Rare Books That Kept Prayer Alive During the Jewish Migrations of the 19th Century

These miniature prayer books were designed to be small enough to fit in the traveler’s pocket so they could be taken along for journeys across the sea.


A century before the Holocaust would destroy large percentages of the Jewish communities of Europe, long before even the First World War, Jewish migration from Europe to the West was already underway. From the 1820s through the 1880s, approximately 150,000 Jews immigrated to the United States from European countries. In the 1840s, German Jews, in particular, began to leave their home country in waves in search of a better life in “The Goldene Medina” (“The Golden Country”) of America.



Jews in Germany at that time were facing many hardships including persecution, restrictive laws and economic struggle as industrialization and modern improvements eliminated the need for several standard Jewish professions. The Jewish community was forced to take a hard look at their social status and many recognized that, if they hoped for a better future, they would need to look for it in another country.

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These German Jews took with them their culture and their heritage on their long and arduous journey across the ocean – including the traditional prayers, chanted by the Jewish people for centuries. In fact, the National Library of Israel holds several rare payer books from this time period of Jewish migration.



In the 1840s, the S. B. Gusdorfer and Zuerndorffer & Sommer publishing houses in Fürth, Germany, began printing new prayer books (siddurim) intended specifically for these immigrants. What made the books unique was their size, as the siddurim contained all the required prayers for every day of the year, but the books themselves were easy-to-carry miniature versions of the standard full-sized prayer books used in everyday prayer services.



Each of these books is smaller than a fist, intended to be carried in the pocket of a traveler who was heading out on a long journey. The cover page of the siddur reads, “Prayers for the entire year, for those on a journey and those crossing the sea and for those traveling to the country of America” in Yiddish. The books contained everyday prayer services as well as prayers for Shabbat, the various festivals, the High Holidays, and of course, the wayfarer’s prayer, a supplication read by travelers embarking on a long journey.



It seems that these miniature books were somewhat popular as the publishing houses printed multiple editions over the years. The National Library holds copies printed in 1842, 1854 and 1860. These books are considered to be very rare as many of them were either worn out from use by their owners on their journeys and in some cases they did not survive the trip at all.


Roll Out the Red Carpet: When the Royals Paid a Visit to the Jews of Amsterdam

Rare documents from the National Library of Israel show the excitement and dedication that went into the preparations for the visit of Wilhelm V and his bride, Princess Wilhelmina.

Portrait of William V, Prince of Orange

Portrait of William V, Prince of Orange by Henry Bone (1801).

The summer of 1768 proved to be an interesting time for the Jewish community of Amsterdam. The royal newlyweds, Wilhelm V, Prince of Orange and Prussian Princess Wilhelmina, were invited by the local Jewish leaders to visit the Ashkenazic congregation in the hopes of securing good ties and a solid relationship with the new couples’ court. A positive relationship with the royals was an essential factor in building and creating a favorable environment and decent conditions for the Jews living in the city of Amsterdam and in the Dutch Republic as a whole.

The Amsterdam Pinkas (Jewish community register) which is held in Amsterdam’s civic archives, details the frenzied preparations that took place ahead of the visit set for July of 1768. Included in these preparations was the creation of a compilation of prayers and psalms to be recited in honor of the visit. The prayers were carefully selected and the pamphlet was meticulously curated, detailing the order of prayers and psalms.

“Light and Happiness for the Jews”
The cover page of the pamphlet printed on satin which reads “Light and Happiness for the Jews,” printed in both Hebrew and Dutch. Click to view the full pamphlet.

The community took great care in ensuring their royal guests would be able to follow and understand the procedure and prayer services that would take place in their honor. According to the Pinkas, the prayer book was produced in three separate versions. The first version included just two special copies that were produced for the royal couple themselves. The pamphlets were beautifully bound pieces of printed satin fabric that held the texts written in both Hebrew and Dutch. The second version was printed a total of 50 times for the members of the royal court. These copies were printed in Hebrew and Dutch on paper and were bound in red satin fabric. The third version was a simpler Hebrew printing of 500 copies for the local members of the congregation who were expected to be in attendance.

“Light and Happiness for the Jews”
Click to view full pamphlet.

The prayer booklet was given the name, “Light and Happiness for the Jews,” a phrase taken from Megillat Esther, the text that is traditionally read on the holiday of Purim. The congregation leader bequeathed the two unique satin-printed copies to the royal couple during the proceedings and according to the community records the visit was considered a great success.

