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{157} 

The Jewish Youth in the Town During the Years of the First World War,
and the Founding of Hatechiya

by Moshe Goelman of blessed memory

Translated by Jerrold Landau

As was related in another place, our town was conquered twice by the Germans. The first occupation was in 1914, a few days prior to Rosh Hashanah, and continued until the eve of Yom Kippur. Two families, wheat merchants, suffered from this occupation, since the Poles informed on them, and the husbands were exiled by the Russians to Charbin. These families were the son of Kiwajko and Yeshaya Baruch Chmielewski. The informing was that they had sold wheat to the German infantry.

The second occupation, which lasted until the end of the war, started in March 1915. The Germans destroyed the large Beis Midrash and turned it into an army hospital. Those who were wounded on the front, which was very close to our town for seven or eight months, were brought there for first aid. Once, a cannonball shot but the Russians hit the Beis Midrash, and destroyed the roof and southeast corner.

The German authorities conscripted the youth for various tasks, such as paving and fixing the roads. Two main streets were paved at that time: One to Jedwabne and one to Kolno. Every morning, the townspeople arrived at the meeting place with spades over their shoulders, and from there they were sent by foot or wagon to the various workplaces. The women were conscripted for a different task, easier but less honorable, that of cleaning the houses and their residents. The Germans were very much afraid of contagious diseases, especially in the warm summer months. An army physician along with a translator came to the town at the beginning of the summer, and they investigated the sanitary condition of all the houses. When they found a problem in sanitation, they sent the residents of the house to the bathhouse, and they disinfected their clothes in a special oven which was set up for this purpose. Zusha Szapiro, who was a professional pharmacist, was conscripted for this job. Aharon Eliezer Zak, Pinchas Mark, and myself assisted him. We had to prepare baths with hot water, light the oven in the early morning, disinfect the clothes of the bathers, and return them via a small opening in the door. Due to the state of war, there was a curfew that extended from sunset to sunrise. In such conditions, there was no time for people to meet, except on Sabbaths in the synagogue during the hours of prayer.

I remember a significant experience during those days, whose impact was not erased through the long years. About two or three weeks before Passover, an army rabbi from Berlin, named Zonenfeld, came to town. He invited several young boys and girls to come with him, to organize a Passover Seder for the Jewish soldiers on the nearby battlefronts. He promised that he would concern himself with wine for the four cups, matzos, and haggadas, and we would concern ourselves with the meal – chicken, soup and dumplings. We accepted this task with great enthusiasm, and began to prepare. A day before the festival, we cleaned up the small synagogue of the Chevra K.S. We arranged two long tables, spread out white cloths, and brought candles and kosher for Passover dishes and cutlery. We provided enough kerosene to light the large lamps to light up the Beis Midrash.

It was the eve of Passover. At sunset, the Jewish captains and soldiers gathered in the Great Synagogue, and we recited the evening service for the eve of Passover together. After the prayers, we sat around the tables, and the Seder took place according to its statutes, but with a slightly different style from that which we were used to at home. An exalted atmosphere prevailed that evening. However one thing was improper. Hungry soldiers came to the Seder, and some of them took out a loaf of bread from their bag, broke it into pieces, and ate it [1] The rabbi requested that we not publicize this, and attribute it to the hunger that prevailed during the time of war.

The soldiers worshiped with us in the synagogue the next day, the first day of Passover, however they only came to the Mincha (afternoon) and Maariv (evening) services.  In the morning they were required to be at their stations on the front.The rabbi delivered a lecture to them. I remember that one Jewish captain who stood near to us asked us:  "why do you shake at the time of prayer?"  I answered him that this was due to the great enthusiasm, to fulfil the verse: "all of my bones shall utter his praises". My answer did not suffice him. David Leibel Dobrzalowski explained to him that this custom still survives from the time when there were no printing presses, and not everybody had a prayer book. Two or three people would pray from one prayer book, and in order to read the prayer book they would have to bend down. It turns out that the three people would bend down successively, one after another, and thus arose the custom to shake during prayer. This explanation made more sense to him, and he even told it to the rabbi after the prayers.

The soldiers of the German army once again gathered in the synagogue on the Shavuot holiday, at the time of Mincha, and Rabbi Zonenfeld delivered a lecture to them, and distributed drink and sweets to them after the prayers.

