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[Page 241]

On the Spot Social Assistance

We recall several of the “social workers” of Sanok who did their work in a voluntary fashion, without expectation of recompense, whether driven by an internal drive or feelings of mercy, or whether as a fulfillment of the traditional religious command of “you must surely help him” -- or perhaps both together.

We will recall them here in the order that they come to memory.

 

Reb Zushe Hasendlar (the Cobbler)

by Aryeh Lerner of Haifa

Translated by Jerrold Landau

As was the case with all Jewish communities in Galicia, Sanok was also full of fine observant Jews, scholars, Hassidic sects who were hostile to each other, well-off Jews and also wealthy Jews, but also many needy Jews. There were also Jews who were living in great poverty. However, mutual social assistance was common in the city, thanks to which many were saved from the disgrace of hunger.

Reb Zushe the cobbler played a large role in this social assistance. When I recall his tall, awkward appearance, with his brownish face adorned with a pointed grayish black beard, and bright eyes beneath his broad, arched forehead -- the image of Reb Zushe of blessed memory -- appears before my eyes along with the Street of the Jews, with its filthy, shaky houses, and the degenerate poverty that emanated from them. For there was a strong link between Reb Zushe and this poverty. Apparently Reb Zushe, a simple man and poor cobbler, who did not excel in Torah and wisdom, possessed a great soul that was imbued with 99 measures of mercy and love of his fellowman. What would have been the fate of many unfortunate souls were the helping and supportive hand of Reb Zushe not to have reached them? He did not perform his holy work of charity and benevolence with noise and fanfare. He would discretely and modestly visit the vulnerable areas in the morning, noon and evening, with loaves of bread or other articles of food under his arm. At times, he even had a bundle of coins. Many people poured out the bitterness of their hearts to him, knowing that his ear was attentive, and their troubles would not be spread into the public domain, Heaven forbid. Who provided for his many “needs”? From where did he derive his budget? This man was a minister of assistance without an official office, and a minister of the treasury without a certified budget. No philanthropist or donor stood behind him to assist him with his budget, or by providing monetary grants. He took on the actual concerns himself. He himself made the rounds to the doors of the philanthropists of the city -- at times literally from house to house. He collected money in order to give over to his needy people. He was forced to do this, for he had no other source, and he was poor himself. With his concern and actions for others, he almost completely forgot about himself and his own family. He did not develop himself as a shoemaker, and he did not nurture his own livelihood. The question “and if you should ask, what will we eat?” Found its answer -- albeit in a meager fashion -- from the small support that was sent from time to time to him by his daughters in America. After some time, they even brought him to America to live there, for he faced the disgrace of hunger with the increase of the economic straits in Poland during the mid 1930s. However, our Reb Zushe could not maintain his stand in America, where he had no arena for his charitable and benevolent works. He returned to Sanok and continued his previous customs until setting out on his journey of tribulation and suffering to the towns of Siberia to where he was exiled. Even there, in that “reality”, Reb Zusia found the time and “opportunities” to continue with his “task”.

Aryeh Lerner of Haifa


[Page 242]

Reb Reuven Lieber and his Wife

by Ascher Bit

Translated by Jerrold Landau

They were involved in acts of charity and benevolence for all their days, without tiring -- each one of them with their own bodies and the money of others.

With their own bodies -- for both of them, Reb Reuven and his wife, occupied themselves with the commandment of visiting the sick, in the true sense of the commandment. That is, they would tend to the sick where there was a need to help the sick person and their family. They would not only visit for the sake of supporting and lightening the spirits of the sick person and the family, but rather to literally lighten the physical burden by tending to the sick person while he was lying on their sick bed, or by standing guard at the bedside throughout the night in cases where the family members were already weary from tending to the sick person during the day. This would give them the opportunity to rest a bit and regain their strength. They did other similar things as well.

Reb Reuven was extremely diligent about performing acts of kindness -- and at times even kindness of truth[1] -- with the deceased and with the surviving family members, for he was active in the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) and was involved in arranging funerals and burials, and in comforting the mourners with all of his energy, even when he was already old. He performed his acts with full seriousness, as if it was his own deceased person or relatives.

Reb Reuven Lieber earned special appreciation, approaching reverence, from the Jews of Sanok when they saw him -- albeit only rarely, at times of need, usually once a year -- burying “sheimos”, that is, torn pieces of paper, pages, parts of books and prayer books that had been collected throughout the year in special boxes in every hallway, and corridors of the houses of worship[2].

This activity achieved two goals: a) honor to the holy “sheimos” and prevention of their desecration by rolling on the ground without any concern for their holiness; and b) were Rev Reuven not to engage in this activity once a year, the “sheimos” would eventually pile up into huge heaps and become a communal menace or even a threat to public health.

