Translated by Jerrold Landau Throughout all generations, holidays and festivals were honored guests in public and private life. They brightened up the mundaneness of all the days of the year. Throughout all of is history, the Jewish nation preserved these spiritual treasures, that united it into one unit. Our national poet Ch. N. Bialik painted a lovely and artistic portrait of the festivals: The festivals are exalted above the landscape of the weekdays, just as mountains are exalted above the landscape of the earth. Every tall mountain, and each one that is taller than its fellow, testifies about changes and movements and shifts that took place under this mountain during several ancient eras, and compounded one upon the other, raising it recognizably above the landscape and lifting it upward. Similarly, each festival testifies about deep movements, at times volcanoes, that took place beneath the ground of the nation, not only once but many times, one after another. Indeed, when we come to dig and investigate beneath the national festival, we find beneath it layer upon layer and stratum beneath stratum. There is not just one reason for the festival, but rather many reasons. (Bialik, Words by Heart).
Indeed, the Festivals of Israel were similar in all Jewish cities and communities. Nevertheless, it seems that each community celebrated its festivals in a style unique to its community. It seems to me that we celebrated out festivals in Podhajce with a unique style to our community, with a spice whose secret was known only to the Jews of our city. If someone from our city would celebrate the festivals in other cities, it would seem that the flavor of the festival of Podhajce was removed. Therefore, I feel that our Yizkor Book should give over some impressions of the festivals in our city.
According to tradition, the first day of Rosh Hashanah took on the characteristics of a festival and a Day of Judgment simultaneously. The day of judgement was set to judge all living beings, and therefore it was appropriate to worship on that day with awe and fear, more than any other festival of the year. For us, even though the people gathered in the synagogue, which was filled to the brim, no joyous smile was seen on the face of the worshipers, who conducted themselves with more seriousness and somberness than usual. They knew and felt that on this day, they would be brought to judgement before the King of Kings. All of their activities were to ensure that they would be victorious in the judgement, and therefore they all prayed from the depths of their hearts with extra devotion.
A break took place after the Shacharit service. Some of the worshippers, men and women, left the synagogue, and would wish a good and blessed year to anyone whom they met. After the recital of Lamenatzeach Livnei Korach Mizmor the shofar blower blew the tekia-shevarim-terua, whose sounds reverberated upon the walls of the synagogue. The sounds of weeping could be heard from the women's section. A holy silence enveloped the worshippers, who stood bent over before the Judge of the entire earth. During the Musaf service, the shofar sounds were divided into three groups: Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot. The sounds of the shofar frightened, but also excited and aroused, the hearts.
The content of the prayers also influenced us greatly, especially the moving Unetane Tokef prayer. Then, I was not able to overcome my emotions, and my eyes filled with tears. The authorship of this prayer is ascribed to Rabbi Amnon of Mayence, who was tortured and died in sanctification of the Name on Rosh Hashanah. During this prayer, we feel the suffering of the author, and the prayer from our hearts and the request that G-d have mercy upon his nation and that the shofar sounds would speedily herald the redemption and the coming of the Messiah poured out as if by itself. At the conclusion of the service, the worshippers returned to their homes to partake of the afternoon meal, to rest and to regain strength, so that they could set out from their homes in groups to the rivers and ponds for the Tashlich service.
After a rest of a few hours, the movement began anew in the city. From all the streets and lanes, the Jews, men, women and children left their homes wearing streimels, hats, scarves and kerchiefs of various colors. They set out toward the rivers. The sound of the crowd, laughter and light conversation accompanied the walkers on their way to the Tashlich service. Some of the faces were bright and smiling, and others were serious and somber. Some were even sad to the point of tears.
The crowds of worshippers reached the river, and their lips uttered the Tashlich prayer, whose main theme is to cast to the depths of the sea all of their sins. In order to symbolize the casting off of sins in a realistic manner, people would overturn the pockets of their clothes and shake them out over the water. The prayers of Tashlich
expressed the state of mind of the believing Jew on Rosh Hashanah. How great is the meaning embedded in the verses of David the son of Jesse: From the depths of despair I call out unto G-d, G-d answers me broadly. No less exalted is the meaning of the words of the prophet Micha the Morashtite: Who is a G-d like you, bearing sins and overlooking the transgressions of the remnant of His inheritance, He does not hold anger forever, for He desires mercy.
