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{116}

My father-in-law Rabbi Shabtai Zeev Frydman of blessed memory

Translated by Jerrold Landau

        Famous rabbis, who were people of stature and great in Torah and teaching, occupied the rabbinical seat of Stawiski, and in their merit, Stawiski became known as an important Jewish city.

        During my youth, when I studied in the Beis Midrash in Stawiski, I heard a great deal about these Torah luminaries, their righteousness and generous characters. One of them was Reb Chaim Leib Stawisker, who was numbered among the greats of the previous generation. At that time, I also heard that the lion of the sages of our generation, the Chofetz Chaim [1] , came to Stawiski as a young man, and studied Torah in a discrete fashion in the Beis Midrash of our city, in order to cleave to the dust of the feet [2] of Reb Chaim Leib of holy blessed memory, and to hear Torah from his mouth.

        My mother of blessed memory told me a great deal about him. She would frequent his house, for during his time, her uncle Reb Yisrael Yaakov served as a rabbinical judge and teacher of righteousness in Stawiski. She would also recall my uncle with great reverence. He was known as a rabbi, halachic decisor, a sharp expert, as a unique individual – not only as an expert in Jewish law, but also as a person with a refined soul, who possessed fine character traits, was pleasant with his fellow man, modest, and fled from honor.

        Everything that I know about Rabbi Chaim Leib Stawisker is from information and stories that have come my way. Nevertheless, I did know his son, who was great in his own right, Rabbi Ch. Y. Myszkowski of holy blessed memory. I remember him from my youth, when I studied in the Yeshiva of Lomza, and he was serving as a rabbi in Krynki at the time.

        Already prior to the Second World War, Rabbi Myszkowski was renowned as one of the pillars of Torah Jewry in Poland, and as the right hand man of Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski of Vilna [3] . Rabbi Myszkowski arrived in the Land after the outbreak of the war and immediately dedicated his life to saving the remaining survivors of Polish Jewry. He was the first to organize assistance for hundreds of rabbis and Yeshiva students who fled from Poland to Soviet Russia. When Rabbi Herzog [4] went to Europe at the end of the war to support and encourage the Holocaust survivors, he went before him to lay the groundwork for his activities. He went to Rome and Paris, and when he saw what the enemy, may its name be blotted out, had perpetrated upon the Jewish people, he took seriously ill from the great tribulations and anguish, and died in the Land, approximately one week after returning from Europe. A high level Yeshiva was established in Israel in his name as a token of recognition.

        One of the great rabbis who occupied the rabbinical seat of Stawiski, whom I merited to befriend, was Rabbi Binyamin Remigolski. I became close to him already during my youth, and I was most fortunate to hear Torah from his mouth. I numbered among those who frequented his house. His young son Aryeh (Leibele), a person with a good heart just like his father, was my friend. We studied together at the Hebrew school that was founded by his father, the rabbi of the city. We began together to read Hebrew books when we were about ten or eleven years old. We continued our friendship in Vilna, where he studied in the Polish Gymnasia, and I studied in the Seminary for Hebrew Teachers. Our paths separated when we went abroad to continue our studies. At the conclusion of the Second World War, when I was already in the United States, the sad news reached me from Israel that Dr. Aryeh Remigolski died in his prime. Woe over such a fine person who was swallowed by the earth [5] .

        Since I was among those who would visit the home of Rabbi Remigolski, I had opportunity to get to know him from close and to witness his holy ways. He conducted the rabbinate with a strong hand, but he did not play favorites. He was upright in his ways and noble in spirit. He loved people, and brought everyone close to Torah. His home was a gathering place for the wise.

{Photo page 117: Rabbi Shabtai Zeev Frydman of blessed memory.}

        There was a general principal among the parnassim (communal administrators) of Stawiski: one ascends in holiness and does not decline [6] . When Rabbi Remigolski was appointed as the rabbi of Griva [7] , he was replaced by Rabbi Reuven Kac, who had previously served in Indura (Amdor) near Grodno. Rabbi Kac was famous for his important books: the “Degel Reuven book of responsa; and “Dudaei Reuven”, and “Shaar Reuven” – explanations on the five books of the Torah and articles on questions of Judaism and the state. Rabbi Kac occupied the rabbinical seat of Stawiski for approximately seven years. He worked very hard on behalf of the Jewish community there. Afterward, he was accepted as a rabbi in a large community near New York, and, upon making aliya, he became the chief rabbi of Petach Tikva.

        A native of Stawiski also sat on the rabbinical seat of Stawiski; that is to say someone who was born and educated in that city. This was my father-in-law Rabbi Shabtai Zeev Frydman.

        Rabbi Shabtai Zeev was the son of Rabbi Avraham Eliahu Frydman, who was himself great and eminent in Torah. My father-in-law excelled in his studies already in his childhood, and his name went forth as a genius, expert and sharp. He studied in the great Yeshivas of Poland and Lithuania, especially in the Yeshiva of Radun, which was headed by the Chofetz Chaim. He cleaved to the dust of his feet, drank his waters with thirst, and merited to be his private secretary.

