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Personalities, Businessmen,
Figures, and Types

 

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Admo”r Rabbi Jacob Aryeh of Wyszkow–Radzymin
(Admo”r is an honorific meaning: Our Master, Our Teacher, and Our Rebbe)

From “The Rabbi of Kotzk and His Sixty Hero's” monumental book about the
Torah, Account, and achievements of the Rabbi, his great followers and descendants up to the very last generation.
Written by Jeheskel Rotenberg and Moshe Scheinfield.
Published by “Netzah”, Tel–Aviv, 1959. Volume 2.

The Kotzk Dynasty, which is ramified with sons and disciples, was founded by Admo”r, the Elder Menakhem Mendel. And continued to blossom for many years after the Zadik's departure. His disciples have developed existing dynasties, which continue to spread brightness and purity all over the Khassidic world. The descendants of the dynasty were nearly completely annihilated by the Nazis,

Wyszkow, a small town in Poland. It was here that Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh began serving as rabbi. Since then, his life was a continuous chain of doings for his followers–children. In those few years that he was rabbi in Wyszkow, he acquired reputation for his distinguished piety. His devotion to his people, caring and worrying for each one of them in all aspects of life. (It was told of him that if one of the Khassidim fell ill, he would be beside himself with worry, and did everything in his power to have him cured.)

Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh was openly admired when his father, the Admo”r of Lamaz was still alive. When his father, the late Rabbi, passed away on the third day of Elul, year 5,686 (1926), the community appointed the Rabbi's son, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh to take over and become the rabbinical authority. Word spread that the Rabbi will begin his leadership the following Shabbat, in spite of still being in mourning of his great father.

The first Shabbat was a hit! Thousands of followers arrived from afar to participate. His uplifting Torah talk was exceptional. From that Shabbat many people, seeing his high personality, joined his leadership, complying with his every word of advice.

Aside being their Rabbi, his people found in him a fatherly figure who cares and thinks devotedly about each one of them, he would take interest in their general and financial life and offer help and empathy with good advice.

His home and courtyard were swarming with Jews from all over Poland, who came to seek his advice, or were in need of heavenly relief and mercy. With his constant smoking–pipe between his lips, his noble appearance and clever eyes claimed awesome respect from all who saw him.

The home of Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh had a unique blend of the Kotzk and Warki Khassidic movements. The Rabbi was the grandchild of Rabbi Menakhem Mendel of Kotzk, on the other side he was son–in–law of Rabbi Menakhem Kalisch of Amshinow – Warki so that the pure love of a fellow Jew was deeply implanted in his heart and permeated his personality.

A large amount of his followers, resided in Lodz. The Rabbi made a point to leave his home in Wyszkow, for one Shabbat annually, and come to his followers in Lodz. While being in Lodz he hosted at the home of R. Zysia Hendlis. This R. Zysia published the sefer “Toras Ha'Cohen” written by Rabbi Zysia of Plock, and Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh wrote a recommendation letter upon printing it.

In Lodz, he encouraged and strengthened the community and his influence was felt long, long after. This annual conduct caused love and unity amongst the Khassidim.

Years passed and the community in Wyszkow became larger as more and more Jews were drawn to Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh. Every Shabbat the courtyard crowded with Khassidim that gathered to pray, and then dine with the Rabbi. During the meals, he spoke deep thoughts of Torah that penetrated heart and soul.

In the year 5,692, the old Admo”r of Radzymin passed away and the Khassidim

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were left without a lead successor. They turned to Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh who was also a grandchild of the Radzymin Admo”r. The people of Wyszkow begged him to stay with them, but finally, the Radzymin Khassidim won, and the people of Wyszkow accompanied him respectfully out of the town.

Now that the town was left without a rabbinical authority they turned to the son of Admo”r Yaakov Aryeh, whose name was Rabbi David Shlomo, and he took over the position at Wyszkow.

Before World War II, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh felt the threatening danger that was looming above Jewish Europe. He wrote a special appeal from the depth of his heart, calling his followers to strengthen their contact with G–d and the Torah, and shouldn't fall weak in their faith. The letter was spread all over Poland and echoed strongly between the Khassidim in Poland

His sons who perished as well, as martyrs:

Rabbi Israel Isaac – Rabbi of Rotzk, Rabbi Elimelekh Jehuda – son–in–law of Admo”r Rabbi Joseph of Amshinov, Adm”r Mordekhai – Rabbi of Skrazisk, Rabbi Berisch – son–in–law of the Admo”r of Grokhow

Itta Tova Kalish, wife of Admo”r Rabbi Meir of Amshinov (May he live for many good days, amen), is the sole survivor of the complete distinguished rabbinic family.


