Hasidim shtiblekh minyonim (minyons)
By Yosef Lehman
(Translator's note: Some surnames and given names appear with inconsistent spellings within the Yizkor book, reflecting variations in the original Yiddish spellings. They have been transliterated as written.)
It is told about a Misnagid (adversary of Hasidism) that when his only son left him and became a Hasid, before his death, he called [the son] to his bed and requested of him a handshake agreement that the Kaddish he would say for him would not in any case be Hasidic and include May He establish His kingship, but [would be the Kaddish of a Misnagid]. The son gave him a handshake, but immediately at the first Kaddish at the fresh grave, he said, May He establish His kingship, bring forth His redemption and hasten the coming of Meshiekh. When he was asked, How, right at the first Kaddish, did you transgress on the handshake and on your father's will? he answered, My father is already in the other world and he already knows the truth, that one must say, May He establish His kingship.
A similar story happened with Reb Lipman Litmanowicz, the oldest son-in-law of Tiferes Shlomoh, who gave his father-in-law his handshake and fervently promised that he would not travel to Kock any more. However, on a certain evening, he noisily knocked on the window and shouted, Father-in-law, it is burning. When the frightened Tiferes Shlomoh asked him, Where? Reb Lipman pointed with his finger to his heart saying, A fire burns here in me; it draws me to Kock, and he disappeared for many weeks with Reb Mendele Kotsker.
Although Reb Lipman Litmanowicz was so close to Tiferes Shlomoh, the light of his great father-in-law that drew thousands of Hasidim from all over the country was not enough. Together with a group of young men, among them Reb Fishel Wajs (Kotsker), Reb Hersz-Yosef Dayn, Reb Haim Szpira, Reb Pinhas Wolf Malamed, he created the first Kotsker shtibl in the city. In time, not including the large Rabbinic Dynasty which was found in Radomsk, there were dozens of Hasidic shtiblekh and minyonin, which celebrated Hasidism and traveled to learn the ways of other rabbis, which Poland and Galicia were so rich in.
The sequel to Kock was Ger. The Gerer shtibl excelled among the Hasidic shtiblekh in both its quantity and in its quality. Until the First World War, it was located in a small room in the courtyard where Aron Wolf Szwarc had his soda-water factory. Later it moved to a larger apartment on Market 2, in Yosel Najkron's house. More than twelve minyonin of Jews davened there, including distinguished scholars and Hasidim. This shtibl was seldom closed, except for several hours at night. From dawn until late in the night, the voice of Torah was heard there.
Young men, kest-yingeleit (young grooms whose expenses were paid by their fathers-in-law) and ordinary Hasidic Jews who took the opportunity to come to the shtibl in order to study the day's page or to quickly look into a sefer while their wives represented them in the store studied in the shtibl.
The most distinguished among the Radomsker Gerer Hasidim were Reb Mendel Litmanowicz and Reb Yitzhak Meir Eibeszic. These two old scholarly sages with their learning, Hasidism, and lineage threw light not only on the Gerer Hasidim, but because of them all of the Hasidim in the city were elevated. And even if one met a young Hasid who, because of envy, would disparage the Gerer, it never applied to the above-mentioned two great Hasidic authorities. In essence, however, they were different types and characters.
Reb Lipman's son Reb Mendel (Litmanowicz)
A son of the oldest son-in-law of Tiferes Shlomoh, he continued in the tradition of his great father, Reb Lipman. He traveled to Ger and was devoted to Gerer Hasidism. Despite being a Radomsker grandson, he had no connection with the Radomsker Dynasty. He davened in the Gerer shtibl all of his life. Reb Mendel was not only a member of a proud family, but also a Torah giant and a wonderful expert in the Talmud and commentaries. He sat the whole day and studied, and in general, did not mix in worldly matters. He lived on [the income] from the large house in the market that his father-in-law bought for him. His wife Beile was involved with the matters of the house. She collected the rents, haggled with the tenants, and so on. She even chose the grooms for their daughters and the brides for their sons.
Reb Mendel was involved only in the domain of the Torah. Nothing else interested him. Going to the sefer cabinet, he would get so absorbed in an author's presentation that he could remain aloof for three or four hours looking into the book, forgetting everything around him. Reb Mendel, Reb Lipman's son, was not only a great authority of the Gerer shtibl, but a great scholar in the entire Radomsker region and a great authority in Torah matters. It is interesting that even though he was the oldest son of the great Kotsker Hasid Reb Lipman and a grandson of Tiferes Shlomoh, with a totally Hasidic lineage and, therefore, a Torah giant, he was not in the eyes of the Radomsker Gerer Hasidim an authority in the matters of Hasidism. Reb Mendel was absorbed in his head and with the greater part of his body in subtle argumentation and Halakah. He did not interest himself in Hasidic matters and did not even travel to the Rebbe in Ger more often than once or twice a year and not on any yom-tov¸ but on a regular Shabbos. Unfortunately, he was a simple man, who disparaged scholarship. Because of this, his worth was not acknowledged in the matter of Hasidism, only the worth of a second giant, Reb Yitzhak Meir Eibeszic.
Reb Yitzhak Meir Eibeszic (Reb Yitzhak Meir Kotsker)
Reb Yitzhak Meir Eibeszic was like Reb Lipman's son Mendel of Rabbinical lineage. A grandson of the Pilcer Rebbe, Reb Pinhas Menakham Yustman, while still young he was a close friend of the Gerer Rebbe, Reb Abraham Mordekhai Alter, of blessed memory. They ate on kest together and studied together. Unlike Reb Mendel, Reb Lipman's son, he was not born in Radomsk, but had lived in Radomsk for dozens of years. His son, Reb Nakhum was the son-in-law of Reb Yosel Beser.
Reb Yitzhak Meir was little known outside of the Hasidic circles in the city. He was a homebody and always sat in his room studying, not mixing in any other matters. In his later years, he first would go with his son, Reb Nakhum, then the only moyel in the city, and participated in one of the mitzves of the bris-mile (circumcision). The difference between the two great personalities of the Gerer Hasidim in Radomsk, was that Reb Lipman's son Reb Mendel was very much the pillar of Torah and Reb Yitzhak Meir, the pillar of Hasidism, the final judge in all matters of Hasidism.
There was also a difference in the character of the two old men. Reb Mendel was a person of great modesty and reserved, never moralized about anyone and never reacted to any wrong that was done to him. Even a child had access to him, while he, in general, did not know what it meant to be angry with someone. Reb Yitzhak Meir on the other hand distinguished himself with Hasidic keenness and self-confidence. In general, he did not make allowances for other Hasidic personalities in the city. This very often led to conflict, but mainly there was friction between him and the Amszinower Rebbe in Radomsk, Reb Abrahamele, when they met at a bris-mile. The Amszinower approached everything with great preparation, which would last for hours. The simple crowd did not have any choice and waited with respect. That was not the case with Reb Yitzhak Meir Kotsker, who was an old man and fit to be a rebbe himself. The long wait for Reb Abrahamele made him nervous. He could not endure the wait and complained and several times there were even disputes between them.
Reb Yitzhak Meir died before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Until the First World War, Reb Itzel Szternfeld (the stepfather of Hersz Dovid Nomberg) was counted among the beautiful Jews in the Radomsker shtibl, Reb Noakh Shoykhet, Reb Shlomoh Czszeraski, Reb Feiwel Rozencweig, Reb Borukh Mordekhai Soyfer, etc.
Here it is worthwhile to dwell a little upon Reb Borukh Mordekhai Soyfer's son, Yosef Mendel.
Yosef Mendel was a very poor man, but of the happy pauper type. He was gifted with a significant sense of humor. Hasidim would say of him that he was a clown. At every Hasidic gathering, yom-tov or on other occasions, Yosef Mendel would appear with a Purim speech, chock full of satire on the small feuds, controversies due to honor, trusteeship or other pettinesses, as was the custom in shtiblekh.
