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[Pages 517-518]

Czyzewer Tsitsis And Tsitsis-Makers

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

As for Czyzewo, exactly as for the other villages around it, there is absolutely nothing to make their existence known to the world at large. Czyzewo did not give the world any famous people, no great intellectuals who made the world better for humanity. But Czyzewo, more than her neighboring villages, was known throughout the world due to “pogroms and tsitsis” [four tassels that hang from four cornered garments].

However it is difficult to cite a lot of dates for the pogroms that were perpetrated in Czyzewo (except for the last one in 1937 and the one four years later during the destruction of the Czyzewer Jewish population by the murderous Hitlerites and their Polish assistants). But zaydes [grandfathers] knew and told us that in the last years of the 1700's, during Kosciuski's reign, there were fights around Czyzewo and the Jewish population paid with innocent blood. Later, in 1836-1838, during the uprising in Poland, again innocent Jewish blood was spilled. Generally the fear of a pogrom, that would erupt like a gray storm from time to time, always hung over the Czyzewo Jews.

I do not exaggerate when I say that the tistsis production in Czyzewo was one of the oldest and only occupation that had through the decades developed and served a world market.

As a matter of fact, in 1913 Reb Jechusze Kanet z”l [of blessed memory] a grandson of a Czyzewer tsitsis maker, died in Jerusalem at the age of one hundred. At the beginning of the 1930's, Reb Josef Kanet died in America, a younger brother of reb Jechusze Kanet, a grandson of a tsitsis maker. This is sufficient proof of generation after generation producing tsitsis in Czyzewo.

czy517.jpg [32 KB] - Reb Jechusze Kanet
Reb Jechusze Kanet,
the first pioneer from Czyzewo,
who went to Israel died in 5673 (1913)

 

The largest market for Czyzewo tsitsis was, until the First World War in 1914 Russia. Afterwards it was America, Canada, England and Poland. Daily hundred poods (a Russian weight measure equaling about 16 kilos) of tsitsis, packed in small bales were shipped from Czyzewo. Naturally one tsitsis maker must not know the address of the second's merchant. This secret was well guarded by the expediters, because this is how they made their living.

It is understood from the name “tsitsis maker” that this article was not made in a mechanized factory.

According to Jewish law it is forbidden to use any means other than man's strength to make tsitsis (not even any women). At every stage in the complexity of making tsitsis the worker must always keep in mind that his work is “l'shem tsitsis”. [for the sake of the commandment of tzitzis] Also before beginning work he had to say the following verse: “Harini ose mlakha zo, l'shem mitzvah tsitsis”. [I am doing this work for the sake of the commandment of tsitsis] Later on the rabbis declared it legal to use women for specific production jobs, for example, to wash the threads and to gather the tsitsis in small bundles of 16 threads per bundle (12 threads and four threads “shamas” [rabbi's personal assistant]).

The only tsitsis maker in Czyzewo who did not deviate from the principle “man's strength” was Reb Szmulke Fiszel's (for many decades was the leader of morning prayers in the synagogue during the Days of Awe [from New Year through Day of Atonement]). People said that Reb Szmulke used only wool that he himself sheared from the peasants' sheep in making his tsitsis. He made the tsitsis by himself, without any help. His tsitsis were sold only to selected Jews such as rebbes [Hasidic rabbi, teacher] and rabbis and for a much higher price than those for export.

Many years ago, the only ones to produce tsitsis in Czyzewo were the Kanet family and Reb Szmulke z”l. The Kanet family employed workers who years later began producing these articles themselves. Most of them remained small enterprises except Icze Mejer Parizer who progressed with the help of his mother Chana Liba the wadding maker and his father-in-law Reb Jidel Stoliar. He became the strongest competition for the Kanet family. Then came Reb Jechusze Nisen Kupiec z”l who took over from his uncle Reb Szmulke z”l. There were also small tsitsis makers such as Reb Szepsl z”l, an uncle of Josef Kanet, Reb Mejer Wengerka a brother-in-law, Symcha the tsitsis macher and Josel Zanwel Lejb's [son] Kotliarek.

