When I come to commemorate the Kielce community in this volume, I feel it is incumbent upon me to mention the names and activities of the people who were privileged to stand at its head and conduct its affairs.
The leaders of the Kielce community were not, for the most part, the most aggressive members of the congregation, who ruled their flock with a strong arm for their own pleasure and advantage, like those the authors of the time usually embarrassingly described in their books. The young community of Kielce did not have tradition or possessions. At its head stood mainly simple and kosher people, who were unanimously elected by the Jews of the city who turned their public affairs over to them in the opinion that they were in good hands.
The first communal leader was Reb' Lejbusz Lewkowicz, who was called by the inhabitants of Kielce R' Lejbusz Feuer, since he had lived in a village in his early years and acquired the attributes of village farmers in his manner of speech, gesture and manner of living; it was noticeable that he was from a Polish village.
This simple man excelled in good qualities. Simplicity, fear of God, love of Torah scholars and support of them, doing charitable and merciful deeds these commandments gave him the love and trust of all of the inhabitants.
He married his daughters to Torah scholars, who established splendid and extensive families in Kielce: the Kaner family, the Paserman family and the Bukowski family.
In his generosity he set aside part of his house as a prayer house; this was a great necessity for the Jews of Kielce in his time, before a synagogue had been built for the community members.
After him, Mejer Sztunke, one of the important homeowners in Kielce and one of the first to settle there, served as head of the community. He was active in public and charitable affairs. No poor or needy person left his house empty-handed. He founded the Chevra Kadisha [Burial Society] in the new community and was one of its most active members.
Since there were still no public baths in the community and also no kosher mikveh, Sztunke arranged a mikveh and bathhouse in his home for the use of all the city's inhabitants.
His memory as a benefactor, activist, someone who created the Kielce community
and brought it out of its infancy remained for a long time with the veteran
inhabitants of the city, who used to tell stories and jokes about him. I will
bring one instance here, very typical of his type of thinking.
Once before the Passover holiday, R' Mejer Sztunke became deathly ill. His sons, who were not as strict about the commandments as he was; didn't notice the ruling of selling the chametz [leavening] to a gentile. Meanwhile, Passover was over, and the patient improved and returned to his activities, to his beverage shop, brandy, beer and wine. When he discovered that this chametz had not been sold to a gentile before Passover, as he usually did every year, he went to Rabbi Gutman, the local rabbinical authority, to ask him what to do in this matter.
The rabbi gave his ruling: Chametz that has been in one's possession through the Passover it is forbidden to take any pleasure in it.
What did R' Mejer do? He stood on the bridge that spanned the river Silnica, which flowed in front of his house, took bottles of brandy and barrels of beer and poured them into the water of the river.
The peasants, who were passing by stopped at the sight, also Jews came out of their homes to see this performance. The goyim saying to one another: This Jew is out of his mind; he is destroying such precious and wonderful fluids with his own hands. They removed their hats and stirred their arms above the river to try and catch a bit of these beverages in their hats and pour them straight into their mouths.
To the Jews who were watching Sztunke kept repeating: Chametz that has been in one's possession through the Passover it is forbidden to take any pleasure in it. This performance continued until the shop was emptied of the drinks.
R' Mejer son of R' Icak Sztunke died on the 19th of Cheshvan, 5673 [Fall 1912]. One of his sons, Dow Berl Sztunke, followed in his father's footsteps and was one of the respected people in the congregation of the Jews of Kielce.
R' Mosze Chaim Kaminer ZL functioned as the head of the Kielce community for a long period of time. He was more elevated than his predecessors were in his lineage and his social standing. A son of the Jewish aristocracy, the son of R' Judel Kaminer of Checiny, owner of the Podzmecza estate. Mosze Chaim was the brother in law of the author of Sfat Emet, the famous Admor of Gur, whose fortress protected most of the Chassidim in Poland. This great connection alone already put him on a high level above the people.
However, he also had personal qualities, which gave him added respect not only among the Gur Chassidim, but also among the rest of the Jews of Kielce. His external appearance, his assertive opinions, his intelligence, his expertise in the experiences of the world, his relations with the authorities, all these qualities gained him status and respect; and everyone admitted that it was good and appropriate for him to lead the community which had managed to grow in the meantime and take on a more definite form.
Even though he was not among the wealthy people of the city, his home was
always open to the needy, to anyone who held out a hand. The grandson of the
Admors, who came to request charity on the merit of his ancestors, an
emigrant, passing through the cities and villages, equipped with letters of
recommendation and letters which testify to his wealth and honesty beforehand
and his poverty now together with a request to support him generously, an
author, who came to collect signatures for his book which is about to be
published and in his hand endorsements from all of the sages and rabbis of the
generations all these have Mosze Chaim Kaminer's address in their hands
and first knocked upon his door thinking that they would not leave his home
empty handed. He kept to the tradition of his ancestors doing much charity in
It happened once that the mailman brought a large package of pamphlets to his house. As a man who was distracted with his own business and public affairs, he didn't have time to look at them and see what their worth and contents were.
When I came to his house, he turned to me and said: Please go and see who the author is of these books of moral instruction and I will send him their cost. When I took a look at them I told him: These books must be burnt, they are the books of heretics; the missionaries distribute them to Jewish homes in order to capture souls in annihilation. Kaminer in his way was already willing to send the author the money of their cost without even looking at their contents!
I remember that when, in 5653 , the cholera epidemic broke out in the cities of Poland and wrought devastation in the assembly of Israel, there were Jews who wandered in terror of the epidemic from cities which were infected to villages the disease had not yet reached and thus spread the germs of the epidemic.
In those days, M.Ch. Kaminer traveled together with the sanitary committee from village to village in the Kielce district and explained to the Jewish inhabitants the regulations of the committee, which had been established to preserve the health of the population. They listened to his words, since they respected him, and his advice and instructions were heeded.
As a government contractor, he paved sections of roads between Kielce and Krakow, came into contact with the authorities and in certain instances he was able to influence them to the benefit of Jewish affairs.
In his public activities, his generosity, his position in the center of the Chassidim he had great influence on public affairs and community procedures.
The clowns of the city used to say: In Kielce, two camps have won public opinion: Public opinion of the Christians has been won by the Endeks and Jewish public opinion by the Gur Chassidim, with Mosze Chaim Kaminer at their head.
However, from the day that the Zionist movement arose in the Jewish street,
criticism also arose against this control of the Gur Chassidim in the running
of community affairs. The Zionists, as enlightened democrats, wanted to
introduce light into the public institutions. As advanced nationalists they
wanted the community authority to deal not only with religious affairs but also
with general national affairs: improving education, increasing productivity of
the masses, etc. Therefore, they demanded the broadening of the community's
responsibilities and activities; it needed to include, they thought, all of the
charitable institutions, the cemeteries and Chevra Kadisha, the ritual
slaughter and so on, which then were still private or public fiefdoms and were
not included in the areas for which the community authority was responsible.
