborn country, and was mostly proud of its development.

In the human and female panorama of Voronova, Reyzl stood out like a volcano, always active and sometimes bursting fire. Her personality always provided public attraction, something Voronova badly needed. Her conduct shocked the serenity of the quiet waters of Voronova, made waves, and drowned the stagnation that covered the quiet lake.

A valiant woman, a devoted mother, a brave fighter against her enemies, all in all Reyzl was a model woman living up to vibrant new trends, stepping beyond customary concepts of womanhood and motherhood.

 

Footnotes
  1. Ed. Note: the more traditional schooling system Return
  2. Tr. Note: in Erets Israel Return


[Page 235]

The New Synagogue
(a memorial candle for Reb Tsvi Yitzakh the gabbai
[1])

by Shimon Levine

Translated by Emma Karabelnik

The old synagogue that had stood for centuries was falling apart, but survived that way for years. The window frames had collapsed, and it was impossible to open a window for some air. The door at the only entrance was rotten and opened only with great effort. And if it opened, it couldn't be closed. Somebody had installed a pulley with a wire and weight block at the end of it. The pulley made the door heavy and difficult to open. But when the door was opened and left alone, the weight rolled down and pulled the door to slam on the lintel with great annoying noise.

Rabbi Luski, beloved by his pasture, decided to ask his followers to help build a new synagogue. First he consulted Tsvi Yitzach Levine, the gabbai, to ensure that his request would be executed. Some say that if it wasn't for Tsvi Yitzach the new synagogue would never have been built. Furthermore, the decision would never have been made, and if it had been made, it would never have been executed

Reb Tsvi Yitzach was childless so he put all his energy into taking care of religious institutions in town. He was short, and as are all energetic people, smart and resourceful. We, the children, loved him because of his good nature, honesty and affection for us, all of us, all the children in town. He couldn't pass by a Voronova child without tweaking a cheek or stroking a head. The worshippers respected him for his religious knowledge and his good manners. He knew about public relations, never got angry, and never hurt anyone, even those from lower classes.

Reb Tsvi Yitzach also knew how to collect and preserve money for the common good. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur eves, and during the Ten Days of Penitence, he used to send Shana Tova and Hatima Tova greeting cards to the whole community, and on the back of the card he listed all their debts – for being called to read the Torah, for Haftarah readings, for Friday rolling up [of the Torah], for removal and insertion [of the Torah], and all the other mitzva activities. He wrote the numbers in a curly handwriting with percentage signs, until it was almost illegible. Nobody could understand his writing, so on Yom Kippur before the maariv prayer each one paid to Tsvi Yitzach personally according to his vague, curly accounting.

And it went on for years, until he collected a large sum of money.

When the construction of a new synagogue was announced publicly, the gabbai had built enough of a reputation to ask for assistance, and the people consented. Each one promised to donate days and to assist in the removal of the old synagogue, and to help to build the new one.

We'll never forget the day of the opening of the new synagogue and reinstatement of the Torah to its new gorgeous residence.

It was in the 20s', and we were all like children who imagined the synagogue as the reincarnated and improved Temple of Jerusalem. The whole town celebrated the event, and the main conductor was Hirsch Itzye.[2] He led the dancing, excited by the great mitzva, with his eyes rolled up to the sky – the place of mitzvot and prayers, brotherhood and peace.

At the end of the celebration, the crowd carried him with songs and dances, thanking him for the enthusiasm he had brought to the celebration. That night, neighbors hugged and kissed, enemies made peace, and everybody experienced a communal happiness, a brotherhood between all Voronovers, near and far.

*

Both synagogues were burnt down by the evil hands of regime representatives. They didn't know that by burning two small temples in Voronova, they would also be burning down trust in their man and their nation, and were sentencing themselves to the elimination of their faith and independence.

 

Vor236.jpg
The New Synagogue

 

Footnotes
  1. Trans. Note: manager of the synagogue Return
  2. Ed. Note: Hirsch Itzye is another way of saying Tsvi Yitzach Return

 

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