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[Page 249]

A History of Hazzanut in Będzin

M. S. Geshuri (Brukner)

Translated by Meir Bulman

Edited by Karen Leon

The glorious community of Będzin existed for centuries, and is considered one of Poland's oldest communities. Since the establishment of its two large synagogues, many cantors and prayer leaders served in Będzin. .


Polish Hazzanut

Many styles of Hazzanut existed among European Jews such as Polish Hazzanut, German Hazzanut, etc.

Hazzanut is based on the many Eastern scales. The foundations of Eastern music and Western music are completely different. Traditional scales in Eastern music and in hazzanut, called Steiger, are 1) The ancient Greek Phrygian mode, 2) The ancient Dorian mode, 3) The Ancient Greek Lyric, and 4) the Hijaz or Ahavah Rabbah mode. Additionally, Hazzanut preserved Eastern bases like the trill, which filled an important role in it and developed into a full theory and creative rule. Hazzanut in its general form remained original, according to the Semitic- Eastern basis, while in spirit and movements, it changed according to the music of its host nations. At the end of the Middle Ages, Western influence replaced Eastern influence in Ashkenazi music. The rabbis who sensed this issue began objecting to the cantors, until the Maharil enacted rules that were accepted by the community.

Unique Eastern-European Hazzanut, named Polish Hazzanut, dominated in its struggle against the German Hazzanut of the Middle Ages. Eastern influences decreased as western-European influence and its Semitic-Eastern basis significantly decreased. Polish Hazzanut is mostly based on the freedom of unprepared recitative chants. It began spreading even beyond its borders throughout all of Europe and by the 18th century became deeply entrenched among German Jews and other Western cantors. That unique form of Hazzanut was expressed clearly across typical lines. It awakened awe and noble elation and played a national and moral-religious role. Improvisational recitatives played a leading role, as did the power of the cantor's imagination as he developed many varied styles according to his sense and taste.

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Eventually it was tasked with battling the modern Hazzanut school, which was founded by the cantor Sulzer Lewandowski from Berlin and Vienna.

However, Hasidism dismissed previous Hazzanut and its abundance of styles when it found that the hazzan gave more weight to the pleasantness of his voice than to the content of the words. Thus, Hasidism birthed a new Hassidic Hazzanut with popular cantors who gained fame throughout the Jewish world.


The State of Cantors in Poland

In the 19th century, the state of Hazzanut in Poland was poor. The cantor was unable to support himself on Hazzanut alone and he had to perform additional tasks. Histories of various Polish communities make it clear that all cantors shared the same fate. The cantor had roles such as shamash, schoolteacher, community scribe, etc. It can be assumed that Będzin was not different in that regard. Unfortunately, nothing remains from the Będzin community ledgers, and there is no material to shed light on the community's life and its religious servants in the previous generations.

The Polish cantor had to fill a very lowly position. He had to go to brises, weddings, etc. to bless the guests by reciting Mi Shebrach and then beg for “MiSheberach money.” The cantor had respectable means of earning money through dowry money, a taxed portion of which was divided among the Rabbi, the Cantor and the shamash. But the parents-in-law always schemed to subtract half of the dowry so the cantor would not get rich, God forbid.

The cantor had to come to the mother's house on the Thursday night before the bris and sing hymns. On the day of the bris he sang Rommeus during prayers and songs during the bris, for which his salary did not exceed the Mi Shebrach money. At the end of the 19th century the situation improved and the Hazzan became a culturally important and respected profession. There were famous and praised cantors.

Avraham Ber Birnbaum, the well-known cantor from Częstochowa, founded a school of Hazzanut and established a generation of hazzanim in Poland, many of whom serve in synagogues in America, Canada, and other countries. He taught music theory in correspondence as well. He published the first monthly journal of cantors in Hebrew with the famous cantor from Odessa, Pinchas Minkowski. He wrote many research articles and essays about Jewish music in periodicals. He also attempted to unionize the cantors of Russia and Poland in a professional union.


Cantors in Będzin

It is impossible to name all of the cantors who served in Będzin throughout the existence of the community. The community did not keep a detailed ledger of its cantors, just as it did not keep ledgers of its rabbis and wise men (Będzin is not alone on that front). Therefore, I must start with the first cantor we heard of as a cantor in the Będzin synagogue.


Yisroel the Cantor

He was a Będzin native, a Hasid, the last of the emotion cantors in Będzin, and he lacked musical education. He served in Będzin since the end of the 19th century, knew the traditional prayer style, and sang tunes that his audience knew well. Without cantors of that kind, i.e. a cantor with regularly used songs and style, the traditional tunes of independent Jewish music in the old classical period would not have developed. However, traditional music then was like a stagnant, sealed well, which is not replenished with water.

Yisroel served in his role faithfully. His prayer warmed the hearts of the parishioners and satisfied every religious Jew. When he reached old age he retired with a pension, but the community leaders did not keep their promise and he suffered from poverty and hunger. Sometimes he delayed the prayer of the new cantor, Schirmann, as a protest against the community leaders who did not support him in his old age due to a lack of community funds.


Avraham Yitzchak Schirmann

He was one of Poland's famous cantors, born in 1881 in Staszów, Radom District. He sang with the cantors Yossele and Moshe Leib Hazzan. He began leading prayers at the age of 13. Without knowing how to read notes he had already composed a number of tunes from imagination. Even as a youth he had a musical sense and an attention to tones.

