And the book grows page by page telling about the gray days and it constructs a building, that clings to us in our blood soaked shtetl.
This book, the closing of the grave, the last word, that is so strongly embedded in our fiber.
And it is difficult to be mute, hard to remain silent.
These are my years – more than two decades ago, from childhood through maturity that I spent in the shtetl thinking, longing for a nicer world. Can one keep Silent? Forget?…
Therefore I will share my memories with you in a last walk through the shtetl. This will be the last time I gaze at and see how it used to look once, once, when we were all still young. When we were together there with our parents, living peacefully, going to kheder [Jewish school for young boys], being naughty, playing and freely breathing the clear air soaked with so many dreams and aspirations.
And now I take my last walk through your streets and lanes, roads and highways – my hometown Czyzewo. I stand on the bridge at Sutkier Highway. I gaze at the Brok River which extends the length of the city as far as Bombelie's, to the water mill, where only good swimmers are able to bathe and fight the strong waterfall of the Dembe. From the second side of the bridge is the Bug River. I think, with what faithfulness had the river served the shtetl inhabitants?
It cuddled both sides of the bridge, shrank and as if not knowing, would with its calm water purposely wink at the shtetl residents. Come, draw my pure water. Delight in my cleanliness.
As if still alive, I see the barefoot women standing in the cool water, each with a bundle of laundry, I see the stones on which they will beat the dirty laundry and lay them together in a bundles.
There weren't any washing machines. So, in the primitive manner of the village peasants our mothers stood in the river and washed the laundry for the entire household.
Now it is evening and I see groups of schoolboys (those still alive are now grandfathers) take off their shoes at the river, roll up their pants over their knees and go into the river to catch fish. Everything is so primitive. With only their hands they try to catch fish and whoever has luck on their side brings home a sack of small fish, alive and squirming. What a lovely pastime after sitting an entire hot summer day in the suffocating kheder.
I walk across watching the second side of the bridge.
The river continues the length of the rosher fields where Friday afternoons the youngsters gathered a variety of colorful flowers. I arrive at the okof, a place where the river water is deep enough for the men to bathe here. During the summer, Friday afternoons, it swarming with people, young and old. All the men from the shtetl came here to bathe and immerse themselves in honor of shabes [the Sabbath]. On this day the village hooligans didn't dare come here, as they would do on other weekdays and throw stones at the bathing Jews.
Not only summer, but also in winter the frozen river served as a pastime after a night studying in kheder. With lanterns in hand, groups of kheder boys went onto to the ice to skate. Some of them had special liurzwes [skis] and some only shoes. They would arrive home afterwards red faced and sweaty.
During Passover the entire shtetl boycotted the well in order to avoid khomets [leavened dough or bread] and drew water only from the river.
Even today the calm river still meanders there and people still bathe in it during the summer and skate on the ice in winter. I search among them for a face I know, a familiar boy, a woman I know at the stones where she beat her wash. None. I see only strangers' faces. There's nobody. In Szulborze the bones from all of them were hidden, those I search for and can't find anymore, parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, hyd [may G-d avenge their blood].
I run from the bridge and enter the road to the shtetl.
Right by the bridge, at the first boundary point of Zambrower Highway, I see a lone house, my parents' house in which I spent my childhood in sweet bliss and lived through my first disappointments. This is the house of my grandfather and grandmother, of my great-great grandparents. It is the house of three families joined together: Blajwajs, Rotenberg and Góra. And there is the szlaban [tollgate] that marks the entry to the shtetl, or the exit. People don't pay a toll if they travel over the Rogatkowe bridge.
This triggers the memories of my grandfather Herszl. My great-grandfather Herszl Blajwajs was the first to whom the Russian government rented the Rogatke. The concession was taken over as his inheritance by my grandfather Reb Aba Rotenberg who left it to my father Lejbl, known by the name Lejbl Aba's [son].
Therefore it is worth it to tell about an episode about the arrival of my grandfather Reb Aba in Czyzewo.
My grandfather Reb Aba zl [of blessed memory] was a Litvak from Lithuania, an ardent misnaged [opponent of Hasidism]. But as fate would have it the Litvak misnaged came to Czyzewo, a Hasidic shtetl and became united through marriage with Reb Herszl Blajwajs, one of the ardent Pszyscher Hasidim.
My grandfather Reb Aba, one of the sons of Eli Rotenberg from Suwalk, was a good and assiduous student. As was the custom in those times, his father sent him to the famous Wolozyn yeshiva. This was a city full of clean misnagdim, who considered Hasidim to be a sect, may the merciful G-d save us.
This was during the time of Rebbe [Hasidic rabbi] Reb Bunim from Pszyche and Rebbe Reb Mendl of Kock zl. When the Hasidim began to look for places to spread Hasidism, one of the Kocker Hasidim when to Wolozyn and he made the acquaintance of yeshiva students in order to steer them towards Hasidism.
Little by little he was able to persuade several young men and they agreed to travel to Kock so they could see with their own eyes the greatness of Hasidism.
Secretly, they hired a wagon and set out on the their travels, a trip that would last several weeks. On the way, they would stay in cities and villages, on their route to Kock, to eat and sleep. One of the villages was the Hasidic shtetl Czyzewo.
In Czyzewo, the first shtetl where there was a Kocker shtibl, the guests were welcome with open arms and warmth and the Kocker Hasidim took special care of the young men from the Wolozyner yeshiva.
