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[Page 375]



Moshe Tuvia the carpenter

by Boruch Vineberg

Translated by Libby Raichman

I remember Moshe Tuvia from the time when I was still a small boy, even before the great fire in the shul courtyard, in which half the town went up in smoke. That was approximately 45 or 46 years ago, (written in 1933 –– i.e. 1888/9.).

He was a man of medium height, with a beautiful, white, long beard (that I was sure he combed, if not every day, then at least every week), with large lovely eyes that were covered by the long hair of his brows. He spoke softly and in a gentle manner and always had a loving smile on his lips.

Moshe Tuvia the carpenter was a pious Jew who was also able to teach a chapter of Mishnah. I think, that he used to teach the congregants in the synagogue, a few times a week.

With his natural instinct for social work, for helping his fellow–man, for providing for the needs of his townsfolk, Moshe Tuvia was always occupied with communal matters.

A “poorhouse” existed in the town, a wooden ruin in the grounds of the cemetery. The grave–digger lived in one half and in the second half – with the broken roof, window panes knocked out, wet and sloping walls, without a floor – was the place, where a few neglected, sick, and crazy people lay about in darkness and in filth, like the worms.

In those times, the feeling of responsibility to provide for the sick and the unfortunate was not developed at all. The most that was done for the unfortunate was, to give them a piece of bread… In the winter, they would wander over to the women's synagogue, naked, dirty and neglected.

Moshe Tuvia the carpenter supported this poorhouse with all his strength. He sacrificed himself for these sick and lost souls. He went to the poorhouse, that was, by the way, quite a distance from the town, a few times a week, and there he would comfort and help those who could still understand when they were spoken to, and often also took food to sustain the hungry.

I do not recall any of the “rich” communal leaders ever taking an interest in these victims, at that time. It was only Moshe Tuvia the carpenter, with his natural feeling of assisting, of supporting and providing for those who were not able to take care of themselves, who always did his duty towards his unfortunate fellow–men.

Biale, like other towns and villages, had a book of records, in which all the important events in communal life, were recorded – events in religious life (there was no other life in the town then), or an occurrence against religious life, were all written down. This book of records was entrusted to Moshe Tuvia the carpenter.

Even as a boy, I held Moshe Tuvia the carpenter in high esteem and respected him, for his self–sacrifice for the unfortunate, unlucky people of Biale. To this day, his memory is precious to me.

Shmerele Becker (Hochman)

by Gedalyahu Braverman

Translated by Libby Raichman

At the end of the 19th century, Biale was a fortress of strictly religious Judaism. The slightest deviation from established practices, was immediately deemed to be heresy, and in the struggle with heresy, all means of punishment were kosher.

Not everyone followed the rules. There were individuals in the town who had the courage to peep into the big, wide world. Shmerele Becker could be found amongst these individuals.

Shmerele was an ordinary folk–person with a small shop on Grabanovve street, where he sold herring, a few portions of lime with which the women would whiten their chimneys in honour of the Sabbath and festivals, a container of kerosene, a few tallow candles, and other small items. This is how he made a living.

One could always find Hebrew books on Shmerele's table, with which he was regularly occupied. Shmerele did not only absorb the new words for himself, and the new thoughts of the enlightenment literature, but he was also bold enough to share these new ideas with those whom he met.

The most effective means of keeping the masses strictly observant, was the promise of hell or paradise, after death. And who would want to exchange momentary pleasure for eternal life?

Shmerele had a particular leaning, to dispel the idea of the other world with the Leviathon and the legendary bull [these were promised to the righteous, to sustain them in the world to come]. He allowed himself to joke about this to the women who used to buy from him. He had a special quality of speaking in a gentle tone with a smile on his face, that would not offend the listener, even when they heard such heretical thoughts.

Slowly Shmerele's heretical thoughts began to spread and the devout residents in the town actually began to suspect him of heresy, recognizing in him Jeroboam the son of Nevat [an expression applied to one who sins, and causes others to sin too] who wants to lead Jews astray from the righteous path. At that time the “Bund” was already active in Biale. From the beginning the Bundists began to draw the masses away from the influence of those in ecclesiastical positions, so that they would be able to accept the new doctrines of socialism. They used Shmerele's arguments which were of significant help to them in their endeavors.

Shmerele never attached himself to any party on the Jewish street. He never told his children, to which party they should belong. They were free to act according to their own understanding. He only made the effort to see that his children possessed as much knowledge as possible.

