Institutions and Activists (cont'd )
F. Business Organizations and Labor Unions
Business and professional affairs expanded during the German occupation of the First World War, as well as cultural and public life. Merchants, craftsmen, and workers all organized to protect their own interests and improve their living standards. Business associations of merchants, craftsmen's societies, and workers' and clerks' unions were founded. They promoted their members' interests and tried to improve their conditions.
Two business organizations and a labor union were founded in Sierpc during this period: The Merchants' Society, The Craftsmen's' Association, and a labor union.
1. The Merchants' Society
The founders of The Merchants' Society and its first committee members were Iskar Bergson, Shmualtia Tatz, Azrieltia Podskocz, and others. Shmuel Zanbal Dormbus, Zvi Malewanczyk and others joined in later periods. Shmualtia Tatz was the chairman for many years. The secretary during the 1920s was Ezriel Szampan.
The Merchants' Society at first used the apartment of Iskar Bergson for its meetings. Later it had an office on Fara Street in the house of Elia Ber Czarnoczapka. After that, it moved to the Bank Mnoyot (The Merchants' Bank) in the house of Ischia Shvitzer.
2. Small Merchants' Society
The Small Merchants' Society was founded in Sierpc in the 1920s. Small shopkeepers and owners of stalls joined the society to promote their causes. Their various interests in some cases, such as taxes, were at odds with those of the larger merchants. Some of the members of The Merchants' Society left to join the Small Merchants' Society, and were joined by other small shopkeepers who had not been organized till then.
The founder of the Small Merchants' Society was Hershel Koplowicz, who was its chairman for many years and its most active member. He was a member of both the town and district tax assessment committees, and worked diligently to obtain discounts and concessions for the members.
The other committee members were Moshe Burgand, Avrahamia Grossman, Baruch Lipszyc (passed away in Israel), and others. The Small Merchants Society did not have its own office. The committee meetings and other activities were held in the Alexander shtibl, at the start of the Jewish Street, in the house of Kalman Lidovarski.
3. Craftsmen's Association
The founders and active members of the Craftsmen's Association were: Baruch Atlas, Mordechai Lipa Atlas, Ziskind Arbiter, Moshe Gongola, Hersh Grina, Dudia Diogenes', Shmuel Hanach Dragon, Meir Zvirak, Ischia Meir Lelonek, (the last two are now in Israel), Avraham Mlawa, Yisraelik Smolinski, Shmuel Fasa, Yossel Pukacz, Ezra Frankel, Shlomo Pszenica, Tzadok, Menachem Szpiro, and others.
Avraham Mlawa was the leader of the founders of the Craftsmen's Association, and its first chairman. After he immigrated to Palestine, Ezra Frankel became chairman. He was also the chairman of the shoemakers' cell of the association, and Hersh Graina was the chairman of the tailors' cell.
The office of the Craftsmen's Association was in the house of Lasman on the Jewish Street (later the house of Shvitzer). They held a minyan of craftsmen there for Saturday and holiday prayers. The reader of the Torah was Avraham Yitzhak Grodko.
The Craftsmen's Association in Sierpc had a Zionist orientation, and always collaborated with the Zionist organization in elections. The two organizations appeared on the same list for both the Community Council and Town Council elections.
4. Craftsmen's Organization
It was customary that a worker apprenticed to a craftsman would stay only until his wedding. After the worker was married, and had received a little money from the dowry, he would try to set himself up as an independent craftsman. He would take on a young boy as an apprentice, and when his situation improved a little, he would also hire a worker. The new craftsman was expected to be loyal to the same ideals he held as a worker, and he would remain a member of the same workers' party to which he had previously belonged. Over time, this presented a difficult problem for the workers' parties, especially in the small towns, since a sizable percentage of the members became employers and exploiters. The Bund came up with a solution: they ejected the independent craftsmen from the party, and made them part of a different organizational framework, the Craftsmen's Organization of the Bund.
A Craftsmen's Organization was founded in Sierpc as well, in the mid-1930s. It was led by Leibush Uszer and Hersh Yurkevitz.
5. Labor Union
All the Jewish workers in Sierpc belonged to the same labor union, no matter which party they belonged to, or their particular vocation. The union was divided into cells, one for each vocation.
A committee of five members was elected at the founding meeting of the union. The chairman was Avraham Gordon (Bund), and the secretary was the teacher Israel Yaakov Cohen (Poalei Tzion). The union headquarters was on Zhava (Zhavia) Street, in the yard of the house of Avraham Yitzhak Grodka.
6. Clerks' Union
The union of store assistants, clerks, and bookkeepers was founded in 1937. The committee members were: Zvi Arpa (now in Israel), Motel Lelonek, Michael Lipsker (from Lipno), Barak Feinberg, and David Frank (from Lipno). The union had over forty members.
The Economic Status of the Jews of Sierpc
The 1938 report of the Joint [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] contains the following statements about the economic conditions of the Jews of Sierpc:
Sierpc has a population of 10,051, of which there are 3090 Jews, consisting of about 600 families. They earn their living mainly from petty trading and manual labor.
|Number of shops owned by Jews||290|
|Number of stalls||65|
There are 158 tradespeople who are members of the Small Merchants Society. The number of craftspeople is about 150 and most of them are tailors and seamstresses. There are about 100 members in the Craftsmen's Association.
Of the industrial plants in the area, there are two factories that are owned by Jews: a lumberyard, and a tannery.
The status of the Jewish shopkeepers has become worse because of competition from non-Jewish shopkeepers, who have recently opened stores in all branches of trade in the town itself and in the surrounding villages. The public boycotts are affecting the more established tradesmen as well.
According to the numbers in this report, there were 600 Jewish wage earners in Sierpc, divided as follows:
|Merchants (storekeepers and stall owners)||59%|
G. Financial Institutions
The possibility of establishing mutual credit companies to help the small tradesman and craftsman in their hard battle for existence was discussed in the Jewish neighborhoods even before the First World War. Financial institutions called Loan and Savings Funds were started in many cities, and were of great help to their members.
The economic status of the Jews in Poland became much worse in the years before the First World War. In the elections for the Fourth duma (Russian Parliament) in 1912, the candidate of the Polish Right Wing, Kochazhavski, suffered a major defeat. This defeat was due to the Jews, who supported the candidate of the Left, Yagalalo. As a result, a strong anti-Semitic movement arose, which declared an economic boycott of Jews. Poles opened stores in towns and villages, both private stores and cooperatives (spolki) and the economic conditions of the Jews, which were bad to begin with, became even worse. The Loan and Savings Funds were open then in various cities, and they aided the merchants and craftsman, and improved their economic conditions.
The capital of these funds was from the share assets of the members and the support of the J.C.A. (Jewish Colonization Association, a support group created by Baron Maurice de Hirsch).
1. Loan and Savings Fund
The first Jewish financial mutual aid institution was founded in Sierpc before the First World War, in about 1913. The founders of Loan and Savings Fund and its committee members were: Dr. Szpiro (a medical doctor who lived in Sierpc for a few years around the time of the First World War) chairman, Avraham Shlomo Glazer, Chayim Nachum Tunbol, Nahum Tatz, Shmualtia Tatz, Michal Smolinski, Yehuda Baruch Skornik, and others. Shmuel Glazer was the (volunteer) secretary of the fund. The fund's office was at first in the house of Nahum Tatz, and later, at the start of Fara (Farska) Street in the house of Grabovski (a Pole).
When the Russians left Poland during the First World War, the ruble (the Russian currency) lost its value, and the Loan and Savings Funds in all of Poland were wiped out, including the one in Sierpc.
2. People's Bank
A credit fund was established in Sierpc not long after the end of World War I, in 1919, to continue the work of the Loan and Savings Fund of before the war. The fund started with limited capital from the shares of the founders. The founders and committee members were; Shmualtia Tatz chairman, Yisachar Bergson treasurer, Avrahamia Grossman, Nachum Tatz, Meir Cipris, and others. The office was on Fara Street in the house of Elia Ber Czarnoczapka.
The moneys from the founders' shares obviously were not sufficient for wide-scale activity. The JCA (Jewish Colonization Association) that supported the Loan and Savings Funds before the war was not active in Poland after the war, so that the Fund's functioning was weak and unrecognized. This explains the sentence in the report of the representative of the Joint for the Plotzki District from November, 1920: There is no loan fund (or Beneficial Society) in Sierpc.
