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The Jewish Community in David-Horodok

Yosef Lipshitz

It is difficult to answer the question of when the Jewish community of David-Horodok was founded. There is not a single remaining historical document that would clarify it. The records of the community, even had they survived, would not have enlightened us much since they were only 200 years old, and there exists much knowledge of a Jewish community in David-Horodok prior to 200 years ago. Our best hope is to establish when a Jewish community was founded in David-Horodok’s vicinity and extrapolate. For that we must consult the history of the Jews of Polish-Lithuania, and follow the settling of the Jewish communities.

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Four generations of David-Horodok Women

In S.A. Bershadski’s overview of the history of Lithuanian Jewry, published in 1883 in St. Petersburg, and in I. Shapiro’s History of the Jews of Poland Until the End of the 18th Century, published in 1914 in Moscow,[31] we learn that the years 1500-1550 were a period of growth for the Jewish community in Lithuania. In those days, many new communities were founded and existing ones expanded. The stream of Jewish immigration was from west to east. Thus the first Jewish communities were in the western part of Lithuania. It is clear that, for example, Grodno, Brest-Litovsk, Lutzk and Vladimir-Volynski[32] came before David-Horodok, Luninets, Stolin and others. The immigration stream to Lithuania was strong at the beginning of the 16th century because of the flight of Jews from Germany and the tendency to bypass Poland where anti-Semitism was much more prevalent than in Lithuania.

The new Jewish communities in Lithuania were founded in the following manner: around each larger community there would arise smaller settlements. In such fashion the Jews pressed ever further into Lithuania. Jewish historians are of the opinion that if you look at a map of old Lithuania, you can pinpoint which Jewish settlements are older. The older settlements are in western Lithuania, and the younger settlements are in eastern Lithuania.

In conclusion we cannot reckon on an organized Jewish community in David-Horodok before one existed in Pinsk. Since an organized Jewish community was created in Pinsk in 1506, an organized Jewish community in David-Horodok must have come later. That doesn’t rule out the possibility of isolated Jews living in David-Horodok before that time because in those days, Jews would drive throughout the entire land on business. Besides this they leased monopolies for whiskey-making, salt merchandising, innkeeping and tax collecting in many different places. It is therefore possible that in David-Horodok, which had all the modern conveniences from 1190 on, Jews lived long before an organized Jewish community was established.

The first accurate historical knowledge concerning the David-Horodok Jewish community is from 1667. In that year, the Pinsk Kahal [Jewish governing body][33] took a loan from the Lahishin church for its own needs and for the needs of the surrounding communities. As collateral for the loan, the Pinsk Kahal collected goods from the surrounding Jewish communities, among which David-Horodok is mentioned.

The 1667 loan occurred after Bogden Chmielnitzki’s Cossack-Tatar uprising and the ensuing invasions of Russia and Sweden [1648-1658] which destroyed most of the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Some 700 Jewish communities in Polish-Lithuania suffered massacre and pillage; estimates of Jewish deaths vary between 100,000 and 500,000.[34] Those Jews who had managed to flee returned to great distress: poverty and destroyed homes. Everything had to be set up anew and there were no available Jewish money-brokers. Consequently the Jewish communities had to go to gentile neighbors for help. The gentiles did loan the Jews money, not out of charitable feelings but out of pure commercial calculus, and they made a very good business from these loans. They took as guarantees the study houses, bathhouses and even the cemeteries. More than once, for not paying interest on time, they would tear apart the studyhouse or not allow a burial in the cemetery. Besides that, the law assured the rights of the lender. For not paying a debt, there were severe penalties, including death.

In the Lithuanian court records of the time there are a great number of death sentences given to individuals, to groups and even to entire Jewish communities. This shows the great poverty of the Jewish communities at the time. In truth the death sentences often remained on paper because there was a great gap between the handing out of a death sentence and its execution. Polish-Lithuanian authority in those days was hampered by anarchy. Its power to act was paralyzed and rebellion against the authorities occurred daily. The Jews also skirted authority, but only as individuals. Communal debts had to be paid.

The situation of Pinsk borrowing money for David-Horodok was typical. Up to 1764 the kahals of the larger communities collected taxes from, and borrowed money for, themselves and the surrounding Jewish communities. As might be expected great friction and controversy developed between the small and large communities over payment of the debts. They could never agree among themselves on how much each community owed. Religious court suits were filed before the highest Jewish governing bodies--the Council of the Four Lands and the Council of the Principal Communities of Lithuania[35]-- and disputes even reached government courts.

