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Wonderful Superior Virtues of Zawiercie Jews

by Alter Honigman, known as Alter Meir David Lelewers

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Above, we discussed Linat Tzedek. As we now discuss the rest of the qualities of the Jews of the city, we must note that in general they were forged from fine material. In the absence of an organized community, and without a budget, individuals or groups of individuals founded various institutions with their own efforts – institutions that would have been founded by communal councils in other cities.

One of these institutions was the charitable institution for the poor.

A significant economic recession afflicted the Jews of Poland during the 1880s and the beginning of the 1890s. Jews were pushed out of the “servitute” lands. Poles began to work in wholesaling and as middlemen. Thereby many Jews were deprived of their livelihood, and “estates of the poor king”[1] were created in many districts of Poland . Furthermore, many fires broke out during the summer. The fires destroyed the wooden houses of the Jews in the towns. There were no insurance companies and even if they did exist, they would not have insured such wooden houses whose roofs could be ignited by any spark from the chimney.

These mishaps caused many Jews to migrate to the west, to centers of manufacturing and commerce. They migrated with their wives and children, in order to collect donations from their more fortunate brethren who lived in better houses and were earning livelihoods.

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As far as I remember, the Jews of Zawiercie observed the commandment of giving charity appropriately, and fulfilled the principle that “You meet a beggar – give him.”

However, as the groups of beggars grew and turned into camps, the residents began to complain that the doors never closed from morning until evening. Some of the poor people acted boldly and at times even dishonestly.

In light of this phenomenon, some individuals of the town who felt that the situation required a repair arose and founded a charitable fund in which all the residents of the city participated through monthly payments. They informed the beggars who made the rounds to the doors of the residents that they must approach the trustees of the charitable fund to receive a note. The note entitled them to receive a certain sum amount of money.

Three people stood at the head of this organization: my father Reb Meir Lelewer, Reb Shabtai Chazan, and Reb Avraham Borensztejn. My father distributed the notes. Avraham Borensztejn was the treasurer and he handed out the money.

A rule was established that a beggar can only receive support once every three months. As proof, the organization stamped the date on the passport or other document. After receiving their allotment, these beggars were forbidden from going around to the doors of the generous people.

Many beggars agreed to the rule, and left the town on the same day that they received their support and wandered to a different city. However, there were those who wanted to benefit at both ends, and remained in the town.

The second matter was hospitality and a place to sleep. Even before this time, this issue disturbed the residents of the town a in an acute manner. The issue remained a problem, since there was no hostel for poor people; they made use of the Beis Midrash as well as the women's gallery of the synagogue. The lack of cleanliness in these two places became unbearable. Therefore, they began to think about a hostel for the poor people, called “hekdesh[2] in Poland. The establishment of such an institution required large sums of money.

A Jew of Zawiercie, Reb Koppel Bogajer, intended to set an example for others by dedicating two rooms of his house as sleeping quarters for itinerants who were spending a night or two in the city. Reb Kopel thought that he was contributing to the solution of the problem in this manner. However, not only did others not follow his example, but he also liquidated his private institution after some time, since he began to loathe the immoral, half wild, unhygienic behavior of the guests.

 

Brotherhood and Solidarity among Zawiercie Jews

There is an old adage that friendship is expressed during a time of distress; but in Zawiercie, friendship was also felt during joyous occasions.

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A wedding in the city imbued joy and light upon most of the residents – starting from the Sabbath upon which the groom was called up to the Torah in the synagogue[3]. Most of the Jews of the city, along with their wives, participated in this event. During the Maftir [3], the women would toss various nuts and sweets down from the women's gallery in a display of friendship. The Kiddush for the residents of the city in the home of the parents of the groom was splendid. If a groom was getting married to a bride outside the city, he would go around from house to house on the evening before his departure to the wedding in order to receive blessings from the Jews of the city. He was accompanied by the Shamash [beadle] of the house of worship in which he worshipped. The Shamash would carry a lantern and fuel. The groom would be accompanied to the home of the bride by his friends, relatives and parents. Relatives and friends from the bride's side would wait for the entourage a short distance from their town. Then the groom would descend from the wagon in which he had been travelling to this point and ascend the wagon in which the young men who came to greet him would be sitting. When the wagon with the groom entered the bounds of the city, it would make seven circuits around the well in the marketplace, followed by the rest of the wagons.

Indeed, these were unforgettable experiences!

