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Part II

People and Personalities

 

The Rabbis of Bobrka and Szwirsz

Rabbi Y. C. Weisblum (Haifa)

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

The special one among the Bobrka rabbis, who was followed by a long line of descendants who served as rabbis of the place after him, was the Gaon and Tzaddik, our rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Simcha (the son of the Gaon and Tzaddik, our rabbi and teacher Chaim of blessed memory), the distinguished student of the great Rabbi Butzina Kadisha, our rabbi and teacher, Meshulam Zosia of Anipoli and a distinguished friend of the Gaon, the author of “Peri Megadim”. There is a criticism from him on the Peri Megadim Yore Dea (Mishbetzot zahav section 15 on the Peri Megadim newsletter) from the year 5556 in these words: “I am now in the holy community of Zhalkawa at the time that this page was being printed as I wanted to be certain that all this good is indeed published without errors and exactly as the author wrote it, as its author is a great friend of my late father, and I was ordered to print this law between two semicircles, etc., etc.”. At the end of the book of names, the Gaon and Tzaddik “Ateret Zvi” of Ziditchov of blessed memory, wrote to him in the year “Chesed VeRachmim Bnei Chayai Umezoni” (5587) the reasoning for blessing a Lulav in the Sukkah: “To the honorable Rabbi, the great and famous Gaon, the humble Chassid Butzina of the great dynasty, may he live long, M. Simcha, whose name is glorified, whom I could not praise as he deserves, and in particular who am I that I will write to his honor, only because I know the humility of his greatness, I wrote, with God's help, why they bless the Lulav blessing in the Sukkah”.

The last of this dynasty was the Gaon Rabbi Simcha Vitalesh of blessed memory. His son, Rabbi Yaakov Vitalesh, who owned an estate near Lviv and was a dignitary of the city of Lviv and among the heads of Agudath Israel in Galicia, perished in the Holocaust, may God avenge him.

About ninety years ago, the Gaon Rabbi Moshe Fox served as a dayan and there is an answer to him in the book of Q&A “Shoel umeshiv”, third edition, answer no. 379. There is also an interesting answer to his son, Rabbi Aharon Fox, in the book of Q&A of the Maharsham, volume II, section 15 of the year 5634 regarding a rabbi who was appointed only to gain respect and not to receive the salary …

A few years before the First World War, the Gaon, rabbi and teacher, Binyamin Ze'ev Galer, was appointed as the Av Beit Din of Bobrka (the son of the Gaon, rabbi and teacher, David Galer, Av Beit Din of Nizankovitz, to whom, by the way, there is an answer in the Q&A book Beit Itzhak, Yore Dea, volume I, section 147, from the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Shmelkish, Av Beit Div of Lviv, of blessed memory). The Gaon Rabbi Binyamin Ze'ev served formerly as the Av Beit Din of Kriptash and there is an answer to him in the Q&A Imrei Yosher, volume I, to the Gaon and Tzaddik Maharam Arik, of blessed memory, Av Beit Din of Tarnov, Section 82. His son, H. Lipa Galer, who was one of the most honored and wealthy of Peshemishel, as well as the son-in-law of the Gaon, rabbi and teacher, Shimon Olech, who filled the place of his father, the Gaon, rabbi and teacher, Zalka, of blessed memory, as the Av Beit Din of Dolina. They perished with their entire family in the Holocaust, may God avenge them.

At that time, the Gaon, rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Yosef Kluger, of blessed memory, served in Bobrka as dayan. He was a wise scholar and a talented teacher (he was from the family of the Gaon Maharshak of Brod, of blessed memory), a friendly person, humble and loved by all.

 

Lo tamot, Ohel Shem

 

The last of the rabbis who served as Av Beit Din in Bobrka was my brother-in-law, the Gaon and Tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Uri Halevi Eisen of blessed memory (the son of the Gaon and Tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Chaim, of blessed memory, the Av Beit Din of Szwirsz). Previously he served as the Av Beit Din of Szwirsz, Stratyn, and from there he moved to Berezhany, where he became known as a great Torah scholar and a wonderful preacher. All the wise scholars in the city wanted him to fill the place of the Gaon Maharsham of blessed memory, but it was carried out and he left the place and moved to Bobrka. There he was appointed as the Rebbe and most of the Chassidim of Stratyn as well as those who were not Chassidim at all, went to him to hear his commentary, which was a mix of deep poignancy and wonderful knowledge, as well as to hear his prayers in the original Stratyn form. With great enthusiasm and warmth, he would emphasize each and every letter and lengthen his voice to the length of his breath, in each and every chapter of Pesukei Dezimra. A special awakening was felt by the audience when he began to say “Nishmat”. Deep longing arose in everyone's heart when he said with a special stressing “Ve'ilu pinu male shirah kayam uleshonenu rinah kahamon galav” (whereas our mouths are full of singing as the sea and our tongue is full of joy like a multitude of waves) …

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ad henah azarunu rachameicha velo azavunu chasadeicha… Ve'al titshenu… Lanetzach” (So far, your mercy has helped us, and grace has not left us…and don't leave us… forever) …

The audience felt a special pleasant feeling when saying “Nishmat” during the third meal, as well as when singing “Bnei heichala dichsifin lemechezei ziv dezhir anpin, yehon acha behai taka dve Malka begilufin… (the members of the hall who are eager to witness even a tiny joy, let them join the table on which a drunk king sits), as well as in “Mizmor ledavid … binhot deshe yarbitzeni… al mei menuchot yenahaleni… ta'aroch lefanai Shulchan neged tzorerai” (A psalm to David, he will place me on the grass, he will guide me pleasantly, he will set before me a table against my oppressors) …

When the terrible days came, Chassidim began to appear from near and far, some of whom even had the privilege of traveling to the grandfather of his grandfather, the Kadosh Rabbi Avraham'chi of blessed memory, of Stratyn. The synagogue where he passed before the Holy Ark and its vicinity were full of old and young, God-fearing and educated, and everyone came to hear him because “miten swirzer rav davant zich ger andersh”. Who can describe the “Mizmor LeDavid” on Rosh HaShana Eve? … Or “ineni ha'ani mima'as” (even though it was not said in Stratyn) in the nigun of the chazan, a scholar of the Baal Shem Tov. Everyone stood crowded, cramped, holding their breath, in terror, awe and submission… Silence prevailed in the synagogue, and with every word that came out of his mouth, one could feel the groan of generations lying on him and it was saturated with the pain of great suffering. A special preparation of happiness and trembling together was felt in the city when they heard that the Rabbi of Szwirsz was already going to perform the Hakafot for the second time that evening in the great synagogue. He sang and danced with a Torah book in his hand, and people came to witness this joy. He who has not seen this joy, has not seen joy in his life yet. Those who were present at his “seder” will never forget it, it was a real “kind of next world” feeling. Once I've asked him why they don't sing “E-L Adon” in Stratyn and he jokingly replied, after all, during the entire prayer we are fighting a war of momentum, and suddenly declare a truce?” In the territory of his rabbinate, he was loved by everyone. He was very settled in his mind. The great merchants and lawyers from all around brought their cases before him. He passed away young on 22 of Tevet, 5686, may his memory be blessed and may his soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life. He left behind manuscripts in Halacha and Agada named “Yair Chaim”, which was lost in the Holocaust. His wife Fruma (the cousin of the Gaon and Tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Michal Horodner of blessed memory, Av Beit Din of Stretyn, to whom there is an answer in the Q&A Imrei Yosher, volume I, section 163 from the Gaon Maharam Arik of blessed memory) according to the testimony of my students, Mr. Chaim Karten, may he live long, was led together with the members of her family to the fire furnaces in Belzec, may God avenge them.

 

The Rabbis of Szwirsz

When in the old days we brought up memories of Israeli cities and towns in foreign countries, the importance of the things was purely historical. Today, if we come to reminisce, these memories are used as a eulogy for holy cities saturated with Jewish sweat and toil, bustling with Jewish life that were ended and perished from the world. Today, when we talk about ancient Jewish cities, there is a reason to raise a candle of remembrance for cities that were and are no longer. One of these ancient cities was Szwirsz.

