We enriched the book with the addition of 50 pages filled with important pictures of past and present "Yedwabnerites", some dating back seven generations, and scattered the world over. This is meant to proclaim that in spite of the bloodiest Holocaust in our history, G-D and our people are alive! (see Sforno-Deuteronomy 14-1).
We were faced by hardships in gathering material, etc. The budget was so limited that we were faced by a decision; should we hire professional editors and leave no funds to pay for paper, cuts, printing and binding, which would be editorial perfection without a book, or shall we toil by ourselves and see the book published.
We have chosen the latter possibility and we beseech the reader not to view this book with a critical eye for literary invention, for our principal aim was to perpetuate our Martyrs, and this goal we have hopefully accomplished.
There is a Law, in the time of "Congregational Sacrifices", that we then gather into the Synagogues and into the Houses of Learning to pray to the Almighty that he shall forgive the People of Israel". Thinking of our Martyrs' public sacrifices, we gained strength to tirelessly continue and to spare no efforts in order to see this book completed.
In spite of the indifference and lack of interest of many of our landsleit who did not evaluate the historic significance of such a book, the entire job involved which includes writing, editing, and all technical work, plus exorbitant financial outlays, were done by two people only. Because of this burden it is possible to find an error here and there. We therefore ask for the reader's understanding and kind indulgence.
Rabbi Julius L. Baker
Rabbi Jacob L. Baker
Reb Moshe Tzinowitz - Contributor
One of the main goals in publishing it, is to acquaint our "landsleit", their children and friends with the horrible facts of wholesale murder, immolation, and slaughter committed by the Nazis and Poles against our sisters and brothers.
What happened to our people followed the well known pattern that was perpetrated by the Nazis and which was by their silence approved by the civilized powers of the world.
As I sought a keynote to this introduction, I was confronted with a number of alternatives that struggled within me. Shall I weep over the complete devastation of my people, or shall I try to perpetuate the beauty and spiritual meaning of my childhood memories? Or shall I try to recapture the remnants who are scattered the world over, and help them restructure their lives go that they would be eternal representatives of our cherished tradition? I concluded that our chief objective is to be to bring to life the way our martyrs lived, in order that we may learn for ourselves and posterity what kind of moral fiber it was that enabled our progenitors to build generations of proud Jews in Yedwabne for more than 300 years until the 15th of Tamuz 5701, July 10, 1941.
In this book we find testimonies of seven Yedwabner Jews and one noble gentile woman who witnessed the most heroic moments of the bitter end. After heinous atrocities by their gentile neighbors, who had obtained permission from the Nazi authorities, the weakened Jewish Community of Yedwabne, 1440 in number, were forced into a barn where they burned them alive.
We are convinced that during the centuries of its' existence, Jewish Yedwabne had to face the same kind of rough, inhuman neighbors. Thus the question again is raised; how did they manage to survive? By studying their lives portrayed in this book, we may find the answer. For this reason we have augmented the articles with a multitude of pictures of past and present Yedwabnerites who are scattered the world over, with some of the families dating back seven generations.
True to a tradition of generosity, our Yedwabnerites in New York were responsible for countless community endeavors, such as the establishment of the Yedwabner Relief Society of New York under the chartered name "Per Israel Anshe Yedwabne" over 95 years ago. It continues among the finest historic "Landsmanshaften" to be dedicated to the purpose of aiding Yedwabner Jews caught in the whirl of history, as well as aiding important charities here and in Israel.
We hereby acknowledge their assistance towards the realization of this volume.
This book is written as a tribute to those who have gone before us. So that their agony, their ideals and their martyrdom will not be forgotten, so that the cry of those who cannot cry, be heard in this Anthology: "Yedwabne — History and Memorial".
Indeed, the murderers did not only humiliate and butcher their victims, they wanted also to blot out their memory. They slaughtered them twice, reducing them in Yedwabne literally into ashes, and then trying to deny their deed. Not to remember our martyrs would mean to become accomplices to the design of their murderers.
This book is also meant to beware of our rights and liberties as free men in a free land, lest we be once more compelled to relive events of history.
"NETZACH ISRAEL LO YISHAKER" (Samuel 1, 15)
We are certain there will always be Jews, and, therefore, there will always be someone who will remember.
Jacob Eliezer Baker
From Polish sources we learn that in the year 1455 the village of Yedwabne already had a church. It then belonged to Jan Bylicy who was the Judge of Wiski, and the forefather of the Yedwabinskis.
In the year 1494 Yedwabne was comprised of twenty families. Pawel Yedwabinski, Ensign of Wiski, had obtained a permit to have a Market Day once a week on Wednesdays. This took place some time in the 1680's, since the nearby town of Wisno, which had an established weekly market on the same day, complained to the authorities that the Wednesday Market Day was damaging their business. An order then was issued by Yan the 3rd Sobieski in the year 1688 to stop market day in Yedwabne.
In the year 1736 Yedwabne had a new owner, Antonie Rostkowski, "Stolnik' of Lomza, (a high ranking official), and he obtained from King August 3rd the Magdenburg rights to be a city. However, it is not known whether the planning of the city with the big marketplace and four small streets took place at that time or in the beginning of the nineteenth century. Prior to this occurrence, the land of the city, including the houses, belonged to the owners of the city, and the dwellers paid rents annually. From the latter half of the seventeenth century, to this time, Yedwabne belonged to the following families: Kraszewski, Lakowski, Krayewski, Rostkowski, Rembelienski, and Zamoyski.
In 1700 Yedwabne had fifty-two houses and four hundred and eighty-one inhabitants. In 1810 the population grew to five hundred and thirty-six inhabitants. The properties then belonged to the famous government official, Raimond Remblinski.
In the year 1812 Yedwabne had an inn, a distillery, a brewery, bfactory, candle factory, and fifty-six workshops, among them goldsmiths, dyers, weavers, shoemakers, and tailors. The city also had its own doctor.
The first textile factory was established in the eighteenth century by Stanislaw Remblinski, who was a government official from Wiski.
In the year 1829 they brought in textile workers from Lomza, although Yedwabne already had its own ten master craftsmen. By 1853 Yedwabne had one hundred different workshops and stores, with a population of 1,200 inhabitants. And in 1856 several fiber factories were established and more of the same in 1895. This thriving industry was totally destroyed during the First World War.
