by Shmuel MeiriMinivski
Translated by Allen Flusberg
At times history favors us with multitalented individuals who are also men of action; in spite of their many nuances and the richness of their spirit they are consistently true to their own ideals. And they are thus able to project their strength and light upon everything around them.
Perhaps this was the true meaning of the words the man Moses: Moses the leader, the lawgiver who battled and struggled to fulfil a lofty idealan individual who was multifaceted yet was true to his own ideals, and was therefore unique in his generation.
Adolf Riesenfeld (Avraham son of Pesach) was such a person. He was born in the year 1878 in Silesia. He grew up in a village among Gentiles and achieved his successes among Gentiles, but remarkably he never forgot his brethren, his people.
The love for his people, the persecuted Jews, lit a spark in his warm heart. The glow of the flame that it ignited radiated out beyond him, illuminating everything around him. The German expression he constantly used, mein Volk, i.e. my people, had a profound significance, attesting to an unbreakable bond with his brethren and with their glorious humane and universal history.
Jewish Destiny endowed him with many treasured talents, virtues of the Treasured People. By viewing him from many different perspectives, one can appreciate how numerous his qualities were. He could have been noteworthy and made a name for himself in any single one of them.
Thus Riesenfeld was: the pharmacist; the Zionist; the intellectual; the leader; the man with unique Jewish rootedness; the tutor who coached others in his hobbies, particularly the game of chess; the humorist; the community activist; the benefactor of the needy; the physician who had no diploma; the writer; the gifted speaker; the dedicated father and faithful husband; the paragon who served as an inspirational model for everyone…
I can still see him: his tall, imposing figure, the everpresent laugh that he retained even in difficult moments of struggles within the community; for indeed he had many critics and enemies who did not properly understand him.
His primary activity was his enthusiastic, tireless labor in the Zionist Movement, which was his crowning achievement. It is this work that I will endeavor to describe with the greatest of reverence and awe, as is deserved by one who dedicated himself entirely to the Zionist cause, devoting days and nights to bring about a radical change in the exilic views of his brethren, his people.
His path was not easy, no bed of roses. The very opposite: on a daily, even hourly basis he had to wrestle tempestuously with fierce opponents and commit himself completely to convincing and influencing them, whether with pleasant words or with passion and rage.
He did not isolate himself in an ivory tower, nor did he view himself as being on a higher plane than everyone else. On the contrary, he dedicated a good deal of his time and energy to small details and daytoday issues, knowing full well that sometimes the supposedly minor matters determine the fate of great issues.
He was ready to help every single person; not only with advice, but also with his own moneyalbeit with great delicacy. I recall how once, in my presence, he provided some medication to an elderly woman. After she had paid him, he returned her money with a warm blessing and words of encouragement for a speedy recovery. He did not forget to invite her to come back if she needed more.
His pharmacy was called Apteka Pod Orlem, Polish for The Pharmacy Under the Eagle. But the truth was that the eagle was located not above the pharmacy, but rather inside it: an eagle that watched over its wretched, deprived chicks with its sharp claws, defending them against their enemies, German and Polish alike. With his beak he gnawed and scratched to find breadcrumbs for the poor among his people, so that they would not starve from hunger…Within the pharmacy the blue charity box of the Jewish National Fund was located in a prominent, conspicuous place. All were asked to place their generous contributions into this box. Indeed, Riesenfeld collected respectable sums for the redemption of the Land.
His home was a meeting place for those active in the community and for the youth, whether to consider community matters or to debate political and party issues. It was as if it was a miniparliament, where people discussed and debated, with Riesenfeld conducting with a baton, his magic wand.
Agents of the Jewish National Fund and Keren HaYesod, as well as various envoys from the Land of Israel, frequented his home, where they always found a sympathetic ear and a readiness to help them do their job.
Nor did he ignore the impoverished of his town, doing as much as he could for them, trying to rehabilitate them. For this purpose he used his own money and funds he collected from affluent fellowtownsmen, who put their trust in him. Any families that had gone bankrupt when their fortunes dwindled were helped by him clandestinely and anonymously, so as not to humiliate them.
He helped many families pass between Dobrzyn and Golub and viceversa, when the two towns were under the rule of two different regimes, being on opposite sides of the border between Germany and Russia.
His concern for the poor knew no bounds, as is evident from the letter he sent in 1939 to his fellow townsman, Jacob Foge [sic], who was living in the United States. In emotional language he asked him not to forget the people of Dobrzyn. He demanded that he should support them generously, since they were facing economic collapse and were on the verge of perishing.
