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[Columns 565-566]

Translations by Mira Rivka Blum

 


Eli Weiner, the Headstone Engraver

Hassidism, Stories,
and Poems

 

The Teacher, Isaac Fox

[Columns 567-568]

Table of Contents

[Columns 569-570]

How the sheketz t'shoktzeu Drove Away the Demons

by Nathan Hadas, (Herzliyah, Israel)

The “minyan” had decided once and for all to put an end to the company of demons and evil spirits that had settled in their shtetl. They simply couldn't take it any more.

On Hoshana Rabbah (the seventh day of Sukkot), after there was a break in the heavens, the minyan came out of the large study hall, bringing with them the town's Shamesh, the Proverbs Reciter, and the town's “Shul Knocker” (who knocks on all the doors and windows to wake people up for Shul).

Everyone had a palm and willow branch in their hands, and they promised each other that they would stay silent on the way and copy everything that “the minyan” did.

They headed out on the path between the dried stream beds. It was cut out deep from the mountain and led to the Hutchva river, which encircled the shtetl like a snake.

On the right side from the sliced-away mountain stood the church, which exuded a sense of dread and foreboding among the shtetl residents.

On the left, far back, practically inside the mountain, lived the dogcatcher. Sometimes for the whole night one could hear the howling and whining from poor canine souls. Some people said that the sounds were really from ghosts and demons. Often people said that the dogcatcher, a coarse and violent man, was connected to the cadre of wicked shtetl spirits. It was an eerie path to take by day, and even more frightening at night.

When they had arrived at the river, the group stopped at Simchale Plachte's cottage, which was almost halfway in the water. We didn't see a living soul there. We made the first round of prayers over the four species (for Sukkot), and continued further along Bath St., and from there to the large Bridge of Chelm. But they didn't see anything there either.

From there down a non-Jewish street they arrived at the Svinitiner Bridge, which was always more underwater than above the water. Another small footbridge could be found on the left.

They went over the little bridge, looked around, and couldn't find anything. From there, they started heading back, passing the oil field via Panska St., and passing both churches (on the right, the Polish, on the left, the Russian).

Of course, at that point, we had to utter “sheketz t'shoktzeu”[1] seven times, spit, and continue onward until the Zamochsher Bridge. There wasn't a lot of work for them to do there - because the bridge was in the middle of the town - who would take any chances there? We didn't even make any of the Sukkot blessings there.

Crossing the bridge, they were already on the path that heads towards Paheriye, and from there goes back into town via the Krilover bridge. This was the final stop. We slowly crossed the bridge, made the sukkos movements shaking the four species in all four directions, also up and down, and we thought it was over, but it wasn't over.

Not far from the bridge, where Berl Stelmach's cottage stands, there was a still pool of water. For an entire year, it had been covered with a layer of green slime. Around the mountainside a lot of thick leaves had grown, and green frogs used to dance and croak there day and night without rest.

A kind of grass used to grow there, called lepach, which by Shavuos would cover the ground, and little boys used to make little whistles out of it. And from the still pool, one could often hear a quiet “plop”, as if a fish had just jumped out of the water. Suddenly we caught sight of a young Polish nobleman in a black cape with two lacquered boots and a hat with a shiny brim. He began to approach us.

We didn't panic, we just stuck our left thumbs into our pockets casually, which was a well-known method of avoiding danger, just as Jews have done since the days of old under such circumstances. With his right hand, squeezing the palm branch close to his head, one of us called out:

“Jews[2], stand your ground - this is the ‘head honcho’ himself!” The young nobleman slowly, but with certain steps, continued his approach. Behind him he was schlepping an entire family of different kinds of animals. We could tell that a sinister battle was about to unfold.

The minyan however didn't just stand by with folded hands. We quickly gathered into a corner and started reciting a well-known chapter of Psalms: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” A second Jew said, “A thousand will be stationed at your side.”[3] And a third said, “but he will not approach you, you will just gaze with your eyes.”[4] And they continued to recite the psalm back and forth until they had finished it.

Suddenly the nobleman had grown in size to the point that he was standing right next to the minyan. Pointing to the palm frond (lulav), he asked, “What is that sir?”[5]

“This is a lulav, God save us,”[6] was the answer that he received.

“That's not true,” answered the nobleman, “that is a broom.”

“No, it's a broom.” Everyone answered him the same, until he came to the Shamesh, who he sensed was the weakest point, and if it didn't work with him, then he would have lost.

As a result, he knew he had to rely on other tricks. With exaggerated movements, he opened up a large handbag filled with golden coins before the Shamesh's eyes, and called out with a triumphant tone:

“Say, it's a broom. If you do, I'll give you this entire bag of coins.” The town's Shamesh then thought about his five daughters sitting at home like, may the evil-eye do them no harm, the first of whom, by Jewish community standards, should already have married a long time ago, but how could he get a dowry for her? Now the poor thing's braid has already begun to turn grey.[7]

“Oh, Master of the Universe, loving Father,” moaned the Shamesh, “God, maybe you are the one who sent this to me? The summer is already over and I still haven't received a cent of community welfare, aside from the few dollars that I took from the shul's Yom Kippur collection box. Oh Master of the Universe, winter is coming, and I still don't have a single log of wood to warm our home. The children are barefoot and practically naked, oh dear God, please help me overcome this trial!”

“Say, broom!” Screamed the nobleman.

“Oy,” says the Shamesh, “For you, oh God, save us.”[8]

When the nobleman saw that this ruse also hadn't helped, he tried a second approach. Suddenly the Shamesh felt like his head was spinning and fiery coins were twinkling before his eyes. Suddenly he felt like he was back in Shul the eve before shabbos with his broom, sweeping the floor, and then he realizes that he's sweeping golden coins, whole piles of them, without pause.

“Shabbos eve, in shul, golden coins? Master of the Universe, where am I?”

“What are you raking up the coins with?” Asked the noblemen. In his head the words are spinning around around around, “broom”, “save us”, “golden coins”, “shabbos,” - what is happening?

“You say that you're sweeping with a broom?” Screamed the nobleman.

The Shamesh, half-fainting, wants to open his mouth and say…
but then he hears other voices.

[Columns 571-572]

“Say, ‘save us’!” He hears voices thundering around him.

“Say, broom!” And then other voices:

“Save us!”

It was as if two warring bands suddenly unleashed heavy artillery on each other at the same time. The Shamesh was paralyzed and did not know what to say. In one hand, he had a palm frond, and in the other, a broom for sweeping the shul - it was honestly hard to decide.

It appears as though the minyan would be victorious. With all of his strength, the Shamesh suddenly tore out a yell: “Save us!”

Right after that, there was some kind of booming sound, as if thunder had just struck where they were standing, and then they heard an other-worldly laughter, “ha ha ha”, which was heard throughout the entire town.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. This phrase comes from a passage in Deuteronomy (7:26) about rejecting idol worship. Considering the elaborate visual representations of God/saints/Jesus in Eastern Orthodox Churches and Catholic Churches, some Jews considered such depictions (and theology, such as the idea of the trinity) to be examples of idol worship, so this appears to be some kind of protective oath against these places. It is probably not a coincidence that “sheketz” here is the same Hebrew spelling of “shegetz”, which was the term often used for a non-Jew, or for a Jew (often children) as a form of jest or reproach. Return
  2. More or less the equivalent of saying “you guys” in Yiddish, since one was usually addressing other Jews in the language. Return
  3. Another line from the same Psalm (91) Return
  4. From the same line of the same Psalm that the second Jew said Return
  5. His question was in Polish, but transcribed with Yiddish (Hebrew) letters. Return
  6. He added the words from the prayer said in Sukkos, which gives a touch of irony/double-meaning, since not only is this the prayer that they say at this time anywhere, but they are also praying that God save them from that scary moment when a wealthy non-Jew could cause them serious harm. Return
  7. Referring to a “grey(ing) braid” is a common way in Yiddish to refer to an “old maid” or spinster. Return
  8. Same double-meaning described in footnote 6 - he is reciting part of the Sukkos prayers but also praying that he survives the dangerous encounter. Return


The sheketz t'shoktzeu and the Bal-Shem-Tov

by Nathan Hadas, (Herzliyah, Israel)

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

Stepping into the shul's large study hall, right after one opens the door, one will notice a table set up on the Southeast side. No one knows exactly how long that table has been there or how old it is. Probably only the table itself knew the answer.

From time to time, we used to add a board or some molding to the wide side and the long side of the table's feet. But the table top itself was never touched - not a single hammer or nail had dented its surface. Generations of Jews had touched the table and its silk and atlas coverings until it shone, more than any polished table, enough so that one could really see one's own reflection on its surface. The coverings from year to year became thinner and thinner, until it appeared patchy like shmura matzah.[1]

At this table, only the most important members of the community would sit - the leaders of the town. In recent years, that honor belonged to the wealthy townsman Avrom Brand.

At this very table one hundred years ago, the minyan had decided that they would bring about the arrival of the messiah. They sat down during a fast and decided that they wouldn't get up until they heard the approaching footsteps of the messiah.

On a winter's night when the town's Jews had tucked themselves in and were toasty warm under their fluffy comforters, the minyan was still sitting at the table, hungry and thirsty, deeply immersed in their learning. Suddenly they heard the chiming of the clock. They exchanged glances, but none of them said a word. Their swiftly beating hearts wondered if perhaps that was a sign that their prayers had been answered.

The large, heavy door swung open, and standing at the threshold was none other than Rebbe Yisroel, the Bal Shem Tov. There was a sudden cry:

“Wait a second! Stop it! It's not time yet!”

“We, holy Rebbe, will not leave this table” was their answer.

