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Shuls, Shtiblech and Minyanim {cont.}



[Page 139]


There were also small houses of prayer, where Jews prayed throughout the year, built by Jews who in this way wanted to immortalize their names, such as, for example, Jechiel Winer's, Piekarski's, Blimele Sender's, the House of Prayer of the Szajn brothers and so on, where Jews prayed the entire year.

As mentioned, in addition to the listed houses of prayer, the majority of the small houses of prayer were Hasidic shtiblech. Every Hasid had to pray in his own shtibl and according to the style of his rebbe, but there were Hasidim who only liked to pray alone so that no one would disturb their ardent prayer during which they did not see what was going on around them. On the contrary, there were Hasidim who stood and prayed quietly and calmly, almost as if not moving, but with great fervor.

Each shtibl – a world of its own – where unity between the rich man and the poor man reigned, where everyone used the familiar form, “du [you].” The shtibl was the “second home” for the Hasidim and for many the “only home,” because here they had escaped from all of their cares and heartaches; here they found cheerfulness and help, as well as consolation from their daily cares.

This unity, which reigned among Hasidim in every shtibl, however, did not exist between one shtibl and another because each of them had its own opinions about city matters and carried on quarrels precisely about religious questions such as hiring a rabbi or a rabbi who decided matters of rabbinical law, a shoychet [ritual slaughterer], etc. and thus the Będziner rabbinate consisted of representatives sent by the large shtiblech which already had control over them in the city.

Every Hasid had to travel to his rebbe once a year, particularly for the Days of Awe [Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur]. In general, prayer in the shtiblech was said with ardor, with life and soul – “kol atzmotai tomarnah [“with all my limbs I will say praise”].” It was always joyous in the shtibl and there was no lack of a little whiskey for a bris [ritual circumcision] or a yahrzeit [yearly anniversary of a death]. On Purim or Shimchat Torah, when they would go from the house of one Hasid to another, drinking and eating everything that was prepared – in a word, Hasidim loved to celebrate and to drink or eat together, in a group.

The majority of Hasidic shtiblech in the city had someone who prayed well at the lectern, who would sing the nigunim [melodies] from the “court” that he brought from the rebbe.



The Gerer Shtibl

The Gerer Hasidim were first in the city, both in quality and quantity, with their three shtiblech. The large Gerer shtibl was located on Berka Joselewicza Street. It was one of the oldest in the city. The Achdut young people were already meeting there in 1905 when the Cossacks attacked them and there were casualties. The prominent leaders of Aguda worshiped here, the Szapiro brothers, of whom Reb Mendl was a great teller of stories, Heniek and Towja Szapiro, J. M. Szenberg, Reb Mendl Rozenzaft, for whom even the mitnagdim [followers of the Enlightenment and opponents of Hasidim] had respect, the dayan [religious judge] Reb Heniek Dawid Frydberg, who was considered the great intellect of the Będzin rabbinate, Reb Lipa Kaminer and his son-in-law, Mosze Chaim Kaminer, editor of Yiddishe Wochenblat [Yiddish Weekly Newspaper], Mordechai Wajs, Jekele Szapiro's son-in-law, Reb Szlomo Jicchak Rynski, president of the kehila. Here the political decisions of the city were made.

The Gerer Hasidim struggled for years to place their rabbi [as the head of the Jewish community] and they succeeded: the last two rabbis of Będzin were from the Gerer court, the Rabbi, Reb Hersz Chanoch Lewin, of blessed memory and after his death – his son, Reb Mendele, may God avenge his blood.


Bed-139.jpg [27 KB] The synagogue from inside
The synagogue from inside
The watercolor painting by S. Cygler

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Bed-140.jpg [27 KB] The western wall of the synagogue
The western wall of the synagogue
Painting by Cygler

The learned men would sit in the shtibl studying Gemara from early in the morning and discuss Torah. The shtibl was open the entire day and one could hear the young men studying with well-known Gemara melodies until late into the night.

The Gerer were known as experts about music and as good bale-tfilot [cantors or those who pray at the synagogue lectern]; of them, the old Reb Jekele Szapiro, who prayed at the lectern into his 90's and chanted Kol Nidre [the opening Yom Kippur prayer renouncing all vows], Musaf [extension of morning prayers on Shabbos and holidays] and Ne'ilah [concluding prayer on Yom Kippur] during the Days of Awe; and the brothers Aron and Nuta Koplowicz, Berl Ajchenwald and Reb Lajbisz Froman were particularly distinguished. Reb Aron Mendl Redlic was the gabbai. The “silken young men” and the Gerer sons-in-law who received room and board from their fathers-in-law created their own shtibl, which was called the “14-ner” or “Cossacks.” They surpassed the older ones in zeal, did not know of compromise in making concessions and did not refrain from slapping an opponent when it was necessary…



The Radomsker Shtibl

The second spot in the city, according to the number of worshipers, was taken by the Radomsker Hasidim. Their importance in the Hasidic world of the city was very great. And if the Gerer Hasidim believed themselves powerful, the Radomskers believed themselves to be aristocrats. The large Radomsker shtibl, which was located on “Jatke” [butcher shop] Street, was a center of Torah and Hasidism. Dozens of young men heartily studied a page of Gemara there the entire day.

