Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine


NN Theatre

One more mysterious story about a dancing shammash Berele

From Jewish Majses. Stories from Józefów based on the Yizkor-Buch – a commemoration book of Józefów Jews. Shortened, improved and commented by Yaron Karol Becker.

Józefów Biłgorajski
Józefów Biłgorajski (Author: nieznany)

This story tells about a resident of Józefów, who in the middle of the year with the “end of Saturday” i.e. Moce Shabbat (in other words at the beginning of the week) found himself in the neighborhood of Bet Ha-Midrash on some business. Belated merchant was even more surprised when, he saw bright candle light in the windows of the building at such a late hour, moreover, on an ordinary weekday. Having had a closer look, he noticed that every single oil lamp was lit inside. Led by curiosity peppered with fear of evil spirits he moved closer to the window in an attempt to check what was going on inside the shrine at this time of a day. And you know what? To his amazement our night wanderer saw a dancing Jew, cloaked in Tallis (a praying shawl). The man was walking round Bima in a dancing step as on Simchat Torah holiday (Rejoicing of Torah), and the doors of Aron Ha-Kodesh (Torah Ark) stood ajar. His hands were in such position as though he was holding hands of other men dancing beside him. The Jew was so overwhelmed by the dancing ecstasy, that didn’t catch a sight of a person peeping through the window. The unexpected night guest, who was looking at the dancing Hasid, felt that the hairs on the back of his head stood on end. Seized with horror he started to run away from that cursed place that stank of evil. He became even more convinced in his premise, when taking pains to get as far as possible from the unholy building he somehow ended up in Bet Ha-Midrash. Being inside, the merchant, nevertheless, summoned the courage to approach the dancing man, wrapped up in Tallis, and unveil his face. Probably, you have already guessed who it was. Without dispute, Berele Hashammash. Of course, we are familiar with him, whereas our night guest was taken aback and striving to make head or tail of what was going on asked: “Berele! What the heck are you doing?” “I don’t know – said shammash – I simply wanted to dance with Torah scrolls”. “Who were you dancing with? Whose hands were you holding?” – continued the restless night traveller. “I don’t know – said Berele – I saw shoulders of other people next to mine. We embraced and broke into a dance…” After the wanderer had helped Berele to put the books back into Aron Ha-Kodesh, shammash asked him not to tell anyone about that incident. There is no telling, whether or not an inquisitive Jew kept his word. At any rate, the cat was out of the bag and in spite of it or maybe due to it people of Józefów started to treat their shammash with more respect. Reb Berele did not live long after those events. In a few months’ time he was “invited upstairs” or in other words to "Bosom of Abraham". Chevra Kadisha’s (a burial society) attendants, who organized the funeral of shammash, claimed afterwards that they “didn’t feel the weight of his body”. It seemed to them, that it wasn’t them carrying the body…

Well, in our times there are people, who are dancing with stars, others even with wolves, whilst Berele Lamed-Waw-nik was dancing with Torah scrolls. Still, he wasn’t even a celebrity, though judging by his actions, one could truly believe that Berele possessed some wonder-working powers. He was capable of persuading God, rendering heaven born melodies – Nigun, even of dancing with God! And again I am troubled with the same question: Where do his wonderful powers come from? I don’t know. Though I am certain of one thing: Berele was a live contradiction to the saying about a person, who “…neither fears God nor has regard for people”.

He was good to God as much as to people. Ok, may be we’ll find the answer by looking at it in a reversed order: since he did so much for people, God valued him and empowered him to perform wonders. For all I know …