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A word about Chadorim and Melamdim

What we are talking about are the chadorim[192] in our shtetl before a school was established by Tarbut[193] and before the establishment of a Talmud Torah[194]. In those days all the children in our shtetl studied in chadorim with melamdim[195], all of whom were called rebbe by the pupils. And there were melamdim for all stages. There was an infants' melamed who only taught the beginners. He would teach his pupils, starting with the alphabet and going on to being able to read the Siddur[196]. One such infants' teacher was Reb Itzhok Shabshi of blessed memory. In his house the children, of all abilities, sat on benches along a large table. They practised and repeated the alphabet. The 'rebbe' knew how to tell the difference between a child who knew his lesson and one who was simply shouting. He would approach the latter, caress him and explain to him what was written. They would study from seven in the morning until five in the afternoon. Even on winter nights, in the snow and the cold, the children would drag their legs to the cheyder and back. More than once the mothers would come to take their children home.

After a year's study in the cheyder they would move to a higher cheyder whose melamed was either Reb Yudl or Reb Shmuel. Here they already learned how to pray in a free manner and also studied a little Chumash[197]. But discipline was stricter and the demands on the pupils greater. I remember the cheyder of Reb Yudl where I studied. At the side of his house, after any rain a puddle formed, and whenever the 'rebbe' dozed off at his table we would quietly creep outside and splash in the puddle. When the 'rebbe' woke up he would rush outside shouting at us to get back to the cheyder. When we got back inside the house we would hide in all sorts of places: under the table, under the bed, behind the cupboard and so on. Reb Yudl would take the long-handled dustpan from the kitchen and use it to drag each one of us from where we were hiding. Then his wife Hudl would hand him the strap with which he would beat us soundly until every child promised, tearfully, not to repeat the offence. But of course the next day the whole spectacle was repeated.

After a year's study in this cheyder we moved to the cheyder of Reb Asher Lapinsky. This name alone, Asher der Melamed, rained terror on the pupils. Discipline was extremely harsh, for Reb Asher was a very devout and God-fearing Jew who demanded from his pupils the same respect for both the lighter and the stricter commandments that he himself showed. We studied Chumash and Rashi[198]with him and also notation for reciting prayers.

He would pray in the evenings in the house of study. This is when the pupils would run home to bring paper lanterns with lighted candles in them to show them the way home at night when they came out of the cheyder. In the evening he would go over with us the passages of the Chumash we had learned during the day, with all of us reading out loud at the same time. But woe-betide anyone who spoke with his friend during the lesson or who didn't know how to answer the 'rebbe's' question concerning the lesson… And no wonder they would all avoid sitting near the 'rebbe'. On Sabbath we would study 'Chapters of the Fathers'. The whole week Reb Asher was hoarse from all his shouting and from getting angry with his pupils.

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From Reb Asher Lapinsky 's cheyder they would move to the more advanced melamdim who already taught Gemara[199] with commentaries. Such a melamed was Reb Isaskhar the butcher. He was an intelligent man and a clever and brilliant scholar. Until this very day I remember his teaching.

And there was another melamed whose cheyder the children of the shtetl aspired to get into, though not all managed to do so. He was known locally as Reb Asher dem Megides [Reb Asher, the preacher's son]. As far as was possible his cheyder was modern, because in addition to Bible studies they also studied secular subjects with him (Hebrew, arithmetic, grammar and so on). And because his public responsibilities required him to visit government offices the pupils would 'have fun' in those idle hours. They played cards and so on.

The situation continued like this for years until a mixed Hebrew school for boys and girls was established in the shtetl by Tarbut. However, since some of the people in the shtetl were opposed to boys and girls learning together a Talmud Torah was opened for boys. Then some of the teachers mentioned above abandoned their private chadorim and served as melamdim in the Talmud Torah.

Education in Polish Volyn [Volhynia]

Dov Tkach

With the end of the First World War many of the teachers who came to Volyn had escaped from Bolshevik Russia because of the political pressure from the Yevsektsia[200]. They brought with them some limited knowledge of the Hebrew and Yiddish schools that had sprung up in Ukraine and Russia for children of Jewish refugees and with this knowledge they built the foundations of the Hebrew school movement. In a short space of time Hebrew schools and kindergartens were established in many towns and shtetls and they began to attract Jewish children. The teacher training colleges in Kiev and Kharkov had an indirect influence on the coming together of the aims of education and their implementation. And then there were the experiments in publishing pedagogical journals in Kiev and Kharkov.

