** Webmaster Note:
translation was generously provided by Diane Moore. We
have presented it here exactly as it was
translated for us, except that where possible, I have added
family names to the first names provided by "Cousin Charlie".
Because he chose to focus on daily life in Vladimirets, this
chapter gives a wonderful and nostalgic look at daily life in
A Wonderful Community
wouldn't be mistaken if I said that Vladimirets, our shtetl,
was like other shtetlach in the area. No great events
happened there, except maybe the big fires that used to
break out from time to time. Jews lived there,
generally, a hard existence, sweetened by Sabbaths and
holidays. Repentance and prayer and trust in the
Highest were always support and help in the day-to-day
hardships of living.
the communal life of the Jewish inhabitants of Vladimirets
was exemplary and wonderful. It seemed that some
artist had chosen and put in place each one, and each was
fitted to his role.
the various figures, from Ben-Zion Velvel's, the aristocrat
and scholar, to Ephraim Chaim-Meir's (KANONITZ), the
contented porter and gravedigger. If someone died, he would
dig the grave on behalf of the burial society, and also
other graves just for the job. Despite his oppressive
work, he was happy with his lot and alsways in good spirits.
If he had a sack of flour on his back and his feet started
to slow down, he would pick up in his free hand a stick from
the street and whack himself on the backside, saying, "Go,
Ephraim, go -- no dawdling!" Sometimes he would
pull out a philosophical thought: "I look only at the
hindermost wheel" -- that means, I think of what comes after
me, of my end.
see Chonihan the rich man, he of the stately appearance, or
Yehushe Manasses, the typical poor man, and many more,
without whom the town would have lacked its character.
Many surely recall how Wolf (BURKE) the water-carrier,
beaten up by fate, used to pour out his deep sweet tenor,
carrying the two full buckets and singing chasidic songs.
He would suddenly stop and turn to one of the passers-by:
you! Why don't you die? You'd see what a fine
funeral we'd put on for you!"
wasn't just speaking at random; he belonged to the chevra
kadisha and was connected with the funerals.
Another like Wolf was called Asher. He did various
kinds of hard work; the reward for his labor was barely
enough groschen to count. Money had little value to
him. He preferred to get sheets of paper, or newspapers.
He gathered the paper for a secret purpose. But in
Vladimirets people knew everything, and Asher's secret was
revealed. When the Messiah came and the dead arose,
Asher planned to put the paper in their path, so his Mama
wouldn't have to put her feet on the cold ground.
When Asher died, they found a whole pack of paper in his
room. When people didn't give him paper, his lips
would start to mumble something secret, but he never hurt
Asher was also a water-carrier, but besides that, he
supported himself by cutting wood. He had two axes, a
sharp one and a dull one. When he was angry with
someone, he would threaten him: "Next time I'll cut your
wood with the dull axe!"
Also living in my memory are the various craftsmen.
Yitzchak Chaya's (BIK), the shoemaker, so hospitable.
Velvel the stitcher who led morning service in the Trisker
Shul, and would refresh everyone with his heartfelt prayer.
I recall Shlomo the tailor, who had a special mission in his
to make poor bridal couples happy. He would fulfill
this mitzvah with the help of his clarinet and his
orchestra. Chaim-Leib the shoemaker was one of the
most esteemed members of the burial society.
Avrom-Aaron (BARIL), in addition to his occupation as a
builder, used to engrave the inscriptions on the tombstones.
And Meir-Wolf (FELDMAN?) the carpenter also bound books, so
he kept the holy books from wearing out.
grandfather Aaron (SHUK) the shoemaker and my father Hershel
(SHUK) the tailor used to go out every Purim as
Purim-shpilers, and collect tsedakah money for needy
families, which shows that our elders didn't worry only
about themselves; the habitually tried to do good for
rich homeowners, rich for our town, looked after various
public needs, each in his way. The bath-house, for
instance, needed constant supervision, and certain Jews were
found to take care of that. There were those who
concerned themselves with the eruv; for instance, if it
should be taken down. I remember very well how wealthy
men worked together to establish a yeshiva in town.
Shlomo the rabbi's son and Michael the rabbi's son-in-law
and other good Jews put their whole hearts into the
education of the young generation.
The Source of Jewish
source of Jewish spirit, in those years, was the cheder.
When a little boy was five, his father wrapped him in a
tallit and brought him to Ephraim the melamed, or to Israel,
the other melamed. Here he sits, the little one, bent
over the alef-bet, deep in the letters. All at once is
heard a kling, a coin has fallen on the table from a height,
and the boy believes with all his heart that a good angel
from heaven has tossed down to him the wonderful gift.
