The life and doings of the Rabbi Moishe Leib from Sassow, of righteous and blessed memory, serve as a source for stories of miracles and wonders. The tales of the miracles which happened among the people especially found their expression before and after the fourth of Shvat, the festivity-day of the Zadik (who died in the year 5567, l807). The pre-parations for this day and the impression that was left for a long time after this day were engraved in the hearts of the people of Sassow in all their dispersion.
It is known that Hasidim prefer their own Rabbi above any other Rabbi, but this was not so in relation to Rev Moishe Leib; he was in his life, and remained also after his passing, a common focus for all. The great ones of the generation wondered at his wide knowledge. His explanations and answers serve as oracles, for he encircled the Torah, as the law of life, from all sides. He shared the language of craftsmen and waggoners of the simple folk no less than that of the erudite and powerful debaters. In his history and in the ways of his life he gave voice to both of these basic attributes in his legendary personality. On one side his exalted actions as told by the mouths of the people, the simple folk, who deeply admired him and whom he gathered to him (In one of his sayings he said: Nine Moishe Leibs are not
enough for a minyan but ten waggoners are a proper minyan and God's assembly is accepted). And on the other he left wonderful reinterpretations of some of the six parts of the Mishna, that were printed in pamphlets.
From this list we will raise only one drop from the great sea of stories about his deeds and ways among the simple folk.
Sassow was a small town, halfway between Brody and Lvov. Most of the houses in the town were tiny and built of wood and so also was Moishe Leib's Beit Midrash. His small dwelling stood next to the Beit Midrash. As was the custom in those days the Beit Midrash served also as a sleepingplace for travelers, and the Zadik himself would look to their needs and with his own hands would tend the stove in the days of winter, so as to make pleasant the delay of those who slept in the Beit Midrash. He also would go late in the evening into the Beit Midrash, to converse with the guests in order to make sure that no one had gone to sleep, God forbid, without eating the evening meal.
Once at the tine of his usual visit he found in the Beit Midrash among the guests also one of the local inhabitants who was called Simcha Leibusch. He was a wretchedly poor Jew, a waggoner and small merchant, burdened with three daughters who had reached marriageable age.
His livelihood came from small purchases from the peasants; a little flax, animal skins, and the like. These goods
he would carry in his wagon to Lvov, but from the small profit with which he barely managed to keep the members of his family he had no prospect of marrying off his daughters. Not a man of the Torah was this man and aside from the needs of community prayer his place was not in the Beit Midrash, and so the Zadik realized, when he saw him there not at prayer time, that there was a reason for it. He approached him, sat by him, and began to inquire as to his presence in the Beit Midrash, at a time when he should be sleeping restfully in his house and getting ready for tomorrow's trade. As he began his inquiry Simcha Leibusch burst into bitter tears and opened his heart to the Zadik. There is not a farthing in his pocket. Not only did he not have the small amount to buy goods and to continue his trade, but also the members of his household were hungry and he could no longer watch the distress of his wife and daughters. His wife, in the manner of women, confronted him with the piercing question 'What will be the end?' And they, the daughters, were silent, but the look in their eyes, it was as though it had stabbed him. He could not see any rescue, and from where would his help come?
The Zadik thought a minute and said to him: Simcha Leibusch, here are five kroners; it is all I have. God willing, in the morning buy with this amount a little flax, take it to Lvov and sell it to your usual customers. With the sum
redeemed from the exchange of the flax, buy afterwards anything that is offered to you. Don't look much, only buy whatever is first offered to you and the Holy One, blessed be He, whose deliverance is like the wink of an eye, will send his blessing from his goodly store and you will be saved.
Next day in the morning Simcha Leibusch set off in his wagon. The way from Sassow to Lvov in the wagon harnessed to the hungry horse of a poor and hungry waggoner took about twelve hours. All the way he drove, the poor man, in the ways of God, with the blessing of the Rabbi, and his faith was strengthened. As soon as he reached Lvov he sold his flax, left his horse at the tavern stables, and, remembering the words of the Zadik - began to wander in the streets of the city, fingering the sale money that was in his pocket, and hoped that someone would appear and offer him a business deal.
And so he stood in front of the show window of a great trading-house of furs. He contemplated with amazement the wonderful coats. In this trading-house the workers were loafing, and seeing this Jew dressed in rags, showing poverty all over, standing and gazing in the show window, they found in this a way to pass their time. They went out to him and asked him with the pleasantness of joking and idleness why he was looking with such curiosity at the furs. They made of him much merriment and ridicule, asked to know what was his
trade and whether he was ready to buy something of them.
