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[Page 170]

Rabbi Moyshe Miller

by Yoysef Durman

Translated by Yael Chaver

He was one of the most popular figures in our community, a man of the people in the best sense of the word. He was courteous to everyone, poor and rich alike, big or small. In addition to his position as rabbi, he was active in several social areas, and was an active member of the leadership of almost all the educational and charitable institutions in the community. He was a founder of the local branch of Agudas Yisro'el, and a founder of the Makhzikey Limud association, whose members later joined Po'aely Agudas Yisro'el. He also was a community educator and regularly taught Torah in various houses of study. At night, after the afternoon and evening prayers, he taught a daily Talmud page at the small synagogue on the factory.[1] On Saturday afternoons he taught Midrash Rabba at the Besht Bes Medresh.[2] In addition, he taught Talmud to the Bes Medresh students.

Rabbi Moyshe Miller was one of the most popular public speakers. No mass gathering was imaginable without his participation as the main speaker. His addresses were always distinguished by a true folk spirit. His quotes from the Bible and Midrash were interspersed with fables of the Maggid of Dubno, and remarks by Jewish sages.[3] Everything was presented in such popular terms that even a child could understand him.

Rabbi Miller was also an acknowledged expert mohel in the town and the entire area.[4] He carried out this sacred duty with special devotion. More than once, the obligation to have a circumcision on time caused him to spend Shabbes en route, in a remote village.[5]

His father, Reb Naftali Dayan, may his memory be for a blessing, was a superb scholar as well as a modest person, and one of the most renowned teachers in western Galicia. He would personally go every week to collect donations for secret paupers. More than once, he lent a hand to a Jewish porter who was unable to push his loaded cart uphill, in order to fulfill the commandment to help a worker in trouble.[6]

Rabbi Moyshe's brother, the famous rabbi of Labowa, Shmuel Aaron Miller, may his memory be for a blessing, will have a separate appreciation.

Rabbi Moyshe's brother–in–law, Rabbi Leyb Yugend, was a great scholar and teacher, one of the important hassidim of the Belz group. He had, in manuscript form, a work about the Shulkhan Arukh, which he was preparing for publication, as well as many other manuscripts.[7] His two other brothers–in–law, Reb Shimen Nusboym and Reb Yitzkhok–Note Shtengel, were great scholars. The latter was an expert in gematria and a specialist in recounting Hassidic tales.[8]

Unfortunately, all of them and their families were murdered during the period of terrible national catastrophe (may God avenge their memory). Of two branches of the family, only a few remnants survived.

 

Reb Eliezer Pantzer

He was one of Gorlice's most acute minds, a good student in the new Bes Medresh. His logic was excellent, as befits a native of Gorlice, and he was also truly religiously observant.

After the First World War, Reb Eliezer settled in Krakow, where he directed the grand Krakow Talmud–Torah, on Miodowa Street. He later headed the newly founded school Yesodey Ha–Torah, which was in need of a person with great organizational capabilities in order to set it up.

Thanks to his outstanding oratorical capacity, he often represented Po'aley Agudas Yisroel.

 

Reb Yosef Sholem Kahane

He was one of the most important and interesting Jews in Gorlice, a person who combined scholarship and Hassidism with a sharp mind. He was an adherent of the Sieniawa Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam; after the latter's death he joined the Bobowa Hassidic group. He recounted his impressions after each of these visits, and was really an expert at telling Hassidic tales. He usually spoke about events he himself underwent, as a living witness. When Reb Yoysef Sholem told a story, people crowded around. Everyone pricked up their ears, so as not to lose a single word. His stories were usually fascinating, even on repeated tellings. His storytelling manner was very appealing.

Reb Yoysef Sholem did not usually intervene in community matters. However, an issue once arose that seemed to be leading people astray from traditional ways. He reacted very strongly in this case, with true passion, as befits a Sieniawa Hassid.

He set, as it were, the tone of the Hassidic circles (we would call him today a “spiritual guide”). His opinion was decisive in choosing a position on every issue. But it must be said that he was far from being a fanatic. In addition, he was involved in society and pleasant to all.

[Page 171]

On weekdays, Reb Yoysef Sholem would pray in the old Bes Medresh in the early morning, with the last minyan, that of the bney aliyah.[9] In this group were such people as Reb Asher Shendorf, Reb Mendl Goldfinger, and others. The members of this group were never in a hurry. After prayers, they would discuss matters of scholarship and Hassidism. Sometimes they would talk about a general aspect of Judaism, sometimes they would send for brandy (96 proof) and raise a toast if it was the anniversary of a famous rabbi's death.