No less, and perhaps even greater, was the impression left upon the town by the weddings that took place therein.

On the Sabbath prior to the wedding, the bride's friends would come to bid farewell to the bride. There would be gifts, dances, and refreshment. The visits would last until the evening. The farewell touched the heart.

Many residents of the city participated in the wedding itself. They would bring gifts and shower the couple with good wishes. On the first Sabbath after the wedding, it was the custom to accompany the bride to the synagogue as she was holding a Korban Mincha Siddur in her hand, a gift from the groom. Many people participated in this ceremony. The Kiddush and refreshments lasted until late at night.

 

The Dedication of a Torah Scroll

Festive ceremonies were also held when a Torah Scroll was dedicated in the synagogue. The completion and the filling in of the missing letters[4] was conducted with great splendor in the presence of a large gathering. Many residents of Zawiercie – literally all the people of the town – stood crowded in the rooms of the ceremony, or gathered outside when the hall was too small to hold everyone, as they rejoiced with the Torah scroll.

I recall one festive event of this nature, when Reb Levi the butcher and his wife, who was the daughter of Reb Leib Zawader (Leib Kira), organized a celebration for the conclusion of the Torah scroll that they had donated.

Reb Levi specially invited a band of Jewish soldiers from Częstochowa, and the ceremony was conducted with great splendor.

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The new Torah scroll lay on a table in the center of the room in which the celebration took place. A scribe who oversaw the holy task of filling in the missing letters stood next to the table. He called up the people who had been honored by the hosts to fill in a letter. Everyone filled the letter that corresponded to the first letter of their names.

The missing letter in the Torah scroll had already been outlined with a thin line by the scribe. After the honored person filled in the letter with the special ink –– that is to say, at every “conclusion”, the band played and those assembled danced. The head of the band danced, joyous and mirthful, in the center of the circle, with a clarinet in his hand. His name was Reznik. He was a young Jew with a hot temperament. He was a Ukrainian Jew who had been drafted into the army. His brigade camped in Częstochowa. The tunes that the band played and to which the people danced, remain etched in my memory to this day.

There is no need to add that refreshments, including copious amounts of wine and liquor, were served to the participating guests.

Women were also honored in this celebration of the conclusion of a Torah Scroll. Each of the female participant was honored with sewing a few stitches in the covering [mantele] of the Torah scroll.

The celebration in the room of the host began in the afternoon and continued until late at night, at which point the Torah was brought to the synagogue under a canopy.

The procession set out from the house of the hosts, and lasted about two hours, even though it was a short distance from Poręmba Street to the synagogue. The procession was drawn out because people took step after step, and after every three or four steps, a different Jew was honored with carrying the scroll.

The procession was headed by the band, which was playing a marching tune that I still remember to this day.

The gabbaim of the synagogue waited outside the synagogue with the Torah scrolls in their arms. They went out to greet the new Torah scroll that was about to be placed into the ark [Aron Kodesh].

The dancing began anew inside the synagogue, with the Torah scrolls that had been removed from the Aron Kodesh in the hands of the dancers. The musicians continued to play and the dancers continued to dance until they placed the new Torah scroll on the Torah reading podium.

The dancing continued even as they read a Torah portion from the new Torah, as well as when they placed the new Torah scroll into the ark alongside the other Torah scrolls.

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Despite the late hour, the crowd did not hurry to leave the synagogue. They wanted to be infused with the joy– more and more. To childless couples, the “dedication” of a Torah scroll was as if they had married off a son or a daughter.

 

Entertainment and Amusement

To complete the picture, let me tell my memoirs about the way of life, the entertainment and amusement enjoyed by the circles of people that were not among the religious people and the Torah scholars.

Earlier, I described how I began studying the watchmaking craft with the sole watchmaker and goldsmith in the town, Reb Yaakov-Leizer Mitz.

As was the custom in those days, the apprentice also had to perform household and family tasks in the home of the craftsman with whom he was studying.

One evening, Reb Yaakov-Leizer and his wife asked me to perform a task of this nature. They told me that there were invited to the wedding of a poor man that night. The wedding was to take place in the home of their friend Feitel Bromberg who was known in the town as Feitel the Tinsmith. They were going to lock up their shop and home. They offered me to join them at the wedding party, on the condition that I would go out once in a while to see if anyone had damaged the door of the shop and stole anything from it, as well as to enter their home to check if everything was in order in the bedroom where their children were sleeping. A kerosene lamp was lit on the table and they were concerned that a fire might break out, Heaven forbid. I accepted the invitation and joined the couple.

