We publish the two following works about Josef Milner that were written for his 60th birthday.
The first work was written in the Parisian Oyfsney, in 1947 by Noakh Gris, the well known writer and author of the book, Kinder Martyrologie and of the book, Tzvishn Freynd [Among Friends]. He was a skillful scholar and an active communal worker in the Central Yiddish Historical Committee in Poland.
The second work was written by Henri Hertz, one of the greatest French poets, descended from generations of French Jews. His father was even a colonel in the French army during the time of the Dreyfus trial.
Henri Hertz is an old man of 75 and is much esteemed in France in general and in Jewish circles in particular.
Noakh Gris, Paris
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
It is difficult to meet people in France today, particularly in Paris, who do not know the name of Josef Milner. Over 40 years of literary activity in Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian and French; 40 years communal work in the best sense of the word; since 1933 a central figure in French OZE [The Society for the Protection of Jewish Health]; thousands of saved Jewish lives including in particular, 5,000 Jewish children in the Hitler era in France this is a general picture of Milner's many-sided activities.
Based on the energy that the birthday man shows, it is unbelievable that he is already in his 60's; reading over his historical and literary works, memories from his notebook, one must wonder about his skills and exclaim: I am 70 years old, and look at him; he is full of vigor, if not older. Milner has united within himself the best Jewish traditions: scholarship and communal work. Today, after the terrible Holocaust, we meet few people of Milner's age who are bound to our best traditions of the past and simultaneously stand with both feet in the center of our communal and cultural work.
Therefore it is necessary to describe a few details about the celebrant whose birthday was celebrated here not long ago at several universities in Paris: Josef Milner was born in 1887 in Chelm. His father, Reb Yehuda Leib, was an enlightened Jew well known in Lubliner circles. A rich man, who was occupied with writing and communal work: he was a correspondent for Ha-Asif and for HaMelitz and a delegate to Zionist conferences. It is no wonder that two sons who were raised in a modern way in such a house followed in their father's path.
Josef Milner studied in a Russian gymnazie; however, his father simultaneously brought the best Yiddish instructors for him. One of his teachers was the enduring editor of Heynt of Warsaw, Abraham Goldberg. When the revolutionary wave of 1905 flooded the Czarist Empire, it did not bypass the middle-class child, Josef Milner, and as a result he had to leave Russia. He left for Switzerland, where he graduated from middle school in 1907. The same year he came to France from Switzerland (Bern) and remains here until today. He studied chemistry in France and received an engineering degree.
Josef Milner did not separate himself from Jewish life, as many immigrants before him and after him did. He attended meetings, appeared with reports, conducted interviews with famous personalities and he wrote about everything in Sokolow's Ha-Olam [The World], in Vilna's Hed-Hazman [Echo of His Times] and in the Petersburg Razsoviet. He befriended Max Nardou and was able to converse with Georg Brandes. Milner's active and probing nature and curiosity prevented him from limiting himself to political and communal correspondences. Despite his engineering degree, he showed a great interest in literature and history, seeking the pintele yid [the Jewish essence in every Jew] everywhere. In this way he acquainted the Jewish reader with the Jewish writer in French literature, such as Andrei Safir, Edmond Fleg and many others (he was the first to reveal to the Jewish public that the famous French humorist, France's national humorist, Tristan Bernard, is a Jew).
Milner rummages through archives, chronicles, books, speaks with archivists and museum directors from the entire country and collects a great amount of material about the history of the Jewish communities in France and the history of famous Jewish families. He published the results of his work in hundreds of journals during the course of many years. His interesting articles are reprinted in all Jewish newspapers over the entire world.
A second chapter of Josef Milner's pursuits is OZE.
Right after the Hitler upheaval in Germany, OZE moved to France. Milner became general secretary for France. He remained in this post without any interruption in his activities during the years of occupation until the end of 1947 (when he was elected as vice president).
The children's school defines the best chapter in Milner's life history. It is useful to measure a man according to his relationship to children and also according to his ability to laugh. Milner passed both tests. The first and most difficult and terrible epoch of Gestapo persecution where he was saved simply by a miracle (arrested twice by Petain's militia and by the Gestapo and the latter released him because they did not recognize that he is Jew!...) The second test is familiar to all people who have met Josef
Milner at meetings and banquets. As well as a sincere and hearty laugh with an open face, he is also chock-full of historical and scholarly anecdotes and stories.
