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His name was Shlomo Rosenberg, but few people knew of that. In Horodenka, not many Jews were known by their family name. Almost every Jew had a name added on the basis of who he was. For example, the teacher of young school children was called Moshe Pupik, Moshe, the stomach; Menashe the Goy, was the teacher of older children; and Mordechai Pupik was the name given to the brother of Moshe Pupik. Shmuel the wagon driver was called Shmuel Burlak, the villager. He was a tall Jew whose shtreimel (fur hat) always sat tilted on the side of his head. He would constantly relate how he used to stand guard in the Shoenburn and actually saw the emperor Franz Yosef, whom the Jews of Horodenka called Ephraim Yossel. (They called the German emperor Wilhelm, Velvele.) The teachers Moshe and Mordechai were very heavy men, and so were called Pupik. Menashe the teacher was not a big Torah scholar, but still he had several dozen students from the ages of three to six. They said that he didn't even recognize all his students. One time he saw a young boy lying by the wayside in a puddle and asked him, Boy, what are you doing here? The boy said to him: Rebbe, I study with you. Ah, so, said Menashe, you study with me? If so, give me some money.
Other Jews in Horodenka had adopted names of unknown origin. For example, there was Nyuchtche, Baruch Shmanyeh, and Yehudah Bazshor. Yehudah was a teacher and his brother was Chaim Bazshor. Their family name was Toyber. Chaim Bazshor was a furrier, but didn't have patience for this kind of work, and got involved with business. In the summer he sold fruit and during the other months of the year he would sell fish. He was a loud Jew, a socialist, and knew how to deliver speeches. He was the head of the speakers in the 'Plosh' (the auditorium of the shul) and would fight against injustice. His understanding of socialist matters was strange. My brother-in-law, Asher Shtreyt, may his memory be blessed, was a Bundist, and Chaim Bazshor would always say about that: The son of Shlomo Shtreyt, Asher, behold he is a socialist, so let him come and take my daughter for a wife!
Yehudah (who was blind in one eye) was a Torah scholar and a teacher. He hated the smell of garlic so his students would rub garlic on his desk. On Rosh Hashanah, he was the shofar blower in the house of study. One of my teacher's names was Moshe Fligler; we used to call him Moshe Mutzikl (colt). For my knowledge of Chumash and Rashi, I must give thanks to this Reb Moshe. It was with him that I began also to prepare a 'leynen,' that is to master a page of Talmud through my own power. When a young man would want to learn, the teacher would teach him with total dedication. He would offer to teach me even during the holidays in the afternoon.
Horodenka also had a king and a prince. The king and his son the prince were tailors. I do not know why they were crowned with those names. Since their dwelling was burned in 1918 during the First World War, they lived with other families in the old Horodenka hospital. A few years before the war, the Polish Gymnasium had been there. Afterwards, they called this house the fortress of Sheinbrun.
Just as they called Shlomo Rosenberg Shlomo the baker because of his work, so they called other Horodenkans by their profession. For example, there was Zelig the baker, Leizer the baker, Yossel the baker, Velvel the baker, Shalom Hirsh the tailor (who was also the Torah reader for the shul), Asher the carpenter, Yossel the blacksmith, and Yossi the chazzen (the chief cantor of Horodenka). Others were not called by their profession: for example, Hirsh Doligner and Hirsh Masler were both tailors. The caretaker of the shul was called Yossel Boikie (his family name was Folger). They named the undertaker Bundzior. He was an aged Jew who also supervised the eiruvin (the Sabbath rope-fences to permit carrying in a public domain) to make sure they remained intact. He put up his own tombstone during his life, inscribed with the traditional text, including the words, 'Ish Tam V'Yashar,' (a simple and upright man.). The only thing that was missing was the day of his passing. Then there was the chazzan of the Bais Medrash the house of study Elisha, whom they called Elisha Baas. His name was Elisha Fleshner, but they always called him Elisha Baas, because of his voice.
A special Horodenka character was the coughing tailor, Shlomo Pretzlik. His family name was Morgenbeser. He was a chassid of Rabbi Bahur from Kolomea. In the winter he was a tailor, and in the summer he was the attendant of Rabbi Bahur. I would write down the teachings of the Rabbi during the winter. In Horodenka, Rabbi Bahur would lodge with Moshe Shpierer, in a house with a wide gate. These Chassidim were workers who usually held their services in the shul of the carpenters. On Shabos afternoon, many young men, myself among them, would come to the Rebbe's table to hear his wisdom. Shlomo Pretzlik would often go into a coughing spell, and the Rebbe would ask his Chassidim: Whom should Shlomele give his cough to? To the non-Jews? No, said the Rebbe, he must give it to the priest. Why? Because in the Torah it is written, 'V' hissgalach.' This means, 'V'hiss' if he has a cough that goes to the 'galach' the priest. Immediately the attendant, who was a Jew with a white beard, would bring in the kugel, and the Rebbe would say: I have an attendant who is completely winterized: His beard is as white as snow, and he 'fresses'. Fress has a double meaning in Yiddish: It means winter frost and it also means eats a lot!
In general the young men who sat around him were clean-shaven. The Rebbe noticed this and began to relate: My uncle Meir his reference was to Rabbi Meir of Przemyslany once went to a cemetery. An Ashkenazic Jew, who probably had yohrtzeit, approached him, and asked: 'On every tombstone, the letters: Tav, Noon, Tzadik, Bais, Hai, are written. What do they mean?' My uncle Meir answered him: 'Ti Na Tzo Bordu Holish Why do you shave your beard?'
