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[Column 219]

Figures and Personalities

by C. Zeidman

Translated by Meir Bulman

1. Rabbi Mordechai Zeidman

Rabbi Mordechai Zeidman, town Rabbi, was famous throughout the region as a great scholar of Torah and Halacha[1]. Many Eastern–Galician rabbis approached him for response.[2] Rabbi Mordechai also wrote Begged Lilvosh, a defense of Levushei Srad, which criticized a position Rabbi Mordechai also disagreed with. He was very zealous concerning religion, imposing burdens on himself yet easing religious burdens on others. He opposed the title “Rabbi and Master” and instead preferred “Master of Teaching.” He often said that if a Halachic arbitrator or rabbinic judge erred in a ruling, the Heavenly Court would forgive him but if “Rabbi and Master Mordechai” erred, he would be subject to the full force of Heavenly law.

Many of his descendants were great scholars, among them many who qualified for rabbinic ordination but did not serve as rabbis. His descendants were enthusiastic Hassidim of the Ruzhin–Chortkiv dynasty. They were among the first to whom the Austrian government granted licenses to purchase land in Galicia (including in Krivche, Skała, the Kolomyia and Ternopil areas, and more). The following two generations of Zeidmans were present in the towns of Jezierzany, Skała, Kolomyia, Sniatyn, Horodenka, Zalishchyky, Buchach, Tłumacz, and others.

Every Shabbat afternoon, the children from the Zeidman and the Chaim–Hirsch Cohen families came to Rabbi Mordechai's home to be tested on the weekly Torah portion. Aunt Lei'che set the table and presented a noodle and raisin casserole, jam and fruit. If one of the examinees failed the exam, Rabbi Mordechai warned him and would say, “If you do not know your material next Shabbat, you will get rye bread and a glass of liquor like the Shabbos Goy gets.”

During the years Rabbi Mordechai served, the town was peaceful and quiet. After his death, the community divided into two camps, those of Shapira Loyalists and Yoel Loyalists.

 

2. Rabbi Velvel [3]

Son of Rabbi Shemsh Guttsman, brother–in–law of Rabbi Aron Leib

[Column 220]

of Łaskowce. Also a descendent of the Baal–Shem–Tov on his mother Anna's side. Anna was the daughter of Rabbi Velvel Zabrizer, grandson of Rabbi Michael Zlotshhover and descended through Rabbi Baruch'l of the Baal–Shem–Tov. He was an admirer of and close to Rebbe D.M. Friedman of Chortkiv. In his final years, Rabbi Velvel had an ongoing disagreement with Rabbi Yisrael, the heir to the throne of Rebbe David Moshe, “The Elder.” Rabbi Velvel was a humble man who lived modestly, evaded honors and never stopped studying. He refused to accept kvitels[4] and fees as other Rebbes did. “I am a simple scribe,” he would tell his wife when she would complain about the need for austerity. Throughout his life, he wrote few Torah scrolls and tefillin but was paid handsomely for them. It was said that he immersed himself in the ritual bath before every time he scribed God's name. One of the descendants of Rabbi Yisroel of Ruzhin exchanged an estate of land for a Torah scroll scribed by Rabbi Velvel and said it was “worth more than gold.” Three times a year, Rabbi Velvel would travel to Chortkiv where he was honored by “The Elder” with the blessing of wine.

The young men of the study house very much appreciated him because he protected them from the scorn of administrators. Once, the firewood had run out so we used broken benches and stands to heat the room. News of that reached the gabbai[5] who was understandably angry and summoned us to a Torah trial to be judged by Rabbi Velvel. Rabbi Velvel asked us if the accusation was true, which we affirmed. Rabbi Velvel replied with a forgiving, fatherly smile, “Oh, you pure young men. If the gabbai does not supply firewood, one is permitted to use even the tables and podium to ignite the fireplace to facilitate study.”

On Shabbat and holidays, the Hassidim came to Rabbi Velvel's tish[6] where typical Hassidic customs were observed: singing, dancing, and shirayim–grabbing.[7] Rabbi Velvel, in turn, would tell Hassidic tales, [recite] Torah by righteous men or convey words of “the Elder.”

