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[Page 363]

Figures In Our Town

 

A Gallery of Characters

by Moshe Messinger

Translated by Moses Milstein

 

Characters from the little shul

Near the big shul, there was a little shul where mostly tradesmen davened. They would come there when it was still dark, in order to recite a few psalms. When dawn began to break, they would quickly finish davening and talking to God before they set out on the daily struggle to make a living.

There were two admirable characters in the little shul. One of them–Chaneh Ba'al Hagula, or as he was called Chaneh Bork, had one task his whole life. Every winter, in the coldest weather, he would be the first to arrive and heat up the stove. Jews must argue with God, not from cold, but from warmth, he used to say. No one began to daven without R' Chaneh's agreement.

I remember that his sons immigrated to America before my time.

The second Jew, Yoske Kandel, or as he was called, “Der Grobe Yoske,” had a beer stall. Every Friday evening, he would bring the wine for Kiddush, and he made the Kiddush for the congregation.

 

Young leader and lecturer

When Zionist thought began to be developed in our home, Shmuel Kliger was among the first of the young who took part in the Poalei Zion movement. He quickly became one of the exceptional leaders and lectures of our shtetl.

He was liked by people of all parties and social classes. He was respected even by political opponents. Because of his weak physiognomy, he seldom made a presentation. But at literary discussions and debates, his participation enriched the knowledge of the young. His words were given respect. There was no social or political question that was considered without his input.

His parents, R' Menashe Kliger, and his wife Feigele, were called, “The Brooks.” The name comes from the mother's side. David Brooks, a rich man, married his daughter, Feigele, to Menashe Kliger. In those days, it was known as a “glick shiduch.” He was a great scholar, a ba'al menagen, and a well known ba'al tefila. I remember that when he davened on the holidays, people came from far and wide to hear him.

After David Brooks' death, his whole fortune went to his daughter, Feigele. But after, the fortune was ruined, and the family became impoverished.

Shmuel Kliger inherited the character of his mother, and the modesty of his father. He saw how his mother shared her food with others even when she had not enough for herself. At first he was a student, but he had to stop his studies and help his family earn a living.

 

Active in the American aid committee

I want to give an overview and characterize certain of our social organizations, which operated at a high level, and allowed others to attain a higher level. Especially important were the activities to enable the young to change their standard of living, to bring out a way to achieve better days, to live better.

From his earliest days, Pesach Borek (born in 1911) had to learn a trade in order to help his parents. His parents, Chano and Rivkah, were not wealthy, very honest, hardworking and busy in order to achieve a respectable existence for the family.

Pesach had a strong desire for study and learning. He worked by day, and at night, he sat and studied and read. In the workers circle, he was known as an honorable man. Slowly, he became a leading personality for the workers.

Unsure of his ability to exist in Poland, he immigrated to America at the age of twenty. There, he married his wife who originated from Josefow, and he led a modest worker's life. But even in America, amid the turbulent chaos of business, he did not forget his old traditions, and took part in social works.

After the world learned about the devastation that Hitler brought upon European Jewry, and on our shtetl S., Pesach, without hesitation, established the aid committee for our landsleit. Also involved were many others such as, Hersh (Harry) Tolkop, David Waldman, and Yakov Gerstnblit. Pesach often contributed out of his own pocket, money for social aid.

Whoever examines the archives of the Shebreshiner committee in America, will discover how much effort he put into not only social help, but also in uniting the lost, the scattered in all the corners of the world. Hundreds of request for help, and for help in finding relatives, passed through his hands. The best hours of his free time, he dedicated to his brothers overseas.

*

In this holy work, he was helped by others, as mentioned, founders of the aid committee, who did not forget their old home.

Yakov Gerstnblit was born in 1893. At the age of seventeen, he was delegated to the regional Zionist meeting in Lublin. By day he worked, and at night, by the light of a tallow candle, he studied science. In 1912, he left Poland and came to America, where he completed his university studies in architecture. He received a position of responsibility as architect in a New York hospital. He was married in 1920.

Although involved in establishing himself, he did not forget his Shebreshiner brothers. He was one of the founders of the Shebreshiner committee in 1931, and served as secretary from 1931–1946. He devoted all his energies to the help of his landsleit during the tragic events in Poland.

*

Harsh (Harry) Tolkop was an interesting person. Just as at home he stood for the ideological struggle to develop Jewish youth, also here, he was involved in social struggles. Quiet and modest, he was selflessly dedicated to the aid committee for years.


[Page 366]

Warmhearted characters

by Yehuda Kelner

Translated by Moses Milstein

In writing this article, I cannot help but think that the shtetl characters do not exist anymore, but belong to history. It seems as if I had just seen them, spoken with them.

I have the greatest respect for them, because from them grew all those who built the new progressive life from the old, all the parties, the progress, the youth of the shtetl. I will never forget all these warmhearted characters.

My sorrow is great because they could not live their normal allotted life, but were cut away by savage hands. With my meager talents, I will describe them.

