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Synagogues

Translated by Susan Rosin

 

The Great Synagogue
(Die Große Schul)

Rising in splendor above the low and run-down houses surrounding it was the Great Synagogue built in the oldest Jewish Quarter. Wide steps led to a tall and wide gateway with the inscription in Hebrew: “This is the gate for G-d the righteous will pass thru it”.

The building was erected during the time of Reb Enzel Cuzmer at the beginning of the 19thcentury near the very old cemetery whose remains could still be seen at the end of the 19th century. The women's prayer area was built in two levels which was unusual and caused opposition from some Hassidim prompting them to appeal to the rabbi of Belz. He responded saying that rabbi's Cuzmer's righteousness is so great that no one should second guess him.

Most congregants were everyday folk, and the Ashkenazi prayer style was followed. Until 1905 the honorary first officer (gabbai) was Moshe Stern, and his assistants were Isaac Jerich and Moshe Waldmann. Other public figures were Israel Nussenblatt, Zvi Hirsch Friedlander the shammash (beadle) and Nissan May, the cantor. During 1914-1918 the first honorary officer was Isaac (Itshe) Hauptmann. Until the holocaust the first honorary officer was Shalom Stern (the son of Moshe Stern) and his assistants were Zeev (Wolf) Waldmann and Shimon Halpern (a silversmith and candlestick maker), and the shamash was Abraham Tadanier. The cantors were David Nussbaum and Sender Kessler. Rabbi Eliezer Ladier prayed in the Great Synagogue for years. To the side there was a small room (“polush”) used by many of the carriage owners in town.

 

The Great Beit Hamidrash

To the right of the Great Synagogue stood the Large Beit Hamidrash (House of Study). Its tall windows gave the impression of a two story building. Here too most of the congregants were also everyday folk and the prayer style was Ashkenazi. This was the only synagogue in which the congregation put on their tefillin during the middle days (Hol Hamo'ed) of Passover and Sukkot. The first honorary officer of the Great Beit Hamidrash was Zalman Schwartzberg (a grain merchant) and his assistant who was also his brother-in-law David Schorr. The shammash was Leib Kurtzer. The officers who followed them were Mendel Liebermann and after his passing Abraham Egid.

The learned Abba Hirszhorn used to pray in this Beit Midrash. There was also a minyan in the “polush” in Beit Hamidrash and the gabbaim were Zvi Apfelgreen and Eingenmachtes.

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The Ziditchev Synagogue
(known as the “Blechene Kloiz”)

Menachem son of Rabbi Yeshaia Leib Falk

I remember with great sorrow the people of the “Blechene Kloiz” one of the most significant synagogues in town and the place where the soul of Jewish Stryj was molded. They were the last generation of suffering and torture that were not redeemed and only few of them passed away before the holocaust. But, most of them died at the hand of the Nazis. It is them I mourn the martyrs, the righteous that were put to death with great suffering without a memorial, without a headstone.

May my words be their memorial and may God avenge them.

Rabbi Yekele Schorr was the head of the Kloiz. He sat at a table to the right of the ark (known as the “golden table”) near the eastern wall. His face was that of an ancient noble patriarch with a very long silver beard. In his later days when walking was hard for him, he came down to the Kloiz only on special Saturdays and on holidays for morning prayer. On other days a minyan was gathered in his house. He was well liked and respected by the Kloiz community.

To the right of rabbi Yekele sat his son in law rabbi Mendele Horowitz, who was also respected thanks to his admired father in law. Later he was the gabbai of the Klioz and acted with forcefulness. Rabbi Itshe Shohet was the permanent blower of the shofar (“ba'al tfila”) during the high holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) in the Kloiz. After his death, rabbi Shalom Shohet took his place in the additional prayers (“musaffim”) and rabbi Mendele in the morning prayers (“shaharit”). Rabbi Mendele was known in town as a public figure, one of the leaders of the Kehila. Even after he lost his fortune, he still acted like a rich man and people still treated him with respect.

To the left of rabbi Yekele, leaning on the prayer pillar stood rabbi Velvele Haftel. He was the student of the rabbi of Dolina (Dolyna) and when he had the means, he would bring his admired teacher to our town. He hosted the rabbi and his entourage of Hassidim in his house. During the stay of the rabbi of Dolina, the house of rabbi Velvele was opened to all who came to greet the rabbi and ask for his blessings. During the visits of the rabbi of Dolina there was a general happiness and spirituality in the Kloiz aided by the “Dolinner Gabbaim” who accompanied him and where known for their musical talents and abilities. With every visit they brought new tunes for familiar prayers and rabbi Velvele tried to learn those so he can share them with the rest of the Kloiz.

Rabbi Velvele himself was praying in the warm Dolina style and for many years he was the one to chant the “Lcha Dodi” (Hebrew: לכה דודי) on Friday nights.

When rabbi Velvele was prosperous he was hospitable and on Friday nights he stayed at the Kloiz until late and brought to his home all those that had no other place to go for the Shabbat meal. Even after he lost his fortune he was still a happy and righteous man and the people respected him.

Across the table sat rabbi Kalman Schorr, the son of rabbi Yekele. He resembled his father in his appearance. He had a long reddish beard and was praying quietly and talking little and responding calmly. He was not a public figure and made his livelihood together with his wife and sons in the oil business. He was lucky to pass away before holocaust.

Several years after the First World War, the second son of rabbi Yekele settled in town. Rabbi Shmelke Schorr married the daughter of the wealthy rabbi Strizower from Rzeszów (Yiddish: ריישע-rayshe).

