From the Recent Past but Ever Far Away

By Yitzchak Rivkind

Yitzchak Yaakov Rivkind was born to Meir Halperin in 1878 in Koidanov. He grew up in Koidanov and in the early 1920s made Aliya to Tel Aviv. Yitzchak wrote this memoir in Hebrew before he passed away in 1949. The memoir was translated and annotated by his great grandson Gideon Intrater.

I was born in the town of Koidanov, which is 35 kilometers from Minsk (Minsk is a big city which is currently the capital of White Russia). It is a quiet and modest town with little traffic since it lacks big commerce. Most of the Jews in the town lived off the toil of their hands; small shopkeepers, craftsman, and some urban farmers as the properties were large enough to provide space next to each house for a vegetable garden and fruit orchards. The houses in the town were unattractive old wooden structures. It wasn't common to have insurance for the houses in Koidanov, and if there is no insurance there are no fires... The legend was that the Alter Rebbe (Rebbe ha-Zakein) blessed the town that it would be invincible against fires. The town stood until 1920 when the Poles burned it down during their withdrawal. Fires were something very uncommon in the town. If there were ever an accident, such as an act of God through thunder and lightning, the townspeople would quickly put out the fire. That is the reason why the houses stood for so many years to the extent that some collapsed out of old age. (We, the children, were afraid to walk by the remains of a house on Slutsky Street, because of the stories about demons that use it as their home base.) However, God gave the town favor with beauty of the nature around it. The surrounding areas were comprised of beautiful forests and crowned with fields that were hearty and fruitful. The surrounding villagers yielded abundant wheat crops. Their vegetable gardens provided enough for their owners, families, animals and occasionally even for selling to others.

The Jews of Koidanov were simple people who did not seek fancy houses or furniture. There was peace and friendship between them and their non-Jewish neighbors. I remember that one non-Jew made a wedding for his daughter; he prepared a kosher table and invited his neighbors to join in to celebrate. On Passover we would exchange gifts with them. We would give them Matzos, and they would send us eggs. When someone went ill, we felt it was our obligation to visit and give thoughtful advice.

Next to the synagogue lived Zisha the expert, a woman that knew sorcery. Farmers with ailments from the neighboring villages were always waiting at her door. The non-Jews also gave honor to the holy of Israel. On occasion they would bring pledges and gifts to the synagogue: money, candles and textiles. Once a farmer came bringing an heifer into the lobby of the synagogue and wanted it to be sacrificed as an offering to the God of Israel. On the day of the celebration for the government, at the time of the prayer for the Emperor, the Provoslavic (Orthodox) priest would come and sit next to the rabbi.

The Russian youth also did not distance themselves from their Jewish neighbors. During the summer when they were off from school, they gathered for intelligent conversation, singing and camaraderie. They would gather and celebrate in the courtyard of the Provoslavic priest. His house was next to the church which was attached to a large garden. His sons were students and when they returned for vacation they arranged the parties. Sometimes they invited educated Jewish youth. I remember that one summer night when the moon was out, we gathered the Jewish youths to stand next to the gate in order to hear the beautiful songs. How surprised we were to hear coming from the priest's house and yard the Zionistic song of Eliakim Sanzer "Ein Sacha Ligt Di Mazal Bracha". [To hear the song in its Hebrew version (במחרשתי), please refer to] The wave of anti-Semitism did not reach us. The officials did not push for the bribes or fees since the town's Gevir (rich man) paid them off. There was peace and harmony between the people of the town and us. One time a new officer came and harassing the townspeople. He introduced ordinances and scolded the people about the cleanliness and required clarity of the butcher shops. He ordered to build sidewalks on the streets so that people won't sink in the mud. The community could not realistically accomplish his rules. The story is that once he entered the butcher shop of Yechiel the butcher, a pudgy person who was bowlegged and dirty. The officer found a piece of tenderloin on the floor under a chair. His anger flared up and he yelled at the butcher, "What is that?" The butcher simply responded: "My master the officer, this meat is not-kosher, and the Jews do not eat it. I sell it only to the non-Jews..." From that day on the persecution and oppression of the Jews began. The Jews of Koidanov never got used to this and soon the oppressive officer vacated his post for someone better than him.