The managers of the Joint in Poland started to establish credit and financial institutions in 1920. A number of such institutions were founded or renewed in many towns. The fund in Sierpc also received support from the Joint, and expanded its activities under a new name, Bank Ludowi or People's Bank, as such institutions were called in Poland. This bank was a cooperative, also called Craftsmen's Bank, and was a popular, general bank, as its name suggests. This bank helped all the classes in town by offering loans with easy terms to craftsmen, merchants, and other wage-earners. It was the largest Jewish financial institution in Sierpc.
A letter from the Aid Committee in Sierpc to the Relief Committee of Sierpc Townspeople in America of January 1939 contains some interesting details on the People's Bank:
The capital of the bank consists of: a) Long term credit from the Joint; b) Money from members' shares; c) Savings accounts; d) Various deposits. The bank issues loans to most of the Jews of the town. It has more than 300 members. The maximum credit extended to a member (of course, a member in good financial condition) is 1200 zloty. Because of the crisis, there are unpaid debts. For this reason, the bank does not show a profit, but in spite of this, the bank is in good condition. The letter also mentions that ten years earlier the state of the bank was very bad, and it managed to cover its debts and survive the crisis then only because of the efforts of all its members.
The bank managers and board that were elected once, or a number of times, were: Leibush Uszer, Baruch Atlas, Mordechai Lipa Atlas, Ziskind Arbiter, Mendel Blum, Moshe Gongola, Avraham Groda, Avrahamia Grossman, Hersh Grina, David Diogenes', Shmuel Yitzhak Tatz, Avraham Mlawa (Ben-David), Yisraelik Smolinski, Shmuel Paso, Ezra Frankel, Shlomo Pszenica, Ber Charka, Ischia David Sznitzer, Menachem Szpiro, and others. The secretary of the People's Bank in the 1920s was Ezriel Szampan, and the manager in the 1930s was Michael Lipsker.
The bank was located on Zhava (Zhavia) Street, in the house of Bogoshavski (a Pole). Later the bank moved to the start of Plotzki Street, to the house of Ahron Lipka.
3. Shareholders' Bank
The second Jewish bank in Sierpc was the Shareholders' Bank (Bank Odzialovi) that was also called Merchants' Bank. The letter from the Aid Committee mentioned above, from 22 January 1939, states:
The second cooperative bank was founded about 10 years ago (1929). A group of merchants (the wealthiest group in the Peoples' Bank) had left because of conflicts among the various groups in the bank. This group founded a new bank, also on a cooperative basis. The bank's capital is composed of a) Money from members' shares; b) Deposits. This bank did not get credit from the 'Joint' since it is difficult to obtain credit from the 'Joint' for two cooperative banks in the same town. The Shareholders' Bank has about 100 members. About 70% of the members are also members of People's Bank, and benefit from loans from both banks.
A letter from the same Aid Committee, written on 17 July 1939, states: The chairman of Shareholders' Bank Shmuel Tatz.
The bank was located in the market, in the house of Ischia Shvitzer (previously the house of Moshe Tajtelbaum and Yakir Plato).
4. Credit Bank
The third Jewish bank in Sierpc was the Credit Bank (Bank Craditovi). The bank was founded by members of Agudat Israel and was called the Aguda Bank. Aguda Bank was the newest and smallest of the Jewish banks in Sierpc. Not only was it founded after People's Bank and Shareholders' Bank, it also stopped operating before they did.
The Credit Bank was also a cooperative bank. Its capital consisted of: a) Money from members' shares; b) Credit from the Banking Society of Agudat Israel; c) Deposits. The management and board members of the bank were, over the years: Mendel Gurfinkel, Moshe Grossman, Shimon Zapel, Mendel Melech Tajtelbaum, Nachum Tatz, Avraham Marantz, and others. The bank was located in the house of Nahum Tatz on the Jewish Street.
5. The Beneficial Fund
In addition to the three banks, a philanthropic Beneficial Fund (Kupat Gmilat Hasadim) was founded in Sierpc in 1927. The fund gave interest free loans with easy repayment conditions to small merchants and craftsmen. It was of great help to many families, allowing them maintain their meager existence under the terrible conditions in anti-Semitic Poland between the two world wars, and especially in the last years before the Second World War.
Important details about the fund are in a letter of 4 August 1938 from the Beneficial Fund committee to a group of Sierpcers living in America:
A number of members have undertaken, by pledges and donations, to pay a monthly assessment. Registration for the Gold Book will be 100 zloty, and from time to time there are festive events whose income is dedicated to the fund. Thanks to these efforts, thirteen thousand zloty have been collected. Together with the credit extended by the Joint and the Tchekaba Centrala Kas Bezprocentowych (Center for Interest Free Funds the center for Beneficial Funds in Poland), the Fund has capital of twenty-six thousand zloty. (For each zloty that we collect, we receive an additional zloty from the Joint.) 450 Families are now using this for credit with no interest.
The letter details who are the recipients: 57 tailors, 30 shoemakers, 2 carpenters, 4 butchers, 69 miscellaneous vocations, 13 notions sellers, 5 leather merchants, 35 grocery store shopkeepers, 35 stall owners in the market, 39 merchants in villages, 20 workers, 140 miscellaneous wage earners.
There are also interesting details about the Beneficial Fund in a letter of 22 January 1939 from the Sierpc Aid Committee to the Relief Committee of Sierpcers in America:
The resources of the Beneficial Fund were limited in its first few years, and the maximum loan was 25 zloty. Because of this, the middle class did not turn to the fund for loans, and only the poorer class benefited from the fund. The maximum loan today is 200 zloty, and there are over 400 borrowers. The loans are made without interest, but there is a certain charge for administrative costs. The Beneficial Fund also has unpaid debts because of the difficult economic times.
The main founder of the Beneficial Fund was Elia Ber Czarnoczapka. For many years he was the most important advocate of the fund. He invested both his energy and his money in the fund, eased its monetary difficulties, and reduced deficits in the loan funds. He also gave, without any thought of compensation, a two-room apartment that the fund could use.
The only fact that we have about the Beneficial Fund committee at its founding is that its chairman was Nachman Horowitz. The committee in 1930 consisted of: Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldschlak honorary chairman, Elia Ber Czarnoczapka chairman, Mendel Shtinhoz treasurer, David Bergson secretary, Nachman Eichald, Moshe Berman, Baruch Mendel Gotlibowski, Ischia Meir Zilbersztajn, Mendel Lipszyc, David Maniamchevka, and Yakir Plato.
All the members of the Beneficial Fund committee signed a letter from August 1938: Menachem Bojmwol chairman, Hersh Pianca secretary, Matat (Matityahu) Przasnyszski treasurer, Yaakov Edelstein, Leibush Uszer, Elia (Eliyahu) Grossman, Moshe Grossman, Avraham Hersh Yurkevitz, Ahron Yosef (Yossel) Pukacz, and Moshe Aran (Ahron) Fetbrot. The active secretary of the fund was Neta Plonsker, a learned and enlightened young man.
Our respected townsman Ischia Lanter informs us that there was also a Beneficial Fund in Sierpc in the 1890s. The collectors were Akiva Glazer and Akiva Lanenter.
6. Local Aid Committee Rescue Committee
There was another financial institution in Sierpc. However, in terms of its extent, capabilities, activities, and duration, it was smaller and poorer than the other such Jewish institutions in the town. Formally, the institution was called Local Aid Committee for the Jews of Sierpc. Its official rubber stamp was inscribed (in Yiddish): Localer Hilft-Komitet Far Yiden in Sierpc (Local Aid Committee for Jews in Sierpc), but usually it was called the Rescue Committee. A letter from the institution to Sierpcers in America ends with the Yiddish Retungs Komitat (Rescue Committee). The postal address for sending donations is of course in Polish Komitetu Ratunkowego (again Rescue Committee).
In the letter mentioned above, the committee describes to the Sierpcers in America the bad financial situation of the Jews of Sierpc: Respected merchants and established craftsmen lost their properties and livelihoods; workers are unemployed, and yesterday's donors are today's recipients. With assets that are dwindling every week, the committee cannot help everyone that comes for aid. The fund is turning to the townspeople of Sierpc in America to send a substantial amount of money to help all those that have lost everything in this economic crisis.
