Chanukah is tomorrow night! This time of year reminds me of my great grandfather, who died some 26 years before I was born.
My maternal great grandfather, Reb Yankev ("The Blacksmith") Podrub from Grodno, Belarus (formerly Poland) was a legendary figure in the annals of Stolin-Karlin Chassidus. He arms were like twisted steel, but his disposition was extremely gentle. Although he was a blacksmith. he was also a Talmudic scholar. He worked so that his little brother, Arie Leib, could attend rabbinical yeshiva. Ultimately, Arie Leib became the head rabbi of Meretch in Lithuania and one of the prime students of Rav Chaim Ozer Grudzinski, ob"m.
The renowned "Yanuka" of Stolin, the famous Rebbe Yisroel Perlov ob'm who had over 20,000 Chassidim, would stay in Reb Yankev's house every Shabbat Chanuka when he'd visit his chassidim in Grodno. Even more, The Stoliner Rebbe - who loved horses - insisted that only Reb Yankev shoe his horses. From what the old Stoliner Chassidim told me, the Rebbe loved my great-grandfather's pure and simple emuna and the innocence in which he served Hashem.
What was so special about Reb Yankev? He never spoke small talk. Even at work, he'd mumble tehillim and mishnayot. Also, his trust in Hashem was phenominal - he'd only work long enough to earn that same day's bread with one extra kopeck; he saved the extra kopecks in a jar all year long, and then at the end of the year, he'd use the money to travel to his Rebbe in Stolin for Rosh Hashanna. As such, my great grandfather lived his connection with the tzaddik all year long.
The minute Reb Yankev finished his day's work, he'd fly up the stairs to the Stoliner shtiebel, conveniently located on the second floor over the smithy, and open up a Gemara. Grodno lore holds him as one of the hidden tzaddikim of the area, may his blessed memory be cherished always.
I heard the above stories and many more from my grandmother Kailie of blessed memory, from Rav Yitzchak Kulitz of blessed memory, former head Rabbi of Jerusalem, who as a little boy saw my great grandfather, and from Rav Benyamin Adler shlit'a of Jerusalem, whose uncle knew my great grandfather well, and from the elderly Stolin-Karlin chassidim of Jerusalem.
I know that alte zaidie (Yiddish for great grandfather) has nachas (gratification) that his great granchildren are continuing on in the way of Torah and Chassidus. You know what that means? The Greeks and the Hellenists lost, and so did Hitler and western assimilation. With simple emuna, we shall continue to overcome, with G-d's help. Have a wonderful Chanukah!