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[Page 195]

The Preacher from Siberia

by Dr. S. Shabbat

Translated from Hebrew by Aviva Kamil

In the midst of the calamity that befell us on the 14th of June 1941, the Soviet regime arrested a multitude of people. On the first day of my arrival in the camp I saw a short fellow who was noticeable for his mild manners and apathetic reaction to the turmoil around us. We were desperate, depressed and stunned by the terrible blow, which we received - we lost our world in an hour and became slaves. The world darkened around us. We sat in a hut, which stank appallingly. We were humiliated and silent; our heads were bowed like those of mourners. From time to time the silence was punctuated by a moan, which filled the empty space. In between the moans a strange melody was heard, a tune that refused to blend in with the sound of the shocking moans. The tune expressed not only mourning and sorrow, but also a longing for a shiny future. The melody had risen and subsided in a moment. It was hard to imagine that within the sound of the moaning of hundreds of miserable people we could hear those tunes, which shook our souls and took us into a different world. At times we would think that those tunes sounded like a voice of a miserable or insane prisoner, but our astonishment grew when the moans grew weaker and the tunes grew stronger. After a few moments, one could distinguish some words in the melody. The words reminded me of some known verses that were heard during the festivity of “Simchat-Torah” and “Simchat Beit –Hashoevah” (water festival).

While still searching for the source of the melody, the tunes grew louder and suddenly I could distinguish the figure of the singer. It was the same short man that I noticed on my arrival. I shuddered; I could not understand why that apathetic person was suddenly singing. What was the “simchah” (celebration)? I could understand some of the words by then, “Do not fear a sudden scare and evil holocaust if it comes” hes sang with passion. While I set frozen to my sit trying to convince myself that I was not day dreaming, the melody grew louder, I walked a few steps forward and stood in front of the singer, who sat with his eyes closed and his arms moving in time with the tune. The impression was that the man was floating in another world unaware of the tragic situation he was in. He continued his singing until the head warden gave the order to get out for an inspection. Only then did the melody stop and the singer rose from his seat, straightened up and looked around him with amazement.

The people in the hut pushed each other towards the door, they were afraid of being late and being punished for it. While racing to the door I managed to have a look at the singer. He did not take any notice of the chaos around him, with slow steps, humming a melody (“mizmor”) he moved towards the exit. I came outside but turned my eyes towards the door to see if he was coming out behind us. We stood in lines but he still did not appear. We were waiting for the officer to emerge, fearful for the singer. We believed that the Preacher would not escape a severe punishment this time. With the appearance of the head warden, the inspection started. There was a complete silence before the shouting that we had expected, because we could judge by the warden's expression the mood they were in. They will release their anger on the Fascists who resented their new situation. As a rule the inspection took a long time, the wardens did not manage to count the prisoners rapidly and accurately. The wardens could not match the number of prisoners each one arrived at. They became tense and nervous, counting us again and again. And we stood silently amused by their inability to count accurately. In the middle of all of this suddenly appeared the singer slowly walking towards us as if nothing concerned him.

His appearance angered the head warden who met him with abuse and curses and threats to skin him alive. But nothing had an effect on him. Our hero, who became a famous personality in our camp, continued to mumble “tehilim”, loudly “God guards all his followers and exterminates evil People”. That strange behaviour led the head warden to believe that the man was insane. He ordered him to stand at the end of the line. The man did it mumbling, his eyes turned towards heaven. The warden's patience came to an end. He shoved the singer and ordered him to return to the hut. But the singer did not move. The head warden shrugged his shoulders and left him. Our hero became the talk of the camp and every one told tall stories about him. The camp commander decided that this fellow “is still deep in religious thoughts” and it would not be easy to indoctrinate him.

After that event I would see him often, once in a “minyan” (at the beginning, praying was allowed three times a day) and many times in the queue for food in the kitchen. I noticed that even in the queue his behaviour was dignified, while others, hungry, were shoving and pushing for a scrap of prison food. As every one wanted to be the first in the queue to get the miserable meal, he stood peacefully mumbling his “tehilim”, noticing no one.

To the chagrin of the “Goyim”, he paid no attention to them. The Jewish prisoners tried to tell him not to behave like a mad man and embarrass his people. But he gestured with his hands and kept mumbling his prayer.

Once, someone turned to him and asked him: “Why do you stand like a “goilem”? There won't be any soup left, and you will suffer hunger more then anyone else!” Hearing this he blushed and he answered fuming, “What are you saying? Do you really think that I stand in this queue to get this Soviet “traifah” water? I swear on all that is dear to me that not one drop of this “traifah” will touch my mouth. And if you see me standing here to get another drop of soup, it is because I want to ease the suffering of a sick person who suffers severe hunger.”

I used to meet him every evening loaded with kettles and bowls, running to the kitchen to get some extra soup for the sick. Once, during an evening, he approached me and asked me to join him in his activity so that I also would enjoy the “mitzvah” of taking care of the sick. These were his words: “These murderers deprived us of the possibility to fulfil the “613 mitzvoth” but God in his goodness gave us the privilege to fulfil the “mitzvah” of visiting the sick. This, in our present situation, is worth all the other” mitzvoth” put together, and I thank God who in his kindness gave me the privilege to fulfil this important “mitzvah”.

Witnesses said that despite of him being sometimes very hungry, he never touched the portions of soup for the sick and was always in a hurry to bring the soup to them as early as possible. He made a name for himself with his distinct behaviour; even those who used to ridicule him changed their attitude and started to regard him with admiration and reverence, which a “tsadik” like he deserved.

The wardens, in one of their searches in the huts, found “tefilin” that somehow escaped the eyes off the wardens till then. They wrote in their record that it was a camouflaged radio. That confiscation touched our “tsadik”. First, he tried to convince the wardens that it was a sacred item but to no avail. He heaved a sigh and said: “God has given and God has taken away, blessed be his name”

Next morning, before our departure to work, he rolled up his sleeve, as if he was ready to put on “tefilin”, he raised his voice and said: “I am ready to perform the “mitzvah” of “tefilin”, God, look from your seat in heaven and see that evil people have stolen the “tefilin” from me, God is witness of my great desire to perform this “mitzvah”, consider my sorrow and see that I tried to fulfilled the “mitzvah” of wearing “tefilin”.

From that day he kept looking for all kinds of “mitsvoths”. With the change in the kitchen staff, the amount of extra soup for the sick was reduced. He looked around and saw the terrible despair that enveloped his own people, he started to console each one of us: “the blessed God will help”. When things became even worse he started preaching to us, and this is what he said: “We are all the sons of our father Abraham who had the privilege to fulfil the “mitzvah” of “akedah” and stood the trial. Why cannot we have the privilege of being tested and stand this easy trial, which is nothing in comparison to the trial of our father Abraham. We should stand the trial, overcome our hunger and overlook troubles. If we will triumph and bless the bad as we bless the good, only then will we reach Abraham's level and will be deserving of the title “children of Abraham”. He was often walking from hut to hut to cheer up his brethren the Jews, and to his credit it was said that he never criticised or even minded his miserable fellow-Jews lack of religiosity. In his preaching he related to the audience about miracles that happened to him when he was a student in the “Yeshiva” of Novogrudok, for instance, when they (the students) walked to the forest seeking solitude, God took care of their material needs and so on. The conditions in the camp went from bad to worse; every day brought new troubles. We deteriorated fast and were fed up with our life, but the “tsadik” continued with his hymns of thanks and outcry that we were privileged.

His confidence did not let him down. By the end of September 1941 all the Polish citizens were released and he was among them. He left us with cheerful words and tears in his eyes. On his departure from the camp's gates his tune could still be heard: “depart joyfully and return in peace”.

I must say that the “tsadik's” departure left a strong impression on us, his words and tunes stayed in our hearts and were a source of consolation during the horrible times that lay ahead.

