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[Page 410]

Chapter Sixteen:

Bialystok Personalities

 

I stop here for various personalities who are connected to Bialystok, who were born here or lived and made an impression here. The prominent men and respected people who already were discussed earlier are not mentioned here. Here I will speak about those personalities who in general have not yet been mentioned or only in passing, Here are people from various times and various strata. Certainly, not all of those who are worthy will be mentioned here.


א    A

Bialystok Crown Rabbis

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Until now I have not stopped to discuss the crown [state appointed official] rabbis. The rabbis [who were appointed by the government] were given a role in every function by the tsarist regime that was supposed to be carried out by the Jewish kehile [organized Jewish community].

 

The Essence of the Crown Rabbi (Rabbis)

The Russian government, disrupting the old kehile-organization [organized Jewish community], simultaneously removed from all of the ordained rabbis and Talmudic authorities who possessed no general education the right to be elected as official rabbis in the kehilus [plural of kehile]. The government called them duchovny (spiritual) rabbis without any practical value. The tsarist government gave the right to become official rabbis, to be elected rabbi only to the Russified rabbinical candidates who had graduated from rabbinical schools in Vilna and Zitomir, which they [the tsarist government] had founded for this purpose. They alone had the right to be elected as official rabbis, to manage the metrical [vital records] books and to provide religious marriages and divorces and to carry out all of the official functions of a rabbi.

Jews accepted them as government officials who were thrown at them by state edicts. They were called “crown rabbis” and did not have any value in the kehilus. The true rabbis to the Jews were, as before, the duchovny rabbis. It happened that the rabbinical candidates were all Jewish graduates of the Russian middle schools who did not even have any Jewish religious knowledge and could not even read a Hebrew text. There were strange occurrences where the government designated a person who was completely ignorant, a transgressor, a Russified, assimilated man who was an adversary of the Jewish religion.

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However, there also were individual exceptions found among the rabbinical candidates who were by chance good, people's Jews. However, the extremely pious fanatics were not satisfied with precisely this sort of rabbinical candidate because those who were chosen as rabbis considered themselves spiritual representatives of the kehilus and strove to improve their [the kehilus'] internal spiritual and cultural conditions by spreading the Enlightenment and culture within them. Therefore, the extreme pious Jews were more satisfied with the ignorant Russified rabbis.

In the beginning Bialystok still partially had the Polish kehile laws. Therefore, the duchovny rabbis simultaneously were crown rabbis, mainly before there were rabbis who had graduated from the rabbinical schools. Thus, for example, the Bialystok Rabbi, Reb Eliakim-Gecl MEIR also was a crown rabbi to maintain the metrical records and he also was a censor. After his death, his son Betsalel, an ordinary Jew, maintained the metrical records at first. But in 5620 [1860], when the first rabbis graduated from the rabbinical schools, a strict law was issued that the kehilus must have a “crown rabbi” who had graduated [from a rabbinical school].

 

Yehoshua SZTAJNBERG

The first graduate as a crown rabbi in Bialystok was the well-known Hebraist and learned man, Yehoshua SZTAJNBERG from Vilna who later was a teacher and inspector at the Vilna Teaching Institute, the son-in-law of Adam haKohan LEBENZON.* Bialystok was his first rabbinical seat. He was the rabbi here for a total of seven to eight months in 5621 (1861).[1] A.D. LIBERMAN, then the correspondent from Bialystok, relates[2] that in the Bialystok delegation that presented itself to Tsar Aleksander II at his visit to Bialystok (on the 4th of Kheshvan 5621[20th October 1861]) were: Mordekhai ZABLUDOWSKI, Eliezer HALBERSZTAM, Dovid ZABLUDOWSKI, son of Reb Yitzhak Meir (Dodya Mikhala's son) and Yehiel-Ber WOKLOWSKI and the remaining town notables were with the newly elected Rabbi Yehoshua SZTAJNBERG who presented the tsar with bread and salt and a poem that the rabbi had written with respect (a Hebrew one) in a small, expensive box. We do not know about his other activities during that short time.

*[Translator's note: Avraham Dov Ber LEBENZON was known as Avraham Dov MICHAILISHOK; LEBENZON'S wife's family lived in Michailishok and he lived with her family there for many years after their marriage which resulted in him having this surname. “Adam” is an acronym of “Avraham Dov MICHAIKISHOK.”]

