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[Page 299]

Personalities

Writers and Academics

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Dr. Yaakov Gromer

Dr. Gromer was in many aspects an extraordinary man. After his childhood in the land of his birth, where he had embraced the study of the Talmud exclusively, there then developed in him a great mathematician – and he came to Goettingen, which was at that time the metropolis of mathematics in Germany. After a short time there he had attracted the attention of the local mathematicians, and in a very short time not only did he attain a deep knowledge of this profession but had also managed to write research which was very highly regarded in order to obtain his doctorate.

He came to Berlin and worked with me as my private assistant on the relativity theory. In those days we published several works together. He remained with me until the early 1930s when he was invited to a prestigious post in Minsk.

Dr. Gromer was not only a brilliant thinker, but also a man with multifaceted interests. He would participate enthusiastically in Jewish matters and was always ready to help everyone.

Taking into account the fact that he suffered from a terrible illness that left him with an ugly appearance, and weakened his body, one can only reflect on how much this man could have contributed to the world. His predicament meant that it was not easy to live with him. Socially it was difficult to maintain camaraderie with him and therefore a productive and fruitful relationship. Because of his own suffering, he was very anxious, and his painful emotions would emanate to those around him.

Signed by Albert Einstein.

(A letter from Prof. Albert Einstein to Prof. Chinitch, 7th April 1953.)

[Page 299]

Dr.Yaakov Gromer - An Amazing Figure

By Zalman Schor

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Dr.Yaakov Gromer

 

In a chronicle in one of the newspapers, in small print, I came across the news that the former professor of mathematics, Yakov Gromer, had passed away in MinsKatzenellenbogen For the reader who knows the personalities of our generation, this name will mean nothing. The chronicle also added that Dr.Gromer was for years a member of the scientific community of Minsk and had worked with Einstein for years – this is too little information to help understand this personality. But for the minority that actually met him, and who lived in close proximity to him, and those who knew how frightful his illness was – an illness that left him devastated - this knowledge was indelibly printed into the eyes of the observers.

In my carefree childhood, learning the first story of Genesis, I was impressed by the story of the figures of the giants, the “fallen of Israel”. Even then I was not sure whether to pity or respect them. It was impossible to measure them by normal standards, the giants who are ostensibly normal people, but greater than all others and very lonely and tragic figures because of their greatness. Because I had met and befriended Gromer, I was never free of this association.

It was not only his physical appearance, which certainly was the first cause of this impression - certainly his outward appearance –the overgrowth of his body –his dangerous illness which left one shaken to see his face, legs and hands enlarging alarmingly from visit to visit. How this frightful abnormal growth brought him closer to his death. Not only children were frightened upon meeting him, but also adults and relatives found it difficult to deal with their repugnance.

However, not just because of this, in his spiritual life, and with all the power of his talent and the depth of his penetrating glance – he had something of the wonderful and marvelous in him. Just as the giants who were tragically lonely in their greatness. He was one of the best pupils of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, one of the few of his yeshiva students who could interpret the Torah and give Torah judgements.

The path from the yeshiva of Chaim Brisker to the mathematics faculty in Goetingen, Germany he made with one leap, and overcame the transitional difficulties of an external student, without the different adjustments needed for a new lifestyle. Just as he was the pride of Chaim Brisker, Professor Landau of Goetingen also took pride in him….

Even the First World War did not stop him from receiving his degree in mathematics, despite the fact that he did not have the correct matriculation and was a citizen of a hostile country. From Goetingen University under Einstein's patronage – he was only one step away from the legendary shoes, (he was Einstein's assistant) he became a virtual civilian prisoner in Berlin, having to report to the police three times daily. In fact, famous mathematicians and professors would come to him – they would converse with him and spend long hours in the world of ciphers, numbers and formulas. With him, one could swim more assuredly in these seas – the oars were in his huge hands. It seemed that the mathematical circles in Berlin were the ones who told Einstein about Gromer's innovations in physics and Einstein added his opinion and proposed to publish the thesis under both names.

It was enlightening to see with how much interest Gromer accepted his proposal, and with what modesty he told his small circle of friends. Seeing that he was in difficult material circumstances, Einstein arranged for part time work in the science academy of Berlin, a position that had not been granted to more senior members of the mathematics faculty – in addition to this, it was wartime, and Gromer was a Russian Jew.

Not only in the realm of science where only mathematicians occupied themselves and ordinary mortals do not tread - but also in everyday matters more familiar to us, Gromer excelled in his erudition. Gromer held that two things were essential – a logical brain and an understanding of the abstract world, and righteousness in the material world. In these two concepts he saw the essence of Judaism. He fought for both with passionate fanaticism. It seems to me that his attitude was uncompromisingly stubborn in his struggle for justice.

During lunch in a small guesthouse, he did not feel comfortable, as there were strangers at the table that he had seen for the first time, he suddenly noticed that one of the flatterers to the rich and powerful had offended a poor man. He violently protested. His large hands thumped the table and his grotesque face became as white as chalk His eyes flamed with fire – he became incoherent with rage and looked completely like a dumbstruck prophet – in the ensuing silence there was a holy shiver.

This was also how I once witnessed Rabbi Simcha Meyer Hacohen, the Dvinsker rabbi, raging at a rabbinical assembly in St. Petersburg, which had adopted a resolution against his will. No one could understand his words, and not all his words were audible. His red scarf and clenched fists, his whole face convulsed with anger. What primitiveness from a person with great power in the silence of his rage.

However, Gromer suffered a great deal from this muteness and the inability to express himself. He also liked to clarify and listen to every speaker that was able to get an audience with him. In his later years when understanding his words became so much more difficult, he would get enraged like an offended child, and blame the listener. Also his inability to express his deep and interesting ideas in writing caused him great sorrow and distress. He strongly favored one idea that seemed very simple to him to explain. He researched and delved into this idea, which was no more or less than:“ The Possession of Jewish Genius, the Highest Expression of the Specific Jewish path in the Abstract Logic”.

