Biographies from Lyakhovichi - Investigations into the Jewish History of Lyakhovichi
This is a page in our Biography section. Click on the "Biography" button in the left-hand column to read other articles in this section.
A Profile of Joshua Meir Mandel (ca.1832-1923)
by Neville Lamdan copyright 2004
Dr. Neville Lamdan
This profile describes Joshua Meir MANDEL, who lived in the small village of Ved'ma and who was registered in the town of Lyakhovichi, 9.3 kms to the south. It is not entirely clear where Joshua Meir and his family came from, as his father was only registered in Lyakhovichi in 1851 (they probably came from somewhere in the vicinity of Mir, not far to the north). Joshua Meir was not entirely typical, as he owned land in the Ved'ma, probably acquired in the early 1860's. He ran a village inn/tavern and later in life he opened a hard goods store in the centre of the village. There were only a handful of Jews in Ved'ma, including a family called Mlotok, to whom Joshua Meir was related by marriage. They were able to sustain a viable Jewish life by cooperating with Jews in three other villages in the vicinity.
The piece shows what can be done with some reliable oral history, research in the Belarusian archives and a couple of on-site visits.
Joshua Meir MANDEL [ca.1832-1923]
Village Inn-keeper and Landowner
0. Starting from Zero
In the late 1970's, all that was known about my great grandfather, Joshua Meir, was his name (gleaned from his son's gravestone) and a couple of facts: he ran an inn; lived in a place sounding like "Vejma", where there was another Jew called "Yosel der Schmidt" (the blacksmith). Now, twenty-five years later (2004), we know just a little more!
1. First Mentions (1864 & 1874)
In Russian sources, Joshua Meir is first mentioned in 1864 - simply as "Me'er Mandel" - in a list of individuals with the right to vote in local elections (National Historical Archives of Belarus [NHAB], file 333/2/2158 (1864), p.56 (= Index of "Odnodvortsy" [individual voters] and Citizens in Slutsk Uyezd).
Joshua Meir's "social status" (or class, according to the Russian system) is given as a "meshchanin" (petit bourgeois) from the town of Lyakhovichi (where he was officially registered, but did not necessarily live). He is also recorded as a bachelor (if correct, he must surely have married very shortly after 1864, aged about 32, because his first daughter, Chashie, was born a year or two later).
Joshua Meir ("Meir", for short) is next mentioned ten years later, in an 1874 "List of Jewish Males" from Lyakhovichi (NHAB file 330/1/111(19 November 1874), p.184, entry 62). There he is recorded as living in his own house, a "Krechma" [inn/tavern] house (see below) in the village of "Stanislavovo", in the Derevski (=Darevskaya) Volost (sub-district) of the Slutsk Uyezd. Other males with him were his three sons, Yosel aged 4, Avram (Abraham) aged 3 and Itzko (Isaac) aged 1. [Abram was my grandfather; I am named in Hebrew after Yosel (Yosef) - NL.]
The entry is signed by Meir in Hebrew/Yiddish - "Meir [followed by an abbreviation = ben Morenu ve-Rabenu (= son of our Teacher and Rabbi)] Ya'akov Mendal" (sic). The surname "Mendal" is curious, since this is the only time it appears in any Russian document relating to Meir or indeed any member of the Mandel family throughout the 19th Century. Nonetheless, it is written in Russian that way in two other places in the registration. [My own best guess is that the document was laboriously prepared by a professional writer who made a mistake with Meir's surname in the 2nd line of the "header" and carried the mistake into the body of the document, obliging Meir either to have the document re-written or to adapt his surname in Yiddish for the purpose at hand (and make a spelling mistake in his signature in the process - he dropped the letter "nun"!] This phony Hebrew/Yiddish signature was duly witnessed by three Jews: Rabbi Ch. Yellin, Malchadsky (the Head of the House of Prayer [“President” of the Shul]) and Kantorowitz (the Tax Collector).
Meir's wife (Dobba Mlotok) and his daughters (Chashie and Annie) are not recorded, since generally speaking the Russian authorities were only interested in tax-payers and potential army recruits (and thus the file is consciously named "List of Jewish Males").
An important aspect of this entry is that the recording officials indicate that Meir's age, given as 42, was "certified by his appearance [i.e. without official papers] in the Municipal Administration of Slutsk" (the administrative centre of the Uyezd) on 9 August 1874, where he had been registered as "No. 2406".
