We Remember Jewish Zakroczym!

Rabbi Y.L. Zlotnik: Pinkas Khevra Kadisha of Zakroczym
Partial Translation by Jonathan Chipman

A translation of a passage from a memoir by Rabbi Yehudah Leib Avida-Zlotnik, entitled "From the Notebook of the Hevra Kaddisha [Burial Society] of the Community of Zakroczym, Warsaw District," published in a collection entitled "Reshumot: Memoirs, Ethnography and Jewish Folklore," vol. 5 (Tel Aviv: Devir and the Israel Ministry of Education Ministry of Education and Culture, 1953), pp. 104ff. The material within square brackets are the translator, Jonathan Chipman's explanatory notes.

In the introduction to the article itself, which consists of documents of the Hevra Kaddisha, Zlotnik-Avida writes:
"Whereas in Gombin the Mishnah-Study Society was the dominant force in the Study House, in Zakroczym the members of the Hevra Kaddisha [Burial Society] dominated the community, and especially the synagogue. They appointed the gabbaim [beadles], and on those days that Yizkor [the Memorial Prayer] was recited, their own gabbais came to the synagogue, went up to the bimah [Reader's Desk] during the Torah reading, and honored with aliyot only the members of their own Hevra. This was especially so on Shemini Atzeret [in the Diaspora, the holiday that immediately preceded Simhat Torah]".

During the afternoon of Shmeni Atzeret and the early evening of Simhat Torah, the members of each society would gather in the home of its leader or in the home of the gabbai of that month for a "festive meal" -- that is, a light repast at which they would drink and enjoy various pastries, kechlakh, smoked fish, lentils, fruit and the like. My brother the rabbi [i.e, Rabbi Yonah Mordecai Zlotnik] visited each group, tasted something, spoke about the significance of the day, and go on, accompanied by the heads of the group by the light of a special lantern carried on a pole (with the name of the particular society written on the glass of the lantern) to the next society. Finally, he was accompanied by all of them to visit the Hevra Kaddisha. From there, he was led under a huppa [canopy used at weddings], whileholding a Torah scroll, with songs and music, accompanied by the entire congregation and all the lanterns, to the synagogue for the Hakkafot [the dancing procession with the Torah scrolls that is the central feature of Simhat Torah].

One who has not seen this rejoicing, will find it difficult to believe that it took place in our town, in the exile of Poland. Yet even when Messiah son of David comes -- may he come speedily in our day -- the joy of Simhat Torah will not be greater than that of Simhat Torah in Zakroczym in those days.

And another passage, unrelated to the holidays, which I found very charming and interesting, from the same article:
The last scion of the above-mentioned family [i.e., the Goldman family, the bastions of the "baalei-batim," the staunch Mitnaggedim who formerly dominated Zakroczym], was Yitzhak Meir Goldman, who till his dying day remained one of the worshippers in the synagogue [i.e., as opposed to the Study House or the Hassidic prayer houses], and who stood guard against the slightest change in custom. If someone dared so much as suggest skipping one of the liturgical hymns, he immediately began to bang on his prayer stand and make a commotion. And even though the man was elderly and outstanding, not only for his age but also for his poverty, the good deeds of his family were rememebered on his behalf, and the entire public were in awe of him.

And I also remember one of thise kindnesses: we were accustomed to studying the Zohar in the home of my brother during the long winter Sabbath evenings. Suddenly R. Itchie Meir, who had already studied the entire Talmud dozens of times, and knew it like others know Ashrei [a frequently recited prayer], started to regularly review the portion of the week with the commentary of Ibn Ezra [12th century Spanish Bible exegete, with a strongly rational and philological-grammatical bent, only rarely studied in Eastern Europe in those days]. He of course ran into no end of difficulties in many passages, and started to come to my brother's house every Saturday night, immediately after Havdalah, to ask questions about the Ibn-Ezra.My brother was unprepared for this, and was often placed in an embarassing state, and trued to put him off with pat answers -- but one cannot easily put off one of the cedars of Lebanon, and who is like a forged iron bar.

Left with no alternative, my brother began to study with us every Friday night the Ibn Ezra on the portion of the week. We were thus prepared, and every Shaabt we waited impatiently for nightfall to lock horns in [intellectual] battle with this tough and lovable old man. And from that time on the old man was referred to all of my brother's students [Did this group include the young Abraham Gallant?-JC] "the Ibn Ezra," which also implied something of his destiny in mundane matters [i.e., Ibn Ezra = "The Rock of Help"].


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Last Updated January 12th 2003