Even though under the Czarist regime the community didn't have the authority to introduced any changes in the regulations which the central authorities handed down to them, these demands made appropriate propaganda material, to besmirch those who led the community in the eyes of the masses. The Zionist slogan: Conquer the communities! was accepted by the Zionists of Kielce.
After years of public relations, the Zionists succeeded in conquering the community several years before World War I and making its chief one of their comrades, the banker, Jakob Nowak. He was an outstanding Zionist. He dedicated an entire building for the use of the local Zionists, who moved from place to place, since they didn't have their own apartment in which to do their work.
Jakob Nowak was an enlightened man and at the same time he clung to the tradition and hopes of his people. Even though he was a wealthy man, he did not follow the path of assimilation, as did most of the wealthy Jews of the time. The Zionist idea took him over and he was devoted to it with his money and his soul. And his end proves his beginnings. He was a whole Jew, and as a Jew he suffered in exile.
At the beginning of World War I, the supreme Russian Commander, Nikolai Nikolewicz, accused the Jews of spying for the enemy and he captured the leaders of every community and held them hostage and he sent them as prisoners to the Russian districts where they were held in prison as criminals. If not for the help of the Russian Jews who made enormous efforts to free them from their prisons and thus to ease their fate, probably they would have all rotted in their poverty and suffering. Only thanks to the brotherly help of the Russian Jews did some of these hostages manage to return home after years of wandering.
I said some, since not all of them managed to see their homes again; many of them died in foreign lands from a surfeit of trouble and wandering.
Also the bankers from Kielce, Jakob and Henryk Nowak were among the hostages. Henryk Nowak died in Moscow, far from the members of his family and members of his community. His brother, Jakob Nowak, returned to his city and home cast down and shattered in his soul and didn't live long after his wanderings. On the 18th of Iyar, 5679 , Jakob son of Szlomo Nowak ZL died. He lived as a Jew, suffered as a Jew and was a victim of hatred of Jews. May his memory be blessed!
During World War I, Isachar Berisz (Berza) Blumenfeld led the community. He was a modest activist, a homeowner, far from party rivalries. He was the son-in-law of R' Simcha Rajzman, owner of a large estate in the Kielce area. The community members looked to him as someone worthy of holding the honorable position of community Parnas, because during the crazy days of the war sufferings he was very active quietly, without loud noises in the area of aid and charity to the needy, the refugees and those who were torn from their homes and families.
His public activity, which stemmed from love and mercy, from participating in
the sorrows of his fellows, gained him a good reputation with all sections of
the Jewish inhabitants, and everyone treated him affectionately.
When the Popular Bank (Bank Ludowi) was founded in Kielce with the help of the American Joint, whose purpose was to rehabilitate artisans and small grocers via inexpensive credit, Blumenfeld was appointed to head this financial institution. He ran the bank faithfully, not for any reward. The bank developed under his direction, its members increased and its turnover grew. He guarded this financial institution like the apple of his eye. His seat in the bank was a permanent one, he did not take his eye off of it, and endeavored that not even a penny of the community funds go astray.
This community leader was the last in the Kielce community who was elected to his post according to the old Czarist regulations, according to which only property owners had the right to vote in the elections to the community authority.
In independent Poland [post-1918], the Jewish community was founded upon democratic elements. A council of twelve members was elected in general elections. The council selected a community authority from within itself. During this short period, from the day of Polish independence to the outbreak of World War II, the matter of the heads of the community depended upon the strengths of the parties that participated in the elections. The party that won the election battle also elected the community leader from among its members.
In the years after the Balfour Declaration , the Zionists prevailed in the elections and it was they, in partnership with HaMizrachi and the artisans, who dominated in the community.
During this period, the following sat on the seat of community leader: the Honorable Icak Mejer Rajzman, Cwi Zagajski, Dawid Rozenberg and Zew Kluska. The last community leader was from another camp, from the chassidic camp, Simcha Bunem Goldman.
I will describe the personality and quality of spirit of each of the community leaders here in a few lines, may their memory be engraved in this memorial book. They are worthy of having their names remain as a blessing to the members of the coming generations. Every one of them gave of his energy and strength, his knowledge and talent for the good of the community he led; every one of them yearned to elevate the members of his congregation materially and spiritually, to provide appropriate educational and charitable institutions and also introduced general national matters into their sphere of activity, such as allotments to the national funds, supporting pioneers who were moving to the land of Israel and others. Certain sums for these purposes were included in the community's annual budgets. In general, everyone was aware of any national event and responded to it, as is appropriate to a limb of the national body.
Icak Mejer Rajzman was the son of a glorious and famous family in the city. A
descendant of R' Szlomo Rajzman or Szlomo Cwatil's, a benefactor in the Checiny
community, who built a splendid study hall for the learning of Torah and prayer
in 5622 , a grandson of Simcha Rajzman, owner of a large estate in the
Kielce area, son of Awigdor Rajzman who was one of the respectable members of
I. M. Rajzman was elected by the Zionists, excelled in his speaking ability with which he influenced his audience; an enlightened and educated man who knew how to conduct public affairs. Over time he also became known as the director of the Popular Bank.
Also his wife, principal of a school for girls, did much to give her students national values.
The Zionists accepted Cwi Zagajski, HaMizrachi representative, as well. He was one of the wealthy men of the city and a great benefactor. He and his brother Jakob ZL founded the Home for the Aged in Kielce and other institutions, as I mentioned earlier.
Dawid Rozenberg, a Zionist from his youth, from the day he was conscious he held the Zionist banner in his hand. A speaker and debater of talent, he would appear at every convention and meeting. His words made a considerable impression, for they were spoken with logic and pathos.
He was also a member of the municipal council, where he defended affairs of the Jewish public and its honor with fierceness and courage, which we had not previously seen in our representatives when they came to speak in the name of the Jews who sent them.
Rozenberg made many souls for the Zionist idea, especially among the young who admired him. He could not tolerate lukewarm Zionism, and therefore followed the Zionism of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, whom he admired heart and soul.
By profession he was a banker, he served for time as the assistant director of the commercial Lodz bank, Kielce branch; over the years he was also the director of the Popular Bank in Kielce. He excelled in the extent of his knowledge not only in banking, but in many other areas as well. His keen glance, his rapid grasp helped him orient himself in each and every subject and express his opinion regarding the question being debated.
Finally he founded a private bank, as the first and last Jew in Kielce to receive a concession to found such a bank from the Polish government. Even when he owned a bank he did not cease his work in public affairs.
Dawid Rozenberg was the most popular Jew in Kielce. He was active in all of their affairs and all of their needs. Everyone, from whatever party they belonged to, held him in esteem.
