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Shuln un bote-medroshim in Kolomey

Synagogues and study-houses in Kolomey

Translated by Tina Lunson

In my youth, before the First World War, Kolomey had – besides the great shul – another thirty shuln [synagogues] and kloyzn [small, often trade-specific synagogues] and two bote-medroshim [study houses]. In addition to those there were many minyonim [prayer quorums] in shtiblekh [prayer rooms, often Hasidic]. The majority of them were built after the year tav-khof (1660); the great shul was completely rebuilt after the conflagration of tav-kuf-pey-zayn (1827) and remodeled in the year tav-reysh-khof (1860) during the time of Rebi Tsvi zts”l [may his holy memory be for a blessing] of Rimanov. In tav-reysh-khof-hey (1865) most of the shuln and bote-medroshim burned down, along with the old pinkusim [community record books].

In the year tav-reysh-yud-giml (1853) there was a misfortune on yonkiper [Yom Kippur, the day of atonement]: during nile [the closing prayers of the day] some scoundrels spread the rumor that a fire had broken out in order to create a panic among the women in the women's section of the great synagogue, thus enabling the scoundrels to rob them of their jewelry. The women began to run in great disorder, and in the chaos 33 women and 2 children were killed. From then on there was a law against women wearing jewelry on yonkiper. In the old pinkes of the khevre kadishe [burial society] “gemiles khsodim” [loving kindnesses] is printed the lament that was composed for those very victims with the words (as it was recorded in the book zikron lroshonim [in memory of the forefathers] by Judge Khaym Tsvi Taumim z”l [of blessed memory]:

“Sun and moon darken, and the stars of the heavens do not shed light either. O, one must cry out in witness to the tremendous distress. The stern decree of utter destruction came down upon tranquil women, faithful daughters tender and delightful, and also precious and playful children on yonkiper during the time of the nile [when] suddenly a ripping voice caused the doorposts to tremble and a loud noise filled the house of God and the beseechers urgently left. Then You will ask to return their souls to the heavens; therefore Master of Mercy shelter them in the shelter of your wings forever, among the residents of the Garden of Eden in the highest heavens – there will be their proper resting place. Omeyn.”
The representatives and trustees of the great synagogue in my day were:

Yomye Marmorosh, Yoyne Kizler, Itskhok Zaydman, Mendl Fridman, Shimen Zenenzib and others. Among those who prayed there

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I remember Shmuel Herman, Yekheskel Holes, Moyshe Hamer, Avrom Neyder, Aleksander Shor, Shloyme Fridman, Antshl Bishel, Zalman Grinberg, and many others of the residents who did observe the mitsvos [Jewish laws] but who were for the most part not Hasidim and even were considered “modern.”

Off the corridor of the main entrance on the right and the left were another two large rooms that served as a study-house for prayer and study.

The Hasidic kloyzn were: Boyan, a handsome building built in 1893, most of the money for its construction coming from the family Heler; Vizshnits, at first together with the Atinye Hasidim; Atinye, after the split; Zshiditshov; Tshortkov, the main funds for construction given by the Tshortkov Hasidim Ayzik Sharf and my father Meshulem Fried; Kosov (in whose house, according to legend, the Bal Shem-tov zts”l stayed when he lived in Kolomey). Various Hasidim and eminent householders prayed in “Reb Itsikl's shul”, named after the Radzivil saint; regular observant Jews prayed at the Azipol and Sharigrad shuln, along with various Hasidim.

Hundreds of men and women prayed in the large and spacious “yerushalayim” [Jerusalem] shul; the old besmedresh; the new besmedresh; the shulKamionke” near the very old cemetery; the shul Siks named after the town of Siks where Rov [“rabbi”] Hilel Likhtenshteyn was rov before he came to Kolomey, where there prayed the very observant and God-fearing, Hasidim of Rov Hilel Likhtenshteyn headed by Iser Kris; they generally prayed before dawn, very early in the morning, even on shabes [sabbath] and holidays, and then studied a page of Talmud; they were almost like ascetics, puritans, and the fanatic Hasidim called them ”di trukene kroym” [those dry Karaites] or Karaites; Klebanye shuln; train shuln; Verbish shuln; Dietkovits shuln; shuln for craftsmen: tailor's shul, shoemaker's shul; the shul in the Zionist club ”beys yisroel” [house of Israel]; the minyonim in the homes of rabonim [“rabbis”]; khab'ad [Khabad Hasidism, based on the tenets khokhma, bine, khesed or knowledge, wisdom, loving kindness], harav”d, the magid [preacher], the Sohole Rebi [Hasidic charismatic rov], the Yase rebi, the Rebi ”Bakhor”, the Rov Antshl (the son-in-law of Rov Hilel) and other small minyonim on other streets.

In the Hasidic kloyzn, as also in the two bote-medroshim and in the Siks shul, young men studied by day and by night in Talmud and in the shulkhn orekh [laws for Jewish life as compiled for Ashkenazi Jews by J. Karo in the 16th century], and many of their fathers – sons of the Torah and observers of the mitsves – also sat after morning prayers and in the evening over a page of Talmud or looked up a commentary in ayn yankev [ethical and inspirational teachings of the Talmud by Rov Yankev ibn Khaviv, 15th century] or another book. On shabes and holidays there were two minyonim in almost all these houses of prayer: in the morning from 7 until 9 and from 9 until 11 or 12. During the week there were several minyonim, from before dawn until 10 o'clock.

In the kloyz of the Boyan Hasidim the family Heler held sway, the sons and the sons-in-law and grandsons of the wealthy and saintly Rov Shloyme Haleyvi Heler, who was a great-grandson of the fifth generation of the genius Rov Yomtov Lipe Heler, author of tosafos yomtov [commentaries by Yomtov]. His oldest son, the wealthy Shimshon, was a fiery Boyan Hasid. His three sons – Avrom Shmuel, Yosl and Lipe – were very dignified, Talmud scholars, prayer leaders and leaders of minyonim, and together they operated the big talis [prayer-shawl] factory that became famous all over the world.

During the First World War, in 1915, Yosl, the second son, was taken back by the Russians as a “hostage”, and perished there. The third son, Lipe, was a Talmud scholar and became the son-in-law of his uncle Sholem Robinzon, who was a son-in-law of Shloyme Heler. The younger brother of Shimshon, Mayer Heler, was also a great Hasid full of religious enthusiasm, an outstanding prayer leader and composer of nigunim [melodies without words]. He became a partner with his father-in-law Sholem Robinzon in the great enterprise “Robinzon and Heler”. His son, my boyhood friend Yekl Heler, lives in Tel Aviv. And Azriel Heler, the son-in-law of Shloyme and his five sons, prayed and studied in that same kloyz. The members of that family – according to the example of their rebi – conducted themselves aristocratically, in the elegance of their clothing and in giving charity. Thanks to that and due to their good breeding, which included great Torah scholars from many generations, they were highly esteemed and they left their mark on that very beautiful kloyz. The other Boyan Hasidim and other pious Jews who were not Hasidim attached themselves to that family, because they strove to have their children educated in that Hasidic-scholarly-wealthy atmosphere. So, for example, joined Leybush Osterzetser and his sons, who was a grandson of the genius Meshulem Halevi Ish Horovits, head of the beys din [Jewish court of law] of Stanislav, a great Talmud scholar, a fearer of heaven, although far from being Hasidic. In the end he left the kloyz because of a dispute and

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went over to Rov Itsikl's shul.

