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Letters from Gelvan

By Geraldine Adelman Powers Volper, July 2001
The front and back of letters from Gelvan


A green velvet tallit bag filled with the precious letters lay dormant in the drawer of a bedroom chest for decades. The tallit bag belonged to my father, Morris Adelman, who lived with me after my mother died. One day in the last year of his life, I asked my father to share those letters with me, and at first he agreed. But, after postponing the moment day, after week, after month, I realized he would not or could not face the letters with me or anyone else. In his last months, he even requested that I bury the letters with him when the time came.

I was desperate to have the letters, which were penned in Yiddish, transcribed while my father still lived. Time after time various leads turned me down. Finally, in the month of April, I discovered a well known educator in town who agreed to give some consideration to the project. Our appointment was for the first week of June. My father died on May 28. Despite the timing, I kept the appointment and we set the task in motion. The results unlocked a family history that haunted all of us for evermore. The written words in those letters grant my grandfather immortality and are known by all of his descendants.

The letters and documents you will be reading were written during the period 1910-1925 and are an account of the last decade and a half of the life and death of David Peretz from Gelvan (Gelvonai/ Gelvonys). They recreate a vivid account of Lithuanian Jewish shtetl life during the period preceding and following World War I. These Adelman family letters were translated from the Yiddish and Hebrew by Sender Wajsman for the very first time in June of 1973, almost fifty years after the tragic death of David Peretz. The original Yiddish letters are now archived as MS. 4828, at Western Reserve Historical Society.

My grandfather, David Peretz Adiman, wrote these letters to my father and other relatives between 1909 and 1925. He wrote from a tiny shtetl in Lithuania called Gelvan or Gelvonai or Gelvonys, located approximately 250 miles from the large center of Vilna, which was the capital of Lithuania for much of this period. Other large adjoining communities were Ukmerge and Panevezys. A 1923 census indicates a Jewish population in Lithuania of 153,743 or 7.5% of the total population.

The correspondence began the year my father immigrated to America in 1909. David Peretz Adiman, son of Moishe Joisef, lived all of his life in this tiny shtetl of Gelvany. When each of his three children -- Moishe-Joisef, Nechameh, and Feiveh -- left for America in the early nineteen hundreds, they parted from him forever. For all his many grandchildren born in America, he was more of a myth than a reality. However, through the power of the written word he has been brought back to life for his son, Moishe-Joisef (Morris Adelman), who left Gelvany, in 1909, tenderly preserved and cherished each letter from his father. These letters never left his possession even for a moment, and he even expressed a wish to be buried with them. Such was the legacy of his father David Peretz Adiman.

The letters are heart wrenching describing as they do the abject poverty and illness they endured, especially during World War I. Lithuanian Jewry was particularly oppressed during World War 1. During the Fall of 1915, northern and western Lithuania were occupied by the German Army. The population suffered from lack of food and unemployment. Limited aid arrived from Jews in Germany and the United States. Lithuania was then a poor country, and the mass of its inhabitants consisted of Lithuanian and Belorussian peasants whose national culture was underdeveloped. The Jews who had contact with them regarded themselves as their superior in every respect. Lithuanian Jews were thus relatively less affected by massacres and pogroms. These circumstances gave the Lithuanian Jews a feeling of stability and security, as a result of which they did not develop any desire to adopt the language and culture of the surrounding people.

In his letters my grandfather pours out the loneliness he and my grandmother feel, devoid of any hope of ever seeing their three children again. The three children of David Peretz Adelman were Moishe-Joisef (or Morris Adelman who lived first in New York City from l909 until 1922, and then settled in Cleveland, Ohio), Feiveh (or Phillip Adelman who settled in Indianapolis, Indiana), and Nechameh (or Annie Adelman Cohen who settled in New York City). All of the above are deceased. The letters that I am sharing were all written in Gelvan, and were sent at first to New York City and then to Cleveland, Ohio.

In addition to his children, David Peretz also writes to and about his brother, Shloimeh (Solomon) Levine. As for his different last name, family legend has it that when my uncle remarried, a condition of the marriage was that he take on his new wife’s name, which was Levine, in place of his own of Adiman.

David Peretz writes of the death of my grandmother, Feigeh Giseh (for whom I am named) in 1919. When he learns of my birth, I am astounded with the questions and fervent wishes he expresses on my behalf. This was the grandfather who I never in my life experienced, yet these letters have had such an emotional impact on me that this is the grandfather I think of all the time.

My grandfather?s letters also convey the strong, keenly felt perspective of a learned, observant Lithuanian Jew. The world outlook and way of life of Lithuanian Jewry was based on the Written Law and the Oral Law. The Shulchan Arukh and its commentaries guided them in their daily life. Love of Torah and esteem for its study was widespread among the masses. As demonstrated over and over in the contents of these letters written by David Peretz, the mentality of the shtetl was bound up with the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. It was a two fold agreement. The Jews accepted God as their only God and undertook to fulfill all his commandments. The Lord promised to cherish Israel as His Chosen People, and to reward them in the end -- if they lived up to their obligations.

The 613 commandments or mitzvot relate to three major obligations:

To study constantly the word of God.

To establish a family, in order to preserve and increase the number of those dedicated to the service of God.

Observance of the many social, economic and ritual activities that regulate the relationship between man and God, man and his fellowman, man and himself.

Inherent was the idea of reward and punishment. Every day a pious Jew, such as my grandfather, David Peretz Adiman, repeated among the 13 articles of faith: "I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, rewards those who keep His commandments and punishes those who transgress them." (See Letter dated May 5, 1910.)

In 1925, fifteen years after the correspondence began, one American nephew, Michl David Levine, the son of Shloimeh Levine, had the opportunity to visit my grandfather in Gelvonai. It was a wrenching reunion of short duration, but of enormous impact. Unfortunately, believing that the rich American nephew had left my grandfather with gifts and money, town hoodlums decided to take action. They entered the meager home at dawn on the last day of the holiday of Succos {October 11, 1925}to loot and rob, and in the process murdered my grandfather and his second wife. There is a newspaper account among the letters describing the assault. In the end, five culprits were apprehended. There was a trial and the harshest punishments were meted out.