The wedding took place in the home of the Bromberg family. This was a spacious house, for Reb Feitel was a wealthy man. He was a contractor in a factory that employed several workers. He himself no longer worked. His livelihood was assured. When I entered the well-furnished salon, I got the impression that he had given over his home out of his good heart for the purpose of hosting a modest wedding for a poor man. However, it later became clear that this was a contrived “wedding” for entertainment and amusement at the expense of a poor, non-local Jew.

And what happened was as follows:

When I entered the dwelling, I found several dozen men imbued in a festive atmosphere. The long table was set with wine, cakes and sweets. People were crowded around the table or at some distance from it. Some people also wandered about the room. Everybody was dressed in festive clothes and enjoying the refreshments. The hosts urged the invited guests to eat and drink.

A man of about 40 years of age set at the head of the table. He was wearing a kapote and a kashket[5] in accordance with the custom of those days. His mannerisms and appearance showed that he was not among the wealthy.

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Those present were very jolly. I realized from their innuendoes and by looking at their preparations that this was a performance rather than an actual wedding.

The bride sat among the women, next to a wall of the room. She was younger than the groom, and she was wearing a wig. She was merry. She chatted a great deal with the other women. This continued until the father-in-law stood up and announced that the wedding ceremony was about to take place.

Everything was in order: The person conducting the wedding ceremony arrived. There was a legitimate wedding canopy with four poles. The ceremony was conducted in accordance with Jewish law and custom. The laughter and merriment increased from moment to moment while the groom, a poor, downtrodden man, acted indifferently to the entire wedding and those arranging it.

Then one of the participants of the ceremony announced, in accordance with custom, that the couple should enter a special room for “yichud[6], where they would partake of their first meal together.

From the behavior of the guests and the hosts, one could realize that something funny would happen if the couple enters the special room.

We did not have to wait long for the awaited joke. Suddenly, the door of the special room opened noisily. The man left the room very angry. He shouted, “What type of a crazy woman did you give me? She pushed me against the wall until I almost died.”

The false bride exited right after him. She was also shouting, as she explained that she wished to take revenge upon her husband for stepping on a wart on her foot, as he intended to fulfill the verse “and he will rule over you.”[7].

The guests almost burst out in laughter from the great amusement. They staged an attempt to make peace between the couple, but suddenly the bride disappeared. When she returned – what did I see before my eyes? The bride appeared as a clean shaven lad. The appearance of the lad increased the laughter and shouts of the crowd. The “groom” and “bride” stood in the crowd and also laughed. The difference was that there was a tinge of bitterness in the laughter of the groom.

As the noise and tumult died down, and after the crowd, including the “bride” and groom, sat down next to the table to eat and drink after the pretend ceremony, Reb Feitel the host explained why he had arranged a fake wedding and why he mocked a poor man – also a tinsmith – who had come to seek work with him.

Reb Feitel had served as an apprentice for the father of the so-called groom. The father was not a bad man at all. He taught Reb Feitel, who had lost his father, the trade as he had agreed with his mother. However, not only did the wife of the tinsmith impose various tasks upon him, but also literally starved him. He suffered the pangs of hunger with her. She first distributed the meals to the

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members of the family. When his turn came, there was not enough food left. In such cases, she promised that she would give him money to purchase some sort of food, but she did not always keep her promise.

He wanted very much to take revenge upon her, but what could a child do? Therefore he made a vow that when he would grow up and become a tradesmen, he would pay back one of her sons who would seek work with him.

Then the awaited day arrived. Many years later, the son of this woman came to Reb Feitel to seek work. After realizing who he was, he decided what he decided after he learned that the man was a widower.