One of the first students at Shlomo the baker's Shabos seminars was Yitzchok Aryeh the blind. He was blind in one eye. Unwillingly, he was a tailor, but according to his nature, he was a man of spirit. He had a house full of children but didn't always have enough food for Shabos. One day he made a deal with my father-in-law to fill his sacks with flour for challah and bread in return for doing various sewing jobs. On the following Thursday, he did not have the nerve to get more flour from my father-in-law, so he just walked back and forth in front of the store, till he saw my father-in-law sitting in the store. Immediately, he went in and put his sacks before my father-in-law, with the same sewing proposal Yitzchok Aryeh did have a copy of the prophets and writings with the commentary of the Malbim, and this alone is enough to testify about his character as a spiritual man. He had a small house with a ground level room and a room in the basement; he himself lived in the basement. In the winter, I would come to Yitzchok Aryeh to study on Friday nights, and in the summer on Shabos mornings, before the morning service. When I came on Friday nights, the whole family would be sitting by the long sewing table and singing Shabos songs to the heart of heaven. One would think that here lived a wealthy Jew with his family, all were enjoying the pleasure of Shabos. The truth was that the challos baked by Yitzchok Aryeh's wife (a small thin Jewish woman) were made from the borrowed flour.
Hershele from Ostropolier once said that the hardest day in his life was always Thursday. When he was still in his mother's womb, she would travel to the house of the wealthy to bring them flour for Shabos, in order to earn flour for herself for Shabos. Sometimes his mother carried the flour on her stomach, and so he was forced even in his mother's womb to bear the burden of earning a living on Thursdays. Then, when he was a child among all the other boys in Cheder, he was required on Thursdays to know the entire Torah portion, so that the rebbe wouldn't pinch his cheeks and thighs. When he grew and became a young man, he was forced to carry and deliver the flour to the homes of the wealthy. And after his wedding, he was forced on every Thursday to bring Shabos supplies to his wife This was the lot of a large proportion of the Jews in Horodenka. Shabos supplies referred not only to the challahs, but also to bread for the rest of the week, because on Friday, they would bake for the whole week. They would place the loaves of bread in a row on top of the oven's chimney, one loaf of bread for each day of the week. This resembled a daily calendar that one would tear off page by page. This was also a kind of rationing: as it says in Ethics of the Fathers, You shall eat bread in measure, and don't eat today that which is designated for tomorrow.
In the summer, I would go once or twice a week down the stairs of Yitzchok Aryeh, and as soon as he would see me, he would say, I'm begging you, Hershele, please teach me a chapter of Neviyim (Prophets) with the commentary of the Malbim, so I can learn and listen together with you and not interrupt my sewing.
Another student of the 'Shabos seminar' of Shlomo the baker was Tall Hersh, a tall Jew without children, who, on Friday afternoons would sell roasted seeds (of yellow melons) for cracking open on Friday nights. He was also the Torah reader for the Shabos seminars at the afternoon service. The seminar itself had a minyan, but for Shabos afternoon services, they would go to pray in the big shul. It was almost dark, and there wasn't enough light in Shlomo's house, so they needed to go to the big shul with its tall windows.
There were additional students: The son of Zelig the baker, the son of Mendele Lampner, the furrier; the son of Paye Grapakh, a Jew who sold onions and garlic in the market place; the son-in-law of Shlomo the baker (the husband of Rochele, his daughter) and I, the little one. We would learn gemara with the commentaries of Tosaphos and the Maharam, and also the commentary of the Ohr Hachayim on the Torah. I remember when Tu Bi'shvat fell on the Shabos of the Song (the Torah portion of Beshalach) we celebrated with a keg of beer and with the fruit of Israel (in total contrast to the weather outside us: high and cold snow, that would 'break bones'). At twilight, we went to daaven the afternoon service, and the snow crackled beneath our feet.
And now a few more words about the advanced school in Horodenka, I mean to say the greatest Talmud teacher in the city, Kalman Shmuel. Very few students of bar mitzvah age merited being his student; this privilege did fall to me. At six o'clock I went to school. In the morning we learned Yoreh Deah (a section of the code of Jewish law) with the commentary of the Shach (Rabbi Shabsi Cohen). I studied the laws of salting and rinsing meat. I admit that I only properly understood the principle of absorbing and emitting years later when I studied colloidal chemistry After prayer, we learned a portion of Talmud with the commentary of Tosafos, and in late afternoon in the summer, or after the evening services in the winter, the students would prepare the laynen, the independent study of a Talmudic page. We would review the Torah portion of the week on Thursdays in the late afternoon, or following the evening services in a hurried manner. We did not learn all the books of the prophets with Kalman Shmuel.
The small city of Horodenka brought forth from its midst a famous comedian, Alexander Granach, and an opera singer, Irena Pfeffer, two special professions that were extremely rare among the Jews of eastern Galicia.
Woe to those who are lost and can no longer be found.
The Mikveh (ritual bath)
It was a winter night and the stars were shining bright. The heavens were blue and the earth was covered with a thin blanket of snow. The frost formed designs on the windows of the illuminated houses that lit the way for me to the town bathhouse. I went the long way by the butcher shop whose wide gates were locked and barred at this hour. Its many cells were filled with frightening cow and sheep meat. A sharp and fishy smell filled the empty air and became sharper the closer I got to the "probal" that was outside our city. Deep down underneath it, water flowed from the gutter of the butcher shop and the nearby fountains. After that night, I always felt great fear when passing the locked butcher shop, and I hastened my footsteps to cross the bridge.
Upon reaching the mikveh I found tall village wagons hitched to teams of horses by the side of the street. The horses were lazily eating their spelt from sacks tied to their heads. On the platforms of the wagons sat the dozing drivers. They were wrapped in hairy cloaks, their feet stuffed into the straw in the wagons to keep them from the cold. So they sat for hours, waiting for the women to return from the bathhouse, so they could direct the women's steps back to the village.
The superintendent of the bathhouse was Fishele Krutz. His wife and helpmate was the 'tinkeren', the woman who supervised at the time of dipping. That night they both stood at the entrance to the mikveh with a shortness of spirit and heavy hearts because of the complaints of the women within. These women were sitting in wooden tubs with the warm water getting colder, as they waited to dip in the mikveh according to the letter of the law. Each month these women came from the villages near and far to become purified in the mikveh. However, this time the mikveh was not completely filled, and the women waited and waited, and even if they had to, would have spent the whole night in this condition.
Upon entering the hallway where the mikvehs were adjacent to one another the cold one and the warm one for the purpose of dipping the warning call of the tikenren came out to the women: "Itzik'l the the judge's son is coming!"