The murder of David Peretz and his second wife, Mary, which took place in Gelvan in 1925, following the visit of his well to do nephew from America was resolved when the Christian culprits were convicted after a formal trial. Three of the guilty parties were publicly executed, and two were sentenced to life imprisonment. The swift justice meted out by the courts in an apparently hostile area came as a shock to the descendants of David Peretz. However, the political climate in Lithuania at that particular time perhaps explains the phenomena

The genesis, evolution, and liquidation of Jewish national autonomy in Lithuania are all confined to the brief period of 1918-1925. In the autumn of 1918, the German occupying power in Vilna proposed to the Lithuanians that they organize a Lithuanian National Council, The Tariba, comprising representatives of national minorities. In December 1918, the Zionist conference that was taking place in Vilna sent to the Tariba three representatives: Dr. Vydodsky, who became Minister for Jewish Affairs; Dr. Samson Rosenbaum, who occupied the post of Minister for Foreign Affairs; and Dr. N. Rakhmilevich, Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry. These three Jewish Ministers put their signatures on the first government statement on December 12, 1918. When the Germans left Lithuania soon afterwards and the Red Army entered Vilna, the Lithuanian government shifted to Kaunas (Kovno). Dr. Vydodsky stayed behind in Vilna and Dr. Max Soloveichik, a native of Kovno and a prominent Zionist, was appointed Minister for Jewish Affairs.

For the next five years, known as the Golden Age of Jewish national autonomy in Lithuania, political rights and citizenship of the Jews were recognized and confirmed. World Jewry watched with pride as well as concern. Unfortunately, by 1924, the allocation for the Ministry of Jewish Affairs was cut out of the budget and the central institution of Jewish autonomy, The National Council, was liquidated.

The pivotal death blow, however, had been dealt the Jewish villagers by WW1. Many Jewish homes were burned down as a result of military action. People were lucky to leave many places alive. Czarist officials drove the Jews out of the District of Kovno. When the refugees returned to their villages they found nothing. The village population was impoverished and one could hardly make a living. There was no longer a place left for the Jew in the village.

The forces of life as well as these outside world events all conspired against David Peretz. He was entrenched in a dilemma bounded by poverty, loneliness, and frustration. He was caught in a web which led to his destruction. However, in the face of every adversity, he still clung tenaciously to his profound faith, and he begged God to look kindly upon his children and grandchildren. God granted him that wish.


David Peretz Adiman of Gelvan Nechama, Moiseh-Joisef & Grandmother Ettleheh, Gelvan 1895


Letter No. 1:
1910 Thursday, Parshe Va’ereh {January}, Gelvan

Long life and Peace to my dear as my own life, Moishe-Joisef.

Firstly, I am writing, my dear son, that I and Mother are, Thank God, well. I hope to God soon to hear good things from you.

Secondly, I received the six rubles from you Parshe Shmois {December}. I also received five rubles from our nephew, Joisef Bolnik, at the same time that I got your money. From Uncle Shloimeh {Levine} I got ten rubles. I thank God for his goodness in giving me such good messengers. I can tell you, my dear son, that I was going barefoot and I had a pair of shoes made, but they cost me forty rubles. There was a wall missing upstairs. But now, as I write to you, I had a wall made for twelve rubles. Thank God for all his goodness and wonders. But, I still owe the Gentile thirty rubles for which I have to pay one groshen per ruble interest. I can also write to you, my son, that Mother is sending you a separate letter enclosed here.

Please ask Nechameleh to write about her health and her living standards. {Nechama was my father?s sister.} And, most important, she should observe the holy day of Shabbes -- it will be the best present for me. I ask of you that you write about Feiveh and Nechameh since they don’t write too often.

You know already about my teaching; it is a poorly paid job. God should have pity on us and on you and give us honorable and improved livelihoods.

From me, your father who wishes you much happiness and you should also take care of my daughter, Nechameh.

Your father, David Peretz

The Bobbe {grandmother} wishes you a lot of happiness always. Be well dear child, Moishe-Joisef.

{My father’s grandmother, Bobbeh Ettel, lived with her son, David Peretz. She was too old to travel, and that was one of the reasons my father’s parents could not immigrate as they would not leave her behind.}


Letter No. 2:
Monday, February 1910

A lot of good luck, long life, and happiness, I wish my wise son Moishe-Joisef{ADELMAN}, who should always have the best of everything.

I and your mother are, thank God, well; also your grandmother. We should always hear good things from you and Nechameh.

I received your money order and I want to thank you, my son, for your good heart in not forgetting your old father and sickly mother. I can write you, my dear son Moishe-Joisef, about your dearest mother who remembers you and speaks about you every Shabbes. If she could speak to her son, she would be the happiest woman, and she would ask him one favor. He should get married and not be lonely. The same about our daughter. Also, she should be observant and not desecrate the Shabbes. You, my dear son, should do us the favor and preach to her about it. Our good God will give us everything if we will observe the Shabbes as it is written in the Torah. I beg you, my son Moishe-Joisef, to write to us about our dear daughter, Nechameh, what is new with her. Maybe it is possible to get for her a husband. See to do the good deed and exert yourself in her behalf exactly as a father would do.


Also tell Feiveh to try to do something for his sister. How is he {Feiveh} ? Is he still on the same job? I know that in America there is no seniority in Cantorial positions.

Now that I write you, my dear son, that I received your Purim gift. I and your mother wish that our devoted God give you good things for your good heart because you have pity on your poor father and saved my life and sent me the thirty rubles.

About my teaching: from a penny and a penny, I can’t make a living.

God should watch over you. May all of you be well. The Grandmother sends regards of lots of happiness. I bless you and everyone with much happiness and success.

David Peretz {Adiman}

Letter No. 3:
May 5, 1910 - Gelvan

With God’s help I will write a letter to my son, loving as my soul, Moishe-Joisef, may he live in a lot of joy.

Firstly, I write to you my dear son that I and your mother and our old mother are, thank God for his goodness, all together well. God grant that we soon hear good news from you.

Secondly, I write you my loving child, that you should tell my son, Feiveh, that I am hurt that he doesn’t write me any letters. Meanwhile, you, my son, write to me about him, how he is, and how his whole family is.