He saw living examples in Chaim Soloveitchik and the mathematician Minkovsky, both of whom he regarded as his spiritual soul brothers- twins with one vision in two beings – outstanding personalities in their elevated fields, from one and the same source of Jewish genius.

He once told me this at great length, interspersed with ideas from Rabbi Chaim's sermons and the mathematical principles of Minkovsky. He challenged them with other mathematical analyses and formulas. I proposed that he.write down his ideas. After much imploring, he agreed. For about a week he filled a notebook in densely written Hebrew. He wrote of many deep disclosures and discoveries with very clear explanations. He could unfortunately not build and finish this work. Today it is not possible to solve what might have been and reveal his ideas. By the way, Martin Buber, who found out about this work, publicized that this research would be published in 'Science'.

Before his departure to Minsk, Gromer told me that in the meantime the notebook had grown into a book that was almost finished. It was about the methods of Talmudic studies and the methods of great mathematical advances in the last generations. In addition, he had found time to make inquiries about the existing conditions in Minsk.

With his whole glowing heart, he wanted to participate in the social and community life of his generation - he was eager to attend meetings and would listen with pleasure to political debates and participating in them. However, in this there was also the primitiveness of a giant, as his words became fewer and more meaningful:

Loyalty to the Jewish people.

The sanctity of our social inheritance.

Hatred of wars between nations and the jealousy that causes them.

A tremendous violent outburst accompanied by a fearsome rage against all the men who are falsifiers and against men who are “pleasant in appearance but not pleasant in their existence”. Against anyone whose inner self was different to their outer self.

When amongst people he would be a silent observer on the side, but later in his room he would erupt in a flow of hot lava – full of hatred for his enemies and full of praise for those he agreed with. It was strange to see this giant of a man sit on a small bench surrounded by boys and girls in a community hall on Lenin St. or on Dragoner St and listen for the whole evening to speakers for the Poale Zion or the League for the Workers in Israel, of which he considered himself a loyal member. His friends and professors wanted to establish a professorial chair in one of the universities for him – there were negotiations and offers. However, nothing came of it – probably because of his illness, but he thought it was because of he was a Jew and perhaps his Russian citizenship. Anyway, his bitterness rose with what he saw as the evilness of man.

Einstein, who was most impressed with Gromer, promised to take him to Jerusalem. The idea appealed to him and after the war, when life separated us –we met several times after long intervals, in all our meetings he expressed this dream of his. In our last meeting he expressed interest, even if there was a high school position available to him in Eretz Israel. But no such opportunity presented itself.

Einstein tried to influence university professors in Kovno, also with no result. Until there was an invitation from the Bolshevik university in the White Russian capital of Minsk. Since that time I had never heard from him again. Only in an American Bolshevik newspaper did I read of a mathematics conference in Russia where Gromer's name was mentioned, accompanied by the statement that Professor Gromer was the greatest mathematician of our generation and that Einstein valued him as “a colleague who was greater than himself”.


[Page 305]

A Genuine Talent

By Dr.Y.Klotzkin

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

I personally knew Yakov Gromer for about 25 years. I knew him in my childhood and then in Brisk. He was already a young man and renowned as a Gaon, a genius.

When I was a student at the University of Berne, Switzerland, he studied the German language under me. He had a strange difficulty. Although he could solve difficult mathematical problems, on the other hand it was very difficult for him to learn languages. He remained a stammerer even in Hebrew. Yakov Gromer, in his childhood he was called Yankele Rottenberg (after his grandfather's name) was born a genius. I strongly underline the word genius. He was not just a boy wonder. In every generation there are prodigies of all sorts – people wonderfully gifted in certain areas. But those who deserve the title of genius are very few. One must not confuse the virtuosity that is limited to one of certain fields with the phenomenon of genius that dominates his entire personality and doesn't exclude the intricate relationship between different subjects such as language, music, and science.

I don't deny that Yakov Gromer was gifted with the many talents of a prodigy, especially with a phenomenal memory – but this was not the essence for his distinct individual genius. During his childhood his genius was evidenced in his Talmudic studies. It was said that Rabbi Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik the Brisker rabbi would say: “in the presence of this child Yankele, I have to be very careful of what I say in matters of Torah, so that he will not ask me thorny questions.” Later it was evidenced by his study of higher mathematics in Goettingen and Berlin. Also, in his few last years, he was helped by Albert Einstein, whether he was willing or unwilling, because of the fact that his whole life he did not want to acknowledge that the theory of relativity. Only after much persuasion from his friends, and because of his very poor financial circumstances, did he agree to serve science and Einstein. But the differences of opinion between the mathematician and the physicist genius became ever larger and Gromer was forced to leave this work. He was appointed as Professor in Minsk University on Einstein's recommendation. Isolated, he died in Minsk at the age of 56.

His greatest attribute was depth, which was reached with genuine simplicity, and which could grasp the greatest depths without any effort. It was his manner all his life to handle complicated matters with the greatest simplicity. He could undertake the most complicated issues with simple ease. Startling discoveries and developments, which were attained after great effort and research – these would roll out of his mouth, by the way, as an aside, without much emphasis and concern. He would announce this new discovery without any fuss, as if it were self-explanatory.

Those attributes of his came as a consequence of his refined methods which had nothing to do with overstated humility. On the contrary, his humility was his main quality. This quality was of genuine simplicity. It seems that he himself was not aware of the significance of his discoveries because he reached them without effort. This genius could astound the world with the wonder of his genius. He did not possess any self-importance - a vital condition for every action – a sense of self -importance. Not only did he not possess any tendency to seek praise and glory, which he never tasted throughout his life, he did not seek honor and popularity. With him there was only a natural striving to bring his strengths to expose and express.

It is possible that his severe bone disease 'Elephantitis' was the cause of his lack of lack of ambition. He did not have a great knowledge of the ways of the world. He went about us silent and unknown. He left behind no more than a small notebook that he formulated together with Einstein and a mathematical function that was named after him. By the way, he discovered mathematical formulas and rules that ran parallel to Einstein's theory.

