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The Home
I was born after the first world war, in 1923. At that time a large part of the Deckelbaum family was already overseas in Canada. Our home town was subject constantly to soldiers of different armies, going back and forth, and ruining the houses. The houses were made of wood with straw covering. They were very susceptible to fire and they were constantly being destroyed and being rebuilt. I grew up in my grandfather's house, which was the standard situation in small towns. When children were married, for many years they lived in the same house. Houses were built to be able to contain some of the children and this is how I remember the house of my grandfather which was my home.

In the back of this house we had large areas of gardens which during the years I worked with my grandfather mainly, and with my mother. We planted vegetables, which were sufficient to last us a whole year. We grew cucumbers and onions, and all the vegetables that were growing in our district, especially pumpkins. Tremendous large pumpkins. They would last the whole winter - we put them on top of the house. The good ones were cooked and eaten by us, and the ones that were not ripe, that were not so good, were food for the cow that supplied our milk, and very little butter for us. The garden contained places that were not cultivated. Four of those places were a remainder of ruins of prior developments. And I was told that these were the houses of the Deckelbaums from the other branch of the family that used to live there. We used to live in a cluster, all the Deckelbaums. Beside the house that we lived in, there was a shed, a stable which had our cow. The cow supplied us milk, and once a year with a calf. The balance of our sustenance was by the children of my grandfather, which was my uncles that sent money from Canada (Lazar Deckelbaum).

The house that I grew up in consisted of two halves. One, I and my sister and my mother occupied, and the second one my grandfather and my grandmother occupied. It seems like one of the rooms that we had, the entrance went out on the main street and sometime, which I don't remember, was kind of a little store, but it wasn't during my time and it was kept as storage for sacks of flour for the winter and things of this nature. The floor was an earthen floor, which means the house was built on ground, and clay was molded on top of the floor, and there was no flooring on it. Which means that you had always to walk with shoes, including the winter. When you got out from the bed in winter you couldn't step on the floor but you had at once to get into stockings and shoes and then step down. The house was heated by a brick fireplace with a chimney that went outside and wood was burning, and it we used to buy from farmers a supply of wood for the winter which was kept in the shed. During the hours when it was open and working it was nice and warm in the kitchen. There was an oven built in a very ingenious manner from bricks. I know because once it was demolished and we built a new one and there were layers of bricks, and then layers of bottles of glass, and then again layers of bricks. It was enclosed with a chimney. There was a wooden cover. On Friday the food was prepared, cooked, put in the oven, a cover was put on it, and a clay was dissolved in water and it was enclosed all around with clay, there was no opening at all, and the next day was Shabbes it was opened up. Everything was very nice and brown. The clay was taken off with a knife.

There was no water in the house. You had to go and get water from a neighbor who was more prosperous and they had their own well. The well was an opening which went down- you lowered a pail and you pulled it up. You pulled it up with a rope. In the winter water used to get spilled, and after a while it was all encased with this ice and it was very hard to manage to get up. Of course, sanitary things didn't exist. There was an outhouse out far from the house which you used. And the problem always was in the winter. So, life was hard. Just preparing the food and everything else was hard work. There was a mikvah in the town. Beside the mikvah was a Finnish style of sauna which supplied the main hygienic way of keeping clean. But in the house there was a basin, and you had to warm up large pots with water and you had to use it as you can see in the movies of the wild west.

The Mill
There are some things that I know only from stories because during my time they didn't exist. But living with my grandfather, I knew the continuation of this family here. We lived on the shores of the River Styr, which was one of the many tributaries to a large river - the Bug. On all these rivers there were built dams which dammed the water and supplied the power for mills that used to mill the grain of the farmers for a percentage. Most of the mills were owned by Jews.

My grandfather owned a mill of this nature and therefore he had a large amount of peasants who used to know him during the time when he was the owner of the mill and looked after it. Now at some time, which I don't remember, this river was started to be navigated. Therefore, they had to demolish all the dams and take off all the mills. That was the reason my grandfather didn't have a mill anymore. During my youth, the river had regular boats for transportation. They had boats that transported goods from the two ends of the river -- from Lutsk to Pinsk. There were also passenger boats that transported a hundred to two hundred people.

