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[Page 289]

Rabbi Haim Meyer Schmul

T. Yardeni

Translated by Selwyn Rose

 

An appreciation

The teacher, Rabbi Haim Meyer Schmul z”l was a very distinguished personality. A dignified face, with a full beard and intelligent eyes, he was content with his lot. On his head was the accolade “Torah B'Gaon”. His wisdom and knowledge of the Torah illuminated his face. He received with an open friendly face every person who came to him and fulfilled the Commandments in all their details.

Born in 1864 in Białystok, he studied in the Yeshiva of Volozhyn, he was a friend of the “Hafetz-Haim” and the Rabbi Haim Solobeiczyk of Brest. He married the daughter of Yakel Monis-Blumenthal, the Mohel, son of a respected family of Torah scholars.

He was installed as a Rabbi and Dayan in Sokółka in 1902.

The mother with her daughters
sok289a.jpg
 
sok289b.jpg
 
sok289c.jpg
Leah Shlomkowitz
(neé Schmul)
 
Rabbanit Heshka
(Sara-Hessia neé Blumenthal)
 
Tsirl Levine
(neé Schmul)

 

Rabbi Haim Meyer Schmul z”l studied Torah day and night, prayed in the “Shulhan AruchBeit Ha-Midrash in Ulitzki Street and every day between Mincha and Ma'ariv studied a page from the Gemara and debated the opinions of the “Shulhan Aruch” The Jews of Sokółka drank thirstily every word he uttered. He was in touch and involved with people and liked by all the congregation of the Beit Ha-Midrash. Good-humored and warm-hearted he loved to explain and compromise in debate, he was reasonable and modest in his manner and way of life, accepted and welcomed by the whole community, big and small. Rich and poor, he would test his students in the “Talmud Torah” with moderation and simplicity, without confusing the students. All his sons and daughters were confirmed Zionists, imbued with the doctrine of the rebirth of the Land of Israel. His son and two of his daughters live in Israel.

He died in 1918 in Białystok. May his memory be blessed.


Talmudists and Men of the Torah

M. T. Tsinnowitz

Translated by Selwyn Rose

 

Rabbi Eliyahu and his son-in-law Rabbi Hillel Moshe Gelbstein

The Hassidut of Kotzk spread throughout the Poland of the Congress, and reached the borders of Lithuania and was a well-entrenched front that had a special spiritual-social character and weight among the Jewish public. The Hassidic movement penetrated Sokółka, a town of “Mitnagdim” through the influence of one of its own “grandchildren” – Rabbi Eliyahu, a great scholar who sought out our great teacher the Great Rabbi Menachem-Mendel Morgenstern of Kotzk. In the book “The Lions of our Society” by Yehuda Leib Levine, that appeared in Jerusalem in 1957/8 Rabbi Eliyahu is described as “…one of the notables of the Kotzk Hassidim.”

Rabbi Eliezer was also among the few Hassidim in Białystok who sought to emulate Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk and even the fiercest of the Mitnagdim treated him with respect, because Rabbi Eliezer (father of a well-known family in Sokółka) was considered as one of the great scholars and arbitrators in Torah discussions. Rabbi Eliezer was a distinguished and righteous scholar, with modest ways and was well-accepted by the Kotzk Hassidim in Sokółka.

Rabbi Eliezer of Białystok arranged a marriage for one of the daughters of Rabbi Eliyahu, to the Hassidic scholar Rabbi Hillel-Moshe Gelbstein, born in Białystok and after the wedding was close to his son-in-law in Sokółka. After some time he immigrated to Palestine and was counted among the respected and distinguished citizens of Jerusalem.

The father of Rabbi Hillel-Moshe was Rabbi Tsvi-Hirsch who was a descendant of Rabbi Isaiah Halevy Horowitz, who, under the influence of Rabbi Eliezer became a convert to the Hassidism of Kotzk and some time later was attached the Gaon Rabbi Yitzhak-Meyer, the author of “Hiddushei-Harim” one of the founders of the famous dynasty of Gur.