People sat in that Boyan shul studying throughout the whole day, and especially in the evenings. On Friday nights in the winter everyone went to the shul after dinner and spent a pleasant time dancing, singing and hearing words of Torah until late at night. I remember that once when Avrom Shmuel Heler was a half-hour late – and he was in his middle age by then – his father Shimshon shouted at him in front of all the onlookers, “You sit with the women and you chatter about nothing, and that is why you are late.” Another of the members of the Boyan kloyz was Nisn Ayzner. They called him Nisn Cabinet-maker because he was a wonderful artisan of house furniture, who was also called to the Boyan rebi's. Once, on his way back from Boyan, he met Motye Herman who was a joker, who asked him, “So, Nisn, how was the rebi's table? You are such an expert with tables…”

When there arrived a rebi who was a grandson or great-grandson of Rizshin, like, for example, the Gvozdiets rebi, the son-in-law of the Sadiger rebi who was a brother of the Boyan rebi, he would pray shabes at the Boyan kloyz.

During the time of the elections to the Austrian parliament I made a special trip from Krakow to Kolomey and spoke in several shuln in favor of the national candidate, and in the Boyan kloyz I had permission to speak from the bime on shabes, although they were opposed to Zionism. I was not allowed to set foot in the Vizshnits kloyz. One could say that the Boyan Hasidim were the aristocrats among the Kolomey Hasidim.

The Vizshnits kloyz was completely Hasidic. Frequent disputes would erupt between the Vizshnits and Atenye Hasidim even though the two rebis were brothers. Finally they split in tav resh samekh zayn [1907] and the Atenyes built their own beautiful kloyz.

People studied day and night in that kloyz as well. Among the worshipers there I remember: Aron Koen and his sons, Itsye Bretler and his sons and grandsons, Alter Finkl, Moyshe Kopler, Yehuda Ber Zaydman, a son-in-law of Iser Kris who came over from the “Siks” shul, an intellectual Atenye Hasid (his son is

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the writer and teacher I. A. Zaydman in Jerusalem), Mendl Shayerman, Dovid Kasvan, one of the leading Atenye Hasidim, Mendl Dikman, a son-in-law of Hirsh Ramler, Yoysef Shpits and Avrom Mayer Berish's, Liber Shaler, Zelik Sharf, Itsik Khasid, the “flogger” of the Atenye Hasidim, Efraym Mayer Menashe's, Moyshe Drimer and his son-in-law Yekhiel Rozenberg, Moyshe Mendl Zaydman, Meshulem Eyferman, his son Leybele and his son-in-law Itsye Grinberg, Hersh Kats and his sons, Vovik Rozenkrants, Moyshe Pidvisoker, Moyshe Sharf and his son Lipe, a loyal Zionist and collector for “keren kayemet” [Jewish National Fund for purchasing land in Palestine] who now lives in Jerusalem, and others.

The site for building the Zshiditshov kloyz was the gift of Elye Heger, who was also called Elye Honeymaker. His house was closely connected to the kloyz. He was also the main gabay [warden] and very strong-minded. I recall that one shabes there arrived a grandson of the Zshiditshov rebi, the son of the sainted Mendele of blessed memory, and Elye would not allow him to pray in the kloyz because he – Elye – only recognized one Zshiditshov rebi, the one who was then the head of the beys din in Zshiditshov and he was necessarily the younger one, who came every year to Kolomey, and therefore the son of the sainted Mendl Getsvongen had to go to pray in Rebi Itsikl's shul. And the saint of Doline, who stemmed from the Zshiditshov line, used to come to our town for shabes and pray at the Zshiditshov kloyz. Also a second grandson, Moyshe Aykhenshteyn, who lived in Kolomey, used to pray in Rebi Itsikl's shul because Elye Honeymaker did not recognize him either.

Pious, respectable Jews who were not Zshiditshov Hasidim also prayed in that kloyz, such as: Shmuel Horovits and his sons and sons-in-law, Fishl Etinger (his father Gershon and his brother Hirshe Volf were Zshiditshov Hasidim), Zelig Khayes and his sons Zeyde and Leybush, Fishl Heger, Itsik Herman and his son-in-law Yekl Helitsher, and others.

And still many other Zshiditshov Hasidim prayed in other shuln, in particular the shul named for Rebi Itsikl of Radzivil. Outstanding prayer leaders in the Zshiditshov kloyz were Mayer Frantsoyz [1] and Hirsh Volf Etinger.

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The Tshortkov kloyz was small and the number of attendees was not large. A lot of Tshortkov and Sadiger Hasidim also prayed at other shuln. The kloyz was completely destroyed by canon during World War I.

During my childhood I prayed and studied in that kloyz and my father often led from the cantor's stand on shabes, holidays and high holidays, but even before my barmitsve he had gone from the Tshortkov kloyz over to Rebi Itsikl's shul.

Of the people at the Tshortkov kloyz I remember: Ayzik Sharf, Meshulem Fried, Efraym Kopl's, Berl Dinstfeld, Hirsh Rekhter, Berl Sekhestover and his son Hershl, Leyb Esnfeld, Fayvish Mentshl, Motl Sher, the orator Rov Itskhak Veber, his brother Moyshe Veber, Henekh Shekhter, Mordkhe Nusboym, Binyumin Shekhter, Yosye Kreyttser, Gavriel Grinberg, Shloyme Grosbakh, Moyshe Sadigurski, Berl Bortn, Aron Peysakh (a son-in-law of Mayer Frantsoyz.)

I did not go to the Kosov kloyz and so I do not know who did go there. I only remember that Dovid (Dudye) Kramer, a wonderful prayer leader, was the cantor.

In that shul named for Rebi Itsikl the Radzivil Saint, there were many very respectable Jews, pious Talmud scholars, various Hasidim and proprietors. It was reckoned among the most distinguished shuln in our community. The [Jewish] judge Rov Yehoshe Heshl Zilber of blessed memory who prayed there, used to study a lesson from Talmud for children, myself included, on the winter nights. And Mordkhe Itsye – a Talmud expert and very pious, a Hasid after the brilliant and saintly Rov Avrom Dovid Butshatsher may his holy memory be for a blessing – used to teach an open commentary session every evening and on shabes before the late-afternoon prayers.

As in all the kloyzn, here too all the pious Jews sat at the third feast of shabes and sang long after the first stars had been sighted [indicating the end of the Sabbath]. Itsikl Shayke's (Fridfertig) sat at the head of the table and sang the shabes songs. Among the attendees were: Yom Tov Lipa (Lipman), Haleyvi Herman, the head of the shul, his son Motye Herman, who would inherit being head of the shul, vice-president of the community council; Shloyme Bikl-Khalfn, an anti-Hasid, a Talmud scholar, a banker; Zerakh Erlikh, his son Yeshaye, Shloyme Heler, a Boyan Hasid, Aron Shoykhet, Sender Yoel, an in-law of the Zshiditshov rebi; Itskhak Leyb Goldshteyn, Yosl Meltzer, a Tshortkov Hasid, Meshulem Simkhe Linder (Vizshnits Hasid), Hirsh

