A Walk through My Devastated Shtetl
by Avrom Lev, 1952translated from Yiddish by Dr. Neville Lamdan,copyright by Neville Lamdan 2007

  1. Part One
  2. Part Two
  3. Part Three
  4. Part Four
  5. Part Five

Avrom Lev in 1951

Introduction by Neville Lamdan, Jerusalem 2007

Writing in Tel Aviv in about 1952, Avrom Lev has yet not come to terms with the fact that his home shtetl, Lechovich, has been brutally destroyed by the Nazis, together with virtually all the Jews who remained there during the War. He takes us on a “guided tour” of the town, ostensibly as he remembers it as a young man growing up before World War I. In reality, he is penning a moving testimonial to the many Jews he remembers from that period. In a tour de force, he manages to mention by name (or nickname) over 220 of them in the space of 50 pages of Yiddish, describing several individuals at length. He cannot comprehend how some of them went meekly to the Nazi slaughter without putting up any resistance. He is particularly saddened by those committed Zionists who failed to emigrate to Eretz Yisroel - and died.

In the process, he offers intriguing glimpses of Lechovich before 1914 – of Jews, balle-batim and bal-agoles, merchants and manufacturers, rich and poor, learned and illiterate, wise and naive, observant and less so (often from within the chassidic orbit). He recalls vividly events and places which impacted on him as a youngster – the agony of having one’s hair cut, the ravages of a local quack-doctor, the nightly social gatherings at the post-office; the annual visits of the Koidanover Rebbe, the drama group, swimming in the river, scrambling up a mighty hillock just outside town He also reveals a traditional Jewish community being touched by modernity, secularism, Russification, Zionism, and radical politics, not to mention “big town” fashions and affectations. And unwittingly he knocks down various myths about the shtetl: some of the local Polish gentry were decently disposed towards Jews; Jewish toughs occasionally beat up local peasants; there were folk given to the bottle; not all women were faithful; a man could keep a gypsy girl; teenagers flirted deep in the woods; while ideological hot-heads were violent and capable of murdering their “enemies”.

My Devastated Shtetl, Part One

Let’s gather together hand in hand, all of us orphaned, saddened, crushed remnants of our splintered “nest” and begin our “Yizkor” walk. You ask: “From where to start?” What’s the difference? The whole devastated “shtetl” is like a single wound, which, wherever touched, gives you the same enormous pain.

We’re beginning from the “Mizrach”, where one finds the real “balle-batim”. Here is the Market Place where, right in the corner, stands the two-storeyed stone house of our most affluent Jew, Reb Avrom Yaakov Kaplan, with a whole row of shops on the lower level.

Among the shop-owners is our warm-hearted Shloimke Rozovsky who, having been left an orphan from youth, became the sole provider for his family and therefore, even in his latter years, loving life and cheerful, he is still a father to his children. He is so hearty and full of gusto that on every occasion he is singing Zionist songs, giving expression to his strong “Love of Zion” - where he was not destined to go since in the Nazis’ time, as a leader of the community, he paid with his life as a martyr.

Here is the second two-story stone house (in the Market Place), that of Reb Itshe Cohen – his nickname “Itshe the bandit”, although in his whole life he never harmed a fly on the wall. He came by that nickname only because, although a Cohen, he was quick to anger. His house was the decent “guest-house” in town, where itinerant preachers, cantors, travelers, Zionist speakers and propagandists were found, as well as brides and grooms who used to go there with their future spouses. And the encounters there were so very innocent, free of any tint of impurity, God forbid, as is usual in big-town hotels … Bal-agoles (carters, or horse and buggy drivers) had their pick-up stand there, taking their passengers to and from the railway. Between trips they used to grab a drink with a little something to eat – a piece of good gefilte fish (stuffed fish) or pickled herring which Reb Itshe’s unassuming wife Chamme (Nechome)-Reizel had handily and tastefully prepared.

And everything (was done) without a lot of bother and scandal, God forbid. Only once a year, at Simchas Torah time when the non-Jewish ruffians from the surrounding villages began to assemble for conscription and found the “new recruits” from other nearby districts in Reb Itshe Cohen’s guest-house, did a minor scandal break out from time to time, when the sorry, drunken louts became unruly and began to show some wild anti-Semitism. But they were soon silenced with the help of local Jewish fellows – butchers, carters, grooms, with Chaim-Azri’el at their head. Some used to drive straight into the frenzied roughs and mete out murderous blows with whatever came to hand.

Here is the third two-storeyed stone house that is like an “add-on” to Reb Itshe Cohen’s guesthouse. In the first story of the house is located the “Monopol” (state liquor store) where embittered and forlorn souls seek consolation in a small flask of booze which they buy there. Upstairs, on the second storey, lives alone Reb Yisroel Mishkovsky, the town’s “zakonik” (legal expert), the “Starosta” (Director) of the Jewish “Bourgeoisie” Administration (most Jews were classified as “petits bourgeois” in Czarist Russia). The fortunes of the Jewish inhabitants very often depended on him: which of them will, or will not, go to the army; who will receive an inheritance; who will be granted the rights of an only son or a single bread-winner in a family after a father’s death - and who will not. In general, the whole Jewish community is in Reb Yisroel Mishkovsky’s hands, because he is a great expert in law. (It is said that) he can “reach the Czar himself”. Hence he is not dressed at all in a provincial fashion. A lanky Jew, cleanly and elegantly appareled, with a dressy hard hat even on weekdays, with a neatly trimmed little beard, a broad golden ring on his finger and a golden pince-nez on his nose.

Another two-storeyed building extends there, the continuation of Reb Yisroel Mishkovsky’s house. It belongs to Reb Mich’l Dodes or Mich’l Agushes, a rotund, solid Jew, already of advanced years but still completely sturdy, always with a “bim” and a “bam” in the “sh’moine esre” (prayer composed of eighteen blessings), as is fit for a Chabad chassid.

Also here is a “guest-house” which his son, Dode (Dovid) runs. It is however much more modern than Reb Itshe Cohen’s (place). Christian guests often lodge there, such as magnates (landed gentry), inspectors and other state officials. Consequently, Dode was always cleanly dressed with a high stiff collar, even during the week - and he had even been seen without a hat. His wife Temme was a completely modern lady with a high coiffure, long earrings like bells, absolutely always powdered up and almost always with a cigarette in her mouth. And (what of) their older daughter, Hode? She is already a “super-moderne,” big-town “mademoiselle”!

However, their entire attentions are directed at their one and only son, Meir’ke – a fine young man with a curly head of hair, pink cheeks and a pince-nez on a neat little nose. Meir’ke had studied courses in a big town where he completed the “Opticians’ (Academy)” in order to become an optician subsequently. He was the first to turn up in Lechovich on the High Holydays from the “big town” in a cap with a lacquered peak, making a big impression, you understand, among the young folk. With the onslaught of World War I, that warm family “nest” (unit) was also among the victims – and the very precious, ben yachid (only son) Meir’ke passed away before his time, leaving much grief among his friends and admirers.

Not far from Temme Agushe’s stone house, as if cuddled up to Reb Idel Monye’s two-storeyed house, stands Peretz Alezer’s tailor-shop, built of wood. Peretz Alezer is a tall, handsome, broad-boned Jew with a black beard. He also wears a dressy hard hat, even on weekdays. (He is) the father of a tall, large robust son and an excellent prayer leader (in synagogue), especially on the High Holydays, when he used to pour out his soul in his smooth, heartfelt voice and transport with him even the biggest scoundrels, filling their hearts with belief and hope. Without regard to the fact that in his daily life, Peretz was a stutterer, no-one was his equal in (delivering) velvety, sweet Hebrew before the praying-stand. People argued vehemently about whether the wonderful transformation should be explained by the effect of the “awe of the community” (a Talmudic expression) or “know before whom you stand” (an admonition from the Mishnaic work, “Pirkei Ovos”). All of us greatly missed Peretz when he left the shtetl and went off to America to his children. He traveled there because of his business difficulties, which even his fervent prayers could not resolve.

There stands in front of us the stone house of Reb Idel Monye, a saintly Jew, who cared ceaselessly for the health of his brother Jews. To that end, he actually founded in the shtetl the (so-called) “Hekdesh” (literally, a “religious foundation”), a kind of hospice for any poor and lonely (folk). Not without reason have we devoted a special chapter to this righteous man in our book. Very briefly, one could say of him that he was the “Angel Raphael” in human form. After his death, a cooperative bank was set up in the upper storey of his two-storeyed building and in the lower storey a road-house (an inn), which had nothing to do with people’s health!

And there stands before us the shared building of Reb Leibe Kantorovich and Reb Yosef Bogin. The first is a fervent “Stoliner” chassid, in whose house was a place for the Stoliner chassidim in Lechovich after the revolt against the “dynasty” of the Lechovicher “Rebbes” (Chassidic Rabbis). (It was) not an especially large “minyan”, (being made up) of important chassidim and God-fearing Jews, (imbued) with “flame and fire”. On the High Holydays, Succos (the Festival of “Tabernacles”) and Simchas Torah, the large dwelling of Reb Leibe Kantorovich was too crowded to contain the hundred or so “davenners” (people praying) and curious onlookers, (taken) by the enthused dancing and singing of those Stoliner chassidim. In particular, I cannot forget the sincere and dignified Jew, Reb Yitzchok Aron, the “melamed” (the cheder teacher) with his fine, silvery beard, when before the “hakoffes” (Procession of the Scrolls of the Law), he used to sit among his fellow chassidim before a little tumbler of spirits – not, God forbid, to get drunk, but only to be able to serve the Lord of the Universe with more devotion and enthusiasm. With his hoarse but sincere voice he used to sing the “Awm ani chawmo” (song) of the “Hoishannes” (part of the ritual on the festival of “Hoishanno Rabbo”), tapping his fingers on the table slowly, in time with the accompaniment of his “chaverim” (companions): {Hebrew text of the “Awm ani chawmo” liturgical poem, with “prompts” in Yiddish}.

The other partner (in the building), Reb Yosef Bogin, was also a chassid but, by contrast, a “Koidanover” (chossid), well-versed in worldly matters. (He was) a big flour-merchant who had links with the largest flour companies in Russia. Besides the Hebrew press, he also received a big Russian daily, (either) “Novoii Slavo” or “Virzhvevii Vedomosti”. He displayed a strong disposition towards Zionism and was the founder of the first “modern” cheder (religious school for young boys) in the shtetl. That cheder, by the way, caused not a few problems and “scandals” from the side of the local (old-fashioned) “melamdim” (cheder teachers).

While mentioning these two esteemed balle-batim, one should also not neglect Riva “di Almone” (the widow), who was well-known to all of us, and her charming daughter Shaindel with her husband Berl Postan, an intelligent young man who had taken the small shop below the stone house and sold soda water or, as we called it, “Seltzerske” (seltzer), mixed with good sour-cherry syrup or currant juice. After a heavy and greasy “cholent” (a dish generally eaten on the Sabbath), on a hot day, we really felt the taste of the paradise in that drink … you see, even without emptying the whole glass to the very bottom, the gas soon gives you a sharp clip in the nose, eliciting a deep and hearty belch. You quickly feel light in the soul – (it is) a real “life-saver” (“mechaye nefoshos”). Moreover, while the (soda) trade would go on Shabbes at full blast, Riva would not, God forbid, desecrate the Sabbath. Hence, instead of money, she used to take a something in pawn – a household teaspoon, or small scissors, or even a fork, on condition, you understand, that shortly after Shabbes they would all be redeemed for cash. There were also those who had an open credit with Riva and they could drink to their heart’s content. Moreover, she did not wish that those so-called Shabbes-pleasures of a cold drink of (soda) water after cholent on a hot summer’s day should denied even to complete strangers and thus everyone who chanced by profited from her goodness, through those “pawns”.

Here we take a turn right and stand before Mich’l Noah’s house - a simple, plain (“one of the people”) Jew, who left dear, mild, pious children and grandchildren after him. Some of them are in Eretz Yisroel (the Land of Israel) and some are in America. Among them are devoted Zionists who are taking a productive part in the development of the Land. One of them is the Chaverah (“comrade”) Tzipporah Bat-Ami, who was to be found among the first in the ranks of “He-chalutz” (a pioneering youth movement) at the beginning of the Third “Aliyah” (wave of immigration to Palestine) and who straightaway assumed a prominent place in the Women Workers Movement in the Land (of Israel). Also her brother in America, M. S. Mallov, together with his wife, are very active on the development of our country, putting out great sums of money for it.

