by Meir Ejdelbaum
Translated by Jerrold Landau
From an essential perspective, every visit, every aliya to the land of Israel, even one that only comes at the end of a lifetime, is in within the scope of a national endeavor.
Intentionally or unintentionally, this is a return to Zion in the full sense of the word -- the building and development of the Land.
Naturally, the person making aliya prepared for himself a dwelling, and a store, workshop or business, either with his own money or with money received from the Rabbi Meir Baal Haness Fund, and by this means the Jewish yishuv grew and developed. Most importantly, by this means the connection between the Land of Israel and the Jewish people was strengthened.
Mezritsh also took part in this aliya. Individuals began making aliya to the Land of Israel hundreds of years ago. One of these was the rabbi of Mezritsh, Rabbi Nota Katzenelbojgen, who died in Jerusalem in the year 5449 . This rabbi was the president of Kollel Polin, which was responsible for the distribution [of funds in Eretz Israel].
In his book Toldot Chachmei Yerushalayim [The Annals of the Scholars of Jerusalem], Rabbi Yehuda Lejb Frumkin mentions some native Mezritshers who became famous in Jerusalem, which was a city full of scholars. He wrote, A righteous and modest man, fearing G-d from his youth, never departing from the tent of Torah day and night. He was expert in the revealed Torah, an honest judge, who judged widows and orphans with justice, who supported the poor and destitute -- Rabbi Mordechai, of blessed memory, the son of Rabbi Eliahu, Head of the rabbinical court of Mezritsh in Poland, who was summoned to the Heavenly court on Saturday, 7 Tammuz, 5621 . May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.
In his notes on that, the scholar Rivlin writes, A rabbinical judge for many years in Mezritsh and here. Thus states Rivlin. He was one of the principals of the Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem in the year 5618 . (The Yeshiva was founded that year by the Gaon and Tzadik Rabbi Shimon son of Rabbi Zerach, the rabbi of Tauragnai, Lithuania). Rabbi Mordechai Meir was one of the signatories to many legal decisions and enactments, along with the rabbis of Jerusalem. According to Rivlin, he was also a rabbinical judge in Biala near Mezritsh, and the chief administrator of all of the kollels of Poland.
It seems that the aforementioned rabbi was one of the important and beloved people of Jerusalem. However, Rabbi Y. L. Frumkin erred in ascribing the title of head of the rabbinical court to his father Rabbi Elia. This Rabbi Elia was never the rabbi of Mezritsh. In the ledgers of the rabbis (see the book The Jewish City of Mezritsh) there is no mention of a rabbi named Rabbi Elia. Instead, we find two rabbinical judges with that name. One of them died in the year 5577 . The second one who was a head of the rabbinical court, and one of the most famous rabbinical judges in the city, the son of the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Nachman, died in the year 5628 , approximately seven years after the death of the aforementioned Rabbi Mordechai Meir. Though it is possible to say that he was the son of this Rabbi Elia who died in the year 5577, it is however,
difficult to establish this definitively. Perhaps he was the son of the second Rabbi Elia, and may have died young during the lifetime of his father, that is the second Rabbi Elia.
There is no support for the opinion of Rivlin that Rabbi Mordechai Meir was a rabbinical judge in Mezritsh, for we do not find his signature among the signatures of the other rabbinical judges in the ledgers of the rabbis.
Rabbi Y. L. Frumkin also mentions Rabbi Elia the son of Rabbi David Barg of Mezritsh, who was formerly the rabbi of Semiatycze near Mezritsh (died in the year 5626 ). He also mentions the Tzadik Rabbi Tzvi Zeev of Mezritsh (died in 5630 ), who donated more than 1,000 silver rubles to the aforementioned Etz Chaim Yeshiva .
The aforementioned Rabbi Tzvi, whose family name was Fiszbejn, was very wealthy. His operated a pig bristle trade with Leipzig. He was the grandfather of the well-known scholar and Mezritsh native Rabbi Yehuda Eisensztejn. Once, during a discussion with Reb Yehuda Eisensztejn, he told me that after his grandfather lost his first wife, he married a G-d fearing convert. One can imagine the impact that this wedding had on the Jewish community.
As has been said, these were not the only ones who made aliya to the Land of Israel many years ago in order to close out their lives in the Holy Land. However, it not this aliya to which we wish to devote our discussions, but rather to the organized or unorganized aliya of individual Jews who made aliya for the purpose of inheriting the Land of the Fathers, building a new life, rebuilding the ruins and restoring its desolation, in fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy of a renewed Land of Israel.
