Translated by Selwyn Rose Hagai Zakai, the son of Nahum Zakai, was born on 13th Shevat 5698 in Ayelet Hashahar. Exceptional qualities, which became clearer with the years, were noticed in him from his youth, especially in his personality: pleasant with people, good-hearted, likeable and smiling. It was possible occasionally to anger him but with the first contact with him the anger subsided and dissipated and an apology was forthcoming. Thus we knew him throughout his school years, in the kibbutz society and at work.
Two years have passed since, together with his age-group, he was mobilised for his national army service. Every leave, whether long or short, he would change his uniform for his work clothes, without hesitation and report for work, happy with the anticipation.
On Monday, 26th Tishri 5718, Hagai fell fulfilling his duty. In our hearts the sense of loss remains of the dear, likeable
young man, pure as a child, the greater part of whose life lay before him.
Sarah B. & Elimelech S.
Translated by Selwyn Rose Moshe was born and grew up in Godniondz. Very early in his childhood he absorbed from his Zionist parents and town, together with his mother's milk, the love of Zionism. In the Tarbut school Moshe was one of the brightest and most conspicuous of the pupils; and with the conclusion of his basic education he was sent to the Hebrew gymnasium in Bialystok, the county seat.
With a constancy and dedication he devoted himself to his Hebrew and general studies but was somewhat less than assiduous with his studies of the Polish language and its literature; he already identified himself as a National-Zionist Jewish boy.
His intelligent parents understood their son and decided to send him to the agricultural school at Mikveh Yisrael. At a time when the gates of Palestine were closed to immigration it was difficult to obtain an immigrant's certificate for Moshe and after exhausting negotiations they gave up on Mikveh Yisrael and Moshe travelled to England intending to get to Palestine from there. Moshe learned English in six-months, adjusted himself to the strange land and was accepted at Leeds University and here, too, success attended his efforts. He studied, earned a living and was a leading light in the Habonim movement in Leeds and the surrounding area. He organised the local youth, prepared himself at the training-farm with the intention of fulfilling his target of immigrating. But time after time, the Movement delayed his immigration because even there, in England, it was difficult for the organisation to deprive itself of Moshe's talents.
During the Second World War, Moshe lost all of his family and remained alone, the sole survivor of his branch of the family and the heir to its Hebrew-Zionist traditions.
The outbreak of the War of Liberation Moshe found Moshe already at the front at the Battle of Latrun and the Burma Road. With the first withdrawal, Moshe came to see the family. Sturdy and smiling, he stood in the doorway and said: I came to help three weeks ago and here I am building the 'Burma Road'.
His good Hebrew and his background education in the movement immediately marked him out as a seeming veteran and it was difficult to realise he was a new immigrant. And Moshe indeed very quickly accustomed himself to the country, took part in all phases of the War of Independence, from Latrun, via Sodom and up to the Galilee.
|Moshe Biali (zl)|
But he was determined to finish the war, to be released and to join Kibbutz Kfar Blum and add his contribution to the Kibbutz.
Very quickly, as was his way, he became integrated into the life style of the Kibbutz and stood out with his abilities and endless dedication to the task in hand. Always in a hurry, he never had time for private matters. With difficulty, he would drop-in occasionally to see his family and friends. Every task to which he was assigned he filled to his utmost ability. More than once we thought to ourselves: Is it right to lay yet another, heavy burden on this one man? His self-confidence and his concern for others allowed him to fulfil all his responsibilities with notable success. He was always calm and at peace with himself and he welcomed all who came to see him with a smile on his face. His good-heartedness and intelligence convinced everyone who came into contact with him, and as a result always achieved his aims in completing successfully whatever public appointments were laid upon him.
It is difficult to come to terms with the bitter and cruel fate that Moshe the refreshing, powerful and ever-smiling was plucked from our midst so suddenly and cruelly while still only at the beginning of his journey.
We, his family and friends, have lost the very best from among us because he was the very basis of our pride.
His memory will never fade...
Translated by Selwyn Rose
|Eliezer (Lazer) Mali|
Together with the youth movements of He-Halutz and the Bund, there existed in our town a small branch of the Communist Party. The social relationship between the various parties was not influenced by the differing political opinions and whenever festivities of the one took place, the other would come and vise-versa.
I remember the First of May 1924. The first of the speakers Zaidel Altschuld, good-looking, graceful like a palm-tree, dark with long sleek hair, fire-spitting in his speech: The handkerchiefs of the rich, their soaked in perfume and they themselves smelling of expensive intoxicating drinks,
while our handkerchiefs are soaked in blood and sweat! His words made a deep impression on me. For a long time afterwards I would ambush him in the hopes of seeing him take a handkerchief from his pocket stained with blood and sweat...
Among the pupils of the school who inserted herself into communism was Heshka, the Rabbi's daughter. She had a fiery and tempestuous personality. Wherever she appeared, her hair tightly curled like a sheep, refusing to succumb to a comb, there everything seethed and bubbled. She was of medium height, a little tubby, round-faced and a large area of her face was marked with a dark red tinge. That big red mark, that would undoubtedly mar the face of anyone else, seemed to add grace and harmony to her appearance, perhaps create a doubt in someone concerning her fiery nature and the mark was a witness to that...
That girl was gifted with the logic of a man, blended with a sensitivity of a woman. With her persuasive strength and personal charm she conquered the hearts of the boys: Yankele, Asher - and finally Lazer.
