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My town, Sierpc (Sheps) {Cont.}

The Jewish Street and the Vloka (Vlikes)

We continue our journey and review in the Jewish Street, and the Vloka (Vlikes).

The name, Jewish Street, was accepted by the people, both Jewish and Polish. But the official name of the street was Warsaw Street.

In the mid-1930s, when the Town Council gave new names to the streets, this street was called Dashinski after a leader of the P.P.P. (The Polish Socialist Party) of that name.

* * *

The first house on Jewish Street, a small one-story house, was that of Kalman Lidzbreski. At the front of the house was one store, which belonged to the owner, a wholesale establishment for grocery goods. Until the First World War, when the German occupation authorities controlled grocery goods, there were two wholesale grocery stores in Sierpc, and one of them was that of Kalman Lidzbreski.

The entrance to the Jewish Street from the market was narrow, and a bottleneck. Beyond Lidzbereski's house the building line moved back, and the street became wider. At the beginning of the 1930's when Kalman became older, and his son, Moshe, took care of the store, the small house was torn down and a two-story brick house was put up in its place. The new house was built along the same building line as the other houses on the street.

* * *

During a certain period, Moshe Lidzbreski was a member of the community council, elected on a non-partisan ticket.

* * *

The next house, a two-story house, belonged to Kalman Kalmanovitch (who was called “Kalman Schneider” ? Kalman the Tailor). The entrance to the yard was in the middle of the house, and not at its side, as was usually the case, and above the entrance there were rooms.

The teacher Atlas lived in this house. Atlas was one of the Enlightened group in town, knowledgeable in the Bible, and proficient in a number of languages. He also belonged to the Hovevei Tzion movement and was one of the first Zionists in town.

Atlas used a room in his apartment, a special room that was furnished for the purpose, as a school for girls to learn languages and arithmetic. After school hours, he also gave lessons to boys. The first Zionist meeting in Sierpc took place in Atlas's school.

* * *

The next house, a small one-story structure, was the home of Eliakim Ryz. Eliakim was one of the important Gur Hasidim, a quiet and unassuming Jew, well dressed and clean. He sold remnants of textile goods in his house. When he became older, he sold his house to his neighbor, Baruch Atlas. From then on Eliakim and his wife dealt in religious needs. He would sell chits for the ritual slaughter of chickens, and she was the tikern (performer of immersions) in the mikveh (ritual bathhouse), then leased by Leib Shwitzer. As a result, they received permission to live in an apartment in the mikveh building.

Eliakim's wife, Yetaia (who was called “Yetaia Yairs” ? Yair's Daughter) was a great expert in muttering against the “evil eye.” People came from all parts of town to ask for treatments for children and adults, men and women, who were affected by eina bisha (evil eye), God help us. And she, a gentle and pious women, did not skimp with her favors, helped as much as she could, and would mutter a few words, and remove the evil eye from the victim.

In order to remove the evil eye it was necessary that the kazhizhivka (a triangular kerchief with long ends that mothers would use to wrap around a child's neck and tie in the back) of the sick child or the gown of the adult be brought to Yetaia. She would take the kazhizhivka or the gown into another room, and murmur whatever it was she murmured. Then she would bring the object back to whoever had given it to her and warn him to go straight home, not to speak to anyone on the way, and once home, place the object on the sick person…[19]

* * *

The next house, a two-story house, was the home of Moshe Grainbich, who had a textile store there. His son, Avraham Haim, was among the exceptional young men in town, an outstanding scholar. This house was near the bridge.

* * *

The bridge that was suspended here over the Sierpianitza was the central and chief bridge of the bridges in town. It was also the most useful one, because the river here passed through the center of town, and divided it into two densely populated parts. There was always heavy traffic over this bridge, both of pedestrians and of carriages. Because of this, the bridge was very strong. Because of the possibility of flooding, the bridge was built on top of tall pillars. The street on both sides of the bridge was in any case elevated, and the adjacent sidewalks at the four corners were lower than the street.

* * *

Across the bridge there was a small house with a store for textile goods. This was the store of Reb David Klinman (who was called “David Haver”). Reb David was a teacher in town, and his family took care of the store.

* * *

Beria Oberfeld lived in the small house in the yard. Beria was a wagon driver. Twice a week, he would take grain to Plock: on Sunday he would take the grain that merchants bought on Friday, and on Wednesday, the grain that they bought on Tuesday. (The market days were Friday and Tuesday.) He was an honest and reliable person, and the merchants had great confidence in him. He would bring large sums of money from Plock to Sierpc (for the grain), and also from Sierpc to Plock (to merchants, or to the banks) and he always carried out his responsibilities admirably.

Beria liked to drink a little, and would sleep during the trip, and his assistant would drive the horses. When he was asked, “Reb Ber, how is it that you allow yourself to drink and sleep during the trip, when you have large sums of other people's money in your pocket?” he would answer:

“When you get home, your wife serves you a bowl full of warm potatoes, tasty and steaming, and you fill your belly and enjoy. I also want this kind of food, but you can't get it in a carriage. So what do I do? It is well known that potatoes are used to make hard liquor. So I take some liquor, that's been made from a bowl full of potatoes, and I enjoy it as if I were eating the potatoes.”

* * *

Beyond David Klinman's small house was the two-story house of David Turkltaub. Turkltaub was very opinionated. During the revolution, in 1905, he did not mince words, and spoke in public in opposition to the revolutionary Jewish youth, in opposition to their socialist aspirations and against their behavior and actions, which flouted both Jewish and universal morality. The revolutionary court sentenced him to three lashes for this. When the sentence was being executed and a young man was whipping him in a public street, Turkltaub shouted, “Nicholas was the Tsar, and Nicholas will be the Tsar.”

* * *

Yosel Shochet (Isenshtat) lived in the same house. He was appointed as the ritual slaughterer (shochet ? shub ? slaughterer and examiner) in Sierpc after the death of Yankel Shochet (Richik). He came to our town from Szrensk in approximately the year 1917.

Yosel Shochet was an expert at his profession, and a fast worker. He was a good prayer leader, and an excellent hymn singer. He had a powerful voice, which shook the rafters of the prayer house. As part of his duties, Yosel would lead prayers in the synagogues and prayer houses on the High Holy Days (he was a Gur Hasid) and the Hasidim who enjoyed good music would go especially to the place where he was singing to hear certain parts of his prayers.

The conductor of the chorus in the Central Synagogue on Tlomatzka Street in Warsaw was Yosel Shochet's brother, David Isenshtat.

* * *

Matityahu Farshnitzki bought the Turkltaub house in the 1930s, tore it down, and built a brick house in its place.

* * *

The next house, also a two-story house, was the house of Zelig Bachrach. These two houses, that of Turkltaub and of Bachrach, were attached to each other, and they did not have a front yard on the Jewish Street (the yards were in the back, and they faced the street near the mikveh.) The narrow and dark foyers of the two houses had been taken over, for all intents and purposes, for passageways for those living on the other side of the bridge. They led to the small streets near the mikveh and to the mikveh itself. They were also used by the children who went to the two heders that were in these streets, that of Hershia Zlotzover and that of Haim Yosef Crystal.

Before the First World War, Zelig Bachrach had been a member of the community council.

Next to Bachrach's house stood the brick one-story house with a half-cellar of Nahum Tatz. His store, which was in the half-cellar, was the only store in town that sold only liquor.

Nahum Tatz was a Torah scholar, a goodhearted person with superior qualities: humble, generous, and a dedicated and outstanding public figure. He was an important Gur Hasid. Nahum Tatz was a member of the community council, and its chairman, representing Agudat Israel.

* * *

Nahum Tatz's piety was matched by the skepticism of his sister, Ika (Rivka) Tatz. Rivka Tatz was one of the central figures in the Socialist movement in Sierpc. She was among the founders of the Bund in town, and one of its spiritual leaders in its early years. She spent most of her time in Warsaw, where she studied and worked as a teacher. She came to Sierpc only for the holidays, and then she would do her best to increase support for the Bund and to publicize it.

For a certain period before the First World War, Ika Tatz was the principal of the Jewish pensia (high school for girls) in Sierpc. During the German occupation in World War I and the years following the war, Ika was active in the field of education and the Bund schools in Warsaw. Before she left Poland she was a teacher in the above pensia.

In 1924 Rivka Tatz left Poland, and went to England. After a short stay in London, she moved to France and settled in Paris. In Paris, too, where she was known as Ika Richter (she had married Richter in London), she was active in the Bund. She was especially devoted to Colony Skolar (Settlements for Schoolchildren), a society that took care of Jewish children: sent children to summer camps, offered them medical care, and provided a cultured Jewish environment. (The society was under the patronage of the Bund.) In the Second World War, during the German occupation of France, the Colony Skolar Society established, in cooperation with other Jewish organizations, an underground movement to aid the Jews. The movement provided food for children, soup kitchens, and help for elderly Jews and Jews who had been detained. It hid children in convents and with Christian families. The movement was called Rue Amalo (Amalo Street) after the street where the offices of Colony Skolar were located.

Ika Richter was one of the main activists in this underground movement. She was one of those who risked their lives to help other Jews, until the oppressors, inhuman Germans, captured her, and she died the death of a martyr. Ika was arrested on May 29, 1941, and died in the prison in the city of Romanville on October 5, 1942. The Bund put up a holiday camp for workers' children, named Beit Ika, in her memory in Corvalle (60 kilometers from Paris).

Many letters twritten by Ika Richter (Rivka Tatz) during the German occupation about assistance to various people are in the Yivo archive in the United States. In the book Yiddisher Umkum Un Vidershtand in Frankreich written by P. Mintz, Ika Richter is mistakenly referred to as Esther.

* * *

This side of Jewish street does not continue in a straight line. After Nachum Tatz's house, the line of houses turned to the left until the Kamnitza (the large brick house). At the Kamnitza the building line turned to the right and continued until Niepomoshchik's house, and from there the two sides of the street were parallel to one another until the Vloka (vlikes).

The left turn of the left side of the street created a large plaza in the middle of the street. Part of this plaza had a house on it, and the rest, the larger part, which was unpaved, was used as a small, unofficial market. During market days, peasants' carts would be parked there, and they sold their wares there.

The house that stood in the plaza, a house with an attic, was the house of Meir Oved Balt. It was said that Meir Oved knew of the coming of rain three days before it arrived (he apparently had rheumatism). We children were very jealous of this knowledge of his.

The following saying was well known among the Jews of Jewish Street: “A daughter of Israel should know how to write a letter in Yiddish, and the address would be by Meir Oved.” (Meir Oved would write messages to foreign countries for all of the Jewish Street)…

Later on, the house of Meir Oved was torn down.

* * *

Avraham Shochet (Burgand) lived in the attic of that house. He was tall and had a long gray beard. He was an excellent prayer leader. His words would be distinct and clear. His prayer was pleasant to the ear and touched the heart. The lines of the prayer “I Am Poor in Deeds” which said “Accept my prayer as an ordinary old man who has reached a becoming maturity and has grown a beard, with a pleasant voice and is concerned with his fellow beings” applied to him. Avraham Shochet was an Alexander Hasid, but as part of his duties, he would pray on the High Holy Days at the synagogue and the two houses of prayer, and many took pleasure in his prayer. He would say First Slichot in the Alexander shtibl.

Avraham Shochet was a ritual slaughterer of chickens. The slaughter of larger animals was forbidden to him because of the “sins of his youth.” Elsewhere in this book, there is the story of the Kolhekot (a quarrelsome community, or a small group) in Sierpc. They were Enlightened Mitnagdim (anti-Hasidim) who had a dispute with the community and the Rabbi, and appointed a rabbi and ritual slaughterer just for their group. Avraham Shochet was the ritual slaughter for the Kolhekot, and after it disbanded (in the first half of the 1890s), Shochet lived in the village of Skvilna (18 kilometers from Sierpc, on the road to Rypin). Later, when there was a need for a ritual slaughterer in Sierpc, Avraham Shochet applied, but the Gur Hasidim strenuously objected. Their objections were three-fold: because he was the ritual slaughterer of the Kolhekot, because he was the ritual slaughter in a village, and because he was an Alexander Hasid. But Avraham Shochet's backers (the Alexander Hasidim and some of the Mitnagdim, especially those who were once part of the Kolhekot) were adamant. The matter was brought to arbitration by the rabbis of the area, and they declared a compromise judgment: Avraham Shochet will be a ritual slaughterer, but only of chickens. And he remained a chicken-slaughterer for the rest of his days.

