[Pages  247 - 250]

A note about our father’s family, Eliezer the ritual slaughterer,
of blessed memory

Their grandson Tzvi Cohen

Translated by Sara Mages

As far as we know, father was a fourth generation ritual slaughterers. He came from a Chortkov’s family who worked as ritual slaughterers for four generations. The first was Reb. Lieb, followed by his son Reb Tzvi, and his nephew Reb Avraham David who had four sons. A memorial for his oldest son, Reb Mordechai, is published separately in this book, therefore, we will only mention the remaining three.

The second son, Reb. Shelomo the “loyal”, was a Kashruth supervisor for all the butcher shops. A story is told, about a young butcher, who was caught by Shelomo the loyal, selling non-Kosher meat at a Kosher butcher shop. Shelomo the loyal did not think twice. He walked outside, raised his voice and yelled: “Help, Help, this unclean person is feeding us non-Kosher meat!” the young butcher responded by hitting the “loyal” on his face. The matter was brought in front of the rabbi, who closed the butcher shop for a period of one month. Reb Shelomo, in addition to his loyalty, was an amateur artist. Among his interests were wood carving, building, and more.

Reb Shelomo died in 1901 and left four sons who together with their families were destroyed by the Germans.

The third son, our father, was Reb Eliezer, the ritual slaughterer. He had an incredible memory and was a great expert in the six orders of the Talmud and in the Poskin, the books of the Kabbalah and Ethics, Chassidic literature and more. He was a member of the “Mishnayot Society” and took part in the establishment of “Youth Agudath Yisrael”.

During the uprising of 1929, he bought a gun and bullets, and sent us to his father in-law in Kfar Chassidim (Israel). Father told us  - “Self defense is - a  Mitzvah”

During the Russian occupation, the Mikveh (ritual bath house) was confiscated, and was designated to military use only. In order to provide a Mikveh for the Jews, Mr. Moshe Orenstien donated a room in his apartment, and father, together with other Jews, secretly dug and built a Mikveh. Those who were in need, were able to use it free of charge.

Earning a meager living was difficult. I remember times in my childhood, when both my father and I did not have boots. Father, almost barefooted, carried me on his shoulders, and brought me to school in the morning and back home in the evening.

Paying rent was a heavy burden, so my parents decided to purchase a one room house. When money was needed for paying part of the payment on the house, we were forced to we were forced to sell all our luxury items, among them father’s and mother’s Shabbat cloths. Toward the end, we were forced to sell father’s six orders of the Talmud, a wedding gift from my mother to my father. When the buyer started to count his money, father eyes connected with mother’s, asking: Are you willing to sell it with a full heart? Tears washed their eyes, and mother approached the buyer and said: “Reb Kopel, we are not selling the six orders, and that is the end of it”. Until his last days, father read those Gemarot and wrote his comments in the margin of the books.

During the last years, before the outbreak of World War II,  father wrote to his daughter Devora Dag, who lived in Kfar Chassidim (Israel): “We are longing to come to the Holy Land, but how could we do that? The Polish refuse to transfer our pension, and the British refuse to give us entry visas”

In 1943, father and mother, Reizi, daughter of Reb Alter from Botzez, were led to their death in Blizitz. Both were 73 years old.

The fourth son was Chaim the ritual slaughterer, who lived in Borslav Galicia. During World War I, he fasted from Shabbat eve to Shabbat eve, and prayed to bring an end to the war. In 1918, both of us served in the army in Vladerosdorf. During Hosha’na Rabbah we gathered almost a thousand Jews for a public prayer. Chaim walked in front of the Ark praying with great devotion, and most of the worshipers cried.

Also he, his wife and their daughter Perel were destroyed by the Nazis.

May their souls be bound up in the bond of everlasting life.

Devora Dag, Kfar Chassidim
Itchak Schecter, Hifa
David Schecter, Tel-Aviv
 


[Page 249]

Rabbi Mordechai, the ritual slaughterer, of blessed memory

Translation by Sara Mages

I would like to describe, in a few lines, the atmosphere that prevailed in the homes of orthodox Jews in our city Chortkov. I chose to bring as an example, the life and events in the home of my grandfather, Rabbi Mordechai, the ritual slaughterer, of blessed memory. I am sure, beyond any doubt, that many who came from our city, will find in my description a likeness to their own family’s homes.

My grandfather’s house stood on a hillside that led to the river “Seret”. On the river side, it looked like a two story home, but on the entry side, it looked like all the humble homes in the street. The homes stood very close to each other, their roofs were covered with tar and shingles. The empty lot behind the house served as a parking lot for the farmers’ wagons during market days. The apartment consisted of one large room, and a small side room. The big room served as a kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and also as a shop where “spleen and intestines” were being sold. The furniture in the room were very modest. In the middle of the room stood a long table, and a baking stove. A portable stove and a heating stove took over a large space in the corner of the room. The ceiling boards were aged and dark, and were supported by wooden beams. The floor was made out of clay, and every Friday it was covered by a new layer of yellow clay. The kerosene lamp was the only source of light in the room. In the hallway stood a water barrel, and next to it was the storage room, where food and firewood were being stored.

