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[Pages 187 – 189]

Part III:
Customs and Tradition

What the Bet Hamidrash Was

by Hayyim Balitzki

(See English section pp. 19 – 20)


[Pages 190 – 194]

Torah and Worship

by Dov Ptasznik

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


Until it became mandatory for all children to attend public school, every Jewish child born in Dzialoszyce before and after World War I had more than one option on how to receive an education. Naturally, there was only one way that was closest to my heart. Therefore, I will attempt to briefly describe some of the names that became institutions, and, in my opinion, the life and flavor of the city cannot be described without them.

I am using the word “city,” because I never felt as though I were living in a “little town,” and that is because “whatever is on the earth also exists in the sea.” Everything that existed in the big city was also present in our town, and not only on a small scale – merchants from all the branches, craftsmen of all the professions, people from all levels of intelligence, both secular and Orthodox, Hasidim from all the various rebbe s' courts, and youth movements of all types.

I remember the celebration at the conclusion of the writing of the seyfer-toyre [Torah scroll] that was commissioned by Reb Cwi [1] Drobiarz, z”l [of blessed memory], for the shtibl [Hasidic house of prayer] of the Gerer Hasidim [followers of the rebbe from Ger (Góra Kalwaria)], where he prayed. Over the years he had assumed responsibility for paying the rent for the shtibl, and, in the end, he even built a special building and dedicated it as a place of prayer and Torah study for the Gerer Hasidim. During the dedication of the Torah scroll, major festivities took place. There were riders with multicolored banners on festively bedecked horses who galloped throughout the city in order to add to the feeling of enjoyment.

Many honors were given out to everyone in the home of Reb Cwi, z”l. From there, they transferred the Torah scroll to its permanent dwelling place. Thousands of people gathered around the house, located in the vicinity of the bridge near the post office, which was the home of Reb Abram Majerczyk, z”l, and waited for the procession to begin. Leaning on the railings of the bridge were two beggars from out of town, full of enthusiasm at this magnificent sight and the masses of people before their eyes. Then one of them turned to his friend and said, “Indeed, it is true what they say, that Dzialoszyce is a small Warsaw.”

A.

Reb Heszeli Melamed [2], z”l: Thousands of Jews lived in the city, and perhaps there were some who knew one another only from an occasional encounter in the bes hamedresh [house of prayer/study]. However, Reb Heszeli, z”l, the teacher of beginners, was someone everyone knew up close. He was the very first teacher of several generations of Jewish children who took the first steps of their education in the kheyder [Jewish elementary school] with him. In comparison to those many other melamdim [teachers] who taught at a higher grade level, this teacher, so far as I can remember, was the only one for beginners, and every child had to go through this initial stage of study. And that's why Reb Heszeli, z”l, was not only the name of a melamed but of a “concept.”

He was of short stature, thin, and with a hoarse voice. He sat every day with a taytl-tsel [wooden pointer] in his hand teaching the Torah aleph-bes [ABC's]. As is usual, the children learned the Torah aleph-bes [3] and the beginnings of reading in two to three semesters, called zmanim (a zman is a period of half a year that is between Pesakh and Sukes or between Sukes and Pesakh). However, when a student was quiet and diligent, and Reb Heszeli had nakhes [pleasure] and satisfaction from him, and also the tuition was paid regularly, he would come during the holidays to the student's home and cajole his parents into leaving the student with him for an additional semester. Sometimes, he actually succeeded in doing so.

He lived in an apartment consisting of two rooms. One of them served as the kheyder and also housed a washing machine for the laundry run by his wife, Hinka, z”l. In the evenings Jewish women would come, and even some gentiles, to bring their laundry for a spin. While doing it, they would gossip with each other about the latest news and current events.

Near the kheyder flowed a small river, and the windows of the kheyder were reflected in its stream. During breaks, the children would go out and play in the yard or on the small bridge that spanned this stream. In the event that one of the children fell into this water while playing, Rebetsin [rabbi's wife] Hinka, z”l, would sit him on the window sill to dry out in the sun, and in order to calm him down, she would give him a few of the pulim [broad beans] that she would boil and sell to the students. This was their third source of income, after the teaching and laundering – the cooking of beans.

By the way, this stream supplied energy for the flour mills that belonged to Reb Abram Kac, z”l, on the upper banks of this river, while the Wdowiński family owned land lower downstream. And every summer, they would gather the chaff that had gathered there during the year in order to ease the flow. The flour mill of the Wdowiński family was located near the community center (just as in the song “Here in the shul, and here in the mill”) that is, near the beysakneses [synagogue], the bes hamedresh, the bathhouse, and the community building. In the back entrance of the bes hamedresh, on the left side, lived the shames [sexton] of the bes hamedresh, Reb Hersz Mendel, z”l. The shames of the synagogue, Reb Wolf Federman, z”l, used to live on the top floor of the bathhouse. On the same floor also lived the cantor of the synagogue, Reb Szyja, z”l, and afterward also his son, Reb Moszek, z”l – who served after him as the cantor, following his marriage to the daughter of Reb Henoch Szental, z”l. Also Reb Wolf Habalan [ritual bath attendant], z”l, used to live on the same floor. The bathhouse itself was a most important establishment and consisted of a large steam room that got steam through the pouring of water on very hot stones, and at the bottom were two pools (mikve s) [ritual baths]. One was for very hot water, almost at the boiling point, and the second, for cold water. In addition, there were dressing rooms and also several baths covered with ceramic tiles.

B.

After a child finished his education in the kheyder of Reb Heszeli, z”l, he had a few choices as to which of the melamdim he would go. In accordance with his parent's decision, the boy was sent to continue his studies with one of the following melamdim: Reb Abram Aba Goldwaser, z”l, Reb Mendel Krzykacz, z”l, or Reb Pesach'l. And as for myself, I went to Reb Jakub Goldwaser, z”l, son of Reb Abram Aba, z”l, who was also a melamed, as mentioned above.

Reb Jakub Goldwaser wasn't only a melamed but a morah[4] as well. Perhaps because he didn't only teach fluent reading and Khumash [Torah] but also writing and math. He was a very good-looking man, and with his well-groomed beard and gold-framed eyeglasses, he commanded great respect. He was very well liked by his students. The man was the same on the inside as he was on the outside, very organized both in his manner and his instruction. He was very emphatic about being precise and orderly, and his entire temperament was slow and patient. In those days, when the stick and the ruler were an inseparable part of the kheyder trappings, he was an exception to the rule. I don't remember even one incident in which he hit or insulted any of his students. Every time, prior to our going home, each one of us would have to read a paragraph from the Tanakh [Holy Scriptures], one part written and one part oral, with translation, to emphasize reading correctly.

He used to live with his family on Dziekanowska Street in an apartment consisting of one room that was divided by a partition. In the section that was designated as the kheyder stood benches, just like in the public schools, and not tables, like in the usual kheyder. The circumstances and the crowdedness were extremely difficult to tolerate, but in spite of it all, we loved the place and hated to leave and go to a different melamed.

C.

At the third stage of the education ladder was the melamed Reb Kopel Brandys, z”l, who was also called bal alukos [owner of leeches] since he sold leeches for medical healing purposes. In my time, Reb Kopel was already an old man. He lived under very trying conditions as well. He didn't smoke, but he would inhale a very large amount of snuff, and when he breathed, a constant raspy sound could be heard coming from his lungs.

During this time an additional kheyder, the talmed-toyre, was established, which incorporated almost all the other kheyder s, and at its helm was a very nice young man whose first name I forget, H. Landau, z”l. The yo”r [yoshev rosh – chairman] of the talmed-toyre committee was Reb Josek Judka Mandelbaum, z”l. Now, the selection of the melamdim by the students or their parents was discontinued. Classes became established according to level of instruction. Examinations were administered at the end of every six months, and report cards were given out. This way the students would pass from grade to grade with the administration making the decision.

D.

The fourth level was the highest level in the talmed-toyre. The melamed was Reb Chaim Jechiel, z”l (I forgot his family name). One of his hands was crippled. I think that he was a very great talmed-khokhem [Talmudic scholar]. At that time, the entire kheyder talmed-toyre was concentrated in the building of the Jewish community, which was across from the home of Reb Abram Majerczyk, z”l. Also located there was the public library. However, after the collapse of the home of Reb Wolf Bachmajer, z”l, across from the bes hamedresh, it [the school] was moved to the community offices. The family of Reb Moszek Dayan [religious judge], z”l, and the community offices moved to the top floor of the talmed-toyre, and the upper classes were compelled to wander and moved to the bes hamedresh of Reb Abele, z”l (the name of the melamed was Reb Kopel Unger, z”l).