Reb Yoysef Sholem himself would recite the prayers before shofar–blowing on Rosh HaShone.[10] He recited with great passion, and when he came to the last passage, with the words “Tevah, Gaham, Tahash, Maachah,” his face grew as red as a fiery torch.[11] His Torah reading and shofar blowing during Rosh HaShone, were very special.

Anyone who had the chance to listen to Reb Yoysef Sholem tell a story or a proverb, or have a conversation with him, retained that pleasurable memory a long, long time.

 

Reb Moyshe Yehoshua Tsinger

He was one of the smartest Talmud students and scholars in the town. As gabbay of the Talmud Torah, he would come into the classes to examine the students.[12] The students, for their part, were really afraid of his examinations. They often simply became confused and couldn't answer his tough questions, even if they knew Talmud well.

He was one of the organizers of the Talmudic “daily page” that was studied by the members of the old Bes Medresh. At first he also led study of the “daily page”; later, Reb Yankev Reich took over. In its last years, the “daily page” was taught by Reb Shmuel Bitersfeld.

 

Reb Yoel Gintsberg

He lived for his activity in the community. He was one of the devoted members of Khevre Kadishe and a community representative in the Talmud Torah, where for a while he was the treasurer.[13] He was also active in other charity associations. Busy as he was with public and private matters, he always found time to participate in the “daily page” community study.[14] He was a member of the Czortkow hasidic group.

 

Reb Matisyohu Baldinger

He was an ordinary Jew as well as a scholar. Reb Matisyohu made a living by selling dry goods in the markets of Gorlice, Biecz, and elsewhere. This was not easy, but he was comfortably well off. On summer afternoons, or during long winter nights, he could be seen seated at a volume of the Talmud in the old Bes Medresh. For years, he was gabbay of the old Bes Medresh.

 

Reb Meir Rubin

The most important prayer leader in our town (we followed an unfashionable cantorial style) in the last generation was Reb Meir Rubin, may his memory be for a blessing. His baritone voice was like the roar of a lion. He usually prayed in the Besht Bes Medresh. His specialty was the High Holiday prayers. Meir Rubin infused the prayers with such sweetness, that it was a great spiritual pleasure to hear his Rosh HaShone late morning prayer or Kol Nidrey.[15] He was accompanied by his choir – his son David and Moyshe Zidverts. Meir Rubin died before his time, at the age of fifty–something. However, he left behind many students. Every serious prayer–leader was eager to pray in Meir Rubin's style; some were able to mimic it precisely, with each and every intonation. Among these were his son David, Leybish Tsheshniover, Yehoshua Zaynvl (who later became the synagogue hazzan) and Yitzkhok Buksboym. Also remarkable in this respect were Abraham Elimelekh Bergman, Yekl Firer, and Yankev Nusboym.

Sadly, their voices were stilled before their time, because of the Nazi enemy.

 

Reb Abraham Yosef Lifshitz

He was one of the good prayer–leaders. He was unique in that he prayed and sang almost entirely in his own style, and prayed with great devotion.

Some of his compositions were popular. During his last years he led the late morning Rosh HaShone prayers in the small synagogue on the Zavodzhe. The community marveled at his praying style.

[Page 172]

Other prayer leaders in Gorlice

Our community was fortunate to have many other talented prayer leaders, whose voices were lovely, full of heartfelt feeling and Hassidic ardor. I want to mention a few of them, who are still fresh in my memory.

Reb Haim Kupferman, a ritual slaughterer, was a good leader of the High Holiday prayers, and often wept during prayers; for instance during his fine Haben yakir li efraim, when the audience would weep along with him.[16]

Other excellent prayer leaders were Reb Aryeh Halberstam, Rabbi Yekutiel Halberstam, and Reb Moyshe Gertner. Reb Meir Hirsh Degn, with his baritone voice, led a wonderful morning service during Rosh HaShone, in the Besht Bes Medresh on the first day and the Old Bes Medresh on the second day. Reb Berish Fraynd would lead prayers during the High Holidays in the above–mentioned houses of prayer, as well as in the Poaley Yisroel Bes Medresh, and in the small synagogue on the Zavodzhe. Also noteworthy were Rabbi Moyshe Miller, Reb Menachem Mendl Firer, Reb Yeshaye Kluger, Reb Meir Motoles, Reb Sinai Kurn, Yitzkhok Buksboym, Borekh Pesl and Naftali Rab.

 

Shloyme Aryeh Nieman

He was from Bobowa. His father, Reb Mordkhe Neiman, had 13 children, 12 sons and one daughter. His children were all fine young people, good students, and Bobov Hassidim. The youngest was a bit “progressive” (as it was then termed) and became the son–in–law of Khane Presser (Khane Shebershiner, after her first marriage). Shloyme–Aryeh was a son–law of Reb Artshe Gertner.

