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[Page 528]


Jews that I knew

by Szabtai Klugman

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld


Ruwen Grosfeld

Ruwen Grosfeld was the first son-in-law of Lajb Frochcwajg, who was amongst the first Jews who came to Dabrowa, in general, and to the Reden suburb, in particular. Lajb Frochcwajg who placed deep roots where he had placed his new residence, established a family with nine children, built two houses, managed many businesses and obtained great wealth – according to the standards in Poland at the beginning of the century [20th]. He behaved with his children, in particular with his daughters, in the way that the rich Polish Jews, or those who had become rich, did in general. They were willing to provide a dowry for the daughter on the condition that they secured a wise scholarly husband, learned and highborn. Ruwen Grosfeld who married Sara, eldest daughter of Lajb Frochcwajg, was the first and successful “acquisition”. Following Ruwen Grosfeld came other son-in-laws, learned and highborn: Jakob Rozen, Szymon Weksler, Gerszon Hanoch Szpilberg and Abram Icchak Dziubas.

Ruwen Grosfeld was not only a wise scholar, but also very bright in general, purely and simply. His alert eyes, flickering and ridiculing, gave testimony to this fact, they saw the weaknesses in the surroundings, the foolishness in their lives. However, he was very careful not to express what his eyes saw. It was for a good reason that, for many years, he was a member of the kehila [Jewish community] committee without receiving criticism, as was common amongst other members of the committee. He knew how to adjust his words, composed, pleasantly and sensibly.

From the day he left his father-in-law's wings he dealt in pelt trading. And from this day on, he was a most respected homeowner in the town. A homeowner – purely and simply: he established a house in Reden, which was also highly regarded – purely and simply. Even though he didn't “intermingle with others” and to a great extent he kept to himself in a crowd, indeed he was treated as a type of distinguished man.

Ruwen Grosfeld certainly wasn't a Zionist and to a greater extent wasn't “enlightened”, however his intellect kept up with the new spirits that lingered in the Jewish public, and he understood that one needed to accept the new that had burst into their lives.

Together with this he was busy and disturbed about issues of the individual; his wife bore children, and carried the general burden, the Torah brought him his entertainment. A scholarly and focused page of the Gemara[1] was made for him, as it were, the intelligent man. He always managed to “save himself” time for the Torah.

Amongst his children who made aliyah [emigrate to Israel] were Abram with Mosze Gócza, Jakob Joaw and Gerszon.

Ruwen Grosfeld passed away in his old age before the Second World War.




Abram Grosfeld

As with the way of a new idea, which opposes old ideas whilst the new idea opposes the old, Zionism was not an exception, and even for this, there were enthusiastic warriors, who were willing to “trample” their opposition. Abram Grosfeld was such an enthusiastic Zionist warrior.

Ruwen Grosfeld, his father, was pleased with his son Abram, when he was a young boy. He had an open mind, knew how to study and his soul yearned for the Torah. Ruwen Grosfeld certainly dreamed that, as many, many parents of his generation did, that his son Abram would be a rabbi, a great Torah scholar. He even sent him to study in the Gur yeshiva, which in the same period, in the years before the Second World War it was regarded as one the largest and best yeshivot [seminaries] in Poland. Half of Ruwen Grosfeld's desire was presented him: Abram, even though he never became a rabbi, was learned in the Torah, and even though he went in directions that his father was not happy about, and even though he didn't set aside regular times for studying the Torah, indeed all his life he remained in the shelter of the Torah, and was pleased for every opportunity to speak on the subject of the Torah, in the context of its studies and matters related to it. For many years after he left the yeshiva whilst he was living in Israel, from time to time he would visit one of its leaders, at every opportunity that came about. And both “sides” were pleased about the meeting. The student honored his former rabbi and the rabbi liked the “good boy” from Dabrowa.

Abram Grosfeld was certainly one of the first Zionists in Dabrowa amongst the young generation.