Reb Khaim Henekh (Shtelung),
the Baal Tefilah [Prayer Leader]

by Menakhem Shtelung, Tel Aviv

Translated by Pamela Russ

(Dedicated to the memory of my father, mother, sisters, and brothers)

Who in Wyszkow did not know Reb Khaim Henekh – the Czerwiner Baal Musaf [the afternoon prayer leader from Czerwin]? He, along with his five sons, the accompanying singers, would give vitality to the souls of those who would hear his Kol Nidrei [primary prayer on Yom Kippur eve], and afternoon prayer on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, or simply a Neilah [final prayer at the closing of Yom Kippur]. His “G–d, He is the Lord,” tore open the Heavens.

When it was time for Neilah, people from the other synagogues, study halls, and congregations left their places and came to the Gerer shteibel [small house of prayer], in order to enjoy Khaim Henekh's sweet voice. Even our neighbor, the mohel [ritual slaughterer] Cziwiak, of blessed memory, who was the khazzan in the large synagogue (until the arrival of Khazzan Malkiel Brukhanski, of blessed memory), also came over for Neilah, to her Khaim Henekhs's prayers…

 

My mother tells…

My father's success as a khazzan, and the frequent briefings to me in town as one of his sons and assistants, made me curious to know how he had achieved this career. I gathered up my courage and once asked my mother, Esther Mindel, may she rest in peace. To my great surprise my mother sat down with me and gladly began to tell the whole story:

“When Khaim Henekh was a fifteen–year–old boy, he came from Czerwin to study here in the local yeshiva. Every Friday night, he would lead the prayers, and soon his singing became famous in town. Many young girls would stand under the window and they would enthusiastically listen to the beautiful singing. I too would be one of the frequent guests under the window of the Wyszkower yeshiva, from which the prayers of Kabboles Shabbath [the beginning of Shabbat] of the Czerwiner young man would be carried. I, along with other girls, would wait a long time after the prayers were ended to see him leave. Now, there is nothing to hide. I very much liked this khazzan and my parents felt this. As was done in those times, my mother left to see her father, Reb Moshe Sokol, a wealthy, Jewish man. After several words, my father sent over a matchmaker, and in a blessed time, we were married. Since Reb Khaim Henekh came from Gerer khassidim, he started to pray in the Gerer shteibel. Once, on a Friday night, they asked him to lead the prayers – and the Gerer …

 

wys121.jpg
Reb Khaim Henekh Shtelung

 

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… could not praise him enough. From that time on, he became the regular prayer leader there…”

 

Why not a shokhet [ritual slaughterer]?

I remember as if today, even though I was just five or six years old then. In a bureau drawer I just happened to find a shokhet's knife wrapped in a scarf. I left with the find to my father and asked him why there was a knife in the house if he wasn't a shokhet? He mumbled some words, of which I understood nothing, but I felt that he wanted to hide a secret from me. I was very curious, so years later when I asked my mother, Esther Mindel, may she rest in peace, the same question, again she did not hide anything and said:

“After the wedding, Khaim Henekh was “oif kest” [had daily room and board] with his father–in–law, as was the style then, and was there for several years. But he also composed several compositions to “lekho dodi” [Friday evening prayer, “Come My Beloved”] and composed several other cantorial melodies. At the same time, he also studied how to be a shokhet – and was also successful. He would always take the sharpened knives to the Rav, and after, when the Rav had checked them all, the decision was made: He would be given the right to be a shokhet. But, he did not become a shokhet… He was simply too gentle. He had a weak nature, could not look at spilled blood and at slaughtered chickens that wanted to live … His breaking point came in the slaughterhouse where they killed livestock. He came there with a properly sharpened knife and was prepared to do his job for the first time. Everything was ready, but – all at once, the cow raised her head and gave a sorrowful look at your father, so it seemed as if she was asking: Why do I deserve to be slaughtered? – – –

He put away his knife back into its sheath – and went back home with a strong conviction of never becoming a shokhet

 

New Compositions

After forgoing shkhita [slaughtering], my father completely turned to khazzanus [cantorial music]. He used to compose new melodies that quickly became popular in the town, and then travel far, far beyond the border of Wyszkow. When we the children grew up, he would teach us the new melodies. On Shabbath, when we would sing zemiros [special songs in honor of Shabbath], it was very festive in our house. We not only sang, but harmonized together, learning new compositions. For shalosh seudos [the third meal, Shabbath evening], we would partake at the home of the chief rabbi of our city. My father would take me there along with him, where I would help him sing his new melodies. I remember that once, at such a shalosh seudos, Reb Khaim Henekh requested such a new melody, and the crowd remained glued to their seats. They spoke about this for a long time afterward, and I was especially proud of my father's accomplishment. The chief rabbi himself called out: “Strength to you!” [“thank you”].

