The former residents of our town meet in Tel-Aviv during Chanukah of 1946 on the forth anniversary of the first "action" that took place in Zablotow. It was decided to publish a compilation, which would include the events in our birthplace Zablotow, until its bitter end. The former residents of our town now living in the United States, agreed to the decision and assisted greatly in the funding of the publication.
The carrying out of the task was handed over to Mr. Meir Hanish and Mr. G. Karsel who are now presenting it to the public.
The obstacles and delays on the road to success were many. Many who were approached had refused, including some that had previously promised to help. This was compounded by the war and by the troubles of the publishers, who were unable to devote all their time to the book.
It is certain that some inaccuracies have been included in the history of our town, and flaws exist in important areas, but unfortunately, we had no reliable historical source about our city's distant past, other then the notes of Mr. Avraham Keish, which will enable the fulfillment of the task.
This book is published both in Hebrew and Yiddish in accordance with the wishes of the former residents of our city now living in the United States. They showed a great interest in this project, among them R' Yissachar Toy Z"L, who passed way during the preparation stages and did not live to see its conclusion, and R' Zeindel Sheinhorn.
We did not live to erect a monument for our city while most of her sons were alive, and when it was partially done, it was only after they were eliminated by the oppressor. May this book serve as a Memorial to all the righteous of Zablotow, who were mentioned or not mentioned here, and who were a link in the long chain of its history.
It is the privilege of our destroyed city to have this one and only special man, who is a tremendous source of personal knowledge of our city's history and its residents over the past 150 years - he is R' Avraham Keish, the author of our book.
He is the oldest survivor of our town, not only in a physical sense, but also, most importantly, is his wisdom. What is most important to the rescue of the history of our town, is his phenomenal ability to recall the names of many families and their descendants, now scattered all over the world. He did his best to revive the hundreds of characters of the town as though you were strolling down the streets of Zablotow, entering every home, recalling the previous owners who have changed through the generations, mixed in with various minor and major events, which left a deep impression.
You will probably notice how wide and encompassing the memory of our source is. All citizens are loved and cherished by him, as he casts deep love over them while describing what was destroyed, and the lively Jewish folklore which was cut off by the wicked.
It goes without saying that not every thing is remembered here. We, including the author R' Avraham Keish, did not imagine that Zablotow would be erased off the face of the earth, and we did not provide details of the past to future generations. Only while working on this publication, was the author able to describe some of the characters of the city. Even though this happened by chance, and after many years away from Zablotow, did he succeed in reviving the memory of previous generations, till the turn of the twentieth century. Should a mistake be found, it must be remembered that what we have here are the ashes saved from a burning fire. Our generation should be able to create and weave the continuation of these memories for him or for future generations.
The foundations were laid down by R' Avraham Keish in these beautiful memoirs. Just as he did not leave out anything in his memory that had happened in Zablotow, he did not bother noting biographical details about himself.
The first account of R' Avraham Keish as seen by a Zablotow youth is fascinating. During the first years after World War II, we are at the end of the old era, entering the yet unknown new world and into the Revival movement and Nationality. Streets are still rumbling after the Balfour Declaration and its ratification in San Remo, when a young boy stumbles into the Town's Beit Midrash, which is full to capacity, while the entire crowd is listening to a speaker on the podium. Standing there was an old Jewish figure, long beard down his chest, preaching vigorously for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, quoting fluently by heart from our sages, and astonishingly enough also from our poet Chaim Nachman Bialik. Moreover, the speaker is not a "Zionist" preacher, but rather an influential Jewish merchant, a religious Chasid, known in this area. That was how R' Avraham Keish was seen by the author of this Preface.
That time he was no longer a resident of Zablotow, but Zablotow fondly remembered its son, still a young boy, excelling both in Torah and in Zionist involvement, at a time when it was still considered heresy, and was forbidden.
Born on Monday, second of Eyar 5626 (1866), he studied with the best teachers of Zablotow, among them R' Efrayim Fond and later R' Moshe Karsel and R' Menachem Mher. The latter were involved in a very high level of studies after becoming impoverished, and had a great impact on him. While R' Moshe Karsel directed him towards Torah studies, R' Menachem Mher knew how to open an aperture towards General Education. He did not restrain his students from studying writing and grammar and "foreign" knowledge (his own son, Zev Mher, published a "Story and Picture" book in Vienna in 5686 (1922). Following his General Education he secretly studied bookkeeping by correspondence, and supported himself after his marriage doing bookkeeping for wood-mills from around Galicia and Bukovina. Later he became rich and was one of the influential wood merchants of Galicia with businesses out of the country.
