He is staring down at me, his long flowing beard and payot revealing a warm, loving smile, a tractate of the Talmud open on his lap. He was born about the year 1840. I have no record of his death. The picture of him is attached to a long and large megillat yechusin, a family tree of names from 1727. It hangs on a wall in my home taking up half the space of that wall.
It is illuminated in bright red and gold paint and was created on August 2, 1927 in Lemberg (Lvov), then part of the Polish section of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
It was made to celebrate the 200th year of my family’s history as chassidai Belz. Every year before Rosh HaShanah, my great-great-great-great grandfather would leave his home and his family to travel to Belz to be with the renowned Belzer Rebbe on the holiest days of the Jewish year.
The family tree was the handwork of his nephew, Rabbi Rafael Weissman, a well-known rabbi and sofer (scribe) in the Lemberg district. It consists of 198 hand-written names ( my mother was the 184th name and she was the 7th generation from 1727 by the time of her birth in 1906).
173 of the men were ultra-Orthodox Chassidic rabbis. Long beards. Long payot. Long black garments.
So I am the 8th generation, a great-grandson of the Rabbi of Nemirov, Moshe-Esor Weissman.
The Holocaust ended the lives of members of the Weissman family who had remained in Poland. Those who went to the United States or Palestine before the war practiced modern Orthodox Judaism but none were chassidim.
For some unknown or un-understandable reason, that tradition was accepted by my 19 year old grandson who became a chozer bi’teshuva and is a follower and devotee of Chabad chassidut. His tzitzit hang almost down to his knees, the hair on the sides of his ears are unshaven, and a beard is beginning to grow.
I smile whenever I see him and I know that he is the 10th generation in our family, one who has returned to the practices and ideals of the first 7 generations of rabbis. He did not become a devotee of the Belzer chassidim. Chabad is a more open and welcoming branch of the Chassidic movement.
Yet I would not wish for him to become a Chassidic rabbi. Learning and studying Torah and Talmud enriches his life but also creates minor conflicts in his home (which is kosher). Nevertheless, he inspects every item, every utensil, every dish, pot and pan thoroughly less, G-d forbid, he should find a crumb in the wrong place.
The first 7 generations of the Weissman rabbinic dynasty would have been intensely proud of him. I, the only living observant member of the 8th generation, embrace him with the love of those who preceded me.
Perhaps it was the family tree with its list of 198 names and 40 towns and cities in Poland where, from 1727 to 1939, my family of rabbis served G-d proudly and faithfully, that may have inspired my grandson. He wants to be like one of them.
I don’t know how many of them attended the 200th year of our family’s Divine services on that August day in 1927. I do know for a certainty that my great-grandfather, Rabbi Moshe-Esor Weissman, for whom I was named, was there and he received from the hands of his nephew Rabbi Rafael Weissman, our magnificent family tree on a long sheet of parchment similar to that of Torah scrolls.
It eventually became the possession of Moshe-Esor’s daughter who rolled it up and kept it securely in a corner in a large room in her home. After her death in 1961 I inherited it (I was the sole religious person of the survivors of the Weissman family). I had it professionally framed to preserve it
Rabbis who came to visit me saw it and urged me to donate it to a Jewish museum as the long history of one Jewish family. Some suggested that I should donate it to the Belzer chassidim since my family in Poland were all Belzers. However, I did not. I clung to it because it belonged to me. Because my mother was a Weissman and it contained more than 200 years of my family’s history, it had to become one of the most cherished possessions in my home. It has no financial value or worth; it is just an old piece of parchment. But the history it relates of my family make it meaningful to me.
I look at it several times each day because it is displayed in a central part of my home and I wonder what my great-great-great-great grandfathers would have thought of me.
That family tree does not grow. There are no trees or forests to share space with it.
But one day, my grandson will inherit it. And he will need to find a sofer (scribe) to include his name.