Many of the esteemed members of the city's middle class would pray in the shtibl, as for example, Reb Nachum Cukerman, Abram Dawid Openhajm, Reb Mosze Hersz Fiszl, Reb Szlomo Szajn, Abram Jakob Rajch, Jicchak Mordechai Gold, Hilel Pachter, Zalman Ernst, the brothers Chaim and Meszulam Liwer, the brothers Szlomo Josef and Jecheskiel Ber Openhajm, Gerszon Rechnic and Reb Jakob Rechnic, a good bal-tefilah [cantor or person who recites the prayers] and a better storyteller of rabbinic stories. The Radomsker Hasidim were famous as good bale-tefila [plural of bal-tefilah] and loved to sing. Among them were the Blind Jecheskiel (Frydman), Szlomo'le and Mosze'le Frajdman, Jakob Zyskind, Szlomo Himelfarb, Abram and Gerszon Rechnic. Later, when the city grew there were two more Radomsker shtiblech. One of them was on the market, which was called the “Katowice shtibl,” because progressive Hasidim who would travel to Katowice to enjoy themselves, worshiped there. Wolf Sztajnhart, Mosze Lask, Berisz Rembiszewski, Aron Hendler, and others prayed in this shtibl. The third shtibl was in the Szajn's house; it was called the Radomsker, perhaps because the bale-tefila were the well known Radomsker Hasidim, the Blind Jecheskiel, Jekl Zyskind and Abram Rechnic.



Aleksander Hasidim

The Aleksander Hasidim in the city also held themselves to be great aristocrats and haughty people. They would not let themselves be pushed aside by the Gerer. Several hundred Jews prayed in their only large shtibl on Kołłątaja Street. There was also a yeshiva located in the shtibl where young men would study a page of Gemara for the entire day with the head of the yeshiva.

An entire group of the esteemed middle class of the city, such as Red Mendl Dąb, Jicchak Aron Landau, parnes [elected head] of the kehila, the dayan [religious judge] Dan Lipszyc, may God take revenge for his blood, Reb Lajbisz Buchwajc, chairman of Mizrachi [religious Zionists] and others, prayed at the Aleksander shtibl. The bale-tefila were Reb Jisralke Orbach and the brothers Monje and Jicchak Aron Landau. The Aleksanders played a large role in the city, first thanks to the constant struggle that they carried on with the Gerer Hasidim and thanks to their Hasidim who held a distinguished place in the Jewish community.


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Sochaczewer Hasidim

The Sochaczewer shtibl, which was located on Modrzejowska Street in Hitelmacher's house, was also one of the largest in the city. Będzin had enough refined Jews and rich men to be divided among all of the shtiblech, but the Sochaczewer were distinguished by great scholars and keen minds, Jewish scholars. We will remember a few of the several dozen minyanim who prayed in the shtibl – the gabbaim: Reb Jakob M. Gutman, Reb Josef Grundman and Reb Heniek Jungster; the bale-tefila: Jakob M. Gutman, Reb Josef Prawer, Reb Chaim Dawid Rajch, Reb Aron Chaim Manhajmer, then Reb Juda Ferens, Reb Heszl Luftig, Jakob Landau, Chanoch Jungster, the Naszalsker Rabbi's son, Reb Abram Orner, Josef Grundman, Reb Hersz Josef Holender and his son, Fajwel, Reb Josef Herszberg (Kuliszer), Reb Herszele Erlich, councilman in the Będziner city council, Reb Majerl Herszkowicz, Dawid Erlich, Mendl Erlich (Fanja) and on and on. Who can enumerate all of the dear Jews?”

It is self-evident that other Hasidic shtiblech also had scholars, but it is not possible to recall all of them here. We will only mention the names of the shtiblech that were in our city, where thousands of Jews would come to pour out their most pained hearts in times of trouble: the Kromołówer shtibl, Amshinower [Mszczonów], Radoszicer [Radoszyce], Pilcer, Suchedniówer, Pińczówer, Rozprzer [Rozprza], Chenciner [Chęciny], Kocker [Kock], Sokołówer, Wolbórzer, Szureker [Żarki] and even a shtibl for far-off Boyan, which was located near the Hungarian border where the Boyaner Rebbe from the Sadigura dynasty lived. Yet in 1870 the esteemed Będziner resident, Manela Lasker, founded the Boyaner shtibl where the then rabbi Reb Icze Kimelman prayed (he later became a Gerer Hasid); in the last years, the brothers Szalom and Dawid Lasker, the esteemed Będziner rich men, Gutman, Richter and others prayed there.


