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Memories, Figures, and Impressions
from an Extinct Way of Life

by M.A. Tenenblatt

Translated by Meir Bulman

 

A. Childhood and Youth in Two Different Worlds

I, too, was a child, more than 60 years ago. Jezierzany's name spoke for itself: ponds joined it on the east, south, and north. Hills faced the ponds to the northwest. The town stretched across a hill upon the wide plane of Galician Podolia, which was blessed with natural resources. Its nature and scenic views offered many of life's pleasures which called out to every man and boy to enjoy. Jezierzany was a Jewish town and we were free to walk, play, and enjoy as much as we wanted, even outside of the town limits.

Past the ponds, only a wide swath of dewy grasses and puddles separated us from the bathhouse, slaughterhouse, and public latrines. Those ponds enchanted us very much. In the summer, if you wanted, you could immerse yourself up to your knees in the water and the scum on top of the pond, or in the harvest bamboo and reed which were the height of a man and which the animals found sweet like honey. Jewish homeowners who raised cows and goats for dairy production did not feed reed to their animals, as their animals would swell as a result. Gentile farmers, who were always around, rewarded you at times with a few Greizers. [1] We gave a portion of the coins to kollelim[2] in Eretz Israel and the rest we exchanged for larger coins which we gave to pan–handlers, mostly random people from neighboring towns, who

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kissed the mezuzah for each coin they received. Our actions were a mitzvah acquired by way of transgression because we snuck out of the cheder[3], defying parents and teachers. However, the act of charity reduced the likelihood of the outcome of bitter advice from the wisest of all men, “He who spares his rod hates his son.”

On the days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, you fulfilled the mitzvah when you harvested waterside plants to use for sukkahs, including for the sukkahs of your teachers and family. Mischief was allowed and encouraged in the course of fulfilling that mitzvah, and the ponds would fill with happy young men and boys of all ages. The ponds froze in the winter and became a large ice rink where you spent every available or stolen second by skating in a large group with shkotzim[4] and your people.

The giant tulika[5] was on the other side of the ponds. It was mainly intended for the many horses in town, including those belonging to Jewish coachmen and horse traders, but it was “captured” and repossessed by the Jewish youth, mainly on Shabbat and holidays. Women and children eventually joined and then brought their husbands, who would bring blankets, bags, and all manner of rags to protect themselves from the ample dew. They would rest there with their families until sundown. The tulika was held by the youth through the daytime and at night became the territory of love–making couples. The tulika superseded the matchmakers more than once, and the matchmakers frowned upon the tulika which deprived them of their earnings. Boys and young men invented games and enjoyed Shabbat and holidays on the soft, green ground. The gentiles rarely visited the tulika and when a farmer or farmer's son happened upon it, he would tread carefully to not disrupt the Jews or their property.

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The Road to the Tulika

 

At that tulika, my classmates once punished me on a life–threatening cold and snowy winter evening. On that Thursday evening, we completed the review of a difficult Torah portion,Vayechi. As the entire cheder was already standing and on its way to play in the snow, I saw a small letter in Rashi and the Siftei Chachamim[6] and asked the teacher, Yehoshua Melamed, about its meaning. The rabbi was thrilled and did not give a succinct answer, for example that it is a mark which essentially clarifies grammatical issues in Rashi. Instead, he expanded and provided a long explanation about grammar and everything the mark entailed. As I stood and listened, all 15 friends dressed and left. By the time I was dressed in my cold–protecting layers, I remained alone at the cheder. Once I left the building, my classmates caught me and covered me in a large sack they stole from the flour–lady. Ignoring my screams and kicks, they rolled me down the road to the tulika, covered me in piles of snow, and left me to cry.

I was seven years old. I was small compared to my friends. They were mostly from good homes: Claifa Bolochover, Velvel Filstner, Moshe–Aharon, Yossi Boykh, Leiser dem Shochet, Moshe'l Nachma, one of the Shteininggs, Yisrael Saniyes, Gelvand, and others.

Ordinarily, I could travel the length and width of the tulika with my eyes shut, but this time, once I was able to shake off the snow and leave the floury sack, I suddenly found myself standing alone in an endless snowy plane. For a long hour, I stumbled through the

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deep, white snow until I found my way back to town by following calls, shouts, and fireworks that my father and my teacher had lit as they searched for me by tracking the route of the sack.

That was my reward for my first entanglement with Hebrew grammar, which more than once caused me trouble and still does to this day. The next day at school, we did not study much. I was truly sick and my friends became sick, some from fear of the teacher's coarse ruler and some from regret and shame. On Sunday, I found them all leaning and not seated. Some groaned a bit as a result of the beatings they had received; others alternately cried and laughed at my misfortune. The teacher greeted them each with a ruler to the buttocks so they were not able to sit all day.

That Shabbat, the worshippers prayed HaGomel[7] on my behalf. Many parishioners greeted us at our house because the large synagogue and the two smaller synagogues, those of the tailors and the fur–makers, were across the way from our home. (In the summer when the windows were open, we could have prayed along with the cantor and crowd in our home if not for the difference in text. They prayed nusach Ashkenaz[8] and we prayed nusach Sefard.[9]

That afternoon, I received a triple portion of “Shabbos Oyvs”[10] from R' Ozer, who had been my father's rabbi when he was growing up, and Rabbi Velveli's cantor at the study–house. R' Ozer had the custom of having us stand in his home for the oral exam every Shabbat before the 1st of the month. This time was exceptional because of the event and due to the wonderful weekly Torah portion, Vayechi, which includes the death of forefathers and the birth of a new nation. The Rashi commentary on the portion was soul–renewing with its consolation of the dead and the glory of the future vison.

R' Ozer's wife, a woman of valor known in the town and its surroundings and was an exceptional figure. She and my paternal grandmother were the only women in our town who traveled to fairs. Every day, just like men they traveled to a different town. They departed in the morning on gentiles' coaches with scales and empty sacks and returned at night with sacks full of grain. They did not sit next to the coachmen but on the scales with pads to serve as seats,

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like thrones rising above grain–filled sacks. The scales and the woman were bound to one another, fastened by strong ropes to the sides of the coach. R' Ozer studied all day and busied himself with charity and public work and his wife provided for the family with her profits from the fairs. My grandmother, Chaya Ratheiser* who was widowed at a young age, cared for and provided for her orphans and passed away at an almost old age on a winter night after she departed from the coach after her final fair.

Ozer'ke, our neighbor from the other side of the street to Pilatkovitz,

 

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The Public School, the “Szkoła” Alumni

 

was a tall, physically strong, and naturally assertive woman, “whispered out of the dust” [Isaiah 29:4] when she spoke to her pious and studious husband. When Ozer was seated or standing, bent over his Talmud volume, his Tzitzit falling below his knees, his wife would not enter his library. Only for a pressing matter would she sneak in quietly, like a cat on silk paws, so R' Ozer would not sense her and not be distracted from his studies. She and some women who were flour traders, including Kreindel (Moshe Zelig's wife), Lyta (Nachman's wife), and Chana (R' Yehoshua's wife) contributed very charitably to families who could not

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Afford Shabbat. Some needy families were able to bake bread and challah for Shabbat only because of the long–term–credit sale of flour. Kreindel excelled in charity. She passed away in Eretz Israel.

Not far from the tulika was a large grove, Constantia, where the students from the szkoła[11] were brought on May 3rd to celebrate the Polish constitution. Many boys from the cheder would sneak behind the szkoła students and stand behind the fence, as though they were shy, to watch the festivities. There were barely any Jewish boys among the youths but there were many girls from respectable families and because of them, we were bold enough to “participate” in the celebration. The shkotzim would taunt us with calls of “cheder” and “peysa (peyos),” causing Jew– gentile squabbles. That next year, someone organized most of the cheder boys, headed by the shtelers (those summoned to the royal army aptitude test) and we occupied the grove. To avoid clashes, teachers and those organizing the Polish celebration had to retreat and celebrate far from the grove. That situation did not last because each year, at the behest of authorities, there were more Jewish students at the public school.

