Written by Melech Najsztat
[in his Yiddish book, The Destruction and the Uprising of the Jews in Warsaw]
He was from Przemysl and was an oldtime comrade of the Poeli Zion party, which he joined during his student years before World War I. He was a cofounder of the Poeli Zion student union Freedom. As a student at Lemberg [now Lviv] University, he was one of the most active members of Poeli Zion.
During World War I, he served as an officer in the Austrian army and was taken prisoner by the Russians. When he returned from the war, he finished his medical studies in Vienna, where he was active in the movement. Then he came to Pabianice as the soninlaw of the wellknown industrialist Faust and began to practice medicine there. He immediately put himself at the disposal of the Poeli Zion party in Pabianice. Until the last moment, he was one of our most loyal and active comrades. For about twenty years, he was the chairman of the local party organization and took care of its day today activities. There was no kind of work that he considered not to be important. He was known and loved by the entire community. He spoke at public meetings in the cities and towns of the Lodz region and further afield as a representative of the regional committee and of the party's Central Committee. He often represented the League for Working Israel as well. He responded to every request made of him by the Central Committee with an open heart and an open hand.
During the German occupation, Dr. Szenker left for Eastern Galicia. His wife and two sons arrived in Warsaw. After a short time he too arrived there and worked as the staff doctor in the Jewish people's kitchens. At the same time, he was active in the underground party organization.
During the great deportation (JulySeptember 1942), both of his sons, who were active members of Dror, were taken to death camps. He could not cope with his great sorrow, so he and his wife volunteered to be taken to the camps. He was fiftysix years old at the time.
Written by M. W. Kochman
Dwojre Szerodzka, the daughter of Jisroel Zalman Kjak, was an active member of the Jewish section of the Polish Socialist Party during the years of revolutionary turmoil.
She was arrested a few times due to her party activities. She also helped the party financially. She was a bright, idealistic woman who was dedicated to the ideal of Socialism as she understood it. Years later, she stood out as one of the organizers of the Relief in New York that helped the Jews of Pabianice so much during the years before World War II and also after the Holocaust. She died in America.
Written by D. Dawidowicz
Among the most interesting personalities within the gallery of Jewish scholars was Reb Henech Wigdorowicz. When he was elected, together with my father, Josef Lejb Adler, and Jekl Wigodzki to the leadership of the Zionist movement in our city during the early years of World War I, he visited us often. He enjoyed a political discussion and, from time to time, a game of cards, which he used to play with my father. I remember that he had, like many followers of the Jewish Enlightenment, a weakness for... geography!
To tell the truth, he used to annoy me when I was a child by examining me with various silly questions about geography. Once he asked me where Schpitzbergen could be found. At first I thought that he was joking, or at least that he was talking about the peak of some mountain. When I had to admit that I didn't know, he asked me to bring over the large Polish atlas. After putting on his glasses, he showed me exactly where this northern spot was located.
Many years later, on returning to Poland from France, I met up with him again. Then, as everyone knows, he was suspected of sharing the beliefs of Reb Mendele Gerer. This episode was never clear to us who come from Pabianice and remains a puzzle to this very day. I visited him in his home at that time as a collector for the Jewish National Fund. I met with him, and found him, the same as during the first years of World War I, standing next to his richly stocked bookshelves, dressed in his aristocratic bathrobe. Our conversation was on his side a sort of confession of an old Zionist who, owing to reasons that were not clear, was suspected of having sympathy for our rabbi, Reb Mendele, the great enemy of Zionism and Zionists. I parted from him heartily and received from him a nice sum for the Jewish National Fund.
A short time later he died. Fate decreed that even after his death he would not find rest. The Ger Chassidim and frequenters of the court of Ger, the Juskowicz family, could not forgive the burial society for burying him close to the grave of their grandfather, Mojsze Wolf Juskowicz. During the night they built a sort of partition between the two graves. Wigdorowicz's friend and neighbour, the Polish regional procurer, ordered that the partition be removed and sued the Juskowicz family. This disrespect for the dead, the fanaticism of which reminded people of the Middle Ages, upset Jewish public opinion at the time not only in our city, but throughout Poland.