This gathering of Jewish youth during the Seder with the soldiers also spawned other meetings. After the conquest of Warsaw, Bialystock and Grodno in the fall of 1915, the front moved farther away from Stawiski and the soldiers left the city. A home guard arrived to replace the military governor. The commander was an older man, as were the police officials. The guard was more lenient, and civic matters were turned over to local residents.Chaim Zevulun Bramzon was appointed as Bergermeister (mayor). The curfew was shortened significantly. It now began from 9:00PM, and afterward from even later. A few people were permitted to go out even during the time of the curfew. The Jewish youth who wandered around with nothing to do began to meet and organize. At first a small group gathered in the room of Avraham Siemienowicz – today Avraham Shimoni who is a member of the Balfouria Moshav. This room was on the roof of Menashe Szapiro's house. These meetings took place in particular on Friday and Saturday evenings. At first these meetings did not have a set agenda. News was shared from German newspapers, and from the newspapers that arrived from Warsaw. On occasion we also arranged parties with music and games.

The number of meetings increased, and the small room was no longer large enough for these gatherings. We rented a large room in the yard of Moshe Zeev Bramzon, and we set up a hall for these gatherings. We brought in benches and a table, and we set up a library of books that we collected in the city. Later we purchased books from Lomza and Warsaw. We also gave a name to this hall:  "Hatechiya", which was the same name of the Zionist youth hall in Lomza. From that time, we arranged gatherings and presentation every Sabbath eve. The first speakers were, Aharon Eliezer Zak, Pelet Remigolski (the son of the rabbi), David Leibel Dobrzalowski, the teacher Itzkowski from Radzilow, and this present writer. There were also recitals from the young people of their own songs and prose. I was given many tasks:  I was the secretary, the collector of membership dues, the organizer of the presentations on Sabbath eves, and the one responsible for the upkeep of the meeting hall. At that time, Perec the businessman and other members of the club were financially successful, and covered the outlay from their own pockets. Fishel Cybulki also made a donation. The Germans granted him the permit to collect the pork tax in the entire area of occupied Poland, an enterprise that enriched the holders of the permit. The chess players from the towns of the lowland were among his pupils.

{Photo on page 159 – Paltiel (Pelet) Remigolski of blessed memory.}

The word about the Hatechiya Hall reached the German officials in the city, who were lacking for entertainment, and they made a point to come to the hall and meet the youth. They became accustomed to understanding the content of the presentations, which were in Yiddish, and after some time a sort of camaraderie developed between them and the Jewish youth. We were hungry during the years of occupation, and there was a great deal of lack of food and clothing. We sewed clothing from colored sacks, but we were given complete freedom to pursue our cultural activities. This was a similar situation to that in other cities in our area, such as Kolno, Szczuczyn and Grabowo where the youth had a high intellectual level.On occasion, we would travel to visit them, and they would visit us, in particular for performances and "literary judgements" which were very popular in those days among the youth.

In the spring of 1916, the Germans conquered Baranowice and its environs, on the border of Lithuania and White Russia. For security reasons, they transferred the civilian population away from the front. On this journey, refugees from Baranowice, Pinsk and other cities joined us. We had to concern ourselves with finding shelter, some sort of employment, and food for these Jews. We organized a committee to care for the refugees, headed by Chaim Zevulun Bramzon. Older people, such as Orlinski (the son-in-law of Chaim Leib Bramzon) joined this committee. We collected money, clothing, bedding, kitchen utensils and food for them. For this purpose, with the permission of the Germans, we arranged a "flower day" on the streets of the city. Five or six couples went out to the streets and visited the houses, and the population responded with a generous hand, as much as was possible under the circumstances. The Polish population also helped out, and even more so the Germans. In the evening we gave over the money we collected to the treasurer Orlinski. The money was counted in his store, and a document was produced which was signed by all the couples who participated in the collection.