Each holiday had its own story. Local villagers brought the fruits of their gardens or milk to Rabbi Velvel's home, where they gave the products to his assistant without Rabbi Velvel's knowledge. Once, Rabbi Velvel found out that

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a villager had brought butter and cheese on behalf of the villager's barren wife. Rabbi Velvel rebuked the assistant and demanded that the assistant pay the villager or return the butter and cheese. The town Gentiles also considered Rabbi Velvel a holy miracle–worker. Once, a Christian farmer complained to Rabbi Velvel that the farmer's horse had been stolen at night and requested that the rabbi locate the horse. Rabbi Velvel replied, “I hereby testify that I did not leave my home the entire night.”

When I complained to Rabbi Velvel that my mother was ill, he replied, “The Torah says, ‘He sent his word, and healed them…’ God's word will come true.”

After Rabbi Velvel's wife died without leaving him a successor, he married a young woman from a rabbinic, Hasidic home, but [they] had no sons.

On Sukkot, while shrouded in his tallit and while blessing the four species, Rabbi Velvel passed away.

 

3. Ozer Chazan

Ozer was a devout, pure man and a loyal follower of Rabbi Velvel. He served as the cantor of the study house. He made do with his pleasant voice and the traditional renditions, no fanciful trills or rehearsal needed. Ozer always replicated Rabbi Velvel's ways and dress; if Rabbi Velvel's legs were bandaged because of an illness, Ozer bandaged his own legs as well.

Throughout the month of Elul, we saw Ozer's neck wrapped in a kerchief to guard against a cold and he would drink licorice water, a remedy or spell for a smooth voice. Once, during Rosh Hashanah prayers, he used his voice too much while singing “HaMelekh” and his voice became sore. The event worried Ozer a lot, as he saw it as a sign from above that his prayer was unwanted, God forbid. So, for Shabbat Shuva[8], Ozer traveled to the elder Rebbe in Chortkiv. When Ozer returned, he was happy; the elder had said that Ozer should return to the bimah and pray for him, too. Every time Ozer repeated the story, he wept tears of joy.

 

4. Rabbi Elazar Shapira

Maternal grandson of Rabbi Velvel. Rabbi Elazar was a noble man with an aura of beauty. He acted as a Hassidic Rebbe and, because of his grandfather and in his own right, he acquired many followers and friends

[Column 222]

outside of Jezierzany as well. During a greeting ceremony held for Rabbi Elazar in Chortkiv, I witnessed hundreds of Jews from all classes pushing through [the crowd] to greet him. Although Rabbi Elazar was a devout Hassid, he also harbored Zionist feelings. Even the Misnagedim[9] respected Rabbi Elazar for his honesty and purity of heart.

In 1905–1906, I visited my parents. On Shabbat afternoon, I spoke at Molly's Kloyz about Zionism and encouraged the audience to purchase shkalim,[10] contribute to Keren Kayemet[11], etc. The next day, Rabbi Elazar summoned me to a conversation at his home. He had learned of my lecture and even the verses from Ezra and Nehemiah which I used. Rabbi Elazar said, “I believe you are a true Zionist and, as I heard from your parents, you intend to immigrate to Israel. But the people in our town who speak of Zionism intend only to disparage our side (Yoelists) and I request that you not support the other side.”

When I prepared to travel to Israel and my parents objected, Rabbi Elazar said, “Eretz Yisrael will ensure that your son will be observant.”

Every year, I would send him fruits for the Shechehiyanu[12] blessing and an etrog[13] although, in those days, the religiously devout considered the etrogim of Eretz Israel unfit for the blessing due to concerns over shmitah,[14] tithe [taxes?], etc. Rabbi Elazar proudly showed his followers the etrog he got from Eretz Yisrael. In order to fulfill what is written in the Torah, “And you shall take,” interpreted in the Talmud as, “ ‘You shall take’ means, ‘of your own,’” Rabbi Elazar gave a few crowns to my parents in exchange for the etrog.

In the final letter I received from Rabbi Elazar, then in Łańcut (January 19, 1938), he wrote in part, “I request wholeheartedly that you periodically write me for it satisfies my soul.” His son added, “Like most Polish Jews, I am carried by the waves of time and can see no positive on the horizon.” The son's prediction was accurate.

 

5. Nachman Richter

Nachman was a short–statured, red–bearded man with wide and noble facial features. He was always in a good mood. He frequently raised funds for charity and did so loyally and devotedly. His living was provided by his wife who ran a store for flour, sewing products, and houseware. His seat in the study house was usually behind the pulpit. Every morning before dawn, he bathed in the ritual bath and was the first in the study house

[Column 223]

[and the person] whom one could invite to answer “Amen” to the morning blessings. “A blessing without ‘amen’ is like a body without a soul,” he would say, according to a tradition Nachman received from righteous men.

