Upon the banks of these small rivers, about 900 years ago, the owner of the lands and estates of those days established a forest guard post. As the years passed, these first settlers flourished, building huts and creating a permanent settlement that they named Zalesice, that is, on the edge of the forest.
Because Zalesice lay next to the king's main road, which led from Kraków through Proszowice and Skalbmierz to the town called Wiślica, the settlers grew in numbers there. And already in the 12th century, the temporary settlement turned into a large village of noblemen. At the beginning of the 13th century, the bishop of Kraków, Iwo Odrowąż, who was known as a builder of many Christian churches in his district, built in Zalesice a stone church named for the Holy Trinity. Over time, ownership of the place changed hands many times, until it belonged to the family of knights of the house of Działosz, from which comes the name that was used from then until todayDziałoszyce.
The owners of Działoszyce, in those days, followed the example of the king's representatives, who extracted great sums from the royal villages and towns. They, too, allowed migrants who came from different parts of the country to settle there. In the days of King Casimir the Great, who reigned from 1334 to 1367, Jews, who were known since the days of the founding of the Polish monarchy as traveling merchants, were also given permission to settle in the town.
Działoszyce's convenient geographic location allowed it to develop commerce with neighboring royal cities Skalbmierz, Proszowice, and Wiślica. The fact that the town's owner reduced the resident's tax burden, in contrast to the royal towns, further assisted this [development of commerce]. Because of this, Działoszyce became in a short time a town with a Jewish majority, which engaged in commerce and worked as skilled labor. The Christian minority worked in agriculture and in certain skilled areas such as barrel making, pottery, and woodworking. Then, when the makeup of the population stabilized in the town, the owners of Działoszyce petitioned the king to grant municipal rights to the town.
According to old municipal documents, it appears that the first decree granting Działoszyce status as a town was given on July 23, 1409. It was given by King Władysław Jagiełło to the owner, Michał Bogumiłłow, in a ceremony that took place in the new town of Chorzów. This status was confirmed later by King Zygmunt I in 1520 at the request of the owner of the town, named Ostroróg. The king allowed him to collect bridge tolls in the amount of two rubels (the currency of the period). Additional authority was given by King Michał Korybut, in the first year of his reign, and also by the last Polish king, Stanisław August Poniatowski, in 1786. Permission was given to the owner, Piotr Orzowski, and since then, the number of market fairs grew from six to 12 a year, and thus weekly market days were established. An old document that was found in the municipality's archives in 1820 includes a historic description of the town of Działoszyce, written by the mayor, and a discussion of the town's municipal decrees that were granted to the town and which are mentioned above. The mayor reports that all of these decrees went up in flames, and only the decree that was granted by King Michał Korybut on September 15, 1706, to the town's owner, Jan Stradomski, based on the king's previous known decrees, was found in the town's possession. In addition, the professional unions of skilled workers (the guilds) had special decrees of their own that were granted in the first year of the same king's reign. They serve as evidence of the special decrees that were given to the town
The fate of this official document was like the fate of its predecessors; it was lost later on but receives its authenticity through a notice from Szymański, the district commissioner in the town of Miechów, which was put into the appeal protocol of March 16, 1822. It reads: The town of Działoszyce, which sits in the province of Kraków, district of Kielce, suffers from neglect, because its owners are concerned only with the well-being and growth of the churches and refuse to relinquish them [the taxes], not even a portion, for the good of the town. Moreover, with determination and, occasionally, by exerting pressure on the town's residents, they find new sources of income every time The town does not possess the original decrees that were granted to it. Whereas they were in the possession of the owners and were not returned to the town, they were destroyed in the many fires that came one after another.
The town of Działoszyce sealed its documents from 1553 with a round seal with the town's symbol in the middle. It had a lion leaping behind a wall, and around it was an inscription in Latin reading: Sigil Oppidi [Seal of the Town] Działoszyce. But on documents from 1775, which are preserved in the National Museum in Kraków, the seal has an elliptical shape, and two lions, intertwined by an ornament ending in bourbon lilies, were added to the sides of the original symbol in the middle of the seal. From 1917 until September 30, 1939, municipal documents were stamped with an identical seal with the addition in the Polish language of Municipal Council of Działoszyce.
