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[Page 781]

Reb Alter Walmer

by Dow Gorzalczany of Tel Aviv

Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

He was born in 1896 in Sokolow Podliski, and educated in his parents' house in the traditional, religious style. Slowly but surely during the time of his studies in the Yeshiva of Sokolow, he dedicated some of his time to secular studies, and diligently completed studies as a bookkeeper.

He moved from Sokolow to Jandziw[1] or to a nearby village, where his father-in-law owned a mill. Nevertheless, he did not remain in the village for a long time, for during the 1920s, the attacks anti-Semitic ruffians of the N. D. reached their peak of infamy – especially in our area. They caused many villagers to uproot themselves from their place to go to the nearby towns.

Reb Alter Walmer moved to Czyzewo.

He set up his house in a lot next to the post office. He earned his livelihood as an official with the Szopkowicz Brothers Forestry merchants. He later became their partner. Still later, he became the partner in the flourmill of Messrs. Lepek and Szopkowicz.

Since he was of pleasant manner and liked by people, he quickly stood out and took his place among the honorable families of the town. He also had a recognizable place among the Hassidim of Aleksandrow. His deep knowledge of Torah and holy books, in addition with his broad, variegated general knowledge, earned him a most honorable and prominent place among the community of Hassidim. Everyone revered him. He added to this reverence by slowly earning a place in the wold of Hassidic cantors, since he worshiped wit a sweep voice – at first with Lecha Dodi on Friday nights and at the end as the leader of Shacharit on the High Holy Days.

His excited dynamism in all areas brought him to a strong economic position. His name went before him, and his fame went out as a successful businessman. His abilities stood out everyone, and the “Aleksandrowers” did not hesitate to choose him as their representative in the only “Cooperative Bank” in our town. His place was not missing even on the communal council. Later on, when the influence of the Hassidim of Gur declined, he was elected as the head of the Czyzewo community. He served in that lofty position for many years, and he fulfilled his duty faithfully and responsibly, as befits his uprightness.

The manner of Reb Alter in communal and social affairs was crowned with success. First of all, this was with regard to conducting services, with regard to which this wonderful man brought great satisfaction to hearts and souls.

His home turned into a place that served the community. His faithful wife, Bashka, also gave over a great deal to visitors and those who turned to her for help as the chairwoman of Linat Tzedek. Her efforts were directed to the assistance of the ill and needy, as she concerned herself with arranging hospital stays, lending out of sanitary equipment, and cleaning the equipment after it was returned.

czy781.jpg [13 KB] - Alter Walmer, his wife, daughter and mother-in-law
Alter Walmer, his wife,
daughter and mother-in-law

The years of the terrible Holocaust brought Reb Alter Walmer, together with Reb Zvulun Grozbard (the head of the community and head of the Merchant's Union), and Jehoszua Lepek (one of the chief Zionists and activists of the “Zentus”) to the Judenrat. After Reb Zvulun was fired, Reb Alter filled his place.

He did not take the opportunity to flee and save himself. However, he did attempt to hide his family. He almost chased away his eldest daughter and forced her to flee – however he did not listen to the pleading of his daughter Mirl who urged him to flee. His responsibilities to the community to which he was so faithful removed this thought from him. He preferred to remain with the community and to share in their common fate.

He went on his final journey with the remnants of the Community of Czyzewo. He was taken to Zambrowa and from there to Auschwitz – the vale of murder.

The death of this finest of people breaks the heart.

May his memory be blessed!

czy069.gif [8 KB]

[Page 785]

Reb Szmuel Zeev and Lea Kandel

By Yosefa Kandel (Akun), Yafa Kandel (Grinwald), Yaakov Kandel and Avraham Kandel

Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

He was born in Czyzewo in 1887 to his parents Jakob and Sara Rachel. He married Lea (nee Baron) from the nearby town of Zaromb in 1908. She was an intelligent and refined woman, a woman of valor and a dedicated mother who always supported her husband. Thus was our dear mother.

