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[Page 199]

Rabbi Aharon Joseph Shames

Rabbi Yakov Pinchas Shir (Tel-Khanan)

Translated by Thia Persoff

Rabbi Aharon Joseph Shames

rok199.jpg [9 KB] The Rabbi's house on Main Street, at the center of town, stands out among its neighbors – the stores at its sides and across the street – in its uniqueness, exuding peace and splendor.

During the day and late into the night, the melody of the Gmara wafts from the house, the Rabbi's Torah chanting which imbues an atmosphere of purity and holiness.

At a young age, in the year 1935, I left home and emigrated to Israel. I did not have much chance to breathe this atmosphere, but the short time that I was there left its mark on me, and its impression was indelible. I will try to describe those impressions in a few lines.

Our sages of blessed memory defined the Holy Temple and called it Telpiyot- a hill (tel) that all the mouths (piyot) are looking towards. Such was the house of Grandfather, holy tzadik of blessed memory, (z”l  =  zichron tzadik livracha) in town – everyone's house, open to all – whether for consultations, questions of law, arbitration, or for matters of charity. Between these walls, couples suffering from family problems found remedy, and persons in dispute or quarrel made peace. Even the goyim in town and the surrounding area would go to him when in dispute – trusting him to judge and decide. The house was open to any embittered soul, widows and the poor, every person in distress went in with a heavy heart and exited much relieved.

When an emissary from a Jewish institution (ShD”R.  =  Shliakh de Rabbanan), or a tzadik came to town, this was his home. He was given the best room and never refused hospitality. There were dangerous cases – when a refugee from over the border came, when fugitives from the sword were hunted. All were welcomed, clothed, sheltered, and before leaving, supplied with provisions. All this was done just a few meters from the local police station, while scared but not showing it, so that the guest will not feel bad.

I remember the days approaching Pesach: it was a very busy time in the house, with extensive preparation to supply the needy with matzot, potatoes, borsht and wine for the holidays. All this was done in the evenings, secretly, so as not to embarrass the needy. The preparation and distribution of the charoset was also done. How fairly Grandmother, of peaceful memory (a”h = aleha ha'shalom), had divided the charoset. She gave generously and with good will.

The days of the Sukkot holiday, the blessing of the etrog- when Grandfather, a”h, would stand waiting for the sunrise on the first day of the holiday to do the mitzvah of blessing the etrog at the proper time. The other householders were already waiting to join the Rabbi in the blessing.

The jewel in the crown was Simhat Torah, the Kiddush at the holiday eve, and the joyful festivity that enveloped all the town's residents the next day, when all of them would come to Grandfather's house, a”h, to enjoy the handiworks of Grandmother, may her soul rest in paradise (n”e =  nishmata b'eden), and felt at home there.

Grandfather, a”h, was tall of stature, great in the Torah; he was a student of the Gaon (mvhr'r = morenu ve'rabenu ha'rav) Rabbi Yitzhak Elkana from Kovna, z''l. He was sharp of mind and his wisdom was well known in the whole area. He was very intelligent. He was good hearted and generous with a helping hand to all. He was modest in his ways; he liked his congregants and was liked by them. He used to sign his name Aharon Yosef Shames in acronym, A.Y.Sh. (in Hebrew it is “ish”, meaning man)- and truly, he was a man of all the best qualities.

He went to the killing-grounds with his congregants, but managed to escape from there at the start of the slaughter, until the evil ones, may their names be erased (YM”Sh  =  yimakh shmam), killed him on the 13th of the month of Elul, in the year
TSh”B (5702). G-d will avenge his blood (HY”D = Hashem yikom damon).

Grandmother Lea Rickl, z”l, his helpmate, was the daughter of a scholar and a scholar herself, quoting the sayings of our scholars and wise men and from the bible. A homemaker who did her work faithfully and with devotion. She spoke wisely and compassionately – always taking part in doing charity, and adding from her own. She used to say, “It is to be my privilege”.

She was with Grandfather for most of his life and at the killing grounds too. She escaped also, but was caught and killed by the hands of the accursed evildoers, on the 14th of the month of Elul, in the year 5702, HY”D.

The evil reaper came; the town was destroyed and the house was silent. But it lives in the hearts of all those that knew it.

The branches the house sent will carry on its traditions wherever they are, and will keep its memory forever.

[Page 201]

Rabbi and Shohet: Rabbi Feivish Halevi Levin

Haim Shteinman (Tel-Aviv)

Translated by Thia Persoff

Rabbi Feivish Halevi Levin

rok201.jpg [6 KB] R' Shrahga Feivish was a Rabbi and Shohet in Rokitno village, and continued to do so when moving to the town of Rokitno after it was built.

He was well known for being an eminent scholar, erudite, and of a sharp mind; his greatness radiated over the residents. Even those in the surrounding villages respected and honored him. His actions were guided towards the betterment of the people, whose needs were many, and his heart was open to all the needy. He counseled and consoled, mollified, and gave aid to the best of his ability, and then some. He did not worry about his own needs, was content with little, lived frugally and modestly.