When the boys grew up and matured they rejected all their youthful opinions and together with their childhood dreams, they dropped away from them with the passage of the years. Not so with Lazer. The Movement was the axis of his life from his childhood until his last day, and lead eventually to his death.
He was a quiet, introspective boy, of medium height and slightly stooped, with wavy, chestnut hair with a sharply angled, high forehead, under which peeped two dreamy brown eyes that always had a hint of sadness in them. In contrast to the soft and good-hearted expression in his face his lips showed a certain stubbornness. And, indeed, with that stubbornness he fought for his ideal.
In 1927 he immigrated to Palestine with his parents but the Homeland being rebuilt seemed strange to him, the smell of the midden failed to charm him and he found no roots there. In 1931 he was exiled from Palestine for belonging to the Communist Party and returned to Goniadz.
Desolation and silence spread throughout the few streets of the town. With a heavy beating heart he neared Alte Markt the street where he had grown up. Here also was the house where he had lived with his family, a big wooden house, old and gloomy, all cracked with age. Here, he spent his happiest early years. Such warmth, gaiety, and childhood noise once pealed from that house and how neglected and dark it was now.
Lazer found an escape from the boredom at the home of the Hazan family. That was the place where the group of Communists from the town met together. The life and soul of the group was Racheleh Hazan, the youngest and most gifted of them all,
small, pink-faced graced with two dimples and decorated with two long black plaits that reached down to her hips. She immediately won Lazer's heart.
After a while many of them were caught and imprisoned, among them Lazer.
Throughout all the stormy period of the Great World War, only faint echoes penetrated through the dense stone walls of the prison until suddenly one bright day in 1939 the iron gates opened before them The Russian Army had conquered that part of Poland. Lazer fell as if into a seething cauldron. All the energy that had been pent up inside him for years burst out of him in a flood. He jumped from one field of endeavour to another, like a butterfly flitting from one flower to another tasting their nectar. Then he married Racheleh and their happiness was complete but only for a short while. Two years had not passed before Lazer together with the rest of the six-million Jews, was exterminated.
Translated from Yiddish to English by Gloria Berkenstat Freund Yosef Bobrowski, or Yosef Mendele's [son of Mendel], as he familiarly was called, belonged to the older generation of Young Goniadz. This was a generation of pioneers who began a new chapter of history in Goniadz during the first decade of the [20th] century. Idealism and ideologies reigned over our city at that time . Zion was the main ideal, and this necessitated: Hebrew, Zionist associations, Zionist Simkhas Torah minyonim [groups of 10 or more worshipers celebrating the fall holiday marking the completion of the yearly reading of the Torah] (where pledges were made to donate to Keren Kayemet LeYisroel [Jewish National Fund]) and emigration to Eretz-Yisroel. As small as the group was and as modest its start, their accomplishments were of important significance for the increase in Zionist strength in Goniadz and for the founding in 1915 of the Hebrew Folks-School [public school] with which its founder and the yeshiva director, Moshe Lewin, won over Goniadz.
The library was created by the same group of idealists. This was a Folks [public] Library in which reigned a Zionist atmosphere.
As usual there were both dreamers and doers among the young people - Yosef Bobrowski was among the dreamers. As a former yeshiva [religious secondary school stressing the teaching of Torah] student, as well as a Hasid, he was the pious one amidst the group. He even prayed wearing a gartl [a belt signifying the separation of the sacred from the profane] and let his beard grow.
Yosef emigrated to America before the First World War. Here, he worked in a shop until he succeeded in [starting] his own small factory for women's clothing. However, he was not swallowed up by the factory. His spiritual and communal ideals and interests remained - [he was a] Goniadzer.
Based on the size of his [monetary] donations for all purposes and institutions in which he believed - and he was by nature a passionate
believer - one would think that he was a very wealthy man, although he was very far from being one.
Yosef was one of the pillars of the Goniadzer Aid Committee after the destruction of Goniadz. He also was slender [frail]; things were difficult for him physically. At that time, Yosef already was gravely ill - and at the same time he worked for the United Jewish Appeal with self-sacrifice. In his characteristic manner, he once said to me: What should I do - leave everything in chaos?
Yosef's heart would yearn with longing to just once be able to meet the friends from his youth who were living in Israel. However, his wish did not come true. He died in Norwalk, Connecticut on the 3rd of November 1950.
Translated from Yiddish to English by Dr. Isaac Fine When I wish to conjure up a mental image of a tzaddik , I think of Nissan the tailor. He was a short, hunchbacked man with a blond beard. He was always dressed in a long tallis coat when he was sewing or working with the steam iron. At all times, his mind was filled with spiritual thoughts in connection with divine matters. His wife was a tall, heavyset, commonsense-minded woman, like most women in the shtetl. He, however, was very sensitive and delicate. He was never heard to speak a coarse word. His thoughts were always immersed in Ein Yaakov or in other holy volumes. From his work he barely made a living.
I recall a Sabbath when my father and Reb Nissan were leaving together from the synagogue. We were neighbors. Reb Nissan told him that in a dream he had seen the Temple in Jerusalem and heard the singing of the Levites. His description of the ceremonies and the music from the Temple, which he had experienced in the dream, took a long time to tell and we stood in the street listening until he had finished.