Not far from Mich’l Noah’s house and the little house of his son Avrom, a really saintly Jew and a great God-fearer, stands the two-storey stone house, which faces forward, that of the Vinograd family - all fervent chassidim and important merchants of wax, pig’s bristle and wood. Their merchandise even went in big shipments abroad, reaching as far as America. A small fellow, Reb Shlomo Vinograd or, as he was called: “Reb Shlomo Feivel’s”, but a righteous Jew who was always ready to help another, despite the fact that he was not a very affluent man.

Although he himself was an ardent chossid and very much believed in the Stoliner Rebbes, he did not prevent his daughter, Gitel, from being a fervent Zionist. Nor did he stop his son Yitzchok from going on his free (-thinking) ways. His brother Boaz was also a staunchly devoted chassid of the Lechovicher Rebbe, Reb No’achke. Of all his brothers, Boaz was the biggest merchant and had large connections abroad. And really because of that, in contrast to his brothers, (Boaz) was elegantly fitted out, (also) with a hard hat – even his beard was well rounded off.

A bit further on from the Vinograd’s stands a little wooden house, divided with a wall into two. In the back is a dwelling and in the front, looking out onto the market, is Reb Cheme (Nechemyah) Shaiyel’s shop for cobblers’ needs. He was known as an upright Jew. It was said of him that every Pesach (Passover) “he splits the sea”. On each seventh day of Pesach, he used to stand a trough full of water in his house. Then taking off his boots, slinging them over his shoulders, and striding barefoot in the direction of the trough with a stick in hand, he turned to his wife, Bashe – a dear, little, “kosher”, Jewish woman – with the words: “Bashinke, my wife, ask where am I coming from”. And when she did as her husband requested and asked: “Chemele, my husband, from where are you coming?”, he replied: “From Egypt!” Then she went on and asked him, according to the script, which she remembered from previous years: ”And where are you going to, my husband?” He responded: “To Eretz Yisroel!” And then she called out and asked: “And what do you want to do, my husband?” – and he replied: “To split the sea!” … Then, without further thought, he started with the stick and gave a clout to the water in the trough and the “sea”, you understand, was “split”, just as Moishe Rabbenu (Moses, our Teacher) (did) to the Red Sea! (Oy, such) dear, naïve, kosher, Jews!!!

A little further (down) from them (Cheme and Bashe Shaiyel’s) is the single-storey stone house of (Cheme’s) brother, Reb Mordechai Shaiyel’s, which is much better kept than his brother’s. Besides his own business undertakings, which are not simple, he manages the shtetl’s (public) “chest” in his place (that is funded) by the “candle tax” (a special tax imposed upon Jews), from which the salaries of the town’s Rabbi and Dayonim (religious judges, sometimes assistant rabbis who ruled on certain issues) are paid. Although not at all wealthy himself, he had children who later became big and prominent merchants and also warm Jews. Of them, two are in Shanghai, while the daughter who stayed behind, Beroche, (was) a pious Jewess with a warm heart, ready to help anyone in need until the last day of her life when the accursed Nazis put her to death.

And there stands the Chazanovich’s stone house – first the father’s, Reb Yehoshu’o Chazanovich; and after that, his son Moshke’s. Apparently both were clever Jews – but not so clever in planning their lives. For his whole life, Moshke was an ardent Zionist – but he got stuck in the shtetl until he perished.

And there is the stone house of Reb Leibe “Pelzel” (the fur-man, furrier). (He was) a sturdy little Jew, a joyful chassid. However, his two sons, Yona and Yankel, although they went in their father’s ways, were “caught in the act” (of stepping out of line): They became fervently devoted Zionists and at every opportunity spoke Hebrew with their friends. However, (making) a bare livelihood was so hard that they did not even think about traveling to Eretz Yisroel, like their cousin Yosef Busel. They stayed in Golus (in the Diaspora) and died in the greatest misfortune.

And there is the long courtyard of the brothers Shimmel and Berl Berkovich, well-established market balle-batim, simple, down-to-earth Jews. One of them, Berl, had a daughter, Malke, who was a “God’s prayer”. Darkly lovely, with a pair of blazing black eyes, full of energy, well brought up and also very educated. She was one of the leaders of the Socialist Zionist Movement in the shtetl. She would certainly have taken a leading place in the (Women’s) Emancipation Movement even in a larger town (similar to the “Suffragette Movement” in England?). She was, by inclination, a kind of Jewish Vera Zasulitsh or a Vera Figner (non-Jewish women’s leaders). In the end, she left the shtetl and went away to Switzerland. Her family who remained behind perished at Hitler’s hands.

And not far from there stand the stone house of Botche “der Hoicher” (the “Tall”), a big merchant who even had business abroad, and the house of the Malavitzky’s, merchants in pelts and wood. There is always tumult and noise in their home. They were continuing an argument over an inheritance, even though they were market balle-batim and had appearances to keep up!

And there is the little house of Libe “der Geller” (“the Red Head”), with a tiny (cod)fish shop (facing on) to the market. Opening the little door rang the bell (that was) a signal to the “saleslady”, busying herself inside the dwelling, that there was a customer there. Or she could sit completely quietly by herself because customers very seldom come and the bell seldom rings. The whole little shop, you know, is only a sideshow while Libe’s husband resides the whole year round in the Crimea where he makes a decent living. He was a very bashful person and when he came home to his wife and his one and only son, Lippe, for Pesach or the Yomim Nawro’im (High Holydays), one almost did not notice him, either in the market or in shul (synagogue). As silently as he came (to town), so he departed for his distant parts. Oy! Why did he not take away his wife and son with him? Simple – he could not separate them from their little shtetl.

And there on the street-corner is the home of Reb Zundel Gedalyo’s Karelich, a melamed and a great scholar, who did not understand (anything written in) a non-Hebraic script (literally: in a Goyyish letter) and (for whom) speaking a simple “Goyyish” (Russian) was ( like) “splitting the Red Sea” (a virtual impossibility). Once the town constable apprehended his wife, Tzippe, for some “crime” against the law in their little tailor-shop – and he, her husband (Reb Zundel Gedalyo’s), raced to rescue her from Goyyish hands. However, he could not reason with the constable and when the latter turned to him with a question: “Who are you?” he replied briefly: “Tzippe, mai muzh” (muzh means a mouse in Russian), which should have meant “I am Tzippe’s husband” … Hence, God had blessed him with sons who knew fluent “Goyyish” really well – both were good “external” (college) students, one of whom later became an important doctor. Before he became a doctor, he was one of the leaders of the Socialist Zionists’ Party, a friend of Malka Berkovich. He himself, a sturdy, solid fellow, often used to come out with a theory that one also had to take part in “practical” work, whereas his opponents in the Bund Party used, in discussion, to incline to “manual” work – and would get a “double portion” (a vigorous reply) from him. - Blessed be your memory, dear, good-natured friend, Yudel Karelich, who with your diligence and energy was a model for our shtetl youth who aspired, like you, to culture and education. There, on the opposite street corner, is the large house of Reb Pinye Gavze, a chassid and a great God-fearing Jew. He could serve as a model for wealthy Jews, both near and far, of how fortune (literally mazel – luck) plays with an individual. Actually, he was a little fellow, Reb Gavze. At the beginning (he was) a big pelt merchant, (with business) reaching as far as foreign lands (and) a home full of everything good. Anyone who has not seen how money was distributed at his home, at the banquet for Purim (the Festival deriving from the “Book of Esther”), with the customary pile of large platters that stood on the table filled with all kinds of coins, copper and silver, has not seen how tzedokke (charity) is copiously handed out. And the banquet itself? A real banquet “fit for kings”. And suddenly this little fortune took a turn (for the worse) and Reb Pinye was a pauper. After his death he left a home full of distress. Some of his surviving children were dispersed over the big, wide world, searching for a livelihood, and some perished with the remaining Jews in the shtetl (in World War II).

Not far from Reb Pinye Gavze’s house, steps lead to Leibel Avrom-Yitzchok’s. A happy-go-lucky fellow – making a living, not making a living. A Yiddish joke, thanks be to God, is always to be had …

Lyakhovichi’s street of stone buildings “Market Square”

Here is the second two-storeyed stone house, that of Reb Itshe Cohen – his nickname “It’s he the bandit”, although in his whole life he never harmed a fly on the wall. He came by that nickname only because, although a kohen, he was quick to anger. His house was the decent “guest-house” in town, where itinerant preachers, cantors, travelers, Zionist speakers and propagandists were found, as well as brides and grooms who used to go there with their future spouses. And the encounters there were so very innocent, free of any tint of impurity, God forbid, as is usual in big-town hotels … Bal-agoles (carters, or horse and buggy drivers) had their pick-up stand there, taking their passengers to and from the railway. Between trips they used to grab a drink with a little something to eat – a piece of good gefilte fish (stuffed fish) or pickled herring which Reb Itshe’s unassuming wife Chamme (Nechome)-Reizel had handily and tastefully prepared.

Lyakhovichi Square

And there stands before us the shared building of Reb Leibe Kantorovich and Reb Yosef Bogin. The first is a fervent “Stoliner” chassid, in whose house was a place for the Stoliner chassidim in Lechovich after the revolt against the “dynasty” of the Lechovicher “Rebbes”. ... not an especially large “minyan”, (made up) of important chassidim and God-fearing Jews, (imbued) with “flame and fire”. On the High Holydays, Succos and Simchas Torah, the large dwelling of Reb Leibe Kantorovich was too crowded to contain the hundred or so “davenners” (people praying) and curious onlookers, (taken) by the enthused dancing and singing of those Stoliner chassidim. ... The other partner, Reb Yosef Bogin, was also a chassid but, by contrast, a “Koidanover”, well-versed in worldly matters.

Each of these young people appears in the remembrances of Avrom Lev. From right to left: Malke Berkovich, Meir Epstein, Mala Brevda, Faye Khurgin, Avigdor Greenspan, and laying down, Dr. Yudel Karelitzky. (high-resolution version)

  • Malke Berkovich ...One of them, Berl, had a daughter, Malke, who was a “God’s prayer”. Darkly lovely, with a pair of blazing black eyes, full of energy, well brought up and also very educated. She was one of the leaders of the Socialist Zionist Movement in the shtetl.

  • Meir Epstein ...However, their entire attentions are directed at their one and only son, Meir’ke – a fine young man with a curly head of hair, pink cheeks and a pince-nez on a neat little nose.

  • Mala Brevda ...it was always difficult for outsiders to make out who was the father or the grandfather, the mother or the grandmother, the married daughters or the daughters-in-law. ... And then one could not but notice that everyone’s faces were fair and fine – especially the face of the younger daughter, Mala (Malka) with her constant smile.

  • Faye Khurgin ...One of them, Faye Churgin, an extremely gifted young lady, was very popular among the shtetl’s young people. Wherever there is a simche (celebration), she is there with her Zionist songs which she finishes up by collecting money for the Keren Kayemet le-Yisrael (the Jewish National Fund).

  • Dr. Yudel Karelitzky ...Before he became a doctor, he was one of the leaders of the Socialist Zionists’ Party, a friend of Malka Berkovich. He himself, a sturdy, solid fellow, often used to come out with a theory that one also had to take part in “practical” work, whereas his opponents in the Bund Party used, in discussion, to incline to “manual” work – and would get a “double portion” (a vigorous reply) from him.

My Devastated Shtetl, Part Two

And there are the houses of the Kurchin and the Churgin families. Both houses had the same lot, in that they had been inherited by children from their fathers. In both houses, shouting and loud arguments were constantly heard from the heirs. Mostly it came on Friday evening when Jews were eating their Sabbath dinner and looking for the opportunity to have a joyful time … The grandchildren (of the original Kurchins and the Churgins) get on well together and they do not even care about the whole feud. Only someone should go and give the parents some advice on what they should do and how they should behave! The grandchildren are very mischievous. One of them, Faye Churgin, an extremely gifted young lady, was very popular among the shtetl’s young people. Wherever there is a simche (celebration), she is there with her Zionist songs which she finishes up by collecting money for the Keren Kayemet le-Yisrael (the Jewish National Fund). She was also one of the first “Froebelists” (followers of liberal educator Friedrich Froebel, who invented a kindergarten system). The well-known pedagogue, Yechiel Halpern of blessed memory, graduated (Faye) from his first Froebelist courses in Warsaw. To (our) great regret, she did not have a long time to apply her pedagogic skills: she became ill and her young, idealistic soul passed on – leaving all her friends in deep sorrow.