But the time also brought permission to use machines that were run by manpower, beginning with spinning the wool to finishing the threads (naturally the machine produced tsitsis came out much nicer than those made by hand). The first spinning machine was used in Ciechanowiec, about 20 versts [Russian measure of distance about .66 of a mile] from Czyzewo. There was no train going there - only Reb Lejzor with his horse and wagon. This was the only means of transporting the wool to Ciechanowiec and bringing back the spun threads for the tsitsis makers.

During the First World War, when the machines together with the entire city of Ciechanowiec burned down, Josl-Zanwel-Lejb's fixed up a spinning machine in Czyzewo along with the other machines that were necessary, a carder and a “Tsezvooker”. The force that moved the tsevooker was Reb Szmulje whose origin nobody knew and nobody was interested in knowing. Every tsitsis maker used his own strength to turn the carding machine. But for the spinning machine there was only one specialist in Czyzewo, Reb Lejzor (Mont) one of Icze Mejer Parizer's brothers-in-law.

In between, the tsitsis makers used a hand machine that was made up of a large wheel. The wool was carded and then spun on the wheel. The large spinner machine could produce 60 threads at a time, the hand machine only one at a time.

In the 1930's, Pinie Zysman, a son-in-law of Josef tistsis macher fixed up a spinning machine and the other necessary machines to occupy his brother Meszel.

After the First World War when Russia was behind the iron curtain, the largest market for tsitsis became America. But they were not shipped directly there from the producers. Religious article merchants came to Czyzewo and bought the tsistsis and they in turn had them transported them everywhere where Jews were found.

In 1922 Mendl Kanet's family went to Israel and produced tsitsis for Israel and a small amount was also

czy518.jpg [29 KB] - Reb Josef Kanet
Reb Josef Kanet,
lived to a very old age,
died in New York

 

sent to America. In 1935 Jechusze Nisen Kupiec's family arrived in Israel and also made tsitsis. Josef Kanet left Czyzewo for America and also kept busy with tsitsis.

There were already tsitsis makers in Israel, but from beginning to end, on a very primitive scale. The Czyzewer tsitsis makers who moved to Israel fixed up spinning machines as in Czyzewo. The machines made the work easier and faster and also produced a nicer product. The Czyzewer tsitsis as they were called there were much sought after and carried a higher price.

All the above mentioned tsitsis makers are no longer among the living. Reb Josef Kanet died in American. Reb Mendl Kanet died in Tel-Aviv. Reb Jechusze Nisen Kupiec died in Petach-Tikva. All of them died old men except for Reb Mendl a son-in-law of Reb Jechusze Nisen.

Murdered tsitsis makers during the destruction of Czyzewo were:

  1. Ostrorzanski, Symcha
  2. Ostrorzanski, Szmerl (one of Symcha's brothers)
  3. Bronsztejn, Fiszel
  4. Wengerka, Mejer
  5. Wengerka, Jeszija
  6. Wengerka, Mosze
  7. Zysman, Pinchus (the last of the Kanet family tsitsis makers)
  8. Tombak, Jechiel (a son-in-law of Szepsl tsitsis-macher)
  9. Zysman, Meszel (one of Pinchus Zisman's brothers)
  10. Slucki, Abraham-Josl (one of Icchok Aron's sons)
  11. Slucki, Benjamin, one of Icchok Aron's sons
  12. Cegel, Mendl (was called Mendl Teltses, a brother-in-law of Symcha's)
  13. Kotliarek, Josl (or Josl Zawel Lejb's)

The above mentioned were murdered with their families h”d [may G-d avenge their blood].

With the death of the murdered tistis-machers, the world renowned production of Czyzewer tsitsi also died. Their deathbed ended the inheritance of many generations, from parent to child and relative. Their merit will not depart from us forever.

Reb Mendl Tsitsi Maker (Kanet)

When I knew him he was already middle-aged man. He was a tall man who always had a smile on his face that was encircled by a long, black beard that ended in two points. When people saw him in the street, they noticed an intense man full of energy.

I don't remember when it was, or what he said that first time, Rosheshone [Rosh Hashana, Jewish New Year], or Yonkipper [Yom Kippur Day of Atonement], as he sang with his sweet, sincere tenor “Anaim

czy519.jpg [43 KB] - Reb Mendl Kanet
Reb Mendl Kanet,
called Reb Mendl tistsis macher,
died 21 Adar 5700 (1940) in Tel-Aviv

 

Zimros” at the start of prayers and soon after “adon olum” and “ygadol elokhim chai” before ending with blessings that were accompanied by “baruch hu v'baruch shmo” and “amen” and it echoed all around the walls of the synagogue.