Nachman also volunteered to serve drinks at Rabbi Velvel's tish. If a beer keg was provided, Nachman was in charge of the keg.

 

6. Leibeli Schreiber

Leibeli was a white–bearded, thin, tall man. As a young man, he was an instructor of mathematics, Polish and German. Folks gossiped that Leibel had been a spiteful heretic who repented in middle age. He spent most of the day in the study house where he sat by the fireplace year–round. He prayed on his own and repeated every word two or three times out of fear that, God forbid, he [might] missed a syllable. The community appointed him as cemetery–guard at a low salary. Nachman maintained a special sum of money for Leibel.

 

7. Shmuel Moshe–Zelig's Bedler

A diligent scholar from a neo–Orthodox family. He was considered a genius. He was devotedly observant. He excelled in all Talmudic passages he encountered and also excelled in mathematics. He left for the wide world but I think he only made it to Chernivtsi. He worked as a tutor to lease–holders' children. Shmuel dispensed with religion after being exposed to the outside world. As punishment for his son's secularization, Kloyz administrators stopped giving Shmuel's father aliyot[15] traditionally reserved for notable community members. Two years later, Shmuel returned home, clean shaven and without his peyote.[16] During Rosh Hashanah prayers, Shmuel sat on the Molly's Kloyz balcony and debated his friends on matters of religion and faith. He criticized doctrines and opinions he had once considered sacred, disparaged Hassidic customs and doubted the origins of the Zohar.[17] However, when the smooth voice of Leiser the cantor sounded, Shmuel shed a tear. After that, he did not return to

[Column 224]

Chernivtsi. A few years later, I met him in Jezierzany as he returned from the synagogue, carrying his tallit case. Shmuel daily recited Tikunei Zohar[18] and chapters of Chok L'Yisrael. His parents and family made aliyah in the early 1920s and Shmuel joined them later. He passed away in Israel. May his memory be blessed.

 

8. Yossel Chaim Eidel's Feldshuh

Everyone called him “The Maskil” because of his knowledge of Hebrew and German literature. He was self–taught. It was rumored he memorized all of Nach.[19] He had a Modern–Hebrew style. He was tutor to sons of the town's wealthy and taught Bible, Maimonides, and grammar. He wrote Hebrew poetry but I do not know if it was published. He also helped his father in selling leather and shoes.

He purchased a concordance [?] with money he had saved by eating less. So strong was his will to learn the language from its researchers. One day, he ran away to Dr. Hildesheimer's seminary to [pursue] rabbinic studies and returned to Jezierzany only after news reached him that his father was sitting Shiva.[20]

Feldshuh also helped me with my aliyah [to Israel] by convincing my family and others.

He dreamed of combining Haskala with Hasidism, and, fitting that role, wore a modern top hat.

His motto was, “He who reaps the fruits of his labor is greater than he who fears God.” As a young man, he would travel to the forest and work alongside Gentiles in uprooting trees and loading them, which his physical strength allowed.

Despite all the difficulties and Rabbi Elazar's threat of a boycott, he sent all of his sons to acquire a secondary education and dreamed of careers for them as Modern–Orthodox rabbis.

His knowledge of Hebrew texts, especially the Bible, was so deep and wide that, to this day, many recall his free–of–charge lessons in Bible and Hebrew grammar.


General Notes and Footnotes

These notes were added by this Yizkor Book's translation co–coordinator unless otherwise noted.

  1. Halacha – the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from the Written and Oral Torah. Return
  2. Responsa – a body of written decisions and rulings given by legal scholars in response to questions addressed to them. Return
  3. Rabbi Velvel – elsewhere in this book referred to as Velveli. Return
  4. Kvitels – a practice developed by Hasidic Judaism in which a Hasid writes a note with a petitionary prayer and gives it to a Rebbe in order to receive the latter's blessing. Return
  5. Gabbai – a person who assists, in some way, in the running of synagogue services. Return
  6. Tish – Within Hasidic Judaism, any joyous public celebration or gathering or meal by Hasidim at a table with their Rebbe. Return
  7. Shirayim–grabbing – taking “leftovers”. Return
  8. Shabbat Shuva – designated Jewish Shabbat days on which special events are commemorated. Return
  9. Misnagedim – a Hebrew word meaning “opponents.” The term “Misnagdim” commonly refers to opponents of Hasidism. Return
  10. Shkalim – Collected shekels. Return
  11. Keren Kayemet – Jewish National Fund. Return
  12. Shechehiyanu – a common Jewish prayer said to celebrate special occasions. Return
  13. Etrog – the yellow citron used by Jewish people during the week–long holiday of Sukkot. Return
  14. Shmitah – the Sabbath year also called the sabbatical year, the seventh year of the seven–year agricultural cycle mandated by the Torah for the Land of Israel. Return
  15. Aliyot – Plural of Aliyah. An aliyah is the calling of a member of a Jewish congregation to the bimah for a segment of reading from the Torah. Return
  16. Peyot – Hebrew word for sidelocks or sidecurls. Return
  17. Zohar – foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. Return
  18. Tikunei Zohar – also known as the Tikunim, a main text of the Kabbalah. Return
  19. Nach – an English translation of the Tanakh based on traditional Jewish sources, along with extensive notes, maps, illustrations, diagrams, charts, bibliography, and index. Return
  20. Shiva – the week–long mourning period in Judaism for first–degree relatives. Return


[Column 225]

The First Zionist in Jezierzany

by B. Shimshon

Translated by Meir Bulman

 

oze225.jpg
Shmuel Pohoryles

 

Jezierzany was fortunate to greet an educated man who came from the outside and later was the motivating figure behind all Zionist activity and among those who laid the foundation for Modern–Hebrew education in the town. Shmuel Pohoryles was a kind, respectable man. He was a successful businessman who devoted time to public advocacy.

He acquired the trust of our town's residents from the beginning and his suggestions were heeded.

In 1900, he served as a trustee of the district Zionist Organization in Stanislwow.

When the Jewish Colonial Trust was founded, he was the distributor of the bank's stock.

In 1904, as a sign of gratitude for his Zionist activities, the Zionists of Jezierzany placed his name in the Keren Kayemet Golden Book.

He was a wealthy man of initiative and in 1905 founded the only bank in town at the time, the Trade and Crafts Bank. It was an investment bank [credit union?] which he oversaw. The bank loaned funds to small businesspeople and craftspeople.

In 1909, he was elected a community leader and served in the position

[Column 226]

oze226a.jpg
Shmuel Pohoryles' Jewish Colonial Trust Certificate

 

for several years.

At the beginning of the current century, when that generation was not yet prepared for a Modern–Hebrew school in the town, Shmuel hired a Hebrew teacher to teach his son.

He later helped every effort to found a Hebrew school in the town and eventually witnessed the founding of a Hebrew school.

He strove to make aliyah but was unable to do so until a short while before the end of his life. In 1936, he contracted a fatal disease. When Shmuel's son, Avraham, was informed of his father's illness, Avraham traveled to Lviv and brought Shmuel to Israel. A few months later, Shmuel passed away in Tel Aviv.

 

oze226b.jpg
The Hebrew School

[Column 227]

Shmuel's son told me of their journey to Eretz Israel; the journey was catered to Shmuel's needs and he traveled by train and boat confined to his bed. As the ship approached the shore of Palestine, the olim[1] went to the deck to see the Holy Land. Shmuel's son encouraged his father to leave his quarters so he could witness the land on the horizon. Shmuel refused.

Only after they left the boat and stepped on the land, and after they traveled by carriage through the streets of Tel Aviv, Shmuel fulfilled his wish to see Jerusalem. He then told his son the reason behind his refusal to observe Eretz Israel from a distance; on the prior Simchat Torah, he was called to the Torah and the recited portion included the verse, “And the Lord said unto him, ‘This is the land which I swore unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.’” (Deut. 34:4).

[Column 228]

oze228.jpg
Shmuel Pohoryles' Certificate of Inclusion in the Keren Kayemet l'Yisrael Golden Book

 

Since then, Shmuel feared that the verse spoke to him personally. Thus, he refused to observe the land from a distance.

Ramat Gan, 5717


General Notes and Footnotes

These notes were added by this Yizkor Book's translation co–coordinator unless otherwise noted.