Reb Feitel concluded his story and added, “It is true – I mocked this man. We had fun at his expense. However, he certainly received work. Tomorrow, he will go to work with me, in the factory. You can be certain; he will not be starving for bread.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. This term is a play on the words of the Melech Elyon liturgical hymn of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy. In that hymn, the Supreme King (Melech Elyon), who rules forever is contrasted to the earthly king (Melech Evyon – literally: destitute king) who rules temporarily and is then buried in a cleft of earth. Return
  2. A Hebrew term meaning sanctified, or set apart, referring to the fact that the provision of the needs of the poor is considered a mitzvah. Return
  3. This is referred to as the aufruf, and generally takes place on the Sabbath before the wedding. This usually takes place at the Maftir aliya (the aliya that accompanies the reading of the Haftarah – the prophetic portion read after the Torah reading.) Return
  4. Some letters would be intentionally left blank so as to honor important participants with filling them in. Return
  5. A kapote is a long frock, and a kashket is a Hassidic cap. Return
  6. A part of the Jewish wedding ceremony where the bride and groom spend some time in a secluded room. Return
  7. Genesis 3:16. Return
 

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Shtibels and Admorim

Zawiercie had a colorful Jewish community. One of Zawiercie natives compared it to the mixture of verses of Atah Hareita, which are recited before the hakafot of Simchat Torah [1]. Just as there is no connection between the verses, so is the situation in this new city, whose residents gathered from different places, coincidentally. Despite this, we should applaud the harmony that existed among the Jewish residents of the town.

Let us take the Hassidim as an example. Each shtibel of a different Admor had its own customs. Nevertheless, there was unity among them, and they did a great deal to enhance the values of Orthodox Judaism. Jewish brotherhood flourished among them. They would always check to see whether there was anybody in a difficult situation within their shtibel, and they would extend generous help to those in need.

However, a dispute between the shtibels broke out when it was necessary to select a new rabbi for the city. Every Hassidic circle had its own candidate, often supported by the command of Hassidic court. It should be favorably noted that this dispute did not extend beyond the realm of propaganda. An election took place, and the state of affairs returned to what it was before.

In fact the circle of the Hasidim had a positive influence on the other organizations, those that were not among the Hasidim or the Torah scholars. The small-business merchants and tradesman organized themselves in the same way as the Hassidim and elected their own rabbi. The elected rabbi was the one to whom they would travel to consult about business matters or to ask to pray on their behalf in the event of a tribulation or an illness of a family member.

They elected Rabbi Alter, the Admor of Wolbrom, who was a scion of Rabbi Dovidl of Lelow.

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The Rebbe of Wolbrom had many followers among the Hassidic circles. His Hassidim would talk a great deal about the positive influence on the livelihood of their businesses since they began to bask in the shadow of the Admor, Rebbe Alter.

Hassidim of other Admorim would frequently make pilgrimages to the Rebbe. This journey would often be fraught with difficulties for the tradesmen. For this reason, the Rebbe would “set up a table”[2] in places where he had many Hassidim and their economic state was good. This Admor would set out on his journey whenever he had to marry off a son or a daughter, or when he had other important matters to take care of that involved large expenditures.

Częstochowa and Zawiercie were among the cities visited by the Admorim.

The Rebbe would arrive accompanied by a full entourage. His sons, who were destined to serve in the near future as Admorim in various cities of Poland, accompanied him. Of course, shamashim [assistants] would accompany the Rebbe, as was customary.

The Rebbe, Rabbi Alter, would be hosted in Zawiercie at the home of Reb Berl Poznanski, who was a wealthy man and one of the prominent Hassidim of the Admor. Reb Berl, a tailor by profession, was from nearby Pilica. With first stages of Zawiercie development, Reb Berl Poznanski settled in the town. He started off his path of life as a small-scale tailor. Later, he had a factory of reasonable size, and he employed several workers. Finally, he also had a textile shop. He imported the fabric from Łodz as well as from abroad. He had several houses in the city.

His surname was Plachta (a derogatory name of Simcha Plachta in the folktale stories)[3] ). However, Reb Berl adopted the name of Poznanski, who was one of the largest industrialists in Łodz as well as in Poland in general.

In all his conversations, Reb Berl sang the praises of the Rebbe of Wolbrom. From the time that he became one of his Hassidim, he had good fortune and succeeded in all of his business ventures. It was therefore natural that Reb Berl regularly hosted the Rebbe when he came to Zawiercie – literally in his house. It was clear that the travel and accommodation expenditures of the Rebbe and his entourage were borne by Reb Berl himself. Some people were jealous of Reb Berl – not so much for the great privilege that the Rebbe and his honorable people would live in his house for several weeks, but also for his wealth that allowed him to seek such an honor and make the necessary expenditures to host the Rebbe and his entourage.

However, as the adage says, everything comes to an end.