Above all, the arrows of his satire were sent against the Hasidic powers and rich men, telling them off about what everyone knew, but did not dare to say aloud. No one ever asked Yosef Mendel. [Given a] chance, he would wound with sarcastic jokes and hints and the crowd gasped from laughter. The victim, although he was deeply insulted had, perforce, to laugh along. It should be understood that these jokes did not create any good friends for him and the number of his hidden enemies in the Gerer Beis-Midrash grew.
Suddenly, Yosef Mendel decided to issue his own [publication of] jokes. Once, close to Passover, a humorous large format newspaper of 12 pages appeared in Radomsk, under the name Radomsker Krumer Shpigel (Radomsker Crooked Mirror). Editor and publisher: Yosef Mendel Zeligfeld. This publication was chock full of humor, jokes, banter and satire and all written by Yosef Mendel alone. He was the distributor of this newspaper, too, and collected the few groshen that it cost immediately on the spot. Most of the humorous and satirical material in this first newspaper was dedicated to the Gerer shtibl and the Hasidim who davened there. Yosef Mendel did not only criticize and deride
the small feuds and controversies which occurred in the Gerer shtibl proper, but he ridiculed the different Jews because of their weaknesses and errors.
A certain M. K., who lived for a short time in Radomsk, davened in the Gerer shtibl. At one time he was a great businessman, but eventually things went bad for him. He did not have any income and, in addition, was burdened with extraneous troubles. The Jew was good at studying and was a distinguished Gerer Hasid. Because of the trouble he had, it was said, begun to drink whiskey in excess. No one in the city knew about this and he was not seen drunk in the street. However, Yosef-Mendel devoted a large part of the first Krumer Shpigel to this M.K., made fun of him and presented him as if he lay the whole day drunk in the gutter. One can imagine the shame of this M.K, who had endeavored to return to his former material status and was, in addition, the father of children who were [of marriageable age].
Yosef-Mendel's onslaught on the Jews provoked a storm in the Gerer shtibl. Erev Passover (the eve of Passover) when the public came to daven, things boiled as if in a kettle. The only arms the Hasidim would bring to bear in such cases was to throw someone out of the shtibl. In this case, too, the davening was held up until Yosef-Mendel left the shtibl. All of those who created a stir were for the most part those who felt anger against the humorist because of his jester-like performances against them in Hasidic circles. Among the great shouters were Zainwel Goldberg and Reb Yitzhak Siliwer. There were, however, some who defended him only because they knew that Yosef-Mendel had published the newspaper simply to be able to have the means to prepare for Passover. One of his defenders was Reb Abraham Yitzhak Shoykhet, who knew the true situation of Yosef-Mendel and his mother, the widow of Reb Borukh Mordekhai Soyfer. Reb Moishe Benimin Lehman, too, said a good word in favor of Yosef-Mendel. More than once, he had to save this family simply from need.
It ended with the decision to call together several Jews for a Din-Torah after yom-tov and to reach a verdict in the matter. Meanwhile, Yosef-Mendel must placate the Jews whom he had insulted. Zainwel Goldberg and Reb Yitzhak Siliwer also were called to the Beis-Din. When it [was decided to establish a Din-Torah], the 'editor' went up to the reader's stand, hit it hard and said that he could not agree to the two decisions. First of all, he cannot placate and ask for forgiveness from the Jews whom he had assaulted because, according to the law, he would have to take off his shoes and his socks are torn. He is ashamed, and he will not [have other socks], so he does not want to [ask for forgiveness]. Further he says in regard to the Din-Torah that he will not subject himself to the verdict, because he does not believe in the kind of wisdom that comes from the shoemakers and dairymen an allusion to some of the dayonim (those assigned to settling minor disputes).
This declaration brought laughter from some and strengthened the anger of others and Yosef-Mendel left the Gerer shtibl. Further, what happened to him is what happened to all Hasidic young men who were thrown out of the shtibl for a small transgression. As long as they davened in the shtibl, if they were caught in an act, there were certain restraints and they heeded their surroundings. However, the minute when they were publicly locked out of the Hasidic community, they loosened the belt and became more distant from Yiddishkeit. Yosef-Mendel shaved his beard and peyes, threw off the long clothing, took to wearing short clothing and distanced himself from the Hasidic surroundings. He again published the Radomsker Krumen Shpigel, but now he did not draw his material from the Gerer shtibl, but broadened his subject matter to general city matters and personalities. The journal appeared at first every week. However, in time, it was published only on every yom-tov and then completely disappeared.
Reb Lipman's son Shlomoh
Reb Lipman's second son, Reb Shlomoh, was one of the distinguished Hasidim in the Gerer shtibl, too. He was the son-in-law of the Lasker Rabbi, the author of Haddut Yakov and a grandson on the wife's side of [the author of] Khus Des (Opinions). Reb Shlomoh had a large wine business on Przedborzker Street in his own house. Unlike his older brother Mendel, he was a good businessman and simultaneously a keen Hasid. He had three sons and three daughters. His oldest son-in-law is Comrade Shabatai Bernsztein, who lives in Jerusalem. Reb Shlomoh's children excelled with sharp, keen minds and a tendency toward leadership, a legacy from generation to generation and [a tendency to be] geniuses from both the father's and mother's side.
The youngest son, Yehezkeil, as a young man, had organized the Khevre Bokhurim (Society of Young Men) in the Radomsker Gerer shtibl. This Khevre in time carried out a major upheaval, changing the accepted way of life and dictating to the older Hasidim how they should act. Yehezkeil was the leader and the head of the society of these young men. His older brother Abraham-Meir was strange in all respects and did not receive the respect of his family.
Reb Moishe-Mendel Rozenblat
Reb Moishe-Mendel Rozenblat was a son-in-law of the old Radomsker Rabbi, Reb Tzvi Meir. He was the long-time gabe of the Gerer shtibl and the prayer leader. In has later years, he would daven Kol Nidre, Musif and Ne'ilah on Yom Kippur. There was a time when he taught a choir of young men from the Gerer shtibl. Reb Moishe-Mendel was counted among the best prayer leaders in the city. The city businessmen turned to him more than once with a request that he daven during the Days of Awe in the large shul. At the same time, he became the Torah reader in the Gerer shtibl and one of the nicest Gerer Hasidim. Reb Moishe-Mendel died at the close of Yom Kippur in the shtibl after he had davened in front of the reader's stand the whole day.
On Shabbos, two minyonim davened in the Radomsker Gerer shtibl. The first minyon davened Shakhres (the morning prayers) at 7:30 in the morning according to the Gerer style, which strongly adhered to the Shulhan Aruk (laws for living as an Orthodox Jew), not violating the allotted time for prayer. After Shakhres, this group sat down to study in a second room. At nine o'clock, the second minyon began to daven
and later read without a break. The whole Gerer shtibl davened Musif (extension of morning prayers on yomim-toyvim and Shabbosim) together.
The keen Hasidim davened in the first minyon, the so-called youngsters. The second minyon consisted of the older Hasidim, the so-called hard Hasidim, who were not yet ready because of their preparations to daven so early. Eminent Hasidim of great consequence davened in both the first and second minyonim. However, such Hasidim as Reb Nakhum Eiberszic, Yakov-Asher Rozenman, Yitzhakel Silwer, Yitzhak Gliksman, Wolf Frenk, Yakov Gidzeler and so forth davened in the 7:30 minyon. Yosef Aliezer, may he rest in peace, Moishe Mendel Rozenblat, Abraham Yitzhak Shoykhet, Itzele Wolhendler, Reb Hanokh Wejs and so forth davened with the second minyon.
