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|Note: The English that appears in this section has only been slightly edited from the original appearing in the book. Although the level of English here has a lot to be desired, we decided to place it in, as is, since we believed it important to make available the events and people it describes.|
by Zeev Tsurnamal
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
Oh! Who could help me and grant me the power to describe without deep pain and emotion, my home town Lask, but if I was predestined to do so, I shall not cry, My glorious and wonderful town! as the ruin and desolation is much deeper than the scream and lamentation would only violate the terrible sorrow.
Where once there had been a prosperous Polish Jewish community, with many good and resourceful people, honest and forward, fearing the ways of the Lord. People well learned, pleasant and kind nothing has remained but my soul is full of pain for those who have gone and will never come back again.
I see them once more, all my community, even stricken with poverty, they were never afflicted and pessimistic. During the six days of labor they worked quite hard and rested during the Sabbath, rejoicing in the pure joy of those who believed. They were very proud with their religion and observed it in every way. In spite of having found solace in their faith.
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They were afflicted by all the misfortunes and prohibitions, but never desperate as they found deliverance and comfort in the Lord. We must deeply mourn all of them. In the Rabbi of Gur's dwellings and his Hassidim, it was very frequent to see violent scenes of sorrow and pain; they prayed and asked for peace and appeasement, but sometimes there was great joy and happiness. For example, at the death of their rabbi doing a big banquet, Bar Mitzvot and weddings, or when concluding the Talmud. Even during their meals they discussed material matters there was always a trend of sanctity and divinity.
I loved those days, when all the world was really a world, and even man was a little universe of his own surrounded by big woods, streams on which flour mills were built, where we bathed during the hot days of summer. We escaped from the Heder and left our Gemarah and its arguments. The rabbi demanded an answer to his questions, and I, in the meantime, was having fun in the Rodolph's stream, and the argument with the rabbi remained unsolved.
Hersch Waller used to say that the Gemarah is the center of the world and all the rest has no value whatsoever. The Gemarah is the source of life in our inner selves. But we were looking for life near the little stream or in the
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green pastures, in the river by the flour mill, in the orchard of the soda water factory, in our paradise here on this earth, in this world.
We lived in two entirely different worlds, and there was no clashing between them, in the heder by the Gemarah, a world of mysticism, promising the next world, but at the Berzezinsky's orchard, we tasted the paradise here below, what even the perfect righteous ones were not granted.
Those days were wonderful for us children, if our parents were afflicted with sorrow and worry for earning a living or educating children who paid any attention to all that. We had two worlds of our own; we enjoyed all the beautiful and melodious prayers from all the Zmirot, Ahavat Olam Ahavtanu, Lechu Neranena, B'nei Heichla Dechsifin, Yedid Nefesh Av Harahamim, Essader Lesseudatah, Dror Yikrah. Where ever we went we were accompanied by those melodies, also the chants during The Solemn Days which never left our lips even in the midst of our games in our terrestrial paradise.
We had many benefactors, who cared for us supplying us with the goods of this world. Matiss Shohet, Half Wolf, Shalom Berzezinsky, Aunt Feigeh, and Aunt Roize, the sons and daughters
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of the above mentioned families were really angels. All of them took care to make our lives more pleasant. I shall never forget those youth experiences in the orchard and in the soda factory'. They were due to those sons and daughters of our age. Sheine Hannah, Henia, Abreemshe and Abraham Nahum. Three among them are alive two in England, the third one in America.
All the things which I have told are not pure imagination, but things which were real, of happiness which had been abroad in this stretch of the land, big great Poland and the town of Lask. In this town lived Jews, Jews who are no more. Since then, many years have elapsed but I still hear the voices of my teachers and Rabbis.
Rabbi Yehiel Tenier, his wife Esther, his daughter Sarah, and his son Yehoshua. Yehiel Yehiel Simha, with his big red eyes, face looked as an island in a sea of thick flaxen beard, he taught us the rudiments of the Alef Bet making us repeat endlessly. Patach Alef, Ah, Kamatz Beit, Ba, slowly, slowly after mastering the Alef Bet we began learning the Humash with Rashi; this was done with great joyful chorus. We sang our verses in Hebrew and translated it into Yiddish. As for example, Rachel's
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crying for her sons was heard, but they will finally return to their land.
That was my first knowledge of the Diaspora, Zion and Zionism. The poor rabbi, maybe he never felt how great was our enthusiasm when we recited and in my coming. Tears of compassion were shed by all the children for our mother Rachel and a light was lit on the way to Bethlehem which was not put out, and after a time was transformed into a torch and the torch into deliverance.