Now, I write to you that I received a letter from my loving, only daughter, Nechameh. She writes me that she is making a living, thank God. Her tears that she shed during the time prior to her departure to America are still fresh in my mind. If I were able to come to see you, my dear son, and at the same time to see my daughter, I would count it as the greatest happiness. Who knows if I will ever be able to see you both, my dearest. My dear son Feiveh is constantly in my thoughts.

May God help you in all your endeavors and write to me, my son, if you have time, regularly, to study a page of Talmud every week and at least see to it, my son, to study daily a little of the code of Jewish Law, because the Holy Temple was destroyed, God has nothing left but four cubits of Religious Law and it is a commandment and a duty upon me to write to you, my loving children, that you should pay reverence to the law, to serve Him with all your heart. And then you shall be successful.

I am also asking you, my loving son, see to it that you fulfill the commandment of God that is written on the Torah; therefore a man should leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife, because it is no good for a man to be alone. This is how King Solomon said: Find a woman--find goodness. And also for your sister, see to get her a proper bridegroom. Write me the address of my loving son, Feiveh.

It should be pleasant upon you my words and the words of your worthy mother, because she wants very much to see only much good of her children. Many times she told me to write to Moishe-Joisef to take a worthy wife and that will be good for us. Like King David said in the Psalms: "You shall see children of your children. Peace shall be on Israel."

Now my loving son and loving daughter, for the sake of God, you see not to desecrate the Shabbes, the way God has written in our Holy Torah -- "The children of Israel shall observe the Sabbath." And that is the truth. That whosoever observes the Sabbath is a Jew, and so is the opposite for one who does not. May God grant us a good heart to preserve all that He has written in His Torah and we shall merit to see the rejoicing of Jerusalem soon.

I am also letting you know that I received your letter that you sent me. Your mother Feigeh blesses you and our dear daughter, and your mother begs you to send her letters continuously. Your mother needs strengthening herself with special good food and may it be good for you.

Signed: David Peretz Adiman

Letter No. 4:
September 5, 1910

Long life and peace to dear as my life and soul, Moish-Joisef. May you have a long life of the best of everything.

First, I can write to you that I, your dear mother, and your grandmother are all well. I hope to hear of much happiness from you. I thank you for writing to me. Now, I ask you to write about your livelihood.

In your letter, you wrote that there was a strike of all the workers. You said that if God will be willing, and the workers will be able to achieve their goal, you will be able to earn five dollars more a week. Now, my loving son, let me know if you are back at work.

God should bless your endeavors no matter what you do -- but you should observe the Shabbes. Also, the people in the factories must observe Shabbes; and, also, my daughter, Nechameh, must observe the Shabbes and not do any work at all. Only then will God lead you on the right paths, and only then will God bless you in all your endeavors.

Now, I am asking you, with a request that you watch over your only sister, that she should go on the right paths and tell her that, I, your father, have asked from you that she listen to your counsel and advice and that it will be good for her to listen to your words.

Write to your dear grandmother about her dear grandson Joisef, and about her grandson Shmuel Michl. How is their health? Also, I am asking of you to write to Shloimeh, my brother, that I received the ten rubles that he sent and I received two days ago. I forgot to write to him in the letter that I received it. That is why I am asking you, my loving son, to let him know that I received it.

No other news from your father who is praying to God to give you and my only daughter a good inscription for a good year and all of yours for always. Your mother, Feigeh, blesses you and our daughter with a Happy Healthy New Year.

Your Father, David Peretz {Adiman} , son of Joisef Moishe

{The letter that follows is from David Peretz Adiman in Gelvan to his brother, Shloimeh (Solomon) Levine, who had immigrated to the lower East Side in NYC. This Uncle is the one who brought my father, Morris Adelman, to America.}

Letter No. 5:
May 2, 1911

Writing from the back of the picture Shloimeh (Solomon) Levine

Life and peace to my dear brother, the heart’s desire of our dear mother, a man of understanding and good heart, Shloimeh, who should live with the best of everything always; with his honorable wife, who is the blessed woman in the home, Rivkeh Gitl, who should live in all goodness forever.

The first news of life and peace that our mother and I, your brother, and also my wife, Feigeh, are alive and peaceful. May God grant to hear much goodness from you and from all your household.

Secondly, I am informing you that I received a letter from my son, love of my soul, Moishe-Joisef. He is very angry with me that I wrote you and I didn’t write any news of his mother Feigeh. Therefore, my dear brother, please let him know that she is alive and well. But, I forgot to write to him that news in the letter. Also, before Passover, I wrote him a letter and also to my dear daughter, Nechameh, enclosed in his letter. It could have happened that it got lost en route.

And now, I ask you that you write to me news of our brother Jehoshua’s daughter -- whether she wrote to you about traveling to America, because I can tell you that for two years he hasn’t come to see our mother. And you should know, my loving brother and dear sister in law, that our mother came to bless her and you.

Now I should write to you that our mother is always lying in bed because she is very ill. She is always saying, "God knows what will be with me." She told me to write to you in her name, about her health. And you are understanding enough. I said to myself - like Jeremiah the prophet - I am the man that saw poverty with a rod of wrath; because I am with them.

My dear brother, you are far away, and you don’t know the agony for our mother. She needs daily meat and I have no means to provide it. I have a duty to honor her, because she is one of my house. And always, I see her agony. May God forgive me my sins, because God knows my heart; that if I would have a plentiful income, I would not have closed my hand to provide her with all good. Therefore, mother told me to write to you of her request and let your anger fall on me. Our brother, Abba Yitzchok, has sent for Passover six rubles. May God bless him and you for your good heart always. Our mother says to me, "May God bless my son and my grandson that are in America."

Now I’ll speak to my son Moishe-Joisef. Peace to you, my son, peace to you, my daughter Nechameh. May God give all goodness to all. I should merit a lot of good from you.

First news is that we are alive and well. I, your father, and your mother, Feigeh, may God give to hear good news always.

Now I write to you dear son, that I have received two letters from you last Thursday. I was very surprised because you wrote that I had not written about your mother. I am giving you an answer to that: I had sent you a letter before Passover, but, it probably got lost en route. Why do you have to ask your mother that someone else should write about her? It is enough, my dear beloved son, with my handwriting. May God give to hear only good news from you and from my dear daughter Nechameh and my son Feiveh. Write to me the address of your brother Feiveh.