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Reb Shlomo-Zalmen BENDET

The second rabbi after him was Reb Shlomo-Zalmen BENDET from Rasein [Raseiniai], a son of the Rabbi, the righteous man and the holy Hasid, our teacher, our Rabbi Shmuel.[3] He was an ordinary, middle-class Jew who knew Russian and was recommended by the Kovno governor to the local rich man, Reb Itshe ZABLUDOWSKI as an honest man with the request that he be elected as rabbi in Bialystok and thus it was. He was chosen as the rabbi here in 5662 [1862].[4]

As the old men said, he wanted to act as a rabbi from the beginning. He wore a long coat with wide sleeves like the Russian pope and he did not subordinate himself to Reb Lipele because he relied on his great ancestry. He once entered a quarrel with him about a city cantor who had been hired then – the well-known great cantor, Borukh KARLINER, who Reb Lipele opposed because he would repeat the words even louder several times. Of course, Reb Lipele prevailed and Borukh KARLINER had to leave Bialystok. Reb Shmuel BULOWSZTAJN, a Jew, a scholar and a pious man was one of the rabbi's supporters and close friends.

Later Reb Shlomo-Zalmen's two sons lived here, respected businessmen Yudl BENDET and Ayzyk BEN TOVIM. The latter was a pious follower of the Enlightenment who traveled with Reb Shmuel MOHILEWER in the first mission (assignment) to Eretz-Yisroel in 5650 [1890] and remained there. He was one of the first well-known [council member] of Hovevi Zion [Lovers of Zion] in Yafa, under the leadership of [Vladimir] TIOMKIN.

Reb Shlomo-Zalmen BENDET died on the 8th of Iyar 5628 [30 April 1868]. It says on his headstone that he was an honest and upright man and an accomplished man, nothing more. It appears that he was not a scholar nor a follower of the Enlightenment.

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Meir MARKUS

After him, Meir ber [son of] Shimshon MARKUS, a graduate of the rabbinical school, was the rabbi in Bialystok for a long time. Meir MARKUS was born in Sokó³ka in 5600 [1840]. He later studied in the local yeshiva [religious secondary school]; he then entered the Vilna Rabbinical School. When he graduated he became the rabbi of Sokó³ka, his city of birth. When Reb Shlomo-Zalmen BENDET, the Bialystok rabbi, died, he was chosen here as the rabbi in his place. He was an honest, middle class Jew and a very fine man, a modest and virtuous man. He did his job perfectly, recorded the vital records, was a religious teacher in the Real School [Yiddish speaking secondary school] and gave sermons in Russian on the gala days [days on which bands played and the city's fountains were turned on after the winter]; he also was an active member of all Jewish community institutions and was one of the first members of Hovevi Zion.

Meir MARKUS was an affable man, but he was a man without a strong will and was subservient to all of the influential people in the city, such as WOLKOWISKI, even when he was the rabbi. When there was a difference of opinion at a meeting he would shake his head [in agreement] with each side. He was very guarded in everything, but once he failed in this when he confirmed the news of Dr. GRANOWSKI's horrible deed against a Jewish boy (see further) in a correspondence in a Petersburg newspaper; he immediately received an administrative penalty for this from Dr. CHAZANOWICZ – he was sent from Bialystok for two years. He died on the 14th of Nisan 5661 [3rd of April 1901]. He was the rabbi in Bialystok for 30 years.

 

Dr. Yosef MOHILEWER

The fourth rabbi in Bialystok under the Russian regime was Dr. Yosef MOHILEWER, the grandson of Reb Shmuel MOHILEWER, may the memory of a righteous man be blessed. He was chosen as rabbi in 5662 [1902] after the death of Meir MARKUS, but his candidacy met with great opposition from the then greatly influential person, Yehiel-Ber WOLKOWSKI, who understood that with Dr. Yosef MOHILEWER as rabbi, the young social activistd, mainly the Zionists, would receive the upper hand in the leadership of the kehile and he [WOLKOWSKI] and his group would have to give up their place to them. Therefore, he [WOLKOWSKI] did everything he could to reject the election and, later, when it took place and Dr. MOHILEWER was elected with a large majority [WOLKOWSKI] lobbied that [Dr. MOHILEWER] not be employed in the gubernia [province], but all of this did not

[Page 414]

help and Dr. MOHILEWER was employed.[5] However, WOLKOWSKI died immediately afterward and Dr. MOHILEWER, as the Bialystok Rabbi, eulogized him.