Out of heartache, being one of the last of the Szwirsz rabbis, I must mention the forgotten things so that they will remain forever for generations to come. As mentioned, it was a centuries-old Jewish town. At the ancient Jewish cemetery there is still a tombstone from the year 5564. Loyal Jews told me that they saw the covers of ancient books that were “printed in Lviv, near Szwirsz”, which proves the important position this town had in the old days. The elders of Swierz told me that they heard this fact passed down from person to person, that when the Gaon Rabbi Arieh Leib (who will be told about below) appeared in this town, the stepson of the author of “Turei Zahav”, accompanied by his stepfather, who asked the local people to accept his son as a rabbi in Szwirsz, they treated this candidacy scornfully, since this rabbinate has already been served by famous Jewish elders, with whom, according to the opinion of the homeowners in Szwirsz, he cannot compete. The old synagogue in Szwirsz was a wooden building, since according to the law that prevailed at the time the synagogue was built, Jews were not allowed to build synagogues made of stone, etc. According to my late friend Reb Shalom Shuv Herman, he saw that the building of the old synagogue was more than six hundred years ago. They prayed in this synagogue until the construction of the new synagogue by the late Reb Shlomo was completed. The three-story menorah remained in the old synagogue. According to what is said, at one time it was found in the fields of Szwirsz and the Jews and foreigners fought over its ownership. They understood that this menorah should belong to a holy place, but each side wanted the menorah to be in its ownership. Finally, they agreed to load the menorah on a cart drawn by oxen, not driven by people, and wherever the oxen would go and stop, to that place it would belong; and the oxen stopped near the synagogue. When the merchants had to go to Uhniv, for the famous fair, they would linger especially in Szwirsz to see the ancient menorah. The menorah was made of an unknown metal. Neither copper nor bronze. In my time, when there was a need to repair some parts of the menorah, and the special craftsman, from Sasov, was invited for this purpose, he told me that in order to match the additional material to the current one, it was necessary to create a compound from different materials, in order to somewhat equal the sound of the added metal to the prolonged sound of the menorah when it was tapped, which lasted for a long time. According to the late Reb Hirsch Gabbai, before the previous war, came from Vienna an antiques merchant, who wanted to pay in gold for the menorah after taking off a small piece of the menorah and testing its properties. Of course, the local people refused to hear about any kind of consideration in return for their menorah.

Among the famous rabbis, who held highly respected positions in this town, those known to me, were: the Gaon, rabbi and teacher, Arieh Yehuda Lieb, the son of Rabbi Shmuel Zvi Hirsch, the Gaon, rabbi and teacher, Moshe Pinchas, the son of the Gaon Avraham Gabbai of Lublin, the great Gaon Mordechai, the son of the great Gaon Tuvia Michal Halperin, Av Beit Din of Ruzhin, the great Gaon Shlomo Zalman Horvitz, the great Gaon Simcha Yoel HaCohen, the great Gaon David Meir Feder, my father-in-law the great Gaon Chaim Halevi Eisen, his son-in-law the great Gaon Moshe, the son of the teacher and rabbi, the great Gaon Ya'akov Shalom Babed, his son, the great Gaon Uri Halevi, was mentioned above among the rabbis of Bobrka, the last rabbi who filled my place when I left Szwirsz to immigrate to Eretz Israel was the Gaon, rabbi and teacher, Mordechai Zvi Redlich, may God avenge him.

The Gaon, rabbi and teacher, Arieh Yehuda Lieb, the son of Rabbi Shmuel Zvi Hirsch, grandson of Rabbi Yoel (the author of “Bait Chadash”) and the stepson of Rabbi David Halevi, the author of “Turei Zahav” was born nearby in the year 5400. He first studied Torah with his stepfather, the author of “Turei Zahav”, and he also studied with Rabbi Heschel of Krakow. At a young age he was later appointed as a rabbi of the Szwirsz community and from there he had a question-and-answer relationship with his stepfather, the author of “Turei Zahav”. In the year 5426, the author of “Turei Zahav” sent him and his stepbrother, Rabbi Yeshayahu Halevi to examine the character of Shabtai Zvi; he received them with great respect and sent

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with them a silk garment in honor of their father, the great Gaon. For nearly sixty years, Rabbi Arieh Leib served in the rabbinate of important communities in Poland and Lithuania: in Szwirsz, in Komarno, in Stopnitz, in Zamosc, in Tuchin, in Krakow. Recently he was called to Brisk of Lithuania, and there he passed away in the year 5478. Some of his answers were printed by his grandson under the name “Sha'agat Ari”, with the additions of the publisher under the name “Kol Shachal” (in 5496, and a complete edition in Thessaloniki in 5506) and many more (The History of the Poskim).

The Gaon, rabbi and teacher, Moshe Pinchas, the son of the famous Gaon, rabbi and teacher, Avraham Gabbai, was head and leader of a yeshiva in Lublin. In the register of the community from the year 5467 mentioned Rabbi Avraham, Rabbi Chaim, Rabbi Zeev, Rabbi Avraham and Rabbi Lipman. He was the last community leader to the Committee of Four States because later the Kingdom of Poland was divided and the committee was annulled. The committee (Ya'akov community, HaMelitz page 82). In the year 5501, he gave his consent for the book “Porat Yosef” of the Gaon, the author of “Pri Megadim”, in the year 5506, he gave his consent for the book “Birkat Yosef” of the Gaon Rabbi Meir Teomim (the father of the author of Pri Megadim) and many more. In the year 5511, his signature appears among the rabbis of Zhovkva to assist the Gaon Yonatan Eybshitz (the book “Luchot Edut”) and in the year 5517, on the book “Mitznefet Bad” and signed by: Moshe Pinchas on behalf of Rabbi Avraham, Rabbi Chaim of Lublin, Av Beit Din of Szwirsz and a trustee of the Committee of Four States and a community leader of the Lviv district. He had two sons: a. The Gaon and tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Yosef, Av Beit Din of Pozan (a member of the authors of the book “She'erit Yosef” on the Shas) and was the son-in-law of the Gaon Rabbi Yehezkel Landoi, the author of the book “Hanoda Be'Yehuda”, Av Beit Din of Prague. And in his answers, he exalts and praises his son-in-law Rabbi Yosef as a Gaon and tzaddik and so on. b. The Gaon, rabbi and teacher, Shmuel, Av Beit Din of Iloguria, Pshevorsk, Ternopil; and after the death of his aforementioned brother, he was appointed as the Av Beit Din of Pozen. He is the author of Q&A of the last Beit Shmuel and in the introduction of the book, he mentions his father, “the late and famous rabbi, HaMaor HaGadol, who was Av Beit Din of Szwirsz, the community leader of the Lviv district and the trustee of the Committee of Four States and was in his entirety Torah and greatness in one person”.

Figures from the homeowners in Szwirsz at that time that are worth noting: the Kadosh Reb Moshe of Szwirsz, who was killed for Kiddush Hashem, the father of the Kadosh Reb Yosef “Sparavadlivi”, the father of the Gaon and Kadosh Reb Yitzchak of Drohobych (to whom the Kadosh Ba'a Shem Tov came to receive a blessing). The Kadosh Rabbi Moshe mentioned above was the grandson of the Gaon and Kadosh Rabbi Yitzchak Hayut, Av Beit Din of Prague, among the Provenza Chassidim (preface to the book “Toldot Yitzchak” on “Masechet Brachot” of the Gaon and tzaddik of Skala). The Gaon, rabbi and teacher, Yosef of Szwirsz, the father of Meir Teomim, the author of “Birkat Yosef” (preface of the book “Natrikan” of the author of “Pri Meghadim”).

The great Gaon Mordechai, Av Beit Din of Szwirsz, the son of the great Gaon Tuvia Michal Halperin, Av Beit Din of Ruzhin, passed away in the year 5535 (the book Hayachash of Baal Beit Ya'akov). His son-in-law, Avraham Yehuda Lieb Meir Hopper, the owner of the well-known printing house “Meir Hopper” in Zolkevi, the learned man and dignitaries of the city of Zhovkva (in the introduction of the book “Chemda Gnuza” by the great Gaon Moshe Zvi Hirsch, Av Beit Din of Zhovkva and on the cover of the book “Zohar Chadash” that was printed in Zhovkva in the year 5564).

