A Jewish Woman's Memoir of Dvinsk
Translation Copyright 2002 by Morris Rosenthal
Translations from Hebrew
Copyright 2002 by Morris Rosenthal
All Rights Reserved
Memories of the Days of My Childhood
or A Look at the City of Dvinsk
Sarah Faiga Foner of the House of Menkin
Printed in Warsaw, 1903
Sarah Feige Foner of the House of Menkin - Printed in Warsaw, 1903
Dedication: In the memory of my parents, Joseph and Shaina Menkin, who were a branch from the trunk of the Vilna Gaon.
In the memory of my parents, Joseph and Shaina Menkin, who were a branch from the trunk of the Vilna Gaon.
Behold, I shall present the readers a picture of many colors and great value, of true events I saw with my own eyes, or I heard from the mouths of reliable people and persons of repute who happened to live in the city of Dunaburg, now known as Dvinsk, between the 62nd and 71st years of the last century. Many years have passed since that time and I have lived in many great cities, but none of them can compare with her in matters touching my heart. Therefore, I have taken upon myself to present her before the readers, with no cosmetic makeover, but with things as they were, both the light and the dark. I will not build anyone up nor flatter them. As this period was rich in stories and events, I will hold it up for display in order that the generations which come after us may know the character of the people of the last century, in their evil-doing and their goodness.
The city of Dvinsk, as it was in that time, was truly a large and lovely place containing all things. In her were found Torah, fear of heavens, charity, kindness and wisdom, but neither were burning ignorance and superstition lacking amongst the masses. The Haskala was then a prized and special creation whose birth we witnessed, but in the eyes of the majority it was a monster to be destroyed in its early stages of development. The government compelled every father with more than one son to give a son up to study in Gymnasium. I'll speak about this later when I give an account in full detail.
Neither were lies, cheating, violence, robbery, theft and other equivalent things lacking, but speaking of them won't add to the prestige of the city or of the children of Israel.
The city of Dvinsk in those days seemed to me to contain every wonder. It was built to a proper order and rule, the city walls were equal in length and breadth and the windows of every house weren't even in number, but three, five, and so on. If a house plan didn't include windows in numbers like these, then they made a red outline on the outside, as if a window were there. The homes were nearly all stone, except the Rabbi's house which was built of wood and a couple others, according to my memory of the time. These houses stand yet before my eyes; Freidlander's, Malkiel's, Zalkind Zacharia's, the son of Rabbi Leib (z''l) who was also known as Reb Leible the Lazy, Gordon Yerichom Zalman's, Ruben Yitzchak's, Israel Horowitz's, Gloskin Valvel's, and a run-down house that stood half finished because the owner was sent to Siberia. Also the homes of Liebenson Bartzik, Fagin Yitzchak, Gittel Lieberman, Meir Katzbaum and Neisen Bach. Between two of the stone houses stood a small, lowly, wood structure, on the verge of collapsing any moment, and the owner of this house was an impoverished widow who eked out a living with a small stone hand mill with which she ground grain, whose name was Faiga Huffalinkarn. She had a daughter married to the son of Yankel Vavil Fishnick, who most people called Fishtock. If somebody asked after Fishnick from morning to night he wouldn't get a response, only to Fishtock, and he served in Friedlander's business. She also had a son and his name was Bashka, a youth of 14, but I'll talk about them in the course of my story, in sequence.
When I came to Dvinsk, the city was buzzing with two topics, the Rayphali and Meir Roshkash, so let me explain the meaning of these two names. The city of Dvinsk that I have described was really known as Niyar Palin, but the old city was found close by, and was known as the Old Suburb, and the name really fit. The houses were of wood, small and lowly and trembling to the point of falling down, rotting from great age and black like coal, with grass sprouting between the planks and on the roofs. The streets were gloomy, disordered, and manure, mud and filth would immerse one to the knees. This old city was close to the great fortress that was built as an armory, and was an amazing sight for those who saw its architecture. From one side of the fortress to the old city extended a road or pasture called Rayphali. The neighborhood of Rayphali preoccupied the whole city, children and adults alike. In every house, in every shop, on every street, if two people stood or sat and talked, they spoke knowingly about the residents of Rayphali. If a man were robbed or plundered of some item, money or goods, then he who was robbed or plundered had to go there and he would be quickly answered. There could be found kind and goodly counselors who would rescue the unfortunate from his distress once they witnessed it for themselves. But not for free, God forbid, but for money, "ransom", as it was known in the vernacular. All the doings of the Rayphali are not in the power of any person to describe or write, but a little I shall tell, and from this little, the reader will be able to understand and imagine who the Rayphali were. One time, a woman was walking along, carrying in her hands a loaf of bread and some butter. She saw that her shoelace was untied so she set the bread and butter on the ground next to her feet and tied her shoe. When she lifted her eyes, the bread and butter were gone, and she hadn't seen or sensed a thing. Another time, a woman stood to bless the candles on Friday evening at twilight, and candlesticks were silver candlesticks. After the blessing, she placed her hand over her eyes to recite the prayer known to women, and after she finished the prayer and opened her eyes, there were no candlesticks and no candles.
One man married off his daughter and gave the couple 2000 silver coins, while the groom had 1000 of his own, so they opened a dry goods store, and it stood in the midst of other shops. One bright morning the young man rose and went to his store to find it barren of all goods, only the empty shelves remained in their places. The man began to yell bitterly, waving his hands and running here and there like one insane. But the goods were gone, with no sign to give away their hiding place. His relatives and neighbors from the surrounding shops comforted him, told him not to despair in his search Better he should take action and go to the old suburb where he would find the good folk of the Rayphali who would inform him what to do. He ran there, and along his course he met people who asked him why he was running in such a hurry. When he told them about the disaster that had befallen him, they shook their heads and whistled through pursed lips. The whistling gathered many more people, and they spoke amongst themselves and asked each other "How, and in what way, can we help this unfortunate whose goods were his sole support and who had no other business aside from his store?" Then, one of the bystanders called out, "I have some advice for you. Tomorrow you will come here in the early morning and I'll be waiting for you and will show you the house of the Reb Yankelah. Petition before him and maybe he will be able to save you, but beware lest you be late in the hour of your arrival, because many are those who are early at his door, and only the early will succeed." Full of despair and hope, the man went home and told his friends all of these things. They cheered him up and said, "It's a certainty that your goods will be returned to you, but we don't know how much money the ransom will be."
The next day the young man rose in the morning and ran anxiously to the old suburb, and there he met the man who had promised to come the previous day. "Come," he said, "and I will guide you to the dwelling of Reb Yankelah." Along the way, the man told him of the greatness of Reb Yankelah, of his kindness and open handedness. A great Torah scholar lived in his house to teach his sons Torah, and was always a guest for the meal at Reb Yankelah's table. He was also paid a salary, and in his free moments he taught Reb Yankelah the laws of astrology. Presently they arrived at an old house supported by two wood columns. The house stood in the midst of the Rayphali suburb, which was also considered part of the old city. The man showed him the entrance to the house and cautioned him many times that he should call him "Reb Yankelah", and that he should do everything he was told. As he entered the house, he was received by a woman in her middle age with a fine demeanor and a scarf covering her hair, whose appearance and bearing testified to her being the mistress of the house. When the young man asked her for Reb Yankelah, she answered him, "It's my husband you seek? Then you have a long wait, because he only stood to begin his prayers a half an hour ago, and he won't be finishing in a hurry. If you want, leave now and return in two hours, or you can sit here and wait for him." She showed him a place to sit and returned to her work next to the boiler, preparing breakfast for her husband. Many other people came, but when his wife told them that her husband had only been praying a half an hour, they left. But he remained in the house and he waited, even though he felt like he was sitting on burning coals. He saw moving about in the next room a tall figure, full fleshed with a great belly. The man wore a long garment of black silk with a long silk belt that wrapped twice round the hips and still trailed on the ground, peeking out from under the huge, expensive tallis which covered his head and his great stature. As he paced about the room, the edge of the tallis fluttered up, and the silk garments were visible. On his head and his left arm he bore an oversized tefillin, and he was punctilious like a Rabbi, praying from the Siddur "The Way of Life". In every sentence and word, when it's incumbent on a religious man to be whole-hearted and spirited, he complied strictly, like at "Open your hand and provide..", in the saying of the "Shema", he did so whole-heartedly, chanting in the proper melody. In the final analysis, he prayed according to the law like a great man. The young man was happy when he heard that he was praying the "Shemona Esreh," because he thought in a short while he would complete his prayers. But he was mistaken, because at "Ashrei" and "Come Zion", he removed the fancy tefillin of Rashi and put on the teffilin of our sages. After he concluded his prayers, be began to say "The Gates of the Day," Hymns, and after all of this he also said "Huke Yisroel." It grew black all around for the young man because he was close to fainting. However, "to every pleasure I have seen an end" said our poet-king, and so did the young man see an end to the prayers of Reb Yankelah. He came into the room, gave his greetings, and though the young man desired to rise in his presence, he didn't let him and said, "Sit, because I'm about to begin my meal and you'll eat breakfast with me, since without a doubt you haven't eaten yet." His wife brought over a basin with a two-handled cup full of water and he examined his fingernails, then he took the cup in his right hand and poured on his left hand, washing his hands according to the law. He sat at the table crowded with rich food to eat and called the young man over, then began to converse with the youth.
"And what do you want? Please tell me, my son, who are you and what is the matter?"
"I'm such-and-such the son of such-and-such. When I closed my store the day before yesterday, it contained goods valued at around 3000 silver coins. Yesterday morning when I arrived at the shop, I found it empty of all goods. Just the tables, benches and chairs remained as a remembrance, nothing more. I pray sir, put a price on my disaster. It's only three months since our marriage and we are left naked and uncovered, with nowhere to turn. Who will hurry to my rescue?"
"Could it be? Is it believable?" asked Reb Yankelah like a man stunned, and he nodded and whistled, "All of it they took?" he asked in addition. "Oy, Vey. This is a great offense, and what do you desire from me?" he asked the youth, knowing he was heaping burning coals on his head. "What can I do? Did you truly think that I can save you? Why?"
"Reb Yankelah," the youth cried tearfully, "I don't know anything about it, but many people who saw my soul's distress counseled me to go to you and petition you. Also one man called you by your name and showed me to your dwelling, so I took to heart to come to you and ask, maybe?"
"Enough! Say no more. I am with you in your sorrows, and everything that it's possible to do on your behalf I will do. But before I can begin to seek after and investigate this matter, you must weigh out 400 silver coins on my palm, to stick a bone in the throats of the Shoolayim (So the people called every offender when they wanted to revile and shame him, and so were called the Jewish youths who began to study in Gymnasium, and with this reproach a person could boil the marrow of the blasphemer)." The young man wanted to oppose the price, but he didn't let him speak, saying, "This is the last offer, the choice is yours."