I loved to hear his teaching of the Ein Yaakov legends. He studied with a group of men in the House of Study at a table near to the porcelain oven. He explained the interesting stories from Ein Yaakov with great love and understanding. His customary students were Avramke the glazier, his brother Arkye, Chatzkel the water carrier and other Jews of humble social standing. On Yom Kippur, after Shir HaYichud , he never went home, but would remain for the night in the synagogue. He would lay on straw under one of the benches for a few hours, and then he would read Psalms. In this way, he remains in my memory a pure tzaddik in his relationships with both God and man.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Avraham Szwarc, or as we called him, Avraham'l Sender's [Sender's son Avraham'l], was born in Goniadz in 1895 into a fine family. His father, Sender the writer, who died young, made a living by giving lessons (urakn [private lessons]) in Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew. Avraham'l, who studied for a time in a yeshiva [religious secondary school that emphasizes the study of Torah], knew Hebrew and Hebrew literature very well. He already wrote Hebrew poems at the age of 15 and the Goniadz Hebraists marveled at him. He had a strong love of music: he was the best member of the choir of the khazan [cantor], Reb Nakhum, and a distinguished mandolin player. A
dreamer and a searching spirit, he came to the ideas of Paolei-Zion [Workers of Zion - Marxist-Zionist workers movement] and to Yiddish literature when he was very young. He published a number of lyrical poems of a social character and was a co-worker at the Bialystoker Shtime [Bialystok Voice]. He had a difficult life as a Hebrew teacher, as he was the one who provided food for a poor, sick mother, a widow.
Avraham'l lived in Trestiny [Trzcianne] before the last war. After Trestiny was occupied by the Nazis, heavy shooting broke out in the shtetl on Wednesday, the 24th of June, 1941, due to a false accusation by Poles. The Nazis dropped incendiary bombs on the houses, which caught fire lightning fast and a number of Jews perished in the hellish fire. The entire shtetl was burned and the Jews ran to the meadow in panic.
As Tsipora Braverman tells it (in the Goniadzer-Trestiner Jubilee Journal), Avraham'l, Sender's son, was among the first victims to fall in the meadow. He received a bullet in the stomach and died after a night of suffering (exactly like his heroic friend Yakov Taker in Tel Hai [former Jewish settlement in the northern Galilee, where eight Jews were killed during Arab attacks on the settlement in 1920.]).
The memory of the tragic fatality of our talented dreamer was memorialized in our book by one of his best poems.
The mission of the feldscher was to heal wounds and also minor ailments. They were not trained to deal with any more serious medical problems than that, nor were they permitted to do so. However, there were able men among them who, through practice and experience, had earned the confidence of the people and had been permitted to deal with more serious problems. Yankl the roife was this kind of feldscher.
I recall him from my childhood as an older man. Goniondz Jews rarely went to the Polish Dr. Knapinsky, although he was a quite competent physician. One needed to converse with him in Polish, and one needed to treat him with reverence. In addition, a visit to his office cost twenty kopecks. Also, it was required to buy the medicine for his prescriptions from the Polish pharmacy of Lintchevsky, which again was quite expensive. In contrast, the expenses with Yankl the roife were much more modest. This was in large part because he prepared the medicines himself. By seeing him, one was able at the same time to save money and also avoid the gentiles.
The whole town used to buy common remedies, such as zinc ointment, from him. He mixed the ingredients himself. For stomachaches he would first prescribe castor oil and then an enema. Even though the roife was very much respected, there were rascals who used to tease him about conducting this sort of unclean business. One time, for example, when one of the wilder young men met him at night in the darkness, he cried out to Yankl from the distance, Rabbi Yaakov, make me an enema. This comment affected Yankl's dignity. He ran after the youngster as fast as he could, but could not catch him. After this incident, he came to Gedalke's classroom, where I was a student, and asked where was Shimon Abramsky. The latter was a youth from Grayve who was studying with Gedalke. When the youth was pointed out to him, Yankl wanted to hit him with a stick. The boy swore that he knew nothing of the matter, and was overcome with fear.
When Yankl the roife recommended that an ill person be brought to Dr. Knapinsky for a consultation, one knew that the matter was quite serious. Yankl would accompany the patient to the physician, and Knapinsky would obtain a detailed report from Yankl. It was quite clear that the doctor respected his opinions.
Yanke1 the roife was quite successful in his professional career. On Sundays, when the Christians would come to church, and on Mondays, which was market day, many of them would come to Pan Yankl.
In the winter of the great fire, Pesach of 1906, he married off his youngest daughter to a wealthy young man from Krinik. He didn't invite in the orchestra from Stutchin, which was ordinarily invited. The Stutchin orchestra consisted of a fiddle, a flute, and a drum. Rather, he brought in the military orchestra from Osoviec. The whole shtetl was in a very festive mood. Everyone stood in the old marketplace and sang and danced along with the music. Goniondz had never had this kind of attraction before.
Immediately after the fire he built a magnificent wooden house next to Schloime-Yossel the fisherman, and did not require any loan in order to do so. During the three bitter years of the German occupation during the First World War, Goniondz did not have a physician. The German military doctor from Osoviec was very rarely brought in. For those reasons, during that time period Yankl was the only healer of the sick in town. Many people died of weakness, simply because they did not eat enough, and Yankl's remedies could not help them.
During the winter of 1918/19 Rabbi Yaakov was very busy. He cured the first of those who were struck with the typhus plague at that time, including Cheikel Yevreisky and me, and thank God we were restored to health. Later, when the epidemic had spread in a very dramatic fashion and there were many critically ill, a physician from Kniesin was brought into town, but he was not able to help very much.