Ephraim and Israel were infant-teachers, who occupied
themselves with planting Yiddishkeit in children's hearts so
they would grow up kosher Jews and good people. From
them the youngsters learned alef-bet, and various blessings
like the one for pouring water over the hands, for thunder,
for a rainbow, for various foods, and so on.
so it went until the boy was ready to learn Chumash.
One learned Chumash from the book of Leviticus, Vayikra.
"Tell me, darling, why must a child learn first from
Vayikra?" And the child chants in answer: "We
have begun to learn Chumash from Vayikra because the book is
about the sacrifices, and as the sacrifices are holy, so is
the child who begins to learn Chumash."
the next "zeman" or level, the boys were turned over to the
teachers who worked with them on Chumash and Rashi.
These were Rabbi Henich or Rabbi Baruch Hershels. They
were wonderful at explaining how the Tabernacle was built,
with its various vessels, flowers and knops. With a
special sweet tune they would sing the translation from
- and I; bvo-i - as I came; mi-padan - from Padan Aram; meta
- died; ali - to me; Rachel - Rachel...."
Henich's beard was yellow from the many cigarettes he
smoked, with a special holder. When he finished
smoking and knocked the leftover tobacco out of the holder,
we knew it was time to go eat lunch.
Baruch Hershels was a more modern teacher, without
strictness, without straps and sticks. Every day he
would designate one of his pupils to go to his house and get
the pot of tea which his wife, Esther-Sarah, would have
prepared for him, nicely wrapped in a handkerchief, so the
tea wouldn't get cold, and biscuits in a separate
handkerchief. It was a pleasure to see how the teacher
refreshed himself with the hot tea and the biscuits.
We boys would meanwhile take advantage of the opportunity to
get into mischief.
Gemara teachers were Yankel the barrel-maker and Tsalye the
maltster (brewer). Both were good Jews and great
scholars. Whoever finished their school was already
himself something of a scholar.
must not belittle the system of cheder education; children
who continued their studies with Yankel or Tsalye were not
ignorant yokels. Nor were those who had private
lessons from Chaim-Shalom (BOKSAR), or from Nachman, who
were considered teachers who turned out scribes.
the city fathers, not satisfied with these conditions,
founded a yeshiva. As principal they brought in Rabbi
Hershel from Rafalenke, a quiet Jew and a great Talmud
scholar. After him came Peretz Halaveshka from
Dambrovits, red-headed and a bit wrathful. He would
sit by the bookcase and put his feet up on a stool. He
didn't need a Gemara, he said his lesson by heart, with his
eyes closed. And if there was any disorder in the
class, Rabbi Peretz would take up his stick and with his
eyes closed he always landed it in the right place.
Rabbi Zalman from Ravno, on the other hand, never used a
stick -- a goodhearted Jew he was. Instead he kept in his
hand a handkerchief. If there was a tumult during the
lesson, he would spread out the handkerchief on the page and
close the book. Now everyone knew that Rabbi Zalman
was about to say something. In a quiet voice he would
preach to the pupils, and thus he achieved what he wanted.
Everyone respected and loved him, even the biggest
the yeshiva didn't last long, and the education of the
younger generation was turned over to the local melameds
Tsharne the Midwife
[Note: Charne the
Midwife is Charne Teitleboim
Burko in the database)
recall one day the news was brought to Ephraim the melamed's
class that a boy child was born to one of the families.
The rabbi had hung a strap on a nail on the wall and sat
writing out "Shir
ha'maalot" (Ps.121). Solemnity vanished from the
cheder and all was happiness, especially when we heard that
we were all invited to the house of the newborn to sing
dusk the assistant collected all the boys and we went to the
newborn's house. We all came in with one loud exclamation:
"A good evening to the mother and the baby!" The
assistant fastened the shir ha'maalot to the cradle rope and
began to direct the chorus of boys, who sang verses from
"Kiryat-sh'ma". We finished up and yelled again, "A
good night to the mother and the baby!"
headed for the door, not all together but one at a time,
while the midwife Charne stood by the door with her apron
full of hazelnuts and candies. She gave every boy a
handful, whispering, "God
willing, you should grow and prosper."