He grew up on the soil of Kielce, lived its life, aspired to elevate the members of his community in spirit and in fact, did much to improve the lives of the worker and the artisan; therefore everyone became fond of him. Whenever necessary, at every opportunity he was chosen to be their mouthpiece and representative, and he fulfilled his mission faithfully, may his memory be blessed.
R' Zew Kluska was a man who kept his word. From his youth he was devoted to
the Zionist idea, he went through all the stages of the development of this
elevated concept, didn't abandon the camp even in the days of major crisis that
Zionism went through. He believed with perfect faith that the rebirth of the
nation in its homeland would come to pass one of these days. This faith caused
him to work devotedly in the Zionist movement.
When he saw that life in the Diaspora was becoming more and more difficult, that anti-Semitism was growing stronger and the ground was falling away even beneath his own feet, he liquidated his Diaspora life and moved with most of his family to the land of Israel.
The only son of his Chassidic parents, he had a traditional education, after his marriage at a young age he was numbered among the ranks of the Chassidim; however, the national movement of rebirth swept him into its ranks and he was one of its most active and devoted members. His piety did not stop him from battling against his Chassidic and pious fellows who eschewed Zionism.
He was one of the founders of HaMizrachi in Kielce. In the Mizrachi he found a broad field of activity, he also found satisfaction there for his soul which clung to the tradition of his ancestors on the one hand and which yearned for rebirth on the other. The love of the Torah and the love of the land of Israel were united in him to one enthusiastic passion.
His friends recognized his excellent qualities, which dwell in the heart, elevating a person from the depths of selfish life and elected him to a position of honor in their community, to head the community; and he served the members of the congregation faithfully.
Here in Israel he is also respected and the natives of Kielce appreciate him, see in him an honest activist and show him signs of affection and admiration at every opportunity.
The last community leader, R' Simcha Bunem Goldman, was from the Chassidic camp. His father, R' Mendel Goldman was the son of the Admor R' Dudel of Chmielnik. This worthy lineage is what swayed people in his favor to elect him as the leader of the Kielce community.
As anti-Semitism grew all over Poland, and especially in Kielce, the hands of the Zionists grew weak in their local activities. Even Grynbaum gave up in his battle with the Polish Sejm [parliament] and left for Paris, and afterwards moved to the land of Israel. Thus all true Zionists also put their hearts and minds to moving to the land of Israel; almost everyone came to the recognition that there was no hope for Jews in exile. Many of the Zionists liquidated their businesses and moved to the land of Israel, even though all of those who led the Zionist movement opposed Jabotinsky ZL's Evacuation plan. Those who remained in exile were no longer interested in local public activity, they viewed it as Sisyphean labor which bore no fruit.
At the time the Chassidim succeeded in conquering the public positions that the Zionists had abandoned. They received a majority in the community and also in the municipal council the only Jew elected came from their camp.
This is how Goldman was placed at the head of the community, a man from the
tree of Tzadiks, of pleasant temperament who responded to the sufferings of
others; a benefactor whose house was open to the poor. However, he did not
excel in the qualities needed by a man who is conducting public affairs: a
fierce desire and encompassing knowledge that includes public needs and the
manner in which they are satisfied these qualities he lacked. Others
influenced him, and therefore his personality did not arouse the same respect
that is usually given to the head of the community. He served the community
until the outbreak of World War II.
When the disease of the century, the Nazi murderers, invaded Poland, the Jews were their first victim; first and foremost they set their impure hands against those who led the communities, especially against those who didn't want to cooperate with them in the destruction of the members of their communities, these they abused, tortured them to death. They were the first martyrs who gave their souls for the sanctification of God's name and they are worthy of their names being engraved in golden letters in the national pantheon.
Every one of them served his community according to his talents and to the best of his ability. The image of all of the community members crystallized in the leader of the congregation.
When the enemy came to wipe out Israel, most of the community leaders did not flee from their posts to save their own souls, but stood their ground firmly in the battle and gave up their souls sanctifying God and their people.
The author has not yet come to evaluate the activities of the community leaders
during the destruction of the Jews in Poland; but according to the information
that reached us, the stand of each and every one of them in the face of the
enemy was courageous and worthy of respect; they gave their lives and did not
desecrate the honor of their people. The head of the Warsaw community, the
engineer Czerniakow ZL and the Kielce activist Dr. Mosze Pelc ZL
are specific examples of the general rule.
The honor of the dead was very precious to every person in Israel. Everyone would endeavor to care for the dead according to his status, to sew him a shroud of expensive cloth, to dig him a grave in a place that suited his status, to hold a proper funeral and graveside speech. The Chassidim also have a custom of making circuits around the deathbed.
In the cities, aside from the official Chevra Kadisha there was also a special Chessed Shel Emet [True Lovingkindness] society which took care of the dead who were impoverished, abandoned, without any relatives and brought them to a Jewish grave.
In each and every community the Chevra Kadisha was the most important of all
the aid societies. Only the most important homeowners were accepted to it, god
fearing. Not everyone was worthy of caring for a deceased Torah scholar.
The gabbaim of the Chevra Kadisha in particular had to excel in good attributes and to have the trust and affection of the city's inhabitants.
On the evening of Hoshana Raba [the seventh day of Sukkot] a meeting of the members of the Chevra Kadisha took place in Kielce, in which the gabbai and his assistant were elected. On Shmini Atzeret [the eighth day of the holiday] the gabbai would hold a large kiddush in the morning for all of the members.
I did not intend to describe the role that the Chevra Kadisha played in the Jewish community. The Jewish authors of the previous generation wrote prolifically in this area. My goal, due to the task before me, is to make a memorial to the people who led this important society in the Kielce community, and I drew the purpose and essence of this society in Jewish life in a few lines.
The Chevra Kadisha in Kielce was founded by R' Izrael Mejer Szafir ZL, the brother-in-law of R' Mosze Pffefer ZL, and R' Mosze Dawid Ajzenberg, who was called Mosze Eli' Naftali's.
The community was still in its infancy, it did not yet need a society with many members. A few of the important homeowners got together at the time: those mentioned above, and a few others, like R' Josef Szwicer, R' Mejer Sztunke, R' Szmuel Jakil's the baker and took upon themselves the job of filling the tasks of a Chevra Kadisha.
As is customary among Jews, one weeps and gives funerary oratories for the deceased. When the dead is still fallen upon the ground and also at the time of burial the cries and shrieks of the keening women and those who were related to the deceased go up to the heavens.
The members who take care of the dead were mostly people with a sense of humor and in the presence of the deceased they liked to joke and lighten the sadness that hovered over those present to some extent. And in order to strengthen their spirits and chase away the sadness that crept into the heart when faced with death, at these moments they would take a drink of very strong brandy of ninety six proof, which excites the blood and sends it flowing in the arteries of the limbs at a quick tempo. The shrieks and wails became ordinary sounds to them and in this way they could do their job properly and according to the law.