Thus, R' Avraham Keish the merchant, during the nineties of the last century was one of the first who dedicated himself full heartily to the Zionist National Idea. He was active in "Ahavat Zion" in Tarnow, one of the main assistants of R' Feivel Shreir and Dr. Abraham Salts - leaders of the community, from the first who joined Hertzl's movement and persuaded merchants and Chasidim, "Mizrachi" activist. For a while he was President of the "Mizrachi" in Stanislavov, planning all his life to settle in Eretz-Yisrael till he did so in 5684 (1924) when he immigrated to Eretz-Yisrael and settled there.
Here he deals in lumber, pioneering the development of this industry in Tel-Aviv into a large-scale operation with connections abroad. At the same time, not neglecting his public activities especially for the "Mizrachi", while Torah and studies (including Modern Hebrew literature and especially poetry) remain his favorites, and he always carried a book with him.
During later years, while his family was destroyed abroad, he left the lumber business and concentrated diligently on projects related to the ruined city of Zablotow and the remaining immigrants from there. Like a youngster full of vigor he concentrated on uniting the former residents of our town, and also bestowed his glow on us at each meeting and every gathering. In his calm and collected manner he entered our hearts and even among our brothers in the United State he became influential and well accepted and respected. This compilation would not have become a reality if not for his constant urging, his willingness to go and give a helping hand at any time and anywhere required. Whenever he was seen walking down the streets of Tel-Aviv, he represented the symbolic and collective image of our town with the goodness and superiority of its previous generations - our community, now destroyed.
In the City Streets
1. The first Rabbi of Zablotow, and the first of the Hager dynasty was R' David (Dudke) the son of the righteous rabbi R' Menachem Mendel from Kosov, the founder of the Hager dynasty of Rabbis in Galicia, Bukovina and more, and the author of "Ahavat Shalom" (Love of Peace). R' David also wrote a book titled " Tzemach David" (Plant of David).
R' David's wife was Pessi-Leah, the only daughter of the famous righteous rabbi R' Moshe Leib from Sasov. The Chasidim explained that the Rabbi called his daughter Pessi-Leah because of the clue embedded in the initials of her name. P"L stands (in Hebrew) for "future Passover", namely, in accordance to our sages who say: In the month of Nissan Bnei Yisrael were freed and during that month they will be redeemed. And they add: The righteous R' Meir'el from Przemyshel was for a while the student of The righteous R' Moshe Leib from Sasov. When the housekeeper was not at home, the student R' Meir'el put the baby Pessi-Leah to sleep and sang to her soft quiet lullabies. Later, after she left home, he used to ask about her from people who came to him from Zablotow for blessings and sent her his regards.
R' David and his wife Pessi-Leah were well known for their generosity and hospitality. People flocked there daily to receive their blessings, men women and children by the thousands from Zablotow, the surrounding areas and from far away places who asked for salvation and healing. Some waited days for their turn. They enjoyed economic success, money was pouring in, but they spread it as quickly through generous donations to the poor near and far and various organization so, by the end of each day there was nothing left. They themselves had to buy on credit at the local stores, and Shabbos necessities were paid only on the following week. R' David had a lot of influence on his Chasidim by his manners, actions, love of Torah and for his fellow Jews. After his death, Pessi inherited his position, she received notes (Tsetelachs), and blessed people and so the Chasidim continued to stream in as they had before when R' David was alive.
R' David and Pessi were blessed with four sons and two daughter. The eldest was R' Yakov (Yankele), the second R' Menachem (Mendel), the third R' Tzvi (Hershle), the fourth R' Michael (Mechle). One daughter was the wife of R' Itzele from Bohosh - Romania, the second was the wife of the famous R' David, who wrote the book "Minchat Chinuch ". R' David and Pessi died and were buried in Zablotow.
