How the "Minyan" drove out evil spirits

The "Minyan" resolved one and for all to put an end to the band of evil spirits and witches which haunted our town. The situation had become intolerable.

On the day of Hoshaana-Raba, before the moment of the heavens, they came out of the Great Beth-Hamidrash and took with them the Town Shames, the man who woke up the faithful for Tehilim reading at dawn, who commanded silence in Shool by knocking his gavel or open palm on the center table. Every member of the congregation marched with a Lulav and Hoshaana in his hand, and all were enjoined not to utter a word on the way, and do exactly what they, the members of the Minyan, did.

They proceeded solemnly along the road which penetrated deep into the mountain and leads to the river which flows snake-wise around the town. On the right side of the road, on the mountain slope, stood the Russian Orthodox church which struck fear into the hearts of the marchers. On the left, deep in the mountain, the dog cemetery was situated. At right one could head the howls of the dogs' souls, as if in torment. Some said that these were ghosts and spirits. Others said that Hitzel, the dog-killers, was a member of the band. It was a fearful road by day, and a thousand times more so by night.

Nearing the river, they stopped near the hovel of Simcha'le Plakhtes which stood half out and half in the water. Not a living soul was in sight. There the marchers went through the first ritual "shakings" of the Lulav and Hoshaana and then proceeded on their way towards Wanes street, and from there to the bug Khelmer Bridge; even there nothing was to be seen. From this point they passed through the Goyeshe street to the Swinilte Bridge, which most of the time lay more under the water, there was narrow bridge for pedestrians. They crossed this narrow bridge, looked on all sides, but could still see nothing. They then retraced their steps, passing the petrol-station and through the Panske street, by the two churches: the Polish on the right, the Russian on the left.

It goes without saying that whilst marching by the churches they dutifully intoned: "Shaketz Teshaktzenu" (Deut. VII, 26), the most emphatic expression of detestation, seven times, spat on the ground, and continued on their way, until they reached the Zamoshtche Bridge. Here they could do nothing, as the bridge was right in the center of the town and they could tarry there even for "Shakings". Crossing the bridge, they proceeded along the road which leads to Paperic, and from there back to town by the Krilow bridge. This was to be the last stop. They crosses the bridge at a slow pace, went through the "Shakings" to all cardinal points, up and down, seven times. This, they thought, would be the end. But it was not to be.

At a short distance from the bridge, where the smithy of Berl Stellmach stood, there was a pond. All through the year it was covered by some green scum. Near the edge of the water big, broad leaves grew, under which green frogs danced and croaked day and night, unceasingly. At this spot there also grew a sort of grass, "Lefach", with which we used to cover the floor to cut out whistles from it.

Now, from the depths of the pond a faint rustling noise was heard, as if fish were cavorting in the water. All of a sudden, the marchers saw coming towards them a young Poretz, wearing a black cape, patent leather boots and a cap with a shining vizor. 

The Jews were not frightened. Without the slightest hesitation, they stuck the thump of their hand into their belt. This was a surefire means, known from time immemorial, tries time and again and never found wanting in similar circumstances. Pressing the Lulav hard to his chest with right hand, one of the group cried out: "Jews,  hold fast and never fear; this is the "Baa Dover" (Satan) himself.

The Poretz'l drew nearer, slowly but confidently. Behind him marched and crawled all sorts of queer creatures. You could see that a life-and-death struggle was bout to begin. The Minyan did not remain inactive. They formed themselves into a circle and one started intoning the well-known chapter of Psalms (91): "Thousands may fall beside you etc." Then: "But the plague will never reach you, safe shielded by his faithfulness, you have only to look on and see how evil men are punished." And so on, and so on, to the end of the chapter.

All at once the Poretz'l came up to the Minyan and, pointing to the Lulav, shot out the question: "What's this, gentlemen?" …"This is a Lulav and a Hoshaana" was the reply. …"That's not true," rejoined the Poretz'l, "this is a broom" …"No, no, that's a Lulav and a Hoshaana", they replied in unison.

