by Benjamin Bindman
Translated by Sara Mages
My father adhered to the Torah since the dawn of his childhood. Of his four brothers he was the only one who has devoted his life to this noble cause and saw it as his main vocation in life. He was able to fulfill his ambition in life despite the many obstacles that stood in his way.
He headed for the famous Yeshiva in Slabodka, Lita. At that time this Yeshiva was at the height of its splendor and glory. Talented young men, who were superlative in the Torah, were accepted as students to this Yeshiva and distinguished personalities headed it.
Since its establishment this Yeshiva accepted the teaching method of R' Yisrael of Salant ztl, and became famous as the center of the Musar Movement.
My father always mentioned, with love and admiration, the names of his distinguished teachers like: R' Nota Finkel - the grandfather who founded the Yeshiva, R' Yitzchak Yakov Rabinowitch - R' Itzale of Panevezys, R' Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor - the Rabbi of Kovno, and R' Moshe Mordechai Epstein Rosh Metivta [head of the Yeshiva].
He always remembered their sayings: In all situations, troubles and torments, in all conditions of a human being, a person shouldn't lose his balance, the image of God which lies within him. The main ambition is to always point out the superiority of man. It trains him to rise until he's worthy of the crown of God's creation. The greatest obligation in life is the burden of the Kingdom of Heaven.
He absorbed the principles of the Torah and they left their mark on him and guided him throughout his life.
However, the spirit of the Haskalah, which blew at that time, didn't skip him. He read, like many other Yeshiva students, the literature of the Haskalah, and studied night the works of Judah Leib Gordon, Avraham Mapu, and A wanderer on the path of life by Peretz Smolenskin. Although he delved into these books they didn't led him astray. He continued to study, with great diligence and zeal, the six orders of the Mishna and Poskim, and found in them healing, balm and consolation to the pain and indecisions of the human soul.
He lived in poverty during his stay at the Yeshiva and ate every day at a different home. Over time he received, as an outstanding student, private Gemara lessons at the homes of wealthy people. In one of these homes he met Rubinstein, a young Yeshiva student who came to study secular studies (later, he was the Chief Rabbi of the city of Vilna and a member of the Polish Senate).
In this new environment he learned to appreciate the value of secular studies, and realized that it's possible to be educated and along with it to remain a God-fearing Jew.
He spent most of his childhood and adolescence at the Yeshiva in Slabodka. He stayed there until his marriage to my mother Rivka, the daughter of Meir Leib from the city of Smorgon. I, his only son, was born in this city.
Although my father was ordained as a rabbi he didn't use the Torah as a source of income. He began to engage in trade and dedicated his free time to the Torah.
At the outbreak of the First World War my parents wandered far and wide until they reached the city of Romny, Ukraine.
During the First World War, and also a short time after it, we lived in poverty in Russia but we didn't suffer from the shame of hunger. We suffered a lot during the period of the Russian Civil War, and more than once we were saved by a miracle from the pogroms of Petliura's people and others like them.
Even in these chaotic days my father zl continued to study the Torah and prayed every day in public. He devoted a lot of attention to my education. He entered me to Cheder Metukan in which sacred and secular studies were taught in Hebrew in Hebrew.
I studied in this Cheder for a short time. The Bolsheviks rose to power and my father realized that they wouldn't allow him to engage in trade to support his family and pursue his traditional lifestyle.
He was especially troubled by the thought that he wouldn't be able to educate his son on the lap of Torah and Judaism. Therefore, he decided to leave Russia and return to Smorgon.
My parents returned to Smorgon in 1922. The city was destroyed to its foundations and only a few of its previous residents returned to live in it.
The main activity of my father zl concentrated in the field of education. Without noise and without advertising he planned to establish a primary school. He turned to Tarbut institutions in Vilna and discussed the matter with Mr. Zemel. The latter sent the teacher Katz, an educated man with a noble spirit, to Smorgon.
In this manner the primary school Tarbut was established in Smorgon. He also cared for the study of the Bible and Gemara and established Talmud Torah. To do this he brought two talented teachers: Chaskil the white who excelled in his special teaching method and his interpretation of the Bible, and Chaskil the black who was an expert in the teaching of the Gemara.
But it wasn't enough. He quickly realized that a primary education wasn't enough and took care of the continuation of the studies.
In this manner he found the appropriate way to merge sacred and secular studies.
At that time a high-school didn't exist in Smorgon. Therefore, he brought a teacher, a young energetic man named Zuferner who was a graduate of Tarbut Gymnasium in Vilna (later he became famous as a distinguished resistance fighter in the French Maquis and was known by the name Leonard. Not long ago he died in France in middle age). This teacher lived in our house and my father zl gathered groups of students who have received additional lessons so they could be accepted to Tarbut Gymnasium in Vilna. These lessons took place in our home.
