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[Page 197]

Types and Images

 

Moshe Itsl – The Blacksmith in the City

by Zalman Pelman (Herzliya)

Translated by Pamela Russ

The Jews, the Polaks, and the farmers from the villages around Jadow all knew Moshe Itsl well. The farmers not only knew him but were absolutely prepared to sacrifice themselves for him. They used to lovingly call him “Kwiotek” [“blossom”], and for winter they would bring Moshe Itsl potatoes, beets, and a wagonload of wood so that “Kwiotek” would not, Heaven forbid, suffer from hunger or cold in the winter. He paid for this, but they brought all this to his house and poured it into the cellar that was under Moshe Itsl's house. The villagers themselves would lift the small door of the floor and pour in the potatoes so that Moshe Itsl would not have to bend down.

In the same way, Moshe Itsl was beloved by the Jewish population in Jadow. First, he was one of the elder Jews in the city. The Rav was his best friend. And when he became ill, Moshe Itsl slept over at his home. In addition, he was the beadle (gabbai) in the Psalms Reading Group and in the Burial Society. Whenever there was a circumcision, a wedding, or any other regular celebration, Moshe Itsl was there and “had to” receive the honors: When there was a circumcision, it was already a given that he would do the “metzitza” [suction part of the ritual]. He considered this to be the greatest mitzvah. And also, God forbid, at a funeral, Moshe Itsl was also involved. If someone in a small village near Jadow died after having been sick and staying in bed all winter, and no one wanted to get involved in such a situation, then Moshe Itsl took some 95% proof [spirits], went over to the body, washed it, and then brought it over for a Jewish burial.

For all this, Moshe Itsl was a fiery Gerer chassid, and with passion he would describe how the “table” [large gathering around a “table”(celebration) conducted by the Rebbe for his followers] on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with the Sfas Emes (the father of the Gerer Rebbe), to whom the blacksmith used to travel.

Also, the youth in Jadow spoke reverently of Moshe Itsl the blacksmith. Who did not hear or know of him personally? Tall, lean, straight as an oak tree, with a large, grey beard.

The young couples, who would stroll in the romantic winter nights, were accompanied by Moshe Itsl's hammerings in his red-hot irons, which were heard from his smithy until late at night. The hammerings provided a security for those walking in the Jadow streets, as if being accompanied by a security guard that would protect from Jew-hating instances in pre-war Poland.

 


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Feywele Melamed (religious teacher)

by Bezalel Fargman, of blessed memory (New–York)

Translated by Pamela Russ

Feywele Tkutch, that's what they called him in Jadow, a name added for no reason. With great respect and great importance, I will refer to him as Feywele Melamed. Tall, lean, with narrow shoulders, dressed in a long, black frock, whose folds reached the joints of his feet. His pale face was buried in a narrow, rather long, yellow, small beard. His two gentle, blue eyes seemed to light out of face. He was a pious Jew, quiet, walked with a measured step.

In Jadow, he was the teacher of young children, teaching the alef beis [Hebrew alphabet] to the youngest children who had just recently learned to speak. Feywele Melamed was the first to implant the initial seed that is called Judaism, into the Jewish children. He rooted the Jewish Torah into the minds of the children.

Feywele was my first teacher. Every child in Jadow had to go through Feywele's school – a large room divided in two by a small “wall” making two “schools.” The first, from the entrance, was the living area, and the second, on the steps to the entrance, was the real “school.” Over there, small, very young children used to run around the school with the edges of their shirts poking out of their breeches …

I remember well how my mother, from my grandfather Zalman's house, where she lived, carried me in her delicate arms on the first day of school to Feywele Melamed. We went up, up onto the second level, to Reb Yochanan Shenker's tenant. My mother carried me up to a tall entranceway that led to a corridor, and when we came into the schoolroom, my mother let me down from her hands. You can imagine how old I was at the time.

I also remember the first impression that first moment made on me, when my mother put me down on the floor: I felt like crying because I felt like someone “abandoned” me among strangers. My mother readied herself to leave. I gathered my courage; it wasn't appropriate to cry.

My rebbi, Feywele Melamed, did what a Jewish teacher is supposed to do – he fulfilled the holy rule of “ve'shinantom le'vanecha” – “you should instill the Torah into your son.” Feywele guided Jewish children to go in the right way, the road of Torah and sanctity.

Also then, in that dark hour, when the murderers killed Jewish children in a beastly manner, Reb Feywele Melamed, and all the other teachers of school children, went together with those very little students directly into the gas chambers.

I memorialize Reb Feywele Melamed, our educator and our rabbi, with the greatest awe and respect.

 


[Page 201]

Reb Josel Ditman the Balbekhi[1]

by K.B.

Translated by Pamela Russ

Josel Ditman – a Jew, a Torah scholar, was a Gerer chassid, a genius in all the ancient, religious Jewish literature and Talmud with the commentaries, as well as a prestigious person and son–in–law of the famous millionaire Moshe Rowinski, who had a daughter, tragically, extremely handicapped.

With the comfort of wealth, and with his sharp tongue, Josel went everywhere and spoke his mind everywhere. He was a nervous man, easily heated up. He would cry out and bang his hands in his head when he wanted to be heard. That's what he did not only when he was occupied with community issues, but even in his own home when there was a quarrel with his wife. In the store, when it was full of customers, he would suddenly shout and cry out that he was being robbed. The Christian customers stood in the store and laughed. By now they knew him well, and they called him “Crazy Josek.”

He loved to have discussions, even with heretics, his constant opponents. His religious convictions were always supported by verses of the Talmud. The heretical opponents were left stonily confused and they would walk away quickly. Josel did not respect the butchers and fishmongers who tried to overcharge for meat and fish. If a butcher or fishmonger took two groshen [coins] more than the actual price, Josel Ditman would already be standing in the synagogue at the podium where he came intentionally from his house, and he would scream and cry and then go to the Rav, that they should take sharp measures to place a prohibition on buying [the overpriced] meat or fish.

