Institutions and Activists
By I.M. Sidroni (Sendrowicz)
Translated by Alex Weingarten
In this chapter, we want to recall the institutions, parties, organizations and societies that existed in our town - municipal, communal, educational, cultural, political, commercial, financial, charitable, and religious societies. Thus we will remember the founders and the public-spirited workers who toiled in the last sixty years (from the 1880s) before the destruction of the Jewish community of Sierpc by the brutal Germans.
We have received much of the information that is presented here from our townspeople. Partly from those who left many years ago, and partly from those who left the town at the beginning of the Holocaust. Not all the information is complete. Part of it is sadly inadequate, and for this we ask for forgiveness from the dead, and pardon from the living.
We would like to thank our honored townsman, Shmuel Ischia Lanter, for the information on the 1880s and 1890s. He very graciously answered our many bothersome questions, and shared with us his treasury of rich and refreshing memories.
A. The Town Council
During the period of Russian control (until the First World War), the town of Sierpc was governed by a burmistrz (mayor), who was a government bureaucrat who had three lavnikim (advisors) who were citizens of the town, one of whom was Jewish. Both the mayor and his advisors were appointed by the central government authorities (elected town councils were non-existent in Russia then). In the last years before the war, the Jewish lavnik was Shmuel Graubart (one source mentions that he was known by his wife's family name - Lent).
At the beginning of the German occupation during World War I, the Germans appointed a mayor and a small town council, all town residents. The appointed mayor was Falka, a rich German landlord and brewery owner, popular in the town, and acceptable to both Jews and Poles. As Jewish council members, the Germans appointed Shmuel Graubart, Leib Malowanczyk, and Ahron Czarnaczapka. Leib Malowanczyk had been a lavnik.
Elections for the town council were held in Sierpc for the first time in 1916 or 1917, during the German occupation. The elections were not democratic - they were held using the curia system. The Jewish representatives that I can remember were Avraham Shlomo Glazer, Nathan Tatz, and Azrieltia Podskoc.
Sierpc had a democratically elected municipal council, like all Polish towns, only after Polish independence, following the First World War. Elections would take place every four years, and 24 members of the town council would be elected. One of them would be chosen to be the burmistrz, and three others, one of whom would be Jewish, were chosen as lavnikim.
The first municipal election in Sierpc, in an independent Poland, took place in 1919. All the Jews were on one electoral list that had representatives of all the parties. Thirteen Poles and eleven Jews were elected.
In order to reduce the number of Jewish representatives, a majority of the council decided to annex the vloki (vlikes) to the town. These had been part of the village of Burkova that was located about 4 kilometers from Sierpc, on the road to Drobin. As a result of this addition, in the next election to the town council, only 9 Jews were elected. In the third town council elections, in 1927, only 7 Jews were elected. The reduction in the number of Jewish representatives was a result of the splitting of the Jewish vote among a number of party lists. In all the elections, the tradesmen and the Zionists appeared on the same list.
These are the names of the council members that were elected one or more times:
The Jewish council members had to work hard, and suffer a lot of frustration in order to constantly forestall the plots of their anti-Semitic Polish colleagues against their civil rights and economic interests. The Jewish minority in the council - representing a large and important minority in the town, did not always succeed in preventing the passage of anti-Semitic edicts by the council majority.
B. The Community Council
During the time of Russian control of Sierpc (until World War I), there was a Community Council composed of five elected members (parnasim - elders). Voting was limited to those who paid a Community tax of 85 kopeks (100 kopeks to the ruble).
The Elders of the Community of Sheps in the 1880s were Ischia Hartbrot (who was called Ischia Birchas, the father-in-law of Avouch Liberman), Hirsch David Kahana (father-in-law of Michal Kopolowicz), and others. At the beginning of the 1890s the Elders were Yisrael Bluman, Pravda (father-in-law of Kalman Lidzbarski), and others. In the middle of that decade, the elders were Eliyahu Glazer, Lipa Cahana, and others.
The Elders at the beginning of the twentieth century were Yukov (Yaakov) Gorlitz - the chairman, Zelig Bacharach, Eliyahu Glazer, Shmuel Graubart (Lent), and Isaac Rosen. The elders in the years before the World War I were Avraham Glazer, Moshe Grossman, Avigdor Greenberg (originally from Mlawa, lived in Sierpc for only a few years), Nahum Tatz (chairman), and Isaac Rosen.
During the German occupation of World War I, when only the chairman of the prewar Council remained (the others resigned, became ill, or left the town), the authorities set up an appointed Community Council, with two members from each party, institution, organization, and prayer house, This council could only advise. The decisions were made by the elected chairman, Nahum Tatz. I can remember six representatives: two from Agudat Zion - Avraham Fried (Yerushalmi, now in Israel) and Yeshayahu Frydman; two from the shtibl of Alexander - Yehuda Baruch Skornik and Yisrael Karpa (now in Uruguay); Avraham Glazer from the shtibl of Gur, and Avraham Shlomo Glazer from the Synagogue.
Between the two world wars, during Polish independence, Sierpc had a democratically elected Community Council. The voters did not have to be taxpayers, all were equal, and there was a secret ballot. Only the women were not allowed to vote, because according to law, the Community was a religious organization. Elections were held every four years for eight members of the council. The Chief Rabbi of the town was automatically a member of the council. The first elections were held in 1919.
In the Community Council elections, the Aguda almost always had the majority. This was because the average Jew thought of the Community as a religious institution, which should be controlled by religious Jews. Therefore the chairman of the council was almost always a member of the Aguda list. There was just one period of four years when the elected chairman was from a Zionist party.
The Zionists and tradesmen were always on the same electoral list. This unity is noteworthy, because we are familiar with the tendency of Jews to break into factions. As the saying goes, Anywhere you have two Jews, you have three opinions.
Among the members of the council from Agudat Israel were Mendel Gurfinkel, Moshe Grossman (son-in-law of Hanach Czarnobroda), Shmuel Zanbal Dormbus, Nahum Tatz, and Yosef Karpa.
