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Chapter Seven The Social Institutions

The Jewish Kehile

By D. K-R

In the history of the Jews in Poland, an advanced self-managing committee already existed as early as the 16th century – the Council of the Four Lands (from 1580 until 1764, when the Polish Sejm dissolved the institution). Later there was a Kehile in each Jewish settlement, large or small, representing it both internally and externally.

The Kehile consisted of the Rabbi, shoykhetim, shamosim and other clergy; it cared for the prayer house, the cemetery, the mikvah and a Talmud-Torah where the children received an elementary religious education. Worldly education was not then an issue.

In 1834 when the Tiferes Shlomoh was received as Rabbi, it was necessary to have someone representing the Kehile in Radomsk sign the rabbinic contract with its conditions of 15 Polish gilden a week in wages and the like. Years later, the wealthy men Berish Ferszter, Leizer Rickterman, Rajchman, Abraham Bem, Zylberszac and others who partly lived in “Bugai” or in nearby Plawno demonstrated their interest in the community needs of the Kehile. When the Tiferes Shlomoh died, 29 Adar 5626 – 16 March 1866, the Radomsker cemetery was already in existence.

Dovid Bugajski was synagogue warden when the city Shul was built in the last decade of the 19th century and the foundation stones were laid by Ferszter and Banker.

On the threshold of the 20th century, Reb Yosef Szac was the head synagogue warden, Warszeinlek was the head of the yeshiva and his son Asher was the secretary. The office of the Kehile then was in the market, in Aba Szwarc's house and was not in a room in the Shul.

Reb Yosef Szac davened in shul together with the common people. His place was near the Rabbi.

The representatives of the Kehile, though they were small in number, were elected, even during the Czarist regime. Only the Jews who paid the Jewish community tax, the special Kehiletax, had voting rights. However, there were very few of these in Radomsk.

Later Leizer Tencer, Fishel Donski and others were elected to the Kehile.

During the First World War Fishel Donski led the Jewish Kehile. The activities actually were not very numerous. They were limited to the distribution of help to the needy Jews, such as potatoes, beans, salt and sometimes sugar and the like. The means for acquisition of the products were received from the donations of the well-to-do Jews and from the general city help committee.

In the years after the First World War, when Poland received its independence, a decree from Pilsudski was published in 1919 delineating the democratically elected Jewish kehilus.

The democratically elected Jewish Kehile in Radomsk consisted of a council with 12 members. The council elected a managing committee that administered Kehile activities.

Women did not have any elective rights to the Kehile agencies.

The activities were limited only to religious needs – although according to the decree, the Kehile also had the right to open schools, carry out limited cultural activities, support emigration and so on. The communal and party representatives in the Kehile agencies made an effort to expand the activities on a wider communal basis that did not always succeed because of both external disturbances and, even more, because of internal struggles for party hegemony.

At the time between the World Wars, the following people were representatives from political parties, economic organizations, Hasidic shtiblek and so on: Haim Gelbard, Sh, Najkron, A.M. Waksman, A. Grosman, Sh. Krakowski, Yosel Berger, Y. Feitlowicz, B. Gonszerowicz, Fajerman, Wolf Frenk, Y.H. Tiger, Yakov Gerichter, M. Wolkowicz, M. Kaplan, Wolf Szpira, M.A. Rajcher, Zuken Szreiber, Abraham-Bunim

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Aizen, Fishel Pariz, Engineer Poliwoda, Ahron Gliksman, H.L. Zajdman and others.

2 community budgets for the years 1926 and 1927, which lie before us, characterize the activity of the Kehile in Radomsk.

In the budget for the year 1927 we read:

Expenses:

  1. For the Rabbinate – rabbi, 2 rabbis [who decide religious questions], shamos for the rabbi; total – 14,650 zl.
  2. Synagogue – Hazan, assistant, shamosim, bel-kura (Torah reader), watchman, renovations, lighting, sewage, ethrogim and other economic expenses; total – 7,150 zl.
  3. Office – salaries for 3 clerks, office heating, lighting, writing materials and service; total – 7,870 zl.
  4. Salary for shoykhetim; total – 24,700 zl.
  5. Cemetery – gravediggers, tailors, watchman, shrouds for the poor and other expenses; total –3,850 zl.
  6. Retirement – the widow of the Hazan – 750 zl.
  7. Subsidies: support fund – 6,000 zl.; teacher and students – 1,000 zl.; subsidies for the Talmud-Torah – 1,500 zl.; registration fees for poor students in gimnazie – 600 zl.; Association to Support Poor Pregnant Women – 30 zl.; children's home – 400 zl.; assistants to the academicians – 100 zl.; Keren Hasud (Palestine Foundation Fund) – 100 zl.; purchase of sforim – 150 zl.; Lubliner Yeshiva – 200 zl.; Volumes of Talmud–100 zl.; Yeshiva fund – 150 zl.; medical help – 1000 zl.; total – 11,650 zl.
  8. Unexpected expenses – 2,100 zl.; total expenses – 72,720 zl.

