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[Page 104]

The Rabbi's Beit Midrash

by Shlomo Krakovski

Translated by Hadas Eyal

The Rabbi's Beit Midrash was a long single-story building that took up a large part of Stak Street. It had three halls. The large and very long hall was used only for Shabbat and holiday prayer and only in the summer. In winter time it was mostly closed because it was so cold inside. Due to its size it was very difficult to warm it. The other two smaller halls were mainly dedicated to Torah study but also used for prayer when necessary.

When the old Beit Midrash of “Tiferet Shlomo” z”l was still standing, it was the main beit midrash in town. Several minyans would pray there every morning one after the other. After prayers it was used as a study hall for young yeshiva men. When the building's condition required demolition, a new synagogue was build and the old synagogue became the Koppel Beit Midrash. If I remember correctly there were approximately 100 students from Radomsk plus students from other towns who were called “eaters of the day”.

Grooms who were supported by their fathers-in-law and elderly Jews from neighboring towns also attended. The elderly travelers would arrive around Tisha B'Av, stay until after Hanukah, leave for several weeks to visit Radomski Chasidim who moved to other towns providing them the mitzvah of hospitality, before returning “home” to the Beit Midrash in Radomsk where they stayed past Shavuot.

It is my duty to mention one such Jew – reb Yaakov David Nishtater z”l – because he was my most beneficial teacher. When I moved from the “cheder” of reb Hirsch Yosef z”l to the Beit Midrash, I was Nishtater's faithful student for an entire year. Not only was he an enthusiastic Chasid whole heartedly devoted to the Rabbi, he was also a diligent Torah scholar and an expert on Mishna. Very few of his friends were at his level. Even more admirable was that his humility and modesty were above and beyond his genius intellect. He lived in a small single room apartment in the Beit Midrash building, by the yard. Eighty percent of the room was taken up by a huge oven that was used only once a year on the day after Shabbat HaGadol to bake the “Matzah Shmura” for the Rabbi and his close associates who came to Radomsk especially for participating in this mitzvah and also for the opportunity to be given matzot for the Seder… The only furniture in the room were a “sleep bench”, a small table, and a broken chair. How did he sustain himself? On Shabbat he would eat around the Rabbi's table, on Sundays and Christian holidays when my father always invited him for dinner after prayers when he was home (he was usually in the woods all week). It was Nishtater's main meal for the day. The rest of the weekdays he managed on two rubles a month from my tuition and that of a friend's and from a few kopecks given to him by Chasidim from other towns who came to the Rabbi for Shabbat.

[Page 105]

Other Jews like him wandered around the Radomsk Beit Midrash: reb Binyamin-Levy from Sosnowiec; reb Moshe Binyamin who would pass by the Ark at the Rabbi's minyan; reb Yaakov-David from Wolborz who was a sour, sullen and grumpy man; the crazy reb Meir'l from Janow Lubelski who had hallucinations about Guta Richterman the widow of reb Leizer Richterman being his fiancée and who will become his wife 'Ke'dat Moshe ve'Israel' in several weeks. Others and others, all dirt poor and usually hungry. If none of the visitors of the Beit Midrash invited them for a meal, they bought stale bread with dry onion and tea from the “lame”. Berish-the-lame was one of the melamedim when he was younger and healthy. When he could no longer teach, he opened a so-called 'café' that was actually a boiling samovar at a regular location where he sold tea and biscuits. Another Jew sold only rotten apples, there was never a fresh apple in his basket.

Somehow it was ok. Even if these Jews lacked food with which to fill their stomachs, they never lacked in spiritual nutrition. Every day, all day, they sat and studied, loosing track of time: A Gemara page and its commentary, or a Mishna chapter, or an aggada from Ein Yaakov.

