The marriage of two mentally retarded or slightly insane people was a mitzva for it helped two lost souls. The entire community was usually involved, especially the well to do. They took care to provide the couple with a place and implements to start house. They would also provide some income so that the couple could exist. These people were usually the guests at the wedding and they danced the first mitzvah dance to set off the festivities of the wedding. As a matter of fact, most regular weddings were not better organized or prepared than the special weddings. One such wedding involved the cantor's son Avraham, also called Avraham the stupid one. He was meek and good-natured but slow. He was getting older and still a bachelor. They matched him up with an elder girl that was a hunchback. I think my mother was the matchmaker for she was a sister to my mother and lived with my grandparents in a village near Rymanow. Lea listened to my mother and other people and accepted the marriage. Avraham did some postal errands for the Raab family business. He carried parcels from and to the post office. Perhaps he also did errands for other people in town so that he could earn a few pennies and provide for the home. Avraham and Lea lived together until the Germans took them away with the entire community. Avraham certainly did no harm to the Germans, he had a right to live, certainly more so than the German killers. Avraham's stupidity affected no one but the German wisdom destroyed the world.
She was not an ugly woman but the fact that she had no dowry indicated that she had no resources and was forced to marry an elder person, especially a community leader. In the summer evenings, one could see Bendet and his stepmother promenading from their home to the market, on to the shul and until the house of Godal where the Jewish homes ended. No other unmarried couple in Korczyn dared to promenade in such fashion but nobody wanted to start trouble for Shulem Akselrad was a powerful men with good connections. His wife had a strictly kosher home, dairy and meat were separate. No rumors to the contrary were ever circulated in town. Shulem prayed each day, whether he came each day to shul nobody knew. Even very religious Jews would on occasion miss services for various reasons. But on Shabbath and the holidays he always came with his full traditional garb, a streimel, a silk bekeshe and a gartel that sparkled with cleanliness. He also wore a stiff collar and a tie since he married. The township forgave him these indulgences.
I discovered more about the conduct of the wife of the community leader from our neighbor, Neche the fool. Neche married a vagabond in order not to remain an old maid. She lived with her sister and mother, both widows. The husband disappeared after the wedding and she remained a married woman without a husband. She shore her hair and carried a hat; that was the extent of her marriage. Her husband was never seen again. This Neche went occasionally to see the wife of the community leader. I do not know what she did there. She could not clean or scrub the floors but obviously there was some relationship between them. Neche did not speak Polish, so apparently, the conversation must have been in Yiddish. Once I overheard Neche tell her mother that the wife of the kehilla leader dressed immodestly in her house. Neche could not understand such behavior. Let all the characters that I mentioned here rest eternally in heaven.
When I met Ber, he was already set in his ways and knew what he wanted while I was still in the clouds so to speak. I had no definite position and was ideologically unattached. Still our friendship developed and we understood each other. He was the first open Zionist in Korczyn and this took a certain amount of bravery in those days while I remained attached to my Yeshiva outlook in spite of the fact that I no longer practiced it since I left Korczyn. We always discussed items and he was interested in everything, a pity that he disappeared so young.
I am certain that his disappointed love life had something to do with it but this is an old story. I do not know who broke the relationship; whether Neche, his girl friend, by going to Palestine or Ber by marrying a girl from Krakow. I am certain that the separation was a real tragedy for the couple. I listened to both sides but was helpless in the matter. I am not certain whether they could have patched up their differences and lived happily after. The fact remained that the separation was bitter for both parties and affected them for they had read enough romantic novels where things end differently. I personally preferred a relationship that developed after the marriage ceremony but this was my personal view. The fact remained that I was their friend and saw them suffer.
Ber helped me a great deal with general knowledge to which I had no access. He knew well Hebrew literature, read German literature and was familiar with Yiddish literary life. On occasion he used to write for Hebrew or Yiddish publications. He had something to say and said it orally and in writing. The fact that he came from Korczyn presented problems since one had to be careful about the written material. Where he received his knowledge in the religious township of Korczyn was a real question that he never answered. But I felt that he traveled far away from the religious environment that he lived in. His discussions showed me that I still had lots to learn even in Jewish knowledge. He never embarrassed me but pushed me to advance myself in general knowledge. Finally, after seven months of active duty in the Imperial Austrian Army, I received liberty and went to Budapest.
