The Bobower Hasidim in Oshpitzin were the most significant of the Hasidic communities in town. This congregation continued its expansion and grew more powerful after the First World War, when the second admor of the Bobower dynasty, the tzadik and gaon Rabbi Benzion Halberstam struck a new path in the Hasidic world, one that had not previously been current but was adopted from then on with great enthusiasm by all the Hasidic courts, namely to inculcate Hasidic teachings in the youth. With his charismatic personality and magnetic influence, he succeeded in penetrating to the very depths of the souls of the younger generation and, in effect, binding them to him with bonds of love. Youths by the thousands began streaming to his court, to delight in his talks and the gentleness of his singing.
At his behest, in every location where he had Hasidic adherents, lower and higher yeshivas were established. In addition to local youth, they enrolled great numbers of youths from the villages and remote places who were attracted to the Rebbe's court and were sent by him or his administrators to the yeshivas that were led by his representatives in the cities of West Galicia.
In Oshpitzin, too, branches of the Etz Chaim Yeshiva were established, enrolling many youths from near and far.
As mentioned earlier, the Bobower Hasidim congregated around the court of the admor, R Luzer'l. The lively activity was obvious to anyone in the area, so that, for instance, the first yeshivas were set up in the Rebbe's synagogue and women's section and expanded to synagogues and batei midrash in the neighborhood, such as [those of] the Chrzanower Hasidim and the like. When the students increased to the bursting point, the leaders were compelled to decide on the erection of buildings to house the yeshivas and meeting places of their Hasidim
Such a decision was not at all easy because, in addition to the financial obligations, the expansion and increase in numbers that would occur also implied separation and distance from the house of the admor, R Luzer'l. The necessity, though, could not be denied and it was done. In a short time, two buildings were erected for the synagogue and the yeshiva, both on the same street at a distance of about a hundred cubits from each other.
Because we are in the process of describing the synagogues by their locations on the slope of the street, we have reached the second synagogue of the Bobower Hasidim before the first.
The sons of R Avrohom Feniger, the young men R Moshe and R Dovid, who were among the elite of the Sassover Hasidim and who had much knowledge and experience in building and architecture, assisted with advice and instruction in the construction of these buildings on their land, a part of their estate, near the courtyard of their large home. They themselves saw to it that the plans were properly drawn up, and they were the building contractors and supervised the construction from the foundation to the roofing-beams.
Thus a nice building was erected. The first floor housed the synagogue and yeshiva and the upper story was the women's section, whose space during the weekdays also served as an extension of the yeshiva.
The regular worshippers came to be some of the important and prominent Hasidim
and many bachurim still under the tutelage of their spiritual guide and mentor, that
distinguished man of accomplishment, Rabbi Elchonon (Chune) Eisenberg, the son
of R Michele, a famous Hasid from Kalvaria and the son-in-law of R Nusen
Silbiger. R Chune, in addition to his many superior attributes, was possessed
of a strong, wonderful voice, and when he led the services many gathered around
the bes medrish to enjoy the sweetness of his prayers and nigunim.
Two houses separated the Bobower Hasidim B and the building of Bobower Hasidim A. The first was the large house of R Avrohom Feniger, in whose immense courtyard was the famed children's cheder of the melamed, R Eliezer Zlotorow, called Fonye because he stemmed from Congress Poland, who taught most of the city's children their aleph-bes and then to read and write. The second was owned by Mr. Abramson, a tinsmith, whose workshop was behind his apartment in that house. From here on until the end of the block and fronting on Kolejowa Street until the bridge over the Sola River, all of the buildings belonged to the Haberfeld family. These were apartment buildings that also housed workshops, stores, and the massive distillery and winery of the Haberfelds. The first house was a low building of only one floor, which had been designated by the first Haberfelds for prayer and a bes medrish. This was a modest place, but full of good taste and beauty, called Menachem Avelim [comfort of mourners]. (I was never able to determine the connection between the bes medrish and its name). The members of this dignified family saw to the upkeep of the place, in spite of the fact that they themselves, men and women alike, had permanent seats in the Great Synagogue.
