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Jewish Women Personalities

 

The Woman Rokhl Malka Tik

Regarding Rokhl-Malka Tik, who was well-known for her wealth and goodness, many stories were told in Ciechanow. One that illustrates her personality is the following.

Rokhl-Malka Tik lived at the beginning of the 20th century in Ciechanow. She was a daughter of Mordecai Lindenberg and his first wife, whom he divorced. He carried on much business with Berlin and Moscow and had a fishing concession in the rivers of Russia and Germany.

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His daughter from his first wife he loved very much because of her good qualities and gave her the best education of that time. When she reached the age for marriage he married her to a nice young man, Michael Tik. The father set his son-in-law up in his business and made him a manager in the fishing in the Rostov River.

Time marched on. Rokhl and Michael had three sons and a daughter. The couple lived happily. Rokhl didn't want to leave the shtetl of her birth, Ciechanow, though her husband required this because his business was somewhere in Russia. So Michael spent the whole year there and would return home for the High Holidays and bring his wife expensive gifts. In spite of her wealth Rokhl was always solitary and her time was spent raising the children and doing good for others.

Her life was devoted to helping the needy. She maintained a special cook who cooked for the family and also prepared good food for the poor sick. When someone needed a free loan or an alm it was found at Rokhl-Malka's. For every yomtov when her husband returned from afar he found his wife in a new outfit because her former clothes that were still in very good shape, she had distributed to poor brides.

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She was an introvert, very absorbed in her thoughts and very attached to her daughter, who grew very good-natured.

Suddenly this greatly-loved girl became seriously ill. The mother brought the best doctors to examine her. All the Jews in the shtetl prayed for the girl's health but she grew even sicker. It reached a critical stage. Doctors said that only God could help, so Rokhl-Malka deeply believed that God would help and her inner pain she never showed anyone. The daughter was already near death and the mother kept praying in her room.

When the daughter drew her last breath the household help put off telling the mother the horrible news, but the door of Rokhl-Malcha's room opened. There she was pale and stooping, with a terrible look in her eyes, and she asked those present: “Well, can I now make the blessing?” When she noticed that the daughter is no longer amongst the living she excitedly said the blessing: “Adonai noten v'Adonai lokeiakh” (God gives and God takes) and so on, not shedding a tear…

The funeral took place. The mother followed after her dear dead daughter, stony-faced, silent and didn't let out a sigh.

After the shiva the stricken mother, after accepting the words of the comforters, told them that she feels consoled because her daughter is calling her to heaven. Rokhl-Malka started to get ill. The father, who already was staying at home after the daughter's death, didn't leave her bedside. Shortly afterwards Rokhl-Malka died, mourned by all Jews of Ciechanow.


The Bobe (Grandmother) Faige Lifshitz

“Bobe Faige Lifche” -- is what her grandchildren, children, relatives and friends called her. She was the very embodiment of modesty, endless faith and spiritual elevation. She was typical of the Hasidic inspiration and always Shabesdik and Yomtovdik. In any group where Bobe Faige Lifche showed up, she drew respect. She spoke very little, but the soft look of her eyes had more influence on those around her than the most expressive words.

Bobe Faige Lifche belonged to the segment of the Jewish masses who grew up in holiness, purified by poverty and became strong through good deeds. She was the daughter of a great scholar and cabbalist -- Reb Levy Yisroel Kant.

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The Bobe Faige Lifche
The Bobe Faige Lifche

Picture Index

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He was well-known in the learned rabbinic circles. When Faige once came to the old Lodz Rov Reb Eliyahu Chaim Meizl, regarding a certain matter, the Rov respectfully stood up when he heard whose daughter had come.

Reb Levy Yisroel's daughter had a difficult life. She was left a young widow with seven children: two sons and five daughters. The widowed mother suffered great poverty, nevertheless she gave her children the best Jewish education. There were times when there wasn't even a crust of bread in her house but the proud Faige Lifche always conducted herself honorably and respectfully. Later, when her children grew up they left for large cities to work. The daughters became textile workers in Lodz. The children provided for their mother with respect and generosity. The oldest son established a shoe business in Ciechanow and lived together with his mother.

When Faige Lifche's situation improved, she started to concern herself with poor neighbors who were starving. The assistance that she gave them was offered in such a way that they would not be embarrassed. She would eat together with them to make it seem more natural.

During World War I when Russian soldiers were billeted in Ciechanow, and amongst them Jewish soldiers, Faige arranged proper accommodation for them so that they would have good Shabbosim and Yomtovim. Also for the Russian soldiers who used to come from the front for rest to Ciechanow, Faige showed motherly love. She gave them an opportunity to get washed and provided them with fresh underwear. The soldiers, in turn, called her mamushka dorogaya.

To the invalids she showed endless humanity and love, whether they were incapable of work, sick or even out of their minds. She took them into her house, ate together with them, and did everything possible to improve the lives of these unfortunate sufferers.

