Reb Zebulon Grosbard

By Aharon Tapuchi (Jablonka) of Tel Aviv

Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

When Hillel died, they said regarding him, Oh the modest one, Oh the pious one. Tosefta, Sota 13.

He had a straight, upright posture; wise, quiet eyes; and a branched beard. He had an adorned face that exuded clarification; splendid, that expressed refinement and seriousness. His entire personality exuded honor and nobility. His clothes were always clean and orderly, without any stains, fulfilling the adage: “A scholar should not have a stain upon his clothing”.
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He was from among the old-time Gerrer Hassidim. He would travel to the Rebbe with pining and heartfelt appreciation. This was not so that he would be able to be “honored and well-received”, “close to the table”. He was a serious person, upright and complete with himself, wit his fellowman, and with G-d. He was honest in all of his ways, paths, dealings, and steps.

It was thus that he was created and entered to the light of the world. No common or uncommon wind was able to influence his personality, his level-headedness, and the calm foundations of his soul. He was a member of Agudas Yisrael. Every newspaper and manuscript of the Aguda found its way to his table. He obeyed all decisions of the party, and nevertheless, he placed himself above all factionalism. Not even a trace of deviousness and jealousy cleaved to him. He was never exuberant or angry, but he was always ready to listen to his fellow man with patience and pleasantness until the end. He never departed from his element; he never mocked or mimicked during his friendly conversations, or in his inner heart.

* * *

He was a special, rare personality, as if he was created to serve as an example, in the tradition of “see one like this, and sanctifiy”. He was a faithful prayer leader, acceptable to his fellowman, always surrounded by a group, though he stood shoulders above them. All of his deeds were measured and thought through in a serious manner. Despite all of this, he was always willing to lend an ear to anyone who was struggling and opposing, to anyone full of bitterness of the heart and anger. He would always listen, and offer explanations quietly and peacefully, as he convinced and won over the heart of the disputant.
* * *

I saw him on many occasions, during public appearances and stormy debates. As the chairman, he always knew how to exert control, not only over the gathering and the order, but also, first and foremost, over himself. He never made himself appear as the victor, but rather he remained quiet and discreet. He regarded himself as the man dedicated to the mission, the servant to all segments of the community, the learned person and man of the book; nevertheless distant from didactics, not an uprooter of mountains. His strength was in his straightforward intellect, his diligence and his breadth of knowledge. He knew how to work with the pen, and he was fluent in three languages – Hebrew, Russian and Polish – both written and oral. Nevertheless, he never made use of his vast knowledge as “a spade to dig with”.

* * *

He owned an inn and a coffeehouse in the town. His coffeehouse served as an inn. The wagon drivers and porters of the city could be found there at all hours of the day and evening, whether they waited for passengers, orders, work; or simply passed the time during a break in their work, between an arriving and departing train. They did not leave the place until the inn was closed, that is to say, after midnight. For the most part, they sat and chattered, as was the manner of porters and wagon drivers. Nevertheless, they did not bother Reb Zebulon during his work. He would stand up to deal with a customer, he would pour a cut of tea and bring a slice of bread or cake, and he would even glance at the daily newspaper and manuscripts. He would write requests for various people to the authorities, since he was familiar with the laws of the state.

* * *

He served as a communal administrator in town for many years, and as the head of the community during the final years before the outbreak of the Second World War. With the conquest of the town by the Nazis, he was appointed as the head of the first Judenrat in town, however within a few short weeks, Reb Zebulon submitted his resignation.

He said: “I am not capable of continuing on”.

The face of the community darkened when news of his resignation spread. They attempted to speak to his heart, to support and strengthen him. He listened silently, and lamented, “I cannot continue in this manner”. He put his hand to his heart, and everyone understood him.

He was not able to serve as the head of the community, while simultaneously keeping secret the sinister intentions of the enemy towards the community.

He could not impose the will of the conquerors upon them.

He cannot falsify his task, and he would not serve as a tool for the executioners.

With his great understanding, he very early on realized the full extent of their evil intentions, with their diabolical demands. With decisiveness, he left the Judenrat.

He the multi-faceted activist, of refined heart and upright, who looked into the vale of destruction and did not fall into the trap – he was one of a kind, one of the most splendid of the natives of our town. May G-d avenge his blood.