Income:

        Slaughterhouse – 53,404 zl.; Shul – 674 zl.; Cemetery – 4,000 zl.; Jewish communal tax – 14,642 zl.; total – 72,720 zl.

The subsidy items, which make up about 15% of the


Photo caption:

The Kehile building


budget, were however not real, because in addition to the fact that the supervisory regime struck off some items and there was a shortage of money, which is a chronic illness, many items went unpaid.

The budget for the year 1927:

Expenses: Rabbinate – 15,250 zl.; Shul – 7,350 zl.; Office – 8,070 zl.; Slaughterhouse – 24,648 zl.; Cemetery – 3,650 zl.; Subsidies and Retirement – 15,700 zl.; Miscellaneous Expenses – 4,900 zl.; total – 79,568 zl.

Income: Shul – 744 zl.; Slaughterhouse – 49,697 zl.; Cemetery – 4,000 zl.; mikvah – 960 zl.; Jewish communal tax – 19,937 zl.; Earnings from matzoh flour – 4,200 zl.; total – 79,568 zl.

The Radomsker Zeitung of 16.1.1927 (January 16, 1927) notes about the customary budget, “This budget was accepted by the Kehile council with the agreement of 6 synagogue wardens, even though there was no quorum for all three readings.”

In subsequent years, the Kehile activity in Radomsk could not be separated from the party of “blind believers” and the politics of the houses of study. Besides, there were wardens found in the Kehile with a different outlook on communal life. However, they were disrupted by the parties, such as Agudah, Hasidic shtiblek and even individual Hasidim, who with the help of the Polish regime, forced the transformation of the democratically elected kehile again into a “warden-shtibl” that did not respect the Jewish representatives.

In the R. Zeitung of 20.1.28 (January 20, 1928) we read, “Last week the sick fund sold the furniture and the like from the meeting hall at a public auction.”

The opposition – that is, all the elements that wanted to create from the communal authority a Jewish representational organ that would deal with the cultural and economic needs as well as the other problems of the Jewish community – faced stormy meetings with passionate debates and nothing could be accomplished.

The Zionist representatives were unsuccessful in having the Kehile seriously deal with the Eretz-Yisroel problem, nor with the problems of the state of the Radomsker Jews, both economically and culturally. Almost all of the Kehile activity was concentrated around the shoykhetim and the like.

The poverty of the Jewish population grew considerably. This forced the community workers to distribute over 500 measures of coal and almost 2,500 kilos of matzoh on Passover.

Later Kehile budgets did not change, but again moved in the circle of the Rabbinate: shoykhetim and the cemetery. This all had a negative effect on the interest of the Radomsker Jewish population in the council. A reduced Jewish communal tax flowed in, which had an effect on the payment of the salaries of the rabbinate and the clerks, not to mention on the subsidies approved by the regime.

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In the Radomsker Zeitung of 9.9.27 (September 9, 1927) we read: “…then what did the council do for us during the time of its existence? Its 'history' shows very clearly and distinctly that it did not have greater scope than caring for the rabbinate, shoykhetim and the like. For what use is the whole paraphernalia and hurly-burly? [What has the council done for the city] when even today the council could not find 2,000 zl. with which to fix the roof of the Shul, through which water pours and destroys the artistically painted ceiling—an irreplaceable loss. Not to mention the building proper, which from the outside already looks like a ruin.”

And further: “Therefore the Jewish population lost interest in our 'sovereign Jewish state' and thought it no more than a burden on their shoulders.”

And so things went until 29.3.31 (September 29, 1931) when new elections were held for the Jewish Kehile in Radomsk.

The Radomsker Zeitung of 29.5.31 presents the following list of the voting lists and their total mandates (Translator's note: number of representatives elected):

1. Right Poalei Zion136 votes- 2 mandates
2. Lodzer shtibl131 votes- 2 mandates
3. Zionist block102 votes- 1 mandate
4. Retailers242 votes- 4 mandates
5. Artisans 96 votes- 1 mandate
6. Tomaszower shtibl 67 votes- 1 mandate
7. Khevra Kadishe 38 votes- 0
8. Agudah166 votes- 3 mandates
9. Aleksander shtibl 73 votes- 1 mandate
10. Butchers 75 votes- 1 mandate
11. Grosman's list 73 votes- 1 mandate
12. Left Poalei Zion 59 votes - 0

And the newspaper notes: “From the above-mentioned list one can make the following conclusions. The list of the Right P.Z. scored a victory. The Zionist block, which was united with the Tomaszower shtibl, can be considered satisfied because many Zionist voted for other lists such as the economic and others. An unforeseen victory was scored by list 4 of the retailers.”