Many changes, for the better and for the worse, occurred in Działoszyce during its long history and even in its more recent past. The years of the Russian occupation can be termed the good period. The town's Jewish population reached 75% of the total population. It quickly became affluent through commerce and a variety of businesses. Later, during World War II, in 1939, the Germans exterminated more than 10,000 Jews and destroyed most of their homes. Of the Działoszyce population, which numbered more than 12,000 people, fewer than 2,000 Polish residents remained, and they were not well-to-do.
Following are the most important events in the history of the town of Działoszyce:
In the times of the monarchy, Działoszyce belonged to the Kraków province and the Miechów powiat [county]. After the partition of Poland and the annexation of this area during the Russian occupation, the territory became part of the Pińczów powiat. During World War II, once again, Działoszyce was within the borders of the Miechów powiat, but from January 1, 1956, the town became part of a newly created powiat, Kazimierza [with the town Kazimierza Wielka as the county seat].
In 1820, the town had 1,692 residents; among them 420 were Christian and 1,256 were Jews. The Christians worked in agriculture and crafts; most of the Jewish population engaged in commerce and a minority of them in crafts. A hundred years later, according to a census conducted on September 30, 1921, the total population of Działoszyce numbered 6,765 persons; among them, only 1,127 were Christians. This relative proportion of Christians and Jews remained steady until the complete destruction of Działoszyce Jewry in 1943.
The residents of the city, who previously had been serfs of the noblemen and estate owners, acquired fields, gardens, plots of land, and buildings over the years. Although these provided them with places to live, they were forced to pay heavy taxes to the landowners. From a small village, the town grew, in 1820, to include 118 houses. Only 18 of the houses were built of brick and stone.
One hundred years later, in 1921, Działoszyce included 494 residential homes, which included 1313 apartments. In 1928, the number of houses reached 510, 75% of which were made of brick and stone. In the market square and its neighboring streets, there were also houses of two or more stories.
During the last century, the roads and several of the town streets were paved with stones. Today, there are 11 streets in the town center, all of which are paved.
An intercity highway, built in 1937, runs through the town, connecting Kielce with Kraków by way of Pińczów, Działoszyce, Skalbmierz, and Koszyce. Beginning in 1957, this road was paved with asphalt.
In 1916, the conquering Austrians built a narrow railway (kolejka) that ran from Charsznica to Kocmyrzów, passing through Miechów, Działoszyce, Skalbmierz, and Kazimierza Wielka.
In 1955, this railway was widened, but it still did not reach the normal width of the other railways in Poland. The kolejka and the bus services served as good means of transportation for both riders and cargo.
Presently, the following institutions and offices exist in Działoszyce: the office of the head of the local town council, a post office that includes telephone and telegraph services, a train station, two elementary schools, a general high school, a state orphanage, a volunteer fire brigade, a cooperative bank, a parish church, the command post of the civil guard, a pharmacy, a health clinic with two physicians and nurses, a dental facility, a veterinary clinic, a first-aid clinic, a permanent theater, a powdered milk factory, a regional cooperative for helping farmers, a work cooperative for the disabled, a cooperative for porcelain manufacture, a dairy cooperative, and a jointly-owned meat products plant.
Large gatherings, celebrations, games, and various cultural productions are held in the appropriate halls in the orphanage, in the firemen's hall, in the schools, etc.
One of the architectural achievements in Działoszyce is its large church. It rises skyward over the roofs of the highest homes in the town. The building was built to the glory [of God] in the Gothic style. The church was built in the 13th century by the then bishop of Kraków, Iwo Odrowąż. The tall walls surrounding the church cemetery give it the appearance of an ancient castle from the Middle Ages.
In 1897, a tower and a four-story tall spire were added on the western side of the church. On top, the tower was surrounded by a balcony and covered with a domed roof, like a crown jewel.