As it finally happened, Mrs. Eigle Poznanski got tired of hosting the Admor and his entourage. She complained that, aside from the great expenditures involved, the furniture was being ruined. The Hassidim would trample on the sofas and armchairs. Many plates and cups had been broken. During the time of having these guests, she worked beyond her limits. When the “fair” ended she had to lie down in her bed for several days. She always had to repaint the house after such a visit.

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In short: she could not continue with this. There were other wealthy Hassidim in the city, so why must she make all these efforts?

The pleading of her husband had no effect. He claimed that he could not refuse to host his Admor, for all his wealth was due to the merit of the Rebbe. However “Igele” stood her ground: If Berl has his way she would leave the town for the duration of the Rebbe's stay.

 

The End of the Story

Several weeks after the couple had the above conversation Reb Berl Poznanski received a postcard from the city of Częstochowa, written by the prime gabbai of the Admor, Reb Chaim Aharon. He wrote as follows, in his regular style.

“Reb Berl, please be advised that the Rebbe has been in Częstochowa for several weeks, and will arrive in Zawiercie next Wednesday, G-d willing. Please prepare. etc. etc.”

As soon as the message arrived, the debate in Reb Berl's house started again. Mrs. Eigele again threatened to leave the house. Having no choice, they agreed that both would travel to a nearby city, for he knew that he would not be able to perform the hosting in his wife's absence.

They closed their house. They left the large tailoring factory open. He commanded the workers that when the Rebbe arrived with his entourage, they should say that no postcard or notification regarding the arrival of the Rebbe was received. The owners of the house were not at home. They had traveled outside of the town for they did not know that the Rebbe was coming.

Alter Honegman is now telling the following story:

All this became known in the city after the following incident took place:

One summer day toward evening, I was passing by Poręba Street. A wagon laden with various packages was standing there. Along with another Jew, the owner of the wagon dragged the packages from the wagon and brought them into a specific house opposite the wagon. A large package, in the form of a large leather sack, was standing next to the wagon. Pillows and blankets were sticking out of it.

I recognized the Jew who was dragging the packages along with the wagon driver. It was Reb Chaim Aharon, the gabbai of the Rebbe of Wolbrom.

The house into which he was bringing all the baggage was the house next to that of Reb Berl.

A light rain began to fall. They hurried to bring all the baggage in lest it get wet.

I waited for a while next to the wagon to see what had happened. I asked the gabbai, and he answered me in brief: Poznanski and his wife had travelled. They had no choice at this point other than to enter into the house of another Jew.

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Out of curiosity I entered the house. There in an apartment that belonged to a Hasid from a different circle. I found Reb Alter sitting at the head of a table covered in a cloth. He was pale and upset as he held his pipe in his hand. No members of the household were in the house.

The gabbai brought in almost all the baggage and placed it on the floor of the room where the Rebbe was sitting. Reb Alter asked the gabbai to purchase candles for light, since the room was dark on that cloudy, rainy day.

Within a few minutes, the gabbai brought what was requested. He lit two candles and placed them in the candlesticks that were on the table.

Suddenly, an interior door of the apartment opened. An elderly woman appeared, confused and astounded, to ask what was going on there. Perhaps they had made a mistake by entering an unknown house without asking permission. “Do we run a hotel here?” asked the woman.

The Rebbe continued to sit and listen until she finished her harsh speech. Finally, he responded without looking toward her, “We know your husband, and your husband knows us. I am the Rebbe of Wolbrom. Do not get upset, the Blessed G-d will bless you on account of the commandment of tending to guests.”

The woman stood her ground, “We will forgo your blessing. My husband is a Hassid of the Rebbe of Amshinov [Mszczonów][4]. His blessings are sufficient for us, and we are satisfied with them. I ask you to leave the room.”

The Rebbe repeated his words and explained his situation. He found the apartment of their neighbor closed and locked. Her neighbors were not at home. He had no choice other than to enter the house of another Jew. The Rebbe concluded:

“We are among Jews. Today is a cold, rainy day.”
The woman informed the Rebbe that her husband had traveled to another city and was not at home. How could he lodge in her house?

The Rebbe responded to her that they – he, his shamash and his son – did not come here to lodge. They only want to stay in the house for a few hours until they find a suitable inn in which they could stay in the city.

The woman disappeared and closed the interior door behind her.

