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[Page 51]

The incident with the Rabbi from
Stratin On the holiday of Shavuot

Dov Beker

Translated by Sara Mages

On that year, the two days of the holiday of Shavuot were stuck and connected to the Sabbath after them, or, to the Sabbath before them, which was the holiday eve. Anyhow, the days of the holiday were close to the Sabbath. There were a lot of preparations for the upcoming holiday at the Rabbi's home. Many guests, members of the Stratin Hassidim, arrived from other towns to the Rabbi's house for the holiday. The experts in the relationship between the Hassidim and their Rabbis claim, that the holiday of Shavuot is the holiday when most of the Hassidim come to visit their Rabbi. And their reasons are with them: Who will leave his home and his family before the night of the Seder and travel to his Rabbi? And those who observe the deed of “Kosher for Passover” had an additional reason to stay at home during the holiday of Passover. Few Hassidim traveled to visit their Rabbi during the last days of Passover, and during the “High Holidays” it is an obligation to stand by the sons during prayer time. So, how a man can leaves his sons to fend for their souls during the fateful hour? Nevertheless, there were few Hassidim who also traveled to visit their Rabbi during Rosh Hashanah. Those were exceptional individuals, the older ones, whose sons were already married, and were exempt from teaching them. There were those who choose to visit their Rabbi during the holiday of Succoth, mostly on the Sabbath during the intermediate days of Succoth. But, on Shavuot during the holiday of “Matan Torah” (Giving of the Law), in the middle of the summer, when the roads were no longer dangerous, a Jewish man could allow himself to travel to his Rabbi, to be next to him and warm himself in his light.

A lot of excitement was felt in the city when the Hassidim arrived to their Rabbi. New faces were being seen. Here, they are waiting for the cantor, the one who is holding the power to pray close to the Rabbi during the holiday of “Matan Torah”, and that cantor is an expert in the Stratin version that he learnt from the mouth of the elderly rabbi, Rabbi Yehoda Hirsh himself. Or, they were planning to listen and learn a new Hassidic melody that one the Rabbi's Hassid brought with him.

A famous cantor known for the gracefulness of his singing, and the owner of a great voice, was Rabbi Yoel from Pomoren. Rabbi Yoel from Pomoren had two brothers in Bobrka; the Hassidim Reb Feibel Melamed and Rabbi Michel Shamir; the three brothers were musicians and cantors. Like many other Hassidim, also Rabbi Yoel was worthy to gather at the Rabbi's house more then once a year. And if Rabbi Yoel happened to visit his Rabbi on Sabbath during Chanukah, after the “Habdalah”(benediction over wine at the conclusion of Sabbaths and festivals), and after the lighting the candles, he sang the “Moztstir” (Mighty Rock of my Salvation - a Chanukah hymn) with his great voice. It was a Hassidic tradition to gather after the lighting of the candles in the Rabbi's synagogue and sing hymns with great happiness and excitement ending the with the “Moztsir” song.

There were very few hotels or guest houses in our city. It was before the custom of the city of Belz was customary in our city, where every other house was used as a hostel for the many Hassidim who came to visit the Rabbi from Belz. Anyhow, if there were such guest houses, there were only a few of them close to the Rabbi's house. The Stratin's Rabbi Hassidim used to stay at the homes of their relatives and friends, with distant relatives, and even with those they knew very little, like business associates. The Hassidim who were not able to find a place to stay, stayed as guests at the Rabbi's house, and somewhere they found a place to sleep for the night, and somehow they managed to push through the crowds in order to enjoy the leftovers from the Rabbi's meal, or to eat what was left in the pots in the Rabbi's kitchen.

On the eve of Shavuot, it was both customary and a great obligation to study the Torah all night and to say the “Tikkun for the night of Shavuot” (night liturgy of Shavuot). When the Rabbi and his Hassidim were busy in the synagogue reciting the “Tikkun”, silver articles and gold jewelry were stolen from the Rabbi's apartment. The rumor spread very fast in the city, and turned into an event that everyone was talking about. Fixing the damage from the robbery was left to the worry of the well to do and rich Hassidim, who for sure, were not going to let the Rabbi's house be without jewelry and silver articles. But the main question that pierced the brains of all kind of curious was: who were the thieves? And the guess-work started; Perhaps this one? Perhaps that one? And from “perhaps” they moved to “without a doubt”, and from “without a doubt” they moved to, “as clear as the day light” and to “most certainly”. And who is the thief? It is certainly not a gentile! Just a Jewish thief at the Rabbi's home, and if he was Jewish, he was one of those flotsam and jetsam, the poor who lay in waiting by the doorways, most likely, the one who display an innocent face, who puts on a “Tzaadickel” (honest) face, one of those who search with their eyes for secret corners, and know exactly where everything is. And at twilight, when the open eye was taken off, they took advantage of the right time, during the night of Tikkun Shavuot, to do the deed. It was the one who was seen begging by the doorways on the holiday eve. It was him, the one who was walking back and forth by the doors on the holiday eve. He is the thief and no one else, and there were those who were ready to testify that they saw him with their own eyes..