Even before the Chovevei Zion movement was founded, a number of Jews made aliya to the land of Israel on account of the [hostile] environment that was created by the suppression of the Polish revolution 1863. As is known, the Jews of Mezritsh supported the revolutionary movement. An oath of allegiance to the movement and its leaders was pledged in the synagogue in the presence of one of the leaders of the movement, Roman Rogonski. The Russian government knew about this, and when the revolt was put down, a levy was imposed upon the city and its leaders, as were various restrictions that affected the manufacturing and commerce of the city very badly. As a result of this, several pig bristle workshops closed, and many of the residents of the city emigrated. Some settled in Leipzig, others went to the United States, and a few set out for the Land of Israel. Among the people who made aliya were the aforementioned Reb Tzvi Fiszbejn, Reb David Janower, Rabbi Zeev Eizensztejn (the father of the scholar Rabbi Yehuda Eizensztejn, author of Baal Haotzarot).
Rabbi Zeev Eizensztejn first immigrated to the United States (he was the first Mezritsh native to immigrate there). However, after some time he made aliya to the Land of Israel along with Gavriel Cukierman, a native of Mezritsh, who had also spent some time in the United States. He founded the Cukierman printing press in Jerusalem, which was very well known for many years. He was buried next to his grandfather on the Mount of Olives. His two sons were also buried there. Reb Tzvi Fiszbejn and his friends worked in business, built houses, and toiled for the settlement of the Land.
Translator's and Editor's Footnotes
by M. R. Slodki
Translated by Jerrold Landau
There is a known adage, If you want to understand the poet, go to his homeland. If we want to understand the first builders of Yesod HaMaala, we must understand Mezritsh.
During those days, the cities of Congress Poland were overtaken by Hassidism, whose influence spread over all areas of life. The Jews spent most of their time in shtibels, and delved into stories about the wonders of the Rebbe, and as a result, assimilation took root among the Jewish people. The intelligentsia spoke Polish or Russian, flattered the Poles, and turned their back on the rock that forged them. Mezritsh was the exception to this trend in two ways: Hassidism there was considered traif [non kosher] and it was not for nothing that Menachem Mendel of Kock said that a secret tunnel leads from Mezritsh to Berlin. This means that connections were established between the Haskalah of Berlin and Mezritsh. Another adage was common among the Hassidim: When the sect of DM is obliterated, the Messiah will come. This means: when Dubno in Wolhynia, and Mezritsh in Poland are destroyed, the Messiah will come, for those two cities are delaying the coming of the Messiah…
Despite all this, Mezritsh did not have assimilationists of the familiar type, and the reasons for this were simple. Mezritsh was a city of international trade. Its Jews would travel to the depths of Russia, even into the plains of Siberia, from where they brought their raw materials to Mezritsh. In Mezritsh the factories would work the raw materials, and Jewish merchants would then bring the finished products to Germany. It is self-evident that Mezritsh was influenced by both of these cultural sources. The Jews of the city were well known for their generosity and open hearts, like the Russian Kotzofs. They brought general and Hebrew culture from Germany. For over 100 years, there existed families in Mezritsh who spoke German and French at home, and studied Hebrew. It is sufficient to look into the books of the Bible with the translation of Mendelsohn that were published in Berlin to see the names of many Jews of Mezritsh. In an earlier era, Mezritsh nurtured the poet Reb Shalom Cohen, who left the town at age 17 for Berlin, where he became a Hebrew and German teacher. The wealthy people of Mezritsh obtained well-educated sons-in-law for their daughters from Germany. They later sent their sons to the yeshivas of Lithuania. Thus a wonderful blend arose in Mezritsh. There was very little boorishness and simple-mindedness. There were twelve Basei Midrash [houses of study] in the city: a separate one for the tailors, a separate one for the shoemakers, and a separate one for the for the wagon-drivers. In each Beis Midrash, a rabbi would teach a chapter of Bible or Mishna between mincha and maariv [afternoon and evening prayers]. In Mezritsh, one could find tailors who knew how to study a page of Gemara by themselves.
Given this reality, there was room for the movements that arose in the city to spread their influence. At the sprouting of the idea of Chibat Zion, Mezritsh was one of the first to respond to the call. Reb Nachman Szajnman, a scholarly and educated Jew, participated in the Katowice Convention as a delegate from Mezritsh. When he returned from the convention, he was diligent in spreading the idea of Chibat Zion to the residents of the city. The first advocates of the concept of Chibat
Zion spent entire months in Mezritsh. I remember from the time that I was still a child that the Maggid of Kamenetz preached all night about the Land of Israel and Chibat Zion in the Great Beis Midrash, which held 2,000 people. The residents of Mezritsh were full of longing for Zion. The only thing missing was initiative and organization. Then the aforementioned Nachum Szajnman and many other city notables influenced the community, to the point where an organization was established, called Yesod HaMaala. This movement worked wonders in our city: almost all of the residents of our city sought to leave Mezritsh in order to make aliya to the Land. Many emissaries were sent to the Land -- visionaries, strong believers, but not practical people.
Many did not succeed in laying down roots and were forced to leave. The persistent ones, however, did not give up. They remained faithful to their ideals and did not retreat. They were the ones who founded Yesod HaMaala.
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