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And as mentioned, he was not an ordinary Zionist, and not just an active Zionist, rather a Zionist “with all his heart and all his soul”. There wasn't a Zionist activity in the town, in which he didn't participate and didn't take a part in leading.


dab529.jpg [15 KB] - Abram Grosfeld
Abram Grosfeld z”l
who knew how to merge Torah and work.
He was one of “Histadrut” activists in its
early years and also in the trade union.
He died in Israel at the age of 71


Even though he wasn't included in one of the pioneering parties in Poland, which carried out the realization, the aliyah, the first mitzvah in their book of mitzvoth, here it was clear to him through his Zionistic attitude that he had to make aliyah. In 1921 he went to live in Israel, via Vienna, where he remained for a short time in order to learn carpentry, which he could carry out in practice.

When he came to Israel with a trade, he immediately joined the workers movement. For a certain time he was even the secretary of the woodworkers organization in Haifa and was very active in the struggle to improve the worker's conditions, who were under his supervision. He later began working independently in his trade. For many years he managed a carpentry plant in Haifa, from which he made an honorable living.

From his time in the yeshiva and Torah study, an additional liking of a certain profession remained, which is not exactly religious and not exactly secular: dedicating the month, the Hebrew calendar, and comparing it to the civil calendars existing in the world. For a period of many years he would dedicate most of his free time, and not only his free time, to investigate the Hebrew calendar however he was unlucky, that during the difficult period in the country, after the War of Independence, with the many and complicated problems in which the country was embroiled in and the real difficulties in his life: security, finance, absorption and related matters didn't allow him time and strength to deal with a remote and complex subject like the Hebrew calendar. Abram Grosfeld, who came in contact with the greatest scientists in Israel about the wisdom of the Hebrew calendar, left behind him manuscripts about this interest, and whilst he was planning and intended to widen his investigation and the interest in them had a wider circle, the hand of death took him.

He left a wife, nee Hirszfeld, a son and daughter.




Rabbi Abram-Icchak Dziubas

Abram Icchak Dziubas was the youngest son-in-law of Lajb Frochcwajg, taking his youngest daughter. He was related to Admorim [Chassidic rabbis] and rabbis and he himself was a great scholar, blessed with talents. Firstly he was a genius in the Torah, but his uniqueness was not only this. Certainly, he was fated to be a modern Jewish writer, but his destiny proved differently. In his youth he brought manuscripts to Y. L. Peretz and Y. L. Peretz vigorously discouraged him. He then despaired of modern [literature]. To a great extent he was a new type of a religious pioneering figure: He was also fundamentally religious and also “enlightened”. He read modern Hebrew literature, published articles in newspapers, also in the non-religious ones, and with this remained extremely religious. He was rooted in the Bet Midrash and dealt with Torah, Talmud, Scriptures, Halachah [Jewish Law] and Aggadah [rabbinical literature]. In fact he was, in Dabrowa and in all of a Poland, from the point of view being a “loser either way”: the religious saw him as “enlightened”, and the educated saw him as “clerical”, and didn't accept him amongst them. With this Abram Icchak's residence in Dabrowa was always a temporary resident. He never sought ways of becoming closer to the local people, and from their point of view they didn't seek ways of becoming closer to him. They gossiped about the fact that he saw himself as superior of his surroundings, that he had more than an ounce of pride, but this wasn't true. He simply saw himself as an outsider, in surroundings that didn't try to do a thing to come closer to the stranger.

He was a slightly tragic character, even though he never saw himself as being in a tragic situation. When he was young he received a teaching permit from a famous rabbi, however it wasn't in his soul to be a rabbi. On the contrary, he always maintained “hate the rabbinate” and when it became known that a rabbi had given him a teaching permit, he did something that shouldn't be done, from the aspect of the Torah, he went home and tore up the teaching permit.


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Later on he again received a teaching permit from famous and well-known rabbis, and even more distinguished than him, however he didn't want to use his authority.


dab530.jpg [16 KB] - Reb Icchak Dziubas
Reb Icchak Dziubas
was rabbi in communities in Holland and England,
a writer and Torah commentator and a lover of Zion


All his life his soul was in one thing that was twofold: to study Torah and write books. And in fact, during his life he wrote about a dozen books, the first of which (the sermon for his anointment) which he wrote when he was 18 years old.