When he answered positively they asked him how much money he was ready to spend. While talking they took him into the store, and they were very amused that they had found themselves a matter for entertainment. When Simcha Leibusch told them that in his pocket there were only a few kroners, their merriment grew at his innocence, that was so ridiculously great that this Jew was presuming to be among their customers, when the cheapest fur in the store cost hundreds of kroners. The circle of teasers was joined by the owner of the store, and upon hearing the particulars of the matter, he asked Simcha Leibusch to buy from him his share in the next world.
Simcha Leibusch did not hesitate a minute, and, remembering the words of the Rabbi, answered in all innocence and seriousness that he was ready to make this bargain, but one condition he presented, that the thing be done right and proper by the writing of a bill of sale, sealed with the signature of the salesman.
The merriment of the company in the store grew, paper and pen were presented, the bill of sale was written properly, and the bargain was concluded auspiciously. Simcha Leibusch paid, folded the bill, and put it in his pocket and went away, full of confidence, to his wagon and horse, to prepare for the drive back to Sassow.
And it happened that a number of minutes after his departure from the trading-house, the wife of the owner of the store arrived, and, seeing the rejoicing that prevailed there, she began to inquire as to its reason, and when they told her the particulars of the matter she exploded, shouting and wailing, at the simplemindedness of her husband. He was wealthy, simpleminded and pleasure-seeking, while she, his wife, who was well-born, occupied herself with charities kept secret from her husband. When she heard of the thing that had happened she burst into tears and confronted her husband, saying: Children we did not have, and what is there for us in all the wealth if at least the thought of the next world cannot console us and here by your own hand you have lost your share. He tried to explain to her that it was only in jest that they were speaking here, but she was adamant: that he should send out immediately to find the Jew, should give him whatever he would give, and that he should only get back the note and nullify the sale. The husband, who knew his wife and knew that if he did not do as she said his life would not be life from then on, and into whose heart her words had entered, began to feel a bit of impending doom, and winked at his friends, and they went out quickly to find the strange Jew.
When they found him and began to convince him that he should forego the bargain, Simcha Leibusch did not want to
hear of it. They brought him before the owner of the store and his wife and they offered him profit on the foregoing of the bargain, but he was adamant; a bargain is a bargain and cannot be broken. The owners of the store saw in this something strange, that such a beggar was not excited by the proposed profit, and this strengthened their desire to nullify the sale. When they pressed Simcha Leibusch very much and raised the amount of the profit, he feared that his weakness for profit might grow, remembered the Rabbi, and suggested a hearing before the Rabbi Moishe Leib, and whatever the Rabbi would judge would come to pass. The wealthy merchant, who had grown up in a devout home and only in time had moved away from his foundation, fumed and raged and in his anger threatened to throw the beggar out, but his wife declared that if he did not repair the foolish error he had made- she would divorce him.
Little by little the merchant was pacified, thought regretfully of his deeds, and there awakened in him the roots of his youth, and considering his wife and the home-peace, he decided to humble himself to the beggar and to appear with him before the Rabbi, Moishe Leib.
Friends had once advised him to go to the Zadik and receive his blessing, for the barrenness of his wife had disturbed his spirit not once. For whom did he work? Who would enjoy his great wealth? A thought blossomed in his
mind: this Jewish beggar was forcing him to go to the Rabbi and perhaps on this opportunity... Even though he had not wanted to hear and had not believed... Maybe in any case It was from heaven that he go to the Rabbi, who Knows?
His wife pressured, his thoughts supported it, and before Rev Moishe Leib there was held a hearing; the merchant claimed that the whole business had been only a joke, merely in jest, and the poor Jew for his part: I have a bill of sale and a bargain is a bargain.
By the verdict of the Zadik the wealthy one was to marry off the daughters of the waggoner, see fully to their weddings, and to give to each of them a substantial dowry and only after the fulfilling of this condition was Simcha Leibusch to return to him the bill of sale and to announce publicly that he was foregoing the bargain.
And more said the Zadik to the rich man: See, all this is from heaven. A decree was decreed for you to go childless, but if you carry out the verdict, there is promised to you a seed of being. The Holy One, blessed be He, puts mercy before anger and because of the help that you give the daughters of Simcha Leibusch the heavenly decree for your wife's barrenness will be nullified.
The story ends thus: Matchmakers went out hastily and within a short time three canopies were erected and musical instruments entertained grooms and brides.
And even the wealthy man's wife was redeemed and after a year gave birth to a son. Her husband, the fur merchant, turned back from his simple-minded way and from then on gave charity to the needy with a generous hand and succeeded in all his handiwork.
Both the families, the descendants of the merchant and of Simcha Leibusch, were known in Sassow, and on the fourth of Shvat, the festivity day of the Zadik, they themselves would tell before the assembled audience of their history and of the Zadik's blessing which came to pass.
