by M. S. Geshuri (Brukner)
Translated by Meir Bulman
Edited by Jeffery Cymbler
He [Geshuri] was born in 1897 in Mysłowice, Silesia, near Modrzejów, Zagłębie D¹browskie. He was a musically gifted child. He completed his gymnasium studies in Berlin and continued his training at the Music Conservatorium in the arts academies of Dresden and Vienna.
He was active in the HaMizrachi movement in Silesia and Zagłębie. In 5681, he made aliya. Since then, he contributes to various publications in Israel and abroad. He writes about Jewish music. Here too he continues his contribution to the community. He served as general secretary of the HaMizrachi General Council and edits HaMizrachi's journalism. He was a delegate to several Zionist Congresses. He was a member of the Second Assembly of Representatives and the Religious Writers Union. He also served as the secretary of the trade and manufacturing department of the Jewish Agency, and more.
He is especially devoted to researching and developing Jewish music. He collected and continues to collect thousands of melodies from various Jewish sects. He founded the first Jerusalem Hasidic music choir and the first folk songs orchestra. He is an organizer and honorary secretary of the Union of Cantors and Lovers of Religious Song of Israel. He delivers lectures on Kol Israel and elsewhere about Hasidic song. He edits the monthly music periodical Hallel and the monthly Tzliley Hasidim.
He published many books on music and general matters including From Road-Paving to the Construction of Beit HaPoalim [the Workers' House] (1926), Sociology in Israel (1937), Agriculture in the Scriptures and the Talmud, The Poetry of Rabbi A.I. Kook, Renanim (1931), Music and Poetry in the Literature of Maimonides (1933), LeHasidim Mizmor (1936), Hasidic Melodies (1938), Holiday Melodies, Jewish Music in Literature, Music in Hasidic Dynasties, Song and Dance in Hasidism, and more.
He is a productive writer who won awards for his informative compositions. The collection of musical notes he has gathered, over ten volumes, is the largest of its kind in the Jewish world.
A. Hasidism and Hasidim: A Short Introduction
I was educated and raised by Hasidism, and since my early childhood I closely observed the unique lifestyle of Hasidim in Zagłębie and elsewhere, and its joyful and festive customs and traits. Now, after the Holocaust, I see it as my sacred duty to ensure Hasidism's place in the spiritual monument we are erecting in memory of the Jews of Zagłębie and Będzin. The song of the cantors and prayer leaders from the many synagogues of Będzin still echo in our minds. Their pleasant voices mingle with their pleasant and sociable personalities and the prayers of the holy communities awaiting the Geula, with strong faith and devotion to the Torah and the sanctity of the People of Israel also still echo.
Będzin's last sigh rises from the torturous abyss of the nearby Auschwitz. Będzin was a holy and significant Jewish community. The dying pains of Będzin, which always yearned for the Messiah to arrive, penetrate the depths of our souls. A bitter fate and a cruel uprooting unified all; reciters of Mishnah and Psalms, humble and proud, Hasidim, rich and poor, scholars and ordinary men. All were unified in faith and spirit and all shared the tragedy.
No more holy days and parties will be celebrated in the homes of Rebbe Shapira of Brikov and Rebbe Rothenberg of Sieniawa . No more joy will grace the homes of rabbis and dayanim [rabbinic arbiters]. Nobody will gather in the Hasidic synagogues on holidays. A large community became a desert, as if it never was. It was all burned at the stake by a nation of predators. It sank into an abyss of torture and extermination, not even a grave remained. Everything beloved and holy was desecrated. Only remnants of the community and the lost generation remember, keep the flame burning, record names and erect monuments.
The lives of observant Jews were concentrated in the houses of worship. Worship houses were gathering points for communities and groups. Every prayer house had its own attributed. The congregants left their mark on the house and the house influenced them.
B. Hasidism in Poland
One of the sights which garnered much attention within Jews living in Poland and Zagłębie was, undoubtedly, Hasidism, which was implemented in Poland in a unique manner. Hasidism brought new light and security to the persecuted Jews of Poland. Hasidism expelled the sadness, filled every Jew with joy and welcomed him as a member of the Hasidic community, from which he drew spiritual elation and renewed energy, love of Israel and good deeds. Hasidism, in Poland more than anywhere, was a spirit and a culture, a society with its own forms and customs. For 125 years, Hasidim and their rebbes labored over
those forms, and their implantation and improvement. A ceaseless war raged over the nuances.
One of the most thought-provoking phenomena in the history of Hasidism is its development within the borders of proper Poland. The first lines of Hasidism were drawn in areas ranging from the center to the south-east, near the towns of Lublin, Kielce, and Radom. From there the lines stretched somewhat westward to the Piotrków area, and from there towards Częstochowa and Silesia.
Perhaps it was caused by the more densely populated and veteran communities.
Polar opposites of Hasidic strains could be found in Będzin, yet, Hasidic Będzin included them together without ideological wrangling. Every Hasid followed his method, and all methods preached love of humanity, love of Israel, granting the benefit of the doubt, and total devotion to every Jew. Love is the fruit of happiness and humility; he has no love has no humility and instead has sadness.
All the various worship houses and various dynasties in Będzin created a miniature ingathering of Jewish exiles. Yet the Hasidim knew their way within them and to stayed loyal to their path. 70 years ago, Będzin was limited to a small number of streets surrounding the old marketplace. At the time, there were only a few Hasidic synagogues of dynasties like Radomsk, Ger (Góra Kalwaria), Sochaczew, Aleksander, Kock, and later, the Chęciny kloyz, The remainder of the synagogues were founded only after the expansion of the town and its Jewish population.
C. Hasidism in Będzin
Będzin was one of the most beautiful communities in Poland. Every local Hasidic synagogue included dozens of majestically-appearing Jews who could be counted among the greatest of Polish Hasidism.
The Hasidic community of Będzin comprised of many Polish dynasties, including local rabbis. Their synagogues were located on Małachowska, Koll¹taja, and Modrzejowska streets and the new market. 4 dayanim presided in Będzin and all were followers of different dynasties; Dayan Rabbi Yehoshua Telner was a Sochaczew Hasid. Rabbi Dan Lifshitz, whom Nazis murdered as he was wrapped in his prayer shawl and tefillin, was an Aleksander Hasid. Rabbi David Friedberg and Rabbi Chaim Yitzchak Isaac Manela were Sochaczew Hasidim.
The local rabbi, Itchele Kimmelman, who was a well-known and righteous man, served as rabbi of Będzin from 1866 to 1893, when he died. He was a Radoshitz Hasid. After the passing of the Saba Kadisha he became a Radomsk Hasid, and after that he transferred to Ger. His son-in-law was Rabbi Yitzchak Tuvia of Modrzejów. The Ger Rebbe visited him every time he visited Modrzejów or Będzin. The rabbi who came after him, Rabbi Yissocher Berish Graubert, an author of well-known books was a Ger Hasid. His son Zalman who filled his position after his death was a Ger Hasid. After he had to leave the rabbinate and travel to America, Rabbi Hirsch Heinich Lewin, grandson of the righteous Rabbi Chanoch of Aleksander, son-in-law of the Sfas Emes of Ger, was appointed as the town rabbi and his father-in-law the Ger Rebbe periodically visited him .
The Hasidim concentrated within a spiritual cluster which differentiated them from the rest of the Jews of Będzin; the special synagogues, known as shtiblech where the nusach was Sephardic, was headed by a rebbe in patriarchal dress. Among them were very unique scholars who studied the Torah and Kabbalah day and night. Some rose for Tikun Chatzot, in which they covered themselves in ashes and mourned the exile of the Shechinah and the destruction of the Temple.