If we judge on the basis of the two names of this institution, both official and unofficial, it seems that it is a charitable institution, whose purpose is to support the unemployed and the hungry. But we accept the words of Zvi Malewanczyk that this was an institution that distributed loans. According to him, it gave small loans (about 15 zloty) on easy terms, with no interest, no notes, and no guarantors, and with small weekly repayments. The customers of this institution were in very dire straits, and even this small loan helped them. There were also people who could not repay their loan to the Beneficial Fund, and used the money they received from the Rescue Committee to cover their debt, and then took out a bigger loan from the Beneficial Fund. The sources of the money for the Rescue Committee were charitable donations, both new and periodic, that were collected by Yechiel Greenberg (from Czerwinsk, son-in-law of Ischia Offenbach). There were also collections at weddings and in bowls left in prayer houses on Yom Kipper eve and on Purim. All the work in this institution, except for collecting donations, was voluntary.
The above letter was written in March, 1933, and apparently, the institution was founded at about this date. The letter was signed by Zvi Malewanczyk chairman, Yaakov Shimon Rosenfeld treasurer, Yehoshua Tajtelbaum secretary, Menachem Bojmwol, Isaac Grinbaum, Menachem Sloma, Moshe Pukacz (who was called Der Blinder Mata Blind Matte), Shimon Petrikus, Leibl Fleisher, and Eliyahu Meir Schleifer.
Because of their poverty, many borrowers did not pay their debts, and the institution closed after a few years. Its name does not appear in a March 1937 letter from the Aid Committee (a charitable institution in Sierpc in the years 1937-39) to the Sierpcer in America that lists the Jewish financial institutions in Sierpc.
H. Charitable Institutions
Two of the three attributes that characterize the people of Israel are pity and charity. Our wise men of blessed memory said: And he said, there are three traits in this nation [Israel]: those who are compassionate, those who are timid and those who perform acts of loving-kindness (Yevamot 79). Many of the Torah commandments are based on a feeling of pity and the obligation to help the poor and the weak, the widow and the orphan, and anyone who is despondent will be recognized. The attribute of mercy is deeply rooted in the character of the Jew, and from habit and persistence, it has penetrated deeply into his heart and soul. The Jews have, at all times and under all conditions, obeyed the commandment, And if thy brother be waxen poor … then thou shalt uphold him. The Jews established charity and aid institutions for their faltering brothers in all of the Diaspora of Israel, in every country and in every town and village. Every Jewish community had institutions and societies for housing poor travelers, providing dowries for poor brides, helping and lodging the sick. Every Jew was a member of one or more of these societies, and a donor to them.
Sierpc also had institutions that helped the poor and sick, men and women. These were:
Indigent travelers who would wander from town to town would present themselves at people's houses. In Sierpc, they would stay with the local poor (for a small fee), and also at the old Beit Midrash. This caused problems both for the poor travelers (who did not have a comfortable resting place) and for the worshippers (the lack of cleanliness in the prayer house, and the distractions during prayer). This problem was corrected when the Hachnasat Orchim institution was founded. A two-room (one for men, the other for women) apartment was rented, and furnished with good beds and clean sheets.
There was a Hachnasat Orchim (Bringing in Guests) society in Sierpc at the end of the 1880s and beginning of the 1890s. The Gabaim (collectors) were: Akivia Lanenter, Moshe Mintz, and others. The apartment was at the end the small street near the Kamnitza. It was shut down for various reasons at the end of the nineteenth century.
The society was renewed at the beginning of the twentieth century in the house of Shmuel Szampan (who was called Shmuel Nagid Shmuel the Philanthropist), near the mikve. This time the founders were Haskell (Yechezkel) Baszkes, Mendel Gorlitz (Lipszyc), Eliezer Sendrowicz, Yaakov Shimon Rosenfeld, and others. The caretaker of Hachnasat Orchim was Der Geler Hershel (Yellow Hershel). The income of Hachnasat Orchim was from weekly dues of the members and various donations.
There was a minyan at the institution on Saturdays and holidays, and some of the members prayed there. (The building also housed a shtibl called the Second shtibl of Alexander.) The income from the minyan was dedicated to the institution.
There was a typhus epidemic in all of Poland in 1915, at the beginning of the German occupation of World War I. The German authorities in Sierpc prohibited the poor travelers coming to the town from going to people's houses or wandering in town, out of fear of spreading the disease. The community then rented a storeroom in the yard of Yashinski (a Pole), at the start of the road to Rypin. They renovated it and turned it into a Hachnasat Orchim house. All the poor that came to town were either directed there, or brought there by police. They would stay there one or two days, receive food and lodging and a little money, and be sent to another town. Mordechai Rosen managed the institution for the community.
The Hachnasat Orchim institution opened and closed a number of times, and wandered from one remote apartment to another, like its guests, until it found a permanent place at the beginning of the 1930s. The house was built for the institution on Gorna Street, behind the Kamnitza. It was a large one-story house with a basement.
The committee that was established to erect the building for two important institutions –Hachnasat Orchim and Talmud Torah devoted a great deal of effort to the task. Particularly devoted was the Town Rabbi, Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldschlak, who was the chairman of the committee. For many weeks, the Rabbi would pray each Saturday in a different synagogue (including the shtibls). The Rabbi would give a sermon before the Torah reading about the great importance and the great mitzvah in erecting this building that would house two such important institutions, both from the Jewish and the humane standpoints. During the reading of the Torah, the Rabbi would stand next to the table that held the Torah scroll. He would order the Torah reader not to assign more than three verses to each man called to the Torah. He would then make each of them pledge to the construction of the building and then dicker with anyone whose contribution did not satisfy him.
The dedication of the Hachnasat Orchim building was an occasion of great celebration. The Town Rabbi and rabbis of the surrounding towns participated, and gave speeches seasoned with Torah quotations about the great deed done by the Jews of Sierpc, in erecting a building for these two great institutions. The choir of Agudat Israel entertained the many spectators with their singing.
Among those that participated in the mitzvah of erecting the building were Yechezkel Baszkes, Hersh Motil, and others.
2. Other Aid Societies
The Bikur Holim (Visiting the Sick) Society helped poor sick people by providing doctors' visits and medicine at low cost, on the basis of a chit that the patient would receive from Bikur Holim. They would also receive medical instruments such as cupping glasses and thermometers.
The Linat HaTzedek (Lodging for the Righteous) Society sent its members, when their turn came up, to stay with a sick person (not necessarily poor). In cases where the illness lasted a long time, and the family members were weary, the help of Linat HaTzedek was very important. The members would bring tasty foods for the poorer patients.
The Malbish Arumim (Clothing the Naked) Society helped the poor, especially poor children, by donating clothes and shoes. This help was usually given just before the winter. The first recipients were the students at the Talmud Torah.
The Hachnasat Kala (Bringing in the Bride) Society helped poor brides, either by money for a dowry, or with clothes, underwear and bedding (it was called Oysshteier). Thanks to this help, poor families could also get their daughters married.
The income of all these societies, like the income of Hachnasat Orchim came mostly from the dues of their members. A paid collector every Thursday or Friday collected these dues. There were also collections at weddings and in bowls left in prayer houses on Yom Kipper eve and on Purim, and various donations.
All of the activists in these societies (they were called Gabaim collectors) were usually collectors for two or three societies. The collectors were: Kalman Arpa (called Kalman Yakiryehs), Yechezkel (Haskell) Baszkes, Mendel Gorlitz (Lipszyc), Nachman Horowitz, Akivia Lanenter, Benyamin Sobol, Yaakov Skornik, Avraham Fryd (Yerushalmi), Yaakov Shimon Rosenfeld, and others.
Women were also members of these societies. The women were especially active in the Linat HaTzedek and Hachnasat Kala Societies. These lady activists (they were called Gabates female collectors) were: Esther Baniet (Licht), Rachel Abbas (Weisgal), Rachel (Di Shochetke ritual slaughterer's wife) Bergson, Rellah Baszkes, Tovah Leah Migdal, Tzirel Lippies Naselski, Rosa Dina Klin, Rivkaia Tunbol, Yetta Sochaczewski, Sarah Grossman, and others.