At 17 he married, became a merchant, lost his money and returned to the music business. He travelled to Częstochowa to Avraham Ber Birnbaum who had founded a school of Hazzanut, the first and only one in Poland. He studied there and learned the foundations of music and Hazzanut. After that he served as cantor in various towns and then relocated to Będzin. That was before World War I. . Schirmann was the first trained, musically educated cantor. His younger brother, Pinchas, helped him as a singer. From Będzin he moved to Warsaw, where he served as a cantor in the Tlomacka Synagoga. He perished in the Holocaust. HY”D.

During his tenure in Będzin, he continued to train in his profession. He studied composition theory, counterpoint theory and other musical knowledge. Thanks to that, he moved on to creating and composing music, and eventually published interesting recitative notes to be accompanied by a choir and piano.

During his residence in Będzin he gained fame as a talented cantor and maintained written correspondence with the greatest cantors in Poland and Russia. He eventually composed three piano recitatives and eleven recitatives for Selichot, some without a choir. He was beloved by the town's residents. To this day, the veterans of Będzin who reside in Israel, recall his tenure in Będzin and his pleasant voice with gratitude.

Because of World War I, he arrived in Paris during his travels and very successfully performed in the synagogue on Rue Pavée. A fter that, he performed in the English towns of London, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. He then returned to Będzin and served as cantor until 1922.

Following the pogroms in “liberated” Poland, he left Poland for Canada and served as a cantor in Toronto. He then travelled to America and served in various synagogues in New York, Chicago and Detroit. He was aided by his three sons who are known in America as pleasant-sounding, and they too gained respected positions in the word of Hazzanut.

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Cantor Lichtenstein

He substituted for Schirmann, as the cantor. He came from Ozorków with his conductor Kelmus[?]. He had a strong tenor voice and sang wonderfully with a choir of 15-20 well-trained singers. Lichtenstein was a great singer and cantor, a pleasant improvisor and he was able to bring tears of joy and pleasure through his prayer and singing.

He too did not stay in Będzin for long, although the town residents were pleased by his performance. After 3 years in Będzin, he relocated to Częstochowa where he served for a short while before leaving to serve as a cantor in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The main synagogue remained without a cantor for a few years after he left Będzin. Occasionally, cantors led prayers as an audition but the gabbai did not reach a decision.


Yekkel Ziskind

Yekkel was a native of Będzin, from an important and distinguished family, and grandson of Hillel Fechter. He served in the Synagogue in the period between Lichtenstein's departure and Supowitz's arrival. He did not attain a Hazzanut education and lovers of music found many tonal errors in his singing. Music and politics were intertwined because of the gabbaim. Apparently, because of the dissatisfaction of many parishioners who longed for a trained and tasteful cantor, Cantor Supowitz was hired after Ziskind's two to three year tenure.


Menachem Supowitz

A native of Grodno, son of the rosh yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Leib Supowitz, he studied Torah in yeshivot, and also Hazzanut, and had a refined tenor voice. He arrived in Odessa in 1915. and served as a cantor in the great synagogue of Vilnius. In 1925 he was accepted as a cantor in the great synagogue of Brest and performed with a choir. The synagogue was full while he led prayers. On one holy day, he attempted to wear a big cantor hat, following the custom of the modern cantors of the Viennese Sulzer school. But Rabbi Zev Soloveitchik commanded him to remove the hat because he saw in it “living in the customs of the nations.” He was allowed to begin services only after he obeyed the rabbi's request. Since then his role in Brest was like walking on hot coals and so he searched for a different posting.

In 1928, he was hired as the cantor in Będzin following a vacancy that had s not been filled since the departure of Cantor Lichtenstein. Supowitz was a good, beautifully trained cantor, and could have remained in Będzin for many years. His pleasant praying awakened his listeners to pray mindfully and his excellent choir added beauty to his singing. However, Supowitz was a wanderer by nature and had difficulties staying put for long periods. Additionally, although he was knowledgeable in music theory he was not knowledgeable in maintaining harmony with the gabbaim. As both sides were stubborn, Supowitz left Będzin after two to three years.

He relocated to Siedlce and returned to Brest during WWII. While the Bolsheviks were in power he was imprisoned and exiled to Siberia. In 1946, he returned from exile and resided in Szczecin and Lodz. In 1947 he made Aliyah, and today, he serves as the cantor in the Hapoel Hamizrahi synagogue in Nahalat Yitzhak, Tel Aviv.


Moshe Klagswald HY”D

Born in 1905 in Nowy Sącz to a rich family, he came to Będzin from the town of Kaso, (then Slovakia) where he served as a cantor. He was expelled by the Slovakian authorities from Sacz as he was a Polish citizen. He began his tenure as cantor in Będzin in 1936. He was musically educated and had a pleasant tenor sound. The people of Będzin differentiated between him and Supowitz, saying that the latter was more of an artist than a cantor, while Klagswald emphasized emotion and warmth. The town's residents respected him very much.

He had other beautiful qualities that people esteemed. He was handsome, scholarly, and spiritually noble. A choir accompanied him. He served as a cantor in Będzin until the Holocaust and he met the same fate of the residents of the town, HY”D.

The first conductor of his choir was Davidson, from Krakow. He was followed by a conductor named Franjek and was then joined by Rubin, from Lodz, a composer and a conductor who served until the community was destroyed. Rubin was a talented creator and composed many tunes to be sung by the choir. Rubin suffered from hunger in the Będzin Ghetto at age 70. Klagswald purchased all of his compositions so he could buy bread and satiate his hunger. HY”D.