If Meir had previously been registered in Slutsk (before Lyakhovichi,), two questions arise: (a) where exactly did he come from; and (b) when did he actually move into the village of Stanislavovo (assuming he was not born there)? Altogether, there is reason to wonder whether the Mandel family originated in Lyakhovichi as his father Yankel's household is not recorded there until 1852 (NHAB, Supplementary Revision Lists for 1852, file 333/9/488, pp. 90 (obverse) & 91; entry for 28 April 1852). Moreover Meir, who would have then been about 20, is not listed as a member of the household, suggesting that he had already moved out (or was trying to avoid conscription – or both). Being entirely speculative, it looks as though Meir may have gravitated towards the town of Slutsk or its vicinity – and thus the lingering 1874 record. But at the same time, it is clear that, by 1864, Meir had acquired the right to vote in local elections and, as those rights were based on property ownership, he was presumably living in Stanislavovo where he owned land (see para. 4 below). Hence, his arrival in the village can perhaps be reasonably placed somewhere in the decade 1852-1862. As for his exact place of origin, no precision can be offered, except perhaps to remark that there is good evidence to indicate that in 1800 Meir’s branch of the Mandel’s came from the area of Mir (almost 50 kms north of Lyakhovichi) before Yankel pitched up in town towards 1852.
Lyakhovichi (Lechovich in Yiddish), to which the village of Stanislovovo was attached, was 9.3 kms south of the village. It was an old and well-known "shtetl", with a recorded Jewish history going back until 1569, at least. From the 14th Century, it had been located in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1569, it passed to the Kingdom of Poland; and, in 1795, to the Russian Empire, after the Third Partition of Poland. Thereafter, it was firmly within the "Pale of Settlement", the area of Czarist Russian where Jews were allowed to reside. Administratively in the 19th Century, it was situated in the Slutsk and later, in the Novogrudok "Uyezd" (district) within the large "Minsk Gubernya" (Governate or province).
2. Stanislavovo/Wiedzma/Ved'ma - Name, History, Landlords, etc.
Jackie Mandelson in Glasgow (also great grandson of Meir) was the first to tell me, in 1979, that Meir lived in a village called "Vejma" (= "Wiedzma", in Polish; and "Ved'ma", in Russian). He had learnt of this and a lot more (incorporated into what follows) from his father, Wolfe Mandelson, who as a child spent time at Ved'ma with Meir, his grandfather.
My son Shai and I first heard of the village's older name of "Stanislavovo" when we visited Ved'ma in September 1998, as evoked, en passant, by a local peasant (name not known).
In fact, the village, under both its names in Polish, is documented in a Polish geographical encyclopedia, the "Slownik Geograficzny" (Warsaw, 1893), vol. xiii. (As indicated, before the Third Partition of Poland in 1795, the whole region had been part of Poland and when the encyclopedia was published a century later, Polish nationalism was still very much alive).
According to the entry on "Wiedzma" (p. 301), the village had been part of an estate belonging to the Lopota family, the last of whom was Michael Lopot (date not given - presumably late 18th Century). This individual had been married to a niece of Prince Carol Radziwil (the major land-owners in the region, with a palace in Nesvizh and a castle near Mir). Some Lopota's were still around at the beginning of the 19th century, since an item in the 1805 "List of Tavern Keepers Seeking to Register in Ljakhovichi" (NHAB, file 333/9/184 = LDS/FHL microfilm # 2008321) shows that the village was still in Lopota hands. Incidentally, the same list records that the Lopota's owned another village called "Kroglyano", indicating that they had additional land in the vicinity.
Later in the 19th century, the Lopota's appear to have moved out of the immediate picture and ownership of the village had passed to a family called Kozlowski. Indeed, by the late 1870's Meir was having legal problems with a certain Yulian Kozlowski (see below). Moreover, the Ksiega Adresowa Polski [Polish Business Directory], (Warsaw, 1924) p.1688, states that the village landlord was Aleks Kozlowski. And finally, when Shai and I visited Ved'ma, local peasants mentioned that before WW II, the local Polish "gentry" were two brothers, Oleg and Woytek Kozlowski.