Rav checked by a ferryboat and Shmuel checked by book, Rabbi Yochanan checked by small children (Cholin 95:2). From its disposition, from its upbringing, from its joy in being and its behavior, even from the wildness of the young generation, one can recognize the spirits and aspirations of the parents and of the educators.
It is known that in the year there are four New Years, but for whom is this - for grownups, whereas for the young ones there is an extra New Year - that is the Thursday of the weekly portion Tetzaveh. For this day the children of their Rabbi's school waited impatiently.
Beautiful are the days of winter, dear to the hearts of the young ones, for many are the possibilities for pleasantry and pranks. Who among them did not long to slide on the ice and to glide with dizzying speed from the hills on the cushion of white snow? It would be hard to give up that chance. And even after the white snow had fallen, thick and beautiful, it was as though they were invited to make a snowman, to dress him in old clothes, to draw eyes with coal and an enormous nose. But it was exactly at this time of the vision of the world pleasantly adorned that the group sat closed and cramped in the cheder of Chaim Ya'akov the melamed.
In the corner sat the Rebetzeh, Rabbi's wife Bina-Rachel, plucking
feathers. At the head of the table sat the Rabbi, his beard stained with tobacco odors, his glasses on his nose, tied around his head by a string, and near him was the whip. In spite of his age and his infirmity, painful were his lashes, and woe to him who was tried in this way... But his stories attracted the hearts of the most mischievous children.
On this evening the children studied Va'yehi. In the half-darkened room, lighted by a small lamp with a shadow larger than the light, sat the group and at its head Rev Chaim Ya'akov, who began as usual in his nasal voice to explain and clarify the request of Yaakov our forefather not to be buried in Egypt to escape the underground rolling.; Then Rev Chaim Ya'akov moved on to stories of the deaths of Zadikim and of the mysteries that surrounded them. He told that on the death of a Zadik, angels come and move him to the land of Israel. The arrangement of the move he described in full detail. Escorts come who are not of this world; they meet at night at the big synagogue, take out a Torah, and call So-and-so the son of So-and-so to 'reading'. The one who was called would leave life after a short time. On and on went the depressing story. In the room there was a hush and the young ones held their breaths.
When they finished their studies and left the cheder they felt the need of some kind of release. Outside the night was white, in the sky were sown twinkling stars, the cold and
clear air revived them and gave them back their spirit of wildness. Right there they decided to do something. They knew all the movements of Rev Chaim Ya'akov. It was certain that after a while he would go outside to cover the window with matting, that would serve as a shield against the wind and frost. They built a snowman, exactly like a man, dressed him in the best rags they could gather, put him near the window of the cheder and hid nearby, to see the performance. Finally they succeeded in seeing the performance and seeing before their eyes a repayment for the blows they had received from the Rabbi. He went out to cover the window, and when he saw with his bad vision, without his glasses, the man with the white face near his window, fear descended upon him and heart -rending cries of Hear, 0 Israel burst from his throat. The young ones received afterwards cruel blows for the thing they had done. Such were the winter months, when they used to study in the cheder even in the evenings. But when the portion Tetzaveh was reached it was the end of evening studies.
On that evening the young ones did gather in the cheder, but not for studies; rather as the guests of Rev Chaim Ya'a- kov. He left off his severe exterior then and welcomed them, Bina-Rachel busied herself in the kitchen preparing a meal for the end of evening studies. The money for this meal she received from the young ones, who had gathered weekly pennies that they put in a special fund for the purpose. She prepared pie, and also beet soup with fat, whose fragrance wafted
through the air, as did that of the fried onions. The table, which was covered with scratches and marks scratched by the boys with their penknives, was covered with a white tablecloth, Bina-Rachel's Sabbath tablecloth; the room was lit by a lamp and also by two small candles that were set in the copper candlesticks. The scrawny Rabbi, Rev Chaim Ya'akov, of short stature, walked around importantly, this time without his glasses, and urged the boys to sit around the table. After they were seated he took in one hand an open bottle and in the other a small copper wineglass and dispensed drops of watered-down brandy to his students. Each of the boys blessed She'hakol and he, the Rabbi, answered each time Amen. Afterwards he also drank Lechaim with everyone, his face bright and flaming from the potent taste. The boys too rejoiced with him and welcomed him, for this was not the same Rev Chaim Ya'akov of all the days of the year; the anger had evaporated, gone was the black bitterness, gone was the whip, and they could bless him with Blessed is the modifier of people. The Rebbetze set on the table three big bowls, full of beet soup, one near the Rabbi at the head of the table and two at the two sides of the table. The Rabbi urged his students with a soft voice, Eat, children, don't be shy, this food is fit for the tables of angels. The company began to dip in with the spoons that they had brought from home and tasted the beet soup. Afterwards the rest of the
courses were served and at the end of the meal, after the blessing on the food, they went rejoicing home.
