For My Descendants
Ita Yellin
Permission to translate and publish these pages was given by Ita Yellin's granddaughter, Judith Yellin-Ginat, February 2003
From My Days of Youth - Ruzhany
Pages 7-12
Left - My father R. Yechiel Michel Pines Right - My mother Chaya Tzipora
I was born in Ruzhany, in the region of Grodno on the 17th of Kislev, taf-raish-caf-tet (1st December 1868) to my parents R. Yehiel Michel Pines and Chaya Tzipora, son of the famous nobleman R. Sharya Luria. Both families distinguished themselves in Torah, wisdom, charity and hospitality and they had many more good qualities as well.

Even today I can see our home life in this quiet little town

The house and sukkah and the holidays

I remember our big, lovely house from my childhood, along with the large yard in which we four sisters and our cousins played and the sukkah which stood in the yard and which I too helped the older ones decorate. I remember how we sat in it with our wise, noble grandmother and with my parents, my sisters and many cousins. I especially remember the pesach holiday with the long, wide table which was [already then!] covered with flowers and the finest silver and china1. And up on the ceiling hung a wonderful lamp, that lit the whole room. The women dressed in silk and velvet clothes, their heads, hands and bosoms covered with fine jewels which suited them very well and added to their beauty and distinguished charm to their faces. How lovely and wonderful! The men wore white kittels of the best linen and kipppot from the same fabric on their heads, and looked like angels to our young eyes and to the eyes of all sitting at the table.

Erev Yom Kippur

I can still see how Ruzhany looked on erev yom kippur, when I was five years old. My late father stood on the steps to the basement of our house and slaughtered chickens for a long long time. It was because of the conflict that had broken out between the regular schochtim [ritual slaughterers] and the householders, and the shochtim were on strike. So my father took on himself the mitzvah of slaughtering the chickens for caparot [repentance ritual, using freshly slaughtered chicken] until he had slaughtered all that were required for that evening, and everything returned to normal.


How beautiful the nights of Hannukah were! As were all our national holidays. The holiday celebrations were so different then from how they are now. Every family celebrated at home, inviting friends and acquaintances. There was no public celebration as we have now; all the beauty and charm of the holidays is changed, since there is no holiness or sense of tradition.

I remember one particular Hannukah night. My father had come back from Brisk and brought with him several guests whom he introduced into our great hall. They came for the latka party and to play card games [oka, preference - bridge and other games were unknown to us then] and they brought presents to our house: a device to grind sugar [which I still have today as a souvenir] and two tools for taking the coals and ash from the fireplace. I had never seen things like these, so shiny in appearance, and so they stayed in my memory. I couldn’t imagine with my young mind, how it was possible to clean these things so well and not ruin them. There were also copper things which shone like torches in our big, clean kitchen; my father brought these things and they were greatly admired not just by me, but by all who saw them.

Uncle’s Wedding

I remember my uncle Abba’s wedding. I can still see the big rooms and open doorways to enter the long halls, with gas lamps [maybe twenty lamps in each] hung all along the ceiling, and the whole house looked as if it was bathed in electric light [though there was no electricity yet in our town]. The other family came from Warsaw, from Mohilev, Grodno and Kovno and they stayed with each of our family members who provided rooms for them. The wedding celebrations went on for seven days and seven nights and the whole town was excited.

The Cheder

I remember the cheder where I studied, and the servant who would take me and my older sister Sarah Rachel there every morning; it was on the grounds of the beit hamidrash and was a long, narrow room. The girls sat around the table, listened to everything the melamed said and repeated after him. I don’t remember if I ever got a slap from the rebbe, for I was only five years old and the rebbe was always very considerate of the well-born girls from the Pines family and restrained himself, staying seated on his chair and putting his outstretched hand on the table or in his pockets. Our servant would bring us our noon meal and come again to take us home at the end of the day; he lit our way with a torch, because we had to cross a bridge over the lake, to get from the shul area back into the town. There was a danger that one of the more spontaneous girls would want to try to play in the water; the servant watched over us carefully, and saw us home safely.

Winter Nights at Home

How nice it felt to come home and sit in a warm, clean room after ten straight hours of sitting in the cramped, dark cheder. We were ten girls altogether, all from the richer families in the town of Ruzhany. My sister and I always repeated for our father everything the rebbe taught us; he would open up a precious chumash in front of us [the Philipson edition] with pictures and explanations in the German language. It wasn’t easy for us to repeat our lessons for our father, since he demanded that we give the correct explanations and wasn’t always pleased with the ones we gave him. After a while he decided to hire our own rebbe to teach us at home, so that we could make better progress in our Hebrew studies.

