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[Page 77]

Our Jews Pray

by Yosef Durman

Translated by Yael Chaver

The Large Synagogue

The congregation of this synagogue was compiled of so–called “modern” groups, as well as broad segments of ordinary people. Their clothes were short, or, as the phrase was, “German.”[1] The only person to wear a shtrayml on Shabbes was Khayim Kleyngut.[2]

During the Days of Awe the congregation included physicians and lawyers, such as Hollander, Hoffman, Eisen, Gebel, and Shtatfeld.[3]

For many years the hazzan was Reb Yoysef Meir Bodner. After his death Yehoyshue Zaynvl became hazzan; he had a fine soprano voice.

The traditional sermons for Shabbes Tshuva and Shabbes Ha–Godl were given in the synagogue by the Rabbi, Reb Elisha Halbershtam (may his righteous memory be for a blessing).[4] The Rabbi would enter the synagogue on the following special occasions: for shofar–blowing on Rosh Ha–Shone, for the final ne'ila prayer on Yom Kippur, and on the night of Simchas Toyre, for the ritual dancing with the Torah scrolls. The Rabbi was always accompanied by many of his followers.

There was a traditional custom that a groom would be called to read in the Torah in the synagogue, on the Shabbes before his wedding.[5] The Rabbi, may his righteous memory be for a blessing, was especially strict about this custom. He and his closest adherents would enter the synagogue, behaving like the long–time members of the congregation, and join in the synagogue–melody, in other words, nusach Ashkenaz.[6] The great satisfaction and happiness of the wealthier synagogue members was evident,

[Page 78]

when they chanted “We will sanctify thy name” loudly, glancing triumphantly at the Hassidim in the synagogue, as if saying: “You have no choice! You must follow ‘our’ melody.”[7]

Especially noteworthy among the managers and key members of the synagogue were Moyshe Dovid Englard, Yehoyshue Shmelkes, Shimen Shinagl, and Avrom Kaner.

 

The Old Synagogue

The congregation of the Old Synagogue were mainly members of Hassidic circles. Most of them belonged to the “Talmud–Jews” guild.[8]

…from the religious as well as the social life of the Jews of Gorlice.[9]

Minyans prayed in succession here, from dawn to the late afternoon hours.[10]

Torah was studied here, individually and communally.

This is where the famous siyums were held for Talmud and Mishna studies, very impressive events which were always attended by crowds.[11]

The synagogue was so packed for the Mincha and Mayrev services that there was barely standing room.[12] A large part of the congregation therefore had to pray in the anteroom, which was very wide, and also served as the corridor[13]

 

 
Beni, son–in–law of Berish Uri   Chayim David Parnes

 

 
Simcha Sobol   Yakele Reich

[Page 79]

of the synagogue. The Old Synagogue was the best place to set up meetings. Business matters were discussed there, as well as matches, and one could also learn about the dollar's exchange rate.

The chief educators were the members of the Mishnayes society, who studied their daily portion in the Old Synagogue after Mayrev.[14] This society had its own built–in cabinet, which housed numerous sets of the Mishna. For many years, Reb Avrom Teper would bring out the books and then return them, a task he carried out with great love and piety.

Among the regular participants were Reb Meir–Hirsh Degen, Reb Yetshe Shpitz, and Reb Tuvye Kamertuch.

Any darshen, maggid, or meshulakh who came to town would speak in the Old Synagogue, after Mincha–Mayrev.[15] The audience would be delighted with their parables and colorful tales. Maggids from Lithuania were especially popular, with their characteristic expressions and intonation.

The Old Synagogue had a rich collection of sacred books, taken care of by the kinyen–seforim society.[16] Among its first managers, after the First World War, were Berl Fesl and Itche Bergman. A later manager was Shloyme Degen. Yeshaya Goldfinger was manager of the Old Synagogue for a number of years.

 

The Besht Bes–Medresh[17]

The congregation of the Besht Bes–Medresh consisted mainly of the former followers of the Rebbe of Berbeşti, Rabbi Yisroel Yukl Taytlboym, may his righteous memory be for a blessing, and of their children.[18] However, there were also neutral members, who took no part in the disputes.

It should, however, be noted that in later years the traces of earlier disputes disappeared, and they were usually mentioned jokingly.