        Filled to the brim with Talmud, Reb Shabtai Zeev returned to his native city. There he married Sara Reizl, the daughter of Reb Yehuda and Chava Perlowicz. My mother-in-law was a fine woman, modest and refined. She loved Torah, and did good deeds for those both near and far. After the marriage, my mother-in-law, who was a woman of valor in the full sense of the term, took the yoke of livelihood upon herself and sent her husband off to continue occupying himself with Torah. Young Reb Shabtai Zeev took up his staff, sack, and Tallis and Tefillin bag, and went off to a place of Torah, to the town of Eishyshok (Pol: Ejszyszki, Lith: Eisiskes) near Radun. In the Kollel [8] there, he deepened his knowledge of Yoreh Deah and Choshen Mishpat [9] , and when he returned to his native city, he was ordained as a rabbi by the heads of the Yeshiva of Volozhin. He was appointed as a rabbinical judge in Stawiski, and filled the place of Rabbi Reuven Kac during his absences from the city.

        In his introduction to my father-in-law's book Tevuat Yaakov, Rabbi Reuven Kac writes, among everything else: “I knew the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Shabtai Frydman as great and praiseworthy during the period that he served as rabbi of the city of Stawiski. He would fill my place in all matters of religion and jurisprudence during my absences from the city. He also involved himself in communal affairs, and aided and assisted anyone who required support and assistance.

        During the era that my father-in-law served as a rabbi in Stawiski, the rabbi in a city of scholars as well as laymen who were great in Torah, he merited serving in a most honorable fashion despite his young age. He entered with full force into communal work, and dedicated himself with a full heart to any communal role that was placed upon him. He did everything without the aim of receiving reward.

        I heard a great deal about his activities in matters of charity, good deeds, and support of religion. He was especially active on behalf of the Mizrachi movement and the redemption of the Land. He did great things in a trailblazing manner for Hebrew education. He was one of the founders of the Talmud Torah – a school for poor children whose parents were not able to afford the tuition fees of private teachers. He would visit this institution on regular occasions, examine the students, and take pride in the knowledge that they obtained within the walls of that institution.

        His public activities did not impinge upon his diligent Torah study, which took place day and night. His name went forth in a praiseworthy manner as a rabbi and judge, who had a sharp intellect and a clear way of thinking. His expertise was especially great in the laws of monetary matters, and he was always chosen as an adjudicator in his city and in nearby cities.

        When Rabbi Shabtai Zeev left Poland and traveled to the United States, he had the honor of serving in the large Neve Shalom synagogue of Brooklyn.

        A new chapter of his life opened when he came to America. There he found a large field of activity for spreading the study of Torah and communal work. His external appearance also attracted the hearts of those that saw him. He had all of the fine traits mentioned with respect to a communal representative [10] : his beard was grown, his youth was well spent, and his voice was pleasant. His name went forth very quickly in America as one of the greatest halachic decisors, especially in the fields of divorce (gittin) and marriage laws. The rabbis of America posed to him their complicated questions regarding the realities of life in the United States. His responses were always well thought out and right on the mark. Within a brief period of time, he succeeded in penetrating the thickness of he wall of Jewish life in America. He was active on the rabbinical council of New York. I was an eyewitness to the effort and toil that he devoted to the great enterprise of “Ezras Torah”, which was founded by his friend Rabbi Yisrael Rozenberg of Lomza. The aim of that institution was to offer assistance in an honorable manner to thousands of scholars and important people in the Land and in the Diaspora. His home was wide open to any person. Anyone with a problem on his mind found an attentive ear and an open heart (and also an open pocket…). His refined rebbetzin assisted him in these endeavors. She was pleasant to everyone.

        I would sit with him for many hours during long winter nights, discussing ideas of Torah and the issues of the world. I never saw in him signs of fatigue. He would stay up late at night, studying with diligence, despite the urgings of his rebbetzin that it was time to rest from the problems of the day. Due to our discussions, I realized that my father-in-law was also expert in Jewish history and Hebrew literature. He was a blend of an Orthodox rabbi and an enthusiastic Zionist.

        In addition to his expertise in rabbinical decisions, he was also an accomplished orator. He enchanted the congregants of his synagogue in Brooklyn with his sermons.

        He believed with full faith that “the religion could sustain itself in America only because of the sermons of the sermonizers, the speeches of the speakers, and the preaching of the preachers”, and that “only thanks to their words, the Zionist idea continues to win over hearts, and strike deep roots within the people towards a great desire for the Land of Israel”. “I reminded them often about the words of Rabbi Levi in the Midrash of the Portion of Kedoshim [11] : all good, blessing and consolations that the Holy One Blessed Be He will eventually bestow upon the Jewish people will only be through Zion”. (Quoted from the introduction of his exegetical work “Mishan Mayim”.)

        There was no bound to his happiness at the founding of the State of Israel. During those days, he was like an overflowing well. During his sermons in the synagogue and his speeches at many gatherings, he never ceased to point out the strong connection between the Land of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the people of Israel, as well as his love for the building of the Land.

        My father-in-law not only spoke well, but he fulfilled properly his own words. He left the rabbinate in America in the year 1951, after having occupied the rabbinical seat of Neve Shalom for almost 25 years, and he made aliya with his wife to the Land. When he arrived in the Land, he was greeted with great honor by the rabbis of Israel, thanks to his reputation as a great scholar and a religious Zionist activist. He had three daughters and seven grandchildren in Israel, “Fruits of the Land”. He set up his home in the Karkur Moshava with his daughter Tova.

        He did not rest on his laurels in the Land. He prepared his books on halacha and aggadah (Jewish traditional lore) for print. In his preface to his first book “Yekev Zeev” that was already printed in New York in the year 5611 (1951), Rabbi Frydman apologizes for being brazen enough to publish his own novellae: “I realize my lack of worth, and I know myself that it is not my place to publish books. However, since many of my rabbinical friends and also my colleagues urged me to organize my novellae so that I could publish them, I gave in to them, and following their advice, I organized a few of the many in such a fashion that I would be able to publish them.”