The Tashlich prayers finished, and the personal oppression was lifted from the heart. However, the masses of worshippers remained standing at the banks of the river without moving. The last rays of sunlight lit up their faces. As I looked around, I saw the bent forms of those standing in prayer at the banks of the river straighten out. Their eyes shone. All of those people begin to show signs of life once again, as they turned their pockets inside out and scattered crumbs of bread upon the water. Their voices echoed afar as they read the concluding verse of Tashlich: They shall not shoot and not destroy on my Holy Mountain, for the land is filled with knowledge of G-d like the water that covers.
The Reb Meir Hirschorn Beis Midrash
A holy silence enveloped the synagogue. The cantor, wearing his white kittel and enwrapped in his tallis, stood before the teiva (reader's lectern) surrounded by a choir. He read out the proclamation prior to Kol Nidrei, that starts with With the permission of G-d and the permission of the congregation, in holiness and purity. The words emanating from the mouth of the cantor moved the hearts of the listeners. I glanced at the worshippers, looking for the sinners  however I saw before me only upright, honorable people of all classes, wearing white kittels and wrapped in tallises. My soul wandered about; it became clear to me, and I foresaw that that evening the evening of penitence and forgiveness the Judge of the Land will remove our harsh decrees, for the Jews of our city and also for the scattered Jews wherever they were.
When the time of Kol Nidre arrived, the congregation stood up in unison. Not even a low whisper was heard in the hole. Only from the women's section could be heard the sounds of stifled weeping. Then the sweet voice of the cantor was heard, starting the singing of Kol Nidre in the ancient melody. It is impossible to describe the holy awe that enveloped the congregation during the Kol Nidre prayer, which the cantor repeated three times, one after the other, raising his voice each time. Even though the content
of the prayer is merely the annulment of vows, the historical background of this prayer for it served as the release from vows and oaths for the Spanish Marranos imbued it with its importance and awakened the holy awe in our hearts. The melody of Kol Nidre contributed in no small manner to the creation of that special atmosphere that even influenced any gentiles and moved them to visit the synagogue on the night of Yom Kippur. This atmosphere fell upon the congregation immediately after the serious and splendorous declaration of With the permission of G-d and the permission of the congregation, that served as a prelude to Kol Nidre. For who among Israel can say with a full heart that they are not among the sinners
After Kol Nidre, the cantor intoned thrice And the entire congregation of the Children of Israel will be forgiven, and the stranger that dwells in their midst, for the entire nation has stumbled, and the congregation repeated after him. The tension rose once again at the time of the recitation of the Yaale hymn. The sound of stifled weeping, strengthening more and more, burst forth from the women's section. The adage says women's come to tears easily, and this was particularly felt during the services on the Days of Awe. During the night of Yom Kippur, there were many fitting opportunities for the shedding of tears, especially during the recitation of the penitential prayers, during the recitation of the confessional for the sin that we sinned, etc. The common factor of all these prayers was the theme of repentance and the begging of forgiveness. Tears are appropriate for these themes. Thus it says explicitly, May it be Thy will, You who hearken to the sound of weeping, that you put our tears in your flask for preservation
One of the prominent characteristics of the atmosphere of the synagogue on the night of Kol Nidre was the heavy air and stifling heat that emanated from the dozens and hundreds of burning wax candles. At the end of the service, all of the worshippers went out to the fresh air of early autumn, with their faces aglow and their eyes sparkling, as they wished everyone May you be sealed for the good (Gmar Chatima Tova). Even after I left the synagogue to set out for home, the echoes of the melody of Kol Nidre accompanied me, that moved the hearts of millions of Jews throughout the earth in the midst of this day, and united them in prayers for the realization of the desires of our souls, along with wishes for a good sealing of fate for the entire Jewish people.
After the Psukei Dezimra service, the cantor and worshippers would move over to the main part of the Shacharit service. He would sing The King Sitting on the high and loft throne in the traditional chant, as the congregation and choir answered after him. The Shacharit service of Yom Kippur is very long, but the traditional melodies blow a spirit of life into the recitation of the prayers, and they are pleasant to the ear. Those who were musically inclined among the congregation would assist the cantor by responding at set times. The Shmone Esrei of Shacharit is punctuated by hymns and poems that are unique to that day. In these prayers, the early generations bequeathed to us a long litany of traditional melodies and tunes, transmitted to us from generation to generation. Each year they sound as new, filled with the pleasantness and energy of youth.
After the Shacharit service, the Torah reading takes place from the portion of Acharei Mot, in which is mentioned the deaths of the two sons of Aaron the Priest, who were punished with the full measure of the law. The portion is read with the special melody for the Days of Awe. This melody is the cause of many debates among cantorial researchers who find in it remnants of centuries old Eastern motifs. Others disagree and say that this melody dates from the era of the First or Second Temple.
