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Memoirs of Jewish Lyakhovichi and its surrounding communities

This section including histories of the Lyakhovichi Jewish community written as memoirs, reminisces, and local history, is part of our Biography section. Click on the "Biography" button in the left-hand column to read other articles in this section.

A Walk through My Devastated Shtetl
by Avrom Lev, 1952
translated from Yiddish by Dr. Neville Lamdan, copyright 2007

To Go to Other Pages of this Reminisce click:

My Devastated Shtetl, Part One
My Devastated Shtetl, Part Two You are Here
My Devastated Shtetl, Part Three
My Devastated Shtetl, Part Four
My Devastated Shtetl, Part Five
Surname, Nickname, and Residents by Locale Index

My Devastated Shtetl, Part Two

Part Two

And there are the houses of the Kurchin and the Churgin families. Both houses had the same lot, in that they had been inherited by children from their fathers. In both houses, shouting and loud argument were constantly heard from the heirs. Mostly it came on Friday evening when Jews were eating their Sabbath dinner and looking for the opportunity to have a joyful time … The grandchildren [of the original Kurchins and the Churgins] get on well together and they do not even care about the whole feud. Only someone should go and give the parents some advice on what they should do and how they should behave! The grandchildren are very mischievous. One of them, Faye Churgin, an extremely gifted young lady, was very popular among the shtetl's young people. Wherever there is a simche [celebration], she is there with her Zionist songs which she finishes up by collecting money for the Keren Kayemet le-Yisrael [the Jewish National Fund]. She was also one of the first “Froebelists” [followers of liberal educator Friedrich Froebel, who invented a kindergarten system]. The well-known pedagogue, Yechiel Halpern of blessed memory, graduated (Faye) from his first Froebelist courses in Warsaw. To (our) great regret, she did not have a long time to apply her pedagogic skills: she became ill and her young, idealistic soul passed on – leaving all her friends in deep sorrow.

And there is Sander der Ainbinder [the Bookbinder's] house. With him worked Yankele Shmuel, the Weiner's lad. He is a leader of the local Bund Party [a socialist, Yiddishist, anti-Zionist organization]. An energetic fellow. After spending a short time in the city of Minsk and being very taken there with revolutionary fervour, he came back to the shtetl and got straight down to work – organizing the Bund among the locals. By and large, he agitated among the common Jews who had very little comprehension of the “fine print” in the revolutionary booklets but understood very well how to take shots at the “bourgeois” kids - the “little Zionists”. Yankele had his mouth screwed on all right. He railed thunder and lighting [literally “fire and water”] and especially [harangued] about the “class war”, until one of his party friends [was killed in a brawl.] In the course of a violent brawl with his rival, Shmuel-Shaiye Busel, from the Socialist Zionists' Party, Yankele the “trouble-maker” came to the aid of his comrade, Gedalyo the Melamed's son. (The fight broke out when someone had wanted to eject Rochel Kapel, a party comrade of Shmuel-Shaiye Busel, who sold pastry.) Then (Gedalyo the Melamed's son) drove a dagger into Shmuel-Shaiye's side, causing the death of his stabbed “enemy”. The incident had a depressing effect on the entire shtetl. In great grief, the whole shtetl accompanied the victim on his last journey and the murderer [Gedalyo the Melamed's son] swiftly left town in great trepidation. Also his “rebbe” [spiritual mentor], Yankele, did not stay around long and, since it only took one good blast of cold air [to blow him away], he fled to far-off America.

Over here, we find ourselves in Sore Kalman-Yosel's little café – all of “four cubits by four” [Talmudic expression]. The whole business is made up of a glass of soda water with different fruit syrups, plus a bun or a cookie and, on hot summer days, a sweetened ice cream as well. The main thing was actually getting together in the summer evenings, sitting and passing the time until late in the night. Everyone in the shtetl slept well only if the café at Sore's (place) was open[!]. Young folk sat and told all kinds of stories and jokes. Sore listened to everyone, smoking a little cigarette nearby, while her husband, Zerach, always carefully dressed, clean as a needle, became chummy with the young people and whistled smartly all the little ditties – a pleasure to hear - despite the fact that he was already the father of adolescent children. Sore, it seems, loved him dearly and so was ready to take on the burden of making a living, just so that things should go nicely for her husband.

And there is the house where Alter Gavze resides – an unassuming, intelligent young man who, whenever he isn't busy with manufacturing glue, (spends) every free minute peering into a book or a page of Talmud. He is proficient in everything to do with world literature.

