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Chapter Four – The Way of Life

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The Tiferes Shlomoh Off Kest

by A. N. Sztencl

Abraham-Nakhum Sztencl was born in 1897 in the village of Czeladz near Sosnowiec, a grandchild of the Czenstochower dein (religious judge) and a brother of the Sosnowiec rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva (head of religious school). He absorbed within himself much Yiddishkeit, was versed in the Talmud and the Talmudic commentaries and steeped in Tidus and Kabalah. After the First World War, he entered the wider world and became acquainted with poets and writers. His songs and novels and dramas were published in the popular Yiddish press and attracted the attention of the German literary circles of that era, which supported the publication of his song compilations.

“Shlomoh,” she said to him, “what is the matter;
Is God, God forbid, not as worthy as a father-in-law?
As all wives trade in the market, I will.”

“You will help me carry out to the stall,
And will run back to the Beis-Midrash quickly,
And everything will be as the present.”

“You at the open Gemara and me at the pot,
What have you here, Shlomoh, a clogged up head?
I will cook with the Jewish women in the market!”

He could barely contain himself, so strongly
Had he begun to laugh; on your farm,
Gutenyu, you have acquired another peasant…

And thus it actually was, every morning
Forward with the chafing pan and apron she goes,
He carries the pots and large basket after her.

And when he returned from the noisy uproar,
And seized still from holiness the first holy man,
Comparing himself to him, if he knows where and when?

And first after Minkhah, when he carries home the basket,
From a whole day his learned hump,
Straightens up, he is ashamed to catch sight of himself.

He shines with ideas: with money, there is no problem
And before you know it, he is back in the Beis Midrash!
And in the morning, when the basket is packed…

The whole Talmud with a page of Gemara, he has mixed in his head!
And every letter of the sacred Torah with the trop,
Sings heimish in his heart such a heavenly song.

However, he first felt what it means to be a Jew,
Helping his wife sometimes at the yearly fair,
A drunken goy broke a pot – –

A broken shard of ceramic stays in his heart,
The whole market a little broken earthen pot full of tears,
A pile of broken pieces floats in the dust.

And in the middle a dove dances for his female dove,
His heart trembles with cooing praise –
He begins to understand the secret of people in love.

A nation that lives from hand to mouth,
That continuously fills the market with its Yakov's voice!
Why should it not be challenged by Esau's hand?

Studied the Mishnah from “ Hmenaya at hkad”?
He is as much a businessman as I am at my wife's warehouse…
That he does not kill me is simply because he is lazy.

“G-d, who nourishes all creatures with Your hand,
Feed Your folk until it will be redeemed,
Your House of Israel, Your holy family,

G-d forbid, less than the hungry market dog?”
G-d, what it means to be a Jew, I first understand now…
And his look with tears, as with a dove's glazed eyes:

Is he in the Beis-Midrash? He no longer knows where he is!
A crying-cooing absorption in pious thoughts, so sweet,
Tears from him, “Tie-di-di-die” and “Oy, oy, oy.”

And sometimes in the market it gets so quiet.
The drunken goy pulls himself out of the confusion,
And falls with furious speed from his feet:

“Rabbi!” this scream would sharpen a scissors!
A string breaks in a harp that had played –
Interrupting a posek from the Book of Psalms in the middle of a trop:

“Are you not, also, a peasant on G-d's farm?”
And elevate Him, as we elevate a beam of light,
He smiles, “Simply, you needed only a lens…”

This sale, afterwards, on the market, this getting rich quickly!
In the apron one shuffles the silver, the money is brought under the cap
And when he carries empty baskets from the fair,

He can barely carry them because he is so tired,
O, they will still make a good Jew of him
G-d, if I had wings now like a dove…

“Shlomoh,” she looked at him. “What is the matter?”
And standing at the market, you think, is not difficult?
And perhaps it was Elijah the Prophet…”

And when the joy in her dovish eyes was seen,
He whispered, “G-d your will should happen.”
And he quickly washed a tear from his eye.

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Lives and Images

by Sarah Hamer-Jacklin

Sarah Hamer-Jacklin, a Radomsk native, a daughter of an eminent Hasidic family, emigrated to America as a young girl, and there became known as a writer. She had dozens of stories published by the Yiddish press on the American continent, in which she describes the way of life of her old home and her new life in America. The Nowo-Radomsker Society in New York published 2 books of stories by Sarah Hamer-Jacklin, “Lives and Images” (1946) and “Trunks and Branches” (1954).

We present here 2 stories by Sarah Hamer-Jacklin:

  1. “The Rebbe Died” (from the book “Lives and Images”);
  2. “The Bednicer Dybbuk” (published in the Forverts).
The Editor

a. The Rebbe Died

“The Rebbe is very weak, and he needs mercy, so that he will get well.”

My father, who was depressed, said these words to my mother when he came into the house during the time between the morning and evening prayers.

“Last year on the 7th day of Sukkos, he was also as good as gone, and he regained his health, and with G-d's help, he will also recover,” my mother consoled him.

“The Most High watches and takes care of such tzadekim (righteous men) as Reb Yekhezkel Radomsker,” she piously added.

Meanwhile the city was in turmoil, the people ran to the “gutn ort” (the cemetery) to plead for the Rebbe's health. The cemetery was measured with white linen (an omen for a long life), Hasidim were drawn from near and far to the Rebbe's court, and the Beis-Midrash was packed with yeshivah-bukherim (yeshiva students), Hasidim, merchants and business owners, who said psalms and pleaded for the recovery of the Rebbe.

In the court, under the open sky, women stood with shawls on their heads and listened to the tragic tones that floated outside from the Beis-Midrash and brought tears into the air. They shook piously to the cadence of the melodies of the psalms and whispered quietly. Their gaze was turned to the Rebbe's room, in which lay the holy patient.

Reb Yohanan, the Rebbe's oldest gabai (sexton) was seen on the threshold of the Rebbe's room. He let the people know that the Rebbe's temperature had gone down and that the Rebbe felt, praise the Lord, better.

The people gave a sigh of relief and went home in a lighter mood.

During the week, various rumors were carried through the city. Here was heard, the Rebbe is getting better and here a rumor was spread that the Rebbe is worse.

Therefore, my mother sent me to my grandfather Yohanan, to learn how the Rebbe is, because my grandfather was the Rebbe's gabai and his right hand.

It was a Friday afternoon. Every Friday at that time I would go to my grandmother for a blackberry kichele (little cake).

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This time, however, I went with a mission. When I entered the house and saw the big baking pan, on which were laid out freshly baked kichele five in a row, from which rose hot steam and from which ran blackberry juice, I completely forgot my mission and remained standing in amazement near the baked goods.

My grandfather came in from a side room all dressed up, his long white beard combed, in his Shabbosdikhe clothing (clothing for Shabbos), in a black satin long coat, in a shtreiml (fur-rimmed hat worn by Hasidim). His white socks glittered from under his long caftan. Short, thin, shrunken from fasting every Monday and Wednesday, he always showed more love to his grandchildren than to his children. Seeing how I stood “glued” with me eyes on the baked goods, he asked barely smiling:

“What do you want, Sarale?”

“A blackberry kichele !” I answered in one breath.

All the while my grandmother was going through the whole house looking for something. She looked in the drawers, in the dresser and in the “fleishike ” (meat) cabinet.

“A nosherke!” Suddenly I heard my grandmother's voice, “It would be better for you to eat bread, then your cheeks would be red, like mine.” And she showed me her red little cheeks, “She only thinks of sweets. Therefore you are green as grass… It would be better if you asked how the Rebbe is doing,” she said reproachfully.

“How is the Rebbe?” I asked in one breath, suddenly remembering my mission.

“What do you want from the child?” my grandfather mixed in.

“The child!…Look at only a child!” my grandmother mocked. “A young woman of over nine years is no longer a child… I was already a bride at her age. Yes, the world is changing,” she lamented. “Today a young woman of nine years is still being suckled! Here,” she gave me a hot blackberry kichele. “Here, and do not eat it until it cools; it is not healthy to eat hot blackberry kichele.”

And my grandmother again began to search as before.

Every Friday when she would give me the warm kichele, she told me that I should not eat it until it cooled. I would listen, shake my head in agreement that she was right, and immediately go out to the street with the kichele and eat it, and the blackberry juice in the hot dough burned my tongue like fire.

“I cannot find it!” my grandmother suddenly said in resignation. “I have already searched in every corner,” she said to herself. “It is as if the earth had swallowed it…”

“What are you looking for?” my grandfather asked.

“I am missing a silver spoon; it is as if someone has stolen it!”

“For a long time?”

“For three days.”

“Aha,” my grandfather remained seated in thought. Sorrow looked out from grandfather's eyes. His fingers tapped on the table for a long time. He sadly shook his head. Suddenly he stood up and said, “No one has stolen the silver spoon from you. I know where it is!”

“You?” my grandmother looked at him confused.