BenZion Grynbojm, also a kind of follower of the Jewish Enlightenment, had a warm Jewish heart and great love for the world of Chassidism. He was a grain merchant but, in addition to his business, he had time to publish his Chassidic stories and legends in the Yiddish newspaper Lodz Daily Paper. Later on he also published them in our own Yiddish language Pabianice Newspaper.
During the early years of the twentieth century, we also had a talented painter named Gothelf (Jisrolik Jelenowicz's brotherinlaw) who had earned a reputation in Paris as a good artist. He published his works in well known French art periodicals.
And if we are talking about artists, we shouldn't forget one of the first artists in Pabianice, Majer Rosensztejn. In his youth he was known by the nickname Majer the Philosopher. His colourful Jewish ornaments, which decorated the ceiling of the Pabianice synagogue, reminded me of the old polychromes of the beautiful wooden synagogues of Poland. They could serve as an example of beautiful Jewish folk art. Majer Rosensztejn spent a few years in the Land of Israel with his brother Fiszl. He rejoined his children in America shortly before his death.
We should also remember an artist who worked in black and white, the Pabianice portraitist Finkelsztejn. His pictures were hung on the walls of the Zionist Committee in Pabianice especially his well known portrait of Dr. Hertzl. Before I made Aliyah in 1933, I met up with him in Paris, where he was well known in Jewish artistic circles.
The writer Hersz Lejb Zitnycki, the son of Kopl the Zionist about whom we have written before also had some connection to Pabianice.
We knew that Hersz Lejb Zitnycki was considered to be one of the Yiddish writers whose work continued the line of honouring ideal Jewish folk life amongst Polish Jews, a sort of continuation of Sholem Asch's novel Town.
Until the age of twelve, young Zytnicki attended cheder. He studied in the Pabianice primary school and in the commercial school. Then he proceeded to study on his own. Just like his father, the follower of the Jewish Enlightenment, he gave lessons during his short stay in Pabianice. Most of his students were enrolled in the secondary school but needed a bit of extra help. Later Zytnicki left the country for Brynne and Bern. He studied in a school for weavers there. After returning to Poland, he became an assistant masterweaver in a Lodz factory.
He began to publish his novellas and short stories during World War I. Some of them were particularly successful and became well known by readers of the Yiddish series Grandfather's House, which was published in the Warsaw Yiddish daily newspaper Today.
The critic Jichak Bernsztejn wrote about it in his article Yiddish Literature in the Twentieth Century Its Themes and Forms:
H.L. Zytnicki gives gentle descriptions of folk life and ways, traditions and beliefs, the everyday, Sabbath and yomtov a study of folk life in 'Grandfather's House'.
With his interesting short stories that were published in book form under the title Novels About Death, he earned a reputation in the Yiddish literary world in Poland.
Hersz Lejb Zytnicki perished while escaping from Warsaw during the first few months after the city was occupied by the German Hitlerites.
His son Hillary was better known as Jechiel or Hilek. He followed in his father's footsteps. The older boys from Hashomer used to get together at his house and work through plans for a Hachshara kibbutz with him. They also used to sneak in a game of poker with him (everyone knows that members of Hashomer were forbidden to play cards). He was what we in Israel call a khevreman, a regular fellow, who just fell in love with our youth.
Mandeltort's home was like a miniature museum. It was especially rich with old porcelain, Jewish spiceboxes and Chanukah lamps. For years I envied him all these antiques.
Hillary and his father were good friends with the wellknown Lodz painter and miniaturist Artur Szyk. They helped him during his first years as an artist, during World War I, when he used to draw Cossacks. I mentioned this in my article about Artur Szyk, which was published by the Israeli printers' union in 1943. I saw an original picture by Szmuel Hirsznberg, the famous Jewish painter, for the first time at Mandeltort's house. He was friends with the older Mandeltort, who found him a model for his picture of a beautiful Jewish head. It was the head of a milkman who used to buy the milk produced on Mandeltort's estate, which is where I saw the picture. Hirsznberg's painting reminded me of a genius more than of a simple village milkman.