        His first book “Yekev Zeev” that appeared a short time before his departure from America gained very positive reviews n the Torah world. Many of the rabbis of America published in the newspapers of New York words of praise for the book, which excelled in its presenting his clear thoughts and pleasant style.

        After the publication of his first book, which merited great acclaim among those that study Torah, my father-in-law hoped that G-d would give him the strength to prepare and publish all of the following six books of his: “Mishan Mayim”, “Tevuat Yaakov”, “Imre Shefer”, “Mili Dehespeda”, “Mili Deavot”, and “Amira Neima” [12] . However, he only merited to publish one of these books in his lifetime “Mishan Mayim” that includes sermons and speeches appropriate for each Sabbath and festival of the year. He called this book “Mishan Mayim” (Staff of Water) in accordance with the words of our sages in the Talmudic tractate of Chagiga, page 14: “Every Staff of Water – this refers to words of aggada (lore) that attract the hearts of people like water”. This book is a comprehensive treasury of ideas and thoughts based upon the five books of the Torah, the prophets, and the words of the sages. This book also won great acclaim in the Torah world.

        My father-in-law lived in Karkur for about four years, and he endeared himself greatly to the residents of the Moshava and the surrounding area. His strength did not fail and his eyesight did not dim until his final year. The study of Torah did not depart from his mouth. In his letters to us he wrote that he feels in his heart that any strength granted to him by his Creator comes to him because he merits to live in the Land of Israel with his daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. His joy of living in the Land of Israel only lasted a few years, for in his fourth year of living there, on the 5 th of Adar 5615 (1955), he returned his pure soul to his Creator, to the sorrow of his daughters, sons, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, grandchildren and other family members, and to the sorrow of all of his acquaintances and friends.

        After his death, his brother Rabbi Moshe Farber published his last book, called “Tevuat Yaakov”. This book had the approbations of the Torah giants of Israel: the chief rabbi Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman; Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna, the head of the Yeshiva of the Chevron “Knesset Yisrael”; and of Rabbi Reuven Katz. In their approbations, the rabbis of Israel write the following in this third book of Rabbi Shabtai Zeev Frydman of blessed memory, among other things: “It is fitting and important that his words be received in the Beis Midrash, and as was his deeds with the first book, so it is with the third book – the fruits of thoughts about Torah with a great scope and delving into halacha” (Rabbi Unterman); “This book is a precious treasure of novellae and explanations built upon the foundations of thought and understanding” (Rabbi Reuven Katz). These three books should serve as a sign and testimony to a pure soul, great in Torah, in whose heart a holy flame of love of the people of Israel, the Land of Israel, and the Torah of Israel burnt all the days of his life.

May his soul be bound in the bonds of the lives of the pure pious people, who labor in Torah and good deeds.

New York


{120}

My Two Grandfathers of Stawiski

Yehoshua Maaravit

Rabbi Shabtai Frydman of holy blessed memory

Translated by Jerrold Landau

        From my earliest childhood, my soul was attached to my grandfather Shabtai. I felt a special bond to him, as if he was attached to me. He is guarded within me in the place where I place him, and from where I will now bring him forth – from the inner chambers of my soul and the storehouse of my heart.

        We had a wonderful relationship between us, a relationship without prying and investigation, without questions and answers. This was a relationship that was beyond time, beyond life and death. Even now, It is not clear to me from whence this relationship flowed. One thing I do know, it is guarded in my heart.

        What was most wondrous about this is that I never saw my grandfather Shabtai with my own eyes. He made aliya a month before I was born, and when I was two years old, he died and was buried in the holy land [13] .

        Grandfather bequeathed to us three books that he wrote: “Yekev Zeev”, “Mishan Chaim”, and “Tevuat Yaakov” – all of them filled with pearls of wisdom and Torah. My mother likes to tell that grandfather dedicated his body and blood to them. He toiled greatly during his life, and these are the fruits of his efforts, treasures written on paper.

        I recall that when I was a very young soul, I used to leaf through grandfather's books. I would say, “A day will come when I will know how to read clearly the language of the Torah that is necessary to study them”.

        Years went by. My period of youth passed, yet still being a youth, where is the study and the grasp of Torah?

        Grandfather would forgive me, for he was a man of kindness and great love. Even though my dreams and wishes were not fulfilled in their entirety, his sublime character and memory are very dear to me, and his death did not separate us.


{121}

Elchanan Maaravit, may G-d avenge his blood

        Grandfather perished in the terrible, frightful storm that descended upon the Jewish community of Europe. There is no monument over his grave, no remaining photograph, and no documents. The only thing that is left is his memory, which is very dear to me.

        I thought a great deal about my father's father and his toil. He had sons and daughters. Torah was the path of his house, and labor had two meanings – the service of G-d and the work of the hands.

        On more than one occasion I see in the eyes of my spirit the house in which my father grew up – an old, large house, full of life and bustling with children. I imagine before my eyes the image of grandfather: he loved his fellowman, and was beloved by everyone. I see him as a quiet man, immersed in thought and contemplation, carrying out his work with diligence and faithfulness.

        An additional picture appears before the eyes of my spirit: Grandfather would return home towards the end of the day, and sit down with his sons and daughters to dine around the large, old table. They would discuss the issues of the day. Grandfather would dedicate the hours after work to the study of Torah, in order to fulfill the directive: “Make your Torah your steady occupation” [14] .