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When he lost his fortune in Rzeszów he moved with his family to our town and opened a business of tobacco and newspapers/magazines. After he contracted polio, his wife and three sons worked in the store. Two of his sons became fanatic Belz Hassidim and spent most of their time with the rebbe there. The youngest son, Meir was dedicated to the business, but passed away at a young age.

To his right was rabbi Dov (Berrish) Rotfeld, a learned man whose advice was sought by many. He made a good living and was generous to those less fortunate. He was the follower of the rabbi of Czortków (Chortkiv). His sons are in Israel.

Next to him sat rabbi Azriel Kleinmann, one of the Hassidim of the rabbi of Żydaczów (Zhydachiv). He was a learned man with musical talents. He always chanted during the “three meals” and in the absence of rabbi Velvele Haftel, he chanted the “Lcha Dodi”. When he was able to, he was studying in the Kloiz and his sons followed his ways of Torah and piety.

Next to him sat rabbi Shimon Igra, also one of the Żydaczów Hassidim. He was very orthodox and was hopeful that his sons would follow the same path. His eldest son was one of the prodigies of the Kloiz in his youth. However, after the First World War, when the Haskala movement reached Stryj, he as did many other young people, left the Kloiz to pursue a general education to the dismay of his father. In rabbi Shimon's later days, his son brought him to Israel, treated him with respect and provided all his needs while he (rabbi Shimon) was studying with rabbi Mendele Rand in Jerusalem until the day he died.

Rabbi Nuty Sheinfeld the son of rabbi itshe Sheinfeld one of the most respected people of the Kloiz before World War I was not a frequent prayer there. Like his father before him he was wealthy and a philanthropist. On the anniversary of his father's death he was in the Kloiz after the evening prayers and giving charity to the town's poor as well as providing a ceremonial meal to all in the Kloiz.

The list will not be complete without mentioning one of the most righteous elders of the Kloiz who would have surely occupied an important spot at this table if not for his humility and modesty. Rabbi Koppele Seman, a modest, righteous and God fearing, pious man set his praying spot behind the great stove in the Kloiz.

Rabbi Koppele was praying with great spirituality and reverence. Once, he slid on the ice outside and broke his leg, but he continued praying behind the stove until his strength failed.

This stove which was selected by rabbi Koppele for his prayers was very unique. The front was made of one part, but the back was separated into two by an alcove. In the winter both parts of the stove were lit and its heat spread throughout the entire Kloiz. In the winter, the Kloiz people as well as passers-by congregated by the stove to warm themselves away from the elements.

It seemed like this stove was special and made people feel close to the creator and whenever rabbi Koppele was not there someone else took his place while praying the “Shmoneh Esreh” (the Amidah in Hebrew: תפילת העמידה, Tefilat HaAmidah “The Standing Prayer”).

This stove that absorbed so many prayers was eventually replaced by a more modern one covered in shining tiles. In spite of its new look, the modern stove could not heat the entire Kloiz like its predecessor. The elders did not like the new stove and a rumor was circulating that rabbi's Koppele death soon after the installation of the new stove was due to the demolition of the old one.

Another unique stove was standing in the second corridor of the Kloiz. Throughout the year, prayer shawls (tallit) and books unfit for use (or blemished) were placed inside. Before Passover, the stove was thoroughly cleaned and used to bake the Matzah Shmurah.

There was much excitement before baking the matzah in the Kloiz. On the Saturday before Passover (Shabbat Hagadol), the planks were smoothed with a special plane to remove any hametz that accumulated throughout the year. The rolling pins

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were scraped and the tools to punch the dough so it would not rise were all made kosher for Passover.

The following day, Sunday, men from the various Kloiz gathered to bake the matzah, each bringing their own flour. This was the matzah they ate throughout the Passover. The matzah that was bought in market, although kosher for Passover was given to family members.

Rabbi Koppele Seman was kneading the dough with the help of rabbi Kalman Schorr who was pouring the water as needed. Then, the dough was divided among the people standing around the tables. Most of the work was done by the youth from the Kloiz some of them were successful in creating round matzah while others created squares. Then the matzah was punched and placed in the oven with cries of “a matzah to the puncher” and “a matzah into the oven” the smell of fresh baking matzah in the air.

Same actions took place on Passover eve even more ceremoniously.

At the table to the left of the ark sat rabbi Itshe Shohet who was one of the most popular prayer leaders in town. He was one of the finest Masters of Prayer and singers in our city, being blessed with a very musical ear and a power of original melody. He used to act as cantor during the Morning, Sabbath and Festival Additional prayers without receiving any pay. Even during his illness and after his passing the chanting and prayers he composed were still heard. The Kloiz youth gathered on Yom Kippur eve after the regular prayers and sang rabbi's Itshe Shohet melodies until after midnight. Then they returned either to their homes or back to the Kloiz to take a nap and get up early to say Tehilim (Psalms).

At the same table sat rabbi Haskele Horowitz a righteous and humble man who regretted all his life the fact that his sons did not follow the Torah ways. Later in life when his sons assumed the burden of making a living for the family, he spent his days in the Kloiz studying and praying. He mostly studied the “simple Gmara” without interpretations. It was said that he studied the six books of the Mishnah seven times. His prayer was spiritual without any self-praise and only for the glory of God.