* * *

When he became old, and was receiving a pension from the community, his son-in-law, Shimon Patrikus of Drobin (Drobnin) took his place. However, he was not an official ritual slaughterer of the community, because the Rabbi emphatically objected to it. But the public did not heed the Rabbi's objections, because it was well known that he was an “interested party” to the affair, since he wanted to give the job to his son-in-law, Leibl Flisher (from Pshitik; the Rabbi wanted his son-in-law to be appointed as a Torah teacher in town, and if not, as the ritual slaughterer). And all groups of the public ate food slaughtered by Shimon Patrikus, who was a Yeshiva student knowledgeable in the Torah, a public figure, and accepted by the community.

* * *

Beyond the house of Avraham Tatz there was a one-story house with a cellar that belonged to three partners: Itzik (Avraham Yitzhak) Ostshever, Shlomo Reichgut who was called “Shlom Chayehies” (after his mother Chaya), and Baruch Konenbrand. The wives of these three were sisters, and they inherited the house from their parents. The three partners lived in this house, and also had their businesses there. The first one sold oil, the second had a grocery store, and the third had a bakery.

* * *

Itzik Ostshever had an oil-press, but it was not in his house, but in the Lusmer house, opposite the synagogue. He would sell the products from the store in his house. We, the children, used to buy halvah there.

* * *

The third house was the house of Isaac Charne. Leibl Horn lived in this house. He was an educated young man, dynamic, and a leader. He was among the founders of the Zionist youth group Herzlia and very active in it. He was active in all the Zionist and Zionist-culture activities in town. In 1932 or 1933 he emigrated to France, and there perished in the Holocaust.

* * *

Beyond Isaac Charne's house there was a small street. This small street housed some important institutions. At the end of the street, opposite to the entrance to the street, in the house of Shmuel Shampan (who was called “Shmuel Nagid”) was the Welcome Guests, where there was a minyan for prayer on Sabbaths and holidays. There was a shtibl in the same house whose worshipers were a “mixture” of a few Hasidic groups. Most of them were refugees from other shtibls that they had left after quarrels and angry words. On the same street were the heder of Dudi Hershia Zlochaver (in the house of the brothers Haim and Hirsh Gunsher) and the heder of Haim Yosef Crystal (in the house of Moshe Kasazh). An important person also lived on this street: Rabbi Haim Nachum Tunbol, one of the first of the Enlightened and Zionists in Sierpc. But the great importance of this small street was that the “whole town” passed through there on its way to the mikveh. It was not called Mikveh Street (S'mikve Gesel) for nothing.

* * *

The mikveh itself was on a very small street that began to the right of the small street we just mentioned, and continued to the fields of Falka (a rich German who owned a brewery). The mikveh was an old building, and so was everything inside. In approximately 1907, the building was repaired, and interior improvements were made during the First World War. Among other things, two enameled bathtubs were installed, and this was an enhancement that was discussed by the whole town.

A more fundamental repair job, almost a new construction of the mikveh, was undertaken in 1923 or 1924. The initiative for the reconstruction came from Mizrachi circles. A committee was set up, whose members were Meir Tzafris, treasurer, Yosef Applebaum, Moshe Grossman, Beinam Veismal, and Yosef Karpa, and they supervised the construction work. Outside, around the mikveh, a brick wall was put up (the old wall had also been brick) to increase the available area, and new improvements to the interior were made as well. New individual cubicles with a bathtub in each cubicle were put in, along with other improvements. In order to pay for the work, the committee (which was called the Ritual Slaughter Committee) levied a payment of half a groschen on each chicken that was slaughtered. Eliakim Ryz, who sold the slaughter chits, collected the added payment for mikveh repair and turned the money over to the committee. In the meantime, a new community council was elected, and Yosef Karpa, who was the treasurer, demanded that Eliakim turn over the payments for the slaughtering together with the extra payment to the community fund. From then on there were problems in financing the construction, and it went on slowly and dragged out over a number of years.

On top of the mikveh building there was a small apartment, and the leaser (mikvenik ? operator of the mikveh) of the mikveh lived there. The holder of this office would change from time, whether because of old age or death. Once the leaser was Shmuel Leib and his wife Tuna Iszajewicz. After them came Leib Shwitzer.

There was a well near the mikveh. We did not know about “heavy water” then, but we knew about soft water and hard water (for cooking and laundry). The water from the well near the mikveh was the softest water in town, and many people used it.

There was just one house on this tiny street, and it was the one-story house that the tailor Uren (Aharon) Leib Yurkevitch lived in. His son, Avraham Hirsh (today in Brazil) was a member of the community council representing the Bund in the 1930s.

We return to the Jewish Street, and reach the Kamnitza (large brick house).

Before the Kamnitza, there were three small and short streets. One veered to the left and continued until opposite the mikveh. (Actually, this was not a street, but an alley or passageway between the rear walls of household sheds to the left, and the tall fence of a lot with parts of carriages and scrap iron to the right.) The second street was straight and continued until Felka's fields, and the third street (near the Kamnitza) went straight and up until the hill, where it turned right and continued behind the row of houses that were on the Jewish Street (this street was later called Gurna).

Most of the houses in the streets were low and small and meager (Mintz's house was the exception here in size) and most of the tenants were poor. This is probably the reason that this neighborhood was called “Kartofel mit Ferfel Geslach” (Potatoes and Crumbs Streets). Because this dish ? potatoes with barley flakes ? was the most popular food among poor people.

* * *

The house and school of the teacher Mordecai Hirsh Mintz was on the second of the above streets (before he moved the school to Tchernotchepka's house on the street that was later called Third of May and his living quarters across the street from there). Moshe Hirsh Mintz was one of the veteran Zionist and Enlightened figures in town. All by himself, thanks to his industriousness, diligence, and perseverance, Mintz became very knowledgeable in Judaic studies, especially in the Bible and the Hebrew language, and also in the sciences. In his modern school, which was very different from the traditional heder, both in the conditions of study and the subject content, the pupils were all sons of Zionist parents, Enlightened, and with Progressive tendencies. Mintz tried to give to the hundreds of pupils who learned in his school over the years some of the wide knowledge of Judaism and science that he had, and his Zionist philosophy. He contributed a great deal, both in his school, in evening school, and in private lessons to popularize the Hebrew language among the youth of Sierpc. Mordecai Hirsh Mintz was also a very capable public speaker and an excellent elucidator. He educated a whole generation, both in his school and in his lectures to Agudat-Tzion and in the synagogue, to be devoted and faithful Zionists.

In 1922, Mintz emigrated to America. There too, he engaged in teaching Jewish subjects, popularizing the Hebrew language, and spreading Zionist ideals. Mordecai Hirsh Mintz died on 21 Tevet 5699 (January 11, 1939).

* * *

The third small street near the Kamnitza and behind it, which continued up the hill, was almost empty and deserted. A few wretched and miserable houses were scattered, here and there, on the hill. In later years, when more houses, albeit poor ones, were put up here, the hill took on the look of a street. In the mid-1930s, when the town council named streets that previously had no names, this street was called Gurna (High Street). Gurna Street continued until the Vloka (vlikes) to the street that was then called Kolinsky.

* * *

One of the people who lived on the hill was Avraham Grushke (who was called “Olekia”). His house was opposite the New House of Prayer. There was a large cabin near his house, and he opened a “hotel” there for poor wanderers, musicians (katarinarzes) and street performers (kintzen machers). This “hotel” was called, in a mocking Polish verse “Hotel Nendzi, Bez Fieniendzi” (A destitute hotel, without payment).

* * *

Keila-Gitel, the water carrier, lived in this neighborhood (“Keila-Gitel di Vasser Tregeren”). When her husband (who was a porter) died, her son did not want to say Kaddish. What did Keila-Gitel do? She went to the reshiran (mayor) and complained about her son. With great difficulty she explained to the reshiran about the Kaddish and the usefulness to the dead man of saying Kaddish. (He was the mayor, but still a Gentile.) But when the matter became clear to him, he decided to help the grieving widow. He called Sobolevsky the drummer (Sobolevsky was the town crier. When it was necessary to inform the townspeople of a proclamation or decree, Sobolevsky would go from street to street, gather a crowd with his drum, and announce the proclamation or decree of the town council or the government) and ordered him to bring Keila-Gitel's son.

When the boy was brought to the reshiran, he scolded him and asked him to obey his widowed mother and fulfill his father's wish and say Kaddish. But the boy still refused. The urging, and even the threats of the reshiran were of no use. He would not say Kaddish, no matter what.

Then the mayor ordered Sobolevsky to bring the boy, using force, to the prayer house, and not release him till he said Kaddish. And Sobolevsky faithfully carried out the mayor's orders. He dragged the boy to the prayer house and all along the way he yelled at him, “Muv Kaddish! Muv Kaddish!” (Muv in Polish is “say”.) He brought him to the prayer house and didn't leave him until he said Kaddish.

From then on, the boy was called “Muv Kaddish”…

* * *

At the beginning of the 1930s, a large one-story brick building with a cellar was erected on Gurna Street behind the Kamnitza for public use. It was put up for two institutions: Welcome Guests and Talmud Torah. The first institution took up most of the building, and the second one (the smaller part) and the cellar were intended for the watchman. Because there was not enough money, the construction took a few years. A great celebration was held when it was opened, and many of the Jews of the town participated, along with the local rabbi and rabbis from the neighboring towns.

* * *

The accursed Germans put the Sierpc ghetto in Gurna Street and in the street where Mintz lived. According to the testimony of our fellow townswoman, Mrs. Isacovitch-Listopad (the only one who was in the Sierpc ghetto and survived), more than 500 people lived in the Ghetto. A few were not driven out on the bitter day of the expulsion (26 of Heshvon 5700, November 8, 1939) and most of them returned to Sierpc illegally after the expulsion, using circuitous and dangerous routes. Except for one family, Avraham Derbicher and his wife, from Zuromin, all the Ghetto dwellers were from Sierpc. The Ghetto was not fenced in, and German policemen guarded its entrances and exits. The members of the Judenrat were Yakov Pukatch, Mendel Lis, and Shmuel Kutner. Pukatch was the head of the Judenrat. The ghetto was put up, according to the same testimony, in March or April 1940. On January 6, 1940, the Sierpc ghetto dwellers were expelled to the Stezhgovo ghetto (a town near Malawa) that was a collection spot for the survivors of ghettos in the neighboring towns. The liquidation of the Stezhgovo ghetto was on November 24, 1942. All the Jews were brought to Malawa, and from there, to Auschwitz.

* * *

As was mentioned earlier, the building line turned right at the Kamnitza. All the buildings on this side of the street were on the slope of a hill. The sidewalk was much higher than street level up to Niepomoshchik's house, and much higher than the sidewalk on the other side of the street. Beyond Niepomoshchik's house, the street also sloped upwards, and was at the same height as the sidewalk.

* * *

The Kamnitza, a brick house, was a large house with many tenants. It had a live-in basement, two stories, with an attic above them. I don't know the history of this house. But its uniqueness in the area, its large proportions, and its solid construction bore witness to an unusual past.

According to our respected townsman Shmuel Itcha Lanter, the Kamnitza belonged to a priest called Adamski. (He was also the landlord of the building that housed the drugstore, and also owned the drugstore.) The house of Lieb Mintz on Zhavia Street was also his. This priest was an admirer of Israel. He was a great scholar, and knew many languages, among them Yiddish and the Holy Tongue. In his large library, among thousands of books in various languages, there were also some Gemaras. During the period that Avraham Yitzhak (who was called “der Bezoiner Melamed,” the teacher from Biezun) lived in the Kamnitza, the priest would come to him from time to time about the rent, he would ask the students in Yiddish which portion of the Bible they were studying that week, and he would test them on their knowledge of the Pentateuch.

