While the Ukraine was the birth place of the Chassidic movement, Poland and especially the Galicia area soon became the hub for most Chassidic activity after only two generations. Many of the renowned early Chassidic Masters were travelers until Rebbe Elimelech of Lejask settled down in one place and became known as the Rebbe of Lejask. His students also took up residence in specific towns, connecting each branch of Chasidism to a specific locale. Today there is no Chassidic leader who is not affiliated with the name of a shtetl even if there has been no connection to the town since the Shoah.
Recently there has been a movement to return to the ancestral home of the Chassidic movements to recover and restore any sign of their heritage that had been left behind. Many cemeteries have been restored and Ohalim, burial chambers, of important Rebbes have been rebuilt, and pilgrimages have been made to the sites on important dates, such as yahrtzeits.
Last week I had the privlage to sit down and talk with Rabbi Avraham Reich, Rabbi of Cong. Menachem Zion Yotzei Russia in Boro Park Brooklyn. Rabbi Reich is a seventh-generation direct descendent of the legendary Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Rymanow. During our conversation that engendered enough material for numerous articles, Rabbi Reich told me of the state of affairs in his ancestral home town of Rymanow.
Rabbi Avraham Reich of Rymanow
The cemetery has been mostly cleaned up, and the Ohalim had be rededicated thanks to many individuals such as Rabbi Mendel Reichberg who has done much work throughout Poland. But the former synagogue was in a sorry state of affairs. There are many pictures taken where there were trees growing out of the central section of the synagogue, with only the outer walls remaining.
Rabbi Reich said that he had always had an interest in the town due to his family history, but he was moved to action by the reminiscences of a Mr. Yosef Margolis who was born in Rymanow and came to talk to the rabbi of his childhood memories. There was a custom that people coming to Rymanow to commemorate the yahrtziet of Rabbi Menachem Mendel would stay overnight in the town. Mr. Margolis told of how on the 19 Iyar of each year thousands of people would come to Rymanow. There would be no room left for all the people who wanted to sleep in the town, and people would wind up sleeping on rooftops or even in the streets. Mr. Margolis explained that the reason for this mass pilgrimage was that it was said that miraculous cures would occur to people in need, who would spend the night in the town after commemorating the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit.
Mr. Margolis related how he himselfs was an eyewitness to a cure. There was a man who came to Rymanow as a cripple and after sleeping overnight, in the town he went home without the use of his wheelchair.
Rabbi Reich had of course heard all the stories before, but this was the first time he had heard a story first-hand from an actual eyewitness.
He decided to do whatever possible to recreate the custom. He started the process of reclaiming the ancient synagogue in Rymanow. In 2003, Poland passed a law enabling Jewish communities to reclaim communal property including synagogues, giving Rabbi Reich the opportunity to begin to realize his dream, and work began to renovate the synagogue.
Actual records for the synagogue building say it is older, but the earliest known date for the building is 1593. During the renovations workers came across two stones that geologically did not match those of the area or those of the other stones used in the construction of the synagogue. Rabbi Reich excitedly explained that according to family tradition there were stones from the Beit Hamikdash, incorporated into the building of the synagogue. “These stones,” Rabbi Reich explained, “look like the easily recognizable, Jerusalem stone that we are familiar with today.”
The stones were re-incorporated into the building of the synagogue in a section where a mikveh is being built.
The tradition of pilgrimages is also being re-established. This past year there were over 200 Jews from around the world. They came from Israel, the U.S., England, Belgium Switzerland France.
A highlight of this year’s trip was a Bar Mitzvah celebration of a young man whose birthday coincides with the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe. It was the first Bar Mitzvah celebrated in Rymanow since the Shoah.
Rabbi Reich can be contacted at 718-851-8954.Shmuel Ben Eliezer