Although there was not yet at that time a direct link with Eretz Israel, all the teachers and founders of schools in Eretz Israel were certainly an inspiration. The curriculum of the Hebrew gymnasium in Jaffa was copied, improved and adapted to the schools in Volyn. The teachers who came brought with them teaching materials from the publishing house Omanut[201].

The study of Hebrew as the language of Jewish religious instruction had already become widespread via the 'reformed' chadorim[202]. Now some of the teachers moved to the new schools, where they made attempts to adjust their teaching and to fulfil the ambitions that had filled their hearts since the days of Tsarist rule. These efforts were revealed fully in the years of German occupation, in particular following the Kerensky revolution.

With the establishment of the Hebrew secondary schools excellent teaching staff were recruited who had obtained their education in Western Europe (mostly in Austria). Their influence on the educational institutions in general was decisive, for

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good as well as for ill. During the course of these years the ambitions and the methods of east and west were fused and the schools developed the form and character to which they had been aspiring. The activity of the headquarters of Tarbut in Warsaw, which was founded in 1922 at a conference of delegates from all the districts of Poland, was important during this process of fusion.

Worthy of particular note are the boldness and devotion shown by the Zionist activists in the towns and shtetls of Volyn, who had the courage to establish Tarbut schools and kindergartens despite the many difficulties placed in their way by the Polish authorities.

In 1920 the Tarbut Hebrew gymnasium was founded in Rovne[203]. It served as a centre for the entire cultural movement in Western Volyn and offered assistance and support to all the schools in the region, both those which had already been established and those that were established later.

The overwhelming majority of Yiddish schools in Volyn were liquidated. Many of the Tarbut schools did not receive governmental authorisation. Although on the face of it the educational legislation was as liberal as it could be, it was nonetheless difficult for the Jews to meet the demands, these being: a building conforming to the hygiene laws, teachers having general and pedagogic training and also Polish citizenship and political acceptability. The Polish government schools were established in the buildings remaining from the days of the Tsar. There were no other, more modern buildings with large rooms in the towns - and absolutely none in the shtetls. Even if a large building was found that conformed to the requirements of a school it took time before it received authorisation from the doctor and the government architect. The matter would pass from one office to another. Nevertheless by and large lessons were not cancelled, for the activists and teachers knew how to sort things out with the local police. During the course of these years many purpose-built Tarbut schools were established, with the help of the parents and with American support.

More difficult than the ruling concerning buildings was the issue of the political acceptability of the elementary school teachers' certificates. Most of the local teachers were registered in registration books in shtetls scattered throughout Russia. If a teacher was registered in one of the places outside Polish territory he would certainly not receive confirmation of political acceptability from the local authority. Many of the teachers in the elementary schools did not possess certificates recognised by the Polish education authorities. They had to receive their certification via an indirect route and be registered solely as teachers of religion, towards whom, for various reasons, the authorities were lenient.

The teachers' economic situation was depressed. Support from abroad had ceased. Salaries, although high and beyond the means of small trades people and artisans, did not cover all the teachers' needs. The headquarters of Tarbut tried to help in a pedagogic way through supervision and pedagogical journals, but its very existence was dependent on tolls levied on the schools. The government would not give any help to the schools. Even in the final years before the Second World War local authorities only gave very meagre support. The headquarters of Tarbut succeeded in those years in getting from the American committee certain sums for buildings, from which the schools in Volyn benefited.

Tarbut institutions formed in essence a Hebrew education network in Volyn. Most of the Jewish children living in the many settlements in the region received their education in these schools. The influence of these institutions on the Jewish population was great. Those who had initially been opposed to the new Hebrew education came to terms with it later; some of them even became supporters.

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90% of the pupils in the elementary schools were of a low social status. Because of that, in many of the schools the children were fed with the help of the T.O.Z.[204]. The Tarbut headquarters also helped with the support provided by T.O.Z.. Then there was the teachers' institute which arranged summer camps for teachers and pupils in the Tatra and Beskidy mountains. Many of the pupils of Tarbut schools in Volyn continued their path in the youth movement until it found its home in Eretz Israel.

  Shmuel Rozenhek
from the book 'The Sarny Community'

The Tarbut school in the shtetl

This was in 1920, with the great Zionist awakening among the Jewish masses that followed the Balfour Declaration, the Russian Revolution and the anti-Jewish pogroms. Several comrades from Tzeirei Tzion[205] got together, among them Zeydl Lopatyn, Yaffa Geklman, Yekhiel Borovyk, Volf Lykhtnfeld and Belka Ratner. We decided to establish a Hebrew school in the shtetl. We began by renting a room from Moyshe Shnayder, announced the registration of children in the Hebrew school and enrolled children of all ages. To begin with therefore there was one mixed class for all ages that served as a sort of preparatory stage for the next year. The next year there was already some kind of shape to our 'school'. We rented a house with a few rooms (from Benyamin Shnayder) and sorted the children into classes according to their age. The majority of the pupils were girls and there were only a few boys.

