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[Page 181]

R' Shmuel Eliyahu Shwerdsharf

by Shmuel Honigboim, Y. Ch. Kronenberg

Translated by Moses Milstein

One of the most illustrious people of that time, known for his good deeds, was without a doubt, R' Shmuel Eliyahu Shwerdsharf.

He originated from Lublin, the son of R' Eliezer, the author of the book, “Damesek Eliezer” on the Passover Hagadah, and other essays, and a grandson of R' Duberish Heilpern, who was known as the “Lubliner Magid.” His wife, Esther, was the daughter of R' Yechezkel Tumim-Weinberg of Bilgoraj, the son of R' Leibish Zavochvoster, who was the brother of the Leipniker rebbe, R' Baruch, the author of the book Baruch Tem, and Ateret Chachamim, whose son-in-law was R' Chaim Halberstam of Tsanz, the renowned Tsanzer rebbe. The wife of R' Yechezkel Meir was the daughter of the Bolgoraj rebbe, R' Itzchak Natan Nute Berliner, a son of the Berlin rebbe who was known as R' Hesheleh Berliner.

Aside from his illustrious lineage he was himself a paragon of virtue, a wise man, and a scholar. He was a wealthy man with an estate in Sokolewke, and he knew how to use his wealth, and helped anyone in need.

He was an acquaintance of the Russian minister, Platanow, who had several estates in the Bilgoraj area, and mixed in the highest circles including the court of the czar where he was presented to the Russian czar Alexander II who bestowed on him a diamond ring.

Exploiting his status, he was always ready to help any Jew who found himself in trouble.

He had two sons: R' Moishe Zvi, whose wife, Miriam Frime's was the daughter of R' Itsheleh Levi of Cracow. R' David Tevl whose wife, the well-known Gnendeleh was the daughter of R' Yakov Asknenazi of Memel who was the cousin of the Lubliner rebbe R' Yehoshua Heshl Ashkenazi. The oldest daughter, Gitl, was the wife of the well-known Bilgoraj scholar, R' Yonah Chaim Kronenberg. The daughter, Freideh, was the wife of the long-serving head of the kehila, and activist, R' Itzchak Yishayeh Harman, who was called Itzik R' Motl's. The daughter, Chantche, was the wife of R' Abraham Chaim, the son of R' Michl Michelson of Pioterkov. She was the mother of the Plonsker rebbe, Zvi Yechezkel. The daughter, Zlateh, was the wife of Wolf Lvov, the son of R' Yakov Lvov of Komerneh, a grandson of the author of the book, “Yishiot Yakov.” The daughter, Neitshe, was the wife of R' Itzchak Garfinkle, the son of the renowned Chasid and rich man, R' Klaman Leib of Pulaw.

R' Shmuel Eliyahu was a big philanthropist. He built the small besmedresh with his own money. As mentioned above, he was an important man. When the city synagogue was being built, he invited the governor of Lublin province to lay the first stone. When the governor failed to arrive at the scheduled time, R' Shmuel ordered them to start building without him. The governor arrived later, and seeing the building already in progress, he was not pleased. R' Shmuel quickly interceded, and said to the governor that the walls of the shul are not the most important thing,

[Page 183]

but instead it is the construction of the balemer, that was important, and it is for this that they were awaiting him. They handed him a silver trowel, and he laid the first stone.


Itzik R' Motl's

by Yakov Herman

Translated by Moses Milstein

R' Itzchak Yeshiahu Herman, who was called Itzik R' Motl's, was short with a white, stately beard, a broad, scholarly forehead, and deep-set black eyes and bushy eyebrows. He was the son-in-law of R' Shmuel Eliyahu Shwerdsharf.

From early on, he devoted himself to kahal causes and was the head of the kahal in Bigoraj for many years. There was no benevolent cause in the city that R' Itzik was not involved with, and for that reason the whole city called him “Uncle Itzik.”

R' Itzik was held in high esteem by Bilgoraj Jews. He was a very intelligent man, and people used to come for him for advice.

