Y. BenEfraim (Yechiel Hering)
Translated by Chesky Wertman
Amongst the varied associations in Tarnogrod there was the Agudah and Mizrachi, referred to as the religious organizations of the youth, they actively and vibrantly participated in the national activities of the HapoelHaMizrahi and in Tzeirei AgudasYisroel. They participated in educational work, and in the preparations of religious pioneers for aliyah to Eretz Yisroel.
From moment the Beit Yaakov movement was formed there arose amongst the young girls a yearning to engage in spiritual activities and they began to assume an important role in the lifestyle of the shtetl. Contrary to the traditional view of the Rabbis who established boundaries for young girls and forbid them to study torah, these young girls participated in activities that were productive and far reaching and in doing so they acquired for themselves the eternal mitzvah of Rabbi Shimon, son of Chalafsa, of developing a proclivity for Torah and an appreciation of the supremacy of Torah in their home, and in worldly pursuits even under difficult conditions.
[Translation of Hebrew. Paragraph is same as above in Yiddish]
Young women played an enthusiastic role in the organizational activities of Mizrahi in Tarnogrod they were imbued with religious spiritual verve and idealistically sought to build a Jewish home in Eretz Yisroel.
Hapoel HaMizrachi offered evening courses in the Bible and conversational Hebrew, to help gain knowledge about the land of Israel. The Mizrahi members participated in Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund], Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal], and in distributing the shekel.
Among the young members of the religious organizations there were a group of young men known as the Villerner, they gathered in the Belzer Shtiebel [literally little house which served as a house of prayer], where they sat and studied Torah all day and night.
Inside the Belzer Shtiebel, were long tables and benches and along the walls were bookshelves filled with the Talmud and other scholarly works. It was there that we prayed, learned and held chassidic gatherings. The holidays were lively.
There was immense energy during the Chassidic gatherings. They danced and sang Chassidic songs that expressed intense spirituality and fusion with Gd; the songs that were sung in the Shtiebel were heard throughout the shtetl. At Chassidic Melaveh Malkahs [a meal in honor of the departure of the Sabbath], and at other events we spoke about many topics that pertained to the Shtiebel. The activists of the community listened, and provided assistance to help the destitute, or to arrange a Chassidic celebration, or to assist in the marriage of a bride, and so on.
Belzer Chasidim were infused with the ideal that every gathering strengthens the love of a fellow Jew, which in turn draws down the Divine Presence.
In the Belzer Shtiebel there were renowned eminent scholars:
Henekh Blum, Berish Itzekels, IsraelChaim (Yechiel's soninlaw), HershMeir Zichler, Avrahmele Shohet and his father R' Yankel, Teyvl Nachum Herbstman, and my father Efraim Yankel.
There were many others, many other Gd fearing scholars. Unfortunately, their names have escaped my memory.
A needy person a Yid, a BenTorah [literally, son of Torah who leads his life according to the Torah], who would come to the shtetl, already knew the path to the Belzer Shtiebel. There he would always encounter people young and old, who would help him in an honorable manner.
Belzer Chasidim were not only ones who davened [prayed] and learned in the Belzer Shtiebel, there were also the Chasidim of various other Chassidic Rebbes. Trisker Chasidim, Kozmerer, Sanzer and Gerrer, also davened there.
The first Chasidim in the Shtiebel were the followers of R' Yossela of Lublin. He was R' Koppel Lukower,'s brother a Tarnogrod native.
One of the interesting role models of the Shtiebel was R' Chaim Yecheil Shohet, an extremely pious person, who as a rule on Friday nights arranged meals for all the needy people that would go to the Shtiebel to daven. R' Chaim would not allow Friday night prayer services to start until all the needy people had a place to eat the Shabbos meals.
When he died, my father Efraim Yankel zl [of blessed memory] took upon himself the responsibility of arranging the meals for the needy.
R' Chaim Yecheil Shohet, also had an inn that provided lodging to the needy who would come to Tarnogrod and were unable to leave quickly. A poor religious Jew who would come to town, already knew the address of R' Chaim Yecheil Shohet, and knew that was the person who would do everything possible to assist him.
