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Reb Chaim Mandel

by Shlomo Yahalomi

You saw before you a short, shrunken, thin man, with veins visible from under his facial skin; an oblong head, a wide forehead and a few strands of hair instead of a beard; big clever eyes illuminated and happy and also expressing a lot of energy and fiery sparks. He was always on the move. He did not walk – he flew. A renowned Talmudic scholar, skilled, sharp, acute, quick–oriented and capable of resolving complicated Talmudic problems. This was Reb Chaim Mandel. He dealt with leather but in reality, he was everything except a merchant. His mind was in the Talmud, Hassidic tales, and local politics and in his continuous fight against Zionism. He was also active in the rabbinical dispute, a teacher to many students and finally, he conducted a little business. His supposed livelihood was from the leather business but his main source of support was his mother–in–law, the woman of valour, the capable Esther Hinda who owned a big grocery store which was like a present–day supermarket. From all these resources the income was not enough to feed the family but he never complained and you never saw him worried. On the contrary, he was always content, always had a happy face and was not one to sigh. By nature, he was an optimist. He always put his fate in the Almighty and most of the time, a smile hovered on his lips with a little irony hidden behind his eyebrows.

Reb Chaim Mandel was considered a little more sophisticated and different from his fellow townspeople who never left town. He did some traveling in his youth and spent some time in Hungary and in Germany. In Hungary, he studied with the famous Rabbi Saul Brach where he befriended many rabbis and Torah authorities. No one in town knew as much about the customs of the Hungarian Jews as did Reb Chaim Mandel. Their customs were different from the Galician customs and he made fun of many of these customs.

Reb Chaim was an amazing man. There was no one like him in town. A man who was nicknamed: “the burner” because when he prayed or entered into a discussion, he always became so ecstatic that his face turned red as if a fire burned inside of him. On the other hand, he was also beloved and amiable and liked to listen to a good joke.

He opposed Zionism fiercely. When his daughter Seryl announced that she was leaving for Eretz Israel, he let out a bitter cry saying that not only had she converted and left the Jewish fate, but she would cause the conversion of his entire family.

“Those hands will not build Eretz Israel”. He used to say sarcastically, pointing to the hands of a few who, according to him, unloaded their religious yoke for their convenience and joined the Zionists. Nevertheless, many at a time during an angry tirade on the Zionists and loud screamed about those “Goyim”, he would let out a sharp–witted jesting remark and a smile appeared on his lips at once lowering the heat by ninety degrees.

In his opposition to Zionism, he was influenced by Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapiro, the rabbi from Munkatch. Reb Chaim Mandel was an enthusiastic Hassid of his rabbi who was born in Strzyzow. When the

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Rabbi's grandfather, Rabbi Shlomo, left Strzyzow, the grandson, rabbi Chaim Elazar was eight years old. Most people in Strzyzow admired the rabbi from Munkatch because his ancestors, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech and his father, rabbi Shlomo both served as rabbis in Strzyzow. Reb Chaim Mandel was a confidante of this rabbi. He was the teacher of the rabbi's future son–in–law, Reb Baruch Rabinowitz who, at present, lives in Cholon, Israel. (He later moved to Petach Tiqua). Reb Chaim Mandel taught him Torah when Reb Baruch spent some time in Strzyzow with his grandmother, the righteous Rebetzin Chana Shapiro. She was the grand–daughter of the rabbi from Sandz. Even after Rabbi Baruch's engagement (at is Bar Mitzvah) the rabbi from Munktach invited Reb Chaim Mandel to continue to teach his future son–in–law. Therefore, Reb Chaim's opposition to Zionism was natural. Still, nobody believed that someone like Reb Chaim Mandel was capable of hatred. He was beloved by the people and he respected them. But, he said: “Because I love them – I must warn them to stay away from the Zionist agitators”.

During prayers and when he studied, his whole body swayed to and fro. All the parts of his body participated in the action. He was always well prepared before giving a lesson to his students. He had a very good memory and knew how to locate the source of his interpretation. He used to get fired up when he failed to convince someone that he was right. Once, he had trouble with me, the writer of these memoirs. He became so angry that he slapped my face for daring to challenge him. This was on a Thursday night when we used to be up all night studying. Early next morning, Reb Chaim walked into the Beit HaMidrash with a book under his arm. He slowly approached me and asked for my forgiveness. It appeared that he too was up all night and searched for the disputed subject after the previous night's discussion and found out that I was right.

Both his sons were scholars too. Reb Wolf the older son was a very fine and pious man who was not such a sworn opponent of Zionism. The younger son Naphtali, although he dwelled in the Beit HaMidrash and studied Torah, secretly belonged to the Religious Zionists and studied philosophy. The father, Reb Chaim, was no fool. He knew about this but hid his frustrations.

His wife Kreindl Bracha was a righteous woman. She adored her husband and put up with him lovingly. They had six daughters, all good looking and self–educated. Two of them left Strzyzow and went to Eretz Israel and, at present, live there with their families. But the rest of the family perished in the flames of the Holocaust.

Reb Yeshayahu Mandel Hacohen

by Shlomo Yahalomi

A G–d fearing man with unlimited merits. Reb Yeshayahu was an enthusiastic Hassid and an ardent admirer of the rabbi from Munkatch but he was not just a blind follower in agreeing to whatever the rabbi said or did no say. He did not like to hear anyone slander people, even Zionists. His principal belief was that all Jews are good Jews.

During the absence of Rabbi Nechemiah Shapiro from Strzyzow, Reb Yeshayahu conducted the prayers in the kloyz on the High Holidays. After

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Rabbi Nechemiah returned to Strzyzow, Reb Yeshayahu chanted only part of the prayers. He was a charitable man and was always busy doing something useful for others. A week did not go by that he would not collect money for some worthy cause. Reb Yeshayahu was always in debt because he borrowed money for charitable needs and later raised money to pay it back. That was the custom in Galicia. If someone came to town, whether a charity case himself or raising funds for others, he either collected right away or Reb Yeshayahu borrowed from someone and gave it to him and, on a later date, Reb Yeshayahu collected from the townspeople to repay the person from whom he had originally borrowed the money. He himself had no money. Reb Yeshayahu was the one who took care of these charity cases. He did it with such simplicity and without fuss so naturally as though that was the way it should be done. His motto was: If he would not worry about others, who would?

Being used to constantly borrow money from the rich people in town and later pay them back, people used to tease him that he was collecting money for the rich.

He was a dear soul, a rarity in the days before the Holocaust. Imagine if he were alive today?

From his entire family, only one son survived a Torah scholar and G–d fearing like his father, of blessed memory. He passed away in Israel. Also, a grandson lives in Israel and also a concentration camp survivor. One son of Reb Yeshayahu who immigrated long ago and right after World War I lives in Switzerland.

Reb Chaim Yacov Nuremberg

by Shlomo Yahalomi

Reb Chaim Yacov was one of a kind. There is a Hassidic tale that Rabbi Baruch from Mezibush once said to Rabbi Hersh Leib Malik: “Haven't you heard – people consider me to be one of a kind?” Then Rabbi Baruch asked him: “How is it possible to have tow of a kind?” Reb Hersh told him: “Why not? The Passover Haggadah song: ‘Chad Gadia’ is about one lamb and we repeat ‘Chad Gadia’ twice!” Reb Baruch thought for a while and replied: “Yes, indeed. It is possible to have even four of a kind. I am one of a kind – a Torah scholar; you are one of a kind in wisdom. Reb Mordechai is one of a kind, a G–d fearing man and Reb Shalom from Prohobeshitz is one of a kind, a staunch believer in the Kingdom above”.

This dialogue explains in a simple way the expression: “One of a kind”. It does not mean one in the whole world. It means that there can be a few one of a kind of different kinds. There were in our town a few dear personalities who were one of a kind, each one being something special. Reb Chaim Yacov Nuremberg was one who possessed many merits and virtues. He was a scholar, a lover of Jews and a complete believer in G–d and his teachings. His chanting was like a burning fire. When he chanted the prayer: “and for our sins we were exiled from our land”, the thresholds trembled. If Reb Chaim Mandel was called “The Burner” while he chanted, then Reb Chaim Yacov exceed him in pouring out his soul and tears. Our sages stated: “The gates of tears never closed”. This saying refers to

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people who prayed like Reb Chaim Yacov. Many people were swept away by his tears, especially the simple folk who were influenced by his style of chanting.

The majority of the simple folk in town were Reb Chaim Yacov's followers. He was a successful teacher of Torah and his teaching of the Midrash was especially interesting.