Evening studies were finished and done with! The free evenings were saved for making noisemakers for Purim, For behold, the autumn has passed, the rain has gone and left, the birds are seen on earth, the time of singing is here. The time between Purim and Pesach was full of the excitement and business of preparation. Not for nothing were they freed from evening studies; the greatest and largest part of them were harnessed into helping with preparations for the holiday of Pesach, in which their part was no smaller than that of the grownups. Imagine - blessings, the Four Questions, the Song of Songs, the explanations of blessings and cleansing, all this to know by heart. Does it seem easy in your eyes? And all this at the same time and season as such interesting and alluring events as the baking of matzot, preparing of dishes, and more and more.
And this interesting season, full of adventures, began with the day that on which the weekly portion Tetzaveh ended, the New Year for Children.
The Revived One
His name was Hirsoh and his nickname was Mitchka. The melamed Michal Yankil Dina's crowned him with this nickname because of something that happened.
Usually there were several boys studying in the same cheder whose first names were identical, and since we did not use family names, there lurked a constant danger of misunderstanding who was being spoken to. And so each boy in the cheder was called by his first name together with the designation of the name of a father or mother; for instance Hirsch Meyer's or Yank'l Feige's. In certain cases, relying on a particular deed or sign, they used to stick on the boy's first name a special nickname. This using the common name with identifying signs was truly necessary, for otherwise one Hirsch would receive the blows and suffer for the sins of Hirsch his friend.
The Hirsch to whom we will limit the discussion here, was a joyful and wild-spirited boy who was a real genius at inventing games and tricks and hated studying. His exercise-book in the Holy Tongue was always full of blots and all sorts of other dirt. The blotting of the exercise-book was also planned ahead, because he was too lazy to invest any thought in it and to be careful in his writing; he blotted what he wrote in such a manner that the Rabbi
could not by any means find the errors. And since in Sassow there was a Shabbes-Goy who would also do all sorts of work in clay, cementing the stones of a broken oven, or fixing a crack in the wall, whose name was Mitchka, and since the blots in Hirsch's exercise-book bore a great resemblance to the marks that Mitchka used to leave in his work, our melamed found it right and fitting to stick this nickname on him.
To the inventions and talents of Hirsch outside studies there was no limit. With his hands he could amazingly do all kinds of tasks requiring planning and exactness. His noisemaker for Purim was the fairest of the fair and its noise was deafening. On the tops that he made from pieces of lead that he had gathered protruded the letters nun, gimel, hei, shin, pleasing the eye. In sliding on the ice no one could touch him. In the season for swimming in the river Bog he amazed all of us with his swimming and tricks, truly like a fish in the water. Especially he showed his strength and inventiveness in causing school to be canceled. On winter nights, when we sat around the table by the light of the small kerosene lamp, that was hung by a long wire so that the lamp would be close to the table, to make use of all its light, Hirsch Mitchka would put his finger in his mouth, wet it with his saliva, and when no one was looking splash the glass of the lamp. The warm glass exploded of course immediately and meanwhile - studies were abandoned.
The Rabbi began to talk sullenly of Dvusha-Chana the storekeeper, who sold apparently inferior panes, that exploded very frequently. Some time passed until the students succeeded in gathering among them the pennies necessary to buy a new glass pane. It is obvious that Hirsch Mitchka was the first who volunteered to go in the cold and snow to the store. It is also obvious that the errand was made use of for sliding on the ice and this and that and also for building a dummy of soft fragile snow. Until the errand-boys, who set out in a rush, returned, much time had elapsed meantime and it was impossible to keep the young children any longer, for the hour was late and the weather was freezing. Hirsch Mitchka got what he wanted - studies were canceled that evening. In all the games Hirsch Mitchka was the leader and the moving spirit. We, his friends, loved him, but he also terrified us. We loved him as a good and devoted friend and also because he was stout hearted. When we went to the river to swim or to the nearby forest to pick berries, there lurked always the danger that some of the sons of the Goyim would pick on us and hit us. This was not so when Hirsch Mitchka was among us. The Shkatzim knew him and avoided picking a fight with him. Those among them who came out of an encounter with him, one with a swollen cheek and another with a bloody nose, remained wary of him. He terrified us, for in every case of a quarrel between two of us he always won
whose side Hirsch Mitchka took. Hirsch Mitchka specialized in stealing apples and pears from the sloping orchards that were at the corners of the town.
