Chapter the Second
My father's gloom. - His longing. - The necessity to pray with Misnagdim. - Longing for the Rebbe. - The losses. - Khasidic joys of those days. - Rebbe Avremele. - His coming to Kamenits. - His grand arrival. - Khsidim cook and bake American style. - The bathhouse. - The Rebbe's delivery of the 'lekhu-geroneno' prayer. - The meals. - The Rebbe sighs. - 'shiraim' - Mr. Yisroel does not want to sing. - The power of the Rebbe.- Mr. Yekhezkl divorces his wife. - Khasidic pastimes. - They give my father a trashing. - I cry. - Having fun.
Living in the village without Khsidim and without [his brother] Yisroel1, father had lost the calm and happy expression that used to be his main characteristic feature. It was obvious that inside, in his heart, he hankered after his Khsidim, that he felt lonely, lonely as a stone in a sand desert. Especially during Shabbes he used to suffer and a sorry sight he was. He would of course make merry with his young children on Friday nights, - about thirty candles would be lit all over the house, he would sing and try to raise our spirits, but his heart was not in it. I even used to give him my support with the singing. I remember knowing lots of khasidic songs. (A fact that even contributed to winning over my future in-laws while getting engaged. A point was made of the fact that one of my accomplishments was knowing about two hundred songs.) But after I got married and gave up being a Khosid myself I could no longer be there for him. Moreover, I had come to dislike those khasidic tunes, except for those composed by Mr. Yisroel2. His songs never failed to find resonance on the strings of my heart.
So I sang along with father, but with little enthusiasm; in order to kindle my inspiration he would sing songs by Mr. Yisroel. But his jovial attitude was forced, he pretended, like a good Jew eating the 'bitter herbs' [morer] at a Seyder. In this manner we used to "make merry" [mesameyekh geven] until about twelve at night.
On Shabes father usually did his praying at home, although all the villagers in a range of one to two verst would traditionally form a 'minyen' and gather at the house of one villager for the Shabes prayers. In such a group of ten they would also read the weekly section of the Toyre; two villagers, the 'gaboim' or caretakers, would call the others to the Toyre. Even in this setting there would be jealousy about being called up. Everyone wanted to take one of the more important turns and the 'gaboim' never succeeded in giving each his due3. Sometimes this would lead to big feuds, resulting in court cases, claiming someone else's liquor license or contract.
Father never felt like praying in the company of the misnagdic villagers. Only if they could not get a 'minyen' together would he be obliged to go. But even then he could not bring himself to pray with them in a group. He used to keep a Medresh or Zoyer at hand and when the villagers were praying he would be looking in his books. Praying he did at home by him self. He would always pray in silence; the folds on his forehead and the distant look in his eyes showed the depth of his absorption [kavone].
Having finished praying he would enter our quarters, pronounce a general "good Shabbes", then enter the living room where mother4 would be sitting with a prayer book or her 'Tsenerene', to say "good Shabes" to her in particular. Next the 'kidesh', the Shabes blessing would follow and after that: the cake, the cookies, the herring and cold meat from yesterday's stew [tsimes]. That was the usual introduction. Then the real meal would begin with a starter of fish, eggs, onions and 'shmalz'.
When I was a boy my father told me once that according to the Lekhvitsher Rebbe, Jews have a special sense that only can be satisfied on Shabes with onions.
After all this 'tsholent' would be served, potatoes, porridge, two kinds of 'kugl', meat and so on. Dinner would last two, three hours. We would sing Shabes songs [zmires] and eat, sing again and go on eating. But father's face would be shrouded by a veil of melancholy. It was his sadness at having been banned from the city, from his khasidic prayer house [shtibl], were he had been truly happy and at ease; his sorrow at being banished from the communal meals, from his Rebbe and from the whole community of Khsidim. Really, he looked like a little bird pushed out of the nest.
Having finished the meal father would take his customary nap and after that he would study Khumesh [the Pentateuch], Medresh [Midrash] and Zoyer [Zohar], trying as best as he could to dispel his gloom.
