Linat Hazedek and Bikur Holim

(Overnight Righteous and Visiting the Sick)

by Dow Brukasz / Tel-Aviv

Translated from Yiddish by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

In one of the first years of the 20th century, cholera broke out in Czyzewo. The epidemic hit small and large alike and people were falling like flies. In the botei midrashim (study houses – synagogues) people were saying Psalms all day and all the while people were barging in and running to the holy ark with lamentable sobs, but the cholera that started with one had spread.

Everybody went around gloomy. In the market place small groups of people stood and talked only about “it”. People spoke about past cholera outbreaks and what they had done in the past. A grave had to measure and a hupa (marriage canopy) put up in the cemetery and a poor young woman and a poor young man had to be married there. Everyone in the shtetl attended the wedding, which took place Friday afternoon. With white chalk they drew a line around the houses, under the widows. The only Christian doctor and the old-time barber-surgeon prescribed remedies.

This time in Czyzewo they created a Linat HaZedek society. Mendel Tsitses (the four tassels on the Orthodox undergarment) maker (Kanet) was in charge and there were several healthy and robust young people to help him. They were devoted to the work and stood ready to help day and night. As soon as somebody became ill, they were sent for. They gave the patient and massage over their entire body, until the entire body had a red glow. It was said that this helped and that hundreds of people had been saved from dying.

When the epidemic subsided, the mission of Linat HaZedek ended and there was only the Bikur Holim society left whose assignment was to lend cupping glasses, rubber tubes, a hot water bottle and other necessities to the sick.

One person managed the inventory. Money to buy new products came from donations that were collected every week. This was done by specially chosen heder boys who, with a notebook in hand, went around with the gabai (trustee) from the society, who would write the name of the donor and the amount of the donation.

I remember when I was chosen to go around collection donations. The gabai from the Bikur Holim Society was Jehusza Nisen Tsitsis maker (Kupiec). He was also for many year the officiating cantor at the additional service during the Days of Awe in the bes midresh. After him was Lejzor Josel's, or Lejzor Monczar.

Jehusza Nisen, along with most of his family, went to Israel in 1935 where he died 20 years later in Petach-Tikvah. But Lejzor stayed and was murdered in the ghetto.

Hakhnasses Orhim (Hospitality)

Until the First World War there existed in Czyzewo a Hakhnasset Orhim. For many years Aron Shames (sexton) took care of the Hakhnasses Orhim. Several years before the war Herszl Czarne's took over.

The Hakhnasses Orhim has a building with three rooms in the corner of the town. One of the rooms was always busy with a respected overnight guest. In the other two rooms were a couple of beds and straw mattresses. Poor men, strangers who had come to Czyzewo, were able to stay overnight there without asking permission from anybody.

During the First World War the building was burned down together with almost all of the houses in the shtetl. Only the houses on Szmidiszer Street were not burned.

Later when the shtetl was re-built, they erected the botei midrashim and the Hasidic shtiblach but they forgot about the Hakhnasses Orhim. The poor who came had to stay overnight in the botei midrashim or the Hasidic shtiblach. Also the women's section in the bes midresh was used for the poor who had to stay overnight.