In 1923 the Polish government sent the roife a medal as a reward for his meritorious actions in the past. In 1863, the second Polish uprising against the Tsarist regime broke out and the Russian regime threatened the death penalty for any person who provided the slightest assistance to the rebels. Yankl the roife, who at that time was living in Sapatzkin, which was located near Grodno, had given medical assistance to those who participated in the uprising. Yet years later, when Poland achieved its independence, they recalled his deeds and rewarded him with great honor.
He was very much loved by all. When one met another townsman in the greater world, the first question was about the synagogue hill, and the second, What do you hear about Yankl the roife? He lived out his years in honor and generosity. He left this world in 1926, at which time he was more than ninety years of age.
by Dovid Forman
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund I feel it as a debt to immortalize in our book the memory of our landsman [man from the same town] who occupied a respected place in Jewish communal life in America. Max (Mendl) Schwartz truly was one of the children of the poor, who thanks to his abilities and strong will grew up to be a well-educated man going along a difficult road through life.
His mother was Khashke, the fish seller. He lost his father when he was three years old. He studied in khederim [religious primary schools]
and in a yeshiva [religious secondary school], wandered to various countries in Europe Sweden, Denmark and England and came to New York when he was 19 years old. His goal was to study. He had a sharp mind, studied languages and showed a particular interest in political economy. In New York, he joined the anarchist movement and was an active speaker and writer. His articles on various themes were published in the Freie
Arbeiter Shtime [The Free Voice of Labor]. He translated the works of the German scholar, Ludwig Büchner, and also was active as a correspondent to the letters section of The New York Times.
In possession of good Yiddish and a worldly education and a fine character, he became beloved and respected by everyone. After the loss of his devoted life's companion, which greatly damaged him, his young comrades invited him to join them in Detroit.
After the Second World War, he organized the Goniadz aid committee in Detroit under the name Goniadzer Friends. About 20 Goniadz families are located in the city, but under his influence, great activity is shown in gathering large sums on behalf of those from Goniadz. He also had a great influence on the Goniadz landsleit [people from the same town] in Chicago. He died of a heart attack on the 18th of November 1955.
Honor his memory.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund The famous doctor, Josef Chazanowicz of Bialystok, was born in Goniadz and descended from Feywl Grodzinak's family. I do not know how a young man from a not welltodo family could make his way to a university that at that time, over 90 years ago, was connected with great cost and much difficulty. Perhaps one of his relatives who now live in New York can clarify the matter.
Chazanowicz was a wellknown doctor and had a good reputation throughout the area. There was a very good doctor in our shtetl [town], a Pole named Knapinski, but when someone was seriously ill and he was welltodo, he would bring a great doctor from Bialystok and it usually was Chazanowicz. When Moshe Kramkower was gravely ill and actually died of his illness, they had brought Chazanowicz. I saw him for the first time then.
Chazanowicz was a very nervous
man and many curious things are said about him. A patient could not repeat a question to him about something because it was no problem for him to show him to the door… His office was on the second floor over Wilbuszewicze's apothecary at the market place, after the city clock.
When giving the patient his written prescription, he would often use a short, laconic ritual: With Wilbuszewicz in bed. This was to signify that the patient should buy the medicine from none other than Wilbuszewicz in the apothecary (he had no trust in any ordinary apothecary), and he should lie in bed for a certain time… In general, he would speak very quickly, with short cutoff phrases and this language had to be understood because as already mentioned, asking was not permitted. With all his renown, he remained a typical man of the people both in his conduct and in his relationship with people. He loved the common man, poor toilers. He healed them without payment and often also added a prescription on his own account. In contrast, he could not
bear any rich men. He believed that their illnesses and diseases come from comfort and luxury. They ceaselessly overeat and they guzzle!… It is no surprise that he was very well accepted and became very admired among the widespread strata of people and the sick were drawn to him from far and near.
Ch. was a dedicated Zionist, an ardent follower of [Theodor] Herzl and traveled to the First [Zionist] Congress in Basel. He was very inspired by Zionist thought and immediately began to collect books as well as old Jewish antiques for the future university and museum in Jerusalem. It required a strong belief in this dream, just as in the idea of a Jewish land would be accomplished some day. One really also had to be a great lofty dreamer and he truly was.
I do not know if Chazanowicz had a family: but it is known that he used his entire income for the acquisition of valuable books. Zionists from the entire area were his agents and would send him many books. He packed the books in crates and sent them to Jerusalem. This matter cost him a huge sum of money, but he continued it until the First World War when contact with EretzYisroel ceased. Later, as his dream became a reality and Hebrew University was erected in 1925 on Har haTsofim [Mount Scopus],
his books served as the basis for the large National Library.
The old [volumes] of Rambam with pages greenishyellow from age bound in wooden covers suddenly disappeared from the synagogue. After much investigation it was shown that Josef Halpern had taken them out one morning and sent them to Chazanowicz, certainly with the agreement of his father Ephraim, of blessed memory, an ardent Zionist, as well as of other Goniadz Zionists. It is entirely possible that this is the only book surviving from the Goniadz synagogue…
It also was said that once when Dr. Ch. was in Goniadz he proposed that the gabbai [sexton] of the synagogue sell him certain antique vessels from the synagogue. However, the gabbai could not be persuaded to part with such beloved antiques and refused him. These vessels disappeared in fire along with the synagogue, which the Nazis the name of the wicked will rot [Proverbs 10:7] burned.
In memory of his name the library was named Beit Yosef [house of Joseph] al shem Yosef Chazanowicz [in memory of Josef Chazanowicz].