Our father of blessed memory observed tradition and was careful about the commandments. He also worked all of his life to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. He always found time for communal service, in particular with the Mizrachi movement in the town, in which he found content and a purpose for life.

Among other things, his activities to found the Modern Cheder, which would operate in the spirit of the times, must be pointed out. On account of this, he was forced to abandon his regular and beloved place of prayer in the shtibel of the Mszcznow Hassidim. He moved over to worship with the masses in the Great Synagogue, and later to the Szlamburger Shtibel that he established along with Reb Yosel Baruch Lepek.

The flame of Zionism in the prayer “And may our eyes behold your return to Zion” comforted him throughout all of tribulations of life. Four of his six children are found in Israel.

Father, Mother and our two brothers Icchok Noach and Chaim Zvulun were brutally murdered by the murderers of our nation in the year 1941. May G-d avenge their blood.

czy785.jpg [23 KB] - Szmuel Zeev Kandel, his wife Lea, and four of their children  (two of whom are in Israel)
Szmuel Zeev Kandel, his wife Lea,
and four of their children
(two of whom are in Israel)

[Page 786]

The Lithuanian

by Gerszon Gora

Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Reb Pesach was one of the honorable people of the town. His house was the only one in the entire town that was built with two stories of red brick, in contrast to the other houses that were build of wood. He was very rich, and was liked by all circles in town. He frequented the Hassidic houses. He himself was not a prominent scholar, but he knew very well how to cleave to Hassidim. In the middle of one of the bright nights of Elul, prior to the holidays, when the horses were hitched to the wagon and the Hassidim were preparing to travel one by one to travel to the Rebbe, Reb Pesach went along with his splendid suitcase that contained provisions for all of the travelers.

Our Reb Pesach also had a daughter who reached the age of marriage, and was perhaps even a bit beyond that age. The matchmakers were not quiet and did not rest. They occupied themselves with this matter greatly, but help from Heaven was not forthcoming.

Year after year went by, and a match was not found for the daughter of Reb Pesach. The Hassidim encouraged Reb Pesach and said to him, “Don't worry, forty days prior to the creation of a child, his match is decreed from above. It must be that the proper match is yet to come. One day, the salvation will come with the blink of an eye.”

Indeed, thus it was.

The match from Heaven appeared with all his glory and splendor.

Reb Pesach made a match with an excellent boy from a Lithuanian family, one of the choice ones from the large Lithuanian Yeshivas, whose was known to be an expert scholar.

However, at first it was difficult for Reb Pesach to decide on the matter. How can he bring a Lithuanian into the Shtibel? How could this young man find his place among the Hassidic young men, who speak to each other in the second person and do not treat each other with respect? How would he be able to tolerate seeing a young twenty year old man talking to a ninety year old in familiar language?

However, he had no other way. He had found no other match, and, after all, he always desired to marry off his daughter to a scholar. Therefore, when they advised him about Ben-Zion the Lithuanian, he did not hesitate until he had concluded this fine match.

It was no wonder that everyone talked and was astonished about this match.

The young Hassidic men talked among themselves, “What was Reb Pesach thinking, that he would bring to us a veteran Lithuanian, whose entire essence is formality?”

However the elder Hassidim, who were more levelheaded and broadminded, received with joy the news that, with the help of G-d, Reb Pesach had finally succeeded in finding an expert scholar as a match for his daughter, who would be supported at his table for many years so that he could continue to study Torah.

There was one old man there who had himself traveled several times to the Rebbe of Kock. He looked upon this matter positively, and turned to the grumbling young men and said to them:

“Why all the noise? 'Litvaks' should indeed come to us. It is up to you to draw them near, to expose them to the treasures of Hassidism, and to bring them into the Hassidic mysteries.”

The elder continued on, saying, “Remember that when that young man comes to you, whom you call the 'Litvak', you must draw him near and introduce him slowly to our way of life.”

The words of the elder influenced the young man, and they all decided to draw the Lithuanian near, and to make him one of the group.