In the Menachem Avelim Bes Medrish for many years there had been the cheder of R Yitzchok Porath, a refugee from one of the West Galician cities, a talmid chacham, clever, and a Maskil, who had come and settled in Oshpitzin, founded a cheder for children aged between 10 and 12, and who was very successful in his teaching. In 5680  an additional wing with several rooms was built behind the Menachem Avelim synagogue for the Etz Chaim Yeshiva, and over it another floor was added to the synagogue for a women's section, which was given the name House of the Bobower Hasidim A. Most of the classes of the yeshiva and the rest of the Bobower institutions moved in here.
Hundreds of Hasidim from the synagogue of the admor R Luzer'l joined this synagogue, and so did others from other parts of town. This place was under the unrivaled jurisdiction of Rabbi Yakov Dovid Bornfreind, a leading Bobower Hasid, a Jew with a sharp intelligence, one of the great scholars of the town, a man of influence, not only over the hundreds of yeshiva students but over all the Bobower Hasidim, young and old, as well as other balebatim of the town, especially with respect to all public concerns and institutional needs.
His little apartment in the mansion of his father-in-law, R Yosef Laufer, served as the political and organizational kitchen where policies were cooked up and higher politics discussed, and no few intrigues emerged from this kitchen.
It was here, already at that time, that the first harbingers of the
political romance between the Bobower Hasidim and the Haberfeld
family began, for it was on their property that the synagogue of the Bobower
Hasidim A had been built and which brought them after some few
years to power in the kehilla. From this house the sounds of Torah and prayer
came forth day and night.
The list of synagogues and batei midrash is not over with the end of this street, the street named for the military commander Berek Joselowicz. Not far from here, on Koscielna Street, which stretches from the Catholic church along the hill and further on down, there was once, many years ago, a part of the city center in which there were synagogues and halls of study and prayer.
There was a small square, like a bald spot, and like most of the city's squares, there was a well from which water was drawn and brought to the houses nearby. Around that little square, which was surrounded by no more than six houses, there were three synagogues and batei midrash. The largest and most elaborate was the new building of the Chevre Mishnayes, a marvelous building with a spacious women's section.
This sanctuary was used during the week for prayer for many from sunup until 10 A.M. with minyanim, one following the other, and on the Sabbaths for regular worshippers, many of them engaged in business.
In the last years, after Rabbi Yekele of Pomarno, the son-in-law of the admor of Sassow, who had served as rabbi and head of the Chevre left Oshpitzin and settled in Komarno as the admor of Sassow, the members of the Chevre chose the dayan, Rabbi Chaim Yudel Halberstam, as their rabbi and teacher. Rabbi Chaim Yudel, with his noble personality and great probity, together with the active participation of the gabbaim, the elderly R Yakir Singer, R Alter Neuberg, and R Avrohom Ringer, brought about a new and rapid development of the Chevre, as a result of which they increased their membership and engaged the services of the noted chazan, R Avrohom Yehoshua Wilchfurt as permanent chazan of the Chevre.
As in years past, every Sabbath afternoon Rabbi Mordechai Boruch Danner, known
as Reb Motte Boruch the Magid, would deliver a sermon on timely topics. He was
one of the elders of the chachomim of the town, one of its great scholars, of
stately appearance with a long white beard and thick black eyebrows, piercing eyes
and a thick, somewhat hoarse, bass voice. He was a picturesque figure, of prophetic
bearing, as if he had emerged from the Bible.
A long narrow building completely of red stone, the edifice built to house the Chevre Mishnayes before it moved to its new location, was taken over by the Chrzanower Hasidim as their new bes medrish after leaving their previous, less adequate location in R Dovid Leizer's house. This became the study hall for several dozen dignified balebatim, among whom were outstanding scholars like R Welwele Wachskratz.
In this bes medrish, throughout the entire week, the study of Gemara, Rashi, and Codes was maintained, as well as the daf yomi [daily study of a prescribed page of the Talmud]. On Friday nights, and especially on the long winter evenings, R Shaul Moshe Wolnerman would conduct the study session on the weekly Torah portion, along with commentary of the Or Hachaim. The latter was a young man of the elite of the Radomsker Hasidim, a diligent scholar and a wonderfully talented teacher, who amazingly attracted elderly, scholarly balebatim to his sessions.