Rabbi Hillel-Moshe made many visits to several of the greatest scholars of his time in order to imbibe their wisdom and learn their Holy ways. He also sat for 6 months in Lyubavitch the Habad city attracted to the light of the Gaon Rabbi Menachem-Mendel Schneerson, author of “Ha-Tsemach Ha-Tsadik”. In 1869 he immigrated to Palestine with his family and established himself in Jerusalem in the Old City, next to the Kotel. In his book “The Dwelling-place of the Mighty One of Jacob” he proved according to clues from the Kabbala, that the Halacha regarding the preservation of the Temple was incumbent upon us, even today, and therefore we must concern ourselves with the condition of the Kotel and perform any necessary repairs. Because of his extreme material distress the book remained in manuscript form and he was able to print two of the pages. In his opinion, a Beit Midrash should be built alongside the Kotel so that the voice of the Torah should not cease to be heard in that Holy place. With the permission of the Turkish authorities, it was usual to light candles alongside the Kotel every Friday evening and he led a regular Minyan for public prayer every day alongside the Western Wall.

Around him congregated students of the Torah who listened intently to his lessons openly and secretly. The Rabbis of Jerusalem, Rabbi Schneur z”lman Pradkin, author of “Torah of Grace” (ex-Father of the Beit Din in Lublin), and also the Mitnagdim Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin (the Rabbi of Brest, in Lithuania), Rabbi Shmuel Salant, the Rabbi of Jerusalem, regarded him highly. He published seven books, most of them on Kabbala and a few new interpretations on the six orders of the Mishna and some decisions.

Before he died, in 1908, he commanded his sons to maintain his own practice of lighting candles at the Kotel with the entrance of Shabbat.

They maintained their promise until it was completely banned by the Turkish authorities in 1911.

 

The First Cooperative Factory Processing Leather

The first cooperative of leather-workers was created in the factory owned by Meyer Buvrik. In the cooperative were factory owners in their own right and artisans and it was called “Partners”. The cooperative received an exclusive license to process leather from the Polish authorities.


[Page 292]

Rabbi Haim Berl Stein

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Rabbi Haim Berl was a wealthy philanthropic industrialist in his town and one of the founders of the leather industry. He dedicated much of his money to helping the needy by way of anonymous gifts and charities and was punctilious in preserving their privacy from the public. On Shabbatot and Festivals he would regularly invite soldiers who were garrisoned in the army camp,

Patriarch of a large, branched family in town, he regularly provided a meal for the poor at his children's weddings. He was loved by all sections of the community.

Esther Mishkinski (great-granddaughter)


Haya Efrati z”l

Translated by Selwyn Rose

sok293.jpg
Haya Efrati z”l

 

Within days of arriving in the country in 1921 she worked in Be'er Tuvia. Our group had asked Hanna Meisel to send us some pioneers from among the best students in the training farm in Tel-Aviv. Within a short time four girls arrived, among them Haya z”l. They were absorbed quickly into our group and became integrated members, paving together with us the cooperative movement in Palestine.

Haya came here from her home-town of Sokółka in Poland, at the height of the Third Aliya, a good time for the best of the Jewish youth of Russia and Poland to find their way here by any means they could.

A large part of her training took place here in Palestine. She knew Hebrew well. Her approach to work, home management, and order and group discipline was deeply embedded in her. Her early practical knowledge of conditions in the country she acquired in Hanna Meisel's school; the atmo-sphere of the pioneering spirit was very strong and wide-spread in those days and eased the adaptation of the new-comer, in spite of the many difficulties that piled up on the way.

In Be'er Tuvia, there were harsh working conditions for the girls in the group. The accommodation - wooden huts plastered over, were spread along the one street in the moshava. There was no kitchen and no dining room fit to be called by that name; one of the houses of the farmers was turned into a “dining-room” and another was the kitchen. The bread was kneaded by hand and baked in an oven fired by straw. Thick smoke came out of the oven and added to the heat and discomfort, burning the face during the hour it took to bake the bread. Cooked dishes were prepared on a primitive stove. It, too, was fired by branches and disused rafters. The pioneers got used to the conditions very quickly and except for the days when they were ill with malaria or other sicknesses the group life was pleasant and enjoyable and an atmosphere of homeliness spread throughout the settlement. The pleasant peaceful life of the small group at Be'er Tuvia was not destined to last long.

There was no possibility of creating and firmly establishing a viable cooperative farm in that backward place; there was no alternative other than to liquidate the project. Its members dispersed. A few continued a communal life-style and joined Kibbutz Geva. Others worked at an experimental station in Ben-Shemen as wage-earners. On the evening before we all separated, we had a wedding-feast to celeb-rate four weddings of couples who met the year the group was formed. Haya z”l was one of the couples who went to work in Ben-Shemen after the wedding.