When he died he was eulogized in the city shul, and a procession was held in which almost all Bilgoraj Jews accompanied him to his eternal rest, and bewailed the great loss.


[Page 184]

R' Yakov Shleicher, zt”l

by HaRav R' Yitzchak HaCohen Hoberman

Translated by Sara Mages

R' Yakov zt”l Shleicher was called by all R' Yankele Michel–Milners. He was a little taller than medium height, had a large and bright forehead, bright eyes, big payot and a long and broad beard. His description attests to a great scholar whose wisdom illuminates his face. Despite his life of poverty, his clothes were clean, and a stain was not found on them.

When I first entered Beit HaMidrash he was still studying all day standing. He arrived before dawn. The rain did not stop him in the summer and winter, the snow and frost in the winter, and the sun did not burn him in the summer. He studied without letup. He was a distinguished scholar, and most of the days I knew him he studied Gemara, Poskim and Teshuvot with Shitah Mekubetzet[1].

The greater wonder, he did not have one unnecessary word in the long explanation of the Rashbam [RAbbi SHmuel Ben Meir] on Baba Batra, and it was also necessary to use Shitah Mekubetzet. He also explained the genius' words at full length without an unnecessary word.

He stood by the first window in the northern corner of the Beit HaMidrash and studied in a pleasant voice. At first I thought that he was standing there by the entrance, on the northwest side, so as not to confuse and disturb the worshipers who ascended east and south. Later, I saw him washing his hands several times, in the middle of his studies, in the sink next to him in the west corner as annotated in Shulchan Aruch – “he who touches his head should wash his hands.” While reading a deep matter, he forgot and rubbed his head and beard, as is the custom of those who read. I thought that's why he was standing next to the sink. Later, when I saw him during prayer, when he ascended to the head of the table in accordance with the law that a person should always enter through two doorways in the synagogue and then pray, I agreed that his standing there was due to the magnitude of his humility. It was not significant to him that he was not worthy to ascend to the east, for he felt the sanctity of the house of God and “Ma Norah HaMakom ha'zeh” [how full of awe is this place].

At the end of his life, he became very weak and had to study while sitting. His place was next to the Holy Ark on a bench attached to the Bimah. We never found him sleeping or talking. We did not dare ask him what we did not understand in our studies, since we knew that every moment was precious and sacred to him.

My teacher, the great rabbi, R' Yakov Mordechai, zt”l, talked to him at length on Divrei Torah[2] and praised his clever explanations. He was a scholar and his teaching was his art. The worshipers of the Beit HaMidrash, the big and the small, provided almost all his needs, and at the end of his life also the worshipers of the Hassidic synagogues in Rudnik and Trisk.

When he passed away, my teacher, HaRav R' Yakov Mordechai, gave him a long eulogy, and all the people accompanied him with great weeping.

He had two sons, Yitzchak David who lived in Frampol, and Eliyahu who lived in the village of Gized. Both, hy”d, were murdered in the Holocaust by the Nazis, may their names be blotted out.


Translator's footnotes:

  1. Shita Mekubetzet is a collection of glosses on the Talmud. Within the work are many passages of Talmudic commentary that are not found anywhere else. Return
  2. Divrei Torah is a talk on topics relating to a parsha (section) of the Torah, typically the weekly Torah portion. Return


[Page 186]

R' Shneur Zalman Goldberg

by HaRav R' Yitzchak HaCohen Hoberman

Translated by Sara Mages

R' Shneur Zalman Goldberg was a distinguished scholar. He was knowledgeable in most of the six orders of the Mishnah, and knew the Bible by heart. He wrote the books: “Sede Tvuot” [Field of Grains, Innovations and Annotations on the Torah], “Shoshanei Pe'er” commentary to the Torah, “Havatzelet HaSharon” and pleasant poems with the approval of Av Beit Din [chief of the court] of Lomza.