 

The ben Torah

Moishe Honigman was a fanatic, a ben Torah. He was always in a hurry. He always rushed through the streets, his hat slanted over his eyes so as not to encounter any women.

He was of medium height and thin. He never paid any attention to his attire.

After midnight, he could be seen in his Chasidic shtibl with the Gemora in his hands. He studied until day began. He was there davening with the first minyan. Finished davening, he ate barely enough to sustain the soul, and he spent whole days sitting with the rabbi as a boyrer[1] of Torah law. He had a grudge against the youth who–according to him–were not following the proper way.

 

The Gretzker

He was called the Gretzker, but no one knew his real name. He was a scholar, a hidden sage. Tall, erect, he walked with measured steps, wrapped in thought and always alone.

If you met him, told him something, he was in no hurry to respond, but would close one eye, smile, and look into your soul. Then he would answer your question, and give his opinion, which was profound, considered, and logical. He was not a great religious fanatic.

He made his living as a Gemora teacher. With a student, he would interpret, and translate and look deeply into his soul, and simply force him to give his opinion on certain interpretations of ancient sages. More than one student received a slap for not knowing what to answer.

He used to bang on the table and yell, “Rambam said so and so, and R' Papa said so and so, and what do you say, you complete goy?”

His students thought him hard, but they loved him.

 

The watchmaker

He was called Moishe David Zeigermacher[2], and no one knew his family name. He was held in great respect by everyone in the shtetl. He was knowledgeable, an Ilui[3], and had a rabbinical license, but for various reasons he did not want to be a rabbi.

He was not a religious fanatic. His views were modern, although he never showed this. He was a good person, and it was a pleasure to talk with him.

He made a living through his own hands. He repaired watches.

 

The rich man

The richest man in town was Mordechai Fleischer. He ran a princely home with maids and servants. A hungry person coming to his house left sated.

He was a great philanthropist. As the owner of a sawmill, he would donate wood in the winter for the poor to heat their homes. Passover, he would distribute potatoes to the needy families. He also had a mill.

He reached his status thanks to Graf Zamoysky, the construction of whose sugar factory he supervised, and earned a fortune thereby. In the process, he also built his own home. When Graf Zamoisky learned about this, he forbade Mordechai Fleischer from ever crossing his threshold.

Being a rich man, he bought himself yiches. He got good matches for his children and had sons–in–law like Yankele Mintzberg, and Yermiyahu Rabinovitch.

 

Teacher waiters

In those days, there were no modern schools, just cheders and melamdim. Among them, R' Motyeh Shpitz was the “top of the heap.” When a student finished cheder with R' Yankel Shlomele, or with R' Shlomele Itche Shalom, he went to study with R' Motyeh Shpitz.

Aside from these there were dardekei melamdim[4]; in our language they would be called “folks shulen.” They taught the aleph–bet to young children and a bit of chumash. These were: Shlomo Gal (Belfer), Itche Belfer, and Yakov Belfer. Chol HaMo'ed they would visit parents and sign up children for the coming term.

The work did not provide enough money for them, and so the dardekei melamdim also used to serve as waiters at Jewish weddings. The waiters had their own cooks who would prepare food for the wedding guests. There were three cooks: Chava Etl, Iteh Ketzele, Feige, Itchele Beder's wife. They were deathly afraid of the waiters.

*

I want to note, in several sentences, a few other warmhearted characters in our shtetl.

Buenos Aires


Translator's Notes

  1. arbitrator Return
  2. Watchmaker Return
  3. child prodigy Return
  4. Teachers of young children Return


[Page 369]

Praiseworthy Doers

by Yankel Lam

Translated by Moses Milstein

Three people were particularly praiseworthy in the raising and education of the youth in shtetl.

Yosel Springer, by trade a teacher, really influenced the process of drawing youth out of darkness and ignorance. He spread knowledge and culture among the students. He helped found the General Zionist organization, –HaTehiya.” In 1917, along with the teacher, Lazar, and Abraham Itche Becher, he founded the library.

Later, in 1918, he founded the Bund, which included almost all the working-class youth of the shtetl. He was also elected to the city council, and as a Jewish representative, he devoted himself to the general good. He was particularly dedicated to the needy, poor, and the sick. He defended Jewish interests against the antisemitism of the Poles. But thanks to his honesty, he was respected by the better among the Christian population.

*

Particularly influential in the development of the youth was the Hebrew teacher, known as Lazar.

As religious people themselves, they knew how to draw the boys of the Bet HaMidrash to their organizations like HaTehiya and the General Zionists and to the city library.

*

Moishe Hersh Berger also took part in organizing Zionist endeavors. He and Hersh Getzl Hochbaum and others helped to form HeTehiya. He was elected to city council by the small businessmen and merchants. He founded the Folks Bank. Later he helped organize, unofficially, Betar.

Yankele Honigman took part in Zionist activity from the very beginning. Later he worked for the Bund, principally for the Tsisha.[1] Later, he was active in the underground organization. In 1939, he escaped from S to Vilna, where he was one of the first to fall at the hands of the German murderers in 1941.