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Ramler, a very rich man, with his sons-in-law: Moyshe Landoy (a Sadiger Hasid and a Talmud scholar), Efroym Klarman, from Krakow, a Talmud scholar and an enlightener, very pious, a fervent Zionist; the judge Rov Yehoshe Heshl Zilber, Tshortkov Hasid, Menashe Roykhverger and his son, my friend Dr. Zerakh, attorney, Talmud scholar and pious Jew, Moyshe Aykhenshteyn, a grandson of the Saint of Zshiditshov; Moyshe Brandes, the son of a rov, Talmud scholar, enlightener, Stretin Hasid; Sholem Veber and his sons Yekhezkl (Khaskl) and Mordkhe and his son-in-lawYudl Nagelberg, Leybush Osterzetser, Talmud scholar, a grandson of the genius Rov Meshulem Horovits head of the beys din of the community of Stanislav and his sons Ruveyn, Shloyme and Nosn; Mordkhe Bikl (son of Shloyme Bikl) and his father-in-law Motl Kahana with the nickname “Ponia”, a Russian Jew, his father-in-law Simkhe Tsimels, from Brod, a Talmud scholar, and expert in Torah, Prophets and Writings, and his son-in-law Hershl Tsimels, also from Brod, Talmud scholar and enlightener; Yosl Gotlib, Atenye Hasid and his son Gershon, Yosele Brotshiner-Vahl, a distinguished scholar (who also arranged for guests to have Friday night dinner in the homes of local householders). Mordkhe Itsye's, scholar of spreader of Torah, Dovid Leyb Hofman, a scholar, a friend and the right-hand man to the preacher Itskhak Veber, Sholem Robinzon, Shmuel Fried, Zalman Shperber, Sh. Grayf and his sons Aron and Zerekh, a son of Torah and a brilliant prayer leader, Berl Vinkler, Hershl Bernshteyn from Tarnov, Gedalye Fayr a son-in-law of Aron Shoykhet, Shloyme Shrayer, Fayvish Hanoman with the nickname “Holopietnik”, a passionate Zshiditshov Hasid, a fiery prayer leader [2]; Yoel Mayer Prays, the Toah reader at the shul for decades; his son Dovid Shloyme, Efraym Hibner, Gershen Tahau and his son Itsye and others.

Motye Herman led the shul with a strong hand. I remember that one simkhes toyre [rejoicing in the Torah] at night, quite a few Jews who on holidays studied with Judge Yehoshua Hershl Zilber arrived along with the Judge, with torches and song as was the custom, late for the evening service and late for the hakofes [circuits, in which the Torah scrolls are carried around the shul]. Motye Herman was leading the service. The Jews with the Judge came in during the evening shimenesre [Eighteen Benedictions, recited standing] and were angry that they had not delayed the prayers on account of the Judge and of them. And one of them – Dovid Leyb Hofman – began to loudly sing the borekhu [introductory prayer], and broke into the shimenesre. After finishing the prayer, Motye got up on a lectern and shouted like a commandant, “Have respect!”

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Another episode from my youth is etched in my memory: On simkhes toyre the title of “bridegroom of the Torah” belonged to Rebi Moyshe Aykhenshteyn, a grandson of Zshiditshov rebis; and the honor of the first reading in Genesis belonged to Motye Herman. One time Rebi Moyshe was ill and his title “bridegroom of the Torah” was sold for 200 gulden to the wealthy Hirsh Ramler, who was a pious and genial Jew but really quite simple, not a student of Torah and not even a reader of holy books. He was busy day and night with his businesses. I was very chagrined at this insult to the honor of the Torah and I told the shul wardens a joke that was repeated about the genius Rov Shemen Soyfer head of the beys din of Krakow. When a similar thing had happened in his community in his time, he had remarked to his wardens, “We see today a match made in the style of the Polish Hasidim.” When asked the meaning of his remark, he translated it “The groom has not met the bride before the wedding.”

I remember another event that well illustrates the morals of those who prayed at that shul. A Jew by the name of Berl Vinkler, who loaned money for interest, made a complaint in court against the debtor Zalman Shperber, who also prayed there, because he had not repaid his loan within the terms set. One weekday he came into the shlul full of righteousness and occupied the debtor Zalman Shperber's special assigned chair. The wardens and the congregants were enraged at this ignominious act, and they made a decision: accordingly, on shabes they interrupted the service in the middle when Berl Vinkler showed up, saying that they would not pray with such a person. Since Berl Vinkler would not leave the shul, they all – led by Motye Herman – went to the besmedresh next door and continued their service there.

Most of the people who prayed at the Azipol kloyz were those who lived in that area (behind the town hall). I remember some of them. Moyshe Aynhorn, a distinguished householder and father of 14 sons and daughters, all by one mother; Yehuda Leyb Grin, a son-in-law of Yehuda Hirsh Glinert, a Talmud expert and Enlightener, an extreme anti-Hasid; Moyshe Bokhnier, a Zshiditshov Hasid, an exquisite prayer leader, Khaym Dovidl's Halbershtam, a Talmud expert and a very pious Jew, my father-in-law Moyshe Zinger may he rest in peace, Berish Hilzenrat, Moyshe Tsukerman, a scholar and a passionate prayer leader, a faithful follower and the right hand of the preacher Rov Itskhak Veber,

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Alter Toybish, a son-in-law of Shaul Vaysman, a scholar and enthusiastic Zionist; Shmuel Laden, Mendl Shayerman.

The Sharigrad kloyz comprised mixed Jews of every type. It was well known that every simkhes toyre disputes broke out there about the honors for leading certain prayers, for carrying the Torah in the circuits and for the Torah blessings, and the ardor for honors often led even to fisticuffs.

Of those who went there I remember Khaym (Finies) Frenkl, a Zshiditshov Hasid and fine prayer leader; Motye Bretler, the eldest son of the millionaire Yankev Bretler; Motye Peye Malke's, Hasid, Torah expert and prayer leader, Yisroel Eyferman, the father-in-law of Dr. Fishl Rotenshtraykh, the former member of the Sokhnut management in Jerusalem; Khaym Zizkind, Hirsh Kris, his son-in-law Leyb Post, Zisye Hofman and his son Dovid, Yekl Sokal, a scholar and Enlightener, Dovid Glinert, Yisroel Kantor and others.

In the ”Yerushalyim” [Jerusalem] shul there worshiped various sorts of Hasidim and regular, observant, prominent householders and many who lived in that area. On weekdays six or eight minyonim prayed there, from before dawn until noon. And flocks of orphans came to say kadish [a praise to God that is recited by mourners] at the combined afternoon-evening service. On shabes afternoons they studied a page of Talmud or commentary, and often preachers and orators spoke, visitors from other places; and the Zionists held their meetings there, where there were often religious speakers who clarified the Zionist and nationalist thinking and who spiced their speeches with many kinds of examples, commentaries from holy sources, and sayings of the sages. Of those who prayed there I remember: Yankl Beydaf, the head of the Jewish community and the town council, a passionate Vizshnits Hasid who also used to travel to Zshiditshov, exceptionally wealthy, the father-in-law of Rov Yosl Lau; the Vizshnits Rebi and the Zshiditshov Rebi, who used to come to Kolomey for shabes stayed with him.