Photograph
Rev Reuven Lieber and his wife

This activity was executed by Reb Reuven by no small amount of running from one house of worship to the next, and by enlisting the youths who studied in the Beis Midrashes and kloizes to assist him with this endeavor. The endeavor included: collecting

[Page 243]

the “sheimos”, placing them in sacks, loading them on a wagon, hauling them to the cemetery -- the Jewish one of course -- and burying them there in a special grave that was designated by the Chevra Kadisha for this purpose.

This was done with the money of others, for Reb Reuven Lieber and his wife were of meager financial means. They earned their simple livelihood from their small shop with great difficulty. Nevertheless, they carried out large-scale charitable acts by collecting money and canvassing people of means to set up a charitable fund. Reb Reuven himself canvassed for the charitable fund. He founded it, and he served as its director. Many Jews were helped greatly by receiving long or short term interest-free loans from this fund, with very low and easy repayment rates.

Many Jews of the city owe a debt of thanks to Reb Reuven who enabled them to maintain their stand in their economic struggle and in their struggle for existence, until they were able to extricate themselves from their financial straits.

Reb Reuven also used the money of the charitable fund for the purpose of tending to the sick of the Jewish residents of the city. This was done by providing medical assistance to needy sick people, whether by direct financial support to the sick person or his family, or whether by obtaining needed medicine and appropriate food for the sick person. In cases of need, they also provided additional food for the family of the sick person and for the sick person himself.

By Ascher Bit


Sara Kuehl

by Ozer Pipe

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Photograph
Sara Kuehl
Who did not know Sara Kuehl, the activist of the “Jewish women's organization”? She would come to every festive event such as engagement parties, weddings, circumcisions, and the like to collect

[Page 244]

money for the Jewish sick who were hospitalized or convalescing in their homes. She would carry out her work energetically and with dedication. She paid no heed to rainy or cold weather, even when accompanied by snow or ice. She also did not take heed of her own health, even when the threat of a cold or other illness existed. The presidents of the “women's union”, Mrs. Dr. Romer, often expressed her surprise of her behavior when she came to her house for official matters even when it was raining or cold, endangering her state of health. We members of her household already knew that when she was absent from the house, it was certainly because she was visiting some Jewish celebration to collect money for sick people. She did not want to give up on this mitzvah of collecting money for those in need, even in her old age.

Sara Kuehl was a very religious woman. Nevertheless, she had relations with the “upper windows” of Sanok. Everyone knew that Sara had connections with government authorities, and was able to find her way and language with the military doctor, the mayor, the general solicitor, and the district governor, etc.

Still, during the days of Austrian rule, Sara Kuehl became known for the interview that she had with regard to Kaiser Franz Joseph for the benefit of her father Pesach Langsam, the owner of the estate. After she returned from this interview, high government officials greeted her at the train station and nicknamed her Bismark...

When Max Jonas, the well-known philanthropist from America, visited his brother Tzvi Jonas in Sanok, Sara Kuehl entered into negotiations with him and succeeded in obtaining a significant financial donation for the benefit of the sick people that she supported. Before she died, she summoned her successor, Mrs. Tova Dorlich, and gave her a bank book that included 300 dollars for the needs of charity, the fruits of her savings.

Ozer Pipe

*

As we discuss here the level of dedication and willingness to offer assistance to one's fellow, we will mention those sublime personalities whose good heart and warm, motherly feelings of mercy led them to charitable deeds and benevolent acts much greater than their own energies and beyond the call of duty. These include

Sara Berger, the wife of Reb Yisrael Shlomo Berger
Reizel Berger-Kesler, the wife of Rev Eliahu Berger may he live
Bracha the midwife
Roze Weiner, the wife of Reb Yitzchok Weiner
Malka Gittel Lazar
Malka Rabach, the wife of Reb Yosef Rabach
Tulcha Rotenberg, the wife of Reb Chaim Rothenberg
Sara Reizel's (Leibowicz)
Chaya-Sara Sharbit (Schwerd) the wife of Reb Chaim Schwerd the shochet
Details highlighting their personalities will be noted beside the names of each of them, at appropriate places in our book. The reader will find them easily via the index at the end of the book.

___________

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Kindness of truth (Chesed Shel Emet) is a term used for doing acts of kindness toward a dead person (i.e. Ensuring proper burial). It is called by this term as there can be no expectation of reward at all from the deceased. return
  2. Worn our holy books such as prayer books and works of Torah are not to be thrown out, but rather buried. The term 'sheimos' itself means 'names', refering to the names of G-d on the holy books that are not to be defaced. return

 

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