Translated by Roger Kaplan
Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang I think that there is no need to prolong the discussion about the evolution of this place's name from Zalesie to Działoszyce before it was a town. We have a satisfactory explanation from a priest's notebook, Działoszyce in the Past and the Present.
I heard from Mr. Moszek Dawid Pomeranc, may God avenge his blood, and from Mr. Mendel Frydman, who for many years financially supported the community, that there was in the possession of the community administration a book called The Community Notebook. In the book were recorded all of the important events that happened in the town, in general, and to the Jews, in particular, such as the construction of the community buildings, the synagogue, the yeshiva, the mikve [ritual bath], the fencing of the cemetery, etc. To my dismay, I never saw this notebook, which might have solved to some degree the problem of the age of the community.
Even if we were to go along with the archeologists to set the time for the founding of our community according to old headstones, this method would not lead us to a definite conclusion, since in archeology there is no great importance to 50 or even 100 years which is not so for us, when we are talking about a period that includes altogether only 300 years. In addition, it was known to all that the community was in existence for many years before it had its own cemetery. The dead were transported from Działoszyce to Książ (it is likely that on account of this the Działoszycers called the people of Książ the dead Książers). Proof of this can be seen that the Jewish community of Skalbmierz, which was close to our town and had a rabbi, a ritual slaughterer, and a yeshiva, for many years brought their dead for burial in Działoszyce, since they did not have a cemetery of their own.
Over 50 years ago, I listened once to a conversation among some elderly, and they said that Działoszyce had already existed for 300 years. Of course, they were referring to the Jewish Działoszyce. But one should not attribute much importance to a conversation such as this. Several times I strolled for many hours among the gravestones, in general, and particularly among those in the area that was called the old cemetery. If my memory serves me right, near the entrance there were some headstones that bore the years 547 [1710s] and 549 [1730s] and the entire century of the 5500s [1800s] and onwards. It was said that the date engraved on a headstone there was 5420 . I do not accept this opinion, since the letters on it were worn down, and it was impossible to ascertain with certainty what the date was.
(When I served in the Polish army in Kraków, there once was a special play for soldiers called Kościuszko Near Racławice. In this play, they showed how they caught a spy obviously he was a thick-bearded old Jew, who was brought to Kościuszko for interrogation. Where did you hear that the musicians were coming? Kościuszko asked Saul, and the spy answered, This is what Jankiel from Działoszyce told me.)
I recall this story to prove that even non-Jews in the area knew of the Jewish Działoszyce.
In general, one can assume that the community of Działoszyce existed for about 260 to 300 years, from the time of its founding till its destruction on 21 Elul 5702 [3 September 1942].
In the days of my wandering, when I was in foreign lands, in other cities, my desire was only for you. The yearnings gnawed at me. At every turn, I saw in my visions and thoughts the Sabbaths and holidays that were your wings. On Friday afternoon, the extra soul was already sensed, the long siren that was sounded from the mikve [ritual bath] was the prelude to the symphony whose name was the Shabes Queen. The awakening from above ruled over all. It is getting late, the neighbors all rushed each other. They are already sounding the siren from the ritual bath, and I still have so much to do. The housewives complained while hugging each other, and immediately I saw Jews returning from the ritual bath, their beards wet, dripping with water, their faces red from the shvitz [steam bath], rushing to get home. After all, the Sabbath was not given just for eating. It was necessary to change clothes and wear Sabbath clothing, to recite a Jewish word, the Song of Songs, and to read the weekly portion, twice in the original and once in translation.
Suddenly, the voice of the synagogue caretaker was heard,Licht tzinden [Kindle the lights], and the streets were filled with Jews dressed for Shabes, going with their children to the synagogue, with their prayer books in hand. Among them, one Jew was seen carrying a hammer and nails rushing to return home. This was the Jew who checked to see if the eruv was in place, so that it should not fail, God forbid, causing one to desecrate the Sabbath by carrying some object that is forbidden to be carried on Shabes if the eruv is not in order. There were instances that the caretakers in the synagogue would interrupt the prayers in the middle, pound on the Torah reading table, and announce: By the rabbi's word, it is forbidden to carry any object. Immediately, the children's ears perked up, because only they were allowed to carry the prayer shawls and prayer books home.
