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[Page 147]

Our Dear Brother,
Rav Yisroel–Elazar Hopstein

by Khave Shapira, Kfar Hasidim

Almost a year has passed [she is writing in 1967] since our dear brother, Rav Yisrael Hopstein, was taken from us. We both were born and educated at the home of our parents in Kozienice. We walked hand in hand in our youth, our devoted nurse, Sarah, at our side.

There was a year and a half between us. My hair and eyes were black; he had golden hair and blue eyes.I loved his curls, for they resembled the rays of the sun; I loved his eyes, for they were as the brightness of the firmament in their purity. He was lean and straight as a cedar in childhood and adulthood alike.

He passed through difficult times. He aged very early. His health weakened, but his eyes shone, his stature remained straight, and his appealing smile never left his delicate, lovely face. He was always upright with God and with man.

He dove into the sea of the Talmud at a tender age, and his wisdom and sharpness brought forth many treasures from his mental storehouse, as his many manuscripts attest.

While young, he devoted himself with all the ardour of youth to the Avodat Yisrael organization in Kozienice, and to the establishment of the Kfar Hasidim settlement in Israel. In his concern for the settlers, he took upon himself the task of draining the swamps, in order to give them the chance to earn a livelihood.

My brother conferred with the engineer, Ettinger. Together, they worked out a program for draining the swamps, in order to prepare the land which had lain desolate two thousand years. The work was hard; the settlers were forced to work in the burning sun, mosquitoes stinging them unmercifully. Yet they stood the test. They accepted their sufferings gladly, aware of the benefits that would accrue for themselves and the people of Israel.

It happened more than once that my brother, the nasi (president) of Avodat Yisrael, as he was called by everyone, would appear suddenly among the drainers of the swamps while he was weeding. He found no rest except when participating in the settlers' physical labour.

Our sages taught that the merciful are among those whose lives are not lives, and the nasi was merciful and loved humanity with his heart and soul. He brought redemption and deliverance to others, but was unconcerned for himself. His heart grew weak, and the doctors told him to leave Israel. He did so, but continued to return, and each time he returned, he fell ill.

[Page 148]

After a number of years, he decided to settle in Israel, despite all the obstacles, and never to leave it again. But God's will was otherwise. To the sorrow of his admirers, who were bound to him with cords of love, his residence in Israel was not a long one. He passed away in Elul, 1966, and was buried in the cemetery in Sanhedria in Jerusalem in the place where, forty–three years before, he had signed the contract for the purchase of the land for Kfar Hasidim.

May his passing protect us; because of his merits the Lord remembered His people and healed the blemish in Jerusalem after two thousand years of desolation. Our heart sickens for the precious youth, the mighty men of their people, who have fallen for the sake of their land. The sorrow of their families is the sorrow of all Israel! May they be consoled – with the consolation of Jerusalem and Zion and with the General Redemption, speedily and in our day.


[Page 149]

Rav Yisroel–Eliezer Hopstein

by Naphtali Kirshenbaum

He is gone from us. He is gone from the hasidim of Kozienice. He, the glory of Israel, the founder of Kfar Hasidim, Rebbe Yisroel–Eliezer, the fifth generation after the Maggid of Kozienice.

The rebbe excelled in all the qualities of the house of Kozienice: he was modest, loved Israel and the land of Israel, and worshipped the Lord in holiness and purity.

His goodness of heart drew multitudes from ail classes to him. Whoever came into contact with him developed a fondness for him that is hard to describe. His facial features made a deep impression, for all the lineaments of the Maggid were engraved thereupon.

From time to time we heard toyre from him, all of it inculcating love of Israel, all of it afire with elevation of spirit.

It is worthwhile to mention the great event which took place over fifty years ago which changed the whole order of daily life in the house of Kozienice and breathed new life into the hearts of the town's inhabitants and all its hasidim.

Rebbe Yisroel–Eliezer took every opportunity to inflame the hearts of his congregants on behalf of the land of Israel. He called upon them to abandon the diaspora and go to Israel, but his words were as the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Yet at the close of the Sabbath on the seventeenth of Elul, 1924, when the rebbe was speaking in his usual fiery fashion about the land of Israel, something happened. His suggestions suddenly struck a responsive chord in the hearts of all his listeners, and they answered in unison, “We will do and obey–wherever you lead us, we shall go!”

That same evening the outline of an agreement was signed, and a board chosen on the spot, with Rav Yisroel–Eliezer, its founder, as president. The organization was called Avodat Yisrael, after the Maggid's first book.

From that day forth Kozienice was as if drugged. On all sides, the cry was heard: “We are going up to the land of Israel.”

The land was acquired by the rebbe with the help of the hasidim of Jablona. The initial intention was for an agricultural settlement, but for economic and security reasons, it later passed into the hands of the Keren Kayemet, resulting in the foundation of Kfar Hasidim.

The rebbe, who was known as the nasi, or president, bore the settlers' burdens upon his own shoulders. He worried abut each one of them, and also about their spiritual lives, lest they be eaten up by their work. Before dawn every day he held a meeting in the bes–medresh, taught a chapter of Mishna, a page of Gemore, and finished with congregational prayer. Afterwards, the hasidim would go to work with a song on their lips.

[Page 150]

It is worthwhile to mention the words of Rav Kook, who said, “The holy Maggid created Avodat Yisrael in theory, and his hasidim are creating it in fact.”

The rebbe was constrained to leave Israel on account of his health, but his vision of settling there had taken root in his heart.

He was chosen chief rabbi of Paris, and served in this capacity until the outbreak of the war. The day before the German invasion, he shut up his house and departed from Paris, leaving his rich library and the precious ritual objects inherited from his forefathers behind him. He took only a few books.

While boarding the train, he was arrested by the French police and taken, with all the Jews on the train, to a French detention camp. When the police realized who he was, they decided to release him at once, but the rebbe said he would agree to his release only if all the Jews in the camp were freed with him. They acceded to his request, and the Jews, with the rebbe at their head, were transferred to Nice, on the Mediterranean coast.

In Nice, the rebbe was elected head of the organization of French rabbis. He distributed his rations to others in equal portions, he himself almost starving.