He was always in good spirits, always with a smile on his face. He greeted everyone with an aphorism rich in talmudic allusions. On Purim, or at the wedding of a fellow Bobov Hassid, Reb Shloyme Aryeh was in his element. He would let loose with endless rhymes. The rhymes often contained serious moral lessons, and more than once brought the audience to tears.

 

Yekl Vild

The son of Reb Yitzkhok Vild, he was an unusual, enigmatic person. In the first years after the First World War, modern political parties appeared in the Jewish community. Young people were inspired, and were carried away by the new ideas and trends. Yekl Vild, too, was borne on this current. He became a fanatic association person and spent entire days in the party office. He also devoured modern books from the HaShachar library.[17]

All at once, his life changed. People started to notice Yekl Vild among the devout, at first only as a guest, and later as a frequent visitor, until he finally became a regular participant in prayers. He never missed even an afternoon prayer Yekl became one of the Bes Medresh regulars. He started by studying the Torah, later the Mishna, and later still – Midrash and Talmud. He grew sidelocks and a beard, and became a true repentant. He became active in the administration of several charity associations, as well as an active member of Poaley Agudas Yisroel.

 

Reb Nechemya Bider

He was certainly one of the most interesting figures in Galicia. His imposing physical presence, high forehead over two clever eyes, and his impressive beard, gave him an especially compelling appearance. He would come out with endless aphorisms, which were eventually so popular that they became public property.

Before the afternoon prayers, one could see him on the street leading to the synagogue, surrounded by a crowded circle of people. Obviously, Reb Nechemya was the main talker, and the audience enjoyed his aphorisms. He was learned, and specialized in the Or Hachaim commentary on the Torah.[18] According to him, he had read it 36 times. He organized Torah lessons using OrHachaim. Thanks to him, the commentary was studied every Friday evening in the Besht Bes Medresh. He always had an audience. But the class did not last long as a large class. Later, it was presented by Reb Nechemya in his home, with few participants. One of these was Avromke Lombik. Reb Nechemya used to teach Torah classes for the Tse'irey Mizrachi organization.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The Yiddish ‘zavodzhe’ could be a street name, which I was unable to check. It may, hoseever, be related to the Polish ‘zavod’, factory, though this adds no clarification. return
  2. Midrash Rabba comprises non–legalistic interpretations of the Bible. return
  3. Jacob Kranz, a popular 18th century Jewish preacher, who served as Rabbi of Dubno for eighteen years. His fables are often quoted to this day. return
  4. Mohel is the Jewish term for ‘ circumciser.’ return
  5. A circumcision must be done on the eighth day of the infant's life, unless prevented by medical circumstances. return
  6. Exodus 23, 5. return
  7. The 16th–century legal code, compiled by Joseph Caro in Safed, that governs all aspects of Jewish daily life. return
  8. Gematria is a system of alphanumeric code that assigns numerical values to a word, name, phrase, and the like. return
  9. Minyan is the group of ten men older than 13 required for traditional Jewish public worship. Bney aliyah refers to elite community members. return
  10. The shofar is the ram's horn that is sounded during High Holiday prayers. Rosh HaShone is the High Holiday marking the start of a new Jewish year. return
  11. Half–siblings of the patriarch Abraham (Genesis 22:24). return
  12. The gabbay (Yiddish pronunciation gabeh) is the manager of a community organization, such as a synagogue. return
  13. Khevre Kadishe is the Jewish burial society. return
  14. The “daily page” (daf yoimi) is a daily regimen of learning the Talmud and its commentaries, in which each of the 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud are covered in sequence, one page per day. The entire Talmud is completed, one day at a time, in a cycle of seven and a half years. The custom was initiated in 1923 and is still widespread. return
  15. The solemn Kol Nidrey prayer marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, on the previous evening. return
  16. The verse in Jeremiah 31:20 is part of the Rosh Hashone afternoon prayer, and has been set to different melodies, especially by Hassidic groups. return
  17. This may be a lending library run by the Hashachar youth organization. return
  18. The 18th century commentary on the Torah, by the Moroccan rabbi and scholar Chaim Ben–Attar. return


[Page 173]

Talented youths

by Abraham Kornfeld

Translated by Yael Chaver

I would like to mention several talented persons of the younger generation, who immersed themselves in the atmosphere of the Bes Medresh from their earliest childhood.Meir Shimen Rozbakh

A smart youth, with an incisive intellect, a prime student of Hanina Genivish. As a youth, he was one of the best student regulars in the Bes Medresh. He initiated, and was very active in, the Yeshiva headed by Rabbi Potashnik, long may he live (see p. 55).