The most important event, which occurred in the Jewish life of the town, particularly for the youth, was the Balfour Declaration. The news of this declaration reached us late, in the month of December 1917, or January 1918.The enthusiasm of the youth and the elders was boundless. We were like dreamers, and we devoted a special time to read the books of Herzl "The Jewish State", and "Altneuland".We also read in depths the four volumes of "At the Crossroads" by Ahad Haam. We presented these topics in front of the community, and we discussed them even in the Beis Midrash with the adults, in particular with those who were members of the Mizrachi movement. These presentations were presented in the following fashion:  a translation of an entire discourse or giving over the idea with long quotations. Obviously, the explanations were in Yiddish. Aharon Eliezer Zak particularly excelled in this, for he had a phenomenal memory, as if he had a camera in his brain. He was able to present and entire section just as it was written, in its original form and style, along with a very clear interpretation.

To mark the event, the committee decided to arrange a parade through the streets of the city, at night with torchlight. The parade started out from the hall, and went via the main street to Schmid Gas (the Street of the Smiths), and from there turned right toward the Beis Midrash. Needless to say, we received a permit from the German authorities for this, including for the use of torches and the Hebrew flag. The speakers included David Leibel near the hall;  Pelet Remigolski near the Street of the Butchers;  and Aharon Eliezer in the Beis Midrash. We erected two wooden podiums, one near the hall and the other in the corner of the street. The preparations took a great deal of time, for all of the members of the community intended to participate in the parade:  the elderly and children, women and men all together. On that night, it was like the night of Simchat Torah in the Beis Midrash. Tears of joy and kisses expressed the enthusiasm that overtook the Jewish population. The parade took place on a snowy winter night, which added significantly to the impression of the torchlight and lit windows. To my sorrow, I was not able to participate in the parade, for that night I lay in bed with a cold, however the next day; I received a full account of the strong impression that was left upon all the participants.

This event brought a large percentage of the Jews toward the Zionist movement, and the youth toward the "Young Zion" group, which was spreading at that time very quickly in Russia, and from there transferred to Poland and other lands. Until that time, the Hatechiya Hall was considered non-partisan. Its most important role as in the spreading of culture and enlightenment, however from that year, we began to associate ourselves with the various factions of the Zionist movement. Many of us chose "Young Zion", and the hall officially became a branch of that movement.

In the spring of 1919, a regional convention of Young Zion took place in Lomza, in which I participated as a delegate from our branch. Delegates from nearby towns participated in that convention, from both banks of the Narew. The most important tasks were performed buy the committee and members from Lomza, who had a longer affiliation with the group that we did. The representative of Ostrowiec, Berl Kachan, also excelled. He was a sharp witty youth, who later immigrated to America. In Chicago, he and his two brothers played an important role in Young Zion, and in the local Jewish community.

The convention took place in the Hatechiya Hall of Lomza, and lasted three days and nights. All aspects of the ideology of Young Zion, which was beginning to take its first steps in Poland, were explained there.At that time, the "Chalutz" idea began to develop, even though this name was not yet known. Among the resolutions, which were accepted, the most important were the spread of the Hebrew language, and its use as a living language, as well as Hachshara (practical preparations) for aliya to the Land of Israel. At that time, I was invited by the representatives of Szczuczyn to serve as a Hebrew teacher for adults there. I studied throughout the summer with two groups there, the beginners and advanced groups. However, the youth of Szczuczyn were distant from the Zionist idea, which demanded realization. They were more like associates rather than practical Zionists.

The performance of David Pinski's play "Yankel Der Schmid" (Yankel the Smith) was a unique experience. The stage manager and chief actor was Chona Mondenstein. Since he worked outside of the city all week, all the rehearsals took place on Sabbaths. Therefore, the rehearsals and preparations for this performance took a long time. It was difficult to transform the large granary at the edge of the town into a performance hall.Other than four simple wooden walls and a roof, it had nothing else. We had to clean it, flatten the ground (it did not have a floor), and build a stage and dressing rooms. We did the work with diligence and great enthusiasm. We fixed up its appearance, brought benches for the audience that was expected from all segments of the population. All the hard work was worthwhile. The performance successful (according to the conditions of the time), and the entertainment was superb. People talked about this performance for several weeks thereafter, and it was discussed in every house in town. These types of performances were commonplace at that time in all of the towns of the area, and the presentation of  "Yankel der Schmied" on stage raised our worth.

