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People and Personalities


Translated by Jerrold Landau

As we pieced together the building materials from our memories for the chapter “People and Personalities” of the Book of Czyzewo, we concerned ourselves and worried lest, Heaven forbid, the memory of even one soul is omitted, be they from this city or another, whether they are one of the communal notables or the poor of the nation, whether a communal leader or a teacher of children. We are certain that as soon as word had it that the Book of Czyzewo was under preparation, all of the survivors of the city, whether in the Land or the Diaspora, would immediately awaken and send in their contributions of sections of memories about the generation of the fathers. We spared no effort to turn to the survivors of our city in various countries and to ask them to give over another image and another vision. To our sorrow, the collection of images is small. There is a long list of those who live on in the hearts of their children and relatives who are not memorialized on the pages of this book. We satisfied ourselves with a little in order not to delay the publication of the book. However we have endeavored to make it such that the light of all of these shall pour out from inside, that these images shall portray a picture of the life of all sides and the reality of all those who lived in our city during those days.

Reb Meir Richter

By Yisrael Wajntraub of Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

czy763.jpg [24 KB] - Reb Meir Richter
Reb Meir Richter

With the publication of the book in memory of the martyrs of Czyzewo, may G-d avenge their blood, I will also present some lines about one of the most prominent men of our town, Reb Meir Richter of blessed memory. Who does not remember this man in whom Torah and greatness were merged in one place. He was a Hassid of the Rebbe of Aleksandrow, the author of “Yismach Yisrael”, of holy blessed memory. There he also found as a groom for his granddaughter Chaya Bracha the daughter of his son Avraham, the genius Reb Ahron Wajntraub, the son of the rabbi and Tzadik of Radomsk Reb Yaakov David of holy blessed memory. He spent a great deal of money over this, and received him as a grandson-in-law. The Holocaust survivors of Czyzewo relate – and there are still some that remember Meir Richter – that this was his greatest hope in live, to find grooms for his daughters and granddaughters who were great in Torah and fear of Heaven. Reb Leizer Czyzewer was also an in-law.

His son Avraham merited to make aliya to the Land six weeks prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, and died in Jerusalem on Shmini Atzeret of the year 5602 (1941).

If someone were to ask if the personalities of our city were known outside our community, it is worthwhile to point out what Yehoshua Mordechai Rozenblum wrote in his book “My City Czechowice” that was published in Tel Aviv in the year 5701 (1941, page 24. In it you will find these lines:

“In the community of Czyzewo, there were three merchants, three personalities, three outstanding personalities, and these are:

The family of Richter (Judge) that was founded by Reb Meir Richter, the family of Prawda (Truth) that was founded by Reb Moshe Prawda, and the family of Frydman (Man of Peace) that was founded by Reb Pineh Frydman [1].

People said that in this community, the adage of our fathers is fulfilled: “On judgement, on truth, and on peace. [2]

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czy765.jpg [24 KB] - Reb Avraham Pinyas Frydman with his grandchildren
Reb Avraham Pinyas Frydman
with his grandchildren


Reb Yechiel Asher Prawda of blessed memory

By D. Gorzalczany

Translated by Jerrold Landau

With holy trembling and admiration of his personality and character in his personal life, and his faithful dedication to the Zionist movement, I recall the name: Reb Yechiel Asher of blessed memory, may G-d avenge his blood.

He was born in Czyzewo at the end of the 19th century into a home saturated with Jewish Hassidic tradition. In addition to the watchful eyes of his G-dfearing father Reb Shlomo Yishai – he stood under the strict supervision of his grandfather Reb Moshe Prawda of blessed memory, in whose company he used to visit regularly during his youth the court of the Rebbe of Aleksandrow. From there, he absorbed the Hassidic atmosphere that pervaded there, and he remained faithful to this Hassidic tradition until the end of his life.

He obtained his Torah education from the Yeshivas of the cities that were near to our town. There, he was numbered among the best of the Yeshiva students. He also was considered one of the finest young men in the Aleksandrow Hassidic circles

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of Czyzewo, among whom he regularly studied Talmud and Halacha.