Of all the service of Yom Kippur, Musaf was dearest to us. We young people were interested with all the strands of our souls in the mysterious spirit that envelops this prayer, especially the wondrous segments of the Avoda section, which expresses the soulful embrace of the nation in its ancient glory at the time of the enactment of the holy service in the presence of large crowds and the glory of the King in the Holy Temple by the High Priest. The prostrations of Aleinu and the Avoda made a special impression upon us. The festive yet melancholy melodies penetrated the hearts, and the vision of the kneeling and prostration would move the thinnest strands of the heart, and instill fear and awe into it.
Prior to Musaf, after the Torah reading, the memorial service (Yizkor) was announced. It is the custom to pray for the souls of the dead and to pledge to charity in memory of their souls. In the Av Harachamim prayer, the souls of the holy martyrs who gave up their lives in Sanctification of the Divine Name, and the victims of the Holocaust are also mentioned. At the time that Yizkor is recited, those whose parents are alive leave the synagogue, so as not to create an opening for the Satan, and not to arouse the evil eye. During the Yizkor service, many women saw it as a propitious time to express their personal prayers. A middle-aged woman sat near me. Among her other petitions, she asked the Dweller On High to have mercy upon her daughter
who had reached marriageable age, and send her match to her, so that she should not remain Heaven forbid as an old spinster. Another woman who sat near me asked the Dweller On High to grant her strength to sustain her orphaned children honorably, so that she would not Heaven Forbid require the assistance of flesh and blood. Heartrending cries were also heard from the old women, who pleaded with all the warmth of their souls, Do not cast us away at the time of old age, as our strength fails do not abandon us. In general, during Yizkor, the crowding in the synagogue increased due to the presence of orphans and widows who came to recall the souls of their dear departed. People who were not seen in the synagogue all year would come to this service.
A certain disarray pervaded in the women's section during Yizkor and thereafter. Not all of the women were familiar with the Machzor, and many required the assistance of their neighbors who were more expert than they. There was no small number of women who also prepared appropriate equipment for the services: Machzors, the Korban Mincha Siddur, Chumashes with Yiddish translation, and also Tzena Urena. With all the trees, the forest could not be seen.
The Unetane Tokef prayer aroused a stormy spirit with the women. Its tragic content would touch the hearts of all the worshippers, especially the hearts of the women. Fear and trepidation overtook the worshippers during the recitation of this hymn, which was recited by everyone with emotion, and at times with wailing. The weeping was great during the time of the recitation of the section, On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on the fast day of Yom Kippur it is sealed, who shall live, and who shall die, for none merit before Your eyes in judgement. On the other hand, the shepherd's melody of Kevakarat (As a shepherd..) was enchanting and refreshing. On more than one occasion, women fainted in the midst of this hymn from the great emotion, and the doctor or their relatives had to be summoned. This accentuated the serious spirit of the moment, but on the other hand, it disturbed the service and impinged on the holiness.
The Avoda section came toward the end of the Musaf service. This describes in a dramatic fashion the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur during the time of the Temple. The congregation of worshippers, already tired from the fast and the long service, became alert once again during the Avoda service. The cantor sang And the Priests and the people gathered in the courtyard.. in the traditional melody, and as he arrived at They would kneel and bow down, all of the worshippers would fall on their faces as during the days of yore in the Temple. The content of the Avoda service was filled with warmth, and it appeared as new in our eyes each year. With natural longing for the splendid life of days gone by, the worshippers sung the concluding stanza: Indeed, how splendorous was the High Priest as he left the holy place in peace.
With this, the Yom Kippur prayers with all their experiences were not over. After the Mincha service came the Neila service as a conclusion to the prayers of Yom Kippur. The day turned into twilight. The wax candles cast a gloomy light, and all the worshippers felt as if a new spirit entered into their beings, and new powers were granted to them. Since this service was the last of the services of the day, one says and seal us instead of and inscribe us. Here, we also take the Dweller On High to task, and complain to Him about the disgrace of his nation that has been pillaged and displaced, and the disgrace of His holy city of Jerusalem, I recall G-d and am astonished, as I see every city built up on its base, and the city of G-d lies lowly to the pit. The Neila service concludes with the recitation of Shma Yisrael, the blowing of the shofar, and the declaration, Next Year in Jerusalem!
