Compilation of Memories (Memoirs)
Yablonov – 1896
Yablonov- From the year 1896 until the beginning of 1898 I lived in Yablonov. The wise men of the town of Yablonov (Soptich) set up their town several kilometers from the main road. The road went in the direction of Kolomyea, Kosov, to Bukovina. They did this because there was noise all day and night from the traffic on the main road. Most of the people were Charidi Chasidim, the followers of Admorim of the fourth generation of the dynasty, of the Tzaddick Rabbi Menachim Hager זצל. He was the writer of the book אהבת שלום (Love of Peace). They had a tradition to invite one of the Admorim once very two or three years to their community to stay for Shabbat. This was to influence them with their religious spirit, encourage them with many blessings and they in turn wrote many requests and made contributions. Invitations were sent to all the Chasidim when the Shabbat that the Rabbi was coming, was decided. Housing was made available to all who came. It was usual to invite the Admor in the months of Shvat or Adar. He would come on Thursday evening and remain until the following Thursday. The admiring Chasidim came to see him by foot and by wagons. The horses pulled them quickly over the frost and snow several kilometers until Pistan. The Rabbi came to this town toward evening and went to pray Mincha and to warm up with a glass of tea. The young sons of the Chasidim went to meet the Rabbi with torches in their hands to light his way, followed by all the Chasidim that came by foot. Those with torches yelled “Haidad, the Rabbi is coming”. The Rabbi was brought into town to the rooms that were prepared for him and his attendants. After an hour of rest, there was the prayer Maariv with all the Chasidim. All the people of the town came to celebrate with him until late at night. Saturday night, the town was full. Chasidim came from the surrounding area, especially Kolomyea and Kosov. Places to sleep were found for everyone. There was room for all the Chasidim and their wagons. The old Beit Knesset of the town was rumored to be more than 400 years old. It was so crowded during the Shabbat morning and evening prayers, everyone had to stand. The crowds peaked at the Sabbath night meal. There were three rooms in the house where the Rabbi stayed. Tables were set and people from different towns sat around them. Those from the town stood behind the chair of the chief rabbi who was at the head of the table. Guests brought various kinds of cooked food.
The Gabais prepared bottles of wine and there was enough for everyone. The rich Chasidim brought additional wine and delicacies to eat. Everyone was happy, singing and dancing until ten o’clock at night.
One custom of the above Rabbis was to set up a small table in addition to the large table. The outstanding and important guests were invited to sit there; the rich of the town, the officials, etc. The table was set not only with wine and sweets but with a special type of imported Pilsner beer. The Chazzan sang many songs. There was lots of food including special kugels. They ate and sang until after midnight.
Trees were taken out of the government forest by a Jewish agent and stored in the warehouse, of which I was in charge. Forty to fifty wagons came to the warehouse daily. The wood was stacked in piles of four meters lengths. At sunrise, Jews from the town who owned wagons came and chose a pile of four meters. Some had only one horse and they took only half a pile. They paid a set price and brought the wood to Kolomyea to sell. Wood came in and out of the warehouse every day, except Shabbat.
Thirty Jewish families made a living from this limited business. They were happy as long as no mishap occurred; a horse falling, a wagon breaking or sickness. One wagon with two horses made a living and had room to carry a dozen people back and forth to Kolomyea several times a day. This enabled the town of Yablonov to fill its stores, offices of the province to function, taxes collected, and courts to operate. After some time, the government opened a court house and an office for the minister of the province. This was in the town of Petshenishin that was close to Yablonov and so the town became part of that province. A special driver made his way to Petshenishin every day.
In regard to spiritual matters, there were only less than ten who occupied themselves only with Torah. The old Rabbi R’Ezriel זל decided on disputes of right and wrong dealing with Torah. There was an old Beit Knesset that the elders said was built in the middle of the 1500’s and seemed immune to disasters. The fires that occurred over time in the area of the Beit Knesset did not touch it or the letters on the wall. From the day it was built, nothing was destroyed. There was no courtyard for the Kosover Chasidim as there was for the Vishnitzer Chasidim. There was no institution for charity or Talmud Torah. There was only one school that was established by Baron Hirsch where several hundred children studied as in every town in Galicia. In the non-Jewish schools, Polish and Ukrainian were studied and a Jewish child could not enter. For a long time there was no community committee. Only one man was in charge whose name was R’Meir Magid זל. He was an honorable man who had a government license to sell hard drink and tobacco. His big house, in the center of town, was always open to sell his merchandise. After he died, his son-in-law R’Naftoli Horowitz inherited the business and its trade. They did not improve the town in any way.