Your father and mother,

David Peretz, son of Joisef Moishe

{This next letter, unlike most of the others, is directed to Nechameh, daughter of David Peretz and sister of Moishe-Joisef (Morris Adelman). It is the only one of its kind in my possession.}

Letter No. 6:
Erev Shevuos, 1911


Happiness and joy to my dear daughter, Nechameh, who should always live in great happiness.

Firstly, I write to you, my dear, loving daughter, that I and your mother are, thank God, well. God grant that we soon hear good news from you.

Secondly, I am thanking you for the letter you sent me. Monday, before Shevuos, I received your letter. I sent you one letter, my dear daughter, and in the same letter I enclosed one to my dear son, Moishe-Joisef, to your old address. Passover, I sent two letters, one to you and the other to my son, Moishe-Joisef. I had a lot of grief when Moishe-Joisef wrote angrily to me in one letter that I don’t write to him. I don’t know what to do or why the letters do not get to you.

I can write to you, dear daughter Nechameh, that when I sit down at the table to eat, I remind myself how you would sit at the table and cry. And you said, "Father, I can’t sit down." Your tears and my tears should be taken into God’s gates to Heaven. I remember how Moishe Yoseleh sat at the table during the Seder and started to cry. I become very sad and depressed and I can’t write any further. And now you write that I don’t send any letters. Surely, the address must be incorrect. Now, my dear daughter, I am writing to you at the new address, and I request that as soon as my letter arrives, you should reply. Send a printed address and surely it will arrive.

Dear daughter, I request that you send Feiveh’s address. I have long not heard from him. Maybe you know what is happening with him.

Write and tell me how is our Moishe. Our God should help you all with health.

My daughter, Nechameleh, there is no more news.

From your father,
David Peretz (Adiman)
Son of Joisef Moishe

P.S. I ask you, dear daughter, to give my letter to your brother, Moishe-Joisef.

Letter No. 7:
August 2, 1911 - Gelvan

Long life and peace to my dearest and most beloved as my own life, Moishe-Joisef, who should live; my dear Elie {This name is unfamiliar, and there may be a tranlation error.} and Nechameh.

First, I can write to you that I, your mother, Feigeh. and your grandmother are, thank God, well. May God let us hear good news soon from you, my loving daughter Nechameleh and my son Feiveh.

Now, I thank you for your letter that you sent me, but I am surprised that you worried that I hadn’t written whether I had received your five rubles. I am writing, my dear son, Moishe-Joisef, that I already wrote to you in a previous letter that I had received your present (five rubles).

Give my regards to Uncle Shloimeh and Aunt Rivkeh Gitl. Also, your mother and grandmother greet them. How is Feiveh; his wife and children? Does he earn a good living? I can write to you, my son, that I didn’t get any letters a whole summer from him about how he {Feiveh} is. So write and tell me about his health and his job. {Moishe and Nechama live in N.Y. while Feiveh lives in Indianapolis.}

I can write you that Uncle Shloimeh {David Peretz’ brother} sent me five rubles in August.

I can write you that your Grandmother is very weak and has large expenses. Tell Uncle Abba Yitzchok {another brother to David Peretz} that he should send some money for his weak old mother. She asks God to give them only good things.

Now, I want you to write me about my daughter Nechameh. Does she behave herself? You know, my child Joisef, how she behaved here at home!

Write and tell me if the heatwave is over in America. Enclosed in this letter is a separate letter from you mother, Feigeh. {I could never discover any letter from his mother at all among these letters from Gelvan.}

How is Feiveh and his family?

No more to tell you. Your father and mother wish that you be inscribed for a happy and healthy New Year.

David Peretz - Son of Joisef Moishe

Letter No. 8:

{More than two years have elapsed since my father, Morris Adelman, had left Gelvan for America.
Reading between the lines I surmise the anguish of the separation.}

Erev Shevuos A.M., 1911

Long life and Peace to my dear Moishe-Joisef,

Firstly, I write you that I and your mother and grandmother are, thank God, well. God grant that we soon hear good news from you.

Secondly, I write you my devoted son, that I sent a letter four weeks ago toUncle Shloimeh’s address and I ask that you reply whether you received it. {My father lived with this Uncle Shloimeh for a short period.}

In God’s name, I write you, my dear son, Moishe-Joisef. I received a letter from my devoted daughter, and she writes that she feels badly that I don’t write you any letters. So I am writing that I will send letters more often; but send me correct addresses so that I will be able to send letters that arrive.

I feel very hurt when I send two or three letters and you write that they haven’t arrived.

Your mother Feigeh says that she wants to go to see you. But, dear children, that will be as God wills. We are not masters of God’s will. He is the master of all creatures.

Be well, dear and devoted son, Moishe-Joisef. Send my regards to my dear brother Shloimeh.

David Peretz

Letter No. 9:

July 2, 1912 Gelvan

Long life and peace to my dear son, Moishe-Joisef, who should be well.

First, I write my dear son, that I, your father, and your mother, Feigeh, {I am named for her in Yiddish} are, thank the dear Lord, well. God grant that we hear good news from you, and from our dear daughter.

Now, I want to write to you, my dear son, Moishe-Joisef, that I sent you a letter right before Passover and I spoke about the gift of seventeen rubles that you sent together with my dear daughter, Nechameh. Thank the dear Lord, it arrived. God should give you only good for your good hearts. And we should live to see each other, and to always hear good news. There is an accounting by God for all the charitable deeds you do for your poor parents.

When Passover came, I couldn’t figure out how to make Passover. I had to get tuition, but they couldn’t pay it.

Now, my dear son, Moishe-Joisef, you should live and be well and my dear daughter, I demand of you that you get married. That you do the will of our Eternal One who wrote in the holy Torah that you should be fruitful and multiply. And about a livelihood, you shouldn’t worry. Our dear Lord, who created you on this earth, prepared a livelihood for you before you were born. If you, my dear sweet children will observe God’s Torah, you will always have honor and income and success.

