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The Day” – Jewish Journal. Sunday, January 22, 1967:
Rabbi Efroim'l – Miracle Man of Przedborg
A Braslaver Chassid

by Menashe Unger

 

prze020.jpg
Rabbi Ephroiml

 

“My flame will glow till the coming of Moshiach”, said Rabbi Nachman of Braslav. Therefore, the Braslaver Chassidim till this day have no other leader than Rabbi Nachman of Braslav, and they try to visit his grave especially on Rosh Hashana, as Rabbi Nachman said: “My ‘thing’ is Rosh Hashanah”.

The Braslaver Chassidim who are the liveliest of all Chassidim, are called “Dead Chassidim”. They have no other leader than Rabbi Nachman for, to his Chassidim, he is a “Nachal Novea Mekor Chochma” (brook which springs from the source of wisdom – capitals spell NaChManN).

The leaders among the Braslaver Chassidim are called “Disciples”

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because another “Tzadik Yesod Olam” (pious one, foundation of the world) there cannot be besides Rabbi Nachman.

One of Rabbi Nachman's disciples was Rabbi Efroim'l Miracle man of Przedborz who, in fact, was himself a rabbi but never accepted any fees because a Braslaver Chassid cannot be a rabbi.

Rabbi Efroim'l (his name was R'Efroim Zwi Krawowski) was born in the year 5640 (1880) in Przedborz. His father, Rabbi Alter Ben–Zion Krakowski was an ordained rabbi in Przedborz. He is a descendant of Rabbi David'l of Lelev. After his father's demise, Rabbi Efroim'l was hired as Dayan (rabbinical judge) in his place.

Rabbi Efroim'l used to visit the Rabbi Eliezer David of Radoshitz and the Rabbi of Radomsk. As is stated in the introduction to the book: “Oneg Shabbos”, (a collection of manuscripts according to the weekly portions of the Torah which was recently published), the rabbis of Radoshitz and Radomsk told their followers from the neighbourhood of Przedborz: “Why do you come to us, you have nearby your city Rabbi Efroim'l by whom you could be helped more than by us?”

The Rabbi of Radoshitz had a custom that he never admitted to his presence a Jew to give him “Sholom Aleichem” if he had not immersed himself before in a Mikveh. Even after immersion in a Mikveh he greeted the people with his hand wrapped in a handkerchief.

Once, Rabbi Efroim'l came to Radoshitz and as he was tired from the journey, he first went to the synagogue to rest up and afterwards had planned to immerse himself in the Mikveh in order to be able to greet the rabbi.

Meanwhile, it was reported to the Radoshitzer rabbi that Rabbi Efroim'l was in the city so the rabbi himself went to the synagogue to see Rabbi Efroim'l. When Rabbi Efroim'l saw the rabbi coming to him he excused himself for not coming directly to him because he had wanted to go to the Mikveh first so the rabbi of Radoshitz told him: “You need a mikveh? Your hand is holy and pure!”And the rabbi shook his hand with his bare hand….

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Rabbi Efroim'l would have stayed a follower of the rabbis of Radoshitz and Radomsk and probably would later have become himself a rabbi in Poland but Rabbi Efroim'l started to interest himself in the writings of Rabbi Nachman Braslaver and he became a Braslaver Chassid. He used to travel to the Braslaver gathering on Rosh Hashana. He became R'Nachman Braslaver's ‘disciple’. Rabbi Efroim'l joined the Braslaver Chassidim before World War I.

There came to Przedborz a Braslaver Chassid, R'Nachum Starks, a brother of R'Nachman Starks, the grandfather of the now so famous “Yossele Schumacher”…R'Nachum was called in Przedborz, R'Nachum the shoemaker because that was his trade. He used to come to the synagogue and tell tales of R'Nachman Braslaver. The Chassidic boys ridiculed him for telling stores of a “Rabbi Nachman”.

The Polish Chassidim knew very little about this Rabbi Nachman. Rabbi Nachum was not restrained though and he continued telling stories thereby attracting to him many young men. He sincerely believed the saying of Rabbi Nachman Braslaver that: “A twig can light a tree”. With time, he succeeded in attracting the boy Efroim'l. He started studying R'Nachman's book; “Sipurei Maasios” and “Sichos” which Rabbi Nathan, a disciple of Rabbi Nachman had printed.

