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[Pages 221-223]

Our Rabbi, Reb Yossele -- and Sports

by Shalom Freider

Translated by Rachel Karni

Translator's notes:Shalom Freider, the son of Yisrael and Eitel Freider, was born in Shumsk in 1906. The events in this chapter took place in the mid-1920s. The author emigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1930. His children are Benyamin Hofshi, the late Shmuel Frehar, and Yisraela Freider Aloni. Along with extended family, they were among those instrumental in the erection of a new fence around the Jewish cemetery in Shumsk in 2008. Rabbi Yossele was Rabbi Yosef Rabin, who is the subject of the Shumsk Yizkor Book's next chapter, “The Last Rabbi of Shumsk” by Aharon Wertheim (pages 224-225).

Sports in our town began as usual with football1. The team was established during a conversation between friends. It was with great effort that we outfitted the team with uniforms. I was chosen to be the team captain and I visited Kremenets2, learned the rules of the game from Moshke Margolies, of blessed memory, and after some time our team decided we were prepared to be put to a test.

We invited the “Hakoach Kremenets”3 for a game against the “Shumsk Maccabees” and our town was bubbling over with joy and excitement. The boys on the team walked around town like clowns at a circus in their strange, outlandish outfits, dozens of children encircling the spectacle. Thus a week of intensive practice passed and we were all tense, awaiting the Shabbat on which the game was to take place.

That Shabbat I went with my father to the synagogue as usual, but exactly at 10 o'clock I snuck out of the “kloze”4 and went to the football field for our final practice. All the others on the team did the same. We didn't want our guests to know about this final practice and we kept it secret.

The Kremenets team had come to our town the day before. We put them up at the hotel of Shimon Sipker, and according to the rules we, the host team, bore all of the expenses.

In the middle of our practice session a young boy, overcome with fright and highly excited, burst onto the field and said that Rabbi Yossele was approaching the field along with all of the worshippers from the synagogue. They don't want their children to play football on Shabbat, to sell tickets for the game, etc., and they want us to stop the game.

I felt awful. I didn't know what I would say to my father. I was terribly distraught and it even crossed my mind that I should escape, hide, disappear.

But the boy looked squarely at me and stated his message: The Rabbi requested that I come to him.

I ran in the direction of the Rabbi. He stood alone, far from all of the other members of the congregation, smiling broadly, his face glowing with the sacred light of the Shabbat.

 


[Shalom Freider, far left, standing,
and other members of the Shumsk football team]
5

 

My knees shook and my mouth was dry. How would I begin? But he spoke first and said:
“Promise me that you will not hold the game on Shabbat. Do it to honor your parents, who are all strict observers of the Shabbat, and your ancestors who, for generations, have been ready to forfeit their lives but not to desecrate the Shabbat. And on Saturday night, please come to see me.”
And with these words he left me.

I too walked away, now calm and submissive. I told the team that I had decided not to hold the game. We would postpone it to Sunday, I said, but the problem of the expenses troubled me. The shops were closed on Sunday, but who would come and pay for a ticket? Who would come to see a game in the middle of the week?

It was decided to ask our guests to remain another day on the pretext that on Shabbat people would not come to watch the game, and that would be a pity. I was ashamed to tell them the true reason. In Kremenets there were football games only on Shabbat.

On Saturday night I took the captain of the Kremenets team with me and we went to the home of Rabbi Yossele.

He sat at the head of the table, majestic, his heart and his face beaming and exuding warmth. Next to him sat the leaders of the community, Mr. Efraim Goldenberg, Mr. Benyamin Shochet, Reuven Chaim Niskis, and others.

I had prepared myself to be chastised harshly and I trembled. These men, all of whom I knew, were forceful and knew how to express their opinions. I trusted the Rabbi. He would defend me.

* * *

To this very day I remember that evening.

Again, it was the Rabbi who began to speak:

“You -- Shalom, the son of Yisrael,” he said, “you have been most privileged to have been chosen to be the captain of the Jewish sports team of our town. Today you did a great thing -- you saved us from a most terrible shame. You did not allow the boys to desecrate the Shabbat in public, to grow wild, to sell tickets and to become exhausted.