Immediately the women covered themselves up in the cloths that were over the baths, and in grumbling voices, they followed my steps to the side of the mikveh: "This time maybe a little less water would suffice…"
My father had given me a key attached to a string. I took it out and used it to open the lock of the cover of a wooden frame fastened over a visible indentation. This marked the amount of water that was necessary for a valid mikveh.
Here I need to explain to those who are not familiar with the laws of immersion. At a distance of several hundred meters from the bathhouse, there is a spring of living water near the well known as a 'rindel.' These waters were drawn by both Jewish and non-Jewish water drawers and sold to Jewish homes. A part of this water was diverted to the washhouse into cold pools, and from there to a large pit, to warm the water. Then a small stream, a thin flow, was drawn into special clay pipes that went beneath the mikveh. Here there was a plug that was opened once a week, on the night following the Sabbath after Havdalah, to bring a flow of fresh water for the duration of the new week.
Peitro, the strong non-Jew, had many jobs. He did most of them in a state of half drunkenness. He was the 'Shabos Goy' for everything from lighting the furnace in the winter, to guarding the candles for Shabos and holidays in the shuls. At certain times, when he wasn't drunk and could walk on two feet, he was the central distributor of the waters of the 'rindel' to the Jewish houses. Loaded down with a pole and with two wooden buckets, he poured the waters for all who asked. His primary livelihood came from fixing up the baths in the bathhouse every day of the week, and serving the shvitzers with cool water, without which no one could stand on the top steps. Sometimes he would assist them by flicking the straw brooms made from oak. When the shvitzer was stretched out on the bench with his back up, Pietro, like a professional, would wave the heated brooms and bring his back to a glow. Then the shvitzer would sigh and groan from pleasure.
Every Motzei Shabos, Pietro's job was to empty the mikveh, if it filled more than the needed amount, so hot water could be added as necessary. This mikveh was used for the immersion of women all the days of the week. Also religious men would go each morning before prayer, and especially on Friday after the shvitz. But it happened at times that the spring waters were low, and the mikveh could not be filled during the night or even the day after.
On these occasions, my father would go several times a day to inspect the amount of water. He felt bad that the kosher Jewish women, who came from far away places to be purified, had to wait several hours before being permitted to immerse in the proper amount of water. During these days of going back and forth, I would assist my father, while learning from him, even though I was still young and hadn't reached the obligatory age of fulfilling the mitzvos. I recall how great was my happiness when I could inform him that the waters had reached the indentation…
At these times, significance grew in my own eyes. I felt an indescribable satisfaction as a redeemer and announcer of the mikveh waters, without completely understanding the objective of the mitzvah, and its purpose.
The days of Awe approached in the year 5676 (1915). We returned to our city of Horodenka, after her liberation from the Russian conquest (that took only seven weeks). This time we felt we should not go too far from the city, because the enemy might not hold their position for a long time. Most of the Jews in the city fled across to Syniatyn, Vishznitz, and the other cities in Bukovina. The Prut River placed a barrier to the advance of the Russians.
The Jews that remained in the city suffered terribly from the conquerors. We returned to a part of the city that was destroyed and burned. Without rhyme or reason, the conquerors wrecked a house here and a house there. The houses that remained whole were scorched like firebrands snatched from a fire. For some reason, the conquerors took out their anger on the great shul, but they couldn't destroy it. The roof, that was made out of wood, the benches, the Holy Ark, and the Bimah, with the bookcases, all went up in fire, but the tall walls and the two 'Polishin' that were in the entrance remained standing. They accentuated the giant layer of stones that were cemented in a square like the Western Wall. Also the archways of the doors and windows remained as they were.
The Russians dug in
across the Dniester near the city of Ustechko;
our side fortified themselves in dugouts on the other shore near the village
of Semakovtse. The Austrians brought over to this front one of the
most famous cannons called 'The Fat Bertha,' or the '42.' When the
cannons passed through the city, the ceilings shook from its weight.
Each morning, the thunder of the shelling to the other side awakened us. Each morning a balloon flew up from our side to oversee what was happening on the other side of the Dniester in the camp of the enemy, and perhaps also to guide the shells of Fat Bertha. In vain, the Russians tried to shoot down the balloon. The Jews of Hododenka were proud of their air space. The vibration of the glass in the windows and the shaking of the houses from the rumble of the artillery seemed to us, the children of the city, as a lullaby The parents engaged as usual in business with the non-Jews in the neighborhood, and they worried about the city's facilities, including those regarding the congregation and religion.
Close to the high holy days, the shul goers did not stop talking about the upcoming major problem the lack of the four plants necessary for the holiday of Sukos. The Jews who extended their business travels to Lvov and beyond, were begged fervently to search for any kind of an esrog. My father like the other rabbis in our vicinity has been involved with selling esrogim from the land of Israel and from the island of Corfu. He found an old lulav that was dried and yellow, and he decided that it was permissable to say the blessing over it. He also obtained myrtles in a wondrous way in Kolomea, and willows of the rivers were plentiful everywhere the streams passed by. But the main thing was still missing the esrog.
All the effort was in
vain. All hopes fell apart and a heavy
fog descended upon the city. Despair gripped many of the faithful
of Israel. What would the congregation do without an esrog?
Suddenly, on the eve of the holiday, a murmuring whisper went around at
the time of prayer. It was known that across the Dniester, in the
territory of the Russian occupation, our brother Israelites succeeded in
obtaining esrogim from Russia, and that the city of Tluste had obtained
a beautiful esrog. Immediately the wise men of the city congregated
with my father, of blessed memory, at their head, came up with a plan.
They found a daring non-Jew from Kotikovka, who agreed for a large sum to take the risk to cross the Dniester. He would have to travel within the Russian lines to Tluste, with a letter from my father to their Rabbi. On the night of the holiday, the non-Jew went on his way, accompanied by blessings and prayers for success in his journey.
