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[Page 95]

In Memory of Our City, Kovel

By Hertzl Goldberg

Translated by Amy Samin

I close my eyes in order to bring forth memories of our beloved city, Kovel. Great is the distance from then until now, nearly thirty years have passed since we, the children of the Tarbut School, joined Hehalutz Hazair [a youth movement, literally Young Pioneer].

Many events occurred during those tempestuous times. Our city was erased from the face of the earth, and multitudes of our dear ones were destroyed Of all of our dreams and memories, only one remains, a pile of bones at the far edge of the city; there lies our cherished past.

We left behind in our city the years of our childhood and youth, the home of father and mother, grandfather and grandmother, uncles and aunts, grandchildren and great-grandchildren: the beloved, winding river, the slopes of the bridge, so pleasing to us all, the chapter of Hehalutz Hazair, Freiheit, the vibrant and rousing pioneering movement; years of work and tireless dedication by volunteers, young and old, on behalf of the movement and not in order to receive a reward.

I recall the Hebrew language, spoken freely, which was like a miracle to me,

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Tabenkin [Yitzhak Tabenkin, a Zionist activist] who visited Kovel. I remember the many Hebrew schools throughout the city. I recall Fabrichna Street, when the movement was just coming into being, and the first Klosova people returned with approval for immigration to the Land of Israel, who were the first swallows of the fifth aliyah [immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel]. In my mind's eye I can see the large, expansive auditorium on Lotzka Street, which was always filled with hundreds of youth from all stations of life, who strived to make aliyah. Those multitudes waited with bated breath for their opportunity to immigrate. And although the gates of the homeland were locked against us, no one gave up hope, and for many years they participated in preparation groups.

I also remember the summer colonies in the villages, in the bosom of nature surrounding the city, and the emissaries from the Holy Land who appeared there like angels from heaven, proclaiming their message day and night. There isn't enough paper to recount the way of life in our city in those days.

And all of that was destroyed in those tempestuous times. Our entire past, all of our loved ones, can be found in a hill of ash, on the edge of our far-off town. Great is our pain and our sorrow.


From the Recent and Distant Past

By Moshe Batar

Translated by Amy Samin

In 1924 we moved from our apartment in Kovel Vatoroy to Toshovsky Street. My father of blessed memory was a Trisk Hasid, and I was raised in the atmosphere of the Trisk synagogue.

The Trisk shtiebel was notable for a certain liberality. Strict attention was not paid to the saying of prayers; in the corridors, conversations were held on matters of global politics, Zionism and the Jewish people.

There we found Jews who understood our spirits, who joined us in a variety of pranks on the eve of Simchat Torah and other holidays.

Reuven Tzavik of blessed memory stands before me with his broad smile; he spoke the same language as the young people. He would give this one a pinch, and another he would honor with a slap on the back.

I remember Joseph Papa of blessed memory with his silken kapote, who on Sabbaths and holidays would read from the Torah with trills and special melodies while swaying to and fro.

And who does not recall Ephraim Rabiner of blessed memory? With his devotion to prayer that infused every fiber of his being, and who took note of every guest in the synagogue, approaching them during a break in the prayers, and arranging places for them to stay. Everyone listened to Reb Ephraim. Such respect and affection we had for that Jew, who spared no effort in arranging hospitality in the homes of the Jews for the many guests and soldiers who appeared in the city on the eve of holidays.

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And who does not remember the prayers of Shlomo Mendel of blessed memory during the Days of Awe? His “I'm a poor devil!” His conversations with the Master of the Universe. It was an experience you would never forget.

Within the walls of the Trisker shtiebel important Zionist activity was carried out. That activity was especially felt on the eve of Yom Kippur. Yoseph Tzavik and the son of Yoseph Papa organized the Zionist fundraising. All of the streams of Zionism were housed in that synagogue. Of particular note was one of the Jabotinsky Hasids, Yoseph Gelman, son of the ritual slaughterer Asher Gelman of blessed memory, who was proficient in the Talmud and equally knowledgeable of each and every article written by his rabbi, Jabotinsky.