I can tell you that I got a letter from my son Feiveh on Monday. He writes that they are all, thank God, well. He wants me to write whether we eat everyday some meat. He knows that your mother is weak, therefore, he is asking. I can write you, my dear children, that we are unable to eat meat every day because meat costs thirty kopeks a pound. Our income is very small. The little goat gives, thank God, three quarts of milk a day.

Be well dear children,

Your father, David Peretz

Letter No. 10:
Sept. 2, 1912 -- Gelvan

Long life and peace to my dearest, as my life, wise son Moishe-Joisef, who should live in peace. Also your dear household, and my beloved Nechameh. You should all be successful always.

First I write you, dear son and dear daughter, that I, your father, David Peretz, and your mother, Feigeh, are, thank God, healthy. We hope God will let us hear good news from you soon.

Second I write, dear son, that I received your letter on the fifth day of August and I thank you very much for it. I was very concerned because you didn’t write to us for such a long time.

I am writing to tell you that I heard from Uncle Shloimeh about my daughter. He writes me that Rivkeh Gitl, our sister in law, told him: "Look, Shloimeh, what a fine daughter your brother David Peretz has. She is a comfort in our house." {It seems that Moishe and his sister Nechama lived with Uncle Shloimeh for a few years.}

So, my dear son, Moishe-Joisef, my request is that you be God’s messenger and be to my only daughter as Joseph was to his Brothers. Try to make a good match for your only dear sister. And now, as long as she is young and pretty, it will be easier to find a husband. Maybe it is an Idea that Shmuel Michl should take her {marry her}. {They were first cousins.} That Uncle Shloimeh promises in his letter to do something does not mean that he can be counted on, because he is very busy with his business.

Well, dear son, my request is that you be as a father to her, and our Eternal God will help you and will certainly aid you in the good deed of getting her married. So, you will ask why I write you about such things; because you, my dear, are the brother, and she is your sister. She has a will (drive) to be married. Because at the time that you both were still at home, you saw with your own eyes on which paths she was going. That’s why I am not writing this part in Yiddish to you. {The letter here switched from Yiddish to Hebrew.}

The money that you sent me for Passover, and also the twenty rubles you sent me after Passover, I received. But I still did not get any letters.

Be well, my dear son and dear daughter, from your father who wishes you a good and sweet year, and from your mother who blesses you with a good year of peace and prosperity.

David Peretz son of Joisef Moishe

Letter No. 11:

{Four years have elapsed since my father first arrived in America from Gelvan.}

1913 Gelvan

Long life and peace to my dear son, Moishe-Joisef, and my daughter, Nechameh, who should have the best of everything.

First I write you my son, that I am thank God, well. But, about your mother, I can write that she is failing in health. She cannot eat coarse foods. She has to have meat, chicken and a bit of good wine, daily. God should have pity and give me enough earnings. I write you, dear son Moishe-Joisef, that I received the medicines that you sent. The medicines arrived on June third. If God will grant that the medicines will work, I will let you know.

Now, I will ask you, my son, Moishe-Joisef, that upon your mother’s request, I am writing to tell you to get married. Secondly, your mother asks that you get a bridegroom for Nechameleh. God knows how long she will wait. I beg you to write and tell us how our son Feiveh is. It is already four month since we got a letter from him. Our hearts are torn because he doesn’t write any letters to us.

So, dear son and devoted daughter Nechameleh, write him a letter that he write a letter with his own hand, and have pity on your weak mother and send some support. She is terribly sick. God should have pity on her and lengthen her days. I beg you to do according to my requests.

Be well, from your father - David Peretz -- son of Joisef
Be well dear children.

Letter No. 12:
January 3, 1915

Long life and Peace to dearly beloved, of my heart, Moishe-Joisef, who should live long with all the best........; also Nechameh should live and have all the best.

First, I write you, my son, that I.......find ourselves thank God, well. But, your mother in her old age must have greater conveniences. She asks of me that I write to you about her condition. Well, dear son, you know from long ago how strong she is. What can I request of you; you have to take care of yourself.

Now, my dear son, I thank you for the postal card that you sent us. I received your card in the beginning of January. In your card, you write that you sent it out in the beginning of November. And that about the twelve rubles that you sent for Succos, you didn’t get any reply. I can answer you that I received it promptly. God should always lead you well on all roads you take. And that which you sent me after Chanukah, I received every penny -- also all the blessings. In a postal card that I sent to your uncle, you will know about the money.

Now my dear son, we ask of you, I, your father, David Peretz, and your mother, Feigeh, what the reason is that you don’t write? Our dear daughter, Nechameh, also doesn’t write about her match. Because my loving brother Shloimeh wrote during the summer that Nechameh has a betrothed, and Shloimeh wrote that the bridegroom and he danced at Yehoishuah Chayet’s son’s wedding -- and his brother Shloimeh performed the ceremony. He wrote me and I quote, "Soon will be Nechameh’s wedding." Your mother cries all the time why we receive no letters from our daughter. I said that God had pity on us and blessed us.

Now my son, I want to write to you about the times. It costs forty rubles for forty pounds of corn meal; sixteen kopecks for a pound of soap; eight kopecks for fuel; a pound of challah -- ten kopecks. In general, everything is dear.

Write to Abraham David and Uncle Moish that they should help me. Last year, I got five dollars for Passover. Uncle Shloimeh apparently forgot about me and Abba Yitzchok doesn’t even send a letter.

The widow, Adele, the wife of the Mr. Eli Chayet, asked me that if you know of her sister, you should tell them that their sister sends her warmest regards. No more news.

From your father and mother -- David Peretz, son of Joisef Moishe

P.S. In God’s name, you should see to get married and do God’s will.

Letter No. 13
{No Date but pre-1919}

With the help of God, I will write this letter to my loving son, loving as my soul, Moishe-Joisef. Peace and blessing to my loving son, Moishe-Joisef, may he live in much goodness.

First, I can let you know that we are alive and well; I, your father and also your mother, Feigeh. May God grant us the goodness to hear a lot of good news from you, my loving son, and from my daughter, beloved to me like my soul.

Now, my son, I will ask of you, you should tell your sister, Nechameleh, my dear daughter, that she should, for the sake of God’s name, write to me a letter in her own handwriting. Write to me your address again and the address of my daughter.