Aside from his age, Shmerele was also a spiritually broken man in the last years before the Second World War. The world changed, way past all his pessimistic ideas.

In a discussion with me, in the last summer before the war, he said to me: –– you, Braverman know, how distant I was from being influenced by the triumphs over the old world, because I never felt in them any perfect victory. But the level that the world has reached, is remote from the power of my imagination.

Shmerele, Shmerele, even the actual truth has greatly surpassed your power to grasp the great destruction whose approach you foresaw.

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Leibe Mednik
(Reb Yehuda Leib Bornshtein)

by Ya'akov ben Yechezkel Tel Aviv

Translated by Libby Raichman

Reb Yehuda Leib Bornshtein was born in the year 5691 (1831), in Mezritsh, to parents of moderate means. While still a young man, he came to Biale and opened a small factory making wine and mead (that is why he was called Mednik). He also produced wax candles, that were at that time, a modern item. He inherited the profession from his father Moshe, of blessed memory.

Reb Leib's house was always open to anyone in need. It was of no concern to him, that he was not regarded as one of the rich men in the town, but he secretly supported many families. Respectable, lonely people ate at his table for many years and he took care of all their needs.

It often happened that people came to Reb Leib in the middle of the night, asking for help with a sick person or a shy Jew knocking on his door on a freezing night asking for wood to warm his house. They knew that they would find Reb Leib sitting over a book late at night. He never resented that they came to him so late. God forbid. On the contrary, he was particularly considerate of them. Reb Leib understood, that the Jew who came, was not only suffering from the cold but also from hunger, and he gave him everything, every food item in his house.

His hospitality extended beyond the borders of Biale. A preacher, an emissary from a yeshivah, a book seller or just an ordinary person, all knew his address.

In his house, there was a particularly large room for visitors where beds were arranged. It happened very often that one of his children or a grandchild would wake at night and notice that his pillow or bed–covering was missing. Reb Leib removed the item for his visitors. It was his custom to prepare the bed personally for an important guest. When his children, at times, interrupted him and said: –– Dad, it is not appropriate for your esteem, to serve others, –– he used to answer: I know well, what I must do. You should think that I am preparing the bed for myself … It happened that some guests felt so at home that they stayed for weeks and months.

On the Sabbath and on the festivals, he would send a messenger or a grandchild to the prayer houses and small Chassidic synagogues to see if there were Jews there, who had nowhere to eat. When Reb Leib returned from praying with his guests, there was a commotion and frantic running in his house. His wife and his daughters felt helpless, as they had not prepared enough food for so many people.

Hush, hush children – Reb Leib would say to calm the members of his household – you will find a solution, by giving each one a smaller portion of food. Above all, there is enough wine and challah, so Jews will not go hungry.

On more than one occasion Reb Leib

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embarrassed his family, by his conduct. They felt that their father overstepped the boundaries of what was feasible. He gave interest free loans to people and never saw them again. He had the generosity of spirit to take a garment that the tailor had just delivered and give it to an impoverished Jew.

His children reported their concerns to the Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Leib, of holy ancestry, who was the only one who could influence Reb Leib. The Rabbi managed to stop him from these practices but after a short time he continued in the same way as he did before.

Reb Leib died at a very old age, in 5683 (1923). When he was sick, he did not forget his friends and the poor. He kept asking whether they were well cared for.

He had the privilege of dying calmly, in the presence of all his children and good friends. He said farewell to them all, leaving a will, in which he said that his children should continue his tradition of charity and hospitality.

If, in the world, there are 36 righteous men, then Reb Leib Mednik must be counted amongst them.

A former student of the Biale Yeshivah, Dr. Dov Yarden (now in Jerusalem), writes about Reb Leibe Mednik:

“Reb Leib Mednik, my night innkeeper, was one of the most prominent benefactors of the town. As many of the townsfolk, he too was a “chassid”, a righteous person. He had a big wine business and from this he acquired the name “Mednik”, that is to say: he produces or sells med (wine made from honey). He excelled in many ways. His relationship with the yeshivah students who stayed at his house, was like a father to his sons. At night, he would get up to see if the yeshivah boys were properly covered, and if he saw that a blanket had fallen to the floor, he would pick it up silently and cover the sleeping guests.

Aside from having a place to sleep at night, I was also included at his table on the Sabbaths. The Sabbath table in his house was set mostly for members of the community: sons and daughters, grandsons and grand–daughters and other relatives, and in addition to them “guests” who were invited for the Sabbath. They would recline around the tables that were set with everything good, as the elderly master of the house, Reb Leib, an imposing patriarchal figure, sat resplendent at the head, and ruled over the whole house”.