Without saying a word, my grandfather went to the dresser, opened the door and took out a tefilin bag from there.

“It's Izraelke's,” my grandmother said.

“Yes, your little musician,” my grandfather, sadly agreed shaking his head.

Whenever my grandfather was deeply angry with his children, they were only my grandmother's.

He opened the tefilin bag and on top lay the silver spoon.

Nu, here you have your thief,” and he threw the spoon on the table.

“I hid the spoon here. I suspected that the irreligious Izrael does not daven every day. Now I see it is obvious, that he is growing up to be a goy, an Agudas youth. Beautiful nakhas (pleasure) have we lived to see! We sent him all the way to Chrzanow to study in the yeshiva!

My grandmother answered him.

I shuffled out of the house, sprang down the many floors and hopped on one foot onto the Shul Street. I came upon Pesya, my Aunt Hava's daughter, a girl of my age. She, just as I, would go to my grandmother's every Friday for a blackberry kichel.

“Come,” I suggested to her. “Let's play spools.”

I took out five bone spools, which we children would get from out mothers, when they made pecha (jellied calves' feet) on Shabbos.

“We are not allowed to play,” Pesya said. “The Rebbe is sick.”

“He is already better, and with God's help, he will be soon be completely well,” I echoed my grandmother's and my mother's talk. I sat down on the ground, and threw the spools.

“I am going for a blackberry kichel,” she finally conceded…

“They are not ready yet,” I said preventing her from going.

“And from what do you have such black teeth?” she pointed to my mouth.

“Oh, this is still from last Friday.”

“You are a liar!” she screamed in my face and left me on the ground with the spools and departed for our grandmother's house.

On Shabbos after Havdalah (closing Shabbos prayer), my grandmother came to visit us. My grandfather was with the Rebbe.

From a crocheted bag, my grandmother took out her knitting on four long knitting needles. A small green sock with red stripes hung down.

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She sat down at the table, on which stood the bright kerosene light, and started to knit the red stripe and count stitches. The needles rapidly turned here and there. She only counted the stitches for the red stripe. When she was not counting she could knit rapidly and tell stories and not even look at the knitting.

I would love to watch my grandmother's bright face. All grandmothers, I would think, wear eyeglasses, but not mine.

Straight and tall, with a smooth, round face and red cheeks, she loved to dress in beautiful, clean clothes. She wore the black satin hat worn by pious women with different colored beads in the bonnet and the Shabbosdike green silk dress with hand-embroidered birds, which she herself had embroidered. She was a great expert at knitting and sewing. She ran a cloth business herself, too, and would travel to the market alone.

My grandfather was occupied with the Rebbe and with studying the holy Torah.

My father, seeing how my grandmother was knitting a sock so rapidly, asked her a question:

“Mama, for whom are you knitting the socks?”

“For my youngest grandchild, Chipele.”

My father laughed loudly:

“Mama, I have a sock factory and you are knitting a pair of socks for my child!”

“Your socks! I would not give a three groshn coin for all of your socks,” said my grandmother. “Thin, cheap and one wears them once, they move like spider's webs, you see.” And she showed him the sock she was in the middle of making. “These are goods. It will keep the child warm. They are strong and well-made.” And she continued knitting with great fervor.

The door opened and our neighbor Bashelah came in, a wide, short woman with a red face. Attached to her apron, she brought with her, her three-year old twin daughters, Cirele and Mirele.

“I am so busy with the twins, they should live,” she indicated the two pudgy little children, that I have no time to run to the court. “Haya, dear,” she turned to my grandmother, “How is the Rebbe?”

“Improved, thanks to the Most High,” my grandmother answered with delight.

Aunt Yentel, Aunt Hava and Aunt Ruchele came in with children. The husbands went to the Rebbe.

A krupnik (barley soup) was cooking on the oven. The evening meal ending Shabbos was disrupted today, because the Rebbe was still seriously ill. This Shabbos night, the city did not celebrate the meal ending Shabbos.

My father also went away to the court to see the Rebbe's son Shlomoh Henekh, with whom he had a silent partnership.

Everyone sat down around the big table, which was still covered with the white Shabbos tablecloth with red blossoms. Freidel, the servant, served and my grandmother told little stories about the Noworadomsker Rebbes:

“It is told about the grandfather of our Rebbe that when he was seven years old, a marriage was already arranged. A great Rebbe came to look at the groom. Seeing the child, the Rebbe asked him a question.”

'I am sure that the young groom does not know where God lives.'

“On this, the seven-year old child immediately answered.”

'If the father-in-law will tell me where God does not live, I will tell him where God does live.'

“And of the present Rebbe's father, he should live long, Hasidim would tell stories of miracles and wonders.

“It is told that when the present Rebbe's father died, exactly at the moment he breathed out his illustrious soul, the large wall clock in the Rebbe's room, which had never stopped in the previous quarter century, stopped…

“And about our Rebbe, I want to tell you a story:

“Six Hasidim left Przedborz in a wagon and horses to visit the Noworadomsker Rebbe. The six Hasidim started on their way much earlier than usual, because it was the kurtsn Freitag (short Friday) and they told the driver to drive the horses faster so that they would be able to greet the Rebbe a little before the time for blessing the candles.

“They rode and rode and the way became longer and more unfamiliar.

“A heavy snow feel and the Hasidim were travelling in an open wagon and they were thoroughly wet by the snow and the cold climbed into their bones.

“Night began to fall and not even the top of the city church could be seen.

“They asked the coachman how long it would take to reach Noworadomsk and the Rebbe. The driver admitted that they were lost. The horses left the highway. Such a thing had never happened to him before and he himself did not know how this could have happened.

“The Hasidim became very fearful that they could, G-d forbid, desecrate Shabbos and G-d is the only one who knows how they could have gotten lost. Suffering from hunger, cold and wetness, they said psalms to the Most High. Meanwhile, the snow grew higher and suddenly they realized that they were travelling in wild fields.

“It was getting dark. Their fear grew greater. For miles no living being was seen.

“However, suddenly, as if from the bare earth, a tall peasant grows before them, stands next to the wagon and asks in Polish, 'Where are you travelling to?'

“And he does not wait for an answer, takes over the horses, sits down next to the coachman, takes the reigns from him, shouts to the horse 'giddyap!' Immediately as if by magic, they are already on the right highway, and before they can turn around, they are already in the city, and the wagon is standing next to the Rebbe's court.

“The Hasidim crawl down from the wagon, while giving their thanks to the goy for the great favor he has done for them. They realize that he has disappeared. They look for him on all sides, but there is no goy. He has disappeared just as he came.

“When the Hasidim went into the Rebbe and started to tell him what had happened, the Rebbe made a motion with his hand that they should be silent and said, 'I know… I know… what happened to you.'

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“And the Hasidim understood who that 'peasant' had been…”

We all ate the delicious krupnik, which Freidel had brought to the table, while listening to my grandmother's stories.

Suddenly there was a jolt at the door and Beila, the woman in charge of the mikvah, and Sosil, the wife of the gabai, came in shouting.

Gevald, Jewish children,” they wrung their hands and screamed. “The Rebbe is as good as gone! Oy, misfortune, oy, a calamity!” Beila, the woman in charge of the mikvah, sang out and Sosil, the wife of the gabai, echoed the melody, with which my mother would read the Lamentations on Tisha-Bov.

The house became filled with a lament and a cry. My grandmother gave the order.

“To the Rebbe's court, women, to the Beis-Midrash!”

Everyone went to the door.

I quickly got up and wanted to run along, but suddenly I felt the chair on which I had been sitting the whole time get up with me. I looked around and saw how my little sister Khule stood in the corner and was shaking with laughter. I immediately understood that this was her work. I extricated myself from the ties that bound me to the chair and ran to my sister and gave her a pinch. She cried and, in spite, began to call me “Sztryne with the loud bell.” (Translator's note: struny is string in Polish)

This was my nickname, which I strongly hated.

I was called “Sztryne” because I was thin and green looking and “loud bell” because when I wanted something that I could not have, my shouting rang like a bell over the whole street. For the nickname that my sister had now called me, I again began to hit her.

Mamishe!” I called looking for help.

“Wait, just wait,” my mother waved to me with her hand, with her finger pointing, “until your father comes home; you'll receive yours…”

“Now, when there is a calamity in the city,” my grandmother said, already standing at the door. “Now you decide to play tricks?”

“The street is dark with people,” Keila shouted in, and all of the women went outside.

I ran after and seeing me, the other children ran after me.

My mother turned back to us and drove us into the house. However, we did not want to go in on any account. My grandmother Haya made a compromise; Freidel, the cook, who was considered as one of the family, would tell us stories and with this we were bribed.

Freidel loved to tell dreadful stories about thieves, dybbukim and the bad. As a result, we children would be afraid to sleep alone and would crawl to our mother's bed.

But our mother had told her that today she should not tell us stories of devils and the bad, only about the clever king with the seven daughters.

