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[Page 145]

        Later, when, with G-d's help, R. Eliyahu Mordechai recovered from his injuries, he would repeat the curse he made on the Germans: “If you dared to shoot me, you weren't going to go any further, and were to remain standing on the hill.” In fact, the Germans did remain on the same high position near the Pinsk swamps, letting the Russians lie in the swamps.

        When he felt a little better, R. Eliyahu Mordechai realized it was impossible for him to remain in Kholozhin, first, because of the Russian bullets, and second, because of the famine that existed in the areas along the front, the civilian population was forced to evacuate deeper inside Russia. So R. Eliyahu Mordechai was also forced to go to stay with his son-in-law in Horbacha.


        With the arrival in the village of a number of Jewish refugees, the education issue surfaced in addition to economic problems. No yeshivas could exist under such circumstances, but the children had to receive an education. With G-d's help there was a famous rabbi among the refugees; he accepted the role of head of the yeshiva for the small number of teenage boys who were able to study but who could not travel to a yeshiva. Some of the students, including me, cleaned and fixed up an abandoned gentile house, and turned it into a place to study Torah that also jewel for the Jews of Horbacha during the entire period of the German occupation. These little houses also benefited from having R. Eliyahu Mordechai, the Kholozhiner Rebbe, established his home there.

        Since he spent the greater part of the day in a house, all our friends were very interested in observing and learning about his conduct and fine character. Naturally, we realized from the subjects he studied that he was a simple Jew who had to study from Yiddish translations of holy books. However, on each occasion we were able to feel his intellect and intense dedication, especially when he experienced and lamented the suffering of the people. We were especially happy when we were able to explain to him a statement of the Talmudic sages that was difficult to understand.

        It didn't take very long for Jews to locate where he lived, and start coming to Horbacha to ask him for blessings. One thing was very noticeable – everything he went through had a definite effect on his health. First of all, he used to complain about feeling cold because of the tragic event that occurred with the Germans when he was wounded and lost alot of blood on Yom Kippur. Second of all, the summer heat made him feel uncomfortable and nervous. It was in those times that we didn't see the quiet and modest R. Eliyahu Mordechai, but instead a stormy fighter for Judaism and traditions. If he suspected anyone of doing something, that person didn't dare show himself to the Rebbe. Many of his chassidim from just about everywhere knew not to disturb him during the hot summer. Let me give just a couple of examples:

        A young man came to visit him during the summer. This fellow came a great distance and insisted that the Rebbe give him a blessing. “What's your name?” asked the Rebbe. “Avraham Yitzchak,” answered the young man. “What a nice name, Avraham and Yitzchak,” the Rebbe stated impatiently. “Well, tell me something. Do you wear tzitzit?” The young man felt he was in trouble and ran for the door, but the Rebbe ran after him with incredible strength, and snapped, “What a chutzpah. Coming into my house without a tzitzit!”

        Then there was another case that I witnessed myself. Rabbi Levinovitz met a young ritual slaughterer [shochet] who settled in our area, and wanted the young fellow to tell him a famous story mentioned in the Talmudic tractate of Bava Batra, 8:1. He pretended to be angry, and opened the tractate further on, using difficult Talmudic terminology. The young man didn't do very well, and the Rebbe responded, “Listen, take a look at him, the big shot. He doesn't deserve a dowry of more than three thousand dollars. Are you worth it? Do you know something?” The young man fled out of the house in shame.

[Page 146]

        There were dozens of such stories. Whenever the summer months passed, so did his nervousness, and it always appeared as if a stone was removed from the hearts of not only his family, but of the entire Jewish community in the area, who loved and admired the Rebbe so much. We then had the familiar quiet and modest R. Eliyahu Mordechai.

        These events occurred during the little more than three years that he lived in Horbacha, mostly under German rule, with a small break, until some law and order was restored in Poland, and we could then breathe easier. When the Rebbe's youngest son got married right after World War I in Drohitchin, R. Eliyahu Mordechai also moved to Drohitchin, where he lived out his final years in sanctity and honor. He died in 1932, and was buried in the Drohitchin cemetery.

Yosef Rubinstein (Israel)


        My grandfather, known as the “Kholozhiner Blacksmith” became an orphan at 7 years old. His sister who lived in Osovetz (a village near Drohitchin) took care of him, and sent him to study in a kheder, though this didn't last long. As soon as my grandfather learned how to pray, he went to learn a trade. Little Eliyahu Mordechai stood on a bench in the blacksmith shop of R. Zechariah the Blacksmith's father, and began hammering an anvil to earn his small piece of bread. At night he would go study Torah in the House of Study.

        After his wedding, my grandfather moved to the village of Kholozhin, where he got involved in blacksmithing. On every eve of a new month he would travel by foot to Pinsk (a distance of 17 miles), where he was a frequent visitor of R. Dovidel and R. Eliezer Moshe. A few years later my grandfather's wife died, leaving him with three small orphans to take care of – two girls and a boy. Obviously, he couldn't stay that way for long, and soon thereafter he married a fine woman, Gittel Beila, who was my maternal grandmother, who bore him 5 children. Their life was very difficult, and my grandfather couldn't earn enough as a blacksmith to support a family of ten people.

        There's a story that my grandfather once hired someone to teach his children Torah. After the end of the period he was hired for, Grandfather had no money to pay him. Grandfather was very disappointed – he couldn't pay a poor teacher? At the same time, Grandfather had a sheep, the sole breadwinner of 8 children, that had gone off to the field and never returned because a wolf devoured him. The family started wailing: what would they do without milk? Grandfather, however, started dancing and singing. Grandmother asked him what he was so happy about. He responded by saying, “Had I wanted to sell the sheep, you would never have let me do it. Now I'll have Stepan go and sheer the wool off the animal, and you'll have money to pay the teacher.” So it was, and the teacher received his entire salary.

        Grandmother used to help make ends meet by painting thread and linen for the gentiles. On one occasion before a Jewish holiday she handed over her last couple of rubles to Grandfather so he could go to Pinsk to buy some white flour for challah bread and meat for the children in honor of Rosh Hashanah. The rest of the year they used to serve rye bread on the Sabbath and holidays. So Grandfather went off to Pinsk with the couple of rubles. While he was there he met a Jewish man he knew, finding him walking barefoot. Grandfather took the poor Jew to a shoemaker, and had him make the poor man a pair of new boots; he paid the shoemaker with the money that Grandmother had given him. The poor Jew protested, but Grandfather had already paid for the boots. Afterwards, Grandfather traveled back home without any flour or meat. Grandmother then asked him what they were going to do for the holiday, and Grandfather responded by telling her not

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