The wagon-driver is a rhymer
and we laugh. A wagon-driver is already holding my
little bundle and we six little lads are sitting upon a
droshky (horse-cab). We are traveling into the city. Now
we're in Kaminker street. “The street is as long, as the
Jewish exile” – -bursts out one of us. The wagon-drive
reacts thusly: “You don't like our street? Ha? What? Do
you want palaces? You've come to study in Lida. So
what's the difference: a longer or shorter street? You
should study more and criticize less. So you see the
house with glass porch? Here. Here indeed lives our
rabbi R' Yitskhak Yaakov Raines.”
We look about with
admiration: a small thing Raines! Who had not heard the
name and our fate is indeed in his hands.
And the wagon-drive
continues: “Is he the same as all rabbis? A rabbi with a
stately appearance, a lovely white beard? With a bright
face and clever eyes, like one of God's angels. Today
his clothes are of satin and silk, a pristine yarmulke
and a shtreiml (fur-edged round hat), as a good Jew
They call him Raines after
his family name, not like all rabbis. In his yeshiva
they study Russian and Hebrew, teachers with ”eagles on
their buttons”(secularly educated) – the most up-to-date
In the city they say that he
approves of Zion(ism?) and that his hear and himself are
drawn toward Erets(the land of) Yisroel (Israel). The
city doesn't endow the Yeshiva. Rooms are needed. Food
too! Angels – you aren't! Ha? Indeed so? Nu, there are
ways to support yourselves.”
Having listened to the
wagon-driver's banter, we look around: A city like all
cities but something different. The rabbi is not the
same as other rabbis. And the wagon-driver – a
loquacious, good-spirited, hearty Jew.
We stop next to an empty
unfenced courtyard and before our eyes a two-storied
building with a sign (in Hebrew) “The Great Yeshiva of
At last, this is the Lida
Lads surround us. Nu,
Scholem Aleichem (greetings)! Why do you run to Lida?
The wagon driver takes our
bundles down and address himself to one of them:” See to
it, help them find a room” and in addition he sings:
“It is a good thing
to come to study in Lida.
Not all need to be rabbis,
Ritual slaughterers, cantors, religious judges.
You should forge your lives
As good, honest Jews.”
Within an hour's time we
also found a room at the quilter Movshovits'. A small
room with 3 little cots and a small table for 4 rubles a
month. The entrance through a long workroom – a
quilting-factory where a short young man and three
Our host observes: we have
one more small bedroom and that's it. And he adds in
“We quilt and sew
And double over
We manage to live
We cut garments and quilt them.”
“You have to know, that my
brother Movshovitz is a teacher of Russian in your
yeshiva. One of the best teachers in town” And while he
is at it he whispers a secret in my ear: “He is a
revolutionary” and he mumbles adding, that Rabbi Raines
is not very happy about it, God forbid they won't bother
the yeshiva because of him.
The next day, Friday at
noon, coming from the yeshiva, we encountered our
hostess baking chalahs in our room. Before our eyes a
large oven revealed itself, which had formerly been
covered with a long curtain and no one could guess, that
here a kitchen and room to let were combined here.
things Lida didn't possess, but she made a name with her
yeshiva, with Pupko's big beer factories and Papermaster
and the big mills. Vilna street was the loveliest in the
city. Later Rabbi Raines moved to it into an impressive
structure – the colonel's house.
The town clock was renowned
– a private one an accomplishment of the Kenigsberg the
clockmaker, which would strike at 12 noon.
The Lida synagogue courtyard
was paved, clean. More outstanding than everything was
the appearance of the great lovely synagogue,
neighboring the large study-house, the butchers
synagogue and others. A group of yeshiva students,
subsidized by the wealthy Muscovite Gots (Wissotsky's
son-in-law) maintained themselves in the study-house.
Life in the city flowed
slowly and peacefully. Jews did all sorts of business.