R' Shneur Zalman was born in Homyel [Gomel] in Russia, and came to Bilgoraj for family reasons. All day, and most of the night, he stood in the southeast corner of Beit HaMidrash HaGadol his face to the wall and his lips whispering. He studied orally or prayed, and it is worth noting that despite his great poverty he was always happy, and a song was always in his mouth. He had pleasant movements in the order of prayer. In Seder Ha'Avodah [service] for Yom Kippur he stripped off his street clothes and put on white garments, and in piyuutUnthanneh Toqeph, when he started to say the words, “A man's origin is from dust,” in the movements he composed for them, even someone who was hurrying to leave for some reason could not do so because he was like nailed to the place by the magnitude of the sweetness.

All his days he tried to study in the Beit HaMidrash with the young men. They studied the Gemara and he listened and explained the matter to them orally. The teaching of the Holy Torah was like a second nature for him.

Despite his poverty he bought books for the Beit HaMidrash and tried to convince people to buy books and donate them to Beit HaMidrash.

He also received all his provisions from the worshipers of Beit HaMidrash HaGadol and Beit HaMidrash HaKatan.


[Page 187]

R' Mordechai Yosef Schatz,
his memory will live in the next world

by HaRav R' Yitzchak HaCohen Hoberman

Translated by Sara Mages

All day, and most of the night, he sat in the Beit HaMidrash on the bench next to the table in the southwest corner close to the bookcases.

Most of his days, he engaged in the study of Gemara, Poskim and Teshuvot, and at the end of his life, studied a lot of Rambam [Moshe ben Maimon]. According to the Holy Gaon of Buchach, may his virtue stand us in good stead! he was a great expert on the book “Tevu'ot Shor” [laws of kashrut and ritual slaughtering]. He also engaged in the Kabbalah and Hassidut and prayed in the style and intent of ARIZaL [Rabbi Yitzchak Luria z”l]. He wrote two books, “Mei Meonot” about the Torah, and “Beracha Meshuleshet” on the holidays. Both books were burned in a fire at the arrival of the Nazis, may their names be blotted out.

At first, when he was strong, he organized evening classes and studied Mishnayot and Ein Yaakov with simple homeowners, craftsmen and several simple tailors. He recognized those, like Yehusua Schnieder and Shelomo Eliyahu Szpiajzen, who had great knowledge and good understanding in the study of a page of Gemara.

If he heard of a breach in religion, he voiced his concern in the Beit HaMidrash and went to the rabbi and shouted. He did not rest until the matter was corrected.

He had a son, R' Yeshayahu hy”d, who was shot to death by the Nazis, may their names be blotted out.

He also received most of his provisions from the worshipers of Beit HaMidrash HaGadol, and Beit HaMidrash HaKatan.


[Pages 188-189]

HaRav Pinchas Mendel Singer zt”l

by HaRav R' Yitzchak HaCohen Hoberman

Translated by Sara Mages

HaRav HaGaon R' Pinchas, who was called Pinchas Mendel, was the son–in–law of my teacher, the righteous rabbi, R' Yakov Mordechai, may his virtue stand us in good stead! He was a native of Tomaszów Lubelski. His father was the great rabbi, R' Shmuel, a teacher of righteousness in Tomaszów. His lineage goes back to the light of the Jewish people, the true posek, Shach [Shabbatai ben Meir HaCohen], author of “Siftei Kohen” [”Lips of the Priest” on Shulchan Aruch] as explained on the title page of his book, “Magadim Hadashim,” on the Talmudic tractate “Avodah Zarah” [foreign worship].

His mother was a famous righteous woman who walked all day with a small tallit over her clothes. On the Holy Sabbath she gathered all the young women and studied with them the laws they needed to know, and when she finished, before she went home, she asked them to testify that they did not speak slander and gossip.

At a young age, as was the custom then, he married the daughter of HaRav HaGaon, R' Yakov Mordechai Zilberman, zt”l. He was appointed Rabbi of Leoncin, a small town near Warsaw. There, he wrote his book “Magadim Hadashim” about the Talmudic tractate “Avodah Zarah,” and was willingly accepted among the learners.