The idea of autonomy for minorities in the new nations, which arose on the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires, made waves also in Poland. In the winter of 1919, a Jewish delegation was called to Warsaw for that purpose. Representatives from all the cities and towns of the newly created Poland were part of that delegation. Two delegates traveled to this meeting from our town:  Rabbi Remigolski, and Aharon Eliezer Zak, who represented the youth.I remember that a discussion about this meeting, presented by Aharon Eliezer Zak, took place in our meeting hall, and the crowd was so large that not everybody could fit in.Some people remained outside. His lecture was full of enthusiasm, vision, and faith. The audience stood up and applauded him.

 I will never forget that meeting for the rest of my life.We saw in that the footsteps of the Messiah…

Very quickly a change took place in the attitude of the Polish government to the Jews, and whoever could leave Poland and emigrate anywhere did so.A few made aliya to the Land of Israel, while most went to the U.S.A., Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the countries of South America. Slowly but surely, the town was emptied of its youth, and it was hard to even gather two dozen people for a meeting in our meeting hall.

The meeting hall was transferred to a small room in the attic on top of the bakery of Shlomo Yechiel. The library existed for many more years, and it even grew and developed. However, the meetings no longer took place, partly because of the difficulties in obtaining permits from the Polish authorities.

Our town of Stawiski remained Zionist. In my time, there were no Bundists of Folkists, and the small number of communists who were there left with the retreat of the Bolshevik army from our town in 1920 and immigrated to Russia.

 When the news arrived about the authorization of the British Mandate, issued in San Remo in 1922, to set up a Jewish homeland, the Jews went out to the streets and wept from joy. The news reached us on a Sabbath eve, and on the Sabbath morning during the morning prayers, we read the full Hallel [2] in the Beis Midrash, verse by verse. Rabbi Remigolski of blessed memory ascended the lectern (bima) in front of the Holy Ark, and read the Hallel, and the congregation followed after him. I had never heard such a recitation of Hallel previously, and I never have thereafter.

Translator's Footnotes :

  1. The eating of leavened bread is strictly forbidden on Passover by Jewish law. Back
  2. Hallel is the psalms of prayers that form part of the service on Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Chanukah, and Rosh Chodesh. Nowadays they are recited in many congregations on Israel Independence Day and the day of the liberation of Jerusalem as well. Hallel is associated with miraculous events. Back


{162} 

The First Zionist Activity in Stawiski

by Moshe Goelman of blessed memory

(Impressions and incidents from childhood)

{This Hebrew chapter is equivalent with the following Yiddish chapter – page 167.}


        Stawiski was considered to be a town of Misnagdim [1] . Nevertheless, there were several Hassidim there, but their numbers weren't enough for a Minyan [2] . On Simchat Torah, for example, when the Hassidim would gather in a private home for the reading of the Torah and a Kiddush [3] in order to enjoy a Hassidic atmosphere, they would have to invite one or two lads to complete the Minyan. I don't remember exactly how many Hassidim there were in Stawiski, but in accordance with the word about the town, there were eight and a half. Who was the half? A Hassid who was unable to decide to which Admor he belonged: to Gur or Aleksander. Therefore, he was called a half Hassid.

        Since most of the residents of Stawiski were Misnagdim, Jewish life in the town was dry. It lacked the Hassidic enthusiasm and effervescence. People were very strict about the observance of the commandments, both the easy and difficult ones, and they watched very carefully to ensure that the youth would not stumble in sin. I remember, for example, that during the youth groups, they would tell the following story (I am stating at the outset that I cannot take responsibility for its veracity). The forest on the road to Lomza was a vorst [4] or more far from town, that is to say, father than the Sabbath limit [5] , which was 2,000 cubits. During the summer, the youth used to go on Sabbath afternoons for walks in the forest. When Reb Peretz the teacher found out of this, he would walk along the street up to the Sabbath limit, and make the walkers return. Nevertheless, the youth, who did not want to forego their Sabbath enjoyment, bypassed the street and went to the forest via the fields, in order to avoid meeting Reb Peretz. What did Reb Peretz do? He went and prepared an “Eruv Techumim” every Friday, in order to render permissible the walking to the forest on the Sabbath [6] .

        Our town had great and renowned scholars. I met two of them by chance. This was on the intermediate days of Sukkot 5683 (1922) when they sat in a hotel in Grodno and investigated Rabbi Reuven Kac of blessed memory, to determine if he is fitting to occupy the rabbinical seat of Stawiski. These two scholars were Reb Meir Kac and Reb Shabtai Frydman of blessed memory.