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At 9 years old, I too, became a victim of the public school. A teacher, who was our customer, volunteered to tutor me at home and then enrolled me in the fourth grade. Near the last day, the news reached Rebbe Velveli's “estate” that Avraham and Chaya's son was sitting, bare–headed, with the shkotzim in the szkoła. The rebbe's servant was immediately sent to summon my father. The rebuke was so harsh that mother appeared at school in the middle of the day and demanded they send me home immediately because my father was suddenly ill and had asked to see his only son. I was hastily extracted from the classroom and never saw the szkoła again. After we ran home, I heard about Rebbe Velveli's verdict and received holy instructions to immediately cease contact with the “treif–pusul”[12] books and forget the szkoła, as if I had never there.

I had no choice and accepted the verdict. I was then summoned to Rebbe Veleveli. At first I was excited and my heart was warmed by the refreshments R' Velveli served. But then I was bombarded by a hefty dose of rebuke and ethics which began with a gut–wrenching family story and ended with a harsh warning for the future. “Your father's grandfather, R' Anchil, was martyred, and you desecrate God's name and befriend shkotzim at the szkoła?,” R' Velveli began. He held his snuff tobacco box in one hand and his red handkerchief in his other hand, periodically wiping his nose and his teary eyes. I then heard, in careful detail, what had happened to my great–grandfather.

Here is an abridged version of the story as told by R' Velveli: “In the days of Rebbe Chaim'll Tzanzir, when the Austrian Kaiser decreed mandatory military service, Rebbe Chaim counter–decreed and forbade his followers and all God–fearing men to serve in the military, so that they would evade idol worship with all their might. R' Anchil was forcefully dragged to the army, as happened to many young Jewish men, many of whom were already married family men. Every Friday evening, R' Anchil threw off the army utility belt and prayed. The next day, Shabbat, when he had to march with all the shkotzim,

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he counted his footsteps to the edge of Techum Shabbat[13] and stopped walking. All the encouragement to continue was in vain, as were the threats and whips that followed. Every Shabbat, R' Anchil stood his ground; he said, “Muktzeh”[14] and threw off his belt. He continued, “Techum Shabbat” and ceased marching. The Kaiser's doctors examined him and found that he was healthy and sane. Then he was declared a rebel and the assaults intensified every Shabbat to the point of loss of consciousness. R' Anchil became gravely ill after his vital organs suffered so he was sent home, supposedly for a vacation, but he did not survive past his thirtieth year.”

Anyway, my career at the szkoła ended and with it the friendship with a beautiful, kind girl named Minusya Gold whose charm and memory I retained even in my Hasidic days. Many years later, she, too, admitted that childhood story as she smiled shyly, but she would blush and avoid conversations and debates I had with her father, Moshe Gold, when I came to Jezierzany to visit my mother.

Moshe Gold was a great scholar and a leader of the town's educated class. He often invited me to his home, and I learned he was besmirched as an “assimilator” for no good reason. He read Hebrew books and I found Hebrew newspapers on his table. He would remind me of items I had published in Hamicpe and Ha'Olam, and read my Yiddish essay in the L'vov paper, Tagblatt.

Moshe educated his household about Zionism and instilled in the hearts of his daughters the love of Eretz Israel and its rebuilding. As each daughter traveled across old and new Austria, she enlisted folks for the Zionist cause. Influenced by Zionism, Moshe rejoined the Jewish masses, accepted a leadership position in the community, and prayed at the eastern wall of the synagogue on Shabbat and holidays. He wore a cylindrical hat and wrapped himself in a wide tallit with a large silver collar. He conducted many efforts to maintain the community buildings and institutions and contributed much of his own money for that purpose.

During the WWI Russian occupation of Eastern Galicia, the financial straits in our town increased and with it, poverty and hunger. Moshe Gold often traveled to S. Anski[15] and his helpers in Ternopol to obtain means of helping our town folks. Moshe established soup kitchens and hospitals to combat the plagues which afflicted our area and supervised the activities himself until he contracted an illness and fell

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at his post. One of his daughters and her husband were fortunate and arrived in Israel from Vienna, where they were both active Zionists. Her husband was a famous lawyer from a long line of Zionists from Chernivtsi and was among Dr. Herzl's assistants. In their old age, Moshe's daughter and her husband had to relocate to Australia. After they had used up the savings they had brought to Israel, they remained without a source of income or support. I have it on good authority that they suffered greatly in Haifa and Tel Aviv and even tried their luck with hard and menial labor, at which they failed. They grew tired of advice and dependence on charity. So, defeated and holding back tears, they left Israel a few years after the establishment of the state of Israel.

 

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Teacher Marcus Moser Rost (Seated, second from the left) among his students, grade 7

 

Because I have already begun discussing the Zionist story of our town, I must insert another chapter here. I will forgo the timeline and write in order of my memories. When the szkoła overpowered R' Velveli and his son–in–law, R' Eliazar, who inherited the role, the szkoła hired Jewish teachers, including Zionists active among the youth, despite the risk to their standing and income. Excellent among them was Marcus Moser Rost whose personal triumphs and pedagogical and general education gave him a good reputation among the gentiles. He devoted most of his spare time to preaching the Zionist ideal, especially among

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the enlightened and progressives. The few university students from Jezierzany who eventually studied in distant towns and returned with a Zionist mindset found a National–Zionist intelligentsia, thanks to Marcus Moser Rost's work. He had left his mark despite the harsh conditions.

The large pharmacy, the only one in our town, was separated from Rebbe Velveli's estate and the public school by the road to Chortkiv. The pharmacy, a traditional Polish fortress, was transferred to Jewish ownership with the ascension of the Jewish intelligentsia. Moser Rost established the first Zionist center in the pharmacy building where he orchestrated the founding and development of the movement. Moser Rost's name and the names of his family members are etched in the list of those destroyed by Hitler's forces. Among Mosor Rost's assistants was Shabsi'l Poldshova*, whose son, Salo, was saved from the claws of the Nazi beast as Salo made aliyah towards the end of the war and is now considered a veteran Israel immigrant. Yentel Buzshes* was also among Moser Rost's aides and I do not know if any of her family members survived.

Starting at the end of the 19th century, Shmuel Pohoryles* and Ben–Tzion Shifman were involved with Zionist activity and were known by the public as “Tzionstlikh.” After news

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of Dr. Herzl reached us at the cheders and synagogues, the Hassidim and most of the observant town–folks immediately distanced themselves from Zionism and warned us to stay away from Zionists as though they were Sabbateans[16] or Frankists[17]. At a young age, we were not aware of the details of the dispute, but we heard many times of the troubles Jezierzany had in the days of the Frankists. And there were two men who called themselves Zionists. One of them, Shifman, was a known “heretic.” The other, Shmuel Pohoryles*, and his assistant, Mendel Meiberger, headed the “Shakira–nicks.”

R' Velveli and most of the town residents who followed him led a war of excommunication against the Shapira loyalists. The Shakira loyalists' Rabbi, Yoshie Prefer or Popper* – never called a rabbi by his opponents – was nearly killed, and his brother R' Avraham's shechita[18] was declared kosher by the opposing group. The dispute between Shakira loyalists and the “God is Lord” loyalists was deep and bitter, splitting the town into two warring factions. R' Velveli's followers used the dispute against the Zionists by spreading rumors that Yoshie and his brothers were among them.

However, Shmuel Pohoryles was an educated, wealthy, respected man who did not surrender. Patiently and forgivingly, Shmuel gathered supporters, also from among the Yodel supporters, with the help of his brother–in–law who came from the outside and was uninvolved in the dispute. Thus, the first “neutral cells,” which united for the sake of Zion, were created and helped to extinguish the fire that burned between the opposing groups, a fire that more than once threatened to destroy the whole town.

Today, we have with us in Israel grandchildren and great–grandchildren of R' Velveli, R' Yoshie and his brother R' Avraham who work together but who, during the dispute, would not sit at the same table. Ben–Tzion Shifman made Aliyah, brought some of his family to Israel, and passed away in Tel Aviv following Zionist activism in Robert Stricker's Herzl camp in Vienna. Ben–Tzion's father, Berrel Shifman, was buried in Eretz Israel before Tel Aviv was founded.