In the past there was a Chasid R’Abraham Sack who was the head of the citizen’s committee. Most of the committee was Jewish. When the lambs became sheep, the young Ukrainians elected a head of the town and a majority of the members were non-Jews. They did nothing to clean the town, clear the garbage or pave the streets.
It is relevant to remember an important event, not just because Jews were involved. Most of the town’s Jewish people were outstanding in good deeds and charity. There were several young people that had some knowledge in Gapat (Gamorra, Psukim, Torah) and some spark of Haskalah. I got close to them and it was natural that they visited me in my house. I would then plant the seeds of “Ahavat Zion” (Zionism). On יז תמוז תרנו (1896) we organized a meeting and I invited R’Shalom Meltzer from the Ahavat Zion Committee from Tarnov. We also invited R’Leibel Teubs זל, a well known speaker. The meeting took place in the big Beit Knesset and the room was crowded. The speakers were well received and entered the hearts of the listeners.
According to the the rules of the Ahavat Zion Tarnov organization, there was a paragraph that whoever bought 100 shares of the organization would have the right to Aliyah as a farmer in the Moshava Machanaim. 100 members acquired 5,000 dunam of land given by Baron Rothschild. The price of each share was ten Reuch. In a short time I, together with friends, bought 100 shares. The son of R’Abraham Sack, R’Azreal זל was chosen to go as a farmer to the Moshava Machanaim in the Upper Galilee. I traveled with Azreal to Tarnov and the committee confirmed that he should go. The reason was that he was a dedicated Chasid of the Admor of Kosov. They listened to the advice of Rabbi Moshe זצל even though he was not a lover of Zion. The Rabbi did not think that the limited amount of money that was given would be enough for a settlement that needed hundreds of thousands of Lei to succeed. This Tzaddik predicted that several tens of Galicianer farmers, who would go to Machanaim, would fail and the land would go back to the original owners. I didn’t know if the young people continued their Zionist activities.
Langenhahn and his partners acquired a large amount of wood for heating in the province of Petshenishin and its surroundings. Jewish agents including the Rabbi of Petshenishin brought the wood into the warehouse in Kolomyea. I moved from Yablonov to manage the business in the warehouse outside the center of town and close to the railroad station. I worked there from the month of April 1898 until the end of 1899. I continued to work for the firm of Langenhahn in Strashnitz Bukovina.
This town had a large population of Jews. Many of them were Torah scholars, educators, writers, intellectuals, etc. I did not write about them because I didn’t know the people, was there only a short time and was very busy working. Those who survived the slaughter of the murderer Hitler, may his name be erased, are in Israel and a large number in America. Scholars and writers are publishing a memorial book of several hundred pages about the generations until the holocaust, 1943-1944. This time my aim is to recall some interesting incidents that happened at different times.
In 1874 the Emperor Franz Joseph toured Galicia and Bukovina. He traveled in a special train with his entourage from Vienna to Dorna Vatra that was on the border of Siebenbirgen and Transylvania. On Yom Kippur he passed Zablotov and arrived at noon in Kolomyea where he spent several hours. Arrangements for a reception for the Emperor were made a few days earlier by Jews and non-Jews. The prayers on Yom HaKippur were not as usual. They began at sunrise and ended with Mincha at eleven in the morning. It was an unusual sight to see two kilometers of men, women and children led by the Rabbis that were under a covering with Torah Scrolls in their hands. There were the non-Jews; the Ukrainians, Poles with their flags and statues and their priests at the front. Armed soldiers stood along side several kilometers of the train tracks guarding the huge crowds that came.
The Emperor arrived at one in the afternoon and the crown shouted in his honor. “Long live the Emperor”. He came to where the Rabbis were with the Torah Scrolls, kissed the Torah to shouts of our brothers of Israel. The Rabbis blessed him with the traditional blessings. After this the Emperor went to the priests which caused jealousy among the non-Jews. The entire time that he was there, the soldiers went into the background as if he didn’t need protection.