Now I will write to you the news that I received twenty rubles but no letter enclosed from whom it was. But it was definitely from a messenger of God, He that knows everything for whom to provide. He gave you also a good heart. You, my dear son, you are the messenger of the good God, and you have not forgotten your father and your mother--and for that God will remember you always for good; and also my brother who is a friend of my soul, Shloimeh, by name, peace unto you within your boundaries because also you, dear brother, are a messenger of God and you haven’t forsaken our mother, who rests in Paradise. Because of that, will our mother and father in Paradise be our good spokesmen in the Upper Worlds, for you. May God pay you reward -- double -- in this world and in the world to come. For the sake of Heaven, my loving brother and dear sister-in-law Rivkeh Gitl--you both have pity on our daughter and see to get for her a good bridegroom. Because of that you will merit to see goodness upon you and your sons and your only daughter. For the sake of Heaven, write to me the news of Shmuel Michl -- because I haven’t received any mail from him for two years.

And, also, you, my dear son, Moishe-Joisef, I ask you to write to me if my daughter has enough to support herself. And if she goes on the good path. For the sake of Heaven--give me an answer. If you receive this letter, Moishe-Joisef, give it to my brother.

Now, my brother, loving as my soul, and also my dear sister-in-law, Riveke-Gitl, have mercy upon me and do the will of God and try hard to see to guide my daughter and also my loving son in the ways of God with good advice. For that, you will merit to see goodness upon you and your sons and beautiful daughter.

No more news from your father and mother Feigeh.

David Peretz, son of Joisef-Moishe

Letter No. 14:

{Please note that the following letter is dated 1920. The preceding Letter No. 13 did not have a date.
As Letter No. 12 was dated 1915 I am guessing that because of WW I the mail was deterred.
At any rate, I’m sharing what I have.}

January 1920.

Good luck and happiness to my son Moish Joisef, who should have the best of everything.

Firstly, I write to you my dear son, that I am well and I thank our God with all my heart for his goodness.

Secondly, I am letting you know that I received the 150 rubles in Polish money; in exchange I received 65 kopecks on the ruble.

Don’t forget to write and tell me of my son, Feiveh, and my daughter, Nechameh. {By this time Nechama was married to Harry Cohen and has a child, Pearl.}

May God have pity on us. I can’t sleep and find no taste in my food when I remind myself that you have forgotten your old, weak father, who is suffering from hunger. You know the troubles we are having for the past six years. Because up to the first month that the Germans entered into Russia, I had had a goat. Wild dogs killed her in the field. And, since then, I cannot buy a goat and I cannot help myself. I pay three rubles for a quart of milk. Forty pounds of wheat costs 120 rubles. I had one card (money order) on Succos for 105 marks, but I did not receive the money. Put a tracer on it.

In my next letter I will ask your advice on what I should now do.

Have God in your hears, you should all together support me and send money for Passover that I should be able to buy a goat and be able to stay alive.

You will be able to send mail to my address or to the address of Rabbi Zalmen Pinchas Kaplan.

How is Uncle Shloimeh and his whole family? How is Uncle Abba Yitzchok and his family?

My heart is very bitter. Be well, my son, Moishe-Joisef. No more news from your father, who wishes you a lot of happiness.

David Peretz {Adiman}

God has given and God has taken. Blessed be His name.

Now I write you, my son, Moishe-Joisef, that your mother, Feigeh Giseh, died on the third day in the month of Cheshvan {October}. The beginning of the month was Friday and Saturday and during the night that belongs to Monday, she died. I was sick and couldn’t write. Now, you should go to say Kaddish for your mother, Feigeh Giseh. In another letter, I will write more. Don’t forget to send support because the inflation is very high. Everyone is sending money for their families and food packages and I don’t receive any letters from my children. Don’t forget to let me know how Feiveh and his wife and children are and how Nechameh is.

Letter No. 15:

{The letter that follows is written by my grandfather to his brother Shloimeh. He is in desparate straits -- dealing with the grief of my grandmother Faigeh’s death and the abject poverty of the times.}

With God’s help, I write a letter to my brother on February 3, 1920.

Long life and peace to my brother, with all good wishes to Shloimeh and his wife Rivkeh Gitl, who should live with my brother with the best of everything.

First, I write to you, dear brother and dear sister in law, that I, David Peretz, your brother, find myself, thank God, well. My wife died on October 3, 1920. And about a livelihood, I can tell you that it is very difficult to make ends meet. God would have pity on me and give me strength to overcome.

Moishe-Joisef sent me 175 rubles. In Polish money, I received sixty kopeks for each ruble. The inflation is very high here. A quart of milk costs three rubles. I had a goat and when the Germans came, during the very first month, wild dogs killed my goat. Now a goat costs four hundred rubles and a cow costs four thousand rubles. Forty pounds of feed for animals costs one hundred rubles. A herring costs three rubles. Forty pounds of potatoes cost twenty five rubles. God should have pity and should give us healthy years.

Dear brother Shloimeh, I beg you to have pity on my and ask my children and Abba Yitzchok’s children, and remember what our loving God told us in His Holy Torah -- He who has pity on another will receive God’s pity.

Write and tell me about Feiveh and my Nechameleh. I can’t live because of the worrying. In God’s name, tell them to say Kaddish for their mother, Faigeh, and in God’s name, save my life and write about my children. See to help me for Passover. Also, I write you, dear brother, that I am very barefoot. Here a pair of leather shoe boots cost four hundred rubles.

Be well, dear brother and sister in law.

Now, I am asking you to speak to our brother Abba Yitzchok, that he should have pity on his brother, David Peretz, and remember to see, with all possibilities, and be God’s messenger and do a good deed, as a brother to a brother, to write and tell me about Feiveh and Nechama.

No more news.

From me, your brother, David Peretz

Be well dear brother Shloimeh and sister in law Rivkeh Gitl.

Letter No. 16:

{This letter was sent by my grandfather in Gelvan to my father.}

Feb. 25, 1920

 Moishe-Joisef (Morris Adelman) Circa 1965

Good luck and happiness to my devoted son, Moishe-Joisef, who should live and be prosperous.

