Compilation of Memories (Memoirs)
Family History and Zablotov
In the year תרסב (1902) I lived in the village near the town Shtrachenitz, Bukovina. I was a clerk in the firm of Freidrich Langenhahn. My job was manager of a wood factory. I was also in charge of bookkeeping, accounting and sales. I was given a house not far from the factory which had several rooms that were light and airy. Near the house was a barn for the cow, a stable for the horse etc. I was awakened in the middle of the night by the night watchman yelling “Fire”. The fire was in the neighbor’s, Jacob Helfer, house. The house had a liquor still and a warehouse for hard liquor. I barely managed to take my wife and four children out of the house. I wasn’t able to save anything, except the cow and the horse. The house I lived in went up in flames. All my property, my books, my accounts, my business accounts as well as the notebooks where I wrote my memoirs and my diary were destroyed.
After some time passed, I wrote several pages of my memory in my notebook. These were written by hand and in no order. These notebooks I brought with me when I came to Israel. In the year 1937 my beloved son David brought me a Hebrew typewriter and I had the opportunity to copy what I wrote in sections and whatever I was able to remember.
I was born in the year תרכו (1866) on a Monday in the month of Iyar in the town of Zablotov. My father was Aaron Hacohen and my mother was Esther Devora. Zablotov was on the main road from Lvov [Lemberg] South, in the direction of Romania until city of Yasi thru the town of Snatin, and the town of Chernovitz, Bukovina. The train tracks passed in the direction of the river Zarmush that came out of the Carpathian Mountains in the direction of Bukovina and flows into the river Prut in the town of Napalakovitz. There the Prut widens and continues its way until it almost reaches through most of Bukovina where it joins the Danube which flows into the Black Sea.
The small town of Zablotov was founded, according to what I heard from the elders of the town, about the beginning of ת' לאלף החמישי (1600?) It was built by the inhabitants of the surrounding villages who came and bought land from the owner and established the town. This piece of land was three kilometers in length and width. The owner’s name was Zablata. The town was called Zabutov. So why was the town called Zablotov?
The land had natural minerals and was very fertile and produced excellent grain (זבל-טוב). The elder Chasidim of the village told why it was called Zablotov? The first Rabbi that came to sit on the rabbinate was said to be similar to Rabbi Yehuda Ohrbach who wrote the important book “מחקק-יהודה”.
The book was printed in Lvov in the year תקנב (1792). Others say that the first Rabbi of Zablotov was the Admor, Hatzadik, R’David (Dudki) זצל, son of the Admor R’Menachim Hager זצל, the founder of the Kosov Vishnitz dynasty. This was about the year 1740. At that time there was no bathhouse in the town. That is possibly the reason for the name Zablotov. The reasoning of חזל' is that the Ukrainian word “zabola” meant forgotten. Therefore the town was called Zablotov because they forgot to build a bathhouse.
When I was born I was not entered in the local citizen registration. If you were not listed you could not be drafted into the army. In 1874 a law was passed that one would be severely punished if not listed. Every man and woman was obligated to register for “conscription?”. Government officials came to my parent’s house to register everyone. I was eight years old at that time. My parents thought to be clever and registered me as nine. The parents of my mother and father were well known, prosperous, versed in Torah and were merchants.
My father was R’Aaron, his father, my grandfather, was R’ Nathan son of R’ Shlomo Zalman and Itta Hacohen Keusch. R’ Shlomo was born in the town of Abertin which is between Zablotov and Kolomyea. They were one of the respected families in the town and were merchants of leather, both dry and wet, in a business that was handed down from the previous generation. According to grandfather, one of the relatives of the previous generation found a document (a tax form) that was connected with a “Cohen Hagadol” from the Middle Ages. It was said that this form was from Ezra Hasofer Hacohen (עזרא הסופר הכהן). If there was such a document it was burned in one of the big fires that destroyed all the homes and property in Abertin. All the family members believed that there was such a document.
Tzadikim blessed my grandfather to strengthen him. He was a dedicated Hasid and was one of the chosen in the courtyard of the Admor Rabbi Chaim זצל, son of the Admor Rabbi Menachim זצל, the author of the book “Ahavat Shalom” (אהבת שלום) and of the dynasty of the Admorim of Kosov Vishnitz.
In addition to the Tzadik R’ Menachim and his son R’ Chaim from Kosov, my grandfather was one of their respected followers. He was honored as a Cohen and was blessed as the descendent of the Cohanim. This is substantiated by a story of an event that I heard a number of times from my grandfather R’ Nathan זל.
Some time after the wedding ceremony of my grandmother Freida זל, the daughter of R’ Gershon Sperber, (who was the owner of the house and a big merchant of dairy products, in the town of Zablotov) his son-in-law and young people from the Beit Hamidrash ate manna from the table. Here is what happened: The Rabbi Menachim זצל died at the end of the year תקצה' (1835) and his son, R’ Chaim זצל from Kosov, died in the year תריד' (1854). One of the sons took over as the head of the Kosov dynasty. The young Chasidim of Zablotov did not find the new Rabbi righteous enough for them and decided to replace him with a Tzadik of their generation.. They wanted someone like the Tzadik of Beltz, Rabbi Shalom Rokach, or the Tzadik Meyerl from Petshenishin.