In January 1926, Einstein invited me to his home to discuss the matter pertaining to his assistant, Dr.Gromer. During the years that he worked under Einstein's patronage and assisted him with the foundations of the relativity theory, Gromer received a monthly allowance of 200 marks from Einstein. With the fall in the German Mark, that sum was not sufficient for his survival, even with the greatest economizing. Therefore, it was my duty to make efforts to raise his income. Einstein himself could not understand how such a sum was not sufficient for an unmarried man in Berlin. On the contrary, he argued that this sum was sufficient ”see how much I give him monthly?” I told him that Gromer had additional expenses of cigarettes, the price of which had risen hugely. Einstein replied that he used to smoke cigarettes but because of the crisis he had begun using a pipe. Then I explained that Gromer had additional expenses of medicines for his terrible bone disease – then Einstein said that he now understood the situation. The doctors were capable of extracting the last penny from the sick. Einstein therefore tried to obtain a subsidy to assist Gromer but said he did not know to whom to turn. I replied that he should turn to Felix von Mendelsohn, and was certain that he would not deny his request. Einstein replied that it was exactly because of that that he could not turn to him, as he knew beforehand that he would not refuse his request, and he had moral qualms about this. He preferred to find a rich Jew with the ability to refuse him, and wanted to turn to him immediately. In the end we concluded that he should write to a special institution that was involved in supporting scientists.

We talked about Dr. Gromer, Einstein praised his mathematical abilities and his assistance to him. He regretted that due to his illness, Gromer would not be able to fulfil all the hopes that were pinned on him since the publication of the exceptional notebook with the mathematical functions “As a mathematician, he surpasses me many times over” Einstein said. I told him how much Gromer respected him as a mathematician. “I am only able to extract from mathematics what is essential for me,” he said.

Dr. Yakov Gromer was blessed with extraordinary talents and abilities, his illness, however, greatly weakened him and his creative powers that were capable of great discoveries and new advancements.


[Page 309]

Professor Y. N. Halevi - Epstein

By Professor Simcha Assaf

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Professor Y. N. Halevi - Epstein

 

Yakov Nachum Halevi – Epstein was born in Brest on the 21st November 1878. He studied in a cheder where he excelled as a gifted child prodigy. He went to Vienna to study Jewish studies for one year and then in 1910, he went to Berne, Switzerland.

In 1918 at the inauguration of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he was nominated as Professor of Talmudic Studies. He participated in the publication of the book 'Dvir' (Holy of Holies), and published the quarterly 'Tarbitz' in which he presented his research on his main body of work 'Mavoh Lenoseh Hamishnah', a large book on the subject of the Mishnah.

Professor Yakov Nachum Halevi –Epstein was born in Brisk D'Lita, the city that was in the heart of the nation of Israel. It was an ancient community upon whose seat of the rabbinate there sat great rabbis from the time of the 'Marshal' (Rabbi Shlomo Luria), until it's destruction.

His family was a distinguished one, he himself once told me about the famous genius, Rabbi Arye- Leib Epstein who was a rabbi 200 years ago in Koenigsberg, author of the book 'Sefer HaPardes' and many other important books. He was one of the great lawmakers of his generation. Professor Halevi –Epstein belonged to the 'genuine Epsteins' whose distinctive characteristic was that they were Levis. He signed his early editorials under the name of Yakov Nachum Halevi, also his major work, on the subject of the Mishnah, was signed Yakov Nachum Halevi.

He was a tremulous only child to his parents. His mother was a woman who distinguished herself by her good deeds and love of Torah. She was the daughter of Rabbi Tanchum Yosef, the Rabbi of Katelneh, a suburb of Brest. He dedicated his very important work 'Perush Hagaonim Al Seder Hataharut' to her.

He dedicated his great book on the subject of the Mishnah to his father, Rabbi Chaim, who was a great Talmudic scholar, and studied his whole life. However, Yakov Nachum Halevi was never ordained as a rabbi. He studied in cheder until he was 10 years old as was usual in those days, then he studied under his father, Rabbi Chaim.

Rabbi Chaim's method of learning was based on those of the Vilna Gaon and his great pupil, Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner. The method was simple – a deep and thorough understanding of the Talmud to begin with. And thus he guided his capable son. Yakov Nachum Halevi – Epstein regarded his father as his teacher and rabbi. He published 'His Son and his Pupil'. It was at that time I first heard of him and his impressive achievements, of which his father had provided the basis.

Before his 14th birthday, his father died aged 47, leaving the family without means. His widow became the sole breadwinner. Yakov Nachum traveled to the famous Yeshiva of Mir to study. The head of the yeshiva at that time was Rabbi Chaim – Leib Tiktinski who was famous for his teaching methods, his deep analysis and deciphering of complicated and difficult issues, so that all puzzling dilemmas became self – explanatory.

Yakov Nachum studied in this yeshiva for about 2 years, and then returned to Brest, where he personally explained and presented his studies at the yeshivas of the city.

At the same time he became more involved in the study of the original teachers of the Torah. He felt that there was a great lack of books on the subject and in 1902 traveled to Vilna where the Strashon Library satisfied his thirst for books. He studied Torah and at the same time, also studied general subjects.

In the same year he began to publish his scientific work. His first article was called 'Rabbi Baruch from Greece', which was published in Hamelitz. His second editorial was published in 1903 in Hamizach, which was then under the editorship of Zeev Yavetz. It appears that Halevi - Epstein was close to Yavetz at the time and was influenced by him.

After this came a period if 5 years where he did not publish anything. This was because of his great hunger for study. He swallowed whatever possible knowledge he could and gave up nothing in return. In those years he gave himself over to the study of Torah with great diligence and gathered research material for his future publications. Some of them were written in those 5 years. Of his great research work, he said, that was written 25 years ago. Refering to another of his works he said, that article was written at the end of 1905 in Brisk D'Lita.

In 1907 he left Russia and came to Vienna to study Semitic languages and philology under David Henrik Miller at the university. He became a close friend of some Viennese intellectuals, especially with Professor Optevitzer and Dr. Bernard Wachstein, a well-known bibliograph, and director of the Viennese Jewish community library. During my visit to Vienna in the summer of 1915, I heard much praise from Wachstein about Halevi – Epstein, his intelligence and diligence.

