Jan 24, 2020
R. Mendel Reichberg (1922- 2011), a Bobover Hasid and Holocaust survivor, settled in Borough Park, Brooklyn after the war, where he founded the first Hasidic travel agency in Brooklyn, Reichberg Travel. A speaker of Polish with connection with Polish authorities, R. Reichberg started organizing excursion-like pilgrimages to Poland when the country was still under Communism. After the fall of communism and the opening of Poland to Western tourism, R. Reichberg was a pioneer among travel agencies organizing trips to visit graves of Hasidic sages across Poland. R. Reichberg was committed to the preservation of cemeteries all over Poland. In 1997, he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for his activities in the preservation of Jewish cemeteries in Poland.
The above poster advertises a excursion-like pilgrimage to commemorate the 200th yortsayt (anniversary of death) of R. Elimelech of Lezajsk (Lizhensk in Yiddish), considered a founding figure of Hasidim in Poland, on the 21st of Adar (March 18, 1987). The poster calls for last minute registration for the pilgrimage and two different excursions: an eight day pilgrimage (right) to twenty-six cities and a four day pilgrimage (left) to six cities. The name of the Hasidic rebbes associated with each city appear next to the city. Both excursions include a visit to the grave of R. Yoel Sirkes (1561-1640), the famous chief rabbi of Krakow, known as the BaH (after his book Bayis Hadash), on his yortsayt. The poster announces that the pilgrimages will be led by R. Mendel Reichberg who will be assisted by his sons.
I first noticed the poster more than thirty years ago tied around a tree with masking tape in front of Reichberg Travel’s office at 48th and 13th Ave, Borough Park, Brooklyn.
I met Rabbi Reichberg more than forty years ago while strolling in Borough Parkas part of my dissertation fieldwork. Rabbi Reichberg always welcomed me in his office, happy to share with me information on the Bobover Hasidim back in Poland. I also used his office to book flights to Israel. When R. Reichberg saw how fascinated I was with the poster he gave me one as a present.
Still, when I wanted to participate in the following year’s annual pilgrimage to Lezajsk, R. Reichberg conditioned it on an interview conducted in his office. I also had to bring recommendations from two Bobover Hasidim to support my request. I was the only non-Hasid among the ninety other participants. 1 1 On my experiences during the pilgrimage, see “On Photographing Hasidim in Poland.” Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Review, vol. 10 (1), 1988, pp. 21-22. Later, in the summer of 1988 while I was filming the Pilgrimage of Remembrance in Poland, R. Reichberg allowed me to interview him and his wife. 2 2Pilgrimage of Remembrance, the Jews of Poland Today, 1992, distributed by Ergo Film. The film won Honorable Mention, American Film/Video Festival, 1992. They both contributed to the film and to the understanding of Jews in Poland today.
Posters like this one for special events, graduations, sales of Hasidic garments, computers, new books, videos and more are still popular in the Hasidic neighborhoods of Brooklyn. However, in recent years the internet has changed the business. Reichberg Travel had to downsize and Reichberg’s son and his wife began to conduct their business from home. An English website offers information, reservation, and registration online and in English.
In December 2019, I donated this poster to the YIVO Archives. It is my hope that future researchers will learn from this material evidence of the business practices, religious sensibilities, and travel of the Bobover Hasidic community in the late 20th century.
The following is a clip of R. Mendel Reichberg in Poland from the film Pilgrimage of Remembrance: the Jews of Poland today (Ergo Films: 1992), for which I was Associate Producer, and Consultant.