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[Pages 221 - 223]

Our Rabbi, Reb Yossele -- and Sports

by Shalom Freider

Translated by Rachel Karni

Translator's notes:Shalom Freider, the son of Yisrael and Eitel Freider, was born in Shumsk in 1906. The events in this chapter took place in the mid-1920s. The author emigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1930. His children are Benyamin Hofshi, the late Shmuel Frehar, and Yisraela Freider Aloni. Along with extended family, they were among those instrumental in the erection of a new fence around the Jewish cemetery in Shumsk in 2008. Rabbi Yossele was Rabbi Yosef Rabin, who is the subject of the Shumsk Yizkor Book's next chapter, “The Last Rabbi of Shumsk” by Aharon Wertheim (pages 224-225).

Sports in our town began as usual with football1. The team was established during a conversation between friends. It was with great effort that we outfitted the team with uniforms. I was chosen to be the team captain and I visited Kremenets2, learned the rules of the game from Moshke Margolies, of blessed memory, and after some time our team decided we were prepared to be put to a test.

We invited the “Hakoach Kremenets”3 for a game against the “Shumsk Maccabees” and our town was bubbling over with joy and excitement. The boys on the team walked around town like clowns at a circus in their strange, outlandish outfits, dozens of children encircling the spectacle. Thus a week of intensive practice passed and we were all tense, awaiting the Shabbat on which the game was to take place.

That Shabbat I went with my father to the synagogue as usual, but exactly at 10 o'clock I snuck out of the “kloze”4 and went to the football field for our final practice. All the others on the team did the same. We didn't want our guests to know about this final practice and we kept it secret.

The Kremenets team had come to our town the day before. We put them up at the hotel of Shimon Sipker, and according to the rules we, the host team, bore all of the expenses.

In the middle of our practice session a young boy, overcome with fright and highly excited, burst onto the field and said that Rabbi Yossele was approaching the field along with all of the worshippers from the synagogue. They don't want their children to play football on Shabbat, to sell tickets for the game, etc., and they want us to stop the game.

I felt awful. I didn't know what I would say to my father. I was terribly distraught and it even crossed my mind that I should escape, hide, disappear.

But the boy looked squarely at me and stated his message: The Rabbi requested that I come to him.

I ran in the direction of the Rabbi. He stood alone, far from all of the other members of the congregation, smiling broadly, his face glowing with the sacred light of the Shabbat.

 


[Shalom Freider, far left, standing,
and other members of the Shumsk football team]
5

 

My knees shook and my mouth was dry. How would I begin? But he spoke first and said:
“Promise me that you will not hold the game on Shabbat. Do it to honor your parents, who are all strict observers of the Shabbat, and your ancestors who, for generations, have been ready to forfeit their lives but not to desecrate the Shabbat. And on Saturday night, please come to see me.”
And with these words he left me.

I too walked away, now calm and submissive. I told the team that I had decided not to hold the game. We would postpone it to Sunday, I said, but the problem of the expenses troubled me. The shops were closed on Sunday, but who would come and pay for a ticket? Who would come to see a game in the middle of the week?

It was decided to ask our guests to remain another day on the pretext that on Shabbat people would not come to watch the game, and that would be a pity. I was ashamed to tell them the true reason. In Kremenets there were football games only on Shabbat.

On Saturday night I took the captain of the Kremenets team with me and we went to the home of Rabbi Yossele.

He sat at the head of the table, majestic, his heart and his face beaming and exuding warmth. Next to him sat the leaders of the community, Mr. Efraim Goldenberg, Mr. Benyamin Shochet, Reuven Chaim Niskis, and others.

I had prepared myself to be chastised harshly and I trembled. These men, all of whom I knew, were forceful and knew how to express their opinions. I trusted the Rabbi. He would defend me.

*

To this very day I remember that evening.

Again, it was the Rabbi who began to speak:

“You -- Shalom, the son of Yisrael,” he said, “you have been most privileged to have been chosen to be the captain of the Jewish sports team of our town. Today you did a great thing -- you saved us from a most terrible shame. You did not allow the boys to desecrate the Shabbat in public, to grow wild, to sell tickets and to become exhausted.

“You understand,” he emphasized, “to become exhausted! Shabbat is a day of rest and one must not get tired out on it. I am sure that as a reward for this you will be a healthy young man and you will succeed in all that you do.”

And then he turned to the captain of the Kremenets team:
“You see what wonderful children we have raised in Shumsk! Children who are marvelous. Young people who are not cheeky, who respect their parents. Learn from them. Return to Kremenets and tell them what happened and stop desecrating the Shabbat. Playing football itself is not so terrible, but with the game go the sale of tickets and smoking in public, and this is not worth doing.”
The others present added their comments, and their words were mostly criticism and preaching. When they had concluded the Rabbi bent down toward me and asked if we had a deficit. “Of course, your team has to bear the expenses,” he said. “Tell me how much money you have lost and I will find a way to make up the deficit.”

I got mixed up, felt embarrassed and thus remained silent. And then the Rabbi added, “Nu, don't worry. After the game tomorrow you will know and tell me. I have money prepared to give to you, so don't be ashamed and let me know.” He rose from the table, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Nu, kids, go on and may you win! Don't bring shame on our town. Play with spirit and do the best you can. And tomorrow, if you have a deficit come to me and, G-d willing, you will receive the amount you need to cover it all.”

*

The next day a miracle occurred. It was Sunday and the shops were all closed. The market was quiet and the streets were empty. Suddenly at 9 o'clock in the morning the streets filled with people. They stood in small groups and spoke only about the forthcoming game. They all spoke about sports, waiting for the hour the game was to begin and asking about the price of the tickets.

When I reached the football field at 2 o'clock it was bursting with spectators. The ticket sellers were overwhelmed with work and they soon ran out of the tickets that we had prepared. The respected elders of the town, the leadership, older women and young teenage girls all thronged to the football field. We had to purchase ordinary receipt books and sell them as tickets.

The game became an important event. We lost goals, but we did not lose money. The income covered everything and our team's budget was suddenly enriched.

*

I don't know if I told about sports in Shumsk in this article or about our beloved Rabbi Yossele. Now that I have finished it seems to me that sports was not the main thing here. Things like this happened and are still happening.

But when I remember this incident and the reactions of Rabbi Yossele, I feel that I have told about a man who was, seemingly, completely devoted to dry Jewish law, yet notice with how much understanding of the needs of the youth of the town he was blessed, and with how much wisdom and tact he extinguished fires between generations -- fires which, handled differently, could lead to destruction of a Jewish community.

May the memory of Rabbi Yossele remain with us.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. To Americans, soccer. Return
  2. Between World War I and World War II, Shumsk was in the Kremenets district of Poland. The city of Kremenets is about 18 miles west of Shumsk and is the largest nearby city. Return
  3. Hakoach literally means "the strength" in Hebrew and it was the name of a thriving international Jewish sports organization to which the Kremenets team belonged. Return
  4. Kloze: a small prayer room Return
  5. The original yizkor book has no caption with this photo. Shalom Freider's son Benyamin Hofshi identified his father in the picture Return

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