Nothing more will be added about his personality, but consideration will be given to a few more institutions where he presided
or is active and where he takes care of people in need who make no requests with secret gifts. However, wherever we meet him he brings good natured assurance and humor. Let my article be an expression of the appreciation of the Jewish public for the merits of Josef Milner and wish him another creative year.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund We must greet Josef Milner at his 60th birthday, ignoring the fact that he wishes to be a modest and shy person. We must add that he does not look 60 years old. There are many communal workers in our Jewish world active leaders who are sexagenarians, but they do not look their age. The reason is probably their combative nature. Josef Milner is among those who appear strong and young and who are mostly active and dynamic, inspiring others and drawing them into the work. In general, Josef Milner has the appearance of an American, but he is not and everyone knows that he originates from the Polish-Jewish city, Chelm, and he still boasts about this
He has a great name as a writer (in Hebrew, Yiddish and French). His work about the history of the Jews of France is considered the best in the field. However, I will pause particularly on Josef Milner, the speaker. He has all of the abilities of a great speaker, his gestures and his accent; a rhythm is always felt in his phrasing. He entrances his audience and one feels with him when the heart speaks. He speaks very
often in Yiddish. I, alas, do not understand the language because French Jewry has spoken French for more than 150 years. However, I always understand Josef Milner's speeches because we understand what he wants to say because we feel the inspiration from his heart and we are penetrated by his great courage.
Communally, Josef Milner is the embodiment of OZE [The Society for the Protection of Jewish Health] He founded it in our France; he led it in the struggle for France. It would not please many if he and it perished together. He was always on the roads and in the valleys during the time of the occupation, offering rescue and courage everywhere for the dejected, moving through the threads of the Nazi-nets and he crawled out alive, thanks to simple miracles. And he led French OZE to a victory that was the victory of the Jewish child.
Today, Josef Milner is the vice president of OZE. He is a leader of a great experiment, full of significant initiatives and wherever he appears he brings in a ray of light that lets us believe that our enemies will never conquer the Jewish people.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund Samuel Winer was born on the seventh day of Passover, 1888, to a well-to-do commercial family in Chelm. He had a traditional education in kheder [religious school for young children] until his 10th year. His father, Hersh Leib Winer, an enlightened man, was not satisfied with that sort of learning and enrolled him in the only modern kheder then in Chelm with the Brisker malamed [religious teacher], Haim Rozenblum, an educated person, a teacher rather than a malamed. He stressed Tanakh [The Torah, The Prophets and The Writings]. In his class, the children had to know The Prophets by heart. He also taught Hebrew, Hebrew grammar, as well as Russian and arithmetic. He studied with the malamed until his 13th year. Then his father wanted to prepare him to study [Translator's note: most likely in a gymnazie, a secular high school]. His dream the usual Jewish one to make his son a doctor. At that time, his father's
business began to decline. It did not take long until he lost everything. Bitter need reigned in the home. The frightening times heavily oppressed his mood and influenced his entire later life and eventually led him to the ideology of socialism, in which he believes to this day. Instead of studying medicine, he was given as an apprentice in Erlikh's printing shop to learn to be a typesetter. For a time, his grandfather, Reb Mendl Winer, came every evening to his home to study gemara [rabbinic commentaries] with him.
In his own time he sought to satisfy his deep thirst for knowledge through intensive reading and studying the best of what is in Hebrew. He remains grateful for the generosity of the distinguished, enlightened Milner fam-
ily that then opened wide their rich private Hebrew library. He became a fervent Zionist. He read the modern Yiddish literature, and much in Russian.
(Photo, Caption: Chana Winer-Wilder)
During Passover, 1904, a group of young men founded a Jewish library; it had to be secret and illegal under the repressive Czarist regime. It was actually the first communal library in Chelm. He became the librarian and purchaser of the books. The library was located in his home and existed for a few years.
In the spring of 1905, he was one of the founders of the S.S. (Socialist-Territorialists) in Chelm. Between 1908-1912, he was active in the S.S Party in Warsaw and later in New York until the party dissolution at the convention of 1916. Between 1907 and 1912, the Czarist guard in Warsaw arrested him a few times and he was exiled once.
S. Winer came to America at the end of December, 1912. At the beginning of 1914 he joined the Jewish Typesetter's Union in New York, of which he is still a member. He has been a member of the Chelmer branch of the Arbeter Ring since 1918.
He has been employed as a proofreader at Der Tog [The Day], the New York Yiddish newspaper, since the first day of its publication (November 5, 1914) to the present. He was a student of Dr. Haim Szitlowski, and at Tog, where Dr. H. Szitlowski was a constant co-worker, S. Winer came in constant contact with him, which lasted until the last day of his life, May 6, 1943. (S. Winer's article in the journal, Yidishe Kultur [Yiddish Culture], New York, 1943, about the last years of the unforgettable Dr. Haim Szitlowski is full of reverence and respect for his great teacher).