The city was cosmopolitan and offered many opportunities. I tried to acquire what I lacked spiritually. I concentrated on the German language that I lacked. I purchased grammar books and dictionaries to improve my German. I wrote letters to Ber in German and he corrected them. He did not receive liberty and had to stay at the base. I also wrote to several female friends in German. They never corrected me even if I made serious errors and I know that I made them. I also visited the Weissman family in the city. Here I met Neche and her brother that lived with the family. As I visited the family, I also became involved in the romantic relationship between Ber and Neche and even heard some of the fantasies. He in his military uniform dreamt of sweeping his beloved damsel off the ground and she saw her lover on a white horse. The fantasies reached the skies and then crashed at the wall of reality. They drifted apart before they even lived together. This served me a lesson not to involve myself romantically and led me to concentrate in other intellectual spheres and failures. There is no set road for every person. Ber and Neche exhausted themselves spiritually in the affair and suffered greatly. All their dreams and hopes vanished as the clouds. One has to have luck for such romance to fulfill itself. Obviously it was not in their cards. I am amazed that I was the so-called expert that listened to both parties and was supposed to render decisions or comfort to the parties. Still I tried to use my common sense and did the best that I was able to do. Dear Ber, I knew how much you suffered. You were a Zionist and did not see the creation of the State of Israel. Neche left you and went to your dreamland where she married and had son that would carry on her memory. Honor to both of you.
Haim Wolf was an only child. His father, Yankel was a tailor that sewed jackets and pants for the peasants and sold them at the fair. He managed to build a brick building in the market. The ground floor had a cigarette and a grocery store and the family lived upstairs in a large apartment. The tailor was known as a miser. He never borrowed or loaned. He was a quiet withdrawn person. He hardly received an aliyah to the torah on Shabbath or Holidays. Perhaps he resented it but never showed it. He dressed clean, his clothing without patches or repairs, although his bekeshe was very old. His father implanted the need for cleanliness in the son. Haim wore a hat, an overcoat that was very old but clean and spotless. His boots always had a shine in spite of the mud in Korczyn that destroyed shoes. He once explained to me his theory of walking that consisted of stepping lightly on the ground without pressing the entire body to the ground. When entering mud, the lightness prevented the foot from sinking and splashing the mud all over. He showed me his manner of walking and I agreed with him. I left home at the age of 16 to learn a trade but decided to return for Passover and Sukkoth to Korczyn. I was drawn to the township where I spent so many hours in the shul between the minha and maariv service and the days spent studying the Talmud. Haim was already then my best friend.
He assumed my artistic duties in the township and asked many questions regarding painting that I could not answer since I did not know the answers. He once asked me to sketch for him a woman dressed in a formal dress that was ordered from him. I draw the picture but it lacked the necessary proportions. Still, Haim told me that he corrected the picture. All these things he did for free but once he was married he started to charge for the various artistic activities and developed certain ideas that provided him with an income. He designed and built a walled fence around the Jewish cemetery and surmounted the wall with broken glass so that nobody could climb over the fence and vandalize the cemetery. Even the Germans did not touch the cemetery and it remained protected to this day. Thus the name of Haim Wolf has been memorialized. He did not make money on this project but saw to it that all his helpers were paid. He did not want to be accused of making money. The cemetery also contained the tombs of Jews from nearby villages and even from the city of Kros that died 60-70 years ago.