Further along on Koscielna Street, on the northeast corner of the square, in a low building owned by R Zvi Nebenzahl, there was for many years the new shtibel of the Radomsker Hasidim. This was a relatively small place where dozens of balebatim, young men, and yeshiva students gathered. The room served both as a bes medrish and for prayer. The place was too small to house all who came, especially in the most recent time when the Radomsker Hasidim increased, in addition to the many graduates of the Keter Torah Yeshiva sponsored by the admor Rabbi Shlomo Chanoch Hakohen Rabinowitz, which was administered by that great scholar, Rabbi Dovid Moishe.
As the pressure of the balebatim and activists increased, they erected a proper
home befitting the needs of the yeshiva and next to it a spacious synagogue, a beautiful
edifice on the Jews' Street (see above), where nearly all the Radomsker Hasidim and their
institutions were housed.
On the downward slope on the corner of Koscielna-Wisoka Streets there was a solitary house, known as the little Talmud Torah. (This house belonged to the Chevrat Talmud Torah and was intended for young pupils, hence the above name).
After the Talmud Torah ceased to operate and the house was no longer in use by its little attendees, it was taken over as a bes medrish and synagogue for the followers of the dayan and moreh tzedek, Rabbi Chaim Yehuda Halberstam. Two large elongated rooms on the first floor and the yard on both sides of the house more than met their requirements. (The upper floor and the ground floor were occupied by tenants, among them non-Jews).
With the passage of time it became known as Reb Chaim Yudel's
Shtibel. This bes medrish continued until the time that Rabbi
Chaim Yudel was appointed as the rabbi of the Chevre Mishnayes and he
moved to the new building of the Chevre along with his adherents.
Koscielna Street was actually a cul-de-sac. A large house in the shape of a huge triangle straddled the street at the bottom of the hill and blocked the way to Glebokie Street; only narrow lanes on both sides of the house were left for pedestrians. In this house, belonging to Mr. Reifer, the branch of Agudas Yisrael was located on an upper floor, and a portion was assigned to the students of the Yesodei Torah school for review studies.
With the passage of time, this section, too, was reassigned and became the
meeting place and shtibel of the Gerer Hasidim who came here on Shabbat
and Holidays from their scattered locations in the city.
On the corner of Glebokie and Klocznikowska Streets there stood a wide one-story house on a huge lot surrounded by a tall fence, publicly owned by the Chevras Talmud Torah Association and known as the Talmud Torah House. The frontage of this building housed shops and workshops, but most of the space was used as classrooms. The dormitories for the yeshiva faculty and students of the Talmud Torah were at the rear and access to them was from the east side of the house, from Klocznikowska Street, through the gigantic yard and a long veranda.
Later, as the yeshivas in the city increased, each Hasidic community with its own higher yeshiva accompanied by a yeshiva for the young, the Talmud Torah ceased to exist and a large portion of the former classrooms, together with the large hall, was transferred to the Belzer Hasidim, who established their encampment there: a prayer house and study hall for hundreds of balebatim, young men, and yeshiva students.
The spirit of vitality and ceaseless, devoted activity of the leaders who
zealously strove to establish and expand the Belzer institutions, such as R
Yosef Wolf Wolfgang and R Fishel Reches, were crowned with success, since they
were energetic and farsighted. The place hummed with activity and the sounds
of Torah could be heard from afar.
Not far from the Talmud Torah building on Glebokie Street, behind R Yudel Silbiger's coal yards, on the boundary of the Klocznikowica suburb, an area which had a mix of stone and wooden houses, in a low building built of logs, was situated a very pleasant, little bes medrish. The house in which it was located was part of Rabbi Shmuel Schnitzer's (the mohel) home, donated for this purpose and named for him. R Shmuel was one of the town notables and his house was open to all who were in need. He and his family were known as being involved in all types of communal activities, faithfully accomplishing community objectives.
Nearby was the small synagogue of the Braslaver Hasidim, which was established only recently by a small group led by R Simcha Piltz, a faithful adherent of Braslav. In this location, primarily on the Sabbaths and Holidays, the Braslaver Hasidim who lived in various sections of the town congregated. Often, even during the week, an occasional single Hasid would come to commune with his Maker.