In the middle 1920's he was one of the first builders among the founders of the American division of YIVO. Until around 1933, he was a member of the head managing committee of American YIVO (Yiddish Scientific Institute).
At the end of the twenties he joined the Yiddish division of the Spinoza Institute in New York, where Spinoza's philosophy was studied under Dr. Yakov Szacki. He was co-editor of the Spinoza Book that the Spinoza Institute published on the 300th anniversary of Spinoza's birth (New York, 1932), a book with important works about Spinoza and his philosophy. It is the only one of its kind in Yiddish. He also took part in the translation for the Spinoza Book of an early work of Spinoza named, Tractate About the Betterment of the Intellect [Translator's note: possibly Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione (On the Improvement of the Understanding)].
The Yiddish division of the Spinoza Institute immediately proposed a new, accurate translation of Spinoza's Ethics in Yiddish. In order to be able to translate directly from the original, he studied Latin. The work on the translation was delayed a few years. Then, after completing the translation, he first began to compare his translation with Dr. Y. Klackin's Hebrew translation and with two English, two German, a Russian and a Polish translation. Meanwhile, the Yiddish division of the Spinoza Institute closed down. The translation was not published and the manuscript remained with him (however, he hopes that his work was not in vain and that Ethics will still see the light).
In his free time, he was very active in the Biro-Bidjan movement. When it was decided in the summer of 1936 to send an American people's delegation to Biro-Bidjan, S. Winer was elected in New York as a member of the delegation (with over 22 thousand votes). When the delegation was ready to leave in the fall, the rumors increased that any day now Hitler would launch his war machine. It was impossible for the delegation to travel because of this.
During the summer of 1937, he was among the first founders of ICOR [International Jewish Cultural Union], and throughout his years in America he also was occupied with all of his heart with many communal activities. It would take too much space to enumerate all of his activities for all of his years in America.
In 1943 the ICOR publishing house published his translation of Fredrick Engel's classic work about Marxist philosophy with the title: Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy. S. Winer added a supplement to the end of the book of 30 plus of his short essays about every intellectual and philosopher mentioned there so that the Yiddish reader would be better able to understand the important work. These essays acquaint the reader with a part of the history of philosophy.
Among his additional publications was a large theoretical work: A Hundred Years of Marxism in Yidisher Kultur, the monthly journal of ICOR, in the editions of April and May 1947 and February, March and April, 1948.
In Yidisher Kultur of March and April, 1951, a large and timely philosophical work entitled Ethics the Central Problem in the World Crisis was published. Another of his works, Freedom Individual Psychological and Social was also published in Yidisher Kultur, June edition, 1952. It was also published as a separate book with the title, Individual and Social Freedom (This work, as his others, stood in the spirit of socialist humanism).
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
He settled in Chelm in 1892. His residence was located on Lubliner Street, on the road to the armories, not far from the railroad tracks that crossed Lubliner Street. An accident happened at these railroad tracks to Rebbe Heshl Lajner's son, Reb Yakov, when the train locomotive gathered speed when he was crossing the train line and it killed him.
A shtibl [small prayer house] was located near his apartment where prayers were said and Torah was studied. He, himself, sat day and night in the study of Torah and in the service of God.
His glorious appearance elicited great awe and respect from all, even from the Russian regime. His Hasidim were always at his table during the third meal on Shabbos, and during his reading of the Torah, and they had great spiritual pleasure in finding themselves face to face with the luminous personality of Rebbe Heshl Lajner, of blessed memory.
It is worthwhile to note a characteristic episode. Reb Pinya Meir Gelczer (Pinkhus Tenenboim), who was one of his Hasids, once came to Reb Heshl Lajner. He told Reb Heshl that he was about to rent an orchard from a lord, but that he did not have the money to make a down payment. Rebbe Heshl Lajner immediately went to a second room and took a golden chain from the rebbitzen [rabbi's wife] and gave it to Reb Pinya Meir Gelczer, so that he would have a down payment for the lord.
This episode is just one of many similar good deeds that can give us a complete picture of the goodness and virtuousness of Rabbi Heshl Lajner, of blessed memory.
The Rabbi, Reb Gamaliel Hokhman, came to Chelm from a small neighboring shtetl. In the course of several years he became
(Photo, caption: The Rabbi Gamaliel Hokhman, of blessed memory)
the official rabbi and spiritual leader. In general, he was a modern rabbi. He created several societies, studied and read a great deal, even the Yiddish press of every party.