The great Gaon Shlomo Zalman Horowitz received an answer in the year 5605 in the book Questions and Answers from the Riaz Anzil, Av Beit Din of Steri, section 76. When he was already Av Beit Din of Galina, he wrote to him: “His land I will call him and he will not know him”, but from among his lines revealed the rays of wisdom and knowledge, therefore, first and foremost, I apologize I did not reply sooner to the two letters of his while his honor resides in the community of Szwirsz. And he also appears in the Questions and Answers “Shoel Umeshiv”.

The great Gaon Simcha Yoel HaCohen, Av Biet Din of Szwirsz is the author of the book “Mei Shiloach” along with a large Persuh called “Makor Niftach” (Lviv 5589), and also the book “Chalat Lechem” which is noted by the Gaon Rabbi Yosef Shaul in the book Questions and Answers “Shoel Umeshiv” (Tinyana edition), section 43, in the middle of the answer. He was a distinct scholar of the Gaon Mahari Melisa, the author of “Chavat Da'at” and “Netivot”. His son Meshulam, Gaon, rabbi and teacher, passed away in Lviv in 5570.

The great Gaon David Meir Feder, a great and famous Gaon in his books Questions & Answers Radam and Questions & Answers Imrei David (Lviv 1886). The great Gaon from Sanz, the author of “Divrei Chaim”, the great Gaon of Komarno as well as the great Gaon, the author of “Minchat Chinuch” from Ternopil and the great Gaon, the Maharshak from Brod praise and glorify his wisdom. The Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Shmelkish, being at that time Av Beit Din of Premishlan wrote: “I hope I will be able to get to know our honored friend, our colleague, Gaon Yisrael, sharp and well versed in all the Torah places, the famous rabbi and teacher David Meir Feder, Av Beit Din of Szwirsz, etc.”. My late friend Rabbi Moshe Carten, may God avenge him (the last community leader in Szwirsz) who knew him well, told me about his wonderful innocence and yet his intelligence and decisiveness. When he moved to Premishlan in his old age and traveled from time to time to distribute his books, his wife the rebbetzin sat by him to watch over him because he was weak by nature. He was afraid that he would be suspected of sitting next to a foreign woman, so upon entering the city he stood in the cart and announced in a loud voice: Gentlemen, know that this is my wife … The Gaon and tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Yitzchak Velitchker, may God avenge him, the late son-in-law of the tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Asher Antshil Ashkenazi of Stanislav, told me in the name of Rabbi Asher Antshil that when the Radam was at his late father-in-laws from Elask, the Gaon and Kadosh, who was always happy and content, asked him Rabbi Asher Antshil: what does his honor say about the behavior of my teachers and father-in-law, the Gaon and Kadosh? He answered him: very nice, but why does he pray so late? Rabbi Antshil answered: It is difficult for him to prepare himself for prayer earlier. The Radam asked: and how does his honor, your father-in-law, prepare himself on the Shabbat on the eve of Passover? … Once, the Polish landowner of the city, who owned many fields in the city and its surroundings, wanted to establish a noodle factory in the city, and since the noodle eaters at that time were only Jews, he wanted to guarantee himself kashrut certification for the noodles first. The rabbi did not want to give him such kashrut certification. People advised the Polish landowner to bring the Gaon Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathanson, the author of “Shoel Umeshiv”, the Rabbi of Lviv, to influence him. When the Gaon Rabbi Yosef asked him the reason for his refusal to give kashrut certification to the Polish landowner, HaRadam answered: “I have my reasons and explanations and I keep them for myself. I am the Rabbi of the place and that's all.” The Gaon from Lviv left the city to no avail. In the introduction to his book Questions & Answers “Imrei David”, he mentions that several times he was able to be in the vicinity of the tzaddik and Kadosh, rabbi and teacher, the late Uri, HaSharaf of Strelisk. He passed away in Premishlan, may his soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life.

My father-in-law, the Gaon and tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Chaim Halevi (the son of the Gaon and tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Avigdor Halevi, Av Beit Din of Warish. His mother was the daughter of the Gaon and tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Yitzchak Langner, Av Beit Din of Chortkiv). He was a famous tzaddik, a great Gaon and knowledgeable man. He left behind him a manuscript in the matter of Gittin “Shemot Anashim” (it was in the hands of my brother-in-law Rabbi Moshe Babed, Av Beit Din of Rozdovitz, but was lost in the Holocaust). He was the son-in-law of the cousin of the Rebbe, the Gaon and tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, the late Yehuda Zvi of Stratyn and had three sons: a. The eldest, the Gaon and tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Avraham Halevi Rav Av Beit Din of Pidayitz, with enormous knowledge and proficiency who knew all the Shas and its additions by heart. He left many essays in Halacha that were lost in the last destruction (only what he wrote on my sheet of “Shulchan Aruch” remained. There is an answer to him in the book “Imrei Yosher”, volume I, section 184,

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to the teacher and rabbi, Gaon and tzaddik, the late Maharam Arak, Av Beit Din of Tarna, as well as in other books. I have also seen an answer that was written to him before the Holocaust in the book “Kol Mevaser”, volume II, section 27, which is now being printed from the late Gaon Rabbi Meshulam Rata, Av Beit Din of Czernowitz. His son-in-law, the Gaon and tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Naftali Horowitz, as well as his family members and his son, who was among the excellent scholars of the Lublin Yeshiva, Berish Eisen, were cremated in the synagogue in Pidayetz on Yom Kippur 5703 together with thousands more of our brothers of Beit Israel, may God avenge them.

b. The Gaon and tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Uri Halevi, cited above among the Rabbis of Bobrka.

c. The Gaon and tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Moshe Pinchas Halevi. He had an enormous knowledge and was a tzaddik. When he was only twelve years old, he already knew by heart several tractates. He replaced his father-in-law, the Gaon and tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, Israel Langer, the late Rebbe of Rohatin in Brod. He was famous, respected and admired by the whole community. He and his family members perished in Brod during the Holocaust; may God avenge them.

The above mentioned Gaon Rabbi Moshe Babed was the son of the rabbi and Yaakov Shalom Babed from Bosk. He served for several years as a teacher in Szwirsz and later was appointed as Av Beit Din of Rozdovitz. He was a pure tzaddik and served God with devotion. He was taken with his wife, the rebbetzin Esther and their only daughter Fruma to Khodorov and there they were buried alive with the rest of the Jews of Khodorov and the surrounding area. May God avenge them.

During the time of my late father-in-law, one of the residents of Szwirsz, the Gaon, rabbi and teacher, Shmuel Yisachar Shtark, was appointed as a dayan in Botshatash, the author of the book “Yikra Deuriyata”, a book about Choshen Mishpat, Mincha Shay on the opening of Orach Chaim, and also the book “Petach HaTeva”, an explanatory about the book “Tevat Gama” by Pri Megadim. And in the preface of the opening of “Petach HaTeva” (not to leave the paper blank) he signed "I, the Kadosh Shmuel Yisachar Shtark, the son of the rabbi and teacher Rabbi Yehiel Shtark of the holy community of Szwirsz, which is near the community of Lviv, from the family of the Kadosh and tzaddik Rabbi Yehoshua Reitzes, who was killed on Kiddush HaShem in Lviv, the brother of the tzaddik and Kadosh Rabbi Chaim, Av Beit Din of Lviv, who was also killed on Kiddush HaShem, and from the family of the tzaddik Rabbi Yechiel of Winik (who is buried at the old cemetery in Szwirsz), who was the father-in-law of the tzaddik HaMagid Rabbi Michal of Zlotchov and from the family of the late Rabbi Hanoch Anich from Alaska, and my mother, the humble tzaddika, the late Mrs. Kraincha, the granddaughter of the tzaddik and Kadosh Rabbi Meir of Premishlan, who is known as Rabbi Meir the old man, about whom the Baal Shem Tov said that generations before him had a revelation to God and were of distinguished lineage.”