We, the group, would stay outside near the fence, but he would climb like a cat, jump over the fence, climb up the tree, pick from it the best fruit, and throw it to us outside. And it happened once that the gardener, a Goy who was known as a cruel man and a hater of Israel, hid in ambush and caught Hirsch exactly at the time that he was sitting in the tree and picking its fruit. We, his friends outside, panicked and fled. From far away we heard only the shouts of the Goy and his threats that he would kill the boy. Hirsch did not lose his head, acted slyly, and begged the Goy with bitter sobbing: Punish me any way you want, kill me, trample on me, but only one thing don't do to me; don't throw me over the fence. The Goy, hearing these pleas and seeing the frightened boy, did not think much, picked him up and threw him over the fence. Right away in a flash Hirsch got up on the other side of the fence and the Goy looked at him to see him stumble; the boy stuck but his tongue and shouted loudly: Fooey on you! and fled. The Goy told often afterwards how the little Jew deceived him and made of him a joke and laughingstock.
Our Rabbi, Michal Yank'l Dina's, was always venting his anger on him and most of the blows and mockery fell to the lot
of Hirsch Mitchka. In the words of chastisement and reproof that the Rabbi would often deliver, he would prophesy that Hirsch Mitchka, when he grew up, would be the head of a band in the forest that would rob people, or a clown in the circus.
And so when we found out that Hirsch Mitchka was sick we did not want to believe it at first. The Rabbi, Michal Yank'l Dina's, declared once that the wound had yet to be invented that could overcome Hirsch. In any case we admitted that the ways of God are mysterious: one day we found out that Hirsch Mitchka was very sick and his life was in danger. Even the Rabbi changed his tone and attitude toward him. In a voice full of sorrow and worry he explained that it was up to us, the friends of Hirsch, to raise our voices, the voice of the children of the house of our Rabbi, and to break through the gates of mercy, that would open in answer to our prayers, and our friend the young Hirsch would be spared. The cries of the mother by the open Holy Ark, and the voice of our Rabbi, Michal Yank'l Dina's, full of pain, who read to us verses from Psalms and after whom we repeated word by word, through tears, burst out from the Beit Midrash. But in spite of it all, the sick one got worse and the flame of his life became ever fainter. When Mordechai Ya'akov the doctor left the sick one's house with staggering strides and lowered head, there burst out from there cries of
despair. Neighbor women and relatives gathered, some inside and some outside, and the lamenting voices were heart-rending.
The grievous impression made by the death of a grownup does not resemble that made by the death of a young child. The town was as though waiting confusedly. Besides the tearful voices no sound was heard. Seeing Shaya Shkrab, who was loaded down with the purifying board and the pitchers of water, nearing the house of the deceased, we burst out in heart-rending sobs. Outside, near the fence, in the shade of an old and gnarled tree, Shmuel Tchaftchi undertook the building of the small coffin. The groaning of the saw and the beating of the hammer proclaimed plainly the cruel breaking of the Angel of Death into these young lives.
And the voices did not cease. A voice and its echo, a voice and its meaning. At first they hear only sounds, only cries without words, but it is very easy to tell the difference between the voice of terror and the voice of tension relieved. The sound that was heard now was extraordinary. A panic like this the town had never yet seen. People ran around, gathered in groups, and spoke in alarm of the great miracle that had come to pass. At the time that they were purifying Hirsch Mitchka he opened his eyes and began to show signs of life. Right away they called Mordechai Ya'akov the doctor, who stood openmouthed, and only several glasses of brandy of the strongest kind revived him. Finally he
took from his pocket his red handkerchief, blew his nose like a trumpet, spat three times, and left.
Hirsch Mitchka got well. When they started to take him outdoors and to sit him in the sun, no child dared to look at him. To the supplication of his mother that we come to play with him we did not respond. Be in touch with a creature purified and readied for the grave and who was already under the control of the Burial Society? There was no one with such a strength of spirit, so strong as that. In our childish imaginations all the tales we had heard about the dead meeting at night in the big synagogue, taking out the scrolls of Torah and honoring with reading were renewed and given perceptible form. We were reminded of the stories of the reincarnations of sinning souls, atoning for their sins in the shape of animals and fowl. All the tales we had heard from the mouths of our grandfathers and that we read in the stories that were sold by wandering booksellers in the hall of the Beit Midrash about dibbuks and of serious illnesses, widened the gap between us and our former friend Hirsch Mitchka.
When he started to come to the cheder, we would rush outside as soon as he entered. We were afraid to sit in a place where he had sat. Each one of us pleaded tearfully before his father to take him out of the cheder, where our old companion studied. The Rabbi, Michal Yank'l Dina's, was
in distress. On one hand his heart did not allow him to trouble the parents of Hirsch Mitchka and to ask them to take him from his cheder, and on the other hand he was liable to be left without a livelihood, for his students did not consent in any way to be in company with Hirsch Mitchka.
And Hirsch Mitchka had an uncle in America, his father's brother. He was a wealthy Jew with no children. When he heard of the whole strange story and also heard of the boy's suffering among his peers, who rejected him, he proposed that they send him Hirsch and he would look to his education. The suggestion was accepted with joy. An inhabitant of the town who was going to America took the boy with him and promised to care for him on the way, to take him and deliver him to the care of his uncle.
