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[Pages 47-50]

The Stoliner Shtiebl

[The prayer house of the Stolin Hasidim]

By Israel Zusman

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's comments in square brackets]

[Unlike a shul=synagogue and besmedresh=a house of studying but also of prayer, the shtiebl is a small Hasidic prayer house.]


R' Israel, the “Stoliner Rabbi”
Under the photo: a facsimile of his signature


[Karlin-Stolin is the name of a Hhasidic dynasty originating with Rebbe Aharon the Great of Karlin (today a suburb of Pinsk, Belarus). Karlin was one of the first centers of Hasidism. In the 20th century the Karlin Hasidim were divided into two courts. The bigger was called the Karlin-Stolin court. Stolin was the town close to Karlin, where R' Asher, son of the founder, served as Admor (acronym of “our master and teacher”). The smaller court was called the Pinsk-Karlin]

The Stolin-Karlin Hasidim occupied a distinguished place in the life of Horodets. Although they amounted to around a quarter of the Jewish population, they played a significant role both in the cultural and social life. It is enough to note that they composed about half of the melamdim [kheider teachers], elders, ordinary non-orthodox rabbis and fine balebatim [home-owners].

The Stoliner shtibl included very great scholars such as: Yankl the Hasid, Eliyahu Yankl the butcher, Israel Leib the melamed, Shefe, Yehuda Ozer, and in later years the very distinguished R' Shalom son of Itzik, Asher David the butcher and others.

The shtibl was in the back of Motye Hillel's house. In order to get there, it was necessary to go through a narrow alley, between Motye Hillel's house and Chana's house, daughter of Pelte, and later Chava' house, daughter of Aharon-Yosl. Despite the fact that this shtibl was on the side – it was at the head of the bosey-medroshim of Horodets.

In the shtibl itself there was a very lively and joyful atmosphere. Here they studied a page of gemore, here they learned a chapter of mishnoyes [collection of post biblical laws and rabbinical discussions], or just told stories about rabbis and especially about the Karliner dynasty that descended from R' Aharon the Great, who was one of the Mezeritsher's disciples. [R. Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch]

A few weeks prior to Rosh Hashanah, the Hasidim became very cheerful. Some Hasidim used to gather and hire a wagon to travel to Stolin for the Holy Holidays. It cost them three or four rubles per person. That was before the railroad was constructed, and in those times - three or four rubles were quite a sum. Other Hasidim such as Reuven-Meir the Pilgirm, who actually performed the mitzvah of “making a pilgrimage” [=originally, to the Temple in Jerusalem by foot]. He used to walk to Stolin. It took him, indeed, two weeks, but he got the taste of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, praying in the Rabbi's shul felt as if he were in the Holy Temple, and Rabbi R' Aharon, then R' Asher and later the “Yenuka” [=infant] were the Big Cohen. [High Jewish priest].

[A. Ben Ezra commented that R' Aharon was also named “the old Rabbi', R' Ahser was also named “The Young Rabbi” and the “Yenuka” was named R' Israel.]

The travel to Stolin was to fill oneself with spirituality and influence the surroundings. The elderly had influence over the the youngsters who bound themselves to the way of life of the Karlin Hasidim. It was especially marked by a hilule [hilarious celebration] during Holidays, in which the Hasidic children participated with their elders. They danced together with their fathers and grandfathers and ate with them at the table.

The spirit of togetherness was very noticeable among the Hasidic children when R' Aharon's hilule was celebrated. The boys used to make clay candlesticks and lit 256 candles in them, the numerical value of the name אהרון = Aharon. The boys were instructed on other occasions as well. For example: sitting at the last day of Passover at the table, attending the Passover, Yankl Kadliner would start with the renowned Karlin melody “והיא שעמדה”. [Our faith has strengthened us against all enemies trying to destroy us]. Each child was honored by getting a part in reading out “אדיר במלוכה” [praising the name of God].

* * *

Yom Kippur was very inspiring. They used to spread straw or hay on the floor and the observant Jews used to sit a whole night in their white stockings.

Moshe, Chantshe's son, was granted the right to participate in the morning prayer of the High Holidays, despite his annual mistakes such as שעוה (wax) instead of שועה (cry) and יורקע instead of יוחקו … Itizikl was granted the right to sing the “היום” [Hayom =today] after “ונתנה תוקף” [U'ntane tokef], [parts of the Yom Kippur prayer] with the help of his children: Israel, Yudl and Nyomke.


“V'hi she'amda”

(Song for the Passover Seder)

The text is from the traditional Passover Haggadah:

This is the promise that has sustained our ancestors and us.
For it was not one enemy alone who rose up against us to destroy us.
In every generation there are those who rise up against us and seek to destroy us.
But the Holy One, blessed be he, saves us from their hands.

Caption at bottom:

This is an old Karlin melody, which the Karlinner khassidim sing till today.

Translation of song by Eugene Sucov


This was a melody that Itzikl had brought from Stolin. He heard it himself from Yankl Telekhaner, the chief composer of Stolin.

