The Houses of Worship in Our City
by Abraham-Isaac Murik
Edited by Karen Leon
The houses of worship in our city were mostly built of wood and situated close to each other. Each of these synagogues, and their congregations, were followers of one of the many Hasidic Rebbes.
The Great Synagogue was built on Ulica Handlowa. Both Hasidim and Mitnagdim attended the Great Synagogue. Rabbi Hechtman, the ritual slaughterer and meat inspector, Shlom'keh, and all of the wealthy and influential Jews of Sarny had their places on the eastern side of the synagogue. The Holy Ark, which adorned the eastern wall, was the product of outstanding artisans and woodworking craftsmen. The dedication of the Ark was a major event for all of the worshippers and all of the Jews of the city.
The pharmacists, Levin and Barzam, and Yerusalimsky, the son-in-law of Rabbi Hechtman were among the worshippers at the Great Synagogue. Craftsmen and ordinary Jews were comfortable praying here, as well as the idlers of the city, such as Menashe the porter, and Meir the water carrier.
The services were conducted by Sirota and others, cantors who were famous throughout the Jewish world at that time. People with strong dispositions were selected as Gabbaim. The struggle over the position of the Gabbai began at the time of the High Holy Days. The arguments resulted in a physical fight several times.
One could hear the Misheberach blessing chanted from the bima of the Great Synagogue in honor of the heads of state during the national holidays in May and November. The teacher, Grosskopf, also delivered a speech in Polish, which was totally incomprehensible to his listeners.
The Kupitzskaya (Merchants) Synagogue was situated near the Great Synagogue. The building was adorned both outside and inside. Its whitewashed walls could be seen from a distance. Chestnut and birch trees were planted on its east side to provide shade. Everything in this house sparkled, and everything was anointed in the color of oil. Many merchants worshipped here. They were known to start services late and finish early. Mr. Joseph Kharpak served in the capacity of Gabbai here for many years. He was the father of Eliyahu, Israel, Bezalel, and Chaim, who today live in The Land.
The Stolin synagogue was located on the Ulica Szkolna. The worshippers here were in the habit of drawing out their fervent prayers accompanied by a great deal of singing. Cantors did not have an entre here, as was the custom among Hasidim. The services were led by Rabbi Kunda, Pinia Mush'keh's Kipperman, and the ritual slaughterer and meat inspector, Pesach Elyah. Services were led in front of the ark during weekdays, on the Sabbaths, and High Holy Days.
The voices of those studying the Mishna, and those reciting Tehillim, emanated from the shtibl until the late hours of the night. The synagogue of the Berezne Hasidim had residential rooms in the basement, below the house of worship. The common folk of Sarny, the merchants who roamed the neighboring villages, and the residents of the Ulica Szeroka, came here to pour out their hearts before the Creator. The bath house and the Hekdesh (poor house) were near this synagogue. As part of their routine wanderings, the paupers of Wolhyn stopped here and lodged for the Sabbath. They were accorded the fourth and fifth Torah aliyah, but were usually left without a meal invitation. Despite all of the good intentions of the Berezne Hasidim, due to their limited circumstances they simply lacked the means to host these paupers. This synagogue began Sabbath prayers early, and its worshippers were among the first to return to their families for the Sabbath repast.
The Stepan synagogue was constructed in the final years before the outbreak of the First World War. It was located behind Rosenberg's passage near a pond where the people came for Tashlikh on Rosh Hashanah. My father attended this house of worship, and generously gave money to assure its construction and maintenance. The Stepan Hasidim, who up to that time had been spread out among the other synagogues, now had their own house of worship, and they were privileged to be visited by their Rebbe.
A synagogue was built for the people of the (Poleska) neighborhood, on the other side of the railroad tracks. This synagogue expanded as the population grew.
For all of us, the synagogues were places of inspiration, and where we could pour out our souls. We entered them in times of joy and sorrow. From the early hours of the morning until the very late hours, you could encounter Jews worshipping in each location. If you wanted to see the Jews of Sarny, to listen to their conversations and learn about their issues, all you needed to do was cross the threshold of a synagogue.