Another fine role model was R' Avraham Moshe Melamud, who was a sofer [scribe]. On Shabbos he would only speak in the holy language and he wore a shtreimel [black, broadbrimmed hat]. On Tisha B' Av [the fast day commemorating the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and other calamities] he would place a sack on his head and lament the destruction of the Temple.
But, on Purim he would cheer up the entire crowd with amusing rhyming songs and until late at night he would lecture and discuss the holiday, and other Torah topics.
In the Belzer Shtiebel there also davened Misnagdim [opponents of chasidim] who did not follow any Rebbe, but they were pious, punctilious Jews, who were very learned, that is how R' Yossel Wertman and his son were, pious but not connected to any Rebbe.
It was unnoticeable that davening and learning, in the Shtiebel, were chassidim of various Rebbes, I never heard of any arguments. The Shtiebel imparted unity and friendship.
At the time of war, in this Shtiebel, was the Ghetto Hospital. The Nazis, near the Shtiebel, in this very place, used it for their murderous acts they perpetrated on the entire town.
S. Chaper (Fefer)
Translated by Tina Lunson with Martin Jacobs
Tarnogrod had an exuberant Jewish life, with every charm, with all the joys and all the suffering and problems that existed in Jewish life in all the other Jewish towns in Poland. Until the year 5685 there was a Jewish community in Tarnogrod, that numbered some 500 families. They lived in the center of the town, in the market square and in the lanes around the market. Around them, on all four sides, the town was occupied by Christians.
Right upon entering the town, even from a distance, one could already tell where the Jewish houses began. The first sign was the end of the trees and fields that surrounded the Christian houses. There began the naked, poor little houses without the least adornment of a tree or a little green.
The Jewish houses cold also be recognized by the shutters on the windows, which were closed from inside with a strip of iron. But the Christian houses did not have closed shutters, not because of poverty, but because they had less to fear an attack than the Jews. The Jews in town had always lived in fear of the Christian attackers. True, in a real crisis the shutters would be of little help, the shutters were an unconditional component of a house and in a certain sense gave an illusion of security, of protecting oneself from the enemy.
The Jewish children always longed for a tree and they were drawn to the forest, to the fields. In free hours one ran outside the town, climbed up in someones tree and tore off an apple, a pear, a bunch of currents, except that this was tied up with fear, with the terror of the Christian proprietor, for the dog, that could exact a price. We were often caught, but that did not stop us from repeating the same thing a little while later.
Our town belonged to Czarist Russia up until 1914. The Austrian border was 7 kilometers from Tarnogrod. The village of Meydan already belonged to Austria. The Russian border post was on our side. We called the border soldiers obyeshtchickes [freeloaders / scroungers][a] and they bought everything at Jewish stores.
The horse dealers in our town used to buy up horses from the surrounding peasants and in the dark nights at the end of the month, smuggle them across the border into Austria. There were some rich people among those horse dealers, but they lived apart in a certain sense, among themselves and the butchers. They prayed with the butchers in a separate minyan.
Their trade was one of the good livelihoods in town, just as was smuggling certain linens, handkerchiefs, shawls, silks and woolens and various other goods from the Austrian side where they were much cheaper.
None of these livelihoods were easily pursued. Besides the dangers at the border there were also inspections in the warehouses, where they looked for any signs of Russian manufacture on the goods. The Jews also informed one another about such activities although that could lead to misfortunes, as in the case of Zelda Opfer who was killed by a border guard.
For each item of merchandise that Jews touched, some special permission from the government was required, and not everyone could obtain it. Yet Jews dealt in flax and linen and other agricultural products used to make clothing.
Trade in grain was well developed in Tarnogrod. There were big merchants who had warehouses in town and farmers brought grain to them. But there were also some who left home early on Sunday for the village, where they spent the whole week living on roasted potatoes and a piece of dry bread because they would not try any of the peasants food. People called them the village runners. They bought from the peasants the various goods that they had worked on all week and returned to town with them on Friday afternoon, selling the goods to the bigger merchants after Shabbos.