And where is the thief? He ran off with the loot and disappeared. And if the thief is not found in our city, the police should hurry and find him in another city.

On the same Sabbath that was close to the holiday of Shavuot, either before it or after it. They caught the thief and brought him to the city. The news spread very fast throughout the city and was the source of conversation for everyone; in the synagogue's hallways, outside, and in the streets next to the synagogue. The diligent shortened their prayer time, and were ready on time to stand by the side of the road where the thief is going to be driven on his way from the train station to the prison. The policemen, who knew the Jewish soul, planed it for the right time, when the Jews left their synagogues.

The sight was heart breaking. A Jew was driven in a wagon sitting in-between two armed policemen, one on the right and one on the left, and the Jew's hands were shackled with chains. His face was lean and his paleness was emphasized by his black “Bekshe” (thick coat). He did not wear a hat, there was only a velvet Yarmulke on his head. His hair was cleanly cut in the pious tradition, and his side locks, two long curls, were falling beside his grey beard, and his face was white as chalk. He was sitting embarrassed, and it seems to you that was is innocent.

Montzki, the notorious policemen, the owner of a foppish mustache in the shape of a “banding knee” set on the right side of the tortured Jew. A scornful smile poured all over the face of the wicked gentile when he saw the large crowd who came to see the sight.

This Montzki was a great evil. During the days of the merciful Emperor Franz Josef the First, a person suspected of committing a crime or stealing, was presumed innocent until he was proven guilty in court. Until then, he should be addressed in an honorary way like;” Mister” or “ Sir”. But that evil Montzki tortured the Jews, addressing them with malice and disgrace and calling each one of them by the name“Moishe”, a reference that felt like a needle piercing a living flesh.

[Page 52]

I, who witnessed the shameful sight, was shocked to the bottom of my soul. Without the ability to properly understand and judge what was happening around me, I put on a hero's face and brought the news to my father of blessed memory. “Do you know” - I said to him - “they brought the thief”! Father stopped me immediately and said; they say that the Rabbi is weeping bitterly saying “What have you done to me my loyal Hassidim'- and he is complaining - “This is such a defamation of G-d”. The Rabbi is crying with many tears, “Why did they brought the matter to the attention of the authorities, this is a profanation of the Divine's name and a desecration of the Sabbath; on the Sabbath they take Jews to prison”.

The city's prison was located on the first floor of the court house, in a beautiful building that stood in suburb of “Zagora”. Opposite the court house, hidden by trees, between the gentile's homes stood the modest home of Reb Yona Helper. Reb Yona Helper was loved by people and respected in the eyes of his gentile neighbors who said: “Reb Yona Helper is a good and honest neighbor”. The family of Reb Yona Helper was also respected by the clerks and the secretaries of the court house. The prison warden, who was treated as a family member by Reb Yona's family, respected them the most. When a Jewish prisoner was handed to the warden, he immediately informed about him to Reb Yona's home. Reb Yona's family took care of the prisoner's provisions so he won't, G-d forbid! fail and eat forbidden food that was prepared to the prisoners.

Reb Yona Helper was a respected home owner, and his income was enough to support his family. He was not one of the “crowds” and not one of the “rushing ahead”, and paid his bills to his lenders with trust. He did not have a seat at the Eastern Wall, and did not wish to be included among the city's snobs. Reb Yona Helper was modest in his ways and never talked in a loud voice even when he was talking to his wife Keila- they were talking quietly like they were whispering to each other. They took care of Jewish prisoner's food quietly and without publicity. They kept is like a great secret, so others wont find out and take the great charitable deed out of their hands.

And who among the homeowners in the city was not ready to troubles himself and bring a small portion of grits porridge or a hot dish of potatoes with bread crumbs, a cup of chicory with a piece of Hallah left from the Sabbath, or just a slice of bread with something spread on it to revive the soul of a Jewish prisoner?

The truth in the matter is that there were not many Jewish prisoners. A Jew would spend all of his money to pay ransom for his soul so he won't have to “sit”. Nevertheless, if a victim to a mistake was locked for a few days in the sin and punishment of our city, it was one of the, rag-tail and bobtail, who came from other towns and begged for money without a license. Those unfortunate were chased up to their necks by the police. I remember one beggar who was armed with one of their permits. When he was young, he worked as a laborer in the oil fields in Borislav, and when he became old and his energy left him, he received a license to beg for money. I learnt about Reb Yona Helper dedication to provide food for the prisoners from my father of blessed memory, when we talked about the prisoner that is the subject of our interest.

My father of blessed memory, used to visit the home of RebYona every once and a while. He told me stories about Reb Yona and his wife, and about the incident of the exceptional and strange prisoner. “We bring him food as we do for all the Jewish prisoners, but that Jew is not taking and he is not eating, not the food that we bring him or the food given to him by the prison. He is not eating and he is not talking, he is fasting and he is silent and we can't get a word out of him”.

