[Pages 213-218]

Hasidic Songs of the Modzjitzer Rabbi

“A song which comes from the heart, sings itself”

At the address 36 Dizengof Street in Tel Aviv, one sees Friday evenings groups of Jews sanding around, young people, and the stitched woolen yarmulkes look like little flat matzos on the heads of the yeshiva students, with long curled payes, and thy are singing Hasdic melodies.

This is the Hasidim who have left the Modzjitzer Rabbi's table and they've heard new Hasidic melodies which the Rabbi himself, Reb Shmuel Eliyahu Taub, had composed.

Modzjitzer melodies are famous throughout Israel. One hears the sung everywhere, on the radio station, Voice of Israel, on the Kibbutzes, and in various Hasidic communities.

The present Modzjitzer Rabbi has inherited the path of his father and grandfather.

His grandfather, the Modzjitzer Rabbi Reb Yisrael, was the author of hundred of Hasidic melodies. His son, the present Rabbi's father, Reb Saul Taub, was also the author of a great number of songs.

Interesting: The elder Modzjitzer Rabbi didn't know any musical notations. Also, the present Modzjitzer can't write or read musical notations. But still, he's the author of a melody, usually before dawn, when he walks back and forth on the balcony of his house. Then, when the inhabitants of Tel Aviv are still asleep, the present Modzjitzer Rabbi shuffles around, hums, repeats it. He repeats it a few times, when the Hasidim arrive a little bit later to begin praying, there's already bee a brand new melody produced, because song, in the thinking of the Modzjitzer Rabbis, comes straight from the heart.

And that's exactly how the former Modzjitzer Rabbi described it in his book, “Sayings of Saul”, which the present Rabbi published. A Jew asked the Modzjitzer Rabbi how it was that he created a song.

[See PHOTO-B34 at the end of Section B]

“It's brought forth in this book – Sayings of Saul”, the Rabbi answered, “with a word from the Rabbi Reb Yichzakelah of Kuzmiere: Words that leave the heart enter the heart”. Meaning, “words which emerge from a heart that's full, these words enter the heart.”

In this way, the Modzjitzer Rabbi, when the heart was full, would come forth with a song. As for instance in the song, “Then he shall sing”, said Rashi: “A song ascended to his heart”. Moses, his heart transcended itself to sing. He wanted to sing, he began to sing, and a melody which comes from the heart doesn't need to be noted down, it sings by itself.

Hasidim and other young people come to the Rabbi's table for the Sabbath meal. The Dizengof street on the Sabbath, towards evening, is filled with strolling Jews, young people, and girls, and they are all hurrying along to the “Dizengof Square”, there, as soon as the Sabbath is officially over, one can play around and have fun. The street is very, very narrow, people are hanging around after the Sabbath is over, waiting for the movie theatres to open, which are closed on the Sabbath, and concentrated around “Dizengof Square”. Others hurry along to the other side of Dizengof street, where they will hear a concert at the Talmud Study Center, of a great musical artist. Here, on the same side of the street, No. 36, the Hasidim hurry along in the darkness, in order to hear the melodies of the Modzjitzer Rabbi.

You can hear very sweet tones coming out of the synagogue, which is “Djir Anpin” – Hasidim are humming under their breath, they're in a very holy Sabbath, mood. Nobody wants the Sabbath to be over, and the songs of the Modzjitzer Rabbi just seem to reach deep down into every part of you. There's something so luminous and melodic that it seems like you can become part of the melody yourself.

The dynasty of Modzjitzer Rabbis originates with Rabbi Yichzakelah from Kuzmiere, who said, “On a Sabbath that doesn't have any melodies, you can't really feel the true taste of the Sabbath.”

The melody for Azkara, is well known in the Hasidic world, and it was composed by the Modzjitzer Rabbi, Reb Yisrael.

Hasidim tell that when a Modzjitzer Hasid used to come to the Ostrovetzer Rabbi, Reb Meir Yichael, he would tell the Hasid to sing the Askara, and tears would run from his eyes when he heard it.

After the death of the Modzjitzer Rabbi, the Ostrovetzer Rabbi said that “the Modzjitzer Rabbi should be envied because he left the world a very valuable treasure, his melodies.”

And when he said that, the Ostrov Hasidim who were gathered around him were stunned and they asked him, “Rabbi, what do you mean by that?”

And he replied in a very simple, unpretentious way, “From my teaching, the Jews don't receive any spiritual awakening, but from the Modzjitzer Rabbi's melodies, every Jew is so inspired and so moved, that they're moved to atone and to do penance in a positive way.

And the previous Modzitzer Rabbi, Reb Saul, deals with this actually in his book, “Amrai Saul”, and that the real goal and importance of the melodies was to be able to rouse people on a spiritual level and really stir them so that they would be willing to do penance and to atone; for it not just to be an aesthetic experience, but also a moral one.