In 1911 Halevi – Epstein went to Berne, apparently because of a desire to limit his study time at the university. There he found a large colony of Jewish students who had been unable to obtain high –school education in the Russian school system. Amongst those that became especially close to him, were the late Dr. B. M. Levine, who founded an association of religious students in Berne called 'Tachkamoni', and Dr. Moshe Seidel.

Halevi –Epstein was partially funded in Berne by the premier scholarship prize money, which it seems that he received through the efforts of Dr. Levine. This society was based in Frankfurt, Germany, with the aim of supporting Jewish students who had come from the east to study in the western European universities.

In the winter of 1913 Halevi –Epstein received his doctorate of philosophy for his important work ' Der Gaonaisch'. This was the introduction to his prolonged research for his work ' A Commentary on the Order of Purification' and his 'Interpretation of the Sages on Purification', which was published by the society 'Mekitzei Nardmim' that existed from 1915-1924. It is here that Halevi –Epstein shows his great strength in Talmudic philology and in the literature of the Sages. His outstanding scientific interpretation about this subject is of great value to generations. It is an example and model for scientific publications and texts of its kind.

In the summer of 1913, Halevi –Epstein moved to Berlin, where his name became famous between the Jewish intelligentsia. He there began to write his life's work

'Mavoh Lenoseh Hamishnah', with which, together with all his other occupations, he worked on for 33 years. It was published in the summer of 1948 in 2 volumes totalling over 1300 pages.

Epstein resided in Berlin during the entire W.W.1 and in 1923 he became one of the editors of 'Dvir' a great scientific quarterly publication for the studies of Judaism, which was founded under the initiative of Chaim Nachman Bialik. This quarterly publication did not last very long. In the same year was nominated as a lecturer at the 'High School for Jewish Studies'. In 1925, on the very day as the inauguration of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Epstein arrived in Israel where he had been invited to chair the Philology Studies department.

There were many years that Epstein studied and lived in poverty. He told me that there were days when he was really hungry and had to think whether to eat his piece of bread in the morning or at night. Also, whilst living in Berlin, he had no income. For a certain time he worked on assembling a dictionary for B. Garavantski, (the son in law of K.Wissotski). The work was handed over to a publisher named H. Chernowitz and was not at all to his liking and taste.

There were instances where he could not send his articles to a newspaper because he did not have the money for postage. He lived a life of austerity and suffering and studied the Torah. He obtained knowledge by sacrificing sleep, pleasure, intimacy with others, and entertainment. With his patient and good nature and the faith of a learned man he spent his life in studying the Torah that he saw as the whole world. He gave his whole soul and genius abilities, living his life by the saying of the sages:” what will a man do and how will he live? He will die alone.”

He was always immersed in the process and far removed from the noisy everyday life.

He realized that being involved worldly affairs would take away the hours he needed.

In reality he was always alert and aware of what was happening in the Jewish world –especially in Israel – but he never came down from his 'Olympus'.

Already from childhood, he had the maturity of an adult. His early works show an unusual scientific maturity – there were all the signs of his thoroughness that was evidenced in his future achievements. With all his scholarly work he embraced the study of the Mishnah, in addition to the Midrash books and the Books of the Sages and the Prophets.

His devotion to the literature of the sages and the Talmud was great. With his incisiveness he penetrated very deep and complicated problems. With his keen eyes he saw every subject correctly, with his wonderful critical senses with which he was blessed always guiding him to the correct conclusion. He never was influenced by the fantasies that flew through the air. His research was always well founded and built on solid foundations. Also his doubts, of which there were not many were mostly well founded.

Every thought he would turn over many times and the result was clear and transparent.

Every matter that he was involved with, he was ever ready to examine it several times again with a critical eye. Here is an example: In his great introduction to the “Interpretation of the Sages on the Order of Purification” he leaned towards the line of evidence that the meaning was based on the Hebrew translation of the commentary of Rabbi Saadia Gaon (Rasag) which was originally written in Arabic. Over time it was discovered and published from new sources in the archives – he studied what he had researched 30 years earlier and came up with the new conclusion that the commentary had been written by none other than Rabbi Joseph Caro, the author of 'Halachot Gedolot' and therefore it's origin was in the 19th century. His research and writings as well as the great book on the subject of the Mishnah were for a select but limited group of scholars..

However, he tried to give understanding to those with understanding hearts. He himself supposed that his reading public - or more correctly, the learned and educated world of his readers was much smaller than it was in reality.

Nevertheless, he was convinced that the fruit of his research work was not just for the children of his generation, but also for future generations who would find interest in his writings. Without doubt, everything that he published had a lasting value for future generations. Everyone wishing to acquaint themselves with the Torah, beginning with the Mishnah and finishing with the rabbinic literature, cannot ignore the work of Professor Epstein. About him one can certainly quote the words of Rabbi Tarfon to Rabbi Akiva:

“Every commentary is really commentary from Life.”

Valued and precious to us whilst alive, and valued and precious he is to us after his death. In the Talmud it was said that Jacob our father did not die, so also our friend Yakov Nachum Epstein did not die. He belongs to those who after their death, will be considered as living. Because he grew and struggled and steeped himself in the Torah, he was enveloped in the spirit of his achievements. He grew up with a good name and left the world with a good name.

May His Memory be Blessed.


[Page 315]

Figures I remember

By Yitzchak Greenboim

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Noah Finkelstein

The first time that we met was during the elections for the 7th Zionist Congress. Those were the days of the great spring in the Polish and Jewish associations before the revolution of 1905. In the Zionist camp at that time there was a great battle between the Zionists for Zion and the Ugandists. Noah Finkelstein, who had excelled himself in Brest with his Zionist work, was elected as the supervisor of the election results for this organization of which I was also a member. We elected groups of 200 Shekel purchasers – nothing unusual happened and everything was quiet in those free elections in which we elected our delegates. In my memory Finkelstein remains as a quiet, calm, good-natured figure with a smile.