The Bes–Medresh was barely damaged during World War I; as a result, nearly all the old books survived. This was in fact the largest book collection in town, among them many rare books. The manager of the Besht kinyen–seforim was Shmuel Taytlboym, a young scholar with many good qualities, the son of Rabbi Shloyme Taytlboym, may his righteous memory be for a blessing.

The managers of the Besht Bes–Medresh were Yitzchok–Dovid Frayer, Volf Bitersfeld, and Mendl Raker.

One important member of the Besht Bes–Medresh congregation was Reb Nokhem Shtark, the owner of the famous Shtark Hotel. Mr. Shtark was a charity–giver, and one of the regular donors to the Besht Charity Fund. As he was constantly in touch with local authorities, he often saved a Jew from severe problems.[19]

Let me mention the following figures and members of the Besht Bes–Medresh: Mendl Shiye Vaynberger, Shoel Langzam, Yisroel Engel, Pinkhes Erlboym, Shloyme Vild, Ayzik Kler, Khayim Armiyaner, Yeshaye Holtser, Dovid Ernraykh, Yankev Rubinshteyn, Dovid Kinderman, Yankev Katzbakh, Binyomin Virnik, Yitzchok Kleynman, Yisroel Maylunger, Avrom Mendl Kutrtz, Borekh Hollender, and Eliezer Bodner.

 

The Bobov Shtibl[20]

I would like to say a few words about the establishment and development of the Bobov Shtibl.

In the old days, unmarried men usually did not devote themselves to Hasidism. People said that a bachelor only needed to study Talmud and halakhic decisions in the Bes–Medresh. After his wedding he could become a Hasid and travel to a Rebbe's court.[21] However, later (especially after World War I), the Rebbes realized that the saying “if there are no kids there will be no rams,” usually applied to religious study, was true of Hasidism as well.[22] It was necessary to begin educating Hasids as youths.

One of the first Hasidic Rebbes who reached this insight was the Holy Rebbe of Bobov, Ben–Zion Halbershtam, may God avenge his blood, who devoted all his attention to the younger generation. The Bobover Rebbe had powerful educational gifts, and his influence – especially upon youths – was enormous. Masses of young men from all over Galicia began streaming to Bobov, where they received instruction in piety and Hasidic ways.[23] Our town did not lag behind.

Among of the first young Gorlicers who went to Bobov were Meir Shtampler, Arn Degen, and Borekh Shtarkh. Later, after a local Bobov house of prayer was founded (a Bobov shtibl), conditions were right for the development and growth of the Bobov community. Reb Yekhezkel Horovitz, who was a melamed in the talmud–toyre, helped this process.[24] He organized a kind of youth society and instructed them in the ways of Bobov Hasidism.

Reb Yekhezkel was very successful in this project. He fulfilled the instruction to educate young people “in the right way,” and brought youths from non–Hasidic homes into Hasidic circles.

Bobov Hasidic education aimed to treat everyone properly. Some of the young men even gained secular knowledge. Such, for example, was Arn Degen who obtained a high–school matriculation certificate as an adult, and Dovid Firer, who became a talented accountant.

Among the congregation of the Bobov shtibl were Sinai Korn and his sons Moyshe and Betzalel, Shloyme Firer, Shmuel Rubin, Avrom Hollender, Yehoshua Mandel, and Ovadia Lishner.

[Page 80]

Agudas Achim (Society of Brothers)

Among the active members of the Agudas Achim kleyzl were Elimeylekh Blum, Yoysef Perlman, Avrom Fridman, Mendl Gelb and Yekele Zelengut.[25] The Torah reader was Beni Taytlboym.[26]

 

The Talmud Toyre synagogue

Finally, I would like to mention several names of members of the Talmud Toyre congregation: Zishe Likhtman and his son Avrom, Yudl Genivish, Mikhl Felber, Berl Shmiyer, Uziel Rozenvaser, Borekh Vild, and Nosn Shenkl.

 

Our Torah readers

In our time, Reb Leybish Volf Briner was a first–class Torah reader. His Torah reading was classic, and made good use of his vast knowledge of Hebrew grammar. He would note every letter and sign in the Torah scroll. Anyone who had trouble reading the Torah consulted Reb Leybish Volf.

Another expert Torah reader was Reb Khayim Grober, who made a living as a bakery owner.