The Russian name "Ved'ma" (used from this point on)) comes from Ved'ma River (the "Witch" River), which ran near the village and also outside the town of Ljakhovichi. There were/are three other villages near Ved’ma - Novosiolki, Pronczaki and Stanczaki.
Ved'ma has had a checkered administrative history.
- As part of the Russian Empire (from 1795 onwards), Ved'ma was a village in its own right, at first assigned to the Novogrudok Uyezd (administrative district) which, before Partition, had been part of the larger the Polish "Nowogrodek Powiat".
- During the 19th Century, the village "floated" administratively between the adjacent Novogrudok and Slutsk Uyezds.
- In 1920, the whole area reverted to Poland and very quickly the village found itself within the Baranowizce "region".
- In 1930, Ved'ma - once again rendered in Polish as "Wiedzma" - was formally assigned to the Darewo sub-district - or so it seems from a Polish administrative order ("nr 29 poz. 257") of 26 March 1930 (though in practice this arrangement may have been effected somewhat earlier - see the Polish Business Directories 1924, 1925 and 1929), the larger village of Darewo being less than 10 kms. away.
- Then, about half a century later (in about the 1980's), the Belarusian/Soviet authorities amalgamated Ved’ma with, or incorporated it into, the next-door village of Novosiolki and so officially Ved'ma has ceased to exist.
Nevertheless, Ved'ma still stands (in 2004) where it always has stood, though today it is essentially a dying village as almost all the young people have left.
Nowadays, the place is no more than a hamlet, thoroughly off the beaten track. But perhaps that was not always the case. In a major entry in the Slownik Geograficzny (Warsaw, 1886), vol. vii, pp. 258 - 262, "Wiedzma" is described as a fully-fledged "town", one of 25 small towns in the Nowogrodek Powiat (presumably in the 18th Century).
Pointing in the same direction, there is also a large-scale map of the Minsk Gubernya, published in London in 1834, which shows - quite surprisingly - "Stanislavov" at the correct spot for Ved'ma/Wiedzma, on some sort of a road which appears to lead from the town of Novo Myzh in the north-west, to Nesvizh in the north-east. And indeed, Slownik Geograficzny (ibid.) speaks of precisely such a route as a "well-kept military road". Then, even more surprisingly, "Ved'ma" is marked (by that name) on a 1915 French map ("Les Provinces baltiques de la Russie" by G. Peltier). So perhaps Ved'ma was not such a small, out of the way place in the 18th and early 19th Centuries after all.
In any event, to judge by Jackie Mandelson's description, by the end of 19th Century the population of Ved'ma seems to have dwindled and there were possibly only up to 40 or so wooden cottages in the place altogether (before WW II the number of cottages is said to have been 32 and today it is probably down to 20 or so). 19th Century conditions were primitive, like everywhere else. There could have been no internal plumbing (as there still is none today). Water would have been drawn from household or village wells (or the river) and links to other villages and nearby towns would have been by foot or by cart on dirt tracks (nowadays the roads have been somewhat improved).
Most people were Russian Orthodox by religion, who considered themselves true Russians. There were also some Catholics, who thought of themselves as Poles. (As for the Jews, they called themselves "Litvaks" [ Lithuanians(!)] - see below).
Each family would have had its own cow, grazed communally. The cottages would have been surrounded by vegetable gardens (potatoes, beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.) and fruit trees (apples, plums and the like). Chickens and geese would have been all over the place. In the absence of clocks, time would have been told "as the cock crows".
In the 3rd quarter of the 19th Century, the nearest railway stop was at Pogorzelse, just under 8 kms. north of Ved'ma. Thereafter, the major railway junction at Baranavichi (21 kms. to the west) came to overshadow the stop at Pogorzelse, while in the 20th Century, Baranavichi (Baranovich in Yiddish) grew into a large city which dominated - and still dominates - the area, including the town of Lyakhovichi.
3. Joshua Meir - Innkeeper.
The 1874 document mentioned above describes Meir as living in his "Krechma House" (i.e. "Inn" or "Tavern" house). Jackie Mandelson related that Meir had a tavern/inn in Ved'ma. This was definitively corroborated in 1947, in my grandfather Abraham Mandel's Scottish Death Certificate, where my father, Jack Mandel, gave Meir's occupation as "innkeeper".