When I woke up in the morning, everything seemed to be happening as it usually did. I heard the noise of the machines, which came from the factory that was next door to our residence. In a corner of the kitchen, Freidel was busy koshering a chicken. My mother gave me food. She looked pale and cried out. I asked her, “How is the Rebbe?”

She answered me that the greatest doctors, who had been brought from Warsaw, had given up on his life. “Only God in heaven can bring a miracle and help him,” she sadly explained and her eyes were full of tears.

It was now clear to me why I only heard the noise of the machine, and the song of the workers from which I would have great joy and with which I would sing along was missing.

Suddenly, a lonesome voice carried from Leibke the Revolutionary:

“friend, when I die,
the free flag to my grave,
free flag with the red paint,
is covered with worker's blood.”

became silent because no one sang along. Usually, all one had to do was start and there began a garland of songs, “Ikh hob a klein yingele (I have a little boy),” “ A brevele der mamen (A letter to mother),” “ Dos talisl (The little prayer shawl);” in the main they wrote their own songs, according to the way of the day.

When Dovid-Leib Fajerman's son Aiche went to America, taking from his father a large sum of money, they immediately wrote a song about it… A youth abandoned a young girl, and she ran to drown herself and in the city it was said because she was pregnant… From this a sad song was created… A rich son fell in love with a poor young woman and went away with her to the “goldene land,” the song created was a happy one.

However, today while the Rebbe floated between life and death, the singing was disturbed. I ate my breakfast silently and left for school.

When I came home from school, there was a fearful stillness in the house, which screamed with silent voices. I looked around and did not see anyone. Frightened, I ran from one room to another and called, “Mamishe! Freidel!” However, no one answered.

I went into the factory. The machines were silent; the wheels, which wove thread from large rollers, were idle in the middle of the room. From the round sock machines hung unfinished hose. There was a stale smell of oil and kerosene over everything. A still buzz from the silent machines still hung in the air. I looked at the wall clock and saw that the hands of the clock were not moving. The mobile clock was fearfully quiet.

Suddenly, I realized that the air was buzzing in a monotone, “The Rebbe has died”…“The Rebbe has died”… “The Rebbe has died”…

“What does it mean died, what does it mean is not alive?” I asked loudly and I scared myself with my own voice. I ran out with force from the factory and into the kitchen. I was hit by the smell of cooking. A chicken, which Freidel had earlier put up to cook, was cooking on the oven. It perfumed the house. Cut lokshen (noodles) were lying and drying on the lokshen bret (noodle board).

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I went over to the oven, which was covered with pots and saw that red cherries were cooking in one pot. The smell provoked my nostrils. I suddenly felt very hungry.

Freidel came in from the street with a black shawl on her head and eyes red from crying. She looked at me with astonishment and asked:

“What are you doing in the kitchen now?”

“I want lokshen with soup,” I said.

“What! You want to eat?” A strange voice groaned out of her. “Now, when there is such a tragedy in the city, a Jewish child wants to eat!”

I was frightened by her strange voice and by the tragedy in our city.

I suddenly felt a stab in my heart and quietly said:

“I only want water.”

B. The Bednicer Dybbuk

As the fearful Days of Awe approached, Jewish life in the shtetl [town] was more in turmoil. Hasidim were drawn to the rebbe's court from near and from far to celebrate the Days of Awe at the table of the Rabbi, Reb Yehezkiel'e Radomsker.

Jewish shops that would stand vacant through the year as their shopkeepers awaited customers with their eyes became very busy on the eve of the holidays. Unfamiliar customers would suddenly appear in their shops and many shopkeepers would run to another one to borrow a piece of goods to be able to give it to the customer…

Inns that were sparsely occupied during year by those traveling through, by a Jewish woman coming to the rebbe for a blessing because she did not have any children, were packed with Hasidim during the month of Elul.

Rosh Khodesh Elul [the start of the month of Elul] was also the time when poor people received money for the rest of the year. During this short time, they took in more donations than during the entire year. During the year, they would go to the houses and receive either a piece of sugar or groshns [pennies] from the woman of the house. And from the very rich houses – a kopeke. But those were very few. In the month of Elul, they did not go to the houses, but begged at the cemetery, where women and men came to visit their parents' graves, to cry, to pour out their heavy hearts and to ask for a good year. A khazan [cantor], a shamas [a caretaker, usually of a synagogue] would appear from somewhere and recite kaddish [prayer for the dead], which resounded through the entire cemetery.

After the El Malei Rakhamim [God full of mercy – Jewish prayer for the soul of the deceased], the poor would prey upon the mourners and the latter would distribute zekser [coins valued at six] and, sometimes, even five kopekes. Such [people – the mourners] had to be protected and shielded if they, God forbid, gave one groshn coins, because just like the beggars blessed and wished a good year for a good donation, they assailed and cursed everything bad when a donation was a small one. And what Jew wanted to cause trouble and hear a curse in the fearful days [Days of Awe]? So they gave…

In the late evenings, when the poor would finish at the cemetery, they went to the Shul Gas [Synagogue Street], to the rebbe's court where fresh covered wagons of Hasidim would arrive. There, they [the poor] stood in a row. The first one who stood at the entrance was Kulie's [son] Zurekh, the lame one. Near him stood Peske, his wife, a tall and long woman with a yellow face, with a mouth without teeth, wrapped in a silk, ragged shawl, probably a donation from a rich woman.

Chaim Baraban [drum], a Jew with a wide nose like a potato, shouted with breathless curses that they should give him a donation for the orphan. He did not ask, he demanded. Near him stood Shmulikl, the orphan, a small, thin boy, with an outstretched, boney little hand. He did not say anything, but his dark, eyes of exile were demanding…

Nekha with the hiccups also was there. A caved-in woman, immersed in rags; a small, thin head with frightened eyes looking out from the ragged clothing; a closed, exhausted, wide mouth that would suddenly open and begin to hiccup in such a high tone that it carried from the Shul Gas to the market.

Hanihunya also stood there; a tall Jew with a dark, wrinkled face and a black beard, a snuffler who could not pronounce the khes [letter sounded as kh], therefore, he was called Hanihunya.

Thus stretched out the row of native-born [in Radomsko] poor beggars who knew each other, old well-established Noworadomsker paupers, who felt that only they had the right to their shtetl [town] and not the members of the middle-class and the Hasidim who came to their rebbe.


Suddenly, an unfamiliar poor man who no one knew invaded the shtetl and drew all of the attention from passersby to himself. He eclipsed all of the city's poor.

This was not exactly a poor man who asked for donations, but a man in whom sat a dybbuk [wandering spirit] and not only one dybbuk, but two complete [dybbukim]: a khazn [cantor] and a watchman. That's what we children decided because he sang like a cantor and cursed in Polish like a watchman and threatened to arrest [people].

This was a middle-aged man of short stature, with wide shoulders, with a beautifully combed black beard, with eyes like two sharp knives that threatened and terrified. He was dressed in a long, worn kapote [long coat worn by pious men], but neat and tidy, clean. He always carried a cane in his hand, which gave him the appearance of an impoverished merchant. No one knew who he was and from where he came. He was called the Bednicer Dybbuk [wandering spirit from Bednice] because from him the dybbuk spoke or sang; he constantly mentioned the shtetl Bednice.

He mostly had his seizures when we children, would come from kheder [religious primary school]… We would surround him in a circle, all of them young boys except for Tema, the daughter of the [female] baker and me, the only girls who ran along with the boys and with them we ordered: Bednicer, sing [May it be God's will], sing Shabbos [Sabbath] songs, and we threw pennies and candies.

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Around us gathered the best business owners in the shtetl and they watched the spectacle with great curiosity. The Bednicer Dybbuk lay on the ground for his entire length, his shirt opened at the neck, a hairy body visible. He sang and prayed; his mouth was closed, sweat ran from his face and entire body; he convulsed and carried on. Among we children, he evoked admiration and a hidden fear. Business owners and kind-hearted young men, sons-in-law on kest,* watched, saw, listened and gaped. They rewarded him with a generous hand and threw larger coins.

*[Translator's note: receiving support given by a father to his daughter's husband so that he could study Torah.]