A Hasid asked the Rabbi, how was it possible that his book describes rules of conduct and how you should act and how you should be punished, if you don't act properly?

“You don't move people to act properly”. He gave a little fable as a reply and it goes like this:

A Jew from the countryside who owned a mill once came into town and he went into watchmaker's store. He'd seen a variety of watches and clocks in the window, and among them was a little alarm clock that wakes people up from sleep.

This country Jew went into the watchmaker's shop and said that he wanted to buy the little alarm clock.

So they talked for awhile, and the watchmaker came to understand that his guy in the countryside had a mill, and he asked the mill owner, “What do you need an alarm clock for? You've got big hands on your mill an they're turning all the time, and they make a lot of noise, and you mean to tell me that they can't wake you up? And a little alarm clock is going to wake you up, with all the noise that it makes?

And the man from the countryside answered, “The way human beings are, that which you get accustomed to you don't even hear it, if you hear the wheels of the windmill going all day and night, you become like me, you don't even notice it anymore. But the thin little ring of the alarm clock, now that would definitely wake me up from sleep.” “Now, the same thing applies with melodies”, the Modzjitzer Rabbi said, “you have your holy books with their rules of conduct and how you should behave, and they stay right on the book shelf or the closet, in every Jew's home, and the truth is, you simply don't move them anymore to do anything.”

“But, a little Hasidic melody, with a song that comes right from the heart, however small that sound is, can awake somebody, and awake them to their depths, and awake them to moral action.”

The Modzjitzer Hasidim themselves were very great singers. They would never let the Rabbi himself just go ahead and sing a song, but they would always join in and sing with him.

The Rabbi Yichzakelah of Kuzmiere said that it's a good deed when you see someone carrying a heavy burden to give them a hand and help them along “You shall indeed help him”, and the same thing applies when somebody is singing a melody.

A song is needed only for heaven's sake, the Rabbi Yichzakelah from Kuzmiere used to teach. Hasidim tell that his son, the Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the Rabbi in Zvolin, was a great singer. At one point he suddenly stopped singing because a Jew dare not have such intense pleasure in the world.

The Hasidim came in to the Rabbi when he had stopped singing so suddenly and asked him why he did that and he answered, “I am just too ecstatic from the singing here, and I thought that a Jew just dare not have so much fun in the world.”

The son of the Zvoliner Rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael Taub, the first Modzjitzer Rabbi, set his course for Hasidic study and teaching with song and melody as a very major vehicle.

This approach was inherited by his son, Reb Saul, who, during the Second World War lived in New York, after he'd escaped alive from the Nazis in Russia and Japan.

The Modzjitzer Rabbi in New York created a great number of Hasidic melodies. In the year 1947, for the fourth time he traveled to Palestine with the intention of settling there and that's where, since before the Second World War, his son had lived, Reb Shmuel Eliyahu, the present Modzjitzer Rabbi. The Rabbi, however, became very sick quite suddenly and died in Tel Aviv on the 29 th of November, 1947, on the day when the United Nations voted in the majority to accept the partition plan of independence. The Modzjitzer Rabbi was still the last Jew who was brought to burial in the Mount of Olives, under hail of Arab bullets.

His son, Reb Shmuel Eliyahu, at the open grave of his father, was crowned his successor.

* * *

The present Rabbi was born in 1906. He got married young and he's a son-in-law of the rich man and scholar in Warsaw, Reb Chaim Moshe Cohen, who descended from a great line of Rabbis.

The present Modzjitzer Rabbi received a teaching permit from the Rabbi of Plonsker, Rabbi Tzvi Yichzakel Michelzon. And when he settled in Tel Aviv in 1935, he founded the first Modzjitzer prayer house in Palestine. He became a member of the religious council of Tel Aviv.

Now, today, Reb Shmuel Eliyahu has become the Rabbi of the Modzjitzer Hasidim, and his only son, Reb Yisrael Dan, has become a member of the religious council in Tel Aviv.

At this point today, there are Modzjitzer Hasidim prayer houses not only in Tel Aviv, but also in Jerusalem and Haifa and there are plans to establish a Modzjitzer yeshiva in Tel Aviv in Bnai-Brak.

The present Modzjitzer Rabbi has created a body of work of 200 songs.

The very loyal Hasid of the Modzjitzer Rabbi, Reb Ben-Tzion Shenker from Brooklyn, sang on a phonograph record the Modzjitzer melodies which made a very strong impression on the musical world. It's interesting that Ben-Tzion Shenker himself is a composer of Hasidic melodies according to the Modzjitzer style. Recently he made a phonograph record of his own songs which have unmistakable Modzjitzer feel to them.

It was a custom in the court of the Modzjitzer Rabbi that his songs inspired the Hasidim to create their own melodies.

Also, the former Modzjitzer Rabbi had in his circle several Hasidim who wrote songs and the Rabbi himself used to sing them at his table. Among the Hasidim who composed, the Warsaw musician, Reb Yidel Aidelzon, is well known and Reb Israel David Fostag. And it's thought that he composed the melody to “Ani Maamin” [ I believe ], which was sung in various Nazi death camps.