Incidentally, an inn was called a "krechma" in Yiddish. This word apparently crept into Belarusian and Polish and Jewish “folk etymology” asserts that it derives from the Ashkenazi Hebrew expression for the bed-time prayer, the "Kriss-Sh'ma" (i.e. Keri'as Sh'ma, or "reading the Sh'ma") which would have been said by itinerant Jews.
The 1805 Tavern Keepers List (above) gives Girsh Yosel Vedzmyanyuk (aged 60, and married to Braina, aged 50) as the village inn-keeper at that time. It is doubtful that a small place like Ved'ma could have sustained two such establishments - suggesting that Meir Mandel did not have an inn in the village in the first half of the 19th Century and supporting the suggestion that he arrived at mid-century, perhaps taking over from Vedzmyanyuk or his successors.
The question is: was Meir's establishment an inn for travelers or simply a tavern, which served vodka and ale, etc. to local peasants ("muzhiks")?
The location of Ved'ma on or near a road between Nesvizh and Novo Myzh (and other points) and the existence of a network of "krechmas" for Jews, who peddled their wares from village to village, and for carters ("balagolles"), ferrying goods between various "shtetlach" and possibly products further afield, may suggest an inn for wayfarers in the full sense. On the other hand, Jackie Mandelson, in a letter of 17 September, 1980, referred to the inn only as a "pub". To quote him:
''There was also an inn in Stanchukee [sic = the village of Stanczaki] owned by a Jewish landlord named Pinkus. If there were any arguments in Joshua Meyer's pub, the peasants would say 'Pajou da Pinkusa' - in other words, 'let's go to Pinkus's place'. Joshua Meir was evidently a very powerful man, and if there was any trouble in the pub, he did not hesitate to eject the perpetrators.''
We may never find the answer to the question. For all we know, Meir may have had both an inn for wayfarers and a bar for locals. But whether he was in the hotel business or merely engaged in the sale of alcoholic beverages, we can safely assume that his village establishment was modest and rough, to say the least.
A couple of additional insights:
According to Stepan Loyko, a villager in Ved'ma (born ca. 1923), whom Shai and I met on 5 & 6 September, 1998, the peasants did not pay for their drinks in cash but they offered produce (fruits, seeds, etc.) in kind. They also tried to cheat on their bills, promising to bring in something to cover the cost and then conveniently "forgetting".
And for what it's worth, Stefan recalled that "old folk" had told him that, before he was born, the tavern owner in a next-door village had been called "Pinka".
4. Joshua Meir - Land Owner/Farmer (with legal problems).
As mentioned above, Meir certainly owned land by 1864. The right to vote in local elections, based on property ownership, had been granted shortly after the emancipation of the serfs in Russia in 1861. Most heads of families did not own enough property to vote by themselves, so they voted in groups of five families (represented by a "Pyatidvornye Deputaty"). On the other hand, "Odnodvortsy" were people who had enough property to vote in their own right - and Meir was one of them. In brief, at age 32 and still (registered as) a bachelor, Meir had done quite well for himself.
It should be noted that throughout the 19th Century, the Russian authorities made it difficult, usually impossible, for Jews to acquire land. However, there seems to have been some relaxation in the restrictions between 1862 and 1864, especially if there were no serfs living on the land in question (see article on "Land Ownership according to the Russian Law", Yevreyskaya Enciklopediya, St. Petersburg, 1906-13, vol. vii, pp. 731-3) - and this is precisely the time bracket that we are talking about for Meir to have seized the opportunity to acquire his land.
In addition, the 1874 source cited above described Meir as living "in his own house" in Stanislavovo. So, by then, he owned both land and real estate in the village.
Interestingly enough, Meir's occupation was given as "Farmer" in his daughter Annie's Death Certificate, which was filled out in Glasgow in 1930 by Meir's grandson Sam, a son of the deceased). A question arises as to whether Meir actually farmed his land himself. From things Shai and I learnt during our visit to Ved'ma in 1998, Meir likely hired local peasants to do the heavy work for him, while he concentrated on running his inn. Without wishing to push things too far, one might suggest that Meir was more of a "gentleman farmer", rather than a "hand's-on" one.
Meir was prone to legal problems. He had fines slapped on him and when he did not pay those fines, his land and property were put up for public auction.
