[Page 166]

Our Jewish Bank

by Roiza Heldman-Bantman, Paris


After finishing school I went to work at the Jewish Bank which was located in the house of Jelachovsky. The bank developed very rapidly, and soon the Committee Director, Joseph Brash, decided to build a building for the bank itself.

It didn't take long for the project to develop, and there stood a modern bank with the big conference room for meetings, a little office for the Director and a reception hall for the clientele to come in to do their business.

My work in the bank brought me into contact with all strata of our Jewish population. I grew to love my work because it allowed me to have contact with most of the Jews of Demblin. I also was able to familiarize myself with many painful problems of daily life.

In 1932 I left my work at the bank, got married, and left my home town. I went away to Paris where I find myself today.

In 1938, on a pleasure trip, I went back to my old home. My joy was great to meet my dear mother, brothers, the whole family, as well as many friends. It was also a great experience for me to go to the bank which was for me tied up with so many people who were close.

After the great city of Paris, the little streets of Demblin seemed extremely small and narrow, but so very dear and loved. Still today the images I have of my home town hover in my mind just as if I'd seen them yesterday and a very tender longing draws me back to those days of the past…

Today I remember with great longing my dear family and beloved friends, those who were so tragically torn away from us, horribly and brutally murdered.


[Pages 167-169]

The Home, Revisionist Organization, Modzjitzer Hasidim

by David Shulman, Tel Aviv


I was born in Demblin of very Hasidic and religious parents. There were five children in our family, four sons and a daughter. My father, Reb Avish, had a very distinguished face. He had successful men's clothing store and he was a istinguished Modzjiter Hasid. The image of my father that stands before my eyes is on Friday evening, when he was going to the Modzjitzer Rebbe, accompanied by his four sons, very smartly attired in silk coats and satin hats – he almost seemed like a Sabbath queen. The house was brightly lit, the table covered whit a beautiful table cloth, and the great silver cup stood ready, waiting for my father to take it in his hand and make Kiddish. Earlier he had said a very beautiful Sholom Aleichem, made kiddish, washed his hands before eating, and my mother served the table. After eating the fish, my father with his four sons, began to sing songs.

[See PHOTO-A30 at the end of Section A]

We sang very beautifully and a lot of people would stand by the window in those days.

I studied in various heders from Aleph-Bet to the Gemorah. I also studied in the Modzjitzer synagogue, with the Rabbi's grandchildren.

As soon as I turned 15, I left the Hasidic life style and entered a Zionist organization. Five years later, as I became acquainted with the program of the Revisionist organization, I decided to join that.

I began to read the Revisionist press, “The World”, in which Z. Jabotinsky used to write, a swell as Dr. Schwatzbard, Yochanan Progrevinsky, Professor Kloyzner and others.

In our town there was a Zionist organization, culture circle, a small businessmen's union, a crafts peoples union, and an illegal communist party. The culture union had a very beautiful library as well as a drama circle. The small businessmen's union had a very varied kind of activity and had their own lending institution which used to help their members.

But none of that really pleased me or really got me excited. I decide that I would start a Revisionist organization in Demblin. Despite the fact that I had just gotten married and had to think about making a living, I decided to turn towards Warsaw, to the central headquarters of the Revisionist organization, so they could help create a Revisionist party in Demblin. I quickly received an answer. They sent me posters to put up in town about the famous speakers they would send, among them Meir Grossman. I rented the fire station and I put up the posters all over town. As soon as somebody tore one down, I put up another one, until the speaker arrived.

The meeting took place in an overflowing hall. It seemed like all of Demblin's youth, both the rightists and the leftists, even the extreme leftists, were present. There were also distinguished businessmen there. As soon as Grossman began to speak, the Communists stated to make an uproar. But, thanks to his energetic bearing and agility, the meeting was carried through with great success. Finally we called all of the sympathizers to meet at the restaurant of Nechomela Bekerblut, because we didn't have an organization hall yet. This was the founding meeting of the Revisionist organization. With the participation of Reb Yerchmiel Meltzer, very handsome Jew, a shoe salesman; Moshe-Yosel Hochman, president of the small-businessmen's union; Yuel Guthartz, member of the directorship of the small crafts people's union; Natan Vanapol, dentist, a distinguished individual in town; Yichael Luxenburg and Moshe-Mordechai Melaver. With those people I've just recollected, I together with them, formed the revisionist organization in Demblin. We began to recruit members. From day to day, the party got bigger. We built very fine organizations; Brit Hachayil [Jabotinski's military organization], Brit Hatzohar [evolutionary of Brit Hachayil]. We began to provide courses in Hebrew with he participation of comrade Zilberberg from Lublin, and comrade Siegel from Warsaw, We had a very beautiful library, and also a drama circle under the direction of comrade Guthartz. From time to time we used to produce various events, the proceeds of which would go to Hebrew charitable organizations.