In the first years that the Russian Army was billeted in Sierpc (in the 1890s) the army offices and its workshops were in the Kamnitza. In later years, the Kamnitza belonged to Kashtalan (a Pole).

* * *

Moshe Grossman was one of the tenants of the Kamnitza. During a certain period before the First World War, Moshe Grossman was a member of the community council. In order to increase the income of the synagogue to pay for a review of its situation, Moshe Grossman (he himself prayed in the Gur shtibl, but he was not an enthusiastic Hasid), in his official capacity closed all the shtibls, using the official justification of unsanitary premises. A few of the Hasidim prayed in the prayer houses, together with the regular minyan, but most of them prayed in the synagogue at a special minyan, after the minyan of the regular worshipers. This gave the synagogue an added income. The situation caused great consternation among the Hasidim, and after a few weeks, the edict was withdrawn.

In 1905, the year of the revolution, when the word “revolutzia” was being uttered by everyone, a Hasid asked Moshe Grossman, “What is ?revolutzia'?” Moshe Grossman answered, “When a man fills his belly with potatoes and barley flakes, and then drinks soda water, and feels his stomach rumbling, that's ?revolutzia'.”

* * *

The Cantor Daniel Shiakas lived in the same house, the Kamnitza. Daniel Shiakas was an important cantor in town. He came to Sierpc from the town of Novoshbentzian, which was near Vilna in about 1907. He was accepted as the cantor after the visits of many cantors to town, who demonstrated their talents as cantors on Saturdays at the synagogue. The connoisseurs said that he had a great aptitude for organizing a choir, and his prayers were best when accompanied by a choir.

Some of the Hasidim, the strictest of the strict, would not eat meat ritually slaughtered by the cantor during his first years in Sierpc. Not because, heaven forbid, they found any flaw in him. But just like that, because he was a Litvak and as is well know, you can't trust a Litvak… (This was not a public and organized opposition to the cantor, but in each of these houses, when a child was sent to the shochet to slaughter a chicken, he was warned not to give the chicken to the cantor.) The cantor tried to make himself accepted among the Hasidim. On Saturdays he would wear a Hasidic hat, and he would come to the shtibl from time to time. With time, the covert opposition disappeared, and the whole town ate food that he had slaughtered.

The Litvak cantor wanted his children to retain their Litvak accent. He paid the melamed (teacher) Shmualtia Vilk, who taught his eldest son, Liebke, an extra payment to teach him using the Litvak accent. But his efforts were of no use; his children's speech was completely absorbed into the Polish-Sierpc pronunciation.

* * *

Apparently, Hasidic opposition to cantors was very common. Rabbi Yehuda Abuda, in his series of articles “Worship for Generations”, part 7, (Hatzofe, 1 Sivan, 5717, May 11, 1956) writes:

“However, in our times, there was no opposition to cantors as such. Because the Hasidim prayed in the shtibl, they didn't care if a cantor prayed in the synagogue with a choir of songsters. But the small communities could not appoint someone who was only a cantor, and therefore took a person who would serve also as a shochet (ritual slaughterer) and examiner. The Hasidim were not comfortable with this, because they didn't want to rely on someone for slaughtering and examination who was also a “songster.” Therefore the controversies in the towns about a cantor-slaughterer-examiner were a regular occurrence. And the cantors, with the majority of the public on their side, became quite impertinent to the rabbis.

I have heard that in the town of Sheps, when there was a dispute between the cantor and the rabbi, and the cantor prayed in the synagogue on Sukkoth, when he came to the verse ?What will man do to me' he would repeat the word ?man' many times and shake the lulav (palm branch) in his hand in the direction of the rabbi's back. The public roared with laughter…

* * *

Kalman Arpa (who was called “Kalman Yakiryehs” after his father Yakir) lived in the same house, the Kamnitza. Kalman had a pleasing and soft voice, delicate and agreeable, and he was a good prayer leader. Every word, phrase, and verse that came out of him was clear and exact. And the worshippers at the New Prayer House greatly enjoyed his prayer.

It sometimes happened that the Alexander shtibl was closed for a few weeks time (either because of a debt to the landlord, or the hygienic requirements of the authorities). Because of this I sometimes prayed in the New Prayer House. On Sabbath eve, as usual, all the worshippers at the prayer house prayed in the same minyan. Because of this, I sometimes enjoyed the hearty prayer and sweet voice of Kalman Arpa.

Because of these instances, I became aware of two traditional melodies for “Lecha Dodi” of the Sabbaths between Passover and Pentecost and the Sabbaths of The Three Weeks, which I heard from Kalman Arpa.

* * *

A small one-story house that belonged to Fiboshia Rusak (a melamed) was beyond the Kamnitza.

Mendel Mai lived in this house. He was a sometimes tailor and complete pauper. He was very, very pious. Once, an impure incident occurred to him: he killed a mouse on the Sabbath. Mendel went to the Rabbi, told him what had happened, and asked that the Rabbi tell him how to atone for his great transgression. The Rabbi told him to fast for a total of forty days, every Monday and Thursday. Mendel accepted the Rabbi's judgment, and fasted as directed. He became very weak, but he atoned for his “great sin”…

The New Prayer House was next to this small house. The New Prayer House was built, as our townsman S.A. Lanter has told me, in 5646 (1886). The New Prayer House was, until the First World War, the center of the Enlightenment and Zionism in Sierpc. The earliest Enlightened persons and Hovevei-Zion in our town prayed here. This prayer house was also the center for the remnants of the Kolhekot. Before the New Prayer House was put up, the Kolhekot had their own minyan, in the Kamnitza.

The New Prayer House was an aristocratic one. Here there was order and discipline, not like in the old prayer house, where “everybody” worshipped. Only regular worshippers were here. It was the same with the Torah studies. A few of the worshippers would study here in the morning, and also between afternoon and evening prayers. Sometimes a few young men would study here also in the middle of the day, but this was not a communal place for studies during the day. It was quiet here, in any case, and the furnishings and equipment were, in comparison to the old prayer house, clean and unbroken. The books were also more intact and cleaner.

The entrance to the New Prayer House made a good impression. We mentioned that the sidewalk was higher than the street. Because of this there were a few steps here from the street to the sidewalk. There were additional stairs to go from the sidewalk to the prayer house. These were wide, and approached the prayer house from three sides. The high sidewalk and two sets of stairs served as an attractive entrance to the New Prayer House.

* * *

The next house, a single story house with an attic, belonged to Nahum Niapomoshchik. Nahum was a native of Russia. He served in the cavalry battalion stationed in Sierpc, and fell in love with the maiden Zisa Mirel. When he finished his service, he married her and lived in Sierpc. (There were some other similar cases, where soldiers who served in the battalion stationed in Sierpc married girls from the town and became residents. One of them was Shlomo Yuzhilevski.) Nahum Niapomoshchik died young, before the First World War, before he had finished building his house.

* * *

A Jew who was very essential to Jewish life in Sierpc lived in the same house. His normal occupation was as a porter, and because of this he was called Lazer Virevnik (viravnik, porter in Polish). But in addition to his regular work, he had a side job: he was the gravedigger of the Sierpc community.

* * *

A little further on was the two-story house of Haskel (Yehezkel) Lusmer. Very few people in town knew that his real name was Levkovitz. So why was he called “Lusmer”? His brother-in-law, our townsman Avraham Melave, told me. The name “Lusmer” came from his mother's ancestors (who lived in Dobrzyn), from the time when family names were determined. When the official responsible for family names came to his grandfather's grandfather, he didn't understand the request (because he couldn't speak Polish), and said “Loz mir tzuria” (“Leave me alone”). The official tried to explain his request, be he kept repeating “Loz mir tzuria”. The official wrote down Lozmir as the family name. And “Lozmir” became “Lusmer”…

* * *

The heder (one-room school) of the melamed (teacher) Avraham Yitzhak, who was called “the Melamed from Biezun” (“der Bezoiner Melamed”) was in this house. (Apparently, he was from Biezun, a town 21 kilometers from Sierpc.) He taught little children. He would tell many funny tall tales about himself. We will mention some of them here.

He would say: “There was a very hard winter. A lot of snow fell, and a bitter cold engulfed the universe. The snow that covered the ground didn't melt because of the cold, and became higher and higher, until it reached the level of the chimneys. I was riding in a sleigh, when all of a sudden ? trach! I fell into a chimney and straight into a pot that was on the stove with porridge cooking in it. When the lady of the house, a Gentile, who was an acquaintance of mine, wanted to taste the porridge to see if it was ready and took a little of it with a big wooden spoon, she pulled me up on the spoon, recognized me, and asked “Pania Avram, tso pan tu roby?” (Mr. Avraham, what are you doing here?)”

And when he was asked, “Avraham Yitzhak, how is this possible?” he would answer, “Well, you can see!”

* * *

He would also tell the story: “Once I went to the market to buy beets. I happened to see an exceptionally large beet and I bought it. The beet was very large and very heavy, and it took a lot of effort until I brought it to the door of my house. But the doorway was too narrow, and it was necessary to tear down the kitchen wall to bring it inside.”

And when he was asked, “Avraham Yitzhak, how is this possible?” he would answer, “Well, you can see!”

* * *

He would say: “I am poor because of one word.” When he was asked “Avraham Yitzhak, what happened?” he would answer: “I had to go to the bank. I saw there were packages on the table. Packages of bills of 10, 25, 50 and 100 rubles, so I asked the cashier, ?Sir, may I take these packages?' He answered ?No!' And because of this one word, I have been poor all my life…”

***

It was customary that when a Jew was to appear in court, the Rabbi would be called to swear him in, and the Rabbi would receive a payment for this. Once, when there was a court case between a Jew and a Gentile, the Jew had to be sworn in, and the Rabbi was called. The Rabbi was not feeling well, so he asked Avraham Yitzhak, “the Melamed from Biezun,” who had an imposing presence with a long white beard, to take his place in court. Avraham Yitzhak consented and went to the court. When he started to swear in the Jew, the Gentile's wife yelled at him “Chi to rabin? Pzhechezh to shklaz!” (“Is this the rabbi? It's the glazier!”) For a time Avraham Yitzhak had gone from village to village working as a glazier…

* * *

Once, on a cold winter night, the Melamed from Biezun entered the old prayer house. He went from spot to spot, held his right cheek in both hands, and had an angry look on his face. The young man Avraham Haim Greenivich came to him and asked him “Avraham Yitzhak, why does your face look so dreadful today?” “Don't ask,” the Melamed from Biezun answered in a sad and hurt voice, “One of my teeth has become soft as butter and is causing me a lot of pain.” “A tooth as soft as butter” wondered Avraham Haim, “I never heard of anything like that.” “Touch it with your finger and you'll see” said “the Melamed from Biezun,” who opened his mouth and pointed to the soft tooth. Avraham Haim wanted proof of this marvel, and stuck his finger into the mouth of “the Melamed of Biezun,” who bit it robustly. Avraham Haim let out a yell that frightened the whole prayer house…

* * *

And a story about Dudi from Zuromin, a grain merchant, who came to Sierpc on business. “The Melamed from Biezun” came to him with a sample of pea, and offered him “a quarter pea..” (“A fertel arbess.” This is the manner of speech of grain merchants, “a quarter wheat”, “a quarter rye”, “a quarter barley”, where the intent is a quarter of a quintal ? kertz ? 100 kilograms.) They agreed on a price and the seller was to bring the merchandise at a certain time to a certain place. At the given time “the Melamed from Biezun” arrived there, removed a folded handkerchief from his pocket, opened it, took a quarter of a pea grain out of it, and presented it to Dudi…

* * *

With the passage of time, Lusmar's house was sold to a Jew from Raciaz who had come back from America, and whose name was Itcha Shwitzer. The new landlord built a two-story house in the yard.

