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[Page 76]

Institutions and Movements


[Pages 76-78]

A Vibrant and Active Community[1]

by Yehuda Rosenwaks

Translated by Allen Flusberg


A. Economic Activity

Earlier, Dobrzyn was no more than a town within the province of Rypin; but after the establishment of an independent Poland following the end of the First World War, it became a more independent city because of its unification with Golub.

Railroad tracks and organized transport connected Dobrzyn with the cities Wloclawek, Lodz and Warsaw, aiding its economic development. And indeed, thanks to its convenient shipping connections, it became a thriving commercial city that attracted other residents from the surrounding areas.

The animated economy impacted the social and cultural development of the place. As time passed, a fairly broad class of young intellectuals arose, leaving an imprint on the life of the city.

Thanks to the well–organized transport, many of the townspeople found their livelihood in trade with Germany—in the grain business and in agricultural manufacturing—leading to a boom in Dobrzyn–Golub. Even so, there was no shortage of poor people; but in general the economic situation of the city, as opposed to that of others in the vicinity, was good.

As their economic activity continued to expand, the tradesmen needed additional investment capital, whose absence became more and more critical. And then a few businessmen toiled relentlessly to establish a bank that would be able to provide services to the residents. Indeed this bank, a kind of funding lender, served the townspeople well, and its imprint was rapidly felt in the business life of the place.

The influence of the twentieth century began to be felt in Dobrzyn–Golub not only economically, but in its social–cultural life, as well. As also in the large cities, various political parties with a large number of members arose. Nearly all the young people joined one of these parties. Each group would get together almost every day, particularly on Saturdays, in the movement's meeting hall. At these meetings they would listen to lectures and have discussions and debates with the passion characteristic of youth.

Competition between the parties was fierce as each sought to attract more of the young people. These struggles occasionally led to a great deal of tension and to embittered relations between some of the young people.


B. Educational Activity

As was usual in most of the towns of the House of Israel in the Diaspora, Jewish children in the past received their initial education in the “cheder[2], where the “melamed[3] taught his young students religious texts, often with the aid of a strap.

This education was restricted to boys; parents didn't actually give much thought to their daughters' education. It sufficed that a girl should know how to read the prayers, so that she would not need to have the prayers read to her out loud by another woman in the women's section of the synagogue. Parents sought to educate daughters to make them suitable as mothers who knew their place and their role in life. Their entire education did not have to go beyond an ability to read the siddur[4] and the machzor[5], without even understanding the meaning of the words. The more liberal parents made certain that their daughter would learn to read and write Yiddish, and would even be able to recognize the letters of the Latin alphabet, so that she could address envelopes in the official language of the country. And in those days that was the sum total of a girl's education.

In the 1920s the first cracks in the rigid walls of tradition began to appear. Secular schools with modern methods and goals were established, and libraries containing books in different languages were founded. The young people, who were no longer willing to follow their elders' dictates verbatim, began to make their own way. Many streamed into the new schools, seeking to acquire knowledge of various cultures. Some continued their studies in high schools and even in universities.

The cultural activities and the spread of the secular schools also significantly influenced traditional education. Recognizing that they could no longer remain isolated from the demands of the times, traditional schools were forced to introduce secular learning within the framework of Jewish studies. Indeed, the reformed cheder, which broke open a window to secular culture, continued to enroll a large number of students. They emerged enriched by both Judaism and general culture.

It should be noted that Zionist activity also began in this period. It was expressed in the study of the Hebrew language and in the departure for Zionist pioneer training camps in agricultural farms, to prepare for aliya to Israel. Jews who owned farms were found; they agreed to make their farms available for this purpose, greatly assisting not only the training of the youth in agriculture, but also enhancing the influence of Zionism on the town. It is fitting to mention the following farm owners who helped found the training camps and encouraged the young people: Yitzhak Yaakov Szmiga, Yaakov Rojna, Poleder, and Hershl Dobrzinski. The training camps served as greenhouses for Zionist pioneers from all over Poland who then immigrated to the Land of Israel and were rescued from the bitter fate of their brethren in the Diaspora.


Delegates of the Zionist Organization in Dobrzyn–Golub,
headed by Mr. Yitzhak Moshe Offenbach (first row, second from left)


Translator's Footnotes

  1. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn–Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn–Golub Society, Israel, 1969), pp. 76–78. Return
  2. cheder = boys' school, where the curriculum was dominated by religious studies Return
  3. melamed = teacher of small children Return
  4. siddur = Jewish prayer book Return
  5. machzor = special prayer book for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The prayers and liturgical poems that are recited on these holidays are numerous, requiring a special book. Return
  6. From p. 78 of reference cited in Footnote 1. Return

[Pages 87-93]

Prayer and Torah institutions
and Religious Ministrants in the town

by Yehudah Rozenwax

Translated by Sara Mages

A. The Synagogue

The synagogues, Batei HaMidrash, and the assembly of scholars were the glory of each Jewish town, and each and every member of the community was blessed with them. Indeed, in the harsh Diaspora, which sated her Jews with bitterness even during their so called days of “tranquility,” the synagogues and Batei HaMidrash were a place of “spiritual importance,” and every person poured his bitter words and his prayers in them.