The writer of these lines was appointed as Av Beit Din of Szwirsz in the year 5689 and served as the rabbi of the place until the time of his immigration to the Land of Israel, with God's mercy, in the year 5695.

A family member of the Gaon, who was the son of the rabbi and teacher Mordechai Zvi Redlich, the son of the Gaon and tzaddik, rabbi and teacher, the late Aharon Meir, the Rebbe of Mykolaiv, the grandson of the devout Chassid “Noam Elimelech” from Lizensk, and the Kadosh, rabbi and teacher, Meir of Premishlan, was sharp and wonderfully knowledgeable. There is an answer to him in the book “Imrei David” (section 112) of the Gaon, rabbi and teacher, David Halevi Ish Horovitz, Av Beit Din of Stanislav. He was loved by everyone and served God with devotion. My friend Rabbi Yeshaya Pepper told me that during the time of the damn Nazis, the Ukrainians took him out of his house at the end of Yom Kippur, when he arranged a Minyan in his house (since it was forbidden to gather in the synagogue) and beat him almost to the point of death. On Hanukkah that year, he was transferred with several of his children to the Premishlan ghetto and Rabbi Yeshaya's brother-in-law hired a gentile with a cart that later transferred his wife, the rebbetzin, and his remaining children to Kozlov. He was the last rabbi of Szwirsz and its magnificent community. May God avenge them.

 

Bob036a.jpg
 
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The Rebbe of Kozova Rabbi Moshe'li Langer, brother of Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac, Rabbi of Stratyn, who lived for several years in Bobrka
 
The late Rabbi Uri Halevi Eisen, Av Beit Din of Szwirsz and later rebbe in Bobrka

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Shmuel Karten

Malka Stein

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

We will not fulfill our duty properly if we do not honor the memory of our city. A humble, modest, somewhat weird scholar, whose influence was decisive on the circles of the educated in our city and his path marks the path of several educated people from that period, this is Shmuel Karten. Due to his strange opinions, he was not so accepted by the people of the old generation, but everyone who spoke with him and got to know him closely, could not help but treat him with respect and courtesy, and there were also many who loved him. We said “weird” and it's not surprising. Even those who knew him and appreciated him as a man of great spirit, each one of them always had to add some kind of “but”… “yes” “and indeed”; “but”… “yes”, indeed he is full of Torah and wisdom, but he is cynical to some extent; yes, he has a lot of knowledge and he understands complex matters - but he mainly vehemently denies conventionally accepted views; he indeed has a practical sense and perhaps he is the only one who understands the meaning of life - and yet he is a great “idler”. That's how everyone started talking about him, firstly with great praising and then finished the saying with a “but”. And indeed, Shmuel Karten was like that.

He was born in the home of ultra-Orthodox parents, who were not rich at all. As the eldest among the family's children, he had to carry the burden of livelihood already as a child. He received his first education - like the rest of the children in those days - in a cheder with young Melamed, later - with Melamedim of Chumash and Rashi, and perhaps also a little from the Nevi'im, then he studied Gemara and Tosafot with Melamedim for the adults until he reached the level of learning on his own at the Beit Midrash - which served as the university of Israeli boys in those days. At the age of 15-16, he acquired the first knowledge of the German language. This was done, of course, secretly, so that his parents, who were extremely pious, would not find out about it.

His help in the burden of livelihood was manifested in the fact that every morning he would go through several districts of the city with two jugs of milk and distribute milk to houses. This gave him the opportunity to get up early in the morning, get out of the house secretly, barefoot - so as not to wake the members of the house - to engage in a “non-kosher” matter for a few hours, even before he left for the duty of distributing the milk. The place of study was of course the Beit Midrash and the teacher was a friend, who was almost at his age, who knew how to keep a secret, just like him, and the study was the learning of the Ashkenazi language, the language of the educated among the Israelites in the Kingdom of Austria-Hungary in those days. The studying of the language and the reading of masterpieces written by Ashkenaz writers was not an easy task, but a sharp mind like his immediately overcame all the difficulties. His thirst for knowledge was insatiable. He would eagerly read “everything he could lay his hands on” and, of course, as an autodidact, he would read everything without any order, or according to a specific choice. Among the pages of the Gemara in the Beit Midrash, he would secretly keep a “non-kosher” book by a certain classicist, or by an unknown philosopher, and all this in secret, so that the shamash or the others who were present in the Beit Midrash will not discover it. By the power of his perseverance, he overcame all the difficulties.

At that time, Torah scholars of this kind in a small town couldn't find a suitable livelihood easily. And Shmuel Karten was not only unable to make a living, but he didn't think about a “purpose” at all. The main thing for him was to learn, read, philosophize, get every new book that just appeared. And in fact, he never went any further than that, he remained a distinct reader, a follower of masterpiece writers and philosophical works. Kant and Spinoza, Schopenhauer and Hegel were his books of thought and he knew their words by heart, just as he knew by heart all the classicists.

Only after his wedding (he fell in love with my aunt, my father's sister) did he see that he needed to take care of the purpose, of making a living. The family helped him learn the profession of typesetting. They bought him a small hand machine that he set up in his apartment at the edge of the city (on the “Zagora”) and he “made a living” by printing wedding invitations and New Year's greeting cards[a].

But his lifestyle has not changed at all. His house served as a committee house for smart young people who aspired to knowledge. When we came to uncle Shmuel, we always found a bunch of Torah scholars engaged in heated philosophical debates: “exist or do not to exist” and the debate about writers and their works never ended. These young Torah scholars were also from houses in which science and education were completely forbidden. And indeed, the common saying in those days was: whoever is considered to be among the visitors in the house of Shmuel Karten is lost forever, and hopefully he will not be destroyed. But these young people did not leave him, they eagerly listened to the knowledgeable and wise words of this “idler”, whom they used to call “Kant”. I still remember some of the names of the young men who used to gather at his house: Fischer, Leiter, Levinson, Spiegel. This gave an impetus to some of them to further progress in education and to leave the small town. Several young Torah scholars from this circle played an important role in the Zionist movement in the town.

Despite the difficult economic situation at home, Shmuel Karten, the eternal perseverant, for whom Torah and knowledge were the main thing in life, remained in the town.

In the years 1918-1919, after World War I, when his daughters Frida and Dora grew up, and the situation at home became more difficult, and it seemed that in the “New World” there were better chances for young people, he emigrated to the United States with the whole family. Life there was no easier than in Bobrka. He lived in an old apartment in the attic and worked hard until the end of his life.

He passed away at the age of over eighty (a few years ago). He was an honest man, “weird” but an unusual and goodhearted person. May his memory be blessed.


Original footnote:

  1. During the training period, when we were preparing to immigrate to Israel, each of the pioneers had to learn a profession. I learned the printing profession with Shmuel Karten and helped him print the greeting cards and wedding invitations. During this period, I learned to appreciate and cherish him. (the editor). Return to text


[Page 38]

Memories From There

Mordechai Galer

Translated by Sara Mages

My dear P.

It's been a very long time since I heard or seen you. When the mailman delivered your postcard I stood with my mouth open, is it true? A postcard from P.? Why did he send it? And why didn't I do it first? A flood of memories, of different periods of my life, flooded me; youth movements in the city, the pioneer farmhouse (Kalinka), the immigration to Israel, the first settlement…

What am I going to write about? The memories from Bobrka are gloomy; I was uprooted from my birthplace at the age of ten. In my memory, the uprooting is mixed with the death of my mother who left behind her 12 orphans. I did not know much about my older brothers and sisters. When I reached the age when I started to recognize things around me, they already left our parents' home, covered themselves with Talith and a Streimel [black velvet coat]. They were fathers to children and held a “place” in the synagogue's eastern wall. I was a weak child and my mother of blessed memory liked me the most because (as he members of the family and our neighbors said) I was the only one that she nursed. I was not nursed by a gentile woman like the rest of her children. During her last days, she made sure that I drank a glass of milk, every day, directly from the udders of our gentile neighbor's cow. And for goodness sake, in great secret, and G-d forbid, no one in the family should find out. I drank the last glass of milk in our neighbor's cow shed on the day of her death. This glass of milk is carved in my memory, even today, because on that day I became an orphan.