He was serious in his thought, studies and prayers. Every day, he repeated with great concentration the prayers: “And a redeemer shall come unto Zion”, “And let our eyes witness the return to Zion”. With the founding of the Mizrachi movement in Czyzewo, he was one of the first to join its ranks. He dedicated his best efforts, activity and years to it. He restricted his private, family and economic life in no small manner on account of it.

czy766.jpg [25 KB] - Reb Yechiel Asher Prawda, his wife, and five children
Reb Yechiel Asher Prawda,
his wife, and five children

Reb Yechiel Asher was one of the leaders and advisors of every Zionist institution. There was no activity in any Zionist institution that was not directed by Reb Yechiel Asher, with regard to its planning and actualization. In the demonstrations against the “White Paper” and against the evil activities of the British Mandator in the Land of Israel – we see Reb Yechiel Asher at the head of the marchers. Reb Yechiel Asher was one of the chief organizers of the festivities celebrating the opening of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. Reb Yechiel Asher appeared as the prime speaker at the public gatherings

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in the synagogue or under the open sky. His pain and anger infected the community as he demonstrated his protest against the disturbances in the Land of Israel in the years 1929 and 1936.

He established the first committee for the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (Jewish National Fund) in which he served as the first director. He participated in all activities on behalf of the fund. Reb Yechiel Asher regarded the placing of the blue and white boxes as now less of a Mitzvah than the fixing of a Mezuza upon a Jewish doorpost. He carried our every activity for the benefit of the Keren Kayemet with a heart full of love and dedication. He performed every activity, small as well as large, with a spirit of holiness and awe. There was no activity whose performance he felt beneath his dignity. Reb Yechiel Asher was among the first organizers and first donors at the founding of the Keren HaYesod.

The question of education was the chief of all of his desires. Even though he himself received his early education in the old, traditional cheder, he felt an internal need to change the course of education for the younger generation, and especially the need to instill the Hebrew language to them.

To that end, the Modern Cheder was founded, where they studied all of the Jewish subjects in Hebrew, which eventually pushed aside the Yiddish language completely. In addition to Hebrew, the Polish language and arithmetic were studied, so that Jewish children would not have to attend the non-Jewish public school.

His faithfulness to the Zionist idea and his dedication to Zionist activity placed him in a very serious situation. On the one hand, Reb Yechiel Asher of blessed memory, a keeper of Jewish tradition, was careful about all of the commandments, easy and hard. He sported a trimmed beard, wore a traditional kapote, and had a Hassidic hat on his head. He was numbered among the Hassidim of Aleksandrow, with whom he worshipped and studied. Every

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moment of his free time was spent in the Hassidic shtibels, which were the “rock from which he was hewn”. When relations deteriorated between the Hassidim and Zionists in our city, Reb Yechiel Asher of blessed memory was asked to forego his Zionist idea and to desist from all Zionist activity, or to forego and leave the shtibel. It was evident that he was suffering from deep internal agony. His education and habits drew him near to the atmosphere in which he was raised, however the Zionist idea did not take leave of him. With great heartache and agony, he left the shtibel. The commandment of Zionism grew and was victorious over his habits.

The emotional and dear man went around during the last months of his life in solitude, lost in his thoughts. How did his bright thoughts end? When his eldest son grew up and concluded his course of studies in the town, he did not send him to continue his studies in Yeshiva in one of the towns of the Diaspora, but rather to the Yeshiva of Harav Kook in Jerusalem [3]. His plan was that he would also send the rest of his children to Jerusalem when they grew up, and that he would make aliya later on. However, the bitter fate had different plans, and he himself did not merit to make aliya. He was too late.

He, who was beloved and close to people for his entire life, and always worked faithfully in communal affairs, was not able at all, and did not agree to take on any task that was offered to him in the Judenrat. Until… the bitter day came, the 8th of Av 5701 (1941), when the threads of his life were torn apart by the German murderers and their Polish accomplices. He was deported with the first transport to the village of Szulborze and he perished along with the entire community of Czyzewo.