        Behold, when the darkness descended upon the town and the lights were put out in his house, grandfather would thank G-d for the fortune and happiness which He had blessed him with, and would request from the All Merciful to spread the canopy of peace upon him and the members of his household [15] . However, his prayerful request was not accepted. The dream was buried. The treasures of my heart no longer exist. Grandfather was murdered; grandmother was murdered. The town was destroyed and the community was exterminated. There is nobody other than my father who can tell about his father and what happened in his houses.

New York


{122}

The Prodigy of Stawiski – Rabbi Dr. Efraim Edelsztejn of blessed memory

Dr. Yom Tov Lewinski

Translated by Jerrold Landau

        Reb Zanwil Edelsztejn was one of the most important householders of Stawiski at the beginning of the 19 th century. He was an honest merchant, G-d fearing and a great scholar. His wife, the daughter of Rabbi Aharon Yoel of Stawiski, was a righteous woman known for her good deeds. She was also the “magedet” in the women's gallery in the synagogue – that is to say, she would direct the women in matters of prayer, and read to them on Sabbaths from the book “Tzena Urena” [16] , as was the custom of those days. They were charitable people. They gave of their bread to the poor, and supported poor scholars with their money. However, they had no children of their own.

        The elders of the community would often relate: One day, a holy rabbi passed through Stawiski, and remained in town for the Sabbath. As was customary, he was hosted in the home of Reb Zanwil. When the rabbi and Tzadik saw their agony, he blessed them to have living and viable children. “The son which will be born to you”, said the Tzadik, “will light up the eyes of people with his Torah”. Indeed, as the year turned, they bore a son in good fortune, and called him Efraim.

        Efraim displayed special abilities already in his youth. He started studying in cheder at age three, and within a short period of time, he knew how to worship as an adult. He started studying Talmud when he was six years old, and he astounded his teachers with his quick grasp and sharpness. He was given the name “The Prodigy of Stawiski” at age seven, and it was difficult to find a local teacher for him. When he was about ten years old, he would sit in the Beis Midrash and study Talmud himself, without a teacher. The rabbi of the city taught him every day for an hour or two Torah, rabbinical decisions, and responsa. He was effusive in his praise of the boy. Due to his great sharpness, he would disrupt the students in the Beis Midrash with his questions, and when they could not answered him, he would mock them. His father was saddened about this and took counsel with the rabbi: “What should we do with a lad who embarrasses the scholars?” The rabbi advised: “We have to enter him very soon into the burden of the ways of the world and find a wife for him. Then he will change his ways.”

        They married him off when he was thirteen years old. Reb Tevil Warsawer of Lublin, a wealthy merchant, gave him his only daughter as a wife and offered to support him at his table until he would grow in Torah and be accepted as a rabbi in one of the communities.

        The youth sat in the Yeshiva of Lublin and studied all day. His father-in-law loved him very much, and predicted greatness for him. They called him “Efraim the Prodigy of Stawiski” at Yeshiva. He was ordained at age seventeen, when he was already the father of two children.

        Suddenly, a different spirit overcame him. By chance, he found a small Hebrew book by the physician Reb Tovya the son of Moshe the Cohen, called “Maase Tovia” (published in Venice, 1708). This book dealt with metaphysics, astronomy, geography, and human science. The author wrote at length about the four foundations of nature: fire, water, wind and dust, and explained several things about the science of medicine. This book caused a change in the heart of the prodigy of Stawiski. He was especially influenced by the preface. In the preface, the author Reb Tovya the physician explains how he escaped together with a friend from the Yeshiva in Poland to Germany in order to acquire education. He did not rest and was not quiet until he was accepted to a university, where he studied natural sciences and medicine.

        The prodigy of Stawiski decided to do so himself. Secretly and diligently, he began to study Polish, German, mathematics and nature. He did not abandon the Talmud, and he studied in the Beis Midrash daily. He would study the books of the Rambam (Maimonides), as he secretly advanced in his secular studies. He was granted the title of “Moreinu” (Our Teacher) when he was twenty years old, and his father-in-law got in touch with well-connected activists to help find him a rabbinical seat in one of the communities.

        One day, Reb Efraim disappeared. He took the dowry with him that was hidden in a closet, abandoned his wife, left his children, and covered his trail. He left a note for his wife saying that she should not worry about him, for he went abroad to acquire knowledge. He said he would return to her when he reached his goal.

        A few years alter, a merchant from Lublin returned from the fair in Vienna and told the people there that he met the prodigy of Stawiski, who was wearing short clothing like a German, had a trimmed beard, and without doubt has entered into a bad group, Heaven forbid. His father-in-law heard this and hurried to Vienna. He searched for his son-in-law and found him sitting in a university studying medicine. He pleaded with him in vain to return to his wife and children, promising to turn his business over to him. Efraim answered: “I will finish my course of study and return to my family.” The father-in-law saw that it was impossible to convince Efraim to return home, so he advised him to grant a divorce to his wife, for he did not want a son-in-law who was an apikorus [17] . Efraim proved to him that he remained faithful to the commandments and orthodox in his religion, but the father-in-law did not want to listen. Unwillingly, Efraim agreed to send a get (bill of divorce) to his wife.