After the Chmielnitzki uprising the fighting between the small and large communities over money intensified. The hardship of the small towns was immense, and they were in no position to contribute their share to the central communities for previous debts, since they didn’t even have the means to rebuild their own ruined communities. In addition to the poverty of the small Jewish towns, the greatly diminished authority of the central government encouraged bickering.

The small communities began protesting the guardianship of the larger. In the vicinity of Pinsk, the following communities rebelled against the authority of the Pinsk Kahal: David-Horodok, Turov, Stolin, Slotzik, and Drahitzin.[36]

The controversy was prolonged and severe. Initially the central government stood on the side of the larger communities (as in the case of Pinsk) because it wanted to be paid in a centralized manner and deal with only a few collection agencies. The Lithuanian war minister even gave an order that the military should aid the large communities in collecting taxes from the recalcitrant smaller ones. However, the soldiers were of no help. The frequent Jewish court decisions were also of no avail. The central power of the government had been too weakened by the separatist strivings of the Polish nobility to be effective.

Eventually the power of the Kahals collapsed beneath a new “constitution” adopted by the Polish General Confederacy in the 1760s.[37] The assembly fundamentally changed the system of Jewish taxation. Previously a Jewish head-tax had been fixed in toto and its apportionment within the communities left to the Kahals and Jewish elders. However in those final years of Polish political decline, the Jewish secular and ecclesiastic upper classes blatantly victimized the less powerful by a “shockingly disproportionate assessment of state and communal taxes,” throwing the main burden on the poor, and pushing them to the verge of ruin.[38]

The Polish assembly suspected that the corruption of the kahals extended to collecting a larger sum than the government demanded and keeping the extra money for themselves. So the assembly took away from them the power to apportion a total tax, and instead established a tax of two gulden per head (beginning with one-year-old children). This reduced the kahals to mere remittance agencies. The kahals, having lost their importance to the government, were then forbidden to meet collectively not only for tax apportionment but for any other purpose as well. Thus, the large communities lost the battle and the smaller communities became independent. This occurred only eight years before the first partition of Poland by Poland’s neighbors.

To secure an accurate collection of the head-tax in Polish-Lithuania a census of the Jewish population was ordered, giving us some idea of the number of Jews at that time. The census was taken in 1766, and here are the results (excluding children less than one year of age) in the following towns:




408 people
















We must accept these numbers with some reservation. There are two possible problems: the Jews might have reported smaller numbers in order to pay less tax, or the officials might have exaggerated the numbers to collect more tax. To show that the tally was not correct, we can compare the 1766 census with a second census taken in 1784. The second census gives us a completely different picture:



386 people
















It is unlikely that the number of Jewish people in all the towns decreased in a span of 18 years. This is an indication of the incipient decline of the Polish kingdom. The officials did not carry out their jobs carefully because they did not themselves believe in the usefulness of the census.

As with the entire European Jewish population, the Jewish population of David-Horodok expanded greatly in the nineteenth century, increasing to 1,572 in 1847. In 1897, David-Horodok’s Jewish population was 3,087 out of a total population of 7,815 (about 40% of the total population). By 1921, however, emigration to North America and deaths during World War I, the Russian Revolution and the subsequent Russo-Polish War diminished the Jewish population of David-Horodok to 2,832 out of a total population of 9,851.[41]

In general, the last years of Polish rule in the late 1700s were difficult for the Jews of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Central authority was weak and demoralized, and taxes were great. The rule of law barely existed and local noblemen dominated commoners in any fashion they liked.[42] Jewish communities tore at each other while rivalries arose among the Jewish merchants. Together, all of this strife impoverished the masses, causing great distress.

At this time two events occurred that profoundly influenced the lives of Lithuanian Jews. The first was of a general political character and its impact came from outside the community. In 1793, Poland was partitioned a second time, and the whole of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy, including David-Horodok, went over to Russia. This brought a tremendous change in the economic and cultural life of the Jews in Lithuania. The second event, the founding of the Hasidic movement, came from within the Jewish community and was of great religious significance. The Hasidic movement began to develop strongly at the end of the 18th century. Great masses embraced it, particularly in the regions that had suffered most from the “decade of horrors [1648-1658]”--the Ukraine, Podolia, Galicia, and Volhynia. On the one hand Hasidism was embraced because of the poverty of the Jewish masses, who through Hasidism were protesting the severe hand of the powerful Jewish community ringleaders. On the other hand, Hasidism sprang from an inner Jewish reaction to the barrenness of scholastic rabbinic tradition, which dominated Ashkenazic Judaism at the time. Dry book-learning failed to satisfy the religious cravings of common men, who were in need of beliefs easier to understand and that appealed to the heart rather than the mind. The new “Torah” of Hasidism resonated in the hearts of the poor village Jews, tenant workers and merchants.