The learning and organization in the talmed-toyre were excellent, due to the talented and energetic headmaster, H. Landau, z”l. Secular studies were also conducted in the talmed-toyre three times a week. The teachers were Reb Szlama Rozenfrucht, z”l, for Hebrew and Yiddish, and the brothers Moszek and Abramele, the sons of Reb Szymon Kolatacz, z”l. The first one taught Polish and the second, math.

And so, at approximately 12 years of age, kheyder was completed, and the paths of the students diverged.

Some went on for further studies, some for vocations, and some for business, to help in their parents' shops.

E.

Other youths joined the graduates of the talmed-toyre and, with time, they congregated into a cohesive group under the tutelage of Reb Abram, z”l, who served as a dayan after the demise of his father, Harav [Rabbi] Reb Moszek Dayan, zts”l [of blessed righteous memory]. This group spent most of their daily hours as well as nights in the bes hamedreshor near it, learning Torah, reciting prayers, going on excursions, and playing shakhmat [chess] during their leisure.

And these were the names in the group: Chaimele Kuzma, z”l, the brother of Reb Abram and the son of Rabbi Reb Moszek Dayan, zts”l; Abramele Waga, z”l, son of Reb Moszek, z”l; Alter Zelcberg, z”l, who was better known as the grandson of Reb Chaim Szaja Kac, z”l; Herszli Nagelblat, z”l, who later moved to Kraków; Yekl Kaźmierski, z”l, and, may they have long life, Lejbel Jutrzenka (Aryeh Shachar); Motel Jagoda, who is now in Germany; and myself, the one writing these lines. All these came to the bes hamedresh in addition to the older generation that spent the entire day at the bes hamedresh or at least part of it.

F.

The voices of people chanting Torah almost never ceased within the gates of the town, voices of both those studying late into the night and of those getting up very early. During the Thursdays of the “Shovavim-TAT[5], the learners would stay up the entire night busy with studying Torah.

The learning of the Torah was inseparable from all other aspects of Jewish life in the town. It encompassed all ages – those who looked into “Hok Yaakov” [a rabbinic manuscript], the study of Mishnayos [segments of the Mishne], or the Talmud and poskim [post-Talmudic commentators]. Women would read Tsena Urena[6]. The singsong voice of Reb Pejsach Szternberg, z”l, in his studying of the Gemore [part of the Talmud] – which could be heard during the warm summer months through the open windows that looked out on the central market square – remains an unforgettable impression. As is well known, Reb Pejsach, z”l, served for many years as chairman of the community council and the Mizrachi Party.

The situation with the young during this particular period, i.e. the fifteen years prior to the outbreak of the war, was different. However, even among the youth, there was a recognizable sector that studied Torah, those who studied the entire day and others only partially.

And here I want to take special note of two large groups of young people, one in the community bes hamedresh and the other in the bes hamedresh of the Admo”r [Hasidic religious leader], ztsk”l [the holy righteous of blessed memory]. At the helm of the first group stood Harav Abram Kuzma, z”l, who I have previously mentioned, the son of Harav Reb Moszek Dayan, zts”l.

Rabbi Reb Moszek Dayan was from the Trisk[7] Hasidim; however, his son, Rabbi Abram, was one of the enthusiastic Gerer Hasidim. His prominent personality in Torah and musar [ethical teachings] had a strong influence upon all his students, and most, like the others, became Gerer Hasidim. They were well known for their Hasidic zealousness and cohesiveness and valued the study of Torah above all. This group was busy learning Torah day and night and excelled in delving very deeply into Talmudic studies. There were also questions brought by Rabbi Abram in writing to be presented to the Rabbi Hagaon [eminent scholar] [Josef Rozen] from Dvinsk [Daugavpils, Latvia], ztsk”l, who wrote the Tzafnat Paneach [8] [Discloser of Secrets – a compilation of Responsa on the Talmud and Jewish law], who was well known as the genius of Rogachev [in Belarus]. During this period, the young men yearned to receive smikhe [rabbinic ordination] and for this purpose would go to various yeshivas, mainly to the Mesivta [yeshiva of a higher level] in Warsaw. Rabbi Abram was opposed to his students studying Torah for the purpose of rabbinic ordination, and he didn't seek it for himself until he was compelled to take on the position of dayan after his father passed away. Only then was he ordained by the giants of Torah in his day, such as Rabbi [Majer] Szapiro of Lublin, zts”l, and Rabbi [Dov Ber] Weidenfeld of Tschebin [Trzebinia], zts”l, etc.

These above mentioned students themselves taught and spread the learning of Torah to younger students, both on an individual basis and through the organization of lectures in Talmud for the Pirchei Agudas Yisroel groups. There was also a period when the above group moved their teaching headquarters from the bes hamedresh to the shtibl of the Gerer Hasidim. However, after pressure was applied, with the complaint that this had caused the bes hamedresh to become deserted, they were forced to return to the large bes hamedresh, which again reverberated with life. All the Shabosim [Sabbath days] were kept fully holy according to the Torah and its commandments, and an atmosphere of holiness engulfed all the learners from which they were nourished spiritually the entire week. The sessions with Rabbi Abram, which lasted many hours in the passageway between the bes hamedresh and the beysakneses [synagogue] during the warm summer months, as well as the discussions relating to religious philosophy and other pertinent subject matters of the day, left a deep-rooted lasting impression in the hearts of all the participants.

For a period of many years we also had a yeshiva, under the direction of graduates from the yeshiva of Slabodka [Lithuania]. This yeshiva was very sought after by young men from the entire area, and they were offered meals by the local citizens. Their goal, together with the studying of Torah, was to deepen Jewish Orthodox values in the hearts of the young and to improve their character.

Regarding the other center, well, this concentrated group used to gather in the bes hamedresh of the rebbe, ztsk”l. I will leave some room for his son-in-law, Rabbi Frankel, and his brothers-in-law, who currently live with us here, to write about this topic.

Sometimes, it seems to us that all that I have described above is still in existence and that we all left it only temporarily. This is because in our subconscious mind we cannot make peace with the thought that all of this has perished and not a trace remains.



[Pages 195 – 196]

Hasidic Shtiblekh

by Aryeh Shahar (Lejbel Jutrzenka)

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


The town of Działoszyce was known in the entire area as a center for Hasids and Hasidism. It was especially known as a center of Czernobyl Hasidism. Even prior to the war [WWI], Rebbe Motele of Czernobyl would come to Działoszyce from time to time. The first time he visited the town was in 1917, and he was a guest in the home of Reb Symcha Rafalowicz. This house became the center of Hasidism after Reb Motele's influence on the population-at-large increased. He was well known for his love of each and every Jew. People from all walks of life would come to him to ask for his good advice and counsel – some on the issue of shiduchim [marriages] and others with problems of ill health, God forbid. Rebbe Reb Motele, zts”l, dispensed amulets widely, and the common folk were especially fervent followers of the rebbe. All of them believed with complete faith that the rebbe's blessings helped them with their troubles, and they especially guarded his amulets faithfully.

After the passing of the Rebbe Reb Motele, zts”l, the Czernobyl Hasidim divided their loyalty among the grandchildren of the old rebbe. Thus, there existed in town a shtibl of the followers of Reb Moszele, who lived permanently in Lublin. The shtibl of his followers was in the home of Bluma Rafalowicz. To this shtibl used to come the true Hasidim such as Reb Chaim Szaja Kac, z”l, Abram Majerczyk, and others. Among those who came were also the youth.

The rebbe who lived in Czestochowa also had very many followers. They prayed together with the Lublin Hasidim.

Reb Lejbniu, who lived in Kielce, also had Hasidim in Działoszyce.

And there was Reb Nachumcze, who lived in Warsaw. There was a special shtibl just for his followers, where a concentration of prominent and honored Jews such as Reb Becalel Biter and others attended.

Reb Chaim Josek Dziwiński was a loyal disciple of the rebbes from the House of Trisk. He used to pour whiskey from a small bottle for a few hundred men.

