04 September 2022

Letters from Levi Yitzkhak Lederman, 2 December 1912

This post continues translation of letters and postcards in Yiddish (and, sometimes, Hebrew and a little bit of Russian) sent to Morris Lederman, who immigrated to the United States in 1910. Most of the correspondence, such as this one, were sent by Morris' father Levi Yitzkhak. For further background, see the first post in this series.

For links to other posts in this series, please scroll to the bottom.
Like the last post, this correspondence, as well, was a letter for which we do not have the original envelope. The letter was written on 2 December 1912 (Julian/Russian calendar) which was equivalent to 15 December 1912 on the Gregorian calendar, then (and now) in use in much of the world. So, this letter was written by Levi Yitzkhak four days after the one posted previously.

Translation by Esther Chanie Dushinsky.

[Notes in blue as well as those at the end of the post are mine. For ease of reading, I have added paragraph breaks in the translation. The underlined words in this letter are as written by Levi Yitzkhak.] 

[side 1]


Monday, Parshas Vayechi, 2/15 1912 Zhary forest [1] 


My beloved and dear son who sweetens my soul, Mr. Moshe Shalom Mordekhai should live.


I am writing this letter in the forest. It is Sunday evening, Parshas Vayechi, December 2 English December 15. Today the people traveled from the kantur [?] to Baranovka.[2] I gather that they will most likely bring back a letter or card for me, from you.


But right now, I am only writing a response to your earlier letter from 19 November English that you wrote. It arrived to me last week Sunday already. This is a calculation of 8 December English. Meaning, that from when you wrote it, until now is about 18-19 days.


You write in the letter that you met with Baruch Zharlitzer's [son].[3] You write about your happiness when you saw him and that he really did give you a truly warm greeting. Mother, indeed, told me that the entire time before he left, she asked him, told him that she should greet you and to give over. I, myself, did not see him before he left, as I was not home. Bottom line, my son, when we read something in you letters about your happiness, we feel a lot of pleasure. 


It's been a few times that you have written something that you will _____ _____ [travel to?]. But you don't  write why and when. What is this? What is this? You wrote to him and you still haven't received a response from him. All your words are obscure, you don't write details.


Can you believe how many times I have asked you in the letters that you should write something of "importance/purpose" - I say purpose - but by the way, I am of the opinion that a person, a human being don't know what purpose is. There is The One Who Created and runs the world, He does things with a purpose and that's what lasts forever. But my dear son, even so, a person can't always keep his hands in the pocket. A person must do and God will help. So my dear son, write something important. What are you thinking? What are you saying about the future. I want to know your opinion. 


From Zavel'n, the story is as follows: from the start, I understand that things were hard.[4] That's what I saw in his letters every time he wrote to us. He constantly complained that it was hard for him.


[side 2]


And by the way, Gedalya Eisenberg was here. From the start. The Gabbai is the son, Shmuel Eisenberg's [i.e., Shmuel Eisenberg's son].[5] He is currently the main manager [?]. Meaning, in Polin and ____ [forkshne or porkshne or similar] he is the organizer - he told me in the beginning that he isn't too impressed with Zavel'n.[6] Meaning, it would, he said, it would be very good if I would write to Zavel'n that he should be more devoted in the shop - you can understand that from what he said, I was already not calm. That's when I sent mother, should live, to be there. I have written about this to you. This still happened in the summer.


But now I was at Chona Eisenberg, and Gedalya was also home.[7] But happens to be he went down to the street then. I spoke about this again. From what Chona said, I understand they are happy with him now. He got used to the shop already. They said that it isn't surprising that a new person takes time to get used to the shop. A few minutes later, Gedalya arrived home and he said the same thing as Chona said.


But from Zavel himself, I did not have any letters about this topic. There were no letters home either. I told G. with wonder - how is it that Zavel doesn't  come home this entire time? You think one would want to travel from such a shop? He told me - you should write the address. So I'm writing here. But I think it's better that you write him at our address and we send it to him. This is the address:


[in Russian:] 

Bumazhnovo Polyanskovo Frabrika [plant/factory]

To: Mr. Zeidel Liderman

station [railroad station] Krivin, Volinskava Gubernia [8]


Greetings to R'David _____ [Wallach?] in my name. Greet Yisrael Pesis [?], everyone we know, all my acquaintances should be sent regards.[9] We ask that if it's possible to do a favor, you should not forget about us. 


Greet Baruch Zharizher [?]'s boy in my name.


Your father that worries about you and is awaiting to see you with much nakhas.


1. "2/15" was not February 15, but Levi Yitzkhak's way of recognizing the same day as designated on the two calendars: 2 December 1912 (Julian) and 15 December 1912 (Gregorian).