But I knew him well and I could detect sadness in every single movement he made. If I only had been a Khosid myself I might have given him the pleasure of sharing the khasidic doctrine and the songs with someone. But that was not in the cards for him; I, his son, was as distant from him as the East is from the West. What made it worse for him was the thought lingering on the back of his mind that I might end up becoming an apostate. He thought anything might happen since I already had the reputation of being a philosopher and who was to say what might come of my explorations? This thought really scared him.
I felt very sorry for him and my pity interfered to some degree with my own life. I would make plans in order to put his mind at ease. I planned to become a Misnaged, a zealous one. But lacking the effort needed, this plan came to nothing. I failed to dispel his idea that since I had strayed from the straight khasidic path as a result of discussions there was no way of knowing where these inquiries and debates might eventually land me. I might very well end up denying the Blessed Lord altogether5! He obviously overestimated my debating skills.
Living in Paseki father once felt an acute longing for his Rebbe around Rosheshone. For a lessee of an estate it was actually impossible to tear himself away from the farm at that time of the year. Around Jewish New Year all the work in the fields comes to a head. The potatoes have to be taken out and stored in ditches for the winter, the wheat has to be threshed, the fields have to be plowed and harrowed. The seed which will be sown for next year's crop have to be selected, the grass has to be cut a second time and much more.
But father was longing for his Rebbe, nothing on earth could deter him from going. The whole year round he had toiled, spent his time on practical affairs, been involved with non-Jews ad nauseum. All year around he had dealt with farmers, goyim.
Not having had close contact with a khasidic community for a whole year had really been too much for him; he was frightened, like a child abandoned by its mother. Without thinking about the consequences, ignoring the fact that the work at hand was urgent and that they were pressed for time, ignoring the fact that they were going through hard times and that even a hundred ruble more or less could make all the difference6, he took off for Slonim leaving all the work to a farmer. He stayed for eight whole days in Slonim and when he returned home for Yonkiper he found the place in complete disorder.
The oats had been harvested too late (it had been a late summer), so the grains had already scattered over the field; they had failed to cover up the potatoes in the ditches, so more than half had rotted away; the threshers had not threshed the rye paid by the day, but by the measure7 therefore bungling the job, leaving behind at least four grains in every ear - and similar disasters.
As a result father's losses, not counting the expenditures for the trip, amounted to five, six hundred roubles.
Knowing that my father had been hard up even before I could not fathom why he would willingly have made such a loss for the sake of his Slonim.
"Is it true, father," I asked him once, "did you have losses of five hundred roubles?"
"I lost about seven hundred roubles.", my father answered.
Seven hundred roubles!
"But father," I insisted, "to what end? If you had to go you might have chosen a better time for it."
Father looked at me in a strange way, sad, nostalgically, "You never were a Khosid yourself and don't know what it means to visit your Rebbe. There is no greater joy. Your Rebbe gives you the strength to live."
Father fell silent and his face took on an expression as if someone had stabbed him in the heart.
I did not say anything more.
How had my father ended up in a village, amidst goyim! He a Jew who so loved the hustle and bustle of religious Yiddish life, Yiddish gaiety, Yiddish fuss, yes, even the smell of a Jew.
At times father would retreat in his memories, his only solace in his isolation. And he certainly had things the remember. My father had played quite a prominent role among Khsidim. He sometimes would indulge himself by inviting a Rebbe with his whole retinue to stay for several days at his house, which would cost him more than a few pennies. I clearly recollect, the pomp with which the Kamenitser Khsidim once received their prominent guest, the Rebbe of Slonim.
The Rebbe of Slonim, Mr. Avrom, arrived in Kamenits one Thursday morning, in a coach drawn by three horses. Traveling with him were his three attendants, one a senior and two assistants. Four transport wagons from Brisk with over twenty Khsidim each followed in its trail. The Khsidim of Kamenits, about three 'minyonim' Jews, had gone out to meet them on the road to Brisk, to welcome the Rebbe. When the driver of the Rebbe's carriage had noticed them approaching from afar, he slowed down. The Khsidim of Kamenits now, as soon as they had detected the Rebbe's carriage in the distance, took up singing a song they knew the Rebbe of Slonim particularly liked. On that occasion I was with the Khsidim. Father had thought it to be a an uplifting experience for me. I remember vividly that sweet tune and in my mind's eye I can clearly see that crowd of Khsidim walking out of the city towards the Rebbe.