Across from him sat rabbi Eizik Hubel. He was a learned and wealthy man who owned a factory for cement pipes. For a while he served as the gabbai of the Kloiz. During his tenure he expanded the gas lamps system so the use of the candles for the students could be decreased. He provided wood for the stove in the Kloiz to make sure everybody was warm.

Rabbi Sender Rothenberg sat next to him and for a period of time served as a gabbai, was involved with the students and provided for them. His youngest son became a Belz Hassid, and since then rabbi Sender was a supporter of the Belz students and claimed their “citizenship” in the Kloiz.

His son Kalman was educated traditionally and in his youth was a student.

Rabbi Moshe Kudisch was another participant at this table. He was a man learned in the Torah, member of the community and involved in education for many years. After World War I with the growing interest in the Zionist national movement, rabbi Moshe became involved in the religious Zionist movement the “Mizrahi” and sent his eldest son to Eretz Israel.

Rabbi Leib Krieger was one of the most prominent Torah educators. With the reopening of the Talmud Torah after the World War I, he became one of its activists and directors. He was involved with the students, their progress and their well-being. On Saturdays he tested the students to follow-up on their progress, praised those that excelled and encouraged those that needed improvement and financially supported those in need. All of his deeds were only for the glory of God.

He was at once strict and lenient with the students and treated them as if he was their father. The cheder boys who came to the Kloiz for study liked him and feared him at the same time. He allowed them to be mischievous in their time off and viewed favorably their happiness during the holidays, but was strict with them during the rest of the year. And insisted on study and pray.

He did not expect these young students to be involved in complicated interpretations or discussions. All he demanded from them was to have a simple understanding based on common sense. He himself studied the simple gmara all his life.

 

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The Hebrew School “Safa Brura” (Clear Language) 1936

Seated in the front row from right to left: Hubel, Shapira (a teacher), J. Garlenter (teacher), Glatstein, and H. David Korn.

 

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Kindergarten adjoining the Hebrew School “Safa Brura” 1936

Standing in the back: The teacher Frieda Byk and H. David Korn a member of the school board.

 

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A class in the Ber Borochov night school 1923

Last Row: J. Hass, S. Melpin, David Seltzer, A. Shayke, Shlomo Rosenberg, J. Becher.

 

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Local members of the Zionist Organiation (General Zionists)

 

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Council of the Stryj Kehila 1925

Standing right to left: Abraham Levin, K. Mayer, L. Apfelgreen, Zvi Krampner, Shlomo Garfunkel, Leibush Pickholz
Seated: Dr. Zeev Presser, Dr. M. Kaufmann, Abraham Apfelgreen, Shalom Goldberg, J. Bernfeld, D. Schiff, Abba Sternberg

 

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The Jewish representatives in the Stryj municipality 1936

Standing from right to left: Dr. Mishel, Dr. Azriel Eisenstein, A. Apfelgreen, L. Szwammer, Benjamin Klein, Moshe Aaron Wohlmut
Seated: Z. Norbert Schiff, Dr. S. Wendel, Dr. M. Kaufmann, Rachel Katz, Dr. B. Milbauer

 

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The Keren Kayemet L'Israel (Jewish National Fund) Activists 1913

 

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The Keren Kayemet L'Israel (Jewish National Fund) Activists 1929

 

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Rabbi Leib Krieger was a “Lover of Zion” by those days' standards and all his life he aspired to immigrate to Israel, which he was able to realize in his later days with his family. Here too, he continued to be active in public life among the Galicia community.

He died at an old age and was mourned by his many friends in Israel and eulogized as was proper for a God fearing Jew whose deeds were dedicated to God and the good of the community.

Rabbi Haim Brand a regular worhiper in the Kloiz was seated at the end of this table. On weekdays he got-up early to study before prayers. He did not have any sons to continue in his footsteps and therefore he treated affectionately all young people studying in the Kloiz.

Also at the table were seated rabbi Yankele Rosmarin, rabbi Rotbard, rabbi Abner Katz and his brother rabbi Aaron Katz.

Rabbi Abner Katz was a learned and educated man and also gained notoriety thanks to his wife Mrs. Rachel Katz, an educated woman who was a well-known public figure active in many charities in town and many turned to her in their time of need.

His brother rabbi Aaron had the privilege to immigrate to Israel before the war and died at an old age.

On the south side of the Kloiz was the “long table” which almost reached the western wall.

At the head of the table sat rabbi Shalom Shohet. Stryj was blessed with many “Shubs” (Shin Vav Beit are the initials of “Shohet Ubodek”, Slaughterer and Inspector).

The first of them was rabbi Sender Shohet followed by his son rabbi Shalom Shohet, rabbi Itshe Shohet and his son-in-law rabbi David, rabbi Nethaneli Shohet and his son-in-law rabbi Shlomo Shohet. All of them were activists and popular with the people.

After rabbi Itshe Shohet became ill rabbi Shalom Shohet became the prayer leader of the additional High Holidays prayers (musafim). He was a man learned in the Torah and had much influence in the Kloiz. He traveled often to the rabbi of Belz, but was considered a Żydaczów Hasid. His eldest son Herzeli who became later the rabbi of Lubicz (Lubitsch) near Belz was considered in his youth a prodigy in the Kloiz. He was considered an expert in Shas (the six books of the Mishnah) and rabbinic Literature. He was a modest and righteous and was famous in the entire area and thepride of rabbi Shalom Shohet's family.

