A Shtetl Story

by Judith Fein | August 2012 | 10 Comments »

By Judith Fein

When I was 10 years old and other girls were playing with dolls, I was obsessed with the shtetl my grandmother came from. I begged my parents to take me to Brooklyn, so I could sit next to her, feel the softness of her skin and ask her about her village in Russia.

My grandmother was not forthcoming. Nor did she know exactly where her shtetl was located, because it was an isolated village, and the only time she ventured any real distance from it was to come to the United States when she was l7.

“Grandma, where do you come from?” I would ask.

“Far.”

“What was it like?”

“Feh.”

I conjured up an image of a dark, dank, unwholesome place in Russia with sinewy alleys and people dressed like rag-pickers.

“Tell me what you ate, gram.”

“Food.”

“Where did you buy it?”

“There was a market once a week, on Tuesdays. We had beans, potatoes, beets, corn….” her voice trailed off. She went into the kitchen to stir the chicken soup, and I watched the yellow chicken legs float to the surface and then disappear. When they emerged again, they bumped up against the gorgel and the puppik, the neck and stomach of the chicken.

“Are you hungry, mammaleh?” she asked.

When I nodded, she opened the refrigerator and took out a jar full of schmaltz — rendered chicken fat — that was speckled with burnt onions. She spread half an inch of schmaltz on a piece of rye bread and handed it to me.

I loved everything about my grandmother: the Yiddish newspaper that was folded on an overstuffed, upholstered armchair in the living room; the front parlor, where I slept, and which looked out over the street; the pantry closet that smelled vaguely of matzo. And most of all, I loved that she came from Minkowitz. She was a foreigner who hailed from a mysterious place, and the slightest details she divulged became indelibly imprinted on my brain.

“Gram, did you go to school?”

“No, mamasheyna. We weren’t allowed to. I stood at the bottom of the hill, looking up at the school where the Russian girls studied. They wore blue uniforms. I wanted to be educated like them.”

“What did you do all day?”

“When I was 10 years old, like you are now, I was drying tobacco leaves in the field.”

“Tell me about your house. What did it look like?”

“The floor was made from goat dreck.”

“Where in Russia was it, Gram? Do you know the name of a nearby city?”

“Kamenetz Podolsk.”

I made a mental list of what I knew about Minkowitz. Tuesday market. Drying tobacco leaves. She lived at the bottom of a hill. The Russian girls went to school on top of the hill. The floor of the house was made of goat dung. Kamenetz Podolsk. I repeated the scant facts over and over, clinging to them, imagining what they looked like, felt like, smelled like. I began to wonder if I hadn’t lived in Minkowitz in the past.

I started trying to imitate the sounds of Yiddish, since I couldn’t speak the language. Instead, I invented a sort of bogus Yiddish. I would call my grandmother, and, when she answered the phone, I would cheerfully ask, “Grandma, vus habastups-du?”

“Judie, “she would say sadly, “I don’t understand your Eedish.” That’s how she pronounced it. EEdish.

The next time I called, I greeted her with the bogus, “Grandma, hoison boisin galempt.”

“I just can’t understand your Eedish.”

When I was 19, I was bedridden with mononucleosis and hepatitis. I didn’t have the energy to roll over or kick the covers off when it got too hot. My grandmother got on a train, which was unusual for her, and came to see me in Queens. She sat next to my bed, on a folding chair, and informed me that she finally figured out why she didn’t understand my Yiddish. “Because you go to college and you speak an educated Eddish.”

My obsession with Minkowitz never diminished. When I went to live in Switzerland and formed an experimental theater troupe, I wrote a play about Minkowitz. The audiences were very attentive, and people often told me they found the play to be very unusual and esoteric. I can still hear the echo of the actresses intoning, “And the floor of the house was made of goat shit.”

My Swiss boyfriend at the time started calling me, “Minkowitz” as a term of endearment. “Minkowitz, do you want to go to a movie tonight?” he asked. “Minkowitz, let’s go into the country tomorrow.”

It seemed pretty normal to me. Why not call me “Minkowitz?” It was so vivid and real in my mind that I became convinced I had a past life there.

A few times a year, I would take a train to Paris and spend time with a family I knew there. Before returning to Switzerland, I would always make a stop in the Marais, the old swamps of Paris, an area that was anything but fashionable then. My destination was Goldenberg’s deli, where I loaded up on bagels, matzo, gefilte fish and a jar or two of herring.

Once, I was on a train with two plastic bags emblazoned with the Goldenberg’s logo at my side. A burly man with hair the color of a coconut shell and a melon-shaped face sat across from me, staring at the bags.

“Etes-vous des notres,” he asked in a thick, guttural accent. “Are you one of us?”

The words made me cringe, as though the world were made up of “us” and “them.”

“Oui,” I said politely. And then, interested in his foreignness, I asked, “Where are you from?”

“Russia.”

I leaned forward with conspirational intensity.

“My grandmother comes from Russia, but I don’t know where her village was.”

“What was the name?”

“Minkowitz.”

“MINKOWITZ!” he exploded. “I can tell you so many things about Minkowitz.”

At that moment, there was a loud whistle and the train squeaked noisily to a halt. The man looked up and leapt out of his seat.

“This is my stop. I have to get off,” he said, and he ran from the train.

Years later, I was living in Los Angeles and dating Paul, whom I later married. He wanted to introduce me to his parents, and we met at a Chinese restaurant. I was panicked because, oddly, I couldn’t find anything to talk to them about. I sipped my hot and sour soup slowly, trying to figure out a suitable topic of conversation.

“Where do you come from?” I finally piped up.

“New York,” said his mother.

“Philly,” replied his father.

“Um…uh…where did your parents come from?”

His father was munching on an eggroll. He finished a mouthful and said, “A small town in Russia.”

“What was the name of the town?” I inquired.

“Minkowitz.”