Reb Nakhum Eiberszic
Reb Yitzhak-Meir's son, Nakhum Eiberszic, was the opposite of his father. Reb Nakhum was involved with people and strongly mixed in community affairs. His was the address of Agudas-Yisroel in Radomsk. He was the spiritual leader of Beis-Yakov and Daughters of Agudas-Yisroel. His father-in-law was Yosef Beser. After kest, Reb Nakhum opened a wholesale haberdashery business in his father-in-law's house. However, Reb Nakhum was not a good businessman. He was more suited to be the head of a yeshiva or just a spiritual leader. Besides his wisdom and scholarship, he excelled with a great deal of courtesy, with which he won the hearts of his greatest opponents. The haberdashery business did not succeed and Reb Nakhum was left without income. Then the idea was born in the Gerer shtibl and in the Aguda circles to propose him as a candidate for moyre-hoyroe or city-rabbi (the person who makes decisions on matters of rabbinical law), of which Radomsk was then in need. The decision was carried through by the Kehile council and only needed the approval of the regime. However, the Radomsker Rabbi, who had disagreements with the Kehile and particularly with the Radomsker Aguda faction, was opposed and the nomination was not accepted. Later, Reb Nakhum became the only moyel in the city. In time, there was a reconciliation between the Aguda and the rabbi, thanks to the Hasidim who took an interest in electing a candidate as shoykhet and thereby Reb Nakhum was confirmed as moyre-hoyroe by the regime as rabbi.
Reb Yitzhak Asher Rozenman
Reb Yitzhak-Asher came from Stobniec (Kielcer area) and arrived in Radomsk as the son-in-law of Reb Lipman's son Reb Mendel. Reb Yitzhak-Asher was the sharpest among the youth in the Radomsker Gerer shtibl. While already a father-in law himself, he still behaved as a young man on kest. He not only traveled [to his rebbe] on Shabbos or yom-tov like other Hasidim, but he would sit with the rebbe like the Hasidim who maintained themselves at the Rebbe's court for weeks or even months. He left his wife at home with a house full of children. He left for Ger from the first Shabbos of Selikhot and only came home after the Shabbos of Sukkos. His wife and children were supported by his father-in-law or in reality by his mother-in-law, Beile. When Reb Yitzhak-Asher would be in Radomsk between one trip to the rebbe and the other, he was seen the whole day in the Gerer shtibl where he sat and learned (and he was good at learning). Or he would pace back and forth with a cigarette in his hand absorbed in his thoughts.
Reb Yitzhak-Asher belonged to the type of Hasidim, which one could meet during the Kotsker era, which however disappeared during the last era in Radomsk. He still had the time in his youth to be with the Shofos Emes. Therefore he did not say, as the old Hasidim whose first rebbe had been the Shofos Emes would say when he remembered the Shofos Emes, may his memory be blessed but, The Rebbe, of blessed memory, said. When the young men began to predominate in the Gerer shtibl, Yitzhak-Asher was a strong supporter and not only once was he at the head of their little feast, but entwined together with them in fiery Hasidic dance. Reb Yitzhak-Asher died very near the outbreak of the war.
R. Yitzhak Gliksman
It would be an injustice to write about the Gerer Shtibl in Radomsk and not remember Reb Yitzhak Gliksman. However, Radomsk called him Yitzhak Radomsker and in the town proper, Reb Yitzhak the local.
Reb Yitzhak was born in Radomsk and [was] the breath of life of the Gerer. An agile [man] and not a lazy [one], he was always the organizer of all undertakings in the Gerer shtibl and, especially, of a meal at a religious festival, a yahrzeit or Rosh Khodesh. He was the money-taker and arranger and [dispenser of money]. Nothing began without Yitzhak. He was always at the head of [things] when it was necessary to help a Jew, collecting for a needy person or collecting money for an important cause. We knew that as soon as R. Yitzhak would take to a cause, he would succeed. [There] was a certain time, when Reb Yitzhak's star fell with the Gerer. That was in the era of the broken relationship between the Gerer and the Rabbi because of Reb Nakhum Eibeszic and the Gerer shoykhet, whom the Rabbi had not wanted to confirm. Reb Yitzhak was the Rabbi's friend, he was the one who made the shiddukh (arranged the match) of the Radomsker Rabbi's son, Jekuthiel Natan-Note with Reb Mendel Landa's daughter. He also procured the rabbinical chair in Brisk [for] the Rabbi's son. He was subsequently the Rabbi's man and he didn't hide [that fact]. At every opportunity, he defended the Rabbi and the Gerer Hasidim took, therefore, to regarding him with suspicion. [They] were guarded with him [when talking] about the Rabbi and [they] also ended his participation in matters. But Reb Yitzhak made nothing of it; just the opposite, as he was not by nature an ambitious man. He was even satisfied that they left him alone regarding communal matters. After a day of business, he gave himself to study. Every evening until Minkhah-Maariv Reb Yitzhak was usually seen sitting together with Reb Lipman's son Reb Mendel and Moishe Rozenblat, studying a page of the Talmud.
[The Aguda (association) politics of the Gerer shtibl in the Kehile were] carried out by Zainwel Goldberg and Abraham Grosman. The Radomsker Aguda had more than two representatives in the
Kehile, but the life-spirit of the party in the city was the above-mentioned two community workers. Zainwel Goldberg came from Kinck (Konske), a son of simple parents (his father was s shoemaker). While still a child, he was known as a young genius and later was the best student of the Konsker Rebbe, Reb Yehoshua'le, the author of Yuav Yehoshua. Reb Zainwel was a scholar with a sharp mind and an extraordinary memory. There was not any tractate of our Sages of blessed memory that Reb Zainwel did not know where and on what spot it was found. There was not a topic in the Talmud that Zainwel did not know how to properly interpret. Reb Zainwel Goldberg was hotheaded by nature and he would defend his authority with such zeal and fervor that more than once he attacked his opponent with harsh words. It was the same with his work in the Kehile. He was in conflict with all opposition parties. He told the truth to one's face, and acquired so many opponents that his small soda-water factory in the city suffered. He never really had any profits. At the end, each day he studied a page of the Talmud with the group in the Gerer shtibl.
Reb Abraham Grosman was another type of community worker. He came from Jenjejow (Jezow?) and came to Radomsk as Iczele Kleinerman's son-in-law. He could learn, too, although not as well as Reb Zainwel Goldberg, and he was counted among the nicer young men even when he was still on kest with his father-in-law. Later he created large businesses, became a partner in a large glassworks and at the end had a nice crockery business in the market. He was not a rich man, but prosperous and he was the head of a comfortable home.
Reb Abraham did not bang the table during the Kehile meetings. A Jew, a clever man with a fast mind, he immediately sensed the opponents' weak side. With smooth talk, sometimes with simple flattery and sometimes with a shrewd trick, he would seduce the opponents and when they realized his intentions, it was, for the most part, too late. At a certain time, Reb Abraham Grosman was the head of the Kehile and during his term, he gained the sympathy of the Jewish population in the city thanks to his courteous and cultured attitude to people. He also willingly did a favor for a Jew. All of his virtues helped him when he presented [himself as a candidate] for the Radomsker City Council. He drew the needed number of votes and received a mandate.
The Radomsker Aguda had another councilman among the worshippers in the Gerer shtibl. This was Yitzhak Szpira, who had a store with old hardware.
A separate chapter in the Radomsker Gerer shtibl was the young men, the so-called Yusheivim (Hangers on). This was a newer type of young Hasidic man, who had not been seen before.
In general, it was assumed that a young man would makes Kiddish with very little. He first had the right according to Hasidism after his marriage when he was still at his father-in-law's on kest. That is how it was with Shofos Emes and at first with the later Gerer rebbes, too, that a young man did not dare to go down to the first rows of those standing around the Rebbe's table. Immediately, he would not be permitted there. In Ger, there was an eminent old Hasid named Reb Bunim Lukower. This Hasid was called Reb Bunim Bukher (young man), which made use of the privilege of pushing himself in the first row of those who [stood by the head of the table]. During the last years, in Ger the young men played the first fiddle at the table. The same change later was noticed in the other Hasidic courts, but it started with the Gerer.