Next to him, in the second house, lives Yosel Malevitzky. (He) in no way resembles a shtetl Jew – [he is] tall, well-formed, fine, a pleasure to look at, a wood-merchant and a gentleman who is always ready to do a favour. His wife too is prepared to do everything so that their visitors should feel good and comfortable, and should enjoy their hospitality.

And (over) there is the house of Moshke der Druker [the Printer] who, besides printing - and dyeing the peasant women's linens - is also a book-binder. He is an extremely taciturn Jew. One never hears a word from him. Even on Simchas Torah when his friends dress him up as a rebbe with a streimel [chassidic hat] and a silk kapote [gown] and lead him through the streets with singing and dancing, dropping in from one house to the next in order to pull out of the oven (some) kugel mit kishke (a Jewish delicacy) and eat it on the spot – even then (Moshke) is as silent as a fish. He speaks not, sings not, dances not – nothing, as though people are nothing to him. Then God helps - the day of Simchas Torah comes to an end, he sheds the whole hurly-burly and goes back to the books and pamphlets that await him for binding. And once again “sh-shhh” - he does not say a word, even to his own neighbours

But his son, N'yome [Benjamin] is not at all retiring. He is a “big shot” in the Socialist Zionists' Party. He leads debates and discussions with his rivals about what the world is up against and if, as is usual, the discussion comes to blows, he stays (in the thick of things), not holding back and “replying” just fine. By nature, he is quite a strong young man and always holds a stout stick in his hand. And anyone who starts up with him has to be thankful for (getting away with) his life … Where are you now, dear N'yome? Did you also go with everyone else to the slaughter, without putting up any resistance to those blood-thirsty animals? Hard to believe!

And here we take a little turn to the right and we are standing next to Pesach Hinde-Reizel's house. Although he himself, Pesach Ditkovsky, has his own yiches [social standing] (he is a well-established balle-bos, a Jew and a merchant and a fine bal-keri'oh [Torah reader] in the shtib'l [prayer-house] of the Koidanover Chassidim) people call him by his wife's name “Pesach Hinde-Reizel's”. She was a Jewish woman of “fire and flame”. She ran a pelt store, a business which is not easy to undertake even for a male. She ran that business with a lot of energy and a loud voice. She spent from early morning to late at night in the store. And when she used to bargain with a customer, especially with Gershon der Shuster [the Shoemaker] or Nievyadomsky (a goy whose whole non-Jewish family spoke Yiddish “like water” and with whom she haggled raucously in Mame Loshen [Yiddish]), she was heard in the middle of the street. But she had another great distinction: she was the first who allowed Feivel Rivkin, a young man with a strong revolutionary drive, and his friend Raphael Kurchin, to organize an undercover library at her place for the use of Lechovich youth, something which involved great risk.

And here we move on beside Aharon-Itshe Brevda's large house where, because of his big, extended family (residing there) it was always difficult for outsiders to make out who was the father or the grandfather, the mother or the grandmother, the married daughters or the daughters-in-law. One's head was turned by the powerful odour of beer coming from the brewery deep in the yard. And then one could not but notice that everyone's faces were fair and fine – especially the face of the younger daughter, Mala (Malka) with her constant smile.

Here we take a few steps forward and we are standing before a low house, where the exquisitely precious Jew, Reb Bayrech Rozovsky, or Bayrech der Goldshmidt [the Goldsmith] - a wonderful Jew - lives with his family. “Sweet as a dove”, but a terrifically obstinate person and firm as a rock about just one thing. That was his extreme, unbounded love for Eretz Yisroel. God Almighty, how was such a strong yearning for Eretz Yisroel given to such a Jew! (It was) a Land which he had never seen but his longings for it pulled him away from his family circle on more than one occasion and carried him off by different ways to his Land of Zion. There was great hardship in his home, despite (the fact) that everyone (there) was employed in his trade, gold-smithing. He was continually pleading with his wife, Sore, about emigrating to Eretz Yisroel. After having encountered her opposition as usual, he would suddenly disappear in the middle of the night – and after a couple of months a letter would arrive from him, already from Eretz Yisroel, in which he implored his household to come over to him in Jaffa, in dirty Jaffa of once upon a time. But his wife Sore did not even want to hear about his meshugasen [madnesses] and remained in the shtetl until Reb Bayrech came back – but, again, not for long. And so, sitting at his work at home in the shtetl, he would throw a longing glance from time to time at the embroidered mizrach [icon on the eastern wall of a traditional Jewish house] with the Koisel Ma'arovi [the “Western” or “Wailing” Wall in Jerusalem], which hung on the wall. And when no-one was in the house, he picked it up cautiously, touched it to his trembling lips and let drop a fervent tear – and within a short time he had disappeared again and, yet again, his wife would receive a letter from him, from Jaffa. Thus the conflict continued for a long time, until on one occasion after his disappearance a letter arrived in which he categorically demanded that his family come to him and in which he declared that he would never go back to goles [exile]. This time his demand was met– after a short while his whole family traveled to him in Eretz Yisroel And whoever has not seen Reb Bayrech so jubilant as a “welcomer”, rejoicing at (having) his household in Jaffa, has not seen a contented Jew. However, his joy was soon marred – his wife Sore died on him. He himself lived on to advanced years and derived great pleasure from his children and grandchildren who had great success in Eretz Yisroel. They really provided a fine old age for him until the very last day of his life, when his idealistic soul passed away quietly and silently, with praise and thanksgiving to the Eternal for the grace He had done unto him [Reb Bayrech], by granting him the honour and privilege of being (buried) with his holy forefathers in the Holy Land.