The [membership] of the Kehile consisted of the following persons: Zuken Szreiber, Wolf Szpira, H.L. Zajdman, Kh, Yakubowicz, A.M. Waksman, M. Berger, Y.Kh. Zinger, Sh.L. Witenberg, B. Gonszerowicz, M. Poliwoda, Yakov Ofman, Yitzhak Szpira, Krakowski, Y.Kh. Tiger, Kotlewski, Yosef Berger and Abraham Grosman.

In the above-mentioned newspaper of 17.7.31 (July 17, 1931) we read the following appeal of the majority of the elected councilmen:

“On the 29th of May you gave a worthy answer to those in the Kehile who bartered and forestalled for 7 years. Thanks to your clear understanding and orientation, you elected people to the Kehile from various directions


Photo caption:

The delegation of the Jewish Kehile (with Reb Brasz) during the general city celebration on the day of the Polish national holiday of the 3rd of May.

From the right: H.L. Zajdman, Yosef Berger, Noakh Zoberman, Moishe Berger (Kehile chairman), Rabbi Mendel Frenkel, Abraham Grosman, Y.D. Feitlowicz, Yakov Ofman.


and ideas, from all classes of the population united in one goal, to cure and make healthy the economy of the Kehile. In this newly created situation, with the purest and most honorable intentions, we are ready to offer our energy and effort and to fulfill the duty which your 1,200 votes have imposed on us.”

The Agudah representatives, who had at their disposal the famous Paragraph 20, according to which one could strike from the voting list every Jew who is – according to their understanding – not religious enough, could not withstand the strong anti-Agudah pressure of the voters. A block of nationalist elements was created, supported by representatives of the Jewish economic institutions.

The Radomsker Jewish community – simultaneously with all of Polish Jewry – at that time, lived through one of the most difficult economic and political times. The anti-Jewish politics of the Sanacja government brought about an even more severe pauperization of the Jewish economic undertakings due to the boycotts and the like. Alas, during its term in office the Jewish Kehile did not stand on the appropriate level. Internal party quarrels and the politics in the Houses of Study made it impossible to raise the prestige of the Kehile. Very often various complainants were brought before the regime and this led to new elections in 1936 that did not really better the situation in the Kehile. Small changes were made in the lists. Abraham-Bunim Aizen and others were elected from Right Poalei-Zion.

Wanting to truly reflect the last years of the Radomsker Jewish community, we have lingered on the communal atmosphere in our duly democratically elected Kehile.


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In the General City Managing Committee

By D. R.

With the rise of independent Poland, in 1918, the idea of democratic municipal elections matured. True, in 1914/16 in the time of the First World War during the German occupation, voting to the city councils according to the system of “political subdivisions” took place in the larger cities such as Warsaw, Lodz, Czenstochow and others. Each layer of the population voted in separate political subdivisions and the citizens in the last [or lowest] subdivision did not have voting rights. However, in the Austrian General Government, to which Radomsk belonged, no city council elections took place.

The mayor of the city was a nominee of the Czarist regime until the First World War and of the Austrian managing committee during the First World War. The city managing committee consisted of the mayor, and some citizens nominated as his advisory council. Until the outbreak of the First World War, Mr. Gabrial Goldberg sat on the council [as the Jewish representative]. He was called the “Tzolnek” (corrupted from the Polish word “cz³onek” or councilman).

In general, at that time the activity of the city managing committee did not have the form of today. No one thought about beautifying the city and no one had the right. This was taken care of by the governor; it remained for city hall only to collect taxes, to be represented at celebrations, which were scheduled by the Russian regime. At the times of the “galuwkes” (Translator's note: the birthday of the Czar or his family members), the mayor put on his ceremonial Napoleonic hat with the two extensions in the front and behind, bordered with golden ribbons and came to the school where the children were assembled from the Folkes-School in rooms. The hazan made the “Hanoten Yeshua” for the Czar and his family (Translator's note: prayer for the Russian Czar found in old siddurs printed in Russia) and the Imperial hymn, “Khrani Tzarya Bozhe” was sung.