He was a clever Jew, nimble and ebullient, a social person. But the same Hasid who on Friday night danced on the table before the rebi, as was the Vizshnits custom, was one of the most assimilated, one who danced to the humiliating tune of the Polish princes, who spoke in the name of the Hasidim against the nationalist Jews and Zionists and for those assimilated to Polish culture, in particular during the time of the elections to the Austrian parliament, to the parliament of Galicia and the council. (Aron Koen, the head of the Jewish community, a Vizshnits Hasid, wealthy,

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well-dressed, behaved in just the same way, although neither of them could speak a word of Polish…) His two sons, Itsye Beydaf and Leybush (a son-in-law of Shmuel Horovits); Yankl Bretler, a multi-millionaire, religious but not a Hasid, his two sons Yoyne and Mendl; his three sons-in-law Moyshe Zaydman, Moshe Breyer and Nosn Baron; Motl Breyer, Meylekh Tsvibl, Shimshen Koynits, Motl Kramer, Shaul Vaysman and his son-in-law Motl Frish, Aba Hamer, A. Slopkovitser, a son-in-law of Moyshe Zaydman, a Talmud expert and Enlightener and very pious, who dressed in modern clothes, a Zionist; A. Kristiampolier, a son-in-law of Moyshe Breyer, from Brod, a Talmud expert and an Enlightener, from a good family, very pious, dressed in modern clothes; Moyshe Rohatin, a son of the head of the beys din of Zlotshev and a son-in-law of Moyshe Breyer, a Torah scholar and champion of Enlightenment, an active Zionist and a good speaker; Yisroel Khaym Henish, a teacher of Torah, Prophets and Writings [the “old testament”] and Hebrew grammar on a high level (an uncle of the writer and journalist Mayer Henish in Tel Aviv); Moyshe Feldman and his sons Khaym and Leybush; Khaym Laks, Gedalye Biter and his sons, Itsye Hekht and his son Shmuel, Shloyme Ashkenazi, Alter Rat, Volf Faktor, Yehuda Hersh Gliner and his sons, Avrom Itsye Soykher, Itsye Heger, Avrom Elye Ramler, and others.

Rov Yankev Taumim and Rov Gedalye Shmelkish used to pray there during the week on the days when Torah is read and on the new moon.

There were a lot of people at the old besmedresh, mostly regular observant Jews and no Hasidim, and on shabes afternoons the orator Itskhak Veber of blessed memory used to preach to a large audience.

That was where the judge Rov Moyshe Yehoshue of blessed memory, the so-called “head of the yeshiva” prayed, and also his sons Alter and Khaym. Of the others I remember: Yudl Krebs, the chief warden, the wealthy Shaol Kneper, his son Alter Kneper, an in-law of Rov Gedalye Shmelkish of blessed memory, his son-in-law L. Mandel, a Talmud expert and very pious, Dovid Vayzelberg, Kopl Bekher and his sons, Yonatan Vielitshker and his son, Shloyme Vaysbakh, Moyshe Ivanier and his son Zindl and others.

On shabes parshas yitro of tav-reysh-samekh”khes [the Sabbath on which the Torah portion called Jethro is read (sometime in February) in 1908] a terrible fire broke out in the old besmedresh and 11 Torah scrolls were burned. The whole town was greatly saddened and the rabonim called for a community fast and buried the remains in the Jewish cemetery.

Many proprietors prayed at the new besmedresh. It is possible I am mistaken about the place where the preacher Itskhak Veber sermonized, and that he preached at the new besmedresh, which was near the building of the old one.

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In both of them, many people studied Talmud, commentaries, ayn yankev and even Torah with RaShI's commentary [acronym for Rov Shloyme Itskhaki, 11th century].

The main people at the Siks shul were: Iser Kris, vice president of the Jewish community, very pious, wealthy, a follower of Rov Hilel Likhtenshteyn and later also of Rov Gedalye Shmelkish (I recall that in the memorial speech at his funeral, Rov Gedalye Shmelkish said of the deceased, with a bitter cry, that he was a “holy Jew”) ; his son Leybush Kris, his son-in-law I. Zshenirer, his son-in-law Yehude Ber Zaydman, of the main Atenye Hasidim that later went over to the Atenye kloyz; Shmuel Shupt, A. Shoym, Mikhal Hamer, the children of Rov Hilel Likhtenshteyn, Borekh Bendit, Zalman and his sons. For many years after Rov Hilel passed on his spirit still hovered over that besmedresh, though the Hasidim and especially the Vizshnits Hasidim disparaged it.

Various people prayed at the “Talmud-Torah” shul, members of the “Talmud-Torah” (see further on) and those who lived in that neighborhood, and headed by Tomed Shoykhet, a son of Aron Shoykhet. He was a kind of recluse and holy man who rarely spoke, and on shabes he would speak only Hebrew. (It is said that he would say to his wife [in Hebrew] “Tnay li khalav yoyshev” which means “milk that has sat” [in a glass together with sour cream]; and every Friday he would go from shop to shop and collect donations for little-known poor people.

His father Aron Shoykhet was the founder and agent of the “Talmud-Torah”, a large religious school for poor students, and devoted himself to it well into his advanced years.

The Kamionk shul, on Kamionk Street near the very old cemetery, held mostly people who lived in that vicinity, among them some Hasidim. I only remember a few of them: Alter Taykher and his son Shimen Taykher, owner of a famous Hebrew press, Hirsh Rat, the eminent teacher (see further on), Moyshe Tindl, Yekl Tindl, Hirsh Leyb Rat, his sons Shimen and Moyshe, Yoyne Zager, owner of a talis factory, Yoyne Hibner. Housed in that building was the best school of that time, with the teacher Hirsh Rat.

In the Zionists' shul, ”beys yisroel”, were the leaders of that movement and many of its members. I can recall a few of them: Yehoshue Fadenhekht, the president of the shul and of the club ”beys yisroel”, the headmaster, a Talmud scholar, Enlightener, pious, a passionate Zionist; Leybl Toybish, the son of the head of the beys din of Atenye, a Talmud scholar, Enlightener

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[photographs]

The wooden shul in Petshinizshin   The wooden shul in Yablonov
  The Talmud Torah  

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a popular speaker and a wonderful interpreter of Zionist thought, Leybush Yeger, Talmud expert, Enlightener, I. Mayer, the grandfather of a professor of archeology at Jerusalem University; A. Slopkovitser, Motl Berger (a freethinker and yet he never missed coming to pray on shabes and holidays), Mayer Henish, Avigdor Khaym Shternberg, well-known prayer leader, Moyshe Laks, a son of Khaym Laks, a Talmud expert and good speaker, editor of a Zionist weekly newspaper in Yiddish in which I published articles during the time of the elections to parliament.

The other shuln and minyonim in the streets that were farther from the center of town and in the suburbs were filled with the people who lived in those areas, mostly craftsmen and small merchants and a few Hasidim and Talmud scholars. The locals of the suburb of Verbish prayed at the minyon at Rov Antshl's (a son-in-law of Rov Hilel Likhtenshteyn); and among them was my wife's grandfather Hirsh Vagenberg, a Vizshnits Hasid, a Torah scholar and giver of charity, his wife Bobole was active in the community with aid and charity.

During the time of my youth the community numbered three thousand families, about twenty thousand souls. Upwards of eighty percent of the Kolomey Jews were religious, observers of all the mitsvos [the Ten Commandments plus 613 other laws and rules of Jewish life], half of these Hasidim of various rebeyim. Among them were Talmud scholars, completely reverent Jews, and also Enlighteners and many pious householders. Of those about ten percent were “modern”, having given up shtraymlekh [wide-brimmed fur hats] to wear top hats on shabes and holidays, and sending their children to modern, non-religious schools and marrying their daughters to doctors who were freethinkers, far from Jewish tradition, although they themselves were still religious. And less than ten percent, some trade-intellectuals, attorneys, doctors, state agents, teachers and a few rich people, desecrated the shabes and only came to shul on the Jewish new year and yonkiper.

And yet they stood at the top of the community and they represented the Jewish interest in the town hall, as was usual in Galicia at the time, and the majority of the religious Jews had to be satisfied with providing for their own needs in matters of ritual slaughter, mikve [ritual baths] and so on.

All the businesses were in Jewish hands, and on shabosim un yontoyvim not one business was open except for the three apothecaries, two of which were Christian-owned. Even among the non-religious merchants no one would dare to open on shabes, and it was not worthwhile because there would not be any customers because even the non-Jews knew that everything was closed on shabes. When Maks Feldman, the youngest son of Moyshe Feldman, opened his drugstore on shabes with the explanation that it was under the regulations of an apothecary, the town went off its wheels.