The preacher disappeared and we have not seen him since, but I am sure that he reached a safe place, a place where he could live a righteous life of a “tsadik”. The Novogrudok preacher reaped what he had sown. It was said about him: “the life of a “tsadik” is his faith”.


[Page 196]

My Home, poem

by Bertha Kling

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

Mother, nobody brought me up
Only your good eyes
The sight of which I carry in my mind
All my days

And your table, which I remember
With benches on both sides
And real black bread
Which was waiting for every guest

And the old bedstead
Which was there for every homeless
Just as if he came
To his own home

Water from a deep well
And always in the right place
Was a barrel with a ladle
And whoever was thirsty
Came there to drink water

Father, mother had so little
And gave so much
May G-d guide me in their ways


[Page 197]

A Friday in Novogrudok

by Fruma Kamieniecki

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

It was five o'clock in the morning. The sky and the earth awakened from sleep, yawned and the first ray of light fell onto the tin-plate rooster. The rusty red tin-plate rooster, on the roof over the booth next to the water pump in the middle of the market place, rotated on one leg for many years. It was showing the citizens of Novogrudok from whence the wind blew. At that early hour, at the beginning of a calm Friday, the rooster was at rest. No one looked at it. It looked intently into the Yiddish street, but the town slept. The shadow of the rooster fell on the splendid white columns and the row of shops. They were built by Prince Radziwill opposite his beautiful palace*. Later the palace was known as Belin's house.

In the cellar of the house of Kiwelewicz, under Efron's linen store, one could hear a quite interchange between Shifre Isher and her partner Moshke the lame. 'We should not bring up the perch now, not yet' said Shifre 'let's take outside the basket of dace, tench and pikes'. The sons of Moshke took outside the table, the balance and weights. The plates on the balance were the colour of fish. Once a year, on Passover eve, the plates were thoroughly cleaned and their colour changed.

Josif Leipuner was the owner of the best restaurant in town, which was renowned for its wine list and the Italian chef. The restaurant was well known not only in the surrounding countryside among the landowners, but also in Warsaw among the top public servants, who travelled to Novogrudok for conferences. They knew that in Leipuner's restaurant they could find genuine Russian caviar, French foie gras, Dutch blue cheese (the mouldier the dearer), a good, tasty boeuf Stroganoff, a piquant entrée and cooked live red crabs and lobsters. But it was certain, that a good piece of Jewish gefilte fish was tastier than all those gourmet dishes.

Leipuner saw from his top floor window that Shifre and her partner were ready for business. He lit deliberately his pipe. He went down the steps and stopped for a moment on the Nevsky Prospect. It is doubtful if the Nevsky Prospect in St Petersburg looked similar, but that was the name given to our central square by a wag. It was possible that Leipuner suggested that name, because he was the author of all the better jokes in circulation.

As he approached the fish cellar, Leipuner could hear Shifre saying 'Moshkie, I am not going to change my mind, I am reserving the perch for Pernik'. Moshke looked up with his black eyes: 'What is it about Lejzer Pernik? A big deal!' It was not the problem of who would get the fish that riled him, but he was getting the impression that his partner was having the bigger say in running of the business and he found this offensive. Shifre was a tall, nice looking woman with a clever head, but he, Moshke would show her for once that he was a partner of equal standing. He leaned over a barrel as if he was going to take out a fish and whispered 'She, she thinks that she is the clever one, because her husband is a Gabay [president of a synagogue] in the Shloss street synagogue and sits next to the Rabbi at the East wall'. He decided that he had to take her down a peg or two. He dried his hands by rubbing them on his trousers, which were as shiny as leather. 'I can't hear what you are muttering about' said Shifre, 'but I can tell you that Pernik is still our best customer and comes always first and not later when we are busy'. Moshke wanted to get out from the cellar, but above him stood Shifre, nice, majestic and he forgot what he was going to say. 'Well, he muttered, I don't like it when a man in his 60's is following every command of his wife, like a small boy'. Shifre was about to answer him, when Leipuner arrived: 'Good morning Mr Leipuner'. Leipuner remained standing a little distance from the cellar as if to say; 'Who needs fish?' But he said 'I am on my morning walk', yet he knew that he would need that day a fair few fish: the Count Mirski had ordered the previous day fish Jewish style and that night there would be a ball in the casino. The guests would eat in his restaurant and he would need pike. However, he just said 'Good morning' and moved on past her. But she was not giving up: 'Mr Leipuner, I have today live carp, just look how frisky they are'. He obliged Shifre and glanced into the barrel. 'My guests are in luck', thought Leipuner, 'they will eat fresh fish tonight'. But aloud he said: 'No, today you don't have the fish I am looking for'. Shifre was perplexed “Do you need pike?' she asked. 'No, I need a perch'. As Shifre was contemplating what to do next, Moshke decided the issue, he appeared from the cellar with the perch in his hands. 'Mr Leipuner, you have not seen such a perch as this one. Just look at it'. 'How much does it weigh?' 'About 3 kilo' 'Will you weigh the fish?' said Leipuner. Moshke shouted to his son “Come and take it to the restaurant'. 'No', said Leipuner, 'I will fetch it on my way back'. He put down the fish next to the scale. 'Well, what do you think' Leipuner said as if in doubt 'should I take a few carp and pike too'. 'If you do, you will not regret it.' said Shifre with a smile, 'I will give you only the best'. Leipuner paid for the perch and the cost of the two baskets of fish, which the boys took to the restaurant, was put on his account.

Leipuner stood at Hershl Motkies shop and looked up Valiker Street, where he expected to see Pernik coming to get his fish. Leipuner enjoyed the thought of telling his boys Sima and Mitia how he had tricked Pernik.

The Valiker Street was still asleep. Mrs Blacher, a wealthy woman, half asleep, was out with a broom, shovel and a basket. Leipuner ignored her and walked past. Next came out Rafael the shoemaker. He was a good hearted man, who liked to do a good deed. He was always the first to help anyone in need. He was active in a number of institutions and had become the chairman of the Chevra Kadisha. He was also active at any time when a new rabbi was to be appointed. Rafael looked at the empty street, saw Leipuner and greeted him. In reply Leipuner pointed his pipe at Mrs Blacher, as if to say 'What do you think of her? Can she not afford to hire help?' Rafael understood the implied message. He replied by shaking his head.

Leipuner noticed Pernik from a distance. As Pernik approached, Leipuner took out the fish by the gills and said in an innocent voice 'A substantial fish, don't you think?'

[The row of shops, or rad kromen in Yiddish, was in the centre of the market place. It was built opposite Radziwill's palace in 1833 to replace the Radziwill stables [date provided by Tamara Vershitskaya, director of the Novogrudok museum]. There were about 40 small shops in the row.

I recall a severe, late winter's night. I saw a meagre light from a shop in the row. I walked closer. In the shop, with few goods on the shelves, sat a woman huddled over a pot of smouldering charcoal. There were no customers and none was likely to come at that hour, but the need must have been great. I have carried this picture in my mind for all these years.

The row of shops and the ex-Radziwill palace, as well as half of all other buildings surrounding the market place, were destroyed by German aircraft on Saturday the 28 June 1941 [this date was confirmed by Jack Kagan of London].

Special thanks to Mrs Charak for translating the names of the fish].


[Page 199]

The first Rosh Hashona
of the survivors of the Holocaust

by Chaim Leibovich

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

It was 1945.