On the upward slope of Glebokie Street, on its eastern side, there extended a large parcel of land, stretching many kilometers, of wheat and hay fields the estate of R Chaim Schenker. As befit an estate holder of his class, R Chaim expanded his home, which stood in the shadows of tall and thick trees, and built additional buildings for dwellings and other uses for his children, and he planted a flourishing orchard of fruit trees, vegetables, and various plantings. From that time on the entire section was known as Schenker's Garden.
On the west corner of Schenker's Garden, the estate owner built a splendid synagogue, by the standards of that time, with a roomy women's section and an upper floor where the watchman who was the beadle of the synagogue lived, with all the expenses for the upkeep of the place being covered by the estate.
The building was erected on a large lot, with a porch that gave access to the women's section and a narrow corridor leading to the stairway, the entrance to the synagogue itself, and further on to a large courtyard, where the facilities were and also shady places for the comfort of the congregants.
The entrance to the synagogue itself led to a few steps downward, which was the entryway to the hall, in consonance with: From the depths I call to Thee, O Lord. The hall was quite large, with high windows all around except for the northern wall, a part of which was stocked with shelves of s'farim, some of them quite valuable and rare. A massive iron stove with a tall chimney spread a pleasant warmth in the autumn and winter months, and there was never a lack of firewood or coal, since the owners and its stewards, the progeny of the Schenker house, supplied all the necessities.
Among the regular worshippers were most of R Chaim Schenker's descendants: the elderly R Moshe Schenker, his children and their families, R Wowtche Landau, his son R Binyamin, his brother-in-law R Yosef Halevi Nathansohn, they and their children and grandchildren, as well as more distant relatives. Distinguished balebatim and those living nearby also prayed there. The famous R Yossele Schenker, the owner of the chemical plant, who lived in his splendid villa at the other end of town, trudged all the way, along with his family, to pray at the synagogue of their great-grandfather. The uniqueness of this synagogue was that it united all the members of this noble family and those who had joined it by marriage. There was always a special atmosphere of exaltation, even on weekdays; should you have remained after the prayers to participate in the regular study sessions, or just to socialize in the early evening, you felt and realized that you were in the company of benevolent and noble souls whose hearts and pocketbooks were open at all times to others' needs, since most of them were men of means who had both the ability as well as the desire to be of assistance. Even the less wealthy among them were as well dressed as their wealthier fellows, their way of speaking similar, in an attempt to imitate them in every way in doing what was good and proper.
A group of balebatim came daily, an hour or two before the prayers, to study Talmud and so forth, and in the evenings after the prayers there were regular study groups for learning the daf yomi and the like. Similarly, yeshiva students would gather there to study in pairs at various times of the day, especially in the afternoons and the long winter nights.
The writer of these lines once had an unforgettable experience in that synagogue named for R Chaim Schenker. This was at the beginning of the winter in 5686 . I was at that time a young lad, among the youngest who attended the lessons of the head of the yeshiva, our master rabbi, R Osher Zelig Landau, who was teaching a small group of students that included the sons of the outstanding scholar and yeshiva head, R Eliezer. Towards evening one night, in a corner behind the heated stove, there sat a bookseller a relatively common occurrence in those days and in that place a wrinkled Jew of stately mien, a round low hat on his head (the clothes of a Jew from Lithuania or Congress Poland), sitting and looking into a book and before him were spread a collection of books for sale.
When our teacher, R Zelig, entered he approached to examine the books offered
for sale, and then suddenly to our utter amazement bent over and
embraced the stranger who was obviously not such a stranger to him, our
rosh yeshiva, for at that time this bookseller was selling to many Polish Jews:
this was none other than Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hakohen, the Chafetz
Chaim of Radin.
On Glebokie Street, opposite the synagogue of R Chaim Schenker, was the Bes Yakov school for girls. Some years before the war broke out, the energetic secretary R Kalman Bornstein set up a regular minyan in the large hall of the school, only for the High Holy Days and Festivals at first, and later on also for Shabbat.
