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{285}

Figures and Characters

Frejman Hirsch (Shalom Tzvi Frejdman)

Yaakov Frejdman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

A.

The name Frejman Hirsch, as people in Sochaczew called him, has a strange resonance. A name that resembles the family name (his name was really Hirsch Frejdman), as indeed Frejman Hirsch was himself so rare.

Externally, he was very ordinary. He was of average height, with a pious face and a small, pointed noise, with a grayish white beard. He was an Amshinover (Myszynow) Hassid.

In a grocery store that had a strange outward appearance, Frejman Hirsch sold, aside from groceries, pharmaceutical items and various “grandmotherly” medicines and herbs for various illnesses. Gentiles would gather these for him in their fields. He himself would also drink of them. Once someone saw a weeping woman running, with broken hands, into Frejman Hirsch's store, asking that he should mercifully give her a cure. Frejman Hirsch took out ingredients from his stuffed jars, and mixed up medicines with each other.

And what was Frejman Hirsch not? He was a prayer leader, a mohel (circumcisor), a gabbai (trustee) of the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society), a chief activist, a shofar blower – and all of these “positions” were not outward positions and ordinary positions, but rather it was as if he was born into them…

He was the mohel of the city for forty some years, for the rich and the poor. Nothing held him back from going out to circumcise a child. He would leave his business. There might have been a snow or a frost, a storm or a rainfall – but the city mohel went to do the mitzvah.

Frejman Hirsch was not a special cantor. He served for decades as the prayer leader for Shacharit [1] in the synagogue and the Beis Midrash. He gladly held both positions, especially on the High Holy Days. He divided them up as follows: On the first day, he led Shacharit and blew the shofar in the synagogue – and lead Musaf in the Beis Midrash. On the second day, he did the opposite. He was also the city visitor [2]. Summer and winter, day and night, they would call him and he would come.

He became very busy when someone died in the city, when Moshe Aharon Shulklapper gave two knocks on the doors with his wooden hammer as a sign that someone has died in the city. Then Frejman Hirsch's work began. As the gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha he went out to the cemetery to designate the gravesite, and right after that he became the chief of those who occupy themselves with the deceased. When everything was ready, he performed the tahara [3] along with the other members of the Chevra Kadisha, and after that he laid the deceased into the grave. Who continues to talk when a city resident came in carrying a deceased person, or when there was indeed a met mitzvah [4] in the city?

As people used to relate, he had a dream one dark night that someone knocked on his window and informed him that a met mitzvah was lying on the Borisower Street. He sprung up out of bed, got dressed, lit his lantern, and set out directly for Borisower Street. Suddenly he noticed that there was somebody else going about with a lantern. That person was also a member of the Chevra Kadisha and had the same dream. They decided to look for him, and found him on the bridge of Borisower Street. Frejman Hirsch was the first to arrive on the bridge and find the corpse. He waited for the second to come, and both of them carried the corpse on their shoulders and brought it to the tahara room of the cemetery…

Frejman Hirsch stood out from all of the Chevra Kadisha members in that he did not enjoy “the cup” [5]. He was not a “drinking” gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha. Even on the 7th of Adar, the celebration day of the Chevra Kadisha, he did not drink a great deal of strong drink. He only did so on Sabbaths and Festivals after the fish [6] His greatest pleasure was on Simchat Torah, when as gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha, he distributed red apples with candles to all of the children for their flags [7]. At that time, hundreds of children would come to him. He did not get tired during the distribution, and he himself took part in the children's joy. For him, that was the reward for his dedicated work…

Popularity was the central foundation of Frejman Hirsch's activities. Indeed, as the ideal popular activist, he never became involved in controversies. However, he once did become entwined in a dispute, and it was actually with the Sochaczewer court [8]. The story goes as follows:

{Photo page 287: Reb Mendel Frejdman with his children.}

The Zionist prayer group (minyan), that was held in Shmuel Nelson's house, wrote a Torah scroll. Frejman Hirsch was invited to come to the completion ceremony of the Torah scroll. Hirsch Frejman and his son Mendel did not decline to purchase a letter. They went to rejoice with the Torah along with all of the local Zionists and other Jews of the city. When they arrived home, a shekel [9] could be found in their wallets…