On the morning of the first day of Sukos, Jews waited in their talesim (prayer shawls) but did not want to taste anything from the festive meal. They felt that perhaps G-d would have mercy on them and the non-Jew would appear with the longed-for esrog, and they would be able to say the blessing over it. (This is normally done in the morning before eating). However, the day passed, night arrived, and he still did not come. The next day, we woke up early and waited with yearning souls for the appearance of the non-Jew. We completed the prayers of the second day of the festival with our eyes bulging from our sockets, and still the non-Jew was missing.
Suddenly, it was as if the heavens began sparkling and the city brightened. A cry of joy spread from one end of the city to the other: The esrog arrived and it was in the house of the judge, my father, may his memory be blessed! Groups of minyanim gathered before our house. The congregation kept growing. Hundreds of people, men, women and children of all ages from young school children to students of Talmud to those studying rabbinical writings all gathered at our house.
My father guarded the esrog that was wrapped in linen and placed in a specially- designed silver case. With the counsel of those who were close to him, he decided to move to the big shul. Its wide hall was still standing (even in its desolation from the time of the fire) and could accommodate the entire holy congregation, who were willing to give up their lives for the sake of the mitzvah of holding the lulav and esrog.
Prominent community members left before father to clear the way amidst the crowd. My father went between them carrying the esrog and the lulav. They were decorated, in accordance with the law, with green willows of the brook and myrtles fastened in a beautiful holder of woven mat. And I, the youth of ten years, trailed after him, holding on to his gartel. (woven belt worn for prayers). Thus we arrived at the shul.
Father got up on one of the wooden benches that were near the northern side of the wall. Before the eyes of the whole congregation, he took the esrog out of its case, and held it and lulav correctly, and began the blessing. Tears streamed from his eyes and from the eyes of all the Jews, who answered Amen to his blessing. With a pleading voice, he begged the large congregation not to squeeze the esrog with their fingers, to clean their hands first, not to break the Pitum, (tip of the esrog, which if broken, invalidates the commandment) G-d forbid, and not to hold the esrog longer than the blink of an eye as long as it takes to complete the blessing.
At five o'clock in the evening, he was forced to return the esrog to Tluste. That was condition on which Jews had agreed to lend the esrog to Horodenka and to allow our congregation to fulfill the mitzvah this one time, on the second day of the festival.
Father tried to rush the blessers, but all his requests were in vain, for the group just got bigger and bigger. There was no possibility for an orderly line. The pushing was beyond measure. There were cries and shouts. Hands were spread out from a distance. Each one wanted to precede the other in the performance of the mitzvah. Father did not let the esrog out of his hand, not even for the most respected Jews, though ordinarily, it was difficult not to fulfill their requests….Those reciting the blessing were forced just to shake the lulav and to touch half of the esrog that remained in father's hands. Those who blessed first were pushed and shoved wildly by the others, who envied them as those who found the greatest treasure…
For two and a half hours, they passed this way like rows of sheep, before my father, who clasped the esrog in his hand. All their faces were glowing from a divine delight and elevated spirit, for having been able to fulfill this mitzvah. And when we left the shul, crowds of women, who did not dare push their way into the shul, were waiting for us. They too begged for the privilege to make the blessing. My father had decided that in times of emergency, the women were exempt from this mitzvah, but all his decisions were for naught. He was forced to put the esrog in my hand in order for him to avoid touching the hand of a woman. For an hour I stood surrounded by pure and holy Jewish women, who longed to perform the mitzvah. With copious tears, they continually murmured the blessing for shaking the lulav and afterward the blessing of Shehechayanu. Father tried afterward to use wax to clean off all the stains that clung to the esrog from the hands of the blessers. The non-Jew went back on his mysterious route, known to him alone, to restore the precious fruit to the Jews of Tluste.
During, the rest of the days of the festival we had to be satisfied with the lulav alone…However, on Hoshana Rabbah (the seventh and last day of the festival of Sukos) the city was astonished when the non-Jew reappeared. He had brought with him a slightly damaged esrog from the city of Tluste, where the people knew of our despair of being without an esrog. They had obtained a second esrog in Chortkov for their sister city of Horodenka. This time, the crowding was less. The blessers promised on the spot to pay for the large expenses of obtaining the esrog. As a result some of the people declined the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah this second time, especially when they had to dish out money right away. But most of them gave with a generous hand and a willing soul. May their merit protect us and all of Israel.
|When he came to Tiberias, may it be built for the glory of G-d,
The first Tzadik who drank from the divine well,
From the well of the Baal Shem Tov, from the fount of Chassidus
He, not by himself, he came not alone,
But with a great gathering of followers.
He did not investigate nor seek out much,
He only rented a courtyard and right away lived here
Is he not the Tzadik, Rabbi Nachman from Horodenka?
And the group lived separate and fenced in,
In that large rented courtyard,
And was occupied with whatever it was busy with.
However, the whole day it neither stopped nor ceased
From pleadings and requests, from Torah study and prayer,
And there was heard the sound of song at the end of each praise,
And each night in the neighborhood here there was singing
In the courtyard of our Rabbi, Nachman from Horodenka.
And our brothers, the good Sefardim, they knew but a little
About the righteous man who desired and longed
To live in the courtyard of that neighborhood,
And since that year was in drought,
And the creations were given over to trouble,
And each heart was downcast, and each soul was bitter,
Who would come to investigate, and who would pay attention here,
About the dwelling of our Rabbi, Nachman from Horodenka.
But after the season for rain came, and stronger
Became the danger of hunger, and the heart of all was broken
No drop of rain descended from the high heavens,
And the world stood burnt and naked,
The iron heavens whitened by dryness,
The ground was cracked and burning,
And upon all fell fear and terror,
Israelite, Ishmaelite, humans and animals together,
Our brethren, the ancient congregation, the good sefardim,
Prayed pleasantly, as was their charming way,
And abounded with song and joy to the creator,
That he have compassion on the world and bring down the rain.
And opposite them, to make a distinction, was the whole congregation of Ishmael,
Who went each day to their mosque to pray,
But there was no sign, no indication, no wind, no rain,
Only the gust of the intense heat that withheld the rain.
Suddenly one day, it was not known how,
The news spread out from all mouths as one,
That in this city was a righteous and holy man,
And if he would beseech and pray for rain,
G-d would listen and accept his opinion,
As He listened to Choni the circle drawer, in his time.