3. Women's Association
The Women's Association (Froien Farein) was founded in Sierpc before the First World War. Its purpose was to provide help to the poor and sick, and to the weak and failing. The activists in the Women's Association were not called gabates. They belonged to a younger generation, and their aid society had a more modern character. The committee members of the Association were: Sarah Bluman, Leah Bergson, Rachel Zwikelski, Tzirel Lerer, Devorah Malkah Malewanczyk, Hinda Kotcholak, and others. The committee meetings were held in the house of the Bergson (Yisachar) family.
The Women's Association was also active after the First World War. The committee members after the war were: Hana Atlas, Nasha Groda, Hinda Cohen (Rosen), Mindel Lipka, Hanna Frydman, and others.
4. Maot Hittin
The help called maot hittin [small coins] or kimchee DePascha [flour of Passover] that was given to families had a special character. It was seasonal, taking place once a year. Those that took part in this mitzvah were the most respected people in town. When the season for baking matzos approached, a few pairs of these respected people would visit the wealthy and the well to do, and collect money for matzos to be distributed to the poor. A similar undertaking was the distribution of wood, peat, and potatoes to poor families.
The participants in these undertakings were: Shmuel Asher Ostaszewer, Yosef Appelbaum, Avraham Chayim Graniewicz, Nachman Horowitz, Binem Wajsmel, Hershel Motil, Yehuda Baruch Skornik, Zalman Frydman (who was called Zalman Berias), Elia Czarnoczapka, Yosef Karpa, and others.
In addition to the money they collected in town, they also collected money for maot hittin from Jewish farms and manors near the town. These donations were especially significant at the beginning of the winter, when they were wood, peat, and potatoes.
The following are the names of some Jewish farm and manor owners near Sierpc: Bauman, Yehoshua Verona, Leib Yitzhak Szampan, (the three of them were killed by the Bolsheviks in the Russo-Polish War of 1920), Lavondzh, Mendel Lenczner, and others. Many praised the generosity of the sharia (landowner) Lavondzh. His property was in the town limits of Rypin, and of course he paid the Rypin community taxes and gave them donations, but he gave freely to the Sierpc community as well.
5. Beit Lehem
A new aid society called Beit Lehem [Bread House] was founded in Sierpc in the years before the Second World War, when the economic conditions of the Jews became worse and the numbers of the poor and unemployed increased. The members of the society would go in pairs from door to door, baskets in hand, and collect any food that was given to them: bread, challahs, fish, meat, potatoes, and the like, and give it to the poor. They would send meals to the homes of respectable townspeople who had become poor.
The main activist in the Beit Lehem society was Haskell (Yechezkel) Baszkes. He would invite others, pair them off, and send them to different areas for collection. His wife Rellah helped him in distributing the food portions.
6. Soup Kitchen
The first two years of the German occupation of Poland in the First World War were a very bad time economically for the Jews of Poland. The world was closed to them, and travel was limited. Most of the merchandise and crops were confiscated, and life came to a halt. If existence was still possible in the towns, because of their proximity to villages and farms and possibilities for surreptitious trading with the farmers, the large cities were impossible, with many starving for bread. Many people left the cities and settled in towns. Large numbers of poor people, men, women, and children, wandered between cities and towns, looking for a slice of bread and a warm meal.
During this period, about 1916, a soup kitchen opened in Sierpc. It served midday meals to the poor of the town and to the wandering poor at a cheap, token price. The income for this soup kitchen, besides the token payments for meals, came from monthly payments of townspeople and support from the community.
The soup kitchen was at first on the Vloki (Vlikes) Street on the road to Drobin (Drubnin), in the house of Sheiar (a Pole). Later, it was at the start of Plotzki Street, in the house of Moshe Elsztejn (later, the Lipszyc house, Maniamchevka).
Most of the members of the soup kitchen committee came from the intelligentsia of the Sierpc youth: Mendel Blum, David Bergson, Shmuel Glazer, Elia Rzeszotka, Zalman Yakobovitch, Chaska Lubaszka, Mindel Liebson, Selka Malewanczyk, Yechezkel Stari (Hatzak from the village Roshtchashovo), Andzha (Hana) Cipris, Zelig Rosen, Hinda Szampan, and Matilda Szerpherz.
The soup kitchen lasted for about two years. In the meantime, conditions changed. Life under the occupation became more orderly, trade (illegal, for the most part) and work developed, there were fewer waves of paupers, and so the soup kitchen closed.
7. Soup Kitchen for Children
At the end of the First World War, there was a great economic distress in newly independent Poland. The country, which had been impoverished by the German occupation for almost four years, battled Ukrainian gangs. A war broke out between Poland and Bolshevik Russia, which proved to be a great burden for the country and increased the suffering of its citizens.
In addition to the economic distress, an extreme anti-Semitic atmosphere was prevalent, that led to anti-Semitic outbursts in many cities. There were pogroms in some of them (Lwow, Pinsk, Kaltz, and others) that cost Jews their lives and much property.
The Joint ]American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee[, organized by American Jews during the war to help Jews affected by the war, started its large scale activities and sent help in terms of money, food, and clothing to the Jews of Eastern Europe. Thanks to this help, soup kitchens for children were opened all over Poland.
Such a soup kitchen was also opened in Sierpc, where children would get a midday meal for 10 pennies (the Polish coin was then called mark). About 50 children, (with the poorest parents) received their meals free of charge. In addition to the meal, each child received some cans of condensed milk every month. The soup kitchen was in the yard of Elsztejn's house. This soup kitchen was in place in the years 1920-1921.
The committee of the children's soup kitchen consisted of: Rivkah Gotlibowski, Leib Hiller (a dentist), Tzirel Lerer, Meir Malin, and others. In addition to the committee, a number of young ladies volunteered to come and serve the meals. The manager of the kitchen was Henyah Weingarten.
The report of the Joint representative for the Plotzki district from November 1920, states: Sierpc has the following institutions: a kitchen for the needy, where 300 children receive their midday meal.
8. Supporters of Talmud Torah
A letter of 5 April 1939, from the Aid Committee in Sierpc to the Relief Committee of Sierpcer in America, states that Sierpc has a supporters of Talmud Torah society. Its goals are to support the students of Talmud Torah. The society gives breakfast rolls and milk every day during the winter to the students. The society distributes clothes and shoes to the students before the onset of winter.
Hershel Motil was the chairman of the society.
9. Nutrition Committees
The above letter also mentions nutrition committees that were auxiliaries of the Tarbuth School and the Government School for Jewish Children.
The letter states: The money for children's nutrition is collected by Supporters of Talmud Torah and the nutrition committees from monthly dues paid by the supporters of these schools. In addition, Supporters of Talmud Torah receives backing from the community. The other two committees are supported by the Tuz Society (Towarszystwo Ochrony Zdrowia Society for Preserving Health).
Nutrition for the children of the Tarbuth School was organized by the Women's Zionist Organization WIZO. The members would collect monthly donations of twenty pennies from each family. The WIZO members also prepared the meals, and came to the school every morning in pairs, in turn, to prepare the meals.
10. Aid Committee
The Aid Committee of Sierpc was formed at the initiative of Sierpc townspeople in America in 1937. Its purpose was the support of middle class Jews in Sierpc small shopkeepers, craftsmen, etc. These were foundering because of the anti-Semitic atmosphere and the anti-Semitic actions of the Polish population. There were also the various legal limitations and heavy taxes that were put in place by the Polish government, the purpose of which was to wreck the economic status of Polish Jews.
There were two avenues of support: small sums to families whose situation had deteriorated to the point where they were hungry (this did not include paupers who begged from door to door, who were not supported by the committee); and support with larger sums (which were also small, 30 to 40 zloty) of families who had some chance of rescue from their dire state.
After a while, a third, more constructive avenue was added, support by giving loans. Specific amounts were received from the Relief Committee in America and given to the Aid Committee for transfer to the Beneficial Fund.
The Sierpcer Relief Committee in America had representatives of four organizations: a) Sierpcer Young Men; b) Sierpcer Ladies Auxiliary; c) Sierpcer Beneficial Fund; and d) Sierpcer Branch 42 A.N.A.P. (Sierpc Branch 42 of Yiddish Natzionale Arbiter Farband Jewish National Workers' Association.)