There, in a communal grave, his sublime dreams and plans were buried along with him.

His body is buried “there”, but his pure soul hovers in Israel along with the rest of the martyrs of our nation. May G-d avenge his blood.

Woe about those who are lost and who will not be forgotten.

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Translator's Footnotes:
  1. The words in parentheses that appear in the text are translations of the meaning of the names – the first and third from German / Yiddish, and the second from Polish / Slavic. return
  2. A statement from the first chapter of the Mishnaic tractate of Pirke Avot: “On three things does the world exist, on judgement, on truth, and on peace.” return
  3. Jane Prawda, Jechiehl's granddaughter, states that her father never went to this school, but rather to Kfar Hanoar Hadati, and was of the first graduating class. return

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Reb Alter the Sofer Stam[1] of blessed memory

by Yitzchak Szlaski

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Indeed, my brothers and friends, natives of my town of Czyzewo! When you read these lines about my grandfather Reb Alter the Sofer Stam of blessed memory, you will also remember important personalities and wonderful people who lived in our town during those years. The images of the faces of these fathers and grandfathers, with their noble spirits and spiritual traits, who dedicated their lives to the sanctification of the Divine Name, will once again appear before the eyes of your spirit. All of them were like these, weak in body and strong in spirit. Even the ugliness and degradation of Diaspora life did not overcome them, for they were holy and pure, dedicated and faithful to G–d and His nation.

Let us guard their eternal memory, for from them we will constantly draw strength for our souls and spiritual inspiration for us and our children, forever.

He would isolate himself for most of the hours of the day in the triangular space of the gable atop his living space, for he lived honorably in the attic of his son–in–law Mordechai Raczkowski (the baker). There, up above, he set a quiet corner for himself for his work, the holy work of a scribe combined with Divine service.

From my early youth, when I became orphaned, he, my grandfather of blessed memory, spread his fatherly and educational protection over me. I regarded him as a pure, pious, G–d fearing man in private and public; a great scholar who comported himself modestly with G–d and man. His great righteousness and modesty was matched by his great poverty. Nevertheless, he never complained about the deeds and caprices of humans, and of course, never about the ways of G–d.

Reb Alter the scribe, or Reb Alter Smuelke's as he was called, was known and recognized by the people of the town – for his name more than for his actual image and presence. Aside from his family, only the Hassidim and sublime people of our town knew him from up close, for he would discuss with them Torah thoughts, Hassidism and at times also the holy work that he was doing, such as

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Reb Alter Szlaski


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a Torah scroll, the writing of the sections of tefillin and mezuzot, and other such things.

He would perform her work with holiness and purity. He would immerse himself in a kosher mikva [ritual bath] prior to writing the name of G–d, and he would also recite Leshem Yichud[2] out loud with awe and trepidation. When he finished a certain portion of the work, he would review, correct, and read every word he wrote with enthusiasm. It was recognizable from his face that he enjoyed the beauty of the writing and the sanctity of the letters.

The following story testifies to his trait of innocence:

Once Reb Yeshaya Gorzalczany, one of the important people of the city, a wealthy man and a scholar, a Hassid of Aleksander, desired a mezuza written by Reb Alter the Scribe. He came to his house to purchase the mezuza. Reb Alter showed him a mezuza that he had just completed. For a long time, he stood and explained to him with special joy and enthusiasm about the holiness of the letters and the tittles that were written in accordance with all of the principles of the halachic books and the innuendoes in the books of kabala, etc. At the end of the explanation, Reb Alter folded the mezuza with awe and trepidation and put it in Reb Yeshaya's hands. He took the mezuza, and asked incidentally, “Reb Alter, what must I pay?” “So,” smiled Reb Alter, “Pay me one zloty.” Reb Yeshaya was surprised and said, “How is that Reb Alter? One pays more for a regular mezuza sold by those with outstretched hands at the entrance to the synagogue,

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and now for a mezuza written by our own hands, you do not request more than one zloty?” “Yes,” replied the old man and apologized, I did not know. Reb Yeshaya placed a significant sum of monetary bills in his hand and left.