We have already mentioned Baruch Majer Baruch, who over a hundred years ago was one of the earliest known Jews living in Pabianice. He was one of the pioneers of the Jewish textile industry in Pabianice. No one knows where he came from. He must have been from one of the neighbouring old Jewish communities. As a place for Jewish initiative, Pabianice attracted Jews from these communities.
His three sons had a reputation for being true citizens of Pabianice. Their names were clearly connected both to the Jewish and to the general history of the city.
The oldest son, Isidore (or Jisroel), was the first Jew to build a textile factory in our city. He was one of the first real Jews of Pabianice, someone of whom both Jews and nonJews were proud. He had a warm Jewish heart and great aspirations in the field of industry. He was a sort of pioneer of textiles at that time. He was also active in Jewish community life.
As they say he kept in his hands the keys of the Jewish community fund box and of the synagogue and even kept the big heavy prayer books in his home. He was also a very strict manager of the factory that he built on what later became known as Saska Street. It was one of the largest industrial installations in the city not only by the standards of the time, but also by much later standards.
His brother, Tadeusz, was better known as a communal activist than as a factory owner.
The third brother, Maximillian, had nothing to do with Jews. He was assimilated and later on he converted to Christianity. He became famous in Lodz as an attorney and perhaps even more as a historian of Pabianice. He described the history of the city in a series of interesting monographs, beginning with when it still belonged to the Krakow clergy. Then he described the later French colonisation, the arrival of German weavers from Silesia and Saxony, and up to modern times. Maximillian Baruch was also famous for founding the Polish Ethnographic Museum, a wealthy institution whose collections were famous. Most of them were stolen by the Germans during the last World War. As an assimilationist and a convert, he of course almost entirely ignored the important contribution of Jews to the development of the city. He was the only Jew who had a street named for him in Pabianice Maximillian Baruch Street.
The rabbi of Rozpszer, Reb Emanuel Weltfrejd, was the grandson of Reb Jeszaja, who was descended from the first rabbi of Lask, Reb Eljokim Gec. He was a follower of the Seer of Lublin and the Holy Jew [both well-known early leaders of Chassidism]. He came to Pabianice a few years before World War I. He had a reputation not so much as an outstanding intellect, or as a rebbe, who could lead a court and attract Chassidim, but more as a gentle person who drew the Chassidim of Pabianice to himself. They were without tradition weavers, merchants, factory-owners and everyday Jews. It is possible that he settled in Pabianice after leaving his small town because his sons and sons-in-law had found a promising field for business initiatives in Pabianice.
As we have said, he was noted more for his gentility than for his rebbeness or his pedigree (although he could trace his family back to the seventeenth century). Many Jews, and not the ordinary ones (who yearned for the Torah of a saint), and not just the respected householders and sons of the Torah who were not close to Chassidism, founded the first minyan in the Rozpszer rebbe's shtibl.
My father who was descended from a Misnagdic family from the city of Kalisz and a mother in Israel, and was far from Chassidim, rebbes and shtiblakh got together with Symcha Nirenberg, his son-in-law Mojsze, Mojsze Srebrni, Abram Rotberg, Szlama Blatt, and a few other householders. They began to visit the rebbe, and in time they became more like his good friends than his Chassidim.
On Saturday after prayers, at the kidush, the rebbe used to talk a bit about politics with his Chassidim the householders. And they say that he was even a bit caught up in the story [tainted by] of Zionism. His youngest son, Chaiml, was secretly reading Krynski's Hebrew youth journal, which my brother Monjek, who went to school in Warsaw, used to have sent to him every month.