To begin with, the worshippers numbered more women than men, since women came
because there was not enough room in many other regular synagogues. The young
women of Bnos Agudas Yisrael, as well as the students and graduates of the Bes
Yakov school, also came to worship. With the passage of time the number of men
worshippers also increased, and it became one of the respectable places of
worship in the neighborhood.
On the corner of Zatorska and Glebokie Streets there was a row of large houses called Hutterer's Houses after their owner R Shaul Hutterer, who had built this fortress.
In recent years, in a house at the back of the courtyard partly facing Glebokie Street, the synagogue of Mizrachi members was situated.
As mentioned above, most of the Mizrachi members attended the Chevras Mevakrim,
and after it became too small to accommodate all who came and now and then
disagreements came up a machloikes [dispute] between the
older and younger members the group split up and
a large number of them, led by R. Zalman Frankel, left the Mevakrim and set up
their new worship and meeting place here. The place also served as a locus for
assemblies and gatherings of members and sympathizers and for social and
In two of the city's quarters, the southern and western, which were apparently built in recent times the buildings were more massive, only of brick and plaster, in modern style around the new market (Nowy Rynek) and also around the little market (Maly Rynek) and on the long Jagielonska Street, there was no synagogue or bes medrish nearby. In contrast to the central market (Rynek Glawny), there were two synagogues in one building. When R Yakov Wulkan built his house, a large and magnificent building, the biggest and most beautiful in the city (so R Yakov himself called it, and it was indeed so at the time it was built), he immediately reserved a special place in it for a synagogue. Among the steady attendees were R Yakov and his sons, R Michele Blumenfrucht, their families, relatives and other worthies in the neighborhood.
This synagogue was called, after its founder, R Yakov Wulkan's Shtibel. On the
top floor of that building lived the chief rabbi, the outstanding gaon
Rabbi Yehoshua Pinchas Bombach. Adjacent to the rabbi's apartment was a large
dusky room, the rabbi's study and besdin (Besdin Shtibel).
Here the rabbi, author of Ohel Yehoshua, would lecture before dozens of his
students, the students of his famous yeshiva, which produced hundreds of
talmidei chachomim who assumed respected positions among the Torah
scholars of the time and were regarded as being in the first ranks of the learned
in Torah, many of them rabbis in the cities of Galicia and Poland. This Besdin Shtibel
had a regular minyan attended by those close to the rabbi and his admirers
and was also known as the Rabbi's Shtibel.
On the east side of the main market square (Rynek Glawny) stood a three-story building, outstanding in its elegance and most impressive looking, which belonged to the heirs of R Moshe Brunner. In its courtyard there were several structures that also served as dwellings, workshops, and for storage. In that courtyard, in a one-story house close to the entrance to Stolarska Street, was the branch of the Poalei Agudas Yisrael.
As time passed, the place became very active and lively and during the evenings
the place was a beehive of activity with people coming to arrange matters or to
participate in the Torah classes that were conducted there. It was natural
that the Mincha-Maariv prayers were regularly instituted, which eventually led
to the obvious next steps, i.e., setting up a Holy Ark with Torah scrolls in an
inner room of the branch and setting up a regular minyan for the
members and friends who lived nearby.
On a narrow street behind the Magisat, the municipal building, in the house of the elderly R Yakir Singer, lived the admor R Yekele of Pomarno. The admor himself used to pray at the Chevre Mishnayes most Sabbaths, but in his home he organized an occasional minyan for his adherents which, with the passage of time, grew until it became a regular place of worship, so that even when R Yekele left Oshpitzin for Komarno, the bes medrish continued to operate. This, incidentally, was the only bes medrish in the area and served nearby residents, passersby, and even included the prisoners who were in the city jail on the opposite side of the street. A Jew once told me that he had been jailed by the authorities on suspicion of having broken a law and had been held for a time in jail, and that during most of his incarceration he had been able to pray with a minyan. How did you manage that? I asked him. He replied, I prayed with the minyan of R Yekele of Pomarno; only the street and the prison bars separated us.
