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[Page 49]

Three Cemeteries

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Brooke Schreier Ganz

“Their inner thought is that their houses will remain forever”, do not read ‘inner thought’ but rather ‘graves’[1].

The three of them had specific tasks designated to them, each had its designation and each one had its role: The first one was the oldest one which began to accept those that slumber in its ground several years after the first Jews chose to settle there. Its monuments had protruding letters. It served Jewish Borşa for about 150 years. When Borşa grew to beyond the “Ritris”, and plots of land were set up in its center to bury those who go the way of all the Land, it stopped calling out to the dead, “Come, rest in my shade,” and stopped being used for its holy purpose, other than during the days of Elul and memorial days when people would come to visit its gravestones that began to bend because of the years. Vegetation grew on its monuments, moss grew on its foundations, and moist autumn leaves forged their paths between the rows of memorial stones that testified “Here is buried”[2] Jewish men and women who had once walked along the alleyways of Borşa, gave birth and married off children, conducted business in its marketplaces and worked its land until they were summoned to their eternal rest. Today, animals that chew their cud trample, graze, lap, and munch between the rows of large monuments. It has not completely given up its holiness. One day a year, on the day of the beating of the willows, on the evening before Hoshana Rabba, children of Borşa come to cut choice willow branches. That night, when it is a commandment to remain awake, that vale of death is filled with bustling life, as young school children bend their backs and cut “Hoshanot” for their households for the ceremony of the beating of the willow. When the Jewish National Fund [Keren Kayemet LeYisrael] began to raise money, they would sell them in the synagogues and send the income to the center. The poorer children would engage in this seasonal business, thereby benefiting their mothers' kitchens in preparation for the two holy days of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.


The New Cemetery

This, the second one, was set up at the top of a hill in the center of a village overlooking the main part of Borşa. It filled up with graves until the change of regime, and invited visitors to supplicate over ancestral graves and incidentally to look out over Borşa and its people who were bustling below like ants, each one hastening to his own affairs. They would admire the places of repose of their relatives. After their sojourn in the hill of the ghosts, when they had finished thinking about the world, the end of life, and the purpose on earth during their days of vanity – they too hastened to descend from the hill of gloom and escape from it while still alive.


The Third Cemetery

This was the last one… It was designated for its gloomy role after its predecessor had been filled up. An important man was given over to the Chevra Kadisha to fence it off and “dedicate” the new cemetery. This was the son of the rabbi of Borşa who

[Page 50]

gave up his pure soul after the conclusion of Yom Kippur. From that time, it greeted the deceased and buried them in the earth of its bosom. Those who snatched a glance of it from below it felt as if they heard its whispers, sending a shudder through their bones, telling them “I have a place for you, oh dwellers of below. You do not need to hurry. I am waiting for you… Live your temporary lives.” They would carry the deceased and bring them up the mountain with great difficulty through a tortuous path – a twisted, rocky path – the deceased being a person formed of clay whose time had come to leave the world, a world of falsehood, and enter the palace of the world of truth, or someone who had caught tuberculosis or some other terrible disease that cut off many years of his life – freeing himself from his torments in his prime and giving rest to his soul and calm to his spirit.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The verse is from Psalms 49:12. The commentary is a rabbinic play on words on ‘kirbam’ – inner thought, and ‘kivram’ – graves. Return
  2. A phrase (usually in the acronym form P”N) commonly introducing a gravestone inscription. Return

[Page 57]

When and From Where Did
the First Jew of Borşa Come

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Brooke Schreier Ganz

“And Abraham settled in Beer Sheva”[1] – in Borşa

Just as they believed in Borşa “with full faith in the Creator may His name be Blessed that it should not be changed in any event, and that he is first and last”[2] – they also did not forego the possibility of identifying the first Jews who set foot on the ground of Borşa – and a dispute broke out among them. Finally they voted and decided that, just as the first Jew who came from Ur Kasdim was named Avraham – the name of the first Jew in Borsa was Avraham as well – and he came by various means from Sighet. His arrival took place during the days of, and through the advice of, Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg[3]. We, who have historical knowledge and ancestral tradition in our hands, know that there was already a Jewish settlement in Borşa during the first days of the Besh”t [Baal Shem Tov] of holy blessed memory. If we accept the tradition, our first Reb Avraham was chosen as the first head of the community, apparently through a confirmation and appointment received from Kaiser Josef II who ruled during the time of the Rabbi of Nikolsburg. (Perhaps he was also the rabbi of Borşa.)

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Genesis 22:19. Return
  2. A paraphrase from Maimonides Thirteen Principles of Faith. Return
  3. See Return

The Legend of the Three

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Brooke Schreier Ganz

People in Borşa would boast that they knew the time of the founding of Borşa. From generation to generation, they told the story of three brothers who wandered to Maramures, one of whom reached Borşa. He laid the kernel from which the Jewish settlement grew and developed. It is possible to surmise that there is here some influence borrowed from the gentiles. There are many stories about “three people”, and even in history at large there are beginnings with three, such as the three Scandinavian brothers who founded greater Russia. However, why should we depend on others when we have our own: the three forefathers who founded the Hebrew nation. Why should Abraham, Isaac and Jacob not be brought as a sign, symbol, and parable for the founding of Maramures?! It appears that this is the way it was. Not this alone, but Borşa took a place at the head. With what? Here is the story: Rabbi Yosef, the rabbi of Sighet, had three sons (again “three”): Mordechai, Shlomo, and Avraham. They left Czortkow and went to their uncle Rabbi Shmuel-Shmelke of Nikolsburg to inquire about their future. What advice did he give? To hitch a single horse to a wagon and go into exile (for the sins of their youth), and G-d would make their path successful in this merit. He added that one of them should get off at the place where the first wheel breaks (there is a justification for this as well – due to the prohibition of causing pain to a living being). The horse brought them to Maramures. The first wheel became unstable in Selişte, and the eldest Mordechai descended. The second wheel slackened in Visheve [Viseu] – and Shlomo got off. When the wagon reached Borşa, the wheel of the youngest Avraham had trouble, so he got off and settled in Borşa.

Borşa merited that its first father, just as the father of the Nation of Israel, was named Avraham. We have no reason to complain against this splendid beginning. However, the families from Borşa dispute with each other, with each one wanting the village to rest upon its representative. Therefore, the legend has expanded, and

[Page 58]

family names have been given to the three. New stories arose and spread, without weakening its source from ancient times, but rather adding to it. Through the advice of the rabbi, a gift of the Kaiser was added (like Antoninus Caesar and Rabbi[1]), and this was the way it was.

Translator's Footnote

  1. Referring to the friendship of Antoninus and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. See Return


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