All week, ordinary Jews prayed with the Razpszer rebbe, Reb Emanuel, while his beadle Abele led the prayers. On Saturdays almost all of his Chassidim came to the rebbe. The morning prayers were said by the lame watchmaker Jerozolymski and were led by Emanuel Szpinkelsztejn. The Musaf was said by Reb Symcha Nirenberg. The rebbe entered from his little room, sighing heavily and saying in Yiddish Oy, dear father in heaven!
For us children, Simchat Torah with the rebbe wasn't just a yom-tov. It was a deep experience a lordly, hearty Jewish celebration. All of this was thanks to Reb Emanuel. Young and old joined together with their families in a narrow room with little flags in their hands that were decorated with red apples with candles stuck into them. All waited impatiently for the circles to begin and especially for the rebbe himself to begin to dance with the Torah scroll the Simchat Torah dance.
If even a spark of Chassidism has remained with me, it is less because of my mother's family ties to the Radzyner court (my grandfather in Warsaw was related to Reb Gerszon Henech himself), and more because of Reb Emanuel Weltfrejd's Simchat Torah dances. It really was a world of joy that he expressed in those dances with the Torah scrolls. The rebbe raised his feet like a young dancer. His white socks and his white beard contrasted with his black silk coat and you could be excused for thinking that he was floating on air. A joy difficult to describe in words revealed itself in this dance of love between the rebbe and the Torah scroll.
During World War I, when my father was elected to the Jewish Community Council, he left the rebbe's little prayer house and began to pray in the large synagogue (he bought himself a seat near the Eastern Wall, near the rabbi's seat: the rabbi was Reb Szymon Kirszbojm, who was himself a follower of the Sokolow rebbe). Yet on seder nights, after he conducted his own seder at home, he would visit the rebbe in order once again to experience the feeling of having been freed from slavery in Egypt.
Many years later, after the rebbe had already left Pabianice and shifted to Lodz where he was called the Pabianice rebbe I saw him once again. This was during a visit to my parents in Poland in 1938, barely a year before the Holocaust. At this time, I came as a guest 101 from the Land of Israel and wanted very much once again to experience the Chassidic emotions of thirty years before. I talked my father and my brother Icze into visiting Reb Emanuel.
It was on a Saturday. His small prayer house near the Green Market in Lodz was very similar to his small prayer house in Pabianice. He himself had not changed much either. Just as he did twenty years earlier he would enter the prayer house and still send a greeting to the Master of the Universe in heartfelt Yiddish:
Oy, sweet father!
However, our father in heaven did not hear the rebbe's prayers. Together with millions of his brothers, the Razpszer rebbe perished during the first years of the war. The Germans tortured him to death.
Josef Cymberknof earned the right to be mentioned as one of the first rebels. He stood up against the Ger court in general and especially against Reb Mendele Alter, the Pabianice rabbi. Who can judge today what was required thirty or forty years ago for a Chassidic young man to oppose the judgements of the Ger court? How much moral and also physical pain (to put it simply, he was beaten up) did this man, who dared to leave Chassidism for the Mizrachi or even for Zionism, had to survive? This is the sort of revolutionary that Josef Cymberknof was at that time, when he gave himself over heart and soul to spread the ideals of Zionism amongst Chassidic youth and founded the first cadres of the Mizrachi youth group in our city. He was also one of the first who made Aliyah with his entire family. Here in Israel he dedicated himself to communal work. For a long time he was the head of the Workers of Mizrachi movement.
In the context of the battle between the Pabianice Zionists and Reb Mendele, I remember the following story:
Even before the first rabbinical election, when Reb Mendele Alter was elected rabbi of Pabianice with the help of the Polish government, Reb Joske Dawidowicz (who was then one of the four first Zionist leaders in Pabianice) received a letter from the famous Polish Torah scholar Reb Majer Dan (the Ostrowcer rebbe), who had once headed the yeshiva in Dwort (Warte), where Reb Joske had studied as a young man. The Ostrowcer rebbe turned to his ex-student in his letter, asking him to try to help
Reb Mendele to get elected as the rabbi of Pabianice, because he was the crown of the Polish- Jewish world. In addition, he asked him to broker a peace between Reb Mendele and the Zionists as was befitting for a Torah scholar. You understand that Reb Majer had chosen the wrong party. The rebbe had clearly forgotten that much water had flowed under the bridge since Reb Joske had studied in the yeshiva in Dwort and that the power of the saints and of the Chassidic courts had already lost much of their previous influence.