The character of the community was pious. I do not know how Kolomey seemed in the nineteen-twenties and -thirties because I lived in Vienna in those years, and the ties that bound me to my hometown were broken.


Footnotes

  1. See Shloyme Bikl's chapters about Mayer Frantsoyz in A shtot fun yidn [A town of Jews], New York, 1943 Return
  2. See about him in Shloyme Bikl's A shtot mit yidn [A town of Jews], New York 1943 Return


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Three Eras

(A little history and memories about Kolomea, my city)

by Yisroel Isser Zeidman (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Now, when I describe my home city, my heart fills with longing and my soul becomes full of memories, experiences from my earliest childhood years, of khederim [religious primary schools] and melamdim [teachers in religious schools], dayanim [judges in religious courts] rabbis and rebbes [Hasidic rabbis], of holy Shabbosim [Sabbaths], holidays and the Days of Awe. I spent my best young years in Kolomea, until the year 5674 [1914]. I left the city with our entire household during the bitter month of Av [August], when the First World War broke out and we wandered from place to place and from one country to another. At the end of the war, we returned to Kolomea – and I spent a few beautiful, interesting years there, until 5683 [1923]. That year I left for Eretz-Yisroel. Later, I visited and spent time in my first home twice – in 5689 [1929] and in 5694 [1937].

And today, after a few dozen years, when I want to erect a matzeyvah [headstone] for our dear, beloved city, I must divide its history of the last sixty years before the destruction into three eras, which are in large part characteristic of other cities and shtetlekh [towns] in eastern Galicia: a. the first era before the war – a time of strength and stability; b. the second era begins with the end of the [First] World War; and it extends until the year 5690 (1930) – an era of awakening, of sturmm und drang [storm and distress] in the Jewish neighborhood; an era of great national hope and for a drive for Zion and Eretz-Yisroel; c. and the third era – an era of internal dejection and external heavy stress. In this era we see an evident hint of great misfortune,

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of the catastrophe that would meet the House of Israel in East Europe. In truth, we received signs from above, but we closed our eyes and it was as if we did not notice anything.

 

A.

During the first era, Kolomea was a quiet, Jewish city. The majority of Jews were Hasidim and only a minority were Zionists and followers of Mizrakhi [religious Zionists]. But during elections or with other communal matters – the Zionists were active and they were the most active element in the life of the city. They were taken into account and discussed. There was also a small minority of assimilated Jews who represented the Jews before the local Polish government. It can be said that the various Hasidic groups were visible in communal life; on the contrary, in important matters the Zionists always emerged on the public level.

The Hasidim prayed in small synagogues that were named after famous rebbes: there was a small synagogue of Kosover Hasidim, Vizhnitzer Hasidim, of Otynier, Ziditshover, Boyaner and Chortkower. And the Hasidic followers would travel to their rebbes, who lived in small shtetlekh [towns], for the Days of Awe and for holidays. It is certainly no coincidence that the great rebbes nonetheless, lived in small shtetlekh. There, their organization was not insignificant as it would be in the bustle of the large city. But in the interwar years, between the two world wars, when Hasidism began to sink, the famous rebbes began to move to the large cities, such as Lemberg and Stanislaw.

And how beautiful and enchanting our Jewish city looked on the eve of a holiday or on the eve of the Days of Awe when the Hasidim and their children – some on foot and others in wagons – with their packs in their hands, went to the train station, to travel to their rebbes, to absorb the holiness, be blessed. Some small synagogues were almost empty during the holidays because only the very simple businessmen remained in the city.

As in the majority of all cities of exile, the Jews of Kolomea also were occupied with commerce and craft, but Kolomea was renowned for the manufacturing of taleysim [prayer shawls]: two large factories produced taleysim – the factories of Yona Zager and of the Hellers. The Heller family

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was an illustrious family. The Hellers were descended from the author of Tosafot Yom-Tov [commentary on the compilation of the oral law named after its author Yom-Tov Lipman Heller] and they were a little haughty. They were Boyaner Hasidim. And after Reb Shimshon Heller died, the business went to his three sons, who were famous scholars, men of good appearance and also versed in worldly matters. Their taleysim were well known in Europe and even in Asia. A traveling, smart and shrewd Jew would travel through all of the Jewish cities and shtetlekh in the old home and would there sell Heller's taleysim, which made famous the Heller firm as well as the city of Kolomea. There were also families that were involved with world trade. They had connections to Germany, Romania and other lands. They were especially involved with the wheat trade. The majority of Jews of the city lived frugally. They were employed in the clothing trade; many were shopkeepers and brokers. Others were artisans and workers. Therefore, even without political pressure, still in the time of the Austro-Hungarians, thousands of Jews from our city took their walking sticks and went west to earn a living. Some of them went as far as Vienna, the capital of Austria; others crossed the border and settled in Germany. (When I was in Leipzig in 1930, I found a small Kolomea synagogue. Our landsleit were employed there mainly with the fur trade.) And many of those from Kolomea immigrated to America to seek employment.

At that time, education in our city was in a rigid and set form: the Hasidim sent their children to khederim of many kinds according to each group's beliefs. In many small synagogues, finding a student of a gymnazie [secular secondary school] was like searching for a bread crumb right before Passover, not to be found. The children received their general education from private teachers – in the afternoon hours or at night. The great mass of people – some of them sent their children to the Jewish school named for Baron Hirsch, and some – to the Polish public school. Only the middle class, assimilated and general Zionists sent their children to the gymnazie. Yet, there were a few families, select ones, whose sons were educated simultaneously in Torah and in general, worldly education. And the sons did not abandon the old way of life. And this was a surprise and a great wonder.

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In spite of the folks-shuln [public school] law, the Hasidic Jews knew how to find a solution: dozens of khederim were overfilled with students of all ages. It was characteristic; the teacher of the youngest children and the teachers of Khumish and Rashi, as well as the teachers who taught the start of the Gemara, were mostly born in Kolomea and they were referred to with their name and occupation: Zalman Melamed and Zayde Melamed. There was also one who was well-known as a pedagogue and he would also teach writing. He also was referred to by his family name: Hersh Rat. However, the well-know Gemara teacher, all the more, the melamdim who taught Gemara and the Rashi commentaries, the melamdim who taught Gemara, commentaries and Tosafos [Talmudic commentaries] were, in general, from other cities and they were called according to their places of origin: Leibish Horodenker, Yosya Buczaczer, Josele Berezaner and Reb Chaim of Rzeszow (he also was a melamed only for adults and even bridegrooms studied with him).

My first teacher, Reb Leibush, lived outside the city, in the fresh air. His house was a poor house, like the poor houses of the poor people and the laborers: a dirt floor and a shingle roof. But, because this was his own house, he was careful with it and gave it his attention. He had a small garden near his house where he planted vegetables: corn, carrots, beans and other vegetables. In general, he had a strong inclination toward trade and employment; he would repair his roof and household objects himself.

Reb Leibush was good at explanations and the students had respect for him. In the afternoon, the kheder was full of children. More students, who in the morning studied at the public school, joined the Hasidic children who studied [in the kheder] in the morning. His son, Shimshon, helped him on Thursdays.

His daughters emigrated to America and he would receive support from his children across the sea during the time between the two World Wars and he lived in comfort.