Rabbi Efroim'l the ‘miracle man’ because a rabbi of followers without accepting any ‘redemption’ monies. If anyone gave him a “kvitl” (note with a request) he would put it inside the “Likutei Moharan” firmly believing that R'Nachman would pray in Heaven for this person's sake.

Before World War II, R'Efroim'l went to Eretz Israel. He travelled first to the Braslaver Chassidim in Warsaw to take leave of them.

In Jerusalem, in those days, support was given to the refugee scholars so the Braslaver Chassidim asked R'Efroim'l to take this support as well but when he entered and they asked him if in Poland he was a rabbi, he answered no and consequently received no support. When the Braslaver Chassidim asked him why he had said so, he

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answered: “But I was not a Rav; I was only a Dayan, should I have said a lie?”

In the High Holy Days of the year 5706 (1945) R'Efroim'l still prayed with the Braslaver gathering in Jerusalem. A few weeks later, he became ill. The Braslaver Chassidim came to visit him and he forewarned them at this time not to eulogize him after his death and not to mention any praises about him.

On the 16th day of Tevet 5706 (1945) the Braslaver “Disciple”, R'Efroim'l passed away.

R'Efroim'l wrote many manuscripts but he burnt all of them. He had a dedicated disciple, R. Hillel Michalitz who supported him financially both in Poland and then in Israel. R. Efroim'l used to correspond with R'Hillel. In his letters were included much “Chidushei Torah” as well as stories of R'Nachman Braslaver. R'Hillel saved these letters and 20 years later came a Braslaver Chassid named R'Yaakov Dov and collected these letters. He arranged them according to the weekly portions and produced a book of 518 pages named: “Oneg Shabbos”.

In the sefer there are many items from the Polish rabbis which he absorbed in his youth and quite obviously could not ignore them.

Rabbi Efroiml very often uses numerical evaluations but on each page are also quotations from R'Nachman and his disciple R'Nathan. He brings many stories from R'Nachman Braslaver, many of them previously printed, and many of them which he heard at gatherings. Three main points are outlined in his book: “Oneg Shabbos”: 1) a Jew should always be “happy” (p.23). 2) Never despair (p.31) and 3) Love for the land of Israel.

Among the stories, he brings one which R'Nachman told about a King who told his Second in Command that he sees in the stars that the wheat which will grow this year will cause all who eat it to become crazy. The Second in Command asked the King: “What should we do? Maybe we should eat from the old wheat?” The King answered: “If we eat from the old wheat and the rest of the country eats from the new wheat, they will all be insane and

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will think we are crazy because we will have eaten the old wheat, therefore, we musts also eat the ‘crazy’ wheat and we will also be insane, but at least we will know we are crazy and they won't know that”.

The Braslaver Chassidim interpret all the stories which R'Nachman told as secrets of the Torah.

To the weekly portion of “Ekev” the editor, the Braslaver Chassid R'Yaakov Dov, added a collection of sayings from Rabbi Nachman and his student R'Nathan concerning their great yearning for Eretz Israel. He quotes (p.398) Rabbi Nachman as saying: “Whoever wishes to be a Jewish person – meaning to steadily rise to a higher degree – can only acquire this through Eretz Israel.

R'Nachman said: “Outside of Eretz Israel, we live like guests; we roam in the streets and markets because it is not our home; therefore, it is called “outside the Land” because we are actually outside and no one invites us in”. Not so in Eretz Israel (p.400). This is “Our Land”. In the same portion, R'Efroim'l writes about the hardships in obtaining permission to come to Eretz Israel.

R'Efroim'l was called the ‘Miracle man’ because the Braslaver Chassidim tell stories of the miracles he performed, though it is not their custom to repeat miracles of R'Nachman's Disciples.

R'Efroim'l's principle was “happiness” as he brings in the portion of “Mishpotim” (p.226): “The main thing is to be happy and pious too”.

The book: “Oneg Shabbos” is an important one for those who are interested in the continuation of Braslaver followers; how the disciples continue to “weave the golden thread” of R'Nachman Braslaver.