It is interesting that the Hasidic movement did not have a great influence in David-Horodok. The town was not particularly affected by the nearness of Pinsk which became a stronghold of Hasidism, especially after Rabbi Levi Itzak of Berditchev served there as rabbi from 1775-1785, as well as the eminent Rabbi Aharon the Great of blessed memory. Pinsk was the scene of a bitter controversy between the Hasidim and the misnagdim [rationalists]. Stolin, Sjalbin and Dombrovitz [Rus: Dubrovitsa] came to the aid of the Hasidim of Pinsk in their fight against Rabbi Avigdor, who stood at the forefront of the battle against the Hasidim. They forbade Rabbi Avigdor from visiting them.

David-Horodok did not support these towns and did not forbid Rabbi Avigdor from coming to David-Horodok because Horodokers were strongly under the influence of Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman of Vilna [1720-1797], a brilliant rabbinic scholar who had received the ancient and little-used title of Gaon. The Vilna Gaon, as he was called, was the leader of the Lithuanian rabbis and adamantly opposed to the Hasidim. In David-Horodok, even in modern times, the religious would observe the anniversary of the death of the Vilna Gaon and many had his picture hanging in their homes. In general, David-Horodok was greatly influenced by Lithuanian Jewry, which retained Rabbinic Judaism as its primary focus, and the struggle concerning the rabbis was greater in David-Horodok than in all the surrounding towns.

 From this one should not conclude there were no Hasidim at all in David-Horodok because there were. Of the five studyhouses in David-Horodok one was Hasidic, a so-called shtibel. The number of adherents however was not great, and they did not have a great influence in the town.

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The Great Bet-Midrash (Religious Studyhouse)

The Nagid (Rich Men's) Bet-Midrash (Studyhouse)

Bet-Midrash (Studyhouse) of the Rabbis

Four Old Gentlemen of David-Horodok

(Author unknown)


Velvel Reisheks, blessed be his soul. This was really his name! That's what the David-Horodokers called him. His occupation was meager: small-scale trade in pig-bristles-but his needs were few and he was mostly silent. He was a precious Jew, with good manners, a believer who practiced his religion, who spent long hours learning among the other Horodoker Jews dedicated to Torah. He was a devoted friend of Rabbi Dovidl. He was both humble and very religious-an exceptional man, an honor to the David-Horodokers and an example to many. He will be remembered forever.


Wolf Beileks Eisenberg was a merchant who traded in textiles, a trade where many bankruptcies occurred. He did not fail. His vigorous wife helped him and they lived a quiet and honorable bourgeois life. He was considered a quiet, humble and gentle man. Blessed be his soul.


Wolf Hillel Schechter was very poor. His livelihood was selling newspapers, but this did not provide an adequate income for him. One could meet him running about selling the papers, revisiting the few existing clients and trying to enlarge the number of readers. However most of his time was dedicated to the school of holy studies - there was his real place. He would listen to the lesson, learn it by himself, and then append himself to the few unemployed staying in the big school. A righteous and religious Jew, blessed be his soul.


Among the 100 butchers in the town, whose earnings were inadequate, Saneh the Butcher was a righteous Jew, proud and pleasant, who accepted the difficulties of life in silence. Among his fellow-butchers he was considered as the most reliable one. He will be remembered.

The Villages Around David-Horodok

Yosef Lipshitz

Until World War I, David-Horodok was surrounded by many villages populated by Jews. These Jews earned a living by working and dealing with the local peasants. It is not certain how long these villages were in existence. We have historical knowledge concerning only three--Olshon, which was founded by Duke Uri Olshanski who ruled in Pinsk from 1447 to 1492; Olpene, which was named after a Lithuanian boyar [aristocratic landowner of the lesser gentry] who ruled in Polesye in 1341; and Nirtcha, whose history started in 1806 and is described below.

Jews began to settle in most of these villages after the peasants were freed in 1861. In general village Jews led an unassuming life. Their living standards were not much higher than the local peasant population. The Jews’ main concern was to satisfy the religious and educational needs of their children. Even with the smallest number of families, village Jews would make every effort to keep a teacher for the children.