A few weeks before the High Holidays, it was very festive in our home. There was a whole choir of singers, directed by our brother Avrom Moshe, of blessed memory, who for hours, day in and day out, prepared for those days. My father's “Unesane Tokef” [“Let Us Speak of the Power…” solemn prayer of the High Holidays] or the “Hineni He'oni” [“I Came before You…” another solemn prayer of the High Holidays], are to this day deeply engraved in my memory. When I go to hear a khazzan today, I always try to compare them to my father's new compositions or his interpretations of famous melodies. It is always evident to me that the Wyszkower prayer leader Reb Khaim Henekh takes first place…

After we completed our prayers on the High Holidays – the reward came quickly. Gerer khassidim almost had a “war” among themselves over having the honor of inviting us to their table for Kiddush [light lunch after services, beginning with prayers recited over a cup of wine]. They wanted very much to express their acknowledgement and gratitude for having had the pleasure and enjoyment of our leading the prayers.

And that's how our family – along with the entire town – lived until the outbreak of the First World War.

 

In Warsaw

As soon as the Germans took over Poland, we decided to leave Wyszkow and go to Warsaw where our sisters Khaya and Brokho'tche lived. We dragged ourselves with horse and wagon for several days to the capital of Poland. The traveling was very difficult and exhausting. We were attacked by bandits, and I don't remember exactly if my father gave them money to save our lives. One thing I do remember: The thieves terrified me and in their presence I cried and screamed bitterly. Nonetheless, we arrived safely to our sisters.

With the permission of the Gerer Rebbe, my father became the prayer leader for Musaf [the afternoon Shabbath prayers] in the Gerer shteibel in Warsaw on Gensze [see Gęsia note below[1]] 19. Here too, my father, along with his sons as the choir, was very successful. But Reb Khaim Henekh missed home very much, missing the Gerer in Wyszkow. He also knew that one was not permitted to resign so easily from a fixed job [referring to his cantorial job back home]. He prayed for a quick end to the war so that he could go home.

An opportunity for this arose – but from a different, indirect, and tragic way. Our sister Yokheved, aged 15, while standing in line all night waiting for bread, received a smack in the head from a German with butt of his gun. She died from a brain infection. In great distress from this tragedy, my father said this was probably a punishment from G–d, because he had broken off his fixed time of work [back home], even though the Rebbe had allowed him to do so. So he returned to Wyszkow for the High Holidays …

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… and led the prayers there. And from that time, wherever he was, he would always come back to Wyszkow for Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur, even when he lived in Ostrolenka and other places.

 

A Seder [Passover Ceremony] Night

At the end of World War One, we were back in Wyszkow, and we lived on Stodlana Street in the large wooden house of Jakubowycz, where there was also the home of the shokhet Yankel Bursztyn.

Our home was large, and especially the huge dining–room which is etched in my memory, which was set and prepared for the seder night. But this is what happened. Right in Passover eve, the Russians took over the city and some of the officers went into homes to demand requisite lodging for the army. That night, when my father recited Kiddush [blessing over a cup of wine] with his strongly melodious voice, the door opened and a Russian officer entered. He wanted to begin to speak and certainly demand to have the house for himself or for other military personnel, but my father did not interrupt his Kiddush, and the officer, excited and upset, instead of making his demand, simply placed his hand on his cap, saluted, and quietly left. All of us saw an extraordinary miracle in this. On that seder night, my father and his sons as the choir, surpassed even himself. Until the early hours, we sang and celebrated. Particularly festive, was our father's reply to our question of “Ma Nishtana…?” [“Why is this night different…?” one of the “Four Questions” that begins the seder recitation]…

Don't forget that these types of visits of Tzarist officers to Jewish homes would generally end tragically. According to the mood in town at that time, there was the danger not only of losing one's home, but also to punish, to mock, the residents. An officer from Nikolai's army did not demonstrate exemplary politeness towards the Jew, especially during wartime, when Wyszkow was not far from the front. I remember how at that time my childish heart pounded from fear and my entire family waited with terror for the judgement. And because nothing happened to us that night – it remained engraved in our memories. Our large home was one of the only ones that was not requisitioned by the Czarist army. As a memory of that night, we would arrange and celebrate every seder night with exceptional singing and ceremony. Beneath our windows there stood many residents of the town and listened to my father's compositions.

At the beginning of the 1930s, when I made Aliyah [moved] to the Land of Israel, in his letters to me, my father asked if I remembered that Passover in Wyszkow and his seder. In the year 1935, instead of responding to his letter, I sent him the following lines:

 

My Father's Seder

My father sits today at the seder table
And my mother at his side.
Both are thinking, as was done,
About the children far away.

Once Passover holiday was so festive,
The entire house filled with laughter
My father – an authentic king
Among his sons and daughters.