One outcome of the Wolozyner yeshiva young men meeting with the Kocker Hasidim, among them Aba the Suwalker; it laid the foundation for the continuation of the toll gate concession.
Aba, on arriving in the Kocker shtibl was not interested in anything. He immediately sat down and began studying. He caught the eye of my great-grandfather Reb Herszel Bajwajs and several days later this young man from the Wolozyner yeshiva was already betrothed to Reb Herszel's daughter – Szejna-Chomke.
So Aba did not go to Kock with the wagon. But this decision haunted him all his life. Why did he give up the opportunity to travel to Kock because that same year the Kocker rebbe, Reb Menedele died and he gave up the chance to visit him while he was alive.
My grandfather married and as it was told he made a deal with my grandmother Szejna Chomke. He would always sit and study and she would run the Rogatke.
Then my father inherited the Rogatke. My mother was my grandfather Aba's daughter and when she married a Hasid who was a scholar, she inherited everything.
My father and mother ah[may they rest in peace] took over from my grandfather ah. My mother was in charge of the business and my father sat studying Torah and Hebrew. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the income from the tollgate came to an end.
The last three survivors from the old toll gate were my mother, her sister Paja Szwarc, her brother Icze Mejer Rotnberg and they made aliyah [immigrated to Israel]. They died in old age and all three graves are in one row in the Zichron Mejer cemetery, Bnei Brak, may their souls be bound up in the bond of life.
|Gitl Roiza and two sons
The youngest is saying Psalms from Mana Loshen
[Answer of the Tongue, title of a book
containing prayers recite at graves] at
the grave of my father Reb Lejbl Aba's [son].
I take a step further and look around the narrow room, small than four by four. There lives Szlama der
One step further and I am at a wooden two-story house where Jankiel der melamed [the teacher] lives. It reminds me of my kheder [religious grade school for boys], days and nights spent in that poor-man's narrow, one room kheder that contained everything. There was a kheder, a kitchen, etc. But is sorrow to be found here? No, the murders' hand did not reach here. The entire family immigrated to America before the Holocaust.
A little further is another two-story house that belonged to Reb Berl-Dawid, the gaiter maker. He was a short man with a long, gray patriarchal beard who looked like a rebbe and stood in the workshop the entire day shaping gaiters or boot legs. He would say that the art of gaiter making lies in understanding how to cut the hide. There mustn't be any off-cuts. That is the entire Bible on gaiter making. He was always seen holding the leather in his hand and turning it around and around in order to properly cut the gaiter. This family also escaped the murderers. His sons Nyska, Isi-Henich, Szymen and Jidel (twins) and the daughter Hai'czke live in America. Only his wife Szejna-Malka was killed by a piece of shrapnel during the First World War.
Sara-Malka and her four sons lived on the ground floor of this house. The oldest son, Abraml, a Gerer Hasid, was his mother's crown. Szalom and Jankiel ran the family grain business until the Hitler-catastrophe. The youngest son, Icze, died young during an operation in Warsaw. This is the Kitaj family, known as the Kitajces. They were the largest grain merchants in Czyzewo. They owned their own horse and wagon. The majority of the peasants would sell their grain only to the Kitajces. Szalom and Jankiel, when they were boys, were leaders in Zionist youth organizations. Only Szalom's three children were save from the great destruction. The oldest, Abraham-Szymon went to Israel with an illegal immigrant ship. Jentl and Motke, still only young children, were by a miracle saved (there survival is told about in the Yizkor Book). All the others were murdered hyd.
My parents moved into a long, small room in the same house, after the Polish authorities had thrown them out of the house at the Rogatke soon after the installation of the Polish government. Our family had lived more than two hundred years in that house, at the Rogatke.
Our family also managed to slip through the murderers' hands. The two eldest, Icchok-Hersz and the author arrived in Israel in 1933-1934. After a wave of pogroms and before the devil had spread his
destructive wings over the three million Jews in Poland, we brought our mother with two more brothers to Israel. Our father was already not among the living.
On the second story of the same house lived Reb Icl Jablonka, known by the name Icl Jididjes. He was of medium height and always wore glasses and was a wise man. He was a fruit merchant and bought from the peasants' orchards. They stood watch so that their fruit couldn't be stolen. He was one of the most respected Gerer Hasidim. He would tell stories in the shtibl [Hassidic prayer house] and was an adviser for community concerns. When he went to do business at the orchards, he and his father Jididje would consider every tree, appraising how much fruit the tree could produce and there quietly (so that the gentile would not hear) whispered to his father:
Give him 30 Rubles. Generally his appraisals were right on. Icl had eight sons. Three of them were saved. Two live in America and one in Israel. He used to say to me that he had sons of every kind: Agudaniks, a Zionist writer, American and yeshiva bokhers [young men studying in a yeshiva].
He left his mark on his children, as he was a committed Hasid. He would look at all the books his children read. But it also happened that he would find a book that was not kosher according to him and he would burn it without delay.
Next to Berl-Dawid's house is Berl Kukalka's. He was tall, with a long, neat beard and he paid attention to his clothing. He was a simple Jew who understood little about the finer points of Judaism. He was an observant Jew and went to the synagogue twice a day. On shabes he used his free time to say Psalms.