These are the Community Council members who were elected during the years 1919-1939 (some elected only once, others a number of times):
The Secretaries of the Council were: Yosef (Yossel) Farshnitzki, and later Ezriel Szampan and Herschel Valuka. The offices of the council were in Nahum Tatz's house, and in later years, in Avraham Groda's new house (in the market, formerly the house of Lent-Groubart).
1. Religious Education
a. The Heder
The heder [literally room or schoolroom] in Sierpc was the basic and primary institution for the education of children, as it was in all the communities of Israel. When a Jewish boy reached the age of four, his father would take him to the heder and hand him over to the Rabi, to teach him Torah, and the mitzvahs [commandments] and good deeds. The child would be in the heder for many hours every day - from morning to evening, and in the winter, in the evening as well. The hours became days, the days became weeks, the weeks - months, and the months - years. The boy would study in the heder for many years, until he reached the age of bar-mitzvah.
We do not overlook the flaws of the heder from the standpoint of pedagogy, hygiene, and other defects. But we must admit that the child absorbed in the heder not only Torah, starting with the alphabet and up to the Talmud with commentaries, but also a deep and entrenched understanding of Judaism, a love and devotion to the people of Israel, the land of Israel. He also learned worthy attributes such as honesty and justice, mercy and help to the downtrodden. The child acquired this Judaic and humane heritage in the heder. These attributes equipped the Jewish child for his way in life and for his struggles in life. These qualities inoculated the child's gentle soul so that he could withstand and overcome his constant struggles in strange lands, among foreign peoples, with alien ideologies. These tools and qualities, that the Jewish child absorbed in the heder protected him as an adult, and the Jewish people in its long dark trek through the Diaspora, and saved it from the wandering and extinction.
The obligation to educate boys was widely accepted among Jews. The commandment to Teach your sons was carried out strictly and meticulously by Jews all over the world. There was no Jewish community that did not have a heder. Even a small country village, with very few Jewish families, would hire a melamed [heder teacher] for their sons, and every Jew, rich or poor sent his sons to the heder. Poor Jews would skimp on their meals to send their son to school. Even the sons of paupers, who did not have anything from which to save, were included in the heder framework. A special kind of heder, Talmud Torah, was maintained for the children of the poor who could not afford tuition. The children studied at a Talmud Torah that was supported by the local congregation and the contributions of community members. The instruction in the Talmud Torah however, was only for the lower grades of the heder. The children learned just to read and write, some Hebrew, the Pentateuch [first five books of the Bible], and a bit of the rest of the Bible. This was because the poorer children were removed from the heder at a young age, so they could learn a trade, and help support the family. However, a Jewish boy who did not study at all did not exist.
There were four levels of heder:
The Rabi was called both Rabi and melamed. The children called him Rabi. [He was not necessarily an ordained Rabbi, or Rav in Yiddish, but he called that out of respect.] A young children's melamed who had a large heder would have an assistant. This assistant would be called belfer (a corruption of the Yiddish word bahelfer - helper). The belfer would bring the children who did not live near the school in the morning, and take them back home after school. He also helped the Rabi with the lessons.
I will try to note here the melameds who taught the Torah and the commandments to the children of Sierpc, at the various levels of heder, starting with the 1880s.
i. Melameds of Reading and Writing
Der Katzap was a tall, strong, wide shouldered Jew with a long gray beard, who looked like a Russian peasant, which was why he was called Katzap. He taught the little children in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. He lived in the market, in the house of Shmuel David Mlawa (father of Pinchas and Avraham Mlawa). His wife sold notions and sewing items at a stall in the market. She was called the Katzafte and her son-in-law, Haskell Baszkes, was called the Katzafte Eidem (the son-in-law of the Katzafte).
Fishel Sander, also a melamed of little children in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, lived on Mikve Street, in the house of Kasazh.
Yisraeltia (family name - Efrati); he was the melamed of little children in the 1890s and the beginning of the twentieth century. He lived in the alley that led to the lava (the slum that was on the bank of the river, near the house of Dudia Czarnaczapka).
Der Balsker Hoiker (the Hunchback from Bielsk, a village 24 kilometers from Sierpc) lived near the new market, in Zalman (called Zalman Berias) Friedman's house.
Eliyahu Meir Hoiker (Eliyahu Meir the Hunchback) lived in Shimon David Szmiga's yard, and later on the Jewish Street, in the Litvinski house, opposite the synagogue.
Pinchas Hoiker (Pinchas the Hunchback) who lived on the Jewish Street, in one of the little houses near the synagogue (in a neighborhood called Horne's Giter - the Properties of Horn).
Der Lemer Belfer (the Lame Helper) was lame and had a twisted hand. Apparently, he was a belfer (helper) before he became a melamed, but the name stuck. He lived in Moshe Rozenek's house on the Jewish Street.
These last four melameds - all of them handicapped, were the teachers of very young children from the beginning of the twentieth century onwards.
A Group of Young Intellectuals in Sierpc in the Year 1904
Right to Left: First Row: Futel Garfinkel, Etta Graubart (Fax), Rivkah (Ika) Tatz, Wolf Tatz, Berta Garfinkel
Second Row: Wolf Glazer, Bronka Garfinkel, Nathan Tatz
Right to Left, Row 1, Sitting: Burgand, M. Lanenter, Chazen, Fraidel Graubart, Heine Chazen
Row 2: Mania Chazen, Burgand, Mania Sznitzer, Etta Groubart (Fax), Karpa, S. M. Turkltaub
Standing: Rivka Karpa (Arpa), Esther Lanenter, Esther Podskoc, Fela Glazer, Rivkah (Ika) Tatz , Burgand, Czeshka Lubaszka (Asch)
From Right to Left, Row 1: Yitzhak Sznitzer, Eliezer Szampan, Chayim Czarnaczapka, Leib Krufiash, Tinsky, Chayim Bluman
Second Row: Wolf Rozenek, Unknown, Wassermann
Third Row: Baruch Shvitzer, Lopatka, Landau, Yitzhak Yaakov Bode
Right to Left, Sitting: Malkah Lidzbarski, Rasha Farkal (Mintz), Pesa Liebson, Bincha Tatz, Yaska Graubart
Standing: Mindel Liebson (Lipka), Baltcha Liebson, Gitel Vasolak, Chavah Bacharach, Mania Szerpherz, Hanna Lea Chazen
Yoventieh was a melamed of very young children during the same years as those mentioned above. He lived on one of the side streets near the Kamnitza (a large house on the Jewish street), in the basement of the house of Mordechai Hirsch Mintz.