Yet, there was still much comradery among the Hasidim. Men of all ages addressed one another in the first person. Friendship and unity were ample in all Hasidic synagogues. It was a natural and regular occurrence to aid a downtrodden or impoverished Hasid.
The whole Hasidic tribe was obligated to pray at the shtibel because that was the mark of membership in the Hasidic movement. Every group prayed together because there were differences in the prayer version, according to the accepted version in every rebbe's synagogue. But many preferred to pray on their own so they would not be disturbed in a state of elation. Some paced during the prayers, gestured and shook, prostrated and bowed, fulfilling All my bones shall say. Others stood frozen in place while they poured out their hearts in prayer.
Some synagogues were old, some new and others in between. The old ones existed for many generations, and some events took place in them including revolution and partitions. Almost every synagogue experienced such events. Almost all were visited by their rebbes.
D. The Hasidic Synagogues
Many such synagogues existed in the town. Every synagogue had its own appearance, special customs, and songs. Every synagogue left its mark on its Hasidim to the point that, even without direct knowledge, it was easy to infer which synagogue a Hasid prayed in and to which rebbe he traveled. Some Hasidim often enjoyed the pleasures of this world; they ate and drank well, wore nice and clean clothes, because their rebbe also enjoyed a good meal and tended to the cleanliness of his clothes. Others lived in poverty and saw this world as but a hallway to the afterlife. The degree of love for music, a core tenant of Hasidism, also differed. There were also differences in quality of music as compared to its origins and adherence to structure of ancient Jewish music, as not every dynasty knew or carefully examined such small matters.
Each Hasidic synagogue was like its own world, like the home of one big family. Members of the family were remembered by the future generations, including their greatness and their faults, inward and outward, just as they were in life. The synagogue assured the Hasid that he was not alone in the world and that he was promised security, refuge, and support in his time of need. The days that the Hasid spent with his rebbe were days of spiritual elation. The Hasidic kloyz was both a religious and social institution that was devoted to worship and study. The Hasidic atmosphere of Jewish Będzin was created in the kloyz. After a hard day's work, the Jew went to the kloyz and forgot his troubles of the day and absorbed the light of the undefinable Jewish spark. Hasidim held Mitzvah Feasts, drank liquor on the yahrzeit of a passed rebbe, celebrated the private celebrations of every individual because here he was not an individual and his celebration was not private. Members of the kloyz knew the situations of every other member, who needed aid and who could provide aid. Here they debated and deliberated important subjects, community matters, choosing of rabbis, and shochetim. The kloyz was also the best pastime place for the young and the old. Of course, also the Beth Midrash and the main synagogue provided spirituality. The Beth Midrash was a gathering place for ordinary folks. In it
Sat young men and studied Talmud in the well-known tune and their song attracted people. Even Talmud melodies differed based on the yeshivas in which one studied.
The kloyz was everything and was placed above all else. Other then a gathering place for the Hasidim, they prayed there, studied, discussed various topics, sought advice, etc. All questions and wishes concerning life in the town and within the community were expressed there. There was a saying that all world politics were decided by the fireplace in the shtibel. On yahrzeits the crowd drank liquor and refreshments were served. On Shabbat afternoons, the crowd gathered in the kloyz for the shabbat meal; the meal included challah and herring, and during the meal the crowd sang hymns full of yearning and devotion. Shadows blurred the boundaries between men, and all present became one man with one heart. A community of Jews detached itself from the world, disposed of physical wants, escaped private homes to the communal homes, to the illuminated table resembling an altar, to pour out heart troubles in longing for the departing Queen Sabbath. The Hasidim did not want to part with Shabbat, even when it was dark outside. The town had already immersed itself in weekday concerns as the Hasidim prepared for Havdala. Only after Havdala, the Melaveh Malka, the addition to the Shabbat meals, took place with old and new songs.
The life of the kloyz without tunes would be indescribable. Every Jewish heart is attracted to song like to a pure well, which elevated life every day. Song is a part of Hasidic life. When a Hasid returned from his rebbe, he did not forget to bring with him a new tune, and if he was a musical person who knew how to lead prayers, the new tune soon became famous among all Hasidim in the town, who elevated it and sang it at every opportunity.
The older generation of veteran Hasidim died and their inheritors took their place. Never did one think that the Hasidic generation was dwindling. The times have changed since Hasidim, including wealthy men, spent more than half of a day in the kloyz where young bearded, sidelock-clad men sat by the tables and studied. Two generations worked together then. The old men departed and the young men took their place. The Hasidic youth also lent a hand to kloyz life. The generation had passed, but the Hasidic spirit did not end.
Disputes were a part of community life and they did not pass over the Hasidic synagogues. Disputes usually arose during selections of the shochet or rabbi. In those days there were no party ambitions and instead there were kloyz ambitions; every kloyz wanted the elected shochet or rabbi to be from its people.
E. Faith in the Righteous
Hasidim were very faithful to their righteous rabbi. His image always was before their eyes and they were fully attached to him. They came and went, negotiated based upon his sacred words. When they longed for the rebbe, his tish, his teachings and illuminating words, their minds did not settle until they travelled to him, to spend time with him to observe his illuminated face, to hear words and secrets of Torah, to quench their thirst with his words and learn from his manners and deeds. When a rebbe was visited, one wrote him a note (kvitel) in which he expressed his needs and desires, sought advice about business and trade, sought his approval on marriage matches and other familial matters, and inquired about medicine and cures for diseases. The rebbe's opinion was sacred and it was implemented fully.
The longing to be with the rebbe increased as the High Holy days approached. During that time the eyes of the Hasidim were raised to the rebbe because he was the one to pass their prayers to the heavens and he was an advocate for them and for all of Israel.
Some young Hasidic men were influenced by the Haskalah but were yet to divorce Hasidism, and still maintained a Hasidic lifestyle, including in dress and routine. They still prayed at the kloyz and occasionally travelled to the rebbe. They could not part ways with the kloyz because they were once Hasidim who studied at the kloyz and were strongly bound to it. But the Hasidim noticed changes immediately; they noticed that the path had been deviated from, a lot or somewhat, and they treated them as outsiders.
As the Zionist period arrived, the synagogues of Będzin saw Hasidic men fundraising for Eretz Israel. It was not a simple matter. Some kloyzes were inflamed and other Hasidim would break collection plates, rip the paper announcements or snatch the money, but there was no alternative; the only Zionist activism available was fundraising. Monumental events took place from 1905-6. We learned about Dr. Herzl's The Jewish State From Ha-Tsfirah and Ha-Melitz. Additionally, the Zionist idea further penetrated the towns of Zagłębie after the large Hovevei Zion gathering in the nearby Katowice beyond the Silesia border, which was attended by rabbis Samuel Mohilever of Białystok and Yitzchak Yaacov Reines of Lida and other famed rabbis.
There were no provocative opponents of Hasidism in Będzin like the kind prevalent in other places, like, for example those who placed a bowl of Matzo balls on the windowsill on the first night of Passover to protest Hasidim, who do not eat Gebrochts. Even if there were some opponents, they were absorbed and overshadowed by the town's Hasidic majority. Opponents were mainly Litvaks, Jews originally from Lithuania who settled in Będzin for business, and they pronounced their opposition to Hasidism without provoking the Hasidim.