The surroundings were very beautiful with flourishing trees and vegetation and pleasantly abundant grass. Both sides of town were planted with rows of pine and birch trees, "Sederot Yakterina (Boulevard)". On a big fast day like the 17th of Tamuz or the 9th of Av, the Jews of the town, exhausted from the heat and fasting, would find a restful place under the shade of the trees. I even saw Yaakov Moshe the scribe, the sole intellectual scholar, whose profession was to communicate with the government and courts, resting underneath the shade of the trees on the 9th of Av. He had a bottle of medicine to ease the affliction of the fast in one hand, and the other held a novel by Shomer [] (Nahum Meir Schaikewitz).

The people would walk on the Sabbath or holidays in the "Tall Mountains." That was the name of a nice neighborhood with a spacious valley with a stream. Around the valley were hills covered with flowers and trees. An old fortress with turrets and towers stood on the mountain. The popular story was that several hundred years ago it was owned by a Calvinistic Prince who fought with the Duke Radziwiłł from Nesvizh. The fortress was surrounded entirely by trees and vegetation. Spectacular flowers covered the walls. In the courtyard of the fortress a pretty garden extended. The Jews of Koidanov would come on the Sabbath afternoon and sit in the shade of the trees and eat wonderful apples and pears. Aryeh the baker would dispense food to all that were hungry on credit and would settle their tabs later in the week. He never made a mistake. Inside the garden was a Calvinist church (Calvin was the head of a group of reformist thinkers. Its ideology was similar to early Christianity). The grounds of the church were always empty without any parishioners. The people of the group spread out and no one remained except the elderly priest, his daughter and son-in-law. The Calvin cemetery sprawled out near the fortress on a hill within the forest of pine and spruce trees. Many of those trees were very old. The area was bereft of visitors and deserted. The whole square was covered with flowers and grass. The youths found that place a nice place to read in seclusion. We used to love to read the books Ahavat Zion (The love of Zion) and Ashmat Shomron (Guilt of Samaria) by Abraham Mapu.] The beautiful and incredible view inspired within us a spirit of song and imagination. The woods and sights of the fields, the songs of the farmers when the grains stood upright and the sounds of the flutes of the shepherds; they all brought out our desire for our ancient homeland. Our minds brought to our hearts the feelings of "The love of Zion" as if it were standing right before us. Opposite us on the on the hill top next to the tower under the blossoming trees set Chaim Yehudah Merles, a student in the Rabbinical Seminary of Braslaw wearing his student's cap on his head with his beautiful and beloved bride Feigelah Yaslow. The two of them full of love, were reading form the same book. (We'll meet this couple again later in this memoir). This image brought out the concept - here are Amnon and Tamar in the flesh and blood…

The elder priest almost always sat at the gate of the fortress enveloped in thought. He looked over at the cemetery. He remembered when the courtyard was full of many parishioners, but now it was completely empty and gloomy. The elders left one by one and found their resting places in the cemetery. The rest of them spread out throughout, and he the elder, was left alone to guard the ember that once was...

He was very happy when he saw us; the curious children entering the church. He would come over and show us the organ and the rest of the holy items. We attributed care and love towards him. The lack of pictures in the church and his warm German speech brought us close to him. Opposite the fortress, on the south side, in the shade of the trees, stood the Catholic Church. We did not dare visit that area. The numerous holy pictures casted fear upon us, but the beautiful children's choir and organ fascinated us with the ropes of a charm. We stood from afar and jealously looked at the beauty and special order of the prayer ceremony. Our hearts were full of pain and bitterness, because this organ seemed like a fraction of the magnificent organ that was in the holy Temple whose voice was so large and strong that it could be heard throughout the land. At the time of the destruction of the Temple the organ was swallowed into the ground. Evil Titus could only cut a small fraction of it. Woe to us that our land destroyed and our Temple was burned. We comforted ourselves with the knowledge that in the future when Messiah will come, all of those nations will turn to Judaism and the great organ will return to be heard with the sounds of our rejoicing throughout the land. The government closed the Catholic Church for some time. The Tsar's government chased the Poles out, closed the church and imprisoned the priest for an offense that he committed in his political sermon. The Jews in the town sympathized with the Poles. When they were able to reopen their church the whole town rejoiced.