 

B. The Atmosphere in the Synagogues

From age 10 onward, my melamedim[19] were often changed because I had left mid–semester and wandered aimlessly. In the midst of the different teachers, including Moshe Binchiess,* Avraham David “Noz” and Binyamin “Der Royter” whose Torah teaching was insufficient for me,

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mainly due to the boredom of repeating the same Torah portion every week and the same chapter of the Prophets and the same Talmud passage, I was therefore attracted to the study–house to study with the grownups. However, in the study–house, my previous Torah studies were not sufficient to then study Talmud on my own. In the summer I would act poorly by spending half days swimming in the river, visiting relatives in Łanowce, or riding a horse to the annual fair in Laskowitz.* Father was busy all week at his fairs and Mother, despite her strict nature, was unable to control her only son. At that same time, the train tracks and train station were being constructed. Construction lasted a long time. Construction was a fascinating sight in the summer, especially because it was far from the city limits. The Polish authorities placed the station far from town with the intention of limiting Jewish income. The Jews in their naiveté thought the distance was for their sake and security, so there would be no risk to them during the day and their sleep would not be disturbed by whistles at night.

Construction of the train track, which took place mainly on Sundays, caused the first riots in our town. The laborers and construction experts were mostly Masurians19 who were brought for the Job from Western Galicia. On Sundays, they split into groups and came to the various pubs in town, drank to intoxication, and assaulted Jews inside the house and out. The Jews eventually grew tired of the assaults despite the substantial sums they earned from the drinking and gorging on food.

As if from nowhere, a Jewish defense force was founded. The force was composed mainly of working men, headed by sons of butchers with their large, sharp knives, fur makers with their small yet dangerous tools, and blacksmiths with their hammers. The force sought revenge against the rioters and that Sunday there were many wounded drunk men who rolled in the streets with no help in sight. By the time the police arrived on horse and buggy, they had nothing to do but gather the wounded and treat them before they would die. The sons of Yochanan the butcher excelled in that operation. Shimon Shalom and Abba Blecher were also very brave and wise organizers. In the two weeks that followed, the rioters were not seen at all in the town. Later, they came again but under supervision and they ate and drank but did no harm to Jews.

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After the storm calmed following the “war” on the Masurians[20], and the calming of the spirits after the investigations and records were sealed, my wild spirits calmed as well. The season of mischief had passed. I returned to the study–house to study devotedly. My friend Moshe Nachman joined me and we consistently met to study. The large hall was half–empty on weekdays between prayers and on the long winter nights. We were five young men who studied there, including Moshe and I; we were still far from our bar mitzvahs. The mature and studious young man among us was Mendel Pakhman who studied on his own and was later ordained as a rabbi. In between Talmud study and to refresh himself after difficult provisions of the Shulchan Aruch, Mendel read Chovat Ha'Levavot[21] and other religious essay books which were placed on the lower shelves in the study–house. His friend, Meshulam Shisler, a deeply studious man, retired from his studies to trade grains and appeared at the study–house only on Shabbat and holidays.

At a certain distance from Mendel, at a long table, sat a pair of friends, Motel Nachman and Ozer dem Shochet, who labored over difficult Talmud portions and ancient commentaries. We young friends sat at a similar distance and studied Talmud and the Orach Chaim[22] section of the Shulchan Aruch. Our friend of the same age, Michel Pakhman, occasionally joined us, and on fewer occasions, we were joined by Chaim Eliazar, grandson of Rebbe Velveli. Chaim usually studied in R' Velveli's kloyz[23], where the number of young men studying also gradually declined. Sometimes, Leiser “dem Shochet,” Ozer's brother who began trading as a young man, joined us to enjoy the scent of Torah. Yisrael Nacha entered the study–house and sat for many hours, sometimes with the older folks and sometimes with us boys. Yisrael was a studious young man who became blind after he married. He spent most of his days at the study–house where he taught and studied, commented, and added to each study portion. His memory was tremendous and wonderful, but because he overworked his ears and brain, he would suddenly fall asleep, resting his full, heavy body on us. We pitied that poor scholar, so each of us would bear his weight until he awoke without knowing what he had done to us. Unlike Ozer, his wife, Nacha, was a bitter woman and an extreme miser, despite having a consistent income from trading paint and wooden spoons. At first, she forced Ozer to teach Talmud,

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but after the pupils escaped him due to his blindness, she encouraged him to teach his own sons to save on tuition. Ozer's son eventually escaped him too, and Ozer blamed his wife for raising “ignoramuses.” The sons then traveled to America, where they succeeded and then brought over their entire family including their blind father.

Ozer's father–in–law, Gedalya “der Langer,” would draw warmth from the light of the men at the study–house. Gedalya was a silent man and a strange figure. He always carried his stick and traveled between the Ruzhin rebbes, where he spent a month or more among the regulars. He spent eight to nine months traveling to Chortkiv, Husiatyn, Sadigura, and Boyan in a repeating cycle and collected charity along his long route. He spent about three cold winter months in his home and town. While in town, Gedalya sat in the study–house near the large fireplace, constructed as a half–square in the size of two tall walls. He sat and listened at a distance to the men who were studying and did not comment. He never approached his son–in–law and never spoke to us either. He had a designated seat near the guest–table where he stood and prayed. He was a loner and widower for decades and his customs were those of a man repenting by self–torment. The reason for his wanderings is unknown and there is a fog of mystery over his life and his death. There were some who said that he carried his money with him and was robbed along the way. There were some who said that he would anonymously give charity.

Occasionally, the town rabbi, Mordechai Epstein, came in to observe us and see our progress and studies. At times, Rabbi Epstein invited me to his home to study a page of Talmud and he paid me each year to bake matzah and to build and decorate the sukkah. Many years later, he visited us in Vienna to fundraise for the wedding expenses of a poor woman. He was delighted to see a mezuzah on our doorpost. His whole family is on the list of our town's martyrs.

Mottel Nachman died at a young age. His friend Ozer became a shochet, first in Probizhna and then in Jezierzany after the death of his father Yisrael Shochet. Both the father and his son Ozer sang beautifully and were the best singers in the synagogue

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during prayers when singing was appropriate. He and his family were also among Hitler's victims. Mendel and Michel Pakhman met a similar fate after they married women from other towns where they then settled. Chaim Elazar was murdered, along with his whole family, in Łańcut where he had assisted his father with the rabbinate. The families of Moshe Nachman and Leiser “dem Shochet” were murdered in our town; each family included dozens of children and grandchildren (A necrology section appears in this book, commemorating the martyrs of our town.)

Nachman's end is unknown. In Nachman's entire life, he did not devote time to his family's needs and the burden of providing rested on his wife alone. He was called by the public “a righteous fool” and worse. Jews who were pure and holy like him were few, even in the remote towns. He spent most of his days patrolling the streets, collecting money into a large kerchief and then distributing the funds that same day to needy families. At night, he would fulfill the mitzvah of visiting the sick and would sit with the sick and poor, sometimes all night, and ease their pain with stories of the miraculously healing of righteous men.

On his own, he prayed in the study–house. His morning prayer lasted until time came for the afternoon prayer. Nobody could match his recitation of Shema; he counted each word and enunciated its letters which left his mouth like fire sparks. He prayed according to the tradition of the ARIZaL[24] . His “Shema Yisrael” pierced the thick walls of the synagogue and his “Echad” loudly pierced through the walls and floated to the distance. All passersby stood for a moment and joined him in his long “echad” until he was exhausted.

We, the study–hall boys, withstood the test of his prayer on a day of building maintenance. R' Nachman did not leave the study–house even under those conditions. We had taken our studies to the “Mahlerish Shul'khel” (a small synagogue where the whitewashers and painters prayed) and for some reason was known by the community as “Amricaner” because that synagogue also had a considerable library of Talmud volumes. Despite our distance from the study–house we were all scared by his recitation of Shema and we genuinely feared that his soul had passed and he had uttered his final thunderous prayer.

During the long Friday nights of one winter, we studied Or HaChaim[25] seated by the large table.