Is not this the righteous one who dwells here
In this court, Rabbi Nachman of Horodenka?
So a select and significant committee went
To that high and fenced in courtyard,
And begged the holy Rabbi Nachman
To please request, beseech, and inquire
For they had truly heard, and it was known
That he knew the prayer for rain, and its secret.
At first, he refused How would he endanger here
The humility of our rabbi, Nachman of Horodenka?
However, after they returned the next day,
And begged so profusely he understood that he was chosen
To be the mouth of the Jewish congregation in Tiberias.
So he cast his sight on the parched land,
And sighed a sigh which breaks the body,
And they understood that he would no longer refuse.
Thus Rabbi Nachman responded and announced
That he would pray with the Chassidim in the cave of Rabbi Chiya
Immediately, the entire city took its stand,
For all Jews and Arabs desired to see them
Rabbi Nachman and his Chassidim,
How that group went out to gather
And descend to the designated cave
Of Chiya and his sons, Chizkiya and Yehuda,
And each and every one of them, man, woman, and child stood
Close to the old wall with the gate.
Behold they watched with wonder and surprise,
That the group which was coming with sighs,
Were dressed as on a complete winter day
On their heads were hats of fox and tiger fur,
And their bodies were wrapped in wide caftans,
With each corner scattered right and left
And with pure silver buttons was hereby singled out
The caftan of our rabbi, Nachman of Horodenka.
But more and more like an unanswered riddle,
The community with its eyes wrapped around feet.
On each foot and boot
And each pair of leggings hugging the knees.
And the community staring at its own foot-sandals
Worthy of a drought, open and light
And it looks at the feet of the other walkers boots
Heavy and tall, to be anchored in water!
It looked with surprise on all that it saw,
From over the old, high wall,
A group of Arabs, the most distinguished of the city;
Laughed one to the other and continued to point
sharply on the great burden
with which the Jews had burdened themselves so much in the heat.
They mocked the caravan that was meandering with difficulty,
And between those who stood was also Mohamed the Pasha.
This man Mohamed, it's worthy to point out,
He ruled with straightness and moving righteousness,
In his days, the city of Tiberias dwelled securely,
However, when he saw the barren land
And these Jews with their shoes,
Their boots he saw in this mockery,
And said in anger and heavy breath,
These Jews are sure that the rain will come down.
See, look there, and think about their garments,
What will be if it doesn't rain?
If the heavens are still held back,
Their prayer won't help these cursed arrogant ones?
If in vain they got dressed, these Jews hastened
To transform this burning hot day to a winter-like day,
So pay attention, the congregation of Allah,
To these words of truth that I will say to you:
They are going to pray to the G-d of Israel,
If only their G-d will accept their prayer,
And it will be when they return from that cave,
Dripping from rain, and trembling from cold,
Then we will go down to them, and give them great honor,
And we'll carry each of them on the shoulder,
Till we bring all of them to their house in the courtyard
And as a surrounding wall, we will protect their lives.
However, if G-d refuses to receive,
We will know that Israel is a people of arrogance.
We will know that their prayer was full of pride,
And therefore G-d refused to receive.
And when they return from that cave,
And the drought continues trouble will come to them.
For we will all come together to the courtyard,
And we'll cut off the head of all of them with a sword!
Rabbi Nachman, the servant of the faithful G-d,
Did not wait there long, and when the time came
And that holy group went up
To the mountain, with Rabbi Nachman at their head,
They entered the cave of the righteous Rabbi Chiya,
And remained there as much as he needed to remain;
They prayed in the cave the afternoon prayer
In those days, such holy Seraphim!
They stood in prayer with shudder and trembling
But also with hope, joy, and song!
How shall we describe here the details.
Who is the person that can say, 'I know them'?
If we merited, we would be with them to see them,
In fact, maybe we would be just like them
How can we say it, how did the cantor say, 'Who causes the wind to blow'?
And the wind began to blow and expand.
Behold, a cloud arose like the palm of a large man,
And thick clouds poured out after it,
And pulled them in herds
Running and rushing from behind the mountains.
And thunder burst forth like a flying snake
And it shouted and echoed and drummed
The Creator was opening the windows of heaven,
And the rain poured and spilled and gushed!
And the assembly of Israel with the assembly of Ishmael,
Was struck with wonder and dumbfounded, and amazed and moved,
As pouring rain burst down on them.
They stood silent in their spots; none moved
They stood and watched with wonder and surprise
How a group of holy ones came from the mountain,
Even though the rain was pouring and gushing,
The group appeared to approach with a shining light.
Suddenly on the wall on high,
The whole group started to move in place,
Because Mohamed the Pasha leaped and jumped
And descended and began to run to meet those who were coming,
Right away, every strong and honored one among the Arabs,
Rushed after him, running together
And the whole nation saw how they came to them,
And before the Jews, bowed their knees.
The Pasha grabbed and hugged the legs
Of our Rabbi Nachman and carried him in his arms.
And so saw and did all the rest,
So not even one of the Chassidim remained walking.
For they carried all of them like Torah scrolls.
Shining in the rain and glowing in the light.
In the descent, in the valley, in the elevation and also on the mountain
So the Arabs returned them to the courtyard.
And the whole nation of Israel and the whole nation of Yishmael
Was struck with wonder and were dumbfounded and amazed and moved.
Because this day was so great and honored above days,
And on it was sanctified the G-d of Israel among the nations
And how good it would be if our story could be completed
With the news of the poor one (Messiah) riding on a donkey!
For in the desirable time, the time that G-d supervises over us,
Why is it, truly, that Mashiach is not coming?
They tell in Tiberias, it should be rebuilt for the glory of G-d,
That there flowed that day abundant kindness from the well of G-d,
And that time was ripened for the complete redemption
However, at the time that Rabbi Nachman was being carried
In the arms of the Pasha a button came off
From the caftan Where? There was no solution!
And because of that button, the silver button,
A certain sadness was aroused in someone's heart.
And since a certain sadness came down,
because of a single, solitary button,
The awakening of that moment was blemished.