The Family

My grandfather Noah Pines had four brothers, and each had a family and a lot of wealth. They owned factories making blankets and woolen textiles, mostly for the Russian army. The talmud torah, the hospital and the rest of the community educational and charitable institutions were run by the Pines family, which dominated the town and surrounding area, like a kingdom within a kingdom.

My grandfather Noah had six sons and three daughters, and each married into the wealthiest and most prestigious families of the time. The sons-in-law were Zeev Yavetz, Berl Fridlansky and Leibush Davidson. I believe that there are still those who remember them and know that they were great men; there are few of their like in our generation. Noah also found prestigious matches for his sons: from the family of Shmarya Luria and others: three of the sons married within the Pines family, to honour the family ‘dynasty’ and not mix too much with others outside the family. That was traditional then among prestigious families.

Nicknames for my grandmother and relatives

My grandmother, uncles and aunts were called not by their own names but rather by the name of their towns. My grandmother was called “the Warsaw-ite”, my aunt “the Lemberg-er”. My uncles were called “Leib Vash”, “Leib Pozen-nik” ; one aunt was called “Beila the Novrdiker-in”. Everyone understood who was meant by these names.

Left - My paternal grandfather Noah; Right - My paternal grandmother Hinde


My grandmother Hinde got us used to doing work. Once she called me to the dining room: on the table stood a teapot and cups, and she told me to clean them. I still remember the soft, clean cloth, which I liked, and I energetically cleaned the cups till they shone very nicely. Whenever anyone came into the room my grandmother showed them my handiwork, and I got lots of kisses and praise as well as a present for my good work.

The Palace

I remember the castle which we called “the Palace” and which the Russians burned in the First World War. Many of our Pines and Mintz relatives lived there. We would go every Shabbat to visit the aunts and uncles. It was built up all around, like a fort, and had lovely apartments. After the Polish revolution the castle was taken over by the Russians and after that by private owners.


I haven’t forgotten Kosova which was near our town; our uncle Yitzhak Pines had a big garden there. One night I stayed over at their home with my mother, and that same night robbers came in and threatened to rob and kill the old folks [they later found they had a knife]; miraculously, they were saved from a cruel death and lived many more years in which they did a lot of good for the communities of Kosova and Ruzhany.

Piercing My Ears

I remember once my uncle Liba sat me at the long table in the dining room, to pierce my ears and put platinum hoops with onyx stones in them; these were presents for my fifth birthday.

Nighttime Fears

That same uncle liked to get us [me and my sister who was one and a half years older] used to not being afraid of going outside at night. He had us walk by ourselves on a dark, overcast night, from our house to his, which was across from us. We only had to walk across the street, but we did it fearlessly and were considered quite brave in those times.

To Mohilev

When my sister and I grew up, and I was already seven years old, my father began to worry about our future education. So the whole family gathered and decided to send my big sister to Warsaw to the family of Zeev Yavetz and me to my maternal grandmother, Chana Luria in Mohilev on the Dnieper River. The preparations started. The aunts helped my mother to arrange everything for us that we would need in the big city. My father went to Warsaw with my sister and I was sent with the superintendent of our house, “Shlomo the Geller”; my parents could be sure that they had delivered me to devoted hands. The parting was particularly hard for me, but I wanted to see the big city and the relatives on my mother’s side that all lived in Mohilev.

My maternal grandmother Chana
daughter of Hillel Rivlin
Left - my mother Chaya Tzipora;
right - my sister Sarah Rachel;
and myself in the middle
before we left for Eretz Yisrael
Loplov and the Dinezon novel

I don’t remember how long we traveled, but when we got to Loplov, half an hour from Mogilev, we stopped at an inn for tea and I heard a conversation between people sitting at the table about a novel that had just come out, “Der Schvartzer Yunger Mantzik”. The author of this novel was Yaakov Dinezon. Don’t think that I knew or understood those people’s critique of the book. But the nature of their conversation and the argument that arose among these people stayed in my memory. I heard about the book and its author many more times before I eventually read it, when I grew older.

1There are still things from this lovely period in the past, in the homes of Benny Eliezer and also of Dr. Arieh Faigenbaum; they received these things as presents from my late parents.
Translated by Lisa Newman
Page design by RAF
May 2003