Translated from Yiddish by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

There was no Hasidic rabbi in our shtetl that had followers who would stream from other communities. There was no rabbi's “court” in Czyzewo. But it was a Hasidic city that was tied to great rabbinical courts with their admo'rim (plural of admo'r, acronym for adonenu moyrenu v'rabenu. The title of a Hasidic rabbi. Literally, our lord, teacher and master), sons of historic dynasties in the Hasidic world and primarily: Ger, Aleksander, Amszynow, Sokolow. There were individual Hasidim who traveled to the pious men of the Rishener dynasty. And the Hasidim traveled to their rabbis for Shabes (Sabbath) and yontoyvim (High Holidays) and for yomim neroim (the Days of Awe, i.e. the High Holidays, the ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur). They would be with their rabbi in prayer, at the “table” and in giving a gift of money.

On his return from the rabbi's table to the shtibl (Hasidic prayer house), he would tell long stories about wonderful performances, about the rabbi's kiddush (blessing over the wine) and words about the Torah, seasoned with incomprehensible talk about kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and computation of the numerical # value of words. The men would dance and sing the new melodies that were brought back from the rabbi's court. The melodies and chats reflected the peculiarity that made each Hasidic rabbi distinct. They were lyrical, quiet and absorbed in the mystery of all mysteries, in the soul of the world. They were stormy and noisy with feverish ardor, ladders that reach to the heavens, flames that strike at every movement, every turn, burning the footprint of he who turns away to the eternal deceiver and enticer of men's temperament. They girded for the rush of fresh suffering and the need for strength in divine service.

From all of them there remains extinguished ash.

This text must serve as a matzevah (memorial) to their great beauty, to the light that was extinguished.

Hasidic Shtiblakh (Pl. Of Shtibl, Prayer Houses)
And Hasidim In Czyzewo

Dow Brukasz

The Czyzewo Jewish population was made up of two classes: Hasidim and Mitnagdim (literally, opponents, opposed to Hasidsm). But the Hasidim belonged to various sects: Gerer, Aleksanderer, Sokolower, Amszynower and others. The names came from the cities where the rabbis lived. Each rabbi had his way, his manner of divine service.

Ger, a small town not far from Warszawa after the death of old Kocker, zts'l (zeykher tsadek livrokhe means may the memory of a righteous person be blessed) his greatness was revealed. When the Kocker Hasidim split up, they began to search for a leader, someone worthy of succeeding the Kocker. But too well known was the Chidushei Harim and Sfas Emet and the “truthful words” around which were grouped a large number of Hasidim.

The other rabbis: Aleksanderer, Sokolower and Amszynower were also famous and also had their followers in Czyzewo. But just as in the other cities, the Gerer was the strongest and largest group in Czyzewo. The reason for this is a study unto itself. In fact, the Gerer Hasidim in Czyzewo were the most eminent, like in every other city and town.

Generally the Hasidim and especially the Gerer remained apart from the Mitnagdim – in every way; in their clothing, where they prayed and how they prayed. Gerer Hasidim were the “shtreimel-Jews”. It was said, “under every shtreimel (round, fur-trimmed hat) is a Gerer Hasid”. Only the very poor wore a “velvet” hat on Shabesn (Sabbath, Saturday). But in shtibl, one did not see a Hasid without a satin kapote (long, black coat worn by Orthodox Jews). One had yet to see a “collar” on a talis (prayer shawl), but always a satin kapote. A faint mark still remained on the kapotes to show that they had once been “satin”. All that remained of the satin was a pair of yellow torn up small stripes, but so long as the lining remained on the shoulders, the “kapote” served as a Shabes-Yontifdike (Sabbath and holiday) garment.

In general Hasidim used the form of prayers used by the Spanish-Portugese Jews. The manner of praying is remarkable. A Hasid, especially a Gerer did not sit at the table or generally sit anywhere while praying. He ran around and rocked in great ecstasy, yelled and clapped his hands – back and forth in the length and the breadth of the prayer house. Once, by accident such a Hasid was invited as the tenth to a Mitnagid minion (quorum of ten men needed to conduct certain prayer services). For him this was the worst kind of suffering. One must not refuse and poor thing, he had to pray in the Ashkenazy manner.

Home and Family

For the Hasidim, home was a temporary lodging, where they stayed between one visit to the rabbi and the next.

The custom of traveling from time to time to the rabbi was for Hasidim, and especially the Gerer, entirely natural.