  1. Olim – immigrants to Israel Return


[Column 227]

Aron Blumenfeld–Roman's Hebrew Style

by M.T.T.[1]

Translated by Meir Bulman

In the spring of 1869, a decree was issued to expel Romanian rural Jews. The decree impacted thousands of Jews and was cruelly implemented. The educated and scholarly 22 year–old Aron Blumenfeld, who had arrived in Romania only a year before after his detachment from Jezierzany, was making a frugal living by tutoring. Aron was disheartened when he learned about the expulsion and its accompanying cruelty. He quickly traveled to the impacted regions and, when he witnessed the evil deeds perpetrated against his Jewish brethren, he sounded the alarm by writing a letter to Hamaggid which was addressed to “the leaders of Alliance Israélite Universelle and any Jewish person to whom God has given paths among the kings and princes of the land.”

The letter, dated 14 Tamuz, was published in Hamaggid on July 14 (Issue 27), awakened a movement of aid and rescue throughout the Jewish diaspora and even prevented expulsion in many villages.[2] The editorial board of Hamaggid testified that “the author's words, written in anguish, are honest,” and added its [own] protest and urgent call for a speedy and large rescue operation. Blumenfeld signed that letter with his pseudonym

[Column 228]

Moses Roman, which he used for his Hebrew publications before he was promoted to the status of a praised Romanian author named Ronetti Roman.[3]

We include abridged excerpts from his letter to Hamaggid as a demonstration of his Jewish kindheartedness and his flowery Hebrew style, typical of those days.

Look to your right, my dear, and witness the local policemen hurrying to the poor Jews' homes to cruelly batter them. The policemen do not pity the elderly and will not spare the pregnant. They plunder and steal whatever they find.

[Column 229]

Now look to your left and witness how they so hastily deport the impoverished Jews: old, young, children, women and nursing infants, expelled from green pastures to the field, like lambs to the slaughter…

…At dusk they once more attacked our brethren in the field. They pulled the Jews' hair and, down the road, shaved the Jews' beards. Here they pulled on the women's braids and exposed breasts, there they exiled them to a distance. Expel, strike and injure, strike and curse. Those close to the Tărhăuș River, they tossed into the river and held underwater with their legs. By the River of Tărhăuș, there a thousand Jewish families sat and wept as they cried, ‘It is better for me to die than to live….’

…Thus, my Israelite brethren, awake and hastily go aid your siblings in Moldavia and God will be with you. How can any Israelite sleep soundly while six thousand of his siblings lie upon rocks? How can he find nourishment in tasty foods as his brethren seek nourishment in the dirt? Whose eyes, even if he has not shed a tear since the day he was born, would remain dry at the doubled malice against

[Column 230]

his people? Doubled malice, for they were expelled from villages and denied entry to the cities. Picture yourself at this crossroads. Your pity would be awakened had you witnessed what I had witnessed. Words alone cannot remedy the suffering I see….Brothers! Break your silence, rest not! Remember, brothers, that God has commanded us to be one nation. God commanded every man who sits at the heights of success to not ignore his brother, even if he is at the edge of distant lands. Therefore, my brothers, do not turn your backs on your brothers who are drowning in tears! …Who can we approach if not you, the charitable people?

In all their affliction, I was afflicted and I write with an aching heart and tears in my eyes.[4]

Moses Roman


General Notes and Footnotes

These notes were added by the original author of this section unless otherwise indicated.

  1. We suspect this section was written by M.A. Tenenblatt. The style is similar to Tenenblatt's, and the misplaced footnotes relate to the earlier section about Roman, which was written by Tenenblatt. (Note added by Hebrew to English translator and Yizkor book co–coordinator.) Return
  2. Another young man from our town was a guest or resident of Romania at the time. He, too, published letters in Hamaggid about the persecution of Jews, letters which he signed “Avraham Cohen–Stempler of Jezierzany.” (Letter from Piatra, Issue 27, 1870) Return
  3. Although out of place, it will be noted that Roman's play, Manasse, was translated into English by L. Leonard and into Italian by Benedette de Luca. Return
  4. Akiva Hashmal, who was the first to know of Roman's crypto–Jew secret, was also Hamaggid's correspondent in Bucharest. The secret was also known to the publisher, Zilberman, and to the editor, David Gordon. It was said that Blumenfeld wrote additional Hebrew works under different pseudonyms and that he also published in Smolenskin's Ha–Shachar, but no evidence of that was found. Return

 

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