In the meantime, the rebbe's name came to the attention of Washington, and the American government sent a demand for him and the rest of the Jewish clergy. The rebbe arrived in New York, in 1948, and was received with great honour.

His admirers fixed up an apartment for him in a religious neighborhood. He neither rested nor lessened his efforts to obtain visas for those Jews still in France, and he thus saved many.

After the war, we, the Kozienicer hasidim in Israel, turned to him and took him as our rebbe, in order to continue the dynasty of the Maggid. He visited Israel in 1954, at which time we established ourselves officially. In 1959, we discovered that he planned to settle in Israel with his family, in order to preserve the dynasty.

He visited again in 1966, after we told him that as we had gotten him a fine apartment with a bes–medresh in northern Tel–Aviv, but great difficulties resulting from various factors piled up and he returned to the U.S. to liquidate his affairs, and then come back to Israel to continue his work and establish a synagogue called Avodat–Yisrael, after the Maggid. But the angels triumphed, and his soul departed in purity.

With this article, I appeal to his intimates, his hasidim, his friends, to work with all their might in the name of his ambition to found a centre of Kozienicer hasidism under the name of Avodat Yisrael, in Israel. This will give pleasure to the rebbe in heaven, so that he will intercede for us until the coming of the Messiah and we merit complete redemption.


[Page 151]

The Baking of Matzah–Shmure
at the House of the Kozienicer Rebbe

by Khave Shapira, Kfar Hasidim

The odour of Pesakh was already felt in all the houses and courtyards of Rebbe Yerakhmiel–Moishe of Kozienice. From that day forth, the words “bread” and “khametz” ceased to be heard – all thought was given over to the baking of matza.

The members of the household waited impatiently for the seder, which the rebbe conducted with elevation of spirit and in magnificent splendour. Outsiders were not allowed at the first seder, for according to the heavenly commandment, each man must be master in his own house on that night.

 

Extensive Preparation

Great preparation was made for the baking of the matza–shmure. Boards were laid across the breadth of the old shul, which was in the Maggid's house. There was also a gigantic oven in one of the walls, built for the baking of matza. Sacks of flour stood in the corridor at the entrance to the Maggid's chamber.

In a corner by the door stood “our water”, which the rebbe, his sons, and a congregation of hasidim had drawn from the river and brought home with a special tune used only on this occasion. A few days before the baking was to begin, everything stood guarded and covered lest it came into contact with anything bearing even a hint of khametz.

The walls of the shul were whitewashed for the third time, and were whitewashed again after every baking. The smell of the fresh whitewash was pleasant. The floors of the shul were covered with dried skins that looked like furs, because there was not time to clean the floors between the last baking and the beginning of the festival.

My father himself supervised everything. Reb Aharon, Reb Elimelekh, and Yisroel–Elazar watched over the baking. Hasidim and prominent members of the community stood humbly ready, waiting for orders from the rebbe's holy mouth. The hasidim hitched up the sleeves of their capotes with string, and held their tools in their hands.

 

The Boards Were Changed After Each Baking

The young kohanim stood outside the shul, some holding pumps to barrels of water, others holding wipers. After each baking, the boards, the shovels, and the rest of the tools were changed, and the workers came out to wash their hands. The young kohanim poured water over their hands and gave each man a towel.

And so it was after every baking.

[Page 152]

In the women's room of the shul there were my grandmother, the rebbetzin Sarah–Dvoire, the wise and upright; my mother, the rebbetzin Brokhele, wise and fair among women, and by her side, her daughters, Khane–Golda and Malke, both of them beautiful and gifted with wisdom and culture, with me, the youngest, by their side.

Even the maids, who considered themselves members of the family, all stood ready and waiting.

 

And the Window Frames Rattled

When the oven was ready, Malke, the elder boys' nurse who lived in my parents' house all her life, poured the flour into a wooden bowl. She covered her face with a white kerchief, and piously muttered a prayer the whole time.

Her son, Reb Shloime, poured “our water” onto the flour, and a certain hasid, a proofreader of sefer toyres and intimate of our family, kneaded the dough with the zeal of purity, from time to time changing with the hasidim Reb Yissokhor–Ber and Reb Itche Feigenbaum, a faithful friend of my father's house.

The rebbe took the dough from them and gave it to the hasid, Reb Leizer–Itche Rubinstein, who distributed portions of it to all those working in the courtyard.

As soon as the rebbe's voice was heard, hallel began. All those present answered “Hallelujah” with elevation of spirit.

And the window frames rattled.

Their cries were answered by the rustle and knocking of those who were rolling the matzas.

Their industry was amazing – as if this were the Exodus from Egypt itself. The baking of the matza–shmure concluded with song, thanksgiving and praise to the Lord, and with the blessing, “next year in Jerusalem.” Tears of longing and endless yearning would appear in the rebbe's eyes. After this, the congregation would disperse.

Our devoted nurse, Sarah, took my brother Yisrael–Elazar and me to our quarters, to change us into new holiday clothes in honour of the seder. While we were crossing the courtyard, we ran into the congregation coming out of the shul, each one of them with a package of matza–shmure in his hand.

My attention was seized by our family's faithful friend, the hasid Reb Itche Feigenbaum, who walked joyfully, accompanied by his eldest son, the young married man and scholar Reb Aharon–Berish. I was particularly taken by Reb Itche's shining new capote, his well–combed beard descending on his chest as a sign of his virtues, and his radiant, patriarchal features. In his hand, a package of matza–shmure wrapped in white cloth was held close to his heart.

[Page 153]

He held onto the package as if all the happiness in the world were hidden in it – for was it nothing that he had attained to the most exalted of duties in the baking of the matza? He even received the matzas directly from the hand of the venerable rebbe himself, in all his glory! Who was like him, and who his equal?

Reb Itche's feet barely touched the ground; he walked as if springing through the air. All his worries had passed away from him – and good for him! When he placed this matza on the seder table it would lift him to an upper level, so that, during the recitation of the Haggada, he would feel as if he himself had gone forth from Egypt.

Despite the fact that I was but a girl then, I saw in my mind's eye the happiness of Reb Itche's wife at the time when her adored husband should bring this gift home.