R' Shrahga Feivish was a wise man, knowledgeable in the traditional laws (halakha). He interpreted and made decisions according to them in disputes, and made peace among rivals. He was compassionate, though strict, in his judgments; both sides always accepted his decision with honor.

R' Shrahga Feivish excelled also as a reader of the Torah and for his expertise in blowing the shofar. He had an established claim to read to the congregation during the High Holy Days. A thrill would pass through the hearts of the congregants, when his voice thundered in “Rise G-d in sounds triumphal, Lord, in the shofar call”. Sometimes he would entertain his listeners with amusing stories and jokes. His sayings, told also in the local language, were famous.

I remember that when I was a child, at one of the lessons in the weekly portion of the Torah, I asked him a naive question: “Grandfather, please tell me, is there a G-d in the heaven?” Astonished, he thought for a moment and answered me metaphorically. “Show me, my son, an object that does not exist, and is talked about. For example: there is a table, a book, a tree, etc. We talk of them because they are real things. If, G-d forbid, there was no G-d in the world, people would not be talking about him.” So, in a simple, understandable way, he would explain away all sorts of problems, and in this was the strength of his great influence.

When he reached a ripe old age and the town developed and grew, a young Rabbi was chosen to take his place- Rabbi Aharon Joseph Shames; but Rabbi Shrahga Feivish, in spite of his old age, continued to do the holy work, the slaughtering (shekhita). One winter day, during a riotous snowstorm, he was called to slaughter a calf in Rokitno village. To reach the village in such weather it was difficult even for a young person. He caught a cold, was sick and bed-ridden for a long time. He never recovered. In the year 1924, he passed away at a very old age, and was buried in the Rokitno cemetery. Above his grave a tent-like structure was erected, with an opening, as is the custom for sages (tzadikim).

His son Sheftl Levin was buried next to him. On their joint grave was engraved the words: “A tree and its fruit”.

Many of Rokitno's Jews would come to the grave at times of distress and sorrow.

[Page 202]

My Father, the Shohet Issachar Trigun

Hanan Hatzuvi (Tel-Aviv)

Translated by Thia Persoff

          Issachar Trigun

rok202.jpg [7 KB] My father settled in Rokitno in the early twenties. He came from the town of Visotzky and was educated and knowledgeable in the Torah, which he studied for many years in the Yeshivot of Volyn and Polesie. He was hired as a second shohet u'bodek (slaughterer and examiner); the first was Reb Yoel Shwartzberg. As soon as my father came to Rokitno, he became deeply involved in the public life of the community. Being a Karlinny Hasid, he hoped to turn Rokitno to a center for the Karlin Hasidic movement. My father was a religious man and did not see secular education as the answer to the Jewish-religious awareness. He felt that the Hebrew school education was important as a shield against the Polish schools, where the children were completely estranged from Judaism.

My father followed the rule set by the wisest of men: “It is good to do this, but do not neglect to do that too”. Though sympathetic to the secular Hebrew school, he opened a “cheder” in his house, where a group of children studied the Bible and the Gmara. In this “cheder”, more than for economic need, my father intended to create a scholarly nucleus, where Rokitno's children would be instructed in Jewish studies. And true to his hopes, some of his pupils went on to study in Koritz Yeshiva in the town of Rovno.

This was just one of my father's public activities, which he took upon himself since the day he arrived in Rokitno.

His main activity was in spreading Hasidism. For him the Rabbi was an institution, a higher authority of unshakeable laws and axioms. My father tried to impart this to the Jewish community in Rokitno in a religious- Hasidic form.

Our house was open for the community's assorted activity groups. My father developed a tradition that was an enticement and attraction for many people: during the holiday of Chanukah, he gave a levivot (latkes) party, in which a large number of guests attended. The great blessing, “Kidusha Rabba” and celebration of Simhat Torah at his house were famous all around.

My father was a pursuer of peace, and hated discord; he always looked for friendliness among the people. With the Rabbi he worked to block the gaps and repair the breaches in peaceful, friendly relations. As clear proof to his peace loving, we see that in spite of being a Karlin Hasid, while most of Rokitno's Hasidim were Stolin Hasidim, he refrained from having his Rabbi come to Rokitno to avoid discord.

Father searched the way to the Zionist movement. He was impressed by the youngsters in the Zionist youth movements and idealized them as the saviors of Israel – as possibly being this generation's Lamed Vavniks (the 36 secret righteous men of lore) who will overcome the wicked Armilos and will bring the redemption. As for himself, he longed for a religious Zionism, one of maintaining the Holy Commandments. His request, before I emigrated to Israel, still echoes in my ears: “Remember, my son, the Sabbath and the laying of the tefillin. These are our ammunition for overcoming the wrong temptations (“sitra akhra”  =  in Aramaic- “sitra” is side, “akhra” is other, used in the Kabbalah to mean the other side, or Satan's camp); with their strength we will defeat our enemies and shine above our adversaries”.

