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[Page 353]

Community Officials

Reb Chaim Cohen

Dr. M.A. Eisenstadt, (Chief Rabbi of Petrograd)

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Reb Chaim Cohen

 

Reb Chaim Cohen was a wealthy businessman and benefactor in Brest. Later, although living in Petrograd, his was still involved with Brest. His son Bendet Cohen was a renowned editor and proprietor of the publication “Yalkut”. His second son David, was the founder of the daily paper “HaAretz” in Tel Aviv, he was a committee member of the boards of “Davar”, ORT, etc, etc.

One evening, a year or two before the war, a man whom I had never seen before came to see me. As applies to anyone who lives in a big city, I was not surprised to see a new face in my home for the first time. This visit however, was entirely different to others as he made a completely distinctive impression. “My name is Chaim Cohen”, said the visitor. “I came to settle here in Petrograd in recent days – I've bought a house and therefore I've come to offer my cooperation in any philanthropic/humanitarian enterprise, as every Jew should. Whatever you ask of me, I will fulfill it. If I am away because of business, my sons will be here. If you need something, telephone them. As God has blessed me in my business, in my present situation I do not want to forget my former poverty. I'll be very grateful to you if you would act as a guide to my children in matters of charity.”

I must confess that I had never heard such words in my life. It was no wonder, therefore, that this man won my heart. I did not know anything about him – who he was and what he did - understandably our first meeting was not the last. Over the passage of time I got to know the details about this man and became convinced that this Jew was a unique personality without equal.

He was an educated man and a gifted student. He was seldom without the writings of students. Not only did he help them financially, even before those in need would ask for help, he liked to be with them and learn from them.

When I say his house was open to all in the full sense of the word – a house open to talented students – so he conducted himself, this exceptional Jew, a rare individual whose doors were open to all and never closed with a lock, as was usual in a large city. When a visitor came, whether it was a rabbi, a writer, or a local from his hometown - as those were days of heavy persecutions – they all knew that the home of Chaim Cohen was a place of refuge.

His greatest pleasure was to come home in the evening after work and share his meal with rabbis and writers at his table. He took great pleasure in the brilliance of their words.

Many times I saw visitors at his home, rabbis, writers and people from the provinces. He would bring them into his rooms and invite them to his table as his guests, not feeling any strangeness. Only then did I understand the true meaning of hospitality to visitors.

His love for our people and nation had no limits. Being generally an active energetic man, he twice visited Israel. These visits increased his love for the Land of Israel. From then on, he could not find peace sitting in his house in Petrograd. Travelling to distant places which was necessary to his business, he would often think yearningly of his dream. He very much wanted to see how this wasteland (Israel) could be settled through men who had the means to build industries and factories for thousands and tens of thousands of workers, and develop commerce and trade there.

This was the essence of his correspondence with the renowned personalities of the Zionist world.

Reb Chaim did not tolerate trivialities – with a laugh mixed with sadness he would talk of the extravagances of the rich Russian Jews who spent large amounts on enlarging their communities. He would always complain to me as one who was satisfied with little in his own household, to talk to others known to us that they should spend part of their fortunes towards Israel. Incidentally, I read his letter that he sent to his sons from Kharkov.

This letter was written in the style of a testament of a holy man with a gentle soul. In this letter he reminds them that as their father all the experiences he has lived through in his life. He says that his fortune was not based on wealth but knowledge and good deeds. In this letter we found the hint that he did not intend to benefit from the fortune he had amassed during his life, but to leave it all to the land of Israel.

A year before his demise, even before his illness, he proposed that I collect ten rich Jews and request that they donate their entire fortunes to their brethren. He said without false modesty “I am one of them”. Understandably, I could not find the other nine. The only one was Chaim Cohen. He became ill and did not believe that this was a fatal illness. He did not even manage to write a will, and then suddenly he died. His sons honoured him during his life and after his death. They completely fulfilled their father's wishes – and his heirs knew how much he valued the book (Torah). One evening before his death we spoke of editing the book by Dr Katzenelson,”The Talmud, the Sciences, and Medicine”. He undertook to publish it at his own expense. His sons knew how much he treasured our past, which would lead us towards an easier future. They founded the “Publication of Chaim” in memory of his great soul that expired in Kislev of 1917.