On the first days after the seven days of celebration[2], when Ben-Zion the Lithuanian entered the Shtibel, he sat in front of a large volume of the Vilna edition of the Talmud that he had received from his father-in-law as a gift, and began to study in the Gemara-melody that is known from the Lithuanian Yeshivas on account of its stress on each syllable – the young men looked upon with wonder and were silent. His methodology of study surprised them. They gave him leeway of a few days to continue with his method. For the first days, they also overlooked his manner of speaking, in which he used the formal style even to a young child. This is nothing – they thought – this is dough that can be kneaded.

Ben-Zion the Lithuanian had all of the character traits of a Hassidic young man. His gait was quick and elastic. His new ideas on Torah that he presented to the young men of the Shtibel testified to his sharpness of mind, brilliance, and exceptional grasp. He disliked verbosity of words, and matters that were off topic. He stated his words in brief and with reason.

He was of middle height. His build was thin and lean. His beard was short and groomed in accordance with custom. He had penetrating, dark eyes. They always exuded a thirst for knowledge; a desire to obtain knew facts that would augment his store of knowledge.

During the first days, he recognized the division between himself and the rest of the young men. Even though he studied his Talmud all day, he silently felt within himself a sort of desire for both worlds. Everything was new to him. He saw Jews who wrapped themselves in tallises and put on tefillin in a manner that was different than what he was used to in his youth. All of their customs and manners were different than those he was used to. They all made various strange movements during the time of prayer and study. This one made motions of devotion; the other one paced back and forth, and then went to the corner, with his tallis covering his entire face, and his entire body trembling.

A desire was awakened in his heart to probe into the character of these young men and to understand them. He wished to understand them and their manners. In particular, their camaraderie amazed him, as they sat around the table after the services and drank a cup of “96” liquor, wishing each other blessings from the depths of their hearts. How strange is it, he thought in his heart – for what does liquor have to do with a Beis Midrash, a place where one studies Torah?

From examining them, he realized that all of these young men were cut from one mold. There is no “I” and “you”, just “we”. The “I” is subordinate to the “you”, and the “you” is subordinate to the “I”, and thus they merge into the “we”.

Slowly, a meeting of hearts took place between the young men and the Lithuanian, who began to look on this entire matter with different eyes. The young men began to invite him to the Rosh Chodesh feasts, and on occasion urged him to look into some Hassidic book before going to sleep. Thus, from both directions, the closeness was forged and grew from day to day. There was now only one final barrier between them – the Lithuanian “Misnagdish” education that cannot be uprooted from the heart in one day.

However, the day finally came where this barrier was removed. Ben-Zion the Litvak became completely involved in the life of the Shtibel and became an inseparable part of Hassidic life.

This took place on the heels of his first visit to the Rebbe, along with the other young men, before the holidays. The splendor and glory that pervaded in the court of the Rebbe, and the “still, silent voice” that rose above the thousands of Hassidim, who were crowded together and absorbing each expression with awe – these removed the final obstacle from his heart.

He then understood the concept of “faith in Tzadikim” and finding shelter in the shadow of a Tzadik.

Being in the presence of the Rebbe was equivalent with all of the discussions and statements of the young men before this trip.

He said to himself, “On occasion, there is a certain unique experience that awakens sublime feelings, which can have more influence than an entire book”.

When he returned from the court of the Rebbe along wit the rest of the group, he felt himself as one of them in every manner, and he told them:

“Please don't continue to call me a Litvak. I am one of you.”

With the passage of time, Ben-Zion ascended the rungs of the ladder of Hassidism and became a pillar of the Shtibel. He was the living spirit of the camaraderie. He was active in charitable matters and in helping those in need. “Lithuanianism” was no longer recognizable in him.

Nevertheless, he continued to be knows as, “Ben-Zion the Lithuanian” among the townspeople.

[Page 789]

The Waker

by Gerszon Gora

Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Most of the townsfolk did not know him very well. To them, he was a simple Jew, who did not stand out from among the other residents.