And there is Sander der Ainbinder (the Bookbinder’s) house. With him worked Yankele Shmuel, the Weiner’s lad. He is a leader of the local Bund Party (a socialist, Yiddishist, anti-Zionist organization). An energetic fellow. After spending a short time in the city of Minsk and being very taken there with revolutionary fervour, he came back to the shtetl and got straight down to work – organizing the Bund among the locals. By and large, he agitated among the common Jews who had very little comprehension of the “fine print” in the revolutionary booklets but understood very well how to take shots at the “bourgeois” kids - the “little Zionists”. Yankele had his mouth screwed on all right. He railed thunder and lighting (literally “fire and water”) and especially (harangued) about the “class war”, until one of his party friends (was killed in a brawl.) In the course of a violent brawl with his rival, Shmuel-Shaiye Busel, from the Socialist Zionists’ Party, Yankele the “trouble-maker” came to the aid of his comrade, Gedalyo the Melamed’s son. (The fight broke out when someone had wanted to eject Rochel Kapel, a party comrade of Shmuel-Shaiye Busel, who sold pastry.) Then (Gedalyo the Melamed’s son) drove a dagger into Shmuel-Shaiye’s side, causing the death of his stabbed “enemy”. The incident had a depressing effect on the entire shtetl. In great grief, the whole shtetl accompanied the victim on his last journey and the murderer (Gedalyo the Melamed’s son) swiftly left town in great trepidation. Also his “rebbe” (spiritual mentor), Yankele, did not stay around long and, since it only took one good blast of cold air (to blow him away), he fled to far-off America.

Over here, we find ourselves in Sore Kalman-Yosel’s little café – all of “four cubits by four” (Talmudic expression). The whole business is made up of a glass of soda water with different fruit syrups, plus a bun or a cookie and, on hot summer days, a sweetened ice cream as well. The main thing was actually getting together in the summer evenings, sitting and passing the time until late in the night. Everyone in the shtetl slept well only if the café at Sore’s (place) was open(!). Young folk sat and told all kinds of stories and jokes. Sore listened to everyone, smoking a little cigarette nearby, while her husband, Zerach, always carefully dressed, clean as a needle, became chummy with the young people and whistled smartly all the little ditties – a pleasure to hear - despite the fact that he was already the father of adolescent children. Sore, it seems, loved him dearly and so was ready to take on the burden of making a living, just so that things should go nicely for her husband.

And there is the house where Alter Gavze resides – an unassuming, intelligent young man who, whenever he isn’t busy with manufacturing glue, (spends) every free minute peering into a book or a page of Talmud. He is proficient in everything to do with world literature.

Next to him, in the second house, lives Yosel Malevitzky. (He) in no way resembles a shtetl Jew – (he is) tall, well-formed, fine, a pleasure to look at, a wood-merchant and a gentleman who is always ready to do a favour. His wife too is prepared to do everything so that their visitors should feel good and comfortable, and should enjoy their hospitality.

And (over) there is the house of Moshke der Druker (the Printer) who, besides printing - and dyeing the peasant women’s linens - is also a book-binder. He is an extremely taciturn Jew. One never hears a word from him. Even on Simchas Torah when his friends dress him up as a rebbe with a streimel (chassidic hat) and a silk kapote (gown) and lead him through the streets with singing and dancing, dropping in from one house to the next in order to pull out of the oven (some) kugel mit kishke (a Jewish delicacy) and eat it on the spot – even then (Moshke) is as silent as a fish. He speaks not, sings not, dances not – nothing, as though people are nothing to him. Then God helps - the day of Simchas Torah comes to an end, he sheds the whole hurly-burly and goes back to the books and pamphlets that await him for binding. And once again “sh-shhh” - he does not say a word, even to his own neighbours

But his son, N’yome (Benjamin) is not at all retiring. He is a “big shot” in the Socialist Zionists’ Party. He leads debates and discussions with his rivals about what the world is up against and if, as is usual, the discussion comes to blows, he stays (in the thick of things), not holding back and “replying” just fine. By nature, he is quite a strong young man and always holds a stout stick in his hand. And anyone who starts up with him has to be thankful for (getting away with) his life … Where are you now, dear N’yome? Did you also go with everyone else to the slaughter, without putting up any resistance to those blood-thirsty animals? Hard to believe!

And here we take a little turn to the right and we are standing next to Pesach Hinde-Reizel’s house. Although he himself, Pesach Ditkovsky, has his own yiches (social standing) (he is a well-established balle-bos, a Jew and a merchant and a fine bal-keri’oh (Torah reader) in the shtib’l (prayer-house) of the Koidanover Chassidim) people call him by his wife’s name “Pesach Hinde-Reizel’s”. She was a Jewish woman of “fire and flame”. She ran a pelt store, a business which is not easy to undertake even for a male. She ran that business with a lot of energy and a loud voice. She spent from early morning to late at night in the store. And when she used to bargain with a customer, especially with Gershon der Shuster (the Shoemaker) or Nievyadomsky (a goy whose whole non-Jewish family spoke Yiddish “like water” and with whom she haggled raucously in Mame Loshen (Yiddish), she was heard in the middle of the street. But she had another great distinction: she was the first who allowed Feivel Rivkin, a young man with a strong revolutionary drive, and his friend Raphael Kurchin, to organize an undercover library at her place for the use of Lechovich youth, something which involved great risk.

And here we move on beside Aharon-Itshe Brevda’s large house where, because of his big, extended family (residing there) it was always difficult for outsiders to make out who was the father or the grandfather, the mother or the grandmother, the married daughters or the daughters-in-law. One’s head was turned by the powerful odour of beer coming from the brewery deep in the yard. And then one could not but notice that everyone’s faces were fair and fine – especially the face of the younger daughter, Mala (Malka) , with her constant smile.

Here we take a few steps forward and we are standing before a low house, where the exquisitely precious Jew, Reb Bayrech Rozovsky, or Bayrech der Goldshmidt (the Goldsmith) - a wonderful Jew - lives with his family. “Sweet as a dove”, but a terrifically obstinate person and firm as a rock about just one thing. That was his extreme, unbounded love for Eretz Yisroel. God Almighty, how was such a strong yearning for Eretz Yisroel given to such a Jew! (It was) a Land which he had never seen but his longings for it pulled him away from his family circle on more than one occasion and carried him off by different ways to his Land of Zion. There was great hardship in his home, despite (the fact) that everyone (there) was employed in his trade, gold-smithing. He was continually pleading with his wife, Sore, about emigrating to Eretz Yisroel. After having encountered her opposition as usual, he would suddenly disappear in the middle of the night – and after a couple of months a letter would arrive from him, already from Eretz Yisroel, in which he implored his household to come over to him in Jaffa, in dirty Jaffa of once upon a time. But his wife Sore did not even want to hear about his meshugasen (madnesses) and remained in the shtetl until Reb Bayrech came back – but, again, not for long. And so, sitting at his work at home in the shtetl, he would throw a longing glance from time to time at the embroidered mizrach (icon on the eastern wall of a traditional Jewish house) with the Koisel Ma’arovi (the “Western” or “Wailing” Wall in Jerusalem), which hung on the wall. And when no-one was in the house, he picked it up cautiously, touched it to his trembling lips and let drop a fervent tear – and within a short time he had disappeared again and, yet again, his wife would receive a letter from him, from Jaffa. Thus the conflict continued for a long time, until on one occasion after his disappearance a letter arrived in which he categorically demanded that his family come to him and in which he declared that he would never go back to goles (exile). This time his demand was met– after a short while his whole family traveled to him in Eretz Yisroel And whoever has not seen Reb Bayrech so jubilant as a “welcomer”, rejoicing at (having) his household in Jaffa, has not seen a contented Jew. However, his joy was soon marred – his wife Sore died on him. He himself lived on to advanced years and derived great pleasure from his children and grandchildren who had great success in Eretz Yisroel. They really provided a fine old age for him until the very last day of his life, when his idealistic soul passed away quietly and silently, with praise and thanksgiving to the Eternal for the grace He had done unto him (Reb Bayrech), by granting him the honour and privilege of being (buried) with his holy forefathers in the Holy Land.

And there, not far from the (previously) mentioned house, stands a second “market” home, which belongs to Reb Zalman Yitzchok Pinsky. The home has a wooden bench outside on which Jews sit and warm themselves on summer days and are happy to be completely scented with the fragrance of tobacco. One of his sons, Gedalyo, is a devoted member of the Socialist Zionists’ Party, a confirmed “territorialist” (prepared to settle Jews anywhere), (forever) debating hotly with the Zionists (who would only contemplate a Jewish homeland in Eretz Yisroel). In the end, he left the shtetl and traveled to the territory he longed for so much – to America. Thus it is that his brother, Aron-Nisel, was a devoted Zionist. He opened a modern book-store where, besides writing materials, there was a lending library for the old and for children, who read under his supervision and instruction. He was also the book-keeper in the shtetl’s Lending and Savings Office (Bank). His mission in life was spreading enlightenment and education among the Jews of the shtetl.

And here we see Reb Gedalyo Miletzky’s two-storey wooden house. Below is a large manufacturing business, while in the courtyard is the owner’s apartment. (He was) a Jew, a merchant and a Lechovicher chassid. One could never know which interested him more - the business or his Rebbe (Chassidic Rabbi), because he did not show a decisive preference for one or the other. He was always as engrossed in one as in the other, obscure world.

Here is another two-storey house, (belonging to) his sister Frumke or, as she’s called, Frume Naftolke’s. (She was) an agent for a large “colonial” business (dealing goods, probably dry goods, from the “colonies” = Russian provinces), whose main clientele was drawn from Polish gentry around Lechovich. Why that business was actually called “Renskovoy Pogrev”, God alone knows! It could be because it was (simply) a nice (sounding) name – but what matters is that it provided a real livelihood. With their mother, the children were always occupied and busily attending to the orders (for merchandise) of the gentry. But the children did not become just ordinary shop-keepers. The only daughter, Dina, stood out especially – she, you see, had adopted her fine manners from the society ladies. Not for nothing had our greatest “local patriot”, Yitzchok-Gedalyo Goldberg, a dentist by profession, fallen so deeply in love with Dina. He remained a bachelor his whole life - his great, pure love rejected, to his sorrow.

And here we take another couple of steps and come to Shmuel Moldshadsky’s “Pharmacy Warehouse”. The Moldshadsky’s were an exceptionally idealistic and intelligent family. They had moved to (Lechovich) from the city of Minsk. And with their arrival, our shtetl was enriched with another cultured family. In their home, Russian was spoken – and, in addition, the father was a Jew and a talmed chochem (a Talmud scholar). The shtetl’s wealthy men straightaway filled up the school which he opened with their children, as they were sure that Toire (Torah – Jewish learning) and (worldly) wisdom were (to be found) there, in one (and the same) place. The oldest son, Reuven, had become distanced from traditional Jewish ways and administered the state Yiddish primary school which he had taken over from the previous director, Botvinik, where he introduced a very interesting atmosphere. His sister, Lize, was also imbued with the fine qualities of her family.

And now, before us, is the yard of Moshke-Chayim-Ber’s or Moshke Varshal. Also there, as at Aron-Itshe Brevda’s, there is a beer-brewery deep in the yard. And as the family is also an extended one, it is difficult to distinguish between the daughters and daughters-in-law, sons and sons-in-law, mothers and grandmothers. All (of them) are so sturdy and well-formed. On the face of it, the beer had a really (healthy) effect on all of them who worked with it …

And here we take a couple more paces and we’re already standing before the shop of Stir’l (a diminutive of Esther) der Kezeles (“of the little cheeses”), where are sold pungent white cheese, soft or hard cheeses and cheese dumplings, fresh, fragrant butter and milky-white little candles which her husband, Noah Leib, a deeply God-fearing man and a saintly Jew, produces by himself in his small candle factory, while reciting by heart the whole (Book of) Psalms as he works, as a remedy against an “ayin-hore” (an “evil eye”) from a goy!