To each child, a second question
Would be asked by my beloved father
And now, each has flown off
Across distant, wandering roads.

Now my mother sits at the seder table,
Just as I am doing here.
He is there and I am here,
Both lonely as a rock.

That's how, in these helpless lines, I expressed my yearnings and ties to my mother and father, whom I wanted to bring over to Israel, but was not successful because of the political certification of the mandating government, and because I myself had entered Israel illegally (with the Second Aliyah).

 

Death in Warsaw Ghetto

On his final High Holy Days, in the year 1940, Reb Khaim Henokh led the prayers in the Gerer shteibel in the Warsaw ghetto. This time he did not have his choir and not even his congregants. The two quorums of Jews [20 people] were not Gerer khassidim. The few that managed to save themselves from under Hitler's nails, tell how heartrending and anguish–filled these prayers of Reb Khaim Henekh were. He too, with the example of Reb Levi of Berditchev [great khassidic leader 1740–1809], complained to the Creator: “What do You want from Your Nation of Israel?”

He merited to die a natural death and had a large funeral in the Warsaw ghetto. He was buried in the Gęsia*cemetery where our dear mother was buried in the year 1935.

May their illuminated memory be honored!


Footnotes

  1. Gęsia (pronounced Gensha/Gensze) means Goose (Street) in Polish. Before World War II, it began at Nalewki Street (its extension to the east was a street named Franciszkanska) and ran west to the gates of the Jewish Cemetery at Okopowa Street. It no longer exists. Return


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Reb Khaim Malkhiel (Brukhanski),
the Khazzan [Cantor]

by Y. Brukhanski

Translated by Pamela Russ

My father, Reb Khaim Malkhiel Brukhanski, may he rest in peace, came from Lomza. My grandfather, my father's father, Reb Eliyahu Brukhanski, of blessed memory, was also a Khazzan [cantor], shokhet [ritual slaughterer], a fine singer, and a pious Jew. In his younger years, he sang for Nisen Belzer, the renowned Tzadik [righteous man]. The famous Tzadik Reb Zalmele Khosid, the first Lomzer Rebbe, was his great–uncle.

As a child, my father displayed great musical talent and already at that time he would be an accompanying singer in the largest synagogues. He sang for Pinye Minkowski in Odessa, and also in Kherson, where he also studied music. Because he was a religious Jew, he chose to be a khazan [cantor], shokhet [ritual slaughterer], and a mohel [circumciser].

His first position was in the small town of Serock. He lived there for not more than one year. It seems that he did not have any great earnings from there, so he left for Nowy Dwor, and remained there for two years. Here, his earnings were not so great either, so he left this position as well.

There was also another reason: This happened in the year 1905, when the Jewish socialists warned him that if he would continue to make a “mi se'beirach” [blessings for someone's wellbeing] for the Tzar – they cannot be held responsible for his life…

He left Nowy Dwor and went to Makow, and here, too, his earnings were little. My father always made sure that the level of prayers or of blowing the shofar should always be the highest. He was always exceptionally fastidious in these areas. Recognizing that the Makower Rav, Reb Reb Yisroel Nisen Kuperstok, was, other than a religious man, also an outstanding baal tefilah [leader of prayers], my father helped him. Especially – during Neilah [closing prayer for Yom Kippur], when the Rav prayed in the famous Makower synagogue. My father would also take pleasure in the pure blowing of the shofar done by the abovementioned Rav.

The roaming did not end in Makow. The next town – Goworowa, which was almost entirely destroyed in World War One. Of the Jewish community, half remained. Here he met the renowned Torah–reader Yenkel Klepycz. He went especially to hear him read [the Torah portion] when he still had time. In Goworowa, there also lived a family of nobility, scholarship, and multi–branched – the family Grudko. One of the family members – Reb Khaim Ber Grudko, along with his wife Brajna, later became my in–laws. Reb Khaim Ber was an excellent baal tokeah [the man who blows the shofar], and my father always selected him to blow the shofar wherever he [my father] was praying.

After Goworowa, we went to Zakroczym. Here, doing the ritual slaughter was already too difficult for my father, because he still had to service the local fort with ritual slaughter. So, he went to Wyszkow where he stayed until the end of World War Two.

The praying, blowing of the shofar, and Torah reading were all holy work for my father. If the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah was not done properly, he would not continue with the Shemoneh Esrei [the “Eighteen Blessings,” central part of prayers] but would signal with his hand to repeat the blowing of the shofar.

Reb Khaim Malkhiel died in Lomza as a refugee, in the year 1940.

May his memory be honored!