In the city hall budgets of the time an entry appeared for “synagogue surveillance.” The city hall, for example, sold the “pews” in the Shul at an open auction, carried out by special clerks, and collected the money. [The clerk] would also receive remittances of the accounts for kerosene, candles and brooms from the Shul. Later, Mr. Avram'che Minski sat in the city hall as an unpaid clerk who knew his way around the books as well as the entire city hall and the mayor combined. This is how, more or less, the city managing committee of Radomsk appeared until 1919 when Pilsudski, as head of Poland, issued his famous decree about democratic elections to the Polish municipal managing committees.

The Jewish population was presented with a new problem when an election was scheduled to the first city council in Radomsk. True, in the prior years, the communal and party life of the Jewish population was significantly developed, particularly among the Jewish workers' parties. Then the campaigns needed to be very intensive in order to make clear to the Jewish population the significance of the elections for the local self-managing committees. Despite certain unfavorable paragraphs in the election ordinances, the Jewish population succeeded in receiving its appropriate representation in the first elected city council in Radomsk.


Photo caption:

The building of the city managing committee (City Hall)


The struggle between the right and left powers among the non-Jewish population was also very bitter. The city council elections had to reflect the general political situation, which then hold sway in Poland. The P.P.S. (Polish Socialist Worker's Party), thanks to its energetic young professional Mr. Lenk, and with the help of Jewish votes, received a majority in the first city council.

Then a problem arose: who should be the first mayor in the democratically elected city managing committee? The only candidate of the P.P.S. was the young Starostecki, a son of a peasant, who on the way to becoming a priest, became a member of the P.P.S. However, when the office was proposed to him, he declared that in his

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opinion, the mayor of the city needs to be a patrician “mit a beikhl” (with a belly) and not him, still a young man.* In the end he undertook the office and was elected as the first mayor of the democratically elected city managing committee in Radomsk.

The Jewish population had also received 1 representative in city hall (lawnik – alderman). However, this did not impede the rightist Polish elements, with the Endekes (National Democratic Party) at the head, from carrying out their anti-Semitic activities and anti-Jewish course. Also, one cannot ascribe any recognition of Jewish needs and desires to the P.P.S. In general, the political situation in Poland was far from stabilized. Immediately after the War, Poland again became entangled in a war with the young Soviet regime. The internal political quarrels for hegemony over Polish life were then clearly reflected in the local political life of the city managing committee.

In the coming elections to the city council, the general picture was very different. The rightist elements won among the Polish population and their leader, Mr. Szwadowski, was elected as mayor. Self-evidently, the activity of the city managing committee at that time was very adversarial vis-à-vis the Jewish population.

A very characteristic fact of that time is worth recording:

Leizer Gliksman, a volunteer in Pilsudski's Legion, noticed that Pilsudski's picture hangs in the city hall without a [covering] glass. His application to the Endekes lawnik that he should receive permission to put a glass on the portrait at his own expense was sent to the mayor. The latter declared to him, “Pilsudski is a mutineer; you can throw his picture in the garbage.” When Mr. Lent related this fact at a mass meeting of Polish labor, they began chanting, “Hang City Hall!”
In 1926 the May coup d'etat by Pilsudski changed the political situation in Poland, so that in 1927 elections were held again for the city council, for the first time in June, which were immediately annulled and for the second time in December.

7 Jewish councilmen were elected in June out of the total number of 24 and, in December, Yakov-Shmuel Haze, Yeshayah Rozenblat, M. Poliwoda, Dr. Glikman, Ruwin Najkron, Dovid Sobal, Dovid Bugajski and Yitzhak Szpira. The Bund lacked a few votes to win a seat and the block of the right Poalei-Zion and the artisans lacked several votes for a second candidate.** (The right P.Z. remained without a seat.)

According to the party list the elected city council presented this picture: P.P.S. – 9 seats; En-


*Related by someone who took part in the delegation.

** Although in June the Right P.Z. itself elected a councilman.


dekes – 5; Civil Jewish Block – 4; Impartial Jews – 2; Left P.Z. – 2.

After very long negotiations, the candidate of the P.P.S., Dr. Fejdak, was elected as mayor, Mr. Kazielo as vice mayor (also P.P.S. lawnik) and Mr. Tzigonkewicz and Mr. Haze of the left Poalei-Zion (the 4 people constituted the municipal authorities). It is interesting to add that the Mr. Najkron, who ran on the list of the rightist Polish councilmen as lawnik, had questioned the election of Mr. Haze as lawnik and reported the matter to the higher power, which in a later term confirmed Mr. Haze as lawnik (this means the members of the city managing committee).