2. The second rabbi of Zablotow was R' David's eldest son, R' Yankele (Yakov). He was a nice looking man with a full beard down his chest. He excelled in his conversations with the people and his teaching, people came to him, as they did to his parents, for blessings, remedies, and even emulates. Dan Fisher from Lukavets in Bukovina, one of his admirers, gave him a special gift - a carriage with two white and very expensive horses. It was said that he received this gift after his blessing successfully caused his barren wife to become pregnant. R' Yakov used this carriage in his many excursions out of town visiting his Chasidim. They were very happy when he visited them on Thursdays staying over Shabbos till the following Thursday. His followers used to welcome him a few miles before he reached the town, and escorted him into town holding torches, running along side his carriage and yelling "The Rabbi is entering our town". People came in from all the neighboring villages, and when he entered the Synagogue which was filled to capacity, they all stood up. People were happy and joyous all week when the Rabbi stayed in town, but for Shabbos dinner tables were set-up with a variety of dishes especially Kugels, wine and whiskey. Everybody was in a good mood, they start out singing then dance. Tzetelachs (notes) and donations were in abundance. The Kosov's Rabbis also participated in the festivities when they were in town.
2.1 The third Rabbi of Zablotow was R' Menachem (Mendele), the only son of R' Yakov. After his father's death he inherited his father's position. His wife was Nichele, they had five sons and three daughter. The eldest, R' Davidel, married the daughter of a rich estate-owner from Vasel'kovtsy in the Tarnopol District. It was a very large estate with fields, forests and a large farm which he inherited after the death of his father-in-law. He was a very successful farmer and became very rich, but did not forget his origins, acting as befitting a Rabbi's Grand-son, he fulfilled the Mitzva of hospitality, he supported his father and brothers and was well known for his charity and donations.
2.2 The fourth rabbi of Zablotow was R' Moshe the second son of R' Mendele, who inherited the position after his father's death. The third son, R' Isaac, married the daughter of a rich Jewish man from Bratishev, and lived in his house. The fourth son, R' Yossi, married the daughter of the Rabbi of Tysmenitsa, inheriting the position after his death. The fifth son, R' Gershon, was a great scholar becoming a Rabbi in Touste where they loved him for his great knowledge. His daughter Hindele, married R' Israel Berger of Probezhna in Galicia he was a great scholar and speaker, and wrote a book. His son, R' Moshe Berger, lived in Stanislav. R' Menachem's second daughter, married R' Chaim Wallfram's son, an ordinary Jewish merchant.
During the period of the first Rabeim, including R' Mendele, Jews enjoyed the good life. Many came from the outlying communities filling up the hotels, restaurants and stores. Gabaim, assistants, servants and their families too, benefited from the situation. Their house, standing in the town center, was a source of joy, happiness and songs especially on holidays. The Gabaim working in the community, added their contribution to the happy environment.
As mentioned above, the fourth rabbi of Zablotow was R' Moshe the second son of R' Menachem. His wife Elisheva (Shevale) who survived him, was a smart woman. They brought-up their two sons, R' Chaim and R' David, in the Jewish way of Torah and Mitzvos. A new law requiring Rabbis to be fluent in two languages - Polish and Ukrainian - they have learnt these languages with a private teacher. R' Moshe did not live long, he was replaced by his eldest son R' Chaim who escaped to Vienna during the War then returned home to Zablotow a few years after the end of the First World War.
2.3 The fifth and last Rabbi of Zablotow was R' Chaim, a great scholar who sat and learned Torah all day . His wife, Reizel, an educated woman, efficiently managed the house-work with her mother-in-law. They and all citizens of Zablotow, were killed by the Nazis in 1942.
The first four Rabbis who concentrated mainly on heavenly worship, did not have the time to guide people in Jewish Law and be Jewish judges. Each one selected a Dayan ( a Jewish Judge) who held court and passed sentence, decided what was allowed or disallowed, performed marriages and divorces, etc. He sat in the Rabbi's synagogue which included a large hall, a women section and the Rabbis house. Most of the important citizens used to pray in that synagogue and there they held the Shabbos "Tisch". It also served as a meeting place for the young boys before they were tested for the army. For three months they stayed awake at night drinking and singing in-order to prepare themselves for the army test.
Demycze RabbisDemycze was a suburb of Zablotow. It was considered a separate municipal entity, but
was part of Zablotow's Jewish community.
The first Rabbi there was R' Mendele, the second son of R' Dudke, who was the first Rabbi of Zablotow. He built a very large synagogue with a large woman's section. It was called "Viznica Synagogue" due to the large number of Viznica Chasidim there. He had only a few Chasidim but they provided him with enough income with their Tsetalachs and donations. He had one daughter, Gittle, who married R' Yoseph David from Russia who was popular in the community, a scholar, a Chazan with beautiful melodies for the High Holiday prayers and he was destined for the Rabbi position. Unfortunately he passed away at a young age.
