Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Tarnogrod for me was my own homey Jewish world. But after the hellish fires of the greatest destroying Satan of all times, not even graves or ruins of that world remain. Yet, in my memory, sparks of that dear and loving world still glow. As I imagine once again my parents' house, the sparks are encouraged to a merry little fire that warms my heart day and night.
I can never forget the sweet faith that my parents' hearts were so full of, although need so often looked in on us. What did one have to worry about? The Master of the Universe is a father, everything would work out . And my father went off to the beit midrash [house of study] for the afternoon prayers.
More than once as my father worried about his livelihood, he had headaches and went around in a heavy mood as he watched the children in his house chewing on bread with nothing on it.
Our fathers and mothers are no more. No more the dear souls who used to cuddle and kiss each of our limbs, who trembled with our every step. No more those in whose eyes glimmered tears of joy when we were happy, tears of pain and suffering when we suffered.
No more our brothers and sisters, or all the dear friends with whom we went through our best childhood and youthful years, days in high or in low spirits, dreams and hopes of a better life.
Dear and Holy Figures
They all, our dearest and closest, who we will never forget, perished in the most outrageous death.
I am sitting today in my beautifully arranged apartment, where a television set sits in a corner and on the screen is seen all of the particulars about the flights of the American astronauts in distant space; another room, the kitchen, is full of electrical appliances that save time so my wife need not toil, so that we have time to amuse ourselves, to rest. In this life, where luxury has become a daily phenomenon, the past years in Tarnogrod would seem not to be important to remember, describe and immortalize. However, for me, Tarnogrod, my family and all our closest people remain dear and sacred.
The years of my childhood and youth live in my memory: the heder [small Jewish elementary school] where we spent mornings until later at night. We would go home in the dark. Over us was a sky of sparkling stars and we lit the way with lanterns, which we, ourselves, made out of cardboard and colored paper.
When we studied the Humash [Five Books of Moses], we lived along with the Biblical figures and with the stories: felt like a part of Eliezer's retinue, wandered with him to Mesopotamia to search for a bride for Yitzhak, crawled into the water up to our neck before Moses split the sea; we welcomed the Torah at Mount Sinai and said, We will obey and we will listen.
There were also other games, where everyone could show their dexterity and physical power. Today the Passover game with walnuts, the daily game with buttons, because we could win a great deal of buttons, all kinds, sizes, forms and color - a vast sum!
When the heat of the month of Tammuz [tenth month in the Jewish calendar, it falls in June or July] arrived, we paddled around near the stream, jumped into the water, paddled, and chased each other with joyful noise. This small river was changed to a large ocean in our imagination and we were creatures who were found in its depths.
|Sroltshe Adler, Eli Adler, Eli Mantel, Sheindel Mantel
Common economic, cultural and family cares and joys bound the young people together in Tarnogrod. In the most difficult times, when the Jewish young did not have a place to go and ran wherever their eyes carried them, there were obstinate people who, in the time of scholars and Psalm readers, forged the golden chain for being Jewish, hoped and longed for redemption and did not stop demanding from themselves an account of the day that must give a sense and an explanation to their own lives.
Thus the years passed for the Jewish children in Tarnogrod. I was then already a Gemara-Yingl [boy studying the rabbinical commentaries on the Torah] and I also read a chapter of Kings and Prophets. Then I saw the way my teacher shook and rocked with his thin body, with a mournful, sweet melody he sang out the legends of the destruction of Jerusalem and we saw the violent manifestations of the flames of the burning Temple.
Ideal of Building Zion
At that time, a deep respect took root in me for the great scholars who swam the sea of Talmud so expertly. Later came the break; my friends and I began to think about the great and interesting world. We matured and began to be interested in national Jewish events and problems.
There were times when everything appeared without prospect and without hope. There were also times of joy and good fortune. Our young were always active, always searched. Our pious Jews were truly God-fearing; we could truly envy their constant this, too, is for the best. Our Zionists were devoted heart and soul to the ideal of Zion rebuilt and we, survivors, will never forget them.
There are no words that can express our heavy spirit and grief at their death. We stand mute in regard to remembrance of our dear Tarnogrod Jews, the martyrs, and will remain their mourners.
Moshe Naftali Mantel
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Tarnogrod, the shtetl [little town] of my childhood years, lies in a mountain of ash, ruins and devastation.
It is hard to imagine that Tarnogrod is now a city without Shabbosim [pleural of Shabbos: Jewish Sabbath] and without Yomim-Tovim [religious holidays on which work is not permitted], that our Jews no longer hurry to prayer, that there are no longer houses full of Shabbos and grace and sanctity.
There are no longer tables with two beautiful challahs [braided egg bread eaten on Shabbos], covered with a tablecloth; there are no mothers who lit the candles in polished silver candlesticks and quietly and softly murmured a prayer.
What did our mothers desire then, when they stood with hands spread, slightly bent over the Shabbos candles?
Their children who were growing up and those who had left for distant places stood before their eyes and they asked God to guard their way, so that they would remain good, dear Jews.
