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Sefer Vladimirets

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Fragments of Memories

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Rachel Reznik-Rochel

** Webmaster Note: The following is a translation from Hebrew by Laia Ben-Dov as sponsored by George Zilbergeld. Additional clarifications are provided in parenthesis ( ).


One of the things for which our town was famous was its fires, some small and some large.  It seems to me that a fire is also first in my remembrance of my childhood.

A summer day.  I was then four or five years old.  Suddenly, the town was filled with the ringing of bells these were the bells of the church, which were used to warn the residents when a fire broke out in the town.  I was at school.  Quickly, many parents, who had hurried to take their children, gathered there.  I was not brought to our house, but to an empty lot between the churches.  There, I found a large pile of movable possessions that people had succeeded in rescuing.  Our house had already gone up in flames.  The fire jumped from house to house, from street to street.

Dozens of families remained homeless.  Many people came out of that fire with nothing, without a single possession.  The tenants crowded themselves into the houses that remained, making room for the "burnt-out ones."  We went to live in a house that was next door to the home of the Tscherniak family, until our new house was built.  This fire was called "the great fire."  Smaller fires were common in Vladimirets, and they occurred frequently.

There was a fire department in the town.  They had horses, wagons and barrels of water.  Most of these firefighters were Jewish volunteers.  Many times we awakened from sleep to the fearful sight of the windows being lit by the shine of flames.  My father would hurry out of the house, energetically slamming the door, and run to the location of the disaster, diverting his attention from our house and the possessions that had to be rescued.  Most of the time, the firemen succeeded in preventing the spread of a fire, although most of the houses were built of wood.

Our town was small.  There were no extremely wealthy people there.  The most successful families were only well-established and had a respectable income, most of the population traders, storekeepers and craftsmen. But there also were many poor people, some who were given public assistance and some who suffered the disgrace of hunger and did not want to receive any help in spite of their difficult situation.  Most of the families had many children.  Many families were supported by "giving in secret."  There also were other forms of assistance, such as the "G'milut Chasadim" [Benevolence Society]; "Somech Noflim" [Support for the Fallen]; "Hachnasat Kalla" [society giving financial and other assistance to brides], "Maot Chitim" [society providing matzo and food for the Passover holiday], and more.  The people who were occupied in all of these organizations did so after their day's work, and did not do so in order to be rewarded, at least not in this world.

Chassidut and Zionism did not contradict each other, and in Vladimirets you could find many Jews who were very religious, but at the same time, they also were dedicated Zionists who taught modern Hebrew to their children.  Many of the young people knew Hebrew, and they spoke it fluently.  There were youth organizations in our town, such as "HaChalutz" [The Pioneer], "HaShomer HaTsair" [The Young Guard], and Beitar [the Jabotinsky movement], general Zionists, and more.  What is sad is that so few managed to be rescued and emigrate before the Holocaust.

Where and how did we learn Hebrew?  Many learned in private lessons, mainly with Chaim-Shalom Bokser.  Bokser's house was small I remember a narrow room with a large table, around which a few girls sat.  They sat there and listened for a few hours a day.  The coughing of the teacher's wife was heard from behind a curtain and here, at the table, we heard the teacher's voice.  We listened to these two voices simultaneously.  I always admired the cleanliness of the house and the nasturtium flowers that were planted around the outside a flower garden next to the home of a Jew was very unusual in our town.  Many years afterward, when I had already left Vladimirets, the image of the teacher, the appearance of the small, low house and the yellow-orange flowers arose in my memory as a single perfection.  Years later, when I came from the Land of Israel to visit in the town, when I went out for the first time to walk through its streets, my face was turned toward this small house, to my elderly teacher, who by now no longer was occupied in instruction.  How happy he was at this meeting and when he heard the living, Land-of-Israel Hebrew I spoke, he said:

"You should know, my dear, that one should not be jealous of a son or a student." 

I think that Chaim-Shalom Bokser was the man who established in our town a generation who spoke and knew Hebrew, teachers among them.  Included in this category were his three sons, who continued to teach Torah in Hebrew schools.  Bokser, as stated, was the foundation.  The continuation came in different ways.

After that, there were attempts to establish a Hebrew school.  New teachers arrived, and with them new methods.  And after that, again, there was independent study with private teachers:  Ziniuk, Dumnitz, Maglan, and more. 

There was no high school in our town, and the young people began to disperse to distant places of Torah, mainly to the seminar in Vilna, and even to the college in Warsaw.  Those who were unable to leave the town began to busy themselves in public matters, in the activities of HaChalutz, the Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund], the dramatic club, and other youth groups and political parties.  At various times, they enaged in illegal activities and at one time, they also established a self-defense organization.  The men learned how to use weapons, and they were prepared to be called in case rioting gangs would come.  At the end of World War I, these gangs wandered around the area, looking for victims and prepared to enjoy themselves with Jewish property.  I think that the self-defense organization deterred them and prevented suffering of the residents.

