Yehudah Dov Goldstein (Pazi)
by Patrick Gordis
was born in Zhukovodoc, a village in the Minsk province
of Russia, and home of Shlomo Maimon. My parents and grandparents
worked in forestry. The village was beautiful: it was situated
on the banks of the Nieman river, which carried vessels
of all sizes bearing wheat to Koenigsburg and timber rafts
to Germany. North of the river there flowed a small brook.
Right by the mill, the waters of the brook flowed into
the Nieman, while up to the east was a canal that connected
the brook with the river, forming a small island. On the
other side of the brook the village could be seen. In that
island were four Jewish homes, all related, and the spacious
home of the forest supervisor. The woods had once belonged
to count Radziwill and then to Count Wittgenstein. In the
island there was also a church, though there was no fear
in our hearts: the priest, the gentiles and the Jews lived
together in peace and mutual respect. My parents cared
deeply about that area, and loved the house that they had
inherited from their grandfather, Rabbi Zebel the son of
Rabbi Yeshayahu of Zhukhovitz(2), whose righteousness was
the children grew up and needed a full time teacher, my
parents moved to Mir, a town some ten kilometers away (also
in the Minsk province), the home of the famous Yeshivah.
It was there that I enrolled in the Heder of Rabbi Eliyahu
of Riems, my Gemara teacher, who was known as a profound
all the kids my age, what little knowledge I possessed
of the history of our people was drawn chiefly from the
Bible, and even that wasn't studied in any order. Instead
we skipped around a few chapters in the Torah and first
prophets and then moved to Isaiah and in a single bound
leapt into the Gemara. Any gaps in our biblical knowledge
were filled with the legends we heard from our parents
and teachers; we also learned in the Talmud that the Land
of Israel is to be rejuvenated and returned to its former
state of holiness - since it had already paid for its sins.
then new winds began blowing. Rabbi Shmuel Gorodeisky(3),
also known as Monia Rav Peretz, the son of Rabbi Peretz
the Dayan(4), was already then considered erudite, possessing
as he did a complete command of the Hebrew language, both
written and spoken. He was blessed with a critical faculty
that he could not suppress. He began to criticize the community,
that was at that time under the leadership of the town's
richest and most highly esteemed citizens. They did not
take lightly to this, and considered him a rude upstart.
Their consternation grew terribly when he dared publish
his criticism in ha-Magid: "Do not speak in Gat."(5)
Things that are done in the privacy of the community should
not be made known in the newspapers of the world. As you
know, the proper place for a princess is within the confines
of the home. And yet, for all their anger they did not
harm him - so great was their fear of the press. The youth
of the town looked to him as a role model, and some of
the local scholars helped to convince a few of the wealthy
Jews and a number of commoners to support a new organization:
each member committed to make a weekly contribution so
that in due time a significant sum would be collected in
the group's coffers. With this money they would found a
colony in Palestine. The colony would be named after our
city, Mir, and comrades would be chosen to immigrate to
Israel where they would farm the land. In due time all
the comrades who were committed to making aliyah would
move to Israel. In order to realize this dream, the cooperative
purchased government lottery tickets: who knows, maybe
luck and the good fortunes of Eretz Yisrael will shine
on us and we'll win the big drawing. The whole enterprise
was fraught with difficulty: the town's rich and famous
were strongly opposed to us.
of the town's biggest families was the Shachor(6) family,
and their sons were known as the Shachorim, i. e., the
blacks (they may have been called this sarcastically,
since the family had produced many important scholars). They
were joined by other families: the Ginzburgs, the Horowitzs
and others, and thus the town was divided into two opposing
clans: the blacks and the whites. This division existed
even before the rabbi died. But after he died things
got much worse: the blacks went and, without consulting anyone,
invited their relation, Rabbi Haim Zalman, the rabbi
of Stlovetsky. He was a brilliant scholar and a man of great
integrity. But though he developed a sizable following
in the town, many people opposed him, especially the
working class. They argued that there was no need to import
a rabbi from another town, an expensive proposition, especially
in light of the fact that there was a man worthy of being
the rabbi right here in town, Rabbi Haim Leib Tiktinski
(7), a learned and pure man. The youngsters would gather
outside the town and, divided along the same lines, fight
it out between them.
tailor set aside his needle, the blacksmith covered his
anvil and the shopkeeper closed up his store: everyone
was concerned with the rabbi question and everyone had
something to say about it. Just to give you a sense of
the situation, it was said that one morning Moshe Volvill
the cobbler knocked on the door of Baruch, the carpenter,
"Baruch, wake up!"