Haya took an active role as one of the considered voices in the group; her frankness and simplicity and her simple faith, the modesty of her manner, with her love and dedication knew no limits regarding her family and the group – she contributed outstandingly to the development of the life of the group.

She was a consistent participant in the general meetings of the group. The Minutes Record of the meetings bears evidence to the number of times she spoke at the meetings and expressed her opinions. She maintained complete honesty and good relations with everyone, on problems of education and the improvement of working conditions. She was a member of the health and other committees. She functioned in all her positions with great competence.

The War of Independence that shook all of us, with many uncertainties and doubts, hopes and fears constantly changing places in our thoughts but at last finishing in a decisive victory to the inexpressible joy of all the people here and in the Diaspora – exacted from Haya and her family a tragic price with the death of her first-born son, Mordecai on the field of battle in the hills of Jerusalem, crowned with praise and heroism for his difficult and dangerous military missions, that he undertook throughout our war. In her tragedy Haya displayed her own motherly heroism by carrying her suffering with pride and courage even consoling and encouraging the rest of the family.

As the wife of our member Y. Efrati who always took upon his shoulders an overload of public responsibility, occupying himself with the needs of the Moshava, a member of the group and at the agricultural center, and from the first days of the State a member of the Knesset and deputy minister of agriculture she knew no escape from public duties that took from her most of her husband's time and placed upon her the yoke of running the home.

 

In Memory of a Grieving Mother

Haya! Your image has accompanied me from the moment you left us, never to return. I will see you resting on the lawn after a day's toil. It looked as though you were lying down and reading but all your being was saturated with sadness and pain. For a long time I thought that the sickness that bothered you was the reason for your sadness until I saw from a distance that the book you were holding was one of the memorial books for the fallen who gave their lives in the War of Independence. You were one with all the other fathers and mothers.

With darkness the book you were looking at was dropped and you were buried in a world of grief and sadness.

And still I see you striding along a pathway in our farm with a hoe close to your body. To where? To that little patch of land under which lies your dear one. Bent over and doubled up with steps much slower, I see you returning from there.

And no matter how much I wish to see Haya in the kindergarten, the little kitchen…it never happens.

Again I will see you in the dining-room, on the first Independence Day, the tables and the diners all speaking of festivity, only you clothed in black. Your head bowed in grief and your eyes shedding tears. Since that Festival evening, the same sad lament has been with me every Erev Shabbat and every festival.

Haya didn't get to enjoy full pleasure even from what little happiness that life granted her. The joy she had at Mica's wedding was diluted by the frantic worry of her son under siege in Jerusalem, and the birth her grandchild already born to mourn.

Haya, my dearest! We knew your habits and ways but not one of us knew that death was stalking you.

May your memory be blessed!

Esther Reiskind


[Page 295]

In Memory of Leah Perlstein

Translated by Selwyn Rose

sok295.jpg
Leah Perlstein z”l

 

Leah Perlstein was born in 1913 in Sokółka (Polessia) the daughter of traders and scholars. She studied in the “Tarbut” school and continued her education in the teachers' seminary in Grodno. She taught Hebrew in a few towns and then moved to Warsaw. She joined the pioneer movement by way of the teacher's organization that was formed in 1935 near the “Hehalutz” center. She did her training in Vilna and was then sent to Kibbutz Borochov in Łodż, by the Mercaz for training. That was a kibbutz branch with agricultural and other activities like a welding-shop, carpentry shop, laundry; about 400 people worked there.

When she arrived at Kibbutz Borochov, Leah worked in different places but after a short while began to concentrate her activities on Cultural themes – lessons in Hebrew and other topics. During that same period she also managed a course at train teachers of Hebrew in training Kibbutzim which were organized by “Hehalutz”. A short while after arriving at Kibbutz Borochov she was nominated as one of the candidate members of the kibbutz and was involved in all its doings and thus she was known to everyone.

In 1938 the Members Committee was formed near the Hehalutz center and Leah was transferred there together with Tsvia, Frumka, Tussia and other members of that committee.

With the outbreak of war Leah was in Kibbutz Łodż. Already in the first days of September the German army was at the gates of the city. Terrible panic gripped the Jews. Fear of immediate extermination reigned in the hearts of all the Jews and many tried to escape the city. A group of 10 members in the Kibbutz decided they would stay – one doesn't leave one's place of work and creative activity. Leah was among these ten members.