*


At the conclusion of this article I will again recall the shtibl where I, as a young boy dressed as a Hasid, would go with my father every Shabbos to pray. Our shtibl was called “Liwer's Bet-haMedrash.” Later, the Amshinower Hasidim took over control. Many years have already passed since then; I have wandered across many lands and oceans, but many times I return to the shtibl in my memory, where I spent my childhood playing nuts[10] or tag with friends. Many times my father would come out in the middle of reading the Torah and pull me by the ears back into the shtibl

Or Shabbos evening, when the Jews would sing the Shabbos songs with rapture, clinging with all of their strength to Shabbos and not wanting to part with it, we young boys would sit in a corner and tell stories about ghosts and devils, about a prince and so on. We would also not want to part with the world of dreams… Until someone said with a sigh: “Nu, we have to do the Maariv [evening] prayer.”


Zagłębie
by Abram Blatt

In your festering alleys and streets
Days speed as dynamo belts
Skies darken over versts[11] and miles
With dark reeds and dusty columns.

Here picks roar and hammers rumble,
There sparks spurt from the blacksmith's iron,
Homeless mothers sob in cottages
Complete invalids poisoned by gas.

Here turbines from Bankowa Huta[12] whistle
There chimneys spit from Dutel's factory
Processions of mites[13] stretching outside
And fists are raised with silent gazes.

Here the miners go down to graves and shafts
And dig out rocks of black diamond;
A miner crawls in a blackish linen sheet
(Like blind horses in the shafts)
In Zagłębier country.

Copper and lead accompany the sky
Consumption[14] sprouts at intersections as lilacs on an avenue.
Here a little shop flickers and there a stall,
Zagłębie, a threatening volcano.

(Published in Undzer Tribune [Our Tribune], Będzin, Kislev 5699 [December 1938])


The shtibl was small in quantity, perhaps three dozen Jews, but it had a great influence in city matters in quality. Three dazars [synagogue wardens], all from Aguda [Orthodox political party], prayed there and the two patriarchal brothers, Abram and Kalman Liwer, and Bunem Bonhart, the great Hasid and bal musaf[15] of the shtibl, may the Lord avenge his blood. Here I see the beautiful and dear person, Jechiel Kurland, who was the main bal-tefila for many years and the two young bale-tefila, the athletic Chanan Londner with his strong voice and Jakob Zelmanowicz, whose quiet, somewhat hoarse voice was still charming in his praying and finally the gabbai of the shtibl, the short Reb Chaim Rubin, who would go home from praying every day at 12 or 1 in the afternoon.


*


All of the synagogues and Hasidic shtiblech have become still; the voice of Torah and prayer is no longer heard, perished in the great abyss that was named Auschwitz.

All perished, no trace remains, no grave. There is no one to say kaddish [prayer for the dead]; let these words be a gravestone for the dear Jews. Yisgadal, vayiskadash [Magnified and sanctified – the first words of the kaddish] …


[Page 142]


Menachem'ke emigrates to Eretz Yisrael

by Dawid Malec

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

We present here an excerpt from the Hebrew book, Ma'agalot [Cycles, also known as Young Hearts], which has a connection to Będzin, from where the author, Melec, comes.
The Editor

In his childhood years, when Menachem'ke spent days in the chadarim [religious elementary schools; the singular is cheder] that were distasteful to him and also in later years when he was freed from the burden of studying, being an idler, he read widely and faithfully devoured entire books. He willingly sat for hours, pensive, on the wooden bridge not far from the street where he lived, listening to the noise of the water that he absorbed in his blood so that it seems to him that he hears the echo of that noise even today.

There were two rooms, like two separate worlds, in the house where his parents lived, which stood across from the great courtyard. One room that was large and comfortable was dominated by the spirit of his father and of the people who stood around him. In this room there were all kinds of noises from his father's perplexing dealings.

Menachem'ke was very concerned about this room and its dealings, and many times he tried to reproach his father about why he spent entire days idle, unconcerned with the fate of the family and did not help to carry the burden of earning a livelihood, which fell solely on him.

His mother – an entirely different world. There was so much warmth, goodness and delicacy in her room. Sometimes on Friday when he returned from cheder, sitting so deep in thought when the day was still so long and boring, his mother came nearer to him, put her arms around him and nestled his head with such love and tenderness in her heart and he snuggled in her warm, fragrant bosom.

She served him some of the fish cooked for Shabbos. When he dipped the white, warm challah [traditional braided Shabbos bread] in the golden fish soup, its fragrance was like the intoxicating aroma of his mother, like the best wine pouring into his blood. After having been in Eretz Yisrael for many years, he often still felt this fragrant aroma.

His mother was always busy with the household, but her work was done so quietly and with such satisfaction. She prepared and cleaned, washed and cooked, polished and aired and always took care that the house was always freshly whitewashed and that it sparkled beautifully and clean. As a result, she had little time to devote to her vegetable garden that was planted in the spacious courtyard and glimmered with its cultivation and would be cleared of weeds.

He always appreciated his closeness to his mother, both in his childhood years and in the time of his youth. He was so thankful to her for her full and limitless good heartedness. After the work at home in the evening hours, when he wanted to thank her, he took her to the river, where the small barracks of Stefan dem hoyker [the hunchback] stood. There, small boats of various colors were tied up near the shore. Menachem'ke sat his mother in one of them. He moved the oars and at the same time he looked in his mother's eyes from which shone such clearness. He was delighted with her look and could not understand from where he had gotten such a mother and who in general could equal her because there was not another mother like her among all of the mothers in his shtetl

When it was already dark, when everything was absorbed by the last light of sunset, when quiet reigned everywhere and the echo of the oars was heard in the slapping of the water – his mother sang some sort of song with such a sweet, pleasant, little voice, a melody full of incomprehensible longing and sadness.