Over 500 songs have been composed by the three Modzjitzer Rabbis.

It would be very worthwhile if these melodies would appear in print and with the appropriate musical notations. They would be a tremendous contribution to the treasure of Hasidic music.

The most important thing to the Modzjitzer Hasidim is the rhythm. Through music, prayer can be brought alive.

A Hasid says to me during the Rosh HaShanah service, in the Modzjitzer Rabbi's synagogue on Dizengof street in Tel Aviv as we are sweating along with all of the hundreds of other Hasidim, “The Rabbi's melody goes into your heart, even when you don't feel it. You can go home, wherever you are, that melody that the Rabbi has created goes along with you, and it worms its way into your heart. And sooner or later you have to start singing it. And you do so with a great deal of spiritual pleasure.”

And the Modzjitzer Hasidin asked me to come to Israel after the end of the eighth day of Succoth, and to see how the Modzjitzer conducted the singing to honor the memory of Simcha-Torah, in exile.

After the eighth day of Succoth is over, the Jews come together from Tel Aviv and surrounding communities. The traffic in the surrounding streets is closed off and the Jews dance in the streets to the melodies of the Modzjitzer Rabbi.

Also, the Modzjitzer Rabbi introduced as the sixth prayer, “Helper of the Poor”, the song which is dedicated to the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis and instead of the joyous Modzjitzer melodies, one sings the well known “I Believe”, and the melody from the previous Modzjitzer Rabbi who was the author of “Not for our Sake”.

I, however, wasn't able to respond to the request of the Modzjitzer Hasidim, to keep my promise to witness the joyous ceremony that they invited me to, because, on Simcha-Torah I was already in Krakow, in the synagogue of Ramas, and my heart was full of pain when I saw the situation there. And so, however, once again, on Sabbath, I went to the Sabbath meal at the Modzjitzer and I listened together with hundreds of Hasidim, to the Rabbi sing Hasidic melody to “Bnei Hechala Dichsifin” [a niggun].

At the end of the Sabbath, when in Tel Aviv Jews hurry to the performance hall to a modern concert, the Hasidic Jews at the other end of the street of Dizengof gather at the Modzjitzer Rabbis to usher out the queen of Sabbath and to hear Hasidic melodies.

From Rabbi Shmuel of Zvolin, the son of the Kuzmiere Rabbi, these following words came, “It's a big responsibility that a person undertakes who sings a song, because the soul of the person can have a return through this song. What the singer sings, and how he sings a melody, can uplift an individual in the highest, most lofty way and take him down in to the bottom of hell.

The Modzjitzer Rabbi with his singing Hasidic melodies, uplifts the soul of each Jew.

(Illustrated World, number 46, 47, November 15, 1961,
November 22, 1961 - Tel Aviv)

[Pages 219-221]

From Modzjitz to Dizengof Street

by N. Bar-Oryan

Secularity has settled long ago on this street. The neon lights of Dizengof Street are blinding. Crowds of Tel Avivians swarm the movie theatres to look at the angry face of Marlon Brando or at the anatomy of Brigitte Bardot. Young men and women sit at the cafes at the close of the Sabbath drinking espresso coffee and overfilled ice-cream cups. The buses are jammed with passengers who are on their way to relieve themselves of the heat at the seaside promenade.

But the court of the Admor of Modzjitz at the corner of King George Street is still under the wings of the Sabbath. The longing tunes of  “Bnei Malkha Dichssifin” are still heard through the windows of the new synagogue. If it were not for the many electric lamps, the modern ventilators and the many young men with the knit yarmulkes, we would think we were at the town of Modzjitz itself. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu Taub, whose black beard is streaked with silver, sits at the head of the table. He wears a silken blue robe and a fur hat, his eyes closed, totally absorbed in the world of music. The Hasidim, wearing black coats, and some with shirts over their trousers, are seated around the table. Between one niggun and another, they listen to the Torah interpretations and grab the leftovers from the Rabbi's plate. After the sad niggun of Bnei Hechala, other songs, upbeat, are sung, such as the Song for David. And then another niggun of melancholy, such as Yedid Nefesh and more Torah words and another upbeat song, etc. The clock nears eight, but it's hard to leave the Sabbath and her songs…


The gates to the music world of the Modzjitz dynasty were opened by Rabbi Yisrael Taub, may his memory be blessed, grandfather of the present Admor. He composed thousands of niggunim which became famous throughout the world. The story about Rabbi Yisrael, who refused to be anaesthetized before a tough operation, is well known. “I shall hide with my soul in the world of niggun, and you could do with my body what you wish,” he told his astonished doctors. Indeed, the Rabbi underwent the surgery without anesthesia, and Rabbi Yisrael did not feel any pain, since during the three hours of the operation, he composed the niggun of Azkara.