Reb Chaim Yacov was a master storyteller of Hassidic tales. His tales were a thoughtful work of art. He knew how to describe in detail the geographical surroundings and the appearance of the houses of the heroes in his stories even the smallest detail of the clothes they wore. He imitated the voices of the long–departed rabbis of his stories. Everything was filled with mystery. Whoever heard Reb Chaim Yacov tell a story seemed to see those righteous people vividly and not as in a dream. Once he told a terrible story about trouble in a shtetl and how the people came to the rabbi to ask for help. Reb Chaim Yacov was so carried away with the story, imitating how the people were yelling: “Help! Help!” that outside, passers–by ran into the Beit HaMidrash frightened, thinking G–d knows what had happened and wondering what all the screaming was about. Soon they realized that Reb Chaim Yacov was only telling a story. No wonder that Reb Chaim Yacov attracted the young who were always ready to listen to his stories even for the hundredth time. His stories always sounded new because of his talented storytelling and the extra flavour he added which only an artist could portray.

Meritoriously, part of Reb Chaim Yacov's family survived and live in Israel and the Diaspora.

“A prayer of the afflicted
when he is overwhelmed”

(Psalms, chapter 102, v.1)

by Shlomo Yahalomi

In memory of Reb Shalom Schwartzman

Morning services on the Sabbath and holidays consist of three parts: P'sukei D'Zimra, Shacharit and Mussaf. The P'sukei D'zimra contains chapters from psalms which express praise to the Almighty for his wonderful creation of man and nature. The Shacharit portion is a service which contains the Amidah and Kriat Shema in which the Jew expresses his devotion to G–d, Torah and Israel. These two parts are recited daily and on holidays but the third part, the Mussaf, is recited only on the Sabbath and holidays. It is a prayer in which we reminisce about the way these holidays are celebrated at the time of the Holy Temple before the destruction, and in which we express the sadness of losing the Holy Temple and our land.

After we memorialized the personalities who chanted the prayers on the High Holidays, Reb Hershel Gelander who chanted the Mussaf prayers and Reb Yacov Schiff who chanted the Shacharit, it would be proper to mention the ones who chanted the P'sukei D'zimra. Indeed, they did not have to sing or chant them at all. Only a nice recital was sufficient… but they did split heavens with their fiery enthusiasm. Their prayers ascended to the heavens to appear before the Almighty. After their

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P'sukei D'zimra, the road was paved, easy and smooth for the chanters of Shacharit and Mussaf that followed. The Satan had already received a stinging slap in the face, his power was weakened and it was easy to subdue him. It is worthwhile to mention the chanters of P'sukei D'zimra, whether from the aspect of their personalities or their chanting. They were men who stood tall spiritually in the days before the Holocaust, and if they were alive today, they would have been prominent in their righteousness and exalting merits. Let us describe the first one, Reb Shalom Schwartzman.

You saw before you a man who stood out in a crowd, tall, upright and strong; a marvellous and distinguished man with a full, long beard, hair on his big head and the very long side–locks, straight like sticks that had prematurely turned white from much grief and sorrow. His big eyes penetrated your inner chambers, expressing indescribable energy and fiery sparks that added outward splendour and majesty to his inner being. Reb Shalom's life was a long chain of trouble, pain and tragedy on one side and a high spiritual strength, withstanding many difficult trials and sanctifying the Heavenly Name on the other side. He was a G–d–fearing enthusiastic Hassid who fought G–d's battles; a proselytizer, a preacher of morality and reverence to G–d. He watched over the young people in the Beit HaMidrash so that they would not become corrupt, Heaven forbid! He led the fight against atheism. Since his youth, he taught and educated young and old in the Torah and the reverence of G–d. He particularly emphasized reverence. His net was spread over the Beit HaMidrash. He was the spiritual father and guide of the innocent lambs, the Torah students. He preached ethics, Hassidism, told Hassidic tales and guarded the watch–post so that the youth would not deviate and reach out toward secular cultures and read secular books such as Bialik's poems. Corrupt was considered he who bought a Zionist “Shekel” and, of course, a real Zionist! Reb Shalom was an extremist who stubbornly fought Zionism. He was even against the Mizrachi. Once, when a Zionist speaker came to town and wanted to speak in the Beit HaMidrash, Reb Shalom organized his young people, the Beit HaMidrash dwellers, and his mature students to whom he taught Mishnayoth, to study aloud so that nobody would be able to hear the speaker. However, truth has to be told. His fight was not against the Zionists but against Zionism. He loved every Jew and he had a good relationship with the Zionist activists in the shtetl.

The Zionists on the other hand never insulted him. They revered and respected him knowing that all his deeds were for heavenly purpose. They were not angry at him even when Reb Shalom rebuked those who spoke during prayers: “Sha Goyim….” He was adored by every soul in town because of his honesty, righteousness and his rare spiritual strength.

Reb Shalom's suffering was very heavy as in the Biblical story of Job. In spite of his suffering, he remained righteous from the beginning to the end. His young wife suffered an untimely death. His only son, the dear Moshe Joshua, was perfect and pious; a scholar with many merits; humble and his spirits were exceeded only by his youth. His daughters, the righteous and educated Risha and Yetta, who were married to wise and G–d–fearing men, and all the grandchildren, passed away.

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He himself suffered a lot of pain besides these many troubles. Nevertheless, Job – Reb Shalom – did not sin and never questioned why. Habitually, he quoted the saying of older Hassidim: “The believer has no questions, the non–believer has no answers”. He remained righteous – he remained Reb Shalom. On every happy occasion and especially on Simchat Torah, he sang and danced as though he was the happiest man in the world.

Reb Shalom's material situation was not any better. He always made a meagre living and sometimes even lived in poverty. There were times when he worked for others and his providers treated him with reverence and respect. My father, Reb Joseph Diamand, told me that when Reb Shalom worked as a trustee in his father's business, Reb Joseph was in charge over him. At the same time he was also Reb Shalom's Torah student. On weekdays, my father was the boss, directing the work of his employee – Reb Shalom – and on the Sabbath, Reb Shalom was the teacher, directing and giving orders to his student, Reb Joseph. The relationship between boss and employee and teacher and his pupil were friendly and most intimate. Sometimes they teased each other. On weekdays when Reb Shalom felt like “aggravating” my father, his provider, he kiddingly would say to him: “wait, wait, soon the Sabbath will be here and the situation will reverse. I will be ordering you around”. On the Sabbath when Reb Shalom disciplined my father during the third Sabbath meal, my father used to threaten him: “Soon the Sabbath will be over” – meaning that he would be the boss. Such was the relationship between the boss and his employee. After a time, Reb Shalom went out on his own and began selling alcohol and wine but he hardly earned a living. Reb Shalom divided his day half for Torah and worship and the other half for his livelihood. His nights were also divided: half for midnight prayers and the other half for sleep and rest.

He was number one in the Mishnayoth Society. An hour and a half before evening services in the summer and after the services in the winter, he sat and daily taught Mishnayoth to many residents, among whom were the rich and distinguished. He was an excellent lecturer and did not spare his labour and exertion until all the pupils understood that Mishna completely. It was a pleasure to watch Reb Shalom and his students when he explained to them the mathematics of the tractate “Kilaim” (Diverse Kind). Like a born mathematician, he spread before them the mathematical principles of the Rambam and Bartenura and the people drank his words with thirst.

Reb Shalom was also an excellent letter writer – most significant in those days. When he was very young and dwelled at the Beit HaMidrash, a book with exemplary letter–writings was published containing a few of his letters. His style and penmanship were wonderful. He formed buds and flowers with a double purpose – for the beauty of the handwriting and the beauty of the rhetoric according to the best compositions of our holy language. The young men in the Beit HaMidrash, who were engaged to be married and did not know how to write a nice letter to their bride's parents, turned to Reb Shalom for assistance. And of course, he also wrote to the bride with holy purity. When a young man went to visit the bride's home (although Reb Shalom was not comfortable with it)

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Reb Shalom instructed him on his behaviour; what to do and how to find grace in the eyes of G–d and man and, of course, in the eyes of the bride as well. Everything was for the sake of heavens.

How innocent Reb Shalom was.. This writer, who had strong, intimate bonds with him and revealed his heart to him, knows many many things to tell. The innocence and naiveté which were derived only because of his righteousness. He was convinced that no secular writer was capable of writing a letter to a bride that she would like as well as one written by a believer. He and only he, knew, with the help from above, how to find the key to the heart of a bride because G–d helped him and all his expressions such as:” to the beautiful, the gracious, as the sun and the moon, whose wisdom reaches the highest height and the deepest depth”. He used to include verses from the love songs of Reb Yehuda Halevi, not forgetting to point out the source. It is easy to understand how proud a groom was, seeing how wonderful and splendid his letter was and thinking that when it would reach the bride, it would surely make a strong impression.

And, because it is written: “You shall be active in many ways”, Reb Shalom was active in the community needs, and sometimes in things that seemed small and insignificant “There is no vacuum in this world. Everything is Torah, everything is reverence for G–d!” He expressed his opinion on every problem be it small or large. He sometimes clashed with his most intimate friends, like Reb Baruch Berglass, the rich man who prayed mystically and dared to pronounce fully the mystical “Names”. In spite of their friendship and closeness, they always disagreed. Not only did Reb Shalom warn Reb Baruch that is was forbidden to pronounce those “Names” but in other subjects, they also had sharp disagreements. What one built, the other tore down and vice–versa. This writer also had many disagreements with Reb Shalom but, whether we agreed or disagreed, Reb Shalom had all our respect!!!