When Menachem'ke decided to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael, his father was strongly opposed, pacing in his large room, screaming and ranting because his son, his only kaddish-zager [person who says the memorial prayer for the dead] was leaving him alone with his heavy labor, in pulling the yoke of earning, going to distant places where he would forget that he is a Jew, that there is yiddishkeit [a sense of one's Jewishness] in the world and a G-d in heaven.

His mother also spilled many tears in sleepless nights on her bed in hiding, when no one saw. It hurt her so much that her only son was leaving her. Only God knew if she would have the privilege of seeing him again. But besides this, she saw no obstacle to stop him, did not even try to stop him from his journey and also did not exert any influence that he give up his trip and, in addition, gave him her blessing on his long journey.

She prepared the necessary items for him for the long road and for his future life in Eretz Yisrael, as if her heart had told her that was this the correct road for her son, that his place was there in the agricultural work in the Galilee, his hope and connection to working the land that he, Menachem'ke, had often so beautifully described for her.

Yes, thanks to his mother's secret help, he had enough strength to withstand his father's opposition and he emigrated, and a feeling of thanks and love for the glorious image of his sweet mother accompanied him on his way to Eretz Yisrael.

How, in general, was Menachem'ke's idea to go to Eretz Yisrael born? Much youthful energy, deep feelings, clear hopes, golden dreams and joyous reports collected in the hearts of the young people in all parts of Poland. During the First World War, they came together in the Zionist union, they studied Hebrew and sang songs of Zion that were interwoven with a glowing halo of sweet longing for salvation, for redemption and they inhaled the national spirit and were seized by ideas.


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The repercussions of the revolution and of the pogroms against the Jews in Ukraine put in turmoil, shocked and quickly stirred up the young people's hearts with anxiety; they influenced and exalted them.

And the creations of the Jewish poets, the poetic allusions which throbbed with the eternal Jewish ache and affliction – they were not in vain and did not fall on deaf ears. Sons and daughters of the ancient people of Israel tore themselves to Eretz Yisrael, like waves that water dry land and bury the shores. Coming to an empty land, they bound themselves to the earth with a youthful fervor, with such impulsive passion to fertilize it, revive it from its desolation.

Menachem'ke's birth pains with his work were difficult, in the difficult climate of Eretz Yisrael, in empty, arid soil.

Arriving in the country, they assigned him to highway work in the Jordan Valley where, because of the glowing heat, it seemed to him that he had fallen into a lime kiln. And the barhash [tiny fly], a kind of insect that flew out of the emptiness of the world during the cutting of the wheat in the fields, really annoyed him, buzzing in his ears, penetrating into his nostrils and eyes, biting and annoying, actually drove him crazy.

Wounds, blisters and various physical pains weakened him, making him unable to do any work.

He struggled long for his survival; with stubborn strength he did what he had to do in order to overcome the initial anguish of the pains of absorption that he accepted with love, overcame them and actually integrated them into the earth…

([The original article was] translated by M. Hampel)





My first illegal visit from Krakow to Będzin in 1905*

by Jakob Kener

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

* From the book “Kvershnit” [Cross Sections], New York, 1947


On a summer day in 1905, when I was at my work as secretary of the Austrian Poalei-Zion [Workers of Zion, a labor Zionist group] Union in the office of the trade employees union, Achdut in Krakow at Ditl Street 56, a strange, young man entered and introduced himself as a Poalei-Zion comrade from Congress Poland.

In a conversation that developed between us, I learned that the guest from Congress Poland was named Juda Leib Fajner, that he was from Będzin and that he had come to Krakow to see a doctor about a health condition.

We informed each other about the affairs in the Russian and Austrian Poalei-Zion party. One of the first, basic questions that Mr. Fajner was interested in knowing about was: How had we, the Austrian Poalei-Zion, reacted to Palestinism? Are we “prognostic Palestinists,” as are the majority of the Russians, or perhaps, “practical Palestinists” because the Polish union – according to the information from Comrade Fajner – stood on the soil of principled Palestinism. [16]

I informed him that the Austrian party did not have a uniform stand as regards this question and this was actually the way it was. The majority were Palestinists as a matter of principle. There was also a considerable number of “practical” and “prognostic Palestinists” and there were also many who were completely indifferent to the attitude of how and why we came to Palestinism. For them the conclusion itself was most important, that we are Palestinists without any chicanery…

Although I declared myself a prognostic Palestinist to Comrade Fajner, this did not prevent him from inviting me to Będzin for a lecture. First, he wanted the Będziner comrades to become acquainted with a Poalei-Zionist from the Austrian party. Second, he believed that a prognostic justification of Palestinism could more strongly defeat the S.S. (Zionist-Territorialists [who believed in the creation of a Jewish territory, not necessarily in Eretz Yisrael]), who were stronger at that time in the entire Zagłębie area.