During the days of mourning people started to convince my father of blessed memory, to replace his Rabbinate chair in Kriptesh, my birthplace, with a Rabbinate chair in a larger city - in Bobrka. I remember the letters that arrived from Bobrka. I did not know their contents but I remember the names of the people who sent them even today; David Holnder, Yankele' Akholz and Ahron David Kaminker.

Days later, after we moved to Bobrka I discovered the duty of each one of them in the chapter that is called Rabbinate. The first was the community leader, the second was a friend of my father who became close to him after he heard his first sermon in the synagogue, and the third was just a Jew, a middleman who received the broker's fees from my father for the Rabbinate transaction.

 

Rabbi Binyamin Zev Galer
of blessed memory, Bobrka's Rabbi

 

My trip to Bobrka was long. I can't remember how long it took. First we traveled by a horse driven carriage, later on by train,

[Page 39]

and ended the trip in a wagon pulled by horses. My soul revolted and did not want to move from my home town. My heart did not want to follow, the heart of a small Jewish boy predicted, but it did not know what it was predicting. I fell into a new world. The accent in Bobrka was different from the one in my home town. The boys in Bobrka ridiculed me and laughed at the way I was talking. The melody of the prayers in the synagogue was different, people also dressed differently in Bobrka, and the style of living was different than the one I was exposed to in my short life. The prayers in Bobrka were dry, without vitality and melody. We were used to accompany our prayers with singing. When my father walked by the reader's desk he started to sing, the way we were used to, and we his sons followed him, singing the verses with him. Many, from the nearby synagogues, came to hear the singing and the praying, some were curios and some out of admiration. And there were those who expressed their disgust to the new way that they were not used to. At times, I was caught by one of the older religious school students who forced me to sing some of the prayers. No matter how hard I begged and cried, I was forced to singe the Sabbath and holiday hymns in a style that was still foreign to them.

If my life in Bobrka was different, the Heder that I was registered to study the Torah in was not different from the one in my birthplace. The same “Rabbi”, the same “Heder”, the same way of teaching, the same discrimination between the poor student and the rich one , and all the more so - the Rabbi's son.

One of the Rabbis, that I remember with respect and admiration, was Rabbi Yechazkeli the Heder teacher who gave his lessens in the Hassidic synagogue, the one that was called Shulle' which was located next to the big and cold synagogue. Rabbi Yechazkeli had a light brown hair and was a great scholar. His level of studies was high and he taught without screaming, threatening and without punishing us the way other teachers did. It was my Bar-Mitzvah year and my last year of study. If there was something left in my memory from the words of the ancients, I absorbed it during that year.

I was the youngest student in Yechazkeli class. The age of most of the students was 16-17, and one of them had a gold watch and a chain, a gift from his future father in-law. I was their pet child; during break, they embarrassed me with questions that caused my face to turn red from embarrassment. There was a good relationship between Rabbi Yechazkeli and his student, who never bothered him the way other Heder students bothered their Rabbis. And no wonder! Whoever saw Rabbi Yechazkeli praying was able to see his holiness and his greatness. I have never seen him praying in public, his prayer was done in private. When he prepared himself, every eye was able to see that he was departing from the secular world, climbing higher and higher to the world above, and separating himself from the secular world below. Rabbi Yechazkeli was a sick man and he was sad all of his days. During prayer his face beamed, I have never seen a face beaming the way his face was. He dedicated his soul to his prayers the way a young man dedicate himself to his bride. He used to whisper his prayers, whispering and holding to the same word, like he was not able leave his beloved. His belief was na´ve, beautiful and complete. His innocent belief attracted me, the innocent 13 years old. It was the only short period of time in my life that I satisfied my belief in prayers, and thanked the master of the world for all the good has given me; I stretched my arm towards him and called him at time of need. And I was answered.

Here is a tale about a young blonde man, who arrived in Bobrka and moved to a house next to my father's house. No one knew where he came from, no one knew the reason he came. He was a wood carver by trade, and his carving attracted my heart. I used to spend any free time I had from Rabbi Yechazkeli's classes in his wookshop. I enjoyed his craft and his company. He was simple, “ignorant”, and knew very little about Judaism. Since he lived in our neighborhood, he started to come after dark on Sabbath for the “third meal”, when two or three Jewish Minyans gather at the home my father, my teacher of blessed memory. Not many days passed and the young carver clings to our home and to Judaism and there was no one more religious than him in Bobrka. He loved me and my soul clanged to his.

And one day, I was informed in the middle of a class, that the carver, my best friend, was arrested. With one sweep I solved the mystery why he came to Bobrka under a false name; he escaped the draft of His Majesty the Emperor Franz Josef, and now he was taken shackled with chains to the recruiting office.

I left my class, entered the great synagogue, wrapped my brand new Tefillin the “hand phylactery” and the “head Phylactery”, and prayed alone in the synagogue for many hours. I did not let go of the edge of the Porocheth [curtain of the Ark of the Law] until I received the news that the carver was released. He was declared unfit by the doctors.

It only happened thanks to my pure prayer, because the young man was healthy and fit. I did not tell my best friend the reason why he was let go, he himself did not understand the reason for the miracle. Since then, he increased his faith and was dedicated to it. The next day he started to grow a beard and side locks, and changed his short cloths to black long clothes. The gossipers said that he was trying to win my sister, the Rabbi's daughter, and that was the reason why he changed his ways, and the reason to his strange behavior. I, who knew him the best, saw the matters in a different light, because this was the period of my great innocent belief that was sparked from the belief of Rabbi Yechazkeli, my Rabbi.

But this period did not last long. The First World War broke with a big blast and drums. Austrian soldiers marched in our streets, troop after troop. Day and night they moved towards Russia. And we the young men shouted from joy and curiosity. We were sure, that our soldiers will beat the “Poni” soldiers and smite them hip to thigh. But the fate was different. One morning a panic broke: the Cossacks were approaching the city and they were robbing killing men, women, old and young. All the people in the city escaped. Each person carried a bundle containing all of his possessions on his back. It was a horrible sight, and as a boy with a pure belief, a patriot of the king, the

[Page 40]

merciful Franz Joseph the First, I was bitterly disappointed. How? - I cried upwards with a bitter heart - did you desert our army, the people of our city, Rabbi Yechazkeli, and my carver.

My heart cried for the people of our city, who in one day, became creatures without little human semblance, a herd without a shepherd, lost people whose appearance changed in one day. And I looked at their bundles, and what inside them, and I realized that the one item that they all had, was the Sabbath candle sticks, G-d master of the World, where did all those Sabbath candles disappear to?

On the same Sunday eve, in one of the dark forests, at the beginning of our wandering, the first doubts started to poke my heart. During the next three and a half years, until the end of the war, my innocent belief completely broke. I returned to Bobrka at the age of 18, an atheist, and also this time, I did not stay long in the city.

I saw the city in its destruction and its young people searching for new lives. I joined “Hashomer Hatzair” [Zionist youth] movement of those days, that Arye Alvail established and led. We went to a pioneer training center, and in 1920 we arrived in Israel.

Here it is my friend. I sat down to give you a negative answer. It was clear to me that I had too many pretexts and reasons why I could not write about our town, and here, a long hour later, I found myself still writing.

Now that I am done, I deposit my words in your hands. If you want - it can be a private letter between you and me, and if you want you can print all of it or any part that you like, but only in the memory of Rabbi Yechazkeli the Heder teacher, and my wood carver, of blessed memory.