Since this town was unable to provide his livelihood, he moved and settled in Warsaw, on Krochmalna Street. Soon he became famous for his wisdom and honest rulings, and many flocked to him from all around for Din Torah [arbitration].

It's interesting to relate the following fact: Once, the women of the same neighborhood washed their undergarments and hung them in the attic under the roof. Once, a woman stole a lot of her neighbor's nightshirts, and they began to quarrel. In the end, they came before him for Din Torah. First of all, he ordered them to bring all the undergarments to his home. He ordered the Rebbetzin to take some of their own beautiful nightshirts, and mix them in the same package. The next day, when they came to hear the verdict, he told one of them to go and take from the package all those that were hers. She went and chose hers. Then, he mixed them again and ordered her friend to do the same. Since she wanted to steal from her friend, and since she did not know which nightshirts belonged to her friend and which to the rabbi, he realized that she wanted to steal. Then, against her will, she admitted that she had failed in a sin.

This clever verdict was also published in the Polish press.

After the outbreak of the First World War, and after his father–in–law passed away in Lublin, he came and settled in Bilgoraj. He engaged in Torah all day, but his livelihood was very meagre. From there, he was accepted as Rabbi of Stary Dzików in Galicia. There, he wrote his second book, “Avnei Zikaron” on Masechet Berahot.

He had three sons, Yehoshua[1] who was a famous writer in the United States, Yitzchak[2] who is now a famous writer there, and Moshe who managed the rabbinate in Dzików after his passing.[3]

At the outbreak of the Second World War he was exiled to Siberia and died there.


Translator's footnotes:

  1. Israel Yehoshua Singer Return
  2. Isaac Bashevis Singer. Nobel laureate in literature Return
  3. He also had a daughter, Esther Kreitman, who was a published writer as well. Return


[Page 190]

Figures

by Isaac Bashevis Singer

This article is excerpted from the story, “ Nayeh Chaverim”, in Isaac Bashevis Singer's book, “ Mein Tatten's Beis-Din Shtub”, chapter 59, p. 347.

https://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/collections/yiddish-books/spb-nybc206234/singer-isaac-bashevis-mayn-tatn-s-beys-din-shtub

The English edition of the Yiddish book is entitled, “ In my Father's Court.


[Page 196]

Gnendele

by Perl Honigboim

Translated by Moses Milstein

Genedele was the daughter-in-law of R' Shmuel Eliyahu Shwerdsharf. She came from Germany, was a very educated woman, and very pious. When she was young, she was very rich. She devoted her whole life to good deeds, which is why everyone in town called her Aunt Gnendele.

There was not one poor bride who Gnendele did not care about, and see that she got married.

She spent all day cooking soups and carrying them to the sick, even when she was in advanced years. She could be seen even in the coldest weather going around with her basket full of jars of jam, yagodnik, and vishnik, for a treat for the ailing.

Early on Friday, she would make sure the poor were provided with challahs. She knew every poor person and their situation.

Life on this earth is a passage, she would say. The important thing is to prepare for the next world. Whenever she felt a little ill, she would take a laxative, wash herself, so that the chevra kedisha women would have little work to do on her, and she used to say, “Nu, kinder, you can go and tell them…I'm ready.”

She was able to write Hebrew fluently, which was a rarity in those days. The letters she used to write often to her son-in-law, Hersh Yechezkel Michelson,

[Page 197]

the erstwhile Plonsker rebbe, (later among the renowned Warsaw rabbis) were full of flowery phrases and examples of a cultured style, and were published in books.

Her letter, “Die Din Torah,” was very interesting and was published in the book, “Pinot HaBayit,” by her son-in-law, Zvi Yechezkel, in which she requests that as soon as he hears of her death, he should say kaddish, and in that vein, she writes: “I am certain I will get through the first fire.”

Not a day passed without a number of local poor people, or visitors, eating at her table. Near the time of her death, she stipulated that a piece of the table where so many paupers ate, accompany her. Her request was fulfilled.