In all of the windows, candles flickered. Within a moment, each woman was transformed from a simple woman into the wife of a king, the Shabes Queen. The entire atmosphere was full of light, and the savory smell of the Sabbath foods filled the house. The prayers welcoming the Shabes were concluded. The fathers returned home. The tune of Shalom Aleichem was heard from every passageway. Next came the kidesh [blessing] over the wine. All would get up from their places to listen and to sip from the cup. Between each course, ritual songs were sung by the fathers and sons, and so it was during all of the holidays, the holidays of Israel, each holiday with its own beauty.
For a week or even more, you did not see a man or woman, boy or girl, wandering aimlessly in the street as in all of the other days of the year. They all went in rapid steps with empty baskets in their hands for shopping and full baskets and various heavy packages after shopping. Standing and engaging in idle conversation was not an option. Even from the most verbose women, one could hear a sentence in only one intonation: Oh my poor head, I have so much to do, and I haven't done anything yet.
And the ceremony of the Seder night! An entire book could be written on this alone! The sanctity of the holiday could be seen on everyone's faces. Everyone beamed with happiness and satisfaction, especially the children. They appeared to be the most overjoyed. They enjoyed every detail that appeared before their eyes from their father wearing the kitl [robe], pouring the wine, asking the four questions, reciting the Hagada [story of Passover], and the tasty foods. What a symphony of joy and gladness! And so it was on all of the fantastic holidays, each holiday with its myriad of customs. This one article is too brief to describe all of this. Many different memories appear and come to mind. Have compassion for yourselves, Jews of Działoszyce, regardless of status, rich and poor alike. Women of Israel, precious and modest. When our elders enumerated your praises, they said, among others things, that you were demure. This becomes obvious when one approaches to talk to you, so honorable.
I have mentioned just in brief all that has occurred around me when I recall your memory, Działoszyce from above. Yes, Działoszyce from Heaven! For what is there for me with the Działoszyce from below, the Działoszyce from Hell that I saw, for the last time, in the summer of 1946. I traveled to the town with a few other people in a transport truck, for business matters. We stopped in the middle of the town square, and I remembered. And this thing I remembered, I want to tell, because it was related to the handshake that was forced upon me.
It was Wednesday morning, 21 Elul 5702 [3 September 1942]. Działoszyce was surrounded by German soldiers and their accomplices, the Polish police. From all sides the echoes of shots were heard, and the members of the Jewish police reported in their professional jargon: There are already victims. I went to my mother's house to learn what had happened. There in the courtyard I met my father-in-law, Reb [title of respect] Mendel Zonenfeld, may God avenge his blood, who came to find me and to seek advice on how to hide. Some other people came. Everyone approached me and asked for news.
Suddenly, one of the neighbors left the house with a bottle of something to drink and some small glasses in his hands, and it was Reb Lejbuś Ptasznik, may God avenge his blood. In an excited voice, Reb Lejbuś called to all of us, Gentlemen, let's have a drink, so everyone drank. Knowing the situation well, I did not want to drink. But Reb Lejbuś wouldn't let me be, he forcefully shoved the cup into my left hand and took my right hand with his other hand and said, Know, son of Israel, I am taking from you now 'a binding handshake.' You are a young man, and you will remain alive. You must promise me that you will visit my grave and tell me, 'Hitler suffered a black end.'
Of course, I admonished him, saying that as a religious Jew, he must live with confidence. I reminded him of the [Talmudic] saying, Even with a sharp sword placed at a man's neck, one should not give up on Divine mercy. Yes, yes, he answered me and continued holding my hand, until finally, I promised him what he wanted.