Thus have members of the Chevra Kadisha done forever, and the people of Kielce were no exception.
In the Kielce Chevra Kadisha the following people served as gabbai consecutively: R' Mejer Ajzenberg, R' Mosze Ajzenberg, R' Joske Fiszman, R' Icak Rapaport and R' Heszel Goldberg.
From among all of these, R' Mosze Ajzenberg and Heszel Goldberg were the only
ones who devoted nearly all of their days to the tasks of the Chevra Kadisha.
They were veteran activists in this area. Here I must note that R' Mosze
Ajzenberg was active also in other areas of community affairs, as I have
mentioned above. And even so, he dedicated much of his time to the Chevra
Kadisha activities. Heszel Goldberg, in contrast, was wholly involved only in
the matter of Chessed Shel Emet. He was the gabbai of the Chevra
Kadisha for many years; the ability to care for the dead he inherited from his
father, R' Mosze Goldberg, who was also one of those who care for the dead.
Heszel Goldberg, who had capital, and who lived off of his rents, did not have to worry about a livelihood; therefore, he could dedicate most of his time to this sort of activity. In the morning hours one would see him in the market with his staff in his hand, or at the shop of R' Icak Kopel or in the book and stationery shop of R' Icak Kaminer, awaiting the call to fulfill his duty as the gabbai of Chevra Kadisha, to choose a grave for the deceased in accordance with his status, to oversee the Jewish cemetery and keep it up in a proper way and see that there be a paved road leading there.
The cemetery, which was a distance out of the city, did not have a paved road leading to it for a long time. In the fall or during the rain, reaching the cemetery was very difficult; there were cases in which the cart carrying the deceased sank in the mud and it was difficult to extract it from there.
Due to Heszel's constant endeavoring and with the aid of a generous family, the Zagajski brothers, the road was paved that became a blessing to those accompanying the dead and also to the thousands of visitors came, sometimes from distant places to visit the graves of ancestors. The visitors to the Kielce cemetery grew numerous especially after the righteous Admors found their resting places there: The Admor of Checiny, the Admor of Kuzmir, the Admor of Pinczow, the Admor of Chmielnik, the Admor of Suchedniow and the Admor of Rakow, may the memory of righteous ones be a blessing. On the anniversaries of the deaths of these righteous people hundreds of men and women flocked to pray at their graves.
In the last years before World War II, when anti-Semitism grew stronger in the state of Poland, the fury of various anti-Semites pounced upon the Jewish cemetery of Kielce. It was not enough for them to assault the Jews who were alive, but they also cast their eyes and sent out their unclean hands to desecrate graves, to shatter tombstones. Sometimes they even dared to throw stones at those accompanying the deceased from behind the walls.
The parcels of land that bordered the cemetery, which formerly were owned by Jews, passed into the ownership of Poles; the Jewish cemetery suddenly found itself surrounded by Polish settlements in which anti-Semitic venom also fermented and they made a mockery of the mourning of the relatives of the deceased by imitating their wails. The Jews were already used to the actions of these rioting vermin and ignored them in silence without any sort of response.
This was the situation before the war. During the war the executioner came upon the living and the dead. Cemeteries were plowed under, the tombstones taken to pave sidewalks and roads.
What never happened in the darkest days of the Middle Ages happened in our very own times!
Entire communities were erased from the face of the earth without a trace, and
without the remnants of tombstones in their Eternal Homes (as
cemeteries are called in Yiddish), and the fate of the Kielce community was the
same as the fate of the rest of the communities of Poland.
Wherever they arrived, Jews began to build a synagogue, immediately after finding homes. In some of the cities of Poland there were very ancient synagogues, which were built in different styles of architecture. These synagogues were always witnesses of the settlement of Jews there. The equal side of them all was the investment of excessive labor and care by their builders in the decorations and furnishings. Evident in all of them is the energy and affection with which the congregation set about decorating the ceiling, the walls, the doors, the windows, the bima, the holy ark and the rest of the holy accessories.
The content of the engravings and drawings are taken from the scriptures and from the landscapes of the land of Israel. Engraved on either side of the Holy Ark were the four holy animals. On the ceiling the twelve signs of the zodiac were drawn; the walls were decorated with scenes from the lives of the patriarchs, landscapes of the holy land, plants of the land of Israel and so forth.
Whoever entered a synagogue was imbued no only with a spirit of holiness but also with the atmosphere of the land of Israel. He saw figures with his own eyes about whom he had read in books and whom he mentioned in his prayers. In this way the land of Israel took hold of his affections, yearnings and nostalgia for it awakened in him and it was not forgotten during the long period of exile.
Also the young Kielce community did not rest or feel quiet until it was fortunate enough to see a synagogue within its borders. A lovely and splendid building, which honored it and its surroundings.
As was mentioned earlier, the well-known philanthropist R' Mosze Pffefer ZL, one of the best of the city's sons and builders, built the synagogue. But the finishing work, the decorations and interior design and furnishings, the community did on its own several years later at its own expense. They invited painter-artists from Warsaw and they executed their work with good taste and charm. From that time onwards, the synagogue of the Kielce community was one of the splendid buildings and those who visited it from other places were full of praise and respect for those who took part in its building and improvement.
In this synagogue there were gabbaim, the elect of the congregation, who oversaw the internal procedures and the respect of the holy place, that it not be desecrated by arguments and fights, which usually take place in public assemblies. Of course, those elected to be gabbaim were only those who were suited to the position, those who were accepted and held in affection by most of the congregation.
And here are the gabbaim: Mendel Ajzenberg, Simcha Bunem Izraelski, M.
Grynszpan, Icak Kirszenbaum, Baruch Moszenberg, R. Finkelsztajn, Josef Orbajtl,
Mejer Zloto, Josef Ziunczkowski. Of them, Mendel Ajzenberg, one of the veteran
inhabitants of Kielce, from the family of activists who shaped the community,
functioned for a number of years as the gabbai of the synagogue. The
congregation was content with his manner of conducting the synagogue and his
behavior with the community of worshipers.
I will not be considered a gossipmonger over the merits and qualities of each and every gabbai. It will be enough if I say in general that they were people who did not seek out honor, they served the community faithfully and guarded the synagogue like the apple of their eye; each and every one of them added to the grandeur of the synagogue some personal component. One endeavored to make the entrance to the synagogue arranged properly; another planted decorative trees around it. One took care of the choir, ensuring it functioned properly.
A new gabbai came and glanced around him to see if the previous gabbais had left him an area to call his own. When he found that everything was in order, he went and arranged a uniform for the members of the choir.