In order to fulfill the adage of the sages, “A man's disposition should always be pleasant with his fellowman,” he would frequently take interest and ask about the affairs of the family members of neighbors and relatives who would come to him to consult about various business matters. He would willingly listen to their problems with great interest, dissect all the details, and only then express his opinion, with for or against.

On the market days that took place on Tuesdays and Fridays, or a day of a fair, he would go down from his attic to the bakery of his son–in–law Mordechai the Baker to help him a bit with his hard work. He would watch the children and check the accounts to see that no error had been entered. When things were crowded and cramped due to the great number of purchases, he would also guard the cash till from the evil eye of the gentiles.


Reb Alter Szlaski with his family


He would worship privately on most days of the week, uniting himself with his Creator up there in the attic. He would worship out loud, and pronounce every word clearly, without adding any unnecessary sound. In the evening, he would go to the

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Hassidic prayer house for the evening services. He would remain in the shtibel for a long time while perusing a book or discussing matters of Torah and Hassidism with the elders of the Hassidim. Many of them would take that opportunity to ask his advice or discuss their worries and tribulations with him in order to relieve somewhat the stress of their hearts. This is in keeping with the adage, “A worry in the heart should be discussed.” He would often return from there sighing, pained and grieved over the tribulations of others.

The story that I heard from Grandfather about Reb Zanwil Edelsztajn, his close friend, is typical.

Reb Zanwil was a stocky man with a quick gait. He was aging, and his long beard flowed down over his garments. He was a scholar who feared Heaven, a wealthy merchant who owned a store for manufactured goods. He was an honorable personality in town.

One evening, I was with Grandfather as he returned from the house of worship sighing and smiling alternately. After a little while, he started talking and said:

“Today I learned a new issue called: Everything in accordance with its measure.” He continued on and related:

“Reb Zanwil Edelsztajn told me about his difficulties – that his children do not satisfy themselves with small amounts. They waste a great deal of money on clothing, trips, and all types of other enjoyments. He does not have the strength to stop them and disrupt their deeds. Having no choice, he decided to do as they do. If everyone is grabbing, he said, I too will grab! Therefore, he started to distribute charity with greater energy and in a generous fashion. He did not satisfy himself with one guest for the Sabbath, but rather invited two. He would bring a guest home every morning after services. If he did not find him in the shtibel, he would search in the Beis Midrash or even on the street – so long as he would not return home without a guest for breakfast. He would do other such deeds of charity, mitzvot, and good deeds. Reb Zanwil would do a great deal, so as to not be disadvantaged in his competition with his children.”

Grandfather praised these deeds of Reb Zanwil, and incidentally explained the verse in Proverbs to me.

“A person with a wise heart will grab mitzvot.” The midrash explains in the Torah portion of Beshalach that this refers to Moses. At the time that those who were leaving Egypt

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were occupied with the spoils of the sea, the verse says of Moses, “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made an oath…” He repeated this and said with great devotion and emphasis, “Indeed, all should grab…”

Despite his great diligence in the study of Torah, in keeping with the adage, “a mouth that does not desist from learning,” he found time to take interest in every important issue in the town or the Jewish world in general. He did not read newspaper, but he would listen with great interest to the reading of the news from the newspapers. He would ask and take interest in the details, and express his opinion on the various problems of the world. Despite this, controversy or disputes of any kind were foreign to his spirit, even a dispute apparently for the sake of Heaven, such as regarding Hassidism or religious extremism, against the younger generation and Zionists of various types. I recall incidents of delay of the reading of the Torah on Sabbaths in the Hassidic House, for most of the worshippers would utilize this means as a way of forcing an individual to straighten out matters that were in dispute. During such a forced interruption, Grandfather would sit looking into a book, wrinkling and rubbing his forehead from pain and anguish over these incidents that caused a delay in the reading of the Torah.