Take, for example, the following, alarming announcement from the Minsk Gubernya Vedomosti (Official Gazette), # 40 (of about 1 October) 1877:
"... The Bailiff Eliashevich, attached to the Novogrudok District Council, announces that, on the basis of paragraphs 1148 and 1149 of the Civil Court Code, at 11 am. on November 15, 1877, in the court-house in Novogrudok will be sold real estate of Me'er Mandel, a Jew, including a house, a barn and 6 desyatins [= just over 6 hectares or 12 acres] of the estate land. All this located in Novogrudok Uyezd, Darevskaya volost on urochishche [=uncultivated land] of Ved'ma (otherwise known as Stanislavovo). There is no mortgage [or impediment] on the estate. It will be sold to cover the fine imposed [on Joshua Meir Mandel, some time ago] in the amount of 108 rubles 48 kopecks, and [subsequently] increased to 300 rubles - the auction will commence at this sum. All papers and documents concerning this estate are available in the Office of the Council of the Novogrudok Uyezd."
One assumes that Meir found a way of bailing himself out, because he and his family continued to own their land in the village. (It is said that Jews in such predicaments would rig the auction, presumably with the help of a well-placed bribe, so that the proceedings would be stopped after a friend or relative had bid a nominal price for the properties at risk - and thus they would revert to their owner who, in effect, would have paid a minimal fine.)
The same pattern was more or less repeated 20 - 25 years later. In December 1904, a similar item was published in the Minsk Gubernya Vedomosti, revealing that Meir owned about an acre and a half of wooded land near the next-door village of Pronczaki (see "Attachment" below). It appears that this land (valued at 200 rubles) was destined to be auctioned off to pay back, at least in part, a claim of 950 rubles, adjudicated in favour of one Yulian Kozlowski by the Minsk District Court in 1898. Again, Meir was presumably able to work things out, because he remained in the village and on his land until his death some twenty years later.
In 2004, I commissioned a search to be made in the National Historical Archives to be made for documents relating to Meir's court cases. The search appears to have been quite thorough but it did not turn up anything.
5. Visits to Meir's Land and Property.
When I visited Ved'ma for a second time in August 2001, I met old Stepan Loyko once again. He was bed-ridden and ailing. His daughter, who was caring for him, showed me what is clearly remembered as "Meir's land", covering a sizeable area (perhaps a sixth of the present-day village, including what used to be its centre). On the side of the land facing the fields of Pronczaki, the perimeter of the plot is still marked off by a row of tall trees. I was also shown where Meir's wooden house had stood (long burnt down and not rebuilt) and also the entrance to his underground cellar.
On my third visit to the village in September 2004, I was determined to look inside the cellar. This proved easier than expected as the present owner, a man in his thirties, obligingly opened it up and invited me and my interpreter inside. One entered by descending a dozen or so steps into a well-made, subterranean room, perhaps 3 x 4 metres in size, with only one small aperture letting light in from above ground (all somewhat reminiscent of an Etruscan tomb). There wasn't much in the cellar except a few bottles of pickled vegetables, but here was the place which my great grandfather used over a century ago for storing food to survive the winter and possibly drink to supply his inn. The present owner inherited the cellar from his father and he still remembers the day when 20 to 30 years ago he stripped down the Yiddish newspapers which he said were lining the walls.
I have to say that walking Meir's land and seeing what remains of his property was one of the most moving experiences I have had in this long family odyssey. It took no little diplomacy to re-assure a peasant lady who showed us around in 2001 that I had not come back to re-claim the land and evict her.
6. Joshua Meir - Grocer
In the inter-War period, the area of Ved'ma and Ljakhovichi (and all the way east to the town of Nesvizh) became part of re-constituted Poland. From 1924 onwards, detailed Polish Business Directories were issued, on an almost annual basis.
In the 1924 edition of that Directory (citation above) p.1688, one finds a "Mandel, M." listed as a grocer in Wiedzma. When Shai and I visited the village in 1998, one of the locals, then aged about 75, vividly remembered a Jew in the village called Meir with a grocery/dry goods store in what would have been the village centre.
Apparently, in his latter years, Meir moved from inn-keeping to the lighter work of running a grocery store. The trouble is that our peasant informant remembered this "Meir" and his family as being around until the 1930's, while Meir died in the mid-1920's! Could the peasant's memory be playing tricks, at least with regard to Meir? Very probably.