Cantor Wolf Hirsh Baum of the German Synagogue

Wolf Hirsh Baum, a Będzin native from an old Hasidic family, served as the cantor of the German (Dytche) Synagogue in David Zmigord's home.

Bed-251.jpg - Cantor Baum and his sons
Cantor Baum and his sons

It was not a temple in the Reform style of other large towns. It resembled a larger Hasidic kloyz and its parishioners were Hasidim whose dress somewhat “soured” so they were called “Germans”.

His tenure in Będzin began in 1912 and he sang with a choir composed of his sons and three to four additional singers. His salary was not as large as a real cantor because the administrators were unable to support a true cantor. He was half cantor and half ordinary prayer leader. Music lovers easily found flawed tones in his singing. He was an honest, agreeable, and a preserver of faith. He served until the Holocaust. His sons escaped the Nazi annihilation and made Aliyah. They currently reside in Netanya.


Moshe Yankel Pitkowsky

Moshe Yankel Pitkowski served in the town's Bet Midrash for many years. He was native of Będzin from a deeply-rooted Hasidic family and an experienced prayer leader. His four sons accompanied him as singers, the most notable of whom was Lipa, who was known for his solo performances. Lipa succeeded his father's role as cantor after his father died.

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Translator by Meir Bulman
{Translator's Notes are marked with large brackets}

Edited by Dr. Rafael Manory
[Editor's Notes are marked with square brackets.]

Rabbi Kalman Bendiner (5562–5648) (Sept 1801–Sept 1888)

The “comedian” of the [author of the book] Tiferes Shlomo [The Glory of Shlomo] of Radomsk

(According to his grandson, Shimon Friedman of Bat Yam.)

Rabbi Kalman Bendiner (Friedman) was among the great figures of the Radomsk Hassidim in Będzin.

He was born in 5562 [Sept. 1801–Sept. 1802] in a village near Będzin. As a villager, he was fluent in Polish and occasionally used it in his act. He learned Torah from the great Rabbi Dovid Deitsh zatz'l in Hungary. After he married, he opened a metal goods store in Będzin, the first store of its kind in Będzin. Będzin was commercially subordinate to the town of Czeladź, which (until 1918) was near the German border. Industry developed in Będzin, headed by the Huta Bankowa factory, the Huldschinsky factory, and others, at which point Będzin surpassed Czeladź. Trade accompanied industry and important stores were founded by the Jews, most of whom were Hassidim.

However, Kalman stayed put; he was not in a hurry to get rich and explicitly stated that he did not want his sons to inherent money so that they would not fight amongst themselves. He sat in his store and fundraised for Eretz Israel along with Rabbi Nachman Beitner the gabbai. He travelled to the fairs in the towns of Shiewer and Sławków and he occasionally stopped by the Tiferes Shlomo and became one of his most devoted disciples. He was also a mohel and travelled for that purpose to villages where he stayed overnight.

It is unknown to which rebbe he had travelled beforehand. He complained that his wife had more faith in the righteous than him, because she said that it was enough to travel to the rebbe once or twice a year whereas he said that to be considered a Hassid one must travel at least once every three months.

He was among the first Hassidim to travel to the Tiferes Shlomo when the Rebbe began leading the Radomsk dynasty. The Rebbe refused, at first, to accept leadership and in the first Shabbat the Hassidim came to him he shouted, “I am not a rebbe! let the crazies be rebbes. Go home.” Reb Kalman gave him his hand and said, “Rebbe, I am leaving. Bless my departure.”

Once, the Tiferes Shlomo ordered the Hassidim to recite Tikkun Chatzot [midnight prayer] and then recite [from the book] Reshit Chochma [Basics of Wisdom] chapter 17. When Reb Kalman visited the Rebbe after some time, the Rebbe said, “I heard you are not following my directives.” Kalman responded, “it is explicitly written in the Mishnah, that whenever the sages say “until midnight,” the mitzvah may be performed until dawn.”

One Shabbat, the Rebbe did not allow the Hassidim to be present at the table and only a select few could sit with him, meaning Rabbi Aharon of Krakow (author of Maor Veshemesh [Light and Sun]), Chaim Dovid of Piotrków (a former doctor who made teshuva and became a tzaddik) and the like. R' Kalman called the Rebbe's assistant and told him, “please tell the Rebbe that I have a question and since he is the town rabbi I must be allowed to enter.” When Kalman was given permission to enter, the Rebbe asked, “What kind of questions do you have on Shabbat?” He replied, “When Pirkei Avot [Chapters of the Fathers] is recited in the summer, we read one chapter every Shabbat and join two chapters only at the end of summer. That is not the same for weekly Torah portions. Two portions are sometimes joined in the middle of the year. What is the reason? We can read one portion every week and in the end we will join two portions.” The Rebbe said, “I think you already have an answer prepared.” R' Kalman replied, “if the Rebbe will allow, so I that would not violate the prohibition against reciting a Halacha in the presence of one's master, I will say.”

“Say it,” the Rebbe said. R' Kalman said, “if we would read one portion per week, then [the Torah portion] Kedoshim would always be alone.” { https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acharei_Mot ;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kedoshim Note that Acharei Mot (“After the Death”) is commonly joined with the next portion, Kedoshim [“The Holy Ones”].}

After the Rebbe heard that, he told his assistant Tuvia, “open the door and let everybody in.”