Train tracks had not yet been built in Galicia. Ten young men, with Grandfather Nathan as one of them, decided to rent a large wagon with two large horses and covered with straw. An old Jewish man from the town of Erlitz joined them. He was a simple, uneducated man. Their first stop was to be the city of Beltz which they wanted to reach before Shabbat.
They traveled in the direction of Lvov which was a long way from Zablotov. On Friday they arrived in Beltz and found a place to stay. One day in the afternoon they went to the courtyard of the Rabbi, which was in a small narrow alley. That courtyard was large with houses built of wood and covered, for him and his sons. Grandfather Nathan and the young men did not see the Rabbi in the large room where he usually presided but in the big kitchen they saw a tall man dressed with a vest and a hat on his head. He was peeling onions for cooking the fish and his lips mumbled “in honor of Shabbat”. When he turned his head and saw them, he greeted them with “shalom aleichem”. He asked us where we came from and invited us to join the Shabbat evening prayers.
The Rabbi had built a large Beit Knesset opposite his house and yard which could hold several hundred people for prayers and Torah study as well as minyanim for young and old. We were not impressed with our first meeting with the Rabbi. The yard seemed to be falling apart and there were pools with frogs croaking. His strange clothing and hat and his working in the kitchen were not appropriate for the rabbinical leadership of Kosov.
We came to the evening prayers (minchah) and were received by the Gabbei, who directed them where to stand. For the kabbalat Shabbat the Rabbi stood in front of the Torah. When he got to the section (pasuk) “It is said they came with a warm heart but did not know their way”. On the section “they did not know their way” the Rabbi raised his hand and pointed to the guests in front of him. With this, the guests were aware that the Tzadik understood their thoughts about him and his strange ways.
When we got to the festive meal at the Beit Knesset, the table was already full of Chasidim. We were placed near the chair of the Rabbi. Grandfather Nathan was honored to sing “Zemer-Shabbat”. It was a wonder that the Tzadik knew that Grandfather was musically gifted. In the morning prayers (shacharit) there was a call-up for “Cohen” and it was surprising that Grandfather was not called as a Cohen. In the morning prayers and the three meals, the Rabbi and the Chasidim treated them with respect and accepted questions and blessings of the Tzadik. In spite of the strange behavior and strange dress of the Rabbi and the Chasidim, their uncleanliness, their shouting and yelling during prayers, it was decided that the Tzadik, Rebbe Shalom Rokach, had a holy spirit that emanated from him. It was worthwhile to be under his wing.
On Friday mornint they went to Petshenishin and in the afternoon they went to the court of the Tzadik Meirl זצל. Since the old man was with them when they were in the doorway to the seat of the Tzadik, they sent him first. When he reached the Tzadik, he was asked to step aside since you are a low born and there is place for the young people who were warmly welcomed. They were asked about Rabbi Dudki זצל and his wife, Pessi Leah. The Tzadik Meirl was in contact with the young Dudki and studied with the Rabbi Moshe Leib Sasover, the father of Pessi Leah.
Grandfather Nathan was born about the year תקעג' (1813). Grandmother Freida was born about the same time. After the death of his father-in-law Gershon Sperber זל, Nathan inherited his big house. This included apartments for his sons. He established a leather business in his house dealing with wet and dry skins, sold to people in the village and also to Gentiles who passed through. Most of the merchants came from the cities of Stanislau and Kolomea. Large quantity of skins was made into sandals by Meir Abersin for the inhabitants of the villages. The business was run honestly and the merchants respected him. He contributed to the poor and helped those in need. On weekdays he had guests at his meals and many more on the Sabbath. He followed all the mitzvoth and performed the daily morning prayers. In the fall the business kept him busy from morning until late at night and there was no time to study Torah except between customers when he could squeeze in an interpretation from Rambam. After the evening prayers, he studied the Torah until he went to bed late at night. Business was slow in the summer and he studed when there were no customers. In addition to special market days, there were market days on a regular basis during the year. On days that I was called upon to help Grandfather Nathan, there were customers that filled the house, inside and out and we also had to keep guard against thieves.
Here is a story worth writing about. In the months of Tevet or Shvat (January-February) the government officials collected the tobacco leaves from the growers in the neighborhood. I sold a pair of sandals to a Gentile for the price of one reinish. He pulled out a bill of ten reinish in order for me to give him change of nine reinish. The bill had been recently printed and when I rubbed the bill there was a second bill stuck to it. I put the second bill in my pocket and gave my grandfather the change to give to the man. I was pleased to get the money since it was permitted to fool a Gentile. I was about ten or eleven years old at this time. I had no luck as a thief as I had no experience. After an hour or two, the Gentile came with a complaint to my grandfather. When the man gave over his tobacco to the government, he received ten bills for ten months work. In place of one bill I gave the boy two bills. I’m asking you to return the ten refinish bill. Grandfather immediately pulled out from his drawer ten reinish and gave it to him without any argument. After the market closed and the money counted, my grandfather told my father what happened. I stood there before the court under investigation. My grandfather began “Boy”, you stole because “you could”. Where did you hide the ten renish that I returned to the Gentile? They checked my pocket and didn’t find it. At first I stood my ground. I denied that I stole or took the money. After a sharp moral “talking to”, I claimed that it was not stealing but a kosher “find”. “An error of a Gentile is permitted”. They told me that I made a mistake and they didn’t like my explanation. The explanation that a Gentile was similar to a donkey is liable to cause errors. Errors are permitted. To rectify a mistake with a Gentile is holy. You should have given the money to me and it would have been my decision. In the future don’t make decisions on things you do not know. I apologized and asked for forgiveness, which they both willingly gave me. I returned the money to grandfather and he gave me a few coins. I was invited to the evening meal that was usual after every market day. I ate my fill at the wide table.