Figure 3 - A group of citizens:
R' Avraham Hager Rabbi of Demycze, is in the middle
R' Mordechai Ashkenazi, at his side
R' Shmayah Salpeter, on the other side
The position was filled by R' Mendele's grandson, R' Avraham. Although he was called the Rabbi of Demycze he realized he must have followers in Zablotow too and he tried to be the Rabbi of both communities. With the help of an acquaintance he acquired a certificate from the manager of Sniatin District which ratified him as the Rabbi of Zablotow. (Until that time no Rabbi had obtained that kind of certificate). This caused a great rift between him and his cousin (second cousin), R' Moshe and his son R' Chaim who where the Rabbis in Zablotow at that time. It developed into an open split between the two Jewish communities of Zablotow and Demycze, until the authority awarded both of them ratification.
R' Avraham, like his grandfather R' Mendele, established a Dayan position in Demycze who assisted him. He sat in the Viznica house, and in later years moved to R' Avraham's house, when he moved to Zablotow. R' Avraham's father in-law was R' Mordechai Ashkenazi, the son of the Dayan of Kalush in Galicia. He knew how to learn and had a teaching certificate. He became the Dayan of Demycze after the death of the first Dayan, and hoped to be the next Rabbi, however they all perished in 1942. During Chanukah of 1942 when the first Action took place in Zablotow, R' Avraham Hager and his family marched in the first row to their slaughter. He actually found a hiding place but when he realized that the people were being led away, he got out and joined them at the killing ground. His brother, R' Itche who served as a rabbi in nearby Roznov, miraculously made his way during the war to Eretz-Israel. He lives in Jerusalem.
R' Avraham obtained from the authorities in Sniatin a permit to register all births, deaths and marriages in Zablotow and the surroundings. This was an official position, with a fixed income from each registry and from providing copies. It brought him honor and respect. It was given only to those who were considered "clean" and he had to learn Polish and Ukrainian. He was the last one to hold that position when he was killed in Chanukah of 1942. The first one to hold that position was the Mayor of Zablotow, R' Meir Rata, he passed it on to his son R' Tzvi and then it was passed on to his grandson R' Fishel. Others who held that positions were R' Moshe Sheinhoren and R' Chaim Zimmel Singer who was the mayor for a short time. Great fights broke out between those vying for the position, forcing foreign intervention.
R' Dudke's third son, R' Tzvi Hershele, settled in Petashnitzin, a small town near Kolomyja. He built a large house and synagogue in the center of town. He was accepted with great honor and was chosen Rabbi, and made his livelihood from his large followers and Chasidim.
His only son, R' Gershon, was well versed in worldly matters as well as Jewish studies. He married the daughter of a rich man and joined him in his business of trade in lumber, forest industries, and even in oil fields. (which exist in abundance around Petashnitzin and Sloboda. His sons and daughters received a Jewish education in the spirit of his Jewish ancestry, as well as some general knowledge befitting the spirit of those times. He inherited his father's position after his death with the agreement of most of the citizens and served the community without pay. He belonged to those who gave of themselves and did not accepted anything in return.
He married off his daughter (or his grand-daughter), to R' Yakov the son of R' Alter Salpeter, a well known wealthy man from Sloboda-Rongurska, who had a large house and owned a general goods store and many other properties and land in town. During that time English and French experts started coming to the area in-order to develop oil and wax drilling . R' Alter gave his land in Sloboda to one of these companies for 50% of the expected future profits. It proved to be a success. They struck oil and wealth. From that time on his house was opened to the poor where they received food and shelter and many gifts. R' Alter was a great admirer of R' Mendele from Viznica. It is rumored that each quarter of a year he donated to the Rabbi 500 Rubel, which was a great sum in those days. Some say that he donated a similar sum monthly to the Rabbi whom he considered to be his partner in the oil fields. However, mother nature's gift did not last forever. After twenty profuse years production started to dwindle until it stopped all together. Those few who kept their riches did not suffer, but most became impoverished and the town and its surroundings shamefully lost their glory. R' Alter who used to spread, waste and share his wealth, was left empty-handed. His son, R' Yakov, was forced to sell almost for nothing, the house and land which were valued at a half a million Rubbels. After the death of R' Alter, R' Yakov moved to Kolomyja and was a small lumber dealer.