Reb Symcha Nirenberg was one of the first Jews in Pabianice. He was attracted to the factory city. He came from Kamienec-Podolsk and settled in Pabianice during the last years of the nineteenth century. He soon gained a reputation in the city as a Jewish merchant with a broad outlook and also as someone who was good at leading prayers in the synagogue. His heartiness attracted a larger congregation.
His large business dealings connected him to a world of merchants from deep in Russia. He even brought merchants from the Caucasus to Pabianice. He was also one of the first Chassidim to follow the Razpszer rebbe, Reb Emanuel Weltfrejd. Many of Reb Emanuel's Chassidim weren't really Chassidim, but ordinary Jews who enjoyed the gentility of the Razpszer. Reb Symcha Nirenberg, the Chassid and also a communal representative, was one of these.
His family was large and his home displayed his broad Russian nature both in terms of giving charity and in terms of putting up guests and doing similar Jewish good deeds.
Henech Frejman, one of the old householders of Pabianice, was a Zionist leader and led services in the synagogue as well. He enjoyed leading the services at the Mizrachi prayer house, which was located in the home of Elijezer Mendl Lewin.
My brother Icze was very musical. In the days of the Rapzszer rebbe, he used to play the rebbe's melodies on the piano every week after the Sabbath was over. He also had an amazing sense of humour. Once, on a Friday night in the Mizrachi prayer house, he promised us that he would surprise everyone after the Sabbath was over and play a brand new version of Lecho dodi by Henech Frejman. He sat down at the piano once the first star appeared in the sky, with a mysterious smile on his lips. He sang the words of Lecho dodi to the melody of the Parisian waltz Under The Bridges of Paris. The rhythm of the Parisian waltz suited the words perfectly right up to the end. It was interesting he added later, while laughing, that the congregation in the prayer house picked up the new melody quickly and enjoyed using it to sing the holy words of the Sabbath prayer.
It is worth mentioning here that Henech Frejman wanted to settle in the Land of Israel but, until he could manage to do so, he sent his son and daughter on ahead. Fate decreed that his son should be one of the martyrs of the Palmach during our War of Independence.
I want to tell about the transmigration of another melody. This time it was the doing of a young Pabianice artist named Welwl Szer. He was known as a musician in our city and especially as an enthusiast for the music of Felix Mendelssohn. He worked in Yiddish folksongs together with the comrades from Hazomir and even sang Mendelssohn's choral songs with our student group, which called itself (with a bit of pretention) Meloman. We used to get together and sing with Welwl at Fela Abramson's house. She was one of our comrades from Hashomer Hatzair and was herself an amateur singer with a fine alto voice. The most important thing that Welwl Szer ever did was to conduct the choir of our famous cantor Jermiahu Wendrownyk. This cantor was one of the best cantors and liturgy theoreticians in all of Poland. The choir consisted of ten or twelve choirboys, of whom I especially remember the bass singer Jechiel Grynszpan, who was a member of Hazomir.
It was no wonder then, that on one yom-tov I think it was Succoth the choir sang the Hallel in the synagogue, set to Beethoven's music. As I have already said, this was all Welwl's doing. The famous chorus of the Ninth Symphony, with Schiller's words All men are brothers...matched the words of the Hallel very well. The cantor sang the first part of this song of praise and the choir added ki I'olam hazdo, the concluding words.
It seemed to me that Beethoven himself would have greatly enjoyed his famous symphony, changed into a song of praise to the Master of the Universe himself. Although Schiller's people and especially his German brothers were not particularly humane, or brotherly...
Welwele Szer emigrated to South Africa before World War II and became the head conductor of the choir in the large Johannesburg synagogue.