At the end of the summer 1915, when the Russian Army withdrew from our area, he, already an old man, escaped to Russia and perished forlorn and alone from hunger and want in an old age home in Yekaterinoslav [Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine] during the civil war after the World War.
Honor his memory!
The most important representatives of the HebrewYiddish family of writers, cultural workers and the multitudes came to the funeral last night, at the West End Chapel, 91st Street and Amsterdam Avenue.
The rabbi, Sh. K. Mirski, who delivered the eulogy in the name of the Hebrew Union, described the literary and educational activities of the deceased. And in his moving eulogy, he read several poems from the just published book Tzlil vaTzel [Sound and Shadow] the book was published by Ogen Publishing House at the Hebrew Union and by the Neuman Publishing House in Tel Aviv.
The poet, Hillel Bavli, spoke in the name of the Hebrew fan club and gave a short appreciation of the deceased as a poet and man who lived quietly and modestly in lyrical, clear poems.
The Rabbi Shimeon Ram eulogized the deceased in Yiddish, in the name of the teaching personnel of the synagogue scholars from the Reb Yitzhak Elkhanan Yeshiva [religious secondary school], of which the deceased was a member.
The pedagogue, Josef Eisberg, spoke in the name of the Ussishkin branch of the Jewish National Workers Union. The community activist, Kalman Bachrach, spoke in the name of the deceased's landsleit [people from the same town], the shtetl Goniadz. Shimeon Polak, the wellknown activist and educator conducted the funeral ceremony. A chapter of Psalms was recited by the Rabbi Bergholc and the El male rakhamim [God full of mercy] was recited by Abner Graf, a student of the deceased.
The deceased left a daughter, Frida, and a son, Nakhum, and a sister, Chava.
(Der Tog Morgen Zhurnal [The Day Morning Journal], New York, 20/1/1959)
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund It is very difficult to write about Idl as someone who is no longer here. We had just been in contact with him; he edited a part of our book; we sent complaints to him. He
answered, [we] again wrote to him and suddenly he is gone, died and the end. It is difficult to get accustomed to the idea, but what do the Sages say: If you hear that thy friend has died, believe it. Every death has its reproach. And I think
that if his wife had been alive and he had had proper supervision, he would not have died.
I remember Idl (Idl is a pet name, like Zeydke, Alter; his real name is Moshe Shlomo) from when I remember myself. Our families lived as neighbors, one door next to the other, we grew to feel at home with each other and were as close to each other as family members. He and his sister Chaya (lives in Antwerp) found friends in our house. We played together in childhood and grew up [together].
We did not study together with Gdalka at the Hebrew school. I was then six years old, he four, or perhaps three. I do not remember him either at Leibl Wajnsztajn's, the Suchowola teacher, who took over the school when Gdalka went to serve the Russian czar and we did not study together later in the khederim [religious primary schools]. When he studied with Shlomo Welwl, I studied with Motya the melamed [religious school teacher] and when he came to Motya, I moved to study with my uncle, Shlomo Moshe, Shimeon's son. But because we were very close, I would go to their house quickly every morning and [we would] go to kheder together. Often, very often, he would not be in the best of health, his throat wrapped in a shawl and he looked pale. Today, I am not going to kheder, he would say, and his grandmother, his mother's mother, would add: In any case, he will not be a rabbi. I thought: he is missing so much learning, what will happen to him. But he lost nothing; he was a very capable young boy with a good head and caught up with everything.
He was the muzhinek (youngest] of the family; they spoiled him greatly. In addition, he was weak and frail and
they gave into him with everything, and he grew to be an overly sensitive man, a trait that remained for his entire life. He was a timid man by nature, was afraid of a dog when he saw it from a mile off; to him a worm was a snake and he trembled [when he saw one]. The boys, sensing his physical weakness, would badger him, so I was his constant protector. He clung to me.
He has his parents to thank for his rich spiritual life. When I would visit in the evenings after kheder, when he did not feel well and sat at home, I always would find him playing chess with his mother. Idl grew up to be a good chess player and even died in the middle of a chess game. Where did one see a woman who played chess and fifty years ago in Goniadz? However, Chaya Beyla was a very intelligent woman, had mastered the German language and read a great deal during her youth. She also was knowledgeable about our old religious books and in her daily conversations, and people still speak about her letters in which she made use of expressions from the Midrash [Talmud], Menoyres haMoer [The Lighter of Light] and other religious texts. Where did she [learn] this? Every Shabbos our mothers read the Tsene-rene [Yiddish adaptation of Biblical texts], but for her the words of the Taytsh-Khumish [Torah translated into Yiddish] went deep into her brain and she made use of them. He inherited much from her. He immortalized her in his poem, Meyn Mame [My Mother]. I think that the poem is one of his strongest creations. Our family in Tel Aviv would receive letters from her from Antwerp where she lived during her last years with all four of her children. She died in deep old age during the Second World War. His father died in the 1920s in Jasionówka.
Idl also inherited much from his father, Meir the watchmaker. Meir made a poor living from his work, watchmaking, until his two older sons, Leyzer Zelig and Kalman were grown up and subsidized [the income]. Thanks to his friend Yankl Rudski, who was a large supplier to the government at the Osowiec Fortress and had many acquaintanceships with officers, Meir received employment. Every Tuesday morning he would travel there to wind and regulate the clocks in the government buildings. He received a monthly salary for this and also would fall into a little work. However, income was an afterthought for him; the main thing was the spiritual life. He sat reading a Gemara [Talmudic commentaries] every Shabbos evening, studying with enthusiasm. Jews did not read books from the Enlightenment; Torah study was the quintessence of life and Idl, being very gentle and impressionable, absorbed much from him.