The war had finished. We had been freed. The long awaited salvation had come. We, the small numbers of survivors of the Holocaust – partisans and others who were in hiding, came back to our place of birth, Novogrudok. We all rushed to our houses. Perhaps something, perhaps someone was saved. But we found only ruins and graves. Dejected, shamed we turned to our former neighbours, the Byelorussians. Have they seen anyone, any member of our family? We thought that after we had experienced such trouble and pain, our neighbour's conscience would be stirred and they would meet us in a friendly manner. But their faces were inscrutable and with a sly smile on their faces they asked 'are you still alive?' We found out also that our wish, which we had in the forests, that we would have a chance to witness punishment of those who participated in the demise of our families and plunder of our properties, turned out to be another unfulfilled wish. The authorities had warned us and hinted that we should keep quiet. All that was left to us was to remain silent, with our lips firmly pressed shut. Deep in our hearts, however, was a hatred which we throttled inside. We thought that one day we may come to a free country, among our fellow Jews, and then we would be able to tell it all for future generations to remember.

This is how we walked around the town and looked at the ruins. It was hard to believe that this was the place where an active Jewish community flourished. There was no sign left of the wonderful town. Oh, my beloved Novogrudok, brilliant dreams of my youth. So many memories, so many dreams had disappeared together with our dear ones. Over the years in the forest, I was troubled by the thought: how will I be able to see and survive the sight of the ruin of my home? Now I was dragging my feet through the centre of the town, the Market place, from which streets and lanes are branching out through the devastation. Ruins were everywhere. Glassless windows of Jewish homes were covered with boards or filled with rags. From the distance one could see the hill where the cemetery was. It was bare. The Byelorussians had dragged away the grave stones [they used them as foundation stones for a forest of new garages for their newly acquired cars]. We came to the synagogue square, a place were tens of houses of prayer stood. The place was bombed and burned by the Germans. No synagogues were left. The square was overgrown by grass. In amongst the grass a few yellow flowers could be seen. There were also a few bushes on the edge of the square. In the middle of the paddock stood the south wall of the big synagogue. The bombs could not destroy it. There was no footpath leading to the wall. Not so long ago there were houses of prayer there and from them one could hear the voices of youngsters learning the Gomorrah. Their voices were heard in the adjoining streets. We stood still as stones. [The current Belarus city management 'improved' things. The south wall of the big synagogue disappeared some time ago. The only structure in the square is now a large public lavatory block built in the centre of the Synagogue square. When last seen, ill smelling effluent was oozing from the lavatories. It could not have been an oversight, it is an ultimate insult to the memory of the dead.] The sun was spreading warmth. I looked at the sky and could not see the sun, only a yellow object, which threw shadows on the ruined walls. If only the walls could speak they could tell the stories of all the horrors that were committed here. We walked aimlessly, moving as if in a nightmare.

Slowly the sun set and the eve of Rosh Hashona came. Our instinct called us to go to pray in a synagogue. Our hearts were full of pain and we needed to unload it. We hoped that praying would make things more bearable. But there was no synagogue, not a single house of prayer remained. We found a house, which used to be a tavern where the farmers would drink on market days. The house was in ruins with the windows broken and the walls wet from seepage. On the floor were broken bottles and pieces of glass. We found a broken table and covered it with a cloth. That had to serve as the bimah. There was no Torah to be found, just one prayer book. Of a community of 16 thousand Jews, twenty eight of us were the only survivors, among them were a few people in Red army uniforms. [The Jewish population of Novogrudok was of the order of 6 thousand when the Germans arrived. There were a few hundred survivors.] The people in the house felt alienated and constrained. A few candles were lit and prayers began. The candles were flickering and swaying up and down. Shadows moved on the walls. It seemed as if they were the shadows of the dead, which rose in the air and twisted as if they were complaining that their cries were not heard by all Israel. We were standing around the table. Chanan, the shoemaker began praying. His voice kept failing and changing into crying. Suddenly tears began to roll. There was crying and whimpering. The crying reverberated in the empty tavern. At the table stood a Red army man, his head bowed. His eyes were in tears. He was a long way from home. He had received no letters from his family for the last two years. Who knew what fate befell them. A partisan was standing engrossed in his thoughts, his eyes were lowered, and he was looking into the prayer book. He looked at the letters in the book, but he saw the faces of his children. But that could not be possible. He had seen his children tossed, like animals into a black truck. Next to him stood a Jew who was saved by chance. His face was as yellow as wax. He still did not know how he survived and he could not understand why he had survived. Who needs him, he thought. He looked in to the prayer book, but he saw the pictures of the past. Whole families dressed for the festivity and in festive mood, fathers, grandfathers with their grand children were going to the synagogue to pray. And now-such a decline. The tears were blocking his throat. A young man stood alone on the side. His head was down and he was immersed in thoughts. He was in the forests for three years, he saw death before his eyes every day. He was waiting for the day of liberation. His heart was pounding. When he thought of the happy day of the end of the war he believed that life would improve. His bleeding wounds may heal. Peace had come. For some it brought happiness. But for him it was the beginning of new sufferings. Where should he go? Back to the gentile neighbours, who look at him as a ghost from another world? He could not imagine going back to the world of the gentiles who looked on with indifference at the bloody deeds of the German murderers and did not move a finger to stop the horrors. They may have even been pleased that the Germans were conducting the annihilation. He had to live in this world and start do rebuild his existence from the beginning. He could not look at the murderers who were moving free and unimpaired with their heads high.

This is how the few Jews were standing immersed in their thoughts.

Chanan, the shoemaker was reading from the prayer book and the others repeated each word after him. Outside was deep darkness. Only the candles flickered and danced spreading a wild light as if they were saying: you must go on living, don't be disappointed. We went off slowly to our ruined lodgings.

We all thought:

How should we live among the graves?
Where could we put down our weary heads?
What will tomorrow bring?
Where could we go, what could we do?

[Page 201]

Three Kol Niddrie's

by Chaim Leibovich

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

The Novogrudok Ghetto 1942

The sky was dark and threatening over Novogrudok. The city was in ruins. The houses that were still standing looked as if they were in deep sorrow. The windows of the Jewish homes were covered up with boards. The Jews moved like shadows dressed in rags. No one thought how to live, they only thought how to survive. It was astonishing, it was hard to believe that the Germans were exterminating the Jews. 'The Jews are exaggerating', said the 'wise' men of Novogrudok, 'the Germans will not kill anyone without an adequate reason'. The Jewish children were huddling to their mothers. There was disquiet in the air. It was the eve of Yom Kippur and the Jews had to give an account of their consciences. The Jewish skeletons slid close to the walls on their way to the synagogue. The synagogue was filled with both young and old. The Jews kept as close to each other as a flock of sheep. It was stifling in the synagogue, there was no air to breathe. Outside there was a light breeze, the trees shook slightly and seemed to whisper: 'save yourselves, save yourselves'. A choked wailing and cry could be heard as they prayed the 'Tfile zakro'.

The Rabbi in a white kitl (linen robe) stood on the bima (dais). On both sides stood respected members of the synagogue holding the Seyfer Toyre (Scroll of the Law). The rabbi called out in a fervent voice: 'recite the Kol Nidre'. Hundreds of voices call out the plea: 'May the will of G-d be done, may the supplications of the Jews be granted, may good deeds be done, which will bring their pleas before throne of G-d, so that the harsh decree will be erased'. The Jews stood the whole night in front of the Holy Ark and prayed Thilim.

A few days later the Germans appeared in the streets and gathered a group Jews, put them up against the wall and for no reason shot all of them. The wives who came looking for their husbands were forced by the Germans to wash the blood of the stones. The children dug graves for their parents with their bare hands and buried them. In the evening they brought to the square where the Jews were killed a band and played music. Belarusian girls started to dance, there was joy and laughter, music and dancing spread over the square. The Jewish survivors hid in attics or cellars and prayed.

