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[Pages 49 - 50]

Rabbi Naphtali of Ropshitz

by Miriam Bar-Haim (Kurz),
based on “Sarei Hameah” by Rabbi Maimon

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

Rabbi Naphtali of Ropshitz belonged to the distinguished Horowitz family. He was born, according to the Hasidic tradition, on the day that Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov died, on Shavuot, 5520. For this reason the Hasidim of Ropshitz used to say that it was from the holy sparks that emanated from the soul of the Baal Shem Tov that Rabbi Naphtali rose to such a lofty level. Rabbi Naphtali died on the 11th of Iyar, 5587.

On Rabbi Naphtali were bestowed three crowns: he was a great Torah scholar, he was a great Hasidic leader, and he was famous for his keen intelligence.

The following story is told about Rabbi Naphtali, when he was still a youth living in the home of his father, Rabbi Menahem Mendel, the Rabbi of Liska: The Polish authorities treated the Jews cruelly, and the Jews suffered quietly under this treatment. Hot headed youths plotted to take revenge on these enemies of the Jewish people. One day two Christian officials of the Polish authorities, who had maltreated the Jews, were found dead. The Christian masses were about to start a pogrom against the Jews. A priest who was a friend of the Jews, and the police chief stopped the wild mobs, and turned to the Rabbi and demanded that he turn over the “murderers” to the police. The young Naphtali, who knew Polish, said to the priest: “If the Jews are really murderers, then the Christians are to blame much more than the Jews, according to the verse “For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee…” (Obadiah, Chapter 1, Verse 10). It is well known that the sons of Jacob are not murderers, and it is Esau who lives by the sword. Jacob has known the hard hand of Esau. Our brothers are murdered, maimed and robbed, and the government does not interfere for the Jews. The officials and the police should be ashamed that they have allowed this to come to the point where the sons of Jacob have become murderers.”

Among the jokes about his wife, the following is told: It is said that there are four levels in nature: inanimate, vegetable, animal, and the speaking man. I know a fifth: the speaking woman. The cook burned the food. After finishing the meal, the “Rebbetzin” started to curse the cook. The Rebbe said to her, you are committing a sin. It is written: “You shall eat, and you shall be sated, and you shall bless.” You, however, have eaten and been sated, and have cursed.

I heard the following story from my mother, Haya Kurz, of blessed memory: There was a house at the end of the street leading from the
market. The tenant in this house was not religiously observant. Stones began to fall off from the roof. Rabbi Naphtali came to the house, and drove out the demons with his prayers. After that the stones stopped falling from the roof. All the people of the town saw the miracle.

There are many stories, parables and legends told about Rabbi Naphtali, and many of them are written in Hasidic literature. He possessed great talents. He was very wise, sharp-witted, and merry, with a good sense of humor. With all this he was basically simple and warm hearted. His name went before him throughout the Jewish world.


[Pages 51 - 53]

Excerpts from
“Tzidkat Hechacham”

by Aviezer Burstein
on the life and teachings of the saintly Rabbi Naphtali of Ropshitz

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

Shabbat, of the weekly Torah portion of Shoftim, at the third Sabbath meal (“seudah shlishit”), in the Study Hall(“Bet Midrash”) in Rimanov. There were very many seated around the table – more than usual – because a large delegation had come to Rebbe Menachem Mendele from the town of Ropshitz, to ask who is worthy to fill the vacant position of Rabbi. During the meal, the Rebbe expounded on the verse from the weekly Torah portion: “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee…” (Deuteronomy, Chapter 16, Verse 18). The Rebbe interpreted this to mean that when Jews choose a Rabbi for themselves, they must choose one about whom it can be said: “the Lord your G-d gives you”, meaning they must choose one who is able to instill the fear of the Lord in the people. The delegates from Ropshitz immediately understood that he was referring to them and their mission. Suddenly a heavy male voice was heard saying: “Rabbi Naphtali should leave his business as a wine merchant and become the Rabbi of Ropshitz”. The next morning the Ropshitz delegates found Rabbi Naphtali in his father-in- law's place of business, sitting and studying. They told him about what had been said at the Shabbat afternoon meal and asked him for his answer. Rabbi Naphtali smiled and invited them to his home, served them refreshments, and said: “I never intended to serve as a Rabbi. There are other occupations in which a Jew can earn a living, and if you ask me why I have until now declined to serve as a Rabbi, I will explain it to you. A Rabbi must earn his living from the people in the community in which he serves. Therefore, he tries to find favor in their eyes and to please them. But last Friday something happened which completely changed my mind. Leibka, the owner of the bath house, went out of his way to find favor in the eyes of the rich lord of the town. When I saw this “dancing” around, I said to myself, if even a bath attendant goes so much out of his way to flatter a rich lord, then it is better to be a Rabbi. A contract to serve as Rabbi was then drawn up between him and the delegates from Ropshitz.