“You understand,” he emphasized, “to become exhausted! Shabbat is a day of rest and one must not get tired out on it. I am sure that as a reward for this you will be a healthy young man and you will succeed in all that you do.”

And then he turned to the captain of the Kremenets team:
“You see what wonderful children we have raised in Shumsk! Children who are marvelous. Young people who are not cheeky, who respect their parents. Learn from them. Return to Kremenets and tell them what happened and stop desecrating the Shabbat. Playing football itself is not so terrible, but with the game go the sale of tickets and smoking in public, and this is not worth doing.”
The others present added their comments, and their words were mostly criticism and preaching. When they had concluded the Rabbi bent down toward me and asked if we had a deficit. “Of course, your team has to bear the expenses,” he said. “Tell me how much money you have lost and I will find a way to make up the deficit.”

I got mixed up, felt embarrassed and thus remained silent. And then the Rabbi added, “Nu, don't worry. After the game tomorrow you will know and tell me. I have money prepared to give to you, so don't be ashamed and let me know.” He rose from the table, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Nu, kids, go on and may you win! Don't bring shame on our town. Play with spirit and do the best you can. And tomorrow, if you have a deficit come to me and, G-d willing, you will receive the amount you need to cover it all.”

* * *

The next day a miracle occurred. It was Sunday and the shops were all closed. The market was quiet and the streets were empty. Suddenly at 9 o'clock in the morning the streets filled with people. They stood in small groups and spoke only about the forthcoming game. They all spoke about sports, waiting for the hour the game was to begin and asking about the price of the tickets.

When I reached the football field at 2 o'clock it was bursting with spectators. The ticket sellers were overwhelmed with work and they soon ran out of the tickets that we had prepared. The respected elders of the town, the leadership, older women and young teenage girls all thronged to the football field. We had to purchase ordinary receipt books and sell them as tickets.

The game became an important event. We lost goals, but we did not lose money. The income covered everything and our team's budget was suddenly enriched.

* * *

I don't know if I told about sports in Shumsk in this article or about our beloved Rabbi Yossele. Now that I have finished it seems to me that sports was not the main thing here. Things like this happened and are still happening.

But when I remember this incident and the reactions of Rabbi Yossele, I feel that I have told about a man who was, seemingly, completely devoted to dry Jewish law, yet notice with how much understanding of the needs of the youth of the town he was blessed, and with how much wisdom and tact he extinguished fires between generations -- fires which, handled differently, could lead to destruction of a Jewish community.

May the memory of Rabbi Yossele remain with us.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. To Americans, soccer. Return
  2. Between World War I and World War II, Shumsk was in the Kremenets district of Poland. The city of Kremenets is about 18 miles west of Shumsk and is the largest nearby city. Return
  3. Hakoach literally means "the strength" in Hebrew and it was the name of a thriving international Jewish sports organization to which the Kremenets team belonged. Return
  4. Kloze: a small prayer room Return
  5. The original yizkor book has no caption with this photo. Shalom Freider's son Benyamin Hofshi identified his father in the picture Return


[Pages 226-229 Hebrew] [Pages 372-375 Yiddish]

Sarah the Righteous

by David Chazen

Translated by Noam Gissis and Rachel Karni

Note: David Chazen, the youngest child of Sarah (Bermler) and Jacob [Yaakov] Chazen, was born in Shumsk and immigrated to the United States, as did some of his siblings. One of his brothers, Mordechi “Motel” Chazen, a pharmacist who remained in Shumsk, was the head of the Shumsk Jewish Community in 1935-36. David himself was the treasurer of the American Shumsker Relief Society, which held a benefit dinner for World War II refugees in March 1946 at Garfein's restaurant in Brooklyn, New York. A journal published for that banquet shows that the massacre of almost all the Jews of Shumsk in 1942 was not yet known to the people attending the dinner. A few years later at another meeting of the Shumsker Relief Society, recent immigrants Fayge and Yosef Mednik related the events of 1941 and 1942 in Shumsk; their account was written up by David Chazen's brother Muni Chazen and appears on pages 358-364 of this yizkor book. Immediately upon learning of the tragedy, David Chazen reacted with a great effort to help the Holocaust survivors, those who settled in Palestine and those who went to live in other places. The original edition of this yizkor book, written in Hebrew and Yiddish, was dedicated to David Chazen and his wife, Rosa, for their generosity in providing funds for the publication.