I shall mention several of the town elderly who spent their days at the Beit Midrash praying, studying, chatting about righteous people, miracles and wonders: Tobi the Gabai, Yosel Zinger, Avraham-Leib (father of the well-known Koppel) – the three of them served the Tiferet Shlomo z”l; Old Yitzhak-Faivel the great grandfather of Ben-Zion Grosman; 'Navile' whose pockets were always full of miracles and wonders and would always argue that his wording version of the righteous scholars was the only correct version; the dirt-poor and brilliant Fischel Khaper; and many many more.

Of the young men my age whom I knew better, where people such as Yankel Sofer, one of the most excellent students at the Beit Midrash. Another good man was Yitzhak Genandles whose father Meir was a milkman and his mother known on Market Street for her “sweet” criticism of their customers. Genandles knew nothing except Gemara. He sat and studied all day while chewing a piece of string or paper, not interested in anything else.

Gershon, the Rabbi's son (the uncle of Zvi Meir Rabinowitz) was a very talented fellow with a sharp mind and persistence. My cousin Avraham Tyll was as diligent as Gershon, but with Gershon one could talk about other subjects like Chibat-Zion, general politics and daily life, while my cousin only spoke of Gemara. Avraham was a unique character. Entire weeks could go by without him initiating conversation. If asked – he answered to the point, but if not asked his mouth remained shut. He entered the Beit Midrash, kissed the mezuzah, went to the bookshelf, took the Gemara and began rocking. When it was time to leave, he closed the book, put it back, kissed the mezuzah and left.

Meir David (I do not remember his family name) was the brother of Herschel the crazy violinist.

My neighbor Moshe Luria, son of Yoskeh Luria, belonged to the group of educated young men at the Beit Midrash. Our families lived in the same building and we both “sinned” together wasting time that could be spent on Torah study reading “forbidden books” and learning other topics.

David Shlomo Zandberg son of Nehemiah Zandberg was also educated. He had a special room in his father's apartment where we regularly met to read books and newspapers and spend time together.

I do not remember whether there were additional young men at the Beit Midrash like Nehemiah Zandberg who came from one of the richest families in Radomsk. If there were such men, there were very few of them. Most of the Beit Midrash students were from either middle class or poor homes. There were no jobs in town for these young men in those days. Only the poor worked with the craftsmen. A Jew with even modest means would guard the “family honor” and stretch resources for his son to be Ben Torah. It was also a calculated strategy: the hope that the son will be taken as a groom into a wealthy family, eat “chestnuts” for several years, then receive a generous dowry from his father-in-law that will help establish himself… a hope that sometimes became reality.

Some families in Radomsk sent several sons to the Beit Midrash – three, four, five, even six sons. In the six years I sat at the Beit Midrash, I studied with the six sons of Itsik Silberschatz: David Zalman (was blind in one eye); Leibusz (later opened a haberdashery shop); Heinich (the son-in-law of the Będzin Rabbi); Yishaya, Eliya and Sussman. I also studied with the three sons of Raphael Rappaport: Mendel, Chaim and Berish. I think maybe for a while also with another of the brothers who was older than Mendel.

When I bring up the memory of the Rabbi's Beit Midrash during the month of Elul, when the house was swept in the spirit of the upcoming High Holidays and when new guests appeared especially from Galicia, with Przedbórzian carts, for the Days of Awe or at least for first-slichot. The Rabbi, my soul and my spirit wrapped my body in thought - what is this Beit Midrash and what is happening in it now and in thousands of other such batei midrash at this exact moment?

Alas! Our estate was given to strangers, our homes to gentiles.

Writings in the name of the King…

A miraculous wonder of the sacred hand-written texts by the Radomsk tsaddik genius “Tiferet Shlomo” Rabbi: To this day, in all the places where these writings are – the ink never faded or changed. Anyone who sees them will say they were written and signed today. And on the texts written by others and only signed by the tsaddik – the text has faded beyond legibility but his signature remains sharp, unchanged, and without ink smears.

It is said that this is a testament of holy and pure sacredness, his eternal righteousness. As hinted in the Book of Esther: “No document written in the king's name and sealed with his ring can be reversed”. A holy document, written in the name of the King of the Earth, signed in sacredness. It cannot be reversed. It lives and exists forever.