Anshel (his family name was Mash) became a melamed of young children a little later than those mentioned previously. He lived on Fara (Farska) Street, in Nuchia Pukatcz's house.
Pinhaia Glazer (Pinhaia the Glazier - his name was Pinchas Mekler) was a glazier who became a teacher of very young children in the 1920s. He lived in an alley near the synagogue (the alley that led to the cemetery).
Der Lemer Einbeinder (the Lame Bookbinder, Ziskind Sapirsztajn) was a bookbinder who also became a melamed of very young children in the 1920's. He lived in the market, near the start of Plotzki Street, in the house of Shimon David Szmiga.
ii. Melameds of Pentateuch and Rashi
The students in the heders of the melameds mentioned below would at first learn just the beginning of the weekly Torah selection (Portion) to be read in the synagogue, and later also the commentaries of Rashi and the weekly selection. In addition, they also learned Pasuk - the early prophets, and finally a bit of the Gemara (Talmud).
Shmuel Pepper lived on the Jewish Street, in the house of Moshe'ieh Sendrowicz.
Der Bezoiner Melamed (the melamed from Biezun, a town 21 kilometers from Sierpc), whose name was Avraham Yitzhak, was a glazier in his youth. He lived on the Jewish street, in the Kamnitza, and later in the Lusmar house.
Hershieh Zlociower was the only Jew in town who had a pale blue thread on one of his tziztiot [the ritual fringes that Jewish men wore on the corners of their garments], because he was a Radzin Hasid. In addition to being a melamed, he also made Kiddush wine from raisins, which he sold. He also sold matzo shmura [special matzo made to very strictest ritual requirements]. He lived on Mikve Street, in the house of the brothers Gunsher.
Feibushieh mit D'Lilke (Fibush with the Pipe, called that because he smoked a long pipe), whose real name was Fibush Rosek, lived on Mikve Street, in the house of Shmuel Szampan (who was called Shmuel Nagid) [Shmuel the benefactor]. Later he lived in his own small house near the Kamnitza.
These last four melameds taught during the 1880s and 1890s, and in the first decade of the twentieth century.
Yeshaye Mordecaye (family name - Kaliski) lived in the Bursztajn house on Zhava Street, and later in the Shmigelski (Polani) house on Plotzki Street. He also sold lottery tickets.
Wolf Chazzan lived on the Jewish street, in his father-in-law's (Kalman Fenster) house. He also sold books for rabbis and melameds from his home.
Shmualtia Wilk lived on Fara Street in the house of Nuchia Pukacz. He also had a second income - a store that sold ready-made underwear. On market days, Tuesdays and Fridays, he had a stall in the market to sell the same merchandise that he sold in his store.
Moshe Soferis was called that because he was the son of a sofer [scribe]; his father was a sofer stam - the expert who did the calligraphy and handwriting for Torahs, tefilin, and mezuzahs. He lived on the Jewish Street, in an alley leading to the lava near the house of Dudia Czarnaczapka.
These last four melameds taught heder in the twentieth century (the first two also taught in the 1890s). The last three were different from the other practitioners of their profession; they were somewhat well educated with a broad knowledge of the Bible, and well versed in Hebrew grammar.
Hirsch Crystal (now in Israel, Zvi Algavish) ran a very special kind of heder in the 1920s. This was a Hebrew and Zionist heder. In addition to Pentateuch, Rashi, and the Bible, the students learned Hebrew as well. Hebrew was the language used in the classroom, not Yiddish. The heder was on the Jewish Street, in the yard of the house of Baruch Kanenbrand, his father-in-law. Hirsch Crystal had been the principal of the Yavne School (see the following section on Modern Education); after that shut down, he opened his heder.
iii. Melameds of the Gemara
The students in these heders studied only Gemara (the main part of the Talmud) and later, some Tosefot [commentaries]. In addition, they studied the weekly Torah portion every week, with interpretation by Rashi, and a few of the later prophets.
Yitzhak Malkah's (his name was Yitzhak Prager, and he was called by his wife's name, Malkah) owned a store, and his wife was the shopkeeper. After her death, he closed the store and became a Gemara melamed. He started as a melamed in the 1880s, and lived on the Jewish Street in a small house behind the shlisharken [A Jewish tavern in Sierpc, named after its owner].
Michalitia (his family name was Bendkowski) lived on Zhava (Zhavia) Street, in Binyamin Sobol's house, then in the house of Ezriel Yehuda Kotcholak, and later, on Fara (Farska) Street in the house of Nuchia Pukacz.
Chayim Yosef (family name Crystal) lived on the Jewish Street, in an alley leading to the zhika [river], near the house of Ahron Moshe Horvitz. Later he lived on Mikve Street, in the Kasazh house.
The last two melameds whom I mentioned above taught during the last decade of the nineteenth century, and kept teaching through the beginning of the twentieth century.
Leibush Rosenberg lived in his own house on the Jewish Street, between the market and the bridge. He started teaching in the year 5668 (1908), and taught there until he became the caretaker in the new Beit Midrash. He instituted an innovation in his heder - the pupils would spend an hour every day learning to write Yiddish using a lexicon (brievenshteller). He also had a store for shoelaces and other goods for shoes in his house.
Avraham Lipchitz started teaching between the year 5670 (1910) and the First World War. At the beginning of the war, he was expelled by the Russians to Siberia (he was suspected of spying for the Germans). He returned after the war, and immigrated to America. He lived near the market, in the house of Shimon David Szmiga.