Congregants were joyful on the Sabbath days when the Rebbe came to pray with his followers. Songs emanated from the synagogues. On Saturday nights, after the end of the Sabbath, musicians played, with Gabriel of Dabrowica, the clarinet player, at the lead. The dedication of Torah scrolls to the synagogues was accompanied by large crowds of people, in processions through the streets of the city, with torches lighting the way.
Young men studied in the Yeshivas of these synagogues. There, they heard emissaries from The Land, and other lecturers, speaking to them from the bima. These dedicated scholars were destroyed, and no longer exist.
by Asher Miasnik
Edited by Karen Leon
There were seven synagogues in our city: the Great Synagogue, under the authority of Rabbi Hechtman kz; the synagogue (shtibl) of the Stolin-Karlin Hasidim; that of the merchants (Kupitzskaya); the Hasidim of the ADMoR, Our Master, Our Teacher, Our Rabbi Mosheleh of Stolin under the authority of Rabbi R'Aharon Kunda; the Berezne Hasidim; the synagogue of the Stepan Hasidim on the Poleska side of the town; and lastly, the Zionist synagogue.
The synagogues in Sarny were always full. The Sabbath day felt like a festival day, not only by the Jewish residents, but also among the majority of the gentiles. The sense of the tranquility of the Sabbath completely penetrated into Sunday as well. The Jews never opened their businesses or workshops on the Sabbath.
After the death of the Rebbe Israel Perlov of Stolin kz, the Stolin Hasidim split into two camps. The elders among the Hasidim selected R' Elimelech of Karlin to lead them, and the young adhered to R' Moshe of Stolin. This dispute between the two camps spread to every congregation and town, including Sarny. However, despite the differences in opinion that occasionally led to ad hominem attacks, the general conduct of the Hasidim of the synagogue of Stolin-Karlin was exemplary. This was the case whether it pertained to the serious conviction of their prayer, in the sense that every bone in my body speaks out, the intent of the soul, or in the joy of life and the casting off of the ongoing course of real life. When you attended the Stolin synagogue, you found that for which your soul yearned.
The Hasidim who worshipped in the Stolin synagogue were God-fearing Jews. They served as role models for many, and contributed to the praiseworthy name of the town in the entire vicinity.
Rabbi Aharon Kunda, the Rabbi of the synagogue who came to our city after the Russian Revolution, was an honest and God-fearing man. With his sweet voice, he led services in front of the ark on the Sabbath and the High Holy days.
The Headmaster of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim-Mendl Kostromecky, was a modest and self-effacing man. He was satisfied with few possessions, and wore the same clothing and boots, always clean and shiny, all year long. Rabbi Chaim-Mendl served as a Headmaster in a number of cities before he came to our town. Among his hundreds of students were important personalities of the Jewish world, including the sons of the Rebbe, R' Israel'keh. During the 1930s and 1940s, he supervised a Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, and it was there that he died during the War of Independence. It is said that when some of his relatives came and begged him to leave that dangerous place, he replied, I too, am a soldier, and I stand to defend the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Among the prominent Hasidim of Sarny were: R' Herschel Bergman, R' Pesach Borko, R' Zvi Turkenitz, the Head of the Talmud-Torah, R' Pesach Elyah Katz, the ritual slaughterer and meat inspector, R' Pinchas (Malkeh's) Zandweiss, renowned leader of prayers with an unusually powerful voice, R' Eliezer Zhuk (The Big One), R' Eliezer Susnik (The Little One) the Gabbai of the Tehillim Recitation Group, R' Shlomo Sofer, the embodiment of the self-effacing Hasid, at one with his God, to whom he clung with his entire heart, and who drowned in the mikvah, R' Shlomo Wolf's, and R' Shlomo-Mendl Roseman, R' Yehoshua the Dairyman (Der Milkhiger), R' Asher Aharon Gimpel, R' David Kornblum (The Pole), R' Benjamin Kantorowicz, R' Yehuda Pearlstein, and his son, Noah, R' Ze'ev Pikman and his son Moshe, R' Mych'eh Levin, known for his leadership of the Neilah Service, R' Yaakov Geifman, the Gabbai of the Synagogue.