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Let’s flash forward a few centuries to the year 2011 at the National Library of Israel (NLI). Dr. Stefan Litt, an archival expert and Pinkas researcher at the National Library learned of this unique story while studying the community register of the Ashkenazic community of Amsterdam and wanted to know more. He set out on a mission in the hopes of finding that at least one of the prayer pamphlets produced in honor of the royal visit was still around and available for study.

“Light and Happiness for the Jews”
Psalms in Hebrew and Dutch from the satin copy of the pamphlet. Click to view the full pamphlet.

After performing a quick check in the NLI catalog, Dr. Litt found not only one, but two copies of the pamphlet preserved in the National Library stacks. The first pamphlet was a slightly faded copy of the version that was printed in Hebrew and Dutch and bound in red satin – one of the 50 copies that had been produced in honor of the visit for use by the royal entourage just as it had been described in the Amsterdam Pinkas.

This copy arrived at the National Library of Israel from the personal library of the German-Dutch researcher and rabbi, Sigmund Seeligmann.

“Light and Happiness for the Jews”

The National Library of Israel recently acquired another copy of the 50 pamphlets produced in Hebrew and Dutch, however, this copy is missing the original red satin binding. It was part of the famous Valmadonna Trust Library, which was purchased by the Library in 2017. With this addition, the NLI now has the largest number of these printed testimonies of the royal visit in the summer of 1768. They were produced by Proops, the famous Amsterdam Jewish printing house. There is only one other known copy of this printing of the pamphlet that is held in the British Library in London.

“Light and Happiness for the Jews”

As for the second copy kept at the National Library, Dr. Litt was amazed to find that it was one of the original two copies that had been beautifully printed on satin in honor of the royal couple themselves! The rare and exquisite pamphlet arrived at the NLI as a part of a large donation of books made by Dr. Joseph Chazanowicz from Poland over 100 years ago that made up the foundational collection of the Library according to the stamps located on the satin pages.

“Light and Happiness for the Jews”

You may be asking yourself – how did Dr. Chazanowicz get his hand on this extremely rare pamphlet of which only two were made? Well, in truth, we may never know. What is clear though, is that the royal couple did not seem to take much interest in this special gift. The second copy of the pamphlet produced for the couple appears to have gone missing without a trace. Even more notable is that there seems to be no remaining evidence of this historic visit in the form of pamphlets located in any of the major libraries in Holland. For now, the Jewish community’s efforts and careful planning will be held on record both in their community Pinkas and deep in the archives of the National Library of Israel.

Special thanks to Dr. Stefan Litt for his assistance in writing this article.


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What Became of Two Jewish Thieves Caught in Frankfurt in 1714?

In August 2018, the National Library purchased a rare item at auction: an anti-Semitic pamphlet published circa 1714, that mocked two Jewish thieves who were publicly executed for their crimes.

גנבים מפרנקפורט

In the early modern era, scores of impoverished individuals, groups, and even penniless families migrated across the roads and streets of Europe. They travelled from region to region in search of work or charity. Among these wandering migrants were downtrodden Jews. Their stories usually do not appear in the archives. The exceptions are the miserable souls who ran into trouble: Jews who were arrested, imprisoned and brought before judges to face trial.

Such was the case in the city of Frankfurt in 1714, which back then was already a bustling urban center, full of opportunity and industry. There was a well-known, established Jewish community in the city which owed its status to, among other things, its well-groomed relationship with the Holy Roman Emperors (in other words, the German emperors) as well as the abundance of employment opportunities available.

Poor, wandering Jews knew that they could find food, shelter, and charity in Frankfurt because of the generosity of its Jewish residents. At times, the wandering Jews socialized with the poor locals, who at least benefited from being members of the community.

This may have been the background setting for the events of the summer of 1714, when a gang of at least four Jews burst into the shop of a Christian clothes merchant named Maria Elizabeth Lochmann. The widow Lochmann ran a thriving business. Her shop was located in Frankfurt’s city center, already known for its valuable real-estate, and the loot from the burglary was reported to be 2,500 florins, a very high sum of money at the time. The circumstantial evidence was documented in a criminal case brought against the thieves and is preserved in the archives of the municipality of Frankfurt to this day.