He also looked into various debt disputes, and when Jews of various social standing had conflicts, differences of opinion, they came to Reb Gamaliel, who reconciled them in the best way, with a lightening fast understanding of all the muddled situations and social-psychological considerations.
In addition, he gave beautiful sermons. He often gave sermons in the Chelemer synagogue.
The Rabbi, Reb Gamaliel Hokhman, of blessed memory, perished with his entire family during the last aktsie [Translator's note: German word usually used to describe round-ups and deportations] in Chelm in 1943.
The Reisher Rebbe, Reb Yehuda Zundl Rikkh, was descended from the Belzer Hasidic dynasty. He arrived in Chelm at the beginning of 1920 and quickly became well known in the city and in the surrounding shtetlekh [towns]. He was known as a miracle worker. He gave medicine to the sick.
However, for all these years, the Reisher Rebbe was known as a great pauper. He was supported by the Chelemer tradesmen and common people. He was much beloved. He became the rebbe of the poor craftsmen and working people.
His son was the famous Rabker [Rabka, Poland] Rabbi and his son-in-law was the Rabbi, Reb Efroim Unger, who was elected as rabbi in the nearby shtetl, Swiercze.
The Reisher Rebbe, Reb Yehuda Zundl Rikkh, perished at the hands of Hitler's murderers. He was dragged away to the gas ovens of Sobibor with thousands of Chelemer Jews.
(Photo, caption: Berl Akslrad with his two children, Dwoyra'le and Yosele, who perished in Auschwitz.)
in Chelm. He was the synagogue warden of the kehile [religious governing body], councilman and alderman in the Chelm city council and was managing director of the Jewish public school.
He perished in Kovno in the Ninth Fort [originally an early 20th century defense fortress] in 1944.
(Photo, caption: Nekha Bakalczuk-Akslrad)
home. She survived the cruel war, losing her husband and two children.
Her health weakened in the concentration camps and she suffered from kidney disease.
After the liberation, she worked in Poland and in Lintz (Austria) in the school. She traveled from there on a visit to Israel with her second husband, M. Bakalczuk, and then emigrated to South Africa where was an active worker in the Johannesburg Yiddish folks-shul [secular school].
She died of severe kidney disease an inheritance from the German concentration camp years in 1953.
When the war broke out, he was a teacher at the Polish government gymnazie. He perished tragically at the hands of the Germans.
He was a good Jew with a good Jewish heart; he gave his entire time and energy and dedication to kehile philanthropic work. He helped the poor Jews, tradesmen and others. He often visited poor Jewish homes, providing them with bread and clothing.
Melekh Hersh was the gabay of the burial society in Chelm for many years. He did a great deal in his post; he did not permit the desecration of or cause shame to the dead, careful that the funeral was carried out with appropriate care according to the Jewish religion.
Melekh Hersh was one of the first founders of the biker-khoylim [a primitive hospital] in Chelm and, later, of the lines hatzedek [organization that provides nightly necessities for the sick poor]. He visited many sick Jews, worried about their condition. From his own pocket he often paid a doctor for a visit and paid an apothecary for a medicine that the doctor had prescribed.
(Photo, caption: Khazan Jakov Brajtman, son of Melekh Hersh, vice president of the Cantor's Union in the United States)
Melekh Hersh Brajtman was a great follower of the Reisher [Rzeszow] Rebbe, Reb Yehuda Zundl Rikkh. It is well known that the Reisher rabbi was very poor. The Chelemer Jewish kehile gave him little support. However, Hersh often supported the Reisher Rebbe.
His son, Jakov Brajtman, is a famous cantor in America; he once came to Chelm on a visit to his parents and he enchanted the Chelemer Jews with his davenen [praying]. He prayed in the large synagogue, evoking great enthusiasm and admiration with his touching voice, and the Chelemer Jews spoke for years in admiration of his vocal music, although the best cantors in Poland often came to Chelm. Chelemer Jews had a reputation as experts about cantors. Therefore, Jakov Brajtman's davenen remained deep in the memory of much of the Chelemer Jewish population, and his father, Reb Melekh Hersh, was proud of his son.
Because he received small wages from the Kehile, he would go through Chelm to the property owners every Thursday for support. He would go with the prayer house khazan, Reb Benimin Zinger, because his wages were also small.
(Photo, caption: The funeral of the Chelemer synagogue khazan, Reb Dovid Berish Greber, of blessed memory, who died on the 22nd of April, 1936. Left the synagogue khazan, Reb Berish Greber.)