On the south side at the same table sat rabbi Israel Zeidmann who was a regular since he settled in our town after World War One. He was well versed in the Torah as well as general knowledge. He was calm and composed and sound judgment as was the custom in the town of his origin Skala (Skala Podolskaya) where most of the people were Chertkov Hasidim. He spoke several languages and had connections overseas. He did not normally study in the Kloiz, but scheduled lessons at his home. He used to discuss questions of faith and opinions with the senior students of the Kloiz. He did not engage in any public matters of the kehila or the town although he was highly qualified. His eldest son David was a complete opposite of his father. As a young man he joined his father's business and worked hard at it. He had a highly developed sense of community and become a central figure in the public and national affairs of our city. He was an enthusiastic Zionist and later a leader of the Revisionist youth movement. He was a gifted speaker appearing in various gatherings and represented the town's people with the Zionist establishment. He was always ready to help those in need whether with advice or lobbying. Whenever he showed-up at the Kloiz for a quick prayer, people always gathered around him to hear news and updates from the town and from around the world.

Across from rabbi Israel was rabbi Leiser Weiss a Żydaczów Hasid and an in-law of rabbi Itshe Shohet. His sons are in Israel.

Rabbi Aaron Czysez, the brother-in-law of rabbi Shalom Shohet, a Stratyn (Stratin) Hasid was himself slaughterer and inspector, but after settling in Stryj he became a merchant. His son-in-law rabbi Eli Isakawer was also one of the regulars in the Kloiz and friendly with the other scholars there.

Rabbi Shmuel Friedler was a merchant who was a supporter of Torah scholars, a generous, righteous and a philanthropist. After his youngest son Pinni became an enthusiastic Belz Hasid, he supported the Belz students in the Kloiz, and was frequently visiting the rabbi there.

Rabbi Aryeh Fruchter and his brother sat at the other side of this table near the western wall. Unlike the other butchers in town they wore a silk Kapota and shtreimel on Saturdays. They were decent and honest people strict keepers of kashrut as required by their profession.

Rabbi Eli Meir sat at the north table. He taught at the Talmud Torah for many years and

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many of the Kloiz student were educated by him. He guided his students how to self-study which helped them to further their knowledge.

Across from him sat rabbi Abraham Shuster, who was a learned man both in the Torah and general studies and was considered a “maskil” (a follower of the enlightenment movement) in those days terms. He was fluent in Hebrew and therefore was frequently asked to be the reader of the scriptures on Saturdays. Next to him sat rabbi Aaron Reiter, a glazier who studied mostly Maimonides (RaMBaM ם” ברמ – Hebrew acronym for “Rabbi Mosheh Ben Maimon”). In his later days he published “Moshe and Aaron” a book containing selections of Maimonides commentaries. Waking up early in the morning and staying up late he worked on this book for twenty years collecting material from all Maimonides books.

Rabbi Haim Brickenstein sat at a small and narrow table that was placed next to “the table”. He was a Żydaczów Hasid and learned in the Torah diligently studying every day. The Kloiz students were asking for his assistance when they encountered difficulties in their Gmara studies. He had the ability to explain and clarify matters in a simple, understandable and logical way. He was weak physically and used to wear something to keep him warm during the month of Tamuz and he prohibited the Kloiz students from opening windows during summer due to his fear of draft. His eldest son Issachar was a traditionalist and followed in his father's footsteps.

Rabbi Yekele Jerich stood next to “the table” during prayers. He was a tailor by profession, a simple God fearing man, respectful of those learned in the Torah who loved the Kloiz's students. He never missed an opportunity to pray and study, frequently joining any group discussing the Gmara. He frequented the mikva, always participated in the public prayers and believed in the Tzadikim (spiritual masters). His son Isaac did join his father's business as was customary but studied first in the heder and later in the Kloiz.

His neighbor at the Kloiz was rabbi Shimon Shlatiner a brooms and brushes maker whose sons were all educated in the spirit of the Torah, tradition and Hasidism. His eldest son, Mendel was one of the Kloiz's prodigies. His second son Moshe became an enthusiastic Belz follower.

Rabbi Haim Wolff and his brother Nuta Wolff were among the long-standing attendees of the Kloiz. Rabbi Haim, a Dolina Hasid was a respectful landlord in town. He was generous and charitable and helped those in need many times in secret. Haim and Nuta were the sons of rabbi Sender Wolff and their maternal grandfather was rabbi Isaiah Igra (his daughter Mrs. Chaya was the mother of the two brothers).

Rabbi Yessele Boimel stood during prayers at the table, a scholar and a God fearing man. When the shamash (beadle) passed away, rabbi Yessele was asked to take this position with explicit promises from the leaders such as rabbi Yekele Schorr that he would be able to manage the Kloiz affairs as he saw fit without any intervention from the gabbaim (honorary officers of the Kloiz). He carried out his job with fairness and without favoritism, giving the honor of “aliyot” (calling of a member of the congregation to the bimah for a segment of reading from the Torah) equally to the wealthy and the common folk and therefore was well liked and respected by all. He passed away after about ten years during the typhoid epidemic in our town after World War I.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed was a respected teacher for forty years. There was not a youth in town that did not study under rabbi Eliezer for a period of time. He rose early every morning and prayed reverently. In his later years when he could no longer teach, he requested financial relief from the kehila, but was turned-down. He then requested the same from the prime minister of Poland, Piłsudski, an act that raised many brows in our town. I cannot remember if eventually his request was granted by the kehila.