The members of the Aid Committee were Avraham Valuka chairman, Ber Charka secretary, Baruch Atlas, Baruch Mendel Gotlibowski, Moshe Gutsztat, Meir Rzeszotka, Hershel Motil, Binyamin Eliezer Sobol, Pesach Skornik, Eliyahu Meir Schleifer, and Yitzhak David Sznitzer.
I. Religious Leaders and Institutions
We have already presented a special chapter that relates all we have managed to find about the history of the Sierpc rabbinate. Below we will present just a list of those who served as rabbis of the town, with a few biographical details.
Rabbi Meirel Dabash
Rabbi Meirel Dabash is the first rabbi of Sierpc that we know about. He was called Dabash because it is an acronym in Hebrew for the three towns Drobin, Biezun, Sheps which he served simultaneously as rabbi. He was also a rebbe [leader of a Hasidic sect] of Hasidim. He was rabbi of Sierpc in the years 1790 to 1812 (approximate). He died in Sierpc.
Rabbi Schrage Feibl Danziger
He was called Rabbi Fibili Gritzer, and was the father of the first Rabbi of Alexander, Rabbi Yechiel. He was a rabbi in Sierpc, Gombin, Gritze, and Makowa, where he died. He was rabbi of Sierpc in the years 1815 to 1820 (approximate).
He was called Rabbi Avrahamel Charif. He was from Plonsk, where he taught Torah. He was rabbi of Sierpc in the years 1820 to 1830 (approximate).
Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib Zilberberg
He was a rabbi in the towns of Kvuhal, Sierpc, Dobre, Lask, and Kutno. He made aliyah to Jerusalem in the year 5617 (1857). He was among the greatest of the wise men there, and died eight years later. He was rabbi of Sierpc in the years 1830 to 1840 (approximate).
Rabbi Mordechai Grinbaum
He was the grandfather of Yitzhak Grinbaum, and became rabbi of Sierpc in the year 5601 (1841). Before that, he was the rabbi in Nieshtat. He died in Sierpc on 15 Heshvon 5619 (1858).
Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal
He was the son-in-law of Rabbi Mordechai Grinbaum. Two days after the death of his father-in-law, on 17 Heshvon 5619 (1858), he was appointed as rabbi of the mitnagdim group by an Enlightenment group called Kolhekot. Previously he was the rabbi in the village of Kodzborg. He died in Sierpc.
He was elected by the community to be the rabbi of Sierpc after the Kolhekot appointed Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal as its rabbi. Previously he was the rabbi of the town of Zuromin. He served as rabbi of Sierpc in the years 5619-5624 (1859-1864).
Rabbi Yehoshua Segal
He was the son of Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal, and was appointed by the Kolhekot to take his father's place after his death. He left Sierpc for America In about the year 5644 (1884), and became a rabbi in Newark in the synagogue Chevra Tehilim Anshel Vishkova. He migrated to Jerusalem, but because of illness, was forced to return to Newark, where he passed away. The Kolhekot disbanded when Rabbi Yehoshua Segal left Sierpc.
Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak
He was a rabbi in the towns of Kikol, Szreńsk, Poddębice, and Ostrołęka. In the year 5626 (1865), he was appointed as rabbi of Sierpc. He served in that position for 53 years, and passed away on 21 Shevat 5678 (3 February 1918), at the age of 88.
The Teacher Rabbi David Klajnman
He was called David Chaver (Our Friend David). He started to give rulings on matters of kashrut and treife, and what is permitted and forbidden, in the last years of Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak's life. He kept on with this work during the time of Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel Goldschlak's service as well.
Rabbi Yehoshua Popowski
He was the son-in-law (from Nieshtat) of Rabbi David Klajnman. When his father-in-law became old, he took his place, and continued after his death. Rabbi Yehoshua did not get an official appointment as a teacher in Sierpc (nor did he receive a salary).
Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldschlak
He was the grandson of Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak. He was elected rabbi of Sierpc in 1922, and started serving in that position in the month of Av 5683 (1923). He was the rabbi in the town of Przedecz prior to that. Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldschlak was the last rabbi of Sierpc. He was expelled from the town together with all the Jews of Sierpc by the bloodthirsty wild German animals, and perished.
2. Cantors (Hazan)
Reb Natan Meir
The earliest cantor in Sierpc that we know of is the cantor and shochet (ritual slaughterer) Reb Natan Meir ben Yona, who sang in the sacred places of our town in the 1860s.
Reb Lazer Moshe Smolinski
He was the cantor and shochet in Sierpc after the death of Reb Natan Meir. (He was the grandfather of our townsman, Moshe Smolinski.) Before he came to Sierpc, Reb Lazer Moshe was cantor and shochet in Plonsk (Plinsk) and Grajewo. When he was appointed to serve in Sierpc (the exact year is unknown), it had no synagogue (the previous synagogue had burned down) and Reb Lazer Moshe prayed in the old Beit Midrash. After a synagogue was built (in about 1895) he prayed there.
When Reb Lazer Moshe Smolinski came to Sierpc, he lived on Zhava (Zhavia) Street, in the house of Binyamin Sobol. Later he lived on the Jewish Street, near the bridge, in the house of Yisraeltia Liebson (the father of Meiria and Naftali Liebson) which was later the house of Minchin. The cantor Reb Lazer Moshe Smolinski died in 1905 (approximate).
Reb Daniel Shikas
After the death of the cantor Reb Lazer Moshe Smolinski, Reb Daniel Shikas became cantor and shochet. He came to our town in 1907 (approximate) from the town Nowa Wilejk, near Vilnius, where he was a cantor and shochet. He lived on the Jewish Street in the Kamnitza (the large walled house).
Reb Daniel Shikas performed the sacred tasks of cantor and shochet in Sierpc until the destruction of the community of Sierpc and its Jews.
3. Ritual Slaughterers
The earliest shochet (ritual slaughterer) in Sierpc that we know of is Reb Yosef Gatzal (who was called Reb Yoselitia, and was my mother's grandfather). He was a shochet in our town in the 1860s. When he became old, Reb Yoselitia stopped being a shochet and became the first caretaker of the new synagogue, which was built in about 1896. He passed away in the mid-1890s.
Reb Chayim Bergson
Reb Chayim Bergson (who was called Reb Chayim Shochet) came to Sierpc as a shochet in about 1885, to take the place of Reb Yoselitia. He came from Ostrołęka, where he also served as a shochet. In about 1890, Reb Chayim shochet was removed as ritual slaughterer because of a plot against him.
Reb Ischia Yossel Hanchovitch
Reb Ischia Yossel Hanchovitch was appointed as a shochet in Sierpc at the start of the 1890s, in place of Reb Chayim shochet. Reb Ischia Yossel came to Sierpc from Gustinin, where he had been a shochet. He left Sierpc in 1910 or 1911 when he became the shochet in Kalisz.
Reb Yekel Ritzik
Reb Yekel Ritzik (who was called Reb Yekel Shochet) became a ritual slaughterer in Sierpc in 1912, in place of Reb Ischia Yossel. He came from the town of Sochocin, where he was the shochet. He passed away in 1919, along with others, as a result of the typhus epidemic that was raging then. He was 38 years old.
Reb Yossel Ajzensztadt
Reb Yossel Ajzensztadt (also called Reb Yossel Shochet) came to Sierpc as the ritual slaughterer in 1917, taking the place of Reb Yekel shochet. He came to Sierpc from the town of Czerwinsk, where he was the shochet. He performed his sacred tasks in Sierpc until the destruction of the community and the expulsion of its Jews.
Reb Avraham Burgand
Reb Avraham Burgand (called Reb Avraham Shochet) was at first the ritual slaughterer for the Kolhekot. After the breakup of the Kolhekot (in the first half of the 1880s), Reb Avraham was appointed shochet in the village Skoilna. When after a few years it was necessary to find a new shochet for Sierpc, and he applied for the job, he ran into fierce resistance from the Gur Hasidim, who reminded him of his youthful sin, when he was the Kolhekot ritual slaughterer. But Reb Avraham Shochet's backers would not yield, and the matter was brought to arbitration by rabbis from the vicinity. The arbitrators came up with a compromise decision. Reb Avraham shochet would be accepted as a slaughterer for fowl only. So that for all the time that he was a shochet, he would deal only with birds.