        Reb Efraim was distraught for some time that he was forced to divorce his wife, however he slowly regained his composure and continued his studies in the university. He graduated as a doctor of medicine from the University of Vienna in 1835. He then returned to Poland, to his birthplace of Stawiski, being about 35 years old. The Polish authorities did not authorize him to practice medicine until he would pass a test in Warsaw, called “Nostriphysica”. He was examined in Warsaw in 1836 and he received a license to practice medicine throughout Poland. There was no possibility of earning a living from medicine in Stawiski, for it was a small town and could not support an additional doctor over and above the regular Polish doctor. Therefore, he went to Lomza to find a position in a large city. First, he went to the “Chevra Shas” Beis Midrash, took a Talmud, and sat down to study. The students of the Beis Midrash were astonished. How could it be? A young man, shaven, wearing “German” clothing, with the face of a German nobleman – how could he be sitting and studying Torah? They began to investigate him and found that he was expert in Talmud, halachic decisions, commentators, and the Rambam. When they found out that he was a physician, the city was astonished.

        After a short time, Dr. Efraim was invited to serve as a physician in the Jewish hospital. They set for him an appropriate salary, and they also fulfilled his request for a large advance, so that he could return to his ex-wife the dowry and the money of her marriage contract.

        The young doctor became beloved in the city very quickly. The Jews appreciated him because he spoke to them in Yiddish and not Polish, as was the custom of the Jewish doctors. Furthermore, they liked him because he was observant of the commandments, for Efraim did not desecrate the Sabbath like the other doctors, and he set aside times to study Talmud in the Beis Midrash. On occasion, he would also ascend the pulpit and deliver a sermon like one of the rabbis. Therefore, they began to call him: “The Rabbi Doctor”, or the “Doctor from Stawiski”. The householders of Lomza did not let the doctor live as a bachelor. After he fulfilled his obligations toward his first wife, he married a second wife, an intelligent woman of a good family from the town of Jasionowka – Shoshana the daughter of the scholar Reb Eliezer Rozental.

        His home was a gathering place for scholars, rabbis, and maskilim. He supported with his own money poor young men who wished to go to study in places of Torah and Haskalah. In the newspaper “Hatzefira” of the 1 st of Adar II, 5641 – 1881, when he was about 78 years old, he published an open letter to his friend and comrade Reb Chaim Zelig Slonimski, the editor, complaining that the progressive Jewish circles are allowing the elder researcher Reb Yakov Raifman of Sierbuczyn to suffer the indignities of hunger and want in his old age. He sent 50 rubles to the organization, the first donation to the fund to support the scholar Reifman, and expected that others would take note and follow suit. Slonimski the editor of Hatzefira praised the deeds of the “Rabbi Doctor”, and recommended that other communities follow suit.

        As has been said, the Rabbi Doctor would often lecture in the Beis Midrash. Furthermore, he also organized a group of young men in Lomza for the study of the Guide of the Perplexed of the Maimonides [18] .

        When the Polish revolt broke out in the year 1863 [19] , Dr. Edelsztejn joined forces with his friends, the Polish physicians, and he was elected to the communal council on the side of the revolutionaries. He exchanged letters on this matter with the rabbi of Warsaw, Rabbi Dov Berish Meisels, who also stood on the side of the Polish revolutionaries, and attempted to influence the rabbis of the outlying cities to follow in his footsteps. The Polish revolutionaries required money and clothing to help care for the wounded and hospitalized. The Rabbi Doctor Efraim Edelsztejn gathered the Jewish community together into the large Beis Midrash, and invited members of the Polish top brass and notables of the city. He lectured in Polish and then in Yiddish about the common lot that unites the Poles sitting on their own land that has been pillaged, and the Jewish residents, who are sitting securely on the banks of the Wisla, while their eyes look towards the banks of the Jordan, toward their own pillaged homeland. He also quoted the words of the Polish historian Joachim Lelebel who called upon the Jews to enlist to help Poland in its war of independence. In return, they would receive complete rights of citizenship in the freed state of Poland. Furthermore, the Poles would also help them return to their historical homeland – the Land of Israel. With a heartfelt call in Polish: “Let there be brotherhood between the Jews and the Poles”, and with the motto of the great exiled Polish poet Adam Mieckiewicz “Kochajmy sie” – let us love each other – the Rabbi Doctor concluded his patriotic speech in favor of an independent Poland. His words struck a chord in the hearts of the Jews.

        The historian of the city of Lomza, Wladyslaw Szwedzki, writes in his book “Lomza” (page 68) that Dr. Efraim Edelsztejn, a physician from the Jewish hospital, was one of the heads of the Polish committee for the revolt, and organized a medical assistance depot for the wounded revolutionaries along with his Polish friend Dr. Wicikowski. To this end, Dr. Edelsztejn collected a large sum of money from the wealthy Jews and manufacturers. He organized a committee of Jewish women who gathered linen for sheets and bandages, as well as linens and clothing for the revolutionary fighters.

        The Russians reconquered Lomza after the failure of the revolt. The Russian executioner Moraviov sent the cruel General Ganichki to Lomza to pillage the city and devastate it. About 150 honorable people of the city, Jews and Christians were imprisoned and beaten cruelly by the Russian soldiers. A delegation of representatives of the city, consisting of the Catholic priest Talarowski, the prosecutor of the judicial court Trocowski, Dr. Efraim Edelsztejn, the Jewish member of Sejm (the local government) and manufacturer Moshe Nowinski, and the town councilor and merchant Ticoczynski, presented themselves before the general and requested that he free the prisoners. Dr. Edelsztejn was the chief spokesman. The words of the delegation further incited the wrath of Ganichki, who commanded that these delegates also be imprisoned and publicly flogged. In the prison of Lomza, which had room for 200 people at the maximum, approximately 1,500 Jewish and Polish prisoners were crowded in. As a result of this, a typhus epidemic broke out in the prison, which infected the Russian army as well. There were no doctors, for most of the Polish doctors escaped from the city with the retreat of the revolutionaries, for fear of retribution. The Russians were forced to free Dr. Edelsztejn from prison and to place him at the head of the medical campaign in the city against the epidemic.