The tale told above occurred In the year 5669 (1909).
In the year 5717 (1957), after fifty years, I traveled in the United States. When the survivors of my town found out about this visit of mine, they held a cordial and festive reception in their meeting-hall. To this celebration came not only my childhood friends that lived in New York, but also from great distances came people of my town who did not know me, for I left our town in the year 5683 (1923). After the testimonials that were said in my honor, I stood to express what was in my heart, but I was stopped suddenly by an old man, elegant In his dress, who began to hug me and
kiss me, while his eyes flowed with tears. I was astonished and dumbfounded. Some moments passed until the man calmed down and in a choked voice he asked me Are you not still afraid of me?
It was my friend Hirsch Mitchka.
Of the three melamdim in Sassow Rev Eliezer the Red was considered most distinguished and was the most accepted and trusted by the baalei-batim for the care of the young children in the house of their Rabbi. Parents who delivered their children to the hands of Rev Eliezer the Red had peace of mind, for they were sure that he, Rev Eliezer, would prepare the young spirits for the absorption and retention of the Torah and good manners both. And surely they had something to support them in this opinion; they had their own reasons and justifications.
The oldest among the three melamdim of children was Rev Chaim Hirsch. He was heaven-fearing but lacking the strictness to be master over the little children. Children of Israel who were clever and knew how to take advantage of his weakness in the hot days of summer when slumber would overtake him during study time, would leave quietly, straight to the orchards to pick fruit or chase a something else (a pig) that burrowed in the garbage and pelt him with stones. When he was aroused and squealed and threatened them, the parents of the wild children would stand in the doorways of their houses and shake their heads in disapproval and disappointment. In any case Rev Chaim Hirsch succeeded, when the cheder renewal time came, to gather again a sufficient number of children
to enable him to earn a livelihood. The clowns of the town would explain the thing thus, that the renewal times at Pesach and Succot had saved Rev Chaim Hirsch from the shame of hunger, because in these times of not-winter and not-summer he was more awake and less prone to slumber and more, for the Holy One, blessed be He, did a charitable thing in inventing forgetfulness, as the baalei-batim had managed in the meantime to forget his carelessness and the absence of discipline in his cheder. The learning fee with him was also lower and poor parents had to consider their pockets.
The other of the group was Itzik Leib. He was rather fitted to his role, for he was severe and ran his cheder with energy and a raised hand. And his punishments were modern, as for instance standing the pupils in the corner or keeping the guilty ones in the cheder after studies were over. His brother Eliezer, the well-tender, helped him teach the reading of Hebrew to the little children. A student from the cheder of Itzik Leib did not ever mistake vowels, knew and was careful to pronounce 'shva na' and the left and right 'shin'. In the cheder of Itzik Leib there was also modern furnishing, resembling the furnishing in the state school. He was also the only one who had a license for a cheder and was in this respect in keeping with the law. But it was just this fact, that he was so progressive in his teaching methods, that diminished his reliability and aroused ill-feeling.
However, he had confidence in himself and in his abilities, heard of the good prospects that he would have in the United State$, left his native town and emigrated to the United States. The news that arrived afterwards about his great success there as a teacher surprised no one, for all were of the same opinion, that he was better fit to be a teacher in the new world than in our little town.
The Austrian government of the time had enacted two decrees on its Jews: that a young man not marry until he had been released from the army, that is to say before the age of twenty-four, and that a cheder not be run without supervision and without observing the regulations according to the laws of the state. The Jews of Galicia, of course, violated both these prohibitions publicly. Most of the community practiced eighteen years old to the canopy, or around that age. The weddings would be held openly, with drums and with dancing. The young couples had children, but in the congregation's ledger it was as though it knew nothing of these weddings, and the children who were born were listed on the birth certificates as illegal, so to speak, without canopy or ceremony. When the father grew up and came of age, he would take his illegal wife to the director of registration and arrange a second official wedding, with the oldest daughter taking care of the children, who had been left at home.
And with regard to the cheder law: it was known
to all gendarmes of the existence of the cheders and they knew the melamdim. Even though they knew whose child studied in whose cheder, they made as if not to know. From time to time, however, the gendarmes wanted to fulfill their duties with an investigation, but either they themselves informed the melamdim of their coming or they were seen before their entrance and the children would scatter through the back door. And if it once happened nevertheless that a melamed was caught in his misdeed, he would pay a small fee, and in that the episode ended. It was Itzik Leib Melamed who did the revolutionary thing; he presented a request for a license and fulfilled the health conditions. His teaching colleagues did not forgive him that trouble and adjudged him as having disobeyed the law. The number of his students shrank until he was compelled to leave the town and travel to far places.