The approaching redemption was held back
One single solitary button it was defective
The rain came down and flowed to the sea
And if only in this generation, the blemish could be fixed here
May the merit of Rabbi Nachman stand up for us!
Horodenka was a joyful city. Her narrow streets echoed with songs to G-d and to creations. And I want to begin my words with the verses of a song that I sing whenever I recall my old house.
I remember those years when I was a child.
Before me float the pictures where my crib stood.
And when my heart begins to draw me after unfamiliar fortune,
I sing the melodies that I heard in my childhood cradle.
I want to bring up here on
paper a small packet of memories from those days
past, from the life of Horodenka that was but is no more: How the Chassidim of
Vishnitz spent a complete week with their rabbi. In Horodenka were also the
Chassidim of Chortkov, but I did not live with them, so I can't describe them. But concerning the Vishnitzer Chassidim, I practically grew up with them.
The matter was like this: My mother, Rivka Sukar, may her soul be wrapped in the bundle of life, herself descended from Vizhnitsa. She knew Torah and Talmud like one of the men, and this only from listening to how Zaide, meaning her father, taught his sons. The Rebbe did not want to talk with any woman, but with the daughter of Leibish Bikel, he was ready to converse for a whole hour. She got married for the second time to a wealthy Jew, Rabbi Meir Frishlig, may his memory be blessed, a produce merchant who purchased from the Horodenka rabbi, Rabbi Michele Hager, may his memory be blessed, the courtyard with two buildings. The Rebbe stipulated at the time of the writing of the deed:
The Vishnitzer Rebbe had seven
sons, and after he passed away, each one of
them became a rebbe in his own right, in a different city. It's obvious that
the first born son inherited the position of his father in Vizhnitsa. The
second became Rebbe in Otynya near Stanislavov, the third in Zaleshchiki, and
the fourth in Horodenka. More than this, I don't recall. But the fact that
there were seven sons, this I know, because they would relate among Chassidim a
certain episode. One woman came to the elder Rebbe to ask for a blessing for
children, and afterward she went to the Rebbetzin, tapped on her belly, kissed
it, and said: O sanctified holy ark, you brought into the world seven
We can learn from the following story how much the Jews of Horodenka loved their Rebbe. The episode occurred after the First World War in 1920. After the Jews of Horodenka were able to reestablish their livelihoods, they began to rebuild with great effort the Vishnitzer shul on the street of the big meat markets. As was said above, Rabbi Meir Frishlig had already purchased the courtyard of the Rebbe. Rabbi Baruch Leib Ofenberger and Reb Motye Sucar, two supporters of the Vishnitzer shteibel, came to my mother Rivka, peace be upon her, and gave her the news that the Vishnitzer Rebbe was ready to come to Horodenka for Shabos. Coming for Shabos meant automatically from the Thursday before to the Wednesday after practically a whole week.
It goes without saying that my mother had to cook for the Rebbe and all his attendants. It also goes without saying that the big room had to be cleared for the Chassidim, and a smaller side room for the Rebbe to meet with his Chassidim. This was referred to as 'Praven', and for the sake of our children, who surely don't know the term 'praven,' I want to explain that the Rebbe would receive each Chassid individually for a short conversation, or a piece of advice and encouragement. The Chassid would present the Rebbe with a 'kvitel', a short note on which he would write a request involving material or spiritual matters salvation, healing, or livelihood in general. Besides the written matters, the Chassid would add oral words, and pour out his whole heart before the Rebbe, and the Rebbe would strengthen him with good advice and blessings. At the time of 'Praven,' the Chassid would place some 'redemption money' at the edge of the table as a gift to the Rebbe. Usually, this was a few coins, according to the ability and generosity of the heart of each one. And to the attendant, they would also leave a certain sum, for the writing of the 'kvitel.' Even non-Jews would sometimes come to the Rebbe to ask his counsel and blessings. (But from their money, the Rebbe would not benefit, but would rather divide it among the poor.) For example, the head of the district of Agufsovitch would be a frequent guest to the Rebbe.
Anyway, we said that the Rebbe
was ready to come. The Chassidim weren't lazy,
and they tried and succeeded in getting the poritz to lend them a carriage with
four horses. With great honor, they escorted the Rebbe with his two attendants
from the house on the crossroad of Yacubuvka through the length of the entire
city. It's understood that one of the Chassidim took upon himself the task of
wagon driver, and the gentiles were standing on two sides of the city and
gazing upon this scene in wonder
Who would think and imagine that
bearded Jews would be grooming four horses hitched to a carriage? Near the
house, many Jews entered dressed in Sabbath clothing, and received the face of
the Rebbe with a reverberating tune: 'For the sake of the fathers, save the
children and bring redemption to their children's children
And the nations
will know that the Jews have a King
How fortunate was I, that I succeeded in pushing my way to the Rebbe, to receive his face, and to be able to touch and kiss his delicate hand, his silken hand. At the time of 'Praven,' I also received an amulet to the children he used to give amulets. This amulet was a simple Roman coin, but the Rebbe would whisper a blessing over it. The children would sew it into a small linen sack, and they would hang it around their necks, and it would protect them from all evil. It appeared to me, that at that moment, that I made a contract with the master of the universe, forever and ever
Besides this, the honor and the emotion of daavening together with the holy Rebbe for shacharis, mincha, and maariv (the morning, afternoon, and evening prayers) that was no small thing. I made up my mind to also to go before Shabbos to the mikveh, at the same time as the Rebbe, and I remember clearly the whole procedure that went on there. Each Chasid felt that it was the greatest mitzvah to jump into the mikveh right after the Rebbe came out. They would jump in one after the other. It was really dangerous! But to the credit of the holy Rebbe no one got hurt
The prayers for receiving the
Sabbath were always performed by the Chassidim of
Vizhnitsa with great enthusiasm, especially when the Rebbe was present! Some
would wait until the Rebbe finished reciting each chapter of the prayers; we
waited more than five minutes for the Rebbe to finish saying the 'Shema,' and
more than ten minutes till he finished the Amidah. And everything was done
with great honor, and absolute silence.