We grew older and left kheder. In my house they began to talk about a purpose for me, what is the point of being idle? A decision was reached to send me away to study in a yeshiva [religious secondary school with an emphasis on the study of religious texts]. This was the true purpose. Because of Idl's weak state of health, he could not even think of it. The first two years of the yeshiva ketana [small religious secondary school] I would come home for the holidays; the last three years from the Raduner Yeshiva rarely. Idl always was my first visitor. He had much to tell of the books that he read. He read a great deal and was proficient in Hebrew and Yiddish literature. Idl did not receive any academic education. But he acquired a very good comprehension of everything himself and what he read was [placed in his memory] as if placed in a box.
We separated during the First World War when we had to leave Goniadz. His family went to Jasionówka, a little farther from the front, where Meir's sister lived and never returned to Goniadz. Idl would come to visit the shtetl [town] and usually was our guest. In August 1920 I left Poland and our connection was interrupted. However, in 1934, when I emigrated from America, I began to correspond with him in Antwerp until the Hitler invasion when he succeeded in reaching Portugal and from there, America.
I am not in a position to write about Idl's literary work. He was far from me for so long, but visiting in Israel several years ago, he published a very beautiful poem about the RaMHal (acronym for Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato) in Dvar Hashavua [Word of the Week]. The poet and kabbalist fled Padua, Italy, the city of his birth, for Amsterdam because he was persecuted by the rabbis and there fed himself as a diamond polisher. Idl also studied the same trade of diamond polishing in Antwerp. His poem about the RaMHal was very successful. Idl's poems would be published from time to time in Hadoar [The Post], the Hebrew journal published in New York that I would read with pleasure. Recently he collected his poems and they were published in a book, Tzlil va-Tzel [Sound and Shadow]. The book was published in Tel Aviv and sent to New York. Idl left this world one day before the book left the bindery and he did not live to see his life's wish accomplished.
Idl's wife died suddenly two years ago and he was left with two children. His daughter already was a grown girl. But, his son was a
recent Bar-Mitzvah. In any case, it was a difficult situation. But he was completely lost. He complained strongly of his loneliness in his letters to us; friends and acquaintances were not taking an interest in him and he was alone. The truth was that daily life in New York was difficult, friends and acquaintances were spread across the large city and everyone was busy with himself. Idl worked hard himself, beyond his strength. But one needs to live, maintain a home and raise children, one makes an effort. In the mornings he gave lessons
at a teacher's training school in the Bronx, where he lived, and in the afternoons he held a position as a teacher in distant Brooklyn. The long daily trip on the subway exhausts a strong person, so what about him? In addition, he also suffered from diabetes. While his wife lived, she watched over him. He could not endure remaining alone and collapsed.
This is a great loss for we from Goniadz and a strong ache for me personally.
by Kalman Bachrach, New York
Translated by Selwyn Rose Moshe S. BenMeir was an honorable and honored member of the Ussishkin Chapter. Our Chapter is known for its preeminence in Jewish cultural activities and our members show great respect and admiration for Hebrew poets and lyricists; clearly, then, we respected BenMeir as being one who stood head and shoulders above all the members. From the day he joined the Chapter not a year of activities passed without his appearance as a speaker on a Hebrew cultural theme, or a conversation on a book or as its author before the literary audience.
The appearance of a book by BenMeir was an important event in the Ussishkin Chapter. More than a year ago we declared a special celebratory event honoring the publication of his book of poems. When we were informed that the printing had been completed and the book would appear in a matter of weeks, we began to program the event. Just a few days before his death, when the first copies of the book arrived in New York, I spoke with him on the phone and in the name of the management I discussed with him the speeches and speakers who were to take part in the celebration. And now, instead of a happy celebratory event, we are taking part in an act of mourning. The night of pleasure he hath turned into fear unto me. We weep over the death of our dear friend. His passing
is a loss to the Chapter and to Hebrew culture never to be replaced.
Moshe S. BenMeir was a son of my home town and a friend of my family from the days of his youth. I feel, therefore, that I am permitted to say a few words in the name of the town. In our town of Goniadz we never knew him as Moshe S. BenMeir: we called him Idel BenMeir, the watchmaker's son and hence the name BenMeir. The family name was Tershansky. His father Meir, the watchmaker was a true artist in his profession. It was said of him in town that he was busy inventing a machine and nobody knew what it was. The clocks and watches that were brought to him for repair were of all shapes, types and sizes. On the walls were hung pendulum clocks, large and small,
with heavy weights and light weights. The swinging of the different pendulums, the different rate of swing of all of them, the different chimes harsh or clarionlike, small or tall, spread an air of mystery throughout the house. Behind his workbench sat Meir the watchmaker, completely silent and confident, immersed in his work. When the door opened and someone entered the house, he would raise his head and gaze at the visitor his eyes were large, thicklidded and filled with curiosity. They displayed both seriousness and mischievousness and the visitor would never know whether he would be welcomed by Reb Meir the watchmaker with a joke or something more serious. In his free time, Reb Meir read The Time and studied the Holy Books. In the room behind his workroom the Babylonian and Vilna Talmuds were displayed on the shelves in their glory. BenMeir's mother was a rare type perhaps the only one of her kind in town, praying three times a day, just like the menfolk, understanding everything she read. Thus it was with her general conversation everything she said was clear and reasonable.