His wife, Tziviye, was known in the town as a woman of valour who practised charity and loving kindness, a help meet for her husband. She worked in house and store from dawn until late at night, thus freeing her husband from the yoke of earning a living and enabling him to pass his time in study. She also worked with him for the education of their children in Torah and fear of heaven. He would share his portion in paradise with her nokh hundert un tzvantzik yor.

As they were passing by, Reb Itche's eyes fell upon us. He approached us, freeing his hand from the package in order to pet my brother's curls, and said, This boy will be a giant in Israel one day, like his pure and holy brothers. With this, he went on his way.

This encounter has remained engraved in my memory until this day. I offer it here as a memorial to the hasid, Reb Itche, the son of the family's shoykhet, Reb Mordekhai–Notte, a God–fearing man who used to lead the prayers in the Maggid's shul on festivals, sweetening our town's congregation with his song.

May their memory be blessed!


[Page 154]

The Slaughterer is Obliged
to Support the Butchers Widow

by Z.M. Rabinowitz

In the days of the Maggid, there lived in Kozienice a certain butcher, Itzik by name. Itzik was simple and upright, supported himself with the labour of his hands and walked in the ways of the Lord. But he had somehow acquired a bad reputation in his youth.

After a short time, he fell mortally ill and died leaving a widow and children behind.

After his widow had stood up from the shiva, she was besieged by creditors demanding satisfaction of her husband's debts. She grieved greatly, for her husband had not even left her food for a single meal. She went to the cemetery and prostrated herself upon his grave, weeping bitter tears over the husband who had left her only orphans and sighs.

After a few days, the widow was called to the Maggid of Kozienice. He interrogated her as to the debts she owed as well as her weekly and monthly expenses. The woman panicked, thinking that the Maggid had summoned her to demand her husband's debts, but the Maggid calmed her, adding that from that day forth all her debts would be repaid and she would receive a monthly stipend for her household. To her question as to why she had merited this, the Maggid did not reply. The story came out only after the death of the shoykhet of Kozienice.

Several weeks after the death of the butcher, he appeared to theshoykhet in a dream, demanding a din–toyre from him. The first time, the shoykhet thought it a coincidence, that there is nought but vanity in dreams. When the dream recurred, he went to the Maggid for advice. The Maggid told him that should the dream recur again he was to agree to go for a din–toyre in the Maggid's rabbinical court.

And so it was the next night. The dream recurred, and the shoykhet agreed to the din–toyre.

A special messenger was dispatched to the cemetery. He knocked once, twice, thrice – on the butcher's grave, and summoned him to the din–toyre. The next day, the Maggid and the judges convened. The shoykhet was present, and the pained voice of the plaintiff butcher was heard in the room.

“You, the shoykhet, are guilty of my death and of the hunger in which my wife and children find themselves. You were severe about the laws of treyfos; the better part of the animals I slaughtered you pronounced treyf. And so my money dwindled away and I became a debtor. Sickened with the greatness of my sorrow and sufferings, I fell ill and departed this world. It is therefore incumbent upon you to repay my debts and support my household!”

The Maggid considered the case and ruled that the shoykhet was to pay off the debts and support the widow.

[Page 155]

When the shoykhet had left, the Maggid asked the deceased butcher, “Tell me, Itzik, why is it that you have turned your attention to matters of money? Your judgement in heaven was obviously for the good, so tell me how you were received there.”

“When I came to the upper world,” he answered, “the angels of destruction wished to cart me into the pit of corruption, for my sins were very heavy and I could not raise my head. Sins, violations, and transgressions weighed down the scales, and I was almost condemned to hell, only at the last minute an angel came and spoke in my praise, telling that once in my youth, when I was a wagon–driver, I was driving a wagon full of scholars engaged in words of Torah, when a band of armed thieves fell upon us, practically killing them all. I had no weapon, but quick as lightning I grabbed the pole of the wagon and began to strike on all sides – I wounded some, and the rest scattered as chaff before the wind. This act of heroism, the saving of several lives, tipped the balance in my favour, and I was admitted into paradise. Only one sin remained – my unpaid debts. I therefore summoned the strict shoykhet to the din–toyre, from which he emerged obliged to support my widow and children.”


[Page 156]

In the Court of the Maggid of Kozienice

by Malke Shapira, Jerusalem

The winds rustle through courtyards swathed with dusk, wrapped in cloaks of mystery veiling the awe of hasidim hurrying to hear the blessing over the Khanuka candles from Rebbe Yerakhmiel–Moishe. The rooms in the open–ended courtyard and the old bes–medresh, now empty of people, are drawn noiselessly after the groups of running hasidim. The air of the courtyard is wet with snow which lies piled in white heaps.

The platform before the entrance door is covered with linen cloth, the ladder at its back, reaching to the roof of the horses' straw bin in the attic, covered with a white shawl. The thickets of hunched trees remaining in the frozen orchard next to the straw–bin alternately shrink and bend, dip and roll in the snow. The flame of the lantern sitting timid and fearful atop the modest lectern flickers and winks, absorbing blows from the trees, and, like a hidden eye, winks and blinks from the depths of antiquity into the air of the painted courtyard, winking at the ancient cellar's iron door which peeks out from the brick building and has grown green with age.

My grandmother, Rebbetzin Sara–Dvoirele, turned to the women, and, in the course of the walk across the courtyard, said, “Master of the Worlds, enough of sorrows on Israel, for the sake of our holy fathers”. My mother, the righteous rebbetzin Brokhele also sighed frequently, her face growing very pale.

Bas–Tzion recalled the stories of the very old:

In this vaulted cellar the Maggid built a secret hiding–place for persecuted and tormented Jews who were running away from the oppressor at the time of the Kosciuszko rebellion when the elders and youth of Israel were tied to the tails of maddened noblemen's mighty horses and dragged through city streets.

The officers of the Russian army likewise executed terrible judgements upon them.

The cellar door guarded the hidden sighs of the persecuted children of Israel. Sighing in his old age under the weight of his patched cap, the Maggid sat in his small room which stood and watched and raised up the prayers for a tormented and persecuted people which he prayed with a mighty cry of pain.