The Brit Hachayil under the leadership of Commander Natan Vanapol, used to participate in all of the Polish celebrations and not more than once their participation was more exciting than that of the Polish military. They also carried out various marches through the streets of Demblin. The Brit Hachayil also established a kosher kitchen at Passover for the Jewish soldiers who were stationed at the Demblin fortress and the author was involved in the work of this kitchen for many hours. The Jewish soldiers from Demblin were lead off for 8 days at Passover thanks to the efforts of the Revisionist organization. They got 3 meals a day, of the finest quality.

The Revisionists held the majority of the seats on the Jewish council. The president was a commander of the Brit Hachayil, Commander Natan Vanapol. We used to, every year, receive a subsidy from the Jewish Council for the soldier's kitchen and the rest was covered by the Polish regime. We received a lot of thank you letters from the Jewish soldiers. It's a shame that all of these letters of thanks and the photographs were destroyed along with our dear ones.

I want to remember the day when I received from the central headquarters permission to travel on a legal ship to Palestine. It made a very powerful impression on me as well as on my comrades. They made a banquet celebration for me. It was very hard to tear myself away from my comrades and friends. I remember how the devoted comrades accompanied me to Warsaw, among them: Ben-Tzion Kamisky, Reb Yerchamiel Meltzer, my brother Emaunuel Shulman, as well as my unforgettable wife and two dear children: Yaacov and Sarale. We said good-bye with great feeling with the hope that we would meet each other again in Palestine, but fate had something else in store. Of all of my whole family, which numbered over a hundred people, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles and near relatives, the only one to remain alive was my daughter, who by some miracle was saved. Also, two cousins were saved, I only learned about them recently; Velvel Shulman, who lives in Paris, and Avram Shulman who lives in Belgium.

I'm going to leave Demblin behind for now, because I don't remember exactly if I was born in Demblin, Ivangorod, Irena or in Modzjitz. But it's with Modzjitz that I want to deal with now, because Modzjitz was, according to my belief, the first Jewish name of the town, with the Modzjitzer Rebbe at the head of that community.

As I remember, Modzjitz was a town where people made a living, because on one side it had a big fortress with military and on the side there was the airfield. Also, every Wednesday, there was a market to which lots of peasants used to come from the surrounding countryside with their houses and wagons. They brought different kinds of produce and with the money they earned for it they used to patronize the merchants in town.

Besides making a living, our Jews had a lot of pleasure in the fact that Modzjitz had the great Jewish Hasidic composer.

The Modzjitzer Rebbe had a beautiful courtyard, a big house, a big study hall, an orchard with various fruit trees, and a big garden in which to walk. It had its own bath house which was separated into different sections and two beautiful carriages, an open one and a closed one with 2 powerful horses, like lions.

Every evening, the Rabbi used to go out with his sons for a walk. They walked very slowly in their immaculate, beautiful fur hats, white pressed shirts, silk coats and very nicely pressed pants.

At this point I'd like to remember certain Modzjitzer Hasidim: Reb Kalman Zucker – a big timber merchant; Reb Yichzakel Shulman – a big broker, and a very smart man, well known over all of Poland; Reb Avish Shulman – a very handsome Jew, a big men's clothing merchant; Reb Hershel Shener – a wholesale merchant of grains; T. Warantzberg – a wholesale merchant of products from the farms; Reb David Wasserman – a leather merchant; Mordechai-Wolf Rozenblat – a watch maker.

But that's all in the past, and is no more.