Each year, the tombstone chiseler came to Korczyn to inscribe the new tombstones. Haim slowly learned the trade and started to take orders from people as to what they wanted to inscribe on the tombstone and what designs they wanted. He than created models into which he poured the liquid cement and polished them. Then he lettered the tombs. He also fixed the old tombstones, especially the lettering and earned some money. People that came later to the USA told me that he had good taste. He also undertook and built facilities for the shul. The shul's outhouse consisted of three flimsy walls attached to the outer wall of the shul. The walls consisted of attached planks. A passerby could not see the entrance but there was one. Inside there was a long board with 7-8 holes for people to squat but children and even adults stood on the board and tended to their needs. As a result, the areas of the holes were infested with urine and many people preferred not to use the toilet. Nobody cared for the place and nobody was interested in cleaning the area. People urinated all along the walls rather than use the outhouse.
Haim built nice facilities opposite the shul next to Mechale, the baker's house. The place was clean and Haim even cemented passage way from the shul to the outhouse so that people could reach the facilities in the winter. Only Haim could think of all of these jobs as part of his cleanliness. He also designed the Eliyahu chair for the shul that was used in the ceremony of circumcision of newborn babies. The carpenter built the chair, the painter painted it and Haim presented it to the shul as a gift. Indeed it was religious symbol and a true gift to the community for generations to come for the chair is used only when needed. Thus, Haim tried to erase his reputation as a miser by giving such a nice gift to the shul. It was not my intention to delve into the relationship between the community leadership and Haim, Yaacov and preceding generations of Korefs. Suffice it to say that news reached me that the leadership of the kehilla asked 1000 guilden of Haim Wolf for the burial of his father in 1920. Haim tried to reduce the price but the chevrah kadisha or burial society refused to budge. He refused to pay and the corpse remained in his house for three days. When people asked him what he intended to do, he replied that his father was sewing clothing. The kehilla had to bury him after three days for free since this was the law.
The leadership of the community and Haim Wolf started a war of words and innuendoes. Haim used every occasion to criticize indirectly the leaders and they had to take it without being able to reply in kind. Each Saturday after the first part of the service and prior to the reading of the torah, the shamash announced the local announcements and sometimes the rabbi would give a sermon. One Shabbath, there were no announcements and no sermon, Haim Wolf mounted the bimah or reading platform and banged on the table to indicate that he had something to say to the congregation. The leader of the kehilla, Eliyahu Kaufman, called out the line to take out the torah. In effect, he blocked Haim from talking. The latter lost control of himself and hit Eliyahu in the face. We can skip the events that followed the incident. The heavenly court will settle that matter and it is not for us to judge the case. Following the event, Haim became the so called rabbi of some unwanted youngsters who sat with him after the prayers and he explained to them some lines of the section of the week. This gave him an opportunity to continue his criticisms directed at certain people. Most of the participants at his lectures sided with him and became his supporters. In Korczyn both camps coexisted and continued to live sided by side, never reverting to the shedding of blood. True, Haim raised a hand against another Jew but we can understand the pain inflicted on the son at the burial of his father who was a hard working person and lived from the sweat of his brow.
I still remember that Haim once told me prior to WWI that if he were a writer like Mendele Mocher Sfarim he would create more piety in the township of Korczyn. I knew that he was not a reader of books but under the influence of Haim Levy Tzeiger he was familiar with the famous Jewish author who enabled him to fantasize. He was no reader but he grasped concepts and observed events that he sketched. In his older years he became the rabbi of some youngsters and helped them with their study. I would like to end the Wolf story by stating that since the community had to bury his father without payment, they buried his father next to the fence; not the most respectable place in a Jewish cemetery. Haim built a mausoleum around the tombstone as was the custom for holy men or famous rabbis. The town jesters claimed that he did it so that his father would not escape.
Eventually, all these differences disappeared and today there is hardly a memory of them. Most children and grandchildren today hardly know where their parents were born, there are of course some exceptions. The latter were due to the fact that their parents dragged the children to the meetings of the Landsmanschaft. Thus, they acquired some basic facts about their parents and knew that they came from places where people lived. They also heard that there were families that still remained there. The children became aware of Jewish civilization and continuity. Their parents transplanted some of the values to the new country. These values and the opportunities of the new place enabled the parents to endure the hardships of the beginning. The foundation was there and it took some time for it to begin to blossom again. Thus, the need to survive the difficult period; this was the raison d'être for the Landsmanshaften, to help each other overcome these difficulties.
