Rabbi Aharon Joseph Shames
Rabbi Yakov Pinchas Shir (Tel-Khanan)
Translated by Thia Persoff
Rabbi Aharon Joseph Shames
The Rabbi's house on Main Street, at the center of town, stands out among its
neighbors the stores at its sides and across the street in its
uniqueness, exuding peace and splendor.
During the day and late into the night, the melody of the Gmara wafts from the
house, the Rabbi's Torah chanting which imbues an atmosphere of purity and
At a young age, in the year 1935, I left home and emigrated to Israel. I did
not have much chance to breathe this atmosphere, but the short time that I was
there left its mark on me, and its impression was indelible. I will try to
describe those impressions in a few lines.
Our sages of blessed memory defined the Holy Temple and called it Telpiyot- a
hill (tel) that all the mouths (piyot) are looking towards. Such was the house
of Grandfather, holy tzadik of blessed memory, (zl = zichron
tzadik livracha) in town everyone's house, open to all whether
for consultations, questions of law, arbitration, or for matters of charity.
Between these walls, couples suffering from family problems found remedy, and
persons in dispute or quarrel made peace. Even the goyim in town and the
surrounding area would go to him when in dispute trusting him to judge
and decide. The house was open to any embittered soul, widows and the poor,
every person in distress went in with a heavy heart and exited much relieved.
When an emissary from a Jewish institution (ShDR. = Shliakh
de Rabbanan), or a tzadik came to town, this was his home. He was given the
best room and never refused hospitality. There were dangerous cases when
a refugee from over the border came, when fugitives from the sword were hunted.
All were welcomed, clothed, sheltered, and before leaving, supplied with
provisions. All this was done just a few meters from the local police station,
while scared but not showing it, so that the guest will not feel bad.
I remember the days approaching Pesach: it was a very busy time in the house,
with extensive preparation to supply the needy with matzot, potatoes, borsht
and wine for the holidays. All this was done in the evenings, secretly, so as
not to embarrass the needy. The preparation and distribution of the charoset
was also done. How fairly Grandmother, of peaceful memory
(ah = aleha ha'shalom), had divided the charoset. She gave
generously and with good will.
The days of the Sukkot holiday, the blessing of the etrog- when Grandfather,
ah, would stand waiting for the sunrise on the first day of the holiday
to do the mitzvah of blessing the etrog at the proper time. The other
householders were already waiting to join the Rabbi in the blessing.
The jewel in the crown was Simhat Torah, the Kiddush at the holiday eve, and
the joyful festivity that enveloped all the town's residents the next day, when
all of them would come to Grandfather's house, ah, to enjoy the
handiworks of Grandmother, may her soul rest in paradise (ne =
nishmata b'eden), and felt at home there.
Grandfather, ah, was tall of stature, great in the Torah; he was a
student of the Gaon (mvhr'r = morenu ve'rabenu ha'rav) Rabbi Yitzhak
Elkana from Kovna, z''l. He was sharp of mind and his wisdom was well known in
the whole area. He was very intelligent. He was good hearted and generous with
a helping hand to all. He was modest in his ways; he liked his congregants and
was liked by them. He used to sign his name Aharon Yosef Shames in acronym,
A.Y.Sh. (in Hebrew it is ish, meaning man)- and truly, he was a man
of all the best qualities.
He went to the killing-grounds with his congregants, but managed to escape from
there at the start of the slaughter, until the evil ones, may their names be
erased (YMSh = yimakh shmam), killed him on the 13th of the
month of Elul, in the year
TShB (5702). G-d will avenge his blood (HYD = Hashem
Grandmother Lea Rickl, zl, his helpmate, was the daughter of a scholar
and a scholar herself, quoting the sayings of our scholars and wise men and
from the bible. A homemaker who did her work faithfully and with devotion. She
spoke wisely and compassionately always taking part in doing charity,
and adding from her own. She used to say, It is to be my privilege.
She was with Grandfather for most of his life and at the killing grounds too.
She escaped also, but was caught and killed by the hands of the accursed
evildoers, on the 14th of the month of Elul, in the year 5702, HYD.
The evil reaper came; the town was destroyed and the house was silent. But it
lives in the hearts of all those that knew it.
The branches the house sent will carry on its traditions wherever they are, and
will keep its memory forever.
Rabbi and Shohet: Rabbi Feivish Halevi Levin
Haim Shteinman (Tel-Aviv)
Translated by Thia Persoff
Rabbi Feivish Halevi Levin
R' Shrahga Feivish was a Rabbi and Shohet in Rokitno village, and continued to
do so when moving to the town of Rokitno after it was built.
He was well known for being an eminent scholar, erudite, and of a sharp mind;
his greatness radiated over the residents. Even those in the surrounding
villages respected and honored him. His actions were guided towards the
betterment of the people, whose needs were many, and his heart was open to all
the needy. He counseled and consoled, mollified, and gave aid to the best of
his ability, and then some. He did not worry about his own needs, was content
with little, lived frugally and modestly.