Grynszpan emigrated from Kielce and settled in Germany, in Frankfurt on the River Main. Towards the end of his life hie moved from there to the land of Israel and lived there to his last day.
The synagogue also suffered not a little from the anti-Semites. The local haters of Israel saw that the Jews had built themselves a grand building as a synagogue upon the soil of Kielce, where previously they had been forbidden even one nights sleep on this ground; they were jealous of them and organized a group of thugs whose job would be to bother the Jews at prayer. During the prayers they would throw stones and shatter the windowpanes. There were instances in which Jews came to worship in the synagogue in good health and returned to their homes injured and bandaged. The Polish police never found those who carried out these events of desecration of holiness and did not react to them at all. In order to evade the danger, the gabbaim took it upon themselves to install metal grills over the windows to catch stones of the hoodlums so that they would not hurt the panes of the windows.
Finally, the Shoah arrived and together with those who built you and who sanctified you, you drank and drained the cup of poison. Impure ones came and desecrated and defiled your halls, your temple, your Torah scrolls in which on white parchment was written by a pure and holy scribe the moral injunction: Thou shalt not murder, and many other laws and commandments, whose content was love and mercy to others.
The Jewish synagogue! What have these evil impure ones done to you! My heart
breaks inside of me, when I hear the abominable things that were done within
your holy walls.
According to the constitution of the independent state of Poland, all
inhabitants of the state without difference of race or religion had the right
to vote passively and actively for the municipal councils and their communal
The Jews used this right and elected municipal council members and also entered the municipal authority themselves.
The Jewish members of the municipal council of Kielce were well-known activists in various areas and I have mentioned their names and attributes a number of times in this book; among them, the following were especially outstanding in their devotion to their work at the municipality and city authority (the Magistrat) in favor of the Jews R' Benjamin Lew and R' Mosze Rotenberg, an Agudaist and a Zionist who both moved to the land of Israel and died in Tel-Aviv, and Dr. Mosze Pelc. I will mention here only Dr. Pelc, since with his energy and knowledge, his expertise in the needs of the city in general, he left a mark on the activities of the municipality. And in his defense of the Jewish population that the majority of the municipal council not neglect it, he gained a reputation among the Jewish inhabitants of Kielce.
To the extent that anti-Semitism grew stronger in Poland, to the same degree Jewish representation grew smaller in Kielce on the municipal council.
In order to decrease the number of Jews elected to the municipal council, the authorities annexed many villages in the area to the municipal authority of Kielce, calling them suburbs of the city. In this manner, the number of voters grew. Finally, they began to use other means: distorting the names of the voters, in order to disqualify them later; not including Jewish names in the voting lists; using terror tactics during the voting itself. Things reached a point that only one Jew got into the last municipal council before World War II, Simcha Bunem Goldman, instead of ten members who had been in the first municipal council.
But even in days when things were running properly the Jewish institutions, which were supposed to receive allotments from the municipality just like the Christian institutions, were neglected. Even in instances when the council, under pressure from the Jewish members, budgeted paltry sums for the use of the Jewish institutions, the Wojewoda (Province Governor) came and cut the allotment drastically.
Thus, for instance, in the fiscal year 1929-1930 the council budgeted a total of 7,400 gold coins for the use of the Jewish institutions, the authorities came and changed the allotment to merely 4,300 gold coins.
The Jews were always neglected by both the municipality and by the authorities,
which cast narrow eyes on the Jews, lest they enjoy the municipal income to the
same degree as the Christians, even though this income came mainly from the
Jewish inhabitants of the city.
The Kielce community, the youngest of the Jewish communities of Poland still managed to produce authors, scientists and journalists from its midst like one of the ancient communities. Some of them even earned an international reputation and were published on two continents: in Europe and in America.
The amazing thing is that Bimko received no education, he attended no educational institution whatsoever; he developed on his own and his literary talent increased from level to level until he was famous as an outstanding author and extraordinary playwright.
His father, a grain merchant, never knew the concept literature; but he had one trait that is very important in an author. He had been blessed with a most developed imagination, and he made use of this strength of his once even to solve government problems. He heard that the Polish government was grappling with the question of the currency, how to improve its currency which was not linked to the gold standard. Old Bimko got up and composed a Memorandum in spoken Jewish Yiddish for he knew no other language in which he proposed a plan that was annotated and explained the matter from every angle, according to which the government treasury could be rehabilitated and to save great amounts of gold which could serve its currency; Polish currency would be repaired. This plan gained the attention of the government after it was translated into Polish.
A rich imagination and momentum his son also had, and these made him an author
in Israel. However, not only his heritage played an important role in the
development of his writing talents, fate had a hand in this also. For the sin
of participation in the liberation movement in 1905 he was sentenced to prison.
While he was in jail he read prodigiously: the stories of Mendele Mocher
Sforim, I. L. Peretz and others. He swallowed their contents whole like
unripened sheaves, and they aroused his slumbering talents. While he was still
a prisoner in jail, he tried his hand at storytelling. He wrote a story there
called Di Aveira [The Transgression]. It is based in a Chassidic
setting. The buds of talent are visible in this work of his; and if it was
still green fruit, it already revealed signs of a literary power, a talent for
observation accompanied by the sweep of the imagination.
He was especially successful when he began writing plays. The Jewish actors in the Warsaw-Lodz theatres took his plays and performed them before the Jewish audiences, who received them with great applause. The types of lives that appeared before their eyes were familiar and well known to them.
His play: The Thieves remained part of the theatrical repertoire for a long time. Since he was the son-in-law of a horse trader, he knew all about the lifestyles of the various horse thieves, he entered their circles, learned the language of the thieves. Using his powers of observation he penetrated the depths of their souls, and with artistic talent could put living figures from the world of thieves on paper.
The Jewish press printed reviews of the performance of this play. All of the critics were of the opinion that they had before them a force that drew material for his mind's vision not from some second hand vessel but directly from the life and nature that surrounded him.
In America his literary talent was also recognized and Bimko had a major role in American-Jewish literature.
The Kielce landscape had a great influence upon him. Even when he settled in America he was unable to shake free of the impressions he had received from his environment in his childhood. Mountains and hills, forests and fields of grain, meadows and orchards, streams and waterfalls turning it a varied and spotted carpet. On the edges of the horizon here and there some rows of huts straggle along which look like boxes from a distance.
In his walks in this landscape his soul was enriched by color and sights and
formed it into the soul of a creative artist. In every one of his stories
landscape scenes appear of their own accord, which his soul absorbed during his
He also didn't receive any education in childhood; he didn't even learn in a cheder for very long. His father, one of the Chassidim of the Admor of Checiny, was an agent and lived in poverty all of his life. The poverty that filled his home left its mark upon the spiritual makeup of this sensitive child.