Rafalovka was on the River Styr. The houses in Rafalovka didn't have any central supply of water. During the summer, in the morning, I used to run down the bank of the river in order to take a bath, to wash myself. The town was located between the banks of the river and a hill -- that was a strategic location of the town. The army that had the hill could control all the district. As I said before, during my time the mill was not there anymore. A few times during the year, there used to be an annual fair in our town. The farmers would bring their produce to sale and buy the goods that they needed, like farm implements and everything else. The farmers from the places where the mill was located, which wasn't immediately in the home town, used to come in throngs to my grandfather to greet him, to discuss things with him, to discuss their problems. There is at least one case that I remember that I would like to mention. I was a little boy. My grandfather used to receive them in his room in the same house. But I was outside, sometimes listening in, and there was this peasant woman who came in, and she told him some story and she cried. And somehow I was curious about it, and my grandfather told me that she was telling him that he husband doesn't love her no more. How does she know? Its already two weeks and he didn't beat her up yet.

For a religious town, there are some aspects of the peoples' lives that might sound strange. But it wasn't in the religious terms that we understand, where there is purer Judaism. It was mixed with a lot of surrounding cultures and with some superstitions of things that they wanted to cultivate. I am mentioning this only because my grandfather was supposed to know of these superstitions. All the town people, Jews and non-Jews, had a cow to support them with their needs for milk. These cows used to be taken out to pasture by a pasture boy in the morning and they used to be brought in the evening back to the home town. Sometimes a cow used to wander away and wasn't brought home to town. Being surrounded by woods there were wolves, wild and vicious ones that preyed on cows and even on people. In my memory there were at least half a dozen people that were mauled and killed by wolves. In a case of this nature, people used to come to my grandfather. My grandfather was supposed to know an intonation. He used to draw a circle, and that used to prevent the cow from being approached by the wolves. And my grandfather promised me that before he was going to pass away, he's going to pass along to me the intonation.

Life and Living
I remember when I was a young boy, some of the Shabbes afternoons, and that was when I was very very young, because at that time my grandmother still lived - Zlota Rosia. There were some Saturday afternoons after synagogue, and after people ate, but before "Shabbes-Shives", that there used to come into our house a Jewish woman. She used to sit down across the table from my grandfather, and they used to sit and talk for periods of time. Now, I always noticed that my grandmother used to make herself scarce. She was never sitting at the table at that particular time. I can't recall exactly how often this happened. But it must have been often enough to be imprinted in the mind of a child as something which isn't ordinary, something which is different. This lady was married first to a man named Zalman - who died, as most of the old people in our town, at the very nice ripe old age of 103.

There were no hospitals in Rafalovka. There were no doctors. There were no dentists. If you got sick, you just would die. And this is why my grandmother suffered all her ages. She died young, comparatively speaking. She was in her sixties.. But this was young by the standards of Rafalovka. The great mortality was children. So early on the weakest ones were eliminated. Then the next ones were the youngsters, the teenagers. The moment you made it there, you were good for the 80s. 90s, 100s, and over. There was a family, I couldn't tell you how she was related, but I'm positive she was related.. She used to come to our weddings, when there was a wedding of close people or something, and dance the "Chelah" dance - where they hold the handkerchief - and she died when she was 113 years old. In the Deckelbaums, all of them lived into their nineties and over. And a lot of other townspeople as well.

The strong specimens lived. Maybe it was the combination of tension and of country air and maybe healthy food - I don't know if this had any influence, or if it had only to do with heredity. But, except for my grandmother, that I remember, old people didn't die of sickness, old people just died. They used to go until the very last day. In one particular case I remember, the old man's legs gave out. This didn't prevent him from going to visit the farmers in the town located five kilometers away - the only problem is that it took him the whole day to get there. He had to sleep over and only the next day to come back. But nobody was bed-ridden or anything of that nature. You just worked, you just were active until the very last day.

The Town
When I was talking about Rafalovka I tried to give a better definition of the physical perimeter of the place and how it fits in with the surrounding territory. Being a part of Russia, there were restrictions on the Jews, which you are familiar with, called the Pale -- plus restrictions on the occupation of Jews. Also there was serfdom, and during the Czar Alexander II (if I am not mistaken), in the 1860s, the serfdom was abolished. Some restrictions on Jews at the same time were also lightened. So where Jews were not allowed to own land before that, when serfdom was abolished and land was given to peasants, land was also assigned to Jews, but it was assigned as a community. This means that a piece of land was given and Jews could own this land in a communal nature and build their houses and everything else in this piece of land. Subsequently, this piece of land was divided into individual ownership, and into parts with which communities deal, like the cemetery, the places of worship. But it was one piece of land. In most cases, it was given to where Jews used to live and this was mainly central. So in Rafalovka, the piece of land that was Jewish was located in the center of the town, and except for the 80 - 90 Jewish families that lived in there, there were also 300 or 400 gentile - in this case Ukrainian families -- that lived all around the Jewish center. It was an open ghetto. And only in the middle of the 1930s, the Polish government got around to delineating on a map exactly, the exact borders. I remember that I went with all the other for weeks on end following after the surveyors that were looking at old maps and were trying to delineate the perimeter of the Jewish settlement -- which was the border between the Jewish house and the Ukrainian house next to it, and including the few pieces of land that were outside - which were the two Jewish cemeteries, the old one and the new one. Within this piece of land inside were located two Jewish synagogues and private houses. The town was larger than just the Jewish population - it wasn't just the Jewish population.