We talked shortly before his return home about when I should come to Będzin and how I would inquire about him.

In order to cross the border, one had to have a foreign passport or at least a short-term pass that every businessman could receive for use during the course of eight days. However, I could not receive such a pass because my connection to the Austrian army was then not yet regular… I had not committed an offense in regard to the army, God forbid, but I simply had not had any time to appear before the conscription board, and therefore my documents were not in order. This did not hinder my trips across all of Austria's provinces for an entire year, but I could not obtain a pass to spend several days in Congress Poland because of this.

I was in need but had good “ideas” and I turned to Comrade Idel Nusbaum (in his time a worker from our Austrian movement) to ask him to obtain such a pass for himself and lend it to me for several days.


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Idel Nusbaum was a good and disciplined comrade by nature. When he heard about what was happening, he went to the police administration and, on another day, he brought the requested pass in his name.

I was taken aback and surprised when I received the pass by the thought that I would soon be in Russia[17] … I would taste of the flavor of illegal meetings and, in addition, I would use a foreign pass… I did not even look at the passengers, but I immediately ran for the train…

Sitting in the train between Krakow and Granica (the former border station between Austria and Russia) I first studied my document in order to memorize the names of my new parents… By chance I also looked at the remaining columns and to my great amazement I saw that, according to the document, I was a blond, tall, with a long face and four years older than I really was…

It should be understood that I did not feel good about this and my imagination began to paint pictures about how I would fail and how the Czarist gendarmes would sent me to Siberia… Meanwhile, I had already reached the border, and before long, I would have to show my pass. We arrived in an Austrian train at the side of the station and in order to board the Russian train I had to pass through the border office on the station platform on the other side of the station. I “took heart” and marched together with all of the other passengers. When the border gendarmes had patted me down on all sides, rummaged through my pockets, I was skillful and ostensibly smiled… However, when an old man with red bands began to look into my pass, I became redder than his bands and I felt as if I had lost the ability to speak…

It appeared that the old man did not know the Polish and German letters very well, with which the Austrian pass of the tall and blonde Idel Nusbaum, with the long face, had been filled out. And he gave it back to me at once, showing me which door I needed to use to go out to the station platform.

Coming through the search, I thought I was free of all troubles and I ran straight to the ticket office in order to buy a train ticket to Będzin. However, you must understand my desperation – the train to Będzin left the next day at eight o'clock in the morning and it was then just five o'clock in the afternoon. I only had a third class ticket and waiting on the station platform or even in the station with someone else's pass the entire night was not a “safe” matter and I had to find another alternative…

I immediately spoke to a Polish speaking train conductor who had to leave in around an hour with a freight train to Będzin. Instead of buying a ticket, I gave him the amount in question and he sat me in his cabin…

It was a starry summer night. The trip had lasted terribly long, from six o'clock in the evening until two at night. It was frighteningly boring, mixed with vague fear… I spent most of the time of the trip on the steps of the cabin, looking into the distant void of the strange fields, happy about each shining small fire that appeared here and there from afar in the peasant houses and I was nervous about the weird barks of the village dogs… The remaining time that we remained at the station, I had to shove myself in the conductor's cabin so that the other train workers who were busy loading and unloading goods would not see me. And in such a “packed up” condition I had to go back and forth along with all of the crates and casks – shoved along with the train car and tired out I would only crawl out of my hiding place when we left the station in order to breathe a little freer…

The conductor told me the news at two o'clock in the morning that we had arrived in Będzin. However, as it was dangerous to go out onto the platform itself, he told me to jump off while the train was moving and to go a “few steps” on foot until I came closer to the station. He showed me the direction that I needed to go and advised me that just before the station, I should jump over a garden fence and I would already be on the road that went straight into the city.

I chose to follow his advice and with a rare frivolity, I jumped off the moving train. In jumping from the train I used my experience as a former gymnast (in today's terminology it would be referred to as a former “athlete”) and nothing bad happened to me. However, the “journey” to the station continued for about three to four kilometers and after half an hour's lonesome march on the side of the railroad tracks, with the accompaniment of a curious canine music, I reached the garden fence, over which I crawled and actually found myself on the highway into the city.

First of all, I tapped my pockets; did I have my only possessions – the pass in Idel Nusbaum's name? And then happy, I left to enter the city. Although I was satisfied that my doubly illegal trip was successful, I thought about the question of what I did now as I strolled through the streets of Będzin at three in the morning. I did not have any money for a hotel. It was useless to knock at the café where Comrade Fajner would meet me because there was no one there. So I was indeed greatly perplexed.

Walking so early in the morning absorbed in thought, I suddenly noticed a white silhouette slinking in the distance. Of course I was not afraid of the dead, but I could not understand why a figure in shrouds was coming to the middle of the city at three in the morning.

This enigma was cleared up when the distant figure came nearer to me and I saw before me a Jewish bakery worker.


