[The first word of Kaddish, the mourner's prayer]
|I will sing to you, this song is for you, replete with sadness, for what was and is not,
The sorrow immersed in my heart, from this enchantment, an altar, a fountain of tears,
There is a song in me, grief clings to the song, like a shadow accompanied by loneliness,
I will sing to you, Ostrolenka, the final funereal song of the holy community that was lost.
The city of Ostrolenka was not destroyed no,
Ostrolenka was not destroyed, here it is, still
Alive, standing, here, it is marked on a map, in a book,
Here, even the refugee has returned from it,
He says: I was! And what? All its houses stand,
Courtyard and street, everything there, everything there was saved,
He says: Synagogue Street is there,
The old market, the new, and the stream Narew, the bridge over it,
Houses that were there, of wood and of stones, houses of brick walls,
Bent, straight, crooked, low and high,
He saw people there, walking in lanes and in streets,
The refugee saw many people there, people walking,
Sitting and eating, laughing, reviling in houses there,
Dissipating and drinking, becoming drunk and all of them are new
Not the Jews of Ostrolenka, not one remains there
Of the inhabitants of that city, its elders who were born there, lived there, built their homes there.
In the city lived the poor, the rich, Chassidim and Misnagdim,
Workers, merchants, idlers and simply, Torah scholars.
A city among the cities of Israel Ostrolenka, with five thousand Jews there,
Babes, children, young men and women, young and old,
And a shamed study hall, empty of the voice of Torah and prayer,
He saw pigs walking about in the courtyard and rummaging there
And in the home of the exalted lord the refugee says drunks clash,
Smashing the windows with cursing and laughter uncircumcised.
And the refugee says: He traversed its length and width and asked:
Where is the bath attendant, where is the beadle, teacher or gabbai or just one of the God-fearing there,
Where once there were outstanding teachers, a rabbi and two judges,
There were arbitrators, cantors, beadles, bath attendants, there were water carriers:
(Zeligel, a madman; his rival, Zyszte, a mute, and 'Nyamin, just a water carrier),
They supplied water to every householder in the city;
There were also decisive ones in the city, leaders, gabbaim of study groups,
Synagogues and shteblich; first and second and third [called, in turn, to read from the weekly Torah portion],
and to the distinguished the maftir [the last part].
|And there were unions of small merchants, tradesmen, artisans, grocers,
Cobblers, leather workers, carpenters, fishermen, butchers and pig-bristle sellers,
And there were orchard-owners in the city, who grew apples and plums,
Pears, cherries, and greengrocers were there, grain merchants and domestic animals.
Because there were in the city of Ostrolenka, there were many who toiled there,
They toiled, and there were workers there, they lived for the Gentile there,
The money was his, the fields were his and, at the end of the harvest,
Heavy rain poured down outside, then the Gentile came to the city.
Many tailors were there, who sewed their cloth jackets,
The farmer came, a Gentile from the village, sold grain from the granary,
He smelled liquor, and immediately a quarter and a hundredth [of a cup] burst in his mouth,
And he went to the market, among the stalls, to choose, to buy from the Jews, to check the quality,
If the coat was tailored from fabric that would last for many years,
He spread his arms with a shout, to be measured for breeches,
And from a Jew, his soul desired that he bring a gift to Maryszka,
A sweater, felt slippers, a fine silk turban,
A brooch, a clasp, or a belt and a buckle, aquamarine, lip rouge, earrings
Thus they lived in Ostrolenka, and Jews traded with Gentiles..
|And there were those who went out to the villages of the country to buy calves or produce,
The rain did not deter them, nor the chill wind among them slept Reb Srul.
Srul, his wife, Cyrl, called him,
Srul, the members of the shtebl called him,
Srul was his old, familiar name,
Only Wasyl called him Srulik.
Srul and who did not know Reb Srul, who had horses. A deprived Jew,
He added a beard, a moustache like a Cossack's, to a bald head.
He was pleasant, he was Reb Srul in that
On every holiday (and they were not lacking) and at every feast
Held for a mitzvah, or after the Sabbath or a kiddush,
Reb Srul sang a new melody.
Srul, Reb Srul, was also a Chassid and teacher,
Very erudite, a Torah scholar of the Torah of his Rabbi, Nachman,
And when he sat with his friends to eat, he would, at the outset,
Before they took the first sip tell a joke
Of his Rabbi, thus:
The drinker will sing,
As they sang at the well,
The food came out, which does not gladden
For they did not sing about the manna.
And so, Chassid, he was a Chassid, a teacher, Reb Srul,
And his mate was a woman of valor, modest, God-fearing,
He wandered around the border cities,
And his wife, Cyrl, was barren.
|And when they were sixty, sixty is usually old age,
Reb Srul gave his horses to his Gentile servant, Wasyl:
Hey, Wasyl, good Wasyl,
See, your Srulik is old;
Another year and another spring,
And he will settle in his grave.
Probably, Wasyl, you have probably heard,
That the Messiah, our righteous one,
Will roll those who dwell below
To the Land of Our Fathers.
Tell me, then, tell my worthy Wasyl,
|And there was also in the city a land owner, who plowed with a plow,
Reb Mordechaj Zew and he harvested into his granary;
In the summer, we jumped on straw,
We toasted kernels and roasted potatoes on the fire,
And pulled the udders of milk cows, and rode horses.
And there were brave Jewish porters, weary during the day,
Their beards floured, and their clothes tattered,
And in the evening, they returned from their labors,
And studied holy books, and reflected on Torah or Mishna or Ein Yakov,
Or learned Gemara with a study group to the light of a candle and electric light.
There was one, with hands like steel,
His voice was the voice of a lion, and his heart Jewish,
And he cast fear on the Gentiles the porter was nicknamed Ola-Boga.