Rabbi Naphtali came to Ropshitz before the Shabbat of the Torah portion “Vayera” to give his first sermon. The people of the town gathered by the bridge near the mill to receive him. The men came to receive a blessing of peace from their new Rabbi. The Rabbi requested wine and refreshments for all, and asked all to sing “Baruch Elokainu shebra'anu lichvodo” (Blessed be our Lord who created us in his honor). The people drank wine and wished him well, and a musician played melodies, and the town was filled with a joyous feeling such had never before occurred.

The Rabbi began his sermon the next day with: “My distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is customary that a Rabbi's sermon should have three essential elements. His words must be words of truth, they should be short, and they should be connected with the weekly Torah portion. I can fulfill all this by simply saying that I do not know the weekly portion. This would be short, truthful and connected with the weekly portion!” The audience enjoyed this joke, but Rabbi Naphtali immediately became serious and started to delve into a subtle halachic discussion in which he quoted various sources from both the early and later halachic literature. Most of the people were unable to follow this complex discussion. After that he moved on to the realm of “agadah” (parables and allegory) and told stories and legends that the less learned in the audience could greatly enjoy. When he finished, all the Jews of Ropshitz now knew that they were very fortunate in their choice of Rabbi Naphtali to be their Rabbi.

More from the same book:

The small town of Ropshitz, in Western Galicia, is hidden behind a ridge of the Carpathian Mountains. The whole town consists only of a market place with a large puddle in the middle, and a few alleys with huts covered with straw roofs. No one would even have heard of the place were it not for Rabbi Naphtali who established his residence purposely in this out of the way town. Rabbi Naphtali expressed this fact in his own particular way: “Who is the man who knows his place?” This refers to a man who makes his place known to all, so that all will know his place of residence and the place of his glory…

Thanks to Rabbi Naphtali, Ropshitz became famous. Its fame was widespread, as if it were the great capital of a large country.


[Page 54]

An excerpt from the
“Sefer Hachasidut” of David Alfasi

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

Rabbi Naphtali Zvi Horowitz, the Rabbi of Ropshitz, was the outstanding student of the Rebbe of Lizinsk, and a favorite student of Hachoze Milublin” (“The Seer of Lublin”), “Hamagid Mikoznitz” (The “Preacher of Koznitz), and Rebbe Mendely of Riminov. He was the author of the books “Zera Hakodesh”, “Ayalah Sh'lucha” and “Torah u-Moadim”. On his tombstone is inscribed: “Yachid b'doro b'chochmat Elokut” (Singularly outstanding in his generation in divine wisdom).


[Pages 54 - 57]

The Rebbe Rav Naphtali,
of blessed memory

by Yaakov Reiss

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

It was known to all the Jews of the Shtetl that years ago a great, righteous and saintly man, the Rebbe, Rav Naphtali, served as our rabbi. The people would often speak of his righteousness and of the wonders he performed. One could almost say that his spirit was still hovering over the town.

Parables told in Ropshitz about Rebbe Rav Naphtali:

Our ancestors in Ropshitz suffered greatly from demons who were called “clowns” because of the strange pranks they performed. Here is what they used to do: They would come to the town and go up on the roofs and prance around in groups, smoking long pipes. They would insert the pipes into the chimneys, and from there into the pots cooking on the stoves, and would drink the soup and everything else that was being cooked, without leaving anything for the family to eat. Sometimes they would come into the houses, remove bricks from the wall, and throw them on people passing in the street. The whole wall was destroyed by this prank. The Jews of Ropshitz moaned and suffered but were unable to do anything to save themselves.