Yerachmiel Ginsberg was the director and bookkeeper of the Folks Bank. He held the position from the beginning to its end. As an old bank director he knew well his poor clients: merchants and tradesmen. He did whatever he could to help them. The bank was held in high esteem and was recognized by the authorities.

Brooklyn, New York.


Translator's Note

  1. Zionistishe Yiddishe Shule Return


[Page 370]

In Appearance, Military–In Spirit, Pioneer

by Emanuel Chmielash

Translated by Moses Milstein

Leibel Licht was the leader of the Brit Hatzahar (the revisionist organization) in Shebreshin. His political talks, and his political views were sincere and evident. In a word, a brilliant speaker and organizer.

I return to the years when I was 16–17 years old. Two organizations were located opposite our house. Leibel moved the library there. It seems that the old library fell apart because of the rivalries of the various parties, and the books were distributed among them.

At the beginning, the Betar library had few books, and Leibel Licht enriched the library. I was a member then, and twice a week, I went to exchange books. As a result, I had the opportunity to engage in discussions with other young people, and became an active member in Brit HaTzahar.

Leibel Licht was interested in everyone's abilities. One evening, he asked me to go to a meeting to be held in a few day's time. When I arrived, they sat me next to Mordechai Yorpest and Berish Macharowski who was the secretary, and wrote the agenda. They asked me and M. Yorpest to join in writing the agenda. A few days later, they asked me to become the secretary of the Brit HaTzahar. It made me proud.

A short time later, the revisionist party split, and I became one of the first members–along with Givertz and Ch. B. Bok–in the “Yudenshtat Partei.”

I can still see the imposing entrance of the then commissioner of Betar in Poland, Aharon Propes. The Betar organizations around S. took part in welcoming him. I remember the Betar guards in the carriage he was riding in, the finest boys dressed as high–ranking military men. They marched from the train station like a battalion of army officers.

*

I know that some of those reading this will say that I have forgotten, or have intentionally omitted, the words to “Die Broine Mundiren.”[1] That was then, and nowadays, brown and red are inappropriate. I just want to bring out that Leibl Licht had the audacity to bring, to our small shtetl, the head of Betar in Poland, and to organize such an exemplary march of ordinary Jewish boys who had no prior military training, but who nevertheless looked like “Pulkovnikes.”[2]

Leibel Licht created idealistic Zionists among the young. Two of these, from well to do homes, travelled to Israel: Neshe Hochgelernter, and Perl Mabe. They were formed politically in Betar not in HeChalutz, and still were pioneers, worked hard in Israel, suffered hunger, but they passed the test.

He also founded a school for woodworking for prospective immigrants in Binyamin Hersh's woodworking shop. Thanks to that, Biyamin Hersh's whole family went to Israel, as well as others who worked there. That was the result of Leibel Licht's education: in appearance–military, in spirit–pioneer.

Montreal, Canada


Translator's Notes

  1. The Brown Uniforms Return
  2. Colonels Return


[Page 372]

The Leader and Teacher of the Bund

by David Fuchs

Translated by Moses Milstein

Yosel Springer dedicated his whole life to the general welfare of society, and the activities of the Bund. He was elected to city council in S from the first elections, and for each election thereafter.

His social work brought him full recognition from the whole Jewish population. Even religious Jews voted for the Bund, arguing that they were not voting for the Bund, but for Yosel Springer.

He did indeed help the poor. People would seek him out at all times of the day. If the matter were urgent, he would forgo his meal, and immediately go to resolve the issue, usually successfully. He was active in every aspect of Jewish social life: City council, Jewish community, Jewish Folks Shule, “Folk's Zeitung,” etc. Even the Christian community respected him.

When the Germans entered our shtetl, we were in the Bund office, and we burned all the party documents so they would not fall into the hands of the murderers. Shia Blei was also with us. He buried the party seals. They are probably still lying buried there.

Yosel Springer served our shtetl until the last minutes of his life. Everything changed with the outbreak of the war. Hitler brought an end to all the youthful dreams of the Bund and HeChalutz.

*

I see, as in a foggy, grey dream, my shtetl, the streets, the blue skies. My heart bleeds; we have lost the melodies of mothers bending over their children's cradles.

I see my brothers, my heimische Jews, worried, hurried, yet always happy. I see you, the young, united as one, the builders, the seekers, the eternal dreamers.

Now ruins stand in our scorched shtetl, and the shadows of desecrated lives weep.

Montreal, Canada, 24.12.52


[Page 373]

Two Activists for the People

by Zanvel Aschenberg

Translated by Moses Milstein

 

The talented public speaker

My friendship with Berl Koil began in childhood. We played together. I saw how the son of Abraham Hersch Treger–the future public speaker, the best declaimer of modern poetry, lover of music, talented interpreter of L. Kobrin's “,Dorf's Yung,”–brought out awe in everyone.