Standing at the cantor's desk and wearing a white kitl [[white linen robe worn on solemn occasions], wrapped in a large wool talis [prayer shawl] thrown over his head, he face shone like the sun. He stood there firm and tall like a pine tree and for a long time and slowly moved. You could hear every word he said.

In the jam-packed synagogue it was quiet. The congregation was waiting to hear more of Reb Mendl's voice.

The congregation soon began praying. The voices, full of sincerity, carried throughout the synagogue like a storm driven wave and the people seemed to move like a forest that sways in a light wind.

It soon became quiet again when Reb Mendl continued the service. And so it continued, with each chapter until he began the last verse with a weeping plea and a shiver ran through everyonelike a lightening storm

czy520.jpg [34 KB] - Reb Mendl Kanet
Rojza-Leja, Mendel Kanet's wife,
who was a real helpmate and carried the yoke with him
to make a living. She died 14 Kislev 5705 [1945] in Tel-Aviv.
By her side is her daughter Chawa, today in Israel Chawa Vitriol

 

through the body. It made hearts heavy and tears flowed.

Each year when the Days of Awe approach, I feel that holy tremor and hear the words exactly as if I was hearing them from Reb Mendl.

The Story Of A Father's Legacy To His Sons

Reb Mendl Kanet was not considered a rich man from the shtetl, but he led a nice life. Any hungry guest coming into his house left sated and with a contribution in his pocket.

But he was not satisfied with giving help accidentally to guests and poor people. He always knew who was in need and too ashamed to make known his poverty. They would rather go hungry than stretch out their hands for help. But Reb Mendel's watchful eye discovered these poor families and gathered money, clothing and other necessities, such as wood and potatoes that he would anonymously provide to those in need of them. Mostly those who received these goods had no idea who had helped them or from where the help came.

To help a needy sufferer this is the highest basis of the Torah, which Reb Mendl inculcated in his children as well other good habits and Jewish customs. People would often see one of his daughters, together with a friend, carrying full aprons with various food products (it was not the fashion then to carry hand baskets), such as honey, sugar, beans, kasha, bread and even meat or potatoes in sacs, thrown over their shoulders. They gathered the food stuffs from the rich and middle class houses and then carried it to poor families.

So that is how his daughters lived during their youth. And that is what they still do today.

In 1914 Reb Mendl left for America. His family stayed in Czyzewo. The First World War and the German occupation severed their contact. His family endured difficult times.

But even though they were having a hard time, they did not forget to provide poor families with the necessities of life.

In 1921Reb Mendl returned to Czyzewo and due to the distinct signs of anti-Semitism that he saw at that time, he decided to leave Poland. The only question was where to go. He chose Israel.

What was the reason why Israel? Reb Mendl's parents had died in Jerusalem and therefore he decided to live in the country where his parents were laid to rest.

On a summer's day Czyzewo accompanies the Mendl Kanet's family, a total of 9 people, (daughters and sons-in-law) to the train to see them off to Israel. Along with the Kanet family the Rubinowicz family had liquidated their farm in the village of Chelenowo (near Czyzewo) as well as their possessions in the shtetl. Both families did this to the surprise of the Czyzewo Jews and Christian acquaintances the pioneers, the first scouts, who went to Israel.

In Israel Reb Mendl renewed his way of living as in past years in Czyzewo. He became a prayer leader during the Days of Awe and he organized a small tsitsis factory in his own house that he had built in Tel-Aviv. His children continued to bring help to the needy, just as they had done in Czyzewo.

Two documents that are proof of the attention and responsibility involved in tsitsis production in Czyzewo.