The youth would participate very enthusiastically in the debates before the election. At that time we did not have regular elections – the voters would put in their vote cards –that was enough. In those days the voting took place at meetings before the general discussions. If I'm not mistaken, the first to speak was the representative of the Poale Zion, Ruskin from the Boruchov faction. He came out and opposed me vehemently in his speech. Finkelstein listened to both my opponent's and my speeches and smiled at both of us.

Noah Finkelstein was a wealthy businessman, a loyal Zionist activist who got caught up in the Uganda scheme and became a realist. In that movement he was not amongst the leaders, he did his work quietly and calmly.

About a year later, Finkelstein linked up with Yatzkagan, who had begun to publish the 'Tagenblat', a small, cheap, daily newspaper which, within a few days had captured the attention of the reading public. This public was at that time far removed from reading the Jewish and Hebrew press.

From that time on, the connection between Finkelstein and his comrade Yatzkagan was unbroken. Several years later, they founded 'Heint' (today), which was a great newspaper that went through several different stages until after the liberation of Poland (1918) when it became the main newspaper of Polish Jewry with it's' Zionist leanings.

The first years of Heint were very good with the newspaper reaching a circulation previously unknown with the Jewish reading public in any language. Many complained about the Heint's methods, due to the fact that it published cheap romantic stories modeled on the Parisian daily newspapers. Also the screaming articles over time were excessive.

But the Jewish masses liked the Heint, and I must admit that the more the newspaper became established and grew; the publication found it's style and the contents improved and became more refined in the literary and publishing sense. The education that the readers got through the Heint took them away from the influence of the tabloid press and provided them with an understanding of serious editorial and literary issues. The Heint taught them a love of Shalom Aleichem, Peretz, Frishman, and many other writers who were at the forefront of Jewish literature – they all worked for the Heint.

What was Finkelstein's role in the success? It's hard to know, he stood at the head of the Heint administration and as owner apparently did not leave the decisions to Yatzkagan alone. Hard to know how much he influenced – he would always take upon himself the responsibility for the contents and style of the paper. Never did he show that one should differentiate between the owner who carried out his work in a gentle, reasonable manner and the vulgarity and screaming curses of Yatzkagan who would easily take offence whenever he wished.

However, bad days came for the Heint, with the competition from the 'The Jewish Folk', an organ of the Zionist organization. It's staff also became leaders of Polish Jewry in the New Polish Republic –it was then that the idea arose to unite the two newspapers. Finkelstein did not try to defend Yatzkagan when the Zionist leaders demanded to sideline him. Actually, Yatzkagan was not against the idea – he probably understood that he was not capable of editing a political Zionist newspaper in the New Poland.

As far as I know, there was a real bond between the two, Finkelstein and Yatzkagan, until the end of Yatzkagan's life. In Paris they formed a partnership - a newspaper that appeared right up to the Nazi occupation of France. Only once was there a serious dispute between the partners. It came to arbitration and I was one of the referees – I don't remember the details, but both Fadlishevski and myself managed to make peace between them, which was never disturbed again.

I further met Finkelstein at work. These were the heated days of the economic boycott, which was proclaimed against the Polish Jews after the elections to the 4th Russian Duma in 1912. A small committee was then formed whose aim it was to monitor the press that supported the boycott and was full of anti-Semitic hatred. After a certain time the entire work of this committee was concentrated in the hands of a smaller group, which Finkelstein and myself headed He was involved with the financial side, and I was involved with general administration. When the First World War broke out, our group's activity was justified because the same Polish groups that had supported the boycott began slandering the Jews to the Russian military powers. There was malicious gossip about the Jewish connection to the Austro – German regimes and the outrageous accusations that they were involved in espionage.

The effect of this activity, together with other factors helped the Russian military command find a scapegoat for it's military defeats. The results were executions by hanging of innocent Jews, the exiling of entire Jewish communities, arrests and imprisonment. The only possibility to avert the continued expulsions was to collect factual evidence to present to the Russian opposition and the United States in order to convince the Russian authorities. Our committee tried to fulfill these objectives. The money required to fund this activity was given by individuals, especially Finkelstein. He covered all the expenses that were lacking, and did it simply, as if it were a self-explanatory thing. Never did he complain about this situation, although I would bring up the subject frequently – he would always pacify me. This situation lasted until the Germans occupied Warsaw in 1915.

Finkelstein only lived for a few years in the liberated Poland. Der Heint became an organ for the Zionist movement, and he felt superflous. His brother Nechemiah ran his business; the Zionist central committee with its representatives in the Sjem (Polish Parliament) determined the direction of the newspaper and it's attitude to day to day problems. It is possible that there were other personal reasons unknown to me. However, for almost the entire period between the two World Wars, Finkelstein lived in Paris.

Once again he founded a daily newpaper together with Yatzkagan called the 'Parisian Heint'. This newspaper was unlike the other rather miserable and poor quality daily newspapers that appeared in Western Europe to cater for the Jewish emigres from Eastern Europe. It was closer to the Polish press, its contents, however, were poorer because of the poorness of Jewish life and culture in Paris and France. The Parisian Heint did not succeed overnight, it had to struggle hard to justify it's existence, and to achieve growth. It struggled to assemble a good group of writers and staff to reach the Jewish society who would read it – they were not usually to be found in Paris in those years before World War Two.

Moreover, Finkelstein and Yatzkagan seemed to lack the drive. From its first years the newspaper suffered from the fact that the émigrés had assimilated into the local language and were not interested in the Yiddish language. The numbers of Jewish migrants from Poland and other Eastern Europe countries to France was not sufficient to fill the spirit of the times and create a greater circulation for the pro Zionist newspaper.