Add to Reb Shalom's merits swiftness and you find him to be perfect. He was very swift in performing a mitzvah, a deed of merit, quick with everything. Everything he did was done with the maximum speed. Whether it was for lack of time or whether such was his nature, young men could not compete with him when it concerned quickness. He was that way in his childhood and when his hair turned white. He was that way in days of ease and days of trouble. “The day is short and there is a lot to accomplish” was his motto.

We already described enough about his personality in general but we missed the most important attribute: Reb Shalom's praying.

As one of the great righteous used to say: “There are three kinds of chanters and three kinds of chants. Chanters like Moses and his chant, King David and his chant and the poor man's chant”. Moses and his chant means one who chants but has no voice and does not know how to intone a melody or to sing. He may also stutter a little but he is considered in the category of Moses who stuttered but was our teacher. Such chanting is satisfactory and acceptable. Kind David and his chanting means a cantor who chants pleasantly, has a sweet voice and is fluent in the prayers like King David who was the singer of Israel. Such chanting

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ascends and goes through to the heavens. Besides these two, there is the chanting of a poor man, a man who is necessarily the most righteous man of his generation and is not in the category of the singer of Israel, but he is a man distressed, in pain and poverty, whose heart is broken. Of such a man it was said: “G–d is close to the broken–hearted and the spiritually distressed, he helps”. And such chanting is received in the heavens as the chants of Moses and David bound together. In addition, sometimes such chanting ascends to the highest heavens. And the preacher of Mezrich already said: “There are different keys to locks but there are thieves who can open any lock without a key. They just break the lock. G–d the Almighty likes such a thief who can break such a lock and spill his heart before him”.

That is how Reb Shalom Schwartzman was. Although he was qualified to chant as Moses because he was very G–d fearing, and as King David, although he did not know how to sing, his voice was strong and heart–rendering; most of all, he was qualified because there was no one like him in the shtetl to chant as a poor, inhumanly pain–suffering person. Who else could express in his prayers all the sadness and hurt, sorrow and bitterness accumulated in his heart and move the will of the Lord? Even in the weekdays, his prayers were flaming and inspirational. Imagine how he prayed in the High Holidays. It was enough to see him going to the mikva and immersing himself in the cold water before his prayers to recognize that a tempest was nearing. He was all terror and fear even before he reached the pulpit. And the chanting itself – only he who had seen and heard him knew what chanting was. He began with the blessings and his bones trembled. He said them with a loud and strong voice, word–by–word, especially emphasizing words which expressed the thankfulness of man for the mercy of G–d. These words were said with much feelings and mighty weeping. His voice kept going stronger from minute–to–minute and suddenly, he was hoarse and began choking with tears.

He chanted: “Weeping may lodge with us at evening but in the morning, there are shouts of joy” (Psalms). At this point his heart almost stopped. Drops of sweat fell on his white beard as though he was entirely drowning in sweat. All eyes turned on Reb Shalom. Will he come through? Will he return to roar in his strong voice? Soon came the answer: “To you G–d, I call and of You G–d, I plead”. This outcry sounded as though a bombshell had fallen from heaven. At this point, the congregation felt that he had broken the lock! That is how Reb Shalom chanted, alternating, first begging for mercy and compassion and next, issuing a demand to be helped like a son who sinned before his Father in heaven and then, with a bit of chutzpa, demanding forgiveness. First slowly but then with the speed of lightning that made the thresholds tremble.

When he uttered: “Until now you helped me compassionately”, he was unable to continue. A long silence ensued – everyone felt that he had reached the drowning point and, in the women's section, they realized that Reb Shalom was in danger of collapsing, Heaven forbid! A gruesome wailing was heard from there. Everyone cried as though the world had come to an end. They all lost their places in the prayer book. Then, the

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Voice of Reb Baruch Diller was heard. He was an ardent Hassid of the Rabbi from Sadigora who never became excited or aroused from wailing “Nu! Oh”. He protested. According to the tradition of the Sadigora Hassidim, you are not supposed to wail. You just pray with heart. Some worshippers were ready to lynch Reb Baruch for such a rude interruption and some said: “on the contrary. Reb Shalom needs to be encouraged”. In the meantime, the storm passed. Reb Shalom woke up and with more enthusiasm, ended his chanting in the tradition of the rabbi from Dynow. When he finished, he returned to his seat perspiring and his clothes looked as if they were just laundered. Thank G–d he survived and was well.

To encourage Reb Shalom after such chanting, the people used to ask him to speak on the subject of prayers. Reb Shalom willingly and with great satisfaction told them the Hassidic stories, Hassidic quotations and teachings from the Torah and Ethics. When someone asked Reb Shalom why he perspires so much during his chanting, his response was: “It is sufficient for a person to merely realize before whom he is praying and his entire body turns into water. Whoever is praying and does not perspire from fear of his Creator is only reciting prayers and is not really praying”. He would add: “Do we know how to pray? The Rabbi from Blazow, he knew how to pray! However, he who heard the rabbi from Blazow chant, at least know how much a person needs to pray to G–d, to be worthy of praying properly.”

Still, the story of Reb Shalom Schwartzman's life is not finished. His livelihood kept collapsing from day–to–day. To put it simply, he went broke without a penny left in his pocket. From all his labour, he was left with only one grandson and with a second wife. They were both sickly people and needed medical attention but the house was empty. Reb Shalom decided to do everything possible and immigrate to Eretz Israel. He forgot about his previous opposition to Zionism and turned to the Agudat Israel and to the Zionists for help. He also turned to the famous Rabbi Cook and some other famous rabbis with a plea: “Please help me emigrate from Poland!” After much intervention, his own and that of his friends (in which I too had my share in this mitzvah), he emigrated with this wife and grandson, Meir Mordechai. His life in Eretz Israel was not pleasant either. Maybe someday we will describe it in more detail what happened to him there. As of now, we will only mention the bitter epilogue, as was written in the newspaper “Hatzofeh” dated August, 1938.

“The hands of the murderers attacked again from their hideout in Jerusalem and tore the thread of life from a Yeshiva–dweller, the young Meir Mordechai Hacohen Gutwirth who was nineteen years old.

Yesterday at 11:15 p.m. an Arab truck traveling on the road between Sanhedriyah and Ramah, about one kilometre from Sanhedriyah, found the body of Meir Mordechai alongside the road. The driver immediately notified the neighbours who called the police and the Red Cross. His head had holes from knife stabbing and from stoning… This martyr immigrated three years ago from Strzyzow near Rzeszow in Western Galicia with his grandfather, Reb Shalom Schwartzman who settled in Meah Shearim. This was the only grandchild left to the grandfather. A sizeable crowd participated in the funeral, mostly young men from the Yeshivat. He was

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eulogized by Henoch Sienkewicz, the Dean of the Yeshiva ‘Sfat Emet’. At the request of the grandfather, he was buried in the brotherly cemetery of Galicia”.

That is how the martyr Meir Mordechai Hacohen died. The last of Reb Shalom's family. Meir Mordechai was my pupil.

A few years ago, Reb Shalom Schwartzman passed away in Jerusalem. He was ninety and some years old. He performed many good deeds in his lifetime. Because of his merits and the merits of his chanting, the chanting of the poor, the remnants of Strzyzow survived, to remember his every day of the years, especially on the High Holidays and moreover, what chanting the prayers is all about.

Reb Yacov Schiff

by Shlomo Yahalomi

Reb Yacov Schiff was a holy man, literally. Reb Yacov was the son–in–law of the assistant Rabbi, Joseph Mordechai Wiener. It was enough to take one look at this short man with blue childlike eyes and lean face, to realize that before you stood a man of holiness and glory. Even the gentiles called him: “the godly man”. And what was the greatness of this adorable man? He was not one of the great scholars in town. He was considered an average learned man who never discussed the Talmud with others. He was a shy man who kept to himself. Even though he did study in the Beit HaMidrash day and night, nobody ever bothered to draw him into a discussion. Therefore, it was hard to judge the extent of his knowledge. Reb Yacov was an ardent admirer of the Rabbi from Belz and was very much respected by the rabbi. He had many students whom he taught Talmud but he was modest about it. Everyone in town knew that he was second–to–none in his piety and faultless in his devotion. To Reb Yacov, every day of the year was like Yom Kippur. His reverence of his Creator was constant. He was humble, quiet as the flow of water in a quiet river and low as meadow grass. That is how the rabbi from Belz described Reb Yacov Schiff's personality.

Reb Yacov Schiff never stood out. He never argued with anyone, never chastised anyone and never preached morality. But when he taught his students, he was very strict and demanding. He taught older students only, those in the ages between seventeen and twenty. He watched over them not only when they were his students but also when they studied on their own. He always wanted to know how they progressed. Sometimes he surprised them by peeking in through the windows of the Beit HaMidrash, standing on his toes because he was a short man. He stood there without uttering a word. His silence had inspired the young men more than the yelling of others. The students feared him when they were caught off–guard away from their books, embarrassment covered their faces.