His son, Rabbi Saul Yedidia, may his memory be blessed, father of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, inherited his father's talent. In the opinion of researchers of Hasidic music, he even outdid his father's composition talent; in addition to his originality, he developed a sense for modern music (despite his wish, pieces of his creations were adopted to the opera). He was also excellent as a performer, due to his wonderful tenor. The Hasidim do not exaggerate when they describe him as a “live piano”. Modzjitz became the source of Hasidic music and a magnet for thousands of “pilgrims” who came to listen to his singing. About one thousand niggunim that he created were listed and written down


Rabbi Saul Yedidia came four times to settle in Eretz Israel but every time something went wrong and he was forced to return abroad. When he visited the land in 1935, he left his son Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu “to put a stake in the land.” Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu settled in Tel Aviv while the rest of the family returned to Modzjitz. When Hitler's armies invaded Poland, Rabbi Saul Yedidia succeeded, in the last minute, to flee to Vilna, and after many tribulations arrived in the United States. He was received there with enthusiasm by his many admirers, who built him a luxurious residence and tried to revive the crown of Modzjitz. But his love was Eretz Israel, and so he left all the splendor behind him an immigrated to Israel in the very days of the struggle which preceded the declaration of independence. He decided firmly not to return to the Diaspora anymore. This time his ambition succeeded, but tragically. He spent only six months enjoying the land's air and giving thousands of Hasidim and admirers some of his power, until he was struck with a serious illness. On the very same day in which the United Nations voted for the establishment of a Jewish state [November 29, 1947], the voice of the Hasidic music genius was silenced. Rabbi Saul Yedidia died when he was just sixty one years old…

At that time, the first rifle sounds of the Arab murderers were heard. The roads became dangerous. Nevertheless the Hazan Ish [a well-known Admor] decided that the funeral procession would leave for Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The funeral proceeded as planned, and Rabbi Saul Yedidia was one of the last people to be buried on the Mount of Olives. According to Hasidic tradition, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu was declared, by his father's grave, the new Admor of the House of Modzjitz.


Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu was also musical from the dawn of his childhood. While his father was still alive, he composed songs that where sung by his father. When he was crowned Admor, new springs of creations opened inside him, and the Modzjitz Hasidim knew that the chain was still continuing…

He kept on his modest lifestyle and continued to live at this small apartment on Gil'adi Street. Only a year ago, following efforts by his Hasidim, the new building was completed on Dizengof Street, and the Court of Modzjitz arrived at its restful destination. The building is of two stories. The first floor contains the synagogue, a mikve and a matzoth oven. The second floor is the Rabbi's residence. At first, the aristocratic neighbors did not eye the Hasidic invasion to their neighborhood favorably. But soon they were captivated too by the beautiful niggunim and accepted their new neighbors willingly.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu (like his father and grandfather) does not know how to read notes, yet he remembers all the many niggunim that he composed, in addition to those of his fathers. After the havdalah, we asked him how he composed and what makes them so attractive. A wide smile appeared on the Rabbi's face when he said: “I will give you the same answer that my late father gave answering the same question: the niggunim are matters that come out of the heart and therefore enter the heart. And when do the matters come out of the heart? When the heart is full and overflowing…”

By N. Bar Oryan – Ma'ariv Daily, Elul 8, 1948, Tel Aviv

[Page 222]

Musical Score

A Melody of the Modzjitzer Rabbi

[Music notations on scales of melody]

Here is presented one of the Modzjitzer Rabbi's admirable melodies, in a lively, joyous genre. The melody is small in quantity, but in quality, it stretches over “three hundred and ten words”. This is one of those melodies which distinguish themselves by the elasticity of their phrasing. One can nevertheless designate it or the quality of the song to which tens of assorted psalms, Sabbath songs, could be set, like the following: “Yom Libsha, Yishmach Moshe, Yishmahu Bemalchutach, Menuach and Simcha, Hashomer Shabbat, Esdar Lesodta, Omer Beshebchin, Meren Davshemya, Marah Kohen, Ki Anu Emed and Shoshenet Yaacov”.

[Page 223]

Rabbi Avraham Shmeltzstein, Z”l

by Arye Buckspan, Tel Aviv

I arrived in Israel in winter 1932 via Jaffe Port. The sea was stormy. We were led from the ship to boats, and Arab porters carried us piggyback to the shore. There we were met by a bus and a Jewish Agency official. We rode to an immigrant house on Ha'aliya Street in Tel Aviv. We stayed there several days, until emissaries from the kibbutzim came and divided us. I was sent to Ramat Rachel [a kibbutz near Jerusalem] as a member of the Labor Battalion.