The main problem was how to earn enough to make Shabbos, to pay the teacher for teaching the children. Because of that Jews labored the whole week, were exhausted and very busy.
The fairs that took place in town each Tuesday were an important source of livelihood. The peasants brought their grain, chickens, eggs and milk and for the money they got for those products, bought fuel, salt, clothes, boots and other household goods in the town.
There were others in town rabbinic judges, elementary teachers, cantors, ritual slaughterers, match makers and plan poor folks, people who literally lived from the air.
The bakers had an honorable livelihood.
Merchandise was bound up with many difficulties. Besides the border guards there were also Russian officials in the town whom we called smotshkes [meaning unknown], who watched that the goods in the shops had Russian seals, showing that they were of Russian manufacture.
True, there was also a way around that. Little machines were made that could copy the original seals and stamp them onto products after they were in the stores.
Once it happened that Zelda Opfer was carrying such kashered goods from home to her shop, and met up with one of the officials who shot her as she was already on the threshold of the shop and killed her on the spot.
It is not hard to imagine the impression this incident made on the Jews in the town at that time.
Jews also dealt in flax, linen and various other agricultural products, from which all kinds of clothing articles were crafted for the peasants. Also commerce in hair was well developed.
There were also larger merchants who owned warehouses and conducted their business in the town. Others left on Sunday in the morning to go to the villages and returned only on Friday evening. Those Jews lived the whole week on roasted potatoes and a piece of dry bread.
However hungry they may have been, they did not take any other food from the peasants.
Those Jews whom people called village-runners bought up goods from the peasants and sold them in the town to the larger dealers.
The chief problem of chasing after livelihood was to earn enough for Shabbos and to pay the teacher to teach the children.
One of the bases of Jewish livelihood was the fairs in town, that were held every Tuesday. On that day the peasants brought into town the things that they had grown in their fields, what they had raised in their barns chickens, cows and horses and with the money that they earned for all those things, bought clothes, boots, kitchen utensils, tools, fuel oil, salt and other things in the town.
The greatest number of the Jewish merchants lived in poverty. Around them lived the elementary teachers, rabbinical judges, cantors, ritual slaughterers, match-makers and other religious functionaries. The hardest and poorest livelihoods were all kinds of porters and the water-carriers.
Tarnogrods rich people did not possess any big houses. Most of the houses there were built of wood. A proprietor of such a little wooden shop among the four rows of shops that stood in the middle of the market square, was considered a rich man.
Naftali Sobol did not even have that. No one knew what his wealth consisted of, but he was reckoned as the first among the towns wealthy.
He was no great Talmud scholar. He had a lovely daughter, Malkale, who was his entire hope since he expected nothing from his two sons.
When Naftali Sobol brought his son-in-law Yossele into town, it resounded through the entire village.
It appeared that this was a match made in heaven, except that the Tarnogrod match-maker had not had any part in it...
When Naftali Sobol went to shul on Shabbos to pray, we went with his son-in-law Yossele, who wore a velvet cap with a broad visor, a little different from what people wore in Tarnogrod. He wore his velvet-collared black overcoat unbuttoned so that people could see his modern silk coat inside.
Naftali Sobol was then the happiest Jew in town and knew that even the most wealthy were envious of him.
Most of the Tarnogrod Jews were followers of some rebe or another. They generally could not comprehend how one could live without a rebe. In the home, in family life, in rearing children, marrying them, especially daughters, in presenting ones self for conscription for each thing one had to get the advice and the blessing of a rebe.
One did not necessarily travel to the rebe, whichever one the followers considered theirs, because if was often too far, so one went to the Belzer Rebe or to the Rozvadover Rebe, and they often visited the town.
On the contrary, the wealthy, like Yosef Munis or Moshe Yoynes, could indeed travel to distant rebeiyim. They wanted to be sure that the followers would not fall away from their rebeiyim and sought ways for them to visit the town more frequently.