Kol Nidre in the forest in 1943

We were in the heart of a dense forest enclosed by marshes. We were surrounded by the Germans. The German murderers controlled the whole of Europe and where their boots stood there was death and murder. Yet they could not manage to exterminate a few surviving Jew, who hid in the dense forests. Jewish girls and boys, often the only surviving members of their families, had escaped to the forests to be able to take revenge. From time to time they would attack the German garrisons and their Russian collaborators, who robed Jewish possessions. German murderers surrounded the forests with the aim of exterminating the remaining Jews. They were not keen to enter the forests, where an enemy of the Nazis could hide behind every tree. The Jewish partisans built their dug-outs among the pine trees. It was the eve of Yom Kippur and the detachment was in a holiday mood. The commander had ordered that an early lunch should be eaten before the fast. As the evening approached, the woods were quiet, it smelt of autumn in the fields and forests. High pines stretched their tops to the sky. The sky was dark with thousands of stars spread all over. The stars were winking, as if they were saying: be strong, be of good heart. The partisans gathered around the fires, some with arms on their shoulders, and formed a half circle. The old butcher stood in the middle. All were prepared for Kol Nidre. There were no prayer books and yet we all wanted to pray. We wanted to cry our hearts out, we hoped that that would bring us some ease. The butcher started with a quiet voice: 'Kol Nidre ve esurai'… The partisans stood with their heads bowed. We repeated the prayer word for word. We were engrossed in our thoughts. In front of our eyes were the shadows of the departed. Hundreds of women and children in a tight squeeze, the old who tore at their hair at the last moments of their lives… It seemed that we could hear the shouting of the children as they were being smothered. I remembered the recent past, when whole families: fathers, mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers were going to pray Kol Nidre. Tears ran down our faces. The crying throttled our voices. The praying of Kol Nidre had finished. The butcher took a kritzes haderech (short cut) in the prayer. Kadish followed. We prayed for the whole nation that was taken to the slaughter.

Kol Nidre 1945, Rome Italy

At long last the salvation had arrived. People from the concentration camps were freed, the partisans left the forests. People went to their pre-war homes. Maybe, maybe somebody survived. All we found were ruins and graves. No one was left. We had lost everyone. Only graves and more graves. We were spoken to by the gentile neighbours, who asked with a smirk 'are you still with us?' We cursed the bloodied earth. We were lonely, broken. We walked away with sticks in our hands to roam over the roads of Europe. We jumped borders. Further and further from the unlucky places. We went where our eyes took us. We went into camps, we were given the name of 'Shaires ha plytim' (holocaust survivors). Some of us went to Italy, to Rome. It was Yom Kippur eve. The big synagogue was packed. It was the first Yom Kippur after Hitler's defeat. A strong light blinded our eyes. Among those praying were many soldiers in uniforms: English, American, soldiers of the Jewish brigade, partisans, concentration camp inmates, Italian Jews, the gathering of the clan. All came to pray Kol Nidre. An American soldier, Halperin from Brooklyn, stood and held a machsir (prayer book) in his hand and his lips whispered. A soldier from the Jewish brigade stood nearby. He followed the baal tfile word for word. Partisans and ex-prisoners of the katzets with numbers burned on their arms, the remainder of Germany. They were standing and thinking, sunk in their memories. The war finished the suffering of many, but for those who survived new suffering began. Where can we go, where can we rest our tired heads?

New York

At the entrance to the synagogue stood young boys. They were tall, a pleasure to look at. They were standing trouble free with the prayer books in their hands. The synagogue was filled with people, men, women, whole families. Grandfathers and grandmothers all nicely dressed. On their faces one could see joy. The synagogue was well lit. The Chasen and his assistants prayed Kol Nidre. People were listening in deep silence. I was standing in a corner. In my heart was also Kol Nidre. I was looking in the prayer book and saw shadows in front of my eyes. The letters were dancing. I was deep in thought – seventeen years after the big catastrophe, always on the move. It seemed that it was only yesterday. As through a fog I could see familiar faces. I was always in fear that in time I may forget the contours of the faces of my beloved. Thoughts were rolling through my mind. Yes, I am in the Jewish New York. I was looking for the shore of a safe country. Deep in my heart I had different thoughts. When I was in Italy I thought I was remembering and I thought that time would heal my wounds. I would start a new family, make peace with my fate, smooth my farrowed brow, tear out with roots the bitter memories. But it is difficult, very difficult to forget the tragic past. In the blunt, satiated present the heart is aching and the sole is troubled. I cannot find peace within myself. I don't know whether it is a longing for the past that will never come back, or whether it is a demand of the sole to come to a peace with the old/new homeland, of which I was always dreaming. Who knows who knows…?

[The assistance of Mr David Grynberg in translating the above article is acknowledged.]


[Page 203]

Legends and Fables

 

The Path to Riches

A Chasidic Tale

by David Cohen

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

To the blessed memory of the Slonim Chassids of Novogrudok

All knew that Shleimele, the maker of candles, could have been a wealthy man, the wealth was in his hands, yet he remained a pauper. We will tell you now how that happened.

Who was he – Shleimele? Were there in fact three Shleimeles? – Shleimele from Volozyn, Shleimele from Byten and Shleimele Meilach from Novogrudok.

The old Rabbi (OBM) said: 'If the three Shleimeles would combine into one Shleimele the world could not bare such holiness. Every one of them is blessed with good deeds.'

We will refer this time to Shleimele Meilach, who was all heart.

And why was he called Meilach? We will tell you about it too.

Shleimele was the only maker of candles in the learned misnagdish [1] town of Novogrudok, which is positioned on a mountain and in the winter, when it is covered in deep snow, it is often called Siberia.

The little house of Shleimele stood quite separately at the bottom of the town. And next to it was the 'factory' of the candles. Shleimele got his sustenance from selling the candles and he considered his task to be holy work: he was making candles, which the Jewish mothers were blessing on the eve of the Sabbath. His candles had a special shine, a special holiness. The very pious women would not buy the candles in their small synagogues, but would go down on Friday mornings to Shleimele's tiny house, where he would take down from a narrow shelf in his factory a bundle of candles and pass it to them with his greasy fingers.

As it was said, Shleimele made his meagre living by selling candles. But Shleimele did not blame the Almighty for that, nor did his wife, a mother of five children, who suffered from swollen legs and poverty. They had to get by the whole week on bread and a watery krupnik, but always enjoyed sumptuous meals on the Sabbath. Shleimele was renowned for his pleated bread rolls which he baked for Shale-shudes [derived from Shlosh Seudos – three meals on a Sabbath, a detailed derivation is attached at the end of the article [2]. The Chassids maintained that those who desired to experience the taste of the food which the Jews ate in the desert after they left Egypt, should taste Sheimele's pleated bread rolls. Shleimele would carry the tasty rolls wrapped in a red kerchief on a Saturday evening, when the town's mesnagdim were assembled in the synagogues and the sad tunes of their prayers wafted in the air. At that time Sheimele, was dressed in his worn velvet coat and wide belt, his craggy face darkened from exposure to the fumes of the candle wax. He was elated and was murmuring a hearty Sabbath tune. It happened at times that Shleimele with his bread rolls would meet the old misnagdi2 Rabbi, a great Goan, who was on his way to the Great Synagogue for Ma'ariv (The Evening Prayers). Shleimele bowed his head to the Holy Man and bade him 'Gut Shabes' [Good Sabbath]. The Rabbi muttered 'A Jew should study at that hour a paragraph of Mishne, recite some Tehillim (Psalms) and not conduct feasts'. Shleimele listened to the Rabbi and answered passionately 'We Chassids are engaged deeply in Shale-shudes'. The old Rabbi replied: 'Chassids, feasts, kapores [3] may a good Jew not know you'. He spat and went into the shul.