We looked for somebody to be the head of the school. We contacted the headquarters of Tarbut which was then in Rovne. We travelled to Rovne to see Rozenhek[206], who was then the leading light at the headquarters of Tarbut, and asked him for a suitable person to be the head of our school.

The school developed. We gained the trust of the parents. We also attracted teachers like Rotman and Kadishevitz. There were four classes in the school and in them a hundred children - or, to be more precise, girls. On top of that we organised evening classes for young working people. As a result of that the struggle with the Bund[207], who saw the working youth as their sphere of influence, intensified. The orthodox fought hard against the school and the evening classes because they saw the school as the source of all evil.

I remember one episode from those days. One evening some figures draped in white clothes appeared in the corridor of the school and below its windows. A rumour spread in the shtetl that corpses and devils were dancing in the school at night as a punishment to those who were studying the Torah without covering their heads. The children were really gripped with fear; for several days they would not come to school until things had calmed down. It transpired that the orthodox - possibly in league with the Bund – had enticed some children to wrap themselves in white clothes and frighten the other children in order to drive them away from the

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A class of girls with the teacher Ternopolsky (in the middle), 1918


secular Hebrew school

The school grew from year to year. Every year a class was added, until the Polish authorities, irritated and jealous, took action against it. They began to require from the teachers qualifications and government authorisation. The teachers at the school at the time were Kant for literature and Bible, Shokhet for mathematics and Yaffa Geklman taught the lower classes. At that time, under the auspices of Tarbut, evening university classes were organised in Warsaw for adults in order to obtain teaching certificates. Kant and I travelled to these classes and obtained teaching certificates. But the government wouldn't leave us alone. They looked for tricks and pretexts to bully us. They maintained that the flat was not suitable for its use etc. As we didn't have the funds for a better and more suitable flat the school was closed in 1924. They continued to teach in secret in private rooms comparable to a school, but in the course of time this was also stopped.

In 1927 the Tarbut school was re-established. I remember the teacher Feldman who, apart from his work in the school, was very active in the HeKhalutz HaTzair[208] branch and in general among the young people of the shtetl, through the evening classes, lectures, literary debates and so on that he organised. But the reestablished school was unable to find the strength to keep open for more than one year.

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The Tarbut school, year one, 1924
From right to left, standing (top row): Malka Khaznchuk, Bella Lieberman, Rivka Sher, Roza Kryvoruchky, Mikhle Lieberman, Rut Vaks;
Second row from top: Pesil Lopatyn, Yakov Lopata, Trigon, Arie Kant, Roza Shokhat, the teacher Shokhat, Yaffa Geklman, Yakov Shmuel Levin;
Next row down: Gitl Lopata, Chana Feldman, Breyndl Kaftan, Sara Durchyn, Tama Shtoper, Feygl Geklman;
Second row from bottom: Dvora Borovyk, Esther Feldman, Freydl Sher, Lea Urman, Dvora Nafkhan, Sara Petrukh, Sh. Riva Borovyk, Pesl Shamash, Bonya Kikhl, Abrams Bar Ryzhy;
Bottom row: Zhana Khmara, Dvorale Borovyk


The teachers of the school were generous not only in their teaching. Their fingers were in every public activity in the shtetl. They organised and co-ordinated all the Zionist activities. They were the ones who organised and were active in the local library; they were the ones who collected contributions and were active on behalf of the KKL[209]; they were the ones who organised drama groups and presented plays; they were active in the youth movement and so on. I remember one particular evening event when there was an argument between the teachers and local KKL activists concerning the purpose for which money was being collected. The teachers maintained that the money should be devoted to the local library for acquisition of new books, whereas the KKL activists maintained that it should be given to Keren Kayemet. The two groups went away with the 'material' to collect money, having agreed that the group which returned first after selling the 'material' would be the one to get the money. It was the library group which came back first. The KKL activists were angry and were not willing to surrender their claim. Eventually a new agreement was reached to share the money equally between the two groups.