He devoted himself zealously to reading, and steeped himself in Jewish literary works. He told me with such joy that we would now understand the intent of Peretz Markish in his “ Kupeh,” because the beloved poet, Melech Ravitch was coming to our shtetl. Along the way from the train station to town we accompanied him, and he really “opened our eyes.”

No one was more fascinated with his virtues than I was. I never stopped wondering how such a flower could develop from such humble soil. Hunger, dampness, smoke from the fallen chimney–this was the air breathed in the house in which he was raised, and yet, how much lust for life, and joy, and gentility he possessed.

From what I know, Berl Koil was one of the first to be taken for slave labor, from which he returned in ruined health and beaten spirit. I heard no living words of him after. In a nightmarish document, I found his name among the martyred. My dear friend, with his warm hearted love that radiated from him to everyone, who gave all his energies to his ideals, to his fellow man, to striving for a better tomorrow, fell in his youth.

 

The protector of the poor classes

Yosel Springer was born to poor parents. But no one in the family, not the parents, not the sons–Yosele, Leibele, and Avremele–no one complained. On the contrary, the parents shepped naches from their children.

Yosele was the pride and joy of the family. From an early age, he demonstrated intelligence in studies. In cheder, he surpassed his friend, the rabbi's son, in his studies, and helped him out.

The city bestowed honor and love on the shoemaker's son, Yosele, because of his wisdom, which he obtained through self–study, his talents, and his physical energies. He bequeathed to his children one goal: to help the poor with knowledge and learning, with a will to fight for a better world.

Our great teacher, Y. L. Peretz, taught us about the greatness of the Nemirow rabbi who said that keeping the house of a sick woman warm, is greater than reaching heaven. Yosel Springer, in his day–to–day work for the poor of S., was a Nemirover. His greatest pleasure was when, with his mandate as alderman, he could provide a load of wood for a poor family, a free visit to the doctor for a destitute sick person, get them a bed in the hospital, or send them to a larger city for treatment. He battled with the N.D[1]. majority in city hall to allow more opportunities for Jewish workers. He identified with all the miseries of the poor.

Only one truly needy home was off–limits for him–his own. This he got from his father. He received a greater reward than his father. He was enriched by his work with the Bund that he helped found, the trade union, the school that took its toll on him.

Here, with the school, which should have been the pride of the movement, his true personality was revealed. He battled with all kinds of hardships, and infected others with his boundless enthusiasm in getting a branch of the Tzishah[2] in S.

His stature grew with every branch of the Bund movement in S. : the youth wing, “Zukumft,” the doubling of the number of city council seats, winning a Bund seat. That was the greatest victory of his life. He did everything with joy, and dedicated his life to it.

Chasidic Jews openly campaigned for him, because he had the courage to confront the authorities, and stand for office. “In the Kehila, we will send religious Jews; to city hall we will send the bold.”

*

I had the opportunity to get to know him better when we were arrested when the Warsaw Citadel was blown up. Many prisoners were interned in a small cell. We had to sleep in shifts of two hours. He was always one of the last. But when it came to sharing a last cigarette, or a piece of bread, he was always the first. He gave us courage to laugh at “them,” the investigators, and their idiotic evidence to force us to confess we took part in a conspiracy.

As the youngest of the group, I was beaten during the investigation. How much pain it caused him! “Why didn't you cry out? We would have broken down the door of the cell!” He yelled at me like a father with a foolish child. Seeing the pain I caused him, I forgot the blows I received, and regretted having told him.

For his entire life, he was ready to sacrifice himself for others, for the community. And with the community, he was led to his death.

Buenos Aires


Translator's Notes

  1. Narodowo–Demokratyczne, Polish nationalist party Return
  2. Zionistishe Yiddishe Shule Return


[Page 376]

The Good–Hearted Doctor

by Berl Entberg

Translated by Moses Milstein

At the end of the First World War, the need was great in Shebreshin, and included broad segments of the city. A group of social activists, however, did not fold their hands helplessly, but tried to do whatever they could to reduce the need.

The first activities took place on Passover, when the poor had no opportunity to obtain matzah. They established a matzah bakery which not only provided matzah for free, but also some earnings for the poor, so they could celebrate Passover.

The spirit of the activity was personified by Simchele Roife, who devoted all his energies to the task.

But aside from this, Simchele Roife (actually a feldsher)[1] was the angel Raphael for the poor of S. Whenever someone fell sick, Simchele was at his bedside. He not only received no fee, but he provided medicines from his homemade laboratory. When he couldn't provide the required drugs, he bought them from the apothecary himself with his own money. In the case where he could be of no help, he sent for the doctors and paid them himself.

I remember that, in 1915, when the Germans occupied our city, an epidemic of cholera and typhus broke out. A hospital for the epidemic was created, and Simchele became the director, because it was full of the poor.