All the efforts and the hard work that my father zl invested were not wasted. Over time, his blessed activities yielded results: the Zionist movements found a wide open field and mature youth who were able to understand their doctrine.
My father devoted his free time to the Torah. Every day he gave a Talmud lesson in the kloyze, not for a personal gain but to make the Torah great and mighty. He was careful to leave his business and financial worries at the fixed time in order to give the daily lesson.
At night, he took out the Masechet from the packed bookcase and trilled the Gemara's pleasant melody in a silent tone. He was hunched over it until late at night and no one dared to bother him at these moments.
During the lesson at the kloyze he knew how to examine and distinguish between the real diligent learners and the superficial learners. In his teaching he visited the common sense instead of using the method of dry and sterile debate. He also put an emphasis on logic.
He was very sad when he saw that I, his only son, was moving away from the Gemara. Therefore, he asked me to also add my good friend and taught us a page in the Gemara.
My father zl was an avid lover of Zion and told me about Theodor Herzl and his achievements. He especially appreciated Sokolov and enjoyed his witty newspaper articles. He also instilled in me a deep affection for Zion and taught me from the songs of Zion like Sham Bimkom Arazim, HaShushana and others.
He always contributed generously to charitable organizations, religious organizations and also to the Zionist funds.
The townspeople treated him with respect and affection because he was a humble man by nature. He loved people and pursued peace.
I remember that a quarrel broke out in the city during the elections for the city's rabbi and the holy Jewish community split into two rival camps. He was troubled by the controversy that broke out and worked very hard to make peace between the opposing sides. For that reason he was accepted by both parties.
A poetic spirit also nested in him. He especially liked the poetry of Bialik, and from time to time he recited sections from HaMatmid [The Talmud student] which expressed his way of life at the Yeshiva in Slabodka.
He gave Gemara lessons at the Hassidim Stiebel. He got closer to the Hassidut even though he was educated on the knees of the sworn opponents of the Hassidut in Lita. Most of his students were Hassidim and he got closer to the way of life of these simple and innocent people - craftsmen and small merchants, people with a special soul that their heart was full of joy even in times when the livelihood wasn't plentiful.
I remember Simchat Torah and how he danced between them during the Hakafot. His eyes sparkled with joy when he sang Hassidic songs with them with great devotion and enthusiasm.
However, sometimes I think that his heart felt that something bad was about to happen to him, that he foresaw his bitter end. During the Days of Awe he wrapped himself in his prayer shawl and extended the prayer Shemoneh Esrei. He continued to pray even after the congregation and the rabbi completed the prayer, and said the Viduy [confession] in silence out of heartbreak and restrained tears.
He poured his heart weeping and said the prayers Unethanneh Toqef and Aseret Harugei Malchut [The Ten Martyrs] in a trembling voice. Apparently, he felt that fate would be cruel to him, that he will not die of natural causes but in the hands of inhumane executioners, in one of the cruel deaths of the Ten Martyrs.
In the 1930s my father realized that many of the best youth were swept by the stream of Communism. He clearly understood that only the Zionist movement can save the youth from the clutches of Communism. Therefore, he agreed, without a choice, to part from me and to accept my immigration to Israel.
In his twilight days he also planned to immigrate to Israel. Despite the many difficulties, which involved in adjusting to a new life, he decided to rebuild everything in his old age. But Hitler's soldiers came and preceded him.
My beloved parents gave their pure souls into the hands of mass-murderers, and died for the sanctification of God's name with all martyrs.
May their memory be blessed and peace to their ashes. May God avenge their blood.
by Refael Weinstein
Translated by Sara Mages
He has done a lot for the benefit of Tarbut school. Day and night he made sure that poor children, who didn't have the means to pay tuition, will remain without a Hebrew national education. He, together with other members, the writer of these lines was also among them, has done a lot for the benefit of Hebrew education. He struggled diligently and persistently with the parents committee who objected to the right that was given to the poor to study at half the regular tuition at the aforementioned school. To cover the budget deficit he organized all sorts of activities - dramatic plays, special funds, dances and movies. He carried out his plans with devotion and stubbornness and devoted all of his energy to this noble cause.
It wasn't easy to recruit actors for these plays. Sometimes, it was necessary to persuade the parents, talk to the mothers' heart and ensure them that their daughters will return within an hour. Typically, the plays lasted for two hours or more.
He organized the society of stage enthusiasts. The revenue from the performances was divided between the educational organizations, HeHalutz and the library.
Betzalel Magidey stood, like a sentry at his post, in a constant effort for the benefit of the Zionist and cultural-national activity.
The wick of his life was cut short prematurely. He passed away at the age of 29. He was not able to fulfill his personal dream of settlement in Zion, and he always made sure that others would be the first to immigrate.
Few were like him among us in those days. He was a great friend who accomplished a lot. We will remember his deeds, his name and his memory are etched deep in our hearts.
May his soul be bound in the bond of the eternal life of our nation.
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