There were many Hasidim (including Ger Hasidim) who, being warm-hearted Jews with much sympathy and love for fellow Jews, were more delighted by good news from Eretz Israel than they were by personal success. Some Hasidim spoke bitterly against rebbes who opposed Eretz Israel. In their opinion, the rebbes should have led Zionism and be the first to make aliya. However, their anger towards the rebbes did not prevent them, following scorn of the opponents of the Land of Israel, to quote the rebbe's Torah teachings.
There once was a veteran Hasid who stopped traveling to his rebbe. When asked why he stopped, he replied, every rebbe has a table that most fits him. Big rabbis have a big table, and small rabbis have smaller tables. My rebbe is so grand that his table reaches Będzin, and I am always seated by my rebbe's table with no need to travel to him.
A time dawned that saw the weakening of Hasidism. It stopped being the main source of attraction. For example, in times past, if a Hasid wore a collar it was considered a big news story and folks in the town began gossiping about him. However, as the buds of
culture and Haskalah flourished, deviations increased. The cultural world very close by, beyond the Austrian and German borders, raised the prevalence of nonconformity. The youth began breaking down barriers to that world; some for education and training, some for work. The biggest contribution to nonconformity was the ravenousness of politics and socialist ideology in its war against the Russian Czar and his aids, which ruined the youth's souls and demanded many losses.
Many among the Hasidim wove golden dreams about a Jewish state and a great future for our people. Many olim founded new Hasidic nests in Israel. Unfortunately, there were many more who dreamed but did not see their dreams come true and made their last journey singing Ani Ma'amin [I believe] as a self-eulogizing prayer, the glory of faith in the strength of Israel and its future on their minds
No famous rebbes whose followers from other communities flocked to lived in Będzin. Two righteous men, grandsons of rebbes, resided in Będzin in the last generation. However their influence on the town was minor. They did not have many local followers and they were not visited from the outside. They had no synagogue offshoots outside of Będzin. The nearby Sosnowiec was luckier in that aspect as it was the home of the Radomsk Rebbe, Shlomo Chanoch Rabinowicz HYD. It was also home to rebbe Yehoshua of Ostrava the son of the righteous Rashal of Lancinow , Rabbi Alter Biderman a grandson of Rabbi Moshe Biderman of Jerusalem, and Rabbi Eliezer Finkler of Kielce.
Będzin lacked a proper Hasidic dynasty. However, Będzin was a Hasidic town and it was connected to the large Hasidic dynasties and was home to descendants of the historic dynasties of the Hasidic world. The Hasidim of Będzin travelled to their rebbes for Shabbat and holy days. They would convene with their rebbes during prayers, tish, donations and notes.
Instead, Będzin could boast of its Torah greats who were rooted in righteousness and Hasidism, such as Rabbi Avraham Bornstein the Sochaczew rebbe who was born in Będzin, Rabbi Aryeh Tzvi Fromer HYD of Koziegłowy and the illui Rabbi Yosef Angel who resided in Będzin for a number of years until he was expelled because of the Czar's decree.
Let us describe the rebbes born in Będzin who chose other towns as their homes and the rebbes who resided in Będzin and were professional rabbis.
A. A Będzin Native Founds the Sochaczew Dynasty
The founder of the Sochaczew dynasty was born in Będzin in 5599 to his father Rabbi Nachum Ze'ev Bornstein who later served as a rabbi of Olkusz and in greater Biala. In Będzin, the infant prepared himself for the divine role. Some say that he was not born in Będzin itself but in a neighboring village and he was orphaned as a child and R' Leibush Lewkowitz, an elder Hasid of Kock in Będzin adopted him. He studied and absorbed much Torah in Będzin. Even at the age of six his deeds were known near and far. His clever and sharp replies, his sharp mind and his wise remarks made his likeable. R' Avraham was the son-in-law of Rebbe Mendel of Kock, a genius who was famous for his authoring of Avnei Neser [Crown Jewels] and Eglei Tal [Dewdrops] which are considered bedrocks of Halachic literature.
It is told that at five-years old, the child was brought to the rebbe of Pińczów Rabbi Yisroel Rapoport who had visited Będzin for a wedding. The rebbe discussed various topics with the child and was amazed by his phenomenal memory.
His biographers are especially concerned with his greatness and persistence of studying Torah in Kock, Nasielsk and Sochaczew. Aside from mentioning it as his place of birth, they ignore his life events n Będzin. Only in the book Abir Ha'Roim we find additional details about his residence in Będzin and we are obligated to highlight them and not ignore them.
The birth of the rebbe was considered an important event in Jewish Będzin in general, and even more so among the Kock Hasidim in Będzin, who celebrated with their typical glee and joy. The aforementioned book tells that the Kock Hasidim in Będzin, friends of the Bris host, celebrated in his home for eight days until after the Bris and wore festive clothes, and that every day the rabbi held a feast that they celebrated in song and dance, thanking the heavens for the kindness of sending them the infant.
Rabbi Avraham Dovid, who was the ABD of Będzin at the time, said that all of the town's residents rejoiced when Avraham was born and he who did not see that celebration has not seen a proper celebration in his life.
The rebbe's mother had difficulties giving birth because she did not experience usual labor pains. A rabbi (some say a trained doctor), who was in Będzin at the time commanded that the mother's room be filled with pipe smoke so that she would cough and through that reach the pain necessary. The Kock Hasidim filled the rabbi's house with smoke until they could not see one another. That act succeeded; the mother experienced the expected pain and the birth was successful.
A government-appointed rabbi served in Będzin at the time. By law, the government rabbi was to be honored with the role of sandek. The host of the bris was saddened that the government-appointed would be the sandek at his bris. But when the day of the bris arrived, the government unexpectedly reassigned the rabbi to a different town and he had to instantly leave Będzin, so that he could not attend the bris.
Even before the young rebbe began studying the First Five Books, his father hired Rabbi Moshe'le of Będzin as a tutor and within two weeks the child learned Torah, Talmud, Tosaoft, other commentators, and even reached Nachmanides' Milhhamot Hashem [The Lord's Wars].
Itche Bunim of Będzin was the young rebbe's teacher and he said that the rebbe of Biala took him as a teacher for his genius son when he was six-years-old. The aim was to study the plain text of the Talmud and not to deviate from studying the plain text because of his immensely sharp mind. He would tell miracle stories about the rebbe's talent and desire to learn even as a child, to the point that at age ten, he had already completed the study of the Babylonian Talmud.
Avraham Leibush of Będzin, brother-in-law of the Biala rebbe and uncle of the young genius Avraham, told of his quick absorption of the material, as told in Abir Ha'roim (Piotrków, 5695, by Tzvi Yehuda Halevi of Kalisz). Among the rebbe's miracle stories is the story told by R' Yaakov Gutman of Będzin (Ibid. vol. 2 sec. 284).
His father Nachum Ze'ev, himself a great Torah scholar, was a loyal Hasid of Rebbe Mendel of Kock and he brought his gifted son to his rebbe, who took him a as a groom for his daughter. He was 14 years old when he married.
For seven years, the Kock Rebbe hosted and taught Torah and Hasidism to Rabbi Avraham. The young genius matured and became a greater scholar. He studied and worshipped day and night. He became famous as a genius and a posek and was asked questions from near and far. He remained in Kock for a few years after the passing of his father-in-law, but then had to accept a rabbinate position, first in Parczew , then in Kroniewice, then in Nasielsk and lastly he relocated to Sochaczew.