In the second rank of Hasidism stood the Ger Hasidim. Ger had two shtiblekh, one of them was at Reb Szyja Fiszer's, and the second one was established by Reb Herszel Drobiarz with his own personal funds. The Ger Hasidim shtibl also served as a center for Torah scholars. To it came Reb Icek Majer Szu”b [9], Reb Fiszel (Mejlech) Szulimowicz, Jechiel Englander, and Reb Abram Dayan, zts”l. In the Ger shtibl there was also a concentration of young men who were scholars, and at their head stood Reb Abram Dayan. Here they sat and worked at studying Torah with the greatest diligence from four o'clock in the morning until 12 o'clock midnight. I remember that usually we had two lessons with Reb Abram Dayan, one that started at 5 a.m. and continued until 11 a.m. In this lecture we would learn the Talmudic Tractate Chulin with all the interpretations and commentaries. The second lecture began at 5 p.m. and continued until 11 p.m. During this time, we would study Tractate Zevachim.

During the day, we would learn Tanach and the Daf Hayomi [page of the day] that had been initiated by Reb Abram Dayan, zts”l, may God avenge his blood.

There were also in Działoszyce Hasidic shtibls in which common householders prayed. For instance, the shtibl that was in the house of Pinkus Banach. Jews who were ordinary workers used to pray there. The gaboim [trustees] of this shtibl were Moszek Dawid Zelcer (Pomeranc), Majer Harchav [Big Majer], who taught preschoolers, and Abele Grandapel. To this type also belonged the shtibl of the Checiny Hasidim. In Reb Abele's bes hamedresh, Reb Awigdor and Reb Moszek Waga, z”l, served as gaboim, and Reb Moszek Fiszel Ostrowski was the communal prayer leader during the High Holy Days. The home of Heszel Melamed housed the shtibl of the Hasidim of Pińczów. The peddlers who traveled to the villages, ordinary workmen, shoemakers, and tailors, etc., used to pray there.

In our town dwelt the rebbe Reb Eliezer Halevi Epsztajn. He was the son of the rebbe Kalman Epsztajn from Neustadt [Nowy Korczyn] and the grandson of the “Hamaor Veshemesh”[10]. His home was also a center for home owners and also for many of the young people. The home of the rabbi served as a meeting place for talmed-khokhem [Talmudic scholars]. Poor people who studied the Torah were especially attracted there. Whoever went in there hungry came out full and satiated.

Prayer services designated for Jews who were of means and possessed great wealth were held in the home of Tuwia Meryn and Moszek Laskier. Anszel Horowitz was the main leader of the communal prayers. On every Shabes and yom tov [holiday], a kidesh [collation] would be served that would be sponsored by Reb Moszek Laskier and his brother-in-law, Tuwia Meryn. Moszele Laskier used to recite a Hasidic Torah teaching during the kidesh. A beautiful suke [booth used during the Feast of Tabernacles] stood there that was open to all. Whoever wished would come into the suke in order to observe the mitsve [commandment] “Dwell in the suke” and also to observe the mitsve of arba minim [the waving of four species].

In addition to the shtiblekh, there was in the town a large bes hamedresh where the sound of prayer did not cease. In it were to be found quorums of men praying from dawn until sunset. Even as late as one o'clock in the afternoon, one could find in this bes hamedresh a minyan praying; and immediately after that, they would start Mincha [the afternoon prayer]. And so it would continue until dark, and then they would start Maariv [the evening prayer]. This bes hamedresh was always buzzing with Jewish men. It served as a second home to the Jewish men of the city.

In addition to the bes hamedresh, there was also the great synagogue of the town in which the morning, afternoon, and evening prayers were recited only once a day.

Alongside of this, there was in the town the bes hamedresh of Reb Abele, zts”l. They tell a story about Reb Abele that during the great fire that engulfed the city, his house initially did not catch fire. He poured his heart out before the Holy One, blessed be He, “Am I, God forbid, not one of your sons?” His beseeching was heard, and the fire spread and took hold of his home as well, and it burned down. When he saw this, he raised his hands to heaven and said, “May the name of God be blessed! Now I know that I, too, am one of the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!”

In the bes hamedresh of Reb Abele used to sit the Melamed Reb Abram Aba who imparted Torah to his students. Also there was Reb Kopel Unger with his group of students. This bes hamedresh was situated in the home of Reb Gerszon Szental, and there was also the shtibl of the Grodzisk Hasidim in which Jews of great wealth used to pray.




[Page 197]

Dedication of Torah Scrolls to the Synagogue

by Josef Kac

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


This happened in the years when the Russians still ruled the Kingdom of Poland.

I remember how one day Torah scrolls were dedicated in the synagogue in Działoszyce. I was a young boy of about six or seven years old, a pupil in the kheyder, God fearing with my whole being. The joy and happiness that prevailed during the dedication of the Torah scrolls to the synagogue was communal but also involved each and every individual. For three days the town celebrated; all of the businesses were closed. The festivities were apparent in the streets and in the homes. In front of every other house its inhabitants put out a stand, and on it, they served baked goods, sweets, and also various drinks. Horses were brought to the town, and riders with effigies rode on them. It was like a big carnival. The riders rode through the streets of the town and were treated everywhere with food and drink. In my eyes, it seemed like a very impressive procession the likes of which I had never seen before. We children were happy and exuberant. We accompanied the carnival, and we, too, partook of the refreshments.

For three days, happiness prevailed in our midst. On the third day, a formal parade was organized and included all the citizenry of the town. Heading this procession marched the rabbi with the musicians, the Torah scrolls were put under the khupe [canopy], and with music, song, and dancing, and with honor befitting kings, the Torah scrolls were placed into the Aron Kodesh [holy ark] in the synagogue.

Prior to the Invasion of the Town by the Austrians

During World War I, when the Russians abandoned the town and before the Austrians occupied it, the Jews, together with the Poles, planned to establish a joint militia. Right from the outset the Poles showed their true faces. They agreed, as if to cooperate with us. However, immediately, on the first day of this joint venture, a bullet escaped from someone's rifle, and one of the Jewish boys was killed. Due to this incident and because of the influence of some of the community leaders, the young Jews left this militia. The first experience of this youth organization had ended in failure.

After some time, the plague of typhus erupted in the town, and again the Jewish youth got organized into a group that was called Lines Hatsedek [society to care for the sick]. The purpose of the organization was to assist the sick with money and medication and treat the poor who became ill. The money was collected on a “Flower Day” [day when flowers were sold to raise money]. We would stick a flower into the lapel of people's clothing, and they would donate whatever amount of money they wished. On holidays, we would help the poor with food supplies. Slowly, slowly, the organization started to change its image. A Zionist spirit seeped into the town. People started learning Hebrew, and with the passage of time, this group evolved to become the organization Hapoel Hamizrachi [Mizrachi Labor Federation].




[Pages 198 – 200]

The Arrival of Shabes In Our Town

by Tauba Avni (Szydlowska)

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


There was a special character to Shabes, which had been kept sacred throughout all the generations as a day of holiness, rest, and joy in which man followed in the footsteps of God, who had Himself rested from all His work.

An atmosphere of holiness and peace descended as though from heaven and brought with it an extra soul that is implanted into a Jew on the eve of Shabes, and this influences his experience of life on Shabes. This festiveness puts its distinctive imprint on this special day and causes a change from the weekday behavior of Jews. Not everything is permitted. One is not allowed to think about mundane affairs. This day was created for rest, and this is the reason that change is noticeable in all one's actions. People are involved in praying, in delving into holy books, and especially in reading the Torah portion of the week. They repeat the reading in order to remember and again to reflect in their thoughts on the holiness and special character of Shabes. And afterward, they involve themselves in actions for the sake of the Creator. This day was designated by the Creator of the World for prayer and rest, and this is how Jews maintained this day in all their years of exile. They fought with all their being those who wanted to desecrate the holiness and peace of the Sabbath day. Preparations for Shabes actually started at noon on Friday. The preparations to celebrate Shabes involved no small effort – everything needed to be made ready already on Friday. A Jew had to be careful not to stumble, God forbid. One had to avoid the forbidden and use caution to stay away from any sin.

Six days they toiled and worked very hard in order to earn a livelihood. But when Friday arrived, all those Jews whose work took them away from their homes returned. They came back laden down with bundles associated with their trade. In their pockets were a few golden coins for the upkeep of the household that was filled with small children. The truth was that everyone awaited the arrival of Shabes. Most of the town's inhabitants were in dire need of rest, since many of them barely eked out a living in their wanderings during the week from village to village in their quest – with sweat and brow – for a livelihood. After they brushed off the dust of their wanderings from themselves, they prepared to welcome the holy Shabes queen.