Bubbe Charne knew all the children by their names; she was
related to some of them, but divided her treats equally
among all. But it might happen, one boy she didn't
recognize. She would take a good look at him and ask,
son are you, my darling?" And when the youngster
explained to her who he was, she would eagerly catch it up:
my darling, love of my heart, how could I not have
recognized you?" and she would caress his cheeks with great
Though her means were primitive, nevertheless generations
were born under her care. When there were difficult births,
other means were used, such as "tearing
at the gates of Heaven before the Ark", "appealing
to the dwellers in the dust", and saying special prayers.
In those days it didn't occur to anyone, since there was a
great authority like Charne to rely on, that a doctor lived
in the town too, and a trained midwife.
Later, when I was older, I began, like everyone in the
shtetl, to feel great respect for the dear old woman.
I learned that Charne worked not for pay but as a mitzvah.
In poor houses, Charne would spend more time with the
mothers, and with their babies. If a woman was alone
and had no family, Charne would not leave her and would be
midwife, mama and servant all in one.
last, when Bubbe Charne could no longer work, her daughter
Breindel took over her role, and she too saw it mainly as a
Generation to Generation
Vladimirets, as in the other towns, people were aware of
living contact between the generations. People there were
called, not only by their own names, but also by the names
of their parents and grandparents. For instance, Pinchas
Moshe Yossel Benjamin's (Pinchas Moshe, son of Yossel, son
of Benjamin) (GROSKI?) or Zelig Yehosha Miriam Devorah's
(Zelig, son of Yehosha, son of Miriam, daughter of Deborah)
(CHIZI?). Some families had nicknames originating from
certain circumstances or events. Those who were called
by such names never took offense at them. Many of the
families present themselves to this day by those family
nicknames, and see no problem with them.
interesting nickname is "Trunkel".
( A "trunk"
is a drink.) It was said that the first of the family
to settle in Vladimirets was a Litvak. This Jew had a
horse. Understandably, he spoke Yiddish to the horse.
One day the Jew led the horse to the trough and said to him,
give a trunk, a trunk, a trunk".
Several goyim who saw him standing there with his horse
called out to him, "Sto
ti trunkaish, trunkel?" (What are these trunks,
Vladimirets, people didn't need any more than that.
Litvak's wife was a woman of valor and used to go peddling
in the villages. When the children of the village
heard that she was called Trunkel, they ran after her and
called out "Trunkel!"
Nu, what to do about that? One day she came into the
village with a load of bagels. She collected the
urchins and told them she would treat them to bagels if they
would yell "Trunkel"
louder. The bargain met with the children's approval
and they happily yelled "Trunkel"
with their loudest voices.
next time she came to the village, the children were waiting
for their bagels. But when she told them she had no
bagels, they answered that in that case they wouldn't yell,
and they didn't.
Illness and Healers
Modern doctors often say that if a sick person believes that
a certain remedy helps him, he can be helped by the power of
his belief and not by the power of the medicine. From
this is inferred how great was the power of the old wives'
cures. There was a whole codex of proven remedies,
known to everyone. For instance, sour milk on a blister, a
syringeful of breast milk for an earache, chamomile leaves
for stomach trouble, garlic for toothache. If one was
afflicted with hoarseness, "gogl
mogl" was the thing to try (this was prepared from milk,
sugar, and egg yolk). Castor oil for constipation was
available not only at the drugstore but at almost every
grocery store. And if someone suffered from diarrhea, the
remedy was to be found right at home -- juice of sweet black
cherries. For pimples with pus, they used a paste made of
flour and honey or baked onion. And for just pimples, spider
those days people used to use cupping-glasses, they used to
open a vein, place leeches, conjure an evil eye. An
expert in these folk remedies was "Joseph the healer." He
used to drain blood from everyone, for a small payment.
He took out "bad blood", thought to contribute to all
kinds of illness.
somebody became faint, one would think of Ben-Zion Velvel's,
who had some concept of doctoral wisdom. In serious
cases Shedlovski the surgeon would be called. In the
town there was also a gentile professional doctor; he was
only called when things were already really bad, and it
would be whispered, "You
know, So-and-so is dangerously ill, they've summoned the
doctor to the house!"
generally, even in a dangerous illness, people put little
reliance on doctors, and turned to the ancient remedies like
the holy place", "tearing graves", "falling in the Ark",
kindling lights and saying prayers. And the Most High
usually helped, and sent a "refuah
shlemah" -- a full healing.
in case one had no years left, and gave up the ghost, he
would be brought in a proper and traditional manner to his
grave, and the people would give tsedakah and pray for his
Here I should mention the "righteous
vigil" of which my father was a member. All night the
members would sit by the sick people, take care of them and
help the household in whatever way they could.