The Bal Shem Tov could not break their stubbornness. He left with a loud knock on the door and with the following words: “Those who make predictions about when the messiah is coming shall be cursed.” And then he left.

It turns out that the Bal Shem Tov was right - it was not yet time for the messiah to come. The entire minyan passed away[2] in a single day, and they were buried together, one next to the other.

Still today one can find in the old cemetery ten headstones in the shape of the letter ches (ח). Doctor Yitzchak Shifer, Alter Katzizna, and other writers had searched for their grave. A few of them thought that they had died because the Bal Shem Tov had cursed them. The misnagdim (non-Hassidim) thought that they simply died from fasting.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Regular machine matzah has an even-looking surface, but hand-made shmura matzah usually have holes and burnt patches. Return
  2. The verb for passing away, borrowed from Hebrew (נסתלק - nistalek), is generally used for the passing of saintly or holy individuals. Return


The Grandfather of Trisk

by Yokhanan Tebriski, Tel Aviv

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

The tree tops spread out before me from my view on the second floor. Through the window of our apartment, one can see the yard below, or really several yards, some in the process of construction. In one small corner of the street one can see the study hall, where from the tops of its windows one can see the tips of birds-nests poking out. On the other side of the street there is a fence. The stakes of the wall create a kind of boundary between “the yard” and the rest of the town. The people are sandwiched in between. Just like the stars in the heavens revolve around the sun, the fate[1] of Trisk revolves around “the yard.” Every house in the town can be a guesthouse and every head of house prays three times a day.

“If only those who were against us would let us welcome them into our homes!”

On the dusty hole-ridden streets (only after complaining was a small portion of the road finally paved), people travel back and forth from near and far.

Everyone in sight was uprooted from their home. Now that Trisk no longer exists, I can still return and see it in my minds-eye, in my heart, and in my dreams seeped in old memories.

The town is a scattered flock of houses. There are two wells with heavy chains. The children wear large, long caps. The synagogue has a high fence that separates it from all of the houses. And there's the Shamesh, who announces on every shabbos the arrival of morning.

“Jews, if you're truly a holy people, get up and come serve the Creator!” Says the grandfather.

There were those who came to see Reb Yakov Levin via luxurious trains, on simple wooden carts, or who worked their way over along with the rumble of passing carriages. There were even Ukranian or Polish farmers who came to see “Mr. Rabbi” or “Sventi Rabbi” (the Holy Rabbi).

The Great Hall was always full. Here comes the Gabbai, who as usual is approaching with his siddur and flowered red handkerchief in hand. Gabbi's name is Iztikl. He is elderly and dark-complexioned with wide-shoulders, and he carries himself with an air of excessive importance.

Many years have passed since then, but I can still recall the “Grandfather's” words of Torah and how the “crowd” listened to his every word.

And here's what my relative, Aron Dovid Tebriski of Lublin (may his blood be avenged), used to say about the the last days of this illustrious ancestor [of the Hassidic Dynasty] of Chernobyl:

While coming to the city of Hrubieszow and the hotel room that had been prepared for them, he didn't want to receive notes from any person at that time. On the last night he stayed with one particular Rabbi, Yesochar of Dubinko (who passed away in Israel), and he had planned to spend the entire night conversing with him.

When the dawn came, he said to his honorable servant, Isroelky, that he wanted to visit the mikvah. They came upon two different paths on their way there, one that led directly to the mikvah, and one that led to the cemetery.[2] By accident they took the path to the cemetery and stopped when they saw the headstones. The Rabbi said to his servant:

“This leads to the holy Rebbe? This is the path to the cemetery!” Then they returned to the mikvah. They eventually went to immerse in its holy waters, where one could find the Rebbe making a slow entrance. Everyone at the mikvah saw that his head was slightly bent, and they were afraid to approach him, until suddenly a voice rang out:

“Oy, what's the matter? Why are none of you saying anything? The Holy Rebbe is standing there as if he didn't have any life left in him!” And shortly thereafter there was a lot of noise. By the time the doctors arrived, they said that “such a death is a rarity - it seems as though he didn't feel a thing.” And then the entire town began to weep.

It's hard to believe how much more pain and sorrow the children and children's children of this great man suffered at the moment of their deaths! I can still see the walls of the camp in Zorek. The faces of hundreds of Jews are being covered in stones as they raise their hands up in defense. One moment later you could hear the shots of the murderers being fired. And they were all shot dead.

Wounded and martyred, their blood spilled under what seems like a hollow Heaven. Among the millions of fallen Jews, graves upon the sacrificial altar, one could find my son, the Maggid of Trisk - and others in Zorek, Lublin, in Warsaw, and in Kovel. And among them my father as well.

Grandfather, grandfather, what became of your children?


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Both “stars” and “fate” in Hebrew/Yiddish are the same word, mazel, as in “mazel tov”. Return
  2. The cemetery here is literally (euphemistically) referred to as the Beit ha-Chaim, the House of Life. Return


[Columns 573-574]

In the Shtiebel of Trisk

by Eliyahu Gertl, Ramat Yohanan, Israel

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

Aside from the home where we were raised and the schoolhouse where we learned, the Shtiebel where we davened with our parents formed a great deal of our consciousness. There we made our first acquaintances and there we were drawn into our first tastes of learning, schmoozing, and discussion.

From the shtiebl we eventually parted onto different political paths. But the spark of holiness, seriousness, Chassidic enthusiasm and devotion, are also what carried me out of the Shtiebl.

I want to paint a picture here of daily life, interesting characters, and how we celebrated the holidays - exactly as I remember them, so that they can be retained in memory.

The Trisk Shtiebl was on Shul St., next to the Husyatiner and Tomashover Shtiebl and across from the Rebbitzen's study hall - a large wood house with a courtyard that was overgrown with grass.

I remember the yahrzeit of the Trisk magid (the second day of Tammuz), may he rest in peace. The young men who learned in the Shtiebel organized a commemoration party in his honor. In the middle of the Shtiebel they hung up a round plank and strung it with lights that they had placed in cartons engraved with the date of the magid's passing. They fixed the plank to the ceiling and let it spin the whole night, and us children stood spellbound for hours, not wanting to go home the entire night. Who invented such a device, I'm not sure, but all of the Hasidim were proud of the accomplishment.

Who doesn't remember the atmosphere of the high holidays, especially the nights when we said selichot.[1] Tall candles would be lit on the tables and in the sand on the floor. A large group of those coming to pray would be wearing their prayer shawls and a special white robe called a kitl. The young and the old wear socks, and on the ground a great deal of hay had been thrown. Us children were overcome with an overwhelming fear that gripped our hearts, “We have trespassed, we have betrayed…”[2] (whether or not the children had actually sinned, I'm not so sure).

The prayer leader stands before the reader's desk, like Rabbi Yirkhamiel Verbkavicher had once done, may he rest in peace. It even sounds like him! Up until the final song! Or maybe it's Rabbi Nakhmiya Berliner, one of the most moving prayer leaders in our town.

Everyone at this time seemed absorbed in the task of repentance and spiritual reckoning. Later when the struggle [occured] between those supporting greater engagement with Western culture and those who were against the influence of outsider books and ideas, Berliner was of the opinion that it was not a good idea to ban the youth from coming to the Shtiebl just in order to root out such influences.

Among the Trisk Hasidim there were all types of Jews: beautiful, well-learned, rich, and folksy characters.

I want to mention the spirit of joy that was ever present during our younger years.

I recall the joyful atmoshpere that pervaded the very air we breathed during Hannukah and Purim. Hannukah at the Shtiebl was a holiday for children. The Shamesh, Refoyl Leib, lit the Hannukah candles, and we used to shout with glee: “light them up! light them up!”

After that we went around to gather Hannukah gelt, sometimes even during a blizzard.

I remember the feelings of Purim. On the first day of the month of Adar, we painted on the walls a bottle with glasses and the phrase, “in Adar we celebrate with joy!” The painter was Manche Sakal, may his memory be a blessing.

After the third meal of shabbos, the Shtiebl was already mostly dark, and instead of davening Maariv, we used to wait for Teacher Traytl to come by with great impatience. And then we would start hoarsely singing:

In the time of Wicked Haman's reign there was grief and despair
And God above gave us the help and resources we needed to repair
So we sing, and we praise you - the sacrifice on the altar
We sing: Rose of Yakov - rejoice and be glad[3].
And damn Haman! Why? That he should be lost
. And that Zeresh[4] should be cursed along with her sisters.
And our mother Esther should be blessed!

On Purim after reading the Megillah, I remember how Treytl used to dress up as a doctor in Pince-nez glasses. He would go from store to store with a hearty:

“Good yontif!”[5] Children used to follow his every step. He would speak like a German and often would be accompanied by musicians, who would play along. Once he had finished, he would leave everyone a little card that said:

“Don't forget to daven Maariv.”[6]

It's now a lot harder to describe the mood from each holiday. So I'll just share a few snapshots that are crystallized in my memory.

This is the death of the Trisk Rebbe:

Each year during the anniversary of his death, Hasidim gather together from all over Poland. In the beginning, his four sons celebrated together and organized the gatherings around the table.

I recall one Friday evening in the Shtiebl. The lightning lamps were burning in full splendor. Everywhere was lit, and heads were leaning against other heads, people were standing on benches, on tables. It was very tight in there. After saying Kiddush and dividing up the leftovers[7], the Gabbai climbs up on the table to say:

“Leybl!” Then it becomes quiet and Leybl puts his hands to his ear and starts to sing: menucha v'simcha[8]. Young and old listen intently, as if they were hearing a prayer.

There were other master singers who sang by the Rebbe's table after hearing a Word of Torah. Those who loved songs and melodies had been waiting around for just this moment.