The incident of the shekel came to the Rebbe's court, and they could not forgive Frejdman Hirsch for his sin of the “shekel” [10]. When, as was the custom of the gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha, he went to the Rebbe's court each year on Simchat Torah to bring cake, red apples and very large twisted candles that were specially ordered from Warsaw, the members of the court did not permit Frejman Hirsch and his family to sit down at the table; so it was that in return for his faithfulness and honor to the elder Reb Avrahamele, he received a great reprimand from the court.

The silent controversy between the court and Frejman Hirsch lasted for years. The court asked his forgiveness when a relative of the court died and they had to come to the Chevra Kadisha to bury him. The negotiations lasted for three days, and thanks to the festival that took place in the interim, the matter ended.

He left behind a will that the sack that is laid under his head in the grave should, instead of earth, be filled with his receipts that he collected throughout all of the years from various Yeshivas and other charities, including Yeshivas from the Land of Israel; and that his circumcision knife and the small shofar that he blew every year should be placed near his head. The will was fulfilled. The entire Jewish population took part in his funeral, old and young, including children. The casket was placed in front of the Holy Ark, and the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Landau, eulogized him.

Such were the old time populist activists, dedicated with life and soul.


TRANSLATOR'S FOOTNOTES

  1. Shacharit is the daily morning prayer, and the first part of the prayer service on Sabbaths and festivals (when the Musaf service is added on afterwards). Here it refers to the elongated, complex, High Holy Day prayers. Return
  2. I suspect that it means here the visitor of the sick. Return
  3. This refers to the ritual purification and washing ceremony (tahara) that takes place with a corpse before it is placed in the casket for burial. Return
  4. A met mitzvah (literally, a deceased person of a commandment) refers to a dead person who leaves behind no relatives or friends who would occupy themselves with the burial. In such a case, it is a commandment for the community to drop everything and arrange for the burial. Return
  5. I.e. an alcoholic drink. In many places, it was a custom for the Chevra Kadisha members to wish each other well with a shot of whiskey (lechayim) after conducting a tahara. Return
  6. It is customary to have a fish appetizer before a meat course on Shabbat and festivals. These are often differentiated with a drink. Return
  7. On Simchat Torah, seven circuits are made around the synagogue with all of the Torah scrolls. Children accompany these circuits with flags, and in some places these flags are decorated with apples and candles. Return
  8. The Hassidic court of the Sochaczewer Rebbe. Return
  9. A shekel is an ancient Jewish coin, as well as the currency of the State of Israel. In this context, it refers to a token of membership in the Zionist movement. Return
  10. As was standard, the Hassidic courts were opposed to the Zionist movement. Return


{292}

Reb Menashe Czemerynski

Elchanan Kac

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The rabbi of the Chevra Tehillim, Reb Menashe Czemerynski of blessed memory, was a scholar, an advisor, a Gabbai (trustee) of the Chevra Kadisha, and a “visitor” [1]. He never took any money for these activities, but rather did them only for the sake of the mitzvah. If someone was up for conscription, they would go to him for advice about what to do. If someone became ill, somebody would come to request that Reb Menashe visit the sick person. The next day, somebody would come to tell him how the sick person is feeling, and to ask him what should they give him to eat. Whatever Reb Menashe said, they did.

I studied with Reb Moshe Czemerynski before the First World War. I remember how weeping women would come to him, announcing that their husband or someone else in the family was seriously ill. They would beg him: Reb Menashele, come quickly. He scolded them, “You should not call me Reb Menashele, my name is Reb Menashe [2]”. Go say that I am coming soon. When Reb Menashe came, he listened to the sick person, administered cupping glasses [3] and ointments, and prescribed what the sick person should eat. If someone came to call him to a sick person while he was in the midst of eating, he would leave his food and go to the sick person. If someone came to call him to a sick person in the middle of the night, even if that person lived in an attic or a cellar, he went immediately. He never declined to go. During that time, he was the leader of the city, and also of the Chevra Kadisha, and the Shamashim (administrators) would come to ask him what to do. People would also come to consult with him for a religious lawsuit or adjudication. Both sides would agree to whatever Reb Menashe decided. People had only respect for whatever he would say.