And Reb Szlomo, the Tarrer and the Chassid, sold tar during the day to the wagoner,
And at night, sat in his room and studied until midnight and beyond,
With a melody that caused my heart to tremble,
And I would wake and hear the song of his pleading through the wooden divider
That divided the room of the Tarrer from my father's bedchamber.
And Reb Manes Chassid, who prayed fervently, and would hop and jump,
And the strange distortions of his face and eyes frightened me.
There were party leaders and committee heads in the city,
Collectors for Zionist funds, and those who arranged assemblies,
There was Pesach Hochberg who administered all the work.
There are those who say that he came back after the Holocaust
And fell into the hands of murderers.
There were those who held fetes for daring youths who emigrated to Israel;
Whether a son who rebelled against his parents and escaped, or simply one of vigor,
A HeChalutz youth who had been at a kibbutz.
There were community workers in the city, the gabbai's wife and a righteous woman,
Who supported charitable institutions or simply the donations of a philanthropist
For Kimcha d'Pascha, Maot Chitin [contributions to the poor for Passover],
help for the Sabbath and in times of distress.
Group by group they gathered to study Torah and Mishna or a deep issue,
And they began and ended with a sermon, with in-depth study,
With words of the Aggadah and a sip of liquor,
With a Yiddish song that brought them to tears,
And a Chassidic melody, just now brought to town.
There was a Torah study group, Chevra Torah, dear, simple Jews,
Plain Jews, they built the study hall for Torah and glory,
And every day, after their labors, they gathered to study the holy Alsheich,
And recited in a popular tune, and ended in prayer.
The Sabbath of [the Torah portion of] Jethro is the Chevra's Sabbath,
when they go up to the Torah and read,
And vow, and end with a kiddush [sanctifying the Sabbath by reciting a blessing over wine]
of liquor and cake and herring.
|And on the seventh of Adar, they arrange a seudat mitzvah [meal at religious ceremonies] and study,
And tell the praises of Moses Our Teacher, and bless us, that we should be worthy of the Messiah.
And on Simchat Torah, they completed reading the Torah together,
And studied the holy Alsheich, and then sang.
The gabbaim, especially the chief gabbai, brought red, choice apples,
And opened a small cask of beer and drank a toast.
And there was a society of great charity, of assistance to the sick,
Of support of orphans, of the solitary,
Of the pauper in his home and the disadvantaged,
Linat HaTzedek the patient was kept in bed,
They brought him a doctor and medication,
And the blessing of friendship, and genuine help for the needy.
And they sometimes needed contributions and organized fundraising campaigns,
And presented plays in the women's section [of the synagogue],
On Chanukah, they presented the Sale of Joseph,
Or the story of Judith, publicly and splendidly,
A sketch from Shalom Aleichem; on Purim they staged the Book of Esther.
There were in the city some ritual slaughterers,
And of course, there were disagreements in the city about the virtues of a particular slaughterer,
The Chassidim split up on the side of the Rabbi, who declared the meat unkosher,
Or on the side of the Rebbe, who declared the meat kosher,
And they boycotted each other on the Sabbath
There in the city, a fund was established, a sort of folk bank,
To help laborers or down-trodden Jews and for charity, and everyone was a member,
Deposited his money and went to the cities or villages, to buy a calf or lamb or cow,
Or a sack of potatoes to buy and sell.
In the city there was a Mizrachi Hebrew school Yavneh,
And a Cultural School, and a Talmud Torah, there was a yeshiva,
And there were many heders, which educated for Torah and religious commandments,
And a Hebrew kindergarten was there, and a Bejt Jakow for girls
In short, life, like Jewish life and its ways in cities, towns
Large and small, which were once in that country.
They lived their own lives in it, their customs in their homes, their laws, their language,
Their prayers, their songs, surrounded by an ocean of hatred and jealousy.
The sons were educated in Torah, and went to the great yeshivas
In Lomza, Radon, Klotz, Baranowicz, Bialystok, Mir,
And returned, great Torah scholars, worthy of honor and reputation,
And, if they were deserving, even the daughter of a wealthy man.
And mothers blessed in their hearts and said on those days:
May it be His will, that my son will be a Torah scholar,
and be fortunate enough to become a rabbi in our nation.
Yes, there were those who studied work or a profession, who went to a workshop,
And those who engaged in merchandise,
And those, yes, in the last years, who acquired wisdom in a secondary school..
|And life was like the life of all the people in the country, lively, vigorous,
Their significance and all their reverberations were discussed,
Wrung out in public places:
At first in the shtebl, in the community house, the community shtebl;
A large synagogue of the people, which, during afternoon and evening prayers,
was noisy with conversations and talking.
Discussions about matters of kings and ministers, disputes of states, and skirmishes of nations,
And everything from the Jewish viewpoint: Is it good or bad for the Jews?
If the enemy got stronger, they found comfort in All who distress Israel, become leaders,
That the Holy One raises him, to increase his downfall in the eyes of the nations,
And the loss of independence this was a clear declaration, hinted at in holy books,
Books of the God-fearing, the Chassidim, and the Rebbe, long may he live, said thus and such
They sit in a corner at the Chevra Mishnayot, and study a chapter of the Mishna every day,
With the [commentary of] Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura and Tiferet; someone reads aloud in soft voice,
And near them a long table, where those who study the weekly Torah portion with Rashi sit,
The reader explains, with a rising and falling melody, and explains,
Looks in his book and says, Korach and Nepheg and Zichri [in Hebrew: kor = cold;
pag = pass, l'zchor = recall),
An allusion to the cold which passes during the weekly Torah portion of Va'era, and everyone will recall.