However as long as he lived in Poland he only had half of his wishes. He dealt in a number of businesses – in the main in soap production whose know-how he learned in Vienna – in which he sometimes succeeded and sometimes failed, until he decided to leave Poland. This departure involved unending efforts and difficulties. He finally reached Holland. There, as well, he didn't want to use his rabbi's permit. On the contrary, the local rabbi, who feared that he had come to take his place, found out that… Abram Icchak Dziubas had come to his defense and demanded from the Rotterdam community, that they receive his authority and the religious ruling that he wished to introduce in order to strengthen the fortification of the Jewish family which had many intruders and the subject of assimilation had surpassed all limits.

When he went overseas, initially to Rotterdam and later to England, his luck improved. Even though he wasn't a rabbi, as a teacher he helped in Rotterdam and was a member of the college committee – a yeshiva in the town of Ramsgate in England. There he studied Torah, and wrote several religious books, was respected by all that knew and were familiar with him and he made a profitable living.

He passed away in England; he left behind him his wife, Chaja, and two daughters.




Szlomo Halperin

Szlomo Halperin was an intellect, a man of culture, a distinguished man. He was the uncrowned leader of Dabrowa the Zionistic, the young, and in particular the Reden suburb. From a formal aspect he was not a leader since his soul was against any public activities, including Zionist activity. Nevertheless, everyone saw him as a leader of the Zionists.

Szlomo Halperin was, like many of his generation, a pleasant combination of three worlds. From an early age he studied much Talmud and Scriptures and was a kind of genius. He was a friend-acquaintance of Abram-Josef Sztibel, who earned a reputation of being a patron of Hebrew literature. He studied Torah together with him and together with him they “left Judaism”. Szlomo Halperin left the Bet Hamidrash for the “enlightened” world, bringing with the brilliance and knowledge of the religious world, ancient and Chassidic literature. In addition to both of these worlds a further layer is added: the Zionist world and Socialist Zionism. Both of the first two worlds he held within himself. With all his opposition to the Bet Midrash way of life, he remained a Bet Midrash Jew. And with all his distancing from the outlook of the world of “enlightenment”, this world remained with him. As in Zarki several decades ago, all his life he sought to see the Jew as a person, free of the negative lifestyles of the Diaspora.

There were many Jews, in particular in Szlomo Halperin's generation, whose souls were divided. They weren't suited to a life of commerce, their soul wasn't in it, but nevertheless they remained in this type of life. Szlomo was an extreme example of this spiritual state. As an educated man and as a devotee of A. D. Gordon and an a admirer of Y. H. Brenner, he was drawn to a completely different life, a life of creativity and labor – in spite of being a weak man he could not even dream about a life of labor – and in fact was entrenched in businesses; in the store of his father-in-law, Jakob Szalom Fiszel, or in his timber yard.


[Page 531]


dab531.jpg [16 KB] - Szlomo Halperin
Szlomo Halperin
a learned man, well versed in Torah
and an enthusiastic Zionist


All his life he was a sort of an “infant held amongst the Gentiles”: between the timber, the beams, planks, railings, paints, oils and so on.

Suppliers, clients and accounts were everyday matters, and all of them together didn't interest him even slightly. Many like him grew used to this situation – he didn't: the need to live a life that had no interest for him was always a burden.

The truth of the matter is that Szlomo Halperin lived the life of a typical Jew. And as a typical Jew, everyday of the week he pursued and was pursued, was busy and troubled, running around and chasing after matters that for him were not the main issue, rather of secondary importance. Only when the holy Shabbat day arrived he returned to the main issue: to the Torah and rest and blessing.

Szlomo Halperin's life had this duplicity. Every day he dealt in financial matters, purchasing and commerce, but when he closed his timber yard the respite arrived, and his real life began: books, culture, Zionism, politics, art, spiritual matters. He even had tried his hand in literature, wrote books, but because of over fastidiousness and his shyness, his literary works were never published. The literary-artistic phenomenon remained as a feast, as his own private feast.

Like many others, all his life he dreamed of aliyah, and like many others he never achieved this. In the summer of 1942 he was taken to Auschwitz together with his wife, Rywka Bajla, who was his loyal companion for several decades.




