After the death of Rabbi Yitzchak of Kalish (the founder of the line of Rebbes of Vorki and Amshinov), his son Rabbi Yaakov David went from Amshinov to Kotzk. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk asked him if he had seen his father, Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorki, in a dream, and Rabbi Yaakov David said that he had not. Rabbi Menachem Mendel then said to him, “I have finally found your father, Rabbi Yitzchak. I was looking for him in the world above but could not find him. I looked for him among the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. I looked for him among the Tannaim and Amoraim. Eventually I found him gazing sadly at a river. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked him. ‘The river is full of the tears of the Jewish people. I cannot leave this place.’”
The Amshinover Rebbe, Rabbi Shimon Shalom Kalish, was a Chassidic Rebbe from the Kalish family stemming from the Chassidic Rebbe ISAAC (KALISH) OF WARKA (1779–1848). Rabbi Isaac Kalish was one of the most noted Chassidic Rebbes in central Poland in the first half of the 19th century. Born at Zolochev, after his marriage at the age of 14 he moved to Zarek (Bremberg). He officiated as rabbi in Gowanczow and then in the village of Ruda. His teacher, Rabbi David of Lelov (Lelow), would travel with him to the "courts" of Chassidic Rebbes, and in this way he became a student Rabbi Jacob Isaac ha-Ḥozeh (the "Seer") of Lublin, and a disciple of Rabbi Simḥah Bunem of Przysucha and his son, Rabbi Abraham Moses. After the early death of the latter in 1829, Isaac settled in Przysucha , becoming the acknowledged leader of the Ḥasidim there. Some time later he moved to the small town of Warka (Warsaw district), where he gathered many disciples round him.
He negotiated with influential people on behalf of the Jews to obtain the abrogation of hostile decrees, including the conscription of young Jews for military service ( Cantonists ; 1827), and the prohibition forbidding the Jews to wear their traditional dress (1845). To achieve these he attempted to invoke the assistance of Sir Moses Montefiore and the British government in influencing Czar Nicholas I. In 1846 Rabbi Isaac met Sir Moses when the latter passed through Poland. Because of his activities Rabbi Isaac was given the appellation "Lover of Israel."
His son Rabbi JACOB DAVID OF AMSHINOV (1814–1878), founded the Amshinov dynasty. Born at Zarek, he was a pupil of Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Kotsk. After his marriage he lived at Gur ( Gora Kalwaria ), and later at Przysucha, becoming in 1849 the leader of a large group of Ḥasidim at Amshinov. Like his father he was active in Jewish affairs. Following enactment of the law prohibiting Jews from growing a beard and side locks, he was put in prison with Rabbi Isaac Meir of Gur on the charge of inciting the masses to revolt against the government. However, he succeeded in obtaining revocation of the decree and received a personal certificate of protection from a minister in Warsaw, forbidding anybody to harm him. He died in Italy where he had gone for medical treatment. His son MENAHEM (1860–1918), continued to head the Amshinov dynasty for 40 years.
Rabbi Shimon Shalom Kalish of Amshinov continued in the path of his ancestor Rabbi Isaac of Warka in possessing an extraordinary love for the Jewish people. Rabbi Shimon Shalom was born to Rabbi Menachem, the Rebbe of Amshinov, in 5643 (1883).
From an early age he demonstrated great intelligence and a heart filled with kindness. Everyone loved him, but his father, Rabbi Menachem, loved him the most. He would say to him, “Shimoli, my son, Chassidut has three principles: Love of G-d, love of Torah, and love of Israel.” In fact Rabbi Shimon saw in these the guiding principles of his life, and he strived with all his might to acquire them and to make them an integral part of his character.
In his youth he walked about in his father’s Beit Midrash and chatted with the Chassidim who came to him for help. He spoke to their hearts and encouraged them, making sure to provide them with something to eat and drink, as well as a place to sleep.
Later on he married the daughter of Rabbi Yeshaya Kalish of Peshisha, his uncle. At his father-in-law’s home, he advanced in Torah and Chassidut to such a degree that he became a great Chassidic leader.
After the death of his father, Rabbi Shimon Shalom inherited a portion of his chassidim. He settled in Otbotsk, near Warsaw, and directed its community with great love. His Chassidim purchased a villa in the forest for him, and his Beit Midrash was always full of Jews who came there seeking his advice. The Rebbe knew a tremendous amount about business and industry, and great industrialists came to see him for business advice.
His noble appearance, long beard, and pleasant-looking and smiling face made a great impression on those who saw him. He behaved with extreme modesty, which earned him the hearts of the Jewish masses. The Rebbe saw only the good in people, and to him there were no evil Jews; there were only bitter and unhappy people who were worthy of immense pity. Whoever had problems could find refuge with the Tzaddik of Amshinov.
For close to 30 years, the Rebbe led the Beit Midrash of Otbotsk. Crowds rushed to his Beit Midrash on Shabbat and the holidays, and the talks he gave to the Chassidim revealed his great love for every Jew.
In 5694 (1934) he left for Israel, where he remained for more than a year. Upon his return to Poland, he was filled with praise for the Holy Land and was in the habit of saying, “I am a Jew of Eretz Israel.” He was preparing to go and settle there, when all of a sudden the Second World War erupted and the Rebbe had to flee from Warsaw. He first found refuge in Lithuania, many devoted themselves to him and became his followers.
From Lithuania he wandered as far as Japan, and finally ended up in Shanghai, China where he stayed for the remainder of the war. During his exile in Shanghai, the Rebbe revealed his character by his splendor and the goodness of his heart. His home was open to each and everyone, and around him gathered yeshiva students who had managed to flee war-torn Europe. He cared for these refugees with great devotion and provided them with food. He also prevented them from giving up hope, reminding them that deliverance can come in the wink of an eye. Thanks to these good deeds of his, many escaped annihilation.
After the war, the Rebbe arrived safely in the United States. My paternal grandfather and my maternal stepgrandfather, Chassidim of the Gerrer Rebbe but lacking his presence in the United States, went to the Amshinover. His Chassidim purchased a house for him in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and there he reopened his Beit Midrash. There too he made numerous Chassidim, and many were those who came to see him. Before long, the Rebbe had won over the Jews of America and his home became a center of attraction for all types of Jews.
In 5714 (1954), he definitely decided that his place was in Eretz Israel, where his Chassidim impatiently awaited him, and so he purchased a ticket and prepared to leave. However the Rebbe suddenly fell ill, and on the 19th of Av his soul departed in holiness and purity. His Chassidim brought his body to Eretz Israel and buried him in Tiberias.
The Rebbe left behind an only son, Rabbi Meir Kalish, who settled in Jerusalem and founded the Shem Olam yeshiva in memory of his illustrious father.
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