In one of his autobiographical stories in which he describes the lives of the Jews in his native village, he sets before us a scene that emphasizes the shabbiness in their home with clear lines.
Summer, Sabbath, after naps. The men, women and children go out to walk between
the fields that are outside of the city. Everyone is wearing their holiday
clothing. Those who wore new shoes picked up their feet as they walked as if
they wanted to show the others and tell them: See what nice steps I take
in my new shoes that shine from blacking!
And he, the child, sits next to the window that overlooks the road and watches the passersby, and among them he sees his friends, they too are dressed and shod, walking out to breathe fresh air in the fields. The boy's heart breaks within him, he also yearns to go out; but he is barefoot, he has no shoes; how can he show himself outside on the Sabbath barefoot like one of the Shkeitzim.
His father sits at the table and reads Chapters of the Fathers. His dull and monotonous voice brings a dark pall to the house. Outside, everyone is cheerful and gay.
The child turns to his father with the question: Father, when will I also have shoes?
In such an impoverished home Berlinski lived in childhood and in youth. Therefore, it is no wonder that he later found an arena for activity among those less fortunate in life, among those who earned their bread with the sweat of their brow and live in miserable circumstances in dark and dank cellars. For all that, it is among them that he found sparks of light and tenderness, which illuminated the darkness of their lives and gave them meaning and content in their poverty and want.
In his articles and stories he aspires to give meaning to the mute sorrow of those with miserable lives, wasting away in their poverty without a sliver of hope or a mite of consolation.
The inspirations for his literary activity were the scenes of poverty, depression and lowliness which his soul absorbed during childhood and which he lays out before the reader. With his keen eye he penetrates into the very center of things and of the sights and reveals hidden aspects. He does not see the objects and phenomena as they appear to the naked eye; his associations amaze us in their richness and multi-hued variety.
He settled in Israel after the Shoah, which came upon European Jewry. And here
too he does his literary work and from time to time publishes his creations in
which critics find real and valuable subject matter.
I knew him from his time in Kielce. He was then an alert and sensitive young
man, with a quick grasp, interested in philosophical questions, active in youth
circles and appearing as a speaker at meetings. His speeches were full of
information and content. He frequently mentioned the names of the philosophers:
Spinoza, Kant and Nietzsche. He began his literary activity while still in
Kielce. He wrote a play in Polish called Broken Wings
(Skaszydla Zlamna) and Polish actors performed it at the local
And here there was a coincidence and Noach Prylucki was invited to Kielce by the Artisans Union. Several members wanted him to organize a branch of the peoples' party in Kielce, - Folkes-Partei that he headed. Prylucki then came into close contact with the young Finkelsztajn and saw that he was talented and could use his abilities to spread his party's ideology among the masses of the Jews. Prylucki took him to Warsaw, gave him a position in the artisan's bank. There in Warsaw, Finskelsztajn began to act as an activist in the peoples' party.
His name became especially well known when he was elected in the capital, Warsaw, as a Parnas in the Jewish community. His articles appeared in the Polish-Jewish newspaper Nasz Paszglond, most of them about philosophical matters. He also wrote in the Yiddish monthly: Literarishe Bleter.
When the Nazis invaded Poland he escaped to Soviet Russia. There he became close to the Jewish authors and absorbed communist opinions from them.
He returned to Poland and saw the destruction of Polish Jewry with his own eyes, began to work for the Jewish committee in Warsaw, but could no longer live in Poland, which had turned into a giant graveyard for its Jewish inhabitants.
He traveled to America and afterwards to Argentina. There, in the large Jewish
communities, he hoped to find himself again, but the travails of the journey
weakened his strength, his health was unsettled, and he died in Argentina.
People from Kielce mention his name affectionately; his talents were developed
in their city and he was flesh of their flesh, bone of their bone.
However, this is the way of the spirit, even if iron barriers bar its way to the wider world, it will break out with force and insist upon its own correct path in life.
Feiwel Lewi can be our example of this phenomenon of life. He was the son of a tailor, did not receive any secular education in his childhood, only religious education in a cheder. He did not learn to read and write there. When he grew older, he worked as a typesetter in a printing press.
Yet his spirit yearned to break free of its framework. The secrets of life and
social questions occupied his mind from a time when he was still very young. He
began to read books, taught himself the Hebrew language, penetrated into the
depths of the questions that were then on the agenda in Yiddish and Hebrew
literature and that were discussed in the press. At every meeting and
convention Lewi would express himself.
In those days, before World War I, the Jewish press and literature were mainly pro-Zionist; and on the Jewish street the Zionist movement was noticeable and very active; therefore, it was obvious that Lewi, as a young man seeking an outlet for his stormy soul, found his place in the ranks of the Zionists.
However, in public and national activity he did not find enough spiritual satisfaction, he aimed for a broad education, for spiritual wholeness.
When he was twenty years old he devoted himself to textbooks and began to study the principles of mathematics, the rules of grammar, geography, history and the natural sciences. He studied diligently and continuously, for he had one goal in front of him receiving a matriculation certificate, which would allow him to attend university.
After the war he traveled to Warsaw; there he hoped to attain his goal more easily for all the educational institutions were in the capital city. Meanwhile, he was an auditor for free at the popular university. There he discovered that the areas of science are as great as the sea, and the human mind cannot grasp them all at once.
Lewi, who had been preoccupied with the question of life since his youth, chose the new branch of science, biochemistry, so that he would be able to deepen his investigation into the secrets of the forces of life and in this way he aspired to quench his thirst for knowledge.
In Warsaw he did not find the scholars in this field, since the university in Warsaw after World War I was just then beginning to gather its forces which were scattered in various countries.
To this aim, Lewi decided to travel to France and study further in the scientific area that he had selected as his life's goal. Success shined its face on him, he married the daughter of a wealthy man in Warsaw. His wife's parents, when they saw his great desire for science and wisdom, sent him to Paris at their own expense. There he studied and advanced in his favorite subject. He worked and did research in the laboratories of internationally renowned scholars. And as was always his way, he invested all of his energies and all of his resources, his entire being into this branch of science.
The expert professors, when they saw their student so full of blessing paid special attention to him and allowed him to work in their laboratories and to use their instruments. He investigated hormones in particular, which fill an essential role in the living body. Afterwards he published an essay in which he revealed important matters in physiology.
After several years he returned to Poland as a scholar. The newspapers wrote about his discoveries in the scientific area of chemistry. Lectures about the quality of discoveries of the young chemist could be heard on Polish radio.
The Polish government, even if it was normally anti-Semitic and removed Jews
from their positions, gave F. Lewi a very important position on the
recommendation of its president Moszczicki. He was appointed inspector of
sanitary conditions in the army and in factories; according to his decisions
the amount of food calories necessary to maintain health in the army ranks was
At a convention of Polish chemists in Poznan, at which the president of the country J. Moszczicki participated, Lewi was one of the most important lecturers.