Reb Berysz stands near the oven, takes his pipe out of his pocket, reams it out,
Opens the polished, shining cover over a respectable tobacco pipe bowl,
Tobacco of leaves he got in villages, on the roads, in Chassidic congregations, in Rebbes' courts, at an inn.
Reb Berysz is a guest, a guest in the city, a Chassid and a bachelor,
He loves to court Jews, out of love for his people
He comes to every city, to every village, entertains with a story, with something that happened,
he tells about it and answers questioners.
We said he is a Chassid, he is joyful, he capers, he dances and leads others in dance, amuses,
He is a Chassid not necessarily of Rebbe Such-and-such, he is a Chassid and, in his way, he is happy,
Such is Reb Berysz lean and tall, his goatee jumps as he speaks,
Wrinkles on his forehead, his cheeks, his blue eyes smile out of a deep gaze,
A large hat on his head over the skullcap that covers his bald spot,
As do the hats of the Chassidim in this country, its half-visor looks like a moon,
A cloth kapote and to separate between upper and lower, he is girded in silk;
Reb Berysz likes to act like a rich balabayit, to open his kapote and display a buttoned waistcoat
A silver chain, from the right pocket, passes over the button
To the left pocket, holding an ornate watch in a prestigious box
The privilege of generations is his heritage.
It is said that Reb Berysz was caught in the forest
And they did an odious, dangerous thing to him,
They did not take his chain, his watch, his box;
They found Reb Berysz lying as though slaughtered,
A doctor was brought, he shook his head sadly:
Jews, do you have a Rebbe? Take him to the Rebbe, before his soul swells!
And he recovered. He came to the Rebbe healthy; the Rebbe peered into his eyes:
Berysz, it is a great mitzvah to be perfectly happy, because happiness purifies,.
|Happiness draw the soul of a person closer to his God, this cannot be imagined,
Go to my children and say: The Rebbe has decreed that you be happy.
You heard Berysz speak!
Reb Berysz was stunned by the voice of the speaker like thunder and lightning,
He closed his eyes and saw the fire and the cloud, and trembled, and said:
Rebbe, how, how to make people happy, teach me Rebbe, how to make them happy,
How to make Jews happy these days? Holy, dear Rebbe, teach me!
Berysz, his Rebbe rubbed the tip of his nose, What are you asking, Berysz,
How to gladden the hearts of Jews, have you forgotten the Torah of the righteous? The love of Israel!
Reb Berysz left his Rebbe's house, took his satchel and his stick and he went.
From city to city, to the village; he wandered to a settlement of a handful of Jews,
And told wonderful stories of the courts of the righteous,
And miracles that the Holy One, Blessed Be He,
Does for his People every day, all the time, as He promised,
For the sake of the Torah, which has stood for generations; and hints of wonders
That Israel will do in its land in the future,
May it be speedily in our days, with the coming of the Messiah.
And so, when Reb Berysz took his pipe out of his pocket and cleaned it of dust,
And opened the polished, shining net cover, covering the respectable tobacco pipe bowl,
He put his other hand behind him, into the pocket under his kapote,
And he tapped and pulled out something that looked like a sock,
And opened it, and caught between his fingers a bit of crushed leaves,
And poked them into the pipe's bowl, poked and sang softly,
And the Jews in the community house, at the time of afternoon-evening prayers paced and conversed,
And hearing his song, immediately pushed themselves in
Ha?! Shalom Aleichem, welcome. How are you all? Thank God!
Reb Berysz then ceased his work,
And began distributing two fingers' worth left and right,
And jested with each one, big and small.
Some came from the side, bringing him an ember,
He took it in his hand and tossed it into the pipe's bowl,
And closed its lid on it, and held its long mouthpiece at its end,
And sucked in one draught, and a second, the tobacco smoke began to curl
Circles, circles, up, down and to every side..
|They finished the afternoon prayer, they began the evening prayer,
Every prayer quorum, as the custom of mourners who hold a lottery as to who will lead prayers;
Who will be first, and second, and third; meanwhile, Jews linger to say Baruchu and Amen,
Pace, converse, debate, smoke, order the arrangements of individuals and society.
And Reb Berysz stands and tells animates the souls of you there in Ostrolenka, is it not so?
Where Torah and prayer and greatness are bound together in one place,
Even a heavenly angel cannot carry out more than one mission at a time,
But the Torah was not given to angels, but only to men.
Therefore, men are undoubtedly greater than angels..
|Except that the Evil Inclination, that seduces to transgression, dwells in his heart,
And tempts, and goes into the kidneys and suggests,
And goes into the eyes and says: See pleasant things
Which you desire just as I am a Jew, that I do not lie,
And descends and sits in his feet, and hurries them to transgress,
And brings him to sin, until he is trapped, and throws a drop of bile at him.
But the Jewish people, holy offspring, what do they do?
Overcome and repel the Evil Inclination,
With pretext, with wise opinion, with explanation,
And draw him to the study hall.
Because he has come to the study hall, he hears Amen Yehe Shme Raba [from the Kaddish prayer],
Again, he has no existence in him, and asks to leave.
The man takes this Evil Inclination,
Grasps it by the throat and slaughters it, and merits Life in the World to Come.
They say to Reb Berysz: Please tell, Reb Berysz, tell
The wonder tale of the greatness of man in this world
He puts a pinch of tobacco in his nose, to rouse himself,
Blows his nose, and says, by way of a question: A tale?
A tale, gentlemen? So be it! A wonder tale and a parable.
I heard a story that animates souls, that happened once upon a time.
Reb Berysz taps his forehead, grasps it and wrinkles it like a floor cloth,
Lowers his eyes toward his nose, pauses briefly,
And immediately rouses smilingly:
A tale I heard, told by Szaje Meir of Radom, a wonder tale and a parable - - -
Thus he used to tell, because so his Rebbe ordered him
To gladden the members of his congregation, to cheer them and to love.