Once he asked a Hasidic Jew:
Tell me, I beg you, why this year was my father's yahrzeit [anniversary of person's death] date changed? I remember that my father died during the time of the non-Jewish holiday Czy-Krulia. Today it is long past that non-Jewish holiday and my yahrzeit has not yet arrived (the sexton would remind him of yahrzeit date).
Another time he said:
The apothecary, Czyzewer landowner and the priest, the went to secular schools, therefore they aren't fools. So how is that they believe in Jesus?
He was a tailor, but only for peasant clothing. His wife Henia Riwka had her own money and with his knowing she would give to charity.
In the same house, Berl Kukalka's, there was a small room, where Mendl Israel-Szlama's [son] lived. He returned from Russia in 1919 after the First World War. He had grown tall, like a cedar tree, had a curly gray beard, walked with a firm, sure step, was imbued with Russian experiences, with Russian customs. He was one of the idlers in the shtibl, not a scholar, but a smart man. He always sat near the oven and told stories about Russian life, about the life of the Jews in Russia, about the overthrown Tsar Nikolai, etc. We, the young men in the shtibl, after studying, liked to listen to his tales. His stories (in this department he was a genius) opened new horizons for us.
He was also called Reb Mendl gute-yorn [good years]. He was also the opposite of Reb Jidl Wapniak. He, Jidl, believed that in the old days people live much better and that life was easier than today. People did not know about or need all the luxuries. The cost of living was lower, clothing was plainer and everybody was happy. This new way of living brought worries. Bread with herring or with sour pickles is already not a meal for them. Old challah soaked in hot water with onion is today beggar's food.
Mendl would refute this and prove many times over that today the times are better than the past. Take for example electricity. Once people sat with kerosene lamps that always smoked. Today, turn the button and we have light. There's no wick, no glass chimney that need cleaning every Monday and Thursday. Or take the hard boots that we used to wear. Today we wear light shoes. In the past people used wood and peat that always smoked. Today people sit near an oven like a prince. People aren't fools. People live much, much easier today than in the past. Now, these are the good years. Those who listened could never decide which one of them was right. Both had good arguments for their beliefs.
Where are you today. You bold, lovely fellow Mendl gute yorn? Your body and that of your wife are not in Szulborze. Bitter fate exiled you to Russia where you both, from hunger and cold, gave up your holy souls. Far, far away, there in the Siberian whiteness, where nobody can go, there you found your rest. There in the cold steppe is your grave and nobody knows exactly where it is. May your soul be bound up in the bond of life.
The second house, another tailor, but already a cut above. Here lives Szmulje Gutman-Lejb's [son]. He was tall and had a beautiful long beard that ended in two points. He was the Hasidic tailor in the shtetl. When a father gaive Szmulje a kapote [long, black coat worn by Orthodox Jews, in Poland] to remodel for his son, the son would be in seventh heaven. Szmulje would put his soul into every stitch. The sleeve, shoulder, breast, everything has to be perfect. When the coat was perfect he did not disguise his pride in his wonderful creation.
He did not know any joy on earth. His only daughter died after she married. His only son, Chaim-Boruch, a highly respected young man in the Gerer shtibl immigrated to America immediately after he married and he never saw even a little joy from his son.
In a small room on the side at Szmulje's, lived a young man by the name of Szlama Calke's [son], a son-in-law of Icchok-Hersz der melamed. He was short, always had a smile on his face and had a coal black long, wide beard. He was the heart and soul of the Agadas Yisroyel [Orthodox youth group] movement in the shtetl. He was the leader of Tzerei Agudas Yisroyel and later he became a rabbi in a far away shtetl.
I walk to the modlin area, at the corner of New Street that runs to Kalje Street. I come to Eliezer dem strikher's (even today I still do not know the meaning of the word strikher. His family name was Krystal and that is how he was, kishmo ben hoo) [like his name so he was (a Hebrew expression that means the same as the preceding Yiddish explanation)]. He was of medium height and broad shouldered. He was the best brick mason in the shtetl. He was a great scholar, a Gerer Hasid. After a hard day at work he would not forgo coming to the shtibl to study a page of gmore [the part of the Talmud that comments on the Mishnah]. His only son Ajzyk, the best of the young men in the Gerer shtibl was the first to present the idea of Agudas Yisroyel in the shtibl.
During the time of the Russian invasion [after W.W.I when Poland had been given independence] Ajzyk had to leave Poland. He went to Kowno, Lithuania, leaving behind his father and sick mother Mirjam who worried about his situation. A short time later Ajzyk left Lithuania and came to Israel. He also brought his parents here [to Israel]. They settled in Jerusalem. Reb Eliezer also worked here in construction. And this must be said, to his credit for many years, so many that it was possible to come to the Western Wall, he never missed a day getting up in the pre-dawn hours to go there to pray. There were times when the entrance to the Wall was blocked with enemies, but he found a way to get there to pray.
Before leaving Czyzewo Eleizer always said: Every artisan must travel to Israel and would enjoy the fruits of his labor.
He and his wife were fortunate and died when they were very old. They were buried on the Mount of Olives.
Ajzyk Krystal lived in Jerusalem and took a respected position with Histadrut.
Here is Mendl der shtrik-macher's [rope-maker's] house. He is a special example. As far as his trade was concerned, he had no equal in the area. From the early morning hours until late at night he would draw flax from the bundles and make a variety of ropes (different thickness). Under the open sky was a stand on which was fastened a large wooden wheel that was turned by cheap labor or by amateur labor – child volunteers. Nearby stood his partner Abraham'cze's wheel. Both were also Einglezer.