Nevertheless, the house of Meir the watchmaker was free of all religious and educational pressure and coercion. The older sons (Idel had two brothers), left the town and settled in the wide world, one in Warsaw and the other in Switzerland. When they came to visit their parents there was never any friction between them. On the contrary, freedom reigned even something of the small village atmosphere. On Sabbath Eve, after dinner, they would play chess and discuss political issues.
Idel himself was somewhat sensitive. Every experience, light or intense left its mark on him and every minor change
was mirrored in his face and his mood. As a result his every mood could change within seconds; as it was with the father so it was with the son a sense of humor and mischievousness, an impish smile hovering over his lips although his sensitivity was such that his mood could change instantly to one of sadness. The borderline between laughter and sadness was thin indeed, much like the name of his book Sound and Shadow. With time, after his encounters with daytoday life and especially after drinking of the cup of sorrows both his own and those of the Jewish world, the hovering smile disappeared from his lips and his face displayed only endless sadness. During the latter years of his life, he walked as a shadow. And the shadow vanquished the sound…
His talent for poetry was discovered early in life, during his youth. He loved to create rhymes and compose tunes, mostly humorous. He especially liked parodies in the style of classical Russian lyricists and poets; his rhymes were in either Russian or Yiddish but when he turned to Hebrew they took on a more serious and respectful note. His first songs that were published in The Times during the twenties were devoid of humor to the astonishment of his acquaintances. Only towards the end of his life, with the establishment of the State of Israel, his natural tendency towards humor was reawakened somewhat and he wrote poems such as The Red Burden, Celebration, Circus Informer. In Celebration he expresses scorn regarding the matching of Esau with the sickness of Ishmael's daughter in other words, between Soviet Russia and Egypt…
Thus we of his town knew him, and he was much loved by us. His last activity benefitting his home town was editing Book of Remembrance, which will appear this year, in Israel.
May He be Remembered for a Blessing.
Translated by Yocheved Klausner It was only a few days ago that his book of poems, Sound and Shadow [Tzlil Vetzel] arrived from Israel; a book that was as modest and pure as its author. But he barely had time to set his eyes on his completed work and take pleasure in it. Shrouded in his loneliness as he was all his days, especially after the death of his wife who supported him in his sad fate, he would take refuge among a group of friends; there, with friends around him, he returned his soul to his Maker.
The poems in the book that became his legacy truth was shining through them. It was the truth of life and of suffering, without even a trace of pomp, without useless coquetry, without trying to impress anyone. A great humility unfolded through the book, in the lines and between the lines, the humility of a person who is convinced that his pain does not deserve to be discussed in high style or even made public; his worries he relates
only to himself, in a low voice, in order not to disturb others in life as in literature. But this very whisper is what impresses the reader and touches his heart. In one of the poems in the book, a poem on a surprising subject a memorial to the poems that were born dead, poems that the poet had not succeeded in clothing them with silk and purple he prays: May the Prince of Poetry remember these naked souls an echo of a stifled prayer, a shadowsound melted in tenderness, a fetus from the seed of sorrow that sprouted from a barren phrase in the place of a song a sigh poured out and the fruit dissolved in tears. May the God of Poetry remember. This is what makes BenMeir's modest poetry unique and dear. In it, we shall forever hear the voice of prayer, forever the seed of sorrow shall sprout, the whispering sigh rise and the dampness of the tears be preserved.
The book is small, modest in its form as well, but in the tears of its poems the destiny of man is reflected, the destiny of a generation and what generation was tried harder than ours, a generation sentenced to fire, to burning of soul and body? In the section of the book named Nightmares, the descriptions of war and holocaust, flight and survival, in their simplicity of colors bring to life the frightful sights in all their horror, and we almost feel their touch and are burned by it. A sharp yearning for faith is reflected in many of his poems, which mourn the loss of so many souls, of a generation that an evil wind has blown away the illusions of their adolescence and curbed the sources of innocence and mercy. And also Doubt has locked the gates of prayer, and the key was thrown into the deep. A cry like: Please be with me even when I am denying You, even when I reject You… so as I shall not hide my face from You, oh my Father, my Father in Heaven! deserves to head every prayerbook in our days of confusion and perplexity, not having any guides for the perplexed.
M. S. Meir trod along the edges of the roads, in life as in literature, as if his very existence was not significant enough to project its presence, its reality, upon others. But this walking of his was very pure, as was his poetry unsoiled and true. We can trust his own testimony in one of his poems, Tefillin [phylacteries]:
The mark on my hand
Is always with me
On both my hands,
On my ten fingers,
And a hidden band
Passes and connects
My thumb with my little finger.
I am innocent:
In my fury
I have not raised a criminal hand,
I have not shown a clenched fist,
Never shut my hand to a brother.
Never did I shake a hand
In an untrue shake,
|Never raised it in a pledge
Under false pretenses.
I did not take what was not mine,
Or show an accusing finger
In a false hint.
Not in vain, not in vain
Is the mark on my hand.
The phylacteries between my eyes
Are deep inside my eyes
In them and in back of them,
In the cells of my brain.
Pure of eyes am I:
I have never perceived evil
Out of my own desire.
|I have never stared with wrath,
Nor with despise or scorn.
I did not rest
When my fellow was in danger
I did not gloat
On the shame of my fellow
I did not stare at him
To humiliate him.
Not in vain, not in vain
Is the mark
With me always.
