« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 390]

Personalities

 

[Pages 390-394]

Reb Yakov Leyb Graner

By Esther Graner-Rabbe

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Steve Bolef

My father Yakov Leyb was an eminent, respected man in town, always surrounded by friends and family, met by every person who needed a favor; and he mainly granted these favors in a discreet manner (matan beseser). In community matters he was one of the most active people. He was also one of the first followers of Dr. Herzl even before the First Congress, and together with others, he  still in those years  founded the Zionist Organization in Dobrzyn. My father had the position of chairman, and in a short time, he was able to attract other friends, mainly from the older generation. He had to overcome many challenges from the religious circles that said they would only go to Israel with the help of the Messiah (Moshiach), and he who goes to Israel to settle before that is a heretic. In conflict with the chassidim (religious Jews) was the well-known Zionist community activist Reb Yitzchok Moishe Ofenbach, whom my father came to help, and who later was at the head of the Zionist Organization. With his enthusiastic and persuasive speeches that he gave each Motzoei Shabbos (Saturday night after the end of Sabbath) he convinced many of the chassidic circles to believe in Dr. Herzl's national, political thought and movement. Reb Yitzchok Moishe, with his broad, community-minded stature, established a Zionist youth circle and later established the club “Hatchiya” that served as a gathering place and also for evening courses for the youth to learn Hebrew. My father was always the right hand man of Reb Yitzchok Moishe and helped him in his devoted daily Zionist work. Still at the end of the previous century, my father organized a circle of Hebrew readers, subscribed to the “Hatzefira” and other Zionist newspapers for the town.

[Page 391]

 

Reb Yakov Leyb Graner, OB”M

 

And whoever was interested in knowing what was happening in the Zionist world came to Reb Yakov Leyb Graner. Many times there were debates in our house on many different subjects. The house was always filled with visitors who my father welcomed warmly, and he discussed all kinds of worldly issues with them. My home, as I remember, was never sad  but on the contrary, was always joyous. Groups of people would sit with a glass of tea until late into the night. There were also some Jews in town for whom reading a newspaper was a difficulty. For them, my father set aside a few hours during the daytime to read them the newspaper. That's how he would sit on the steps of his flour factory, a quorum of ten men (minyan) around him, and their ears perked to hear how Reb Yakov Leyb reads the newspaper about the daily news. Of greatest interest to them was the “Political Letters” from Itchele in the paper “Haynt” (today). The letters were published each Sunday. The excitement around Itchele's commentaries on the political letters was enormous. They would discuss these with appropriate critique of the writer. It is noteworthy that these were Jews without a livelihood, and who barely had bread in their homes. And that's how they spent their years, with the hope of a better tomorrow.

My father also played a significant role in community life in Dobrzyn. He wanted and was able to accomplish a lot, but with communities in small towns it was not easy to agree on things. And so the struggle in community issues …

[Page 392]

… was always sharp and bitter. For a long time, my father supported the city and then he undertook to renovate the synagogue that had been terribly neglected for a long time. In his time, the shul was redone almost like new. They changed the benches, chairs, and podiums, extended the women's section, and most important of all, brought painters from Plotsk  not ordinary painters, but artistic painters who painted permanent historical scenes on walls and ceilings  scenes such as: Mother Rachel's Tomb, Absalom's Tomb, the Tower of David, the Tombs of the Patriarchs, the Western Wall, and many other historical places. There's likely not even one person from Dobrzyn who doesn't carry these beautiful images of these artistic paintings in the Dobrzyn synagogue in his mind. Foreigners who visited this synagogue marveled at the artwork. Our synagogue was also prominent in the surrounding towns, and this was the pride of those from Dobrzyn.

The women of the Ezras Noshim (women's assistance committee) fulfilled their obligation and helped sew the curtain that covered the ark where the Torah was kept, and also made special drapes. They prepared the “opening day” of the synagogue with great splendor. That Shabbos, they brought in a famous cantor along with his choir from Lodz who sang the “Lecho Dodi” of the Friday night prayers, and the next day his prayers were filled with song; along with the help of the choir they created a holiday spirit in the town. The joyous event was tremendous and each person felt as if it was his own house that was being presented as new.

At the time when he held the position of supporting the city, my father also organized the cemetery that was without a fence for scores of years. The animals had broken through the flimsy wooden fence and ate the grass that was on the graves. Since there was no money in the fund, the community borrowed a sum of money, bought lots of bricks and cement from the brothers Mendel and Avrohom Hirsh Cohen, and built a tall fence (wall) that was visible from quite a distance. When the fence was built, the neglect ended and the Jews in the town had much nachas (pride) from Reb Yakov Leyb Graner's accomplishment.

[Page 393]

Also, the bais medrash was fixed. The walls were painted, a new oven was built so that the yeshiva boys that learned there in the cold winter days should not suffer from the cold, and also so that the congregants should be warm when they come to pray.