How festive it all was!
When the Khsidim finally reached the Rebbe they encircled his carriage and happily sang a 'Sholem Aleykhem' song specially composed for the occasion by Mr. Yisroelat my father's request.
The first ones to welcome the Rebbe personally were my father and Mr. Arele both of whom the Rebbe took into his carriage.
When the welcoming ceremony had come to an end (and it took quite a while) the driver brought his horses to attention with a lash and the Khsidim somehow found themselves a place on one of the wagons, favoring especially a seat on the running-boards of the Rebbe's vehicle. The Khsidim were packed like sardines in a tin on the wagons and at the commando "Go!" the coachmen shouted "giddy-up" and cracked their whips.
Father had taken me with him into the Rebbe's the carriage.
"That's my boy...!", my father introduced me hesitantly.
"Your boy uh.", said the Rebbe while throwing a sidelong glance at me. " He will make an ardent Khosid."
Father was very pleased.
The horses were kept at a steady pace and the Khsidim sang at the top of their voices. An outsider, a Christian for instance, might well have had the impression that he was looking at the happiest crowd in the world passing by, though not the most well to do, for they were dressed quite shabbily.
When we entered the little town an enthusiastic murmur arose from the wagons. They were as exited as warriors taking a stronghold.
Eventually we arrived at our place. Father had prepared the best room of the house for the Rebbe, he had even sent some people to Dovid-Yitskhok to borrow his grand arm chair on behalf of the rebbe. Khsidim helped the rebbe alight from his carriage and accompanied him to his special room, where they left him in the care of his senior attendant. The two other attendants took up their places at both sides of the door, like soldiers on guard. The Khsidim dispersed into the other rooms. Shortly after the senior footman emerged from the Rebbe's room and announced that 'he', long may he live, had gone to rest on the sofa and that silence was required... All Khsidim fell silent as a man; it became so silent that you could hear a fly crawl on the wall. They were afraid to whisper even one word.
Meanwhile the Khsidim of Kamenits had set to work. They had to prepare a Shabes for a hundred people. Everyone of them shared in the work, but the foreign Khsidim, the guests, made themselves comfortable on the benches. The big barn had been decorated in a festive way, the floor strewn with sand and along the walls hay was piled up high for the Khsidim to sleep on. The horses and wagons, as well as the Rebbe's carriage, had been put away in Zelig Andarkes barn.
A week earlier my father had been in conference with the Khsidim to make a reckoning of what would be needed to prepare a Shabes for so many guests. The conference had taken a long time. They would have to get fish and meat, wine and liquor, butter, eggs, goose fat, cinnamon, figs, almonds, 'khales', rolls, breads and what not. They were facing quite a task.
At the same time Mr. Yisroel had started, standing in front of his aspirant-singers, practicing one song after the other, all composed by him. I was one of his pupils. Mr. Yisroel stood there sweating away, waving his hands, stamping his feet, giving commands, threatening with his finger and tormenting our little brains by urging us to get his new tunes down. The poor man went through a lot with us. Few of us were gifted with a good ear for music and Mr. Yisroel had to work himself up like a steaming kettle. His main task was to teach us how to sing, because he did not want to sing himself or even with us in front of the Rebbe. It was not his own Rebbe, but a stranger, you see... As a good Khosid Mr.Yisroel saw it as his duty to compose songs for the visiting Rebbe, but to sing himself for him..., that was beyond his powers. During the actual festivities he felt ill at ease, insecure, wanting to leave, but wanting to stay as well, like a pauper with too much pride.
My father, who was in charge of the group preparing the food, had organized the work American style: one group was set to preparing fish, another did only roasts of meat, a third was busy with beverages, but several just hung around, loafing like they were at a millionaire's wedding and a lively party it was!
They had butchered a cow, several calves, geese and chickens for the meals.
On Friday the Khsidim asked the teachers to give the khasidic children a day off from school, because of the Rebbe's visit. I myself, like a colonel's son, had been favored with a holiday already on Thursday. When the school kids arrived from their 'kheyder', they were immediately honored with a job. There was plenty to do.
