The Amszynower Congreation in Shtetl

By Pinchus Frydman / Ramat Gan

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Everyone depends on luck, even the Hasidim.
Ger and all the others favored large congregations so they could have their own shtiblach (small, Hasidic prayer houses) where they would pray daily, study and chat about spiritual and other matters.

The Amszynower Hasidim were not that lucky. Their congregation was small so they did not have a corner of their own. Even though the Rabbi was an Amszynower Hasid, their membership still remained small and even though they dreamed of having their own shtibl they could not manage it. They did not want to share with another group because they would have been the minority.
I remember when I was a child that they prayed at Mosze Berkowicz's house. Later the second minion prayed in the large synagogue and the last years they got together with the Sokolker Hasidim, who were also a small group, and created a shtibl where every Shabes and Yon Tef [religious holiday] they prayed together. I would like to tell about the Amszynower Hasidim, their virtues and stories so they can be an example to future generations.

Josef Mendl Cynamon

Josef Mendl the Baker was a righteous man, his wife Malka was the businesswoman and ran the bakery. She knew how to handle the gentiles, who on market and fair days filled the bakery. She knew when to speak softly and listen, when to reprove with sharp language, or stare someone down. And that is how she ran the business and he, Josef Mendl, would hardly set foot in the bakery.

His day started at “dawn”. He was busy most of the day praying, studying and at the Khevra Kadisha (voluntary burial society). Later he would wander into the bakery, have a look around and then run to prepare a little for the world to come.

Here comes an author pleading for help to publish his religious book, which will soon appear. But he mentioned to his wife that he still did not have a guest to share his Shabes with and cannot go with a guest on Shabes. So he would run around and sing softly “world do not totter, world, world do not totter” …this was his favorite song that he with a merry melody which would steal into a sad tone. This was how he poured out his cares. For a long time he was a poor man…then he sold butter for a living and he became impoverished.

Icchokel the Painter

That was what he was called. I do not remember his surname. It is possible that I never knew it. When called to the Torah he was called Yitzhak ben Reb (honorific, Mr.) Eliakim Getzl. If he ever painted – I don't know.
To me he was a short man with a large, grey beard and a huge tallis (prayer shawl) bag under his arm. His place was at the rabbi's house or in the synagogue where he would study all morning.

He was a scholar of the old type, simply studied, without getting into debates. He was the balmusef (prayer reader for the additional service, Shabes and holidays) in the shtibl. Well, he was far from being a singer, but everyone knew that he was the appropriate person to lead the community in prayer. When he said “my all being will recite, Me Kamoha, who is like you”, people really felt that every bone in his body trembled.

He came from the ancient rabbinical authorities of the Hasidim, lived with the motto “Dear are all people, who are created in G_d's image”! Nobody should be wronged, respect is owed to everyone, even children.

Jankiel Plocker

This man was known by several names in town. First, Jankiel Pesia Ita's. Pesia Ita was his mother's name. Jankiel der dreyer (the turner) because he was a turner by trade. Jankiel der rov's (the rabbi's) because he was a rabbi's son. When called to the Torah he was Yakob Ariyah ben Reb Chaim Menachem.

He was a capable, bright man and one of the assistants in the Burial Society. Without him the cleansing of the dead would not take place. He was the sexton in the Amszynower shtibl and a prayer leader in the synagogue. During the First World War he served in the military under Samsonow. When Samsonow was beaten he and a few others made it back to Russia. During the entire war he never ate treyf (unkosher food). During Simkhes Toyre (Heb. Simhat Torah, marks completion of the annual cycle of Torah reading) when everyone danced with the Torah, he was in ecstasy. He stood on a bench and yelled, “It should live”! He went after those who had strayed and brought back to the fold.
At a celebration he could not sit in one place. He ran to help prepare, to serve. He was a Hasid without great aspirations, but a dear, simple Jew.

He is gone but not forgotten.