The beginnings of the Khalutz

The first branch of the Khalutz in the shtetl was organised as early as 1924 by virtue of the fact that at that time the only people who received emigration certificates were members of Khalutz and in particular those in training, preparing for communal life in Eretz Israel. In the shtetl there were then two Zionist organisations. One was

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Tzeirei Tzion[210] and the second 'General Zionists', but neither members of one nor of the other were able to emigrate to Eretz Israel. As has already been said, the only ones who could were members of HeKhalutz and those in training. We, who were members of Tzeirei Tzion, were particularly anxious to emigrate and decided therefore to organise the branch of Khalutz. We invited a 'visit' from the headquarters in Warsaw, and Khuma Khayut came. We called a general meeting of all the young people in the shtetl and afterwards a separate meeting of younger people. This is how the Khalutz and the Khalutz Tzair were organised.

In these meetings Khuma lectured about the tasks of the Khalutz, about Eretz Israel, about the worker in the Land and so on. She did not, as was usually the case with other lecturers, go overboard with words of praises but spoke simply - and there was a lot of magic in her words - about the tasks, about the difficulties, about the conquest of labour and settlement and so on. And in fact many flinched and did not join the Khalutz. But those who did join knew that they had to go into training, to begin work even before they travelled to Eretz Israel. Following her suggestion, we contacted the Khalutz headquarters in Warsaw and with its help organised a training group in the village of Byala, the first and a joint one for the whole region.


The drama group

Alongside the Tarbut school a drama group was founded that would prepare frequent performances in the shtetl.

In those years 1920-24, as far as I recall, the following plays: der yeshive bokher[211]; di shkhite[212]; mirele efros[213]; 'the Song of Songs'; got, mentsh un tayvl[214], fishke der krumer[215], tevye der milkhiker[216] and others.

The plays were important not only in themselves as plays but in particular in preparation for reading them and in all the work that preceded the performance, the rehearsals, building the stage, decor etc. – all of this brought a spirit of life into the shtetl.

  Yaffa Geklman-Anavi
Kiryat Chaim

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Karlin-Stolin Chassidism

The importance of the Karlin branch of Chassidism lies not so much in the extent of its influence, as in the case of the Chassidic movements that arose later in Poland and in Ukraine, but in the timing and the energy of its activities, not in stasis but in dynamism. It was one of the earliest branches of Chassidism.

In the early days of this movement, when 'the great preacher' Reb Dov founded his house of study in the shtetl of Mezrich in southern Volyn, his pupil, Reb Aaron the Great, founded a centre of Chassidism in the north, in Karlin, a suburb of the Lithuanian town of Pinsk[217] (in the year 1765 approximately).

The importance of this centre in the north, parallel to the centre in the south, was such that Chassidim[218] were called either Mezricher or Karliner. And so, in the earliest documents from the time of the campaign that was waged against Chassidism, we read: 'Call the mourners now, at once, and mourn the Chassidim called Mezricher and Karliner [i.e. calling for their death]'.

The philosopher Shlomo Mimon, who lived during the early years of Chassidism, testifies in his autobiography that followers of the new cult that appeared at that time would pay visits to two towns, K (Karlin) and M. (Mezrich). And the French tourist Gregoire, who visited Poland at that time, writes that the members of the new cult – the Chassidim – were called by the name 'Karliniim', taken from the name of the place where it was founded.

Even in documents dating from a later period (1796-1801), which are to be found in the senate in Petersburg and which relate to the time when the Russian government intervened in the conflict between the Chassidim and the misnagdim (those who opposed Chassidism), they called the Chassidim simply by the name 'Karliniim', despite the fact that by that time Chassidism, with all its various branches and families of tzaddikim[219], had already spread to all corners of Poland and Russia.

In these same documents Reb Shneur Zalman[220] of Lyadi[221], the founder of Chabad[222], was called by the name 'head of the Karliniim', i.e. leader of the Chassidim.

In Lithuania, the main centre of [Jewish] learning, the Karlin Chassidim were pioneers of the ideas of Chassidism. It was from Karlin, which had at one time been part of Lithuania, the main centre of opposition to Chassidism, that Reb Aaron the Great attempted to spread the teachings of Chassidism.

From among passages in the notebook of the town Nisvizh[223] dating from the year 1769, which before the war was held in the 'court' in Stolin and which contain corrections and teachings of Reb Aaron the Great, we learn how considerable his influence had already become by that time in all of the surrounding area.

In spite of the persecution and the prohibitions that were visited on the principal communities in Lithuania, including the town of Pinsk, Reb Aaron still managed to light the fire of Chassidism there. 'He delivered himself in selfless dedication for that' was written on the tombstone of his grave, in accordance with his instructions.