Mordechai-Lajbisz Janowski

Mordechai-Lajbisz Janowski was a rare character amongst Polish Jewry, and in particular, amongst the Jews of Dabrowa. It was customary in Poland that enlightenment and Zionism only arrived at the beginning of the century [20th]. In the previous century the Polish street was dominated by religion, in other words: ancient culture. Only a few were caught up by Zionism at the end of the previous century.

Mordechai-Lajbisz Janowski was the son of an “enlightened” man. His father, Abram-Mosze Janowski from Wolbrom was amongst the first “enlightened” men in Poland, and wrote a book dealing with the geography of his town and its surroundings. Both the “enlightened” Janowski men, the father Abram-Mosze Janowski and the son Mordechai-Lajbisz Janowski were not “spoilt”, they didn't abandon the traditional life, and remained faithful to the Jewish belief all their lives; fulfilled with tradition and together with this were “enlightened” from the point of view: that he was “enlightened” in his home and a religious Jew in the street, in the store and in the Bet Midrash.

Mordechai-Lajbisz Janowski, as a quiet man, typical of the brilliant scholars whose words were said calmly, never argued with someone holding an opinion. Only one thing was liable to upset him: when someone dared not praise the Land of Israel and Zionism.

He never was amongst the wealthy of the town, he behaved honorably and modestly with the fate of a man who had to struggle with life's difficulties. He participated with the Zionists and the youth, and always lived the life of Israel, happy with each victory, with every achievement. His oldest son, Dow-Ber Izachar, who was known as Bercia, was not only an avid Zionist, but had great knowledge of Hebrew. For many years – for more than twenty – he served as a Hebrew, Bible and Hebrew Literature teacher in the Jewish gymnasium in Czestochowa.


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Mordechai-Lajbisz Janowski and his wife Gitl nee Majmon had seven children. However, only two of them managed to make aliyah. All the rest, apart from Nachum who died in his youth, were killed in the Holocaust.

Icchak, who made aliyah, was amongst the members of the Third Aliyah, amongst the first Dabrowa boys who went to live in Israel. Like the greatest part of this aliyah, he had to struggle with severe absorption difficulties. He married Frida nee Sztorchajn and they had Uzi Narkis, an Israel Defense Force army general who was prominent in Israel and around the world.

Rywka, the young daughter, married Kalman Barkai (Swirczek).

Even though most of Mordechai-Lajbisz Janowski's children didn't manage to make aliyah, he and his wife did so. They emigrated in 1935, however they did not live for long in Israel. Gitl passed away in 1937, and Mordechai-Lajbisz died about two weeks before the beginning of the Second World War at the age of 76. His son Icchak even managed to place a gravestone on the Mount of Olives, which fortunately remained undamaged.




Michale and Joskele

The place had its large and small, Chassidim and heretics, rich and poor, philanthropists and misers, and in this place there were its jesters. These, as is their way, brought in a little joy, a little color into the life of the serious Jewish community, absent of joy. The position of the “generation-jesters” in Reden was carried out by two short Jews, who through their short-size and through the admiration that they had acquired, the local Jews added an affectionate suffix to their names: Small Michale and Small Joskele. The two of them looked like something from the first six days of creation, a sort of “pair made in Heaven”.

Even though Reden didn't have an elderly population, it is doubtful if a dozen Jews in it knew how Small Michale made his living. It is possible that no-one considered that Michale needed to make a livelihood, since his every day was filled with quick-wit, sharpness and jest.


dab532.gif [28 KB] - Drawing: Icchak Bofer
Drawing: Icchak Bofer
Michale and Joskele, the city's jesters



[Page 533]


This wasn't the case of Small Joskele, he had an abundance of trades and professions, in which he made a living and as the popular expression goes, from many trades there was little livelihood. In fact, no-one knew what Joskele's real trade was. He was Joskele the glazier; Joskele the carpenter; Joskele the metalworker and finally – Joskele the plasterer. And with all these there wasn't enough for him to make a living for his family, and indeed his wife worked in “production”: she would produce “raw material” for a bran borscht. Whenever a housewife in Reden wanted to prepare a borscht like this for her family, she would give a coin or two to one of her young and dispatch them to Small Joskele's wife, in order to bring some of that “raw material”.

