Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland (Pages 79 - 86)
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[Page 79]

Personalities

Moshe Feinkind (1865-1935)


Moshe Feinkind
Moshe Feinkind


Reb Moshe Hacohen Feinkind, may he rest in peace, the son of Reb Pinhas, was born on the first day of Shevat, 5621 (1865) in the town of Turk, the district of Kalish to a Chassidic family. His mother was the great-granddaughter of the Gaon Reb Avraham Avli Gumbiner a Jewish scholar famous for his commentary on the Shulkhan Arukh, “The Shield of Abraham,” who was born in the year 1637. His grandfather Moishele, the rabbi of Pudembitz (in the environs of Kalish), was known by his nickname, “Clever Reb Moishele.” He participated in the Kosciusko rebellion of 1794.

In his father's house, Moshe Feinkind received a traditional religious education, studied in the “Heder” and the “Yeshivas” and especially in Brezhin, a town close to Piotrkow –Lodz, with his uncle, the town rabbi, Reb Israel Feinkind, may he rest in peace.

At a young age he showed n penchant for general science and for Jewish scholarship. He went to Berlin, where he studied philosophy, history, literature and Jewish history. He attended lectures by Professors Dr. Kassel, Dr. Lazarus and Dr. Steintal. He was a member of the Union of Jewish students from Russia and, because of his participation in their demonstration against the ambassador of the Czarist Russian government, Orlov, he was expelled from Berlin and returned to Poland. In order to support himself, he taught Hebrew and German in private homes in Lodz.

In this city he began his literary work. He translated poetry of the German classicists into Hebrew and published it in the Noar Hatzioni periodical “Nitzanim.” From 1884 he became one of the regular contributors to “Hatzfira” (in “Hatzfira” he published a long biography of Dr. Ludwig Philipson), “Freund” (Petersburg), “Undzer Leben” (Warsaw), and also published articles and reports in German Jewish periodicals and newspapers such as “Algemeine Zeitung des Judentums,” “Israelitische Wochenschrift,” and “Judische Literaturblatt.”

After marrying Freidl, the daughter of Blume and Leibele Ehrlich (her father was an enlightened scholarly Jew and a respected member of the Piotrkow community), Feinkind moved to Piotrkow, where he taught Hebrew and German. After leaving the teaching profession, he supported himself by working as the private secretary of the famous lawyer Mieczyslaw Hundzinski, an active member of the conservative, anti-Semitic “National Democratic” party, who greatly admired Feinkind's broad knowledge and command of many languages. He took part in the public life of the city, was one of the founders of the “Hovvei Zion” group and, later on, the political Zionist organization.

In 1906 he headed the group that established the first M. Krinski (from Warsaw) Hebrew school in the city, where students learned in Hebrew. It bore the modest name of “Reformed Heder.” Ultra-Orthodox fanatics declared war against this school, and at the head of its defenders stood Moshe Feinkind, who courageously fought back. He did much to spread the Hebrew language and the Zionist idea in our city. Around him were concentrated all the devotees of the Enlightenment, the graduates of the Jewish schools and the children of the Orthodox and the fanatics. He guided them, helped them in their desire to obtain knowledge and understanding and loaned them books from his rich library. He appeared in clubs and at gatherings and lectured on Zionism and literature. He did it all with enthusiasm, wisdom, and charity.

In the period of the first World War, when the “Agudat Zion” and “Tarbut” began widespread activity, he was right in the thick of the Zionist and cultural work. On the 20th of Tamuz, the date of the death of Zionist leader Theodore Herzl, he would give a public lecture as part of the memorial ceremony he had arranged, on the creator of the political Zionist movement and his work.

In 1914 he brought out the Yiddish weekly entitled the “Piotrkow Jewish Voice,” but when World War I broke out that same year, Governor Yatshevski forbade the publication of the paper. Hence it appeared just once, published by Shlomo Belchatowski's press.

At the end of 1916, the Austrian occupation authorities held municipal elections. Fifty town council advisors were elected: 37 Christians and 13 Jews. M. Feinkind was one elected from the Jewish list.

