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[Page 113]

Rabbis and Scholars B

The Gaon and Tzadik Rabbi Meir Marim
- head of the rabbinical court of Maytchet

by Moshe Zinovitz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Rabbi Meir Marim came from the town of Novaya Mysh near Baranovichi, where he was born to his father Rabbi Moshe Shafit. He was the grandson of Rabbi Moshe the rabbinical judge of the town, at the time when the head of the rabbinical court there as the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Yechiel. Rabbi Yechiel tended toward the Hassidic movement. He was one of those who frequented the father and son, Rabbi Mordechai and Rabbi Noach of Lachowicze. Thanks to him, the Hassidism of the Baal Shem Tov became rooted in the region of Slonim and the surrounding towns, including the town of Maytchet. Thanks to Rabbi Yechiel, who had great influence upon the Talmudic and religious image of Rabbi Meir Marim, this young man became one of the frequenters of the Beis Midrash of the Hassidic movement. Even after this young man became known as a rabbi and Gaon [rabbinical genius] in the region of Slonim-Navahrudak and beyond, he remained faithful to that movement and later forged a connection with the Admor Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin. After Rabbi Moshe's death, he would travel, along with most of the Hassidim of Kobrin, to the Admor Rabbi Avraham of Slonim, who was a veteran Slonimer Hassid. Later, he would travel to the in-law of this famous Admor and was numbered among his very few confidantes and close advisers. The connection of Rabbi Meir Marim to Slonim Hassidism added weight to the Admor style of Hassidism, which held a respectable place amongst Polish Lithuanian Jewry until the era of the Holocaust.

As far as we know from the sources, Rabbi Meir Marim served as the head of the rabbinical court of Maytchet during his youth, and later moved to serve as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court in Wiszniew, Jakobstadt (Jekabpils), and Swięciany (Svenčionys - a district city in the Vilna region). From there he moved to Kobrin, where he passed away.

In the book “Or Yesharim” by Moshe-Chaim Kleinman of Brest-Litovsk (that includes the history of Rabbi Mordechai and Rabbi Noach of Lachowicze, Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin, and Rabbi Avraham of Slonim), several stories of the great righteousness of Rabbi Meir Marim are included. The author of that book states that the descendents of the Hassidic movement in those districts would stream to him as the “Great Gaon; the splendid, mighty tower; sharp and expert; the light of lightning; the Sinai and uprooter of mountains[1]; who lights up the land and its inhabitants. He has ten measures of traits and secrets; he is crowned with good traits; he is the celestial abode of Hassidism

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the wellspring of modesty, very righteous, sublime and wonderful in his deeds and his holy mannerisms, perfected with sublime, high character traits. He received every person pleasantly, related properly to the poor people, and assisted every distressed person to the best of his ability, as is told about him by the people of the city of Kobrin. He walked in the ways of G-d very discreetly.”

The aforementioned book brings down the following story of Rabbi Meir Marim: He married off his young son to the daughter of a certain householder who was a relative of the famous Admor Rabbi Yitzchak of Nieschiz (a town near the city of Kowel in Volhynia region in Ukraine). The writing of the marriage agreement (Tenaim) took place in the home of the Admor of Nieschiz, and in the agreement, the father of the groom Rabbi Meir Marim was described as “ Hagaon Hatzadik”. The Admor of Nieschiz himself read the Tenaim before those present, and when he came to the word “ Hatzadik” he paused for a moment, looked at the face of Rabbi Meir Marim for a few moments, said “Yes, Yes!” and continued on with the reading of the Tenaim.

The elder householders in Kobrin (where the writer of these lines lived in the summer of 5684 - 1924, and the time that the Yeshiva Gedola was founded there by the Gaon and head of the rabbinical court, Rabbi Pesach Pruskin), could give additional details that typify the holy mannerisms of this rabbi, Gaon and Tzadik. One of these is as follows: Rabbi Meir Marim was known as a person who hated monetary gain and satisfied himself with little. When he was accepted as the head of the rabbinical court of the four aforementioned communities, he advised the householders therein that all the householders, rich and poor alike, should join together in paying his salary at the rate of one kopeck a week, so that he would not come to a challenge and so that he would not stumble by showing favoritism to some of the residents of the town.

Rabbi Meir Marim was also renowned as a Gaon of the generation. Even the extreme Misnagdim [opponents of Hassidism] from among the Gaonim of Lithuania considered him as such. He was wonderfully proficient in the Bavli, Yerushalmi, Tosefta, Mechilta, and the entire body of Talmudic literature. He excelled in his orderly style of learning, as is demonstrated in his splendid composition “Nir” on the Yerushalmi [Jerusalem Talmud][2], that earned great acclaim in the rabbinical world throughout the Diaspora. This book served as a general useful guide for all people who study the Jerusalem Talmud. In the introduction to his book “Commentaries and Novellae on the Jerusalem Talmud” (New York, 5701, 1941), the renowned, scholarly Talmudic researcher Rabbi Levi Ginzberg[3], who was an expert on the Jerusalem Talmud, deliberates on the important essays on the Jerusalem Talmud written by the scholars of Lithuania during the last century, stating that , “They returned the forgotten Torah of Israel to its original place, and without them, we would not have found our hands and feet within the Talmud of the Land of Israel.” Among these, he includes the book “Nir” on the Jerusalem Talmud by Rabbi Meir Marim, whose value was considered great even from an academic perspective. The aforementioned scholar wrote on this subject, “The book 'Nir' by Rabbi Meir Marim on the three first orders (Zeraim, Moed, Nashim)[4], is a fine example of healthy research, and the skepticism of the author testifies not only to his modesty, but also to his clear intellect that does not minimize the great difficulty that a true researcher encounters when he comes to emend the text by means of logic.”

In his introduction to his book “The Jerusalem Talmud in its Straightforward Meaning,” the renowned scholar and Talmudic researcher, the rabbi and professor Saul Lieberman[5] writes the following about the book “Nir”: “The commentaries

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of the Gaon Rabbi Meir Marim of blessed memory, currently published only on the first three Orders, are deep and to the point. However, whereas the style of this Gaon in his composition is to bring to the fore various possibilities of differing explanations; he does not decide which explanation is correct, which is close and which is far off. From his concise style and innuendoes, one must ponder the meaning of his words no less than one must ponder the Jerusalem Talmud itself.”