Abik Ogrodnik (Abush Rozenblum)

by Berel Fakman Montreal

Translated by Libby Raichman

A Jew, a strong man, with majestic confident footsteps on Biale's cobbled streets. It was difficult to recognize the diaspora Jew in him. He was rooted in the earth, body and soul and his face glowed from his abundant success.

His gardens lay beyond the town and from the time he sowed the earth he waited impatiently and anxiously, looking out for the first sprouting of a blade of grass, or a leaf. Every spring, he experienced anew, the miracle of God's creation.

As a wealthy land–owner, he was conspicuous amongst those around him, with his joyful confidence and blessed down–to–earth manner. In contrast, there were small busy merchants who wandered around the market place amongst the farmers' wagons in order to buy a sack of grain, a basket of eggs etc. He did not look upon these merchants with disrespect – on the contrary, he took pity on these people who waved wands, were hungry and lacked income.

When he used to walk through the streets and stole a glance into the pitiful little Jewish shops, he understood, that such a trader, together with his whole family, must go hungry.

When Grabski's government reached the Jewish shops, and made more demands to choke the Jewish shopkeeper, then Abik made it his goal to alleviate their plight as far as possible and he began to distribute small loans.

At the beginning of the thirties, when a large part of the population had become greatly impoverished and really hungered, Abik renewed the institution “Bet Lechem” [house of bread]. In the beginning, care was taken to ensure that the poor person would not know from whence the help came. Later he organized for every needy person to buy a ticket for 10 groshen every week and for that he would receive a specific quantity of bread and food for the Sabbath. In this way, the poor man felt a certain softening in his distress, as he had “paid”.

It is remarkable that this hardened and toil weary Jew, at the same time, had such feeling for the suffering of others, particularly for the sick. He felt that it was his sacred duty to visit them and give them some pleasure. In his same simple way, he organized a society “Bikkur Cholim” [visiting the sick] into which he put his heart and soul, in his desire to bring comfort to those who met with this fate. To assist him, he chose women that were most suited to this task.

When he bought the large building on the corner of Brisk and Market streets, that housed 24 shops, there were only a few who paid rent. When he accepted a promissory note from one of these shop–keepers, he knew that it was not worth anything, because in any case, they would not be able to pay. From where and with what could they pay? Particularly as they were not afraid that Abik would evict them from their shops.

This Jew also had a feeling for education. He truly swelled with pride when he saw his youngest son Chaim in uniform, coming home from Gimnazye [High School] with his bag of books under his arm.

[PS. An “ogrod” is a “kitchen–garden” – where vegetables are grown. He was a grower of these items, hence the nickname.]

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2. Mordchele Vinetroib

I became acquainted with Mordchele, in the twenties, in the rooms of a professional society, on the third floor, on the corner of Prost and Grabanovve street.

One would hear various stories about this society and my curiosity prompted me to go up there and see with my own eyes, what happens there.

Here indeed, under a bent ceiling, at a table, Mordchele sat dozing in a very faded military great–coat, with a disheveled head of hair, that moved up and down, fearing that he would fall asleep. Through his half–closed eyes, he saw a young boy, in a small coat that he had outgrown, and a little Jewish hat, glancing at the large picture of Karl Marx.

–– Whom are you looking for, little friend? – I heard a sleepy voice say and he stretched out his hand and asked: –– how old are you, little friend? Certainly, a victim of capitalism and clericalism?

I asked him to speak in language that I could understand because his words were unclear to me.

His sleepy face became heated and his gentle eyes began to spurt fire. He started to search for suitable words, in order to explain what he meant. I stood confused. His sudden motive to rob me of my spiritual treasure, with promises of equality and freedom in the future, stabbed at my heart.

–– Sit, little friend – he brought me the broken chair on which he had been sitting.

–– Yes, young friend, you will grow to be a great crusader for the holy cause; I can see, that you want to know everything.

Since then I saw Mordchele quite often.

Mordchele lived at the Volye with his poor mother but he seldom went home, because he could not help his mother and he could not eat there.

That was the time when the leftist workers' movement ruled the minds of a large section of the youth, and all the remaining movements were given titles by the workers' movement such as: “small–minded citizens”, “dark elements”, “chauvinists” and “social –fascists”.