Finished singing, the Bednicer Dybbuk would stand up, wipe the sweat with a large, red pocket handkerchief, pick up the coins that had been thrown and he would bow like a magician. He would place the collected money in a leather pouch and carefully push it into his lowest pants pocket. After resting a considerable time, he again threw himself on the ground and again sang with a closed mouth. If it happened that the coins were small ones or just a few, then the “watchman” would swear and curse with terrible curses and this threw a fear into everyone. Then they would throw the last groshn [pennies] that they had, so that the goy [the gentile watchman], the impudent person, would stop…

For several years, the Bednicer Dybbuk would come to Noworadomsk every Rosh Hashanah Elul and tear away the little bit of handouts from the native poor and, immediately after the Days of Awe, he would disappear. He was resented by the Noworadomsk poor. They would argue with him that he should leave “their city,” but it did not help. They cursed him and swore at him, called him a rascal-thief, poured slop-pails of water over him, even beat him, but all of this was of no help. The poor ran to the rebbe and told him about the Bednicer Dybbuk. The rebbe sent the shamas [synagogue caretaker] and told him to bring him the dybbuk, but he [the dybbuk] had disappeared for a short time and did not appear again unto the end of Elul and he again vanished right after the holiday. He would be forgotten during the year, but as quickly as the Days of Awe neared, he again appeared. A fear would befall the shtetl; Noworadomsk went topsy-turvy. Mothers threatened their children with the dybbuk; brides were afraid to walk in the streets alone in the evening. Young, pregnant women had their mezuzus [small box placed on door frames of Jewish homes containing the Shema Yisroel – Hear O, Israel – the central prayer of Jewish workshop] checked [to ensure the purity of their contents] and did not even go in the street without an apron (a remedy again the bad). Old women would say that they themselves had seen that at midnight two people emerged from the Bednicer Dybbuk; a cantor and a watchman and that the watchman, the drunkard, lay in wait for young girls [young women]…


Noworadomsk looked frightening and mysterious in the lateness of the night when only men sneaked through the empty streets and alleys, the Neyer Weg [New Road], the romantic boulevard, the only paved boulevard without mud, with tall, mature chestnut trees on both sides, where girls and young men would stroll, was empty and deserted. The noise from the Babriger River carried there and mixed with the quiet whispers of the enamored couples. Many loves were joined there. And many broken hearts looked at the passing young people with sad eyes and searched with their eyes for the one who had promised eternal love… In the quiet summer evenings, middle-class young men with [their] long jackets shortened, flowed to the Neyer Weg [and they] would secretly throw side glances at the middle-class daughters, and a romance without words would begin to spin… At times, a yeshiva-bukher [religious secondary school student] would also sneak here, with his peyes [sidecurls] moved behind his ears, who would read forbidden books placed under his sefer [religious text] and with a beating heart, he would set out on the dangerous Neyer Weg that attracted [him] to that concealed world of story books. Journeymen tailors, shoemakers, sock-makers, gaiter quilters also strolled on the Neyer Weg – young people in whom began to awake a militant spirit for something better and from excited mouths was heard the words: “Karl Marx,” strike, struggle, meetings, free America. And quietly, so that no outsider would hear, they sang Doloy Nikolaya (Down with the Tsar). However, the journeymen from various trades no longer walked alone; the seamstresses, women tailors, women sock-makers and young servant women would stroll with them.

However, with the arrival of the Bednicer Dybbuk, the young girls began to disappear from the Neyer Weg. Firstly, the middle-class daughters would be missing, then the working girls and it more and more became a male boulevard. The young men understood that the girls were not coming out of fear of the dybbuk, because they did not dare come alone to the Neyer Weg and, those who did dare, were not permitted by their mothers to go out alone at night. The Neyer Weg thus became empty, without the girls. The young people suddenly felt as if “someone” had robbed the holiday from their romantic life. The enchanted boulevard was empty of content. That “someone” they knew was the Bednicer Dybbuk, and they decided to take revenge. Leibke Revolutsioner [the revolutionary] called a meeting and after long, hot debates, it was decided to get rid of the Bednicer Dybbuk, to drive him away forever. In the morning, as we children stood in a crowd and in amazement watched the Bednicer's spectacle, when he sang with a closed mouth like a cantor and cursed like a watchman, suddenly the Akhdes [unity] group of young men arrived with sticks in their hand. Just then, the dybbuk lay stretched out on the ground and was in the midst of singing Hamavdil [He who separates – prayer said by women at the close of the Sabbath].

But the Bednicer Dybbuk sang with more fervor and did not pay the least attention to the surrounding tumult.

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But the Bednicer Dybbuk sang ever stronger, as if the entire matter was not related to him. And we, children stood bewildered and looked on in fear. The Bednicer Dybbuk sang louder, stronger, and with more fervor.

Suddenly, with a wink from Leibke “Revolutionary,” blows began to fall on the Bednicer. Sticks and fists were lowered on his heavy body.

Khatskele the dandy shouted: You thief, cat's cradle player, Sibernik [criminal exiled to Siberia]! You will no longer frighten our girls and children with false dybbukim. Leave Noworadomsk! Leave here, you rascal!

Let us not find your skeleton here again… The Bednicer wanted to stand up and could not; the group of mischievous young men lifted him up; he stood, wobbled as if drunk and said that he would travel to Częstochowa, but that he had no money for a ticket.

“Berishl the Actor,” a young man who appeared in Mekhiras Yosef [The Selling of Joseph] on Purim and from which he retained the name “actor,” blessed him – “May you have as good health as you do not have money for a ticket.” However, everyone gave a contribution for a ticket; they accumulated the money and they led him to the station.

Friends, wait, the train is arriving. They pushed the Bednicer into the train wagon, the door closed, [there was] a long whistle, coal smoke poured out of the locomotive. The train disappeared and with the train, the Bednicer Dybbuk disappeared for eternity from our shtetl.

(From Forverts [Forward], New York)

[Page 151]

Encounters with Noworadomskers

by Dr. Haim Szoszkes

In 1925, there was an entertainment at the Warsaw Literary Union, in its famous meeting hall on Tlomackie 13.

Hundreds of writers, journalists and guests filled this relatively not large hall, which was the Yiddish literary address in Poland. It was a powerful attraction for provincial youth, who, during a visit to Warsaw, wanted at least to breathe the air of their beloved poets and columnists, who could be seen here intimately as if at home. There, the esthete Yosef Heftman is eating marinated herring and the essayist J. M. Neuman is drinking tea with challah … The political orator Natan Szwalbe enters stuffed with news from the foreign ministry and pours it out for a group of colleagues.

The poet Y. Segalowitch is sitting in a corner with a “literary supplement,” as the young women who attached themselves to the writers were called, and with an expression of Byronic suffering on his face told her the history of his last love.

Melekh Ravitch, the courteous secretary of the Union, still young but with a less aggressive vision than today , discusses the thesis of his then popular speech on “free love” with a group of poets that consisted of the progressive element of the Yiddish shtetl in the then morning years of the awakening.

On the stage under the large oil painting of Y. L. Peretz, the Jewish musicians play an Argentine tango and the small, blond, pale Hersh Dovid Nomberg then stands up and invites a young woman to dance.

The couple makes a considerable contrast; H. D. Nomberg dances with a strenuous sad countenance, as if someone were haunting him. He places his feet like a zealot who has been told by the dance teacher when a turn needs to be made to the right, a thump to the left and stand on tiptoe. And the young woman with a head of blond hair moves naturally, floats a little, unsure in the arms of her talented cavalier.

[Page 152]

Sitting together with me at the table observing Nomberg's balletic troubles are two of his landsleit, Ludwik Wajnberg, the agile photographer from Noworadomsk who is light as a feather, and his young eccentric daughter Tusye. And when the dance is ended, the sweating Nomberg sits down with us at the table. He breathes heavily; he is visibly strained. However, he is happy to see the guests I have brought to the Literary Union so that they would have something to talk about later, back in Noworadomsk.

H. D. Nomberg spent many years in Noworadomsk where his mother, a widow, married a “spirited” Gerer Hasid and wealthy man, Reb Itzel Szterenfeld.

He speaks affectionately with Wajnberg about that city in which the spirit of the founder of the Rabbinic Dynasty of Tiferes Shlomoh (Reb Shlomoh Radomsker) reigns for almost a hundred years. He wants to know what is happening in the Rebbe's court where the golden thread of Hasidus still continues with the grandson of Tiferes Shlomoh, Reb Shlomoh Henekh Hacohen.

The dance atmosphere around us suddenly becomes absorbed by the moving memories of Nomberg's childhood and its world of Hasidic shadows, from which the writer separated so radically.

Nomberg describes a characteristic episode from his childhood, when he studied the Gemara with the Amshinower (Mszczonow) Rabbi and it became clear that the child prodigy Nomberg was growing into a prominent Jewish personality, a great rabbi. “It should be understood, however,” says Nomberg, “the evil spirit, God preserve us, had slipped in among the students and we would play cards in the evening. The Amshinower Rabbi was quickly informed of this and once on a Shabbos night, when we were in the middle of a game of cards in the room of my friend Elimelekh Swarc, there is a knock on the door and I hear the cough of my Rebbe. First, someone answered through the door in the voice of a corpse that comes in a dream: 'If, he who knocks comes with good intentions, let him come in; if, however, he means us harm, let him remain outside…'

“The Rabbi was no fool and quietly left. However, several days later, when I repeated the page of Gemara by heart and with fervor, the Rebbe suddenly stood up with the words, 'You see, Hersh-Dovid, ten years from now, if you are a frumer Jew and a student of the Talmud, my smooth hand here will have grown hair…' We all understood that the prophecy was the result of my card playing.

