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 (09-010.21-F) -  Shelf Number: MDV 469

No streaming derivative is available.

Date: May 30, 2007

Participants: Kaviner, Aba Davidovich. Interviewed by Dov-Ber Kerler, Moisei Lemster.

Location recorded: Khmel'nyts'kyy, Khmel’nyts’ka Oblast', Ukraine

Language: Yiddish, Russian

Culture Group: Jews, Yiddish-speakers, Ukrainians

 Recording Content:   

This recording consists of a formal interview on May 30, 2007 with Aba Davidovich Kaviner who was born in 1921 in the town of Derazhnya, Ukraine. (Part 1 of 2. See MDV 470)

00:00:00 This tape consists of a formal interview with Aba Davidovich Kaviner, born in 1921 in the town of Derazhnya, Ukraine. He received a double education in his youth, graduating from a Soviet Yiddish school, while simultaneously attending a yeshiva. At 19 years of age, he was drafted into the Red Army, a year before the war broke out. With his entire family killed, after the war, Kaviner moved to Khmel'nyts'kyy, where he got married. His wife died four years ago. Kaviner shares his attitudes towards “loshn-koydesh” (the “holy tongue” of scripture) that he learned in yeshiva, in comparison with the “Sephardi dialect” of Modern Israeli Hebrew.
00:05:06 Kaviner describes prewar Derazhnya as a "yidishe shtut” (Jewish town) full of artisans and craftspeople. Kaviner completed a Soviet Yiddish school in 1939 just before it was closed. At the same time, he learned in a yeshiva, stating he had “no childhood” because he spent so much time studying. The yeshiva was an open secret that the authorities “pretended not to know about,” according to Kaviner. Once the yeshiva was closed down in 1934-5, it went underground and continued to function clandestinely until 1939. The director and teachers were able to receive successful employment after the school was closed because they were very intelligent, educated people. There were also semi-secret “kheyder” schools (religious schools for young children) that operated in the town until approximately 1932. After this, melamdim (religious teachers) continued to teach children in private homes. The yeshiva was Hasidic, but associated with no particular rebbe, except the Baal Shem Tov. Kaviner states that the shtetl had about 5000 Jews. He also lists all the significant rebbes that were active in the region.
00:15:23 Kaviner briefly describes the yeshiva curriculum.
00:16:24 He recites the traditional Passover song “Ekhod mi yoydeyo” in loshn-koydesh.
00:17:22 He describes how Purim was celebrated in his town, emphasizing that it was observed in people’s homes and not in a collective community-wide manner. He also mentions singing, dancing, the wearing of costumes and the sending of “sholekh-hamunes” (traditional Purim gifts).
00:19:33 Kaviner comments on the concept of “gite yidn” (righteous Jews), and talks about pilgrimages to various rebbes. He also tells a story about his great-grandfather, the rich merchant Yidl, and his dealings with the town’s dishonest khevre kadisho (burial society).
00:22:41 Kaviner shares a detailed story/folktale about the Baal Shem Tov [Besht] and his encounter with a hospitable, impoverished innkeeper.
00:29:04 He also tells a short story about the Vildeniker Rebbe and another tale about the Baal Shem Tov, about reviving a girl from the dead.
00:33:01 He tells a longer tale about how the Baal Shem Tov story saved the life of Aleksei Dorbush.
00:45:20 Kaviner details the history of the first writings by and about the Besht and their connection to Nakhmen Bratslaver.
00:47:52 Kaviner reports that he knows all these stories from his reading them in Yiddish both before and after the war.
00:49:06 Kaviner lost all his childhood friends in the war. In the postwar period, he had a daughter; his grandson now works in Hesed (a Jewish communal organization). His grandson is uncircumcised because there was no one to perform the ritual.
00:50:35 During Kaviner’s childhood, even under the Soviets, his town still had circumcisions performed and traditional wedding ceremonies. The last rabbi of the town was Rov Mekhl Rozhanski, who played violin and worked as a moyel (performing circumcisions).
00:51:30 Kaviner talks about prewar Jewish weddings with music by local klezmer musicians and performances by the town’s badkhn (wedding jester) Itsik-Meyer.
00:53:44 Kaviner recalls that he had heard of “trefers,” or people who could predict the future, in his childhood, but does not remember them in detail.
00:54:52 When asked about “goylems” (golems), Kaviner recommends the stories of Yitskhok Bashevis Zinger (Isaac Bshevis Singer) that he read in Yiddish before the war. In the postwar period, Kaviner collected Yiddish books from older Jews.
00:57:03 Kaviner recalls the local Yiddish theater in Derazhnya, as well as visiting Jewish theater troupes, such as the Hebrew group HaBimah (which performed a Goldfaden piece) and other troupes.
00:59:24 Kaviner talks about the other Yiddish writers he has read, including Mendele Moykher Sforim, Sholem Aleichem, Y. L. Perets and numerous Soviet Yiddish writers. Prewar Derazhnya had a Yiddish library for the town, as well as another, larger collection in the synagogue. These books were burned during the war along with the town’s Torah scrolls.
01:02:07 End of Recording.