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The Jews of Przedborz

by Mendl Gershonovitz, New York

Memories, dreams from the past, from early and late adolescence, episodes and experiences – all these clamour to be put on paper thus bringing out and perpetuating the images of the Jews in Przedborz, the shtetl (town-let) in which we took our first steps, in which we struck our roots, learned at the Heder, grew and matured to become faithful sons and daughters of the Jewish people. These are things which one cannot forget. They remain engraved in one's memory forever. One longs and suffers. One wants to pass it on to future generations so that our children and their children will know where they come from and who were their fathers and grandfathers. By perpetuating their memory, we wish to urge the future generations to learn from our grandfathers the high morality and the virtues in which they excelled.

The pictures of the past present themselves to my mind's eye and I see myself again in the shtetl which is divided by the river Filica. The part belonging to Przedborz considered itself more important than the other side, Widoma. Przedborz comprised the whole municipal administration, the Town Hall and the Mayor as well as the police station with its four policemen.

 

Feivish the Barber-Surgeon – and the Pharmacy

Feivish the barber-surgeon lived near the bridge and he substituted for a physician. The whole shtetl considered him a physician and was tended by him. If someone were to ask me whether I could characterize this man in a single word, I would not have to think much in order to come out with the answer: gentleness.

He was the personification of gentleness, tact and worldly wisdom. In addition, he displayed an immense patience both to his patients and to people who needed his help.

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On the opposite side, near the bridge, there was the pharmacy. The pharmacist was a fine person, a Pole, bald-headed with a black moustache, with carefully washed hands who just like everything in his pharmacy, sparkled with cleanliness. The fragrance of the medicines wafted outside and was felt all over the street.

 

Culture-Hungry Youth

On the left, on Kinska Road, the Jewish Cultural Association was situated. It comprised a voluminous library and the youth used to gather there in the evening to listen to lectures about writers and books, political events and various social problems. Culture-hungry youth concentrated around the Cultural Association. It had already sampled the difficulties of life and attempted to strive for a better future by means of learning and knowledge. Many of them dreamed about breaking out into wider spheres which was supposed to lead to a better life.

 

Abraham Wolf Zeinvis – A walking encyclopaedia

Przedborz counted among its youth a number of talented individuals who could, under favourable conditions, have grown into scholars in various fields. One of them was Abraham Wolf Zeinvis, nicknamed “The Walking Encyclopaedia”. He had read a lot and whoever wanted to know particulars about a book, a writer, a poet or a scientist – turned to Abraham Wolf Zeinvis who immediately told him what he knew on the subject – and what he knew was immense. Moreover, he knew how to explain matters so that it was easy to memorize them.

 

The Synagogue and the Ritual Articles

Many people will no doubt write about our wonderful synagogue which had been painted by many painters from other towns and various countries. Tourists also used to come and exclaim over the beauty of this old synagogue which focused the creative powers of past Jewish artists in our small town.

In my mind's eye, I still see the synagogue of Przedborz in its

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full splendour. On religious holidays when the synagogue was suffused with light, adorned and decorated, the prayers accompanied by wonderful melodies, my childish heart, probably like that of other worshippers, went out to Mt. Moriah and it seemed to me that I could hear the Levites singing in the Temple. An exalted enthusiasm took hold of one and all and the belief and confidence in the return to Eretz Israel, to the holy city of Jerusalem, gained a pace.

I can still see in my imagination the Falish, the room in which the silver Torah crowns, pointers and other ritual articles were kept, with the jackets of the Tora scrolls embroidered with silver and gold thread and parochet curtains, rich with history and legend. There was even a parochet which was connected with Napoleon. Thus, from generation to generation went the story of Napoleon's visit to the shtetl, riding his white steed. When he came to the synagogue, he expressed his wonder at its splendour, beautiful architecture and artistic carvings. Carried away by enthusiasm, he took the piece of expensive material which covered his horse's back, with its embroidering of gold and silver, and donated it to the synagogue.

 

The Pious Deeds of Rabbi Ephraiml

When I think about the house of learning, it suffices that I close my eyes and I see in front of me Rabbi Ephraiml, in his full greatness and glory. He was a short, thin and wrinkled Jew but when it came to prayer and learning, he became a sheet of flame.

He was a genius of brightness and intelligence. Day and night he learned Tora. When he learned with the people, they considered him a “mouth of pearls”, which means that from his mouth emanated pearls of wisdom. He always acted with holy enthusiasm for his Rabbi, Rabbi Nahman of Braslav in whose powers the Braslav Hassidim believe till this very day.