When the aforementioned composition of Rabbi Meir Marim was brought before the Gaon Rabbi Yehoshua Izak Shapira (“Eizel Charif”) of Slonim, the Slonimer looked into the book and said, “I too can compose a book like Rabbi Meir Marim (The Gaon Rabbi Yehoshua Izak Shapira wrote an important work “Noam Yehoshua” on the Jerusalem Talmud), but to be as righteous as he is already beyond my ability.”

In the eulogy booklet on the passing of Torah personalities of his generation written by the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Moshe Nechemia Kahana, a principal Yeshiva Head of Yeshivat Eitz Chaim of Jerusalem, he also notes the passing of “The rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Marim of holy blessed memory, the head of the rabbinical court of Kobrin, who was known and famous for his Torah, righteousness, integrity, and wisdom.”

With regard to the emphasis on the word “and his wisdom” in the above words of appreciation, we should specially note that despite all of his piety and righteousness, Rabbi Meir Marim was known for his proficiency in the Russian, Polish and German languages, even though he did not flaunt this internally or externally. His fluency in Germany helped him to be accepted by all segments of the community of Jakobstadt (in Kurland, Latvia) where German was the spoken language of the local intelligentsia. Given his knowledge in religious research and general subjects, he always had the upper hand in debates with various Maskilim, and thereby sanctified the name of Heaven[6]. Many of the statements of Rabbi Meir Marim in this regard circulated among the elders of the aforementioned towns in which he served in honor, and it unfortunate that they were not written in the pages of a book so that they following generation would know about them.

In this article, we should also note the two sons of Rabbi Meir Marim that we know about, who were raised and educated in Maytchet, the town of his first rabbinical seat. The first was Rabbi Betzalel Chaim, the head of the rabbinical court of Viezin[7] of the Vilna district, who prepared the aforementioned “Nir” book for print, and the second was Rabbi Aharon Yehoshua Shafit. In order to pacify the family of Rabbi Meir Marim, his second son was appointed as the government rabbi of Kobrin. He knew how to speak Russian, and represented the community of Kobrin to the government with propriety and wisdom. Rabbi Aharon Yehoshua tended toward the Slonimer Hassidim, and he always helped them with respect to influence in communal institutions. When official matters became complex with the Russian government, he made aliya to the Land of Israel, settled in Tiberias, and was active in affairs of the Kollel Reisen-Slonim.

The son of Rabbi Meir Marim's sister , Rabbi Avraham Aharon Yudelovich, also had a connection to Maytchet. He was the author of important works in Jewish law and teaching. Rabbi Avraham Aharon, a native of Novahrudak, studied Torah with his uncle in Maytchet during his youth. He served in the rabbinate in the towns of Selvovij, Kuznetsovi, Konstantinov, Turov, Kepaliai, Manchester

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England, and then in several communities in the United States of America. Rabbi Avraham-Aharon wrote a book of response called “The House of my Father” on the four sections of the Code of Jewish Law; “Darash Av” on matters of exegesis, “Tapuchei Zahava, and several other works on Torah topics. Rabbi Avraham Aharon noted several times in these books the greatness of his uncle the author of “Nir” on the Jerusalem Talmud.

We find information in various sources regarding the connection of the Gaon Rabbi Meir Marim to the community of Maytchet as the head of the rabbinical court. In this regard, we will note the book “Nachalat Avot” by Rabbi Levi Savchinsky, in which it is written, among other things, that he was accepted as the head of the rabbinical court in Swięciany, a regional city in the district of Vilna, in the year 5609 (1849), after he had already served as the head of the rabbinical court of Wisniewo in that same district, where he served in the rabbinate after his tenure in Maytchet. From this, we can determine that the time of Rabbi Meir Marim's rabbinical tenure in Maytchet was prior to the year 5600 (1840). Rabbi Meir Marim is described as follows in that book, “This excellent Gaon was great in his time, pious and modest, righteous and sublime.” According to the author of that book, that Gaon was only 15 years old when he received the rabbinate of Maytchet as has been noted above.

Apparently, Rabbi Meir Marim served as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Maytchet after the head of the rabbinical court of that place, Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen, left for medical treatment in Vilna. He died there in the year 5683 (1823) and was buried in the old cemetery of that community where they buried famous Gaonic rabbis.

Rabbi Meir Marim died on the 18th of Cheshvan in Kobrin, and is buried there. His grave was next to the grave of his close friend Rabbi Moshe the Admor of Kobrin. The name and memory of Rabbi Meir Marim remain etched and guarded in the hearts of all the members of the communities in which he served honorably as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court. On account of his open affiliation with Hassidism, this movement became deeply rooted in Maytchet, Swięciany, and Jakobstadt just as in Kobrin. The Hassidim were a significant spiritual and communal factor in those towns.

On Tisha Be'Av and during Elul and the Ten Days of Penitence, when the Jews of Kobrin would visit the local cemetery (on the other side of the Zamukhavetz River), they would also supplicate over the graves of its famous rabbis and Admorim, and especially at the grave of Rabbi Meir Marim, whose name was guarded with them as a miracle worker who could bring salvation. They would even leave notes of supplication at his grave.