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So, since it was a worker and, particularly a Jewish one, I became emboldened and asked him if he perhaps knew where a young man named Juda-Leib Fajner lived. Hearing Fajner's name, the baker became very relaxed with me. “Oh, you are most likely the speaker from Krakow? I know you do not have to use any schemes with me; I am also a comrade. I know that they have been waiting for you for several days. We are preparing for a large meeting on Shabbos. Tell me, are you a good muscle man? We need to break up the Esesovyetz [members of the Socialist Zionist party].”

I played the fool and tried to protect the writings from confiscation. Arguing that I was only Fajner's relative and I only was asking that he take me to his home. However, the bakery worker did not let himself be made the “fool.” He led me to a hotel, called, asked for Juda Leib Fajner and said that I should be given a room. He told me to sleep until my “relative” came to wake me.

In the morning, at 10 o'clock, there was a knock at the door while I was washing myself. The knocking was a little too quick. Reluctantly, the thought flew through me that gendarmes were coming to arrest me. However, when I opened the door and Comrade Fajner entered, my heart was a little lighter…

It was already Thursday morning. Comrade Fajner led me to a “proletarian” coffeehouse, where I spent both Thursday and Friday from morning to late in the evening. This was our party coffeehouse, where through the entire night – and mainly in the evenings – passionate discussions were carried on. The owner of the coffee house lived in an interior room and meetings of our committee as well as of the professional commissions would take place there.

At that time, the Będziner organization carried on wide ranging professional activity. The bakers, the house employees, the wagon drivers, the trade employees and the leather workers were organized by us. In addition to Fajner, the only leading comrade I remember was Herszl Sztatler, for whom everyone had a great deal of respect because of his patrician background and he had a reputation for his plan to place larger financial penalties on the local wealthy men on behalf of the organization. That summer, all Zagłębie reverberated with the “story of what Comrade Herszl Sztatler had done to a wealthy Będziner man because of his refusal to pay a large sum to the Poalei-Zion organization as a penalty for a sin committed against his employees. Herszl fooled the rich man into going to the river so that they could swim together and when the culprit had taken off all of his clothing and was stark naked, several lads with nettle brooms in their hands appeared as if growing out of the earth and they beat the rich man from all sides, so that he danced boyi beShalom… [Boyi beShalom means “come in peace” and is a line in a song sung on Friday night referring to the arrival of the queen, Shabbos. The song is often danced to and has come to mean getting someone so beaten up that he will dance to any song, in other words, will agree to anything].

It should be understood that after this when things became better for him, he was informed that he must pay so much for the beating. He paid this time and the one who collected the fine from him was no one else but Comrade Herszl Sztatler himself…

In the coffeehouse, I heard many stories that to me, the “Austrian,” sounded simply like tales from a 1001 nights. However, if I doubted any of them for a moment, the meeting on Shabbos convinced me that we can and we must believe the Będziner Poalei-Zion in everything.

After eating on Shabbos, a discussion was called with the Socialist Zionists. The meeting was illegal and it was held in the Bet Midrash. Before going to the meeting, I received several rubles from the committee so that if something happened I would have a few rubles in my pocket and if we were successful in having the meeting end peacefully, I could go straight from there to the train. I sat in the coffeehouse and waited for a messenger that I could go. The messenger arrived at exactly three o'clock and took me to the Bet Midrash. I confess in full that I was interested in the manner in which the lecture was organized, in what the lecture should be. I was greatly impressed by the fact that the Bet Midrash was surrounded on all sides by our guard, with comrades from the security guards and the entire street that led to the entrance to the Bet Midrash was guarded by comrades. At the door itself, two comrades with guns in their pocket stood on each side. Only Poalei-Zionists and Socialist Zionists members were permitted to enter (there were no Bundists in Będzin) and whoever was allowed inside received notice from the two security comrades at the door that they could not leave in the middle of the discussion and, in addition, were discretely shown what was in the pockets of the guards.

The Bet Midrash was fully packed with hundreds and hundreds of all kinds of men and woman workers. There were older young people and even a considerable number of very young people, which was then a rare phenomenon, although in Będzin (as well as in Sosnowiec), there was then a small Poalei-Zion organization and it was mobilized for this meeting.

My report lasted over two hours. It had to last that long because if not, according to the comrades, I would not have made a hit with the masses… What I talked about then was forbidden, if I remember now… I remember only that a member of the Socialist Zionists who had been brought on that Shabbos from Częstochowa, which had earlier been the fortress of the Socialist-Territorialists and then the “independents,” spoke after me… When my opponent ended and I went up to the lectern in order to answer him, someone from the masses roared that it seemed that the police were coming and we did not need anything more. In one blink of an eye, this roar traveled across the entire Bet Midrash and all of the many hundreds of bodies in the audience started for the entrance at once. There was nearly a catastrophe.


[Page 146]


Only thanks to the committee members it ended calmly. One of them immediately called out: Do not be provincial! There are no police! The door guards with their “guns” stood opposite and would not permit the audience to run in a panic. Only when order was restored so that they could calmly be permitted to exit was the door of the Bet Midrash opened. But the entire near catastrophe ended with my not being able to have the final word. As later became known, this was a S.S. trick because they wanted an impression of their Częstochower opponent to remain with at least portion of the audience.