Once, during the week, the Rebbe was in an angry mood and did not allow people to come to him for parting blessings. R' Kalman took his child in his arms and asked the Rebbe, “Does the decree apply to children under 20-years-old?”

Once, only poor Hassidim were sitting around the Rebbe's table and the Rebbe said there was nobody to stand [sponsor] the wine. R' Kalman said, “Your great name will stand for us.” And quickly asked the assistant to bring wine to the table.

Senior Radomsk Hassidim in Israel say that once, Rebbe Shlomo visited Będzin when there was no train station in Będzin yet and one had to ride the train to the last stop, D¹browa Górnicza. The Hassidim split up on two roads leading to D¹browa Górnicza because they did not know which road the Rebbe would use; whether he would travel directly from D¹browa Górnicza to Będzin or he would use the other road, which ran through Gzichów. R' Kalman was a part of the group on the road that the Rebbe did not take. Meanwhile, the Rebbe had arrived and Kalman was not there. When Kalman arrived, the Rebbe told him, “R' Kalman! I was ready to recite Mishnah for you.” Kalman replied, “Thank you, Rebbe. But the Mitzvah is greater when one fulfills it himself and not through a delegate.”

R' Kalman was an honorary comedian in the court of Rebbe Shlomo of Radomsk, like Mordechai Rakover did before him for the Seer of Lublin. As a rule, he always had jokes prepared. He included a joke in every letter he wrote to his son. The latter complained to his father in the days leading up to Passover of no earnings in his store. Kalman replied, “The underling should not be like his master. Az der rbish"e leyzt nit vilstu leyzin?” [Yiddish for: “Doesn't God also need a laugh?” (Google translation)]

When Rabbi Yisroel Danziger was appointed before Purim as moreh tzedek [spiritual instructor] in Będzin he wrote to Kalman's son, “Regards to my friend and I wish him that he would not rule incorrectly in Halacha, and he who prays for his friend is answered first. Az ikh vel zeyn furim-rav zal ikh nisht nakhshl vern.”{“If I were to become a Purim rabbi, I should not be disappointed” [Google translation]}

R' Kalman was a master of comedic timing. Once, on Yom Kippur Eve, a Hassid brought him a letter from his son who resided in Cherniwitz [Czernowitz, Ukraine] with a note to immediately go to the Tiferes Shlomo concerning a girl, his granddaughter, whose hand was burned and to mention her to the Rebbe. It was well-known that the Rebbe was a burning fire during the Purim and Yom Kippur seasons and did not allow anybody to approach him. Kalman wandered the Rebbe's court and looked for a way to enter. Meanwhile, a mailman arrived carrying a letter from Eretz Israel. Kalman knew that the Rebbe loved Eretz Israel so he took the letter and entered. He stood and waited for the Rebbe to read the letter. When he saw that the Rebbe was in a good mood, he gave him his son's letter. The Rebbe said, “the note says, 'his daughter Esther Binah who suffered burns to her hand.' Kalman! Do you remember, it says, “in the end of days, each one is burned by his friend's chuppah {Bava Batra 75a}; this is a sign that you will witness her wedding.” And that came to pass. His grandson Shimon Friedman from Ramat Yam near Bat Yam attended that wedding, where his grandfather Kalman began dancing and telling of the rebbe's promise, which was fulfilled 20 years after the passing of the Tiferes Shlomo. Kalman added, “time is fixed below but not above, and I pray that God will add many more years to my life.” He recorded that story in writing for it to pass from one generation to the next. That was in 5646 (ca. 1886) and he passed away in 5648 (ca. 1888).

Kalman was very sharp-mouthed. He loved edgy jokes and sayings and everything was forgiven. He was always surrounded by men who listened to his jokes and when he said one, they rolled on the floor laughing, while he continued to stand straight-faced. When everyone finished laughing, he continued telling jokes.

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His jokes were well-known in the Radomsko kloyz and they were repeated on every opportunity. He was like a well that never dried and every time he came, he brought new Jokes with him.

One winter, he approached a newly arrived young man who did not know about his inventions and said with pitiful face, “Look, I Have a frozen tooth.” “A frozen tooth?” he wondered, “what is that?”

“Here,” Kalman opened his mouth, “put your finger in and you will find out.”

When the young man innocently put his finger in Kalman's mouth, he bit him strongly until he saw stars.

When he was widowed, he gave his store to his son and settled in Radomsko permanently, striving to be near his rebbe. After the Tiferes Shlomo passed away, Kalman stayed close to his son the Chessed L'Avraham. He became ill when the Chessed L'Avarahm was on a trip to a place of healing hot springs outside of Poland and he wrote to his son, “I am waiting for the Rebbe to come to my house. And then I wouldn't be afraid and I am hoping to heal.” However, he passed away at the age of 86 on Av 5, 5648 (18 Jan 1888) before the Rebbe came. In the evening after the following Yom Kippur, when the Rebbe lectured on that topic, he said that he who adheres to his rabbi during his life will be with him even after he passes, and said, “Do you think that Reb Kalman is not here?”

Many of his jokes and sayings were retold and it is unfortunate that many were forgotten.