This was the first rise in the movement. At the time of the first prohibition, which happened mainly in the year 1772 and which was also imposed in his town, Reb Aaron died in his home town. He was only 36 years old. 'The fire of God that

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blazed in his bosom consumed him'. Among his written teachings the Sabbath song ya ekhsof noam shabat[224] is particularly worthy of note. Until today it is sung by Chassidim every Sabbath.

After his death his pupil and friend Reb Shleyme of Karlin indeed tried to preserve his heritage, but because of the persecution and the prohibitions he was forced (in the year 1784) to leave Karlin, the cradle of Chassidism, and request shelter in the town of Ludmir (Vladimir-Volynsky[225]). And when the righteous man vanished the glory of the movement in Karlin also vanished. Their prayer houses were forcibly closed and the Chassidim were subjected to ceaseless persecution.

This was the period of decline in the Karlin Chassidic movement. Reb Shleyme remained in Ludmir. In the year 1792 he was killed as a martyr by the Cossacks in their war against Poland. He became famous in Chassidic writing under the name 'Messiah, Son of Yosef', whose destiny it was to be killed by Armilos[226] before the arrival of the Messiah, Son of David.

Ludmir Reb Shleyme took with him into exile Reb Asher the First, the son of Reb Aaron the Great. After Reb Shleyme's death Asher returned to the area where his father lived (about the year 1794) but still did not dare return to Karlin because of the persecution. He chose as his residence the shtetl of Stolin, near Pinsk. Since then the Karlin Chassidim have also been called by the name of Stolin.

It was at that time (1796-1801) that the Pinsk rabbi Rabbi Avigdor led the famous campaign against the 'Karliniim'. Rabbi Avigdor went up to the high senate in Petersburg and caused the imprisonment of the tzaddik[227] Reb Shneur Zalman of Lyadi and also of Reb Asher of Stolin (the day he was freed was celebrated on the fifth candle of Hanukkah[228]).

It was after the victory of the Chassidim and after they had taken control of the community institutions in Pinsk that Reb Asher the First returned to the cradle of Karlin Chassidism (after the year 1810). Here he remained until his death (1826).So it was during his time that the start of the second rise in the Karlin movement took place, after the period of decline in the days of its rebbe Reb Shleyme. This rise reached its peak in the days of his son, Aaron the Second, who ruled almost 50 years until the year 1872. He had great power. He was responsible for fortifying the building which his grandfather and his father had built and he produced the book 'the House of Aharon', including the 'Karlin Torah'. It was during his lifetime that the majority of the famous Karlin-Stolin melodies were composed.

The rebbe Reb Moyshe Perlov from Stolin   The rebbe Reb Isroel Perlov from Stolin   The rebbe Reb Elimelekh Perlov from Karlin


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Reb Asher the Second, the son of Reb Aaron, died a year after the death of his father and was succeeded by a small three-year-old child, Reb Isroel, who was crowned rebbe. He became known in literature by the name 'Yenuka[229] king of Stolin' and later excelled himself with his great energy. He would mix with the common folk and was also close to those far away for he understood their spirit. He also excelled in his musical talent; during Melave Malka[230] he and his sons would play pieces by Bach and Beethoven.

After the death of Reb Isroel in 5682 [1922] the kingdom was divided, for he was survived by six sons. Apart from the one son who emigrated to America, the only one to remain alive was his youngest son, Reb Yokhanan, who came to Israel. News regarding the martyrs' death suffered by Yokhanan's other brothers reached us via the mouths of survivors.

  Dr Ze'ev Rabinovych
(according to the anthology Or Zarua [Shining Light])

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Ya ekhsof (God, I yearn)

(Sabbath song by Rebbe Aaron the Great of Karlin)

God, I yearn for the delight of Sabbath, fitting and united with Thy virtue.
Grant the delight of Thine awe to the people, those that desire Thy grace.
Consecrate them in the holiness of Sabbath, joined in Thy Law.
Open unto them the delight and desire to open the gates of Thy grace.

God, I yearn
Be Thou the Guard of those that guard and await Thy holy Sabbath.
As the hart panteth after the water brooks [Psalm 42, 1]
so their souls long for the delight of Sabbath,
joined in the name of Thy holiness.
Save them from turning away from the Sabbath
lest it be closed to them for six days.
May they receive the blessing of Thy holy Sabbath
and purify their hearts in truth and belief in Thy worship.

God, I yearn
And may Thy mercy be upon Thy holy people.
To those that thirst for Thy charity give drink from the river of Eden.
Crown Israel in splendour.
They glorify Thee in Thy holy Sabbath.
Throughout the six days bestow on them the inheritance of Jacob, Thy chosen one.