Gathering next to the synagogue

Dobrzyń was also blessed with a big and handsome synagogue, which was the glory of the community. It was built in the 18th century, but for another purpose - a factory. The members of the community, who purchased it, gave it a grand look, as befits a Jewish synagogue.

Paintings, the work of artists, decorated its ceiling and its walls, and colorful stained glass windows, which drowned it with splendor of sacred tradition, adorned its windows. The colorful mosaic floor was very nice and was considered, at that time, to be a masterpiece. Above all stood the big and beautiful Aron Hakodesh, which was the focus of the worshipers' hearts.

[Page 88]

Also the women's gallery, which ran along three walls - south, west and north - was tastefully built and decorated with crystal lamps, as befits a modern synagogue.

The building itself stood on a high elevation, near the river, and was surrounded on all sides by a stone fence. The entrance leading to the synagogue was wide and astonishingly pretty.

The wedding ceremonies were held in the synagogue's courtyard, opposite the grand entrance, and the bride and groom were brought there from their homes accompanied by a large crowd. A band delighted the celebrators and a comedian scattered his sayings and jokes. Also the cantor didn't sit idle and sang in honor of the couple.

There was also a choir in the synagogue that accompanied the cantor in his prayer, and as it was proper and required, a conductor conducted it. I now recall two members of the choir who were its pillars: Moshe Schlesinger who now lives in the United States, and my late brother Yitzchak of blessed memory.

B. Beit HaMidrash

Beit HaMidrash served as a place for prayer and a place to study the Torah and the Gemara. They gathered there three times a day to pray, and studied the Torah in the hours between Mincha and Ma'arive. Most of those who came to Beit HaMidrash were craftsmen and just Jews, who came to pour their emotions, listen to a commentary on the Torah in order to forget their poverty, sufferings, and daily concerns.

On the Sabbath, the preachers preached before the congregation. Many times, preachers and scholars, who weren't local, appeared in Beit HaMidrash and managed to gather a large crowd who drank their words of wisdom and their teachings.

Indeed, the religious subjects that were studied together, were seasoned with words of morality. They pulled the hearts, warmed them, and awakened the community members to perform good deeds - to take care of the poor and the weak.

Beit HaMidrash was a gathering place not only for prayer and Torah study, but also a place for secular conversations, when everyone sought the closeness of the other and natured together their confidence and faith.

Beit HaMidrash, like the whole town, was erased from face of the earth by the malicious hand of the wild beast, Hitler's soldiers and their defiled helpers. The magnificent synagogue was also destroyed, and the cruel hand didn't skip the cemetery. Again, there is no marking on the graves of our beloved parents, brothers and sisters…

[Page 89]

C. Rabbis and Slaughterers

The Rabbinate was a very respectable position in the Jewish towns, and the rabbi had a significant influence on the community's life. Therefore, it is not surprising, that the election of a rabbi served as a debatable ground between the various sectors of society - especially among the Hassidim who belonged to different rabbinical courts.

And so it was in Dobrzyń that her Hassidim belonged to various rabbinical courts: Gur, Aleksander, Otvosk and more. Each group wanted to appoint one of its members as a rabbi, and that caused quarrels, strife and hatred, and soured the atmosphere in the town.

I remember the running around and the intensified struggle in our community after the death of Rabbi Sonabend, the righteous of blessed memory. Various rabbis appeared before the public with their sermons, to show their strength and their knowledge, because this is how a rabbi was examined. Due to these quarrels, the town was left for a long period of time without a leader. In addition, it wasn't easy to find someone worthy to assume the high office after HaRav Sonabend, who was one of the great Torah scholars of his generation.

The situation worsened when two rabbis, who didn't receive the community's appointment, settled in Dobrzyń. Even when I left the town, in1925, on my way to Israel, there was still chaos in the town and a new rabbi wasn't elected.

Also the appointment of the slaughterers was accompanied by a struggle between the various Hasidic groups, each seeking to appoint one of their members. Indeed, tempers flared, from time to time, because of such natters, as if the members of our nation didn't lack worries, troubles and suffering, that were their lot in the Diaspora…

[Page 90]

The Jewish Education in Dobrzyń-Golub

(The “Heder”, the “Melamed”-the Rabbi, and the advanced teacher)

Shmuel Meiri (Miniwski)

Translated by Sara Mages

“If you have learned much Torah, do not take credit for yourself---it is for this that you have been formed” [Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter 2:8]. This view, which saw the highest value of Torah study, was the guideline for the Hassidic education that grew and developed in Poland in the first half of the 19th century.

The teaching language in the old “Heder” was Yiddish, and the Hebrew language - the “Holy Language” was only a secondary study, because it was only intended for prayers by the “ordinary people,” and for understanding the writings of the Holy Scriptures. The girls didn't go to school, and only later a separate school, “Beit Yakov,” was established for them.

Dobrzyń was renowned for its large number of old style “Hadarim,” which were intended for students from prestigious rich families, or for students whose parents belonged to the “Shtiebelekh” of various rabbis.

