The Hasidim of Buczacz

Shimen Horovits [Simon Horowitz] , Translated by Adam Prager

A wonderful era of the Hasidic way of life has vanished and with it have been lost certain Hasidic personalities whose like shall never appear again in the fashion and in the surroundings in which we knew them during our youth. When I recall those days, I feel the urge to cry out: Happy is the man who has witnessed all this!

The town of Buczacz was well known for its extremes. Its Hasidim were very zealous and its misnagdim were very strict. The stronghold where the main Hasidic strength lay was the Tshortkov kloyz [small synagogue]. The most prominent and most powerful figure among all the kloyz’s Hasidim was Reb Yoshe Preminger, the recognized spiritual leader and the ultimate paradigm of the complete Hasid. The Hasidic spirit and atmosphere of the Tshortkov kloyz were felt far beyond its walls.

Hasidim of other rebes [Hasidic rabbis] came to pray at Reb Yoshe’s kloyz, the most famous of whom were the learned and great scholar, the Hosyatin Hasid Reb Velvl Tirkl and Reb Yitskhok Zaydman [Isaac Seidman] and his sons, the last of the Vizhnits Hasidim. The latter left the kloyz after taking the initiative to establish the Vizhnits kloyz, which in the course of time itself became a center for Torah and Hasidism.

Among one hundred who prayed at the kloyz approximately 80 were certified teachers.

One instance of the beauty of Hasidism is revealed when Hasidim ascend to the highest reaches of heaven to worship the Creator with joy, namely on days of rest. Such days were quite frequent. Besides the holidays and the first day of each month [rosh khoydesh], where the content of Hasidism was expressed, there were also saints’ memorial days [yortsaytn shel tsadikim] such as Hoshana Raba [Feast of Tabernacles], the third day in Kheshvan, the nineteenth day of Kislev, etc. On these occasions great feasts were held, although what truly mattered was not the foodbut the atmosphere. The celebration would start with a quiet melody (nigun) which would slowly turn into full-voiced singing accompanied by fervent dancing, the atmosphere becoming more and more ecstatic. While watching the dancers at such moments you could not but feel that they had left all earthly matters behind, so to speak, and had ascended to higher realms. We, the boys of the kloyz, would wait in great anticipation for these hours of joy. The most fascinating moment was when Reb Yoshe Preminger would tell his wonderful stories about tsadikim. S. Y. Agnon and I never missed an opportunity to listen to these tales, for they were told with great artistry, the characters becoming vivid and real to his audience. He had the rare gift of causing his hearers to break into a Hasidic dance when he finished telling his story.

At commemorative feasts such as these it was usual for amusing “incidents” to occur. I recall one Faybish Hirsh Shor, who used to stuff himself during meals. On one occasion a quite lavish dairy meal with pancakes, dumplings and what not was prepared. What did the Hasidim do? They prepared a dish of goose cracklings [gendzene grivn] “ (‘fried goose skin’) to which Faybush Hirsh, as always, helped himself again and again. No one made any effort to restrain him since everyone except him knew in advance about the hoax. No one can describe Faybish’s disappointment at falling for the practical joke and finding before him a table sumptuously laden with dairy dishes.

Among many important and honored Hasidim one figure stood out, that of Reb Hirshl Aberdam, a rich Jew and zealous Hasid. When some of the young members of the kloyz started joining circles of the haskala and the Zionists, Reb Hirshl took advantage of being called to read the lesson from the Prophets [maftir] at a Sabbath morning service to pound on the dais and declare in an aggressive and militant tone that something horrid had happened: The young men of the kloyz had gone to graze in foreign pastures. He named those involved, including S. Y. Agnon and myself, insisting on our being expelled from the kloyz.

Shortly after this incident S. Y. Agnon left Buczacz and emigrated to Israel, and I myself left as well. When I happened to bump into Reb Hirsh Aberdam in Vienna during the war, he expressed his deepest regrets to me over that incident, begging my forgiveness for the wrong done us.

In my eyes the life of the Buczacz Hasidim was a pure inexhaustible spring.. Every name I recall is a whole world in itself.

I remember Reb Hirsh Yidl Boyer, a learned scholar whose particular weakness was being critical of others. Once he said to Reb Yitskhok Zaydman: “Do you know the difference between you and me? When you recite the Eighteen Benedictions [shmoyne esre], your mind is in Vienna, whereas mine is only in Troybokhovits, which at least is not as far.

Reb Hirsh Yidl suffered a lot from coughing attacks. When the Hasidim raised a toast and expressed the wish that these attacks end, his reply was:“God forbid, may I cough for many more years to come.” On one occasion he said that he had a mind to order mirrors from his son, Monish, who was a furniture dealer. He would hang them in the kloyz so that those who entered could see their faces.

Earlier I mentioned the Hasid from Hosyatin, the incomparable Reb Velvl Tirkl, who was a taverner. On Sabbaths and holidays it was customary among the Hasidim to meet for a drink at his house, where there was always an atmosphere of excitement. On Simchat Bet-Hashoeva [‘Feast of Water Drawing’] and on the eve of Simchat Torah [‘Rejoicing of the Law’] before the hakafot [‘circling with the Torah scrolls’], just before midnight, they would march from his house singing and dancing all along the town’s streets to carry out the hakafot.

One day Borekh [Baruch] Schnaps, a Talmud teacher and a cheerful type, being somewhat drunk, insisted on destroying the Town Hall. Moyshe [Moshe] Pines, who lived in this building, begged him to spare him and his family.

In the later years there also appeared the Kupichinits Hasidim. Yossi Bokhhaym [Bochheim], who was both a modern man and a zealous Hasid, deserves to be mentioned. On the twenty-first day of Kislev, at the birthday celebration for the old rebe, Reb Yitskhok Meir (of blessed memory), the above-mentioned tore a note of 10 crowns in two. One half he gave them at the start of the dancing, the second half was to be won when it ended. That same night his new shoes were completely worn out from the intensity of the dancing.

Nisn [Nissan] Pohorila was the wealthiest man in town and he prayed at the study house of Reb Itsi, grandson of the tsadik from Buczacz. Once during a quarrel over some insignificant matter, he called R. Itsi an ignoramus [amorets (in Yiddish)], to which R. Itsi answered loudly: “Beggar”!

I would also like to mention my grandfather Reb Alter Shochat (May he rest in peace). My grandfather (of blessed memory) was not in the habit of drinking, nevertheless he was the most joyous of them all. Hasidim would say of him: Reb Alter Shochat is getting drunk.

Lastly I must mention that Reb Yossi Preminger was overcome by his fatal illness at the Tshortkov kloyz, and was carried by Agnon and myself to his house. We lay him in his bed from which he never arose.

Shimen Horovits [Simon Horowitz]