God, I yearn
Sabbath, the delight of souls and the seventh pleasure of the spirits,
and the joys of souls basking in Thy love and Thine awe,
Holy Sabbath, my soul is sick for Thy love,
Holy Sabbath, souls of Israel
will find shelter in the shade of Thy wings
and drink abundantly of the riches of Thy house.
God, I yearn.

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The visit of the rebbe in the shtetl

I remember those 'High Holidays', when the rebbe from Stolin, the Admor[231] Isroelke, used to stay with us in the shtetl. It wasn't so easy to bring him to the shtetl because he was always busy with community business. Many came to ask his advice and waited with great anticipation for what he would say. His followers carried out his advice in pedantic detail. Every word that he uttered was considered holy in their eyes. They would ask him in particular about matters of commerce and matchmaking.

Whenever there was a promise that the rebbe was coming to stay in the shtetl there was great joy. They all whispered about it and proclaimed the good news to one another. There was a great deal of preparation; they would prepare long tables for the dozens of people who always accompanied the rebbe from the shtetls and the nearby villages. About two weeks before his arrival they were all busy preparing the meals, for in those days there were no bakeries, and every woman baked the bread herself in an oven lit by wood.

The rebbe would stay in our house. It was taken for granted that everything would be prepared there; they would slaughter a calf or a cow and would prepare various foods and fine wines, all in honour of the occasion. A number of highly thought of women would always come to help us prepare the meals. They would cook special foods for the rebbe.

The rebbe would come to the shtetl in his carriage, which had its permanent coachman who took him everywhere. There only had to be a rumour that the rebbe was on his way and his followers would come out with their carts and wagons to greet him. On both sides of the road men, women and children would wait for him. The carriage would be accompanied by singing and dancing of the Chassidim and there was great joy. My father of blessed memory Moyshe Ayznberg and my mother Stesya of blessed memory did their best to prepare sleeping places for the guests who were always received hospitably.

Many of the Chassidim would pay their greetings and ask the rebbe for advice. In those days making a living was hard, and ordinary folk had more than their fair share of worries. They would come to the rebbe and tell him their worries. The rebbe's followers believed implicitly in his words and in his promise that they would come to pass.

We had a large house with many large rooms which would be filled with men, women and children whenever the rebbe came to stay. After the meal the Chassidim would go into the street dancing, accompanied by their Chassidic melodies.

It is hard to describe the joy that surrounded all the Chassidim, the ecstasy that took them over when they danced. All the cares and worries about family and money were forgotten. And there were some among them who didn't even have enough bread in the house.

  Chava Ayznberg

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The Admor dynasty of Brezne

The name of Brezne[232] became known in the world and in particular in the Jewish towns and the shtetls of Volyn and Polessia because of the Chassidic dynasty that came to reside there at the beginning of the 19th century. The large estate owners who owned the lands of the Jewish shtetls were looking for ways to grow rich, and as Chassidism was in the ascendant and as the Jews were joining the Chassidic leaders with enthusiasm, the 'squires' came to pay homage at the courts of the rebbes. This is how the 'squire' of Brezne came to invite one of the Chassidic leaders, Rebbe Yikhiel Mikhl Pechnik, who was then living in Stolin – a shtetl in Polessia that had its own Chassidic dynasty – granting him an estate of land and helping him to build a house. Rebbe Yikhiel Mikhl and his family settled in Brezne. He was known as Reb Mikhle the Brezneite, and it was with him that the Brezne dynasty started.

Reb Yikhiel Mikhl was the son of Rebbe Dovid Halevi, the preacher from Stepan[233] and a pupil of the Mezrich preacher, the grandson of Rebbe Dovid

Rebbe Shmuel Pechnik from Brezne


Halevi, who wrote 'golden columns', and the son-on-law of the Chassidic leader Reb Yikhiel Mikhl, the preacher from Zlochev[234]. While he was still in Stolin Reb Mikhle of Brezne would sit, day and night, over the Torah and worship God in the local house of study, together with his only son Reb Yitzhok, the son-in-law of Reb Aaron of Chernobyl. His wife was a small shopkeeper and she provided the meals for her husband and son, who immersed themselves in worshipping God. It was indeed extraordinary that the Chernobyl dynasty, which had already achieved a reputation in all the Jewish world, got married to Rebbe Mikhle, although he was very poor and humble.