Now we come upon Alter Brevda’s “ half”, a single-storey stone house with a couple of stairs in front and a glazed building in the yard. That is his photo-studio. He is the only photographer in town. Previously he was just a bystander and a helper of itinerant photographers – but after he had taken their measure, he became an independent photographer and served the shtetl’s population, mainly the “American” wives (women who had husbands in America?). Outside (his studio) there hung a display of his photographs with a sign in Russian: “Bad weather doesn’t hamper being photographed here”. Inside the house reside the parents of Levi ben Amitai, the poet of the “Work on the Land” (Movement) in Eretz Yisroel.

Now we are approaching the Lemtshich’s two-storey stone house with its broad and shady entrance. On the second floor live the “bankers”, Yehudo Gellin and Nachmen Levin, with their families, among whom was a fine and distinguished son-in-law, Soloveichik, from the well-known Soloveichik’s who stem from the Brisker Gaon (genius) Chayim’ke. The two aforementioned Balle-Batim ran a “Banking Counter” in Mottel “der Blecher’s” (the tinsmith’s) fine house. They lend money for a percentage (interest) and are reputed to have made a good living from all the Jews. Below live the Lemtshich’s themselves with their children, except for the older son, Moshe Dovid, whose father had taken him across to America. The father himself has been in America a long time and has a scant desire to return to the shtetl, except that he has a wife and children here. To have a livelihood, his wife has opened a bar for bal-agoles and policemen. She, you understand, is not thinking about traveling to America!

And there is another two-storey stone house, which belongs to Reb Yitzchok Yosel Pintshuk, a tall giant of a Jew, with a long, broad yellow beard – the very opposite of his tiny wife, who works together with him in the big “colonial” store at the intersection of “Riyad’n” Street. Because of what they sell to cheder kids as “paint” to make ink, their faces are always smeared over – something frightful. Their son, Yeruchem, sad-to-say, has been “punished” by God – one foot has been amputated, so he goes around on crutches. However, he strides along at a dangerous pace, so that it is really impossible to catch up with him. Small folk are actually jealous of him on account of his powerful stride.

And here, opposite, is a two-storey wooden house where Reb Avrom Yankev’s son-in-law lives, Mich’l Rabinovich, a Jew, a great talmed chochem and an even greater God-fearer, about whom our colleague, Nisen Tokatshinsky, has much to say (elsewhere in the Yizkor Book).

Feivel Rifkin and Alter Los

Where the exquisitely precious Jew, Reb Bayrech Rozovsky, or Bayrech der Goldshmidt (the Goldsmith) - a wonderful Jew - lives with his family. “Sweet as a dove”, but a terrifically obstinate person and firm as a rock about just one thing. That was his extreme, unbounded love for Eretz Yisroel. God Almighty, how was such a strong yearning for Eretz Yisroel given to such a Jew! (It was) a Land which he had never seen but his longings for it pulled him away from his family circle on more than one occasion and carried him off by different ways to his Land of Zion.

My Devastated Shtetl, Part Three

And now, my dears, we let’s go forward, but not without stopping for a while at the “Three Riyad’n Stores” which were such an important centre in our lives. From there close to a hundred and twenty families made their livings. Some of them were very hard pressed and some of them, just the opposite, lived spaciously. Here we encounter lots of shops where a husband and wife have borne the burden of making a livelihood (together). Here we also meet women among the widows who are the sole providers for their little orphans. And here one also comes across women shop-keepers whose husbands have dropped out from this world and sit the whole day and night in the synagogue or in the shtib’l (chassidic prayer-house). Here we see the women who sit around and sell all kinds of baked goods, from pure white rolls to crusted black bread. Not far from them, the sellers of different vegetables and fruits sit by little bins – with the famous Shifretz’k e at their head. A tall Jewess with an energetic face and a fiery mouth, (she) always wears big men’s boots. She casts one look around and terror (descends) not only on the Jews but also on tough goyyim - (and) that’s enough. Should a goy just try to steal a little apple from her bin and if she should spot him, she yanks a boot off her foot and batters the thief so that he will be (very) careful in the future.

And here are the stone stores and meat-shops which, after a long quarrel with the shop-keepers and the butchers, the building contractor N’yome Zayetz put up instead of the former dirty wooden structures. Oy, our Lechovich butchers! They were some thing! Before them everyone cringed - young men, every one of them. They (sure) knew how to hoodwink the inspector, luring him into a dark alley and battering him with murderous blows, (just) because he had forbidden the sale of a piece of meat. A whole market full of peasants would flee in terror when they, the butchers, with help from our young jackasses let loose on the peasants and began to dish out blows right and left! Oh, yes – thanks to them, all the peasants from the surrounding villages were of one opinion: that (it was) the “Lechovich Jews (who) crucified Jesus”!

Oh, our Lechovich heroes, did you also go to the Nazi slaughter without putting up any resistance? It’s hard, so very hard, to believe.

And here is Reb Chaim Bashe’s store for various “colonial” goods. A Jew burdened with children – always weary and preoccupied. His wife, a silent dove, bore the yoke of making a living with devotion. He once managed to win a considerable sum of money in a lottery which he soon lost in a whiskey deal with America. From that time, he affected to be a bit of a “modern” gentleman but he really was an extremely decent and good-hearted Jew.

Here is the flour-store of Alter Molovitzky or Alter “Bande’s”. Beside it (there was) a kind of second storey which at a distance looked like a pigeon coop. Alter was a hefty Jew – tall, large and broad, casting fear on everyone with his thunderous voice. But at bottom he was not as hard a person as people believed. He always became extremely angry at young folk with their modern ideas such as Zionism, socialism, etc. However, he had to face the fact that his only daughter was taken with Zionism and his son, Yankele, a hale and hearty fellow, who looked like his father, had become a Socialist Zionist. Once this Yankele, influenced, it seems, by his socialist cronies, noticed how his father gave a poor man a kopek as a donation – (whereupon) he said to his father “Why are you giving him a kopek? What’s it worth? Give him a ruble!” and his father thundered back in his (stentorian) voice, ”You fool, if I were to begin to give poor people rubles, instead of kopeks, I would quickly become impoverished myself and have to go out begging!” His son, the convinced socialist, responded completely unperturbed, ”Nu! Then people will give you rubles as well!” So is it any wonder that Alter Bande was angry at the young folk with their new-fangled, crazy ideas?

And there is the shop of Reb Zelig-Shimel’s or Zelig Ittel’s (as his wife is called). A rare Jew: always very distressed, “as though his ships were about to sink”. People say that his distress stems from the fact that he has the head of a genius. Who knows? Maybe they’re right. (For instance,) once a fire broke out in the village. (Reb Zelig’s) wife as well as her daughter Yoch(eved) worked like devils in order to save everything possible of the goods in the shop. They were very worried about the “heads” of sugar and the packages of tea that remained in the place - (and) then Reb Zelig came running in, with “good tidings”, announcing that he had dealt with the sugar and the tea in the best possible way. How so? He had tossed them into the water-well in the yard!

And another example: once, on a spring evening, after a light shower had by chance occurred, people detected a Jew groaning very loudly outside, searching and groping for something in the mud. Folk went out of their homes and saw that it was Reb Zelig Shimel’s. So they asked him: what’s going on? He replied in great desperation that he had lost a golden, ten ruble coin “over here or there” in the mud and could not find it anywhere. The people had great compassion for Reb Zelig and helped him search. When they asked him if he had first looked carefully in all his pockets, he replied “yes, indeed”. So together everyone looked and groveled in the mud once again for a good couple of hours. They brought out lamps and lanterns – but the “tenner” piece was not there. It was completely lost. When everyone had gone back home and had continued to console Reb Zelig and (tried to) calm him down, someone requested once more that he should make a thorough search yet again in his pockets. He acceded to the appeal – and that “tenner” was found in one of his vest pockets. To the question: “Why had he not searched all along in his vest pocket”, he replied like a man who had just been rescued from death: “You see, my dear friends, I did not look in that pocket, as it really was my last hope because, were I not to have found the “tenner” (there), I would have done myself, God forbid, grave harm”. - Oh, dear, sincere “genius”, Reb Zelig, you should enjoy an illustrious “Garden of Eden” (world-to-come or “Paradise”) for your extraordinary naivety and delightful absent-mindedness!

And now we go in the opposite direction, to the right, and we are beside Yitzchok-Yosel’s dairy, which was run by his wife Beroche. She dealt there in cheese, butter, cream cheese, just like her sister, Stir’l Noah-Leibe’s, in the other row of shops. It seems that the family trade was fine by the two sisters!

And here we take ourselves inside (the area called) “Between the Granaries”, where the storekeepers deal in flour and hence they are all covered in white flour for six whole days a week. Here one can also obtain clay and wooden kitchen vessels. At the very end of the granaries women sit with bins full of fresh baked cakes, decorated with poppy seed; pure white bagels for a farthing or a penny and even egg bagels for a wealthy pocket or, God forbid, for a sick person. Towards evening one gets here fresh, hot “traitshe” (twisted rolls?), baked from a little dark flour which tastes like heaven, when smeared hot with butter. The Jews were very thankful to Reichel di Bekerke (“the Bakerwoman”), with her daughter Bashe, who were the owners of that “concession”. You should have a radiant life in the world-to-come, dear Reichel and Bashe, for the great pleasure which you provided our town’s Jews “in this world” through your baked goods, of which almost none were touched without a beroche (a religious blessing).

To the right of the granaries is a tiny shop, one yard wide, which formally belongs to Reb Shmuel-Dovid Tzimmering, a Jew with a golden robe over his vest, who is very taken by Zionism. In practice, his quiet wife, Feige-Dine, deals with the business in the little shop.

From there let’s go off left again, making our way past three or four stores (selling) grease for wagon-wheels, preservative (?) to smear on boots, tobacco, kerosene, matches, reins, whips and other articles for the use of peasants. Of these, one shop belongs to Reb Shaiye-Bere-Velvel’s and another to Reb Yayrshel-Borech-Meir’s. The latter tops all the affluent folk (in town), being really over-loaded with cash. He is a father to sons and daughters, all strapping and healthy, who help him assiduously in all his business ventures in order to increase his capital.

Now we take ourselves into “Between the Stores” – a combination of two rows of businesses, one opposite the other, for various merchandise: lime, mortar, haberdashery, ready-made clothes, manufactured goods, ironmongery, cotton, leather (and) blacksmith’s goods, beginning with Shimen Vapnik’s little shop and ending, on the other side, with Reb Yitzchok Brevda’s shipping business. The second row begins with Hinde-Reizel Ditkovsky’s leather business and ends with Reitze-Sore’s little vaulted shop, packed with axes, little hatchets, manufactured glass buttons and beads for non-Jewish village girls. There, between the shops, we run into ordinary Jews and Jewesses, who throughout the year are involved and busy in business.

Here we have Jews bursting with Toire (Jewish learning), for whom the store is only a means to make a living, in order to keep their souls in their “sinful” bodies. Here is Reb Yosel Ratner who, besides (studying) a page of Gemorre (Talmud) a day, is also influenced by Haskoloh (the Jewish “Enlightenment ” Movement). A good Jew and a Hebraist, he can even “tear to bits” a correspondent in a (Hebrew) newspaper like Ha-tzefiroh or Ha-tzofeh.

And here is Reb Shloime Rivkin, the manufacturer. A rich Jew, he can also “learn” (study Talmud) and, moreover, is a superb Baal Tiki’e (Shofar-blower for the High Holydays). Although strongly inclined towards Zionism, he and a large part of his family ended their lives in darkest “Goles” (literally “Exile” – here a reference to the Holocaust). And there is the haberdashery shop of Devoire Yaakov-Moishe’s, the same Reb Yaakov Moishe who is one of the spiritually-endowed Jews in our town and who has been so masterfully described (elsewhere in the Yizkor Book) by our dear landsman (fellow-countryman), the great Yiddish writer and journalist, Dr. A. Mokdoni.