On the top of the hill on the western side were small and neat houses. The houses were shaded by trees and surrounded by fields. The fences were covered with greenery. This neighborhood was mostly populated by government officials, customs officials and the gendarmerie. The honorable members of the community loved to walk through and relax in that area. On the Sabbath and holidays they lied down on the grass and enjoyed the beauty of God's world. The dwellers of the houses would look lovingly at them. They would bring them water to drink and on occasion fruits from their gardens. On the Northern side on a plaza on the hill was the official house of the officer who was placed in control over all the public parks and forests. His house stood in the middle of a huge property of more than 200 Dunam. There were all kinds of trees and beautiful avenues of trees. All different creatures and wild birds lived there. The place was beautiful to see as one that was blessed by God.

We the children would play in the area of the "Tall Mountains". Ancient legends were told about that area. Some said that many years ago during the time of the war between the Calvinist prince who was the master of the area and the Duke of Nesvizh they shot the enemy through the embrasures in the towers. The valley that surrounded the property was once a large river that prevented enemies from approaching. Once, the Duke laid siege to the fortress and could not overcome the defenders. Finally he wised up and hired one of the sorcerers that made the river dry up. But, in God's compassion a miracle happened, and a small stream was left in its place. That river is called until today "Nitzatza". The waters are too shallow for swimming. On a hot day, people that wanted to swim had to go four kilometers away to the Helinka mill. But this river allowed us to fulfill the mitzvah of Tashlich and writing a divorce document (Get). We would write explicitly in the document that it was written in the town that sits on the river Nitzatza.

Koidanov was a town that was full of Torah. The synagogues were full of learning. Day and night the sound of Torah did not stop. The wagon drivers that brought wares from Minsk to the local stores would leave Minsk at nightfall on Thursday and arrive in the morning to Koidanov. They would come to study and sometimes be overtaken by their exhaustion due to their exertion. There was a group that would learn Talmud. Poor workers would sit with more wealthy businessmen. Even the smallest people were not bereft of Torah.

There was a story about Gedalia the shoemaker that was exiled to Siberia for his actions and those of his son. His son was the head of a band of Jewish and non-Jewish thieves. When the owner of a robbed store or house paid a ransom to Reb Gedalia, the stolen goods would be returned. It happened once that they broke in and woke up the owner's daughter. The thieves stabbed her with a sharp metal object and she died. He was exiled to Siberia to live out his days there. It wasn't long after he was exiled that we heard that Reb Gedalia girded the cloak of rabbinate and was teaching Torah to the masses. Reb Gedalia would say on Yom Kippur during the Avinu Malkeinu prayer: "Seal us in the book of success and business." Some of the neighbors hinted that it is not polite for him to pray for that. But Reb Gedalia acknowledged that it is not good to wish for bad for others, but if it is in the future for an individual to befall a loss it might as well benefit Reb Gedalia.

The idea of returning to Jerusalem grew deep roots in our town. When we were still small children, all of our stories and focus was around our holy land. On the 9th of Av the children would go with wooden swords. After reading the lamentations we would go to the cemetery and would take our weapons and break them on the graves to symbolize the fact that on this day the sword of our greatness was broken. On our journeys home we would groan when we saw the farmers loading sheaves of wheat, because we learned that we used to have properties and farms. Today, our neighbors gather the produce.