I started to study Gemara with him. We studied the first chapter of Bava Metzia [Talmudic tractate – The Middle Gate], the chapter, “Shnayim adukin be-tallit' [if two people are holding on to a garment]. And in studying the Mishnah [compilation of Oral Torah] we learned the law: “One shall swear that his share in it is not less than half, and the other shall swear that his share in it is not less than half.” Emphasizing his interpretation and repeating many times – a matter that was written on another side of the Gemara – that it could be that both were swearing the truth: because it was possible, that both

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had lifted the object equally and one did not see the other one. Therefore, each is entitled to half of the bargain. I remember that he would lecture the students that they should live in peace, in friendship and brotherhood. In addition he would bring an example from the animals and birds that live quietly and calmly and help one another. A student once asked him a question:

– Rebbe [teacher]! We still see that the flies – they were a heavy scourge in kheder – attack one another and fight each other.
The rebbe answered authoritatively, “They do not fight with each other, that is how they multiply.”

I moved from Reb Leibush's kheder to Reb Josye Buczaczer. He came to the teaching profession after several transformations: first, he was a merchant in his city of Buczacz [Buchach, Ukraine]. But as he was not successful, his relatives advised him to try his luck in teaching. He then moved to Kolomea and opened a kheder for young men studying Gemara. He was an Otynier Hasid. He was a mixture of a teacher and a pedant. He would explain the vowels of le ekohl-lekhem [“to eat bread.”] (in the Torah portion, Yitro [fifth portion of the Book of Exodus, 18:12], with lots of rules, according to the well-known book, haMaslul [The Path]. His explanation was a good one, but his discipline of the students was weak. He would sometimes permit the good students to spend time outside in the street, as long as they knew the page of Gemara and the Torah portion by the end of the week. When I studied with him, his kheder was near the hill on which we slid during the winter.

Once, I remember I went to talk to my friends and on a winter night I went out with them to slide down the hill. My father, of blessed memory, learned of this. He came to the hill, took me under his arm and led me back into the kheder.

Reb Josele Brotshiner, my teacher for commentary on the Mishnah, commentary on Jewish law and Tosafos, was a melamed of another style (Dr. Shlomo Bikel dedicated beautiful pages to him in his book, A City with Jews). Reb Josele was a remarkable type. He was a great and deep scholar, a distinguished Hasid. He had a strong love for Eretz-Yisroel and tended to reflect on Jewish philosophy. The first term in which I studied with him left a strong impression [that has lasted] until today. We studied the tractate, Nederim [Vows] with Perush haRan [commentary by the RaN, an acronym derived from his name Nissim ben Reuven] (Reb Nissim). While studying we would

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become engrossed in the sugye [Talmud question being studied]. Between the school sessions, he would teach us the eight chapters of Rambam. And thus was the order of instruction in this kheder: from six until eight in the morning – commentary, that is: Yoyre-Deye [second part of the Shulchan Aruch – Code of Jewish Law] or Khoyshn Mishpes [fourth part of the Code of Jewish Law], which we would also refer to as Shach, the [abbreviation of the] name of the commentary Siftei Kohen [Lips of the Kohen written by Rabbi Shabbetai Kohen – referred to as the Shach]. From eight to eight-thirty we would pray together with the rabbi in the small Kaminker synagogue. After praying until 10 o'clock – the students spent time at home for breakfast. From 10 to one – a reading; each would study a page of Gemara alone. And then he repeated it for the rabbi. In the afternoon and during the long winter nights, the teacher would recite a page from the Gemara with Talmudic commentaries and commentaries from rabbinic literature in a very profound manner. On summer nights we would study “posek” [verse of scripture] – Joshua or Job, with commentaries from Meir Leib Weiser. Sometimes he would dictate letters in Hebrew – in the style of flowery language. Thursday in the afternoon we would study the weekly Torah portion and his custom was that he auctioned the sections (Kohan, Levi, shlishi [third] and the like) of the portions among the students – for the benefit of the fund of Reb Meir the miracle worker.

Reb Josele knew to enliven the instruction in that he would let be heard wonderful stories and subjects: once he asked a question: “Who is bigger than the other – The sea or the person?”

– Certainly the sea – the students answered.

– No! – the teacher answered and he explained:

– The size of the sea and its depth has a limit and a foundation: its territory is so much and so much; its depth is so much and so much; however, a person and his soul – who can explore it and fathom it?

He also told us a strange and frightening story: Thus a man was born, grew up, became educated, married and brought children into the world; engaged in business, ran away, was chased and escaped and saw a wonder; in all of his deeds and matters to which a man turns, goes and runs away – an old one runs after him. He sits on the train – the old one with him; he runs away from him across the sea – the old man chases after him; he runs away – and the other one after him; he runs – the old one with him. In short: chasing, running and overtaking until the man fall down exhausted and dead tired and digs him a grave and winks at him: come brother, lie down here, here is your place of rest And Reb Josele Brotshiner, with a luminous smile on his lips, ends

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the story and solves the riddle about the old man: old age – the old one runs after the people.

He would say and repeat for his students: we recognize the man from his walk, from his manner of speaking and from deeds and even from the tip of his pencil.

Of the students who studied with me, Meirtsie Etinger, of blessed memory, should be remembered here. He was a great assiduous student. During the wartime he turned up in Bohemia with his family. He acquired a general education and he passed his exams to enter university. Then he studied oriental scholarship in the University of Prague and received the title of doctor there. He dedicated his few years of life to Hebraic education and was a teacher in the famous Hebrew gymnazie in Muncasz. He remained firm and devoted to Torah and tradition. He visited Eretz-Yisroel twice – with the hope of working in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. But, in Israel, he suddenly was stricken with severe typhus and he found his last rest on the Mount of Olives (alas, today outside the borders of the Land of Israel).

 

B.

The day of the outbreak of the First World War, Tisha b'Av [the 9th of Av - a fast day commemorating the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem] of the year 5674 [1914], left a strong impression on the Jews of our city. I remember when the military was sworn in at the market, an immense group of soldiers stood organized with discipline with the flags and officers and all ready to go to war. On the first day of the war – and an event chases an event: masses of the military were taken – on foot and by train – to the eastern front. And the Jewish population provided large tables with food and drink – on both sides of the highway and near the train – and food and packages were divided generously for all of the soldiers. (It is worth remembering this self-sacrifice of our Jews for the military – which was warmly honored in a collection of letters from Jewish soldiers that was published after war in the capital city of Vienna.)

The first stage of the war turned out bad for

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Austria-Hungary. The Russians crossed the border of Galicia immediately. A storm of Jewish refugees began to move from the border cities, from Czortkow, from Buczacz and from other cities and they came to Stanislaw and Kolomea. But before they could rest, they had to run further. On a Sunday of the first weeks of the war, they began to run from our city, too. But the trains were taken and there were no horses and wagons to be gotten. The rich and wealthy men obtained wagons with great difficulty and for large mounts of money. And thus our family left the city, crowded and pressed together on a simple peasant's wagon and four generations in it: my grandmother Hentsha from Buczacz, who spent the summer months with us, my parents and their children and grandchildren. We dragged ourselves this way to Delatyn and, from there, after we had eaten lunch, we traveled further until we arrived at night in Kereshmeze [Jasina], a small shtetl near the Hungarian border. There, for the first time, we saw the mountain-Jew type who, with his appearance and characteristics, was a product of the Carpathian Mountains.

On a beautiful Friday, my brother and I and several cousin children went out for a stroll in the mountains. We climbed to the mountain top with a hidden feeling of fear and a simultaneous sense of boldness. After we came home, we tasted the kapuste (the cabbage) and the potatoes – really delicious. It was possibly the first time in our lives that we ate with hunger and appetite.

