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[Page 57]

The “Squinter” Wakes (Us)
up for T'hilim (Psalms)

Translated by Sylvia Schildt

His name was Yankev Yitzkhok Shleyen, but he was called in slang “The Squinter”, because, sad to say, he looked out from and saw only through one eye ... the world at large knew him by his nickname “The Squinter.”

Old and young, everyone knew The Squinter, and had a warm feeling for him in their hearts. The Squinter would wake us for saying the first prayer Saturday before daylight and his voice echoed over all the Jewish streets. His manner of waking for T'hilim was:

Israel, people of holy martyrs
Get up,
Put on your lights,
Present yourselves
Get up
Get up
To the blessed work
That you have been created for..
He possessed a gigantic voice and he wakened us on the highest octave, a melody of sadness and encouragement ... even those who were not planning to go say T'hilim in the Beis Medresh so early before praying the morning Shakhris prayer, readily awakened from sleep and woke their children so they could hear how the old Squinter wakens for T'hilim.

From what did Reb Yankev Yitzkhok eke out a living for himself and for his household? He was the caretaker for the town bathhouse. Jews would hurry erev Shabbes to the bath house in honor of Shabbes, after the heavy toil of a whole week -- and the old bath house caretaker did everything on his part to please the community, the oven was blazing away, steam came up from the stones, everyone was equipped with little brooms and spongecloths. They climbed onto the highest steps, whipped themselves and sweated, they dunked themselves into the cold Mikveh - and had pleasure. Everyone came out of the bath house washed and cleansed -- with great gratitude for the one who supplied them with such pleasure in honor of Shabbes.

Probably he himself, Reb Yankev Yitzkhok, saw in this more Mitzvah than livelihood; the entrance fee for the bath was very modest, approachable for all.

His dwelling was attached to the bath house only a few feet from the Beis Medresh, where Reb Yankev Yitzkhok was one of the constant worshippers. Every free hour he would actually drop into the Beis Medresh to say Psalms, or look into “Eye of Jacob” even learn a passage of Mishnais.

When a Sabbath or holiday was coming, Reb Yankev Yitzkhok would divest himself of all weekday cares, dressed up in his Sabbath caftan -- a new person -- on Days of Awe he would pray in a white garment (kitl) -- like all penitents, concentrating on his Makhzor (prayer book) with great intention, occupied with the Higher World...

Sabbath preparations began for him already on Thursday; one has to bring wood, buy little brooms and begin in advance to heat the great oven for the bath house so that by Friday morning people would arrive to find everything ready. Thursday and Friday he toiled very hard for hours on end -- and though, not even looking at his age and exhaustion, he observed his Mitzvah to waken everyone for T'hilim Shabbes morning early.

He performed his holy volunteer duty always, summer and winter, in rain as in a burning frost. When all were huddled warming themselves under their quilts -- he the old man Reb Yankev-Yitkhok was already exactly on time. Shabes very early, striding around the streets and singing out with his unique melody -- the holy word “Israel People of Holy Martyrs” which echo in my soul to this very day ...And let it be noted with joy “ Jacob's plowed field shall not perish.”

Reb Yankev-Yitzkhok was granted that two of his grandsons, the brothers Gurland, would be saved and find themselves in Israel. After great exertions and long wanderings, they broke through a way to the Land just as the State of Israel arose and here built their family homes.


[Page 58]

Itzik Mordechai the Tailor and the War
over the Rabbinate

Translated by David Goldman

Itzik Mordechai, the tailor (Tauber) was an outstanding tailor, and he dressed practically everyone in town. He was a pious, observant and G-d-fearing Jew. Nevertheless, whenever he saw someone being wronged, he wouldn't hesitate to declare war on a large part of the Jewish community in town.

This is what happened: On the first day of Passover in 1925 Rabbi Ephraim Auerbach, the rabbi of the town, died. He had served as the rabbi of Horochov for many years and was well respected by everyone. Two of his sons did not follow in his footsteps, and they didn't receive rabbinical ordination. Instead, each ran a tiny store, which barely provided the most meager income from week to week. By contrast, Rabbi Auerbach's daughters married rabbis. The eldest married a rabbi of one of the towns in Volhyn, and the younger daughter also married a rabbi, who we called Shayka (Yehoshua Rabinowitz) and who was supported by his father-in-law.

After Rabbi Ephraim died, the community leaders decided to invite the out-of-town son-in-law to Horochov where he was appointed as the new rabbi. Itzik Mordechai was incensed and declared war against this decision; he refused to retreat. "That one," he asserted "serves as rabbi, his income is more or less secure; yet why should Shayka be discriminated against?" Itzik Mordechai went into full battle mode and declared a rebellion. He was joined by the congregants of the Olyker Shtibel [small synagogue], and appointed Shayka as their rabbi. They even arranged a residence for him in the Olyker synagogue.

This was how we were blessed with two rabbis in town.

I don't exactly know how the rabbis earned a living; there sure wasn't any steady source of money from any institution for them. I do know that a large portion of the expenses for their upkeep was covered by the sale of yeast for baking Sabbath hallah bread on Fridays. Thus, Shayka started selling yeast to his chassidim. I also remember the speech given by that official rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Reisher, in our study hall synagogue following the reading of the Torah. He declared a decree of excommunication on Shayka; he stated that any bread made from yeast bought from Shayka was not kosher, indeed, as such bread was to be considered as unkosher as could be. I was still a young teenager, and I didn't really understand what was going on. However, something rose up within me.

I thoroughly enjoyed it when my mother would send me every Thursday to buy equal portions of yeast from both rabbis; however, she asked me to make sure that whenever I went in or out no one should see me buy from Shayka, the excommunicated rabbi. My mother was certainly not the only person who acted this way. Every week I could barely contain my excitement, as I looked forward to Thursday and the first underground mission of my life.


David Tahori (Zuberman)

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