[Pages 170-173]

The High Holidays in our Town

by Tzvi Eichenbrenner, Ramat-Gan


The mostly lovely memories of my earliest childhood years which are forever carved into my memory, belong to, without a doubt, the high holidays.

With the arrival of the month of Elul, all of a sudden, over night, the summer began to end. The early mornings became sad and gray, the days, little by little, began to be shorter, the nights, longer and cooler. More often, in the afternoon hours, winds began to blow. The fields stood empty, as if lost in thought, after the grain crops had been harvested. A longing beyond our understanding began to nag at our heart.

The big bustling market in the mornings was full of high piled wagons of the peasants. Big baskets with ripe fruit just taken of the trees, beautiful red faced pears, honey sweet apples, satin black Hungarian plums, famous, juicy and golden. Among the wagons, the women who sold things in the market would hurry around, look over and chose from the biggest baskets. As soon as the market started, very early in the morning, the peasants spread out their baskets with hens, geese and ducks, the Jewish house wives would go around and chose the prettiest fowl to shlow kapures .

The whole year, when everybody had been quarreling with each other, now in the high holidays, everybody became different. Enemies who had not spoken with one another, even one word, not even a good morning, made up with each other and forgave all of their complaints. People ran to pray earlier than usual. Early in the morning one heard the shofar blowing in the temple, every Jew became more serious.

On Slichot, when the hammering of the wooden hammer on the shutters resounded throughout the town, the Jews quickly got up from their beds in the middle of the night and all of the streets flowed to Slichot. The temple and the little shuls of the Hasidim were packed with people at prayer, men and women, young and old. From a distance one heard the God fearing Demblin Jews in the beautiful autumn night.

After Rosh Hashanah, one felt immediately the coming Yom Kippur. At night, in the evenings, from the closed attics and rooms, one heard the crowing of hens, kind of lonely, desperate sound. Longer than usual, Jews spent time in the synagogue, praying. In tallis and tfillen they stood around the long wooden tables on which the prayer books for the holidays were spread open. Some bought a Machzor [prayer book for the holidays], or a Siddur or a Sefer. One forgot about making a living and just thought about trying to come up with repentance.

In the big courtyard of Yitzhak Shochet [ritual butcher], the whole day, from early in the morning until night, there was activity like a beehive. Feathers flew in the air, wives, young girls and young boys, with stuffed fowl, came in and came out, pushed their way through and screamed at each other, and these screams could be heard in seventh heaven. Inside in the slaughtering room everybody was covered with feathers from head to foot. The birds, who had been stuffed and killed, were hanging with their heads down and their wings spread out. People were pulling their feathers out. Yitzchak Shochet was a handsome, slender, dignified looking Jew, with a long gray beard and payes. He was dressed in a broad Tallis and Tzitzit. From his back a red sash stuck out. The whole day, from early morning until late at night, he stood silently with a very pious face. As soon as somebody handed him a bird, he took out a knife from between his teeth, and like that the slaughtered hen was tossed into the bucket.

Before Yom Kippur, the town became very different. Nobody even thought of doing any kind of business or of going to work. The market place was empty and deserted. There weren't any peasants' wagons around either. From dawn on people hurried and rushed to pray. After praying one annulled vows. One said psalms. Afterwards one went to the ritual bath house and took a bath. Afterwards one ate something and went off to the temple to pray mincha [evening prayer].

[See PHOTO-A31 at the end of Section A]

After praying with great dedication and beating one's breast everybody went to the long wooden table by the door where there were little boxes and cans for various charities and good works. There people threw in some money, kissed the mezuzah and went home.

Before Yom Kippur eve, dressed up in holiday garments, the whole family sat down by the table with the wood candles in brass candlesticks and ate a feast. While making the blessing over the candles, the mother would stand in a silk white kerchief over her head and quietly cry for each one in the family and for the whole Jewish people, she would pray to God. Everyone in the house, even the father would have tears in their eyes. Soon neighbors began to come over and people would wish each other a good year. In the street one heard the crying of women as they greeted each other.