And my father told me more. One day, when he happened to be at the train station, he saw a policeman leading the Jew maybe to return him to the place that they brought him from, or maybe to collect facts from his place of residency. The Jew is continuing with his fasting and he is not talking. At the end, also the policeman who escorted him felt sorry for him. He tried to convince him to eat, gave him something from the train station's buffet - but to no avail. Even I tried; maybe he will take something from me. I took a roll and a mug of beer and approached him: “Reb Jew, don't do a stupid thing, please take, it is Kosher”. But he did not see me, like he did not exist, like he was living in another world. He even did not answer me.

And the tortured Jew was forgotten, sunk in the depth of oblivion. The elders of the generation still remember the incident, but no one knows what the end of the unfortunate was. Also, they don't know who the real thief was; the matter remained a mystery even today.

 


[Page 53]

The Baking of the Matzos

Sheraga Feivel Kallay

Translated by Sara Mages

The preparation for the holiday of Passover started long before the arrival of the holiday. In the summer, during the fruit's season, they made jam and wine that was called “Vishnik”, in a foreign language, for Passover. During Chanukah, they slaughtered the ducks that were fattened during the winter, melting the fat to create the special “Passover Oil”. Right after “Tu Bishvat” [The Fifteenth of Shevat], they started to clean the flour mill, preparing the utensils needed for the baking of the Passover Matzos. As we know, nowadays, there are factories for baking Matzos. But on those days, in the small towns, the Jews made sure that they will not eat Matzos baked in factories. On the contrary, there were also Jews in the big cities who only ate Matzos that were baked in a bakery that was specially made Kosher for Passover. For that, there were a number of families in our town who earned their living baking Matzos, not only for the town Jews but also for the big cities, for the observant Jews who were careful not to eat Matzos baked in a machine. They were also careful to buy those Matzos from a kosher scholar Jew.

Baking the Matzos in this primitive way also had a real factory system in it. According to the Teylor system; first they had to prepare the filtered water before sunset, since “our” water, the water that sat in our home all nigh, was needed for the baking of the Matzos. For that, a special water-drawer supplied water from the well the day before. The first delegate in the task of baking Matzos was the person who measured the flour. He was in charge of filling the flour utensil with the correct amount and when the person in charge of mixing gave him the signal (by knocking on the bowl); he poured the flour into the bowl. The water pourer stood on his guard, and the kneading started. It was allowed to add a drop of water to the dough but, G-d Forbid! if they added an extra pinch of flour, the whole thing would became sour. When the kneading was done, the person who was in charge of the kneading announced: “take the dough”. Immediately, one of the women took the dough, divided it according to the number of women who were standing waiting to roll it, from dawn till sunset, and the rolling started.

Where did they roll? They prepared two wide thick wooden boards. They cut and sand them until they were perfectly clean. Then they leaned the two boards on primitive stands creating a table. Next to that “table”, standing on both sides, were 15-20 women who rolled the dough. There were women who were very artistic, who created a perfectly round Matzo like it was cut by a machine and the thickness of the Matzo was equal all over. But, there were those who created a strange looking Matzo, a triangle, like a Haman Ear with a hole in the middle. It is clear that a Matzo like that was burnt immediately in the oven.

Not all the workers (the rollers) received equal pay, “as the work so is the pay”, the worker was paid according to the shape of the Matzo.

The rolled Matzo was served to the “puncher” table. The puncher passed over the Matzo with a special teethed wheel (like a watch) punching it so it won't rise in the oven like a pocket bread. The puncher transferred the shallow Matzo to the oven where a perpetual fire was burning in one of the corners so it won't extinguish. A large special baker's shovel was used to bring the Matzos into the oven and a lighter, narrower one, was used to take the baked Matzos out. A special person was standing next to the oven sorting the Matzos as they were coming out of the oven. Then, he piled them up storing them in a wicker basket, a typical and special one for this purpose.

Only the poor “bought” ready made Matzos by weight. The well to do and the rich baked their Matzos- how?

A man, who wanted to bake Matzos for himself, had to order the oven (and the workers) for a certain hour, let's say on Sunday morning and brings with him his own flour. If the man was rich, a proper man (and there were many) they cut a special table in his honor, cleaned the utensils and even the oven. When the baking of his Matzos, as was described above, was over, he put his Matzos inside a special basket. The poorer people put the Matzos inside a pillow case.

Beside the payment to the baker that was done according to the weight of the flour, the “landlord” who came to bake his Matzos, gave presents to the workers. The rich gave to each one separately, more to one and less to another, according to their duty at the Matzos baking conveyer belt. The very rich were giving, thus and thus, for all the workers who divided it between them. The rich farmers who came to the city to bake their Matzos gave with “generous” hands. The hours that were not rented out to homeowners were used for baking Matzos for sale, or “business”, or for export to the big city for Jews who strictly ate Matzos that were baked “according to the deed”.

The tradition of baking Matzos in our town was done at the bakery of Chaya-Rachel and later on over at Michel Chaya Rachel's. Michel Chaya-Rachel's was a learned and a great pious Jew who was very careful with the small and large details. In Lvov Reb Michel's Matzos cost fifty percent more then the Matzos baked in an unknown source.

 

Grandfather Gershon and Grandmother
Chaya-Rachel in their Sabbath clothes.

The Matzo baking factory

 

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