Darkness descended on the town, and the bes hamedresh [house of study] and the shtiblekh [small Hasidic houses of prayer], each according to their type, filled up with congregants, and the voices of singing and praying were heard from all sides. And in the homes, the table was covered with a white tablecloth, fully set, with wine ready for kidesh [Kiddush – benediction over wine], and near it, the kiddush cup made of silver – a wedding present. Freshly baked challahs, covered with a cloth embroidered with the words “Lichvod Shabbat, ” in honor of Shabes. The Shabes candles in their candelabras glowed with a light that not only lit up the darkness but also penetrated one's heart with a new adorned light. A light of hope that life would yet be good. And so, together with their family, they celebrated Shabes. They partook wholeheartedly with pleasure from a fulfilling meal, sang verses of zmire s [Shabes songs], and concluded by saying the Birkat Hamazon, the grace after a meal, in a quiet tone due to their fatigue, which had accumulated from the pressures and responsibilities of the week gone by. Slowly, slowly, the streets of the town became quiet. Peace and tranquility descended, and the town became enveloped in the holy spirit of Shabes.

The Study of Hebrew in our Town

In my youth, it was customary for each Jewish household to send their children to study, to learn to read a sidur [daily prayer book] while they were still small.

My first teacher who taught me the Hebrew letters was Rebetsn Pesel. She herself had few credentials in this respect. However, her husband, Reb Akiba, was the rov [official town rabbi] and dayan [religious judge] and altogether a most pleasant man. He was the one who “lent” her some of his authority.

Both were poor and destitute. The house they lived in was poor and dark, and a tall person had to bend down in order to enter it. In their entire lives neither of them had ever voiced a complaint against the Creator.

He, for his good counsel, and she, for her reading lessons given to girls, refused compensation. I remember that on more than one occasion when I came there to study, I left a small bundle of money in a corner without anyone noticing.

An open sidur always lay on her table, and on it, the small pointer to help in the reading. When a girl came to study, Rebetsn Pesel would drop her work and immediately proceed to teach the holy letters. She was happiest when her efforts were rewarded with good results.

When I grew older, I entered a public school where we did not have any religious studies. That is why in the evenings I studied Hebrew with Rabbi Reb Heszele. He was a well-known rabbi in the city; he had a designated kheyder where he taught Torah to the children in the town. He also took us on for a monthly fee, even though he really didn't have any time available.

I remember how a few of us girls came together in order to study with him. The rabbi drove all the children outside, took the pointer in his hand, and read with us page after page. He felt very proud that he was also teaching girls. He was a very good person and a devoted rabbi. These small students were his pride and joy. Who knows what the fate of our teachers was? Who died peacefully and who perished as a holy martyr at the hands of the German animals?

May the memories of all those holy individuals that dispensed Torah publicly be blessed.

The Donation of Money to KKL [Keren Kayemeth l'Yisroel] on Tu B'Shvat

Tu B'Shvat [holiday on which trees are planted] occurs, as is known, in the wintertime. Also, in our country, the children await its arrival and hope for a nice day so they can celebrate this occasion with great joy.

In our town, cloudiness and very cold temperatures marked this day. In the evening of this day, I was asked by Josek Brandys, z”l, who was then responsible for the activities of Keren Kayemeth l'Yisroel [Jewish National Fund], to find myself a partner and go collect money for this fund.

Everyone took on this job with great willingness. Brandys gave me a bag with unshelled peanuts (we called them then peanuts of Eretz Yisroel), a bag with figs, and many more small bags. He asked that I distribute the fruits and collect 35 kopeks for each fruit bag. My partner was Mancia Brojges, z”l.

This job was a great honor for us. We started this work in the afternoon, but since this was the wintertime, by four o'clock, it was already dark outside.

But who paid attention to the darkness? We went from house to house, collecting donations, and we felt that a great responsibility rested on us – as though with this money, we could redeem all of the Land of Israel.

I remember entering one home. This Jew, the head of the household, didn't have enough money to donate the entire amount of 35 kopeks and only gave us 10 kopeks. We, on our part couldn't give him the full bag with fruits for this amount. He was very sad. What did we do? We took money from another, larger donation, added this to his amount, and gave him the bag with fruit. He was very glad that he got something, and we were again happy that the amount of 10 kopeks was added to the fund.

It was already seven o'clock. The box became filled with coins and our hearts with joy and pleasure. All of a sudden, I remembered that we hadn't as yet visited the Dziekanowice area. Three brothers lived there; two of them were Zionists and would donate very willingly to the blue box. But what would happen if when we got there, to spite us, only the third brother would be home? We asked and decided to go, but just as I had suspected, we were out of luck this time. The third brother (whose name I don't recall) refused to donate even one coin to the cause.

We were greatly disappointed and wanted to go home. Suddenly, it seems as though a spark had ignited his heart. He made us come back inside the house, gave us refreshments, and even donated a nice amount. He told us, “Wait for Majerek (the name of the loyal Zionist brother). He will give more, so that your coming should be worthwhile.”

And this is how it was; Majerek came in, greeted us warmly, complimented us profusely, filled our boxes, and sent us home.

I remember that it seemed to us that in the whole entire world, there wasn't another person happier than we.




[Pages 201 – 203]

Teachers in Działoszyce

by Aryeh Shachar (Lejbel Jutrzenka)

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


Before the outbreak of World War I, and after the war as well, there weren't any organized schools in Działoszyce. The education of Jewish children was entirely left in the hands of private teachers, and each of these would take students into his private home and teach them Torah there. The teachers were divided into five groups: 1) Teachers of dardeke [the youngest children], 2) Teachers of Khumesh und Rashi [Torah and Rashi commentaries], 3) Teachers of Mishnayos [passages from the Mishne (code of oral law)], 4) Teachers of Gemore [commentaries on the Mishne], and 5) Teachers who belonged to a special group who taught Torah to grown young men and “geniuses.”

The custom in Działoszyce was that when a boy reached the age of three, he would immediately have his hair shaved off, leaving him with nice long peos [side locks] alongside his face, and he would be brought to kheyder [Jewish religious school]. Those who belonged to the group that taught dardeke were: Heszeli Melamed [11], Josek Lejb Melamed, and Henoch (Heniek) Szental. It was customary that the melamed [teacher] would be invited to come to the home of the child and, together with the parents as a group, would escort the child to the kheyder. And there the child would start learning the alef-bes [ABC's – alphabet].

Each teacher had his own method of motivating the children to learn Torah. For example, Heszeli would combine his teaching with the awarding of peas. When he was teaching the little tots the alef-bes and wanted the toddler to repeat after him, “Alef,” he would put a pea on the letter “alef.” Of course, the tot would want the pea, but he would not get it until he first said, “Alef.” Josek Lejb used to pass out candies when the child read the Krias Shema [recitation of the Shema] [12] well. Henoch Szental would put fear into the children, since he was handicapped and limped from the waist. Each of these dardeke teachers had a pointer that was used to point out each letter. In addition, each of these teachers had an assistant. The job of the assistant was to bring the children to the kheyder and take them back home after their studies.

After a year or two of learning to read the alef-bes, the little fellow would be transferred to a teacher of Khumesh [Torah]. The teachers of Khumesh were: Josek Pesach'l, Lejb Wolf, and Abram Aba. Their custom was to make a big festive Khumesh celebration at the beginning of the “season.” During it, the children would proclaim and affirm that they, thank God, were already big and mature, and now the time had arrived for them to learn Khumesh. It was no longer necessary to bring them to the kheyder; they already knew their way and could get there on their own. With the Khumesh teacher, the children would study for two to three years, and this was because they also would begin learning Rashi [13]. Learning Rashi was for them a totally new phenomenon, since the letters used by Rashi were completely different from the usual lettering, and also, there was no punctuation.

At this Khumesh celebration, the teacher would ask the child, “My child, my dear one, what are you learning?” “Khumesh.” “What is the meaning of Khumesh?” “Five.” “Five? What does five mean?” “Five, these are the five books of the Torah, and they are Breyshes, Shmoys, Vayikro, Bamidbor, and Dvorim [Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy].” “Which Khumesh are you learning?” “Vayikro.” “What is the meaning of the word 'Vayikro'?” “To call. God called to Moses and taught him the order of sacrificial offerings… and just as the sacrifices are holy, so too, the children of Israel are holy (a holy flock).”