When he became older, Reb Avraham shochet stopped being a ritual slaughterer and lived off the pension that he received from the community. When he was in his old age and full of years, he was expelled with all the Jews of Sierpc by the evil Nazis in the Holocaust.
Reb Shimon Petrikus
Reb Shimon Petrikus, from Drobin, the son-in-law of Reb Avraham shochet took his father-in-law's place when he retired. During the time of the Holocaust, Reb Shimon Petrikus was the shochet in the Sierpc ghetto. (Ritual slaughter was forbidden, and it was performed in secret.)
Ritual Slaughterers in the Region of Sierpc
In early days, when a good number of Jews lived in villages, there was a special kind of shochet: village shochet. He was responsible for a few villages, and would visit them by cart or by foot. He would come once a week, and lived in the largest village in the area, or in a nearby town.
The ritual slaughterers in the Region of Sierpc (called Gulil Sheps), composed of villages that belonged to the Jewish Community of Sierpc, were:
Reb Mordecai Yitzhak Karpa (my maternal grandfather) served at the beginning of the 1870s, before he became a ritual slaughterer and inspector in Zuromin.
Reb Avraham Tatz (father of Shmuel Yitzhak and Mendel Tatz). He served in the 1880s.
At the end of these paragraphs on shochatim, it is only proper to mention that the cantors also served as ritual slaughterers.
4. Prayer Houses
The Old Beit Midrash
The old Beit Midrash was the oldest prayer house in Sierpc. Unfortunately, we have not been able to determine when it was built. It was a popular prayer house in the full meaning of the words. The whole town would pray there during weekdays: Mitnagdim and Hasidim; simple Jews, scholars and learned men; rich and poor; young and old. They would pray in many minyans, one after another. The sound of the Torah emanated from this Beit Midrash for many hours every day, coming from both young men and mature worshippers, who arranged for sessions of the Torah.
The managers of the old Beit Midrash, at different times, were Avraham Yitzhak (called Itzik) Ostaszewer, Israel Barko, Yitzhak Graubart, Yaakov (called Yokev) Gorlitz, Yosef Vasolak, Moshe Vasolak, Shmuel Yitzhak Tatz, Michal Turkltaub, Akivia Lanenter, Binyamin Sobol, Yaakov Skornik (called Yekel Shtrikmacher rope maker), Yosef Pindek, Baruch Kanenbrand, Hersh Moshe Kanenbrand, Shlomo Richgut (called Shlomo Chayayes, from his mother's name, Chaya), and others.
The prayer leaders in the old Beit Midrash during the ten High Holy Days were Yaakov Lemel Esikmacher (father-in-law of Meir Oved Balt), Yosef Divan (did not leave any sons in Sierpc), Israel Chayim Yeshaievitch, Yisraeltia Liebson (father of Meiria and Naftali Liebson), Lipaia Naselski (the first Slichot, the special prayers recited in the weeks before the High Holy Days), Yaakov Skornik, Yechezkel Czarnoczapka (called Haskell Rieveshes son of Reuben; Yechezkel was the father of Dudia Czarnoczapka), Israel Karpa and others. All of the ritual slaughterers, each in his time, were prayer leaders in the old Beit Midrash during the High Holy Days. Before the synagogue was built in about 1895, the cantor Lazer (Eliezer) Moshe Smolinski prayed regularly in the old Beit Midrash.
The readers of the Torah in the old Beit Midrash were: Simchaia Licht (father-in-law of Yehoshua Goldman), Dudia Czarnoczapka, Israel Karpa (now in Uruguay), Yossel shochet (Ajzensztadt), and others.
The blowers of the shofar (ram's horn on the High Holy Days) in the old Beit Midrash were: Simchaia Licht, Leibl Licht, Yossel shochet, the leaseholder of the mikve Moshe Hendlisz (from Gombin), and others.
The caretakers of the old Beit Midrash were: Matityahu (Mattes) Bornstein (until the synagogue was built), Shaul (Shoal) Karpa (the father of Mendel, Yitzhak, and Rivkah Karpa), Moshe Cohen (called Der Blinder Moishe Blind Moshe, who was blind in one eye, and died during the First World War), and the last caretaker, Israel Karp (came to Sierpc from Warsaw during the First World War; he was not related to the Karpa families in Sierpc). He served as caretaker of the old Beit Midrash as long as it served the Jews of Sierpc, and in one day the day of the expulsion - both of them completed their labors.
The New Beit Midrash
The new Beit Midrash was built in about 1886 (prior to that, there were a number of fixed minyans in various places. The worshippers in the new Beit Midrash were mainly survivors of the Kolhekot, Enlightened Jews, and Hovevei Tzion. There were few non-regular worshippers at this Beit Midrash and the students here were also from among the ranks of the regular worshippers.
The managers of the new Beit Midrash in various eras were: Eliezer Garfinkel (an attorney), Yitzhak Grappa, Nachman Horowitz, Avrahamia Valuka, Eliezer Vasolak (father-in-law of Avraham Yerushalmi), Leibl Malewanczyk, Azrieltia Podskocz, Kalman Fenster (father-in-law of Wolf Chazen), Metis (Matityahu) Prasnyski, Nachum Konitz, Leib Shvitzer, and others.
The prayer leaders in the new Beit Midrash during the High Holy Days were: Kalman Arpa (called Kalman Yakiryehs), Yosef Gatzal (called Reb Yoselitia the caretaker), Ephraim Yosef Valuka, his son Avrahamia Valuka, Baruchia Rzeszotka (the caretaker), Mendel Mai, Binyamin Marantz, and others. The ritual slaughterers, each in his time, were also prayer leaders during the High Holy Days in the new Beit Midrash.
The Torah readers at the new Beit Midrash were: Binem Gallant (the caretaker), Baruchia Rzeszotka (the caretaker), Azrieltia Podskocz, Yitzhak Charka, Leibush Rozenberg (the caretaker), and others.
The blowers of the shofar at the new Beit Midrash were: Menachem Bojmwol, Ephraim Yosef Valuka, Yitzhak Charka, Leibush Rozenberg (the caretaker), and others.
The caretakers who served at the new Beit Midrash were: Yosef Gatzal (Reb Yoselitia, the former shochet, who became caretaker in his old age), the first caretaker of the new Beit Midrash was Abba Hirsch Pomper (from Raciaz, called leiferieh the runner, later immigrated to America), Baruchia Rzeszotka, Leibush Rozenberg, and Binem Gallant (from Mlawa, called Binem Malach because of his father-in-law Chayim Yosef Gorlitz who was called Der Hoicher Malach –Tall Angel), the last caretaker in this post, until the Jews were expelled from the town of their birth.
The synagogue was built in about 1895, in the same location as the previous synagogue that burned down. (Unfortunately, we have not been able to determine the year of the fire.) Most of the worshippers at the synagogue were petite bourgeoisie. In later times, the worshippers were the generation of young Zionists and the young intelligentsia (who came to the synagogue only on holidays).
The managers of the synagogue in different eras were: Kalman Blum, Tzadok Bluman, Yaakov (Yokev) Valuka, Ischia Meir Motil, Zvi Malewanczyk, Meir Cipris, Yechezkel Kadecka (who was called Yehezkel Pasternak), and others.
The prayer leaders in the synagogue during the High Holy Days were the cantor, Yaakov Valuka, Yehezkel Kadecka, Israel Karpa, and others. The ritual slaughters, each in his time, were also prayer leaders during the Days of Awe in the synagogue.
The readers of the Torah were: Shimon Gelbard (the caretaker), Avraham Yitzhak Grodka, Baruchia Rzeszotka, Mordecai Hersh Mintz, Israel Karpa, Yitzhak Charka (the caretaker), and others.
The blowers of the shofar in the synagogue were Mordecai Hersh Mintz, Yitzhak Charka (the caretaker), and others.
The caretakers who served in the synagogue were: Matityahu (Mattes) Bornstein the first caretaker, Mordechai David Turkltaub, Shimon Gelbard, and Yitzhak Charka the last caretaker to serve the synagogue and its worshippers until it was burned down by the accursed Nazis.
Houses of the Hasidim (Shtibls)
There were four Houses of Hasidim (Shtibls) in Sierpc, and these were:
The Gur Shtibl
The managers of the Gur shtibl at different times were: Eliyahu Glazer, Moshe Grossman (son-in-law of Hanach Czarnobroda), Shimon Zapel, Mendel Melech Tajtelbaum, Ahron Lipka, Zalman Frydman (called Zalma Bariyes), Ischia Meir Rosek, and others.