Reb Yacov used to chant Shacharit on the High Holidays. If you think that he was a good cantor – absolutely not! But what? What was his power? The townspeople declared: “we have not found a better defender before G–d than Reb Yacov Schiff”. Not with a strong voice but rather a low–key voice with a broken heard and reverence. And such a man cannot be ignored by G–d.

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Reb Yacov ate very little and many days he fasted altogether, especially during the month of Elul, before the High Holidays. Reb Yacov Schiff did not sleep much either. Only as much as was necessary to sustain his health. His wife used to beg him: “have mercy on yourself”, but to no avail. He claimed that he could not indulge himself on such fearful days, days when fish in the sea would tremble with fear of the Day of Judgment. And this was only before Rosh Hashanah. Can anybody imagine when Rosh Hashanah came along? He slept even less. Twice a day, he went to the mikva to cleanse himself. Reb Yacov Schiff claimed that he was the congregation's messenger to the Almighty.

When he began his chanting, the entire women's section started to cry and the whole congregation followed. No wonder! Who could compete with words emanating from the heart? And a heart like Reb Yacov's at that! His chanting was not stylish. He chanted and sang simple traditional melodies thus not copying any rabbis. His words were heard loud and clear but with reverence. When Reb Yacov chanted, no one dared to speak. Everybody remained quiet and still and felt assured that all the gates to heaven were open for Reb Yacov's prayers. When he finished, he was in perspiration and his clothes were soaked in sweat. Everyone in the congregation went over to compliment him and shake his hands. Not only because they wanted to thank him but to receive his response: “Blessed be thou”. An opponent of Hassidism once remarked: “If Reb Yacov would like to become a rabbi, I would be one of his first followers”.

In later years, Reb Yacov was mortally ill and could not continue to chant or even to study. His wife had to be the breadwinner. She had a little grocery store from which they barely eked out a living but they stubbornly refused to accept help. People used to send them checks by mail anonymously. When the writer of these memoirs once made a remark to Reb Yacov that he was wrong not to accept help, he responded by saying: “He who gives life will also sustain and support”.

Because of his righteousness, he was more fortunate than others in Strzyzow. He died of natural causes. His family perished in the Holocaust and nobody; absolutely nobody survived from his family.

Half of the rewards in the hereafter

by Shlomo Yahalomi

Part I

Whoever saw this man for the first time could not avoid being impressed by his aristocratic looks and his beautiful and majestic expression. Upright and tall, with a gentle face that expressed joy and happiness and his childlike eyes that expressed honesty and innocence. His oversized white beard and his hearty laugh subdued many hearts and attracted the attention of strangers. He was not very intelligent but he sometimes said certain things that even wiser people than he would have wished that they had said it. He was one of a few or maybe the only one in town who finished all the Talmudical tractates year–after–year. People used to say that he studied the Talmud wholesale. He kept advancing without stopping at complicated portions or twisted segments in the Talmud.

He used the simplest commentaries and if by chance a student from among the Beit HaMidrash dwellers would ask him to explain something, he would explain it the way he though was right. When the student later found out that he was wrong, he would go over to him and challenge him. As soon as he was told that he was wrong, he would become angry and call his opponent names claiming that they were ignorant.

His name was Reb Levi Joseph Wind. There was only one student whom, upon receiving a wrong answer from Reb Levi Joseph, would quietly tell him that he had made a mistake. To him, Reb Levi Joseph would reply: “You devil! You have such a sharp mind. How come I did not think of it?” And that student was I, the writer of these memoirs. Reb Levi Joseph was a Hassid of the rabbi from Sieniawa and visited his rabbi often. Later, when the rabbi from Sieniawa passed away, he travelled to his grandson, the rabbi from Koloszyce. He always told of the miracles his rabbi had performed. If someone expressed doubts about his stories he felt very insulted. I used to listen to his tales patiently and pretend that I believed in these stories.

Reb Levi Joseph was not a poor man. People may have considered him to be richer than he really was. Nobody knew the truth.

His only trouble was that he had no sons, only daughters who were very particular in selecting their mates. When they finally got married, they all remained childless. He pleaded with the rabbi to pray for them and he sent his daughters to famous specialists. But nothing helped. Finally, he received a promise from his rabbi that he would have a grandchild and his older daughter gave birth to a baby girl. The joy of the grandfather was tremendous and the whole town shared in his happiness. Then Reb Levi Joseph gleefully challenged everyone saying: “Nu, you see? You did not believe that my rabbi could perform miracles”. His granddaughter grew up to be a beautiful girl and made her grandfather proud.


Part II

In 1946, I arrived in the Displaced Persons Camp in West Berlin, Germany. Soon after my arrival, I was asked to see the camp Rabbi immediately about an urgent matter. When I arrived, the Rabbi welcomed me with the following words: “I waited for you like the Jews are waiting for the Messiah”. And he soon revealed to me the following story:

There is an unfortunate Jewish woman with a husband who is not Jewish. They have two boys. She visits daily and spills out her bitterness before me. The man with whom she lives risked his own life during the Holocaust to save her from the Nazi. At the beginning, he did it without an ulterior motive, but later, she could not ward off his demands and bore him two sons. He promised her that after the war would be over he would convert to Judaism. Now, he wants to fulfil his promise and is willing to go through the circumcision ritual together with the two boys. The boys are Jewish anyway… According to the laws of Moses, children born to a Jewish mother are considered Jewish. The camp's Rabbi's opinion was that the man should be permitted to convert without delay. But there is another rabbi, a Lubavitcher Hassid who opposes the conversion. His

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Reason is lack of trust in the whole–heartedness of the man. Therefore, I was asked to help the camp rabbi to convince the other rabbi that he was wrong.

When I heard this story I was astounded. I could not believe it. How could anybody, especially a rabbi and a Lubavitcher Hassid, stand in the way of such a conversion? Even from a humanitarian point of view, it was wrong to deny this Jewish woman her happiness.

In the books of Ethics, our sages warned us to be careful in solving problems in general and in particular, marital problems. Therefore, I decided first of all to pay a visit to the couple and speak to them. When I entered the people's home, my head began to spin and I had the shock of my life. Before me stood the granddaughter of Reb Levi Joseph Wind from Strzyzow.

From this day on, I was restless. Not only was the fate of this woman touching my heart but the memory of her grandfather shadowed me wherever I went. I dreamt at night that he was standing behind my back and demanding justice for his granddaughter. And I was thinking to myself: “Is it possible? Hitler destroyed his entire family and she is the only survivor and we dare to deny her a chance to build a Jewish family? No! Never! Whatever happens, this family belongs among us. I cannot do this to her”.

A few days later when I went to the office of the camp rabbi, the Hassid – the other rabbi was there and they were discussing the matter. The Hassidic rabbi still refused to give in. I told him a story about Rabbi Dov Ber from Mezritch how he once heard a voice from heaven telling him that he should not expect any reward in the hereafter because of some trespass or sin. At the beginning the rabbi was sad but later he announced that he was very happy because from then on, his devotion to G–d would not depend on the expectation of a reward. I paused a second and then I said to them that after all the tragedies that had befallen the Jewish people, every Jew should be prepared to help his fellow Jew without expecting a reward in the hereafter. Continuing the argument, I said: “Let's consider for a moment that I am wrong and, by prodding you to permit this man's conversion I am committing a sin for which might lose my reward. Even so, I am ready and prepared to bear the consequences”.

I looked straight in the eyes of the Hassidic Rabbi and noticed that my statement had impressed him. I continued: “On second–thought, since you are a rabbi and a Hassid, why should I lose my reward in the hereafter? Let us both lose. I should lose half and you should lose half. At least something will remain for me and you”.

The Hassid of the rabbi from Lubavitch began to laugh and said: “you convinced me. Let's be partners”.

I left Berlin and in a few weeks, the camp celebrated the Brit Milah of the man and his two sons.

A few years later while walking in the streets of Tel–Aviv, the writer of these memoirs saw this Hassidic rabbi and we recognized each other. After a few polite exchanges I asked him what he was doing. To my surprise, he told me that he had joined a kibbutz where his son was a

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member. What kibbutz did he join? A kibbutz which is affiliated with the non–religious kibbutzim. Suddenly it dawned on me to ask him: “And what about the other half of the reward? Maybe you don't need it anymore?” He departed without a response. Apparently he was afraid I might ask him some more questions.

“When the world shall be perfected
under the reign of the Almighty”

(quotation from the prayer “Aleynu”)

by Shlomo Yahalomi

In memory of the faultless and simple Jews

This time I would like to tell about the plain Jews of Strzyzow. In essence, when you looked at one of them you would think that there was nothing much to tell about him. But this writer thought otherwise. Namely, these types of people were the real human kinds who were often misjudged by others. In heaven, they do know about these people. They know who was big and who was small.