Mordchele was the one, that a part of the naïve and innocent youth looked up to. For them, he was the messenger for the crusade in search of a beautiful and just life.

Surrounded by the youth, he was beloved and respected. He had the run of the house in many well–to–do houses and felt very much at home there. Even the religious Jews were not afraid of him, because in their eyes he was idle and unworldly. Women used to slip him a spoon so that he could join them when they ate. They did not have to ask him too many times; mine, yours, what difference does it make. That the revolution would come, whatever the day, of that he was sure.

He had no skill in any trade. He had no time and no head for such prosaic matters.

When his followers learned that Mordchele was giving a lecture, in the local hall or in a private house, the venue was packed. It was truly difficult to breathe there but who expected the flaming, fiery words to fall from his mouth, about the rotten capitalistic order. He ignited a fire in the hearts of the youth with his deep faith in the fact that very soon, the exploiting world would collapse. His logical arguments had such an effect on the listeners, that they felt happy to give up their own lives, for this sacred purpose. Even though he was never short of fiery material against the clerical–capitalistic order, yet he would allude to authorities such as: Comrade Lenin, Marx, Engels and Lasalle.

Once, as he emerged radiant from such a meeting, he met Hinech Goldfeld who asked: –– Mordchele, when are you going to buy yourself a new pair of pants? He did not think too long and answered: –– one hour after the revolution.

One morning, when I went down to the courtyard (of Itshe Koval), I saw Mordchele in an unappetizing, ragged suit of clothing, with a yellow liquid dripping out of his pocket. When I drew his attention to his pocket, he quickly answered that this was his breakfast that a female friend had placed there.

He opened the parcel and called out: –– look what a bourgeoisie breakfast. I am not accustomed to anything else, only rolls with butter and underdone eggs. Who has food in mind when the closing accord of the conference, from which I have just returned, is screaming in my ears: Strengthen! Hurry! You understand what that means …

He told me that when he came to me the previous evening, it was already dark in the house. So, he lay down there on the table (a table from Yitzchak Pretters bakery), and it seems that he fell into a deep sleep and did not even feel that it rained a little.

In later years, when I once

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walked in the streets of Warsaw, I heard behind me, a popular revolutionary song, being sung in a familiar steamy, low tone. I turned around and saw that the tune came out of a metal tub, that someone was carrying on his head.

–– give me a whistle! – I heard Mordchele's voice say.

He became a metal–worker. He arrived as an apprentice to a master who provided him with food and a place to sleep.

The last time I saw him was at the beginning of October 1939. Half of Warsaw lay in ruins and the German mobs went wild in the Warsaw streets. It was teeming with people, everyone was searching for a relative, an acquaintance, from whom to take advice: To stay – or to flee. Here I met Mordchele, neglected, but smiling. His entire possessions, a straw mattress in his boss's cellar, but he did not take it to heart.

When I asked, when he would go west, Mordchele began to complain about all those cowards who are fleeing the liberated country. – who will be here in the fateful moment? – he actually said angrily.

The end: he entered into the count of the destroyed 6 million.

Friend Mordechai Vinetroib was the grandson of Leibele Rososher, the greatest teacher of Gemara in the Talmud Torah. Mordechai's mother was widowed young, and she and the children moved in with her father, who lived in the Talmud Torah.

Mordechai was versed in Jewish learning, he was renowned for being like a walking dictionary. He used to frequent the home of Yisroel Shualke where he ate twice a day and it was there that he found Dr. Piness's foreign dictionary that he learned almost by heart. He read extensively in Yiddish about Jewish and world literature. He inherited a double dose of his grandfather's idleness. When the American parcels began to arrive after the First World War, he was often given fresh clothes, but these did not last and before long, he was again wearing ragged clothes. Gedalyahu Braverman wanted to teach him to sew gaiters and Avrom Nuchovicz wanted to teach him carpentry but nothing came of either profession.

That friend Mordechai needed the social revolution, is clear for all to see …

Mordechai was amongst the most intelligent and learned in the Communist movement in Biale. In a few letters to me, he tried to lead me on the “right path”. When he saw from my answers, that I am, poor thing, a “lost cause”, he used to, in conversations with acquaintances, say: “Fyvel is a counter–revolutionary, on whom I have pity” … .