The Rebbe would often stay through Shavuos. The first day of yontif we sang and danced all around the Shtiebel. Later when I read Yitzchak Lamdan's poem “Masada”, I had the sense and understood that everyone had waited for these days for the entire year. It brought joy to the gray monotonous weekdays. A long time after the anniversary of his death, we still practiced and learned new nigunim [melodies].

I would also like to acknowledge the singing group of the Trisk Shtiebel. It seems that no one really put the band together, but rather the group created itself. It managed to combine those that were skilled in remembering and singing melodies, the great scholars, folksy types, Maskilim[9], and a youth group.

On the holidays, when everyone had finally rested up and slept in full, all of the singers used to gather in the small alcove in the Shtiebel. We would then sing all of the Hasidic melodies that we used to hear on the Rebbe's yahrzeit. We would start out singing softly, as if in a trance. The crowd would start out small and then slowly more people would join and the singing would become louder. The lights were dim. In the Shtiebel the lanterns were burning, a few people would be studying Mishna, some would just be schmoozing, but in the alcove the young men and the old Hasidim were singing louder and louder. Between one song and the next we sang a poem by Yakov Roiter, may he rest in peace, that went: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?” We would sing with great pathos and emotion, and then Avrom Eli, may he rest in peace, would sing:

Going home, home, my brothers, home,
From our own toil, can one find Eden
Pawn off your last shirt
Whatever you can
Let us leave this foreign land

[Columns 575-576]

These songs later became etched in our minds and had a greater effect of spreading the idea of returning to Zion than a thousand speeches. Among others, we hear the singing of Avrom Yesochor, may he rest in peace, he sings the prayers of Nisi Belzer.

Avrom Yesochor, or Avrom the Painter's son, had a well-developed voice even at a young age. His father brought him to Berdichev, and there he became an apprentice to the famous Chazzan, Nisi Belzer. He learned how to sing professionally and had a great deal of success. Once he lost his voice, he came back home. Here, in the Trisk Shtiebel, we used to hear his Chazzonic melodies sung from sheet music, and that was very surprising to us. We used to copy his moving notes, which were often performed either with a chorus or solo. We would often as a group copy the melodies and sing them later. He helped us organize our own youth chorus. He ended up writing down several Hasidic nigunim for YIVO.[10]

I had previously mentioned Avrom Eli Badchen (or as we called him, Avrom Eli the Lame). He was a popular character who everyone and their mother knew. He was always lively and fun - I can just see him now before my very eyes. He was short, with a trim reddish beard and fiery eyes. He had a particularly unique voice with a lyrical tone to it. For many years he was the town's badchen[11]. It's true that in his time there were other Badchens in town, such as Simchele and Dovidel Smerls, may their memory be a blessing. But Avrom Eli remains firmly etched in my memory, more so than the others. It could just be that from childhood onwards I was much closer to him. He himself had a very difficult childhood. His father, Refoyl Leyb, was the Shamesh from the Shtiebl, and he wasn't always able to provide for his education. But thanks to his strong will and high level of energy, through his own efforts he was able to become one of the most popular badchens around.

Matia Baruch, the caretaker of the Shtiebl, who was good-looking and loved to sing, was also in our musical group. Yekhiel the Packer, may his memory be a blessing, was also blessed with a natural musical sensibility. He worked for the entire week at the mill, but he also sold boots at the local fair. Whenever it was shabbos or yontif, his mundane daily worries would melt away and he would find his second soul[12] in song.

The same was the case for my father Moshe, may he rest in peace. He was always deeply immersed in his work as a trader, but on the weekends he would participate in the singing group with great pleasure, such that he would often invite the entire group to our house to sing every Hasidic melody that we knew.

I also want to mention sukkos at Yitzchak Neimark's house, may he rest in peace. We used to come to his place for kiddush, and over a flask of beer we would tell stories about the Rebbe. I have definitely left out several of those who participated in the group - may others remember and honor those who I have failed to mention here.

Regarding the Trisk Shtiebel, I also remember the founding of “Tzeiri Mizrakhi.”[13] When we were learning together in the Shitebel, some of the men had acquired brochures that were designed to inspire them to return to the Holy Land. We never read them out in the open though.

Being that we were still religious and traditional, we started to catch wind of secular ideas from the outside world. Yoshua Lerer, may he rest in peace, or as we called him, Yosha Isaacs, was one of the founders of our local Zionist organization. My friends still recall the fire that he brought to his speeches about the land of Zion. I still recall the little brochure, shortly after the Balfour Declaration: “Jews, why do you stay silent?” We persistently read through these works, still being good Hasidic boys with Jewish hats.

Stealthily tucked into our coats, we began to carry books and journals. With great enthusiasm, we dedicated ourselves to the work of the Jewish National Fund. We were lucky that among us there were several Jews from well-respected families, for example Ben-Zion Eyelboym, may his memory be a blessing.

From my youth I remember Mancha Sokal, may his memory be a blessing. Our first gathering was held on Tu B'Shevat.[14] Macha and Lerer provided the keynote addresses. Their speeches were peppered with references to the Bible, the Talmud, and Rabbinic literature. We sang thematically appropriate songs with the same reverence that we had sung the Hasidic melodies.

We ended up renting an apartment on the top floor of Beyle Nechi's tenement house. Below, on the second floor, we kept our Zionist literature hidden. We used to go there and read Ha-Tsfira[15], and there on several occasions we heard Boni Yanaver, Shuchman, and Brand on Zionist issues.

The spirit of the Haskalah[16] had started to permeate the social circles of the Shtiebel. The older generation was very unhappy regarding this development.

We used to get together on shabbos after lunch and discuss political and social issues. Yoshua used to teach us Zionist songs, and then we would eventually come to the Shtiebel and continue our conversations.

In time we were visited by Rabbi Zlatnik from Mizrachi.[17] He spoke in the synagogue and made everyone who heard him excited about the cause. For us, a rabbi speaking about Zionism in a shul, and not one that spoke in a style that was anti-Hasidic (Misnaged), was something entirely new. Later Rabbi Rappaport came to visit, and he also left a very strong impression on us.

I have now recorded everything that the Trisk Shtiebel gave to us, starting from our childhood until we got involved in Zionist youth movements.

After we had left the Old Country, we eventually settled in Israel as pioneers. But in our memories we will always cherish the impressions left on us by the environment where we made our very first steps.

Homeward Bound!*

Homeward, brothers, homeward bound,
after almost two thousand years
of incessant wandering.
A set table is waiting for you,
don't let your longing consume you,
come home, brothers, come on home.

Home, home, brothers, home,
our own kingdom - a paradise on Earth.
Go pawn off your last shirt,
as long as it means you can finally be free
to go home, my brothers, home.

With drums and with trumpets
we will lead you on
homeward, my brothers, home.

*Sung by Avrom Eli Badchen


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Special liturgical poems said in the days leading up to the High Holy days. Return
  2. The beginning of one of the central Yom Kippur prayers (Vidui/Ashamnu) where one beats one's chest and takes on collective responsibility for the sins of the past year. Return
  3. Reference to part of Song of Songs from Tanakh, Shoshanas Yakov is associated with and often read on Purim. Return
  4. Haman's wife Return
  5. Literally “Good Holiday”, A common greeting similar to the modern “Happy Holiday”. Return
  6. Maariv is the daily evening prayer service. Return
  7. In traditional Hasidic culture the receiving of the Rebbe's leftovers, or food that he himself has touched and/or divided up, is a great honor. Return
  8. Literally “Contentment and gladness…” from a traditional Shabbat song. Return
  9. The Maskilim Movement sought to modernize Judaism through adoption of aspects of European culture. Return
  10. Acronym for the Yiddish Scientific Institute, now based in New York, that preserves, studies and teaches Jewish culture from Eastern Europe. Return
  11. Professional entertainer, usually hired for weddings or other large gatherings Return
  12. Tradition has it that during shabbos one acquires an extra soul that leaves again after the day is over. Return
  13. Tzeiri Mizrakhi was religious Zionist organization founded in Vilnius in 1902. Return
  14. Literally the 15th day of the Hebrew month Shevat, a minor Jewish holiday akin to “Arbor Day” often refered to as ‘the new year of the trees’. Return
  15. An important Hebrew-language periodical in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Return
  16. Jewish Enlightenment Movement which advocated study of secular subjects and other modern cultural adaptations. Return
  17. Tzeiri Mizrakhi, the religious Zionist organization. Return


[Columns 577-578]

The Third Shabbas Meal (Shalosh-Seudos)[1]
in the Trisk Shtiebel

by Natan Hadas, Herzliya, Israel

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

The frosty sun lazily slipped into the horizon. Dusk was already falling.

Noson Chayim Munishes closed the Talmud. It had already become difficult to wrangle with the text at such proximity. Suddenly he got up and went to podium, and without asking anyone, knocked on its surface and shouted, “Ashrei Yoshvei beisecha!”[2]

Everyone in the Shtiebel started to rub their sleeves on the frozen window panes[3] and then repeated after him, “Ashrei yoshvei beisecha.”

Suddenly everyone stood frozen in place, as if this had already been planned beforehand. They were barely finished with the Amidah when they heard the prayer leader's hoarse voice say, “atoh ekhod, veshma ekhod, v'mi k'mokha Yirsorel goy ekhod b'aretz.”

At that moment we were already to the “Aleinu” prayer and some were already almost finished.[4] Those who felt that the Carp head was already waiting for them at home on the table waited impatiently for the rest to finish, and those who were planning on staying winked at those who couldn't even wait around for the end of the Kaddish prayer. Barely giving the mezuza a proper kiss on the way out, they were already out the door and hurrying home as if their houses were on fire.