From an Interview with Jeanette Bernhard, supplemented with information provided by Bessie Davidson, Joe Davidson's wife:

My father was Zeydele Lazebnik, Sam LaZebnik in America. He came to America in 1907. He was born in the village of Olshon, 10 to 15 miles east of David-Horodok. His mother Sarah was never a well woman, and his father, David, was obliged to care for the family as well as earn a living. David Lazebnik was a shoemaker, but supplemented his small income by buying cows and taking them to the marketplace in David-Horodok to be sold. He also bought geese from his cousin Razel Eisenberg, who raised geese in David-Horodok, and then my Grandpa David would resell them in Olshon. My father and his brother Meyer Lazebnik, who was Joe Davidson in America, studied until their bar mitzvas at thirteen. Because there were only two or three Jewish families in this small village, there was no official cheder. A melamed [teacher] was hired by the families to educate their sons in one of the homes.

One incident stood out in my father’s mind, which he repeated to me. “I asked my Hebrew teacher, ‘How come Adam and Eve were supposed to be the first people, and yet one of the sons went to another town to marry somebody else?’ And for that the teacher slapped me across the face.”[43]

Some village families sent their children to learn in town. During the years preceding the outbreak of World War I, the number of Jews in the villages began to diminish. The youth did not want to remain there; they were impressed by the town. The outbreak of World War I accelerated the tempo of Jewish migration from village to town.

By the end of WWI, the Jewish population was completely dissolved in the following villages:

Yiddish NameRussian Name
Chvarsk or ChuvarskKhorsk
Great ArliBol’shiye Orly

Jews remained in the following villages:

Yiddish NameRussian Name
Little ArliMalyye Orly
MalishavVelikiy Malyshev

Understandably, their number was somewhat diminished after World War I. There was hardly any change in the number of Jews in Olpene [Rus: Olypen], which was actually considered a suburb to the south of David-Horodok.

The village Rublye [Rus: Rubel’], on the Horin to the south of David-Horodok, had a Jewish population like that of a small town. Just before World War I there were 80 families with a rabbi and two studyhouses. There was also an organized Zionist youth movement. The Pioneer Organization was very strong there and the first Pioneer Organization convention in Polesye was held in Rublye in 1924. The youth, seeing no future in the village began leaving. The largest number made aliyah to Israel. Thanks to this there is now in Israel a reasonably large number of Rublye Jews.


After Napoleon’s defeat in 1812, Russia began healing the wounds of war by feverish building and development, particularly in the Ukraine, which resulted in the growth and development of the water transportation and lumber businesses in Polesye generally and in David-Horodok specifically. This was because Polesye had lumber, the Ukraine needed lumber, and water was the sole viable means of transportation and communication between the two areas before the railroads came, and even after it was the cheapest.

As commerce began developing in the early 19th century, the Jewish community of Nirtcha was founded. Nirtcha was situated at the confluence of the Horin and Pripyat Rivers, 7-and-a-half miles northeast of David-Horodok. Boats traveling between David-Horodok and the Ukraine or Pinsk had to pass this particular point on both outbound and inbound trips. With the dramatic increase of business between Polesye and the Ukraine, Nirtcha became commercially important. With commercial prosperity, Nirtcha became a place that could sustain a large number of families.

Nirtcha was a unique Jewish community begun by one family--the family of Joseph Moravtchik. In the scarcely 100 years of its existence, before it was dissolved by Duke Radziwell, the Nirtcha community expanded to a population of 100. These 100 included sons and daughters, daughters-in-law, sons-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the same Yosel Moravtchik.

The Moravtchiks’ business in Nirtcha was based on gardening, fishing, cattle-raising, and especially dealing in lumber and other wooden articles. They themselves hauled firewood by transport barge to Kiev. They provided food for workers on the steamships, rafts and berlinis that passed through Nirtcha. They also prepared food for the travelers on passenger steamships going to and from Pinsk. They did much of the work in the businesses themselves, particularly in the gardens, but also employed both peasants and merchants.

The inhabitants of Nirtcha were examples of hardy, plain folk. They had daily contact with the Jews of David-Horodok, and thanks to their contact with a variety of business people they were not ignorant villagers. They brought in the very best teachers for their children, and incidentally, the teachers were quite willing to go to Nirtcha. The land occupied and worked by the Jews of Nirtcha belonged to Duke Radziwell, and they paid him rent.