Since all the stories which are told here have only one purpose and that is to light a memorial candle in the memory of the martyrs who perished in the Holocaust, so is the intention of this story to perpetuate the simple people of Strzyzow. In reality, these simple people, when they were alive, were almost unnoticed in the community. But they do deserve to be remembered at least as much as the upper–class in town, if not more. Although to us they were simple in comparison to the present Jews, they were holy and righteous in their daily lives.

And so let us remember one of these simple and uneducated men, Reb. X and his family.

You saw before you a man of middle height, wide shoulders, a stout body, an enormously big head and with a face mostly covered by his beard. On his face you could notice the signs of beauty and charm. His forehead was described by the town jokers as the forehead of the Rambam, the rabbinical philosophical personality of the tenth century. It meant, in simple words, that he had a forehead of a genius. His eyes expressed softness and warmth, love, mercy and good–heartedness, notwithstanding the myth that redheads are angry and explosive people.

His only vulnerability was, a derogatory remark aimed against the apple of his eye, Reb Chaim Elazar Shapiro from Munkatch (which he pronounced “Umkatch”) and for which he was prepared to explode into violence.

Indeed, his material situation could never disturb his patient nature and contentment. All these attributes stemmed from one basic merit with which he was blessed; namely: humility. He recognized how little education he had and how little he knew about proper behaviour. Therefore, he never dared to be ill–tempered. If you ask: What did you expect of him? Wasn't he lacking education, wisdom and in addition was he an oppressed poor man? The answer to this question would be that there are plenty of poor and uneducated people who are not humble at all.

With all the above–mentioned merits, his manners befitted in many way an uncultured and ignorant man because he lacked the education and the elementary rules of behaviour in his parents' house. Therefore, he

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Was routinely seen doing things that boggled the mind. He walked around in the market with a pocketful of bread, pinching off pieces and stuffing them in his mouth. This was almost a daily ritual for him after which he would go over to the water pump, bend down and drink a third of a pail of water. He also loved horses. He would go over to the horses, embrace and caress them as people caress their only child. Fortunately, or unfortunately, he had two very enlightened sons. Especially the younger son who possessed a sensitive heart with a poetic and gentle soul. His father's behaviour hurt him and caused him a lot of pain. The son spent a lot of energy lecturing his father and asking him to cease the deeds that degraded him and the rest of the family. All the begging was in vain. This is how his father responded: “before you preach morality to your father about his outwardly faults, you had better go and teach ethics to those ‘nice’ Jews and tell them about their hidden faults, about their hypocrisy, haughtiness, self–elevation, etc”. Indeed, one might ask from where did Reb X get such nice and wise words. Where did such meaningful words reach him? It was a legitimate question. The answer to this question is that it is doubtful whether he realized the meaning of such piercing words. Indeed, he often heard such words from the mouth of Rabbi Nechemiah Shapiro, of blessed memory, who habitually inserted such words in his sermons on the ethics of our forefathers at his Sabbath third meal table. The hero of this story was a faithful admirer of Rabbi Nechemiah and he heard these words from him and repeated them. Although Reb X did not fully comprehend the meaning of such words, the son who was thoughtful and diligent in morality and philosophical books, knew very well how right his father was.

Here the writer wishes to tell something about the son. The son in his father's house was like a rose among thorns because his mother was no more distinguished in education and merits than his father. Therefore, he suffered a lot. He felt inferior and unhappy. He confided in me, his best friend, many times. Even though I was the son of a rich family, he chose me as a friend because we had the same level of education and knowledge. “How I envy you. You have it so easy to fulfil the commandment: ‘Honour thy father and they mother’. You honour them not only because G–d ordered you to do so but because they are truly worthy of your respect. But I….” I tried to console him. Respecting his parents was even a greater mitzvah. But he did not seem to accept my consolation.

Now let us return to Reb X. In his behaviour he was not outstanding because there were a few more like him, in one field, a very important field; he was the only one in town. Namely, in reciting Psalms. At present, in Israel, when people are suffering from too much leisure time, they are searching for ways to kill time with nothingness. However, the shtetl, such a problem was non–existent. Either they studied Torah or they just came into the Beit HaMidrash to see, hear and enjoy the echoes of the sound of Torah coming from the Beit HaMidrash dwellers. Others just sat there with Psalters in their hands and recited psalms. The hero of this story had a great deal of spare time on his hands because he did not own a store and he did not have a permanent livelihood. How did he make a

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a living? He used to go around in the nearby villages and buy “bargains” from the peasants and in return, sold them something they needed. On his way to the villages he would recite Psalms which he knew by heard having recited those hundreds of times. Wherever he went or travelled, Psalms always escorted him. He did not understand what these words meant but he knew their importance. He had heard from the rabbi from Munkatch, or in his pronunciation, the rabbi from Umkatch, if you recited Psalms with tears in your eyes, G–od would help. Therefore, you could always see him wandering the villages whispering with tears flowing from his eyes. He often complained that the travel in the villages was getting harder for him not because he had to walk a lot but because he could not refrain himself from crying. This all happened when he was away. However, in his house and more so in the Beit HaMidrash or kloyz, he cried freely. His voice thundered like thunders in heaven and surely his crying was heard there. He simply attacked the Psalms although he did not understand them and the words did not come out perfectly. According to what he heard from rabbi Nechemiah, the most important thing in reciting Psalms is the good intentions. And what did he intend with the Psalms? To beg for a livelihood? Heaven forbid! He would not dare to think of such foolishness while reciting Psalms. Only when you would pray were you permitted to ask for something. That was his theory. But what was the recital of Psalms for? Only for the coming of the Messiah. The subject of the Messiah was for him of utmost importance. And this is how he explained it. “When the Messiah will come there will be a resurrection. And when all the dead will be resurrected, that means…. (and here a smile appeared on his face), people will no longer die which means no more dead”. Apropos, a wise man once said: “What an uneducated man can invent out of his simplicity and innocence, ten wise men cannot invent”.

If during the year Reb X was busy reciting Psalms, imagine how busy he was when the days of mercy and repentance arrived! He gained an additional past–time, the recital of Slichot. There is no need to point out again that here, in the Slichot, was altogether lost, turning the words around with an off–tune melody. The language of Slichot was for him a double puzzle. He did not understand the words and because of their mystery, they brought out in him a deep admiration for these prayers. When he was reciting the Psalms he needed to recite a few chapters to warm up and begin to cry. With the Slichot, all he needed was to open the book and soon the pages were wet. Reb Mendel, a fiery Hassid and scholar, remarked to those who would tease Reb X: “Believe it or not, Satan is more afraid of his tears than the reverence of R.H.” (Out of respect to the deceased, I will not mention who R.H. was).

This was all in normal times.

When the terrible years of the Nazi came, a double suffering began – both physical and spiritual which affected everyone, the poor and the rich. The rich were the first targets of the wicked who degraded and disrespected them publicly, requiring them to do all sorts of back–breaking labour. The poor were the first to starve from hunger, not having food even for a day. Reb X was dazed. He used to consider as natural the division of the town in particular and the world in general into two categories

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Of people: people who had everything and respect belonged only to them with all the splendour that came with it and; people like him – the real poor who though that such is their fate to suffer silently. Suddenly before him – such an upset. Everyone was suffering. He tried very hard to digest the abnormal phenomenon without success. At first, he did console himself that the division between the rich and poor, notwithstanding their degradation, still existed. The rich still had food to eat but not the poor. Later, when hunger penetrated everywhere, he was lost. The world had come to an end, he stated: “I am telling you, gentlemen, it is the end of the world. There was a world since the Creation ruled by a permanent order. There were smart, foolish, poor, rich, the respected and the despicable. Now they have come and they want to make a new order. They are crazy! They will never succeed!”

A small consolation for Reb X was that the clothes of the rich were still in better shape than the clothes which the poor wore. That meant that the world was not in complete anarchy yet. He consoled himself in opposition to a statement made by an acquaintance of his who happily declared openly: “The equality of the poor and the rich has arrived”. Reb X could not stand it. With his great humility and suffering, the spiritually depressed and true lover of Israel could not bear the shame and suffering of those whom he always considered to be superior and privileged. And surely, he would not think of finding satisfaction in his so–called “equality” and moreover, expressing happiness about it.

Indeed, worse times had arrived when, not only was he equal to the privileged but suddenly, he saw that everyone had to stand in line for selections, the same line for the rich and the poor. Not only being in the same line but such dear privileged were equally beaten. He, the simpleton, the eternal beggar was liked by “them”. He never considered his strong body and muscles to be an asset. On the contrary, a Jew should look like a Jew and not look like a peasant and here he was preferred for his strength. When they began to send Jews to the place of no return, he and others like him were left behind, being needed for the war effort. It pained him to see all the abnormal things. He thought that he would gladly go in their place. He suffered a lot. He suffered for his family and for others and I could not decide which suffering hurt him most.