As I began to go from the Bet Midrash to the train, a 12-year old “delegate” from the Sosnowiec organization of the “small Poalei-Zion” approached me and declared that they wanted me to go their meeting hall.

I said goodbye to the Będziner committee members and immediately traveled to Sosnowiec. My visit of a few hours to Sosnowiec that year and my return to Krakow is worth a separate chapter that I will write at an appropriate time. Now I want only to end this: that my above described illegal trip and my report in the Będziner Bet Midrash were for me at that time such an important event that they left a strong and lasting impression on me.




There was a town Będzin

by Josl Harif

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund


I still hear the faint sound of your region, Będzin; I feel you still alive. Filled with the joy of children and song. I see and feel your grayness, your joy, your worry, your Shabbosdike [Sabbath] slumber and your daily intensity.

I still remember the look that shone in the eyes of your dear young people, gorgeous personalities of general intelligence. A characteristic Jewish city with characteristic Jews, Jews hammered on a steel foundation, born in sanctity to maintain their Yiddishkeit [a sense of one's Jewishness] until the time of the Messiah. Immersed in Yiddishkeit.

Her charity institutions, her institutions, her gorgeous synagogue, her schools, were a sample of the entire Zagłębie area.

Wonderful, rooted types of Jews in an old Jewish city, filled with tradition and a glorious history. Będzin, which was transformed into ruins, forgive me; I no longer dream of your reconstruction…

I ask and pray that we will have the strength to draw together your destroyed desires, your longings, your love of Israel; – and that they will be woven in and your tender Yiddishkeit will be protected in rebuilt Jerusalem. Stand up, dear Będzin through Gilgul Mechilot, [the underground migration to Israel of the dead when the Messiah comes and the dead are resurrected] stand up and gather here, resurrected in the Messiah's truth!

Raise your tents, sing your songs, braid again the chain of golden lineage…

The name of Będzin entered and dominated my heart and mind during my childhood years. My years were accompanied by pictures of Będzin.

In the first place, my brother, Chaske, the oldest in our house, and a daring young man, left the village of Piotkowice, located in the Kielcer District, where we lived for many years, and went to Będzin. As small as I was then, my father's worry is etched in my memory, that as an employee in Nachum Cukerman's large warehouse, he [Chaske] could, God forbid, become entangled with the strikers. This was actually in the stormy year of 1905. My father's premonition came true and he “lived to see” a son in the group “Achdut” [United or Union]…

When my brother Chaske came home for a holiday, he gathered all of the peasants from the village around him. I would eavesdrop on their talks in front of our window, which lasted until deep into the night.

His reddish whiskers, thick eyebrows, a short jacket and dark hat said that here stood a Będzin worker, a class conscious young man who did not take the Russian regime to his heart.

I remember also the Mume [aunt] Cerka. She still dances around in our “hut,” in winter wrapped in a shawl, a cape hanging on her shoulders, a basket with pieces of candy on her arm.

The Mume Cerka was not our aunt; we referred to her in this way out of love.

Once a year, at Chanukah time, she would come to sell her husband's products. He was a candymaker in Będzin. She represented the Jewish working woman type of that time, who suffered for every kopek.

My mother showed her great respect, treated her to hot coffee and “snacks.” She remained with us for a few days. She told wonderful stories from the large city of Będzin.

The Mume, who loved Eretz Yisrael and considered herself a Zionist, brought with her brochures about Herzl for my mother and spoke quietly about Eretz Yisrael. A tear fell from my mother's eye.


[Page 147]


And when the Mume Cerka left us, my mother told us that she was a Zionist and for a time she sang a little song that I still remember today.

And for me her likeness is particularly engraved as a Sarah Bat Tovim [the author of “Three Portals,” a booklet of Yiddish prayers intended for use by women], to whose thin bones poverty clings.

My mother also told me about the teacher, Miler, whom my grandfather had brought from Będzin. This was an elegant, tidy Jew, who wore Zwicker [pince-nez / eyeglasses] on the tip of his nose and wore pressed pants with a crease. Many years later when I lived in Sosnowiec, I met a very neat old man by chance. I recognized him from my mother's description from my childhood, with the same pince-nez on his nose, pants with a crease, but his thin, slender body leaned on a cane. With tears in his eyes, he, my mother's old teacher, asked about every particular.

The Jews who wandered across the Będzin district with heavy sacks on their backs, looking up with pleading eyes to the windows and calling out, “Trade, trade” float before my eyes. Perhaps some would sell them some old things. Among these Jews were scholars, although they were degraded by the heavy burden of earning a living. However in exaltation of their holy soul, they carried their Yiddishkeit to a high spiritual sphere and made the onus of earning a livelihood easier on their backs.

Będzin had a Jewish vice president for a long time, the only Hebrew-Polish Gymnazia [high school] in the entire area, an active communal life. The painters Apelbaum and Cygler still stand before my eyes and I see them standing on scaffolds with faces to the ceiling where they painted the Będzin synagogue, and Jewish children looked through cracks to see them at their holy vocation.