My father organized a small guest house (hachnosas orchim) that was located not far from the street where the synagogue was. It was a tradition in Poland that the Jewish poor people, or “goers” as they were called, would go from town to town, and in each place would have the opportunity to spend two days and two nights in the guest houses where they would have a place to eat and a place to sleep. Along with that, they were permitted to collect alms from the congregants in the synagogue and from those learning in the bais medrash for those two days that they were in town. After those two days, they would receive a sum of money from the community fund, then they would leave and continue with their journey. Amongst them sometimes were also women and young children. For years they were homeless, practically like gypsies, but by the end of the 1920s the number of “goers” had diminished and after that it stopped completely. It is worthwhile to note that the phenomenon of the Jewish wanderers in these towns, especially in Poland, was a direct result of the difficult economic situation after World War I. It is also worthy to note that if the “goer” would have to leave town on a Thursday, then he would be kept over the Sabbath and they would send him for meals to the home of a wealthy man. What incredible compassion did Dobrzyn model for the many surrounding towns.

***

In the general destruction in Poland, much of the wrath was poured out onto the Jewish community of Dobrzyn. All the holy places, such as the shul, the bais medrash, and all …

[Page 394]

… the other community institutions were destroyed. The cemetery was demolished and the streets were paved with the tombstones. About 90% of the population died in the killing camps and some in the vast wasteland of Russia. This is how the story of the dear, beloved town of Dobrzyn ended, after being in existence for many generations, and after bringing forth many dedicated Jews, among them my father Yakov Leyb Graner, and all who remember him, know what he accomplished for the town and for her Jewish population.

But, all is not lost for the Jews (lo alman yisroel). Our greatest comfort is that with our own hands, we built a Jewish state. And Jews all over the world are proud of their country. We owe much thanks to our parents who raised us in the spirit of love for Israel. My father also belongs to them  he raised his children with this same spirit, and in that atmosphere an entire generation of Jews was raised in Dobrzyn.

“May his soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life”


[Pages 397-340]

The Rabbi of Dobrzyn[1]

by Mendel Sonabend

Translated by Allen Flusberg

My beloved father, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Sonabend z.l.[2], was born in Dobrzyn on the Dreventz River in the Plock Province. He was descended from an extended family of rabbis, religious prodigies and Kabbalists. His father, R.[3] Rephoel z.l., a textile merchant with a keen mind, was the brother of Rabbi Avrohom Sonabend, the Rabbi of Nieszawa[4]. Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Bornstein, the Rabbi of Gostynin[5], was the rabbi's brother–in–law, and Rabbi Yissochor Groibard z.l., the Rabbi of Bendin[6], was his cousin.

Right after his wedding, my father was appointed Rabbi of Janow[7], a town in the province of Plock. Three years later, he received a letter of appointment from the community of Dobrzyn. The election held for the position of Dobrzyn Rabbi turned into a feud, an extremely bitter struggle, between the Ger[8] Hassidim and the Aleksander[9] Hassidim. The Rebbe[10] of Ger, a world–renowned, prodigious scholar who was known as the Sefas Emes, after the name of the book he had written, backed my father's candidacy; but the Aleksander Rebbe supported his own grandson for the position. The controversy between the two Hassidic groups knew no bounds. At the very last moment, the other residents of the town decided to back the Ger Hassidim, and my father won the election. Afterwards the Aleksander Rebbe wrote a letter to his followers, instructing them to accept the election results as the finger of God[11].

My parents arrived at my father's inauguration as Rabbi of Dobrzyn in an elegant carriage—drawn by four white horses—that belonged to my grandfather, R. Mordechai Globus. A large crowd of Dobrzyn Jews had been waiting on the outskirts of the town to greet him. In a festive atmosphere they escorted him to the synagogue, where he was received with great pomp and ceremony. The synagogue was packed. The cantor and the choir sang “Boruch Habo[12]. My father gave a heartfelt sermon that was well received, and the Aleksander Hassidim congratulated him and wished him long life.

In his apartment there was a room in which the religious court met for adjudication. All four walls of the room were covered with shelves filled with books on Jewish law: Mishna[13], Talmud, Poiskim[14], Responsa, etc.; it had been a gift from my grandfather, R. Mordechai Globus, z.l. In the room there was a long table with two long benches and a tall chair. When adjudicating, my father would sit on this chair to listen to the claims of the two sides. Cases of property disputes[15], divorces, chalitza[16] and the like would routinely be brought before him. For disputes he would announce his verdict only after the litigants indicated their agreement to abide by it by grasping the end of a handkerchief that my father would extend to each of them[17]. Aside from these cases, individuals would also come to him to pour their hearts out about their troubles and to discuss personal family matters.

During the period of thirty–four years that my father was the Dobrzyn Rabbi, he dedicated himself entirely to studying and to writing innovative Torah commentaries[18]. When he passed away after a short illness, his last, dying wish was that the yeshiva[19] students should be well taken care of. Throughout his life they had all been his students, taught by him, and he had practically raised them all.