Feiwel Lewi, who I saw for the first time at the age of twenty, strolling in the city park with a Russian mathematics book in his hand, and he kept repeating aloud: what is addition? tszeto takuja slorznja? and acquiring the four mathematical operations, information that a student in the first grade of elementary school has to know, was after a few years a scholar, and inventor, famous within the country and out of it.
Lewi was able to escape to America, to his brother, who had emigrated there in
the days of the national liberation movement, in 1905. Over there, in America
he continues to work in his profession and to take an interest in the fate of
the refugees of the Shoah, his fellow townsmen. He became famous in America as
well and there too they gave him the title of professor.
However, in the depths of his soul other desires were hidden. As the grandson of a long line of rabbis, experts in the Torah, whose lineage reached the Siftei Cohen (the Shach), he also had a natural tendency towards academic matters from birth. Simple craft, which demands from a man only the force of the muscles, and in which spiritual forces take no part did not satisfy his spirit, which was hungry for knowledge; his abilities from birth and before demanded their satisfaction, development and completion.
He was gifted with an amazing memory, quick grasp and over all with a great thirst for knowledge and wisdom.
But his father, a sickly man, burdened with children, did not pay any special attention to him. He gave him to melameds and there he received knowledge in Talmud, rabbinical arbiters and scripture and after he reached bar-mitzvah age he was handed over to a tailor to learn a profession that could support him.
I remember one fact that serves as an example of his extraordinary abilities,
which he displayed when he was still a small child. His father, wanting to
demonstrate the talent of his four year old child, brought him to the rabbi's
house and there stood him upon the table. And the child declaimed by heart and
translated in to Yiddish the prayer Baruch Shmaya etc. that is read
when the holy ark is open and which is written in Aramaic. Everyone was
astounded at the sight and sound. By his manner of speech it was clear that he
also had understanding of the words he spoke.
However at the same time that he learned the craft, he acquired languages and knowledge in the subjects of the high school curriculum. When he was sixteen he took the exam at the Jewish Gymnasium in Kielce and entered the 8th grade. When he finished the Gymnasium he went on to university and immediately became famous among the students as a first class mathematician.
After the death of his father he took it upon himself to support his widowed mother and her orphaned children. Naturally good hearted, he sacrificed his future on the altar of a son's responsibility to his orphaned family. Instead of continuing in his profession and continuing to study in scientific areas as his teachers at the university recommended, and to reach the level of professor, he was satisfied with the degree of Magister [Master] in Mathematics and Physics and entered the Hebrew gymnasium in Kielce as a teacher, in order to support his family and to enable his brothers and sisters to have a decent education.
At the same time, he continued to do research in his field of science, participated in the conventions of the scholars and gave lectures in higher mathematics and physics. During the last summer before World War II he participated in a convention of mathematicians in the city of Radom, in which Szwiantoslawski, the Minister for the Peoples' Education also participated, and among others, Manela also lectured, and his lecture won the first prize.
He had a dissertation all ready, an encompassing composition about subjects in higher mathematics and he was supposed to present it to the faculty of professors in order to receive the degree of doctor of philosophy and humanities, and then the war broke out, which brought about the terrible destruction to the Jews of Poland, and the Jewish scholars were its first victims.
Those of his students who moved to the land of Israel remember the name of their teacher and educator with affection and admiration, who asked nothing for himself, and who took great pleasure if he had an opportunity to come to the aid of others.
In Kielce several other young people lived and worked who had begun to show signs of talent as authors and as journalists, but the fell together with all of the Jews of Poland before they were able to sprout wings and to fly on the winds.
I will mention their names here and may this memorial be a marker for these
A young man with imagination, a philosopher and Hebrew writer, published a
book, his first work, which described the life of a young man who lived in a
time of a battle of ideas and views, of different ideologies, and he wandered
and felt his way among them without having a compass to know which was the
correct way. Religious, national, socialist questions meet one another; parties
and factions arise; each of them with their own teachings, their own beliefs.
The young man is lost in a flood of the ideas and programs since he has no
authority he can trust. Krakauer did much in the cultural arena among the youth
Lajbl Rudel from the Revisionist camp. A young man of literary talent, he published articles in the local newspaper and in Moment of Warsaw, afterwards he became a member of the editorial board of the Warsaw newspaper Express and was also a reporter for the Forwarts and Tag in New York. He excelled especially in his reporting about the pogrom at Przytyk, which were published in all of the American press. He was one of the important fighters in the Warsaw ghetto, saved many Jews from death, among them people from Kielce by sending them through the sewage system from the ghetto out of the city, and his name is blessed among those who sanctified heaven and their nation in their courage and died the death of the brave, may god avenge his death.
In Kielce there were also artists who did not gain an international reputation, since they did not have those kinds of demands; but the local Jews considered them artists gifted with special abilities and honored them as people who increased the joy in their homes and would bring pleasure to those invited to a family celebration and add a grandeur to any party. Artists such as these were not educated in academies, they developed on their own, studied and reached their degree of excellence.
The Klezmers in every city and town in Poland filled an important role in the life of each and every community. If the plastic arts were neglected among the Jews due to the ban: make no graven image, the musical art, singing and playing, were extremely developed among them. Those who played instruments, the cantors and their choirs brought life, joy and pleasure to the Jews. There was no wedding in Israel, even among the poorest of the poor, in which the Klezmers and local cantor didn't participate.
Among them were also great musicians, who, despite not having learned musical theory and the art of playing at a conservatory, became virtuosi by virtue of their own developed talent, and the sense of music that was instilled in them from birth.
The general reputation of the Jewish Klezmers was admired even in
the circles of the Polish aristocrats. At their feasts and parties the Jewish
Klezmers also played. The great Polish poet Adam Mieckowicz in his
collection Pan Tadeusz admiringly and affectionately describes the
character of Jewish player R' Jankel Cimbalist, a devout Jews and at the same
time an enthusiastic Polish patriot, who plays the Polish anthem at the balls
of the nobles in spite of the danger of being convicted as a traitor to the
In a more limited way, Anszel'le Szpilman was also a virtuoso like this, the first violinist in his orchestra. He acquired a complete technique in his profession. With his violin he would play and successfully perform the complicated composition of famous composers. He would pull all sorts of strange and unusual sounds from the strings of his violin: sounds of songbirds, sounds of domestic and wild animals, the wind in the forest trees, the waves of the sea, and in general, any sound you wanted.