The western table also accommodated many regulars as well as passers-by. During summer days the hallways were also full with worshipers mainly “young grooms” and those who were distancing themselves from tradition and spent most of their time in discussions and conversations after a short prayer, the “amidah” and the Shema.

On weekdays there were additional worshipers in the Kloiz that came there because it was close to their residences.

Rabbi Mottel Rathaus one of the two Husiatyn Hasidim prayed on Saturdays and Holidays at the Chortkiv Kloiz but during the week he prayed at the Kloiz close to his house. His regular spot was at the long table near the south wall.

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Like the early Hasidim he came every morning an hour before start of prayers and prepared himself by studying Gmara, reading psalms and studying the “law” for that day. Then he prayed with the third minyan. He was a God fearing man and strictly observed the trivial commandments with as much care as the weighty ones. He had a business of hides in his house but was studying in his free time.

He was normally quiet and spoke little. But when he was at ease on Saturday or holidays with his circle of the first Hasidim he uttered pearls of wisdom telling Hasidic stories and Torah studies.

His sons followed in his footsteps, were students of Torah, God fearing and well educated. Some of the town's people hid in a cellar of a building that was demolished during the first air-raid of Stryj before the holocaust. Rabbi Mottel perished there with his eldest son Shmuel and grandson Yosel (his daughter's son). It took a few days for the rescuers to dig through the heap of ruins and bring the dead for proper Jewish burial.

Among the worshipers in Kloiz during weekdays was my father. He was the second Husiatyn Hasid in town. On Saturdays he prayed with the rabbi of Mosczick (Mościska or Mostyska) with whom he was friendly from the time we lived there. When the rabbi moved to Stryj, my father continued the friendship and was a frequent visitor to his house.

We lived near the Kloiz (in the house of Shaye Samet) and my father used to pray there on weekdays, usually later in the morning during the fourth minyan or on his own. Then he stayed and talked to the students.

He was a sociable person and carried out conversations about Hasidim, Torah and just plain talk while holding the strap of the hand tefillin. He was a Hasid and a God fearing person. However he detested the exaggeration in prayer of the Belz Hasidim as well as their way of dressing with a sash tied low on their stomachs and the showing of the skullcap under their brimmed hats, traditions that do not add to glory of God. My father was popular with the “modern Hasidim” in town (Ruzhin Hasidim) but was harassed by the Belz Hasidim. When the Belz Hasidim gained influence in town, my father left the Kloiz and started worshiping on weekdays at “Shaye Samet's small synagogue”.

These weekday worshipers were accompanied by their sons-in-law. Rabbi Itshe Herscz Ehrenkranz was the son-in-law of rabbi Mottel Rathaus and was a prodigy in his youth who could have been easily appointed a rabbi in one of the small towns in Poland. But he preferred to make a meager living in his grocery store and study in his free time for the pure glory of God.

My father's son-in-law rabbi Moshe Kupfer was a student of the rabbi of Mosczick. He married my sister when he was 18 years old and was burdened with making a living and had no time for studying. He was one of the first one thousand Jews in town arrested by the Nazis and murdered in jail.

All morning the Kloiz was full of worshipers and on market days peasants from the neighboring villages joined in.

The last of the minyanim was that of the rabbi of Strelisk. He was from a dynasty of rabbis, but did not have a Hasidic following and was supported by his friends and family. In late morning he gathered some stragglers, those late for prayer and barely could make a minyan or he would “kidnap” passers-by so he can say the prayers that required tem men in attendance. In spite of this there was always some brandy and wafers for “snacks”. The money for these came from “blackmailing” the people in his minyan to say a prayer on the anniversary of the passing of some tzadik (righteous one).

*

The religious study system in Galicia was unlike that in Poland and Lithuania, where famous Torah scholars headed the yeshiva and students from all over came to hear their lessons. These students were under constant supervision and their progress closely monitored.

In Galicia, a youth at the “bar mitzvah” age who completed his study in the heder,

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entered the Kloiz for mostly unsupervised self-study. The more senior students felt it was their duty and privilege to guide these young boys in self-study and advice. This was done without any prompt and without any pay.

So, these students attended the Kloiz instead of a yeshiva and many prodigies grew that way to serve in the small towns and villages in Galicia. The older students supervised the younger ones and those in turn supervised the little ones.

The “Blechene Kloiz” had a special draw and many of the town's youth studied there. Perhaps it was because of the light and warmth of the Kloiz or perhaps because of the connection and support that the more wealthy and senior members showed these students.

A large bookcase was placed along the western wall and it was full of books: Various editions of the six books of the Mishnah (Vilnius, Zhitomir (Zhytomyr), Lwow and Vienna), the Shulchan Aruch (Hebrew: שׁוּלחָן עָרוּך) (Code of Jewish Law), books of rabbinic authority, as well as kabbalah and Hasidic books all used by the Kloiz students.

Most of the Kloiz students were supported by their parents and even those without means spared whatever they could so their sons will study not necessarily to become rabbis but for them not to be uneducated (“Am Ha'aretz”) which was considered a disgrace in those days.

As they became older and married, the previous Kloiz students became burdened with making a living and no longer were able to study, but still found some time to stop by for a quick prayer, browse one of the books or just to chat.

Itshe Haftel was a student at the Kloiz in his youth. After his marriage he became a merchant and traveled around Galicia for his business. Upon returning to town he always brought news from “the world” and stories about the other Jewish communities.

Shmuel Rathaus a newlywed, a decent and a gentle soul came often to the Kloiz to learn a page of Gmara.