The Jewish community on the other side of the river, Za-Sola, evolved after the First World War so that it was barely recognizable. Until then there had only been some scattered and isolated low houses along the two sides of the road leading to the railroad station. During the war the local population increased greatly, since many refugees who had fled the front as it neared their homes had come and remained. Not far from the depot an entire neighborhood of huts had been established which was called the Barracks, and many families of refugees were housed there. Jewish refugees, however, were few there because most had been received as brothers who had fled for their lives, since the Jews of Oshpitzin were renowned for their hospitality. They were actually taken into their homes and the food was shared as well. A significant proportion of these refugees, Jews and Gentiles, settled in and remained.
In this way the Jewish population grew by major proportions after World War I and in the first few years thereafter. In Za-Sola and near the railway depot (which was essentially, in municipal terms, part of the Brzezinka village) this was strikingly so, since many new houses were built, some multi-storied and of stone construction. As the Jewish population increased on the other side of the river, so did the necessity grow for a synagogue, a bes medrish, and prayer houses for the multitude of Jews who required them, some for the three daily prayers, and others for daily Talmud study and the like, or even for conversation between Mincha and Ma'ariv, and all the more so for Sabbaths and Holidays. The prayer rooms in the homes of R Moshele Grin, who had set aside a wing in his new house for this purpose, or the large rooms that R Yisrael Posner had made available in his home, all of them were inadequate to serve all those who wanted to participate.
From this standpoint, it was only after a large new synagogue, actually of gigantic dimensions with a sizable and magnificent women's section, was built and dedicated, an edifice full of light and splendor, that the Jews of Za-Sola had a fitting, multifaceted facility to serve their needs.
With the growth of the Jewish community in Za-Sola, Rabbi Naftali Zvi
Rosenfeld-Halberstam, the grandson of the admor Rabbi Elazar,
was appointed as the rabbi of the synagogue and neighborhood.
He was young and energetic, a great Torah scholar, and led his congregation
with skill and affability. He also had a very good voice and would lead the
services on the Festivals and High Holy Days (with accompanying choir). When
R Naftali left Oshpitzin and moved to Neumark [?], he was succeeded by his
brother-in-law, Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Rosenfeld. The synagogues of R
Moishele Grin and R Yisroel Posner, which had been in operation for many
years, continued to function, albeit becoming more homogeneous, since remaining
to pray there were family members, those who lived close by, and long-standing
balebatim whose affinities and customs had bound them together.
For the Jews living scattered around the railroad station there were two synagogues. One was in the courtyard of R Dovid Goldstein, in a large hut, where most of the neighborhood's Jews prayed, and the second, smaller and more modest, in the home of R Dovid Mandelbrot. This synagogue moved some time later to the home of Mrs. Chane Keile Einhorn, a more spacious apartment.
Some five years before the outbreak of World War II, a new, spacious public synagogue was built which concentrated all of the community's social and cultural activities.
Rabbi Shmuel Bombach, the young son of the av besdin of Oshpitzin, R Eliyahu, was appointed its rabbi. He organized regular daily classes in the synagogue and would often appear before the congregants to deliver fiery speeches that enthralled them. Some years before the Shoah, he moved to nearby Bedzin. No one else was appointed in his place, but the regular study sessions and sermons were given by a very talented young man, our colleague Yosef Schiffman, who was an outstanding talmid chacham, wise and proficient in the riches of Torah and science, extremely skilled in exposition, a skilled writer and superb orator. [He perished in the Shoah.]
These I will commemorate and bewail, the great and the humble, who congregated and peopled the synagogues, shtiblach, and batei midrash, to address their Creator daily, hour by hour, morning, noon, evening and also at night; their voices were never stilled in study and prayer, heard throughout the town as if to say: Behold, the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps. Most of the synagogues also served as cheders and Talmud Torahs for thousands of little children or as study-halls for the lower and higher yeshivas, and the sound of Torah that burst forth could always be heard from afar, until the murderer arose and exterminated my people, my city, its synagogues and batei midrash together with all who frequented them, the beloved and sweet Jews, these upright and steadfast, may their memory be blessed. May the Almighty avenge their blood!
It is stated in the Talmud: In the future the synagogues and batei midrash of Babylonia will be established in the Land of Israel (Megilla 29). What is the ruling concerning the synagogues and batei midrash of Oshpitzin?!
May this record be a small monument, established in the Land of Israel. This shall be my reward.
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