After the weekday evening service, the congregants disperse. The women and children hurry home, while the men remain next to the synagogue to recite the Sanctification of the Moon in groups.
The scene of the synagogue on the night of Simchat Torah was heartwarming and full of charm. The youth of the People of Israel were sitting on the benches, on the reader's podium (bima) and even on the worshippers' lecterns, with paper flags in their little hands. There was no toddler who did not long to go among the adults and fill a most important task: to raise the flag of the Jews with a high hand and outstretched arm. Atop the flag was a red apple, upon which was a small candle. The children were joyous at the advent of Simchat Torah, for on that day, they felt themselves equal with the adults. Furthermore, they would receive various sweets. At nightfall, the children of the city marched to the synagogue beside their fathers for the hakafot (Simchat Torah processions), as they waved their small flags with pride. That night, the girls were also permitted to participate in Simchat Torah in the synagogue, albeit not in the hakafot themselves. The synagogue was fully lit, and light and joy radiated from all faces. The children were overexcited from the great joy and enthusiasm. At times it seemed as if all of the festivals that preceded Simchat Torah, such as the days of Selichot (penitential prayers), the Days of Awe, Sukkot and Hoshana Rabba were nothing other than a preparation for Simchat Torah, when we would all declare with mirthful joy and deep seriousness: You were shown to know (Ata Hareita) .
How splendid was the hakafot procession around the bima in the synagogue. Everyone would encircle the bima, from the rabbi of the city to the water carrier. The children would follow after them with their flags in their hands, and even the girls would intermingle among the boys, and sing and dance. After the cantor concluded the reading of the verses of Ata Hareita, the hakafot were distributed.
With great noise and incessant tumult, a voice would call out from the bima, So and so the son of so and so, give honor to the Torah!. After all of the Torah scrolls were removed from the Holy Ark, the procession would begin with the cantor chanting Ana Hashem Hoshia Na (Please G-d, save us). After the hakafa, those who made the circuit would start to sing and dance, accompanied by the young and the old. The first hakafa would conclude, and the shamash or gabbai would once again stand up and declare the customary text: So and so the son of so and so, give honor to the Torah!. Thus went the second hakafa, and then the third and fourth. After each hakafa, joyous and mirthful songs and hymns were sung, and the dances were repeated. The hakafot were progressing in full force. The congregants were proud, their faces were aglow, and the joy of the festival was set upon them. Those who received the honor of the hakafot each did their part standing up, each in a different voice and different style. That is to say, the text was the same for everyone, but each person had his own voice and special melody, and each person was somewhat unsure and frightened about his own voice, so the verse came out confused and mixed up, in opposition to the will of the recitor. The strophe, Helper of the poor, please save us aroused special interest for the worshippers. Among those who kissed the Torah scrolls that were held in the hands of those honored with the hakafa were the women and girls, who bent their heads over the benches to kiss the Torah scrolls. This time, they were granted permission to kiss the holy Torah, and they made haste to place their soft lips upon the silk coverings of the Torah scrolls. The older boys, who already knew in their hearts the meaning of the kiss of a girl, would cunningly, during the crowding, place their hands between the Torah covers and the lips of the girls, so that they would receive the kiss. Laughter would break out among those who witnessed this, and the face of the girl would redden from shame. Those who were honored with the hakafot were given great honor. For the first hakafa, they generally honored the rabbi and important people of the city. The procession of the bright flags of the young children was one of the most precious ceremonies of Simchat Torah. The festival of Simchat Torah was considered as a national festival, in which men, women and children took part. The participation of children in this festival was very noticeable, and it is no wonder that the children would await impatiently all year.
A Purim celebration in the
Shomer Hatzair headquarters, 1938
After the fast day of Taanit Esther, we went to the home of my uncle and grandmother to hear the Megilla reading. The children were equipped with their graggers (noisemakers) in honor of Purim, and they would make noise with their graggers whenever the name of Haman was recited during the Megilla reading. The next morning, my uncle went to the synagogue, and our aunt spread a white, shiny tablecloth on the table, upon which she places a large chala, and all types of cookies and hamantaschen, bottles of wine and liquor, as well as an earthenware plate with a great deal of coins in the denomination of 10 or 15 agorot (groszy) in order to distribute to the poor. In the morning of Purim, the Megilla was once again read in the synagogue, and once again, the children spun their graggers and banged the lecterns to blot out Haman. However, the noise in the morning was measured. When we left the synagogue, we saw that the stores were open, and everyone was conducting their business like an ordinary weekday, we felt bad and the taste of the joy of the festival was dampened. However, salvation came in the second half of the day, when the stores were closed, and we had light and joy. People began to prepare themselves for the Purim feast, and begin to distribute Mishloach Manot (the giving of food portions to each other). The bearers of the gift packages spread through the city. The door of our house was not closed for several hours. One was still talking, and the next one came.