Itcha Shwitzer was a rich Jew. Because he had no business affairs to attend to, he would walk around the yard all day dressed in shabby clothes, holding a broom, shovel, hammer, or other tool, and would clean, fix, or arrange things. Once a pauper passed by, and he called him and gave him some money. The pauper left the yard and said to some people he met near the house, “Look at the difference between a rich man and a poor man. I went to rich people in the new house in the yard and got nothing. And this poor man, who was cleaning the yard, called me over and gave me a nice amount.” And then he cursed the people living in the new house, and rich people in general…

* * *

One of the tenants in the new house was Itzia Bonem Rosenberg. Itzia Bonem (Beinam) Rosenberg was a smart man and pleasant conversationalist. He would sprinkle his speech with the adages of the sages and appropriate popular phrases, with a dash of humor. He was an outstanding and devoted activist of Poale-Tzion Left and a mainstay of the branch of the party in Sierpc.

For a certain period, Itzia Bonem Rosenberg was a member of the community council representing Poale-Tzion Left.

* * *

The next house, a new brick house, large and with two stories, was that of Litvinsky (a Pole). And consider the luck of a Gentile house, that it was full of Judaism. This building housed the respected religious-educational institution Yesodai Hatorah, which was founded during the First World War to take the place of the old heders. The last Rabbi of Sierpc, Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldshlak, lived in this house. The shochet (ritual slaughterer) Yekel Richik and the synagogue attendant Shimon Gelbard lived in this house. In addition, the house stood opposite the synagogue.

* * *

Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldshlak was the grandson and successor of the previous Rabbi, Yechiel Michal Goldshlak. Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David was a great scholar, and good preacher. His sermons were interesting, full of appropriate adages of the sages. He had a large library of books on the Torah. Before he became the Rabbi of Sierpc, Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David was the Rabbi of the town Przedecz. came to our town in 5683 (1923), in the month of Av, when he was about fifty years old. He served as the Rabbi of Sierpc until the day of the expulsion, until the extermination of the community of Sierpc.

* * *

Yekel Shochet (Richik) was appointed ritual slaughterer and examiner in Sierpc after the previous slaughterer, Itzia Yosel Chanakhovitch moved to Kalish [Kalisz]. He came to our town from Sochatchin [Sochocin] in the year 5672 (1912).

Yekel Shochet had an imposing figure, was an expert at his profession, had a good voice, and was a good prayer leader. He was a jolly man, pleasant to talk to, and interested in people.

But Yekel Shochet did not enjoy his position in the big city (compared to Sochatchin) for very long. He passed away in midlife during the typhus epidemic in the First World War. He died before Passover in 5676 (1916), when he was 38 years old.

* * *

The next house, a single story house, belonged to Akiva Offenbach, who did clothing alterations. This house was the last house on this side of the Jewish Street, and officially also the last house in town. This was the official boundary, until the 1920s, of the town of Sierpc. Between Offenbach's house and the next house (that of Shaletzki, a Pole) there was a barrier (called shlagboim) which was removed after a few years. Every cart that passed through here to town had to pay a toll.

* * *

In theory, the town ended near the barrier, but in practice, it continued on. There was no difference, either in the streets or in the houses, between the two sides of the barrier. Officially, the Vloka (Vlikes) began after the barrier, and though they were adjacent to the town, they were administratively attached to the village of Borkova, which was four kilometers from town, on the road to Drobin (Drobnin). For the convenience of the residents, there was a branch of the gemina (village hall) on the spot. The Vloka, most of whose residents were Polish, were annexed to the town in the 1920s, before the second town council elections, which took place in 1923, to increase the number of Polish voters in town. As a result, the number of Jewish council members decreased from eleven in the first to nine in the second council. (The number of town councilmen was 24.)

The Vloka were divided into two streets. One street continued on in a straight line, as if it were an extension of the Jewish Street, and the second street turned right. The town inhabitants called the first street Biezun (Bazyun) Road, and the second street, Drobin (Drobnin) Road. In the mid- 1930s, when the town council named streets that previously had no names, the first street, the straight one, was called Kolinsky, after the Polish national hero of the Kosciusko uprising in 1794. The second street, which turned right, was called Raimont, after the Polish author who was a Nobel Prize winner for literature.

At the beginning of the first street of the Vloka, after the first house that belonged to Shaletzki (a Pole), there was a narrow street. This was the street on the hill, Gurna, which we previously mentioned.

The first few houses of the streets of the Vloka belonged both to Jews and to Poles. Most of the residents of the first few houses were Jewish. In the first street there lived: Yitzhak Charka, Avraham Zev (Wolfe) Laninter (emigrated to Palestine with his family in 1933), Yehuda Baruch Skornik, Yehezkel (Haskel) Izikovitch (all of them owned grocery stores), Avraham Mirantz (owned a lumber yard), Moshe Danziger (who was called “Msheye Karmelkeies,” a melamed, and others. In the second street lived: the Zhabitsky family, Yischar Meir Skorka (who owned a lumberyard and a grocery store), the Charka family, Meir Zev Glasman, Leibl Kramarzh, Elia Fish, Bruchia Zheshotka, and others.

On the second street, to the right, there was a road that led to the cemetery. After the cemetery, the road continued until the water mill of Avraham Okart that was near the Zhika (the Sierpianitza River; the mill was sold to the Pole Gabronski, and he converted it to steam). This was the way people returned from the cemetery. (They took a different route to the cemetery.)

After the first few houses, only Poles lived in the two streets. Both streets acquired a rural look: small houses, barns, silos, and green fields. A little further on, there were no more houses and the town ended. The town streets became roads between towns. The first (the continuation of Kolinsky Street), to Biezun (Bazyun), a town 21 kilometers away, and the second, the continuation of Raimont Street, to Drobin (Drobnin), a town that was 26 kilometers away.

* * *

In the first street, the straight one, Kolinsky Street, in the house of Daring (a German), lived Yehuda Baruch Skornik, and he had his grocery store there. His wife Mania (Miriam) and his children took care of the store, and he had another business, the coal and lime business. The storeroom for this business was in the house of his father-in-law, Mendel Garlitz (Lifshitz).

Yehuda Baruch was a tall man, dressed well and neatly, with polished shoes, a well-combed beard, and a wide smile always on his face. A good and pleasant man, who always tried to be kind to others.

Yehuda Baruch Skornik carried on an extensive business correspondence. He was one of the few people in town that rented a post-office box. He would go to the post-office every morning to take the mail out of his box. On his way back, he would walk slowly, his cane hanging on his arm, and would open letter after letter and glance at them, until he arrived at his store

* * *

Ber Charka lived in the second street of the Vloka (Vlikes), Raimont Street. Ber Charka was a faithful and devoted Zionist of the younger generation. He was one of the mainstays of the Zionist youth federation, Herzlia, and active in all facets of Zionism and culture in town.

During a certain period, Ber Charka was a member of the community council, representing the Zionists.

* * *

Leibl Kramarzh also lived in this street, and was known throughout the town as an outstanding scholar. He worshipped in the old prayer house, and studied there many hours every day. He studied, and also taught adults (Mishna) and young men (Gemara lessons).

* * *

The first house on this street (the second street of the Vlikes), the one-story house near the barrier, was that of Baruchias Zheshotka (who was called “Marekia” the nickname” Marek was apparently given to one of his forefathers named Meir by Gentiles.) Baruchia was a good and simple Jew, well liked and respected by everyone. He would take merchandise from Warsaw to Sierpc, and the merchants trusted him. When he became old, he was a caretaker in the New House of Prayer. Baruchia was a good prayer leader, and a pleasant prayer reader.

* * *

Going back to the Jewish Street, we see the small, one-story house of Mendel Garlitz, the last house on this side of the Jewish Street. Mendel Garlitz lived in this house and his grocery store was there. Mendel's family name was Lifshitz, and he was called “Garlitz because of his wife's name, Dinia Garlitz. The reason for this, in my opinion, is that Mendel married his wife when she was a widow. She was the landlady and she owned the store, and her name was well known in the neighborhood. Therefore, her new husband was called by her name.

Mendel Garlitz had a kind heart, and he would very willingly do favors for other people. He busied himself with good works and faith: he was a leader of the burial society, in the Welcome Guests Society, and other charitable groups. He was also a treasurer of the kolelot (funds that were collected by Alexander Hasidim for the kolelim --higher Tamudic academies in Eretz Israel, such as Kolel Polin and others). The money was sent to the Rebbe of Alexander, and from there, to Palestine.

* * *

There was an unpaved lane after Mendel Garliz's house. This lane did not have an official name, but it was called Przybozniczna (the lane near the synagogue). The lane's surface was much lower than the level of the street. There was a steep drop from the street, and not far from there was a rise, then again a drop, and then another rise. A few Jews lived at the beginning of the lane. The first was Finaia Makler. (He was a glazier. With time he changed from glazing to teaching little children, but that didn't change his poverty.) Further on there lived only Poles.

This lane led to the cemetery. The departed were carried through it on the way to their final resting place. (A horse-drawn cart was not used in Sierpc, but the dead were carried on the shoulders of the attendants.) It was customary that the attendants and mourners not return from the cemetery by the same route that they arrived. They went back through the Vloka (vlikes) by the road that went to Drobin (Drobnin). Under extraordinary conditions, in the winter, when walking through the lane would be difficult and sometimes dangerous, especially for the pallbearers, because of the descents and ascents, the same route was used coming and going, through the Vloka.

There were two cemeteries in Sierpc: a new one and an old one, and they were adjacent to each other. In the old cemetery, the early rabbis of Sierpc and some important tzadikim (righteous men) rested their eternal rest. One was Rabbi Meirl Dabash, who was Rabbi in Drobnin, Biezun, and Sierpc. Rabbi Meirl was also a rebbe of Hasidim. Rabbi Meirl was one of the giants of his generation, and Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev would visit him in Sierpc from time to time. There was a tabernacle over his grave, and the townspeople would drop little notes with requests for him into it.

There was a second tabernacle nearby. This was the grave of Mordecai Greenbaum (the grandfather of Yitzhak Greenbaum) who had also been a rabbi in Sierpc.

My relative, I.D. Sandrovitch, told me about another tzadik who was buried in the old cemetery, whom he had read about in a book of stories and legends of Sierpc. There was the following legend:

A famous tzadik once traveled from Druvnin to Sierpc. When he came to the road between the village of Borkova and the town, near the cemetery, the tzadik said, “There is a good smell coming from this earth.” Years passed, and the same tzadik again happened to be in Sierpc. He fell ill when he was in town, and after a few days returned his soul to its maker. A great mourning overcame the town with the death of the tzadik, and extensive preparations were made for his burial. The members of the hevra kadisha (burial society) dipped themselves in the mikveh for purification, and then prepared a special mikveh for immersion of the corpse of the tzadik. When the hevra kadisha brought the corpse of the tzadik to the mikveh, they couldn't immerse it because of the weight and rigidity of the body. Then there was a miracle and the body became light and flexible, as if the tzadik was helping the hevra kadisha to immerse his body in the mikveh.

The tzadik was buried in the old cemetery, in the same earth that had once smelled so good to him.

* * *

The watchman of the cemetery in the last years was a Jew called “Haskeltie fun Gitten-Ort” (Yehezkel from the Good Place). Haskeltie was a poor Jew and also ineffectual. He lived in a little house near the cemetery that was used by the watchman. In addition to guarding the cemetery, Haskeltie had some other occupations, all of them concerned with things sacred: on Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles) he would bring the palm branch and citron to many of the synagogue worshipers' houses (those that didn't have their own citron), for the women and girls to say the blessing; at the break of day on Hoshana Rabba (seventh day of Tabernacles) he would return to the houses and sell willow twigs for Hoshanot; on the eve of Pentecost he would sell cat's tail reeds (that were called blishteshen) to decorate the windows for the holiday, and other such jobs.

In earlier years the cemetery watchman had been a Gentile, a German (many Germans lived in the vicinity of Sierpc). His name was Schmidt, and because he was short, the Jews of Sierpc called him “Shmidtia.” This watchman also had all sorts of odd jobs, also concerned with holy works. He was the official shabos-goi (the Gentile who would perform the tasks forbidden to Jews on the Sabbath) of the community. He would douse the candle, or a chandelier, in the synagogue or one of the houses of prayer, to prevent a fire. On Yom Kippur, at the start of the Neila service, he and his family would light the candles in all the prayer houses in town. The community would sell to him, on Passover eve, all the bread that was in all the Jewish houses and shops in town, and similar tasks.