For this reason Riesenfeld could not bring himself to abandon the town when it was still possible for him to do so. For how can the shepherd leave behind the flock that follows him around with faith, affection and hope…
In the abovementioned letter he grumbled that because of the hard times the townsmen had no sources of livelihood, and only 200 shekelpayers purchased shekels. Indeed, I can say that the Dobrzyn townspeople were similar to Mendele Mocher Sforim's poor, hungry, emaciated horse. Like that horse they were pitifully wretched and emaciated, but nonetheless they had a strong sense of conscience and morality, and so their impoverishment never made them lose their way.
Riesenfeld's favorite hobby was chess, which he indulged in during his leisure timeat home and even in his pharmacy. Many times I had the opportunity to play against him and to observe from up close his great acuity and the strength of his perseverance, which were reflected by his use of classical openings. His openings had the potential to surprise and crush his opponent.
While playing he was always cheerful. He would joke around a great deal as he explained his moves. He used to enjoy the game itself, rather than the anticipated victory. Usually he would gain the upper hand, since he tended to be inventive and his moves were surprising; but when he did lose he knew how to take it in stride. The occasions that I spent with him, listening to him talk as we played, gave me great pleasure and were imprinted deeply within my heart.
At times he left his home and travelled to give lectures on Zionism and to collect contributions for the [Zionist] funds. On these trips he reached as far as Danzig. He succeeded in influencing his audiences with his attractive appearance, his wellconsidered words, and the cultured German that he was fluent in.
He participated in several [Zionist] Congressesthe fifth, the eighth, and the twelfth, which took place in Basel and Vienna. His family accompanied him: his wife, and his daughter Ruth (may she live long). At these Congresses he was able to make contact with many of the Zionist leaders and thinkers. And indeed he corresponded with many of them, including: Nordau, Gruenbaum Rytov, Rosenbaum, Ussishkin, Motzkin, and others.
He was good at writing, and in his letters one can find his principal sentiments, which mostly concerned the fate of his people. His faith in Zionism was complete, and he saw in it the only solution for his people, whom he loved so dearly.
Several times he visited the Land of Israel. He aspired to go on Aliya and settle in Jerusalem, where he would establish a pharmacy. However, he did not manage to fulfil his dream. Bound to his townsmen with every fiber of his being, he could not leave them behind. In addition, he did not believe that a war would break out. He remained there with his flock until the bitter end, and he perished together with them in the horrific Holocaust.
How he aroused his listeners when he returned to the town in 1925 after a visit to the Land to commemorate laying the cornerstone of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus! He was very strongly impressed by this lofty event, and when he spoke about it his eyes sparkled and there was a thrill in his voice. Tears welled in many of the listeners' eyes when he described to them all that he had seen and heard. Many were influenced by his account and some even immigrated to the Land.
His exciting accounts that were expressed so intensely lit a spark in many a heart; they were like a breath of fresh air for their confused, wavering hearts. Members of all the factions respected him greatly, starting from the Hassidim who were waiting idly for the Messiah to come, and ending with the various leftists who were swept up in their multitude of denominations with alien ideals. His great sincerity, integrity and enthusiasm won over even his foes.
He was a paragon for many with the truth that burned in his very being and his relentless devotion to the Zionist cause. He saw Zionism not as an abstract entity but rather as an attainable visionsomething that one should arise and act upon, rather than waiting for the End of Days.
It was difficult to be around him without binding to the passion of his vision and to his great love for his people and his land. These are the things he thought about constantly and dedicated all his time to. Everyone sensed that he was good not only at preaching, but also at practicingprepared to make any sacrifice…
He was chairman of the Zionist Federation of the town. He did not hold this title in vain, but rather he demanded more from himself than from others. He carried out deeds and made others do them, inspiring them to arise and act for the sake of their people.
Riesenfeld the personhe who loved all human beings, especially childrencould not imagine the depth to which the TeutonicGerman hatred was liable to degenerate, nor that of their Polish collaborators. For this reason he did not anticipate the Holocaust that was coming…
He had a religious consciousness, even though he was forced by the law to open his pharmacy on Sabbaths and holidays. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur he would attend the synagogue located near the bridge connecting Dobrzyn to Golub. For it was among his people that he dwelled, and it was to them that he devoted all of his life and his thinking.
His enthusiastic, uncompromising Zionism was a riddle to his contemporaries. Even his closest friends were puzzled, not knowing where he drew this faith from. For some unknown reason he did not strive to integrate into the Gentile society around him; yet he had not been brought up in the bosom of Jewish, nationalreligious culture or in Hebrew literature. For what reason did he did not aspire to the respectable positions that he turned down when they were offered to him? Why did he prefer to live in a remote, impoverished town, struggling together with his brethren until the end of his life? And from where did he draw that endless inspiration for his strong faith in Zionism and the Land of Israel?