F. Gold

Boruch Sholem the Teacher (Krideshtein)

by F. Gold

Translated by Libby Raichman

1. Boruch Sholem the Teacher (Krideshtein)

He was the son of Shlaymele (Shimmele's brother) Krideshtein. He was also called Boruch Sholem the Kositinerin. His father was a Gerrer Chassid and he himself, a Biale Chassid. He was amongst the most observant in the town and a mystic. He had the desire through Kabbalism, to create a living creature. Truly, not as large as the Golem of Maharal – [Rabbi Yehuda Low of Prague 16th century – legend ascribes to him the creation of a Golem, a clay figure that came to life]. Yet, as he said, he could do that but not at the level of the Gaon of Prague. He therefore decided to create a small duck from clay and blow into it, the spirit of life…

He prepared himself for this by studying the entire night, fasting and running to the Mikveh a few times during the day. Biale was in confusion. A fear fell over the town; what will happen if he succeeds and the duck will, God forbid, rebel in him? And what will be if he does not succeed? Until the Biale Rabbi called him, and on a handshake, forbade him to be involved in such matters.


2. Motl Domatshever

In the beginning, Reb Motl was the “third hand “of the most highly regarded teachers. Later the “second hand”. He had approximately 30 students, ranging from 10 to 13 years. He was originally from Domatsheve and served in the Tsarist army for 8 years. He was the teacher of Shmuelke Pizshitz's children, even after they were married.

He was a tall Jew with a small grey beard, cleanly and well–dressed. He used to walk in the middle of the street and not on the sidewalk, with a red cane in his hand. Because of the tall hat that he wore, the students called him “vertiche“.

He liked a child to shout out “the Rabbi is coming” when he entered the school room and everyone should be seated at 3 tables that were arranged in the shape of a “U”. But the students would call out the “vertiche“ is coming and he would take a deep sniff of snuff

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and ask: “who said “vertiche“, may all evil befall you?” He struck the one whom he suspected, mainly on the head, dragging his hair with his hat.

He used to teach the lesson while walking around the room between the tables, with his stick on his shoulder, like a soldier with his rifle. For this reason, the students also called him “Cossack”. He began each lesson with the words: “it is certainly quite (clear), that whoever does not pay attention to learning, will soon get cholera” (will amount to nothing). Making trouble for a student was a trivial matter for him.

He was regarded as an angry teacher and a beater but one had to see the tenderness that he showed to a student who wanted to learn, but did not have the ability, to see him fuss over a student that accidentally hurt himself, or was stung, did not feel well, or who entered the room in winter, frozen. He would tear his handkerchief to tie a student's wound – an act he did with great pity and love, even for a bad student.

He spoke and wrote Russian and Polish well, and of course, Hebrew and Yiddish. He was one of the best and most beautiful swimmers in Biale. He was famous for freestyle (crawl) swimming and water–treading, in the town.

At the age of 78, he drowned in the Mikveh (apparently from a heart–attack).


3. Shualke Cohen

Everyone in Biale knew Reb Shualke the son of Reb Herzl, or at least, had heard of him. Aside from being one of the finest Jews in the town, and of prestigious descent, he was also among the wealthiest Jews in Biale but as it appears, very unworldly. Reb Shual could really not understand, how it was possible that a poor man did not even possess at least 300 ruble. … Being an old–fashioned banker (lender), mainly for the aristocrats, brokers would keep his company and assist with his businesses. Two brokers in particular were spoken of, who became wealthy by hiding their cigarettes in Reb Shualke's safe, in order to rein in the evil–inclination to smoke …

Not withstanding his wealth and prestige, Reb Shual was a very modest man. In the Gerrer house of prayer, he did not occupy a seat of honor but sat at a table in the middle with poor people; opposite Mendele Sitnikker who delivered clay, the convert, and at the other end of the table, Irme (Yirmiyahu) Beder. He had a small crown on the collar of his prayer shawl, the smallest lulav on Sukkot and he was the last person to follow the cantor in the procession on Hoshanah Rabbah.

An example of the simple manner in which he conducted himself, will be understood by his fellow–townsfolk who have Chassidic roots. When these small prayer houses were short of money for their expenses, then on the Sabbath after prayers congregants would grab the prayer shawls from the Chassidim. Early on Sundays, they would have to buy back the prayer shawls to be able to begin praying. In this way, the prayer houses received money. Once on a Sabbath, people were standing at the door of the Gerrer prayer house and young Chassidim were removing the prayer shawls from the congregants. The Chassidim let Reb Shualke pass through. Hearing a noise behind him, he turned around and when he saw what was taking place, he took off his overcoat, and from under his overcoat, his prayer shawl. (Gerrer Chassidim do not carry anything on the Sabbath and wear their prayer shawls on them, under their overcoats), and he himself threw his prayer shawl in, amongst the others.