In the year 1910 Yedwabne had 2,929 inhabitants. As a result of the First World War Yedwabne suffered more property losses than any other city in the vicinity of Bialystok. Seventy-two percent of the houses were totally destroyed. By 1916 the number of inhabitants decreased to seven hundred. After rebuilding the city in 1921, there were 113 houses and 1,222 inhabitants. In ten years the population grew to 2,167. During the Second World War, Yedwabne suffered greatly and lost much of its population. In 1941 one thousand and six hundred forty Jews from Yedwabne and the surrounding communities were murdered because they were Jews. After the war ended, in 1946, Yedwabne had a gentile population of 1,670, and in 1961 it grew to 1,899. However there were no Jews remaining.
Yedwabne had only one public school. There was no railway or waterway, and very few communal facilities, therefore it developed very slowly. The town measured four square kilometers. There are remnants of an old small mansion in the park. In the vicinity of Yedwabne, at Rostki-Male, Yanczewko, one may find the well-known Mazowiecki Cemeteries surrounded by a stone wall.
A conclusion may be reached that when Yedwabne obtained the status of a city in 1736, many Jewish families moved there from the city of Tykocin. But from other sources we found that as early as 1664 a few families had left for Yedwabne. They probably settled there because of the weekly market day, which was by then well established. The jurisdiction for the Jewish communal and spiritual needs of Yedwabne was then in the hands of the well established Jewish community of Tykocin and its Rabbinate.
smiths and wheelmakers for spinning wheels. There were private and classroom religious teachers, and teachers who held graduation certificates which enabled them to teach in the more modern schools. I list together those who produced for holy requirements and those who looked after the mundane needs, since in Yedwabne all residents came to morning and evening prayers and all studied Mishnayot or Gemora around the table in the synagogue. These artisans rose quite early to go to morning prayer and only after a hearty breakfast did they begin their daily work for which they earned a good living.
There was no limit to the working day. As long as physical energy permitted, production continued. In early evening, still in their working clothes, they managed to come to the synagogue and say the evening prayers and also study. Then, after supper they returned to finish their projects, often working late into the night. About the Yedwabne Jews can be said, "Kol hashoneh hallachot b'chol yom, muvtach lo shehu ben-haolamlhaba. Shenemar: Halichot olam lo, al tikrei halichot, elo halachot." (All who study daily the traditional laws, are sure of the future world. It is written : "The manners of the world'. Do not read " Manners ", but " Laws ".) The ordinary laborers, even the haulers, were very law-abiding, their life style being based on the Law. They lived according the writings in the Shulchan Aruch.
Surrounding Yedwabne were more than fifty villages. The farmers in the region required shoes, clothing, products made of wood, iron and steel. They needed mills to grind their grain, presses to make oil, and factories to manufacture items of leather. Therefore, many Jewish craftsmen settled in Yedwabne where they were sure of full employment. Much of the output was made to order. but ready-made objects were also sold at the Yedwabne weekly fair and in other city fairs.
In my time there was no modern equipment for workers in our town. However, they managed to create by hand, products that were more attractive and more durable than those manufactured with the latest machines. Yedwabne shoes, clothing and furniture were renowned. A Yedwabne spinning wheel was valued for the perfection of its construction and the precision of its yarns. To the Yedwabne Fair came merchants from all parts of Poland and their purchases gave profitable returns to the local merchants.
The forests around Yedwabne were a source for the wood products. Rows of wagons filled with logs came in daily. Processing the raw material until it was ready for converting into saleable items was an enormous undertaking. Logs had to be split into various sizes and stacked to dry in the sun. Members of the family were responsible for this phase. The colors of the wood and the various patterns in which they were arranged were an interesting sight. A favorite game of the youngsters of the village was to destroy the orderly towers, until the anger of the owners brought the game to a halt. Punishment was declared. Those who destroyed bad to rebuild. This, naturally was also a game for the children as they competed to see who would put up the most interesting structure.
In our village there was no such thing as an industrial strike. All production came from the effort of the craftsman, with the help of family members. I am reminded of an unusual labor struggle. Aryeh, Reb Nachum Moishe Pyontkowski's son, decided to strike against his father. And when Reb Nachum Moishe beat the culprit with an iron wheelband, Aryeh yelled with pain and let his father know that "I am a socialist, I do not want to work overtime at night!' The father was compelled to send his son to America to prevent, G-d forbid, other employees from being infected by the disease of socialism.
There were also in Yedwabne "village tailors", people who went out to work in - other villages. They would take along a scissor, a tapemeasure and an iron. Because they spent months working in the areas, they also brought with them several dairy pots, bowls, and cutlery to prepare food to keep body and soul together. Except for raw fruit and brown bread baked on a hot oven, or boiled eggs and raw vegetables, the tailors would eat no other food served by the farm folk. I recall that once a farmer insisted that the Jew eat with him. The invitation was refused, naturally. The goy, taking the refusal as an insult, was so angered that he threatened and was ready to kill. The tailor asked for time to say the prayer before death, and began to say "Chatati (I have sinned), Aviti (I have committed iniquity), Pashati (I have transgressed)". The peasant's terrible anger subsided, and the shaken tailor was permitted to go home.
The life of the tailor was not an easy one. It was extremely difficult to push the needle through the fabric, even with an iron thimble, as the cloth used by the peasants was very thick. When sewing machines became known and the village people began looking for tailors with machines, the Yedwabne tailors had to become more industrious and prove to their patrons that handmade garments were much better than machine made ones.
Now we come to religious instructors (melamdim) and teachers of various categories. There were private melamdim who gave lessons to girls wanting to know the prayers and how to read and write Yiddish. There were classes for boys where the melamdim taught prayers, Chumash and Rashi, Mishnayot and Gemara. The melamdim were of two types. Some were very old-fashioned, with the pointer and strap being the main method of teaching. Their classrooms generally consisted of one room with a kitchen. In this sameroom ate and slept the melamed and his family. In the middle stood a long table around which were seated the teacher and his students. These melamdim, in order to increase income also gave private lessons during the day. The pupils were then left unsupervised, using this free time, supposedly, in reviewing their lessons. Understandably, for the pupils this was a wish come true. That was when they almost tore the house apart. The scolding and the screams of the rebbetzin were ignored. Even the Rabbi's children joined in the free-for-all. Naturally, great scholars were not products of such schools.
There were also schools with more teamed teachers with graduation certificates, and properly furnished classrooms. Comfortable benches, desks with inkwells and places to keep books and writing paper made studying more conducive. With such teachers and in this environment, students progressed in their studies and continued their search for knowledge in renowned yeshivot. Many grew up to become great people among world Jewry.