Indeed, Zionist activity was also illegal at one time.  There arise in my memory meetings at our house that were disguised as holiday parties, so that no evil-eye would control them.  The table was set with wine and delicacies, and friends sat around it and conducted serious conversations.  The younger children were put to sleep in another room, and I was among them, but my eyes refused to close.  I knew that something unusual was happening there, and how could I fall asleep?  This was no ordinary party with refreshments.  Therefore, there was a desire to hear everything, even though not all of it was understood, and here, the girl got out of bed and quietly approached and put her ear to the door, and listened.  She listened and prayed that none of the members of the party would get up to open the door, that no one would know that she stood there, and no one would interfere.

I was that girl who listened. I was all excited by the secrets that surrounded me.  Among other things, that time I stood behind the door, I heard a voice that I didn't recognize.  This was someone that they called Burak.  He began to say the blessing over the wine, and his voice was splendid.  The girl next to the door understood only a small part of what he said, but nevertheless, one portion was absorbed, and its content remains stored in my memory to this day:

"I sailed from one shore, and I didn't reach the second shore.  They don't allow me to reach the hoped-for haven, and it is difficult for me to return home." 

"Return, return!" was heard from a few, from different corners of the room. 

I could not listen to more than this.  I don't know if this was a collective declaration, or whether it was an actual confession, but the words caused a storm in my heart, and from then on, I was immersed in my thoughts.  I saw before me a man who was a wanderer and that the ground was pulled out from under his feet, and in my heart, I vowed not to be like him.  I would remain attached to my people and my origins, and the shore toward which I would strive would accept me with open arms.

I did not see this man again.  I also did not ask about him, from concern that the secret would be known, that I had stood behind the door and listened to things that were forbidden to me.

Years passed, and I grew up.  And my oath, the oath of my childhood, I fulfilled.  I was the first pioneer from my town who emigrated to the Land of Israel (except for the Zelishnik family, who travelled a year before me).  With many worries, my parents helped me prepare for the trip.  The entire town celebrated.  They held a large farewell party for me.  Young members of the [Zionist] movement, adults, and my various teachers all participated in the party.  They accompanied me with speeches, songs and music.  I felt that each one of the participants regarded me as a member of his family, or as his representative, and that every one of them was praying that I would succeed.  This was a wonderful, youthful awakening, but its continuation did not come.  A number of years passed, and no one came up to the Land.

When I arrived in the Land, at first I worked in building, and afterwards in the orchards.  I wrote about it enthusiastically to my parents and several friends.  Possibly this matter, which enthused me so much, deterred my young girlfriends and mainly their mothers fear of the hard work and difficult life.

But this way of thinking was completely otherwise.  When I came for a visit in 1929, everyone found me healthy and happy, and full of impressions from my life and travels in the Land of Israel.  My stories about the Land were accompanied by pictures of its scenery, photographs that were taken during my trips, and I think that the quiet waters were shocked and awakened to wave upon wave.  During that visit, I was asked many, many times about life in the Land in general, and about my life in particular.  The thirst to know and hear was great, not only among my close friends, but also among the adults, who met with me and the young people in HaChalutz and HaShomer HaTzair.  A feeling of emptiness in the community life of the town and the lack of chances for a better future, were the portion of many.

The entertainment at that time, during those days without a dream, was walking down the length of the main street or to the park, the entrance to which was not always allowed, or walks in the forests and woods in the area.  In the evenings, the youth would gather to sit together to sing.  A few were excellent at playing music on stringed instruments.  Sometimes, they would spend time playing cards.  This entire way of life now ceased to be satisfying.  There began movement toward a way of life that had a vision and higher importance.  Many of the youth went out to hachshara [preparatory training for living on a kibbutz in the Land of Israel], but only a few received permits to emigrate.

Pioneering emigration was already limited.  Established people who had enough money to emigrate, were worried about their possessions, because they didn't know what they would do once they arrived in the Land, and so they remained in the town.  What a pity, what a pity! 

When I returned to the Land after that visit, I succeeded in obtaining aliya permits for members of my family, and thus rescued them from the bitter fate that found the majority of the townspeople, among them my Uncle Ben-Zion and his family.

More than once, I have thought about that silent vow that I made behind the door when I was a girl and how good it is that I have been rooted all these years in the actual ground of the Land of Israel, at Kibbutz Tel Yosef in the Jezreel Valley.  Here, I work in the orchards, here my children and grandchildren were born, and from here, I will continue to also visit the dear town of my birth in my memory, along with all of the glory that was hidden there.

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