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[Page 138]

A life of purity and holiness

by Sara Baum

Translated by Sara Mages

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Wolomin was typical Jewish town, like all other Polish towns, and although I was not born there I felt a connection with its people, especially with my relatives. There were Jews in it of all kinds: wealthy, beggars, merchants, laborers, craftsmen, observant and also free. However, the majority were Hasidim of all kinds and their opponents.

All the parties, which existed in Poland at the time, also existed in Wolomin.

The area of Jewish residence was the center of the town and in front of them, and behind them, swarmed anti-Semites of all kinds that the hatred of the Jews burned in them, even though the Jews created and built and also enriched their gentile neighbors.

In this atmosphere the Jews of Wolomin lived a life of purity and holiness and made a living from the labor of their hands. An insignificant percentage gained wealth. Many more lived a life of poverty and distress.

I knew the Jewish youth in the years before the war. Most of them were precious gems. They were always willing to do everything in their power for the homeland and for the people. There were those who learned and knew Hebrew, and the common characteristic of them all - the thirst to learn and to know.

This youth has not lost its image even in the days of rage. They proudly carried their sufferings and restrained their torture.

All were sacrificed on the altar of their Judaism during the Nazi Holocaust.

You are holy, the members of the destroyed community of Wolomin, we hear your last groans and together with you we turn to the Lord of Hosts:

“Pour out Your wrath upon the murderers, for they have devoured Yakov.”


[Page 139]

My youth years in Wolomin

by Kalman Froiman

Translated by Sara Mages

Yesodey Hatorah

I spent eight years of my youth, from the age of ten to eighteen, in Wolomin, and devoted all these years to Torah study. I studied at “Talmud Torah” until its liquidation. “Yesodey Hatorah,” a more modern school, was built in its place. It contained four classes, in each class two hours a day were devoted to secular studies and the rest of the time - to Judaic studies.

After the student passed the intermediate-examinations he moved to a higher class.

My father, Yehoshua Froiman, was a teacher in the highest class. He was a Jewish scholar and, in addition to that, a simple man in his daily life. He was admired and loved by all who knew him, and he himself was humble.

When I completed my studies in “Talmud Torah” I was already, according to my knowledge, worthy of entering the “yeshiva,” but it did not exist in Wolomin. My parents wanted to send me to Warsaw or to Wyszków to study in one of the large Yeshivot, but they were not able to afford it and I continued my studies in Beit HaMidrash.

Nine other boys studied together with me in Beit HaMidrash. We began with our own study and were assisted by older boys who had already made progress in their studies.

They only helped us in special cases when we met “obstacles” that we could not go through on our own. I mostly remember Feivel Stolman, a studious intelligent boy who was always willing to help.

This transition, from studying in the “cheder” to the study in Beit HaMidrash, where the boy was situated all day in a large hall among different people, young and old, studying and praying, was a tremendous event in the boy's life, an event that left its mark on the development of the youth and had a great influence on the course of his future life.

We studied diligently from morning to evening, we studied Gemara with interpretation. Our only entertainment was on Thursday nights when we brought bread and herring to Beit HaMidrash

[Page 140]

and had dinner together, chanting and singing ancestral melodies and Hassidic melodies in fraternity and friendship.

That's how I reached the age of eighteen. At that time the young man in the town began to think about his future, and as the economic situation worsened and the persecution and economic pressure increased, so grew the yearning to leave the Vale of Tears in the Diaspora and immigrate to Eretz Yisrael.

The problem was not simple, because in order to reach Eretz Yisrael it was necessary to have a certificate, a permit issued by the British Mandatory government.

Indeed, we were members of “Tzeirei Agudat Yisrael,” and each party received a certain amount of certificates at its disposal, but the quantity was too small and was not enough for all those who were willing to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael.