The Torah reading for Vayechi is Genesis 47:28 - 50:26. 

For information on the location of the Zhary forest, see note 1 in this earlier post. Levi Yitzkhak had been working for a private timber company in the Zhary forest.

2. The exact meaning of the transcribed word "kantur" is not clear. I think the word may actually have been "canton" - a small administrative division. This would make some sense as the Zhary forest was not close to any large communities. So, some people from the local area (or, perhaps, his company) traveled to Baranovka (where Levi Yitzkhak's family was living).

3. I have been unable to locate anyone with that surname or something similar. There are several issues. 

  1. There is no indication of Baruch's son's first name. And we do not know where he might have been living in the USA. Morris/Moshe was in Lynn, Massachusetts, at this time.

  2. The last name is transcribed with two different spellings in this letter (here and several paragraphs down): Zharlitzer and Zharizher. These renderings could be spelled several ways in Russian (including staring with letters that sound like Zh, Ch, Shch, and Ts). I have checked JewishGen's FamilyFinder and have located no researchers seeking similar surnames. 

  3. It is not clear from which community Zharlitzer lived in Ukraine. It could have been Annopol where Morris lived with his parents before he emigrated. Or, it could have been Baranovka where Morris' parents moved. I tried to located a similar name with the first name Borukh in 1906 and 1907 Voters Lists for Ostrog District (for Annopol) and Novograd Volinskiy district (for Baranovka). I found no similar listings. 

  4. I search for similar surnames in the Ellis Island manifest database using the Gold Form search box on SteveMorse.org. Similar searches of other immigration databases on Ancestry.com (specifying Jewish collections) were fruitless.

4. Zavel and Zeidel and names for the same person, Moshe's older brother.

5. A gabbai is the synagogue official who is in charge of finances - a treasurer or administrator.

6. So far, we have not been able to determine the meaning of the word forkshne or porkshne.

7. I have looked for Chona and Gedalya Eisenberg (Aizenberg) in Annopol, Baranovka and Polonne and have not found them in Voter's lists from 1906 and 1907.

8. Krivin appears to have been a rural area (just a train station) about halfway between Ostrog and Slavuta.

Thanks to Oleksiy Khrystuch and Nina Vinakovsky who responded to my post on the FaceBook page Genealogical Translations and helped decipher the Cyrillic handwriting.

9. I have not located people with these surnames in Lynn, MA, in the 1910 and 1920 census or the 1912 and 1913 Lynn city directories.


Posts in this Series 


"Letters from Levi Yitzkhak Lederman, 2 December 1912"

24 July 2022

Letters from Levi Yitzkhak Lederman, 28 November 1912

This post continues translation of letters and postcards in Yiddish (and, sometimes, Hebrew and a little bit of Russian) sent to Morris Lederman, who immigrated to the United States in 1910. Most of the correspondence, such as this one, were sent by Morris' father Levi Yitzkhak. For further background, see the first post in this series.

For links to other posts in this series, please scroll to the bottom.
This correspondence was a letter for which we do not have the original envelope. We have been lucky, however, in that Levi Yitzkhak identified the date on which he wrote to his son. By our calendar, the letter was written on 11 December 1912 (Gregorian calendar). While the paper has been torn, we do not appear to have lost much of the writing on the first side. We have lost some text in the first two paragraphs on side two, however. 
Most of the correspondence saved by Morris Lederman was on postcards. A few were letters sent in closed envelopes. This letter seems to have a bit more personal detail than the others. Likely, this may be attributed to the fact that the letter was closed in an envelope and not available to Russian government prying eyes.
Several aspects of the letter stand out: the emphatic request that Morris leave the United States and return home; the social unrest that made it impossible for Levi Yitzkhak to continue his forestry work; and the marital challenges of the Grinfelds. 
Mail service between the United States and the Pale of Settlement was sometimes excruciatingly slow. Even knowing this did not keep Morris' parents from worrying about their son who was so far away. In our time of Zoom, texts and What's App - where communications are instantaneous over oceans and political boundaries - it is difficult to recall that letters such as these were usually the only ties that bound family members otherwise separated by great time and distances.

"...You should come home"

Levi Yitzkhak noted that it had been three years since Morris had left home. Morris had boarded the S.S. Noordham in Rotterdam on 20 August and landed in New York on 29 August 1910.[1] If Morris left home shortly before 20 August, then he had been gone about 15 months. It is possible that Morris lived temporarily in another community before heading to Rotterdam. But, on the passenger manifest, it stated that Morris' last permanent residence had been his home community of Annopol.
Many of the postcards previously posted here indicated that Morris' was challenged to find meaningful and adequately paying work in the United States. His family at home faced severe economic troubles. It seems that Morris' parents had decided that having their youngest child so far away and still struggling was just not worth the emotional toll. 