Photo, taken in a local back-yard, showing Rivke-Leah (“di Almone” = the widow) with her family. The people in the group are Rivke-Leah, widow of Betzalel Lev herself, her sons Shmu’el Shaiye (Lev) and Asher Lev, with Asher’s wife Mindel, daughter Chaye Rochel, with her husband Shloime, and their daughter Sloyke, Sloyke’s husband Moishe, Sloyke’s daughter Gishele and her sister Sora, Asher’s daughters Dina and Bashke and youngest son Gedalyo, Shmu’el Shaiye’s children Bashke, Freidel and Betzalel. No surnames given. (high-resolution version)

The descendants of Betzalel and Rivka-Leah Lev are the Lev family; Rivka Leah is reportedly of the Rabinowitz family and she is called in the next paragraph,“daughter of Shaika the Dayan”

Here is the second store belonging to Rivke-Leah di Almone (the widow), Reb Shaike the Dayen’s daughter. During the whole year it is a store like every other store but on the eve of the High Holydays, it is converted by her son, Asher (Lev), and his younger brother, Avromele, into a real exhibition of various artistic pictures of life in Eretz Yisroel: the Herzliya Gymnasium in Jaffa, picture reproductions from the Betzalel Art School in Jerusalem, historical images of Yiddish writers. All the pictures were sent to Asher Lev from the Odessa Committee “For the benefit of Yishuv (the modern Jewish settlers) in Eretz Yisroel and Syria”. This is Lev’s legacy in Lechovich – and because of it Asher has even acquired a nickname: in town, he is called the Keren Kayyemet “Pushke” (Jewish National Fund “Charity Box”).

Yes – that legacy did a lot, a great deal, for Eretz Yisroel. Several (people) were influenced by his devoted work but unfortunately Asher Lev himself came to an end far from his ideals and, together with his extensive family, was killed by the Nazi criminals. Just a few words must suffice as the memorial of all (of us) for this man of action for Eretz Yisroel and the victims in his family.

And there is the shop of Mendel “der Kalt-shmid” (the iron-worker). Here is Mendel – even though he has had a long life dealing with wrought iron, he is always full of softness, good-hearted Jewish humour, mainly for the cheder children, for whom he used to promise a new “cart” before every Pesach, made from two iron wagon rollers, to play at “nuts” (name of a local children’s game ?)

There is the store of Yosel Ratner’s brother, Ortsh’kel, and his mother Etel-Gitel. Why are they, and not Reb Noah himself (Etel-Gitel’s husband), engaged in business? Because Reb Noah is a deaf melamed (!) and is not fit for business. Ortsh’kel, poor thing, is a midget. In town, he was called “stumpy”. His mother, pity on her, was very miserable and lamented her bitter lot, that her Ortshik had such a defect. She used to reproach him, (asking) him how come he had not listened to her and, as a child, had not kept his little feet tucked under his chin as he slept. In her naivety, she believed that that might be the reason for her misfortune. However, the defect did not prevent Ortshik from being full of Toire. On days when there was no “market”, one used to see him sitting on a bench with his short feet in the air, peering into a big (volume) of Gemorre.

And there is the glass-store of Reb Mich’l Kaile’s. (Actually) his children and wife are engaged in the business. Reb Mich’l himself is a teacher of advanced Talmud students. A tall, handsome Jew with a silver-white beard – one can say, a physically imposing Jew and no mean Torah scholar as well.

There is the tailor-shop of Reb Pesach Altvarg, the only Slonim chassidus in the shtetl. He suffers not a little from that, it seems. Among the Jews, he feels like a ger (a complete outsider, even a non-Jew) but no matter! He eases his sadness with a page of Gemorre or a chapter of Psalms. In the shop, very little is needed of him. He has a good number of children with an efficient wife who can take the place of five men, so he can devote himself to Torah study.

Not far from them is the tailor-shop of Reb Zundel Gedalyo’s, a great scholar and a talmed chochem.

Oy, my dear Lechovich shop-keepers, did you lack Torah? Would that you had as little lack of a livelihood! It is really no wonder that a livelihood was lacking. How could it be otherwise when, in such a small shtetl as ours, there were so many shops? Besides the hundred and twenty shops in the Riyad’n, there was a similar number in the surrounding streets and alleys. And for whom? Except for market days, not even a stray dog (from out of town) was to be seen in the shtetl. Lechovich shop-keepers just sat around the entire day on their door-steps or on little benches set up beside their doors and stared at one another. Hence people were extremely happy when a blind Jew with a fiddle turned up from somewhere, led by a small boy, who sang his sad songs as if from the heart, that ended with the plaintive refrain:

“Oy, tell me, you (bewitching) eye, what ails ye so - that, when you laugh from sheer delight, you shed a tear?”

Wives, widows and even their young daughters heaved a deep sigh and gave some pennies to the blind man.

Frequently a magician arrives, surrounded by a whole bunch of youngsters. He spreads out a cloth on a cobbled pavement and does different tricks, attended by an organ-grinder with a drum on his back and with little bells on his head. And there is the famous “Manke Ganef” (the Thief), also an organ-grinder with a little bird, who sings less refined songs, such as:

“Weep not thou, Marussia, be thou mine,
my army service is behind me!”

Frequently, when Avrom’l Varshal has bribed him with a couple of pennies, he used to come out with a kind of dirty ditty, while casting his eyes on the women: “Oy, little women, so what are you frightened of? When the Rabbi studies, he learns Torah: When the tailor sews, he follows the season’s fashion; And what is alright for the Rabbi, is certainly alright for us!” (So ladies, do your thing!)

Then cries of protest broke out from a dozen mouths from among the women standing around: “Clear off already, clear off, Manke Ganef. Take a kick (in the backside) and be off, with your head in the ground” (a Yiddish curse!). And while doing this, the protesters modestly hide their eyes under their head-scarves which are pulled way down. Oy, what dear, kosher, Jewish sisters (we had in Lechovich)!

Alter Malovitsky

Here is the flour-store of Alter Molovitzky or Alter “Bande’s”. ...Alter was a hefty Jew – tall, large and broad, casting fear on everyone with his thunderous voice. But at bottom he was not as hard a person as people believed. ...

My Devastated Shtetl, Part Four

After the two rows, we take a right to the shops of the (so-called) Yener Zait Mark (“Market on the other Side”). There too, there was no lack of Torah scholars who were in business through their wives.

Here, for instance, is the shop of Reb Aron-Leib Kantorovich, a very ardent Koidanover chassid who for almost his entire life has been either in the Koidanover shtib’l (in Lechovich) or with his Rebbe (in Koidanov), while his tiny little wife, Dine-Rive, a mother of twelve children, trades and travels to the fairs - and consoles herself (with the thought that) thereby her husband will have a guaranteed place in the next world and that she will also have a portion in it!

There is the flour store of Reb Berl Mich’l Binyominka’s. He is also a Koidanover chassid – a Jew of imposing stature and an exquisite prayer-leader in the High Holydays. When he prays, the walls actually tremble and with them, you understand, also the hearts of even the greatest apikorsim (religious renegades).

Now we’ll cross the large empty market (area) which, other than market days and fairs, when it is crammed with thousands of peasants, is so vacant and vast that it could be converted into a soccer field. To its side, not far from the pump, is the old boarded-up shed of the Fire Brigade. It stands alone like an orphan, exactly as if it were somehow waiting for a “rehearsal” of a real fire. Inside there are vehicles for pumping water from a few small barrels located nearby, while on the walls hooks and ladders are hung around. But, for all the extinguishers, the situation would not be at all good if a fire were to break out, God forbid, because it then would turn out that the little barrels are generally empty, drained on summer days, while on winter days the water in them is frozen. In winter, the danger is understandably less because all the roofs are then covered in snow and fire has less potential. But summer is not good – fire burns at God’s command.

Now let’s go in the direction of Pesach Ditkovsky’s corner house. The Vall (rampart) starts up before us, where to the right Asher der Zeigermachter’s (the Watchmaker’s) home stands, nestled in a wonderful apple orchard, while to the left is Avrom’l Rasl’s home. Rasl is an exceptional Jewess. As unsophisticated as she is, she possesses her own grand philosophy of life. She counsels and warns everyone, for example, that one must seek health in small portions. When a daughter goes away from home to (live with) her mother-in-law, Rasl tells her that she should heave a sigh at meal-time there – then people will believe that she is ill and they will give her more! Moreover, when she is sitting at table on Friday evening with her children and her husband makes Kiddush (the Sabbath benediction) and cuts the challe (Sabbath loaves) for the Moitze (blessing over the bread), she should take for herself and her husband the white challe and serve the children black bread, explaining: “In any event, we are (already) orphans, sad as it is. We don’t have fathers and mothers. Hence we eat challe. But you (children) have parents – they should only be healthy for many years. You can eat (plain) bread!” And if her husband becomes very ill and is on the point of dying, she should turn to him with a stern word: “No, my husband, it’s not on! I will not let you die so quickly – you have a wife and children. You are not too ill to live”. And so she straightens him out – and he remains alive!

Here we move on. To the left, is Gedalyo der Melamed’s house and, to the right, Shloime Rivkin’s fine house – and over there is Miller’s chemist shop which is surrounded by a green orchard with all kinds of prized fruits. Even the greatest ”specialists” among orchard thieves did not dare slip in because of the huge, vicious dogs which were really ready to rip a man apart. Hence, cheder kids made do with pulling a little stick along the upright stakes of the long fence and then go racing off, making a frightful racket that drove the chemist’s dogs crazy!

A little further to the left stands the town’s hospice (“hekdesh”) that was built by the well-intentioned, compassionate Reb Idel Monye’s – only that it is always empty, without sick people, without a doctor and a medical assistant, without life and soul. It serves only one purpose - on the porch of the hospice, the members of the Zionist youth party “Ha-techiyyah” (Renaissance) can sit there for free, discuss things at the top of their voices and sometimes even sing. But they have no one to disturb in the hospice because there is not one patient there in need of treatment.

Now, taking a couple of paces from the hospice, there rises before us our famous “mountain” which, in our childhood years, appeared so high and full of secrets. As related from generation to generation, that mountain was supposed to be the remnant of a large fortress of some Polish king. If one would be allowed to dig deep under the mountain, one would surely find “Korach’s treasures” (Biblical allusion, Numbers 16:32)! Unfortunately, however, whatever the evil kingdom (of Poland?) left behind is not there (now) and hence awfully great riches have gone to waste. That “mountain” felt so terribly high to all of us youngsters. When we had successfully scrambled to the very top, the view took in the whole shtetl - far and away to the distant meadows and forests. Then, the whole world opened up before us.

Now let’s go down from the mountain and come to our lovely little river, the “Medvieditze”, which is truly much smaller than the Dnieper and even the Pripet – but for us is so dear and precious! In summer, the mountain and the river banks are covered in green grass and completely crowded with playful cheder kids. On Erev Shabbes (Friday afternoon) they come here together with their fathers and older brothers. They bathe and swim. They often stay sitting a long time and marvel at the athletic feats of the strong swimmers – Mendl Saban, Motte-Shaiye Kashe (a soldier from the Russian-Japanese War (1904-05)) and Yosef’l Yisroel “der Yayetshnikes”. The first (Mendl) lies for a long time in the current, placing his hands under his head and clenching a cigarette between his teeth; the second (Motte-Shaiye) swims with the current, holding a chair in his hand; and (the third) Yosef’l really swims like a duck in water. True, there are other good swimmers who make it to the other side of the river, as far as the “stumps” and bring back from there all kinds of river junk but they do not equal the first trio, especially not Motte-Shaiye Kashe who can even reach, under water, to Avrom’l der Klaymacher (the Gluemaker’s) place, where women bathe … Oh, what blissful pleasure we, cheder kids, used to have beside the river! Dear little Jewish children, how little you needed to derive joy from God’s world!!

Now let us take our leave of this enchanted corner of our childhood years and go back to the “Vall” (the Rampart).

Going through the back alley, we come out to where the “Sanitarians’ Street” begins. It is actually difficult to know how the street came by such a name. Does it come from the word “sanitas”, meaning “health”; or does it come from the time of that (ancient) king who was allegedly crowned here and designated this place of sojourn for his most important offices and sanatoria? Whatever was or was not the root of its name, for us the road became (the shtetl’s) “Main Street”. It was the street where our Lechovicher Jews went to stroll on Shabbes and Yomim Toivim (Festivals), although the local Christian inhabitants in that street were not at all so very welcoming to the Jews as they walked along in the evening hours. At the most ideal time for strolling, they would take to sweeping or cleaning the street in honour of their holy Sunday and thus send a heavy (cloud of) dust up to heaven, to the point of suffocation. Our Shabbes-Yomtefdike Jews (dressed in their Sabbath and Festival best) would make a whole little detour and once again stroll to and fro the whole length of the street – from Reb Moshe-Mordechai Tokatshinsky’s house to our Lechovicher “university”, the village “Shkolke” (primary school) with two grades.