The founder of the Sochaczew Dyansty was strong-willed and fearless. He feared no man and did not bow his head before powerful men and those with ties to the government in the communities where he served as rabbi. He was involved in all community matters; he ensured accurate scales in every store, and ensured adherence to halacha. He did not honor or flatter the powerful and always stood by the oppressed. He considered widows and orphans most highly. However, the path he chose led him to acquire sworn enemies among the communities' rich and powerful men who were close to the crown and those who did its bidding. He was persecuted by people he had prevented from robbing the weak and the poor and they informed on and slandered him. He was nearly expelled from Krośniewice and he was expelled from Nasielsk where his Beth Midrash and glorious Yeshiva was shuttered by the authorities. Persecution was the lot of one of the greatest rabbis of Polish Jewry in the generation before us.
He relocated to Sochaczew only towards the end of his life. He served as the rabbi there. His yeshiva expanded. His Beth Midrash buzzed with seekers of Torah and wisdom. Sochaczew became a symbol of greatness in the study of Torah where the best among Poland's men studied. Many rabbis, teachers, and dayanim in Congress Poland studied in the reputable yeshiva. Torah greats and famed rabbis in Poland graduated from the yeshiva of the Sochaczew Dynasty Leader, including the authors of Helkat Yoav and the author of Bikurey Moshe, the genius from Kutno, Rabbi Velvish of Częstochowa and more.
A pupil of the Sochaczew Rebbe became a title that signaled Torah greatness, a sharp mind alongside wise analysis. His students exceled in their persistence, wit, loyalty and honesty. The great master left his mark on his pupils, the mark of truth and the search for truth, and despising lies and every opinion or proposition distant from the truth. The learning method in Sochaczew was detached from the expansive pilpul customary in Poland for many generations. Sochaczew also did not identify with the excessive deep probing of a single topic while ignoring the study of others. Rebbe Avraham preferred deep probing only to clarify practical halakha. His aim was to reach a true conclusion, not only to examine the beauty of deliberating a problem. With that Rebbe Avraham contributed during a generation to the glory of the Torah among the glorious Polish Jewry.
He did not want to bear the crown of Admor and preferred the study of Jewish law to the leading of a crowd of Hasidim. For 7 years After the Kock Rebbe passed, Rebbe Avraham traveled to the dynasties of Ger and Aleksander. Only after he was pressured by hundreds of Hasidim, rabbis and great Torah scholars, he relented and became an ADMOR. A new dynasty was added to the Hasidic movement, a glorious dynasty which became known as the Sochaczew Dynasty. Mostly Torah scholars gathered around the new dynasty, and they were joined also by ordinary Hasidim craftsmen and laborers.
Sochaczew created a nearly novel method of Hasidism that was loyal to the methods of Piszczac, Kock and Ger dynasties but added its own methods in many fields. Rebbe Avraham emphasized the study of Torah. Through the Torah, he said, one can reach Hasidism. He disliked ignorance of the Torah and dismissed the approach which saw the rebbe solely as a miracle man whose role was to rescue one in times of trouble. Sochaczew frowned upon the professional study of Kabbalah. Instead, the emphasis was placed on worshipping one's Creator and convening with one's Creator. Rebbe Avraham taught Hasidic theory based on Halacha and Torah. The heights that can be reached by studying Torah cannot be reached by any other means, the Sochaczew Rebbe said.
The Sochaczew dynasty expanded while its foundations were deeply rooted in Torah. Within a short while it became one of Poland's leading Hasidic centers. Sochaczew Hasidim were zealous in their self-treatment but never rejected a Jew. They excelled in sharpness and bravery inwardly and avoided disparaging others.
Rebbe Avraham led the Sochaczew dynasty as rebbe for 40 years. He passed away at in old age in 5670. His only son, Shmuel, took his place. Shmuel was known among Polish Hasidim for his book Shem MiShmuel. He always sat by the side of his father who taught and educated him. He remained loyal to the Sochaczew method according to the foundations laid by his father, and his grandfather of Kock. He led his dynasty for 16 years until 5686. He authored many books, including a book with much quantity and quality about the Torah, in which he deepened his father's teachings of halacha and Hasidic thought.
As time passed, the first generation of Sochaczew Hasidim passed away and the Hasidic tension decreased. New times arrived; secularism breached the Jewish world and did not pass over even the fortresses of Hasidism. Rebbe Shmuel withstood the tide, and increasingly highlighted his fearless personality. He was a holy man and knew how to unite Torah diligence with Hasidic diligence. His speeches gained a reputation. After his passing on 24 Tevet 5686 he was led to eternal rest near the grave of his great father.
B. A Będzin Native An Unofficial Rebbe
Among the natives of Będzin there was a man who was admired throughout Poland and everyone saw as a man of God although he did not declare himself a rebbe. The Sochaczew Hassidim pled with him to agree to be their Rebbe and fill his rebbe's role but he refused. He was still considered a general rebbe without a title. Many rebbes and Torah scholars in Poland admired and honored him for achievements he reached with hard work and great persistence. Rabbi Aryeh-Tzvi Fromer was born in 5644 in the town of Czeladź near Będzin and the German border. He was a grandson of Rebbe Berish of Oshpitzin [Oświęcim], a pupil of the Seer of Lublin and Rebbe Moshe, a brother-in-law of the holy brothers Rebbe Elimelech of Leżajsk and Reb Zushya. At age 3 he was orphaned from his mother, who was famed for her righteousness. Because a proper cheder could not be found in the town, his father sent him to his mother's relatives to be educated in nearby Wolbrom. In Wolbrom he took his first steps in scholarliness and quickly gained fame for his many talents and great memory.
At 12 years old, he transferred to the Yeshiva K'tana in Mstów near Częstochowa, a famously important yeshiva. The young man, Leibish-Hirsch as he was called, began to study Torah deeply. When he reached Bar Mitzvah age he travelled to the famous Yeshiva in Sochaczew, which was led
and supervised by its founder, Rabbi Avraham Bornstein (also a native in Będzin), son-in-law of the Rebbe of Kock.
Among hundreds of studying young men (although much older than him), the boy rose to great heights of Torah and Hassidism. Even then he stood as immensely talented and devoted to Torah and Hassidism. Everyone saw him as a vessel of blessings. At age 18, Aryeh-Tzvi married the daughter of his uncle, Rabbi Yehuda Shraga Schweitzer of Milewicz. Shortly after his wedding, he published his first book Siach HaSadeh which strongly impressed the Torah world. The book mostly is an explanation of difficult topics in Talmud, especially those in Seder Mo'ed. He also wrote other works that remain unpublished. He resided in his father-in-law's home, where he studied Torah day and night, for 7-8 years. He recited Tikun Chatzot every night. Occasionally he travelled to his rebbe in Sochaczew who liked him, honored him greatly, and praised him. Eventually, Rabbi Areyh-Tzvi gained fame as a great expert of kabbalah and slowly but surely gained fame a scholarly genius.
When the Rebbe of Sochaczew died in 5670, the then 26-year-old Rabbi Aryeh-Tzvi was invited to serve as Rosh yeshiva of the yeshiva in Sochaczew. He accepted the invitation and relocated to Sochaczew with his family. He oversaw the yeshiva successfully until its destruction, along with the town, during WWI. He then relocated to Warsaw, where he suffered great poverty.
After WWI ended, he was called to serve as the rabbi of Koziegłowy to replace his uncle rabbi Yitzchak Gutenstein who had died. Young men soon began flocking to him from all over the area and wanted to enjoy his Torah and to observe him worship worship that was truly self-sacrifice to be learned from. From there, he, his family and his students relocated to Zawiercie. There the yeshiva grew and many students who resided in the town attended. From there he and his yeshiva relocated to Sosnowiec. With every relocation, his yeshiva expanded and students were added. His students studied with great devotion as their rabbi directed their learning.