Ischia Margel was a melamed for just one semester (6 months), in the summer of the year 5671 (1911). He lived on the Jewish Street near the bridge, in the house jointly owned by Feivel Boda and Leibush Liberman. He also had a small store that sold ready-made goods in the market run by his wife Devorah (called Devorah Ischia's).
Binem Malach whose real name was Binem Galant. He was called malach [angel] after his father-in-law, Yosef Gorlitz, who was called der Hoicher Malach (the Tall Angel). He was from Mlawa. He started teaching after the First World War, until he became a caretaker in the new Beit Midrash. He lived in the Bukat house in the new market.
iv. Melameds of Gemara with Tosefot (Talmudic Annotations)
The heders of the melameds mentioned below were the highest levels of heder in Sierpc. The students studied pushet Gemara (simple Gemara, without annotations) and sheiur (Gemara with annotations), and considered other interpreters: Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Bar Yehuda Edlish (Maharsha), Rabbi Shlomo Luria (Maharshal), and Rabbi Meir of Lublin (Maharam). They also studied Gemara by themselves, without the aid of their teacher (this was called leinen, apparently because they studied alein - alone).
Pesach Tatz (the uncle of Nahum Tatz) owned a store that sold mainly yeasts - he sold yeast to all the stores in town - at the beginning of the Jewish Street in the house of Bagner (later the house of Kalmanowicz). When business went bad, he became a melamed of young boys after bar mitzvah (he had just six pupils). He lived on the Jewish Street near the bridge, in the house of Israelite Liebson (the father of Meiria and Naftali Liebson, later it became the Minchin house).
Avraham Tatz (father of Shmuel Yitzhak Tatz) was a shochet [ritual slaughterer] in the villages in the Sierpc area. When he became old, he became a teacher of boys after their bar mitzvah. Avraham Tatz also taught his pupils some writing, and lived in the Mikve Street in the House of Shmuel Szampan (called Shmuel Nagid).
Avraham Aharan (family name Bursztein) lived on Fara (Farska) Street in the Dikan house, and later, in the market, in a house he partially inherited from his father, Simchah Binem, called Der Hoicher Binem (the Tall Binem) or Binem Esikmacher (Binem the Vinegar Maker). When his wife was alive, he had a grocery store that was run by his wife.
Moshia Karmelkeies (his name was Moshe Danziger) lived on the vloki (vlikes) in a small house near Yehuda Baruch Skornik, and later, on Fara Street in a house he and his brother-in-law, Avraham Dikan inherited from his father.
Moshia Karmelkeies had three innovations in his heder: only six pupils; the students came at nine in the morning, after finishing morning prayers and eating breakfast at home; and Bible study was an important part of the curriculum. Moshia Karmelkeies also had a second income - on market days, his wife would buy eggs, butter, and chickens to sell to traders. He was an invalid and sickly, he walked stooped and bent over, leaning on a cane. He died while still relatively young, in the year 5676 (1916).
The first two melameds mentioned above taught in the ninth and last decades of the nineteenth century. Avraham Aharan started teaching at the end of the nineteenth century, and continued in the twentieth century. Moshia Karmelkeies started teaching in the middle of the first decade of the twentieth century.
In the 1880s and 1890s there were in Sierpc two melameds who taught Gemara, annotations, and other interpreters to boys who were 15 and 16 years old. One was Yaakov Ahron Goldstein (the brother of Moshe Goldstein, the rich man of the town). He was lame in both legs, and lived in the Jewish Street in the house of Baruch Kanenbrand. The second was Moshe Ahron Sagi-Nahor (father-in-law of Chayim Mintz). He was blind in both eyes (according to his pupils, he knew from memory every subject they studied, both from the Gemara and the interpreters). He lived in the New Market, in the house of Itzhak Leib Podskoc (father-in-law of Itzik Neiman, who later inherited the house).
In spite of the fact that the studies took place in the apartments of the melameds, they were not called heders, because the age of the pupils and the level of learning were much higher than that in the heders.
v. Talmud Torah
In addition to the heders, Sierpc had, like all the communities of Israel, an educational institution called Talmud Torah. This was a heder for poor children, whose parents couldn't afford to pay tuition. The expenses of the Talmud Torah were covered by the community and monthly payments of various supporters, and a committee would maintain the institution. Usually, the pupils of the Talmud Torah would finish their studies at a young age, because their parents would send them to work, or to learn a trade to help support the household. Therefore, the Talmud Torah taught just the subjects of the first two levels of heder: The alphabet, ivri (reading and writing), the Pentateuch, and the early prophets.
In the 1890s, there was no special building for the Talmud Torah. The poor children studied in the heders with all the other children, and the Talmud Torah Association would pay their tuition. Moshe Mintz (the father of Leib, Chayim, and Mordecai Hirsch Mintz), Shmuel David Mlawa (father of Pinchas and Avraham Mlawa) and others were managers of the association. A minyan of Talmud Torah would gather for prayer in the apartment of Moshe Mintz (in the house of Moshe Szalanowski in the market) on Saturdays and Holidays, and the contributions to the minyan would go to the association.
In the years just before World War I, the Talmud Torah had its own heder. This heder was in a house near the mikve (ritual bathhouse), in the house of Shmuel Szampan. The same building housed a hachnasat orchim [public guest house for traveling Jews].
During the German occupation of World War I, the heder - Yesodai HaTorah (see below) was founded. The poor children that previously learned in Talmud Torah were sent there, and the community paid for tuition to the new heder.
Avraham Fryd (Yerushalmi) who was then the representative of Agudat Zion in the local commuzity council contended that the community should not pay for Gemara studies for all poor children, since it was well known that they were not going to continue their studies. He maintained that only the most talented of the poor children should study Gemara, and these would continue in their studies. But the majority of the poor children should study only Ivri, Pentateuch and Rashi, Bible, writing and arithmetic, and the community should pay only for these studies.