In addition to all the tasks that I listed above, Schmidtia had one occupation that was completely secular, and this was the sale of white sand.

There was a time in the community of Israel, before the arrival of the fashion for laying down carpets (long and narrow, that were called hudnik), housewives would spread white sand on the floor on Sabbath eve after it had been washed, to keep it clean. Schmidtia, the cemetery watchman, sold the sand to the housewives. Schmidtia would bring the sand, which had been dug up from the hills outside of town, in a small, narrow cart hitched to a haggard (and also white) horse. He stopped the cart at every house and sold the sand to the waiting housewives in bulk. The bulk was measured in an old bucket, and the price was two groschen for a bucket.

* * *

Not only the living Jews suffered from the blows of the accursed Germans, but also the dead. In their cruelty and savagery, these vandals did not overlook the cemetery. They pulled the gravestones from the graves and used them (with the inscriptions facing downwards) to pave the sidewalks in the Jewish Street. The few Jews who returned to town at the end of the war and after the Holocaust, took the gravestones from the sidewalks, with the permission of the authorities, and returned them to the cemetery. Of course, they didn't know how to, and could not, return them to their original places.

Our neighbors, the Poles, also participated in the desecration of the holy place and the degradation of the dignity of the dead. They ploughed the cemetery and planted grains and vegetables. The same Jews, those who returned to town, obtained a pledge from the authorities, that after the removal of the grains and vegetables, the spot would not be planted again, and that the municipality would put a fence up around the cemetery.

After the gravestones had been returned to the cemetery, the Jews put up a memorial to the martyrs of Sierpc who had perished in the Holocaust.

* * *

Beyond the alley was the synagogue. The synagogue was in a special place, an isolated spot that seemed to have been made for it at the time of the Creation. On one side, to the north, the street rose to the height of a few meters, and on the other side, to the south, there was a wide green valley that extended to a line of trees, and behind them flowed the Sierpianitza River. And so the synagogue stood on a spot that was between “a soaring tower and a deep well.”

The synagogue was built, according to our townsman S.A. Lanter, in about 5655 (1895) in place of the previous synagogue, which had stood on the same spot and had burnt down. (Unfortunately, we have not been able to determine the year of the fire.) The new synagogue was also built of wood.

Both the exterior and the interior of the synagogue were impressive. The building style, with three domes on the roof, stained glass windows, a foyer, and the unique location gave the synagogue an air of majesty and splendor, grandeur and reverence. The fittings and furnishings inside the synagogue were also beautiful. There was a splendid Torah Ark of carved wood, with striking pictures surrounding it: two landscapes, of winter and summer, and paintings of musical instruments, and on top of it, a stunning curtain with the heavens and the hosts of heaven. (The paintings were by the Jewish artist Stshalko from Plock. The synagogue was renovated in about 1907, and the paintings were added then.)

The majority of the worshippers at the synagogue were simple family people. A minority was of the intelligentsia of the younger generation (the Enlightened and the Zionists of the older generation prayed in the New House of Prayer), some of whom came only on holidays.

* * *

During the horrible time of the Holocaust that fell on the Jews of Sierpc, the synagogue was a loyal agent of the community, and devoted to its flock. It was the first to go up in flames to the heavens, as if it wanted to hasten to the Throne of Glory and beseech mercy for the congregation of the flock of Israel that was in Sierpc. (The synagogue was burnt by the Nazi savages on the second night of Sukkoth, 5700 (1939).

That same night, the second victim among the Jews of Sierpc was killed. (The first victim, Arie Zhitalni, died in an air raid on September 4, 1939.) This was Pinchas Valtsman (called “Pinie dem Farbers” ? the Son of the Housepainter) who was 21 years old. When all the Jews in the area began to run to the synagogue to save whatever could be saved, the evil Germans blocked their way, and would not let them approach the site of the fire. This boy succeeded in passing the barrier, but the murderers shot him, and he fell dead.

* * *

The street continued here in a downhill slope, and there was a railing made of wooden beams on the side (like the railing on a bridge). To the side of the street, in an area below the level of the street, there was something like an unpaved lane that extended from the synagogue to the house of Dudia Tchernotchepka (and the railing also extended till this spot). Along this lane were some small and pitiful houses.

* * *

One of the landlords here was Horn. For some reason, the whole neighborhood was called by his name: “Horns Giter” (Horn's Properties).

My Rabbi, Moshia Karmelkeies (Danziger), told me:

“Horn always wore, both on sunny and on rainy days, a chalatia (thin coat). The only difference was what he wore beneath the chalatia. On sunny days, he wore a shirt and trousers, and on rainy days, a peasant's fur coat.”

* * *

Avraham Yitzhakie Mai (called “the shihl-kleperie”) lived in one of the small houses. Avraham Yitzhakie was a community-attendant, and his job was to wake the congregation every morning by tapping on the widow shutters for the Service to the Creator. Usually he would tap three times, and when he died, God help us, somebody in the town tapped twice.[20] He would also proclaim every Friday, before sundown, in all the streets of the town, “In shihl aran!” (To the synagogue!)

Once, the gubernator (district governor) from Plock visited Sierpc, and as he walked in the street, he heard the call of the shihl-kleperie. He told one of the policemen accompanying him to call the shihl-kleperie over. When he came over, the gubernator slapped him in the face, reprimanded him for yelling in the street, and ordered him arrested. Avraham Yitzhakie tried to apologize to the gubernator in his broken Russian, and explained why he was shouting, and then he was released.

* * *

There was an unpaved lane after the row of little houses. The lane continued to the Zhika (river), till the lava (a narrow crossing about half a meter wide, made up of wooden boards laid on wooden columns sunk into the riverbed and jutting out of the river by about a half a meter.) The lava crossed over the river and reached the other side opposite the lane and street called Doli (Dole) that extended from the Plotzki Street. The lava shortened the distance between the Jewish and Plotzki Streets considerably. There were a few small houses in this lane. There was also a well, which had soft water, and many people from the neighborhood, and also from outside the neighborhood, used it.

* * *

After the lane was the one-story house of Dudia Tchernotchepka. It was possible to revive one's soul with a glass of brandy in his store, or a glass of beer, and have a desert of cake, roll, herring, fried liver, or other delicious foods. The adults, of course, enjoyed these delicious foods, and we children enjoyed the cooked, salted and peppered chickpeas (gezotene arbess), which we bought there for a groschen (half a Russian kopek, the smallest coin there was) a cup.

* * *

The next house, a two story house, belonged to Yukov (Yaakov) Garlitz. Yukov Garlitz was the chairman of the community council before the war, and a very respected man in town.

* * *

Immediately after the Garlitz house was the small, one-story house of Reb Ephraim Yosel Valuka. The only store at the front of the house belonged to the landlord.

Reb Ephraim Yosel Valuka was an outstanding scholar, Enlightened, and one of the first Hovevei Tzion in Sierpc. He was one of the survivors of the Kolhekot (the group of enlightened Mitnagdim that broke away from the community and set up a separate congregation). Reb Yosel was a student of the Torah, well versed in the Bible and proficient in the Talmud.

* * *

In our time, the house and store belonged to Avrahamia Valuka, the son of Reb Ephraim Yosel. Avrahamia Valuka was one of the second generation of the Enlightened and Zionists in Sierpc, and was one of the important worshippers in the New House of Prayer. He was a clever man and an interesting conversationalist. He was concerned for his fellow men and admired by them, as the phrase goes “a friendly man with whom to make friends.” His speech was full of quips, good jokes, and deft proverbs. Anywhere that Avrahamia Valuka would go, people would gather around him to listen to his opinions and enjoy his witticisms.

* * *

Next to Avrahamia Valuka's house was the one-story house of Dudi Moshe (Moshe Mordecai) Sandrovitch (who was called “Moisheye Rudes”)[21] the owner of the haberdashery and shoemaker's supplies store in the same house.

Moisheye Sadrovitch's shop was unique. It had two kinds of merchandise, haberdashery and shoemaker's supplies, and the customers were different. There were men, women and children, Jews and Gentiles, tailors and shoemaker, artisans and apprentices, paying in cash and buying on credit (there were not a few buyers of the latter kind, also among our brethren, the children of Israel), who came from all parts of town to this shop. The store was open from six in the morning till midnight, and was always full of buyers, noisy, and boisterous. They closed their store with great difficulty on Friday nights when dusk fell. On Saturday night, even before the first candle, people were already pounding on the door of their apartment (which was near the store), asking to open the shop. Many of the customers were Polish shoemakers' apprentices, wild and unkempt ruffians, who offended both the shopkeepers and the customers. There was neither order nor civility there, and all addressed each other as “you.”

It was hard labor for the whole family, and they worked eighteen hours a day. My Aunt Ruda, who managed the store, was sick in bed every Saturday. But as soon as three stars were seen in the sky and the first candle was lit, she became like a lion, got up from her sickbed, and went to her night shift. She stood all week in the store, with one foot on the floor and the other, which was ailing, on a stool. For seven days after a trip to Warsaw (there were frequent trips, because the store bought and sold great quantities of merchandise), Uncle Moshe would work day and night auditing the merchandise he had brought and balancing the accounts (oprifen di schoira). The jokesters said that he numbered each needle… From all this hard work, they never earned more than a very modest living, because of their “partners” (the credit customers that I mentioned).

* * *

Because of his advanced years, Moshe Sandrovitch was not exiled with the group that was expelled from Sierpc by the German murderers. He stayed in the town, and moved, along with the others who remained in town, to the Ghetto. He died in the Ghetto at the end of 5700 (end of the summer of 1940), at the age of eighty-seven.

* * *

Shimon Yakobovitch, who had a horse and cart, used the second store in the same house as living quarters. He would use his small cart, with a gaunt horse harnessed to it, for delivering light cargo in town. He was called “Shmia mitn Veigltia” or “Shmia mit di Kotsh” (Shimon with the Cart or Shimon with the Carriage).

Shimon and his horse and cart prospered during the German occupation of the First World War. They were almost officials of the Royal German Mail. Shmia would take the mailbags every day from the post-office (that was in Goldstein's house, at the beginning of the Plotzki Street) to the kolaika (small railway), and from the kolaika to the post-office.

* * *

The son of the landlord, Hirsh Michal (Michael) Sandrovitch, had his “chemistry lab” in the cellar of the same house. He started and developed a thriving industry of chemistry products here. He produced various kinds and colors of inks (for writing, for shoemaking, and more), wax for different purposes and of different colors (for shoemakers, for seals, and so forth), and shoe polish of various colors.

Hirsh Michal Sandrovitch was an expert in his field. He was inquisitive by nature, and he came by his expertise through his inquisitiveness. At first he learned his trade from other “industrialists” by paying tuition fees. But he did not accept what he was taught as if it were the Torah from Mount Sinai. He experimented with every product before he would start selling it. He would add to one ingredient, and reduce the amount of another ingredient. He would mix and cook, spoil and fix, until he achieved the ideal product, and only then would he put it on the market. His creations were such an improvement that there were cases where his former teachers wanted to return his tuition fees and add to them, just so that he would teach them his new methods.

But the trouble was that Hirsh Michal Sandrovitch was a man of “many labors but few blessings.” For many years he could not afford to order bottles and boxes with the name of his company on them. Because of this he would sell his wares in used bottles and boxes of various companies that he would buy from junk dealers, and thereby publicize their products.

* * *

The next house, a narrow two-story one attached to the Horovitz house, was that of Lipaia Nasielsky. The Yiddish proverb “Ver s'hot a sach techter, dem geit nisht an kine gelechter” (He who has many daughters does not have a lot to laugh about) did not fit Lipaia. He was blessed with many daughters, but he was always happy. He was a bright Jew, and full of fun. He was always full of pithy sayings and wisecracks that he would come out with on the spot, during the course of a conversation. Here are some of Lipaia's utterances.

