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Intersecting Lives of Yakob and Yom Tov

Aharon Rubin

The song “Yakob” has been passed down for three generations and many of us grew up with it, either in its original recording by Reb Yom Tov Ehrlich, or in subsequent recordings by Avraham Fried. The lives of “Yakob” — or Yaakov Potash — and composer Reb Yom Tov Ehrlich were forged together from the time they met in Samarkand, on the run from the Nazis. Now, we’ve once again pieced together the gripping story of the intersecting lives of Reb Yom Tov and Reb Yaakov, with the song “Yakob” at the nexus.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012. An engagement in Jerusalem. The relatives of the young chassan and kallah from the Eisenstein and Rosenthal families were overjoyed at the shidduch, but it was more than the simchah of knowing another Jewish home was to be built. The union between these two families was a closure of sorts, the sweet end to a story that began over 70 years ago in war-ravaged easternRussia.

The newest bride and groom were the great-grandchildren of Reb Yaakov Potash z”l — the real-life person who was canonized in the ever-popular song “Yakob,” and Reb Yom Tov Ehrlich z”l, the legendary composer who made him famous through the song that bears his name — sung at Potash’s own wedding 66 years ago.

1946. In a tiny hall on the outskirts of Paris a year after the war ended, a group of refugees had gathered to celebrate the marriage of the young chassan Yaakov Potash and his kallah Yentel — who except for the chassan’s one surviving brother, were the two lone remnants of their families murdered by the Nazis. Suddenly, silence fell upon the hall as the chassan’s close friend, a talented young composer by the name of Yom Tov Ehrlich, related that he had met the chassan inSamarkand,Uzbekistan, and had written a song in his honor. Reb Yom Tov then began to sing, relating Yaakov’s personal story:

“In the state of Uzbekistan, between the Dijan mountains, on the border of India and Afghanistan …”

The song describes the heroism of the chassan, when the gentile town chieftain sought to take him — by force if necessary — as a son-in-law.

“Yakob rises and declares fervently, ‘I am a Jew! I cannot do this. The Torah forbids me to marry a wife who does not believe in the holy Torah.…’$$$seperatequote”

The song — “Yakob” — has been passed down for three generations, and many of us grew up with it, either in its original recording by Reb Yom Tov Ehrlich himself, or in subsequent recordings in both Yiddish and Hebrew by veteran chassidic singer Avraham Fried. 

With the help of Reb Yom Tov’s son Reb Moshe Ehrlich and the Potash family, we’ve once again pieced together the gripping story of the intersecting lives of Reb Yom Tov and Reb Yaakov, with the song “Yakob” at the nexus of their connection.


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