And there, not far from the (previously) mentioned house, stands a second “market” home, which belongs to Reb Zalman Yitzchok Pinsky. The home has a wooden bench outside on which Jews sit and warm themselves on summer days and are happy to be completely scented with the fragrance of tobacco. One of his sons, Gedalyo, is a devoted member of the Socialist Zionists' Party, a confirmed “territorialist” [prepared to settle Jews anywhere], (forever) debating hotly with the Zionists [who would only contemplate a Jewish homeland in Eretz Yisroel]. In the end, he left the shtetl and traveled to the territory he longed for so much – to America. Thus it is that his brother, Aron-Nisel, was a devoted Zionist. He opened a modern book-store where, besides writing materials, there was a lending library for the old and for children, who read under his supervision and instruction. He was also the book-keeper in the shtetl's Lending and Savings Office [Bank]. His mission in life was spreading enlightenment and education among the Jews of the shtetl.

And here we see Reb Gedalyo Miletzky's two-storey wooden house. Below is a large manufacturing business, while in the courtyard is the owner's apartment. (He was) a Jew, a merchant and a Lechovicher chossid. One could never know which interested him more - the business or his Rebbe [Chassidic Rabbi], because he did not show a decisive preference for one or the other. He was always as engrossed in one as in the other, obscure world.

Here is another two-storey house, (belonging to) his sister Frumke or, as she's called, Frume Naftolke's. (She was) an agent for a large “colonial” business [dealing goods, probably dry goods, from the “colonies” = Russian provinces], whose main clientele was drawn from Polish gentry around Lechovich. Why that business was actually called “Renskovoy Pogrev”, God alone knows! It could be because it was [simply] a nice (sounding) name – but what matters is that it provided a real livelihood. With their mother, the children were always occupied and busily attending to the orders (for merchandise) of the gentry. But the children did not become just ordinary shop-keepers. The only daughter, Dina, stood out especially – she, you see, had adopted her fine manners from the society ladies. Not for nothing had our greatest “local patriot”, Yitzchok-Gedalyo Goldberg, a dentist by profession, fallen so deeply in love with Dina. He remained a bachelor his whole life - his great, pure love rejected, to his sorrow.

And here we take another couple of steps and come to Shmuel Moldshadsky's “Pharmacy Warehouse”. The Moldshadsky's were an exceptionally idealistic and intelligent family. They had moved to (Lechovich) from the city of Minsk. And with their arrival, our shtetl was enriched with another cultured family. In their home, Russian was spoken – and, in addition, the father was a Jew and a talmed chochem [a Talmud scholar]. The shtetl's wealthy men straightaway filled up the school which he opened with their children, as they were sure that Toire [Torah – Jewish learning] and [worldly] wisdom were (to be found) there, in one (and the same) place. The oldest son, Reuven, had become distanced from traditional Jewish ways and administered the state Yiddish primary school which he had taken over from the previous director, Botvinik, where he introduced a very interesting atmosphere. His sister, Lize, was also imbued with the fine qualities of her family.

And now, before us, is the yard of Moshke-Chayim-Ber's or Moshke Varshal. Also there, as at Aron-Itshe Brevda's, there is a beer-brewery deep in the yard. And as the family is also an extended one, it is difficult to distinguish between the daughters and daughters-in-law, sons and sons-in-law, mothers and grandmothers. All (of them) are so sturdy and well-formed. On the face of it, the beer had a really [healthy] effect on all of them who worked with it …

And here we take a couple more paces and we're already standing before the shop of Stir'l [a diminutive of Esther] der Kezeles ( “of the little cheeses”), where are sold pungent white cheese, soft or hard cheeses and cheese dumplings, fresh, fragrant butter and milky-white little candles which her husband, Noah Leib, a deeply God-fearing man and a saintly Jew, produces by himself in his small candle factory, while reciting by heart the whole (Book of) Psalms as he works, as a remedy against an “ayin-hore” [an “evil eye”] from a goy!