I was a kid when I heard them calling my mother “Sarah the righteous.”

Our town Shumsk, like other towns in Volhynia, was famous for being full of pious, modest Jewish women who dedicated their youth, beauty, love and enthusiasm to their family and the people around them. They gave the best years of their lives to the community and to the Jewish people. I think our town had a lot of women who could have been called “righteous,” but only Sarah got this moniker.

When I grew up I asked people the reason for this and from their answers I figured out my mother was unique. She was special and had something that you don't find in others.

* * *

When I was still a child I used to wake up at the first light of day and my mother was already far from our home. She would arise very early in the morning and, feeling responsible and committed as if she were going to a paid job, she would hurry out of the house. She would approach a hut, open the narrow door quietly and enter the house silently so as not to awaken the poor, sick woman who lived there. She put the chicken wings that she had brought with her into a pot, added water and cooked some chicken soup which might restore the woman. She then gave some instructions to the members of the family about how to care for the woman when she awoke ... and left the house.

She hurried because this was not the only sick person she visited at this time of day -- and she had to get back to our home in time to dress us -- her children-- give us breakfast, say a few words of encouragement to each and send us to school, to the cheder. And she also had to prepare breakfast for our father, may he rest in peace, because he was not to blame that his wife Sarah was worried to death about every poor sick person. He was also worthy of her attention before he left for work. One has one's responsibilities.

When she came home -- always on time -- she had a smile of satisfaction on her face. She managed to hug each of us as she gave us our breakfast, dressed us and sent us school. At this point my father had already left for work and she remained alone at home and was now able to think about the other sick people she cared for.

* * *

My father knew his wife's weaknesses and was ready, like every loyal husband, to provide everything that was required to fulfill her wishes. If in other families' cases the wife wanted jewelry, the husband would buy his wife necklaces or earrings. In my mother's case her “weakness” was her need for money that could be used to help those she cared for. and my father provided the funds

At summer's end, before and after Rosh Hashana in the period when Selichot are recited, she needed pots full of sugar and buckets full of plums and berries. At this time of the year she could be seen sitting in the middle of a circle of people who were helping her, her face flushed from the heat of an enormous boiling pot of fruit, making jams, jellies and marmalades. The day after the cooking of the fruit she would wake up at dawn, fill jars and bowls, plates and small containers with the different types of fruit and give it to the poor, so they might have some comfort in a difficult moment. Some of them said her visits and concern helped them in their moments of loneliness more than the jam. Her words helped them to feel better and they looked forward to speaking with her and hearing her words of comfort even more than they looked forward to eating the sweets.

* * *

Every day of the year had its own duties for Mom. This story about the preparation of jam was typical of the period when Selichot are recited, but the period before Passover and the spring had different tasks, and she made sure to recruit the whole house to help.

Actually preparations for Passover began in the winter, around Chanukah time, with the first frost. She used to get around 40 geese, and make sure to fatten them. The geese were kept in special cages where my mother force-fed them so that they would get very fat. Each day she spent hours getting them to eat so that she would get a lot of fat for the many poor, pale, undernourished children in town. She felt that, with God's help, she had to get those Jewish children healthy, physically and mentally, so they would grow up, study Torah and help their parents make a living.

After the 14th of Adar (the date of Purim, a month before Passover) the fattened geese were ritually slaughtered and it was then that we were all busy skinning the geese, cutting up the goose meat into pieces and cutting the huge piles of goose fat into yellow shiny cubes. My mother used to fry (and brown) the pieces of skin together with onions and there was a light shining from her face. She filled pots and jars, and running to the skinny kids to feed them she would say, “Take this, my dear child, my soon-to-be-a-Jew, spread a matza with onion and fat and pieces of fried skin and enjoy Passover, the holiday of freedom.”

We (her kids) waited for months for the appointed day when she would fry the fat and we would enjoy the grease and smell of the frying and especially the taste of the fried skin bits. It was a sweet-salty smell, and I was looking forward to it, but when it was ready first she filled her jars and left to feed “her” hungry kids.

Afterwards, for weeks there were skinned frozen geese hanging from the beams of the attic, waiting for her to finally cook them.