All those who remember the Old Wooden Shul in Yedwabne, find that there are no words to describe the beauty of the structure, inside and outside. It was praised by many periodicals of that time. From the Archives of Poland we learn that the Synagogue was already in existence in the year 1771. That was the year it was expanded. Therefore, it is believed that the original Synagogue was built when the first group of Jews from Tykocin moved to Yedwabne in the year 1660. In September of 1913, a fire started in a barn, burned three quarters of the homes of Yedwabne to the ground and completely destroyed the beautiful Synagogue and its precious books.
A woman was milking her cow by the light of a candle. The candle toppled over and set fire to the straw in the barn. Instead of imme-
diately using the milk to put out the blaze, she ran to the house for a bucket of water. By the time she returned, the fire had already engulfed many houses and reached the Synagogue, where were stored tanks of naphtha used for the hanging lamps. The wind then carried the flames through the entire community.
Rabbi Eliyahu Winer, the Rabbi of Yedwabne, was visiting his son in the United States. When he heard the terrible news, he immediately called a mass meeting at the Synagogue of Yedwabne in New York for the purpose of raising funds to help the sufferers. With the assistance of Pinchas Turberg and his father-in-law, the famous orator Tzvi Hirsh Maslansky, Rabbi Winer accumulated an enormous sum of money that was forwarded to Yedwabne.
In the newspaper Hatzfirah of September 17th, 1913, Z. Tasmovsky writes that a request for assistance was sent to the neighboring cities of Shtucin, Wisna, Radzilowa, Lomza, Suwalk and Grodno. The appeal stated, "During the night of September 17th, three fourths of the community, including the beautiful Synagogue and its precious books, was destroyed within two hours. People ran from their homes without shoes or proper clothing. Hundreds are in the streets, without shelter, shivering from cold, hungry and thirsty. The more fortunate found shelter in the pits in the fields .. . Families of means are now totally impoverished. Those who had little, now have nothing They walk about with pale faces begging for food and clothing. Now, winter approaching, we fear the danger of an epidemic of cold weather diseases. Something has to be done before it is too late.
Signed: Rabbi Eliyahu Winer
R. Yaacov, the son of Shmaryahu Brams
Yonah , the son of Yitzchok Tikucinsky ".
Most of the above-mentioned cities answered with some help, but the city of Lomza, so close to us and with whom Yedwabne had business connections had not done a thing until a small group of noble people formed an organization and undertook to help us with cash. They also lowered the cost of building material for the reconstruction of the many houses that were burned in the fire in Yedwabne.
As Joseph (Gen. 37.16) said: "I seek my brothers", my first desire was to visit the beautiful shul that our Yedwabnerites had built and actively maintained on 216 Henry Street, on New York's famous Jewish East Side.
Upon entering this imposing edifice, I was met with many surprises. Firstly, I heard my home-town's Yiddish by its musical connotations, and the "W" when spoken by a true Yedwabnerite is truly distinguishable.
Interestingly enough, the well known Yedwabnerites whom I'd met then in the persons of : Reb Zundel Markowitz, Abraham Bromstein, Alter Goldberg, Itche Atlas, Mendl Kadish, Chayim Gordon, etc. were wondering whether I was a true Yedwabnerite, since my "L" wasn't pronounced exactly as theirs. They had all left Yedwabne a score or two years previously. They stated with pride : "and yet, they hadn't forgotten their mother tongue" . . .
This reminded us of an anecdote: Once a Jewish person, while visiting China, asked where he may find a Shul in which to worship. When he finally reached one and tried to partake in the services, his Chinese counter parts pointed to him with the question: "But you don't look Jewish"...
It is noteworthy that even in Lomza, the "L" was pronounced like the "W" as in Yedwabne; but in its great Yeshiva which had over .400 students coming from all over the world, with a United Nations of dialects, a unified pronunciation was somehow formed.
I observed that our landsleit were not overwhelmed by the hard city life. The world's large city did not take its toll from these lovely sweet mannered 'silky-like Yedwabnerites' (the word "Yedwabne" means 'silky" in Polish). These gentle folks remained genuine followers of our great tradition.
When I commented on the complete attention to the services in this Synagogue, I was enlightened by the officers, not with little pride, that this Synagogue's constitution states distinctly that should one talk during the services he would be fined with the amount of twenty-five cents ($.25) for the first offense. That this amount equaled a months membership dues, is also stated in the same constitution which was duly passed and ratified by our New York Yedwabnerites in the year 1889. Our Charter under the name "Chebra Par Israel of Yedwabno, Russia" was incorporated with the State of New York on Nov. 23, 1891.
The tendency of newcomers to keep together in order to retain their familiar way of life, is actually a universal characteristic. It is common to immigrants of all nations and faiths. While among non-Jews this tendency was expressed by the formation of sports clubs and amusement centers, Jewish immigrants founded Landsmanshaften, Fraternal Organizations and Societies. These Landsmanshaften groups served people coming from the same home-town in the same way that the sport clubs served the non-Jews, by keeping alive among them an awareness of their common origins and common cultural heritage.
The Synagogue, however, did much more than that. Not only was it a house of prayer, but it was also the place of education to each member of the family of all ages. The future historian may be correct in stating, that it was to the credit of the early Landsmanshaften-Synagogues that we have today a lively Jewry in the United States of America.
The existence of over one hundred thousand Yeshiva and Day School students in the U.S. today, which is in no doubt the nucleus of a Jewish future in the Western Hemisphere, is thanks to the wisdom of our early settlers like the Yedwabnerites in New York who had foreseen the future and therefore fortified it by spreading Torah education to all. "Par Israel of Yedwabne" possessed not only active Chebras of studying 'Shas', 'Mishnayos', 'Mikra', etc. for the elderly, but also supported an intensive Torah education for the youth.
Ninety five years ago these young immigrants from Yedwabne thought chiefly in terms of their home town's traditional way of life which centered about the Synagogue.
In their home town's Beth Hamedrosh, all the impissues of the day were threshed out. It was therefore quite natural when the first score or so of our new-comers gathered in a rented loft on New York's East Side to conduct Sabbath Services, that the dream to build a Synagogue of their own-a new Yedwabner Shul, took place at once.
In the Yiddish department of this book we find a number of articles chosen from the "50 Years Anniversary-Journal of the Yedwabner Association in N.Y." published in 1935. We are moved by the devotion our early landsleit displayed in exerting themselves in coming to their home-shtetel's needed assistance, throughout the years.
An insight to our early Yedwabnerites' idealism towards everything holy and dear to our Jewish life brings to mind the Prophet's statement (Jeremiah 2:2) So says the Lord, I remember your youthful devotion, the love of your bridal days, how you followed me through the wilderness, through a land unsown.