I recall the lecture given by Mr. Itzhak Greenboim in Kovel on the subject of “Zionism and the Situation of the Jews in Poland.” Joseph Gelman of blessed memory interrupted and heckled him, “And what about Jabotinsky's statements in his article?” At the time, Jabotinsky had written an article in the daily press saying that England had misappropriated its role and was not fulfilling the Mandate, and that we must deliver the Mandate to the Polish government which was interested in Jewish migration.

Greenboim answered Gelman by saying that after a speech made by Trotsky at the time of the Revolution, many had been willing to walk through fire, but many had disagreed with the things he had said, and repudiated them. “And therefore young man, that which is sacred in your eyes is not sacred to me.”

When I become engrossed in the past and bring to mind how vigorous life was, with a youth that was gripped with and devoted to lofty ideals but in the end was lost, my heart is filled with sorrow. Alas for its loss.

From those days I can also recall a conversation I had with Rabbi Valula, may his righteous memory be blessed. What happened was this: with great sorrow we remember our dear parents, many of whom rent their clothing and sat shiva for their sons and daughters who underwent training and decided to make aliyah to the Holy Land. My own mother, God rest her soul, prostrated herself on the grave of my father of blessed memory, in order to convince me not to move to the Holy Land.

I knew that my mother believed in Rabbi Valula with every fiber of her being, so I said we should ask the rabbi for his advice, and whatever he suggested I would do.

We went to see the rabbi in the afternoon. Rabbi Valula sat on his wide chair, with his shtreimel on his head. The rabbi presented me with a variety of evidence in support of the promise the Holy One Blessed be He required of the people of Israel: do not speed the end[1]: “'Unless the Lord builds the house, they who build it labor in vain: unless the Lord keeps the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.' (Psalms 127:1) You, the pioneers, will not bring glory with the path you have chosen, because it does not come from God.”

The rabbi came at me with passages from Psalms, and I answered him with verses from Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Not for nothing did I study at the yeshiva of Rabbi Yagodnik of blessed memory.

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In the end, I asked my mother to step out of the room for a moment, and when we were alone I said to the rabbi, “I didn't come here to listen to Halacha on if it is permitted to make aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. It is decided, and no passages, from the first to the last, can change it. But, holy rabbi, you must understand my spirit; if you do not agree, you are - God forbid - likely to lose a Jewish soul.” The rabbi gazed at me with astonished and embarrassed eyes. He called my mother into the room and gave his blessing to my aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.

Before I left, I went out for one last look at the city before leaving it forever. My heart trembled and shook within me. Here I had grown up and put down roots. It was difficult parting from those beloved Jews, the Jews of Kovel. But I was comforted in my heart that we would see one another again one day in Eretz Yisrael. I wandered down Toshovsky, Luchka, and Zorek Streets, glancing across the city park where we had woven so many dreams on moonlit nights.

The train began moving, extracting me by force like a tree pulled up from its roots. I didn't imagine, no Jew of Kovel could have imagined, that the sword of Damocles was suspended above their heads, that a bloodbath was about to wash over them and sweep everything away, and that the marvelous community of the Jews of Kovel was about to be cut down by an unbearable slaughter the likes of which our people had never before seen, even in the very darkest of times in our history.

Translator's note:

  1. By making aliyah, the Jews would be hastening the arrival of the Messiah, since it is believed that the Messiah will come when all of the Jews have returned to Eretz Yisrael. Return


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The Kovel Forest
(A brief glimpse of the town)

by Yacov Teitelkar

Translated by Amy Samin

Dedicated to my saintly and pure daughter
Raizele, G-d rest her soul

Dense forest. Abundant shade. Fertile ground of establishment and settlement of generations. Flowing with life, the rooted life of Israel Saba. Drenched in golden sunshine and dewy with precious moonbeams, fruitful and thriving. Each and every tree with its juicy roots, fertile and saturated, on its splendors, its fronds, and its bustling tendrils. And worlds upon worlds emerged and struggled and yearned. And stars put on a show, shining and twinkling overhead… embroidering and swallowing eternity - the eternity of Israel will not lie…

