Compilation of Memories (Memoirs)
Part 6

After Cheder – Employment

After a year and a half in the Cheder of R’Efrayim Fund I left with a heavy heart. I was then fourteen years old. The financial situation of my parents was difficult and they couldn’t pay for my studies. Grandfather Nathan took me into his business to help him and to learn the leather business.

(Pages 16/17)

All day I was busy helping with sales. After that I worked putting the leather pieces in order, in their proper place. In the evening I was permitted by my parents and grandfather to go to the Kosov Beit Midrash or to the Beit Midrash opposite our house. I would study Torah with my friends without help of a teacher. In the first months, I studied a little Talmud, Tanach, after the evening prayers. From the evening light on Friday until the middle of the night I studied Chumish, Rashi and “אור-החיים” (Light of Life). I also read, on the sly, books that were not allowed. Without a teacher I succeeded in studying with my mischievous friends who had never studied. My study of Torah and my education was strange to them. Worry about the future and questions of purpose began to prey on my mind. I thought about my way and found it good to work in grandfather’s business. Perhaps this profession was suited for me to establish my place to make a living. For this reason, after the death of R’Menachim Maher זל, I studied with his son, my friend Meir, three times a week. We studied some גפת. I stopped myself from going evenings to the Beit Midrash to study and went there only a little bit on Shabbat. During the long summer days there was no business and no work. Sometimes I went to the Beit Midrash just to fool around and not to study. I went for walks in town and bathed in the river Prut with my mischievous friends. If it wasn’t for my father studying several times a week in the evening, I would have forgotten much of what I learned. With my father, I studied Gamorrah, Chumish, Rashi, “Or-Chaim” and most of the “Well of Knowledge”. These Torah studies did not satisfy me. My father was not a good pedagogue like those I had. He did try to sweeten the studies. I continued to study the foreign languages of the country even though it was still forbidden. Secretly, I improved my knowledge in a limited time and with no teacher supervision.

If I am not mistaken in what I saw around Zablotov, most of the inhabitants walked in darkness. Their minds were closed and that is why the children of Israel had a horrible education.

Rabbi R’Yacob (Yakli) was the head Rabbi of the town and his brother Rabbi R’Menachim (Mendli) was the head Rabbi of the other part of town, Damitch.

They were the sons of the first Admors of the town Rabbi R’David (Dudki) Hager זצל. After the Admor died, his older son R’Yacov inherited his big house and the seat in the Rabbinate in Zablotov. This led to a split between the brothers and their followers. R’Mendeli founded the Rabbinate in the other part of town, Damitch (a part of Zablotov) which belonged to the community committee. Separating the two groups was the canal of the river Prut and the community committee. Obviously there was not enough income to support two large families. The question of “bread” was dealing with public services such as the head of the court אב בית דין and the schochats (religious slaughterers) R’Simcha, his son R’Mordechai and his brother-in-law, were under the authority of R’Yacov as they were under the authority of his father and under the community committee. They were all followers of R’Yacov.

Now there was another split. There was a need for each Rabbi to have his own head of the court and ritual slaughterer. The Admor of Kosov had the authority to appoint people to these jobs. His territory included Zablotov. At that time there was a break between the houses of Kosov and Vishnitz. This break was even more severe when it came to public issues. R’Mendeli went along with the dynasty of Vishnitz. He approached the founder of the dynasty of Vishnitz, the Admor R’Menachim זצל, and the Admor sent him a head of court and a ritual slaughterer that was under his authority.

(Page 17)

This occurred even though R’Yacov and the head of the community did not agree. This caused a break between the followers of Vishnitz and Kosov. Those who followed R’Yakli, who leaned to the Admor of Kosov, were in good relations with him. The leaders of the town and the head of the community were followers of R’Yacob while the assistant was a follower of R’Mendeli. Each pulled to his leader. This battle touched two ideas, one regarding heaven and the other the needs to deal with people’s bodies as well as their souls. The latter part meant establishing a Talmud Torah for poor children, an institution to collect for the needy of the town and some structure for people to stay when they come from other places. There were Rabbis who worked under the Admor who were interested to collect profits and פתקאות (slips for blessings and favors) and to make a living for themselves. In following the spiritual and doing righteous deeds, they ignored the physical and gave nothing to the children of the town. This widening gap of sensitivity, learning and education continued many years after the death of these Rabbis and Admors.

In the time of Baron Hirsch, a school was established in Galicia that taught the Jewish children, a little Torah and the languages of the country. There were Rabbis and some Charids חרדים who were opposed. R’Moshe Scheinhorn, the head of the community, won a difficult battle and the school was established. This is the way that most of the young people in Zablotov were educated and I was one of them, no Torah, wells of ignorance. It’s a shame that this situation continued for a long time.

The girls of the town grew up and were not educated in Torah. They had a little reading when they were young children. When they grew up they read “תחינות” and “Tzena and Rena”. The fate of my sisters was like those of the other girls. There was no education and no studies. When they reached the age of becoming engaged, a dowry had to be provided. This was in the hands of the parents. It was difficult to make a shiduch (arranged marriage) based only on the reputation of the parents and their family yichus (family connections).

My oldest sister, Gitel, was fortunate that Grandfather Isaac Meltzer זל was alive and she got engaged with a dowry of 500 Reuch. This was a very large sum at that time. She found happiness with her engagement to the son of R’Yonah Zeev Schrentzel from the town Skala. He was an important merchant who was born in Russia. His son Yoshua was a Talmud Chacham who was educated in Torah and his father’s business. They dealt in pearly corals which were brought from the town of Livorna in Italy, and were sold in large quantities in the cities of Russia. This merchandise was sold to Russian Christians who smuggled them into Russia via the hills of Zabruch which separated Russia from Austria. After their marriage in the family house, they moved to the Skala. They made a very good living and lived well. They had one son, Isaac and two daughters.

When it became time for my brother Naftali to become engaged, there was only 100 reuch left from the profit from the sales of the grain. He was educated like the rest of the boys in Zablotov, a little Torah and no other education. He fell into an engagement with a family on a lower level. She was the daughter of Burl Bickler, from the village Zellenev, Bukovina. She was a pretty bride who was tall. She was a אשת חיל (good housewife) in a village household. R’Berl obligated himself to give an average dowry and to feed them at his table for several years. He helped them set up their business, a tavern that did not succeed. Naftali returned to Zablotov with his wife and sons.

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My mother had put aside a sum of money from the sale of the field to be used for the dowry of my sister, Sarah Yita, when the time came for her to be engaged. Grandfather Nathan was interested in her getting engaged, especially to someone from his family. This was a rich man with a lot of property in the town of Atania in the province of Stanislau. This was the son of Mendel Gold זל, whose name was Benjamin Dov זל, a young man of about twenty years of age. Mendel had a number of properties, grain fields and gardens. He had six sons and three daughters. The sons were educated with some Torah and knowledge of the languages of the country. They worked the fields, sowing, reaping and bringing the grain into the barn. My sister and Benjamin Gold were married in our house in Zablotov and went to live in Atania, where they earned their living. Benjamin was a tax collector on the road thru Stanistau to Kolomyea. Then he rented several hundred yachim (land measurement) of land that adjoined the household. They made their living with honor. From the fruit of her womb, my sister succeeded in having five sons.

My sister Elka was older than me by two years. It was difficult for my parents to find a match that suited them, when there was very little money for her dowry. With God’s help a Shiduch was found to their liking. A young artisan from my mother’s family, Yitzchak Freilich, was fatherless. His mother was Rachel. He was a watchmaker and a goldsmith who learned his profession in the house of his brother-in-law, Chaim Kaufman, from the town Kosov. With the help of grandfather and mother’s brother they paid off the tiny dowry and the marriage took place. Mazal Tov. They settled in Zablotov and opened a store of watches, jewelry and repairs. They made an honorable living even thought the income was modest.

After my sister Elka got married it was my turn. The matchmakers began knocking on our door. A young man of seventeen should be married. As it is said in the חזל ,אנא עדיפתא מחברא שנסבתי לתרי”. From all the towns in our area, the matchmakers approached my father. In 1883 my father went to the Admor Hatzadick of Kosov on Memorial Day (yom hazicharon). R’Menachim came in and said that there is a matchmaker from Dalatin proposing a match with the daughter of R’Mshulm Avish from Dalatin. All of the important Chasidim from the court of the Admor and with the agreement of the Tzadik ruled “Zissel, the daughter of Mshulam to Abraham Ben Aaron” to be married forty days before the giving of the Torah.

(Page 18)

The future bridegroom was not yet announced and not official. After Succot the matchmaker, R’Menachim, and R’Mshulam came to the house. R’Mshulam tested me with questions from several pages of the Gamorra. I passed this test with ease. The plate was broken and the agreement was finalized. That same night there was a big party in our house with an extraordinary meal prepared by my mother and sister’s professional cooking and baking. There was old and new wine from the winery of the president of the community, our neighbor, Chaim Zimmel. He was an expert in pouring the wine. The invited guests were family and most of those who prayed regularly in the Beit Hamidrash of Kosov. On that night there were songs, Torah readings and stories of the miracles of Rabbis and Holy Men, especially those from Kosov. The group separated with joy and good will, especially Grandfather, the parents and Mshulam. I received a parting gift of 25 reuch.

In hindsight, the town had doubts. The young man and his close family wanted to see the girl and learn about her positive and negative attributes. My mother and my sister were diligent women “Eshet Chail” and had great belief in the matchmaker who praised the girl and her beauty. It was forbidden to see the face of the bride before the wedding. She was a daughter of Israel who was strong and pure, even more so as the daughter of Mshulam Abish. This was a man from father’s group, a Chasid and a man of standing. Several months after the agreement, my mother and my sister, Sarah Yita, came to visit the father-in-law to be in Dalatin and to bring gifts to the bride. They were received with all the signs of love and all was well. The next Purim we exchanged “Mishloah Manot” and I received a silver watch and chain. My friends and acquaintances were jealous of me and that pleased me. It seemed that my future was secure. The man who was to be my father-in-law R’Mshulam Avish was rich and respected in his town. His daughter was a girl of beauty and intelligence. The wife of R’Mshulam, Gitel, was also an “Eshet-Chail”. She came from a known family and was happy with the arrangements. She came to us with a request that we set an early date for the wedding of her daughter. The parents had rented a tavern בית המזוג) in the town of Laavah and they needed help in running the tavern. This was appropriate for the daughter and the future son-in-law. Here is what happened.

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My aunt, Kenia, the wife of my uncle R’Chaim Zeev Blaustein, lived in Zablotov. They traveled to the town of Dalatin to see their grandchild. My Aunt Kenia had a warm feeling toward me and knowing that I was engaged to the daughter of R’Mshulam Avish, she got the idea to meet the future bride. She had met the family of Avish at a wedding of a relative and was introduced to the mother, Gitel. At the first meeting, she found the opportunity to stay at relatives of hers for a week. Every day she came to talk to the young girl and to learn all the details that were necessary for her to know. .

Kenia continues to tell the story: Sometimes Gitel came into the house accompanied with one of her granddaughters. Gitel greeted Kenya very warmly. She immediately called for her daughter, Zissel, to join them. The mother replied to all the conversations and questions that were directed to the young girl. The girl never said a word, except for a word here and there. Every meeting lasted several hours. My aunt came to know this girl and concluded that Zissel was not all right mentally. She is defective and the mother is hiding this situation. The aunt contacted family, friends and neighbors of the family Avish to learn the truth about the girl. They answered her sharply. They did this despite a good family relationship and being good neighbors. To fulfill the request of my aunt there is a general proverb “מיטב לקרע ניר, מלקרוע קלף” “It is easier to tear paper than to tear parchment” without giving reasons for what is said. My aunt commanded me to break connections with the future father-in-law in spite of the objections of my parents and grandfather. I could not forget the story of my Aunt Kenia. I believed all that she said and I know that she desired the best for me. Despite that, I decided to go to the Avish household to see for myself my betrothed and learn the truth. The thought that I might have to cancel this contract upset me. Such a step was forbidden to my family. This was supposed to give me happiness and a future. I waited for an opportunity to travel there. After some time I learned about the death of R’Mshulam’s father. His father was R’Moshe Abraham, an honored man in Dalatin. R’Mshulam sat Shivah in the house of his father. I asked my parents permission to visit my sister in Atania in the last days of Pessah. From there I planned to go to Dalatin. I came to the house of Avish in the town Laavah. (This was the Pub where my wife and I were to work) I found the girl, Zissel, sitting at the register (kupah) and waiting to receive money for the drinks. There was a young man who stood there to help and sell.