Jewish scholars did not leave Europe unless they were forced to. These people attracted followers as soon as they reached the USA shores. The Jewish immigrants were hungry for the home tunes and melodies of the old country. Synagogues, shuls and study centers evolved from the yearning for the ways of the old home. Of course these institutions assumed an American approach. People dressed modern during the week and on Shabbath and Holidays they wore top hats or hard hats that added a certain festivity to the day. People participated in the prayers and partook in the various religious activities as they used to do in the old country. Instead of selecting a head of the community that was very influential and well connected, here in the USA an elected president of the congregation was usually a person that made it in the new country, not necessarily a scholar. The congregation also elected other officers such as a vice-president, gabbai or manager of the services and shamash. Most of the people thus elected were not scholars or pious, but rather people that wanted to be involved in the congregation. A katzav [butcher in Yiddish] from Korczyn became a butcher in the USA. The landsmanschaften were the breeding ground for many congregations and relief institutions. They also attracted with time people from nearby places that were few in numbers. Thus the landsmanshaften became in themselves small melting pots and helped in the overall melting pot of the Jewish population. Each group contributed some characteristics into the general common unity of American Jewry.
I remember when Yankel Guzik came to Korczyn about 1904-5; he was already an old and sick man. He took the advice of his doctors and went to the Karlsbad spa in Czechoslovakia. On the way he stopped in Korczyn. He no longer had family in the shtetl but had strong feelings for it. He came with my cousin Dora Birman who was married to Max Birman. Max and Yankel Guzik's son were business partners. Yankel Guzik and Dora Birman traveled to Europe and back together but had different destinations.. Even here in Europe they met. I remember that Yankel made a very poor impression on Korczyn. His appearance was ghostly in spite of his excellent dress that consisted of a suit made to order, a stiff collar, a black tie and a small hard hat. He was dressed in the latest American fashion but his health appearance made a poor impression. Apparently clothing could not hide the ravages of time even in the USA. At the time, it was decided with the advice of Yankel that Dora Birman would take my older brother Shlomo, aged 14, to the USA. His brother Haim Hersh and myself would follow after WWI. Thus events tend to be connected to each other whether we acknowledged them or not. Yankel died in the USA but all efforts to locate the date of death proved fruitless. The date deserved to be printed here. Sorry that such important element of information was omitted. Many important elements of information would be omitted since the facts are missing. In conclusion I can merely state that when I arrived in the States, Yankel was already dead for many years but left the charity work in the capable hands of Raphael Meisner.
I remember that both used to visit me at home to collect the dues. These visits occurred during the slack season in the garment industry when the workers had some time off. Then they visited the Landsmen and collected the dues. They had a list of people and received nice contributions. Nobody refused these collectors for everybody appreciated their work. When the wealthy donors passed away, the collectors continued to visit the homes of the children and received donations. The latter were smaller than their parents used to give as they were no longer attached to Korczyn as their parents. Still the collectors visited every Landsmen to collect dues.
P319 picture of Eliyahu Katz
With the end of WWII, we realized the extent of work done by Meisner and Katz. All the survivors managed to find the address of Meisner and pleaded for help. His house became the center for the Jewish refugees from Korczyn. Unfortunately, most of the well to do donors were no longer alive. Still the team continued to wake the conscience of the former Korczyner for assistance and managed to help those that needed. During those days, I read in the newspaper the survival story of one of Haim Dym's children that survived the war and reached Belgium. I was so moved by the news item that I volunteered to drive the team to visit the landsmen. Only then did I realize the amount of work involved and I felt good that I contributed to the effort. I also helped the team to save their energies for they traveled by bus, subway and trams. They tried to introduce a modern collection system but it did not succeed. The personal touch continued and raised some money. At the time Raphael Meisner was already in his eighties and Elihau Katz was in his nineties. Both felt like fathers to the rescued Jews of Korczyn. Meisner's house was the planning center for help for the immigrants. His wife and children were involved in all the activities in spite of the fact that the children were raised in the States.
