By Dr. Mordechai Sochen (Minneapolis)
My father, Rabbi Avraham Halevy Sochen (may he rest in peace) came to Keidan at the end of the last [19th] century, and married my mother (may she rest in peace), Feyge, daughter of Reb Moshe Yitzhak Wallek, a teacher of Gemara for as long as he resided in Keidan.
My father, too, began as a melamed [tutor], but he had a hobby: sermons. All my life I recall him sitting in the evenings, poring over books and writing biblical commentaries. On Shabbat, between afternoon and evening prayers, he would preach in the synagogue with great success, before a large congregation. He cast a spell over his audience with his appearance, his voice, his intonation, and his words of Torah wisdom.
After the decree arrived ordering that Jews be deported from Lithuania with the outbreak of World War I, our family wandered to distant Ukraine. There too, he was engaged, as usual, in religious matters; preaching everywhere he went, he gathered an admiring crowd that held him in high respect.
When we returned to Keidan after the war, we found an apartment “across the river” (Neviazhe), and there in the synagogue, he served as rabbi, preacher, and teacher of the daily page of Gemara for no pay. He earned his livelihood as manager of the community office, which was a state institution during the period of Jewish autonomy in independent Lithuania. When we moved back into Keidan proper, he continued to preach in the Great Synagogue every single Sabbath. He also gave classes in Gemara at the yeshiva founded by the town rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Feinsilber, righteous one of blessed memory.
In 1925, he decided to go to America, where he served as rabbi in several synagogues in New York until his death in 1942.
He left behind hand-written religious manuscripts, two of which were edited and ready for publication. One was published under the title “Derech Avraham” (Abraham’s Way), a book of sermons on the weekly Torah portions, festivals, holy days and prayers, and appreciations of the Talmud book Nashìm and the tractates Baba Kama, Baba Metzìa, and Baba Batra. The second manuscript was titled “Eshel Avraham” (Abraham’s Tamarisk), a 400-page volume on the 613 Torah commandments, also handwritten.
After leaving Keidan, our family scattered over four continents. My brother Yehiel, may he rest in peace, emigrated to Palestine in 1924, passed through all the pioneering phases and finally settled in Raanana, where he died in 1970. My sister Esther, may she rest in peace, remained in Lithuania and was murdered together with her husband and young son, by the hateful enemy, may his name be blotted out. The eldest son, Baruch Azgad, a war refugee, managed to make his way to Israel, where he served as director of the Nazareth Illit education department. My brother Shlomo went to South Africa, where he still resides. My sister Reizel and my mother and I came to America. My sister married Rabbi Ephraim Berman and raised a family of orthodox rabbis on American soil.
The author of these lines also lives in the American diaspora and is engaged in Jewish education as director of the Minneapolis Talmud Torah [community Hebrew school].
Translated by Miriam Erez.