Grandfather Nathan זל' tried to get a job with one of his relatives, R’ Moshe Sperber, a Chasid of Kosov and one of the big land merchants in the city and province Linetz and in the town of Aleshkov, where he lived. He was considered one of the richest men in the area. He had a piece of land on the road to Kolomea, Snatyn and wante to donate this piece of land to build a Beit Knesset in honor of the Admor of Kosov. He was given permission to build on condition that he builds an apartment for his brother, Abraham Tzvi Sperber, who had no apartment and no employment. Grandfather and the community agreed to the terms. It fell to Grandfather’s fate to pay for the supplies to build the building. The building had a room twelve meters in length and width and a קלויז' (Beit Midrash) of about six meters. It had a corridor of about the same length and opposite the corridor were an apartment and a kitchen for his brother.
Above the corridor and the apartment Abraham Tzvi helped in the same way. After Grandfather invested all his money he sold places to most of the Chasidim of Kosov. He bought places for himself and two sons to the right of the Holy Ark He paid for this as did everyone else. Grandfather was left with a debt of 200 rubles. I have a note from the five members of the committee that the sum of 200 rubles would be paid out to Grandfather in the year תרלד' (1874)
They made sure that the קלויז (Beit Midrash) had all that was necessary inside and out including the Holy Ark that was built by an expert carpenter and made of oak. There was a stand for holding the siddur and the bima for reading the Torah. The stage and the decorations for the Torah were donated by the daughter-in-law, Devorah, the wife of the son R’David זל. The rest of the furniture was donated by grandfather in memory of his son Shlomo Zalman (also the name of grandfather’s father) who died when he was seventeen.
About seventy men and women could pray in the Beit Midrash. They all respected and admired grandfather. After services on Shabbat, most of them gathered at grandmother and grandfather’s house for a glass of wine, cakes and kigel. The Admorim of Kosov, from the original Rebbe Dudke and his four generations that followed, were also guests.
On the stand, a metal plaque was hung, donated by Aunt Devorah which had on it the proverb “הישר באדם גוע” (even the righteousness of man dies) from Gamara תרמא. On the Big Shabbat of that year Uncle R’ David, Nathan’s son, died at the age of forty-one. He left his wife, Devorah, and three children. Devora was born in Bukovina near the town of Strachnitz. Her family was Shtein. Her father, R’Yehoshua, was a famous man known for his donations and his knowledge of books. Her brother R’Israel Shtein was a well known businessman and had a wine distillery. He also dealt with cattle. He was outstanding in whatever he did in business and in donations and righteousness. His sons inherited his business as well as his good deeds.
Uncle R’David had a store and an apartment in grandfather’s house. The store dealt with woven cloth, both wool and silk, and all kinds of clothing. All this was for sale for the Jewish and Gentile customers. He was a man of many abilities. He was educated, acquainted with languages, knew books and had a good singing voice He was also involved in the community. His daughter, Itta, was the only one that studied Torah as well as a foreign language. Uncle R’David was happy in his short life with his wife and his beautiful, intelligent children. Sorrow falls also on the righteous. His first born son died at the age of five. His daughter Riesel was a virgin who was beautiful and educated. A date was set for her marriage when suddenly a deadly worm disease attacked and after several days, she died. This was the second victim of these sad parents. A short time after this disaster, the head of the family also died. The doctor of the town as well as experts from Kolomea and Lvov tried to cure him but to no avail. All the people of the town commiserated with grandfather on his terrible loss. After his son’s death, grandfather mourned him, said kadish, and studied a portion of the Mishnah every day of the year.
David’s wife, Devorah, was left with the apartment and the store which she ran efficiently with the help of her daughter. She made a good living and managed to increase the value of what David left.
The wife of Grandfather R’Nathan was Grandmother Freida. She was the daughter of R’Gershon Sperber, son of R’Abraham (Avrahamli) זל, who lived in the year about 1790 and was the son of R’Gershon who lived in about the year 1740. This was R’Gershon the first. He was the head of the family chain that lived in the town of Bratashani. He was learned and received his Rabbinical Authority (סמיכות), from Hagaon Rabbi Jacob Melisa, to teach children and practice law. We have no knowledge if he ever served as a Rabbi. I got this information from R’David Sperber and about R’Avrahamli we have no details.
Avrahamli’s son was also learned in the Torah and lived in Zablotov. He was a merchant of pearls. He had three sons (we have no knowledge of any daughters), my grandfather R’Gershon the second, R’Nathan זל, and R’David זל. The chain of R’Gershon the second of Cohanim continues for eight generations with the grandchildren of today. The second son-in-law of R’Gershon was Anshel Rubin. His wife was Chaya who was known for her kind heart. The son-in-law of R’Anshel was R’Moshe Yehuda Kressel, who was a learned scholar. He was the founder of the well known and famous Kressel family chain. They were also merchants. The well known writer, Getzel Kressel, was his grandson. Two other grandsons were among the first pioneers in Israel who had farm land and dealt with agriculture.
