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This site is created as a way to further research and publication of materials on the history of Lyakhovichi.If you have been aided in your research and wish to contribute materials and resources to further our knowledge, contact Gary Palgon and ask how you can help.

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Biographies from Lyakhovichi - (Investigations into the Jewish History of Lyakhovichi)

This page is part of our Biography section. Click on the "Biographies" button in the left-hand column to read other articles in this section.

David Levine who grew up in the Williamsburg neighborhood of NYC, and for whom Yiddish remains a language of choice, contributed his considerable skills to translate this special remembrance from the town of his children's ancestry. We are very grateful!

Elijah Kirzner, Master of Psalms
by Dr. Avigdor Greenspan, 1948, translated by David Levine, copyright in English 2008

Biographical Details of Elia Kirzner
by Deborah Glassman, copyright 2008

In that beautiful biography shared by Dr. Greenspan and David Levine, we learn a great deal about Reb Eliyahu and very little about the man Elijah Kirzner. The article in the right-hand column informs us on the influences to his living and teaching, but does not examine any details of his life, except his death in 1910.

He was probably too poor to have been included in the tax lists of Lyakhovichi, though if he was from seventy to eighty in 1910, he would have been in his forties when the 1883-1884 tax lists were compiled. And though the men who were moved by his teachings in shul are mentioned in the petition to rebuild a shul in 1875, this poor man who made his living making and selling hats, was not one invited to sign that document.

We find that he was blessed with at least a couple of children, and though his known children perished in the Holocaust, he had grandchildren that emigrated to Eretz Israel in the 1930s. The source, unfortunately, for the names of those children and grandchildren, and of the name of his wife Golde, were the pages of Testimony that his Israeli grandchildren filed for Eliyah's children. Eliyahu and Golde Kirzner were specifically cited as the parents of Sholom Kirzner when Sholom's daughter Ruchel Kirzner Borishansky filed her father's document at Yad Vashem.

Eliyahu's wife Golda appears in the records of the Slutsk Chevra Kadisha on the 26th of August 1916. There she is referred to as "the elderly woman, the wife of [not in English translation because of translation difficulties, but presumably something akin to "the reciter of Tehillim"] daughter of the honorable R' Eliyahu, of the refugees from Lechovich She was buried next to Basya Karabeishik (who had died May that same year), also of "Lekhovits" in row 27. There is no reference to Kohen or Levite in either Golde's father's name or her husband's. We note that both her father and husband were named Eliyahu.

We know that Reb Eliyahu was a hatter and a hat seller, that he taught in the Tailor's Synagogue (schneidershe shul) which was in the Shul plaza, and that he led the prayers in other synagogues as well - the admiring congregants listed above prayed in the Groyser Beis Midrash and in the little private shul Beis Yakov. He is referred to in a remembrance by Nisan Tukachinsky who said in a discussion of Lyakhovichi savants and wunderkinds that "Old Ellye, the furrier, would conduct the services at the synagogue, all from memory." If he is remembered in some places as a furrier and in others as a hatter, did he make the fur hats (worn by Jews and Belarussians alike) that were a commonplace in a Minsk guberniya winter?

When we access the 1874 Revision List of Lyakhovichi Males, I hope to find him in those records with a patronym and some connections cited to the other Kirshner family of Lyakhovichi in this time period including his contemporary David Nathan ben Abraham Shimshon Kirshner whose occupation was also given as furrier. I will post any new findings right here!

A sneak peek at the 1874 List of Jewish Males of Lyakhovichi tells us that in 1874 he was one of the many Lechovichers who were legally resident in Lyakhovichi but physically resident elsewhere. He was in Kletsk with his three oldest sons renting a property on Zamkovaya Street from a property owner named Itzka Fish. We learn the names of his three sons aged 9 through 2 and we later find the youngest son emigrating to the US, and the children of his oldest. A search of Kletsk records suggest that Elijah's son who was 9 in 1874 was married off in Kletsk, it was from there that that son's children would emigrate. Both the 1874 List of Males and the 1858-1884 Supplementary Revision Lists could be used to build a detailed snapshot of Elijah's family at that time. If you would like to see how they can assist in your research, contact the Lyakhovichi Research group

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The Book of the Alshich HaKadosh
by Deborah Glassman, copyright 2008

R. Eliyahu Kirzner centered his life on Torah. He spent his days preparing for Sabbath, celebrating the Sabbath, and regretting the passing of the Sabbath. He inspired others to joy with his entire Torah service but he also was renowned for his mastery of the singing of Tehillim (Psalms) and the eye-opening explanations of Scripture's meaning in the words of a man named Rabbi Moshe Alshich (1508 Turkey - 1593 Safad, Eretz Israel). Moshe Alshich was one of only four great scholars of the middle ages who had the title "The Holy" appended to his name, and while most Jewish rabbinical authors are called by the name of their most famous book, Alshich haKodosh, had around twenty writings that are often just called by his name, Alshich the Holy aka Alshich haKodosh.

To learn why Eliyahu Kirzner immersed his days in the works of Alshich haKadosh, you have to understand what those teachings were. Alshich wrote his Torah commentaries for one reason, to find for those who would search, the Holy One's compassion and outreach to mankind and Israel, demonstrated in each word or sentence of the Scriptures. Elijah Kirzner's mentor emphasized that the troubles of this world were of short duration and that the joyous portion of the world to come lasted forever. The Alshich haKadosh taught that by encouraging men to repent and to focus their efforts on return to a Godly focus, you could bring about not only that man's redemption, but you yourself could aid in bringing on the time of the Messiah. The Alshiach Kodesh's encyclopedia entries talk of his easy style, and his skill at finding the path between literal explanations and mystical interpretations, but using allegories to awaken his listener to the possiblities.

R. Eliyahu Kirzner did not just teach Alshiach haKodesh's books, he modeled himself on this teacher who died 250 years before he was born. On the surface a renowned Yeshivah leader of Israel's holy city of Safed and a poor hat-seller in Lechovich, Minsk gubernia, Russia, would have had little in common. But read this remembrance that David Levine brings to us! He stirred men to love of G-d. He imbued them with a wanting of more holiness. His own days were filled with the recognition of G-d's pervasiveness.

The biographer finishes with "Reb Elye Kirzner died in abject poverty at an old age in 1910." I have to think, reading about the way he lived his life, that it would have been truer written as "Reb Elye Kirzner died without any worldly goods, at an old age in 1910."

The information for this article was largely drawn from my personal copy of Encyclopedia Brittanica's Eleventh Edition. I examined the entries in the Jewish Encyclopedia, Encylopedia Judaica, and other English language sources before completing the article above, but I did not use quotes or significant material from any of them.