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 Memories of Mir
By Rabbi Judah Broyde

On July 12, 1933, I set sail for Mir on the Cunard White Star ship Olympia. This was before planes crossed the oceans. It was a delightful trip. I always dreamt of taking a trip across the ocean on an ocean liner. Despite my young age, 15 1/2, I enjoyed the serenity, calmness and peacefulness, along with the fresh ocean air. The ship was like an exquisite hotel, lavishly furnished. They served fabulous meals. It was a five day beautiful vacation, before I arrived in Mir.

My older brother, Sheppard, met me at the train station in Horodjie*, with a horse drawn wagon like a tub, bedded with straw for the ride to Mir. As we neared the town, my brother Shep pointed to the huge castle on the right side. He told me that the castle was bombed during World War I, but part of it was rebuilt by the owner, the lord of the castle. One of the anecdotes stated that in previous years the children of the then Graf, as he was called, wanted to go sleigh riding in the summertime. They had the road from Mir to Horodjie covered with salt and they went sleighing. On one occasion, I saw the lord of the castle riding through town in an open car. He was sitting in the back seat of a chauffeur driven car. He had a full beard, with his hair combed back. He looked aristocratic. Some people say he was an ambassador from Poland to Russia. Some say that he was an illegitimate son of the Czar of Russia. He owned all the land around for miles.

As we came to the town, we had to cross a small bridge over an artificial lake . We used to go bathing in this lake. When we crossed the bridge we came to Vilna street, which went from one end of town to the other, with other streets branching off in both directions. All the streets were paved with cobblestones. Narrow sidewalks bordered the streets. In the middle of Vilna Street was the market place, which was crowded with wagons, horses and cows on market days. Two blocks after the marketplace, was a street to the right, where the rabbi of the town lived. On the same side of the street, the dean of the famous Mir Yeshiva lived. Between these two dwellings was the entrance to the courtyard of the Mir Yeshiva, a brick building, approximately a hundred and fifty feet by 100 feet. It was about two stories high, with no pillars in the middle of the yeshiva. The ceiling was interestingly constructed with beams in the attic, like a bridge. Windows were all around the walls and two wood burning tiled stoves were in the back for heat in the winter. In reality the heat was produced by the student body, four hundred men, seated in learning all day from morning to night. There were about 13 rows of back benches, 3 columns with 9 people seated in a bench. Then there were backless benches between each back-bench. Every student had his own lectern for his books. Twice a week the dean would lecture the student body and once a week the rabbi of Mir would lecture. The "Mashgiach" or spiritual leader would lecture on ethics and biblical studies about four or five times a week. The student body consisted of mostly Russian and Polish students, about forty American, about forty German, ten Englishmen, three Irishmen, two Frenchmen, three Canadians, two Swedes, two from Denmark, three from Belgium, one South African, one or two Israelis, a Czechoslovakian and an Austrian. You could almost say we had a League of Nations. The students rented rooms in town and some women folk cooked for small groups of boys who paid them monthly wages. The dean gave most of the boys stipends to pay for necessities.

The town, by our standards, was primitive. There was no running water. There were wells from which the people fetched their water. Homes had no indoor plumbing, but outhouses in the gardens. If a cow walked on a sidewalk and a person was walking opposite, the person would get off the sidewalk to let the cow pass. The Mir cows had no respect for the people.

I was in the Mir for six years. There were no flights yet, and I did not see my family in all that time. However, I corresponded with them. I would write a letter a week and my mother wrote every week to me. My grandfather was the greatest correspondent. I was his pride and joy and he used to go around the neighborhood showing off my letters to him. The war of nerves of World War II made them nervous and they insisted that I come home. I returned on the ship, Aquatania, which was a satisfactory trip, but not as enjoyable as my first trip. There is no comparison to the lifestyles of here and there. Never the less, those were formidable years that influenced my life spiritually and socially.Written November 1999

*Horodjie has a variety of spellings including Horodgia, Gorodeja, Gorodeya. When Rabbi Broyde was there, it was in Poland and local towns were often referred to by their Yiddish names. After WWII the area became part of the Soviet Union and town names were in Russian. Now the area is part of Belarus. According to JewishGen's Shtetl Seeker, it is currently Gorodeya and 9.6 miles SSE of Mir. You can see it on the map at the the bottom of the Mir History Page.

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