Amongst the various homespun types in Pabianice, Hehendil the Sachmorozhnik (I never knew his real name) deserves to be mentioned here. His main income, as his nickname shows, was to sell ice cream. On warm summer days he used to stand in the Rogatka on Widzenwe Street, near Zonenberg the newspaper boy. Dozens of children stood around him and for a kopek (and later for a groshn) they too could lick ice cream.
Hehendil didn't only sell ice cream in order to support his wife and children. This business, after all, was only successful at certain times of the year. Amongst us, the children of the old part of Pabianice, a bright moment is etched on our memories. It is connected with Hehendil's artistic profession.
As Purim approached, Hehendil used to prepare a band made up of six or seven musicians. They would play well known Purim songs in front of the homes of the householders, but that wasn't all. Apart from the famous song Today is Purim, tomorrow no more... with which they began the musical evening, the band was masked and its Purim players would present for the pleasure of the householders (and even more for their children) a play usually The Sale of Joseph. If they were greeted well if the kopeks and later the marks and the zlotys poured into Hehendil's hands as an encore he used to add a Chassidic march or even a song from Goldfaden's operetta Shulamis or similar pieces.
It was hard to make a living and, in addition, Hehendil had a lot of children. Despite all of this, he was carefree, a happy pauper, a small town Bohemian.
A wonderful Jewish character was Reb Mojtele the wagon driver. I didn't know him, but Jews in our city used to tell hundreds of stories about him.
Let's set down a few of the better known stories that made him famous in our city. They served for years as artistic material for our Pabianice humourist, the actor Herszl Jedwab.
Reb Mojtele was no great scholar and reading caused him a lot of trouble. Another of his disadvantages was that he had a speech impediment. When he led his Seder, dozens of Jews would stand by his window in order to enjoy his reading of Chad gadyo. Others would tell how he read the story of B'nai Brak. According to Reb Mojtele's version, the story began with Tarfun being left without the rebbe (poor thing). Another story that clowns used to tell about him was that they glued pages of the Book of Lamentations into his Hagada. Since Reb Mojtele really enjoyed the celebration of Passover, he read the Hagada together with the Lamentations. Abram Rotberg and Henech Glass, those old Pabianice-ites, were masterful imitators of Mojtele's Seder, making much of every detail.
On late Friday afternoons when he used to drive into the city with a wagonload of merchandise with two horses like eagles he didn't pay much attention to the fact that the Sabbath candles in everyone's windows were already lit. The city's rabbi used to argue with him and sentence him to donate a few cents to the needy, because he had desecrated the Sabbath. This didn't bother Mojtele much, though. His answer was always: Rebbe, take twenty kopeks and then the Sabbath won't be desecrated.His prayers were similar to his celebration of the Seder.
Mojtele was exceptionally honest. The roads over which he brought Jewish merchandise to Pabianice were endangered more than once by attacks from Christians and drunks. Yet the merchandise was in the sure hands of a loyal guard over Jewish property.
Written by H. L. Zytnicki
(The following essay was published by Zytnicki in the Annualpublication of the Warsaw Yiddish newspaper Today in 1938. The author dedicated the essay to his father, about whom Engineer D. Dawidowicz wrote in his memoirs. Zytnicki's father was a Hebrew teacher in Pabianice and was known by the name Kopl the Zionist.)
Since my earliest childhood and until I was about sixteen, as far as I can remember I was not parted from my father for as much as a day. Even later, after I left my parents' house, I was in regular and almost daily contact with my father. Letters went back and forth constantly, so that the connection was not broken for even the shortest time. As much as I tried to hide from my parents certain meetings and actions that I knew they would not approve of, each time as I wrote the pen slipped out of my control and instead by way of half-words and hints I did write about most of what I had wanted to keep secret.