Mom, we loved you very much, for in addition to your own children you loved every suffering child and spread your motherly wings on all of them. Only a “Yiddishe Mama” is capable of this.

* * *

There is a saying, “Everything comes to a person though heredity and is passed on through heredity.”

My mother, Sarah the Righteous, had a mother who was like her. Our grandma was called by all in the town of Radzivil where she lived, “Deborah the well-born.” The people of her town could probably write a lot about her. I personally remember staying in her house and she too used to wake up very early and slip out of the apartment “to care for the needy.”

On Thursday nights she went to from house to house to “order” challahs from housewives for poor people. When we asked her, “Grandma, you are wealthy. Why don't you buy challahs for the poor people?” she would answer, “One does not buy a good deed, one does a good deed. In addition a person shouldn't be selfish and do all the good deeds alone. One should help others to participate in the doing of good deeds and thus merit the rewards.”

And so by heredity my mother acted in the same way.

I'm a little bit ashamed to talk about myself for when it comes to heredity a man is not able to testify about himself. But I do feel that I owe the following to my mother and grandmother. When Passover eve in New York is approaching I become restless. So I use my car and distribute matzos to needy people. I started with three packages years ago, and today, thank God, I am able now to distribute 150 packages of matzos, chicken and potatoes. I put the package in front of a door, knock and say, “Please come to the door to take the matzos in,” and then hurry away.

I am sure that doing this is the influence of my mother and grandmother.

I loved my father and respected him. People say that he deserved a lot of honor. He had a big part in my mother's good deeds because he supported her activities and provided the funds she needed.

Thanks to him we all enjoyed those good deeds. But why do I talk more about my mother? Because something fateful tied us together:

There were seven children in our family, and I was the youngest. When my mother felt that her life was getting close to its end, and she was still young at the time, she used to hold me in her bed, scared that something that she had done had hurt her baby. Maybe it was the thought that she did so much for other kids and less for her own. It was then that she dedicated a lot of time to me, many precious hours. One night she said, “Children, I'm going. My time is coming. I don't want my baby to lie til the morning near his mother's dead body.”

That night, her last one, when she felt that she was dying, she woke her children up and made my older brother take me downstairs while I was still asleep. She told him to make sure not to wake me up. A few minutes later she returned her pure soul to Heaven. Hence, there's still a special connection between us.

* * *

We should always remember our mothers. This way, we'll be better people and leave our children an important true inheritance.


[Page 248]

The Chazen Family: Yaakov & Sarah

by Pesya Gercfeld

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Editor's Note: Pesya-Golda (Lerner) Gercfeld was the daughter of Moshe and Malka Lerner. Her father Moshe had been a private teacher in Shumsk. Pesya married Avraham Chaim Gercfeld (originally from Berestechko) and they had two sons and a daughter in Shumsk. The daughter, Rachel, spelled her last name Hartzfeld. When Pesya's husband Avraham Chaim passed away in the 1930s, Pesya emigrated to Palestine with her children and resided in Tel Aviv, as did her brother Pesach Lerner. Pesach Lerner was on the editorial board for the original edition of this Shumsk yizkor book. In the 1930s Pesya returned to Shumsk to bring her parents to Palestine, thus saving their lives. Pesya's childhood friend Breindel Chazen, described in this chapter, emigrated to the United States in 1921. Some of Breindel's brothers also emigrated to the United States.

Yaakov Chazen's house was for me like my own home and his family was like my family during my early teen years. I was the friend of their daughter, Breindel, and we sat next to each other in school preparing our home assignments together. More than once, we studied together late into the evening and several times I stayed overnight, sleeping together with her in the same bed. For a long time my lungs were filled with the atmosphere of that splendid home, and, like lessons learned in early childhood, the memories are not forgotten with the passage of years. My impressions of those same childhood years live on and appear before my eyes as if they occurred yesterday. When I meet with Breindel's brother David on his visits in Israel, those years pass before my eyes: summer, autumn, winter and spring, as if they were just yesterday. Each memory provokes a further memory and yet another, until it is impossible to separate them as they surface and drift across my heart.

The Chazen family home was situated in the market and the winter days of Tevet and Shevat (December and January) were freezing cold for the shopkeepers, and the Chazen home was used as a place where the stall-holders could sit and keep warm. Each one of them brought hot food, and Yaakov would use the coals from the stove and immediately replenish the fire with firewood with his own hands so that no one's food would get cold.