At the festive opening session of the City Hall, when declarations were read by representatives of the various parties, town councilman M. Feinkind announced that he was joining the declaration of the “Jewish Union” and added “that he would strive, among other things, to achieve for Jews in the independent Polish state equality of national and civil rights.” He also announced that he constituted the “Volksgruppe” (people's faction) at City Hall.

In the following years he dedicated himself to organizing the craftsmen in the city and in adjacent towns, he participated in setting up a cooperative league for supplying raw materials to the Jewish craftsmen and in expanding the organization's charitable fund; for many years he served as chairman of the organization and those unions. When he was forced by reasons of health and by his literary work to end his activity on behalf of the craftsmen, he was honored, as a token of thanks and recognition, by being named their honorary president.

Within the realm of his public activity, it should be pointed out that he was among the founders of the ORT professional trade school, which trained hundreds of boys, in carpentry and locksmithing. For many years he was a member of the national committee of the Polish craft organizations.

As a gifted writer, he was famous for his historical book The Kuzari, which was published in 1910.

In the period of the first World War he published a Polish-language Jewish weekly called “Glos Zydowski” (“Jewish Voice”). He published articles and short stories in the “Lemberger Tagblatt,” in the “Lodzer Tagblatt” and in “Express,” a daily paper published in Warsaw, as well as in other periodicals. He signed many articles with a pseudonym: A. Rottman, Servus, Moshe Penkanson, and A.B.C.

He made a name for himself with his monograph in Polish titled “The History of the Jews of Piotrkow and Environs” (1930) [Dzieje Zydow w Piotrkowie i okolicy].

His also published books including Good Jews in Poland; Women, Rabbis and Known Polish Personalities; History of the Lodz Ghetto; Things from the Past; The Polish Jew. These books include selections of articles and stories published in periodicals, as well as new writing. They constitute an important source for the history of Polish Jewry and Jewish life in recent centuries, according to Jewish and other authorities.

Moshe Feinkind was a good conversationalist, noted for his sense of humor and his knowledge of Jewish folklore, and he had an encyclopedic mind. He was also a man of charming appearance, who enchanted all who met him. He died on Monday, the second of Sivan, 5695 (June 3, 1935) of a heart attack. In his will he left his extensive library, which contained rare books of historical value in Hebrew, Yiddish, German, Polish and Russian, to the YIWO Institute in Vilna, and his modest financial resources to the charitable organization of the craftsmen's association.

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[Page 82]

Pinchas Bar-On (Baron)

Pinchas Bar-On
Pinchas Bar-On


        Pinchas-Arie-Leib, son of Shmuel Ber and Yehudit, was born on Hei be Tamuz Tarmav (1882) in Piotrkow, a descendent of a family of great Rabbis and Zadikim in Poland. His great-grandfather was Rabbi Ber from Radoschitz, founder of the Radoschitz dynasty. He was among the most important pupils of the Lublin Rabbi and famous as miracle worker (Ba'al Mofeth). His son, Reb Israel Itzhak, grandfather of Pinchas-Leib, continued his post as Admor in Radoschitz. His second wife, Devorah, who bore him two daughters and one son, Pinchas' father, married, after her first husband had died, Rabbi Eliezer-Shalom Morgenstern from Schedlitz, who moved to serve as Rabbi in Piotrkow. Devorah, the “rebetzin,” a very wise and clever woman, knew all the distinguished families of the city and everybody admired her and asked her for advice.

Pinchas' mother Yehudit, born in Radom, came from the family of Reb Arie-Leib Zunz (the “Harif”) of Plotzk. He was the author of many books dealing with the Talmud.

Pinchas' first teacher (Melamed), Reb Moshe, taught him the alphabet; he began to read at the age of 3. Then, when he was 5 years old, he was taught the “Chumash” by Reb Ozer Frisch. At the age of 7 he moved to another “Cheder” and began learning Gemara. Because of his talents and diligence he was sent to learn with private teachers and his tuition fees were paid by the community (since his parents could not afford it).