My father, Aharon Miasnik, served as a Gabbai. My father always donated to charity and needy causes, and engaged in Hakhnasat Orkhim, graciously welcoming Yeshiva students to our home. Each Sabbath we had a guest or a Yeshiva student at our table. My father was deeply committed to the ADMoR of Karlin, and assisted in the preparations for the receptions for him and his disciples. He personally baked the challah for these visits, and cooked the fish. There was no limit to the effort he exerted in order to properly receive Hasidim, who came from the vicinity and from afar. The visits of the ADMoR to Sarny were momentus. Hundreds of Hasidim and Rabbis from near and far came to spend the Sabbath in his presence. The worship and the tisch, the table of the Rebbe, was specially prepared, and a singular kind of mood reigned over everything, particularly the melodies and dances.
As it grew dark on the Sabbath, the Hasidim of Stolin-Karlin in Sarny, gathered around tables in the synagogue for Shalosh Seudot, the third meal of Shabbat, where they enjoyed a slice of challah, the tail of a herring, joyous songs and sorrowful melodies.
After nightfall on Saturday, several groups assembled for a Melave Malka, a special after- Sabbath repast. The Jews of the city found it difficult to let go of the Sabbath, and so the Melave Malka allowed them to hold onto it a little longer. The men consumed unpeeled potatoes cut into halves or thirds, soup made from boiled bones, cabbage or beets, and a bit of strong liquor to revive the soul. In addition to the food, the primary focus of the celebrations were songs at the conclusion of the Sabbath, the melodies associated with the courtyard in Stolin, tales of the Righteous, and in the end, Hasidic dances of great feeling and arousal, which continued until midnight.
The Hasidim of Sarny were a joyous group. When the substantive repasts at the Rebbe's Tisch failed to satisfy them, or they were just plain carried away, and seized by a mood of joy and mischievousness, they visited the courtyards of Hasidim whose wives were known to be particularly stingy, to coerce the sale of chickens or some other good tasting food to them, and arrange a kumzitz with friends and neighbors. R'Aharon Gittl's from Berezne, and R' Shmaryahu Frankel from Dabrowica, both close to Sarny, were appointed to secure the fowl and cooked goods. Those days during which the Rebbe visited the city were like a free-for-all. The Hasidim would unburden themselves from work, family concerns, and the issues of earning their living. Most of the hours in the day were spent together with their comrades in the proximity of the Rebbe.
The holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah were joyful. The Jews set aside their suffering, worries, and anxieties about their everyday existence during these festival days. It was as if Jews changed their very skin, donning glee and exhilaration, and they stood as masters of joy at the gates of their courtyards. Men, women, and children streamed to the Hakafot at the shtibl of the Stolin Hasidim. The joy that accompanied the singing, during the Hakafot captivated the congregation. Those who were privileged to carry the Torahs during Hakafot were blessed that they should be able to do the same again the following year. The dancing that occurred around the Torah scrolls, was a beautiful, gratifying, sight.
The Hasidim recited the prayers early on Simchat Torah, and concluded them rapidly while making mischief and carrying out pranks. While the words were still between their teeth, they were already on the way to arrange Kiddush at the homes of their comrades. They gathered at the home of a friend, swallowed a drink, tasted the cookies and confections prepared by the woman of the house, sang and danced. They bestowed blessings on the master of the house and the members of his family, and hurried off in order to do the same at the next house, so as not to insult anyone close to them.
The children especially anticipated the arrival of Simchat Torah. The Hasidim arranged special programs for the children. The teacher, R' Joseph Njavozny, nicknamed Moshiach, was transformed into a new person on that day. Immediately after the morning Shacharit prayers, he stood on a table wearing an oddly decorated hat on his head, and a jacket made of coarse flax, as was the habit of the villagers. By his side was a sack of spoiled pears and candies. R' Joseph cried out using the tune of the Thirteen Attributes of the Rambam. After finishing a verse, he announced, Sacred Flock, and the children standing about him responded with bleating sounds, Me-eh... They immediately spread out on the floor in order to be able to grab up as much of the candies that R' Joseph scattered about. In honor of Simchat Torah, R' Pesach Borko, generally a taciturn, modest and self-effacing but respected man, donned a cylindrical top hat, decorated with colored feathers, or a multi-colored woman's hat. He went out with his Hasidic comrades and friends in song and dance at the front of the courtyards, escorting joyous children, who had attached themselves to the procession.
