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[Page 75]

Hassidim in Bendery

 

Bendery in Hassidic Literature

by N. Huberman

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Kishinev is mentioned in Hassidic literature in the times of R. Leib –Sarah's son – (1729-1798). It was part of a fable about Kaiser Franz-Joseph.

Bendery is alluded to by R. Yaakov of Polanaa in a story written in 1769. This was related to me by an individual from Bendery. Apparently there was an old custom that a governor from one place was not allowed to enter a fort belonging to another one. However, this time one of them did do so. The governor had to pay a fine for allowing it to happen.

The late R. Leib Wertheim was the chief rabbi of Bendery. He was the grandson of R. Shimshon Wertheim from Vienna who was known in Hassidic literature as R. Shimshon, the Viennese. The nature of R. Leib and his methods were not known in detail. He is listed in the roster of Hassidim who died since the time of the Baal Shem Tov as having passed away around 1782. The Jews of Bendery would come to pray at his grave, to light memorial candles and to leave special notes- as was the custom among the Hassidim of Podolia since the days of the Baal Shem Tov.

Among the Bessarabian Hassidim the Sadigura and Chernobyl dynasties stand out. It is obvious from their names which are affixed to many synagogues. It is well-known that the split caused many controversies. Churches served as hotbeds for rioting, at times. However, the Bessarabian Hassidim did not wish to fight and soon cooler heads prevailed. Until 1847, there were, in Bendery, synagogues named after Hassidic Rabbis from Sadigura and Talne, as there were in other towns in Bessarabia. The descendants of Rav Schneerson's family – one of the founders of Chabad – settled in several towns in Bessarabia and named synagogues after him.

The Hassidim of Bessarabia had many beautiful customs. Among the wealthy there was always competition on who would distribute more food to the poor prior to the High Holidays, entertain more guests for meals at their table, support more Torah students, Yeshivas, Talmud Torahs, etc.

When Zionism arose, the Hassidim were its biggest opponents, whether in secret or openly. Their activities were full of hatred and animosity. In many homes there was disharmony in the family. Fights between fathers and sons reached a scandalous level. After Bessarabia was annexed by Romania in 1918, many Hassidim of the Sadigura and Chernobyl dynasties moved to Bessarabia. The number of Hassidim decreased.

Zionism captured the hearts of the people and replaced the Hassidic zeal.

(From an article by N. Huberman titled “Hassidism in Bessarabia”, published in the book “In the Lands of Bessarabia”, compilation A, 1959, edited by K.A. Bertini)

 

Hassidim in Bendery

The first Hassidic court in Bessarabia was established in the 1820s. R. Aryeh-Leib Wertheim, founder of the Wertheim dynasty, had his headquarters in Bendery. He was the son of R. Shimon-Shlomo of Sovran and the brother of R. Moshe-Dov. R. Aryeh-Leib was a member of one of the most important families in Ukraine and he was the grandson of the Maggid R. Nahum of Chernobyl. R. Nahum was the father of the Chernobyl dynasty (Twersky Hassidim), a brother-in-law of R. Shalom of Prohovitz. He, in turn, was the grandson of the Maggid of Mezerich and the father of R. Israel of Rozin.

In 1814, R. Aryeh-Leib became the chief Rabbi in Bendery. He served in that position for 41 years. He died at the age of 82 in 1854. His followers traveled to see him, to give him special notes. His influence was great not only in southern Bessarabia, but also in Odessa.

In the Pinkas of “Sayers of Psalms”, the first signature is that of R. Aryeh-Leib Wertheim. The last entry is in the year 1881.

 

ben076.jpg
Appointment letter of R. Aryeh-Leib Wertheim, z”l


[Page 77]

Rabbi Moishele and His Hassidim

by Yonah Balaban (Hulda)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

I do not wish to write extensively on this topic, although I really should. I am certain greater and better people have already done so. I only wish to highlight and describe Hassidism in our town. As seen through the eyes of a young child.

My father, Pinhas Balaban, z”l, was close to Rabbi Moishele Landman and I was able to feel moments of sanctity and personal exultation. I absorbed the holy atmosphere around the much admired late Rabbi.

The first thing that left an indelible mark on me has to do with the purchase of a home and a house of worship for the Rabbi and his household. The Hassidim- my father, may he rest in peace, among them – decided to sell raffle tickets to the Jews in town. Their aim was to buy, with the proceeds, a large home for the Rabbi. There was one condition – the winner had to turn over his winnings to the Rabbi! The timing was not great: this was wartime. In spite of the hardships they proceeded with their plan. I avidly followed the plan conceived by my father and his fellow Hassidim. They did everything to ensure the success of the raffle. It took place on time. Their happiness when the house was purchased was indescribable.

In this way the gifts of a home and a house of worship were given to the Rabbi. My father did not stop with these gifts. He made certain the Rabbi would not lack for anything. Since my father was a fish monger he ensured that there was plenty of fresh fish for Shabbat and for every holiday. The Hassidim were served tasty gefilte fish during all three Shabbat meals. They were prepared by the Rebbetzin, may she rest in peace.

* * *

During World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution which followed, the population, on many occasions, had to hide from the bombardments in cellars. There were days when it was impossible to go outside since there were street battles between the Reds and the Whites. There were conquests and retreats and there was a great loss of life.

My father, the loyal and dedicated follower, was not afraid of the pitfalls and the dangers. He overcame all obstacles. Every Monday, he disappeared for several hours. At first, we did not understand how our father could leave us at such a difficult time. He would go, at great personal danger, into the tumultuous streets. Fires would erupt in destroyed houses and dead bodies lay in the streets. However, my mother, Feiga, may she rest in peace, calmed down by explaining that father tried very hard to reach the Rabbi's house to see how he and his family were managing and to try to help them...

I understood everything and I stopped asking questions.

* * *

Soon better days arrived. These were days full of light and happiness, Hassidic dancing and singing. In the center of this was the holy Rabbi. Many of our townsfolk probably remember Simchat Torah in Rabbi Moishele's synagogue. In addition to the regular Hassidim, many other Jews came to enjoy the Hassidic celebration. They were delighted to be honored with Hakafot. Some were even fortunate to eat Haloshkes (cabbage rolls filled with ground meat and rice) cooked by the Rebbetzin. The Master of Ceremonies would announce “such and such receives a haloshke and non-Jew receives a slap” (a play on words in Hebrew). Everyone would applaud happily and Hassidim danced. Their coats flew around and the sweat poured down their faces. Their voices were hoarse and everyone was very happy.

My father's devotion to and his admiration of the Rabbi were well-known. When he spoke the Rabbi's name he always added – May the Rabbi have a long life. It seems that the Rabbi reciprocated. Anything connected to Pinhas Balaban was important to him, e.g. special water for baking Shmura Matzo always came from the tap in our yard. Even if the distance between the two houses was great! A few weeks before Passover a “convoy” would arrive. It was led by the Rabbi's sexton, followed by Hassidim carrying pails to filled with water from our yard and to be used for baking their Matzo.

I was a young child then, but I remember how proud and honored we felt that of all the taps in town, ours was the one chosen. This custom continued for many years, even after my father's death.

When my devoted father died, the Rabbi honored him by following his coffin on foot to the old cemetery five kilometers out of town. Everyone talked about this event since it was unique.

This was our Rabbi- beloved by everyone, surrounded by loyal followers. May their memory be everlasting!

 

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