I remember a curious event that I witnessed: A few weeks after the fishmongers had new prices for their fish, Josel Ditman stood at the podium in the synagogue and shouted and admonished the people for buying fish at these expensive prices. He asked that the Rav prohibit everyone from buying fish for Shabbos.

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One of those who heard Josel's admonishment became upset, and said to him: “You're yelling and rebuking others, when you yourself are eating the fish!” At first, Josel was taken aback and did not know how to respond, but soon he pulled himself together and replied loudly: “I confess and I announce before all those here that I take upon myself a ban from cohabiting with my wife for one month for this sin that I have committed, which was that I went to buy this fish!” Amid general laughter, he stepped down from the podium and left the shul.

With this type of person, the youth found it a most difficult struggle. When almost all the religious people had abandoned their “fighting positions,” he alone remained in the “killing fields” and he did not want to give up his “righteous battle.” He ran to the Rav and to the seniors, and like an angry spirit, he rebuked them for having allowed the non–believers into town.

Once, on a chol hamoed [intermediate weekdays of holiday], Josel went up to the podium and revealed that there were workers who were working on chol hamoed. [According to Jewish law, one is not permitted to work during these days.] Guilty of this sin was a tailor who made a pair of pants for a farmer. The tailor was not able to finish these pants before the holiday. This time, the religious fanatic Josel upset even the calmest people. There arose those who went up to the podium and tossed him out of shul.

As in most of the religious homes, Josel's son went straight to the “evil Tarbut” [secular Zionist institution]. The son was raised in the religious ways of the father, but later became a party leader of the Leftists, and then fell in love with a shoemaker's daughter. Pious Josel died before the Second World War, resigned [to his fate].

 

The Long (Tall) Moshe

The “long” Moshe – that's what they called him. His real name was Moshe Michals.

Tall, thin, with a pale sickly face, a small black beard, gray eyes, saddened, that expressed all the Jewish pain of the exile. When he would walk down the street with this long black frock that reached until the ground, both his hands locked behind his back, bent over from height and weakness, he presented a frightful picture for those who saw him …

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… for the first time. He was a real honest man, pious and devout without bound. He fasted every Monday and Thursday, on the days that Jews recite the entire section of “Tachnun” [“supplications” in morning prayers], and suffered from the “heavy disease” (epilepsy) that shortened his life.

He divorced his first wife, because he saw her wash the floor with her bare feet. A young daughter of his had to wear a dress with long sleeves and socks on her feet. His fanatic religious behavior made his life and the life of those around him very difficult.

The irony of this fate was that this religious Jew, who would never look at a woman, was a merchant of women's material for dresses, pyjamas, and shirt materials that he would sell to the “villagers” in Urla. With a large parcel over his shoulder, folded over in three, he went from village to village to peddle his merchandise.

The Christian “villagers” would chase Moshe away and not allow him near their village. Out of pity for him, the Jews would give him some business. Those who knew him, trusted that he would not cheat them with the prices. It was interesting that Reb Moshe Michals had good taste in women's fashion. He had the most attractive and most modern materials, even though he never saw how a dress looked on a woman. Some of his regular women customers wanted to joke around with him, would take a piece of material, measure it out on themselves, then ask for Moshe's advice as to whether the material and the color matched her face. He would embarrassingly turn his head, sigh deeply, and probably thought: “Woe, this unfortunate, sinful livelihood!” He was not God's messenger, but he suffered much from the fact that religious Judaism was weakening.

At every opportunity, Reb Moshe Michals tried to see which of the youth he could “save from hell.” Each time that he met me, he stopped me, and his first words were: “When will you have a change of heart?” He meant, when would I become more religious. He would stop with a plea in his eyes, and then he would wait for a satisfactory reply. I always appeased him and promised that he would yet be proud of me.

Moshe Michals died of hunger in the Warsaw ghetto.

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Shloime Goldfinger – The Maskil [Enlightened Man] of the Town

Shloime Goldfinger – Shloime Matels – was a certain type of character in our town. With his handsome, upright, proud figure, he gave the impression of an aristocrat from birth. His clothing – always clean, with his boots always shining, and on his first class frock [long, black coat] there was never even a spot, and his beard was smoothly combed. He would sit in the haberdashery and stationery store, and he would be reading a newspaper or writing something. When a customer would come in to buy something, it was as if Shloime would be doing him a favor as he would get the customer what he had requested. When he was done with the customer, Shloime would return to his intellectual activities.

In the evenings, one would see Shloime sitting on a stool pushed near the door, and in scorn he would be contemplating the small townspeople who were milling about the streets.

He was a writer. Other than for business reasons, he spoke to no one, had no groups, no friends, and he was cold even to his wife and children. One rarely saw him outside of his store or his home. Occasionally he would go behind the town to get some air, and with his hands behind his back, he would take several measured steps back and forth and then return home.

He would go to synagogue for prayers, and that would be once a week, on Shabbos mornings. When he entered the synagogue, he did not greet anyone, and turned to face the wall until the prayers had ended. He then left the synagogue and did not look at anyone.

His proud and aloof behavior towards people came from the fact that he considered himself to be one of the most educated people in the small town. When someone needed to write up a request to the government, or write up a business agreement between two partners, they had to come to Shloime Matels. Even for an address or for a letter, one had to resort to Shloime. Because of that, he sold all kinds of writing materials, because he would write the address at the same time. While writing up a request or a contract, Shloime would not ask lengthy questions of what this was all about, but only several questions, and then his beautiful script just slid across the paper. His requests could be “sent to the Kaiser” – that was the talk in town.

He was also secretary of the Jewish community. The community meetings were held in his house.