Our new rabbi was Hersch Weller. He taught us Gemarah and Rashi. He was a very hard severe man, an irascible person. He beat us with a lash pitilessly, without distinction between good or bad; simply for the pleasure of hitting. He snuffed tobacco all day long and his mustache was impregnated with the scent. As we sang verses from the Gemarah, he threw his whip at us, not always it reached the right destination. The injured child started to cry but the chant was stronger than the weeping and it made the crying stop.
It was good that we had our private paradise. There we escaped from the tyranny of Hersch Waller. Three periods' were allotted by our wise men for a scholar in each heder a year
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and a half. It was with a pure joy that we received our third rabbi.
Rabbi Abraham Ben Zion Litvak was an entirely different person, another style and another religious atmosphere. Here I seize the opportunity to recall all the scholars who filled the Heder under his guidance Shmuel Zinveil Kaiser, Zinveil Vilner, Mendel Zendel, Abraham Nahum and Abrumshe from the Berezinsky's, Alter Lipman, Vidiavsky and I. We were 20 pupils in all. Some left; others came instead. We were all gathered around our Rabbi in study, prayer and lamentation; we always felt a deep compassion for the fate of our people, our chanting was always mingled with sorrow, awaiting the deliverance of the Messiah.
Since the time we had flocked around Rabbi Abraham BenZion, we saw in every way and place the incarnation of the Messiah, and if on the market we saw a strange man or if to our town walked Hamagid or Rabbi Gershon Hameshulah from Israel, we thought he was Eliyahu the prophet. Thanks to our Rabbi we really understood and felt proud of being Jews, but the wicked and evil put an end to all our people; we were exiled because of our sins. We learned willingly, sang joyfully. We learned with Rabbi Abraham Ben Zion for 18 months.
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As we grew up, we did everything that was fit as young Hassidim in deeds and in prayers during Shabbat days or Festive days. Singing with all our hearts and faith. Many respectable people like Zelig Gabbay, Pinhas Gabbay, Shlomo Besserglik, Rabbi Itchaka, Abraham Berknweld, Henich Ydeah Mechess, Der alter Yohanan, Yitzhakel Neaman, R. Abraham BenZion, Moshe Aaron Veinmacher, Mordechai Mendel, R. Arele, Ben Zion, Abraham Chmons, the Purim Reb, Shimeon Essig Macher, Yisrael Maller, Tuvia Chiradzky, Wolf Chiradzky, we were all little Hassidim. We were all full of ecstatic joy.
Those were wonderful days of joy and happiness, things not imaginary but real which happened in Lask between Zadonsky Wella and Fabianitch in Great Poland. Where were all those Jews? I come here to remind some of them. Who are they? To my mother, brothers and sisters with their children, my relatives and friends from Heder all gone. All those dear friends massacred, slaughtered. The land of Poland full of the blood shed from those innocent victims, parents, brothers and wives with their children.
My dear country people, from Lask, since the day I came to an understanding. I understood
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and appreciated your talking, your joy and pain, your jokes and complaints.
Those who were murdered, and we are the orphans, we still lick our sores.
Those who were exterminated by fire, are still alive in our hearts.
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by Zeev Tsurnamal
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
He inherited his father's place as rabbi, the late Rabbi Davidel Meizlech. As a young boy he had already made a very strong impression on all the Hassidm and on the respected people in town. He was treated as a Ben Yakir by all of them. Wonderful stories were told about him and the people of Lask were very happy then when the young man was chosen to continue in the place of his late father. His noble appearance and all his bearing made a very strong impression on everyone.
His wife, Reisele, from a noble family, transformed his home to a center for wise glory for the town. Der Geiler Abraham used to tell about the pious duties performed by the young Rebbetzen. She organized at her time a group of pious women who supplied all the needs of the poor in town. Also, in community matters; she took part actively and provided her husband very often with sound advice in complicated matters. Very often she appealed on behalf of the poor and oppressed when they appeared in front of the rabbi on a religious trial.
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Very often she even argued matters over with her husband on judgments which according to her had not been fair. More than once, she asked the rabbi to renew the case especially on the matters of Kosher and Treif. This was applied when a poor man came to ask about a fowl's being hurt by a nail or if the intestines of a goose had tiny pimples. Though the rabbi was not very strict he belonged to Hillel's cast in spite of that the Rebbetzen did not allow him to easily to declare a Treifah. Very urgently she asked Rabbi Yankele, Don't you know that this is the sole portion of meat that this family has once a week? Moreover, she was well thought of and remembered by the butchers who told about her wonders. Rabbi Yitzhakale Naaman who was a frequent guest at the rabbi's house told a lot about the virtuous and noble woman who helped many a poor girl about to be married. She took care to provide a dowry for the poor couple and gave away from her silken clothes to make dresses for the weddings of the poor girls.