While in Tel Aviv, I took the opportunity to visit two families from Demblin: the Avram Shmeltzstein family and the David Rozenfeld family. The Shmeltzsteins received me very well. Avram Shmeltzstein was a noble man to the utmost degree. I remember that when visiting him in his small shop in the Shappira neighborhood, a worker came in and asked for soda. Avraham begged him not to buy it, since it was a hot day and the soda was cold, and the worker could become ill, When the worker insisted, he asked him to at least drink it bit by bit. Between one customer and another, he wrote his book “My Life's Epithet”…

He explained to me that because he did not have much time to live, he was building himself a living gravestone on which he told his life story. He managed to print the book and died shortly thereafter.

He treated me generously, did not let me go until I had lunch with him. He and his wife Crossa inquired about my situation. They asked, worried, what would I do in Israel without money and occupation, because they knew me as a weak yeshiva boy, not very healthy. I replied that they should not worry, “I came to Israel as a pioneer, and I am going to the Labor Battalion of Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem”. The same happened when I visited the Rozenfelds, who lived in a cottage by the sea, in the Mahlul neighborhood, and worked as a carpenter.

[See PHOTO-B35 at the end of Section B]

[Pages 224-228]

Letters and Responses

edited by Andzja Shmeltzstein

The following are passages from letters by Reb Avram Shmeltzstein to Dr. Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl and responses in Herzl's newspaper Die Welt, as well as articles on Reb Avram's books in the dailies Hatzofe and Hamelitz.

A Letter to Dr. Herzl

His honor the enlightened sage, captain of the ship of Israel, Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl.

Since I read your book “The Jewish State”, and since I heard your voice crying over the nation's ruin, and you said that her condition should be improved, and her remnants to be brought back to Zion, I became strongly attached to the Zionist Idea, as if an unseen hand pulled at my hair and said: “This is the way to go.”

To my great sorrow, some objectors to this idea came forth from among us. But if they were safe in this land that is not theirs, and if the Jews were not as ants to be stumped on by the nations, then, maybe they were right. But no! The Jews have no safe place in all the world, and as our sages said: “In your land you are safe, and you are not safe abroad” (The Book of Bechukotay). They also said: “Assets outside of Israel are not blessed.” They had the vision, two thousand years ago, of the troubles awaiting their people in the Diaspora. The Jews were assaulted for no reason. And even if there are Jews in what appears like a safe country, that safety will not last forever. Most likely they would hear from the government of that country that they should get out of there.

I am preaching for Zion and trying to dispel the dark clouds that are hanging above Zionism, but even I was not spared the poisonous arrows and the sparks of the agitators. Therefore I decided to publish my book Nogah Esh Lezion [The Light of Zion's Flame] to show them, and the Zionists as well, that Zionism is the panacea for the disease of our people.

Lover of Israel! My book throws light on the heavens of Zionism, and therefore it needs to be distributed among the Zionists, so that it persuades them more than several preachers. But since I am not sitting at the shade of money to send my book free, you must understand what the matter is. I wish only to pick a few oats, a quantity that would suffice to enable me to print the rest of my books.

As an answer to my letter, a review of my book was printed in Die Welt monthly.

A man as devoted to our idea as the comrade Avram Shmeltzstein, who attracted many a strong men by his power, has established a valuable book in pure Hebrew, Nogeh Esh Letzion. This book contains valuable, pleasant matters, which the sage A. S. preached to the Zionists in the town of Demblin.

The sermons have shown to the Zionists the true Zionist way. His hope will strengthen him, for also his uncompleted work is blessed.

A review of my book in the newspaper hatzfirah, issue number 227, 1900:

The author tells us the history of the book in the beginning… Indeed the writer is right in writing that his book can persuade many people to the cause of Zion, and to plant the seed of Zionism in the reader's heart. The sagacious author Avram Shmeltzstein is a basket full of books, and in numerous articles taken from the Torah, Talmud and Midrash, and all the books written after the closing of the Talmud, he proves the greatness of the settlement in the Holy Land, and that we should not sit idly and await miracles from heaven, but we must take pains to return to out Holy Land, naturally, with permission from the nations, by buying lands and building colonies, etc.

His book can be a faithful source to all Zionist preachers, who can draw from which all the articles that can awaken the hearts, all the pearls that can be arranged in the crown of the Zionist idea, all the pleasantries that can benefit their listeners.

And another advantage to this book: his author is not limited in his scope. Zionism for him is a general term to all kinds of ends that are needed for a people who needs to be awakened to a new life. Zionism demands our brethren not just to envision the settling of the land, and the return of the sons to there bosom of their mother, but that they should live together in peace, educate their children to Torah, wisdom and labor, be well behaved, improve their ways, be clean, etc.

For this he deserves much honor. May all the other preachers for Zion speak like him with logic. All the arguments in the book, as I said, are good and beautiful and make great impression.