I fell off the seat, clutching a chopstick in my right hand. When Paul and I got married, we exchanged vows and held both ends of a silver-plated spoon from Minkowitz that was a gift from his father.

Soon after our wedding, Paul started to do riffs on our former life in Minkowitz. We worked it into a routine.

“What did we do in Minkowitz?” I would ask.

“We plucked chicken. There was only one chicken in town,” he answered in a thick Yiddish brogue.

“What did you do for a living?” I inquired.

“I was a raisin sorter. And sometimes, for the holidays, I sold liquid icon cleaner door to door.”

Minkowitz was our town. I asked a prominent rabbi at the University of Judaism if he had ever heard of such a thing. Two people in Los Angeles whose ancestors came from the same shtetl.

“Never,” he said.

My grandmother died soon after that. I was in Kauai, and she was in New York. I spoke to her in the hospital, where she was in great pain, asking her if she was afraid to die. She mumbled “yes,” and I told her how she would be walking into the light. Twenty minutes after we spoke, she was gone. One of the last things she said to me was, “Mammalah, I love you more than life.”

One day, when I was hunched over my computer, I got an email offer for five pen pals from five countries for five dollars. I winced. I hardly had enough time to go to the bathroom. Then I thought about it. Maybe it could somehow bring world peace to correspond with folks from other climes. I wrote back, “Yes, I will take you up on this offer, but I need five literate, intelligent people.”

I was connected to five men. They were literate enough, but four of them were nuts. One was angry at women, another oversexed, a third kept asking me about John Dewey and a fourth compared himself to Alexander the Great. The fifth one, Andrew, was openhearted, bright and a resident of Russia.

By the second exchange of emails, I was grilling him about Minkowitz.

“It’s in Ukraine,” he wrote. At the time, Ukraine was part of Russia.

“No, I wrote back. My grandmother would have told me if it were in Ukraine. It’s in Russia.”

“Ukraine,” was the one-word reply.

And then I didn’t hear from Andrew again. I figured I had insulted him or committed some other e-faux pas.

Several weeks later, a thick envelope arrived. Inside was a huge map of the Ukraine with Cyrillic writing. By some coincidence, I had taken three Russian lessons when I was 15 and could decipher the letters. In the southwestern quadrant, there was a circle around a tiny place —Minkivtsi, otherwise known as Minkowitz. Besides the map, Alex had enclosed an envelope with photos. He had borrowed a car and driven hundreds of miles from L’viv, where he lived, to Minkowitz. I trembled as I opened the envelope to look at my grandmother’s dismal homeland. The photos tumbled onto my desk. Minkowitz looked like Switzerland! Rolling hills, animals grazing, sun-dappled fields of green. There were several photos of tombstones, but Andrew apologized that he couldn’t decipher the writing. Andrew is Russian Orthodox. The letters were Hebrew.

“I asked the school director if there were any Jews left,” Andrew wrote, “and he said there weren’t. Just as I was about to leave, an old woman came hobbling up to me. She said the last Jew had left Minkowitz in the 1970s and went somewhere, maybe Israel. The last Jewish person’s name was Kornblatt.”

Kornblatt!? That was my grandmother’s maiden name.

I tried grilling my mother about Minkowitz, but she had absolutely no interest in it and didn’t particularly want to talk about it. When she grew up, she wanted her parents to speak English, not Yiddish. She wanted a mother who was Americanized and wouldn’t embarrass her during open school week. Instead, she had my grandmother, who had one foot still on the boat, in the steerage section.

“If you want more information,” she offered, “find out about the Minkowitz burial society. I am sure there is one.”

I tracked it down and found out there were two members still alive, and they were brothers. I called the first one, and he screamed and cursed at me before hanging up. Alas, he was suffering from dementia.

My Minkowitz-obsessed heart was pounding as I called the last link. He was old, ailing and unable to speak for too long, but he told me that Minkowitz was indeed in Ukraine, and it was on the river Ushitsya.

Years went by. I wrote stories about my grandmother. I dreamed about the shtetl. Paul and I elaborated on our Minkowitz routine.

And, then, a few months ago, I decided it was time to go to Minkowitz. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t go before, especially since I am a travel writer. The short answer is: I was afraid. Afraid of what I would find, or what I wouldn’t find. Afraid the experience would be too powerful, or too disappointing. As Paul said, “I guess you aren’t ready.”

I wrote to Andrew and told him I was going to Ukraine to find Minkowitz. He insisted we stay with him as long as we wished. I demurred, said I couldn’t possibly impose on him and his wife Oksana, and finally agreed. I hounded him until he told me something he would like me to bring — jazz CDs. I discovered JewishGen.org and tracked down a guide named Alex, who seemed to have the most expertise about Eastern European Jews and Ukraine. He said he would have no trouble taking me and Paul to Minkowitz, and, after many emails back and forth, we decided to extend the trip to one week so I could immerse myself in the land of our ancestors.

“Please,” I wrote to Alex, “understand that I am interested in everything and want to explore the world of shtetls, but the heart of the trip is Minkowitz.”

He agreed.

Two months later, we entered the world of Eastern Europe as it existed in 1910, when my grandmother sailed on the President Lincoln to Ellis Island, and until the brutal end of the shtetl culture during World War II.

I met rabbis and a gypsy baron, Jews, gentiles and caretakers of ancient rabbinic tombs. Before we spoke about anything else, I always told them I came from Minkowitz. Most of them smiled and said I looked Ukrainian.

I thought about Minkowitz in the abstract but had no solid idea of what I would find. Several people warned me it was probably a modern town, and they hoped I would not be disappointed. I never referred to our itinerary. Days melted into other days. I was exposed to so much, was trying to absorb information and experiences so quickly, that I didn’t realize we were spending the night in Kamenetz Podolsk. We arrived at dusk. I expected it to be a small, run-down, provincial town, but instead I crossed the bridge over a huge, gaping canyon and entered the Old City, which is now a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage site.