The family chain of R’Nathan, the second son of R’Avrahamli, was R’Abrahman Leib Sperber. David Sperber was a Judge in Montreal, Canada and his son, Marcus, was important and famous in the Canadian Parliament. The third son of R’Avrahamli was R’David. His family chain was R’Baruch and his son, Harav Hagaon, R’David שליטא, was a member of Gadoli HaTorah in Jerusalem. He lived in Romema in the shikun of the Rabbis.
Grandmother Freide had her own store that sold dry goods to people from the village and government employees of Kosov and Dalatin. After morning prayers she ran the store, the household, baked, cooked, etc. and helped others. The profits of the store were not given to grandfather. She helped people in need and gave “צדקה”. Her grandchildren, including me, got gifts from time to time. People loved and enjoyed her cooking and I was one of her important guests on the days of the market and most of the Shabbats of the year from the time I was a little boy until she died in 1887 תנצבה.
R’ Abraham, the brother of R’Moshe Sperber, lived in the apartment of the Kosover Beit Midrash. After he died, the apartment went to the committee of the Beit Midrash. At first, the apartment was rented as a barn. Afterwards the apartment was given over to the Shamash of the Beit Midrash, who lived there with his family foe the rest of his life.
Grandfather, R’Nathan Keusch זל did not participate in any affairs, civil or religious. He was a strong supporter of the dynasty of the Admorim of Kosov, especially from the Admor Rabbi Menachim the first, who wrote the book אהבת שלום, until his grandson Rabbi Moshe Hager זצל. This dynasty lasted four generations. After Rabbi Chaim זצל died in the year תריד (1854), his oldest son, Rabbi Yacob Shimshon inherited the Admorite of Kosov. The second son, Rabbi Menachim, founded the Admorite dynasty in the town of Vishnitz. Grandfather remained a Chasid and a good friend to the Rabbi Yacob Shimshon. He was one of the closest friends to the Tzadik. In this period the relationship between the two brothers who were Rabbis and their Chasidim was not overly warm but did not degenerate into hateful fights. There was a difference of opinion having to do with the collection of money and helping those families who made Aliyah to Eretz Israel (קופת ר מאיר בעל נס). These collections continued from generation to generation. After his death, the Rabbi of Vishnitz began to compete for this “tzadaka”, sending messengers to collect the money. This began after the death of Rabbi R’Menachim from Vishnitz in the year 1883 or 1888. This difficult war heated up between Rabbi Moshe of Kosov and Rabbi Baruch of Vishnitz.
The Chasidim of Kosov found a solution. The Rebbe of Kosov would be the only one to collect these monies according to the law of the country. A special entity was established in east Galicia, a portion of the province of Ugdin and part of the province of Bukovina. This was approved by the representative of the government in Lvov. Only Rabbi Moshe Hager was authorized to receive monies from these provinces. These monies were for people who made Aliyah from these areas and for no other purpose. Secretly, the Rabbi of Vishnitz circumvented the law and the war continued.
In this war, Grandfather Nathan took a very active part. He was chosen by the Chasidim and the Rabbi to be the leader of the city. He recruited people and under his supervision raised money. His activities were conveyed to everyone except the Chasidim of Vishnitz.
My grandfather gave my father; R’Aaron זל a task to participate in this mitzvah. With the authority of Rabbi Moshe of Kosov and his secretary, he was sent to empty the tzadaka boxes. He gave receipts and wrote the number of the box in a notebook. Several months later a signed official receipt arrived from Eretz Israel. The signature was from Hacollel HaGalitziani, Amarcal, and the secretary who received the money. Four times a year, my father participated in this important activity. Each time, the work took several days and was done well and accurately. This continued for many years.
While the Rabbi of the city, Rabbi David Hager lived, his bother Rabbi Chaim from Kosov was one of his followers. After his death, his son R’Yackli inherited his seat as the Rabbi of the town. His brother, R’Mendeli, founded his own rabbinical chair in another part of the town called Damitch, without the agreement of his brother. There were fights and splits between the two rabbis. My grandfather was on the side of R’Yackli who was a follower of the Kosover Admor. His brother R’Mendeli was a follower of the Vishnitzer Admor and his Beit Midrash was called “Vishnitz”.
Grandfather Nathan had great personal pleasure in his general activities. He was involved with the town, his friends and earning a living. He was also greatly respected by the Rabbis. In spite of this he suffered great anguish and pain from family tragedies. There is pain in raising children. His third son, David, lost a fifteen year old son and a young daughter. Not long after, David, young in years also died. This was followed by Grandmother Freide’s death in the month of Shvat תרמו 1886. Grandfather was old, broken, and alone in his apartment and waited to receive food. My father supplied his needs with my mother, Devorah’s זל good cooking. Willingly she prepared his tasteful meals. Another young son, Shlomo Zalman, named after his father, died. Grandfather and Grandmother did not see the fulfillment of his engagement, which was arranged, to the daughter of a rich man.