[Page 106]

Lessons from Rabbi Tzvi Meir Rabinowicz,
my father of blessed memory, my teacher

by Rabbi Nachum Rabinowicz

(as dictated to Arieh Albert)

Translated by Hadas Eyal

Rabbi Yehoshua Nachum Rabinowicz, son of the Radomsk Rabbi Tzvi Meir Rabinowicz, is the only grandson of Rabbi Shlomo HaCohen who survived the Holocaust. He was among the first immigrants from Radomsk to Israel and he has been living here over 30 years now. He never sought a rabbinical position or honorable titles. Rather, he engaged in labor, small trade and clerical work for his livelihood.

Rabbi Yehoshua Nachum is a virtuous Jew - hospitable, charitable and humble. When anyone begins a conversation with him about the town of Radomsk and its rabbinical court he will expose before them the full glory of an ancient world. He describes his Chassidic forefathers, the righteous and holy spiritual G-d fearing men. As he speaks, a heartbreaking sigh escapes from within him for today's secularity compared to life “then”.

Women's hats – a Goy convention
One Shabbat I heard my father, the genius righteous Rabbi Tzvi Meir Rabinowicz z”tl who was the presiding Radomsk Jewish court judge, demand that women not wear hats because it is a Goy convention and according to scripture Jews are not to follow Goy conventions.

“Holy duty rotation”
My father, the genius righteous Rabbi Tzvi Meir Rabinowicz z”tl, established a holy duty rotation to oversee that the worshipers not converse during prayers.

A butcher should be G-d fearing, not “Modern”
I remember when a butcher from another town who wanted to be accepted as a Kosher-butcher in Radomsk but my father, the genius righteous Rabbi Tzvi Meir Rabinowicz z”tl, refused because the butcher behaved “modern”: a stiff collar, etc. My father z”tl said: “A butcher should be G-d fearing and not modern”.

The miraculous healing power of the “Tiferet Shlomo”
This is what I heard from the Radomsk elders: once a doctor from Breslev arrived in town to ask the “Tiferet Shlomo” z”tl to heal his mute son. The Rabbi told him to leave the child with him for the Holy Shabbat. After the Kiddush, the Rabbi gave the boy some wine and together they read the blessing “Creator of the fruit of the vine”, the child following each word the Rabbi read. It was miraculous. The Rabbi promised the doctor that his son will talk when the boy grows his beard. Later, the doctor built a Beit Midrash in Radomsk for the “Tiferet Shlomo”.

Laying tefillin
When I became Bar Mitzvah I travelled to visit my father z”tl who was recovering from an illness in a village that belonged to reb Meir Rosenbaum. My father z”tl laid the tefillin on my arm and head and blessed: “May it be G-d's will that you be fortunate to lay tefillin all the days of your life and no harm will come upon you – this is my blessing to you”. And indeed this blessing came true.

The departure of reb Shlomo Chazan I remember when reb Shlomo Chazan from Radomsk became ill and the doctors sent him to Vienna to recover. My father, the genius righteous Rabbi Tzvi Meir Rabinowicz z”tl was also sick at the time. Reb Shlomo Chazan came to my father to say goodbye and they both cried bitterly. It was the last time we saw him.

[Page 109]

The “Shtiebel”

by Yekhezel Grosman

Translated by Hadas Eyal

I would like to describe for you the world from the eyes of a 5-year-old boy at the beginning of the 20th century. The world is divided into Jews and the Gentiles. The Gentiles who are part of Jewish daily life are the nanny, the gardener, the customers, etc. The Gentiles who are etched in memory are those seen in photos of soldiers chasing Jews, catching an old man and pulling his beard, as well as “impures” who provoke scuffles with Cheder children.