4. Yossel Vetshik (Gotfried)

He was strongly built, with a big red beard, a red face, and a red neck. With his deep voice, he was, one might say, the reserve leader in prayer and the official reciter of psalms in the synagogue, particularly every morning during the month of Elul. Being the beadle for the Chevra Kaddishah [Burial Society], he would walk at the front of every funeral procession with his alms box, shaking it and calling: “charity will save from death”.

In his youth, he was a tailor who did alterations and no–one in Biale knew exactly, how he became an important person in the magistrate's office, under Russian rule and later under Polish rule, without being able to read or write (besides praying), but he would mechanically sign, Yossel Gotfried. With his finger, he would flip the pages of the books that contained the registry of births, until he found what he was looking for. Finding documents where he was mostly, witness at the birth, gave him his income. He lived into his nineties. He was the best purchaser of a good bottle of brandy and a roasted goose.


5. Pesach Skos

If there is any truth in the legend, that a ladies' tailor told the Vilna Gaon, that it is easy for him to be a righteous man, sitting in his prayer house of books, then that story is made to measure for Pesach Skos. To say that he was a “religious person” or an “honest Jew” is not saying enough.

He was a ladies' tailor but Pesach Skos was the most acknowledged reader of the morning prayers. His rendering of the psalms, standing on the side at the pulpit, was legendary (hence the nickname “Skos”)– [a legend]. For his recitation, verse by verse, with the resounding

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answer from his workman Shayme, the son of Sonia (Bekkerman), he was renowned in Biale.

Because of the First World War, he lost his income. He died a tsaddik [a righteous man] from hunger, around 1922.

6. Moshe Bass

No longer did anyone in Biale count the years of his life. He was the bass player in the Biale band and the founding father of almost the entire band–family in Biale.

At weddings, he would sit, sleeping, and strumming on the bass. When the band was already playing the mitzvah dance for the bride and groom, he would still be playing the accompaniment for the seating of the bride. The band wanted to pay him his share so that he would no longer play, but there were two obstacles attached:

  1. without playing, he did not want to take a share,
  2. the enquiries about him from the in–laws, who wanted the remedy for living a long life.
Moshe Bass had claim to the first Minchah [afternoon prayer], before the Sabbath in the large synagogue. He was old, blind, and weak, but as long as the soul had not left his half–blind eyes, he maintained his right.

And although he was called Moshe Bass, he sang his “you are one” with a squeaky little voice.


7. Alter Nemirover

This Jew of medium height, with a bent shoulder and colorless beard, was the shadow (good) of the Biale Rabbi, Reb Yankele. His ardent devotion to the Rabbi was inconceivable for the ordinary person. No decisions could be taken in the courtyard, without Reb Alter Nemirover first having the agreement of the Rabbi.

When the Biale courtyard was once on fire, he cried out: –– help Jews, it's burning! help Jews! I am running to the Rabbi! – he ran out from the Rabbi with another cry: –– water! water! nothing can help, only water! – a short while later, Reb Alter was seen running with the ladder to the orchard. As a non–Jew was already walking on the Rabbi's steps, the non–Jew also used this ladder, he ran with the ladder to dip it in the Mikveh (ritual bath), so that the Rabbi would be able to go out from his room and put out the fire. His two popular phrases in broken Polish originate from that fire in Biale: “the whole town is burning” and “send the non–Jew“.


8. Yitzchak Urtsheles

Almost everyone in Biale knew Reb Yitzchak Urtsheles, the teacher. He was a gemorra teacher in the Talmud Torah. His students would sing and pray loudly in the morning. They sang certain sections of the Pentateuch and Song of Songs, and in particular, his rendering of the weekly section of the Pentateuch remained in the memories of his students.

Reb Yitzchak Urtsheles's ways were not unusual but in the following three events, he was definitely the only one in Biale.

After he boarded with my great–grandfather Reb Urtshe Katzev, for three years, he took his dowry of 500 gulden and went out to trade. Just as “a cow is represents half an income”, he rather purchased an ox …

He was born in Rososh. On an anniversary of a death, he once went to Rososh to visit his father's grave. On the way, he stopped to recite the afternoon service, and became so confused, that he returned to Biale. Something was unfamiliar to him – he did not see Lamoz on the way, and Rososh, against the evil eye, had grown and spread so much, with a train, a river, bridges, large houses, long wide streets …. Well, let it be so, a religious Jew should not think about such things. He said the evening prayers, said the mourner's prayer, ate his evening meal and sat down to study the whole night. In the morning – he prayed, said the mourner's prayer again and went to visit his father's grave. When he could not find his father's gravestone, he realized that he was in Biale and not in Rososh.