He loved the Land of Israel with his whole heart and soul. An expression of internal joy and soulful gladness would come over his face as he heard things about the Land of Israel. Every story of the building of the Land or a new, interesting movement in Jewish life in the Land caused him great satisfaction and spiritual happiness. It is no surprise, therefore, that his astonishment was great whenever he heard factual information about the land of Israel and its pioneers and builders from the mouths of G–d fearing Hassidim. He would say, “They are involved in the building up of our Holy Land. Heaven forbid that we speak bad of them.” I remember once that a young Hassid from the zealots of Agudas Yisrael came to him complaining about his grandson (me) – that I had entered into a bad crowd, Heaven save us, and I had joined the faction of pioneering Hassidim, etc. He asked innocently, “What is wrong with this? He wants to make aliya to the Land of Israel? On the contrary, I wish that we could all make aliya there speedily in our days!…”

Once he was present at a debate on Zionism that was conducted between me – the Zionist – with one of his other grandsons who was a member of Agudas Yisrael. He listened and smiled with great satisfaction

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on the expertise that we displayed with our proofs and details regarding the building of the Land. However, at the same time, he would hold his anger and turn his head to the side when he heard words and expressions denigrating the Land of Israel and its builders as my interlocutor said such in the heat of the debate. He would often tell me with his customary innocence, “I understand the trepidation of the Hassidim who fear the word of G–d toward our Holy Torah and the fulfillment of commandments, but why are they so opposed to the Land of Israel? This is a contradiction, and as such, I do not understand it at all.”

As has been stated, he took interest in everything that took place in the Jewish world. The atrocities of the Nazis and the attacks upon the Jews that began even before the enemy, may his name be blotted out, ascended to government caused him a great deal of anguish. He would literally cry like a baby with copious tears over each peace of news that arrived and that he heard.

In 1933, when he found out about the ascension of the Nazi foe to government, he groaned deeply and said, “Master of the Universe, give power and ability to your nation to leave and escape from the inferno and hell that is Germany.” As if it were a prophecy emanating from his throat, he would repeat each time, “Jews must also get out of here and escape to any place overseas that they can, so long as they do not remain here.” He took great comfort in that his only son was in the United States, despite his great concern as an Orthodox Jew for the religious situation in that country.

In the late summer of 1935, I told him double news – that I was going to get married, and to make aliya with her to the Land of Israel. Our decision to build our household in the Land of Israel gave him great joy. From that time, he would attempt to talk with me every day in order to find out every detail about my preparations for aliya. Even more than I was, he would be sad at every difficulty or obstacle that arose in this matter for some reason or another.

Early on Sunday morning, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan 5696 (1935), I went to bid him farewell. He got out of bed, got dressed, washed his hands, recited the Shema prayer aloud in accordance of his custom, and then turned to me with a voice choked with tears of joy and gladness. He explained me how great

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was my merit that I merited to make aliya to the Holy Land, to live there, and to continue the chain of the eternal existence of the People of Israel. The tone of his voice increased. He spoke about the commandments that are dependent upon the Land, the holiness of family life, the holiness of the Land of Israel, etc. Then, he hugged me strongly, smothered me with kisses, and said:

“Indeed my son, you have merited something that many people greater than you have not. May G–d grant you success in your journey.” He accompanied me outside and parted from me… forever…

A few weeks after I arrived in the Land, I went to Jerusalem and visited the Western Wall. Immediately thereafter, I wrote him a letter with my impressions of my visit to Jerusalem and the wall. After some time, I received a letter from my grandfather, written with the strong script and ink of a scribe. He expressed his satisfaction, joy and gladness about everything that I had written to him about ourselves and the Land. Then he wrote several pages of words of Torah and halacha regarding the blessings one recites before partaking of food. This was because the Land of Israel is a country blessed with much fruit. Every month, different species of fruit ripen, and therefore there is a need to know the laws and sources of the blessings.