After everyone had finally had their fill of the third shabbos meal, bit by bit those who had left started trickling back into the Shtiebel to hear Motte Borekh the Synagogue Keeper, Avremele the Public Relations Chair[5], and Yekhiel the Packer's melodies and to sing along with them.

Some of the Jews ended up staying in the Shtiebel for the third celebratory meal of shabbos (shalosh-seudas). These were mainly the Jews who lived the farthest away and were satisfied with a light meal, sufficient to satisfy the mitzvah of eating a third meal. The carp head only winked at them in their dreams. The few Jews [still] left over approach the barrel of water that stands by the door, and with the gray copper two-handled cup, they wash their hands as if the table had been set with a feast for kings.

On the table was a speckled braided loaf that the Shamesh had prepared in advance for the meal. Before Mincha he had brought it from Motel Ekshtein, a baker from the Trisk Shtiebel, who was responsible for bringing the loaves every shabbos, and that he wouldn't give up baking for the Shtiebel for all the riches in the world. On a plate on the table lay pieces of jellied fish that the Shamesh had brought from Yosele Naradner, the fish seller.

After the Jews present had had an olive-side sample[6] of everything that was on the table, one of the musical experts present put his right hand on his ear and with his elbow resting on his left hand, would start to sing a niggun.

The melodies (niggunim) were handed down from generation to generation and every shabbos is when they were transmitted. Through all the years they never lost their beauty.

Once Motte Borekh brought back with him from the market, in addition to leftover pickled salads that he had bought from the farmers, a new niggun. From the shtetls that surround the markets, Jews used to meet up, and some of them had a weakness for exchanging a rumor or a niggun. They knew each other already, and as soon as one would greet a second, he would ask, “So do you have any news to share - something fresh?”

And before the market had gotten into full swing, one would share with another some of the melodies they knew, leaving their wives and children to run their “stalls” of goods. When someone brought leather hides from Zhelikhov, he never forgot to bring a niggun as well, because the fair wasn't just the source to sell and purchase leather, it was a place for swapping melodies.

Upon returning, from Mincha until Ma'ariv in the Shtiebel, the ones who had returned from the fair would gather in the little alcove and share with their sworn helpers the melodies they had learned in honor of the third meal of shabbos.

At the shalosh-seudos (third meal), everyone would sing, especially those who had a good voice or musical intuition. Those who were the most musically inclined would sing one stanza and then rely on the surrounding helpers to repeat the melody.

There were those who seemed to simply gargle and those who sang in a highly polished and ornamental style. When it seemed like someone was falling behind and not ending in the same place as the others, the niggun would stop in its tracks like a bone that had been caught in one's throat, and at the end when everyone had already finished, silence would reign over the Shtiebel, and only then would the end of the niggun be belted out, like on Rosh Hashana when one hears a shofar blow that suddenly cuts off and then starts again a few seconds later at full force. Then that person who had fallen behind became ashamed and did not move from his chair.

Among the young male participants of the Shtiebel who helped with the singing there was a kind of silent competition. There was always someone who wanted to “outsing” the other and prove to everyone that his voice was the most beautiful.

A few of the those attending the Shtiebel saw such competitiveness as a kind of arrogance and decided not to participate. Among them were also very shy men who had a bit of stage fright and never opened their mouths as a result.

Eventually darkness would set into the Shtiebel and would creep into every cover, from the ark to the Eastern wall, and when the cool evening fell, to the Western wall as well.

And then one could feel the finally parting rustle of the (shabbos) second soul's wings. A gripping feeling of loss would come over me then. Sadness and melancholy would take over as I watched the holiness of the day fade away. The beauty of creation that exists only thanks to God's holy sabbath crumbles around us; it's like a beautiful palace, that having just been finished, has to be torn down moments later with one's own bare hands.

I would have the same sadness overwhelm me when we would take down the sukkah or pack up the Pesach dishes in the trunk after the holiday was over.

And with that melancholy hanging over us we sing the last niggun.

The angels of destruction are already lugging the huge oak trunks that they will use to feed the fires of hell and to drive once more the wicked into the glowing-hot furnace. And who are among the wicked? The Jews, the children of Israel. It makes one want to run to the niggun masters and shout:

Don't stop the niggun! Don't let the fires of hell burn again - let it always be shabbos!

From the heavy darkness at the shalosh-seudes table, one can hear the voices: “Compassionate is the God who has bequeathed to us a day for all to rest and rejuvenate for all eternity!”[7]


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The third meal traditionally eaten on Shabbas. Return
  2. One of the opening lines of the daily prayers, that someone leading the prayers could expect participants to chant back (as they do here). Return
  3. Likely to see what time it was - whether it was really time for mincha based on how low the sun was in the sky. Return
  4. It literally says until they were to the part where you spit - there is a place in the Aleinu prayer where some Hasidic Jews would spit, in the section that describes non-Jews praying to foreign gods (and it may also be due to a pun where one of the words sounds like the word for “spit”). Return
  5. The one who was in charge of handling official government business with non-Jews. Return
  6. Precise meaning uncertain. It most likely refers to a small sample-size portion. Return
  7. A line (in Hebrew) from a shabbos-themed song Return


[Columns 579-580]

The Passing of the Trisk Rebbe

by Natan Hadas, Herzliya, Israel

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

In the First World War, entire regions with a significant Jewish population became emptied, because Jews had to flee East towards Russia and away from the front. Among these Jews was the Trisk Rebbe, may his memory be a blessing.

Those Trisk Hasidim that were left behind were like sheep without a shepherd and started to feel like they were in need of the Rebbe. Aside from worrying about how they were going to make a living, they had other problems as well. There was not a single home that didn't have a relative at war with no news from him. Every once in awhile one could get a letter via the Red Cross, but this was a rare event.

Jews everywhere were heavy with worry and sadness, and no one could comfort them. A few from the Hasidim who couldn't resist the temptation left their fold and went to the Belz Rebbe, leaving just a small note to try and redeem himself. The Trisk Hasidim could foresee that if things continued at this rate then there wouldn't, God forbid, even be one male child left to take over the Trisk dynasty. It appears as though Heaven did not allow that to happen.

On a beautiful day during the counting of the Omer[1], the local Jews were standing around the stores half-hungry and looking desperately around for a customer. Suddenly a rumor started spreading that the Trisk Rebbe had managed to pass over the border of the Bug River and was approaching the town. The Hasidim didn't discuss the matter long before sending a messenger to verify whether or not it was true. Before the messenger had returned, they arranged to line the streets of the shtetl with people who would greet the Rebbe upon his arrival.

Yidl Gruber was the first to set out from the shtetl. In his wagon were the following Hasidim: Yitzchakl Neimark, Moyshe Pinchas, Yoshua Waldman, Hoshe Milshtein, and Yakov Kashamacher. Chaim Efraim followed them in his cart with Berish Kavkes, Moyshe Pipke (Gertel), Shmuel Krilaver (Bitterman), Dan Sheinberg, Meytchele Fo, and Yechiel Brader with his son.

After them came Hersh Leib Treyger and his sons. Each one of them drove a four-wheeled cart where the following sat behind them: Yechiel Epstein, Motel Soyfer, Yenkele the town representative, Nokhemche Shtilkremer, Moyshe Eckstein, Motiye Waldman, Simchele Volkovnik, Meychele Grinboym, and Lipe Mies.

Behind them rode Itchke Peltz with the “forefathers.” One son was named Avrom, his name was Yitzchak, and the second son was Yakov, which is why we called them the forefathers. Each one of them drove a different pair of horses and passengers: Motiye Borekh Shtivlkremer, Avremele Yeshocher, Yechiel Packer, Nossen Chaim Manishe. There were also among the group some Tamoshover Hasidim who had become orphaned by their Rebbe and had become a part of the Trisk Hasidim.

When everyone had already sat down in the wagons and made a “l'chaim”[2], they set off with a happy-sounding nigun. At Paheria, Nokhemche Shtilkremer climbed down from the wagon to order from the local peasants several more wagons with hay. He packed in as many Hasidim in them as he could.

Later some of the groups would try to cut off the other's wagon so that theirs would be first. Those that were on the high side of the road would cut to the lower end and those who were coming up from underneath would rise up to the other side. The first would become the last to make it a bit more fun. In Lateshnis, in a little forest, they waited for the ones in the back to catch up and then the ones in the back would be in the front again according to the original order.

Soon they saw a cloud of dust approaching. There coming toward them was the Trisk Rebbe and his Hasidim from Astila. Those from Hrubieszow leapt down from their wagons and encircled the Rebbe's wagon, extending their hands to greet the Rebbe. With the greatest reverence they helped the Trisk Rebbe over to the wagons from Hrubieszow. The Hasidim from Astila said good-bye to the Rebbe, feeling confident that they were leaving him in safe hands.

After the Trisk Rebbe went over to the hands of the Hasidim of Hrubieszow, as gentle as one would have passed a Torah scroll from one hand to to the next, everyone was making a toast (l'chaim) for the Rebbe and for the Jewish people. The Rebbe then said a few words of Torah.

After the wagon drivers tapped the horses to set them on their way, everyone climbed onto the wagons singing and hurried back to town. At the Krilaver Bridge all of the Hasidim came down from their wagons and made two perpendicular rows with the Rebbe in the middle, singing and dancing until they reached Yoshua Waldman's house. The Rebbe stayed at his place because it was close to the mikvah. In honor of the Rebbe and in honor of shabbos, Maties Beder had prepared a hot bath (mikvah) for everyone to warm themselves in. Lipe Manye, a hot-blooded Jew who always thought the mikvah was too cold, confessed to everyone that in his eyes, this mikvah was the best that's ever made.

