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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 by Neville Lamdan 2007

To Go to Other Pages of this Reminisce click:

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

My Devastated Shtetl, Part Three

Part Three

And now, my dears, we let's go forward, but not without stopping for a while at the “Three Riyad'n Stores” which were such an important centre in our lives. From there close to a hundred and twenty families made their livings. Some of them were very hard pressed and some of them, just the opposite, lived spaciously. Here we encounter lots of shops where a husband and wife have borne the burden of making a livelihood (together). Here we also meet women among the widows who are the sole providers for their little orphans. And here one also comes across women shop-keepers whose husbands have dropped out from this world and sit the whole day and night in the synagogue or in the shtib'l [chassidic prayer-house]. Here we see the women who sit around and sell all kinds of baked goods, from pure white rolls to crusted black bread. Not far from them, the sellers of different vegetables and fruits sit by little bins – with the famous Shifretz'ke at their head. A tall Jewess with an energetic face and a fiery mouth, (she) always wears big men's boots. She casts one look around and terror (descends) not only on the Jews but also on tough goyyim - (and) that's enough. Should a goy just try to steal a little apple from her bin and if she should spot him, she yanks a boot off her foot and batters the thief so that he will be (very) careful in the future.

And here are the stone stores and meat-shops which, after a long quarrel with the shop-keepers and the butchers, the building contractor N'yome Zayetz put up instead of the former dirty wooden structures. Oy, our Lechovich butchers! They were some thing! Before them everyone cringed - young men, every one of them. They (sure) knew how to hoodwink the inspector, luring him into a dark alley and battering him with murderous blows, [just] because he had forbidden the sale of a piece of meat. A whole market full of peasants would flee in terror when they, the butchers, with help from our young jackasses let loose on the peasants and began to dish out blows right and left! Oh, yes – thanks to them, all the peasants from the surrounding villages were of one opinion: that (it was) the “Lechovich Jews (who) crucified Jesus”!

Oh, our Lechovich heroes, did you also go to the Nazi slaughter without putting up any resistance? It's hard, so very hard, to believe.

And here is Reb Chaim Bashe's store for various “colonial” goods. A Jew burdened with children – always weary and preoccupied. His wife, a silent dove, bore the yoke of making a living with devotion. He once managed to win a considerable sum of money in a lottery which he soon lost in a whiskey deal with America. From that time, he affected to be a bit of a “modern” gentleman but he really was an extremely decent and good-hearted Jew.

Here is the flour-store of Alter Molovitzky or Alter “Bande's”. Beside it (there was) a kind of second storey which at a distance looked like a pigeon coop. Alter was a hefty Jew – tall, large and broad, casting fear on everyone with his thunderous voice. But at bottom he was not as hard a person as people believed. He always became extremely angry at young folk with their modern ideas such as Zionism, socialism, etc. However, he had to face the fact that his only daughter was taken with Zionism and his son, Yankele, a hale and hearty fellow, who looked like his father, had become a Socialist Zionist. Once this Yankele, influenced, it seems, by his socialist cronies, noticed how his father gave a poor man a kopek as a donation – (whereupon) he said to his father “Why are you giving him a kopek? What's it worth? Give him a ruble!” and his father thundered back in his (stentorian) voice, ”You fool, if I were to begin to give poor people rubles, instead of kopeks, I would quickly become impoverished myself and have to go out begging!” His son, the convinced socialist, responded completely unperturbed, ”Nu! Then people will give you rubles as well!” So is it any wonder that Alter Bande was angry at the young folk with their new-fangled, crazy ideas?!

And there is the shop of Reb Zelig-Shimel's or Zelig Ittel's(as his wife is called). A rare Jew: always very distressed, “as though his ships were about to sink”. People say that his distress stems from the fact that he has the head of a genius. Who knows? Maybe they're right. [For instance,] once a fire broke out in the village. [Reb Zelig's] wife as well as her daughter Yoch[eved] worked like devils in order to save everything possible of the goods in the shop. They were very worried about the “heads” of sugar and the packages of tea that remained in the place - (and) then Reb Zelig came running in, with “good tidings”, announcing that he had dealt with the sugar and the tea in the best possible way. How so? He had tossed them into the water-well in the yard!