And then Rabbi Naphtali came to serve as the Rabbi of Ropshitz, and the people of the town came and pleaded with him to rescue them from this great affliction. They described to him how the “clowns” came to the town from time to time, and the terrible pranks they performed. The Rabbi told them to bring him a whip and to let him know the next time they came to town. And so the next time they came, the people immediately told the Rabbi who promptly went out to meet them with the whip in his hand. With the whip raised over them, he raised his voice to them and drove them away, warning them that if they should come again they would meet their bitter end. The “clowns” never came again and the people of Ropshitz were relieved of this affliction.

I heard this story from my grandmother Hentche.

[There follows a long poem, telling this same story in rhyme.]

A wise saying by Rabbi Naphtali: One who does not try to take his place, has a place in any place.

(Published in the newspaper “Yediyot Aharonot”, Friday, 24th of Elul, 5744 – Sept. 21, 1984)


[Pages 58 - 60]

Other articles which have appeared
in recent years in Israeli newspapers
about the wisdom and deeds of Rabbi Naphtali

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

“Maariv”, Sukkot 1969: “Words of our Ancestors in the Sukkot of the Righteous”, excerpted by Y. Ben-Moshe:

It was said about Rabbi Naphtali of Ropshitz that he was a “patron” of the mitzvah of Sukkah. He was busy all year with matters concerning the Sukkah. Every day he would do something in preparation for the Sukkah or for its decorations. If he wasn't able to do that, he would sit and learn the tractate “Sukkah” in the Talmud. He would repeatedly say: Among all the mitzvot there is none like the mitzvah of Sukkah, which one fulfills with one's entire body by entering it with all one's clothing and shoes. Although Shabbat also encompasses the entire body, observance of Shabbat is performed passively. One enters Shabbat when it comes. The mitzvah of Sukkot, on the other hand, is observed actively when one enters the Sukkah, sits in it, eats and drinks in it, and sleeps in it. It was said that Rabbi Naphtali's soul was hewn from the heavenly Sukkah, and therefore his descendents paid special attention to Sukkah decorations, using “parochot” (curtains covering the holy ark in the synagogue), carpets, etrogim, fruits of the seven species of the Land of Israel, colored paper lanterns, and paper birds. Paper hens with outstretched wings would hover over the heads of those sitting in the Sukkah. The worthy men of Ropshitz would refer to the latter when they gave their talks about Torah while seated at the table in the Sukkah. They would compare the Sukkah to a mother bird feeding her young and then spreading her wings over them in protection. This symbolized the way the Lord treats his people; on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur He allots food for us for the whole year, and afterwards places us under his wings in the Sukkah to protect us…

“Maariv”, April 1969: “At Least He Should Suffer”:

A handful of very religious Jews from Jerusalem and Bnei Brak fasted on “Yom Ha'atsmaut” (Israel Independence Day) in order to show that they do not identify with this national holiday. Member of Knesset Yitzchak Raphael, who was known for his interest in Hasidism, reacted to this by saying: The Tzadik (righteous man) Rabbi Naphtali from Ropshitz once entered the Bet Midrash (study hall) and saw a Yeshiva student praying with great devotion while hitting his head. The Tzadik sighed and said: If the boy is doing this out of true devotion, it is admirable, but if this behavior stems from mistaken, foolish piety or if he is just pretending to show how pious he is, then at least he should suffer from a head ache…

“Maariv”, 5734, in the section called “Events that Occurred”:

There were wise men among the Rebbes, such as Rabbi Naphtali of Ropshitz, who once said: I am not afraid of “Geihinom” (Hell), a long as they don't seat me in “Gan Eden” (Paradise) next to a fool. He often said: A Jew must be good-hearted, dedicated and clever all together. One who is good-hearted alone is an adulterer, one who is clever alone is a thief, and one who is dedicated alone is a fool.