Here is the giant oak. Spreading through the forest, and his dimension and height is Moshe Pearl. A Jewish man inside and out. He came from the town of Trisk Forest and made

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his world in the city of Kovel - a world of national action. A typical Jew in appearance and in the purity of his soul. Devoted to his people with all of his soul and might. A faithful and active Zionist. He was the head of the Zionist movement in Kovel. At the same time, he was involved in meeting the needs of the public with faith and a wellspring of energy that came in a constant outpouring from his heart. He was dedicated to creating a fund to revive the failed popular savings and loan in Kovel; he was its leader and it improved. He became the community leader of Kovel and its president. He worked in cooperation with the office of the Polish municipality, directing it to act in ways that would help his overlooked and disadvantaged brothers. An expert bookkeeper, he would find the extremes and extract from the complexity of the Polish magistrate, creating situations that benefitted Hebrew education and culture and by some miracle, fund them.

He devoted himself to Hebrew education in Kovel, and was involved in the local Tarbut chapter, serving as its leader. He was one of the leading figures in the construction of a marvelous building for the first Hebrew Gymnasia in Kovel, Tarbut-based and including all of the latest refinements, from bottom to top, and he did so with complete simplicity and love, sincere humility and great modesty. A strong man. When asked about his colleague, his impoverished brother, he would bend down towards his questioner like a reed and speak to him in the words of his people and answer with his soul and his gallant heart.

Here is the olive tree, the sprig and the giant. Giving its fruit and oil to all around it. Yossel Shochat, “Borjui”. A haberdashery merchant, and one of the powerful community elders in the city, he was well-respected and capable. A modest and humble man who studied in the yeshiva. A “yeshiva boy” who became one of the town's most successful merchants. There wasn't a single educational or charitable organization working on behalf of society in Kovel that did not receive direct aid from Yossel Shochat - the father of charity in the city. He had a gentle and pleasant appearance, and spoke in a quiet and measured tone. His laugh and his gaze were modest. He was pleasant to everyone and shrank from receiving honors. He was occupied with his business but there was never a day on which he set aside the bible, and there was never an occurrence on which you would not find him at home, hunched over the Gemara and swimming through the sea of the Talmud.

Here is the ancient date palm - old man Appelboim. He came from far away. A lawyer. All his life he kept his distance from Judaism and its institutions; in his old age he returned to his origins and devoted himself to the abandoned and dilapidated orphanage. With his own money he rebuilt the roof of the temporary orphanage, and from there he went on to find a permanent home for the orphans of Kovel, becoming the faithful and devoted grandfather in heart and soul. An exalted elder. He spoke and behaved ponderously and continued to visit the orphanage until the day of his death, concerned for their needs and caring for his pupils, fostering their joy in his old age.

In the city and in the garden of orphans there blossomed a sturdy birch -

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Rayzah - the soul of the orphanage who sacrificed herself for the sake of the orphans, giving them the most precious thing of all: a mother. A maiden from a wealthy family, she left her home and the family wealth and put all of her desires and priorities into the adoption of the orphans and their freedom from the status of orphan. She served as an exemplary savior to the orphans, to the amazement of all who came to the city of Kovel. She began her activities in the latter days of the First World War, after the bloody trip of Blech-Balkovitz, Petliora and their gang in the villages of Volhynia leaving behind them a harvest filled with bereavement and loss, and many widows and orphans among the Jewish residents, who were in need of sponsorship and aid from the big city of Kovel. Rayzah was not satisfied with social philanthropy, she saw herself and her personal mission as returning to the orphan that which he had lost, the warm atmosphere of family, maternal love and warmth… she worried over them as a mother would, she guided them and watched over them. She pondered and plotted day and night how she could improve their situation, how she could make their lives sweeter and more pleasant. She rented private apartments for them (before the orphanage was built by Appelboim) offering them the possibility of independent lives that did not depend on their fellow man. There were none among the people of means, whether those with a generous hand or those whose hand was closed tight, who did not know Rayzah and have enough of her … and Rayzah was not concerned for her honor and did not pay attention to personal insult, caring only that “her boys” had what they needed.