Rabbi Ephraiml contented himself with a small piece of bread and a cupful of warm water. Many wonder stories were told about him and, in my memory, I retain a story that testifies to his human greatness.

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All through the summer, Rabbi Ephroiml wore a gown of a thin material but when winter came with its biting cold, his wife bought him, with the last of the money she had in her possession, a winter coat. On the morrow, however, he came from the house of learning without the coat. Seeing his wife's astonishment, Rabbi Ephraiml explained with a characteristic simplicity: “In the house of learning today I met a Jew who was shivering all over from the cold. His thin gown was full of holes. Wouldn't you, in my place, have given him the coat? For he might have perished of cold, God forbid. How can one let a person go into the street in such attire?”

 

Shlomo Berish the bath-keeper

All the people in our shtetl knew Shlomo Berish the bath-keeper. He went about his work very seriously. On Wednesdays, he already began to prepare for the whipping in the steam bath. On Thursdays, he stoked the stove and let it burn the whole night until the next day. The big and heavy rocks were red-hot. The Jews who came on Friday into the bath poured basins of water onto the stones which engendered a heavy steam so that one bather could not see the other. But the hotter it was the more pleasure the bathers derived from it, and when the bath-keeper began to whip the naked bodies of the bathers with small brooms, the pleasure was immense, the joyous exclamations rose to heaven demanding: stronger, livelier… It sounded like music to Jewish ears.

 

Kopele the coachman

Not far from the Mikveh (ritual bath) in a poor shack, lived Kopele the coachman. He used to drive his horse and carriage from village-to-village, to exchange cups, plates and pots for rags. He was short of stature and had a twisted leg. In his semi-ruined house, poverty reigned supreme, whipped up by the wind that blew through the holes in the broken roof. When it rained, there were not enough vessels at home to collect all the rain that fell indoors. The water ran

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over the dark earthen floor and husband and wife did their best to draw the water with pails and throw it into the back yard. His horse, a big mare, shared the apartment and lived in a corner of it which was partitioned off by a sheet.

 

The Fair

Tuesday was the great day of the fair in anticipation of which people prepared themselves for many days. Monday night kept all the shtetl awake; they tidied up, calculated and prepared the merchandise for the next day's fair.

At dawn when the world was still in semi-darkness, people began to set up stalls and tables, exhibit and hang out the goods: suits, trousers, hats, boots, haberdashery and pastry.

This fair had existed for many years and it attracted peasants from the whole neighbourhood, each of whom brought something to sell and bought from the Jews, with the proceeds of the sale, various household commodities.

The peasants used to come mostly with their horses and carts in which they brought sacks of grain. It sometimes happened that when a peasant had no more grain from his last crop, he brought a few bushels of wheat destined for sowing the future one. There were also peasants who came all the way on foot. Old and young, men and women carrying pleated baskets, bags or tin boxes containing eggs, bunches of onions and so on. On their carriages they hauled potato sacks, chickens and various fruits. One could see them from daybreak onwards going on foot and there was no peasant, either man or woman who would come empty handed or with an empty cart. Everyone carted or carried something for sale.

The fair took place in a large public square on which horses, cows and pigs were also sold. The noise was terrible. Horses neighed, cows mooed, pigs squealed and calves that were lying tied up on the hay in the carriages whined. Commerce was at its peak.

There were some Jews who bought goods for their own consumption

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but the majority bought for commercial purposes – in order to resell.

The Tuesday fair was looked forward to eagerly be drapers who used to sell on that day several metres of material. The grocers, who could not earn enough from their sales to the shtetl's Jews to make a livelihood, also looked forward to the fair hoping to get some money from the sale of sugar, kerosene and other goods. The same applied to the tailors and shoemakers. The baker too, with his fresh buns, looked forward to the peasants who didn't begrudge themselves on fair-day from partaking of fresh white pastry.

 

Conflicts

Best of all fared the shops that sold alcoholic beverages for most of the peasants that came to the fair, whether they bought anything or not, could not resist a drink. Tuesday's fair also presented an opportunity for the peasants to meet with friends, Jews with whom they were on the best of terms having known them since childhood and with peasants and relatives from other villages. Thus they went to the pub to celebrate the meeting, an affair which, in many cases, ended in blows.

Such fights were a frequent occurrence at fairs, for various reasons. It sometimes happened that people came to blows after trying in vain to settle a conflict over a glass of vodka – a conflict over inheritance or the demarcation of a field boundary.