The wise Rabbi Naphtali told this story: In my whole life no one ever got the better of me except for one small girl. I once was in the small town of Zabov, a town the size of the palm of my hand. There were only ten Jews in the town, but it had a synagogue and a cemetery. I met a young girl in the street and asked her: If you have a synagogue in which to pray with a minyan (ten men), why do you need a cemetery, because if one of the men should die, you won't have a minyan so you won't need a synagogue? She answered me that we only have a cemetery for those who come to visit us.

Rabbi Naphtali was born in 5520 (1759) and died in 5587 (1826).


[Pages 61 - 63]

Typical figures from the Shtetl,
as I remember them

by Yehoshua Gold

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

Shlomo the shoemaker:

My family was not one of his customers, because we lived in a different area, but I loved to go to listen to his songs in Yiddish, some of which he composed himself. He was very poor but was always satisfied with his lot. I remember some of his compositions to this day. I will always be able to picture him in my mind as long as I live. “Tihiye nafsho tzrurah b'tzror hachaim.” (May his soul be bound in everlasting life.)

Moshe Zeiden:

He was the son of the head of the community. When I was still a small boy, he was already a young adult. He studied a lot, but his considerable learning only resulted in his thoughts and ideas becoming confused. He would talk to himself as he walked, perhaps because people did not understand him. In the evenings he used to look up into the sky and saw wonderful things there. He would share his impressions with anyone who would listen to him, even children, and he explained to us about astronomy. After the war, the Christians told me that he had written a book, but the book was never found. It might be that the world lost an important book!

Wagon drivers:

I remember three wagon drivers in Ropshitz:

“Reb” Nachum lived not far from the synagogue. He was tall, with a trimmed beard. He loved his horse more than anything else. When he died, his son-in-law, Fishel Berger, took over for him. Fishel had three daughters, one of whom survived. I believe that Fishel and his horse got old together. Often, when I would ride home with him from the train station, I would get out when we went uphill, in order to lighten the load. Like most of the Jews of the Shtetl, he wore a “shtrimel” (fur hat) on Shabbat, even when he brought his horse to the river to drink.

The third wagon driver was Berele. His father-in-law was a merchant who sold horses, but since he wasn't a good businessman he became a wagon driver. He was a very religious Jew, and so became the wagon driver of the Rabbi. It is told that once he demanded an exaggerated fee for moving the Rabbi's furniture, because, he said, there were three who had worked: himself, his horse, and his wagon! The Rabbi wasn't able to stand up against such an argument!

Yehudis'l:

She was the daughter of Reb Yehudah Melamed. She lived in the center of town, in one room with her many daughters. This one room also served as the workshop of her husband, Zusha, who was a tailor. Zusha considered himself to be a better tailor than all the others. Unfortunately, the customers thought otherwise! His family, therefore, lived in poverty. I recall a story which all the town laughed at: There was a doctor in town name Brand. He was a “m'shumad” (apostate) who had married the daughter of the Polish mayor of the town, named Borstein. Because of her poverty and crowded conditions Yehudis'l visited the doctor very frequently. Once, after the doctor had not seen her for a while, he met her in the street and asked how she and her children were feeling. She answered him: All the m'shumadim (apostates) should feel like we do!

Pesach'l Desser:

He was one of the “progressive” Jews of the town. His blond beard was neatly trimmed, and on Shabbat the Shtrimel on his head was mischievously cocked to one side. He had a leather store in the center of town, but he didn't do much business because earning a living was not of most importance to him. His main interest was being a “shaliach tzibur” (one who leads the prayers in the synagogue). To his sorrow, however, he was not allowed to do this in the Shtetl. To compensate for this, he organized a group of young men and formed a choir, and went with them to surrounding villages to pray on the High Holidays. It was there that he was able to demonstrate his talents. He himself composed melodies for “piyutim” (poetic passages in the prayers).

Pesach'l tried to be away from home as much as possible because of his wife, a “Cossack-like” woman who didn't understand him. There wasn't much love between them. When their relations became critical, after the birth of their first son, they went to the Rabbi to be divorced. The Rabbi, who wanted to make peace between them, advised them to wait until their second child is born, after which they could divide things equally between them when they are divorced. What did fate do? They had twins!