There are some prayer leaders (bal koras) that can read only the first part of the weekly portion of the Torah. These prayer leaders read the Torah during the Saturday afternoon prayer or the morning prayers of Monday and Thursday, when only the first part is read.

Lipaia would call a prayer leader of that sort pershivi bal koreh. (A prayer leader who can only read one verse; “pershiv” in Polish ? afflicted with boils)…

Lipaia would say, “I will never let any of my daughters marry a young man who trades in, or has an occupation that begins with the letter “f”. He justified this by stating that any trade or occupation that begins with an “f” is “feh” (a Yiddish expression for something ugly or despicable) like fisher, fleisher, furman, ferds-hendler, farber, frizirer, fotografist (fish monger, butcher, horse trader, housepainter, barber [transgresses on the prohibition against shaving], photographer [deals with women])…”

When he was an old man, Lipaia once sat at a feast, and emptied glass after glass. Somebody told him, “Slow down Reb Lipa, the liquor is ninety proof (ninetziker).” Lipaia answered, “I'm eighty (an achtziker) and the liquor is 90 proof (ninetziker), and when an eighty year old drinks 90 proof liquor, he becomes 100.” (?'Oz an achtziker trinky ninetziker vert er a hunderter')…”

He would say, “htarben yak shtarben, nor di dira iz in drerd.” (It's not so terrible to die, but the apartment is in the ground. The phrase in drerd has a double meaning: literally “in the ground,” and “something bad.” Here the meaning is two-fold: both a bad apartment, and the apartment is in the ground.)

* * *

As mentioned, Lipaia's house was attached to that of Horovitz. Aharon Moshe Horovitz's house was a new, two story brick house. The front of the first floor was the wholesale grocery store that belonged to the landlord. We have already mentioned that, until the First World War, there were two wholesale grocery stores in Sierpc. One was that of Lidovski, and the other one belonged to Horovitz. There was an interesting innovation in this store. It was shut, not by doors, but with a shutter made of corrugated tin, that could be raised and folded. Everybody went to look at this novelty. Possibly the adults knew that the shutter folded, but we, the children, were sure that there was a space in the wall that the shutter would disappear into when it was raised.

* * *

Beyond the Horovitz house there was a narrow, unpaved lane that led to the Zhika (river), where there was a path to the lava (a crossing over the river) that was a short cut to the Plotzki Street. There were a few small houses in this lane, and some poor families lived there. Among them was the melamed (teacher) Haim Yosef Crystal (he used to live on the small street near the mikveh).

The melamed Haim Yosef was quick-tempered (he was called “the soldier” because in his youth he had served in the Russian army, and there was something military about him till old age) and any misbehavior, whether trivial or serious, by his students would warrant a severe beating. This was well known to the students' parents, and most of them, especially the fathers, consented to it. There is a story that Moshe Yehuda Karsh came to Haim Yosef and offered to send his Fibush to the heder, on condition that he wouldn't be beaten. Haim Yosef answered, “If so, it's better that he stays at home.” And Fibush didn't stay at home, but in the heder of Haim Yosef.

My Rabbi, Nosheie Karmelkeies (Danziger) told a story.

“One of Haim Yosef's students was Yosek (Yosef) Kotcholk. The Kotcholk family was rich and intelligent, and in contrast to most of the parents, they did not agree, especially his mother and sister, to Yosek being beaten by the melamed. But Haim Yosef did not discriminate between students, and from time to time Yosek would also receive his share of blows.

“Once when Yosek received an especially harsh beating from Haim Yosef, he ran home and didn't return to the heder. After a couple of days had passed, and the boy still did not return, Haim Yosef went to the trouble of going to Moshe Hirsh Kotcholk (because it's a pity to lose a student, especially a rich one) to ask him to send Yosek to the heder. There he had to listen to the strenuous protests of the student's mother, Mrs. Hinda Kotcholk, about her son's beating. After he justified himself to the mother and promised not to beat him again, the mother told Yosek to return to the heder with the Rabbi. Yosek did not have any great desire to return, but he recognized his mother's authority, and went with the Rabbi.

“The same thing happened a few more times. The Rabbi, out of habit, beat the student, the student ran away from the heder, the Rabbi went to the student's house, received a tongue-lashing from the mother, promised not to repeat his “transgression” and Yosek returned with the Rabbi to the heder.

“Once, after the above scene had repeated itself, when the Rabbi and the student were returning to the heder and crossing the lava, the Rabbi in front, with the student behind him, the student pushed the Rabbi into the Zhika (river). The river was shallow, and there was no danger, heaven forbid, to Haim Yosef, but he was soaked to the skin, from head to foot. He got up and went home, sad and wet, as the saying goes ?humiliated and embarrassed.'

“When Haim Yosef came home, because of his helpless anger, he broke down the door of his room, threw himself on the floor, and lay there, silent with his face down. The students became frightened, the rabanit started screaming, the neighbors arrived, and they all tried to revive Haim Yosef, to get him to stand up, to turn him over. He wouldn't move and lay there like a corpse. All of a sudden, he got up, and let out a roar, ?That sheigetz (abomination)! That criminal! That destroyer of Israel!' He smashed his head with his fist, pulled out his hair, and continued yelling. The rabanit and the neighbors tried to calm him down, but Haim Yosef continued his terrible and wild screaming. Finally, he calmed down, and related what the sheigetz had done to him.

“Haim Yosef never went back to the Kotcholk residence, and Yosek never returned to the heder of Haim Yosef.”

* * *

The house behind the lane, a one-story house, belonged to the Shlisharken, and the tavern was there. One could drink a glass of brandy there and have some fried liver with it. One could eat a piece of pickled or smoked herring, with a biscuit or a stuffed roll. One could also get a full meal: a large portion of fish and a quarter of fried goose. The name of the Shlisharken was Rosa Zind, but the whole town called her “Shlisharken.” She was a widow (her husband was a locksmith (shlosser, and in the Sierpc accent, shlisharz), and because of this she was called “Shlisharken.” Her two daughters helped her with the business.

As we previously mentioned, the Shlisharken had a tzhina in the store, and she sold boiling water for tea.

* * *

Behind the Shlisharken house stood the Old House of Prayer. (Unfortunately, we have not been able to determine when it was built.) This small temple was a popular place of worship, and “simple folk” prayed here. The regular worshipers at the Old House of Prayer were mostly small property-owners, artisans, tailors, shoemakers, butchers and fish mongers, many of whom were not overly familiar with the fine points of the Scriptures. This applied to most of the worshippers at the Old House of Prayer who worshipped there on Saturdays as well. But on weekdays, the worshippers were from all classes, and of all ages: Mitnagdim and Hasidim, artisans and merchants, rich and poor, young and old. The first worshippers would come to the house of prayer at dawn, and would start by repeating Psalms and Maamadot until the time that prayers would begin. When the prayers would start ? “Time to read the Shma of morning prayers” ? many minyans would pray, one after another. The morning prayers would last for many hours. The same happened for the afternoon and evening prayers: one minyan would end, and another minyan would start.

The Old House of Prayer was not only used for worship, but also for Torah study. From the break of dawn till late at night, the sounds of Torah would be heard in the House of Prayer from young men, youths that had just left the heder, and from adults who were studying alone, or in groups, or Ein Ya'akov [reading collections of ethical teachings]. The Old House of Prayer hummed for eighteen hours every day with the sounds of Torah and prayer, voiced by young and old men who were occupied with Torah for its own sake, and who pleaded to their fathers in heaven.

* * *

The Old House of Prayer escaped the great destruction of the Jews of Sierpc. It was not destroyed when its worshippers and students were annihilated, and was not demolished along with its fellows ? the other places of worship in Sierpc. The accursed Germans set up a concentration camp for offenders in that holy place, with its cruel and criminal inquisitors. The “offenders,” Jewish and Polish, were kept there, and taken out daily to perform hard and humiliating labors. And like they left certain Jews alive (for a limited time) who were denoted by the letters “W.W.J.” (Virtshaftes Vertike Yuden, Jews with an Economic Value), so they left the building of the Old House of Prayer, which had some economic value for them.

* * *

The house after the Old House of Prayer was a two-story house that belonged to Zelig Richgut.

Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldshlak of the Righteous of Blessed Memory, who was a Rabbi of the Sierpc congregation, lived here for 53 years. Rabbi Goldshlak was known as a great Torah scholar, and for his good works. He also wrote many books, of which only a few were published. Rabbi Goldshlak was born in the town of Szrensk in 5591 (1831). When he was 17, he was appointed the Rabbi of the town of Kikol, and was afterwards the Rabbi in Szrensk, Podembitza, and Ostrolanka. He became the Rabbi of Sierpc 5625 (1865), when he was 34 years old. The Rabbi died on 21 Shevat 5678 (February 3, 1918) when he was 87 years old.

* * *

Zelig Richgut, the landlord, had a tavern in the same building. One could get tasty provisions there, sweet and strong: glasses or bottles of brandy, 45 or 90 proof; regular herring, or pickled herring, or smoked herring; a generous portion of fish; boiled or fried meat, and all sorts of desserts.

* * *

We heard from our distinguished townsman, Shmuel Itchia Lanter, about a terrible tragedy that occurred there in the 1870s. In a fire that engulfed the house, Icheia Tatz (the father of Shmualtia, Natan, Wolfe and Ella Tatz), who lived there, was burned alive.

* * *

The two-story house of Yosef Vasolak was attached to the Richgut house. Next to the house and behind it was a large yard, and at the end of the yard was a two-story house whose first floor was a grain storeroom. (In 1931, a kindergarten called Tarbuth was opened here. This was the beginning of the Tarbuth School in Sierpc.) Avraham Fried (Yerushalmi) lived on the second floor.

This building was later sold to Moshe Lasman and Yisrael Barjo.

Avraham Fried was profoundly involved in Zionist and communal activities. Because of his concern with public activities, he neglected his businesses, and ruined them, one after the other. He had a kitchen utensils store (in the market, in Eliyahu Glazer's house), and he put an end to it. He had horses and a carriage to transport merchandise from Warsaw to Sierpc, and he got rid of that. The same thing happened to his other businesses. Later, Avraham Fried did something quite different, pioneering: he bought two cows and wanted to live by selling milk. There were Jewish milkmen in town, but they bought the milk from Gentiles, but Avraham Fried wanted to set an example as a pioneer, as a productive, Zionist Jew. He would take care of the cows, he would milk them, and he would earn his keep by selling their milk. But in the end, this business shared the fate of his other ones. His other activities prevented him from properly taking care of the cows. And without proper care, there was no milk and no bread.

In 1921, Avraham Fried took another pioneering step. He emigrated with his family to Eretz-Israel.

* * *

Eliyahu Grossman (who was called “Alia”) lived in the same house. Alia Grossman was an active member of Poalei-Tzion Left. In the 1930s, he represented that party in the community council.

* * *

The next house, a two-story house, belonged to Wolfe Chazzan. (He was called “Wolfe Kalmias” after his father-in-law, Kalman Fenster, who was the landlord.) Wolfe Hazan was a melamed of little children and sold books by rabbis and wise men at his home. His outward appearance was that of an idler-melamed of the old school, but actually he was an Enlightened Jew, knowledgeable in grammar, and very inquisitive.

Moshe Yaakov Shtahl lived in the same house, and had a store there. Moshe Yaakov was an enthusiastic Hasid, but he lived off the sweat of his brow. He worked hard, baking muffins and selling them wholesale to store owners and to retail customers in his own store. He also sold chocolates, candies, and other delicacies in his store.

Moshe Yaakov Shtahl was not from Sierpc, but came to our town from Pabianice (a town near Lodz) and he left Sierpc in about 1924. He visited Sierpc once or twice as an agent for a manufacturer of curtains.

During the Fourth Aliya, some rebbes emigrated to Israel. Among them were: the rebbe from Yablonana with a group of Hasidim who founded Moshav Kfar Hasidim; the rebbe from Kozienice with a group of Hasidim who founded Moshav Avodat Yisrael. The rebbe from Strikov also emigrated with a group of Hasidim. (The rebbe stayed in Palestine for a short time and returned to Poland.) Moshe Yaakov, who was a fervent Strikov Hasid, decided to follow his rebbe, and left without any passports or money, and of course was caught and arrested. He drifted through various prisons in various countries, until he was finally sent back to Poland.