So, the rich men used to bring in the Trisker Maggids son, a grandson of Rabbi Motele Tshernobiler, and the joy in the town was incalculable. The rebe held the Shabbos table in the study house, a natural place that belonged equally to all the Jews. The cabinet-makers and carpenters volunteered to put together seating for one thousand. The boards for the benches were borrowed from Moshe Leibushes and Yetshe Fogel. The benches were made like steps and reached up to the ceiling. The table rituals took a full half-day, into the night, and the joy in the town was great.
The Kuzmer Rabbi and the Trisker used to come to town in a carriage drawn by four horses that had been borrowed from the Jewish magnate, Avrahaml Fabrikant.
When the rebe left the town all the splendor, the joy, went with him, and life went back to being gray and gloomy.
There were also some rebeiyim who lived on the other side of the border in Austria. But coming over was not difficult. One had only to buy a ticket in the township for 30 kopikes, with which one could cross the border freely for 30 days.
These were the points of light in the grey life of the town. They healed sick spirits, bringing happiness and courage and giving content and sense to life.
During a visit from the Trisker Rabbi, or from the Kuzmer Rabbi, who came to visit their followers in the town, they stayed at Yosef Munis or Moshe Yoynes. With the arrival of the Trisker Maggids sons, and of Rabbi Motele Tshernobilers grandsons, the joy in the town was immense.
Often such a visit was accompanied with difficult problems. There were no separate Hasidic prayer houses. The Hasidim prayed in various study-houses. Where would the rebe pray? Where would he host the Shabbos table? True, both Kuzmer and Trisker Hasidim prayed in the prayer house in Belz, but in order to maintain neutrality the rebe prayed in the study-house and held the Shabbos table there as well.
None of the prayers, even those who did not belong to the rebes followers, opposed this. The Tarnogrod carpenters Simcha and Hershl took on the work of building the tables and benches and preparing seating for more than a thousand people.
The table was set up in the very center and the benches were each higher than the one before so that no one would block another. The boards for the benches were borrowed from Moshe Leibushes and Yetshe Fogel. The top row of benches reached the ceiling.
The rebes table rituals lasted late into the night and the joy in the town was great.
Everyone in the town knew that they had Yosef Munis and Moshe Yoynes to thank for the rebes visit, as they had taken care of the expenses and of getting him across the border.
Avreml Fabrikant was a landowner and people actually called him the Jewish nobleman of Lukow.
At that time there were other Jewish aristocrats besides Avreml in the area of Tarnogrod. But for the others the property was used only for commerce. He rented it out for a certain time and for that term the property and all its inventory could be rented out by a second aristocrat for whom the property was not merchandise that went from hand to hand. Just like the gentile aristocrats he was well established on his estate in Lukow, retained a Jewish lease-holder all those years, and conducted himself like all the other Christian aristocrats who were so attached to their land.
Getting into the estate of the Lukow prince was just as difficult as getting into any Christian estate, where the dogs threw such a fit and guards kept things in order. Before every Hoshanah Rabbah [seventh day of Sukkot] Avreml came into Tarnogrod, bought an etrog [citron] from Moshele the rebe, prayed in the study-house on holidays, made the circuits with all the respectable Jews, the rabbi at the head. He then was given an aliyah to the Torah and donated wood from his forest to heat the study-house through the winter.
When his wife Tirtza died and had to be buried in the Tarnogrod Jewish cemetery, the burial society demanded the highest sum from him, with which they mended the fence around the cemetery and there was enough left over for a celebratory dinner for the members of the burial society.
The Jews of my Town
Jews in Tarnogrod did not plant any trees, but the Jewish children were very drawn to the trees perhaps not so much the trees as to the fruit that drew them to climb a tree, pull off an apple, a pear, or something else.
Despite the fact that there was fear of the gentile proprietor and of the dog that guarded the orchard, we boys still tested fate and more than once our test ended with heavy blows and bites from the dog.
A longing for trees and vegetables lived in our hearts, and when the Tarnogrod pioneers took to the land their first thought was to plant trees and flowers. In that we saw the symbol of our ancestors rootedness in in the earth.