As summer drew to a close, all the different fruits in our area were ripening and the larder was full to overflowing with plums, cherries, apples and pears. Then Sarah, the housewife, would get busy making preserves from all the different fruits.

For days on end, she would be occupied, using skills she had learned long ago. Breindel and I had the task of seeking out all kinds of available containers -- wide-mouthed jars, bowls, mugs -- which she greatly needed.

We were mystified as to why she needed so many containers when she could have one large container such as was found in every house in Shumsk. It was then that Sarah took out a long list of “needy” and “sick” people for whom she would fill the containers, saying: “We must do as the list tells us!”

If there is truth in the legend of the humble, modest person who lives for the sake of others and on whom the world rests, then Sarah Chazen belongs to that group, and not by chance was she known as “Sarah the Righteous.”


[Pages 252-254]

Something of Shumsk and her Legends

by Muni Chazen

Note: This article appeared in Yiddish in the journal of the Shumsker Relief Society for a benefit dinner for World War II refugees in March 1946 at Garfein's restaurant in Brooklyn, New York. For the Shumsk Yizkor Book, it was translated to Hebrew by Rafael Sapir. This English translation by Howard Freedman, from the Yiddish, appears on the JewishGen KehilaLinks website for Shumsk, The Shumsk Pages.

Facts, stories, and legends that are tied deeply with David of Shumsk, founder and builder of Shumsk, whose descendants already number the tenth generation, and who now find themselves in America.

 

1745-1945

If you should look for Shumsk on the map, you will surely not find it. I confess that whenever someone asks me where I come from, I say from near Kremenets. Not that I am ashamed of our little town, but only because nobody has ever heard of it. For the Tsarist government Shumsk was of little historical or strategic importance. It found itself at the middle point between Kremenets and Ostrog.

However, Jews there did not complain about the towns which made their shtetl unknown, as long as they could live there peacefully and draw their livelihood from all of the goods which mother earth brought them there. The quiet waters which flowed there were a source of subsistence, but for the Jews of Shumsk the shtetl Shumsk had historical significance. Many of us may know that Shumsk has behind it a history that is already 200 years old, which is connected with David of Shumsk.

Everybody knows who David Shumsker was, but not everybody knows the great merits and appreciation which were due to him. Many of us will be interested to know that even before Shumsk became a settlement, Rachmanov already had a Jewish community. But over the years the situation changed. Shumsk became the well of livelihood, the Jews moved over from Rachmanov to Shumsk, and afterwards the small cluster of Jews in Rachmanov diminished.

But let us tell the story:

Approximately 200 years ago, in the times of Polish rule, a landowner would lease his properties to Jews. Such was the case in Rachmanov. Jews paid a lease for the inn, the mill, and the river. Rachmanov also possessed around it fields and woods, which were a source of subsistence for Jews. Moreover, not far from Rachmanov was found much clay and brown dirt, from which were wrought various bricks, roof tiles, and pots for cooking.

This created an opportunity for many Jews to make a living, and it did not take long for the community of Rachmanov to increase from a village into a town. The Jewish community built a synagogue in Rachmanov, brought in two Torah scrolls, and conducted a Jewish life.

Two factors played a role in the development of the brick industry: the brown earth that was found there, and the abilities of the manager, under whom the business blossomed.

This has all been to credit our ancestor David for nurturing the brick industry, but it is because he later bought large tracts of land in Shumsk, having found brown earth there in abundance, that he subsequently came to be known to all as David Shumsker.

The bricks that were produced in his brick factory had a reputation throughout the entire region on account of their strength. One could recognize him from his initials on them: D.Sh.

In the beginning the bricks actually came from around Tcherenka. People called Tcherenka the place where the brown earth lay. As the brown earth was depleted in Tcherenka, David purchased parcels of land in Shumsk from Lord Shumsky and erected a brick factory there, which was a success from then onward. This was in about the year 1745. It became known that the brown earth in Shumsk was even better than the brown earth in Tcherenka. David proceeded to build a brick house, and the work then moved over to Shumsk.