I could not be dishonest with my parents, so that even when I wanted to mislead them, I did not succeed. I wrote lots of truths in my letters, exactly at the time when I wanted to cover things up with a lie. So my father knew not only about my efforts and desires out in the world, but also about my false moves and aimless wanderings. How did he react? He didn't tell me off, but quoted various sections of the bible or the Gemara, sayings that were strangely relevant to the occasion at hand. He surprised me with his simple yet very deep, always new and unexpected life wisdom.
He wrote: Clever is the man who knows his place, who knows his surroundings, who knows the places that he should avoid.
Or: Can a man walk on coals without burning his feet?
My father's sayings were never borrowed or a gesture to show off his knowledge. In his mouth they sounded natural, as if he had helped to create them, and they were a part of his natural speech- pattern a kind of second Yiddish that he used in everyday life. And he used the sayings not only in relation to people who understood them, but also about those for whom they sounded strange. Incredibly, they still understood their meaning and were still moved by their hidden power.
Yes, my contact with my father was constant. Unending, very close and heartfelt and yet today, some years after his death, very often I still think that I hardly knew him at all. The way he acted at home, the way he acted towards me these were far from everything. This did not represent the entire man. How did he act outside the closed circle in which I saw and knew him? How did he act towards himself, in the world of his own desires and dreams, outside of his connections to me and independent of these contacts? And how was he before, during his childhood, and later on, during the years of his development and youth, when I, his son, had not yet been born and when all of his later relationships did not yet exist?
It is a closed world which I cannot see into, despite the fact that I myself belong there in some mysterious way: this secret, faraway, quite unreachable world of my father.
Therefore, sometimes when I hear someone, in no way connected with me, talking about my father, about himself, and about their own world (so separate from mine); when I hear others tell about other people, to whom my father was a stranger, and who looked on him as a stranger this is a major discovery for me, as if a hidden light lit up before me. And it moves my whole being, so that a shiver passes through my body.
I had such an experience a short time ago, actually just a few days ago. I heard a story being told about my father!
An old man told it to me. I had known him once, but then I had forgotten about him and now I met up with him again, coincidentally, and recognised him. He used to visit our home, but then he shifted away to another city and we no longer saw each other. He didn't even know that my father had died and first found this out from me during our meeting.
Aaaa... he shook his very grey head with wonder. I hadn't heard anything about his having died. Oh, oh...
Yes, Reb Aron, I said to him in a sorrowful voice, that's how life is. Everything passes, as if it were only a dream...
The old man had tears in his eyes and could barely speak. Then he began to talk a lot and to tell me about various meetings that he had with my father at various times and in various places. He needed to talk now about the person to whom he had once been so close and whom he would no longer see during his lifetime. He spoke for a long time and I imbibed his words with a great thirst and with a glowing curiosity. During this conversation, he told me the story that I will now retell.
It was about fifty or fifty-five years ago. My father was then a sixteen or seventeen-year-old youth and was studying in a yeshiva somewhere in a far-flung town in Poland. Reb Aron was then studying at the same yeshiva.
At that time a Jewish religious volume was published, written by the great scholar Reb Majerl from Ludmir. No one at the yeshiva had yet seen a copy of this book, but everyone had already heard about it and they told of its many wonders. They said that the book was full of wonderful writings about the Torah and the Mishna, that the world had never heard of. Some of these marvels had already made their way to this yeshiva. So when the head of the yeshiva read aloud from the book, the boys stood around in a circle with their mouths open from amazement. They drank in his words the way a thirsty man drinks from a fresh well.
Finally the day arrived when a copy of the book arrived in the yeshiva. What happened at the yeshiva that day could not be described. The boys simply ripped the book from one another's hands. They fought over it as if it were an amazing treasure. When someone was lucky enough to hold the book in his hands and to look into it, dozens of other boys stood around him. They lay on one another, on each other's heads and shoulders, they tore at each other's belts and pushed each other away, just in order to be able to look into the incredible writing that uncovered so many new, confusing and secret ways to understand the old, well-known and well-trodden paths of the Torah.