Translator's footnote

  1. A Talmudic expression for a person who has acquired both the breadth (Sinai) and depth (uprooter of mountains) of Torah. Return
  2. There are two versions of the Talmud: the Jerusalem Talmud, and the Babylonian Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud, given its later date, is the version most commonly studied. However, there are certain tractates, particularly regarding the agricultural laws, that are only found in the Jerusalem Talmud. Return
  3. See Louis Ginzberg, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Ginzberg Return
  4. The Mishna, and consequently the Talmud, is divided into six “Orders”: Zeraim (seeds or agricultural laws, Moed (Sabbath and festivals), Nashim (women, marital laws), Nezikim (damages, tortes, civil law), Kodshim (Temple sacrificies), Taharot (Ritual purity). Return
  5. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul_Lieberman Return
  6. I.e. brought honor to religious Judaism by being able to hold his own in the debates with freethinkers. Return
  7. Vičiułnai or Vyžuonos. Return

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The Rabbi and Gaon Rabbi
Yehuda Leib HaKohen

by Moshe Zinovitz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaKohen was known as one of those who was close to the Gaon of Vilna[1] and who later was attracted to the Hassidic movement and became a student of the great Magid of Mezeritch, the Gaon Rabbi Dovber of holy blessed memory. The Gaon Rabbi Yehuda Leib first served as a preacher of righteousness [Magid Meisharim] in Maytchet. At the end of this days, he fulfilled this role in Antopoli in the Kobrin district, Grodno region, where he was buried in the year 5567 (1807).

The book “Divrei Negidim” serves as an authoritative source on the personality of the Maytchet rabbi. This book is a novel commentary on difficult issues on Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch, the five Megillot, and the Haftaras of the entire year, published by Rabbi Meir the son of Yaakov Krolowiecki, the Magid Meisharim of Lomza. This book is divided into two editions: a) “Shevet Yehuda” with the sharp didactics of Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaKohen of blessed memory, who was called by everyone, “The diligent one of the city of Metzad.”; B) “Irme Kedem” focusing on straightforward methodology of the author, who states that he is the fifth generation of the Magid Meisharim of Maytchet.

In the preface to the book, the aforementioned author writes that Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaKohen was one of those close to the Gaon of Vilna and his Beis Midrash, while simultaneously being a student of the great Magid Rabbi Dovber of Mezeritch[2], and the son-in-law of the righteous Rabbi Moshe Elyakim the author of “Beer Moshe”, the son of the righteous Rabbi Yisrael the Magid of Koznitz. In the approbation[3] to the book “Divrei Negidim” by the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Rabinovitz, the head of the rabbinical court of Lomza, he notes that the author of this book is known to him as a virtuous rabbi, who preaches well and fulfills well that which he preaches. In this approbation, he notes especially that the great, diligent rabbi and Gaon, Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaKohen was one of those who frequented the Beis Midrash of the Gaon of Vilna.

Many famous rabbis, Gaonim and Admorim of Poland who adorn the book “Divrei Negidim” with their warm approbations note the connection of the aforementioned Rabbi Yehuda Leib with the Magid of Mezeritch of holy blessed memory. These include the Admor of Gur who is the author of “Sfat Emet”, who received this book graciously and especially noted that the author is one of the students of the holy rabbi, the Magid of Mezeritch. The name and memory of Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaKohen is also included in the book “Shem HaGedolim Hechadash” in the following words: “There is a large canopy over his grave in Antopoli. In his will, he stated that anyone who supports the publication of his manuscripts can place his name atop his grave, and will merit living offspring and sustenance for all the days of his life.”

Translator's footnotes

  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vilna_Gaon Return
  2. This point of his connection to the Gaon of Vilna and the Magid of Mezeritch is stressed numerous times, as it shows that he had roots in the Misnagdic [anti-Hassidic] style, but moved toward Hassidism. Return
  3. In rabbinical literature, an author will solicit notes of approval from well-known rabbis and include them in as part of the preface to the book. These are known as approbations (Haskamot). Return

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Rabbi Shmuel, Head of the Rabbinical court of Maytchet

by Moshe Zinovitz

Translated by Ron Rabinovitch

The venerable Rabbi Shmuel, the head of the Jewish Community, was a descendant of the famous Shochor family from Mir. His father, Rabbi Chaim Leib, was known there as “Rabbi Chaim Leib Nagid” to distinguish him from the famous Rabbi Chaim Leib Tiktinski, the head of the Mir Yeshiva. Rabbi Chaim Leib Nagid was the grandson of the honorable Rabbi Josef David Eisenshtadt, who was the head of the Bet Din and the Mir Yeshiva.

Rabbi Chaim Leib Nagid was a learned man who did many good deeds. He was a textile merchant who sold his merchandise in Minsk, Moscow, Warsaw, and Lodz. All the people in the area came to buy from him in his factory in Mir. Although he had a flourishing business, he spent most of his time during the day learning in the Beit Medrish. His wife Lifsha and his daughters operated the business.

Lifsha was the sister of Rabbi Naphtali Zvi Judah Berlin (known also as the Netziv), born in Mir and the head of justice and Volozhin Yeshiva. Her father was the great Rabbi Jacob Berlin, who emigrated to Israel in 1850, where he became an honorary officer in the “Eitz Chaim” Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He died in 1870, and is buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

The second son in law of Rabbi Jacob Berlin was the genius Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, who was the head of justice in Navahrudak and the author of the famous book “Aroch Hashulchan”, which deals with all the volumes of the “Shulchan Aruch” (the Jewish religion code of laws).

Rabbi Shmuel was the son of Rabbi Michael, the older son of Rabbi Chaim Leib Nagid. He was a student in the Volozhin Yeshiva, succeeded in his studies and got an honor from his uncle, Hanatzviv. Due to his uncle's words, he got the job as the head of justice in Maytchet, which he was in charge of for many years. He was very popular in the Chasidic circles, both in the town and surrounding areas, and when the Admorin of Slonim (the masters and teachers) Rabbi Abraham and Rabbi Shemuel of blessed memory made their annual visit to Maytchet, he would reciprocate with a visit to Slonim.

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The Gaon Rabbi Zvi Hirsh of Maytchet

by Moshe Zinovitz

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Rabbi Zvi Hirsh lived and functioned in the area of Slonim more than a century ago. Apparently, he is to be identified as Rabbi Zvi Hirsh of Maytchet, who served as a Yeshiva head in the Yeshiva of Slonim, which examined and accepted the Genius [Iluy] of Maytchet to the Yeshiva. The rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Avraham Aharon Yudelovich, the nephew of Rabbi Meir Marim the head of the rabbinical court of Maytchet, mentions Rabbi Zvi Hirsh in one of his compositions in the book “Darash Av”. This Maytchet Gaon is also mentioned by the Slonim writer Mr. Zavlocki in his article “The Congregation of Jacob in Slonim” that was published in the Hebrew annual “Kneset Hagedola” in Warsaw in the year 5651 (1891) (fourth book). The aforementioned article, dealing with issues of the community of Slonim, also surveys the Slonim Yeshiva with its Yeshiva heads, classes and teachers. Among others, it mentions Rabbi Tzvi HaKohen Rizikof of Moychad[1] in a positive light, as teaching the eighth grade, and describes him as an “effective educator, sharp and honorable. His style of learning finds favor with the people of our city. He forges a path through the Sea of Talmud and the thick waters of the commentators. A new light will be shed over this expert style of study.”