Shalom Leib Rathaus was one of the more senior students of the Kloiz. Diligent and sharp he studied and taught the Gmara. He was also well versed in general studies and matters. He studied the apocrypha (secret, or non-canonical books), but was not impacted. In his ideology he was close to the Mizrahi movement although he never joined. Like his father, he admired the Husiatyn rabbi. When the rabbi Moshe'le of Żydaczów visited, he was a frequent visitor to his house and became friends with his son Sender Lippale. He was always in discussions with students who happened to stop in town, and was considered a “politician” of the Kloiz, and everyone came to hear from him about events in the “world”.

Second to him was Yekel Buk, from the Shalom Shohet family. He was a scholar, studying day and night, supported by his mother who was a merchant. He scheduled learning sessions for the younger students. At the beginning he was leaning towards Hasidism and traveled many times to Belz. Later, although still very orthodox, he began to consider aliya to Eretz Israel. His plans never materialized. It was rumored that he was shot by a Ukrainian militant on a ghetto street and left to bleed to death.

The third one in this group was Moshe Kleinman who was studying the simple Gmara. He had no plans of turning his studies into a source of income or become a religious official, but only study Torah for the glory of God. He never took part in the “religious wars” that erupted between the Belz students and the ”Epicorsim” (“Heretics”) and therefore was respected by the more senior members of the Kloiz.

Normally when the Kloiz students matured they acquired some general education and tried to find “purpose” in life. Some even went further and distanced themselves from tradition, turned their back on their past and acted in contempt to anything held dear to an orthodox Jew. Some returned later to their “Jewish traditions” although not to the same degree as in their youth. They became “tradition friendly” eating gefilte fish on Fridays, “fasting” on Yom Kippur

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talked about their Hasidic past and stopped at the Kloiz occasionally for a chat.

The opposite happened to Moshe Buk the son of rabbi Shalom Shohet who was the same age as Moshe Kleinman. In his youth he left the Kloiz and distanced himself from all commandments, dressed in a fashionable way and walked around town and in parks on Saturdays as a non-traditional person.

When the rabbi of Belz returned from his exile in Hungary and passed through our town on his way to his temporary home in Oleszyce (Oleshychi), Moshe Buk joined the Hasidic voyage. He spent a few months there with the other “yoshvim” (literally translated “the sitting ones” - a program in Belz which encouraged married and unmarried men to spend all day learning Torah in local shtiebels while supported by local businessmen) and came back a “changed man”. He dressed as a most orthodox Hasid and behaved as a “yoshev”. His piety was excessive compared to the Kloiz students in those days. He studied all day long and everyone in the Kloiz wondered about his changed behavior.

In time he was joined by Shayke Zeidmann that also became a devout and enthusiastic Belz Hasid. He left his home that he considered not orthodox enough and went to “sit” in Belz for long periods at a time.

When the two returned from Belz, they started to organize young men to join them. They did not necessarily select the most orthodox, but anyone who was willing to join them, even secular, took them to Belz and made them join the “yoshvim”. In a short time they created a movement of young men who traveled to Belz. Some went once or twice, but others remained fanatic Hasidim that even exceeded their rabbi s in their orthodoxy and their hatred to the “heretics” that did not join this movement.

Among those that remained Belz Hasidim were: Mottel and Herzel Schorr the sons of Shmelke Schorr who came from a relatively “modern” home became zealous in their behavior and dress; Moshe Shlatiner the son of rabbi Shimon Shlatiner became more learned and orthodox than his father; Israel'ke Rothenberg, the son of rabbi Sender Rothenberg who was unhappy at the beginning about the change in his son's behavior, but later became a supporter of this movement; Pinni Friedler the son of rabbi Shmuel Friedler and others.

Among the younger students of the Kloiz were:

Yerahmiel Rathaus, was an outstanding student since his days in the heder. He was studious and diligent and even as a young boy he prayed with his face to the wall and his prayer book placed on the bench in front of him and when he became older he dedicated himself to studying day and night. After his bar mitzvah he was sent to study with the rabbi of Mosczick and was his star student until the rabbi made aliya to Eretz Israel where he passed away. Yerahmiel was considered a prodigy and was famous even in other Galician towns. After his marriage he became a rabbi in the town, was considered one of the best young rabbis in the area and had many students both young and old.

Matye Zeidmann was also a student of the rabbi of Mosczick and then continued studying in the Kloiz. He joined his father's business, but still continued studying in his free time. He was a gentleman and highly intellectual and even when he could not study on a regular basis, he continued to follow tradition.

Valtshe Buk rabbi Shalom Shohet's youngest son was one of the most important students at the heder of rabbi Meir and studied for a while at the Kloiz under the tutelage of the more senior students. For a while he lived with his brother Herzeli in Lubicz (Lubitsch) and frequented Belz, befriended the less orthodox, and was never considered a part of that sect.

Among those who paid frequent visits to the rabbi of Glogow who was the adversary of the rabbi of Mosczick were:

Mendel Shlatiner, rabbi Shimon Shlatiner's son who studied in the Kloiz and a merchant;

Chaim Cirglass studied for a while under the rabbi of Glogow, then joined his father's business and stopped his studies altogether.

There were others who frequented the Kloiz:

Abraham Lauberboim was very studious and sharp and at the age of 14 received a teaching permit from the rabbi of Mosczick.