In the days following WWII, we received the first tragic reports about the survivors and met to discuss ways and means to help the survivors. The meeting place was of course the home of Raphael Meisner. Mrs. Meisner tended to the home but contributed immensely with suggestions and comments that proved essential in providing help to the survivors. As a matter of fact, the entire family was involved in the project of helping the survivors. The most important element was the fact that all survivors had an address in the USA where they could get an update on the Korczyners that survived the war. Some of these people were lone survivors without an address and frequently with little hope. Their inquiries were always answered and gave some hope.
We called a big emergency meeting in the Reisher-Korczyner synagogue where Raphael was the main speaker. There were no other people to assume leadership roles in helping the Korczyner survivors. Everything depended on Raphael Meisner. The big donors did not attend the meeting. One had to visit them personally to get donations. The number of big donors declined with time, the next generation was not that interested. At one of the meetings of the Korczyner society, Raphael decided to nominate me to be the president of the Korczyner Relief Society. I was in for a shock. I was never involved in community affairs and suddenly to handle a society was more than I bargained for. But I took the job and organized meetings and l learned the mechanics of running meetings. I was also the secretary of the Jewish Ethical society so that I had some experience. At the meetings I never spoke since I let Raphael handle all the discussions. By nature I am shy and not a fluent orator and that inhibited me from talking. Suddenly, both figures, Meisner and Katz, passed away in rapid succession and I remained with the Korczyner society. I expected that people would step forth to assume the leadership but nobody did. Everybody was pleased with the situation and I continued. Perhaps someday someone would take over but in the meantime I continued. I am presiding the society for 18 years and see no replacement. I am very thankful that Meisner and Katz selected Haim Davidowitz as my secretary. He was very experienced and stood by my side all these years.
Between those landsman that succeeded in the USA there were some that knew personally Meisner and Katz from the old country and tried to get some attention but they always gave donations. Some old Korczyner died but their relatives or family members were asked to contribute and they did. We can conclude that these two people had a very good response in their collections for Korczyn. As soon as the slack season started in the garment industry, they planned their campaign of visits to the landsman and even figured out the amount to request. They visited every landsman and with the money helped rebuild the institutions of Korczyn and at the same time also helped the individual needs of the Jewish community in Korczyn; such as financial help for Passover for the poor people. There were also personal appeals for help that were answered. Their crowning task was the financing of a walled fence around the cemetery in Korczyn. Haim Wolf Koref conceived the plan and Meisner and Katz paid for it. The cemetery remained intact to today due to its glass topping. The Korczyner kehilla could have never financed such project.
Following the destruction of WWII, the Korczyner Jewish survivors discovered the address of the American help institution named Raphel Meisner. A steady stream of letters and inquiries reached the address. That address passed from hand to hand amongst the Korczyner survivors. Meisner tried to help and provided as much as possible for their needs. Meanwhile, the big donors had passed away. The medium donors continued their donations and even increased them. At the time, the Korczyner Relief Society was formed to handle the needs of the survivors. The organization continued with the activities to the present. I remember the times prior to Passover when the Meisner home became the planning center for sending care packages to all the Korczyner Jewish survivors. The planning of the content of the packages was a big logistical problem. The entire Meisner family was involved in the project, especially the children that were raised in the USA. Mrs. Meisner cleaned the kitchen but gave us great insight into the needs of people prior to holidays. Her suggestions were always appreciated. Finally, the packages were ready to be shipped to all the Korczyner Jewish survivors.
In 1948, Shlomo and I went to the Meisners about relief activities. When Mrs. Meisner saw my brother, she went to the kitchen drawer and took a small pair of scissors and handed them to Shlomo. This belonged to you. She kept the item for forty years. This was Mrs. Beile Meisner. She kept an insignificant item for 40 years for somebody who was a boarder for a short period of time. We can thus understand the character of these people and their devotion to helping those that needed help and were less fortunate than themselves.
Respect the memory of Raphel and Beila Meisner.