The Elementary Teacher Reb Chaim Tzibelkale
First of all it is my debt to mention the elementary teacher with whom I studied. He was called Chaim Tzibelkale. To this day I do not know whether that was his real family name. At the time he was already in his seventies, but it did not bother him to be the teacher of three- to seven-year old children. After age seven they moved on to a Talmud teacher.
The heder consisted of one big room in which the oven was also located, and there was also something cooking in that oven. The two big beds were covered with sheets. There were other small things besides that, and there was still space for the approximately forty children who studied with him. They all sat around the big table on which there were always lying various pieces of bread that the children had brought with them from home, smeared with butter, chicken fat or jam. Flies flew around over it all.
The old teacher had a good relationship with the children. He had never traveled outside the town. Once his son Eli Meir, who even then was burdened with a large family, but was registered as being several years younger than he was, and in his later years was called before the conscription board in Bilgoraj. His elderly father went with him. That was the first time that he had traveled from the shtetl and made such a long trip of 18 kilometers.
Our elderly teacher was full of surprise from his long journey and sought someone to express his inspiration to. He knew that most of the adults in town had made such a trip more than once and would not understand his enthusiasm, so he turned to us children and began to depict how he had traveled to Bilgoraj and back and for the first time had seen what a large world God possessed, and how much beauty there was. Inspired, he told us: You may think that over there, behind the pharmacy where the sun sets is the end of the world. I also thought that at one time. But as one travels to Bilgoraj one can see Gods great world, one rides and rides, and one goes a little way by foot to show mercy for the horse who must drag a wagon with people so far, one rides for hours and Gods world does not end, it becomes ever more wide and beautiful. If you dont see it with your own eyes, you cannot imagine it.
Reb Avraham-Moshe His Poems and His Sefira Box
Translated by Martin Jacobs
Reb Avrom-Moyshe was a melamed [teacher], a very poor man. When Purim came he wrote his own Purim story, including poems, to which he also fitted melodies.
On Purim night Reb Avraham-Moshe went around the town wearing a shtrayml [hat worn by pious Jews on Sabbath and holidays] and disguised as a Purim Rabbi [comedian parodying rabbinical ways]. With fiddle in hand he sang the song he himself had created in Hebrew, which began with the words:
Light for Mordechai, darkness for Haman,
A blessing for Mordechai, shame for Haman,
In the elevation of the righteous is joy,
In the destruction of the wicked is joyous shouting,
Hamans name will be erased
And Mordechai appointed in his place [b]
So the song that he had written went on for a long time, according to the alphabet. If his voice held out, he sang other songs too, also of his own composition.
I remember how I went around with him to a lot of houses, when I accompanied him and a lot of other boys on Purim evening to collect money to buy and repair books for the beit midrash. His songs drew out a great deal of cheerfulness and seeing this effect, his face beamed with joy.
In the morning, Shushan Purim [15 of Adar, when Purim is celebrated in walled cities such as Jerusalem], I also went with him to the square between the Shinovar and Belzer shtibl, where both had set up tables and Reb Avraham-Moshe, a short man with a long beard and broad fur hat, danced on the tables by himself while playing his fiddle and singing the songs, his own new creations.
The audience that gathered around the tables clapped their hands, children and adults recognized the melodies and tunes to which he sung his songs of praise. It was literally happiness and joy. The joy of those days has remained in my memory all this long time.
Purim and Simchat Torah were to two happiest days for the Jews in Tarnogrod, and just as Avraham-Moshe was for Purim, so were for Simchat Torah the dozen Jews who had taken upon themselves the task of bringing joy to the town by dancing and singing in the streets.
Avraham-Moshe was also famous for his sefira-box. This was his original invention. One just had to turn the specially-constructed handle and out came the date of tomorrows counting day and the basis for the accompanying special characteristics, according to the receipt for that day. The box was square and nicely carved. On the top is was covered with glass and inside were the counting days in the usual order with their characteristic bases.
In all probability the construction of such a box must have cost besides money a lot of craft and months of work.
He later gave it as a gift to the beit midrash and would not accept any payment for it.