When the children had finished their studying with a Khumesh teacher, they immediately transferred to continue their studies with a Mishnayos teacher. Those who belonged to the group of Mishnayos instructors were: Szymon Unger (son of Kopel Szyman Ruchel's [son of Kopel who was the son of Szymon and Ruchel]), Kopel Brandys (Pipczuk) and Mendel Krzykacz. The instructors of the Mishnayos had a much tighter regimen. During the winter they would sit and study at night. Each child would make a lamp constructed from paper. He would put a candle inside it that would light the way to the kheyder and the way back home. They would conclude their studies at night. Toward the end of the winter, they would make a big festive celebration for all the children. A large number of children stayed to study at the Mishnayos instructor two to three years, and with this festive celebration, they would conclude their studies in the kheyder.

The main reason for this was the large expense incurred by the tuition. Not everyone could afford to pay for the continuation of studies. Only those students whose parents could afford it economically, or the children who were really gifted and showed promise, continued to study with the Gemore instructors.

The group of Gemore teachers were: Kopel Unger (Kopel Szymon Ruchel's), Jakub Melamed, and Akiba Dayan (Bocek). Those who continued to study with these teachers had to apply themselves very intently to their studies. Here, in the Gemore kheyder, the students reached the age of bar mitsve [coming-of-age ceremony at age 13].

It was customary with these teachers that on Shabes, after the noon meal, the pupils would visit the prominent scholars in the city in order for the students to be tested on the extent of their knowledge of the Gemore. The examiners were: Reb Icek Majer Szu”b, Friedberg, Fiszel Szulimowicz (Mejlech), Chaim Szaja Kac, and others. When a student did well on his test, the examiners would reward him with a portion of Shabes fruit.

After the pupils completed studying with the Gemore teachers for two semesters, those boys who really excelled in their studies transferred to study with the teachers for adults. Actually, only a very small number of young men reached this level, since the teachers for adults would lecture on the Torah before only eight to ten students. Among the adult educators were: Chaim Jechiel, Jakub Melamed, Abram Moszek Szenker, and Benjamin Rotsztajn. They would study Gemore with toysfes [supplementary commentaries on the Talmud] and all the other commentators and their interpretations with them. Whoever was worthy and succeeded to study with these instructors for a year or two didn't leave them until he became a true Torah scholar.

A portion of these students continued afterward in the large yeshivas of the Mesivta type [yeshiva high school] in Warsaw, Beit Meir in Kraków, and other yeshivas, or they would elect to study in the bes hamedresh in our town that was under the direction of Abram Dayan, zts”l.

Among those who studied in the big yeshivas were: Jakub Kaźmierski, Alter Kac, Herszel Nagelblat, and others. All of them perished in the great Holocaust that engulfed Polish Jewry.

Among the rest of the educators there was also a modern one. They nicknamed him Yekl [14] Hamorah [teacher, in Hebrew] (Jakub Goldwaser). He educated the sons of modern families with higher economic standings. He had a special room that was like a classroom, equipped with a blackboard, rulers, and benches that were suitable for young children in which were ink holders and a place to put pens. He accepted students from the age of five until Gemore level.

In Działoszyce, there was also a woman who was active, the Rebetsn Machel, wife of Reb Jakub Dayan. She would go to private homes and teach girls how to read and pray from a sidur.

This was the Orthodox and traditional way of teachings in Działoszyce before the axe descended on the holy congregation.




[Pages 204 – 205]

The Rebbe Reb Joskele

by Naftali Szydlowski

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


Reb Joskele's full name was Josek Dawid Frydman. His father's name was Szulim. He descended from a family of Kohanim [priests], and this illustrious lineage was handwritten in a genealogical document. My mother told me that the father of the rebbe traveled in his youth to a far away place and took along with him this scroll of noble ancestry. The father was a God-fearing man, a Hasid, and a businessman who would travel to the big market fairs that were taking place during that time. His home was in our town of Działoszyce.

His son, Josek Dawid, learned much Torah in the yeshivas and was quite outstanding in his studies, actions, and behavior. He was very modest, with a good temperament, loved people, and was a Hasid. It seems that he developed a very good reputation, because after the rabbi of our town passed away, the Orthodox community of Działoszyce asked that he become the rav [official town rabbi][15]. He was then still a young man, married, and living with his wife in a different town. It seems that he probably was part of the tish [table][16] of his father-in-law, which was the custom in those days. In any event, one thing is for sure, he did not own a large estate or rich farmland. As we have already mentioned, his lineage was not of a rabbinic family, but he had earned the reputation of a prodigy whose expertise in Torah and poskim [post-Talmudic commentators] were of a very high level as was his personal conduct and behavior.

From the stories that my mother, z”l, told me, I recall two:

(A) One time a man from Działoszyce traveled to a rabbi in a different town to ask that he pray for his sick wife. This rabbi told him: “In your town there is Reb Joskele, so why are you coming to me? Go back to your town and turn to him to pray for your wife.” And this is what happened; he returned, came to the rebbe Reb Joskele, the rebbe prayed, God helped, and the woman returned to good health.

(B) Reb Joskele's first wife passed away at a young age, and he married a second time. His [second] wife bore him a daughter (by the way, I remember this daughter who used to come to Działoszyce to her ancestors' gravesites; my mother, z”l, introduced her to me with these words: “This is Aunt Pifa, the daughter of [my] grandfather, Reb Joskele.”

The rebbe detested gifts and refused to accept them. One time a Jew came to seek counsel from the rebbe, and since he knew that the rebbe refused to accept money, this Jew gave a large monetary gift to the rebbe's wife in order for her to marry off their daughter who was already an older single girl. When the rebbe heard of this, he became very angry and demanded that the money be returned. But this Jew had already gone away and disappeared. My mother told this story during one of Aunt Pifa's visits to us.

I also know that the rebbe did not want his son, Naftali, who was my grandfather, to become the next rebbe after him. He stood his ground on this, insisting that his son become a merchant instead.

I have no knowledge when he was born or died; however, according to my calculations, he was born in the beginning of the last century and passed away during the 70s or 80s of the nineteenth century. As I mentioned above, he left after him a son by the name of Naftali and a daughter from his second wife by the name of Pifa – who married, if I am not mistaken, someone from her town, Chmielnik. This is all that I know, and perhaps there were other offspring, but I myself have no knowledge.

After he passed away, the Jews of Działoszyce erected an oyel [structure over a grave] at his gravesite. This is probably because of his exalted and widespread reputation. People used to come to his grave to pray and ask for God's mercy.




[Page 206]

Reb Kalman Dayan

by Alter Horowitz

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


My grandfather, Reb Kalman Dayan, z”l, was the head judge in the town and also a wise Jew. Because of this, he appeared on many occasions as a representative on behalf of the [Jewish] community before governmental administrative offices in Kielce.

They tell of an interesting episode that happened during one of his travels. Reb Kalman went to Kielce once on a horse-drawn wagon, which was the customary means of travel in those days. The wagon passed by a Catholic church that stood along the road, and the gentile driver continued to travel without removing his hat or crossing himself. So Grandfather demanded that the driver return him to his home. When he refused, my grandfather disembarked from the wagon and spoke to him these words: “I refuse to go on my way with a person who does not respect his own religion.”

The gentile was very surprised to hear such an observation, and all his pleadings with Grandfather to continue traveling with him were to no avail.

Reb Kalman Dayan was one of the founders of the Chęciny shtibl in Działoszyce and was beloved and revered by the entire large Hasidic community.




[Pages 207 – 209]

Ignacy Mann – The Rabbi and his Pupil

by Chaim Schwimmer

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


In Działoszyce there lived a beloved Jew, Szyja the khazn, who came from a very well known family of cantors. Their last name was Śpiewak, a literal translation of the word khazn or “singer,” and as his name, so was he – his whole being was permeated with song.

Had Szyja the khazn lived in a big city where there was a possibility of studying music, he would surely have attained the status of conductor or composer or even beyond. But since he was born and raised in a small town, he was limited by his fate. Still, he performed his position as cantor in the shul in the best way he could and conducted a choir that would not have embarrassed towns far larger than Działoszyce.

In Cantor Szyja's choir, there was a boy by the name of Ajzyk Bulowka, who was blessed with a glorious voice. People from the area would come to listen to him in awe.

Ajzyk Bulowka, or Ajzyk Bułka[17], was an orphan, with no father, no mother, hungry, unclothed, and barefoot, as if he had fallen from a strange planet.