These were the stories of Reb Berysz, wonder tales,
Things that happened or were merely parables,
Warming hearts by talking and returning many to the good.
There were also in Ostrolenka many Jews,
Jerusalem, January 1950
Electric lights already illuminated the houses when I entered the immigrants' village. Some of its inhabitants were among the last to leave the German concentration camps. A few weeks before the Allied Armies entered, when they were close to life and rescue their relatives were destroyed. And while all the world joyfully celebrated, they were still stunned by the catastrophic loss of their dear ones, after such great hopes of being saved from the hand of the murderous beast. Nor did they heed the call to emigrate to Israel. They were overwhelmed by emotional paralysis.
When they revived, a strong desire to renew their families immediately beset them. Men married women and women married men after chance meetings. With the establishment of families came the desire to acquire possessions, to fill up their apartments as much as possible with anything that came to hand; to adorn themselves as much as possible, in order to make themselves worthy of the image of a normal, regular person
Babies were born quickly enough to the renewed families. The fate of women who did not accomplish this was bitter. Doctors invested devotion and much work to encourage and cure these women so that they, too, would have a child. Among the women were those who crossed borders and searched monasteries, children's institutions and homes of Gentiles in villages, to see if somewhere a refugee child remained. And indeed, later, four girls came to the village who had been extracted from the claws of a stubborn monastery, which had saved their bodies, but wanted to steal their souls.
Since my last visit, some years ago, the village's appearance has greatly changed. With the help of the Jewish Agency, the houses have been enlarged. There is a big agricultural settlement, the barn full of well-tended heads of cattle. Despite the current grave crisis in the settlement movement, which has not skipped them, the inhabitants here try diligently to strengthen their position.
One of the members, an old friend, invited me to see her enlarged home and the new shower with the miracle of shining tiles. I entered the room and was blinded by a strong ray of light from a chandelier decorated in cheap common taste. In a corner of the room, on a bookcase, the weak flame of a small kerosene lamp flickered.
Yahrzeit, of course, I said aloud.
Not my yahrzeit alone, the woman replied, but that of all of us. Go from house to house and you will see a yahrzeit candle lit in every one.
This is surely a date of annihilation shared by many families who were in the same camp, I told myself. As if she understood my thought, the woman shook her head excitedly.
From the day we were told of Eichmann's capture, she explained, the village was in an uproar. Many left off their regular work routine. Everything they went through broke out anew. From the obscurity of forgetfulness rose the terrible memory, as if the disaster had occurred yesterday. And lo, out of an internal urge, one of the members lit a small Yizkor lamp, and suggested to her neighbor that she do the same. This passed by word of mouth, and all the women hurried to the grocery to get a candle or kerosene lamp. This was done without a meeting, without explanation, without a general assembly. A woman and her neighbor, then the latter and her friend decided to light a yahrzeit candle in memory of their loved ones until the day of the hanging of the cursed one.
For a long time, I could not move from the spot. Later, on the pretext of an unavoidable meeting, I went out to the street and into a few other houses. In each of them, a faint yahrzeit light flickered, the same tongue of flame that burns in hearts with an endless blaze.
I could not sleep that entire night. How was it that I had not thought of doing what they had done? For the soul of my mother, too, may she rest in peace, went up in flames when the Nazi minions passed through Russia and burned her home over her head I felt myself a partner of the people of the village and its women in this terrible experience. The focus of all the generations was suddenly part of my body and soul.
As I left, early in the morning, all through the village the lights of that terrible Yizkor accompanied me, reflected from the windows of the houses.
Like a silvery arm, shining in all shades of blue and green, mightily flowing and splendid, the River Narew encompasses my town.
On Sabbath morning, a holiday-like quiet prevails in the city. Anyone who has not yet gotten up for prayers enjoys final minutes of peaceful sleep. The streets are swept, the shops are locked. Here and there, children have already come out of their homes with blueberry cake in their hands, dressed in Sabbath clothes, to show them off to their playmates. Soon they call the old Gentile, Jurkowski, to take the Sabbath candlesticks off the table. For a slice of challah [Sabbath bread], the good Gentile stokes our ovens in the winter and prevents us from desecrating the Sabbath.
Between the stalks of the reeds on the riverbank, to the whisper of the current of the waves which awakens longing for the eternal and the unknowable, there, hidden from the eyes of law-abiding Gentiles, something unusual occurs. The first group of youths standing at assembly. The little children of the area, who deduced the secret from their brothers, and I among them, stare covetously. Eaten up by jealousy, we watch them with amazement and awe. Who are they? The figures before our eyes are like messengers of the Maccabis, of whose heroism we were taught.
This was the city's first group of Hebrew scouts, which later became the city's HaShomer HaTzair organization. The assembly is received by Awigdor, the founder, my late brother. Everything was carried out in Hebrew. We listen, enchanted. This was the first breeze bringing news of the revival of the Hebrew youth.
The HaShomer HaTzair movement was a decisive turning point among the youth, which had slumbered until then in the bosom of the typical tradition of a Jewish Diaspora town.