For some reason - despite his troubles with locals as he tried to continue work in the forests - Levi Yitzkhak thought things were looking up. He expected that if Morris returned home things might be better for his family.

Morris' son said that his father never returned home to eastern Europe - even for a visit.

"...there will be peace..." 

Levi Yitzkhak 's words were either blind optimism or a fervent hope for better times. Regardless, we know that there was no peace at all until into the early 1920s. The Russian Pale of Settlement was soon overwhelmed by what became World War I (The Great War). After Armistice in November 1918, Russian factions fought a civil war that continued to seriously impact the Pale and its Jews for several years.


Marital discord

We learn that Morris' sister Feiga and her husband Shakhna Grinfeld were not getting along. The reasons for this were not clear in the letter. It seemed, however, that the Grinfeld children had respite from their sometimes challenging home life by visiting their grandparents (Levi Yitzkhak and Frieda) who lived close by. Feiga and Shakhna stayed married and continued to live in Baranovka. Shakhna, a respected leader in the local Jewish community, was murdered in a progrom in Baranovka in about 1919 or 1920. In 1921 and 1922, Feiga and her children immigrated to the United States. Feiga and two of her children settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. You may see my 12-part series on my research into Feiga Grinfeld and her family starting here.


Translation by Esther Chanie Dushinsky.

[Notes in blue as well as those at the end of the post are mine. For ease of reading, I have added paragraph breaks in the translation. The underlined words in this letter are as written by Levi Yitzkhak.] 

[side 1]

Chanuka, 28 November Russian, 11 December English[2] 


My dear son who's beloved like my own soul, Mr. Moshe Shalom Mordekhai, should live! 


My dear son, I received your card from the 29th of August, English, Parshas Teitzei, the 18th August Russian. We received it in our home in Baranovka on Monday, Vayeshev, November 20 Russian, the 3rd December English. And it as been day by day, to 95 days. That's more than 3 months. And yesterday mother sent it to me in the forest. 


We are very pleased with your writing. Especially as we haven't received any letters from you in a long while and were already worried. We didn't know what to do, especially during such a time. You can already imagine how much angst it caused here. And second of all, we thank God that you are not an American citizen yet and you have a choice, it is better and more sensible that you should come home....


My dear son, from that time, meaning, from 3 years that you have gone and everything that happened isn't even possible to write. And this is what we call if all the waters were ink...if all the inhabitants were scribes...if all the forests were quills...[3] It is impossible to write, and even now, until today, it is only that God should have mercy and should say enough, enough of the troubles. But now there's hope that there will be peace. I wish, Dear God, Amen. 


My dear son, our opinion is that you should come home. I believe it is already time. Hopefully, with God's help, it'll improve. As long as there will be peace. The world keeps on saying that there will be peace. 


It shouldn't happen to you, it is very bad at this moment for me. Meaning, aside from everything that is going on, since the _____ there has been great anarchy, and pogroms all over. They are robbing us in the forests and claiming it is theirs. The forests _____ _____ _____. They are tearing it apart and there is nothing we can do. I am now in a little forest next to Rogachev, which is 20 verst from Baranovka.[4]


Last year January, they started cutting here. Now the non Jews from the surrounding villages banished the _____ [Rogachover?] and they are robbing them officially. They threatened me that I must leave the forest and indeed, I will have to leave for home within a week or two weeks. God forbid, it isn't dangerous, but simply put, there is nothing to do in the forest because they do what they want and there is no solution. There is no law and no judge. We hope that God should help and there will be peace and everything will be back in order.


Sarah is in Kiev now. She left on July 18 this year. She very much wanted to see a big city. We thought she would _____, but in the end, she had to take on a job. She sews in a _____. She earns 132 a month. But she doesn't consider helping. 


The inflation here is unbearably great here, especially _____ [next to?] Kiev. 190 today was valued at 10 in the past. Every single thing, from the smallest to the biggest is greatly expensive. I now earn 160 a month, and I barely have a piece of bread. We must send packages of food from home to Sarah all the time. For example, bread, butter, schmaltz and so on. Bread is currently 55-60 instead of 2.5-3 it used to be. Every single thing is very expensive now. But let it be whatever it will. As long as God will help, peace. 


They are saying that now is already a Pravda [The Russian word правда means truth.]. Perhaps God will have mercy already and there will be peace. We will have the merit that you should come home already, for good reasons in peace... 