I jumped out of the car and started walking on the cobblestone streets, wondering which buildings existed in my grandmother’s time. Alex said many of them had. Had her father gone there to get passports for his family to travel to America? Had my grandmother ever been there, as a child? Did they see what I was seeing — the colorful houses, the administrative buildings, the glorious churches, the sinewy streets, the old defensive walls, the tower?

The next day, when we awoke, Paul announced, “It’s Minkowitz day.” I hardly heard him. I was busy scouting for brochures, visiting churches, looking for an item for my extensive folk art collection. We ate lunch. Paul was puzzled. “You’ve wanted to go to Minkowitz all your life, and you are stalling. We don’t have much time.”

I was silent. “I understand,” Paul intoned. “You have to be ready.”

It was afternoon when we arrived in Minkowitz. A large white sign on the side of the road announced the name of the town in Ukrainian: Minkivtsi. The car was still moving as I jumped out, encircling the sign with my arms. And then I began to cry. Tears poured down my face and onto the front of my shirt. Alex and the driver looked at me quizzically. I couldn’t speak.

We drove down the main street of Minkowitz and passed a well in front of an old, abandoned, white building.

“Paul, I need you to take a picture of that well, and that building.”

“Why? “ Paul asked. He is a photographer, and the site didn’t look inspiring.

“Please, I’m begging you. Just do it.”

“The building looks interesting,” Alex said. “Let’s go take a look.”

We walked past the well and examined the front and side of the building. The windows were broken, the stucco was cracked and fading. I noticed that Alex had crossed over to a large, administrative-looking building next to it and was talking animatedly to a pleasantly plump woman in a lavender shirt with ruffled sleeves and a white skirt. He motioned for me to join him and introduced me to the woman, Natalia Olijnyk, who was the mayor of Minkowitz.

“I am from Minkowitz,” I blurted out.

“I know,” she said, and we hugged each other. I started to cry again, and I couldn’t stop.

“Don’t worry,” Alex whispered to me. “You are safe here. No one will hurt you.”

How could I explain why I wss crying?

The mayor invited me into her office and called out to her assistant. Together they perused the large archival book that listed family names. In the l970s, they found the name Kornblatt.

Was the Kornblatt related to me? I started to sob.

“What is the building next door? The one with the well, ” I blubbered at the mayor.

“A tobacco plant. It’s closed now, but the women and girls used to sit out back, drying tobacco leaves, hanging them on ropes.”

Tobacco leaves! Just what my grandmother had told me.

“Was there a school here, where Russian girls studied and wore uniforms?”

“Let me show you,” she offered. Then she smiled and said, “You know, if you had arrived two minutes earlier, I would not have been walking from the building, heading home for lunch. If you had come two minutes later, I would have been gone, having lunch. It was perfect timing.”

Close to the mayor’s office was an old school building. There were tasteful designs embedded in the limestone facing, and large windows lined the front and sides.

“When was the school built?” I asked the mayor.

“It was during the Czarist period,” Alex and the mayor agreed. When my grandmother would have been there. But was it the school she recalled?

The mayor got into our car, and we drove down a hill, where she pointed out all the houses that belonged to Jews. They were made of small wooden boards, covered with mud and then stuccoed over. Some of them were inhabited, and others were abandoned. We were at the bottom of a hill. Just as my grandmother had described. I got out of the car, stood on the dirt road among the houses and looked to the top of the hill. There was the school we had just seen. The school my grandmother looked at with envy when she was a poor Jewish girl and the Russian school girls wore starched uniforms.

The mayor offered to introduce us to Nina Simionovna, a woman in her late 80s and one of the oldest inhabitants in the area, who might remember something. We went to her house. Nina had trouble walking, but, leaning on a walker, she beckoned me to sit next to her outside of her abode.

She poured out her memories of the Germans and Ukrainian police shooting the Jews and pointed to where they fell on top of a hill.

“My father and I went there after the shooting,” she said. “The ground was moving.”

“Moving?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “Some of them were still alive, and they were breathing. My father planted trees in memory of the Jews. Look. They are still there.”

We looked together at the trees on the hill and then sat for a moment in silence. I could see her eyes floating back to the past.

“Nina,” I asked her, “do you remember what the floors of the house were made of when you grew up?”

“Yes,” she said, smiling. “Animal manure.”

Goat shit! Somewhere, in a land beyond life, my grandmother was nodding.

I walked down more of the dirt streets of Minkowitz, speaking to locals with hand signs, aware that it was late in the day and we soon had to leave. It was blazing hot, and we stopped at the only convenience store/café we saw in town for a drink. I announced that I came from Minkowitz and was returning 102 years after my grandmother left.

Two bearlike Russian men sat at a table drinking. They waved us over and began to hug me and kiss me, pouring cognac for Paul, Alex and me. Bottoms up. They were already several sheets to the wind, and they got louder and friendlier, and soon we were munching pickles and laughing, and they were saying how Ukrainian I looked, and how wonderful it was for me to come back after 102 years.

“What is that field across from where we are sitting?” I asked.

“It’s where the Jewish market was,” they replied. “It still takes place on the same day. Tuesday.”

I stifled my sobs. The school my grandmother had looked up at. The place her family lived at the bottom of the hill. Goat dung for floors. A tobacco plant where women and children dried leaves. And now, the marketplace where they bought beans and corn and beets.

A hundred and two years had passed, and I had come home.

 

IF YOU GO:

If you’d like to visit your family shtetl, our highly recommended guide is Alex Denisenko: tuagtuag@gmail.com.