In the book “Divrei Menachem” (Jerusalem 5685 - 1925) by Rabbi Menachem HaKohen Rizikof, the son of Rabbi Zvi Hirsh, the following words of eulogy and appreciation for his prominent father are included, as we read there:

“On the 11th of Nissan, 5672 (1902), the holy ark[2] expired and was buried in the 71st year of his life. He was eulogized by great rabbis. The great Gaon Rabbi Moshe Betzalel Luria, the head of the rabbinical court of Suwalki stated in his eulogy that were the Holy Temple to exist, he would be the High Priest. He was buried in the old cemetery next to the great Gaon Rabbi Yehuda Bachrach and the Gaon and Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Izak Chaver. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.”

Rabbi Menachem adds the following about this father:

“The little learning that I gleaned from my father of blessed memory was like a drop in the ocean in comparison to the great Torah of my holy father. He was very diligent, and his mouth never desisted from learning day and night. He would count each letter just as the one counts money, and he was expert, by heart, in the entire Talmud with Rashi and Tosafot. He was also a person of fine character traits, modest, hating reward and content with his lot. His entire mannerism and demeanor was one of holiness. Torah was his vocation from his youth until the final moment of his life. He hated honor

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definitively, and did not want to accept the position of rabbi, even though several important towns wished to honorably appoint him as rabbi. When he served as a Yeshiva head in the Yeshiva of Slonim, flocks of fine youth and important students gathered around him to draw from the wellsprings of his Torah. He was an expert pedagogue with his fine, pleasant explanations. The students loved him with their heart and soul, and honored him greatly. Many of his students occupy rabbinical seats in large and important cities, and many became important laymen who are expert in Torah. He did not leave behind his Torah novella in writing, even though every lesson that he delivered in the Yeshiva was full of new ideas of Torah that the students enjoyed.”

In the year 5684 (1894), 18 years prior to his death, he became a Yeshiva head in the large Yeshiva of Suwalki, from where he disseminated Torah. The Yeshiva grew there during those years, and many benches were added to his class. Even some people of Slonim who moved from there to hear would come to listen to his classes. He studied in this Yeshiva with wonderful diligence until his final day, 11 Nissan 5672 (1902). He died and was buried in the 71st year of his life.

We should also note that the son of the Maytcheter, Rabbi Menachem HaKohen, was great in Torah, and was greatly imbued with expertise and sharpness. Two of the Gaonim of Jerusalem, the rabbi and Gaon Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook the Chief Rabbi of Israel[3], and Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank[4] the head of the rabbinical court of Jerusalem, describe him in their approbation to the aforementioned book as a renowned rabbi and Gaon, a treasury of Torah and teaching, who already earned a name from his important book on the laws of treifot[5]. Indeed, the son was like the father.

Translator's footnotes

  1. Sic. (As it is written) Return
  2. A literary reference to a person suffused with Torah knowledge. Return
  3. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Isaac_Kook Return
  4. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzvi_Pesach_Frank Return
  5. Improper slaughtering and various diseases and imperfections that would render an otherwise kosher animal not kosher. Return

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Rabbi Isaac-Naftali Belski and His Family

by Dov Shlomovitz

Translated by Ron Rabinovitch

One of the great Rabbis of our generation who formed Maytchet's Jewish life with culture and Torah before the Holocaust was Rabbi Isaac Naftali Belski. Although he was paralyzed for many years and could not leave his house, he contributed a great deal. His sons-in-law were scholarly, highly educated and helped him. Rabbi Belski was the spiritual leader of the town. The inhabitants revered their Rabbi who suffered with physical problems; they helped and admired him very much. There was a permanent minyan in his house and many Jews came to be there; some came to pray and others to visit and give him honor.

Rabbi Belski had one son and three daughters. The oldest daughter, Golda, married Rabbi Elchanan Goldstein from Maytchet, who was scholarly and well- educated. His commitment to G-d and his devotion to the people were to be admired; the inhabitants of the town and the local government officials admired him as well. The government appointed him as the “Rabbi Mit-Am (Rabbi of them) and he was also a religious teacher for the Jewish pupils in the Polish school, “Pobshachna”.

The second daughter, Rosa, married a Yeshiva student from Mir, Rabbi Dov Abbel, during the time when the elderly Rabbi was still the head of the Jewish community. The Jews liked Rabbi Abbel and saw him to be the successor to the elderly Rabbi Belski.

The third daughter, Liba, was engaged to Rabbi Shlomo Podoleski from the Navaradok Yeshiva. Unfortunately, she died when she was still young and before he came to Maytchet. Rabbi Podelski was a wonderful preacher and everybody went to the synagogue to hear him. He was the candidate to be the Rabbi from the Mitnagdim movement (this is the opposite of Hassidim).

This became a complicated situation. Both sides did not want to recognize the other's candidate. They even stopped buying candles and yeast at the Rabbi's house as they had been doing for quite some time in the past. This was the situation until Rabbi Jacob Grinberg came from Slonim. The Mitnagdim accepted him because he was a Slonim Hassid and some of the other Hassidim accepted him as well. The government wanted the Baranovici Rabbinate to make the decision. The war started and of course this problem was never resolved.

At the time of the Aktion, Rabbi Belski went out to the street wearing his prayer shawl and teffilin. That is where the Nazis shot and killed him.