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With her goodness, her understanding of young people that the Zionist movement brought to her house, she endeared herself to all Jews in Ciechanow. Faige Lifshitz became a good name. All her children were called by her name, Faige Lifshitz's son, Faige Lifshitz's' daughter and so on with her grandchildren. The family grew large and each one took a prominent place in Ciechanow's Jewish community.

Faige Lifshitz died before World War II. Nearly all the Jews of Ciechanow attended her funeral.


Moishe Fuchs

My Grandmother Khana Raizl

No matter how much I write about my grandmother Khana-Raizl as she was called in our shtetl where there was no need to add her family name -- it will be only a drop in the sea of her aid work and of her tzedakah for all needs. She gave generously and anonymously. In General she was a very modest woman -- one of the 36 just people on whom the world depends and cannot live without. She became widowed before World War I after the death of her husband, Dovid Makaver Z”L, a God-fearing Jew and a Hasid of Rabbi Alexander. He died very young. My grandmother Khana-Raizl remained with many children. Only her eldest daughter Rokhl Z”L was married (she also perished in the great fire in Poland). Her whole life was not a bed of roses. She had to worry about a livelihood, the loss of some of her children. Still, she did not lose her spirit but continued on in the way of her family. Her house was open to everyone without exception. That's how she trained her children also: to give alms, to welcome guests for Shabbat. I saw this later in her son's home, my father Moishe Chaim Z”L.

I remember very well her purse that she took with her when she went out -- that was with my mother Esther Z”L from the Gutshtot household (a home well-known amongst the Alexander Hasidim in Lodz). These two went out to “visit” family of means in order to collect contributions to be anonymously distributed, and they were always greeted warmly. Everyone knew that when Khana-Raizl comes one must give -- and more than normal -- and there was no lack of needy in Ciechanow. With all this, nobody knew who the recipients were. This is how she conducted herself with the distribution of challahs for Erev Shabbes or Yomtov.

This was done with the help of neighbors so that nobody would know who the sender was.

And my grandmother had friends amongst all classes of people, from Zionist to Agudat Yisroel. One would come to seek advice in family matters and another in matters of business. Yet a third would come just to unload their troubles and everyone felt better afterwards.

Even before Herzl my grandmother was a Zionist. With all her heart she believed that it was necessary to go on aliyah and help build up the land. Her ideas led, on more than one occasion, to disputes and discussions with members of Agudat Yisroel and Gur Hasidim (who were, as is known, opposed to aliyah). One dispute remains clear in my mind: Grandmother asked someone why it is that every week he goes out to the market: “Why do you go out to the market? Wait at home until the Christian buyers will come to you.” He burst out laughing and replied: “Do you really believe they would come to my house?” To this my grandmother replied “And if we'll sit here -- who will build our land for us -- if we won't go there and work -- nobody will help us.” She didn't ever live until the day that the Jewish State was declared.

To her credit it must be said that one of her sons did go on aliyah with his family in the 20's, and was amongst the founders of B'nai Barak. Another son went on aliyah during later Arab attacks, another son made aliyah during the 30's and was even a manager of a business.

So some of her sons and a daughter went on aliyah. She derived much pleasure from every letter she got from Eretz. Before I left I promised to write her and tell her about every place in Eretz, and did so, but to my distress I couldn't continue when the Arab attacks went on.

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All her life she also dreamed of going on aliyah and might have done so, but for two reasons this did not materialize. She didn't want to leave the remainder of her children in the diaspora and didn't want to be dependent on her children. She therefore remained behind together with some of her children who weren't able to go on aliyah.

She was a very pious woman, but not fanatical. She showed much patience when dealing with people. She never preached religion to others; attempted to understand everyone whether it was a discussion about the fast of Tisha B'Av during the time when building the Bayit Shlishi (Third Temple) or during a discussion with Avraham-Aaron Kelman Z”L, one of her close friends, regarding matters that according to their ideas were in a worldly realm.

She was like a second mother to me. When my father forbade me to go to a youth summer camp -- and I went in opposition to him -- I know that when I returned she would greet me with open arms.

That's what my grandmother, Khana Raizl, of blessed memory, was like.


Dovid Makaver

My Father's Suffering for the Education of his Children

My father suffered very much because of his desire to give his children a proper Jewish education. In the Jewish gymnasium in Ciechanow classes only went to grade six,. Our father Z”L, decided that we should attend the Polish gymnasium. Unfortunately, we had to attend the gymnasium on Shabbat also.

Our father Z”L, was a Hasid of the shtibl named after Motele Z”L. He davened there for many years. And I remember the responsibility of preparing his tallis every Shabbat. This deed went from sister to sister and then to our brothers.

Destiny decreed that the Hasidim decided that it was a sin to study on Shabbes. They warned my father, and finally decided to chase him out of the shtibl and they did indeed stick to this decision.

My father was no longer allowed into the shtibl that he loved so much. He suffered quietly but didn't concede. To us children our father became a saint, a fighter for a broader education. We felt for him deeply but we also wanted to study.

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Part of the Mundzak family
Part of the Mundzak family

Picture Index

My father started to go to the city shul, but he missed the intimate atmosphere of the shtibl. Finally, my father decided to build a shtibl in our yard. There were more than a few who understood him and came to pray together with him. We children were very happy because the suffering of our father after he was disallowed in the shtibl of Reb Motele Z”L was hard to witness. Jews who understood that their children needed a broader education prayed in the new shtibl and others joined them.

