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Memories of the Days of My Childhood or A Look at the City of Dvinsk

by Sarah Faiga Foner of the House of Menkin
To read the entire story go to; http://www.fonerbooks.com/memoir.htm
Draft - 302 page hardcover including the memoir available here;
Dedication: In the memory of my parents, Joseph and Shaina Menkin, who
were a branch from the trunk of the Vilna Gaon.
Printed in Warsaw, 1903

Honorable Readers

Behold, I shall present the readers a picture of many colors and great
value, of true events I saw with my own eyes, or I heard from the
mouths of reliable people and persons of repute who happened to live
in the city of Dunaburg, now known as Dvinsk, between the 62nd and
71st years of the last century. Many years have passed since that time
and I have lived in many great cities, but none of them can compare
with her in matters touching my heart. Therefore, I have taken upon
myself to present her before the readers, with no cosmetic makeover,
but with things as they were, both the light and the dark. I will not
build anyone up nor flatter them. As this period was rich in stories
and events, I will hold it up for display in order that the
generations which come after us may know the character of the people
of the last century, in their evil-doing and their goodness.

The Author

Chapter One
The city of Dvinsk, as it was in that time, was truly a large and
lovely place containing all things. In her were found Torah, fear of
heavens, charity, kindness and wisdom, but neither were burning
ignorance and superstition lacking amongst the masses. The Haskala was
then a prized and special creation whose birth we witnessed, but in
the eyes of the majority it was a monster to be destroyed in its early
stages of development. The government compelled every father with more
than one son to give a son up to study in Gymnasium. I'll speak about
this later when I give an account in full detail.

Neither were lies, cheating, violence, robbery, theft and other
equivalent things lacking, but speaking of them won't add to the
prestige of the city or of the children of Israel.

The city of Dvinsk in those days seemed to me to contain every wonder.
It was built to a proper order and rule, the city walls were equal in
length and breadth and the windows of every house weren't even in
number, but three, five, and so on. If a house plan didn't include
windows in numbers like these, then they made a red outline on the
outside, as if a window were there. The homes were nearly all stone,
except the Rabbi's house which was built of wood and a couple others,
according to my memory of the time. These houses stand yet before my
eyes; Freidlander's, Malkiel's, Zalkind Zacharia's, the son of Rabbi
Leib (z''l) who was also known as Reb Leible the Lazy, Gordon Yerichom
Zalman's, Ruben Yitzchak's, Israel Horowitz's, Gloskin Valvel's, and a
run-down house that stood half finished because the owner was sent to
Siberia. Also the homes of Liebenson Bartzik, Fagin Yitzchak, Gittel
Lieberman, Meir Katzbaum and Neisen Bach. Between two of the stone
houses stood a small, lowly, wood structure, on the verge of
collapsing any moment, and the owner of this house was an impoverished
widow who eked out a living with a small stone hand mill with which
she ground grain, whose name was Faiga Huffalinkarn. She had a
daughter married to the son of Yankel Vavil Fishnick, who most people
called Fishtock. If somebody asked after Fishnick from morning to
night he wouldn't get a response, only to Fishtock, and he served in
Friedlander's business. She also had a son and his name was Bashka, a
youth of 14, but I'll talk about them in the course of my story, in

When I came to Dvinsk, the city was buzzing with two topics, the
Rayphali and Meir Roshkash, so let me explain the meaning of these two
names. The city of Dvinsk that I have described was really known as
Niyar Palin, but the old city was found close by, and was known as the
Old Suburb, and the name really fit. The houses were of wood, small
and lowly and trembling to the point of falling down, rotting from
great age and black like coal, with grass sprouting between the planks
and on the roofs. The streets were gloomy, disordered, and manure, mud
and filth would immerse one to the knees. This old city was close to
the great fortress that was built as an armory, and was an amazing
sight for those who saw its architecture. From one side of the
fortress to the old city extended a road or pasture called Rayphali.
The neighborhood of Rayphali preoccupied the whole city, children and
adults alike. In every house, in every shop, on every street, if two
people stood or sat and talked, they spoke knowingly about the
residents of Rayphali. If a man were robbed or plundered of some item,
money or goods, then he who was robbed or plundered had to go there
and he would be quickly answered. There could be found kind and goodly
counselors who would rescue the unfortunate from his distress once
they witnessed it for themselves. But not for free, God forbid, but
for money, "ransom", as it was known in the vernacular. All the doings
of the Rayphali are not in the power of any person to describe or
write, but a little I shall tell, and from this little, the reader
will be able to understand and imagine who the Rayphali were. One
time, a woman was walking along, carrying in her hands a loaf of bread
and some butter. She saw that her shoelace was untied so she set the
bread and butter on the ground next to her feet and tied her shoe.
When she lifted her eyes, the bread and butter were gone, and she
hadn't seen or sensed a thing. Another time, a woman stood to bless
the candles on Friday evening at twilight, and candlesticks were
silver candlesticks. After the blessing, she placed her hand over her
eyes to recite the prayer known to women, and after she finished the
prayer and opened her eyes, there were no candlesticks and no candles.