To begin with, I write to you my dear son that I, your father, David Peretz, find myself, thank God in good health and soon hope to hear good news from you.

Now, I request of you, my dear son, that you write and tell me if you got married. {My father, Morris Adelman, and mother, Lena Gitlin, were married on Dec. ll, 1920.}

Write and tell me how my son Feiveh is; and how is my daughter Nechameh -- since I had not received any letters from them. My heart is very embittered. Today times are very hard and I suffer from extreme poverty, hunger, and I am barefooted.


With God’s help I am writing this letter and I hope He will help me earn a living. I can write you, devoted son, that I feel great pain that I don’t hear from Feiveh and Nechameh. I feel great disappointment in him and Nechameleh. Uncle Shloimeh wrote two weeks ago that soon she {Nechameh} will be getting married. That was at the time when Isaac Joshua’s son got married. And since that time, I have not heard anything. During that time that Deitsin {Germans} were here, I received money twice. Once I received 50 rubles at Chanukah and once 60 rubles for Passover. And no more. But this past winter, I received 175 marks in Polish money. All the money was changed into Russian currency. For each Ruble, I received 60 Kopeks {cents} at the current rate. I can write and tell you that I wrote a letter to you, my dear children, that Mother Feigeh died on the third day of the month of Chesvan {October}.

Dear Son, write and tell me if you received the letters. I am writing to you that you should have pity and send support. It is very difficult for me to make ends meet. When you will send money, send it to Vilna, to the address of the Community Federation, but check it with the Gilvaner Rabbi’s son.

And for this reason, I am writing to you; because after Succos I received from you one hundred - five mark cards and I misplaced it {lost it} and I don’t have even one cent of it.

Dear son, Moishe-Joisef, you should know that the inflation is very high here. We pay three rubles for a quart of milk; a goat cost 4 or 5 hundred rubles. So, all of you together should raise some money. I am wearing boots that are in very bad condition. It costs four hundred rubles for a pair of boots.

I am closing my letter. Be well, my dear children. Don?t forget to write and tell me how Feiveh and his family are.

From me, your father, David Peretz Eideman

Letter No. 17:

{Five years have elapsed since Letter No. 16. I have no idea of what happened to the correspondence
during that time period. Also, in this letter we learn for the very first time that my grandfather,
David Peretz, has remarried. This letter is to his brother, Shloimeh Levine, in New York City.}

Tuesday, Erev Pesach, 1925

With the help of God I am writing a letter to my brother, with a loving soul.

Life and peace to my brother, friend of my soul, Shloimeh, who should live with the best of everything, with his modest wife, Rivkeh Gitl, who should live with the best of everything together with her family.

First, I can tell you that I and my wife are alive and at peace, and so may I merit to hear from you and your wife and your blessed family.

Second, I inform you that I received your present of 150 rubles {Lithuanian money} two weeks before Passover, and, for that, you will merit long life and years with all your family.

And now, I come to give you Mazel Tov, for you my loving brother, and also Mazel Tov to my sister in law, the modest Rivkeh Gitl, your dear wife. Also, Mazel Tov to the well known bride and groom. May God grant goodness, peace, livelihood with honor and all the blessings that Jacob blessed his sons should be yours. In general I am giving a Mazel Tov to your good children and their wives.

And now, my dear brother, I am giving you an answer about the present that my dear daughter sent with the knowledge of her husband that I received ten dollars. May God give them their livelihood always with honor, for their goodheartedness. Now, I am asking you my dear brother that you send me the address of my son in law {Nechama’s husband}, because I lost it. And another favor: maybe you have the address of my son Moishe-Joisef. Send it in the next letter you write. Because my heart aches very much, since he went to Cleveland, I didn’t receive any letters from him. Therefore, my dear brother, I beg you, you should make my heart rejoice and send him a letter and write him in that letter that he should keep the commandment of honoring the father and he should send me a letter because my thoughts are very depressing.

May God be with him although he forgot to give joy to his father by sending him a letter. May God bring him peace and joy, bring him and his family all the best. May God give him an honorable livelihood. And for the sake of God to rejoice my heart and to send me a reply from my son, Moishe-Joisef, and because of this favor you are doing a great commandment because you have rejoiced my heart. Write to him that his father is quite angry with him because he is missing a great mitzvah by not writing to his father and he should write about his peace and status.

About students, I can write to you my dear brother, that I have no strength to teach students and in this city of Gelvan, there are very few students. In the entire city, there is one teacher. He has about fourteen students. Therefore, I don’t have the chance to teach and also no strength. May the good God have mercy on me and give me strength to serve him with all my heart and all my soul. Then it will be good for me.

No more news from your brother who is seeking from our good God to be good to you for your goodheartedness.

David Peretz, son of Joisef Moishe

For the sake of God, send me the address of my daughter Nechameh and my son Moishe-Joisef. Be healthy, write about your son in law’s family -- whether they were born in America; if they are observant. --- Be well devoted brother Shloimeh.

Letter No. 18:

{We are drawing very close to the end with much to tell. This letter from my grandfather
is a very defining one to me as it contains the first references to the fact that I have been born.
Also, he seems much more calm in this letter.}

With God’s help, I am writing this letter
on the 5th day from Parshah Chukas in year 1925. {July} Gelvan.

Good luck and happiness to my devoted son who should live in great success. Moishe-Joisef, you should have a long life; and the same good fortune and happiness to my devoted daughter in law Leah, who should live with all the best.

First, I write, my devoted children, that I and my wife, Mary, are, Thank God, well. God should let us hear the same good news from you.

Now, I want to thank you, my devoted son for your letter. I was very worried that you weren’t writing letters to me. So, I wrote a letter to Uncle Shloimeh that he should write and tell me about your life and how your business is going. {At this juncture Moishe moved from NYC to Cleveland, Ohio and ventured into a second hand furniture business.} He wrote me that he doesn’t have your address and that Nechameleh has it. Now that our devoted God has calmed me and I have received your letter I immediately started to fulfill your request. From Feiveh, I received one letter after Shevuos. He wrote that they are all, Thank God, well and that he bought a good house that has six rooms. He is earning a good living. His children are all grown. I will, God be willing, send you his address and you will be able to write to him.