Abraham'cze lived further into the Modlin house area. Years later they dissolved their partnership and each worked making rope and einglezerei. Later Abraham'cze stopped making rope and became a horse merchant. Then Mendl was the only rope maker. He was a good natured man full of loving kindness and a member of Hovevei Zion [means Lover of Zion. It was the first Zionist organization] and he would also claim that for Jews there was only one place as sweet as Israel that was among the leads of the Khevra Mishnayes.
From there I see Lejzor-Josl's house, or Lejzor Monczarz. He was also called by his family name Lejzor Bitner. From a grain merchant he became a baker. Actually he did not become a baker but the owner of a
bakery. He was a tall man and not too fat. He was also covered in flour from head to toe. Only a lock of black hair, which was partially white, peeked out from his floured face.
When speaking with him about business or world affairs one heard a quiet, sincere tenor. Everyone felt that grain was not his life, that there was something nobler, nicer, deeper fermenting in him. But when Shabes or Jewish Holidays arrived, especially the Days of Awe, then his soul soared to greatness. Then he became Lejzor der bal tfile [the prayer leader]. Then he became through and through the kneader of melodies. Whether walking, standing, sitting or thinking it was always accompanied by his sincere tenor.
In the large synagogue, it was quiet when people heard that Lejzor der bal musef [cantor of the additional morning prayer recited on the Sabbath and holidays] is going to the cantor's desk pouring out his heart, with his sweet tenor, before the creator of the world. And perhaps also there in Szulborze, Lejzor bal tfile sang prayers soulfully:
Asarah Harugei Malchut and Eileh Ezkerahin in his last minutes before jumping into the already prepared mass grave with his fellow Czyzewers?!!!
I soon arrive in the street where the second bal tfile, Szoel-Hersz der melamed lived. He was a thin man with two skimpy points in his beard. He had a Kocker soul. His pace, his work, his speech, everything he did in a rush, so daring. He had a spirited mind. To speak to him was always enough to give an innuendo to a wise person (an Aramaic phrase). His wife Bluma ran a bakery and he was a gemore and toisefes [additions, critical glosses on the Talmud] melamed. He taught his students with a special flair. He led their souls into the depths of debate. In the Gerer shtibl he was among the town notables. He prayed sincerely and with eagerness. He was not a cantor only a genuine Hasidisher bal tfile. When he prayed he took everyone to another world. When he would sincerely proclaimed and all human beings pass before him as young sheep (a quote from the Unetane Tokef prayer on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Mussaf) , everyone saw how every living thing passed before the Master of the World like a small sheep.
He was active in the Bes Jakob School and Agudas Yisroyel. His daughter was one of the first teachers to graduate as a teacher in Krakow. His son Reb Naftali Herc Blajwajs was a rabbi in Jakblonka.
I zig and zag and end up in the clean furnished room of Reb Jechusza Kotliarek and his wife Rasza. He was a rare individual. The older he became, the younger his dreams and longings became. He garret room was the Bohemia for the young, orthodox literary forces. While he was a young bachelor he was adventurous. His parents were Josl and Szejna-Gitl Kotliarek, one of the richest tsitsis makers in the shtetl and he was their only son. He suddenly left home and traveled to Grodno, Wilno and for a short time was also in Amdur. While there he studied and became fluent in Hebrew. Then as if he had forgotten why he
had left, he returned and with great fervor he threw himself into working in orthodox circles. A short time later his first poem Tshuva [Repentance] was published in the monthly orthodox magazine Dglnu. The poem reflected the world through his inner struggles. His wife ran the manufacturing business which made it possible for him to have enough free time to set day and night poring over secular and religious books.
From time to time his essays, poems and articles would be published in orthodox periodicals. He felt a great need to further his education and he struggled to do so. A lot of evening he would go to the Christian Doctor Szenicki's where he could obtain books that were necessary for his self-education. We called him the "veteran. He took an interest in young people who had a literary aptitude. He was a tall, broad man young man with a blond beard. As he was near-sighted he wore glasses that always shone.
Coming down the stairs I stand for a while. It is difficult to visit everyone. I cannot even though I would like to. Now I am at Gromadzyn's, or Nuska the oil makers. He was paralyzed during his last several years. He was a smart man. Since he founded the synagogue from the khevra mishnayes that is where he and his son Szlama'ke read holy books [Hebrew books].
In the same street lives Ajzykl der shuster [the shoemaker]. I would rather call him Ajzykl der tilim yid [the Psalms Jew]. The synagogue was always open for him to say Psalms.
Now I am at Rubin Szmercak's, a grain merchant, a Hasid who only prayed in the large synagogue, a great scholar.
Going back the length of the street I come to the market place entrance. I quickly pass by the corner house belonging to the Christian baker Grochowski. I'm not interested. Who knows how much Jewish blood flowed through them? I come to the two brick and stucco houses. The first is Jeszaja Calinowicz's. He is short, and bent over. He wears a small gray beard on his shrunken face. He was a manufacturer and very rich, never enjoyed his wealth. His only daughter died young leaving him to raise her small child. His only son Dowidl grew up to be a true rebel who saddened his father's life, even after he had left Czyzwo for who knows where. He still brought grief to his father, even from there. Reb Jeszaja would sit and study a page of gmore in the shtibl with such fervor that people saw that this was perhaps the best hours in his life. That was when he rid himself of all his sorrow. He was one of the notables in the shtetl.