Indeed, we were most impressed by his last two articles: When There is No Wisdom, There is no Fear and The Tree of Life. In the first one, the author chose to write about this wonderful idea: “Rabbi Eliezer said, the First Man extended from the earth to the heavens, and for his sin, God put his hand of him and made him small.” (from Haggigah b.) He also interpreted wisely Psalm 148: “Haleluya, praise God from the heavens,” etc. Every verse was used by him as a foundation for stories on the skies and planets, the earth and the universe, according the research of the sages, the great wonders that are seen throughout nature, in the kingdom of planets and the living, and especially as a speaking person – He concludes his article in these words: “For Man, wherever he is, is a superior creature, who must understand and inquire about the Creator's mysteries and the secrets of the heavens, and then he shall see the answers and will bless the Creator of Wonders,” etc.

The last article, “The Tree of Life”, is even more so, whereas he writes about the quality of cleanliness, and on the necessity that our brethren have in the ways of hygiene. Here also he quoted the ideas of our Sages, and presented principles that the Israeli man should remember and live by: to have fresh air, to keep a clean home, to eat and drink clean food and beverage, to stay away from sick persons (our Sages have warned of this too), and he shall live in a place from which the sun rises and sets, and that his clothes shall be clean, and that he would not let himself be worried, and be careful not to eat foods that are difficult to digest, and that in schools they should practice gymnastics, and that everyone must bathe in water, etc.

Then the author writes about the importance of material and spiritual education: to teach boys order and discipline. Those befitting Torah should study Torah. Those fit for science, should study science.

He concludes his article so: “Man must excel in other complementary studies, be careful with cleanliness and purity, take pains in both kinds of education, and be careful with his soul; should know the past and understand what is in the future, etc. He should also give to the poor, and this is the purpose of Zionism and what Zionists are striving for.”

Give us more thinkers like comrade Avram Shmeltzstein, and more wizening and beneficial books as “Nogeh Esh Lezion”, and then indeed, a great light will shine over Zion and our people.

A review in the newspaper Hamelitz on the book “The Light of Zion's Flame”, issue number 253, 1900:

This book, the author tells us in his forward, is a collection of articles and speeches which he delivered in his town about the Return to Zion. He thus explained to his listeners what Zionism demands from them. Its purpose: to be faithful persons in the eyes of God and Man, as we were once in Zion.

As he saw that his ideas bore fruit, and many were, moved to Zionism, he said: It is not good that these ideas are left in the corner; I shall make them a tool for those distant from Zionism, so they learn to walk in the way up, the way of life and peace. Therefore, it was time to plant these articles in the vineyard of literature and let them see light.

In the first six chapters the author proves to us, by many references from holy books, the mitzvah of the return to Zion an the obligation of Israelites to take steps forward by speaking before kings, raising funds, in order to redeem the Holy Land from foreigners.

When he deals with the Zionism and the settlement in the Holy Land, he does not confine himself to the narrow realm of solely settling the land. Zionism for him is a general concept to all issues pertaining to a reviving people. Zionism demands from its followers to live in peace together, to educate their children for Torah, science and work, and to be courteous.

Especially valuable are his last two articles: When There is No Wisdom, There is no Fear and the Tree of Life. In the first one he writes his perception of the world, writing about the planets, the plants, the inanimate and the living creatures, according to the researchers of nature. He proves that Man was created in the image of God, and that these wonders should be investigated and God should be thanked for his wisdom and wonders.

Last but not least: In his last article he writes extensively about cleanliness and urges our brethren to live by the rules of hygiene. In his words he quotes books by the sages of nature. He proves: the world depends on cleanliness, which is a great principle for all fauna and flora. Therefore he presents principles that are necessary for Man. To breath fresh air, to keep a clean home, to live in a place at which the sun rises, to observe the cleanliness of his clothes, to stay away from worry and agony, to not eat foods that are difficult to digest, to set time for a meal, to exercise physically in school, to avoid reading in twilight to the light of a candle, to avoid ugliness and to bathe in water.

After that the author writes about the greatness of material and spiritual education, and concludes: “Man must excel in other complimentary studies, be careful with cleanliness and purity, take pains in both kinds of education, and be careful with his soul; should know the past and understand what is in the future. He should also give to the poor, and this is the purpose of Zionism and what Zionists are striving for.” May there be more speakers like him for Zion.

And so wrote Reb Avram on the death of his son Ya'acov:

“In the morning and evening I taught my elder son Yaacov the Bible, Talmud and the Hebrew language. He studied foreign languages with an expert teacher. He was so absorbed in study that the day was not long enough for him. At the age of 17, his mind was like that of a 40-year old. He was a true scholar. But unfortunately, he was swept by the socialist movement, which took the minds of the youngsters. They were persecuted with rage by the Russian government. Many were killed, and many others sent to distant Russian cities. My son feared that he would be captured, and took his own life in his own hands…”

A Bitter Eulogy For my Son Ya'acov

My son, I raised you in talent and wisdom
You observed the Sabbath and taught me
Hebrew you spoke without mistakes
You loved the tents of Torah very much

Charity and truth met in your heart
Justice and peace joined in you
Your parents saw and became happy
They found comfort in you and shone