When the Nazis invaded Czyzewo, his house was destroyed and burnt completely. He moved to the home of his daughter who lived in the village of Szumowo next to Zambrow. There he was murdered by the impure murderers. May G–d avenge his blood.

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. A sofer is a ritual scribe. Stam is the acronym for Sefer Torah, Tefillin, Mezuzot – i.e. a ritual scribe who scribes Torahs, Tefillin and Mezuzot. return
  2. The introductory two words of a statement of intention before performing a mitzva. return

The Shofar Blower

by G. Gora

Translated by Jerrold Landau

He spent his last days there in the small attic atop the bakery of his son–in–law. I did not know him during his prime, for when I was still a child; the hairs of his beard were already silver. He lived in poverty and meagerness throughout his life. During his old age, he used a wooden cane to assist his unsteady gate.

He went to the shtibel only in the morning and evening. He sat all day at his table to work at his trade of scribing.

He did not have to earn his livelihood from the toil of his hands, without accepting help from his son–in–law, the owner of the bakery. He was satisfied with a bit of bread and a measure of water. How can one sustain oneself from writing tefillin scrolls, mezuzas and Torah scrolls. All of this was no

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small matter. This is not the writing of Torah thoughts, or, on the other hand, the writing of secular matters and accounts. The entire Torah and its letters are holy. Therefore, how can one write the names of G–d without any preparation and intention?

Therefore, the piece or scroll of parchment that he was working on was always resting on the table, with the duck–feather quill dipped in scribes' ink at the side. He, Reb Alter Szmelkes, would pace around the room a bit, whispering his ideas and purifying his thoughts before each word and at times before each letter or tittle. He fortified his mind, body and soul all at once, dedicating them to the task of writing and the meaning of the words and letters. There were also times before the writing of the names of G–d that he would find it necessary to immerse his entire body in order to purify it.

On occasion he would complain quietly to his friends about those scribes whose work was performed “as a spade to dig with” [1], and would write tens of mezuas or tefillin scrolls during a single day. For them this was a trade, a job like any job.

Despite the fact that there was not always a coin in Reb Alter Szmelkes pocket, and he lived his entire life in want and poverty, and were he to have devoted himself to the labor of writing with greater strength and speed he would have been able to live properly and not be in such meager straits; he nevertheless did not want to forego even the bottom part of a yod [2] from his Divine service. He would carry out his custom of writing and immersion throughout his days.

Therefore, his renown spread afar. Orders for scrolls and tefillin would reach him from far away. Fathers would rejoice and sons would be full of happiness when they succeeded in purchasing from him for the Bar Mitzvah of their sons or grandsons. It was know that every letter and tittle of tefillin parchments written by Reb Alter Szmelkes was written in holiness and purity.

Sometimes, literally in the middle of writing, in the middle of a line, he would put down his duck quill and open a book of Zohar or other book of kabala that was always on his desk, and begin to peruse them. He would say, “Scribing and kabala are intertwined. How can one write a parchment of a mezuza or tefillin or entire section of a Torah scroll without understanding the value of the holy names written there in accordance with the explanations from the books of kabala?”

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During the morning or evening hours, he would sit at the table in his corner in the shtibel and continue with the hidden and concealed Torah [3]. He was taciturn, keeping himself discreet, barely talking to anyone. He constantly guarded his set corner and perused books, with his mouth uttering silent words, in keeping with the verse, “Only her lips were moving and her voice was not heard” [4]. He was uttering words and lines of the Zohar and other such books.

Nevertheless, he was considered to be among the men of deeds and Hassidic elders of the shtibel, and whenever the gabbaim [administrators] of the shtibel had to carry out some responsible matter, they would ask for his opinion. However, none of this was known about him, for he never got involved with internal matters of the shtibel. When he expressed his opinion about some matter of the shtibel about which he had been asked, he would give a brief answer of one word: “yes,” or “no.” He would not say more, and this response was decisive and sufficient, for everyone knew that the “yes” or “no” of Reb Alter Szmelkes was not simply an answer from the lips to the outside, but rather a response that was well thought out and deliberated in his sharp and clear mind.