10 Comments to “A Shtetl Story”

  1. Moishela says:

    BS”D
    Discussion with Moishela (with his family)
    A Handicapped child
    Shevat 21 5774 (Jan 22, ’14)

    “These Tragedies are Divinely Sent”

    Oy, Vey … Got in Himmel … Got in Himmel …. What is going to be? What is going to be? Tragedy on tragedy on tragedy … tragedies hitting the young and the weak, the old and the infirmed, and just the average Yid.

    Oy, Oy, Oy, what more can I say? What more can I say? How can I beg you Am Yisroel? How can I beg you, to do Teshuva? You think you’re so Frum. Some Yidden are Frum, but the ones that consider themselves Erlich, Erliche Yidden, not all of you are Frum. Maybe you keep Shabbos the way you’re supposed to, that’s also not so sure. Maybe you keep Kosher the way you’re supposed to, that’s also not absolute. But you’re not Frum, you think you’re Frum, but you’re not. I’m not speaking to those that are really trying hard to go back to the Emes. Go back to the way it once was in Europe, and in the lands of the Arabs where Jews were very ostracized and they had their own Kehillas not with any influence of the Goyim. And the Yidden in Europe that lived in the Shtettels and that held on to their Rebbes, to the Rabbonim who were greats, were giants, I’m not talking about them. They’re almost extinct today. I’m talking about the regular Yid, the average Yid, the average Yid is what’s going to save Am Yisroel, because he’s never been average. He’s always been much bigger than average, much greater than average. Because a Yid anyway is greater than any other type of human being. This is why Edom is so jealous of Yaakov, why Esav could never make peace with Yaakov.

    But now my dear Yidden my fellow Yidden, please, please listen again to me. You’re going to see even more tragedies than we’ve seen this week. Irrational unfathomable things have happened and will happen in the future, Hashem Yishmor. Thousands of people, tens of thousands, millions of people have had professionals come to their homes to pesticide the house with all kinds of chemicals in order to get rid of unwanted bugs and rodents. No one died from it. It’s never been in any newspaper that anyone ever died from it. How could it be that these children and the parents are so sick from this? How could it be that some of them have already died from this, Hashem Yishmor? How could it be? Years and years people are using gas for heating, for cooking, for whatever you want. Yes here and there we heard of one of those gas canisters blowing up, but nothing much ever happened. How could it be that now a whole family was wiped out after the technician came and checked it and found nothing wrong? How could it be? Obviously all these tragedies that we’ve been seeing lately, and I only named two, are divinely sent.

    We’re seeing so many strange things in this world, from tsunamis to tornadoes to storms to hurricanes, but all of these natural disasters are way beyond the norm. It is way, way beyond anything we’ve ever known, and the world is in shock from it, but not in enough shock from it. The Yidden, we Jews are seeing one tragedy after another, whether in America or Eretz Yisroel or wherever in the world, we’re seeing tremendous tragedies one after another. Many of the ones hurt are children. Many are women just after having given birth, and still we don’t pay attention. We just shrug it off as one of those things. Of course the world is getting a message from Shomayim, when every day we see more and more bloody, cruel wars all over the world, and violent riots plague many cities of the world. Every day we see the slaughter of men, women, and children, especially the children’s bodies piled up from being gassed. Being gassed? Remind you of something? They piled up the bodies of the women and the children so you could see the terrible, terrible violence, the terrible, terrible cruelty of those fighting in Syria. Nobody knows for sure who did it, whether it’s the rebels or the government because they’re all violent, cruel, animalistic people. Its regular practice for them to chop off the heads of their enemies. Is this not animalistic? Is this not wild and cruel? We would expect it from the most primitive people in the worst jungle, but it’s our neighbors. It’s our neighbors and our cousins, our cousins from our uncle Yishmael.

    Hashem is making the world so much more terrifying than it ever was. We thought that the holocaust was the most terrifying thing that could have been, however we see a holocaust every single day in the world. Every single day we’re suffering from large holocausts and smaller holocausts, but the violence is unbelievable, and still people are running, or should I say flying to Switzerland, to all different places in Europe to enjoy their vacations. Here in Israel when the first of July comes, that means the first day of their vacations, half the country goes flying overseas to America, Australia, India, Thailand, and of course Europe etc. because the Jews just can’t stay in one place. They have to be going and going and going, and for what? For entertainment? To see what? They travel to see another museum, another historical spot and of course to shop. I can understand the Chilonim whose heads are not full of anything too serious, usually, partaking in such superficial activity. But the Chareidim? What does it give you? What is it giving you? It’s not Tzniusdik to run around all of these places for no reason at all, except to enjoy yourself. And how many Chareidim are pulled by all the different attractions of these places even though the tour is totally Frum? How many women go skiing? Many! Many so-called Frum boys don’t want a girl that doesn’t know how to ski.

    OY … OY … OY … Well I’m telling you straight that if you don’t change there’s going to be more and more tragedies, Hashem Yishmor, more and more hardships, Hashem Yishmor, and in the end only those Jews that get the message straight, and really change their ways are going to greet Moshiach Tzidkainu. You are getting clear warnings! Warnings that touch the heart and the soul and should also bring down that terrible Gashmiusdik facade that is the Mechitzah between us and Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Once that facade has crumbled then we can come very close to Hakodosh Boruch Hu and assure ourselves that we can enter the Olam Habah of Moshiach Tzidkainu. All those that reach this great spiritual height (which is in the grasp of every true Jew) of understanding and closeness to Hashem, and change by doing complete Teshuva, then the most glorious future is waiting for you, but if you don’t change and do complete Teshuva, then hell or Gehenom is paradise next to what you’re going to get.
    ********
    An addition by Moishela added on 23 Shevat Jan 24

    I sit on the floor and shed many tears to all the victims of the tragedies of the last week and especially I Daven for .Refael Yitzckak Isaac ben Michal and Chaim Michael Shlomo ben Michal. I beg Hashem to bring them a Refuah Sheleimah B’guf U’vinefesh B’soch Shear Cholai Yisroel, and I cry for the great Tzaddik Rav Yaakov Galinsky Z”tl that was one of the last bridges between we Jews of this generation and the greater generation from before WWII, but I am also crying and sobbing for the future victims, the future Karbonos Tehoros that will be sacrificed in order save Am Yisroel from destruction.