A joy of this kind suffused the shtibl on other Jewish festivals and religious celebrations, as well as during the observance of Yahrzeit for the various deceased ADMoRs. The Hasidim knew the secret of how to transcend the sordidness of their drab day-to-day lives and rise above the travails of making a living, the worry over taxes, and the anxiety of raising children. In communal prayer, in the flow of life, in the sorrowful melodies until the soul expired, in dance, and in living for the moment, they succeeded in creating a spiritual life that enabled them to forget their poverty and deprivation.
There were disputes as well in the shtibl. Periodically, differences of opinion arose with regard to the appointment of a Gabbai, or the succession of an ADMoR to the rabbinical chair, and the like. These differences were not permanent. The festivals, the prayers and the communal feasts, all served as a binding force, and united their hearts.
The Hasidim of the shtibl donated to charitable causes. They had a great love for the Land of Israel. The ADMoRs of Stolin visited the Holy Land many times, and considered settling there. Their melodies and songs were collected into the hearts of their progeny who made aliyah, and who reached the shores of The Land during every aliyah.
by Dr. Ze'ev Rabinovich
Edited by Karen Leon
The resonance of generations, images of pious lives who lit up the sordid darkness of ordinary people with the light of eternity, rise before us. It is a one-hundred-eighty-year history, replete with struggle. It began with harsh persecutions and expulsions, and, after many ups and downs, ended with a complete victory. The value of the Hasidim of Karlin is not measured in comparison to its influence on Hasidic movements that arose after it in Poland and the Ukraine, but rather, in its own time. The force of its initiatives, neither static, nor dynamic, represents one of the first of the branches of the Hasidic movement. In the initial days of this movement, Rabbi Dov Ber, known as the Great Maggid, established his Bet HaMedrash in the village of Mezhyrichi in the south of Wolhyn. His disciple, R' Aharon HaGadol, settled in the outskirts of the Lithuanian city of Pinsk, in Karlin, the center of Hasidism in the north, approximately 1765.
The regard for this northern center, in contrast to the center in the south, was so great, that the Hasidim bore the sobriquet as a Mezhyricher, or a Karliner. This is what we learned in the first of the reports from the era of the disputes that arose against the Hasidim, As a name to characterize them, the Hasidim of our time were called Mezhyricher or Karliner. In his autobiography, the philosopher Shlomo Maimon, who lived in the early days of the Hasidic movement, wrote that the Hasidim of his time made pilgrimages to the two cities, Karlin and Mezhyrichi. The French tourist Gregoire, who visited Poland at that time, indicated that the new sect of Hasidim were called Karliner'' after the place where the movement was initiated. Reports found in St. Petersburg from the years 1796-1801, when the Russian regime intervened in the dispute between the Mitnagdim and the Hasidim, the Hasidim were called Karliner, despite the fact that at that time, all of the branches of Hasidism, and the ruling houses of its Rebbes, had already expanded throughout Poland and Russia. R' Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad, was referred to in these reports as the leader of the Karliners. As it was said, the head of the Hasidim.
The outstanding reputation of the Hasidic center in Karlin came about not only as the first of its kind chronologically, but it was also great in a geographic sense. The Hasidim of Karlin were pioneers in the concept of Hasidism in scholarly Lithuania. R' Aharon HaGadol attempted to spread the Hasidic doctrine from Karlin, which was an island in the middle of the Lithuanian sea of Mitnagdim. Through excerpts dated 1769 from the municipal Pinkas of the city of Njasviz, discovered before the war in the Stolin courtyard, containing by-laws and guidance of R' Aharon HaGadol, we know about the great extent of his influence at that time throughout the entire area.
Despite harassment and excommunications promulgated in the principal Lithuanian congregations, and especially in his city of Pinsk, R' Aharon HaGadol was responsible for igniting the flame of Hasidism. In accordance with his final will, the following inscription appears on his grave. He devoted himself, with the full commitment of his soul, to this endeavor.