R' Dudke's fourth and youngest son, R' Mechel, chose to settle in Storozhinets. His wife was the daughter of the righteous R' Eliezer the son of the famous R' Shalom Rokach from Belz. He built a large house and synagogue, was accepted with great honor and made his livelihood from his large followers and Chasidim. His sons and sons-in-law became famous rabbis well accepted by their communities.
His son Shalom was Rabbi in Mald Banila in Bukovina, and found his way to London England during the war. His first son-in-law, R' Mordechai Tabak, who married his daughter Malkale, belonged to a noble family and was a great scholar and Chazan. They found their livelihood by selling wine and she worked in the local grocery store. Their sons were brought up to follow Torah, worship God and given some general knowledge.
His second son-in-law, the famous R' David, was the rabbi of Kiydantse in Bukovina for a few years. Their sons were brought up to follow the Torah, worship God and given general knowledge. His son was R' Menachem Hager who was for a while the Dayan in Halitcz in Galicia, then in Neistat. He was one of the original activists of "The Mizrachi" movement who not only preached, but also followed it with many activities. He was elected as Chairman of the Mizrachi in Lwow, and moved to Lwow to serve in the Mizrachi Directorate of Galicia. He was the man behind the "MTT" (which stands for Torah from Zion) charity organization in Lwow, which supported Jewish religious schools in Galicia. He had traveled to the United States to raise funds for the organization, and was very successful. Finally he was elected Rabbi of Sosnovitch. There too he excelled in his Zionist activities to the dismay of the Belz Rabbi. He was captured by the Russians but managed to emigrate with his family to Eretz-Israel. He is active here in Tel-Aviv at the Mizrachi National Headquarters, and serves as Chairman of the Chevra-Kadisha of Tel-Aviv.
Gabaeim of Zablotow
The first Gabay of Zablotow was R' Levi Salpeter, a tall man with a long white beard across his chest. He was a learned man with meticulously clean clothes. He served R' Dudke (the first Rabbi) and, for a short time, R' Yakov too. He excelled in telling stories about Chasidim with grace and charm. Blessed be he who heard his stories. His son, Shlomo, served R' Mendele in Demycze all his life and was very much like his father. His son, R' Eliezer, was a great singer enliven the "Tisch" (feast) at the Rabbi's house. Later he left Zablotow and immigrated to the United States with his sisters.
R' Elimelech, nick-named "King Solomon" followed R' Levi as a Gabay in Zablotow. He was well read and even had a bit of "general" knowledge. He was very good looking told jokes and had a wide smile. He spoke a few languages fluently and was considered a reincarnation of Hershele from Ostropoly who was born solely for entertaining and making people happy. He wore his famous Purim mask while reading the Megilah in Ukrainian, he read Akdamuth on Shavuot in Ukrainian too changing the contents and version as he went along. He was greatly skilled at reading aloud making people enjoy his stories very much. Another crowd pleaser was R' Menachem Mendel Butschki (Was it his family name or his nickname, it is not known), maybe he was a Gabay or maybe just a another Chasid from the crowd. He arrived every Holiday to perform and rejoice with the Chasidim bringing different songs, prayers and melodies for each holiday. On Simchat Torah he got up on the roof attic, built to be the highest in town, (like the Temple in Jerusalem). He sat out on the roof wrapped in a white Kitle (garment), wearing a Shtreimel (wide fur hat) sipping whisky. Kids surrounded the house and he sang songs, melodies and High-Holiday prayers. He yelled: " What day is it today? Shimchat Torah?" with the kids was answering gleefully. It was by itself a miracle that he stayed up there not slipping off the sloped roof and breaking his neck.
When "King Solomon" died, R' Menachem Mendel Butschki disappeared and the joyous atmosphere disappeared with him. The Rabbi's court turned dull and gloomy causing a real drop in income. A miserable one-horse buggy of a poor Jewish Carter replaced the carriage and two white horses. The Rabbi was still traveling to nearby towns and to far away cities and towns in other countries - Rumania and Bukovina - too, but this time for his livelihood. He used first or second class, and later even third class. Entering towns he was not, as in prior years, surrounded by torch holding crowds. They disappeared completely. Shabbos "Tisch" was empty with "Kugel's and wines served only as tokens. The synagogue was not crowded even when the Rabbi himself was the prayer leader (Chazan). On weekdays and Saturday nights no Chasidim came over for blessings or Tzetalachs (notes). The innkeeper, himself a veteran Chasid, accompanied by an acquaintance loitered around town looking for donations for the Rabbi who was leaving town on Thursday.
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