I remember that once before Rosh Hashanah, a Meshulach [See more about "meshulach" (in Hebrew: ShaDaR) in These were rabbinical emissaries who were sent from the Eretz Yisrael to collect charity funds for the small Jewish settlements there.] came to our town from the Holy Town of Hebron. The Meshulach, Rabbi Yosef, was relative of ours and he stayed in our house. He received a great welcome and honor from all that came throughout the holiday to hear the stories about our holy land. He told everybody about the miracles that happened around the Western Wall, about the Cave of the Patriarchs, Kever Rachel and the other graves of the Tzadikim. He also showed dirt from the land of Israel. The listeners drank in with thirst his words and were overjoyed to feel with their own hands the dirt from the area of Kever Rachel. When I grew up and went to collect money for settling the land of Israel everybody would give generously. Even the women who were not wealthy gave their last coins.

When I think of the stories from my youth I have a desire to tell the stories of the individuals that dedicated their whole lives to Torah and service of God. I remember the Rabbi of the town Reb Avraham Meir, z"tl, a scion of Torah and deeds, who was descended from a great lineage of the Heller family of greatness. The chair of the rabbinate was inherited from his father Rabbi Yisrael Heller, z"tl. Rabbi Avraham Meir was a good man. The pains of the people of the town would pain him. He spent nights and days helping those that sought him out. He lived in peace with a second rabbi, Rabbi Hirsch, because his nature was to be a seeker of peace. His son was Reb Yechiel Heller, who was the rabbi of Koidanov until the revolution. He then left Russia and is now a farmer in Israel in Petach Tikva.

Rabbi Yisrael Isaacson was a great scholar in Torah. [See] He was a wise man of truth and hater of ill-gotten gain. He fulfilled the dictum from Pirkey Avot: love work and hate authority (אהוב את המלאכה, ושנא את הרבנות, ואל תתודע לרשות). He was appointed as the Jewish education authority of Koidanov. After some time he resigned from the rabbinate and opened up a fabric store. Out of the goodness of his heart he gave credit left and right and risked his money. He traveled to America and became a rabbi in Brooklyn. He and his brother Reb Zevil Heivish were active Zionist in our town. His brother Reb Zevil became a farmer in Kefar Yechezkiel.

Rabbi Avraham Chaim Kassel was a wise and great Jew (Gadol Ba'Torah). He would examine and theologize all the days of his life within the realm of Torah. His wife was Sariel Itza Elas. She was a wise woman with energy who ran the business while her husband sat and learned. He was an observant Jew, though the rumor was that he is a modernist. He sent his son to Ha'Reali school, He decided to stop going to Tashlich, which is a major offense. All the Jews of the town went to Tashlich. The holiness of the Chassidic procession would cover the town. The Chassidim would escort their Rebbe to Tashlich with songs and dance. On our way to Tashlich we would pass Reb Avraham Chaim Kassel's house. He would be sitting there involved in learning from a book as if he is oblivious to this mitzvah... Reb Avraham Chaim's son was the well-known Zionist, Reb Israel Kassel, z"l, who was one of the founders of the Atlit Salt Company. [The company is now called Salt of The Earth ( Their history is in See also in and] Reb Avraham Chaim Kassel, z"l, authored a beautiful commentary on the Torah.

Reb Leib Gimpelson, was a wise and proper Jew. Everyone that knew him would attest to his honesty in business. His sons were active Zionists and both of them live here in the land of Israel.

Reb Aharon Michel Levin was a wise and honorable Jew. He had acquired a love for working the land over 70 years ago. He bought from the government a large plot of land to work and preserve. He planted a fruit orchard next to his house. His son, Reb Yitzchak Levin is here in Israel. Reb Eliyahu Chaim Kooks was a devote Jew. His son, Reb Yosef Kooks was the Rabbi of the White Field in the district of Kiev. Out of piety, he chose not to speak about any mundane thing on Sabbath and would only speak in Hebrew. Since he was not a fluent in Hebrew, he would struggle with the language. When he would not be able to express the Hebrew words, he would fill them in using Russian words, which was very funny. Then he decided to remain completely silent on the Sabbath day. Reb Avraham from Vilna (Avraham the Vilner) was an apple seller. He was bothered all of his days by the exile of God's presence. His desire for the land of Israel was so great that in his apple baskets, one could always find books about the holy land like: Shivechi Yerushalayim (ספר שבחי ירושלים) [See] and others. When he finished with the apples he would dream about the redemption, and promised his customers that the next year they would purchase from him oranges in Israel. As a side note, the author Avraham Rayzen [See and] from Koidanov wrote several pages about him in his book.