“By the way, as you know, the prophecy of the Amshinower Rabbi was fulfilled even earlier than ten years, when right after my marriage to the Radomsker beauty Mashele, I traveled to the Rebbe in Ger. Here in Warsaw, another 'rebbe' stopped me and with him I remained…”

Nomberg points with his finger to the portrait painted of Y. L. Peretz, who looks down at us all from the wall and he goes on:

“However, before long, when a copy of Hatzpire with my articles arrived in Noworadomsk and with it confirmation of the earlier rumor that I had become a heretic, my wealthy father-in-law Mordekhai Szapiro came to Warsaw with my young wife Mashele. And I was forced to divorce her and so it was. Although she, Mashele, did not want to and cried bitterly at the get (religious divorce)…”

The orchestra begins to play some sort of lively shimmy motif and H. D. Nomberg, a little drenched from his early sweating, invites Tusye to dance. The photographer Wajnberg says to me; “This is how it is already, my great landsman once played cards and would lose. Later, he was drawn into billiards and seldom put the ball in the net. And now, when he dances, he steps on the feet of my daughter. Often, I cannot understand this great spirit; I think, such a clever man, with such a deep perception of people, and so often a victim of small manly weaknesses…”


In the same year I visited Noworadomsk or as the Poles called the city, Radomsko.

It was no longer the same Hasidic fortress as in Nomberg's childhood. When I asked the president of our cooperative bank (Reb Yitzhak Szpira) how many heretics were in the city before the “05” revolution, he started to count on the fingers of his left hand… He bent a finger with the Bundist Alibarde, then with one Z. Szreiber, then he said the name Wajs, remembered another name and ended there. All, that is, the heretics could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

And the other ten thousand Jews? Every morning they ran to daven in the large Beis Midrash, in the new Beis-Midrash, in the shul near the Rebbe's court, in the Gerer shtibl, in Kotcher, in Amshinower and in dozens of houses of prayer. After, they ran to the market, groped in the carts of the peasants and the capable women sat in the stores and worried about the income of the scholarly men.

And if, G-d forbid, the Rebbe became ill, life almost stopped in the city. One waited for a word, for a wink from the Rebbe's court about how he was, if his temperature had gone down. Hardly a trifle – the hundred year rabbinic dynasty of the Tiferes Shlomoh.

The last Rebbe, Reb Shlomoh Henekh Hacohen, inherited not only the brilliant learning of his eminent great grandfather, but also his worldly common sense. He used it in business and was very successful. He became rich, bought a whole street of houses in Berlin for little money and later drew an immense income from them. However, with this vast revenue, he founded a rich yeshiva under the name “Crown of Torah.” He supported many hundreds of students there with food and clothing from his own resources. The last Radomsker Rebbe became a legend during his lifetime. Many times I met his son-in-law, the young rabbi Moishe Rabinowicz, who with his father-in-law was occupied with organizing the “Crown of Torah” yeshivus. It was a marvel to see the devotion with which this worldly, very educated young man carried out the building and planting of the “Houses of Torah.”

And it should be remembered that their deaths, the death of the last Radomsker Rebbe, of his son-in-law and of their families, was very heroic and holy, as great as were their lives.

[Page 153]

In the Warsaw ghetto, in 1942, in the house of their devoted Hasid, Reb Nusen-Pinkhus (Noske) Erlik, on the 17 th of Av, the tragic end of the Radomsker dynasty occurred.

When the Gestapo assassins broke into the Rebbe's residence and demanded that he go down to the courtyard “for a scolding” and be made an example for the hundreds of other inhabitants of the same house, Reb Shlomoh-Henekh refused. He did not want to be brought before his neighbors; he knew that the “scolding” meant death… Dressed in a talis and tefilin, he himself decreed that he be shot first, so that he would not live through the disgrace and when the bullets fell, they one by one annihilated the last Radomsker Rebbe, his son-in-law, their wives, their children and grandchildren, all together 34 souls… The most fervent wish of the Rebbe was fulfilled. A minyon of Jews brought them all to a Jewish burial at the Gensher Cemetery near the ohel of the Nowaminsker rebbe. The Rebbe and his son-in-law lay together; the Rebbitzen Esterl and her daughter Reizele lay next door – dear beloved, mother and daughter…


“Here, in the hut, was hidden the poet Leivick, when he escaped from Siberia in “05” and intended to steal across the border…” Thus the bookkeeper of our bank explains to me.

I gaze at the street, the little houses. Later I speak with Ali Alibarde, who helped more than one revolutionary escape abroad across the German border, which is located ten miles from the city. I know too, that to this day, there remains with the poet H. Leivick a warm feeling of gratitude to the young people of Noworadomsk, who showed such heartfelt hospitality while he trudged illegally, in fact, from Siberia on his long road to America. And there in the shtetl has also remained a feeling of pride that they effected this and that in faraway America should bloom a great Yiddish poet.

Later, just before the World War, when I drove by auto from Piotrkow to Czenstochow and stopped for a few hours in Noworadomsk, my friend showed me the house of Hershel Grynspan, who had shot the German diplomat vom Rath in Paris. The world was then shaken by that shot. However, the Jews in Noworadomsk were proud that from their environment had come the avenger. Incidentally, the Grynspan family had been called “The Cossacks” for many years in the city, an indication that in the old days as well the Grynspans did not permit “ shpien in der kashe (any bullying).”


Ten years ago, when I would come to New York not as an immigrant, but as a “respected” envoy of the Cooperative movement in Poland, someone called me on the telephone in my hotel and said:

“My dear Dr. Szoszkes, last night I saw you at your lecture at the Hotel Biltmore and noticed that you are still wearing glasses from the era of Captain Dreyfus. Through such glasses you cannot gaze at the modern era. Now, you must begin to see through American glasses. I have already had the privilege of giving such glasses as a gift to all of the writers and politicians who come here from Europe, and therefore, you must also receive my gift. I am waiting for you [in the lobby] of the hotel. My name is Moishe or Morris Schwartz…”

When I later visited and spoke before the Noworadomsker landsleit, my attention was particularly drawn to the attachment of these, for the most part, leftist landsleit to the memory of the Radomsker rabbinic dynasty.

I heard them telling about the greatness of Reb Shlomoh, the Tiferes Shlomoh, who had actually died seventy years earlier, and they could only have heard the stories about him from their grandfathers and grandmothers. Yet, many Noworadomskers in New York knew that the old Rebbe's prayer for the new moon caused the Jewish masses to dance in the street and that when Reb Shlomoh davened on Shavous, the whole history of the receiving of the Torah was clearly seen and the shouting and thunder from Mt. Sinai was almost heard…

I learn there, for instance, that when one of the Jewish informers tried to write a letter in a Sefer-Torah that the Hasidim had finished for the Rebbe, the pen did not want to move and as the informer tried to press hard, the pen gave a spurt in the eye and he became blind…

I learn, too, about the great power of hypnosis which the Tiferes Shlomoh used almost one hundred years ago, before the medical world knew of this. The sick were cured of evil spirits and dybbukim and demons and devils would quickly leave the houses, when the Rebbe energetically chased them…

The people did not forget the sincerity, the melodies and the love of their old Rebbe. It was like a golden thread that stretched from generation to generation and remained strong in the Noworadomsker families in the Bronx, in Brooklyn, in Chicago, in Canada and in far Los Angeles. These memories and the tender descriptions of Sarah Hamer-Jacklin, the Radomsker poet meander like a quiet song.

I look at the modern American Jew, my friend Moishe Schwartz, who is a progressive, is not religious and seeks new paths in life, as he looks for them in the optical trade and where he is known in all of America as the creator of the Boylin Company and I ask myself, from where does the person find such piety, when he speaks about “our martyr, the last Rebbe,” when his eyes flash, remembering the yeshivus “Crown of Torah,” when he celebrates the old way of life of his home-city, one of the hundreds, with its Boti-Midroshim, shtiblekh, khazonim, yomim-tovim, with the moving radiance and splendor of our Polish era, which disappeared in the smoke of the bloody fire?!

There are, it seems, glasses that look back generations, which see pictures through the gauze of memories, but such glasses we cannot find; they are somewhere in the pupils of the eye that look deep, back and far.

(From the book “A World That Is Gone,” published by the Central Union of Polish Jews in Argentina, Buenos-Aires, 1949)

[Page 154]

A Wedding on the Cemetery

by Zev Sabatowski

In 1916, the First World War is in full swing. The fire surrounds almost the entire European continent and both warring armies boast of their great victories. It is believed that all kings and generals from both sides will end as conquerors. However, it was no longer any secret that it was the civilian population that would be the losers. Each defeat and retreat of one army, or the victory and entrance of the opposing army, brings with it new troubles and fresh fiats.


