The survival of Aleksander

The Aleksander Hassidim were on of the largest hassidic groups in Poland before the Shoah, today the Aleksander heritage has been preserved and children all over the world are named in their honor.

Warsaw Ghetto monument Poland 311 (R) (photo credit: Agencja Gazeta/Reuters)
Warsaw Ghetto monument Poland 311 (R)
(photo credit: Agencja Gazeta/Reuters)
During the inter-war period, the Aleksander Hassidim were one of the largest hassidic groups in Poland. The center of the Aleksander Hassidim was in Aleksandrow Lodzki, less than 15 kilometers outside Lodz, a major textile center and then the second-largest city in Poland.
The first hassidic master to serve in the town was Rabbi Hanoch Heynech Hakohen Levin (1790-1870), who served for the last four years of his life as an interregnum for the Gerrer Hassidim. During that period, he returned to Aleksandrow Lodzki, where he had previously served in the rabbinate, and a grand beit midrash was built.
A few years later Aleksandrow Lodzki once again became a notable hassidic center: Rabbi Yehiel Dancyger (1828-1894) was the son of the hassidic master Rabbi Shraga Fayvel Dancyger of Grojec (d. 1848) and a disciple of the Warka Hassidic dynasty. Around 1876 – while serving in the rabbinate of Aleksandrow Lodzki – he accepted the mantle of hassidic leadership. When his followers increased, Rabbi Heynech’s beit midrash was purchased. This court was to become the Aleksander Hassidic dynasty.
Rabbi Yehiel was succeeded by the oldest of his three sons, Rabbi Yerahmiel Yisroel Yitzhok Dancyger (1853-1910), known by the title of his posthumous work Yismah Yisrael (Lodz, 1911-1912). The Yismah Yisrael died childless and was succeeded by his brother Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi Dancyger (1860-1923), whose work Tiferet Shmuel (Lodz, 1925-1930) was also published posthumously. In 1914, the third brother, Rabbi Betzalel Yoir Dancyger (1856-1934), moved from Aleksandrow Lodzki to Lodz and served as rabbi of the local Aleksander Hassidim. Rabbi Betzalel Yoir also received people as a rebbe.
The Tiferet Shmuel was succeeded by his son Rabbi Yitzhak Menahem Dancyger (1879- 1942), who established a network of schools called Beit Yisrael, named after his uncle who had died childless. Unlike many groups, in particular the Gerrer Hassidim, the Aleksander leadership consciously chose not to be involved in Polish politics during the inter-war period.
The Holocaust brought devastation: At the beginning of the war, Rabbi Yitzhak Menahem fled to Lodz and later to Warsaw, where he spent two years in the ghetto. After refusing an opportunity to escape, he was murdered in Treblinka.Rabbi Yitzhak Menahem’s entire family, as well as the majority of the Aleksander Hassidim, perished during the Shoah. Rabbi Yitzhak Menahem’s insights were later collected and published under the title Akeidat Yitzhak (Bnei Brak, 1989).
Today, two remnants of Aleksander Hassidism remain in Aleksandrow Lodzki – a building and a cemetery. Rabbi Yitzhak Menahem’s residence still stands and is used by the Nicolaus Copernicus High School as a dormitory. In the Jewish cemetery, gravestones mark the burial places of Rabbi Yehiel and his two sons Rabbi Yerahmiel Yisroel Yitzhok and Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi. In January 2010, more than 300 Aleksander Hassidim traveled to Aleksandrow Lodzki to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Yerahmiel Yisroel Yitzhok.
The founding Aleksander rebbe, Rabbi Yehiel, requested not to be accorded any rabbinic title and asked his followers not to place notes with requests on his grave as is traditionally done with a hassidic master. Aleksander Hassidim, therefore, bring such notes to the grave, read them out and then, in accordance with the wishes of Rabbi Yehiel, they do not place them on the grave. Rather, they place them on the nearby grave of Rabbi Heynech.
How did Aleksander Hassidism survive the Shoah? In 1934, Rabbi Betzalel Yoir’s daughter Esther Perl and son-in-law Rabbi Yehuda Moshe Tyberg (1892-1973) immigrated to the Land of Israel. After the destruction of European Jewry, the surviving remnant of Aleksander Hassidim asked Rabbi Yehuda Moshe to assume the leadership. He was a prolific writer and published a number of works, including Responsa Hashava Letava (Lodz, 1933) and another volume that contained two works: Kedushat Yitzhak and Nahalat Zvi (Jerusalem, 1952) – the former on the hassidic masters who precipitated Aleksander Hassidism, and the latter comments on the weekly Torah portion. Rabbi Yehuda Moshe also spoke to survivors and collated their recollections of Aleksander Torah in Meoran Shel Yisrael (Bnei Brak, 1971). His main collection of thoughts on the Torah and the festivals was published posthumously under the title Emunat Moshe (Bnei Brak, 1976-1991). More of Rabbi Yehuda Moshe’s writings and correspondence were published in Tzaddik Be’emunato (Bnei Brak, 2003).
Rabbi Yehuda Moshe was succeeded by his son Rabbi Avraham Menahem Dancyger (1921- 2005), whose hassidic insights are currently being printed under the title Imrei Menahem. In accordance with Rabbi Avraham Menahem’s will, his oldest son – Rabbi Yisroel Zvi Yoir Dancyger – currently serves as Aleksander rebbe. The second son, Rabbi Shneur Zalman Dancyger, is the Aleksander rebbe of Cleveland.
A number of years ago, a group of hassidim broke from the main branch of Aleksander and set up another branch in Boro Park (alongside the main branch that also has a presence in Boro Park). This branch was led by Rabbi Yehiel Meir Singer, a descendant of Rabbi Shmuel Zvi’s daughter and son-in-law – Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Zynger, the head of the rabbinical court in Aleksandrow Lodzki before the Holocaust.
Currently, Rabbi Yehiel Meir’s son, Rabbi Yosef Singer, serves as the head of this branch; and another son, Rabbi Boruch Singer, serves as the rebbe of Vurka-Aleksander.
Today, the main centers of Aleksander Hassidim are in Bnei Brak, Modi’in Illit and Jerusalem. Significantly, hassidim who preserve the Aleksander heritage by studying the works of the masters of Aleksander and by naming their children after those masters can be found around the world.
The writer is on the faculty of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah.