Zhitomir, Volhynia Gubernia, Ukraine: Sketches

Volhynia Gubernia, Ukraine

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Who says that the game of chess is frivolous? Certainly not Ossip Bernstein. Ossip was a well-known chess grandmaster in pre-revolutionary Russia. He was also a successful and wealthy lawyer. In 1918 Ossip was arrested by the Cheka–the revolutionary secret police–and was to face summary execution.

By an extraordinary coincidence, the officer in charge of the firing squad recognized Ossip's name on the list of the condemned. Not convinced that the condemned Ossip was the chess grandmaster, the officer challenged him to a chess game; if the con-

demned Ossip lost or drew, he would die; if he won, he would go free. He won the game handily – and made a "beeline" to a ship in the Odessa port and settled in Paris.

In 1940, Bernstein and his family were forced to flee to Spain, where he remained for the duration of the war, returning to Paris in 1945. Ossip continued with his chess career for a number of years, ultimately receiving the title of International Grandmaster.

For details, see Ossip Bernstein.


Moisey was not a large man, but he made a place for himself as a world class weightlifter. He competed in the bantamweight and featherweight classes, fifty- six kilograms (123.2 lbs.) and sixty kilograms (132 lbs.), respectively.

Snatch; Clean and Jerk; and Press.

At the 1946 World Championship in Paris, France Moisey, age thirty-five, came in third in the featherweight class, winning a bronze medal.

The following year he again won a bronze medal at the European Weightlifting Championships in Helsinki. Before The War, in 1937, Moisey Davidovich Kasyanik won the gold at the Antwerp International Workers' Olympiad.  See Moisey.


Hayim Bialik is celebrated as Israel's national poet. He is most well known for nationalistic poems written in Hebrew, though he has written poems devoted to nature and to love. His use of Hebrew did much to revive Hebrew from a "dead" language of use only to scholars.

Born in the shtetl of Radi, Hayim Bialik spent his formative years in Zhitomir. After Hayim's father died, in 1880, when Hayim was seven, he was raised by his paternal grandfather, an Orthodox Jew who lived in Zhitomir. Though Hayim received the typical Jewish education he showed an interest in European literature, as well.

At the age of fifteen Bialik attended the Volozhin Yeshiva (a renowned Talmudic school) in Lithuania to continue his Jewish and secular studies. In time he developed an interest in the Jewish Enlightenment and moved away from his religious studies. Some years after this change in interest, Bialik wrote a poem – HaMatmid ("The Talmud Student") – in which he reveals his atttitude toward Yeshiva life.

Hayim moved to Odessa, the center of modern Jewish culture. Here he studied Russian and German literature and earned his way by teaching Hebrew. In 1892 Bialik published his first poem, El Hatzipor ("To the Bird"), about his love of Zion.

This poem attracted the attention of Odessa's Jewish literary circle and provided the entrée to his literary career.

Bialik's first collection of poetry, published in 1901, focused on Jewish national rebirth and brought him great acclaim. After the Kishinev pogroms, Bialik was asked to interview the survivors and write a report on his findings. The horror of the pogroms led Bialik to create his epic poem In the City of Slaughter in which he expresses his pain at Jewish suffering. His epic may have induced Jews to defend themselves against anti-semitic violence.

Hayim Bialik's interests were extensive. Along with several partners, he founded a Hebrew publishing company, Moriah, that published schoolbooks, Hebrew classics, and translations of great European writers, including Shakespeare, Cervantes, Heine, and Schiller. Bialik also wrote a commentary on the Mishnah and on the Talmud.

When the Soviets forced the closure of the publishing house, Bialik left the country. Eventually, Bialik openned another publishing house, Dvir, in Tel Aviv. In Palestine Bialik became the head of the Hebrew Writers Union, gave the inauguation speech on the establishment of Hebrew University, and became a member of its Board of Governors. Much more at Bialik.

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  • Last Modified: 12-03-2016

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