In 1934, a year after the passing of Rabbi Meir Shapiro, Rosh yeshiva of the famous Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva, rabbi Aryeh Tzvi was chosen to serve in Rabbi Shapiro's place. In Lublin, among hundreds of admirable young men, scholars, and Hassidim, he found a wide range to spread Torah and Hassidism. The admiration that the yeshiva students and the administration showed him was unimaginable, as they saw him as their master and rabbi in all senses.
He travelled to Eretz Israel at the first opportunity he got. Together with his rabbi, Rebbe Dovid of Sochaczew, he travelled to Israel. After a three-month stay in Israel, he returned to his yeshiva and his students. In 1938 he published his responsa book, Eretz Tzvi, which concerns practical halacha in the Orach Chaim volume of Shulchan Aruch.
He was a man of wide-ranging knowledge. He had a hand in every area in Judaism. He was a genius with knowledge of Torah and Jewish observance. He was well-versed in Talmud and all of its commentaries. All of Torah was open and living to him. His deep probing in his lectures, his expertise and powerful memory more than once caused the abstraction of his being from reality. He was famous as a kabbalah master, but was careful to not discuss it with anybody, and he did not publish any books on the topic.
His worship style shined with God's flame. As a young man he prolonged his prayer time. Every night he rose at midnight and tearfully recited Psalms and Tikkun Chatzot and after that studied Kabbalah until dawn, when he continued his individual studies or studied with his students.
His worship on Shabbat was especially noteworthy. His Kabbalat Shabbat prayer was fiery, and after he completed, his thoughts wandered to the upper worlds. After services, he recited the kiddush preamble noted in the Zohar and only after that he recited the kiddush.
As an avid Hassid of the Sochaczew Rebbe, he occasionally travelled to him. He sat at the western wall and prayed silently in his rebbe's synagogue, the fear of God and the fear of his Rebbe evident from his facial expressions. When he sat with his Rebbe, he would not dare taste anything until his Rebbe commanded him. He did so with all rebbes. In the introduction to Eretz Tzvi he wrote, written by he who yearns to be void to God's servants and to every good thing among Israel and a doormat stepped over by the feet of the wise and the righteous. He initiated the daily Mishna program to commemorate Jewish souls. When the war erupted in 1939 and the Chachmei Lublin building was confiscated by the Polish government and then by the Nazis, Rabbi Aryeh Tzvi relocated to Warsaw. He resumed his constant study and worship and wrote many additional works. For a while he worked at the German Schultz company alongside the other rabbis of Warsaw. After the Ghetto uprising was repressed, he was exiled with all Warsaw Jews to Majdanek where he perished. May God avenge his blood.
C. Rebbe Yechiel-Michel Shapira The Będzin Rebbe and his Lineage
a. Rabbi Chaim-Meir-Yechiel, The Seraph of Mogielnica
The veteran Shapira family of rebbes was multifaceted. The lineage is as follows: Yechiel-Meir of Będzin was the son of Reb Shalom of Przytyk, son of Rebbe Yaakov (the Tzaddik of Błędów - brother of Rebbe Elimelech of Grodziec) son of R' Chaim Meir Yechiel The Seraph of Mogielnica, son of the famous Rebbetzin Perle - daughter of Rebbe Yisroel the Maggid of Kozhnitz and wife of Rabbi Ezra Zelig Shapira ABD of Grenitz[?] . The lineage of the Będzin Rebbe is traced back to King David.
The two righteous brothers of Będzin and Plock were named after their grandfather The Seraph who was named so because of his immense holiness. The Serpah was a good friend of Chidushey Harim author, the Ger Rebbe, since childhood. The Rebbe Elimelech of Leszajsk hinted to the Seraph's mother, Pearle the daughter of the Maggid of Kozhnitz, that she would bring a great light to the world. The Seraph was raised near his grandfather the Maggid who played with him, taught him and revealed to him heavenly secrets. After he matured, the Seraph married the daughter of Rabbi Elazar of Chmelmik son of Rebbe Elimelech of Leszajsk.
The Seraph was among the greatest students of the Seer of Lublin. The Seraph served as rebbe since 5585 but still regularly travelled to The Saba of Radoshitz [Radoszyce]. After the Saba passed, the best among the Rudshitz Hassidim travelled to the Seraph. The Seraph led thousands of Hassidim, among the greatest righteous men in his generation and the father of the dynasties of Grodzisk, Błędów, Piaseczno and more.
The Seraph was humorful by nature. He did not like sadness and absent-mindedness, like many others in Poland. Shabbat and holy days in his house were celebrated with great ecstasy. Occasionally the greatest righteous men of Poland gathered in his home including Elazar of Kozhnitz, Emanuel of Przedbórz, the Tiferes Shlomo of Radomsk, Berrish Turnheim of Wolbórz, Yisroel Yitzchak of Radoshitz, Sinai of Radom, and many other greats who were his pupils and friends. The Purim celebration was especially enjoyable.
The Seraph passed away on 15 Iyar, 5609 in Warsaw where he was buried. He was survived by two sons. His eldest son, Yaakov Yitzchak, the Rebbe of Błędów filled his father's role in Mogielnica (passed away on Sivan 24 5642). The second son, Elimelech, the rabbi of Grodzisk, founded the Grodzisk dynasty, which earned its place in the Hasidic world as a unique people's dynasty. Elimelech authored the books Imrei Elimelech and Divrei Elimelech. He passed away on Nisan 1, 5652.
b. Rebbe Chaim Shapira of Plotzk [Płock]
The Brother of the Będzin Rebbe was Chaim Shapira HYD, the Rebbe of Plotzk who was martyred by the Polish government in Elul 5680. It was during the Russian assault on Poland and the town of Płock, a town within the war front that was under Russian rule for a short while. After the Polish military regained control of Płock, Rabbi Shapira was accused of spying for the Bolsheviks and was executed based on the testimony of two gentiles. That tragic event shook Polish and world Jewry. Many days later, attempts were made to renew the trial and to prove to the world the rabbi was innocent.
He was born in 5639 in the town of Przytyk where his father served as rabbi and ADMOR. Immediately following his wedding, many Hassidim began traveling to him and his home became a gathering place for wise men and men of action. He was known for his righteousness and abstinence. He was content with his lot and rejected all proposals by his followers, who wanted to build him a leisurely home and to generously support him. His caution in observing commandments is unparalleled. He was especially cautious in preparing Matza for Passover and he prepared for Passover many weeks before the festival.
In 5680, during the Russian assault on Poland, when Płock was surrounded by Russian soldiers and bloody battles took place on its streets, the rebbe stood on his balcony wearing his tallit and tefillin, and prayed for peace upon the town and its residents. That worked against him later; after the Russians were expelled, a servant and a clothes-washer testified at the Polish military headquarters that the rabbi spied for the Russians by standing on his balcony and revealing state secrets with hand gestures. That non-credible testimony sufficed and the Rebbe was immediately jailed. He took with him a Chumash, his tallit and tefillin. In the two days, he was imprisoned he did not eat or drink, and only prayed and studied Torah. On the third day, he was sentenced and executed.