[Page 355]

Israel Asher Shereshevski and His Comrades

By B. Koloditsky

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Israel Asher Shereshevski was the founder of Birkur Cholim in Brest. He was the uncle of the banker Raphael Shereshevski of Warsaw. His name was provided on the insignia of Birkur Cholim and on its prescription forms because he stipulated that the pharmacists should lower their charges to the patients of Birkur Cholim. Dr. Hurwitz was the Birkur Cholim doctor and the administrator and employee of the organization was Hershel Koloditzki. Both would visit and attend to the sick.

However, in those days the houses were not numbered and the streets were difficult to find - it was not easy to find their way to visit the sick. Therefore, a building was rented and one would have to come and register with Hershel Koloditski and get on the list of home visits. The address of the patient would be written down is this manner: he lives at Velvel Fisher's, or also known as Berel at Fisher's, or Berel the fish monger… and many others with such signposts!

At the appointed time, Hershel would drive Dr Hurwitz in the buggy to the visit. Hershel was a warm and honest man, a pauper. He knew a little Latin and would stand and listen carefully to the words of the doctor, and take great heed of how he administered his medicines. Thus, in time, he acquired a great deal of practical knowledge to the extent that the doctors would often confer with him. He would also substitute for the doctor, although all knew that he had never studied medicine. After the wealthy Shereshvski died, Reb Laizer Mandelblatt, a childless, honest Jew, who became the director of Birkur Cholim, took his place.

Then the society “Linat Hazedek” was formed, and there the young people whose inclination was to help the sick and needy would register their names. When their turn came to visit the sick, and they could not fulfill their roster, they would pay 10 kopeks to hire a substitute.

After a while the institiutions attracted directors such as Dr. Shteinberg and Dr. Leon Shereshevski. However, the landlords and businessmen were opposed to the fact that doctors headed these societies. Amongst those who opposed the doctors with great propaganda was Moshe Baruch Bishkovitch and others. Reb Laizer was a pleasant and unruffled man, they tried to infuriate him, but he would listen to his opponents and try to placate them with a smile.

One day there came to him a wagon driver before Pesach, and said “Good evening, Reb.Laizer! I wanted to honor you with a blessing, that a spirit should enter your father's father, but I won't say that, perhaps I should say that a spirit should enter you grandmother, but I wont say that either….

Reb Laizer asked him to sit down and said,” what you should not say, and the subject you should not recall are the souls of my grandfather and grandmother, neither of whom are alive. And it is better that you should leave them to lie in peace in their graves and tell me what is bothering you and why you are so angry”. Hearing these softly spoken words the driver was quietened and asked for forgiveness from Reb Laizer for the ugly words that had fallen from his mouth.

A supporter of 'Chovevei Zion' (Lovers of Zion) with his name and his entire soul was Ben-Zion Neumark. He was the founder of 'Cheder Metukan', a Hebrew progressive school –the first of its' kind in Brest. He was appointed to do this by the Zionist committee in Odessa. All the monies that were collected from the Yom Kippur appeal were given directly to him – Koloditski would collect the money at Israel Wolf's synagogue – a two-storey building. He would send the sum with an additional three rubles membership payment to the Odessa committee.

Ben- Zion Neumark was one of the directors of Bikur Cholim, and also the Gabbai of the Kadosh Synagogue, which formed the co-operative “Lending and Savings Fund”. All the elected directors were Zionists such as Yitzchak Winnikoff and others. The chairman was C. Shereshevski. The operation of Birkur Cholim was feeding widows and orphans (Linat Zedek), visiting the sick and the distribution of medicines to them. IN 1911-12 there was an outbreak of malaria. Bikur Cholim bought a lot of quinine and Hershel Koloditski himself distributed the doses to the needy.