The Musician Rabbi Yechezkel Friedman

The Radomsk Hassid from Będzin

Even in my youth, before I thought of working in the field of literature on Hassidism and Music and related matters, I heard about Reb Yechezkel Friedman from Będzin. I heard stories about him that sounded like legends; about his great musical sense, the hundreds of Radomsk tunes that he knew, including many tunes that were sung in the Tiferes Shlomo's gatherings in Radomsko and his conversations with hosts of Hassidic celebrations and his festive performances. More than once, Radomsk Hassidim came to our home and enthusiastically told us about the wide musical world of the Tiferes Shlomo and his environment. We happily listened to the great musical progress of the Radomsk dynasty. Despite my great desire to meet the wonderful musical Hassid Rabbi Yechezkel, it never happened. Meanwhile, I had travelled far to the Torah world of Brest, Lithuania and from there to Berlin, Dresden, Vienna and more, and eventually I made Aliyah in 5680 (1920), when Israel was farther away than it is today. But R' Yechezkel's name remained fresh in my memory and I always wondered how I could reward Yechezkel for his great devotion to music. As more Hassidim made Aliyah and Radomsk kloyzes were founded in Israel, Yechezkel's name was once more spoken by Radomsk Hassidim from the towns of Zagłêbie and I was more than once asked whether I heard Yechezkel singing with his musical enthusiasm and it felt like an injustice.

Indeed, I always remembered the Radomsk dynasty when I approached writing my big, 5-volume book on song and dance in Hassidism. In the 4th volume, the one devoted to the Hassidism of Congress Poland, I devoted a full chapter to Radomsk, its founder Rebbe Shlomo Rabinowitz and its chief musician Leiser Perlmuter of Lodz. In the Melave Malka series on Kol Israel I included the music of Radomsk.

Following the Radomsk dynasty, despite the vast distance of its namesake town from Zagłêbie, was very prevalent in our area. There were many kloyzes of Radomsk in Zagłêbie and Radomsk's music brought joy to the region. Radomsk's music gained a great reputation. Their sound warmed the hearts of listeners, including Hassidim of other dynasties. Indeed, it can be happily mentioned that the music of Radomsk was heard in every Hassidic kloyz and it dominated the Hassidic music field. Every person who led prayers was sure he would succeed if he sang the music of Radomsk: Firstly, because of the beauty of the tunes, and secondly because the tunes were popular so the whole audience helped and sounded like a choir pouring out its heart in prayer.

The Radomsk dynasty conquered the hearts of the people of Zagłêbie with its appeal to the masses and its beautiful tunes. The Radomsk dynasty had the most members in our area. Apparently, the successors to the Tiferes Shlomo knew how to consider the gratitude the people of Zagłêbie felt toward them and eventually appointed the great-grandson of the Tiferes Shlomo Rebbe Shlomo Chanoch Rabinowitz as a Rebbe in Sosnowiec. He too knew how to attract Hassidim and reminded them of the good old days of Radomsk. In addition, another offshoot of Radomsk, Kromołów, also filled an important role in Zagłêbie. The founder of the Kromołów dynasty was the grandson of the Tiferes Shlomo. Kromołów synagogues were founded in Zagłêbie and brought much joy with them.

I knew the kloyzes of Radomsk and Kromołów in times of joy and in times of sorrow. Yet, a persistent typical thing in them was the joyous music of Radomsk, which expelled sadness and sorrow. All Hassidim, of all dynasties, recognized its consistent applicability as a spell of sorts for happiness and overcoming sorrow. That music awakened in us, youths and fathers alike, strong feelings of love for the people of Israel and the land of Israel. The Rebbes of Radomsk recommended to their followers to make Aliyah and, thanks to that, hundreds of Hassidim did so and Radomsk Hassidim were part of the first pioneer groups. The name of Radomsk is once more spoken of by its Hassidim in Israel as it underwent a rebirth as its kloyzes were founded in Israel.

The activists of Radomsk in Israel are true Hassidim who are pure-hearted and devoted with every fiber to the Radomsk dynasty. They are also very interested in renewing “the Nightingale's Song” (the name used for Radomsk's music among Hassidim) in the kloyzes of Radomsk.

By the way, I should mention that the Rebbe of Kromołów sent his two sons-in-law to Eretz Israel. One of them is Rabbi Yeshayahu Shapira, son of Rebbe Elimelech of Grodzhisk, who lived with his father-in-law for a few years before making Aliyah and resided in Israel, where he established glorious enterprises of both economy and settlement. He was the one who facilitated the ability of Rebbe Yechezkel of Jabłonna to purchase the land on which Kfar Hassidim was established, founded the union of Hapoel Hamizrachai and eventually settled in Kfar Pines. The second was Rebbe Chanoch Burnstein, son of Rebbe Shmuel of Sochatchov and the current Rebbe of the Sochatchov dynasty in Israel, who resides in the Bayit VeGan neighborhood in Jerusalem.

The Rebbe of Kromołów had another son-in-law, Rabbi Yeshayahu Engleard HY”D who resided, for a few years, near my family home in Modrzejów.

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He later went on to serve as a rabbi in Sosnowiec. His son, Rabbi Avraham Engelard, son-in-law of the Rebbe Radzyn HY”D, made Aliyah after the Holocaust and intends to establish a yeshiva for the Radomsk- Kromołów dynasty.

I have opened with those words as a framework to examine the wonderful figure of Yechezkel, the Radomsk musician. His heart was in Radomsko but his feet stood in his residence town of Będzin, which became his hometown.

If he himself could write his memories of the Radomsk dynasty and its founder, the author of Tiferes Shlomo, and his son, grandson, and his successors, he would allow us to observe the origins of the music of Radomsk and its influence in Będzin, where he resided and in Zagłêbie, where he created.