The attitude of the people to Simchele was seen when he finally passed away. All the Jewish poor, the tradesmen and working people, mourned the death of this true friend of the poor. His coffin was followed by his son, and his wife, Chialeh, who was a true partner in life, and as midwife, delivered many children of the poor without payment.


Translator's Note

  1. A feldsher was a folk doctor Return


[Page 377]

Mohel and “Doctor”

by Mendl Farber

Translated by Moses Milstein

R' Yankel Nickelsberg, who was called R' Yankel Shimon's, was a Ben Torah, and a good mohel. He did not miss one bris in town, especially not for the poor who had no money for a celebration.

He himself was a pauper. He would somehow obtain the needed money and provide a simche with whiskey and cake. He had modest needs, but at a poor family's bris, he would celebrate along with everyone else.

For a time he was Rosh Kahal, but not like others; he didn't profit from it.

When I studied in the Belzer shtibl with three of my friends, he would sit alone near the stove, and poor women would come and bring their sick children to him to be examined.

He would take the baby from its mother's arms, take its clothes off, and lay it on the shulchan where we studied Torah, and tapping with his fingers on the small body, he would reach a diagnosis. He would then take out a small pencil, and on a scrap of used cigarette paper, he would write out a prescription. He would announce that it would cost “a sixer.”

When the poor woman complained that she did not have the money to buy the prescription, he would bang on the wall on the other side of which, his grandfather, R' Eliezer Papieroshnik, was teaching Gemora to children, and call to his grandmother, “Ruchel Leahleh, Ruchel Leahleh! Send me over a sixer! Quickly, it's pikuach nefesh!”

Grandmother, upon hearing it was pikuach nefesh, would run out of the house, open the door of the shtibl, and throw in the “sixer.”

In this manner, R' Yankele Shimon's healed the poor children of the shtetl.


[Page 378]

Exaggerated Fanatics

by Mendl Farber

Translated by Moses Milstein

The shtetl was frum.
Frum, frum, but isn't there a limit?…
We must carry out mitzvoth. But it can be taken to extremes…
In this, there were various characters.

 

A hero for punishing

R' Moishe Honigman was a great scholar, very pious, and strict. As soon as he saw a Jew doing something forbidden, he reacted with his mouth. If that did not help, he laid hands on him, even though he was a weakling. But in such cases, he was a big hero.

It is interesting that he had a son who was far from religious. But, in his son, he saw no evil.

 

Not speaking during prayers

Shabes, during prayers, R' Yankel Getzl's used to walk around the shul to make sure no one uttered a word during prayers. And, in truth, no one dared to say a word. Prior to his appearance, people would be busily engaged in conversation during davening.

 

Ready to throw a knife

R' Shmuel, the shoichet, was in his seventies, and full of energy. He was still able to slaughter the strongest ox.

In the Days of Awe, he would daven Musaf for the congregation. He had a voice like a lion. His voice could be heard, even in a congregation of 1000, as if he were standing by your side. He davened heartily and no one was tired of hearing him.

He was very fastidious about kashrut. There was a story that he went once to the matzah bakery on Passover when his matzot were being baked. He instructed one of the women kneading the dough to scrape off the table. She did not do as he wished, so he grabbed a knife, one used to cut the dough, and threw it at her. Thankfully, it missed her eye, striking her just beside it.

It was much talked about in town, and everyone regretted that a person should show such rage. However, he was forgiven, because he did not do it for himself, but for Heaven's sake.

He lived to be over eighty.

 

A Dybbuk in the kasha

There were two old brothers. They were hardworking shoemakers, and did not partake of the pleasures of life.

In the morning, they would study a page of Gemora and Talmud, after which they would work until minche–maariv, and then they would go again to the shtibl to daven and study, and then, back to work.

When donations were being sought for a public cause, their house was omitted, because it was known they did not have much money. But they would find out, and give the nicest contribution.

One of them was childless. The other had children, and he contributed to their weddings with generosity. One was a Kuzmirer Chasid, the other a Radziner. But that did not prevent them from living together with love.

They were very superstitious. Once, one of them was cooking buckwheat kasha. The kasha began to emit noises like groans. So the brothers gathered together several religious people in order to give the soul, which had entered the kasha, a tikun.[1]

The people told them that these noises were commonly heard in cooking kasha. But they were not persuaded. They argued that a human soul came to them for tikun, because the groaning was exactly like a person's.

 

With holy mikvah water

The “meshugener of the shtetl” was not always crazy. He had normal periods and behaved quite normally.

When he was seized by his madness, he would wrap himself in his talis and tefillin and begin to daven all kinds of prayers, mostly from Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana. On any given day, he would recite Kol Nidrei and it was astonishing to hear such a pure, clear, pleasant voice. People would stop and listen. He would daven off by heart, without a siddur. He would daven like this for three days, and include books of the Kabbalah.

He used to say that he was Meshiach ben Yosef, and he was preparing the way for Meshiach ben David. He used to go to the river at night, even in winter and take a dip. It did not bother him. He was always in good health.