Amongst the leaders of the city was Yekutiel Poliak. The secretary of the community council (kehilla) was Zev Dov Begin who was one of the leading Zionists in Brest before W.W.1. He was a member of the Zionist committee and an employee and of Lending Fund. He was dedicated with his whole heart and soul to Zionism. However, he also did many things according to his own opinions, when the Zionists requested a Zionist 'minyan' (prayer service) in a private prayer house, Begin however, determined that instead of official government permission, it would be sufficient to get an endorsement in the name of Koloditski. But it did not take long before the group was betrayed to the authorities by the landlord, who said that this was not a meeting place for the Zionists, but a synagogue and that required a special government permit.

Beinish Koloditski was fined 100 rubles or three days imprisonment by the court. He wanted to save the community money, so he sat in prison for three days. Koloditski was the representative of the Keren Kayemet and occupied this position until his departure for Israel. One day, they came to him and said that there were no facilities in the 'Slonimer Shteibl' for the Yom Kippur collection. His father in law came to him and said that he dared not send anyone to ask about this, as they would surely throw him out. Koloditski himself then went with a bowl and requested that the congregation make a donation – they actually did contribute very nicely. After prayers they told him that although their Rabbi demanded that they throw the Zionist representative out, nobody dared to.

In 1915 the Lending Fund was left with a sum of money for Keren Kayemet. When the bank stopped paying its depositors (due to the war), Josef Shereshevski took the money with him to Moscow. Koloditski wrote to him and received a reply that the money had been transferred to the Zionist Bureau in Moscow.


[Page 359]

Ben-Zion Neumark

By M. Leizorovitch

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

He was one of the nicest people of the Zionist movement from the BILU days. Fifty years ago in the beginning of this movement, the crucial question of Aliyah to Israel was linked to leaving a secure existence and exposing one self to hunger, poverty and malaria. Ben Zion Neumark made such a leap. As with other young people he had no plans to return. But unlike the others who returned, he did not blame the land of Israel, but himself. He was haunted by by guilty feelings his whole life Nevertheless, he had not passed the test in that fateful hour. Returning to Brest, he devoted his whole being to the Zionist cause with much fervor.

In those days it was difficult to spread the Zionist ideology. It was necessary to appear in the synagogues and penetrate the Chassidic schools. Modern secular schools did not exist then, so that when the progressive schools began to appear, Neumark opened such a school in Brest. He founded a library for the young pupils of the city. He collected subscriptions for the Zionist press - sometimes in secret, as it was against the restrictive government laws – the Russian government did not recognize the Zionist movement. Much turning and twisting skill was needed to overcome these difficulties.

Neumark printed the Proclamation of the First Zionist Congress at the military printing press of the Russian fortress in Brest. Neumark was elected to be Brest's delegate at the first Zionist Congress in Basle 1897. However, due to insufficient funds, he was unable to go to Switzerland. He was one of the Russian delegates to the conference in Helsinki 1906, and a member of the “Sons of Moshe'. He was secretary of the Zionist organization in Minsk when W.W.1 broke out. In the last years of his life, he made aliyah to Israel and died there aged 82.


[Page 361]

Rabbi Mordechai Sheinerman

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Mordechai Sheinerman was born in Brest in 1870 and died in 1929. He was one of the original “Chovevei Zion” (Lovers of Zion). He would travel around the towns and villages of the area –preaching Zionism and winning people's hearts over to the movement. He was one of the best Hebrew teachers, and was a pioneer of the method of teaching Hebrew in Hebrew in Brest. His lessons in Tanach would be intertwined with facts and events from Jewish history, which awakened the Zionist consciousness of his students.

He was known as a prodigy in his youth. After being ordained as a rabbi he was invited to a position of rabbi in the U.S., but he declined the offer because he did not want to make money out of teaching the Torah. Physically he was not a strong man, but his spirit was proud and valiant. He was one of the organizers and activists of the Jewish self-defence in Brest. Their arm cache was hidden in the roof of his home, screened by a large apple tree. The Tsarist police would search his home looking for Zionist materials and arms, but he managed to evade arrest. In 1909 he made aliyah to Israel and obtained the position of teacher in Rechovot. His dream was to bring his family to live in Eretz Israel – but a severe illness stopped him from doing this, and he returned to Brest, a broken man. In 1925 he again made aliyah with all his family. A major crisis prevailed in the country at that time and he had a bitter struggle to find employment, until he was offered the secretaryship of the Literary Union, and it's monthly publication of “Mazonim”. He worked there until his last day.


