My Brother and Teacher
Translated by Ariel Distenfeld I am not going to write about Hanoch the grammarian and philologist. Others did and will do it better, both during his lifetime and after his passing. In this short note I want to mention some details from his life. As opposed to my other brothers who left our home before my birth, I had the opportunity to be in his company at home for several years. He was thirteen years my senior, and during that time period, until he left home, he educated me and I learned a lot from him.
Like his older brothers, he learned Torah from tutors and became known for his diligence and brilliance. I mention here that the local rabbi, Chayim Leibish Hamerling had high hopes for him and during the period when he studied with the tutors he used to examine him frequently and enjoy the depth of his knowledge. However, Hanoch was captivated by Zionism even before he left home, and besides Talmud he started to study by himself general knowledge, the languages of the land and other tongues, and in time began preparations for extern matriculation exams, including Hebrew grammar.
That year I left the cheder and Hanoch continued to teach me Gemara, Bible and grammar, Hebrew and of course general studies. He loved being alone and studying in the quiet atmosphere of the nearby forest, or in one of the farm buildings or the fruit orchard around the house. Apparently I was a good pupil, as he devoted many hours to my studies, telling me tales and especially emphasizing the Bible. He would chastise me when I deserved it. He carried on with the discipline of a rabbi. He was not fond of my brother who was two years my junior (killed in the Holocaust) because he did not pay attention.
In time Hanoch rented a room in Lopatyn, studying by himself and teaching Hebrew to youths. Hanoch, like his elder brothers, did not care to take part in the workings of the farm, apparently because of Father's influence, whose wish was for his children to learn Torah, and even more so because of Mother's influence whose desire was that her children would not be farmers but people. But Hanoch told me that as a child he used to shepherd our cows in the field.
Hanoch was nostalgic about the beauty of the surrounding area, the large fruit
orchard around our house and the cherry, pear and apple trees where he would
seclude himself in the shade. But he was not attracted to agriculture. He
taught himself bookbinding and would bind his books himself. It was said
he a fashionable thing in those days. He also learned accounting and
bookkeeping (in German) and ordered books from abroad, in Polish and German,
and various dictionaries.
At that time a touch of Haskala crept into Father's house and in the bookcase dwelled the Talmud together with books in foreign languages and even a remnant of a Bible with a commentary by Mendelson. (I said a remnant since it remained even though the commentary was sentenced to burning by Father.) Now Father viewed it differently, and certainly Mother, who was always very liberal, did as well.
Slowly there began to be seen in Lopatyn the buds of Haskala under the influence of Hanoch and his young friends who surrounded him. The first gymnasium students appeared, sons of Reb Zalman Leib Wasser and the sons of Reb Pinhas Winkler (my paternal brother-in-law), a Husiatyn Chassid, who studied in a gymnasium (high school) in Brody. I should mention that the Belz Chassidim gave Reb Pinhas such a hard time that he had to leave Lopatyn with his family and move to Brody, where a Jewish gymnasium student was no longer a rare phenomenon.
At age 18 he left Lopatyn (the village Tritki was a Sabbath border from Lopatyn) and moved to Lemberg where he completed his extern studies and passed two levels of the matriculation exam in Byelsk (Bilitz). Because of his physical frailty he was rejected by the military and supported himself by giving courses in Hebrew and general studies. Throughout that time he kept a mail correspondence with me, sent me Hebrew pamphlets to read and on his visits home for the holidays he would examine my knowledge. He especially emphasized my studies in Bible and grammar and always said turn it over and over, everything is in it. I must mention that already then our entire correspondence was in Hebrew. In 1916 when the Russian invaders retreated from Lwow, he left Galicia and went to Vienna, where he completed his studies and supported himself by teaching. At the end of 1919 he married Zipora, daughter of Shmariahu Imber (brother of N. H. Imber, the author of Hatikva)
On the sixth day of Kislev 5682 (1921) he made aliya and lived variously in the Ahva, Ezrat Israel and Nahlat Shiva neighborhoods of Jerusalem. His last apartment was in the Geula quarter where he lived for about thirty years. Beginning in his youth he developed migraine headaches that continued throughout his life. In the Mizrahi seminary where he taught, invited by the principle director Lipshits, he sometimes was compelled to stop his lessons because of the migraines. Nonetheless, most of the time he was immersed in work in his large library that was chock-full of books. His many and rare books spilled over into adjacent rooms. During the last years of his life he suffered with other ailments and he underwent several surgical operations but recovered and even his migraine passed. His face was relaxed and pleasant and it became possible for him to collect his numerous articles into a book, but he was not privileged to see it published.
On the last evening of his life he was engaged in proofreading his book. He went to sleep and early in the morning suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He was taken to a hospital and on the 12th of Adar I 5730 (1970) he died. He was 85 years old. His wife Zipora passed away two years later at the age of 78. Their daughter Lea, may she live a long life, resides with her husband Eliezer and her two daughters in Kiriat Bialik.
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