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Old man R' Itchi Yudel, who had memorized all of Or HaChaim, would recite the text or test our knowledge of that Italian–Sephardic kabbalah master's commentary on the weekly Torah portion. We stayed awake nearly all night. We were usually joined until midnight by Or HaChaim lovers including Leib Pakhman (Mendel's father), Yisrael “der Blinder”*, and R' Yekkel Kenningsberg (R' Itchi's son–in–law), the Baal Keriah[26] at the study–house who sang the cantillation notes in his sweet, gem–like voice. The names of his family members are also recorded in this memorial book along with most of the families in the audience at the study–hall, a list too long to mention here.

The study–house was regarded in town as the supreme spiritual institution. Other than mitzvah celebrations, no plain conversations or humor took place there. Exceptions to the rules were Rosh Chodesh Adar, when the “When Adar Enters” sign was posted on the eastern wall, and on Adar 7, the day of Moses' passing. On those days, Hassidim and scholars joined the celebration and drank and, when they were happy, danced in a circle. The heightened spirits continued until after the Book of Esther was recited on Purim, when the young and children competed for the title of noisiest grogger.[27]

There was another day of celebration at the Bet Midrash, Lag Ba'Omer, the day celebrating Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Young and old celebrated Rabbi Shimon's memory with decorative plaques placed on the wall and around a large candelabrum lit in his honor. Men drank plenty. Between each gulp, the Hasidim spoke of the miracles told in the Talmud and the Zohar about the Godly and mysterious Rabbi Shimon, and they paused for mitzvah dancing and relevant jest. R' Velveli himself participated in that celebration, leaving his usual spot behind the podium, his short, stout body swaying along with the dancing Hasidim. His red, rounded face blushed even more as he clapped his hands in all directions.

Among the smaller prayer houses, “Maliess Kloyz”* for young men studying Torah was notable. The young men had constructed their own small study–house where they would also sneak in secular educational books.

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Even some men even devoted most of their time to secular books. The Maliess Kloyz was the last fortress of the students of Moshe Shulbaum. In the days of my youth, the number of those studying Torah full–time gradually declined. Notable among the scholars were Shmuel–Moshe Zelig (Badler), Ben–Tzion Fenster and, as I recall, even Chaim Zeidman (the leader of Jezierzany natives living in Israel). Chaim was a member of both R' Velveli's house and the study–house. Chaim later left religious life and traveled to Chernivtsi for secular studies. Shlomo Shindler and Zusya Schwartz were also members of the Maliess Kloyz. Shmuel Badler and his parents, Moshe–Zelig and Kreindel, died in Eretz Israel. Shmuel's brother Shimshon, now secretary of our committee and editorial board, brought his family to Israel in the 1920s. Most of the Badler family is still with us and participate in our work. Ben–Tzion Fenster, who often sat in his shop reading works of philosophy and enlightenment, was murdered by a Ukrainian coachman while Ben–Tzion traveled on business. Ben–Tzion's son, Zvi (Hersheli) was the only one to miraculously survive the Nazis at the very last moment and came to Israel with his wife (Yekkel Eisenberg's daughter). Zvi is also among our best men and actively contributed to this book. Shlomo Shindler and Zusya Schwartz, educated men of taste and loyal Zionists, perished in Hitler's hell along with their families. Zusya's brother, Moshe Aharon, my friend from our time at R' Yehoshua's cheder, succeeded in escaping from Vienna to America after many dangerous journeys, and is now facing acclimation challenges in Israel. Chaim Zeidman, who was the first Halutz[28] to emigrate from Galicia to Israel and was active in building Israel, will soon celebrate his fiftieth year in Israel. A veteran halutz from our town is sculptor and painter Moshe Shternshus*, son of Yisrael Velvel Leah, who is known for his artwork which is displayed in exhibits of Israeli artists. (* His contributions to this book are “In Shul Arein” and “Shai'ke Avraham on Simchat Torah.')

 

C. Among the Bet Midrash and Great Teachers

After R' Mordechai Tziganir, who was a wealthy honey trader, lost his fortune in a bad business deal, he turned from trade to teaching. Mordechai rented an apartment in our house for the cheder. He had a reputation as a great, well–educated scholar with a brilliant mind. Thus, many students, mostly Bar Mitzvah aged, immediately arrived

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from wealthy homes. He taught Ne'vim (Prophets) following both Leopold Zunz and a German translation. Mordechai also regularly and orderly taught Talmud and Talmudic commentary. He dictated to his students letters in Hebrew according to “Briveshteller”[29] and instructed them on translation while adding color with various grammatical theories. Mordechai also taught his students basic arithmetic, fractions, geometry, and even logarithms. Everyone respected Mordechai because, despite being more than 50 years old, he was very devoted and sat with his students from 8 am until 9 or10 pm, excluding short lunch and dinner breaks. Mordechai charged much higher tuition than all other teachers, including Moshe “Der Royter” who was one of the greatest scholars in town. Rabbi Moshe attracted to his cheder sons of Hasidim and the ultra–religious, so he and Mordechai were not in competition.

Because the cheder was in my house, I began peeking in and I stood there often as R' Mordechai lectured on Isaiah or the Twelve Minor Prophets in his unique way. Mordechai sensed that I enjoyed his company so he asked my mother to place me in his cheder because I was too young for the study–house. I was 11 years old then, and Mordechai had volunteered to also look after my manners after my father had traveled to America for better income since we remained without a steady cashflow for fairs after investing all savings in our new home. However, mother, who was very devout and led religious studies for women, hesitated to hand over her only son to a teacher about whom the Hassidim had spoken of poorly. I insisted and ceased my studies at the study–house. Once she had suppressed her religious conscience, she found a solution to the high tuition problem and added the grain warehouse to Mordechai's apartment, for his wife who sewed clothed for gentiles.

I studied at Mordechai's cheder for only one year because both Mordechai and his wife were so successful that they moved to a more spacious apartment, which they later purchased, and Mordechai retired from teaching after only a few years. That year we studied Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Job, almost memorizing them, and we also read Ne'vim with RaDak commentary and some Bible with Rashbam commentary. He did not teach the book of Ezekiel to the class. He taught us a less–than–usual amount of Talmud, and almost with no Tosafot.[30]

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Instead of Tosafot, he lectured a lot on Ein Yaakov[31] and casually pointed out differences between Ein Yaakov and our version of the Talmud.

He followed the custom of shmyssen[32] but only on severe and rare occasions. Mordechai also had integrity concerning lashes. Once after he learned that he had mistakenly beaten a child, he called over his wife and told her “write down for me, one beating credit.”

I learned much more from Mordechai because he often passed through the corridor to our apartment and taught me more in the morning and evening before the students arrived and after they left. In most of those private lessons I studied Ezekiel, many chapters of Ketuvim, some examples of Talmudic deliberation explained wisely and tastefully, rules of mathematics including algebra. We also read Behinat Ha'Olam by Jedaiah Bedersi.

After Mordechai left our house, I returned to the study–house but again did not last there. I studied in–depth and the scholarly young men invited me to join them as they studied difficult Talmudic questions. However, my mother was nervous about my unsupervised studies. As her financial situation eased, she decided, as the summer approached carrying with it many temptations for a boy my age, to transfer me to the care of a teacher. Avraham Shochet, whose income from shechita for the Shapira loyalists was scarce, took up teaching. He accepted only two pupils, including me, in exchange for expensive tuition. Mother paid tuition by embroidering at night but the work that teacher invested in us and his teaching methods were worth every bit of our tuition. We thoroughly studied a lot of the Talmud, including Tosafot. We studied large portions of the three Bava volumes and some chapters of Hulin. His house had a wonderful homey atmosphere and was impeccably clean. We pupils were like sons to Avraham. My only friend was a talented boy from Koralivk* whose grandfather, Yochanan the butcher, paid to be educated. My friend did not desire to study Torah, and he went home and said he “saw, and, behold, Isaac was “sporting” with Rebekah his wife.” (Later, Avraham was widowed and married a second wife who was young and beautiful. They both thoroughly observed mitzvot and modesty.) I did not see or know of that story until it reached my mother and broke the camel's back.

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A shochet for Shapira loyalists and that report or fiction by an imaginative boy was too much for her. After the first semester, she would not let me continue my studies with Avraham and I returned to the study–house. I studied there until after my Bar Mitzvah. My Bar Mitzvah ceremony was sponsored by my patron Ozer, my father's rabbi.