In accord with Avraham Yerushalmi's demand, a special heder was reopened for the Talmud Torah. But the new heder was not in a dark and narrow room of a poor and invalid Rabi, but in a large and roomy apartment. At first it was at the start of Plotzki Street, in the yard of Moshe Elsztejn (in the building that previously housed the soup kitchen). In addition to studies of the holy books, the children learned writing and arithmetic. Their teacher was Bila Grossman, and Zvi Malowanczyk volunteered to train the children in athletics and exercise drills.
The community covered the expenses of the Talmud Torah. The committee of the institution included Avraham Fryd, Meir Cyprys, Yaakov Shimon Rozenfeld, and others. But the main supporter of the Talmud Torah was Agudat Zion, whose chairman was Avraham Fryd, who took care of the problems of the institution. The November 1920 report of the Joint [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] for the Plotzk District states that Sierpc has a Talmud Torah with 60 pupils.
After Yerushalmi (Fryd) made aliyah to Palestine in 1921, support for the Talmud Torah decreased, and it closed. For a while, the Talmud Torah was in the women's section of the old Beit Midrash. Later, the children of the Talmud Torah were placed in the heder - Yesodai HaTorah and the community paid their tuition.
A large house was built in approximately 1933, for hachnasat orchim (public guest house for traveling Jews) on Gurna Street, in back of the Kamnitza, with two rooms allocated for the Talmud Torah. Two educators, who had finished the seminary of Agudat Israel in Grodno - Eliezer Shnipper and Kimchi - were brought in, and they were the teachers in the Talmud Torah. About seventy children attended the Talmud Torah at this time. The chairman of the Talmud Torah committee was Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldschlak, and later, it was Hershel Motil. One of the committee members was Itsha Ash.
vi. heder - Yesodai HaTorah
During the German occupation of Poland in the First World War, much changed in the day to day life of the Polish Jews. A progressive spirit that permeated the cities and towns of Poland did away with many practices and traditions of Jewish life, and replaced them with new ones. Among the changes that occurred was the decline of the traditional private heder. More modern and public educational institutions called Yesodai HaTorah [Elements of the Torah] were established in Polish towns, and such an institution was founded in Sierpc as well. This public educational establishment - heder - Yesodai HaTorah - absorbed almost all the private heders, as well as the melameds, who now taught in, and were employees of the institution. In addition to the sacred studies, the students studied Hebrew and secular subjects. The secular subjects were taught by certified teachers, and the children were exempted from attending government schools. heder - Yesodai HaTorah was managed by a committee, that looked after all the particulars - principal, teachers, pupils; enrollment of the pupils, collecting tuition, and paying salaries and the other details of running the institution.
From Right to Left: Row 1, Sitting: Sara Kline, Yurkevitz, Tovah Lelonek
Row 2: Teachers: Goldberg, Ika (Rivkah) Tatz, Clara Zichman
Row 3, Standing: Roza Lelonek, Mindel Podskoc
Right to Left, Row 1, Sitting: Leah Konskowolski, Fraidel Goldsztajn, Tovah Koplowicz, Esther Valuka, Tzirel Bergson, Sara Smolinski, Hanna Gongola, Konitz
Row 2, Teachers: Yaakov Bacharach, Leatche Fogel (Koplowicz), Salk Garfinkel, Reich, Korzhan, Raizke Kratuszinska
Third Row, Standing: ---, ---, ---, Tzirel Czerka, Sara Devorah Skornik, Devorah Bluman, Zosha Bluman, Sochaczewski (not from Sierpc), Tovah Lanczner, ---, Sara Gotlibowski
From Right to Left, Row 1, Sitting: Fela Motil, Rizal Lanenter, Moshe Futterman, Arche Yeshaievitch, Roza Lipszic, Esther Gitel Papierczyk
Row 2, Sitting, Teachers: Moniak Klinbert (Gustinin), Gocha Rosek (teacher of music and crafts) Malkah Luszinski (Plotzk), Roza Shivwits (Plotzk), Mania Klinbert (Moniak's Sister)
Row 3, Standing: Esther Motil, Rivkah Lasman, Andzha Bornsztajn, Helena Szerpherz (Teacher). Mania Tatz, Billa Lewita, Andzha Gurfinkel
The founders of Yesodai HaTorah were Nahum Tatz, Michael Koplowicz, Yudel Rabinowicz (originally from Sierpc, lived in Lodz, but lived in Sierpc during the war), and others. They were also members of the first committee. Michael Koplowicz was chairman and Yudel Rabinowicz was the treasurer. heder - Yesodai HaTorah was founded in about the year 1916.
Obviously, over the years, membership in the committee changed. In one of the last committees, during the 1930's, the members were: Shimon Zapel (son-in-law of Avraham Glazer), Ephraim Zilberberg (son-in-law of Hirsh Moshe Kanenbrand), Shimon Petrikus (son-in-law of Avraham Shochet), Leibl Piotrkowski (son-in-law of Nahum Tatz), and others. A principal was in charge of the teachers and pupils. Over time, a number of people served as principals. For a while, the principal was Yechiel Lazer Rizfader from Saransk. Following him, the principal was Eliyahu Meir Schleifer (son-in-law of Chayim Bergson).
Among the teachers of Yesodai HaTorah were the melameds of the heders mentioned above, and new teachers, such as Yekel (from Mlawa - Gemara), Avraham Wolf Margel (from Plock - Pentateuch), Chayim Karpa (from the village of Tlochovka - Pentateuch), Yechiel Lazer Rizfader (from Saransk - Gemara), and Eliyahu Meir Schleifer (Bible and Gemara).
The first Hebrew teacher was Yerachmiel Weingarten (now in the United States). Following him as a Hebrew teacher was Asher Vatman, from the village of Skoilna (husband of Tzirel Bergson).
The first teacher of secular subjects was Yisrael Yaakov Cohen (from Plonsk), and after him, Hershel Turkltaub (from Nieshtat). They were, each during his tenure, the only teachers of all the subjects. After the founding of the Tarbuth school (in the early 1930's), when there was concern that certain parents (not the most pious ones) would take their children out of Yesodai HaTorah and register them in Tarbuth, a major reform was instituted in the school. Three graduates of the seminar of Agudat Israel in Grodno were brought in (they were called educators, dressed in the European style, and were clean shaven). We mentioned above that two of the educators taught in Talmud Torah, and one, Avraham Yaffe, taught in Yesodai HaTorah. They taught using modern methods, and also held exhibitions during school vacations.