Wolomin was a pious town. Apart from the “chedarim” there were also Batei Midrash and Hasidic “Shtiblach” where they prayed and studied from morning till evening, on weekdays, on the Sabbath and holidays. The sound of Torah burst through the town from the throat of schoolchildren, small and big, from young men and yeshiva students. In this manner the spirit of the Jewish people was forged in the town and great scholars and proud Jews were raised there.

 

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[Pages 141-145]

My Teachers

by Shmuel Zucker

The first day when I was led to school remains like a distant dream in my memory. It was a hard winter, and on the windows of all the houses the frost had woven flowers that filled our childish imaginations. It was Sunday. All through Shabbos everyone at home spoke about taking me to school. I rejoiced in the thought that soon I would be with the other children who ran out of the school with clamor and racket. It seemed to me that the school consisted of games and childish noise.

Even today it seems that I feel the warmth of my father's hand when he led me across the street on my first day as a schoolboy. Arriving at the rabbi's courtyard, he opened wide the door and a Jew with a long, white beard and glasses with golden frames gave us a heartfelt mazel tov.

The Wolomin teachers in their private schools and Talmud Torahs and pre–yeshivas were far from being pedagogues in the modern sense, but they created a profound influence on the creation of character in the Jewish children in the shtetl. Like most of my generation in Wolomin, I ranged through the whole gamut of school and I have so much to thank them for. I will cite several of my teachers as I thank them for my childhood:

 

Velvel Melamed

First is Velvel the Melamed, whose name and person I have known for a long time. Together with my father, I was ushered into a glazed terrace, and soon the rebitzin came in. She had left her kitchen to bring us refreshments, a glass of tea and some cookies. It seemed to me that the rabbi looked at me with love as he stroked his long beard. Soon on the table there appeared a silver tray with apples and almonds. The conversation became livelier. The rabbi sent me to sit by the window. From there I could see Waczechovski's garden, which the children used to love.

Waczerchovki's garden was full of tall, full–branched trees, on which the birds had built their nests , and their singing in the early mornings and the evenings sounded to my ears like the most beautiful symphonies. The garden was surrounded by prickly wires, and to our eyes it looked like an earthly Garden of Eden. All kinds of fruit grew there, and there were decorated areas for a variety of games. Children from the various schools in the shtetl would come to the garden, stand by the prickly wires, and look at the ripening fruit; and it sometimes happened that a child would work up the courage to squeeze through the fence in order to grab an apple that the wind had blown off the tree. More than once a child lost a piece of his sock with a piece of skin from his foot to the teeth of the big dog who served his master faithfully by roaming the garden and lying in wait for his victim, the Jewish schoolboy.

 

Fishele Melamed

Two winters and two summers I studied with Velvel Melamed. Having absorbed the rhythm of the alef–beis and of Hebrew, I had the foundation for further learning. Then my father turned me over to a second teacher, Fishele Melamed. He was more demanding. He used to sit by a new pupil, holding a hand and using a wooden pointer, which was sharpened to a point. With that he pointed to the Rashi, which he tried to stuff into the child's head.

If the child did not grasp the meaning of Rashi's commentary on the Chumash quickly enough, Fishele Melamed squinted with his small black eyes so that they looked like dark slits and immediately with his short, fat finger seized a piece of flesh from the frightened child and gave a pinch with a twist. He called out: “You get from me twisting pinch.” Since the marks left by these pinches took a long time to disappear, many children from our shtetl carried these reminders of Fishele Melamed's pinches.

The pinch was not the only punishment that Fishele Melamed dreamed up for his students. To this day there is, on the small finger of my right hand, a sign of a blow that I received from his whip, which was wound around with thin wires. My transgression was that I was not listening to his teaching and therefore had my hand on my Gemara.

 

Meyer Melamed

I studied with Fishele Melamed for no more than a semester, that is, a half of a year. After that my father brought me to Meyer Shrek. Meyer Melamed's school was on Mikveh Street in the fall, when suddenly the rain caused the mud to deepen so much that people could get their feet stuck in it.

Meyer Melamed particularly liked to keep his students in the school until late at night.