Before Passover, Ozer, Yisrael Shochet's eldest son, returned from the yeshiva in Spinka (Hungarian Maramureş in those days). Ozer and Yisrael convinced my mother to send me to a yeshiva in Hungary. A few days after Passover, Mother arranged bundles of clothes, supplies for the road, and some cash, and I made my way to yeshiva. I traveled with Ozer and enrolled in a yeshiva, not in Spinka but the more distant Tarnov[33]* with the righteous rabbi Shlomo Leiser. I published in the New York–based The Jewish Morning Journal a series about my experiences at the yeshiva which included all that was typical of the Maramureş yeshivot and the way of life of that beloved Jewish gathering which was also wiped off the face of the Earth. Without my knowledge at the time, the series was translated and published in the Jerusalem publication Doa'ar HaYom. That locale, especially the yeshiva towns such as Sighetu Marmaţiei, Khust and others like it, supplied to our Neturi Karta[34] the rabbis and religious leaders who excel in their zealousness and amazing religious purity. Eventually, Zionism penetrated between the tall mountains and thick forests of Zakarpattia Oblast and everyone was ready to make Aliyah as one.

A detailed plan by a special envoy from Israel was cancelled because of political disagreements in Israel. Most of the intended immigrants to Israel were minor farmers, craftspeople, and industrious workers. A very small percentage of the youth survived and made aliyah. Among those saved were family members of Shlomo Leiser's family. Shlomo had followers and admirers who traveled from all over the county to see him; he himself was a Vizhnitz[35] Hassid. That holy rabbi is worthy of his holy name being mentioned here, forever admired.

Two years later, when my father returned, I was called to return. I brought from the yeshiva a considerable cargo of 12 Talmud volumes which included commentary and commentary on commentary. According to Ternibi yeshiva policy, we had to memorize the Talmudic text and Rashi,[36] and each question and answer from Tosafot[37]. I was my parents' firstborn and, from those volumes, some of which I had not fully completed, I performed

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the first service for many of our town residents. I had returned to the study–house. I celebrated a siyum[38] on Passover Eve and was tasked with redeeming many firstborn men of various ages who filled the study–house and awaited rescue because they were not scholars themselves. During the siyum, a vast number of prayer shawls covered us around the long table, which stretched from the window by the bookshelves to the pulpit. Because there was not enough space for everyone, we made a second and third siyum on different tractates.[39] My voice was hoarse and my throat sore from all the Hadran,[40] “Bar Papa[41], ”and “We run and they run” prayers. Rabbis, scholars, and Hassids surrounded my grandfather, father, and me. The scholars asked their questions, ate the final chametz[42] portion before Passover, and blessed us. My maternal grandfather, Avraham David, who was half rabbinic judge, half Talmud instructor and fully impoverished, came to greet me and for the first time celebrated the siyum out of his home. My father was not a scholar but on Shabbat and holidays he studied Mishnah, Ein Yaakov, and Binah L'Itim[43]; they were both delighted by the greeting in “my” study–house. My mother heard the news at home and cried tears of joy. That was her reward for having eaten a light meal or a slice of dry bread for years.

 

D. A Bit of Jezierzany, Far Away

I stayed with my parents and continued at the study–house only for six months only. My father returned from America and was gravely ill from harsh jobs not in his skill set and he survived only a few years. Thus, he desired to turn me into a tradesman in the bean season. During the summer, I gained experience by travelling to fairs with father. In the final nights of the month of Elul, I traveled alone with a dozen wagons loaded with beans and legumes. I sold to wholesalers in Kufsinitz [?] or Chortkiv; they would then load the products on trains and ship them overseas. I was against being a tradesman but in this case I was unable to refuse my father's request, both because of his illness and because of the coming holidays.

We had to remove the grain sacks from the hallway. The hallway was not used only for its stated purpose but also as a place for the ladder to the attic,

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the large chimney with the large opening for cooking and preparing jam in barrels for us and neighbors during the winter, and the sukkah[44] which was made kosher by retracting a portion of the roof. Homeowners did not construct their sukkah outdoors, because if an animal would rub its head against the sukkah, the sukkah would turn into a pile of rubble. Those animals included pigs whose Gentile owners had freed to roam and eat for free in the Jews' streets. On some winter days, we would burst out laughing while watching crows descend onto the backs of the pigs and croak as the pigs stood there, frozen in place. Mainly due to the plague of pigs, the roof of every new home was constructed with a retractable portion for Sukkot.

That summer, I went through a serious spiritual and familial crisis. After years of independence abroad, I could not readjust to a homey atmosphere and familial discipline. Father was from a family of tradesmen and pulled me towards trade; Mother was from a family of studious men and strongly desired to see her son become a rabbi. Between the two of them, I began sneaking secular books and philosophy works. Shmuel Fohrlis loaned me Religion and Life by Reuven Asher Broyds. I borrowed Smolenskin's The Wanderer in the Paths of Life and some research articles by Ben–Tzion Shifman. Yossel Pladshva loaned me The Guide for the Perplexed and Ben–Tzion Ferster loaned me The Guide for the Perplexed of Our Time. I gritted my teeth reading both “Perplexeds” because of the content and the language, and I became perplexed about the nature of the world. The sweet taste of the study–house had vanished and the attraction to the great yeshiva in Hungary ceased. The tumult of 500 young men at the yeshiva was juxtaposed with the voices of 5 men echoing through the large hall of the local study–house. My spirit was dampened and sadness spread through my soul. It was not the sweet, rebellious sadness I later devoured in The Scholar

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and The Entrance to the Studyhouse when I was introduced to Bialik's poetry. It was a sadness of emptiness, as the brain wonders and the heart wanders after a pure faith, suddenly lost and gone.

Alter Feivish Pinchas came and went from my house as a private doctor to my father. He was a scholar, Hassid, and educated. Alter asked me many questions, thus learning my heart's desires and my troubles. After he witnessed my doubts and my desire for a different world, he recommended me to his son–in–law, Aharon Nussenbaum, as a teacher for his sons in Zveniachyn at the entrance to Bukovina across the bridge over the Dniester River which connects it to Galician Zalischyky. Alter also convinced my parents to agree to his proposal considering the circumstances. Alter also reasoned that it was all in the family, because everyone was from Jezierzany and Aaron's father Avraham'chi Nisnas[?] was related to my father's mother. Alter arranged matters and his son–in–law took me into his home.

Aaron Nussenbaum was a kind and respectable man, educated, wealthy, and had great traits. He and his older brother, Nissan, were among Moshe Shulbaum's greatest pupils, along with Yehuda Cohen, whom I had met two or three times on the ride from Bukovina to Galicia. Perli, Aaron's wife and Alter's daughter, was an educated, kind, woman. The family and the home atmosphere was a wonderful departure from Jezierzany. Part of my time working for the family was spent in the Khreschatyk hills where Nissan's son had acclimated as a merchant and would travel during the summer to Zuchka, the large sugar factory in Bukovina. He was Baron Vasiliko's trustee and tasked with harvesting the large fields of beets, turnips, and a species of pumpkin good for the manufacturing of sugar.

There was a substantial library in Aaron's home, stacked with books which he brought mostly from Jezierzany and some from Chernivtsi. The library was comprised of books mostly from the Haskalah[45] period, including a full collection of Shakhar, the works of Isaac Baer Levinsohn, Yakov Reifman, Eliezer Zweifel, and most of the works of Galician writers from that period. I dove into that library; at night and every available moment, I devoured books like hotcakes. The years of the crises among Zionist factions supplied important topics of conversation for educated parents and for me. The parents actively followed the news from the Zionist world in Vienna, Odessa, and Cologne. The time was also good for reading books in German,

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and for a first taste of secular studies. However in the third semester, something happened which has not been resolved. The bonds of friendship were dissolved, and we parted ways a few days after the birth of Yitzchak. Yitzchak Nussenbaum, his Hebrew name Yitzchak Ben–Aharon, is a member of Knesset, one of the first leaders of the Ahdut HaAvoda party. Yitzchak's brother, Pini, a native of Jezierzany, was educated in Jezierzany until he relocated to Chernivtsi for high school; he now lives in Jerusalem. Their mother died in Diaspora and, with her, my student, Velveli, a very talented boy who later studied law. Aharon made aliyah and died here. Hirsh and Iyta Nussenbaum immigrated to the British Commonwealth.