The intention of this change was to strengthen true Hasidism, which suffered greatly with the First World War and in the first year after it. The Agudas Yisroel was created in order to strengthen Yiddishkeit. The Gerer Rebbe, who was one of the founders and leaders, recognized, however, that the Agudistishe movement alone was still not enough to strengthen Hasidism itself. In all events, this movement leads to certain forms of worldliness. This bell, the worldly way of today's modern organizational forms, was foreign to the spirit of the genuine ancient Hasid. There was very faint hope that another type of Hasid would arise from these young men, who joined the Agudistishe movement. Therefore, the Gerer Rebbe, first of all, began to strengthen his own camp and, first, in accordance with the precept that if there are no kids, there will be no goats, groups of young men created settlements in Ger. They were supported by the Gerer community, spent the whole year in Ger, studied and devoted themselves to Hasidism. This was supposed to be the vanguard in the struggle, so as to preserve and invigorate the original Gerer Hasidism, which drew its nourishment from Kock. The communities were recruited from the young men, who originated in areas of Poland where Gerer Hasidism had reached. They returned home only once a year, while the Rebbe went for a cure in the baths. These communities made an effort to draw their members, the Gerer young men, to their path. Thus at one time, in all Gerer shtiblekh in all corners of Poland, came the cry, Back to the source. Where a community appeared, a group of young men was created, who were distinguished by the clothing and behavior of Hasidic young men. It was not enough that until then the young men wore peyes behind the ear and a black Hasidic necktie with a white shirt. It was necessary to wear peyes hanging down and a cravat. As matter of fact, a Hasidic [necktie] was forbidden. These young men wore silk hats with a skullcap underneath, the pants were tucked into the socks and they wore a large talis-kotn (undergarment with tassels at four corners worn by Orthodox men) according to the law that one should be able to make a brukhe every day.
The private life was almost communal. Every opportunity was used to eat together, both during the week and on Shabbos. In general, an effort was made that more time be spent together than at home, so that the influence of an undesirable home would be lessened. At first, the behavior of these young men was repugnant. In fact, the older generation of the Gerer Hasidim were simple towns people. In every shtetl, the young men lived in their own world and, in general, they did not spend time with anyone, not even with the
older Hasidim. The fathers of these young men, even Hasidim, also were not very pleased with the demeanor and clothing of their children. First of all, the communities brought new customs with them to the house; they did not eat with any women at the table, even if it was their own sisters or mother. They were very fastidious that the sleeve or dress, even of small children, should not be too short and, in general, were much stricter then their own fathers that everything in the home should be carried out according to their version of Hasidism. Moreover, the fathers were very worried about where they would find brides for these bearded young men with their peyes, whose clothing and appearance were new at that time, even in the Hasidic circles. This fear of the parents was unnecessary, because Ger foresaw everything and created a remedy for the [problem]. With the organization of the Beis-Yakov Shuln (schools) and later the Daughters of Agudas Yisroel, these questions were all resolved. The older Hasidim made peace with the new style of Bukher Hasidism, because only Ger had indeed, of late, befriended the young men.
The founder and first head of the group of this movement in Radomsk was Yekhezeil Litmanowicz, the son of Reb Lipman's son Reb Shlomoh. In the Gerer group, Yekhezeil was considered one of the first and most respected Hasids. Once, coming home to Radomsk, he called together all of the young men who were Talmudic students at the Gerer shtibl, and created a group. Understandably, they first had to wear their peyes hanging, not [hidden] behind the ears and their pants stuffed into their socks. Moreover, all had to wear silk hats. On yom-tov, the whole group traveled to Ger and there they were strengthened on the new path. When finally they were finished with their own, they made an effort to attract new young men, and even ordinary Jewish boys from the street. The first such boy who fell under the influence of the community and remained with them was Hershel, the son of Zalman Zilberszatz, the owner of a food store on Sw. Rozalia Street. This young man, who grew up in a purely Christian neighborhood and himself looked like a young Christian with his flaxen colored hair, once passed Yosel Najkron's courtyard. There he saw young men and their elders standing around with such long peyes and gartlen, some sprouting little beards and making strange grimaces. Hershel Zilberszatz with amazed eyes approached them in order to look at them more closely. The young men took him for a non-Jew and in Polish asked what he wanted. Hershel laughed and answered them in Yiddish. The young men did not chase him but, on the contrary, they spoke to him politely. When Hershel passed the second time, he was greeted in a friendly manner. After a long conversation, they asked him if he would like to study with them. When Hershel told about this in his home and explained that they want him to study with them, his father, who was a religious Jew and could not engage a malamed for his son, was very happy and in a short time, Hershel Zilberszatz became part of the community.
A second case occurred with Mendel Waksman, the son of Mikhal Waksman, for many years the treasurer of the Radomsker Yiddish Bank. Here, however, they had a hard bit of work.
Mikhal Waksman was a Maskil Jew (follower of the Enlightenment), a little progressive and a member of Mizrakhi. He was interested in giving his son a nationalist-religious education; in no way would he agree that his child should wear a silk hat, long peyes hanging down, krikhn oyf di vent (running mad) and practicing Gerer Hasidism according to the style of the community. At first, the father tried to convince his son amicably and turn him from the new path. However, when this did not help, he started to forbid Mendel from meeting with his new friends. But this had no effect. Mendel was drawn to the community. In the end, the father simply confined his son to the home so that he would not be able to go to the Gerer shtibl. The community, however, was not sleeping either. On a certain day, they sneaked Mendel out of the house and sent him to Ger. Perforce, the father had to end the struggle.
Years later, Mendel was forced to leave the community because of the difficult financial situation his parents were in when his father lost his post at the bank. Mendel was forced to work. However, until the end, he remained a religious Hasidic young man.
Wolf, Yakov Fajerman's youngest son, was drawn to the above-mentioned group, too. Reb Yakov, himself, was then no longer alive and the home was unable to exert influence on Welwele. The community sent him to Ger and tried to make him a Gerer Hasid.
Sending new young men to Ger became very expensive; the cost of travel alone from Radomsk to Ger was then very expensive. The community did not receive any money from the outside, they did not have their own. Where would young men who are studying the whole day get money? However, they found a simple method. Every day two young men would go out to the House of Prayer to collect donations. When two Hasidic young men came together to a Jew in the middle of davening for a needed contribution, no one refused them. One was certain that, of course, the collection was for a poor sick person. It did not occur to anyone that they were collecting for themselves, that the money was being collected to send away to Ger a gekhapte nshume (a captured soul), as the opponents referred to them. The community, it should be understood, had their justification for these activities. According to them, saving a soul was as important as saving a body.
The leaders of the group would constantly change. When a leader got married, another was chosen in his place. The last leader and head of the group was Ber Grunis, a son of Meir Grunis, the iron dealer. This Ber Grunis did not leave the group even in the Ghetto. In those times of hunger and typhus, when the largest part of the Jewish homes were already destroyed and everyone was concerned with saving their own life, a special strength was required in order to fulfil the mitzvah of unity and brotherliness. Ber Grunis with his group hid in an apartment in the Shul Street in Berish Landa's house. There were then pious women, who
took pains to assist these young Hasidic men, of which the greatest number no longer had their own homes, that they would not die of hunger and could continue to sit and study and protect themselves from the Nazis.
Ber and his group were taken together during the general expulsion to Treblinka.
Among the first who emigrated to Palestine from the Gerer shtibl between the First and Second World Wars were the brothers Yitzhak and Izrael Ejlbert, Yekheiel Tron, Yosef Borzykowski, Moishe Kirsz and Moishe Binyamin Lakhman and his family.
This Hasidic shtibl, which was located in the courtyard of Aba Szwarc, Market number 6, was counted as the nicest of the shtiblekh in the city. It is true that a large number of worshippers did not daven there. Therefore the greater number of them were pure Hasidim and Bney-Torah (scholars).
The most respected of the Strikower Hasidim in Radomsk, unquestionably, was the oldest of the group, Reb Yakov-Dovid Wejntraub. This name was known not only in the Radomsk area, but was famous in all of Poland among the Strikower Hasidim and the old Aleksandrer Hasidim. Reb Yakov-Dovid sat his whole life in the study of Torah and in service to G-d. Without weekday concerns, he occupied himself spiritually. The income for his home came from his wife Frumet (she was called Frumet Kupke [bonnet worn by pious women]). She raised the children and arranged their marriages; he
Reb Yakov-Dovid Wejntraub
himself knew only his own little place of Torah.