He liked to go to the Bet Hamidrash and help out the scholars. He would bring them water, take out the water. His help was not wanted, because he was a gentle person, and a learned man. But to no avail. He did everything he could for them.

It is told that, once, motzi shabes kodesh, when the Chasidim were celebrating a feast for melave malka, he grabbed a pitcher and went to get water. He filled the pitcher in the mikvah, and cooked a borscht with it.

After it was heartily consumed, before the prayers, he said, “Today, we had a good borscht from holy mikvah water!”

What ensued there is hard to describe. Everyone who had eaten the holy borscht, brought it back up again.

From that time on, the Chasidim vowed never to use his services again.

Kiryat Yam


Translator's Note

  1. Kaballah, salvation of a soul in torment by the prayers of the living Return


[Page 380]

The Tzadeket (saintly woman)

by Chava Sapian

Translated by Moses Milstein

In the Bet Hamidrash, near the courtyard, the young students used to study Torah, day and night. Religious women used to bring them food.

Among these women was Ruchel Leahle, the tzadeket, Laizer Papieroshnik's wife, who used to fast every Monday and Thursday and slichot days. Everyday, she would bring hot beans to the students. She would also care for those who had nothing to eat, so that they would not, God forbid, go hungry.

Especially Erev Shabes, she would go house to house, mostly to the well–to–do families. People would wait impatiently for her, and give her of the best.

She also had assistants, her neighbors. One of them was Keile Moishe Yosef's, Abraham Burstein's mother, a very honest woman, and a koshere neshome.


[Page 381]

Zenik the Partisan

by Yankel Lam

Translated by Moses Milstein

In 1946, in Ulm, Germany, I meet Zindl Reiber, known among the partisans as Zenik. He was the youngest son of Yosel and Feige Reiber, Yuske Kandel's daughter. With deep sadness, he revealed to me only a few drops of the well of tears filled with suffering and death that he was drowning in.

Hundreds of Jews fled to the forests, mostly to the Kasabader forest, with the frail hope of saving their lives. Among these were Zenik and his family.

He told me, “After days of hunger and thirst, we were forced to look for food in the nearest village. When we returned bringing food, we found all of our dearest ones, almost my entire family slaughtered, together with many other Jews. ”

“My brother and I, and some other young people, fled deeper into the woods. We acquired weapons—rifles and bullets, and began attacks against the murderers knowing full well that the game could not be won…We joined with other partisans and kept on attacking but our numbers kept diminishing. ”

“My brother and I avenged our parents…. After Mandza, Zeftl Reiber's daughter, fell in battle, my brother was wounded in the arm. Not wanting to fall into the hands of the murderers, he took his own life with his last bullet. ”

“I wandered in the never ending forests until Izbice, my only friend the rifle on my shoulders, under my coat. I got into the Izbice ghetto, and looked up the Pelz family. I encouraged them to leave, and guided them out, one by one, to the forest. As a result, twelve of them survived to the liberation.”

I spoke to him at length, trying to reawaken some hope in him. My gaze was concentrated on his characteristically good-natured face in which only some outlines of the blossoming youth that once was remained. I saw no trace of happiness anymore, no sign of a future.

The abnormal conditions of his life—nights without sleep, days without food—created medical complications in this, not yet mature, boy. In 1948, he underwent an operation, and at the age of twenty-two, he breathed his last.

Brooklyn, New York


[Page 383]

The Great Scholar, Rav Yechiel Blankman
May God avenge his blood

by Rav R'Avraham Golshmid

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

When R'Yechiel Blankman was appointed rabbi in Szczebrzeszyn, the community received a letter from the ADMOR, the Tzadik from Sokolow, saying that a great light was beginning to shine in Szczebrzeszyn, and, paraphrasing a verse from Isaiah 12:6 he added: Cry out and be joyful, inhabitants of Szczebrzeszyn, for a great man is sitting amongst you.

My father z”l told me, that when rabbi Blankman would come to Zamosc to take care of community matters, his lodging would be in our house. He enjoyed discussing verses of the Torah and debating the fine points of the Law. My father would stress the fact that he had a very sharp mind, and in addition, he was an excellent speaker, a genius in rhetoric, explaining and arguing the Scriptures and the Midrash in a modern way.

His articles and commentaries were printed in the book Sefer Habe'er [The Book of the Well] by the Rav R'Zvi Hirsh Frueling z”l (the rabbi of Biscovice) and in monthly magazines. With all his heart he was devoted to educating the young in the spirit of Torah and Judaism.

His son, Meir'l, may God avenge his blood, was already well known at the age of 15, and a great future was predicted for him. He studied at the Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin [The Sholars of Lublin], under the guidance of the Head of the Yeshiva, our teacher and rabbi R'Meir Shapira z”l. At the funeral of Rav Shapira, R'Blankman's son gave the main eulogy.

When the Nazis besieged Szczebrzeszyn, before the occupation in 1939, Rav Blankman said in his sermon, among others: “The lions are hunting for prey and asking for their food. They gather at sunrise and are hungry. They are seeking out their food and when the sun is shining high in the sky, they are hiding with their finds. But the Nazis are doing their evil deeds, without any shame, at high noon.”