Suddenly you were taken by zealousness
To undermine the government's cruelty
For you could not bear your people's oppression

As a thinker and a sage
You thought to ease your people's suffering
Your soul's way is fierce and your heart pounded
But what you did only was to kill yourself

Hah, my son! You fell dead
With clean hands and pure soul
You did not kill and did not take
But the truth from your heart became

Hah! The candle broke and the light died
The Spring in bloom but death is too
On the best and most pure
I weep with my aching soul

The skies of my happiness are covered with clouds of lead
The angel of death ordered my sun to diminish
This evil his eye reserved to everyone
But my son Yaacov was lost in a day

Hah! My son! You dug your grave
You have not yet seen much goodness and satisfaction
Oy! How great are the sorrow and grief
For you I shall go down in pain

On my broken heart
No comforter I have except for God in Heaven
He shall gather you
And comfort me with the mourners of Jerusalem

[Pages 229-231]

My Father Avraham Halevy Shmeltzstein

by Ze'ev Shmeltzstein, (eng.), Sao Paulo / Brazil

My father, Avram Halevi Shmeltzstein son of Yisrael and Rivkah, was born in the city of Pulaw, on December 11, 1865 (first day of Chanukah). His parents were well-to-do merchants and religious.

Pulaw was a county seat, surrounded by many small towns and villages. A weekly fair brought livelihood for many. The town also had a small university, attended by many youth from the area, including many Jews from the nearby towns. My father, however, as most of the Jewish kids at that time, studied first at the heder, and later in the yeshiva. But religious studies were not enough for him; he aspired to gain wider, secular knowledge. Without any instruction, he studied the Hebrew language, Jewish history and secular subjects. For this purpose, he bought books in Warsaw and spent days and nights studying. His study brought him closer to the Zionist idea, and he was one of the first Lovers of Zion in the entire area.

When he was eighteen, he married the daughter of Shim'on Silberman, from a village near Demblin. After his marriage he wanted to be self-sufficient, and in 1890 moved to Demblin and opened a grocery store. Soon he became a central figure in his new town, and was surrounded by many scholars whom like him, wished to widen their horizons, to leave the ways of life that so oppressed them. My father was devoted to the Zionist idea and started preaching for it among the town's youngsters. His activity was looked upon unfavorably by his wife's family, who were very religious, and a breakup in the relationship between them followed.

In 1897 he published his book “Column of Fire”, in Hebrew. After founding the first Zionist society in his town, in 1898, and being elected its chairman, friction developed between him and the town's religious residents. The town Rabbi demanded that he and his followers be expelled from the synagogue and even excommunicated; so much did they hate the Zionists and the Zionist idea. My father and his friends had no choice but to establish a synagogue of their own, in which my father gave sermons and speeches every Sabbath, on the Love of Zion and the settlement of the Land of Israel. My father's activity intensified before the Second Zionist Congress, and since then he corresponded with the leaders of the Zionist Movement: Dr. B. Z. Herzl, Rabbi Yitzhak Ya'acov Reines, B. Eisenstat and others. In those days he wrote many articles to Hatzfirah, Die Welt and Hamelitz. In 1899 he published his second book, “The Light of Zion's Flame”, dedicated to the idea of the Love of Zion and the settlement of the Land of Israel. His third book, “Carry the Banner to Zion” which was a follow-up on his earlier book, was published in 1902. During all those years the debates and arguments in the town continued. The conflict became even more bitter after my father founded a school which employed the teacher, Noah Friedheim, who was well known for his secular views. The religious did not let the matter rest because, they viewed this act as a breakthrough of secularism and the eventual conversion of their children. One day they assembled and threatened to destroy the school, but the secularists, namely the Zionists, came to protect it. There was a bitter scuffle and both sides used all means they could find. The town was divided into two camps: the religious, who were the majority, and the Zionists, the minority.

On the day of Purim my father opened his shop, saying that Purim was not a holiday in which one should rest from work. Bu the town's religious did not agree with him. Despite the fact that many in the town agreed with my father, they did not open their shops on Purim, in fear of the religious. But my father insisted and opened the shop. Therefore the name “Der Purim Soycher” [The Purim merchant] was given to him and accompanied him for the rest of his life.