The Rebbe accepted the verdict peacefully and calmly, as if it did not concern him. He was detached from this world and prepared himself for eternal life. He wore a coat over his tallit. With his Chumash in hand, he peacefully walked, accompanied by heavy armed guard, to the execution site near the mountain outside of the town. A large crowd ran beside him, mocked him and threw rocks. At the execution site, the town's posek approached him. The Rebbe reached out his hand and told him that his mind was completely at peace and he happily accepted martyrdom so that he could save the town's Jews from lurking danger. His last request was to not eulogize him and that a large crowd would not attend the funeral, and most importantly, to teach his children Torah and to fear God. He then took off his coat, covered his head with the tallit, turned towards the soldiers, recited Vidui [sin confession], Shema, and God is Lord, and his soul departed. May God avenge his blood.
After the Rebbe's tragic death, one of his sons relocated to Będzin. After much pleading he accepted the position of dayan in the town. He resided in Będzin until its destruction.
c. Rabbi Yechiel-Meir Shapira of Będzin
The Będzin Rebbe was the maternal grandson of Rebbe Chaim of Sanz (author of Divrei Chaim) and had familial ties to many great righteous men in Poland. He was dubbed the Brikever Rebbe by the Jews of Będzin because he lived near the brik (bridge) which crossed the Przemsza River that crossed through the town.
The difference between him and the Shiniver [?] Rebbe was that the Shiniver Rebbe was followed mostly by ordinary people who blindly believed in and loved their Rebbe, while the Brikever's followers were Torah scholars who studied in the Bet Midrash.
Rabbi Yechiel Meir Shapira arrived in Będzin after WWI and served as its rabbi until his last day (unknown date) and the Nazis' extermination of the Jews of Będzin. He resided in a brick-walled house near the main synagogue. He was broad-shouldered, of majestically appearance, long curled side locks, wore shoes and white socks , wore velvet and silk, and conducted his tish like the dynasties of Kozhnitz and Moglenica. His followers, tradesmen, craftsmen, and many scholars, visited him. He gained a reputation as a righteous man who was well-versed in world events, a fully-fledged lover of the Jewish people, traits which were reflected in his lectures and teachings, in addition to his way of life in the spirit of love thy neighbor.
He was a great and wise scholar of Talmud, and excelled in his devotion to Judaism and love for his people. He was not a religious zealot. He was loved by the masses, and every day many knocked on his door to seek life advice. His advice was praised by his followers. Yehuda Leib Weissbecker, who lived with the Rebbe and now resides in Tel Aviv, said that before he was to be enlisted in the Polish military, he sought the Rebbe's advice and his wish was granted easily. His followers were enthusiastic following spiritually enjoyable conversations with him.
He did not have synagogue outposts outside of Będzin, but he had many followers from the region. He resided in Będzin for approximately 40 years.
His home was wide open. Any man who entered was reached out to and entered into the home's atmosphere, so it is unsurprising that people loved him so. On Shabbat and holidays 6 minyanim prayed in his synagogue and his tish was joined by 4 minyanim. The tish was generous and fit for a king, and included his words of Torah, which demonstrated his wisdom. Every meal abounded with singing, in the spirit passed down from the Maggid and the Serpah, who prioritized song. Between courses the crowd sang songs of yearning and devotion as the attendees became one man with one heart.
The Rebbe's passion during prayers was unusual, especially during the reciting of Hallel. On Sukkot, Hallel and the shaking of the lulav lasted 4 hours. It was recited intently and enthusiastically, and he gradually departed from worldly matters, until a holy fear gripped the audience who felt that they were attending a divine event that made for an indescribable experience.
Like his brother, the Plotzk Rebbe, the Będzin Rebbe carefully observed religion, a thing they probably inherited from the Maggid of Kozhnitz (the dynasties' father) and treasured by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That observance was especially expressed when
the Rebbe prepared matzah for Passover. The matzah was baked in the Rebbe's home under his instruction and supervision. He prepared for Passover weeks ahead of time.
The yahrzeit of his father, The Rebbe of Przytyk, was important to Rabbi Yechiel Meir. Every year, the sons of the late Rebbe arrived in Przytyk to pray by their father's grave. The town's businesses, including restaurants and hotels, greatly benefited from the crowd of Hassidim who arrived early. Meir Shapira, the Rebbe's nephew who now resides in Tel Aviv, said that he still remembers the Będzin rebbe from his visits to Przytyk; [Meir recalls Rabbi Yechiel Meir's] noble features, and that his family considered the Rebbe as the best uncle. As a youth he already stood out because of his gentle soul, his pure traits, and his devotion to all that the nation holds sacred.
The Rebbe's wife was a daughter of a lineage of rabbis' families from Turobin, Lublin voivodship. They had 6 children: Dovid, Elimelech, Yitzchak, Nechama, Perle and another daughter.
The eldest son, Dovid, was drawn to literature from an early age. He relocated to Warsaw and reached a respected position among Jewish writers. He gained fame under the pseudonym Yehuda Yefet. He contributed to Heint, and to HaMizrachi journals and literature. He also contributed to Ha-Tsfirah, BaDerech and more. He received special attention for his historical essays on the lives of famous Hassidic rebbes. A familial crisis occurred because of his writing career as his family saw it as a deviation from the correct path in Judaism. Truthfully, the Jewish faith was his guiding light and he lived his life accordingly. His life ended while he sanctified God's name alongside other Jews in the ghetto. The people of his town, his friends in Warsaw and those who enjoyed his writing will remember him forever.
Unfortunately, none of the Rebbe's family members survived. We do not know the saga of his jailing in the Będzin ghetto and the events that took place before he was sent to the gas chamber in Auschwitz. We only know that after his imprisonment in the ghetto, one of his followers and his benefactor, Gleitman, a wealthy and chartable man, conducted unsuccessful efforts to release him.
The members of the Będzin community in Israel and abroad often honor the rebbe's holy memory. His memory will remain sacred among his acquaintances, followers and admirers. May their memory be blessed and admired and may God avenge their blood.
D. A Będzin Rebbe and His Lineage
Będzin was home to two rebbes descended from famous Hassidic dynasties. They arrived in Będzin after the period of rapid Hassidic expansion, which might be the reason why descriptions of the homes of rebbes in Będzin were left out while the figures of righteous men in Poland shined and their names reached distances.
a. Rebbe Yitzchak-Mendel HaLevi Rothenberg
Rabbi Rothenberg resided in Będzin. He was of a large Hassidic lineage, a descendant of Rebbe Meir of Apta [Opatów], Rebbe Avraham-Yehoshua Heshel of Apta author of Ohev Israel, the righteous Rebbe Dovid of Lelov[ Lelów] and his in-law The Holy Jew of Peshischa [Przysucha] and other righteous men. He is absent from literature on Hasidism, perhaps because so much was already written about his righteous ancestors, although the grandchildren and great-grandchildren also contributed to the expansion of Hassidism. It is impossible to write about the Rebbe who resided in Będzin without describing his lineage, especially his father the righteous man of Wolbrom, who was considered a prominent figure among Polish rebbes.
Rabbi Alter- Meir-Dovid Rothenberg of Wolbrom was the son of Rabbi Yitzchak Mendel son of Rabbi Pinchas son of Rabbi Meir of Apta, author of Or LaShamyim and substitute Rebbe to the Seer of Lublin.
Rabbi Pinchas served as rebbe in Opatow and thousands of his father's followers traveled to him. His son, Rabbi Yitzchak Mendel, married Golda Esther, daughter of Rebbe Moshe of Lelov son of Rebbe Dovid of Lelov. [Golda Esther] remained barren for many years after she married. Rebbe Moshe supported them [Yitzchak and Golda] until they left Poland and emigrated to Israel in 5609. [Yitzchak Mendel] passed away in Jerusalem on Tevet 13, 5610.