When he was “bar-mitzva;” he had already begun his public activities. Together with two friends, he established a charitable society, and approached prominent people of the community for donations to be distributed among the poor. When this became known, there was a great public storm, and his Rabbi was chided for letting his pupils quit learning and deal with trivial secular activities. Especially angry was his elder brother Nathan-David, who was a sort of “father figure” to him; upon his insistence the “society” was annulled.

Slowly but surely, Pinchas was discovering the taste of “Haskala.” He met the local Hebrew teacher, in whose house he found a rich library of Hebrew books dealing with new explanations and “midrashim” of the “oral” Torah; as he said, “My eyes were opened to see anew the `Mishna' and 'Talmud' and I felt like going out of darkness into a great light.”

At this vulnerable point of his life, before he was even 18, he was married by his family (in a “shidduch”). He was learning at the Cur Rabbi's shtibel, and outside he looked and behaved like a “Chassid.” But, after tasting the “haskala,” he wouldn't let it go. Aside from his holy studies, he read everything that came into his hands, such as books about nature and astronomy, etc.; he was expanding his self-education all the time. He was doing this with a group of young men who gathered every evening and were as enthusiastic about new opinions and books as he was. They read and discussed all sorts of books, while one of them was always on guard lest somebody might come and catch them. They searched out the secrets of the world and its creation according to Johann Kepler and Kopernikus; they learned arithmetic and Hebrew grammar, the Rambam's books, and every new explanation of the Bible.

At the same time Pinchas began dealing with “Kabbala” and reading Spinoza. He wrote, “these books meant everything for me, I read them all the time, under the Gemara in the shtibel and when walking around, during meals and between prayers. The forbidden books were divided in small pamphlets among all members of our group, because we had only one version of each, and this way it was easier to hide them – because if they were found it often meant loss of money (the expenses of people learning in the shtibel were usually paid by their wives' families) and even a forced divorce. We did not deal with fiction, but just with science and research books. We were worried what would happen alter we finished all the Hebrew and Yiddish books in these subjects; maybe then we'd have to learn foreign languages to continue our studies into all secrets of the `Divine' haskala.”

They were also reading the Hebrew newspapers and magazines of that period –“Hazefira” and “Hameilitz” – as well as the Yiddish ones, like “Die Friende” etc. When a new newspaper, “Hazeman,” appeared, P. Bar was among its first readers and subscribers. “Hazeman” was celled “the red newspaper” because of its war against the Russian Tsar and his restrictions on the Jewish population. After the defeat of Russia in the 1905 war (against Japan), there were many riots and terrorist incidents against the ruling regime and even more against the Jews. Strikes were everywhere and, among the Jews, only the socialist Bund supported them. Alter the 1905 declaration of the constitution, “Hazeman” published these two headlines daily: “The Pogromchiks Are Still At Large” and “The Jews Have Not Yet Been Granted Equal Rights.”

When the “Mizrachi” was established, Pinchas was among the first to join this religious-national movement, which drew many orthodox people and rabbis to its lines. He was greatly influenced by Rabbi Reines Z.L., who headed the Lida Yeshiva. His logical system of teaching the Talmud seemed to many a fine blend of Torah, wisdom and knowledge, a blend which was the goal of P. Bar-On throughout his life.

When World War One broke out in 7914, Bar-On was 31 years old and had to go to the army, but, after some medical check-ups, he succeeded in getting an exemption. There were now new influences of “Haskala” coming from Berlin and Vienna, and in his home he was giving Hebrew evening classes for adults, together with Jacob Maltz, Mr. Rosenblum and Mr. Birnbaum, A new school for Hebrew and the Bible (both taught by Bar-On) was established, as well as preparatory classes for general Hebrew high school. The teachers there, beside him, were Josepf-Dov Rosenblum and Mr. Zlotnik. Eventually this became a high school with many more teachers, while he remained the principal teacher for Hebrew studies, replaced by Mr. Rosenblum when he emigrated to Eretz Israel. In the celebrations of “San Remo Day” in Piotrkow in 1917, on the occasion of the Balfour Declaration, he was among the chief speakers. At the end of his speech he even donated his gold watch and chain for the building of the Jewish homeland. Since then he appeared on every occasion, lecturing about Zionism and immigration to Palestine. There was a big gathering in the city's movie theater, in which the Zionist ideas were explained to all by P. Bar-On in Hebrew, Mr. Halperin from Lodz in Yiddish and a third speaker in Polish. Another gathering was assembled in the great synagogue after the death of Yechiel Chlenov z”l.