In addition, certified teachers were brought in to teach secular subjects, which from then on were taught in the afternoon. The teachers who taught in Yesodai HaTorah were: Shmulik Valuka, David Maniamchevka, the sisters Carola, Mania, and Fela Tcharnotchepka, and Chayah Kanenbrand. For a while a teacher named Moshe Golomb (from Plonsk-Mlawa) also taught there.
The heder - Yesodai HaTorah was on the Jewish Street in the Litvinski house (across from the synagogue). In 1938, because of its poor financial situation, it moved to the shtibl of Gur, that was then in the yard of Ahron Lipke's house.
The heder - Yesodai HaTorah was heavily influenced by Agudat Israel. In the report on educational institutions in Sierpc supported by the Joint [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] from 1938, the heder - Yesodai HaTorah is listed as having 185 pupils.
b. Beit Midrash
After the children had finished their years in the heders, they would continue their studies (at least those who wanted to continue or their parents wanted them to continue) in the Beit Midrash. The studies would be unrestricted, without any regimen, with no disciplining, and no supervision by anyone. The older students at the school would, supposedly, supervise the younger ones. But this supervision was voluntary, and didn't obligate the supervisor or the supervised. Only those that were really serious about learning would advance to the Beit Midrash.
This is the way it was in Sierpc as well. A boy who finished the heder of Avraham Ahron Burstein or Moshia Karmelkeies, and later Yesodai HaTorah, and wanted to continue only had the old Beit Midrash. (very few went to the new beit). Some would ask one of the scholars of the town who were immersed in the Torah to help them. These included Yehoshua Goldman, Binem Wajsmel, David Noach Zilberberg, Leibl Kramarzh, Eliyahu Meir Schleifer and others. These would respond to the parents' requests to teach their sons, some for payment, and some who didn't want payment, and spend an hour or two a day teaching the Gemara and the interpreters. Some parents sent their sons to the famous yeshiva in Gur, or to another yeshiva. But there were few of either of these kinds of pupils. Most of the boys who wanted to continue studied in the old Beit Midrash, which resounded all day with the sounds of Torah and prayer.
The studies in the Beit Midrash lasted from dawn until late in the evening. The first pupils would come in the early hours of the morning (before morning during the winter). There would be youngsters who had just finished the heder, young men, and family men. The first worshippers would also arrive, who at this early hour would recite the Psalms. The pupils would start their studies, and the worshippers their prayers, and the Beit Midrash would begin to be crowded. The young men would study alone, or in pairs, and so did some of the youngsters. Possibly one of the young men or one of the older students would teach two or three youngsters. The subjects were Gemara, annotations, and other interpreters, each one according to his age, his knowledge, and the perceptions of the tutor. The students did not study almost any Pentateuch and Bible (only a few, the enlightened ones, studied Bible, and they would find a quiet time for this, when there were not many people in the Beit Midrash. The studies would last until just before ten in the morning. Then the students would pray, sometimes with the last Minyan, sometimes without a Minyan (of course, the blessings on the Torah and the Kriat Shma were recited earlier in the morning), and then they went home to eat breakfast.
At about noon, some of the boys and young men returned to the Beit Midrash. Those that helped their parents in their stores would study Torah only in the morning and evening, and spend the rest of their time working. During the hours when the more mature pupils were not in the Beit Midrash, discipline was not too strict. They would study a little, talk a little, and fool around a little. At three in the afternoon, they would go home for dinner.
At about five, they would return to the Beit Midrash. During the summer, they would study for a few hours until the evening prayer and most then finished their day. Only a few devoted souls would keep studying after evening prayer during the summer. However, during the winter, the hours after evening prayer were the best study times. During these hours, the two big ovens gave off pleasant warmth, and the blitz lamps (big oil lamps above the tables) lit the Beit Midrash. The boys, young men, family men and elders sat around the tables and studied the Torah aloud (the worshippers interfered with this in the mornings) and with appropriate melodies. Then, everyone had a desire to study, and willingly did so until late at night.
Some of the youngsters - and some of the young men - had studied secular subjects (Polish, Russian, Hebrew, and Arithmetic) with the teachers Leibl Atlas and Shimon Gelbard in the afternoon. These came to the Beit Midrash a little later in the evening.
There was a practice in earlier years of studying all night on Thursday night (Friday eve). In the middle of these studies, they would stop and send the youngsters to bring hot rolls from the nearby bakery. They would brew tea, take out the herring they had brought with them earlier, and dine heartily. This would be a joyous, communal meal. For the youngsters, this night vigil was a special experience that was remembered for many years.
c. The Yeshiva
The Yeshiva was a higher religious education institution. Most towns did not have a Yeshiva, and young boys who wanted to, and whose parents wanted them to continue Torah studies after heder, would move to a town that had one. There they would continue the Torah studies - Gemara, and the annotations of Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Bar Yehuda Edlish (Maharsha), Rabbi Shlomo Luria (Maharshal), and Rabbi Meir of Lublin (Maharam) and others. They would usually sustain themselves according to the saying from the Mishnah: Bread with salt you shall eat, water in small measure you shall drink, and upon the ground you shall sleep; live a life of deprivation and toil in Torah (Pirkei Avot 6, 4). There was no Yeshiva in Sierpc. Very few parents could afford sending a son to a faraway town because of the great hardship and expense.
i. Yeshivat Beit Yosef
A Yeshiva called Beit Yosef was founded in Sierpc in the mid nineteen-thirties. It was founded by two young men from Yeshivat Novodruk, who came to Sierpc on their own, with stated purpose of enhancing and glorifying the Torah. They wore European clothes, like in all the Lithuanian Yeshivas and they were clean shaven and without sideburns. But the Hasidim of Sierpc, with all their admiration for the devotion of the two young men to spread the Torah, were astonished and amazed by their manners.