A daring step to change these “long-standing practices” and the ancient tradition, which took root in the old “Heder,” with all its faults and benefits, was done at the beginning of the 20th century with the establishment of “Heder Metukan” [“Reformed Heder”] by a small group of dignitaries from the city of Golub. This “Heder” was much more advanced, the study of the Hebrew language was added to its curriculum, and the teachers paid attention to the national-religious education. However, the existence of “Heder Metukan” was a bone of contention between the city treasurers and its leaders. Many of them saw it as a “dangerous Heder,” improper, wasteful and non-Jewish in its nature. They boycotted it and fought against it with bigotry, war to the death…No wonder that the “Heder Metukan” couldn't hold out, and again, the old “Heder” for the children of the poor and the needy, remained in control.

According to tradition, at the end of the “period,” during the intermediate days of Passover or Sukkot, the rabbi ran around, knocked on the doors of the parents, the masters and the benefactors,

[Page 91]

to get new students. The “Melamdim” [teachers] received tuition for each “period,” and extra gifts for the holidays and festivities. The sons of the rich studied individually, sometimes with teachers in their own homes. However, the primary educational institute was the “Heder,” which was located in the rabbi's home. The studies started early in the morning and continued until nightfall. The rabbi maintained a strict discipline and used punishment to deter those who violated the discipline, without all the educational measures that are in effect today.

The students of the “Heder”- “Yesod Hamala

From the right: Schlechter, Yehoshua Flusberg, Alter Piaskowski, and Avraham Natan Postolsky

However, when we look back at the education in the old “Heder,” which have become the laughingstock of the intellectuals of the previous generation, we have to admit that this “Heder,” with all of its faults, was the forefather of the new school, in all of its forms and phases, in the Diaspora and in Israel. After all, it was the very basic concept of the elementary school. If not for this “Heder,” the children of the ordinary people wouldn't have studied the Torah. As it is says in the Gemara about Yehoshua ben Gamla who ruled: “There should install teachers of small children in every district and town, and they should bring him at the ages six or upward…at the beginning, the one who has a father learns the Torah from him, and the one who has no father, won't learn the Torah…”

The old style “Hadarim” were located in the various Batei-HaMidrash of the Alexander and Gur rabbis, next to the synagogues, and mostly - in the rabbi's house. From early morning, young children, destitute children, and just

[Page 92]

Jewish children sat and learned the Torah and the prayers from the “Melamed” [teacher]. The textbook was the Siddur, and the studies merged with the prayers, which were said on the spot. It was a traditional religious education, in the holy language which was translated to Yiddish.

It is my duty to mention one old “Heder,” the exemplary “Heder” of my relative, Rabbi Meir Fajwel, son of Yehudah Bromberg of blessed memory, who was a biblical scholar and an inspiration. He had a deep and sincere love for the abandoned, lonely, and the orphaned child. Innocence, nobility and greatness merged in him, in the modest R' Meir Fajwel, who taught the Torah in his “Heder” to the children who came from poor homes, and if not for him, they wouldn't have learned the Torah at all.

The headstone on his grave, in the old cemetery, is unique in its Hebrew style and content, kind of a tender elegy written in the language of our ancestors. It testifies to the magnitude of his soul, and the modesty of a person who dedicated his life to teach the Torah to the children of the poor.

The wife of Rabbi Meir Fajwel, Rachel Leah the “Melamedet” [female teacher], was a special person in the history of female teachers. She was endowed with special lofty qualities, and was her husband's helper. Indeed, she rewarded him well all of her life and it can be said that: “Her value is far beyond pearls, her husband's heart relies on her and he shall lack no fortune...” She divided her food between the hungry school children, who crowded in the room, dressed them and fed them.

I remember the time when the rabbi called his wife, the “Melamedet,” to help a slow student. She sat him down at the table, that a Siddur was placed on, and whispered in a calm motherly voice “My child, if you learn well, the good angels will come to serve you! And now repeat Aleph-Bet-Gimel.”

After the death of her husband she continued his life work as a “Melamedet” with great success.

Her three daughters; who absorbed the value of Judaism and love of humanity in their home, took care of sad incurable women, who were left widowed and lonely.

Their daughter, Pessie Bromberg, married the teacher Yitzchak Yakov Lewiston, a progressive teacher who taught in the Polish State School (a great achievement for a Jew in those days). He taught the Russian and the Polish languages to the Jewish children, and also taught various religious and secular subjects to the students who came to his home in the afternoon.

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He used to open the school day with the song: “Children, we have gathered at school…” Of course, he was an excellent teacher, who projected his charming personality on his students. His body was weak, but his teaching ability was excellent. He wore a modern hat on his head and a small thin beard covered his pale face.

Many of his students are in Israel today, and some of them immortalized the community in this memorial book. Even today, they still remember his lovely, gentle and charming image and remember him with admiration, because his heart and his home were always open for them.

These teachers, and others like them, laid the foundation for the progressive schools. Afterwards, these schools were a source of inspiration for Judaism, and undermined faith in the Jewish nation and the Land of Israel.

A class at school


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