Mainly they traveled during Slikhos (one of the prayers said during the days preceding the High Holidays through Yom Kippur) and lay around in the “besmedresh ” (synagogue, study house), sleeping on the hard benches with their bundle under their heads or in some cheap inn where one had to pay. The joyous inebriation came from the rabbi, his teaching Torah, and his virtuous example and later, on returning home being able to tell about the great wonders performed by “him”. Because of this it was worth the trouble from the several weeks until the end of the yomim noroim (Days of Awe, High Holidays) and once until the end of sukus (Feast of Tabernacles).

In Czyzewo, the Gerer and Aleksander Hasidim were closest to each other. For many tens of years they had their shtiblach together on the floor over the town besmedresh, although their demeanor, clothes and character were distinctly different, there were no quarrels between them. In the well known “Wizna-Sniadowo feud, the Aleksander Hasidim undertook a passive position and some even sympathized with the Mitnagdim

The Wizna side.

Each young shtibl student studied in his own shtibl and although the shtiblach were neighbors, nobody from either side every crossed the other's threshold. They both had respect for the Sokolower and Amszynower Hasidim.

There was only a small number of Amszynower Hasidim in Czyzewo, headed by Rabbi, Reb (Mr.) Szmuel Dawid Zawlodower, who was well liked by everyone. The Sokolower Hasidim had prayed in the besmedresh until the beginning of the twentieth century. Then they rented a shtibl that was also attended by Amszynowers.

The prayer format used by all the Hasidim was “Sefard ” nevertheless there were distinct differences in the prayer format, especially by the “Gerer”.

Friday night the Gerer Hasidim had an interval between Kbalas Shabes (Welcoming the Sabbath) and Maariv (evening prayers). During the interval they did not study gemore (part of the Talmud which comments on the Mishnah [post-biblical laws and rabbinical discussions of the 2nd century B.C.E.), but that short period was used for reading a book or telling stories about great, pious men.

Shabes morning, winter and summer, the men drank “khamin” (warm drink or food) tea, coffee or milk which they would get from the bakery oven where it had been kept warm all night. In contrast, on Friday the Mitnagdim would by “kvitlakh” (tickets) in the gentile “teahouse” and Shabes morning they all went to get a glass of tea that they had already paid for.

After drinking a hot drink, the Gerer Hasidim went to the Hot “ mikvah ” (ritual bath house). Rarely did one notice any other Hasid and especially Rabbi Dmta who did not feel the need any Shabes and any Yontif to immerse himself in the mikvah before praying.

Between morning and afternoon prayers only the Gerer Hasidim had a custom of taking a break of not more than an hour and then they studied gemore. They studied alone, by themselves. Others learned in a group, where one of the old men or a young man, a respected scholar, read a lesson.

In studying, just as in the economic situation, there were differences, but in the shtibl everyone was equal there. Still, it was decided that the older Hasidim always took the seat of honor, the eastern wall. But it was remarkable that all the older men were also the richest merchants in the shtetl and as a matter of course the most influential in city affairs.

One of the ones particularly strict about wearing traditional clothing was Reb Berisz Frydman, a rich grain merchant. Every young man in the shtibl had to wear a yarmulke (skullcap) under his hat and a belt. He always had some in reserve, skullcaps and belts, that he would give for free to each young man who did not have a skullcap or a belt or both.

He took care that even outside the shtibl walls, in the street or out for a walk, men would wear them. If he, or his assistants, saw a young man or a boy in the street without the two things, Reb Berisz would warn him with sharp words so that it would not happen a second time. A lot of young men among them the writer of these lines, were expelled from the shtibl as a punishment for disobeying the demands of Reb Berish Frydman. He would pretend not to see and looked away, as if not interested in the least, in a cut beard. But he did forgo the “belt and skullcap”.

There was one young man in the shtibl who was favored with a special privilege. That was Jesheja the grave stone engraver's son. Even Shabes he wore a “cloth hat” without a skull cap, yet to pray he had a silk belt.

The Aleksander Hasidim had an entirely different appearance. If in the department of “everything being equal” they were not far from the Gerer, but one saw young men sitting and studying even without a yarmulke and without a belt.

There were some who wore a white “collar” with “a little necktie” and even “ties”. Among the so called “aristocratic” young men, as the Gerer Hasidim called them, were Josef the soap-boiler's (Rubinowicz) Berl, Lejzer the village magistrate's son (Wengarz) Alter, Bine Brucha's son (Garde) and others. The last even wrote for the newspaper “Heint” (Today) which he would freely read and at the Aleksander shtibl door, several young men stood and in secret listened to him reading the newspaper and admired his “skill”.