After the blessing of the candles, the town took on another appearance. With tallism under their arms and with pious, serious, thoughtful faces, Jews dressed in their cleanest, pressed clothes, some in a long, simple overcoat with belt wrapped around at the waste, and some in a white jacket with the tallis over the satin overcoat and with a satin hat and a brim, and a pair of rubber galoshes on the feet. The women in long, white, silk clothes, wearing earrings with big, fat siddurs in their hands, the little children in clean, neat jackets and round hats. Everybody hurried to the temple and to the little Hasidic shuls.

At Kol Nidre the big synagogue was lit up and packed, both in the main part and in the women's part, with people at prayer. In little boxes of sand which were on the long wooden table and the high broad windows on all sides of the synagogue, were placed tens of big Yarzeit candles, which were burning. In the crowding in which one could barely move around stood a packed congregation wrapped in Tallisim with open prayer books in their hands and some of them very piously gashokeled [davened], quietly, heart breakingly they said a prayer before Kol Nidre.

Above, on the carved wood bimah [reading desk], with little steps on both sides, stood two men from the town who were Shamesim [sextons] and one of them was my father. Both of them were very dignified looking Jews. They continually looked to the eastern side to Rabbi Gershon who stood before the Cantor's desk in a white shawl with a broad silver shawl over his head and with great piety he said the prayer “Zakai”. When the Shames struck three times, suddenly, everything became absolutely quiet in the synagogue and you could even hear the rustling of the little absolutely quiet in the synagogue and you could even hear the rustling of the little curtains over the Torah. The Rabbi with seven of the respected men of the town, wrapped up in tallisim, went with the Torah around the reading desk and the Rabbi with a loud, clear voice said the “Or zaruah letzadek”. Afterwards, they took the Torah back and placed it in the Ark.

Kol Nidre was prayed with heartfelt emotion and the congregation prayed along with great feeling and ecstasy. Each word, each groan, each “oiy”, came out with so much spiritual pleasure that the congregation felt they were in a state of great religious feeling. Kol Nidre was heard at a great distance.

Early in the morning, through the open windows of the synagogue, one heard the “Adon Olam”. Jews with their tallisim came into the synagogue until after “Shachrit”. Nobody hardly felt the fast. The man who led the prayers generally was a very serious Jew. The business man who dealt in tailor cloth, Chaim-Ahron, his heartfelt tasty voice was heard even in the last row of benches in the women's part of the synagogue. In the afternoon hours, the old, gray headed Yitzhak Shochet prayed. For hours he stood near the Cantor's desk and in a hoarse, devoted voice, prayed.

The congregation tried to forget about the fact that they were fasting, even though it was hard to sit in one place. The wagon drivers, taxi drivers, porters, would stand around outside near the door, in order to get a little bit of fresh air. But when they heard one of the important prayers, they would immediately rush back into synagogue.

In the period before “neilah”, the synagogue was almost completely empty of people who were praying. People were just sitting around outside. Somebody, somewhere, at a table, bent over an open prayer book with half open eyes, stood a dreaming, hungry and tired Jew. A lot of people were lying down on the benches, with the tallisim under their heads, trying not to faint. It didn't help to smell tobacco or other kinds of sharp snuff. The half burned out, dripping candles, sputtered and gave off an unpleasant odor. They melted down towards each other, flamed up and then failed again and were extinguished.

Davidel Wasserman always cheered up the congregation. He was one of the confidants of the old Modzjitzer Rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael Taub, blessed be his memory. He was famous, far beyond Demblin, among the Hasidim for his scholarship and his religious songs. Besides that he was a genuinely modest person, When he began to pray, the synagogue filled up with others praying, even the Hasidim came from their little synagogues, in order to hear him. And when Davidel, at “neilah”, stood before the Cantor's desk, the congregation, as soon as the first words were spoken, with great, deep spiritual pleasure and feeling, the whole congregation forgot that they were fasting. Each one, as if from a deep and secret, inner source, touched their own regret and remorse. And again the congregation became more lively as if they all drew fresh, new strength. Everybody stood with open prayer books and with great devotion and deep feeling, geshuckled . Nobody gave a thought to the fact that the day was almost about to end. Outside the sun had long since gone down. The sinking flames threw out just the faintest light. Reb Davidel, as if he had found a secret spiritual strength, even more powerfully and louder, said the prayers of the evening, the songs of “neilot”. High and distant, in the half darkness of the synagogue reverberated the voices, singing “ Petach Lanu Shair, Baat Neilot Shair ”, as the voice, said the very last words, “ Vhair Moshpelet ad shoal tachite ”, one heard a loud sobbing from among those who prayed, and even us, the young people, cried a little bit.