In the [Chassidic] shtibl [a small synagogue] a small group was sitting around a table covered with a table cloth. Shleimele blessed the twelve bread rolls. Each one received a portion of bread. All those assembled thought that Sabbath, which finished already in the Misnagidi synagogues, where the daily prayer of Ma'ariv was being read. And yet it was still being celebrated in the shtibl. The hearts were full of joy listening to the melody with the words of the holy Sabbath. Shleimele was repeating the words and over his craggy face ran hot tears for the love of Sabbath. This was how the Chassids farewelled the Sabbath when in the rest of the town the week had begun.

But the world was not standing still. New candles appeared in town – spruce, giving a special light and they did not spray wax. Shlemiel's income started to decline week by week. At the same time Shleimiele's wife gave birth to another child. She was bed ridden. It was a Friday during the winter, cold, wind and snow and the eruv [4] of the town was broken. The vergers were running all over town to announce that the eruv was broken. Shleimele did not know anything about it. On Saturday the frost was severe. But in the evening, as usual, Shleimele bundled up 12 bread rolls and went to the shtibl. The frost and wind were fearful. Shleimele met on the way the old Rabbi, who started to shout 'Thug, you are carrying [stuff] on a Sabbath, and the eruv is broken!' Shleimele lowered his head and said 'I did not know, Rabbi, that the eruv was broken'. 'Throw away the bread rolls' shouted the Rabbi. Shleimele answered 'Rabbi, without the bread rolls we will not complete the Shale-shudes'. The Rabbi, shaking from anger, shouted: 'I will forbid the sale of your candles'. And that is what the old Rabbi did. The old Rabbi's a ban of Shleimele's candles was announced in all synagogues. Hunger and cold prevailed in Shleimele's home. One winter night Shleimele's wife said: 'We are jeopardizing the life of our youngest. Let us bundle him up warmly, take him to town and attach a notice that it is a Jewish child.' Shleimele heard his wife's desperate plea and he thought 'Why can't I be a wealthy man?' As it happened, the old Rabbi was at that time a Chassid. Shleimele went to see the Rabbi and told him that he could not continue to be poverty stricken. The old Rabbi listened with a gloomy face and he said: 'It will not be difficult to make you a hero, but you will have to experience a big ordeal. Shleimele was frightened, but remembering his sick wife, the hungry children and the baby, he said: 'Rabbi, I will do anything to be wealthy'. “Good' said the Rabbi and took out of his purse a few coins. He gave them to Shleimele and said: 'Go and buy fresh bread, cheese and butter and go home. Put the food on the table and eat all the food by yourself. Did you hear me, by yourself, don't give anyone a crumb'. Shleimele listened and yet did not hear the Rabbi's words. He just knew one thing – he did not want to be a poor man. Shleimele did as he was told. He bought fresh bread, cheese and butter and went home. When the smell of food spread over the house, the hungry children came running and begging: 'Father, a piece of bread'. But he, Shleimele pushed them away, he washed and ate alone. It felt as if he was swallowing hot stones. He finished, listened to the crying of his wife and children as he left, a broken man. He went on shaky legs to the Rabbi. The Rabbi asked Shleimele: 'Shleimele, do you still want to be a rich man?' Sheimele shook and answered 'Rabbi, if the way to riches is paved with the tears of children, I don't want to be wealthy'. Shleimele remained a Chassid and a poor man.


[Page 205]

Belief in the Messiah

by David Cohen

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

To the blessed memory of my father, the rabbi and revered Avrom Eliezer Cohen and my mother Rashke, daughter of Ari Openheim, both buried in the demolished cemetery of Novogrudok.

The little township in Russia would not have been able to sustain their own rabbi, were it not for the Jewish miller from the village of Slbodka, close to Novogrudok in Belarus, who took it upon himself to support his son-in-law, a young dreamer, the rabbi . This miller, broad shouldered, with a fiery beard was a man of this world. He liked a glass of vodka and a fat morsel to follow, but he also gave a thought to the world to come. He found a student of a Yeshiva, an ardent scholar and very pious, who accepted the proposed match – they assured him that after the marriage he would be able to study without having to worry about his family's income. The young, dreaming yeshiva student was also attracted to the quite village, where he was sustained by his father-in-law. The village was lost in the fields, a noisy brook was turning the millstones, thick forests surrounded the fields and were extending all the way to the marshes of Polesie. The young man stemmed from a village which smelt of the marshes and, as a youngster, he breathed in the melancholy of the still, slimy waters. He absorbed the mythical stories of pursued souls, who float over the marshes and linger in hope of resurrection. When he was told by the miller that a separate small cottage would be built for him next to the mill, where he would be able to study in seclusion, he agreed to the match, without having seen the bride. Fortuitously, it turned out that the bride was very suitable for the bridegroom. The miller had three daughters, and because he did not have a male heir he was anxious for the daughters to have a thorough Jewish education. He brought to the village a teacher, who taught the daughters not only sidur but also various interpretations of it as well as comments on the Chumesh and holy books written in Yiddish. As the time passed, the middle daughter grew tall, had a pleasant face and light blue eyes. She was a good pupil and hearty readings and the beautiful biblical tales filled her soul. She suffered with mother Rachel, who dressed in black when she farewelled her children who were banished from their homes. She, the dreamy middle daughter, was the favourite of their father, the miller.

After the oldest daughter, a strong and lively girl, married a village boy, who also leased a mill in the vicinity, the middle daughter was happy that she was marrying a boy from a yeshiva. He was delicate, of middle height, with a light, pale face, nice dreamy eyes, and a round black beard with two wavy sideboards. The miller's daughter liked him as soon as she saw him.

They lived in the village with the miller for a number of years. Four children were born: two boys and two girls. Their father was happy that he had no need to be concerned with earning an income. He was immersed in learning. In the depth of the night he studied the Kabala. In his heart he had a deep longing for salvation (geula) by the Messiah. Walking in summer days in the nearby forest he saw himself as the one who would bring the Messiah.

In the mean time the miller was looking for a future for his son-in-law, the great man of religion. There was no chance of becoming a rabbi in a bigger town, because the son-in-law was removed from worldly city concerns. The miller looked for and found a small township in Russia, were the people did not hope to have a permanent rabbi, because they could not afford to sustain one. The income from selling candles and yeast would not buy water to cook porridge. The people of the township were happy that the miller had assured them that he would support the new rabbi.

The new rabbi arrived in the little township and settled in a small house. The people of the town became attached to their rabbi. They knew that the rabbi was engrossed in studying and they did not bother him with questions and with the settling of disputes. They were happy to see the rabbi in the synagogue and he, the rabbi, was the last to leave the synagogue. And here, in the sad small township, he became engrossed in the Kabala and he recognized that the solution to his salvation should be his withdrawal from all every day problems, to eat and sleep less, to cleanse himself and prepare for the day when he would be able to distance himself from the world. He should fast for forty days and then he would be prepared to approach salvation.

It was his secret – no one knew about it. And yet his wife felt that a calamity was approaching. She and the three older children tried to dissuade him from pursuing his dream. The only one who sided with his father was the youngest child, who was only eight years old. He believed and hoped that his father would bring the Messiah.

The wife of the rabbi had written a letter to her father, the miller, asking him to come and try to dissuade his son-in-law from his dreams and plans. When the miller arrived, he locked himself up with his son-in-law in his confined room, argued with him intensely and said that it was not his destiny to seek the final solution. But the rabbi explained that those who are seeking salvation for themselves should not seek the final solution, leaving the rest of the people in the wilderness, but those like he, the rabbi, must do it, because they strive to join all those who are looking for salvation for everyone. The rabbi managed to persuade his father-in-law that the deed he was contemplating was a command from above. And the miller, who was a man of the world as we know it, was persuaded by his so-in-law and promised him to build next to his mill, a hut [suka], which would stand separated and elevated 20 arshin [approx. 1.4m] from the ground, supported on four posts. The rabbi would sit in his hut and conduct his deliberations – no human or beast would see him. A separate exit for him would be arranged, which he would use to attend to his needs.