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He was knowledgeable in non-religious matters. For a time he was a student in the Lublin yeshiva, then tutoring the Kloiz students and was “splitting hairs” about Talmudic issues and its commentators with the learned people in town. His behavior and clothing were sloppy, but he was a very interesting conversationalist and people were drawn to him.

His first wife was the daughter of the rabbi of Moişei (in Romania) and they divorced due to “irreconcilable differences”. He then “fell in love” with the much younger daughter of rabbi Meir'l Garlanter, an affair that became the “talk of the town”.

Avner Shapira who was a follower of the rabbi of Glogow was studying in the evenings at the Kloiz. He was an honest and righteous just like his father. He was a God-fearing Jew although he was not a Hasid and did not travel to the rabbi.

There were others who came to the Kloiz, not necessarily to study but to socialize.

Lolly Garlanter was not drawn to the sturdy of the Gmara. He spent his time browsing the Hasidic and kabala books and writing poems in a beautiful Hebrew style.

To the disappointment of his parents he refused to become a rabbi. Many of the young Kloiz students enjoyed spending time with him, listening to his interesting conversations and his witty jokes. He dreamed of becoming a Hebrew poet, but was not able to fulfill it.

Others in the Kloiz included Wolf Ehrenstein a student of the rabbi of Mosczick and his brother Yashe one of the promising young Yiddish writers. Ahara'le, the grandson of rabbi Yehoshua Dayan, a prodigy, an outstanding student of the rabbi of Mosczick and then a student at the Lublin yeshiva. He demanded to become a religious judge (dayan) . Duddy Rabin, an outstanding student of rabbi Eli Meir and Yosele Prastak who discontinued his studies.

Others were drawn to our Kloiz from elsewhere: Leib Peinholz, Duddy Millard and Joel Seif.

Differences of opinions were common among the Kloiz students mainly in matters of “high politics” and the rabbinical institutions in town. Some of the students were followers of the “modern rabbi” Ladier, but most were followers of the various Hasidic streams (Glogow, Mosczick, Chortkiv, Belz, Zhidachov, etc.) causing many disagreements.

With the return of the Belz rabbi to Poland, Moshe Buk and Shayke Zeidmann started to arrange trips for Kloiz students to go and “sit” there (in Belz) months at a time. Upon their return they became fanatic Belz followers. This “movement” grew every year.

This group entrenched themselves in the Kloiz and disapproved of those who did not join their “movement”. Although among those that did not join the “movement” were followers of other Hasidic streams, they were seen as “Epicorsim”. They ostracized Shalom Leib Rathaus, who was leaning towards the “Mizrahi” and he became their main target and later Yekel Buk who discontinued his travels to Belz and became friendly with Shalom Leib. They also found supporters among the Kloiz people and in time started to see it as their “Belz Kloiz”.

The most “impure” in their opinion was Lolly Garlanter, who knew Hebrew, wrote poetry and discussed matters of religion and faith with the Kloiz students.

The Belz followers occupied the long table where they could watch the “epicorsim”. Things heated-up when one winter night a towel was thrown from the Belz side and hit one of the students on the other side which retaliated by throwing an old tallit to the Belz camp. A fist fight erupted and it was a true “war of brothers” where Herzel Schorr was fighting on the Belz side and his brother Meir Schorr fighting on the other side. The fight lasted for a while until the others were able to break it up.

[Page 87]

Following this incident, those who did not belong to the Belz movement left and moved to the synagogue of Wolf Ber known as “die Yevonische Kloiz”. This Kloiz had a special advantage because the entrance was in a narrow alley and the interior was dark, thus allowing the students to spend more time reading papers, chatting and even playing chess and cards without the elders watching them.

The “Blechene Kloiz” became empty in time. With the travelling to Blez for “sitting” and the move of others to Wolf Ber there was no need to keep the Kloiz open during day time.

This is the history of our Kloiz between the two world wars. The Stryj community was destroyed, and the people who worked and dreamed some for redemption by the messiah and some looking towards Zion were annihilated and did not live to see the establishment of the state of Israel. May God remember them and avenge them.

The Synagogue of Meir Shalom (Meir Shalom's Kloiz)

This was the prayer center of many groups of Hassidim. The Hassidic rabbis of Stratyn, Strelisk, and Sassov prayed there on their visits to Stryj. In 1910 the Vizhnitz rabbi came to town and prayed there. The gabbaim (wardens) were Haim Garfunkel and his son Shlomo Garfunkel, Shimon Weiss and Shmuel Wagner. For years the prayer leader was Israel Glazer, the grandfather of Dr. Zvi Heller a Zionist activist and a delegate to the Polish Sejm. Other worshipers were the mohel Moshe Zechariah Goldberg, the family of Abraham Apfelgreen and Fishel Shenbach.

 

The Synagogue of Wolf Ber

Was built in the form of a Greek letter, and was therefore known as “die Yevonische Kloiz”. The congregation consisted of well-to-do householders, who followed the Sephardic usage (like the Hassidim). An outstanding member of the congregation was rabbi Shlomo Finger, who was warden and also acted as cantor during the High Holidays.

A special tradition was observed in this synagogue to pray without tallit on Yom Kippur eve. This was based on a legend by which a rabbi Leib Saras prayed there on Yom Kippur eve on his way to see Emperor Joseph. All worshipers wore tallitot when suddenly there was great crowding in the room because the dead came to pray as well. Rabbi Saras told the worshipers to remove their tallitot for relief, and that is how this custom came into being.