The old teacher, Reb Shmuel Lipus, was skilled at describing the Torah stories to the students. When he taught us about the wandering of Hagar in the desert, our eyes would stream with tears. Reb Chaim Charna was the Gevir of the town with a wise and discerning heart. He did not raise himself up over others and his hand was open to all that needed his help. He educated his sons in the ways of Torah and mitzvot. He was a role model for the whole town. Even the honorable Poritz (land owner, פריץ) visited him. He donated a sum to build apartments in Jerusalem for poor Torah scholars. He passed away with a good name attached to his actions. His son, Reb Zeev Charna was a wise merchant and died here in Israel.

Reb Dov Gildernberg, z"l, was known as Reb Bere Rashkas, the husband of Rashka, because his wife was the main breadwinner. Her store was a shed with everything from shoelaces to Samovars. Reb Bere Raskas was a proper householder, and God blessed him with a beautiful voice. His custom would to elongate his dinner on Friday night. He and his group – his sons who also had great singing ability – would sing all the Sabbath songs. The neighbors would gather around his house and listen with great enjoyment to the singing of Sabbath songs. Throughout the month of Ellul the experience would be enhanced as he and his sons would sing the season's Piutim including Unetanneh Tokef. [] He would lead the services on the High Holidays in the synagogue of the tailors for charity. His beautiful singing brought joy to the large congregation. I visited him in his old age when he was weak. He lamented to me that he can no longer lead the services, and his replacement doesn't have the same essence...

The Machlis family was a large and populous family. This family was not of the greatest in wisdom and Torah learning. They are all average people, but they excelled in the attribute of peace and unity between one another. The oldest, Reb Meir Machlis z"l became wealthy and achieved prominence. He built a business producing liquor and yeast products. He was the anchor of the family. He helped his family and worried about their well-being. He gave a great honor to their elderly mother. On the holidays and festivals the members of the family would exchange blessings with one another. When it reached a point that there was not enough time during the holiday, they would continue their exchanges beyond the holiday. The day after the holiday they would gather at the house of the older brother and sing and dance all day long. I remember feeling jealous when I would pass by the house, because in my house there is nothing special for the holiday since the worries about the year already took over, but here the holiday is still at its prime.

Reb Berel Yazarmeka the wagon driver saved up his money to buy a set of Romm [See and] Talmud (Shas) with a beautiful binding and donated it to the synagogue. He would always stop the yeshiva students to see if they were using his Gemaras... There were two brothers, Israel and Model who were wagon drivers. They would quarrel all day long about their travels and once even came to a physical fight. But at night they sat down with the Mishnah group and learned from one book. They would take poor people to the train station for free. The tailor Reb Yankil Chatzkils was a tall and handsome man who wore rabbinic clothing. He would always be looking in the Gemara. His face was the face of a wise Torah scholar. The story was that once two yeshiva students sat and were arguing about some topic. When they saw a Torah scholar they approached him and asked him to explain the topic. Their words to him were like a sealed hidden concept, but he did not give up his demeanor. He told them: my beloved lads, you have come to a person whom you do not know and asked to explain the complicated topic. You should know that if you were to come upon a person who does not know the answer to your question, he would become embarrassed, and he who embarrasses his friend receives a great punishment. In order that you will know how to act next time, I am punishing you that I will not explain to you the conclusion and resolution of the topic...

Reb Yehoshua the cobbler would work all day on the block and would learn at night as part of the Mishnah group. He had four sons that became Torah scholars. One of them was a rabbi in Butki near Bialystok. When his wife came to the synagogue she would regularly say this chorus: "Shalom, shalom, here is your servant Chaya Grina and her four sons that are filled with Torah and wisdom. Night, morning and Afternoon, to the God of the heavens will I lift my hands up and extol my praises and prayers for my sons that are like angels."