A few minutes later, a gentile woman, apparently the maid, entered the room. She approached the table at which the Rebbe was seated. She extinguished the lit candles with her mouth, and disappeared. The shamash approached and lit them again. A few minutes later, the woman came back and extinguished the candles once again, and left.

Standing at the side, I witnessed all the things that had taken place there. I was a lad of 15 or 16 years old. The Rebbe did not see me or did not pay attention to me. I could no longer witness the agony of the Rebbe. I braced myself, approached him, and greeted him. I told him that I had seen everything.

I told the Rebbe:

“If the Rebbe agrees, I will run to my house, where my parents will certainly clear a room for him and his luggage.”
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“Who are you, lad?” the Rebbe asked me.

“I am the son of Reb Meir Lelover,” I responded.

“If that is the case, you are one of us. Well and fine. We are also relatives. Go do as you say.”

Within a short period, the Rebbe in all his glory was sitting with us in the room that we had cleared for him and his entourage.

I left the Rebbe and my parents' house and went out to the market place, where many of his Hassidim were sitting at their stalls, filled with various types of merchandise – clothing, shoes, hats, brushes, etc. It was a market day. The Jews were busy pursuing profit.

I did not find willingness and enthusiasm to deal with Reb Alter's problem among the Hassidim of the Rebbe of Wolbrom as I had hoped when I went there to tell them about his suffering in the last several hours. These good Jews justified themselves, stating that they were busy with the market day. Even if they knew about what was going on, they would have been unable to leave their stalls to deal with the issue.

“Consider our situation,” they told me. “Soon we will be packing up our merchandise. Toward evening, we'll will end our work, and we'll come to your home to welcome the Rebbe.”

Indeed, in the evening, the Hassidim of the Rebbe of Wolbrom began to gather in our house. They prayed the Maariv service, and my parents prepared dinner for the guests. In the meantime, the Hassidim discussed amongst themselves that it would be appropriate to find for the Rebbe a more spacious place than our home. One of the Hassidim of the Rebbe – the owner of a brush factory – Meir Zajdman, as wealthy as Poznanski, volunteered to host the Rebbe.

Indeed, that night, the Rebbe moved to Zajdman's home, which was not inferior to that of Poznanski.

The Sabbath passed without incident. The Rebbe was in a good mood, and did not mention – even with a simple utterance – what had taken place.

On Sunday, Reb Berl came to my father, Reb David Meir, in a low spirit, and asked to be brought to the Rebbe. He wished to apologize for what he caused the Rebbe. At the same time, he wished to ask the Rebbe to beg for mercy for his wife who had fallen ill with a high fever. In response to the question as to what the physician had found in his examination, Reb Berl responded that the physician had told him that at the present, he was not able to identify the illness before three days had passed. My father advised Reb Berl to wait for a visit with the Rebbe. First, my father would visit the Rebbe by himself. On Monday, they would both go to the Rebbe. Reb Berl agreed to this.

On Monday, Reb Berl stood before his Rebbe with distraught eyes but subdued. He begged the Rebbe to pray on behalf of his sick wife. Of course, Reb Berl

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placed an extraordinarily significant donation on the table, along with the customary kvittl [petitionary note].

The Rebbe said to Reb Berl, “Of course, you did something inappropriate. But you must understand that you are making a mistake if you think that I had evil intentions in my prayers. A Rebbe can only wish good in his prayers for his followers not evil. But, continued the Rebbe, most likely, my fathers and the righteous forbears did not want to allow an embarrassment to come upon me.”

That same Monday, toward evening, Reb Berl came to my father once again, perplexed and upset. He told him that his only daughter had also taken ill with a high fever. Reb Berl once again came to the Rebbe, who blessed him and said that G-d would surely send a complete recovery by the next day.

The next day, Reb Berl came to tell my father that the two sick women sweated during the night. The physician who visited them found that the illness had passed, and both of them could get up from their beds.

It is obvious that this matter cost Reb Berl Poznanski more than the damage that would have been caused had he done what was usually done with respect to the Rebbe.

Everyone can derive the lesson from this story in accordance with his spirit, understanding, and clarity of intellect…

In truth, it is worthwhile to note that the Rebbe of Wolbrom was not the only one who would visit his Hassidim in Zawiercie. Several other Admorim did so.