When he stood upon a table with his violin in his hand, it was as if he and his violin were part of one body. He stood erect, his fingers moving over the strings, moving and shaking, pure sounds coming from them, sometimes sad, beseeching, which stirred the heart of the listener. You could hear the spasms of body and soul: weeping, yelling, groaning, wailing, crying. And sometimes, from the strings of his violin happy and gay notes poured out, full of joy and celebration. You could hear the sounds of victory in them, cries of joy, tenderness and comfort, elevation of the spirit and the soul.
Listeners charmed by these notes would pick up their feet of their own accord and dance; their hearts were filled with unending comfort and pleasure. Love and friendliness shone upon their faces, feelings of joy filled their entire beings, great song burst from their mouths, their hands joined in the communal dance. And thus they would dance, drunk with joy until their feet refused to obey them.
This was the power of the fiddle when Anszel'le Klezmer played it. His violin worked wonders. When he played the Darkecha on his fiddle before the bride was welcomed to the chupah [wedding canopy] the eyes of men and women filled with tears they were so moved. What could not be heard in this splendid tune? The troubles of the many and the troubles of the individual, the outpouring of the soul, the justification of the son before his father, sounds full of beseeching. And the tune continues on until it ends with salvos of victory. Feelings of happiness overcome those gathered and all ends well.
A Jew who married off his daughter did not spare money and did his best to ensure that Anszel'le Klezmer and his friends would play at his daughters wedding, for besides this adding splendor and beauty to the general joy of the marriage, Anszel'le's participation in his family celebration was considered an honor to the host.
In every celebration of a mitzvah: the party of finishing the study of a volume, the party that was held in honor of arrival of some important guest, at every family celebration, Anszel'le was invited to glorify and decorate the party.
When the representatives of the nations gathered in St. Remo and confirmed the Balfor Declaration, there was great joy in the Diaspora of Israel; many saw Atchalta DeGe'ula [the beginning of redemption] in this.
In Jewish communities national celebrations were then held. Synagogues held
thanksgiving prayers and read the Hallel prayer of praise. The
Kielce community also held a popular celebration with much splendor. At this
opportunity Anszel'le and his orchestra appeared in the synagogue. And within
the walls of this minor temple the players thundered with their instruments and
filled the space of the holy place with the sounds of praise and thanksgiving,
which reminded the congregation of the Levites on their platforms during the
time of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Elevation of spirit, spiritual joy of a two thousand year old hope which was beginning to be fulfilled took over the synagogue from within and without. The melodies of Anszel'le did much to aid in spreading this mood among the massed congregation who gathered to hear the news of the redemption.
At the time that theatres were not very common in the cities of Israel, the badchans would satisfy peoples' need to laugh and have fun. There was no celebration in Israel in which the badchan did not participate. The badchan would entertain the groom and the bride; he was the one who chastised them and called them to repent before they entered the wedding canopy; he scattered praises and compliments, congratulations and good wishes to the young couple, the in-laws and all of the invited guests; during the eating and drinking he would entertain the dinner guests with songs, jokes and witticisms. He would dress up and perform a well known character who was famous there and would imitate his manner of speech, his gestures, his gait and his habits and would make the guests laugh. The badchan was even allowed to expose the flaws of the respected members of the community with thin and transparent hints.
The badchan also entertained the Chassidim in the courts of the Admors at all of the celebrations of mitzvah. He would chase the sadness from the hearts of the pious and righteous.
The story of the badchans among the Jews of Poland has not been taken up by the authors of Israel. The badchans are worthy of having a complete and comprehensive composition dedicated to them. For they introduced the times of comfort and moments of joy into the bitter and sad lives of the members of the exile. But I, due to the labor that I have undertaken, mention them only in passing for the sake of Josele Marszilik.
This Josele was not a simple badchan but a jester among jesters. He was a genius at his profession, an outstanding artist. Had he entered the theatre, he would doubtless have been one of the most famous actors in the world. But he was a Chassidic Jew, who wore silk clothing on the Sabbath and wore a shtreimel hat, and on the high holidays he would lead the prayers and with his pleasant and endearing voice arouse emotions of devotion, awe and repentance in the hearts of the congregation. Such a Jew would never even dream of the theatre. He found his satisfaction in his role as a badchan.
It was pleasant to hear his improvisations, his rhymes. He would stand before
the groom or before the guests and make up rhymes, include epigrams, Jewish
laws, sayings, amazing acrostics, gematrias, rise up to higher
worlds and immediately descend to a bottomless pit, all of it clear to him from
the entrance to hell up to the gates of paradise, from the battle of Gog and
Magog until the feast that will be held for the righteous in the world to come
at which the meat of the wild bull, the whale and preserved wine will be served
them. The audience stood amazed and astounded by the expertise and the force of
this short fellow. With open mouths and craned ears they heard and listened to
his rhymes and his songs.
This Josel Badchan was also a member of the local HaZamir. For his profession belonged to the arts in an obvious way. And HaZamir fostered art. He would read aloud to the audience in the HaZamir auditorium from the works of Shalom Aleichem.
The works of this author are full of lively and fresh humor, the funny element rules them; and Josel the Badchan would in his manner of reading, his facial expressions and gestures add twice as much of his own contribution to the funny reading material.
I was once present when he read The Gymnasium by Shalom Aleichem. The listeners nearly burst from the laughter he roused in them. The laughter attacked everyone and it was difficult to find release from it. I had never heard such popular laughter, which burst from so many mouths with great strength, accompanied by tears and which took over every aspect of the human body, as the laughter that took over the auditorium during the reading of Josel the Badchan. It seemed as if the air was saturated with laughter, and it broke to pieces in the thunder of laughter. People would forget their problems and sufferings at such a time, and their worries and give themselves over to the laughter, to do with them what it would. The world took on a charming aspect in their eyes. If life gives a man such pleasurable moments one cannot despair, life is worth living. Better one hour of comfort in this world than piles of promises for the world to come. thus people thought in their hearts when they left this occasion.
This was the power of Josel the Badchan. A short Jew, pale, wearing a shtreimel on Sabbaths and holidays like one of the Chassidim, snatching songs from the rabbi's hands, and together with this, he had an amazing talent to create characters, rhyming verses, to sing beautifully; to make jokes and gladden hearts.
These attributes gave him a reputation in the entire region. There is not doubt that if Josele the Badchan had developed his talents and abilities with appropriate exercises combined by comprehensive education; had he done professional training, he would have reached a high level of stage actor. Certainly, he would have earned himself a reputation as a famous actor in the great theatres of the world.
However, he lived in the Jewish village, he remained in his narrow circle, he used his abilities to gladden and entertain simple people, who had no concept of theatre life, and this role he filled with wisdom and knowledge during his lifetime.
The elders of Kielce still talk about him today and speak favorably of his memory.
Josel Badchan they say that was a force! That was an artist! The actors of today don't even reach his ankles. With such words they appreciate the personality of the badchan who was their favorite in his lifetime, and remained firmly in their memories even after his death.
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