And so, on these High Holidays, these days of awe which held a double fear: fear as High Holidays and fear and danger of being caught by the Nazi praying together. Reb X was among the secret worshippers. I want to point out here that despite those hard times during the rule of the despicable, the Nazis, Reb X did not carry on so much with his recital of Psalms. He actually never stopped reciting whenever it was possible but quietly, almost in a whisper. You could hardly hear him and he did not cry. Surprised? How come? Was it because his situation had improved? In the days of murder and mass killing, logic dictates to the contrary. But here is what he said: “In a time when everyone is crying, the Rabbi, scholars, the rich and the educated, why should I mix my cheap tears with theirs? If G–d will not respond to their crying, would he listen to me?”

Nobody paid attention to the change in Reb X's behaviour. Who was he

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that he should interest anybody? But the holy Rabbi Nechemiah Shapiro did notice and did not rest. He was not calm. He pledged to do everything to open Reb X's well of tears. Rabbi Nechemiah said that in such troubled times; all the tears were needed from every Jew, especially the tears of the innocent. If in normal times G–d lusts for tears of the simple people, surely in times of fright and darkness he craves them even more.

Before the High Holidays, the rabbi gave Reb X a prayer book with a Yiddish translation so that he could read and understand what he was saying. Reb X began to read in Yiddish and his eyes lit up as a whole new world opened up to him. How sweet those prayers were. How unfortunate that for years he did not understand the words of the prayers and now….with the translation, the well of tears reappeared. Beginning in the days of Slichot, he started to cray and cry and when Rosh Hashanah came along, he let himself go. He knew when the congregation recited the prayer: “Unesanei Tokef”, everyone was supposed to cry, especially at this time and in their situation. There was no limit to the tears that he spilled.

“As a shepherd seeks out his flock making the sheep pass under the rod, so doust thou make all the living souls pass before Thee”. At this juncture, he exploded in a bitter spasm because he had reached the most sensitive point of the prayer to him personally. The words: “All the living souls” shocked his heart deeply. “All are equal, large and small – can the world exist this way? …. Master of the Universe, he began to sob, return the world to its former state that all shall know that there is a G–d and that all are equal”.

His crying grew stronger until suddenly he became silent and fainted with the words: “Make the world a better world….”

The righteous and the beloved
Reb Eisik Holles

by Moshe Mussler

There never lacked and there never would lack of pious, G–d fearing people as long as there is a Jewish people in this world who are anxious to fulfil the Creator's commandments, whether a light mitzvah or a harsh one. There were numerous such people and you could have found them mostly in the small towns throughout the Diaspora. Our shtetl was also considered to be a shtetl of Hassidim and the majority were men of deeds.

In fact, even among the pious, there were different categories – some who names themselves pious or were crowned by others without deserving such a title.

Among the few who reached the upper level of piety and reverence to the fullest, according to my humble opinion, was Reb Eisik Holles. He was endearingly called Reb Eisik'l by all the people of the town. Even though he was not officially nominated by the community leaders to judge and solve religious problems. To judge was forbidden and what was not,

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had many people knocking on his door to ask and always obeyed his decision.

He served the public without expectation of reward and revered everyone especially children who were sent by their mothers with questions about kashrut.

Indeed, he lived in such meagreness that in this day and age, we can hardly comprehend. To me, it was a wonder how this man had the energy to study literally day and night. His face radiated from the light of the Torah and he had an expression of natural humility spread all over his face. I think that the painter who painted the portrait of the Genius from Wilno used Reb Eisik's face as a model. Whenever I remember him, even though many years have passed since then, I still feel the deep respect which my soul felt at that time.

My father, of blessed memory, who was not considered a Hassid and was well known as an opponent of Hassidism, was an ardent admirer of Reb Eisik'l. My father was a frequent visitor in his home and I accompanied too. I remember wintertime when we returned home after such a visit, we were frozen to death. The oven in his house never knew the taste of heat.

A testimony to his kind–heartedness will be the following episode which happened in his private life. After his wife did not bear children during the ten years of their marriage, his mother demanded from him that he divorce her. Reb Eisik'l refused, justifying his refusal by saying: “She married me when she was young and pretty and now, where would she find someone to marry her?”

When he was among people he never raised his voice and, of course, there was never a complaint on his lips. He suffered silently and the not–too–many years of his life were spent praying and studying.

Reb Eisik the Sexton

by Moshe Mussler

It is a well–known fact which no one in his right mind could deny that being head of the Kehillah was preferable to serving as a sexton in the community. The first has its rewards – respect and power but the second has only poverty and degradation.

However, in the case of Reb Eisik the sexton, the above well–known fact was null and void. People from our shtetl awarded Reb Eisik more respect than to the community leader. They related to him as to a person without whom the shtetl could not exist.

On Friday and holiday eves, as soon as the sun disappeared from the treetops, Reb Eisik appeared in the market equipped with a heavy wooden mallet which was passed on to him from past generations. Notwithstanding his advanced age, he ran hurriedly around the marketplace knocking on each gate once or twice and announcing in a loud voice: “In shul a–r–a–a–n”. (come in shul).

His voice echoed all over the market and immediately the stores were closed. You could not find a person who would risk his soul and leave his store open after Reb Eisik's announcement.

One day, a new district commissioner arrived in town that did not like the tradition of door knocking and decided to abolish it.

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The community leader was summoned to appear before the commissioner and was warned to stop this tradition. Indeed, the community leader tried to claim that this tradition had been in the shtetl for many generations and it was part of the religious worship just as ringing the church bells was traditional for the Christians. However, the commissioner who was a well–known anti–Semite did not bend and the order remained intact.

When Reb Eisik found out about it, he went to the community leader, reported to him with a knock of the mallet on the table and said: “It never entered my mind nor will it in the future to obey the commissioner even if it means being arrested; I will not stop this tradition. Mitzva emissaries never get hurt. I was promised by the Rabbi from Sandz, the founder of the Sandz Dynasty, when his holy hands rested on my head, that as long as I live, nothing will ever happen to the shul where I serve as a sexton”.

The end of the story was that in the same week that the Commissioner issued the order, he was ordered to leave the town and never return. Needless to say, the order was rescinded and the commissioner's replacement ignored the whole thing.

Reb Eisik was very much respected and adored by the children. He ruled not only over the living but also over the dead.

There was a myth believed by all inhabitants of the shtetl that the deceased gathered nightly in shul to pray. No one dared to enter the shul in night hours. If someone happened to pass nearby after sunset, particularly in the alley between the shul and the cemetery, he would cut it as short as he could as though his life were in danger.

Imagine how much more we, the children, were frightened and afraid of the dead. For nothing in this world could entice us to be found in the vicinity during evening hours. However, where Reb Eisik was concerned, fear for the dead did not exist. Maybe it id but we did not know it.

In the days of forgiveness and mercy, the High Holiday times, Reb Eisik walked into the shul in the early hours on his own. First, he knocked once or twice on the gate with his mallet to notify the deceased to clear the premises and return to their resting places. Later, he refuelled the eternal light which was located in a niche, lit the lights in G–d's house and then ran to knock on the doors of each house. While knocking he called out in a monotonous voice and in Hebrew and in Yiddish: “Arise to serve the Creator. In shul, a–r–a–a–n”.

In addition to his service as a sexton, which brought very little income, he also dabbed in to baking. His cakes and bagels were not the most attractive but they were distinguished by their special Jewish taste. That is to say that they were peppered and salted in the winter and stuffed with blackberries and raspberries in the summer.

Notwithstanding his old age we, the children, were afraid of him. It was enough for him to lift his cane and we disappeared.

Only once a year he would let us turn the shul upside down. This was on Tisha B'Av. As soon as we were released from cheder and were free, we began the job of turning all the tables and benches in the shul upside down. Everything that was not tacked down to the floor was moved to make the destruction look like the destruction of the Holy Temple which we mourn on Tisha B'Av.

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Reb Eisik was a simple man but he merited to see two of his sons to become scholars who taught Torah in our shtetl. His third son immigrated to London and became a leader of the London Jewish community.

When he passed away, the glory of the shul went with him. The community felt orphaned by losing one of the best sextons the community so respected.

The Teachings of Moshe Mendelsohn

by Moshe Mussler

It is certain that we, the seniors of Strzyzow, whatever we achieved as youngsters in learning Torah and prayers, ought to be thankful to the cheder of Reb Eli Dovid and his two helpers. And we should not forget the whip which hung on the wall over his head and the pointer which he constantly held in his hand. Undoubtedly, these two tools went to heaven with Reb Eli Dovid where they received their reward.

The people in Strzyzow knew that Reb Eli Dovid was authorized by the Rabbi of Sandz, of blessed memory, to be a melamed. The people were also certain that their offspring would grow up to become Torah scholars and G–d fearing Jews.

Reb Eli Dovid was not the biggest scholar in town but in the elementary teachings of reading the Pentateuch, he was the best. What he had hammered into the child's head remained there forever.

If someone were to ask where Reb Eli Dovid obtained his knowledge and ability to teach and explain the chapter of the week, nobody knew. We, the little four–year–olds who repeated after him like parrots, still remember it now, never looked to the source of the matter.