[Pages 174-177]

In the singing Hall

by A. B. Yadar


Bnei hechala dichsifin
Lemachaze ziv ze'er anpin


The niggun [tune] goes on, tremebling and shaking, notes hanging in the dense darkness. Prayer and hope have merged into one. The Rabbi's voice is loud and strong; his Hasidim answer him with bright, longing voices. The smell of salted fish mixes with that of foaming brew. The light from a memorial candle throws dancing shadows on the wall; a baby who lost his father's hand cries loud. When the last notes of the niggun are heard, only the rustling of the Hasidim's silken coats, pushing against each other's shoulders, is heard at the table. When the Rabbi says Torah verses relating to the day's event, blessing the Hasidin with a hearty lechayim [toast “ to life”] and again the niggun goes on, from al attending, and overcomes all, all…

When did we see this? When were we swept by such uplifting prayer? Was it in Poland before the Holocaust? Perhaps somewhere in a Jerusalem alley near the Hasidic section? Or perhaps atop one of the Bnei Brak hills, the city of study and holiness, “occupied” by the Hasidim?

No, not in pre-Holocaust Poland and not in Jerusalem or Bnei Brak, but at the very heart of Dizengof Street in Tel Aviv. Here, in the street of this lighthearted city, filled with desire, fast food, drunkenness and lust – this is where the Modzjitz Court is, continuing to produce its pure, clear songs, just like in years before.

In Tel Aviv's Culture Hall, at the beginning of Dizengof Street, which was built solely for music, different notes are heard. Here is where political conventions and mass meeting are held during election campaigns. In Kassit, just up the street, the café of the bohemian artists, people get intoxicated and talk vulgarities, and more shadows than light are cast. The pure music, the holy niggun, are kept now only here, in the two-story white house on 36 Dizengof. This is the place where the Chief Rabbi of Modzjitz, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu Taub, chose as his seat. In this house niggunim are sung, of longings, happiness, hope, joy. And here, in these days, the tension is increasing by the day towards the High Holidays. People in the know say that by now the Rabbi has composed a significant number of new niggunim for he services of the Holy Days, and no doubt that on Rosh Hashona Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu will give the world no less than twenty new niggunim of his composition.



The Niggun Kingdom

How does the Rabbi bring the new niggunim to his Hasidim and to the hundreds who flock to the Hall of Niggun? Does he distribute music sheets between them? Or perhaps invites the most musical Hasidim to his home and teaches them how to sing his tunes?

Not at all. The truth is that the Rabbi has so far composed some five hundred niggunim that are widely sung. And not only does he not know how to write music; he does not even know how to read it. He also does not play any musical instrument and does not know how to conduct a choir.

He composes the niggunim using three of his organs: the heart, which is the most important, the brain, and the mouth. The Rabbi learned from his grandfather, the First Admor of Modzjitz Rabbi Yisrael, that when the heart is full, overflowing and pouring, it is time to convert those feelings to niggunim. Not just to hollow tunes, but to those passing through the heart and being formed by it. Combination after combination, purification after purification, and only then should the mouth utter the niggun's notes, which flow forth from the heart and go through the brain's paths…

Such a niggun probably does not need notes or special musical instruments. “Niggunim that leave the heart, enter the heart,” is one of the favorite sayings of the House of Modzjitz. But to understand the secret of the creation of this house, one should know a little about its past, the source from which the niggun's river flows, sweeping away Dizengof Street's secular life.

The roots of the House of Modzjitz go back to the Tzaddik Rabbi Yechezkeleh of Kuzmiere. It is well known that this tzaddik said: “A Shabbat without a new niggun does not feel to me like Shabbat.” But none of his niggunim are known today. Today we do not know whether he himself composed niggunim or his singing Hasidim brought them to his table, as it is the custom with other admors. But if he did not produce niggunim, he did indeed have a theory all about the niggun's qualities and praise. According to Rabbi Yechezkeleh, the mitzvah of lending a hand to your friend extends to the works of the niggun: “When you see to your friend singing a niggun, it is a mitzvah for you to join him and sing with him.”