Yisroel Asman

by Yosef Zajdenstat

Translated by Pamela Russ

He came from Wyszkow. In about the year 1906, he came to Lomza and took private classes. He was drawn to the intellectual Zionist circles because he was a man of letters. He wrote stories of khassidic life in Zeitlin's “Yiddishe Wokhenblat” [Jewish weekly]. He would participate in illegal meetings; speak in synagogues about Zionism; study “Ein Yakov” [commentary on Talmud] with the youth, and explain the “agudahs” [legendary material] of the Talmud according to science and logical thought. He immigrated to America (Los Angeles) in 1909. There he published his pedagogical and literary works in the “Zukunft” [“The Future”] and in “Hadoar” [“The Post,” Hebrew weekly]. He translated Carlyle's “Heroes and Their Hero–Worship” into Yiddish. He also published stories in Hebrew in an exceptional style.

In his house, which served as a club for the skilled and for writers, he would always mention Lomza where he himself learned a lot and studied with others. He prepared himself to go to Israel – but he did not merit to do so. He died of a lengthy illness in the year 1950 [5711]. In Lomza he had many friends and admirers.

(From the Lomza Book, Its Rise and Fall, New York, p. 8)


Yisroel Asman's Folk Legends and Folklore

by Sh. Ernst

Translated by Pamela Russ

The Jewish folk–treasure was for generations like a sealed well. Inside, it fought, thrashed, and stormed – but it did not reach being investigated.

Who ever looked at old wives' tales? From generation to generation, old treasures amassed of true folklorist richness:

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… tales which the folk–people weave “without knowing,” without skilled inspiration, but in the spirit of the people's soul, until the rise and sprouting of the Jewish folk story. In his “Popular Stories,” Y.L. Peretz drew rich panoramas and pictures that describe the “past” with rich, dramatic elements, and awoke the interest in other writers and artists.

After him came Mikhah–Yosef Berdiczewski, who broke a window in the ghetto wall of the Middle Ages. In his work “Tzefunos Ve'Agudos” [“Secrets and Tales”] and “Me'Otzar Ha'Agudah” [“From the Treasures of the Tales”], he gave us important folklore material.

Yisroel Asman – Dr. Khaim Zhitlowski described – followed in their footsteps. At that time each week he would publish his stories from the cellar – old sheimos [tattered papers with holy names on them, etc.] in the New York newspaper “Tog” (“Daily).” Asman, more so than Berdiczewski, saw “36 Tzadikim” [“36 righteous men”[1]] not only in the craftsmen, but also among the vagabonds and people from the dek (?).

Zhitlowski writes that in Yisroel Asman's stories and tales the simple Jew also was “repaired” [given prominence] for the entire year.

 

Jewish Folk–Fantasies in the Middle Ages – Some of Asman's Publications

Y. Asman's book “Sefer Ha'Nisyonos” [“Book of Trials”], that was published in Yiddish and Hebrew, is only a small sample of his large treasure of folk–stories that he published over the years in the New York “Daily,” and in this book he only gave samples of all kinds of stories, some of which he had prepared handwritten and which did not merit to be published in book form.

In his weekly folktales in the “Daily,” he also published “mystical folk fantasies.” “Rabbi Yosef Dela Reina” [Tzfat, 1418–1472; story of how he wanted to invoke the coming of the Messiah] was not an exception, a rarity, but an expression of people's life and stormy inner tension for generations. He describes these moments in many variations.

 

The Messiah Idea in Folk Legends

The “Messiah idea” smouldered in the people's soul, and the longing for “salvation” broiled up from time to time, and with the events [of the time], they affected the folk legends. The false Messiahs, Shabtai Tzvi [1626–1676, rabbi and kabbalist, self–proclaimed Messiah, Turkey, Europe] and Yakov Frank [18th century Poland, claimed to be reincarnate of Shabtai Tzvi], had a rich resonance in folk fantasies – and Yisroel Asman describes several interesting folk legends about Shabtai Tzvi, as he meditated at the sea and how, using Holy Names of G–d, he sank a ship of pirates …

Also, about the discussion that Frank had in the year 5519 (1759) with Reb Khaim Kohen Rappaport, Asman has a story: They go out, and along the way the horse does not want to continue going. So they remain there for the Shabbath and they miss their trip to Lemberg. Later, it becomes known, that during that same time, the Frankists [Frank's followers] had organized a “fire” of Talmud books on the non–Jewish street in Lemberg that was being prepared at their [Frank's and Rappaport's] arrival. They [the two men] merited not seeing this great desecration with their own eyes because the horse was obstinate and did not want to continue.

 

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Yisroel Asman in Los Angeles

 

About Yakov Frank and His Followers

The majority of legends about Yisroel Asman are based on historical fact. His portrayal of Yakov Frank, the False Messiah, was taken from Frank's own handwritten “Biblia Balamutno” [Frank's own manuscript called “Book (Bible) of Disturbances”] in red ink, is based on the famous book by Alexander Kraushar in Polish, “Frank and His Frankists,” and on Zalman Shazar's “Ikvot Akhim Ovdim” [“Footprints of Laboring Brothers”], publications of Offenbach, and others.