Standing next to the truck, I also recalled that this Reb Lejbuś, who had no children, said several times in conversation with me that he and his wife, in his opinion, were unable to cope, and that she could not manage without him, and the two of them should die on the same day. And his prayer for this was answered. The two of them were murdered together with 1,645 other holy souls of our town, on 21 Elul 5702. (One of the Jewish policemen told me that he was present at the place when one of the senior officers of the Gestapo gave the order to stop the action. The account from those who did this work was that 1,645 individuals were annihilated.)
I left the truck and went by foot to the area of the trench. I approached the mass grave that was already covered with grass. I recognized the place. It was a large grave, 30 meters long, and in it, 800 murdered people were buried, and I said, Lejbuś, son of so-and-so, a holy and pure man, like the rays of heavens shine! I come today to keep my promise that I made to you with that handshake, and I am here to tell you that Hitler, the mass-murderer of all times, and those who helped him have been defeated and met a black end. After saying these words, I felt very, very bad. It seemed to me that it was not my mouth that said the words, but rather I heard them from the side, as if someone else said them. My heart beat like a hammer, and in my ears I heard noise. Dizziness came over me, and I thought that I would collapse. I regretted not telling my friend where I was going. When I returned, they knew that something happened, like some robbers had jumped me. I didn't tell them. I told them only that I just didn't feel well.
At the same time, I began to understand that actually there are two cities with the name Działoszyce, one, Działoszyce from Heaven, which remains free in my memory and in my heart and which I will miss until my last breath, and the second, Działoszyce from Hell, which all of us who were born there loathe now and it shall be cursed together with the unclean who are there, who stood against us and rejoiced at our expense when the town's children, founders, and builders were murdered. Shame on you, you banished town, who hid the blood of its holy and righteous sons and daughters! May God's fury and anger be upon you until your destruction under the heavens.
Działoszyce was a holy community. A town and a nation in Israel that is no more.
I heard many times from the elderly how a young man and an old man volunteered as assistants to the builders and specialists who were brought in from outside, most likely from nearby Przymiarka.
The ceiling was made of wooden beams by an artist who, before he began his work, first made a miniature scale model of the ceiling. They say that when he showed the model to the architect, the architect liked it so much that he kissed him on the forehead. And really, it was a very imaginative piece or work. The ceiling, looking like the sky, had tens of thousands of kilograms of blocks of wood built into it. It looked as if it were hanging from nothing. From the southern side, on the first wooden beams of the ceiling lay a metal plaque, and upon it in very large letters was written: The work of my hands for glory, which G-d granted me to build the house of G-d, Kalonimus Kalman Zilbersztajn from Chęciny, by the power of G-d. This caption showed that the building of the ceiling was completed in 5616 .
The painting and drawings were done in part on the beams and in part on metal plaques. All of the background was done in light blue, with stars of gold spread all around. On the uppermost side, all around, were 12 pictures, and upon them were the signs of the zodiac, according to the months of the Jewish calendar: for NissanAries, for AyarTaurus, for SivanGemini, etc. All of this was on the beams. From below were 12 wonderful pictures, drawn on metal, symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel with their standards, according to the order of the blessing of Jacob, our father, as in the Torah reading Veyechi. There were three pictures for each side, and underneath each picture, for each tribe, his [Jacob's] blessing for that tribe, such as: for Reuben, Reuben, my eldest, you are my strength and my firstborn; for Simon, Simon and Levi, brothers, precious vessels of their birthrights, and so on. Around each picture, in a mix of colors, wonderful flowers were drawn that after 100 years still looked fresh as if they were picked from the garden just today.
In the four corners of the hall, above, at the edge of the ceiling, there were four drawings in a large formation. A picture in each corner. In the southeast corner, the figure of a deer; in the northeast corner, a figure of a lion; in the northwest corner, a figure of a tiger; and in the southwest corner, a figure of an eagle. Under each figure was a saying in the original language from Ethics of the Fathers. But one had to read the saying according to the order of the tractate. Next to the eastern wall, you had to stand facing the entrance, looking upward, and begin reading from the side of the northwest corner, where the tiger was, and continue to the left: Be strong like the tiger, and light like the eagle, and swift like the deer, and brave like the lion. Below, under the saying, Be strong like the tiger, in small Yiddish letters was written: Khilkhin made these drawings. It was possible to read this only when standing on the other side of the corridor in the women's area. It was said that once in the 1880s, an old man, leaning on his cane, entered the hall of the synagogue, looked upward, and began to weep. The man said in German, Oy, how beautiful it still is! He threw inside a coin of ten kopeks and went on his way. This man was Khilkhin, the artist.
