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[Page 17]

How Can I Forget You

 

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[Page 19]

How Can I Forget My Native Town?

by Pinchas Erlich

Translated by Jerrold Landau

How can I forget my town, the city of my playful childhood, the city of my youth? You are engraved on my heart – all of your alleyways, roads, Beis Midrashes, and synagogues, as well as all the good things that you embraced within yourself.

How did a logger come and cut down your root with us being far away never being anxious about it – we the youth who have already started a new life in the homeland of Israel? How did we not know about it while there was still time – we the youth who have already blended with the soil of the homeland; we, the people who immigrated to Israel who before our aliya, loved, both the old and the new avenue – the Lewensztejn Garden and all the fine corners therein, there for our enjoyment, as we sat there dreaming, singing the song of Zion, debating about issues of the Land of Israel, and setting up a Hebrew corner.

So pure were you Zawiercie, so tending to mercy. You would decorate yourself for the splendor of the Sabbath. Marszalkowska Street, the main street of the Jewish quarter in the city, was bedecked in festive garb on Sabbath afternoon. Everything was peaceful and restful. The Sabbath calm enveloped everything.

Who can forget the spectacular picture of the old market before evening. Who can forget the spring that trickled its blue water through the pipe sticking out of all sides around the structure above the spring. It seemed as if the well was casting glances at all the alleyways that split and twisted out from the old market. There, in those alleyways, lived the masses of Jews. There, in those alleys Jews were living in droves. There a traditional Jewish life was weaved. Jews were attracted to the place. Dear Jews went out on Sabbaths and festivals with black ibitzes made out of shiny, black, atlas wool, as they walked to the Hassidic houses of worship where they would break out in Hassidic melodies that penetrated the hearts of the men of the sanctuary. There were the sons of the Temple…

Who can forget how people would push their way into the home of the Rabbi of Kozieg?owy to hear Torah from his lips – regular Jews, Hassidim and G–d fearing? They would go there, active and enthusiastic: Moshka Milchior, Reb Moshe Aharon, as well as all kinds of regular Jews, craftsmen – carpenters, hat makers, or tailors. They would all enjoy the splendor of the Torah. They would warm themselves with the light of the Torah and dismiss the world material issues[1]. They would forget their financial worries, the well being of their home, the agony of a girl who has reached the age of marriage. Everyone would unite: “Bnei Heichala Dichsifin Lemechzei Ziv Dizeir Anpin” [The men of the sanctuary who yearned to gaze a minute glamor of the Miniature Presence[2]

How can I forget Zawiercie? Here is the Beis Midrash on a winter dawn. The city is mostly covered with snow. Reb Alter the Shamash is busy next to the hot water urn. He is pouring and distributing steaming, aromatic tea. The Yeshiva students are already sitting in front of their open Gemaras, and the voice of Torah emanates, ascending

[Page 20]

and blending with the voices of prayer of the Jews who got up early. The winter dawn glimpses through the windows… and enjoys: Jewish lads studying Torah… Even those Jews who peered and were afflicted[3], those who already browsed secular books, are still careful about the light and difficult commandments. Reb Henech Srulke's fought with them to the bitter end… And there was the noble and unforgettable image of Reb Shimele Kornicer, who influenced people with his pleasant mannerisms, as he taught the congregation from books of morality, such as Mesillat Yesharim [The Paths of the Just], and Chovot Halevavot [The Duties of the Heart]. Simple, regular “year round” Jews sat around him, listening to his lessons and pondering in their hearts about what was awaiting them in the World to Come. Who will uncover the dust from your eyes, Reb Shimlele, This is Torah and this is its reward…[4]

The Beis Midrash on winter evenings, Yeshivat Migdal Oz with its principal Reb Menachem Mendel, who blended Torah and morality, and used to say, “A man is like the tree of a field. As long as the tree is young, it is possible to bend it this way or that way…”

The diligent students excelled in the Yeshiva, and among them Aharon Zylbersztejn, a pure, upright young man, who busied himself only with G–d's Torah. His hand did not leave the Gemara. It is said that he was lower than the grass to symbolize his high modesty. He would talk quietly. In the Yeshiva, there were also sharp–witted people, students of the Yeshiva of the Rabbi of Kozieg?owy: Eli Flom, Chaiml Amstiwer, the Krankewer[5]… and the prodigy of Krośniewice…

*

The Beis Midrash was a treasure trove of characters: There were beggars who came from somewhere, with the odor of the fields wafting from their outworn clothes. They would warm themselves next to the large oven and would tell lots of stories about this and that. Among them there was a mute Jew, tall, thin – the epitome of a Jew in exile. There was also Reb Fishel the Blind, who appeared in Zawiercie at the end of the summer, at the time of the sounding of the shofar at the beginning of the month of Elul. He knew the entire city. He “saw” and recognized every youth who chatted with him. At the end of Yom Kippur, Reb Fishel would disappear as suddenly as he came…

Here the evenings before autumn, the youths would gather in the avenue: the leaves were falling… The songs of the High Holy Days and Hassidic songs echoed from between the trees. The heart yearned.

And there was the courtyard of the Rabbi of Kromolów… The trees of the garden… Hassidim came to draw inspiration from the Rebbe. They wandered around in the garden, smelling the aroma of the holy apple field…[6] The atmosphere of the Land of Israel…

All of those righteous women, our mothers and grandmothers who collected charity to distribute secretly to the poor, and who bore upon themselves the yoke of sustenance, and the difficult housework, in order to feed, raise, and educate their children. They believed that everything would be good, for it must be good…

Oh, how was Zawiercie annihilated, and how has it become as if it never existed?


Translator's Footnotes

  1. I.e. immerse themselves in the spirit of the World To Come. Return
  2. A Kabbalistic hymn for the Third Sabbath meal. The first words are “Men of the Sanctuary”, which explains the terminology used at the end of the preceding paragraph. For an explanation of the Miniature Presence, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeir_Anpin Return
  3. A Talmudic adage referring to those who peer into non–traditional sources and are led astray. Return
  4. A statement lamenting Reb Shimele's death in the Holocaust. See http://www.torah.org/advanced/jerusalemviews/5762/tazria.html Return
  5. Literally: The sickly one. Return
  6. A Kabbalistic reference. Return

 

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