Documents that prove the great responsibility that was involved in tsitsis production

Regarding the Subject of Tsitsis

Here I will point out the many problems with regard to the making of tsitsis, and provide great detail about the stumbling block with regard to silk, which is completely unfit, for they are not spun and twisted together for the sake of the commandment of tsitsis, but rather folded into a silk lattice that looks like tsitsis. Therefore, it is appropriate to remove this stumbling block from the midst of our brethren, and to point out that silk tsitsis are completely invalid. Heaven forbid that one should purchase them. There is a great prohibition upon merchants to sell them, so as not to mislead the public. It should also be pointed out that one should not purchase woolen tsitsis without certification that they were made in the prescribed fashion that the pre-spinning, and also the spinning and twisting should be done by a person, as is the tradition, for the sake of the commandment of tsitsis. For there are those who do the pre-spinning by a power machine, which is forbidden by the leaders of the generation, such as the Gaon of Tarnow and the Gaon of Bielsk of holy blessed memory the author of “Shaarei Tzion”; and by those are alive including the mighty Gaon of Dvinsk may he live long. Therefore it is fitting to make haste to remove the stumbling block for the sake of the precious commandment of tsitsis, which is considered to be equivalent with all the commandments.

Darchenu, Tuesday of the Torah portion of Haazinu, the eve of Yom Kippur 5695
Rabbi Shmuel David Zwolodower, the head of the rabbinical court of the community of Czyzewo

Regarding the Subject of Tsitsis

With respect to the words of the rabbi, may he live long, the head of the rabbinical court of our city, in the first issue of Darcheinu of this year, we come as Orthodox people in Czyzewo, who have been familiar and expert with the tsitsis making industry in our city for several decades already to publicize the details regarding the aforementioned serious matter, in all of its minutiae and ramifications. As is known from the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish Law) and the legal decisors, the work of making tsitsis must be performed manually, by Jews, for its own sake, from beginning to end. In any other manner, it is not only that one cannot fulfill the commandment of tsitsis, but, on the contrary, one would violate the transgression of wearing a four cornered garment without tsitsis. An incident took place in our city even before the world war that one of the tsitsis makers began to make use of a machine that was harnessed to horses to make the cloth and the pre-spinning. The rabbi may he live long protested, through an exchange of letters, regarding the questions and responsa of several of the great leaders who stated that even the pre-spin that is performed by a machine powered by steam or horses is forbidden because it is the beginning of the spinning. The cloth mat is forbidden because it is combed better. The Maharal of Prague was also stringent regarding the combing On account of the protest, that person stopped his work by horse-powered machine, and resumed his work manually, in accordance with law and tradition.

Thus did the tsitsis making work continue until five years ago, when some irresponsible people arose and began to find pretexts to compete with those who do the work in accordance with the law. (It is known that it is more expensive to do it manually.) From then, the breach grew, and questions arose regarding the presumption of kashrus (i.e. presumption of halachic validity) that the tsitsis makers of our city always had. The breach continued to grow without bounds. For at first, some people in our city attempted to do only the combing by machine, and now people in other towns use steam powered machines even for the spinning. If in our city there are only few who transgress the law and do their work deceitfully to mislead the masses there are already people in other cities who do not know their right from their left, and perform the work of tsitsis making like any other job, without concerning themselves with the great responsibility that rests therein.

All the aforementioned refers only to woolen tsitsis that are made under some sort of supervision. However, the silk tsitsis that are sold in all factories are invalid and completely forbidden, since the merchants purchase silk thread in Lodz and make bundles of tsitsis from them. The breach is very great. According to the Torah leaders, it is urgent to deal with this matter in all of its ramifications.

The Agudas Yisroel Organization of Poland, Czyzewo branch


[Page 537]

The Purim-Shpiler

by Dow Brukarz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

(Translator's note: A Purim-shpiler was a person who went through the shtetl [town] on Purim performing short plays in return for which he would receive money, food or drink.)

Purim is known as a very cheerful holiday. In Czyzewo, Purim was notable for the cheer of the Purim-shpiler. Arrangements for the Purim banquet were made as for a wedding. Various cakes were baked, [foods] were roasted, cooked and a table was readied with candles lit, around which we sat from early evening.

The banquet would usually last until the middle of the night. Various couples would come who would collect donations for various charitable institutions that existed in the shtetl.

Groups disguised in various masks and costumes would also come. These were the distinguished members of the middle class, community workers for the Bikor-Khoylim [assistance for the sick], Talmud-Torah [primary school for needy boys], Hakhanas Kahlah [help for poor brides] and the like. There also were those needy people who, in masks, made use of the opportunity and collected donations for themselves, for their hungry families.