We remember the names that his wife, Taube–Rivke, always uttered and sewed on her garments like amulets. When it was very cold out, she used to run into the schoolroom and bring with her the wind from the street. She was dressed from head to toe in black. She would hop around from the cold and murmur verses from the Torah. Often she would sit on the bench together with the students and say to us in a quiet but firm voice, “When there is no more wood in the school, then will come those souls who want to immerse themselves in the mikveh.”

It is difficult to hide the fear that immediately enveloped our hearts. Full of fear, we left with our lanterns, which the wind quickly extinguished, and we were certain that that was the work of the souls who came out of the mikveh. In deathly fear we grasped hands, whispered biblical verses, so that the souls would have no power over us.

That fear seized our hearts and lies even today in my bones.

 

Shia–Chatzkl Melamed

My next teacher was Shia–Chatzkl. A thin, pale, sunken–backed man with a sparse beard, he liked to joke with the students that he was one of those teachers who had a reputation as a great explicator, could make clear a chapter of the Tanach, or a difficult passage of the Talmud, but if a student questioned him, he felt on his shoulders the sharp sting of his whip, which we called The Whipster.

More than once I felt that sting, and until now it is still hard for me to understand why that Jew felt so much anger and wickedness.

That infernal Whipstser he stored in his desk, which stood in his second room between the beds. When a student transgressed, Shia–Chatzkl ran into the next room, opened the desk, grabbed the Whipster in his hand, and brandished it with such power that it cut into the shoulders of the student.

The Whipster seemed to be three meters long. Whoever felt its bite had something to think about for a long time, to sit quietly, to look right at the rabbi and to do readily what he demanded.

 

The Melamdim Avraham–Baruch and Zishe

Two years later I became the student of Avraham–Baruch.

Between the two teachers Avraham–Baruch and Zishe in the Talmud Torah there was a wall with a damaged door, which was always closed so that they would not interfere with each other.

Both teachers had thick, gray beards, wore the same open smocks, through which could be seen their large tallis katan. Their teaching methods were also similar. They translated every word so they could make their way clearly through the densest thicket of a Talmudic passage.

They demonstrated shrewdness and wisdom and we regarded them with the greatest respect: They were “a plastered well that never loses a drop” [a quotation from Pirkey Avos]. They opened for us the door and tower of Gemara and Midrash, which became for us a beloved garden of learning. And that learning influenced our characters and morals.

So many years have passed since that time. Our horrible enemy finished off Volomin along with the schools. Teachers and students–I have never forgotten them. They taught us not only Hebrew, Chumash, and Gemara, but they also preserved our Jewish customs, our high morals, our love of Israel, and our love for our companions.


[Page 146]

The elementary school

by Tzipora Lewit-Grodzhitzki

Translated by Sara Mages

I received my education in a religious home. My grandfather, R' Moshe Grodzhitzki, was one of the dignitaries of the Jewish community in Wolomin and my parents followed his traditional path. In my time, there was already a compulsory education in Poland and Jewish children were forced to visit the elementary school every day. I managed to finish six classes at this school.

From the outset, this school was intended for Jewish children, but over time Polish children were also transferred to it. They had learning difficulties and the Polish schools wanted to be free of them.

The school principal, Mr. Zielinski, was indeed an alcoholic, but, it must be admitted, that during his tenure we did not feel discrimination. The situation changed radically when he was replaced by the new principle, Mr. Wilczynski, an outspoken anti-Semite who showed his hatred at every opportunity, always found reason to scold us and prove that the Jews are cheaters and cowards. If there was a quarrel between the children in the school yard, and the Jewish children did not remain silent and gave the abusers what they deserved, he cursed them and severally punished them.

A Polish student, Tomaszewski, was sent to our classroom and he terrorized the whole class. He beat the Jewish children with strong and vigorous blows, and when we tried to defend ourselves and give him what he deserved, the principle immediately summoned us to a meeting, opened with morality and rebuke and ended with the imposition of a punishment on us - “so you will know.”