One man married off his daughter and gave the couple 2000 silver
coins, while the groom had 1000 of his own, so they opened a dry goods
store, and it stood in the midst of other shops. One bright morning
the young man rose and went to his store to find it barren of all
goods, only the empty shelves remained in their places. The man began
to yell bitterly, waving his hands and running here and there like one
insane. But the goods were gone, with no sign to give away their
hiding place. His relatives and neighbors from the surrounding shops
comforted him, told him not to despair in his search Better he should
take action and go to the old suburb where he would find the good folk
of the Rayphali who would inform him what to do. He ran there, and
along his course he met people who asked him why he was running in
such a hurry. When he told them about the disaster that had befallen
him, they shook their heads and whistled through pursed lips. The
whistling gathered many more people, and they spoke amongst themselves
and asked each other "How, and in what way, can we help this
unfortunate whose goods were his sole support and who had no other
business aside from his store?" Then, one of the bystanders called
out, "I have some advice for you. Tomorrow you will come here in the
early morning and I'll be waiting for you and will show you the house
of the Reb Yankelah. Petition before him and maybe he will be able to
save you, but beware lest you be late in the hour of your arrival,
because many are those who are early at his door, and only the early
will succeed." Full of despair and hope, the man went home and told
his friends all of these things. They cheered him up and said, "It's a
certainty that your goods will be returned to you, but we don't know
how much money the ransom will be."

The next day the young man rose in the morning and ran anxiously to
the old suburb, and there he met the man who had promised to come the
previous day. "Come," he said, "and I will guide you to the dwelling
of Reb Yankelah." Along the way, the man told him of the greatness of
Reb Yankelah, of his kindness and open handedness. A great Torah
scholar lived in his house to teach his sons Torah, and was always a
guest for the meal at Reb Yankelah's table. He was also paid a salary,
and in his free moments he taught Reb Yankelah the laws of astrology.
Presently they arrived at an old house supported by two wood columns.
The house stood in the midst of the Rayphali suburb, which was also
considered part of the old city. The man showed him the entrance to
the house and cautioned him many times that he should call him "Reb
Yankelah", and that he should do everything he was told. As he entered
the house, he was received by a woman in her middle age with a fine
demeanor and a scarf covering her hair, whose appearance and bearing
testified to her being the mistress of the house. When the young man
asked her for Reb Yankelah, she answered him, "It's my husband you
seek? Then you have a long wait, because he only stood to begin his
prayers a half an hour ago, and he won't be finishing in a hurry. If
you want, leave now and return in two hours, or you can sit here and
wait for him." She showed him a place to sit and returned to her work
next to the boiler, preparing breakfast for her husband. Many other
people came, but when his wife told them that her husband had only
been praying a half an hour, they left. But he remained in the house
and he waited, even though he felt like he was sitting on burning
coals. He saw moving about in the next room a tall figure, full
fleshed with a great belly. The man wore a long garment of black silk
with a long silk belt that wrapped twice round the hips and still
trailed on the ground, peeking out from under the huge, expensive
tallis which covered his head and his great stature. As he paced about
the room, the edge of the tallis fluttered up, and the silk garments
were visible. On his head and his left arm he bore an oversized
tefillin, and he was punctilious like a Rabbi, praying from the Siddur
"The Way of Life". In every sentence and word, when it's incumbent on
a religious man to be whole-hearted and spirited, he complied
strictly, like at "Open your hand and provide..", in the saying of the
"Shema", he did so whole-heartedly, chanting in the proper melody. In
the final analysis, he prayed according to the law like a great man.
The young man was happy when he heard that he was praying the "Shemona
Esreh," because he thought in a short while he would complete his
prayers. But he was mistaken, because at "Ashrei" and "Come Zion", he
removed the fancy tefillin of Rashi and put on the teffilin of our
sages. After he concluded his prayers, be began to say "The Gates of
the Day," Hymns, and after all of this he also said "Huke Yisroel." It
grew black all around for the young man because he was close to
fainting. However, "to every pleasure I have seen an end" said our
poet-king, and so did the young man see an end to the prayers of Reb
Yankelah. He came into the room, gave his greetings, and though the
young man desired to rise in his presence, he didn't let him and said,
"Sit, because I'm about to begin my meal and you'll eat breakfast with
me, since without a doubt you haven't eaten yet." His wife brought
over a basin with a two-handled cup full of water and he examined his
fingernails, then he took the cup in his right hand and poured on his
left hand, washing his hands according to the law. He sat at the table
crowded with rich food to eat and called the young man over, then
began to converse with the youth.

"And what do you want? Please tell me, my son, who are you and what is
the matter?"

"I'm such-and-such the son of such-and-such. When I closed my store
the day before yesterday, it contained goods valued at around 3000
silver coins. Yesterday morning when I arrived at the shop, I found it
empty of all goods. Just the tables, benches and chairs remained as a
remembrance, nothing more. I pray sir, put a price on my disaster.
It's only three months since our marriage and we are left naked and
uncovered, with nowhere to turn. Who will hurry to my rescue?"