Yechezkel Friedman was born to a Hassidic family in Radomsko. He was nicknamed by his friends “der Blinder Reb Yechezkel” (the blind R' Yechezkiek) because he was blind on one eye. Since his youth, his proximity to the home of the founder of the Radomsk dynasty added to the Hassidic atmosphere. At the age of 9 (5624) (1864) he sang in the Hassidic choir of the Tiferes Shlomo, an honor reserved for a select few. That known tzaddik passed away in 5626 (1866) but his impression on Yechezkel lasted for life. The music of Radomsk was a festive occasion, a celebration, a musical wonder in Radomsk and its synagogues everywhere.

Rebbe Shlomo had an assistant, named Tuvia, whose role included leading prayers because he was a great musician and an avid lover of beautiful songs. After Tuvia heard the young Yechezkel singing, he told him, “Listen! I will lead prayers and you will help me by singing, so I succeed.” Tuvia placed young Yechezkel in the Rebbe's choir. Since then, the boy gained a reputation and was praised by all for his powerful songs and wonderful voice.

In the days of his youth, after the passing of Rebbe Shlomo, Yechezkel sang with Cantor Chaim of Chrzanów, a highly regarded cantor. Rebbe Hirsh of Rimanov persuaded him to pray by him on High Holy Days (Cantor Chaim was a Hassid of Radomsk). Since then, Yechezkel became the moving force behind Hassidic musical circles; he organized classes of Hassidic youths, guided and conducted with energy and devotion. He was passionately loud, well-spoken and sharp-humored. Thus, he entered the heart of Hassidic matters in general and Hassidic music in particular.

The purpose of his visits to the towns of Zagłêbie was to create new admirers of the music of Radomsk for its dissemination to the public. Yechezkel had an advantage because he had participated in the choir of the Tiferes Shlomo, which was conducted by Leiser Perlmuter of Lodz who planned the Radomsk tunes for the Holy Days, known by his friends as “the Rebbe of Radomsk's musical consultant”. Perlmuter was famous in the world of Hassidic music and the singers in his choirs were very proud of him. Yechezkel often talked about how Perlmuter came to Radomsko with a number of tunes he brought from Lodz and the Rebbe listened carefully and probed every song's twists and turns. If the Rebbe liked the tune he closed the box of snuff tobacco that was always open on his table to signal that the song “was in the box”. Yechezkel memorized hundreds of tunes from that period and Leiser's choir. He remembered which tunes the Rebbe of Radomsk favored and he occasionally sang them in his pleasant voice, much to the joy of his listeners. Only Yechezkel was able to give an exact rendition as he heard from his master.

Yechezkel married a woman from Będzin and he resided in that town until he died. He first lived on Domborvska Street and worked as a candy manufacturer. He then relocated to the new market in Będzin, closed his candy manufacturing business, and became a seller of boutique wines and lottery tickets. He was always seen smiling and the faces of people lightened in every home he entered. His humor expelled all sadness, depression and worry but not out of buffoonery but because of his kind heart and his affable personality. He always spoke encouraging words.

The charm in his personality that attracted people was the unique blending of grounded appeal to the common man, Hassidism and musical-mental spirituality. His routine consisted of Hassidic songs and Hassidic stories. When a rebbe came to Będzin, Yechezkel sat near the rebbe to enjoy the brilliance of his table. He never stopped singing, whether out loud or in a whisper and hum. He was happy and humble when he socialized. He made his surroundings pleasant and brought much joy to brief meetings with Hassidim, gatherings in his home, and community parties alike. He was happy without a speck of debauchery.

He was not a great cantor despite his strong musical skills. It is not that he did not lead prayers at all; the Hassidim enjoyed his prayer on Shalosh Regalim from the kaddish before Borchu to Kulam Ahuvim and Hallel. He did not lead prayers on High Holy Days for the simple reason that he had a happy personality and was unable to “descend” from the world of joy to the world of sadness and weep melodiously. Tear-jerking pleading songs were contrary to his joyful personality. But he led prayers on Shalosh Regalim and particularly regularly led Shacharit on Shemini Atzeret. His prayer then reached the height of happiness and the Hassidim were immensely satisfied.

During one period, there was gossip in Hassidic circles that Yechezkel befriended non-Hassidic musicians like Eliyahu Gold, and as a result the Gabbais of the Radomsk kloyz decided not to allow him to lead prayers. In response, on the night of Shemini Atzeret, Yechezkel invited all of the music-loving Hassidim from the kloyz and arranged shacharit with them. When he reached “Ana” he searched for an extraordinary tune that would tug on one's heartstrings. He settled on the duet from Bar Kokhba by Avraham Goldfaden. They asked, “How is that possible?” He replied, “Hassidim don't go to the theater. If anyone among them would recognize the secret of the tune he would be ashamed to reveal it publicly.” And so it came to be: he came to the kloyz and approached the podium by surprise. That Shacharit service was not quickly forgotten. His opponents' mouths gaped in awe and when he completed “Ana” silence hung in the air for a few moments.

Yechezkel's singing in the courts of rebbes during celebrations of yahrzeits, Seudah Shlishit (Third meal on Shabbat) or any other festive occasion attracted hearts. His primary role was to sing Akdamut for the Rebbe on Shavuot. He prepared quality material and on the holiday itself he organized the choir and he produced wonderful results. The material for Akdamut was mostly taken from the musician Richter from Krakow who played at the Royal Opera House in Vienna. He also imported Hungarian marches that he used with his choir and with the choir of the Knesset Yechezkel in Radomsko. Once he fitted to Akdamut the well-known tube known as

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“Gold and Silver Waltz” thus bringing of the beauty present among Jefeth to the houses of Shem.