Reb Yakov-Dovid, of course, was engaged not only in the religious texts dealing with everyday life, but also in esoteric doctrine. He had great knowledge of Kabbalah. When the old Strikower Rebbe died, Reb Yakov-Dovid was counted as one of the most prominent candidates to take over the leadership of the Strikower Hasidim in Poland.
An interesting case is told about Reb Yakov-Dovid:
When Reb Abraham-Yitzhak Bochan was supposed to be hired as the shoykhet in Radomsk, the Aleksandrer Hasidim sent Reb Yakov-Dovid to Suchedniow, a small shtetele in the Kielcer area, where Reb Abraham-Yitzhak was until then the shoykhet in order to determine what kind of person the new candidate for Radomsker shoykhet was. In that shtetl, there was a major conflict between the Gerer and Aleksandrer Hasidim. Reb Abraham-Yitzhak was a Gerer. Reb Yakov-Dovid arrived in the shtetl and, as an Aleksandrer Hasid, he was the guest of the Aleksandrers in Suchedniow. He did not tell them the reason for his arrival, but in passing he asked about Reb Abraham-Yitzhak. As usual, the Aleksandrer criticized the Gerer shoykhet, forbidden talk. This information should have been enough for him to return with the authority that this shoykhet is not competent to be accepted in Radomsk but he did want to do this. He was already at the train when he reflected that it was not just to issue a judgment on a Jew when he had not talked to him and seen his actions. He returned and went to the shoykhet. He said that he was an emissary from a yeshiva and asked for a donation. Meanwhile, he entered a discussion with him about studying and asked him about some of the Aleksandrer Hasidim in the shtetl, particularly about those who had criticized the shoykhet. Thus, Reb Abraham-Yitzhak showed his honorability; he only spoke well of them and did not speak any bad, as it should be for an honorable Jew. Reb Yakov-Dovid watched how the shoykhet slaughtered, too, and he saw that he was truly an expert in slaughtering. At his departure, Reb Abraham-Yitzhak took the whole day's income from slaughtering and gave it for the ostensible yeshiva. Only then did Reb Yakov-Dovid reveal who he was and the reason that he had come and wished him a Mazel-tov. Arriving in Radomsk, Reb Yakov-Dovid happily declared to the Aleksandrer Hasidim that the new shoykhet is a Gerer Hasid, but the Aleksandrer Hasidim in Radomsk would be for him.
In his last years, Reb Yakov-Dovid was unable to come to the Strikower shtibl to daven. A minyon was, therefore, arranged for him in his room. Thus, his demeanor as a tzadek became even more apparent.
Reb Yakov-Dovid left many children and sons-in-laws. All were Hasidim and scholars. Some emigrated to E.Y. thanks to their father's influence.
Reb Izraelke Tiberg
The greatest influence in the Strikower shtibl was unquestionably Reb Izraelke Tiberg. He was himself the trunk of a many-branched
family sons, sons-in-law and grandchildren who were distinguished Hasidim in the Strikower shtibl. It was necessary to heed his word. If not, he, as it was said, banged with his stick on the table and screamed that it must be as he wanted and, usually all of his children supported him. In spiritual matters Reb Izraelke Tiberg was fastidious and was ready to sacrifice his life for the smallest trifle, which affected Yiddishkeit. It is said that during the First World War, when he had a tobacco shop in the market, a decree was issued that tobacco shops must be open on Shabbos. From the start, Reb Izraelke did not conform to the decree and he closed his shop on Friday night. He was arrested because of this and placed in prison. Sitting for a whole week in captivity, however, Reb Izraelke did not want to miss lighting the candles in honor of Shabbos in his cell; when he was not permitted to do so, he was ready to start a hunger strike.
In his old age, Reb Izraelke Tiberg gave his shop to his children and he himself sat and studied.
Reb Leibke Dunski
Reb Leibke Mikvahnik (in charge of the ritual bathhouse) was a truly honest Jew and, in addition, a learned man. He was very devoted, too, and he did the heavy work demanded by a bath, but he was seen sitting with sefer studying [early in the morning]. Even while standing at the entrance of the mikvah so that he could collect the mikvah-gelt, he would be studying or reciting (by the way, he never demanded a particular price for going into the mikvah). Reb Leibke was [warmly] embraced by the Hasidic public, not only in the Strikower shtibl where he was one of the eminent Hasidim, but in general in the city. Reb Leibke also wrote a sefer this was a collection of Psalms, which he published and distributed himself. It is interesting that Reb Leibke, himself, did not come from Hasidic spheres; his brothers and sisters did not belong to the Hasidic class. One of his brothers was well known in Radomsk with the name Filip the Top Hat. His sister Gulcze Blumsztein had a fancy-goods story in Nakhumie Zandberg's house and, in those times, was already wearing her own hair. Her son was very free. His second brother-in-law Leibish Rozencweig, the iron dealer, was a middle class Jew, but not a Hasid. Reb Leibke operated the mikvah in Radomsk for many years. The Kehile in Radomsk actually declared a contest each year for the contract for the mikvah. However, who dared to compete with Reb Leibke?
Reb Mendel Lakhman
Reb Mendel Lakhman was one of the most distinguished Strikower Hasidim, too. There is in this book a special appreciation of him.
Reb Dovid Rapoport
Reb Dovid Rapoport was counted among the young members of the Strikower shtibl. He was the oldest son-in-law of Reb Henekh Shoykhet. Reb Dovid was a studious Jew and, in fact, he sat and studied when he was free from his business. He had a small oil and varnish factory in partnership with Dovid Yakubowicz (Dovid Yuszek). These two partners were, indeed, a mystery. Dovid Yakubowicz was a common person, for all his life an opponent of the clergy. He cursed and hated the Hasidim and Sheinem Yidn and Reb Dovid Rapoport was not free of these sins the son-in-law and brother-in-law of shoyketim and himself a strong Hasid. Both Dovids were, however, very honest people and although they belonged to different societal strata, they carried out their partnership for many years without conflict.
Reb Dovid Rapoport was also leader of Agudas Yisroel and for many years he was the warden of the synagogue of Agudas in the Jewish Kehile in Radomsk. Reb Dovid Rapoport had only one daughter, named Henye, who was known in Radomsk as a learned and cultured girl. She was a leader of Bnus [Daughters of] Agudas Yisroel in Radomsk.
The Aleksandrer Shtibl
In truth, it can be said that there were two Aleksandrer shtiblekh in Radomsk. The first was located on Reymonta, where the good Jews davened. The second was located for a certain time in the Rabbi's Court in a small room, near the Beis-Midrash of the Amszinower Rebbe. The young men referred to as immersed davened there. Reb Eidel Margulewski, the longtime gabe of Aleksandrer, was among the elite of society in Radomsk.
Reb Eidel was the leader of leaders in the Aleksandrer shtibl, especially concerned with both the Aleksandrer Hasidim and with community work. He was not only concerned with the survival and maintenance of the shtibl itself, but also kept in mind each worshipper. If an Aleksandrer Hasid had a problem, it was immediately brought to Reb Eidel. This gabe knew who needed help and what help should be given. More than once, he closed his shop (kosher butter) and ran to help his Hasid who did not have the means to prepare for Shabbos, or had a sick person in his home and it was necessary to raise a few gilden. Reb Eidel felt responsible for his people, felt joy with their joy and grieved with their suffering. For a certain time, Reb Eidel Margulewski was also the trustee of the Talmud Torah (school for poor children) in the city and orphans at that time really came to life; they had a father. Reb Eidel worried about them not just spiritually, but also with regard to their material wellbeing, a spoon to eat, a pair of shoes and a piece of clothing.
Reb Eidel died just before the World War. He died while still young from an illness after an unsuccessful operation. After his death he was buried in Radomsk. The casket was placed in the Aleksandrer shtibl and the funeral left from there. The Aleksandrer Hasidim and the whole Hasidic community in Radomsk sincerely mourned this loss.
Reb Mordekhai-Yosef Malamed, a well-known Gemera malamed, was among the Aleksandrer Hasidic community. He excelled with his meticulousness and rigor. Reb Mordekhai-Yosef established a generation of pure Hasidim with sons and sons-in-law; all traveled to Aleksander and were counted as distinguished Aleksandrer Hasidim.