The heder and the Talmud Torah, the encumbering Chassidic dress, blindness toward the condition of the people and yielding to its existence in the shadow of the Gentiles' good graces, lack of national recognition all this paved the way for a new image of Jewish youth, who suddenly stood erect and looked proudly in the face of the Polish inhabitants' contempt and humiliation. In the eyes of the latter, this seemed like a discovery bordering on the miraculous. They began to feel respect for us. Wonderfully organized trips; parades of crowds of youths, wearing internationally recognized scout uniforms, held on Lag BaOmer or another Jewish holiday, when they passed through the city's main arteries on the way to the bridge. The flag with the Magen David carried high, the sound of drums and Hebrew song echoing in the air like a voice announcing the coming of the Messiah. With respect and wonder in their eyes, the observers moved aside, both bearded, devout Jews and Gentiles, who did not raise their hands to throw stones at us this time. Who among us does not remember the impressive national demonstration protesting the bloody events in Israel? The zealous fervor and the feeling of scathing insult Ostrolenka's youth demonstrated swept the entire town. As one, old and young, opponent and supporter expressed their rage with clenched fists and listened to the speakers' words with tears streaming from their eyes. It was as if the air was saturated with holiness. That demonstration day showed to us that something that had been planted deep in the hearts of the townspeople had germinated when the need arose.
The movement absorbed the best youths, thinking youths, youths hungry for knowledge, youths ready to sacrifice themselves. Following this movement, other youth movements began to organize, part of the pioneer movement, as well as movements of the opposing camp. I will not dwell on the latter, not, Heaven forbid, because of negative feeling, but because their own members will surely do so.
There, over the bridge, on the banks of the River Narew, most of the activities of the HaShomer HaTzair movement took place. We searched for space, and nature did not spare its abundance. In its touch, the youth felt its freedom of soul. There we held our scouting games, sports competitions that toughened our physical strength for what was to come. There, in long conversations, sometimes until the morning light, we wove the dream of pioneer fulfillment. These conversations were nothing less than chapters of study and consideration of social problems, histories and economics of our nation. They gave us a deep world perspective, which led us toward a final solution in our longed-for land, ready to contend with its wildernesses and with human forces hostile to us.
I cannot list the names of the members of the movement, as the list is too long. I will mention here a memory dear to me, of my brother, teacher and rabbi, Chaim Awigdor Eisenstein, the father of the movement. Nearly a youth when he completed his studies at the Lomza Yeshiva, he was already expert in all Zionist youth movement questions. He began with Tzerei Zion and HeChalutz. When the HaShomer HaTzair movement was still in its inception and in the underground, he was the first in the city to receive the first exemplars, in Polish, of the HaShomer pamphlet. I remember my great fear I was still a little girl then during a visit of the Polish police at our home, searching for illegal literature
River Narew, you were our most wonderful friend, you freely gave us the wonders of nature, you kept our secrets, you absorbed our laughter, our tears, our oaths
On the day we left you, when our town was swept of every Jewish soul by a fatal, murderous hand, you remained a witness in your eternal image. The mute witness of teeming life on your banks, of the Jewish word, of the Hebrew song, of Tashlich [a prayer said on Rosh HaShana near flowing water] Of Jewish fisherman, of laundry washtubs that Jewish laundresses enfolded in your waters, of the joy of ice skaters, of Shomer HaTzair songs which split the darkness, and which no longer blend with your waves. River Narew, if only you could tell
In my memory, picture after picture of Jewish life in Ostrolenka arise religious, social and general, as it was conducted after I left 25 years ago (on 12 October 1937). It is hard to believe that it no longer exists, but reality is the strongest and most convincing explanation. What did the Nazis do to our beautiful city of Ostrolenka? A Jewish city with all its nuances and divergences. What evil did the Nazi murderers do? Where did the Jews disappear to, who filled the synagogues, the study halls, the libraries, the parties and the organizations of all kinds; good, honest Jews, who followed their fathers' ways. And the Jews who drew away from traditional ways and dared to dream and fight for new lives, built on modern foundations, to bring new content to an outdated order of life. There were also Jews who went even farther: they dreamed of global and pandemic ideals. To achieve their goal, they stood for renewed building of the world order, to place it on better and more just foundations.
When the Jews of Ostrolenka sang, how wonderfully they harmonized. Melodies and tunes from Gur, Radzymin, Amszinow, Kotzk, Belz and Worka filled the air. The songs told of exiles to Siberia, hangings and prisons, and called for protest and rebellion. There were the songs of longing of Yehuda HaLevi (translated into Yiddish by Bialik). Here, on the main street, stands a modern Jewish educational institution, and from it come sweet voices in song. Their favorite song was Oifn Bergel Shtait ah Shtebl mit a Greenim Dach (On the Hill Stands a House with a Green Roof). Like an answer to this song, another song is heard from the window of the yeshiva the sweet, heartfelt melody of a yeshiva boy delving into the debate between the House of Shamai and the House of Hillel. And there are also voices of young boys and girls in song, telling of hopes and promises unfulfilled.
And the songs at every Jewish table on Sabbath Eves? On Simchat Torah or any other joyous Jewish holiday, the Jews sang and danced, each according to his own style and essence. Hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder, heads to the side, eyes slightly slanted, turned toward and dreaming of heaven. Long kapotas hems are
tucked into belts they dance in ecstasy, free of daily worries. The ecstasy grows from minute to minute Who can compare to them in moments like these?
There were also Jews who even in dance did not extend themselves, very bound to life's problems. Their dance had another purpose and meaning. It gave them the courage and patience to believe and aspire to the redemption of the Land of Israel and our nation.
There were Jews who went to the study hall to hear a sermon, to capture a bit of spiritual food for the soul, and others who went to their party branch to hear lectures and classes on the subjects of literature, philosophy and politics. There were Jews whose hearts' desire was to lead prayers in the synagogue, and those who sought other honors, such as election to the municipal council, membership on the community board, or standing at the head of some local party branch. There were Jews of a dignified appearance and the reverse. There were Jews who were philanthropists and those who begged for donations; Jews who were gifted speakers and those who had difficulty speaking; exploiters and exploited Jews; Jews who were religious workers and unobservant, secular Jews; Jews who groaned beneath the heavy yoke of life and Jews who enjoyed pleasurable lives; Jews with professions, such as doctors, dentists, dental technicians, Jews who loved the theater arts, writers. And to complete the picture, there were also among us Jews, albeit a few, who left the Jewish way
The song has become muted, all debates have ceased; there are no more quarrels, no ideological struggles; a cruel fate befell them all, and united them forever. They are all holy and pure.