Khsidim like to mix in fun with whatever they do. So, for instance, while preparing the fish, one Khosid would take up a pike and beat another Khosid over the head with it, causing much hilarity. Actually there was more jesting going on than work done. Here they poured a can with cold water right into the collar of someone's coat. There they had given someone a large dish with fish to hold and while he was standing there with the platter in both hands one would pull his beard, another his 'peye', his ear, his nose... The poor sod would stand there holding the platter and not be able to think of anything better than laughing along with the rest. What else could he do?
Father had put me to work as well. Once he had whispered in my ear,
"One should respect a Rebbe as if he were a king..."
On Thursday father had sent someone to the bathhouse to fetch the caretaker. He instructed him to have the bath ready a few hours earlier than usual on the next day and to send a messenger to say that the Rebbe could take his bath, as soon as he was ready. He also would have to get the 'mikve' in readiness. He would have to keep two kettles with hot water on hand; Khsidim would come over early next morning to pour them out into the women's bath, because of the Rebbe. The bathhouse attendant would receive ample compensation for his trouble.
The next morning four Khsidim went over to the bathhouse to pour the hot water into the 'mikve'. Around eleven word came that the bath was ready. The carriage drove up and the rebbe, accompanied by his attendants, my father, Mr. Arele and some other more honorable Khsidim, enough to form the required minyen, sat down in it and left for the bath house. Father had sneaked me in as well, because he thought that proximity to Khsidim, especially to the Rebbe, would benefit me.
The rebbe followed by the ten Khsidim entered the bath house where the latter took off their clothes in religious awe before taking a seat in the steambath in a circle around the Rebbe, holding their little basins with water [shefelekh]. I remember that no one indulged in washing himself. They just stared at the rebbe, at his naked body, at the same time awed and curious, just like little children gaze at some oversized strange toy.
The Rebbe began to wash himself, without hurrying, every now and then groaning while rolling his eyes. In the dense and dark atmosphere of the bath his body seemed to grow gradually whiter and to me, a little boy, his naked body seemed to be changing in size, fluctuating in length and width.
Meanwhile another group of about ten Khsidim had made their way in. These were really forward ones who would have stopped at nothing to get a look at the Rebbe. They sat down next to the door, also with basins of water in their hands, and started staring at the Rebbe too. They were satisfied to see a bit of the Rebbe's naked frame, even if it was only from a distance.
When the Rebbe finally had fished his ablutions he went over to the 'mikve', accompanied by my father and Mr. Arele. I followed them stealthily. The Rebbe stood up to his neck in the water, his beard filled with sparkling drops of water. It was quite a sight, the Rebbe, a man with a heavy beard standing in mikve full of water.
The rebbe stepped out of the women's bath, groaning, and started dressing. The Khsidim put on their clothes too. The whole procedure had taken a long time and the Khsidim did of course not derive any physical pleasure from their bath. Normally they would scrub themselves and sweat it out, but this time they were merely filled with holy fear of the Rebbe. The Rebbe looked quite pleased with himself for having sanctified and blessed the place according to the rites and his Khsidim were very enthusiastic about his performance.
The crowd quickly put on their shirts and trousers without taking their eyes of the Rebbe for a moment, but his dressing up took forever. Whatever he did he did slowly and quietly. At one o'clock, thank God, we finally emerged from the bath house. Soon after arriving home he was offered some sweet liquor and rusks with fish.
On Friday the whole congregation of Khsidim from Brisk came down and the house became packed to the rafters with people. To inaugurate the Shabes [kaboles-shabes] the Rebbe was to pray in front of the lectern. Before he approached the 'omed' the Khsidim fell silent and waited in deep devotion. Soon he pronounced the 'lekhu-geroneno'8 in such a loud voice that all Khsidim were awestruck, but all people present to pray, from wherever they stood, responded to the Rebbe's call singing with one voice. Even the walls seemed to participate in the praying. I was only a little boy of ten years old and understood little, but nevertheless the holy fear of the Khsidim took a hold of me. When he reached the place in the Zoyer were it says: "Ke-gavnah de-inun9" his shouting was like the roar of a hoard of soldiers on the point of storming the town and a shiver went through the crowd. That shout still rings in my ears like it was only yesterday . With one terrific voice the crowd echoed his words.
"Happy Shabes!", "Good Shabes!" you heard all over the place after the praying had come to an end.