    The great Chupa has been built and the Chosson, Hakodosh Boruch Hu is already standing under it and waiting anxiously for his Kallah, Am Yisroel.

  2. Moishe'la has spoken again! says:

    BS”D
    Discussion with Moishela (with his family)
    A Handicapped child
    Teves 1 ’5774 (Dec 4 ’13)

    “Eisav’s Burning Hatred To Yaakov”

    Oh Mommy, Mommy, what can I say? I feel that everything is closing in on us. I feel like we’re in Russia, communist Russia. I feel that Europe, communist Russia, and communist China are swallowing up the world and conducting a great war against Hakodosh Boruch Hu. There is absolutely no doubt that the Reshaim of today who are trying to take over the world are the same Yivanim that once ruled the world or most of the world. Rome came after Greece, but was the clear continuation of the Greek approach to life. No doubt that all of those same villains of history are all here now. They are all the same Reshaim that wanted to eliminate both of our Batei Mikdosh, that wanted to eliminate the Jewish religion, and wanted to destroy our Kesher with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Unfortunately, we also have the Misyavnim (Hellenists, those Jews who left Yiddishkeit) here with us today.

    Every Jew is in terrible danger because we have already been weakened by the Avodah Zarah in the form of the Egel HaZahav, the materialism. We have sunken very low without realizing that it’s happening. We’ve become so enamored with the materialism that we have forgotten that it is separating us from the wellsprings of our life, from our Torah which is life itself. It is separating us from Hakodosh Boruch Hu, Hashem Yishmor. And this worship of the Egel HaZahav, the Gashmius, the materialism, has taken a good few hundred years to do its dirty work. Now however, not only are the Chilonim involved very deeply in this form of idol worship, but even the Chareidim are in many cases involved in this kind of idol worship. Some Shomrei Shabbos are ready to give their souls for the Gashmius, because once they get used to the pleasures of life that only satisfy physical needs, and once they are confused with philosophy and psychology etc. which only makes a justification for the materialistic way of life, then they are lost. These Jews are playing right into the hands of the Yivanim, the Romans, Eisav.

    And even in Eretz Yisroel we will soon see foreign troops on our soil, Hashem Yishmor .They will be here and they’re going to rule over us. In fact they’re already ruling over us, but they’re ruling through the so-called Jews that are controlling this Medinah (State of Israel). There were Rabbonim that saw this would happen even before the state of Israel came into existence. And now it is clearly happening!

    The Kever of Dovid Hamelech is already in the hands of the Catholic Church. Why do they want it? Everyone is waiting for Moshiach, the Christians the Muslims and the Jews. The Catholic Church is the Roman Empire. The Catholic Church was born from a small group of Christians that were no longer Jews and were living in Rome. These two religions, the Roman idol worshipping and the Christian religion were brought together as a new religion which became the official religion of Rome under its emperor Constantine, which every citizen of Rome had to accept. In those times when every person had a different “getchke” (idol) it was hard for the emperor to organize his people under one banner. So he took a little bit of this and a little bit of that and formed a new religion called Christianity which we know today as the Catholic Church (but it was always based on Avoda Zarah).

    And why would the Catholic Church want Kever Dovid Hamelech? Because Dovid Hamelech is the forefather of Moshiach, and they want to control the world under a new mish-mash religion which would help them to rule the people more easily and for this they will probably try to make their own messiah, Chas Veshalom.

    There are a few rooms upstairs from the Kever of Dovid Hamelech that are probably going to be turned into a church. Who could stop them? Who wants to stop them? It’s not only I that said it. It’s known. It was in the newspapers. It’s no secret. The Pope doesn’t keep it a secret, and it’s not only the Kever of Dovid Hamelech they want. It will also affect every one of our Mekomos Kedoshim because they want to control the Jews. Since the base of all truth comes from the Jewish religion and they cannot control the Jews (who have, up to this point, outlived the greatest of the Reshaim that have ever lived in this world) without neutralizing Chas Vashlom their Torah and their Mekomos Kedoshim which gives the Jews the spiritual strength to resist all attempts to separate them from their Father in Heaven, Hakodosh Boruch Hu. I have said before, the noose is tightening. The Edomites, the Amalaikim, the Erev Rav want to rule the world from Eretz Yisroel. This is a direct affront to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

    What is happening with Iran and all of the Arabs countries is a complete farce. These Romans sent people in to cause all these revolutions. In all the countries they sent massive amounts of soldiers and weapons in the form of Arab rebels to destabilize all these Arab countries such as, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Syria etc. This is the first part of the last war. We are now in the last war! This war is going to develop into a much greater and much more frightening war that eventually effect the whole world. The Syrians are suffering terribly. But it’s nothing compared to what’s going to happen to the world.

    We must look at what is happening and approach it with the attitude of Rabbi Akiva, when he saw the fox running over the ruins of the Bais Hamikdosh and he became joyful. Why was he happy about such a site because if that Nevua came about, then the Nevua that says that the Bais Hamikdosh will be rebuilt will also happen, Be’ezras Hashem.

    Everything that is happening today are clear signs that are written in the Nevuas (prophecies) and is definitely heralding in the coming of Moshiach.

    Italy is Rome, and the Vatican is the heart of the Roman Empire. It is the spirit of Eisav himself. It is Eisav’s burning hatred and jealousy of his brother Yaakov. These are the ones that wish to rule the world. They’ve already caused much fear in the world, and also confusion. Very few people see the truth, because people that are so tied to the Gashmius to the materialism will never see the truth, not ever. They will die still holding on to their stupid, ridiculous, crazy, illogical ideas.