As mentioned above, the community of Nirtcha existed for almost 100 years. In 1906 it was liquidated and all its inhabitants moved to David-Horodok. The cause of the liquidation was Duke Radziwell’s choosing the land on which Nirtcha stood to build a sawmill. He was certain that milling wood at such an important transportation point would be very profitable. The extraordinary efforts of the Nirtcha Jews to annul the decree were to no avail. They received compensation from the Duke and with great bitterness left the place where they had lived and earned a respectable livelihood for almost 100 years.

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Some people from Nirtcha in David-Horodok

At first the move was a great tragedy for these Jews. They had to start building their lives anew in David-Horodok, which included seeking a new means of making a living. Later they were very pleased with the change. They bought houses with the compensation money and became involved in the town. In 1914 when World War I broke out, they would of necessity have had to flee anyway and naturally would not have been compensated. The duke had not made a good exchange because the mill did not succeed and he had to close it.

From an interview with Anna Spielberg:

My maiden name was Hanne Granader. My father was Noah and my mother’s name was Rifke. I had five brothers and four sisters, nine of us. My mother had all nine children. Whatever woman could do that in David-Horodok, did it.

I was born in 1904. I know because I have a record and a lot of people don’t. My sister used to tell me I was born in 1905, but I think I was born in 1904 because of my paper. My sister knew more about me because she was older. Your age was important to determine when you went to school and for the men for sure because they had to go into the draft.

David-Horodok was a small town. Whoever came from the big city wouldn’t be impressed. The Jewish population must have been close to 3000. It was an intelligent city. Everybody went to school, regardless of wealth. Not to the Russian school of course, but to various cheders [elementary Hebrew schools]. The Russian school you had to pay for and it was only ten percent could be Jewish students.[44] The Russian school went on Saturday too. So that was a problem because of Shabbes. I took German and French there, but if you don’t use it for so many years you really forget it.

My family came from Nirtcha. We had a lot of servants there but when we moved to Horodok we had only one gentile maid and my mother had to supervise the work. There was a lot of work in our house.

Our whole family had servants on the island of Nirtcha. My grandfather was the one who did everything. That time you couldn’t buy land. You had to lease for ninety-nine years. And he’s the one that did it; he leased it from Duke Radziwell. He had two daughters and one son. My mother got married because my grandfather picked the boy for her. And so did her sister, my aunt. My grandfather said he wants two sons-in-law. One should be a rabbi and one should be a big merchant. And that’s exactly what he got.

My father was the merchant. Actually he was a lumber man. He bought forests, made lumber from the trees and then shipped to Germany and France. He owned the forest himself and hired other people. Many people worked for him. My uncle was the rabbi. But he was nobody’s fool. So when he got older, years later, he said he wants to be like his father-in-law, a business man, but he’s going to make one concession. In the old country you needed to ask the rabbi a lot of things, silly things, even if a chicken was kosher or not kosher. So the people used to come and ask the rabbi for advise. And my uncle said he’s going to do that for free. He’s not going to charge. But otherwise he’s going to go into business. He was a very successful businessman because he was bright. But the end was the communists took my uncle to Siberia[45] and he died in jail because he got wealthy and they wanted to get rid of him. His name was Avrom. He’d remarried by then; my aunt had died, so she didn’t have to go.

I came to America but my parents never came here. One day I asked my father the question, “You have an opportunity to leave with us. How come you don’t want to leave your place?” My two oldest sisters were Zionists. They believed that some day we’re going to have a country. And my father said the only people who left Russia to go to the States or to South America were those who couldn’t make a living or who had better opportunities in America, or the young boys who didn’t want to go into the army and escaped, which was the only way to avoid the army. My father said, “The boy who has to go into the army, I’m going to send him away. And the parents that cannot make a living, they should go. But your mother and I are going to remain and try to make a living here as long as we can.”

Then later they decided to leave because a different issue came up. My husband was there at the time visiting my family in David-Horodok. He went to visit my family because he never met them. One of my nephews was going to the University of Warsaw and he was beaten up badly. So at that time my father said, “This is a very bad sign. We have to move on again.” They didn’t want to come here to America. At that time the doors were open to Israel; you could go into Israel. My father, mother, two sisters and a brother all left. It must have been in 1924. In 1922 they couldn’t go yet. The doors were closed. And in 1923 was the same thing. My parents died in Israel; so did my two sisters and brother.