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The Spiritual Center in Maytchet

by Nachum Margolin

Translated by Ron Rabinovitch

Paragraph on Malke Romanovsky on page 130–131
translated by Tzivia Malke Romanovski Fishbane


1. The Shul–Heif

From the commercial center location in the areas of the Rad–Kramen [the row of shops], there was a small narrow alley that led to the wide “Shul–Heif” [synagogue courtyard], where the synagogues, Chadarim, the bathhouse with the ritual bath (Mikve) and other buildings stood. This was the Jewish spiritual center of Maytchet.

The row of shops opposite the Shul–Heif


There were three permanent houses of worship: The Synagogue, the house of study (Beit Hamidrash) and the “Shtibel” of the Hasidim. The Synagogue was a large, splendid building with a fine dome over it with paintings of Jewish works of art. Some of the veterans of Maytchet said that Italian builders built the original synagogue approximately 300 years ago. In 1922 it was renovated and returned to its old glory.

People worshipped in this synagogue on Saturdays and Holidays, therefore, the Jews who worshipped there were nicknamed “Sabbath Jews.” On the weekdays they all worshipped in the “Beit Hamidrash”.

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Immediately prior to World War II the Cantor was Reb Shaulke –a very talented and fine chazzan. The trustees were Josef Shkolnikovitch, Hazel Motchkovski who was the chairman of the charitable fund (Gemilut Chasadim) and Moshe Belski. The Shammes was Nachum Kowenski.

The Beit Hamidrash (house of study) was the main house of worship where most of the people prayed and studied the Torah during the day and at night. On the weekdays there were several Minyans, one after the other, and on Sabbath, there were two. Between afternoon and evening prayers there was a lesson of Chapters of the Mishna. The Talmud study group also conducted study sessions, and regular Jews maintained a group for the recitation of Psalms. The two trustees of the Beit Midrash led the study sessions, but on Sabbath afternoons they brought preachers from other places to deliver lectures.

The prayer leaders in the Beit Midrash were Reb Leib Chaim Wolinski, Reb Yeshaia Aharon Lozowski (they were also trustees) and Moshe “The Melamed” (teacher). Rabbi Yeshaya Aharon always cared for the heating in the Beit Hamidrash and prepared wood for the oven. There were other trustees: David Rabinovitch (Dudzie the researcher), David “The Hoicher” (The tall man) and Chaikel Izralevitz “Der Baker” (The Baker). The shammes was Moshe Breshenski.

The Shtibel was the third prayer place where the Hasidim of various Admorim (Hasidic masters) prayed. From time to time the Admorim came to the Shtibel, each on his assigned Sabbath, to be with their community. Their appearance brought joy to the inhabitants. The Shtibel's worshippers brought the “Cholent” (Sabbath stew) and drinks. The ordinary people would come to see the Rabbi and to hear his words of Torah – and the city of Maytchet was happy and glad. The Admorim who came to visit were, the Slonimer Rebbe the Stoliner (from Stolin), the “Koidanover”( from Koidan), the “Galicianer”( from Galicia) and others.

The trustees of the Shtibel were: Reb Yosef Shimon Girshovitch, Reb Leib Winograd and Reb Isser Bilwas. The prayer leaders were: Israel Zalman Shlovski, Reb Yosef Shimon Girshovitch and Reb Yaakov who was the son–in–law of Rabbi Kopel Gorski.

Over and above the regular houses of worship, there were various minyans in private houses on Sabbaths and holidays, such as in Rabbi Belski's house who remained at home because of his paralysis, at Yudel “Der Shuster”'s house (The shoemaker) and at the Simchat Torah minyan of the Zionists, who arranged this minyan annually, the income of which was dedicated to the Jewish National Fund.

Prior to the 1930s, Rabbi Belski served as the Rabbi of Maytchet. He suffered from paralysis at the end of his days, and his son–in–law Rabbi Dov, the husband of his daughter Rosa, filled his place and subsequently inherited his rabbinical position. His second son–in–law Elchanan Goldstein served as the Rabbi Mitaam (government appointed rabbi). In 1935 there was a quarrel between the two sides, and an additional rabbi was brought in. The dispute continued until the outbreak of the war. The Polish authorities intervened in the dispute and demanded a verdict from the rabbinate of Baranovici. They did not succeed in instilling order into the question of the rabbinate when the terrible war broke out, and put an end to all of the problems of Judaism along with the Jews themselves.

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2. In the Congregation of Hasidim and Admorim

The history of Hasidim in the area and its place in Maytchet

The Hasidic movement started in Lithuania the middle of the 18th century. It had its earliest beginnings in the town of Slonim, which was the origin of most new movements and social streams in the Lithuanian area. From there it spread to the nearby and far–off cities and towns. The Hasidic movement penetrated into the area of Lithuania during the middle of the 18th century, and gained many adherents from among the circles of rabbis and students. However, most of its followers came from the common people and the tradesmen, who regarded that new movement as a counterbalance to the rigid circle of students who were ruled in an absolute fashion during the long period of the Council of the State of Lithuania, as well as after that period.

Furthermore, even though the general background of the growth of Hasidism in the region of Lithuania is not different from that of the region of Volhyn–Podolia, which was the cradle of the movement – that is the searching for a means of salvation for the downtrodden masses of Jews, who were wearing away from economic and spiritual tribulations at home and outside, we cannot neglect the prominent line of difference. This was that the region of Lithuania was the natural stronghold of the staunch Mitnagdim [opponents of Hasidism], who fought a holy war against the Hasidic sect. Therefore, the establishment of the movement in this region was more difficult than in any other place, and ended up with a compromise, whereby at first the Chabad Hasidic movement of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi was accepted. This was because of the dedication of Chabad Hasidim to learning. Only much later did general Hasidism become established in the area. Finally, a local Hasidic movement rose in the area.