When he came to Biale to board, he took it upon himself to do a good deed, to provide the Chassidim in the Kotzk synagogue with a fresh drink of water with their third meal, and also finger–bowl water before saying grace. Even in the worst weather, he did not falter, even though he was close to 60 years of age. In his old age, the younger Chassidim wanted to take over from him but he did not allow them to do so and would give this interpretation: –– you must understand me, as long as a person lives, he sins. In the next world, when the bad angel will say: another barrel of tar, the good angel will shout: a ladle of water; so, the more water I carry, the better.


9. Meir Tallitmacher

Meir Tallit–macher was a Jew from Kotzk. He was a Cabbalist and well versed in the holy books. Those who lived in the mud huts said, that he is one of the 36 righteous people in the world. His custom of performing the midnight service, was so stirring that it moved stones.

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About his tallit–making, it was told, that when a tallit was ordered for a bridegroom, the tallit was only ready when the bridegroom was about to attend his children's marriage ceremonies… He made two or three tallit katan [four–cornered undergarment worn by orthodox Jewish men] per week (if he had orders). He made a living, as they say in America, from fast days. On official fast days, all the Biale Jews fasted, but Reb Meir used to fast four or five days a week. He died on a Sabbath, a day when a religious Jew may not fast.


10. Idl Tzinnes (Kanalshtein)

Idl Tzinnes was a strong man. He was a carpenter. When he was over 60, he could still easily carry an iron ball, a task with which four young carpenters, struggled. He was known, not for his strength but for his eating. Two examples will be illustrated here.

In his old age, when he and his wife were suffering from a cold, the uncouth assistant surgeon (Papinsky) wrote a prescription for him. On the way into town to get the prescription, he bought two home–made breads. On the way home, he tasted the prescription, not bad, a little sweet, the bread is tastier. Before he reached home, there was no sign of the bread or the prescription.

At the wedding of his grandson, he discovered that there was rice in the world and that it was not bad. So he told his wife to cook a bowl of food for him, from two pounds of rice and ten pounds of potato.


11. Chaim Chaveles

At first glance you would have said that he is a strong man. Tall, chubby and good–natured. He was a driver of a horse–drawn cab. He could throw two pood (40 Russian pounds each) weights, two stories high and catch them again by the handle.

In the town, it was told about a bet that he took, carrying an iron ball weighing close to 20 pood, from the corner of Yaneve street to the monastery (a distance of approximately ¾ of a viorst) [former Russian measure of distance, equal to .66 of a mile]. That time he won 25 ruble and those who scoffed used to say – and more …


12. Moshe Bukkes (Puterman)

Moshe Bukkes was a men's tailor. Besides tailoring he had other sources of income. He was happy when he was asked to make a long satin coat, worn by religious men. Firstly, it was for a fine Jew, and secondly, it did not have to fit very well – the wearer of the coat did not have to dance with Graf Pototzki's daughter…. What was important was, that it had to be wide enough. He also paid particular attention to width and size when sewing pants and loose robes for Jewish children; never mind, they will grow into it …

He earned a second income at Sukkot time. He used to provide Jews with a cheap means of blessing the Etrog. For half a day, each of his sons ran around to residents of the town with a separate lulav and Etrog, to enable them to say the blessing.

Half the day, Moshe Bukkes would stand near Pizshitz's house in the market place and tell stories and jokes, while waiting for the task that was most dear to him, to be a second witness to Yossel Vetshik, on marriage and birth documents, or God forbid, on a document concerning a death. Here Moshe Bukkes would demonstrate his competence: it was no small matter to sign “Moshko Puterman” in Russian. He marked on the paper, signs resembling small eggs, grinding holes, corns on feet, fishing rods, details above and below, shafts for a wagon, half and whole wheels, complications. Every mark had to be put in the right place and there was not much space on the paper. A difficult task, but a fine and honorable occupation… particularly as he was paid for that, a sixer, a tenner and sometimes a drink of brandy too.

Moshe Bukkes would have been wealthy if not for his wife and children. As soon as his wife opened her mouth: “Give me a gulden!”, all the children with one voice, as in a choir, answered: “I am hungry!” and as luck would have it, his second wife would also ask for a gulden, but the choir was no longer there; on the contrary, the choir would often give him a gulden ….