Tomaszewski the criminal was never punished.

On November 11, Polish Independence Day, each class chose its representatives for a celebration at the monument of the Unknown Soldier. In 1937 I was chosen as a representative of my class to participate in the celebration in which the principle, Wilczynski, delivered his speech. He said among others:

“You should know that the Polish Republic does not trust the Jews... There is no place here for your deceptive fraud. I and my teachers were appointed to teach wisdom to the children so that they can accept the good things we give them, but you, the Jews, cannot accept what is given to you. We aim to raise a generation that, in due course, will know how to defend our country. But, I know, that in time of need, not you, only Tomashevsky will be the one who would defend our country...”

[Page 147]

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From an early age the activists began the pioneering education in our town, and this activity attracted a great deal of attraction, which also aroused the aspiration of the schoolchildren to immigrate.

 

We, the Jewish children, were astonished, as if he pounded on us with a club, and then I began to understand that we were strangers in this country.

Tomaszewski, of course, knew how to draw conclusions from the principle's speech and on the same day the criminal's fury rose and poured furiously on the children's heads like a roaring waterfall.

Some of our teachers were Jews and some Poles, and from them I remember fondly the teacher Zabroki, an honest man and an excellent teacher who knew how to bestow upon us his good spirit. He was faithful to his principles to which he always advocated: honesty, decency and a sense of responsibility. That's why we also knew how to honor him and appreciate his personality.

The teacher, Kanapik, was old and single. In Polish she was called: Kanifikovna, to emphasize that she was single.

She was lonely and bitter, and there was always a certain reluctance that we all felt, sorrow and indignation emanating from every word and sentence that came out of her mouth.

Bausch was a geography teacher and the smell of anti-Semitism also dissipated from him. He treated better students with Aryan faces, or Aryan names, and gave them better marks. He used to say to me: “Your face is Polish, you also have a Polish name, it's too bad you are Jewish ...”

I managed to finish six classes and the war broke out.


[Pages 148-151]

My Teacher R' Yehezkel Rubinshtein

by Chaim Rubin

Before I started studying with the teacher Yehezkel Rubinshtein I went through several other schools. Yehezkel Rubinshtein was an aristocrat among the teachers in Wolomin.

My first experience in school was in the Talmud Torah. I remember that I was four or five years old. The Talmud Torah was in Yoskes Laskovski's house on Langer Street, a three–roomed dwelling on the first floor. The nearest neighbor was Chavele Tziapkevich.

In the three rooms were three divisions. In the first room, in which I studied, was for beginners, who were learning the alphabet and prayers. The second room was for students who had gone further and learned Chumash with Rashi. In the third room were those who learned Gemara.

The students did not move from one room to the next every year. The students in the third room used to go to school throughout the year until they went away to study in yeshivas.

My first teacher was yellowish, but I do not remember his name. I only remember that we used to learn from early in the morning until night every day without exception. More than once we wished the teacher would take ill so we could be free.

After learning there for a year, I transferred to a second teacher, to Fishele on Leshne Street. There I studied Chumash. The rabbi, R' Fishlele, used to come to my parents often to praise me as a good student, as someone with a good head, as someone who would grow to be a scholar. Thanks to this praise, I received a larger allowance.

After three years of study, I had achieved my goal and I then went to study with Rabbi R' Yehezkel.

R' Yehezkel was my first teacher who gave me a general education. With him I began to learn writing and reading Yiddish, Polish, Hebrew, and arithmetic.

This striving for worldly education came about accidentally: when I was crossing a street, I saw people putting up posters with pictures, but I could not read the writing. Around the posters people had gathered and I was ashamed to ask what the inscriptions meant.

This happened after the Soviet invasion of Warsaw was repulsed.

At R' Yehezkel's, there were twenty students of different ages. His attitude toward us was more liberal than that of any other teacher of that time. Occasionally he would use a whip, but only for students who were disruptive. R' Yehezkel was for me the first teacher and the first school that made me interested in coming to study every day. He was the first teacher who taught me Tanach and made me acquainted with the historical past of the Jewish people.