On Friday the Rebbe, his two Gabbais, and a group of Hasidim went to the mikvah. The Rebbe went himself down into the mikvah while the Gabbais and the Hasidim waited on the side. After he'd already immersed himself a second time, he held his head longer under the water than he usually did. At first there were air bubbles on the water, but later they stopped and Hasidim started to wonder:

“Such a long time under the water? A miracle, a miracle!” Those Hasidim of little faith were starting to grumble, but the rest of the Hasidim had seen a wonder of wonders.

As everyone stood around in wonder, someone came in who everyone considered a complete heretic. He used to trim his small beard a bit around the edges and he wore a white, pressed collar around his neck. When he saw what was happening, he didn't hesitate or ask anyone, and he jumped right into the water. When others saw him in action, they too started running towards the water. Once the Rebbe had been removed from the water, it was already too late.

“His soul has departed in purity, may his merit protect us!”

Black clouds swam around the shtetl that Friday. A windstorm ripped shingles from the roofs and swept through the streets, spreading columns of paper and dust, which whirled around the streets, frightening small children. The entire shtetl had sunk into a deep sadness. Jews walked around pulling at their hands and thinking, what if they bore some responsibility for what happened? Especially those who had been there at the mikvah.

The Jews of Hrubieszow had not experienced such sadness since the Friday that the First World War broke out.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. In Jewish tradition the 49 days between the second night of Passover and Shavout are counted. Return
  2. Literally “To Life”, often said after a blessing over wine or on other sweet occasions. Return


[Columns 581-582]

The Katzker Hasidim

by Yechiel Gertner, New York

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

 

Yechiel Gertner

 

In the Katzker Shtiebl of Hrubieszow there were the Hasidim who were described with the following words: “Torah and Trade in Polished Boots.” Here the scholars, diplomats, Intelligentsia, wealthy businessmen and Zionists davened together. On shabbos and yontif[1] we used to daven around 11am in the morning. If someone for some reason came on shabbos late to davening [praying], he would come to the Katzker Shtiebl, and there he would be received with open arms.

Here he would be honored with an aliyah to the Torah[2] and after davening would be offered a respectable Kiddush of liquor and honey cake[3]. Every shabbos after davening we would organize a kiddish where someone in the group would give a few words of Torah and everyone would sing Hasidic nigunim. The kiddish would usually end about two o'clock.

In the winter months we used to learn together in the Kotzker Shtiebel every evening from sunset until 8pm. The most learned men studied the Talmud, while others studied Midrash or Ein Yakov.[4]

Kotzker Hasidim in Hrubieszow used to travel to the Pulaver Rebbe, Chaim Yisroel Morgenshtern, may his memory be a blessing, who was himself a grandson of the old Kotzker Rebbe, Reb Mendele.

The Pulaver used to send every year to Hrubieszow two of his most trustworthy followers to raise money for his Hasidim: the Meshamesh[5], Aaron Slavaticher and the Chazan, Yenkele from Dubienka. Aaron Slavaticher used to stay at Avrom Yosef Katzhandl's. Kotzker Hasidim used to come every evening to Avrom Yosef's to tell Hasidim stories. On shabbos after lunch we used to organize a shalosh-seudos that would last until the wee hours of the night.

Yenkele did not agree to stay in someone's private quarters and thus used to spend the night at the shtiebel, where he used to practice repeating the Hasidic nigunim.

One Kotzker Hasid, Moyshe Dovid Kobriner, was a poultry butcher. The Kotzker Hasidim however wanted him also to butcher larger animals, but the other butchers did not agree to it.

Two Kotzker Hasidim, Berl Spiro and Yitzchak Zucker used to borrow a certain amount of money to buy a couple of calves so that the Kotzker butcher would slaughter them and the Pulaver Rebbe would declare that the slaughter had been kosher. Kotzker Hasidim would eat the meat and Berl Spiro would write out a Torah scroll. When he finished the Torah scroll, the head of the party, Berl, would organize a large feast and invite the most important members of the town. At the feast they would eat the meat that Moyshe Dovid had slaughtered, and through this exchange, the other butchers in town would not complain.

On the twelfth of Sivan the Pulaver Rebbe, Chaim Yisroel [died], may his memory be a blessing. The Kotzker Hasidim rode to Pulav to the funeral and stayed there over shabbos. The departed Rebbe left behind four sons, Hershele the Lukaver Rebbe, Yitzchak Zelig, the Sokolover Rebbe, and Moyshe and Yosele, who were both in Warsaw. The older Hasidim went over to Reb Moyshele in Warsaw. The younger Hasidim ended up following the Sokolover Rebbe, who in addition to his profound knowledge of Jewish texts, was also well versed in the scientific literature of the day. He would even write prescriptions for the sink [to be made at home], and the pharmacies used to give out the very medicine that he'd recommended.

After Poland emerged as an independent country, the Sokolover Rebbe and the Ger Rebbe, Avrom Mordechai Alter, visited the Land of Israel. Unfortunately the very secular behavior of the youth in Israel did not make a very good impression on them. This fact became known by the Ger and Kotzker Hasidim and as a result many of them ultimately decided not to make Aliyah and thus perished in the Holocaust.

My grandfather, Yosef Aaron Gertner, may his memory be a blessing, used to recite Psalms on Hoshana Rabbah[6] and then would invite the entire crowd at the Shtiebel to his sukkah. There they would gather to learn, make L'Chaims, and eat honey cake until the day started breaking. At that point we would all go and immerse ourselves in the mikvah and then go back to the Shtiebel for the morning prayers.

My grandfather used to donate all the profits made before 10am at his shop for a charity fund providing for those in need. When he used to serve as Mohel[7] at a bris for the poor, he used to bring a certain amount of money as an anonymous donation.

Doctor Pinsker, the city doctor, used to come and daven in the Kotzker Shtiebel on Yom Kippur and Simchas Torah. On Yom Kippur we used to honor him [by allowing him to read] the Haftorah of Jonah. Doctor Pinsker used to read the Haftarah[8] with great clarity and precision, and at the end he would say in Russian “Eto harasho” (that was good).

The flames of World War I die down. Hrubieszow becomes occupied and evacuated. The Kotzker Hasid, Shmuel Zeinwell Katzhandel, who lived in one of the neighboring villages, used to come to Hrubieszow with his family and settle himself into the Kotzker Shtiebel.

The war eventually ends. Poland becomes independent and the Jewish population starts to recover. The houses of study and Shtiebels start to run prayer services again and [so does] the Kotzker Shtiebel as a result of Shmuel Zeinwell Katzhandel's efforts, and Kotzker Hasidim go daven in the small study hall and even run a second minyan there every shabbos. After the regular shul-goers ended their davening, the Kotzker Shtiebel's davening finally began.

This went on for a couple of years. Suddenly a conflict broke out between the Gabbai from the small study house and the Kotzker Hasidim. As a result the Hasidim left the study house to daven in the larger shul. They set up a small wooden wall across from the Belz Shtiebel and would daven there. During the winter they would daven in the woman's shul known as the Ma'ariv Shul.

The day before Yom Kippur at 2pm the Kotzker Hasidim would sit in the place where they usually pray in the women's shul and make l'chaims [drink]. The Husiatiner Hasid, Mechl Geyerman, came inside and said that the Kotzker Shtiebl was leaving on the last train and thus he was coming to join them. We honored his presence with some alcohol. Mechl Geyerman said:

“L'chaim fellow Jews!” We respond to his toast and wish him “gmar hasima tova.”[9] And Mechl Geyerman really did take the final train - he died that very year.

May my humble record here serve as a living memory for all the honorable and beloved Jews whose precious names I recall.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The Jewish Sabbath and Holidays. Return
  2. Offered the honor of being called to read from the Torah. Return
  3. Kiddush (name of the blessing over wine) is also the name of the snack or light meal offered after the morning prayer services on shabbat. Return
  4. A compilation of narrative highlights from the Talmud - one that was especially valued by those who were unable to study the Talmud itself (which is not an easily accessible text for lay people, since it requires a working knowledge of Aramaic and a great deal of prior study to understand). Return
  5. A person who has special status and thus often a closer relationship with the Rebbe Return
  6. The seventh day of the holiday of Sukkot. Return
  7. The Mohel preforms the circumcision at the bris ceremony for eight day old male Jewish children. Return
  8. Haftarah refers to books of the Prophets read in conjunction with the Torah at prayer services. Return
  9. This is the traditional wish given to another Jew (a good signing and sealing) in the days before and on Yom Kippur. Return


[Columns 583-584]

The Haunting of Shloyme Regel

by Natan Hadas, Herzliya, Israel

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

It happened during the winter. The river was entirely frozen up to the banks. The ice was too thick even to drill a hole through it. Not a single bird flew by then.

Shloyme Gertl's house stood on one side of the river. On the same side was also the slaughterhouse, onto which a notice had been hung by the community that read: “for the slaughtering of poultry.” Thus we knew that there we could slaughter winged creatures. There we could also see the unfortunate birds who had not yet been slaughtered and danced around with bound feet and housewives chasing after them. The wind used to whip up the feathers there so that it looked like an eternal snow was falling, both during summer and winter.

On the other side of the river with the street that led to the non-Jewish part of town, there was a large orchard that spread all the way from the Zamashcher Bridge to the Krilover Bridge. Deep in the orchard tucked away among the trees was a large wooden house where the town's wealthiest man lived, Shloyme Regel.

Once on a frosty night we heard a knocking at the wall that was closest to the river, as if someone were throwing stones at it. Everything that had been hung on that wall had fallen to the ground.

The residents came out to the street and didn't see any living creature. A bit of time passed and then the same knocking continued, but no birds were in sight.