Unfortunately, I have no information on the artist or artists of the Holy Ark, which was the glory of the synagogue, or who prepared the multi-faced piece, so I don't know when it was made. I spoke once with Szmul Czosnek, a native of our town, a businessman and one who understands a great deal about art and artifacts, and he told me that the Holy Ark in the synagogue in Działoszyce was the product of very careful and thoughtful thinking, and those who made it knew what art is. This he said also in relation to some of the ceiling drawings.
Above the sill atop the entrance, there was a space. Inside the space, there was a stone sign engraved with the names of the committees that were involved with the establishment of the small sanctuary. About 12 names appear there, but I remember only a few of them: two by the name of Moszkowski, Reb Dawid Wdowiński, Przeworski, and I think also Rzędowski.
The bime [platform], which was for the reading of the Torah, sermons on Shabes and holidays, various community announcements about upcoming weddings, and all sorts of government announcements was, like in most Orthodox synagogues in Poland, in the middle of the room. It was 90 centimeters high and had two sets of stairs, one on the northern side, and the other on the southern side. Every Shabes evening, the prayer leader welcomed the Sabbath on the bime and intoned the Barchu prayer. The rest of the prayers took place in front of the reader's stand, on the right, before the Holy Ark. And if there was a guest cantor, whether on Shabes or a secular day, his voice was heard from the bime.
Among the regulations which the synagogue founders established was the rule concerning the first prayer service, whether on Shabes or a secular day that one must pray using the Ashkenazi ritual rather than the Sephardic ritual, which was different from that of the Ashkenazim. And most important, those who prayed took care not to say, V'yatzmach purkanei (as is the custom of the Sephardim) in the kadesh [prayer for the dead], which is said before the service, during the service, and after the service. More than once, someone came to the reader's stand, made an error, or did not know about the prohibition, and said, V'yatzmach purkanei. A great uproar would break out at that moment, and those praying would yell and bang on the lecturns, and the service would stop for a while. The prayers would then be completed by someone else. This was proof of how strong this war was that was occurring at this time among the Jews of Eastern Europe between the Hasidim and their opponents. It didn't stop in Działoszyce, in as much as the lay people stood for the most part on the side of the opponents. Things got to the point that those who considered themselves as better people saw those praying in the synagogue as inferior and thought it less honorable to pray together with them. Nonetheless, this didn't prevent them from contributing money when needed.
There is not much to add regarding the annex to the synagogue on the southern side, which was called by the name the women's synagogue. It was a one-story building and was built as a place for women to pray. It was a hall with benches, with four windows looking into the large hall, so that they would be able to hear the congregation. In the entrance to the building, above the sill, one could see a stone engraved with the full date 5639 . That indicates that this annex was built 24 years after the construction of the large building had been completed.
I saw Adas Yisroel synagogue for the last time in the summer of 1947. The bime had completely disappeared; only one piece of wood hanging on the wall remained from the beautiful Holy Ark. The hall itself had become storage for coal, cement, and building materials. Its entrance was widened so that horses, hinged to carts, could enter! But the ceiling remained in all of its splendor.
What follows are the societies that existed in Działoszyce: Biker Khoylim [Visiting the Sick], Lines Hatsedek [Sheltering the Righteous], Nihum Avelim [Comforting Mourners], Ner Tamid [Eternal Light], Shomrei Emuna Yisroel [Guardians of the Faith of Israel], Kinyan Sforim [Acquisition of Religious Books], and Khevre Kedishe [Burial Society]. True, I don't have detailed information and dates of the founding of each of these societies that I have mentioned here, but I know very well about all of the societies' existence, their activities, their mission, and function. Here I must point out that Działoszyce, in contrast to other towns, did not have societies named Escorting the Bride and Carriers of the Bed. This is an amazing thing, that in all the years of this Jewish town's existence, there was no initiative to establish these societies, even though, in regard to keeping these mitsves [commandments], the Jews of Działoszyce were no exception. They kept these mitsves according to Jewish law but not to the point of establishing special societies by these names.