Here, wall to wall is the brick and stucco house of Reb Zawel Edelsztejn. He is another sort of man. A rich manufacturer, short and sturdy, with a long patriarchal gray beard, who paid attention to his clothes. He always had the air of an aristocrat. He was so princely that he could not go to the town mikveh [ritual bath] – he could not bear the odor. However he never avoided every Friday and once a week going to immerse himself in the early morning hours in the Brok River, summer and winter, even when the river was frozen.
In the Gerer shtibl he had a permanent place where he would sit for several hours every evening studying a large gmore from the Wilno shas [a set of books of the Talmud]. The melody he used while studying was full of grace and warmth.
He was a charitable and hospitable man. Visitors were sent all the time to his house and it was not necessary to advise him beforehand. Every guest, no matter how many, always had a place and he planted the idea of hakhnoses orkhim [Sabbath shelter and hospitality for poor wanderers] in his wife and children. He was counted among the notable old men of the community.
Now I arrive at Reb Fiszel Libelczyk's, a respectable man of the multi-branched Liubelczyk family. He ran a large wholesale business and was not a Hasid and had no ambitions to become a scholar. But in his bookcase there was a large, beautiful Wilno shas. Being a dozor [member of the Jewish community council] he associated with the Hasidim. He was lucky as two of his children and grandchildren are living in Israel.
I look behind Fiszel's house and there is a small house that is the resident of Meszel Yapanisher [Japanese]. This is not his family name. It is a nickname that was used to describe people. During the Russo-Japanese War he was an ardent supporter of Japan. He would become incensed if anybody had a good word to say about Russia. That was when he was given the nickname Yapanisher. He was of medium height, with a scraggly blond beard and always held his head high. The visor of his faded, colorless hat was always turned to the side and never took his pipe from his mouth. During market days he wandered among the gentile wagons and bought a little grain that would have to bring in enough money to last the entire week. The rest of the week he sat in the Gerer shtibl talking politics with Icchok Bunem's Blajwajs. Icchok was his political opponent all those years. Meszel's wife (nobody knows her name) was exactly like her husband, always dressed in clothes where the undergarment was always longer than the outside one. The outside garment was always shiny from fat and their hands were always behind their backs. The only difference between husband and wife was that he was skinny and of medium height, he was tall and broad.
Slowing down, thinking about the dear, simple Czyzewo Jews, I go step by step and stand in front of the shoe store belonging to Henich Czewiki. Czewiki is the Polish word for shoes, but in the Gerer shtibl he was called Henech Szlamale's [son]. He was a quiet, calm man whose forehead was deeply furrowed with wrinkles from worrying about his childlessness. Most of the clients in his shoe store were Christians. He was a religious Jew, said Psalms and quietly devoted time to gmiles khsodim [loans without interest] and biker khoylim [visiting the sick].
Reb Zundel Liew, one of the notables of the Aleksander shtibl, was his neighbor. He was a scholar with a nice blond beard. His steps were counted and deliberate. He always gave a lot of thought to everything
before doing it. He was the only one who broke the custom of not teaching a trade to a child. When his son Symcha had already completed kheder [religious grade school for boys] there was a decision to me made – what yeshiva should he attend and Tov Tora Am Derekh-Eretz was choisen. But prior to that he apprenticed his son to Berl-Dawid dem shteper [the quilter]. A short time later he opened a quiltery in Zundel's house under the direction of his son Symcha who was also a religious man.
Between Sundel Liew's house and Henech-Szlamale's [son] house is Lejbl watnik's (he worked with wadding) house. He also had a soda factory with an ice cellar and would also make ice cream. He always prayed in the Gerer shtibl. His wife Frejdke and the children ran the soda and ice cream factory. He worked the wadding himself as well as grempliarnie.
Further along in my walk I arrive a Pinie Szewkes. He had a tavern that his wife ran. She was known as Piniche. Besides a good lunch, one could get the best liquor there even during the time when liquor was banned and later under the Polish government when it was forbidden for Jews to be in the liquor business. Piniche's tavern was always full. He, Pinie was busy with his grain business. But when there was a drunken gentile who felt a desire to create a tumult or start a fight, Pinie would arrive. He would take him by the collar and with his knee gave him a push and the gentile was already rolling down the stairs and remained lying flat on the pavement. All the gentiles knew that at Pinie's one must behave. He was a tall, fat man with a pair of broad hands, a deep voice and one look from him made every gentile shake. His wife was cut from the same cloth. Both were calm, quiet and dear people. He was a generous man and always prayed in the Gerer shtibl.
I go a step and I'm already at Pejsach Murawicz's two-story brick and stucco house that has a bakery and meat market in the cellar. The brothers-in-law Ben-Cjon Kitejewicz and Judel Chaim Mondry, two kind-hearted Hasidic young men, lived upstairs. Ben-Cjon spoke like a Lithuanian (studied in a Lithuanian yeshiva) and therefore he was called der Litvak. But he came from Sniadowo (near Lomza) and from a Gerer family. He always traveled to the Gerer rebbe's court. He was full of temperament, whereas his brother-in-law Judel Chaim was a quiet, modest young man who ran the bakery. They both sat and studied in the evening.
Judel Chaim, despite being a Radzyner Hasid, always studied in the Gerer shtibl. They were always seen with smiles on their faces.