Sadness had enveloped Bas–Tzion as she was seized by these reflections. The sled reminded her of walks through the paths of the pine forests. When she awoke and felt the snow wetting her hair and falling softly on her face, she felt pleasure. Behold now, they have been walking long since in sanctity to the lighting of the Khanuka candles.

The locked courtyard is absorbed in a silent listening. A strong, invisible wind brings snowflakes from the clouds on the other side of the horizon, where they have accumulated for thousands of years and solidified as the result of an inflexible judgement.

[Page 157]

As emissaries of mercy, the stars tear the clouds and peep at the clock winking out from the centre of the shut–up courtyard. The clouds run back and forth in the heavens, one chasing another, while the snow falls and melts.

Hasidim crowd together and go into the rebbe's old apartment and peek between the cracks of the shutters of the screened door at the tzaddik. He is standing on the threshold between the lintels of the inner doorway, a turbaned cap on his head, glory and majesty on his face, which glows with the light of faith even while it pales from the heroic efforts of his longing for victory.

The rebbe bows and lights the Khanuka candle in the old silver menorah with the wax candle in his hand. The blessing is sung as a dirge: “Who performed miracles for our fathers in those days in this season.” The blessing is drawn out with longing in the dead silence. It stretches out and goes its way, breaks into the dimness of mystery in the courtyard, dies and is gone with the wind to the heights of heaven.

Bas–Tzion had stood quietly, but she was now flooded with emotion. She bent to her little brother, Yisroel–Elazarl, who was standing stock still, his blue eyes fixed on the Khanuka candle, and kissed one of his curling payes, which was soft as silk. Startled and agitated, the boy looked on her with angry eyes. He could not utter a sound, lest he profane the blessing by interrupting it, but his angry look rebuked her, while his hand adjusted his gold–embroidered cap.

As a storm seizes the silence, so did awakening seize Bas–Tzion, when she entered the cooking area adjoining the old bes–medresh. There was great agitation in the area where the meat dishes were being prepared. Sparks flew, tongues of fire shot out of the open door of the oven, licking the moist vapours rising and curling from the pots boiling on the oven. From the midst of all this labour, the merry voices of the labouring women rang out, breaking out of the foggy space. Girls in aprons smeared the patterned rolls with a solution of egg yolks, while old women in hairnets kneaded dough in triangles and fried latkes on the stove. The poor widow Khaye–Sarah asks to take part in the work in honour of Khanuka. Her little son, Shmerek, his eyes half closed in a pleasant nap, clutches the train of her dress. The rebbetzins, too, are burdened with work going frequently in and out of the dining room adjoining the kitchen.

Families wait to have their portions doled out. The rebbe tzins supervise the work, labour themselves, and help the workers.

A pungent odour of garlic from geese whose skin had been removed for Pesakh shmaltz and which were to be roasted after the khalas had been taken from the oven, entered Bas–Tzion's nose. “Goose is a crude sort of food,” she reflected deliberately, in order to drive away the appetite awakened by the odour. “Father doesn't eat goose,” she said to herself, “not even at the Khanuka meal, and it's hardly ever found at the women's meals, either.”?

[Page 158]

“Come and eat a fresh raisin cake.” Sarah, the old governess, a pan of soft, filled cakes, already baked and crusted in brown in her hand, turned to Bas–Tzion who had stumbled upon her on the way while she was carrying the cakes. The old woman took the cakes to the room where she was preparing the dairy dishes and boiling aromatic coffee for the household and hasidim.

Bas–Tzion sat eating the cakes which her governess had brought to the table, her little sister, Khavele, beside her on the wide, planed bench. The cake was pleasant to her taste, and she realized that her hunger had been real. She jokingly pinched her sister's full, tanned cheek, and embraced the thin old woman about the neck.

“I don't have time to play with you,” said the governess, escaping from her grasp.

Bas–Tzion sat in her place, a dizziness in her head. Tranquility was spread through the warm, quiet room. Shloime, the young attendant, went in and out of the dimly lit room which drowsed in the light of a small kerosene lamp, pouring cups of boiling tea from the samovar and coffee from the pitchers for the sheine yiden in the bes–medresh.

The horses' groom happened in likewise, wearing a high linen cap which covered his forehead and ears. He was covered with snow. His whip was in his hand, his feet he stamped together. The sight of him reminded Bas–Tzion again of her trips in the sled, and she left the room in a cheerful frame of mind.

Conversations roll silently about in the warm hollow of the dining room which is sprinkled with light filtering through the pink, glass ball atop the kerosene lamp attached to a porcelain stand. The ancient walls, covered with embroidered wallpaper, absorb the constant ticking of the antique wall–clock; they listen to the shadows in silence, and return their echo to the room. The spreading scent of the tea steaming in shining glasses before the guests rise from the old, square table, covered with a shining oilcloth, in a curling vapour.

The rebbetzin Brokhele rises from the couch at the head of the table, bends to the porcelain lamp, adjusts the flame higher, and turns to the favoured hasidim drinking tea and telling tales of tzaddikim and hasidim, and says, “Let there be light for Israel, as in the days of Matisyahu ben Yokhanan, the high priest of the Hasmonean line.”

“There is light in the settlements of Israel in every generation, when the tzaddikim reveal themselves,” enthuses the hasid Reb Elimelekh ben Reb Pinkhas, wiping the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his black robe.

“But where are the righteous women who bring deliverance to Israel, as dudith did in her day?” asks the rebbetzin with concern, and, turning to her daughters, who are playing dreidel at the end of the table with the household's apprentice girls and the daughters of respected families, adds, “And so, my daughters, be women of valour and the redemption will come through you.”?

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“Such as Judith were as angels, but we, rebbetzin, are as the children of men.” Reb Elimelekh turned to the girls, who smiled and whispered embarrassedly among themselves. And when Khanele, the eldest daughter, rose to answer her mother, her shining face turning pink from the joy of the holiday, the rebbetzin added, “Your words are not fitting, Elimelekh. I knew women in the court of my grandfather, the tzaddik of Czernobyl, who were great in wisdom and fear of heaven. The works of Aunt Khane–Khaye were praised in the gates. The miracle which took place on account of a righteous woman is still well–known, and even you, my precious daughters, have undoubtedly heard of it from your elders.”