The called him Avraham-Chaim the “Kayatz”[3]. This nickname stuck with him for tens of years, and I never thought about looking into the source of this name, for it was used by everybody as if this was his surname.

Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, the market days on which farmers from the entire area filled up the streets and alleys of the town with their wagons and horses, as they brought all sorts of merchandise for sale – Avraham-Chaim would wander around between the wagons of the farmers with the other merchants of the marketplace, touch the sacks and packages, and turn to each farmer with the same question, “What is for sale, mister?”

Avraham-Chaim was not like the other merchants who had special storehouses and would purchase large quantities of grain to fill up their storehouses. He was a small-scale merchant. It was sufficient for him to purchase two or three sacks of wheat, rye or other types of grain on a market day. They sold it to him as if it was especially designated for him. There were those farmers to whom the “leviathan” merchants did not pay attention to, because their quantity of merchandise was small.

On those market days, one could see Avraham-Chaim walking through the streets with an empty sack under his arms, or carrying a quarter of a sack full of wheat on his back, bringing it to his own room that served as a dining room, bedroom, kitchen and grain storehouse all together.

The townsfolk would run into him on those days and ask about his wellbeing. He would answer everyone: “Thank G-d, everything is good. May it only be that G-d gives me years to live, and I will certainly not be lacking anything.”

This simple Jew was without any makeup or rouge. His beard had not yet become completely white, which took years off of his withered body. His face was furrowed, and his hands were very callused.

He did not worship in the Shtibel and did not travel to the Rebbe. He also did not attend the Great Synagogue. He was the pillar in the “Chevra Mishnayos” Synagogue – the founder, Gabbai and Shamash all together.

During the time of the lessons, when the householders of the town crowded together around the tables, Avraham-Chaim took a place at the edge of the table near the door. At such times, he gave the impression of a guest who had come for a moment to hear the lesson.

Nevertheless, it was obvious that something was agitating in his heart when he sat at the table with the people attending the Mishna class. This was an internal happiness that enveloped him in the presence of the dozens of householders who were sitting at the tables studying Torah.

During those moments, he would completely forget about his narrow room full of wheat, his barren life and his gray, boring work in the kitchen. He turned his attention away from all of the gentile farmers among whom he circulated and conducted business twice a week. He forgot everything about the life of vanity and physicality. These minutes were to him like his entire life – minutes of boundless spiritual joy, or sublimity and splendor.

The householders of Chevra Mishnayos treated him with appreciation. They valued his extra dedication as a Gabbai and Shamash combined, and attempted to assist him in any way that was possible. However, he refused to accept any help at all. He would say the following to anyone who volunteered to help him sweep the synagogue, or perform any other task:

“There is no need. This job is upon me, and please do not disturb me, for this work is very pleasant for me.”

He had one special trait. This trait was known to several dozen scholars in the town for many years. We, the nine and ten year old children, found out about it incidentally.

It took place on a winter day. We, eight boys, studied in the large cheder of the town. At that time, we were studying the discussion regarding Rabbi Chanina the deputy Priest in tractate Pesachim – this was a discussion that was totally new to us. Each day, we would enter into the depths of the laws of ritual purity and impurity, and we would be astonished at the various levels of impurity: first degree, second degree, third degree, etc. We were very proud that the Rebbe involved us in such a deep section. We studied all day with diligence. We hid among the recesses of the new halachot. New vistas opened up before us. It was as if we received a short vacation from the Talmudic sections of “Nezikin” (Torts) and “Moed” (Festivals) in order to breathe for a few weeks in clear, pleasant air, among the thick oaks that were planted by Rabbi Chanina the deputy Priest. The new learning refreshed us to such a degree that even the Rebbe recognized a change for the better among us, in our studies and our diligence.