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In those times, the synagogue beadles, older Jews, had a respectful relationship with this enlightened Jew who could help in difficult times. So they heard and heeded Goldfinger's advice. Then the community meetings passed calmly, without disagreement. But with time, younger beadles came into the community with different views and other requests. The struggle between the younger and older beadles sharpened. The meetings were stormy. Shloime Goldfinger suffered then terribly because his conservative views were no longer in harmony with the positions of the younger beadles. During these meetings, he did not become angry, but he suffered inwardly very much. He did not want to get into an argument with anyone.

At the time of the German extermination, shortly before the destruction of the Jadow Jewish community, there was an incident during a meeting of the Judenrat. One of the Judenrat members strongly shouted at Shloime Goldfinger. His heart could not survive any longer. He remained seated at the table and his life ended, silently and proudly.

 

Avremele the Tailor

Avremele Migdal, a tailor, a Jew that was a man with many children to support, was a pauper living by “God's mercy.” If Bontche Shweig's dream (in I.L. Peretz's story)[2] was just a roll with butter, then Avremele the tailor didn't dream of even this. If one would have asked him what he wanted out of life, he would certainly have answered: satisfying myself with a supper of fried potatoes and farfel [small pieces of noodle dough].

Avremele the tailor lived in a small, narrow little house, in which the “furniture” and the work tools took up all the space. How the living inventory, that consisted of nine souls, organized themselves in the rest of the house, is difficult to understand.

He was not a well–known tailor, so for half the week he went through the villages to get some work, and brought home some potatoes, kasha, and other products on his back, from the villages. The second half of the week, he completed the work. With this kind of production, more than once he and his household went to sleep without supper. The main …

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… source of food in this poor house was always a large, black bread that they bought first thing in the morning. Everyone would go over to the bread and cut off a piece and eat it with a piece of onion, and then drink it down with water. In spite of this, the family lived contentedly, and took everything with love.

 

Moshe Khano

With a gloomy face, Moshe Khano the shoemaker sat on his bench, considering himself a great expert in the shoemaking trade. When someone brought him an old pair of shoes to repair, his face became even gloomier, he threw the shoes back to his apprentice, and then showed him what to do. It was in a different manner that Moshe Khano showed himself to the customers who came to buy a new pair of shoes. In those times, his gloomy face would take on a different expression. He pushed up his glasses onto his forehead and with a satisfied smile, brought over a stool, and invited the customer to have a seat. He measured the customer's foot and at the same time asked the client what style he wanted to have made: a wide tip, or with “false stitches,” and maybe with a squeak that could be heard from far away. One could be sure that he would polish up a shoe that would “beg” to be worn.

After all this, he was not a rich man. His earnings came as things worked out. The majority of his children were girls. He didn't have too many worries about husbands for his daughters, because he didn't have to search for these husbands for a long time. When a daughter grew up and was ready to be married, in a few words he said to one of his apprentices: “Today, you'll put on your Shabbos suit, and invite your parents, because tonight we are having an engagement party [tanai'm].” And that's how it went. No one ever spoke about a dowry or other things. This was all understood. Why do they need a dowry? He's not chasing the couple out of the house. The bench in the workshop is always ready for him and is more assured for him now than before. That's how he gave away his daughters, because there was never a shortage of husbands at the workbench.

On a Shabbos day, he was washed up, had combed his broad beard, and he stood before his gate with a group of Jews and discussed politics. His favorite theme was …

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… the Russian military in which he served in St. Petersburg (today Leningrad). The Jews listened with great interest as Moshe Khano told them how he had seen the Czar Nicholas and his daughters during a military inspection.

This modern shoemaker of Jadow was no great scholar of the printed word, and he was challenged with Hebrew as well. He chose intentionally to sit at an open window during the summertime and loudly recite the Psalms as he “expressed” a Hebrew that was pitiful for the words that left his mouth.

Moshe Khano lived late into his years – and then was tortured by the Germans.

 

Leizer Macz –The Strong Man of the Town

Leizer Macz – that's what they called him. I don't remember his family name. And in the course of several decades since he disappeared from Jadow, many of his stories were forgotten.

Leizer Macz was a strong man, solidly built. If he put his hand onto someone, that person would remember it his whole life. Most often, the peasants from the surrounding area were the ones who felt this the most, when they felt like teasing a Jew. They were careful in the future not to start up with Jews again. He was always surrounded by a group of good, young men: wagoneers, butchers, also not weak young boys, but who never attained his [Leizer's] strength. They always flattered him and were always ready to follow his orders.

On Shabbos after the meal, Leizer Macz would position himself and his group in front of the shul and make fun of everyone. A respected Jew, who wanted to go to shul, had to avoid this spot and make a detour so that he wouldn't have Leizer's fresh comments thrown at him. Not once did this group ensnare a victim who tried to respond with a word. These victims were not envied. They threw him from one to the other, and he barely escaped from their hands with his life.

Despite this gang's behavior towards the respectable people, no one really disliked them, because everyone felt secure with them around. On a …

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… market day, there were often incidents between the non–Jews and the Jews. The farmers would start an argument for every small thing. The farmers incited others by saying to them that the Jews were needling the non–Jews, and many got involved in this argument. There would be chaos. The merchants, afraid that they would steal the merchandise, ran home as quickly as possible, and stores were destroyed.

Suddenly, as if having sprouted out of the earth, Leizer Macz and his gang appeared with all kinds of metal items in their hands, and they began to thrash to the right and left. In a short time, the situation was under control. On the killing field, several farmers lay with their heads split open and the others ran off where “the black pepper grows.”

I remember one Simchas Torah that fell out on a Sunday. When the farmers came to town to the prayers, Leizer and his gang stood as usual in front of the shul. They were a little intoxicated, and they were joking around. Some Christians rode by and thought the gang was making fun of them. They stopped the wagon and responded with taunts followed by mocking the Jewish religion.