 

The Synagogue of the Boyanov Hassidim (Boyanover Kloiz)

The outstanding members of the congregation were rabbi Shammai Gertner, David Ornstein (slaughterer), Shlomo Seif (slaughterer), Leiser and Shlomo Mihlrad.

There were additional houses of prayer (Kloiz) and minyans in our town such as the Kloiz of the Chortkiv Hasidim (also known as “Die Patikker Kloiz”), the Gelle Kloiz where Shmuel Klein was the gabbai, the Kloiz of Moshe Zechariah established by the grandfather of Haim Schiff and Moshe Zechariah Goldberg.


The various minyanim or small prayer groups in our town

The minyan of the rabbi Eliezer Ladier;
The minyan of the Rabbi of Mosczick;
The minyan of the Rabbi of Glogow;
The minyan of the Rabbi of Stretin;
The minyan of the Rabbi of Strelisk;
The minyan of Reb Pinhasel;
The minyan of Motel Drucker;
The minyan of Rabbi Horowitz;

[Page 88]

The minyan of rabbi Eliyahu Labin;
The minyan of Israel Yekels;
The minyan of Yad Harutzim Society;
The minyan of “di Lanys”;
The minyan of Moshe Kurzer of “di Szymianszczyzny”;
The minyan of Yankele Glezer;
The minyan of the tailors;
The minyan of the butchers


The Talmud Torah

Before the First World War the Orthodox Jews of Stryj had established an institution for educating the younger generation in the spirit of the Holy Torah.

The two story building of the Talmud Torah was built in the shape of the Hebrew letter “dalet” in the Jewish Quarter near the Great Synagogue and “Beit Hamidrash”.

The inside of the building was in the form of a school house with long corridors and many large class rooms. There, hundreds of children pursued their Jewish studies all the way from the Hebrew alphabet to Talmud, Gmara and commentaries. Children were moved from the dark and small rooms in the homes of the poor teachers and study in rooms filledwith light and air. The initiators of the1905 (or 1906) institution were rabbi Haim Meyerson, Yekele Ettinger, Eliyahu Zeldovitch, Moshe Kudisch, and Israel Judah Nussenblatt, who were joined by the communal activists rabbi Shmuel Friedler and Haim Kramer.

The most known teachers in the Talmud Torah were: The teacher “Rozler”, Eliezer Melamed, Yehoshua “Behelfer” (Assistant). Teachers of Gmara and commentaries were: Eliyahu Meir Pessburg (known as “Flick”) and Yossele Lindner (known as “Skipky”).


The “Safa Brura” Hebrew School

The national and cultural movement of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries strongly influenced the educated and the Zionists of Stryj who felt the need to provide a Hebrew education and teach the “live” Hebrew language to the children.

The first teachers in Stryj instructed in the Ashkenazi and later in the Sephardi pronunciations giving private lessons or in small gatherings. The first teachers were Axelrod, B. Fuks, a member of the Jewish Defense in Gomel Russia who arrived in 1904, Sapirstein, Hofenbartel, Chotrinsky (who arrived from Russia in 1906), M. Wundermann, M.A. Tennenblatt and Naphtali Siegel.

Hebrew classes were offered even before World War I, creating the foundation for the Hebrew school. Moshe Aaron Wohlmut, a Hebrew scholar and lover of the Torah, was devoted to Hebrew education and the spread of Hebrew culture initiated the idea. The start was in two rooms on Slowacki street where a play in Hebrew called the “Magical Rose” was staged. Abraham Hauptmann, the son of rabbi Isaac Hauptmann (the slaughterer) was the composer and producer and among the students that performed in Hebrew were Miriam (Mania) Hauptmann, Genia Fischel, Sheva Diemenstein.

Following the victory of the Zionist Movement after the First World War, a framework of Hebrew School system was set up all over Poland and the “Safa Brura” school in Stryj became part of it. In 1923, the number of students grew to 300. A decision was made to open a pre-school and kindergarten for 3 – 6 years olds. The first and only teacher was Frieda Byk the granddaughter of Sender Shochet the slaughterer. The teachers' salaries were made comparable to that of public school teachers.

After a few years of growth and thriving came a period of struggle to survive. The number of students declined partly because parents moved their children elsewhere and the kehilla cancelled the financial support for the school. The school board chairperson for

 

Str088a.jpg
Youth Movements Activists of the Keren Kayemet L'Israel (the National Fund)

 

Str088b.jpg
The orphanage in Stryj (the Bourse) and its management 1934

 

Str088c.jpg
Doctors of the Jewish Hospital in Stryj 1934

 

Str088d.jpg
The management of “TOZ” (Jewish public health organization)

 

[Page 89]

the year 1928 was Moshe Spiegel. Baruch Neumann, a lover of Hebrew language was one of the school activists.

After a few years of relatively steady progress, the school started to decline in spite of the great interest in Eretz Israel by the people of Stryj. Only the dedication of the teachers M. Helfgott, Shapira and Haim David Kom kept the school opened. In 1937 the school underwent administrative and pedagogical changes to improve the education standards. A new board was elected with Dr. S. Wandel as chair, Dr. Brauner as vice chair, Mrs. Roth the secretary and treasurer Apfelgreen.

The changes were approved by the “Tarbut” center in Lviv and had a positive impact. The school moved to a new location and thanks to the efforts of a group of dedicated and accredited teachers the number of enrolled student grew.

That was the “golden age” of the school in all of its forty years. The school was a source of pride and a symbol of the national revival which was destroyed in the holocaust.

 

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