There was no dying person for whom Reb Menashe was not present at the time of the departure of the soul, reciting the deathbed confession. If somebody was dying, even in the middle of the night, Reb Menashe immediately sent a Shamash (administrator) of the Chevra Kadisha to inform Reb Moshe Aharon Shulklapper [5] that the next morning at dawn, he must make two knocks on the doors. (It was a custom in our city that the Shamash, the Shulklapper, who used to knock on the doors of the homes [4] at 5:00 a.m. with three knocks. On Fridays, he did this twice, in the morning, and in the afternoon prior to candle lighting. And if somebody had died in the city, he would give two knocks. If two knocks were heard in the morning, they would ask the Shulklapper, Reb Moshe Aharon, who has died?).

Where today can we find such people, who do everything for the sake of the mitzvah?

{Photo page 293: Mrs. Tchipa Kac with her children.}

{Photo page 294: The Tempel family.}


TRANSLATOR'S FOOTNOTES

  1. A visitor of the sick. Return
  2. The 'le' ending on a name is a Yiddish diminutive. Return
  3. A remedy that is used to draw blood closer to the skin. Return
  4. Literally 'shops' or 'stores', but I believe that 'homes' is meant here. Return
  5. Shulklapper is the person who knocks on people's doors to awaken them to attend the morning prayers at the synagogue. See other articles in this book on Moshe Aharon Shulklapper. Return


{295}

Communal Activists of Sochaczew

Reb Zalman the “Visitor”

Shlomo Swiatlowski of Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 295: Reb Zalman Albert (the “visitor”)

A.

Zalman Albert (Zalman Ajzenhendler [1]) had an iron shop on Warszawer Street, in the house of Chana Tzirel Flajszman. There was a small locksmith workshop in his small store. During his free moments, when there were no customers, Reb Zalman repaired locks and fixed keys, or he looked into a medical book.

Zalman Albert was a “visitor” (“mevaker”). He was considered to be knowledgeable in the field of medicine, and he was active in the “Sick Visiting” (“Bikur Cholim”) society. After the founding of the “Linat Tzedek” society, Reb Zalman became the heart and brain of the institution.

We lived in the same courtyard as him. My father was laid up in bed for a long time, and Reb Zalman would often visit us; that dear Jew is etched in my memory. Later I was a frequent visitor in his home, and I saw his activity from up close.

I do not know how much he really was an expert in medicine… but that he wished to help people with his heart and soul is clear to me beyond doubt. I remind myself: it was a day of a fair in the town, and Reb Zalman was standing in his workshop and filing keys. There were a few customers in the store. Suddenly, a woman broke out in a cry: “Reb Zalman, please save! My father-in-law was stricken with a heart attack.”

“Where does he live”, asked Reb Zalman.

“At the house of Simcha the furrier in the room in the attic, which is found on Shul Gasse”, answered the desperate woman.

Reb Zalman quickly wrote down the address and ordered the woman: “Run home quickly, and I am coming immediately with Skotnicki”.

For Reb Zalman, the store, the keys and the locks did not exist any more. His wife Tauba Lea was already in the store, and Reb Zalman ran to Moshe Skotnicki. However Skotnicki had left for a village to tend to a sick person. Reb Zalman did not hesitate. In one breath he was already at the Linat Tzedek society, where he grabbed a few medications and a thermometer, and then he went immediately to the sick man. His suggestive and psychological approach to the ill person often was more helpful than the best medicines. He did not ask the sick man about the heart attack itself, the reason that he came, in order not to frighten him further. Like an experienced, long-time experienced tender to the sick, he turned with a friendly glance toward the sick man: “A good morning to you, Reb Yisrael, you most certainly ate something that was not good for you. We will soon see, show me your tongue!”