The rebbetzin began the tale, her black velvet dress intensifying the expression of sadness on her face. The black muslin scarf covering her embroidered hairnet imparted the grace of modesty to her.

The story was like this: After the Maggid had died, the goyim hatched a plot against Israel, to come on the night of Yom Kippur to destroy them and lay them waste, from young to old, women and babes.

The sun was setting, Kol Nidre night was approaching, and the goyim gathered around the city, the Jews went to hide, their souls almost departed. Then arose Perele, the daughter of the Maggid, and summoned the daughters of Kozienice: “Let us go to the synagogues and pour out our hearts on this holy night, and let us not upset the sanctity of the holyday.” They all paid heed to her words, and filled up the shuls and batei–medroshim.

A great cry went up during the praying of Kol Nidre, which put the fear of the Jews into the goyim, who ran off in every direction, screaming and crying for help. “Mercy! Save us! The Jews are upon us!”

The aged supervisress who brought the shmaltz–fried latkes waited for the rebbetzin to finish, then put a plateful of latkes on the table. They bubbled and blistered from the shmaltz, and perfumed the whole room with its scent. The hasidim turned themselves to them, praising their appearance and taste.

Reb Elimelekh was also pleased, and his clever eyes were smiling. He went wild with praising them. The old woman leaning back in her chair got up silently, sighed with the pleasure of fear of heaven, for her latkes were to the taste of the hasidim. A solemn smile hovered likewise on the rebbetzin's face.

The outer door opened, and in came the rebbe with his attendants and the Israeli.

“Are you playing dreidel?” he asked, with an affectionate smile. “If a man compasses his deeds with good and just intentions, the components of a life of charity and tranquility are compassed for him in the height of heights.”

He spoke briefly, and went into his mother's adjoining room.

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The dining room was emptied of people – they had gone group by group to the old rebbetzin's room – and it wondered at the empty space covering the echoes of the conversations. The local girls kept their place by the kitchen door; Bas–Tzion, hugging the warm oven in her grandmother's warm room, listened to the sounds of the conversations in the two adjoining rooms, and to the whisper of silence in the pauses.

The rebbe blessed his mother, who had risen to receive him. The whole crowd, as well as the hasid, the rav Reb Hershele, rose also.

“How pale your face is, my son. You are throwing away your health,” said his mother reproachfully. “You turn night into day. Look – the eyes of Israel are upon you, what is the point of such conduct?”

“The point is … the end, and the end is the beginning of the good,” he said with a smile which had something of the suppression of pain in it, and fell silent.

His mother also fell silent. Worry darkened her face, her long lashes descended to cover her blue eyes, and deep concaves stood out by the arches of her thick brows. Quietly she let out, “Go on your way, my precious son. May heaven give you strength and the ability to continue.”

The elderly Rav Hershele, a veteran and favourite hasid, stood in silence, sighing frequently. The light which was scattered and filtered through the patterned glass ball of the nickel lamp cloaked the silence. The panes of the double windows barred the outer noise like mightly gates to a kingdom. Even the tall acacia trees banging against the windowpanes as if they wanted to break into the room remained wrapped in white, remained in the frozen orchard on the other side of the windows. Here, in the warm, reflective space melting in whispering silence, here was the point and purpose of the universe.

Standing quietly by the warm oven, Bas–Tzion began to feel tired. The Israeli woman beside her, who had risen when the rebbe entered the room, reproached her with a glance, not to let her eyes close.

Their friend Khaiml came into the room, intending to cheer her up. When the rebbe had left the room, he told a tale of wonders, of what danger had befallen him while travelling, in the nearly gentile village. Miracles were commonplace for him when he travelled for business reasons in the cold of winter and the heat of summer, whenever his need was great.

The hymns began in the Maggid's old bes–medresh which was full of veteran hasidim. The rebbe had lit the candle in the menora, adjusted the wick with antique silver tongs, and begun praising the Lord. The hasidim responded with song and praise, and the wick from the Holy Land, made with holy unifications, burst into flame from the refined oil. The bes–medresh was seized by a flame of song, the flames of the candles in their silver sticks went up. The room was agitated, trembled; its sounds poured into and enveloped the sleep–shrouded courtyard from its foundations, at the time when the cock crows at midnight.

[Page 161]

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

“I will extol thee, O Lord, for thou hast drawn me up, and hast not let my foes rejoice over me.”

The verses come out of the rebbe's mouth in tones as pure as the embroidered gold threads which go up with the rising of the sun, warming and shining upon the silence.

The bes–medresh, shining with an ancient light, shines in the spirits of the hasidim, who stand crowded, listening, breaking in and responding to the changing of the verses.

And the holy work continues and goes on.

The rebbe begins to play his fiddle clearly and in the old style. The notes quiver and tremble, flood and flow, break through the sluice gates, wrap and cover the space which is uniting in longing for the sacred.

A song breaks forth from the heart of the hasidim as if the agitated space itself were singing: “A song on the Dedication of the Temple.”

And the holy work continues and goes on.

The notes became integrated with the stamping feet, the hasidim joined hands and began to dance with stormy souls. The dancers went round, hands in sashes and on shoulders. Their eyes were closed, only their spirits were watching.

The rebbe stopped playing his fiddle. He adjusted the menora's flame with the silver tongs. He began to dance, prancing, and his mouth did not cease from song. The shadows of the hasidim dance on the worn walls and tell of wonders from days gone by.

Bas–Tzion was already worn out with excitement. Her young brain imagined her an eagle soaring in the sky, then became a fish riding the stormy waves of the ocean which brought her, weak and pale, back to the girls' dormitory.


[Page 162]

In Memory of My Sister,
Khane–Golda Hopstein

by Malke Shapira, Jerusalem

It is not in my power to weep for our sacrifices – the sources of my tears have dried up, for the calamity of my people in Europe was great. And those who had left the diaspora – why did they return to the valley of slaughter?

My sister spent years packed with suffering in our land. While she was visiting her relatives in Warsaw, she was stricken by the explosion of evil.

She went to Israel in 1925, imbued with a love of the land after the tradition of the house of Rebbe Yerakhmiel–Moishe of Kozienice and of my mother Brokhe–Tzippoire of the house of Czernobyl.