After wandering hither and thither for a few weeks, a few of the group retuned to Łodż. Here they had a roof over their heads and enough food to sustain themselves, thanks to those that guarded the kibbutz. At that time – the end of 1939, beginning 1940 – she lived in Kibbutz Łodż – a period of hanging on by one's finger-nails. Every day, representatives of the Gestapo would come, rob them of property and collect the members. Leah stood at the breach; she would enter into negotiations with the Germans, claiming that they were refugees trying to make a living from a little bit of work with virtually no supplies of any kind to old body and soul together. From time to time she even succeeded in getting one or two decrees deferred.

Her appearance and her language helped her to get out of the Ghetto and negotiate with the Germans and the Poles. She also took part in cultural activities of “Hehalutz” and managed courses and seminars in Hebrew.

In the summer of 1940, the Mercaz was indecisive about continuing the training courses. It was essential to get the members outside the walls of the Ghetto from the point of view of lack of food and little activity. Leah was placed in charge of 70 people who went out to do agricultural work for the owner of an estate, one Baczerniakov. The members revived; work, better food, relative freedom of movement all helped to improve the spirit: there was even singing, people broke into dancing. Even the foreigners knew – here were pioneers. Leah worked unceasingly; her seriousness and sense of responsibility brought her to the attention of the estate owner and he helped to improve the living conditions of the group. Leah, as always managed the cultural activities, holding conversations, the members became tied to her as if to a mother.

Every so often she would travel to Warsaw to arrange matters concerning the work-group and to discuss matters with the leaders and counselors of the Mercaz. Every exit and return to the Ghetto involved considerable danger but she was not deterred.

Summer ended and the group was returned to the Ghetto. The group waited impatiently for the coming of spring, to get out into the countryside, everyone turned to Leah and reminded her not to forget them when the group will be reformed. And Leah - still during the winter - began negotiating with the estate-owner encouraging him to increase the size of the group and accept them as fixed annual workers. When they went out to work in the summer of 1941 to Czarnków, they didn't return at the end of the season to Warsaw – they remained on the estate until summer 1942.

During that period when the journey was attended by serious dangers, Leah began to travel from Łodż to Warsaw and back to maintain contact with the Mercaz. Her “Aryan” appearance and her fluent Polish language were of infinite help.

Leah remained in the Kibbutz and was among the last to leave. The sewing-machines, the tools and instruments had already been stolen. There was no possibility of continuing and it was clear that the end had come; there was no hope that the project could continue.

The Jews of Łodż were already in a Ghetto and the Mercaz didn't agree that Leah should remain in Łodż. The members demanded that she return to Warsaw. She left Łodż after she had organized a core-group of the movement in the Ghetto. That was a group of female members who took on the task the continuation of operations and to maintain contact.

Czarnków became the center. It was the place where the members were able to move around freely. Here was the center of communications. It was the place where the members could hide, where they could masquerade as “Aryans” and move about on the roads and highways. Here they received material and information too distribute to the branches. Day and night, Leah's hands were full of work.

In the meantime, the “Purification” had begun. It was essential to save the members immediately. With the help of “Aryan” documentation the members managed to slip out of the Ghetto.Leah would produce documents like those and once she was caught by a Polish policeman at the Ghetto gates. The “quality” of the documents and her own courage saved her but she didn't stop her activities; she had one thought in front of her and one thought alone – To save.

The noose slowly tightened round the necks of the Jews in Warsaw. Preparations began for some kind of defense. The group in Czarnków was used as a center for the preparations. With the increase in “Purification” they were betrayed and the entire group returned to the Ghetto. Leah could have escaped but she went with the group explaining that she couldn't imagine the group without her – nor herself without her students.

The last information available tells that she was caught on the streets of Warsaw together with her friend Tamara Schneidemann and sent to Treblinka.

From Treblinka no one returns. Nevertheless it is difficult to internalize the fact that she is no longer with us. I will always see her – serious and a teacher – for that is what she was throughout every task she undertook - the teacher.

Itca


[Page 298]

In Memory of Leah Perlstein z”l

Translated by Selwyn Rose

From the dawn of my childhood I remember her. In the house we lived, in one class-room we studied together and the lessons we prepared together. In the beginning she didn't seem an outstanding pupil, just average, but after a few years she was one of the best students in the class.

Leah was an intelligent happy girl, with a sense of humor. Her genuine laugh was really catching. When she finished her schooling at “Tarbut” she travelled to Grodno to complete her studies at the Seminary.