(Page 19)

I asked the girl for food and she didn’t answer. I did not receive a reply to any request. The servant answered for her and told me what I wanted to know. He told me that she was evil and stupid. She had no feelings, no brains and I must leave this place and this house. Now I understood the truth of what my Aunt Kenia had seen. She was a beautiful virgin who at the age of eighteen was on the level of an eight year old. At home I revealed all that I did and hid nothing and decided to break the contract. My parents and grandfather agreed with a broken heart to accept my decision. After lengthy negotiations and many letters as well as the dealings with the gifts and the money that was exchanged, the Shiduch was canceled. My Aunt Kenia saved me and may the Lord bless and reward her.

Aunt Kenia was the sister of Grandfather Isaac Meltzer זל and the wife of Uncle R’Chaim Zeev Blaustein. He was “Chared” and an outstanding scholar of “גפת” (Gamorra, Psukim, Tosafot). While Grandfather Isaac was alive, they were under his influence and made their living in the village of Samikovitz. They had two sons and two daughters that were educated in Torah. They all got married under the Chupah with honor. The oldest daughter, Sarah, married R’Abraham Bloch. The second daughter, Miriam, married R’Abraham Itzchak Shuchar. They both were from the town of Dalatin. They were successful merchants in forestry and trees. They became rich and had a good life. Their son, Moshe, got married somewhere in Bukovina, was not successful and went to America. The young son, Shlomo, married a daughter of R’Abraham Leib Sperber. He opened a store in his father-in-law’s home in Zablotov. He succeeded in earning a living and had sons and daughters. In their old age Uncle Shlomo and his wife moved to Zablotov to the house of their youngest. The son bought them a place in the suburb of Damitch. They opened a grocery store in their house and made a living from the time they came to Zablotov. On some Saturdays my Uncle tested me on what I studied and my Aunt always treated me to delicacies. When I left Zablotov to move to Bukovina in 1891 I lost contact with them and didn’t know when they died. May their name and memory of them be blessed, Amen.

In the year 1884 I went out with my friends, including my friend, Meir Mahar to swim in the river Prut. My friend, Meir, pulled me out to the deep water. The water was rough and I was not a great swimmer. I began to drown and I felt that the water was choking me. Yeshua Freidel came to my rescue.

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Freidel was the son-in-law of my teacher and relative R’Moshe Yehuda Kressel who was a tall man and an excellent swimmer. I was barely taken out of the river and I was saved. May the Lord remember the good man that saved me and may his name be blessed.

In the year 1885, I was again under pressure from the Shadchans (matchmakers). This time I chose according to what I saw and understood without the objections of my parents and Grandfather Nathan. She was a beautiful girl, nicely built and educated and was the daughter of R’Yacob Menachm Gaster from Koti. The wife was Hinda, daughter of Yosef and Golda Linder from the town Vishnitz, Bukovina. R’Yacob was an outstanding scholar of the first order in the knowledge of Kabbalah. His wife was an Eshet Chail. They had a clothing store for the farmers while they lived in the father-in-law’s house. The financial situation was very good and they would get a good inheritance. They made a good living, were able to give their daughter a full dowry, and help the young couple establish themselves.

My uncle and aunt, Joseph and Krendle Shatner, lived in the town of Koti, two kilometers away from Vishnitz. They were people who were outstanding in their knowledge and wisdom. They advised to make this connection since Uncle Joseph was a friend from Cheder and close to the family. R’Gaster found the match suitable and we agreed. As was done previously, R’Menachim and his brother, Asher, came to my house to test me. Asher was learned in גפת, in secular studies and math and the head of a business close to Zablotov. They both tested me in several pages of Gamorra and I succeeded and the agreement was made. Once again there was a big Simchah as the previous time.

Content last updated Wednesday, April 03, 2013 at 05:58 PM Mountain Daylight Time

Zabolotiv, Ukraine

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