        There were joyous occasions in our town, joy in mitzvot, when the singing of prayers and hymns would take place. However, the joy was restrained. As far as I remember, even on Simchat Torah in the large Beis Midrash, they would not dance with the Torah scrolls during the processions. Enthusiasm never broke out of its bounds, even after a cup of drink. They would sing songs between the processions [7] , particularly at the conclusion of the seventh circuit, with the accompaniment of Reb Mordechai the carpenter, a strong baritone, who led the Shacharit (morning) services on the High Holy Days and on other festivals. However, as stated, the joy was restrained, in the manner of Misnagdim.

Chevrat Kass [8]

        There was a small Beis Midrash in Stawiski, which had a different atmosphere. It was not strictly Hassidic, but it was full of vitality and enthusiasm. This small Beis Midrash was the locale of the Kass (Keniat Sefarim) organization. From the name “Purchase of Books”, the different spirit of this Beis Midrash can be discerned. The walls of this Beis Midrash were filled with books. There were books on the shelves, and there were books in the closets on the eastern wall. I do not know the year that this small Beis Midrash was founded, or who were its founders, but I remember who worshipped there during my youth. The entire Chawa family worshipped there, that is to say Itza Chawes and his son Shebsel Chawes (Frydman), Abba Heler, Shachna Witkowski, Rubinsztejn, the Bramzons, the Liberman brothers (one of them was appointed as the rabbi), Michael the medic (Hirszfeld), the Szymonowicz, Chaim Binyamin Kotton, the three brothers Reb Yeshayahu, Reb Moshe and Reb Nissan Ladelski, and others.

        How did the unique atmosphere of Chevrat Kass express itself? It did so in two ways: a) many of its members were readers of newspapers. They would discuss news, and even debate the news of the day. These included my Uncle Yoel, the brother of my mother, who read books and newspapers in Hebrew and Yiddish. Needless to say, he did not subscribe to newspapers himself, for subscriptions were expensive. Rather, he belonged to a group of readers who would take turns reading the newspaper. Often, I would be the messenger who would bring the newspaper to somebody, and go back to fetch it an hour or two later. When I was still a child, I learned my first songs of Zion from my Uncle Yoel. He would intersperse them with the Sabbath hymns. The following are the songs of Zion that were known in those days: “Raise a Flag and Banner to Zion”, “The Place of Cedars”, and others. I remember that I one brought to him the work of Mendele Mocher Sefarim, “Hasusah” along with the newspaper. He was so excited about the book that he kissed it, and gave me a few coins for candy.

        Without doubt, there were also some readers of newspapers among the worshippers of the large Beis Midrash, but I never remember seeing a newspaper in the large Beis Midrash even once. Whereas in Chevrat Kass, I saw people reading the newspaper between Mincha (the afternoon service) and Maariv (the evening service), as well as people discussing and debating the issues of the day based upon what they read in the newspapers. I see the need to point out that in Chevrat Kass I felt a spirit of life and joy that I did not feel in other places of the town.

Simchat Beit Shoeva [9]

        On one of the nights of the Intermediate Days of Sukkot, a Simchat Beit Shoeva would take place in the large Beis Midrash. They would sell the “Shir Hamaalot” Psalms with an auction, and whoever donated the most would recite the Psalm in front of the congregation. They would purchase drinks and snacks, which would be distributed among the congregation, whose hearts were merry from eating and drinking as well as singing. In Chevrat Kass, they would celebrate a Simchat Beit Shoeva with even greater festivity and esthetic pleasure. They would decorate the tiny Beis Midrash with colored paper lanterns and light candles in them, which added a special sprit to the festivity. The young people prepared the lanterns, and the adults of the Beis Midrash helped place them. These lanterns remained in place until the night of Simchat Torah, to increase the light and gaiety of the holiday that is completely joyous. In general, the small Beis Midrash was considered as a center of Haskalah and Zionism in Stawiski.