R' Shrahga Feivish was a wise man, knowledgeable in the traditional laws
(halakha). He interpreted and made decisions according to them in disputes, and
made peace among rivals. He was compassionate, though strict, in his judgments;
both sides always accepted his decision with honor.
R' Shrahga Feivish excelled also as a reader of the Torah and for his expertise
in blowing the shofar. He had an established claim to read to the congregation
during the High Holy Days. A thrill would pass through the hearts of the
congregants, when his voice thundered in Rise G-d in sounds triumphal,
Lord, in the shofar call. Sometimes he would entertain his listeners with
amusing stories and jokes. His sayings, told also in the local language, were
I remember that when I was a child, at one of the lessons in the weekly portion
of the Torah, I asked him a naive question: Grandfather, please tell me,
is there a G-d in the heaven? Astonished, he thought for a moment and
answered me metaphorically. Show me, my son, an object that does not
exist, and is talked about. For example: there is a table, a book, a tree, etc.
We talk of them because they are real things. If, G-d forbid, there was no G-d
in the world, people would not be talking about him. So, in a simple,
understandable way, he would explain away all sorts of problems, and in this
was the strength of his great influence.
When he reached a ripe old age and the town developed and grew, a young Rabbi
was chosen to take his place- Rabbi Aharon Joseph Shames; but Rabbi Shrahga
Feivish, in spite of his old age, continued to do the holy work, the
slaughtering (shekhita). One winter day, during a riotous snowstorm, he was
called to slaughter a calf in Rokitno village. To reach the village in such
weather it was difficult even for a young person. He caught a cold, was sick
and bed-ridden for a long time. He never recovered. In the year 1924, he passed
away at a very old age, and was buried in the Rokitno cemetery. Above his grave
a tent-like structure was erected, with an opening, as is the custom for sages
His son Sheftl Levin was buried next to him. On their joint grave was engraved
the words: A tree and its fruit.
Many of Rokitno's Jews would come to the grave at times of distress and sorrow.
My Father, the Shohet Issachar Trigun
Hanan Hatzuvi (Tel-Aviv)
Translated by Thia Persoff
My father settled in Rokitno in the early twenties. He came from the town of
Visotzky and was educated and knowledgeable in the Torah, which he studied for
many years in the Yeshivot of Volyn and Polesie. He was hired as a second
shohet u'bodek (slaughterer and examiner); the first was Reb Yoel Shwartzberg.
As soon as my father came to Rokitno, he became deeply involved in the public
life of the community. Being a Karlinny Hasid, he hoped to turn Rokitno to a
center for the Karlin Hasidic movement. My father was a religious man and did
not see secular education as the answer to the Jewish-religious awareness. He
felt that the Hebrew school education was important as a shield against the
Polish schools, where the children were completely estranged from Judaism.
My father followed the rule set by the wisest of men: It is good to do
this, but do not neglect to do that too. Though sympathetic to the
secular Hebrew school, he opened a cheder in his house, where a
group of children studied the Bible and the Gmara. In this cheder,
more than for economic need, my father intended to create a scholarly nucleus,
where Rokitno's children would be instructed in Jewish studies. And true to his
hopes, some of his pupils went on to study in Koritz Yeshiva in the town of
This was just one of my father's public activities, which he took upon himself
since the day he arrived in Rokitno.
His main activity was in spreading Hasidism. For him the Rabbi was an
institution, a higher authority of unshakeable laws and axioms. My father tried
to impart this to the Jewish community in Rokitno in a religious- Hasidic form.
Our house was open for the community's assorted activity groups. My father
developed a tradition that was an enticement and attraction for many people:
during the holiday of Chanukah, he gave a levivot (latkes) party, in which a
large number of guests attended. The great blessing, Kidusha Rabba
and celebration of Simhat Torah at his house were famous all around.
My father was a pursuer of peace, and hated discord; he always looked for
friendliness among the people. With the Rabbi he worked to block the gaps and
repair the breaches in peaceful, friendly relations. As clear proof to his
peace loving, we see that in spite of being a Karlin Hasid, while most of
Rokitno's Hasidim were Stolin Hasidim, he refrained from having his Rabbi come
to Rokitno to avoid discord.