He apparently learned his trade as well as his expertise in Torah reading from Reb Mordkhe Liptsher (Moyshe Liptsher's father and the father–in–law of Eliezer Ulman and Yukl Lang), who was a baker and a scholar.

It was said of Reb Mordkhe that he wrote a Torah scroll for himself, and because he was busy in the bakery at night he wrote the scroll by day.[27] The Rabbi of Gorlice, Reb Borekh, may his righteous memory be for a blessing, said of him, “Written by day and sealed by night.”[28]

Other remarkable Torah readers were Reb Meir Hirsh Degen; Reb Khayim Kupferman, a ritual slaughterer and examiner who was also an expert in Hebrew grammar; Reb Moyshe Lustig, the Torah reader for the Besht bes–medresh; Reb Borekh Bergman and his son Avrom Elimelekh Bergman, who read Torah in the “Workers of Israel” bes–medresh.

 


Translator's Footnotes
  1. This refers to the outer garment, which for observant Jews was a long coat. Wearing a shorter jacket was considered an indication of a break with orthodox religion. The adjective “German” may be derived from those Jews in Germany who founded the Reform movement. return
  2. Wearing the round fur shtrayml is a hallmark of some ultra–Orthodox groups, especially members of certain Hassidic sects. return
  3. The Hebraic term yomim noyro'im is usually translated in English as High Holidays. return
  4. The Saturdays referred to are marked by distinctive prayers and sermons. Shabbes Tshuva (Repentance Saturday) falls during the Ten Days of Repentance, between Rosh Ha–Shone and Yom Kippur. Shabbes ha–godl (Great Saturday) is the last Saturday before Passover. Rabbi Elisha Halbershtam was a descendant of the Bobov Hasidic dynasty. return
  5. Commonly known by its Yiddish name oyfruf, the “calling up.” return
  6. The conventional melody and style of prayer in Eastern Europe. return
  7. This seems to imply that the Hassidic melody and style were not usually dominant in the Great Synagogue. return
  8. I'm not sure what this refers to – perhaps a group of Jews who made time for Talmud study during their work day. return
  9. There seems to be some text missing from the top right–hand column on this page. return
  10. Minyan is the term for a group of at least ten men, which enables community praying. return
  11. Siyum is the completion of study of any unit of the Torah, Mishna, or Talmud, and the attendant celebration. return
  12. Mincha and Mayrev are the afternoon and the evening services, respectively; they usually follow each other closely. return
  13. The captions of all four figures on the page are already translated. return
  14. The plural Mishnayes refers to the different sections of the Mishna. return
  15. Darshen is a preacher, maggid is an itinerant preacher, and meshulakh is a charity collector for a faraway yeshiva or community. return
  16. Literally, “book–property.” return
  17. “House of study,” distinct from the synagogue return
  18. This seems to refer to a split within the Satmar (named for Satu Mare, Romania) Hasidic group, headed by the Taytlboym family. Such splits were very common in all Hasidic groups, due to squabbles among the descendants of the founding leader. One Satmar splinter group moved to the Romanian town of Berbeşti (pronounced “berbesht”). Besht is likely an abbreviation of the town name, but may also allude to the legacy of the founder of Hasidism, Yisro'el Ba'al Shem Tov, often referred to by the acronym Besht. return
  19. This probably refers to disputes with the civil authorities. return
  20. Shtibl, literally “small house,” is often used to denote a Hasidic house of prayer, which might be small initially but grow larger over time. Bobov is the Yiddish version of Bobowa, a town in southern Poland (formerly Galicia), where the eponymous Hasidic dynasty originated. return
  21. It was customary for married Hasids to leave their families and homes and spend holidays with their Hasidic leader (“Rebbe”). Hasids also traveled to the Rebbe for advice and help with personal issues. return
  22. This refers to the need to start educating boys in religious studies at a young age. return
  23. Well into the 20th century, many Jews continued to use “Galicia” when referring to the area of the former political unit. return
  24. Talmud–toyre was the term for an elementary school. return
  25. Kleyzl is the diminutive of kloyz, a small synagogue often founded by people in the same line of work. return
  26. The Torah reader, who chants the Torah portion out loud in the synagogue, may or may not be a cantor. return
  27. The profession of Torah scribe (sofer stam) is highly regarded, and involves specific qualifications. return
  28. A Hebrew word for baker is nakhtom; the Hebrew term for sealed is nekhtam. The comment quoted is a pun on the similarity. return


[Page 93]

Village Jews in the vicinity of Gorlice

by Yoysef Durman

Translated by Yael Chaver

I consider it a sacred duty to devote special mention to the Jewish villagers in the vicinity of Gorlice, as a separate memorial to these dear Jews.