The Zionist Minyan on Simchat Torah

        The Zionist Minyan on Simchat Torah took place in the home of Ezriel Liberman. Ezriel Liberman lived in the marketplace, in a mansion where the Wilamowski family later lived. He was a pharmacist by profession, and he owned a small factory for the production of vinegar and various spices. This factory had a door that opened into the marketplace, and when we would pass by during the summer, the strong smell that penetrated out would enter our nostrils. The large room was always filled with large glass bottles covered with straw, from which exuded strong odors. On Simchat Torah, the large room would be emptied from all of its products, and would turn into a prayer hall. Ezriel obtained a Torah scroll from Chevrat Kass, and the Zionists of the city, particularly the youth, gathered in his home for prayer and song. In the Zionist Minyan, they sold off “Atah Hareita” [7], and those called up to the Torah made pledges. All of the money collected went to the Keren Kayemet. After the festival it was sent to the Chovevei Zion committee in Odessa. It goes without saying that there were snacks – drinks and large apples, and that, along with the prayers and hymns of Simchat Torah, songs of Zion were sung. Furthermore, there were also Zionist lectures. I recall that on Simchat Torah, the daughter of the rabbi (I have forgotten her name) spoke. She studied in university in Germany, and came home for the festival. An enthusiasm for Zionism pervaded this Minyan, which made a great impression upon the children that came with their parents to celebrate the Festival of the Torah in the Zionist Minyan.

A Zionist Wedding

        When our neighbor Moshe Chaim Kohen, who was numbered among the Zionists of Stawiski, got married, a Zionist wedding was arranged, which was an unusual event. We all recall the customs of a normative wedding during those days, which went more or less as follows: First there would be a reception in the home of the groom. If the groom was a Yeshiva student, he would deliver a lecture on Torah, and afterward receive wedding gifts, known as “Drasha Geshank” [10] . Afterwards, they dressed him with a kittel [11] under his outer cloak, and take him to the home of the bride for the veiling. From the bride's home, they went to the open area that was between the synagogue and the large Beis Midrash. There they set up the chuppa (marriage canopy) and conducted the marriage ceremony. The family and invited guests went to the home of the bride for the wedding reception with dancing, accompanied by the Klezmer band.

        My uncle Yoel took me to the wedding of Moshe Chaim Kohen. (My father was not home at the time. At that time, he was an emissary [12] and only came home for the festivals). When we entered the reception at the groom's home, we heard Yisrael Eli Szapira delivering a lecture. Immediately at the conclusion of his speech, the youths went up to all of the invited guests, and pasted blue and white triangular stamps on their lapels. The donations were dedicated, obviously, to the Keren Kayemet. When we came to the home of the bride, we saw that most of the women, particularly the girls that surrounded the bride, already had these stamps on them. After the chuppa ceremony, when we went to the home of the bride, the youths surrounded the bride and groom and sang songs of Zion. There were also fireworks, a wonder that I saw for the first time in my life. People did not stop talking about this unusual wedding for many days, whether in praise or in denigration, each in accordance with his own outlook. As for me, this Zionist wedding left an indelible impression upon my heart.

My Teacher and Rabbi, Reb Moshe Ladelski of blessed memory

        During my first five years as a student, I studied with four teachers: The first was Alter the melamed [13] . From him, I learned how to read from a Siddur from him, as well as the first portions of Chumash. From the cheder of Reb Alter, I graduated to Reb Peretz. I studied Chumash and Rashi, the Early Prophets, and my first chapters of Gemara. My third teacher was Reb Yeshaya Ladelski. I studied Gemara and the Latter Prophets with him. My final teacher in the town was Reb Moshe Ladelski, with whom I studied until I was 11. I continued my studies in an elementary Yeshiva that was run by my grandfather Reb Elazar in Jadowna, after the death of my mother of blessed memory. I wish to discuss in particular Reb Moshe and his style of teaching.

        His first wife was the daughter of the cantor Kaplan of Stawiski. Her brother was Pesach Kaplan, the editor of the newspaper “Bialystoker Shtime”. He was also known as a musician and composer. He composed many melodies for songs in Hebrew and Yiddish, and he also published a small songbook with his melodies. Pesach Kaplan particularly excelled in composing tunes for Yiddish operettas in the theaters of Vilna and other cities. His sister also loved song, and as she worked in the kitchen, she would sing with her sweet voice before the Rebbe returned from the evening prayers. We would come to the cheder of Reb Moshe after the morning prayers and breakfast. It is interesting that every student was free to worship himself in any synagogue that he chose, or at home. This independence that Reb Moshe granted increased our self-assurance, and we saw ourselves as adults.

