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[Pages 260-261]

My Brother and Teacher

Mordechai Yalon

Translated by Ariel Distenfeld

I am not going to write about Hanoch the grammarian and philologist. Others did and will do it better, both during his lifetime and after his passing. In this short note I want to mention some details from his life. As opposed to my other brothers who left our home before my birth, I had the opportunity to be in his company at home for several years. He was thirteen years my senior, and during that time period, until he left home, he educated me and I learned a lot from him.

Like his older brothers, he learned Torah from tutors and became known for his diligence and brilliance. I mention here that the local rabbi, Chayim Leibish Hamerling had high hopes for him and during the period when he studied with the tutors he used to examine him frequently and enjoy the depth of his knowledge. However, Hanoch was captivated by Zionism even before he left home, and besides Talmud he started to study by himself general knowledge, the languages of the land and other tongues, and in time began preparations for extern matriculation exams, including Hebrew grammar.

That year I left the cheder and Hanoch continued to teach me Gemara, Bible and grammar, Hebrew and of course general studies. He loved being alone and studying in the quiet atmosphere of the nearby forest, or in one of the farm buildings or the fruit orchard around the house. Apparently I was a good pupil, as he devoted many hours to my studies, telling me tales and especially emphasizing the Bible. He would chastise me when I deserved it. He carried on with the discipline of a “rabbi”. He was not fond of my brother who was two years my junior (killed in the Holocaust) because he did not pay attention.

In time Hanoch rented a room in Lopatyn, studying by himself and teaching Hebrew to youths. Hanoch, like his elder brothers, did not care to take part in the workings of the farm, apparently because of Father's influence, whose wish was for his children to learn Torah, and even more so because of Mother's influence whose desire was that her children would not be farmers but “people”. But Hanoch told me that as a child he used to shepherd our cows in the field.

Hanoch was nostalgic about the beauty of the surrounding area, the large fruit orchard around our house and the cherry, pear and apple trees where he would seclude himself in the shade. But he was not attracted to agriculture. He taught himself bookbinding and would bind his books himself. It was – said he – a fashionable thing in those days. He also learned accounting and bookkeeping (in German) and ordered books from abroad, in Polish and German, and various dictionaries.
At that time a touch of Haskala crept into Father's house and in the bookcase dwelled the Talmud together with books in foreign languages and even a “remnant” of a Bible with a commentary by Mendelson. (I said a “remnant” since it remained even though the commentary was sentenced to burning by Father.) Now Father viewed it differently, and certainly Mother, who was always very liberal, did as well.

Slowly there began to be seen in Lopatyn the buds of Haskala under the influence of Hanoch and his young friends who surrounded him. The first gymnasium students appeared, sons of Reb Zalman Leib Wasser and the sons of Reb Pinhas Winkler (my paternal brother-in-law), a Husiatyn Chassid, who studied in a gymnasium (high school) in Brody. I should mention that the Belz Chassidim gave Reb Pinhas such a hard time that he had to leave Lopatyn with his family and move to Brody, where a Jewish gymnasium student was no longer a rare phenomenon.

At age 18 he left Lopatyn (the village Tritki was a Sabbath border from Lopatyn) and moved to Lemberg where he completed his extern studies and passed two levels of the matriculation exam in Byelsk (Bilitz). Because of his physical frailty he was rejected by the military and supported himself by giving courses in Hebrew and general studies. Throughout that time he kept a mail correspondence with me, sent me Hebrew pamphlets to read and on his visits home for the holidays he would examine my knowledge. He especially emphasized my studies in Bible and grammar and always said “turn it over and over, everything is in it”. I must mention that already then our entire correspondence was in Hebrew. In 1916 when the Russian invaders retreated from Lwow, he left Galicia and went to Vienna, where he completed his studies and supported himself by teaching. At the end of 1919 he married Zipora, daughter of Shmariahu Imber (brother of N. H. Imber, the author of “Hatikva”)

On the sixth day of Kislev 5682 (1921) he made aliya and lived variously in the “Ahva”, “Ezrat Israel” and “Nahlat Shiva” neighborhoods of Jerusalem. His last apartment was in the Geula quarter where he lived for about thirty years. Beginning in his youth he developed migraine headaches that continued throughout his life. In the “Mizrahi” seminary where he taught, invited by the principle director Lipshits, he sometimes was compelled to stop his lessons because of the migraines. Nonetheless, most of the time he was immersed in work in his large library that was chock-full of books. His many and rare books spilled over into adjacent rooms. During the last years of his life he suffered with other ailments and he underwent several surgical operations but recovered and even his migraine passed. His face was relaxed and pleasant and it became possible for him to collect his numerous articles into a book, but he was not privileged to see it published.

On the last evening of his life he was engaged in proofreading his book. He went to sleep and early in the morning suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He was taken to a hospital and on the 12th of Adar I 5730 (1970) he died. He was 85 years old. His wife Zipora passed away two years later at the age of 78. Their daughter Lea, may she live a long life, resides with her husband Eliezer and her two daughters in Kiriat Bialik.