Soon after, they entered the dining hall. The Rebbe greeted saying "Sholem Aleykhem" and all Khsidim murmured their acknowledgment. Then the brightly illuminated house was suddenly flooded with sweet singing, melodious, not loud, but coming straight from the heart. You got the feeling that the Shabes peace had cast its spell on all, that the soul had shaken off the yoke it carried on an ordinary day of the week.
The rebbe continued saying "kidesh", all ears paying attention, all eyes fixed on him. Every Khosid wanted a sip from the Rebbe's goblet, but not everyone got a chance to taste the wine; those with bad luck, alas, were deeply saddened at having missed out.
He now addressed my father as "Sir" [balebos] and no longer simply as "Moyshe", as usual, about which my father was visibly very pleased.
Most people did not sit, but stood on the benches. Over three hundred Khsidim were present, far more than there were seats. But the main reason to stand on the benches was that the Khsidim could see the Rebbe better that way.
For the dinner arrangements were as follows:
Those Khsidim who were seated were given one plate for two and those that were standing received one plate between three men.
Naturally the Rebbe himself was served enormous portions of every dish, in order to enable him to have 'shiraim' or left overs to hand out to the Khsidim.
I noticed that the Rebbe loved groaning and rolling his eyes whatever the occasion. After eating some fish, he groaned; having tasted meat, he groaned and rolled his eyes. You got the impression that he had trouble swallowing his food.
One time he let out such a loud "Oy, Rebone shel oylem!" that I thought the ceiling would crack.
But I also perceived that his moaning and eye-rolling did increase the appetite of the Khsidim.
Having finished a dish he would push the plate away, thus indicating that what was left was meant as 'shiraim10' for the Khsidim. Immediately everyone around would start grabbing at the left-overs. The ones standing away too far would start begging the lucky ones for a morsel, one bite. But the former would be so overexited, so preoccupied and self centered that the beggars received little or nothing from them.
In between courses there was singing. It was actually a kind of singing contest. Someone would take up a song and if his song pleased the others they would fall in and keep singing it until everyone got bored with the song. The diner took about five hours altogether.
After the meal they went to sleep in the barn. The Rebbe himself was escorted with great pomp to his own quarters.
The next morning they started prayers at ten o'clock and finished praying around noon. Lunch followed and the Rebbe continued his groaning and rolling of the eyes. It was the same thing as the evening before, only more lively. They served five types of 'kugl': a noodle kugl, a dry one, a tutti-frutti one, a rice kugl and another I-forgot-what kugl.
After these they handed the Rebbe a big slice of turkey, which made him groan a lot. There was also a lot of wine and spirits.
At four, having eaten, they took to the floor for a dance, until it became time for the afternoon prayer, which was followed by more singing. But the best singer of them all, Mr. Yisroel, did not sing. He was a Khosid from Katsk himself. The Rebbe had sent someone over to him, inviting him at his table. Mr. Yisroel had come, but during the whole Shabes he had not opened his mouth once. He did not feel it was his happy day, it was not his own Rebbe, he felt sad. During the final meal that day the Rebbe addressed him:
"Yisroel, sing something"
Mr. Yisroel made a sign of reverence, touching his heart with his hands, looked around and started... Never before he had sung like this. It must have been his longing for his own Rebbe that inspired him.
The Khsidim listened with their mouth open.
After the Shabbes the crowd started thinning out. Many went home. It was on Tuesday that the Rebbe had his last lunch in Kamenits. Only a few people remained to share the table and the Khsidim of Kamenits were well contented that they were finally able to sit near the Rebbe.
Finally they could see the holy glow [shkhine] illuminating the Rebbe's handsome face and listen to his doctrinal words of wisdom [toyres], which reportedly made angels of all ranks tremble.
The Rebbe was very jolly, talking during the meal with each Khosid in turn.
Now all the foreign Khsidim had left, the Kamenitser Khsidim felt as if they were in the seventh heaven.
As I said before, it was the very last meal in Kamenits and after lunch the Rebbe departed on a visit to a villager, leaving our house and the town in a state of quietness, like a stormy sea turned smooth again, the waves suddenly having rolled away.