On summer evenings, our young people aren’t prepared to be satisfied with that (strolling down “Main Street”) and (so) they let themselves go further, reaching as far as the “Postovniker” forest, where they sit around for a very long time, resting from the long walk. Here, in the forest, far from the town, they let themselves go a little and swing on a rope tied to the trees. Here they drop in, on occasion, on the forest agent and grab a bite of something – a plate of milk curds with black peasant bread or just a cold drink of water. In the depths of the forest, young boys and girls sometimes have a modest flirtation. Later, with nightfall, they return home – dog-tired but very happy!

It seems that even in mid-week this street (Sanitarians’ Street or “Main Street”) is cleaner and more lit up than all our (Jewish) streets, except for Pinsker Street. The shtetl’s intellectuals come here for a stroll even on midweek evenings. Brides and grooms also stroll here to “look over” one another. In addition, the very few well-to-do balle-batim reside here – such as Reb Moshe-Mordechai Tokatshinsky, Reb Mich’l Binyominke, Zundel Barnak, Berl Bekovich (= Berkovich), Gershon Lis, and the families of Maizel, Litovsky and Leibke Rozovsky with his wife Hanya (good people who are prepared to sacrifice themselves for someone else).

A little further on are the residences of the local Polish doctor, of the Christian medical assistant and of the town’s state officials together with their institutions, such as the “Volost” Office (a “volost” was an administrative sub-district) and the “Volost Court”, the “Zemske Oprave“ (local administration), the “Kholadne” (house of detention) where a thief or a drunk goy spends time. Almost every Friday they bring criminals here in batches. They draw the attention of all the storekeepers of the “Between the Shops” area and all the others who stare at the new arrivals with curiosity.

The Commissioner also lives here with his twelve agents who were specially sent (to Lechovich) from the high authorities of the Empire. They have to guard against any shop being broken into again, God forbid, after the “Monopol” (state liquor store) was once burglarized on a Sunday market day with the unexpected arrival of peasants who were incited by the shtetl’s Jewish revolutionaries, with Feivele Rivkin and the red-headed barber, Avromele, at their head.

And here, at the far end of the street, resides Shmuler der Advocat (the lawyer). He goes around on weekdays dressed up as for Shabbes, in a black frock-coat, a white collar and a hard hat. (He has) a broad golden ring on his finger and smokes Viennese cigars. An educated Jew, with lots of children. His wife goes the whole week with a little hat on her head, as would better befit the wife of a big town lawyer. People even whisper under their breath that she does not say no to having a flirtation with an outsider and that the reason for that is her husband, “the advocate”, who is often given to the bottle! Dear “legal expert” Shmuler, you know the law concerning every criminal but not about your own wife!

If we go back a bit, we come out to the start of “Death Road”, which stretches far and away to the “New Cemetery”, while having to its side, on the left, the “Old Cemetery”, which is filled up with the graves of great Rabbis and Rebbayim (chassidic Rabbis) who draw their yiches (high family status) from the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of Chassidism) himself.

It seems that no prominent Jew lives on Death Road, except for Reb Shachne Buchbinder who deals, as it happens, in dry bones and old rags. Why is the street devoid of well-to-do folk? Who knows! Perhaps prominent people shun this kind of a street so that their money will retain more value in their eyes and perhaps nature has discovered that here is the most appropriate place for the poor and the oppressed, so as to emphasize more sharply the meaning of the verse (where it is written) ”the poor and the indigent are of the same import as the dead”. Yet how excited all the beggars become when a fire breaks out in the shtetl or the peasants get drunk and rough up the Jews a bit hard. Then, people in Death Road let themselves go wild with axes, mattocks, pokers – and show that they are (very much alive and) very far from death! . . . Nu, dear Jews from Death Road, did you put up a resistance to the Hitlerite murderers who turned our whole shtetl into a ghost town?

Now let’s go up the other side of Death Road to (a section called) the “Weinger”, which actually stands before the continuation of Death Road, with the small difference that the dirt and distress are greater (here). Crossing a small bridge, we come out where the “Shul Hoyf” (the “Synagogue Courtyard”) is located, with its two chassidic shtiblech (prayer-houses), the big community’s Bes Medresh (synagogue; literally “House of Study”) and the Cobblers’ and the Tailors’ shuls (smaller synagogues). From here, Jewish prayers, chassidic melodies, Shofar-blowing and ecstatic dancing and hand-clapping have been heard on Shabbes and Yomtef over long generations.

Especially when the Koidanover Rebbe used to come to the shtetl once a year - then, vey, vey, what a rumpus was kicked up here, in this corner (of town). The whole Shul Hoyf was thrown into complete turmoil. The Koidanover shul was too confined to accommodate the huge crowds of Jews who gathered to catch either a little word of Torah or a few shraiyim (crumbs from the Rebbe’s table) or just to have a part in the holy celebration.

I remember how once at such a celebration I almost caught a slap from my father, Dovid-Shloime, a passionate Koidanover chassid, when out of the blue I asked him how a saintly Jew was permitted to countenance such Jews, who would become frenzied, leaping before him with such fervour, and singing and dancing and clapping their hands like crazy people and why did he not shun that kind of “honour”!

“You ’Shaygetz’!” (ignoramus), he shouted at me very angrily. “You’re deficient! … don’t you understand yet that the Rebbe has to live in great style, because the honour done to him is not (actually) for him but for the Holy Torah and for the Almighty whose faithful envoy he only is!”

How much life has welled up in that corner (of town)? Here klezmer (Jewish musicians) have played so often, accompanying young couples to the chuppe (marriage canopy), which was set up near a famous (wedding) stone. Here heart-rending wailing has often been heard, as has the bitter lament of relatives accompanying their dear ones on their last journey. Now no singing and playing is to be heard – nor lamentation. Now, it’s (utterly) still and silent, exactly as though the cemetery had been transported here and engulfed the whole place.

Only let’s be strong, brothers, and go on. We take ourselves off through a little side-alley and come to where Kletsk Street begins, at the far end of which stands the well-kept house of N’yome Zayetz, a hefty Jew who, thanks to his ability, had become a respected contractor for major state entrepreneurs.

A couple of paces more and we arrive at the house where the cradle of the “pride of our shtetl” stood. Here, our famous Dr. A. Mokdoni (or, by his real name – Sander Koppel) was born and raised. A son of parents who were not at all well off – his father was a melamed in the poorest district and his mother a respectable Jewish woman, always toiling in her bakery. Thanks to his great abilities and extraordinary energy, he (Mokdoni) completed his studies in Russia and abroad, obtaining the title of Doctor of Philosophy and thereafter, “like a storm” immersed himself into the most important period of Yiddish literature from its blossoming and development - and straightaway assumed a place among the greatest writers and journalists. He was especially appreciated as one of the best and most gifted critics of dramatic art. It is not an exaggeration to say that his word in this field became law and, at that time, on his word depended the fate of more than one show and its actors into the bargain.

Our great fellow citizen and brother gained no little honour for us. How happy we are that he is alive and with us, nowadays continuing his great and fruitful work in America. Let us then wish him, in the name of all the survivors, that he should enjoy a long old age together with us and be as a consolation in our despondent mood.

Now let’s go on. We proceed by the stone house where Reb Shimshil Mintz lives with his family. He is a Jew who is always (spotlessly) clean, a pleasure to behold. It does not need to be mentioned that he has been a widower already for a good few years. His daughters care for him so that, God forbid, he shouldn’t lack anything – even though it is not easy for them, because by nature he is quite a strong-willed Jew. And he is felt in the house even in his absence, (for example) when he is in the forest for business reasons (dealing in lumber?). Altogether, that family was one of the most progressive in the shtetl.

Further down stand the houses of Reb Hirshele Mass, Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Ratzkevich and Rabbi Meir Paymer, about whom our (colleague) Dr. Avigdor Grinspan has so much to tell (elsewhere in the Yizkor Book).

And here is the stone house of Reb Noah Lios, a very big pelt merchant and equally a fervent Koidanover chassid. A little further along is the long yard of Reb Shaiyel Zmudziak, also a big merchant who does business as far as Lemberg. Opposite is the wood merchant, Reb Pinye Berkovich with his fine children - not far from Reb Chayim Shifris, the Melamed, or “Chayim der Nesvizher” (from the nearby town of Nesvizh), a dear, calm Jew. He had the privilege of having his son in the famous Kevutza in Eretz Yisroel – Deganya Aleph (a Kibbutz founded in 1909).

We go a little further on and come to the Lechovich “museum” – I mean to the house of Reb Shloime Potshtalion. I call it a “museum” because, just as it is impossible to be in Moscow and not see the Kremlin, or to be in Paris and not see the Louvre, so it seems to me that it is impossible to be in Lechovich and not visit Reb Shloime Potshtalion’s goyyish-looking, tumbledown abode. He is called “Potshtalion” (= postilion, in English) because he has a special concession from the local postal service to distribute the mail which arrives in the shtetl. For this concession, he puts at the disposal of the post a harnessed horse with a fine bridle and with a coachman, who drives twice a day to the railway station, transporting the (incoming) mail here (to town) and taking the (outgoing) mail back (to the station). Reb Shloime Potshtalion’s horse with its bridle and bells runs through the shtetl, with the non-Jewish “whip-cracker” in front and a Russian official behind with a revolver at his side – and everyone knows exactly what time it is: here – at nine; and back - at ten.

In the morning, the incoming mail was handed out by Reb Shloime near the post office very quickly. Only leading merchants, who are awaiting their business correspondence, come to collect their mail. But the evening mail distribution is completely different. Then, it is not the merchants who come to collect mail but their adolescent sons and daughters whose parents’ business matters do not interest them in the least. Only the business of meeting one another interests them. Here, the encounters take place not by the post office and not in the morning – only in the late evening hours and inside Reb Shloime’s house. No harsh words (from their parents) had the power to put an end to the young people’s (daily) trip to the post. Day in, day out, Reb Shloime’s house is crammed – a pin could not be inserted.

One talks, chats and wise-cracks. Having nuts in one’s pocket is altogether great – one peels and cracks them at full blast, especially when the weather is fine (and) the heaven is studded with stars! Then, the house is completely full. The porch and even the yard is packed with young people who hang on the windows as if glued to them and ostensibly listen carefully to Reb Shloime as he calls out the addresses from the letters.

It is not easy for Reb Shloime to do this. He devotes himself to his work just like a Priest to his Holy Office (in the Temple). Having spent the whole day (working) across the shtetl distributing the mail to the houses of the addressees, he is fatigued in the evening and so takes a nap until the non-Jewish fellow turns up with the mail from the station and lays the big bag on the table. First, Reb Shloime comes out of his narrow cubicle, sits himself down in front, pumps up the flame from the kerosene lamp (except, you understand, on the Friday nights when the non-Jew and one of his sisters call out the addresses), wipes clean his glasses before he places them on his nose, begins to take the letters out of the bag and takes to reading aloud the names from the addresses. He calls them out not exactly as they are written on the envelopes but according to his own peculiar system – not “Gospodin Yudeliev Litshitzkomu” (in Russian) but “Reb Yidel Litshitzky”; not “Gospodin Duchovnomo Ravino Israil-Davidu Ratzkevichu”, but Rabbi Reb Yisroel-Dovid Ratzkevich”, and so on. It doesn’t make a difference – the “congregation” understands what he means well and every time a voice is heard from another direction, saying “Give (it over here), Reb Shloime”, Reb Shloime sends the bespoken letter straight over the heads of those standing near him until it reaches the addressee.

And when no letter is received, it does not matter because not for the letters alone does one go to Reb Shloime. Over there, for example, a young couple sits on a little bench a bit removed from Reb Shloime’s house: they are not even listening as the addresses are called out - they sit together, cozy and quiet. Suddenly, they look up as Chayim-Ezrielke goes by with a turned-up collar – and the young couple knows very well that now he is going to his gypsy girl who lives at the very end of the street. That interests them more than the mail!

Oh, who doesn’t know Chayim-Ezrielke? And who doesn’t know his gypsy beauty, whom he picked up from a band of gypsies who were traveling by. The gypsy girl has fallen deeply in love with his burning eyes and black moustaches and his whole body which is bursting with strength and energy …. It is of Chayim-Ezrielke and about similar things that the young couples chat with gusto while they are waiting for the post.

Dear and decent Reb Shloime, whether or not you knew the real reason why the young people used to come to your announcing of the mail, you pretended not to know and you became, unwittingly, the shatch’n (marriage broker) for many couples, a thousand times better than all the local shatchonim! You should only have a radiant “Garden of Eden” (after-life) in return for the holy mission (you performed).