Still, Yechezkel remained subordinate to one of his period's greatest musicians, Berrish Sheiltzer, who was among the most wonderful cantors and musicians in Będzin and Sosnowiec. Yechezkel sang with his choir when he led Musaf and Shacharit on the High Holy Days by the Rebbe of Radomsk. Berrish was gifted with a pleasant voice and an attractive prayer style. The Rabbi of Będzin, Itshe Kimmelman, liked him very much and once every month or 6 weeks he had to come to his Seudah Shlishit celebration and please him with singing Yedid Nefesh and El Mistatter. Berrish Sheiltzer (known as “Mondzhiver”) was a renowned cantor who resided in Będzin and prayed at the Radomsk kloyz in Będzin. He was a cantor for the Chessed Leavraham and for the Knesset Yechezkel. He passed away in 5662 (1902).

Yechezkel founded a singing company in Będzin and was joined by additional singers like Eli Gold, Yeshaya Goldzweig, Shlomo Teel and others. They sat together at parties and sang various songs.

Of course, the contributions of other Radomsk musicians in Będzin should not be disregarded. Shimon Zimmerman was a prayer leader and singer with Berrish, and in the absence of the latter he prayed and sang Yedid Nefesh and El Mistater. To highlight Berrish's music skills and how much he conquered the hearts of his listeners I should mention that as long as he lived in Będzin (and later in Sosnowiec) the Shein family, Yaakov Guttman, and other town notables came to Seudah Shlishit to enjoy his singing. Also, Shlomo Himmelfarb (son-in-law of Shimon Zimmerman) cantor Shalom Baruch Leibowitz, and Gershon Rechnitz (son-in-law of Hillel Fechter) are also worthy of mention.

Yechezkel Friedman passed away in 5695 (1935) before the Holocaust.

In terms of Hassidic-musical personality, his impression remains on the Radomsk Hassidic family in Israel. His absence from the company of the Radomsk Hassidim in Będzin and Zagłêbie meant the absence of the sound and color that he contributed to all just by being with them. The absence of his uniquely pure sound–even when he was quiet—and his colorful warmth, left a hole in the Hassidic togetherness that everyone in the group felt.

The Hassidim of Radomsk from Będzin and Zagłêbie who reside in Israel will always remember him for his happiness and faith.

(Thanks and blessings to Shmuel Crystal from Tel Aviv and Shimon Friedman from Ramat Yam who helped me with writing this essay).


Hassidic Figures in Będzin

The Kopolowitz Brothers

If Będzin was considered a Hassidic fortress in Congress Poland, Ger was its lighthouse. Most of the town's leaders, activists and scholars were members of Ger. There were three Ger prayer houses in Będzin and they were all full of parishioners. Its center was the large shtiebel [another word for a synagogue, usually a Hassidic one], whose members included the senior Hassidim from the days of the Sefas Emes, who were the greatest scholars and the face of the Ger dynasty in Będzin. The large shtiebel had 500 regular members and was led by the strong and forceful gabbai, R' Aharon Redlitz.

Cantor Aharon HaCohen Kopolowitz, whose voice was a dramatic tenor with lyrical flexibility to the highest octaves, gained a reputation throughout the region and served as an attraction to the big Shtiebel. His prayer was an expression of Godly longing and his singing was wonderous and hearty, which he expressed with a folksy appeal and with perfect musical artfulness.

Aharon Kopolowitz was born in Czêstochowa in 1885 to his father, Moshe Kapel Kopolowitz. He was raised in a Hassidic environment with men of action, tradesmen and wealthy people. At the age of 20 he married the daughter of Avraham Guttman, an owner of coal mines in Zagłêbie and among the most important residents of Będzin. His wife, Rivkah, was known as a wise, noble, and soulful woman and she and her husband built their home, a home loyal to Hassidism and good deeds, in which Torah and greatness blended. Aharon, a wealthy tradesman, ran a large fabric store in Będzin, where he employed a number of people in addition to the sons and daughters who also helped with the business.

He was particularly fond of Hassidic music. More than once, in the middle of the day, while the business bustled with customers, he suddenly disappeared and ran to one of his friends who had returned from Warsaw or Lodz and brought with him a new tune from a Hassidic court. He considered such a tune to be better than gold.

His custom was to travel weekly to Lodz to purchase goods for the business. During the two or three days he spent in Lodz, he took it upon himself, in addition to his primary purpose of business, to search for music lovers who visited various rebbes on Shabbat. When a new tune was sung by Aharon, it gained a unique twist and color. The song was given another soul when he sang it with his booming, lyrical voice and musical rhythm; it was improved and perfectly expressed. When he returned home for Shabbat, the best singers from the shtiebel gathered in his home. Music lovers with perfect voices drank a glass of luxurious wine as Aharon's main work began: repeating every new tune that he brought from afar. He carefully arranged each song with all its notes and tribbles. Woe was he who sang slightly off-tune or the like. That party continued until midnight and the tune was perfect and ready for singing in the shtiebel. Not every man in the shtiebel was worthy of joining in singing the song.