The winter had just now ended. The young spring carries out the last struggle with the yielding winter days. The taste of the coming summer had begun to be felt in the air and suddenly a typhus plague broke out. It had invaded suddenly and quickly spread to all parts of the city and among all layers of the population. The epidemic spread and from day to day the mortality grew with it. The entire population was seized by panic. As a result, our “good” Polish neighbors immediately found – as was the custom – that the cause of the plague is the Jews; Jewish impurity had brought the plague…

The “educated” anti-Semites claimed that the Jewish Torah acknowledges that the Jewish people are a dirty people, and therefore it was directed that every Jew must every morning, when he has just opened his eyes, pour water on his nails and run every Friday to the mikvah to wash himself. Is this not the most clear sign of impurity?…The claims were not very strongly supported. However, this was entirely enough to carry out a hostile incitement against the Jews…


The plague grows. There is no house where a sick person is not found. The Polish hospital is full and there is the threat of danger that the Jewish sick will have to remain in their homes and thereby increase the plague. Then a Jewish typhus hospital was created in a small wooden cabin near the crucifix, between Rolna, Stadalne and Wanwaszana Streets.


The management of the hospital was entrusted to the hands of Reb Yitzhak the butcher and his daughter, the large Gitl, as she was called in the city. They both, as well as the service staff, showed great devotion and self-sacrifice. Dr. Mitelman, of blessed memory, who had returned from the war as an invalid, throws himself into the rescue work with his entire soul and heart. He, as well as the good Jew and uncrowned doctor, Reb Moishe Fiszhaf, work day and night without thinking of the danger to themselves. A new type of “doctor,” Reb Mikhal Malamed, was revealed; he goes from sick person to sick person with warm consoling words that often affect the sick better than the medicines…


A short time after the founding of the hospital, in the very middle of the plague, Doctor Mitelman was wrenched away by typhus. This was a terrible blow for the hospital. The Austrian doctor Shweiger arrived in his place. He and his assistants employed all remedies to stop the plague, but nothing helped. Mortality among the Jewish population increased from day to day. Frume, good Jews did their part: the saying of Psalms did not stop; frume women ran to the Beis-Midrash every Monday and Thursday and measured white linen. The burning lights in the Beis-Midrash, for the dying people, did not go out. However, all of the remedies and Psalms did not stop the plague and the Angel of Death raged further. When his arm reached the victim, Reb Shamas, some found a sign in his death, that this would be the last victim of the plague. However, it was immediately apparent that this was a false consolation. People again fell like birds. When the second victim, Reb Yosef Safkewer, also died, the turmoil in the city reached its highest point. The Beis-Midrash filled with the reciting of Psalm, there was fasting and Yom-Kippur Kotn (fast on last day of the month). There was both no Jewish doctor and no gravedigger…


Turmoil completely reigned over the city during the plague and the idea was born to undertake the last remedy: to celebrate a wedding at the cemetery. Good Jews and frume Jewish women began to search intensely for a groom with a bride who would agree to erect their khupe on the cemetery. After a long search and groping, first the bride was finally found. A poor widow with a half dozen over-age daughters lived in Moishe Kalka's house, near the second Bridge of Forgiveness. One of her daughters was chosen as the proper cemetery bride. But try to make a wedding with just a bride… The city matchmakers decided that a groom must be found at any price. An offensive was literally begun in order to catch a groom. Taking part in this offensive were the well-known social worker Brandele Rapoport, Minchele the Rebbitzin, Fagele the Kupke (Translator's note: a kupke is a bonnet worn by pious women.), Israel Yekl's Hinde, Hercki's Perl, Gele the baker, Khua Eizen, Ruchla Hamer and the pious woman from the mikvah. Eventually a groom was successfully found, an exquisite one with a nice father.


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Who did not know Moishele the glove maker and his son Shimele? The father with his foolish laughing face, with the two wooden cans over his shoulders was a frequent visitor to the wealthy houses, with full buckets of water from the city pump. In addition, he was a fervid Hasid of the Radomsker Rebbe Reb Shlomoh Henekh. Moishele, the groom, was not satisfied with one rebbe, but every Shabbos he would chose another rebbe. Shabbos Bereishis he davened in the Gerer shtibl and ate with a Gerer Hasid. Shabbos Noakh he went again to daven in the Sakhoczewer shtibl and spend Shabbos with a Sakhoczewer Hasid. Thus he changed rabbis from Shabbos to Shabbos and also the Shabbos meals with their Hasidim. In brief, an appropriate groom…


In short, there is already with luck a groom with a bride. However, here an episode began: a bride needs a dress, a pair of shoes for the wedding. The groom again must have a pair of pants, a frock coat, a pair of boots. In addition, Shlomoh-Yitzhak Epsztajn, the city wit, whispered in the groom's ear that he does not have to go the khupe until he receives payment of the dowry. That means, Shimele, he reasoned with him, you have such rich in-laws: Yosef Nejkron, Haim Eikhner, Abrahamele Klajner, Mair and Daniel and Yakov Rozenbiom, Israel Rikhterman, Shlomoh Lefkowicz, Dovid Bugajski, Lajzer Tencer, Shimon Dunski, Moishe Lefkowicz, Shabtai and Yitzhak Fajerman, and other wealthy men. So how can you go to the khupe without a beautiful, large dowry?… These words were very successful with Shimele and he spoke such invective, “I will not take the bride without a dowry, and let the plague continue to do its…”


There was no other choice. The social workers set out over the city, going from house to house and began to drag old candlesticks, torn shirts, patched blanket covers, washed out bed linens, secondhand tablecloths and what else?… With luck, a house was rented on Krakower Street and a pair of old beds and a lame table with a few broken chairs was placed there. Everything was finished and the city waited with beating hearts for the khupe day, which would deliver the city from the terrible plague.


It was a Tuesday morning; silence reigned over the streets. The first two frume women appear in the street and with quick steps they go in the direction of the bride's apartment. The bride has become stubborn and will not go into the mikvah. The two frume women turn to all of their resources and after great effort they succeeded in taking her, in order for her to fulfill the holy mitzvah of ritual purification.


The clock goes at its normal pace. The city wakes from sleep; the ring of the church bells is heard. Several businessmen dressed in pressed silk frock coats and in thick soft boots, talis and tefilin under their arms, stride in the direction of the cemetery. Today the davening goes quickly; all prepare themselves for the great wedding.


It is already 12 noon. The public begins to gather and people flow from all streets. Here floats the old “Leibele Klezmer;” he is dressed up as for the wedding of a wealthy daughter. Here, with measured steps, goes Reb Moishe Lefkowicz, the founder of the Zionist organization in Radomsk. Skurke the Batkhn (the humorous wedding entertainer), or as he was called “the comb-maker,” goes and jokes at the expense of the young pair. Around 2 o'clock p.m., the entire city is in one place.


Kopl, the Beis-Midrash Shamas, sweating as if in a hot bath, divides the orders like a general on the front, but who hears him? All are curious to see the frightened groom, who stands, nebekh, and trembles. Near him stands his closest relative, his father Moishele, and his face shines with a foolish smile. Suddenly, as if on command, the music plays. It becomes a race; everyone wants to see the covering of the bride, who is quartered with the Radomsker Rebbe in his house. With the ringing of the thunderous music, the procession heads from Shul Street to the cemetery. Large and small accompany the groom and bride to the khupe. The crowd was so large that it is only thanks to the city-bullies that took over the guarding of the groom and bride that there remained someone to be married…


At a lucky hour, the groom and bride and their attendants arrive at the cemetery. Everything suddenly becomes still and a mystical fear grips the crowd. Four sticks, which Leibish – Shamas brought with him, are quickly raised not far from the ohel. The silent crowd listens to the fiery voice of the wedding officiate and the groom is heard repeating in the voice of a sobbing child the “Behold thou art consecrated.” The breaking of glasses is heard and immediately after, cries of mazel-tov and good wishes deafen the cemetery. The young couple is led back to the city.


Now the true celebration begins. The tables in the community Beis-Midrash are covered. The best businessmen sit around them, gratified with a little liquor and good things that were prepared. The music plays, The batkhn is heard and begins to announce wedding presents. The crowd gives, some more, some less; no one refuses to give a wedding present to the groom and bride. There is no lack of pranksters who honor the groom from afar with the head of a herring or, at random, with a rag. The young people make a racket. Kopl- Shamas runs around with an open shirt and yells that troublemakers will make a ruin of the Beis-Midrash.


In the morning, the city has returned to normal. After the wedding, a relief is felt in the heart, as if a heavy burden had been thrown from the shoulders. And, in the middle of the market, near the city pump, again appeared the ruddy, gentle young man with two brand new cans ringed with gleaming tin hoops…

[Page 156]

Three Generations of Water Carriers

by Yakob Elboim

Leibele the “Water Carrier,” that's how we called him. He was truly a water carrier and not just a nobody, with a good lineage that stemmed all the way from the era of Tiferes Shlomoh. Leibele's grandfather, Reb Nute, carried water for Tiferes Shlomoh, of blessed memory, for many years. What's more, Leibele with his pack would boast when the women would call after him: “Where is the water already?” He would stare at them, spread his feet wide, open his mouth and draw out a sort of sermon: “What do you mean! Don't you know then that these water cans are holy? That with these water cans my grandfather Reb Nute would fill the barrel for Tiferes Shlomoh in the Beis-Hamedrish ! With the water from these water cans the rabbi, of blessed memory, washed his hands and so did the hundreds of Hassidim. Now you come, impertinent ones, and want water from these same water cans. This is blasphemy!…”

(Translator's note: There seems to be a discrepancy in the identification of the water carrier. Here he is referred to as Leibele; in the section entitled “I Bid Farewell to My Hometown,” his name is given as Velvele.)