Father searched the way to the Zionist movement. He was impressed by the
youngsters in the Zionist youth movements and idealized them as the saviors of
Israel as possibly being this generation's Lamed Vavniks (the 36 secret
righteous men of lore) who will overcome the wicked Armilos and will bring the
redemption. As for himself, he longed for a religious Zionism, one of
maintaining the Holy Commandments. His request, before I emigrated to Israel,
still echoes in my ears: Remember, my son, the Sabbath and the laying of
the tefillin. These are our ammunition for overcoming the wrong temptations
(sitra akhra = in Aramaic- sitra is side,
akhra is other, used in the Kabbalah to mean the other side, or
Satan's camp); with their strength we will defeat our enemies and shine above
After I emigrated to Israel we kept a constant correspondence. In those
eventful days of 1936, the Arabs rioted and ambushed our people; Jewish blood
saturated the land. Concerned and anxious, from the distant land he followed
the events in Israel. His letters were full of belief and trust in the future
of our undertaking, because our Heavenly Father will see our plight, will pity
Zion and will return us to her. By then he was already a devoted and loyal
Father was deeply involved with the artisans groups, and sympathetic to all
sufferers. He succeeded in establishing close relations with them. He showed
interest in their life and knew who was in need of help- who needs shoes for
his children, who has no money to marry his daughter. Then father would walk
from house to house, collecting donations for the poor and the needy. He did
all his charity work without revealing for whom it was intended, so as not to
cause embarrassment to the receivers.
All the week's days, Father was deeply involved in community work. But with the
coming of the Sabbath he divested himself from the profane and made his Sabbath
in a special style, the Karlin version. There was much beauty in those
Sabbaths, and their flavor nourishes me still.
Father did not have much pleasure in his life. He had many dark days; one
daughter died at birth, the other got very sick and died during the Shoah
years. Father sighed and cried in private, but he forbeared, restrained himself
and conquered his sorrow. His trust in our Heavenly Father unshakeable, he
continued in his way of life, the Hasidic way, which was a source of life for
him. With this devotion and trust, he went to the killing grounds and gave
himself to death.
The Shohet Reb Yoel Shwartzberg
Dov Harari (Neve Oz)
Translated by Thia Persoff
Reb Yoel Shwartzberg, an expert shohet u'bodek from Trisk, came to Rokitno to
take the place of the shohet u'bodek, Reb Avraham Shmuel Kliger after his
death. He married Chavah, the older daughter of Reb Avraham Shmuel. R' Yoel was
wise and a great scholar. His words, thoughtful, were always measured by logic,
and pointed to the one and only truth the truth of the Torah.
R' Yoel was active in soliciting aid from able householders for the
individual's and community's needs- charity for the poor, and support for
charitable institutions. He also contributed his own money to the needy.
He was a most generous host. It is told, as an example of his devotion to the
mitzvah of gracious hospitality, that one winter night a person knocked on his
door requesting a place to sleep. Though the house was very small with no room
to spare, R' Yoel did not let him leave. Instead he offered his own bed, saying
that he has to leave on an important errand and will not be sleeping at home
that night. When the guest got up in the morning, he saw that R' Yoel was
sleeping on the table
R' Yoel had a pleasing voice. He would go in front of the ark and sing. Being a
Trisker Hasid, he knew ear-pleasing Hasidic melodies. He was a just man,
distancing himself from evil. He would not even touch a fly on the wall. Though
he had little, he was content in his lot. After the decree against Jewish
ritual slaughtering, his situation was worsened and, like his colleagues, he
was forced to do it in secret.
Before the Nazi invasion he went to Trisk, to visit his ailing father. On his
way back, he was murdered.
Asher Zelig Baratz
Aharon Heruti (Freierman) (Tel-Aviv)
Translated by Thia Persoff
Asher Zelig Baratz
Asher Zelig Baratz, one of the outstanding persons in our town, arrived in
Rokitno in 1923, from a town in France where he served as a Rabiner. Here he
was employed as a head bookkeeper in the glass factory of the Vitrom Co.
Since arriving in Rokitno, he involved himself in Zionist activities and
devoted much of his time to Zionist institutions and Hebrew culture. He headed
the Keren-Ha'yesod (Jewish Foundation Fund), and was a big help to
its emissaries, accompanying them to the homes of the town's notables and
helping to persuade them to donate or to increase their donations to the fund.
He also headed the Tarbut organization in town, and initiated forming the
committee to build the Tarbut School.
Though he disagreed with the political ideas of the
Hashomer-Hatzair organization, he nonetheless helped their cell.
Calling them a Scouts/cultural group of the Zionist organization
named Hashomer-Hatzair, he agreed to be their guarantor in front of
In the year 1928, he left his post at the glass factory to be the manager of
the newly formed national bank in Rokitno. Here too, his unstinting help
demonstrated his talent and generosity. He was elected to the town's council,
then to the post of vice- mayor. The Polish authorities valued and honored him,
and cooperated with him in spite of his being a Jew and a proud Zionist, who
stood firm on the rights of the Jewish citizens.
Mr. Baratz corresponded with Yossef Baratz from Kibbutz Deganya, and discovered
a family link with him. A few times, he showed me Yossef Baratz's replies to
his suggestion about the possibility of building a glass factory in Israel, and
to find out if the raw material could be found locally. When Yossef Baratz
visited Rokitno as an emissary from Israel, he stayed with Zelig Baratz.
Asher Zelig Baratz, 75 years old, died from a heart attack in 1937. He left his
daughter, Sarah (a dentist in Rokitno) and son, Yones (a well known violinist)
that were killed in the Shoah, and a son that was a victim of the first Russian
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