The entire city came to her funeral. The stores were closed. The rabbis eulogized her. The Kreshever rebbe's eulogy made a strong impression. He said she was truly an eyshes chayal as it is written: “Kafa prasha l'ani.” When she was wealthy, she gave on her own. V'Yadia shalacha l'evion. Later, she made sure that others gave. Everyone mourned, especially the poor, the great loss of Gnendele of Bilgoraj.


[Page 198]

Blimele

by Shoshana Lerman

Translated by Moses Milstein

Blimele was the head of the women's chevra kedisha[1]. Nothing could be done without her. She occupied herself with mitzves every day, taking care of poor brides, and the sick. Her main duty was visiting all the sick in the city, and bringing them something to eat.

Even during the coldest, rainiest days, you could see her walking–wearing her winter shawl–with slow steps to visit the sick. When she was asked why she went out in the rain, she answered that the sick person was at the moment lying there alone, and therefore she went to greater pains.

When WWII broke out, she fled to her son, Itzi, in Lutsk, and there she was killed, along with her whole family, in 1943, by the German murderers.


Translator's footnote:

  1. Burial society Return


[Page 199]

Gitl Moishe-Itzi's

by Rivke Goldstein

Translated by Moses Milstein

Gitl Moishe-Itzi's occupied herself with mitzves. She knew who all the poor in the city were, who needed a bit of soup, a little compote, where there was an orphan bride who wanted to get married, which poor person needed a hat, a pair of pants. Everything depended on her.

Friday evening, a wet snow was falling outside, it was dark and slippery, but by babbe Gitele it was warm and bright, clean throughout. Uncle Itzi returned from davening, said sholem aleichem, and filled the cup for kiddush. He waited for grandmother to come for the kiddush, but she was preparing something in a basket, and groaning. When the uncle gave me a sign, I understood that I had to call her to the table. The uncle did the kiddush, and grandmother, with tears in her eyes said, amen. She did not sit down to eat, but said: “Chinkele has not sent for any food today. I have to bring the food to her.

[Page 200]

I will not eat before I have done this.” I then said to my grandmother that if she hasn't come today, it's probably because she doesn't need to.

Grandmother grabbed me, and gave me a package, and she carried a basket of food. We went out on the slippery street. Chinkele lived near the bridge. The dark stairs were lit by a small Shabbes light. Old Chinkele was lying hungry in bed, the daughter-in-law on the other side. Barefoot children were wandering around the house. Though she was blind she recognized us and called out happily, “Gitlele, blessed may you be!” Grandmother laid out the challahs, wine and fish. I left the house in tears. Grandmother was happy, and said to me, “ Come my child. Now that the hungry have enough food, we can go and eat.”

The children used to shout at Gad, “Compania!” Gad used to tear his clothes, and would come to Gitl's window, naked. Gitl never got tired of this, and gave him new clothes and food to eat.

Shaindl Flam used to come often and sit in Gitl's kitchen. A Warsaw merchant used to come and eat in Gitl's guesthouse. When he saw Shaindl, he said, “It's not pleasant for me to eat when this woman is in your kitchen.” Gitl replied, “You can go and eat anywhere you like. I don't need you. They–pointing at Gad, Shaindl and others–they need me, and I live for them.” But Hitler, may his name be erased, did not care about good deeds…She perished along with her son, Shmuel-Eliyahu, and his family in Mizocz.


[Page 201]

Chinkele

Translated by Moses Milstein

The cemetery was her salon. She felt more at home there than someone in his house.

As soon as she got up in the morning, her first visit was to the cemetery, even though it was far outside the city, and there she would spend almost the whole day. She knew every grave, and who was buried there, even those of long ago, and she remembered everyone's yorzeit. Anytime someone got sick, they ran to Chinkele she should go to the cemetery to pray for the sick person for which she received some money.

Years ago, she was a rebbetsin teaching the girls how to daven.

In later years, she became blind and was helped by her only son, Abraham Chaim'l, who led her to the cemetery every day.