Enraged like lions, Macz and his “boys” threw themselves onto the insulters of the Jewish belief, ignoring the added might of the additional Christians. A terrible fighting took place. By the time the police came, there were many severely wounded Christians and some just slightly wounded. Even the police didn't want to get involved with Macz's gang. After this type of fighting, the police would sometimes arrest some Jews, but they were soon released.

Leizer Macz was by nature a good person. He was always the first to do someone a favor. He worked in the fish business. Once a week, on Thursdays, he went to Warsaw for fish, and with the money that he earned on Fridays for his merchandise, he lent out the money to other store owners so that they could buy their own merchandise for their businesses. They repaid the money on the day after market day, so that he would have the monies on Thursdays at daybreak to get fresh merchandise – fish in honor of Shabbos for the Jewish households. This repeated itself each week.

Leizer Macz's name is also tied to Jadow's older generation with memories of entertainment – free “concerts” that he would give to the town with his gramophone. He was the first that …

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… surprised the town with a “playing box” that could speak and sing. Until that time, Jadow did not know or dream or even believe that this sort of thing existed in the world. They had heard something about people in Warsaw standing in line with boxes in the streets and for a certain fee one could hear music and songs. But since they did not see this with their own eyes, they did not believe it.

Suddenly, Jadow became surprised: A window had opened and on the window was a box with a horn. There stood Leizer turning something with a crank. He put a record on this thing and suddenly one could hear music. There was suddenly a large gathering. People were standing on the first story in wonder, with bated breath and shining eyes, unable to understand what this was. Slowly, they became accustomed to this and they already knew that each Saturday night you had to assemble under the window of Leizer Macz to hear the “concert.”

Every Thursday, when Macz came back from Warsaw with fish in honor of Shabbos, he brought new records, then soon tried them and it was all fun. The entire town assembled, young and old, women and children, all coming to hear Sirota's and Kwartin's cantorial music, as well as Goldfaden's operettas. Each time, someone would shout: “Leizer! Play ‘The Small Talis,’ or play ‘ve'chol ma'aminim’” [from the Rosh Hashanah prayers] and Leizer satisfied everyone.

Slowly, he began to earn a living from this. For a certain fee, he would go to the respected households with his gramophone to entertain. And since other respected people didn't want to be left behind, so when they saw that Aron Fajershtajn invited Leizer and his box to his house, then Henoch invited him for a second Shabbos. Yisroelke the leather merchant did the same. He also didn't want to be left behind. Leizer Macz went to many houses and did business from his “box concerts.”

Leizer and his family immigrated to America. Their fate later on is unknown to me.

 

Binyomitche the Water Carrier

In Jadow, there once was a young girl, a mute, for whom the community felt pity …

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… that she would sit until her braid turned gray, and so they searched for a husband for her from a certain town, I think it was Czyzew. This was Binyomitche. He was not a very polished person, and because of his work, he got the name “Binyomitche the water carrier.”

The Jews of Jadow made this couple a wonderful wedding, escorting them to their wedding canopy in parade. As a dowry, Binyomitche received yokes and two buckets, and the eternal rights to carry water for the Jadow housewives.

 

Binyomitche (Binyomin) the Water Carrier

 

Binyomitche was a small Jew with tall shoulders, as if specially made to be able to support the yokes. With a pair of large boots on his small feet, and with the buckets on both sides, he would trudge in the biggest mud puddles in the marketplace as he would walk from the river with the water. From a distance, one could never tell if he was walking forward or if he was standing still: as he came to a house, his steps would quicken.

Proudly, Binyomitche would carry in the “pair of water” [two pails of water], he would get the six penny coin, then check it to see if it was rubbed out, and then put it into a small pouch, close it, then weigh it to see if it was enough for his wife. Other monies – a silver 10 coin, or 10 kopecks in …

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… silver, he did not want to take, and would throw it back. No explanations that these were the same, helped: No and no. “I don't want it,” he would say in a crying tone. “My wife screams at me when I don't bring enough money, which means coins that have no weight.”

More than one “pair of water” for one housewife, Binyomitche did not want to carry. When they asked him to bring another “pair of water,” he ran off with a shout in his Lithuanian dialect: “I don't want to! I don't want to!”

Binyomitche had lots of problems with the young pranksters. They would hide his yokes. When he would go out and not see his work “tools” he would go to the side and cry his eyes out. Out of pity for him, they would return what they had taken. Not being able to watch as he trudged through the puddles of mud, they decided to modernize his “task.” Some money was collected and they bought him a horse and wagon.

It was not easy for him to learn the tricks of harnessing a horse. The first few times, they went along with him and gave him “lessons” until he slowly learned the tricks. When Binyomitche was upset, he would let off his anger at his horse, beat its thin bones, and take revenge for his luckless life on this poor animal.

With the barrel, there were now new problems. By the time he arrived to a house, the water in the barrel had spilled out. Binyomitche became angry and once again beat his horse.

The “white gangsters” did all kinds of pranks on him. When he carried water into the homemaker's house and left the horse alone, the pranksters hid one of the buckets or something else. When he came out and saw that something was missing from the wagon, Binyomintche fell into a hysterical rage, grabbed the whip, and with the other hard side, whipped the horse and screamed: “You horsehead! Where were your eyes?”

With this sort of “horse Eden” that the horse had with Binyomintche, it didn't survive long, and finally stretched out its hooves. They put back the yoke on Binyomintche's shoulders, and he felt much better with this. All at once, he disappeared from Jadow.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Cantor who prays with a cry in his voice Return
  2. Bontche Shweig is based on a story by I. L. Peretz. Having died after a miserable life on earth, Bontche Shweig now comes to heaven for his reward. Since life has taught him to expect nothing, he expects nothing in heaven. Even when the angels turn out to honor him he remains quiet. When he is offered anything he wants as a reward for his gentle uncomplaining humility, he can ask only that he be given a hot roll with fresh butter every day. Even the angels are embarrassed that his greatest wish is so pitiful. [taken from Dramatists Play Service, Sholom Aleichem] Return

 


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Reb Sholem Kotsker

by Sh. L.

