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Chapters of memories from the days of my childhood

by Binyamin Girshfeld / Translated by Sara Mages

Note: This article originally appeared in the Akkerman Yizkor Book, published in Tel Aviv in 1983

From the days of my childhood I especially remember the image of my grandfather, R' Leibale' the ritual slaughterer (R' Yehudah Hirschfeld). He was a scholar and a God-fearing Jew, and for 46 years served as a Mohel and a ritual slaughterer in Akkerman. He wrote several books, which were printed in Jerusalem, on the laws of slaughtering (“Pnei Aryeh,” “Shaar Aryeh,” “Amery Baruch”). He was also a scribe and specialized in writing in tiny letters. His letters were written in flowery Hebrew and elegant handwriting. He used to straighten his white beard while reading the Holy Scriptures and left the hair that fell between the pages of the books. At times, we, the children, found his hair between the pages, and I remember that father used to say to us: “children, don't touch the hair, it's sacred!“

Grandfather passed away when I was six years old on one of the Sabbaths of the month of Kislev. I remember that father gathered all the children, informed them of grandfather's death, started to cry after he covered grandfather's face with a white sheet, got dressed in his everyday clothes and went to Beit HaMidrash.

My father also served the Jewish community of Akkerman as a ritual slaughterer until the outbreak of the Second World War. He was observant and zealous in all the religious values like the rest of the ritual slaughterers in the city: R' Mendel Gelman, R' Nachum Zukerman and Asher Malmud. On Sabbath eve and holidays, summer and winter, my father used to go to the “mikveh.” He always returned with a guest to drink a cup of hot tea together and chat about this and that.

We had a Christian neighbor in our yard, who was a friend of the family, but he was a drunk. Whenever Grisha - this was his name - got drunk, he would come home singing and cursing out loud. He had a one-horse carriage, and it turned out that the horse memorized its way to the stable. When Grisha came down from the carriage, he used to open all the doors and gates, release all the geese, chickens and pigs, and announced in a loud voice: “All of you, go to hell!” He used to say to his son Favco, who was weeping bitterly: “You, you also get out of here, I'm not your father, I'm not the homeowner, I'm not a father and I'm not a husband, all of you, get out of here!” All the neighbors gathered to watch the show which was repeated often.

We lived not far from the [Dniester] Liman River, and in the scorching summer days we bathed in its pure and sweet water. Young and old flocked to the river bank, not only to bathe but also to nourish their eyes in the beautiful landscape, which was especially beautiful in the evening when the water merged with the blue sky and the bright stars sparkled around.

I spent many hours and days in our street, “Breiskya Ulica.” Standing before my eyes is the building of the Romanian Secret Police that belonged to R' David Berkovic z”l. Across from it was a large courtyard with three synagogues: The Great Synagogue, Beit HaMidrash and the Kloiz. Akkerman's fourth synagogue was located in Izmail Street. This synagogue was called “Ramsleina” (craftsmen's synagogue), and excelled in its beauty inside and outside. On the Holy Ark, which covered the entire eastern wall, were different engravings and also the cantor's “pillar” was impressive. The Gabba'im sat on both sides of the “pillar,” and the two exit doors were intended for the cantor and the singers who appeared on Sabbath eve and holidays. As we know, the Germans held the remaining Jews of Akkerman in this synagogue until they led them to their last road.

Frequently, when I anchor in the region of my childhood and youth, I find myself in Akkerman's old Beit Midrash where I spent quite a lot of my time. The renowned Jewish writers dedicated a prominent place in their work to Beit HaMidrash and I, of course, will not add anything new in my description. From the dawn of my childhood I absorbed everything that took place within the walls of this Beit-Midrash. The special Jewish experience came to expression inside it, and I remember all the worshipers, the important homeowners and the least important homeowners, according to the order of their seating, as I remember all kinds of events in this Beit-Midrash that stand alive before my eyes.


The extensive Girshfeld family


The entrance gate to Beit HaMidrash


From among the various personalities, that I remember now, I'll appoint: R' Yosel Ben-Zion, son of Efraim Tzvi, who liked to drink and ran a lot to do his “little business.” In the bathroom he used to run into a pile of stones and woe to the one who was captured in his hands; R' Moshe was able to sing, and when the Gentiles gave him a small coin, he sang the “Tochecha” [rebuke] and showered them with curses in the Holy Language that they couldn't understand; R' Leizer the blind, who had a bass voice, was mostly begging for alms in funerals; Babe de lange [the tall], who was in charge of the women's “Mikveh,” also served as the prompter in the women's gallery of the Great Synagogue and read from her “Tze'nah u-Re'nah“ in a loud voice; R' Idel always talked to himself and cracked seeds constantly. Every once in a while he was seized with madness and it was necessary to tie him with ropes; Yasha the newspapers seller, who was semi-paralyzed, used to come to parties that he wasn't invited to dressed in a black suit, a shirt with a white collar and a bow tie, and his face shone from joy and happiness; Pessi was the cantor's helper at the synagogue. He recited “El malei rachamim” for a fee, and lengthened and shortened the prayer according to the price that he was getting… and there were more and more characters like them.

