So, it happened.
At the age of 97 Cheshanover alte rebetzin passed away.
At the age of 97 Cheshanover alte rebetzin passed away.
I knew this day would come. Thinking so many times, how will I get to New York for the levaya, as I am so often on the west coast. I Couldn’t imagine not to be there at the funeral which according to the Jewish law, must happen within a day of passing.
For me, a person that is away a big part of year, half of a day of driving from the closest airport with direct flights to NY, it may be a matter of concern – how will I do it. And there are those places where I go, which are almost day from the airport.
HBH decided to take her away when I’m just two hours away from the place of the levaya and I cannot attend it due to the Corona pandemic restrictions.
Now, at the hour of the levaya, I sat to write this. I could not attend the funeral of my own mother who passed away in Poland four years ago, now I can’t listen to the words of hespaidim about a person who was like a mother to my family in the crucial years after our immigration to United States.
Thinking, making Cheshbon haneifesh – soul account. I don’t know. I don’t know.
That’s how she was – a mother not only to her family but mother to yesoymim who she found on the path of her life. I know that our family was not only the case.
She was born in Sadovne, Mazowsze (Mazovia) district of Poland just few years after Poland regained its independence after 130 years under the control of foreign kingdoms. Mazowsze was under Russian control and Polish and Jewish populations developed their own culture, distinctive to other parts of the Polish land.
There is a reason why we have Poilishe and Galitziane Hassidim, as well as Russishe and Hungarians.
Cuisine is only one of many aspects of cultural differences.
Rebetzin was at the entry to her life, just 16, when the darkest years of human history approached.
Somehow her mother with, I hope I know it correctly, four children, managed to escape to the Russian side of occupied Poland. As most Polish citizens they were considered by Sovyetska vlast (Soviets) - enemies of the people – burjuy. As such they were send to Siberia and trough seven years there, they were dumped from one labor camp to another. Rebetzin’s mother didn’t survive, giving her life in Janbul – Kazakhstan.
After the war, four siblings came back to Poland – three sisters and one brother.
The three sisters became three rebetzins – Sadovne, Cheshanove and Aleksander – Boro Park.
Only one of three got married to a Galitziane family, not a common mix before the WWII.
How did she fit in to the Rubin-Helbershtam family? I can humbly attest from my few years close to the family – she was one of them – perhaps most important, most influential in the decades after the passing of her husband and the father of my rebe.
Now I have to say few words about Cheshanov itself, and I will try to be restrained in my words for two reasons – you never know what can be offensive to others; and I know, I can be if not controversial personality at least inconvenient for some so I will try my best.
Cheshanov comes from the straight line of descendants of Santzer dynasty. And it can be heard and felt there in many aspects. But probably even more that Santz – Nowy Sacz, it is the spirit of Shinov – Sieniawa, which is dominant in Hasidic life philosophy of Cheshanov, than any other influence.
It is not only because every third man or boy in the Shul is Yechezkiel Shraga for this name is used in the family for generations after the original Yechezkiel Shraga of Shinov.
He was a son of Santzer Rebe, probably the most influential among his other siblings, even he did not continue in the place of his father in Santz.
He took a post of the Rav and at this time in Galitzia it was also the post of the Rebe, in Shinov in 1855.
When the “whole town” came to listen to his Third Meal derusha – Torah Comentry at the end of Shabes, which in Hasidic custom is the moment when position of Rav takes effect; the new Shinover Rav opened the Chumash and red from the Parsha – Torah portion of the week.
In his later years in Shinov, he began to deliver customary sedua shides derusha but the way how he approached some Minhagim was symptomatic to his general approach to Hasidus.
This Derech – path, was expressed probably the best way by the Satmar Ruv Reb Yoel Taitelbaum – Derch Baal Shem Tov is lost, and we don’t understand it. This is what I heard from his Talmidim – students.
It was controversial a few decades ago, and even if at the time of the Shinover Ruv it was only a little taste of this approach, it should be self-understood, that it was not popular among other Hasidim.
It is not the place perhaps, but it must be mentioned that in the following centuries after the Ball Shem Tov, different Hasidic groups developed distinctive cultures, life philosophies and minchagim which are not necessarily rooted in the teachings of the first master of Hasidus. Some of them seemingly expressing philosophy in direct opposition to the original Hassidic teachings.
Cheshanov respects minhagim, recognize the power of the Hasidic movement, teach great thoughts of Hasidic masters from different streams of this philosophy, but – all of this with feet strongly standing on the ground, with a square head and skepticism famous among other Hassidim.
Cheshanover Rebetzin was a small postured person, especially among her sons and grandsons of six feet and more, but she was great in precisely this kind of approach to life and yidishkeit so characteristic for this place.
She was a champion of self-sufficiency; man has to work to support his family.
She was a hard-working woman, cooking the best kugels already from the beginning of the week, some of this food she delivered to lonely persons just hours before Shabes.
I have to mention the parve cholent. It was best parve cholent in the Universe, parve because in 1950ties, some Singers and other vegetarians use to come from Manhattan to visit family in Boro Park. Yes, those Singers – Yitschak Bashevis and Yisrael Yehoshua.
Rebetzin’s Shabes fish – you can smell the town of Belz in that fish – she told me that she learned the recipe from her mother in law, daughter of the Belzer rebbe.
But the most important mida - trait which I observed in the years as a neighbor, was yashrus -straightforwardness.
She used to say – “Good thing you should learn from the pastuch – a simpleton, the bad thing you should not learn from the rebe.”
She didn’t hesitate to call some of the rabbis – ‘’galuch”.
Well…not the most pleasing name or description of some leaders in our own fold. Mildly translated, galuch is the person making a living from spiritual services. But to really understand the word you should ask Yiddish speaking children.
I have a great privilege to befriend some of her grandchildren and of course consider her son as my personal Rav.
I understand how atypical person I am in the Hasidic world in general and in Cheshanov in particular.
But I don’t have to hide or play someone else, there is no inconvenient mold which I have to push in to.
Thanks to that yashrus which she implemented in to the following generations I feel at home.
She was the one who asked me almost quarter of century ago to come and open the door.
Rebetzin with her clear head and straight understanding of life and human characters was Cheshanover as rest of Cheshanov – she was just Cheshanov