Reb Yakov Kohen, Beli-sm (miracle worker), was a blond tall Jew, very involved with all of the mitzves, davened very late in the Beis-Midrash and never, neither summer nor winter, failed to ritually immerse himself before davening.
Hershel Rapoport was a son of the eminent saintly and charitable woman, Breindel Rapoport. Reb Hershel, himself, was a Jew, a merchant, but was counted among the Aleksandrer Hasidim only because of his lineage and also because he had only Hasidic sons.
Among the Aleksandrer were also those who devoted themselves to politics and who were in the first row of Kehile politics. Reb Yehuda-Hirsz Tiger was for many years a Kehile community worker and for a certain time the president of the Radomsker Kehile.
Tiger's personality reached far beyond the boundaries of the Aleksandrer shtibl. He was considered a city community worker and during his term in office in the Kehile he showed himself to be an understanding community worker, who cared not only for our group, but gave his time and effort for the good of the whole Jewish population in the city. Yehuda-Hirsz was an Aleksandrer Hasid and was embraced by the Aleksandrer Rebbe, although when he went out on community matters, he wore short clothes and even wore a trimmed beard. However, this did not diminish his esteem as a Hasid with the Aleksandrer, because they knew that Reb Yehuda-Hirsz was a dedicated Hasidic Jew and a scholar, too. Even when he was very involved with his button factory and in Kehile matters, he did not fail to study a page of Gemera every day.
His home was a modern one, the children far removed from Hasidim, except for one son, Yosef who followed in his father way. Yosef was considered one of the best young Hasidim in the Aleksandrer community.
The number of young increased in the Aleksandrer shtibl and there, as in the Gerer shtibl, young men sat and studied the entire day. They were actually small in number and their path in Hasidism was not Torah and Tradition, like the community in the Gerer shtibl. However, they comported themselves in the authentic Hasidic way, upholding Torah and Tradition.
The Rebbe's Beis-Midrash
The last Rebbe and leader of the Radomsker Dynasty was Reb Shlomoh Henekh Rabinowicz, a grandson of Hasid L'Abraham and Tiferes Shlomoh and a son of Kenesset Yekhezkiel. After the death of Rebbe Reb Khaskele, all of the old and young Hasidim who remained after [the deaths of his grandfather and father] concentrated around his son, Reb Shlomoh Henekh. Among them were also the majority of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Tiferes Shlomoh and Hasid L'Abraham, who were spread throughout the entire country. True, after Hasid L'Abraham, one of the sons separated himself [from the others] and ran the office of Rebbe by himself. This was the Kromolower Rebbe, who lived in Zawiercie. However, the largest number of the Radomsker Hasidim, among them scholars and followers, remained with the Radomsker Rebbe, Reb Shlomoh Henekh, of blessed memory.
The Radomkser Rebbe established the Hasidic court, only not in Radomsk, but in Sosnowiec, where he lived until the outbreak of the Second World War. On every yom-tov or Shabbos, the Radomsker Hasidim from all over Poland, chiefly from Congress Poland and Galicia, would be drawn there. The Rabbinical Beis-Midrash in Radomsk proper with its strong and large tables and benches which could accommodate thousands of Hasidim, was orphaned during the whole year. It became lively only in the days of the yahrzeitn for the great Radomsker Rebbes, the Tiferes Shlomoh and Hasid L'Abraham, when thousands of Hasidim came to the graves of the above mentioned Rebbes. The trustees and intimates [of the Rebbe], who once had whirled around the court and at the time the Rebbe left Radomsk remained without income, waited for these few days, too. The little inns, which were scattered in the whole of Shul Street and had in the past been created just for the court, waited separately, too. In the past these businesses blossomed; Hasidim came and went. Kvitlekh (pleas for help) were written, one went seeking good wishes and leave was taken. At the end, all of the little inns, such as Yekel Tajmacker's, Frajleck, and so forth, stood vacant. Only three days a year were the rooms filled; this was on the yahrzeitn.
The elite of society of the Radomsker Hasidim in Radomsk proper was in the first row: the sons, sons-in-law and grandsons of Tiferes Shlomoh's three sons, Hasid L'Abraham¸ Reb Tzvi-Meir Radomsker, Rabbi and Reb Arieh Leibush. Reb Itamar Rabinowicz was there with his son Shlomoh-Yitzhak, Reb Yekhezeil Rabinowicz and Yitzhak Rabinowicz, three brothers, the sons of Arieh Leibush, and the children of Matil Blos and the sons-in-law of Minchele Rabinowicz, Reb Mendel Frenkl and Reb Natan Szpira, the last two, sons-in-law of the last Radomsker Rebbe.
Reb Natan Szpira was the youngest son-in-law. He was a Jew, a scholar and a Hasid and in addition a good person by nature; the Hasidim praised him for his goodness. In the end, he went to Lodz and there he was the director of the large textile warehouse, Widzewska Textiles, which belonged to the Radomsker Rebbe. During the war, he turned up in the Warsaw Ghetto, lived on Pawjs Street, No. 5 and like the majority of the Jews he suffered hardship. It was a great sorrow to witness how this genteel Jew tried to support himself by carrying around cheap candies to sell to small shops.
Reb Mendel Frenkl
Reb Mendel Frenkl, the second son-in-law of the Radomsker Rebbe, was in the Warsaw Ghetto, too. His situation was a little better than the situation of Reb Natan Szpira. He supported himself together with his son Moishe, a young man with the Posciszener Rebbe, Reb Kalonymus Kalman Szpira, who was his stepbrother (they had the same mother). Reb Mendel Frenkl and his son were the experts in the Rebbe's house and the Hasidim were already worried that the Posciszener Rebbe not die at any rate from hunger.
The writer of these lines, who was an active associate of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, found upon opening the Ringelblum Archive a notebook of memories of the first days of the war
in Radomsk written by Moishe Frenkl, which proves that young Moishe Frenkl was acquainted with the secret work of Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum in the Warsaw Ghetto. It is almost certain that the other documents about the Yudnrat in Radomsk found in the Ringelblum Archive were brought in by Moishe Frenkl.
This connection of Moishe Frenkl with the secret archive is also based on the fact that one of the very important associates of Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum in the Warsaw Ghetto was Comrade Huberbondt, who was a Hasid and a frequent and familiar guest at the Posciszener Rebbe. It is very possible that it was he who drew the young Moishe Frenkl to the secret work of Dr. Ringelblum.
Reb Mendel Landa was also counted among the esteemed Radomsker Hasidim. He had a wine business in the market. His children were all Hasidim and went in the path of their father. His son-in-law was Comrade Yekuthiel Natan Nate, the Rabbi of Brisk, a son of the last Radomsker Rabbi.
Reb Eidel Kosiwode
Reb Eidel was one of the fervent Radomsker Hasidim. He was the oldest son-in-law of Szmul Goldberg and brother-in-law of Haim Goldberg. Because of his constant debates with the Gerer Hasidim, one might think that this Jew hated all of those who were not Radomsker Hasidim. The truth is that Reb Eidel Kosiwode possessed a warm Jewish heart, truly a spark of Reb Yitzhak Lev Berdichiver. According to what was related to me, this Reb Eidel and his wife Feigel-Dwojre secretly devoted themselves to helping Jews. Without fanfare and without renown, protected from people eyes and ears, they provided meat for Shabbos to completely dejected families, whose needs were not known to others. He, himself, would stand every Thursday at night packing the little packages, carry the basket for his wife and she would secretly, so that no one would know, deliver the support where it was needed. He would remain alone outside in order not to shame these recipients.