This was the first aliyah in the movement. During the first excommunication, pronounced in 1772, R' Aharon died at the age of 36. The fire of God that burned within him, consumed him. The magnificent Sabbath song, Ya Ekhsof Noam Shabbat, written by R' Aharon, is sung by Hasidim on the Sabbath to this day. I am often dismayed that this lyrical song was not included in the Sefer Shabbat that was published in The Land. From his written doctrine, it is appropriate to underscore this magnificent Sabbath song.
After the death of R' Aharon, his pupil and friend, R' Shlomo of Karlin, tried to preserve his legacy. However, he too was harrassed and excommunicated, and was compelled to leave the cradle of Hasidism in Karlin, in 1784, to seek refuge in the city of Ludomir (Volodymyr-Volynsky). And with the absence of this righteous man, the influence of the movement in Karlin disappeared. The synagogues were closed, and the Hasidim were hounded without end.
This was a time of decline for the Hasidism of Karlin. R' Shlomo remained in Ludomir, where he was martyred by Cossacks in 1792 during their war against Poland. He became famous in the Hasidic literature as Moshiach ben Joseph whose fate was to be killed before the coming of Messiah, the son of David.
During his exile in Ludomir, R' Shlomo's preeminent student was the son of R' Aharon HaGadol, known as the First R' Asher. After the death of his teacher, R' Asher returned to the area where his father resided. At this time, he did not yet have the temerity to return to Karlin because of the level of harassment of Hasidim there. Instead, he lived in the town of Stolin, close to Pinsk. From that time on, the Karlin Hasidim were also called the Stolin Hasidim. During the years 1796-1801, a famous dispute broke out against the Karlin Hasidim, led by the Pinsk Rabbi, R' Avigdor. This dispute reached all the way to the Supreme Senate in St. Petersburg, and led to the arrest and imprisonment of the Tzaddik R' Schneur Zalman of Liadi, and also of R' Asher of Stolin. The day of R' Asher's release is considered a day of celebration, and it happens to fall on the lighting of the fifth candle of Hanukkah. With the victory of the Hasidim, and after their assumption of control over the communal institutions of Pinsk, R' Asher I returned to the cradle of Hasidim of Karlin, after 1810, and he remained there until he died in 1826.
During the time of R' Asher, the second expansion in the Karlin movement began. This occurred after the period of decline that existed in the time of his teacher, R' Shlomo. The expansion reached its zenith in the time of his son, R' Aharon the Second, who served as the Rebbe for nearly 50 years, until 1872. He was a dynamic leader and strengthened the edifice erected by his grandfather and his father.
His father's book, Beyt Aharon, encapsulated the lore of Karlin. R' Aharon HaGadol rejected sorrow. He believed that being sorrowful was not a transgression, but it engendered a deadening of the soul more so than any sin of prohibition that was found in the Torah. R' Aharon II was not satisfied with the rejection of sorrow. He demanded rising to a higher level and to live in a continuous state of joy. Many still recall the optimism that he instilled into the hearts of his followers. Many of the famous melodies associated with Karlin-Stolin were created during the years of R' Aharon II. Before, and during the time of R' Aharon II, the Karlin Hasidism exhibited a very specific proscribed appearance, which served as a connection to the way a person related to his fellow man, and also in the way one served one's Creator.
(From the 'Ohr Zarua' Collection)
by Shlomo Zandweiss
Edited by Karen Leon
Traveling to The Rebbe
The stories of what transpired in the Rebbe's courtyard, the Hasidim coming to Stolin from the four corners of the earth: from Russia, Poland, Lithuania, and from the cities of the Land of Israel Hebron, Safed, and Tiberias; the description of the Tisch; events that were arranged, and the communal prayer accompanied by the sweet melodies of the leaders of the services, R' Yaakov Telekhaner, and my father vg, all of these aroused a yearning within me, going back to my childhood, to visit Stolin. The question was, how I could accomplish this trip when my older brother, Aharon shv, had the priority to do so. There was no way our mother would agree to both of us traveling together.