I returned to Jezierzany, carrying many textbooks and a self–study plan written by Dr. Chaim Zeidman, son of Rabbi Fively Zeidman, head of Zion Faryen, the Zionist Union in Zalishchyky. I found in Jezierzany a strong Zionist presence. Even respectable family men subscribed to the Zionist idea, as did whole families including the studious Alter Bolchover, his eldest daughter Rachel, and his son Lipa. The educated grocery store owner Bitterman, distillery owner Shaya'li Berman, forestry trade expert Zalman Volach, and the Chassid Manelli Luft, Shmuel Shochet's son–in–law, were also Zionists. There were already Zionist debates taking place in the Bolchover home. Alter Bolchover, who operated the main tobacco shop in town, would sit in his room with the register and the Talmud–stacked bookshelves and occasionally read Neue Freie Presse and the Zionist paper Velt. Alter's daughter, Rachel, debated about books by Herzl and Nurdeau. Between customers in his store, Bitterman read philosophy works. He memorized the issues of Velt and Hamicpe which were passed from one reader to the next, 10 subscribers to a single copy. Yeshayahu Berman desired to know about every event concerning Zionism and the world, and he publicized each event to his customers. Zalman Volach sold Keren Kayemet stamps while Mendeli Luft would tell his customers Jewish legends and Hassidic stories about the redemption of Israel. Mendeli cried genuine tears for Herzl “who had the spark of souls of righteous men and redeemers of Israel.”

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Alter Bolchover made aliyah, he purchased a home in Jerusalem where he supported needy Torah scholars and later died at an old age. His daughter, Alteh, and his youngest son, Meir, are in Israel and active in the community. Luft sold all of his possessions in Jezierzany and made aliyah with his wife; they lived off of their savings and the help of friends and family until old age descended upon them along with the devaluation of currency. With the help of the only female professor at The Hebrew University, Dr. Getzowa, we placed the Luft couple in an old–age home. Yeshaya Berman's son, David, is a lawyer and public activist in Hadera and is fully devoted to the Jezierzany community. Two of Zalman Volach's sons live with their families in Israel; they, too, collaborate with us.

Among the residents of our town who perished in the Holocaust was Yechezkel Braunstein, in his youth a student of Chaim Zeidman's. Yechezkel excelled in Zionist activity for many years. His whole family perished.

I spent another summer in Jezierzany. This time, too, I attended the study–house. I still studied Talmud but I spent most of my day on secular studies, without my parents' knowledge. Saturday was the most difficult day of the week; I no longer attended Itchi Yudel's Or Ha–Chaim[46] lessons nor the Zohar[47] lessons he gave a small audience. My interests had changed and I preferred materials I read on my own, not in the spirit and according to Itchi's understanding or his friends. I attempted to enjoy Seudah Shlishit[48] which took place at the synagogue after the afternoon prayers. A large audience attended Seudah Shlishit; a dozen crackers and a bottle of liquor were served as Yisrael Shochet, his choir, and most in attendance sang sweet and sad songs: “B'nei Heichala,” “Mizmor L'David” and others. The joy of ceremony which had previously transferred me to a different world of imagination and vision had subsided. The Talmudic words, “Since one has rested and Shabbat has passed, woe for the soul that is lost” was realized in me. My soul collapsed and the foundation of religious mysticism vanished, as opposed to all those who remained loyal and adhered to the same pattern and tradition for many generations. My father became more devout and led Psalm recitation at the synagogue every

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Saturday. I could enjoy Shabbat according to my new tastes only in the two hours before the afternoon prayers. I read the great novels by Abraham Mapu that I had brought from Zalishchyky, novels which my parents ignored to maintain peace in the household and not widen the gap between us.

To this day I long for the holiness with and mystical experience accompanied by herring at twilight on Shabbat, which I had abandoned, as I felt sad and disappointed. I longed for it more frequently dozens of years ago while I was still in the Diaspora and had severed the bonds with my brothers from my town, brothers who were one with God and man. In those days I very much understood Heine's romantic sentiments in his poem, “Princess Sabbat.” Heine expressed the king's longing for his princess before she fell prey to wild animals once more. [49] Heine, admired and poor poet, you cleverly mocked Schiller and said his poetry would have ascended to great heights if he had tasted Jewish cholent. If you had not strived with every fiber of your genius soul to be crowned with a crown of a German poet, you would not have had to envy Juda HaLevi and “L'cha Dodi,” which, by the way, he did not write. Who knows, if not for that deep longing for Shabbat and Passover Seder, maybe you would not have returned to your people and your God. Perhaps that longing is what extracted your final words, “I have not returned to Judaism, for I never left it nor hid my Judaism.” In the long years of Heine's dying, his secularism increasingly gave way to memories of experiences, prayers, and poems from the days of his youth. Perhaps, on his final Sabbath, Heine was bestowed with a light from above, and just as he had not forgotten rules of Hebrew grammar, so too he returned to rejoice in Godly spirituality. Whispering the words of poems from Seudah Shlishit, his soul passed and returned to the God of the Hebrews. In Heine's philosophical works, and more so in

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Confessions, he wrote his secrets and the long battle in his spirit among gods. Jerusalem was victorious within Heine's soul as he said the words, “‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning,’ are seemingly the words of the Psalms writer alone, but they are always my words, too.”

The Torah scholars and the Hassidic men at the study–house began suspecting me and informed my father of the turmoil within my soul. For the sake of peace, my father forgave many things and my strict mother also turned a blind eye when she witnessed small or large transgressions. My parents stopped examining the books I read and the people with whom I associated. Once I pushed the boundaries and nearly brought tragedy to one of my parents. As there was no Jewish Latin teacher in Jezierzany, I took Latin lessons from a Ukrainian theology student from L'vov who was on summer vacation in our town. I went to the student's house which was near the post office. The student's father had business ties with my father, yet nobody paid any attention to my lessons. Once I did not feel well for a few days and the student came to our home. While there, he gave me an extended lesson. Mother was very confused about the “galekh[50]” in her home. When the neighbors saw the theology student enter and not exit for an hour, many neighbors surrounded our house and began speaking ill of my mother whose son “strayed off the righteous path” and now invites “priests” into her home. I had probably exceeded my limits because Mother erupted into such a shocking cry that the poor “priest” began shaking like a fish out of water. He left immediately, paving his way through a crowd of cursing people, and ran for his life. After my father returned from business in one of the neighboring towns, I endured a double portion of rebuke. Like the event at the szkola[51], I was forced to cease once more. During those days of illness, yet another unfortunate event occurred; under the influence of Mapu's novels, I began writing a story. I fell asleep as I wrote. The one–sided pages fell onto the floor, and mother, who was baking bread that day, picked up the scattered papers and placed them in the oven for kindling. That time, Mother and Father joined my sorrow. But at a different time, they both joined in burning pages; they had found me reading Mendelssohn's Bi'ur[52]. Without a word, but with noticeable anger and pain, they threw all volumes into the oven,

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volumes which were leather bound with gold–colored letters on the covers. Mother started the fire and Father sat next to me and said in brave decisiveness, “There is no room in my house for heretical books.” Years later, as I matured, I did not hold any grudges against them. They were persistent and practiced their religion according to their faith. They were taught that there was only one way to maintain the family and the nation. The converts from Mendelssohn's family and the troubles inflicted by his students, as the Kaiser's envoys who shut down Orthodox Jewish day schools in Galicia, caused many Jews to hate anything tied to his name.

 

E. The Revived Hebrew Language Enters Our Town

That summer, I drew much solace and spiritual encouragement as the renewed Hebrew language entered our town as a spoken and living language. Its enchanting, sharp tones in their Sephardi pronunciation reached my ears for the first time. I was very moved and elated when I heard Jeremiah's painful rebukes and his gentle consolations, each verse and each word enunciated as if by the prophet himself. That was the year of riots against Russian Jews, many of whom poured into Austria through its Eastern borders, headed towards ports of the West, bound for England and America. Among them were young educated people who taught modern Hebrew in Russia. Many were stuck in Galicia and Bukovina until they could contact relatives and friends abroad; others wished to continue teaching Hebrew, not only to earn money, but also to further the Hebrew–Zionist ideal.