Meanwhile, the Russian occupation expanded. We had to travel further through Hungary – with one stop in the city of Krail – we arrived in Vienna, where we remained until May 1917. From there we traveled to Galanta [Slovakia] in order to be able to study in the famous yeshiva where the Rabbi [Yosef Tzvi] Dushinsky stood at its head. We spent an entire year there. In May 1918 we returned to our city of birth, Kolomea.

 

C.

That year the Germans as well as Austria-Hungary suffered great military defeats on all fronts; and after, there was a period of political upheaval. The famous 14 Points of the American President Wilson hovered in the air of the wider world. And in the Jewish neighborhood – it was the sweet year of the famous Balfour Declaration. While still in Hungary we heard that a well-known rabbi, a head of a yeshiva had incited and encouraged one of his students, who was a Kohen [priest – descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses] to learn the Seder Kodashim [the section of the Mishnah – the Oral Law – containing the rules of sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem] “because immediately, speedily in our days the Temple would be rebuilt.” Therefore, he had to be ready for his appointment.

There was a great awakening among the Ukrainians for political independence in our area. The Kaiser Karl [Charles I] wanted to bring a remedy for the plague and he proclaimed the liberation of all the people who occupied his land, with the proviso that the Kaiser of the state would be considered as the central figure, who connected all the people of his state, as a unified common political entity. However, it was already too late. After the military suffered defeat on the front, the state crumbled from the inside. And suddenly, over night, a group of small independent nations arose on the ruins of imperial Austria-Hungary, which immediately began to argue and even to fight with one another.

The days of the Ukrainian government in east Galicia were considered as “when a slave reigns.” It was a government of terror for the Jews. Jewish corpses were often brought into the city from the surrounding villages. If one wanted to travel from one place to another, one had to be furnished with official papers and with a particular certificate, with a prepustka [pass] as was said in Ukrainian. And after all of this, one traveled in freight cars. There was a state of war and one was not permitted to go out in the street.

During this terrible time my father, may he rest in peace, came home from Budapest at night. He did not know about the edicts in the city and left for home alone on foot. A Ukrainian patrol detained him on the way. And one said to the other: “Shoot

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him!” My father, may he rest in peace, grabbed him by the arm. He did not lose his courage and said to him: “Come with me to the police. I am an old citizen of the city. They will clarify the matter there.” And thus a miracle happened for him. The Ukrainian patrol obeyed him and went with him. Thus he survived.

During this time, earning a living was more difficult, it was very austere. No commerce could be carried out from one city to another. The Jews began to manufacture things at home. For example: Ersatz coffee was created from certain plants; they fabricated shoe paste [shoe polish], various soaps and similar articles.

The Jewish street was very lively then. Communal life had blossomed during that time. The Balfour Declaration was interpreted as having a literal meaning: a Jewish state. Each group of people organized according to their political faction and leanings. The haHalutz [the pioneer – Jewish youth movement] was founded in Kolomea and various hakshorus [preparatory training for prospective agricultural emigrants to Eretz-Yisroel] in the area of the city. HaShomer [the watchman – Zionist youth group] then developed robust cultural and educational activities. Poale-Zion [workers of Zion – Marxist-Zionist workers movement], Tzeiri Zion [young Zionists], as well as Shomri Tzion [guardians of Zion] (these were the orthodox Jews and the religious young people who yearned for redemption and renewal), also were active and vigorous. And the Bund was very active and the Zionists and the Mizrakhists [religious Zionists] carried out varied activities.

In short, at that time, there was a very stimulating communal spiritual life in all circles: local newspapers were published in Yiddish, many studied Hebrew and there were even groups – particularly from HaShomer – who spoke Hebrew. The assimilated disappeared from view. Many of them became “Jews,” that is, they began to speak Yiddish.

As was said earlier, income was inadequate. We learned an aphorism then: “Income is lacking, let us go study.”

Every night the halls of the parties were full of people who came to various readings and lessons. They studied Khumish [Five Book of Moses – the Torah], Mishnius [commentaries on the Torah], Ein Yakov [Jacob's Well, title of a 16Wednesday, December 18, 2013sacherth century book of rabbinical commentary] and a page of Gemara [Talmudic commentaries]. Every day another party arranged public lectures, gatherings with discussions, literary evenings and even performances.

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(Photo, a flyer for a literary evening:

Literary Evening

In honor of the grandfather [of Yiddish literature] M[endele] M[Mocher] Sforim [pen
name of Sholem Yankev Abramovich]

[illegible, blurred type]

Shabbos, the 22nd February 1919 (22 Adar 1 [5679])
In the Nuoyzda Hall
Of the Zionist Academic Unions, Avoda [an organization]

Program:

Part I:

1) Opening: Mendele - Der Getomohikaner [The Ghetto Mohican – an
    allusion to The Last of the Mohicans – in this case the last ghetto Jew]
  H. Biter

2) Piano solo: Beethoven Sonata in C minor
  Miss Chana Brandes

3) Recitation: Mendele Mocher Sforim play Soloveitchik…
    (with piano accompaniment) . . . H. Kreizler
    At the piano . . . .. . . . . .

Miss Brandes

4) [Talk about trends]: the grandfather and his significance in Yiddish literature
  Mr. Hutshneker
15-minute pause

Part II:

The Martyrs

A dramatic symphony in three acts by Yakov Gordin translated from Hebrew
by Yisroel Biber

The Souls
1. The old Shamas [synagogue sexton] Mr. Gotfrid
2. The merchant Mr. Shafer
3. The melamed [teacher in a religious school] Mr. Paysakh
4. The butcher Mr. Shtampler
5. The student Mr. Kreizler
6. The Girl Miss Krys
7. Ruchl Amnu Miss Sacher

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Yiddish community representation crystallized at the time under the name “Jewish National Council,” in which both active and passive voting rights were given to women. The idea of Eretz-Yisroel and national independence fused. The famous Zionist communal worker, Reb Moshe Laks, of blessed memory, once began to speak in the large synagogue with great inspiration, as if drunk from victories. He began with the famous words from Psalms: “When God will return the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers” [Psalm 126:2]. From one thing to the other, he came to the actual question of voting rights for the women. He argued with the audience in the following manner: “It says in the Torah (in the chapter of Berashis [“In the beginning…”]), “v'hu yimshal bakh,” which is usually translated as, “And he will rule over you.” However, we can also translate from fhe word “yimshal,” a moshal [an example], a parallel, and then the translation – v'hu yimshal - “And he will be equal to you.”

At that time, many Jews from the villages and from the smaller cities came to Kolomea and began to occupy a respected place. This development ended with the collapse of the Ukrainian government when the area was occupied first by the Romanians and then by the Poles. The provincial Jew, the agile one, who could climb the stairs of the economic ladder began to push out the old merchant, both in retail [trade] and in wholesale [trade], and even in industry. The Kosower Jews excelled particularly in this regard.

The newly-arrived also had an influence on the communal and cultural life and thus Kolomea became a mother city to the daughters [the shtetlekh]. These sincere young men from the shtetlekh brought fresh blood to the city and provided it with a particular hue. And on the other hand, many from Kolomea traveled to the larger cities and cultural centers of the Jewish world and there they were teachers of Hebrew and other subjects. There were many teachers from our city in Krakow, Munkacs (Czechoslovakia), Lodz and Warsaw. And Dr. Israel Osterzecer had the privilege of being a teacher in the famous Institute of Jewish Studies in Warsaw.