The prayer leaders in the Gur shtibl during the High Holy Days were Avraham Ahron Burstein (the starting prayer leader), David Noach Zilberberg, Mendel Melech Tajtelbaum, Lipaia Naselski, Yossel Pukacz, Yossel Sznitzer, and others.
The Torah readers were Zalman Frydman, and others.
The shofar blowers in the Gur shtibl were Zalman Frydman, Yossel Sznitzer, and others.
Michal (son of Chayim) Sendrowicz took care of mending the holy books.
For a number of years there was a second Gur shtibl called the Rich Gur shtibl (S'Reicher Gurer Shtibll). The wealthier Gur Hasidim prayed in this shtibl; they were more progressive than the others, and most of them lived in the new market and its vicinity. It was on Zhava Street, in the yard of the house of Ezriel Yehuda Kotcholak. Later, it was in the house of Zalman Frydman, on the small street near the new market. The Rich Gur shtibl existed during the years 1912-1916 (approximately).
The Alexander Shtibl
The managers of the Alexander shtibl at different times, were: Yechiel Gallant (from Lodz, son-in-law of Beinam Wajsmel), Mendel Gorlitz (Lipszyc), Moshe Lidzbarski, Berish Sosnowska, Yehuda Baruch Skornik, Israel Karpa, Avraham shochet (Burgand), Eliyahu Meir Schleifer, and others.
The prayer leaders in the Alexander shtibl during the High Holy Days were: The First Slichot Avraham shochet, the starting prayer leader Mendel Lenczner, Morning Prayer Yakir Dobroszklanka, and later Wolf Nazemski, Midday Prayer Yaakov Meiria Kolas, Kol Nidre - Yakir Dobroszklanka, Closing Prayer Binyamin Szerpherz.
There were younger prayer leaders in later years, and these were Ischia Ash (from Mlawa (son-in-law of Binem Sendrowicz), Yechiel Gallant, Yosef Karpa, Israel Karpa, Eliyahu Meir Schleifer, and others.
The Torah readers were: Israel Karpa, Leibush Rozenberg, and Eliyahu Meir Schleifer.
The shofar blowers in the Alexander shtibl were Mendel Lenczner, and others.
A few organizations and societies that did not have their own facilities used the Alexander shtibl for their activities; these were The Small Merchants Association, The Rescue Committee, and others.
There was a shtibl called The Second Alexander shtibl before the First World War. The worshippers in this shtibl were a number of Alexander Hasidim that had once left the original shtibl because of a dispute, a few other Hasidim, and miscellaneous worshippers. Over time, this shtibl disappeared, and its worshippers joined the Plotzk shtibl.
The managers of the Second Alexander shtibl at different times were Avraham Burstein, Issachar Bergson, Yehoshua Goldman, and others.
The prayer leaders in this shtibl during the High Holy Days were Chayim shochet (Bergson), Yehoshua Goldman, Shlomia Tatz, Chayim Ber Klochavsky, and others.
The Torah reader was Yehoshua Goldman. The shofar blower was Chayim shochet (Bergson).
The Plotzk Shtibl The managers of the Plotzk shtibl at different times were Yechiel Meir Bergson, Shmuel Mendel Licht, Issachar Skorka, and others.
The prayer leaders in this shtibl during the High Holy Days were Chayim shochet (Bergson), Yechiel Meir Bergson, Shlomo Mordechai Fogel, Berel Czarnoczapka, Chayim Ber Klochavsky, and others.
The Torah reader was Yehoshua Czarnoczapka. The shofar blower was Chayim shochet (Bergson).
In addition to fixed prayer houses, there were minyans [a minyan is the quorum of at least 10 Jewish men required for public prayer] that prayed in institutions or private dwellings. The number of minyans grew in town, especially in the years between the burning of the synagogue and construction of the new Beit Midrash (1886). During this time, except for the Hasidic shtibls there was only one fixed house of prayer, the old Beit Midrash. We will present below a short list of the minyans that existed at different times. However, we think that there were many minyans that we were not informed about, especially from the early years.
The minyan of Kolhekot: The group of Enlightened Mitnagdim that split off from the community appointed a rabbi and ritual slaughterer of their own. They prayed in a special minyan. It was located in the Kamnitza (the large, walled building on the Jewish street). The minyan existed until the new Beit Midrash was erected.
The minyan of the Psalms Society: There was a minyan of the Psalms Society in the 1880s and 1890s that prayed in the house of Avraham Hersh Lelonek (father of Ischia Meiria Lelonek), which was one of the small houses near the synagogue that were called Hornes Gitter (Horn's properties). The managers were Melech Berlinski, Avraham Hersh Lelonek, and others. The prayer leader was Hersh Leib Mai, and the Torah reader was Chayim Raphael Lipowecki (son-in-law of Wolf Ber Garber).
The minyan of the Watchmen of the Morning: The task of this minyan which existed in the 1880s and 1890s was, as its name implies, prayer in the early morning. It prayed in the house of Yehezkel Czarnoczapka (father of Dudia Czarnoczapka). The managers of the minyan were Israel Ahron Groda, Shimon David Szmiga, and others.
The minyan of Talmud Torah: During the 1890s, a Talmud Torah society took care of tuition payments of poor pupils. The minyan took place in the apartment of Moshe Mintz, one of the managers of the minyan. The income from the minyan was dedicated to the society, and its managers were the managers of the minyan.
The minyan of Hachnasat Orchim: Before the First World War, there was a minyan in the quarters of Hachnasat Orchim on mikve Street, in the house of Shmuel Szampan (called Shmuel Nagid; the same building housed the Second shtibl of Alexander). The income of the minyan was dedicated to Hachnasat Orchim. The manager of Hachnasat Orchim was the manager of the minyan.
The minyan of Mizrachi: In the first years of Mizrachi in Sierpc (founded in 1917), there was a minyan in the clubhouse of the party, in the house of Isaac Kutner, at the start of the Plotzki Street. The income from the minyan was dedicated to Keren Kayemet. The manager was Isaac Neiman.
The minyan of the Craftsmen's Association: There was a minyan of craftsmen in the 1920's in their association's quarters on the Jewish Street in the house of Luster (later, the Shvitzer house). The activists of the association were also managers of the minyan.
The minyan of Poalei Agudat Israel: In the last two years prior to the Holocaust, there was a minyan of Poalei Agudat Israel in their clubhouse in the house of Moshe Lidovarski, at the start of the Jewish Street. The party activists were also the managers of the minyan.
Only the minyan of the Kolhekot prayed every day. In the other minyans the prayers were only on the Sabbath and holidays.
The Ein Yaakov, Chayei Adam, Mishniot, Shas, and Other Societies
The Batei Midrash and Batei Hasidim (shtibls) served not only for prayer, but also for the study of Torah. In addition to the young men who studied Torah, usually in the old Beit Midrash, worshippers in all the prayer houses organized for the study of Torah. There were societies for the study of the weekly portion of Torah, with Talmudic exegesis, and societies that were named after the particular book that they studied: Ein Yaakov, Chayei Adam, Mishniot, and Shas. The members of the Ein Yaakov and Chayei Adam societies were usually simple Jews whose souls yearned for Torah, but could not study by themselves. They appointed one of the more learned as their rebbe, and he would teach them (some for compensation and others without compensation) and explain the legends in Ein Yaakov or the laws in Chayei Adam. Sometimes this would be every day, between midday and evening prayers, and sometimes once a week on the Sabbath. This way they studied both the portion of the week and the exegesis.
Jews with a higher level of learning studied in the Mishniot Society, and the participants of the Shas Society were scholars. There were two kinds of Mishniot and Shas societies. In one kind, one of the members, a recognized scholar would study in front of the members, and explain the issues to them. In the other kind, the members would divide the teaching between them; each one would study a different segment or tractate of the Mishna, and they would finish the Mishniot and Shas books together.
