Reb Simcha Zissel had been born in his parents' old age; his elder brothers were very much older than he.
When he was still a small child, several of his older brothers were already married.
One was a teacher in an elementary school, one was a potter, and another was a butcher. All were quite learned and pious Jews, but fanatic opponents of Chassidus.
They used to tell such wicked stories about the Chasidim that their father, who himself was no lover of Chasidim, could not bear to listen to their slanderous tales.
As a child, Reb Simcha Zissel did not know exactly what Chasidim were. But he did know that whenever his brothers visited their father, they constantly spoke about "the Chasidim," and would heap the most terrible curses up on them.
When Simcha Zissel grew a bit older, he was transferred to a more senior teacher, with whom he spent quite a few years. When he approached the age of bar mitzva, he began frequenting the study hall. In this study hall there was an old Jew, a genuine Torah scholar, who was called Reb Chaim "Holtz" ("Wood"), because whenever he lay down to sleep, he put a piece of wood under his head for a pillow.
This Reb Chaim learned Torah with extreme diligence. He fasted often, and when he ate, his meal consisted of bread and water: On weekdays, the water was cold, but in honor of Shabbos he drank warm water which had been heated before Shabbos. He would also recite Kiddush over challah instead of wine.
By nature Chaim was the silent type. He paid no attention to anything that happened in the study hall, but if asked about a Torah subject he would answer at length. When people spoke ill of the Chasidim, he would reply, "Why do you slander your fellow Jews? If I were not so old and sick, I myself would go to visit the Rebbe of the Chasidim."
When Reb Simcha Zissel asked Reb Chaim why he slept on a piece of wood, he replied with the Talmudic saying that "sleep is one- sixtieth part of death." "Now you tell me," said Reb Chaim to Reb Simcha Zissel, "Does it make sense to do something that will make you sleep even more? You could sleep your whole life away!"
Reb Chaim advised Reb Simcha Zissel to attend an out-of-town yeshiva. He offered to give him a letter of reference to a famous Rosh Yeshiva (Dean of the Academy) in Vohlnyia, but Simcha Zissel preferred to remain in his home town.
Reb Chaim Holtz had lived in Kalisk for many years and no one knew who he was or where he had come from. All he did was sit in the study hall and study Torah. At that time there were numerous young men who were being supported by their in-laws so that they could sit and learn Torah. They were very fond of hearing Reb Chaim's novel insights. He urged them to take upon themselves the Talmudic injunction, "Exile yourself to a place of Torah," and convinced them that it would be to their benefit if they traveled to other cities to learn, and he would even advise them where to go.
At the time Simcha Zissel began studying in the study hall, those young men who had gone abroad to learn a few years earlier had begun to return.
While praying they would hum melodies, snap their fingers and clap their hands -- strange behavior, most unusual for the town.
Even in the middle of their learning, they would stop and begin a tune. And what singing! Fiery, bubbling -- it made you want to dance!
Now Reb Chaim came to life. He started talking, and was no longer the silent type. The young men were delighted with Reb Chaim, and he was delighted with them.
Reb Simcha Zissel saw it with his own eyes: Once, late at night, they brought potatoes and baked them on the stove, and produced a small bottle of strong spirits.
Reb Chaim drank and gave the young men to drink.
With his very own eyes, he saw them dancing and singing for hours.
At intervals, Reb Chaim would sit down, with the young men surrounding him, and they would speak in whispers. All of a sudden, with no warning, Reb Chaim broke into a loud song, and he resumed dancing with the young men.
A few weeks later it all came out.
This very Reb Chaim was a leading member of "the cult," who had come to convert Kalisk to Chassidus! The city was afire. What sort of business was this?
Reb Chaim and the young men took no notice of the uproar and continued learning in the Beis Medrash.
They prayed in Chassidish style, slowly, and without hurry.
Occasionally, they would start humming strange, moving melodies which were a pleasure to hear.
Right in the middle they would begin clapping their hands and dancing about, all with the greatest joy. The whole town would come to gaze at their praying.
Reb Chaim began speaking about Chassidus openly to the young men and the learned menfolk of the town.
The first few times, the men became enraged, but they wanted to hear what he had to say, for it was truly worth hearing. Within three months time virtually everyone in the entire city had been transformed into Chassidim.
From a letter of the Frierdiker Rebbe Adapted by L'chaim #358