They struggled and the lived. On one side – a large
yeshiva, on the other side a regiment of soldiers. From
both Lida drew a large portion of its livelihood. They
used to wisecrack: Lida lives from Toire
(learning=torah), Skhoire (mercantile pursuits) and
Moire (fear)-(of soldiers).
The yeshiva in the city was
greatly esteemed, particularly after moving to the
imposing two-storied building on Sadove street. A large
sign read: “The Great Lida Yeshiva”. In total the
yeshiva possessed 5 divisions and three preparatory
About 300 yeshiva-students
studied in the yeshiva.. The building was furnished no
more poorly than all modern schools, with chairs,
tables, blackboards, globes. They studied Gemore
(Talmud) 7 hours daily and three times weekly, two hours
per day, Hebrew and Russian.
The Yeshiva possessed a
lovely and rich library of Hebrew, Russian and German
books. It was a donation by a wealthy Moscow Jew named
M. Cahn. The library was open twice a week for a few
hours in the evening.
give daily Talmud lesson, for each division separately.
After the Talmud lesson we studied together in the great
hall, where we used to pray and where all assemblies
Every Friday evening , and
also Saturday by day, Rabbi Raines came to give a Talmud
lesson, where city householders were invited. He used to
come accompanied by certain yeshiva personnel.
His Talmud lesson was a
masterwork of the week's Torah portion, Talmudic
legislative and story-telling (Halakhah and Aggadah)
infused with love and longing for Torah, and
encouragement for the land of Israel. His method was
simplicity, clarity and logic. Raines as founder of the
“Mizrachi” was indeed deserving that his name be
eternalized in Tel-Aviv – ReKhov Harav Raines (Rabbi
Both in Lida and in the
Yeshiva the teacher Pinchos Shifman, of blessed memory,
held an important place. As pedagogue and person he was
very beloved and popular both in the city and among his
The name Shifman was
authorative to everyone. His lectures at “Tiferes
Bekhorim”(lit.=splendor of youths-might be a synagogue)
and the yeshiva were impressed with “ahavas-yisroel”
(love for the Jewish people) and nationalism. The city
of Lida behaved toward him with attention and profound
respect. And to his students he displayed fatherly love.
His students made him popular throughout all of Russia
and his chresthomathy (selection of passages=a textbook)
“Bekhirim” (elders, seniors, first-born sons) was
No Hebrew teacher could take
his place in the yeshiva. Shifman's speeches in the
Yeshiva, on Khanukah, Tu B'Shvat, Lag B'Omer, Tishah
B'Av had no equal. One could feel the teacher, the
“mentsch”(human with qualities of humanity) and the
The Maitshitt (place name?)
prodigy, eminent rabbi Shloime Poliatshek, who used to
deliver Talmud lessons three times weekly to the higher
divisions, was a sharp-headed genius. A rare example.
His lessons were filled with acuteness, clarity and
depth and were studied with great interest by his
students. They were regarded for their dexterity and
agility and lads would bicker over them for weeks, about
what the prodigy had said and what he meant by what he
The genius Raines knew how
to unearth the rare pearl and it mattered greatly to
him. His students held him dear. He was esteemed also as
a thinking person, a prodigy and worldly person, who
also knew languages.
Being pious he still
simultaneously interested himself in worldly problems
and freely read Russian and German.
It is important to mention
the other two yeshiva-heads – the yeshiva-head from
Shadov, Rabbi Klein and the esteemed rabbi Yoel Dovid
The “Shadover” was a thick
man of middle height, a great scholar, highly skilled.
His lessons in the third preparatory school and first
division were crystal clarity.
A clever Jew, old-fashioned
and still appropriate for his students-he'd hit the
bull's-eye with a joke, a bit of humor. And the students
willingly heard out his moralizing. “Learn my child” he
used to instruct. “You can still become a bit of a
mentsch, both to God and to people. What? One should
only become a rabbi? With a little learning, a little
loshn koidesh (holy tongue) and Russian – one indeed
becomes a mentsch…”
The esteemed rabbi Yoel
Dovid Kaplan – a clever Jew, half a finance-minister, He
was principal over 3 preparatory classes (where students
paid to study) His Talmud lesson in the second division
in the Yeshiva was clear and to the point. He kept an
eye on every yeshiva student. One could not outsmart
him. He precisely knew each one's strengths and idea in
learning, a pleasant man and greatly esteemed by rabbi
Raines, of blessed memory.