In the same year, she joined my brother, Rabbi Y.E. Hopstein, who had come as president of the Avodat Yisrael society. Together, they went up to what is now Kfar Hasidim.

In this fever–ridden desolation she marshalled all her powers in order to look after those with the eye diseases from which many, especially children, were suffering.

While in Jerusalem, she was engaged in the copying of ancient Hebrew manuscripts, and devoted most of her time to the suffering and wretched.

She was a rare personality, both in her talents and her suffering. May the Lord avenge her blood, and that of all our pure brothers. The enemy lifted his hand and killed, showing no mercy to dotard or babe. May the Lord give them their due, as it is written, “He takes vengeance on his adversaries, and makes expiation for the land of his people.”

 

Rabbi Avraham–Elimelekh Shapiro

Rabbi Avraham–Elimelekh Shapiro, the last admor of Grodzisk, was both son–in–law and nephew (daughter of a sister) of Rebbe Yerakhmiel–Moishe of Kozienice, himself the son of Rebbe Yisroel of Grodzisk, a descendant of the Maggid Kozienice, the Seraph of Mogielnica, Rebbe Asher of Stolin, and the Holy grandfather of Rizhin.

After his marriage to the daughter of Rebbe Yerakhmiel–Moishe, the rebbetzin and author Malke Shapiro, he became a pillar of the rebbe's table and was bound to him with cords of love. A great part of his love for the land of Israel was received from him.

[Page 163]

In his introduction to the book Mishnat Khakhamim, a collection of the sayings of the heads of the Karlin–Stolin dynasty which he published during his residence in Jerusalem, he writes: “I received this manuscript in the summer of 1908 from my father–in–law, Rabbi Yerakhmiel–Moishe of Kozienice, who was educated by the Beit Aharon in Stolin. The Lord has favoured me with the printing of these holy words in the holy city of Jerusalem, and there is a certain condignity to this, for the thoughts of my father–in–law were always tied to the Holy Land. His desire to settle here was very great, and he distributed almost all his money to settlers on the holy ground.”

Rav Avraham–Elimelekh was a great man in every sense, great in Torah, khasidus, and good deeds. He did not cease from learning. From dawn, after he had already risen and gone to the mikve while it was yet dark, he was always sitting in his bes–medresh occupied with Torah, gemore, poyskim and kabbala.

He was distinguished for his good deeds of charity and philanthropy. Charity in public; even more, in secret.

His humility is found in the same place as his greatness. His modesty and humility were boundless. He was imbued with the love of Israel. His conversation was wondrous and many came to his house for counsel and advice. He knew how to attract the young, and brought many of them back in repentance. He laboured daily to establish peace between man and wife, and man and his fellow.

Where the father–in–law was not favoured, there the son–in–law finally was: he and his family came to Israel in 1926 at the beginning of the aliya of Polish hasidim.

After the horrors of the Holocaust, many of his father's hasidim concentrated themselves about him in Jerusalem and Tel–Aviv. His house and bes–medresh in the Zikhron–Moshe neighbourhood of Jerusalem were turned into a tabernacle of Torah and khasidus, love of the people and the land of Israel.


[Page 164]

We have Gone Up to the Land of Israel

by Shalom Shapiro

After I had been ordained in 1909 by the gaon of Brod, A.D. Steinberg, I married a daughter of Rebbe Yerakhmiel–Moishe of Kozienice. I left my parents – my father, the admor of Gabozic, Rav Yitzhok–Mordekhai, and my mother, Tzippoire, daughter of Rebbe Yisroel of Sadagora – and settled in Warsaw, where I engaged in commerce, since I refused to serve as a rabbi.

My interest was in settling in Israel. Together, a group of us founded a society called Avodat Yisrael–Varsha, after the book by the Maggid. After the society had purchased some land in Israel at Kfar Atta, we left Poland in 1925. We did not go to Kfar Atta, but settled at what is now Kfar Hasidim, which was founded by Rebbe Yisroel–Elazar Hopstein of Kozienice.


[Page 165]

The Toyre of Khaim the Porter

by Henekh Kohn

I admittedly have no need to tell you this story, as you don't believe in miracles, and especially not in miraculous signs. So, what should I do, then? I simply want this to be recorded for the memory of later generations.

In independent Poland, at the time of Pilsudski, Jews were persecuted in the smaller towns. The enemies of Israel were unable to bear a lot of Jews travelling together [i.e., to their rebbi'iml for shabbes and yontef. The danger grew greater and greater, and the religious leaders decided to flee and settle in the larger cities.

 

In Otwock

During this period, the Kozienicer Rebbe, the Ostrowtzer Rebbe, and the Modzicer Rebbe all settled in Otwock, near Warsaw. Although Otwock was also a small town, its goyim were not antisemitic, for the more Jews came to town, the greater the prosperity for Jews and goyim alike.

Many rebbi'im did not understand the Kozienicer Rebbe's system of thought, so is it any wonder that simple hasidim who went to other rebbi'im made fun of him? They said that all his hasidim were rude, labouring types, that at his court one saw mainly porters, shoemakers, tailors, and tinsmiths. Even on shabbes, they sat at the table with their capotes hitched up with string.

By nature, the rebbe hated the rich. Should a rich man occasionally turn up and ask the rebbe for something, he was made to suffer.

The Kozienicer conducted his table in the same way as all rebbi'im, but the toyre he used to say was incomprehensible. At first sight, it seemed as if he digressed all over the place: one word somehow didn't go with another. But, when one paid attention and considered what he said, then one sensed his meaning. There were thoughts there, the mysteries of exalted ideas.

The rebbe took great pleasure if his poor hasidim ate a good meal at least once a week. He therefore demanded that people give of their finest and their best for his shabbes table.

 

Mendel Sarver

The Kozienicer's beadle was called Mendel Sarver [i.e., waiter or server]. He was a strange person, and his manner of dress was very queer. He always wore a broad, silk cap and a jacket with a slash in the back. As a frock coat, the garment was too short; as a regular jacket, too long. He also wore a thick, silk belt and big cowhide boots.

[Page 166]

In truth, it was Mendel Sarver, a Jew with a round, black beard, a sizable belly, and clever eyes, who ran the whole court. He understood the rebbe at a glance. The Kozienicer had but to look at him, and he immediately understood what was being asked for.