    The world is ruled today by madmen. Rav Dessler z”l said that the coming generation, which is our generation, will all be mentally deranged, and that is the way it is.

    Yes, Mommy we are in big trouble. But since we see the world going exactly according to the Nevuas, it obviously will bring us to Moshiach Be’ezras Hashem. Don’t make any mistakes, we are now in the Third World War. This war is getting larger and larger, more complex and more complex until it explodes.

    Very soon thereafter there will be many revelations before the world suffers its final blow. People will suddenly see the huge lies, the absolutely wild lies that we are dealing with. We will discover how many lies that we were sure are absolute truth, are just plain lies. Only very few people know today how unbelievably large the lie is, but soon everyone will know and still many will go to their deaths never allowing themselves to realize what is true and what isn’t.

    Mommy, I am sorry that I keep you up at night, and I am sorry that I cry in my sleep, but what can I do? Just know, Mommy, that this all will bring us to Moshiach Tzidkainu. I am very frightened for the whole world, but mainly for our Yidden. We have to get close to Hashem and He will protect us. He created us. He will protect us.

    Now, after we have been living a life of terribly great amounts of Gashmius, of materialism, the kind of which was never heard of before. It is a world where every other person has a car or owns an apartment at enormous prices, where every other person in the Western world goes on vacation on cruises etc., where you eat off of plates that you throw away, and use utensils that you throw away. (there are even pots that are thrown away,) where there is all kinds of waste of tremendous amounts. The materialism everywhere in the world has watered down our Yiddishkeit, and now we are going to have to pay the price.

    We’ve been living in a world of an absolutely disgusting amount of easy materialism. We are so disjointed and disorientated from it, and we’ve become so dependent on it that even though we may pray three times a day and put on Tefillin and wear a beard and long Payos and black suits and more or less our wives dress modestly, depending on the amount of Gashmius that you are used to, still we keep Shabbos and so on and so forth. Our Yiddishkeit has come down. Yiddishkeit has come down very much because we lost our connection with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. There are people that still have it, but they are few and far between. We have to get back to the desire to really Daven with tears. Why with tears? Because the tears break apart the Mechitza between us and Hakodosh Boruch Hu. When we are broken and contrite that is the moment that we are willing to come to our Tatti in Heaven, to save us to help us, that’s when we feel Him so much.

    As long as we are arrogant and sure of ourselves and depending on doctors and Social Security and Medicaid and the American army or the Israeli army or the Rosh Memshala the president or whatever and not on Hakodosh Boruch Hu, then we are in trouble, big trouble.

    Everyone has to go back to a simple life and to our connection to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Why don’t people understand that the only thing that’s going to save us is the spiritual connection with Hashem?

    They lie to us everywhere. They steal our money from the banks. They lie to us about medications. They kill people in the hospitals. Everything is a lie! There is only one Truth, and that’s Hakodosh Boruch Hu and His Torah. That is our only shelter. That’s the only way to reach eternity.

    Good night Mommy I ‘m going to sleep.

  3. Moishe'la has spoken again! says:

    Moishe’la has spoken again! says:
    BS”D
    Discussion with Moishe’la (with his family)
    A Handicapped child
    Tishrei 13 ’5774 (Sept 16 ’13)

    “Time to Go back to the Shtetel”

    I want to tell you that I feel very strongly that we are going to soon experience some very amazing and frightening happenings in the world. We may see little happenings in Eretz Yisroel, but mainly now I feel it’s going to be in the outer world beyond the borders of Eretz Yisroel.

    I want to tell you Mommy and Tatti that we must – that is Klal Yisroel – must remember “Kedoshim Tehiu”. This is the entire secret for doing complete Teshuva. I feel that this particular thing has been forgotten, for the most part, in Klall Yisroel. It’s terrible to walk down Rechov Rabbi Akiva in Bnei Brak, or Malchei Yisroel in Yerushalayim, or even the famous center of the Frumest of the Frum, Meah Shearim in Yerushalayim, and to see how the Kedusha and the Tznius has deteriorated. For certain in New York; Boro Park, Seagate, even Williamsburg etc. Monsey, Lakewood wherever you choose, all over the world the Tznius has gone so far down, and no one realizes what’s happening. They forgot that it’s not considered Tzniusdik to see a woman’s body moving along, fighting with its covering to stay in place.

    No one seems to realize that most of the Rabbonim, in Eretz Yisroel at least, have said that you can’t wear stretchy clothes like lycra or tee shirt material. But we ignore all of this, and we decide that the sleeve could be just under the elbow. Of course when you lift your arm, it goes way higher than that, and the tight skirt could be just below the knee, and when you sit down, well I won’t go into that.

    And how can such women who go to work in all kinds of offices with their long Sheitels and their made up faces? How can they support a Talmid Chachom? They are Baalos Aveiros. Just by walking down the street they catch the attention of many Yingerleit, and this is a big Aveira.

    The money that they earn to support their husbands who are Talmidei Chachomim is worth nothing, and if anything it brings their husbands down.

    So you might say there are other women that do dress Tzniusdik, but we forgot what Tznius is. And even if their clothes are a bit looser, their Sheitels look and are real hair. And as they walk along the streets the fact that they feel like their heads are uncovered with beautiful stylish hairdos which even if they are simple, are still chic, this gives a feeling of freedom; of not being married. And there are some women that have Sheitels that are very old-fashioned so-to-speak, and these old-fashioned Sheitels give a hechsher to all the fancy Sheitels, because a Sheitel is a Sheitel – you are wearing a Sheitel. You feel you are allowed to wear any kind of Sheitel, and it’s very interesting how many Sheitels have hechsheirim. I can’t understand what hechsher could be on a Sheitel. There’s not even a way to know if it’s Indian hair or not, but I think most of us have forgotten about the problem with Avodah Zarah in the Indian hair, and it makes no difference to anyone anymore even though it’s still a very big problem. And there are many Yingerleit that enjoy the fact that their wives are being looked at by other men. It makes them feel proud that they have such a “Barbie doll wife”.