And another example: once, on a spring evening, after a light shower had by chance occurred, people detected a Jew groaning very loudly outside, searching and groping for something in the mud. Folk went out of their homes and saw that it was Reb Zelig Shimel's. So they asked him: what's going on? He replied in great desperation that he had lost a golden, ten ruble coin “over here or there” in the mud and could not find it anywhere. The people had great compassion for Reb Zelig and helped him search. When they asked him if he had first looked carefully in all his pockets, he replied “yes, indeed”. So together everyone looked and groveled in the mud once again for a good couple of hours. They brought out lamps and lanterns – but the “tenner” piece was not there. It was completely lost. When everyone had gone back home and had continued to console Reb Zelig and (tried to) calm him down, someone requested once more that he should make a thorough search yet again in his pockets. He acceded to the appeal – and that “tenner” was found in one of his vest pockets. To the question: “Why had he not searched all along in his vest pocket”, he replied like a man who had just been rescued from death: “You see, my dear friends, I did not look in that pocket, as it really was my last hope because, were I not to have found the “tenner” (there), I would have done myself, God forbid, grave harm”. - Oh, dear, sincere “genius”, Reb Zelig, you should enjoy an illustrious “Garden of Eden” [world-to-come or “Paradise”] for your extraordinary naivety and delightful absent-mindedness!

And now we go in the opposite direction, to the right, and we are beside Yitzchok-Yosel's dairy, which was run by his wife Beroche. She dealt there in cheese, butter, cream cheese, just like her sister, Stir'l Noah-Leibe's, in the other row of shops. It seems that the family trade was fine by the two sisters!

* * *

And here we take ourselves inside (the area called) “Between the Granaries”, where the storekeepers deal in flour and hence they are all covered in white flour for six whole days a week. Here one can also obtain clay and wooden kitchen vessels. At the very end of the granaries women sit with bins full of fresh baked cakes, decorated with poppy seed; pure white bagels for a farthing or a penny and even egg bagels for a wealthy pocket or, God forbid, for a sick person. Towards evening one gets here fresh, hot “traitshe” [twisted rolls?], baked from a little dark flour which taste like heaven, when smeared hot with butter. The Jews were very thankful to Reichel di Bekerke [“the Bakerwoman”], with her daughter Bashe, who were the owners of that “concession”. You should have a radiant life in the world-to-come, dear Reichel and Bashe, for the great pleasure which you provided our town's Jews “in this world” through your baked goods, of which almost none were touched without a beroche [a religious blessing].

To the right of the granaries is a tiny shop, one yard wide, which formally belongs to Reb Shmuel-Dovid Tzimmering, a Jew with a golden robe over his vest, who is very taken by Zionism. In practice, his quiet wife, Feige-Dine, deals with the business in the little shop.

From there let's go off left again, making our way past three or four stores (selling) grease for wagon-wheels, preservative [?] to smear on boots, tobacco, kerosene, matches, reins, whips and other articles for the use of peasants. Of these, one shop belongs to Reb Shaiye-Bere-Velvel's and another to Reb Yayrshel-Borech-Meir's. The latter tops all the affluent folk (in town), being really over-loaded with cash. He is a father to sons and daughters, all strapping and healthy, who help him assiduously in all his business ventures in order to increase his capital.

* * *

Now we take ourselves into “Between the Stores” – a combination of two rows of businesses, one opposite the other, for various merchandise: lime, mortar, haberdashery, ready-made clothes, manufactured goods, ironmongery, cotton, leather (and) blacksmith's goods, beginning with Shimen Vapnik's little shop and ending, on the other side, with Reb Yitzchok Brevda's shipping [?] business. The second row begins with Hinde-Reizel Ditkovsky's leather business and ends with Reitze-Sore's little vaulted shop, packed with axes, little hatchets, manufactured glass buttons and beads for non-Jewish village girls. There, between the shops, we run into ordinary Jews and Jewesses, who throughout the year are involved and busy in business.

