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Sefer Vladimirets

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This I Recall / What I Remember

From: Sefer Vladimirets, 1963

Author: Yitchak Deckeboim

** Webmaster Note: The following translation was generously provided by Diane Moore.  We have presented it here exactly as it was translated for us.  Although this is a very short chapter, it gives us a glimpse into the Stoliner Chasidic way of life.  Stoliner Chasidim are part of the Karlin-Stolin Chasidic dynasty, founded by Rabbi Aharon the Great of Karlin (1802-1872) who authored "Beis Aron" and was a student of Mezeritch Magid. They place great emphasis on the emotion of the prayer.

WHAT I REMEMBER

These I remember and mourn: my heart melts within me when I recall our little town of Vladimirets; the merchants, the craftsmen, all were driven and hard-worked from morning to night, seeking the morsel of bread, up early every day.  When it was still dark outside, you could see Jews already going from every corner of the town to morning prayers, with tallit and tefillin under their arms, into the four shuls which stood almost side by side in the center of town.

The big windows of the shuls gave out light in the darkness around.  In the Trisker and Stepaner and community shuls, morning service was going on.  The monotonous tune of weekday prayers was heard far around.  The exception was the Stoliner shul, where the Stoliner Chassidim got started at 9 or 9:30; their early hours were spent in preparation for prayer.  First they had to go to the baths, then assemble in the shul.  And then they didn't start the prayers immediately.  One would be deep in a page of gemara; another looked into a rabbinic text or sought to satisfy his heart on the anniversary of someone's death by drinking in a few Psalms. Only  later, when shopkeepers were already running around looking for free loans to pay for their bits of merchandise, and craftsmen were already in the heat of their work, then would we begin to hear the resonant voices of the Stoliner Chassidim, with the special melody of the Stoliner service: Baruch she'amar v'haya ha'olam-- ... Ayachid chei ha'olamim. 

After prayers, they would sit down, tired out from shouting the prayers and praises, and speak from the heart with great regret "Agevalt, we are worthless, are our prayers even prayers?" and here would follow a series of tales of Stoliner Chassidim from former times, how they worked, how they prayed; they were true Chassidim, but we were nothing of the nothingest.

Every Saturday night the congregation assembled for the meal ushering out the Sabbath Queen.  According to most, the Stoliner shokhet prepared fish, jellied fish, and all sorts of treats, and if everyone didn't bring a little something, just something to wash the hands and say a blessing for, a thimbleful of liquor wouldn't be lacking.

The main thing was the ecstatic Stoliner melodies, and from one melody to another stories would be told of the deeds of the Baal Shem Tov, of the Stoliner Rabbis, and so on. Very often some of the young men or the town would drop in on the Stoliners, bringing various musical instruments, and so the end-of-Sabbath meal would go on till daybreak, summer and winter. And so they would be brought together in love and ecstasy, on various holidays or days of praise.  "A big swallow brings hearts together."  It seems to me that whoever has never seen these Jews sitting together at the table has never seen a real party of friends.

And here arises before me the glorious image of R. Yitzkhak Levin, of blessed memory, who was not a Stoliner Chassid.  He prayed in the community synagogue, but he often visited the Stoliners.  He was always dressed for Sabbath, as the cheder boys used to say.  Short coat, with rounded edges, from which protruded a "rich man's belly".  But who could have expected that such a belly was created by a giant tallit-katan, wrapped round and round his body.  His eyes, always smiling, radiated wisdom and cleverness; he always joked and made witty remarks, but from every joke and witticism welled forth a deeper Chasidic moral enlightenment; mocking the world for its foolishness.  I don't know if people in town realized that R. Yitzkhak, with his modern dress of a rich merchant, was a faithful follower of Torah and Mitzvot, punctilious in the easy things as well as the difficult, penetrated with Chasidism of the Kotzker style.   

As a cheder boy, I was present when our chasidim gathered on an ordinary Wednesday for a yortzeit.  It was a summer afternoon.  The crowd sat at the table and talked about the conceit of the leader of the ceremonies.  And from time to time arose an ecstatic melody: "Glorified and sanctified be the name of the King of Kings throughout the world which he created according to his will..."  And the door of the synagogue opened, and Yitzkhak came in and stretched out a hand. 

"What's going on in here?  Crazy idle people, is it Shabbos?  Is it a holiday?  Is it a time for such doings?"

He approached the table.  The whole crowd looked at him unsmilingly, letting him finish his whole monologue. 

"Wash your hands, Reb Yitzkhak, wash your hands!"

 "What's here to wash for, what have you got there, a little borsht, barley soup, a bit of herring?"

"It's a day of celebration" someone called out.

"What kind of celebration, on your head?  The meaning of celebration is only a marriage."

He washed his hands and sat at the table.  The group was silent, ears in his direction, and in the conversation he told of Elazar Bialystoker, how he met on one of the holy days a Jew who held his Machzor and cried.

"Why do you cry so, Reb Jew?"

"What question are you asking?  It's written here, man's origin is dust and his end is dust and how shall I not weep?"

And Reb Elazar said to the Jew, "Never mind, if a man were created from gold, you might be right, but as he comes from dust, and for a while learns a little, and prays a little, what's there to cry about?"


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