    Well all I can do is sit and cry. This is why we have so many problems in our marriages today, and why we have so little Kedusha in our community, and why Yiddishkeit is basically falling apart. You can’t make your own rules and regulations. You can’t make a Jewish home look like a Goyisha one except, that you keep Shabbos and Yom Tov etc, or your husband goes to learn in Kollel. It’s just not enough. And the children even if they have long Payos, and seem like good Chassidisha little kids, the Gashmius has gone into their minds and into their hearts and they don’t go so deeply anymore into the truth. And this is all over the world now, because once you had Polish Jews and had German Jews and American Jews and so on, and there were places that were less Frum and more Frum, but now everything has gone down and everything is on the same low spiritual level. It’s not like it used to be.

    There was a time when Yidden, maybe not all Yidden, but many Yidden knew what Kedusha meant. They were careful in every way, because only someone with Kedusha can get close to Hashem. The Gashmius which produces the lack of Tznius, and the fact that many of us act like Goyim, brings us way down instead of being able to go up, because Kedusha makes us spiritually light, and we can rise higher and come closer to the truth. But Gashmius makes us heavy, with the pleasures of the Olam Hazeh.

    But people will argue with me, “But we are Tzniusdik and it’s not true,” but the people who argue are not Tzniusdik, and the people who try to be Tzniusdik will never argue. They’ll only try harder, try harder to come close to Hashem. It cannot be that a person who doesn’t even know what Kedusha means, can come close to Hashem. You can’t sit around, couples men and women talking and schmoozing in your bungalow colonies, and come close to Hashem. You can’t go to movies or see videos and come close to Hashem. You can’t have parties with frivolous speech and singers imitating the jazzy and rock n’ roll movements and get close to Hashem. You can’t run from pizza store to falafel store sitting, guzzling, laughing, and come close to Hashem. You can’t sit in restaurants where everybody can look in and see just exactly how you’re eating and think that if you wash your hands and make a Brocha first and Bentch at the end you’re OK. It’s like eating in the marketplace. It’s like vomiting on the table. It’s not OK. You can’t come close to Hashem, and it goes on and on.

    I can’t even begin to tell you what’s wrong because there is so much to say. The Yeshivas, Hashem Yishmor, have many Bochurim that have a total lack of understanding of what Kedusha is all about and quite a few of the Bochurim are involved with many not Torahdik things that if they would be revealed would make many Yidden just sit down and cry at the failure of this generation to educate the Yeshiva Bochurim. You do have good Bochurim but it’s very hard to be a good Bochur when so many open attitudes prevail. And as far as Bais Yaakov goes, most of the girls come out shallow and superficial, without being able to comprehend anything deeper than the material shallowness they have been engulfed with.

    They are always a few that manage to break through, and find the truth, and are willing to go against society to hold on to that truth. Those are the ones that will have it the easiest now. Those are the ones that will just slide into the Geula with an easy movement. All the rest that are real Jews, real Jewish Neshomas, will have to suffer very much because they just don’t understand. Because it will be so difficult for them to be able break away from all the Gashmius and stupidity in their lives.

    I really have not covered the subject, but there is not too much more that I feel like saying. Any Emesdik person knows that what I’ve said is correct, and I can relate many more examples than I have given. So please Klal Yisroel –do Teshuva!

    Come back to the truth.
    Come back to the Emes.
    Go back to the way it was once.

    I am not talking about going back to the time of the Haskolah movement. I’m talking about going back to the Shtetel, I’m talking about the real true Talmidei Chachomim like the Talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov, of the Gra, or the Talmidim of the Arizal etc.

    Am Yisroel. Build a Yiddisha Shtub a true Bais Mikdosh Mi’at, and I beg you do it fast because time is running out.

    • Moishe'la has spoken. says:

      BS”D
      (Discussion with Moishela (with his family
      A Handicapped child
      (Teves 13 ’5774 (Dec 16 ’13

      “I Looked Out the Window…”

      I have for the last four days felt such a longing, such a longing to be close to Hashem. I felt not only longing, but the actual closeness to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. As I looked out the window, and saw the wind and the snow and the trees falling, I felt that this world of lies is coming apart, is falling apart, is disappearing in front of our very eyes.

      I felt that all the lies are coming to the surface, that this illusion called Olam Hazeh is becoming clearly nothingness. We are looking for truth. At least I am, but I don’t have to look for truth, because I see it, feel it. I feel close to Hashem, and that is truth, and I look out the window and watch a mini destruction. This mini destruction is brought to us in order to bring us to the truth.

      Here we are, all of Israel, the State of Israel, dependent on electricity. We are dependent on electricity, for all of our materialistic needs, for everything. Isn’t it strange that in such an advanced world people are so foolish to depend on one thing to keep them alive, and the more they depend on it the more they build what to depend on. Everything is based on electricity, and now so many people are without electricity, which is putting their very lives in danger, their lives and their children’s lives.

      There are many places without water or any kind of heating in this terrible cold, without the ability to get out to buy anything, and of course very few people are coming to the rescue to help them. This electricity that we live on is all an illusion. Whoever controls the electricity, controls humanity.

      I look out the window and I see that Hashem is sending us a message. This snow that appeared so suddenly on the Israeli scene with such devastation, is a terrible warning about the future.

      Hashem is trying to pull us close to Him in every way, and one of the ways is to show us that only He can save us. Only He can give us sustenance. Only He can bring us our Parnasa (livelihood). Only He can keep us alive.