The differences and typical traits that Lithuanian Hasidim were noted for were nothing in comparison to the complex and perplexing factors of the fierce battle that affected all of Reisen – waged by the Lithuanian Mitnagdim against the “sect” of Hasidim. In the years 5532 / 1772 and 5541 / 1781 the weapon of ex–communication was used by the community of Vilna when the GRA (Vilna Gaon) was placed at the helm of the camp of Mitnagdim. This led to a flood of letters of accusation and poisonous declarations. The situation degenerated the point of a distressing act of slander in the year 5556 / 1796, that led to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi being bound in chains and imprisoned in St. Petersburg. This bitter fight against the Hasidim cast its heavy shadow over the region and its impressions could be felt throughout the entire world with the division of the Jewish people into two disputing camps. This miserable fight became an integral part of the history of Lithuanian Hasidim. The victory of the Lithuanian Hasidism that was openly expressed by the miraculous liberation of the Rabbi of Liadi became a Hasidic heritage throughout the entire world, where the 19th of Kislev, which is the day of liberation, is celebrated as a day of joy every year until this day.

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While Chabad Hasidism was still celebrating its victory, and before the wrath of the two disputing sides had calmed, a new branch of an independent Lithuanian Hasidic movement from Lachowice and Slonim arose. In the year 5552 / 1792 Rabbi Mordechai from Lachowice (and his son and successor Rabbi Noach) established the Lachowice branch of Hasidim, and served as its first Admor. Lachowice Hasidism, which absorbed the influence of Karlin Hasidism, first struck roots in the nearby area and gained adherents not only from the general populace, but also from the circles of scholars. It did not take long for Lachowice Hasidism to spread throughout the area, and gain a strong following in Slonim, Mush, Stolevitch, Maytchet, Polonka, Mir, and even in towns of Pulisia towns: Kobrin, Pruzhany, Malachy, Shereshov, and others.

After the death in 5593 / 1832 of Rabbi Noach of blessed memory, the second Admor (Great Hasidic Rabbi) of Lachowice, his student Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin became his successor. The name of the branch changed to “Kobrin Hasidim” branch, or “Lachowice–Kobrin”. The Kobrin methodology crystallized – which obligated the continuation of study, but made sure to attract the masses of people, for whose benefit and to raise their level they developed a populist, simple tendency toward Divine service, without demanding the intellectual sophistication and didactics of the Mitnagdim.

The success of the Lachowice–Kobrin Hasidic branch that was adopted by so many people in the area for more than 70 years spawned new local dynasties in Koidanovo, Slonim, etc. In 5618 / 1858, Rabbi Avraham Weinberg was “exiled” to Slonim, where he founded the Slonim dynasty and became its first Admor. He was the student and Hasid of Rabbi Noach of Lachowice, and some say, even of Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin. He was an excellent Torah student, and served as the head of the famous Slonim Yeshiva. Because of the difficulties at this time, and because of the resistance of the Mitnagdim who were the chief spokesman in the community and the Yeshiva, Rabbi Avraham was forced to continue as a private teacher to the children in his own Cheder. Later on, he became the Admor, and regarded himself and others regarded him as the leader of a large group of Hasidim throughout Lithuania.

Thus, the branches and dynasties of Hasidism fortified themselves against the wall of Lithuanian Mitnagdim, and the unique methodology of Lithuanian Hasidism crystallized in contrast to the general Hasidism of Volhynia–Podolia. Fortunately, the area did not break up into exclusionary and inimical spheres of influence. Especially in small towns like Maytchet, the Hasidim affiliated with different Admorim who visited on set occasion, and conducted their table celebrations in a shtibel or another location, to the joy of all the Hasidim.

It is so typical that this Gaon and Tzadik at such a high level, who stood out among the other Hasidic leaders of his generation, left a spiritual inheritance with two fundamental books: “Honor

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to Abraham” (Chessed le–Avraham) and “The Basis of Divine Service” (Yesodei Ha–avoda), where he outlined the unique style of the Lithuanian Hasidic branch and its relationship to Divine service. On account of his first book, he became known as “The Author of Chessed le–Avraham.” He marked the connection to the Land of Israel in his books, and highly praised the value of the commandment of the settlement of Israel. This marked a change of the point of view in the Hasidic world of his time. He also assisted his Hassidim in the holy cities in a practical fashion. During this time, the Hasidim, including his grandson Rabbi Noach, started to immigrate to Tiberias. Until his last days, Reb Avraham did not desist from this holy work.

He served as the Admor more than 26 years in splendor, replete with activity. After his death in 5644 / 1884, his grandson Rabbi Shmuel Weinberg became the Admor. He preserved the fame that emanated from his renowned grandfather, and continued to attract Hasidim to the Slonim court in his own merit. He continued to fulfill the deeds of his father by establishing Hasidim in the Land of Israel, and he even collected money for this holy purpose with his own hands.

After many years had passed, the Lithuanian Hasidim saw that the Maytchet Hasidim had followed the teachings of their Rebbes, even to the extent of adopting the mitzvah of immigrating to the Land of Israel. Once they arrived in the holy land, they became ordinary citizens and put aside their old country traditions.

In summary, it is worthy to note that in the multi–colored tapestry of the Hassidic courts of Lithuania, the Hasidim of Maytchet and many other towns wove golden threads. They followed after their Rebbes in the paths of Hasidism and also took part in the aliya of Hasidim to the Land of Israel, but they were not referred to by the names of their towns. In the year 5664 / 1904, a mysterious man was revealed in Maytchet in the garb of a farmer, who refused to reveal his name, for he was an adjured kabbalist. He was known as a “Master of the Divine Name” [Baal Shem] and a miracle worker, who distributed talismans and charms for various types of problems, and he cured ill people who the expert doctors gave up any hope for recovery. His roo was crowded with ill people, handicapped people, barren women, etc. –– both Jews and gentiles who came from near and far to ask his advice

A detailed list of the acts of the “Master of the Divine Name” of Maytchet was published in the “Hayehdi” newspaper, issue 27, from 1904.

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3. Melamdim, religious and public figures

Many years have passed since I have been in my birthplace, Maytchet. I saw my town in good times, and also saw it in the start of its dying days. Now after so many years I want to write my memories. Of course I will start with my childhood days, which I remember so well, and begin with the Cheder (religious elementary school).