With Zundel's house that is close to Pejsach Murawicz's, we come to the end of the houses on the market place and Kalja Street begins.
Zebulon Grosbard was a quiet, modest man and looked like a man who had nothing to say. But in truth he was very knowledgeable, a clever writer who had mastered Hebrew and Polish. He was well versed in the law of the land. He also knew about business transactions and income taxes and was busy in many of the town's institutions.
Modest Zebulon had a tavern and the wagon drivers and porters gathered there and only there. He had to listen to curses and abusive, obscene language that his clients hurled at each other. His business opened in the pre-dawn hours and closed very late at night. He politely served his guests, swallowing all the mean language that his clients spewed forth. None of this had any affect on him. He always spoke quietly and respectfully.
He was the kehila [Jewish Community Council] president. With the arrival of the Germans ymsh [may their names be erased] he was forced by the authorities to be chairman of the judenrat [council set up by the Nazis through which their orders were passed on to the general population]. Within a short time he resigned in disgust and contempt.
Reb Zebulon was one of the noblest men in the shtetl. He was one of the few elected heads of the community and volunteered at many of the shtetl's institutions.
Now I want to walk through the two rows of stores that are located in the middle of the market place. There is Elijahu Dimentman's store. He was the shtetls expediter. His shop is jam packed with goods. He spent the entire week in Warsaw buying the small orders from merchants. To send these orders out one at a time wasn't worth the trouble. In the course of the week, his wife emptied out their store and at the end of the week he would arrive with the small orders and fill it up again.
Eli was a tall man with a blond beard. He always had a smile on his face. He was considered a smart man in the Gerer shtibl as everything he spoke out about in regard to town concerns came to pass. He was active in Bes Jakob very generous with his time to anything concerning Agudas Yisroyel. He never represented either of these institutions in an official capacity because he did not want to, but he had little to do with the elected leaders.
I pass Zawel Edelsztejn's and Jeshaja Kalinowicz's dry-goods stores that are always full of Christian clients. I look in Chaim Jechusza Tencza's shop. He had the same goods as in the other dry-goods stores. But he, Chaim Jechusza was an exception. He was short with a neat blond beard and wore glasses. He looked like a modest and bashful man. But he was a deep man.
He was an Aleksander Hasid and the shtetl teacher for a lot of years. The most fanatic Hasidim did not approve of his teaching methods but nobody dared to say a word. He was a religious Jew who kept all 613 commandments. Besides Yiddish, Polish and arithmetic, he also taught loshen kodesh [Holy language; Biblical Hebrew] and also Modern Hebrew. He had Krinski's HaDvur HaEvri and Hasgnun HaEvri and other chrestomathy. He was the only teacher who taught Hebrew to his pupils in Hebrew. Many times he would walk with his students (all Hasidic young men) and the Khevra Ashkenazy [Society of Ashkenazy Jews who spoke Hebrew using Ashkenazy pronunciation. The Hasidim used Sephardic pronunciation that is used in Israel] speaking loshen kodesh.
And while I am already there let me have a look at what is doing in the stores of the two widows, Chaia Sara di Monczerka and Fejga Bracha Szersyn. The stores are in front of the large market place. Two widows who were forced under the yoke of earning a living and in their widowhood ran their businesses. Chaia Sara di Monczerka (the widow of Josl Monczar) was a grain merchant. The store was full of various kinds of grain, white, korn, sifted, etc. Fejga-Bracha's store was half-empty. She only dealt with the peasant on market days, buying grain and then selling to grain merchants. Fejga-Bracha was fortunate to make aliyah [immigrate to Israel] in 1925 where years later she died at a very old age.
Died in Tel-Aviv, Israel
Aron Tofal owned a button store. He was a tall, thing young man with a black beard who looked like a yeshiva bokher [a young man studying in a yeshiva] and was far from being a merchant. He wife and daughter-in-law ran the store. He was entire superfluous to the running of the business. But in the synagogue he was well respected. He was very religious and prayed earnestly. When he came to pray, he would always early in order to gather a minyen [ten males needed to perform public worship]. A minyen, to be able to pray, was all he wanted from life.
Now I am in the large dry-goods store belonging to Icchok-Chaim-Judel's Wasercug together with his son-in-law Jechusza Kotliarek, Icchok's father. He was one of the former distinguished leaders in the shtetl. He was Kocker Hasid and then became a Gerer. He traveled as a messenger, doing a good deed, to Israel and died in Constantinople, not having completed his mission. Icchok had a stately appearance and was a quiet and modest man who had suffered a lot since he could never make a living. He had daughters who had to be married off. He was calm by nature. For a short time he was the bath attendant in the shtetl. A simple carcass in the marketplace, but do not come to rely on other people (A talmudic reference indicating that one should earn a simple livelihood even in a difficult fashion rather than come to need support from others.] was well engraved in his memory and according to the community he always behaved. In the Gerer shtibl he always had his seat of honor and respect.
I go on further and stop at Abrahamel Lande's small store. He was an Aleksander Hasid, a committed Hovevei Zion [lit. Love of Zion, the first Zionist group established, adults only] and was active in Mizrakhi [religious, Zionist movement]. Abrahamel Landes, Matel-Fejga-Paja's son-in-law was a quiet, calm man who ran his small business but did not escape the misfortune that descended on all the Czyzewo Jews hyd.