      Rulers have always wanted to control the water and the food. Water and food keeps people alive, and once you’ve controlled that, their Cheshbon (intention) is you control people. But they forget one thing, the Ribbono Shel Olam is the one that controls everything. They can die of starvation even if they’re surrounded by every type of food, and they can die from thirst even in a swimming pool.

      Hakodosh Boruch Hu decides all, and those villains that are trying to be instead of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, Chas Vesholom, still haven’t learned their lesson from all these generations. Very soon however, they will learn their lesson, and whether they learn it or not, they will disappear from existence.

      I am longing for Moshiach, to be together with Hakodosh Boruch Hu without Mechitzas (barriers); to bask in the light of the Kedusha. I feel it coming. I feel it coming very soon, and with it the longing to see that day is becoming stronger and stronger, until I can almost not bear it. I feel the Geula so strongly coming closer to us that I cry. I cry out in pain and longing. In pain, in pain because it’s so distressing to me not to be there yet. I look out the window, see the trees fall, see people falling in the snow, and I cry. I cry for this world of illusions that so many believe in. I cry for what’s going to be when they realize their big mistake. I cry because we still have so much suffering to go through, and what has happened here in Eretz Yisroel with the snow is not by chance. It’s to bring all the true Jews to that realization.

      True that once the danger is over, many people will go back to their silliness, but we will have more trials very soon, whether weather, or fear of war, or whatever it will be. However Hashem will do it, it will be meant to bring us close to Him. It will be meant to take away the Mechitzas so we can be very close to our Creator. This winter is still going to be very eventful and very difficult. I beg every Yid when you get into big trouble, remember Hakodosh Boruch Hu is the only Hakol Yachol. He is everything. Hold on to Him, and He will save you in every situation. Just be close to Him, and do His will. It’s not enough to try to use Him for your own needs. No, you have to be one with Him. You have to do His Mitzvos, do His Ratzon. I look out the window and I see my own reflection, and I’m so glad that at least I know the truth, but I’m so sad that so many do not.

      I cry at night because I’m afraid for the suffering we still have to go through. If this snow storm was difficult, we are going to be tested and taught in even more difficult ways.

      Each Jew that has grasped the truth from stage one of our difficulties and our trials will suffer less from stages two, three, four, etc. For those that quickly understand and
      accept the truth, each stage will be progressively easier.

      However those who ignore the tests that Hashem is going to
      z give us, and refuse to learn the right attitude and the right direction, will only suffer more and more at every stage.

      I look out of the window into the cold snowy night and see clearly that what I am seeing is very depressing, but I can also visualize beyond this scene the light of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

  4. Chuck Pasternack says:

    Dear Judith,

    What can I say. Your story has answered so many questions in my life. My father was born in Minkowitz and likely lived there at about the time your grandmother did. He died in 1997 at the age of 84. He would often talk to me about sitting in the wagon with his father, a leather merchant, going to nearby towns to sell their wears. While he too never went to school, he received a religious education at the Cheder. His grandfather was a rabbi. He told me many stories about how hard life was, but how much it molded him. He also talked about the vile prejudice that Jews suffered during those times.
    He moved to the US as a young boy at the age of 16. He ended up moving to Montreal from New York in the early thirties and married my mother. The rest of his large family, 10 siblings remained in Brooklyn. I have often dreamt about seeking out my heritage, but was mistakenly led to believe that Minkowitz was bulldozed after the war and no longer existed. He too told me about Kamenetz Podolsk and the rest of the Ukraine.
    If you are willing, I would love to communicate one day. My father spent his life as a dress cutter and street vendor of newspapers. His wonderful spirit and work ethic were my inspiration. With his and my late mother’s support (she was a native Pole from Pabianitz), I was blessed to have the opportunity to succeed in life.
    My email address is attached. Hoping to hear from you.

  5. Fran (Faleck) Shapiro says:

    I stumbled across your post as I was trying to figure out if my paternal grandparents’ hometown of Minkowitz was in Russia (as I’d been told) or in the Ukraine (as geography shows).

    My father’s father Frank Faleck came to the US in the early nineteen-teens (my grandmother followed later) and was Treasurer of the United Minkowitz-Podolier Relief. He contributed to and is shown several times in the organization’s 1945 Journal, which also features photos of my grandmother, Ray Faleck. (Our last name is transliterated as, among other things, Faleck, Falek, Pollik here).

    With all of your research, you are probably familiar with this group/site/document, but in case not, I am sharing the link here:

    http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/minkovtsy/Landsmanshaften.html

    Thank you for sharing your story, which has helped me find more of mine.

  6. Shauli Minkowitz says:

    Wow great article pleasure to read! Never thought I would see the town of Minkowitz make it to San Diego! I once came across a Sefer (Book of Jewish learning) that was printed in Minkowitz so apparently they had a printing press there too once upon a time. Nice to see the previous comments from family

    Long live Minkowitz! (minus the goat drek) :)

    Shauli Minkowitz
    South Africa (originally USA)

  7. Minkowitz, Joseph says:

    Your beautiful story touched us. Our family nameis Minkowitz, spelled they
    way you wrote and not the polish way with a cz.
    When my parents arrived in canada in the fifties from Russia
    there were no other Minkowitz’ in canada.
    I am one of five with our parents still alive (bh)
    My father had many siblings all of whom had passes on. It not before
    leaving literally hundreds of offspring spread all over the world
    with the family name Minkowitz.
    Today in America there are Minkowitz, not too many, of varied stripe.
    We can communicate with the address I supplied. Joseph Minkowitz md

  8. Laykie Minkowitz Donin says:

    wow this was amazing to read!! thank you!!
    i grew up proudly with the name MINKOWITZ
    i never knew that it was the name of a town
    a cousin of mine shared this on Facebook with all of the minkowitz relatives
    thanks so much!!!!!

  9. Jay Schwartz says:

    What a fabulous story!
    I had to keep a box of tissues next to me while reading it…

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