As the month of Elul approaches, the days become shorter. Leaves drop from the trees, and there is a cool wind blowing. The town wraps itself in sanctity. The fish in the sea begin to tremble and, certainly, also the Jews. They are seized by the fear of the Day of Judgment, the Days of Awe [High Holy Days].

The Jews test the shofars [ram's horns], and the prayer leaders walk around with their necks wrapped in shawls to avoid catching cold, God forbid, which would prevent them from being able to carry out their mission. They gargle all day long. The sextons polish the windows and the copper candelabra in the shul and the bes hamedresh. The women dig out old makhzoyrim [holiday prayer books] yellowed by time and tears. The cemetery comes alive with the whole town coming to visit their deceased relatives to ask them to intercede for a good year for their near and dear ones who are still alive.

Ajzyk Bulowka used to spend the whole month of Elul at the cemetery, singing “El Mole Rakhamim” [memorial prayer for the dead] for everyone, and his heavenly voice rolled over hill and dale around the cemetery. Some gave him money for his efforts, some just gave him thanks, but this is how he earned his living, and it had to suffice him for the whole year.

When he turned 18, they married him off to Mizer, the grain-merchant's daughter. A young man who was involved in holiness, a chorister for the khazn who sang “El Mole Rakhamim” at the cemetery and perhaps might even achieve the post of khazn himself in a neighboring shul – it just didn't seem right that he be by himself. There is, after all, an explicit verse: “At eighteen to the khupe [marriage canopy],” so some kind people intervened and put together the shidekh [match].

Despite his father-in-law not being in the least bit wealthy, Ajzyk's situation became infinitely better. He left his loneliness behind him and joined a family that reanimated him to some extent. Ajzyk did not at that time have great ambitions, but Szyja the khazn fretted about how such a treasure, such a dear voice, should be lost. He begged and cajoled the Jews who were well-off to provide the possibility of his being able to study, until they acceded to his demands.

Ajzyk began to study music in the big city, and his teachers foresaw a great career for him. His voice developed a richer tone, and he gave concerts throughout Poland. Later, he was accepted at the Lemberg [now Lviv] opera, where out of Ajzyk Bulkowa, the great opera singer Ignacy Mann came into being. He was especially known for his performance in Halevy's opera La Juive. After the premiere of La Juive, the applause and wonder were so great that when he left the theater, people raised him aloft and carried him on their shoulders out of great enthusiasm. This was during the years when his artistry was at its greatest.

In 1923, when I was in Szczawnica, I saw posters advertising a concert by Ignacy Mann. I walked over to the hall, and in the ticket office sat a red-haired woman. I did not know that she was Mann's wife. As I was standing there, I remembered Szyja the khazn's story. I said then that I wished to speak with the singer. And suddenly, he came out. As soon as he saw me, he recalled his childhood in Działoszyce. He had kept a strong feeling for the little town and the memory of his experiences in Działoszyce even until he attained his present status.

He later came to Israel and took a position as the cantor of the Great Synagogue in Haifa, where he enjoyed the fruits of his mentor, Reb Szyja Śpiewak, z”l. He also became an instructor in the development of the voices of the younger generation in Israel. He died in Haifa a few years ago. May his memory be blessed.




[Pages 210 – 212]

The Town Cantor

by Moshe Salomon

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


One of the most interesting and special individuals in Działoszyce was the town cantor, Reb Szyja Śpiewak, z”l. He was the shaliakh tzibur [prayer leader] with a very pleasant voice and was a great expert in the interpretation of passages. He served the community of Działoszyce for the duration of two generations.

Reb Szyja was born in the 60s of the past century [19th]. He studied in the kheyders and absorbed the fear of heaven and love of people. During his youth, the congregants, while sitting on the benches of the bes hamedresh, would listen to his pleasant voice when he chanted Torah. The learned elders of the town predicted for him a glowing future as a cantor. His voice was a legacy that he had inherited, since he came from a family of cantors going back several generations.

Until the day of his marriage, he perfected himself in the various styles of prayer, deepened his knowledge in the ways of singing, enhanced and enriched his voice, and was privileged to be offered the position of chief cantor in the town synagogue right after his wedding.

However, Reb Szyja wasn't content to merely do this one job but followed in the path of other famous cantors. He organized a choir that at the beginning was small and inadequate, but, ever so slowly, it attracted more youth as well as adults with pleasant voices. The beautifully harmonized singing of this choir on Shabes and holidays could be heard from afar, and the gentiles in the area would listen to it sometimes as well.

The apartment of Reb Szyja was located in the building that contained the public bathhouse and wasn't far from the synagogue. This apartment was spacious, and in it resided the branches of the cantor's family, which included his many sons and daughters. The apartment also served as a conservatory for the choir, which would meet there on a regular basis during the weekdays in order to study and perfect the different styles and melodies for the holidays that occurred.

Reb Szyja succeeded in raising and bringing up his offspring in the ways of the Torah and their Jewish heritage. Even before his sons matured, they left the town one by one, and also Poland, and dispersed to the wide world. Among different destinations, they went to the United States, Argentina, Holland, and so forth. They found their niches, some in business and some in other enterprises, and their economic situation was secure.

His two daughters and one of his sons (who first immigrated to Holland and then returned) stayed in Poland and greatly helped their father to maintain the legacy that had been bequeathed him by his father.

Reb Szyja Śpiewak was a Jew of average height, broad shouldered, with a long beard that adorned his smiling warmhearted face. His eyes reflected softness and goodness, and in them a constant spark was glowing.

His large home was open to any visitor, and all who stepped across his threshold immediately felt the warmth that emanated from the personality of their host. It was a customary tradition in the cantor's family to run an open house, and the acceptance of guests into their home was looked upon as emulating the values and qualities of our forefather Abraham. In addition to this, Reb Szyja distinguished himself with his open heartedness and selfless willingness to help each and every needy Jew.

It is worth mentioning that the daughter of the cantor, Tajbela, was blessed with great talent in the art of music as well, and it was she who conducted the choir when it was first formed. She was also knowledgeable in the reading of musical notes and talented as a conductor. Because of this, she was able to imbue in the choir's members a love and enthusiasm for their singing, so that their attitude created an aura of worship adorned with a halo of heavenly holiness. In the years when this choir was at its peak, it had 34 singers who were divided by Tajbela, the conductor, into four separate groups of voices. They brought immense pleasure to the ears of their listeners with their harmonious melodic singing. The members of the synagogue greatly appreciated their choir.

It is worth noting here that the members of the choir worked devotedly for a relatively long time without compensation. Their singing was more than just a simple hobby. They viewed it as a holy work perhaps similar to the task of the Levites in the holy Temple.

One of Reb Szyja's sons, Moszek, followed in the footsteps of his father. He learned from him the most important aspects of being a cantor and later continued this holy work on a high level.

For forty years Reb Szyja served as the cantor for the community of Działoszyce and as its prayer leader – with his pleasurable melodies during the holidays and festivals and on those Sabbaths where they blessed the new month, as well as each day of the year. The congregants of the synagogue viewed him as their defender-protector-mediator who, with the help of the accompanying choir, offered his prayers to our Creator, blessed be He, and their singing was like hearing the conversations of the heavenly angels.

The cantor, Reb Szyja, was particularly moving during the High Holy Day services. Covered with a talis [prayer shawl] and a white kitl [robe], he would stand in front of the bime [platform], spilling out his heart before the Creator, asking that the forthcoming new year be a healthy, prosperous, and peaceful one. The entire large congregation listened with awe and trepidation to his pleas. While all of these prayers were being recited, the Holy Ark was opened and the holy seyfer-toyres [Torah scrolls], with their ornaments and decorations, looked as if they were gazing at the congregants. It seemed as though they were silent witnesses to the struggle and conversation that was taking place between the cantor, Reb Szyja, and the Creator of the World.

It was very pleasant indeed to observe how people would shake the hands of the cantor at the conclusion of the prayers and say with great devotion, “Thank you so much Reb Szyja. May it be so, that your prayers emanating from the depth of your heart be recorded and received by the Creator of the World.”

The lofty virtues of Reb Szyja strengthened the choir members' faith and their love of the Creator and also their love of their fellow men, as it is written: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

The daughter of the cantor, who conducted the choir for many years, discovered among her friends a poor orphaned boy by the name of Ajzyk Man. He had a strong voice and was very musically talented. She persuaded her father to take upon himself another superhuman effort, to collect funds from the wealthy and prominent people in town to send this youth to the big city so he could complete his studies at the music conservatory.

