Hasidim on pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Elimelekh ben Eli‘ezer Lipman, Leżajsk, Poland, ca. 2005. (A. Olej/K. Kobus—Travelphoto)

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Town now in the southeastern Polish province of Rzeszów. A royal town founded in the fourteenth century, Leżajsk (also Leżańsk; Yid., Lizhensk) had a Jewish presence by 1521. In 1538, seven Jewish families paid the poll tax, and by 1577 the number of taxpayers had increased to 12. A synagogue was first mentioned in 1626; in that same year, Jews and Christians struggled over the right to trade in leather.

In 1635, King Władysław IV granted a privilege to the Jews of Leżajsk, allowing them to build homes and buy houses from Christians. He waived the tax on the cemetery and synagogue, and confirmed the right of Jews to engage in commerce and trade in alcoholic beverages. An organized Jewish community existed in Leżajsk by the early seventeenth century; it was initially subordinated to the community in Przemyśl but from 1718 was independent. According to the census of 1764, the community numbered 909 people.

Elimelekh ben Eli‘ezer Lipman, author of No‘am Elimelekh, a renowned third-generation Hasidic tsadik, settled in Leżajsk in about 1772. Leżajsk subsequently became an important center of Hasidism in Galicia and the Kingdom of Poland. After Elimelekh’s death in 1787, his son, Eli‘ezer (d. 1806), continued the dynasty. Though the latter’s son, Naftali (d. 1838), refused to be a tsadik, Hasidism continued to play an important role in the town’s life. Elimelekh’s grave became a pilgrimage site; the anniversary of his death on the Hebrew date 21 Adar formed an occasion for an important regional fair.

In the nineteenth century, Leżajsk experienced a period of stagnation. By the end of the century its Jewish population had begun to decrease, largely due to overseas emigration. In 1880, the Jewish population numbered 1,868 (37.8% of the total population); in 1890 it was 1,745 (35%); in 1900 it numbered 1,494 (28%); and in 1910 there were 1,705 Jews (32.2%). At the turn of the twentieth century the Hasidic movement revived, with the presence in the town of the tsadik Elimelekh Weisblum.

Modern political organizations did not find a footing in Leżajsk before World War I; not until the 1920s were Zionist institutions welcomed. Agudas Yisroel, which then competed with Zionist organizations, also developed a range of activities. Leżajsk’s educational institutions included schools under the aegis of Tarbut, Yavne, and Beys Yankev.

In 1921 there were 1,575 Jews (31.1%), and before the outbreak of World War II, the number rose to about 3,000. On the eve of Sukkot 1939, German troops drove most of the Jews of Leżajsk on foot across the San River to the Soviet-occupied zone. The remaining 40 families were forced to resettled on Bóżnicza Street, which was made into a ghetto in 1941. In September 1942, the ghetto was liquidated and its inhabitants sent to the one in Tarnogród and subsequently to the death camp of Bełżec. After the Holocaust, nine Jews returned to Leżajsk, but a grenade was thrown into the flat where they were living, killing several people. The remainder left, and today no Jews live in Leżajsk. Since the 1980s, however, annual Hasidic pilgrimages to Elimelekh’s grave have become increasingly popular.

Suggested Reading

Maurycy Horn, Żydzi na Rusi Czerwonej w XVI i pierwszej połowie XVII w. (Warsaw, 1975); Ḥayim Rabin, ed., Lizhansk: Sefer zikaron li-kedoshe Lizhansk she-nispu be-sho’at ha-na’tsim (Tel Aviv, 1969); Abraham Wein and Aharon Vais, “Leżajsk / Liz´ansk,” in Pinkas ha-kehilot: Polin, vol. 3, Galitsyah ha-ma‘arivit ve-Silezyah, pp. 232–236 (Jerusalem, 1984).



Translated from Polish by Bartek Madejski