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[Pages 349-359]

Notable Staszówers: Men of Property,
Enlightened Thinkers, and Pious Jews

by Moshe Rotenberg

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

 

Reb Yisroel Karpen

In the last decades of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, Reb Yisroel Karpen was considered the most prominent and the richest man in town. By small–town standards, amidst the widespread poverty and struggle to earn a living, he stood as a symbol for wealth and greatness – a kind of miniature Rotshchild. And he did, in fact, conduct business on a large scale. He was the sole purchaser of the entire production of Count Radziwiłł's sugar factory in Rytwiany. And a good 20 or so Jews made their living from him –bookkeepers, business managers, bill collectors, wholesalers, retailers, wagon drivers, porters, and so on.

But he wasn't simply a skilled merchant and a Jew who worked for a Polish nobleman. On the contrary, with his innate intelligence and his versatile talents, in addition to his monopolistic position in the sugar factory, he became not only the Count's most important advisor, he attained a position of prestige unmatched in the region.

Everyone remembers Reb Karpen's house, right at the edge of the river, surrounded by a beautiful garden, with all kinds of lovely aromatic flowers and beautiful lilac trees. The house, with its red brick roof, was in our eyes some kind of mysterious palace of Jewish greatness, evoking great pride in Jews who passed by especially we children.

Reb Yisroel's property also included the large building at the corner of Shul [Bóżnica or Synagogue] Street and the market place, a building which looked like it belonged in a big city. In Tsarist times, it housed the officers' club, where military personnel would hold their balls and other entertainment. Later, its spacious apartments and business premises were occupied by prominent, well–off townspeople. For a long time, the Peretz Library was also located there, in an attic space.

Despite the prestige and renown Reb Yisroel enjoyed during his long life, he was far from happy. That was because he remained childless. Not until he remarried after the death of his first wife did he father two daughters when already in his seventies, evoking a sensation in town. In general Reb Yisroel Karpen was a quiet person, and did not get involved in community affairs. But he was a great philanthropist, giving both to individuals and social institutions, and he also generously supported many family members and relations.

A man of wealth, business and renown – that was Reb Yisroel Karpen.

 

Reb Wolf Tuchman

Reb Wolf Tuchman was one of the most prominent men of property in the town. Tall, well built, with a square, well–groomed black beard and lively, sparkling eyes, Reb Wolf Tuchman was a good looking man who made an impression on every one he met.

Always cleanly, tidily and elegantly dressed, he spoke a good, grammatical Russian, and a fine, correct Polish. Tuchman was always the head of the Jewish community, serving as its representative both to the Tsarist governments and to the Polish, in the first years of Poland's independence.

Reb Wolf Tuchman was the head of an intellectual family where all the children –sons and especially daughters –– were cultured and educated people who knew many languages. His youngest son, Itshe Tuchman, later became a prominent member of the General Zionists organization, and its representative on the town council.

Reb Wolf Tuchman was also active in various organizations, having great understanding and sympathy for the Zionist pioneer movement, and he was among the ten sponsors of the Zionist youth organization, Hashomer Hatzair.

Reb Wolf was also a jovial and good–hearted person, generous to the needy, both individually and communally. He often intervened with the Polish authorities on behalf of young Jewish arrestees, extracting them from the hands of the police. Reb Tuchman was an aristocrat, in his manners, his private life, his social and communal activities. He died many years before the war, leaving behind his good name.

 

Shmuel Zalczman

Shmuel Zalczman occupied a prominent place among the town's maskilim. A typical maskil, he took the Haskala very seriously.[1]

Not only did he possess abroad range of knowledge in secular subjects such as math and physics, but he also knew Polish, Russian, German, French, English and Esperanto, not to mention Yiddish and Hebrew, and he was well versed in the literature of these languages. But he was also learned in traditional subjexts, such as Talmud, the Bible, and Jewish learning in general.

Shmuel Zalczman was the teacher of all teachers in Staszów, the teacher of everyone in the town who pursued an education, and especially of the town's maskilim. He taught in the local Yiddish elementary school, the Talmud Torah, and the Mizrachi [Religious Zionists] school, and he gave private lessons as well. He taught everyone and everything.

But basically, despite his deep and wide–ranging knowledge, he was no pedagogue, and there were many funny stories about his “pedagogical” abilities. He was immersed in books his whole life, and remembered everything, but he was unable to impart to other what he knew. In the town they joked that he was a walking encyclopedia, but one that was shut and sealed.

In contrast to many of his students, like Moyshe Dajtelbaum, Shmuel Zalczman was reticent, introverted, shy, and didn't go out into the community, in public. Nevertheless, he exerted a considerable influence among us. Whenever a difficult question or dispute arose, the most important, the most competent authority was Shmuel Zalczman. He produced an array of students who participated – each in his own way and in his own field – in the social, cultural and organizational life of the town – in this way contributing to its intellectual development.

Honor to his memory.

 

Moyshe Dajtelbaum

The intellectual par excellence of the town was Moyshe Dajtelbaum. Much of his broad range of knowledge he acquire on his own, as an autodidact, but partly through studying in the besmedresh, with his father in law, Shmuel Zalczman, and others. Later, he studied for a long time in Warsaw, where as an extern he took the exams for a baccalaureate while also broadening his knowledge in mathematics and literature.