The night passed with the continued knocking but no one came to look out of fear. In the morning, the honorable Shloyme Regel himself went to the Police to report what had happened. The night guard, Palita, came up in the evening along with a member of the militia, Karason, carrying his gun and sword, and from his large, red nose one could tell that he was a man who enjoyed his liquor. So of course we quickly welcome them by making a toast. The guard told the militiaman that he should capture the demon[1] dead or alive and then went home to go to bed.

Karason went out to search the orchard in order to carry out the night guard's orders, but he returned to the house empty-handed, after which he started to open the bottle of alcohol that had been left for him. Before he could unscrew the cap, he already heard the demons knocking away. He looked around him and searched all over but he couldn't find any signs of a single living soul. He came back inside completely terrified and started drinking to chase his fears away. He hadn't managed even to warm himself up before the knocking commenced once more, but this time he didn't move until he'd already fallen into a deep sleep.

When the local residents woke him up, he still didn't want to move from where he'd fallen asleep, because he said the “devil” wouldn't catch him then, but eventually he went away.

Everyone in the shtetl found out about what had happened. Hasidim and ordinary Jews who don't usually get scared by such tales and know what one ought to do, nevertheless did not come out at night. To resolve the issue, first, all the mezuzas in the house were checked to make sure that they were kosher. Afterwards, members of the town sat down to study the Mishna. Some recited psalms, but that did not help either.

When day broke, we went around the house and found footprints of chicken feet, which was a sign that we were dealing with demons [sheydim].

One night, Shaul Eisen came with his hunting rifle. He was a great heretic and didn't believe a word of the story. When he sat for awhile in the house, the knocking started. He went out and started shooting with his gun, and then everything became quiet. When he returned to the house, the knocking started up again.

When he went out again he heard a voice that warned him, calling him by his name, that he'd better go home and mind his own business. He obeyed and did not return. A servant girl at the time worked for Shloyme Regel. Whoever looked at her, was immediately entranced by her. Suddenly he received a letter that read as soon as he would set the girl free, the witch, the demons would stop knocking at the wall. Feeling as though he had no choice, he let her go, and after that, no more knocking could be heard on the walls, and Hasidim could finally stop studying the Mishna there.

 

Who cuts off the tongue of a shoe?

Moshe Shoemaker left his thread and awl in the boot legs, threw down his dirty apron, and arrived at the shul to daven Mincha and Maariv[2]. Right next to the door there was a wooden barrel with water that Fantele the water carrier used to fill every week the day before shabbos and would do the task without receiving any monetary compensation, not a penny. A round-shaped towel was hanging next to the barrel. It seemed like some sort of transmission process was at play directing the water from the barrel directly to the towel. Everyone who wanted to dry their hands would give a slight pull on the towel until the wet part came down, such that the towel was always wet. Regardless, the shul members would continue to wipe their wet hands on the towel – “something is better than nothing,” they would say.

Moshe Shoemaker wiped his wet hands and sat down next to the hot stove.

“It's so cold - who can stand this weather?” He said to himself alone. After him, Veve the porter entered, along with Shiye Kugel the tailor, who also sat down next to the stove.

“All summer my wood dried out,” Moshe told those around him, “But when I get to lighting the fire for the stove, the room starts to fill with smoke, as if I had just brought it in fresh from the birchwood forest. The stork has already migrated South for the winter, and thus her nest is no longer resting on the chimney - where does the smoke come from then?

“Moyshe, Moyshe,” Veve the Porter calls out, “Who cut off all of the tongues from your shoes and boots the day before Yom Kippur? Who braids the horses' hair in their stalls at night? Have you heard? Leib with the lame foot was up all night next to the Krilover Bridge with a full chest of goods to sell and the horses didn't budge until the roosters started to crow - then they started crossing as if nothing had happned.

Nukhemche the boot seller's father and one of Yenkl Tandetnik's brothers were traveling home from the Ludmir fair. While going over the Bug River with his carriage, it became dark, and he traveled all night long. Just in the morning they made it to the same spot on the bridge.

Eli Dembchik said that he was riding through the Chelm Forest with a great deal of timber. Suddenly a blizzard broke out, and he couldn't see more than a few feet in front of him. The

[Columns 585-586]

horses halted and refused to budge. He looks behind him and sees the one and only Hilke Kafusto sitting on the wagon behind him. Hilke used to bring him wood from the forest, and has already been dead for over a year. If you think that maybe he was mistaken and saw someone else instead, keep in mind that it was the night of a full moon and that Eli was no coward - he isn't afraid of such things.

Regarding what happened to Moshe the Shoemaker, I will tell you myself. It was the day before Yom Kippur. When Moshe's wife brought the chicken back home from the butcher, she cut off their nails, removed their beaks, poked out their eyes, and slit their stomach. In one of the chickens she found two gizzards, in the second she found no gizzard at all, and in the third she found one gizzard and a piece of glass, with which Moshe used to smooth the edges of his roller.[3] Moshe himself, of his own volition, decided to go to the local Rabbi to ask his opinion.

“Two of the chickens are kosher.” The halachic authority Rabbi Moshele determined. “Only that one, in which you found the piece of glass, is treyf.” Moshe coolly received the ruling.

Regarding who could play such a trick, he knew who was really at fault: he whose name you don't say out loud at night.

On the day before Pesach, he was sleepy and exhausted due to all the work that one has to finish to prepare for the holiday. When he was tapping on the wooden posts that held a pillow in place that had been stuffed to fill a broken window, he felt that it was slowly slipping outside. Suddenly out of a hole in the window, a large tongue, as long as the length of time the Jews have spent in the Diaspora, stuck out into the house. Moshe didn't stop and think - he just grabbed his shoemaker's blade and with all of his strength, slashed the tongue.

“That's for the chickens!” He said, and then he fell immediately asleep. The next morning, he noticed that all the tongues of his shoes had been cut off.

 

Who suffocated Hershke Kashemacher's grandchild?

Here Shiya Kugel tells a new story from Dovid Volkovnik. The story goes like this:

On the day before Hashana Raba, at two in the morning, he was coming home from work. When he was passing the Machever teacher's house, he heard a small child crying. He looks right and looks left, but he doesn't see anything!

Dovid Volkovnik was not a boy who was easily frightened, he was a strapping young lad who had served the Tsar's family in Petersburg. He swiftly lifted up his coattails and started treading into thick mud. When he came to the valley which leads to the river, there he saw some sort of creature.

“Who is that?” He didn't get an answer, so then he asked, “kto tam?”[4] Then he got an answer:

“I'm carrying a child!” And then he saw clearly that at the base of the mountain there was a witch with long hair, all the way to her feet, who was carrying a baby that had just been born. He knew what this meant and thus ran away as fast as he could.

When he came home, he fainted, but he didn't tell anyone what he'd seen, because he didn't want to scare anyone in his family. The next morning, it was discovered that Hershke Kashemacher's daughter, who had recently given birth, found her baby had been smothered. This was in spite of the fact that they'd hung up psalms on the door and window to ward off evil. When Dovid Volkovnik told the story about what had happened to him the night before in the Shtiebel during one of the prayer times, the Jews present understood who it was that had smothered the child of Hershke Kashemacher's daughter.

That's how we told stories next to the stove, one would follow one story with another until by the time we ended, we had to all encourage one another to leave the Shtiebel and walk the streets home without being afraid, now that they had all turned white as sheets out of fear.

And to avoid being entered by a dead soul who is passing by the shul that wants to be honored with an “aliyah”, the person should walk quickly inside with the tallis covering his head, as to avoid looking others in the eye during the blessing. He should also after that enter backwards, meaning with his face towards the east, which will help ensure that no evil will befall him.

 

Todrisl's Miracle

Now I'm going to tell the last story. Hundreds of years ago there lived a Rebbe in the shtetl by the name of Tavdoros. With great affection we would call him “Reb Todrisl.” We had never really experienced any miracles in his presence. There was also, though we shouldn't God forbid compare the two, a priest, and where there is a priest, there is a church. The priest was a supremely evil man and a great anti-semite, like all priests. The church stood in the same place where the Jews would bring their dead to the cemetery, not far from the church square, where today there is a Russian Orthodox church. When Jews used to walk by during a funeral, the priest used to ask that the large brass bell should be rung as loud as possible.

The Jews would send him via intermediaries, Jews and Christians, with gifts, but it didn't affect him in the slightest. We offered to pay him for each funeral not to ring the bells, but he stood fast in his desire to humiliate the Jews themselves and in the eyes of onlookers. What did the Jews do when he started ringing the bells? The pallbearers used to run with the coffin. More than once they would fall down in the process and as a result the body would become contaminated.[5]

Since Todrisl was an honest Jew, he never spoke about the matter. He used to eat just to stay alive - we wondered how it was that he could even stay standing. He was as such most often in bed under the covers. We used to say that he was a part of the “minyan” or that he was a lamed vavnik[6], but these were all just conjectures.

The day before he was going to step down as Rebbe, he called upon his inner circle and gave them a stick for the pallbearers to use as one of the supporters of the coffin, and when they pass the church, on the first ring of the bell, they should put the palls on the ground with the stick and stay exactly where they are.

The time for the Rebbe's last day came, and after that just as he had requested, the pallbearers used the stick as part of the support for the coffin. When the bell started ringing as usual, they laid the coffin onto the ground. Then the corpse stood up, took the stick in his hand, and went right to the church. The entire crowd stood still as stone and didn't budge - no one knew what was going to happen. With slow, steady steps, just as he had taken when he was alive, he approached the church and knocked on the church door three times with the stick, which is exactly the same number of knocks the deceased Shamesh used to knock on the shops each Friday to remind them to close up for shabbos. On the third knock, the entire church collapsed and covered the priest, the bell, and everything that was inside. From everyone's mouths came the words: “May all antisemites meet the same fate!”[7]

The tzadik[8] returned to the coffin with the stick in his hand and laid down as if nothing had happened.