It came to pass. This lad studied and excelled and with the passage of years became an opera singer [as Ignacy Mann] in Lwów [now Lviv, Ukraine] and in other places. In the late 30s, he arrived in Eretz Yisroel and assumed the position of chief cantor in Haifa. He was also an instructor for voice training, and many well-known prominent singers and cantors graduated from his school. A few years ago, he passed away in Haifa, where he was greatly respected and held in high esteem by all.

When the cantor Reb Szyja reached the age of 50 and beyond, he became sick with all sorts of illnesses and ailments. His strength left him, and he was unable to continue his cantorial duties. Left with no other choice and unwilling to break the continuous chain of his forefathers' legacy, he appointed his son Moszek to serve as cantor and holy envoy in his stead. He also put forth a tremendous amount of effort, in spite of many difficulties, to continue the existence of the choir. This was the final effort of Reb Szyja on this earth. As though mimicking the work of ants without weariness, and with the help of Tajbela as the conductor, his son Moszek continued to serve as the cantor of the synagogue together with the choir, the pride and glory of the entire city of Działoszyce.

Thus the cantor Reb Szyja Śpiewak and his son Moszek performed their holy work, and the choir along with them, until the arrival of the great destruction. Suddenly, the horrible Shoah descended upon our people and destroyed everything, the Jews of the city, the community, and along with them their prayer leaders forever.




[Pages 213 – 215]

My Father, the Community Activist

by Moshe Drobiarz

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


My grandfather, Abram Icek Drobiarz, may he rest in peace, was a Działoszyce Jew with a majestic face, a beautiful long beard, and a penchant for doing good deeds. His whole life was spent in philanthropy. He loved to do good deeds for people with his whole heart, as Jews did in the old days. Among other things, he gave up a room in his house for a house of prayer, where 40 or 50 men would come together on Shabes and Holy Days. He himself was a Hasid [Hasidic follower] of the old Pińczów rabbi, z”l, who fasted many entire days. I stood at his bedside when he died at the age of 87.

My father, Herszel Drobiarz, had someone from whom he learned good character and to do good deeds – his father.

As I remember from my earliest days, he carried a list of Hasidic rabbis, other rabbis, rabbis' associates, sextons, sages, and educated Jews who, as was customary, did not have great wealth. Father sent gifts of money to them with an open hand to make sure that no Jewish household, God forbid, suffered any need on Shabes and the Holy Days.

When I had grown up a bit and began to understand the essence of the world, he sent me more than once to carry out this sacred duty.

When winter arrived, Father bought whole wagonfuls of potatoes, coal, and wood, which he distributed to the needy families, according to his own understanding. Some called on Father themselves to collect their portion, and to others, he sent the winter aid with coachmen and carriers to their homes.

In addition, he founded an interest-free loan institution. At the beginning, he gave loans without interest to ten people. Later, he systematically broadened the credit to about 50 families. Every Sunday, the fund gave out loans, and on Fridays, the people who owed money paid back a portion of their debt. But he did not think this institution was enough, so he created something else.

We were seven children in a two-room house, so it is obvious he could not do what his father, z”l, had done and offer a room for prayer. So he decided to rent a dwelling from a woman, Grusi Alter, which was located near the kosher butcher shops. He paid the rent and turned it over to a group of Gerer Hasidim to use as their shtibl. For this, and for his many other good deeds, my father, z”l, was held in great honor and esteem.

In the meanwhile, he ordered a new Torah for the prayer house from the scribe. It took two years to write the scroll. The procession and the glorious ceremony of carrying the Torah to the shul became the most joyful event for the Jews of Działoszyce. I believe there may be sons of the town among us who remember that jubilation.

With time, the congregation grew, and the shtibl became too crowded. Then, my pious father bought a piece of land to build a larger prayer house on it, so that it would attract more and more worshippers. His plan included the building of an extra room, with a number of beds, in front of the building, for hospitality for respectable Jews.

As this was happening, my father, z”l, suddenly became ill, and before he was taken to Kraków, left a will in which he ordained that everything be built as he had envisioned, with his own money.

To our sorrow, he was brought back on the third day no longer alive. All the Hasidim came to offer their last respects to the true Hasid; they read paragraphs from the Mishne, recited Psalms, and accompanied him on his final journey. He left a great sadness, not just in his own family, but in the whole town.


Within the year, the hospitality house was built according to my father's plan under the supervision of my eldest brother-in-law, Mejlech Kulimek, z”l. My sister Rywka, z”l, the mother of eight children, took upon herself the difficult task of keeping track of all matters relating to the building of the hospitality center.

I would like to describe the house where my brother-in-law Mejlech came from. His parents had a food store next to the post office, and he used to sit all the time in the bes hamedresh studying day and night. My father, may his soul rest in paradise, took him as a son-in-law for my oldest sister. For a while, he boarded with us. He was a follower of the Działoszyce rabbi, Reb Eliezer Epsztajn, zts”l. During the Days of Awe, he served there as the cantor, officiating at the morning service. He also willingly joined the Khevre Kedishe [Burial Society]. Since the Khevre Kedishe members in Działoszyce never took any money, it is evident that he was always one of the first volunteers to do good deeds.

During World War II, the Polish police knew no one else to go to when someone died or someone was killed. They came to let him know so that he would have them buried.

During the first deportation, he was hidden in his house. He was discovered there. His family was sent to an unknown place, and he was sent to Stalowa Wola.

My brother Szmul and my oldest brother, Mordka Drobiarz, and his son Abram Icek were also there. Szmul and my brother-in-law Mejlech were able to escape. The Germans in Stalowa Wola shot Mordka and his son Abram Icek.

I later met my brother-in-law Mejlech Kulimek in the camp in Plaszów. There was a decree there that if anyone escaped from the camp, ten others would be shot in his place. The wicked man, the murderer [Amon] Goeth, ordered that if anyone escaped, the Jews from a whole barracks would be shot. There were 600 Jews there.

I don't exactly recall the date when the following happened. On a Shabes, two people escaped, one from Block 28 and the other from Block 29. Goeth, the camp leader, demanded that the Jewish commander, Chilewicz, sign the order to shoot 1,200 people, according to the decree. No one went to work that day. At two o'clock in the afternoon, there came an order that everyone in the camp should assemble in the inspection area. The elders in the camp divided the people into groups and allotted various jobs to each group.

Afterward, a death committee of the SS people looked over each group. I was in a small group from which they took out three persons to be shot, among them a young boy, Motele Rozenblum, who broke away from the Jewish guards who were leading the people to the area where they would be shot. In one place, my brother-in-law Mejlech worked without a shirt on, and he was emaciated. They noticed that and led him to the assembly point where they shot 76 Jews.

From our family – Mejlech Kulimek, my sister Rywka, their eight children, and one grandchild – no trace remains. They all perished through Hitler's beasts. May the Lord avenge their blood.




[Pages 216 – 218]

From Działoszyce Folklore

by Dov Bejski

Translated by Rochel Semp

Edited by Fay and Julian Bussgang


The Jewish folklore in Eastern Europe was rich. Over the course of generations, a national literature was established that enriched and took its creativity from the way of life of our forefathers and their traditions and heritage. It was expressed in prose and songs, legends and stories, proverbs and riddles, and comedy and jokes that were created over time. Name calling and even curses were transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation. Our town of Działoszyce, in spite of its being a Jewish center in a forsaken area, particularly excelled in its own folklore. Its population was mostly comprised of ordinary Jews who had been in this town starting in the 1400s. The town was a social and cultural center according to the standard that was applicable during those days. Along with the traditional connection to the study of the Torah and the unlimited belief in a God that was in heaven above, there also developed, during generations, a folklore of the secular segment of Działoszyce. And we have been successful in compiling only a little bit of it. There was some folk literature, rich and unique to our town of Działoszyce, and it used to reveal to us, in a folkloristic manner, the lifestyle of our fathers – their intelligence, biting wit, ingenuity, and sense of humor, which accompanied them through all the generations.

To our anguish, everything has been destroyed. The Nazi enemy destroyed all traces. Nothing survived. And from the stories that we heard during our youth from our grandmothers and grandfathers, only vague memories remain with us. And this is too little. In spite of this, I want to relate, as much as possible, not the stories but at least the other things that remain in my memory. Perhaps I'll remember a specific Działoszyce proverb or saying that was part of our colloquial speech, the human image or the story that was hidden behind the specific saying or quote.