May their memories be blessed and may God avenge their blood!
Many years have passed since the Nazi beast's machine began its merciless destruction of the Jewish people. Hundreds of cities and towns in Poland were destroyed in the mass murder of Hitler, cursed be his name. Every city and its individual history, its genealogical records.
We, the Ostrolenkans, gather at the great symbolical mass grave of our nation, on the anniversary of our destruction. Each of us carries out his own selfexamination, remembers and eulogizes his own martyrs. The eternal light in our hearts will remain forever.
When we commune with the holy souls of the community of Ostrolenka and its environs, we gather at an unknown, symbolic grave on the Holocaust Yizkor day, each with his own accounting, commemorating and eulogizing our holy townspeople, the community that closed its pages of history so tragically. In our memories, pictures rise anew from the magnificent past, from the vigorous life that was and is no longer. It will always remain in our hearts, glowing like a pillar of fire. I see folksy types, workmen, grocers, Chassidim, students, yeshivas, schools, study halls. I see our organized community lives, the prosperous bank, the many charitable institutions, libraries, sports clubs, drama circles. I see well-organized parties Zionists, Bundists, revolutionaries, various youth movements. All these colorful forces were the cement that unified our public lives.
I open my eyes and reality and depression are revealed before me, the endless mass grave. The beautiful dream rises to the heavens in the smoke of the crematoria of Majdanek, Treblinka and Auschwitz. Millions of Jewish bodies burned there, crying out to us, Remember what Amalek did to you! Remember and do not forget for generations. Do not forget that in our century, when science and technology made a giant leap forward, the Nazi beast pushed human culture thousands of years backward, to the age of cannibalism. The huge mass grave reflects our people's great tragedy. The small brass plaque reminds us of Ostrolenka's destruction. We cry out and swear: If we forget, if we forget you, our mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters, if we forget you, Ostrolenka, where we passed the most beautiful years of our lives may our right hands lose their strength!
And to us, who miraculously survived the great vale of tears, I say: do not forget the days of blood and the piles of ashes. Internalize the lines of Z. Segalowicz in
We, the Buriers of the Ashes:
|And I have nothing else, Master of the Universe,
In the ashes of the Jews of Poland and Lithuania,
In these ashes is endless suffering.
The words of my poem sink in the ashes
The ashes rise and penetrate my eyes
The ashes of the old and of day-old babes
Who trades in the heart and conscience,
The aktzia ended and now one is allowed to live
A desert of ashes will endlessly cover
The dancers, gluttons and celebrants
The hot ashes of life whispering embers.
The wind will bring the sparks; they will come
From Poland, from Wolyn, from the Ukraine, from Lithuania,
The slaughter continued there for five years.
The burning eyes of millions of people,
The feelings and desires of millions of hearts.
When we come to demand justice of the nations of the world, we must perform an accounting of ourselves.
Have we paid the great debt that history has imposed on us? We could have died exactly as our family members did, sacrificed on the Nazi pyre and suffocated in the gas chambers! Yes, our townsman, Yitzhak Ivri, a Hebrew and Yiddish poet, laments the destruction in his book, Before the Day:
|They intended me, too,
When the ax with a dull blow
Put you to death from this world,
When they led you to the unnatural death of millions,
Like a devoted brother, I went after you,
But miraculously, fate intervened between us,
And like a protecting mountain, concealed me from the murderer's cunning glance
If fate wanted to spare us from the dull ax, so that in our generation the prophesy of the prophet, Jeremiah, would take place: And thy children shall return to their own border, we must not forget that the cost was very high six million victims! History has imposed on our generation the responsible duty of extending material and moral assistance to the State of Israel and the Diaspora, compensation for the destruction of our nation.
I took my first steps on your ground, Ostrolenka! In kindergarten, I sang songs in Yiddish. On the holidays, my mother used to dress me in a white velvet dress with a blue ribbon, and my brother, Chaim, took me to the synagogue to hear the blowing of the ram's horn. On Simchat Torah, I walked proudly, flag in hand, to take an apple and the sweet things they treated us to in the synagogue. With what happiness and joy beamed the eyes of both children and adults!
Later, when I grew up, I went to school. I had many friends: Bela, Fela, Leila, Mordechaj, Jankele, Berele and others. My first teacher, Blumowicz, taught us to read and write. During recess, he used to jest with us. For example, he told the red-headed Chaja Fejga, that the stork that brought her carried her over yellow sand, to pleasant Fela over marshes, and to pale-skinned Bella over white sand. And we, the children, laughed and laughed
One of my friends did not come to school, because her shoes were torn. We gave a play and bought her shoes with the revenues. I also went to Bejt Jakow, where I learned Yiddish and Modeh Ani [I Thank You, the prayer said on waking]. On Rosh HaShana, we went to the River Narew for Tashlich [a prayer said on Rosh HaShana near flowing water] with all the Jews. I loved the candle lighting on Chanukah the first, the second, the third the eighth. Father told about the miracle of Chanukah, and I got Chanukah money from Father, Grandfather, my uncle and the neighbor. It was warm in our house. We played with our spinning tops and ate delicious potato pancakes.
Purim was a special holiday for me, because it fell on my birthday. I received presents and we sent mishloach manot [Purim gift baskets] to friends and acquaintances. We ate many hamentaschen [Purim pastries]. All the children wore costumes and walked around the courtyards and streets.