Reb Shmueil-Meir Sztajnitz
Reb Shmueil-Meir Sztajnitz was the son-in-law of Yeshayahu the baker, whose bakery was in the market in the house of Reb Mendel Lipman. Erev Pesakh, the Hasidim would bake shmire matzah in this bakery and the singing of Hallel (hymns of praise) would carry far and wide. Yeshayahu the baker was not disappointed in this son-in-law. Besides coming from a distinguished family, he, himself, was a learned man, no fool and a capable person. Although Reb Shmueil-Meir had been promised kest, a dowry and a business, his father-in-law, however, in the end became impoverished and Reb Shmueil Sztajnitz had to look for an income for his wife and children. For a certain time he was the assistant to the director of the newly created kheder of the association, Yesoyay-Torah (Foundation of Torah). When this kheder failed, Reb Shmueil Sztajnitz again found himself with no income. However, he was an industrious person and not wanting to be beholden to anyone, he was not ashamed of doing any work and started to work in Fiszman's glassworks as a common physical laborer, later as a warehouse keeper. He worked very hard in the glassworks. However, at night he sat and studied. When the Radomsker Rebbe founded a yeshiva in Radomsk, Ksor Torah, Reb Shmueil Sztajnitz was hired as the head of the yeshiva. At first, the public was in doubt as to whether the right choice had been made for this high office. The distance from physical work in a glassworks to the pulpit of a yeshiva head was very far. However, in time, Reb Shmueil-Meir Sztajnitz showed that he was deserving [due to his intellectual merit] and the Radomsker religious community began to give honor and respect to the new spiritual leader.
The Radomsker Hasidism also had their synagogue warden in the kehile-council; this was Dovid Yekhieil Zinger, the son-in-law of Kos (the baker).
One of the shoykhetim also belonged to the Radomsker Hasidim; this was Henekh Dovid Kohn, the son-in-law of Shlomoh Yitzhak Rabinowicz. This shoykhet was not easily nominated to be a shoykhet in Radomsk, even though he was indeed a G-d-fearing person, was learned and there was a need in the city at that time for a shoykhet. The Radomsker Rebbe was for [the nomination]; however, the Aguda faction of the Radomsker kehile was against it. It was the same with Reb Nakhum Eiberszic, whom the kehile wanted as moyre-hoyroe (a person who decides rabbinical questions; rabbi), but the Rabbi was opposed. It was self-evident that political reasons played a roll in both the first and the second case. However, the regime did not want to certify any clergy without the consent of both sides. After years of feuding, both sides reached reconciliation and the Radomsker Kehile added both Reb Henekh Dovid Kohn and Reb Nakhum Eiberszic to the list of clergy. According to this agreement, the Gerer Hasidim in Radomsk also gained another shoykhet; this was Reb Moishe Bojmgold, the son-in-law of Abraham Yitzhak Shoykhet, incidentally, a very honest and capable young man. Thus, was the Radomsker community enriched with two new shoykhetim at that time.
Reb Abraham'l Kalisz (The Amszinower)
By Zeev Saba
He was called the Amszinower through all of the years, although he lived in Radomsk for three-quarters of his life and did not leave the city until the day of his death.
From the years of my youth until today there remains carved in my memory his wonderful image. I remember my first encounter with him 35 or 36 years ago. I was then still a small boy, absorbed in games, a mischief-maker who would run around together with my friends, good-for-nothing boys like me, through the Rebbe's courtyard. We were enthusiastic about our games, who is a horse and who is a driver; who is a thief and who a policeman? This game was in full zeal, our faces on fire and our voices raising up to heaven. Suddenly, everything became quiet. Reb Abraham'l had stuck his head out of the window of the green house and with one word to us he had quieted us all.
And although the word was said in a Gemara melody and said at random into the world, that was enough to tear us out of the world of horses and thieves. We returned to being Jewish, quiet and civilized young boys.
Many times we came across him when we went through the courtyard. He always went with hasty steps, almost running. During an encounter, we instinctively and with reverence made way for him and we followed his thin figure wrapped in a silk coat and his wide and white forehead with our eyes. Each of us looked for a corner in which to hide, afraid of meeting his penetrating and burning gaze.
Reb Abraham'l, himself, had no doubt decided that the elite should leave him alone. He surrounded himself with a minyon of indigent men; we in the city referred to them as the ten idlers. They were his retinue with which he would not part.
Possibly with the death of his only son Yankele, who was cut down while young, he decided to turn away from his court, the Hasidic joy and the Hasidic melodies. Sadness and religious ecstasy reigned in the Rebbe's room and was not abandoned during the week and not even on Shabbos and yom-tov days. Reb Abraham'l sat day and night over a sefer and immersed himself in Torah study as if he would suppress in himself every inclination to worldly pleasure and to his passions.
The poverty, which prevailed in his room, did not concern him at all. Such matters did not engage his thought. What did hurt him was that the spirit of Yiddishkeit was disappearing from among the Jewish youth in the city. It was enough that one of his Hasidim would come to him to tell him that several women who wanted to watch the procession of the Torah scrolls on Simkhas-Torah had crossed the threshold of the men's shul. He would run, consumed with flame and fire into the shul, go up on the bime and crying, would scream about the misfortune the great sin could bring to the city. It did not take much of an appeal for him to convert Simkhas-Torah into a Tishe-Bov, until he finally succeeded in driving the women out.
It would also happen that he learned about a Jewish hairdresser who worked late on Friday. He ran, leading several of his Hasidim to the sinning hairdresser and there he simply caused devastation. Nothing stopped him from standing guard over the Shabbos, not the police and not the court.
It once happened that a Jewish soccer team played with a non-Jewish soccer team on Shabbos and Reb Abraham'l learned of this. He did not think for long and he invaded the sports field and stood in the middle of the field and would not permit the game to proceed until the Jewish team left the sports field.
With such actions, Reb Abraham'l won the hearts of Jewish Radomsk. It is impossible not to admire his deep belief and his devotion, with heart and soul, to this belief.
Thus Reb Abraham'l spent his years in poverty and modesty, always engrossed in the study of Gemara and a master of grief. Only his grandson, the son of his only daughter, the Otwocker Rebbe's daughter-in-law, only this small child succeeded in bringing a smile to his grandfather's sorrowful countenance from time to time.
When the Germans occupied Radomsk during the terrible era of their rule, Reb Abraham'l's position was worse than that of other Jews. As a person who was absorbed in seforim and far from life, he was never able to adapt to the realities. In addition, all of the anti-Semites in the city knew the rabbinical court and saw it as the fortress of Jewish spirit, which needed to be annihilated.
The suffering and pain had its effect. The people were absorbed with themselves and their own misery and often forgot their helpless rebbe. But it must be underscored that many Jews in the city took food from their own mouths and shared it with the Rebbe. After a certain time, the Yudenrat voted a stable, although very modest, salary for the Rebbe. Here it should be remembered that there were several rich Polish peasants who sent a few potatoes, beets, carrots, and the like to Reb Abraham'l from time to time. The Rebbe, however, divided the donated produce in his usual way among the needy and hungry.
During the difficult winter of 1940, the first transports of Lodzer refugees began to arrive. The boti-midrashim and shuls began to fill quickly. Among the mass of refugees were many sick, old people and children. The Amszinower Rebbe's rooms were opened for these unfortunate people. From early in the morning to late at night, the Rebbe's kitchen swarmed with unfortunate mothers and their infants. In addition to the Polish foes of Israel, there were several Folks-Deutsche found in Radomsk, who joined the local police
after the German occupation of the city and caused the Jews terrible troubles. They set up the police station in the Jewish neighborhood in Humblet's house, and this was a well of Jewish sorrow and pain, without end.
I remember a certain Chanukah evening when the city police together with members of the S.S. broke into the apartment of Feiwel Bugajski. Like devilish destroying angels they barged into the room and forced all of us out into the street. Coming out of the room, we noticed that the snow-covered street was full of misery. My heart told me of evil. We stood by chance opposite the Rebbe's window. Harassed, driven and chased Jews flowed from all sides. The assassins returned and they counted 500, 600, 700. However, Fikhner, the head of the murderers objected that not less than a thousand must be brought the Platz.
All of a sudden one of the Police-Folks-Deutsche approached Fikhner and pointed to the lit window and said in broken German: The 'Rabiner' lives here. The murderer Fikhner was in a rage. He went to the first row and chose four people and ordered that they bring the rebbe [to him] in just six minutes.