During the erev yom-tovim [the evenings before a holiday], such as Rosh Hashanah, and also on Rosh Khodesh [the start of a new Hebrew month], Purim and the days of Chanukah, the synagogue khazan, Reb Berish Greber, walked separately with his shamas [synagogue caretaker], Reb Shmuel Globn; the khazan of the prayer house; Reb Benimin Zinger, on the other hand, walked with his shamas, Reb Leibish Beder. Thus were the wage conditions of the khazanim at that time.
Reb Berish's davenen as the synagogue khazan was very impressive. During the Days of Awe, when he said, beRosh Hashana yikatevun uveYom Tzom Kippur yechatemun' [On Rosh Hashanah it will be written, and on the fast of Yom Kippur it will be signed,] it thrilled everyone. Women in the women's section sobbed with bitter tears and the entire synagogue and anteroom felt the awe of the Day of Judgment. Reb Berish's Un'taneh Tokef [Translator's note: Let us proclaim, prayer said on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur about the Day of Judgment] that brought forth so much belief, emotions and tears, was very moving and sweet.
In his older years Reb Berish could not be the khazan. His old wife and the difficult, poor life of want lay heavily on his health.
For years, the Chelemer synagogue did not find a successor of the standing of Reb Berish the khazan.
J. Goldhaber was much beloved in Chelm and also in the surrounding area, because in addition to all of his great virtues, he was a good fiddler and was very proficient in other musical instruments. His fiddle playing and his fine humorous character brought him many friends during his life. A circle of young and old Jews, who came to hear his anecdotes and jokes, his fiddle melodies and, also, his new creations, was always found in his home. He always befriended young writers, teaching them how to polish their language, the laws of style and of poetry.
J. Goldhaber was a very modest person, a friend of the poor and toiling Jews, of workers, wagon drivers, porters, tailors, shoemakers, friendly to everyone and he fit in well.
In great pain and suffering, he breathed out his noble soul, together with the other Chelemer martyrs.
Hersh Diker was a great lover of the Yiddish word and from his earliest years he was tempted by the Yiddish theater. Although he was the son of Hasidic parents, he quietly gave into the sweet sin on the theater boards.
In addition to Diker's inclination toward the Yiddish stage, he also had a flair for music. He played the violin and often appeared in public at social events that were arranged to alleviate the need of the poor Jews in Chelm.
H. Diker had a circle of amateurs around him. Diker would appear without pay with his amateur colleagues at poor weddings, and he gave the money that he would receive for providing music for dancing as a wedding gift to the poor bride and groom.
The custom of playing at weddings for the poor and then giving the money that came in from playing for the dancing to the poor couple was first introduced in Chelm by the
Luksenburg brothers, who at that time, also led a musical group in Chelm.
In the last years before the Holocaust, H. Diker excelled at collecting money year after year for the Passover needs of the poor. Diker would gather his assistants and go with them to the rich property owners of the city and to the Purim banquets and entertain them with fine Jewish motifs and melodies that he had especially prepared and thoroughly learned months earlier.
These Purim attractions were repeated year after year. Hersh Diker maintained the right to do this and it was very successful for him both morally and materially. The collected money helped many poor Jews bring Pesakh [Passover] into their poor houses.
Diker was a man of the people throughout, far from a rich man. He earned his living as a purchasing agent (komisioner). He was always extremely busy and bustling far away from home, always on the go; in Warsaw and in Lublin purchasing goods for retailers and tradesmen in Chelm. However, Diker devoted the few minutes he had free to communal work.
In his last years, Diker earned his reputation by carrying out aid activities. At that time he created a permanent music group in Chelm that numbered around 30 members.
Hersh Diker also suffered the fate of the millions of Jews who perished in Poland. In 1942 he perished at the hands of the Hitlerist assassins. He contributed much to the Yiddish theater in Chelm.
He was also an Opiekun Spoleczny [public guardian] at city hall for the Jewish and non-Jewish population in his region.
Lipa Herc was a good natured person and he gave generously to charity for the benefit of various institutions and for individuals, too.
He was a great businessman, furnishing meat for the military that was stationed in Chelm and also for the hospital.
In the days of the Hitler occupation in Chelm, Lipa Herc tried to alleviate the terrible conditions of the Jews, giving great sums of money in payments to the Germans.
He, his wife and children perished tragically. One of his sons, Yehoshua Herc, was a fighter in a partisan camp. He survived and is now in Montreal, Canada.
He, also, was editor of the Chelemer Shtime. His articles and human interest stories were written with great understanding and were rich in content.
(Photo, caption: Fishl Lazar)
He was editor of Chelemer Shtime for a time. He provided a great deal of space in the newspaper for Zionism. He was an enthusiastic Zionist and a co-worker in the Palestine office.
He helped edit provincial newspapers in the Lublin area.