Now, I will write to you about me. I am a sexton in the Gelvan Synagogue, but a full living, I can’t make at the sextonry. I would teach children, but there are not enough children to teach. In all of Gelvan, there is one teacher and he has not more than ten children. It is now four years since I stopped teaching children. From the sextonry, I don’t earn even half in order to make a living. But, Feiveh sends five dollars occasionally and it makes it easier.

Write, my dear son and dear daughter in law if you make a living. Do you have a nice home? And how old is your daughter? Whom does she resemble, the father or the mother? Our dear God be willing, you should raise her with great success for many good years.

Be well, my son, Joisef, and daughter in law, Leah. I thank you for your letter. Now, Thank God, we will be writing oftener.

From me, David Peretz, son of Joisef Moishe Adiman

Letter No. 19:

{This letter is very pivotal. I will place in caps a fact which you should bear in mind. In addition, my grandfather refers to me twice in this letter which reinforces the knowledge that I was named after his deceased wife, my grandmother, Faigeh Gisseh. It haunts me that I will never know what she looked like - not even a picture.}

September 7, 1925

With God’s help, I write this letter to my dear as my own life, my son, Moishe-Joisef.

Firstly, I write you, my dear son, that I and my wife, Mary. are, thank God, well. God grant that we soon hear good news from you, my dear daughter in law and grandchild, Feigeleh. You should live good and long years.

Secondly, I write you, my dear children, that I received your letter on Saturday. I thank you very much, dear children, for your letter and for the present of ten dollars. God should grant you that you always be able to give charity -- and have an honorable livelihood, because of your good heart.

In God’s name, send letters more often. Tell me about your health, your wife’s and your daughter’s. Tell me how old she is.


My dear brother asked me to pray to our God and he would, with God’s help, try to help me a little more than before. What should I tell you my devoted son and daughter in law? If I would have to depend on the income from being sexton at the synagogue, it would certainly be very hard to make a living.

Our dear God has great compassion and sends his messengers.

Now I can write about my old job of teaching children. Three years ago, I stopped teaching children. All of Gelvan has only one teacher, Motl the Teacher.

No other news. From me your father, who asks of God only good for you and my dear daughter in law and grandchild, Feigeleh.

I kiss all of you from afar. Be well my dear children.

Now I wish you, my devoted children, that our devoted God should give you a blessed year of peace and life and prosperity.

From me, your father David Peretz, son of Joisef Moishe

P.S. I wrote this letter with my own hand.

Letter No. 20:

{This is the very LAST letter my family received from David Peretz in Gelvan.
The document that follows this letter will explain why.}

Erev Succos, 1925 Gelvan {October}

Happiness and good luck to my dear son, Moish Joisef, and the same to you, my daughter in law; I forgot your name. When you will write to me, my dear son and daughter in law, you shouldn’t forget to tell me her name.

First, I write you, my dear children, that I and my wife, Mary, are, thank God, well. I hope to God to hear good news from you soon.

Second, I write you my dear son that I sent you a letter and it came back. Probably, the address was incorrect. It was stamped with two stamps on both sides of the envelope. Therefore, I ask you, my children, to send me a correct address. Write and tell me how your daughter Feigeleh is. Tell me if you had an easy fasting on Yom Kippur.

I received the check before Rosh Hashanah and I thank you very much for your good heart. Our dear God should give you good things for the New Year: a good job and good health.

Write and tell me of your health, your wife’s and your dear daughter?s. Write and tell me the exact cost of food in your city.

Be well - From your father, David Peretz, son of Joisef Moishe

P.S. Tell me if Feigeleh is a healthy child and how old she is, till 120 years. Can she talk? Can she say Mama, Daddy? -- You can now send mail to the Gelvany Post Office. The Post Office is near my house.

Jewish FORWARD, 175 East Broadway, NY 10002

1925 - Lietuva



Recently, there took place in Vilkomir the trial of three murderers of the old sexton and his wife of Gelvany, Lithuania. The murderers were all sentenced to death.

The murders took place under the following circumstances:

In the town of Gelvan, between Ponieveszh and Vilkomir, there lived the old couple Eideman, both 70 years of age. Once, before the war, they owned a house near the market place. They raised, educated, and married off their children.

The Eidemans were always quiet and honest people and helped their fellow men. The whole town respected and admired them.

During the war, they were completely ruined. Their house was shot up by the cannons, and their children scattered all over the world. The old Eidemans would get some support from a younger rich brother in America. But this was not enough to sustain them in their old age. The town, out of pity for their once admired citizen, found a job for the old man as a sexton in the synagogue. This, added to his income from his brother, enabled him to manage somehow.

The previous summer was a joyous one for the old sexton. His rich nephew had come to visit him from America.......

In the morning of the last day of Succos, there was found in his home the 70 year old sexton and his wife in a pool of

about the author
Geraldine Adelman Powers Volper

Gerry Adelman Powers Volper, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , was born in Brooklyn, NY, and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where she grew up during the Great Depression. During World War II, she followed her husband, Louis L. Powers (Powesky), to various Army Camps for three years, until he left for the Philippines. She has saved an apologetic letter from General Eisenhower, denying her the opportunity to join her husband overseas. When her three children were in their teens, she returned to college. She became the founding Librarian of The Solomon Schechter Day School of Cleveland until her recent retirement after serving for twenty years.

Her father, Morris Adelman (Moishe-Joisef), who lived with her the last ten years of his life, was a man who personified the word "mensch." He and his wife Lena were blessed with three devoted daughters, Gerry, and her sisters, Ruthy Adelman Schwartz and Arlyne (Etteleh) Adelman Hoffman. He lived to know and enjoy all of his ten grandchildren upon whom he had a profound effect.

Morris Adelman was an avid reader, and one who never stopped enjoying the study of Torah. When he retired, he became a High Holiday cantor for various synagogues. His old world Litvak ways never left him, thereby enriching every life he touched.

Gerry would like to express her deep appreciation to the LitvakSIG Editor, Judi Langer Caplan, for her remarkable skill and encouragement in making this whole project come together.

She would like it to be known that these letters from Gelvan would have never seen the light of day, without the encouragement and urging of her son, David S. Powers, Professor of Islamics at Cornell University.