Rav Yechiel Blankman perished with all the Szczebrzeszyn, martyrs. May God avenge his blood.

The Rav R'Avraham Golshmid
Son of Rav R'Chaim z”l
Head of the religious court in Zamosc
Author of the book Zecher Chaim


[Page 384]

The Cheerful Grandfather

by Ephraim Farber

Translated by Moses Milstein

Shebreshin gave rise to many interesting personalities. One of these was my grandfather, Moishe Farber (Kliske), z”l. Neither the winds of Haskala, nor modernity had any effect on these stubborn Jews. For hundreds of years, religious ideas, which did not diminish with time, were deeply rooted in them.

My grandfather was a simple man. Imbued with common sense, he followed in the footsteps of our great–grandfathers. He bubbled with folk wisdom, with folk humor. He had a clear mind and was capable of scholarly study. In the fallen, in the oppressed, he saw his fellow man. Quietly, without clamor or advertisement, he helped the needy. It hurt him to see injustice, and the deeds of the bloodsuckers which were not unknown in the Jewish community. His personal philosophy about the daily problems of life was a wonder to behold.

During Sukkot, as a child, I used to eat with my grandfather in the sukkah.[1] There, his approach to life was revealed to me. Like a bubbling well, his knowledge about religion poured from his lips. He did not hold with the rabbis and their leadership. In his opinion, a true rabbi should travel on foot, and eat black bread with garlic! He believed that the pidyon of rich Chasidim should be immediately distributed to the poor. And if such a rabbi did not exist, he was no Chasid.

Elul, when even the fish in the river were trembling, was the season of cheshbon–hanefesh.[2] Erev Yom Kippur, he would take a dip in the river Wieprz. It could be a rainy, foggy day, with strong winds, the kind of day common during autumn in Poland, but it did not bother him. Bathing Erev Yom Kippur was an ancient custom for him.

I keep remembering his witticisms, his aphorisms, and jokes. For example, a Shebreshiner came to him with a question: “R' Moishe, what use do you have of your swamps? (He had a few hectares of marshy fields)”. He answered, “When Meshiach comes, the mud will be transformed into sugar cakes, and the water into Baczewski whiskey. And all Shebrishiner Jews, regardless of rich or poor, will enjoy it.”

*

One winter morning at dawn, going to open the shul, which was closed by two massive wooden doors reinforced with iron, he beheld a strange sight: A figure, with a talis over his head, davening before the oren kodesh

My grandfather used to say that he was not afraid of the dead, only of the living. So he called to the one from the other world to return to his rest. It turned out that this was a Shebreshiner Jew who had stayed behind after ma'ariv and spent the night in the shul. My grandfather's “ani ma'amin was not a primitive fanaticism, but a heartfelt belief.

*

As a young man, he studied in the Bet Hamidrash and was an expert in halachah. He knew Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and Russian perfectly. According to my father, he wrote rhyming verses in Hebrew. Unfortunately, they were lost along with his prose works. My father remembered a few lines.

He became the only shames in the shul. The rabbi would consult him on various laws and matters relating to burials. He was a shining ba'al koreh and had a beautiful bass voice. What a pleasure it was to hear his haftorah!

He was loved and praised in the whole shtetl, both by Jews and Christians, by rich and poor. He was afforded the greatest respect, because a Jew like him was exceptional. He was always happy, merry, content with all that God has created.

I dedicate these words to my grandfather, in place of the tombstone in the Shebreshiner cemetery desecrated by the Nazi vandals.

Kiryat Yam, 1958


Translator's Notes

  1. Gift to a Chasidic rabbi after a meeting Return
  2. Examination of one's soul Return


[Page 386]

Hard work, beautiful manners

by Ephraim Farber

Translated by Moses Milstein

Everybody in the shtetl loved the Dreier family. The grandfather, Moishe Chaim, made a living as a carpenter. The grandmother, Machle, also worked, and brought help to the needy.

*

While it is still dark outside, and the only sounds are the crowing of the black crows on the church steeples, and a fine autumn rain is falling, Moishe Chaim hurries along with a talis and tefillin in hand to the first minyan. After davening, he can't afford the luxury of sitting around until late in the day like the batlonim. The need to make a living makes him hurry his davening.

He's also a member of the Chevrah Kedusha. He receives no money for this holy work. He does it “l'shem shamayim.” Someone, after all, has to look after graves going back 120 years. He will have something to complain about when he gets to the Bet din shel male and gives an accounting of his deeds in this sinful world.

*

Babe Machle wore a bonnet over her wig from which fringes appear giving her a coquettish appearance.

Hidden in the creases of her old face are the hard bygone days, the mother's care for her children, the sleepless nights.