Unzer Zeitung of 23.3.1928 (March 3, 1928) relates an interesting “language struggle” among 2 Jewish councilmen – the lawnik Haze and Councilman Najkron:

“When Mr. Haze read aloud his political declaration in the name of left P.Z. and demanded among other things – the right for Yiddish in the municipal offices, and the like, and after that began reading the same declaration in Yiddish, the rightist Polish councilmen made a great racket. The chairman stopped the reader with the observation, “Although each nation has the right to use its language among itself, Polish is the official language in the city council.”
Later we read in the Zeitung:
“Councilman Najkron engaged in polemics with Mr. Haze that the question of the 'mother tongue' Yiddish has so far not been taken care of because a large part of the Jewish population believe that Hebrew is the mother tongue.”
Despite the leftist majority in the city managing committee, the struggle for Jewish representation was not a small one. Disregarding all of the promises about subsidizing the Jewish institutions through the city managing committee, certain arguments on principle were taken advantage of using the name Talmud-Torah and the like, with which the leftists could not agree. Sometimes there was success


Photo caption:

Summer colony of Jewish children, supported by city hall (1930), the Jewish lawnik Yakov-Shmuel Haze is standing in the center.


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through a joint struggle of all Jewish councilmen, to achieve small subsidies for Jewish educational and cultural purposes such as for active institutions. However the supervising regime over the city almost always turned down or decreased these subsidies.

According to the above-mentioned newspaper, the struggle between the leftist and rightist Jewish councilmen did not create respect for them among the Jewish population. Protest meetings even occurred against those Jewish councilmen. We record this only in order to show the “ardor” of the Jewish councilmen in defending the rightist or leftist “principles” of their block partners.

The Radomsker Zeitung of 8.3.29 (March 8, 1929) brings the following statistical numbers of Jewish subsidies: Talmud-Torah – 1,500 zl.; Interest-free loan fund – 1,000 zl.; Beis-Yakov school – 250 zl.; Children's Home – 2,000 zl.; Association for aid for child birth – 1,500 zl.; Histadrut Library – 300 zl.; Artisan's Library – 650 zl.; Sholem-Alechim Library – 300 zl.; Library for the evening courses – 650 zl.; YIVOin Vilna – 350 zl.; and assistants for the academicians – 250 zl. Total – 7,750 zl. (from a general budget of 768,417zl.)

Alas, the above-mentioned subsidies were decreased by 3,000 zl. by Sejm circles. The above-mentioned newspaper presents the speeches about the matter by Mr. Najkron and Mr. Haze. Mr. Najkron shows that, “The budget is actually only a party budget. 85% of the three hundred thousand zl. that the City Hall receives from taxes are from Jews. And yet, the Jewish population receives only groshns (pennies) for their institutions.”

Mr. Haze, in his budget speech, indicates the great injustices that the city managing committee committed in relation to the Jewish population, “All talk of equivalence, but in reality it seems very tragic. Of the total of 90


Photo caption:

The Jewish Committee that carried on general money collections for strengthening of Polish military aircraft before the World War (1939).


lists in the city managing committee, only 4 are Jewish, including in the account the Jewish teachers who work for pennies. We had counted on our Christian Socialist comrades to understand us. We are until now disappointed.”

The speaker argues with those who say that, “The Jewish workers are not accustomed to working.” He says, “In many nations such as France and others, Jewish workers work in coal mines and the like and if this is not enough, go to Palestine and you will be persuaded as to how Jewish workers work.”

He requests that only the wealthy should pay taxes and the poor should be freed completely from paying taxes.

In 1930 Dr. Fejdek was appointed as mayor of Radomsk. Elections to the Radomsker City Council were supposed to be held again on the 1st of March, 1931. The Polish population belonged to 2 blocks, P.P.S and all of the rightist Polish parties, such as N.D. (Endekes), K.D. (Christian Democrats) and even the B.B. (This is the party of the regime since Pilsudski's coup d'etat in May 1926). The opposition among the Jewish population was splintering. Mr. Haze moved from the left P.Z. to the Bund and headed their list and so on and so one. However, at the last minute the elections were cancelled and a government commissar was chosen – Mr. Siman, the leader of the local B.B. This meant that the city managing committee was led according to the general policies in the country, in the anti-Semitic direction of Skladkowski's “Owszem” (“Of course” – Translator's note: This is understood to have indicated approval for economic discrimination against Jews), the super anti-Semitic OZN (United National Camp) and the like. So, for example, we read in the Radomsker Zeitung, “As it should not be, if by intention or by chance, the status quo of the Russian times is now put back in place. In the local city hall, except for Mr. Abraham'che Minski, there are no longer any Jewish clerks working there. The new management has removed Mr. Horowicz from his spot.