Cantor Fieve the Chazzan was a pure man fearful of God. He would sit half the day with his Talit and Tefillin. The story about him is that he dreamt that his son lost his voice, and from then on he would always wake up his son at midnight to test his voice. Once a fire broke out next to his house, and he grabbed a bucket of chopped carrots and ran out of the town…

Our neighbor was Reb Lipa Ruchamas. He was called Ruchamas because his wife's name was Ruchama. She was a woman of valor who took care of supporting the family. She worked in the house and garden. Before Pesach she would bake the Matzah and her husband, Reb Lipa, was the helpmate. Reb Lipa was a person of Torah. He was the Torah reader in the large synagogue. He got by with very little, but on the day of Simchat Torah, this weakling became a vibrant lad. He would even overcome the fear of his wife. He would dance the whole day with the children in the street holding a Lulav and cucumber in his hands. When he would meet a Goy in the street, he wouldn't let them pass until they had shared the Naanuim and a Lechaim. During the Naanuim he would sing: "Vayeativ kol le-avdecha"

We, the children, had a complaint against Reb Lipa. We had between us arguments about a disputed tree. In the garden of Reb Lipa, on the border of our property stood a Kol Nidrei Pear tree. Why was it called a Kol Nidrei tree? Its fruit ripened during the Yom Kippur time. We would always hit the branches and the fruit would fall into our yard. He would always yell at us, but on Simchat Torah we would forgive him for all the admonition and yelling. We rejoiced with him with all our hearts. … Father z"l was involved his whole life collecting donations for the school and the students of the yeshiva, sometimes he would take some product from mother's store for the students of the yeshiva and would promise her that he would pay her back everything. In the end he was unable to repay the obligation and much of the debt went down the drain. Mother was caring for a large family and was responsible for its financial well-being. She would cry out from her dire straights. In the end she gave up, because father promised her an equal portion in the world to come…

During my youth the breaches in the fortress of the Torah grew. Here and there they appeared like an affliction in the house. Nechemia the baker had a son who visited from afar, and he would walk around without a head covering. They would say about him that they saw him eating without a hat on his head. Our school (Heder) was next to the house of this heretic. The students would look at him with amazement. Rev Avraham Kassel sent his son to the Ha'Reali school in Minsk. Chaim Yehudah the son of Reb Avraham Merles, the attendant of the Rebbe (Gabbai), suddenly was confounded by thought and wisdom. He traveled out of the country to learn in the school for the rabbis of Braslaw. Aharon Zisel Yaslow paid for the travel costs. Reb Aharon Zisel was the Jewish hustler in the town. He established a cleaning factory for pig hair. Approximately 50 people worked in his factory. He was a wise Jew. He wanted his beautiful and smart daughters to marry doctors, but back then a doctor was a precious find and he couldn't afford the huge dowry. He came up with a smart payment scheme. His eldest daughter engaged a medical student. While the student was in university, he sent him enough money to get through the expenses, and when he finished his studies they married. After this test was successful, he set his task upon Chaim Yehudah the son of the Gabbai. He paid for his expenses and sent his a set amount every month based on a pro-rated dowry. However Chaim Yehudah never finished his studies to become a doctor or a rabbi. And even though his correspondence to his betrothed over two years ended with the words "with love until death and burial", the match was absolved and pair separated. Chaim Yehudah returned home with the hat of a student crowning his head. We all looked at him with honor and respect. He had a hard time parting from that hat and did not take it off for many days… The wisdom he acquired in Breslov did not go into nothingness. Chaim Yehudah was one of the pioneers of education in our town. He was the first to open a Modern Hebrew school with many students. He was a Zionist all of his days. The son of Yaakov, the painter, returned home as a medical doctor. Modesty was also deteriorating. The daughter of the tailor was seen going into the pharmacy. They shouted after her once when she left the pharmacy and made a whole big scene about what was going on until she ran home embarrassed. At the same time the author Avrom Reyzen [See and] who was born our town began to publish his writings. He beautiful depictions called to the ears of our peers and pulled within them a spirit of love and desire for wisdom.