I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth."
by Rabbi Jacob L. Baker
Walking the streets of New York, I searched each passing face anxiously. searching for a "landsman", a compatriot. Finally I met Reb Yaakov Bar Yisroel Makowsky. At last I had found a trace of family, a tie with the past. He took me to twenty-one Hester Street where I found the supreme link with home, the "Yedwabner Shul". I awaited Saturday with utmost impatience, anxious to meet the remainder of my "landsleit". I was ecstatic and joyful upon being received as a long lost brother. From then on my home ties strengthened rather than weakened. I attended Shul every Saturday, becoming active in the Yedwabne organization and eventually becoming Treasurer of the Shul.
Our goals and aspirations to help our beloved overseas, never waned.
When bad news reached us that the old beautiful Shul in town, which was one of the most famous in Poland, burned to the ground it was a tremendous shock to us. We immediately decided to take action. The shock came too at the time when the honorable Rabbi from Yedwabne, Rabbi Wyner, was in New York visiting his son. He made an urgent appeal for help, inviting the world famous speaker, Reb Zvi Hirsh Maslanski, to a mass rally in the Beth Midrash Hagadol on Norfolk Street. The two brilliant speakers combined to make the appeal a success, resulting in the rebuilding of the Shul in Yedwabne.
The second big challenge to our past was the First World War. The town of Yedwabne was one of the towns most devestated in the war. But this time too, as in the past, we offered our aid and support. We organized a relief campaign, doing everything possible to extend a brotherly hand to those in need.
In the same vain, our members did not forget their obligations to the Yedwabne Shul in New York. When we decided to construct the building for our Shul on Henry Street. The "Bet Haknesset Chevra Anshei Yedwabne", will always be remembered as my personal object of dedication in life as well as the ultimate link connecting our past with the present while giving us hope for the future.
I remember my father taking me to shul when the Chevra were tenants of the Stutziner-Graevo Shul about 1917. We occupied the street level floor of the building located at 242 Henry Street. That was where I was Bar Mitzvaed. The Tish family had their regular seats which was the first large bench to the left of the Bima. My father was the envy of all the landsleit. His entire brood of seven sons traipsed into Shul and we as children carried on like small children would, mischievously.
Occasionally my father would take us to the Redzilover Shul on Division Street near Montgomery Street. That was where my mother's family came from. Radzilova was a close neighbor, some 15 kilometers from Yedwabne, Poland.
I recall that in 1922 when the Yedwabner were housed in their own Shul located at 216 Henry Street, my oldest brother had graduated from medical school and my father gave a kiddush for the landsleit and my brother was called up to the Torah on that Saturday and recited the Haftorah. It was one of the highlights at that time to have a professional man in their midst.
In 1926 we moved out of the East Side to East New York, Brooklyn and my affiliation ceased, however my father continued to attend all the meetings of the Chevra and was on many committees.
I recall attending in 1935, the 50th year anniversary banquet. It was a lavish affair and the committee was commended for a wonderful job they did.
I recall, evenings when every one was looking out to the horizon pointing to Yedwabne. If the sky reddened, this was a certain sign that our neighboring shtetel Yedwabne is G-d forbid, burning.
The Radzilovo Jewish Community came to their assistance at once, by first loading full wagons of loaves of bread and other immediate necessities which were dispatched quickly to the "Nisrofeem" (burned out people) of Yedwabne.
The same was vise-versa. Yedwabner Jewish people looked to our horizon and when they noticed it red they knew that Radzilovo is in trouble, so they quickly came to our assistance.
The reason for the oft burnings was due to the straw roofs on most of the dwellings in the shtetel.
These childhood reminiscences about such true devotion between the two towns Radzilovo and Yedwabne, must have been the main reason why I joined the "Chebra Par Israel Anshe Yedwabne", and I am honored to be its active president for the past number of years,
These experiences must have given me an added talent to appreciate a beautiful Shul. As soon as I arrived to the United States, I was happy to find just such a Synagogue in our Yedwabner Shul in N.Y.
I recall an incident, when I noticed once a stranger who quietly spat on the beautiful shiny Synagogue floor. I became so outraged, that as young as I was, I forced that elderly stranger to clean it up immediately, otherwise, "I would clean it with his own beard", I said. He realized his misdeed, and thanked me for calling it to his attention.
Louis Gordon has been for many years one of the most active officers of "Par Israel Anshe Yedwabne" in New York.
He came to be known as the only man who stood up against the spiritual leader of Yedwabne, the well known Gaon Rabbi Yosef Chover. This occurred during a "drosho" (discourse) held by the revered Rabbi at the Kol Nidre services.
Hagaon Reb Yosef Chover mentioned a problem that caused ********* (profanation of the name of G-d) which called for repentence, This matter was the contraband business through the Prussian border by certain Jews, thereby avoiding taxes to the government. From his honored place in the synagogue Yosef Shimeon Marcus, who felt guilty for his part in the business, then interrupted the Rabbi by exclaiming
"Rav, if this is the case, why have you taken on a Rabbinical position in a town which is situated near the border ... ? ! This was the only time that the highly esteemed Reb Yosele was criticized.
The incident ended peacefully. But after the Holy Days were over, a meeting was called by the Jewish community of Yedwabne, whereby Y. S. Marcus was punished with a "knoss" of 50 ruble, then a colossal sum. The money was given to the committee for buying sforim (books) for the Beth Hamedrash (house of learning).
It was told that since that episode, his wealth diminished gradually and his standing in the community fell greatly.
Yosef Shimeon Marcus' impoverished children had to leave Yedwabne for the wide world. The Grandson sold out the Grandfather's unique Rabbinic library to cover his financial needs, and the books of education, he rented out to Yeshivah students.
Nonetheless, Reb Yosef Shimeon Marcus of Yedwabne was registered as a renowned person in the book "Toldos Haaretz".
Rabbi Winer who was born in Tabruk, a city situated near the Prussian border which had many Maskilim, was influenced by them, so that he mastered the new Hebrew literature.
Rabbi Winer learned in the kolel of Kowno and received Smicha from the great Rabbi Isaac Elchonon Spector of Kowno. He became the son-in-law of a Shochet in Aniksht. There he also learned Shchita and B'dika.
After he was widowed, he married Sarah Sherel, the daughter of Rabbi Gershon Mendel of Tabruk. She raised his three children.
In the year 5656 he became Rabbi of Visun, a small but famous town. Many Kehilot belonged to this town. In the year 5663 he took the position at the Kehila in Yedwabne.
In the Rabbinical world he was famous for his book "Rav Tivchaya" that he had published in Warsaw in 5673. The book is a guide in the field of Nikur.