Now I see before my eyes the elderly, R' Motel Feigin, as he's sitting and praying at the eastern-wall. He was one of the richest men in the city, a handsome Jew that his beard was white from afar and his opinion was accepted by others. And there were other respected homeowners who were Torah scholars and proficient in Shas [six sections of the Mishnah] like: David Brand, the brothers Granick, Aharon Cohen, Chanich Shapira, Haim Kminker, Shmuel Berger, Yakov Grishfeld and others.

And if you have a public event that isn't related by any means to Beit HaMidrash - a wedding, Brit Milah, Bar-Mitzvah, “Yahrzeit” and, of course, also funerals. Now, echoes in my ears Shmuel Gordon's “El malei rachamim” before the departure of a funeral. I also see the beggars standing at the roadside and hear the voice of Leizer the blind calling: “Give elms to the poor!” The class differences were especially prominent at the funerals. Besides the coffin-bearers, who volunteered to do so, only a small number of Jews were dragged to the funeral of the poor and the beggars knew in advance that they will not fill their bowls with donations. It wasn't the same when an important person passed away. He was rewarded that the masses will accompany him, by foot or by car, and the beggars also won a “fat share” and their bowls were filled with coins.

And now I hear the wailing of a woman who bursts in the direction of the Holy Ark. In those days it was probably the last resort in times of danger. “Jews, Help!” - she would shout in bitter tears - help - my son is struggling with something worse than death.“ And merciful Jews, sons of merciful fathers, immediately rushed to help, recited Psalms or just fulfilled their obligation by saying “Brukh hu Ubarukh Shemo” [“blessed is He and blessed is His Name”] and “Amen.”

And here I hear the fiery speeches of the emissaries from “Keren Hayesod” [“United Israel Appeal”] or “Keren HaKayemet” [JNF], about the redemption of the Land of Israel during the break between “Shacharit” and “Mussaf” prayers in Beit HaMidrash. The orthodox Jews took advantage of this opportunity to warn that the Sabbath isn't kept in Eretz-Yisrael, and the emissary's words were swallowed by the interjections.

There was a flurry of emotions in Beit HaMidrash when a controversy broke out between the old rabbi and the young rabbi. The first - well versed in Poskim and the Talmud, while the other - a rousing preacher and a pleasant cantor. Things came to such an extent, that when three Jews died in one day, many claimed, that the fire of the great controversy has caused this disaster.

The members of Beit HaMidrash kept the flame burning and belonged to “Agudat Yisrael” or “Mizrachi.” Beit HaMidrash not only served as a place of worship, but also for all the needs that Judaism was associated with. Here, groups studied “Mishnayot,” “Ein Ya'akov” and “Tehillim Zager” [recited Psalms]. The parties for the Torah scholars, who finished the reading of the book, took place here. These parties ended with the rabbi's sermon and the eating of knaidlach, and sometimes, especially on Lag BaOmer, also the smell of goose fat rose from Beit HaMidrash… The melodies before the “Mincha” prayer also emerged from there on the Sabbath, and I especially remember the sorrowful melodies, which were sung during “Shalosh Seudot” [the third meal eaten on the Sabbath], when the Jews parted from the Sabbath Queen.

Of course, the Shamash, Yisrael-Moshe, conducted with honesty and dedication the great preparations for the holidays and festivals, while the honorable Rabbi Roler gave sermons on the Sabbath and holidays. As usual, he always ended them with the blessing - “Veba lezion goel venomar Amen.”

I close my eyes and see Beit HaMidrash on Tisha B'Av, its benches overturned, “beralach” [snails] are thrown from different directions, and the sad melody of “Eikhah” [The Book of Lamentations] is piercing Beit HaMidrash.

Especially etched in my memory is the special status of the “bowls” on Yom Kippur before “Kol Nidre” prayer. Young and old sat, each in front of the bowl that he was in charge of, and his eyes examined every donor and every donation. Is that the voice of the cantor Avraham Rybak that is rising in my ears? “For all of these, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.”

I also hear the silent weeping of R' Motel Zarchi, a God-fearing Jew with a thin beard who always had a gloomy expression in his tortured face. When I was a child I loved to look at his face because, for some reason, it seemed to me that light was strewn on it, as it's written “Light is sown for the righteous.” When the worshipers reached “Shema Yisrael,” R' Motel prolonged the last word of this verse and the cantor wasn't able to continue until R' Motel had finished his trill…. Interestingly, the worshipers in Beit HaMidrash weren't satisfied with their own cantor and were eager to hear “Lishmoa El Harina Vel Hatfilla” [“Let us listen to the song of our prayers”] from good cantors like Moshe Cohen, Nisan Kentor and Tzvi Krankurs who prayed in the Great Synagogue. The Jews of Akkerman had a special affinity to Cantorial music, and even the secular and assimilated Jews, who didn't want to give up a “piece” of Cantorial music, flocked to the Great Synagogue. Nonetheless, a Jewish heart…

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