        The morning hours were dedicated to independent learning (machn aleinen in Yiddish). Even though this study was under the supervision of the Rebbe, its main purpose was independent study in private or in pairs. We returned home at noon. When we returned to the cheder, each of us had to tell over to the Rebbe the lessons that we had prepared in the morning. Then, Reb Moshe would add explanations, correct errors, and provide background discussion on the topic that we had studied on our own. On occasion, he would ask one student to correct the error of another student, which opened up the opportunity for debate between the students. I do not know the source from which Reb Moshe obtained this pedagogical style. Perhaps it was from intuition. The important thing was that it led us towards independent study in Yeshivas, and instilled in us self-assurance and great satisfaction.

        Reb Moshe was taciturn in his speech, and on occasion we had to understand him through innuendoes. We learned how to grasp the issue before he finished a sentence. We would then finish the sentence, at time as a chorus. His style was simple and straightforward explanation, without sharpness and didactics, and without questions and answers. The examples that he brought to explain topics came for the most part from day to day life. The discipline was free, and he treated us light adults. First he asked to hear what we had to say, and only afterward did he add his own comments. A whip or rod – standard implements of the teachers of that time – were not found in the cheder of Reb Moshe.

        We were free from our studies on Sabbath afternoons. Most of the students were examined at that time by their fathers or other examiners. One of them was Reb Chuna the baker (Chuna Hersh Leibes Wladkowski), who also served as the gabbai in the large Beis Midrash. I studied in the same class as his son Tzvi Aryeh of blessed memory. Since my father was for the most part not at home, I was examined by Reb Chuna along with his son.

        There was another custom in the cheder of Reb Moshe Ladelski. Every Friday, the students would bring a sum of money to the cheder, each according to his means, some less and some more. This money was placed into a special box that was tied to the wall. At the end of the term, for a that time we learned in accordance with terms – From Pesach until Rosh Hashanah, and from Sukkot until Pesach – the Rebbe's wife would open up the box, take out the money, and arrange a feast of conclusion for the students. Our parents participated in this feast, and our mothers assisted with the preparations. I only remember one such meal at the end of the term, for this fine woman died the following winter. All of us, all of the students of Reb Moshe, felt ourselves as orphans after the death of the wife of our Rebbe, for she endeared herself to us in an exceptional manner.

        Reb Moshe was numbered among the first of Chovevei Zion in our city. In those days, at the beginning of the 20 th century, Dr. Herzl founded the Colonial Bank in London. Zionists sold shares of this bank in all Jewish communities. Reb Moshe also purchased a share in this bank, which cost 10 rubles (a significant sum of money in those days). He paid for it in installments of 5 kopecks. I remember that two youths came to the cheder every Friday, took the payment, and gave him a triangular stamp as a receipt. Reb Moshe put the stamp into the volume of Talmud that was on the table. This volume of Talmud was, apparently, his ledger.

        On one summer day in 1904, Reb Shalom the melamed appeared suddenly at our cheder (Reb Shalom was the shofar blower in the synagogue, and he also fixed shofars), and told our Rebbe the bad news of the death of Dr. Herzl. I recall that Reb Moshe, when he heard this news, put down his head, turned white, and appeared to be weeping silently. That day, we concluded our studies in the middle the day. This was not out of joy, as was customary for children on a day off. This time we left the cheder sad, even though we did not know whom this man was whose death caused our Rebbe such deep anguish.

        After Reb Moshe married the widow Chaya Shoshka, who had a grocery store next to the church, he stopped teaching and earned his livelihood from the store. He set up his home in one of the dwellings in our home, and accepted a new position in our town – the job of arbitrator of monetary matters. He would at time sit in judgement together with Reb Shabtai Frydman, and sometimes he would adjudicate himself. This task of arbitrator that Reb Moshe accepted earned him great appreciation in the town. He maintained this position even in the years after I had left Poland.

        May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.