When the first world war broke out in 5674 (1914), the Russians expelled all the Jews from Yedwabne, and together with their Rabbi they became refugees. For a short time they lived in Bialystok and then in Tanbuv Russia where Rabbi Winer became Rabbi.
At the end of the war 1918, Rabbi Winer tendered his resignation to the Kehila of Yedwabne, explaining that he intended to move to Eretz Israel where he had been offered a position as Rabbi. That was his life dream but it wasn't fulfilled. He was murdered together with his wife during a pogrom upon the Jewish population of Tanbuv.
Rabbi Daniel Rabinowitz was an executive in a large border town business at Kovna. He would be home at Kolno for only two months of the year, Nison and Tishrei. All the care for the family was left in the hands of Rabbi Bialystocky and the Rabbitzen Bluma.
Rabbi Bialystocky then received his second Smicha from Rabbi Binyamin David Lelin, Rabbi of the city of Kolno. In 1889 Rabbi Bialystocky became officially a member of the Bet-Din of Kolno, where he was deeply involved in all the worthwhile organizations. He also became the Dean of that city's Yeshiva where many of his pupils developed into famous Rabbis.
Rabbi Bialystocky was a recognized Talmid Chacham. He had the knowledge in astronomy to enable him to make a calendar (Jewish) for many years / He was knowledgeable in medicine through which he helped many sick people.
When the Germans entered Kolno during the first world war, a decree came from the government that while the city of Kolno shouldn't support more than one Rabbi, it was suggested that Rabbi Bialystocky take the position of the kehila in Yedwabne, whose Rabbi Winer left during the war to take up a position at Tanbuv, Russia.
Rabbi Avigdor Bialystocky was highly respected in Yedwabne. Although he was a Chasid and went occasionally to the Rebbe of Slonim, he did not impose Chasidus on his Kehila. He was a very close friend of Rabbi Yechiel Mordechai Gordon, Dean of the Yeshiva of Lomza, and was admired by the Yeshiva students. During the time that the Polish Government were prohibiting Ritual Shchita and the non-Jews were not purchasing the hind quarters, it became necessary for Jews to use the hind quarters. Rabbi Bialystocky was chosen by the Agudas Horabonim of Poland to head the special committee to care for the Nikur of the hind-quarters.
Rabbi Bialystocky did not have sons, but he had three daughters. The youngest daughter Yocheved received a degree in Law at the University of Warsaw and practiced Law in Wilno and later in Moscow. She is the only one of his three daughters who survived.
Rabbi Bialystocky was Rabbi in Yedwabne from 1918 until the fateful day on July 10, 1941 when all the Jews of Yedwabne together with their Rabbi were burned alive. May G-d avenge their blood
Who of us does not recall the extra gladness in "Cheder" when we heard of a birth of a new boy in the shtetel.
We impatiently awaited the conclusion of the "Maariv" (evening) services. Then, as regimented soldiers, we, the 4-5 or 6 year olds, marched singing to the residence where our newest colleague awaited us. We shared with him the finest that we then possessed, namely, the chanting of "Shma-Israel" by which the greatest in our nation's history had lived, and also ended their martyred lives!
We were most interested in observing the infant's facial expressions. We wondered what impressed him more; holy words that his young soul heard for the first time, or our sweet voices ? We enlightened each other with the following reasoning :
Since only a short while had elapsed from the angel's slapping his face, causing him to forget the Torah that he had too easily learned while in his mother's womb, he now must have instantly reabsorbed our "Kreeas-Shema" which reads, "V'shinantom" (you shall learn it diligently).
No wonder why the multitude of good aunts, grandmothers and friends who were present, showered upon us not only the usual goodies, but they also rewarded us withtheir most motherly heartfelt blessings ; that together with their new born, we should grow to bring Yiddish "Nachas" (joy) to our parents and our people, WHO SHALL, BY THE HELP OF G-D, BE SOON REBUILT IN ERETZ ISRAEL!
I will describe a line of laymen and teachers, leaders of the community and hard laborers, young and old, who selflessly, and in spite of danger, were trudgers to do a favor, and to save one another.
There was no obstetrician in Yedwabne, for that profession was expertly represented by a most able and righteous midwife called Rebbitzen Yoshpa Danowsky. In Yedwabne, Rebbitzen Yoshpa was seen at every bedside of an expectant mother, attending the mitzva of bringing the finest Jewish kinderlach into this world.
In all kinds of weather, storm or gale, frost or rain, you could see old little Yoshpa in the right time and place where she was needed most.
Our shtetele's surroundings were notorious for their treacherous roads during the winters. Many were the times, especially during a blizzard night, when a horse-and-buggy was stuck in a ditch unable to move on, that Rebbitzen Yoshpa, knowing that a baby's arrival cannot wait, disappeared from the buggy and trudged for hours to find the snow covered shed, where she brought joy and rescue to a poor Jewish family.
Many of us "cheder" students recall how Rebbitzen Yoshpa would save some rebellious or weaker ones among us, from the wrath of Rebbi Avrom-Aaron's punishments.
The reason was simple enough. Rebbitzen Yoshpa was considered the mother of the children, for in addition to her actual assistance at the delivery, she was the "Zogerke" (leader of the services) in the women synagogue in Yedwabne, and she prayed that their mothers conceive and give birth to healthy children. She doubly deserved the title 'merciful mother'.
On Rosh Hashana 1923, our Rebbe Avrom-Aaron Danowsky, officiated beautifully, as usual, at the Mussaf services in the great Beth Hamedrosh of Yedwabne. Since lie also read the Torah and blew the Shofar, one can imagine how tired he was at three in the afternoon, when the services were just concluded.
After greeting "Gut Yom Tov", the Rebbi discovered from me, his eight year old student, that my grandfather Reb Beryl the miller, was too sick to make it from his suburban residence to the town. As tired as he was, the Rebbe immediately removed his "Tallis" and "Kittel" (vestments), took the Shofar and trudged the distance of 2 kilometers to cause an old sick man to rejoice with the mitzvah of Shofar.
Since the "Cheder" schedule occupied our whole day, we rejoiced when we discovered that on a certain day we were going to be freed earlier than usual. Nevertheless we are unable to recall a day, Heaven forbid, that we intentionally missed "cheder". Not one blizzardy dawn passed when we children weren't the first to trudge out a path on our way to "cheder", on which the rest of the towns-folks followed with their trudging.
Whenever I prepare to read the Torah or Prophets by its "trops" (Massoretic cantilations) the patriarchal figure of our Rebbi, Reb Avrom-Aaron appears before me. His introduction to each book, both in words and melody, was so pedagogically potent, that even now, after more than 50 years his melodious voice still penetrates my soul, and I transmit it live to our appreciative students.