She graduated from the Vilna University Medical Faculty in 1928. She practiced for a long time in Vienna. She acquired a very good reputation in Chelm. She gave free medical help to the poor and needy people. She worked for TOZ [Society for the Protection of Health] and Linas haTzedek [Society to care for the sick poor] for a time.
In addition to her medical activities, Dr. Leah Fryd
contributed a great deal of time to communal work. She was active in Jewish communal life. She also published popular medical articles in the Yiddish press in the Polish provincial cities.
Thanks to the initiative of Dr. Leah Fryd, a children's home was founded in Chelm.
Mina, Leah Fryd's daughter, was in Lemberg at the outbreak of the German-Russian War, where she was studying. Leah Fryd brought her daughter to Chelm.
Under the Hitler occupation, Mina Fryd had Aryan documents and was able to survive. However, when her mother, Leah Fryd was led to her death, she presented herself to the Gestapo and she perished with her dearly beloved mother.
In 1939 he evacuated to the Soviet Union. In 1941, he voluntarily joined the Red Army. In 1944, he joined the Polish Division and was on the victorious drive to the Vistula River. He visited Chelm.
Shaya Kratka fell in battle near the Vistual River, when the Soviet Army carried out its assault against Warsaw. He fell as a hero in the battle with Hitler-Facism.
In 1918 he became the manager of the Jewish public school. Dr. M. Kanfer later was engaged in the legal profession and worked with the Yiddish-Polish newspapers writing literary treatises about Yiddish literature.
After leaving Chelm, he settled in his birthplace, Krakow, where he edited the Polish-Yiddish newspaper named Novi Dziennik [New Daily News].
He perished at the hands of the Germans.
Mekhele Rybajzen was born in Chelm. His father was a tinsmith and very poor. He became an orphan [Translator's note: yosim, the Yiddish word for orphan, can mean a child who has lost one parent] at a very early age. He left his poor home during his very early years and went to the large city of Warsaw, where he studied and worked and became friends with Yiddish writers.
Once on Erev Pesakh [on the eve of Passover], when he came home to Chelm for the holiday, Mekhele Rybajzen already looked like someone from a big
(Photo, caption: Mekhele Rybajzen)
city and typified a poet. His round, girlish face with generous tufts of hair became serious. He wore a plush hat with a wide brim, with a black cape. Mekhele elicited special attention and people looked at him with quiet envy because of his attire and with his transformation that called to mind the personalities of famous Yiddish writers of that time in Poland.
I do not know if Mekhele Rybajzen wrote very much. After the First World War, Mekhele once showed me two of his poems that were published in a literary collection of Young Yiddish Poets in Poland. Rybajzen's two poems spoke about rain and clouds. I could not then appreciate their literary value.
Mekhele Rybajzen rapidly became popular in literary circles. Mekhele quickly became acquainted with all of the Yiddish writers, from the oldest lion heads to the youngest upcoming talent who came to the Literary Union on Tlomacki. At that time one often found caricatures in the Warsaw Yiddish newspapers that would make fun of Mekhele Rybajzen as secretary and treasurer of the Literary Union because of his striving.
However, Mekhele went his way. He always was dreamy and pensive. Rybajzen never wrote a line that was published in the local newspaper in Chelm, apparently, because he felt himself too good to write for a provincial paper.
It is not known if Rybajzen wrote anything in his last years. Before the last war, we received news that Rybajzen was revising a larger work. However, it is not known if it was published.
Mekhele Rybajzen perished at the beginning of the Hitler occupation of Poland. He perished on the highway trying to escape from the Hitler devils.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
(The legend of who he was, and how he became the rebbe of thousands of Hasidim in Chelm)
Manashe Unger, the writer of this article, is a famous researcher of Hasides. He, himself, is the son of a well-known Hasidic rebbe in Galicia. He published the books Hasides in Life, Pshiskhe [Przysucha] and Kotsk [Kock], Hasides in Poland and Galicia. He also has two books in Hebrew.
Chelm, the city that is so famous in the Jewish world because such rich folklore was created around her, was also known in the Hasidic literature because of her people's rebbe, Reb Note Chelemer, who was considered a lamed-vovnik* and a hidden saint, who did not want to be revealed until the Rebbe, Reb Mordekhai Neszkhizer requested it of him.
*[Translator's note: Lamed-vov has the numerical value of 36 in the Hebrew alphabet. A Lamed Vovnik is, by tradition, one of the 36 righteous people produced in each generation.]