The most beautiful celebration observed by the Stoliner Hasidim was “Simkhes Bes Hasho'eva” [“שמחת בית השואבה” = the rejoicing of the drawing of the water during Sukkot], the leading event during the intermediary weekdays between the first and last days of Sukkot. The Hasidim used to assemble in the shtiebl after dinner, raised a toast lekhayim [to health] and ate fruit that each Hasid used to bring. They were not contented with eating fruit. They sang and danced the real dance… and Shimon Eizik accompanied the dance on a drum. Yankl Kadliner with his stately appearance started first with a sedate dance, and even the allegedly rigid Motye, son of Hillel, also hummed to the beat. The celebration lasted long into the night. This celebration attracted a big audience and the Stoliner “Simkhes Bes Hasho'eva” earned a great and well deserved fame.

Simkhes Bes Hasho'eva” was a prelude to “Simkhes Toyre” [Simkhe=rejoicing], where first they danced and sang separately [only men] for the “hakofes” [circular procession with the Torah scrolls around the reading platform]. People from the whole shtetl came to watch this, and this was the only case during the year when the doors were open wide even for women and girls. The folks came to see with what enthusiasm the Stoliner Hasidim danced and sang in honor of “Simkhes Toyre”.

The next morning after prayers and after the “hakofes”, they used to go for the “Kiddush” [=benediction over the wine], from one Hasid's home to the next, and not just “go” but rather walk dancing. By the time they finished with the last “Kiddush”, it was already time for attending the afternoon prayer…

* * *

Saturday before praying everybody is busy. Near the window, north east, sits Itshe, son of Binyamin who is also nicknamed “Itshe the Walker” [peddler], as he uses to peddle with a bundle around the villages, selling the gentiles needles, yarn, kerchiefs/shawls and other small items.

On the other side of the table, opposite Itshe, sits his son, Yaakov, and studies with him Mishley [proverbs] with interpretations of MLBI”M [= R' Meir Leibush son of Yekhiel Mikhal]. Itshe is crazy about MLBI”M. He finds in this interpretation all the tastes of the world, and it to makes him chant them. He actually licks his fingers, as if he derived pleasure from eating something sweet. All the other interpretations are, in his eyes, nothing in comparison with MLBI”M. When Yaakob's children grow up – they will inherit the place of their father and will also rock over Proverbs with MLBI”M.

However, before Itshe teaches his grandchildren Proverbs, he studies with Simkha Yudl mishnoyes, telling, in passing, stories about his wanderings in the villages as a peddler and also about heroes of the past.

“Once upon a time”, he tells, I enter an inn and I see how the melamed teaches his pupils an interpretation. When everybody was asleep, I sprang out of bed, went to the table where the interpretation was left lying. I took it and threw it into the garbage…

By the oven sits Khayim Leib, a renowned rich man. He studies “Khumesh” [the first 5 books of the Bible] with Rashi's interpretation and at times fills his nostrils with tobacco and studies further.

Khayim Leib is an irate man. If one remarks that the literal meaning he draws from Rashi is incorrect, he becomes so angry, as though, God forbid, they are doing horrible things to him! And when one says to him: “R' Khayim Leib, you should read “יוצר המאורות” and not “יוצר המיורות” [bad pronunciation of the word meaning sun, moon and the stars], he shouts: “Get out you brat”!

Across, near the window, east-south, sits R' Shalom, son of Itsik, holding a gemore. He studies it for his own pleasure. A whole week he teaches the public “Ein Yaakov” [collection of the legends in the Talmud] between the afternoon and evening prayers. However, on Saturday he isolates himself with the gemore and enjoys Rashi, and Tosfos and “מהרשא”

[Rashi – an acronym of: Rabbi Shlomo Yitskhaki - a distinguished interpreter. Tosfos – a collective commentary of rabbis on the Talmud-Bavli. – מהרשא acronym of Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer son of R' Yehuda Idelsh, interpreter of the Talmud].

For three-meals [Saturday eve, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon], they sit at the long table near the northern wall. On the table there is a piece of hallah and a tail of herring. They take a bite, they tell a miracle, and for dessert they sing a Karliner melody half sad and half merry. It is already quite dark but the people do not want to part from the Sabbath queen. However, it is necessary to go to the shop and to their other occupations. They say the evening prayer and honor the Sabbath with songs accompanied by Shimon Izik's drum.

Aware that tomorrow is already Sunday, that they are no longer princes and that it is necessary to worry again about the next day, they go home with a heavy heart.

It is remarkable how the Karlin Hasidim become lively again and resume their soulfulness even in the middle of the week, when the Rabbi is about to arrive. This is how it was indeed when R' Israel, the “Infant” arrived in Horodets on a plain Wednesday. [see illustration on page 47 of R' Israel]The common everyday mood vanished and a mood of festivity embraced the Stoliner Hasidim in their shtiebl. All of them rejoiced together with the Rabbi, who honored them with his visit. R' Israel did not behave as a Rabbi who comes every year to visit his Hasidim who lectures and lengthens the prayer. On the contrary, his prayer of “Shmone-Esre” was the shortest. He carried himself like a merchant, was dressed as a merchant and here and there scolded in Russian like a Russian merchant.

* * *

The Stoliner Hasidim lived in unity, devoted to each other, always ready to do a favor to each other, always full of enthusiasm and kindness to people. When the heart was heavy – they took a sip of liquor /whisky and gained faith and confidence. When the sorrow of the world oppressed them too much, they started singing and then dancing.


Hasidim dancing
Drawn especially for the book of Horodets
By Dvora Zusman, Israel's daughter

(this drawing won the second prize from the “Scholastic” exhibition)


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