In our minds, the Rebbi was then the Prophet Jeremiah when in his forward to the Book of Lamentations, he chanted out the following: "Hert zich ain kinderlach! Klogt Yirmeyohu Hanovi oif dem "churban Yerusholaim"! He then started to interpret the text, imbuing us with an admiration for each word emanating from the mouth of Jeremiah the Prophet.
We students likewise recall the impressive lesson on Erev Tisha B'Av.
At that time the Rebbi portrayed for us the rich Midrashic stories of the "churban" (destruction). We blessed the small birds who carried water in their tiny beaks in an attempt to extinguish the fires of the burning "Beth Hamikdash".
He then dismissed us from the cheder at a much earlier hour, so that we would have time to run into the surrounding woods to pick the traditional "shishkes" (bristle-berries) for Tisha B'Av.
There are different interpretations for the reason of shishkes - throwing on Tisha B'Av. Our Rebbi held, that on Lag B'omer, when we fashioned from wood various kinds of swords and guns, and marched into the woods singing Hebrew songs to commemorate the uprising of our historic heroes, Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kochba, so too the shishkes throwing during Tisha B'Av carries the idea of Teaming to defend Eretz Israel. Today the shishkes become the most sophisticated Kfirs, Phantoms and F-15s. e.c.t..
It is noteworthy, that the Rebbi didn't mind when "Chevrah" throwing shishkes in the Shul during the reading of Lamentations did not miss even his own beard, for while he received his share, he felt pleased that his beloved disciples diligently carried out his instructions.
He was the official 'reader' in the town's synagogue, and in accordance with our sages, he then represented the author of the 'book' being read. Yet when he chanted, "I am the man that hath seem affliction, by the rod of his wrath" (Lamentations Chapter 3 Sentence 1) he must have thought of the Psalmist who said "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me". (Psalms 23 Sentence 4) when he felt a shishke enter his beard.
As beautiful and pleasant as the Yedwabne weather was throughout spring and summer, as it was surrounded by the most gorgeous pine forests ; so vicious were the cold winters.
Who of us doesn't recall the big snow storms that befell us shortly after our beautiful Sukkos Holiday. All the roads and byways were covered, and mountains of snow formed. To try to climb over them was nigh an impossibility. So what did the Yedwabner Jews do ?
They were all productive, either professionals or business people, and couldn't remain idle at home even for one day. Furthermore, to my knowledge, the great majority of Yedwabner Jews wouldn't miss one morning or evening to go to Shul for services.
So how did they struggle through a long, extended Yedwabner blizzard ?
The answer is simple enough. Thanks to the fact that they were trudgers (krichers), they fashioned tunnels while crawling under the fresh mountains of snow immediately before it had a chance to harden.
Yedwabner Jews then were true to an old saying: "If you cannot climb over - you creep under".
One day during a blizzard, I noticed an extremely tall person trudging slowly, but surely from the shtetel towards the direction of our house. As this giant came closer, my anxiety grew. Who could he be? But as soon as he finally reached our yard, I was happily surprised to observe it splitting into two separate acquaintances of mine.
I rejoiced, discovering that this was my aunt Yenta Pecynowitz who carried on her shoulders her son Yankel (my cousin Jakow Zofan in Yahud, Isr), from cheder. To protect both from the furious blizzard, they had rolled one giant blanket around themselves so that they looked like one very tall and straight person.
My aunt explained to me that her Yankele was on her shoulders for two good reasons. First, to save his young feet from hard trudging. Secondly, and most important, from his high perch he was able to direct her well - how best to trudge in the face of the blizzard, thereby avoiding large snow piles. Thanks to their ingenuity they made their way home peacefully.
Whenever I think of the Rabbi of Yedwabne, or the "Rov" as he was, referred to, I experience a feeling of reverence - for he was truly a saintly man. His life was one of "Kedusha Vochesed" - "Holiness, truth and kindness". I remember him well because I spent a good deal of my youth as his student. In fact, when the Rov conferred upon me Kabala, the certificate attesting to ones ability to engage in the kosher slaughter and inspection of animals according to Jewish law, he wrote of me, "Goodly Al Birkai" - ("he was raised on my knees".) This book recounts some incidents in the life of Reb Avigdor which I witnessed. It also contains sworn affidavits from Mr. Itzchok Yankle (Yanek) Neumark, now residing in Australia and Mr. Avigdor Kochov (Stem), now living in Israel, describing his death. In the final moments of his life when fire had engulfed the barn where the sainted Rabbi and his congregation of 1440 men, women and children were massacred by the Poles. Reb Avigdor of blessed memory stirred his beloved flock to die for "Kiddush Hashem" (sanctification of G-d's name). They hugged and kissed their Rabbi and then carefully repeated after the Rov each word of "Viddui" and "Shma Israel" before their souls were returned to the Creator.
His greatness was displayed in many ways. Take for example, the time when Rufke Ciesla's flour mill caught fire. The people of Yedwabne were fearful that the fire would spread and the shtetel would go up in flames, for during its long history it had happened several times. The wind was blowing toward the shtetel. The Rov walked over to the mill and humbly recited a few passages from his little "Tehilim" (book of Paslms). The townspeople noticed to their amazement that the wind abruptly changed direction. So it was said that the town was saved thanks to Reb Avigdor's prayers.
It is noteworthy that the Rov never considered himself a Chassidic Rebbe or, heaven forbid, a miracle worker. Rather, he was a humble leader of his flock in the path of the Torah. His life style, sacrificing and caring so much for others while discounting his own self, won him the admiration of all who knew him.
It was toward the end of 1936 when the infamous "Kosher Law Ordinance" was enacted in Poland. This law established a quota on the number of live stock to be slaughtered kosher. The quota was set so low as to ensure that the Jews would be denied kosher meat. In order to save the Yedwabne Jewish community from starvation, the Rov asked me to take leave of the Lomza Yeshiva in order to accomplish myself in the Holy art of "Shechita Ubedika".
The Shochet of Yedwabne, Reb Mendel Norenberg was compelled to leave the town for six months of convalescence in the health spa at Zacopanne. The Yedwabne Jewish community was unable to invite another professional 'Shub' for it feared that he may be unwilling to leave the town after Reb Mendel's return. To support two 'Shubim' was an impossibility for its poor budget. In order, however, to fulfill the tradition of two 'Shubim' the Rov used to accompany the 'Shub' He also would decide on the spot Halachic problems that arose.