Gorlice was surrounded by a very large area, with many villages around it. Villages stretched along 40–50 kilometers in the direction of the Slovakian border. Naturally, these villages were Polish, but there was a sizable proportion of Russian–Ukrainian villages.

Jews lived in almost every village. Some villages had a larger number of Jewish families, and some had no more than one or two families.

Some of these dear Jews actually lived by farming; others made their living through commerce. In recent years many kerosene wells were developed around Gorlice, and they provided Jews with another means of livelihood.

 

A Jewish Life Among Gentiles

Relations between Jews and Gentiles were good, and in many cases – very friendly. No incidents due to anti–Semitism come to mind, even though the far–flung Jews were encircled by Gentiles. Jews had lived in these remote places for generations, and made a good living. The children were taught Jewish and general studies. Many sent their children to yeshivas. The famous Rabbi of Krosno, Shmuel Firer, may God avenge his blood, was born in the village of Sekowa; he was one of the best known great rabbis of Galicia.

Some of the young people studied in the Gorlice gymnasia and some went on to an academic education in medicine, law, and engineering.[1]

[Page 94]

Characteristic Traits

The village Jews could be said to have the following characteristic features: for the most part, they were ordinary people, who were not very familiar with the fine print of the sacred books.[2] They were, however, devoutly observant Jews, careful to follow the commandments they knew. The Jews in the Russian–Ukrainian villages, on the other hand, were mostly more inclined towards study. They included more scholars, as well as very pious Jews, and mystics.

Most villages had regular minyans, where they would pray every Shabbes as well as during the Days of Awe.[3] Some villages hired people to lead prayers. For example, Yekele Shiffer was the regular prayer leader and shofar–blower during the Days of Awe in the Mariampol minyan.

 

In Partnership with Gorlice

Village Jews participated in the upkeep of the Jewish institutions of Gorlice. They often took up collections of money for the Gorlice talmud–toyre, mutual aid fund, etc.

Among the villages with noteworthy concentrations of Jews were Moszczenica, Rafa, Szymbark–Lashye, Smerekowiec, Wysowa, etc.[4] In Lashye there was an unusually large concentration of Jewish families, who established an autonomous kehilla with its own institutions.[5] They had their own bes–medresh building and mikveh, along with their own ritual slaughterer (who also served other villages) who was paid by the Gorlice kehilla. Noteworthy among the Jews of Lashye was Reb Hershl Vaynshteyn, who was a scholar and very pious. He was called the “High Priest,” because he was so high above other people, besides being a kohen.[6]

 

A Vacation Resort

I believe Wysowa was the only well–known vacation area in Gorlice county. The waters at Wysowa contained certain minerals absent from other famous spas. Every year, some Jewish vacationers would come from Przeworsk, Rzseszow, and Streszow, as well as from Gorlice. The guests introduced some liveliness into the monotonous landscape of Wysowa; most important, they left some gravely needed cash there. But Wysowa showed no signs of developing. It was a God–forsaken place, and stayed God–forsaken up to the time we came to know it. There was a primitive mikveh fed by a spring; according to the town elders, the mikveh was approved by the Rabbi of Sieniawa.[7]

 


Translator's Footnotes
  1. Gymnazia was roughly equivalent to middle and high school. return
  2. “Not familiar with the fine print” is a euphemism indicating someone who has little or no traditional religious learning. return
  3. A minyan is the minimal group of ten men required for prayer in community. “Days of Awe” is the English translation of the common Jewish name for the holidays of Rosh Ha–Shone and Yon–Kiper return
  4. I was not able to find any Polish equivalent for the Yiddish “Lashye” or “Loshye” so I simply transliterated the Yiddish. return
  5. A kehilla is an organized Jewish community, recognized to greater or lesser degree by the authorities. return
  6. A kohen is a traditional descendant of an ancient priestly family, and as such – highly regarded. return
  7. This was the 19th–century Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam, scion of a distinguished scholarly family; a recommendation by a famous rabbi or scholar carried considerable weight. return

 

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