His house was located in the center of the shtetl at the intersection of Lange and Wilensky Street. The room where we studied had two findows. We sat on both sides of a long table and listened with interest as he explained the chapters of Tanach, day by day. His enthusiasm and his scholarly approach to the chapters about King Saul inspired us students, so that long after we left for home we continued to talk about the Jewish kings.

R' Yehezkel had a very practical approach to teaching. I remember that he taught us beautiful calligraphy. We brought special notebooks and we concentrated on writing perfectly in straight rows.

R' Yehezkel was not fanatically observant. He went on his own path, He preached no sermons even though he knew about many of the Jewish failings of Wolomin.

He loved doing good deeds, and he had a reputation as a good writer of requests to the town council, to the local nobility, and to all of the other institutions. His requests were well argued in fine Polish. He also knew German, Russian, and he knew Yiddish literature. He often read us works by Sholem Aleichem, Y.L. Peretz, and others.

R' Yehezkel was not a Chasid, did not travel to a rebbe, and did not belong to a Chasidic prayer house. He was pedantically clean: always in polished boots and a clean and pressed kaftan, he would say and say again that we should take the example of people such as R' Moyshe Grodzhiski and his sons, from whom shone the fear of Heaven when they went on Friday evenings to shul.

R' Yehezkel understood the soul of a student. He never commented that we played ball in his courtyard. He often organized gatherings for us, especially for Chanukah, when his wife Simma made latkes in honor of his students.

He used to say that there were no better latkes in the world than those of his wife Simma. He would call them “famfuches” [I can't find a meaning for this] because they were thin, well–fried, and would melt in your mouth. It was said that anyone who then drank a glass of tea sweetened with sugar, his enemy should not know such pleasure.

R' Yehezkel was a very good father and worried about his children, even when they had their own families. Similarly he always took interest in his students, even after they were grown and self–sufficient.

R' Yehezkel understood the dilemma of Jewish young people, that there was no way for them to live in Poland. He used to say that for us Jews the only path was to go up to the land of Israel.

He loved the wonders of nature, and he used to go with us not only to Tashlich but he would walk with us in the surrounding fields and woods.

I remember in 1929 the massacre in Hebron, among whose victims was the Dubnikov family, whose son studied with us in the school. They were refugees from Russia and lived in Wolomin for a short time. He said Yizkor in shul and often mentioned Dubnikov's genteel bearing.

Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War R. Yehezkel was still in good health. Had it not been for the barbaric Nazi murderers and their helpers, he would have lived to an advanced age.


[Pages 151-156]

The Talmud Torah

by Chaya Rubenshtein

The Wolominers built the Talmud Torah in the same courtyard as the beis–hamedrash.

The beis–hamedrash was a wooden structure that the Germans burned soon after occupying Wolomin.

The building of the Talmud Torah was a brick house that is still standing. Next to the Talmud Torah, they also built a school of five grades in which people studied secular subjects

The teachers of religious subjects all lived in the city, but the teachers of secular subjects came from Warsaw. After completing their work for the day, they returned home. The five–grade school by the Talmud Torah was created for parents who did not want to send their children to the Polish schools. After finishing the five classes, each student received a certificate, and if he wanted, he could continue his education in higher classes, but in other schools.

Many children continued their education in the Folk–School, the majority until the seventh grade. There were others who later studied in a gymnasium or in a trade school. Mostly those from the Talmud Torah went away to study in a yeshiva.

One of the teachers in the Talmud Torah was a young man from Wolomin, Shlomo Tabakman, who completed a teacher seminar in Warsaw and returned to Wolomin, where he took the position in the Talmud Torah. Before the war, he made aliyah to Israel, where he works even now as a school inspector in the Haifa area.

 

The Folk–School and its Jewish Teachers

At the time when Poland was occupied by Czarist Russia, before the First World War, it was very difficult for a Jewish child to study in a government school.