 

The “Tzeirie Mizrachi” organization in Bobrka

[Page 41]

Feivel the Heder Teacher
(Memories from the days in the Heder)

Avraham Fisher

Translated by Sara Mages

The older boys studied with Rabbi Feivel the Heder [religious elementary school] teacher. How old were they? Over the age of ten. First they studied with other teachers, and when they reached the right level, they were transferred to study with Rabbi Feivel the Heder teacher. Rabbi Feivel was a special teacher and his students were afraid of him. His power was not only with his words, he also did not spare his students from his stick. His students were required to be in his classroom, in the summer and in the winter, at five thirty in the morning. He used to say ;“In the morning the air is fresh and clear and the brain is also fresh and clear, and great is its understanding”. The boys who went after the Heder to the gentile's school, sat there from eight in the morning to one in the afternoon. From there, they had to run to the Heder so the gentile school's impurities will come out of their heads. Then they spent from an hour to an hour and a half in the Heder, and only later on, they went home to eat lunch.

Each student at, Rabbi Feivel the Heder teacher, class was required to know how to “walk over” a Parashah, meaning, to know how to read the Torah properly since Reb Feivel was an excellent Torah reader and read the Torah in the small synagogue all his life.

He also used to say; whoever study with me will not be counted among the “ignorant”. Rabbi Feivel the Heder teacher had a special system. He divided his students according to their talents. There were those who knew the lesson right after the first reading, and those who knew the lesson after the second or third reading. Those were the first to receive the beatings, because, if they wanted they would have known, and if they don't know it is a sign that they don't want to. And the one who does not want, his punishment is hard, harder from the one who was not able to, and therefore, they deserve a beating. And indeed, he used to approach his students and say: “Come here boys, let's argue, who is right me or you?

There were students in his “Heder” who were unable to understand. To them he used to say: “it is a blessing for nothing. You take the place of someone who is better than you. Your father is paying for nothing. He did not raise his hand on them, and the good and talented students were envy. The Rabbi was not hitting them because they didn't know that he was not charging tuition from their parents, only payment from watching over them so they won't run in the streets. And more; when he had to moralize a student he used to say: “what will I say in the next world when they ask me why I took your father's money? money that he worked so hard to earn. Your father deprived his soul in order to pay tuition for his “jewel” so he will learn something, and you engage your brain with other matters, with everything, but not the words of the Torah, if you studied you would have known, therefore, your father is paying me for nothing, and shame on me, I am a partner to a crime. You tell me yourself, why I deserve it?” And when Rabbi Feivel the Heder teacher used to say that, you were able to tell that his words came from his heart and therefore they entered your heart. The students of the Heder sat and listened since they felt guilty and thought that they caused their Rabbi to commit a crime. Those were words of admonition that greatly influenced

 

“Tarbot” Jewish school in Bobrka

 

[Page 42]

the students. There were many students who changed their minds, became more serious and started to study and understand the Rashi's Humash and also the Gemara.

When we arrived to the Parashat Mishpatim, the Rabbi's eyes shined because, he was able recognize his students' ability to understand and their power to explain, since we had to follow Rashi's long explanations of Torah's verses. Suddenly we realized that the Rabbi forgot himself. The clock showed that it was already half past eight at night. We were tired from a long day at school, and we were also hungry. Then the Rabbi told us; “When you study you have the right to eat, but when you don't study do you have right to ask for food”?

This kind of a man was Rabbi Feivel the Heder teacher. He was righteous, and dedicated his soul to his students and his teaching. He also did not forget the parents. He died before his time. May his memory be blessed.

 

bob042a.jpg
 
bob042b.jpg
Feivel's nephew Ori Kartn and his family
A Jewish religious teacher in a government school
 
A house in Bobrka

 
“Poali Zion” seals in Bobrka

[Page 43]

Zionists Organizations in Bobrka

Arieh Zukerkandel

Translated by Sara Mages

At the beginning of this century, before the First World War, the organization “Poalei Zion” [Labor Zionism] was established. The founders were:

  1. Yakov Buchbinder (who worked in a book binding shop belonging to Leib Aaster), chairman
  2. Moshe Gimple, secretary
  3. A Zokerkandel, treasurer

When the First World War broke, the members were drafted and the organization terminated its activities. During the same period (the first ten years of the Twentieth Century) they staged, for the first time, the play “The selling of Yoseph”. The director was Azriel Holtzman (the carpenter). Where did Reb Azriel bring this play from, and where did he learn to wisdom of directing a play - we did not know.

In the year1923, the organization “Yad Harotzim” [Hand of the Diligent Men] was established. The founders were:

  1. Yoseph (Yasil) Gross, chairman
  2. Levi Yitchak Baomgarten, secretary
  3. Arye Zokerkandel (currently lives in Israel), treasurer

The director of the organization was R. Robinstein.

The union “Yad Harotzim” established the charitable fund “Gemilut Hasadim” [the giving of loving-kindness] and later on established the Ludovy Bank. The director of “Gemilut Hasadim” was R. Robinstein. Both financial organizations served an impotent role in the city's economy.

The committee members of “Gemilut Hasadim” were: Yoseph Gross, Levi-Yitchak Baomgarten, Arye Zokerkandel. Akiva Vasser (a tinsmith) and others.

Among the bank directors were: Yoseph Gross, A. Zokerkandel., Bnya Lerr, Yona Shreyer and others.

In 1933, the unions; “Poaeli Zion” and “Haoved” [workers' union] were established.
The founders:

  1. Pesach Lev (at one time he was the mayor of the city of Lod Israel)
  2. Meir Kalish
  3. A. Zokerkandel
  4. A. Shapira

 

The organization “Poaeli Zion

[Page 44]

Petri Politzai (Petri the Policeman)

by Dov Becker (Ramat Yochanan, Israel)

Translated by Claire Rosenson

His name was Petri Proshanski. He was the town's policeman. His wife handled the business, a stand in the market selling pork. She was terribly mean, or as the Jews used to call her “the big bitch”, but he was exactly her opposite. Petri Proshanski had a merciful heart and therefore it is a mitzvah [duty] to remember him kindly.

The Kaiser Franz Joseph was not content with only policemen to keep order in his kingdom; he had policeman and gendarmes. There were a number of policemen, and I do not know why that of all the town's policemen, it was Petri who escorted the gendarmes or the tax collectors to the Jewish homes. Maybe it was divine intervention so Petri could be the Jews' advocate.

Every Jew had to bring his share of the taxes to the finance ministry, and if anyone was late (and who wasn't?), the tax collector immediately showed up with Petri. Petri would go into the Jewish house first, look around, stretch out his hands in despair as if to say: don't you see, what's in this house? Have pity! He would stand dumbstruck before the tax collector, speechless, his face full of sadness and his eyes near tears, -- Petri was bleary-eyed and when he begged for the Jew's life it looked as if he was crying -- and it was enough to fill the tax collector with pity and postpone collection of the debt.

On Sunday, when by civil law all the stores and businesses had to be closed, the Jews would bring customers in through the back way, or through a narrow opening in the front door. If a Jew was caught doing business on a Sunday, he was brought to court and fined in goods and property, payable to the Kingdom. Our Petri always wanted to do well by the Jews. When he saw approaching danger, he would run to warn about it: “Hey! The fellow whose name is not worth mentioning is in the area. Watch out for God's sake, watch out!”

Fear of the gendarmes was tremendous, and every Hassid would pray that G-d would save him from harm that day and every day, not to meet and not even to see this scourge! If a gendarme happened to stop by for even the most trivial matter, he would make it his business, if he'd already come all that way, to find some misdemeanor. He would suddenly discover that the sign above the store was faded; and just by the way he would check the cleanliness of the shop; and here the scales and weights don't look right -- they're old and dented, nothing is right, and go have an argument with a gendarme!

Most of all they feared being told to report to the “Commisia”, the board that checked the fitness of the young men who had reached conscription age. Whatever the discussion, the subject always seemed to come back to this important matter. “And where's Leibele?” the gendarmes of the “Commisia” would ask and begin to investigate and check old records. For there were always young men, some of them family members, who had been smart enough to have left for America years before. And when they would run into a stranger whose family name happened to be exactly the same as someone who had “disappeared”, the representative of His Majesty the Kaiser would stiffen up in the discharge of his duty and act as if he were interrogating a deserter, a rebel against His Majesty.