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Crowd from David-Horodok sending off a family making aliyah


[31] A current reference source in English is The Jews of Poland by Bernard D. Weinryb, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1973

[32] Presently a small town of 23,000 (1967 estimate) west of Lutzk. During the 13th and 14th centuries, Vladimir-Volinski was the capital of the principality Vladimir-in-Volhynia. Its name was Latinized as Lodomeria. It should be noted that the community of Vladimir-Volinski was established in 1388, and David-Horodok together with Vladimir-Volinski were part of the Starodubian Duchy in those days. Starodub is a city to the east of David-Horodok. It is not definite that there was a Jewish community in David-Horodok at that time.

[33] The Kahal was the governing unit of the local Jewish communities under Polish rule. Representatives were chosen by the Jews themselves. Because Jewish communities under this system were largely self-governing, they constituted a Jewish state within a Christian state. The Kahal was permitted by the Polish government because it was an easily-controlled tax-collecting agency; the Kahal of a large Jewish community controlled, taxed and spoke for the smaller surrounding Jewish communities.

[34] Dubnow, S.M., History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. I, pp. 156-7.

[35] Under Polish-Lithuanian rule the Jews had a great deal of self-autonomy. Their chief civil organization was the Council of Four Lands, which met periodically and was attended by rabbis and representatives of the following provinces: Great Poland (the leading community being that of Posen), Little Poland (Cracow and Lublin), Red Russia (Lemberg), Volhynia (Ostrog and Kremenetz) and initially, Lithuania. In 1623 the Kahals of Lithuania withdrew from the Council of Four Lands and established their own organization. By the time of the loan in 1667, the David-Horodok Jews were part of the “Council of the Principal Communities of Lithuania” consisting of delegates from the Kahals of Brest, Grodno, Pinsk, Vilna and Slutzk. During the first years the Lithuanian Council was subordinate to that of Poland, at a later date becoming independent. The two councils represented the civil interests of the Jews to the king and Polish Diets, regulated the inner life of the Jewish communities and settled disputes among Jews in their courts. Only if the dispute could not be settled to the satisfaction of both parties did Jews resort to the government courts of the Christians. See Dubnow, S.M., History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. I, pp. 103-113

[36] Drahitzin in Polish is Drohiczyn

[37] The Polish General Confederacy was the central assembly that preceded the election of King Stanislav Augustus in 1764.

[38] Dubnow, S.M., History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. I, pp. 274-5 . It should be noted that this behavior exactly mirrored the behavior of the gentile community at the time.

[39] Part of Poland today

[40] Part of Poland today

[41] Brian Kaye, “A History of David-Horodok”, p. 8

[42] According to Dubnow, S.M., History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, Vol. I, pp. 265-6: “The position of the Jewish arendar [estate manager], sandwiched between the spendthrifty and eccentric pan, on the one hand, and the downtrodden khlop, on the other, was far from enviable. In the eyes of the landowner the arendar was nothing but a servant, who received no better treatment at his hands than the khlop. If perchance the roads or bridges on the estate were found in bad condition, the arendar would sometimes be subjected to corporal punishment for it. When the pan engaged in one of his frequent orgies, the first victims of his recklessness were the arendar and his family. A good illustration is afforded by an entry in the diary of a Volhynian country squire, from the year 1774:

The arendar Hershko has remained ninety-one thaler in arrears from the last term. I was forced to attach his goods. According to the clause of the contract I have the right in the case of non-payment to keep him with his wife and children in prison as long as I like until he pays up. I gave orders to have him put in chains and locked up in the pig-sty together with the swine; the wife and the bahurs [young sons] I left in the inn, except for the youngest son Layze [Lazarus]. The latter I took to the manor and I had him instructed in the [Catholic] catechism and the prayers.

The boy in question was forced to make the sign of the cross and to eat pork. Only the arrival of Jews from Berditchev, who remitted the debt of the arendar, saved the father from imprisonment and the son from conversion.

[43] The rigidity and harshness of the education that Meyer and Zeydele received was typical. The melamdim usually resented their profession because of the wretched pay and low status. In fact the term melamed, when applied to anyone besides an actual melamed meant “poor stick, bungler, helpless creature.” To retaliate for life’s unfairness, these teachers regularly administered corporal punishment of a humiliating kind to students. And they treated such actions if they were a natural part of teaching. See Samuel, In Praise of Yiddish, p. 35

[44] You had to pay for cheder as well, although the cost was negotiated with the individual melamed. In addition to the tuition for the Russian schools were the bribes that had to be paid to get in altogether.

[45] This happened to a number of wealthy Jews in David-Horodok in 1939 when the communists first entered the town after WWI. Some survived Siberia and some did not.

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