These holy water cans of Reb Nute were given as an inheritance to his son Mikhal, Leibele's father. Mikhal the water carrier provided water for the later rabbis of the Radomsker dynasty. But Mikhal would provide water for plain families and would not speak about the lineage of his water cans the way his heir Leibele later.


Poor women would always run after Mikhal's water cans because they were large and always full. Mikhal was a very accessible person and would converse with his women customers; he would also boast that in his pouch he always carried with him a share of the Colonial Bank for Eretz-Yisroel. He was a “lover of Zion” and a regular donor to Keren Kayemet Le-Yisrael (Jewish National Fund).


Leibele the water carrier and his wife

Reb Mikhal, of course, strove to assure that the family lineage as water carriers would not be interrupted. Consequently, he began to teach his son Leibele, who was not blessed with sense, or in his outward appearance. The father understood that the son would not abandon the water cans and through the water cans would come his son's survival and he proceeded straightaway to protect the right of inheritance from grandfather and father.


From childhood, Leibele was called Leibele the Fool. No beard or whiskers grew on him; his voice was not like that of a male. His face always exhibited tears or laughter. His garb was always strange, one pants leg shorter than the other, the under clothing longer and the outer, shorter. When he was 50, he was still single…


A gang of youngsters would always run after Leibele and scream after [him]: “Leibele the Fool, Leibele the Maiden, you want a bride?…” The kids would pull him by the clothing, empty the water cans and pelt them with mud. In the first minutes he would get angry, throw his fists and pour curses, but within a couple of minutes he would break out with a lamenting cry. Then the kids would leave him alone, circle him from all sides, their faces expressing pity and remorse. Leibele would calm himself, lift up his empty water cans and again stride to the well, accompanied by looks of sympathy and sorrow. But when he returned later with full water cans, the whole spectacle would start again…


Leibele suffered this way for ten years, as an accursed soul who carries a curse from God, until a ray of light brightened his dark fate. At the end of the First World War he was saved from his long years of shame and mockery – he got married. It was a public wedding, a wedding that the whole city celebrated, with in-laws and best man, with klezmorim and wedding jesters, with wedding presents and a lavish banquet. After such a wedding, Leibele remained a water carrier, but no longer, Leibele the Fool, Leibele the Maiden…


Such a popular Jewish type like the water carrier, or even the City Fools whom children and grownups laughed at – added special local color to the city and fused into the general way of life as a natural phenomenon. It is interesting that if these very types didn't exist in the past, it would make our current memoirs colorless, because they would lack the vital local coloration of our own local popular Jewish characters.

[Page 157]

On Our Heimisher Stage

by Izrael Merkin

Israel Merkin was born in 1901 in Radomsk and later was active there in Hashomer Hatzair. He began acting in Poland (in 1931) and later emigrated to Argentina (1935). There he frequented the dramatic school of the Yiddish Artist's Union and joined (in 1936) the Yiddish Dramatic Theatrical Studio.

Israel Merkin advertised himself as an actor through the roles he filled well: Erwin – “Revolt in the House of Correction;” Rubinchik – “200,000;” Bill – “Mississippi;” Nikitin –
“The Life Calls;” Yosele – Boytre; Der Meshugener (The Crazy Person) – “In the Anteroom of the Synagogue;” Charni – “The Deluge;” and many others.

We present here two small chapters of the memoirs of Israel Merkin, of his youth in Radomsk.

The Editor


“Damski” – the Singing Painter

He was called “Damski” (Trans. Note: from the Polish word dama,” lady). No one knew his real name, in fact it never occurred to anyone to ask, and he was called “Damski” because his walk was more like a woman's than a man's. He would not walk, but truly floated in the air: slender, flexible, with a great black forelock that was always disheveled and with a pair of dark eyes that were always smiling.

Throughout the year, no one knew how he was employed; no one asked him. However, when the first spring rays began to melt the snow and announce that Passover was presently creeping up and women began to think about painting their poor houses, then “Damski” would appear in his full splendor in a pair of narrow, short pants, from which two thin legs looked out, a ladder thrown over his shoulders, two buckets by his side, his face smeared so that his eyes were not seen – “Damski” marched singing a little or only whistling some melody, as was his manner.

“Damski” was a painter, and a painter not of the usual kind. It was known that besides the work tools that he brought with him, he brought much joyfulness. Besides painting, “Damski” mightily loved to sing and he would sing while standing on his ladder and he would truly make the ceiling shake. Children would climb the windows, neighbors would run together from the nearby houses – listening to how “Damski” sang his romances…And as “Damski” would see that his audience near the window got larger, he would then show what he was capable of; he would then go down from the ladder, crouch down and kick with his thin legs, carrying out some sort of strange dance and wink delightedly with his eyes. Mostly, he would sing the reprise from the little song: “Pinye from Pinczew!” “Pinye from Pinczew!…”


If the work was above his head and it was necessary to do it still more hastily, “Damski” would quickly ask that the few possessions be carried out and with an earnest face begin to prepare to paint. However, as soon as “Damski” would make the first few smears and end the first little melody, he would disappear as if into water – thus in one house, and thus in a second… Thus one could see more than once, the way women run after him, “'Damskele,' you have lathered me up [and left me half shaven], you should be swept away!” And it very often happened that not just one woman spent the night in the street because of him.

However, his lazy little pranks were not always successful. There were also woman “Cossacks,” who as soon as “Damski” would cross the threshold, would lock him in the house. Then “Damski” had no choice and had to finish the work. In such cases, “Damski” would become part of the family – eating with them and spending the night and feeling as if with his father in the vineyard. And when “Damski” with luck would finish his painting, one could then rightly admire his talent. One recognized immediately that “Damski” does follow the regular rules of painting; he had his artistic instinct. He then probably foresaw the later “isms,” which sprang up in modern painting. The long lines of flowers, with which one loved to adorn all of the houses, would with him stretch from the ceiling to the floor and instead of coming out even, with him they came out crooked, falling. As one would enter a house, it could seem that the house because of its oldness had become twisted…

The women would not have redress for their complaints about the crooked lines. To all unsatisfied groans, “Damski” would whistle a tune or sing his famous “Pinye from Pinczew!'… True, from his song, the lines of flowers did not straighten out. However, who tried to argue with him? One would pay him his craft money. He would wish a “ freilekhn Pesakh (joyous Passover) and one should live until next year,” and with his strange way of walking, leave the house. The children would run after him and shout, “Damski!” “Damski!”

Where are you today,

Where are you today, “Damski”?

[Page 158]


A Sacrifice for a Little Sand in Honor of Shabbos

Every erev-Shabbos the “foul-mouthed ones” (the gentiles) in Radomsk brought sand into the city to sell to the Jews for spreading over the floors, which brought a brightness to the house. The golden sand was taken from the sandpit in the “Gliankes.”

During the First World War, in 1914, great poverty reigned among the Jewish population in Radomsk. And in our house, too, the poverty was very strongly felt. My father created various artistic birds and from this he drew his income. During the time of the war, mainly at the beginning, the troops changed often: Here the Russians, here the Germans, and then the Russians again, and the Austrians. Battles also took place around Radomsk, so that it was impossible to leave the city in order to sell the beautiful birds among the population in the villages.

On a certain Friday morning, when my mother did not have a few groshn with which to buy the little box of sand, she told my older brother Zalel, that he should take a small sack with him to kheder and coming back from kheder, he should bring a little sand from the “Gliankes” to spread in the house in honor of Shabbos.

My mother was uneasy about her child during the whole time and already regretted that she had asked him to bring sand from so far away. When the time arrived that Zalel should have already been back and he still was not in the house, the uneasiness spread. We went out into the street with the hope that, perhaps, someone had seen the child. Alas, no one knew where the child was.

My father, coming into the house from the street, learned what had happened and immediately ran to the sandpit. Not receiving a precise answer from the “sand gentiles,” he called loudly, “Zalel! Zalel! Speak up, where are you?” However, he did not receive any answer. Then, already in the darkness of nightfall, he began to dig away the sand with his hands, deeper and deeper, until his hands found a human body – this was my unlucky brother Zalel. My father carried the dead body and, accompanied by hundreds of Jews, brought him back to the house.

It was a Shabbos of crying and wails; the entire shtetl was taken over with our misfortune. It was clear to all that the “sand gentiles” had murdered him because he wanted to take a little sand himself.