"There's a matter that requires careful consideration. Do you think R. Haim
Leib, the head of the Yeshiva, will give his lesson three times at the Yeshiva
and R. Haim Zalman, the rabbi, only twice, or perhaps vice versa...?"
must bear in mind that the rabbi was paid by the Yeshiva.
At the time, the town was committed to inviting each of
the Yeshiva students to dinner on Shabbat and festive meals.
Rich and poor students alike were invited, so as not to
humiliate the poor. Almost every house maintained this
commitment and welcomed the Yeshiva students into their
houses. A few were guests at the same household for years
and became part of the family. But this debate trickled
into the Yeshiva and sometimes fights broke out.
all this rancor, it should be noted that both sides took
care not to offend the rabbis or insult them. Indeed, the
rabbis were accorded all the proper honors. I remember
that once Baruch the carpenter a tall, broad shouldered
man (he always played the role of Haman in the Purimspiel)
walked into my mother's house. She belonged to the black
camp and he, of course, to the white. He said to her: "Sarah,
I washed Rabbi Haim Zalman at the bath house and dressed
him. What do you have to say about that?" To which
she replied: "That's as it should be, just like Haman
and Mordechai." He wasn't insulted, since he knew
she was only joking.
the end the two sides grew weary, and rabbis came from
far and wide - including the brilliant Rabbi Eisel of
Slonim (8) - and they settled the matter. Rabbi Haim Zalman
kept his post and the maggid who was brought over to be the
rabbi was reimbursed and sent on his way. The whole issue
was resolved peacefully.
then the controversy between the Zionists and their opponents
broke out. The latter said: "Don't push the end of
days." And would recite the legend about the tribe
of Ephraim who tried to leave Egypt before the time had
come and were subsequently lost forever. We adduced our
own proof from the exodus, arguing that it occurred before
its time, as it is written: "And they were slaves...
400 years,"(9) and according to the Midrash the exodus
took place much sooner than planned since the Children
of Israel were about to enter into the Fifty Gates of Impurity.
Thus God hurried and took them out of Egypt before the
allotted time. In the same fashion we need to hurry before
the assimilationists, on the one hand, and the heretical
Jews, on the other, sink to the Fiftieth Gate of Impurity.
To this they would reply: "What good is your plan?
You're hopping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
After all, the Jews of Palestine themselves break the Sabbath
and eat all manner of unkosher food and profane the land
with their idolatrous ways." These allegations," we
replied, "are completely unproven and may be slander
put out by the clerks charged with distributing the Appeal
funds, the same clerks who take the finest cut for themselves
while to the good and honest people - for whom the contributions
are intended from the start - they leave nothing but the
bones." To this they would say: "If God doesn't
look over a house, the watchman labors for naught; we must
rely on the Almighty." Yes," we replied, "we
will do nothing without God. But remember, the verse says
'And I shall bless you in all you do' and the Midrash adds:
'only if you do something will the blessing of God be upon
you." Thus the debate dragged on, each side finding
prooftexts to buttress his own position. Unfortunately,
the hotter heads prevailed, and the debate became an out
and out conflict.
the big fire(10) in Mir many of the rich and well established
citizens left the town. The fighting died down and the
Zionist work progressed well. True, the Mir colony in Palestine
never did materialize, but Reb Shmuel Gorodeiski and a
few others intended to make aliyah. Gorodeisky had received
some land from the government in the days of Nicolai I,
and he offered it to Jews to cultivate it. I was very surprised
when once I went to market and after all the farmers had
left saw Yitzhak(11), the son of Reb Shmuel, standing with
a pitchfork and gathering the droppings of the farmers'
horses. With my own eyes I saw an important young man,
the son of a respected Jewish landlord, doing this "despised" work
in public, as though he were some Prussian goy.
was shocked by the courage he displayed in not worrying
about "what will the community say." I shook
his callused hands and offered him a heartfelt blessing.