The miller tried to appease his daughter and the grandchildren, but the daughter would not listen to him. Her heart told her that a catastrophe was impending. But there was nothing she could do. Separated in his hut, the rabbi was sitting engrossed in his thoughts. Very early in the morning he would go, accompanied by his youngest son, to bathe in a cold wash room [mikva]. The boy would walk in the deep darkness, with the sky covered in stars, trembling, holding on to his father's hand. At times a star would split off, burst into a fire and fall into the depth. It would seem that not just the boy, but the early morning darkness was trembling, and in the darkness the voice of his father could be heard: 'splendid and pretty is the light of the world and my soul is lovesick for you' and father shed a tear. The boy sobbed and said: 'father, I am afraid'. The rabbi pressed the boy's head to himself without interrupting his prayer song till they reached the cold bath. He got undressed and dunked thirty six times. As they were walking back the day began to show it's early light. A pale sky hung over the township. The rabbi was the first to arrive at the synagogue. The boy slipped quietly into his bed and his mother covered him with an eiderdown, whispering: 'my dear boy'.

The day came when the congregation discovered what the rabbi intended to do and they were proud of him. The whole township farewelled the rabbi, who was moving for two summer months to the Belarus village, to the miller, where he intended to fast for forty days. And as the rabbi, the revered, sat in his isolation in his Jehuda's hut in the strong belief that a miracle would happen. Nobody knew what the outcome would be, but they were hopeful. The only one who was seen to be in deep sorrow, whispering a prayer, was his wife. In her heart she assumed that instead of a miracle a calamity would happen.

The fortieth day had arrived. The day was sunny and the fields were in bloom. The forest raised it's top to the hut, where sat in holy contemplation the rabbi, the revered. The miller, the children and the rabbi's wife changed into festive clothes. The farmers, who worked in the mill were crossing themselves in fear and were casting frightened looks at the hut, which was covered in sunlight. The miller with the help of the farmers attached the ladder, which was usually attached every evening to allow the rabbi to go down to attend to his needs and to receive a light meal, which could be consumed without a wash. All eyes, particularly those of the young boy, were looking up and their hearts were pounding. Milling was stopped. It was as quiet as on Yom Kippur.

The door of the hut opened and the rabbi appeared. His face was pale, his eyes were open wide, the hands above his head looked like two wings. Before anybody could react, the rabbi fell from his hut to the ground. As it transpired later, the rabbi had seen before him the image of the Messiah, but did not see the ladder. There was panic among the onlookers. The youngest son was not seen anywhere. It was the rabbi's wife, who took matters in her hands. She ordered the horses to be harnessed, the carriage well cushioned and the rabbi in a faint, accompanied by the family except for the youngest son, was taken to town to the Jewish hospital. Much later the youngest son, crying and sobbing, was found in the high grass of the fields. He kept asking: “Where is he, where is the Messiah?”

For many months the rabbi was on the verge of death. The Jewish doctors did all they could and in the end they were lucky. They told the family that it would be advisable to take the rabbi to Koenigsberg because he had a broken leg and a stomach illness. The small town was prepared to help. Expenses were raised and the rabbi with his wife went abroad. On taking his farewells, the rabbi put his hand on the lowered head of his youngest son and said: 'My child, one should not be disappointed of not having brought the Messiah, but it seems that one should find another way….'

The rabbi, sickly and limping, had returned with his wife from abroad. He did not agree to return as a rabbi to the small town in Russia. The miller found for him a rabbinical post in a small town in Volyn. But the heart of the rabbi was longing for the village, where after the sudden death of the miller, the mill was taken over by the older son of the rabbi, who was himself a qualified rabbi, but he wanted to live in the village and run the mill.

During the first world war the township in Volyn was substantially destroyed and the youngest daughter of the rabbi was frightened by the Cossacks, who broke into the township. She became sick and died. The rabbi and his wife returned to the older son, the miller. The miller supported the rabbi, who lived in Novogrudok. He did not want to practice as a rabbi, but the Jews of Novogrudok held him in great esteem. When the wife of the rabbi died, she was buried in the Novogrudok cemetery. The rabbi fell into a deep melancholy. He would say to his near ones 'that the happy time had come, because his youngest son had found the right way to the rightful solution – he went with the Chaluts movement to Eretz Israel'.

“The good hour had come” his pale lips whispered as his soul had expired.


[Page 207]

“We will do and obey”

A Legend

Translated from Hebrew by Aviva Kamil

In memory of the owners of flour mills around Novogrudok; ordinary Jews,
dear and sincere people. Many of them were massacred by the Germans.

Chasidim and shopkeepers sat around the “shulchan” (table) on the eve of the festival of Shavuot, their eyes glued to the face of Rabbi “Sheyichye” (the blessing of the life), who was talking at length. They sang one melody after another and listened with reverence and excitement to a lesson from the Torah given by the holy man. The lesson was about two words 'Na'ase Ve'nishma' (we will do and obey). The Rabbi said: 'Na'ase' (we will do) is the main command. 'Nishma' (we will obey) comes easily, without an effort. In contrast 'Na'ase' (we will do) demands an endeavour to overcome the natural desire and inclination. Seeing the divine and receiving the Torah are the rewards of a Jew, who truly reached the state of 'Na'ase Ve'nishma'.

The people around the table were listening to every word of the Rabbi. Everyone felt that the Rabbi was talking to him alone. Listening to his voice, they were repeating the words to themselves: 'Na'ase Ve'nishma'.

It was a wonder that the Chasid, Uri the miller, a very simple Jew, chose of all the festivals to attend the festival of Shavuot, when only Torah people and scholars attended the Rabbi's lesson. He too stopped working, came to hear the Rabbi, sat at the table, listened to the melodies, drank 'Le'chaim', and when the time to study the Torah came, and only the Rabbi's words were heard, murmured slowly in the silence, tiredness overcame the miller; a relaxed feeling overtook his large body and despite all efforts he dozed off, his eyes shut, his head dropped and a loud snoring noise came out of his opened mouth. It startled the Chasidim, they stared at him angrily and the Chasid next to him pinched him hard. The pinch woke Uri who jumped out of his seat bewildered, his eyes moved from one angry face to another till they rested on the Rabbi's good and appeasing face who was whispering: 'some times even the sound of snoring rises up to heaven'. Then the Rabbi turned to Uri and said in his deep voice: 'Calm down Uri, tell us how the dispute between you and your rival concerning the leasing of the flour mill ended?' And Uri started to tell his story, first with a little stutter, and as he talked he gained confidence and said: 'The rival was a rich Jew who wanted to take over my lease of the mill. He knew how much I paid the 'poritz' (landlord) and offered him much more money. The landlord who leased the mill to me and to my father before me, invited me to his place and told me: 'I was offered a higher fee for the lease, could you match it?' I replied 'I could pay that much money only if I put up the fees for milling, but I know that the poor peasants could not afford it. Thus, unfortunately, I wont be able to pay a higher fee'. The 'poritz' heard this and said: 'You are indeed an honest Jew', and the lease stayed with me'. The Rabbi smiled and asked: 'And what happened to the rich Jew?' Uri sighed and said: 'I hope it won't happen to any of us. He lost his money and has nothing'. 'And what did you do?' asked the Tzodiac. Uri, blushing, answered stuttering: 'Without him knowing it, I took care of his needs for the Shavuot and Passover festivals'.

The Rabbi returned to his interrupted lesson and said: 'Na'ase' (we will do), 'when a Jew behaves like our Uri did, he makes up for other shortcomings and is rewarded by receiving the Torah.'


[Page 208]

An Ethrog for Succoth

by David Cohen

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

To the memory of the kind Avrom Jarmovski and his two daughters
Sonie and Feigele, who were killed by the German beasts.