The esteemed rabbi Eliyohu
Dov ( nicknamed Reb Elie-Ber)(Dov=bear in
Hebrew)Berkovski (son of bear in Russian), the mashgiach
(supervisor) of the Yeshiva, a lively talkative person,
erstwhile leader of the Hovaredke yeshiva Musarnikes(a
19th century moral edification movement).
Rabbi Raines exercised his
authority over the behavior of his pupils in an
even-handed manner. He paid attention to their attending
the Talmud-lessons, if they studied and prayed. Every
offense was noted in a little notebook. He observed
everything. He decided with a short announcement: “Lo
Yavo” – expelled from the Yeshiva, not to come (in
We used to joke: “Yaleh
v'Yavo is said on Rosh-Khodesh (prayer at the lunar
month's beginning=to ascend and to come) and Lo Yavo –
twice a year….
Reb Eliea also decided
regarding (student) support, whether the student was to
be supported by the yeshiva, or perish forbid, not.
He was approached (for
assistance) with difficult subjects in learning.
And when he was in an
elevated mood – he would pull, lift up his shoulder, as
if he had cast away a heavy burden and his eyes would
sparkle and shine. He was a sincere Jew. He died in
extreme old-age in Tel-Aviv.
I also want to mention and
emphasize the activity of Moshe Cahn (secretary and
contributor to “Haolam” (Hebrew=the world). Not only was
he then secretary of the “Mizrakhi” (Orthodox Zionists),
he was a teacher of Tanakh (Torah, prophetic books and
writings=the entire Jewish canon) and history in several
classes at the yeshiva. His popular lectures on the
sciences were beloved by the students. And in his
performances at assemblies and celebrations, he excelled
as a popular-speaker.
Simultaneously we must
mentioned the good rabbi Morgenshtern, the supervisor of
the preparatory classes. An honest Jew, a scholar, a
good-spirited affable person, whom the students
Two more yeshiva-heads were
possessed b y the preparatory classes – the esteemed
rabbi Moishe-Ber Vismanski of the first preparatory
class and the Pinsker ritual-slaughterer.
Rabbi Moishe-Ber Vismanski
was a goodhearted little-old-man. Between him and a
ten-year-old child there was a naturally nearness.
ritual-slaughterer (actually the Lida town-slaughterer)
gave a Talmud-lesson in the second preparatory class. He
was a mean harsh Jew. The students had great respect for
him, because they knew that he meant everything
The yeshiva had two beadles:
Reb Avrohom the tall and Avreml the small.
The first, in addition to
his work, also tried to keep an eye on the yeshiva
students tattling on them…which to his misfortune
resulted in sentence being executed upon him by the
students of the lower classes who gave him a good
thumping while he was enshrouded by a sack over his
Worlds were turned
upside-down. Reb Raines thoroughly investigated the
students and several were expelled from the yeshiva.
Avreml the small guarded his
bones as under-beadle and errand beadle and he lived in
peace with the students.
Lida yeshiva-students were a
portion of the Lida intellectuals and the students of
the higher classes were highly regarded in the town.
The club, “Hazamir” (Hebrew
for nightingale) existed which the yeshiva-lads
Lectures used take place in
the “Landes-Hall”. Such as Ze'ev Jabotinski, Khaim
Greenberg, Alexander Goldshtain, Dr Daniel Pasmanik and
others visited there. For the Lida yeshiva-lads every
lecture was a major event.
The Lida Yeshiva existed for
about 9 years, until 1915.
A new type of yeshiva
student was created in the Lida yeshiva – a modern
national Jew, who possessed religious learning and
enlightenment subjects together.