I thought to myself: If the very idea of Eretz Yisrael
is enough to bring about such a revolution in the soul
of a person, how much more powerful is Eretz Yisrael itself?
and a few others did make aliyah(12) and were very successful.
They were among the founders of Rehovot (13).
from translator Patrick Gordis
(1). Excerpted from Reshumot; me'asef le-divre zikhronot, le-etnografyah
ule-folklor be-yis'ra'el. Tel-Aviv. (1953) v.5, p. 301-303.
The title in Hebrew Dampim mi-tokh sefer zikhronotai (literally, Pages
from my Memoirs)] seems to imply that this may have been excerpted
from a longer memoir, but I never found anything else by this author
Died 1861. For biography, see Sefer Mir (J-salem,
1962), p. 137-142. On descendents, see entry for Israel
Isaacson, Ohole Shem (Pinsk, 1912), p.
306. See also, piece by Ben-Zion Eisenstadt in the Hebrew
newspaper, ha-Tsefirah (1899,
Shmuel Gorodeisky mentioned near the beginning and
also at the end of the memoir lived from 1835-1916. He
was born in Mir and died in Rehovot. He went to settle
in Rehovot in 1890, so one presumes that the reports
he wrote from Mir to the conservative Hebrew newspaper, ha-Magid,
must have been written in the 1880s sometime after
the Pogroms of 1881 gave birth to Russian Zionism and
to emigration en masse. For his biography, see Entsiklopediyah
le-halutse ha-yishuv u-vonav (Tidhar, David
ed.), vol. 5, p. 2098-99.
Rabbi Peretz the Dayan lectured at the Mir Yeshiva. For
droll reminiscences of him from a former student of the
Mir Yeshiva, see Masliansky's Memoirs,
p. 55-56 & p. 84-85 (New York, 1924 -- In Yiddish;
Hebrew Edition, New York, 1929). See also the memoirs
of two other students of the Mir Yeshiva, both of whom
later became well-known Yiddish writers, Joseph Rolnick,
who describes the study table named for Rav Peretz in
the old Yeshiva, p. 70 (New York, 1954 -- in Yiddish)
and Nachum Meir Shaikewitz, who describes boarding with
other students in Mir at Peretz's house, p. 51-52 (published
posthumously in Hebrew under title, Shire shomer ve-zikhronotav,
2 Samuel, 1:20
Shachor means "Black" or "Schwartz" in
Hebrew. "Shachor" would have been the true name,
the Hebrew name, the "Zionist" name and Schwartz
would have been the common or official name. To research
this family, for example, I would guess that in any surviving
records in Mir, the family was listed as "Schwartz" but
considered themselves to be "Shachor" and as
far as any were well known in religious circles or wrote
any Hebrew books, they would have been "Shachor" in
For a biography and genealogy of Rabbi Haim Leib Tiktinski,
Rosh Yeshiva of Mir see Goldberg, Moshe Leib. Misped
tamrurim. Vilna, 1896.
For a biography of Rabbi Eisel of Slonim, see Geonim
un gdoylim fun noentn ovar, compiled by H.
Lunsky, p. 65-86 (Vilna, 1931).
There were a number of fires in Mir, but the great
fire appears to have taken place in the summer of 1898
Mir, p.513 ff). This would seem to be later
than the rest of the story, as Shemuel Gorodeisky left
Mir in 1890 and his son in 1895. There was also a well-known
Yiddish fictional story based on this fire which appeared
in the journal Shriften (Warsaw, 1912).
Yitzak, was the son of Rabbi Shmuel Gorodeisky. He was
born in Mir in 1864 (or maybe 1860), moved to the land
of Israel in 1895 and died in Jerusalem in 1912. For
his biography, see Entsiklopediyah le-halutse ha-yishuv
u-vonav (Tidhar, David ed.), vol. 11, p. 3756.
The Gorodeisky family departure ("last supper")
from Mir to the land of Israel is recorded in the memoir
of Noach Mishkowsky, Mayn lebn un mayne rayzes (Mexico,
1947), p. 25 (vol. 1)
On the founding of Rehovot in 1889/1890 and the contribution
of Gorodeisky and other families from Mir, see especially
the 60th jubilee book in Hebrew, Rehovot : shishim
shenot ·hayeha, 650-710 (1950).