We laughed when we heared the expression “infants at school”, but this is true because we were very young when we started to learn the “Alef-Bet” in cheder. I remember when I began at the chedder of Rabbi Moshe Chaya Rachels in the spring, just after Passover. His house was in the “Shul-Heif” (area of synagogues) between the Beit Hamidrash and the Shtibel. That place instilled a feeling of holiness in the children's hearts. When my parents brought me the first day, Rabbi Moshe was sitting near the table with his “title” (little stick) in his hand. I was sitting near him and began to learn the letters, while my grandmother Shaina (of blessed memory) was standing behind me. She threw candies on my sidur and said, “This is the gift that the angels send you like they send each boy who starts to learn in the cheder".

My first teacher, Rabbi Moshe, was a simple man who was devoted to his young students. His wife, Chaya Rachel, had a bakery, and he took the bread to the market, especially on Wednesday, which was the market day in town. After a while, when I learned to read in the Sidur (prayer book), I moved with other boys to the Cheder of Rabbi Koppel Gorski, where we studied the Chumash and Rashi. Every Sunday, we began to learn the weekly portion of the Law, and if we could not finish before the week-end, Rabbi Gorski would recite us a short version so we could start the new portion on the subsequent Sunday. This way, we quickly heard all the stories of the creation of the world, our ancestors stories, and of the Jews leaving Egypt and surviving in the desert.

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I can remember one winter, there was heavy snow and I was the only student that came to school, while the others stayed at home. On this day there was a medical check by a representative of the government. I remember they checked to see if my head was clean and if I had any wounds on my body; they did not find any marks on me.

Rabbi Koppel Gorski of blessed memory was a very learned man in the Torah, and like my first teacher Rabbi Moshe Chaya Rachels, was also very old. Rabbi Gorski's wife Elka-Perl had a grocery store, and was helped by her daughter Kroshe, and son Yechiel. Every Wednesday was market day, and Rabbi Gorski finished the lessons at noon and went to help his wife in her store.

I learned for a few years at the Cheder of Rabbi Koppel, and then I went to a more advanced Cheder, that of Rabbi Shimon Shack of blessed memory. This school was a little different from the others, as the pupils were older, so they were divided up into two classes. Here we studied until very late at night, with a break at noon when we had our lunch. I remember at night we went back home after dark, being guided by lamps and candles. In the winter, each pupil took a turn to bring a bottle with gasoline to fill the lamps in class. It was in this Cheder that I learned to write in Hebrew and Yiddish, and later wrote Hebrew grammar from the Bible. The higher class started to learn Polish after arrangements were made with the “Tarbut” (Public) school. The pupils went to classes there twice a week to learn Polish.

In this Cheder the teacher tested the pupils every Thursday. All the children were sitting around the long table and each one took his turn and read a sentence from the “chumash” (Bible). I felt sorry for the child that did not know how to continue to read the sentence when it was his turn. The same happened on Friday when the pupils had to read the verse from the weekly portion of the Torah and then chant the weekly Haftorah with the correct melody. The Rabbi led the teaching, and every child was obligated to come to one of the three prayer sessions held in the Beit Hamidrash in the morning. The Rabbi himself came to the second minyan, and this way he knew who came to the first, second and third minyans. Rabbi Shimon was very clever and very strict. Unfortunately he died prematurely.

I have to say that I even studied one year in the Polish government school called “Powszechna”. Among all the gentile children we were just four Jewish children. Besides me there was my friend Michael Rabets and the Guttman sisters

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(grandchildren of Elta Pintzenski). We studied there just one year, and then they opened up a new Hebrew School “Chorev”, which consolidated all the Cheders of the town. All the Jewish pupils then went to the “Chorev” school. Some of the teachers were Rabbi Joseph Shim Gershovitch, and Rabbi Shimon Cherberovitzki. There were also teachers who came from Vilna to teach at the school--Rabinovitch who taught Judaism and history, Shimonivtch who taught Mathematics, and another one who taught the Polish language.

I also moved to the “Chorev” school. After a while I moved to study in the Yeshiva out of town, and came back home just at the end of the semesters. I ended my Yeshiva studies when I went to an agricultural school to prepare for emigration to Eretz Israel.

Maytchet was a town like all the others in the area, and life was normal. There was one market day each week, some fairs every year, and also some manufacturing, etc. But basically Maytchet was a rest and vacation town. Every year many Jews from the surrounding area came there to rest. There was a forest and rivers for people to swim. There were some pensions and guesthouses for the vacationers to stay. During the later years, just before the war, some buildings were built in the forest, and during the summer the town was full with people; they loved to walk on Pedkriz and Pedlejan Streets. The people of the town had their differences, but they did not quarrel with each other. Only a couple of years before the war, when Rabbi Belsky died, the people could not agree on his successor. It was then that they had a serious disagreement.

I would be remiss if I did not remember some of the people who were dear to me, and part of my life. Reb David the shochet (slaughterer) was a religious and wise man, and worked in his butcher shop until he was very old. His house stood behind the great synagogue. Reb David used to pray in the “Shtibel”. My grandfather, Reb Asher Orzechovsky, prayed in this Shtibel on Saturdays and Holidays, and his chair was near Reb David, the shochet. We, the grandchildren, always sat around him and I would pray with him. I remember we gave him honor because he was old and had a long white beard.

Reb Shemaryahu Sapir, the son-in-law of Reb David, the “Shochet”, was a watchmaker and the agent of the Polish newspapers. He had a modern beard and was a little different then the other people. He was very active in the “Mizrachi” movement, and participated in every circle and institute in town. He found a common language with all the

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people, and was very active in the Zionist foundations and conferences.

Shmerl Sapir   Asher Orechovsky


Malke Romanovsky and family


Concerning Malke Romanovsky, “Those who run from honor, honor chases them.” She was a woman with a very good heart. There was a big grocery store in her house. She always found time to do good deeds for unfortunate people. She had two beautiful customs. She used to prepare the strings on the tzises with her own hands and give them to anyone who came to her for them. Another beautiful thing she did was, on every Passover eve, she would give out charoses that she made herself to the children of the city.

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They would come to her house after the Mariv services and before the seder to receive charoses.