Once when I myself was ill with a bad case of typhus, I
remember only how Sender TSHERNIAK sat by my bed all night.
This shows the community spirit and how ready the Jews of
Vladimirets were to help each other.
This community feeling was shown everywhere: in the evening
promenade, when couples and groups carried on spirited
discussions. The groups would little by little grow
larger and merge together in one company, which would finish
the discussion by a fence or in one of the houses, where
they lingered until late at night.
(benches beside the houses) the women gathered to talk and
discuss the whole business of the world, while darning socks
or knitting. The women knew what was cooking in every
house, and all of it was subjects for their conversation.
the groups of Jews by the synagogues -- there you could hear
various episodes that a merchant whom came from the big city
had related, or the views of some more enlightened young man
who had brought from somewhere a newspaper. The
commentary on what was written in the paper was given by the
maskil of the group, or whichever Jew was most opinionated.
Generally in such a group would be found one of the town
scoffers. He would make everyone merry with his jokes
and witticisms, and all would listen to him with pleasure.
Chief among them was Baruch Chaim Meir's (KANONITZ).
He was listened to with good humor even by his victims.
Yehoshe KUSHNER was also a master in this sphere. He
would work on his victim from all sides. The victim
would leave his hand sharpened up and polished off, and the
company would be delighted.
Itzik Chaim-Meir's (KANONITZ): all year he was a Jew like
all other Jews. But when Simchat Torah came around, he
would take the town in his hand. He and Yehosha the
messenger would be dressed up early in long kaftans and
streimels, take bags full of little pears, go through the
streets and call, "Into
the Shul!" The pears they would then throw to the
children who were running after them.
Suddenly they'd yell to the children, "Holy
Sheep!" And if the youngsters answered with a loud
"meh-meh-meh" like little goats, then they'd throw handfuls
of the pears, and all the children would run to snatch up
Around noon Itzik Chaim-Meir's
appeared again with a bag full of pears, and around him a
whole collection of children. Now he'd
treat every child, provided that they should go with him to
the rabbi, to demand from him the chametz that Itzik had
sold him before Passover.
When Itzik Chaim-Meir's
stood before the rabbi, the children's
task was to pull on his caftan and beg for food. Then
he would turn to the rabbi and say, "Rabbi, you see, my
children are hungry, and all my chametz is still with you
from Pesach until now."
When he had finished his mission at the rabbi's,
he would take a lulav, with a cucumber instead of an etrog,
and go from house to house, orating about how people should
say the blessings over his etrog, and then he would bless
everyone with appropriate original blessings. Then he
went into the synagogue, up on the bima, and fixed the
prices of various commodities for the whole year, and warned
the community that, God forbid, it should make no
speculations, a cubic meter or wood which was generally six
rubles would this year be no more than 75 kopeks.
that, Meir, not a groschen more!"
pound of beef, the best, fifteen kopeks, no more!"
hear, Yankel Yehushel's,
fifteen kopeks, and no more!"
Thus he would give out his orders, with a deep earnestness
and strength, and the youngsters who stood around regarded
him with great love and respect. The next morning you'd
see him again, just as usual, Reb Itzik the quiet and calm
Jew who wandered over the villages with his merchandise.
special joker was Leib from Cheftsevits, son of Tsharne the
midwife. For many years he lived in the village, then
settled in Vladimirets. I didn't
know him well. One day, during the Counting of the
Omer, I heard Reb Leib call me from far off, so I hurried to
you can tell me, boy, how many days into the counting we
I answered him that according to the law, one shouldn't
mention, before the blessing, the number of days.
(one who thinks he's
smart), said he to me, "after
the blessing I will know the number and won't
need your wisdom!"
see that I'm
dealing here with a real joker, and I resolve to follow him
and spy out his doings. I saw him meet up with a
peasant he knew, and Leib asked him if he had brought him a
present from the village. The peasant began naively to
defend himself and explain, "Leibinka,
darling, what could I bring you from the village?
Look, I came from there on foot."
Leib answers him: "True,
absolutely right, you couldn't
bring me much, but you could have brought something. Shall
we say, for instance, a sack of potatoes, a pood of sponges,
a pot of sesame, sixty eggs, or such like."
been told that one lovely morning he came to one of his
me, why do you egg on your mice they should eat up my grain?"
without a trace of a smile on his face.
the time of the first world war, when Leib found himself on
the road walking from the village to Vladimirets, he met two
Russian officers and they stopped him. They noticed
that his coat was of military cloth, which belonged to
they explained to him how serious an offense this was, and
Reb Leib was in great danger. But a man like Reb Leib
get rattled and lose his head. He earnestly heard them
out about his misdemeanor and entered into a discussion with
quite right, the coat is indeed made of military cloth, but
I think this is not a disqualified material that people are
forbidden to use. And a proof, the fabric has still a
confirmation from the government. The government has
stamped the material, people should see that this is kosher."