In that village he went to visit the Rebbe would meet with an unpleasant punishment*
*See the first volume of my book11.
Talking about Rebbe Avrom of Slonim another event comes to my mind which, at the time, got the whole family up in arms. It clearly illustrates a Rebbe's power over his followers who would follow him through thick and through thin. It is a story about my brother-in-law, the son of the Rov of Kamenits12.
Yekhezkl's children were not long for this world. His daughter Dvoire, the one whose father-in-law died during the wedding party, did not live long either. On reaching their middle age Yekhezkl and his wife Hadase found themselves without children.
Mr. Yekhezkl would be on tour for eight to nine month a year, collecting contributions for Israel on behalf of the community of Slonim. The rest of the year he would spend with the Rebbe, whose right hand man he was. Once, during a Purim dinner he was sitting, as usual, next to the Rebbe. The Rebbe pours two goblets of wine, one for himself, one for Yekhezkl. They drink on each others health, "Lekhaim!" The other Khsidim watch them enviously. The Rebbe takes a sip and says: "Lekhaim, Yekhezkl, with God's help you will have male offspring within the year." The Khsidim could not believe their ears and dropped their jaws in amazement on hearing this prophecy [remez]. It was obvious that Yekhezkl and his wife were too old to have any more children.
But Mr. Yekhezkl was a clever Khosid and the meaning of the Rebbe's blessing soon became clear to him. Simple enough, he would only have to divorce his wife and take a younger one.
Yekhezkl and Hadase had lived together for more than forty years, like a couple of turtledoves. He was a good humored and virtuous man, the same could be said of his wife, both extremely nice people. Moreover she was a meticulous housewife, a skillful housekeeper, who knew how to create a homely atmosphere that pervaded the whole place. This couple of sexagenarians used to look at each other like children who had fallen in love for the first time.
But the Rebbe had prophesied and to make the Rebbe's prediction come true was a task of the utmost importance. A Khosid is like a good soldier. If the Rebbe gives an order, it must be carried out.
Yekhezkl thought things over at length and finally decided to write a letter to Hadase. In this letter he wrote that they would have to get a divorce because the Rebbe thought it was best and from the moment that the Rebbe had taken up this idea it had become imperative, an order from above which both of them had to accept.
She should, God forbid, not think that she could change his resolution, no way. Sooner would heaven and earth meet than that she could be his wife any more! He would give her a thousand ruble compensation [khsuve-gelt], to be paid out by the Rebbe (since he did not owe a penny himself) and please consider the possibility that she, God willing, might very well find herself a finer man than he himself yet, that she was not too old to remarry and possibly ... and so on.
His wife read the letter and... fainted. The whole family came together and raised the roof. "What on earth did that villain have in mind?" "He wants to skin you alive, murder you! He has lived with you for almost fifty years, had six children with you and now he wants a divorce! What has come over him?"
So they arranged for her to go to Slonim, to see the Rebbe and 'that man'. She was to show them the back of her tongue! Unfortunately Mr. Yekhezkl had already left on his tour to collect contributions for Israel, leaving behind a formal declaration of divorce at the Rebbe's.
She cried her eyes out and pleaded with the Rebbe, but the rebbe rebuffed her saying, "Woman, you are too old to have children, why would you keep your husband from having them? Do you want him not to have any chance of resurrection [tkume] in the hereafter? He still can take a fertile maiden. Consider, by obeying me you will live to be very old, and having reached the age of hundred and twenty, you will enter a bright Ganeyden, paradise."
Having heard these words she fainted again, but to no avail: her fainting could not stop the divorce. The Rebbe stubbornly kept to his resolve. She could do nothing but accept the divorce papers that had been prepared. Later on Mr. Yekhezkl gave her money and she, a broken woman, departed for Kiev.
Later on both members of this couple that had loved each other so dearly got married to a new partner.
After reaching Kiev she got herself engaged successfully to an attractive, well to do and respectable etc. man and after marrying him she proved once more to be a tender loving, faithful and dedicated wife. People who met them used to say that they lived together like turtledoves, which certainly was not an exaggeration.