        Finally – I wish to discuss the aliya of our friend Avraham Szymonowicz to the Land of Israel. Avraham merited being one of the first to make aliya from our town during the time of the Second Aliya and also the Third Aliya [14] . If you were to ask, how was this? The first time he made aliya, he worked in Hadera at the drying of swamps. He took ill with malaria, and was forced to leave the Land for a period. In the interim, the First World War broke out, and the Land was closed off and sealed. When the gates of the land opened at the conclusion of the war and the Third Aliya commenced, Avraham was once again one of the first to make aliya from our town. At that time, he was already married. He settled in the Moshav of Balfouria. The eldest son of Reb Chuna the baker, the son of Reb Motel Kaminski (the baker), as well as others were among those of our town who joined the Third Aliya.

        Since we are discussing the family of Berl Szymonowicz of Stawiski, it is fitting to point out that his eldest daughter Sarake, Avraham's sister, was the first to travel to Warsaw to study in the school for kindergarten teachers. She was one of the first licensed kindergarten teachers in that time, but for various reasons, she did not actually practice this profession.

Translator's Footnotes :

  1. Ideological opponents of Hassidism. Back
  2. A quorum of ten male Jewish adults over the age of 13, needed to conduct a prayer service. Back
  3. A prayer recited over wine at the beginning of the Sabbath and Festival meals. Here, it refers to a snack, accompanied by the recitation of Kiddush, after the morning services. Back
  4. An obsolete Russian measure of distance. Back
  5. The Sabbath limit (Techum Shabbat) is the boundary beyond which one is not allowed to walk outside a built up area on the Sabbath or festival. This limit is set at 2,000 cubits (roughly 3,000 feet) outside of the last built up area of a town. Back
  6. Eruv Techumim (literally the intermingling of boundaries) is a technically detailed halachic device that allows the Sabbath boundary to be moved. Rather than have it extend 2,000 cubits to the right and 2,000 cubits to the left, it can be 'moved', for example, so that it would be 1,000 cubits to the right and 3,000 cubits to the left. This is accomplished by placing a token Sabbath meal, consisting of bread and wine, at the new outer limit, thereby establishing that point as place where one 'establishes' his Sabbath rest. By moving it in one direction, one detracts from the opposite direction, so one cannot move it more than an extra 2,000 cubits. This halachic device sounds like it is skirting a law – however, the 2,000 cubit limit on the Sabbath boundary is a rabbinically based (as opposed to Torah based) law, so the rabbis who set this law in the first place also set up a device to move the boundary, within limits, in cases of need. Back
  7. On Simchat Torah, the festival of the Rejoicing of the Torah following the Sukkot holiday, seven circuits are made around the synagogue with the Torah scrolls, both at night and during the day. These processions are generally accompanied with much singing and dancing. Prior to removing the Torah scrolls from the ark for the processions, a selection of verses is recited, called “Atah Hareita”. In many synagogues, it is customary to auction off the honor of reciting these verses, as well as other Simchat Torah honors. Back
  8. Kass is an acronym for Keniyat Sefarim – Chevrat Kass is “The Organization for the Purchase of Books”. Back
  9. A joyous celebration of song and dance held on the nights of the Sukkot holiday. Literally “The rejoicing of the Water Drawing”, reminiscent of the water drawing ceremony and celebration on Sukkot during the time of the Temple. A Simchat Beit Shoeva often includes the recitation of Psalms 120-134, known as “Shir Hamaalot” – Songs of Accents. They are called so because they were recited on the steps of the Temple courtyard during the water drawing ceremony on Sukkot. Back
  10. Drasha is Hebrew (and Yiddish) for a Torah lecture, and Geshank is Yiddish for gifts. Back
  11. A white cloak worn by men during the wedding ceremony, and also during the prayers of Yom Kippur and the Pesach Seder. It is worn by the chazzan on other occasions, such as Rosh Hashanah, the Hoshanah Rabba service, the Prayer for Rain on Shemini Atzeret, and the Prayer for Dew on the first day of Passover. Back
  12. A Meshulach, one whose job it is to raise funds for an institution. Back
  13. A definition of terms used in this section: Melamed – a teacher of young children; Siddur – prayer book; Chumash – the Five Books of Moses; Rashi – The acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the classical commentator on the bible and the Talmud. Gemara – another term for Talmud. The Early Prophets include the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel I & II, and Kings I & II. The Latter Prophets include the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets. Back
  14. The period of the Second Aliya was from 1904-1914, and the Third Aliya was from 1919-1923. Back
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