This was written by Philip Zelbovitz when he was 90 years old. He had been in America around 72 years from the age of 18. It was transcribed by by genealogy friend Eudice Winer-Harris, his great niece. Comments and clarifications are in brackets. This article is reprinted as originally written, complete with spelling and grammatical errors. I feel that the original conveys a feeling that would be lost if alterred.
[Feb 1894 – Nov 1986 – Shraga Feivish son of Abba Leib Zelbovitz]
Father Grand Father grate grandfa
[Abba Leib had 4 sisters] [Elya Zelbovitz married to Sarah Taruts]
[married to Shifra Gordon] [Zundl Gordon married to Chava]
[Shifra had 3 brothers…Pinhas Zelig, Yosef and 1 sister]
”I started this to wright
Finished October 1984”
I was born in Feb 15 1894. The name of my little town was Ponidel in Lithuania . The population was 18 hundred Jews & 3 hundred Chritians and 4 cinagogs and one church. We did not had a train. We had to go with a horse and team 3 hours to gat to a train. The Christan people were very nice to the Jewish and that time every Tuesday we had a market and the farmers used to bring to sell what ever they had. The Jewish were not allowed to own land.
Our house was located in the center st where the market is. It was attached with a store in the front. The 3 houses was attached one to another. Another house was attached on the side. The house was made of wood. All the houses was made the same way 1 story high. The front roofs was singeld [shingled], the back roofs was strow [straw]. All the houses was the same way. In side the house was wood floors with 3 rooms – one bedroom and 2 large rooms. The bed room was for Ma and Pa and 2 stoves made of soft brick. One stove was a big stove wher ma was baking. She made 20 lb bread a week. The other store for heating the house. The stove was between bedroom wall and big room. Wood was the only thing we hat to heat.
Ma and Pa had 2 beds with feaders madreses [feather mattresses], and the pillow also feders. I had to take off a door to put on 2 chairs to slep [sleep] on for my bed. The madres [mattress] was made of strow [straw], a pillow from feaders. The girls had beds, they also had the same kind. They slept 2 to gather [together].
My father was the only son. His name was Abe Leib. He had 4 sisters and his father my grand father was a mason. His name was Elie. My grand mother’s name was Sarah and my mother’s name was Shifra. My grand mother’s name was Chava. My grand father name was Zundel. Their last name was Gordon. Ma had one sister. She became a Fine. My mother had 3 brothers. Her father was making boots for man and shoes for women. He sold them in his store. He was well off. He owned several houses. He sold them in his later years, except on wich [which] he gave to my mother and father. He also gave my mother and fater [father] room and bord [board] when they were first maried for several years.
When my father was 10 years old he was sent in a big city Walkomir for education. The rabii [rabbi] in our town couldn’t teach him any more. That [is] why his mother and father send him to a big city. He lived there for 10 years. He never came home during that time. Avery [every] day he had to go to different home to eat. He slept on a bench in the yeshiva. When he came home he had all his papers for a Rabii with the highe honers [high honors].
My older brother his name was Mordechy was home until he was thirteen years old. My father was his teacher. Mordechy was very smart. My parents sent him to Vilna wher they learn Talmud and Hebrew. He got his documents for Rabii when he was 18 years old with the highest honers.
The next brother to him was Chiem Yosef. He was very educated in Hebrew and in Talmud. My third brother was calld Shnair. He had a little edcation like myself. My 3 brothers were never home. My older brother got maried. He lived in Riga. My broter Snaer lived with him. My second brothe Chiem was teaching boyas in difernts villigas [different villages]. I had seven sisters with their names
Some of them worked as dress makers in the big city Riga and they lived with my brother Mordechy. My sister Tema was the only one who had an education in Riga and leaved with my brother.
When I was 3 years old we had the infleuancy [influenza] in my city. My mother took me in another city which was 20 miles away. Ther was my older brother leaving. Their we lived (with) them for a long time. Maybe six months.
When I was 5 years old my father thought [taught] me the A.B.C. which its cold [called] the Alef Baze in a cople of times I new [knew] very good then in a couple of weeks lader [later] that was after Pasover. My mother took in a talmud tairy [Talmud Torah i.e. Hebrew school] which he the Rabbi learnd me how to read. We went avery [every] day except Saturday from morning till nigt [night]. Noon time I went for lunch after lunch I want back til night till the high holeday. After the holiday I went by a higher Rabbi. He thought [taught] me the Hole Bibel which good [god] gave to Mozas. Its diwayded [divided] in 50 parts so yo reed that every week one part. It goes in order week after week. Every Saturday my father took me down in sinagog in a special room he tried me out how much I knew what I learnd. If I did not know he hit me. If it was not like he wanted. I did not hate my Father what he hit me he wants me to study more. That went on for some time till he tought [thought] that I am ready for higher learning. So he got for me another Rabbi that was just before he went to Africa. I was then 8 years old. That Rabbi he thougt [taught] me Talmud for several years.
