Zareby Koscliene


By Zelig Ruryanke (Roman)

Between Zaromb and Tzshitcheve, in one mass grave, lies the entire Jewish community of our home town.  Our memories about those martyred souls are like "Yortzayt" (memorial) candles to their memory.

My recollections bring me back to the years of my childhood.  I recall "davening" (praying) at the Gerer "Stitibl" (prayer house) on Rosh Hoshanah.  All the worshippers were imbued with the seriousness of the day.  My father covered his head with his "tallis" (prayer shawl) so that I too was covered.  He held a thick "sidur" (religious book in his hand - a book which was a treasure trove of prayers and commentaries.  I feel his hot tears on my hand which holds the holy book together with my father's hand.  It was not difficult for him to hold me close to him because I had experienced the spiritual awakening.

But after the service was over, these same Jews became quite different.  They truly believed that G-d had accepted all their prayers and supplications and that they had atoned for their sins.  With this assurance, the Jews went to the river to "Tashlekh" (the rite of emptying one's pockets into a stream as a symbol of washing away one's sins).  They were now cleansed of their sins. On the road back to the Gerer prayer-house from the river, the Khassidim danced and sang.  Their "nigunum" (Khassidic melodies) could be heard all over the shtetl.  The lapels of their satin and silk "kapotes" were spread wide, their braided belts down their hips; they danced and hopped about without stopping to rest.  We the youngsters, held on to the dangling belt ends and danced along.  Often the old could outdance the children.  Mayer Fayvl, the "melamed" (Kheder teacher) and Nossen the scribe were among the best dancers and set an example for the younger Khassidim.

When Simkhas Torah came, there was no limit to the festiveness.  There was a continuous rejoicing and revelry.  They would go to the homes of the more well-to-do Khassidim and drink up entire barrels of beer and local wine, dancing so fervently all the time that the very houses shook.  As they went from house to house, they danced "Rikud" (animated Khassidic dance) to the amusement of all onlookers.  Some danced with such fervor that they jumped up on the low roofs and danced while holding on to the chimneys.

Shohu-Mayer, the "melamed" who was a hunchback, used to grow from a tiny bent Jew to a giant on Sirnkhas Torah. His brother, Henekh-Nassen, was exceptional.  His antics were magical.  As a child, I could not imagine a Simkhas Torah without him.  When he went off to America, I asked his son, Yankev, whether his father was coming back for Simkhas Torah for I could not believe he would be away from Zaromb for that holiday.

The opposite of such festivity were the wintry Sabbath evenings when the Gerer gathered in the study-house
for their evening meal.  They sat on benches along the walls and around long tables.  It was dark, except for a "Yortzoyt" candle which burned near the ark.  One Khassid would start a nigun and the others joined but there was no jubilation in their tone but sadness, such a sweet sadness.  In the dark one could see only shadows, silhouettes; but if one could see their faces, one would discover that their sadness was their way of expressing that the Sabbath was leaving them and the dull, empty, poor weekdays would be facing then again.  They tried everything to prolong the Sabbath.  It was always hard to get anyone to sing the last Sabbath song.

Once the prayers were over, candles were lit and Jews greeted Jews with "A Gut Vokh" (have a good week), but they also signed "How quickly the Sabbath has gone by."

Life in Zaromb was rich and meaningful.  Most of my recollections are connected with the Sabbath because, looking back on my childhood, I think of my life there then as Sabbath, as compared with my humdrum "weekday" life of today.

I remember a Sabbath afternoon.  My mother wraps some food in a shawl for me to carry and I stroll with my father to the Heshner forest.  My father needs some fresh air.  He had weak lungs which he strained all week teaching gemorrah to students who did not have a great desire to study.  When we come to the forest, my father lies down under a tree and falls asleep, oblivious to the flies and the buzzing of the bees.  I lie down too but cannot sleep.  I listen to the rustling of the leaves.  I look up to the clear blue sky through the trees.  Everything is so quiet and Sabbath peaceful.

When my father wakes up, we walk back to the shtetl.  Along the way, we meet other Gerer Khassidim going for a stroll, their hands behind their backs or thumbs stuck through their belts and they are deep in a discussion about the holy studies, which are so important to them.  My father joins the group of'strollers and shows off his profound knowledge.

In Zaromb, the words of the Torah were once heard not only in the Kheders, prayer houses and Khassidic study- houses, but out along the streets and under the sky.  We no longer hear those joyous holy woods.  What we hear now are the echoes of the weeping of the holy Jewish community which was led to its mass grave between Zaromb and Tzshitchive!