I constantly thought about taking this trip, and in my childish mind, I considered methods to achieve my objective. First of all, I sought the closeness of my father. From time to time I demonstrated my knowledge of the Stolin style of prayer. I knew how to align the words of the blessing, to differentiate between day and night in the recitation of the morning prayers. During the reading of the weekly Torah portion on a Sabbath morning, where the text was read in Hebrew and Aramaic, or attending the synagogue of the Stolin Hasidim when the portion regarding ritual sacrifices was read, I ended with an emphasis together with all of the Hasidim, with the sentence, In order to fulfill the commandment of performing the mitzvah, Daka min HaDaka (a delight, the finest of the fine). In singing Kol Mikdash on the Sabbath nights, I imitated my father in the style of R' Aharon of Karlin, separating the words mechalelo into mechal-lo and poalo into poal-lo (he is forgiven).
I excelled in the rendition of the sacred melody of the lyric poem Ya Ekhsof, by R' Aharon of Karlin. Similarly, I assiduously followed my father's directions with regard to my behavior. During Sabbath feasting, I refrained from putting my hands on the table or leaning my head against my hands. I did not anticipate my father's litany by so much as even a single word, in the singing of songs. My father was alert to these sorts of things. He was known to say, from the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, along with the altar, the table serves in its place, and we arrange all of our feasts on this altar. When we walked to synagogue, I took extreme care not to step ahead of my father, especially on the Sabbath. I walked with a measured pace, and with great care.
It is written, Remember the Sabbath day and sanctify it, meaning, remember it all of the days of the week. Preparations for the Sabbath began in our home on Friday morning. In addition to the baking, cooking, cleaning and straightening the house, every member of the household prepared themselves personally for the Sabbath by visiting the bath house, the barber, and trimming our nails. My father shined his shoes while uttering a phrase attributed to the ADMoR, R' Abraham Yehoshua Heschel of Opatow, Jews have no concept of how great the reward is, for the shining of one's shoes on the eve of the Sabbath. As it is said, how beautiful your appearance is when you are shod. After this, while it was still daylight, we inspected the oil lamps and the candles ensuring they lit properly, and lastly, we sweetly recited passages from the Song of Songs.
At the end of all this trying, I finally received my father's consent to make the trip, but my brother, Aharon, still had to agree. In the end, everything fell into place, and I, as a ten-to-eleven year old child, joined my father on his trip to Stolin.
There were many preparations to make before the trip began, both at home and in the synagogue, and the details were endlessly revisited. The names of the travellers were noted, and counted, in groups of ten. The groups sang old melodies and rehearsed new melodies. The costs of the trip were collected for those of limited means among the Hasidim. The fever-pitch of travel reached its zenith in the final 2-3 days before the trip began. Since Sarny was a crossroads in the connection of Kiev to Kovel and Rovno to Vilna, guests from near and far were welcome in our home.
Members of the household packed my father's travel valises, and took great care not to overlook any requirement. He needed his tallit and two pairs of tefillin: one in the style of Rashi, and one in the style of Rabbeinu Tam. Other items included his kittl, his copy of Khok L'Israel, and several other books. On top of all this, he needed four or five kapotes, different ones for prayer, for daily general use, for the bath and one, shined and dyed, for sitting at the Rebbe's Tisch. In addition to being the leading solo of the choir, known in Yiddish as a kapelyeh, my father was also the leader of those who served at the Tisch events. I can still see, in my mind's eye, all of the servers attending the tables, wearing brand new shoes, passing the dishes from one to another.
About two to three days before Rosh Hashanah, all of the trains going in the direction of Horyn-Stolin were full of Hasidim who journeyed from all ends of the country. They traveled from Warsaw, Kovel, Ludomir, and Rovno. They came from the direction of Kiev, from Olevsk, Korosten, Luhyny, and Slovechne. In addition, Hasidim rode by wagon from the near-by towns and villages. Riding In wagons and in railroad cars, Hasidim toasted each other with L'Chaim while they demolished lekakh, or rolls and eggs. They sang Stolin melodies, got up to dance, and participated in the afternoon Mincha service.
Even the train conductor was slightly disoriented, speaking half in Yiddish and half in the local non-Jewish language. He walked from car-to-car, and announced, quoting from Exodus 14:25,
Speak unto the Children of Israel, and they will travel. Division in half is legitimate, into thirds, or quarters, not so. He had a silent agreement between himself and the Hasidim that everyone traveling without a ticket could discharge their obligation by paying half the fare. The Hasidim filled the Horyn station from all points of debarkation. These Hasidim arrived by carriage or steamboat from the Pinsk vicinity from the towns of Turau and David-Horodok.