* * *

Moshe Lasman's shoemaker's shop was the other store in the same building. Later, he bought the house.

* * *

The next two-story house belonged to Zelig Mionchin. The small haberdashery store of Reb Haim Nachum Tunbol was there. Reb Haim Nachum Tunbol was one of the first Enlightened Zionists in Sierpc. He was the only one in town who had then, in about 1908, visited Eretz-Israel. He was one of the residue of the Kolhekot. Reb Haim Nachum was a student of the Torah, knowledgeable in the Bible and the Talmud.

* * *

There was a shack attached to this house, which was the locksmith shop of Yisrael Barko (called “Yisrael Shlisharz,” shlosser, locksmith).

The son of Yisrael Barko, Avraham Leib, became engaged at an early age to Hanna Rozink, the daughter of the baker Natan Rozink. After a time, the groom fell ill with typhus, and his condition was critical. When neither the doctors with their medicines nor repeating Psalms were of any use, or adding a name, nor other remedies, they tried a very special remedy. The bride-to-be and her mother entered the sickroom and tore up the tnaim (the written conditions and vows of the engagement), as a sign that the engagement was annulled. (The intent being that if her groom-to-be was destined to die, then after ripping the vows, he was no longer her groom-to-be.) And this remedy worked. A “miracle” occurred, and the condition of the patient improved. And he slowly recuperated, and regained his full strength.

* * *

Because we have mentioned a Jewish remedy that “saved” a man from death, we are reminded of a Gentile remedy that “saved” a man from death.

The “miracle” occurred in our house. A three-year-old child, the son of our relative Mendel Karpa, who was the shochet (ritual slaughterer) in the village of Tlochova, came down with diphtheria. When his condition became worse, he was brought to town, and the child and his mother stayed at our house. His condition deteriorated. Nothing helped, not medications, not Psalms, not adding the name Alter to his previous name. Until one day Dr. Gomovski announced that there was nothing to be done, and only God could come to his aid.

Then the Gentile woman who brought us water offered to try the following remedy: to rip open a live pigeon above the patient's head (apparently, a Gentile version of kaparah [the custom of swinging a live chicken over one's head on Yom Kippur eve]) and she volunteered to do it. Because we had no other choice, we agreed. The Gentile woman performed the remedy as described, and a “miracle” occurred, and the child got well.

* * *

Yisrael Karp lived in the yard of this house. The Karp family was new to Sierpc. They came from Warsaw during the First World War, when hunger and want were rampant in the large cities. Israel Karp was penniless when he came to Sierpc. The only fortune that he brought with him was some daughters of marriageable age. Not only did Reb Yisrael not have dowries for his daughters, he also did not have any work. At that time, (after the death of Moshe the attendant, who was called “der Blinder Moishe,” Blind Moishe) there was no attendant in the Old House of Prayer, and Yisrael Karp was given the position of attendant.

It is well known that many people believe in the superstition, that aliyah to the Torah (reading the Torah in front of the congregation) for the weekly Portion containing the section “Tochecha” (Warning) is a bad sign for the reader. Different congregations have different customs concerning this particular aliyah. In the House of Prayer in Sierpc, it was customary to “honor” the attendant with this particular aliyah. And Yisrael Karp, who liked to joke, used to say, “After every ?Tochecha', I marry off another daughter.”[22]

The sidewalk in front of Mionchin's house was used for selling fish. On Thursdays and Fridays, and sometimes on other days, fishmongers would stand there with their cartons, scales, and the rest of their equipment, and sell their merchandise. Of course, there was no shortage here of cries and swearing, greeting and insults. Later, the fish sales were moved to the wide area in the middle of the street, near Balt's house.

* * *

We have arrived at the Zhika (Sierpianitza River) and the bridge across it, which was described above.

All the houses that were on the other side of the bridge, between the bridge and the market, were narrow two-story houses that were attached to each other, without a yard or space between them.

* * *

The first house was jointly owned by Avush Liberman (later he moved to Plock) and to Fivel Buda. The two stores in that house belonged to the two landlords. The first had a textile store, and the second had a leather and shoemaker's goods store. During the time when Poland was independent, this house was torn down by order of the authorities, because of the hazard of it collapsing.

* * *

The second house belonged to Krusa Licht. Madame Krusa was a shrewd and bold woman, who new how to run a business. She had a haberdashery store in the same house. When she was widowed, Mrs. Licht married Yisrael Haim Iszajewicz, who was an important Gur Hasid.

* * *

The third house belonged to Leibush Rosenberg. Leibush Rosenberg was a kind and sensitive man, who suffered greatly because of his family troubles and the problems of making a living. He was the owner of a small and meager shoemaker's goods shop that was in the same house. He was a teacher of Bible and Gemara to children between the ages of eight and ten for many years. Later he was an attendant at the New House of Prayer, and he died there unexpectedly one day.

* * *

The fourth house belonged to Moshe Natan Klein, who had a tzhina (he would sell boiling water for tea). His wife, Madame Malka, had many names: “di Moshe-Natante” (Moshe Natan's wife); “di Hoiche Malke” (Tall Malka, because of her height); and also “Malke Kozak” (Malka the Cossack, because she was “a woman of valor” and had a sharp tongue).

I heard the following story about Malka Kozak from Avraham Ben-David (Melave).

* * *

Lazer the tailor (who was called “der Blinder Lazer,” Blind Lazer) lived in the same house. In the year of the revolution, 1905, the Poale Tzion committee would meet in Laser's apartment. The neighbors found out about these meetings, which were, of course, secret. And the neighbor, Madame Malka, talked about them in public, with very pointed comments about the “heretics” and “abominations” who violated the Sabbath and ignored the bounds of morality and order.

The revolutionary committee tribunal decided to punish Malka, so that she would stop her chattering. The punishment was planned meticulously, and the comrades Mordecai Tchaslak and Haim Tzudek (who was called “Papush”) were appointed to carry out the verdict. This is what happened:

Haim Tzudek, who was short, entered Moshe Natan's house one evening, carrying a teakettle, and asked for tea (boiling water) for two groschen. Moshe Natan was sitting, as usual, at his table reading a book by the light of a small kerosene lamp. Malka took the teakettle from Haim Tzudek, went over to the pot, and bent over it to pour the boiling water. At this point, Mordecai Tchaslak, who was tall, came in holding a sack with tar. He quickly put out the kerosene lamp, put the bag on Malka's head, smoothed it over her hair and face so that it would stick well, and swiftly got out of there together with Haim Tzudek. Malka and Moshe Natan started screaming, neighbors and passers-by came in, and when they turned on the light, found Malka lying ion the floor, her head covered in a sack, screaming. When they tried to remove the sack, they found out that it was stuck to her head and face.

From then on, Malka Kozak learned how to hold her tongue.

* * *

Later, this house belonged to Fivel Buda, who moved his store (leather and shoemaker's goods) there from his house near the bridge, which was in danger of collapsing.

Fivel Buda was one of the worshippers at the New House of Prayer, which was the center for the Enlightened group, Hovevei Tzion, and the Kolhekot. The Polish shoemakers who came to his store to buy goods would sometimes ask, “Mister Buda, what is Kolhekotnik?” When they were asked, “Where did you hear of this word?” they would answer, “Sometimes when we go to the Hasid Mister Teitlebaum to buy goods,” (as is well known, Yakov Moshe Teitlebaum carried on a big business selling leather and shoemaker's goods in his house) “he tells us, ?why do you buy at Buda's, he's a Kolhekotnik'…”

* * *

The fifth house, which was brick, belonged to Yazef (Yosef) Nishat, and he had an iron works store in the same house.

The landlord's grandfather, Reb Avrahamka Nishat, was one of the town elders, and an enthusiastic and outstanding Gur Hasid.

* * *

The large and handsome brick house of Radomski (a Pole) stood at the corner of the Jewish Street and the market. The side facing the market had a drugstore, and the side facing the Jewish Street had three stores: the ironworks store of Yehoshua Goldman, the haberdashery store of Elia Meir Shlifer, and the textiles store of Tobieie Klinhoz. Yehoshua Goldman's wife, Roiza, ran the store, and Yehoshua spent most of his time in the house of prayer (sometimes the old one, sometimes the new one) studying either by himself or with others. And if by some chance he were in the store, he would be looking at a book there too.

Yehoshua Goldman was a distinguished scholar, acute, and well versed. He liked to study complex problems, which required applying the brain, wrinkling the forehead and diving into the sea of the Talmud and its commentators: the Tosefot, the Maharsha, the Maharshal, the Maharam, and similar commentators. He would rejoice in arguments about problems of this sort, and when he found a worthy adversary, he would display his perception and insight.

* * *

When we were writing about the houses in this section of the Jewish Street, the section between the bridge and the market, we started to wonder. None of these houses had yards, because behind them and attached to them was the yard of Radomski, the drugstore owner, which extended until the Zhika (river). And if there is no yard ? then there is no outhouse. So the question must be asked: what did all these residents do ? men, women, and children, boys and girls, young and old ? all those “under the bridge” who did not have “an ideal place” like we had, the students of the heder of Rabbi Leibush Rosenberg.

We turned to someone who had been very close to this situation, and from his answer we learned of the great distress of the residents of these houses. A distress that lasted for years, something that the residents of other streets, even of the other side of the same street, neither felt nor were aware of. A few of the residents had agreements with one of the landlords of the houses across the street, to use the outhouse in his yard. But most of them had to use a chamber pot that was kept in the attic and would be emptied late at night into the Zhika. Sometimes, one of the residents would be caught in the act by a policeman, and fined for polluting the river. What could these miserable people do? They paid the fine, and in the evening went again to Tashlich [the ceremony of tossing one's sins into a body of water on the first day of Rosh Hashana].

The Germans solved this problem during their occupation in the First World War, by building a public bathroom on the other side of the street, on the large, empty lot that was used as a yard for the houses of Eliakim Ryz and Moshe Greenbich. First the Germans proposed to the suffering residents that they build the outhouse in that lot. But when they explained that they couldn't build it on someone else's property, the Germans built it themselves, and charged the expenses to the owners of these houses.

* * *

We have finished our stroll and review of the Jewish Street and the Vloka (Vlikes) and the nearby streets.

* * *

To our great sorrow and heartbreak, all that we have related and described above, was and is no more. The wild Germans, with the active collaboration of our Polish neighbors, uprooted not only the Jews of Sierpc, but also their houses. All the wooden houses of the Jews (and most of them were of wood; the few brick houses were specifically mentioned as such) were burnt to the ground. Our townsmen who visited Sierpc after the Holocaust said that when they stood on the Vloka (Vlikes) they saw that all of the Jewish Street, until the house with the drugstore at the corner of the market and the Jewish Street, was bare of houses. The houses that were left on this street (including the adjoining small streets) were: The Old House of Prayer (that was used by the Germans as concentration camp, work camp, and torture center); the Shaletzki House; the Litvinski House; the Kamnitza (a Polish brick house); the Niapomoshchik House; the Horovitz House, the Prashnitzki House (Jewish brick houses); and by chance also the Kasazh House (a small, wooden, Jewish house). There remained one or two houses between the bridge and the market, on the right side. Most of the wooden Jewish houses on the other streets were destroyed as well. (The destruction of Jewish houses made of wood was a general phenomenon in all the Polish cities. The accepted view is that the main contributors to this destruction were Poles who were searching for gold and silver in the walls and floors.)

 

The “Wise Men” of Sierpc

There is a folk saying that goes, “Each town has its own village fool.” Sierpc was blessed with a few of these types, the village fools. But they were not of one kind; they were of different degrees of absurdity and foolishness. But they had something in common: they were all foolish, and they were all a part of the community of Sierpc. When we remember the Jews of Sierpc, we must also remember these ill-fated ones.