She was always very richly dressed with golden necklaces and lacquered shoes; she looked like a real princess. The women who went to pray in the big synagogue used to tell that the
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Rabbetzen was always very elegantly dressed. She very often changed her dresses according to feasts and holidays. On Yom Kippur she was all dressed in silken white and looked like an angel from the sky. She was a good housekeeper and her tidiness and cleanliness was wellknown all over the town. Even when she gave birth to sons and daughters, nothing was affected by the events; everything continued to run smoothly as it had done before.
At the same time Rabbi Yankele continued to study and busied himself in Torah with all his might. People said about him that he is a father in wisdom and a very young boy in years. A genius and a very learned scholar in his generation. Many welllearned people in Torah applied to him for counsel and advice and his answers were always very bright. He was very friendly with Hassidic Rabbis and he soon acquired a reputation as a person very well informed on what concerned judgment and religion. He wrote a book, two parts, titled Hedvat Yaacov, in which there were questions and answers on outstanding religious matters. As for community affairs he succeeded in gathering around him people with initiative old Hassidim and courageous workers and helped by them, he did a lot
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for the wellbeing of the Jewish population.
As a young rabbi, he dedicated himself in teaching young people and newly wed men. Every morning at dawn, many pupils gathered at his place in Bezen Shtibel to learn Talmud and Posskim. My father, may his soul be blessed, used to tell me that when he taught a part from a Talmudic tractate Nedarim with Haran's translation and explained each Klomar with a very good and interesting interpretation. It was done with all the rest of the Talmudic tractates. He belonged to our Hassidim. He was a familiar host at the Hassidim Rabbis Sefat Emet and rabbi Abraham Mordechleh, may God bless their souls, he was respected by all in the Hatzer though he did not dedicate himself to Hassiduth as he was supposed to do. It is true that he travelled as a young rabbi, a few times during the year to Gur; there he stayed for a week or more; he was not exalted and remained a passive Hassid.
Moshe Aaron Veinmacher, the enthusiastic Hassid told that when Rabbi Yankeleh stayed in Gur as a passive Hassid, he was asked by Rabbi Nosskaleh the Hassid, Rabbi from Lask, with whom have you left your congregation; who
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leads your community in your absence when you stay uselessly here? Rabbi Yankeleh answered him, My community, most of them, are nearly rabbis and don't need me. It's as a sign of respect towards my late father that I was chosen as rabbi. Others in the Shtibel told as an addition to what Moshe Aaron had told previously. Once, one of the Hassidim told a typical Hassidic story about a virtuous man, one of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. This was heard by the rabbi and his friends. As he finished his story Rabbi Yankeleh told him, Leave the great virtuous men in peace; their place is in paradise and you go and practice the law so that you will be rewarded in paradise. Very often he appeared in the Gerer Shtibel in spite of all the above said. Moreover he took part in each feast Yartseitt of Sefat Emet year by year.
At my time, he was already an old man; that is how he appeared to our eyes. We paid him high respect. From the heders we went to him to pass examinations on Talmudic studies. We saw him also during his daily morning strolls by the synagogue. Sometimes we met him on Friday in the Mikveh. When he dived, all the assistance drew
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away and went up; the rabbi dived a few times. Only when he emerged then the assistance returned to the source. During our time, he was not very active in community affairs, but he was a very strong defender for the cause of building religious schools for Jewish children.
He was the founder of the Heder Yessodei Hatorah Vetalmud Torah in Lask in the year 1918.
He was granted to lay the foundations of that building and much pained in order to get the necessary funds for that purpose. Rabbi Yaakov inaugurated that celebration with many praises especially addressed to his soninlaw's efforts, Rabbi Leibele, may his soul be avenged, and the members of the institution's committee. He concluded his speech by praising and encouraging those hands who took care to enforce the study of the Law. He did not take part in politics, though at the first opportunity he joined the Agudat Yisrael movement.
His sonsinlaw, R. Leibel, R. BenZion Horowitch, R. Ephraim Bornshtein and R. Abraham Rechtmann worked on his behalf.
After his wife's death, his health was badly affected and he became very weak. Even then he did not stop his study and research. He was always
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alert on appeals and addresses posted, and forwarded to him from all parts of Poland. He answered to everyone very politely and guided them thoroughly in finding their answers in first Posskim and last.
During 57 years he was leading Lask rabbinate and on Tuesday (the 13th of Kislev 5663), this Rabbi Yaakov Keizlech passed away; he was 82 years old at his death. A very deep mourning befell the Lask's congregation and on Polish Jewry and abroad. At his funeral, all the population in town took part and nearly a thousand of the most learned Torah teachers headed by Rabbi Shapira eulogized the deceased. He was buried in the new cemetery.
Let us all cherish and respect his memory forever!
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