Modest, tall, with a slow, smug smile, she would sometimes voice her concern and her resentment to her intimate friends about the rigidity and stubbornness of the orphanage's board members, the Friends of Honor who looked only at the eyes of the orphans, but not at their hearts.

Here also is the “father” of the orphans of Kovel, Asher Erlich, partner in the work of Rayzah and her assistant, who sacrificed no less than she on behalf of the orphans, his students, friends and the well-spring of his life. The official secretary of the orphanage, he managed and guided them, restrained them, accompanied them and protected them wherever they went. He was a Communist in his outlook, and he worked in comfortable and easy partnership with the Zionists (most of them on the board of the orphanage). He kept himself separate from the wealth of political parties, and all of his educational work was not a teaching of fundamentals, but was first and foremost human-Jewish. Short of stature, steadfast and strong, his most noticeable feature was his level-headedness and his emotional equilibrium, his taking a stand and his lack of hesitation in everyday life and in not so normal life, all of which influenced his students/friends, the orphans.

And here is the glorious citrus, with his majestic appearance and noble spirit - the young rabbi of Kovel, Rabbi Nachum Misheli, a well-versed Torah scholar and educated as well. Educated in every way, the scent of progress emanated from him, noticeable from a distance. He was involved in health issues. He pronounced

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opinions and observations. An enthusiastic lecturer he could always be found at the municipal synagogue where the Torah content was intertwined by golden threads to nationalism and popular Zionism. He called out to and awakened the Jews of Kovel to awake and become acclimatized / integrated to the fundamentals of Judaism and its traditions, to remain strong in the face of persecution, boycott and economic distress caused by the conservative, anti-Semitic Polish government, and to place their hope and safety in the hands of the Creator.

And here is the willow, the tree that is planted by flowing water - the beadle of the house of study in the Sands (Zamdiker Beit Midrash) - Pinchas the Beadle and the mohel [ritual circumciser] in one. He was the accepted expert of the physicians, who ushered thousands of Jews into the covenant of our father Abraham, and the doctors of the city trusted him and asked for his advice. He was the beadle of the house of study and in fact was responsible for all of the sacred, religious and social work. A faithful shepherd and counselor to the people in every matter of religion and proper behavior, a mediator between them and the Master of the Universe - portly, weak and short of breath, he never knew fatigue. Involved in the commonplace, but his eyes and head were always in the clouds.

And here is the most populist, basic type - unique unto himself, the painter Yosman. A common man, a proletarian worker. There was not a single workers' society, organization or public institution in which he did not appear as a lecturer - warrior who spoke his piece and would not be silenced, his bell-like voice would explode in the ears even from a distance, demanding the proper rights of the workers. At the same time, he was also an excellent preacher, fittingly standing on the bima [dais] in the house of study before a large audience and between the mincha [afternoon] and maariv [evening] prayers and lecturing. He would illuminate all who listened on the Torah and good deeds, while integrating that with exhortations to awakening a sense of nationalism and a Zionist mission - a return to Zion, the redemption and rebuilding of the Land of Israel. And on the dark winter nights, he would sit before the open books of the Gemara and recite before the “world” a chapter of the Mishnah and Ayin Yaacov.

And here is the handsome tree, juicy and sweet-smelling, the quick-witted Jew, pleasant and comfortable, involved with all of the people of the city, the secretary of the Tarbut and the Jewish gymnasia - Yaacov Kopchick, whose face never showed sadness and who was always smiling and hospitable. And he generated smiles and a welcoming feeling in all who saw and heard his mirth and his witty and lush chorus, and his Jewish wisdom that was peppered with wit. There is no doubt that even during the action during which he and his brother were taken to be slaughtered, he smiled and acted the smart aleck in order to make his fellow victims smile, to make the bitterness of death a bit more pleasant and sweeter for himself and for others, with his peace of mind and his caustic and ridiculing jokes about their fate and death itself…

And here… here… thousands of blossoming trees in the city of Kovel, creating fruit and offering up their sweet scents, struck down by the angel of life, rooted, blossoming and growing, enjoying the brilliance of the sun and creating enjoyment in those around them, struck down in the depths of their roots, and sending their branches skywards.