        In the Jewish-Russian anthology “Yevreiskaya Starana” (volume 6, page 490, from the year 1913), it is written that Aleksander, the son of Dr. Efraim Edelsztejn, was among the Jewish revolutionaries who joined ranks with the Poles. He was a native of Lomza, a student of the University of Kiev and a student in the Medical Academy of Warsaw. Aleksander joined the anti-Russian demonstrations of 1861. He was wounded and healed. Later, he enlisted in the Polish revolutionary army, participated in battles and fell in battle near Ratkovo, while serving under the command of General Chmielinski.

        Dr. Edelsztejn died at about age 80 on the 3 rd of Av, 5643 (1883) in Lomza. The day of his death was a day of deep mourning in the city. In Hatzefira (18 th of Av, 5643, number 31), the Hebrew teacher of Lomza, Akiva Binyamin Smolinski, writes about the death. He writes that all citizens of the city, both Jews and Christians, joined the funeral procession. He was eulogized in the cemetery by the rabbi of the city Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Rabinowicz; the polish physician Michelowski on behalf of the physicians of the city and the Polish community; as well as several Jewish citizens. A 35 line obituary was written about him by Nachum Sokolow, the editor of “Haasif” (5645, 1885, number 135). Among everything else, he writes about him: “This man rose high above most of the physicians of our people, due to his life of service. He loved Torah and its students. He took great pleasure in joining with them at his table. He donated a great deal of money to the guardians of Torah and it students -- -- -- his greatest pleasure was to sit in the council of scholars and Maskilim, to discuss with them issues of Torah, the ways of the world, and Haskalah. – His adages and sharp wit are well known and pass from mouth to mouth…”

        To our sorrow, none of his adages and sharp wit has reached us. As we have said, he excelled in this even in his youth, as we mentioned above. In his native town of Stawiski and his city of residence Lomza, several examples of his “sharp wit” circulated around. I only heard of one incident from Lomza, which was related in his name: Once he went to intercede for the freedom of Jewish prisoners, and to clearly prove their innocence. The general listened to his words with great interest, and finally said “Dielo po dielam – A sud po ustawie”, that is to say: the issue is special and the judgement is according to the law – and he cannot do anything. When Dr. Edelsztejn presented a report of his mission, he mocked the words of the general: “Dielo po Dielam – A sod Kein Stawiski” [20] . This statement took on a life of its own, and I heard it approximately thirty years after his death, given the meaning: “You are correct – but such is the law”.

        For many years, the elders of the community of Lomza told about the genius of Stawiski, who later became the Doctor from Stawiski. We have added this article to remember his soul.

        May his memory be blessed.


Translator's Footnotes :

  1. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radun, 1838-1933, arguably the leading rabbi of the pre-war generation. He is known as the Chofetz Chaim (Delighter in Life), due to his magnum opus on the laws of proper speech, based on the verse from the book of Psalms: “Who is the person who delights in life, loving his days and experiencing good? He who guards his mouth from evil, and his lips from speaking slander…”. Return
  2. An expression implying extreme devotion to a sage as a disciple. Return
  3. Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski was one of the leading rabbis of pre-war Europe. Return
  4. Rabbi Isaac Herzog served as the Chief Rabbi of Israel. His son Chaim Herzog served as the President of Israel (1983-1993). Return
  5. A Talmudic style lament over the death of a fine person. Return
  6. A statement used at various times in Jewish law to indicate that, when given the choice, we move from less holy to more holy. Here, it is used colloquially to indicate that one person was finer than the next. Return
  7. Griva, Latvia, just north of the border with Lithuania. May possibly be Grajewo – it is not clear form the context. Return
  8. Kollel is a center for advanced Talmudic study for married young men. Return
  9. Two of the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law). Return
  10. Here the term refers to a chazzan or prayer leader. These traits of the chazzan (known as a shaliach tzibur or the representative of the congregation) are listed in the Hineni prayer, recited by the chazzan prior to Musaf on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Return
  11. Kedoshim is one of the weekly Torah portions, from Leviticus. Midrash is a rabbinical exegetical work from Mishnaic times. Return
  12. The titles of these types of books tend to be cryptic and full of euphemism, therefore I rarely translate them. However, for the sake of interest, the six books are as follows: “The Staff of Water”, “The Wheat of Jacob”, “Beautiful Sayings”, “Words of Eulogy”, “Words of the Fathers”, and “Pleasant Statements”. The first book “Yekev Zeev”, is “Vineyards of Zeev”. Return
  13. From the above article, it is clear that Shabtai Frydman lived in Israel for three or four years, so the current author's statement that he was 2 years old when his grandfather died must be off by a year or two. Return
  14. Implying that one should study Torah on a regular basis, devoting all of one's free time to it. Return
  15. A paraphrasing of a passage from the evening service of Sabbaths and Festivals: “Spread over us the canopy of your peace…”. Return
  16. A book of lore from the weekly Torah reading, written especially for the study of women. Return
  17. The Hebrew term, derived from the Greek philosopher Epicurus, for a heretic or non-believer. Return
  18. The Guide of the Perplexed (Moreh Nevuchim) is the major philosophical work of the Rambam (Maimonides). Return
  19. The text says 1963, but this is obviously a typographical error. Return
  20. The sound of the word Stawiski and ustawie are similar. The meaning of “A sod kein Stawiski” is that “the secret of Stawiski”. I am not sure of the meaning of the nuance here. Return


{131}

My Parents' Home

by Nechama Bizounsky (nee Kotton)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

        I cannot describe my parents' home without flashing back to an even older era, about which I heard from my mother, grandmother, and various family members.