Until now we have dwelled upon only the Jewish situation in Radomsk in connection with the local municipal regime. For the of city Radomsk, without doubt, the last mentioned city managing committee since Polish independence of 1918 was a great boon. The city took on a different appearance. Many gardens and park were added. The network of schools was widened; the same with living quarters and the like. Alas, the Jewish population benefited very little from all of this. Just the opposite, no one in power, not in Poland in general, and not in Radomsk in particular, took care of the needs of the Jewish population. And not least, the last people in power, as we recorded above. In the time before the outbreak of the Second World War, in the time of the Beck-Hitler agreement, they literally drooled with enthusiasm from the accomplishments of the anti-Jewish realm of their German partners. The ruling Sanacje regime tried in all ways possible in its anti-Semitism to surpass even the sworn Endekes and the most brutal “narodowces (nationalists).” In turn there was an increase in the anti-

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Semitic tendencies and anti-Jewish policies in economic realms. The boycotts, pickets and [actions against] the market stall keepers even led to pogroms in Jewish cities. This did not deter the policies of Ridz-Szmigli, Skladkowski and Colonel Kac. Not only did they revel in the police commissioner's anti-Shikhita (ritual slaughtering) statutes, but openly preached that anti-Jewish regulations must be introduced in Poland.

All of this, on the eve of the Second World War, darkened life.


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The Khevra-Kadishe and Its Workers

By Y. Lakhman and Y. Rudnicki

a. Khesed shel Emes (Trans. Note: society that buried the deceased poor)

The Khevra-Kadishe was always one of the most necessary [organizations] for the Jews, if not the most important institution in the Kehile. This society was the first that arose in every Jewish settlement, at the very start of its development, often even before there was a cemetery in the area. Later, when it was necessary to take the remains for burial in a nearby shtetl, several Jews were always found who knew the “laws of purification” and gave the corpse its “rights” on the spot and then took it to the nearest settlement for burial.

In general, the Pinkes (book of records) of the Khevra-Kadishe with its entries and regulations was always important material for historians, to learn the history and way of life of the Jewish kehilus. The Radomsker Khevra-Kadishe, of course, had its Pinkes and traditions. Alas, the Pinkes disappeared, together with the Khevra-Kadishe and with the whole Jewish settlement. We bring, therefore, only a few memories that we have gathered together about this society in the last era.

The Khevra-Kadishein Radomsk consisted of three groups of members: those who prepared the dead for burial, tailors and honorary members. The foundation and mainstay of the society were those who prepared the dead for burial. On them lay the duty of ritual purification and all of the work that had a connection with the funeral and burial. It was necessary to always have a Ben-Torah (Jewish scholar) among the group, knowledgeable in all of the religious laws and customs that needed to be observed – from the agony of death to the covering of the grave. Therefore, he also had to know the prayers said for the dead and every custom that had taken root in each particular city. Besides this, among this group there also had to be people with physical strength because the work was hard.

The largest number of those who prepared the dead for burial were simple middle-class Jews, mostly craftsmen who did the work of the Khevra-Kadishe as a mitzvah, often literally with self sacrifice. The work was especially not easy when one had to carry out the ritual purification in the cemetery, in the ritual-cleansing house. In general, the purification was carried out in the home and to the honor of the deceased. Only in the case of a corpse that had to be buried at the cost of the Kehile or when a Jewish stranger accidentally died in Radomsk, was the ritual purification carried out in the cemetery. There was a ritual-cleansing house, but the instruments and the other things needed had to be brought each time from the city. Those doing the ritual cleansing had themselves to bring them and carry them several kilometers on foot.

The ritual cleansers were always ready to fulfill the duty, which they had undertaken. They would leave their work and livelihoods each time without complaints to carry out the mitzvah. More than once they came several kilometers to the cemetery on foot during a heavy frost and worked physically hard there. Frequently it was necessary to use axes to soften the ground in order to bury the deceased. Often the diggers had to be replaced. The digging of the grave lasted many times until late in the night. In such a case, the outsiders, in general, would leave because the frost burned. However, the family of the deceased and almost all of the Khevra-Kadishe members would always remain on the spot because one could not permit the burial to be delayed and the “covering of the grave” to be carried out without a minyon.

In the last era, the matter of burial in the large cities was modernized through the introduction of special instruments and the hiring of people for the ritual purification. [In the large cities] there was not strong insistence upon [carrying out of] all of the customs, mainly for the uncelebrated Jews. In Radomsk, however, every case of death was a city occurrence because one knew every person and as a matter of course, the matter of the accompaniment of the deceased to the burial took on a familiar character. There could not be any talk about giving up or making things easier in matters that were connected to respect for the dead.

The second group in the Khevra-Kadishe was the tailors, who sewed the shrouds for the deceased. They, too, did not take payment for their work. The tailors were also those who at the conclusion of sewing the shrouds took part in the ritual purification and in the burial.