About a year before he left this life, some drops of pleasure fell on his broken heart. David left an only daughter whose was named Itta. David’s wife Devorah was left with a dry goods store that sold wool, silk and material. The store prospered and she had quite a bit of property. The daughter, Itta, was a young, smart and a pretty girl. The “shadchanim” sought her out, until they found a young man suitable to her and to Grandfather Nathan. He was the son of a family connected to Israel, had a good reputation in learning the Torah and was wealthy. He was Zanvil Kahane, whose father was R’Chaim, the son-in-law of Rabbi R. Yehuda Mordon (he was a student of Chatam Sofer). They all came from the town of Sigit in the country of Hungary. The knot was tied and the wedding took place in Zablotov. Among the in-laws was Harav Y. Mordon who was received with great honor by the town. He gave the blessing of the seven brachot under the chupah. At the wedding feast he gave a long “darshah” (homily) in which the families recognized his brilliance.
The day after the wedding, he traveled to the city of Kolymea to visit his friend Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein, who was the chief Rabbi of the city. He was received by his friend with kisses as brother to brother.
Grandfather lived long enough to see this granddaughter,Itta, who was named after grandmother, Freida, and a grandson who was named after his grandfather Rebbe Yehuda Mordon תנצנה.
Zanvil Kahana became a citizen of Zablotov. He worked with his mother-in-law in her store and found a satisfactory life. The financial situation of Zanvil and his wife Itta improved greatly in business. After Grandfather Nathan died they inherited half of his house including the contents. There is a saying from the Talmud: “A nice dwelling place, nice contents, nice wife and afterwards you have pleasure and peace.” The world of human joy and success can suddenly disappear. “איה מאן דפרע ננפשא ובממנו”. His wife Itta died of an unknown cause. Afterwards Grandmother Devorah died. Zanvil, the widower became depressed and left for America with his son and daughter. He found no peace there and his depression increased and he died. His daughter also died.
My mother was Esther Devorah, daughter of Itzhak Isaac and Tova Sprinzi Meltzer Hacohen. She was born in the town of Samekovitz that was near Zablotov about the year תקצז 1837. Grandfather Isaac was born in the city of Tcharadenka, son of R’Shmaryahu, an outstanding scholar who taught his son Torah. Her mother, Grandmother Tova, was the daughter of R’Naftali and Frima Levener. She was born in the town of Charopteshev that was near the city Stanivitz in Bukovina. Grandfather R’Naftali and his wife were honest people earning a living by running a tavern and a farm. Their house was open to all who were hungry. Food, drink and shelter were given to whoever held out his hand. Grandfather Itzchak Meltzer right after his wedding moved to the town of Samekovitch. He rented a tavern, a grinding mill and a forest from which he cut trees to make fire wood for sale. He succeeded in these ventures.
After Grandmother Frima’s husband R’Naftali died she came to her son-in-law and daughter’s house in Samekovitch. After Grandfather Isaac died, Grandmother Tova came to our house in Zablotov. Grandmother Frima died about six years after the death of R’Itzhak and Grandmother Tova Meltzer זל. According to Grandmother Frima’s story, the source of the wealth of Grandfather Isaac was in the basement of the tavern in the town of Samekovitch. There were two large filled hidden barrels that only Grandfather and Grandmother and one of the daughters’s had access. They took out liquor according to the need. (Comment by DK “they were bootleggers”) For a number of years the barrels were emptied, refilled and was never discovered.
There was a blessing attributed to the Tsadik HaAdmor, R’Chaim Hager from Kosov, that Grandfather Isaac was of the dynasty of the Chasidim that was blessed by the Admor with “wealth”. An unfortunate event occurred one day when a neighbor who came looking for Grandmother discovered the basement with the barrels. She asked if they were still full. From that day onward, the evil eye controlled the situation. The barrels were never again refilled. Whether due to the blessing of R’Chaim or because Grandfather Isaac and Grandmother Tova were very energetic and talented in their tasks, all that belonged to them prospered (the garden, field, cows, chickens, the house, the store) and they were rich.
Frima who was my mother Devorah’s Grandmother was outstandingly beautiful and dressed accordingly. She told beautiful stories to her grandchildren and was regarded as הסימה בביתא (the wealth of the house) as the Talmud would praise her. She read with a pleasant voice, which I loved to hear. הצנה וראנה “Her reading from the Torah was like a lighted lamp”. I still remember the stories of evil spirits, demons and ghosts that are in the country, the dead who come every night to the Beit Knesset to pray and on Yom Kippur are part of the living during Kol Nidre and all night. These stories affected me and caused me to be afraid of the night. Part of this was due the fact that Grandfather Nathan’s house where my parents lived was right opposite the Beit Knesset of the town. The stories that Grandmother Frima told were not because she was old and grew up among believing people and gossiping women. It was the tradition of our fathers and the Talmud that recalls ghosts, demons and evil spirits from the passuk (portion) “קטב ישוד צהרים” (ghosts, demons and evil spirits). It is written in black and white, by one of the Rabbis in a book that was found in the Midrash called “גן עדן”, about the dead who come to pray at night in the Beit Knesset.
After the second failure of Grandfather Isaac Melzer in the town of Samekovitz, he leased from Mr. Abramovitz, a large empty house, three large fields, measuring, several hundred margim (measurement), including fields of grain, a garden, a mill and a forest in the town Tritzi. Just as before in the town of Samekovitz the business succeeded and he became wealthy. After a time, he acquired a big house made of brick and a roof made of metal in the city of Kolomea in the shuk (market) quarter. Before the deal he made in Tritzi, he leased in the town of Halibitchin, a part of Zablotov, several hundred margim (measurement) including large productive fields, a big mill and everything that belonged on a large farm. Moshe Rosenbaum from Zablotov bid for this property, the price of the lease was raised, Grandfather’s contract was canceled and Rosenbaum took over the property.