P327 picture of Mr. and Mrs. Meisner
The Meisner home was always a beehive of activity. There were always problems somewhere in the world that affected Korczyner survivors and they turned for help to the Meisners. Raphael Meisner was already too old to handle the burden, so it fell on Sara's shoulders. She accepted the task in spite of the fact that she had her own family to care for. Her family lived together with her parents until her parents passed away. The two families were the center of all the relief activities of the Korczyner Jews. Sara's sister and brothers married and moved to their own homes. But Sarah continued with her relief activities as though driven by a religious fervor.
p.330 A picture of Sara Meisner with her family.
Everybody has his privacy and his family, but we were all raised with some overall values that tied us to some similar roots in the past. We continued with the chain of the past into the future. Future generations that dig for information about their past will be able to find some information about their origins of their ancestry. No stranger will be able to give them these facts. We followed the tradition of the past that recorded history. We tried to follow the same pattern by describing the kehilla of Korczyn as the people lived it. We did the best that we knew in recording the history of the shtetl. We described the events in good spirit and in spirit of individual respect that could serve as a model to future generations.
It was customary for an apprentice to eat at home the first year and with the master the next three years. The faster the apprentice learned the trade the more useful he became to the master. The food at the master's house was usually better than at home. Besides, he acquired a trade that would sustain him. The apprentice rarely received a tip for his slaving. Sometimes the owner or the parents would toss a few pennies to the apprentice. The workers ate with the master. The landlady was busy preparing food for her family and the shop workers. Meir finished his apprenticeship very well. He soon found a job in a bigger city but nothing to brag about. He earned a salary that enabled him to eat, pay for his lodging and purchase some clothing. He visited on Passover and Sukkot dressed in modern style, collar and tie. He considered himself important and his parents were very pleased. He soon had to report for the draft and decided to leave for the States where his older brother worked. He joined his brother who was not very successful in the USA. Meir was an experienced tailor and had immediately many job opportunities in the garment industry for his skills were in demand.
The garment unions enabled their workers to obtain wages that allowed them to live in modest comfort. Some of the workers became independent and succeeded in creating big operations where the materials went in and the final products emerged. The American manufacturers competed well with their European counterparts and insured that their workers should share in the benefits. Meir tried several times to become independent but failed. He was always accepted back in the shops where his reputation was excellent. He married and led a quiet life. He was not knowledgeable; perhaps he remembered some Hebrew letters that his Yashnitzer teacher taught him, or some written letters that was the custom of this teacher to teach. He taught the students the Latin alphabet and some mathematics. Some of the older students enjoyed this information. Whether Meir remembered any of this information I am doubtful. He knew that his possibilities were limited and therefore was not interested in scholarship but in reality; and that meant a trade. Thus he was not interested in Judaic studies but did learn to pray and to handle a Yiddish newspaper. In the USA he read the Yiddish paper 'The Forwards' that became his university. Meir like many other immigrants read these papers that provided them with background information and rounded out the education that they never acquired. Many of them never mastered the ability to write legible letters, but their general knowledge did increase. Here in the USA, those that had natural abilities managed to compete successfully with those that were privileged in the old country. The States were an equalizer of sorts; here all the privileges of Korczyn did not help but the individual had to prove himself. Everyone had to make a path for himself and Meir knew the road. He had no children but had a nice income. He bought a house in Boro Park and his door was always open. The place had three flats that Meir rented to poor people without profit.
The grounds looked very impressive. He helped his parents, brothers and sisters in Korczyn. We must compliment his wife that handled the financial accounts and the correspondence. She influenced Meir to help the needy people, especially of Korczyn. They donated large amounts to the various appeals of the Korczyner society. After WWII, they continued to give large donations in spite of the fact that they helped some of their family members that survived the war. When Meir started to be sick, I was embarrassed to travel and ask for donations. They called us and insisted that we accept the donations. When Meir passed away, his sick wife continued to send checks to the Korczyner Relief Society. As a matter of fact, we even stopped calling her to remind her of the appeals but the contributions kept arriving.