Dr. Yosef MOHILEWER was raised by his great grandfather and [studied] Tanakh [The Five Books of Moses] and the Talmud under his guidance and with teachers for secular studies. He later graduated from two faculties, agronomy and French, where he was an engineer-agronomist,[6] and the philosophy [faculty] in Konigsberg where he was a doctor of philosophy. His exceptional dissertation was: “The Psycho-Physical Parallelism of [Wilhelm] WUNDT.” His influence as a rabbi and orator in Bialystok was great. He usually strongly supported the Zionists and their institutions. He was the rabbi in Bialystok for 13 years until 1915.

Before the occupation by the Germans during the early war years [First World War], he was director of the just created Hebrew Teachers' Seminar in Odessa and he also was one of the representatives at the Odessa kehile. When the Bolsheviks captured Odessa, he escaped to Eretz Yisroel on a French ship. He was director of the Jerusalem Hebrew Gymnazie [secondary school] there.


Footnotes

  1. It turns out that in Hakarmel on 3 of Elul 5620 [21 August 1860], no. 9, Yehoshua SZTAJNBERG signs an essay, “Rabbinical Candidates,” but on the 2nd of Kislev 5621[10 November 1860], A. B. LIBERMAN writes (in Hasharon in Hakarmel) that Yehoshua SZTAJNBERG is the rabbi in Bialystok, but on 9 Adar 5621 [19 February 1861], Yehoshua SZTAJNBERG wrote about himself as “Rabbi in Vilna” (this was pointed out to me by Shimeon KONIAK). Return
  2. Hakarmel 5621 [1860], no. 19. Return
  3. At that time Reb Shmuel the Hasid was a well-known sage and righteous man. He was descended from the well-known BENDET PADKOVE family. It was said about him that before his marriage to a rich bride, he recognized among the poor people at the banquet for the poor, his former bride [fiancée], who had been driven from him during the CHMIELINCKI times.* He left his rich bride and married [the poor one] (see the agreement of the Raseiner Rabbi, Moshe LAPIDIS in Zikhron Yakov, the book of questions and answers of the Brisker Rabbi who was Reb Shmuel the Hasid's grandson and published a book of Hasidus of his.

    *[Translator's note: Bogdan CHMIELINCKI led attacks by Cossacks against the Jewish population in Ukraine resulting in the massacre of approximately 100,000 Jews during the years 1848-1849.] Return

  4. In Hakarmel, 5622 [1862], no. 12, A.B. LIBERMAN says that at the dedication of the great house of prayer, the elected rabbi recited a Misheberakh [public prayer for an individual or group of people] for the tsar and his family. It appears that this was Reb Shlomo-Zalmen BENDET. He was the rabbi here in such a manner for six years, from 5622 [1862] until 5628 [1868]. Return
  5. Thanks to the intercession of Yudl KALICKI and the author of Pinkas [record book]. Return
  6. Reb Shmuel did not want to permit his grandson to study, but I convinced him that he should permit him to study geography in order to receive a position as a director in a Baron ROTHSCHILD colony and then Reb Shmuel himself would be able to settle in Eretz Yisroel. However, Eliyahu SZID, the then manager of the ROTHSCHILD colonies refused the request for this because it was not worthwhile for him. Yosef MOHILEWER then entered the philosophy faculty in Konigsberg in order to become a doctor-rabbi. Return


[Page 425]

ג    C

Bialystok Residents
Who Excelled in Various Fields of Talent

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

JULIUS ADLER – born in Bialystok, into a poor baker family. He later became one of the pioneers of better theater among the Jews. He acted in America, Argentina and other Jewish communities for many years.

ZOSHE BARAJNIN – born in Bialystok. A descendent of Meir CHAHAN. The wealthy aristocrat's son-in-law (see above [previous article]). Was a well known Polish singer.[1*]

ROZA BURSZTAJN (Pseudonym: Roza RAISA) – born in Bialystok, from a poor family. Educated here and trained in Italy. Today is a world famous opera singer in America and Italy.

YAKOV BERMAN – Choir director in the Choral Synagogue, composer and singing teacher in all of the Jewish schools over a span of 45 years. The text of his headstone:

A dear man and a warmhearted Jew, had a pleasant singing voice, composed beautiful melodies to the Jewish prayers, 45 years he served in the synagogue and was the director of the choir in the Choral Synagogue, Yakov son of Josef BERMAN, of blessed memory, died 15 Cheshvan 5692 [26 October 1931]. May his memory be blessed.