This continued until he came up to the Shames. He sensed somehow that this was the weakest link in the chain, and if he were to fail here, he was lost. He threfoe now used new tactics. Opening a big purse full of golden Roubles and putting it close to the face of the Shames, he addressed him in persuasive tones: "Say: broom, and you will get yhe whole bag full of Roubles".

The poor Shames remembered that at home he had five daughters, beautiful as dolls (may the Evil Eye never touch them!). The eldest, according to Jewish law and custom, should have been married long before. But where should he find the dowry for her? Now she just sits and is steadily "growing into grey locks".

"O, Lord Almighty, merciful Father", moans the Shames; "O God, perhaps it is really You who have sent me this? The summer is nearly over, and I received nothing from my congregation, except a few pennies which I took out from the Yom Kippur plate. Oi, Lord Almighty, winter is drawing nigh and not a piece of firewood is there at home. The children go about naked and barefoot. Oi, God Almighty, help me to pass this terrible trial".

"say: broom", roars the Poretz'l. "Oi", bursts forth from the Shames, "for Thee, our God, Hoshaana!".

When Poretz'l saw that his blandishments did not avail, he tried other means. All of a sudden, the Shames felt dizzy, fiery coins started to dance before his eyes. It suddenly seemed to him that he was standing in the Shool on Sabbath eve eith the broom in his hand, sweeping the floor and that on the floor heaps of golden coins were lying or rolling about. "Sabbath eve, in Shool, golden coins? God Almighty, where am I?"

"What are you sweeping the coins with?" the Poretz'l throws at him. Hoshanna, broom, golden coins, Sabbath all these flit through the Shame's head in bewildering succession. What is happening?" Say that you are sweeping with a broom", cries the Poretz'l. The Shames, almost in a faint, wants to open his mouth and say…Now a voice is heard: "Say: Hoshaana!"

Other voice thunder: "Say: broom". The first voice: "Hoshaana!".

It was as if two opposing armies were bombarding each other with heavy artillery. The Shames was terrible confused, not knowing what to say. In one hand he held the Lulav, in the other he seemed to hold the Shool broom; it was really difficult to decide. It seems that Minyan has won.This thought flitted through his mind. With his last remaining strength the Shames cried out: "Hoshaana!".

The sound of a heavy plunge was then heard, as if thunder had struck the pool, followed by a weird laughter: Ha, ha, ha, which was heard all over the town.


As you entered the Great Beth-Hamidrash, you saw in the south-eastern corner a table. Nobody knew how long the table had been standing there; only the table itself knew. From time to time the legs of the table had to be kept collapsing by nailing to them thin boards lengthwise and crosswise. But the surface of the table was never damaged. Generations of Jews, good and true, polished it with satin cloth, until is shone like a "Shmira-Mitzva".

At the table were seated only the leading members of congregation; in its last year the "Gvir" of the town, Abraham Brande. A hundred years ago the Minyan decided to bring the Messiah, They declared a fast, which they would break only when the steps of Messiah ere heard. On a winter night, when everybody was sleeping cozily in bed, and the Minyan were shivering with cold and hunger round the table, a loud ringing of bells was suddenly heard. They exchanged look without uttering a word; but they knew that the bells rang for them. Perhaps their prayers were answered at last.

Suddenly, the great portals were thrown open and on the threshold there appeared Reb Israel Baal-Shem-Tov, who carried out: "Stop" it! The time is not!" "holy Rabbi, we do not want to break the fast" was their answer.

The Rabbi could not overcome their stubbornness. "Cursed by those who wish to calculate when Messiah will come!" with these dreadful words he slammed the door and disappeared. The Baal-Shem-Tov was right. The time was not yet, and Messiah did not come. The members of the Minyan passed away on the same day, and they were buried together, alongside one another.

Even today you can see at the cemetery ten tombstones in the form of the letter "Het". Some said that they died because the "Baal-Shem-Tov cursed them; others, "Misnagdim", of course, maintained that they had died of pure inanition.