Grandfather Isaac went to court in order to cancel the leased contract with Rosenbaum and bought the property and all that was connected with the purchase according to civil law.
“Buying property forever cancels a leased contract.” The large amount of money needed for this important purchase required grandfather to sell the house in Kolomea and also to borrow money from his friends in Zablotov. In spite of all this, the property in Chalibtchin remained in Rosenbaum’s possession for a period of time. Only after long legal battles and a civil court decision did Rosenbaum pass over the property to grandfather and his sons went to live there and work the land.
Just as they succeeded in their legal battle, they succeeded in the small town. They raised four sons and six daughters. The sons were educated by learned teachers and studied תנך וגפ"ת (Tanach, Gemorrah, Psukim, and Answers). They also had teachers for the worldly subjects of writing, language, math, Yiddish, and the language of the country. They had teachers for the girls and grandchildren to learn the prayers and reading in Yiddish and also learned writing, language and math in Yiddish.
Their sons and daughters got married to families that were well known and rich. Many of the daughters-in-laws and sons-in-law lived on the family property and ate at the family table.
Everywhere where the family lived from Samekovitz to Chalibtchin their home was open to all. Food, drink and shelter were given without differentiating between rich and poor. Grandmother Tova was especially outstanding in her good deeds and thoughtfulness. She was the heart of Grandfather and awoke in him the spirit of good deeds. They helped the daughter of a relative to get married and supplied her with a dowry.
Their goods deeds ands tzadaka were known throughout the country. This was so especially when they lived in Chalibtchin. This town was close to Zablotov and not too far away from Kolomyea. From early sunrise on, many poor people came for help. They were given milk, butter, cheese and flour, etc. Respected Rabbis from all parties asked for significant donations. People from the surrounding areas asked for advice and letters of recommendation to the authorities of Kolomyea and Lvov. Grandfather’s recommendations were highly respected by officials and they very rarely refused his requests in important matters. People known and unknown from near and far came to request help, backing, important documents and a helping hand. Relatives asked for the same help and often stayed in the house and ate at our table.
Thousand people love the man, friends and acquaintance light the joy that does not stop to come our way and does not stop. We were joyous at festivals, to sit as brothers together. We gave Blessings to God, joy and happiness to sons and grandchildren that plant olive trees around your table. Torah and greatness, happiness and wealth and honor reigned over this house that was full of light. (These words from page 8, Hebrew Diary)
This human joy and happiness which gave us so much success did not last. There are evil winds that blow through the empty valleys of our world. Satan accuses those who have succeeded and have happiness and pleasure. Suddenly these winds brought down on this house storms that touched all corners of the house and destroyed all those who lived in it.
Grandfather Isaac had some pain in the big toe of his right leg and collapsed. They called the doctor from Zablotov, Kolomyea to come and give him a thorough check-up. He found him healthy except for a small wound in his leg and gave him some salve. They came to the conclusion that he had to rest. After a few days, the pain passed and he was able to walk without any help. Who would not have confidence in these important and experienced doctors? As a result they did not bring in experts from Lvov and Makrakoy.
In defense of the family they did bring the doctors back. From the look in their eyes, there was fear of complications. It was a Trojan blow. The leg was gangrenous, his blood was poisoned and it was terminal. No medicine could help. On Sunday, the doctors planned the necessary surgery and after three days of pain and suffering, he collapsed and died. We all felt guily of the sin, the crime and the negligence of the doctors. On ד טבת תרכח (1868) Grandfather Isaac died at the age of 52. He was the heart and defender of the family and was loved and admired by all who knew him. תנבצה"
The evil destructive wind that blew on this house had not finished its work. The demons continued their goal. Grandmother Tova Sprinzi found no peace after Grandfather’s death. She cried night and day without a stop. She didn’t sleep, eat or drink. She became ill and had to stay in bed. The doctors came twice a day to no avail. The tears had not yet dried from the previous disaster of grandfather’s death. Here came a new painful death of the pure and clean soul of the Tzadika, Grandmother Tova Sprinzi on the first day of Pessah 1868 when her pure soul left, after 50 years of a short life תנצב"ה.
With the unexpected death of the dear couple זל, there were still black clouds in the heavens above this sad family. The peace, blessings and light that was part of this house in the lifetime of the dear couple was shattered. The winds separated the hearts of the brothers and sisters. The accusing devil brought hate. The first reason: Poor Grandfather thought he would live a long time and thus never wrote a legal will. The second reason: The oldest of the sons (my mother was the oldest child) Uncle David took over the property and the business without permission or agreement of his brothers and sisters. Even worse, he didn’t ask for any advice or permission and their relationship cooled off.