My father, as it happened, was not amongst those who pushed and shoved. He walked around deep in thought, with longing in his dark eyes. He tried to approach a circle of boys, so as to listen to their talk about the wonders in the book but he soon gave up unhappily, like a hungry man who cannot find bread. He sat back down on his bench and continued to consider his Gemora, allowing the sweet, swimming melody around him to flow into the vacuum of the house of study. In those days, there was an impatience and excitement in his studying. He couldn't sit still for long. He would get up, try once again to approach a circle of boys who stood on each other's heads and then sit down again, lonely and sad, allowing the sweet, sad, broken melody of the Gemora to ring out.
Late at night, Reb Aron continued his story, and the words came out with difficulty from his toothless mouth, through the white thickness of his beard and moustache, late at night, about ten o'clock, when everyone in the yeshiva was already gone and only the two of us remained (your father and I, because we had nowhere else to sleep in the city and slept on a bench in the house of study), I saw your father take the new, thick book with the linen binding down from the shelf. He laid it on the table while a large candle dripped near it. He stood and leaned the palms of both hands on the table, bent both of his shoulders downward and began to sway over the book by the weak, shaky flame of the candle, in the middle of the empty, dark house of study, where only shadows danced about.
'What are you going to do now?' I asked him, getting ready to go to sleep. 'Is it time to study now? It would be better for you to go to sleep too. Tomorrow won't be too late for this book.'
'Just a minute...Just a minute...' he murmured, as if he had not heard me at all, standing and leaning on his palms, just like that, with his lowered head and shoulders, totally involved with the book.
I made my bed on the bench, because it was really late and I was tired. I lay there awake for a while, but soon, with the quiet of the house of study and the shadows that danced together with the flickering candle flame, I felt my eyes starting to close. I began to fall asleep. I knew that your father was standing there near the table, and that although it was already late at night he couldn't put the book down. The quiet music of his studying entered into my sleep and even seeped into my soul. I woke up, looked around as if I didn't know what was happening and called out:
'Still? You still haven't gone to sleep yet?'
'Just a minute...Just a minute...' he murmured for a while without looking up from the book. And still he stood like that, with both his palms leaning on the table, swaying his head so quietly, just like a tree that was being rocked by a gentle wind.
I fell back to sleep and the music continued to seep into my soul and the shadows continued to dance. I slept for a while with such a sweet sleep, as if a powerful liquor was flowing through my limbs. I felt in my sleep that I was being lifted up from my bed and was floating high in the air, as if angels had come to carry me on their wings. In the middle of my sleep I opened my eyes again for just a second and murmured:
But your father didn't answer me at all. There was just the quiet music that filled the house of study and the candle on the table that still flickered. So my eyes closed again and I fell back to sleep. It was such a sweet sleep, as if angels were floating around me.
Finally the night, the long winter night, passed and the early morning began to peek in through the window panes. I roused myself from my bench and looked around with great surprise. I didn't remember anything and I didn't understand anything that was happening around me. When I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, I saw your father still standing in the same place, still bent over the book, with the palms of both hands leaning on the table and the nearby candle almost all burnt down. It shone with a dead, white flame in the early morning light. I ran to him and yelled out:
'Ha! It's you? Still?'
'Just a moment... Wait...Wait... A few more pages...' he murmured more to himself than to me. His eyes glowed in his deathly pale face like two burning fires.
Reb Aron finished and with a sad smile he looked at me to see what I made of his story. Since my emotions were in turmoil and I wasn't able to say a single word, he shook his grey head and added:
Yes my dear, that's how it was... A whole night, a long winter night, he wasn't too tired to stand in the same place like that, with both his palms leaning on the table and to devour page after page, until he had consumed and absorbed the entire book. And when the boys pushed and shoved and fought again the next day over the book, your father was sitting calmly with his Gemora, satisfied like a person who had eaten well and drunk a delectable drink.
A delectable drink... I murmured after him, not looking at Reb Aron, but to one side, as if my eyes were looking into another world, which in a mysterious manner I could see into, but couldn't enter. I will never really be able to see it truly and it will always remain hidden from me.
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