When I was 11 years my mother wants me to sent in a othoder. I found from other boys it is a very hard life you got to get every day a nother place wher to eat. So I sad [said] too my mother if you will send me a dolar a week I go so she did not agree so I still went to big Rabbis but I strt to take lessen [lessons] by teachers” Rusian German and Englash. My town. But I liked better English. The Rabbis they thout [taught] me to write Jewish [Yiddish] and Hebrew. They alsow thought [taught] me the history of all the kings what was in Israel. I went till my father came from Africa. I was 13 years old.
The reazen [reason] my father went to Africa [1902-1907] he and my mother father had 7 daughters to meried of [marry off]. It cost a large of money. You hafty [have to] give the groom several hundred wedding dolars and anading (nadden – Yiddish for dowry] cost a large of money. My father was Chief Rabbi their [there] he was their 5 years. With the money he made he meried of [married off] 4 daugters and he had left money enough to open the leather store.
When I was 13 years old my Father came from Africa. He started again with leder [leather] he open the store. I worked in the store cutting the leder he megering [measuring] what to bee cut. In the winter the man next door he gave me 50 dollars to go and by cuf [calf] skin from the pedlers. He paid me 10 cents for every skin I bought. I think I think the price was 22 cents a pound. I haty wei [had to weigh] them how much it weit [weighed] and how muc I paid for every skin. I also kept a book. I made for all the winter about 27 or 28 dollars.
During the winter nights I go in by some naibors [neighbors] play cards. On the summer we boys go swimming on nice days. Some times we boyes my adge [age] or older, we go to a farm. We ate apple when it was ripe to eat.
When I was 18 years I was ready to go to America. My sister Mrs. Lief was ingaged to her husband Louis Lief. He had to go to the Russian army for 3 years so he want to go to America. He could not get papers to leave Russia so we had to steal across the border. My father had a friend a Rabbi which he lived on the border line betwin Lituania and Germany. So my father thought that he will save money for the 2 of us if we will go to the Rabbi and he can find some body who can take over the border to Germany. I remember the name of that city where the Rabbi lieved [lived] was Walkowisk. When we got their and we went to the Rabbi I told him who we are and what we came for he told us it is werry [very] strict now but he sand [sent] us over too aman who had a slyn [saloon]. He will tell us what can be done when we got too the man. We told him that the Rabbi told us what you can doo for us. He told us we should not take any chanses [chances]. He sad [said] the agents will tell you they will say that they can take you over the border. He sad [said] they will say can not loose any thing. They will take away your laged [luggage?] and you will go to jaile and they will send us back home. For Louis he will go in the army.
Sure inough [enough] they came and they told us all of what the man told us. So I told Louis lets go back home . At home we will get a renspansibel [responsible] agent. We stoped of [stopped off] by a ladsmen [landsman – someone from the same city] in a diferent city. We had to wate [wait] several hours fo a diferent train. He took us too a fortune teller. The man did not know from anything and the fortune teller told what hapend too us. He sad [said] you done a good thing not to take chanses. He told Louis you are going to marry a girl her name is Roge. He told me your wifes name will bee Sorhe Laie. So from their we went home. My father got a respansible agnet for Louis. To me he sad [said] you stay home for a cople [couple] of weeks till the ocean will bee quite [quiet]. That time the ship Tatanick [Titanic] went down. She was hit by a big ice berg. So I waited maybe a month and I took the same agent what Louis had. Every thing was good during the whole trip.
When I came here [to America] that is in Chelsea I lived with my sister Mrs. Tobiansky till I got meried [married]. Girls uste [used to] make parties and invite boyes and there I met Sara. We both fell in love. I work that time in Lyn in a jonk [junk] shop . They had a girl was finishing last year high school . She invited me in Chelsea too a ball dansing on Friday night. She had several reletives was coming too the ball. I asked her how (she) you will interdus [introduce] me to her realetives. She told me as my boy friend. That was on Thursday. I did not go to the ball. Friday I got paid and I left the job. Sarah and I got ingaged when the rabbi made out the papers he asked Sarh what is her name in Juish [Yiddish]. She sad [said] Sorah Laeh. I sad [said] 4 years ago a fortune teller told me that your wifes name will bee Sorah Lae. So we got meried [married] and we lieved for 67 years a happy life and we raysed [raised] a beautiful familly and we were respected in our comunite [community].
Know [now] I lost my dear wife. We have 2 daughers [daughters] and two sons. We had six children. We lost a son 20 years old he died from kidny trobel [kidney trouble]. A little girl 3 1/2 years from scarle fever.