Here we have Jews bursting with Toire [Jewish learning], for whom the store is only a means to make a living, in order to keep their souls in their “sinful” bodies. Here is Reb Yosel Ratner who, besides (studying) a page of Gemorre [Talmud] a day, is also influenced by Haskoloh [the Jewish “Enlightenment ” Movement]. A good Jew and a Hebraist, he can even “tear to bits” a correspondent in a (Hebrew) newspaper like Ha-tzefiroh or Ha-tzofeh.

And here is Reb Shloime Rivkin, the manufacturer. A rich Jew, he can also “learn” [study Talmud] and, moreover, is a superb Baal Tiki'e [Shofar-blower for the High Holydays]. Although strongly inclined towards Zionism, he and a large part of his family ended their lives in darkest “Goles” [literally “Exile” – here a reference to the Holocaust]. And there is the haberdashery shop of Devoire Yaakov-Moishe's, the same Reb Yaakov Moishe who is one of the spiritually-endowed Jews in our town and who has been so masterfully described [elsewhere in the Yizkor Book] by our dear landsman [fellow-countryman], the great Yiddish writer and journalist, Dr. A. Mokdoni.

Rifka Leah Lev, called Rivka Leah "di Almone" the widow
click on picture to go to larger image
Photo, taken in a local back-yard, showing Rivke-Leah ("di Almone" = the widow) with her family. The people in the group are Rivke-Leah, widow of Betzalel Lev herself, her sons Shmu'el Shaiye [Lev] and Asher Lev, with Asher's wife Mindel, daughter Chaye Rochel, with her husband Shloime, and their daughter Sloyke, Sloyke's husband Moishe, Sloyke's daughter Gishele and her sister Sora, Asher's daughters Dina and Bashke and youngest son Gedalyo, Shmu'el Shaiye's children Bashke, Freidel and Betzalel. No surnames given. [Webmaster note - This is the Lev family, descendants of Betzalel and Rivka-Leah Lev; Rivka Leah is reportedly of the Rabinowitz family and she is called in the next paragraph, "daughter of Shaika the Dayan"]

Here is the second store belonging to Rivke-Leah di Almone [the widow], Reb Shaike the Dayen's daughter. During the whole year it is a store like every other store but on the eve of the High Holydays, it is converted by her son, Asher [Lev], and his younger brother, Avromele, into a real exhibition of various artistic pictures of life in Eretz Yisroel: the Herzliya Gymnasium in Jaffa, picture reproductions from the Betzalel Art School in Jerusalem, historical images of Yiddish writers. All the pictures were sent to Asher Lev from the Odessa Committee “For the benefit of Yishuv [the modern Jewish settlers] in Eretz Yisroel and Syria”. This is Lev's legacy in Lechovich – and because of it Asher has even acquired a nickname: in town, he is called the Keren Kayyemet “Pushke” [Jewish National Fund “Charity Box”].

Yes – that legacy did a lot, a great deal, for Eretz Yisroel. Several (people) were influenced by his devoted work but unfortunately Asher Lev himself came to an end far from his ideals and, together with his extensive family, was killed by the Nazi criminals. Just a few words must suffice as the memorial of all (of us) for this man of action for Eretz Yisroel and the victims in his family.

And there is the shop of Mendel “der Kalt-shmid” [the iron-worker]. Here is Mendel – even though he has had a long life dealing with wrought iron, he is always full of softness, good-hearted Jewish humour, mainly for the cheder children, for whom he used to promise a new “cart” before every Pesach, made from two iron wagon rollers, to play at “nuts” [name of a local children's game ?]

