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REGION OF CALM AND DREAMING LAKES

RABBI ELIJAH GORDON
HIS LIFE AND WORKS
By
Hirsch Loeb Gordon

copyright
1926 by Rabbi Elijah Gordon

part I

The northeastern part of the government of Vilna, (formerly) Russia, is covered by vast and impenetrable forests, impassable marshes and thickets, numerous lakes and swampy meadows, with cleared and dry spaces occupied here and there by manors, villages and small towns. The moisture of the soil feeds the four rivers Disna, Dvina, Vilyia and Nieman and forms many larger lakes like those of Svir, Vishniev, Shvacksenta, Miastra, Narotah and Myadsiol. The country people consist mainly of White Russians Byelorussia, whose Russian vernacular has been greatly Polonized, and in whose veins flows much of Lithuanian blood. These peasants are uncouth, ignorant and superstitious rustics but, like the average Russian Mouzhik simple, god-fearing and amiable. While some of them are engaged in agriculture, their main occupation is fishing, for the swarming lakes provide them with abundant supplies, which they carry to the cities of Vilna and Minsk for further distribution.

ENTENTE CORDIAL

The villages are grouped around the small towns or Myestetchkos, populated mostly by Jews, whom cruel Czarist laws forbade to own land in the open country, even within the few governments, where their sojourn was tolerated. The peasants flocked to the Myestetchko on Sundays to attend the services at the Tserkov (church) and to the weekly Rynock(Fair) held on Wednesdays, when they could sell the products of their net, stable and plough and in turn buy imported  wares and implements in the Jewish stores. The Myestetchko, or more exactly, its Jewish inhabitants, were on a higher plane of civilization. Peasants visited it daily. One ordered a holiday suit from the Jewish tailor, another-a pair of fancy sapogi (high boots) of the Jewish shoe-maker, and a third had his horse shoed or his cartwheels rimmed in the ever-busy Jewish smithy. It was from the Jewish traveling merchant or newspaper reader that the peasants learned of what was going on in their country and in the wide world. The Jewish tsirulnick (barber. surgeon) or feldsher (quack) relieved him of his pain by letting his blood, extracting his aching teeth or pacifying his colic with vials of cubeb and licorice. It is a region of calm, the calm of dreaming lakes never disturbed by marked changes. Life flows unruffled, still. The marshes and extensive forests did not encourage much rambling and journeying, and peasants, living villages a dozen miles apart, saw each other only on the Yarmarki. (Annual fairs). Tolerance towards alien creeds peacefulness of mind, resignation to fate and to allotted position, typify their character and life.

HOW MYADSIOL ADOPTED FAMILY NAMES

Part II

One of the Myestetchkos in that region is that of Myadsiol. Its history goes back more than eight centuries and is quite prominent on mediaeval geographical maps. Local legends ascribe to it great prominence in the period of the ancient Lithuanian monarchy. Its Jewish community, numbering about 200 souls, is also of very remote beginnings. Most of them bear the family name Gordon, while the remainder of the surnames are Hodosh. Gordon and Hodosh are still predominating names in the membership list of the Myadsiol Benevolent Association of New York City, the president of which is Mr. L. Gordon, a brother of Rabbi E. Gordon. According to local tradition the surname Gordon was suggested for adoption by one of the Jewish burghers of Myadsiol, a business woman, who on her travels met venerable merchants by that name. But, as a matter of fact, the Gordons seem to be related to the reputed Gordons of Bialystock. The surname Hodosh is said to have been bestowed upon the latter settlers of Myadsiol to denote their recency; Hodosh, meaning "new" in Hebrew.

ELIAHUíS PARENTS AND CHILDHOOD

One of the most esteemed citizens of Myadsiol was David Zeeb Gordon (d. Oct. 24, 1913),*(all dates are according to the Gregorian Calendar) who with his wife Esther Hayah (d. April 12, 1917) represented the ideal type of Lithuanian Jewry. Well versed in the Bible and Rabbinical lore, virtuous and upright above all praise, with almost saintly piety and meekness and with the ever hopeful endurance that sweetened and gladdened their toilful life, they were living examples of the righteous and pious eulogized in the Psalms. On February 27th, 1865, Esther Hayah gave birth to her first child, Elijah, who was immediately consecrated to a divine life. Elijah entered one of the local Heders at the age of five and his unusual intelligence very shortly won for him the fame of a prodigy. The facility with which he acquired the difficult parts of the Hebrew Bible and the keen pilpul (casuistry) of the Talmud, was above any precedent in his birthplace and in the neighboring Jewish towns. After he had been transferred from one Melamed (teacher) to the other, they finally decided that he exhausted their erudition and by their advice he was sent to the Rabbinical school of Smorgoni, about 60 viersts north of Myadsiol, under the presidency of Rabbi Loew  Lichtmacher, His preciosity amazed his new masters and when he reached the age of thirteen he was transferred to the Mayleh Yeshiva of Vilna, founded in 1832. 

JEWS and LITHUANIANS

Part III

The Jews and Lithuanians lived in peace and in harmony. They are both very ancient nations, both in numerical minorities among their neighbors and both oppressed for centuries. The Lithuanian language, which is, according to I. Taylor and W. Dwight, the primitive Aryan tongue, challenges the archaity of the Hebrew. Many scholars claim that the Lithuanians are descendants of the Biblical Hittites, who, together with the Pelasgians, gave birth to Hellenic culture. The evidence submitted is very plausible. The friendship between the Lithuanians and the Jews is four thousand years old, for it was Abraham who was a sojourner in the land of the Hittites and it was in their ancient city Hebron that he bought a burying place for his family.

The mystetchko of Komai, in the government of Kovno, can be taken as the typical Lithuanian town. The Jew and the Lithuanian were brolai (brothers) to each other. They shared their liudimas (sorrow) and dziaugsmas (joy). In the weekly turviete (market) days the farmer visited his Jewish draugas (friend) to discuss business and family affairs at a glass of hot arbata (tea) or cold alus (beer). The Jewish daktaras of Komai cured their ailments, the Jewish skrybelius (hatter), kurpius (shoe-maker) and kraucis (tailor) furnished them with their holiday attire. The old kalvis (smith) was kept continuously busy with a gentile clientele. When Simhat Torah came many a Lithuanian jaunikaitis (boy) and mergina (girl) filled up the side benches of the old synagogue, gleefully and in astonishment watching the Hakafot, the songs and the fantastic candelabra with their self-propelling parchment-hoods.

Rabbi E. Gordon was especially esteemed by the Lithuanian rustics and townsmen, as if he were their own Kinufas (priest). They submitted their grievances to him sought his counsel and asked his benediction. Twice a year, before Passover and before Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles) they emptied many carloads of potatoes in his yard and other products of field and garden to be distributed free among the poor Jews of Komai.

 

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