By chance, all four had grown up under the Rebbe's influence. They were Abraham-Bunim Eizen, Berish Herbert, Yakow Eikhner and the writer of these lines. We stood as if petrified, not able to move from the spot. Amid shouting and blows at our heads, we turned in the direction of the Rebbe's house. Coming to the door, we stopped for a while listening to the quiet Gemara melody that reached us from inside. Seeing a beam of light that shone through the shutter, Fikhner took out his revolver and screaming: The dog is not yet asleep, he shot through the window. We all stood as if paralyzed. After a time, slow footsteps could be heard. Fikhner with his revolver in his hand barged in through the door, which had been opened and we followed him. The image that revealed itself to my eyes I will never in my life forget. Fikhner remained standing with the revolver in his hand, as if his tongue had become paralyzed. Opposite him stood Reb Abraham'l; his face was pale, his large eyes frightened. He wore white clothes and a tales-kotn (undergarment worn by observant Jewish men), whose tsitses (ritual fringes) reached to his white socks. I felt as if a struggle between contrasting strengths was happening here. Both stood mute and looked at each other. Slowly, the murderer lowered his revolver and without [taking his eyes off the Rebbe], he started to go out backwards. He stopped at the door and he whispered to us, Is this the Rebbe? And when one of us confirmed it, Fikhner said, Foolish one that you are, this is a godly man, not an ordinary person. And pensively he left the house. It should be understood that we breathed deeply, [feeling] that we were out of trouble.
However, miracles did not usually happen, certainly not in the case of the two Police-Folks-Deutsche, Abramowicz and Nelner (?), who initiated the search for a Jewish victim in the Rebbe's house. They found him, as usual, sitting over a sefer. The two butchers began to cover him with blows and in their outrage one of them, Nelner, took a match and set the Rebbe's beard on fire. In his great pain, the Rebbe let out a curse against the butcher that his hand should be cut off and no longer be attached to anything. At the screams of the Rebbe, people gathered and offers and bribes of several hundred zlotys appeared to save the Rebbe from the butchers' hands.
In the course of a few weeks, the Rebbe lay in bed and the two murderers again did their inhuman work until they fell. They were both caught in a theft and became estranged from the police. Not having any choice, they returned to the trades in which they had been employed before they had achieved some distinction. Abramowicz again became a gardener and Nelner, who had set fire to the Rebbe's beard, returned to his skilled work in the Thonet-Mundus furniture factory.
While he was working with a planing machine, Nelner's hand became pinched between two rollers and half of it was crushed.
The news of it quickly spread in the city. Many saw the Rebbe's curse in this and hoped that revenge would reach all of the Germans for their wild deeds against Jews. Several weeks later, when Nelner left the hospital with the half cut-off hand, I was a witness to how the two came to the Rebbe and begged that he forgive them for their deeds. However, the Rebbe would not hear of this. The two cried, offered money and expressed their remorse. However, he remained unmoved. The entreaties and offers from the two butchers lasted more than an hour until the Rebbe's friends intervened, among them I remember Reb Yitzhak Rubin, Yitzhak and Ahron-Eidl Landau, Dovid-Yehieil Zinger, Yehezkeil Prentke, Izrael Gliksman and others. Only thanks to their intervention did the Rebbe say that he forgave them, but he would not shake hands with them.
Meanwhile, the situation in the Jewish Ghetto worsened. [The heartbreak was increased by the savage decrees.] Life became unbearable. The Rebbe, himself beaten and broken, tried to console the public with all of his strength. For those who cried out their hearts to him, he always found words of consolation and encouragement.
In 1942 when death began to stalk the Jewish cities and shtetlekh, the Rebbe received the sad news that his son-in-law, the Otwocker Rebbe's son, had been murdered together with his family in the Otwock woods. With a heavy heart, he went to his daughter, the wife of the murdered man, who lived in his home during the wartime. Moaning, as it tore his heart, he lowered himself on the footstool to sit shiva.
Three days after the Rebbe had received the news, he called for a minyon of Jews to come to him to daven for Minkhah and Ma'ariv. In a quiet voice full of grief and bitterness, he said Kaddish. At the end
of the prayer, he remained standing by the reader's desk. With his head in his hand, his body shaking from crying, suddenly he made a turn to the people and in a quiet voice began to sing a melody of religious ecstasy. Those assembled were astounded because of the sudden change and their gaze clung to the Rebbe's likeness. From his glowing face and the bright eyes one could conclude that the Rebbe prevailed over Satan and saw with the eyes of his soul the approaching redemption. The Rebbe remained quiet and asked that the Rebbitzen, his daughter, be called and that his three-year old grandson be brought to him and that the lights be lit and refreshments brought. While the table was being prepared, the Rebbe sat at the head holding his grandson, the small Shlomoh'le, on his knee. With a trembling voice, he began to bless him, that he should live to receive consolation and receive the Moshiek. His voice grew stronger and at the conclusion he cried out, Mazel-tov, mazel-tov, Yidn! The Warker and Otwocker chain will not be broken from now and for a hundred and twenty years, Shlomoh'le will sit on the Otwocker Rebbe's seat. Those assembled drank L'khaim, wishing the Rebbe and his grandson well, and tears flowed from their eyes. The women broke out in laments. The Rebbe cried out with tears in his eyes that those gathered should strengthen themselves from this day of joy for all of us and in the merit of the young Tzadik, who is free of every sin, the Most High will have pity on the Jewish people
And bitter groans tore out of his mouth
With quiet steps and hearts full of worry, the assembled dispersed to their own homes.
In the winter of 1942 the frightening rumors about the death transports began to arrive. The heart did not want to believe it, but there was no rescue. People started to run around looking for all sorts of remedies. Jews paid large sums of money for certificates from various workplaces, which would allegedly provide protection from the frightening fateful sentence.
Two days after Rosh Hashanah the agents of the Yudenrat, Gutsztat and Feinski, appeared in the Rebbe's house. The two brought the Rebbe a certificate of passage and money and advised him that he should leave the city and travel to Piltz (Translator's note: Piltz could be either Pilec or Pilce). The Rebbe looks at them with lifeless eyes and asks in astonishment, Why should I leave the city in which I have lived more than half my life? The two start to explain that the aktsia has already passed in Piltz and life is safer there. The aktsia in Radomsk [has still not occurred] and who knows what awaits the inhabitants. It is better then that the Rebbe should leave from here with his family before [there is one here]. The Rebbe hears them out and does not grasp why he should suddenly leave the city and become the Piltzer Rebbe. And the Rebbe asks what has happened to the Piltzer Rebbe? Feinski, who was in the Rebbe's house for the first time in his life and for as long as he lived had not said a word to him, stands now amazed opposite the person who will not save himself from danger. He has become stubborn and will not take the certificate, for which many would give all of their possessions. Although Feinski was assimilated, he was an honest and good person. He tried to clarify for the Rebbe the whole gravity of the situation. We do not want to drive the Rebbe from the city, he said. However, the entire Jewish population of the city finds itself in great danger and will want the Rebbe to escape from this danger.
Before Feinski seemed to end his words, the Rebbe sprung up and began to scream, What did you say? All the Jews of the city find themselves in danger and I should abandon them? That will not happen! I was able to live with these Jews; I want to be able to die together with them, too. Saying this, he tore the certificate, which was laying on the table, into pieces, crying out, Thus will the punishment of all the Jews be torn.
I saw the Amszinower Rebbe for the last time on the 9th of October in 1942 among a mass of thousands of Jews who were assembled on the Platz in front of the Jewish Community Council building.
The aktsia was in full fervor and, when the chief murderer Kemfinik ordered that everyone sit down, the Amszinower Rebbe was the only one to remain standing. His image was embraced by the entire community.
The Rebbe was sent out to the gas chamber of Treblinka with all of the Radomsker Jews. There, together with all of the Jews, he exhaled his Jewish soul.
This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc.
and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and
destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied,
sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be
reserved by the copyright holder.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Yizkor Book Project
JewishGen Home Page
Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Lance Ackerfeld
Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 29 Sep 2002 by LA