The son-in-law, Itzikl, the only son of Reb Mikhle, whose name went before him already as a Gaon[235] and as a tzaddik, was later glorified greatly in Chernobyl.

The Brezne dynasty flourished and expanded, especially in the days of Reb Itzikl of Brezne, who drew crowds of followers because of his reputation as a holy man and miracle worker. Many Christians also came to him to ask for salvation and assistance. Brezne Chassidism was based on a heartfelt faith, simple and devout. Many were the pupils and 'people of substance' who travelled to Brezne, though most of those who came were crowds of simple people who, in innocent belief and without reserve, clung lovingly to the rebbe, like children attached to a devoted mother. Tailors, cobblers, artisans and small retailers from Volyn, and even more from Polessia, trusted their hearts in him and placed the fate of their lives in his hands.

Rebbe Itzikl of Brezne would do many things in the various towns and shtetls, he would show the Jews the right path and teach them to put their trust in the Creator and bless his name. If anything happened to these Jews they ran at once to the rebbe to share with him the joy they

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felt, and if it were bad – that he would prevent it happening, God forbid… On the day that they met the rebbe, whether they travelled to him at the New Year or on another occasion, their whole heart rejoiced and woe and sorrow fled. The hour of the rising of the soul arrived for everyone.

Reb Itzikl of Brezne died in Brezne in the year 5626 [1865]. His son, Rebbe Yosle, who succeeded him on the throne, only 'reigned' for four years and departed this life in the year 5630 [1870]. Although only a rebbe for four years he left beautiful stories to posterity. He was 36 when he died, but despite his young age he was admired by his followers. Even the manner in which he died evoked wonder: Chassidim gathered together and came to him at New Year and on the Day of Atonement, but he held them back until after Simkhat-Torah[236], saying to them all: 'You won't regret it, stay!' Towards evening on Simkhat-Torah he called his sons and told them how to conduct themselves. The whole evening he spent with the Chassidim, and towards morning he rushed to immerse himself in the ritual bathhouse, returned and breathed his last in his house of study.

After the death of Rebbe Yosle his eldest son was aged 18. Both his grandmother Perle and his great-grandfather, Rebbe Aaron of Chernobyl, who died in the year 5652[1892], were still alive. Rebbe Aaron had three sons, and he confirmed the eldest one, Rebbe Shmuel, as his successor on the throne. This Rebbe Shmuel was my father's father. He was the leader of Chassidism in Brezne for 49 years and passed away in the year 5678 (end of 1917) in Brezne. He was the father-in-law of the famous rebbe of Belz, Isaskhar-Dov Rokeakh of blessed memory.

With the departure of Reb Shmuelke his son Reb Itzikl sat on the throne in Brezne. His second son Reb Nakhumke, settled in Dombrovitze, the third, Reb Yosle, settled in Sarny.

From this dynasty yet another branch developed. This was from the rebbe Chaimke Toybman of Brezne, who was the son-in-law of Reb Itzikl. This planter also struck roots of sons and sons of sons who continued the chain of rebbes until the day of wrath that fate appointed there for all of them.

  Reb Aaron Pechnik
(from 'A Volyn Anthology', a pamphlet published in 1946)

[Page 55]

The rebbe from Brezne

When I was nine years old I began to study in Vysotsk. Our village, called Tuman, was three km from Vysotsk. In Vysotsk I stayed with relatives of ours. Returning home on a Friday was a special experience for me. On one occasion – it was on a Thursday because the teacher was ill - I decided to walk home. On the way I had to cross three bridges among avenues of trees and some woods. At home there was an especially joyous atmosphere. I was told that the rebbe was coming to visit us. This was the rebbe from Brezne by the name of Reb Itzikl, a tall man with the face of an angel and whose long white beard covered his face. Father, who was a strong supporter of his, received the rebbe in great splendour and honour. Sometimes the rebbe would rest at our place and sometimes he would come to visit just for a couple of hours. I could see from the preparations that this time he intended to stay and sleep the night. The evening meal turned into a kind of 'feast fit for a king' where the children sat in silence and listened. After the meal the rebbe gave each of us his blessing and we withdrew for the night's sleep. In the morning Mother of blessed memory said that the rebbe was travelling to Vysotsk together with Father and the beadle. I joined them for the journey in our beautiful carriage. The journey passed quickly and without problem until we reached the bridges that cross the rivers at the entrance to the shtetl. We were surprised to see them floating in the water - the same bridges that I had crossed without hindrance the previous day. We went to the house of a peasant and asked him to get in touch with the Chassidim on the other side and tell them about the situation. The peasant, who received a gift of money from Father of blessed memory, went out in a fishing boat to the other side. After some time two large boats appeared, filled with Chassidim dancing joyfully. The joy intensified. Everyone was prepared for the arrival of the rebbe who, on his arrival in the shtetl, was going to stay in the house of Dovid Kaftan.