Dora Mundzak-Newman

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Reb Yisroel Moishe Mandshik's monument that unfortunately survived only in the photo
Reb Yisroel Moishe Mandshik's monument that unfortunately survived only in the photo

Picture Index


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Z. Appel

Poor People

The Lonely Mute

Every Shabbat, summer time in the very early hours, winter time in the dark predawn, father would take me along to the Bais Hamedresh to recite Tehillim (Psalms).

I recall that when I was ten years old we used to go winter time at predawn when it was quiet all around and the only sound was the crunch of the snow beneath our feet -- father and son to worship the Almighty, Creator of the universe.

Father's customary route was we would walk quickly, almost running, past Shultz' passageway, cutting through Pultusky Street, and go into the blind alley that connected the Pultusky Street with the Bais Hamedresh place.

There was darkness all around, and even darker in the blind connecting alley. And then suddenly there would be a fearful shout, a shout that was like the howling of a wild beast when it is wounded.

In the open space in front of the Bais Hamedresh there stood the mute, dressed in his usual attire, dirty clothes tied with a thick rope, his feet wrapped in thick sacks. He would jump from foot to foot and utter inhuman sounds. Nobody hinders him. He continues in this way until he has no energy left. Tired and exhausted, he enters the Bais Hamedresh, all out of breath. There he takes his usual place beside the door near the washbasin.

That is where he spends his evenings, Sabbaths and Yomtovim. Six days he would spend his days sitting in the tinsmith shop of Gelbard. Day in, day out, from morning until night, he would operate the bellows that stirred the fire. That's how he spent his poor life between the smithy and the corner in the Bais Hamedresh neglected by God and man.

I doubt if anyone knew his name, because he was always called -- the mute.

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The Poor Village Wanderer and the Photographer

Dovid Kamnikofsky lived not far from the shul and Bais Hamedresh in a small low shtibl where there was hardly room to turn around. His wife was a sick woman who gave birth to two sons -- one a baker's journeyman, the second -- a tailor.

Dovid Kamnikovsky lived the life of a pauper. He was a tailor and he worked in the villages. Every Monday he would set out for the village with a sack on his shoulders, his wanderer staff in hand, and return home Friday for the Sabbath. Everyone in Ciechanow knew that Dovid is a village wanderer. When he would pass through the village streets, the Polish anti-Semites would point to him and say that he was an example of the Jews in Poland.

He wore a long capote with the round kippa hat on his head, gartleh, with a staff in his hand. The Jewish photographer in the shtetl photographed him and titled it “Dovid goes with his sack on his shoulders.”

The photographer, Rosenstein, was a Jew whom one never saw in shul, not even to hear the best Chazzan nor at the best Jewish occasion. In general, he distanced himself from other Jews and villagers. Dovid, for him, was merely a curious type to photograph.

When Dovid's son returned home from the army and saw his father in the pose of Rosenstein's photograph, he went in to him and asked to take the photo out of the window display, instead of using it as an advertisement on Varshever Street. Rosenstein replied: “This is my work and no one can take it away. Kamnikofsky's son asked Rosenstein if he had gotten his father's permission. He took Rosenstein to court in Ciechanow.

Kamnikofsky's son took the appeal to Warsaw and pointed out that this is a disgrace for him and his father. In Warsaw also Kamnikofsky lost. There was much discussion in the shtetl about this photograph.

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A Song/Poem Full of Love

The police in Ciechanow were in charge of sanitation. Quite often the householders would have to pay a fine for disobeying an order such as not pouring dirty water in the street on Sunday or on a Polish holiday.

But there were places that were out of sight of the police. One of these places behind the gate at the back of our yard. The space was square, with low shrubs all around. The people in the courtyard would dump their water and garbage there. All this caused a terrible stench during the summer, and in the summer -- a hazard to passersby. When I would go to my friend Khaya, I tried to take a shortcut. It was dangerous, and more than once I would fall, because of the ice of the frozen poured-out water. When I would pass this yard I would hear pleasant singing coming from behind the houses. The singing always had the same theme: “Love.” The voice was that of a woman. I became curious. Once, I went into her house. From her sewing machine there arose a nice girl, dark eyes and hair. It turned out that she was a seamstress for boys. I started to recommend boys to her as customers and so it was that I got to know her better. She lived in a small room with her mother, who had bad eyesight. She was called the “Red Woman” because of her red eyes from her sickness. For periods of time she had no work. The crowding, the poverty, the dirty yard, the sick mother -- all this did not spoil the girl's spirit. She sang while she worked and continued to sing even when she had no work. And the theme of her song did not change: “Love, love.”

Once she told me with joy that she met a boy. She fell in love! “And do you expect to get married soon?” I asked her.

“No, I just want to 'have a love affair' was her reply. I left the city. I heard that only for a short time did she continue to sing of love. The death of her husband in a traffic accident was the cause of her silence.

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