The youth didn't say another word but ran to his relatives and told them, so they said to him, "Go quickly, and bring the money that they demand, and it's reliable and sure that by tomorrow your goods will be returned to you, not an item short." And so it happened. The next morning, when he went to his store he found all of his goods resting on the shelves in the proper order and rule, as if an experienced shopkeeper had arranged them knowledgeably and tastefully. But he didn't know or witness who had laid the goods out in their places because Reb Yankelah had cautioned him not to venture from the door of his house all night, or to spy on the place, on his life. From these few instances, I imagine that our honorable readers will understand a little who the Rayphali were, and Meir Roshkash was an honorable man who wanted to put an end to the ravages of the Rayphali. He cultivated their friendship for a long time until he knew all their comings and goings, and knew them all by name or even by their voices when he couldn't see them. Afterwards he traveled to Petersberg and was granted authority that the police in Dvinsk must hearken his voice in all that he commanded them. Several years he worked strenuously, until he'd removed them from every alley, one by one. Once time he requested from the police one hundred Cossacks or more, and everything he sought they gave him immediately. His words were hearkened and enacted as the words of a governor's command. At first, he carried out his actions in secret, afterwards he did them publicly, but then he couldn't leave his house without bodyguards, and many police were posted by his door to guard him from fear both night and day. Every prison and every cell in Dvinsk, in the fortress and the city, were full with the denizens of Rayphali. As long as there were a couple men left in Rayphali, or even women, Meir Roshkash couldn't be sure of his life. Finally, all that remained in Rayphali were the old, the weak, the blind and the crippled. Most of them had been sent to Siberia, but despite this he wasn't sure of his life, and he said, "As long as the places of the Rayphali stand, even the ruined houses, my life isn't a life." One time, he was walking down the street returning home with two police bodyguards, and just as he came to the door of his house, he recognized that one of his guards was not a policeman but a Rayphali disguised in a police uniform. Nobody had noticed! The man's intention was to kill him as he sat confidently in his home. So, Roshkash pretended that he hadn't caught on and he returned to the police station. There he requested ten more men and instructed that they go secretly through the streets in order that nobody should notice, then close to his house they should fall suddenly on the bodyguards and arrest them quickly. The people in the street thought that Meir Roshkash and the police had gone crazy because they arrested other police, but when they were brought to the station and stripped of their uniforms, Meir Roshkash identified them by name, and they were Rayphali. The real policemen they had invited beforehand to a pub and gotten them drunk, then tied them up with rope in the cellar. They had taken their service accouterments and their uniforms, put them on, and gone and taken their places. Then they waited for the coming of the hated man, their sworn enemy, but he was above all of the Rayphali, in both wisdom and cunning. Even so, he said, "As long as the Rayphali neighborhood exists, even if it is desolate and ruined, I will fear that from under the ground they will come out to revenge the vengeance of their fathers on me." One time, Meir Roshkash passed by a window, and saw that many silver utensils were resting on a table next to the open window of a kitchen, and the cook wasn't there. The silver lay there, and nobody put out a hand to take it. He called the mistress of the house and said to her, "And what are they saying now? Is it possible that you are all thinking that since Meir Roshkash is here, the days of security and relaxed vigil have arrived? So that you can leave things in an open window and nobody will touch them? Let me warn you all, don't continue to act this way, because this is how you will build up a new Rayphali, who are now almost lost from memory." He lived in constant fear and nervousness, and apparently he returned to Petersberg. I don't know anything more about him. As to the Rayphali neighborhood itself and how the old suburb came an end, that I will relate in the course of my story.
The house of Friedlander raised itself over the city like a shining star in the mighty heavens, not just because of its external beauty, but because of its inhabitants, its Jewishness, and the good activities within the house. There were four brothers, Reb Meir, Reb Michal, Reb Leibel, and Matil, the youngest. Matil lived in Petersberg, the capital, to conduct his business, and the three elder brothers lived in the city of Dvinsk, all in one house with their families. They had a beautiful shul within the house and the three of them conducted themselves as one family. In their business their expenses and income were all together, and in the shul they all worshipped together. Their wives and children came every Shabbat and holiday and worshipped in the shul. All of them prayed and all of them understood, because they studied Hebrew from learned teachers. The smallest girls, three or four years old, that didn't yet know how to read a book, sat in their places with siddurim in their hands. Throughout the services even the little ones sat like modest women and didn't desire to speak idle words. The women and their daughters were very modest, God fearing, and for purity of conduct there weren't the like of them, but surpassing them all was Sifra, the wife of Reb Meir and the daughter of Reb Joel Fromkin. She was a God fearing woman who distributed gifts to the impoverished and didn't send anyone away empty handed. When Reb Meir married off his eldest son, Reb Moshe-Mordechai, he made a great feast for the poor. From all the surrounding villages and from the city of Dvinsk itself streamed masses of the poor and destitute to enjoy the feast that Friedlander put on for them. A whole week before the feast, the Shamishes declared every evening in every house of prayer that Friedlander was making a feast for the poor, in order to awaken their appetites, and two days in a row the feast went on. These days were a holiday and a vacation for all of the helpers and managers of Friedlander's house, and everybody dressed in Shabbat clothes and served the poor, including the brothers and family members. They all them welcomed guests joyfully. Aside from the feast, they distributed money with a generous hand, and they sat with the poor at the tables during the meals. Musicians played constantly to cheer the hearts of the poor and the wanderers. This was the law of the house, a house of generosity, of which just a fraction has been displayed to the honorable readers.
This was the time of the great revolt in which the Polish rebelled against mighty Russia. It grew and strengthened to a violent crescendo, and the Polish dispensed their wrath on many of our people. Behold, this is the fate of a people without a country, a people without a support and buttress. A wandering people that doesn't seek and nor find a rest for the soles of its feet. If he will find a place according to his spirit to pitch his tent, behold how quickly he will realize that it's not solid ground but sand and dust. Any passing wind could uproot and overturn him on his face, along with all his children and cattle, and it wouldn't be known what became of him. Here were the Polish people whose fate and condition was worsened by their own actions, who had enough to worry about themselves. For all that, not a day went by that they didn't carry out some scandalous slaughter of our people. In the big cities, it wasn't such a disaster because they were always on guard, but in the small cities in Latvia and the towns where our people lived they had massacres. Always dispersed and exposed, when a stormy wind begins in any land, a Jewish woman sickened and trembling in her knowledge that she will always be the scapegoat. So were the Polish people like little children, in that if one youngster struck his neighbor who couldn't retaliate, in his anger the neighbor would hit a different child who was sinless and guiltless. They were angry at the Russians and took their revenge on the Jews who hadn't done them a wrong; only they thought we rejoiced in their rout. Our people who suffered the most were in the cities of Kopishak and Vabalnik, and the many towns surrounding these cities. One time, they burst into a town not far from Kopishak where a Jewish family lived, and cried to them "Give us food and if not we will hang you from the tree that stands before your window." The Jew answered them, "On my life and soul, besides flour I haven't got a thing."
"You see?" one shouted, "The ugly Jew is faithful to the Russians and wishes us ill, otherwise why won't he give us bread? Come, let's hang him first, and afterwards his wife and children." His wife began to quake from fear and told him, "Go to the next town and borrow or buy bread from them and bring it here." And as he went, they warned him, "Take heed to hurry back, and if not we'll know that you devise evil against us and then we'll hang your wife and children together." When the Jew returned with loaves of bread and handed them over, they said, "If she hadn't advised you to give us bread, you wouldn't have wanted to give it to us. Therefore, you are loyal to the Russians." They all unified around the idea that they should hang him. "Yes, yes," they all cried, of one mind for a hanging. In the next moment, they hung him on the tree before his window, where he hung twitching until his soul flew up to the Master of Souls to complain before Him about his bitter fate.
The next day, the Russian army arrived with a thunderous noise and they cried, "Where is the traitorous Jew who bought bread from the other towns to give to the rebels, as we were informed by the shepherds?" So the unfortunate woman showed them the dead man and they released her, only they asked her to show them which way the rebels had gone and she showed them. They pursued the rebels and caught them, because they had hidden in the forest in pits and thickets, and they put an end to all of them. Three days later more Polish came to the woman's house where she was alone except for her little boy. The older sons had gone to Vabalanik to rent an apartment for the family so they could leave the town. On their arrival they fell on her murderously and said, "You showed the Russians where our brothers were and they were killed, so have a dose of your own medicine," and they killed her also.
I could relate to you tens and hundreds of incidents like these which occurred at that time, because many members of my family lived and still live today in these places, and from them I heard. But this isn't the body of my story, and its only by-the-way that I recorded a little from the memories of the days of my childhood.
At the same time that this confusion and consternation precipitated itself, there also rose confusion and consternation in the camp of Israel in the city of Dvinsk. This on account of a feud and falling out that at first was limited, because in little matters they were able to smother the fires of contention, but later went far off course. Such was the case with the feud and schism that divided the hearts of the people, a man from his brother.
The old feud revealed itself these many years after the days of the Vilna Gaon (z''l) and the Lebovitch Rebbe. The adults kept the hatred hidden, but between the children there was feuding and quarreling always. If two children met, seven or eight years old, it would begin with words of scorn and revile. The Chassid's son would insult and curse the Gaon, and the son of the Mitnaged would scorn the Rebbe. And if people gathered for some celebration or some assembly, or if they sat in a Succah, Mitnagdim and Chassidim together, then the Chassidim would begin to talk about the prominent Mitnagdim. At first they would mock them, and if the Mitnaged responded with some barbed words from the quiver, then their wrath would be kindled and it sometimes came to blows. One time, many Chassidim were sitting in at a party in the banquet hall of Uncle Aaron Yehoshim (such was called the owner of the facility) and there also sat there one Mitnaged, a rich merchant and well versed in Torah, Reb Pavel Friedman was his name, or Pavel Ziesalm from the city of Zager. And they rose to laugh, as was their habit always, and to ridicule and scorn the Mitnaged Rabbis and Gaons, and they wouldn't be quiet, and in the end they enraged him, as they knew he was thoroughly a Mitnaged. He couldn't bear it any more, and opened his mouth and told them a story from the Torah, but with many sharp points, on which there isn't enough room here to repeat. They clamored to beat him to death, and if he hadn't hastened to flee by the way of the window he sat next to, they would have murdered him.
And it happened one day that one of the inhabitants of the "Dancing" Street entered his son into the impossible (made a bris for him), and he was a Chassid who served in Friedlander's business. He invited Rabbi Pavel Rappaport (z''l) and honored him as Sandak, and Reb Michal Friedlander wasn't remiss, but he also came to this mitzvah meal. The Friedlanders never rejected such a request, even from their employees, and Mitnagdim from the best of the city were also invited to the meal. The mohel was Zalman the butcher, or, as he was called by the majority of the people, Zalman the Chuzpanik. Zalman the butcher was this sort of man - when he stood in the courtyard and the women and girls with their fowl gathered around him, he seemed to me to be the king of death. Later, when I was grown up and read "Paris Mystery" (The Mysteries of Paris by Eugene Sue's, translated to Hebrew by Kalman Schulman in 1857), he looked to me like the slayer in the slaughter house who butchered and butchered without having his fill, and so he was. He stood in a weird anger and butchered, and once when a girl approached him and said in Yiddish, "Reb Zalman, Reb Zalman. Butcher mine quickly because I haven't any time," he threw the slaughtered chicken that was in his hand forcefully into her face. Sometimes girls fell fainting from great sensitivity and were taken home injured. If a Chasidic man was angry against his neighbor or some Mitnaged, he would incite Zalman the butcher against him, and then the only option for the man was to flee the city. This was Zalman the butcher, and he was invited to circumcise the son. So, the father was a Chassid, the Rabbi a Chassid, the mohel a Chassid, and the majority of the guests were Chassidim. Only a couple Mitnagdim who were business connections were there, and Reb Michal Friedlander headed them.