It is difficult to believe that all of this is no longer here; that the lives of our dear ones were so horribly extinguished.
Our former Jewish Tarnogrod is dead and devoured. Only we, the remnant, remain, those who left the shtetl long before the destruction of Poland, settled in Israel and in other nations, as well as those who miraculously saved themselves from the Hitler pestilence and are with us in Israel.
We are now writing the history of our shtetl, about the scholars and simple Jews during the course of a year, about the merchants and artisans, about the difficult struggle that they carried out for their existence.
This was a difficult existence. Poor and miserable in the material sense, but with a great deal of spiritual elevation, with a great deal of longing and love, with dreams about a beautiful land, with high moral worth.
The past swims in my memory of when we were very small boys and our father brought us to the teachers of the youngest children and they began to teach us the first little bit of Hebrew.
When we became a little older, grew up, our fathers delivered us to Reb Chaim Tsibelkale, with whom we studied Humash [Five Books of Moses] and Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac, regarded as one of Judaism's greatest commentators of Talmud], Gemara [rabbinic legal and ethical commentary] and although his inefficiency was evident in his bearing, he, however, had a very good comprehension of the matter and that which he said was intelligible to us.
The melamedim [religious school teachers] had assistants who every day brought the children to heder [small Jewish elementary school]. No matter how poor the houses were, each child wanted to stay at home rather than go to the heder. Therefore, the assistant was not much loved by the children, although during the winter days, when it was slippery, he carried them on his shoulders, under his arms, four at a time.
The functions of the assistant also included saying the blessings with the children as they entered the heder and 50 to 60 children were already assembled.
The belfer [assistant teacher], like the melamed, was exalted in Tarnogrod for his entire life, was a very poor man, but like the majority of Jews in the shtetl, he was full of hope. If one would suddenly stop such a Jew and ask him: from where and how do you support yourself? At first he would be confused, not knowing what answer to give. Then a little later he would recover and innocently answer:
What kind of question is this? There is a Lord of the Universe present who does not leave His creations; He sent and He will probably again send income.There was the type of Jew who, like worms who lie in horseradish, thought that the world ended on the other side of Tarnogrod. There was no sweet, no better life than here.
A small bench stood in the heder for the belfer, on which he sat and taught the first lesson to the youngest children and later they went to the Gemara teacher himself for the second lesson.
He was a user of snuff and the rebbetzin [wife of a rabbi] shouted about the tobacco he was spending all of the money.
The melamed had a daughter in Bilgoraj, a nearby shtetl, and when, with luck, she gave birth to a son, the melamed traveled out of the shtetl for the first time.
The distance was eight kilometers, but for him it was a distant trip and he possessed no words to describe and to tell of the wonders that he saw in Bilgoraj.
He saw a train there that was, all told, a small railroad, but he did not stop speaking about the wonder after wonder of its great strength. A blackened man sits at an oven like a chimneysweeper. Smoke comes out of a small chimney and water pours underneath and this pulls 20 railroad cars with people, with goods. All his life he had not met a wagon driver who was so fit with such strength.
We children would be enthusiastic about these wonderful, beautiful stories.
The Kreszówer Tzadik [righteous one]
Tarnogrod was proud of the great spiritual credit (it received) because this was where the Sanzer Rebbe, the author of Divrei Chaim [Words of Life] was born. His parents lived in the village of Borowicz, eight kilometers from Tarnogrod. They had a house in Tarnogrod and the mother came here when Chaim, whose genius later was spread over the world, was ready to be born.
At that time the rabbi in Tarnogrod was Reb Yakov Taumim. When he died, Reb Chaim Halberstam was already the rabbi in Sanz.
For a short time Tarnogrod was without a local rabbi. When Chaim Halberstam came to visit his father, the prominent residents turned to him, asking that he search for a respected rabbi, a great Torah sage. The Sanzer Rabbi answered them:
If the Kreszówer Tzadik would want to be your rabbi, you would have a magnificent rabbi.The Kreszówer Tzadik, Reb Moshe Naftali Katzenelenbogen, who then lived in the small town of Krzeszów, was a great man of moral character and a scholarly luminary in Torah and in wisdom.
The Sanzer Rabbi added:
I am not confident that his relatives will let him go; they love him very muchÉ But I would happily see him with you. Tarnogrod would have a great rabbi.Being very receptive to new ideas when one is already capable of influencing people through reasoning is not only a good trait, a sign of humility, but also shows with this strength a great mind. And the Sanzer Rabbi was blessed with this strength. Therefore he spoke with such enthusiasm about the Kreszówer Tzadik, said that he corresponded with him often and advised the esteemed city residents [that they should send a delegation of scholars who would travel to Krzeszów and offer him the rabbinical seat in Tarnogrod.
Therefore, he added in passing:
He will probably write about this; I will urge him to become your rabbi.And the day came and Rebbe Moshe-Naftali Katzenelenbogen with luck became the rabbi in Tarnogrod where he was called the Kreszówer Tzadik for all his days.