In Wolomin, actually, there was then a Folk–School, but not everyone could go to that school. There was an ordinance from the government that only children whose parents owned their own house could attend that school. No children of poorer parents could attend the school. The poorer children were therefore forced to study with a private teacher. But this was not always possible.

After the liberation of Poland, the ordinance was cancelled and all children, poor and rich, had access to the Folk–School. In the Folk–School, Jewish and Polish children learned together. Only in later years was a school created solely for Jewish children. The school was located on Varshevsker Street, in a house that was rented from a Jewish landlord.

The Folk–School in Wolomin had seven grades. The director was Polish. The teachers were a mixed group of Jews and Poles.

Many students, after finishing the Folk–School, continued their education in a Warsaw gymnasium or in a trade school.

One of the outstanding Jewish teachers was Mrs. Tiglovna, who successfully saved herself from Hitler's murderers and lives today in Paris.

Another outstanding teacher was Mrs. Necholsona, who now lives in America. Mr. Schneour lives now in Warsaw. The students, who occasionally still meet their surviving teachers, lived through moving times.

Most of the Jewish teachers were killed by Hitler's murderers. Among them was Mrs. Hellervona, who, with her whole family, lived in the Wolomin ghetto and who perished with the whole Jewish community of Wolomin.

 

The Beis–Yakov School

The Beis–Yakov shool was located on Leshnau Street, in the Kersh house. The school had six grades. The students began with the aleph–beis, learned to read and write Yiddish, studied Chumash, Jewish history, Jewish religious laws, and singing.

The girls in the Beis–Yakov school were very religious and observed the commandments that applied to Jewish women. When they finished with the school, they were well versed in Jewish knowledge. People referred to them affectionately as “little daughters.”

When the school year ended, people organized performances based on biblical themes. Children from all grades participated in these performances. Children, along with their teachers, devoted great energy to these performances, painting and setting up decorations. Mostly these performances were a great success. Parents got a lot of nachas from their talented children, and teachers got real satisfaction from seeing the good results of their labors and energy.

Just like their mothers, these children, the young girls, the Beis–Yakov students, developed a refined and quiet modesty. Now we remain overcome by sadness for these dear and sacred figures, the Wolomin girls, cut off so young, separated from their parents, their teachers, their educators, on their last walk. Always they stand before my eyes as the exemplars of Jewish beauty and morality.

I remember the teacher Mrs. Borochov, who was sent to us from the central office of the Beis–Yakov–Schools in Cracow. She lived with the Zambau family, the son–in–law of the Wolomin rabbi. The children loved her. They saw in her the embodiment of true Yiddishkeit. She taught here until the last year before the outbreak of the Second World War.

In the last year before the war, one of our Beis–Yakov students, Dvorah Grodzhitzki, became a teacher in the Beis–Yakov School in Rodzhomin .

The Beis–Yakov School benefited from the moral and financial support of the town. Only the well–to–do paid tuition. The brothers Feivel and Dovid Shtulman gave outstanding support.

Unforgettable for the children were the Lag B'Omer excursions, the walks and the conversations that the teachers conducted with their students about the best chapters of Jewish history.

Beis–Yakov students used to come on Friday nights and early Shabbos mornings to pray in the shul. They took pride in their knowledge of Jewish studies.

 

Beis–Yakov Girls

The special qualities and the moral beauty of the young girls, which characterized the Beis–Yakov girls in Wolomin, showed themselves not only in religiosity and courtesy. They also loved Eretz Yisroel and they incorporated the nationalistic movement in their home life.

Among these simple Jewish girls were some who understood the depths of the principles and laws of the Jewish faith: how one should behave in all human situations according to Jewish principles, the commandments and the prohibitions regarding Shabbos observance and other areas of Yiddishkeit.