One day, the Rebbe turned to us and said:

“Children! I advise you to wake up for one week at 5:00 a.m. At that time, it is still dark outside, the cold is very strong, and it difficult for children such as yourselves to wake up then, but you must remember the first paragraph in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law): 'Be as strong as a leopard.' You must overcome all of the difficulties and obstacles, for then you will feel the true essence of the study of Gemara. During those early hours, the brain is clear and the mind of man is fresh, as if it was just created. It is possible to understand and grasp everything. I am certain that throughout the week, we will be able to review the entire section about Rabbi Chanina the deputy Priest, and you will know it all thoroughly.”

The words of the Rebbe were a pleasant surprise to us. On the one hand, we desired this type of “exercise” of waking up while it was still night, and trudging through the snow to study. However, on the other hand, the “evil inclination” portrayed to us the strong cold that was outside, the deep darkness, and the warm bed that we were to have left prematurely.

“However who will wake us before dawn?”, we asked the Rebbe.

“Leave that concern to me”, answered the Rebbe with a bright face. “If you decide to get up, I will concern myself that there should be somebody to wake you.”

We all agreed to the suggestion of the Rebbe.

We were still children and did not appreciate the value of this decision, for to us, every matter of getting up early on winter nights was seen as a “trick” and nothing real.

We doubted whether the matter would actually come to pass. We thought that it would be impossible to wake us all up at one time. The following question particularly bothered us: who would be the one to accept upon himself such a difficult task, to go around in the darkness and cold of night throughout the city and to wake up the children to study Torah?

However, all of our doubts were resolved. That very night, when I was in a deep sleep, I was suddenly awakened to the sound of a strong knock on the windowpanes next to my bed. I immediately turned my ear, and heard a voice calling:

“Gerszon! It is already ten minutes to five. Get up to study!”

I was completely surprised when I recognized the voice of Avraham-Chaim the “Kayatz”. However, I recovered from my astonishment within a moment. His hoarse voice of the waker hurried me to get out of bed. I got up quickly despite the cold and darkness, as I imagined before eyes the first paragraph of the Shulchan Aruch. I felt myself as a small lair of leopards.

Within the span of a few minutes I washed my hands, got dressed, took my Gemara and flashlight, and hurried to the Beis Midrash of Chevra Mishnayos, the place where our cheder was located.

I thought that I would undoubtedly be the first, for I had hastened to get up without any delay. However, when I arrived at the Beis Midrash, I was surprised to see the Rebbe and the rest of the students waiting for me. At that very moment, the clock on the wall struck five.

We were all emotional, and given over to the experience of waking up before dawn. We were particularly moved by the fact that the waker was Avraham-Chaim the “Kayatz”. Even though we were studying the first early-morning lesson with great diligence and with a clear and pleasant frame of mind, we would still glance on occasion to the corner near the lit stove where our “waker” sat, hunched over a book of Psalms, as he was reciting the Psalms of the Son of Jesse with great concentration.

Avraham-Chaim continued on with this tradition for fifteen years. As has been said, only a few special people knew about this, only those who fulfilled the adage, “night was only created for study”. He was the living alarm clock of the town. He would awaken every night at 2:00 a.m. light his kerosene lamp with a small piece of paper, and go out to his holy work.

He would traverse the dark streets and alleys of the town in the midst of the night, and on occasion cut through the night silence with his hoarse, yet strong voice. His route was planned out ahead of time. He woke everyone up at the time that they wanted, having being asked to do so. Thus did the four Beis Midrashes of the town fill up at each night with early risers.

The “Kayatz” was diligent in his holy task for fifteen years, and there never was an interruption. In nights of dense fog, during snowstorms, just as in bright, moonlit nights – he would always go out in the same heavy clothes and large boots in order to awaken the Jews to the Divine service.

He never complained about a Jew who did not wake up to his call. He judged him favorably: surely there was a reason. Even on the foggy winter nights when strong winds blew through the town, when almost nobody would be found in the Beis Midrash, he not angry and did not complain. “It is nothing”, he would say. “Even if only one out of ten came, it was worthwhile for me to wake up all ten”.