The Rebbe, Reb Nusan Note was different from other rabbis of his generation in that his followers were not elevated Hasidim, only simple Jews and ordinary people. He was from those rabbis of the people who were already a rarity in his generation because at that time, when he began his tenure as a Hasidic rabbi, there was already an almost canonized Hasides. At that time an important student of a rebbe could no longer become a leader of Hasidim as would happen earlier the office of Hasidic rabbi was transferred only through inheritance, from father to son. There were already rabbinic dynasties and rabbinical courts. In this sense, the Rebbe, Reb Note was an exception in that he was not the son of a rebbe and still became a Hasidic rebbe. However, he, himself, left a Hasidic dynasty after him that continued his path in Hasides until our generation when Chelm was destroyed along with hundreds of other old Jewish communities in Poland by the accursed Nazis, may their names and memories be erased.
It is not known exactly when the Rebbe, Reb Note was born. It must be approximately over 200 years ago. However, it is known when he died. The Rebbe, Reb Note died on the 1st of Shevat, 5572, 1812, exactly 140 years ago.
Many Hasidic stories are told about the Chelemer Rebbe, Reb Note; how he was often asked to pray for a sick person, but the rebbe told him that he should pray to the Creator of the World himself.
The Rebbe, Reb Note Chelemer had many tenant farmers and village Jews among his Hasidim. The Rebbe, Reb Note would often say that even when a Jew interprets a verse of the Bible differently from the literal meaning and his intention is honest it can help more than the prayers of a rabbi.
And here is what the Hasidim say about Rebbe, Reb Note, how he became a rebbe and how a village Jew helped Jews despite his bad interpretation of a verse:
It is told in a Hasidic legend that as a young man, the Rebbe, Reb Note was a malamed [teacher] for an arendarz [lessee] in a village near Wlodawka. He taught Hebrew to the two grandsons of the lessee, who ran a tavern and was the overseer of the landowner's forest.
Reb Note the malamed, taught the children all day in a small room that was adjacent to the tavern and, at night, when the entire household was asleep, he had to go to the woods to make sure that the peasants did not steal any wood from the forest.
When the village peasants learned what kind of new watchman they had received, they laughed heartily and said: With such a zydlak [Jew boy], we will manage.
Almost immediately, on the first night when the malamed began to act as a guard, the peasants came into the forest with their wagons and axes and wanted immediately to begin chopping the trees in the forest. To be more secure, they began to shout from one corner of the forest to the other corner of the forest to hear if the zydlak, Note, was on guard. However, there was no answer from Reb Note. Then they were really sure that the forest guard, Reb Note, was sleeping somewhere comfortable and they took to their work at once
The Hasidic legends relate that as soon as they started to cut a tree they suddenly heard a mournful cry that carried through the entire forest. At the beginning they thought that this was how the forest animals howl at night. But as they chopped the tree, the cry became stronger and stronger as if it came from the tree itself. This mournful cry softened the hearts of the peasants and they could no longer bear to remain in their places and one of them said that they must learn the origin of the lament.
The peasants stopped chopping the tree and left to follow the sound of the crying. However, in each side to which they went, it seemed as if the voice came from another side and, in addition, still higher and stronger. The matter became more curious and they divided themselves into a few groups and went to all four sides of the forest.
However, each group separately thought that the crying was coming from another side And everything in the forest became dark and the lament came from all sides, as if hungry wolves filled the forest, no, as if hundreds of people were lamenting
a great devastation And suddenly, trudging in the deep darkness of the forest, they saw a small fire slipping out from afar between two trees. Separately each group left for the point from which the little fire had been revealed, and they went and went and still farther they crawled into the forest, farther and farther they moved from the little fire and reached closer to the crying. They wandered in the forest this way the entire night and only in the morning did they reach a spot where a cave was located and they saw a clear glow coming out from the cave and, from inside, from the deep deepness, came the crying that tore their hearts into pieces from pain and sorrow.
One of the peasants doubled himself up while turning and lowered himself down into the deserted cave, and what did he see? The zydlak Note was lying on the ground and murmuring some sort of prayer. There was ash on his head and tears poured out of his eyes and not only did his eyes cry, his entire body cried, too every limb in him separately, and it seemed as if all of the trees in the forest were crying with him And a clear fire shone around him, a glorious shine that wound like a shining pillar into heaven
When the peasant came out of the cave and told them what he had seen, the peasants remained standing amazed and listened to the strange prayers from the little Jew, Note, to his recitation of the midnight prayers about the destruction of the Temple and they actually completely forgot why they had gone into the forest so late at night And the peasants stood this way in front of the cave and cried with Reb Note's lament on the Exile until they suddenly saw that it had become day and they remembered that they immediately had to return to the village to work on the lord's estate.