On one Wednesday night, after the weekly market day, while the 'Katzovim' (Jewish butchers) prepared their meats for the busy Thursday, in the then newly built packing plant in the 'zaganik' (small forest) of Yedwabne, it happened that the Rov touched the 'keress' (pontza-stomach) of the opened carcass of a steer, belonging to Avrom Itzchok Kosacki, the katzev. I noticed that it was a small cut piece of straw, an item of the animal's regular menu, that he shoved off his fingers. The animal was passed through the inspection as glatt kosher.
At 6 A.M. on Thursday, when I came to the Beth Hamedrash, the Rov was already waiting. He bid me to go with him to Avrom Itzchok in his 'yatke' (butcher shop). While walking, he explained, that his finger was hurting ... all night, because of the thought, that perhaps there was also a needle or a nail together with the piece of straw that he had shoved off his hand. In such a case the animal would have to be ruled 'treifa' (prohibited for Jewish consumption).
I called his attention to the fact that a needle or nail in the midst of such a minute 'shetzke', as both of us had seen it to be, would be very rare. And since its the animals diet we'd have to check every straw. Consider also that in the Rov's gentle fingers even a straw would stick like a needle. While discussing this, we entered the yatke.
"Gooten Morgen" ! said the Rov. "Reb Avrom ltzchok, did you already split up that steer ?" "What" ? exclaimed the butcher in horror. "What Rebbs, is there perhaps a 'shaale' ? (an Halachic problem on the Kashruth) on this animal ?" "Rebbe, it was borrowed money. I lose, G-d forbid, everything," he continued to cry.
"Quiet down", begged the Rov gently. "Don't take it to heart, but tell me, Reb Avrom Itzchok dear, how great would be the monetary difference if you were to sell this meat to non-Jews. "Rebbe," exclaimed the butcher painfully, "perhaps even as high as forty zlotys. What will I do ? It is borrowed money. What shall I do ?" The Rov hastily took out his wallet, counted out 40 zlotys and happily gave it to the butcher, while ordering him not to sell the meat to Jews. Everyone knew that those 40 zlotys was the Rov's full salary that he had just received for his and the Rabbitzen's weekly sustenance. That meant, he chose to suffer a week's starvation, rather than entertain an infinitesimal doubt of an Halachic problem.
A high judicial case occurred in Yedwabne which only the Rov Reb Avigdor could solve. The preceding episode may explain what convinced Avrom Itzchok, the butcher who was the tallest and strongest man in town, and who feared no one, and of whom it was said in Yedwabne that "upon whomever he puts his hand, there will never grow hair again", - to bow down and admit his error before the Rov,
One day a widow came crying to the Rov that she had mistakenly exchanged with Avrom Itzchok her one hundred dollar bill, that she had saved up for her daughter's dowery. Thinking that it was a $5 bill, she accepted a smaller amount in zlotys.
The Rov sent for Avrom Itzchok to appear in his "Beth Din" (Rabbinical Court). He immediately came, but denied completely the widow's claim ; and restated what he had told her before, that there was a $5 bill only, and that she must have lost the other bill about which she bothers him.
The Rov immediately sent for Reb Yodel Boruch Velvels, the Gabai of the "Chevra Kadisha" of Yedwabne to come and bring with him the "Tahare board" (the board on which the "Chevra Kadisha" -- the holy service-men prepare a body for burial). The Rov then, asked Mr. Avrom Itzchok to stand in front of that board, while he opened the Shulchan Aruch (book of Halachic Laws), and recited to him the grave responsibility one undertakes when he swears a "Torah-vow". Upon the gentle admonition of his admired and revered Rov, Reb Avrom Itzchok, the one who never feared death, broke into convulsions, wept out loudly, and begged the Rov forgiveness for lying to him, while he returned the difference of $95 to the widow.
It is noteworthy that a sum of $95 was at that time in Poland a colossal amount especially for a poor butcher like Reb Avrom Itzchok. We can by this act, understand his high respect for the Rov, Reb Avigdor, whom he recognized to be a true selfless and superior human being.
It was on the eve of Passover 1937. The veterinarian who controlled the Kosher meat business in Yedwabne had manipulated the situation so that the small quota permitted for the kosher trade was all exhausted long before the Holy Day of Passover arrived. We may realize what such a decree meant for the Yedwabne Jews, if we remember the circumstances of those days - that almost no dairy products could be used during that holiday. This story is told of those, as yet, peaceful days that took place two and a third years before the 2nd World War.
The residence of Reb Mendel the Shochet was surrounded by Polish secret police around the clock, making certain that he could not defy the decree. In case one was caught preparing kosher meat, the inspectors would receive 1/2 of the meats confiscated, and the Shochet involved would receive a long jail term.
The Rov advised the butchers of a plan by which they could outsmart all the anti-Semites and supply Jewish Yedwabne with a Happy Passover. One day before the holiday eve, at 3 A.M. the butchers quietly knocked on my window, through which I jumped into their wagon and swiftly we galloped through the fields and hidden paths to a far away village.
We left a horse and wagon by the house of the poritz (leader of the village), and we peacefully walked to the other end of the village where in a large stable were plenty of live-stock waiting to be koshered. Everything was done as planned, correctly and in time. By the same afternoon all the meat had been already delivered into the homes of all the Jewish inhabitants of the town. The secret police and their subordinates were seen still sweating to put back in order, the poritz's stalks of hay, stables, and etc. which they had turned over while seeking the contraband ... They had been so confident of finding us at that spot, where a butcher's horse and wagon was waiting, for its owner to return. When the butcher came and the police couldn't find the expected meat, even in all the butcher stores, they all left, tired with embarrassed faces. Thus the butchers and all Yedwabne Jews enjoyed their well deserved revenge against the Hamans.
About two hours before sitting down to the Passover Seder, the butcher,' Mr. Sovietarz from the Przystrela St. in Yedwabne, knocked on my door bringing an urgent note from the Rov in which he acquainted me with the fact that this righteous man had given away all his meats to customers while forgetting to leave a share for his own household. Therefore he begged me to go to the stable of the police station to kosher his calf. The Revered Rov further assured me that by the help of G-d no evil would befall me for the sake of such a mitzvah.
I was in somewhat of a dilemma since I already awaited my U.S. Visa shortly, and it was the very same police station of Yedwabne from which I had to bring a sworn affidavit to the foreign consul in warsaw testifying to my moral integrity and clean record.