The Jesters

The comedians and jesters comprised a special group. Their job, as is well known, was to bring joy to people during wedding celebrations. Still in my youth, I was privileged to hear them and to derive pleasure from their presence. These public composers, in spite of having been poverty stricken, knew how to cheer up a human heart with lively song, to blend the needs of the hour with pleasant prose that drew the gathered guests close together. I was always surprised when I heard them how they succeeded, without a moment's hesitation, to continue singing the praises of so and so or to invent a new song that we had never heard in the town before. But on each occasion they managed to compose new words and songs that fitted that particular occasion.

Their images stand before my eyes as I viewed them at weddings. Of course, a prominent jester was invited only to the wedding of a wealthy person. The poor folks could not afford one. It was sufficient for them to supply the dowry and expenses of the wedding. A comedian by the name of Frydman, not from Działoszyce, was the most famous one in the area. And even though he lived in Kraków, he was invited to our town on many occasions and became very well liked by our residents. He was a Jew of prominent presence, very fine, and extremely talented. Fate was cruel to him, and he was blind. In spite of everything, he excelled at his job. The war came and affected his livelihood bitterly. And when the decrees accumulated in Kraków, he moved with his family members to Działoszyce. He established himself in the bes hamedresh that became a dwelling place for people without a roof over their heads. His end came together with the bitter end of all the rest of the Jews in our town.


Nicknames

A chapter in of itself was the use of nicknames. This was the plague of the town. There were few families that were called by their legitimate name. To nearly every resident of Działoszyce was attached a nickname that personified his characteristics – his strengths or weaknesses. The nickname may have been indicative of the person's relationship with the public, but generally, it described his origin, his occupation, his habits, height, or even the color of his skin.

Who from us doesn't remember the following nicknames: Little Mendele, Little Chunele, Berele Lechtzier [candle maker], Sender the Yellow Joel's [son of the yellow-haired Joel], Mejlech the Red [redhead/Communist], Chaim Dzierżaner [from Dzierżan], Ziskind Sznajder [tailor], Mendel Malarz [painter], Wolf der Beder [bathhouse attendant], Mendel Beker [baker], Lejb Ajnbinder [bookbinder], Moszek Batia's [son of Batia], the Probolovitzer [from Probołowice], Moszek Koniarz [horse dealer], The Yellow [yellow-haired] Berysz.

I will end with this small amount as an example. If I wanted to continue, I could enumerate half of the town according to their nicknames. I am certain that you will all recall these portrayals of well-known citizens of the town.


Clever Expressions (Sayings)

With many thanks to Robert Rothstein for transliterating the Yiddish and to both
Robert Rothstein and Dasha Rittenberg for translating and interpreting the sayings.

1. Der orl iz meyvn kol os. The gentile understands every letter. [Be careful what you say.]
[Hebrew-based expression that a non-Jew who knows some Yiddish would be less likely to understand.]
2. S'past im vi in keyver arayn. It suits him to the grave. [It will kill him.]
3. S'past vi a hoyker tsu der vant. It fits like a hunchback fits a wall. [It's totally out of place.]
4. A lakkhener. A taker/grabber [a thief] [Hebrew-based euphemism]
5. Zay roye. Be observant [Pay attention! Keep your eyes open.] [Hebrew-based expression that a non-Jew who knows some Yiddish would be less likely to understand.]
6. Ver iz der yold? Who is this guy? [Who is this fool?]
7. Dos iz a mamzerl. He's a little bastard. [He's a clever rascal.]
8. Zay gezegnt, Motye. Farewell, Motye. [Get lost, Motye!]
9. Gut shabes, koze. Good sabbath, goat. [What are you doing here?] [An unwelcome greeting]
10. Shapse, vi loyfstu? Shabse, where are you running? [Shabse, what's your hurry?]
11. Nisht geshtoygn, nisht gefloygn. Didn't climb, didn't fly. [Not believeable. Doesn't add up.]
12. Er patsht zikh afn boykh. He pats himself on the belly. [He's self-satisfied.]
13. Es rint im iber der bord. It is overflowing his beard. [He's a messy eater.]
14. A kosher top, a kosher lefl. A kosher pot, a kosher spoon. [Everything is in order.]
15. Shem zikh in vaytn haldz arayn. You should be ashamed in the depths of your throat. [You should be ashamed to the core.]
16. Es geyt im mit di puter arop. Things are going with the buttered side down for him. [nothing goes right for him.]
17. A kishke a gedule. A big intestine. [He has a big appetite.]
18. Kleyn, groys—eyn prayz. Big or small—the same price. [Big or small, what's the difference?]
19. Mitn kop in dr'erd, mit di fis in kloyster. With head in the ground, with feet in the church. [He's not a holy person, not an observant jew.]
20. Skotsl kumt. The cat is coming [Look who's here!] [a welcome greeting]
21. Gezogt—geton. Said—done [No sooner said than done.]
22. Oy! A tson. Oy, a tooth! [Oy, do I have a toothache!]
23. A khasene in shtetl. A wedding in town [A big deal.]
24. Khotsh nem im un shneyd im op fun shtrikl. You could just take him and cut him down from the rope.
[You should at least try to help him.]
25. Heng zikh af a tsuker shtrik, vestu hobn a zisn toyt. Hang yourself on a sugared rope; you'll have a sweet death. [A curse to get rid of someone who annoys you.]
26. Er dreyt zikh pust un pas. He's going around aimlessly. [He's getting nowhere.]
27. Er hot zikh tsugekhapt, vi tsu heyse lokshn. He grabbed onto it like hot noodles. [He was so eager to eat, he dove in when the food was too hot.]
28. Zi iz khorev krank; zi derkent shoyn nisht keyn mentsh. She is deathly ill; she no longer recognizes anyone.
29. Gekrogn a krasne bilet—iz gevezn porkhe-nishmose. [He got a red ticket (draft notice)—he almost died of fright. [He got bad news.]
30. Hak nisht keyn chaynik. Don't bang the teapot. [Stop making a fuss. Stop bothering me.]
31. Oy a loksh—a loksh. Oy, a noodle—a noodle. [Oy, thin as a noodle.]
32. Moykhl toyves. Never mind the favors. [Don't do me any favors.]



Editors' Footnotes

  1. Cwi is the Hebrew equivalent of Hersz. This same man is referred to as Herszel Drobiarz in later chapters. Return
  2. Occupations (melamed, dayan) are often used as if they were surnames. "Reb Heszeli Melamed” means “Reb Heszeli the teacher.” Return
  3. The ABC's (alphabet) of Hebrew is written in a stylized manner in the Torah. Presumably, the children were learning not only their ABCs but the ABCs as they are written in the Torah. Return
  4. Both words mean teacher, but it seems that the author considered a melamed as a teacher of religious studies and a morah as a teacher of secular studies. Return
  5. Shovavim is an acronym for the first six Torah portions found in the book of Exodus. During a leap year, two more portions are added for which the acronym is TAT. Thus, during a leap year, Torah study was even longer than usual. Return
  6. The Tsena Urena was a book with Torah and Haftorah weekly portions, written in Yiddish, so women, who usually did not study Hebrew, could understand it. Return
  7. Turisk, Poland, now Turijs'k, Ukraine. Return
  8. Tzafnat Paneach was the pseudonym of Joseph when he served the Pharaoh as governor of Egypt. Return
  9. Icek Majer the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer]. Szu"b is an abbreviation of the Hebrew term for shoykhet. Return
  10. Rabbi Klonymos Kalman Halevi Epsztajn was known as the Maor Vashemesh (The Light and the Sun) from the title of his work. Return
  11. Melamed [teacher], Dayan [religious judge], and Szu"b [shoykhet ––ritual slaughterer] in these instances were titles rather than true surnames. Return
  12. The Shema is the Jewish declaration of faith: “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, The Lord is One.” Return
  13. Rashi is a Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi (1040–1105), a rabbi in France who was the author of the first comprehensive commentaries on the Talmud and the Tanakh [Scriptures]. Return
  14. Yekl was the nickname for a German Jew. Return
  15. There were sometimes disagreements between the Orthodox and the Hasidic community as to who should become the official town rabbi, who was paid by the state. The fact that Reb Joskele, a Hasid, was chosen by the Orthodox, shows that he must have been very well respected. Return
  16. The disciples or followers who had the honor of sitting at a rebbe's table were known as the rebbe's tish. Return
  17. These appear to be nicknames, as there is a birth record for Ayzyk Man in Działoszyce in 1889. Return

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