Reb Chaimel Shohet
Among the most distinguished, eminent Jews to take on making people joyful on Simchat Torah was Chaimel Shohet. On the night before Simchat Torah he took all the children from the beit midrash and with a Torah scroll in his hands led the children through the streets, all the while shouting:
Jewish people!The children answering him in one voice:
Meeeh, meeeh.Chaimel went through the streets like that late into the night. On the morrow, Simchat Torah in the morning, he would be drunk and no one knew where he had gotten so much whisky.
After praying the Simchat Torah service late he came over to the Belzer beit midrash and took Itchele Treger by the arm and went off with him to eat kreplach at various homes. Their first visit was to Simchale Lemels, who lived right across from the beit midrash. Everyplace he went, he was followed by laughing children.
I recall how Simchales wife, Tchepele, pleaded with Reb Chaimel that she had only prepared enough for her own family. But Chaimel considered himself a drunkard on that one day, who was always invited. No talking helped. He and Itchele Treger both sat down at the table that was set with the holiday dishes, and Chaimel ordered, Itche, eat!
And Itche ate.
And so it went in the other houses where they went, singing jolly tunes and sitting down once again to eat with the appetites of people who had not eaten anything all day.
Itchele Treger made it known to the children in the beit midrash what the Garden of Eden [heaven] was and what hell was. He described to us children how he, Itchele, would be placed after his death in the Garden of Eden in a huge ritual bath full of small farfel, cut fine, and big navy beans. Good angels would fly around singing songs and talking to him, saying Itchele, east, eat to your hearts content! He would sit for three full days in that bath full of farfel and beans and eat without interruption.
We children stood with open mouths and listened to his depiction of this satiated Garden of Eden. When it came to hell he was sad, because he envisioned being put into a similar bath with the same farfel and big beans that came up to his neck, but above him flew black angels with eyes that spit fire and who told him with devilish laughter to eat. He wanted to bend his head and start eating and felt that his neck was stiff, his hands and his whole body were paralyzed yet inside in his stomach and mouth he felt a great hunger, but he could not bend. His eyes would bulge out of their sockets and he felt that he would faint from hunger...
Jewish life in Tarnogrod developed and achieved a certain level in all areas. But as each rise was accompanied by a crisis, the life of the youth became one of emigration and decline.
There were times when the economic situation was difficult and there appeared to be no way out. Tarnogrod did not have any factories or big workshops. The craftsmen worked from very early to very late at night. When it seemed as though there were not enough hours, they grabbed another eight hours of work on a winter Shabbos evening. In the morning they would run to the first minyen in the beit midrash, pray quickly and hurry right back to work.
That is how it looked in the times when there was work. Then you could hear through the windows the sound of cantorial singing and various songs.
Then came the days of crisis, when it was dark in the Jewish homes, and no one hurried to pray and there was no singing.
A depression hung over the town.
But even in those days the Jewish youth was busy with cultural activities. With the greatest stubbornness and determination, with the with the limited human and financial strength, work continued in the library which was the home and center for the youth in Tarnogrod.
Almost all the youth were grouped around the library. The Library became more than a place where one got a book. It became an educational institution, where there was concern for the intellectual development of the youth, and with a watchful eye saw to it that each member or reader would read the appropriate book that would enrich and broaden his horizons.
Its ascent also began to be expressed in other cultural forms. The drama circle was created, and everything together became an integral component of the general Jewish life in Tarnogrod.
Thus were the scholars and the ordinary Jews. The scholars taught, formed and shaped the Tarnogrod boy, who was not inclined to drunkenness and hooliganism, who walked through life with the fineness and elevation that he learned in heder.
The modesty and purity that we learned in heder accompanied us all through our lives.
The community ways in the home and on the street were Jewish through and through, and the Jews in Tarnogord, various, but bright, kind, heartful and smart, not only in their minds but also smart in their hearts, with a certain wisdom that comes from vigilant senses.
This was always the particular characteristic of the Tarnogrod Jew, who did not have the opportunity to expend his energy in any big industrial undertaking, in any many-branched businesses, and so was also far from any cold calculating and brutality.
Their strength was their belief, that is deeper than all wells and clearer than the deepest human understanding, and thus the assignment of telling about their life is so huge and so holy.
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