The priest no longer rang the bell, and the Jews continued to carry their dead to the cemetery in peace.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The world of creatures and evil spirits are not the same in translation, so the Yiddish/Hebrew word “shed” could be rendered as a ghost or demon depending on the context. Return
  2. Afternoon and evening prayers. Return
  3. Some of the terms in this sentence are technical and related to making shoes, so they are difficult to translate. Return
  4. “Who is there?” in either Polish or Russian - the phrase is the same in several Slavic languages. Return
  5. There are specific laws for cleaning a body and preparing it for burial, and so it appears that if the body hit the ground before it reached its final resting place, then it would have to be prepared once more for burial, which is a labor intensive process. Return
  6. Lamed vavnik refers to the 36 righteous individuals of every generation that supposedly justify the existence of humanity in the eyes of God. Here “minyan” also seems to refer to a special group of ten tzadikim, or holy people. Return
  7. This phrase was actually in Hebrew and comes from a couple of different citations in the Tanakh. Since the word “anti-semite” didn't exist then, the literal translation is “enemies of Israel”. Israel refers to the Jewish people and not the land or state of Israel. Return
  8. A wise and holy person Return


[Columns 587-588]

The Story of a Bagel

by Avrom Fox

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

 

Avrom Fox

 

My father, may he rest in peace, woke me up from a deep sleep and abruptly ended my dream on a splendid summer morning, when I was jumping over the fence of Kanyak's orchard, stuffing my pockets full with apples and pairs, and was building a nest for a baby goat. I caught two birds, tied little strings to their little feet, let them go and hoped that I could catch them again. Nu, what else is there to say about such a sweet dream?

I painfully opened my sleepy eyes, looked around, and saw the markings of a two-cent Kopeck decorating our window panes. You probably all know that on a frosty window-pan, one can stick on a penny as many times as one likes. My young heart was joyful to have so much “money” before my eyes.

After “mode ani[1] my mom gave me a piece of an omlet, and my father gave me a hot roasted potato, and then sent me off to school (kheyder).

When I was coming home from kheyder for a snack, I was amazed to find freshly baked goods on the table - rolls, pretzels, and bagels. And what a bagel - brown, fragrant - perfect! I simply couldn't believe my luck.

As such, since I wasn't accustomed to such luxury, I asked my father:

What is this? My father explained that because we have a new student whose father was a baker but couldn't afford to pay tuition, thus my mother had accepted baked goods as payment. My father said that God willing this way every Thursday, when the weekly bread has already thinned out, we can enjoy freshly baked goods.

I felt lucky that not only did the bagels taste like heaven, but that I would become more popular among my friends with such bagels.

My luck lasted as long as this boy studied in my father's school. When the boy went to another teacher, there were no more bagels - my luck had run out. For me it was a terrible catastrophe. I missed the bagels so much. Once I asked my father for some money to buy a bagel. My father answered me with a sorrowful tone:

“What do you think, son, that I'm a businessman or that we're rich? Where can I get money for bagels? We have to thank God that we have enough money for bread.”

With a broken pain-filled heart, I went to school without bagels. I went through Market Street and stopped for awhile next to Nosson-Dovid's store to marvel at all the sweets on display. I was especially drawn to the caramels, which were all tucked into pretty wrappers.

I'm sure, I thought to myself, that they must be as sweet as honey, but they aren't for me. Candy is for rich kids.

Standing by the shop and devouring the candy with my eyes, I caught a whiff of an egg bagel from Chaya Teltse's stand. Then my desire shifted from the candy to the bagels. I put my hand in my pocket and search for an opportunity to satiate my longing. I usually had six cents (three kopecks), which was a coin used to ward off the evil eye, and it came from the Trisk Magid himself. My father gave it to me on the condition that I always carry it with me, except on shabbos. The coin was supposed to protect me from different kinds of sickness. There could be no greater sin than giving up such protection for some candy and bagels. But the bagels pull at me with a magnetic force - what could I do?

While I am pondering what to do, I see a Jew with a pointy beard and fiery eyes call out to me: “Avreml, don't be a fool, you have money, what are you waiting for? Go to the stand, buy three bagels, and enjoy them!”

I start heading towards the stand and I can already taste the delicious bagels. Suddenly I see a Jew, and what kind of Jew, none other than one with a Shtreimel on his head, a wild white beard, long peyos, a velvet kaftan[2], and his eyes filled with fatherly love and a kind of magnetic pull. I stopped and greeted him and asked, “who are you?”

“Who am I… you should be astonished yourself, that Avreml Eyzikl the teacher's son cannot and must not listen to his yetzer hora[3] in order to buy a bagel with such a holy and blessed six cent piece. Would you, God forbid, cause your father pain and weaken the living memory of the Trisk Magid?”

I probably don't have to tell you - you probably already got the drift. I went directly to school from there - without bagels.

[Bottom text]

In 1578 the first synagogue of Hrubieszow was built, and in 1874, the second shul was built.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. The prayer one says upon waking up Return
  2. The shtreimel (fur hat), beard, peyos (sidelocks) and kaftan describe a pious Hasidic man. Return
  3. In Jewish theology everyone has a good and a bad inclination (yetzer ho-re), and the challenge is to avoid listening/obeying to one's yezter hore. Return


[Columns 589-590]

The Ostil Rebbe

by Natan Hadas, Herzliya, Israel

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

The horses hurry home with a quiet band
The Rebbe sits with his followers,
and the Gabbai by his right hand.
A son, an only son,
was left alone without a care.
The Gabbi wonders:
What had happened there?

Hey horses - what's your hurry?
Why do you trot without a load?
To a shtetl behind the birch forest
that lies far from the road.

The deep snow is disturbed and sighs.
The Hasidim are half-frozen, half-asleep,
but he, the Ostil Rebbe
hears your birth pains, your cries.

Large black dogs are barking
behind the forest, next to the first yard
across from a sled, full with Hassidim and the Rebbe
who lives in Hrubieszow.

The Hasidim jump down from the sled,
The Rebbe and the Gabbai with his stick as well.
Next to the first house in town
they make war with the succubus
and with the devil himself.

Doors, windows, and protective psalms[1] greet the Rebbe.
The woman[2], giving birth, lies exhausted.
The Rebbe blew on her face, and everyone saw
the miracle of how she gave birth to a son, easily,
without pain, like a hen lays an egg.

Hey - Hasidim! The Gabbi shouted
To hell with them -
Who are the Pshischa or the Chortkov?[3]
We have witnessed a wonder here, a miracle
of the Ostil Rebbe who lives in Hrubieszow.

Then the Rebbe turned his head to the Gabbai
and said to him, “I see Motel,
that you have not easily sold my wares.
I see by the light of the Holy Spirit, Motel,
that you will one day yourself
be Motti the Great.”

We spoke a great deal about Ostil's miracles
From India to Timbuktu
Every day the number of Hasidim multiplied
who would share the Rebbe's feast at his Tisch.[4]

Holy Rebbe, please help me, if not with a son, then a daughter
pleads a barren woman with a gift and a note in her hands.
An tavern owner complains: using every penny I kept the peasants liquored up
but now the drunkards burned down my tavern.

Rebbe, a son, a studious 21-year old, is being taken by the Poles to be a soldier.
He sits and studies Gemara until late at night.
Rebbe - shouts a Hasid - I have seven daughters,
and I haven't managed to marry a single one off yet.

Motel, says the Rebbe to the Gabbai, to be a witness to such pain,
I'm not worthy - how can I fulfill each request?
Who am I next to God?[5]

Master of the Universe, the Rebbe speaks with consternation,
it is hard to wear this crown
hard to bear this kingdom.

The horses shlep homeward the sleigh
with the Rebbe, the Gabbai, and his Hassidim.
He will make a beautiful Tisch there.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. There are specific Psalms designed to dispel evil spirits, especially during childbirth. Return
  2. Here the word is “kimpeturin”, which means a woman who had just given birth (this special status is maintained for up to a year). Return
  3. These are other (one might say “rival”) Hasidic dynasties. Return
  4. Although tisch is literally “table” in this context it is more specific to a gathering with the Rebbe where he shares his wisdom and shirayim, literally leftovers - it is a great honor to be handed leftover food from the Rebbe. Return
  5. This is a direct quote in Hebrew from the Bible when Yakov is angry at Rachel for putting pressure on him to help her conceive when he says, who am I under God? התחת אלזקים אנכי Return


He Gives to Whomever He Wants

This song was sung by Teacher Treytl, and printed by Natan Hadas

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

[1]

Our father in heaven - created earth and sky.[1]
He gives to whom he wants, he does what he wishes to whomever.
He gives to whom he wants, and he does what he likes to whomever.
Ugh, may they be blown away -
They have a Goyish God.

2

They have hands - and they did not fall!
They have hands and they cannot touch.
Ugh, may they be blown away,
They have a twisted God.

But our God in Heaven - he does all that he desires.
He gives to whomever he wants, he does what he likes to whomever.

3

They have ears, and they did not hear!
They have ears but they cannot hear.
Ugh, may they be blown away,
They have a deaf God.

But our God in Heaven, he does all that he desires.
He gives to whomever he wants, and he does what he likes to whomever.

4

They have a mouth - and they did not speak!
He has a mouth and can't speak.
Ugh, may they be blown away,
They have a mute God. And our God in Heaven, he does all that he desires.
And our God in heaven, he gives to whomever he wants,
and does what he wants to whomever.