"Could it be? Is it believable?" asked Reb Yankelah like a man
stunned, and he nodded and whistled, "All of it they took?" he asked
in addition. "Oy, Vey. This is a great offense, and what do you desire
from me?" he asked the youth, knowing he was heaping burning coals on
his head. "What can I do? Did you truly think that I can save you?

"Reb Yankelah," the youth cried tearfully, "I don't know anything
about it, but many people who saw my soul's distress counseled me to
go to you and petition you. Also one man called you by your name and
showed me to your dwelling, so I took to heart to come to you and ask,

"Enough! Say no more. I am with you in your sorrows, and everything
that it's possible to do on your behalf I will do. But before I can
begin to seek after and investigate this matter, you must weigh out
400 silver coins on my palm, to stick a bone in the throats of the
Shoolayim (So the people called every offender when they wanted to
revile and shame him, and so were called the Jewish youths who began
to study in Gymnasium, and with this reproach a person could boil the
marrow of the blasphemer)." The young man wanted to oppose the price,
but he didn't let him speak, saying, "This is the last offer, the
choice is yours."

The youth didn't say another word but ran to his relatives and told
them, so they said to him, "Go quickly, and bring the money that they
demand, and it's reliable and sure that by tomorrow your goods will be
returned to you, not an item short." And so it happened. The next
morning, when he went to his store he found all of his goods resting
on the shelves in the proper order and rule, as if an experienced
shopkeeper had arranged them knowledgeably and tastefully. But he
didn't know or witness who had laid the goods out in their places
because Reb Yankelah had cautioned him not to venture from the door of
his house all night, or to spy on the place, on his life. From these
few instances, I imagine that our honorable readers will understand a
little who the Rayphali were, and Meir Roshkash was an honorable man
who wanted to put an end to the ravages of the Rayphali. He cultivated
their friendship for a long time until he knew all their comings and
goings, and knew them all by name or even by their voices when he
couldn't see them. Afterwards he traveled to Petersberg and was
granted authority that the police in Dvinsk must hearken his voice in
all that he commanded them. Several years he worked strenuously, until
he'd removed them from every alley, one by one. Once time he requested
from the police one hundred Cossacks or more, and everything he sought
they gave him immediately. His words were hearkened and enacted as the
words of a governor's command. At first, he carried out his actions in
secret, afterwards he did them publicly, but then he couldn't leave
his house without bodyguards, and many police were posted by his door
to guard him from fear both night and day. Every prison and every cell
in Dvinsk, in the fortress and the city, were full with the denizens
of Rayphali. As long as there were a couple men left in Rayphali, or
even women, Meir Roshkash couldn't be sure of his life. Finally, all
that remained in Rayphali were the old, the weak, the blind and the
crippled. Most of them had been sent to Siberia, but despite this he
wasn't sure of his life, and he said, "As long as the places of the
Rayphali stand, even the ruined houses, my life isn't a life." One
time, he was walking down the street returning home with two police
bodyguards, and just as he came to the door of his house, he
recognized that one of his guards was not a policeman but a Rayphali
disguised in a police uniform. Nobody had noticed! The man's intention
was to kill him as he sat confidently in his home. So, Roshkash
pretended that he hadn't caught on and he returned to the police
station. There he requested ten more men and instructed that they go
secretly through the streets in order that nobody should notice, then
close to his house they should fall suddenly on the bodyguards and
arrest them quickly. The people in the street thought that Meir
Roshkash and the police had gone crazy because they arrested other
police, but when they were brought to the station and stripped of
their uniforms, Meir Roshkash identified them by name, and they were
Rayphali. The real policemen they had invited beforehand to a pub and
gotten them drunk, then tied them up with rope in the cellar. They had
taken their service accouterments and their uniforms, put them on, and
gone and taken their places. Then they waited for the coming of the
hated man, their sworn enemy, but he was above all of the Rayphali, in
both wisdom and cunning. Even so, he said, "As long as the Rayphali
neighborhood exists, even if it is desolate and ruined, I will fear
that from under the ground they will come out to revenge the vengeance
of their fathers on me." One time, Meir Roshkash passed by a window,
and saw that many silver utensils were resting on a table next to the
open window of a kitchen, and the cook wasn't there. The silver lay
there, and nobody put out a hand to take it. He called the mistress of
the house and said to her, "And what are they saying now? Is it
possible that you are all thinking that since Meir Roshkash is here,
the days of security and relaxed vigil have arrived? So that you can
leave things in an open window and nobody will touch them? Let me warn
you all, don't continue to act this way, because this is how you will
build up a new Rayphali, who are now almost lost from memory." He
lived in constant fear and nervousness, and apparently he returned to
Petersberg. I don't know anything more about him. As to the Rayphali
neighborhood itself and how the old suburb came an end, that I will
relate in the course of my story.
To read the entire story go to; http://www.fonerbooks.com/memoir.htm