The economic situation of the family was hard; her father had died and her two brothers, who worked in a leather factory, were the ones who supported the family which totaled six souls. With very limited resources and superhuman efforts Leah managed to continue studying at the Seminary and finished her courses successfully.

She was accepted as a teacher by the “Tarbut” in town – the same school that she, herself had attended.

Even though it was not entirely acceptable to be a teacher in a school where only a short time before one had been a pupil, the manager, Kollick, who had been her teacher, saw himself and his school as having special rights, that his well-liked and admired ex-pupil should sit with him on the pedagogical council and she didn't disappoint him.

With her dedication, love and patience, she enchanted the staff and the children. But she didn't wanted to stay in town; she was drawn to go farther afield and won a place in a school in Warsaw and there she was very active in the “Hehalutz” center.

She accompanied me to the train and with much emotion and complete confidence that we would meet again, we separated with “Lehitra'ot b'Aretz” (We'll see each other in Palestine”). It was our last meeting. She never succeeded in getting to the Land of Israel; the defiling hand of the Nazi murderers touched her and the thread of her young and daring life was cut off too soon.

She will be in our memory for-ever!

Pnina Saperstein


[Page 299]

Nathaniel Kaplan z”l

Translated by Selwyn Rose

One of the conspicuous figures in our town was the teacher Nathaniel Kaplan z”l. One who knew how to live a public life in the loftiest sense of the idea.

All the days of his short life were dedicated to education. He was the founder and manager of the “Tarbut” school in Sokółka which was distinguished by its standard of higher education. He contributed an important awareness of Zionism and penetrated and succeeded in introducing the idea of its fulfillment by indepedence, into the minds of the young people.

The “Tarbut” school struggled hard for its existence. The authorities did not view it favorably and its supporters were not over-confident about its continuation. Only the Rabbi's energy, his honesty and personal influence helped him in his war to have it continue until he raised it to a high level that won the praise of every inspector or critic – Jewish or otherwise.

“Kaplan” and “The school” were one and the same concept. In his activities he worried about the health of his poorer children, he established summer camps and clinics for laborers' children and gave them back the happiness of childhood that they had been deprived of. Among the builders of “Help for the Orphan” he ensured an atmosphere of a home for our orphaned children, struck by fate and acquired for them an education and a trade, giving them self-confidence and a productive life. At Passover-time he made sure of a Seder for the orphans, before sitting down to his own with his family; he gave a hand to every public and Zionist project, he was the Chairman of the K.K.L. and active in “Keren Hayesod” and among the friends of various labor movements and “Hashomer Hatza'ir”, aware of every public incident and event in town. The man, whose name was known throughout the town was taken from us and his family. His memory rests with us for eternity.

Meyer Kaplan


My Sister Hai'inta

Translated by Selwyn Rose

My sister's name was Haya-Yenta and when we said it quickly it came out as one word -“Hai'inta” Many people in town knew her by that name. I remember when she finished her studies. In the short time she spent at home until she left home she was a teacher, she gave private lessons. In Sokółka not a few of the children wanted to learn but many were unable to do so. Those who came to my sister for lessons but were unable to pay, received free lessons – there was never a rejection, even though her own position was precarious.

We once had a visitor – one of her students from years gone by who had received free lessons. Years had gone by and he came to say thank you, full of gratitude and satisfaction with his life and said my sister had given him the foundation to build upon and attain his achievements and he had never forgotten. The former student was not the only one.

My sister was good-hearted and able to listen with attention. She was loved by all. The children remember her visits as a festival.

Her memory will not fade.

Zippora Schmidt-Weisbol


[Page 300]

Mascha Hinski

Translated by Selwyn Rose

sok300.jpg
Mascha Shapira-Hinski

 

Mascha Hinski z”l was born in 1893 in Sokółka to her parents, Feigel and Haim-Yehoshua Shapira. She was educated in the spirit of Zionism and received training in pioneering agriculture and immigrated to Palestine in 1921. She joined a Sokółka group working initially in Hadera and then moved to Kyriat Anavim.

In 1923 when the group left Kyriat Anavim Mascha joined Moshav Malal and there she put down her roots. She married Avraham Hinski and gave birth to two sons and a daughter. She contracted a malignant illness and suffered much until summer 1959 when she passed away. She was taken to the cemetery of Kfar Malal and there she was buried in the place to which she had devoted most of her life building the country.

She will never be forgotten.

 

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