And it happened that when they sat to eat and drink the mitzvah meal, the Chassidim began to speak about the Gaonim of the land, first in whispers and afterwards in full voice. So Reb Michal Friedman called out, "Please don't brothers. Don't profane this mitzvah which is so important to Israel. Why provoke people who sit tranquilly with you? Then Zalman opened his mouth wide and began to speak slander, revile, and even curse all the Gaonim of the land - Reb Chaim Walzner (z''l), Rabbi Zalma (z''l), Rabbi Itzaleh (z''l), and above all the great Gaon, the grand Rabbi of the exile from Vilna, whom he cursed with energetic curses. Friedlander called out in anger, "If you wanted to curse all of our great sages, why did you invite us? Don't you know that bitterness will follow after this?" Reb Michal cried angrily to the Chassidic Rabbi, "Rebbe, apply the law. Aren't you obligated to discredit the Chuzpanik and to fill his mouth with gravel for his disgraceful doings? Aren't you a Rabbi, chief Rabbi of the city, how can you be mute? Isn't their Torah also your Torah, how can you contemn it. Aren't you prepared to make a ruling?"
The Rebbe answered him coldly, "Me? Am I not prepared to make a ruling? I'll do it quickly - He can speak, or he can not speak."
Reb Michal cried in anger while taking a couple steps backwards, "Brothers, separate yourselves from this bad company." The Mitnagdim who were there gathered around him, and he proclaimed, "I and my compatriots ban the butchery of the Chuzpanik. The meat that he slaughters is unclean meat, blemished meat it is, until he travels with ten men of those who hear this to the tomb of our master, the Vilna Gaon."
And they all cried, "Banned, Banned." "And you," he said turning to the Rabbi, "Also you we don't absolve, and while we are getting a Mitnaged butcher we'll also get a Mitnaged Rabbi!"
"That won't happen," the Rabbi retorted angrily.
"It will, it will," cried Friedlander, "Quickly, in the near future."
"While I live it won't," returned the Rabbi, "Only if I'm no longer alive."
"Then let it be as you say," cried Reb Friedlander angrily and went out. As he was leaving he called again to the Rabbi, "The ban is on the condition that Zalman doesn't travel to Vilna in the company of ten men to seek the pardon from the Gaon of our people. If he goes then my words are canceled." He said this and left with all the Mitnagdim. That day they called a council with the great men and scholars of the Mitnagdim, and called for a ban on the butcher the Chuzpanik. They proclaimed in every study house of the Mitnagdim that it was now forbidden to eat meat in Dvinsk. All week the Mitnagdim didn't taste the flavor of meat, but on Thursday, Reb Friedlander issued orders to bring in a couple of cattle and also a different butcher. I don't remember if the butcher they brought was from Greiba, which was a suburb on the other side of the River Dina, or from some other city. I only remember that the butcher slaughtered the cattle and we ate meat until satiated, but not to excess. And if there had been a question of the lung it would have been declared traif.
When Zalman the butcher saw that the Mitnagdim had devised a way to eat meat without him, he was distressed, and he sent word to Reb Friedlander to tell him that after Shabbat he would travel to Vilna with ten men. On Sunday morning, Zalman arrived at the station with ten men to travel to Vilna, but many Chassidim ran to him to reheat the conflict, and they said to him, "Zalminka, you're crazy. The spirit will enter your father (i.e.he will turn over in his grave). You're traveling to the city of Vilna? Are you comfortable approaching the tombs of the holy men with them knowing what you said about them? Won't they make you into a mound of bones! If you want to live, return to your home." When he heard these words he became afraid, and he went home and the ban remained in place.
After these events, the Mitnagdim brought a judge to the city, and his name was Reb Pina. They also brought a butcher and established their own slaughter house for meat. Thus the feud was rekindled, and as a fire will progress and spread to the four corners of the house if firemen don't labor to extinguish it, so spread the conflicts and divisions in the city. In every house, in every study hall and in every store and street, nothing was heard besides, "Mitnaged and Chassid, Chassid and Mitnaged." At first the women made mistakes since they didn't know which butcher shop was Mitnaged and which was Chassidic, and so they mixed up the products. Then there were great problems such as when a man came home from work and sat down to eat, and while eating asked his wife where she got the meat. She told him Yitchak Fagin's butcher shop, which was the Chassidic butcher shop. He cried out loudly, "Oy, Oy, You have fed me unclean meat!" Or if a woman bought meat from the butcher shop in the house of Leiba Kamraz, which was the butcher shop of the Mitnagdim, a Chassid would be leaping to his feet and crying out, "Oy, Oy, You have fed me traif meat!" And every night, when my father (z''l) came home from the house of study, he would tell my mother (z''l) that the Shamash had declared that everybody who bought meat that day from Yitzchak Fagin's butcher shop had rendered his kitchen utensils unclean. A day didn't pass that the kitchen utensils weren't made traif in many homes on both sides. So passed weeks and months with the flames of the conflict spreading from day to day, and the hatred on both sides reached a pinnacle. The Mitnagdim made preparations to request a new Rabbi, but it wasn't lightly that they took this step, because Rebbe Pavel was also a Rabbi to their taste. One time, a woman went to a butcher shop to buy some intestines, but she wasn't sure if maybe she had mixed up the butcher shops. So she asked, "Tell me please if these are "Chassidisher Kishkas" or "Mitnagedisha." The butcher grabbed her by the back of the neck and threw her out, but after he wrote in big letters on the door, "Meat for Mitnagdim here."
Around this time, a rich Chassid married off his daughter. The wife of Rabbi Pavel came to the feast with another rich Chassidic woman named Gittel Lieberman who owned a big liquor business. When the women sat at the table to eat, all of the conversation and discussion was on the division that was in the city. The wife of the Rabbi became assertive and said. "The Mitnagdim are trutly crazy in their thinking that the Vilna Gaon was a great man, and that over this they are willing to kill and be killed. I know who he was." And she started to curse him, and as she was cursing she raised up her foot and showed the woman her heel and said, "My heel is more dear than ..." She caused Gittel Lieberman to laugh and clap her hands and say, "The Rebbitzen is entirely correct, he is that," and she added to the filth and cast darts at the Gaon and his students.
At this time came the end of the old neighborhood and Rayphali, because the Petersburg Railway Company found it proper to lay a new track through the middle of the old city. They assembled and brought in surveyors who measured the old city length and breadth. They surveyed and in the end demolished almost all the old city. They paid the full price for all the condemned property so the owners would be able to build new houses, and many people were greatly happy with these sales. Despite this there were also many who cried and could find no peace of mind in the transaction. But another problem even bigger than that was waiting for the congregation of Dvinsk, and it angered every heart and disturbed the rest of every person. The fortress needed renovation, and according to the construction plans they had to dig up the old graveyard, which was remarkable for its size already. In every house were heard stories of ghosts and spirits. Men and women, boys and girls, all gathered around an old woman who told them some wonderful things, because she remembered from her childhood in a different city a similar incident. Many of the dead had come to their relatives in dreams and complained about the evil people upsetting their rest, how they were now wandering the world lost and without peace, and other stories like this. We were afraid to venture out from the door of the house during the day, even more so at night. Not only the children were frightened, but the adults also.
The best men of the city, above all the brothers Friedlander and Israel Horowitz, strove greatly so we could receive an injunction from Petersburg the capital that they bypass and not touch the nearly full graveyard. So, on one side the rail went at a diagonal and didn't touch the cemetery, and on the other side where they poured foundations for the castle, also this didn't reach the graveyard. Despite all of this, a couple of times people came and reported that they had seen human bones. The Shamashs of the burial society were dispatched and they returned the bones to their resting places. However, it was no longer possible to bury more dead there. A decree was issued lest anyone take it lightly and continue performing burials there, and any transgressor was subject to severe punished. So the community of Israel in Dvinsk had to establish a new cemetery.
The land was purchased, but who wants to be the first in a new eternal home? So there was unease in the city. If a person got sick he was struck with anxiety from the fear that he would be the first to consecrate the new cemetery, and he would request from the Lord that he send them a very old man to be the first.
And behold their supplication came about. A ninety year old man got sick and sent for the Gabbi of the burial society and said, "Behold, I can see that my end has come to me, but I request that you hire a Kaddish sayer for me (for the man was alone, he didn't have a wife or children), and that all the days of Shiva three men will sit next to my grave, and a candle will be burning all the days of Shiva." The head of the burial society and the Gabbi promised to fulfill his wish. The man died on the sixth of Adar in the evening, and a fast was called for the whole city the next day, the seventh of Adar. The burial of the old man and the consecration of cemetery took place together. All of the people of the city, from the greatest to the least, walked after the bier of the dead, and with the exception of the children, they fasted as if it were Yom Kippur. Boys who were studying Torah walked after his bier reciting psalms, and in the new cemetery everybody circled with the coffin seven times. All the people said "Vayihee Noam," and some other songs from psalms, and they buried the man with very great honor and kept their promise to him. They also did many other wonderful and charitable things before the consecration, like making a couple weddings for poor grooms and brides, and more and more. After all this, another three or four people passed away before evening. The people of Dvinsk made proper order and rule in the cemetery. They divided it into three sections, for men only, women only, and children only. Surely they made order between the dead, but behold the disorder between the living. Aside from the feud that unfolded before me, there were other divisions due to the lack of housing. The residents of old city had believed they received a good deal for their old houses and the price of land, but where could they get housing now? Almost all of the inhabitants of the old city were segregated in a narrow area after came to live in the new city that contained them all. The cost of apartments was dear, the owners of housing raised their prices, and there was a great outcry in the city. So the city officials provided a strip of land very far from the center was very cheap, practically free, and every man bought enough land to build two houses and a large garden. The price was 20 silver coins, this to be paid in two installments, but it was incumbent on the purchaser to hurry to build and finish construction in a period no longer than three months. Land was bought by the like of poor teachers, scribes of books, mezuzot and teffilin who were always part of the family of poor, tailors, and door-to-door men, all of them bought land. The work started, and the poor that didn't have the means to build their homes. But then, the value of the land rose quickly, to the point where a poor man could sell half of the lot and get for that half five or six hundred silver coins, and then he had then enough in hand enough to build his house with some left over. As the houses multiplied, the value of the land increased, until two years later the price for half of a lot that a person had bought for 20 silver coins was up to five or six thousand.
