by Hershel Leib Leizerowitz (Israel)
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
It has been sixty years that I remember you, my town Gostynin. Your name has been shining far beyond your borders, on the merit of your Thilim Yid [the Psalms reader], the great Tzadik. You have produced a long chain of generations – scholars, Tzadikim, craftsmen and simple Jews, and righteous women. Gostynin was a beautiful Jewish community, with a Bet Midrash [House of Prayer and Study], a synagogue and a Shtibl [a Hasidic house of prayer]. The community managed several institutioms as well: A Home for the Aged, Linat Tzedek [charity sleeping accommodation for the needy], a Gemilut Chasadim Fund [free-of-interest-loan], Hachnasat Kala fund [financial aid for the needy brides] etc. I remember the beautiful Shabat and holiday times. I see before my eyes the Jewish streets, the life of the neighbors, the love and devotion between one another. Everyone took part in the happy and joyful moments of the others, and felt for them in grief. Jewish Gostynin lived together like one family.
Who had shaped the Jewish Gostynin and given it its identity? As everywhere, this was the holy work of the teachers and educators. The following were the Gostynin melamdim: R'Sender, R'Leizer and his son Yosef, who inherited the vocation from his father, R'Grunem melamed and R'Avraham Fleischman. They were the young children's teachers, who instilled in them the Mode Ani [the beginning of the morning prayer] and the Shema Israel. When R'Sender the melamed died at the age of almost one hundred years, the entire Jewish Gostynin went to his funeral and mourned him. Every person considered himself as one of his pupils.
In general, the life of the melamdim was a difficult life; poverty and need showed in every corner. But they saw their work as a holy mission and they guided their heder with love and devotion, bringing up generations of children.
There were also the teachers of Chumash with Rashi [the Five Books of Moses with the great commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki)] and Talmud, for the older children: R'Leibel Tzishik, Avraham Yitzhak Holzman, R'Yechezkel Bagno, R'Levi Melamed, an old man who was a great scholar and died at a very advanced age. All his pupils praised greatly his teaching.
The Gostynin rabbis enriched the Jewish life in town. Not only did they lead their community in the proper Jewish way, but they represented it honorably and were its faithful spokesmen in front of the authorities. They were well-known throughout the country. R'Yechiel Meir Lifshitz zl became rabbi in Gostynin when he was still a young man. His great scholarship and vast knowledge of Torah, his modesty and his love for every individual brought him to the position of Rabbi and great Tzadik. The Gostyniner Rabbi became famous throughout the entire Jewish world. He died on Sabbath eve, 21 Shevat 5648. The position of rabbi was then occupied by the Kinsker rabbi, R'Yoav-Yehoshua, an author of several books and a student of the Sochatchower rabbi R'Avraham, author of the book Avnei Nezer. After he left Gostynin, he was followed by the Rav R'Chaim Meshulam Hakohen Unterman, a great scholar, a student of the Ostrowecer rabbi R'Meir Yechiel Halevi, one of the greatest scholars in the rabbinic world. The follower of R'Chaim Meshulam Hakohen was R'David Sillman, a son of the Chmelniker rabbi R'Aharon Sillman and a son-in-law of the Ostrowecer rabbi. He was one of the leaders of the Mizrahi party and he supported and strengthened the Zionist movement in town. He died young, on 10 Shevat 5682.
At that time, the question arose who shall take the post of rabbi. Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Bornstein was elected by a large majority. He was a great scholar, a student of the rabbi of Gora [the Gerer rebbe], the author of the famous book Sefat Emet. He was also a member of the Zionist party Mizrahi and he led the community in that spirit. Rabbi Yitzhak Meir was the last rabbi in Gotystin and, together with all the other Jews in Gostynin he perished by the Nazi murderers.
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