Rev Eliezer the Red was held to be the most praiseworthy among the melamdim of children. There were occasions when he would turn away ba'alei-batim empty-handed, for he was careful not to take too great a number of pupils, in accordance with our wise ones, may their memory be blessed. And this was his way: when a little boy reached the age of three and reached yoke-age in the cheder, Rev Eliezer would collect all his pupils and bring them to the house of the new candidate. There the guest-children were treated with candies, and if the visit was at twilight, Rev Eliezer would read aloud with
all the children the first part of the Sh'ma. After the reading was ended and after the treats were passed out, Rev Eliezer would open the additional Sabbath prayer book and begin to show his little pupil, the new one, who was wrapped in his father's prayer-shawl, the alphabet in Tikanta Shabbath, where there are found all the letters from tav to alef. With his pupils Rev Eliezer behaved calmly, with the approach of a loving and compassionate father, for he had a golden heart. More delicacy and great love he especially bestowed on his slow learners, those who learned with difficulty. At every opportunity he explained that the Torah was acquired through toil, and that as difficult as its learnings would be for the pupil, so in the end, after he finished his studies, he would not forget them quickly. As was the custom in those days, he also had a helper. The role of the helper was to bring the children on winter mornings from their homes to the cheder and in the evenings to return them to their homes. Unlike the other melamdim, who looked for a cheap helper, he would hire a helper from among the poor young men who were well-born. Their salary he paid with an open hand and they also gave him measure for measure and took care of the little ones with great devotion. His external appearance was also ornate. Tall of stature, a full-length red beard, and the features of an aristocrat. His dress was Hasidic, white pants tucked into white socks. Always clean, inside and out, truly
spotless; his appearance was impressive.
Rev Eliezer the Red succeeded in naches from his descendants in his lifetime; two children he had, a son and a daughter. The daughter was married to an enterprising Jew, who opened the first modern bakery in the town and thereafter was called Der Deutscher Beker (The German Baker). His business flourished and he was considered one of the wealthy of the town. His wife, Henia, the daughter of Rev Eliezer, gave charity with a generous hand and was noted among the charitable women, who saw to the needy openly and in secret.
His son, Rev Hirsch Shrager, was one of the frequenters of the Rabbi. To his diligence there was no limit. Day and night his pleasant voice, that greatly resembled the voice of his father, came out of the Beit Midrash. He too, like his father, was pleasant-mannered. With the start of the First World War he received a teaching permit. When he was eighteen he was drafted into the Austrian army and during his service in the army he lived only on a little bread and water and was not despoiled. After the end of the war he took to wife a well-born girl, of a wealthy house of the Hasidim of Bavov, and settled in Cracov, where he lived with his whole being devoted to the Torah and work. He, like his father, was dedicated to the guidance of the young generation in the Torah, but he did so from a wealthy position, so that it was not work for a living. Most of his time he spent in the Beit Mid
rash of the Hasidim of Bavov, studied Torah, and saw to the livelihood of young men without means.
Rev Hirsch made a special impression with his Tikkun Chatzot, the midnight prayer. Whoever listened once in the silence of night to his outpourings on the exile from the Land of Israel of the Divine Presence, it was sure that he would not forget it all the days of his life.
At the time of the extermination of the ghetto of Cracov his friends and admirers suggested to him ways to flee and save himself. He refused to remove himself from the rest of Israel. When the Nazi angels of destruction appeared, they found him dressed in kitl and wreathed with prayer-shawl and phylacteries and in spite of their coarse shouts and cruel blows he did not stop and continued to say the Confession-before-death in a heart-rending voice.
In this way Rev Hirsch was shot and breathed his last in echad.
The total extermination of the Jews of Eastern Galicia was completed in the Second World War, but the beginning of the atrocities was in the year 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War.
In the peace conference in Berlin in the year 1887, after the end of the war between Russia and Turkey, the Austro-Hungarian Empire received the protectorate over Bosnia-Herzogovinia. On the fifteenth of October of the year 1908 Austria-Hungary proclaimed the resolved attachment of these two districts to its government. In the year 1912 the Balkan War broke out; from this Serbia emerged the victor and began to be an important force and political weight in European politics. Serbia took upon itself a troublesome role with the Moslem population in half the Balkan peninsula. Among the rest of its demands as victor, it required from Austria-Hungary to give up its control over Bosnla-Herzogovinia. In the political game of those days there were two blocks: England, Czarist Russia and France with their satellites on one side and Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy with their satellites on the other side. (Italy went over to its opponents in the middle of the war.) Serbia was turned into a tool in the hands of the Russians, who wasted no effort in promoting the patriotic and religious feeling of the Serbian nation.