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, son of Rabbi Yechezkeleh of Kuzmiere, who lived in the town of Zvolin, was a great singer. Suddenly he stopped singing and did not sing for the rest of his life. What happened? He revealed the secret: “I enjoy singing too much, and I believe that a Jew is forbidden from so much joy in this world.” For many years he resisted the urge to sing.

It was Rabbi Yisrael Taub, the first Rabbi of Modzjitz, who formed the Hall of Niggun, provided it with color and made it famous. Rabbi Yisrael Taub is the son of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and the grandson of Rabbi Yechezkeleh. Rabbi Yisrael made the House of Modzhjitz a model for the entire Jewish world. Modzjitz niggunim are not just for those under the Modzjitz roof, but an asset for all the Jews. There is no shtieble of Hasidim in which a Modzjitz niggun is not heard.

That is how the Hall of Niggun was erected, floor after floor. Its two foundations are Rabbi Yechezkeleh of Kuzmiere and Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, son of the Rabbi of Zvolin. Its three floors are of Rabbi Yisrael of Modzjitz, Rabbi Saul Yedidiah, and Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the current admor, son of Rabbi Saul Yedidiah and grandson of Rabbi Yisrael.

Like his father and grandfather, Rabbi Shmuel composes niggunim without using written notes or musical instruments. In the middle of the night, when the angels sing in heaven, or at dawn, “when all morning stars sing together,” Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Admor or Modzjitz, can be seen walking to and fro on his balcony, silver threads streaking his black beard; his eyes are closed in concentration, his body wrapped in a blue silken robe knitted with leaves and flowers, for hours walking on the balcony, enflamed with enthusiasm, engulfed with ideas - -then the new niggun is created, from the heart through the brain to the lips… And once the niggun once through, he will sing it again a month and two and more later.



Singing of the Worlds

When Shabbat comes, the Rabbi leaves his residence in the upper floor to his beautiful beit hamidrash [synagogue] on the ground floor. Sometimes he conducts the service himself. If it is a special occasion, he might surprise the participants with a new niggun, composed recently. He would sing the niggun once or twice by himself, in rhythm and moderation. The Hasidim who are good at singing will try to absorb the sounds, then repeat quietly with the Rabbi, then, at the third or fourth time, the niggun would be sung by all. This would be another niggun added to thousands of others created at the House of Modzjitz.

A few hours later, the “table” is conducted in the synagogue. The Rabbi sits at the head of the table, to his right is his only son Rabbi Yisrael Dan, who is also a great singer. The Rabbi, agile in his movements, wears a nice robe and a high, black Hasidic fur hat, Polish style. His hand holds a golden tobacco box. Hasidim are seated around the table. The Rabbi passes his long, gentle fingers on the table as if he were playing the piano, and immediately starts to sing a niggun, emulating piano keys.

The Hasidim slowly join his singing, with bass and with soprano. Then the singing breaks out into the street, with the big lights and the fluorescent lamps. By that time many have assembled outside the house and many have entered. They include youngsters wearing knit yarmulkes [skull caps] and other Jews wearing hats of all types. They come in to the overfilled room, standing on their toes to see the singing Rabbi. Others, wearing no yarmulkes, hang out by the windows, putting their ears close to the wall, standing like that for a long time. Those wearing knit-yarmulkes try to memorize the songs in order to teach them in their clubs. The ones without the yarmulkes tap their feet with the rhythm, sometimes shedding a tear, which rolls down their shaven faces to their open shirts.



The Holy Days

People once came to Rabbi Saul Yedidiah an told him that many yeshiva boys left their studies and came to his synagogue to listen to his singing, and therefore they neglected their Torah studies. He answered: it is said on God that he chooses the Torah, but it is also said that he chooses songs. Both Torah and song are God's choices. There are those who worship God by studying the Torah, and there are those who worship in songs of praise.

If it is so during the year, it is more so when the Holy Days are nearing.

Usually the Rabbi brings new niggunim to prayers such as Kaddish. His Hasidim expect him to come up with new niggunim. Sometimes the Rabbi travels to Jerusalem to combine something from the atmosphere of the Holy City in his niggunim.

 

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