Here I must take a little detour from my story of that time to recall more recent days, seventeen years ago. It came to hand by chance that I traveled by way of Dvinsk, after I had abandoned her for many years. It was a time when the ideas of the Lovers of Zion were gaining acceptance in our politics, and when the train from reached the last station of the Petersburg line and I had to disembark and get on another train. I saw from a distance a great metropolis so that I almost couldn't believe my eyes. "Could this be the city of Dvinsk?" I asked myself, "Is it possible that in the course of fifteen years the whole city has been replaced, that most of the stone houses have been exchanged for wood homes?" It wasn't that my eyes were at fault. I stood astonished at the sight and couldn't comprehend it. By and by, the train came and went, and I remained standing amazed in my place. A teamster approached in his wagon and said, "Without a doubt you want to travel to the city. The way is yet very far, and the train that shuttles from the Petersburg Railway to the Riga Railway has already passed by." Then I started as though from a dream and asked, "Am I in Dvinsk?" "Yes," he answered me.
"But what is the city there," I asked, "That can't be Dvinsk." The teamster laughed at my ignorance and said, "Is it not the new city that has been built up now for eighteen years now?" Then I snapped out of it, as if from a trance, and the memories of my childhood began to rise up in my brain one by one, and light up my eyes. I sat in the wagon and asked the teamster that he drive very slowly, in order that I could examine the city from every vantage point. I couldn't pry my eyes off it for a moment, and only when I'd stared at it from every side and my gaze returned to the starting point, I cried as though to myself, "My people, my people. How long will you build your city on mounds of sand, that a passing wind will overturn her on her face. Now I can see you are able to do it, and there is no preventing you from accomplishing a thing if only you desire it, but your creation will only go to strangers and other people. Look now, look at this place that was desolate and ruined when I saw it in childhood. Terror and fear would fall on a man when he saw the place from afar. The children told me that demons nested there, and that on every mound lived a little demon with a big hat, and when a man would pass there, the little demons became big in an instant and killed and strangled anyone who trespassed. The adults said that were no demons, only robbers who found for themselves a nest there. And now, after eighteen years, here is a lofty city being built, and it won't lack a thing. Even cool fresh water is found here.
So, my people, take this to heart and redeem also our desolate land, will you not return? Didn't it happen here that poor rebels were made into upper-class house-holders? Why don't you bring about great changes there also? Isn't your welfare in your own hands? Here you dwell on foreign land, there you will dwell on the land of your fathers." How satisfying and precious this moment was for me, in my recollection that here on this once desolate land now appeared a shining great city like this, even though it wouldn't be mine now or ever. How fine will the moment be when I am privileged to see the land of my fathers, desolate and destroyed by time, resettled and speedily rebuilt. Would it be hard to give up this empty life for a precious moment like that? "And who are they that withhold from themselves this great pleasure? Isn't it ourselves!" So I spoke, and the wind that blew against my face pressed with its wings my words in profound silence, but with tremendous feeling. And since then another sixteen years have passed. The Lovers of Zion, a small stream that sprang forth from the hearts of a few, has become a mighty flowing river, casting its living waters from afar to quench the tongues of those who thirst. Now, thank heavens, the Jewish community is moving and alive, and opinions have changed in favor. Now there are many who think as I did then. But we still have far to go, very far, because many yet walk with their eyes closed, not seeing potholes and stumbling blocks below their feet... But I will return now to my story from my childhood. The divisiveness still hadn't ceased, the fire of feud still wasn't quenched. There was little satisfaction for the people in their feud because the antipathy widened, and the women of the Chassidim also began to speak badly, along with their sons and daughters.
And it was on Shabbat "Chazon" in the second year since the troubles had begun, at the point of the reading of the Haftorah, at the moment the reader chanted these words, "So spoke the man, Lord of Hosts, Knight of Israel, Comfort me in my sorrows and revenge me on mine enemy," when voices were heard from all sides, "Fire, Fire, The whole street goes up in flames!" In another moment, the fire had caught hold and spread to almost the whole city. From every direction in every street the same broken cry was heard, "Fire, Fire." All Shabbat and Sunday the city burned and smoldered from almost every side. The firemen were unable to find a way to extinguish a fire so large and terrible. Sunday morning the fire department from Petersburg came, but they didn't succeed in putting out the fire until Monday evening. Then the people were able to go look at the destruction that had been done in the city. More than half the houses in the city had burned, even though there were many stone houses and few wooden ones. The house of the Rabbi had burned down to the foundation. This wasn't the first fire of the summer, because the Polish set fires in many cities, but I hadn't ever seen a fire like this. Many people carried the few belongings saved from the fire and brought them to the edge of the second city. When they all gathered with their possessions and were about to sit down and rest, from the items themselves the fire broke out and devoured the majority of what remained. They all were left naked and lacking everything, and the once beautiful city was now in total shock. The high blackened walls and the empty places cast such a dreadful fear on me that even today, when I bring forth my memory of this vision of destruction, I'm seized with trembling.
The fire was quenched, and the city was resurrected from the ashes and began to live and rebuild from the destruction, but the flames of dissension burned without end. Scorn and condemnation against both the living and the dead were always heard from the Chassidic side more than from the Mitnaged side. The Mitnagdim proceeded on their own. They set up a Judge, slaughters and butchers, all Mitnagdim. They requested a head Rabbi and attempted to receive permission from the Rabbinical council to get a Mitnaged Rabbi, because they were a large congregation. The Chassidim also did their own thing, cursing and belittling the living and the dead. They took a dog and hung a wooden placard around it's neck on which was written, "This is Nachmon Eidel." One led the dog by a rope, and many Chassidim ran behind striking the dog with switches and yelling, "Go, Nachmon Eidel, Go, Go." Here I will describe to you who this man was. Reb Nachmon Eidel of Raglyot was the husband of Chaya Sarah Gordon, a very rich woman. He was at that time in his youth. My father (z''l) said about him that in all his days he hadn't seen a youngster like him, so well versed and incisive, like a great Rabbi who had sat and learned for fifty years without a break. He was so observant that none surpassed him in the old generation, let alone in this generation. As a charitable man, there wasn't his equal, everything he had he gave to the poor. He was also Gabbi for visiting the sick, and it was his responsibility to sign off on free medicine for the poor, that they could receive it without payment. A man or a woman would come to him and ask him to sign for some prescription, and he would ask them how many children they had and how much they earned. When he heard how tight things were with them, he would take money from his own pocket and give it to the woman to buy chicken, or wine, or meat. So he acted always. He also knew how to read the biles and tell anyone his illness. Now he is a great rabbi living in a big city, as thirty-five years ago he already had his Rabbinical ordination. This is who Reb Nachmon Eidel from Raglyot was. But I will not speak about the living now, I shall only speak about events that were.
Gittel Lieberman had a son, Moshe was his name, a man in the prime of his life, and very wealthy. He and his mother owned a big liquor business. And it happened that he came one evening into one of his stores wanting to get a drink of water. He poured himself a large measure of 95% alcohol, tipped it up to his mouth, and in a moment he fell to the earth dead. This happened two weeks after the fire in which all of the stores and warehouses of Gittel were burned and she had great losses. The man in whose house the feud had started lost his son a few weeks later, and he went to live in another house saying the wrath of the Lord was on this place, and the building would remain as a reminder of sin.
And it happened on the Thursday before Shabbat "Slichot" in the second year after the beginning of the schism that wailing was heard in the city because Rabbi Pavel fell ill. Friday morning it was heard in the city that it was very grave because his sickness was a black tumor (have mercy on us). The surgeon cut out the pollution, but the operation didn't go well and with nightfall and the exit of Shabbat "Slichot" his soul returned to God. Here was the end of the all the divisiveness, God protect other cities from schisms like this. A great loss was suffered by Dvinsk in the passing of this Rabbi, he had great learning and worldly wisdom, and in his connection to and mixing with the common people he was unique. It was told about him that in the days of his youth he had been a big merchant, but in the end he lost his business and became a Rabbi, and many tradesman sought his advice.
And on Sunday of "Slichot" the Rabbi was brought to his grave, and all the people gathered to mourn and weep over him. Almost all the Jews of the city went out to accompany him, Chassidim and Mitnagdim alike, including Michal Friedlander. The processional with the coffin and the dead Rabbi passed by the house of "The Bris", where the schism had started, because along this street were brought all the dead of the city. In the places of the Jews who had gone outside came non-Jews, and the moment the coffin was borne past, a woman poured vomit out the window directly onto the coffin and shroud of the Rabbi and soiled it. So there was a great outburst and crying and wailing amongst the people, and they had to delay the funeral until they could prepare new garments for the Rabbi (z''l). At the cemetery, as the coffin stood on the earth and the Chassidim approached to request pardon from him, Reb Michal Friedlander said to Saul Hirsch Horowitz, "Let the two of us also go and we will also seek pardon from the Rabbi," and the two of them went. When they got to the Rabbi's coffin and wanted to touch it, a bunch of Chassidim fell on them yelling loudly, "Murders! You killed our great Rebbe, and now you've come to revenge yourselves on him and sully his honor even after his death! Hit them! Strike our enemies! You will not live and breath!" Saul Hirsch made himself scarce, climbed over the wall and fled, because on the other side of the wall he had a rented factory. But Friedlander didn't flinch, and they threatened to kill him. Yankel Valvil Fishnick approached and cleaved through the mob until he came to Friedlander (he was a Chassid but he served in Friedlander's business) and he spoke out, "Strike me if you wish, but of Reb Michal I won't let you touch a hair." He saw in the distance one of Friedlander's men and called to him, "Run quickly to the fortress and get help." The man ran and took a horse from Friedlander's team, that was waiting for him behind the wall, but before he went he stood his ground a moment and yelled loudly, "If you want to live, don't set your hearts to lay a hand on him, because all of your lives will be forfeit." They beat Yankel Valvil and injured him but he got in their way, so the Chassidim pushed them and pressed them against the wall. Afterwards they called, "Hold a moment, don't hit him, just force him to concede to us that he won't bring a Mitnaged Rabbi to the city." Friedlander stood there white faced as a corpse, and he couldn't get out even a soft sound. He only recovered a little when he heard many voices shouting, "Cossacks are coming." A hundred Cossacks burst into the cemetery and began to strike the people with whips and reins, and the mob began to flee and yell. Then his wind returned to him and he called, "Please don't hit them, after all they are engaged in burying the Rabbi of the city. Here are wages for you." And he paid them with a generous hand. They waited with him a long time, until he had the strength to walk to his wagon, because the mob had pushed him so hard against the wall that he couldn't draw a breath. Once he was seated in his carriage to travel home, he didn't move from his place until the Cossacks rode back to their barracks.
After the festival of Succoth, messengers were sent from the city to every Jewish community to seek a great and suitable Rabbi for the Mitnagdim of Dvinsk. They sought and found the great genius, Reb Aaron Saul Zelig (he had three names) the Rabbi from Proznay, and he promised them he would come before Passover. The messengers returned home happy and in good heart, and blessed God that he had put before them a Rabbi of their hearts desire, and waited with pining eyes for his coming.