CHAYA GROBER – born in Bialystok. Today she is a well known singer of Yiddish and Hebrew songs.

MIKHAL DUNIEC – born in Bialystok. A young painter-artist. Has already had exhibitions in Bialystok, Vilna, Warsaw. Continues his studies in the Soviet Union.

NORA NEY (SONYE NAJMAN) – born in Bialystok. Today is one of the most distinguished Polish film artists.

S. SEGALI [Simon SEGAL] – a son of Maks SEGAL in Bialystok. A painter, artist, studied and worked in Berlin and there acquired a reputation as an original artist. Today he is in Paris. During the last season (January 1937) he exhibited 30 pictures in a salon there that represented the dread of the coming war. The exhibition made a strong impression. An American collector of pictures arrived and bought all of the 30 exhibits in the show for a large sum.[11]

[Page 426]

HENEKH PRES – Born in Bialystok. He graduated from the art school in Warsaw. He took part in art exhibitions in Bialystok and Warsaw for a number of years. He was a teacher of drawing in the Bialystoker Jewish Gymnazie [secondary school].

NAKHUM TSEMAKH – a Bialystok Hebrew teacher. Was the original founder of Habima [theater group]. He presented the first troupe here. From here he went out into the world until he settled in Eretz-Yisroel.

BEN-TZION RABINOWICZ (Pseudonym: Ben) – an artist born in Bialystok. Studied in the Vilna Art School, developed [his artistry] in Paris. He promises to have magnificent prospects.

YEHOSHAYA ROZONIECKI – born in Bialystok, studied painting in Vilna and Odessa. After that, in Berlin at the Art Academy with Professor M. NIKEL, later in Paris. Had exhibitions of his pictures in Warsaw, Bialystok, Grodno, Vilna, Lodz, Czenstochow. Had good reviews.


[Page 426]

ד    D

Bialystoker Who
Aquired a Reputation in Various Realms

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

PROFESSOR, DOCTOR LEON WINER. Leon WINER was born in Bialystok to the earlier mentioned Bialystoker German teacher WINER. In America, he became a great philologist, professor at Harvard University in Massachusetts. He is named Leon after his mother's father, Leibl KRINKER (RABINOWICZ).

DR. LEON ZAMENHOF. The famous author of Esperanto is a Bialystoker. He is the oldest son of Markus ZAMENHOF. He was born in Bialystok in December 1856 on Jatke Street, which now is called Zamenhof Street. He studied medicine in Warsaw, Moscow, graduated in 1884. Practiced as an oculist in Kherson, Grodno, Warsaw where he died on the 15th of April, 1917 at the age of 58.

Earlier, he was a Hovevei Zion [Lover of Zion] and, later, a Zionist. Founded the first Zionist group, “the Friends of Zion,” in Warsaw. He published a brochure in Russian about Hellenism and Jewry.

All portray him as a very refined and ideal man. Several years ago, his admirers around the world attached a marble tablet

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to the house where he was born on Jatke Street in Bialystok. In Skver, a foundation was also laid for a monument at the edge of the forest.

DR. AHRON-HERSH ZOBELMAN. Dr. Ahron-Hersh Zobelman was born and educated in Bialystok on Grachowe (Nowalipe) alley. He was known as a prodigy during his youth. He had a phenomenal memory. He did not visit any synagogue. In 1881, he entered the Paris Medical Faculty as a baccalaureate [candidate], where he studied the so-called colonial medicine and assisted Professor Sharke, to whom he delivered a work about nerve and physical illnesses. The professor predicted that he would be very important in treating the illnesses and gave him a separate ward in his hospital. Dr. Zobelman did not want to take up a private practice.

He studied the Laws of Moses. However, he was not satisfied with only medicine and was a diligent person and had a yearning to study everything and to know everything. It was also said of him that he knew 16 languages and their literature and all the disciplines of the exact sciences.

When he would come to Bialystok in the later years, he would visit me because he was also very interested in my Biblical-Talmudic research. I would be amazed when I found that he was also familiar with the area. Speaking about various attitudes in Talmud, he would recite them aloud. He wrote very many medical articles in the French and Russian trade journals. He also took part in the Russian-Jewish Encyclopedia about Talmudic medicine and about Jewish doctors. I believe, however, that his intuition, his strength in Torah was not so great.