I will now push through the narrow streets that end up at the front of the large market place. Here I am at Dawid Peter's house. Engraved deep, deep in my memory is an image of old Dawid Preter. I see the image, but it is a little hazy, as well as the image of his brother Jankiel. He already had grey hair and was very old but he walked well, was shortly thereafter he gave up the bakery and immigrated to America with his family.
Dawid Preter, an old, wrinkled man with a white beard never took his long pipe stem from his mouth. Years later, when I heard stories of rebbes who smoked tobacco from long silver pipe stems, old Dawid would appear before my eyes, with his pipe that reached almost to the ground. It seemed as if he were calmly standing there among us curious to hear the stories that he used to tell with such humor that people split their sides from laughing. This was his Talk on Ordinary Matters of Scholars.
He had a cigarette factory and was always afraid of the Russian police (it was called a treyf fabrikl [illegal factory] because he did not have a permit from the government to produce cigarettes. He was strong competition for the official cigarette manufacturers of Grodno, Bialystok and Warsaw. His cigarettes were the same quality but cost about 50 percent less. 12-14 year old girls made the cigarettes in a primitive factory.
When the Germans invaded in 1915, he lost his living making cigarettes. Dawid Preter's daughter Malka Preter inherited the building. Her husband's name was Perec Monczarz but she was always called Malka Preter. The large cigarette factory became a small dry-goods store from which they could not earn a living.
Now I visit Reb Szlama Joel Szejman's zl [of blessed memory] haberdashery. He was a tall, thin man with a blond beard, a distinguished scholar and a Gerer Hasid. In the shtibl he was always engrossed in the Debates of the Talmudic doctors Abaye and Raba. He studied gmore with all the commentaries and was always debating with the great scholars. He never became involved in community affairs. He was weak and pale. The sudden premature death of his son Ajzsze left him dejected. He died in middle age leaving a widow with three orphans. His wife who was called kleyn vaybele [little wife] ran her business and managed to make a living. Her three children, Malka, Leja and Nuska-Natan, became community activists when they grew up. The last two died young during the great misfortune that befell the shtetl hyd. Malka Szejman lives in Israel.
The neighboring haberdashery belongs to Reb Szmul jakubowicz. His wife ran the business. He was a writer at the lumber warehouse belonging to Sana Stuczynski. In those days there wasn't any need for bookkeepers in Czyzewo. A writer was sufficient. He would record the client's accounts and add up the bills. Reb Szmul was really a good writer. He had a nice handwriting, he quickly calculated the lumber metrage and was loyal. He was a Gerer Hasid, a scholar. After finishing his work at the lumber warehouse he did the accounts for the haberdashery and he never failed to study his daily page of gmore. People always saw him either in the early morning hours or late at night siting over the gmore humming his special melody. He never noticed what was going on around him, he simply sat and studied.
First I enter Matel-Fejga-Paja's [daughter's] large haberdashery. Here we get the impression of a now grown poor, rich person. There remains very little of those past good times. Four stores were made from this large one. But after her husband Reb Israel-Icchok Gorzalczany passed away, she kept the business going herself with the help of the children but it was not what it was before. The majority of their income, like everywhere else, came from Christians. The peasants knew that what they could not find in other stores they would find at Mateljave's.
Matel was an intelligent, noble woman. She stood in her store wearing a nice wig and married her daughters to noble young men, good-fearing scholars.
With reverence I step into the room that not more than 4' x 4', if that large. This is the kheder and dwelling of my rebbe [teacher] Reb Boruch Krejndel's [son] zzl [blessed be the memory of the righteous man] (Reb Boruch Herszman). This little room stands out, despite being squeezed into this labyrinth of stores, with the same purpose as a mother's lullaby: Torah is the best merchandise.
I spent several summers and winters in this room. Long benches stood around long tables where about twenty children, aged 8-10, sat. Rebbe, Reb Boruch had the seat of honor. On his gray head he wore a satin yarmulke [skullcap] and his bright face was crowned with a two-pointed white beard. He was a strict and fastidious man.
Reb Boruch melamed [teacher] was not always stern with his pupils. There were times when he would be jusjt like us, a big child among young boys. He would throw himself into our child's world and was good to us, like an angel. Mostly during winter nights he would gather us together and tell us wonderful stories of great and good Jews.
He was the gabe [trustee] of the khevra kadisha [burial society]. On his bookshelf was the society's pinkus, a thick, leather bound book in which hundreds of historical shtetl events were written along with the names of all the former members of the khevra kadisha for several hundred years. Every year, erev rosh
khodesh shevat [eve of the new month shevat, generally January] the khevra kadisha members observed a fast day and the evening after the fast they held a great feast when they memorialized all the members of the society who had passed away.
One moonlit winter night, with freezing cold temperatures, everything was covered with snow. The bright moonlight made the snow shine like crystal and underfoot the snow creaked from the cold. That night four of us decided to go out and amuse ourselves in a crazy game.
At that time there was a goat, a male, who wandered around the shtetl because his owner had forgotten to sell him before he was born. So he more or less belonged to everyone and he wandered everywhere. For kheder boys he was the object of pranks. The young boys shared their food with the goat, food that their mothers prepared for them to take to school. Sometimes the boys would give the goat all their food. The goat became fat and what a joy it was to get up on his back and go for a rid. In vain, his owner tried to find blemishes on him. The schoolboy society took good care of the goat and watched over him so that nothing would happen to him. He knew all the places where a kheder was located and he would wait close by for his portion.