Her [Golda Esther's] father advised her to approach the righteous rebbe Yissocher-Ber of Radoshitz, and he promised that she would bear a son who would be a great Jew. His blessing came true and she gave birth to  a son who was named Meir Dovid. Meir, in honor of his great-grandfather of Apta and Dovid in honor of his maternal great-grandfather, the righteous Dovid of Lelov. Later, because of a disease he suffered in his youth, the name Alter was added as a charm for a longer life, and became the name he was primarily associated with.
Alter's father, Yitzchak Mendel, remained in Lelów for several years after his father-in-law Rebbe Moshe departed. For unknown reasons, he relocated from Lelów to Wolbrom. He was considered holy by the residents of Wolbrom, who recall that he owned a carriage that was carried by four horses, in which he travelled in his leisure like a Polish nobleman. The carriage and his angelic appearance commanded reverence. He passed away approximately 5634 on 25 (or 20) Adar. And he was buried honorably in the Wolbrom cemetery. A magnificent tombstone was placed on his grave, and many prayed by his grave on his yahrzeit.
His son, Rabbi Alter, was born in Lelów in 5607 and he was an only child. He inherited followers from his father and from his grandfather of the Lelov dynasty. He had offshoot synagogues in Olkusz, D¹browa [Górnicza], Sosnowiec, Częstochowa, Zawiercie, Czeladź, Miechów, Charsznica, Wodzislaw, Szczekociny, Zarnowiec, Sławków, Pilica, Sędziszów, Kielce, Warsaw, £ódź, and more. He resided in Wolbrom in his ancestral home, which included a large synagogue with a women's section. He married a relative, Rebbetzin Sarah, also a descendent of Rebbe Dovid of Lelov. He had marriage contacts with other great Hasidic masters of his generation.
Even later, after he was crowned as a rebbe, he did not stop being a Hassid of other rebbes. He travelled to every rebbe in Poland, and to his last day he did not stop searching for more righteous men to befriend. It is fair to say that he knew, and traveled to, every righteous man of his time. His frequent travels prevented an increase of the number of his followers and admirers because such travels entailed spending of time and money. He admired Rebbe Chaim of Sanz the most, and began traveling to him when he was 19 years old. The Sanzer Rebbe returned the love, honored him very much, and seated him next to him at the head of the table, although he was still young. When he was in Sanz, Rebbe Alter was like a follower serving his rabbi. After the Sanzer Rebbe died, Rabbi Alter travelled to Rebbe Avraham, the Maggid of Trisk, Despite the considerable distance. He also visited The Good Jew of Neustdat, Rebbe Nosson Dovid of Szydłowiec, and Rebbe Yehoshua of Belz . Many letters from the Sanzer Rebbe praising him were found in Rebbe Alter's estate.
He had a large audience of Hassidim. On Shavuot and on Rosh Hashanah, approximately 300 Hassidim crowded his home, in addition to those who would visit
on Shabbat or on weekdays because he was famed as a wondrous righteous Hasid and his Torah lectures proved that he was a great scholar. Hassidim from the provincial towns were always present in Rebbe Alter's home, including some who sang tunes from various Hassidic dynasties. The largest audience was present on the High Holy Days; all seats in his synagogue were full and many stood outside during prayers, on the grass of the open field neighboring the house.
During the High Holy Days, the rebbe led prayers only during Ne'ilah services. His thundering voice stoked awe in the hearts of his audience. His sons, R' Yosef and R' Yitzchak-Mendel, took turns leading Musaf services. Leading of the Pesukei dezimra was reserved to Rebbe Alter's follower, Chaim Nunberg. The rebbe led Kabbalat Shabbat often. Occasionally he led Musaf prayers in the town's main Bet Midrash during High Holy Days, at the request of the synagogue administrators and the town leaders. His custom was to recite kiddush at 7:00 during the winter and at 9:00 during the summer. Morning prayers began at 9 and continued until 12:00-1:00. On Rosh Hashanah, services continued until 5 in the evening, and the afternoon services began immediately following Musaf.
Rebbe Alter had two Gabbaim. The head gabbai, Chaim-Melech, was a talented singer and entertainer. Chaim-Melech excelled especially in joke-telling during the Purim tish.
The residents of Wolbrom told stories of Rebbe Alter's miracle-working powers. The storytellers who currently reside in Israel testify the miracle stories are factual and not be disputed. The townspeople recall the following:
Once, the daughter of the Rebbe's Gentile neighbor tormented the Hassidic children who played in the yard, so the rebbe cursed her. After she married, she gave birth to stillborn children. Her relatives made many attempts to appease the Rebbe but he did not relent and the curse remained in effect.
Once, on Yom Kippur eve before Kol Nidrei, the Rebbe walked to the ritual bath when he encountered a Christian youth who spat at him. The Rebbe cursed him to continue spitting until he spat out his gallbladder. The curse came true. Even the Gentile neighbors believed the youth was punished by the Rebbe's curse.
A fire erupted in the town and reached the market place, reached Pilica Street and half of the town was consumed by the fire. The Rebbe and his sons went out and observed the flames. The Rebbe took out a kerchief, waved it around and the wind instantly changed direction. The fire stopped a few houses before the Rebbe's home.
On the seventh night of Passover, which marks the night that the Israelites crossed the Sea, the Hassidim drew water from the well, poured it on the floor and danced around it, as if they themselves were crossing the split sea.
Rebbe Alter passed away in 5678 at a ripe old age after a prolonged disease, and he was buried near his father in Wolbrom. His second son, Rabbi Yosef Nosson, a great Torah scholar, took his place. His Eldest Son, Rebbe Sholem served as Rebbe first in Zawiercie. From there he relocated to Częstochowa. Shoelm's son Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Elchanan, known for his ceaseless study, filled his place in Częstochowa.
The youngest of Alter's sons resided in Będzin.
His five daughters were taken as wives of veteran Hassidic-rabbinic families' sons:
Alter's daughter, Devorah, married Rebbe Sholom Rokach of the Belz dynasty. Sholom Rokach served as rebbe in Wolbrom, and during the ghetto period escaped to Sandomierz where he was murdered alongside the town's Jews. One of his sons, Moshe Rokach, escaped and arrived in Israel, and currently resides in Herzliya.
A second daughter married Rabbi Aharon Halberstam, ABD of Bielsko-Biała, Galicia. [Aharon] was a descendent of Rebbe Chaim of Sanz and was a great, sharp-minded rabbi with a well-rounded knowledge of Torah. One of his sons escaped the hellfire and reached New York, where he published several books authored by his father.
A third daughter married Rebbe Benyamin Gottshall, a son of Rebbe Asher Anshil of Lodzh and son-in-law of Rebbe Hillel of Radoshitz, grandson of the Saba Kadisha. He labored day and night on the study of Torah. He established a large building in Radoszyce that included a large synagogue. He had many followers. Like the other Rebbes of Radoshitz, he often fasted. He wore his talit and tefillin all day, and only in the evening took them off when he and ate to prepare for the next day's fast. He was a wonderful singer and cantor.
A fourth daughter married Rabbi Aryeh Horowitz, ABD of Błażowa, Galicia, a descendent of Rebbe Naftali of Ropshitz [Ropczyce].
A fifth daughter married Rabbi Yitzchak Glickman (his family name was Rubin, a paternal descendant of Rabbi Yeshaya Rubin ABD of Ropczyce, substitute of his well-known father-in-law, Rebbe Naphtali of Ropshitz) a genius who knew all of Talmud by age 14 who shocked the world with his wit and wisdom, and in 5659 was appointed as rabbi of Sosnowiec. He passed away in Sosnowiec in 5690 and was succeeded by his son Yehoshua. Yehoshua continued to serve until Elul 7, 5703 , when he was exiled, along with his family (including his righteous father-in-law, Rebbe Yehoshua-Heshel Horowitz of Chęciny- Olkusz) to Auschwitz. Two sons survived and reside in New York.