Reb Yehuda Rabinovitch (known as “Yudel Der Shuster”) was a dignified and charitable man with excellent character. Until he was old, he was very involved in the community and headed the “Tehilim Society” in the town. When he became old, he got the honor of being an honorary member in many institutes in town, and had a minyan in his house on Saturdays and holidays. His son Jacob was a member of the fire department orchestra, and another son, Moshe-Tzvi, was a member of the cantor's choir, and an officer in the fire department.

When the Shochet Reb Raphael Gelman became the town's cantor, he organized a choir of children and adults. The tryouts were in Reb Yudel Rabinovitch's house. The cantor sang a sentence and the candidate would repeat it after him. After Reb Raphael Gelman immigrated to the U.S.A. his successor as cantor and shochet was Reb Shaul-ke. He also had a choir, and Moshe Tzvi Rabinovitch was a member of it.

Rabbi Abraham David Zuchovitsky, the head of the “Tarbut” school, was very educated and very involved in Zionist organizations. I remember he always spoke in Hebrew. His wife Malka and her sister Chana taught in the “Tarbut” school.

Abram-David Zuchovitsky   Isaac Liberman


Reb Isaac Liberman sold old clothes and was an honored person in town. He was the main speaker at the great demonstrations in 1929, speaking out against the 1929 Arab riots in Eretz Israel. He was the speaker in other demonstrations after Hitler's rise to power, and also after the Pogrom in the town of Pashitic. Whenever there was a demonstration in the town, all the Jews closed their stores and gathered at the great synagogue to hear Reb Isaac Liberman.

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Reb Catriel Lichter was a simple man. He worked as a shoemaker, was a member of the “Acts of Charity Union”, a member of the local bank management, and was the representative of all the manufacturers.


Catriel Lichter


Reb Nachum Abramovsky was a religious student and a dignified man. He had a linen store,


Nahum and Sara-Rivka Abramovsky


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but was very involved in the education of the children. He was concerned with their welfare, and helped the children and the teachers. The children loved him, and when he died, they all accompanied his body and prayed for his soul.

Reb Isar Blaus was a good man and worked in his linen store with his son Zeidel. Reb Isar had a speech impediment, which made it difficult for him to deal with his customers. But when he taught lessons in the Shtibel, his stuttering was greatly improved.

Shimeon Lahovitsky had a medicine warehouse. His home was the place where the public figures would meet. At times he was a member of the town council, and would help the people in the community.


Shimeon Lahovitsky   Zvi Volochvinsky


Zvi Volochvinsky was a very hard working and humble man. He was the representative of the manufacturers of the town.

I have described some of the Maytchet Jews, but you have to know that everyone was like these people. Every man lived with his faith, his conscience, and his way of life. They were all a part of their town and their nation; they all have a glorious past and wanted a better future for the children of the town.


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Rabbi Yisrael Elchanan the “Maytcheter”

by Rabbi Yosef-Eliahu Peniel (Piklani)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Rabbi Yisrael Elchanan was known by this nickname because Maytchet was the rock that forged him and the cradle of his birth. There, he received his education in the home of his parents, and there he absorbed the Torah and fear of Heaven that forged his noble personality. He was graced with wonderful diligence, and spent his nights as days in his dedication to Torah, worship, commandments, and good deeds, to the point where both the spirit of his fellowman and the spirit of G-d derived pleasure from him. Hearing his praises that went before him, the expert scholar, rabbi and Tzadik Rabbi Yosef Eliahu Feinsilber of nearby Zhetl chose him as a husband for his righteous daughter Chaya Hadassah.

There, he found a broad arena for his activities, taking interest in everything that was taking place with respect to religion and society in the town. There, he displayed his dedication by offering help and assistance to anyone in need. I recall that on Sabbath eves, we would always be late in sitting down to our meal, for Father of blessed memory would pass by all the synagogues in order to ensure that arrangements were made so that the poor guests would have a place to eat and sleep. Of course, he would bring a guest home as well. Throughout the week, he would collect for the society of charity and benevolence. He was especially active in supporting the Yeshiva of the city, and he concerned himself with all the needs of the students as a dedicated father. He was a member of the Committee of the Yeshivas; he disseminated Torah in public, and had many students. Mother also assisted him, and for some time, she maintained a home kitchen for the Yeshiva students.

A short time after their wedding, when the worries of livelihood afflicted him, he wandered afar to teach young children so that he could earn sustenance for his home. However, after a brief time, he returned home with the faith that G-d would provide for his livelihood locally. He always satisfied himself with little, so as not to benefit from this world more than necessary. Mother of blessed memory was a faithful partner who accepted everything with love, and never complained. She accompanied him and his activities with endless dedication, and due to her, a festive atmosphere always pervaded in the house, especially on Sabbaths and festivals.

When father decided to found a cheder in the house, people came to him from the most important households, for they knew of his boundless dedication, righteousness and ability to study. From their perspective, the students revered him greatly. Even when they grew up, they would call him Rebbe, and come to visit with him, to chat and consult with him. He was graced with an exceptional sense of responsibility. No obstacle, problem or weather situation would keep him from his activities at the institutions that he took care of. He also never missed a class in the Mishna and Talmud study groups morning and evenings.

He had refined emotions, and was alert to everything taking place in all arenas. He especially excelled with the love of the people of Israel and the Land of Israel. He was filled with joy at any good news that arrived from the Land of Israel; and, on the other hand, he felt great anguish at the opposite. The children also absorbed these good traits. At the first opportunity, he sent his daughter to the Land of Israel. A few years later, she brought her parents to her, and their joy was boundless. When they made aliya, all the people of the city accompanied them on their way, and parted from them with feelings of reverence and great longing. Even when he lived in our Holy Land, he continued with his activities to the extent possible, particularly with Torah and prayer, as was his custom. However, in the latter years, when the world war broke out, he became very weak from worry about the second daughter and her family who did not succeed in being saved from the vale of killing. First his faithful wife died from great anguish. This broke his spirit completely. However, even as he lay on his sickbed, he did not desist from occupying himself with words of Torah. His soul departed in purity. They repose in honor in Raanana.

May their memories be a blessing.

Rabbi Yosef-Eliahu Peniel (Piklani)
Alta Borechki and her two children Herzl and Marim


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