The rebbes that taught in these societies were: Moshe Asanter (son-in-law of Binyamin Lerer, from Mlawa, and he returned there), Yehoshua Goldman, Chayim Leib Wejs (a carter who was educated and taught Pentateuch and Rashi), Eliezer Vasolak (taught Bible and the portion of the week in the new Beit Midrash), Moshe Zomer (taught Bible in the new Beit Midrash), David Noach Zilberberg, Ephraim Zilberberg (son-in-law of Hersh Kanenbrand, from Warsaw), Yehoshua Popowski (son-in-law of David Klajnman), Shimon Petrikus, Leibl Kramarzh, Eliyahu Meir Schleifer (son-in-law of Chayim Shochet), and others. The Daily Page of the Talmud was taught in the Gur shtibl by Moshe Grossman (son-in-law of Hanach Czarnobroda), Yossel Pukacz, and others.
The Psalms Society
The purpose of the Psalms Society was not learning, but recitation of the Psalms. The society members would rise before dawn and go to the old Beit Midrash and together recite the Psalms until it was time for the Morning Prayer. They also publicly recited Psalms in the old Beit Midrash on Sabbath following the afternoon rest. The importance of the members of the Psalms Society increased on the second day of Pentecost, the day of the death of the most dulcet of the singers of Israel, King David, may he rest in peace, the composer of the book of Psalms. On this day, they felt like bridegrooms at a wedding. After the holiday feast at the end of the day, they would assemble in the old Beit Midrash, light 150 candles for the 150 verses of the Psalms, and festively recite the Psalms from beginning to end. Later, they would go to the house of the Society manager, drink wine lehaim, and eat leikach (sponge cake).
The Book Repair Society (Tikun Sfarim)
Because of the ceaseless usage of the books in the old Beit Midrash, there was a constant need to mend them, and to buy new books. This was the reason for the existence of the Book Repair Society, whose members were the young men who studied in the Beit Midrash. Every Friday, two members of the society, in turn, would go from door to door and collect money for Book Repair. One of the older members would be the manager of Book Repair. He would keep the cash box, turn in books for repair, and would buy new books.
The managers of the Book Repair Society at different times were the young men: Yosef Appelbaum, Moshe Burgand, Moshe Ber Goldman, Avraham Chayim Granewicz, Mendel Lipszyc, Yosef Pastolski (called Der Meshuguner Yossel Crazy Yossel; from Dobrzyn, a relative of Yaakov Moshe Tajtelbaum, and grew up in his house), Leibush Zelig Plato, Gedaliah Plato, and others.
6. The Mikve
The mikve (ritual bathhouse) was an important institution in every Jewish community, and also in Sierpc. The importance of the mikve from the religious standpoint is well known. However, in later years, there were repairs and improvements to the mikve in Sierpc. In the second half of the 1920s, individual cubicles were built, with a bathtub in each cubicle. The mikve then became important from a hygienic standpoint as well.
Below is a list of Lessees of the mikve (the mikve belonged to the community, and the Community Council would lease it out), starting with the 1880s.
The first lessee of the mikve that we know of was Shmuel Chanales. Chanale, Shmuel's wife, was the granddaughter of Rabbi Meirel Dabash (see the chapter on The History of the Rabbinate in Sierpc, and because of this pedigree, her husband was called by her name Shmuel Chanales.
After her husband died, Chanale took a partner into the business. The partner was Moshe Dudia Skorka (father of Hersh Skorka). After that, the mikve was leased by Shmuel Leib and his wife, Tona Yeshaievitch.
Following them, Leib Shvitzer leased the mikve. For a while, Madame Yetaia (called Yetaia Yairs daughter of Yair), the wife of Eliakim Rizh, was the ritual immerser (tikern). Because of this, the Rizh family lived in an apartment above the mikve, together with the Shvitzer family.
From 1935 until the destruction of the mikve, together with those who were purified and bathed in it, Moshe Hendlisz (brother-in-law of Moshe Lidovarski) from Gombin leased the mikve.
7. Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society)
The most ancient society, and the oldest of the societies, the one that leads the societies and observes their end, the first society of the diaspora, the source for the organization of the communities, the society that destroys all societies and expands the cemeteries that is Chevra Kadisha.
Chevra Kadisha is a society of grievous significance, segmented into old (the senior and distinguished) and the young (new and neophyte). A society with unpleasant tasks, performing the last rite, called the true charity, for a human being, preparing and transporting him on his last journey, on the way to his final resting place.
The members of Chevra Kadisha were from all walks of life, Hasidim and Mitnagdim, scholars and simple Jews, merchants and craftsmen, rich and poor.
The managers of Chevra Kadisha at different times were: Yokev (Yaakov) Graubart (father of Yitzhak Graubart), Zalman Garlitz (called Zalman Farber Zalman the Painter), the father of Chayim Yosef, called der Hoicher Malach, the Tall Angel, and of Yokev Garlitz, both of whom were managers in the 1880s, Mendel Gurfinkel, Eliyahu Glazer, Yokev (Yaakov) Gorlitz, Mendel Gorlitz (Lipszyc), Binem Wajsmel, Baruchia Rzeszotka, Yaakov Moshe Tajtelbaum, his son Mendel Melech Tajtelbaum, Michal Turkltaub, his son Mordechai David Turkltaub, Israel Chayim Yeshaievitch, Yaakov Hersh Yeshaievitch, Lipaia Naselski, Yehuda Baruch Skornik, Yossel Pukacz, Zalman Frydman (called Zalman Berias after his father-in-law in the town of Oberfeld), Meir Cipris, Yehezkel Kadecka (called Yehezkel Pasternak), Moshe Natan Klin, Eliakim Rizh, and others.
The Chevra Kadisha also had women members. They would sew the shrouds of all the deceased and also take care of the female departed. The same women who were active in charities that we mentioned previously were also the members of Chevra Kadisha (Chevra Kadisha Veiber). They were: Esther Baniet (wife of Simchaia Licht and mother-in-law of Yehoshua Goldman), Rachel Abbas (wife of Abba Weisgal and mother of Krusa Licht), Rachel who was called di Shochetke (wife of Chayim shochet (Bergson), Rellah (wife of Haskell Baszkes), Sara Grossman (wife of Moshe Grossman), Rivkaia (wife of Chayim Nachum Tunbol), Tovah Lea (wife of Mordechai Asher Migdal), Tzirel Lipias (wife of Lipa Naselski), Yetta (wife of David Sochaczewski), Roize Dina (wife of Zalman Klein), Sheina Blimah Karpa, and others.
Avraham Mlawa founded a new Chevra Kadisha at the beginning of the 1930s, in order to combat the discrimination of the old society, which assigned graves in one section of the cemetery to the distinguished and in another section to the less distinguished. The purpose of the new society was to bury the dead, next to each other, in the order of their passing, without consideration of their position in society.
The manager of the new Chevra Kadisha was Meir Rzeszotka (called Meir Baruchias son of Baruchia). The new Chevra Kadisha buried only a few deceased, because it lasted only a short time.
8. The Cemetery
The House of Life, The House of the World, The house of Eternity, Graveyard this institution has many different names, many pleasant and pretty for the unique institution that concludes and ends, the house of eternity for all the living. It was behind the synagogue and the town, between them and the river, the cemetery was a gathering ground. It gathered all those who had finished their service to the town.
The cemetery was two cemeteries an old and a new. The old cemetery was the resting place for the early generations of the Jews of Sierpc, and among them saints and sages. The Jews of the town would drop small notes (pitkaot) on their grave sites and request long life and plentiful sustenance and aid from heaven and a healthy body with shining light and seed that is alive and hearty. In the new cemetery, the last generations lie in eternal sleep, fathers with sons. For many generations, over hundreds of years, hundreds and thousands of Jews from the town lay there: men, women, and children; young men and maidens, old men and youths, a great multitude, a complete city! That is how it always was, and how it will be all were sure of this, until the end of time.
And yet, there was a great and terrible storm, the like of which was unknown since man's foot trod on the earth. It hurled the sons from the town it destroyed most of them, and scattered the rest over the seven seas. The storm also ruined the dwellings of the town, also its prayer houses and its institutions. It exploded the wood and stone and ground them into a fine dust. There was no stone left upon stone, and no memory and no memorial in that place. Ruin and destruction everywhere, devastation and wilderness.
Thus was a venerable Jewish town exterminated and annihilated to its very foundations, with its fathers and sons, with the living and the dead and with the heart of its institutions, the cemetery.
Yit'gadal v'yit'kadash sh'mom may their names be exalted and sanctified.
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