But, there is another document that details the affair, which resulted in the execution of two of the accused Jews. In August 2018, the National Library purchased a very rare item at an auction: an anti-Semitic pamphlet that ridiculed the two Jews who were, ultimately, executed. One was named Lev Hertz (apparently a resident of Frankfurt). The second was named as Solomon Dickkopf (the surname means “thick head”). The four pages of this satirical anti-Semitic text detail the final moments of the two thieves’ lives. The anonymous author was undoubtedly familiar with Jews, their customs and their style of speech and subjected these to twisted mockery in his work. He described the execution of the two as a “wedding” between the condemned men and the new gallows which had been erected outside the city walls.


1 1

Anti-Semitic pamphlet recently purchased at auction by the National Library

The pamphlet purchased at auction by the National Library is quite rare. The only other known copy is found in the criminal files of the Frankfurt city archives. A number of details in the pamphlet indicate that the precise documentation of the crime was of little interest to the author. It makes no mention of the reasons for the execution (the theft) and also ignores the fact that the other two participants were apparently given only minimal punishments.

A curious detail appears at the bottom of the pamphlet’s first page, where we find the name of the printer, Veit Schnitzler, and the town in which it was printed, Katzenelnbogen (west of Frankfurt). However, we know of no printing presses owned by a man of this name. A logical conclusion that can be drawn from this is that “Veit Schnitzler” was actually a fictitious name that was chosen in order to hide the true source of the text.

It is possible that the author feared that the Jewish community would press charges against him for the abhorrent content of the pamphlet. A similar situation had occurred several years earlier, when the Jewish community sued anti-Semitic author Johann Andreas Eisenmenger. Eisenmenger had authored a book referred to in short as “Judaism Unveiled” (the publication’s full name was: “Judaism Unveiled, a thorough and genuine account of the horrific manner in which the stubborn Jews sully the Holy Trinity and disgrace it”). The Jewish community of Frankfurt successfully blocked the publication of the book in the Holy Roman Empire because of its well-established relations with the imperial court.

In 1734, nearly twenty years after the affair, additional information was published about the incident in a historical chronicle. The author, Georg August von Lersner, mentions the hanging of two Jews on the 31st of August, 1714. According to von Lersner’s account, the authorities ordered that the bodies not be taken down following the execution. They wanted them to remain hanging as a warning to any other would-be thieves. But, on the night of November 14th, the bodies were removed without authorization. The identities of the perpetrators were never discovered. Von Lersner took the liberty to assume that it was another thief, but it could just as well have been a gesture of decency by local Jews in order to recover the bodies of their brethren for the sake of a proper Jewish burial.



The section dealing with the hanging begins on the left page and continues on the right


This article was written in collaboration with Dr. Verena Kasper-Marienberg, an expert in the field of the Frankfurt Jewry.

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The Lost World of a Wedding Comedian – The Story of Avraham Horowitz

Avraham Horowitz (Gurewitz), a wedding merrymaker by profession, wrote poems, novels and novellas in Yiddish and Hebrew. He also adapted and modified the works of others, signing with his own name or with a variety of pen names in Yiddish and Russian.


The Faust Family Jewish Klezmer orchestra, Rohatyn, 1912. (Wikipedia)

The Avraham Horowitz archive was handed over to Professor Dov Noy in 1974 by Horowitz’s grandson Meir, with the purpose of it being permanently deposited in the National Library. This was carried out only when the Dov Noy archive was transferred to the National Library in 2018. The Avraham Horowitz archive contains manuscripts, poems, novels, essays, anecdotes and other writings relating to the profession of merrymaking, as well as an autobiography and correspondence with his son Shaul-Hoshea Horowitz (1886-1956) and his family from Brooklyn.

Avraham Horowitz was born to his parents Israel and Elka on February 26th, 1863 in the city of Borisov, in the district of in White Russia. His family of nine was not wealthy. His father earned his living as a melamed (religious teacher), while his mother supplemented the family’s livelihood as a cook in the wedding kitchens of the rich.

As a young man, Avraham studied in the cheder (traditional elementary Jewish school) where his father and one of his uncles taught. Afterward, he attended the local yeshiva in Borisov for thirteen years.

Avraham was not a very diligent yeshiva student, but he liked the joyous atmosphere of the rich weddings he used to attend when he accompanied his mother in her work. There he enjoyed the cheerful atmosphere and formed an emotional attachment with the merrymakers and the Klezmer musicians. The mother made sure that his father would remain unaware of his son’s new friendships with the local comedians.

Avraham would secretly  read pulp fiction stories that he borrowed from the local book-merchant and author Hillel Klivanov. Since Klivanov had a physical disability, Avraham used to help him and write down the poems that Klivanov dictated to him.