And when it was morning and the peasants wanted to enter the interior of the cave, they saw that Reb Note was lying on the bare ground asleep and next to him lay the rusty gun The peasants left him sleeping and quickly returned to the estate and could not forget the wonder that they had seen in the forest at night.
And thus passed a considerable time. The peasants were no longer able to steal any wood from the forest. Reb Note's cries did not permit them to do so. Reb Note himself, who toiled the entire day with the lessee's two children, learned from the drunk peasants, why they were not coming to the forest to steal, how he, Reb Note, enthralled the peasants with his heartfelt laments in the cave, from which a small fire shone out and how he prayed there with such laments and wails that a stone could be moved
The wife of the lessee began to watch the ways of Reb Note until one Friday at night, when Reb Note did not go into the woods, she glimpsed a light shining out of the cubbyhole where Reb Note slept and a wonderful song was heard, a song that no
human voice could sing so beautifully, but of the sort sung by angels
And although the lessee's two young boys had not yet learned the komets-alef [one of the first letters of the Hebrew alphabet], the lessee's wife did not permit the dismissal of the melamed from his position. She told her husband, the lessee, what the peasants in the village were saying about their melamed, and what she herself had seen on Friday at night.
The reputation that Reb Note was a tzadek [righteous man] spread throughout the entire area. Reb Note himself learned what was being said about him in the village and he went to the Rebbe, Reb Mordekhai Neshchizer, and he explained to him what had happened in the village, that his deeds were known and, therefore, he wanted to escape from there. However, the Neshchizer Rebbe told him to remain with the lessee and to continue to act as he had until now because his fate was decided providentially that he should be a leader and a good defender for Jews when needed.
Reb Note remained a melamed with the lessee and taught the boys during the day and sat occupied with study and prayer in the abandoned cave in the forest, rose at midnight for study and prayer and prayed
Until he also became known in Wlodawka and then in Chelm and he became a rebbe with thousands of Hasidim.
Once, the Hasidic legends further state, the lessee decided to travel to Chelm to Rebbe, Reb Note on Yom-Kippur.
All through Yom-Kippur the rebbe prayed himself in front of the pulpit and he did make himself known to the lessee. Rebbe, Reb Note's weeping and crying was without limit. None of the Hasidim could understand that the rebbe was crying more this year than every other year and they were afraid that the rebbe probably saw a difficult edict in heaven that he had to annul.
And when during Ne'ilah [concluding prayer on Yom-Kippur] the prayer: Av yedaakha mi-noar Our father, Avraham, knew You from his youth on, arrived, the rebbe burst into powerful tears, which strongly moved the simple lessee who had stood sentimentally during the entire Yom-Kippur and did not understand why the rebbe and the Hasidim were crying so intensely and he began crying bitter tears. However, suddenly, the rebbe's face became radiant and he began to sing and dance with joy and the Ne'ilah praying ended with bliss and joyfulness.
The Hasidim stood amazed and they did not know what had happened.
At night, at the close of Yom-Kippur, when the Rebbe led a seudah [meal] with the Hasidim, he called the lessee to the table and asked him why he had cried so strongly this night at the prayer: Av yedaakha mi-noar.
I will tell you the truth the lessee had begun to speak in his village way I had
thought highly of you. However, as I saw how you relate to me, how you completely forgot me, it wrenched my heart and I burst into tears. In particular with the prayer, Av yedaakha mi-noar, it occurred to me, why must the patriarchs constantly be remembered in the prayers? The pretext is that when we remember the patriarchs in the Yom-Kippur praying, Satan comes and says: A trick that the patriarchs thought highly of God when he showed so many miracles? Everyone would have then believed in God. Ne'ilah begins and the prayer, Av yedaakha mi-noar, our father, Avraham, recognized You, God, You were still young and, therefore, God had to help. I burst into tears when I remembered that, I, too, recognized you, Rebbe when you were still young and taught my children and no one knew you, and now you have completely forgotten me.
Later, the Rebbe, Reb Note, explained to the Hasidim that a great edict against the Jews had been written down that day in heaven and he knew that he alone would not be able to annul it. However, with the help of the village Jew, who, although, he had interpreted the verse, Av yedaakha mi-noar, badly, his intention was pure and the edict was annulled and, therefore, the rebbe had then ended the Nei'lah prayer with joy.
And the Rebbe took out a little sack of money and gave it to the lessee and said: Here, have a small fee from the Hasidim for what you did with me, when I was with you in the village and you will be able to make the payment to the Lord with this and show them that you have saved all Jews from the harsh edict this year simply with your interpretation of the verse, Av yedaakha mi-noar, and made a greater noise in heaven than all of the righteous of the generation.
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