He lived withdrawn and frugally, far from matters of the world. He did not get married. He would use his earnings to buy books. He had a large library. In 1906 he came to Petersburg. He was counting on being given a university chair of a professor by the liberation movement, but he did not receive it. He entered a university for experimental medicine and received a paid position to translate all of the medical reports from all of the world medical faculties.

In his way of life, he was typical of an old Jewish tzadek [a righteous man] and gaon [sage] in the modern sense. It can be said of him that he was religious.

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While here during the Days of Awe he would pray at the Choral Synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

He was mobilized as a doctor on the battlefield of Serbia at the beginning of the First World War. At the beginning of 1915, he became ill there and went to Kiev and died there in the Jewish hospital at the age of 56. He promised his library of 10,000 volumes to scientific institutions.

MAXIM LITVINOV, or MEIR HENEKH WALACH. The now world known Foreign Minister of Soviet Russia, MAXIM LITVINOV, was born in Bialystok on the 17th of July, 1876. He is a son of the Bialystoker, MOSHE WALACH who was the brother of the Rabbi, Reb SHABTAI WALACH, the great Ruzhany Rabbi who died several years ago and a great grandson of DOVID WALACH who was the Jewish diplomat at the Russian regime in Bialystok in 1812.

MEIR HENEKH WALACH was brought up on Nowolipier (Grocower) alley with his father, who was the bookkeeper for ELIHU MALOCH, the great Jewish Bialystoker banker.

He received his upbringing in the ancient khederim [primary religious schools], beis-medrashim [houses of study or prayer] and Hasidic shtelblekh [one room prayer houses]. He received his first education in the four classes of the gymnazie [secondary school] to which one went in order to avoid military service, through this becoming a volnoopredelyayushchisya [volunteer rather than be conscripted].

At first, he entered as an employee of a manufacturing business, but he immediately entered the revolutionary movement.

He was arrested for the first time in 1896. Later, he escaped abroad and was active there in the revolutionary circles and he developed with them. Today he lives in Moscow with a wife of English nobility and a son and a daughter. He is completely estranged from the Jewish people, as this is the nature of everyone who runs across from one extreme to the other.

Dr. LEON PINES. – Bialystok had Jewish diplomatic intelligentsia who were Enlightened-Zionists, such as Dr. EPSZTAJN, Professor at the Jewish hospital, his aide, Dr. ZIMAN, Dr. SH. GUTMAN, private attorney, LEON TRAJWUSZ and the like.

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There was also a group of young intelligent Zionists found in the city then, with LEON PAPERIN at the head, who spread and deepened Zionism in Bialystok and in the area through various informational means.

At the head of the young, diplomatic intelligentsia stood Dr. LEON PINES, a nephew of the well known Hebrew writer, YEHIEL MIKHAL PINES of Ruzhany.

In 1899 Dr. LEON PINES settled in Bialystok as an oculist and opened his own independent clinic for eye illnesses here. From here he became widely known as a great oculist. Hundreds of the sick were drawn to him from the farthest places. He demonstrated wonders with his operations. In 1925 he was recognized as an honorary member by the Vilna University.

Dr. LEON PINES was active in Zionist-Hebraistic-National circles in Bialystok. He was chosen as a viborshtshik [representative] to the second Duma. In 1928 he moved to Warsaw and in his place left his son, his assistant, as an oculist.

At this opportunity it is worthwhile to mention that there was already an oculist-specialist in the period 1850-1888 in Bialystok, a certain Reb MEIR SHOYKHET (ritual slaughterer) BRUMER, to whom those with eye illnesses from the entire area and also farther places were drawn. His sanatorium was the red house near the synagogue. It was said that once the Grodner governor called him to heal his sick eyes. He did so; he did not want to take any payment, but asked that Bialystoker Jews, who were innocent but sat in prison, should be freed from the Grodner jail and the governor honored his request.

AKIVA RUBINSZTAJN, who is considered a world chess champion, is a step-son of the local Pinsker child prodigy and was raised here.


Footnote

  1. See Undzer Lebn [Our Life], 1937, no. 13. Return


Translator's Footnote

  1. The Yiddish word used here for singer is in the female form, but the person is described as a son-in-law. Return

 

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