We had many Meirs in the USA. They continued the religious life of the shtetl and contributed greatly to help other Jews. They observed Shabbath and Holidays, prayed daily, and belonged to shuls where they listened to lectures and studied mishnayot. Pity that I did not have the chance to encounter many Meirs but I would like to take this opportunity to memorialize all those that were not mentioned by name in the book. Please excuse us for the omissions that may never be rectified.
She knew the dimensions of the windows in Korczyn and precut the panes at home. She then carried them to the house for installation. Occasionally, she used her diamond cutter to adjust the panes so that they fitted perfectly. Then she nailed them into the frame and glued them. Apparently her husband was in the business, and when he died she continued the trade and made a few pennies. She never left Korczyn proper. The peasants bought glass panes from her on market days. They knew where she lived and they gave the dimensions and she cut it for them. She also provided them with some small nails and glue so that they installed at home. I do not know how much she earned but she maintained herself. The fact that such a trade should fall into the hands of a woman was rare in those days.
Some of the more pragmatic thinkers searched for more precise clues and interpretations and found them in abundance. They also concluded that that the deliverance was at hand. Some of them were local people, others were wanderers that traveled from place to place and preached the same stories. Jews associated the Russian Empire with Amalek and, as the latter suffered a defeat, so will the Russian Czars for the wrongs that they did to the Jews. Moshe Mechale the teacher was a specialist in strategic military moves and related them to various lines in the Bible. How he could interpret military moves without ever having left Korczyn was never answered. But he was the military expert and developed the various military theories and interpretations of the various moves to the people, who did not have the slightest knowledge of where the places were or what importance they possessed. He enraptured us with his stories and interpretations. To this day it is a mystery to me where he received all his information. Gedalia Hopmeister, the cheder teacher, was also considered a military expert. He knew his Bible and all the military battles in it, and nobody could match him in the area. He was also an excellent raconteur and always had some new stories about this or that Rabbi or Holy man. I was always one of his listeners.
Korczyn kept itself spiritually busy by tending to the various needs that uplifted the spirit. Even the poor people were treated with respect and dignity. In those days, Shulem Akselrad decided that the old study center must be replaced with a new building. He was the only one that wore a collar with a tie. The rest of his clothing was in the Korczyner style. This man decided to replace the study center of Korczyn. A place that every inch was holy for present and previous generations. The old benches, tables, book closets, the holy ark that were sanctified by hundreds of pious people were to be replaced. The people were not in the mood for such a radical move; even the rabbi was not enthused with the idea. But nobody wanted to start a fight with the kehilla leader. The wooden beams in the walls were already moldy, the shingle roof let the raindrops enter, and the tables and benches gave way. But when did the rabbi had time to look at these things? He only knew that the Jews needed an income and for this he prayed daily and with great fervor on the High Holidays. On Simhat Torah he danced and managed to infuse into the old study center some joy that carried the participants with it. Who needed a new shul in these days; on the contrary the old place fitted more the invocations of the congregates and their needs. Besides, a new shul would detract from concentrating, and frivolous thoughts could enter the mind. Shulem knew how the community felt and beforehand obtained a building certificate to the effect that the old study center was not safe and endangered the congregates. With such paper nobody argued.
I do not remember what happened to the wood from the old shul, the beams, the roof beams, roof planks and the shingles. There was enough wood to heat the homes of the poor for several winters. But the poor people were afraid to use materials from the shul for fear of sacrilege. Probably, everything was burned near the cemetery as old books and pages are buried at the cemetery. Had personal use been made, the news would have reached everybody in Korczyn. The old study center was dismantled and the new one built in its place. During the construction of the study center, Jews prayed at the Rabbi's house and at other places throughout Korczyn. We already mentioned that the real unfinished synagogue of Korczyn had about twenty people during services, winter or summer. The walls consisted of bricks without plaster, the roof was not finished and during the rains the worshippers avoided the wet spots. The community could not finish the construction of the synagogue and it stood there for years. We should go into greater detail about the synagogue but presently we will leave the topic. The worshippers, especially the leader of the services and the readers of the torah deserved a special mention and perhaps we will mention them later.