The Jews of the shtetl were used to such fights and there were, among them, those who were quite conversant with the matter under controversy. Not infrequently did such a fight flare up over a shikse (peasant girl), courted by two young peasants – a rivalry which lay dormant until they met on fair-day in the shtetl.

 

When bad luck foiled the Fair

All three were secondary matters and events since the main role played by the fair was an economic one – not only for the inhabitants of Przedborz but also for those of the neighbouring shtetls

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who used to come to the fair to sell their merchandize. Not always did everything go smoothly. Occasionally, a heavy downpour or a snowstorm ruined the chances of holding the fair. The roads were covered with water or snow; the peasants could not come to the shtetl and so the fair came to nothing.

Such an annulled fair weighed heavily on the poor Jewish shop-keepers and artisans. On such days, the bitter fate of the Jews living in the small towns could be observed. They would borrow from each other, or from charity funds and when the loan had to be repaid, there was no money to repay it. There were also Jews who borrowed for a few days only so as to buy some merchandise and then repay the loan from the proceeds of the fair. But when there was no fair, there was no turnover and the Jews went about with sorry faces, unable to face their creditors.

I can still recollect how the stall were set up in the middle of the fair, filled either with ready-made clothing, shoes, hats or ladies' and children's garments. Everything was tightly packed together. A bitter competition raged between the shop-keepers and the artisans who were looking forward to an income from the fair. Particularly rough was the pushing and the noise on the eve of the Christian holidays. At that time, one had to be on one's guard and watch with eagle's eyes lest something be stolen from one. The peasants, both men and women, had to be closely watched for among them were very agile individuals who could pinch something in front of one's very own eyes.

These were the means by which the Jews of our shtetl gained their livelihood. There were also permanent shops selling drapery and food. There were shops in which one could buy pepper and salt for two groshy (the smallest coin), or a herring for ten groshy. There were also tailors, hatters and cobblers whose only trade was to turn an old piece of clothing or patch up old worn out shoes.

 

Competition and boycott

In the last years, the struggle against Jewish commerce was

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acerbated, in addition to the increase in taxes and a boycott was proclaimed against Jewish shops. The gentiles placed pickets and urged the peasants not to buy from Jews. Yet, there were still peasants and workers who preferred to buy at Jewish shops. The fledgling Christian merchant did not excel in politeness. The buyer did not feel at home in the Christian shop the way he felt in the Jewish one. He was forbidden to touch any article, was obliged to remove his hat and, what is most important, the prices in the Christian shops were higher than in the Jewish ones. He was, furthermore, not allowed to bargain.

In Jewish shops the Christian buyers felt quite free to choose and feel the merchandise to their hearts' content. They felt free to bargain and to reduce the prices, to enjoy credit and pay on an instalment plan. The Jewish merchants and shopkeepers were homely, easy to talk to, not proud and lent a sympathetic ear to the personal troubles and worries of their Christian clients.

The Przedborz Jews were fully aware of the problems of their Christian neighbours, the peasants from the villages, as well as of their customs and ways of buying and commerce. In addition to this, the Jewish shop-keepers were also buyers of the agricultural produce brought by the peasants to town for sale.

The shops were primitive. In the winter, the trials of the shop-keepers were particularly tough. They suffered from the frost and the wind, warmed their frozen hands on the fire-pots and scarcely saw a buyer enter their shops.

This is what the poor shops looked like. There were, however, a few well-to-do merchants who owned shops of a higher standard and traded on a larger scale but their number was very small.

The Jews of Przedborz used to go to other fairs as well and it often happened that officers of the tax authorities came to check whether those who traded at the fair had the requisite 'patents' (certificates) permitting them to ply their trades. This was naturally connected with payment of taxes. There were poor women who had sewn with their own hands a quantity of little girls' dresses or skirts for the

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peasant women and other poor shop-keepers who could not afford to buy 'patents' and pay taxes.

If the 'sequestrator' (inspector) caught such shop-keepers without a licence to trade, he confiscated their goods and fined them. The appearance of such 'sequestrator' at a fair had the effect of a ghost appearing. If he was noticed in time, the vendors hid their merchandise but were not always successful. Then it was a bitter day for them which would affect their material position for a long time.