Toward evening, our uncle and all the invited guests gathered around the table. With a feeling of contentment, our uncle cut the Purim challa lengthwise, in memory of the situation with Agag the King of Amalek, upon whom King Saul had mercy and left alive despite the order of the prophet Samuel to not have mercy upon the seed of Amalek. The prophet was forced to rend him in half with his own hands in the city of Gilgal. The table was bedecked as on a festival, with a variety of food and drink. Our aunt had just served the fish, and the door opened, and a group of youths dressed in masks and costumes entered. These were the Joseph Players troupe, which would annually make the rounds to the houses of the city notables and perform the play of the sale of Joseph. This was a complete and splendid play, with expertise and tradition, both with respect to the content and with respect tot he play itself. The performance drew tears from our eyes, and at the conclusion, the actors received their reward, both
in the form of money from my uncle, and with a Lechaim over drinks and various baked goods. As this troupe left, a second group of disguised people entered, who performed the play of Queen Esther, Mordechai the Jew, and King Achashverosh. They also received their reward for their performance. Aside from the troupes, many children dressed in masks came. They entered the room of those partaking in the feast with great noise and tumult, as they would sing various songs and hymns. We would sit and listen to their hymns and jokes, as our souls were filled with enjoyment. One of the hymns that sticks in my mind is as follows,
Happy Purim angel, where I go I fall;There were various plays. Not all of them were performed well by the actors. However, every play was performed with alertness and feeling. The performance of the Sale of Joseph was particularly well received, for it was always a great experience for the audience. Everyone enjoyed it, and lovingly remembered it and its wonderful melodies. This play would either be elongated or shortened, depending on the time that the actors had and the importance of the hosts.
My beard is long, my wife is ill,
Today is Purim, tomorrow is not
Give me a coin and toss me out.
The Mishloach Manot played an important role in this holiday. The bearers of gifts spread out through the city with their napkin-wrapped platters in hand. The door of the house did not close for several hours. There were two types of Mishloach Manot: those to relatives, family, and general friends, and those to clergy. It was easier to arrange the Mishloach Manot for the clergy for them the main thing was the hard, clanging coin that was placed atop of it. It was more difficult to prepare Mishloach Manot for members of the family. For these, it was usual to study carefully the gifts that were received, and to ensure that the return gift was designed in such proportions so as not to cause embarrassment, Heaven forbid. The men did not pay attention to this entire matter. However, the women saw it as very important, and treated it seriously. Often, the issue of Mishloach Manot caused an argument in the family
Women were among those who came to request Purim money. This included pious women who served as the focal point of the offering of assistance in the city, whether to the sick, the poor, or householders who had come upon hard times and required financial help in their time of need. The students of the Hebrew school and members of the youth movements, such as Hashomer Hatzair, Achva, Hechalutz, the Revisionists, etc. were also not absent. They came with the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund) boxes in their hands, and asked the Jews of the city to donate generously. Indeed, the Jews of our city distributed their donations on the day of Purim generously and with an open hand. As the celebrants were of good spirit with wine, they raised their voices in song, primarily with the hymn of Shoshanat Yaakov (The Jews of Shushan were glad and joyous as they together saw Mordechai dressed in purple), with the Yiddish addendum, Haman wished to murder the Jews, but he himself was hanged. My uncle added his own verse to this hymn: Master of the universe, may the downfall of Haman be visited upon all enemies of Israel, and may the grace of Queen Esther be poured upon all the daughters of Israel.
Slowly, those feasting would turn to joking and lightheartedness. The drinking was as customary without bounds. The joy aroused song, and the song became more enthusiastic. The hours of the night would be spent in song and dance, with joy and pride beaming from every face, with the hope and comfort that all the enemies of the Jews would thus be destroyed and would never arise again. Our aunt added that everyone who starts up with the Nation of Israel should meet the same end as the evil Haman, and all those at the table answered simultaneously, Amen, Amen, may it be His will. The guests took leave of our aunt and uncle with kisses and good wishes, promising to visit again soon. They left the house with a joyous heart, a light gait and an exalted mood.
The Keren Kayemet LeYisrael
(Jewish National Fund) Committee:
Muniu Buchwald, Moshe Erde of blessed memory,
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