The Mitnagdim waited for the Rabbi, and the Chassidim brought in the interim Judge Reb Shlomo, brother-in-law of Reb Zacharia Zalkind, in place of a Rabbi, and they considered getting themselves a Rabbi. But for the time being there was no quiet in the city, and both sides grated on each other. Every incident and every event that happened, be it on one side or the other, they blew it out of proportion, even though this winter was almost two years since the beginning of the disagreements and the feud.
During the winter a man named Rueven came from the city of Dishna. He was an old man of around sixty, a great Chassid, and his son Chaim came with him. He had been big baker in the city of Dishna, and for forty years he had baked in that city. The Rebbe had blessed him that he should succeed, and he had succeeded. But during the last summer when their had been major conflagrations in many cities, there was also a big fire in Dishna, and Rueven the was wiped out. A rich Chassid, Bartzik Lewinzahen, along with some other rich Chassidim, backed him with 1000 rubles and brought him to Dvinsk. They rented him a basement apartment in Valval Gloskin's house to set up a bakery. My parents (z''l) also lived in that courtyard, and the whole time the craftsmen worked to fix up the bakery and a very expensive giant oven, the baker and his son were at our place, cooking with our stove and always drinking their tea in our home. One time, he said to my mother (z''l) "Shaina, I don't know how to thank you or honor you for your good will, but despite the fact you're from the family of the Gaon, you do favors for Chassidim even while we are despising him." "Tuvia sins and Zingud is found liable for lashes" was always her answer.
All of the work for the bakery was finished and he prepared all the equipment associated with a large bakery. He brought in many sacks of flour of different types, yeast, butter, and other things he required, because the next day he would begin his work. "But before I start," he said, "I must have a celebration for my benefactors and for all the men who pray together with me." We can say one thing in praise of all Chasidim, a good attribute they all had then whether great or small. They didn't put the prince before the pauper. To a rich man's celebration came all the impoverished, and to a poor man's celebration came almost all the rich Chassidim of the city. He didn't neglect my parents (z''l), because they also went to the party, or as it was called in Yiddish "Zoof Merkal." Although I was then a little girl, I went with my mother by telling her that I loved to hear their songs. Many people gathered in the big room that was prepared for the bakery, both rich and poor together, and they sat around a long table that the baker made from the planks which were intended for holding the challot and loaves. My mother sat in the second room with two other neighborhood women. I didn't want to sit next to my mother, so I posted myself at the threshold of the door the whole time to see what would happen in there.
Rueven the baker stood on the table a barrel containing around 20 Loog, full of strong whiskey, and he set up glasses suitable for a blessing for all the celebrants there, along with finger food and doughnuts. When my mother (z''l) saw that there wasn't a decanter, she said to the baker, "Reb Rueven, why didn't you take a decanter from my house to pour the liquor into. It's not good to pour from the barrel straight into the glass." So he called me and asked me to bring him the big decanter. I ran to our house and took the big decanter, and went back down into the basement to give it to him. But when I returned, I found the glasses already had been filled without a decanter, because they hadn't been able to wait. Rueven stood with a copper loog measure in his hand and filled the glasses. And in another moment, the sound of ringing glasses was heard, each man's with his brother's. "L' Chaim Bartzik, L' Chaim Zinka, L' Chaim Maska, L 'Chaim Ruvelah." And they drank, and a second, and a third, and then they began to yell in full throat, "L 'Chaim Rebbe, L 'Chaim Chassidenu, Death to the living Mitnagdim, from the hollow of the sling may they be cast to their cursed deaths."
Everybody dining there heard these few words, and like an electrical flow they passed between the company from the least to the greatest. They all began shouting the words that the first ones had said, with the little boys adding to the din. So they were all caught up and they started banging their fists on the table. Full glasses of drink were spilled and the liquor soaked the tablecloth, which was ours. My mother (z''l) said, "Behold my wages for the good I did them. Our fine tablecloth will be ruined yet."
But they hadn't said enough and they became inflamed and shouted and cursed the living Mitnagdim, and the dead Gaonim, and above all the Vilna Gaon, whom the cursed energetically. Then my mother got up from her place to see what was going on, how my father (z''l) felt about this bad turn of events, and she saw that he had also gotten up from his place. And he said, "It isn't within my means to fight with you since you are the majority, but I'm not going to sit here with such a light-headed group. Let the owner of the vineyard rid himself of thorns, because painfully thorny are you all," he said and exited. And when my mother saw that Rueven the baker was also inflamed from the heat of the liquor, she said to him, "Rueven, will you go along with these envious cowards and pour oil on the on the generation of generations? I said that you would keep quiet, but here you are in this bitter company. Don't you know this conduct will bring no success? Behold, I hope you will be happy if you escape here by the skin of your teeth. What did the Gaon do to you? Why aren't you afraid to demean and curse him? Pray know that the devil incites you to speak strangely and perversely to your detriment and the detriment of your wife and son." Thus she spoke, then she also left the house, pulling me after her. All night they worked themselves up and drank and got drunk and yelled until their throats were hoarse. When it grew light in the morning, they started to leave in slow steps, each man dragging after his neighbor, and they yawned and teetered in their progress like drunks. After noontime, when my mother saw that the baker and his son were up from their sleep and didn't come for a hot drink, she said, "Without a doubt they are ashamed to come drink in my house." And she sent me to invite them. When they came they both said to my mother, "What bad men and sinners we are! It is incomprehensible that you don't maintain hatred for us. We thought that you'll never allow us over the threshold of your home again." Then my mother (z''l) answered them, "To take revenge or hold a grudge isn't a Jewish virtue. For God is the prosecution and the judgment. Who am I to take revenge over some spills, and not give you water to drink?" They drank and ate and went to the bakery to bake. They mixed flour with yeast and made every kind in wooden troughs, with butter only, oil only, water only, and they kneaded it and made dough. And the dough rose, each kind in its trough, and they stoked the oven as was fitting. Then they made loaves and laid them on platters after which they put them in the oven. And behold! Black encased the lovely loaves that were made from fine flour, butter, saffron, and other expensive ingredients known to great bakers.
So they took the loaves from the oven, and they displayed the properties of ice. From a big loaf was made a little one, thin like matzo. The baker had planned to price a loaf with butter at five kopecks, and a loaf without butter at three kopecks, but nobody was willing to pay even one penny. He thought that maybe the yeast wasn't good, maybe the oven, maybe the flour, so he took different flour and different yeast and watched the oven more carefully, but the next day his loss was even greater. So it was the third day, and all the days of the week. On Friday he prepared himself to bake challot for his Chassidic friends in saying, "I will see what happens with the Shabbat challot." And my mother asked Rueven to permit her to bake her challot in his oven. He said to her in great happiness, "I will bake as you desire." Mother braided the challot and put them in the oven, and when a few minutes had passed, Rueven peeked into the oven and jumped from his place and said, "Wonder of wonders, wonder of wonders. The challot of Shaina (so my mother was called) are shining from the oven, while my challot darken like black humiliation. And his challot left him with a name like his loaves had given him, and nobody would touch them or pick them up, because they were black as coal and thin as matzo.
The next day on Shabbat, when he and his son arrived at the shtiebel to pray, he told what had occurred in the matter of his challot and the challot of my mother. So they all called him stupid and laughed at him greatly. On Sunday of the second week, the baker requested of my mother to make him a platter of loaves and that she, herself, put them in the oven herself, in order that he should have proof. He was beginning to believe that the Lord was scorching the work of his hands. Although my mother was weak of strength and very delicate, and she had never tried to bake in the oven of a baker, despite this she said, "So it will be, and I will also see and have proof." She made him a platter full of loaves in the manner that he showed her, then she took the loaves and placed them in the oven. He also took challot that he made and put them in the oven. And he cried like his heart was torn, hot with tears, "I believe you were absolutely correct in telling me "The devil incites you to anger to your own detriment and the detriment of your wife and son." I won't achieve anything here, but I will lose the money until it is gone, and empty I will return to my city." And he took the loaves from the oven and feared what was coming, because those that my mother made were good and beautiful while his couldn't be shown to anyone. The next morning he invited a couple Chassidim and asked that also they stand and watch this wonder, and he asked my mother to come also. But my mother didn't want to do much labor and she made six loaves. He put what he had made in the oven, and afterward my mother put her six loaves in the oven, and the Chassidim stood and watched the whole time. After a while, Rueven approached and took the loaves out of the oven, and they were all black like coal, only six were exceedingly beautiful. So they all shrugged their shoulders and left. Later, he brought in an extremely experienced baker on the advice of the Chassidim, who told him maybe he didn't understand baking. And the learned baker baked there a couple of times, and it didn't work out for him any better than for Rueven. Three months he labored and toiled, and he lost all his money and returned in deep frustration to the city of Dishna.
A happy time arrived and the community and congregation in Dvinsk celebrated and rejoiced. Every diligent hand engaged in work to arrange and prepare a fitting welcome for that great Rabbi in Israel, Reb Saul Zelig of Proznay. A large and ample house with beautiful furnishings was prepared for him. On the day of his arrival, all of the great men in the city got up in the morning; the brothers Friedlander, the brothers Israel and Saul-Hirsh Horowitz, Reb Nachman Eidel of Raglyot, Yehoshua Eliya Yodenzahen, Reb Yitzchak Yehrohem Dishkin, son of Rabbi Dishkin and brother-in-law of Zachariah Zalkind, Reb Leib Shalom Yafa, my father (z''l), and many others. They all went out of the city to wait for his arrival, sending men before them to greet him on the way, and they all came to the place where they would await him, the leading lights of the city and almost all of the Mitnagdim. The fathers brought their little children with them, and when he arrived, they all cried, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." Friedlander got out of his carriage and asked after his health, then took him in his carriage to his house, where Friedlander made a great party in his honor. The next day the Rabbi went to his own house, and everybody accompanied him with rejoicing and acclaiming out loud warmly, "And he will be our Rabbi." He was the first Rabbi to the Mitnaged congregation in the city of Dvinsk from the time of its inception. They would love the Rabbi exceedingly well because of his greatness in Torah, his modest nature and pleasant disposition that was beyond compare. He received all people and related to them in a relaxed and welcoming manner and with good words and encouragement like Hillel the elder. And who wouldn't love a Rabbi like this? So the joy multiplied throughout the city tremendously, but the Chassidim said, "The Mitnagdim are like a barren woman who doesn't give birth until seventy, and when she delivers this son of her old age, she thinks he is without equal. But when another woman has six boys better and healthier than her only child, then she doesn't gaze raptly at him so much." But the Mitnagdim answered, "Verily did Sarah bear a son at ninety years of age, who took the place of Ishmael, whose mother bore him in her youth." And so were heard arguments from both sides.