Many boys from Sierpc studied in Yeshivat Beit Yosef, as well as students from the surrounding towns. These would study in the Yeshiva, and get food (different days with different families) and lodging. The lessons took place in the old Beit Midrash, and the two young men were the headmasters, teachers, and melameds. The elders of the old Beit Midrash - Shmuel Yitzhak Tatz, Shmuel Moshe Kanenbrand, Leibl Kramarzh, and others, supported the Yeshiva. There was no tuition charged for studying at Yeshivat Beit Yosef.
ii. The Small Yeshiva
During the time that Yeshivat Beit Yosef existed in Sierpc, there was also a second Yeshiva, called the Small Yeshiva. As its name implies, it was smaller than Yeshivat Beit Yosef, with about thirty students. But though it was less in quantity than the first Yeshiva, it exceeded it in quality.
The Small Yeshiva was in the house of Yehoshua Popowski (son-in-law of David Klajnman, called Haver, an esteemed teacher in Sierpc, originally from Nieshtat, who lived in his father-in-law's house). Yehoshua, who was an outstanding scholar, a Hasid with noble qualities, was the head of the Small Yeshiva and a leader of the studies. The Small Yeshiva charged tuition.
The Small Yeshiva was also mentioned in the report on educational institutions in Sierpc supported by the Joint [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] from 1938, which stated that it had 77 pupils. However, because of the number of pupils, and from the text of the report, it seems that there was an error in the name of the institution, and they were actually referring to Yeshivat Beit Yosef.
2. Modern Education
a. Rivack's School
The first Jewish school in Sierpc was that of Rivack (who was not from Sierpc). The school was opened at the beginning of the 1880s, and was attended by both boys and girls (at different times of the day). The girls, of the usual school age, studied during regular school hours, in the mornings. The boys, who had already had bar mitzvah and had finished their heder studies learned in the afternoon. Some of them studied all day in the beit midrash, and only in the early evening, at a time which is neither day nor night, they would study secular subjects. Others would help their parents in their stores or in a trade, and would study for one or two hours in the afternoon. The subjects included Russian, Polish, German, and arithmetic. Rivack, the teacher, did not teach Yiddish, or talk to his pupils in Yiddish. He spoke in the language that he was then teaching, or in Russian.
The school was located in the market, in the house of Simchah Binem Burstyn (called Binem Esikmacher - the Vinegar Maker, or der Hoicher Binem - Tall Binem). Rivack's school lasted for a number of years, after which Rivack was accepted as a teacher in a government school, and sent to teach in another town.
b. Atlas's School
The school of Leibl Atlas opened after Rivack's school closed, in the mid-1880s. The school was in a room in Atlas's house which had special benches, and boys and girls learned with arrangements the same as in the previous school. The change was in the curriculum and language of study. In addition to the subjects studied in the previous school, Hebrew and Yiddish were also taught, and the lessons were in Yiddish.
The school lasted until nearly the start of the First World War. It began in the house of Bagner, which was later the house of Kalmanowicz.
c. Mintz's School
Mordecai Hirsch Mintz's school for boys had an important place in the education of Sierpc youth. The Mintz School taught Hebrew studies and general studies, but the emphasis was on Hebrew subjects: Bible, Jewish History, and Hebrew language, and later - a little Gemara. The parents of the children in this school were all modern and progressive. In its early years, the school was called the Improved heder, at least by its adherents, but its opponents called it Dangerous heder [in the Ashkenazi Hebrew dialect, the words improved and dangerous are practically homonyms]. The education at Mintz's school resulted in a group of young people who were nationalist, Zionist, and knew Hebrew; the Zionist movement in the town developed from their midst.
At the beginning, Mintz was the only teacher, and he had just 12 pupils. With time, the school expanded, more classes were added, as well as teachers to help the headmaster. The teachers (at different times) of Hebrew subjects were: Israel Yaakov Cohen (from Plonsk, taught in the school after he stopped being a partner in skladap tatzhni, a medical warehouse, then returned to Plonsk, where he was a teacher in the Jewish Gymnasium). Rozenblum (also from Plonsk and returned to Plonsk), and Richald (after the closing of his Improved heder, see below) also taught Hebrew. The Gemara teachers were David Noach Zilberberg, Binem Wajsmel, and later, Mintz himself. Teachers of general subjects were Mr. Dambski (a teacher in the Russian Government School), and Ms. Lichia (Leah) Fogel (Koplowicz's stepdaughter).
At first, the languages of instruction in the school were Yiddish for the Hebrew subjects and Russian for general subjects. Afterwards, except for foreign languages, all lessons were conducted in Hebrew. The school was located on the side street near the Kamnitza, in Mintz's house, which he had inherited from his wife's parents. Later, the school was located in the New Market, in the house of Ahron Tcharnotchepka. The school existed from the middle of the 1890s until 1922, when the Mintz family moved to America.
d. The Improved Heder
In about the year 1910, a teacher named Richald (not originally from Sierpc) opened a modern school called Improved heder (that the Haredim called Dangerous Heder). The school was on the Jewish Street, in the house of Litvinski. It lasted for only a short time. The Improved heder was more modern, and less traditional than Mintz's school. At that time in Sierpc, there were not enough supporters, and the school failed quickly. As stated above, Richald became a teacher in Mintz's school.
e. Yavne School
In the first half of the decade of the 1920's, there was a school in Sierpc called Yavne that was founded by Mizrachi (the religious Zionist organization). It was part of a nationwide network of Mizrachi schools that were called Yavne. The school employed four teachers, two for Hebrew studies, and two for general studies. The teachers were: Hersh Crystal (now in Israel, Zvi Algavish) taught ivri (reading) and the Hebrew language; Meir Zev Glatman (from Warsaw) taught Bible and Jewish History; Yosef Przasnyszski taught arithmetic and the Polish language; and Ezriel Szampan taught geography and Polish history. The principal was Hersh Crystal. All the lessons, except for Polish language, were taught in Hebrew.