His golden opportunity came when war broke out. He then fled eastward, as many men did, to avoid being conscripted into the army. I met him in Lwow, in the winter of 1939, in the “Bet Hamidrash” (study hall), where most of the men who had fled from Ropshitz had gathered. These included Mendel and Moshe Goldner, Hersch Hillel Weitz, Haim Parker, Naphtali and Yissacher Hezenkopf, Gedaliah Balfeld, Yitzchak and Avraham Ruck. We had a special table in this Bet Midrash, where we would sit and sing all the songs from Ropshitz, especially the melodies composed by Pesach'l Desser. He would lead this choir. How unfortunate it was that most of these men returned to their families in Ropshitz that winter, and were killed with all the people of the Shtetl.


[Pages 64 - 67]

Wise Sayings, Tales and Jokes
of the Jews of Ropshitz

by Yaakov Reiss

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

Yehudah Leibish Kurz, the enlightened and Zionist author, would often debate about Zionism with the Hasidim. The Hasidim would say: Our Rebbes are opposed to Zionism, so you see that it is forbidden. Reb Leibish Kurz, who was also a pious Jew, would answer them: The Rebbe is, indeed, familiar with the heavenly pathways, where he safely walks, but walking here, on earth, he stumbles and falls over a straw.

Reb Pinchas Moshe was a lovable Jew, overflowing with humor and wise sayings. Here is one of his sayings: Why did Rav Avraham Danziger name his book about Jewish law, “Hayei Adam” (“Man's Life”)? Because after Rav Yosef Karo wrote his “Shulchan Aruch” (which comprises an extensive compilation of all Jewish law), Rav Shlomo Ganzfried wrote “Kitzur Shulchan Aruch” (a shortened version of one aspect of the “Shulchan Aruch”), and Reb Pinchas Moshe didn't want anyone to write a shortened version of his book. No one would write a book called “Kitzur Hayei Adam” (“Shortened Man's Life”)!

Reb Yankel Zeigermacher (Burstein) was a very poor man who had daughters in America. Once, his daughters sent him a ticket to come to America. He went, but a short while later he was again seen sitting in his regular place in the kloiz (prayer house), praying from his siddur (prayer book). Why did you come back? Who comes back from America after only a few weeks? Reb Yankel answered them: How can one live there? Even the stones are treifa (not kosher)! Reb Pinchas Moshe answered: Who told you to eat stones? One eats bread! One eats meat!

Nachum'le Desser was not known for being very religiously observant. On one occasion several men came to the kloiz (prayer house) and said that they had seen him eating a non-kosher sausage in the store belonging to the Pole Burstein. This caused considerable agitation, and when Nachum'le appeared he was strongly criticized. Nachum'le denied the accusation. The men then told him that he had been seen holding the sausage and eating it. Nachum'le answered: “It was not a sausage, it was a date (“taitel” in Yiddish)”. “But it was something large and thick” replied the men. “It was a large date” answered Nachum'le. At that point Reb Pinchas Moshe intervened and said: “In that case it was not a “taitel” (with the diminutive ending “el”), it was a “toit”! (a “dead one”).

More about Nachum'le: In those days, fliers, which came from Eretz Yisrael (Palestine), would sometimes be posted on the walls, telling about the economic distress of the Jews there, and asking for financial help. Once, such a flier appeared on the door of the kloiz (prayer house), on which was written in large letters: “Ra'av gadol sorer ba'aretz” (great hunger reigns here), and on the next line: “Ki kaved ha-ra'av m'od” (the hunger is very severe). A crowd gathered to read the flier, and among them was Nachum'le. He said: “Ma ze? Tzvay 'rav-en', un ayn m'shorer!!” (Two Rabbis and one poet!!). [This is a play on the words “ra'av” (hunger) and “rav” (Rabbi), and on the words “sorer” (reigns) and “m'shorer” (poet).]