The form of the Jewish communal life was the form prevalent in all of Europe and in some countries it still exists up now. The Jewish community was a kehilla. The head of the kehilla was elected by all the members. During my time it didn't exist. But prior to that, at the beginning of the century and prior to that, there was a taxation form that was paid to the kehilla and that was used for the expenses of the Jewish community. The Jewish kehilla was considered for legal purposes as a legal entity that governed Jewish life. This included all family life -- marriages, deaths -- the kehilla was the registrar of the Jewish community - not the individual rabbis - it used to keep the family records which used to be transmitted to the central recording office of the state. The congregations were run on the basis as they are run here - voluntary self-taxation.

There were poor people and there were rich people, comparatively speaking to what is poor and what is rich. Unfortunately, our grandfather wasn't the best business man as is demonstrated by the following story. During the Czars when my grandfather had the mill , he was a prosperous person. The money that was circulated at that time took two forms, the paper form, which was rubles in paper, and the second form was a gold form, there was rubles in gold, just like we have paper and coin form right now. During the upheaval of the revolution and subsequent period, money depreciated greatly. People that had some experience or foresight had all their funds in gold coins which were called "chervontzes" Our grandfather unfortunately found it too cumbersome or otherwise and he had it in paper money. Until the last day that I went from home town my grandfather used to open up a large trunk with steel railings - the trunks that you send things overseas. And it was all packed with hundreds and thousands of paper rubles that could have just as well as been "chervontzes", which would have been a million of money by the standards of the time. And unfortunately, or fortunately, he believed that maybe someday its still going to be worth something. Like lots of people in this country right now have bonds, issued by the Czars, and they believe that its going to be redeemed and they are even being traded on the exchange - 10 cents on the dollar, 8 cents on the dollar, when the relationship with the Russians were good I think it went up to even 20 cents on the dollar.

I was deprived but I didn't know about it. Comparatively speaking, I was poorer off than some, but I was better off than others. Lets say, in our scheme of things, we were the lower middle class. But all it was, thanks not to anything of our doing, but it was because of the support mostly that we got from the family in Canada.

In our town, like I mentioned, were two synagogues which held two rabbis, and the names of the followers come from the towns where they lived. So there was no Rabbi that lived in Rafalovka but the Rabbis used to come and visit all the followers. Instead of going to them like in the big houses, the Rabbinical houses, the Rabbi used to come and visit followers. I remember visits of both Rabbis, the Liubisheier and the Stepanier. Sometime in the 1930s the Stepanier Rabbi moved out to the United States and left his Chassidim stranded. During their visits the whole part of the town that followed the Rabbi used to go out in mass. People used to come, there was lots of singing and dancing,. The Rabbi used to spend about a week in town. During that time, the Chassidim used to bring their donations to him, they used to celebrate the melaveh malka (the fourth meal of the Sabbath, a festive meal on Saturday night with songs, drink, and dancing), which is a very very great occasion. There was a nosh table at which everybody feasted. The Rabbi used to throw shiraim (leftovers). As a matter of fact, I even went to greet the Rabbi one Shabbes and I shook his little finger. And then one year we escorted the Rabbi back out of town and he never came back after that. And I believe that is when the Chassidim of the United States brought him over. The Stepanier shul was located not far from the church, which by the way was right outside the Jewish place. And there was at some stage a part of Jewish population that lived behind the church. Surprisingly, there were two pieces of land that belonged to the Deckelbaums that were located in that area and we never could acclaim to it. We never cultivated it. I believe it was just public property. There was an old synagogue that was destroyed before my time. Weddings were performed at the place where the old synagogue stood -- not in the two synagogues -- weddings in general were performed under the open sky, and this is the style of the Ashkenazi. The procession used to go past the church and it used to go towards that place. But it seems that sometime later the Liubisheier shul was built right across our house. And after that I remember attending the Liubisheier synagogue with my grandfather. So I don't know if it changed Rabbis, or if it was just a question of convenience that it was right across. I remember mostly the connection with the Liubisheier synagogue.

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