P. Bar-On's living came from selling coals, but most of his time was dedicated to teaching Hebrew. At night, all his friends came to his open house, reading newspapers, talking politics and guessing who would win the war. Some sided with the Germans, hoping they would bring more education to the people, and some said it was bad to pray for a new ruler. But all agreed that it was time to talk about making “aliya.”

And the time came. In 1921, in the middle of the school year, P. Bar-On sold all his property in order to buy travel tickets and, together with his wife, left Piotrkow by train. It was Purim and he read the “Megilah” on the train. At the Polish border, he changed trains and, with other immigrant pioneers, stopped in Vienna for several days. From Vienna he took a ship to Alexandria, Egypt, and from there traveled by train to Eretz Israel.

It was Rosh-chodesh Nissan when he arrived there, penniless. One of the other Piotrkow immigrants helped him with a three-pound loan. He settled in the outskirts of Tel-Aviv and began searching for work. Soon he was informed that there was a vacant post for municipal secretary of Hadera. Even though the small town (Moshava) was afflicted by malaria, which especially afflicted new immigrants, he dismissed the danger and received the job. He celebrated Passover in the company of the Piotrkow people in Tel-Aviv and the next day he was to arrive at Hadera and begin his work. But just then the Arab riots of 1921 broke out and there was no possibility of leaving Tel-Aviv. Only after a week was he able to go, and lie immediately began his duties as secretary-general to the town council. His first task (assisted by Mr. Harkavi, the legal counselor of the Jewish National Board, “Havaad Haleumi”) was to demand of the British Mandate Government restitution for the damages caused to fields and houses by the Arab rioters. He lived in Hadera for the rest of his life, and besides his jobs in the town council as secretary and late treasurer, he was the bookkeeper for foreign investors who bought lots in Hadera but remained abroad. In Hadera he met many of his students and convinced a lot of them not to return to Poland, however difficult their conditions.

At first, Pinchas settled in a vacant room in the local hospital for malaria patients; but when their number increased, he had to leave and rented a room with one of the farmers. Finally he bought a lot and built a permanent residence. Again, his home became the gathering place for scholars, especially friends from Piotrkow. Each new immigrant from there knew his address and came to visit. His salary as secretary was not high, but he managed to save and send some money to needy people abroad.

A group of the first Piotrkower Halutzim in Eretz Israel
A group of the first Piotrkower Halutzim in Eretz Israel


In 1926, his wife died after an illness, and he was terribly depressed. Some years later, in 1929, his former student Hadassah (Pessa) Staszewska came to Palestine and, after a few months, they were married. They had two children, a son, Uri, and a daughter Ahuva.

When the State of Israel was founded, Pinchas felt, like many others, that his dreams had come true. He began writing a detailed diary about all that was happening in the young State, and kept it till his last day. Despite his declining eyesight (after several operations), he followed every event and wrote about his reactions, joys and sorrows regarding the development of the Jewish State. Earlier, at the end of 1946, he had been forced, due to his deteriorating health, to take early retirement from his secretarial work After that, he lived very sparingly on the rent from the shops in his house. Even though money was scarce, he still saved enough to buy books, including the new Hebrew Encyclopedia and the new Ben-Yehuda Hebrew Dictionary. In spite of his weak eyesight he was reading a lot and each new hook made him happy. He was exchanging letters with all his friends and students from Piotrkow in Israel and abroad – those who survived the Holocaust and those who came before it. Many of his brothers' families died during World War Two; he took some consolation in the establishment of Israel, and was extremely proud when both his son and daughter served in the Israeli Army.

In his diaries of those days, Pinchas writes a lot about politics, international and local, and one can sense the attention and joy with which he regarded every event in the newborn Israel.

Pinchas Bar-On died in his sleep on Rosh-chodesh Kislev Tashtaz, November 15, 1955. Let his blessed memory be with us forever.

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