Reb Ara'le Blut and Reb Lebe'le, who was a descendant of “Tzadikim” (righteous men), studied together in “heder” in their youth. They were friends, but sometimes quarreled, as friends do. Once, during a quarrel, Ara'le said to Lebe'le: “What are you boasting so much about? In learning we are both equal. In writing we are both equal. So what if you are the grandson of Reb Asher? I know how to swim and you don't!

My brother, Avraham Reis, was a very learned man. Here is something he said: There is a Yiddish expression “Fun zugen vert man nisht trugen” (One doesn't get pregnant from words). Where in the Bible is there a hint for this? The answer is in Psalms, Chapter 75, where it is written: “Ki lo mimotza umima'arav, v'lo mi-midbar harim” (Neither from the east nor from the west, nor from the desert can one be lifted up). (This is apparently a play on words, comparing the Yiddish “zugen”, which means ” speaking words”, with the Hebrew “midbar”, which means “desert” but its letters – m d b r – could also mean” speaking words”.)

It is a winter evening and the Jews of the Shtetl have gathered in the kloiz (prayer house) for the afternoon and evening prayers. The place is completely filled. After the prayers, as usual, most of the men do not go directly home. Some remain and engage in quiet conversation. The more learned ones sit at tables, light the small lamps which hang above the tables, and begin to study. Some engage in the study of Mishna, led by Reb Naphtali Lender or others. Some old men sit around the hot stove and tell stories about Tzadikim (righteous men). Many of the men stand around in groups near the western wall, discussing various matters. The discussions are vigorous and loud. From the opposite side of the kloiz are heard voices studying Gemorah: “Abaye says… Rava says…what does this teach us?...” In the middle of the kloiz there is a mingling of voices: the sing-song voices of those studying the Gemorah and the noise of those just conversing, but one does not disturb the other, and it is warm and good and pleasant. Suddenly, a loud, strong voice calls out from one of the corners of the room, silencing the other voices. It is a voice singing one of the prayers from the High Holidays: “As long as man's soul is in him”. The men are astounded and amazed at what they hear. What does the prayer “As long as man's soul is in him” have to do with the evening of an ordinary weekday? Eyes are turned to where the voice is coming from, and there stands Reb Shmuel Yitzchak Rosemarin on a bench, singing this prayer! It turns out that in a conversation between Reb Leibesh Lazar and Reb Shmuel Yitzchak, who was a “Ba'al Tefilah” (a man who leads the prayer service), Reb Leibesh said to him: I will give you a glass of beer if you will stand up on a bench and sing “As long as a man's soul is in him”. Reb Shmuel Yitchak then stood on the bench and his powerful voice rang out in the kloiz: “As long as a man's soul is in him, G-d yearns for the repentance of man, who was fashioned from His earth, to grant him life and ultimate benefit.”


[Pages 68 - 69]

Recollections

by Sarah Avraham

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

A story is told about Rav Shmuel Zingvel Birnbaum, who was close to Rabbi Naphtali of Ropshitz. One morning he came into the Rabbi's room and found him sitting by his table, looking depressed, with his face turned down. He bent down and crawled under the table. The Rabbi looked up and asked him what he was doing there. “I am looking for the Rabbi's nose”, he answered.

There was one woman, called Frima Malkah, who was known for her exaggerated religiosity. Whenever she came into a house, she would open the door with her elbow, because one of her hands was for dairy food and the other was for meat food. Only with her elbow was she able to avert any chance of making anything “treifah” (non-kosher).

There was one house which the prophet Elijah had to enter twice on the night of the Seder. This was the house of Leah Rosemarin. There, each one of the couple would separately recite the passage “Sh'foch Chamatcha” (the passage in the Haggadah which is recited when the door is opened to invite the prophet Elijah to come in). Once, when she went to open the door, her long skirt got caught. “Really now, Reb Elijah, that's not proper for you”, she said!

Our neighbor, Golda Alter, would come in every afternoon, to chatter with my mother (may G-d avenge her death). In the summer they would sit on a bench outside, and in the winter they sat by the stove in the kitchen. She would talk about everyone and everything in the Shtetl. When she got up to leave, she would wrap her shawl around her and say: “I think I didn't speak any idle gossip about anyone!”