[side 2]  


[The torn page has affected the readability of the first two paragraphs (especially the first one).]


My dear son, I am writing this letter and [torn page]  

that we can write Yiddish letters already and a bit [torn page] 

what happened here. Ink and paper is not enough [torn page] 

until today one had to write only in Russian language [torn page] 

_____as you know, we to _____ [torn page]  


My dear son! You ask in you card about Feiga's and Shakhna's behavior. The story is that [torn page]

nothing to talk about, remember? When you once came to Baranovka, we were still Nareyvka [?], you were protected Feiga and told mother, should live, that we should send Feiga, but [torn page] 

there was little, 600, to send for them? This is Torah and this is the reward! Now they [or she] [torn page]

behave this way! One to another, they don't enter the room together, they don't talk. Mother is also very [torn page] 

we sit in the rooms, were it not for this, I would not have wanted to sit here. If they would [torn page] 

it is _____ [Possibly the Russian word pustenya/пустыня, which means desert or wilderness] it's cold, dark and so on...Happens to be, Sarah is currently in Kiev and [torn page] 

also there, and they are together in one living space. They pay 60 a month for a living space.


[in the right margin]

Babekal and Rayka sometimes do go in to mother. Rayka sleeps over from time to time, as mother is alone at home. It isn't bad that Rayka sometimes sleeps over.[5]


[third paragraph] 

I am writing a card to mother at home and I am writing that I wrote a letter to you in Yiddish. She will be very pleased. She will feel less pain and heartache over the entire 3.5 years that she suffered because we couldn't write, it is indescribable.[6] The tears still haven't dried. Not a minute passes that she doesn't talk about you. But her whole comfort was that we allowed her to express her heartache, that rich people and others would have wished for the same. Even more, we need to thank and praise God that this is how it turned out.


Bottom line, my dear son, I am ending my writing, and God should continue to help and bestow kindness, amen.


Your father who is awaiting to see you alive and in peace.

You peace 

Your name peace [7]

May it be His will that He will protect you in peace.



Of course it would be good if it wouldn't take so long until the letters arrive. The letters that we write to you and the letters that you write to us.


Send greetings _____ Mirel, should live, how are you doing, Mirel?

Why don't you ever write to us?


My dear son! I am asking that you should write very often, because this is at least a bit of the pleasure when we receive a letter from you. _____ it is a strong _____ see please to write often often, your father. 



1. Manifest, S.S. Noordham, Rotterdam to New York, arrived 29 August 1910, sheet 15, entry 19, Moris Lederman, age 19; images, Ancestry.com; NARA microfilm publication T715, roll 1542.


2. As noted in other letters in this series, by 1912 most of the world (including the United States) had changed to the Gregorian calendar. Russia did not change from the Julian calendar until after World War I.


3. The underlined words are quote from Akdamut Piyyut by Rabbi Meir ben Yitzhak Nehorai, cantor in the city of Worms, Germany in about 1100. Tradition states that Rabbi Meir was one of Rashi's teachers. The poem is in Aramaic, a language known to those Jews who study the Talmud and its commentaries. So, if we did not already have a good idea of Levi Yitzkhak Lederman's character from all these cards and letters, we now surely know that he was a deeply religious and learned man.


I have found this excerpt with a similar translation:

If all the heavens were parchment

if all the trees were pens,

if all the seas were ink, and

if every creature were a scribe,

they would not suffice to expound

the greatness of God. 


The poem is recited in synagogue during Shavuot, which usually falls on 6 Sivan (50 days after the first day of Passover) - usually between May and June 15th.  


For more on this poem see here and Eliyahu Kitov, The Book of Our Heritage: The Jewish Year and Its Days of Significance (New York: Feldheim Publishers, 1997), pp. 777-779.


4. I am not aware of pogroms in the area in 1912. There were pogroms in 1905-6 and 1919-1920. I will continue to research this period and see what I can find.


Rogachev (Rogachiv) is 8 miles NNE of Baranovka (Baranivka)


5. Babekal and Rayka were two of Feiga and Shakhna's three children. The oldest was Leah. Babekal became Robert Greenfield and Rayka became Ray Greenfield Young after immigration to Cincinatti, Ohio.


6. Clearly, with about 30 cards and letters from Levi Yitzkhak, the couple did write during that time - and they wrote in Yiddish. It is possible that we do not have all the cards and letters. It is also possible that when he says they "could not write," he meant that they could not write their true feelings in postcards that anyone could read.


7. Levi Yitzkhak always refers to Morris by his full name: Moshe Shalom Mordekhai. The name Shalom means peace.


Posts in this Series