He would minimize his speaking. Speech is one of the adornments of man, and therefore one must guard it and protect it that it not be defiled with meaningless things – he would always respond when someone approached him and wanted to disturb him with idle chatter devoid of spiritual content. On the other hand, he was like an open wellspring to the young men or Hassidim who occupied themselves with Zohar, and were searching for explanations in known places. Then, Reb Alter would explain every matter. Nevertheless, it was difficult to express his living and intellectual thoughts with clear explanations.

Thus was his wonderful daily schedule during his nearly 70 years in our town: kabala, Zohar, writing mezuas and scrolls for tefillin, immersions of ultimate value in a mikva, deep intentions before each and every name of G–d, and morning and evenings spent with the Hasidim and elders, bent over books as he was fully immersed in the eternal gift, pondering the sublime books with his intellectual eye and entering the 49 gates of wisdom that every man must attain, standing on the ladder at the summit near the 50th gate to which no man

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ever attained. This is how the chain of his life unfolded. It was an independent and fundamental life, without entering into any issues with his fellowman, and keeping away completely from any communal position.

There was one exceptional and decisive thing. Despite his constant principle of distancing himself from communal positions, he did accept – through the urging of all the honorable men of the shtibel decades earlier, most of whom who have already passed away – the position of being the regular shofar blower in the shtibel on the High Holydays. He accepted this position without any attempts at refusal.

The blowing of the shofar is an art and not a labor. This, however, is only with reference to the shofar blasts themselves, i.e. the production of normal sounds through the shofar. However, the shofar blasts are more than an art or a labor according to the holy books. The blowing of the shofar is a service of the heart, with a great deal of intentions in the brain. Who would be more fitting for that important service on Rosh Hashanah, the holy and awesome day when all people pass before G–d like sheep, if not Reb Alter Szmelkes, the pious and modest Jew, who in his daily work is a continuum of service of the heart and sublime thoughts of the mind?

Therefore that day when Reb Alter Szmelkes took it upon himself to accept the appointment as shofar blower, was a day of great joy for the important men of the shtibel. “Finally,” they said to themselves, “we have found an appropriate man whose shofar blasts will certainly tear up the Satan and the forces of impurity.

Reb Alter preserved this task from year to year with simple faith and soulful love.

“Can a shofar be sounded in a city and the people not tremble?” [5]. A shofar has two facets: the first is to arouse the hearts and bring them to repentance in accordance with the words of the verse. The second is to confound the Satan, the accuser who stands prepared on the Day of Judgment to impede, Heaven forbid, the prayers of Israel and prevent them from reaching the King of the World.

Ever year, this new shofar blower dedicated himself fully to issues of the shofar already from the first day of Elul, when the first blast is sounded after the shacharit service.

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Next to the table in the attic of his house, along with pieces of parchment and scrolls, with the duck quills and sinews, there was a small shofar next to a stack of various books that he prepared for Rosh Hashanah. He would look into them to research various intentions and thoughts of the unity of G–d, in accordance with the kabalistic ideas related to the blowing of the shofar. He prepared every day to blow the hundred blasts. He also focused his studies on all matters relevant to those mystic blasts, which make such a great noise throughout the heavens when blown on the Day of Judgment that they completely confound the Satan throughout all the hours of his work [6]. When Reb Alter came to the shtibel on those days, everyone began to look at him in a completely different light. He was no longer the scribe as per his day–to–day routine – a quiet and modest Jew sitting in his remote corner. Everyone began to feel that in a few days he will be the “supporting pillar,” the “wonderful image” in the cast of characters of Rosh Hashanah. Everyone would look deeply into his pale face and the pieces of parchment that filled his home, and upon his silvery beard that contained fragments of the sinews he used to sew together the parchment folios of a Torah scroll. Above all, everyone knew on those days to refrain from bothering him about other matters, and not to ask any question even if it pertained to Torah. They all together realized and saw in his eyes that every moment was holy and precious to him, and that when he looked into the books, only one thought was with him, catching his very essence. His whole life was for the blowing of the shofar.