The initial encounters among them could be compared to a time when members of a family meet when they are invited to the same wedding. There were rather few Jewish wagon drivers and they had to make a number of round trips to be able to transport all of the Hasidim. Also, many of those from the towns came on their own wagons, upholstered in grass and fresh cut hay, offering a service to the Jews, and thereby earning a few extra kopecks without any additional effort.
When the Hasidim reached Stolin every hotel room, and every room in private homes, were filled. Many of the Hasidim made do, by organizing themselves in barn lofts upholstered with freshly cut, newly mown hay. Up until even the last moment, one could see lights in most of the houses, and sense the feeling in the air that the High Holy Days were approaching. The smell of cooking fish and of baking challah and other items, hung in the air. Hasidim returned from the various mikva facilities, with their beards and side locks dripping water, and prepared themselves for the encounter of peace with the Rebbe, and the prayer of Zokher HaBrit.
On the eve of the holiday I took a walking tour with my friend Chaim, who had also come to Stolin. He showed me the living quarters of the Rebbe and the reception rooms for the Hasidim. There were two sukkot: a smaller one for the family and a large, spacious sukkah, for the reception of the host of Hasidim and the arrangement of the feasts. A Holy Ark stood in one of the sukkot, which held a Torah scroll that had been personally written by the hand of the Rebbe, R' Aharon of Karlin. With the approach of the High Holy Days, this Torah scroll was carried to the Great Synagogue, accompanied by singing and dancing. Chaim showed me where the choir rehearsals were held, the courtyard where the large kitchens were located, the house in which the Rebbetzin lived, the mother of the Rebbe R' Israel'keh, the various mikva locations, and the courtyard of the spacious stables, in which the horses and carriages were quartered.
The Rebbe loved talking about large choirs and carriages that had many pairs of horses hitched to them. The Hasidim did not accept the Rebbe's words literally, that his true intent was directed towards the carriages.
Finally, we arrived at the synagogue courtyard, where all kinds of goods were sold on platforms. I could not conceive of a marketplace more splendid than the one in the synagogue courtyard in Stolin. What was not there? The choicest and most beautiful prayer shawls, with resplendent neck decorations, Mahzors of every description, prayer books, sets of the Shas, Mishna, sacred books, and the miracles of the Holy Men, lulav and etrog plants from the Holy Land, and Cyprus, candlesticks of copper and silver, regular menorahs, and Hanukkah menorahs. There were etrog boxes, spice boxes, and redolent tobacco containers, carved from wood, or poured from silver, decorated in the image of the Kotel, the Machpelah Cave, the grave site of mother Rachel, and other sacred locations in Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias. The eye could not be sated from the array of all these goods and sacred finery. And my limited youthful head was overwhelmed by everything that was revealed before it, in a panoply of color.
Before the start of worship, my father cautioned me not to get too far away from him. He sat me on a window sill, which was about a meter deep, in the Bet HaMedrash. I sat there for the entire duration of the service along with several other boys, and watched what was taking place in the Great Bet HaMedrash. I saw the Rebbe and his six sons enter the Bet HaMedrash, dressed in their new, silk kapotes, shtreimels on their heads, and white socks on their feet. A shudder engulfed the host of thousands, as one. At a sign from the Rebbe, Menashe the Shokhet approached the prayer lectern, and with a loud proclamation, initiated the prayer with, Ashrei yoshvei beytekha The prayer, accompanied by song, is etched in my memory as if it took place barely two or three days ago, even though the reality is that decades have already gone by.
Similarly, the entourage going to Tashlikh in Stolin, is etched in my memory as well. Thousands of Hasidim, and residents of the town descended on the streets that led to the Horyn River, outside of the town. Gardens, porches, and byways were full of people. As the Hasidim returned from Tashlikh, the day grew dark. Hundreds of lights pierced the encroaching darkness through the windows of houses, to light the way for those who were dancing with fervor.
by Moshe Borko
Edited by Karen Leon
One of the most popular and most active of the community workers in Sarny, was R' Pinchas Zandweiss, or as he was generally called, Pinia Mushkeh's. As a formidably God-fearing man, he was someone who literally gorged himself on the fulfilment of mitzvot. Consequently, he was always on the lookout for any mitzvah that he could perform to enlarge his portion in the World to Come. He was naturally drawn to the issue of assuring that Torah instruction was provided for the poor young children of Sarny. Together with the second consistently dedicated community activist in Sarny, the ritual slaughterer and meat inspector, R' Pesach-Elyeh Katz, they founded the Sarny Talmud Torah. However, since they had not properly attended to all of the formalities that were demanded by the Polish regime involved in founding a community school, the Talmud Torah remained their own private school.
