Yiddish: Lizhansk, Lezhansk

Tourist Attractions
The Renaissance church of the Holy Trinity (1610-1619) with wall paintings; the Greek-Catholic church of The Dormition of The Most Holy Virgin Mary (first half of the 19th century); the famous fortified Bernardine monastery with the church of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, founded by the Opalinski family in 1618-1628. The church contains a magnificent organ (1688-1693) and stalls (1650). There are also the ramparts (first half of the 17th century), the town hall (18th century), the inn (second half of the 18th century), the cloister of the Servant Sisters (turn of the 19th century) and orphanage, as well as the palace (second half of the 18th century), the wooden mansion house (17th century), and the Bernardine Province Museum at the Bernardine monastery.
Lezajsk is still avibrant centre of Chasidism in Poland. Jews first came here in 1521 and their number quickly increased. The privilege granted by King Ladislaus IV in 1635 gave them the right to brew and sell beer and mead. Jews were also the leaseholders of cells and toll-houses. At the end of the 18th century, tzaddik Elimelech, agreat local figure, turned Lezajsk into one of the largest centres of Chasidism in Poland. The life of the town centred around the local brewery. In the 20th century, until the outbreak of the Second World War, the proportion of Jews among the inhabitants remained constant at 30%. In October 1939 the Germans drove some of the Jews out into the Soviet-occupied zone, the others they locked in the ghetto. Afew hundred of those who ended up in the Soviet Union were the only ones to survive the war.

Apart from the cemetery, Jewish memorials in Lezajsk include apart of the former synagogue (now the Bank for the Protection of the Environment) and the yeshivah next door. The building of the former cheder, situated by the entrance to the cemetery, is now a restaurant. On the site of the pre-war ritual bath there is also a new mikvah, opened in 1990 and located at ul. Studzienna 2 (go down the little street to the right of the cemetery).

Elimelech of Lezajsk (1717-1787) was the originator of the concept of tzaddikism, fundamental to the existence of Chasidism, and he became the very first tzaddik in Jewish history. He came into contact with Dov-Ber of Miedzyrzec, disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism. After many years of living as a wandering preacher, in 1772 Elimelech settled in Lezajsk, where he finally formulated the concept of the Chasidic movement in which a group of followers gathered around a leader and teacher. He groomed a number of great tzaddikim, including the Seer of Lublin and Menachem Mendel of Rymanów. He recorded his teachings in the work Noam Elimelech (The Gentleness of Elimelech) which was published in 1787. His son Elazar (d. 1806) and grandson Naftali (d. 1844) were also tzaddikim in Lezajsk.

Ohel, photo

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Alongside his official biographical details, the figure of Elimelech carries with him an aura of wonder to this very day. Apart from the events described below there are many folk tales, both Jewish and Polish, which exist about Elimelech of Lezajsk and his brother reb Zusye of Annapol (d. 1800) as well as legends about the supernatural power of the tomb of the tzaddik. Elimelech is said to have been able to alter divine judgments and cure fatal diseases. People would ask him to grant them aquick death, apleasant old age, money, love and fertility. He also possessed the power to drive out demons and to predict the future. A cure for gambling was another of his specialities. He talked to animals. In his soul there was aparticle of the soul of Moses. He was one of the 36 people in every generation who, thanks to their virtues and piety, sustain the existence of the world. One is not supposed to speak of him as one of the dead, as his soul was set before the Throne of Glory and there it stands with God. During the war the Germans opened his tomb, looking for gold. People say that before long they all met with terrible suffering and death.

The Ohel of Elimelech of Lezajsk
Tzaddik Elimelech's tomb from 1776 is the only historical monument of its kind in Poland. To this day things considered miraculous occur here. It is enough to recall the curing of the young girl suffering from bone decay, who was brought to Lezajsk from the United States in 1963, not to mention the cases of the photographic films that became over-exposed or the television cameras that did not work. Local Catholics also testify to these miracles. Some of them even pray here unofficially, comparing the tzaddik to St Francis. This place is not lifeless, in fact one can go as far as to say that in recent years the the ohel of Elimelech has become tho focus of even greater religious interest.

Chasidim in Lezajsk, photo

On the anniversary of Elimelech's death on the 21st day of the month of Adar (end of February, beginning of March) the part of the town near to the Jewish cemetery is full of announcements in Yiddish, containing practical advice, such as the way to the telephone, the lavatory and the mikvah. Pilgrims from Israel, The United States, Hungary, Canada, Belarus and Lithuania pray throughout the night, singing psalms, after which they place kvitlech on Elimelech's tomb. Acanteen serving kosher meals is organised for the pilgrims. During these festivals decorum is called for and strict rules are to be observed. Women are forbidden to enter the main hall of the canteen, the room containing the ohel and the men's half of the cemetery. Males are required to cover their heads.

The present edifice around the ohel was built in 1960, paid for by donations from American Jews. The building next to it, with aseparate entrance, is aprayer room for women.
In ul. Gorna. The key is with Ms Krystyna Kiersnowska (ul. Gorna 12, phone +17 2421265).

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Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Mokotowska 25, 00-560 Warsaw tel. (48-22) 44 76 100,
fax. (48-22) 44 76 152;