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[Pages 31-32]

The Husiatyn Hassidim in Skalat

written by Tonka Pikholz

Despite the small size of our town, there were many Hassidim, divided according to their various “courts:”   Husiatyn, Chortakov, Vishnitz  and others.  The most well-known of the Hassidic leaders (known as “admorim” ) in our town was the Rebbe of Husiatyn, who had many followers among the Jews of Skalat.

My father was a follower of the Rebbe of Husiatyn and for that reason I was left with many memories and impressions of the Hassidic atmosphere of those days.

A wealthy Skalat Jew, Yoseph Milgrom, the owner of a flour mill and a great admirer of the Rebbe of Husiatyn, hosted the Rebbe in his home.  Milgrom lived in a large house at the edge of town.  The house was bordered by a garden with rich earth, which created a natural slope.  At the edge of the garden, Milgrom built a wooden cabin - a “schlass.”   Past the schlass was a pasture with a flowing stream.

The Schlass was divided into two sections.  The Rebbe of Husiatyn prayed in the smaller section, generally sitting in solitude.

The second section was the central hall, resembling a synagogue.  Tables and benches were arranged along the walls.   A section along one wall was elevated, to allow the Hassidim to was the Rebbe's face as he prayed.

The Rebbe would arrive in Skalat towards the Shavouth holiday and remained six to eight weeks.  He lived in Vienna and his visits to Skalat were apparently connected to his visits to the grave of his father, in Husiatyn.  His visits to the town were a special occasion for all the local Jews.  Everyone came out to welcome him.  A select group of Hassidim went in carriages to meet escort him into town.  In front of the house where the Rebbe would be staying, the Hassidim lined up in two rows and welcomed the Rebbe with the traditional “shalom aleichem.”   The Rebbe's glance alone would excite the crowd, who believed him to be holy.

During this period, Hassidim came from all over Poland, particularly Galicia, to Skalat.  Hotels, inns, even private homes were insufficient for the visitors, and the city came to life.  In the courtyard of the schlass, crowds sang and danced, particularly on the Sabbaths and the holiday.

The Rebbe was considered holy and was treated like a king.  The Rebbe excelled in his knowledge of medicine and of law.  The simple Jew saw him as a source of advice, particularly in times of trouble.  The Rebbe would also refer the ill to the most notable doctors of the day.  Occasionally, Poles would turn to the Rebbe for advice, as well.

The Rebbe's stay brought a temporary prosperity to the town and many a family looked forward to that aspect of his visit.  Paying boarders often made significant contributions to the famlies' budgets.   I recall that Hassidim from Rzeszow and Krakow stayed in our home.  They say up until late at night, occupied with weighty matters of belief and religious practice, and with stories of the Rebbe's greatness.  The meeting between the ordinary Hassid and his Rebbe was one of the great events in the life of a believer.

The Rebbe of Husiatyn made aliyah and lived to age ninety-two.  He is buried in the Old Cemetery in Tiberias.

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