* * *

We will begin with Zanvil, because he was the wisest fool in town. Zanvil (his family name was Papiarchik) was tall, with a clipped black beard. Throughout the year, in all seasons, he wore a warm, long and black coat, galoshes on top of boots, carried an umbrella, and had a scarf wrapped around his neck. If we judge by the saying of the Elders of Blessed Memory, “Silence indicates wisdom,” then Zanvil was the wisest of all men, because he was silent all the time, and hardly ever uttered a word. It was said that he was a very learned man who knew many languages and especially English, and because of his great desire for knowledge, had turned into a fool…

* * *

In contrast to the silent Zanvil, Mordecai Yudel was very noisy. Mordecai Yudel (family name ? Rosenfeld) was of medium height with a short yellow beard. He was always in motion and doing things, always with other people, walking quickly, talking to himself and answering in a loud voice. He would do various odd jobs for a fee: run errands, carry parcels, pump water, and so forth. Mordecai Yudel was a prototype of the “village fool.”

In the summer of 1910, approximately, two Circassian Jews who spoke only Russian and the holy tongue came to Sierpc. They sold summer hats for girls. Mordecai Yudel wanted to tell them to go to the house across the street, and said in the holy tongue, “Halach yelech dort ahin” [an unintelligible mixture of Yiddish and Hebrew].

At the beginning of the First World War, the Russians banished Mordecai Yudel to Siberia, on suspicion of spying for the Germans, and he never returned.

* * *

Aviomye was a different type (Avrahamia; his family name ? Pearl). He was older, with a clipped black beard with the first inkling of gray, short with a slight stoop, leaning on his cane, and dragging himself around slowly and wearily. His clothes, shoes, and cap were shabby, the peak of his cap was always turned to one side, and his pockets were full of papers and breadcrumbs. He was a melamed, teaching poor children the alphabet in their homes, and receiving in return food and a few pennies. His brother, Ahzhe, was a fur tailor (as he called it “putzen macher”) and Aviomye was also a little acquainted with this trade. He sometimes worked for his brother, or for Kaliuch. Aviomye would visit many houses (he was always welcome at our house) and everywhere he was very cordially received. He could recite by heart some chapters of the Psalms, the Song of Songs, and some verses from Isaiah. On request, he would repeat them with the intonation of a preacher.

Aviomye wanted to get married. His ideal was a bride wearing a wide apron. When he was shown a girl with a wide apron, he would dissolve with pleasure. And in a good-hearted way, he would permit himself a swift gentle touch of her sleeve with the tips of his fingers. He couldn't pronounce the “R” sound correctly (because of that he was called Aviomye, which was his pronunciation of his name), and also the other sounds formed with the palate ? “Z,” “S,” “Tz,” and “T.” In his lisping pronunciation, he would say: “Hoshene Uven izsh nish ashtie biveit oftsheshen” (To wed is not to eat a slice of bread)…

* * *

Yosha, the son of Zelig Reichgut, was different from the others. Yosha was a young man, happy and quick. He was kind, liked other people, especially of the opposite sex, and would cheer them up. He called every girl “Tchutcha” (“Auntie” in Polish), and in special cases would add some doggerel, “Tchutcha, diene eugen hobn miech tzigatzoigen” (Auntie, your eyes have dragged me behind you). He was ready to do all sorts of odd jobs in any dwelling that included a young lady. Many housewives, or their daughters, exploited this weakness. Yosha was an “in-law” at all the weddings in town. He helped arrange the tables and chairs, and performed all sorts of tasks. He would entertain the bride and groom, and dance when they went to and returned from the bridal canopy, and of course, he did not refrain from eating the good food.

Once Yosha broke the mirror in his house. When he saw the his face reflected from every one of the pieces of glass on the floor, he ran to his mother and joyfully told her, “Mother, I have made many yosha'yer”…

* * *

The women of Sierpc also had a representative in this group of fools. Our Elders of Blessed Memory have said, “Women are feather-brained.” But there was only one lady fool in our town, and her name was Malka-Lea, the daughter of Shlomo Richgut (who was called “Shlomo Chayehies”). Malka-Lea was not outdoors very often, because she helped to take care of her parents' house. When she walked in the street, she was always in a rush, and she would answer every question with “Nimam sasa.” (Niemam tchasso in Polish, ”I don't have time.”)

And wonder of wonders, a young man was located, a poor young man called Goldak, absolutely normal, from a respected family in the neighboring town of Kuczbork who married Malka-Lea. This was a topic of conversation around town for a long time. (After a few years, he left her and sent her a divorce decree.)

* * *

All the characters that we described above could be considered fools. But Sierpc also had its village idiot. This was Bereshie (his family name was Pearl), who had the honor of being the only village idiot in Sierpc. In addition to this singular quality, Bereshie also had a distinguished relation: he was Avyomie's brother. Bereshie was a quiet type of madman. He would walk around with worn out clothes in tatters, didn't harm anyone, didn't speak, and didn't ask for anything. When he was given a slice of bread, he would take it and smile at the benefactor. Sometimes he would help Yosef Wolfe Plonsker (who was called “Der Ata Macher,” the Maker of Cotton Wool; he lived at the start of the Vlikes in Baruchia Zhashotke's house) making cotton wool. He worked and slept in a storage shed. He froze to death one cold winter night.

* * *

As if its own fools were not enough, Sierpc received reinforcement from a nearby town. This was “Yosha Hazurominai” or “Yosha the Water-Carrier” (to distinguish him from “Yosha the Sierpcer”). The two designations testified to his hometown and to his trade. He was a native of Zuromin and he lived by bringing water to people's houses. He came to Sierpc before the First World War, when he was called to appear before the draft board. From then on, he became a citizen of Sierpc.

Yosha had broad shoulders and a scraggly blond beard. He was heavy and clumsy. When he walked, even when the heavy yoke was not on his shoulders, and the full buckets weren't pulling him to and fro, he would move left and right, in rhythm with his pace. He had a slight stutter and a screeching voice, a slow walk, and his clothes and shoes were torn, filthy, and wet. Yosha was the only one of these (male) unfortunates who was married.

Yosha had not always been a water-carrier. In his youth, in his native town of Zuromin, he had made ropes. He would turn the wheel of the twisting machine. Avraham Yerushalmi, who comes from Zuromin, tells the following story.

When he was in charge of informing the workers of Zuromin during the revolutionary year of 1905 not to work more than eight hours, he talked to Yosha as well, and told him to quit work at four o'clock, even if he was in the middle of a rope. Yosha caught only the end of his statement, and when he came to work the next day, he kept asking his boss if they were at the middle of the rope. When the boss answered yes, Yosha abandoned the wheel, and said that he wasn't going to work anymore. When his employer asked him, “Yosha, what's happened to you?” he answered, “Black Zalman's son (Dem schvartzen Zalmens ying) told me to stop working in the middle of the rope…”

* * *

And last but not least, we shall honor “His Honor.”

The eldest of the company of fools was “His Honor.” His Honor was an old Jew. His name was Lazerie and he was the father of Meir Rosen (who was called “Meiria Yaishnik”). Apparently, when he grew older, he became senile. His “madness” was that he believed he was a great cantor. He would tell everyone about his strong, mellifluous voice, his excellent and hearty prayer, and the large audience that came to listen to his prayers in the past. He would very willingly respond to any request for a demonstration of his cantorial abilities. He would start singing, “His Honor Fills the World” from the Kedusha. And from this came his name, His Honor.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Compare this to Kings II, Chapter 4, Verse 29: “Then he said to Gehazi: 'Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thy hand, and go thy way; if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not; and lay my staff upon the face of the child.” Return
  2. This custom is mentioned in Yeda Am Book 2-3, (Volume 3) Tishrei 5716 (1955), p. 117: “Tap of a mallet. In places when the attendant would call the congregation to prayer in the morning by tapping with a mallet, they would tap every day three times, and on the day he died, only two taps. (Mkorei Minhagim Sign 90, 62)” An explanation of this is in the same issue, p.112: “The attendant taps three times on the window, and rouses the community of the God-fearing in the middle of the night for services to the Creator. If someone in the community passes away, God forbid, the attendant taps only twice, to inform you that of the three partners to a man ? the Most Holy Blessed He Be, the father, and the mother - one of them, the first one, has dissolved the partnership…” Return
  3. My aunt Ruda was “a women of valor”, and she ruled the household and the pocketbook, and apparently because of this her husband was called by her name, “Moshe Rudes”. We have mentioned a number of instances where husbands were called by their wives' names (Avrahamia Zlotzover, Shmuel Lant, Mendel Garlitz). These were identified by their wives' family names. This case is different, in that the husband was identified with his wife's given name, using the possessive case, as if he were her son. There were two more cases like this in Sierpc: The attendant at the mikveh in the 1880s was called “Shmuel Chanales.” The reason for this seems to be that his wife, Chanale, came from a distinguished background. She was the granddaughter of Rabbi Meirl Dabash, who was a rabbi, and the Rabbi of Sierpc. The Gemara melamed in the 1880s and 1890s, Yitzhak Prager, was called “Yitzhak Malkes” apparently because his wife, Malka, was the saleslady in the grocery store (which was in a small house that was behind the shlisharken). I heard about these two cases from our townsman Shmuel Itchia Lanter. Return
  4. It is interesting to consider the customs in different places concerning the aliyah to the Torah in the Portion containing the “Tochecha” section. In the Alexander Shtibl in Sierpc and Zoromin, the “honor” would go to the Prayer Leader. But to protect him from the curses, it was customary that the prayer leader on that Sabbath would call the purchasers of the aliyahs to come to the Torah. (The aliyahs would be sold every Saturday before the reading of the Torah, and usually the treasurer would call the purchasers to come to the Torah.) The section containing the “Tochecha”, which had not been sold, would be taken by the Prayer Leader himself, without anyone inviting him or calling his name (so that the curses could not be addressed to him). In addition, he would be greeted twice after he had finished reading the section with the blessing “Mie Sh'borach” (He who blessed). And after all this, he would, as an additional substantial compensation, be honored by being called for the “Maftir” (last Torah section that is read that day) of the second day of Shavuot (Pentecost) for the “Tochecha” of the Portion “B'Hukotai” (My Statutes), and the “Maftir” of the second day of Rosh-Hashana (New Year) for the “Tochecha” of the Portion “Ki Tavoe” (When Thou Art Come). In the synagogue in Sierpc, there was a regular “Tochecha” reader, who would receive money for doing this. In the Gur Shtibl of Zhoromin, the prayer leader would be “honored” for the aliyah of “Tochecha”, and he would not receive any compensation. The reason for this is that the prayer leader reads “for you”, “to you”, with you”, etc. (in the “Tochecha” of the Portion “B'Hukotai”) or “on you”, “in you” “you”, etc (in the “Tochecha” of the Portion “Ki Tavoe”), so that the curses are not intended for him. But if the prayer leader is a “cohen” or “Levi” (descended from those who performed the rituals in the ancient temple), then one of the worshippers is “honored” with this aliyah”, and he is greeted twice after the aliyah” with “Mie Sh'borach”. The custom of “honoring” the Prayer Leader with the aliyah” of “Tochecha” because he addresses the congregation with “to you” and “on you” so that the curses are not directed at him was also mentioned to me by a Jew from Budapest. The same Jew also described two other customs to me:
    1. The person who distributes the aliyahs says, “Stand up, whoever wants to” and someone from the congregation (by agreement in advance) goes up for the aliyah and receives monetary compensation for this.
    2. Someone in the congregation is called in the usual manner, and in the “Mie Sh'borach”, after the Portion, a sentence is added to turn the curses into blessings.
    In various towns in Poland, it was customary (and is now customary in various synagogues in Israel) that the executor of the aliyah with “Tochecha” (third section in the Portion of “B'Hukotai” or fifth section when the portions “B'Har” and B'Hukotai are combined, and sixth section in the Portion “Ki Tavoe”) says the second benediction when the Prayer Leader reaches the “Tochecha” (since the Portion starts before the “Tochecha”). After saying the benediction, the aliyah executor remains on the podium near the Torah scroll. And the prayer leader reads the “Tochecha” without a person responsible for the aliyah and without a benediction before or after the reading. Return

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