I shudder that all of this is a ruin, was transformed into ash. Shabbat afternoons on the górka [Polish: hill], filled with youthful joy, there where the old Polish castle tells of Jewish-Polish legends. Będzin, here are a thousand years of history immersed in your waters of the Przemsza [a river in the south of Poland].

Entire neighborhoods with indigenous Jews, toiling, warm hearts with steel muscles to defend Jewish honor.

How much warm Yiddishkeit was inherent in the Jewish porters (bachmanes) and how did the bottom of the mountain [the poor people who never made it up the mountain] look to Mendele Mocher Sfarim [pseudonym of Szalom Jakob Abramowicz] (Di Zimny… [Polish for chill, here indicating a sense of hopelessness]) with its beggars. Będzin was an assemblage of everything Jewish life possessed.

Various parties dug the bath, built institutions and libraries.

Great Jewish spirits visited Będzin: Sholem Aleichem [Yiddish author], Dr. Zhitlowsky [Chaim Zhitlowsky, Jewish socialist], [Y.L.] Peretz [Yiddish author], Ben-Tzvi [Jakov Ben-Tzvi – a Labor Zionist and the second president of Israel], [David] Ben-Gurion [Israel's first prime minister] and many, many others.

How many stories did the murdered poet and essayist Max Erik (Zalman Merkin) tell me about Będzin, about discussions until daybreak with his uncle, Pejsachson, the Bundist; of the discussions – only a trace remains. Struggled for bread and believed in ideals. Certainly historians will come, who will weigh and measure the history of Jews in Poland and, of course, Zagłębie, particularly Będzin, will occupy a noteworthy place. It is not without cause that she achieved a respected page in the history of Polish Jewry.

Sączewskiego Street was known in Będzin, named for Sączewski, a gentile, who knew Jewish life very well, was a friend of the Jews and truly lived as a Jew.

Once after the welcoming of Shabbat when Jews would take their guests home to their table for Shabbat meals, one of the poor men was left and there was no one to take him home. The Jew, poor thing, stood ashamed, biting his lips at his bitter luck.

And as he stood this way, an elegantly dressed man, not in a Jewish way, appeared and asked him in a warm Yiddish: “Reb Yid, [Reb Yid is a polite way of addressing a man one does not know and is the equivalent of “sir.”] why are you standing there so worried?” The poor man answered: “No one took me home to their table for Shabbat.” The man smiled and said: “Come with me.” The poor man followed after the elegant man to his residence and there opened before him illuminated parlors with gleaming chandeliers and a table prepared with everything good. The host said to the poor man: “Say Kiddush [blessing over wine] and wash [ritual washing done with the recitation of a blessing before a meal]; my household has already eaten.” The Jew said Kiddush by himself and washed in preparation for eating the challah. And Jewish cooked fish appeared, soup and meat. The guest said the blessing after a meal, thanked his host and left.

The Jew came to the poor house to spend the night and told the other guests the wondrous story of what happened to him. Naturally, the guests were jealous of him and asked how it was. They determined that he had eaten at the home of a gentile, at Sączewski's. There was a loud cry and the story reached the dayan [religious judge]. The dayan sent for Sączewski and asked him: - “Was it possible? How could you, an honest man like you; you caused a Jew to sin in this way?” The gentile answered: “Why does the poor man want an answer now? He saw that there was no mezuzah in my home. Why did he eat in my home?…” This was the character of the city, even the gentiles assimilated among the Jews.

There were times of unyielding, more intense Yiddishkeit. There was Będzin, [which] lived, wrestled with itself, struggled. Each of us carries in our heart victims who were close to us, who departed in flames and smoke.

Little by little the world forgets, or wants to forget what happened!

In our homes, in our society, brilliant souls suddenly appeared in Jewish homes that were effervescent with aspirations. The Jewish people loved homes that believed in the world and this world was cruelly silent.

On the threshold of building Eretz Yisrael, wherever we come together for a yahrzeit [anniversary of a death], we will gather the souls of the dear ones, the annihilated Jews, who were not destined to be here with us in the third house [Translator's note: Possibly an allusion to building the Third Temple in Jerusalem]. But we will always carry their holy memory in our hearts.


______________

Translator's Notes

  1. Nuts were used in various games played by Jewish children, including a sort of bowling game. return
  2. Old Russian measure of distance equaling about .66 of a mile or 1.06 kilometers. return
  3. Huta Bankowa, a steelmill located in Dąbrowa Górnicza. return
  4. Stretchers on which corpses are carried. return
  5. Tuberculosis. return
  6. The bal musaf is the person who recites the prayers during musaf service – additional prayers said on Shabbos and holidays. return
  7. “Prognostic Palestinism” was espoused by Dov Borochov, who believed that the Jewish homeland should be Palestine. The “practical Palestinists” believed that there were other possible locations for a Jewish homeland. return
  8. Poland had ceased to exist as a nation after numerous partitions and Będzin was at this time part of the Russian Empire. return


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