In France, the fault lay in the following factors: A large part of the Jewish immigrants brought with them an opposition to Zionism, even enmity - learned from the Bundist and communist schools. It became immediately clear to Finkelstein and Yatzkagan that without the support of the Zionist organization, they would not be able to maintain the newspaper. All their efforts in this direction were met with a wall of misunderstanding by the Zionist leaders who did not appreciate the value of a Zionist newspaper in Yiddish, in Western Europe. Above all, they did not see the value of day-to-day contact between the organization and the movement and activity of the many sympathizers that were interested and carried along by the growth and success of the Zionist movement.

Finkelstein and Yatzkagan did not resign their positions –they held out until the end. They found a wealthy Jewish benefactor who invested in the newspaper, he saw it as a business that was potentially profitable and tried to oust the original owners more and more.

Thus Finkelstein lived until the outbreak of W.W.11 – Yatzkagan had died earlier. During the war, I did not hear anything of Finkelstein; I assumed that he had met the fate of the Parisian Jews who were sent to the extermination camps of Poland.

When I came to Paris in 1947, I discovered that Noah Finkelstein was alive bit mortally ill – he was living with a relative in the south of France. He had cancer and was not aware of the gravity of his illness. Not long after, I received a friendly letter from him, which in those dark days when I had been left all alone, was a great consolation to me. With a few considered words that told me little, he conveyed his sufferings – I did what I could to help him – I wanted him to know that he was not forgotten and abandoned by those that knew him and appreciated his work.

One day, I was told that he had come to Paris as his health had improved and he believed that he would recover and be able to work. I immediately visited him and found him lying in bed. I saw in front of me the same Finkelstein with his good-natured smile, a man with strong faith, he was sure that his weakness came because the doctor had ordered him to bed. He was certain that this would pass and that he would be able to return to work. And what was his work? His new efforts to publish the Heint!!

I explained to him the emerging opinion in our circle to publish a Zionist newspaper – its purpose would be to maintain a daily contact with the Zionist supporters that had greatly increased during and after the war years. But these opinions were divided, some wanted a weekly newspaper and some demanded a daily newspaper. I wanted to help with the establishment of a daily newspaper for as long as I was in Paris. Finkelstein was overjoyed and immediately made plans to return to work in a few days when he rose from his sick bed.

Leaving the room, I spoke to his French sister-in-law. She had converted and gone with his younger brother to Warsaw and there had undergone all the sufferings and troubles that he and his family had to endure, but her French nationality had saved her from the concentration camps and gas chambers. She had nursed and looked after Noah during the war until he went to Nice, and presently she once again had come to look after him. She told me that his operation in Nice had been successful, but without a doubt that he still had the cancer and his days were numbered.

I visited him several times –we spoke of this and that. I gave him details about his daughter who had survived in Poland and married a Jew who was a prosecutor on the Lodz courts. She wanted to come and see him, but was unable to get the necessary visas. I had already written him of this when he was still in Nice. I did not ask him about his life in Paris during the war. It was difficult for me to talk to him, as he was unaware of the death sentence hanging over him and only felt weaker all the time. He merely said that he would walk around the streets of Paris without fear and nothing happened to him during the war. I did not press him for details. He participated in my joy when I was able to leave for Israel. I promised that I would do all I could to bring him to Israel. It did not take long before I received the sad news of his death.

Noah Finkelstein was an exceptional man. In the days when he was at his peak, when the Heint was the premier Yiddish newspaper with the largest influence and circulation in Poland, he did not possess a shred of the arrogance of the newly rich who arose and chased honor. He was always modest and besides that, he was refined, good natured and loyal. A typically cultured wealthy Jew, he was involved in the period of the development of Zionism and the national awakening. He pulled them out of their corners and assisted them with the width of social and community works in various areas. Those were enlightened and soul searching days.

Noah Finkelstein was one of those that I.L. Peretz accurately called Sabbath and Holydays Jews.

Avraham Goldberg

Born in 1881 in Brest. His father was a noted scholar and one of the original Chovevei Zion. His literary efforts began in 1902. He was a co writer of Hatzofeh and Hamelitz, then an editor in Warsaw at 'Morgenblatt' and 'Lezten Post'. From 1908, he was one of the editors of the daily newspaper, the 'Heint'.

It was during the elections to the Polish Sjem (parliament) – not in the great days of the 1922 elections, when the Polish Jews voted en masse, secure in their power and their allliance with other national minorities – but in the elections of 1928, when the cracks in the united wall of the Jewish vote and that of the minorities was noticable…

The Pilsudski government had already thrown its entire weight of administrative sanctions against the minority bloc. At this time, Avraham Goldberg was nominated as one of the candidtates to Congress Poland, where his chances of being elected were very weaKatzenellenbogen Generally Jews or the other minorities were not represented there.

Together with Goldberg we went on a propaganda (publicity) campaign through the towns of this electorate, to all the shtetls in the electorate where the majority of the population was Jewish.

Only a short time before, the local Zionists were people from the 'shteiblach' (prayer houses), who would travel to their Rebbes on High Holidays. Their brand of Zionism cost them dearly, as they had to overcome opposition from their parents and environment. It was also noticeable in the chassidic fervor expressed in the behaviour of their leaders and orators. Avraham Goldberg was already known in the shtetls through the 'Heint', the majority of those people were his loyal readers. Until this time, they had never heard him speak from a platform. At public assemblies, he came face to face with his readers for the first time. In his words, they sought not only information, but also advice and guidance.

In this relationship there was also something of Chassidism – instead of the rebbe, came the publisher who declared an awakening and called them to action. In Avraham Goldberg they saw one of their leaders who would show them the way.

His meetings were warm and heartfelt, not only in the popular assemblies, but also in official receptions and in the homes of the Jewish community leaders from the Zionist camp in the towns and villages that we visited.

Goldberg found the days of traveling one long festivity, full of light, love and loyalty. As I observed his radiant face I understood the great value of face-to-face meetings for the journalist with the masses. “We came to the Jewish press, not for an income or profession, but as a means to of realizing our lives' ideals.” A newspaper that uses its power for a great goal must first of all be above reproof. A newspaper that preaches a great ideal must not deteriorate into an instrument of trivial information and entertainment. Each edition must be an awakener and reminder.