The builders designated the holy place by stretching ropes along the earmarked walls. Rows of bricks were added to each layer and the structure rose taller with each passing day. The window panels and door frames were fortified. The new windows were three times larger than the old ones. The semicircle shaped windows with the Star of David and the multicolored glass gave the place the feeling of sanctity. The light entered mainly from the East and the West. The East Side had the Holy Arc and the praying lectern that reduced the window space. But all the walls had ample window space that provided light. Along the northern side was the women's section that was separated from the men's section by a wall that contained small windows through which one could hear the prayers. At the southern end there was an entrance hall where the heating stove and the water barrel stood. When the study center was reopened, everybody received their old seats next to new tables. Chandeliers were suspended from the ceilings as befitted a new holy place. I do not remember whether there were festivities prior to the opening of the new shul. The old holy arc was used in the new place. During the construction it was kept in a safe place together with other religious artifacts. The community accepted the new shul but with hesitation. Was it needed at the time, would the prayers be conducive, would it bring harmony etc. These were the questions in the minds of the people of Korczyn. The community and the Rabbi slowly moved into the spirit of the new shul. Everything was done here as it was done in the old place. Still, it was beautiful while the old one had layers of chalk that were painted for generations prior to the Passover holidays.
The service leaders wrapped in their talit knew how to infuse joy in the service of Shabbath and to arouse the congregation to join in the services. The weekly services were conducted by everyone that had Yahrtzeit or memorial service for a member of the family that passed away. Some people also liked to conduct services and nobody minded. Some people conducted evening services such as Shilem the baker or Motie Grin. The good service leaders on Shabbath were Zalke Melamed, Shulem Shochet, Hersh Yaacov Rossendler, Eliezar Raab and the very good cantor Avraham Neuman, son in law of Moshe Rothenberg. Of course these were my favorites as opposed to other people that had their own. Whenever Eliazar Rab traveled to the Rabbi of Zhikow, we knew that he would return with a new melody that would soon be the hit of the shul. The tune would make the rounds of the community and became part of the town until Eliezar Raab would bring something new and again the process repeated itself. These cantors infused joy and rapture into the congregants that stimulated their piety through the musical experience. Thus the Jew was elevated to higher spheres during the services, although at home the reality was far from joyous. Slowly but surely the community accepted the new shul.
Nobody interfered with the two Jewish arc builders. The community accepted their plans without comment. They signed a contract and were paid a fixed sum for completing the job. They worked very hard and did a competent job. Two lions holding the Ten Commandments towered the arc. The more exposed parts of the arc showed the fine carved creations of the wood carver while the hidden places showed simple and standard work. Those in the know stated that the arc compared favorably with other arcs in the area. The new arc curtain and the Torah coats that were sewn by the women for months were now fully displayed. The Torahs found their new permanent home. The entire community celebrated the event with songs and dances. The lectern and the torah reading table were also finished by the same two Jewish cabinetmakers that built the arc. They were from the city of Treve near Lesko, and lived at the home of our neighbor Liebe, the wife of Hersh Katz, during their stay in Korczyn. She was an excellent cook and I observed them from they moment they arrived to their departure. My brother Hersh Haim's decision to become a cabinetmaker was probably influenced by the proximity of these craftsman. My own decision to become a painter and a writer was also influenced by them as well as other events. True, I did not reach great heights in either field but I am pleased with my achievements.
With end of the Jewish holidays and the festivities, the fall weather set in. Life resumed the usual routine. The cold winds and snowstorms started to sweep across the country but the Jews did not miss the daily morning or evening services. Young men and elder people came to the synagogue during the day or after services to study. The new synagogue became the resting-place for many scholars who spent their time studying the torah by the candle lights. The winter was soon over and Purim approached with its special joy and mud in the streets. But Passover was not too far behind with the summer in the background. All creatures of nature would be able to soak in the rays of the sun without limitations. A pity that mankind could not share the wealth of nature in a similar manner.
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