Among the ritual cleansers and tailors of the Khevra-Kadishe in the era from the First to the Second World War were the following: Yakov-Yeshoshua Zeligman, Yehezkeil Shoykhet, Yitzhak Bendlmakher, Henik Wajs (Henik-Fishel Kotzker), Moishe-Benimin Lakhman, Yakov-Dovid Fajtlowicz, Shmuel Zajnwel (fisherman), Abraham Lederman (the lame Yekel's son-in-law), Yisroel Waldfogel, (Yisroel, Kohan Godl [high priest]), Y. Brener, Abraham Gerszonowicz, Meir Beker (the father of Leibel Gerszonowicz, the head of the yeshiva, Keter-Torah [a Yeshiva] in Czenstochow), Dovid Zajanc, Yitzhak Ofman (butcher), Shlomoh Cwyling (glazier), Feiwel Farzenczszewski

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(tailor), Szaja Kamelgarn (tailor), Meir-Ahron Rudnicki (tailor), Pinkhas Cypler (tailor), Haim-Yekel Goldner (tailor), Mordekhai Gliksman (Skalke*), Shmuel Goldberg (tailor), Kopel Szneider (grave digger) Yekel “Ranic” (tailor), Hersh-Leib “Teper” (tailor), Yosef “attendant” and others.

(*Translator's note: Skalka is a Polish word meaning flint; the pronunciation in Yiddish is skalke. There is no indication why Mordekhai Gliksman had this nickname.)

The honorary members were not called for any “unskilled labor.” They themselves reported only in exceptional cases, for a distinguished deceased. In the last years registered in the Pinkes as respected Khevra-Kadishe members were the Radomsker Rebbe Reb Yisroel-Pinkhas Hakohan, Reb Yisroelke Zelwer, moreinu vtzadik (revered teacher), Reb Ithamar Rabinowicz, Shmuel-Meir Fajerman, Daniel Rozenbaum, Yakov Rozenbaun, Shabsi Fajerman and others.

The Radomsker Khevre-Kadishe showed great self-sacrifice, valor and great devotion during the time of the First World War, when the great battle in the fields between Brzeznica and Radomsk ended. Groups of Khevre-Kadishe members would set out in peasant wagons, in the dark of night, and, on the fields sown with slain bodies, search for fallen Jewish soldiers, in order to give them a Jewish burial in the Radomsker cemetery. The work was done without the knowledge of the regime, sometimes under a hail of bullets. Many such graves were on the Radomsker cemetery, covered with simple stones, as a sign that here lies buried a Jewish soldier. On some of the graves was the inscription: “Here is buried a soldier whose name is unknown,” sometimes with the inscription, officer or non-commissioned officer, if that could be clarified during the burial.

A second chapter of the devotion of the Khevre-Kadishe in Radomsk was written in the first years of the First World War, when typhus raged in the Radomsker area, as in all of Poland at that, consuming hundreds of victims from the Jewish population. At that time the number of funerals in the city reached ten in one day. Ignoring the danger of themselves becoming infected with the terrible illness, the Khevre-Kadishe members stood the whole day, many times until late in the night and worked with the ritual cleansing at the burial of the dead. On a yom-tov when others sat at the table with their families and partook of the joy of a holiday festival, the members of the Khevre-Kadishe were called away from their families more than once for the purification and burial of deceased Jews.

Alas, several people did not always properly appreciate the difficult and important work of the Khevre-Kadishe. There were always jokes in the city about the “great feast” that the Khevre-Kadishe would celebrate on the 7th day of Adar and over the “drink of whiskey” that they sometimes took.

At the outbreak of the First World War, the gabai of the Khevre-Kadishe was Reb Zev-Wolf Birencwajg, not a Hasid. After him, the gabai was Reb Moishe Pelman, a Hasid and a learned man, who was very respected in the city who managed the Radomsker cemetery with great judgment. After him, the gabai was Reb Yakov-Yehoshua Zilegson, a Hasidic businesslike Jew. During his time, the Khevre-Kadishe was strongly disciplined. He had a strong hand and was fastidious about every trifle. He also firmly led in regard to the burial ground and a grave for a corpse was given according to his discretion, without consultation with anyone. He, therefore, more than once, brought down wrath on himself on the part of relatives of the deceased. However, he did not consult anyone and had no fear.