Once when I was sitting with my friend Idel, the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Rubin, we were talking about one of the girls, and were saying things which were not very praiseworthy. Rabbanit Mirrile Halberstam came in and criticized us for talking gossip, and then, by the way, said “it's better to speak perversely about a women than not to mention her at all; the main thing is to speak.”

Fruma Malka used to wash off the meat in the stream, especially before Passover. Once, before Passover, she was washing off the chicken she had bought, as she usually did. This time, since the current is very strong in the spring, the chicken was washed away in the stream. Just then, the carriage of the non-Jewish governor of the district was crossing on the bridge, and he saw how miserable the woman looked. Out of pity for her he promised to buy her another chicken.

Once, during a very severe winter, a farmer brought a goose to the market to be sold. He was the only farmer who had come to the market. Because of this, he demanded an exaggerated price for the goose. The Shtetl's clown had an idea, and he asked all the buyers to repeat after him what he said. He approached the farmer and asked him what is the price of the rooster. Several buyers repeated the same thing after him, as he had instructed them. Out of desperation, the farmer said: “When I left home I took a goose with me, and now in the town it has turned into a rooster!


[Pages 70 - 73]

The Second World War:
Men Who Fought in the War as Soldiers

by Yehoshua Gold

Translated by Aryeh Wanderman

In our youth we liked to hear stories about men who served under the command of Austrian King Franz Josef in the First World War. We thought there wouldn't be another war and we wouldn't have the opportunity to experience these things. As is known, the Austrian authorities were very liberal and they treated the Jews kindly, including the Jews of Galicia. During the rule of Franz Josef, Jews reached the highest positions. In the Austrian army, as well, Jews were welcomed into the highest ranks. After the First World Was, when free Poland was established, all this came to an end. Jewish soldiers were not given the chance to advance, and because of this no Jew was eager to serve. In the end, when the Second World War broke out, the Polish government didn't have time to mobilize the reserves, and the end result is well known. When the Germans invaded, some of the young people left the Shtetl and went to the areas controlled by the Russians, in order to avoid the humiliation which they had already heard about. Some of them were arrested immediately after the crossed the San River which marked the border. Those who did succeed in crossing found it very difficult to adjust. When Christmas came they assumed that the Germans would be drunk, and they smuggled themselves back across the border to the side controlled by the Germans. They didn't realize what was waiting for them and most of them were annihilated .

Among those who were arrested by the Russians was a young man named Feivel Green, the son of Yosef Green, a learned Jew who used to give lessons in the Bet Midrash (study hall). His grandfather was the first Jewish victim of the first bombing of the Shtetl. After his arrest Feivel was sent to northern Russia, an area where there is no night in the summer, and in the winter the day is very short and the temperature reaches minus 50°.

In 1941, when the Germans attacked Russia, and the Russians were forced to ask the help of their allies, the British made it conditional on the Russians negotiating with the exiled Polish government headed by Sikorski. The exiled government demanded the release of all the Polish nationals imprisoned in Russia. Among them, Feivel was also freed. Without clothing and without any money, he wandered to central Asia, looking for a warmer climate. He barely existed until 1943 when he enlisted in the Polish army, named after the leftist poetess Wanda Washilvaska, which came into being under the auspices of Russia. He served in the artillery and advanced with the front, together with the Russians, until they reached German territory. At one point the Germans stopped their retreat and intended to counter-attack. The Polish command ordered Feivel's unit to retreat. The non-Jewish soldiers retreated, without telling Feivel about the command, and he remained alone with his mortar. He operated the mortar in place of three men who were in the original crew, and continued firing even more than before. Many Germans fell in the zone of his firing and the counter-attack was repulsed. The Polish command came to see which unit it was that had held on and had repelled the Germans, and they found only the “Feivel Unit”, with one mortar! For this brave action, Feivel received the highest Polish citation, “Virtoti Militari”. After the war he emigrated to the United States.

Zvi Antwerpen, who is now in Israel, and others about whom I have no details, also served in the Polish army.

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