Mr. Yekhezkl took himself a twenty two year old girl, which means that he himself was exactly forty year older than she was. He had two daughters with his new wife... The Rebbe had been mistaken. His livelihood was taken care of. The Rebbe of Slonim had promised to send him an allowance big enough to live on, so Mr. Yekhezkl took off for Jerushelaim. And what happened? By coincidence Hadase and her husband also went to Jerusalem and there Hadase was fated to end up living in the same street as her former husband. Knowing him to be married to a young woman and to have two daughters upset her a lot. Her sorrow even caused her to fall ill once.
Mr. Yekhezkl lived the khasidic life, like he had done in the old country, and he had a good standing. People often visited him asking for his blessing, but he used to chase them out of the house with a goodhearted 'curse', saying "May God bless you".
But Mr. Yekhezkl came to a sorry end. On a Friday night, while standing at the table saying Kidesh, a piece of the ceiling came down and smashed into his head. He was killed on the spot.
When Hadase heard what had befallen her ex husband, she did her thing; she fainted again and again.
That is the story how the Rebbe separated two souls, after having been united for almost fifty years. Some power he had, that Rebbe!
It was always something with that Mr Yekhezkl. As I have told, he had six children that all died very young. When only his daughter Dvoire was left they were very anxious that she might also die and married her off at the age of fifteen. The wedding took place in Kamenits. I remember that the father-in-law was a stout and handsome man, quite a character, bursting with energy. He could not have been older than thirty years. After the ceremony under the canopy he said that he did not feel very well and went to his lodgings to lay down for a bit. He said the voyage and the whole wedding ceremony had tired him out.The party was held at the Rov's house. They entertained, danced an frolicked enthusiastically. The whole town had come down to make merry with the young couple.
Where we lived we had the custom of putting up the 'khupe' in the late afternoon. Before it was put up, the girls and women would dance and after the canopy had been put in place the men. The merriment would continue until eleven or twelve at night, to be followed by a supper. After this meal the dancing would go on untill seven, eight in the morning.
The guests had gotten caught up in their dancing completely, forgetting that the father-in-law was absent. It was two hours after the ceremony that somone remembered he had gone off and they went to fetch him. You can imagine what a start they got, how upset they were on finding him dead. The father-in-law lay on the bed not breathing. They shouted for help and people from the town and from the party came running. It turned out that the father-in-law had only died a very short while ago, because his corpse was still warm. The people were upset, shocked and confused. What to do? Cry for the deceased or make merry with the newly wed? But the Rov ordained that crying was out of the question for the couple on the day of their union. So they grabbed the corpse and carried it off to the cemetary, where they quickly dug a grave and put him to rest. Dozens of men lend a hand, because it was a meritorious deed to keep the bride and groom from crying. The burial was completed within two hours. A man, alive just a while ago, now in his grave.
The bride and groom spent a few moments at the cemetary, but they were soon hurried back, in time for the supper. Nobody dared to shed a tear. After supper people danced, but downcast, depressed, their eyes filled with suppressed tears.They forced themselves to lift their feet, in order to prevent the groom from crying for his father. It was horrendous.
The horror and distress caused by the recent death eventually defeated the forced gayety and the feet came to a halt in the middle of the dancing. Then the Rov ordered small children to dance, because the party had to go on for the sake of the couple. They took six to eight year old boys and girls, told them to dance and the musicians started playing. I was six years old at the time and also invited to dance, but I did not.
"Come on, sily one!", some old hags urged me, "Go and dance!" I did not obey.
There was no end or limit to the khasidic ways of making fun and repertoire of practical jokes. As soon as they got tired of one type, they would invent another. One day the Khosid Yosele came over to call my father to the 'shtibl', saying his presence was needed. When called upon, a Khosid had to go, without questioning. Father took me along. We found all Khsidim present at the prayer house and on our entering they burst out in laughter, their faces very exited. At the time I was three, may be four years old and I could not understand what they were laughing about, why they were shaking with laughter. But it soon became clear. The reason was simply the following: The group Khsidim had decided to give the very finest and best bred Khsidim a thrashing in order to remind them that no man should have too high an opinion of himself and that any trace of arrogance should be eradicated. Sure, it was true that at present the well bred Khsidim conducted themselves very well, without showing any sign of arrogance, but the very fact that they were considered fine Khsidim might easily lead them astray. It was therefore necessary to take mesures at the earliest stage by wiping out the seed of sin before it could develop.