Lyakhovichi Residential Neighborhood called the Rampart (or the Wall) a neighborhood for established merchants’ “fine residences” - we find the Ditkovskys who had a leather business, Shlomo Rivkin described as “the wealthy manufacturer”, Asher the watchmaker and Miller “the Polish chemist,” on this block and their homes are surrounded by orchards.

My Devastated Shtetl, Part Five

Actually, my dears, we could already return (directly) to town by not completing (the whole of) Kletsk Street, which is occupied by our bourgeois (non-Jewish) neighbours who probably took no small part in the annihilation of our brothers (during WWII). However, it is worth our proceeding further because from there we will be able to cast an eye at the large estate, (called the) “Rushike”, which belonged to Polish noblemen (and land-owners) the Reytans. For (many) long years, they maintained a very close connection with our shtetl and provided no small livelihood for our townsfolk, starting with Feigel-Bashe’s (a store-owner – see immediately below). They bound their estate to our town. For example, the story goes that Count Reytan suggested re-building the old “Cold Synagogue” after the (Great) Fire at his own expense, making only one condition: that his name should be inscribed on a special emblem beside the entrance. The shtetl, however, did not go along with this and so the foundation (of the synagogue) remains (bare) stone until the present day.

The refined Countess Reytan was distinguished by a particularly respectable attitude (to Jews). She used to visit the shtetl very often with her companions, always stopping off with great fanfare at Feigel-Bashe’s “colonial” store. They used to arrive in fine carriages and sleighs, drawn by several horses and driven by Iozef the coachman, dressed up in a uniform with golden buttons. Once in a while the noble ladies would arrive riding horses, like Amazons. Who doesn’t still speak of the occasion when Countess Reytan once arrived unexpectedly in her own automobile (at that time, the first automobile in the whole Minsk Gubernia). This really caused a total commotion in the region and people stampeded to have a look at it, as if they were looking at an amazing wonder. Everyone – that is, except for our poor cart-drivers whose horses were held in a single pen (?), for they alone, as opposed to everyone else, were apprehensive of the automobile. They saw in it an evil omen, (proclaiming) the doom of their livelihood. They were relieved soon afterwards when the automobile got horribly stuck in a mud-patch and was unable to budge from there. The desperate Countess with her chauffeur, poor things, were obliged to seek the help of the cart-drivers, (requesting that) their horses should pull the august automobile out of the mud-patch together. Oh, then our cart-drivers experienced sweet revenge!

At the beginning of the last World War, the noble Countess Reytan was exiled by the Bolsheviks (sic = Red Army?) to Siberia, where she surrendered up her soul together with many of the Jews from our shtetl … a kind of symbol of true neighbourliness.

Now, having fulfilled the verse “And also its ruin will be remembered for good”, we can cut through the garbage behind Kletsk Street and come out at the beginning of Pinsk Street, to the left of which stretch, far and wide, gardens and fields up to the Kaminker Forest and the railway station at Rushnevich. Not far from there are two little paths – one to the left, to the windmills, where cheder kids, as if in a very safe hide-away, used to play cards undisturbed and where there was a meeting-place for young couples in the evenings. The other little path, to the right, leads to the “market place” (literally “bourse”, in Russian = an “ideological exchange”?) of the local revolutionary youth, where there is hustle and bustle every evening and especially on Friday nights. The debates between the parties were always heated – not infrequently it happened that the last (means of) persuasion in arguments was a punch-up and murderous blows!

In the part of Pinsk Street which led to the Market is located the “Golden Flag” (the “flagship”) of our shtetl, so to speak. On one side is the big pelt merchant and devout chassid, Reb Leibe Lios with his intelligent family, and on the other is Avrom Yaakov Kaplan’s son, Yehoshu’o, with his wife Feigele, or as she is called “Feigele Avrom Yaakov’s”. Our way of life is not at all suitable for her. In her home she was taught Russian and also she has set up her house on city lines. But with that, she was distinguished by her simplicity and has shown a strong inclination towards community organizations. She has founded various social institutions in our shtetl, starting with “The Women’s Association for Poor Birthing Mothers” (the association’s name was in Hebrew) and ending with a communal matzo bakery which functioned before Pesach for the poor population. For the work in the bakery, she enlisted the local youth who worked night and day so that the matzo (unleavened bread) could be made for the poor to be able to celebrate the Seder (the Passover meal) equally with everyone.

Here let’s go a bit up and we come to the well-kept house of Reb Avrom Chayim Weinger or “Der Nayer Noggid”, where for years our town post-office used to be. By the way, an unusual thing happened to that Jew, who is still living with us, with his daughter and family in Tel Aviv (he should live “for 120 years!”). This is the story: While in America it was his good fortune that a very large dwelling fell his way. He brought the capital which he realized back to the shtetl and, you’ll understand, immediately assumed a very prominent place among the really affluent. He founded a credit bank, bought up shops and erected two fine houses in Pinsk Street and promptly took a seat in the “Mizrach” wall (see earlier note) in the local big congregation’s synagogue, thus coming by the name of “Der Nayer Noggid” (the newly rich man). . . . How goes the old proverb? “Dowry-money, inherited money and lottery money have no substance – they go as swiftly as they come”. So too our newly “rich man”, unfortunately, became a poor man. In his case, by the way, his good friends and acquaintances “helped” him, just letting him keep his new name “Der Nayer Noggid”.

Here we are by the house of Reb Zalman Valkin, a son-in-law of the wealthiest man in town, Reb Avrom Yaakov Kaplan, who works together with his father-in-law and brothers-in-law, sons and sons-in-law of Reb Avrom Yaakov, in his large lumber businesses. Reb Zalman is learned and even has ordination for the rabbinate.

Opposite, no such big gevirim (affluent and prominent men) live but (one finds) Jews with honest souls, like Reb Yidel der Melamed and Reb Noah-Leib Busel, with their families.

At the very end of the street, opposite N’yome Zayetz, are to be found Chotshe der Roife (the doctor), a certified medical assistant who is far more educated than his competitor, Reb Avrom-Yaakov der Roife who is a complete illiterate (which should not be considered any disgrace). Materially speaking, things go a lot worse for Chotshe than for Avrom-Yaakov. It’s a matter of luck!

After Pinsk Street we take a left and enter a “street that ain’t no street”, which we should take note of because of the important Jews that once lived here. But, first of all, whoever wishes should take a look to the right, where precious hard-working Jews lived - among them a gentle Jew, Reb Leibe-Motte-Sanke’s, a ladies’ tailor. The first professional strike in Lechovich occurred at his (work-shop) among his female workers who demanded a reduction in the working-day from twelve hours to ten hours. In truth, it was a slightly odd strike because the proprietor himself, Reb Leibe, with his daughters, worked no less than his female workers, while he remained a very poor man in the process. Hence he would not, and could not, grant their demand – and paid (for that) with his life. Among the strike-leaders were some nasty types who struck Reb Leibe over the head with an iron bar – (which put) an end to the strike for everyone.

Exactly opposite, by Mich’l Aron der Beker (the Baker), lives one of our two town dentists, Yitzchok-Gedalyo Goldberg, in a stone house. The greatest “supporter” of our town, he is the founder of many organizations and institutions, such as the Fire-Fighters Association, the Art Society, the Committee for the Development of the Shtetl and so on. Besides all that, our Yitzchok-Gedalyo is always ready to help other people in trouble, treating them as his own brother, friend and companion.

Among the outstanding Jews on the “street that ain’t no street”, as I have called it above, lived Reb Moshe Mordechai “der Dardeke-Melamed” (the little children’s cheder teacher), a quiet, upstanding man and a “Dreamer of Zion”. Although he was a poor man, he was the first subscriber to “Ha-tzefiroh” (a Hebrew newspaper published in Warsaw intermittently from 1862 onwards). His greatest dream was at least to die in Eretz Yisroel. Unfortunately this was not granted him. He relinquished his soul in “dark exile” (an allusion to the Shoah). Not far from Reb Moshe Mordechai live Reb Shaiye Chossidand, a couple of paces on, Reb Yankel “der Shoichet” (ritual slaughterer) and then, opposite, the talmed chochem Reb Meir Leibke’s, the cheder teacher, about whom our dear Dr. A. Mokdoni and Dr. A. Grinspan have so much to tell.

Opposite, pushed back far in the yard, lives the great Koidanover chossid, Reb David Shloime, son of Shaike der Dayen (religious judge). From his house, on summer Friday evenings, through the open windows, waft the holy Friday evening hymns and heartfelt chassidic melodies which really have a magical effect on the whole surrounding area and fill the air with the mood of the “neshome yesayre” (the mythical “extra soul” which descends upon a Jew on the Sabbath).

Here extends courtyard after courtyard, built up with small, low houses and huts, almost one on top of the other. Here poverty nestles (all around) … And there is the abode of our well-known Reb Avrom-Yankel der Roife whom we have already mentioned in connection with his professional colleague, Chotshe. Who among us in the shtetl has not made the acquaintance of that great “physician” who acquired his entire medical knowledge during the time that he served as a male nurse with a doctor in a governmental town (administrative centre, such as Slutsk or even Minsk). After that, he settled in Lechovich and began his self-appointed medical career. He was graced with two qualities (enabling him) to have great success. First, his very manner. Whatever else people may have said about him, his appearance would have fitted the greatest professor – his fur hat and large, beautiful fur coat with its floppy cape on top, and the high galoshes on his feet, gained him the highest respect, (even) among his biggest enemies. The second quality was his extraordinary confidence in himself, to the point of chutzpah (brazen effrontery).

For a dozen years, he remained the only medical assistant in town and who knows how much that cost in poor folks’ lives? If a (real) doctor were once to have tried to arrive, Avrom-Yankel would have expelled him right away. Either he would cast abuse on his would-be competitor or he would let loose his dumb son, Alter the barber, on him – and that one was prepared to slaughter a man in the middle of the market with his sharp razor-blade! Avrom-Yankel used to make up his prescriptions himself with the help of Miller, the Polish pharmacist. If his herbs worked, that was fine, but in the event, God forbid, that they did not, people weren’t allowed to say a word, because when Avrom-Yankel opened his mouth on someone, “it could not be washed clean with ten (flushes of) water”.

God knows how long things would have continued in this way, if a miracle had not been pre-ordained and a Christian doctor arrived in town. He soon obliged our Reb Avrom-Yankel to give up and limit his practice only to the ailing among the poor. Next, in the Rogov’s house, is the barber-shop of Chatzkel, (Rogov’s) son. A sign hangs outside, written, you see, in Russian of all things: “Saloon for hair-cutting and shaving” and on the sign is depicted an appropriate “picture”, painted by our Lechovich artist, Moishe Snob’l, where a man is sitting opposite a mirror, covered with a sheet, and near him stands the barber, while both of them are staring straight at the people in the street … Oy vey, how hard-heartedly were we, the cheder kids, treated by that “rogue” Chatzkele, especially on Erev Shabbos and Erev Yomtef , when he would make sure that we could not go out to get a haircut by his competitor, Yosel, son of Chotshe der Roife. He would (simply) run his clippers over our heads, from the back of neck to the forehead, thus leaving a carved-out streak so that now one could only sit and wait endlessly, with our “scarred skulls”, until the blackguard took pity and got to work on us!

The Mislevozh Street starts here. At the beginning, on the left, is the “Papayshchine” (grove of trees?) which belonged to an old Tatar woman (there was a Tatar community in Lechovich), who gave permission so that Jews should be able to come and relax on Shabbos after their cholent (a particularly heavy Sabbath dish) and take a little fresh air under the few trees. In the eyes of the town’s Jews, that row of a few trees seemed like a real Garden of Eden. Here, at the “Papayshchine”, at the very beginning of the street, live the “Burakes”, a large, ramified and hard-working family who engaged in planting different vegetables on large tracts near the town (whence they take their nickname “Burakes” (“beetroot”, in Russian)). In the wintertime, they bred whole flocks of geese for selling and producing shmaltz (rendered fat). They prepared it in large troughs for sale in bulk around Pesach time.

When we go off a little to the right, where one catches up with Mislevozh Street, we observe a stone building which has a great deal to tell us. At the beginning, it was erected to serve as a place for the fire brigade’s equipment. However, it was destined to fulfill a completely different function in our shtetl’s cultural life. Not everyone knows about that, so it’s worth our while to pause and briefly relate the whole thing. If until the last moments (in World War II) there was an interest in our town in dramatics, it was thanks to that building where, close to forty years ago (around 1912?) the foundation was laid for an amateur company drawn from the intellectual (literally, “intelligent”) youth in Lechovich.

