Our Family is Blessed


by Edward E. Ohlbaum

posted January 2006



f all the Oelbaum forebears who made their mark in business, education, law, the arts, science and Jewish theology, no one was more highly respected or more widely renowned than Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, (1717-1787) the legendary founder of Tzadikism who spread Hassidism in 18th-century Eastern Europe and whose gravesite became a magnet for those who sought miracles.


Not that he was the only ancestor who was a highly respected rabbi; indeed, there were a dozen, at least, some of whom were also accorded the title Tzadik, or “righteous person,” and some of whom also had authored highly regarded Hassidic commentaries such as Rabbi Elimelech’s “Noam Elimelech.”  


One of the foremost of our family’s renowned rabbis was Rabbi Yaacov Yitzhak Horowitz (1745-1815), known as the Chozeh (or Seer) of Lublin.  Although blind, he was said to be able to see into people’s souls.


Among the other most highly revered rabbis in our family were Rabbi Elimelech’s brother, Rabbi Meshulam Zusha of Anipoli, his three sons, Rabbi Elazar of Lizhensk, Rabbi Lipa Eliezer of Chemelnick and Rabbi Yaacov of Maglanitza, and his grandson, Rabbi Shimon ben Yisroel Arye Lieb Oelbaum Mariles of Jaroslaw (1759-1850).


While Reb Yaacov Koppel Likover (d. Feb. 20, 1769) was the Oelbaum family’s undisputed patriarch, it was Reb Yaacov Koppel’s son, Rabbi Yisroel Leib Oelbaum (1740-Mar. 30, 1812), who was married to Rabbi Elimelech’s daughter, Ettel. In addition to Rabbi Shimon, their other children were Yaacov Koppel Oelbaum, Moses Elbaum and Hinda Sprinza Hirshfeld.


An elderly granddaughter of Yaacov Koppel’s son, Joseph (1860-1926), wrote to preserve the story which her mother told her as a child.



ive generations before mine,” Marta Jolles Green (1920-2002) wrote in 1987, relating a story she was told as a child by her mother, Ida Oelbaum Jolles Kohlberg, “there was a wise and wonderful man. People traveled to see him from near and far. He could cure the sick and succor the downcast. He could solve all sorts of problems. They called him a ‘Wunder Rabbi’, which means a miracle rabbi.  He was my grandfather’s grandfather …He performed miracles of healing and advice, and he lived to a ripe old age, but when he died, he reached out to us, his descendants. He had an inscription put on his gravestone which gave a blessing to his children and his children’s children for at least 10 generations. And it also directed that whoever tries to do them harm will have twice as much harm befall him.”


“I always felt protected after hearing this story – for the rest of my life,” Marta wrote. “And this protection goes for most of you who will read this, whether you are aware of it or not. Our family is blessed.”


The poet Shalom Yam described the typical goings-on at the famous gravesite in a poem entitled Lizhensk of Rabbi Elimelech:



he gravesite that was famous
In the region as well as the world
Of the Tzadik Rabbi Elimelech, and the splendor of his holiness
All the households of Lizhensk basked in his influence.

The cave in which was found the grave was located close the synagogue and Mikva
It implanted in all who cared for it hope and expectation,
By means of a “kvitel” left at the grave
One can express one's wishes, and the soul of the Tzadik will assist.

The gravesite was bustling on weekdays and Sabbaths,
Everyone comes together with his troubles to the gravesite;
One is barren, or finds it difficult to give birth,
Another was abandoned by her husband,
Still another has been struck by financial difficulties,
A couple needs to marry off a child,
Another requires a match for himself,
For since he became a widower his world has darkened;
All of them turn themselves,
Turn to the gravesite.
The gravesite is always bustling
Something is always taking place there.     


The impact of Rabbi Elimelech was particularly evident on the 21st of Adar, the yahrzeit of the Rabbi’s death. It became a holiday itself when Jews from far and wide trekked to the gravesite.  And such pilgrimages continued into the 21st century as tens of thousands of Hassidic Jews from all over the world come to the gravesite on this hallowed date each year. Y. Rotman described it like this in his work called Lizhensk (The synagogue, people, and events)  

“One week prior to this day, the train would daily bring in new Jews who were not local; horse drawn wagons filled with men and women covered with snow and ice plied the streets; and large colorful busses came from near and far; Jews came in brimmed hats, wide hats, Hassidic hats, home made velvet hats and even colored modern hats, with long Kapotes or short Hungarian cloaks, white socks, shoes without laces, heavy wagoneers boots, or captain's gaiters. There were Jews with long white beards or short trimmed beards, short payos or curly payos. The eyes were red from tears, tears due to family troubles, and the hearts were heavier than stones, laden with many requests. They came to weep and to pour out warm tears on the grave of the Tzadik at the time that they kiss the gravestone.”

”They would come yearly to place their notes which detailed in trembling writing their list of woes. They prayed, supplicated, danced solemnly and jumped, gave charity and donations, and pushed themselves to pour out their woes.”

”In the midst of all the sobbing, they danced, made noise, sang, and sang enthusiastic Hassidic songs. They took pride in themselves, in their Tzadik, and in the breadth of their spirit.”

May the merit of the Tzadik Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk protect us all. Amen.




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