They gave support to its order for the fusion of Bosnia-Herzogovinia, with its Moslem population, with the victorious Serbia, in this way Czarist Russia intended to win over Austria, which hindered its plans of taking the Isthmus of the Dardanelles from the hands of the Turks. On this background of the Austria-Serbian conflict the First World War broke out in the year 1914 under strange and non-expectable circumstances.
In the month of March of the same year it was advertised in the newspapers that the Austrian heir-apparent, Prince Ferdinand, would take part personally in maneuvers that would be held in Bosnia at the Serbian border. The Serbian Black Hand under the leadership of General Regotin Dimitrovitch the director of the Serbian espionage division, decided to murder Prince Ferdinand, the heir-apparent, at the time of the reception arranged for the twenty-eighth of June in the capital of Bosnia, Sarayebo. The first shot that was fired in the direction of the car in which the heir-apparent and his wife were riding hit and injured a number of escorts, but the heir-apparent and his wife safely reached the building in the town where the reception was held for them. Before the program, drinks were readied in the house of the governor, the general Petyork. And were they not apprehensive of a second attack after the failure of the first - the royal chauffeur received orders to drive on a side road, where crowds
of people were not anticipated. But here too, as in the tower of Babel, Satan mixed the tongues and caused a misunderstanding and somehow the chauffeur chose rather the main road, as had first been planned. When the guards realized the mistake and directed the driver to the side road - by chance the terrorist Gavrila Printsip was there and he decided to take advantage of the opportunity, and when the entourage slowed its pace for a short moment, he fired two pistol shots at the car of Prince Ferdinand. The wife of the heir-apparent died instantly and he died of his wounds several minutes after he was brought to the villa of the Governor. The whole tragedy was, as it was found afterwards, a result of mistakes and misunderstandings that were the reason for the conflagration of the First World War, fraught with destruction and ruin, in the year 19l4.
The Austro-Hungarian government was composed of patches of countries that waited for its disintegration, in the hope of gaining benefits and independence from its destruction. On the other hand Austria was misled and was incited by its partner, the sword-happy Kaiser Wilhelm, the German. This was the cause for its not trying to go into the agreement with Serbia, but rather sending it an ultimatum full of strict demands that it could have been assured from the start that there was no chance of their acceptance. On the twenty-fifth of July 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. In the
first days of August the cannons already thundered and the governments of Europe and their people began fighting and slaughtering.
Czarist Russia opened a large offensive on Austria and in a short time conquered Bukovina and all its area in the Carpathian Mountains and also Galicia up to the entrance to Cracov.
The Jewish population in the cities and towns of Galicia served the Russians as the first sacrifice in the course of the war. With the cruelty of wild animals the Cossacks and Cherkessians spilled Jewish blood. They sowed destruction and hell in every place their foot trod, and all the communities that were in their way drained to the end their cup of poison. The Christians decorated their windows with the sign of the cross and thus automatically designated the non-marked Jewish houses which were left to robbery and murder. In all the places of Jewish settlement pogroms were held in various extents and the cemeteries were filled with the graves of brothers. In the capital of Galicia, Lvov, the plunder began on the eve of Yom Kippur 1914 and on that day forty Jews were murdered and much property was destroyed. The excuse and also the justification for the plunder was that the Jews, who were supposedly Austrian patriots, had fired at the Russian army. Those who remained alive suffered the shame of hunger, for their livelihoods
were destroyed, and even those who had savings in the banks were cut off from benefiting from them, because of the moratorium that was proclaimed. Galicla was turned into an area of terror for the Jewish population. Besides all the sufferings from the war, the Russians seized on an idea for evacuating the Jews from the area of the front, through the reasoning that they as haters of Russia and Hasidim of Austria were likely to act as spies. The fifteen thousand Jews of Shniatin, Hoshatin, Butchatch, Otonia, Tishmenitz, and a number of other congregations were simply uprooted. The exiled were taken to other Jewish settlements and left there. The hunger, desolation and the confinement caused epidemics and the number of sick in the epidemics was not less than the number of those wounded by the destruction. When the situation became known to the good Jews of Russia, they hurried to extend help to their brothers in Galicia. But the trains were in the hands of the army and the shipments of food that were sent in wagon caravans could not fill the void of hunger. If part of the Jews of Galicia further survived in any case until the end of the war in the year 1918 - this was truly a miracle from heaven.
The number of Jews in Galicia and in Bukovina was then about one million people. Almost half of them put the medicine before the blow and fled from their dwelling-places to the depths of the state of Austria, before the Russian conquest,
for reports of the fate of their brothers in the conquered places had reached their ears and terrified them. Thus were half a million Jews turned into refugees in Bohemia, Hungary, and especially in Vienna, the capital of Austria, that held a quarter of a million Jews. Then was the problem of refugees created, in all its severity and sad consequences. This tragic chapter did also happen, and it is fitting to tell of it and to include it in the history of the suffering of our people.
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