Sokolower and Amszynower Hasidim in their entire manner were scarcely any different from the besmedreshniks, the Mitnagdim, whose clothing was different, but entirely individual.

The only comparison between them and the other Hasidim was only that they prayed in the Sephardic manner. To the third and last meal of Shabes they would get together and sing Shabes hymns exactly as their neighbors, the Khevre Mishnayes (group that studies Mishnah which is the collection of post-biblical laws and rabbinical discussion of the 2nd century B.C.E.), the Gerer and Aleksander Hasidim.

Before the First World War, the besmedresh and the rabbi's house, all the shtiblach with the Khevre Mishanayes were on the same street. All week the echo of the gemore melodies carried far.

But Shabes the various melodies of those who sang while praying, from all the shtiblach, later the Shabes hymns being sung while eating and then at the last meal the Amszynower Hasidim gathered at Rabbi Dmta's and there celebrated the last meal “ushering out the queen”, scarcely ceased.

Some well to do Mitnagdim also went to the rabbi's, good people, like Reb Josef Kanet and Mendl Kanet z'l (may his memory be blessed), Reb Abraham Icchok Belfer z'l, etc.

The bridge that linked the shtiblach, Gerer and Aleksander, was Reb Szmulke Fiszel's the grave stone engraver and tsitsis (undergarment with four tassels worn by Orthodox Jews) maker. He served both shtiblach, he had the tea concession, summer and winter, and …”brandy”.

He would furnish 96% proof for each occasion and there were a lot of occasions. A yahrzeit (anniversary of a death)– liquor, a graduation – liquor, an agreed upon marriage, a bris (circumsion of male baby). An inauguration, even for wearing a new piece of clothing.

If there was no simcha (joyous occasion), several “sons-in-law” with future “bridegrooms” got together and had a little brandy.

During the week, in the street, all the Czyzewo Jews seemed like one family. Only the yarmulke that the Gerer Hasidim wore told of the existence of two “camps”, Hasidim and Mitnagdim.

The Hasidim were in the shtiblach in Czyzewo and the Mitnagdim were in their besmedresh.

Hasidic Shtiblach And Botei Midrashim

A Short Summary

Czyzewo was a small shtetl and had several Hasidic shtiblach in which respectable Jews, young boys, sons-in-law on kest prayed and studied. In the early mornings and long winter nights the gemore melodies, and the voices of heated debates over the deep thoughts of the tanoim (rabbis whose teachings in the frist two centuries C.E. are included in the Mishnah) and amoraim (Talmudic doctors) from toysefes (important commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, as well as legends and fables complied in the Talmudic and post-Talmudic era), Maharsh'o (acronym for morenu harav [our teacher, the scholar] Szmuel Edel, commentator on the Talmud) and other wise commentators carried over the shtetl. The largest and therefore also the most powerful was the Gerer shtibl. Among the Gerer Hasidim was a large number of the richest and most respected people in the shtetl, among them: Mordchai Welje, Chaim Dancyker, Mosze Jankiel the keeper of a wine house, Berisz Frydman, Juske Grynberg, Zawel Ajdelsztejn and others.

There were Jewish scholars and aristocrats in the Aleksander shtibl, but fewer. There were, among others, several respectable young men such as: Jozef the soap boiler, (Rabinowicz) Alter Bine-Bracha's Garde, Berl Lejzer Solte's son (Wengarz) Jesheahu Motel Fejga Paja's and others. The Aleksander shtibl was much smaller than the Gerer.

The besmedresh was more for “ the common people”. Zorach the writer (Starkowski) had his group of Jews with whom he studied every day between afternoon and evening prayers – Ein Jankev (title of a well-known collection of the Agadahs [stories] from the Talmud). It was from this group that the Shalemberger Hasidim originated later on. Nobody knows where the name came from.

Jakob Pesze Jute's studied with a second group shulkhn orekh (literally prepared table, title of a book containing all Jewish religious laws) and Chaie Odem (“The Life of Man” title of a well-known compendium of Jewish religious laws by Reb Abraham Dancyg [1748-1820]). Icchok Aron studied with a group – gemore. Studying began between afternoon and evening prayers and went on until late at night.

There was also a Sokolower shtibl where the most respected were Szlama the baker, Boruch Krejndl's (the melamed) (teacher in boys religious grade school) and others. The Amszynower Hasidim went there as well because there was too few of them to have their own shtibl.