 

Jesters

There were a number of jesters in our shtetl like Israel 'Crutch', for example, who loved to jest and play practical jokes. They became particularly active on the fair-days and indulged in their jokes which were then discussed at length in the shtetl to the accompaniment of a lot of pleasurable laughter.

Israel 'Crutch', a poor Jew but always happy and joyful, could coin a saying for every event. Once, when he went by train from Garskowice to Lodz, he sat in the same wagon as a rich couple who had taken a lot of sweetmeats with them. Israel was very hungry and at a certain moment, it seemed that he was going to faint. The rich couple took pity on him and gave him some sweets and other tasty food which Israel was not slow in polishing off. In the shtetl, it became known that this was just another one of Israel's practical jokes.

Motel Golem (clod) was the nickname of another individual of our town and nobody made any attempt to find out what his real family name was. He was a Jew with a long, dark-brown beard, who used to carry water and fish in the Filica River. Once it happened that his fishing line got stuck. He did not think twice but raised the tails of his coat and waded into the water. But the water got deeper and deeper until it reached his neck. Still, Motel forged ahead even though the water was ice cold. The only thing he was afraid of was that his fishing line might tear. Jesters who were watching this, offered

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him five grosay if he could say a chapter of the Psalms while standing in the water. When he was finally done with the chapter, he was as blue as spleen.

 

Aharon the Black

Among the eccentrics of our shtetl was a Jew called Aharon the Black. His small black beard was already in my time mingled with grey hairs. He wore his hat with its visor turned sideways and frequently used to tell about Berditchev, the town he came from. He was apparently very much attached to Berditchev for he used to mention it even when he spoke to himself.

When Passover came and the Jews of the shtetl set out to prepare wine, Kosher Lepesah and everyone put raisins in bottles and in small barrels, Aharon the Black made the rounds of the shtetl complaining that no care was taken of poor Jews. He, therefore, suggested that instead of everyone putting raisins in bottles and barrels, the Jews would do better to collect the raisins in sacks and then thrown them into the Filica River so that there would be wine for every Jew….

 

Sliches

When one writes memoirs, things – images and types – get mixed up and one tends to write about things that happened later before those that preceded them. When we mention types from our shtetl, we cannot ignore the yellow-haired Shamash – a Jew with a red beard – who used to make the rounds of the shtetl on Friday before candle-lighting. He would knock on the doors and shutters with a wooden hammer which he had in his hand and call: “The Holy Shabbat is coming – you have to light candles!”

Particularly fervent was his appeal before the High Holidays when the days of Sliches arrived. At four a.m. he was already pounding on doors and shutters: “Get up Jews to do the Lord's work”.

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On Saturday night before Rosh Hashone, the first Sliches were said. After twelve o'clock at night, the House of Learning and the Hassidic oratories were crowded with worshippers. Fear reigned among the people. They told stories about great Jews who knew how to impress the Creator with their prayers and with their demands from Him. Every conversation ended with a grown: “Such fear … the month of Elul, how are you going to approach the Creator? …

In the days of Elul, Jewish shoulders became more bent; prayers were more heartfelt, bitter and restless. Once a Magid came to our shtetl. He was an old man, weak of body and with a high forehead. He came shortly before the Minha prayer on a poor and shaky cart, and immediately after the prayer in the House of Learning, he began to hold a sermon in which the world was likened to a sea and human life to a ship on that sea and man to the captain of the ship. If the captain is honest, he steers the ship well and is not afraid of the stormy sea. His voice rose higher and higher: “Elul has come. Rosh Hashone and Yom Kippur are coming!” His listeners shook with awe.

The Magid complained that the world had withdrawn itself from God; human beings had sunk in the mire and that when Elul came, people had to awake and repent their sins.

The days of Elul were, in our shtetl, days of serious introspection and settling of accounts with oneself and the whole world. The Jews prepared themselves for the High Holidays and a whole week before Rosh Hashone; they got up at four in the morning and went to say the Sliches prayers. The yellow-haired Shamesh took care that no one should be late. He did not skip a single house but knocked his hammer on the shutters and called with his musical voice:

“Jews, get up for Sliches, Sliches!”
In the house, the children awoke together with the grownups. Everyone told himself that the Yomim Noroim had come; the frightful days in which one had to repent. Jewish children always waged war on sleep and that continued even after they grew up. Every religious Jew was very much afraid lest he “sleep away” the years of his life. Life was hard and full of worries. One could hardly

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Notice how the time went by and Jewishness demanded a lot of time: praying thrice a day; saying a chapter of Psalms; a chapter of Mishnayes; washing the hands before food; saying grace and other prayers, observing Sabbath and the Holidays. And what about the commandments between and person and his fellow man? Give to charity; visit the sick, and so on. Where could one muster the time for all of that? So there remained just one way out: steal from the night, knock some time off one's sleep.