I looked at the butcher's pleading face and then on the worried faces of my dear mother and grandmother, who were mindful of the approaching war, G-d forbid to lose a visa. But yet they were overwhelmed with pity for this fine man who completely forgot his own self while thinking of everyone else. I reread the ROV'S note while listening to mother and grandmother's sweet voices ; "Go sonny and do the mitzvah, and G-d will be with you!"
When six months thereafter I stood before the American Consulate in Warsaw, and noticed how many young men were being refused visas because of the so-called psychological tests in view of the war atmosphere, I valued that Mitzvah.
The Consul asked me a question which was highly difficult to answer.
He repeated the following three times: What was my excuse in the application which won my deferment from the Polish army?
It is self understood that any logical answer like poor health cover up, white lie, etc., would have justified him to refuse me a visa.
When he angrily insisted to have my answer at once, I briefly stated that he should please answer this question by himself.
I then felt Reb Avigdor's words "God will be with you, my son" when I noticed the Consul satisfied with that answer.
In those days of decree against kosher slaughter, I always carried with me a "Chalaf" (the principal koshering knife), to be ready when necessary to outsmart the secret police, and save people from starvation.
For instance; Reb Itche Atlasowicz, the butcher, bought his animal on Wednesday, the market day, a whole week before Passover and hid her in his home cellar instead of in his regular stable. He was hoping that in this way he might avoid the watchdog's eyes. He forgot though, first that his house wasn't very far from his stable, and second, that those secret watchdogs had observed and followed him from the moment he led the cattle from the market, and that they even became acquainted with that animal's voice ...
On my way to the Beth Hamedrash, I had to pass the house of that katzev, Reb Itche Atlasowicz. The detectives who had staked-out the place around the clock, thought, that they finally caught me with a "Chalaf" in my possession with intent to committ the "crime". As I walked by, they stopped me.
I raised my hands fully when they ordered me to do so. They frisked around all my body but couldn't find a thing, because they ignored my arms. I always carried my 20-inch-blade "Chalaff" in its fine wooden box set in my coat sleeve.
The Passover Holy Day had already arrived, and we just finished the maariv services in the Yedwabner Beth Hamedrash. Reb Mendel Norenberg the shochet, said to me, that I may go home peacefully to celebrate the Seder, for, he explained with his smile of wisdom ; since those anti-semites do not know our holiday laws, that as distinct from the Sabbath, we are permitted to prepare food, which includes the necessary koshering of cattle, they surely must have interrupted their observation. So Reb Mendel Z"L himself, without any fear, accomplished that job.
A scribe in one who either writes scrolls of Torah, phylacteries and mezuzoth, or one who makes the "Batim", the leather housings for the biblical portions which together form the phylacteries. The latter is a very rare specialty for which I admired Reb Yankel Perlman, having observed him in action.
I was 11 ½ years of age when Mom sent me to the "soifer" (scribe) Reb Yankel, to observe the preparation of my Tephilin (phylacteries). I admired how beautifully he inscribed every letter on the narrow but long piece of parchment, which would later be rolled and inserted into the "Batim" that were still in the wooden press.
I then discovered that the press also was made by the soifer's own hands. Thus 3 separate professions were accounted for in one person.
But I was surprised to learn that those last professions were acquired in his old age, for previously he was the official mailman of the township of Yedwabne, and it is self-understood that he was also the letter writer in many languages for brides and groom, etc., plus the 'Feldcher' (para-professional doctor).
I am now happy to report in this book, based on the writings of the well known educator Levinsky of Yedwabne that in 1907 Reb Yaakov Perlman was a highly praised G'moro (Talmud) teacher in Levinsky's advanced school in Yedwabne.
It was said by our sages, that the true depth of a man can be recognized during his last hours.
I recall, when as a student of 16, 1 arrived home for the holidays from the Lomza Yeshiva. I was summoned by the Bikur Cholim Org. of Yedwabne to take my turn to keep watch athe bedside of Reb Yankel Perlman during the night. Indeed Mr. Perlman, a known scholar and thinker, was honoring his young attendant with valued Torah thoughts as a reward for causing him to be awake a whole night.
But, what made the deepest impression on me about this dear and great gentleman, was his deep worry, that, "he might leave this world with an extra sin", he said.
I asked of him to please tell me what it is that was bothering him? "Oh my dear," he explained, "you're so young and you never saw a person die, therefore I'm afraid that in case it happens shortly, and you get frightened, I would be the cause of it. Such a grave sin I wouldn't want to take with me to the world to come."
He began to describe beautiful stories from the Talmud, Midrash and Kabala, about the almost attractive ... passage from this world into the world to come, to make certain that in case it happened to him I wouldn't become frightened.
He continued until the morning, when we parted with the blessings of longevity of days and years.
There was such a furious snow storn on a winter morning in Yedwabne in 1922 that one could hardly see a living creature moving about on the main thoroughfare. This would not have restrained the 8 year old student from plodding his way to "cheder" (Torah school), if not for the fact that there was no bread whatsoever in the house for him to take along to school.
Mom's only monetary possession was a single zloty, with which it was planned that, when the weather were to let up, she would go to town to buy a week's supply of bread.
Suddenly, a knock was heard on the door. To our great surprise, the patriarchal personality of the Zadik (righteous man) Reb Fishel, the melamed (Torah teacher) of Lomza appeared. Although from head to toe he glistened with ice, his sweet-singing "Gut Morgen" with his lovely smile warmed us up.
Mom, although rejoicing with the highly revered guest, felt at a loss in inviting him to a meal where there was no bread to break which also precluded the traditional blessing for washing of the hands. But at this thought, while her beautiful face reddened, she rushed to the stove, fireing the wood under it, to prepare quickly a "gritz", a mixture of huber-oats, milk and potatoes, which she served hot at the table.
Reb Fishel praised that dish as highly as it had been a sumptuous meal fit for King Solomon in his time. In the place of the other dishes which would be served at such a meal, Reb Fishel showered beautiful Torah thoughts that rejoiced us all.
We felt assured, that G-d hovers over us even in the most miserable times of storm and hunger.
Mom pleaded with the zadik, Reb Fishel, that he accept her whole zloty for charity.
Interestingly enough, after the zadik left, we felt richer and happier to such a degree that we didn't even notice that there was no bread in the house. We actually lived through the Biblical story of Kings I Chapter XVII.
"And the word of the Lord came unto him (Elijah), saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow woman was there gathering sticks : and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. And she said, As the Lord thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it and die. And Elijah said unto her, Fear not: go and do as thou hast said : but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The jar of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. And the jar of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord which he spake by Elijah.
Mom, as a poor young widow with children, being inspired by the Biblical teachings as a way of life, felt the Zadik's blessings bestowed upon us.
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