His actions were strange to them and the result was bitterness and hate. The third reason: The debtors (the sums were not overly large) knocked on the door and demanded payments of their debts. There was no liquid money available. The fourth reason: The appotropus (guardian), Shlomo Hirsh Viselberg from the town of Kolomyea, was the unofficial lawyer of the young sons and the two daughters: Tahama, Rivka and a son Chaim. This man took large sums of money as his expenses. The final blow was a huge claim of about 30 thousand reinish by Mr. Abramowitz, the owner of two properties in the town of Tritzi and Linitz. Grandfather Isaac rented from him a piece of his property for ten years and he would own it after several years. He paid him 30 thousand reinish in advance. Several months after Grandfather died it was time to take over the property. The inheritors asked him for either the property or the money. The honorable Mr. Abramowitz swore that he had returned the money to Grandfather and the lease was cancelled. To strengthen the testimony of this important and honorable man, he brought two witnesses. They were Yacob Toya (nickname tchebrarak) from Chalibitchin and Hirsh Nahum from Kolomyea. They swore under oath that they saw Abramowitz return the money from the lease to Grandfather. It is understood that he came out innocent and did not have to pay the money. The appeals to the courts in Kolomyea and in Lvov did not help. This was so, even though there were many witnesses on our side who came to the court. “The place of the court was a place of evil”. They came out with hands on their heads and had to pay court costs.
Because of the above reason, Uncle David (him and no one else) sold all the property in Chalibitachin and everything connected to it. Friends of Grandfather זל, the hero Moshe Zanvoil and R’Abraham Leib Sperber and others advised that they take a mortgage and pay the debts. The alternative should be to lease the property for a number of years. They needed a family majority decision in order to save Grandfather from being a debtor for generations. “לעולם יהא אדם חס על נכסיו .” In an uncertain future a man cares for the happiness and wealth of his children. Without the majority decision of the inheritors, the property and all that belonged to it was sold. The big debts of the property were wiped out, as well as the smaller debts and their interest. Some money was given to the three youngest orphans. With a small amount of money and a few things from the house, the inheritors were left without property. The house that was full of light and joy went into darkness and wandering. Thirty years of hard work went into nothing. Who is guilty? Was it Uncle David? Who knows? A bad legal decision and no appeal…
Most of the sons and daughters, lucky to marry into prosperous families, moved in with the parents and established businesses in order to earn a living.
One of the son-in-laws that left was Joseph Shatner married to Krendil, Grandfather’s Isaac’s daughter. They moved to his father’s house who was R’Mordechai Shatner from the town of Kuti and one of their important citizens. Joseph was a wise and educated man. After losing all his property, he opened a store for knitted goods and was succeedful.
Another son-in-law Shimshon Kahan and his wife Miriam returned to the town of Karlupka to live with his father who was rich. Shimshon inherited his father’s house and opened a grocery store where he barely made a living.
The son, Joseph Meltzer and his wife Sheindal went to their in-laws, R’Zacharia Stein in the town of Kituv. After a while, they moved to the town of Zevi in the Carpathian Mountains and made their living from cutting trees in the forest of Lachtuv.
The son, Shmaryahu, and his wife Golda went to live with the in-laws, R’Elazar Zeidman, from the town of Scala who was involved in big business. After his death, Shmaryahu inherited a large portion of the property and money.
The daughter, Leah, and her husband moved in with his father, R’Moshe David Karen, in the town of Salshtshik where he had a warehouse of wood. They worked together, lived together and made a good living.
The oldest son, R’David, leased a farm and lost everything. After five years he returned to Zablotov. “כנעצי בשעתה מלא יצאתי וריקם שבתי” “You went out full and returned home empty”. He moved to Trizi and was employed as an accountant by someone he knew. In time he bought a small house and opened a small grocery store. In the end, he returned to Zablotov and from there he and his wife, Bila, went to Israel. He went as head of the Kollel Kupat Rambam of the Admor Rabbi Moshe Hager זצל of Kosov. He died from starvation during WW I. His orphans polio were paralyzed in the arms and legs and moved into my mother’s house who cared for them while she lived. The daughter Rivka and the young son Chaim went to live with David’s brother R’Shmaryahu. He took care of them and worried about their future and managed to find partners for them.
My mother, Esther Devorah, was the oldest child of R’Isaac, lived with her husband Aaron and their five children and a sixth in happiness in the house of her parents R’Isaac and mother Tova. They never lacked for anything, earned a living and lived in that house a number of years. After the property was lost, they moved into the house of Grandfather R’Nathan Keusch in Zablotov. R’Isaac had treated them with an open hand. After grandfather and grandmother died, they received a small amount of money as inheritance. They cared for a sick sister. They also got part of the harvest of eight yachim (about fifty dunam) and they made a marginal living.
Instead of a better income they had to pay off the debts that they laid out for the marriage of their daughter to the son of Urain, from a respectable family. Grandfather R’Isaac with the help of his son, R’Shmaryahu, made connections with a merchant from the town of Scala, R’Yonah Zeev Shrentzel, gave 500 ruch, a lot of money, from his pocket for the dowry.
The son-in-law, R’Yehoshua Shrentzel was an only child and spoiled. Most of the day he sat in Kosov’s Beit Midrash with two or three friends and studied Torah. After the birth of his son, my brother-in-law Yehoshua moved into his father’s house in Scala. There he joined the family business in the sale of coral imported from Italy and the sale of oil. (This section was unclear. It told of the marriage of my grandfather’s sister, name not given. D.K.)
The profit from the harvest of the eight yachim (fifty dunam) of fertile land, is another incident of money disappearing. The leaser of the land had to pay a portion of the harvest as rent (sharecropper). “Alka Popiak” from Halbitchin was to get a third of the harvest but he stole and took two thirds. The remainder was not enough to feed the family. My father spent most of his time with the Torah and prayers and had no knowledge of business and did not learn to write or speak the language of Galicia.