Kingdoms came and went one after the other. The Austrians left and the Russians came; the Russians left and the Austrians came back; the Austrians collapsed and the Ukrainians came, and after them came the Poles. One kingdom after another came and went, but Petri Politzai always remained in his place as the good Gentile. It was joked at the time that he was not a Gentile at all, but a reincarnation of the prophet Elijah himself in the image of Petri sent to protect us.

[Page 45]

Graduates of “Hashomer Hatzair” in the court of Arieh Eluil
(his parents are in the picture as well)

 

Founder of the youth movement

Mordechai Galler

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Dear P.,

You asked a lot, you want that I will add an article to the previous one I sent. I am still thrilled by your words of praise for my first article, therefore, why should I risk writing again? Lest, God forbid, the second article will not be as successful as the first one. However, I can't refuse to the request of a person who deals with the public needs with great devotion, and especially not to your request. You, who continuously make efforts to always place a memorial candle to a holy community that was full of life, joy and sorrow, that no longer exists.

My next lines are dedicated to one of our town's residents, who nowadays lives in Israel, to whom we wish to live many more good years, this is our friend and teacher, the painter Arieh Eluil.

There are cases when a person will be moved and thrilled by the wonder of the universe, and humbly admit that it is the most wonderful thing in the world. There are cases in which an entire community will be amazed and thrilled of the man who grew up in it and prospered so much, it will not understand his meaning, as well as the source of his strength.

It was as if he appeared out of the thick cloud. A strong man with a round face, a forelock, green and alert eyes, that look directly through his glasses, wearing a jacket buttoned up to the neck, speaking in the holy language and with an accent that we did not know, that is the Sephardic accent. He gathered boys and girls around him and they followed him and huddle in his shadow as if he was a prophet and a leader.

And the days were days of chaos, the days after the First World War. The city was completely destroyed. Not only the town houses were destroyed but also the heart of its people, their spirit, their tradition and their customs; sadness prevailed everywhere and in everything.

Boys and girls, who during the war years were scattered to all corners of the world, and at the end of it returned to the ruined town, walked in the town with their souls full of sadness by the sight of the great destruction and desolation around them. Those who were scholars of the Beit Midrash at that time, could not return to it, as it was also ruined. The sons of the merchants did not know how to renew their business; those days were days of a vision of redemption of humanity on the one hand and days of pogroms on the other... and the youth was confused.

And this young man didn't live in the town and was not among the scholars of the Beit Midrash. He was a son of a blacksmith who moved during the war years to Vienna, the capital, and came back from there far superior than any other person in town. He was a rising star and a ray of light in the lives of the young people in our town. We listened eagerly to his words. He was our teacher, guide, educator and the one setting the rules. We, the Beit Midrash scholars, learned from him to speak Hebrew and that we can gather together, boys and girls, without a barrier between us. From him we learned how to create a healthy social life and pure relationships between boys and girls. We learned how to handle a practical and cultural conversation. We learned to think about the future and the purpose of our lives.

Giving a personal example served as his guiding principle and it brought him abundance of wonderful educational achievements. We have never heard him saying a single word in a foreign language. Hebrew was the only language he spoke and we desperately followed him. We worked hard in various of manual works headed by him and the entire income was transferred to internal funds. The abolition of tobacco smoking was a law, no one violated it with his advice and under his guidance we went to the villages to train ourselves to work the land. And so, he guided us faithfully to the threshold of the goal. In the midst of our preparations for the journey to our desired district, our leader, educator and guide disappeared from our sight. He immigrated to the Land of Israel two months ahead of us. As if he hinted us without saying: from now on you are worthy and prepared to walk independently and you no longer need a guide - and so, we immigrated to the Land of Israel.

When Arieh Eluil arrived to the Land of Israel, he went to Bethania Ilit, which served in those days as a place of residence for the elected members of Hashomer Hatzair and its philosophers.

Later on, we heard that he dedicated himself to the world of colors, the world of painting, in which he is engaged to this day.

Arieh was privileged to experience something that not many were privileged to. Most of his students nowadays live in the Land of Israel, they raised a generation of sons and grandsons and glorified in their actions their leader's theory, may God bless him.

[Page 46]

Eluil - Next to the synagogue

 

Autobiographical notes

Arieh Eluil (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

I decided to become a painter when I lived among a group of pioneers in the Mount of Galilee. We prepared the land and dug pits for planting vines and olive trees.

We were on the mountain and down from the Kinneret the Jordan River flowed, and the Golan and Bashan mountains were above us. My good friend Dov Ofer went to Tiberias in my place and did not come back; we found him bleeding from a robber's bullet. (I drew a tombstone for him and another friend in the Kinneret cemetery). At night we would take turns guarding. A single man with a gun in his hand at night is more with himself than in any other state of solitude. The heart is turbulent. The Kinneret and the Jordan shine with the silver of the moon, and everything resembles a Rembrandt picture from the book that is kept with me.

In the morning the landscape clears up. Brown furrows of a plow, and in the furrows a young vegetable sprout. From all the wadis, white, gray, blue, purple, white, gray, blue, purple fog rises up. The clouds over the Golan have splashes of pink and orange, and everything is interwoven with many shades of blue. During these nights of guarding, I realized that my future is to become a painter, and I went “looking for my destiny”. I returned once again to my parents' house, which was in the diaspora. My good parents accepted the returning son and helped me. They were sturdy people, both of them came from rural dairy farms and were hard-working, I can't be like them in the honesty of their work and their self-sacrifice... Father was independent and supported himself from the age of twelve and with hard work he was able to obtain a position in the town of Bobrka and be affluent.

When I was a child we had fields, cows, and a horse - and with a love that has not faded to this day, I heard the sounds of hammers hitting a copper anvil and a white-hot iron in my father's workshop. Our house was located beyond the flour mill not far from a river, in the middle of fields and gardens, and on the horizon, we were surrounded by wooded hills. My townscape was similar to the blessed valley between Shfeya and Zikhron Ya'akov.

Those who are familiar with the life in a town in eastern Galicia in those days, know the relative peace and security of Judaism there. I don't remember a “traditional” fear of gentiles from my childhood. I don't remember degenerate Jews in the town, except for one or two of the innocent town crazies.

Cheerfulness and facetiousness reigned in the house that was bustling with work since the sun rose. I would wander through fields and forests. The buzzing of bees rose in my ears. I visited the “cheder” for a short time. This “Reish- Duchna” (the assistant of the melamed of the young children) known as “Blafer”, would come to draw us there and my brother would put the dog, “Mofas”, at the gate, so that the Reish- Duchna would be afraid to enter. My father was more successful than my brother and me in throwing a lump of earth in the hat of our neighbor Black Zalman, when we ambushed him in the corner of the house.

It was not bad at all to live among the gentile villagers.

The first art I saw was in the wall paintings and the huge copper lamp in the synagogue, in the tombstones in the cemetery and on the glass at the train station in Lviv on which was painted a giant angel.

At the Polish school we were enchanted by the spirit of freedom that was expressed in their literature, but the values of our people were far from us.

According to the words of our professor, there was no bravery in the Jewish history, because all their victories came to them with miracles from heaven - I listened to his words with an emotion of shame and surprise, and the strange crucified was hanging in the classroom above our heads for all school years.

With the outbreak of the First World War, the old world of the “Austrian idyll” collapsed. “The Gods were thirsty for blood”. When the Russians entered Galicia, father bought a wagon and a pair of horses, we loaded what could be loaded and set off. We crossed the Carpathians to Hungary and reached Vienna. The villagers did not leave their land. Masses of soldiers flocked to the front. I approached a mule that was carrying a machine gun and put my hand between the belt and its hot and sweaty body, to lighten the load, and I looked into the animal's big eyes.

The hills and the rising sun were not mine.

I got my first history lesson. Many years later, when I stood in front of the Titus Gate, I deepened my knowledge of history. When I came to Vienna, the European city, I was still able to see the last lights of a sinking empire: libraries, museums, theater, concerts.