Translated by Pamela Russ

In my very early years, when I went with my father to the Gerer shtiebel [small place for community prayer], the old Reb Sholem Kotsker and his manner made a huge impression on me. A Jew of average size, his build had broad shoulders, a long gray beard, and he was then at an age of over seventy, with long, thick eyebrows that hung over gray eyes. When he was deep in thought, and his eyebrows lifted up and down, he evoked a fear in people. Out of fright, I hid in a corner and looked at him as if he were from another world.

Other than on Shabbos, understandably, he always had a long pipe in his mouth, stuffed with tobacco. When he came into the Gerer shtiebel in the morning, he milled around for a long time, deep in thought, then went over to the bookcase and took out a religious book or a Zohar [book of mysticism], silently mumbled to himself, raised his long eyebrows, shut his book, and stuffed his hands into his thick gartel [black sash tied around the waist, worn during prayers], walked around with his long pipe, pensive, muddling in lofty issues. All of this was in preparation for prayer. At midday, when other Jews were already having their lunch, Reb Sholem was just beginning to don his talis [prayer shawl] and tefillin, with his talis tossed and wrapped over his head. That's how he moved around the shtiebel. No one actually saw him praying or moving his lips. In the middle of his prayers, he would open his Yoreh Deah [section of Talmud that deals with diverse aspects of Jewish law], Choshen Mishpat [section of Talmud that deals with areas of financial issues in Jewish law], or a gemara, and study them. That's how he spent his time in the shtiebel every day until three or four o'clock in the afternoon.

I remember that even on Yom Kippur during Kol Nidrei [prayer for the eve of Yom Kippur] and during the other prayers, when Jews were standing in fear and awe in front of the Creator of the World, and beating their hearts during the prayer of al “chet she'chatasi” [“for the sins that I have sinned…”], also at that time, Reb Sholem took out a Shas [book of Jewish law] …

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… and steeped himself in study. The chassidim would look at him and be in awe of his behaviors.

He was a quiet person of few words, silent, and if at some time the chassidim would speak about Rebbes and chassidut [philosophy of living a pious Jewish life], and then they would speak of the Kotsker Rebbe, Reb Mendele, who was separated from his chassidim [followers] for 22 years, and then did not want to accept them, Reb Sholem would wave his hand, which meant – that these types of people with small minds cannot understand the deep ways of Reb Mendele Kotsker.

Reb Sholem Kotsker was a Jew of pure spirituality and lived by the “the dried fig of Rabbi Zaddok” [idiom for “as skin and bones”],[1] so as to sustain his soul in this sinful world. He had a store, and there the shelves were empty. There was nothing to sell. His wife Matel used to sit in the store with a fat Korban Mincha Siddur [prayer book with special sections for women], and she would say her prayers all day.

When Reb Sholem Kotzker would go home with his talis bag, it was already late in the evening, and that's how it was every day. He passed by the store of Lemel Jadowski. He called to Reb Sholem to come in, and then he put a bag of tobacco into his talis bag. Another storekeeper, Avrohom Szlaboners (Lichtblum) put in a half bread or a challah [braided bread], and the butchers, who had the butcher shop in Mordechai Chil's yard, brought Reb Sholem a piece of lung and liver. Reb Sholem brought all of this to his wife Matel so that she could prepare something to eat for him.

That's how Reb Sholem Kotsker lived out his years, taking no physical pleasure from this world.

 

Reb Hershel the Vinegar Maker (Rosenberg)

I remember him from my young years, when he came from Warsaw. There he had a vinegar factory on Nalewka. In his older years, he gave over his factory to his son Reb Henoch and then came to Jadow where he had a son and a daughter. He was already in his seventies, so he rented an apartment in the same passageway where the Ger shtiebel was located, put together a store of white linen, and on Wednesdays, which was market day in the town, he went and sold his merchandise there.

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His appearance and dress left an impression on everyone. A tall figure, and a hat with a tall, wide crown; on Shabbos and on the holidays – a velvet hat or a shtreimel with a large cap [round fur–trimmed hat] that reached the collar of his shirt. He had a long, thick nose, overgrown with large warts. Always wearing a generous dressing gown like the chassidim. From the lower pocket, a long, red kerchief protruded, and in his hand he almost always held a nice pouch of tobacco, and invited every Jew for a snuff of tobacco, and spared none for himself either. As he was stuffed with tobacco, he would take out his kerchief and wipe his long, wart–filled nose, and then relish each moment with the greatest pleasure.

Reb Hershel was a fiery chassid. For the first establishment of the Gerer dynasty he went to the Chidushei HaRim [Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Rotenberg, first Rebbe of Ger, became known by this title of his main work], and after that, to the Sfas Emes [Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter, grandson, also known by the title of this main work]. He wasn't a great scholar, but chassidic teachings and stories, and wonders and miracles of the Rebbes, and of the Baal Shem Tov [founder of the chassidic movement], of the Chozeh [“seer”] of Lublin [Rebbe Yaakov Yitzchok Horowitz of Lublin, Poland], the Rebbe of Kotsk, Reb Leib Sarah's [Aryeh Leib, son of Sarah, considered to be a miracle worker, disciple of the Baal Shem Tov], Reb Dov Ber from Mezrycz [also a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov], and others – he could narrate stories in abundance, never tiring. His bookcase [holding religious books], was filled with, other than the books of the Mishna, books of chassidism that he read very often. The chassidic teachings and stories were like a well for him, from which he constantly drew life. This pious chassid very much loved the “board,” which meant to lead the prayers for a congregation. On Friday nights, when he went to the podium and banged his hand down on it, and then with his hoarse, screechy voice gave a passionate shout of “lechu neraneno” [“Oh come, let us sing…” the opening words of the Shabbos evening prayers], one felt that this was the true leader of the prayers and he was truly worthy of welcoming the Shabbos Queen. For “lecho dodi” [“Come, my friend…” part of the Shabbos evening prayer] he sang special chassidic melodies, and the congregants sang along with him. You could feel the holiness of the Shabbos during his prayers.