5

They have a nose, and they did not smell!
He has a nose and he cannot smell.
Ugh, may they be blown away.
They have a nasal[2] God.
And our God in Heaven, he does all that he desires.
Whenever he wants to give, he gives,
and whatever he wants to do, he does.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. To get a slight feel of the original text, I put in Italics the Biblical citations/Hebrew phrases (the rest is in Yiddish). Return
  2. The original Yiddish adjective (fonfate) refers more specifically to a person who has a nasal-sounding voice. Return


[Columns 591-592]

You ask me, my Friend

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

You ask me, my friend,
how old am I today,
I would gladly tell you.

Just believe me, my friend,
that I don't know myself,
if it's even worth telling.

The miser counts his money,
The fortunate - his days.

Everyone who holds love dear, counts.
My life, dear friend, is a long empty road.
Like last year, like this year.

You ask me, my friend,
Have I ever loved?
I would gladly tell you.

Just believe me, my friend,
that I don't know myself,
if it's even worth telling.

A fool counts his loves that have already passed,
the wise one doesn't think about them at all.
He gathers them together, and spits at them,
like rivers, they all meld together.


Let's Buy a Revolutionary[1] Newspaper

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

Little boys and girls sit on logs
and they crack kernels together.
They don't read the paper,
and they don't know the news
what the surrounding bourgeoisie is up to.

They don't read and they don't know
that hundreds and thousands of workers are enslaved.

They don't read and they don't know
that hundreds and thousands of workers are being thrown into prisons.

My friends, let us save up a few coins
and buy some youth pamphlets on our common struggle.
So that we might know, so that we might feel
how our workers are being enslaved.

Translator's Footnote:

  1. The original Yiddish/Germanic word here, “kampf”, can be translated variously as war, battle, fight, struggle, etc., but in this context it seems to refer specifically to a communist revolution/uprising. Return


Rukhele was Lying on her Deathbed

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

Shloymele on Friday was sitting down at work,
eating some good hot food and drinking liquor.
“Now I'm going to my beautiful one,
I'm going to take her out of this world.”

Shloymele, Shloymele, where are you going so quickly?
You're going to take out Rukhele?
She is just a young girl.

Hey sister, I didn't ask your opinion.
I'm going to take out Rukhele
and then I'll be sent to Siberia.

Rukhele went up to her mirror
and sees that her hair looks nice.
Shloymele comes in and asks, “yes or no?”

“What can I tell you
you're not my finance
because my parents are against it.”

As soon as the last word had left Rukhele's mouth
He takes out a revolver
and shoots her without hesitation.

He shot her
but his heart did not cool down.
He took out a shoemaker's blade
and stuck it into her throat.

Rukhele fell from the table to the door.
Grab the murderer, what does he want from me?
Grab the murderer, oh, the pain!
He shot me, and I'm just a child!

Shloymele ran out of the back door.
The police were already after him to arrest him.
He was arrested that same day.
And at Rukhele's house you could still hear the sobbing and wailing.

Rukhele was on her deathbed
and Shloymele comes in
to speak to her.

Go away, murderer, leave her alone.
You shot Rukhele
you should go straight to Siberia.

Good people, please learn from this moment -
we should have been going to her huppah
and now we're going to her funeral.

Author's Note:

This poem was written after the tragedy that befell Avrom the Long's daughter. It was collected by Moyshe Sal via Natan Hadas.


[Columns 593-594]

True Love

Collected by Natan Hadas in Luxemburg

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

I wander about, around the cemetery
not a leaf stirs.
A deep sleep has fallen over the crowd,
and not a soul knows of our love.

It's been a year and a half
since we met.

Oh how happy I would be
if I could just brush against your right hand.
Your eyes are black like cherries
your cheeks are rose petals
your lips are sweet as honey
when I brush them with a kiss.


The Angel of Death

Collected by Natan Hadas via Moyshe Sal, Pantele from the Bathhouse

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

A girl sits by the mirror and talks to herself:
I am beautiful and my father is rich,
there is no one who is my equal.

The old grandfather comes in
and he talks to himself.
You're beautiful, your father is rich
Here is the one who is your equal.

Zayde, zayde, let me live
for my father and mother's sake.
They would give every last possession
because they truly love me.

The good in this house will always remain
The one who came before me is the one who will leave with me.
I am an emissary of God himself
and you must go with me.

Zayde, zayde, let me live
for my sisters' sake.
They would give their own child from its crib
because they truly love me.

The child in its crib will be rocked til he's grown
When I have the need, I can easily take him.
No amount of crying will help you
Come let us go.

Send my dear groom in
maybe that will make it easier.

Your beloved bridegroom is already standing beside you
and he's asking - dear bride, what is the matter?

Groom of mine, take your gifts away
take the ring off of my finger
you alone can turn me around
my face to the wall.


A Poem for Purim

Collected by Natan Hadas via Moshe Sal - Pantele from the Bathhouse

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

May I live to see
that you earn a gild[1] a week
and not give me a cent.
That you earn a gild a week
and the bars rejoice.
You throw the money down your throat
and you make your wife sick.

Translator's Footnote:

  1. a form of local currency Return


[Columns 595-596]

I Feel like Something Joyful!

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

- Good morning to you, Hersh Dovid
- And a good year to you[1], Baruch
- I thought that you had sold out
your dairy products and your farmer's cheese.

- Not the dairy products, only the farmer's cheese
is totally sold out.
I feel like something happy.
Something inside me feels like dancing.
Oy, yati, tati….

Just tell me know, Hersh Dovid, how is your little wife, Sore-Chaya?
Oy, she's cutting her hair in the latest fashion.
She's removed her wig and her Yiddishkeit entirely!

I feel like something joyful, something inside me wants to dance.
Oy, yati, tati…

I have a girl, a kosher little calf
And don't you have a young stallion, Ephraim?
Let us open up a little shop together
and let us get engaged.

I will give you this goblet
and all of my silver and gold.
Above the attics and roofs, the demons may dance.
Oy, yati, tati….

Translator's Footnote:

  1. The traditional response to “gut morgn” is “gut yor” - a good year. Return


The Father bought for Yosele

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

The father bought Yosele
shining new shoes.
He snatched them up and put them on
and ran quickly off to school.

Children encircled Yosele
Children big and tiny
“Look, just look at his shoes,”
“Look, how lovely and shiny.”

Suddenly Yosele turned red and got embarrassed.
He got tears in his eyes and his heart was farklepmt.[1]
There in the corner all alone
Stood little Rukhele, her eyes filled with tears.

Shoes like rags on her little feet
A patch upon another little patch
And a tear upon another little tear.

Yosele ran home
And he stood still next to his father
Take back the shoes
I don't want to walk anymore in them.

I saw that Rukhele had a pair of torn shoes.
That I should be deserving of such a good little heart!
That I should be taken so that you could have even one more year!

Translator's Footnote:

  1. Squeezed, but usually used to describe a state of emotional intensity Return


Names and Nicknames

By Natan Hadas, Herzliya, Israel

Translated by Mira Rivka Blum

Like in every shtetl, there were Jews who you could only ask others about thanks to their nicknames. Using their proper surname - one could spend a whole day searching and not find that person - even a neighbor in the same house couldn't tell you their real name.

Nicknames were thrust upon people at every little step. Some were just a result of features from which one couldn't tear one's eyes away. Their names spoke for themselves and revealed a piece of their lives - as it states in scripture, the name comes before the person.[1] There were those who adopted the names themselves as if they were an object they had found at home - an inheritance of brass candlesticks or old furniture.

Many boys got their nicknames at school, and then it traveled with them from generation to generation. Some got the names from things they'd done and others from their appearance.

Jews who had come from outside of the shtetl were often referred to by the name of the town or village that they'd come from. Here is a list of nicknames:

Yenkl Yapanchik, because he'd participated in the Russo-Japanese War. Avrom Kutiker, because he had a dark appearance. Yosel Shostak - he had a sixth finger on his hand. Yenkl Padkave, Chaim Reiber, Binyumen Kili - why?[2] You'll have to figure it out yourselves. Simchale Plachta, Moyshe Gorgl, Yankl Kashtan[3], Matis Yayetchnik - he traded in eggs. Moyshe Vrenik, Gershon Glok, Eli Dembchik - he traded in oak. Arki Loksh[4] - he was very tall and he was in the egg business. Meychele Hod, Haskl Peniak, Yitzchok Shtcherv, Dovid Lip, Hershke Kashepupik, Rishele with the Wool, Moyshe Pupke, Noyakh Yankover, because he had lived in the village of Yankes, Hersh Broder, because his father is from Brod. Shloyme Kabash, because in school instead of saying “k'bays shmai[5] he said “kabash”, and then we started calling him Shloyme Kabash. He got married and had kids but the name stuck with him. His wife was called the “Kabashekhe” and his children: Kabash's daughter, Kabash's son-in-law. The nickname followed him everywhere - even to the grave.

“Who died?”

“Don't you know? Shloyme Kabash!”

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Literally “his name came before him”, an expression from the Talmud sometimes used to describe people who've made a name for themselves in modern Hebrew. Return
  2. In Ukranian Padkave means ‘horeshoe’, Reiber means ‘ribs’, and Kili means ‘keel’. Return
  3. In Ukranian Plachta means ‘weeping’, Gorgi “proud” and Kashtan ‘chestnut’, and Yayetchnik ‘eggs’. Return
  4. Noodle (Yiddish) Return
  5. This referse to the house of Shmai as represented in the Talmud (often contrasted with the legal school, i.e. house, of Hillel, who typically issued the more liberal halachic ruling and is usually the one observant Jews follow today) Return

 

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