The school was in the Mizrachi center, in the New Market, in the house of Ms. Podskoc (in the yard of the Bukat house). The Yavne School existed for only a short time. It closed because of financial problems.
f. Tarbuth School
For ten years after Mintz's School closed, there was no educational institution in Sierpc (except for the Yavne School, which existed for only a short time) that offered combined Jewish and general studies. Although there were two schools for Jewish children, heder - Yesodai HaTorah and the Government School for Jewish Children, the former taught general studies very poorly, and the Jewish studies in the latter were of little value. So it was that parents who didn't want to forego a Jewish education and sent their children to Yesodai HaTorah lost out on general studies, and those that wouldn't give up a general education and sent their children to the government school, saw them grow up without a Jewish background, neither religious nor nationalist.
Therefore, the opening of the Tarbuth School was something whose time had come. This was a school that gave its pupils a Jewish modern-traditional education, in addition to a comprehensive general education. Many parents were expecting a school like this. They rejoiced at the news of the opening of their school, and sent their sons there to study Torah and knowledge.
The Tarbuth School was founded in 1931. That year, a kindergarten called Tarbuth opened on the Jewish street, in a house in the yard of Yosef Vasolak (later sold to Moshe Lasman and Israel Barco). With time, as more classes opened up, and the place became too small for all the pupils that wanted to enroll, and a more suitable location could not be found, the committee decided to construct a school building. A building committee was established, with the help of Sierpc emigrants in America. The committee was able to purchase a plot (on Studolna Street, later called Lenarotovitzia) and build a pleasant, two-story building that was suitable to the school's needs. Until the construction was finished, the school moved to a large apartment on Plotzki Street, behind the Kotcholak house. In 1935, the building was ready, and the school moved into its new, large and spacious home.
This enormous undertaking, a Hebrew school with a special edifice built for it, was unique in all the towns in the area. The establishment of the school and maintenance of the building cost the activists and volunteers a great deal of effort and no end of problems. However, in the end, they could be pleased that they established an institution that was the glory of the Jews of Sierpc, a project that was talked about in all the towns in the area.
The building committee of the Tarbuth School included: Yeshayahu Frydman, the chairman; Moshe Balt, secretary; Baruch Atlas, Hana Atlas, David Bergson, Avraham Groda, Yehuda Visroza, Avraham Zhabitsky, Yaska Konitz (Cohen), Zvi Malowanczyk, Israel Smolenski, Chayim Skorka, Shlomo Kutner, Yitzhak Klajnman, and Hershel Rotenberg (son-in-law of Esther Rachel Szampan).
The Tarbuth School had seven classes, with over two hundred students. If the kindergarten and the evening school are included, it had over three hundred students. Except for the Polish subjects, all lessons were taught in Hebrew. During lessons of sacred subjects, the children would wear hats. All students wore a dark blue uniform and hat, or beret for the girls. The hat or beret had a pale blue thread at the seam, with the school logo.
The report on educational institutions in Sierpc supported by the Joint [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] from 1938 states that the Tarbuth school had 195 pupils, and 52 children in the kindergarten. The evening school had 30 pupils.
A letter from the Building Committee and Management Committee of the Tarbuth School to the Committee of Sierpc Emigrants in America, from 13 September 1935 states the school has about 200 pupils.
A letter from the aid committee in Sierpc to the Relief committee of Sierpc Emigrants in America that was written on 5 April 1939 mentions 220 pupils. It also states, The school is supported by tuition fees paid by pupils' parents. Of the 220 pupils, 60 are poor, and are exempt from payment of tuition fees.
In addition to the educational activities, for which the school was established, the school and school building served as a center for all Zionist activities in Sierpc. The school building housed the Zionist Organization, the Zionist Library, and the Maccabee Sports Organization. The halls of the school were hosts to Zionist meetings, lectures on Zionist, social or literary topics, and discussions of various subjects. The lecturers were the teachers, local residents, or from out of town. There was a clear Zionist spirit to the school that educated the children to be loyal Zionists, and also influenced their parents.
The school had a Parents' Committee, whose membership changed with time. The members were committed and faithful to their office. They tended to all the material and spiritual needs of the school, and cooperated with its management. The members of the first parents' committee were Yeshayahu Frydman, chairman; Yitzhak Meir Zilberberg (Simchoni), treasurer; David Bergson, Moshe Berman, Fibush Lipka, and Yitzhak Klajnman (the second and fourth are now in Israel). At a later time, the parents' committee consisted of Hana Atlas, David Bergson, Moshe Berman, Nasha Groda, Yaska Konitz (Cohen), Yeshayahu Frydman, Yitzhak Klajnman, and Mendel Shtinhoz (Menachem Avni). (The third, fifth, and eighth are now in Israel.)
The members of the last Parents' Committee were: Yeshayahu Frydman, Chairman; Itche David Sznitzer, secretary; David Bergson, Moshe Gutsztat, Yaakov Yosef Visroza, Abba Licht, Israel Smolenski, Pesach Skornik, Moshe Ahron Flurman (from Lipno, son-in-law of Chayim David Arbiter), and Yitzhak Klajnman.
The following are the names of the teachers at the Tarbuth School (none of them were from Sierpc):
Kindergarten: Hana Fleisher, Hadassah Goldberg.
Female teachers: Zina Bacharach (Bialystok), Miriam Bloch (Bialystok), Goldberg, Malkah Gipman, Hana Dichter, Tapper (Kolomi), Fleishon, S. Kleinerman, S. Kellerman, and A. Shparko.
Male teachers: M. Rubal (the first teacher in Tarbuth, died tragically in Israel), M. Handleman, Selvin, Ahron Skoropa (Zuromin), and others.
Principals: Shaul Rozenblum, the first principal (Warsaw), Valkov, A.I. Dichter (now in Israel). The last principal, Dichter, served in the last two years until the destruction of the Community of Sierpc, and was deported by the Nazis (together with his wife, the teacher Hana Dichter, also in Israel) together with all the Jews of Sierpc, and all of his pupils.
The caretaker of the Tarbuth School was Shlomo Gongola.
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