My joining to a youth movement (Hashomer Hatzair) brought me back to my people and from here there was only one way - to Eretz Yisrael. With the end of the war, I brought my parents back to the town, I tasted the taste of life among the youth of my people in the alleys and in the Beit Midrash - we trained ourselves for Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, and later on we immigrated.

In Vienna, I was once sent by my friends from the “Constshu” (among whom I was, I think, the only Jew) to bring some of my pictures to a wealthy buyer. The man and his family sat and drank and did not offer me a seat. My pictures

[Page 47]

made an impression, but they wanted to pay for the picture a price that was merely the price of the frame. It was a little too much for the pride of the coppersmith's son from a provincial town. I said I will give them the picture for free but they did not agree. Since then, I have never gone from door to door with my pictures; I became a teacher, and I'm very satisfied with it to this day.

Dad once told me “you'll be a beggar” and you'll always be full of work, and neither of those happened. But my mother believed in me. My children, Ruth, Nava and Hillel, have given me faith in my work. In 1926, I returned via Paris and Italy and was again on a ship. The smell of tar and sea water bring to my ears the songs of the pioneers from the days of my first immigration to the Land of Israel, just as the pleasant smell of the linseed oil of the colors brings to my memory the sounds of the Ninth Symphony which I heard for the first time when I came to the academy. I didn't stay a farmer in the group. Will I be able with my return to Israel to fulfill what I dreamed in Bethania? To this day I have not painted this landscape - but the painter Nusbaum from Frankfurt, who built a house on that mountain, painted it and died there. He fulfilled what I wanted.

My wish is to be able to paint the earth from the sun rises until it sets - while only the night prevents me from continuing - and to be another painter in the chain of Jewish painters who writes letters and figures of the Bible nowadays.

But I aspire with all my heart to reality and to a little mental expression - because all other things are a mere mechanical game, more or less pleasant, and only for the eye. I like the Hebrew letter, but it's good if you have to work fast; There is no time to make mistakes and things come out evenly. Sometimes I draw in the sky the branches of the tree in whose shade I sit. And what do I see there? My father and my mother are brought to the crematorium. Every day.

Or another dream. I kneel and hold my father in my arms like a baby. He wears his boots and a leather work jacket. He has a long beard, and suddenly there is a red explosion all over, and I see the skeletons of a huge black building and the fire in the background. My face is in a puddle; A tank is gliding towards me; Soldiers are knocking on the door - is it possible to draw it the way Yaronimus Vosh drew it?

“The prophet spoke to all generations and to our generation, and in this spirit the painter painted his pictures” - one of the writers advised me to write these words in my pictorial cover of the book “Amos”. I copied the chapters in my own handwriting and placed a drawing in front of each written page. I did the same in the three scrolls “Ruth”, “Esther” and “Lamentations”.

I placed the figures, who were our brothers, our parents and our sons, in our residence. “If a horn is blown in the city”, it is an alarm horn. And on the day the book “Amos” was finished, the first bombs from Italian planes fell on our house - and we survived. “And if they will rise to heaven, I will bring them down from there” - after all, this is about planes, and “iron tools” - these are tanks.

Mordechai the Jew was a leader and a warrior who saved his people by the strength of his arm. The book “Lamentations” is contemporary. I made a book with linoleum pictures named “To the Beach”, in which the life of a pioneer was described; and in the book “Impressions from wandering the country”, I included some of my drawings of our land.

Since the establishment of the state of Israel, I think about wall pictures that I started in army camps, and about bullets.

The town of Bobrka, and the memories of my childhood there, are the ground from which I drew all my days as a painter, in everything I touched: Father's house, Grandfather's house, the holidays and festivals at home and in the synagogue, the First World War and the escape in a wagon from the Russian invasion, our return to the destroyed town, days and nights of training for the Aliyah together with my brothers, my people. The war between the Poles and the Ukrainians, and the punishment of the Poles who beat us for virtual or real help that we supposedly gave to the Ukrainians. The Hallarchiks, Polish soldiers who cut Shmuel Katz's beard in front of me. My father was taken to “Brigitki” prison in Lviv because my cousin, Natan Eluil, was the commander of the town during the time of the Ukrainians' rule, and it is a miracle that my father came back alive from there. The attempts of self-defense when the Ukrainian villagers entered the town armed with clubs, to celebrate their political freedom with brutality against the Jews. Of all the wonderful characters I will mention at least one. The coachman of the carriage, Pruim Hunaiki, (I don't know why he was called that name), and here are some of his acts. He saved a Ukrainian Jewish officer from a bullet. He killed a Ukrainian soldier for trying to rob and injure a Jewish woman; he buried the soldier in the garden behind the house. Being a child, I remember how Pruim once led a Pole nobleman in his “piaker”. In the debate about the payment, the Pole nobleman said as a side saying, “Zhid Parach”. Pruim got down from his coachman seat, and gave the Pole nobleman a “gentle” slap on the cheek until he collapsed in the mud puddle in the middle of the market, next to the pigs. The chickens flew and ran away. The black hat of the Pole rolled towards the other side of the road and stood upside down in the mud. The Pole got up, paid the amount Pruim asked for, lifted his hat and left; the mud dripped from his clothes. Pruim wiped his hands, got on the coachman seat and drove off. On Sundays, when the gentiles returned from their house of worship and the taverns, sometimes the streets became “hot”. Their eyes looked towards the daughters of Israel, and here and there

 

At Bethania Ilit

[Page 48]

From right to left, top: Shimon Breitfeld, David Katz, Aharon Galer, Fayvel Schleider,
Aharon Krauthamer, Moshe Leib Tzuch, Neta Wellman, Leibish Yaget, Shmuel Feder, Mordechai Galer

 

they hit and pushed a Jew. In such situations, they would quickly call Pruim, and he appeared. With a walking stick in hand, he walked leisurely through the street which was immediately “swept away” from the gentiles, the “heroes”. Even Schmalenberg, the muscular and drunken pig dealer, would “drop his tail” like a beaten dog and disappear. Pruim liked us, the pioneers. When he had to save a Jewish officer from the Ukrainian prison, before issuing a death sentence against him, he turned to us for help. We hesitated, and maybe we have expressed signs of doubt or fear. “You're smartkatshes” he said towards me and walked away. I don't know to this day how he saved the officer. I thought about Pruim when I was drawing a Jewish heroism. He was Pandry, the hero from Bobrka. The youth movement in Bobrka was right in the heart of the people since the nest of our “Hashomer Hatzair” was located in the Beit Midrash. My youth in Bobrka was a fertile source that did not disappoint, including my work as a painter. In the scrolls “Esther”, “Lamentations”, “Amos”, the figures of the exile are forms from Bobrka. In the Passover Haggadahs that I drew for the Hagana, for the IDF, and finally, the colorful big one, originate from the Seder nights at my father's house. The last Seder, which I spent at home, was the saddest of all, because the next day I had to flee with a fake passport across the border, instead of joining the Polish army for the war against the Bolsheviks. If I had been caught at the border, I would have rot in their prisons. I successfully crossed the border - to this day my breath stops when I remember it. I sent a telegram to my parents who were waiting at home. Years later, I was once eulogized in the synagogue when they mistakenly announced that I had been killed in the pogroms that the Arabs did to the Jews in the Land of Israel. But I live here, in the Land of Israel, and I let them die at the hands of Hitler, there, in exile. In my book, “To the Beach”, I included thirty-two drawings about the life of an unknown pioneer from Bobrka. He went to the “cheder”, dreamed about the greatness of Israel, saw the oppressors of the people of Israel, went through training, wandered, immigrated to the Land of Israel, worked, fought and fell there.

I, of course, learned the art of painting in European cities, but these only added to me a touch, learning of the formal values, line, color, shape, to illustrate my childhood days. Some say that these are some of the truest things in emotion and the best in form that I have ever made.

 

Pioneers building a railroad
(Beit Shean, 1920)

 

bob048c.jpg
 
bob048d.jpg
Shimshon Yehoshua - Esther, Mordechai
 
Yehuda Dor - Yehudit, Deborah

 

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