The answers to these questions lie within the remarkable personality, full of inspiration, that was granted to him like the charm of the treasured additional soula soul devoid of any selfish motives, dedicated completely to Zion.
His childhood and youth were spent in a village, in the company of Gentiles, but he distanced himself from them, always proclaiming to them, proudly and vehemently: I am a Hebrew! Herzl's writings had a profound influence on him. When he contemplated them it was as if he were listening to the beating of angels' wings.
The Dreyfus trial shocked him, too, and served as a turning point in his perspective. He came to the realization that there was only a single path for himdedicating his life to the Zionist idea and to the Zionist movement.
As a student of pharmacologyfor a period of seven years, until he received his degreehe excelled in the sciences, while the humanities were not to his liking and had no influence on him. Nor did he get any Jewish education in his parents' home. That is why it seemed that his Jewish awareness and his Zionist consciousness penetrated into his heart from some hidden, higher Power that shook him out of his tranquility.
It is difficult to analyze his personality dispassionately, for there was much of the irrational in his shift to Zionism and to his people. There were factors that were essentially emotional, unknown even to him and difficult for everyone else to comprehend.
It is a sacred duty for us to immortalize this man, who more than many others sacrificed his entire life on the altar of Zionism and the Land into which he himself did not live to enter. His life should be an instructive example to the younger generation, for it was the life of a noble spirit who was devoted to his people.
May his name be engraved in the annals of our people, among the names of those who paved the way for the establishment of the State of Israel.
Below: the pharmacy
Rivka Shapira (Horowitz)
Translated by Allen Flusberg
I will never forget the friends that I grew up with in our town, and how we spent time together dreaming about aliya to the Land of Israel. I will never forget how we girls would gather together every evening in the Beit Yaakov building, in the presence of Pesya Gutmorgen, our lovely, modest teacher, whom everyone in the town was fond of. How we enjoyed those meetingswhether it was a Bible class, an open discussion, or a game. And sometimes we would sit around, singing late into the night; or we would carry on, the way young girls do.
Every Sabbath we would gather before evening for Shalosh Seudot. We would sit around a table, set appropriately with an abundance of delicacies and treats. Pesya Gutmorgen sat at the head of the table, giving a talk on Parshat Hashavua, while we girls lapped up her words with relish. We felt engulfed with peace and serenity. We would start singing as soon as her talk ended, and then we would finish by dancing. It was a kind of harbinger of a good week to come.
Whenever my thoughts turn to my childhood I recall these friends of mine, envisioning them before my eyes. One in particular stands out, a close friend whose image has been with me all these years since I left DobrzynChana Kadecki.
She was the daughter of wealthy parents. We were bound together in a very close, devoted friendship. When they began distributing aliya certificates to the Agudat Yisrael girls, they set up hachsharot for girls in Warsaw and Lodz. Chana Kadecki also wanted to go on hachshara, but only if we would be together. And indeed in the end we did go to Lodz together. However, when it actually came to immigrating, I wound up going to Israel by myself; it was not possible to obtain two travel visas, nor were her parents in a hurry to agree to let her go.
After that she wrote me a great deal, letters abounding with love for the Land of Israel. To prepare for aliya she went to learn needlework, wishing to find means to support herself by working. She believed that she would join me in a matter of a few months. She believed it, but did not merit it…How unhappy I was! For together the two of us had dreamed about aliya to Israel as we strolled through the streets of the town, our thoughts taking us far, far away…
I left Dobryn in 1936, on a Sunday in the month of Tammuz. Very early that morning we strode towards the Golub train station, a distance of several kilometers. I was accompanied by my dear family members and by my many girlfriends, tears in their eyes. The tears were tears of joy that I was going up to the Holy Land, and tears of sadness that they were remaining in the Exile. We parted, using the word lehitraot to say goodbye; it did not occur to any of us that we would not see each other ever again…
May these words constitute an everlasting testimony for my family members and for my friends:
|My mother, Bayla Frumit||Groner, Tultza|
|My brother, Yaakov||Grosman, Sara|
|My brother, Avraham Yosef||Goldbruch, Hinda|
|My sister, Hinda||Goldbruch, Yente|
|My brother, Baruch Mendel||Kadecki, Chana|
|My sister, Hinda||Frajlich, Esther|
|My aunt, Chana||Rosenwaks, Gela|
|My uncle, Mendel Gurfinkel||
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