The parties in Koidanov were divided into Hasidim and Mitnagdim. [See] Even though most of the town was Mitnagdim, the Hasidim had an upper hand over the town, because the honor of the Rebbe was upon them. More than 100 years ago a Hasidic dynasty was established by the grandchild of Reb Aharon haGadol, the Admor [Admor is short for Adoneinu, Moreinu, veRabbenu and typically refers to a Hasidic Rebbe.] of Karlin [Actually, the founder of the Koidanov dynasty was Shlomo Chaim (1797–1862), the son (rather than the grandson) of Rabbi Aharon of Lyakhavichy (Lechovitch) (c.1772–1800) and grandson of Rabbi Mordechai of Lechovitch (c. 1742–1810). See]. The Hasidim and Mitnagdim were peaceful with each other. The Admor, Reb Aharon (Ahrla) Perlow [See] z"l was great in Torah and actions and was beloved by everyone in the area. When his daughter was married, there was a festive atmosphere throughout the whole town. It wasn't only the Jews, but non-Jews alike felt part of the happiness. Even the Catholics sent transportation for the guests and horses for the Cossacks. They weren't really Cossacks, but Hasidim serving as an honor guard and dressed like Cossacks. Motel and Gudi were in charge of this process. The procession of riders went out to greet the groom and his parents at the train station. When they arrived at the town the joy was intense. The Cossacks rode ahead and they were followed by a troupe of musicians. All the fanfare of the parents and many guests followed them. The huge celebration passed through the center of the market several times. When the calamity occurred with the Rebbe's trial, he was accused of helping his son avoid the army service, the whole town prayed for his safety. The trial was held in Minsk and upon his acquittal and return, the whole town was lit up to welcome him home. They greeted him with horses and chariots and singing and dancing as he approached the town.

There is no light without shadows. There were bleak times as well. Arguments and fights were most common on the holiday days when the people were not working. The choices of the Gabbaim in the synagogues always caused arguments. Once on Simchat Torah night at the time of the Hakafot, a fight broke out between two families. One family was offended because the head of the family received the second Hakafah when they felt he should have received the first and a riot broke out in the synagogue. The women and children called out and cried, and escaped through the windows when they couldn't get out the doors.

On the Sabbath after the holiday of Sukkot when it was time for the Torah reading for the new army recruits the recruits stopped the reading. They felt that it was unfair that the wealthy children are exempted from service while the poor children are taken in their stead. They sought a large payment. The congregation tried to appease them and quiet their accusations, and all of the new recruits received a good-sized bounty that allowed some of them to travel to America…

After all the negatives, the sun shone from the shadows. Many charitable organizations were in the town and the most prominent was Bikur Cholim. [] During those times the doctors and nurses were rare. The Bikur Cholim would help the patient and family day and night, helping them move around in the bed and bathe them, etc. If the family was poor or needed financial help they would help. Another organization, called Shokdei Melacha" was created for the welfare of abandoned children, to feed, clothe and teach them a craft. There were many such organizations. The town people were not close-fisted and gave all that they could. That was the purity of the lives of our fathers.

When mid-Elul came along, the town wore a new look. Hundreds of people would come to Koidanov on wagons or trains. The Hasidim would come to greet their Rebbe. Reb Alterka, a lad from Vilna would arrive. Five months out of the year he would be in Koidanov, from Pesach until after Shavuot and from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Chanukah. Once, his wife and father-in-law came to Koidanov. They pleaded with him to return home, but Reb Alter would not listen to them. I have nothing to do at home was his answer. He was a regular in the house of the Rebbe. He would review the tunes on Yahrtzheits and would worry about the atmosphere during breaks. He would help set the table for the elders in the Shtiebel. [ He would come and go through the houses of the Rebbe's children, he would play with their children, go on an errand and feel like a fish in water. His companion was Reb Yankela from Telekhany. Reb Yankela was a great musician. He would visit the courts of the Admors all year round, visiting Stolin, Lyubcha and the Lyakhavichy (Lechovitch) courts. He would complete his circuit in Koidanov in the middle of Ellul. He would always be a prized guest to share his songs and tunes. He sang the pleasant tunes in all the courts of the Rebbes. The pair: Reb Alterka from Vilna and Reb Yankela from Telekhany were first in line since the high holidays were coming and approaching.