The field was about two kilometers away from town and my father Aaron was supposed to check the fair division of the crop He slept in the field together with the leaser and his three thieving sons. One had to be sharp to watch the steps of the thieves and where they sent the wagons with the crop and to whom they sold it. The following years when it became harvest time, my mother took upon herself the task to go out to the field.
My mother knew and spoke Ukrainian and Polish. She knew the full operation of a farm but she didn’t have enough strength and courage to watch the thieves, the leaser and his sons. When she went out for several days for the grain harvest, she took food and warm clothing for the cold nights. My brother, Naftali, who was fifteen, went with her until she came home. Once or twice I accompanied my mother to the field. During the day we ate dry food and at night we could not sleep because it was cold. I wondered about my mother’s fate. She had the inner strength to suffer in order to eke out from her inherited field a small portion of income to provide for the family. She stood fast against the leaser, the snake, the A Popiak.
I want to remember with a blessing my relative R’Joseph Leib Meltzer and his wife Sarah Shela. They lived not far from the field, about a fifteen minute walk and they made their living from a small farm near their house. They had two milk cows for butter and cheese, a small chicken coop and they also sold hard liquor to passers-bye. During the harvest my mother and father always found food and a hot drink in their house. I also enjoyed their food and drink. May their memories be blessed. Despite the difficulties of operating the land and despite the fact that father and Grandfather R’Nathan insisted that mother sell the land and open a store to bring in a full income for a large family, she refused their demands to sell her inheritance.
Grandfather Nathan realized their difficulty in earning a living. He gave them a store in his house for the wholesale and retail sale of oil and candles. This oil was very important in Zablotov because there was no other store that sold oil. The oil came from Kolomyea or from Chernovitz.
This difficult job of buying and selling fell on the shoulder of my mother. She had to travel in a heavy wagon loaded with barrels of oil and crates of candles. She loaded the rented wagon not far from the owner of the wagon and store in the city of Kolomyea. This took a day. Traveling to Chernovitz and back took two days and she stayed one night in a tavern. She accepted this big task with love. My father and brother Naftali worked in the store most of the day serving customers and selling oil and candles.
Mother ran the business. The household work was done by two daughters, one 17 and one 13. The business prospered and the parents saw their livelihood expand. This continued for about a year or two until a neighbor caused a calamity that took away our livelihood. Chaim Wolfram opened a similar store. It was a “Kol-Bo” (small supermarket). Most of the people of the town and the surrounding area of Zablotov including non-Jews bought there. Their profits came to hundreds of ruch.The owner, his wife, two daughters, a son and two helpers operated the store. This family was among the important land owners in the town. He owned a big house and was an honored follower of the Admor of Rabbi Yackli who was a Chasid of the Admor of Shartcov.
This “honorable” man went out of his way to take the bread out of our mouths. Why did Wolfram, this rich Chasid, get involved in this situation? He rented a second store next to his store and put one of his sons in to sell oil, soap and candles. This store was right next to our parent’s store. In order to stop people buying from us, he lowered his prices to the point of loss. It did not take long before he won and we were wiped out by Wolfram, the “honored” “Chasid”.
My parents tried to take him to court on the grounds “אל תשיג גבול רעיך” (thou shalt not trespass) but Wolfram refused to come to court. My mother appealed to her brother who had a connection with the house of the Admor of Shartcov to take Wolfram, the Chasid, to court. Once again Wolfram refused the demand to come to court. The sale of oil, candles and soap was wiped out by Wolfram.
After the loss of income from the store, the problem arose of making a living. A small amount of money was left from the good period. With the advice of grandfather and close friends, my parents decided to sell wheat flour, grain and corn that were used by most of the town. There was no other place in town to buy grain and this seemed like the basis of making a good living. Mother brought the grain from the mill “Bratler” from the city of Kolomayea. The business began successfully. Mother with the help of father and especially brother Naftali were in the store all day. The sales were not big, there were no lines of customers and there was no great hope to make a good living. The income became smaller and they added a small grocery similar to what was sold by Wolfram. The new addition and the flour did not bring a full income. Things got worse and worse and the debts got bigger and bigger. Grandfather Nathan had difficulty in helping. In addition, my brother Naftali’s father-in-law demanded the tripling of three hundred ruch that the parents had promised to pay for “נדן” to brother Naftali and set a date for the wedding.
This was an opportunity for Grandfather Nathan to push mother to sell the field of eight yachim(fifty dunam), her inheritance from her father. The land was sold for 800 ruch. The debts were paid. Part of the dowry of my brother Naftali went for the wedding expenses and they had a little left to continue the business of the store that brought in a small income.
After my brother Naftali’s marriage, he stayed in the house of his father-in-law in a town in the province of Bukovina. There was one less worker in the store, the income was reduced while the expenses grew and increased. The time arrived to educate the children, two daughters and two sons, I and my brother Gershon, younger than me by two years. Should the boys study in the government school when it was totally forbidden for boys to learn the languages of the country, Polish, Ukrainian and arithmetic? They should at least go to schools where the teachers had studied in a pedagogical institute.
Content last updated Thursday, March 07, 2013 at 08:44 PM Mountain Standard Time