Also, his stories of Frank's follower Baron Wolf von Eibeschitz, the son of the Rav of Prague, the Gaon [genius] Reb Noson Eibeschitz, how he becomes repentant after the death of his father, Reb Yonosel Prager, who would not allow him to sleep with his disturbing dreams.

 

Popular Fantasies Are Unified

When reading Y. Asman's “The Book of Challenges,” you would think this is a real Jewish creation. But according to the Jewish mystical inclination in the Middle Ages, Sh. Pietrushka writes in the Warsaw “Today” about Asman's book that his stories are migrant motifs of folklore, because the Jewish ghetto in the Middle Ages was actually not isolated from the influence of the local people. Also,

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… Sh. Prager shows that Asman's story “David King of Israel” is similar to the story of “ Fligan and Troles,” who lived in the second century, and also to “Haribhadra,” according to Johannes Hertel's Indian stories.

Y. Asman once wrote about his folklorist work himself: “I easily take a story that demonstrates the sensitive Jewish spirit that is soaked with migrant folklore. Jewish folklore resembles worldly folklore. With the popular motifs, while having his own productions from his inner well of life, old Yiddish had as its beginning the “Artur Roman” [novel] and a book about Prince Bobeh that later became the familiar “Bobeh Maaseh” [old wives' tales]. Also – “Ulenspiegel” and the “Spilman Richtung” [“Spilman Way”] – all rooted in worldly folklore.

“In its unique setting – writes the famous essayist Khaim Liberman – Jewish literature could not keep going in the direction that European literature experienced. For that reason, the unique Jewish folk spirit evolved, which shows us in the folk story the eternal human questions, and the relationship with G–d, the world, and the human being.”

We find a new approach to Jewish folklore with Yisroel Asman. While we find in the folktale book “Oseh Peleh” [“He (G–d) does Wonders”], or “Maasim Pelaim” [“Acts of Wonder”], “Niflaos Tzadikim” [“Miracles of the Righteous”], and others, we always find a moral or religious thought, then Y. Asman's stories have a worldly depth. If other folktales cannot be separated from the current thinking of those who created them, then Asman's fantasies are free, not tightly bound to any limitation, while stylistically maintaining the authentic folkloristic characteristic.

 

Reports and Lectures about His Productions

When Yisroel Asman was in Israel, I went with his compatriot Motel Wenger to Asman's lecture about his productions:

“I always searched in the soul of the people,” he said, “the stamp of the folk spirit, and distanced myself from every story where I recognized the fingerprint of an individual signature, without the fingerprint of an individual – This is the absolute sign of a true folktale.”

“I searched for the “36 Tzadikim” [righteous men] in the folktales of evil men, of a spiteful person, a sinner without any respect for rabbis. You would think that this person is an outcast, but in his heart he has a deep love for the Creator. Beggars, who are everywhere across the country, and those begging for money – they were in the folk–fantasies of the “36 Tzadikim,” for whom the world is being sustained.

“If I searched for that which is really Jewish and for that which originates from foreign nations, I had the sign that Sh. Ansky gave: “The eternal concept, ” not the passing one, but that which remains, which lasts, that which is a piece of eternity – that is truly Jewish.

“In the Jewish folktale there is the cycle – of faith in the Creator. Nowhere, not with anyone else, is the motif of faith stronger.

“If Khoni Hamagel[2] sees how a Jew is planting carob tree that will bear fruit only in about 70 years, that too is the theme of “faith,” since that Jew, who lives in constant fear of having to move to another place, is offering assurance to his grandchildren, since he has faith that they will benefit from his work.

“A gray day was always a corridor to a bright tomorrow.

“King David, the young shepherd, was triumphant over Goliath, who was armed from head to toe – is once again a victory motif, as the Jewish spirit will be able to defeat the physical strength that to him is abhorrent.”

In “Hatzofe” [“The Observer” newspaper] the author of these lines wrote about Y. Asman's lecture, that he reflected the romantic charm of the Jewish world–conduct with the complete fantasy that is unique to the Jewish mentality. A Jew has a “World of Legends,” living with the memories of previous generations that were also carried over to the “Next World.” The Jewish spirit in the course of time has distanced itself from the circle of time.

“The association of time and place does not exist for the Jewish story. They would put children to sleep with stories of long ago. The theory of relativity existed for us Jews long before Einstein, in a romantic way.

“I would like now to cite Sh. Niger's appraisal of Y. Asman's stories:

“Yisroel Asman is the master of the legend of long ago. He does not search for world ideas, as Y.L. Peretz, but he wants to show us how the tattered, ragged Jewish pauper bathed in the ritual bath of the large folk well. His stories do not always have a romantic character; in fact sometimes it's the opposite: abrasive, coarse, or a helpless creature. But even such a creation is G–d's creation, part of the higher regions of the cosmos.”