One of them was a handsome, well dressed, educated young man named Mintzer. He was brought by Shmuel Fohrlis from Husiatyn after Shmuel's relatives advised him to hire the young man a as a teacher. Shmuel hired the young man to teach his son and my cousin a year before they would enroll in governmental secondary education in Ternopol. Shmuel's son and my cousin learned Sephardi Hebrew within a few weeks, and the prophet Jeremiah's fiery words flowed out from my uncle Yeshayhu's home. Educated people, Torah scholars, and even Hassidic men stopped near the windows of the room and listened with baited breath to each vision, rebuke, and consolation which emanated from the room. Jeremiah's words alternated between gentle cotton and a stone–breaking hammer, which shook one's core. The same Jeremiah

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which I had memorized in my childhood was like a flickering candle compared to the flame which engulfed the heart and the mind. I stood in my uncle's house outside the study room for many hours and consumed each vision. I was so deeply and profoundly impacted that, to this day, fifty years later, I sometimes hum full chapters.

 

oze095.jpg
Shmuel Fohrlis' home on the Road to Chortkiv

 

The same tone and enthusiasm filled my ears and my heart during my years of teaching in large Hebrew schools in various towns in Galicia; I modeled my teaching of the Prophets after the style of that teacher.

Two or three years later, when I visited my hometown after many difficult tribulations in Uhersk Brod, Moravia (at Dr. Yung's Orthodox Jewish high school, a high school in Vienna), and eventually as an extern in Chernivtsi, I saw that Mitzner's work was not in vain and persisted even after he left the town and the country. The seed was planted and germane in hearts and minds great and small, and caused a push for the founding of a Hebrew school in our town. At the request of Zionist activists and educated members of the community who had formed a committee to find them a qualified teacher, I placed them in contact with the author of The Messenger, M.P. Zeidman, who studied at a Swiss university and had to drop out due to lack of resources. Zeidman agreed to come to Jezierzany. As I heard later, after I had left town, he was immediately harassed by zealots and Hassidim who made his life hell. He was a young, gentle scholar, who studied in poverty and did not have the strength to defend himself; thus he escaped after a short time. The

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first trouble I experienced from those zealots happened as I prepared the committee for Zeidman's arrival. I was mourning the death of my father, after I was summoned by telegraph to his deathbed and returned to Jezierzany only to find my mother and my sisters sitting Shiva[53]. In the first two weeks after I arrived in my hometown, I went to the synagogue to recite the Kaddish[54]. After news arrived that a Hebrew school was being founded with my help, I was deemed a villainous influencer in the eyes of the zealots, including former friends and sons of rabbis. One of them, Yossi Reb Elazar, attacked me during prayers and ripped the tefillin[55] from my head. I forgave Yossi even before he asked for my forgiveness in Vienna.

Our dear Yossi later became a Zionist himself and made aliyah with his family. Shmuel Forhlis' son, known to his family members as Bonyo[56], has been in Israel for decades and is active in the Jezierzany community. My cousin Leiser was not so fortunate; though he was a Zionist for most of his life, his efforts at aliyah were in vain. Bonyo and Leiser are credited as the first Zionist youths in our town.

As days passed, the number of Hebrew speakers in Jezierzany increased, especially among the youth. Although the youth split into ideological factions of Zionism, much like the youth in other towns, the differences would fade away when concerned with learning the Hebrew language and the lively use of the language in fierce debates on the ways of implementing Zionism. Dr. Reuven Ben–Shem (Yosef Feldshuh's son) and Dr. Avraham Badler (son of Moshe Shmuel Zelig) who now lead secondary educational institutions in Israel and participated in editing this book, brought lively conversation with them from Jezierzany. Their Torah and Hebrew education are partly a generational inheritance but they acquired the living Hebrew language in our town, where they also conveyed it to others.

 

F. Sights of Decline and Poverty on my Final Visit

Starting in 1908, I made short visits to our hometown almost every year until the end of WWI, excluding the years of Russian occupation. Poverty increased and with it, immigration to America. The first to immigrate did so alone, followed by

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whole families, not only those in poverty, but also middle–class folks who could not see a future unless they immigrated. In contrast, some of the youth were entrenched in Zionism and prepared for aliyah. There were almost no candidates for economic migration to Israel and only a handful of youths obtained a certificate for Zionist aliyah. Even for aliyah training, there was a need for minimal economic means which most youth in our town did not have. That was the main reason for the low number of immigrants to Israel in the years of the large aliyot[57]. In 1929, I visited my father's grave in our town for the last time when my mother and sisters were already in America. I found a large Zionist youth movement but it was fractured and everyone was searching for emigration certificates or other means of aliyah. Requests for assistance with aliyah reached me in Vienna and later in Jerusalem, although I was unable to help even my own family members. On that last visit to Jezierzany, I witnessed poverty the likes of which I had not seen even in the old city of Jerusalem when I had arrived there, two years after the confirmation of the British Mandate. In addition to the economic depression and the ruins of burnt houses which the Russian army had left behind as it retreated, many of our brethren looked unwell and their appearance changed significantly. At every intersection there were lines of panhandlers who looked and dressed like poverty–stricken people yearning for a slice of bread. I was equally distressed that day when I was told that there was an even larger number of people too ashamed to panhandle but who still needed assistance. One of my sisters from America, who accompanied me with her husband and children, gave charity at every turn. I contributed what I could, teary–eyed and mourning that shocking sight in my birth town. I knew many of the poor folks as former craftsmen, merchants, or homeowners. Supposedly the mass–immigration to America should have eased the financial straits of those who remained in the town. However, Ukrainian businesses and Polish grocery stores wreaked havoc on Jewish trade; thus poverty spread and demanded the pity of God and man.

When I returned to Vienna, I made a resolution to send a cry for help to America. The editor of the Jewish Morning Journal agreed to publish a series of descriptions on the decay

[Column 98]

of the town. Many former residents of Jezierzany lived comfortable lives in America. Publication in the Journal did not come to fruition, due to objections from AITA [?] which held exclusive rights to my writing, even under a pseudonym. I signed my writing in America as “Dr. Atkinson,” an idea from Ab. Cohen when I worked for The Forward as a representative of its main European office. I had previously demanded that AITA become a national apolitical organization and forbid its writers to publish in other venues in order to prevent them from favoring a political party. The policy had been implemented at that time and I could not resist it. I could publish, under my full name, a cry for help in all American–Jewish publications, but I did not receive such a call from any public institution in our town. I attempted to bargain with AITA by giving them, free of charge, the first two chapters of my wide–ranging essay “Heine's Judaism and the National Values in His Work” but to no avail. The chapters were accepted and published in Jewish publications worldwide but the ban remained and even expanded to the banning of my publishing apolitical essays in a Jerusalem newspaper. The rest of the essay on Heine was never written because the mass of historical and literary materials which I had collected for years was lost by the Austrian State Police in Vienna which confiscated writings in my home after my sudden arrest during the dispute between Dollfuss[58] and the Social–Democrats.

That was the second arrest in my life as a Jewish journalist. I saw it as my duty to protect the honor of my nation and fight evil deeds. My first arrest was under Piłsudski and was supposedly a symbolic arrest. I was arrested in the end of 1918 after the pogrom the Polish military had perpetrated in L'vov when I was the editor of Tagblatt. Along with Dr. Leon Reich, Dr. Michael Ringel, and Dr. Alexander Hoyzman, I was sent to the castle of a Polish noble on the Wisla where we were held for a month. We were held in Krakow for another month as “free detainees.” We were released after pressure from the British government because we were activists and writers being persecuted for our Zionism. We were then issued temporary passports to Vienna to participate in the Paris Peace Conference and to

[Column 99]

represent the Zionist movement in reaching a solution to the Palestine problem. The fate of Eastern Galicia was also determined there. It was the time of “first love” between the British government and Zionism. The British also sent Zionist diplomatic envoys to the site of our arrest so they could assess our situation up close. We did not all travel to Paris. Dr. Hoyzman returned to his family in L'vov. I preferred a national mission with my people. I arrived in Stanisławów in March 1919 as a political consultant to the National Jewish Council during the months of the big blunder by the Ukrainian regime. While there, I renewed publication of Tagblat to highlight Jewish neutrality in the Polish–Ukrainian dispute. With all my might, I attempted a short visit to Jezierzany to see whether I could be of any aid. However, there was no consistent transportation and the roads were disrupted by many armies, many of which consisted of robbers and murderers. I had to turn back after a dangerous failed attempt. For ten whole years, I could not obtain a Polish visa to visit Galicia. Because of my role and my stay in Stanisławów, I was blacklisted by the Polish foreign ministry and even telegrams and mail that I sent from Vienna to my family did not reach their destination.