The Jewish world was reflected in the shtiebel. A shtiebel is a place of prayer in a regular room in a house. Our shtiebel was in a dedicated room in the house of the landlord Herschalei Grossman on 16 Stacja Street. It was called The Radomsker Shtiebel, which is to say for the Chassidim of the Radomsker Rabbi, but it was not actually especially for Chassidim and was not especially connected with the Rabbi it was named after.

Reb Herschalei prayed quietly, in deep concentration, his upright posture reflecting respect. He set the atmosphere in the shtiebel such that there were no Chassidic exaggerations. Reb Herschalei was punctual and organized, the prayer never began without him. He was late or absent only when he was sick.

In the eyes of the 5-year-old boy at that time, the shtiebel looked huge and all-encompassing. Well into his adult life, it was the only public building he would enter. The Holy Ark, the cantor's stand, the Holy Table, tables and benches and the sink – every part of the shtiebel was full of content and significance. The audience around each table was distinguished in character, diverse and original.

The people will be described here from the eyes of the 5-year-old regardless of how he came to see them when he was an adult.

The reader of the Torah was Yechiel Shlomo Shitenberg. During the High Holidays, he read the prayer “Unetanneh Tokef” in a quiet reverent voice and the audience stood silently trembling. The boy imagined the pathway that connected the Shtiebel with the Seventh Heaven and the Ruler of the World on his throne deciding the verdict of every soul.

Before Mincha prayers on holidays, shtiebel worshipers enjoyed beer, drank le'chaim, smoked cigarettes, leisurely chatted about the past, and sang songs. The prayer “Ata Bechartanu” on the pilgrimage holidays brought joy and good spirits upon the boy who was dressed for the occasion in a new suit and new shoes. He looked forward to the egg pancake that awaited him at home on Pesach, to the apple cake and apple with honey he will eat in the decorated Sukkah on Sukkot, and to the cheese cake on Shavuot. The boy proudly held the Torah during Simchat Torah Hakafot, and said the blessing he learned before the holiday. The cantor's “Sisu VeSimchu” filled the shtiebel and the hearts with joy.

One of the shtiebel occasions was different than the other holidays, etching the heart of the boy with the unique bitter destiny of his people. Astounded and afraid, he saw the people arriving in tattered weekday clothing, mourning faces, to a dark unlit Shtiebel. The chairs were overturned as was the custom during Kaddish when a person passed away. Everything was silent. Grief. sorrow and whining over the burning temple and fallen walls sounded to the boy like the howl of our matriarch Rachel.

Through the eyes of the boy, the shtiebel audience was categorized by what he perceived to be permanent ranks that preserved a predictable routine world. The first rank sat around the table that stood between the pillar and the Holy Ark – prayer leaders, leaders of morning prayers, leaders of the noon prayers and those who led the public in song. The second rank were Cohens, Levys, and ordinary Israelites. And at the end were those who were called up to read from the Torah and occasionally also read a Haftarah.

The Shtiebel layout changed depending on whether it was an ordinary Shabbat, a holiday or a special day. On regular Shabbatot the usual audience attended. On holidays people from all corners of the town came to this particular shtiebel. On the High Holidays and Yahrzeits, visitors from out of town gathered there as well.

The shtiebel atmosphere would also change according to prayer traditions. In the morning, the worshippers walked through the court yard with their children who held the tallitot. The more adherent congregants came early; others were known to always arrive after the payer began. For the sections that were read standing up, everyone pressed together. After the Torah reading and during the Haftarah, some people moved to the entrance room and even outside. The women would sometimes gather in the entrance or in the apartment of a neighbor across the street from the shtiebel.

There was a regular mix of voices: elderly, men, youth and children. From his designated corner, Herschalei always finished the service with “amen, may his great name be blessed forever”.

The space here is too limited to describe everyone who made a mark on the shtiebel. Yearning for Zion and Jerusalem was intertwined in every prayer and song. “To next year in Jerusalem” was called out after the “Semah Israel” at the end of the Yom Kippur closing prayer. Most of these people however, did not reach the Promised Land.

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