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[Page 159]

Chapter Three:

Personalities and Figures


[Page 178]


Yosl Baal Shem
(the Miracle Worker)

by Chasia Gering-Goldberg

Translated by Hanna Grinberg

Shimon, the father of Yosl, was a God-fearing man who observed the religious commandments, but his son [Yosl] did not follow in his father's footsteps. He was infected with the virus of that time - Zionism, which had taken hold in the Jewish street.[2] Yosl was one of the first Zionists in Telshe, really an “ardent Zionist,” who was also active in distributing shekels and was one of the founders of the Socialist Zionist organization.[3] When the “Hachshara” movement[4] began, he was one of the movement's supporters and together with Sheinele Rabinovitz, Aaron Gringer, and Aivin helped the young pioners to find work, and even employed several pioneers[5] in his store. All he wanted was to emigrate to the Land of Israel, and to that end he bought an orange grove in the vicinity of Zichron-Ya'akov.

He had a store of building supplies and weapons. He was an expert in locks and many would ask his help when a key was lost or there was some other problem with locks. He was always in a good mood and liked jokes. I will tell here about one of the jokes:

In our city of Telshe lived a carpenter named Hirsha Kopel. He was a simple man, who loved to sit in the evenings in the “Shneidershe-Kloiz” (the synagogue for tailors) and listen to lessons on chapters of the Mishnah.[6] One time this Hirsha came to Yosl's store and complained that the lock in the door of his house does not work. As a joke, Yosl said: “Bring this door to me.” To his surprise, sometime later he saw Hirsha standing in front of his store, huffing and puffing, with the door on his shoulders. “I have brought it,” he said.


The family of Joseph [“Yosl”] Baal-Shem near their store
Standing: Hillel Klotz and Esterke Vareyes. Joseph Baal-Shem was the only Jew that received a special permit from the Lithuanian authorities to sell weapons to citizens



  1. The Hebrew words “ba'al shem” translate as “master of the name.” During the Middle Ages, a concept emerged that certain religious people Jews could use the name of God to perform miracles, such as healing the sick. In this article, Yosl, though a non-religious Jew, nonetheless accomplished a “wondrous” deed. Return
  2. The term “Jewish street” means that the idea of establishing a Jewish national homeland was often discussed within the general population of Jews. Return
  3. For centuries, Jews living in the Diaspora dreamed of returning to the Land of Israel. In 1897, a movement to establish a Jewish national homeland was founded in Basel, Switzerland, which was called the Zionist Organization (later called the World Zionist Organization). Membership dues were set at one “shekel,” and the value of a shekel varied by country. In the Russian Empire, the value was 40 kopeks. In 1897 40 kopeks were worth 52 U.S. cents. In 2018, this would have been equal to about $15.20. The “shekel” was a unit of currency used by Jews in ancient times. Exodus 30:13 states each of the Jews who were counted in the census gave an offering to the Lord of one half shekel. Thus the shekel has served to secure membership in Jewish communal organizations for centuries and underscores the centrality of the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) in Jewish life. The money raised by the Zionist Organization from dues were distributed to various projects to give individuals the skills they would need for living in a Jewish state in Palestine. Many members associated themselves with political parties within the organization, such as the Socialist Zionist party. Return
  4. The Hebrew word “hachshara” literally means “preparation.” The word referred to programs that trained people to live in self-sustaining agricultural communities in Israel. Return
  5. The Zionist movement sought to establish a Jewish homeland in the British Mandate of Palestine. Young people who volunteered to live in the new communities were referred to as “pioneers.” Return
  6. The Mishnah is a systematic compilation of Jewish laws that was developed by several generations of rabbis in the First and Second Centuries, C.E. Return

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