Yisroel Asman was the master of the Jewish folktale. He used his own fantasy in order to clothe each legend in literary robes. His talented descriptions are not only narrative, but bring the reader into the fantasy of the magic realm, around which the persecuted Jewish masses wrapped themselves as an armed circle against different demons that arose against their existence. The people's soul always searched for G–d's mercy in the baggage of generations and dreams of the future. His intellectual baggage greatly enhanced his talented strengths. It is unfortunate that he took to his deep eternity a large part of his viable creations.

[Page 127]

In one of his stories, he once described the magic, dark gate of the cemetery, which he later went to, dying before his time, not being able to publish his works in book form.

May these lines be a memorial tombstone for his honored memory!


Footnotes

  1. It is said that in every generation there are 36 (“Lamed Vav” in Hebrew the letters are numbers) righteous people for whom the world is sustained. Return
  2. Jewish scholar of the First Century. It is told that on one occasion, when there was no rain well into the winter (in the geographic regions of Israel, it rains mainly in the winter), Khoni drew a circle in the dust, stood inside it, and informed G–d that he would not move until it rained. When it began to drizzle, Khoni told G–d that he was not satisfied and expected more rain; it then began to pour. He explained that he wanted a calm rain, at which point the rain calmed to a normal rain. (Jewish Virtual Library) Return


Yisroel Asman in Los Angeles

by Yekhiel Bzhoza

Translated by Pamela Russ

We, the Wyszkower in Los Angeles, were very proud of our landsman [compatriot] Yisroel Asman when he lived here in this city for a few years, where he was respected and beloved by the entire Jewish population.

He ran a refined home, and was known as a great host. Understandably, when a Wyszkower came here, Asman's home was the address where we met, asked about other landsleit [compatriots]. His home was also the address of other Jewish writers and social activists who would come to Los Angeles. Whenever a needy Jewish writer had to sell his books, Yisroel immediately went to work, drove around with him in his car from morning until late at night, not only to help the writer, but mainly – to spread more Jewish books in Jewish homes.

Yisroel Asman was the book master par excellence, raised by a father who was an intellect and a great scholar, all his life Yisroel did not cease to dig and research old Jewish books. He was in love with Jewish books and in the Jewish nation – the People of the Book.

Years ago, he was a teacher in a Jewish Talmud Torah [Hebrew school]. He never stopped being interested in Jewish education. He was one of the initiators to create the “Bureau of Jewish Education” in the community, and then later became one of their directors.

He also belonged to one of the founders of the local “Jewish Culture Club” that does important culture work in the Jewish street.

Within a few years, Yisroel was a contributor to the New York newspaper “Daily” where he wrote interesting khassidic stories. He was also the representative of that same paper for the distant western states. Each year, he would travel for a few weeks across the Jewish cities and towns, in the interests of the newspaper. He was welcomed everywhere with respect and love. Other than the social matters, he also was occupied with readings of literary themes. He particularly enjoyed speaking about Y.L. Peretz.

Yisroel is also the author of an important book built on khassidic legends and kabbalah [Jewish mysticism]. The book was also published in Hebrew, in his own translation (“Sefer Hanisyonos”; “Book of Trials”).

Another characteristic stripe in Yisroel's personality was his close tie to our tradition and his keeping of the Shabbath and Jewish holidays. Every Friday, he was very busy preparing for Shabbath. He himself used to prepare the gefilte fish [traditional Friday night food made of ground fish].

On Friday night, for the festive meal, he always had guest. They recited the Kiddush [blessing over wine], sang zemiros [special Shabbath songs], discussed Torah issues, and recounted khassidic stories until late in the night.

His Passover seders were something to talk about. It was considered a sign of recognition to be invited to participate in conducting the seder at Asman's home. Each year, before Passover, he himself would prepare the kharoses [mixture of apples, nuts, and wine to use as part of the seder ritual] for all his friends and neighbors.

Yisroel Asman was a deep thinker and researcher, but at the same time – a quiet, calm, and humble man.

In the year 1949, Asman went for a visit to Israel with the intention to settle there. But he became sick there and had to return home.

After a long and difficult illness, he died on June 8, 1951. He left his wife Penina, a son Shlomo, and his sister Laya.

May his memory be honored!