Goldberg understood that this was the purpose of his editing the Heint, where he was both a journalist and editor. From the very first edition, he tried to accomplish this aim.It was not long before the Heint became the central organ for the national Zionist movement in Poland – providing an awakening and guiding direction

He rose to the top, conducted and involved himself in all the important issues on a day to day basis. Goldberg would also not wait for certain important questions to arise – he would raise these issues by himself and catch the attention of the reading public, stirring them to demand a solution.

This was Goldberg's manner as editor of a newspaper. He did not see the Heint as a school for talented beginners. He was not involved with their articles and stories and did not show them how to progress in their pursuit of writing and publishing literature. In the end, he was indeed transformed into a reformer, awakening and demanding change. Goldberg only really felt well when conducting his journalist duties, when he would appeal for candor and openness in the articles that he printed in his second and third columns of his paper. There he acted as a commander who allocates positions, searching and caring about articles that would upset the peace of the readers. In quiet times when there were no pressing issues that demanded reading, debate and polemics, in the press and on the street, Goldberg would walk about nervously, complaining of the quiet and boredom and the lessening of the reader's interest in the newspaper. About the lowering of its contents, and complaining about the lack of stimulating and rousing elements. Then, half in earnest and half in jest, he would pose the question to his coworkers “what sort of problem can we invent for the newspaper? Why does it exist?”

The result of all these questions and debate was that he would create a new plan of action, a campaign in which Goldberg could mobilize and allocate tasks amongst his assistants and systematically stir them up.

Avraham Goldberg was a publisher who lived in the moment and day. If I'm not mistaken he never attempted to delve deeply and immerse himself in the problem, analyze, research it from all sides and give it a fundamentalist treatment. Instead, his articles identified problems that demanded instant reading and could not be put off. Moreover, his articles were a call to action. However, his style was not belligerent, rather a discussion and disclosure of his proposals, which were realistic and practical. He was by no means a propagandist or demagogue – he was far from polemics and divisions.

His chief strength was editing and managing the newspaper. He was closer to the kind of editor who almost never writes by himself, but his spirit, ideas and initiative filled the newspaper. He put his imprimatur on it. He totally dedicated himself without limit, selflessly living for the newspaper, as if he wanted to merge with it as one body.

Goldberg was still young and full of fresh strength at the time of his demise. His death was keenly felt at the Heint, because in his family of writers there was no one to replace him.

It was not long after that the great cataclysm befell Polish Jewry and the Heint was also annihilated. Those shtetl Jews who had brought into Zionism their Chassidic fervor, their naiveté and freshness which he loved and strove for – almost entirely went up in the smoke of the gas chambers and extermination camps. The Heint, the arouser and demander, ceased to exist after Hitler occupied Poland. It ceased forever, the place it occupied in Jewish society in the years of struggle and achievement. The role it had occupied and fulfilled as awakener and Avraham Goldberg, deeply etched in the memory of those remaining Polish Jews that survived as the Zionist movement reformer.


[Page 325]

Michal and Nechama Pochachevski

By Moshe Smilanski

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

A. Michal Pochachevski.

He was born in Brest in Ellul 1863. His father was a merchant and manufacturer. His grandfather was Reb Israel Lipshitz the author of “Tiferet Israel” (Glory of Israel). Michal went to a modern cheder where he studied Hebrew called 'Cheder Metukan'. He was one of the six students sent to Israel in 1885 by Chovevei Zion to study agriculture. He worked as an employee of Baron Rothschild in Be-er Tuvia. As an expert in fruit plantations, he became a member of the agricultural committee of the then government. From 1889 he worked the land at Rishon Letzion. His articles about agriculture were published in Hasadeh and Bustane (memories) He also lived in Zichron Yaakov, Yesod Hamaale, and Rosh Pinah.

The youth Michal Pochachevski was one of the “flowers of Zion” in his hometown of Brest. Together with his friends he would prepare 'hoshanot ' on the eve of Hoshanna Raba, on the eve of Channuka he would prepare cups so that he could sell them for the benefit of Chovevei Zion. This he did for three years, dreaming of the time when he would plant greenery on the banks of the Jordan and trees on the mountains of Judea with his own hands.

Thus it was on one beautiful day, a rumor spread that Baron Rothschild had requested that Chovevei Zion send six young men to study agriculture in Israel at his expense. The young man said a prayer deep in his heart “dear God make me a gardener”, and his prayer was heard in the heavens. He was beloved by the Zionist delegates in his city.

Dr. Yasenowski in Warsaw and Dr. Pinsker in Odessa accepted the positive opinion the delegates had of Pochachevski, and the matter was decided. The soul of the young man fluttered between hope and despair, until one day the postman knocked at his parents home and said loudly enough for the whole street to hear: “ telegram”.

The happy news that came from Odessa evoked fear and sadness in his mother. With a cry she bemoaned all the important people of the city, ' why has my son been chosen to be sent away to a foreign land?” His father, on the other hand, took him to the rabbi who prayed and warned him not to go to the colonies where one could obtain rabbinical orders to desecrate the Sabbath. The young man argued and said:” I will go and now give me a blessing, rabbi” The rabbi blessed him with “go in peace and return in peace”.

Michal Pochachevski left and never returned. In the Jewish hostel in Constantinople he and his friends were warned that they would barely escape with their lives and would flee from the land (Israel). However, he thought that even if all of them would flee, he alone would remain. On the 8th Elul 1885, the old ship Lazerow brought the future Jewish gardener to the shores of Haifa. The sea was very stormy on that day; the Arab sailors came onto the deck of the ship with their ladders and ropes and thus the young man, tall and slim, with one shoe on and one foot bare, his other shoe having fallen into the sea introduced himself to the crowd that awaited on the shore.

The group was taken to Rishon Letzion. Pochachevski was given a room in which the landlord was lying in bed moaning with a malaria attack. Pochachevski went outside and slept on the ground, he put a stone under his head, and thus spent his 1st night. With two wagons that belonged to a German from Sharona, they went to Zichron Yaakov. The drivers were Arabs and for two days and nights they blundered around so that they were barely alive when they arrived in Zichron. Quarters had been prepared for them there, a building and a storeroom with provisions provided by the Baron's official. The building was saturated with strange smells and riddled with mice. There they erected 6 wooden sleeping bunks.