 

Khaim the Porter Tells a Story

Once, at the shabbes table, the Kozienicer said to one of his hasidim, “Khaim Treger, say toyre today!”

Oy, vay iz mir, how do I come to say toyre before the holy rebbe?”

“Khaim, I'm ordering. Do you hear? Tell the people what happened to you on Friday.”

Khaim the porter's hands and feet were trembling. He pondered, and said, “On Friday, I was at the station waiting for the freight train which was supposed to arrive from Warsaw. It was already getting late, and I still didn't have for shabbes. I was seized by pity for my wife, who was waiting at home. The poor woman was waiting for me to bring her a couple of zlotys, and meanwhile, I hadn't earned a groschen yet.”

“Suddenly, some guy appears – he looks like a provincial nobleman – and says to me, ‘Khaimke, I've got a heavy crate in my storeroom which has to be loaded, but the railway car's at the third gate. I'll give you five zlotys, but I don't know if you'll be able to shlep it.’”

“Sure, panie dear. To get for shabbes, I'd carry the biggest burden.”

“I go up into the storeroom and give a look. Oy, vay iz mir – a crate, I can't even move it … I spit on my palms and say to the lord, 'Dear Lord, give me a hand to get the crate on my back.”

“I start going down the stairs from the storeroom. I can feel that I'm collapsing under the load, that I'm going to burst a blood vessel. I felt like the world was coming to an end.”

“‘Master of the Universe, a Jew must have strength to bear the heavy yoke of Torah on himself; so should I not be able to shlep this crate, then? God in heaven, help me – I'm doing this in honour of shabbes.’”

“Suddenly, a miracle occurred. The crate on my back became as light as a feather. I started running. You know, Jews, how far it is from the storeroom to the third gate? A couple of minutes later, I was already through it, loaded the crate into the railway car, and that's all.”

“'You're a clever fellow, Khaimke. Here; here's a fin, and half a zloty extra.”

[Page 167]

“I ran straight home to my wife, gave her the five and a half zlotys, and said, ‘Khaye, quick! Run and shop for shabbes.’”

“Jews,” said the rebbe, “have you understood the profound toyre that Khaim the porter has said before you here? Listen you, Berel Blaicher, have you understood the mystery of this story?”

 

If So, It's the Captive of the Jews

They say that a few weeks ago, the Kozienicer, while being beaten by the Germans, said that if the shofar should blow, the Germans would become a hare.

The Kozienicer asked if there were any Jews in Holland. He was told that there were. “If that's the case, then it's the Jews' captive, of course.”

from Emmanuel Ringelblum, Notitzen fin Varshever Getto.

Warsaw, 1952, p. 46?


[Page 168]

Kozienice Elects a Rabbi

by Nekhe Katz–Goldberg, Holon

I don't remember exactly when it happened, in any case in 1933 On a hot summer day, dews from throughout Poland came to the Rebbe Reb Arele, who was running for the office of rav.

The other candidate was his brother Elimelekh, who had come from Cracow with his wife and children.

Jews from all over the country came quite early to campaign for our Reb Arele to be let in.

Rebbe Elimelekh's hasidim were householders, merchants and petty tradesmen.

 

Vote for Reb Arele

A very wealthy Jew from Mila in Warsaw had come. He was short and stout, with a little beard, and was called Yakele. He lavished money on every side. He was very clever: he dressed himself up as a stork, took a big horn, went up to the second floor of Dovid Yid's on Lubliner Street, and shouted as loudly as he could through the horn: “Jews of Kozienice, vote for the jewel of your city! All as one, vote for the Rebbe Reb Arele.”

People did not go to sleep until late at night. The result was that Reb Arele was in. The rebbe was carried about in a torchlight parade. They sang and danced all night.

The next morning – turmoil and tumult. What should be done? Rebbe Elimelekh has a wife and children, he needs a living. They began to scream that the elections were fixed, that Yakele had bribed people to vote for Reb Arele.

The whole town ran after Reb Arele and his hasidim with Yakele at their head. They were running in tallis and tefillin to swear in the palace, in court, that nobody had been bribed.

Rebbe Elimelekh's hasidim were running, too, and Moishe Kestenberg (Moishe Gott) was with them. His wife tagged after him on his capote, and wouldn't let him swear.

She was screaming, “I don't want it! I'm afraid! I have small children – you will not swear!”

The conclusion was that nobody swore.

The elections were held over again, and the Rebbe Reb Elimelekh became rav of Kozienice.


[Page 169]

Kozienicer Bes–Medreshniks

by Yaakov Epstein, Montreal

My family and I left Kozienice for Warsaw in 1933, but we did not sever the thread binding us to Kozienice. We lived in Warsaw, but our hearts were drawn back to our beloved hometown with our families and our friends, almost all of whom were, alas, killed.

 

Kozienice was Famed for its Bes–Medreshniks

As I left Kozienice when I was learning in bes–medresh, I wish to cite the history of the Kozienicer bes–medreshniks who, with a few exceptions, were killed for the Sanctification of the Name.

Kozienice was famed for its bes–medreshniks, who would sit and learn in the bes–medresh from before dawn until late at night. On winter Thursdays, they would stay up all night and learn. You would hear the chant of Torah as soon as you entered the Maggid's street.

Whoever had the desire to learn found a place in the bes–medresh There were no class distinctions – rich or poor, hasidim or the children of artisans. Bokhurim who were Gerer, Porisower, Kolibieler, Piaseczner, Lubliner, and Kozienicer hasidim all learned there. We were bound together as one family.

Of course, hasidim from different courts would quarrel amongst themselves, as is usual, but while learning in the bes–medresh all was forgotten. A Gerer bokhur would learn with a Porisower. No one was ashamed, and anybody who wanted to learn received help.

An older bokhur would learn with a younger. The younger would learn by himself, asking the elder about what he did not understand, and the elder would explain it to him.

An evening class was initiated for bokhurim who worked during the day but had time to learn at night. An older bokhur learned with them. Moishe–Loser, Hillel the rav's, Moishe Shmuel's and others devoted themselves to this.