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The enthusiasm of the young faded over the course of years. As long as the political situation in Kolomea district was still not clear, the Jewish population developed educational establishments and cultural institutions that were dedicated to Yiddish and Hebrew. Only after the western states recognized the annexation of east Galicia to Poland did strong assimilation in Poland begin – not as a world view, but as a result of the Jewish life in exile where economic independence did not leave a place for a separate cultural-linguistic existence. Without doubt thousands wanted and strove to go to Eretz-Yisroel, but on one hand there were the bloody events in the country that were repeated often and, on the other hand, there were emigration restrictions; both factors prevented the accomplishment of the aspirations of the masses. This Zionism was a local matter in the kehile [the organized religious community] elections in the lands of exile, representation in the Sejm [Polish parliament], selling Shekels [membership in the Zionist party] and sending delegates to Zionist congresses. Only a small minority of the young chose the long, difficult road of halutszim [Zionist pioneer movement] and hakhshara [agricultural settlements where young Zionists prepared for emigration to Eretz-Yisroel].

 

D.

The third era stood as a mark of impoverishment and even decline. The Polish government published new edicts every day. True, Eretz-Yisroel was an actual reality; almost every family had relatives in Eretz-Yisroel. But, on the other hand, while they lacked power, there was a great awakening yearning for revolutionary actions, for a mass “clandestine immigration” movement in order to achieve the drive for liberation. And as true idealism was lacking and a certain weakness and indifference ruled on the Jewish streets, an interest began in the ephemeral life and “catch as catch can”– grab and eat. The physical discipline fit like a glove. During my last visit – in 1937 I could see for myself that many synagogues

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were half empty. And the khederim [primary religious schools] – except for the “Foundations of the Torah” [schools] – had almost entirely disappeared. The majority of the young already were receiving a Polish education. They learned Yidishkeit [Jewish way of life] – as in the American way – from private lessons in the afternoon. Divisions even appeared in the fortress of the Shomrei Shabbos [Guardians of the Sabbath]. The excessive practicality and the chase after income left no place for Yidishkeit and for spiritual matters.

Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the social fabric in Kolomea again woke up to a great charitable purpose and for fraternal aid on a very large scale. At that time, hundreds of families were brought to Kolomea from Auschwitz. These were the Jews from Poland and Galicia who had lived in Germany for scores of years, but they did not have German citizenship. And as believable evidence has shown, the entire Kolomea Jewish population was very moved by the fate of the new refugees. They were generously provided with apartments, food and drink, just as the Jewish city had cared about the military that crossed through the city at the outbreak of the First World War.

And even more: as I was told by a believable man, our landsleit [people from the same town] showed great self-sacrifice in saving Jewish souls, even during the time of the Nazi government. At the beginning of the war many Hungarian Jews who had Polish passports were driven to Kolomea. The Nazi government issued a decree and threatened death to everyone in Kolomea who permitted one of the deportees to spend the night. But no one thought about this decree; the Kolomea Jews risked their lives and gave their persecuted brothers a home in which to hide, eat and live.

 

E.

Ending my memories and impressions of my hometown, Kolomea, I still want to remember a few people who were very close to me and from whom I have written documents. It seems to me that it is worth publishing them on this occasion:

[Page 173]

  1. First, a few fragments from two long letters from my esteemed comrade, Meirtsie Etinger, of blessed memory, who has already been mentioned. The following excerpts are the Yiddish translations from the Hebrew text. The first letter was written Khol Khomoed [intervening days] Passover 5687 [1927], before he came to Eretz-Yisroel.
    “…my heart tells me that although we have chosen different roads in life and that we have parted ways – in truth, it is external. However, internally, in our hearts, we have common aspirations and goals – to discover and to purify the Jewish sparks in us and to bring them back to their source of origin. And on the way we will be able to unite the best of humanity and repair what we have damaged in the course of generations.

    “I will describe for you in subsequent letters my work over the years, since we have not seen each other. It was a time of much energetic work: I studied a great deal and could learn about life not only from books but also as it is: cruel and difficult. When I ended my university studies in Prague, I received a travel stipend to the eastern countries from the university. But the sum did not suffice for the entire trip – and I did not have any other money – I had to postpone the trip for a year and I was compelled to take on a teaching post in the Hebrew gymnazie [secondary school] in Munkacs [previously in Hungary, now Mukachevo, Ukraine]. This is the city famous in all of the lands of exile and I am sure that you have also heard of it. I have been sitting in the sticks for a few months now. True, my work in the school is very fruitful and nice. But I cannot study personally to the degree to which I am accustomed.

    “In the beginning of July I plan to travel to Eretz-Yisroel and I hope to see you there. But in the meantime, I still hope to hear from you details of your life and your deeds.”

    The lines of the second letter are dated the 9th of Chesvan, 5688 [4 November, 1927]. The letter was written after Dr. Etinger had been in Eretz-Yisroel for a short time:
    “I am greatly grieved that I have left Eretz-Yisroel. I cannot describe for you how great my longing is for Jerusalem, for the center of education and elevation of the spirit that one attains there. I now find myself in a city without education, where the Hasidim rule
[Page 174]
    without content. And, although I take part in the important work of laying the basis for a new Hebraic education, and although I have extraordinary success in my work – I do not have any satisfaction in this work because while here I have the influence, the highest authority in all matters, the “fear,” I have a need to be a “student.” The ideal of our people is the “learned man,” “to study” and not to be the teacher. Here I do not have any possibility of continuing my studies; for this reason my decision is to come to Jerusalem after the end of the school year – that means the end of June – and what will be will be.”
  1. An answer from my friend Leibish Heller, may the memory of a righteous man be blessed, to my letter in which I tried to convince him and other friends in Kolomea to come to Eretz-Yisroel and work with me in the Mizrakhi [religious Zionists] teachers' seminary; here in this letter he answered me (also in Hebrew):
    “My dear friend!

    “I have received your first letter from the land. It is difficult to describe the impression and the enthusiasm that I felt while reading; words do not suffice. Praise to God that you had the merit and you have seen the dream of your youth accomplished.

    “About your proposal that a number of our talented friends come there – great yasher koyekh [congratulations]. This is the best evidence that you have not forgotten us. However, I regret very much, my [heartfelt one], to write to you that this 'suffering' over which you have always lamented, increases from day to day. The difficult economic conditions force each of us to help his family in the difficult struggle. For example, our very talented comrade, Sobel – he spends his days and years in his shop on the “canal” in order to help his mother, the widow. Or our friend Menakhmen Sheinfeld, the enthusiastic Hovev Zion [Lover of Zion], who also studied in the Pedagogium [teachers' academy] of the Rabbi, Professor [Zwi Perez] Chajes, of blessed memory in Vienna, sits here in a dark cellar and sells pelts to the gentiles. And if the gentiles stopped coming to him, he has decided to move to a distant village so he can bring them his goods 'to their nose' and so on. This, my friend, is life here. And as I described the proposal to our friend Eliezer Dovid, he groaned bitterly and looked at me with pitiful eyes and stammered: 'Yes, the door is open, but we are bound…'”

[Page 175]

  1. And now a poem from my talented sister, Miriam'tsia, may she rest in peace; she was the youngest daughter and helped a great deal in earning money. This poem, which originally was written in Yiddish, expresses, to a certain extent, the situation of our young people in Kolomea in the years before the outbreak of the Second World War:
    I will my life
    Lament – as consolation,
    That I have given it
    Such wretched spirit.

    I believed that by age
    Twenty and a few –
    I would have [traveled] far
    In the far distance…

    Meanwhile, I have remained standing,
    Here and I cannot go anywhere.
    Although, you scream, although you shout,
    They do not let you go free.

    They need you
    To [share] the suffering of pain,
    To [join in] carrying the yoke,
    You are still needed.

    (Photo, caption: Histadrut haMizrakhi [Mizrakhi organization] in Kolomey, 1929)

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