The Polish Business Directories (ibid.) indicate that there was another grocery store in the village, run by a certain "Mlotok, J.". During my 2001 visit, two peasants, without prompting, confirmed the name of "Yossel Mlotok" as the owner of the second grocery store. They added that somewhere along the line, possibly during WW I, Yosel had lost a leg (in a work accident?). There seems little doubt that this character was "Yosel the Blacksmith", mentioned in the introductory paragraph above. Now, crippled and unable to continue as a blacksmith, he - like Meir, the former inn-keeper - had opened a little store, presumably after the War. They added that some time later Yossel also opened a small kiosk for refreshments and assorted goods on the side of the road leading to Pronczaki.
Since Meir's wife Dobba was a Mlotok, he and this Yosel may well have been in-laws. Whilst one old peasant told us that the two men were generally good friends, another claimed that there was occasional tension between them. He explained that Meir got more customers than Yosel, as his store was in the centre of the village, while Yosel's was a bit further away. This annoyed Yosel and one day, out of frustration, he dumped a load of firewood outside Meir's shop and tried to sell it from there. (I'd like to think that Meir set the wood on fire, but the peasant didn't say that!).
7. Local Standing.
Despite his legal problems, Meir appears to have been a generally law-biding individual. For example, he is recorded on an 1884 list of tax-payers in Lyakhovichi area as having paid his due for that year ((NHAB 299/2/8530, entry # 271).
He was said by Jackie Mandelson to have been only educated Jew in Ved'ma, so others went to consult him and to have official documents read, signed, etc. Jackie's sister, Rita Gillis went further and, in a letter of 26 October 1999, she wrote "I remember my father [Wolfe Mandelson] telling me that Joshua Meir was a most respected member of society. He was the only person [in the village] who could read and write Russian and the Jewish people who had problems would recount them to him, and he in turn would discuss them with the authorities. My father would tell us often that Joshua Meir was the Provost of Wiedzma".
In Scotland , "provost" usually means "mayor", which seems an unlikely position for a Jew in a small village in 19th Century Russia. But the Polish absentee landlords, who owned much of the area, often employed Jews as administrators or stewards to manage their estates. In turn, these stewards frequently farmed out responsibility for smaller units to other Jews, who acted as local factors. Perhaps that is what Rita's father, Wolfe Mandelson, meant by when he called Joshua Meir a "provost"?
As regards reading Russian, that may well be. But Meir also spoke the local dialect - namely, Belarusian - as recalled by Stepan Loyko, one of the peasants Shai and I met in Ved'ma on 5 September, 1998. Stepan added that Meir got on well with the locals, dressing and comporting himself much like everyone else. "Everybody", said Stefan, had beards"! Speaking Byelorussian and dressing like the peasants was probably the norm for village Jews.
8. Jewish Neighbours and Jewish Life.
Jews lived in the village of Ved'ma by the mid-18th Century (if not before), because the same 1805 "List of Tavern Keepers" (above) records two Jews - Girsh, son of David Folvarkovich and Noson, son of David Dubinetz - who had been born in Ved'ma in 1744 and 1759 respectively and who had moved elsewhere. Put another way, there were Jews in the place for at least two centuries before the Nazis rounded the last one up, according the our peasant acquaintances, in 1941.
At the end of the 19th Century, there were probably only a handful of Jewish families in Ved'ma. After WW I, the total village population was 148, of whom just 11 were Jews [Meir Mandel and Yosel Mlotok and their respective families?], as per the 1921 Polish Census, published 1922-23.
According to Jackie Mandelson, before 1914 another Jewish character in the village was "Yoshe Vejma", supposedly a village "squire" (whatever that meant) who was said to have been fairly wealthy (again, whatever that meant). He had a fierce guard dog called "Mushka". By his name, he may well have been a descendant of the village tavern keeper in 1805, called Girsh Yossel Vedzmyanyuk.
Yet again according to Jackie, another individual in Ved'ma (though perhaps not Jewish, to judge by his name) was a certain "Toder" [Theodore?], who had a large plum tree in his garden, which he guarded zealously against village urchins who were given to plundering it.