Each man of means had ready piles of small change and it was distributed generously to those coming in for donations; drinking a small glass of whiskey, wishing each other a joyful L'Chaim [To life] from deep in their hearts. All in addition to the donation.

The Purim-shpiler had an entirely different character. This was a group of young men who collected money for

[Page 538]

a special purpose. First of all, for those who needed to enter military service and did not have the means to take the necessary equipment with them. Then, there were also those who needed to be ransomed so that they would be freed from military service.

These young men organized according to the model of a wandering theater troupe. They would not be satisfied with small donations. They only went to the wealthy houses; there they performed short scenes from the “Selling of Joseph,” of how Jacob's sons sell their brother Joseph to the Ishmaelites. This was performed in the most heart-breaking manner. Both the players and those listening would take this tragedy to heart and, the main thing, the rich men did give rich donations.

Der Ashmedai [The Ashmedai], the legend in which the Ashmedai drives King Solomon from the his seat of power, spits him out far away from home, where no one knows him and no one imagines his extraordinary wisdom, is among the best in the repertoire of the Purim-shpiler. But King Solomon again attains the seat of power and begins a struggle with Ashmedai, the King of the Demons.

This shtik [piece] was filled with songs, each performer sang a solo as well as in the

[Page 539]

chorus. Later, the songs went through the shtetl. Here is one that remains in my memory:

“You should go there on the mountain.
It is high and very strong.
There you will find Ashmedai
In a very deep well…
Go into it,
Make him drunk with strong wine,
He will become confused
And you will take him in chains.”

[Page 540]

The preparations for the performance lasted for weeks; special costumes were prepared that cost nothing. Everything was donated.

The Purim-shpilers ceased their activities around the years 1907-1908. But those in disguise who collected donations for important purposes were still present many years later.


[Pages 539-545]

A Visit to the Shtetl After 13 Years

by Dow Brukarz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

It was in August 1935, exactly 13 years had passed since we had left Czyzewo for Eretz Yisroel [Land of Israel], August 1922.

We had lived in Eretz Yisroel for 13 years and had not stopped longing for the simple, primitive shtetl, Czyzewo, until … we made the excursion.

We arrived from Warsaw close to midnight. Welwl Yabka was already waiting for us at the train station with his britshke [half-covered wagon] and he brought us to the sleeping shtetl [town].

The road to the train, the length of two viorst,[1] had not changed at all; the white stones that stood at the edges on both sides of the highway were a sign in the dark night that here is the edge of the highway and that a canal began.

[Page 540]

The alder trees stand on the other side from which a faint noise is heard. Opposite us are the houses of the Czyzewo village right at the bend; on the left we recognize Hersh-Natikhe's low, small house that was burned with its four windmills and all of the other surrounding houses in 1914, during the First World War.

We rode the length of Kolye Street to Zbulun's inn, lighted by a large paraffin lamp, or as they were called “kerosene lamp.”

“We only have electrical lighting until 11 o'clock at night” - Welwl, who had been quiet the entire time, with his face to the horses, told us. We entered the large market; we recognized the shops there that run along the entire length of the market up to the Catholic church. We stopped at Shmuelye the tailor's house where Welwl's brother lives:

[Page 541]

we will stay there during out stay in Czyzewo.

I think this is the same shtetl Czyzewo, the same wooden, low, small houses with the sloped shingle roofs, from which people with blackened faces looked out, houses built of brick standing in a row like soldiers, but little changed. The outer walls to the front of the street are painted with lime, mostly with white lime.

The well, built with a surrounding thick wooden wall a meter in height, was in a part of the market between Josl-Borukh Lapek's brick house in the row of stores

[Page 542]

and Sura-Ete's wooden house from which two windows look out from the upper room.