Every society had its own director who was elected to the post once a year during khalemoyed [intermediate days between the first and last days of the holiday] of Passover or Sukes. Only a few of the members knew the bylaws and rules, which were detailed in the society's notebook, written by someone who was literate. It also told who spearheaded the idea to found the society, with his name inscribed during the first general meeting for future generations to remember.
The main thing that drew the society members and bound them together was, of course, the yearning for communal living. This was expressed very well in the annual meeting, during which a blessing was said. Many of the kdushes [collations], which took place, related to the function of the society and matched the weekly portion. For example, the kidesh of the Biker Khoylim [Visiting the Sick] Society took place on Shabes Veyechi, which tells of Joseph coming to visit his father, Jacob, after Joseph was told that his father was sick. The Nihum Avelim [Comforting Mourners] Society organized the kidesh on Shabes acharei mot; Ner Tamid [Eternal Light] Society on Shabes beha'alotecha; Khevre Tilim [Society of Psalms] on the second day of Sukes, which is according to tradition, the memorial day for King David; and the Khevre Kedishe [Burial Society], on the holidays on which memorials for the dead are held, that is, Shmeni Atzeret, the last day of Passover, and the second day of Shavuos.
The name of each society told of its function; every member of the Psalms Society knew that upon his joining the Society, he took on the responsibility to always recite Psalms, whether he was doing so individually or communally. According to tradition, the recitation of Psalms saves you from all harm and evil. It is told about a town that burned completely. The rabbi of the town came and told his people that in his dream he encountered a man who had recently died who told him that he used to recite twice daily all five sections of Psalms, and this had protected the town as long as he was alive.
They routinely recited Psalms on Shabes in the synagogue minyan [quorum of ten needed for prayer] in the morning, before P'sukei D'zimra [morning psalms] and morning prayers, and in the afternoon before the afternoon prayers. Also in the middle of the week, if some sick person or a woman having difficulty bearing children was in the town, they turned to the Society director, and he would immediately organize a minyan of members to recite Psalms. The kidesh organized by the Society, as mentioned above, took place on the second day of Shavuos and on the Shabes on which the reading of one of the five books of the Torah was completed. This was so, because, after reciting each book of Psalms, which as we know number five, we say yehi ratzon [may it be God's will], and then we say, by virtue of the first book in Psalms, which is paired with the Book of Genesis, etc.
Shomrei Emuna [Guardians of Faith] where this name was taken from, and what the Society members intended to do, this I would not have known had it not been for what is written in Samuel II (20:19) faith of Israel or Isaiah (26:2) guardian of faiths. Here too, the members were lay people, members of the congregation. They themselves interpreted the words Guardians of the Faith of Israel (such was the Society's full name) to be that the Society members had to make sure that there would always be a minyan in the morning and in the evening in the synagogue, especially on the coldest of days in the winter, and that people would not converse or talk during prayers or the reading of the Torah and would answer Amen when required. There were those who understood Guardians of the Faith to mean to remember to answer Amen.
Every neighborhood belonged to this society, and no one (of course, whoever was able) failed to contribute to and support it. And in almost every home, next to the Meir Ba'al Ha-Nes charity box, hung a Visiting the Sick charity box, which had written on it, For the ill of our town.
In accordance with its rules, this society had to meet its obligation regarding those who had passed away. Its members were concerned with arranging the ritual purification and, afterward, giving the dead a Jewish burial according to Jewish law. But it did not stop with that. We must remember that we are talking about a period in which there was no other organized community that had funds, officials, and workers on the payroll. The Khevre Kedishe, before the existence of democratic community committees, was made up of only volunteers, who saw their operations as holy work and a great mitsve [good deed]. We learned in the Baraita: And these are the things that man eats of their fruits in this world and their true essence is saved for the world to come and to accompany the dead. Because of this, the Society was also called by this name: Society of True Charity.