With so few Jews in the village, one may wonder how they sustained a viable Jewish life. The answer seems to be that for major requirements (e.g. rabbinical leadership/guidance, chedorim/yeshivos, kosher meat (beyond fowl which could be killed locally), mikve, burials, etc) they were dependent on the nearby town of Lyakhovichi, half a day away by foot (less by horse and cart). On the other hand, for day-to-day life they were probably able to manage quite well - together with the Jews in the cluster of villages which were within walking distance. In 1909, a Russian Gazetteer for the Minsk Gubernya put Ved’ma’s total population at 135, Novosiolki’s at 554, Pronczaki’s at 354 and Stanczaki’s at 149 – that is, just under 1,200 souls altogether. If only 10% of these were Jews, there would have been at least 30 males of age to hold a regular minyan for Shabbos and Holyday services or to allow someone to say kaddish when necessary.
My guess is that services were held at the largest of the villages, Novosiolki. Indeed, if the percentage of Jews there was somewhat higher (say 20%), their minyan would have been self-sufficient and Jews from adjacent Ved’ma could have literally strolled around for services. Would there have been a formal shul? Probably not – more likely prayers were held in some private house. But since many villages had churches, it seems to me that the possibility of a modest prayer-house for the Jews cannot be entirely ruled out.
And, if need be, a professional “religious care provider” could always be brought in. In December 1979, I received a letter (in Yiddish) from a Mrs. Libman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, describing herself the daughter of "Lippe the Chazan" from Lyakhovichi and recalling that her father used to travel to Ved'ma on occasion [presumably to officiate at special religious events like weddings]. Given that Mrs. Libman said that she arrived in the US in about 1922, she was probably referring to the years just before and after WW I.
One of our peasant acquaintances in Ved'ma recalled that towards the end of his long life Meir was paralyzed and needed help to move.
By my reckoning, he lived to 91 or so and died in about 1923 or 1924, since the first family member to be named after him was Gerald (Joshua Meir) Mandelson, a great grandson, born in Glasgow in 1925.
Stepan Loyko told us in 1998 that after Meir's death, members of his family remained in Ved'ma. However, his house burnt down in the early 1930's and all but one of them (Benjamin) moved to the town of Baranovich.
The item below from the Minsk Gubernya's Official Gazette (December, 1904) is worthy of attention.
It seems to be saying is that Meyer/Meir owned roughly an acre and a half of wooded land near Pronchaki (the village next to his), that he had had some kind of run-in with a local Pole, who leased the land for 10 rubles a year, that in 1898 there had been a court case and a stiff penalty had been imposed on Meyer, and finally that 6 or so years later (in 1904) his land was being auctioned off so that the Pole could collect, at least in part.
This news-item and the one quoted in para. 4 above open a window into life in the Minsk Gubernya in the latter half of the 19th cent., inter alia reflecting on the Russian court system and the ways of executing judgements.
EXCERPT from "Minsk Gubernya Vedomosti" (Official Gazette), # 99, (December?) 1904:
= Announcement # 9550 [about public auction of land belonging to Joshua Meir MANDEL]
"A senior official (a bailiff?) of the District Court of Minsk, named Kovbel, living in the city of Novogrudok in the house of Rabinovitz, announces, in accordance with paragraph 1132 and subsequent paragraphs of the Regulations for the Procedures of Civil Courts, that, on 31 January 1905, at 10.00 am., in the building of the Council of the Novogrudok Uyezd, a public auction will take place of real estate belonging to meshchanin (burgher = town dweller) Meer Yankelev Mandel, located near the village of Pronchaki, in the Darevskaya Volost (sub-district) of the Novogrudok Uyezd (administrative district). It is a plot of land, located in a wooded area in the fields of "Litva", without any buildings on it, on an area of more or less 6 "desyatiny (= 0.6 hectares = roughly 1.5 acres) - the exact size (to be ascertained) in accordance with measurements on the ground. The estate is not under mortgage anywhere, but is leased to Yulian Kozlowski, for the period until 11 April, 1914, for a rent of 10 rubles a year, all of which sum has been paid for all the period [to date? - or up to 1914?]. This property has been put on sale to satisfy the claim of Yulian Kozlowski in the amount of 950 rubles, with interest and expenses, according to the executive order # 3893 of the Minsk District Court, dated 15 May 1898.The property has been appraised at 200 rubles and the auction will begin from this sum. The inventory and all the documents relating to the matter of the estate being sold are available in the Office of the Council of the Novogrudok Uyezd, to anyone interested in taking part in the auction."
- END -
Revised 31 December 2004.