        My mother was Dvora Zelda of blessed memory, nee Ladelski, the daughter of Yosef Yeshayahu and Itka. Her family was rooted in Stawiski for generations. My grandmother's father, Reb Shlomo Zalman Kac, was also a native of Stawiski. He was a profound scholar, but he refused to make Torah the source of his livelihood [1] . He sustained himself with the work of his hands throughout his life. He had a dye shop, where he worked manually until the final years of his old age (he died at age 86).

        My grandmother, his daughter Itka, went in the path of her father. Since my grandfather Yosef Yeshayahu toiled in Torah for all his days, she bore the responsibility of earning a livelihood – a task that she fulfilled with dedication and faithfulness.

        Whenever I remember grandmother, she awakens in me memories of awe and honor of her unusually noble personality.

        My grandfather Yosef Yeshayahu had two brothers in Stawiski – Moshe Ladelski and Nissan Ladelski. Both of them were scholars of Torah, and possessed vast general knowledge. Many people would come to them to take counsel regarding various matters. Moshe (Moshke) served also as an arbitrator.

        They were Zionists who desired to make aliya to the Land. Nissan merited having his two daughters make aliya to the Land of Israel, where they established large families. No remnant remains of the family of Moshe Ladelski. They all perished in the Holocaust.

        As opposed to his father-in-law, grandfather chose teaching as a profession. He started as a Talmud teacher in Stawiski, and later as a Rosh Yeshiva in Grajewo. He was admired by everyone. The family continued to live in Stawiski, and grandfather came home for festivals and special Sabbaths. From a practical perspective, it would have been easier for him perhaps to move his dwelling to Grajewo, but his roots were so deep in Stawiski that he did not want to be cut off from his native town and the birthplace of his ancestors under any circumstances. An interesting fact that sheds light upon grandfather of blessed memory is the fact that he taught his wife Torah, including Talmud, and she excelled in her learning, and even displayed a recognizable expertise in the issues of Abaye and Rabba [2] .

{Photo page 132: Devora Zelda Kotton (nee Ladelski) of blessed memory.}

        My mother, Devora Zelda, who was the eldest daughter, married my father Chaim Binyamin Chever-Kotton, who was not from Stawiski. My father was born in Lida, an important city in Lithuania, to his parents Yossele and Yocheved. His father, that is to say my paternal grandfather, was an ordained rabbi. His wife Yocheved died in her prime, when my father was very young child. Grandfather remarried and moved to Warsaw, where he served as a rabbi for many years. For various reasons I am not privy to, my father did not join grandfather when he moved to Warsaw, but he rather remained in Lida with relatives. There he studied as any Jewish child, at first in cheder, and later in yeshiva. He attained a wide and deep knowledge of Talmud and its commentaries, and he was considered to be an outstanding scholar with a phenomenal memory.

        When he was still young, he thirsted for knowledge outside of Torah literature. Slowly but surely, along with his work in Torah, he began to study on his own initiative Hebrew as a living language, as well as general knowledge.

        He had an unsettled soul. His birthplace caused him difficulties, and he began to wander from one place of Torah to the next. Thus he arrived at the Beis Midrash of Stawiski. My grandfather Reb Yosef Yeshayahu took note of the young stranger, and invited him to his home. After a short time, he married his daughter Devora Zelda. He set up his home in Stawiski after the marriage, and my mother opened up a haberdashery store in order to sustain the family. As I stated, my father was a restless person, and it was difficult for him to settle in one place. An occupation presented itself that satisfied his need for travel. He became a wandering agent for religious books. He wandered with his bundle of books from city to city, and he even reached Germany.

        Due to his shaky state of health, father was forced to give up his occupation of distributing books. He opened up a “cheder metukan” [3] in Stawiski, where the language of instruction was Hebrew. Aside from the study of language, the prime subjects taught were bible, Jewish history, Mishna and Talmud.

        Quickly, he became known as a wonderful teacher and pedagogue. Those who merited being his students remember his teaching fondly until this day. Indeed, my father was an exacting teacher, but the students accepted his teaching style with love, for they saw a blessing in it.

        My father's love of Torah did not prevent him from being a fan of modern Hebrew literature. As far as I remember, over the years, father used his last savings to acquire a complete library. There was barely any new Hebrew book published that father did not obtain after its publication. Father did not only purchase books, but he also subscribed to the Hebrew newspapers of that era, such as Hatzefirah, and Hador, as well as various other publications that appeared in his time.

        Many young people from the town would come to our house to borrow Hebrew books from father. He would provide them with a full heart, for he wished to spread knowledge and education among the Jewish youth. Furthermore, even many years after his death, the young people of Stawiski would come to our home, and mother would let them use whatever books they desired.

        Father was not only a lover of books, but he was also an enthusiastic lover of Zion. He won over people in town to the Zionist idea, along with Dov Szymonowicz of blessed memory, the father of Avraham Shimoni, a resident of the Balfouria Moshav.