On Erev Rosh Hashanah there was much movement on all the streets of the town. New faces would be seen. People would come from the villages to the town for the holidays. Unaffiliated people would come to rejoin with the Jews from being spread out amonst the non-Jews and only occasionally prayed with a Minian (quorum). They were happy to come to the town for the Ten Days of Repentance to be amongst God and people and to share within the context of prayer of the congregation of their brothers of Israel. On Erev Rosh Hashanah they would have a reunion with their friends and families. Some even had chats with matchmakers.

Amongst the visitors were also very wealthy generous people. Reb Avraham from Krychaw, a simple pure Jew who was famous for his giving heart. His house was on the way from Minsk to Koidanov and was open to all travelers. Tens of guests would stay with him. Rabbis, ShaDaRs and poor people found rest in his house. He would provide food and drink for them all according to their needs, and beside him stood his righteous wife that was famous in the area by the name "Shifra from Krychaw ". The couple was standing in the marketplace on Erev Rosh Hashanah (the synagogue was next to the market) surrounded by a couple of charity collectors. The couple gave generously to both men. In the other corner of the market stood Reb Eliyahu from Mikoletz. He who owned a sizable property in Mikoletz. He and his four strong sons worked the land with their own hands and were very successful. Reb Eliyahu knew Torah and was a God fearing individual who gave donations according to his ability. His wife Freida Feigah was the daughter of a Torah scholar. She was a modest woman with a good heart who stood by her husband. She would give out loaves of bread and bags of potatoes. Her face shined with pleasure and happiness. Greetings and blessings for a good year were heard everywhere. There was no greater day for the poor of Koidanov than Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur. We the children also contributed to the joy of the holiday. We would greet the village children, and they honored us with fruits from their gardens and treated us with short rides through the streets of the town on their wagons.

On Erev Rosh Hashanah thousands of guests came to our town. The sound of prayer, song and melodies broke through all the houses. On Rosh Hashanah the Shtiebel of the Rebbe was packed to the brim with all the people coming to pray, so they would open the windows on the roof and many prayed on the roof. Many people also prayed around the Shtiebel surrounding the windows. It was incredibly pleasurable to hear the voice of the Rebbe's prayers. A level of enchantment was on the faces of all that heard the prayers. Until today, I cannot forget the Torah reading of Rabbi Aharla - his pleasant voice and splendor of sanctity that was upon the congregation. The Chassidim prayed with songs and dances without discriminating between the poor person and rich person. Everyone grabbed hold of his neighbor's belt and danced in circles. I was jealous of those people - with their outward spirit reached the level of Bitul ha-Yeish - close to complete spiritual bliss, without worries about business or family issues, towards God they focused their eyes and upon the blessing of the Rebbe they relied for their hope, and they had upon whom to rely...

Nowadays, during these mixed up days where a ten-year-old boy is interested in politics and the names of the all the state leaders are fluent on his lips, and he doesn't go to sleep until he hears the news on the radio, I worry about our youth that did not know the concept of childhood while they were still young. During these horrible times I made a memory to my youth from a generation past of our forefathers. I am jealous of them that were living peaceful lives. They did not see weapons and the sounds of war were not heard within the town. Abba z"l told of a strange occurrence where he saw with own eyes soldiers leading Turkish prisoners of war.

Today distant Koidanov is close to my heart, its roads are mourning, the Shtiebel of the Rebbe is demolished and Bolshevik youth is dancing in the synagogues. Woe to the lack of splendor. How great the distance is between the two time periods.

-Yitzchak Rivkind

                                      Compiled by Jeff Ferber
                                      Copyright © 2016 Jeff Ferber
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Last updated on August 13, 2016

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