He already had the rights [because of having done this more than three times] to lead the afternoon prayers on the two days of Rosh Hashana, and on Yom Kippur he would lead the Kol Nidrei [Yom Kippur eve] and Musaf [afternoon] prayers even though as he aged, it was difficult for him to stand on his feet. But he did not want to forfeit his rights to this. Each time, they gave him a stool to sit on. He rested for a few minutes, and then continued with the prayers. He led the hakafos [dancing with the Torah scrolls] on the holiday of Simchas Torah, and sang all kinds of melodies of Polish folk dances, and the congregants helped him with this. It was joyful and lively.

On a table in Reb Hershel's home, there stood a shiny, brass samovar [urn]. With the leg of a boot, he stirred up the…

[Page 215]

… coals, and meanwhile he washed and dried the glasses until they shone. When the water in the urn was hot, Reb Hershel prepared about ten glasses of tea with red tea essence, in which you could see your reflection. He placed them on a tray and carried them into the Gerer shtiebel. Whoever wished to have a glass of tea was honored by Reb Hershel with one. And if there was no one, then Reb Hershel would drink them all and recite all kinds of rabbinic Torah teachings and tell chassidic stories and allegoric tales such as those of Raba bar bar Chana [Talmudist of Babylonia]. The chassidim and the young boys who were studying in the Gerer shtiebel at the time, would nod their heads as they listened, and Reb Hershel was very pleased. With a tray full of glasses, he would come into the Gerer shtiebel several times a day.

Many times, he would come into the Gerer shtiebel, open the door, and call out to me: “Shmuel! Come here, I need you!” When I went over to him, he asked me: “Do you want to drink a l'chaim [a toast of whiskey], a 95% proof alcohol and have a bit of egg cookie?” I answered: “Yes. Chassidim have to warm their souls with a little schnapps [whiskey].” “Chassidim, yes,” Reb Hersh said to me, “but no one considers you a chassid, the young people in the shtiebel are saying slanderous things about you.” Both of us laughed.

Once, Reb Hershel, presented this to me: “Tomorrow morning, get up at the first light of dawn, and I want you to come with me to the village of Bark. There, in the orchard of the Jewish lessee Eliyahu Barker, grows a certain type of leaves that are called 'violets' and you put them into a bottle of 95% proof, they soak for a few days, and then the schnapps has a heavenly flavor. And more so, the violet leaves are a protection against hemorrhoids.”

I agreed, woke at dawn, and went to him. He was already set, and was waiting for me. We began walking to the village, a distance of two kilometers from our town. He began telling me all kinds of stories of Rebbes and Torah teachings. When we arrived to the field, he showed me which leaves to tear down. But meanwhile, the lessee Eliyahu Barker, my uncle, noticed us and called out: “Reb Hershel! Come in! You'll have a glass of hot milk.” That's what we did, and after that we walked home.

In the Gerer shtiebel, when there was someone's yahrzeit [anniversary day of a death], and the patron of this event put out a bottle of whiskey and a bite to eat, Reb Hershel was the host of the drinking. He poured everyone a glass of whiskey, but into one glass he poured water in order to play a joke on someone (he was …

[Page 216]

… a joker). He drank a l'chaim, and then offered his wishes that the soul of the deceased be elevated into the Garden of Eden. When the chassid who was tricked [into drinking the water] shouted out that he was cheated, Reb Hershel laughed loudly and delivered a Torah teaching that the Talmud says, “What a foolish chassid!” referring to the whiskey drinker who is drinking water and is shouting. Had he not said anything, then no one would have known that he'd drunk water.

In 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, I had to bring him the Jewish newspapers and read him the news of the killing fields. He hated Russia. He celebrated each disaster of the Russian army.

In the last years of his life, Reb Hershel behaved like a Rebbe. Every Friday night after the meal, he invited over a few chassidim, and he would sit at the head of the table on a chair draped with linen, with his shtreimel on his head, wearing his large chassidic coat, and the chassidim around the table, and his wife put out a plate of roasted chickpeas, and he gave everyone glasses of licorice whiskey to drink.

Reb Hershel recited Torah teachings about the portions of the week, and also recounted a teaching from a Rebbe, as he would explain the Torah verse. Each chassid recited a novel interpretation on the verse too, and a there was a discussion about Torah and chassidus. Then a chassid began singing “Ko Ribbon Olam,” [“Master of the Universe,” sung on the Shabbath]. Everyone joined in with passion and desire for spirituality, and G–d's spirit just about rested on Reb Hershel. The chassidim sent for bottles of beer to be brought on their account from Berel Shenker. They drank glass after glass of l'chaim, and Reb Hershel began the singing with a melody that elevated the soul. The chassidim left with a small dance and they parted saying “good Shabbos.”

After World War I, Reb Hershel's wife died, and he was left alone. After a short time, Reb Hershel disappeared – an elderly man in his seventies.

 

Srul (Yisroel) Yosel Ashmedai (Tenenholcz)

Srul (Yisroel) Yosel Ashemdai was a tall, strong man. In his young years – a fiery chassid, a great scholar, well versed in Maimonides, and he became …

[Page 217]

… a heretic, making fun of chassidim and Rebbes. Chassidim tried to have discussions with him because he had a sharp tongue, and he showed all kinds of sources in the Talmud and in Maimonides that discussed how they, the chassidim, were idlers [time wasters] and are directing their children off of the ways of life.