The manager of the colony, Warmesser, was good to them. However, the French gardener cast an evil eye over them. A drunk and an enemy of Israel, he had a score to settle with what he considered Russians and Nihilists at Rishon Letzion. This gardener, Degour, was supposed to begin training them in gardening. Four of the group he sent to be porters to the German wagons that brought building materials from Haifa to the colony. The other two he sent to be assistants to the cook in his own home.

The rains came late in that autumn, causing the mosquitoes in the neighboring marshes to multiply terribly. The hard physical work that the six endured, plus the bad food and living conditions had weakened them, and the terrible tropical malaria began to attack them. Pochachevski, however, did not give up. The blackest was white for him as this is how he wanted to see it. He wrote his parents from Zichron: ”I can assure you that I have never had better days in my life. Since we arrived here our aim is to become good gardeners and our aim will be achieved. I myself bless the past and ask for mercy in the future”

Of the six there now remained four and to those were added two sons of the settlers. Their working conditions improved and they began to form the famous plant nursery and plant gardens in the settlement. The four youths were sent to Rosh Pinah where better conditions awaited them. The people of the remote colony received them with joy and their attitiude to them was warm and friendly. The youths began to learn their trade in earnest. The gardener gave them books to study and organized evening classes to teach them both theory and practice. They were taught how to plant - how to make wine from grapes and how to make perfume from the flowers of the fields. Then joy of the young men was great when Baron Rothschild sent them seeds of tropical plants. For this purpose they were sent to Yesod Hamaleh to organize a school of planting for these plants. The four young gardeners settled in the house of Fishel Solomon.

Things began to go well for Michal. He built a house in Rishon Letzion, and brought Nechama Feinstein, his childhood girlfriend from Brest to Rishon. There he tended his home and trees for 55 years. He labored stubbornly and subsequently with talent, concentration, loyalty, faith and above all, love. Michal Pochachevski loved trees and through that love he learnt to understand their secrets.

He was also a founder of Be-er Tuvia in it's first days and brought into existence it's tradition of the “building implements in one hand and the gun in the other”. During the days he would build the sheds and at night would guard the materials with a gun in his hand.

In 1896, Michal Pochachevski left the employ of the Baron Rothschild and became a landowner. He joined the colonizers, excelled in his work and watchfulness over the national treasures – it's trees. He was one of the settlers of Rishon Letzion who paid the Baron's officials the first installment on account for the vines that were planted that day. That day was a great celebration in his life. His land and his home he had bought with money that he had earned from his own work. The day of his house warming was a day of great joy for him. In the 1880s the Zionist executive selected a committee to visit all the agricultural settlements of Keren Kayemet (the Jewish National Fund) and assess their value. One of the assessors chosen was Michal Pochachevski. During this work he fell in love with the objects he was assessing – the settlements and their inhabitants.

He was a good communicator, but after he would explain verbally, he would explain with his hands. Those hands were used to all kinds of work. Although he was a teacher, he never ceased being a pupil. In his old age, he still had an alert mind and heart. His brain was always open open to new agricultural concepts. His eyes, which were good (until his old age he could write and read without glasses) could focus into the future.

(From an article written in 1943 on his 80th birthday).

B. Nechama Pochachevski.

“Nefesh” (soul) was her literary name. This pseudonym exactly described her, as she was - a saintly soul. A young Litvish lass when she came to Eretz Israel, she had already imbibed the beauty of the Hebrew language in her childhood. The language of Yeshayahu and Avraham Mapu, the bible and love of Zion, she harbored the love of these in her heart her entire life. As if by a magic hand she was suddenly plucked from her hometown of Brest-Litovsk and taken by boat to the shores of Tzaritzin (Stalingrad) to where her parents migrated. There she studied in a Russian high school. In her old age, she added Russian poetry with its deep sorrow to the younger Hebrew poetry with which her soul was steeped.

From Tzaritzin – whilst still young and delicate - she was uprooted once again to the land of our fathers. She was kept 'hidden' in the attic of a house belonging to one of Baron Rothschild's officials in Rishon Letzion. From the attic veranda the passers-by in the street of the settlement caught glimpses of a delicate face framed by black hair, her dark shining eyes watching the people in the street with interest. She had been uprooted from her familiar world by her will to form the nation of Israel.

She married a son of her hometown – one of the six who were training to be gardeners. Her husband would usually ride his horse from one colony to another to teach the settlers how to use the tree saws and branch shears.

Even during her youth in the Russian school when all her ideas were expressed in Russian, she would stubbornly cling to the language of the Bible and the Lovers of Zion to try and express her emotions and longings. She began to speak Hebrew on the first day she arrived in the Holy Land. Influenced by the colony's teacher, her home became the first in which only Hebrew was spoken. She would send letters to 'Hamelitz' back home in which the readers could slake their thirst for the details and descriptions of the charm and beauty of the Holy Land. After some years she also sent stories and pictures of life in the new land of Israel.

Her place was not on the Eastern wall (amongst the luminaries) of Hebrew literature, but Hebrew literature was a small temple for her –her quill was an instrument that served her in times of exaltation or sorrow, she would stretch out her hand for the quill.

She was not only occupied with Hebrew literature. She was a settler and interested in agriculture –she was one of the best and brightest of the Jewish daughters of the land. She was also a pioneering founder in her colony of the cowshed, the chicken run, the vegetable garden and the flowerplanting. Her husband left the employ of the baron and became a colonist – a landowner in Rishon Letzion. He developed his farm with cows, horses, goats, chickens and most of his time in the vineyard and fields was under the control of Nechama. She added some of her flowers to the model garden, she treated the animals as her children, she brought them up the same as her son and daughter. She was an outstanding farmer and agriculturalist, mother and housewife. She baked wonderful bread in the oven and would work as busily as an ant all day long.

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