He did not only expend his efforts for great scholars, but also for schoolchildren. When some Rebbe asked him to awaken several students and a specific time for a specific lesson, he would immediately add the children to his list.

Thus was there in his heart a strong love for the study of Torah. Thus did he bear the difficult task that he took upon himself, to awaken Torah students to the Divine service. I am certain that he continued on with his task until his final moments, until the terrible destruction of the town.

[Page 795]

The Cantor of the Town

by Gerszon Gora

Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Cantorial issues never affected the town. There was never any need to advertise prior to the High Holy Days that they were searching for a qualified cantor for the Musaf services, as was the case in many other town where the issues surrounding cantors took a very important place.

Reb Eliezer the cantor of the town was a “Cantor” in the full sense of the word. He served as the prayer leader in the Great Beis Midrash and was the cantor of the masses of people in the town, of all of the artisans, merchants, and workshop owners who were not of Hassidic extraction and who had worshipped for generations in the Great Beis Midrash in accordance with the Ashkenazic prayer rite. He was especially the cantor of hundreds of pious women who on the High Holy Days all looked similar to each other, like cherubs with their white, shiny, clear clothing. These were pure and sincere women, who never turned their attention to differences of opinions and the opposing views of Hassidim and Misnagdim, or between the Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Chabad, and Arizal prayer rites. It was the woven prayer of a Jewish woman coming from her heart.

In the women's balcony, which was like a large gallery of pillars that occupied half of the space of the Beis Midrash, all of the women of the town gathered together in one unit, or more accurately – with one heart. There worshipped the wives of the Hassidim and Misnagdim, of the Zionists and Agudists, of the Aleksandrow and Gur Hassidim. When on occasion the modern elements recommended bringing a modern cantor for the High Holy Days, a cantor who knew how to sing with a choir, who worse a tall, velvet hat and held a tuning fork in his hands – the Gabbaim (trustees) of the synagogue would push aside this suggestion immediately, without bringing it to deliberation. For it was sufficient for these Gabbaim to hear the enthusiastic opinion of these women about the prayers of Reb Eliezer, which they found to grow more meaningful and sweeter every year, in order to push aside any recommendation of this nature.

The songs and melodies of Reb Eliezer the Cantor were the topic of the day among all that came to the Great Synagogue on the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Reb Eliezer was not a “Prayer leader” like Reb Shaul Tzvi in the synagogue of the Gur Hassidim, Reb Jeszaja of the synagogue of the Aleksandrow Hassidim, Reb Baruch the teacher in the synagogue of the Sokolow Hassidim, Reb Jankel Wibitker in “Chevra Mishnayos” or the other prayer leaders of the Hassidic prayer halls of the town. He was called “Reb Eliezer the Cantor” and that was fitting for him. His manner of standing at the prayer podium, his motions and enthusiastic melodies, as well as his clear, fine voice – all of these gave him the character of an experienced, professional cantor. I can still remember the unique image of his face, as if he stands alive before my eyes: He was of average height. He had a dark beard that was divided into two sections. The edges of the sections had turned silver, as if they were singed by the flame of advancing age. His cheeks were thin and sunken, which made his high, wide forehead stand out even further. His eyes were always raised upward, so that your gaze would never meet his. He could chat with you for hours without gazing directly at you with his eyes. He always made the impression on everyone that he had a special relationship with Heaven, a certain soulful attraction.

He occupied himself with his profession all the days of the year – or to be more specific, his wife and daughters worked at their profession – the baking of black rye. This bakery was called by his name: the Bakery of Reb Eliezer, even though he himself did not know how to place dough into a bucket.

His only occupation was to assist from time to time some sort of good deed in order to ease the burden upon some person. He spent the rest of his time in the Hassidic synagogue or in the Beis Midrash in front of an open book, as he silently hummed heartwarming melodies. He was always engrossed in thought. When he walked along the way, when he was standing, when he was sitting with a book, his thoughts always enveloped him completely. He always seemed like one who was caught in a place that was not his own, as if he was a wanderer in a strange place. For what was the purpose of all of the days and nights of the year, when it was impossible to pour himself out before the podium with prayers and supplications to the Holy One Blessed Be He, and to express the feelings of the heart and soul with such heartwarming and awe-inspiring hymns?