In addition to his becoming rabbi and a Torah giant, he also was the rebbe, took kwitlekh, [notes requesting the rabbi's intervention with God for a marriage for a child, a child for a barren woman, etc.] worked hard over them and there were tales in Tarnogrod about him and the great things, miracles, how he became great in the doctrine of what is manifest, as well as in esoteric doctrine.
It was said about him, that while still in Krzeszów, a Jew came to him with a kwitl and cried greatly that he ran a mill that belonged to the landowner, near Krzeszów and now the landowner did not want to renew the contract with him because he intended to transfer the mill to a Christian and throw out him and his six children into the street.
The Kreszówer Tzadik told his shammes [synagogue caretaker] to hang the Jew's kwitl on a nail and he led home the distressed Jew and assured him that the landowner's wife would again rent the mill to him.
When the Jew came home, he heard that the landowner had hung himself and it did happen that the landowner's wife rented the mill to the Jew for the coming years.
It cannot be concealed: Hasidism is drenched in miracles and magical signs and it was also true of the Kreszówer Tzadik, who demonstrated things beyond the usual.
Reb Pinkhesl, the Konsker Rabbi, as he was called, was the son-in-law of the Kreszówer. Reb Hershele Taumim, the Vlodawar [Włodawa] Rabbi, one of the greatest rabbis at that time, was also his in-law.
Several rabbis, who wished to receive rabbinical ordination, would always be studying with him. Each of them was sure with this of his standing in life because rabbinical ordination from him was so widely respected in the rabbinical world.
The Kreszówer Tzadik was the rabbi in Tarnogrod for 20 years and died in 5627 (1867).
At his death, there was a consultation of three doctors at his bed and, when they said that his hours were numbered, the Tzadik called over his two sons: my grandfather, Reb Saul-Joel, and his second son, Avrahamle. He asked the doctors to leave and he blessed his sons.
He asked the shammes to bring water for washing, his tallis [prayer shawl] and kitel [long white linen robe, worn by rabbis and other prayer leaders on important occasions which also serves as a burial garment]. He put it on and got off the bed and stood to daven [pray] Mincha [afternoon prayer service].
He recited the Shemoneh-Esrei [Literally, eighteen. A silent prayer said while standing that had eighteen benedictions until an additional one was added. Also known as the Amidah] for Yom Kippur with all of the Al Het [Yom Kippur prayer of repentance] and the doctors could not get over their great amazement; they said that the strength that the rabbi had with which to stand was incomprehensible.
After finishing his praying, the rabbi returned to his bed, recited the Shema Yisroel [central prayer of Jewish liturgy, which expresses the concept of monotheism and declares faith in God] and breathed out his soul when saying echad [one, the last word of the Shema].
His son, Reb Saul-Joel my grandfather, was a homebody; he was the son-in-law of Reb Hershele Taumim, the Vlodawar Rabbi, and studied his entire life.
The other son, Reb Avraham Katzenelenbogen, was a merchant in Danzig, and exported wood abroad.
A grandchild was chosen as rabbi of the city, a son of his daughter, Reb Arie-Leib Teicher.
His grandson was more skillful in worldly affairs but perhaps Reb Saul-Joel was a scholar. Therefore, the kehila [Jewish community] pledged itself to provide Reb Saul-Joel with income and he actually lived every day with Torah and worship until the end of his life.
I was already 17 years old at the outbreak of the First World War. I then left the beit-hamidrash [house of study] and began to do business.
A great deal will certainly be written about those violent years, about the particular troubles that the Jews in the village went through. But there were also quiet days and young people began to become interested in what was happening in the wider world. We began to subscribe to Jewish newspapers, bought books and discussed important problems.
We, the youth, organized a group in the village, Supporters of the Poor. Everyone gave a certain amount. A minyan [minimum gathering of 10 men necessary for a communal religious service] came to pray every Shabbos and we also attracted several older men.
The communal energy was used not only for social purpose, but also to bring basic information, education and knowledge to the population.
Conflicts also took place, particularly at the sale of Passover flour. We did not want the poor to pay the same expensive prices that were demanded from the rich men. I then appeared in the beit-hamidrash with a speech in which I called on the group to take to heart the situation of the poor Jews.
Tewel Nachum immediately appeared after me and began to thunder against me, that I need to be thrown out of the beit-hamidrash because this is not a group of Supporters of the Poor, but a band of heretics.
This was our first great victory. Our activity won the sympathy of the population and we were approached to create a Hebrew school.
We brought a Hebrew teacher from Bialystok, a Vilna Jew, and despite the fact that the rabbi in the shtetl issued a call that children should not be sent to Hebrew school because children were being led there to conversion, we were successful in acquiring a certain number of students who received a nationalist education in the school.
I was then chosen as a member of the trustees of the school and with everyone we gave all of our energy to it. A longing for a Jewish national home lived in our hearts. Our aspirations for Zion became more earnest and stronger.
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