Most of the time, she is occupied with her small stall in the large market hall. The stall contains: buttons, thread, needles, combs—in brief, a “haberdashery.” Most days of the week, she looks for customers, who rarely show themselves. The big “pidyon” is market day which takes place on Tuesdays.

On cold winter days, she warms herself with a pan of glowing coals which she keeps at her feet covered with her long petticoat. The pennies earned are an important contribution to the household.

Aside from her “big haberdashery business,” she is busy with her twelve children.

In her free time, she helps needy families and sick widows of which there are many in the shtetl.

*

Machle's daughter, Mattl, followed in her mother's footsteps. She was “goodness itself,” compassionate towards her fellow man and his suffering.

She would discreetly gather chales, and fish and other dishes from the better-off families. Quiet as an angel, she would slip into a house whose poverty glared from every corner, and with a mild, warm smile spread on her face she would put down the basket of goods. She was careful to do this so no one would see, in order not to shame those in need.

Her reward was the happiness in knowing that Shabes would not be spoiled here, and a family would enjoy the Oneg Shabbat.

*

One of Babe Machle's sons, David, dealt in fruits, which added a bit to their income.

Right after Purim, matzoh baking began. It was a supplement to carpentry. The kneading was done mostly by women and girls. It was hard, exhausting work. Also employed were a redler[1]. a baker, and a water-carrier. The work began at dawn and carried on until the middle of the night.

From the hard-earned money, they saved enough for a dress for someone, or a coat for the husband for yom-tov.

*

Only a small part of this extensive family survived the Hitler plague. Some immigrated to Eretz Israel before the war. Some fled the deluge for the Soviet Union. The rest were dispersed over the whole world: Austria, Canada, Argentina, and Israel.

May these simple words serve instead of a tombstone in the ruined cemetery in Shebreshin.

Kiryat Yam


Translator's Note

  1. Worker who perforates matzohs. Return


[Page 388]

Taking Care of the Needy

by Rachel Greenspan

Translated by Moses Milstein

My father's, Hershel (Zvi) Ingber's, lineage stemmed from a generation of rabbis. He had his rabbinical diploma, but he did not make his living from it. He worked as a shipping clerk for the railway. When his job required him to work on Shabes, he quit, and opened a food store, in order not to desecrate the Sabbath.

He was a man of faith and Torah, and strongly believed in God's providence, the protector of the people of Israel. He had a profound, but not a fanatical belief, tempered with modernity, which was already beginning to be felt in the Jewish street. He also mastered foreign languages.

He was not unacquainted with Zionist thought. He sensed the storm that was approaching Polish Jewry, seeing the signs in local antisemitism, and the persecutions that were becoming more evident every day. His conclusion was that there was no future for Jews in Poland, especially for the young.

After Hitler came to power in Germany in 1934, he counseled his children, Rachel, Moishe, and Devorah, to make aliyah to Israel. After I met my husband, a refugee from Berlin, we received a certificate from Germany, and, Erev Pesach, 1935, we came to Israel.

*

My mother, Faige Weissfeld, was a tsadeket[1]. She had a compassionate heart, and helped the sick, orphans, and widows seeing it as her responsibility.

When Shabes approached, she began to worry that, God forbid, Jews should not have every opportunity to celebrate Shabes properly, as God had ordered–with meat and fish, and wine for Kiddush. She went around in the shtetl, and gathered whatever she could. She also urged the fortunate not to forget the hungry. She wanted her little reward in the world to come, like the woman in Y.L. Peretz's story who was satisfied to be the footstool of her husband, the scholar, in the Garden of Eden.

My grandfather, Zalman, was a community representative. He was elected as alderman in city hall, where he zealously pursued the agendas that the Jews expected of him.

After World War I, when there was great need in Jewish homes, he strove, through various means, to get help from American Jews. His goal in life was to ameliorate the needs of the suffering. Help consisted of food and clothing and words of encouragement. He kept the American aid locked in his store, and he guarded the key. He was afraid that his wife, Feige, might take a little flour, sugar, or a garment for her children. He took care that his hands would be “clean.”

There was also a communal kitchen run by volunteers, and the food was distributed for free to the needy. The Bubbe, Feige, contributed much to the management of the kitchen.

*

When a rabbi was being chosen, among the many candidates was R' Yecheiel Blankman, z”l. There was bribery during the elections; voters were paid for their votes. My father wanted a progressive rabbi, one who could speak Polish well, and could represent the Jewish population honorably before the state authorities. To that end, he supported R' Blankman, and brought him to the big shul to give a droshe[2].

An opponent to his candidacy gave my father a shove, and his glasses and siddur fell to the floor. A few days later, the guilty one–Chaim Einbren–walked through the market in his socks, and begged his pardon and forgiveness. In the end, my father's candidate, R' Yechiel Blankman, was elected. It later turned out to be a fortunate decision.

Hershel Ingber was one of the ten prominent Jews murdered by the Nazis on September 1, 1939 in the center of Shebreshin.

Jerusalem


Translator's Notes

  1. A saintly woman Return
  2. sermon Return

 

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