He was gifted in literature, and exhibited promise as a future ultra–religious writer. He had manuscripts of his Hebrew and Yiddish literary work. His Hebrew style was akin to that of Agnon.[1]

Meir was a founding member of the local branch of Po'aley Agudas Yisroel, where he gave talks on various topics.

 

Abraham Elimelekh Bergman

Remarkably talented, he was intelligent and discerning, and a pleasant member of society.When young, he participated in the circle that formed around Reb Joseph Shluss Kahane, with whom he studied Talmud and was educated in piety and Hasidism. He made the pilgrimage to Bobov many times.[2]

Abraham Elimelekh was a gifted writer, and even at that young age wrote fine modern Hebrew.

He was secretary of the Po'aley Yisroel association, and one of the leaders of the local Tse'irey Agudas Yisroel.[3]

 

David Rubin

He was a born organizer. At an early age he served as the secretary of the local Tse'irey Agudas Yisroel and often represented the Gorlice branch at party conferences. He successfully headed different party fundraising campaigns, such as “members' donations”, Keren Ha–Yishuv, etc.[4] He was active in organizing the Bes–Yankev girls' school as well as the Yesodey HaTorah school for boys. This cheder was very successful, and had great prospects for wide–ranging development.

David also organized a training camp for Zionist settlers. Several participants in the camp who live in Israel today came with members of that group. Among them is Yoysef Fefer, the well–known activist of Po'aley Agudas Yisroel.

It is also worth mentioning the founders of the Gorlice branch of Tse'irey Agudas Yisro'el: Abraham Bitersfeld, Mendel Eliezer Gurfayn, Yizkhok Bergman, and Mendel Nebenzahl.

 

Mendel Vaynfeld

The most “European” of his friends, he studied secular subjects along with religious topics from early childhood on. As a young man, he wrote (in Polish) historical fiction about the events of 1648–1649; naturally, this did not progress beyond manuscript form[5]. Mendel Vaynfeld was later active in Tsei'rey Mizrakhi.[6]

Sadly, their lives, along with those of so many other near and dear ones, were cut short too early.

I mourn for you greatly, beloved and dear ones, in their life and in their death they were not parted.[7]

 

Two friends, Naftali and David

Naftali Kalber and David Vakhtel had been friends since their earliest years, both in their velvet caps, both with blond sidelocks framing their charming faces.

In early childhood, both lost their fathers. Together, they completed their studies in the Jewish religious school for boys, and (excuse the comparison) in the Polish elementary school. They later studied Talmud together in the Bes Medresh, led by Hanina Genivish, and worked hard to study on their own. Together, they acquired Yiddish and secular subjects. Together, they furthered their studies and behaved well towards all.

Later, both learned carpentry. They strove and prepared themselves to settle in the Land of Israel, but sadly, did not live to do so.

Of them, too, it may be said, “Beloved and dear ones, in their life and in their death they were not parted.”[8]


Translator's Footnotes

  1. S. Y. Agnon (1888–1970) is widely considered the greatest Hebrew fiction writer of the 20th century. He was awarded (together with the poet Nelly Sachs) the Nobel prize in literature in 1966. return
  2. Bobov (Bobowa, Galicia) was the home of a popular sect of Hasidism. return
  3. Socialist religious organizations. return
  4. An organization to further religious education in the Land of Israel. return
  5. 1648–1649 were the years of the Cossack rebellion against Polish rule, during which as many as 100,000 Jews were massacred. The memory of these massacres is often evoked in Ashkenazi Jewish culture. return
  6. A religious socialist organization. return
  7. This sentence is an adaptation of phrases in 2 Samuel, 1. My translation is based on Robert Alter's translation (The David Story, New York: Norton, 1999). return
  8. See previous footnote. return


[Page 179]

Max (Nohem, Menachem–Mendel) Gabel

Translated by Yael Chaver

Reyzen's Lexicon notes:[1]

Born in Gorlice, western Galicia, on December 24, 1877. His father, a kerosene merchant, loved to write. According to Gabel, he wrote a book on the Simche–Plachte theme.[2] Gabel studied in cheder and in the Vizhnitz yeshiva, as well as German and Polish with a private tutor.[3] In 1888, after his father's death, he emigrated to New York with his mother.

He worked in a suspenders factory, and studied English in his free time.

At 14, he joined the East Side Dramatic Club. He was later a theater actor, director, and playwright; he acted in the American theater for years.

He was a prolific playwright, producing many melodramas, realistic dramas, and other types of plays.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Zalmen Reyzen's Lexicon of Yiddish Literature, Vilna, 1929. return
  2. A popular Yiddish play by Jacob Prager, about Simche–Plachte, the uneducated Jewish water–carrier who becomes a miracle–worker. return
  3. The Vizhnitz yeshiva was affiliated with a Hassidic sect of the same name. return

 

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