This is how he walked among us, one with his sorrow, alone in his seclusion. Only from time to time did his loneliness shed one tear in the form of a poem; at times but not often the poem was a legend, full of simple charm and consolation, and at times it was heavy in form and thought and brought to life figures from the past. Even his occupation diamond cutting was sometimes reflected in his poetry, as in the poem The Vision of RAMCHAL the Polisher, a song of great beauty that mirrors both its theme and its author. He had hoped, and with him his friends, that perhaps the collection of his poems in one volume would ease his pain a little, would bring some light into his solitude. But lo, his loneliness closed upon itself and the song became an orphan.
May His Soul be Bound in the Bond of the Living Jewish Literature.
by Aharon Zeitlin
Translated by Yocheved Klausner A Hebrew man lived in NewYork, and the man had a great love for God.
He did not feign righteousness; he truly lived through the purity of his soul and its pains. And as for his love of God he described this feeling with the words sick with God and this phrase remained engraved in my memory.
He was a man who was obsessed with the problem of leadership of the world it was like an illness that demanded resolution at once. He was sick with God and just as a sick man is tossed between hot fever and cold shivering, he was caught in the fervor of seeking closeness and intimacy with God in turn finding and losing this nearness, finding and losing again and again. The feeling was like the sun in autumn, disappearing behind the clouds and appearing anew, in and out.
The greater the effort he complains in one of his poems the greater the confusion. The eye that sought hope, trying to find a key to the secret of the valley of tears, was smitten with blindness. On the other hand, when a moment of intimacy was indeed uncovered, it brought remedy on its wings: all the questions and problems were solved. And with that, it brought to life the melody of A shapeless violin… also In the blindness of my soul an eye shall open… or: In the wasteland of my soul a spring shall flow / that soothes, as a good wine, my suffering / and I shall believe there is a law and there is a judge / and I shall not fear my death…
Further, from another poem: one by one they shall wander, alone in the forests of faith. Let us pay attention: in the forests of faith. For, on the backdrop of the explicit faith, on the basis of the inner knowledge that transcendence does exist, that is where the problems begin the great quest for a hiding God, a God that is near and far; the nearer He is the farther one has to look for Him. The questions and the answers are intertwined; the prayer becomes a question and the question a prayer. So was this man: he wondered while believing and believed wondering further. He never ceased asking and never ceased praying. This neverending prayer is expressed in the poem …Neither Morning nor Evening Prayer (page 33). The prayer prevails even when it turns into weeping: You demand sacrifice as well as massacre (page 58). Moreover, out of a desperate denial, after the great fire of the European Jewry, he prays and pleads with the Almighty Be with me even when I deny You, even when I reject You (ibid.). Logically this is an obvious contradiction. In faith it is not; on the contrary it is the truth of the special experience of fusion of opposites. Truth is achieved through agony of the soul that finds and loses, loses and recovers, falls and rises again. I lift the wings of dawn; I dwell at the end of the sea. This is the polarity of religious experience.
Far from saying that all this is conveyed in his poems, I shall admit that the course has been set. The man did not cut into the rocks of poetry with the insatiable desire of the possessed; he was like a visitor in the front yard of poetry, not always being able to give form to basic inspiration. May the Prince of Poetry remember / the naked souls / the sparks of poetry lacking the dressing of words. Aborted songs / not clothed in verse; / spirit sparkled in them, but the flesh of words has not grown upon them. Unassuming, of a timid soul, the man gave up lofty words, too shy to rise to the heights of the poem or to reach its depths. In song as in life, he walked the margin of the road, tenderly, modest in creativity as in suffering and prayer the man Moshe Shlomo Ben Meir, the teacher and friend of small children, himself a forlorn child, vibrating between the blindness of the deep (page 26) and an anchor of faith (page 32, the poem Rescue). The same anchor of faith is described elsewhere as missing its hook, the mast of the ship is the final mast and a trembling hand is hoisting torn sails, a miraculous banner of rescue. The flag of rescue, raised by an anxious hand, is a torn flag, like the torn soul. But Ben Meir is grasping the miracle, which is the miracle of the State of Israel, the miracle that followed the Holocaust. Again we are reminded of A shapeless violin. Again a fusion of opposites.
On the one hand, he writes My soul is sad in your midst, my homeland Israel asking Does the reward measure up to the destruction; on the other hand, The heart recovers from its illness… a nation returns to its borders… and the world advances toward recovery. The banner, both torn and miraculous, is the banner of rescue.
The heart barely recovered, and a sudden blow struck again. The sun darkened at noon his devoted wife and friend, his only support in time of distress was taken by God. When mourning was over, he stood up, his face pale, his eyes dark and his lips quivering as if arguing with a secret figure. When I tried to comfort him, saying that his wife only passed from this to another life, from one existence to a different one, he would listen with both trust and wondering, with a pale face and dark eyes whiteness and darkness, darkness and whiteness together. When I would show him, in conversation, parapsychological facts that proved the immortality of the soul, his eyes would clear up, as if a distant light shone on them through the cloud. He would read, then, parapsychological literature, discuss it with me, accept it and yet wonder.
One year after the death of his wife, he followed her, anxious to join her. As she left this world suddenly, so did he; but he did not fall down he rose and followed her path.
He left a legacy a book of poems, a book modest as its author, bound in black and upon the black goldenshining letters, a hint to the light of salvation. Letters of light in the darkness:
M. S. BenMeir Sound and Shadow.
The poems are reciting the Kadish and the heart answers Amen. And the rest is silence in the words of the Prince Hamlet.
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