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Parents and their progeny, worlds and their longing for the future, suffering their burden and weaving the life story of an ancient nation, its traditions and experiences, its trials and its joys.

And here - the tender buds, the innocent boys and girls, delicate and honest, fair and beloved, refreshing, spring-like, full of youthful vigor. With the pleasant faces of the boys and girls, with the beauty of their bright eyes. With the end of their dream, their tender souls and their pure confidence in the world of the Holy One, Blessed be He… with the scent of their blossoms and the whisper of their shoots, in their joy and happiness, and the magic of their songs, the youthful songs and the lives rising up and sprouting within the shady forest of Kovel…

And all of those were wiped out, ripped out by their roots by a murderous hand, surrounded, mechanized and scheduled by a cruel criminal, wicked and satanic … for all eternity.


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Folklore

Translated by Amy Samin

A Time to Laugh
(Ecclesiastes 3: 4)

Eyal – El

One of the elderly teachers would say to his wife on Friday: “Sarah, my wife, give me a biscuit “mit shmeerachatz” (with spread).” He was afraid to say the word “eyal” (oil) because the word sounded like “El” (Elohim, one of the names of God).

(told by Yechezkel Goldberg)

Tzom – Tzum

Rabbi Avraham Szoferfin of blessed memory was one of the wealthy men of the city, but he also possessed a pleasant voice, and he would pray before the Holy Ark during the musaf prayers, obviously not in order to receive a reward. When he prayed during the Days of Awe and reached the prayer “Teshuvah, tefilah and tezdakah” which meant Teshuvah (repentance) – tzom (fast); tefilah (prayer) – kol (voice); tzedakah (charity or righteousness) – mammon (money), the worshippers would instruct: “don't read tzom, but tzumkolmammon.” In other words, it is not enough that the leader of the prayers must have a pleasant voice, he must also be rich.

(told by Yechezkel Goldberg)

The Funny Story of Rabbi Yechiel Vagsholl, may God avenge his blood

On the eve of the Sabbath Rabbi Yechiel Vagsholl, may God avenge his blood, would say, “Now, I am happy with my portions; it is forbidden to hold and count money and I am as the rich men.” When the Sabbath was over, he would say, “Woe is me. Now it is permitted to hold and count money…”

(told by Yechezkel Goldberg)

The Right Answer

Rabbi Yechiel Vagsholl, may God avenge his blood, was in competition with the Holy One, blessed be He – he would make matches. He would come to visit us on Simchat Torah and the second holiday of Passover. He once told us this anecdote: a young man was matched to a young lady from Lusk.

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It was agreed that the bridegroom and the bride would meet halfway, in other words, in Rozyszcze. The man we're speaking of, who had never before seen the young lady, approached her. His first question was, “How are you?” The young lady understood right away with whom she was dealing and put him in his place: “I spent my money for nothing.”

(told by A. Lowny)

Three Hundred and Ten Immersions

When Berele, the son-in-law of Eidel of Matsiov, would go to the mikveh, he would immerse himself a great many times. Once, they asked him, “Berele, why do you immerse yourself so many times?” He replied, “I immerse myself three hundred and ten times for the three hundred and ten worlds. With each immersion, I repair a world.”

(told by Yechezkel Goldberg)

The Story of Leib the Gravedigger

My father of blessed memory told me this story: According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to leave an open grave. Once, someone of the Efrat family died. Leib the gravedigger was ordered to dig a grave. Leib dug the grave, but the funeral party accompanying the dead was delayed. What did Leib do? He climbed into the grave, stretched out, and waited for the dead.

Late at night the funeral party arrived at the cemetery. They shouted: “Leib! Leib!” There was no answer. The group approached the place where the grave should be, and as they drew near the open grave, Leib climbed out of it, giving up his place to the dead.