Thus, the Jews behaved all through the year, particularly in the month of Elul – the month of awakening including the awakening of the Jew from his mental sleep to make him prepare himself for the Day of Judgement.

With cries and weeping, the prayers carried from the House of Learning: “the soul is Yours and the body is Yours. Take pity on your handiwork….” In the brains of old Jews, sad thoughts drilled. There, in the other world, there is a paradise and prayer should be made in order to be worthy to go there into the lighted paradise. One should, therefore, in the days of introspection, apply to oneself the yardstick of justice; strive to improve and amend whatever can be amended and in whatever measure it can be done.

In those days, the Jews in Przedborz tried with their utmost efforts to amend their own deeds. For that is the meaning of repentance. That is the meaning of prayer and Sliches and of all the preparations for the Judgement Day.

 

A story about an opened grave

Various stories circulated in our shtetl – wonderful stories which frequently evoked fear. Such was the story about Haim Tzalkes' oldest son who, after his father's death, managed the affairs of the bakery together with his mother. He died suddenly and was buried on the very same day. After midnight, he visited his mother in her dream and told her that he had been buried alive.

The mother cried and wept but did not know what to do. On the next night, he visited her again in her dream and said that he had

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tried to get out of his grave but couldn't manage it so he had bitten a finger off his right hand and had torn out his hair.

On the morrow, the mother went to the Rabbi and told him her dream. The rabbi made a lot of it and went with the whole congregation to the cemetery where they observed that the earth over the grave was disturbed. The burial society people opened the grave and all who were present saw that the deceased's hands were full of hair, that he had torn out of his head and that on one side lay his bitten-off finger.

At some distance from the market stood the big church. The Jews knew that on the eve of the Christian holidays the priest used to incite the Poles against the Jews so the Jews took care, in those times, not to go out at night into the streets for when the gentiles left the church, they let themselves go throwing stones at the windows of Jewish houses and beating up a Jewish passer-by.

 

The Circumciser

In our shtetl there were a number of small factories such as the knife factory of Henech Weiman; an oil factory and a number of furniture workshops. There were no big factories at all. Life flowed quietly and slowly. The Jews nicknamed themselves: “Przedborz Creepers” but among them were good and pure individuals whom we shall never forget.

Reb Yosef Singer, a tall man with a long black beard; a Tora scholar and the shtetl's circumciser. He was called Yosef of the bridge for he had leased the bridge and collected twenty groszy for every horse and cart that passed from one side of the bridge to the other, from Przedborz to Widoma and back. He lived with his family in a small wooden house in which he also had a small iron-monger shop. Somewhat further from the bridge, on the left hand side, was situated the court of law.

Widoma had a synagogue of its own as well as a House of Learning. There was also a cemetery.

[Page 38]

There lived merchants and artisans, coachmen and porters, simple folk and scholars.

In Widoma there was a hill called “Mayova Gora” (Hill of May). The air there was clear; there were many poplars and young people used to spend their time there walking, singing and talking.

Near the right side of the hill, where it began to rise, stood a number of big houses which seemed half sunk into the ground. The chimneys protruded with parts of the walls and evoked fear. They were named the cursed houses and many legends circulated about them. People used to tell that an orgy had once taken place there; that men and women had danced there naked with the music playing and wild voices being heard until a late hour of the night. Jews had run quickly to the rabbi awakening him and saying that devils had taken hold of these houses tempting people to commit sins. The rabbi had then uttered a curse and the houses and their inhabitants had sunk at once into the ground.

It is heart-rending to realize that our shtetl is no more and that all the dear Jews were exterminated with the utmost cruelty after being tortured by the German murderers, and that there is no trace left of them – no monument – and that we don't even know where their bones lie.

Among the perished were my father David Ya'akov and my mother Hava-Pesl, with my sister Hedl-Lea who died in Auschwitz. Let these lines, therefore, be a monument to their lives that were thus cut short.

 

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