In 1934, my second arrest took place in Vienna. The last trace of love between Britain and Zionism had dissipated. This time, it was not the British envoy who freed me but the American, after only a half a day and in such a rush that some of my personal belongings were not returned, after which time they disappeared in the typical fashion of wartime and rebellion.

I strayed from Jezierzany here because that story, of which I only described a minimal amount, was experienced by a native of Jezierzany. I later contacted the families of the prisoners. Socialist leaders, members of the Austrian Parliament and the Viennese Landtag , led by Karl Seitz

[Column 100]

requested that I give messages to their families, although I had told the prisoners explicitly that I am fully Zionist and not affiliated with socialism. Two days later, when I traveled through Warsaw to London, I acted on behalf of my fellow prisoners to the best of my ability.[59]

I have not seen my town since my last visit. Fate has taken me far away from Jezierzany but the town has not left my heart through all these years. The more residents that I saw remaining in the town, among them also those who returned from America despite the terrible economic downturn, the more my love and admiration of them strengthened.

There was hope that the masses of youth, enthused by the notion of Zion and redemption, would finally find their way to Israel and would pave the road for homeowners, craftspeople, and hard workers who would follow. The news which reached me confirmed a single fact: Zionism had been rooted in all classes and groups and everyone looked forward to immigrating to Israel.

WWII erupted before the residents of the town could reconstruct after WWI. After a troubled existence under Soviet rule, the horrific Holocaust descended upon them. The invasion by the Red Army sealed the gates from the inside and British rule sealed the gates of Eretz Israel. By the time the land was freed and the Jewish State had opened to everyone the gates to Aliyah, the Nazi evil had destroyed the town. Not a soul survived in that ancient community. Jezierzany is no more.

Jerusalem, 5717 [1957]


General Notes and Footnotes

These notes and footnotes have been added by this Yizkor Book's translation co–coordinator, not by the original author. They are intended to help clarify certain words, names and phrases.

    * The most accurate English translation may be unknown.

  1. A minor coin in circulation in Austria Return
  2. Institutes for advanced study of the Talmud and rabbinic literature Return
  3. Jewish school Return
  4. Students at the Polish public school Return
  5. Tulika, pronounced “tulitza” is the Polish word for “cuddle” and refers to a place where young couples go to cuddle. Return
  6. A classic commentary on Rashi included in most editions of the Chumash Return
  7. Blessing for recovery after a serious illness or another dangerous situation Return
  8. A style of Jewish religious service conducted by Ashkenazi Jews from Central and Western Europe Return
  9. A form of the Jewish prayer book designed to reconcile Ashkenazi customs with the kabbalistic customs of Isaac Luria Return
  10. Sabbath fruit Return
  11. Polish public school Return
  12. Unkosher, improper Return
  13. In Jewish law, a limited physical area in which a Jew is permitted to walk on foot on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Return
  14. A Hebrew word that means “separated” or “set aside.” The generally accepted view regarding items that may be touched though not moved during Shabbat. Return
  15. Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport (1863 – November 8, 1920), known by his pseudonym S. Ansky or Anski. He was a Jewish author, playwright, researcher of Jewish folklore and political activist. He is best known for his play The Dybbuk. Return
  16. According to Wikipedia, Sabbateans is a term that refers to a variety of followers of disciples of Sabbatai Zevi, a Jewish rabbi who, in 1665, was proclaimed by Nathan of Gaza to be the Jewish Messiah. Return
  17. According to Wikipedia, Frankism was an 18th & 19th century Jewish religious movement centered on the leadership of the Jewish Messiah claimant Jacob Frank, who lived from 1726 to 1791. Return
  18. Slaughtering of certain mammals and birds for food according to kashrut. Return
  19. Teachers of children Return
  20. According to Wikipedia, before World War II, Masurians were an ethnic group found in the southern parts of East Prussia. Return
  21. “Duties of the Heart”. It is the primary work of the Jewish rabbi and philosopher Bahya ibn Paquda Return
  22. A section of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher's compilation of Jewish law, Arba'ah Turim. Return
  23. A private house of study, existing separately from the institutions of the community and usually financed by a patron or a wealthy family. Usually headed by a prominent scholar appointed by the founder and frequented by selected scholars. Return
  24. Isaac (ben Solomon) Luria Ashkenazi (approximately 1534 – July 25th, 1572) commonly known in Jewish religious circles by several names including “ARIZaL”, the ARI, Of Blessed Memory Return
  25. A thorough, comprehensive commentary on the teachings of Rabbenu Chaim ben Atar Return
  26. A member of a Jewish congregation who reads from the Sefer Torah during the service Return
  27. Noisemaker for Purim Return
  28. Pilgrim Return
  29. Letter templates for different occasions Return
  30. Medieval commentaries on the Talmud Return
  31. A compilation of all the Aggadic material in the Talmud together with commentaries Return
  32. Lashes of the belt or ruler Return
  33. Best guess regarding the name of the city indicated in the Hebrew text Return
  34. A religious group of Haredi Jews, formally created in Jerusalem, British Mandate of Palestine, in 1938 Return
  35. Vizhnitz – a Hassidic Dynasty Return
  36. Rashi – Shlomo Yitzchaki, today generally known by the acronym Rashi, was a medieval French rabbi and author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud and a commentary on the Tanakh Return
  37. Tosafot – medieval commentaries on the Talmud. Return
  38. Siyum – the completion of any unit of Torah study or book of the Mishnah or Talmud Return
  39. Tractates – treatises Return
  40. Hadran – Hadran is a short prayer recited upon the completion of study of a tractate of the Talmud or book of the Mishnah Return
  41. Bar Papa – “Son of Papa.” According to Wikipedia, Rav Papa, a successful brewer, was a wealthy man. “It is said that whenever he completed a tractate in the Talmud, he held a large party at which he invited his ten sons and many other people. At many modern siyums, a short prayer is said which mentions Rav Pappa and his ten sons.” Return
  42. Chametz – leavened foods that are forbidden on the Jewish holiday of Passover Return
  43. Mishnah, Ein Yaakov, and Binah L'Itim – religious texts Return
  44. Sukkah – Hut constructed for the Feast of Tabernacles Return
  45. Haskalah – Jewish Enlightenment, an intellectual movement among Jews of Central and Eastern Europe Return
  46. Or Ha–Chaim – popular commentary on the five books of the Torah Return
  47. Zohar – the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah Return
  48. Seudah Shlishit – the third meal customarily eaten on Shabbat by Jews who observed the Sabbath Return
  49. Author's Note – It is wondrous that Bialik translated the poem into to Yiddish and not Hebrew. Perhaps Bialik sensed that Heine's poetry is untranslatable. Return
  50. Galekh – Yiddish for “priest” Return
  51. Szkola – Polish public schools Return
  52. Mendelssohn's Bi'ur– Mendelssohn's work on religion and society Return
  53. Shiva – a week of mourning Return
  54. Kaddish – prayer for the dead Return
  55. Tefillin – Phylacteries, a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah. They are worn by observant adult Jews during weekday morning prayers. Return
  56. Author's note – Shmuel Fohrlis was fortunate, and his grandson, Bonyo's son, is a lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Return
  57. Aliyot – immigrations to Israel Return
  58. Dolfuss – Engelbert Dollfuss was an Austrian Christian Social and Patriotic Front statesman. Return
  59. Author's note – Autobiographical details were included in this essay because they shed light on life in our town and on the figures who left their mark on it, be it by one's own will or joined by external influences. Return

 

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