[Pages 265-267]

An Event that Took Place
in our Town of Łopatyn in 1898

by Ben–Zion Friedmann

Translated by Barbara Beaton

There was a priest named Markowski who lived in Łopatyn at that time. During his latter years, which I still remember even though I was a little boy, he was no longer active in service to the church because for some reason he was considered unfit for this by his superiors. However his title of Priest remained.

He was a very wealthy man. He had a large agricultural farm, fertile fields, a beautiful fruit orchard, and a large area planted with crops that at the time was very profitable. There was a large livestock farm and a magnificent building in which to live in and enjoy.

Like any other priest of the Roman Catholic church, he was not married, and the farmhouse was maintained by a woman whose name was Wikta. She came from a simple and poor peasant household. I had heard it said that she was beautiful. I myself did not know her and was at that time a child below the age where I understood what beauty was and the importance of it.

The priest Markowski used to walk around the town among the Jews. Basically, he was a good man and well liked. He was involved in commerce with Jews. He would buy from them and sell produce to them and in general was involved with the townspeople. He lived very comfortably. At his home there was no lack of parties, festivities and celebrations attended by his fellow priests and “poritzim” (landowners) as well as other important people in the region.

One day in the year 1898, the priest was suddenly struck with the idea that he had to sell his estate. No one understood or knew the reason for this. His financial situation was good, the farm was profitable, he had no debts; and on the contrary, the people who knew such things could tell that he possessed large sums of wealth. The reason for the sale was therefore a secret even to those who knew him, and he took this secret with him to his grave.

Reb Mania Ecker (trained in portents), the son of Reb Leibish Ecker, owner of the estate in Niestanice near Radekhov [Radziechˇw], bought Markowski's estate from him along with all of its contents. The name of the estate was Gaia. Ecker paid a large sum of money for the estate. Nonetheless, the sale was considered a great “bargain” because the farm was worth much more. The contract was written and signed in accordance with the law by the notary Holzer and Reb Mania was supposed to receive the estate. Reb Mania did not immediately take hold of the entire house, but instead went to live in one of the rooms there, and Markowski continued to live in the other rooms.

Markowski was supposed to leave the estate on a Tuesday. About ten days earlier, on a Sunday, Wikta suddenly appeared in Reb Mania's room and announced that her master was asking for Reb Mania to come immediately. Reb Mania was standing just then in prayer, wrapped in his tallit and tefillin. Reb Mania did not interrupt his prayers. He did not even speak to her but rather gestured with his hands that at that moment he was praying but after he finished the prayer, he would come to her master. Wikta returned to Markowski and said the Jew was standing in his “boziakis[1] (which is what the gentiles in this area called the tallit and tefillin) praying and indicated that he would come after his prayers. Markowski sent Wikta on some errand, and after she left, he shot himself with the pistol that was in his hand. The people in the yard heard the shooting, broke into the apartment because the door was locked, and found their master dead – wallowing in his own blood. On the desk, they found a note, in Polish, in his handwriting, “[Z powodu] mojej Gaii tracę życie” meaning: because of my Gaia (the name of the estate was Gaia), I take my life. He also left a will naming Wikta, the housekeeper, as the heir to his property.

It was crystal clear that Reb Mania's piety saved his life. If Reb Mania had immediately taken off his tallit and tefillin and ran to the landowner as was requested, he [Markowski] would have shot him first and then himself.

The priests and landowners in the area – Markowski's friends – arranged an appropriately respectful funeral for him, and his riches and possessions were transferred to Wikta the housekeeper. Wikta sold all the moveable property to the town's Jews.

Isaac the Tall One – “der langer Isaac” that's what they called him because of his height – the head of the burial society in the town, was feared by everyone because of his profession and his usual sulky look. He was also an antique dealer, “alte zachen” [old things]. For weeks, with the help of a handcart, he carried out various items he had bought from Wikta from the “Gaia.” As a boy, I was particularly interested in the huge number of empty bottles he carried away. People huddled together and said that Isaac the Tall One, too, had enjoyed some of the inheritance left by Markowsky,

At first, fury was in the wind, but slowly, slowly everything calmed down. The relationship between the Jews and the gentiles at that time was not bad, and these matters did not affect the day–to–day life in the town.

Reb Mania and his family moved into the estate he had bought from Markowski. Reb Mania's wife was nervous and anxious and soon died. They had seven sons: Moshe, Yehoshua, Mendel, Wolka, Azriel, Aharon, and Bendit and one daughter who was called Yente. The farm was successful and very profitable. Some of the fields were then sold to the people of the town at a fairly high price, and the other part remained in the hands of the Ecker family. A few years later, Reb Chaim Bernholz, the father of Avraham Bernholz who is with us in Israel, bought the farm.

On Sabbaths and holidays, Reb Mania would organize a minyan in his house in “Gaia”. The worshippers were from the nearby area, people who lived not far from the estate. There was a considerable distance from the estate to the synagogue, the kloyz in the center of town, which made it difficult for people who walked. A cantor was brought in from the outside for the High Holy Days. After the prayers, the worshipers enjoyed a shot of liquor and sweets after kiddush at Reb Mania's. The kiddush lasted for hours and was spiced with Chasidic tales of the rabbis and their holy ways, the nature of their [Hassidic] courts, and the miracles and wonders within them.

Footnote:

  1. Bozia is the Polish word for small religious medallion. Return

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