(told by Monya Galperin)

Rabbi – Not a Year

In the tractate Irobin it is written: “The rabbi didn't review – Rabbi Hyeh [from the word chayim, “life”], how does he know?” Rabbi Hyeh was the student of Judah Hanasi. If the rabbi does not review the halacha (law), how will his student learn? Based on that saying, a play on words was created: A rabbi would come once a year to our city, to visit his disciples. One time, the rabbi came in the middle of the year. One of his disciples was surprised, and said, “Rabbi – not a year,” in other words, it hasn't been a year since the last visit. The rabbi answered, “What, Rabbi Hyeh? If I don't come twice a year, how will I live?”

(told by Yechezkel Goldberg)

 

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“Love your neighbor as yourself”

“Don't seek revenge nor hold a grudge against your own people.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” How is it possible to love your enemy? To not hold a grudge nor seek revenge against him? Think of yourself as one part of a body, or part of a greater whole. Can one part of the body take revenge against another?

(told by Haim Avrekh z”l)

Question and Answer

How is it possible that a small boy can control one hundred bulls; that they all listen to him? The answer: Because each of the bulls thinks that the other ninety-nine bulls and the boy are chasing him.

(told by Pinchas Winfeld (Hotchles) z”l)

The Interpretation Died

A rabbi is teaching his pupil from the Chumash: “And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba.” He read and explained, “Vetamat (died) – Iz geshterbin.” Sarah – Sarah… He stands and asks, “Who is dead?” The student: “Vetamat is dead.” The rabbi hits him. “Goy! The interpretation of 'vetamat' is 'dead'!” The pupil cries, then repeats obediently, “The interpretation is dead.”

(told by Zusia Kanter of blessed memory)

The Equine Cantors

Some Jews with Zionist leanings prayed in the House of Study named for Projenski. They were suspected of short-changing in the planting and were told to find another place to pray. Not far away was the barn of Moshe Dondik, who had two horses. They built a division inside the barn, and there they established the synagogue of the Zionists. The manager was Mr. Goldstein, may God avenge his blood, from Hadrogoria.

On the even of Kol Nidre as the cantor was praying, the horses began to neigh, drowning out the voice of the cantor.

The worshippers shouted, “Moshe Dondik, what is this?” Moshe Dondik said to them, “Why are you shouting? Considering the miniscule rent you're paying me, you want I should bring Sirota [Gershon Sirota, known as the Jewish Caruso] to sing? For that rent, the horses are good enough cantors for you.”

(told by Rabbi Shmuel-Yosef Werbe)

 

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The Clean-Handed Tailor

There was in our town a ladies' tailor, Itchi Previn. They tell the story that, before his death he instructed his family to put his worktable, at which he had toiled for 60 years, into his grave with him. When the Messiah came and the dead arose, the table would testify before the King of Kings that he had never kept for himself the scraps; that is, he had never taken the leftover pieces of fabric that remained after sewing the clothing, without the owner's knowledge.

(told by Baruch Bork)

Response to a Pest

Yaacov Kuptshik, may God avenge his blood, was quick-witted and bright. Once, a large group of students walked with him in the direction of the school. A spiteful fellow passed by and said to him, “Kuptshik, you have lived to see your own well-attended funeral.”

“On the contrary,” replied Kuptshik, “we're arranging yours.”

(told by A. Lowny)

Kuptshik Yearns for a Jewish State

Once, during prayers, Kuptshik said, “I long to see a Jewish state.” When he saw that the worshippers did not react with enthusiasm to his words, he smiled and said, “If we put a minyan (ten men) into the synagogue, and make a lot of noise, go outside and see how much noise there could be in a place where a few million Jews gathered together.”

(told by A. Lowny)

V'yichlu is Dead

I heard the following anecdote from my brother Yaacov, may God avenge his blood: Once there was a young man who had trouble reciting the Kiddush (blessing over the wine). Whenever he tried to bless the wine, the words were garbled in his mouth.