So the Chassidim become jealous of the Mitnagdim, and they brought in a new Rabbi, Reb Leib from Hamla. This action brought about new developments on both sides, and the news aroused even the sleeping from their places. Here was the thing: the Proznay was a big Gaon, so he allowed almost all questions, while the Hamlay rejected almost all questions, until it was a topic of conversation amongst everyone. With the Proznay, all the questions were kosher, and with the Hamlay, all the questions were traif. The butchers began to complain because the majority of their oxen were declared traif and they said, "The butchers of the Mitnagdim are waxing very rich while we become more impoverished from day to day." If a Chassidic wife had a chicken or a fat swan and she had to ask if it were kosher, she would think, "And what will happen if I ask the Hamlay? Without a doubt he will declare it traif. And if I ask the Proznay, then it will probably be kosher. And what can happen to me if I go to the Proznay?" So she would go and ask him, he would declare it kosher, and she would be happy. And at meal time she would explain her wisdom to her husband, and he would jump up from his place and say, "You have fed me traif!" And the woman would be bewildered and wouldn't know why he was so shocked and she would ask in wonder, "What's this? Do Chassidim have a different Torah? Isn't he also a Rabbi, so why can't we ask him a question? That their "Grace" is different, this I understand, but if they have a different Torah, that I hadn't known." So the feud began afresh and this caused the Rabbi from Proznay much sorrow.
And it was on the first night of Passover that one woman amongst the Chassidic wives cooked a stew from a fattened goose, and she found in the stew an ear of oats. She ran to the Hamlay who was dressed in his best garments for the holiday to go and say the evening prayers, and when she came and showed him the question he said, "The meat is chometz, as is the stock and the pots you cooked in." The woman was stunned, and she said, "Woe unto me, what will be. I don't have anything to cook or to eat for the whole of the holiday, except a little ox meat I was going to put in the cabbage. How can I put that before six people, myself, my husband, the maid, and my three children?" And she went to the Proznay saying, "Maybe he will declare it kosher." And so it was, and she rejoiced in great happiness. When the family sat down to the Seder and the time for the meal arrived, she told her husband about the fatted goose. He got up from his place and wouldn't eat, and he went to the Hamlay and told him about the matter of the question that he had rejected and the Proznay had accepted. So the Hamlay called the Shamash and sent him to ask in his name, where he had brought from in the law to permit the swan.
The Proznay answered him, "From one spring we pump, but in the place where you find forbiddance, I find acceptance. If you desire to know of a certainty, come to me and I will make it known to you."
There are those who say he didn't go, and those who say he went that night to the Rabbi from Proznay who made him understand, and from that time the feud was laid to rest in the city. But the people were divided into two; the Mitnagdim by themselves and the Chassidim by themselves.
At this time there was a great famine in the surrounding towns, and almost every day many people came from the towns and villages to resuscitate their souls. In Dvinsk there was bread, though the cost rose greatly, but in the little towns they couldn't obtain it any price. If they did get bread there, it was mixed with leaves from the courtyards that were dried, ground, and blended with the flour. In Dvinsk, they blended corn flour with bran. The price of this bread went up to ten cents per pound, when two years earlier the price of good bread had been two cents, and white bread (Sitnazir in their language) was three cents. I remember a couple other things on the subject of the famine that are fitting to talk about. One time my mother sent me to buy two pounds of white bread and gave me a ruble of paper money and told me, "First exchange the ruble for small coins." The price per ruble for changing was between eight to ten cents. So she told me "First exchange the ruble and afterwards to buy the bread, but beware that you aren't cheated, because they openly swindle everybody that they are able to cheat." I went to change the money. Alongside the stores stood a row of money-changers with tables and iron boxes, and the money was kept in the boxes. I went up to a money-changer and she changed the ruble for me. She counted out the money in her hand, and nothing was lacking, but when it was in my hand, there were twenty cents missing. I returned it to her and she counted it out in my hand again, and so we did two or three times until at last it seemed to me that I hadn't been cheated. But when I turned about to go I only had seventy cents in the place of ninety cents, because two silver coins of ten cents each she had secreted between her thumb and hand. Afterwards people told me that this was always the procedure with money-changers. I went to buy two pounds of white bread but there wasn't anymore, so I bought two pounds of corn bread for ten cents. I brought my mother the change which remained from the ruble, summing sixty cents and she sighed and said, "Two pounds of corn bread cost me forty cents." My little brother ate a small piece of the bread and sickened with a serious illness in his intestines. The doctor, Nathanson, tasted the bread and cried, "What's this? One could die from this bread! Aside from there being more bran than flour, there are also leaves from the field in the bread, and the leaves burn the heart and the guts like fire!"
At the same time the famine was growing in the city and the price of flour and crops was climbing higher and higher, Reb Israel Horowitz was in business to supply the fortress and the armies in the principality. He had a great quantity of corn flour since he had bought the business before the famine, and it was in three warehouses, one of his own and two he leased from other men. When he delivered the flour to the royal granary at the fortress, the commander of the fortress examined the flour along with captains from the army and doctors, and they found that it was no good. And they decided unanimously that the flour wouldn't do and they returned it to him. They gave him three months to bring good flour, and if he didn't supply the flour within this time limit, he would lose his military franchise, and they would take the three warehouses from him. There was happiness and rejoicing amongst the Chassidim in Dvinsk as they told one another that they would now see the collapse of one of their most hated opponents. How could he possible supply different flour during a time when the price of flour was going up every day, and what could he do with the great quantity of flour that had been returned to him, because the flour really was very bad. But Horowitz didn't think so. He took all the flour from the granaries and brought it to a place he had prepared for the purpose, and he hired many people to work. The people he hired were all poor Jews that have been idled and without work throughout the famine, and the job of these people was to pick the small stones from the flour, to bring it to be milled at a second mill, and to fill sacks. A few days went by and announcements were heard in every house of study that everybody who wished to buy corn flour cheaply should go to the square next to the river Dina. There was a big building prepared for this by Reb Israel Horowitz and there one could obtain corn flour for seventy cents a pood (16 Kg), and to this point the price had been two rubles per pood. At first only the poorest of the poor brought, the middle class refused to buy, in their thinking, "If it wasn't good enough for the army, it's not good enough for us." Afterwards they tasted the bread and they saw that it was better than the bread sold in the bakers market, because it was pure corn flour free of adulterations. Only a musty odor was noticeable at the first encounter, but after the diner ate it he didn't have any bad feelings. So there was happiness and rejoicing because not only the poor bought, but also the middle class home-owners bought the flour. And in every house, every street, and in every house of study they praised the name Reb Israel Horowitz. Everybody blessed him, everybody prayed to the Lord for his well being, and they said, "A second Joseph has risen up to keep alive many people in the days of this awful famine." Not only in Dvinsk but also from surrounding towns and villages they came to break their fast thanks to Reb Horowitz. But the small merchants and bakers cursed him, and they said to themselves that he'd snatched from their hands the stone house they would have built with money from despoiling the poor. Two months passed and the price of grain was cut in half. Even more than the price of grain had been raised by the big merchants in Germany, the price had been raised even higher by the small grain merchants and bakers who await price run-ups and famine as if a joyous occasion. And so Reb Israel Horowitz saved thousands of people from death by starvation, and many people took their wages in bread, and a whole year he sustained most of the city and the surrounding towns with bread. And his prestige grew; nor did he lose any money because he sold all of the flour. By and by the price of grain came down, and when the deadline came and he had to bring the full amount of flour to the army granaries, he obtained grain at a fair price and didn't lose a thing, because he kept the franchise. And he made himself a name in the country, a good name amongst his people, an eternal name that won't perish.
At this time the administrators of the schools received an edict from the minister of education to compel every father who had several sons to send at least one of them to study in the gymnasium. So the principal of the gymnasium in Dvinsk along with the mayor, Eaglesram and a writer from the city council, went out taking along with them the late Reb Tzvi-Hirsh Rabinowitz who was a great Maskil and lover of the Haskala. The four of them went about recruiting souls for the Haskala. A couple of people who had already had a scent of the air of freedom, those who came from other cities where the Haskala had already begun to blossom, were amenable. But the majority, above all the Chassidim, withheld their children from this and hid their sons from them. If a man had three sons, he would say that he only had one and that he was needed in his business. So they went about wearing their legs out with walking, with little to show for it. And they came to the great house of Reb Yerochum Zalman Gordon, and they found his sons, about five of them, sitting and learning with a Melamed. They asked the boys if they could understand some other language, and when they answered in the negative, the principal told the father that according to the order of the Minister of Education he must give at least one son to go to the gymnasium. The father couldn't refuse them, so he signed that in the next three months he would prepare one of his sons with the required basics, that were then very minimal, and then send him to gymnasium. They believed the great Gordon had made a huge sacrifice by agreeing in writing to send one of his sons to the gymnasium, because after a signature there's no going back. But, honorable readers, far be it from you to be suspicious of their success. For men like him in this period to send their sons to Azazel for him to be made into a Shuler (student) or Shkovart, as everyone would call a youth like this, would be a great injustice to his family and honor. The Lord always provides to his faithful extra insight in order that they may know and understand from beginning to end. So he sent for and invited the woman Faiga Huffalinkarn, who I mentioned at the beginning of my story, and he said to her, "Listen to me please, Faiga, and don't jump at me. Had only your husband lived and your son walked the straight path, then far be it from me that this idea should come into my heart. But everybody knows, as you yourself know, that your son Bashka is an outcast and abandoned youth, and there isn't a house in the whole street that doesn't have a window broken by your son's hand. He has no desire to learn Torah, and what will be his end? Therefore, give him into my care, I will dress him, I will feed him, I will satisfy his thirst and take all financial responsibility onto myself. I will also be as a father to him and he to me as a son, and by my name he will be called. Only he will have to learn in gymnasium, and you will see how much better you son is from now on."
"But I ask you, Reb Yerochum Gordon, won't they force him to convert?" Faiga asked with tears streaming from her eyes.
"God forbid, God forbid, this isn't the case. It's only that they want him to learn in gymnasium. I can't send a son there because aside from sons I have three daughters, and if I had a son attending gymnasium, no other respectable family would want to marry into mine. Did you know that my daughter-in-law, Reva, the wife of my son Yitzchak, is from the family of Romma with the best connections in Sklau, and how could I show my face before my in-laws?"
And Faiga continued to cry and she said, "I have been greatly chastised by the Lord because my husband was taken from me. I have been left an unfortunate widow supporting myself with a hand-powered mill, and my strength isn't up to it. He is a wild son, he runs in the streets, and he doesn't want to work the hand mill even once. Isn't possible for me to provide for him, and I am very unhappy on this account. I will accede to your request only if he desires it so." And she went out of Gordon's house with a troubled and breaking heart because the Lord had continued to chastise her until she was forced to give up her son as a sin offering in place of a rich man's son to study in gymnasium. On arriving home and she told her son why the rich man had called her, in broken words, thinking that he too would cry like her. But on hearing what Gordon wanted, the youth jumped and leapt like a goat from great joy, and he didn't wait a moment but ran to Gordon, and with open joy said to him, "My mother told me what you want to do with me, and here I am your true and simple servant in all that you command, only send me to school." And from that day, Bashkah was Gordon's.