As has already been said, the rebbe was from the town of Brezne in Volyn and known as der brezner rebbe [the rebbe from Brezne]. They used to say about him that he wasn't just a rebbe and a learned scholar but a real doctor. I remember how he cured my mother of blessed memory from a serious illness with a prescription that could only be found in the large town of Pinsk. I also recall a similar serious instance with my sister Heshke, who lived in Pinsk and who was ill with hiccoughs. Even the doctor could not cure her of this terrible illness of belching without stop and without being able to speak. Father of blessed memory told the rebbe all the details of the illness. After she received the medicine that the rebbe gave her Heshke was cured of the illness.

As a rebbe it was not appropriate for him to examine the patient; he simply listened to the details of the illness and, according to that, signed prescriptions for medicine that had proved effective.

The man with the white beard was like a saviour to his many followers. I always remember Father of blessed memory in the company of the quiet, good people of Vysotsk who were wiped out in the great Shoah. The heart will be bitter from so much sadness and woe…

  Bella Lieberman Smokat


  1. private schools providing a religion-based education (singular: cheyder) return
  2. 'Culture', a network of Hebrew-language educational institutions founded in 1922 return
  3. a school providing a traditional religion-based education, free of charge for poorer pupils return
  4. teachers (singular: melamed) return
  5. prayerbook return
  6. Pentateuch return
  7. acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, who wrote the first comprehensive commentaries on the Bible and Talmud return
  8. section of the Talmud return
  9. an abbreviation of Yevreyskaya Sektsia (Russian), the Jewish section of the Soviet Communist Party, which aimed to suppress Judaism and destroy independent Jewish parties, both Zionist and non-Zionist return
  10. 'Art', based in Kiev return
  11. private schools providing a religion-based education (singular: cheyder) return
  12. now Rivne, previously Rovno (Russian), Równo (Polish) and Rovne (Yiddish) return
  13. acronym for Towarzystwo Ochrony Zdrowia Ludnošci Łydowskiej (Polish), Society for the Protection of Health of the Jewish Population return
  14. Zionist Youth return
  15. presumably Shmuel Rozenhek, author of the chapter 'Education in Polish Volyn' return
  16. the Bund was a non-Zionist Jewish socialist movement founded in 1897 to represent Jews throughout Imperial Russia. It supported the 1917 Revolution but opposed the October Revolution. In 1921 it ceased activities in the Soviet Union but remained active in Poland (and the United States) return
  17. Young Pioneers return
  18. Keren Kayemet l'Israel, the Jewish National Fund return
  19. Zionist Youth return
  20. Yiddish: The Yeshiva Boy return
  21. Yiddish: The Slaughter, by Yakov Gordin (1853-1909) return
  22. Also by Gordin return
  23. Yiddish: God, Man and the Devil, by Gordin return
  24. Yiddish: Fishke the Lame, based on a story by Mendele Moykher Sforim (1835-1917) return
  25. Yiddish:Tevye the Dairyman, based on a story by Sholem Aleikhem (1859-1916) which later became famous as 'Fiddler on the Roof' return
  26. Pinsk is now in southern Belarus return
  27. followers of Chassidism return
  28. Hebrew: righteous ones return
  29. lived 1745-1812 return
  30. Vitebsk province, Belarus return
  31. an acronym for Khokhma (Wisdom), Bina (Understanding) and Da'at (Knowledge) return
  32. Nesvizh, south-west of Minsk return
  33. God, I yearn for the delight of Sabbath return
  34. now Volodymyr Volynsky return
  35. Armilos is a wicked, cruel king of Jewish legend return
  36. ‘Righteous one’, a title given to somebody of exceptional spirituality return
  37. Festival of Lights (December) return
  38. infant return
  39. ‘Accompanying the queen’, the third and final Sabbath meal return
  40. acronym for adoneinu (our Master) moreinu (our Teacher) verabeinu (our Rabbi) return
  41. now Berezne, north-east of Rivne return
  42. a village south-west of Sarny(c.50 km. south of Udrytsk, the nearest railway station to Vysotsk) return
  43. now Zolochiv, a village east of Lvivreturn
  44. 'genius', a title for a rabbi indicating great respect return
  45. 'The joy of the Torah', celebrating the completion of the annual readings from the Bible return

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