Indeed, this was the nature of Reb Eliezer the Cantor. It was as if his soul was created on the six days of creation for the sole purpose of the prayers on the High Holy Days, and the purpose of his life was only for those pleasant Musaf services that he performed with his voice in the town. Therefore, his life throughout the year was like a life lacking in content. Only as the High Holy Days neared, when Aharon the Shamash announced on Friday night his traditional announcement that on Saturday night at midnight, the Selichot service would take place, did the fire of life burn n the eyes of Reb Eliezer. His eyes appeared as burning coals.

To what is this similar? It is like a fish that is taken out of water, that flutters about and struggles bitterly as it does not have a drop of water to breathe. At the moment that it is returned to the water, it turns immediately into a new creature, influenced with pleasant, effervescent life.

Those days, the days of Selichot and the Ten Days of Penitence, were to him like the source of living waters, clear, fresh water, which restored his soul to its full life. Then, all of the melodies and tunes that were hidden away all year in the recesses of his heart were reawakened, and began to break out.

During those days, when he sat in his home, when he ate his meals, when he walked around the streets looking for a good deed to perform, one could hear from his mouth the pleasant melody of a hymn or a prayer. This was a sort of practice, a preparation for the High Holy Days, when the tune would break out with its full strength and sweetness.

Reb Eliezer did not conduct himself like other cantors, who would practice for many weeks with a choir prior to the High Holy Days, in order that the prayers should sound “just so”. He did not follow this pattern. He would say, “A cantor does not perform tricks. He has to prepare his heart, and the tunes and melodies would come out properly.”

The impression of those High Holy Days is still etched deep inside of me. The synagogue was filled to the brim, especially on Yom Kippur when even the “barber”, the only Sabbath desecrator in the city, was not missing. All of the worshippers were dressed in festive clothing. Meir and Binyumche, the two well-known water drawers whose characteristic pictures were publicized by the American “gazettes”, were seated next to the western table. Behind them were the porters and wagon drivers, who used to worship at the early Minyan, before sunrise, throughout the year. The women of the town peered through the windows of the women's gallery at the large congregation and the cantor standing next to the podium like a conductor. The cantor was standing there, his face like an angel, covered in his white Kitel and his Tallis that was decorated with many silver decorations. He was assisted by his two sons. He supplicated, sang pleasant melodies and poured out his prayers as an emissary of the congregation standing before the Holy One Blessed Be He.

Reb Eliezer composed new, original tunes for “Kevakarat”, and “Heyey Im Pipiyot”[4], etc. The congregation of worshippers reached the peak of emotion as he recited the hymn “Eleh Ezkera Venafshi Elay Esphecha”, whose theme is the Ten Martyrs of the Roman Government. His voice was soft or was weeping as he poured out his heart to all of the themes described in the moving words. The men and women of the congregation wept together with him.

Reb Eliezer was weak by nature. His shriveled and lean body always suffered from various ailments. Nevertheless, despite the fact that he poured out his entire essence and blood in his prayers, the High Holy Days were to him the source of health and strength. It was as if he did not live throughout the year except for the merit of these days.

Reb Eliezer's tenure lasted for tens of years without interruption. Throughout those years, he bestowed the best of his melodies, enchanting tunes and heartwarming singing upon our townsfolk, until that bitter and violent day when they were all brought to slaughter and buried in a large communal grave. Then Reb Eliezer the Cantor perished as well, may G-d avenge his death, and his voice was silenced forever.

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Translator's Footnotes:
  1. I cannot accurately identify this town. Perhaps it is Janiszewo. return
  2. Traditionally, seven days of celebration follow a wedding. return
  3. The waker. return
  4. These are two segments of the Musaf of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. return

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