Three months of preparation passed, and for Bashkah Gordon, the exam time arrived. He studied the preparatory lessons with all his strength, not that so much learning was required in those days. When he stood for the examination, he emerged crowned with the name of a good and attentive student, and they sat him in the first form. Bashkah put on a shirt in the place of traditional clothing, and went out for the first time in a gymnasium student's uniform, with gold buttons that sparkled from afar. He gloried in and was proud of these, and in his spare time he walked from street to street to show everybody. He was in truth a handsome youth, smart also, but he was a fatherless orphan and had been unable to accept direction. If somebody had chastised him with words he had answered them with stones. In his wildness his hand had been against everyone, and everyone's hand against him. His mother had called him a "wild man" and the people in the street all called him, "Faiga's city he-goat." But now he received new names, "Shkovant" and "Shuler." His mother complained constantly to her acquaintances that she was devastated in the death of her husband, because if only he had lived her only son wouldn't be going to gymnasium. After two years passed she was comforted by the knowledge that it wasn't a disaster for her but a joy that her son went to school. He studied with tremendous diligence and the school teachers all loved him, and when he finished the third form he received as presents sixty silver coins and a valuable book. The few Maskilim there were then became close to him. Doctor Nathanson spoke well of him in the house of another Maskil, and the man hired him in his free hours to teach his two sons to prepare them for gymnasium. So he was paid a real salary and supported his mother with this money. More yet, when he met his old friends in the streets and they called him derisive names, he didn't pounce on them and hit them as previously had been his rule, but with sweet and positive words told them about his happiness. In the course of three years he brought forty street kids like himself to the gymnasium, and Doctor Nathanson, Tzvi-Hirsh Rabinowitz, and the pharmacist Wyshavanaski saw to their expenses and clothing. Bashka studied with great diligence and good conduct, saying, "I don't want to dishonor the name of Gordon." Every year he advanced higher and higher, and when he finished learning in the gymnasium they sent him to the capital city, where according to many people he rose to the high rank, "State Counselor." He later did many good turns for the children of the rich man who had adopted him as a son. So from the sons of poor rebellious people were made respectable, high-placed men. The rich people and the observant Jews had thought that if they didn't send their children they could halt the Haskala in it's path, but who can halt a flood that in the course of time will overflow all its banks? There was a big war, an internal war, between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and children of the observant fled their parents and scattered in every direction. And this one cried, and that one cried, yet in every place they came to were found benefactors who supported them with advice and money.
Honorable readers! Here I must stray again from my story and let my thoughts float free after being imprisoned, as I compelled myself to write only about things I have seen or heard and not allowed myself to follow my muse. But my ambitions have come around, and therefore I will express my heart-felt thoughts and the understanding reader will judge them. Is it not known to all of us that it is the fault of the ultra-religious and the prideful rich that our nation has been brought down and feelings blackened against us. Our holy Torah has also been diminished because the majority of our people make light of the importance of our Torah and nation together, to the point where one who hates us and wants to scorn us to our faces just calls us "Jew" or "Hebrew." This condemnation and contempt is like an hot iron on living flesh, and a few, or maybe many during this time, left entirely from amongst us and are gone. If not for anti-Semitism coming twenty-four years ago to Berlin, the concept of the Lovers of Zion wouldn't be here now, and the Zionist movement wouldn't have come about five years ago, a great movement scattering light throughout the world like the revolutions of the sun. Who knows what would have finally come of all the hopes and aspirations of Israel. It didn't happen like all the ultra-religious supposed, that Israel would die in the melting pot of the Haskala, God forbid. But when the Haskala began to develop, it was precisely the rich and the religious who should have sent their sons to school, because at that time, they weren't forced to write on Shabbat, nor were they even required to got to school on Shabbat. On Sunday they could go to their schoolmates, their non-Jewish friends, and learn from them the Saturday lesson, and by Monday everybody would know the lessons, whether they were Jews or non-Jews. If they had sent the older youths like these, who had been raised in the lap of Torah and Mitzvot and had mastered it all, and had they afterwards absorbed the Haskala, then the Haskala would have been to Judaism like a necklace on a neck, they would have risen and succeeded, and Judaism with them. Moreover, our people didn't take to heart where it would end. Then it would have been easy for them to found gymnasiums and universities for themselves, and every father today wouldn't be compelled by fear and anxiety to sign that he gives his son of his own will into the hands of teachers, to desecrate the Sabbath and much more. And what did they do back then? Who were the majority of those going to gymnasium at the beginning? Street kids without morals and Derech Eretz, or Yeshiva students who threw off the yoke of Yeshiva, service and the Torah, all together. And they were angry and vengeful against the rich and the home-owners who hadn't given them enough bread to be satisfy themselves, even though they had labored for them. The house-wife looked out for herself, the maid looked out for herself, and the principal of the Yeshiva was at the head of them all. He was, according to many, like a bear in ambush, in their fear that he mark them out and strike. When these people took the Haskala into their hands, it was seen by them as a lash to revenge themselves on those who had despised them and pursued them in the name of the power of the Torah. That is to say, wasn't it thought a Mitzvah by us if we took a man who ate without ritually washing his hands, and gave him as a sacrificial offering to the army in the place of a rich man's son, or the son of an ultra-religious, and so-on and so-on? First these new Maskilim cast aside the Torah and commandments, next they became prideful in their knowledge and they caused heartaches for the religious, since God no longer had hands to hurt them or chastise them as before. That was their first revenge, and their second was that they attracted the young generation, children of upright parents who had lived by Torah and work. And the wind that blew in the world at that time stood at their right, because the young also wanted to inhale the air of freedom and liberation, but their parents hands turned them away and barred them from doing anything. The sons on seeing they had found new protectors who would see to their futures, left their parents all together and set out on a path paved for them by their new benefactors. They didn't stray right or left, and ten years later a new generation was born, a generation embracing near apostasy, entirely atheist, as we all know. Before the birth of anti-Semitism there was an article from Helisivotgrad, I don't remember if it was in Ha-Melitz or Ha-Magid, in which he wrote: "What is the Shulchan Aruch to us? Isn't it already destroyed by mildew? We, ourselves, will make a new Shulchan Aruch. This we all know, that we shall not steal or murder, and aside from this there is nothing. And what did the Holy One Blessed be He do in folding up all those ideas with the ideas of the majority of peoples in one package, and pulling it from the casket and scattering it amongst all the peoples in the world to its length and breadth? They were taught to make a Shulchan Aruch for themselves and call it by the name anti-Semitism, and by the laws of this Shulchan Aruch inflame themselves and strike our brothers leg upon thigh. In Germany came the first blow, in Kiev the second, in Bialistock the third, and on and on, and they judged us without the Shulchan Aruch. So see and accept proof that it is no good for everyone to make a Shulchan Aruch for himself. Who is guilty for our disaster and all the disasters that befall us if not the Orthodox, who don't understand the big picture, and think that the ideas of men are all equal. The Haskala has done us a great good, because before the Haskala we were as dust underfoot, our pride and spirit together. We were contemptible and despised and we ceased to be men not only in their eyes but in our eyes also. We were a target half scorned at the leisure of the Polish. At one point, at a great feast in the house of a prince, they took two Jews and gave them medicine to make them vomit in the greatest measure and tied their beards together, this to that. They stood them in the middle of a room around which sat all of the guests, and everyone can understand the situation of these wretches. Truly this is an eternal hatred for an eternal people, a hatred that will not weaken as long as we dwell on foreign land, and the discrimination will not cease. But the difference is this; that before the birth of the Haskala they hated us in thinking that we were unsuccessful people, we were as savages in their eyes, but afterwards they hated us for our abilities and our much higher diligence. If the hatred will not cease, isn't it better that they hate us for our diligence and ability, and not for our brutishness and lack of humanity? So on every front the Haskala has brought us improvement, and most of all, she brought us the Zionist movement.
Now honorable readers, it's for you to judge the matter. Is not the Zionist movement the second kingdom come in our lifetimes to improve our conditions? Yet another benefit is that she has come to repair that which perverted the Haskala through the sin of not understanding how to receive it. That which was lacking for us in the Haskala will be completed for us in the Zionist movement. In conclusion, she has come to make us whole and to return to us what the first Haskala took from us, this being; Love of Torah, Love of our Land, our nation and brotherhood. Instead of everyone sitting within his own circle by himself we will sit like brothers together. The true religious will be remembered with goodwill and blessings as those who came to the aid of the Lord in their heroism. If the Lord is with us, we all extend a helping hand, each man to his neighbor, and we won't go about any more in anger and rudeness like our fathers did. Although there are found Zionists who are yet far from our Torah, it's not terrible, because won't they return to us? Their spirit will return to their land with them, and bring on them a blessing.
And when all the religious are absorbed, they and their children into this great movement, then the Lord will return us from captivity, and we will go up to the land of Israel and flower as before. But if you also do like the deeds of the generation of the Haskala, isn't it just yourselves you are holding back, and not your children, the young people who aspire to the movement and to life? They will be taken into the great movement that will soon fill the ancient void, and in your withholding this happiness from them, who knows what they will say, your children and your children's children after them.
The house of Kloyna was then in the middle of construction, and it was his second house, but he would not complete it. They said about him that he was the first head of the Jews of Dvinsk. In the days of the kidnappers he did as all the profiteers do (And this was the fate of the children: They were sent to a far province, there they were given to a farmer or a discharged soldier to raise and to force them to give up their religion. They remained there until they were eighteen, then they were brought to the army where they served twenty-five years. Accordingly, most of these unfortunates never returned to their parents or their people, because most of the parents died from anguish. The kidnappers and their employers were all Jews, and they didn't remember the covenant of brothers in order to profit from injustice. Theirs was the profit of Jacob's sons.) Kloyna was the Gabbi, the new administrator, head of the congregation and the mohal. In his house were stored all the records of the community, of the dead and the living. In summary, he was head and first amongst the community of the Israel in Dvinsk. They said about him that he had a good qualities and bad. For example, if a Jew had died in Dvinsk he was buried immediately, and if a father had to make a bris for his son, it was the custom to prepare all day and wait for guests, sometimes drawing the thing out until evening. But when Kloyna rose to power, he reversed the system. When he came to a man's house to circumcise his son, he wouldn't delay even a moment, although many times they said to him, "Reb Kloyna, the Baal Bris has gone out but will return in a moment, and it's proper to wait for him." He wouldn't even wait for the father. And if somebody died he would say, "What's the big fuss? Wait a little, wait. To bury a Jewish man you rush and to make a Jew you delay!" Despite this, he buried many Jews, and not just after their deaths but while they were still alive, as did all those profiteers in that time, this burial for the children, the other for the adults.