There was an excitement in town when Dvoire the flour miller's wife had arrived by horse and cart at the Rabbi's house. She shook off the flour from her dress, whilst the coachman Lukash carried in through the back door a bag of flour, potatoes and a clucking chicken. Dvoire entered by the front door, greeted profusely the rabbi and his wife, who thanked her for her gifts. The news spread in town that Dvoire, the flour miller's wife came to town to select an ethrog [5].

It was the morning after Yom Kippur. The Jews, tranquil after Yom Kippur, knew that the days between Yom Kippur and Succoth [five days] are days when neither meat nor milk was eaten, they were pareve days. After repenting their sins in the month of Elul [6] and the first [nine] Tishre [7] days, they wished to have a respite. In any case, it is likely that in the four days between Yom Kippur and Succoth the Jews would not have committed major sins. And it was not worth worrying about minutiae. This was generally known and appreciated, and this was the time to be mischievous, to laugh. And was it not a laugh that Dvoire, the flour miller's wife came to town to select an ethrog? So people were laughing and some were remembering when Dvoire was a young girl.

She was a lively child and a beauty. Gorgeous eyes. She was brought up in wealth. And who would have thought that of all marriage proposals – rabbinic students, learned young men, some potential rabbis - Dvoire would choose Arie the flour miller. Arie appealed with his valour and good looks. Not just village girls, but daughters of merchants in town carried a torch for him. In the summer days, when the people in town were sweating, young couples were cooling off in the evenings by swimming in the lake next to the mill, which Arie was leasing from a Polish landlady. Arie, in his miller's garb, his face clear, his eyes glowing. He was bursting with youthfulness. The girls were fascinated by his looks. They were trying to engage him in a conversation. But just then farmers appeared with wagons full of grain. Arie carried one bag after another. The country girls were also attracted by the looks of the miller and smiled displaying their white teeth. They come running to Arie and took the bags from his hands. The landlady, an old maid, was also fond of Arie. It was said that Arie had no time for women. The match between Arie and Dvoire was arranged by the Polish landlady of the mill. Her parents endeavoured to dissuade Dvoire from the proposed match. Arie, in their opinion, was too simple, not erudite in the finer points of knowledge. But to no avail. Arie and Dvoire became engaged and in time married.

It was well known that Arie was generous and he and his wife sent many gifts to the rabbi for the poor of the town before every holiday. Arie, though an observant Jew, was not concerned about the commandments. Dvoire, who held the keys to the mill house, was 'carrying the household', she provided vegetables for Shavuot, bought two seats [in the synagogue], for herself and Arie for the New Year and Yom Kipur, and at Passover she provided matzoth for the poor. And she travelled to town to select an ethrog and lulav and every one in town was laughing. 'A connoisseur of ethrogs – she had really gone too far – who does she think she is, the miller's wife. Does she think that an ethrog is a chicken?'. But that was not the view of the rabbi. He had a high opinion of Dvoire and looked forward to her coming to his house. He opened the box of ethrogs for her and let her do the choosing. And indeed she selected a beautiful ethrog. It had no blemishes and was light yellow in colour. And she did not dwell and took home the perfect ethrog. The town got used to it. Dvoire's charity was outstanding. During the First World War there was hunger in town and without the help of Dvoire and her husband things would have been desperate. The Germans had requisitioned the flour mill but employed Arie to run it. Dvoire managed to smuggle bags of flour to town. This saved many lives. The Germans had announced many restrictions. The town which was close to the front line was shut off from all sides. Even those who had permits to travel were risking their lives. The town was isolated, enveloped in fear as the holidays approached. New Year and Yom Kipur had gone by and with Succoth approaching what could be done without an ethrog and lulav? The rabbi was thin and ailing and dressed in rags and fear was seen in his eyes. Not long ago a respected Jew from the town bought a few eggs from a farmer. German cavalry men caught him, they tied him to a horse and dragged him behind the horse at full pace. No, one should not risk one's life to go afar for an ethrog. As the holiday approached, Jews put up succoth [small temporary dwellings where Jews lived for the duration of the festival]. But no ethrogs. The Jews asked the rabbi if under the circumstances they could use another fruit instead of an ethrog. The rabbi said sadly 'just as one cannot replace Israel with another land, no matter how splendid, one cannot use another fruit instead of an ethrog'. One must forget the enticing smell of the ethrog. Israel is far away. On the last day before Succoth people of the town were making preparations for the festival. And unexpectedly Dvoire, the miller's wife appeared. She was dishevelled and sweaty but her eyes shone. The rumour spread 'Dvoire brought an ethrog with 'four fringes' [8]. On the morning of Succoth all were gathered in the synagogue. The rabbi sent the ethrog and the lulav to the female section of the synagogue. The rabbi said that the first person to bless the ethrog should be Dvoire, because it was due to her that the town had a nice and kosher ethrog. In the deep quiet one could hear the voice of Dvoire 'asher kidishanu bemitzvotav vizivanu mivareyach al nitilat lulav' and the rabbi and all people said 'Amen”.


[Page 209]

A “Din Torah” a Jewish court

by David Cohen

Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki

To the holy memories of my sister Reichl, her husband Mojshe Szapiro
and their daughter killed by the German savages in the township Alevsk.

It happened to a Lithuanian Jew, a Jew who was a brilliant scholar (Talmid Chochem). He was a Jew who had no grievance against anyone, not even G-d. He studied the holy books and his wife was the provider. As a result they had nothing, not even grits and water. But somehow they survived. As the years rolled by the oldest daughter was getting on in years. She was not bad looking, nor was she dumb, but they had no dowry. And young men, even tailors and shoemakers, expected a dowry. The wife complained to her husband: 'my whole life I have been carrying the burden of providing for the household and you just sat in the synagogue and studied. But I can not find a husband for my daughter and I don't want to wait till she will be grey.' 'What would you have me do?' asked her husband, the Talmid Chochem. 'Do what others like you have been doing – be on your way – go far from home and beg for help to marry the bride. Jews know it is a mitzvah (a meritorious deed) to help a bride. And with the help of the Almighty you will come back in good health and an adequate dowry'. And thus the husband, the Talmid Chochem, went on a long journey, far from home. And, as his wife predicted, the Jews opened to him their hearts and there wallets. Our Talmid Chochem collected a nice wad of money and began to head for home. He was at the time many miles away in the depth of Russia. The local Jews, former soldiers in (Tsar) Nicholas's army, vague in their knowledge of the Torah, but with hearts of gold and their Rabbi, not one of the greatest men of learning, wished him success in arranging the marriage of his daughter. The Rabbi gave him also a present for the bride. On the last evening before the departure our Talmid Chochem was happy. He took even a strong drink and drank to the health of the guests in the tavern he stayed in. He told them the story of his daughter, the bride, the dowry he had collected for her and of his wife whom he had not seen for a couple of years. He was talking and weeping from longing. He showed them the purse with the money and the gift of the Rabbi for the bride. The Talmid Chochem fell into a deep sleep and when he woke up in the morning the dowry money and the gift were gone. It was likely that one of the guests had stolen it in the night. The Talmid Chochem sat for hours immersed in sorrowful thoughts. He did not blame the thief, who knows, perhaps he too needed a dowry for his daughter. He blamed only the Almighty – how could he do such an injustice? He will call the Almighty to a Din Torah (a religious hearing of a dispute) in front of the local Rabbi, who gave him the present for the bride. He went to see the Rabbi, who had just finished a sumptuous meal and was very happy to see the Talmid Chochem. He said: 'I thought you were well on your way by now. What happened?' The Talmid Chochem gave a deep sigh and said 'You are the Rabbi here and I want you to be the judge in a Din Torah'. 'And who is the accused' asked the Rabbi. 'The Almighty' said the Talmid Chochem. 'What are you talking about – how can there be a Din Torah with the Almighty in front of me? You came from the country of great Rabbis and Geonim (Torah Geniuses). Go to them – they are better versed in matters concerning the Torah. They are holy man. In front of them you will argue your case against the Almighty.' 'No' replied the Talmid Chochem 'in front off them, the learned ones, I will not get a hearing, because they would be afraid, they fear the Almighty. Therefore they can not be the judges. But you, as I can see, are not particularly scared of the Almighty, hence you will be a fair judge in this argument.' The Rabbi was quite satisfied with this contention. After he heard the whole story, how the traveller wandered and suffered till he collected enough money for the dowry and how the money was stolen the Rabbi gave his verdict. 'You are right and therefore the Almighty said that his is the money and the gold and he should return the dowry'. The Rabbi went to see his Nicholas's soldiers and collected for the Talmid Chochem more money than he gathered previously. The Talmid Chochem was happy and said 'Well Rabbi you can see now – I was right that I chose you as the judge. You are not overwhelmed even facing the Almighty and your verdict was right.'


[Page 210]

Yitzchak “Yam-Suf”

by David Cohen

Translated from Hebrew by Aviva Kamil

To the memory of Itzi the Melamed, one of the Slonim Chasidim in Novogrudok

The Rabbi came for Sabbath, between Purim and Pesach, to visit his few fellow Chasidim in a town, which was populated predominantly by Mitnagdim. At the time of “shalosh se'u'dot” he was preaching the Torah devoutly, and was repeatedly telling his Chasidim that every Jew, if he so desired, would be rewarded by experiencing the sensation of the parting of the sea (the Yam-Suf). The man who will have this experience will be blessed.

Those words touched the heart of Itzchak the Melamed, and he was frequently thinking about that matter. Itzchak was the tallest man in town (“me'shichmo va'ma'alah”), but he was as modest as he was tall, kept lower then the moss on a wall and was kind hearted. He loved with all his heart the few pupils he taught. His pupils came from poor families. The better to do families, the Mitnagdim, shunned his cheder saying that he taught his pupils the Chasidic Torah instead of Moses' Torah. It was true. From morning till night one could hear Chasidic melodies rising from his hut. He said that studying the Torah by using melodies was a good method of learning. Some were melodies of gaiety and laughter and others were filled with sadness. The pupils were repeating their lessons in the Chumash and Talmud and learning their Torah whilst singing melodies.

The festival of Pesach was approaching, the air was full of the light of spring and the festive melodies could be heard drifting from the cheder of Itzchak the Melamed. This year, after hearing the words of the Rabbi about the parting of the Yam-Suf, the Melamed taught his pupils continuously by singing “be'tzet Israel me'Mits'raim” (“When Israel left Egypt”, a sentence from the Bible). The song was like a marching song, as if the pupils were joining the people who were following Moses out of Egypt. When they reached the sentence ”Hayam ra'ah ve'yanos, ha'Yarden yisov le'achor”, the words were rushing like a waterfall. The voices of the pupils were intermingled with the voices of those who were baking Matzos. As the festival was approaching, a rumor went about that Itzchak the Melamed was going to part Yam-Suf on the Seder night. The town went wild. Some laughed, others thought it a blasphemy. The Seder arrived and many were in a hurry to finish it, they sang “Chad-Gadya” in a hurry, and rushed to Itzchak the Melamed's hut. The Melamed was sitting like a king with his wife and five children around him, reading the Hagadah with great joy, one melody followed another, and all the Chasidim who were packed the room joined in the singing. When the clock struck midnight, Itzchak the tall and his eldest son got up and brought in a bathtub filled with water. The Melamed put on his shoulder a bag of Matzo Shmurah, stood erect in line with his wife and children, and when they reached the sentence ”Daber el bnei - Israel va'isuh” he stepped into the bathtub filled with water. His wife and children followed him and so did the Chasidim. They sang loudly “Ha'yam ra'ah va'yanos”. At that moment the Mitnagdim broke in and yelled at the Melamed: ”Itzchak Yam-Suf, Itzchak Yam-Suf…..”

When the Rabbi heard of what had happened at Itzchak the Melamed's home and the behavior of the Mitnagdim, he said of them: ”they have eyes but can not see, if they would've been rewarded with sight, they would've seen sixty thousand people leaving Egypt, joyful for their deliverance…” From that day on the Melamed was called by the people of the town: ”Itzchak Yam-Suf” and that was his name from one Pesach to the next.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Misnagidim/Mitnagedim (opponents) is the name of the opponents of the Chassidim. Originally the name arose from the bitter opposition to the Chassidic movement. Although they have some common characteristics, Misnagidim tend to have a pronounced scepticism and a severe criticism of credulity and authoritarianism. Elijah b. Solomon Zalman, the Gaon of Vilna (1720-1797), gave impetus to the rise of the Misnagidim, and that way of life became characteristic of Lithuanian Jewry. The majority of the Jewish population of Novogrudok was Misnagidi. Return
  2. The Gomorrah in Meshes Shabbats 117 (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate

    "Sabbath") tells us that the concept of Shlosh Seudos (compressed into Shale-shudes) is taken from the incident of the Mon (manna). It is a dispute between Tanaim (Sages) as to how to interpret the thrice read word "HaYom" whereby the required number of meals on Shabbat is derived. The Rabbonan (Rabbis) posit that the thrice mentioned word "HaYom" teaches that three meals during the entire Sabbath are required. Return

  3. Kapores Chickens: Kapores means “atonement”. On the morning before Yom Kippur, some Jews have the custom of swinging a chicken over their head three times and reciting a small prayer that essentially says, “any punishment I am deserving of because of my transgressions should be passed along, instead, to this bird.”

    The chicken is killed with a quick cut to the neck and windpipe, which causes it to die instantly. However, some continue moving reflexively and even run around for a while, before finally expiring. So, what we have here is Agent Emes saying “stop running around like a chicken with its head cut off.”

    NOTE: Some, more sensitive souls, who want to do the “kapores” custom without killing an

    animal, will substitute a dollar bill (or some other currency) for the chicken. Return

  4. What is an Eruv?

    The Torah prohibits carrying on Shabbat between a public domain and a private domain or for more than 4 cubits in a public domain.. However, the Torah permits carrying within an enclosed "private" area. Public domains are typically non-residential areas including streets, thoroughfares, plazas ("open areas"), highways, etc. Private domains are residential areas, and originally referred to an individuals home or apartments that were surrounded by a "wall" and can be deemed to be "closed off" from the surrounding public domains. The rabbis of the Talmud developed a means to render a larger area as a private domain by surrounding it. Such an enclosure is called an "Eruv", more specifically "Eruv Chatzayrot" or Sheetufe M'vo'ot. The Hebrew word "eruv" means to mix or join together; an Eruv Chatzayrot (henceforth just "Eruv") serves to integrate a number of private and public properties into one larger private domain. Consequently, individuals within an Eruv district are then permitted to move objects across the pre-Eruv public domain-private domain boundary. Return

  5. Ethrog Citron

    Medium to large sized bumpy yellow skinned citrus having a very acidic flavour. Primarily the skin is used, and the fruit plays a role in the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles – Succoth. Return

  6. Elul the month of repentance and personal reflection that culminates with Rosh HaShannah, Yom Kippur and the start of the new year Return
  7. Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement is observed on the tenth day of the month of Tishre. Return
  8. The tzitzit are fringes that appear on the four corners of the prayer shawl worn in the synagogue and by Traditionalists as part of their regular clothing beneath their outer garments. The prayer shawl is called a tallit. Therefore “an ethrog with 'four fringes'” may mean 'an ethrog covered by a tallit'. Return

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