Many times, Yosel would come to the Beis Medrash [study hall] and approach us boys who were sitting in front of the gemaras [Talmud] and studying: “What are you doing here? Get out, learn a vocation, become craftsmen, go study. Jews don't need idlers. We have enough of those. Intelligence and craftsmen will make our Jewish nation much healthier!”

Srul Yosel argued with everyone, even with the senior policeman Wysoczki. Yosel tattled to the Radzymin county governor, saying that his policeman was taking bribes. The governor would always come to Jadow, and ask if this was true, that Wysoczki was taking bribes. Understandably, the Jews denied this, not wanting to get the senior policeman Wysoczki into trouble. He also did not spare Srul Yosel.

Since his parents did not register him with a birth certificate, he was never called up for military service. Wysoczki found out about this. And when right after Sukos the young 21–year–olds had to present themselves for the draft, the policeman remembered Ashemdai [king of demons, during time of King Solomon]. He arrested him [Srul Yosel] and with a truck drove him off to Radzymin. The military commission asked him how old he was. He answered, 60 years old. Born in what year? He did not know, his parents did not register him. The Czarist officials laughed and then released him. This repeated itself for several years until Wysoczki received an order not to bring back this old recruit.

Despite his heresy, Srul Yosel was a teacher, his wife worked with confection [sweets], and stood with a small table on Wednesdays at the market. All his years, he lived in poverty. He did not send his two sons to cheder [elementary religious school] but sent them to the Russian–Polish school.

In 1915, during the Frist World War, when the Russian powers left Jadow, senior policeman Wysoczki took revenge on Srul Yosel Ashmedai. He and several other Jews arrested him and sent him out deep into Russia. After the October Revolution in 1917, Srul Yosel left Russia and returned to Jadow. He died a few years later.

[Page 218]

Reb Moshe Rowinski – the Millionare

In the second half of the 19th century, Reb Moshe settled in Jadow. He was a simple Jew, but very skilled in the “little black dots [“fine print”]. He was a Gerer chassid [follower of the Gerer Rebbe], and went to see the Rebbe every Shabbos and Yom Tov [Jewish holiday]. He was a very shrewd businessman, and thanks to that he quickly found a connection with the managers of Count Zamoyski, who owned large forests in his town and in the surrounding areas, and large orchards and other properties. [Reb Moshe] bought grains from them, animals, and woods, and sold all these necessary things to the Count's household. He was very successful in this business and in a short time accumulated a great fortune. At that time he built a great house for himself in the town, and conducted a wealthy, dignified life. However, in his family life, it was not all the way he would have liked it. Other than one son and one daughter, all the other children were handicapped, retarded. This didn't deter his marriageable prospects, because his rich wallet dispelled all “defects.” For his daughter, Piah Yita, who had a crooked [body] and was a great simpleton, Moshe managed to find a son–in–law who was a great scholar by the name of Aharon Fajershtajn, who as a young child studied in a yeshiva [religious school], and then later, with his father–in–law's help, he became a great lumber merchant. For his crippled daughter Chuma, Moshe Rowinski brought a groom from yeshiva, a young man from a Gerer chassidic aristocratic family, the aforementioned Yosele Ditman, who later, also with the help of his father–in–law, became a successful metal merchant. For the third daughter (whose name I do not remember), with a hunchback, he took a smart yeshiva student as a son–in–law, Yosele Rotenberg, who, after his boarding, organized a large lumber mill for him so he could chop wood at the train station of Lochow, in Jadow. In 1925, this Yosele opened a cigarette factory in Tel Aviv, and in a few years, left Israel, opened a textile factory in Lodz, and then died there during the German occupation. Reb Moshe Rowinski always increased his wealth, and they estimated his monies to be 2–3 million rubles (a huge wealth at that time). In his senior years, he gradually liquidated his great enterprises, bought a large house of three courtyards in Warsaw on Leshna Street, and then brought a Torah scholar into his home, whom he supported completely, so that he would study with him every day. Until the end of his days, Reb Moshe was a regular presence at the table of the Gerer …

[Page 219]

… Rebbe. On motzei Shabbos [Saturday night after the conclusion of Shabbos], while parting from the Rebbe, when the Rebbe requested an urgently needed donation, Reb Moshe would place the wallet with his money on the table and say: “Rebbe, take as much as you need.” He was a great philanthropist, generously giving charity, and he did not forget his town of Jadow. When he lived in Warsaw, every year he would send a certain sum of money to buy wood and coal for the winter for the large shul.

Reb Moshe Rowinski died in his very senior years, as a very wealthy man, respected by all.

 

Reb Aharon Fajershtajn – The son–in–law of Moshe Rowinski

Reb Aharon studied in the Polish yeshivos, and was filled with Torah learnings and chassidus. When Reb Moshe Rowinski was going to marry off his daughter, the cripple Piah Yita, he picked out Reb Aharon from a yeshiva. He was a handsome man and a great scholar, and Reb Moshe gave him a large house with board, so that he could spend his time studying Torah. Later, from time to time, Reb Aharon began accompanying his father–in–law in order to learn the wood trade. When Reb Aharon began demonstrating an aptitude for this business, his father–in–law bought him a forest and made himself–sufficient. That's how his father–in–law began to be successful in the other businesses, and his wealth began to grow. He had five sons and one daughter. When I knew him, as I went to the Gerer shiebel with my father for praying, he was approximately in his sixties. Small in size, with broad shoulders, a handsome, combed gray beard, with gold spectacles on his eyes. Always with a smile on his face, dressed as a chassid. In one word, an aristocrat in the full sense. In his last years, he was busy the entire week with business outside of his town. He came home to his family only for Shabbos. When he prayed in the Gerer shtiebel, he spoke very little, but the few words that he did say were full of charm.