Spring came. The snow melted and Passover
approached. We baked matzos, prepared goose fat and wine. We cleaned our houses, burned the chametz [leftover leavened foods], bought new clothes and shoes, and sold the chametz [dishes, etc. used with leavened food]. It was warm in our house, and the smell of cooked fish filled the air. Guests came, everyone took a rest from daily cares, from the obligation to pay taxes The holiday came, and with it came rest from work.
Summer vacation arrived, and everyone went to the marvelous, fragrant nearby forest. The children played, listened to the sound of the cuckoo, and asked it: How many years will we live? She replied coo-coo-coo endlessly! We were all happy we will live for many years
We bathe in the river and sail in boats. My brother, Chaim, and his friends sail the boat, and my brother holds the oars. He is big already, has reached Bar Mitzvah age and finished the Yavneh School. Toward evening, we return home, happy and tanned. We eat the dinner that Mother has prepared. We fall asleep and, in our dreams, experience the joy of the day that has passed again.
How good everything was there!
But the beast in human form cut us off from the dream, and hard days began.
We must leave Ostrolenka! The city must be clean of Jews!
With tears in our eyes and pain deep in our hearts, we leave the city, hoping to return as soon as possible.
For the world is not hefker [abandoned]
After years of suffering and hardship in the ghettos, the camps, the forests and the fields, after we went through indescribable hell we met in Germany, a small group of Ostrolenkans, for a memorial service. We talked about our city and our lives in it, we said Kaddish and lit six candles. Each candle symbolized one million of the murdered Jews six million martyrs. Six million victims of the Nazi beast!
We stand and cry, mourning the victims. Tears flow.
I will never forget my dear parents, my grandfather and grandmother, my brother and sister, my friends and acquaintances, and all the townspeople of Ostrolenka! I see them every minute of my life! You are always with us and within us!
Honor to your memories!
Written by Yosef Kalina, Tel Aviv Adapted by Yitzhak Ivri
|Sparks of holiness, shards of holy memories
Rise from the eradicated city.
In the light of memory, I leaf through, as in a Yizkor book,
Page after page
It is told by word of mouth
|Even in the winter, on cold days, he immersed himself and like a fallen leaf, trembled with the cold
Once the poretz who ruled the town passed by,
And in the bitter cold, he saw Reb Noskele immerse himself in the spring.
Greatly amazed, thus he said (eye to eye, in a simple tongue):
Why are you doing this, Rabbi Noskele, precisely when it is cold enough to burn your skin?
For us, the Jews, Your Grace, it is a mitzvah, truly a commandment
To immerse oneself every morning, before prayers
And the poretz, when he heard these words,
Immediately ordered the allocation of a parcel of land,
To build a ritual bath for the Jews on it.
And he swore that the ritual bath would be erected exactly on the spot
Where the pure spring flowed
And so it was! thanks to the great saint
No more would any Jew immerse himself outside in the bitter cold.
It is told that after many years, a great saint passed through the town,
And a wonder tale: many years ago, it is told that a rabbi, a Torah scholar,
|Is there an apartment here for the residence of an entire Jewish family?
In one voice, all the townspeople answered him, Yes!
And in their hearts they thought: This is luck, a great blessing.
As is known, in Czerwin, apartments never stood empty without reason,
So that ghosts might dance in them late at night;
If one succeeded in uprooting another was immediately planted in his place
And thus the poretz, both the owner and ruler of the town,
On the spot filled the blank page again
And here what greatness! What joy in the entire region;
Czerwin now has a rabbi, in our little town!
And Jews came to him from everywhere and every direction;
On Sabbath and on a weekday, at all times,
Loaded with troubles and worries, to talk to him about what was hidden in their hearts,
They believed in the saint, every word of his was touched with purpose by Heaven
Then it was decreed on Czerwin that its joy would be short-lived
And holiness would not reside in it for long!
After only two years, the rabbi left,
And no one knew to where, to which place
He went, but, for a long time, the impression of his power remained in the town;
In the memorial book of Czerwin is written thus:
And it was on that day it fell exactly on a holiday (perhaps Simchat Torah),
All Czerwin's Jews broke into a stormy Chassidic dance, and said words of Torah
'And you shall rejoice on your festivals' echoed without end in the rabbi's house,
Indescribable great joy!
But if the matter was decreed,
Also the greatest joy is broken
And it was said as if the rabbi was placed on trial,
And a saboteur suddenly sent from somewhere
By chance, a common policeman lived next door to the rabbi,
With his coarse boots, he invaded at the height of the great happiness,
And ordered a stop to the celebration the rabbi was well-built and of a dignified appearance.
He has little children, late at night they woke from their slumbers and burst into tears.
The rabbi felt insulted by the desecration of the joyfulness, and his anger reached the heavens
Like an angry lion, he grabbed the policeman by his collar and threw him out into the street.
Everyone wondered at the rabbi's heroism; with joy and fear they spoke of it;
The day came and the policeman sued the rabbi in court!
The rabbi refused to take an advocate for himself even at no charge.
The prosecutor turned a pair of furious eyes on the rabbi
At the end: the rabbi began his arguments like a fountain before the judges on the bench;
The rabbi was released; in court, his face shone and the Divine Presence rested on him
And who does not recall that fearful Sabbath?
|This was, probably, in the fifth or sixth year
When the throne of the Russian Tsar was undermined and became unstable,
When the revolutionaries called for freedom and were ready to light a fire,
And the fire of the oppressed masses' anger spread afar,
And, of course, all this pour out your wrath spilled onto the Jews, and around it
Hatred of the Jews and calls for pogroms were borne in the air
In Czerwin, a stubborn rumor spread
That the Gentiles of Malynowa, four kilometers away,
Were already ready with scythes in their hands,
And on Sunday, after prayers in church and abandoned drinking,
They would come, full of rage, ready to slaughter and burn all the Jews;
Even our Jewish friends, as it were.