[Page 361]

Brest in Bygone Years

as told by the elderly Doba-Yaffa to N. Chinitz

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Born in Brest in 1844, his father, Gershon Shteinberg was a lawyer. He studied in a cheder and later went to a school for children of the aristocracy. He graduated from high school in Grodno and studied medicine at the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg. He graduated with distinctions and was nominated as military physician to the Second Infantry Battalion. In 1878 he was posted with the rank of Colonel to the military garrison of Brest as doctor. In 1892 he was forced to submit his resignation because he categorically refused to convert. Because of this, he lost his right to a pension.

He was active in community work and in 1899 he joined the Zionist organization and was selected as delegate to the Zionist Congress.

He distinguished himself with defending Jews in Brest. The mobilization of reserves to be sent to the front in the Russo-Japanese War caused unrest and attempts to create a pogrom in Brest in June 1906. For his sympathy towards the revolutionary freedom movements he was imprisoned in the Brest fortress for one month in1906. In 1911, he became gravely ill and passed away in St. Petersburg. According to his will, he was buried in Israel.

He wrote articles in Yiddish describing the Great Fire of Brest in 1895, and a satirical monologue about a Jewish woman in Brest called “Hayele Mazal”,a play titled “Hinde Eidelson” in which he described Jewish life in Romania (he had been a doctor there during the Balkan Wars). He also wrote a book about infectious diseases and an article about the Kishinev pogrom.


[Page 363]

Reb. Levi - Yitzchak Winnikoff

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Reb. Levi - Yitzchak Winnikoff

 

Reb Levi Yitzchak Winnikoff was born in the shtetl of Surash, Chernigov district. In 1897 he married a daughter of the Brest community activist, Reb Zalman Tennenbaum. What was Levi –Yitzchak before his Zionist life in Brest? His entire life from his early youth was devoted to the Zionist ideals. He gave the greater part of his life and his material means to Zionism.

He himself was a Lubavitch Chassid, but gave the Zionist cause all his Chassidic devotion and zeal. He occupied important positions in the community life of Brest – he was chairman of the Keren Hayesod, chairman of the Zionist Tarbut, and head of the Jewish group in the City Council. He was a delegate to several Zionist conferences, etc. etc.

When he saw his son in the uniform of the Israeli army - he cried and said:” you'll never understand what it means to be a soldier in the Israeli army. Just as you could not understand my joy when I arrived in Israel and saw a tailor's sign in Hebrew…”

He was a General Zionist but not the usual conventional Zionist. There dwelt in him a constant holy restlessness, he was dissatisfied with every achievement, and it was never enough for him. He could not be comfortable with any of the powers that ruled Brest at various times… the Russians, Germans, Ukrainians, and later the Poles.

In 1923 when Greenbaum formed the 'Minority Bloc' in Poland, the Polish police arrested Winnikoff. In 1931 the security police demanded that he sign a proclamation to the Jewish community declaring that they should vote for the B.B. (government party). One had to have a great deal of courage to refuse this, but he treated it as his Zionist conscience dictated and did not sign.

As a result he suffered much discrimination. The authorities did not forget that he was born in Russia and cancelled his Polish citizenship. After much intercession in Warsaw, it was returned to him. He approached the central committee of the Zionist organization with the request that he be allowed to make aliyah to Israel.

After arriving in Israel, he still continued with several important community works, until he became ill - he suffered greatly as a result. Just before his death he said to those around him that one should pray for an easy death rather than an easy life. In spite of the terrible pain, he never complained. Fully conscious on the last day of his life, he said goodbye to his wife and children, adding that they should love their country as he did. He was known as the man who was the “Zionist Council” In Brest.

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