Very often, while at prayers, he would encounter a sharp difference of opinion that had erupted during a discussion of a difficult concept in the Talmud or a complex commentary with the sharp–minded scholar Yosel Ditman, who strongly …

[Page 220]

… called out that his interpretation was correct, and with calm steps, he would approach Reb Aharon Fajershtajn and with a broad smile on his face, would say: “Sh! A little quieter, because 'the words of the scholars are heard when they are gentle.'” It became quiet immediately and Reb Aharon calmly responded to all the difficult questions with amendments from many different commentaries. The arguments settled down, and with respect, they all accepted his explanation. His children were married off to wealthy and respected families from different cities in Poland. For his only daughter Esther Leah, he took a son–in–law who as a renowned genius with a sharp mind, by the name of Yosele Shapiro, who sat in the Gerer shtiebel and studied Torah day and night. Later, the son–in–law moved to a nearby town – Wyskow.

A few years before World War I, Reb Aharon's wife Piah Yita died. The burial society of Jadow, wanting to “lick the fat off the bone” [reap financial benefits of the situation], asked for 5,000 rubles. Reb Aharon was not so disturbed by the sum of money as by the audacity of the means of the request for money. Understandably, there was a lot of bargaining. Reb Aharon wanted to bury his wife in another city. The burial society did not permit this, and because of this the body was not buried for three days. This shame to the deceased pained Reb Aharon greatly, as well as did the coarse means of negotiation. But not having a choice, and with the intervention of the businessmen of the town, Reb Aharon agreed to give 3,000 ruble and the issue was dealt with. To protest this, he closed all his stores in Jadow. He sold his house, and moved to Warsaw. A few years later, already being elderly, he stayed with his son–in–law Yosele Shapira in Wyskow, and studied Torah day and night. He died well into his senior years, leaving behind a beautiful name.

Sh. L.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Rabbi Zaddok lived around the year 70 CE. It is said that he fasted for the 40 years prior to the fall of Jerusalem hoping that to avert the catastrophe. He sustained himself by sucking on one dried fig per day and tossing away what was left. He was “skin and bones” as a result of this undertaking. Hence the idiom. Return

 


[Page 221]

Reb Yisroelkele the Joker

by H. L.

Translated by Pamela Russ

Reb Yisroelkele Lewycz was an Alexander chasid, a great scholar, and a man who truly lived by the Torah. It was even said that he could answer questions of religious law. When a religious Jew died, and for any reason the Rav was unable to attend the funeral, then it was Reb Yisroelkele who delivered the eulogy.

The Jews of Jadow showed honor and great respect to this pious Alexander chasid. He was an intelligent Jew. Always happy and joking, always loved to say something witty and make people laugh.

He earned his livelihood from a leather store, and had a large business, and knew not one word of Polish. I remember how he used to speak to the Polish customers – half in Yiddish, and half in some other kind of language that no one understood. The words made a humorous impression and seemed to mean the opposite of what he wanted to say. The Christian customers used to laugh from his broken Polish. Yisroelkele did not become embarrassed by this, but laughed along with them. Yisroelkele's son, Yakov Lewycz, was in America and during his life, and he held an important position among the Jadow compatriots [landsleit].

 

Yenkel Branstajn “Always the First”

Yenkel Branstajn, of the older residents of Jadow, was a widower, and lived by Moshe Leyb Ber, a relative of his. Yenkel was a tall Jew, with a handsome long beard, neatly dressed, with his proud, straight walk, naturally elicited respect from others. His tendency was always to be on time, and always to be the first person at any event in the town.

Friday, at 12 noon, he was already wearing his Shabbos frock, with his gartel [fringed sash] tied around his waist, and was reminding all the neighbors that it was time to set up the cholent [Shabbos stew] and prepare for Shabbos. He was always the first one in the synagogue for prayers with a quorum, the first to get up on Shabbos morning, the first to recite the Psalms, the first with slichos [special penitential prayers said before Rosh Hashanah], and the first at tashlich on Rosh Hashanah [a ritual where one “casts off” sins into a body of flowing water].

In his younger years, when Yenkel would go to Warsaw to buy merchandise for his leather store, he would always be in the first car of the train in order that he arrive in Warsaw before any of the other passengers. I don't remember him ever being sick. He lived to a ripe old age.

 

Mendel Prezes

The name “Prezes” was really an added name, and why this was done, nobody knows. He was able to learn [religious studies] well. He was a pious Jew, a Serocker chasid [a follower of the Rebbe of Serock], and a poor man seven fold [every day of the week]. He did not have anything with which to survive the day.

The people of Jadow had an exceptional respect for Mendel Prezes, because he was the regular “drop–in visitor” at the pharmacy. Mendel was very comfortable there, strolled around in the garden, in the orchard, went through all the rooms, and even went into the “salon” which was very elegant. Every door and gate was open to him.

Mendel never removed his hat for the apothecary. Even the two dogs, large as lions, who guarded the house of the apothecary, didn't bother Mendel. The few pennies that he earned came from selling kvass, made from fermented peas and pumpkin seeds. How he came to have such a friendship with the apothecary remained a mystery for the Jadow Jews. The kvass that Mendel sold was actually taken from the apothecary's soda factory. Over there, Mendel collected the empty bottles and threw out any broken glass.

Very often my mother sent me to Mendel Prezes to buy kvass for Shabbath and for the holidays, and sent along something baked or cooked for him. Every Purim I took Shalach Manos [Purim food baskets] to Mendel Prezes. My mother warned me that if he would want to give me something for the way home, I should absolutely not take anything, but just say thank you and leave quickly.

 

The “Wengrowska

I think they called her that because she was from Wengrow, had a store of buttermilk, butter, sour pickles, parsley, special radishes for the first of the month, and other kinds of greens. But the main attraction in her store was aged and dried cheese, set out in the window, uncovered, and flies in the hundreds celebrated this with joy. People enjoyed this food very much.

They scraped away the mold that was yellowed, and crumbled the aged cheese in sour cream, and mixed it up with the radishes and green onions. They said this food was very healthy. Evidence that this is true is that no one got sick from eating this food.

 

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