For example, the Admor of Stryków, Reb Wolf, would visit Zawiercie and would stay with Reb Moshe Leib Hercberg, where he would conduct his table gathering with the Stryków Hassidim of Zawiercie in great splendor in the presence of a large crowd. His brother, whom I seem to recall as being the Admor of Skwire, would also come. Reb Yaakov had a pleasant countenance. He dressed in white silk garments. He was tall, in contrast to his brother, Reb Wolf the Admor of Stryków, who was short.

After some time, Reb Moshe Leib Hercberg and the Rebbe of Stryków became in-laws. The grandson of the Rebbe, Pinchas Landau (the father of Reb Yaakov Landau, the veteran activist of Orthodox Judaism) married Malkale, the daughter of Reb Moshe Leib.

It is appropriate to allude to Reb Moshe Leib's wife. Thanks to her gentleness, her physical beauty, the beauty of her soul and the way she conducted her home. The home of Reb Moshe had the style of a Hassidic household, refined and full of content. Her door was opened wide to the poor people and to all those who needed her help. Through her influence her husband became a Hassid, both in his actions and his attire. But she couldn't soften his character. She couldn't bring him to be tolerant and patient in his relationships with other people. She urged him to give up his aggressiveness when it came to public affairs, a behavior that might have been rooted in his wealth . Because of this tendency to anger, he had many opponents in the city. Some even were so brazen as to denigrate him, but not to his face.

He was welcomed with open arms within the community, even by those who

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were not close to him. He had the fine custom of celebrating Purim with many guests from various circles in the city in the large, wonderfully bright hall in his house, with tables bedecked with all types of delicacies. On that day, he received his guests with enthusiasm and generosity. Reb Moshe Leib sat at the head of the table, wearing atlas silk[5] Hassidic outfit and a streimel on his head. His appearance was full of dignity and respect. The serious face of this Jew during all the other days of the year had disappeared. His face softened, and his eyes smiled. His wife, the noble soul, as well as their gentle daughter Malkale would greet the guests gently and in good taste. One could see adults dressed up, acting out Achashverosh and Queen Esther.

I recall that his relatives sitting at the table told Reb Moshe Leib that the actors were singing a hymn whose lyrics had the heretics poking fun at the Admorim and Hassidim. They recommended that they be thrown out. Reb Moshe Leib responded, “It is Purim today, and we should not take the songs seriously.”

The muck and mud that the actors brought in to the large, furnished, bright hall did not affect the lady of the house at all. She and her daughter Malkale, with her gentle face, served the guests all types of refreshments, in generous and gentle manner. Apart from this, Reb Moshe Leib, his wife, and daughter distributed donations and gifts in a generous fashion to the Purim actors and the poor people.

*

These memoirs of mine encompass an era in which the Jewish Zawiercie was taking shape – even before the community was organized in the fashion of all other communities of the Diaspora. Others will certainly write about a later period in Zawiercie, the period when I was away from the town.

Even though I left the city more than 60 years ago, my heart trembles from the outcry of the Holocaust in which the community of Zawiercie, with its men, women, and children, was destroyed.

My heart calls out to you; my heart, my heart is to you, oh holy community of Zawiercie.

 

Players and Jesters in the City

It is worthwhile to note here the names of the players and jesters who were invited by the in-laws a certain time before a wedding. We will note their personalities and professional abilities.

As soon as a date for a wedding was set by the in-laws on both sides, they informed their wives about it. Then a debate began in the home of the bride about the choosing of one of the musical bands and one of the jesters in the city.

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The custom at that time was that the parents of the bride were expected to hold the wedding in their house, to pay for it, and to take upon themselves all the trouble of organizing the wedding.

The bride, for example, would ask for the band with the jesters Reb Moshele Brauder and his son, or Reb Yankel Apter. They would recite before the bride and groom verses peppered with statements of the sages, and sing nice songs. Reb Yankel Apter was also known for his dances, and for his Russian, Romanian, and gypsy costumes. He knew how to dance the Kozak and Csárdás.

The in-laws and the guests, most of whom did not know about and had never seen such artistic dances, would be deeply impressed. On the other hand, the parents of the bride claimed that one could be satisfied with the Jurika band, conducted by Reb Berele, or with the Zawiercie band with two troupes, along with the jester Reb Zusha Monewicz, who was known as Zusha-Marszalik. Although he was not one of the great jesters, he was a native of the town.

In truth, the Zawiercie band was not a formal band. It was composed of various musicians who were unable to read musical notes. They earned their livelihoods all year by selling fruit and vegetables in the market. They would sit next to their stalls and dream about “getting a wedding.”