In the year of my Bar Mitzvah, 1879, there were elections to the Austrian parliament. The two candidates, for the Jews, were Rabbi Dr. R’Shmuel Bloch and the secular, intellectual candidate Dr. N. Bick, an important rich lawyer from Lvov. The populace of Zablotov would vote. Some young people organized to work for Rabbi Bloch. We found out the day that Dr. Block was coming to Kolomyea to introduce himself to the voters. I and some of my friends came to meet the candidate to ask him to come to Zablotov. The plan was that Dr. Bloch would visit the important townspeople. He met with the head Rabbi, R’Hillel Lichtenstein זצל and R’Jacob Bertler, the minister of the Polish Province who was rich and famous. At that time the head of the towns were R’Sholmo Hirsch Wieselberg and Joseph Finkelstein. Wieselberg was an educated and learned man in Gapat and became a private lawyer (the government did not officially recognize him). He was a sharp lawyer and the young students of the colleges came to him for advice. Wieselberg, the president of the community, backed Dr. Bick, even though he was suspected of bribery. Wieselberg closed the doors of his house when Dr. Bloch went to visit him. Bloch was insulted. When Bloch returned to his hotel, there was a large crown outside and he expressed his feelings: after the war of our Father Abraham against the five countries with a huge army, he and 318 young men with sticks and fists beat them and took Lot from them. When Abraham returned from the war, the King of Jerusalem came out to meet him, gave him bread, wine and blessed him הוא כהן לאל עליון “He is the High Priest to Almighty God”. The Midrash explains this: “He is a priest but his sons are not.” The commentators asked what sin did the King of Jerusalem do that denied the priesthood to his sons. The King of Jerusalem who did not have an army or weapons answered, why did no one come out to help Abraham when he went to fight the five kings? When he won and liberated Lot and his property, he came out with wine and blessings. Wieselberg, the Cohen of the town, instead of being with us in a difficult war and helping us to victory was against us and closed the door on me and visitors. He is a Cohen but not his sons. His position as Cohen ended in his lifetime.
On Shabbat, Dr Block spoke in the big Beit Knesset before a large crowd about the portion ויקחו לי תרומה (take the donation from me). Rashi explained לי לשמי “for me and my name” the money that Weiselberg paid for votes, if you need it, take it, but the votes you give to me, Rabbi Dr. Joseph Shmuel Bloch, that’s my name.
On Saturday evening after Havdalah, Chasidim from the area came to the Rabbi’s court to get his farewell blessings, advice, notes and donations. Others stayed until the next day to say goodbye. Until Thursday afternoon, many Chasidim from many different places and villages came to visit the Rabbi, some for business advice, community business, elections, kashrut, disagreements between partners and families. The Rabbi answered all of them to their satisfaction and they gave notes (questions and requests) and donations. On Wednesday night, the last night, the owners of homes in the town, came to say their farewells to the Rabbi. On the following day, everything was ready to travel and the Chasidim accompanied him to Pisteen.
One of the Rabbis of the righteous Kosover dynasty was knowledgeable in GaPaT and wrote several enlightening books.
The first time he was invited by the Chasidim of Soptshas to visit them and be honored for Shabbat, an unpleasant incident happened. A part of the handle of the metal door of the Beit Knesset was lost. The Beit Knesset was named for the Rabbi of the Kosover Courtyard. There was no blacksmith in Soptshas to fix the door. The wise men of the above town found a solution. They took the bone of a lamb and filled what was missing in the handle. When the Rabbi came to pray in the courtyard and touched the bone of the lamb and was able to open the door. He was pleased with the cleverness of his admirers. That same Shabbat, they read in the Torah the portion תרומה donation.
(The next several paragraphs on page 192 are not legible. RDK)
Dr. Bloch informed Zablotov by telegram, the hour he would be on the train on his way to Snatyn. I and several of my friends accompanied him to Snatyn. A large crowd waited for him and he was received with shouts “Long live Dr. Block, the representative of our town.” That same evening Dr. Bloch gave a speech in the big Beit Knesset where his words entered the hearts of his listeners. From there he traveled to other places that were connected to the election of a representative for the province of Kolomyea. Despite the strong opposition of the important, famous Dr. Bick and the large amount of money spent to buy votes; Dr. Bloch was chosen by a large majority.
Content last updated Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 08:16 PM Mountain Daylight Time