Rebbe Alter of Wolbrom's youngest sons, Yitzchak Mendel, relocated to Będzin two years before his father passed away. He resided on Małachowska Street in Reb Aharon Mendel Szuster's home, where he had his own bet Midrash. He was dubbed the Shiniver Rebbe because he resided near the shiness (train tracks in Yiddish). He did not have family ties to the Galician Shiniver (Sieniawa) Halberstam dynasty, aside from martial ties. He married the daughter of the righteous Rebbe Naftali Rokach (a direct paternal descendent of Rebbe Shalom of Belz). His home was open to all. Like his grandfather of Lviv, he had an unusual love for people. His Hassidism was founded on simple faith and devout observance.
He took over one of the branches which until then was an ordinary Hassidic synagogue, and elevated it to a designated rebbe's synagogue, although he did not have branches outside of Będzin. Most of the Hassidim who traveled to him were common men who loved their Rebbe and blindly believed in him. Rebbe Yitzchak Mendel educated them to be kind and to trust in God. His followers shared all of their life events with him. They shared their success with him as they did in the event of tribulations and they were immediately relived and spiritually elated.
Rebbe Yitzchak Mendel was tall, with a black and white beard. He wore elegant
clothes, was handsome and his noble figure that left an unforgettable
impression. However, he was admired less than Rebbe Szapira who resided in
Będzin because he was not a great scholar. He led prayers on weekdays and
He had a strong and pleasant voice. He began leading prayers morning or Musaf services on the High holy Days when his father was still serving. He wore white slacks for the reciting of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. His singing was emotional, tearful, and warmhearted. He read psalms in a tune of pure expressive pleading. Even during happy holy days he did not change the sad tone.
On Shabbat and holy days, many Hassidim traveled to him from Sosnowiec, Dąbrowa and the area. He had wealthy followers who contributed much to his house. Scholars did not visit him, although he did spoke of Torah at his table. Followers travelled to him especially during the High Holy Days.
He died on Thursday, Shevat 20, 5699 (9th of February, 1939), about six months before the Holocaust began, lovingly kissing Hassidim who were present when his holy soul departed. His funeral was held the following Sunday, and approximately 20,000 attended the funeral.
His son, Rabbi Moshe Yechezkel, relocated to Berlin after WWI. He serves as a rebbe there, after he founded a bet Midrash where he greeted those seeking his advice. From Berlin he relocated to Vienna, and then he relocated to Riga, Latvia, where he was martyred alongside other Jews.
His other sons and sons-in-law were included Rabbi Elimelech, who resided in
Łęczyca near Łódź. The youngest of his sons, who
took his place in Będzin, was Rebbe Majer. A few months before the last
war, Majer married the daughter of the Kałuszyn Rebbe. During the war he
returned to Będzin, and from there he was expelled to Auschwitz with the
other town residents.
A Native of Będzin A Famous Rebbetzin
Rivka, daughter of Moshe Ohrwerger of Będzin, married Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Przysucha (5527-5687), among the greatest Hassidic leaders in Poland. She was called the Rebbetzin of Przysucha. Masses traveled to Przysucha to find peace of mind. Hundreds of young scholars left their homes and resided in Przysucha for many months, to draw from the well of holiness and to find the true path in Torah and Hassidism.
Rivka of Będzin was known for her righteousness and her kindness. She was a true woman of valor who stood by her husband's right hand. Rebbe Simcha Bunim resided in his father-in-law's home in Będzin for several years. The father-in-law supported the rebbe so that he could study Talmud worry-free. During that time, he began his relationship with the Hassidic movement although his father, the maggid Rabbi Tzvi was a staunch opponent of Hassidism. Rebbe Bunim began to pray enthusiastically like a Hasid, studied musar and travelled to the great Hasidic masters of his time.
Rebbe Simcha Bunim was born in 5527 [1766/1767] (some say 5525 [1764/1765]) in Wodzisław to his mother Sarah. At age ten he studied in the cheider in his town, one of the most ancient in Poland, where many great rabbis served. He excelled in the study of Talmud since childhood. He was influenced by the Torah atmosphere in his birth town, especially by his father. His father told him about the Jews and their customs in other European countries and awakened in him the desire to travel far to study Torah. His father sent him to Hungary and Moravia, where rabbis his father had befriended resided. He studied in the Mattersdorf Yeshiva for several years. While in Hungary, he studied languages and philosophy of the Middle Ages in Nikolsburg [Mikulov].
He hid from people and did not want to gain fame from his knowledge of Torah. He was discovered once during his travels, in the town of Lesko. The great and righteous Rabbi Mendel Rubin, father of the Ropshitz Rebbe Naftali Tzvi Horowitz was the town's rabbi and Simcha Bunim visited the rabbi, who assessed him.
After Simcha Bunim returned home from the yeshiva, his father wanted to arrange a marriage for him, but could not find a desirable match. Once, when Rabbi Tzvi visited Będzin during his travels as a speaker, he was a guest in the home of the famous rich man Moshe Ohrwerger. As Moshe and Tzvi conversed, the host complained that he could not find a good match for his daughter Rivka, who was excellent, beautiful, smart, kind, and righteous. The maggid replied, call Rivka so I can see her. I think I have a match for her, a boy who is also and excellent, righteous, kind and scholarly. He is also from a great lineage, a descendant of the Bach [Joel Sirkis]. The maggid saw the girl and she found favor with him. He then told Moshe, instead of hiring a matchmaker let us agree for my son Bunim to become engaged to your daughter Rivka. And thus the engagement was arranged. The engagement was immediately followed by the joyous wedding.
Not many days passed before Rebbe Bunim began his real life. His support by his father-in-law in Będzin ceased and he had to search for a source of income. His Hassidism was advantageous then; Tamar Bergson, wife of Berko Bergson son of Rabbi Shmuel Zwitkower was famous for her righteousness and her aid to the poor. Tamar also supported Hassidic dynasties and supported individual Hassidim by employing them as clerks at her businesses. Simcha Bunim was the supervisor of Tamar's wood business. He transferred wood by raft to the Danzig [Gdańsk] peer. He travelled on business also to the large fair in Leipzig, Germany. His business relationships required a knowledge of European languages and he learned Polish, German, and Russian. He also wore European clothes, which he wore even when he returned to Poland and to the Hassidic rebbes.
After some time he no longer worked at the Bergson business. He wanted to earn a living with a respectable, practical profession so he studied pharmacy, a profession that was not common those days among Jews, especially among the Orthodox. He travelled to Lviv, took the exam administered by the medicine council and received a diploma of licensed pharmacist. He then opened a pharmacy in Przysucha. Rebbe Simcha earned well from his pharmacy and was known by Polish nobles and regional doctors. During the Napoleonic Wars he supplied medicine to the French forces. In addition to his business and pharmacy, he did not stop practicing Hasidism. In addition to his travels to Kozienice and Opatów, he became close to Rebbe David of Lviv, who travelled with him to the Seer of Lublin. He was succeeded by his only son, the famous Rebbe Avraham Moshe, who inherited his father's role as leader of Przysuch.
Before his death his wife wept and he responded why are you crying? All my life I learned how to die. Now that the time has come to die, is it the right time for weeping?
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