After daavening the Chassidim spread out quickly, each one to his family and his table. Afterward, they quickly returned to 'the Rebbe's table,' to be able to grab the 'Shirayim' (holy leftovers). One of the attendants was also a good cantor, and he brought with him a complete treasure house of tunes. After each course after the fish, after the soup, after the meat, and after the dessert, they would sing impassioned songs. After that, they would measure them on the feet; in other words, they departed in step with these tunes, in a circle dance.
Not only would the Chassidim of
Horodenka come to the table of the Rebbe, but
also the Chassidim of Kolomea, from Gvozdets, and even from Delyatin. Among
them were also Chassidim who were 'beholden in thanks to the Rebbe for all
their wealth.' They tell that the rich man from Delyatin used to be a
confirmed miser. Only because of two silver Austrian crowns that the Rebbe gave
him as a gift and advised him to begin doing business in jewels did he become a
very wealthy man and a prominent miner of precious stones. All this came to him
from the blessing of the Rebbe, and he saw the Rebbe as the 'second partner' in
all his business. Each year he would send him a half of his profits, besides
gifts in honor of Pesach, and in honor of Rosh Hashana. When the Rebbe would
come to visit the cities of Galicia, he would also come and bring a very big
'redemption gift.' Now, during the Rebbe's visit to Horodenka, the rich man
from Daltin would come and set up a barrel of beer for the Chassidim, and boil
up a container of about fifty kilo of beans. There was also another kind of
beans, black and tasty ones that were called 'knaipers.' After they tasted the
beans that were sprinkled with salt and pepper, they really desired to drink a
little beer. The Chassidim would taste one cup, and then another, and after
drinking sufficiently, would sing and dance till the light of morning. The joy
would especially be great when the Rebbe himself would come into the circle and
dance together with the Chassidim. At that time, it seemed to the Chassidim
that the gates of heaven were open for them.
Near the table, on Shabos afternoon, a new portion began, the portion of 'kugel.' Each woman from the Chassidic families would send 'in honor of the precious guest,' a delightful kugel, each one more praiseworthy than the other, and they would sink all the talents of an experienced homemaker into these kugels. Some were noodles, some were braided, and some were filled with raisins, almonds, and types of jam. The Chassidim were looking forward to the minute when the Rebbe would push away the full plate, after he himself tasted a very small amount. Immediately would begin the pushing and grabbing, and the plate would be emptied in one split second. The plate itself would miraculously be left intact from under the hands of the Chassidim. Not, G-d forbid because they were so hungry or ravenous, but because they wanted to fulfill the mitzvah of 'Shirayim'. It goes without saying that after the new kugel, would come a new tune and a new dance filled with enthusiasm.
To the 'table of the Rebbe,'
would come some of the young men of Horodenka, who
were no longer praying, but they were, as they would say, 'children of good
fathers,' meaning that the chassidic spark still flickered in them (and until
this day, there are hidden Chassidim like these. When they come together here
in the land of Israel after thirty years, they still cannot resist a chassidic
tune.) These young men listened to the tunes and held on to them in their
ears. And afterward they brought them to the meeting of the 'Union of the
Workers of Zion.' They would sing the tunes non-stop at the joyful parties
there, and would arouse happiness and merriment in the hearts of their friends.
Thus there would come every
second year, one of the sons of the old Rebbe of
Vishnitz, to lodge in Horodenka. I would be forced to relinquish my bed and to
wander for a complete week, but I would always do this with great joy. I and my
brother Israel, peace be upon him, were both afflicted by the same thing,
meaning, we both loved Jewish theater. We once began at the table of the
Rebbe a certain niggun that we latched on to in 'Gllimer's group.' It went:
'Over and over, sing again, Israel, over and over, sing and have no
Over and over, sing again, Israel, in honor of the holy Creator.'
Immediately after the Rebbe heard this song, he turned to Reb Zalmen, his cantor, and said: Learn this song; we shall sing it and give it a fixing It doesn't matter that the tune originated from the theater
Yes, the Rebbe gave a fixing to our tune in the midst of his Chassidim, and we gave a fixing to Chassidic tunes when we sang them among our friends, and afterward transported them to the land of Israel. And not only in one kibbutz are these songs sung until this very day. Yes, yes, Horodenka was a happy and joyous city long, long ago.
The joy grew from minute to
minute. Jews who were busy all year around with worries of a livelihood, forgot
their worries, and could no longer recognize them. A lightness of mind, a
certain joy rippled over their faces. The honor at the Hakafos was given
according to ones lineage and importance. It's unnecessary to say that they did
not forget to honor the helpers of the poor, those who were worthy
because of their general position, who in their joy, did not hesitate to donate
in honor of a Hakafah, a shofar or a megilah wrapped in a talis, instead of a
Torah scroll, for they were not worthy of a sefer Torah. The invitation was
announced with a special emphasis, and to the mass of people, an exaggerated
description, as if to emphasize the opposite. That evening, everyone was
designated as 'a great philanthropist,' or at least, 'our teacher and rabbi.'
Thus, the hakafos continued for a long time, till the list of daaveners finished, and the energies of the announcer and the inviter were finished. Also the children joined in and completed the seventh hakafah, together with the honored daaveners. They returned the Torah scrolls, and left only one out to read three portions. Everything ran according to custom. They called up a Kohen and a Levi, and the turn came for the Aliya of a regular Israelite. Then something happened: Among the daaveners were two brothers, Anshel and Binyomin. The following day of Simchas Torah was the yarzeit of their father. As is known, every child wants to bring merit to his father in the world of truth, through an Aliya to the Torah. And they both longed to be called up for, 'Shlishi,' the third Aliya. The Baal Korei called the name of one of the brothers, but the second one who was closer to the bimah, ran up first, and said the bracha, asher bachar banu. (Who has chosen us) The other brother meanwhile reached the bimah and also began the bracha, but stopped in the middle when the congregation screamed out, a bracha in vain! And with ashamed anger from the mocking stares of the congregants, they attacked his brother with tightened fists. Immediately, a fistfight broke out, with the children of the embarrassed brother joining in. All this took place in the presence of the open sefer Torah How valuable and important is a sefer torah, I said in my childish brain if a Jew is ready to stretch out his hand against the beard of his brother
My father of blessed memory, grabbed me on his arms, protected my small head with the palm of his hand, and took me out of the tumultuous shul. Fresh air, from a newly fallen snow, that had just descended, surrounded me and put me to sleep in the eyes of my father.