The wiping out had to be executed in a straightforward manner: Strech out on the table face down, the kaftan up and... smack!
First they had to throw lots to decide who would lay down first. They did this by opening a prayer book at random and if the first letter on a page corresponded with the first letter of someone's name, he had to do penance by laying down.
When I saw how a bearded man lay down on the table and how the Khsidim started wacking him with all their might on a certain part. I was overcome with joy. Now that was fun! I thought beaming.
The bearded man laughed and squirmed at the same time.
But when it was my poor father's turn and they put him on the table face down and a crowd of Khsidim raised their hands, their faces red with exitement, I felt a pang in my heart and started crying as vehemently as if they were out to kill me. It affected the Khsidim strongly, their hands dropped. Thus I 'saved' my poor father. It is said to be difficult to beat someone in front of a crying child.
"Well, Moyshe," a disappointed Khosid said, while shaking his head and putting his index finger balongside his nose," could it be that you brought along your boy on purpose? Knowing he would cry so we could not give you a beating?"
My father just laughed and he could laugh it off easily. He had not grown a beard yet and was only seventeen or eighteen years old... At that age getting a thrashing is not such a big thing, especially if you get a chance to beat others in return. But he did already have a child and the child hat gotten in the way...
But my father was the only one to get out of the thing. The beating went on unabated.
When it was Leyb Kruheler's turn, a joker in very good physical shape, he told them "come and get me". It was obviously not so much that he was afraid of the beating, as that he was in for a bit of struggling to keep them off, trying not to be caught. He jumped from a bench on a table, they got a hold of him, he wrestled himself free, and there he stood again laughing loudly on another bench, on a table again. He exhausted the lot of them and they were all sweating away, but in the end a group is always the strongest and they eventually got him. Of course they really took it out on him then. After they had finished with Leyb Kruheler the game was over. He had been the last one.
Soon several bottels with vodka were put on the table, a big khale and herring appeared and the people, tired out, drank to each others health cheerfully. After the drinking they tried their feet at a dance, dancing shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, with sweaty faces, flushed, getting in to it. Soon the loud sound of their feet became incorporated in a lively, jaunty song. That was the way Khsidim amused themselves. Now the joys of thrashing strangers soon won from the bad feeling that they had wanted to beat my own father and for a long time after I was very excited about the whole thing. Afterwards I bragged about it to my school mates: " Big daddies got a beating! ...I saw it myself!... Boy, did they whack them... I saw it with my own eyes!..." Where?", they asked. "In the shtibl..." I said, arrogantly waving my hand in its direction. But my school friends begrudged me my luck.... "Big thing," they said, "to see how they beat up big daddies."
1See Vol. I, Chapt.VII, p.140, 141. This brother of Kotik's father was of the same age as Kotik.
2. r' Yisroel: See Vol I, Chapt. V.
3See Vol I, Chapt. XXIX for a description of the 'alies'.
4For a description of the mother, see Vol. I, Chapt. XI. Here she is said to read the 'khoyves-halvoves and the 'menoyres-hamoed'.
5boyre yisborekh = God will be blessed.
6oylem umloye - huge amount.
7Text: nisht fun tog, nor fun shok. An alternative reading is: not (with a flail) on the thrashing floor [tok] but by shaking out the sheaves [shok].
8lekhu-geroneno - let us sing.
9ke-gavnah de-inun [from the 'askinu sudoso'] Aram.- such as those; i.e. the angels; text taken from the Zoyer and used to be recited during the evening prayer of Friday night, but only in the 'sfardi' liturgy, followed by the Khsidim.
10shiraim - left overs.
11See Vol. I, Chapt. XV. The election of 'r' avrom slonimer', after the death of 'r' moyshele karbiner' is described on p. 218. In Kotik's words: "... un men hot oysgeklibn r' avrom slonimer, a gevezener melamed un a groyse lomdn, khotsh a shtikl shoyte, zol er mikh moykhl zayn." On page 219-220 the visit described above is mentioned. The passage about the 'unpleasant punishment' starts on p. 221 and goes on till the end of the chapter, p. 229.
12See Vol I, Chapt. XX, p. 258-262.
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