On the morning of Rosh Hashanah, Reb Alter would be dressed in his white kittel and covered entirely in his tallis. He stood at his place for the entire shacharit service. He would not sit down during the service even during his final years when age caught up with him greatly. He would shake back and forth with very great enthusiasm. It was impossible to look at his visage and his motions, for, as has been said, he was completely enwrapped in his tallis. Nevertheless, anyone who looked at him for one minute and saw his body motions would see that he was completely overtaken by a flame and burning as a torch. At times, one would hear him utter a heartfelt, strong sigh that broke forth from his very midst. Everyone rested during the break between shacharit and musaf, some

[Column 781]

reading the mishnas of tractate Rosh Hashanah, and others with the heartfelt prayers and psalms of the Son of Jesse. However, for Reb Alter, these moments were the most difficult and serious of the entire year. He felt with his entire soul that he was to be the emissary of the congregation, and that he had to open up the upper heavens with his shofar blasts for the prayers and supplications of his congregation.

First, he removed his kittel, and walked quickly to the mikva in order to immerse himself properly 49 times, as was his custom every time he went to the mikva. From the mikva, he went to the attic of his house when he spent a full hour reciting statements of the Zohar. Before the shofar blowing, he went again to look into the books that he had been learning for the entire time, which indicate the proper intentions that a G–d fearing shofar blower must have during the time of the blowing. After he checked the shofar for the last time, he literally ran like a child to the shtibel with large steps, despite his advanced age. Almost every year, he arrived very late for the time set for the shofar blowing, but nobody complained about him. Everyone knew and appreciated that with Reb Alter Szmelkes, the blasts were not just ordinary blasts that emanate from a shofar, but rather something more, for which one must make great preparations.

Then, having donned his kittel, wrapped himself in his tallis, being fully covered in a sea of sweat, he approached the

[Column 782]

table and began to recite Lamenatzeach [7] aloud.

After Lamenatzeach, he recited the verses that begin with the letters “Kera Satan [8] with his own unique melody, and everyone felt as if they saw with their own eyes the Satan being torn up to pieces with each verse recited by Reb Alter with great feeling and intention, even before the shofar was sounded.

The caller called out the blasts, and Reb Alter raised his head, took out the shofar from under its cover on the table, placed it in his right hand, and moved it to his mouth as he was trembling and swaying. Even at his mouth, the shofar was swaying like a drunkard. A few seconds passed before the first blast, apparently through additional preparation for the many intentions that had to be thought and contracted into the tekia, shevarim, terua, and tekia [9]. These were mystical emanations in the silence of the shtibel. These were not the blasts of a shofar, but rather of a soul overtaken with enthusiasm and depression for the upper worlds…

This is how the sets of shofar blasts went every year in the shtibel with Reb Alter Szmelkes. Thus did Reb Alter serve the Hassidim, the splendid ones of the town, in a faithful and dedicated manner with his whole heart and soul, beginning from his one–of–a–kind work as a scribe and ending with his role as shofar blower, through which he gained renown throughout the region.

Translator's Footnotes:
  1. In order to earn a livelihood. return
  2. The smallest of letters. return
  3. A reference to kabala. return
  4. Referring to Hannah's silent prayer in I Samuel 1:13. return
  5. Amos 3:8. return
  6. This is in accordance with the kabalistic thought that the Satan stands ready to accuse the Jews on Rosh Hashanah, and the shofar sounds confuse him. return
  7. Psalm 47, recited seven times prior to the blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. return
  8. After the recital of Psalm 47, and prior to the blessings of the shofar, six verses are recited that start with letters that form the acrostic Kera Satan – which means, let the Satan be torn up. return
  9. These are the names of the shofar sounds. return

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