Now we come upon Alter Brevda's “half”, a single-storey stone house with a couple of stairs in front and a glazed building in the yard. That is his photo-studio. He is the only photographer in town. Previously he was just a bystander and a helper of itinerant photographers – but after he had taken their measure, he became an independent photographer and served the shtetl's population, mainly the “American” wives [women who had husbands in America?]. Outside (his studio) there hung a display of his photographs with a sign in Russian: “Bad weather doesn't hamper being photographed here”. Inside the house reside the parents of Levi ben Amitai, the poet of the “Work on the Land” (Movement) in Eretz Yisroel.

Now we are approaching the Lemtshich's two-storey stone house with its broad and shady entrance. On the second floor live the “bankers”, Yehudo Gellin and Nachmen Levin, with their families, among whom was a fine and distinguished son-in-law, Soloveichik, from the well-known Soloveichik's who stem from the Brisker Gaon [genius] Chayim'ke. The two aforementioned Balle-Batim ran a “Banking Counter” in Mottel “der Blecher's” [the tinsmith's] fine house. They lend money for a percentage [interest] and are reputed to have made a good living from all the Jews. Below live the Lemtshich's themselves with their children, except for the older son, Moshe Dovid, whose father had taken him across to America. The father himself has been in America a long time and has scant desire to return to the shtetl, except that he has a wife and children here. To have a livelihood, his wife has opened a bar for bal-agoles and policemen. She, you understand, is not thinking about traveling to America!

And there is another two-storey stone house, which belongs to Reb Yitzchok Yosel Pintshuk, a tall giant of a Jew, with a long, broad yellow beard – the very opposite of his tiny wife, who works together with him in the big “colonial” store at the intersection of “Riyad'n” Street. Because of what they sell to cheder kids as “paint” to make ink, their faces are always smeared over – something frightful. Their son, Yeruchem, sad-to-say, has been “punished” by God – one foot has been amputated, so he goes around on crutches. However, he strides along at a dangerous pace, so that it is really impossible to catch up with him. Small folk are actually jealous of him on account of his powerful stride.

And here, opposite, is a two-storey wooden house where Reb Avrom Yankev's son-in-law lives, Mich'l Rabinovich, a Jew, a great talmed chochem and an even greater God-fearer, about whom our colleague, Nisen Tokatshinsky, has much to say [elsewhere in the Yizkor Book].

* * *

Part Three

Click here to go to My Devastated Shtetl, part 3

* * *


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Feivel Rifkin and Alter Los
And here we take a little turn to the right and we are standing next to Pesach Hinde-Reizel's house. Although he himself, Pesach Ditkovsky, has his own yiches(he is a well-established balle-bos, a Jew and a merchant and a fine bal-keri'oh [Torah reader] in the shtib'l [prayer-house] of the Koidanover Chassidim) people call him by his wife's name “Pesach Hinde-Reizel's”. She was a Jewish woman of “fire and flame”. She ran a pelt store, a business which is not easy to undertake even for a male. ... But she had another great distinction: she was the first who allowed Feivel Rivkin, a young man with a strong revolutionary drive, and his friend Raphael Kurchin, to organize an undercover library at her place for the use of Lechovich youth, something which involved great risk.

 


 


In the course of a violent brawl with his rival, Shmuel-Shaiye Busel, from the Socialist Zionists' Party, Yankele the “trouble-maker” came to the aid of his comrade, Gedalyo the Melamed's son. ... Then (Gedalyo the Melamed's son) drove a dagger into Shmuel-Shaiye's side, causing the death of his stabbed “enemy”. The incident had a depressing effect on the entire shtetl. In great grief, the whole shtetl accompanied the victim on his last journey and the murderer ] swiftly left town in great trepidation. Also his “rebbe” [spiritual mentor], Yankele, did not stay around long and, since it only took one good blast of cold air [to blow him away], he fled to far-off America.


A Closeup of the mourners in the lower left corner of that funeral from the Zionist-Bundist clash

 

 


where the exquisitely precious Jew, Reb Bayrech Rozovsky, or Bayrech der Goldshmidt [the Goldsmith] - a wonderful Jew - lives with his family. “Sweet as a dove”, but a terrifically obstinate person and firm as a rock about just one thing. That was his extreme, unbounded love for Eretz Yisroel. God Almighty, how was such a strong yearning for Eretz Yisroel given to such a Jew! (It was) a Land which he had never seen but his longings for it pulled him away from his family circle on more than one occasion and carried him off by different ways to his Land of Zion.