As the years passed and the numbers of children attending increased, the school developed nicely. The teachers engaged by the Talmud Torah inculcated Torah into the young Jewish children of Sarny.
The budget of the Talmud Torah was funded by levies on, and collections from, the local Jewish populace, and, understandably, there were always deficits. Insurance for the teachers, particularly insurance for hospital care, which was compulsory in Poland, was never addressed. As a result, conflict between the management of the Talmud Torah and the teachers began a few years before the war. When the teachers complained to the authorities, the local hospital demanded that the Talmud Torah pay the required insurance premiums plus interest and penalties on the delinquent amount. This added up to a sum of approximately 4,000 zlotys. To secure this debt, a lien was placed on the private homes of Messrs. Zandweiss and Katz, who, as previously mentioned, were considered to be the official owners of the Talmud Torah.
Sarny Jews often sought my assistance from my office in Warsaw. One day I received an alarming letter from Messrs. Zandweiss and Katz, to help them out of their misfortune, and, simultaneously, save the Talmud Torah from going under.
The matter was very complicated. It took me a long time and extensive negotiations with the central office of hospital care in Warsaw, to get them to consent to lower the demanded sum to 360 zlotys, and to have it paid in twelve monthly instalments. All of the interested parties were satisfied by this reduction, particularly Messrs. Zandweiss and Katz. Once again, the Talmud Torah was able to function normally.
When I returned to Sarny for the first time after this, R' Pinchas Zandweiss visited me to thank me for working out the solution to this potential financial misfortune. At the same time, however, he demanded a mitzvah and an agent's fee from me, consisting of providing a contribution to help underwrite the costs for poor children to attend the Talmud Torah. He made this demand with complete earnestness and conviction, and he argued that in our Jewish prayers, we intone, and the study of Torah stands in opposition to all the others, and consequently, he could not simply set aside his part of this obligation to perform so great a mitzvah, which he had placed before me.
I know that my success in resolving the issue of the Talmud Torah became known beyond Sarny, because a short while thereafter, I received a letter from the Rebbe of Stolin, with a request to help him resolve a loan issue.
The Rebbe of Stolin, R' Moshe'leh, had obtained a large loan from Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego (Polish National Development Bank) in order to build a new, large house in Stolin. It was a short term loan to last for three years. However, the Rebbe was not able to pay the large payments with high interest on time, and the bank threatened to sell the house.
I went to the central office of the B.G.K. once, then again, and yet another time, and in the end, succeeded in replacing the 3-year loan with a longer term, 15-year loan, at a lower rate of interest. The annual obligation then became one which the Rebbe was able to properly pay.
The Rebbe was satisfied with the solution. I received a postcard from him immediately, with thanks and praise, for the boon that you produced on my behalf, and ended with many blessings, etc.
I sent this postcard to my father in Sarny. My father kz, in turn, showed it to the Hasidim in the Stolin shtibl. Despite the fact that the prominent Hasidim were followers of the Karlin Rebbe, R' Melech'keh, the warm blessings of R' Moshe'leh, or as they called him, the Rebbe's Brother, made a strong impression. But it was R' Pinchas Zandweiss, a close friend of my father kz, who was most touched. He gave my father a friendly pat on the back, and said, You have a sort of unkosher success here, Pesach'l! You have the opportunity to get yourself into the Garden of Eden without other hard work. Through the mitzvah regarding the Talmud Torah, and the blessings from the Rebbe, your Moshe'leh is assured a portion in the World to Come. Nu, since I know your relationship with your son, he won't simply stand by and leave you on the outside!
This remark was not intended as criticism or a joke. It was said with complete seriousness, and meant earnestly by a pious, observant, God-fearing Jew, with an uncorrupted faith.
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