On the evening, above mentioned, we decided we wanted to go out and ride the goat. Each in his turn asked to be excused from from class to see to our needs (this was called going to the field out of the shtetl, as there was no other place in Czyzewo at the time). We soon caught the goat and one of us sat on his soft back, one led him and the two others drove him from behind. There was nothing to compare to this fun. We forgot entirely about kheder. We forgot that the rebbe is Reb Boruch, we did not even think what awaited us when we returned. After about two hours of pushing the goat around we realized what we had done.
Let me see what's doing at Reb Szlama-Isy's, or as people called him, Szlumka Prawda. He was a religious, naïve man, a respected Aleksander Hasid. He had a dry-goods store but he only helped his wife and children on market days. They ran the business. All the other days of the week Reb Szlumke could be found in the shtibl. His son was one of those who left the shtibl and entered the organizations [Zionist organizations] as he, Reb szlumka, called them. But even though he was already not that religious, he still prayed in the morning and still put on tfillin [philacteries]. But minkha-maariv [afternoon-evening prayers] he had was able to forget. His naïve father could not imagine that it was possible to forget minkha-maariv. This happned on a rosh khodesh [beginning of a month] in the afternoon. Reb Szlumka sees his son walking in the street and says to him Symchla, don't forget to say yayla veyove [may it rise and come, name of a prayer said on the new moon] during minkha. He immediately answered his father Dad, shouldn't you first ask if I usually go to the minkha service?
Reb Szlumka thought this was a witticism because otherwise it would not have made any sense to him. A Jew does not skip minkha-maariv. I will soon my walk among the stores. I have come to the two stores selling hardware and building materials. The first belongs to Reb Josel Boruch Lepak, a dozor [warden] of the Jewish community and Zionist spokesman.
The second hardware store belongs to Reb Israel Tiktin, a tall man with a nice, black beard. In fact his wife ran the business. Reb Israel Tiktein was active in a variety of societies in which he read lectures, such as khevra mishnayes which he in fact hadd founded. And in the synagogue, he studied midrash and gmore with a group. He also had his circle in the Aleksander shtibl where he read a lecture.
His wife, Sara Misza, a short, thin woman was in every corner of the business. She went to Warsaw to purchase product. She was the saleswoman. She oversaw the delivery of the merchandise. People called here quick silver. It is rare to find only one person running this kind of business that takes so much energy. After Reb Israel's died he ran the business with her daughter's help and later when she had give the business to her daughter, she continued working with the same fervor. Her son-in-law, Reb Icze Zilberman who was one of the Prager [a suburb of Warsaw] rabbi's sons became one of Reb Israel Tiktin's sons-in-law on the condition that he would always pray and study in the Aleksander shtibl. He always respected this condition but when it came to politics he always sided with the Herer Hasidim.
I am now taking my steps in the corridor between the stores and enter the two food stores that once were the brightest and richest in the shtetl.
Reb Mosze Josel, a Gerer Hasid, never became involved in community affairs. Every morning Reb Mosze Josel could be seen with his tallis zak [prayer shawl bag] under his arm returning from prayers. Then he and his wife went to open the store that had three entrances and was full of food products.
Reb Joska Grinberg, zl [may his memory be blessed] a former rich man, a Gerer Hasid, also had a store with three entrances and an upper floor that served as a warehouse. After Reb Joska's death, the store was divided between the two brothers-in-law, Reb Boruch Szapira and Reb Berisz Zak. But the brothers-in-law did not have any luck and they both became poor men. Therefore they both became great scholars. Reb Boruch was a great-great grandson of the famous gaon [eminnet rabbinical scholar] Reb Boruch the Czyzewer rebbe. His son Joska lives in Israel and a second son in Paris.
Reb Berisz Zak, one of the famous Biala rabbi's sons had permission to be a rabbi [had a diploma] and could have been a rabbi in a large city, but he bore his poverty with affection and never mentioned his sad circumstances and never arranged marriages for his daughters. His children often had nothing to eat. In the shtibl he was a treasure trove of Hasidic stories and legends of great pious men.
I am taking my last steps in my shtetl where I will never come again. I skipped over a lot of house and not mentioned a lot of people. There are still a lot of streets and houses where dear Jews lived. Every house in the shtetl was like a temple. Every table was like an altar. Every Jew lived his life following the commandments and at the tables Torah was read.
I want to take a last look at all the neat, bright faces that day after day, in my youth, were a part of my life. I want so much to see once more a winter morning in the large synagogue, at the first minyen when all the artisans, wagon drivers and porters prayed. And behind the oven stood the two water carriers Mejer and Dowidl wrapped in a tallis and tfilin, looking in the prayer books and praying to the Master of the Universe, with a wink in their shiny eyes, because, they should forgive me, they did not know any Hebrew.
I would like to list all the other people, the scholars, artisans, former merchants, Hasidim and porters and wagon driver, but I cannot remember all their names. There were lanes and corners where Jews of all kinds lived, Hasidim, scholars, Litvaks, pious women, young wives, children who lived quiet, honest lives day and night, weekdays and Sabbaths and holidays.
I ask forgiveness of all the souls in heaven if I have forgotten them. It was not my intention, but my memory fails.
This is my last walk through Czyzewo. The last walk in the shtetl where my parents, grandparents, and great-great grandparents live and led a Jewish life, generation after generation.
By Marc Chagall
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