His father figured out a stratagem to solve the problem: he decided to give all of the “goyim” his son had befriended nicknames from the Kiddush. One was called “V'yichlu”, another “Hashamayim” and so on. Sure enough, the stratagem worked and soon he had memorized all the words of the Kiddush.

The one day the goy with the nickname V'yichlu died. On the eve of the next Sabbath, the son rose to bless the wine, saying, “Hashamayim v'ha'aretz v'kol tzavam.” And where is “V'yichlu?” asked the father. “V'yichlu is dead,” replied the son.

(told by A. Lowny)

 

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How do the Dead Live?

Mr. Frankfort said once to Kuptshik, may God avenge his blood: “Do you know something, Kuptshik? We, the teachers, are the only ones who are forbidden to strike, as it is written: 'You may not take a child from the house of his teacher, even to build the Holy Temple.'”

Kuptshik smiled and said in a pleasant voice, “A father and son went for a walk, and they reached the cemetery. The son asked his father, 'Father, how do the dead live?' The father was confused by the question and answered, 'The dead, my dear son, make their living from the tombstones upon their backs.' The son asked, 'How is it possible to make a living from a tombstone?' 'Aza panim heven zie taka'a' the father answered.

Frankfort understood the thinly-veiled hint, smiled, and did not say a word.

(told by A. Lowny)

Peretz, the Water Carrier

Peretz was ill-fated (it shouldn't happen to us): he was missing something in his head. He made his living bringing water to the homes of the Jews in the Zand. He was well-known by reputation in the Jewish community and the goyish community.

When the time came for him to serve in the army, Peretzele went and reported in, to fulfill his duty as a citizen. The doctors knew who this new “recruit” was. The chief doctor approached him, patted him on the shoulder and told him, “You, Peretzele, will make a fine soldier.” Peretzele saluted him just like a proper soldier should and replied, “No, I won't, Doctor – I'm crazy!”

(told by David Blitt)

Hilniu

“Hil” was a happy Jew, a pauper, who had the nickname “Hilniu the Crazy.” But he was a seer. He could tell on which day the holiday of Passover would fall, on which day Shavuot, all of the Jewish holidays. When people met him on the street and asked him, “Hilniu, on which day five years from now will the holiday of Sukkot fall?” he would answer on the spot, and there was no cause to doubt his response.

When a brit [brit milah, ritual circumcision] was arranged, the respected women of Kovel would come to him and would prepare refreshments for the guests at the public expense.

When he was asked once, “What do you do, Hilniu?” he replied, “Hil does a brit and the public pays.”

(told by David Blitt)

 

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Rabbi Ozer Shadchan's Theory of Relativity

Who says that only Kalman Guttenboim understood Einstein's Theory of Relativity? When Guttenboim was still in diapers, Rabbi Ozer was already giving lectures on the subject. One story goes like this: Once Rabbi Ozer went to a young man of Kovel and said to him, “Yankel, I have for you a lovely and demure bride, really beautiful.”

The two of them went to the young lady's house. The young man looked at his intended and saw that she was far from beauty and close to ugly. When the young lady went to the kitchen to prepare refreshments for her guests, Yankel asked the matchmaker, “Rabbi Ozer, this is your beauty?” Rabbi Ozer replied, “Everything in the world is relative. Compared to my wife, this bride is extremely beautiful.”

(told by David Blitt)

 

Another Story About Rabbi Ozer

Rabbi Ozer never saw much success. The bridegrooms he tried to match were stubborn. Once he suggested a match to one of the young men. Rabbi Ozer was sure that this time the match would be successful.

The next day, Rabbi Ozer encountered the young man and asked him, “Nu? How did it go?” The young man understood subtlety, and replied, “I went to see the young lady, and I did like the story of Esau, as it is told in parashat Toldot [a portion from the Torah] 'and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way…'”

(told by David Blitt)

 

Going Out to Welcome Borochov

Once there were days of inflation in the Hehalutz movement. Young ladies who came of age and did not have a bridegroom decided to join Hehalutz and move to Eretz Yisrael.