He had a special assistants' choir of 18 regular singers who participated in rehearsals and all had well-trained voices. He who has not heard Aharon praying with the choir's accompaniment never heard has not heard an elated, beautiful Hassidic prayer in his life.

A special event was tied to Aharon's assumption of the role of leading Musaf on the High Holy Days in the large shtiebel. The regular Musaf leader in the shtiebel was the elderly and scholarly Hassid, Yekkel Shapira, the father of the well-known Shapira brothers Mendel and Moshe. Yekkel had an accumulated “entitlement” of 50 years of leading Musaf in the shtiebel. Then, Yekkel

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suddenly contracted cataracts in both eyes and was blinded. The High Holy Days approached and a Musaf leader had to be found. But who would dare to lead prayers instead of Yekkel in the Great Shtiebel, which is full of righteous scholars? The answer was unanimous: Aharon Kopolowitz would lead Musaf on High Holy Days. Aharon, who through the years was occupied with the troubles of trade and didn't have time to devote to Torah, would he dare replace Yekkel? He strongly refused to heed to the crowd's request. However, the opinion of the crowd and the greatest Hassidim did not release him and against his will he capitulated to the shtiebel's greats. Rosh Hashanah arrived and Reb Aharon and his choir stood in the front. His roaring voice penetrated the heavens. The people of Będzin did not stop talking about the events the whole year. Aharon's tunes for the prayers Heyeh Im Pifiyot and Chamol were rehearsed and studied in shtiebels and the town was abuzz. Meanwhile, Yekkel was operated on and the cataracts disappeared. The High Holy Days arrived again. Yekkel, whose eyes were now open, maintained his 50-year right and prepared to continue leading Musaf in the large shtiebel. Turmoil commenced; “Can it be? How can one give up Aharon's prayer?” As per usual in every important matter, the shtiebel's leaders decided to send the question to the Rebbe of Ger. Ordinarily, such a question was asked through a proxy of an important person in the Ger court and the Rebbe was not approached directly. The gabbai, Aharon Mendel, wrote a long letter to the Rebbe's brother-in-law, Rabbi Hirsh Heinich Levin, containing the important question: on the one hand, the justified demand of the elderly Yekkel and on the other hand the wish of the majority of the shtiebel's audience to listen to Aharon's prayer. This event occurred at the same time that in the Ger court the question arose of Rabbi Levin's candidacy for the rabbinate of Będzin, and the proposal was still secret. Rabbi Levin entered the Rebbe's room with the letter that had arrived from Będzin and handed it to the Rebbe. And that is when the event occurred that determined the fate of the rabbinate in Będzin and caused the big dispute known as the Będzin Rabbinate War. After the Rebbe read the letter he told Rabbi Levin, “this is the first question from the Będzin community, and you, who is supposed to be the Rabbi of Będzin, should rule on this matter.” Rabbi Levin expressed his opinion that the Musaf would be divided between the two; Yekkel will lead Musaf on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Aharon will lead prayers on the second day and on Yom Kippur. The Rebbe expressed his approval and Aharon became the designated Musaf leader in the large shtiebel. However, the Ger Hassidim in Będzin, after they heard what had happened in the Rebbe's court, decided that Rabbi Levin would become the Rabbi of Będzin, which came to fruition after a bitter dispute in town.

Another thing happened to Aharon when Rabbi Levin was chosen as the Rabbi of Będzin. As the town's rabbi, he would have to pray at the central synagogue, which followed the Ashkenazi style. However, in honor of the new rabbi who was not only a Hassid but a Hassidic leader, the gabbaim of the synagogue decided to invite a Hassidic Musaf leader and Aharon was chosen to fill that role. In honor of Rabbi Hirsh Heinich, Aharon agreed for the first time in his life to pray in the commoners' synagogue. It is told that his prayer then reached peak artistry and expression. In addition to the hundreds of regular synagogue audience members, hundreds of Hassidim came to listen to him praying. When he reached Birkat Cohnaim [the priests' blessing]– he himself was a Cohen – the crowd trembled and in the women's section a whisper fluttered, “we wish that the Temple would be rebuilt and Aharon will serve as the Cohen Gadol.” Aharon's prayer gained a reputation among Hassidim and some said that Aharon Bendiner's prayer was greater than the prayer of Reb Yossel Chentshiner in the Ger Rebbe's court.

Aharon had a brother who was 2 years younger than him, named Nosson Nutta, and he also was a great cantor. He was considered to be among the greatest scholars in Będzin and was kind-hearted and noble-souled. But where Aharon expressed his Hassidic soul and heavenly longing in his voice, Nosson Nutta expressed them with his heart. Nosson Nutta's regular prayer on Shabbat and Holy Days was accompanied by enthusiasm and heartwarming and Godly longing to the point that sweat beads trickled from his face.

He was also warmhearted and was willing to give everting he had for the good of his fellow man. While he was young, he was the assistant to the famous dayan Rabbi Benzion Dayan from Czêstochowa as a pupil and associate. Rabbi Benzion told Nosson Nutta's father, Moshe Kappel, “you have a precious diamond in your home and you should guard it like the apple of your eye.”

Those who escaped the Nazi hell say that Reb Aharon Kopolowitz's last public prayer under the stars in Auschwitz on Yom Kippur night was attended by almost all of the camp's Jews. They gathered and tearfully listened to his pure and pleasant prayer, which left an unforgettable impression on them. Ger Hassidim in Israel mention his name and tell the story of his musical and prayer greatness and the force of his influence on his listeners.


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