About the many who lived in Rachmanov, who had to come to the work and go home in the evening to sleep, people joked: “They go to Rachmanov to sleep in the coop.” This saying goes on in Shumsk until the present day: “Go to Rachmanov to sleep in the coop.”

From that time one can imagine how Shumsk developed. The Jewish community developed and Shumsk became a town. David received the name David Shumsker.

Silent witnesses to that time that have remained are the pits by the Polish church below the cemetery.

There was a legend about the pits by the church which merits inclusion in Jewish folklore, and which is told thus:

In the site of the pits in former times, there stood a church. It came to pass in Shumsk that a great tzaddik who was also the rabbi of the town passed away. They prepared the funeral, they brought the corpse to the synagogue, the funeral speaker was there, and the funeral started out towards the cemetery. Just then, the church bells rang. The pallbearers stopped, not knowing what to do. Suddenly, the deceased one sat up and uttered a few words. The church sank and disappeared, and these are the two deep pits that have remained in memory.

David Shumsker's business grew and he employed Jews and Christians alike. The gentiles had great respect for him, because he treated them like a father and they even called him “Batt,” which means father. When the government assigned family names, David took the name Batt. All who carry the name Batt are his descendants. We Shumskers referred to him by the old name David Shumsker, because on every brick were the initials “D.Sh.” And whenever a brick fell from a building, we recalled him.

In addition to the houses that David erected in Shumsk for himself and his children, he never forgot the needs of the city. He erected a house of prayer and, l'havdil, a bathhouse, a house for welcoming strangers, and a hospital for the poor. Three lines of stores in the market, which went as an inheritance to his descendents, benefitted a fund for the greeting of brides. A bit later he administered the construction of the great synagogue. The synagogue was of pure brick, high and beautiful, with a fence around it. Not everyone knows that from the synagogue to his house, which stood opposite the Russian church, he built an underground cellar, also from brick. The purpose that the underground cellar served is not known. The cellar was spread out under the entire market. With the passage of years, it has become sunken in and damaged in several places. When they built the pharmacy, they also struck this cellar, but because of the bad odor they could not enter it. Neither could they go near the synagogue's cellar for the same reason. Legend tells us that in the depths of the cellar lie casks of gold, held under the power of little dwarves with chicken's feet. The dwarves bring blessed luck to those people who have the keys to the cellar. Therefore, people say in Shumsk that Yudel Zak became rich because he had the keys to the synagogue cellar, where he stored wooden wheels, and every time he rolls out the wheels, he brings blessed luck...

According to the details engraved in golden letters on the western wall of the synagogue, the synagogue was finished in the year 1780. Here was recounted what had happened in each time: when David Shumsker should have already finished the building of the synagogue, the authorities interfered, not wanting to allow the building to remain so tall. The work ceased. However, he remained a allow the building to be completed on the condition that he first build a brick wall around the Russian church. The story goes on that, after the synagogue was completed, lightning struck this wall and knocked down a large section.

The synagogue was indeed quite high. However, when one came in, one first had to ascend several staircases, which made the synagogue still higher, so as to fulfill the verse Out of the depths I call You, O Lord. In 1896 when Yossele Rosenblatt prayed in our synagogue as a boy, the throng on Shabbat was such that after praying, they had to pull him out by the hand.

In the center of the synagogue was an elevated area with a gate around it. Men came from both sides up to the bima, where they read from the Torah. They did hakafot at Simchat Torah and Hoshanot on Hoshana Raba around this platform. Lamps were suspended by long chains hanging down from the ceiling, and what held up the ceiling was a mystery. During the summer it was a joy to pray in the synagogue, but in wintertime we prayed there in furs and caught shivers. The legend is told that once a boy was lost on a Friday night. People looked around for him and could not find him. The father remembered that he had been in the synagogue with him, but he did not think about him after praying. He went to the sexton so that he might open the synagogue, but the sexton was afraid because it was already midnight. So they went to the rabbi. The rabbi told the sexton to get a gentile to light a lamp and that, before the sexton could open the door, he should knock three times. With terror they opened the door and indeed found the boy sleeping in the corner. He explained that he did not arrive on account of the ghosts that came out at night...and the ghosts furthermore did not need him.

In the present year 1946 it will be 165 years since David completed the synagogue. What has now become of the synagogue? God knows!

 

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