Months later, on a Friday afternoon, a Pole stood near our house near a peasant's wagon filled with sand. Suddenly, an Austrian soldier rode up and requested that the Pole ride with him because he needed the horse and the wagon for pawade (what we called the wagons and horses that were often taken over). When the “foul mouthed one” refused, the soldier fired his revolver and the sandman lay dead. Many Jews declared that the Pole who was shot was the same one who had murdered my brother Zalel, of blessed memory, and now he had received his just punishment; God does not pardon anyone for the sin of murder.

Years later, when I was already in Argentina, not long before the outbreak of the Second World War, I read a report from Poland, that in Bydgoszcz, near Poznan, a trial is taking place against a young Jewish man, who served in the Austrian military in the First World War and who had then shot a peasant in Radomsk. This is certainly that unknown young Jewish man, who had unconsciously taken revenge for the innocent blood spilled by my brother Zalel, the sacrifice for a little bit of sand in honor of Shabbos

In the Beis-Hamedrish of Reb Shlomoh Hacohen of Radomsk (the Tiferes-Shlomoh) it once happened that the Shofar blower, a great scholar, a Hasid and God-fearing person got so “stuck” at the very beginning of the tkies (one of sounds of the Shofar) that he could not bring any sound out of the Shofar. The Tiferes-Shlomoh called out from among the prayers a young man and this one took the Shofar and blew a whole series of tkies the way it should be, with a clean and beautiful sound.

After davening Reb Shlomoh Hacohen called over the “failed” Shofar blower and said to him: “I want to tell you a little story. In a certain land a new crown set with pearls and diamonds for the king was ordered from an experienced master. The master locked himself in his workshop for a whole month, thinking about how best to carry out the responsible work. A day before the coronation, when the work plan was already clearly thought out in his mind, he took the crown and wanted to set the expensive stones. However, at that moment a great fear came over him and he felt as if his strength was leaving him…

The master called out from his workshop to a passing youth, who had no idea how to do the work or for whom the work needed to be done. He handed the crown to the youth, showed him exactly where and how to set the rare stones and left to refresh himself after his great consternation. When he returned to his workshop after a short time, the crown was finished in the best way…

In the Beis-Hamedrish of Reb Shlomoh Hacohen of Radomsk (the Tiferes-Shlomoh) it once happened that the Shofar blower, a great scholar, a Hasid and God-fearing person got so “stuck” at the very beginning of the tkies (one of sounds of the Shofar) that he could not bring any sound out of the Shofar. The Tiferes-Shlomoh called out from among the prayers a young man and this one took the Shofar and blew a whole series of tkies the way it should be, with a clean and beautiful sound.

After davening Reb Shlomoh Hacohen called over the “failed” Shofar blower and said to him: “I want to tell you a little story. In a certain land a new crown set with pearls and diamonds for the king was ordered from an experienced master. The master locked himself in his workshop for a whole month, thinking about how best to carry out the responsible work. A day before the coronation, when the work plan was already clearly thought out in his mind, he took the crown and wanted to set the expensive stones. However, at that moment a great fear came over him and he felt as if his strength was leaving him…

The master called out from his workshop to a passing youth, who had no idea how to do the work or for whom the work needed to be done. He handed the crown to the youth, showed him exactly where and how to set the rare stones and left to refresh himself after his great consternation. When he returned to his workshop after a short time, the crown was finished in the best way…

(Book of Hasidim about Tiferes Shlomoh)

[Page 159]

The eternal light of the Great Synagogue

by Dawid Konietspoler

(Dedicated to the memory of my father, Solomon Ber, Tzadek of blessed memory)

The city shul in Radomsk was built in the last two decades of the 19th century. It was a major effort of the whole city community working together. The shul was built very spaciously: two entrances on the front side and two entrances on the other sides served the men's shul, in which were found more than 600 seats. Two wide staircase entries led to the women's section in the shul, which was created with a generous hand. The anteroom of the synagogue consisted of two big rooms, which served to tie together the council of the shul and, when it was necessary, the courtyard for smaller groups of worshippers.

Great efforts were made by the group of artisans in constructing the shul. Many people were concerned just with the voluntary efforts of the handicraft workers in building the shul. Young artisans worked for months completing the interior of the men's shul, while also completing the beautiful galleries in the women's shul.

The shul was a very important object in our childhood. We were here in the yom-tovidiker and Shabbosdiker days together with our parents. We davened and drew into ourselves the beautiful folk melodies of Hazan (Cantor) Reb Shlomoh Zaks and, after his death, of his successors, like H. Fiszel with his large choir (led by a special conductor), as well as other hazonim (cantors).

During the first years, the ceiling of the shul was painted by the Gentile painter H. Mike and it showed a sky with stars. A large eagle fluttered over the Holy Ark and for almost the whole length on both of its sides. The 12 signs of the Zodiac were painted, arranged according to the months. Later the amazingly beautiful Holy Ark was built. It was executed by the tombstone engraver, H. Reikh, together with a group of Warsaw carpenters and wood carvers. Everything was made of white wood with many carved elements. And very impressive was the cupola over the doors of the Holy Ark, which was donated by the Reikhman family of Piotrkow.

Finely carved bows were found on the carved barriers by the sides of the steps to the Holy Ark. Members of the extreme religious circles scratched out the bows with pocketknives, because they looked like crosses. Large chandeliers that created a distinct dignified mood in the general warmth of the shul hung down from the ceiling.

The Vaad (Ruling Council) of the Great Synagogue (1930)

Standing from the right:
Solomon Dawner, Betzlel Kalka, Yudel Yakubowitch, Yudel Dawidowitch, Y. Bugajski.
Sitting: Haim Ofman, Ezekiel Kleinman, Ahron-Aiche Pelman, Beniamin Haltsberg, Herszl Kraskopf, Simeon Zoberman.
In front: Mordechai Waldfogel, Abraham Sheiewitch.

In 1905/8 revolutionary Jewish workers parties used the shul on Shabbos and Yom-tovim for enlightening lectures from time to time. Anyone who opposed their activities was placed under the pressure of arms. Then the Radomsker Rabbi Reb Tsvi-Meir Rabinowicz, of blessed memory, created the group Mishmoyres Hakodesh (Holy Guards) that was made up of 12 men (with Rabbi Brasz) like the 12 tribes. They were businessmen and artisans who were active in building the shul and their task was to protect Shabbos and yom-tov so that the davening would not be disrupted by the revolutionaries.

A special eternal light was fitted in the shul that represented a four-corned stone (4 meters high) with a copper oil lamp at the point. In the stone was fitted a marble panel with the engraved names of the donors and friends of the group Mishmoyres Hakodesh and their chairman.

After the death of my father, Reb Dovid Burstzyn brought to us at home the Pinkes (Book of Records) of the Mishmoyres Hakodesh. It consisted of twelve pages, on which there was written in a beautiful penmanship, all of the names of the group and of the members of the group (with the years of their birth). I then wrote the date and year when my father died, because he was a member of the Mishmoyres Hakodesh.

In my memories swim images of gatherings with Rebbe Tzvi-Meir Rabinowicz of blessed memory, in his apartment on Shul Street (we children would receive an apple and a pinch in the cheek from the Reb). Later these gatherings took place with the Hazan Reb Shlomoh Zaks, of blessed memory. During the Days of Awe when all of the Hasidim would gather with the Radomsker Rebbe, there was a tradition that a large number of Hasidim would come into the shul for Musef, to hear the Hazan with his choir. This was during the time when there was a break between Shakhres (the morning service) and Musef (the extension of the morning service on Shabbos or during yom-tovim) at the Rebbe's. At that time gatherings of Jews filled the shul auditorium.

The shul was used for solemn presentations by various Jews, such as lectures on national and Palestinian themes.


Years ran by, Jewish blood was shed, millions of our people were exterminated and all of our holy places were vandalized and annihilated. We stood in 1947, a small group of survivors, in the destroyed shul in Radomsk – bent by a great sorrow and pain. Our glances wandering over the wall. Caressing the vestige of the Holy Ark and the reading desk, the artistic inscription from the prayers on the wall. We remember: Just here sat the Rabbi and here the warden of the synagogue, here my father and here your next-door neighbor…

Suddenly my gaze falls on the top of a stone, which sticks out of the ground and I recognize that this is a part of the eternal light. We dig out a little earth and there appear before our eyes inscriptions that we recognize… And in that moment filled with sorrow, we were dominated by the thought: This is a sign that our enemies were not successful in exterminating our people; the eternal light that was here dirtied will somewhere else give light again…

The Eternal God of Israel does not forget.

[Page 160]

The front wall of the Great Synagogue,
the only wall that was left after the [Holocaust] (1945)
  The photograph was sent through the Radomsk City Hall in 1965
and here is seen only the ruins (in foreground on the left) of the Great Synagogue.
In the background from the left is the house in which was found  'Kopel's Besmedresh'
(prayer and study house) and on the right, the house in which the Amshinower Rebbe lived.

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