Obviously, their interest in the matters of the work movement was very slight, as the following story illustrates: every academic year, we had a tradition of honoring the memory of Borochov. On the Friday afternoon, I saw a group of girls heading towards the train station. “What's the hurry?” I asked. Surprised that I did not know, they answered me, “We are going to welcome Borochov…”

(told by Arieh Rabiner)

 

Kosher Beer for Passover

This is the tale of a Jew from a village who, two weeks before Passover, came to see a respected rabbi in the town to ask for his approval of a beer that was kosher for Passover. The Jew explained to the rabbi that he alone prepared the beer, and he did not

[Page 121]

trust any mother's son in matters of kashrut for Passover. He had purchased all new equipment, casks, barrels and so on; he watched closely over the barley, with the utmost of care, just like matzah shmurah.

The rabbi explained to him that there was no possible way to make beer kosher for Passover, for any barley that soaked in water for more than 18 minutes began to be leavened.

The Jew was unconvinced and said, “Really? If I tell the rabbi that everything is brand new and watched over with the utmost care, with no room for doubt, as a matter of fact, the rabbi should come and see for himself and explain how this could be hametz [not kosher for Passover]?”

And so the argument went on with no end in sight, until the beer maker got an idea, and said, “If the honorable rabbi will show me a clear ruling that my beer is hametz, I will accept it.”

The rabbi stood before the Jewish beer maker, opened the siddur [prayer book], and read to him, “…who has sanctified us with His commandments and decreed beer [in reality, 'bi'ur' or 'the removal of'] hametz.” And when the Jew saw the law specified in the holy prayer book, he conceded the argument.

(told by Rabbi Dr. Michael Grayver)

 

A Story about Moshke the Porter

This is a story about Moshke the porter of blessed memory, who was famous for his quick-wittedness and his devotion to all Jews. One day, a merchant who was well-known in the city approached him in the marketplace, and proposed that he deliver a small crate of merchandise in his wagon. It was the kind of merchandise that there was a need to whisper about it in front of others; saccharine, which required the supervision of the tax officials and the secret police. Moshke and the merchant agreed that he would wait for him outside the city on the road leading to Brisk.

The merchant went to the appointed place, and Moshke prepared to travel with the cart-load of merchandise. After only a few moments, there appeared a detective and some policemen. They stopped Moshke and his wagon and took them to the commander of the police in that quarter. They began to interrogate Moshke about the owner of the forbidden merchandise, and he played innocent: “How on earth would I know?”

After a few hours, the regional commander of the police himself began to interrogate the prisoner: “How can this be? A man gave you merchandise and you don't know who he is or what he is?” “Mr. Police Commander, sir,” answered Moshke patiently, “does it seem reasonable to you that when a traveler comes to me, I should demand that he identify himself and show me his passport? Mr. Commander! Your policemen, you should pardon my saying, did not behave wisely here. They should have listened secretly to learn more of this matter; I would have told them to stand to the side, close by me, so that I could point out the merchant to them. However, they – those geniuses – didn't do that. They caught and arrested me. Obviously much will be made of this in the city. And who, but a gullible person, would behave that way?”

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The regional commander of the police burst out laughing, called to his subordinates, and pointed to Moshke, saying, “This simple Jew has more sense in his little finger than all of you put together, you blockheads.” He then turned to Moshke and said, “I see that you are very quick-witted. I will give you back your crate and you will travel in your wagon back to your place in the market and wait there until the owner of the merchandise appears.”

Moshke agreed to this proposal and returned in his wagon to his place in the market, followed at some distance by the policemen. Delighted with his jest, Moshke climbed up on his wagon and taking up the reins waved them in the air, calling out in a loud voice for a long hour, “Hey! Jewish reb, owner of this merchandise! Come and journey with me!” All those sitting and standing about in the market roared with laughter, as they saw Moshke winking broadly to the detectives, who were trying to hide.

(told by Rabbi Dr. Michael Grayver)

 

[Page 123]

 

Character from Folklore: The chimney sweep of Kovel
and his dog, for once, standing at attention

 

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