My grandmother, Rachel of blessed memory, managed the house with a very strict hand. Most of her cooking utensils were made out of clay, and were exempt from the ritual of Kashrut, if the question their cleanliness ever arose. As far as I remember, grandmother always baked bread and Challah with her own hands, and she always kept the deed of setting aside a piece of the Challah. A special two handed brass cups were used for washing our hands, and that, to prevent the contact of one person’s hand with another, when the cup was passed around. A piece of bread (or a Matza), wrapped with a napkin, was always placed on the table, as a symbol of virtue and abundance. The food during week days was simple and of little variety, but special attention was given to the food served on Shabbat or holidays.

Grandfather did not excel in his appearance. He was of medium height and his face was not adorned with a Patriarchal beard, but with a thin yellowish beard.  The fringes of his Talit hung over his pants and their ends were stuffed in his white socks during the summer, and in his boots during the winter. Sticking out from the top pocket of his long overcoat, that was tied with a black silk belt, was a big red handkerchief. His shoes and boots were never polished. Grandfather never used shoe polish out of fear that it was made out of animal fat. But, like many others of his generation, he spread petroleum on them. His black skullcap always showed from under his hat or his “Streimel”.

My grandfather, Rabbi Mordechai of blessed memory, was a prominent scholar. In addition to his well developed analytical thinking, he also had a phenomenal memory.
He was able, without hesitation, to quote from the Bible, the Talmud and Poskim, he knew the location of each sentence, quotation or explanation, the page number and the location of the quotation on the page.

All his life he avoided recognition, except for one position that he carried with love. He was one of the founders of the “Study Society of the Six Orders” in our city, and served as its president for over 10 years.

Hidden from his outer harsh appearance, was a warm and sensitive heart. I remember, that once in Lag-Ba’omer, grandfather came to pick me up from school. While we were walking, I asked him to buy me a bottle of Gazoz (sweetened soda water). I was envy at the rich kids, who always brought a bottle of Gazoz to school. Grandfather refused my request, but instead, he gave our teacher a coin, and asked him to buy us a large can of soda water and a bottle of concentrated raspberry juice, to share between the children of my class.

Grandfather divided most of his earning as a slaughterer among the needy and the Torah institutions. At one time, an order came from the authorities to clean all the attics from flammable materials. While I was cleaning, I came across a large pile of letters and recipes. Even though, I was only able to add together a small part of them, I came to a large sum of money. When grandfather found out about my discovery, he quickly removed the pile of papers from my hands, and burned them. He did not want me to know of his secret, and did not want his grandson to brag about his grandfathers’ generosity. I know, that one year, during the holiday of Purim, grandfather divided his monthly salary amongst the poor. My grandfather, Rabbi Mordechai of blessed memory, was well known for hosting Chassidim who came to see the rabbi when he was visiting our city. During week days and Shabbat he used to host guest worshipers at his table, but during the rabbi’s visit, a large number of Chassidim dined at my grandfather’s table. I remember Saturdays and holidays, when meals were being served in two shifts. Ten Chassidim for each shift. Many Chassidim bought the right to be hosted at grandfather’s table, and some inherited the right from their fathers, who were hosted by my great grandfather. The meal was free, but the guests used to pay for their own drinks.

What amazed me during my childhood, and even today, that all the guests were treated equally. Among them were rabbis, leaders, rich, poor, and even the homeless and the street beggars. All of them received the same attention. The meals were followed by Chassidic stories, Torah quizzes, Chassidic songs and sometimes jokes. During my many travels, I met with Jews who bragged that they, or their fathers, had the right to be hosted at my grandfather’s table.

Rabbi’s Mordechai of blessed memory, life wish was that his sons would be raised to be great Torah scholars and his daughters to do good deeds. He also wished, to immigrate, in his old age, to Israel. But, he was not pleased with his sons. His oldest son, Aharon of blessed memory, leaned from young age toward secular studies and immigrated to Israel during the Second Immigration. He was included in the first generation of Jewish teachers in Israel. His second son, Rabbi Arye-Meir of blessed memory, was a great scholar but was not able to have a family in Israel. His daughter Fromcha of blessed memory, had a kind soul and was always willing to help those in need, but she was in poor health. She married Hirsh-Bar Levi, an “Aguda” activist. His greatest sorrow and grief, was the early death of my mother Freida, who risked her life to save me from a fire that broke in our home. Unfortunately the doctors were not able to save her life. His pain was so intense that he was never able to recover from her early death. I was never able to talk to him about my mother.

The description of my grandfather’s house would not be completed without mentioning the great personality of my grandmother, Rachel of blessed memory.  She was a righteous woman, pleasant in her ways, always willing to help others. She collected charity from her relatives or from any Jew who was willing to give, in order to help a sick person who was in need of immediate medical help.

Those were the traditions, and the ways of our grandfather and grandmother, who were murdered during the Holocaust.

May their memory be blessed for eternity,

Their grandson Tzvi Cohen


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