And so saying, Leib picked up the skirt of his coat and
showed them the stamp on the fabric.
Jew that you are, "
said the officers, "the
stamp shows that the fabric belongs to the government and
just any citizen can't
Leib didn't give up, and brought a new proof: "You're
mistaken, my esteemed sirs, goods that have no stamp are
defective, but goods that are stamped are kosher. For
example, a packet of tobacco, which I buy in the shop.
know that a packet of tobacco that is stamped is a kosher
packet, and anyone can sell it, while one mustn't
buy a packet of tobacco without a stamp?"
The officers saw that they had before them a complete
simpleton, a dull mind, and they let him go.
Leib continued on his way with a smile under his mustache.
a similar way, Pinchas the messenger saved his beard from
the Polish soldiers, at the end of World War I. The
soldiers would have forcibly cut it off. When they
caught him, and had already begun their work, Pinchas stayed
calm and earnestly asked them a question: "Be
so good, mein Herren, and tell me, are you Catholics?"
When they replied that they were, he asked further, "Have
you ever seen Jesus without a beard?"
soldiers certainly recollected that Jesus is in fact always
bearded, and the fact weakened their cruelty and they let
him go on his way. Around that time Pinchas went to
America, and there too his cleverness got him out of
was evening when Pinchas went all alone in one of the
darkest streets of the city. Suddenly he felt that two
suspicious persons were following him. Pinchas
happened to be carrying with him a big sum of money, and he
was afraid they would rob him. But he kept his head
and began to walk slowly. Suddenly he looked at the
two followers and said, "Sirs,
do me a little kindness, and give me five groschen for a
train ticket. I'm
left without money, it should never happen to you, and I can't
pay travelling expenses."
The two strangers believed they had to do with some shlepper,
and they gave him five groschen and did him a good deed.
There was great tumult in the town in the days of reporting
for the army. Those who were found fit to serve saw
themselves as privileged beings, and went out on the town at
night playing pranks, such as inserting a goat into somebody's
house. They disguised some of their number as
policemen and went at night to the house of Asher Israel,
the kosher butcher, banged on his door, and warned him that
the street lamp was out, just to hear the shokhet and his
wife defend themselves in Russian, which didn't
come fluently to their mouths. But these things were
not typical of the town and were only passing phenomena.
Melodies I Loved
house was near the synagogues, so from my earliest youth I
soaked up the sounds of all of them. Each of our shuls had
its own melodies and its nusach. For example, the special
melody of the psalm-reader, at dawn on Shabbat, I could hear
from the Trisker shul, but the evening hymns from the third meal
were much louder from the Stolener Chasidim. The prayer
the Stoleners sang with a special melody, and the others sang it
like a regular prayer.
characteristic of the Stolener Chasidim to do a lot of singing.
They sang in shul, in the street; when their Rebbe visited
the shtetl, they went all out; but their melodies were
few. The Trisker and Stepaner Chasidim, on the
other hand, had limitless melodies B
for every prayer they had their gifted prayer-leaders like
Ben-Zion the shokhet and Velvel Chaim Meir's
from the Trisker; Michael the rabbi's
son-in-law and Lazar-Leib the malt-maker were prayer-leaders in
the community shul, and Nachum led morning prayers and Yankel
the shokhet led the musaf in the Stepaner house.
must confess and emphasize that the prayers which penetrated the
soul and tore at the gates of heaven, the most heartfelt and
fervent prayers, were those of Chaim Abraham Isaac's
and Zelig TSHERNIAK, and they would pray from the heart and
soul, their prayers were flames. Also the best shofar-blower
was from the Stoliner Chasidim -- Asher-Israel the shokhet.
beloved melodies were many, and more than the differences, they
recall the togetherness and harmony.
the various melodies melted together and echoed like a magical
melody, around and around.. Sometimes you would hear a single
melody from one who sat alone learning a page of Gemara.
Or a melody from one who had a Yartzeit, and stayed in shul
after maariv, to say a section of Mishna. Or the melody
from a Jew who had bitterness in his soul and came to the shul
to pour out his heart to the Master of the Universe.
Melodies, melodies -- they were all true expressions of the
desires and ideals of the Vladimirets Jews, who perished so