It wasn't easy to get accepted as a member of the Khevre Kedishe. There were very strict rules and different regulations and even personal commitments. First of all, every candidate had to be courageous, learned, God-fearing, and of good behavior. In the first three years of his membership, he was called by the name meludash. I heard from Reb Moszek Dawid Pomeranc, one of the well-known activists in the Khevre Kedishe, that the name meludash was taken from the Polish word młody, that is, young. During this period, he had to fill different simple roles like calling the meeting to order, collecting money from the generous, making sure that the halls were ready for the meetings, gathering food and drink for the kidesh, which was held a number of times each year, etc. After this period, he was allowed to stand and assist those engaged in purifying the deceased. Then the director would see if he was up to the job. And only after he was found to be fit for it, he was registered as a voting member in meetings for electing the director, on Tu B'Shvat [holiday for planting trees] or the first night of Passover.
Other than the main task of accompanying the dead, the Society filled additional important roles in community life. And in many instances, the same importance was given to working with those who were alive as with those who were dead. Accordingly, we are speaking here about an earlier period when there was no organized community with budgets and tax payers, and all the income and expenses of the community were managed through lists drawn up by the heads of the community. And if it happened that someone did not want to obey the community or did not want to participate in the tax collections, for example, the collection of matse money before Passover, or the buying of articles of clothing for poor children before winter came, it was sufficient to say to this recalcitrant that the Khevre Kedishe would be notified, and he would immediately return to his good ways. And if he, nonetheless, did not give in to this threat, he was immediately invited to a meeting of the Khevre Kedishe with a warning that if he did not come to the meeting, it will be recorded in the Society's notebook. And this person knew what was meant by this threat that it will be recorded in the Society's notebook.
This Khevre Kedishe notebook was the whip of fear and awe on the rich and the tightfisted. They knew that if they did not give of their own good free will what was asked of them, and if it was recorded, then the day would come when they would have to pay many times over. And if they themselves did not pay, then their heirs after them would pay hard cash. In cases like these, the civil authorities could not intervene. They could ask the Khevre Kedishe for a burial spot (as they called it then a plot of ground) for the deceased in the cemetery, but they (the authorities) could not determine which place in the cemetery the grave would be dug. Also, the Khevre Kedishe was not obligated to provide the gravedigger. It was said that once a rich miser died, and the Khevre Kedishe demanded a large sum for the plot. They [the relatives] of course refused to pay and turned to the authorities. And after three days had passed, the sons brought an order from the regional officer to the Khevre Kedishe. They were prepared themselves to dig the plot. The Society allocated a spot at the end of the cemetery near the fence. But they did not agree to this because of the shame this entailed, so they gave in and paid the full amount that was demanded.
As I said, the Khevre Kedishe, because of the conditions of the time, was a very necessary institution in public life. There was good reason why people said that the Khevre Kedishe did more for the living than for the dead. I mentioned above the invitation to arbitration. Many arbitrations were established in the Society, and in this matter, the Society was a kind of Supreme Court. There were instances that a Jew, either due to neglect or a lack of means, lost [his case] in the legal system and in the rabbinical court, but everyone knew that this man was right, and it was very distressing to him. Left with no other choice, the man turned to the Khevre Kedishe and requested arbitration. No one ever questioned the decisions of the Society. And that is because the verdict was declared only after investigation into and discussion of the matter with the help of experts.
After the establishment of a democratic society, the importance of the Khevre Kedishe diminished in our town. Many arguments broke out between the Society and Icek (Icze) Rubin, the head of the community, who founded and set up his own Khevre Kedishe. And so, two competing societies were established in the town. Of course, after Icze Rubin left, his society was dismantled, and only one society remained in the town. But, because of the new conditions of life, the Khevre Kedishe ceased being what it once was.
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