Community Activists
(Wyszkower Personalities)

by Yitzkhok Baharav

Translated by Pamela Russ

Five Wyszkower figures: Dovid Gurni, Eli–Meyer Goldman, Moishe–Yosef Abramczyk, Dovid–Leyb Holdak, Velvel Kronenberg

Dovid Gurni. He helped many needy Jews, paid them weekly monies. He himself took money to some of them personally for Shabbath. There were some who were embarrassed to tell anyone about their need – but they trusted Dovid Gurni, and he supported everyone, even beyond his own capabilities… May these few lines be an honored Kaddish [prayer for the deceased] for this holy martyr.

Eli–Meyer Goldman. He and his wife Elke discreetly gave a lot of charity. Not everyone knew that he was sustaining several families with financial support and other charitable deeds. As president of the “Kupiecki Bank” [founded in 1920, it allotted funds to Jewish credit co–operatives], I would often call him over, because he endorsed the exchanges of many Jews who later did not have the money to repay. On the spot, he brought in the papers, and tore up the promissory notes. These kinds of events did not prevent him from endorsing others again…

[Page 128]

Moshe Yosef Abramczyk. An Amshinower khassid [follower of the Amshinower Rebbe], prayer leader on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, community secretary and secretary of the merchants' union, bookkeeper in the “Kupiecki Bank.” Since he managed the registry of those who needed social help, he knew everyone's situation. He knew the status of each small merchant, artisan, market traveler – in a confidential and discreet manner he would get money from the community and the bank for the needed support as loans that put them back on their feet. One Friday night, very late, I met Reb Moshe Yosef, and he was carrying a heavy basket. When I asked about this, he told me that just before candle–lighting time, just as he was closing up the administration office, a Jew came over to him (he did not want to say the name) and confessed that he had nothing for Shabbath and asked to borrow ten zlotys. Abramczyk immediately gave him the requested amount, but it was late and all the stores were already closed. The Jew could just about buy candles, bread, and herring. Reb Moshe Yosef was worried that, Heaven forbid, a Jew and his children would be hungry over Shabbath – so from his own prepared food, he took half, put it into a basket – and now was taking it over to him…

Dovid Leyb Holdak. He was better known as the Branszczyker baker. He lived and had his bakery in the marketplace in the medic Malowanczyk's house. He gave a lot of charity, worked very hard, but each night, after completing the baking, took down four breads and divided them up among the poor. In the same way, each Friday, from noon onwards, he would go to stores and homes and call out: “Jews, please give a few groshen [pennies] to poor Jews!” He was a sick man, heavy, and his walking was difficult. Nonetheless, he did not forego a single Friday to do this mitzvah. His words were well–known in town, when he asked someone for monies: …: “jak posmarujesz, to pojedziesz…” (“that you grease (my palm), then you will go” (i.e., “travel”).

Velvele Kronenberg. Better known as Velvele Yehoshua Wajnmakher's, a Gerer khassid. He lived off what his children sent him from America. He was always satisfied, would always sit in the Gerer shteibel, and only thought about how and for whom to do a favor… Because there were children in the Talmud Torah who came from poor households, who didn't even have the funds to pay school fees, Reb Velvele (without being rewarded for this!) arranged for Wyszkower businessmen to pay weekly funds to the Talmud Torah. Everyone gave, poor and wealthy, as much as they could. He considered it a great mitzvah for Jewish children to learn Torah and to be able at the same time to have food to eat. Three times a week, from Wednesday to Friday, summer and winter, he would collect these weekly payments going up stairs and into cellars.

These are the kind of Jews that Wyszkow had.


Henekh Kaluski

by Avigdor Mondry

Translated by Pamela Russ

One of the most popular figures in town, a respected Zionist activist, to whom the ideologies of Hertzl, Hesse, and Pinsker were dear and beloved, he believed that we were approaching the realization of the establishment on Zion [Messianic times].

Henekh Kaluski possessed a great capacity for persuasion, and it was easy for him to attract new people into the movement and have them become active in the fundraising for Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal], Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund], and for laboring Israel.

In town, it was also known that Henekh Kaluski was always ready to help a friend with any advice or support, and warmly be there for each person.

His deeds in the area of culture were particularly significant. He established a library, evening classes for teaching Hebrew, and the founding of Tarbut schools [Hebrew language schools] – is one of the undeniable assets of Henekh Kaluski.

There was a time when the Zionist movement conducted a campaign to buy a small farm in Israel. Kaluski was very preoccupied with this project. He dreamed of sending his children to Israel in order to settle his entire family there later on. In 1924, he sent his son and daughter–in–law there. Despite the difficulties because of the mandating government and the opposition of the Arabs, he believed with all his faith, that the Zionist ideal would be successful.

As secretary of the United Zionist Committee in Wyszkow, I remember the sacrificing, tireless activity and initiative of Henekh Kaluski.

Sadly, this idealist and fighter did not merit to see the State of Israel. He was dealt the tragic fate of the Jewish people at the time of Hitler's occupation and died in sanctification of G–d's Name.

May his memory be honored!

 

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