The regime over the “Kingdom of Death” of Reb Yakov-Yehoshua ended at the moment when the Kehile took jurisdiction over the cemetery. From then on the matter of cemetery plots and money was taken care of by the Kehile. The gabai and the Khevre-Kadishe no longer decided the prices of the graves and to whom to give an honored place on the cemetery. The Khevre-Kadishe thus lost the absolute rule over the deceased and was only a functional institution for the Kehile managing committee. Despite this, the Khevre-Kadishe members carried out their duty perfectly, voluntarily and only as a mitzvah, although their power was broken. From time to time various frictions would break out among them and the Kehile managing committee. It even led to a strike, but this was a strike with small demands. It concerned the several percent, which the Khevre-Kadishe would receive for a rich man's funeral, for their receipts or because the leaders of the community were snubbed by the Khevre-Kadishe. These strikes were always quickly ended and the Khevre-Kadishe members again were occupied with accompanying the deceased to their eternal rest.

The Khevre-Kadishe also had a prayer house. In the early years the members davened in an anteroom of the Kehile's Beis-Midrash. Later they moved to their own shtibl, which was located in Nekhemya Zandberg's house (on Reymonta Street, number 8).

Yosef Lehman

b. Matter of Ritual Cleansing and Burial

The majority of members of the Khevre-Kadishe were tailors, both for men and women (shrouds had to be sewn for women, too). There were groups of members from the strata of the so-called fine Jews, Hasidic businessmen. However, the majority of members of the Khevre-Kadishe, those who carried out the holy work with the corpse – those who prepared the dead for burial – were craftsmen and simple businessmen. Honorary members were the Rabbi of Radomsk, rich Jews and scholars. However they very seldom took part in the practical work of ritual cleansing. When the deceased had actually belonged to the Kehile, it was necessary to deal with the opinion of the Khevre-Kadishe when, after one hundred and twenty years, it was necessary to come to them. Working for the Khevre-Kadishe was voluntary. The craftsmen who themselves were not wealthy people would always put away their work and willingly go to their holy work with the deceased. Even when this was on a yom-tov (the funerals took place on the second day of a yom-tov). The management, the direction lay in the hands of the chairman, the gabai. What I remember is from 1900; the gabai was Reb Mendel Fajerman. His members

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were: Mordekhai Gliksman (Mordekhai Skalke), Meir-Ahron Rudnicki, Haim Yakov Wasele, Yosef Sapkower, Abraham Leizer Kamelgarn, Shmuel Goldberg, Pinkhas Cypler and others. As soon as a Jew died, the Khevre-Kadishe was called to take the deceased off of the bed and to lay a few pieces of straw under him. Later they carried out the ritual purification and burial in the indicated spot. Naturally, when it was someone rich or an eminent businessman they received a better grave nearer to the graves of the rabbis. When a pious Jew died or even an eminent businessman, the honorary members of the Khevre-Kadishe came to the ritual purification. Or when a Rabbi died, then those who prepared the body for burial were, naturally, eminent Rabbis. However, the local Khevre-Kadishe was always included, so that G-d forbid, they were not humiliated.

The only reward for the Khevre-Kadishe members was that they had their own shtibl in which to daven and for time to time they made a kiddush after the davening, mainly on Simkhas-Torah. Then one keg of beer went after another, it should be understood with chickpeas and herring. Right after the davening and after the circling with the Torah in celebration of the completion of the yearly reading of the Torah, a real L'chaim was made, followed by honey cake and the receiving of a Havdole candle braided in several colors, which was used for the conclusion of Shabbos. Then in an exalted mood, the gabai would be chosen for the next year.

As a rule, the gabai would determine the price of the cemetery lot, or when a rich man died, several businessmen would come together with the synagogue warden, Mr. Yosef Szac, or with Dovid Bugajski, and determine the price. How the deceased led his life was taken into consideration, if he had given tzadekah and the like. There was a case when a corpse lay for several days because the children were stubborn and did not want to give the sum that commission had determined. However, they paid and the burial was carried out. It was also the custom in Radomsk to make 7 circles with the deceased around the open grave. This was carried out by the member of the Khevra-Kadishe. Many times they would also, right after the burial, make a L'chaim with 95 proof whiskey in order to “come back to themselves,” as it would be explained.

Many of the tailors who sewed the shrouds for the dead made witty comments about the deceased being an “obnoxious customer,” but that this time there would be no complaints. Everything fit in the best order.

There was also a special woman's section in the Khevra-Kadishe, which did the holy work when a woman died. The women members for the Khevra-Kadishe, just like the men, were very respected women in the city and devotedly fulfilled their mission.

My father Meir-Ahron Rudnicki, of blessed memory, carried out the holy work as an active member of the Khevra-Kadishe for scores of years, until the Hitlerist assassins annihilated it along with along with all of the Radomsker Jews.

Yehezkeil Rudnicki
(New York)

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