He put in the thermometer and took the pulse with his hand: “It is nothing, with G-d's help, everything will be fine, a little corruption that stimulated the heart. I am writing a prescription for you.” Then he turned to the sick man's wife: -- “Go immediately to get the medicine from Reb Hirsch Frejdman.”

The woman said to Reb Zalman in a pleasant tone: “Do not be upset, I do not wish to be embarrassed before you, but unfortunately there is no means here with which to purchase the medicine.”

“Come with me immediately”, Reb Zalman requested of the woman with a loving tone. “I say, do not be ashamed that one must save the sick man and also give him something good to eat.” Reb Zalman did not go home before everything was taken care of for the sick man.

Epidemics of smallpox and scarlet fever broke out in the town. People would avoid going to neighbors. Reb Zalman did not lock himself away from any danger, even though he had a large family with young children. He was not concerned that he might bring the infections diseases home. He was on his feet day and night saving people. He took part in various consultations [2]. He even studied Latin, and with time he was able to write down various prescriptions. The pharmacists trusted the “visitor”. The pharmacists gave medicine to anyone who brought in a prescription with Reb Zalman's signature. With the shortage of doctors at that time, Reb Zalman's practice of medicine saved many people from death.


TRANSLATOR'S FOOTNOTES

  1. Ajzenhandler means “handler of iron”, referring to his profession. It was common to nickname a person after his profession. Return
  2. I am not sure of the meaning of the word here. The Yiddish is “consoliums”. Return


{298}

Reb Hershel Kluska of blessed memory

Shlomo Swiatlowski

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The unique personality of Reb Hershel Kluska is to be reckoned among the Sochaczew personalities who were active in various social institutions in the city.

As far as I remember, I recall Reb Hershel as one of the chief activists, perhaps the founder of Linat Hatzedek.

The masses of poor people of Sochaczew, as in all Jewish towns of Poland, lived in extremely crowded alleyways and in unsanitary dwellings. On the non-infrequent occasions when an epidemic would break out in the city, the first victims were from those crowded places. At such times, the Jewish poor saw Linat Hatzedek as a place of salvation. Those darkened alleyways were nests of various illnesses not only at times of epidemics, but also in “quiet” times – and Linat Hatzedek always had what to do. The chief task of the Linat Hatzedek society was to distribute free medicine to those who did not have enough money to have their prescriptions filled at a pharmacy. Equally important was going at night to those severely ill. Reb Hershel Kluska was extremely dedicated in this realm. He would go at night to dangerous places, bringing help and a good, warm word to the ill.

Helping the needy was his ideal. It is no wonder that they treated him with trust and respect.

In later years, the headquarters of Linat Hatzedek was established in Warsaw. It undertook financial activities to support its departments throughout Poland, including the department in Sochaczew. At that time, the “fine Jews” of the city first came to the fore, those who pushed to the side the former idealists and founders. However, Reb Hershel was not taken aback by them. On the contrary, he was happy that the institution had become a center for the assistance of the ill poor people. Reb Hershel held that medicine was not enough. He tried to actualize that which he thought was necessary. He founded a philanthropic society by the name “Ezrat Cholim Laaniyim” (Assistance for the Ill of the Poor), in which he invested a piece of his warm, Jewish heart and idealistic soul. He worked for that organization until his last breath – that is until his murder by the Nazis, may their name be erased.

Reb Hershel Kluska, one of the unique people, served properly, and the surviving Jews of Sochaczew will never forget him.


I should also mention here the names of Galek, Baruch Goldsztejn, Berl Brzozowski, Hertzke Brojtman, and others who created a premises, and purchased a new inventory of beds and bedding, and generally helped the refugees with whom they became acquainted.

Among the Sochaczew activists who were killed, we must also mention Reb Mottel Biezanski, the son of Reb Eliahu Moshe Biezanski who in their time served as chairmen of the cooperative people's bank in Sochaczew from the years 1934-1935-1936 until the outbreak of the Second World War, and who financed the bank almost completely through their own resources. This was a help for hundreds of poor Jewish families who struggled bitterly with economic terror from the anti-Semitic regime.

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