At the age of sixteen, Avraham wrote his first poem in Yiddish, a lid fun Chaya-Rone-Meren (“A Poem about Chaya-Rona Mere”), which told the story of the boys and girls who would roam the local forest together on Sabbaths and holidays. The poem was written in a tone that was not acceptable in the society to which his family belonged. When his father found out about the poem, Avraham even received lashes for it.

When the conflict between him and his father grew worse, he left the house and lived with a relative who owned a kiosk at the train station in Borisov. Abraham worked there as a porter, carrying suitcases and unloading freight cars. Later he became a guard at a textile factory. There he had an accident. His right hand became stuck in the wheel of a weaving machine and broke in three different places. Avraham was interned in a hospital in Minsk, where the doctors had to amputate his arm past his elbow. After his release from the hospital, he returned home to his parents for recovery. There he received support and encouragement. As time passed, Avraham learned to write with his left hand. In 1881 he composed the poem der umglicklicher (“The Unlucky One”), in which he expressed strong remorse for the rebelliousness against his parents which had led him to leave the family home. This poem should not be confused with the poem der umglicklicher yidele (“The Unfortunate Jew”), written in 1884, which tackled the subject of Jewish life in the Exile.

דער אונגליכליכער יידעלע
The first of the six verses of the poem der umglicklicher yidele written in the years of the pogroms in White Russia. (To view the poem, click on the image.) Below is the first verse in my free translation from the original Yiddish:

“There, deep in the forest,

From where comes no answer,

There, where there is no rest,

My life becomes a nightmare!

There screams the Jew; He is very angry:

Why all this torture, oy?

He is frightened and shivers badly,

Now he is in Raswoy*.

Hear it! How he shrieks,

How he cries for weeks:

What is the vice for which you blame me

What have I done?

What should I’ve done?

But the Jew gets no mercy. “

(* Probably the name of a place)

View this item in the Archives of the National Library of Israel

Avraham became a wedding merrymaker (a badchan, a joke-teller or comedian) by chance. It happened once that the Klezmer musicians from the local orchestra in Borisov came to Hillel Klivanov, bringing with them the famous wedding jester known as Chaimke, who was also a member of the Klivanov family. On that day, two weddings were being celebrated at once – one in Borisov and the other in one of the neighboring villages. Chaimke the merrymaker, who had no substitute in the region, decided to perform at the wedding in Borisov. Thus, it was suggested to Avraham that he attend the wedding in the neighboring village and performing there as a jester in Chaimke’s place. Avraham agreed, since he had composed his own poems and limericks and was fairly well versed at coming up with sarcastic barbs as well.

וכך הוא היה מונה
Five out of the seven verses of the song Echad Mi Yodea? Horowitz would perform at weddings (apparently, the manuscript is not Horowitz’s own). This is a Jewish wedding folk song, which was popular at the time. The song is a combination of three different elements: a song based on the Mishnah from the Yom Kippur service, the traditional Echad Mi Yodea song from the Passover Haggadah and the Seven Blessings recited under the Chuppah (the canopy under which a Jewish couple stand during their wedding ceremony). Horowitz used many terms, phrases and even whole sentences in Hebrew. (To view the item click on the picture). Here is the sixth verse of the song in my free translation from the original Yiddish:

“And so it was, and so he counted.

Let us open with an explanation

Six, who knows?’

Let us begin to explain

Six, what can they be?

Six are the in-laws, luckily

Ready to count all their money.”

View this item in the Archives of the National Library of Israel

For the 1955 recording of the wedding song Echad Mi Yodea by Sam Trooper from the National Sound Archive, click here

Avraham bought himself a thick notebook, in which he wrote down the popular songs and the poems of the period. He compiled Hilel Klivanov’s songs and adapted them to a style acceptable for Jewish weddings. Abraham also composed poems and songs of his own, and even sang or recited them to entertain the guests of the weddings at which he performed. Apart from his performances in the city of Borisov, which was where Chaimke Klivanov usually performed, Avraham would also make appearances in the many surrounding towns and villages. Finally, he settled down in the city of Berezino (Berzin) which lacked its own comedian. He built up a local reputation, got married and remained in Berezino for the rest of his life.

He was said to have the appearance of “a quiet fool”. Behind his back, they called him “Avrahamel der marshelik” (Avraham the clown), but officially, he was called “Rabbi Avraham badchan” (Rabbi Avraham the Comedian). In the towns surrounding Berezino, he was referred to as “der Bereziner marshelik” (The clown from Berezino), or “der odnaruker”, which means “the amputee” in Russian and Yiddish.