        I do not exaggerate when I state that the influence of father was so great, that many years later, after the Balfour declaration, when he was no longer alive, Stawiski was a strongly Zionist town. Many natives of Stawiski made aliya to the Land and settled there. Father also had the dream of making aliya to the Land and settling there, but he did not merit to do so, for in the interim, the First World War broke out, and father died in 1917. He was 43 years old at his death. Even though he himself did not merit to realize his desire, two of his sons did so, my brother Yitzchak Kotton and myself, the writer of these lines. Our mother of blessed memory also made aliya after me, in 1933.

        From what has been said above, the portrait of my parents' home was of a home suffused with the spirit of Hebrew, Zionism, and traditional Judaism, which spread out from its own wellsprings outward.

        For various reasons, my two brothers, Mordechai and Eliahu of blessed memory, did not merit to live in the Land. Father sent Mordechai to study in America when he was 15 years old. He studied in university there and graduated with a doctor of philology. Eliahu completed studies at the Hebrew seminary in Kovno and immigrated to America, where he completed his studies at an English teaching seminary. He taught Hebrew and English for several years. Mordechai enlisted as a volunteer in the American Army during the Second World War, and fell in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. My brother Eliahu died at age 50.

        Had my two brothers remained alive, they surely would have made aliya to the Land, and actualized the dream of our father.


{134}

Reb Yehoshua Menachem Zilbersztejn of blessed memory

by Rabbi Baruch Zilbersztejn [4]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Note: This Hebrew chapter is equivalent with the following Yiddish chapter.}

{Photo page 134: Uncaptioned. Reb Yehoshua Mendel Zilbersztejn.}

        My father, Reb Yehoshua Menachem the son of Reb Shraga the Levite, was born in the regional center of Szczuczyn in 1876. His father was a carpenter, and his mother was known as Chana the righteous. Everyone revered her, and she was like a mother to all of the yeshiva students of the city.

        My father studied in the famous Telz Yeshiva, and also in the Yeshiva of Novhorodok. He married Necha Lejbik, the daughter of an old family from our town. After the wedding, he established his home in Stawiski, and tried his hand at various occupations. Finally, he became a merchant of forestry products. He conducted the forestry business in partnership with Yehuda Rubensztejn and with Wilamowski. Father was known as a wealthy man. I remember that in my youth, I was considered to be the son of a rich family. I remember that my parents spent a few days of vacation every summer in Bad Vermind in Germany. I also remember that my parents used to visit Warsaw several times a year, and when they returned home, they would enthusiastically describe their visits to the opera, to the theaters, and other places of enjoyment in the capital city.

        My father Reb Yehoshua Mendel was one of the first Zionists in town, and he worked diligently for the renewal of the land and the revival of the Hebrew language. During the debates that broke out from time to time between the young Zionists and the opponents of Zionism, he always stood at the side of the Zionist youth. I remember the beautiful and memorable celebration that Reb Shabtai Frydman organized along with father in honor of the dedication of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on April 1 st , 1925. The celebration and party that followed took place in the home of Bramzon, and I gave a brief speech in Hebrew. My eldest brother Yissachar was one of the first Chalutzim (Zionist pioneers) in town. He made aliya in 1925, and worked for a brief period in Ein Harod.

        Reb Yehoshua Mendel Zilbersztejn was numbered among the leaders of the town, both in the Jewish community and the town council. He was the vice-mayor (the mayor was Polish) and the assistant to the judge. He was once sent to the regional center in Kolno as a delegate of the town council. When the Jews of Stawiski were searching for a fitting rabbi to take the place of Rabbi Remigolski of blessed memory, who moved to serve in Griva [5] , they convened a special meeting for the scholars of the town: Reb Shabtai Frydman, Reb Meir Kac, and father, in order to examine various rabbis and visit various cities. Finally, they advised to invite Rabbi Reuven Kac of blessed memory to sit on the rabbinical seat of Stawiski.

        Father loved very much to serve as a prayer leader in the large Beis Midrash on Sabbaths and festivals. He even led the Musaf service on the High Holy Days. It is self evident that he did not do this to receive any reward. His reward was the recitation of the Haftarah (prophetic reading) on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (I Samuel, chapters I and II)). This Haftarah is considered a good omen for a woman who has difficulty in childbirth [6] , and is read at her bedside. I remember that on more than one occasion, father was called in the middle of the night to hurry to the home of a women in labor in order to read this Haftarah at her bedside.

        When father served as a cantor, he loved to include the tunes of well-known operas that he was familiar with in the recitation of the prayers and hymns. The youth and younger generation enjoyed this, but it was met with fierce opposition by the adults.

        Father looked positively upon modern Hebrew education. He often argued with the orthodox people and traditionalists, and proposed changes in the style of the old cheder. He sent his children to study in Hebrew-Polish high schools, including schools of the Tarbut and Tachkemoni network.

        My father died in 1969, and my mother six years previous, in 1963.

Brooklyn, New York


Translator's Footnotes :

  1. Literally “a spade to dig with”, from a statement in the Mishanic Pirke Avot: “One should not make Torah a spade to dig with” – i.e. the source of one's livelihood. Return
  2. Two Talmudic sages. Return
  3. Modern style cheder. Return
  4. In the title of the Yiddish chapter (page 135) the name appears as Reb Yehoshua Menachem [Shai Mendel] Zilbersztejn. Return
  5. Possibly Grajewo, but probably Griva, Latvia. Return
  6. As it deals with the birth of the prophet Samuel. Return
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