Moreover, after I grew up and had studied many, many books, I was still puzzled and did not understand where our teacher, Reb Eli Dovid, learned all those German words which he used in his explanations since he had never left town and had no knowledge of any foreign language. This mysterious puzzle I solved many years later and here is how it happened:

During World War I, I had the “honour” of being a solder in the army of Kaiser Franz Joseph I and I wore his uniform. During my service, I once received a furlough for a few days to visit my parents.

After I had rested for a while, I noticed that my little brother was not in the house. I asked my mother, of blessed memory, where he was and she told me that little Avrom was in Reb Eli Dovid's cheder. So I decided to surprise him and pay him a visit.

When I entered the cheder wearing my uniform, Reb Eli Dovid jumped up from his chair startled and almost fainted. It was known that the Polish District Commissioner forbade the Jews to teach their children unless they had proper and approved accommodations similar to those which the Austrian authorities provided for the government schools. Otherwise, they did not issue a licence to teach children in a cheder. From time to time, gendarmes would come into the alley where most cheders were located to check if the teachers were abiding the law.

If they found a teacher who had no licence or had more children than he was licenced for, a report was issued and the children were dispersed and sent home. The teacher was also warned not to teach anymore. The fine was paid by the Kehillah because teachers were all poor, and

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hardly eked out a living. Surely they could not afford to pay fines.

In fact, as soon as the trial of the melamed was over, he started to teach again. The commandment that it is forbidden to interrupt the teachings of the Torah to Jewish children was stronger than the order of the Commissioner. Although there is another commandment that Jews should not break the law of the land in which they live, the Jews were convinced that these laws were discriminatory and their purpose was to obstruct the religious teachings of the Jews. Therefore, the Jews ignored these rules.

No wonder then that Reb Eli Dovid thought I was a gendarme and that is why his face turned pale. He remained in his seat as if he were suddenly paralyzed.

I rushed up to him and asked him to relax as I greeted him with the traditional “Shalom Aleichem”. It took him a while to relax and regain his composure as his breath returned to him. My eyes began to wander around the room as I tried to find my kid brother. To my surprise, nothing had changed since I had been a toddler. The whip, the pointer and the books from which I obtained my knowledge were in the same places. The whip was at his left side, the box with the snuffing tobacco at his right and his pointer was behind his ear. The pillow which he used to lean his elbows on had gained a few more spots and his beard had changed colour.

I suddenly found myself looking at a book from which he had taught me the first chapter from the book: “Vayikra” with all the outlandish words the teacher used to teach me….although many times, I did not totally comprehend their meaning, I still remembered them word–for–word.

Like a man finding a fortune, I grabbed the book and opened it. On the title page an acknowledgement was printed saying that this book was translated by the scholar of the German language, Moshe Mendelsohn. This was Mendelson the scholar and philosopher from Berlin who was excommunicated. (He started the Reform Movement in Germany). It was known that the Orthodox–Hassidic world had censured this book and had forbidden its use. Surely it was forbidden to teach children from this book. I then realized where my teacher had learned all these German words of explanation.

I suppose that G–d was patient with this simple, innocent man and did not punish him for his deviation because the progressive free thinking ideas of Mendelsohn were unknown to Reb Eli Dovid. The children's parents never found out about the book and with regard to the blessing that he claimed to have received from the Rabbi of Sandz, of blessed memory, to be a melamed, I am not responsible for its accuracy. I only repeated what I heard from the elders in town. His blessing partially came through because a few of us grew up to be G–d fearing Jews.

A Tree Was Cut Down Prematurely

by Moshe Mussler

Our city was not listed among the cities that produced men and writers that became famous in the Jewish world. I am referring to secular knowledge only. Indeed, with regard Torah literature and everything connected with it, I am not a qualified authority to judge.

To tell the truth, there were among us a few who were outstanding in their knowledge. But, there were such people among the Beit HaMidrash

[Page 148]

dwellers in every shtetl who, had they been given the opportunity to receive a standard education, would probably have reached the ranks of scholars in Judaism and, maybe also in secular professions.

One of them undoubtedly was our comrade Chaim Gertner who specialized in bibliography. He possessed a remarkable memory. He remembered every article and the names of the authors as well as the place and date of publication. There were among us a few that, although they had never attended school, knew perfect German and were very knowledgeable in the German literature. The thirst for knowledge and enlightenment overcame many obstacles. We, the younger generation of half a century ago, were used to such intelligent types and they did not seem to us to be out of the ordinary. They were everywhere in Galicia, not only in Strzyzow.

What I am about to tell happened in the summer of 1938. On a Saturday night, a man suddenly appeared in my apartment in Antwerp, Belgium. He was young, about thirty–five or a little older and he introduced himself as Itzhok Goldman from Strzyzow, the son of Reb Abraham Goldman who was once my teacher. During our conversation, he told me that two years ago he and his family left Strzyzow and travelled to England to see if they would be able to settle there.

He lived there for a while but could not legalize his residence in London in spite of the intervention of well–known personalities. Therefore, he was forced to settle in Amsterdam where he was a teacher giving private Talmud lessons to Jewish students.

When he found out that there was an opening in the religious community school in Antwerp, he came to ask my advice on whether to accept the position and move to Antwerp as I was from Strzyzow and was his father's pupil.

I remembered him sitting on his father's lap when his father taught me the most complicated segment of the Talmudical tractate: “P'sachim”.

Who would have thought that this child would, in time, reach the rank of a scholar, an expert in the Talmud and a phenomenal mathematician?

In my conversation with him I had a chance to recognize a little of his quality and character. Consequently, I found out that he was authoring a book on the principle of determining leap years, a commentary to Reb Moshe Maimonides (Rambam). (See the letters of Chaim Nachamn Bialik who read part of his essay and urged him to continue his important work). It would not be an exaggeration to say that whoever dared to get involved in such a complicated subject would be considered a prodigy.

It was past midnight when we parted. I never saw him again. After the war, I found out that he had died a sanctified death with the rest of the Dutch Jews in the ovens of Auschwitz. Neither he nor we attained to enjoy the fruit of his labour. If he would have survived, we would all have been proud of his achievement.

I searched everywhere and questioned many people, remnants of the Amsterdam Jewish community. I asked if they knew anything about him or his book which had remained in manuscript. To my sorrow, not many had heard of him. The unfortunate one was wise but humble and nobody had paid attention to him. What a pity that such a tree was cut down before its time.

[Page 149]

The Faultless

by Moshe Mussler

Even though sixty–five years have passed since then, I still visualize him as if he were alive. Short, his back bent, his fast walk and his cane in in his hand marching ahead of him.

He was a rich, poor man; that is to say, he owned a house which was named: “The ruins of Reb Yehuda Nosen”. I doubt that whoever wrote it knew how to appraise the quality of this man. I am convinced that it was the stereotype text that was used for the average person who, let us say, prayed three times daily. It sounded like this: “Here rests an innocent, straight man, etc”.

Such a description was not always true. Not everyone who was innocent was also straight, and vice–versa. Indeed, when it concerned Reb Yehuda Nosen, it was completely true. He was innocent and straight; without a speck of exaggeration. And this is not even a small part of the deserved praise. In my humble opinion, he deserved an epitaph on his gravestone consisting of a few words: “The most righteous of his generation”. This is what he really was.

When he was younger, his livelihood was teaching. As he grew older, he sold vodka and bagels in the Beit HaMidrash. He kept his merchandize in a locked box under one of the benches.

The highest grade of humility was endured by him but nevertheless, no complaint ever reached his lips. Moreover, I am sure he never dwelled on the way the Creator handled things.

Once a native of Strzyzow came from the United States to visit his parents' gravesite and to observe the Yahrzeit of their departure. After the services, the guest invited everyone who was present in the Beit HaMidrash to have a drink. Reb Yehuda Nosen's hands got very busy. Such a sale did not happen every day…Guests from overseas were a rarity in Strzyzow, particularly people who still followed their parents' footsteps.

When the reception and the traditional well–wishing was over, the guest handed Reb Yehud Nosen a dollar banknote with the remark: “Keep the change”. Reb Yehuda Nosen put his glasses on, examined the bill from both sides and returned it saying: “This is not acceptable currency, please give me sixty Austrian groshen”.

All the explanations from bystanders that this piece of paper was worth twice as much as he was asking, did not help. He insisted on sixty groshen and that was it. At the end, the visitor took back the bill and paid him the sixty Austrian groshen. Only then did Reb Yehuda Nosen's face brighten up.

Since that day, Yehuda Nosen kept praying for visitors from overseas. But his prayers were never answered. There never was a repetition of such a miracle.

People said that in his entire life he never held a gold coin worth ten Austrian crowns. He probably doubted if such a coin existed. And what are people saying about the Jewish love for money? Is it not an eternal lie about the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

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Meir Hertzkes

by Moshe Mussler

There were only a few people in Strzyzow who were called by their names without adding the title “Reb”. Meir Hertzkes was one of them. He was the simplest of the simple. But Meir had one characteristic of which few could boast about. He knew his value. He never made himself heard when he was among the distinguished.