And the proof: the Gentile, Adamowski, a tall, strong plasterer, hinted clearly of the matter:
Before every Jew he encountered, he passed his hand across his throat indeed, it was thus
One could believe, it was logical.
There were pogroms in Kisziniew, Bialystok and Siedlce,
So why not here in Czerwin?!
Immediately after Havdala [the prayer separating the holy Sabbath and the secular week],
It is good to see a Jew of Czerwin, how much innocence and pride is in him!
How pleasant are daily conversations in the town, and good to hear,
How Czerwin looked before there was a train in Ostrolenka
If they traveled to Warsaw by way of Malkin
They had to pass through Czerwin!
Every day a shipment left there,
And sometimes two or more, that is, during the day and also at night,
The road was not quiet for a moment
In short, Czerwin became an important point!
It must also be added that anyone who came through the place
Could restore his spirits in Czerwin: in the winter with steaming soup,
In the summer with a cold drink
There were also coffee houses, where one could sit,
And restaurants in which to dine on a good meal
And sustenance there was in abundance,
Even a few wealthy men, of the first rank,
As, for example, Reb Izrael Kalman, of blessed memory the baker,
Chaim Welwel, of blessed memory the innkeeper,
Icze Meir, of blessed memory land lesser,
All this was before the destruction, when life flowed along serenely
What was lacking in Czerwin, before Hitler came to slaughter and kill?
It had everything: a synagogue, a ritual bath, a community a State, in fact!
And there was even a prison to sit in for petty punishments,
And a very hot bathhouse, in order to sweat.
There was also a court and a judge (which they did not have even in Goworowo),
And management of synagogue affairs and disputes as customary in every city
Terrible arguments broke out in town about Judaism,
About Jewish law, for example, the style of prayer, or because of the new rabbi who had just arrived,
About a Torah adjudication with a public complication, about a public prayer leader's right of possession,
Even if it was a weekday, the Sabbath, a holiday or a new moon,
And the intermediary was not in Mother Ostrolenka,
In fact, the religious vessel came from Ostrowa, to extinguish the fires!
To this day, it is difficult to solve this riddle:
Is it because the way to Ostrolenka was long and hard,
Or because Ostrowa was better liked because of its Yiddishkeit.
Czerwin, however, was never isolated
In all daily affairs, it was always tied by its navel to Ostrolenka, in fact )
There were also respectable, cultured Jews,
There were other Jews, whose names are missing here,
Who, like stars, lit Czerwin,
Also Jews with fists,
Who tended toward quarrels, both personal and in God's name.
Rabbis and Jewish law adjudicators they, too, merit pages in the genealogy;
Crowned teachers their rabbinical chair stood first in the town;
Such as the world-class Gaon of Ostrolenka, Rabbi Braunrot, of blessed memory;
Such as Rabbi Segal, of blessed memory the great saint of Wonsowo;
And Chassidim of all sorts with fervor of the Sephardic style,
And Misnagdim, with a heavy Ashkenazi style and stiff Shulchan Aruch laws
But the town's most beautiful hour was
Year after year it existed, and tiny Czerwin lived thus in majesty and ascendancy
In Memory of My Holy and Pure Mother,
Mrs. Rachel Lea Iwri, Daughter of Reb Josef Mejrann, of Blessed Memory,
May God Avenge Her Blood
|Every Yizkor book
is a ladder of the ascent
of the souls that lack graves
|At every established Yizkor grave
The survivors will always be vigilant and will not forget
I am entirely stormy autumn
I am entirely tears of blood
I am entirely a question of fire,
I am entirely the continuation of those decapitated and destroyed,
I am entirely a cry of Yizkor,
The town is desolate. The houses have been emptied, but their shutters are not closed, nor are their doors locked. Only cats wander around the neglect, and the stars shine for them only.
The town has been emptied of its sons. Some were shot, their bones strewn about in the fields. Some were dragged in train cars to forced labor on the front, and the rest fled to the forests' thickets.
Only two of the townspeople survived. Their hiding place was so well hidden, that they could scarcely find themselves. With the descent of the night's shadows, they creep out, frightened, and hurry behind fences and along walls. The cats look after them, and even cats cannot be trusted nowadays.
Behind the old synagogue lies the town cemetery. Rows of gravestones stretch until they are swallowed by the darkness. Under the stones, dear fathers and mothers rest. The two survivors are about to part from the dear graves, their last link with this land, before fleeing as their brothers did.
Out of the deathly silence, is heard the whisper of prayer. A shining tear falls on the top of the stone the last tear of the last visit to a family grave.
And the town's last surviving sons leave it.
The fathers, in the graves, were totally left behind and completely bereft. There was no one else to visit their hill of earth in times of family joy and sorrow. There is no one else to lay down on their stones during days of penitence and national mourning. Who would seal the cracks in the cemetery fence? Who would chase away the pig burrowing in their holy soil?
At midnight, the dead rose from their graves to pray in the old synagogue and to speak to their dear children in dreams. They found an extinguished eternal lamp and unlit memorial candles there. They went to the homes of their offspring and desolation. An unclosed shutter, an unlocked door. No son or daughter in a bed, no grandson or granddaughter in a cradle. Not a breath of life or visionary dream They stand in a row, in their shrouds, a touch of the soil of the Land of Israel on their eyelashes, and go to find their sons, to accompany them and join them in eternity.
And rows and rows of the souls of our fathers go astray, without direction, searching for their surviving children. Their call is heard in the stillness of the night. Only their faces are unseen
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