My father had a deep affection for his yeshiva students. Twice a week he would go for a walk with them in the nearby woods. He loved the students like his own children. Delving with them into complex Talmudic passages, he would reveal to them interpretations that they had never heard before.

He would teach his students some of his Talmud lessons from memory, according to his own unwritten commentary. Shortly before his death he put this commentary of his into writing. He made several copies to distribute to his students in order to make it possible for them to learn these lessons by heart. These commentaries of his were accepted and became popular in scholarly circles.

Aside from being a great, God–fearing scholar, he was also highly educated. He was known as a gifted speaker who was capable of influencing his audience; his sermons on ethics would always arouse a great deal of enthusiasm. Among many of the town's residents he was truly venerated. Families whose personal lives were fraught with difficulties, and others who strayed from the path of virtue, found their way back under the Rabbi's influence.

My father often wrote in Hebrew and had a special love for this language. He particularly enjoyed reading “Shirei Tifferet,” written by the well–known Hebrew poet N. Z. Wesel[20].

He passed away after a short illness, 34 years after becoming Rabbi of the town of Dobrzyn, the town in which, as stated above, he had been born.

My grandfather, R. Rephoel Sonabend, was also a highly regarded Talmudist who was active in the community. He, too, was born in Dobrzyn and died there. As a child he had already displayed prodigious abilities. He wrote a book criticizing the rabbis and scholars for their negligent attitude towards the ordinary, plain people, and for not providing them with a proper education.

Perhaps there will be someone out there who will greatly expand on the biography of the Sonabend family; and may he be rewarded[21] for it.

 

A group of people hailing from Dobrzyn in the Forest of the Martyrs[22]
Sitting on the left: Kasriel Isaac, z.l.[23][24]

 

A reception for Moshe Yaakov Katchor, and wife, of New York
Center: Moshe Yaakov
Left: his wife, Chana Chaya
Right: his brother–in–law, Yaakov Rimon[25]


Translator's Footnotes

  1. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn–Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn–Golub Society, Israel, 1969), pp. 397–400. A parallel article in Hebrew with the same title, and by the same author, appears on pp. 51–54 of this volume. It overlaps with, but is not identical to, this Yiddish article. Return
  2. z.l. = contraction for Zichroinoi Livrocho = of blessed memory Return
  3. R. = Reb, similar to English “Mr.” Return
  4. Nieszawa, Poland is located ~50km south of Dobrzyn. Return
  5. Gostynin, Poland lies 100km south of Dobrzyn. Return
  6. Będzin, Poland, located approximately 400km south of Dobrzyn. Return
  7. There are several towns named Janow in Poland. The reference is probably to a town that is located 120km south of Dobrzyn. Return
  8. Ger = a Hassidic group that had many adherents in Dobrzyn Return
  9. Aleksander (or Alexander) is the name of a Hassidic group that had many adherents in Dobrzyn. See the following link (retrieved May, 2015): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleksander_(Hasidic_dynasty) Return
  10. Rebbe = religious spiritual leader of Hassidic group Return
  11. “finger of God” (quoting Exodus 8:15), i.e. God's will, but with a hint of a wrong that cannot be undone. Return
  12. Boruch Habo (Heb., literally “may he who has arrived be blessed”) = welcome. Return
  13. Mishna = the concise book of Jewish Law written down in Hebrew in ~200CE. See the following Web site (retrieved May, 2015): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mishnah Return
  14. Poiskim = authors of post–Talmudic literature settling Jewish law (literally adjudicants). Return
  15. Din Torah (Hebrew) = judgements made according to Jewish civil law Return
  16. Chalitza = ceremonial rejection of levirate marriage by the brother of a deceased, married man whose wife had not borne him any children. The widow is permitted to remarry after the Chalitza is completed. See the following Web site (retrieved May, 2015): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halizah Return
  17. Grasping the handkerchief is considered a form of acquisition or agreement, similar to an agreement by handshake in Western societies. Return
  18. chidushei Torah (Hebrew) Return
  19. Yeshiva = religious seminary Return
  20. Naphtali–Hirz (or Naphtali–Zvi) Wesel or Wessely (1725–1805), was a German–Jewish Hebraist. His epic poem Shirei Tifferet (= poems of glory), describes the exodus from Egypt, with an emphasis on the greatness and humaneness of Moses. See the following Web site (retrieved May, 2015): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naphtali_Hirz_Wessely Return
  21. Heb. Tovoi olov berocho = may he receive a blessing Return
  22. Forest of the Martyrs = a forest on the outskirts of Jerusalem, dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust and the rebirth of the Jewish State. See the following link (retrieved May, 2015): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forest_of_the_Martyrs Return
  23. From p. 398 in reference cited in Footnote 1. Return
  24. Sign in Hebrew in the photograph reads “Dobrzyn”. Return
  25. From p. 400 of reference cited in Footnote 1. Return

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Golub-Dobrzyń, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 26 May 2015 by JH