But when he was among the village peddlers, it was a different story. Here he expressed his opinion loudly especially when the subject was death.

On Sabbath and holidays he came to the Beit HaMidrash and treated the better folks including the Rabbi with a sniff of tobacco. No one dared to refuse. “I inherited this tradition from my father, of blessed memory, to treat the townspeople with a sniff from my box and as a reward; I bury them when the time comes for their departure”.

And hereby, let it be known that Meir was the grave–digger of the community. On days when somebody passed away, Meir did not go to the villages. He remained in town and prepared himself for the job.

Firstly, he tasted the bitter drop from the bottle which was always ready in his pocket. Then he went to the descendant's house, looked at the descendant's face and announced: “Dead! We will do what is proper for him!” and left.

After he finished digging the grave, Meir Hertzkes returned to town and participated in the purification of the deceased. Understandably, during the purification of the deceased, he used Hebrew words only as it was habitual among the members of the Burial Society. “Hold the hands. Catch the water”, etc. (These expressions he knew by heart). At the funeral procession he was among the first who followed the casket. He walked and counted the virtues of the deceased. At the filling of the grave, Meir stood and gave directions on how to fill the dirt for the comfort of the deceased.

This simple Jewish man achieved what others did not. Namely, his only son Hertzke dwelled in the Beit HaMidrash and was counted with other young men as an intellect in the Talmud.

The poor man spared the food from his mouth to pay the teachers. I remember that every Thursday, on his way to the services, he stopped at the melamed's house to pay for the teaching.

After World War I when the gates of the United States opened, Meir and his son left town and settled in New York. There he found his eternal rest. May his soul be kept alive forever. Amen.

[Page 151]

The clever and the not
so clever Shlomo Bier

by Moshe Mussler

Reb Shlomo was an average citizen. He was not counted among the more respected Jews. But, his conduct was like that of an important personality. You never could find a speck of dirt on his clothes. His strut was that of a Polish aristocrat. He had a sharp eye and an acute tongue but always careful to express his opinion about people whom, for some reason, he did not like. And such were numerous in town. From time–to–time he did let escape into the empty space a sharp, off–hand, double–meaning remark addressed to no one in particular.

Reb Shlomo was a clever man. Nevertheless, he did not succeed in establishing himself in town business–wise. Therefore, he went to Germany as did many others in town who did not want to, and perhaps were ashamed to emigrate overseas. He found his livelihood there by wandering through villages with a pack of merchandize on his back. He visited his family once a year at Passover time, took off the German clothes and changed into traditional clothes, namely: a black coat and a shtreimel on the Sabbath and like the rest of the Jews, returned his side–locks, which were hidden behind his ears to, the proper place – his beard was always well groomed and he looked like everyone else.

When his feet weakened from much walking and of age, he divorced himself from Germany and returned home. His two sons took over his route and supported him, fulfilling the fifth commandment: “Honour they father and mother”.

When he advanced in age he spent his winter days sitting near the oven in the kloyz studying a book. In such hours, we gathered around him and begged him to tell us his adventures in the strange land. I can testify that he was a great artist in story–telling about all kinds of events which happened in the great world outside of our town. Mainly, we never tired of hearing the story of the suicide of Kaiser Franz Joseph who was “beloved” by us all. I am still puzzled to this day where Reb Shlomo obtained all the details. It is possible that during the years, he learned to read German newspapers and German books but all this is only a supposition. I never saw him reading a German newspaper although they were available in town. I tend to think that he obtained the information about this matter from others and his memory did not betray him.

What occurred between the prince and his beloved and the reason for his suicide – he breezed through with a few words. We were eleven and twelve years old and Heaven forbid that he should describe what happened between him and her…. Our share in grief of the Kaiser was real, from the bottom of our hearts because he was the shield and patron of the Jews. That we were mistaken, we only found out after the dissolution of the Hapsburg Dynasty.

Another story which Reb Shlomo knew and told us in the smallest of details,

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Was a story that inflamed our imaginations – a story about a Major Mikopnik. Reb Shlomo told the story with Prussian precision, repeating the orders from the Prussian captain in a pure German accent as though he himself was the captain in charge of the military unit. This was not a story; it was a theatrical performance in the smallest of details.

It is my opinion that this man was blessed with talent of a first–class declaimer. However, in our town, no one including Reb Shlomo himself recognized this talent.

In summer time after sunset when the peasants departed from the market place, Reb Shlomo took up a position on the corner of the Beit HaMidrash alley and immediately, a group of idlers and peddlers gathered around him. He began to tell about the daily events when all of a sudden he noticed that one of the court clerks, whom we nicknamed “the pauper king”, was approaching. The pauper king was said in the traditional High Holiday sing–song. Why did this clerk merit such a nickname? I have no clear answer. Perhaps because of his gaudiness wearing his official hat while the rest of his clothes were tattered and worn out. In addition, he was also constantly drunk. When the pauper king came closer to Reb Shlomo and the surrounding group, Shlomo rushed out to the curb to be more visible and began shaking his hat as if to separate it from his yarmulke. The honourable pauper king thought that the hat was shaken to great him and he rushed to take his hat off in response to the greeting. Meanwhile, Reb Shlomo, with his hat in hand, pretended that he was only cleaning his hat with his sleeve.

On another occasion when a local gentile passed in a hurry in his carriage, Shlomo pointed his cane towards the wheels. When the man stopped and descended from the carriage to check if there was any problem with the wheels and seeing that nothing was wrong, asked Reb Shlomo what he meant. Reb Shlomo distanced himself from him and said: “Nothing. I was just noticing how the wheels are turning…” And he soon disappeared into the alley.

This man, with all his acuteness and cleverness, was submissive to his wife who was a woman of valour. No comment on that one.

Meir Ber who was intimate
with the authorities

by Moshe Mussler

It is obvious that this story is not about the famous Jewish–German composer of the opera: “Huguenots” who was a convert, but it is about Meir Bert the barber of Strzyzow. He specialized in giving enemas, extracting teeth and was also a little bit of a musician.

It seems that the angel in charge of music forgot to include him among the world geniuses. Nonetheless, this fact did not diminish his popularity in town and particularly his closeness with the authorities.

This “genius” was not a native of our town. He came from Domaradz, a down–trodden little town less esteemed that ours, buried somewhere on the road to Dynow and without a railroad connection.

In those days, the profession of a barber was considered a respectable profession. It was related to the art of medicine….

Therefore, he behaved like an intellectual which separated him from

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the rest of the Jews.

Already then, half a century ago, the Polish language ruled in his house. His spouse and three daughters were apprehensive of socializing with daughters of their own faith and socialized only with Christian girls fearing that their accent would be influenced. Meir used to boast before his gentile clients about the Polish upbringing of his daughters and their close association with their daughters.

He was the only one in town without a beard and side–locks. Indeed, he did not fail to come to shul for the Sabbath service dressed in silk with a small worn–out shtreimel which hardly covered his bald head. In the middle of the afternoon long before the evening prayers, he shed his Sabbath clothes, put on his derby hat and left the house pretending that he was going for a stroll. But, in reality, he headed toward the houses of the District Commissioner and other important officials to give them a shave and haircut for their Sunday day of rest. Meir was particularly proud that the Commissioner was his client. While he was busy with the Commissioner's beard, he chatted as it is habitual with barbers. Meir joked about his co–religionists' traditions and inadvertently disclosed some of the town's business for which discretion would have been preferable. On the other hand, he was also close to the Rabbi and once a month, paid his a visit to cut his hair. Here he presented himself to be a G–d fearing Jew boasting about his strictly kosher household and about his many interventions with the Commissioner in favour of his co–religionists. The truth was that the Rabbi and the rest of the community knew that he desecrated the Sabbath but for understandable reasons, they avoided admonishing him directly.

On market day he had his hands full; mainly extracting rotten teeth from peasants' mouths. These peasants, even though they suffered pain during the removal, did not dare to scream. To lessen the pain, they downed a half a dozen glasses of vodka which his neighbour, the Assistant Rabbi's wife had sole to them. So she also benefitted from their pain.

On Yom Kippur, the special day of the year, Meir turned very religious. He hardly left the shul the whole day. His head submerged in the prayer book saying quietly the portions of prayers that he thought to be important with reverence because he had difficulty in reading the “small print”.

When the hour of the concluding prayers arrived, an expression of solemnity spread over his face. Isolated in a corner, he raised his voice in the prayer: “Avinu malkeinu”. Meir told himself innocently that he had one request from the Ruler of the Universe: “To be inscribed favourably”. At the end of the fast, Meir feared that perhaps G–d may not have forgiven him his many sins which were registered in heaven above…. But he did believe, after all, that the Merciful would relent and that he doubtlessly merited a good inscription.

After World War I, he disappeared from town with the many thousands of wanderers who were forced out of the newly established independent Poland because of their dislike of Jews. Meir too found his way to the free U.S.A. and, if he is still living, he probably lives a well–respected life as an intimate with the authorities.


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