“Lechovich Young People’s Circle of Theatre Lovers” captioned with names of R. Kurchin, Chana Zlotnik, N’yome Begun, Faye Churgin, A. Lev (the author of this chapter), Shloimke Rozovsky, Boruch Tzirlis, Tzimmering, Y. G. Goldberg, Malka Berkovich, Brin “the Artist” (director), Masha Geldfarb, Y. Falevsky, Chayim Grinspan, Noah Pintshuk.

It came about as follows: after the unfortunate Revolution of 1905, young people everywhere were overcome by apathy. A large part of the youth who lost heart left Russia and emigrated to “free” America. Others, the more passive among the young people, went off in the direction of mildly scandalous recreations and started here and there the so-called movement of the “Leagues for Free Love”. More modest young people took to showing an interest in the art of the theatre and founded amateur companies to perform plays.

Our shtetl was almost always the first in the whole region to take up any kind of new diversion. And indeed it was the first to form a circle for young theatre lovers. Then, really as if from heaven, a professional actor happened upon us (by the name of) Brin who, it seems, had dropped out of some traveling company. Our young people took to the “divine” work (of the theatre) with gusto under the direction of our unexpected guest. He assembled the “talents” among us and he soon went to work – starting by studying with us in depth Sholem Aleichem’s (play) “Scattered Widely” which was, by the way, very appropriate for those times. Our director anguished a bit over the fact that he did not have the right comic actor for the role of the marriage broker. He was, however, quickly saved because I, your humble servant, having suddenly pitched up in town from an absence in Pinsk, was straightaway “engaged” by the “company” and took up the role in question.

The shtetl was really in turmoil. We ran into obstacles from the side of both the orthodox population and the authorities which required the issue of a permit for putting on a theatre presentation. To obtain the necessary permit we were saved by our dear (friend) Yitzchok-Gedalyo (Goldberg). He began to work energetically on the matter as the founder of the local Firefighters Association. After a lot of effort, the censor from the Gubernya authorities finally arrived, (bearing) a stamped (certified) copy of the play “Scattered Widely”, together with the permit to produce a play in Yiddish, made out in favour of the Firefighters Association. Nu, what can you do! So be it – the main thing was that the show would go on.

We then set about putting the “auditorium” in order, with the stage, the proper decorations (etc.). Nor was the preparation of a booth for the prompter forgotten. The windows were even fixed up so that smart-alecks couldn’t set up ladders and peek inside. Ay, what will be with the furnishings and the wardrobes? After all, with Jews one couldn’t go wrong - one borrows here and there and everything would soon be in the best of shape. But what does one do with non-Jews? There’s surely an answer to that as well - the director will take care of everything. In brief, everything fell into place like a real theatre and when the days before the play arrived, printed placards - in Russian, you understand - were put up. Soon the tickets began to be sold at Alter Brevda, the photographer’s place and, before a day was out, the billboard was pasted over with a stripe (announcing) “All tickets sold out”.

Then the day for the dress rehearsal arrived and all the actors were very stressed. Suddenly, as often happens in big theatres, two actors exchanged angry words and had a fight. One decided that it was he who had to play the role of Matvey and he landed such a punch on his partner, Vladimir, that the latter was knocked senseless and passed out. You’ll understand that immediately there was an uproar and it was decided that we were not acting with that Matvey, even if the world disappears! But what will one do without Matvey? Here (and now) we have to hold the dress rehearsal and tomorrow we are required, according to the permit from the authorities, to stage the presentation itself. If, God forbid, we postpone the show, we will have to begin anew the application for a permit, which is another four to five week business. In short, the situation is dire. Only a professional actor, like Brin, who is accustomed to such things, could give advice. He laid his hand on the shoulder of the one who had to play the marriage broker and said in a firm voice, “This member (of the cast) will also play Matvey”. “What do you mean?” people asked from all sides. “Is he a comedian or what?” … “Is it possible?” But, go argue! When the director pronounces, that’s the way it is.

The following evening the town was gathered in the hall – and not just from the shtetl itself. People came from the whole surrounding region to see the play. How did they all manage to crush into such a narrow auditorium and where did they all go to? Don’t ask! People were really hanging from the rafters. Who bought a ticket for cash and who received complementaries - a reward for lending us furniture or some wardrobe? The show began – and was it ever a play! Then Lechovich was a Lechovich the likes of which had never been seen. People actually shook the hall with rousing applause and spirited cheering.

As befits a real theatre, a banquet was held after the show, with the local Polish doctor at the head. What is he doing there? Nu, the production was put on in Yiddish but what (self-respecting) doctor doesn’t understand German?! There was a series of speeches in honour of the actors and particularly in honour of their pure, dedicated artistry. And when the director himself asserted that a professional company of artists would not be put to shame by such a performance, our spirits rose to seventh heaven. Was it any wonder that very soon posters were put up again, (announcing that) “by popular demand” the show would be played another time? So it was with a play by a theatre (group) which lasted with us for many years. Its foundation was laid here in that building by the first circle of lovers of dramatic art, as was heralded in the first posters.

Now we will allow ourselves to proceed with our stroll. We will stop before the house of Reb Noah “der Melamed” or Noah “Mislevozher” (from Mislevozh) - a dear Jew and a great Torah scholar. And there is the Pintshuks’ house. One of them, Shaiye Pintchuk, was all his life a faithful Zionist devotee but he died along with everyone (in the Holocaust).

There is the home of our other Lechovich lawyer, Mendel Zmudziak or, as he was called, Mendel “Saban”. Exactly like his competitor, Shmuler, he was the father of many children – except that he was a great joker and was always in a good mood, not to mention a great apikores. On a hot Sabbath afternoon, he used to allow himself to drink a cold pitcher of sour milk soon after his cholent (an affront to Jewish religious law, which requires a long waiting period between meat and milk foods). Thus he was the first person in the shtetl to go around hatless in the street. The frum (observant) Jews had washed their hands of him a long time ago. Hence, the young people stuck closely to him and especially the young intellectual women, with whom he spoke Russian and whom, from time to time, he honoured with one joke after the other, each “saltier” than the last …

Not far from the advocate’s residence is a simple house where the quiet family of Reb Nache (Nachman) der Bal-Agole (the Carter) is to be found. Despite his occupation, he is an idealistic Jew of whom one cannot speak highly enough. At the time of evening prayers, he prays, you see, among his peers (literally, “among Jews of his degree”), but he has enough integrity to suffice for a whole minyan (prayer quorum of ten men) of fine balle-batim who have seats in the mizrach wall (of a synagogue).

And there is the home of our Lechovicher “Paganini”. I mean Reb Nishe der Klezmer(musician), with his son Shli’ome, the flutist. Who of us didn’t know that serene and modest Reb Nishe with his fiddle who, together with his band, wrought wonders at weddings? He was already an elderly Jew, always cleanly dressed, with a silvery head of hair, cut short from behind and arranged “a la garcon”, with a large, broad golden ring on his finger. It was said that he had acquired the ring from a famous duke for his exceptional playing.

The Ring of Nishe Muzykant (high-resolution version)

Thanks to Sharon Racusin for this wonderful photo of the family heirloom passed down through her grandfather Sam “Shliome” Musicant.

When Nishe took his fiddle in hand, the hearts of all those around began to pound. In particular, he vanquished every heart by his playing at wedding dinners. At the request of the parents of the bride and groom, he played “Kol Nidrei” (a prayer from the Yom Kippur service, with a haunting melody) or the “Pastechel” (shepherd’s song). Then, Jewish hearts melted as if made of wax; people were ready “to lift him in their hand”. When he played that Pastechel, he performed like a shepherd going out to graze his sheep – and suddenly a hungry wolf intrudes! The Pastechel wails, sheds bitter tears and calls for help. Suddenly the wolf spots a whole bunch of sheep, with their dogs going wild – he slinks off and all the sheep remain alive, thank God… Then (Shli’ome) plays the Pastechel as a song of praise to the Lord on his little whistle to (the melody of) Rachum ve-Chanun (another High Holyday prayer). (The shepherd) calls in his sheep and makes his way home with them safe and sound. And then Nishe “gives a four” with his bow over the strings on the other side of his “Stradivarius”: a squeak is heard from a gate - a sign that the sheep were returning in their pen – and the joy of the listeners is unbounded. Oh, dear Nishe, you should enjoy an illustrious “Garden of Eden” for the huge pleasure which you brought with your playing to all those in deep despair.

Let’s go a little further and, passing by the non-Jewish burghers’ homes surrounded by gardens and orchards, we come to the little house which stands on its own at the very end of the street. Here, in complete isolation, live the family of Lemke Daiches or Reb Lemke Gavze (the father of Chayuta Busel). Despite the fact that that family is already described by our Dr. Grinspan and Chayuta herself, it is impossible not to say a few words about them here, since they were notable for an extraordinary likeness (to one another) which always made a special impression on everyone.

It was always difficult to determine to what (location) the inhabitants of that house should be ascribed – to a village (nearby) or to the town? One way or the other, should such a fine family work so hard in its own weaving establishment and live outside the town, somehow not at all like Jews? From the very first glance, one could deduce that the family was destined by God Himself for Eretz Yisroel. They even experienced bitter trials at home, like those with which the one-time immigrants to Eretz Yisroel were tested (thank God not today) – already in Lechovich they sampled the taste of kadoches (fevers, malaria, severe illness).

Let’s leave that quiet and special family and go further on until we arrive at a pathway to the iron bridge, the bridge where our Lechovich youngsters used to let go on summer Sabbath-days, paddling in the fast-flowing river and singing “Nadson’s” (popular sentimental melodies by a Jewish song-writer called Nadson) with dreamy eyes and overflowing hearts!

We leave the quiet, secretive part of the Tatars’ Street and turn to enter the town, going by the houses of such outstanding balle-batim, as Ahare Mazhe (= Mazie?) or, as he was known, der Nayer Noggid (the newly rich man) (apparently because of some short-lived good fortune, which he had had while it held him); Aron-Leib Kantorovich, the big Koidanover chassid, Reb Moishe Neiman, one of the biggest pelt merchants in our region. (The latter), when not taken up with his business, always used to look for a free moment to glance at a Hebrew or Russian book or at a newspaper. He gave his children a nationalistic upbringing, in the best sense of the word. How sad he was, together with all his friends, when one of his daughters left the Jewish fold … Over here, lives Reb Shaiyel Gavze with his son Yechiel-Asher, who are also big pelt merchants and even bigger chassidim.

One should also point out where the poor widow, Rashe di Bekerke (the Bakerwoman), lived. She gained a name for herself among the local youth with her fresh bagels, which she prepared in the late evening hours, when the young people used to come back from Reb Shloime’s “post-office”, or from a heated discussion in the (political) parties’ “exchange-market”, or a strenuous rehearsal of a theatre piece, or just from a late stroll.

From the Tatars’ Street let’s go in to the left, to the start of Harevle Street (called “Revle Street” on the accompanying sketch-map of Lechovich), which leads to the “mountain” and from there, via the Klein Lotve (little meadow), straight to Polstanak. In the good old days, one journeyed there to the railway. In Hitler’s time, however, our brothers and sisters were conveyed on that way to mass death. Then Harevle Street was converted into another “Death Road” … and so this time we will not make our way to Polstanak. No, this time we will not pause at this or that house, we will not even stop at the Pravoslav (Russian Orthodox) Church, where every Sunday our “dear” neighbours were taught to love one’s enemy … in the dark days of Hitler, it seems, they forgot the Bible altogether.

But let us have courage, my dears, and press on until we arrive at the place where our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, little children and aged grandparents saw for the last time this sinful world, which betrayed them in such an ugly way and deceived them so outrageously …

And, as downcast and broken as they were before their martyr’s death, let us gather around this huge, sacred mass-grave of our now-extinct shtetl and, with heads bowed, let us all say together, “Aycho yoshvo vodod” (“How doth the city sit solitary” – the first words of the Book of Lamentations).

Once there was a shtetl called Lechovich that for long generations throbbed with life. Today it stands denuded, mute and orphaned of its precious, loving children who were torn from it by violence and who have taken their leave of it forever, forever …

Yisgadal ve-yiskadash sh’may rabbo … ! (“Magnified and sanctified be His great Name!” – announcing the recitation of the Mourner’s “Kaddish” prayer).