After I emigrated to Israel we kept a constant correspondence. In those eventful days of 1936, the Arabs rioted and ambushed our people; Jewish blood saturated the land. Concerned and anxious, from the distant land he followed the events in Israel. His letters were full of belief and trust in the future of our undertaking, because our Heavenly Father will see our plight, will pity Zion and will return us to her. By then he was already a devoted and loyal Zionist.

Father was deeply involved with the artisans groups, and sympathetic to all sufferers. He succeeded in establishing close relations with them. He showed interest in their life and knew who was in need of help- who needs shoes for his children, who has no money to marry his daughter. Then father would walk from house to house, collecting donations for the poor and the needy. He did all his charity work without revealing for whom it was intended, so as not to cause embarrassment to the receivers.

All the week's days, Father was deeply involved in community work. But with the coming of the Sabbath he divested himself from the profane and made his Sabbath in a special style, the Karlin version. There was much beauty in those Sabbaths, and their flavor nourishes me still.

Father did not have much pleasure in his life. He had many dark days; one daughter died at birth, the other got very sick and died during the Shoah years. Father sighed and cried in private, but he forbeared, restrained himself and conquered his sorrow. His trust in our Heavenly Father unshakeable, he continued in his way of life, the Hasidic way, which was a source of life for him. With this devotion and trust, he went to the killing grounds and gave himself to death.

[Page 204]

The Shohet Reb Yoel Shwartzberg

Dov Harari (Neve Oz)

Translated by Thia Persoff


       Yoel Shwartzberg

rok204.jpg [6 KB] Reb Yoel Shwartzberg, an expert shohet u'bodek from Trisk, came to Rokitno to take the place of the shohet u'bodek, Reb Avraham Shmuel Kliger after his death. He married Chavah, the older daughter of Reb Avraham Shmuel. R' Yoel was wise and a great scholar. His words, thoughtful, were always measured by logic, and pointed to the one and only truth – the truth of the Torah.

R' Yoel was active in soliciting aid from able householders for the individual's and community's needs- charity for the poor, and support for charitable institutions. He also contributed his own money to the needy.

He was a most generous host. It is told, as an example of his devotion to the mitzvah of gracious hospitality, that one winter night a person knocked on his door requesting a place to sleep. Though the house was very small with no room to spare, R' Yoel did not let him leave. Instead he offered his own bed, saying that he has to leave on an important errand and will not be sleeping at home that night. When the guest got up in the morning, he saw that R' Yoel was sleeping on the table…

R' Yoel had a pleasing voice. He would go in front of the ark and sing. Being a Trisker Hasid, he knew ear-pleasing Hasidic melodies. He was a just man, distancing himself from evil. He would not even touch a fly on the wall. Though he had little, he was content in his lot. After the decree against Jewish ritual slaughtering, his situation was worsened and, like his colleagues, he was forced to do it in secret.

Before the Nazi invasion he went to Trisk, to visit his ailing father. On his way back, he was murdered.

[Page 205]

Asher Zelig Baratz

Aharon Heruti (Freierman) (Tel-Aviv)

Translated by Thia Persoff

      Asher Zelig Baratz

rok205.jpg [7 KB] Asher Zelig Baratz, one of the outstanding persons in our town, arrived in Rokitno in 1923, from a town in France where he served as a Rabiner. Here he was employed as a head bookkeeper in the glass factory of the Vitrom Co.

Since arriving in Rokitno, he involved himself in Zionist activities and devoted much of his time to Zionist institutions and Hebrew culture. He headed the “Keren-Ha'yesod” (Jewish Foundation Fund), and was a big help to its emissaries, accompanying them to the homes of the town's notables and helping to persuade them to donate or to increase their donations to the fund. He also headed the Tarbut organization in town, and initiated forming the committee to build the Tarbut School.

Though he disagreed with the political ideas of the “Hashomer-Hatzair” organization, he nonetheless helped their cell. Calling them a “Scouts/cultural” group of the Zionist organization named “Hashomer-Hatzair”, he agreed to be their guarantor in front of the authorities.

In the year 1928, he left his post at the glass factory to be the manager of the newly formed national bank in Rokitno. Here too, his unstinting help demonstrated his talent and generosity. He was elected to the town's council, then to the post of vice- mayor. The Polish authorities valued and honored him, and cooperated with him in spite of his being a Jew and a proud Zionist, who stood firm on the rights of the Jewish citizens.

Mr. Baratz corresponded with Yossef Baratz from Kibbutz Deganya, and discovered a family link with him. A few times, he showed me Yossef Baratz's replies to his suggestion about the possibility of building a glass factory in Israel, and to find out if the raw material could be found locally. When Yossef Baratz visited Rokitno as an emissary from Israel, he stayed with Zelig Baratz.

Asher Zelig Baratz, 75 years old, died from a heart attack in 1937. He left his daughter, Sarah (a dentist in Rokitno) and son, Yones (a well known violinist) that were killed in the Shoah, and a son that was a victim of the first Russian purge.

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