I heard from the lips of a mother of a kidnapped boy who told me, "Fifteen years have passed since the criminal night and every time I tell about it my blood boils inside me and I see it as if it were happening now. My husband had died, and I had two sons, one married and the other six years old. Erev Simchat Torah was the night. I lived in a small humble house and my son slept in my bosom. I was thinking that the next day I would go with him to the village of the Wyskam settlement where there is a farmer who knew my husband, peace be on him, and he will hide my son as he did last year. It didn't come into my heart that the evening of the festival of Simchat Torah, in which they drink and get drunk, they will do a thing like this. I was asleep, and the door was closed with a wooden bolt, but they broke it, and before I could figure out what was happening, the boy was in the hands of the kidnappers. They didn't heed my broken screams to the heavens and the highest heaven, and they left. Yes, they were drinking and were drunk, these men, on the profits of the harvest they made of us. When I went that morning to Kloyna, he was sitting at a table arrayed with rich foods. My heart was filled with grave wounds, and I fell at his feet and cried and implored him to return my son, the soft little boy, and I would bless him with many blessings. But he answered me, "I have nothing to do with whether it is your son or the son of another woman who is taken, but if he is in our hands we can't return him to you." I saw that he had set his heart like a stone and even poured salt on my wounds by saying, "Don't be afraid, this little one will grow to be big. If he will not grow in your house, then in the house of somebody else." When I heard these words I poured out my wrath on him, and in my anger I gave him all of the curses written in the Torah, then I left. It's true that I saw there was revenge on this murderer, but did this heal me? Behold I am sixty years old today and much time has passed, but my wounded heart hasn't healed and never will.
Another poor woman had a son, a lad of sixteen years, who was her sole support. When the son was taken to the army, the mother went to cry and plead before Kloyna on behalf of her son, as he was sitting and drinking tea in the morning. When she saw that he wasn't paying attention to her words, she cried loudly, "Cursed you will be, murderer. Your wife will be a widow and your children orphans like my son. The money you took for my son will change to a curse in your guts, because it's my blood and the blood of my son you are drinking." Even then he didn't answer her a word, only drank the tea and said, "Ahh, How good. How sweet this tea is!"
A couple of years passed and the wrath went out on Kloyna. His exact crime, I don't know, only that he was judged and sent to Siberia. About the time we arrived in Dvinsk he was sent away. I never saw him, just his stone house that stood in the middle of construction because he started to build it but couldn't finish it. Then, a thing occurred which was like a healing medicine to the whole city of Dvinsk, and they talked about this wonder for a long time, all of the people of the city from the least to the greatest.
A soldier from the city of Wytabask wrote a letter to his mother. The letter was carried through many homes and shops, and every time they read the letter, people in the crowd drank a round on it, and here are the words of the letter!
"Dear Mother. Yes there is a God judging in the land! Did you know that Kloyna is now in the city of Wytabask, and he is doing here the same things he did in Dvinsk? There he was making changes all over the city, and also here in Wytabask he is making changes all over the city, with a broom. But listen, my mother, do you not remember eight years ago when I got the first letter from you, full of your mourning and loss, and amongst your words you told me that you yelled at Kloyna, "Murder! Isn't it the blood of my dear son you drink and not tea!" and he answered you something like this, "Ahh, How good, How sweet!" as if it was sweet to wound us and drink our blood. And now I have seen our enemy more than I could imagine or hope. A couple of weeks ago I was sent, myself and my comrades in arms, to guard prisoners who were being sent from the prison to clean the streets of Wytabask. When I looked at the prisoners, I picked out Reb Kloyna even though it was hard to recognize him. He was pulling a barrow and a broom to clean the streets and gather the manure, and to haul it outside the city afterwards and dump it there. At first, I was overcome by the urge to take revenge on him, not for my blood because I am a man now, but your blood, dear mother, your blood which has poured like water onto the ground. But then I scolded myself and said, "Evil fool, from him will you take revenge? From him? The little you can see of his condition now and what can be expected for him in the future, is that a small revenge? No! No! To repay good in the place of evil, that is true revenge." At that moment I took a cigarette from my pocket, and when I saw that my comrades weren't observing I gave it to him, and he gazed at me with great thanks. And when the time came for them to haul the manure out, I said that he should pull the smallest load because he was the weakest of them all. Truthfully, he isn't the Kloyna he once was, his wide fat belly now hangs like a sack and his full handsome face is gaunt and blackened. All week he worked in the streets and when it was my turn to change duty with another soldier, I requested my commander that he send me back in somebody else's place. I am liked by all the officers due to my usefulness and diligence, so he didn't turn me away empty. I remained as a guard, and I did everything in my power that I could to do good by him. I even gave him food and money, according to what I could obtain. On the sixth day of his working, when all the other prisoners went to eat the afternoon bread, I took him into my custody and went with him to a restaurant. There I bought us both meals and cigarettes, and I also gave him money. And that day, when he finished eating, he said to me, "My son, My son. Who are you that you are so merciful on a wretch like me?"
"The heart knows the bitterness of the soul," I answered him, "I was also a wretch twelve years ago on account of you, Mr. Kloyna, because I am the son of the widow Devorah for whom I was the sole support." And when I caused him to recall my name and the name of my dear mother, he fell to the ground in a faint. I picked him up and requested our officer send him to recuperate because he was sick. I comforted him and told him that if I hadn't been destroyed by the tortures of my sorrows as a far wandering youth, nor should he lose hope in the Lord that he who is smitten may also be made well. But he didn't accept the consolation and the next week he was sent elsewhere. Believe me, dear mother, that he belonged to God, and if it were in my hands to save him, then I would save him with all my heart and soul, I grew so warm and tender to him. But if the Lord smites a man, who can heal him? Trust in the Lord, mother, and in a little while you will see your son, because in five months I will have completed twelve years of my service. Then I will be sent for a year of leave to see you and live with you, to make you whole and comfort you for your mourning. You will see that I am completely healthy, tall and strong, and you will see and rejoice in your heart because I've also learned the Russian language in every detail and grammatical rule. My commander has told me many times, "Hirshka! When you get to your city you can be a good teacher of the Russian language." I hope that in another three years I will be permanently discharged, because the good and just Tsar Alexander the Second has given the decree that service be for fifteen years and not twenty five, and we hope that we are included in this accounting. Live and be well, my mother, live and trust in the Lord, and Shalom to you and to all our brothers scattered to all extremes of the land and far islands.
Your son who longs to see you, Hirsch Kvillikam
The house of Meir "Angry Cat" stood at the center of a main street. I never got to know Meir himself, because he was already dead, but I knew his wife. She had a daughter, although not her birth daughter as she had no children, but a poor young girl, a relation, who she took in as a small child to bring up. It was told about Mrs. "Angry Cat" that when she was young, she bought a cat to raise, and she entertained herself by putting all sorts of jewelry on it. She placed on its neck a string of expensive pearls that she wore about her own throat, which were worth three thousand silver coins, and she put on his legs all of her countless rings, every last one. A locket with a picture set in precious stones she laid amidst the pearls on the heart of the cat, then she took him on her arm to the railing to see his beauty in the light of the sun. When she reached the railing, the cat jumped and fled with the valuables, and he never returned to this day. Therefore, she was known forever after as "Angry Cat", and her husband was also known by this name, Meir "Angry Cat". During the years we lived in Dvinsk, she married off the daughter she had brought up. After two years, the two of them, the daughter and her husband, wanted to throw her out of the house, saying to her, "Aren't you a stranger here? Our Uncle Meir bequeathed us this house, what are you doing here! But, if you want to live here and not interfere in our business, fine. Live here and eat, nothing more."
The rich woman started to cry and she said, "Cursed is the day that I brought this sorrow into my house. The townsfolk laughed at me many years ago because I adorned my cat with precious jewelry worth five thousand silver coins and he fled from me, and for this they call me "Angry Cat." Who will empower me to cause also this cat of mine to also flee me? I gave her three times five thousand silver coins, and they called me afterwards a hundred derogatory names. I don't take it to heart, only let me be freed from my disaster. My dear friend," she continued to cry, unable to stand upright, "Will you not take a lesson from me? I advise every woman that if the Lord rewards her with children, good, but otherwise not to set her heart to take strange children into her house, because they are strangers. The strangers have shortened my life with their goodness and in the end, either they will drive me from my dainty home that was prepared for my old age, or they will take themselves away. If only she had been raised in her parent's house in poverty. Then if I had given her one thousand silver coins as a dowery on her betrothal day, she would have kissed my hands and feet and I would have been for her "Dear Aunty" beyond compare. Since she was raised in my house like a king's daughter, and I didn't withhold from her anything her heart desired and made her a rich woman, now she wants to inherit me while I'm still alive." And as she foretold, she was later forced to leave her home.
The house of Reb Zacharia Zalkind was very large and beautiful. He was greatly learned in Torah, he feared the heavens, and was a great scholar. The Chassidim tell about his father, Reb Leibel the Lazy, that when the Chassidim from Dvinsk came to the Rabbi Reb Mendel (z''l) in Lebovitch and asked his advice, on their telling him they were from Dvinsk, he said to them "Isn't Liebelah the Lazy in your city? So why come to me?" One time, Zalkind sat talking with my father (z''l) and he said in these words, "Reb Yosel," (so was called my father (z''l))," Do you remember the time the two of us sat in Bavalazan repairing cloth boots when we were learning from the Gaon Reb Itzlick (z''l)." This I must elucidate, that Reb Zacharia wasn't involved with the rift concerning the Rabbis, for better or worse, and he had studied with Reb Itzlick (z''l) and paid great respect to all of our Gaonim. He was a very rich man, with businesses expanding throughout the land, and it was said about him that he had spoken a couple of times with Tsar Nicholas the First.
The House of Malkiel began to shine. The brothers began to show the world their greatness, and these are their names; Shmuel, Kalan, Bartzig, Itza, and Zelig. The last of these was a great idiot, he lived in the Malkiel courtyard and the successful Shmuel supported him and his daughters, one of whom was also a great fool. I remember when Zelig walked in the courtyard, it was his job to drive all the children from the yard. Then the children would all hold up their little hands and wave "Shalom" to him, then with great speed extend their middle fingers, making him mad. Afterwards the little boys and girls would return and count on their hands how many middle fingers Zelig got that day, and this was a great amusement for the children.
Shmuel's wife, Chaya-Mona, was of a beautiful appearance and very smart, and all of the family called her the queen of the family. Shmuel was then a member of the local council, but the citizens of the city said that he was not the counselor, but she, for every meeting and each session he had to attend, he didn't go by himself but with her. There was a shul for Chassidim in the house of Chaya-Mona's parents, Avrahamiel Efrati and his wife Sarah Faiga, and they were respected people, generous, of great integrity.
The memories of my childhood I have laid before you, honorable readers, without cosmetics, just things as they were. I don't know any more because in 1871 my father settled in the city of Riga, so my observations were completed. I have fulfilled the promise that I made myself, that if the opportunity came to hand, I would write a memoir. Earlier, my pen wasn't strong enough to write memoirs, because then was a time full of pleasant visions and dreams. Everybody pays attention only to the present, the past isn't remembered and no attention is given to the future. Every writer and author writes warnings to the younger generation, "Go to the light of the present, take it in your grasp and don't let it slacken. The past is not for us and don't aspire to the future." And comes the "present" by itself and slaps them in the face and says, "Be done with your pleasant dreams! See that you don't have a present. Look behind you and see a great chain, a strong chain, that if you only grasp it will lead you to a good future, because only in the future can you expect happiness. I also value the chain of the past and therefore I hold onto it with both hands, and I value even more the future and say, "Happy is he who waits and arrives." Now I have found it proper to write the past from memories of my youth.
Lodz, 3 Tamuz 1902, The Author
I welcome and questions or comments.
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