These girls learned a lot about Judaism, about the intent and style of Yiddishkeit. They knew that there was not one intent but many, that there is in Yiddishkeit a world of symbols which mirror the great truth of Judaism and which possess special secrets and intentions, which people cannot plumb to their full depths.

What did these young girls think when they went on their final path to their terrible deaths? Did they believe that the Jewish people was chosen to walk alone among the nations of the world, to be the first and to be unique in order to be evidence of the greatness of the Jewish God, of his Oneness, so that they should learn righteousness, the customs and ideals of the Jewish people? Why then does God look on indifferently while His enemies obliterate his troops? And where are the announcements of the great redemption which is supposed to redeem both us and them?

Perhaps they thought this must be the beginning of the Redemption; perhaps they justified the judgment, the frightful judgment on a people. They always held high the flag of Yiddishkeit and of idealism. They understood and knew from their experience that everything in life evolves through suffering.

With deep faith they lived and with deep faith they elevated their purity; in suffering they refined their souls.

Together with them, their teachers, leaders, and community workers drank from the bitter cup, murdered for the sanctification of the Name.

The Nazi killers obliterated the Jewish children, but they could not break them. Even the simple, religious, meritorious Jewish girls were as strong as oaks, and so they remained in those terrible days. Under Hitler's sword, which hung over their heads, they felt their responsibilities until the last minutes of their lives.

Such were the Jewish children of Wolomin, the Beis–Yakov girls. An example for us and for strangers, an example for our children and for our children's children, how to take a stand against the times and their storms and to remain true to the Jewish people and its higher morality.


[Pages 157-162]

Zealots in the Shtiebel and the Beis–Medrash

by Y.A. Weinbrom

 

In the Gerer Prayer House

Thinking back about my father, I see before me also the Gerer Prayer House: the Chasidim, their ardor in praying and learning, in dancing and singing on the holidays, and even in simple conversations and debates.

In the Gerer Prayer House I often used to listen to debates over the most sublime matters, over Hasidic ways and over Kabbalah, over the disagreements between the faction of the Kabbalah from the Holy Ari and the faction of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero. Words from the Talmud, from the commentators and from the Zohar, with their hidden meanings, were thrown around. People brought up ideas from the great rabbis, from the Rim [a well–known commentator], from the Sefas Emes [another famous scholar] and other great Jews, and people repeated holy words, rabbinic teachings, that dealt with heavenly matters and opened the eyes more clearly to see and undertake life on earth.

My father was one of the most distinguished Gerer Chasidim in Wolomin and also in the Ger court of the rabbi, where he was treated with the kind of honors that were reserved for the most important Chasidim.

I was still a cheder student when my father took me with him on a festival to Ger. The huge beis–hamedrash was full with Chasidim, who came from every corner of the country. Among the Chasidim were also rabbis, religious judges, and great scholars. It seemed as if the whole spiritual Jewish world would come together, in order to be near the rabbi. As in a true religious community, in Ger every distinction between poor and rich, between learned and unlearned disappeared. In Ger one felt oneself to be at Mount Sinai, with everyone equal.

Only at the approach to the rabbi's table could one first see the distinctions. From the thousands of Chasidim, only a select group, chosen by the rabbi, was allowed to sit at the table or to be called to the wine.

My father was one of those chosen Chasidim.

Every moment is etched into my memory. The congestion around the rabbi's table began at the door. Hundreds of Chasidim crowded one upon the other. Each wanted to be nearer to the rabbi, to see him and to hear him. A thick fog filled the air. Rivers of perspiration flowed from the men who hours earlier had grabbed a spot, and with every moment the congestion grew worse and more suffocating. Only the strongest could endure. The weaker lost their strength, and those who fainted were carried out of the line with great effort and had water thrown on them. After coming to, they tried again to struggle nearer to the rabbi's table. But around the table the men were clustered like roe in the belly of a fish. Even now they are before my eyes, like a sweaty, motley mass, fused together in the fire of great faith.