3. A new tune
For the memory of my rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shapira
From the days of my childhood, I was drawn to after the Chassidic Niggun. I didn't miss any opportunity to hear or collect a new niggun especially in my second home, that of my teacher and rabbi, the rabbi of our city, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shapira. In those years, I was accustomed to visiting the rabbi each day, to hear Torah from his mouth, together with his son, my friend, Yitzchak. As time went by, I became in all respects, as one of his family, in all matters.
During the holiday, when the Rabbi daavened in the left section of the large shul, Yitzchak and I were the established choir. Out of appreciation to the rabbi for his sweet and pleasant prayers, those who daavened in that section would prepare a feast during Sukos with food and drink in the rabbi's house.
It's obvious that I never missed out on this celebration. First the honored ones, who prayed in that section would enter, followed by many Jews who loved a party. Not only the drinks, but also the food was abundant: Kugels and cakes of all kinds, not to mention all kinds of drinks. The festivities would generally begin after noon, and would continue till evening. The rabbi's whole family, under the direction of the pious and humble Rebbetzin, would do the serving. Her ways were unostentatious. I remember with love and concern for me. She always asked me if I happened to be hungry, and did not forget to honor me with the esrog jam that she made each year. Almost half the city would come to the rabbi's house all the days of Sukos, just to say a blessing over that jam.
The meal was spiced with words of Torah from the Rabbi, and with stories from the guests, and of course, with plenty of singing at the end. The old and weak man, Shimshale Milnitzer, would bring an abundance of songs and prayers. More than once do I recall his Melech Rachaman, and V'hasi'ainu from the Shmone Esrai prayers of the holiday. The words had a special taste in his mouth, with his shaky voice that was still sweet and pleasant to our ears. His singing was on the level of All my bones will speak... We also heard 'Bai Ana Rachitz from the mouth of Mochole Vovos. We didn't even skip the Frankish version of Echod Mi Yodai'ah, from Shmulekl Shapira, whose appearance represented the essence of the holiday. Meanwhile, Chaim Aharon finished consuming all the leftovers from the table. Then the rabbi turned to his son-in-law, the husband of his oldest daughter Feige, with a request to add something of his own.
He was a 'silken young man', somewhat different from those who we were used to here in Horodenka. Together with his Chassidic walk and wardrobe, there was something a little modern, a little cultured, that was generally rare in our city. He acquiesced to the request of his father-in-law, and began to sing a verse from Lecha Dodi. The verse that began, Mikdash Melech. His song was like his demeanor cultured and with a special flavor. This was a special song that was unique of its kind, which I heard for the first time. Something brought me to an elevated spirit. Forty years have passed, and I no longer recall the external form of that refined and humble young man. However, from time to time, in the moments of release from daily worries, I still here the tune of Mikdash Melech and then I remember all those good Jews who used to be, and are no longer. Some of them have gone to 'their world,' like the way of all flesh, and some were killed by the hands of the inhumane ones. Woe to those who are lost, and are no longer found.
4. The Judge Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shapira, May his Memory Be Blessed
When Rabbi Mendel Shapira was nominated for the position of judge in our city, there arose, as usual in these circumstances, an argument between those who were in favor, and those who were opposed. The opponents among the Chassidim of the Chortkover Rebbe, sent a committee to the Rebbe with the to dissuade him from holding that position, even though Reb Mendele himself was counted among the Chassidim of Chortkov. But the conclusion was the opposite of this. The Rebbe abounded in praise of the position and decimated all the arguments of his opponents. Regarding the argument that the appointee was too young for that job, the Rebbe answered, With the help of G-d, he will live a long life, and become aged On another argument that he is not steeped in Torah to a sufficient degree, the Rebbe replied: It is written, 'Beautiful is Torah with the way of the world ' So the opposition to the choice of Rabbi Mendel Shapira was pushed away, and he was chosen to be the judge in our city.
I knew him in the beginning of the thirties, when I learned Torah from his mouth, together with his son Yitzchak, may he be separated for life. Many years before that, in the days of my youth, I would listen to his prayer as the cantor, when he prayed in the old shul of the Vhortkover Chassidim. As I remember, there was none among the daaveners in the kloiz who were not inspired by his prayer. After the First World War, we went to daaven in the Polish section near the large shul, and there his reputation emerged as one of the most exalted cantors in the city. He remained a faithful prayer messenger on behalf of the multitudes of the children of Israel, and they always praised his sweet prayers.
I want to add another dimension about the nature and character of the judge. This was from the time that I used to go in and out of his house. Once on a Thursday a woman came to ask a question about a chicken being treife or kosher. The judge examined the chicken and decided it was treife. After the woman left, he explained to me in detail why he decided as he did. After a few weeks, I happened to be in the house of the judge, when another woman came in with a question similar to the previous one. This time it was on a Friday. The judge again examined the chicken, searched deeply into the law books, checked the chicken again, and after great deliberation, decided it was kosher. When he saw a look of astonishment on my face, he explained the difference in the reasoning between the two situations in which I was a witness. The first case, he said, was on a Thursday, and it occurred to a wealthy woman, who could easily buy another chicken in the honor of Shabbos. Therefore he did not have to enter into complex deliberations to find a way to permit her to eat the chicken. However, in the second case, an extremely poor woman came on a Friday. If I had decided that the chicken was not fit to eat, I would have caused a great financial loss, as well as great emotional distress to a poor family, and would have obliterated the Shabbos happiness from her home. Therefore, I felt it my obligation to examine and search for a way to declare the chicken to be kosher, and I was very joyful when I found that teaching.
These words gave me much material for thought, and only then did I understand the words of the Chortkover Rebbe: Good is Torah learning together with the ways of the world.
Thus was branded into my memory, the portrait of my teacher and rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shapira.
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