In 1903 his wife died in labor, with their newborn. My father remained a widower with four small children. He underwent a very difficult period at that time. A year later my father married his second wife, my mother Krossa, who raised his children and gave birth to two girls and myself, the youngest in the family. My mother helped him in his business a much as she could. And then another tragedy happened to him again. His elder son Ya'acov, 17 years old, was swept away with the revolutionary movement of 1907, like many other Jewish youngsters at that time, and the Czarist police persecuted them with rage. Ya'acov, fearing capture by the Czarist police, committed suicide. His two other sons also left home. In 1911 his son Chaim emigrated to America, and in 1913 his second son, Yitzhak followed suit. The family became smaller and smaller, and the then First World War broke out. My father's tribulations were many during the war years. He began moving from one city to another, holding many children in his arms. When the war ended he returned to Demblin, but he city was devastated, his property robbed, and he had to start from the beginning. He slowly rehabilitated himself and his family, and again earned a living. Then again he became devoted to the Zionist idea. After the Balfour Declaration, in 1917, the Zionist idea became established among the townspeople, the movement expanded, and my father was appointed chairman of Demblin's Zionists. His home became the magnet for the Zionists, who came to hear Father speak. He also preached in the synagogue for the idea of the people's revival in the land of his ancestors. After the San Remo Convention of 1920, in which the British Mandate on Palestine was approved, my father established the first Hebrew school n Demblin, with the teacher Scheinberg, who worked as a Hebrew teacher.

In 1924 my father published his fourth book, “Wall of Fire to Zion”

With the beginning of the Aliyah to the Land of Israel, my father began to consider the fulfillment of his life's dream: to ascend to Eretz Israel. But the gates of the land were closed for him, because he did not have the certificate [ issued by the British authorities to a limited number of Jews every year, as part of their immigration controls ]. Only those who could prove that hey had 500 English pounds or were farmers, were allowed in, and my father was neither. But in those days, Yisrael Eliezer Hoffstein, grandson of the Rabbi of Kozhnitz, established the colony “Avodat Yisrael” [work of Israel], near Haifa. My father bought there a piece of land intending to settle there. He liquidated his business in Demblin, and on Nissan 25, 1925, my father left Demblin with all his family for the land of his dream, Eretz Israel, in which he lived until his death. My father died in Heshvan 15, November 3, 1938.

Shalom to his soil.

[Pages 232-233]

Binyamin Demblin (Taitelboim)

by Mordechai Halamish

(From his article in Al Hamishmar Daily,
“American Jews will not Assimilate”)

Binyamin Demblin (whose real name is Taitelboim), one of the most important writers of Yiddish prose, has been living in the United States for 44 years. He is originally from Demblin, Poland, a city that had other names: Modzjitz, Ivangorod, Irena, Forstat and more. Before his bar mitzvah, he left the home of his father, who was a merchant of used clothes, and moved to Radom. “Both of us were made of the same tough stuff,” B. Demblin remembers, “and therefore the friction between us was too painful.” He stayed in Radom for two years, and in 1911, at age 15, he arrived at Warsaw and soon became a labor activist and was elected first secretary of the Jewish Needle Workers in Poland. In 1920 he arrived in Paris, and in January 1921, he arrived in America.

For many years he made his living as a hat maker, until joining in 1938 the staff of the Joint and the United Jewish Appeal. In 1947 he quit his position to send relief packages to needy Jews throughout the world.


When did he write? All the years. After work, naturally. Therefore, his books began to appear when he was relatively old.

What motivated him to create? The feeling that if we would not endeavor to preserve the great period of Poland's Jewry, the people's main force in modern times, it would sink into oblivion. Not just from a historical point of view. Only wide-ranging literary work can reflect life as it was. Even though Russian life was not cut and broke as ours was, we would not know much about them if not for epic novels such as War and Peace. As our Sages say, “If not I for myself, who is for me”, says Demblin. Therefore, we are doing the work. By “we” he means: Y. Bashevis, Y. Glatstein, Y. Metzker, myself and others in the United States; Y. Hopper, A. M. Fuchs, Y. Spiegel, A. Karpinovitch and others, in Israel.”

[See PHOTO-B36 at the end of Section B]

His literary crop is a fine one not just from its level and quality, but also its quantity: “Oyfen Schwell” was published in Warsaw in 1933, “West Side”, an American social novel on the Great Depression, was published in Zamelbicher of Opatosho and Leivic in 1936. At that time the writer changed his name to Demblin, because he wanted to perpetuate his home town, which he felt was being forgotten. This novel was translated into Hebrew by Samson Meltzer and published here [in Israel] in 1954. “Zwei on a Dritter” is a novel on fictitious marriage between a pioneer and a young woman, made to enable her to emigrate to Israel. Demblin visited Poland, and on his way back in 1933, stayed in Israel in 1933, and then wrote the novel, which was published in 1939.

The novel series “Erev Nacht” is at the center of his writing. The first book in the series, bearing the same name, was published in Israel in 1954 and won the Lui Lamed prize. The second book, “Oif Aigenem Barrat”, was also published in Israel, in 1961. The writer is now preparing for print his third book in the series, “In der Welt Aryen”. These are partly autobiographic novels, which due to their wide latitude, cover large issues about Jewish life in Europe and America. How many books will be in the series? As many as time and strength will allow, says Demblin. Meanwhile, he writes also non-series works: “Die Tzankendike Licht”, “A Refugee in New England”, “Der Tate is Gekommen”, and the book of short novels, “Oif Zdrei Kentinenten”.

September 6, 1964

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