Reb Tovia the musician was the head of these musicians; he played the trumpet. His brother, Zalman the musician, also played. He played the second fiddle: I.e. he was an assistant to the first violinist. Since they did not have a “primo” of their own, they would take as first violin Leibele Shajer from the Będzin band, or Leibel Diament, who boasted that he could play from notes. Nevertheless, every song began with Reb Tovia playing his trumpet.

The band consisted of five musicians. Aside from Tovia and Zalman, there was a clarinetist. The first violin was borrowed. Reb Baruch Leib played the bass.

Reb Tovia the trumpeter was the person to whom one had to turn to discuss hiring the band for a wedding. The actual negotiations were in the hands of his wife Chana.

She set the price and gave a down payment from the in-laws for the band so that the band would come and play, and that they would not back out. She also received the payment for the musicians after the wedding – along with a portion of the gifts, which were known as “drasha geshank” in the vernacular, such was the custom. To be on the safe side she asked for a portion of the gifts beforehand.

Reb Tovia and his wife ensured that Zusha “Marszalik” would come with them at the appropriate time.

Reb Zusha the jester had other roles, despite the fact that he was not one of the well-known speakers and did not excel in his songs and rhymes. However, we must say, in his favor, that everything

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what he said in front of the guests in the wedding was completely original – authored by himself. Even though he was not one of the great scholars, he would spice his words to the guests with verses from the Midrash and Gemara. At times, the verses were lame, but the audience forgave him since they knew that he was not doing this out of disrespect, but rather because he didn't study and didn't rehearse. What he said and why he said it was not important – the main thing was that he was a Jew who needed a livelihood.

His first task was to greet, together with the band, the in-laws and the groom as they arrived at the bride's home for the wedding.

His second task was to sing and to speak in verses before the groom, who sat in a special place surrounded by the lads of the town before he was escorted to the chupa [wedding canopy].

His third task was to stimulate the bride to repentance and mercy before being escorted to the chupa.

His fourth task was to sing and to speak in front of the assembled guests during the feast following the chupa. Then he had to show all of his jesting skills in his speeches and verses.

His fifth task was to announce in verses the gifts (drasha geshank) that the couple had received from the assembled guests and relatives.

As we have seen, Reb Zusha's work was not light or easy at all. It is perhaps appropriate to describe Reb Zusha – how he looked and in what manner he sang (in Yiddish of course) the “hitorerut” [awakening][6] before the bride, before she walked to the chupa.

Reb Zusha stood on a chair in front of the bride surrounded by a crowd of women. His yarmulke was falling to the back of his head. With closed eyes, he uttered words of awakening that evoked many tears from the bride as well as from the surrounding crowd.

These are the Words in Verse in Yiddish:

Beloved bride, beloved bride, weep,
Your tears now have seven-fold grace.
You, beloved bride,
Are currently standing before the heavenly court.
Plead now, with great weeping,
That your life should not be as bitter as horseradish.
Your path shall be a path of good luck,
You should not, Heaven forbid, have to return to your parents.
Your fortune should be as fine as the brightest summer sun.
You and your husband should not know any sorrow or suffering
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With your good life, you should be an example and a marvel.
You should merit to give birth to and raise good, fine children.
From good to bad is only one step.
G-d should give you grace in the eyes of your husband.
Beloved bride, beloved bride, weep.
Your tears will now ascend to the Throne of Glory.
You will shortly go to the chupa at a propitious time.
And let us say Amen.
These verses were recited in the tune of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and accompanied by the weeping of the surrounding women. On occasion, the fasting bride[7] would faint. This indeed exemplified the greatness of Reb Zusha Marszalik.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A selection of Biblical verses recited responsively before the Torah scrolls are removed from the ark for the hakafot processions on Simchat Torah, both during the evening service and morning service. In some rites, the recitation of Atah Hareita and the hakafot take place on the night of Shemini Atzeret as well. Return
  2. This means he would set up a subsidiary Hassidic court in which he would be resident at certain times. Return
  3. A book by Yehiel Yeshaia Trunk. See http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0020_0_20069.html Return
  4. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mszczon%C3%B3w and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amshinov_(Hasidic_dynasty) Return
  5. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlas_silk Return
  6. Referring to arousal to repentance. Return
  7. There is a custom for the bride and groom to fast on the day of their wedding. Return

 

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