 

Book Repairs and Yorzeit Candles

Aside from learning, money was needed to repair torn books or to buy new ones. There was always a gabbai, one of the older bokhurim. He would send two younger bokhurim through the town to collect money to repair the books.

The bes–medreshniks had another task as well. Before the rebbe's yorzeit they would go through the town collecting yorzeit candles. When all the candles had been lit, the bes–medresh shone with thousands of burning lights.

I will here present a list of the bes–medreshniks whom I remember, so that they might be cited among the martyrs of Kozienice.

[Page 170]

The following were gabbaim in my time: Moishe Bornstein, Khaim–Dovid Henekhs, Herschel Weinberg, Aharon–Shmuel Korman (killed), Yaakov–Mottel Mandel, Hillel the rav's, Yankel–Shmuel Korman (living in Toronto), Moishe Shmueles, Itche Freilakh, – a rabbi, still living – Khaim–Shmuel Korman (living in Toronto), Mordekhai–Shmuel Korman (killed), Mottel–Loser Menashes, Menashe–Yitzkhok Loser–Menashes, Notte–Moishe Yekhezkel Shoikhets, Avrum–Moishe Yekhezkel Shoikhets, Moishe Aaron–Berishes, Shmuelke Reisman (still living), Moishe dablonka (deceased), Khaim Salzberg, Borukh Salzberg, Yekhiel Khaim–Meirs (shot as a partisan), Moishe Katz, Alters, Shmuel Schwartzberg (Shmerls), Khaim Flamenbaum (living in Israel), Shmerel Ovenstern (still living), Yankel Epstein (living in Montreal), Moishe–Berel Sheners, Moishe Notteles, Herschel Scharfharz, Yoisef Mattes, Borukh Rosen, Ben–Tzion Freilakh, Moishe Notte Kovals, Shloime Wildenberg, Yankel Shapiro, Avrum Weinberg, Moishele from the sands, Shmelke Spiegelman (living in Montreal) Yitzkhok from Kalik.

 

My Grandfather

My grandfather, Yekhiel–Eliezer Kestenberg, may the Lord avenge his blood, was among the most prominent of the Kozienicer hasidim, and sat always at the rebbe's table: he never failed to go to one of Rebbe Elimelekh's tables.

Despite the fact that my father was a Porisower hasid, I loved to go to Rebbe Elimelekh's table with my grandfather, because of its good cheer and because the rebbe used to befriend everybody.

The rebbe would receive a guest hasid royally. A hasid from outside would eat the best food, and the old rebbetzin, Brokhele, made sure that all the hasidim had enough of all the shabbes delicacies.

And the spirituality, the ardour of saying Shalom Aleikhem to the Kozienice melody ... And how the rebbe made kiddush – with what sweetness! And after that, the tish and the distribution of bits of food (shirayim) which the rebbe used to give my grandfather.

And the zmiros? How Elimelekh Pinkhases or Aharon–Berish used to sing, with the whole crowd helping them.

After bentshing, we danced with such ardour as only Kozienicer hasidim can.

This was truly a pleasure to one's spirit…

 

Pesakh

Especially when Pesakh came. I remember baking matzos on erev Pesakh. The rebbe himself was present, and he would sing Psalms and Hal lei.

[Page 171]

That night, the seder – I will never forget it. Rebbe Elimelekh, in a white kittel, sat in stately fashion, his brother, Yisroel–Elazar, his brother–in–law, Reb Shloimeke, and the old rebbetzin near him, and the crowd singing and dancing.

I remember how Shakhne Soifer and Moishe Yossel–Heschels danced She–Hoytzianu Mi–Mitzrayim for maybe two hours. At Ve–Hi She–Amda and Khasal Sidur Pesakh with Le–Shana Ha–6a'ah there was again singing and dancing.

 

The Twelfth of Elul

On Rebbe Yerakhmeil–Moishele's yorzeit on the twelfth of Elul, Kozienice appeared different from usual. Hasidim used to come from Warsaw, Lublin, Radom, and other towns.

The Piaseczner Rebbe used to make a point of coming for the yorzeit, and he would stay over for shabbes. He used to stay with my grandfather or with us. When he had a tish (table) all the Piaseczner hasidim would come, as well as prominent householders such as Reb Ben–Tzion Moyre–Hoyra'ah (Ben–Tzion Freilakh) and Elimelekh Pinkhases.

The 3ews prepared themselves devoutly for the Days of Awe, especially the prayer leaders and their choristers. The rebbe davened in the shut. Itche Berd davened the p'sukei de–zimra, and Aharon–Berish, who davened shakhris, would sing Ha–Shem Melekh, to the accompaniment of the choir. Later, Reb Elimelekh Pinkhases would say kaddish with the Kozienice melody, and his children and grandchildren would help a little. To me, this was the most beautiful music.

I remember how my grandfather used to stand by the ark all day – he had the claim on opening and closing it. As a small boy, I loved to sit on the high steps by the ark, from which I was able to see everything.

 

Sukkos in the Maggid's Shtibl

On Sukkos, the rebbe held his tish (table) in the Maggid's shtibl. As far as I was concerned, this was the biggest celebration of all. I waited all year for this day, because the rebbe used to show special honour to everyone who had the name of one of the ushpizin (the heavenly “guests” who visit the sukka).

The third day of Sukkos was mine – I was a real big shot. They gave me shirayim and wine, and also allowed me gelila.

The real festivity was Simkhas Toyre. I remember that my grandfather used to come with a group of out–of–town hasidim. Their arrival, its singing and dancing, could be heard from far off. Although they were admittedly a little tipsy already, my grandfather would nevertheless order that a punch of 96% alcohol, spices, hot water and other ingredients be made

[Page 172]

My mother was a specialist in preparing the punch. After a shot and a bite, the hasidim became merry and Simkhas Toyredik; they danced on the tables and sang Ashreikhem Yisrael and other tunes.

All the sefer–toyres in the shul, about 100, would be brought out for the hakofes, which were led by the rebbe.

The whole town, young and old, men, women and children, turned out. They stood on the tables and benches. Each hakofe went on maybe half an hour.

The lightness and festivity, the singing at the hakofes, the children with their flags, the apples and burning candles – it is all before my eyes today. I will never forget it

 

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