And yet it still seems new and surprising. Still greater was my surprise when in the surrounding stillness I heard the rabbi's gabbai call out my father's name:

“Avraham–Yossl of Wolomin.”

Thus they called on my father to receive the cup of wine from the rabbi.

The huge beis–hamedrash was black with men, with an overabundant crowd of Hasidiim, one on top of the other, but only certain Chasidim were worthy of such an honor, to receive wine from the rabbi himself.

I went around in a daze. My respect for my father grew. I knew that men respected him for his great fear of heaven, for his status in the Hasidic world.

In Wolomin my father was not only the gabbai in the Ger prayer house. He also led the morning service on the High Holidays. He did not stand out because of an especially fine voice. He was no great musician, but he was chosen as the prayer leader in previous years because when he prayed at the reader's stand, people felt as if his prayer drilled its way into the highest heavens, as far as the Throne of Glory. This was prayer from a great Jewish heart, which could pray for the whole congregation.

The Ger prayer house was in the building of the Talmud Torah, where Rabbi Henech Goldvasser, my wife's father, was the director of studies. He also had the outstanding qualities that charactrerized our shtetl and with good deeds and good attributes served as examples for others.

 

In the Beis–Hamedrash

In the beis–hamedrash people prayed and studied. Poor and rich, Chasidim and Misnagdim, young and old. At afternoon and evening prayers, it would swarm like a beehive. Acquaintances got together and talked, but always the beis–hamedrash was filled with learning. From early in the morning until late at night, people were there studying.

There was a great Talmud–table, where people studied Gemara. My father used to sit at that table. In the morning, even in winter, when it was still dark outside, my father was already seated there together with other Jews, deep in Talmudic problems. The studying gave them strength and warmed their hearts.

Among these great zealots was also R. Chaim Aaron–Bunems. Night and day he labored in the Torah. Neither in praying nor in studying did he stay in one place. Rather he walked around in great rapture, here and there, shook, waved his hands, fervent, intense, “speaking with all his bones.”

There were other zealots in the beis–hamedrash. total learners, but Aaron Chaim–Bunems was unique. It seemed that he had no home, to eat or even to refresh himself. He was quickly back in the beis–hamedrash, soaked in the fear of heaven and good deeds.

He excelled in showing great sensitivity to other's sorrows and needs. When people had to raise money for someone in need, Chaim Aaron–Bunems led the way, as though it were the most natural thing in the world. He often collected money in the beis–hamedrash and in the streets. People trusted him unconditionally and no one refused him.

“Happy is he who reaches such a degree”–so said Jews in Wolomin about him, and they treated him with courtesy and love.

Jews in the beis–hamedrash had a strong feeling for righteousness and charity. It once happened that a landlord wanted to evict a tenant. A commotion arose in the beis–hamedrash, and when each landlord arrived to pray on Shabbos, the congregation stood all together and would not allow the Torah reading to continue until the landlord openly, in front of everyone, was reconciled and came to a just resolution with the poor tenant.

 

Prayer Leaders

The Wolomin beis–hamedrash could not afford great cantors, but they were blessed with good prayers leaders. Such a one was R. Israel–Mordechai, the Shochet, who had a strong voice and whose praying before the lectern on the High Holidays and the festivals showed heartfelt sweetness.

With the approach of a festival, R. Israel–Mordechai shown with rays of holy flames. He put on his satin kaftan and on his head he wore a high velvet hat. As he stood before the lectern, a soft murmur ran through the beis–hamedrash. Soon a voice cried out “Ashrei” and everyone's heart trembled.

His selichos still ring in my ears, his “The soul is Yours and the body is Your work” in his melody went deep into the soul and called forth introspection.

His Modzhizer tunes combined with his manly voice and the Jews of the Wolomin beis–hamedrash regarded him as an unblemished source of beautiful song.

His singing, from selichos to the end of Yom Kippur, brought the congregation to another–worldly mood. When R. Yechezkel, the old sexton, stood by the door with his pushke after the first selichos, everyone threw in a couple of groschen.

 

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