13. Yos Drozshkarzsh (Gerrman)

Everyone in Biale knew Yos the cab driver [driver of the droshky] (Yossel brother). There was another cabdriver in Biale who was well–known, Saske with the horse, save him please. But it was Saske's horse that was famous and not he, himself. For example, the horse would go no further than the first bridge over the Voliye. If one wanted to catch the Brisk train at 9 in the evening, one had to leave with Saske for the Warsaw train around 11 in the morning….

Yos was ashamed that he was an ignorant person. But to be fair to Yos, there were people in the town who were more ignorant, but Yos had a few admirable qualities that earned him his reputation: honesty, simplicity, goodness, his ability to engage in conversation and to pray aloud.

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Yos Drozshkarzsh had the privilege of being the only cab driver whom the Biale Rabbi would often hire to take a ride, and to make a distinction, also the authorities used his services. But unfortunately, poor thing, he had no luck with his horses. Before the First World War, he downgraded from his original two horses, to a pushcart. For many years, he saved money to buy a young horse, but he had no luck, because whatever he managed to save, his money kept losing its value during the war and in the post–war period. So, is it any wonder that on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New year) when “v'chol ma'minim she hi” was recited, he shouted ma–ma–sha? He was so heavy hearted that he shouted, Mama. When he once earned a little extra, he said to his fellow–men who always endured the sins of the rich: –– may we all possess, what I have earned.

Once, in a discussion with his brother, he said to him: –– you are a good friend to me, that I know, but me to you, I do not know (he meant the opposite). When he was called to the Torah, he wanted to follow the portion in the Torah but because of the oven–fork and the shovel (style of the writing), he could not overtake the reader, so he shouted – whoa! halt! …

His “fair” complaints to the authorities: Why, in Biale, does the snow not remain still, it's melting affects riding with a sleigh. Why do they make a Sabbath in the middle days of a festival, it affects one's income? He himself saw, that boys from Mezritsh, came from Mezritsh on the Sabbath. That means that in Mezritsh it was not the Sabbath and in Biale it was …. Why do they allow the ginger–haired book–seller to sell books in the synagogue; he bought a kalboinik (siddur that has all the prayers for the whole year) and found no instructions in it, on how to repair a step….

As he was exchanging good wishes with another person, he expressed the wish that they should not need to receive assistance from one another –– Yos said that he hoped that he would not live to approach the other and that the other should not live to approach him….

In the town, they would tell whole mountains of stories about Yos. We will jot down a few of them here.

One Simchat Torah [festival of the rejoicing of the Law], Yos was given the honour of carrying a Torah during the procession around the synagogue but the Torah was damaged as it did not have an etz chaim [one of the wooden rollers on which the Torah is rolled]. Yos was angry and said: –– I do not want a lame Torah.

One Sabbath Yos was given an honour of being called to the Torah and it just happened to be the portion of “the rebuke”. When Yos came down from the bimah [the raised section where the Torah is read], somebody informed him that the section of the Torah with which he was honored, was full of curses. Yos waved with his hand and called out: –– I immediately saw that the letters were crazy.

During the High Holy Days, those who listened to Yos's praying, scoffed at him, and later had much to tell about his Hebrew. In the prayer “V'chol ma'a'minim she hi” were the words:

“ha'bochen u'bodek ginzay nistarot” meaning: who tries and searches for the most hidden secrets, that Yos expressed as: “a boche a budke, genzene strawnes” meaning: a crier, a booth, a goose's trout;

“V'chol ma'a'minim she hu bochen klayot” meaning: and all that believe that He searches the innermost parts, he read as: “uv'chol mamasha bochtes kluven”, meaning: and all mother's examined vice; “hakatzar b'za'am ma'arich af” meaning: he is slow to anger and long–suffering, he read as: “a kirtze bezem mach op”, meaning: make up a short broom.

Once Yos came to the Rabbi and asked the Rabbi to inform him of the date when he had yahrtzeit [anniversary of a death] for his father. The Rabbi then began to enquire of Yos, and question him, hoping that perhaps, he would after all, get a word out of him, that would have some connection to the date of his father's death. After the Rabbi, had already labored extensively in a long careful investigation, Yos called out: –– Rabbi, I know nothing. I know only one thing. When the bells in the Cloister began to peal on Christmas eve, my father's pious soul went out through forbidden t …

(M. Y. Feigenboim)


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