Whenever someone came to the cemetery for a yorzeit, they would call for Chinkele right away. She led them straight to the grave, knocked on the tombstone, and called out, “Sarah, Sarah, your daughter, Perl, is here.”

And even when she became blind, she led everyone to the right grave same as before.


[Page 202]

The Man of Faith

Translated by Moses Milstein

There was a man in Bilgoraj who was called R' Itzchak'l “Ki L'Olam Chasdo.” They called him so, because he was very pious, and while davening “Kie L'Olam Chasdo, he would make all kinds of gestures. He was a tailor, with a pointy, half-blonde, elongated beard, with straight, long payess. He was cross-eyed. He wore a tall, velvet hat with needles stuck all over it, the brim turned to the side, a torn, faded, cloth smock, and two torn shoes. He was always cheerful and full of faith.

He was a “specialist” tailor. If someone brought him a torn piece of clothing to repair or to alter, and he was asked, “R' Itzchak'l, can we make something of this?” he would reply, “ Don't ask, don't ask, ay, ay, ay, old merchandise, better than today's new stuff. I'll make you a kapote, you'll see.”

If someone complained about the work, he would get angry–look who's an expert. He would take a hunk of chalk out of his pocket, put it in his mouth, spit on his hand, clap on one side then the other and say, “Prima result. Could not have turned out better.”

He was the tailor at R' Abraham, the rich man of the town. He was content with him, and was also a frequent guest of his on Shabbes.

He was a poor man with several children, and lived in a lane off the bridge street in a low, half sunken house, with one small window. The walls always seeped water, the roof was so decrepit that you could see the sky through it. The house was always so full of smoke coming from the cooking that one person couldn't see the other. The floor was wet and broken.

[Page 203]

The children lay in bed covered in dirty, torn bedding, hungry, freezing. There was never enough food in the house to satisfy the hunger, not even in the golden times when he was overwhelmed with work.

His only possession was his rusty old sewing machine that squeaked like an ungreased wagon. When he had no work, he recited psalms at the top of his voice, and paced throughout the small house, back and forth, stirring up a wind.

His wife was modest and quiet. She made do with what she had. She did not have any great ambitions. She used to sit half the night by the little kerosene lamp plucking feathers. When the children cried, “Mameh, bread!” she would go over to him, “Itzchak, what will we do?” He would reply, “We have to have faith.”

Itzchak'l was very pious. He made all kinds of grimaces and gestures while davening. For “Modim” he used to bend over with so much energy that anyone standing next to him was almost bowled over. At the end of Shemone Esrei, he was always short of room. At “Aleinu,” he used to spit so that anyone near him got spattered.

He never used to hurry his davening. After davening, he used to recite a few chapters of psalms. He used to say, what you can fit in, you have.

When he worked for a whole week and still had nothing for Shabbes, he did not lose his faith. He rose early on Friday morning, davened, put on his gartel, and went begging door to door.

[Page 204]

When he finished, he came home happy, and spoke to the wall (he did not look at women), “Nu, you see Yiddene, that you have to have faith.” He gave her the money, and she took to preparing for Shabbes.

Itzchak'l then went to the mikvah, and from there to the besmedresh to recite Shir Hashirim. After davening, he often used to go eat at R' Abraham's, at a nice, bright, set table, and sing along with them the “Shalom Aleichem.”

In his house, small Shabbes candles burned. There was bread and herring on the table, and Itzchak'l sang Shalom Aleichem with fervor, the little ones helping out. Between courses, he sang a few zmires until the little ones became tired and fell asleep.

When there was little work for him to do, he again did not lose his faith. He took his household, and moved to Goraj, his birthplace, and where his “rebbi,” Motele, lived.

And when Itzchak'l had no work at all, he retained his faith. He divorced his wife, and stayed in the besmedresh.

Erev Pesach, when a little work became available, he got married to the same woman. He did this several times, divorcing and marrying the same woman, and never lost his faith.

 

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