There was a person that didn't enjoy one of Small Michale's expressions, and these expressions were deposited within him at the ready. And the people of Reden would pass them on by word of mouth and would be doubtfully proud of their Small Michale and doubtfully suffering a guilty conscience that they had given an opinion on valueless matters.

Small Michale said: What is a good day for me? He would say that Shabbat Hazon [the Shabbat preceding the Fast of Av] is. And for all that why, because on the Friday before my wife can't “taste” the meat broth, since this is on the nine days – and the day afterwards I can eat a greasy soup…

During the period of Nissan and all the Jews of Reden were busy and troubled with daily matters: “How to bring Pesach home”, Small Michale would wander around happily. He would regularly say – “Blessed be His Name, three things for the seder are already promised me:

  1. straw for the mattresses
  2. a finger for dipping into the wine for the 10 plagues and
  3. a side to lean on.
He would also say: The Jews didn't have great possessions in Hillel's time, that was and a lettuce leaf wrapped in matzo and eaten together, and now we behave like them; gorging on leaves. If I had lived in Hillel's time I would have behaved differently: I would have put in a turkey leg between the two pieces of matzo and ate them together, and all of the Jews would do as I'd done.

At the end of the Sukkot festival Small Michale would say: Go out and see how much the prices have gone down and be greatly surprised… and when they asked him, where had he seen that the prices had gone down? Hadn't they soared upwards? He replied to his questioners: “Go out and see the price of an etrog [citron] was two weeks ago, ten days ago and even on the eve of Sukkot. They couldn't be bought in gold? And today – they cost almost nothing to purchase…”

There was an incident with Small Michale and Lajbl Strzegowski, who was also rich and also a scholar, whilst sitting and studying a page from the Gemara. He said to him: You're not satisfied with much, you want more, and even more… the little that you have in this life, and your soul is already getting ready for the next life...

Go out and see: said Michale – Nachum Gutman, of great wealth, couldn't make a living, heaven forbid. Indeed he made a large deal today and made a profit of several thousands, but what has this to do with a livelihood? And made five gulden for his livelihood? This isn't Joskele's case. His livelihood rests in a box … here he goes out and sees a broken window in Ruwen Grosfeld's house, he immediately goes inside, displaying a new pane of glass and he has earned his livelihood…

And indeed Joskele's does amaze: a man with many, many trades and how does he go about without a livelihood? Small Michale – there are those that say the mouth of another jester has something to do with it – explained the matter in this way. When Joskele wanders about without a livelihood there is a lot of noise made in the higher world, the Blessed Be He calls to one of his angels and orders him to go down to Dabrowa and find work for Joskele the carpenter. When the angel arrives in Dabrowa and begins asking where Joskele the carpenter lives, he is told: We didn't know that Joskele is a carpenter, we've heard that Joskele is a plasterer, and the angel returns empty handed.

When the Lord of the Universe hears about the failure of the angel's mission, he immediately orders another angel to go down to Dabrowa and bring a livelihood to Joskele the plasterer. And the incident with the first angel repeats itself. The angel asks where is Joskele the plasterer's home and the people of Reden reply: We hadn't heard that Joskele is a plasterer, we heard that Joskele is a glazier. And the angel returns just as he came. The Blessed Be He immediately orders another angel to go down and bring a livelihood to Joskele the glazier, and when the angel comes to Dabrowa the local people tell him that they don't know who Joskele the glazier is, but they have heard about Joskele the metalworker. And thus the angel returns and another returns to bring a livelihood to Joskele the metalworker. And he meets with a person who hasn't heard about Joskele that he is a metalworker and heard that he is a carpenter… and thus in the heavens they give up trying to bring a livelihood to Small Joskele and leave him with his trades, and taking care of a livelihood by himself.

______

1. Part of the Talmud that contains commentary of the Mishnah, part of the Oral Law of the Jewish Religion   return


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