Opposite stands the water pump just as neglected as 13 years ago so that the water is not used as drinking water, only for putting out the frequent fires that occur in Czyzewo. The canals, in which the dirty water that is poured out of the houses, the so called kanalizatisia, is carried away to the river which cuts through the width of the shtetl. Beginning at the slaughter house, it cuts through the

czy542.jpg
From right to left: Yehoshaya Lepak, of blessed memory, Pinye Zusman and his daughter,
Hodes, of blessed memory and lahavdil [to distingish] between the living and dead - Berl Brokasz and Berl Gozszalczagi.
Sitting, from the left: Dwoyra Gramadzin and Nakhama Zisman, of blessed memory and lahavdil between the living and dead - Dwoyra Brukasz, Sheva Gozszalczagi.
Third row: Shepsl Zisman and Yehoshaya Lepak's son, Shmuelik, of blessed memory.

[Page 543]

Blacksmith Street and Andjowe's “orchard” until it falls into the Brak River.

Here the images consist of places partly covered with wooden boards that do not stop the odor that comes from there in summer. The Brak River is used to wash clothing, to swim in during the summer - for taking drinking water, ignoring the fact that the water later returns to it. Never mind - it is flowing water and they manage…

The people have changed greatly during the 13 years.

Children have grown up. Young people have become old and the older ones have become old men. But many of the former old men could not wait for our visit and they have returned from whence they came [i.e. they have died].

As we were the first family that took all of its belongings and 13 years ago departed for Eretz-Yisroel, we were also the first, and perhaps only one that brought greetings to Czyzewo from Eretz-Yisroel.

Every day, when we first appeared in the street, we were surrounded by curious people and we were sprinkled with a flood of questions and then asked to compare the life “there” (Eretz-Yisroel) and here (in exile). Everything interested them; they wanted to know about everything; many would wonder about “there” and regret that “here” the life was so difficult, taxes, lack of income and the like.

We did not feel safe with our lives when we went out at night. In the best case

[Page 544]

we received painful blows from the anti-Semitic neighbors.

Often after we would leave the group, someone would remember and run after us to ask us something. I remember how Avraham Josl, Yitzhak Ahron's son, remembered that he had not asked me, is it true that there I work on the second day of a holiday and I put on tefillin?[2]

– Yes, it is true - I answered.

Once, Josl, Zawl-Leib's son (Josl Kotliarek), approached me and asked me to agree to go to his rabbi and ask how I should behave on the second day of a holiday and particularly regarding praying on Simkhas-Torah [fall holiday commemorating the end and start of the yearly Torah readings]?

The acting rabbi was then Rabbi Lewinson, the son-in-law of Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Dovid Zawlodower, may the memory of a righteous man be blessed, who had then become ill. The rabbi advised me that in the morning I should put on teffilin privately and later come to the synagogue and put on the talis [prayer shawl] without a blessing and I could take part in kiddush [blessing on the wine] with the congregation, as is the custom, but I should not ask to be called up to read the Torah.

I prayed in the Zionist Club, which also served as the synagogue for praying on Shabbos and the holidays.

The visitors at the praying were young men and young boys, who at my departure from Czyzewo were even younger, or grown children of those who I remember and who perished at the hands of the Germans: Pinye Zisman, Yakov Yablonka, Yehoshaya Lepak, Shmuelke Wengocz, Sholem Grynberg (Czelonogura), the Grynberg brothers and others.

After praying, friendly conversation or reports about various local, communal and political problems would take place.

[Page 545]

The reporter and leader of the discussions for the most part was Berl Gorzalczany. The building in which we came together, a wooden one, was already finished. It only lacked an oven for heating in winter. A banquet was arranged for the close of Shabbos for the departure to Eretz-Yisroel of comrade Yitzhak Szliaksi and his wife, Chana. I was given the honor of toast master; I used the opportunity then to give the misheberakhs [blessing for a person or group] to everyone present at the banquet and because of “promises of a contribution” asked how much was promised for a “cockle stove” [stove made of Dutch tiles]. A large sum was actually collected.

In the morning, Sunday, the group came to say goodbye to us. The last ones to remain were Yehoshaya Lepak and his son, Dwoyra Gramadzin and Pinye, his wife, Khome (Nekhema) Zisman, of blessed memory, Berl Gorzalczany, long may he live and his wife, Sheyve.

“It is a pity for those who are gone and no longer to be found.”


Translator's notes

  1. A viorst is a little longer than a kilometer return
  2. In Eretz-Yisroel some religious holidays are observed for one day rather than the two days in golus - exile. return

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