Avraham Horowitz had a beautiful baritone voice, long hair, and on his little finger he regularly wore a thick ring and wore a short coat. His clothes were not new, but perfectly polished and clean, including his trademark short coat. Under the chuppah and in the bridal seat, Avraham would wear a silk kippah or yarmulke.

He had earned his living as a wedding merrymaker for more than thirty years, but the last twenty were difficult. The customs of the Jewish community changed, weddings celebrations grew smaller and more modest, and there was hardly any need for jesters and comedians. Therefore, to earn some extra income, Horowitz bought  in partnership with others an industrial shredder. He then opened a small grocery store and even rented an apartment out for members of the Bund (the General Federation of Jewish Workers in Russia), where they would hold their meetings. During the High Holy Days, he served as a cantor in one of the local synagogues. Following the Russian Revolution he suffered from financial distress and became a guard on a landowner’s estate.

Avraham Horowitz also wrote a poem dedicated to the memory of Theodor Herzl, marking the anniversary of the Zionist visionary’s passing:

הערצעלס יארצייט
This page includes, among other things, the song Herzl’s Yohrzeit (To view the item, click on the image) Here are the first two verses of the song in my free translation:

“Come, my people, the exile nation

Come into the  shul today, not tomorrow

Spill your tears there in lamentation

Full of grief and  sorrow.

On the  day he  died

Herzl, the hero of the nation

Zion’s light became slight

On the dead land of annihilation.”

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During his lifetime, only the first two chapters of his novel der schwartzer peltz mit’en weissen kallner (The Black Fur Coat with the White Collar) were published in Minsk in 1928. He was sixty-eight years old when he began to rewrite his works and sent them to his son Saul Hosea. On the recommendation of Dr. Yaakov Shatsky, Avraham Horowitz wrote memoirs, based on recollections of local people as well as other sources, in order to document and preserve the wedding customs of the period. This collection of memoirs was meant to be published in volume 2 of the book “Archiv far Geschichte fun Yiddishen Teather und Drame” (Archive of the History of Yiddish Theater and Drama), but the book remained unpublished due to the outbreak of World War II.

Avraham Horowitz became blind in his old age and sought the help of doctors in Minsk, but without success. In the last two years of his life he suffered from paralysis, and died, completely blind, on December 30th, 1940, thirteen days after the death of his wife. He was buried in the cemetery in Berezino.

(The article above is based on biographical notes, written in Yiddish, by Avraham’s son Shaul-Hoshea Horowitz)

“Shabbat” – the front page of a humoristic article in Yiddish handwritten by Avraham Horowitz. (To view the item click on the picture)
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זכור אב נמשך
“Remember, a father is drawn after you like water” – the front page of a humoristic Yiddish article handwritten by Avraham Horowitz. It was probably intended for a Bris performance. (To view the item click on the picture)
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די פרויליכע מיידלאך
The first two pages of a three-part novel about the Polish revolt “The Happy Girl”. (To view the item click on the picture)

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מכתב אל שאול
Letter from Avraham and Ravia Horowitz to their son Shaul-Hoshea and his family in the United States (Lipshe his wife and their son Meir), 1931. (To view the item click on the picture)

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מכתב אל י' שאצקי
The first page of a letter in Yiddish by Avraham Horowitz to Dr. Jacob Shatzky, Berezino, March 6th, 1832. (To view the item click on the picture)

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מכתב דחיית השיר "האלוקים אנה לידי"
A letter rejecting the publication of the poem “God did it to my arm (?)” from the editorial board of the HaDoar weekly newspaper, June 9th, 1939. (To view the item click on the picture)

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השיר "האלוקים אנה לידי"
The poem “God did it to my arm (?)” sent by Avraham’s son, Shaul-Hoshea Horowitz, to the editorial board of the Israeli weekly “HaDoar” which was later rejected on June 9th, 1939. (To view the item click on the picture)

View this item in the Archives of the National Library of Israel

מכתבים ממאיר הורוויץ אל דב נוי
Two letters in Yiddish from Meir Horowitz (the grandson of Avraham Horowitz) from New York to Dov Noy in Jerusalem, in which he expresses his desire to permanently deposit his grandfather’s collection in the National Library. Brooklyn, October 22nd, 1974 and January 26th, 1975. (To view the item click on the image)

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The Avraham Horowitz Archive has been reviewed and described thanks to the generous support of The Leir Foundation.