There is the store of Yosel Ratner's brother, Ortsh'kel, and his mother Etel-Gitel. Why are they, and not Reb Noah himself (Etel-Gitel's husband), engaged in business? Because Reb Noah is a deaf melamed [!] and is not fit for business. Ortsh'kel, poor thing, is a midget. In town, he was called “stumpy”. His mother, pity on her, was very miserable and lamented her bitter lot, that her Ortshik had such a defect. She used to reproach him, (asking) him how come he had not listened to her and, as a child, had not kept his little feet tucked under his chin as he slept. In her naivety, she believed that that might be the reason for her misfortune. However, the defect did not prevent Ortshik from being full of Toire. On days when there was no “market”, one used to see him sitting on a bench with his short feet in the air, peering into a big (volume) of Gemorre.

And there is the glass-store of Reb Mich'l Kaile's. (Actually) his children and wife are engaged in the business. Reb Mich'l himself is a teacher of advanced Talmud students. A tall, handsome Jew with a silver-white beard – one can say, a physically imposing Jew and no mean Torah scholar as well.

There is the tailor-shop of Reb Pesach Altvarg, the only Slonim chossid in the shtetl. He suffers not a little from that, it seems. Among the Jews, he feels like a ger [a complete outsider, even a non-Jew] but no matter! He eases his sadness with a page of Gemorre or a chapter of Psalms. In the shop, very little is needed of him. He has a good number of children with an efficient wife who can take the place of five men, so he can devote himself to Torah study.

Not far from them is the tailor-shop of Reb Zundel Gedalyo's, a great scholar and a talmed chochem.

Oy, my dear Lechovich shop-keepers, did you lack Torah? Would that you had as little lack of a livelihood! It is really no wonder that a livelihood was lacking. How could it be otherwise when, in such a small shtetl as ours, there were so many shops? Besides the hundred and twenty shops in the Riyad'n, there was a similar number in the surrounding streets and alleys. And for whom? Except for market days, not even a stray dog [from out of town] was to be seen in the shtetl. Lechovich shop-keepers just sat around the entire day on their door-steps or on little benches set up beside their doors and stared at one another. Hence people were extremely happy when a blind Jew with a fiddle turned up from somewhere, led by a small boy, who sang his sad songs as if from the heart, that ended with the plaintive refrain:

“Oy, tell me, you (bewitching) eye, what ails ye so - that, when you laugh from sheer delight, you shed a tear?”
Wives, widows and even their young daughters heaved a deep sigh and gave some pennies to the blind man.

Frequently a magician arrives, surrounded by a whole bunch of youngsters. He spreads out a cloth on a cobbled pavement and does different tricks, attended by an organ-grinder with a drum on his back and with little bells on his head. And there is the famous “Manke Ganef” (the Thief), also an organ-grinder with a little bird, who sings less refined songs, such as:

“Weep not thou, Marussia, be thou mine,
my army service is behind me!”

Frequently, when Avrom'l Varshal has bribed him with a couple of pennies, he used to come out with a kind of dirty ditty, while casting his eyes on the women: “Oy, little women, so what are you frightened of? When the Rabbi studies, he learns Torah: When the tailor sews, he follows the season's fashion; And what is alright for the Rabbi, is certainly alright for us!” [So ladies, do your thing!]

Then cries of protest broke out from a dozen mouths from among the women standing around: “Clear off already, clear off, Manke Ganef. Take a kick (in the backside) and be off, with your head in the ground” [a Yiddish curse!]. And while doing this, the protesters modestly hide their eyes under their head-scarves which are pulled way down. Oy, what dear, kosher, Jewish sisters (we had in Lechovich)!

Click here to go to My Devastated Shtetl, part 4

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Alter Malovitsky
Here is the flour-store of Alter Molovitzky or Alter “Bande's”. ...Alter was a hefty Jew – tall, large and broad, casting fear on everyone with his thunderous voice. But at bottom he was not as hard a person as people believed. ...