But, despite his boundless thirst for knowledge, his main ambition was not a scientific or literary career; he was focused instead on theater. During his long stay in Warsaw, he came into contact with an array of Yiddish actors, and also frequented the Yiddish literary and writers' society. He was especially close to the renowned Yiddish writer I.M. Wajsberg, who thought highly of him, and predicted that he would become a successful novelist.

During the First World War, when there was great famine in Warsaw, he returned to Staszów, where he became involved in teaching in the Yiddish elementary school, giving private lessons, etc. At the same time, he actively participated in the cultural and Zionist activities in town. But he was mainly dedicated to the development of young theatrical talent, and in directing –and Moyshe Dajtelbaum was a talented director –of well known modern Yiddish plays, producing them with the help of local talent from Staszów proper, as well as from the surrounding towns. His productions of “God, Man and the Devil,” “The Yeshiva Boy”, and later, “the Dybbuk” by An–sky, always elicited great applause from the town youth and intellectuals, who attended the performances en masse.

Moyshe Dajtelbaum exerted a great influence on the intellectual, cultural and organizational life of the town. In particular, he was for a long time active as the intellectual leader of Hashomer Hatzair, and other groups as well. His influence on the youth was also due to his truly democratic character and love of sports and youth, even as an adult. He was devoted to the small and the great, the young and the old, and had close, friendly relations with everyone. Even when middle aged, he stayed young in spirit, participating with his youngest followers in sports games and matches, as if he were as young as they.

In addition to the educational, cultural and organizational and theater activities mentioned, Moyshe Dajtelbaum's interest expanded to include translation of poetry from Polish and Russian into Yiddish and Hebrew, such as “Bud Goltov” from Russian, and “Zhudko,” by Halevi, which were beloved for a very long time in the town.

For his wide–ranging, vibrant activity, Moyshe Dajtelbaum was constantly being persecuted by the large majority of the town's [religious] fanatics. They saw in his activities the undermining of the foundation on which traditional Jewish learning had been based for generations, foundations which they considered sacred, and the destruction of which they believed would endanger the continued existence of the Jewish people as a distinct ethnic entity.

Moyshe Dajtelbaum also had to struggle against another extremist segment of the town's Jewish population, namely the left–wing political groups, who saw him as an incorrigible nationalist and petit–bourgeois.

In about 1925, Dajtelbaum left Staszów, with his wife Miriam, the daughter of a prominent Staszówer man of property and Jewish scholar, Reb Kopl Mazels. He settled in Rembertów, near Warsaw, where he was for many years a teacher in a Polish school. In his last years, he underwent a significant emotional transformation. In contrast to his earlier social involvement and energy, he later remained in the shadows of social involvement, apathetic and resigned.

Like many other intellectuals who failed to attain their goals in life, Moyshe Dajtelbaum became embittered, dreaming of his unfulfilled ambitions. Those failed ambitions clipped his wings and Moyshe – no longer seeing a springboard for higher goals in the surrounding activity – could no longer muster the physical or mental energy required to go on. Remaining on the sidelines, he gave up the struggle to which he had given so much effort, talent, and dedication.

He was killed by the Nazis during the first year of the war, together with his wife and his only child.

 

Avrom Yosl Rotenberg[2]

Avrom Yosl Rotenberg , known as Avrom Yosl the Photographer, was a remarkable and very interesting type. He was a broadly educated person, well–versed in both traditional Jewish knowledge like the Bible, Talmud, etc., and in general secular knowledge. He knew Hebrew language and grammar, as well as Russian language and literature. In short – a maskil – in the literal meaning [enlightened] of the word.

In his youth he was considered by the town as the greatest heretic. Many a scandal occurred in the synagogue or in the Razvadover [< Rozwadów] shtibl when A. Y. Rotenberg would appear on the Sabbath or on holidays dressed in a crisp, white collared shirt and tie [not traditional Jewish garb]. In those years Rotenberg was very energetic, active in political organizations and social life. He often spoke out against the religious fanaticism of small town Jewry, and he read and would read aloud from Hebrew language newspapers, like Ha–Tsefirah [“The Dawn”] or Ha–Melitz [“The Advocate”].

He was also the initiator of “The Stazower Prankster”, a one–time publication which he produced along with his friends Moyshele Dajtelbaum and Alex Feldsztajn, an event that caused a great commotion in town, because of the highly critical bare truths it contained about the town's “fine Jews”, “the movers and shakers”, etc.

Already married and father of several children, he would often leave town and stay for several months in Warsaw, where he was ostensibly perfecting his photographic skills. In truth, however, and unbeknownst to his parents and wife, he was preparing to take the test for a baccalaureate degree, in order to be able to study medicine, for which he had a strong inclination and talent. Interestingly, even before the exams, he had been allowed, upon the recommendation of professors Dr. Bichowski and Dr. Lajfuner, to attend medical courses in Warsaw University. He also received permission to practice in the surgical department of the of the clinic, Dzieci±tko Jezus [“Baby Jesus”] and later in the Jewish hospital of Czysta Street, of course on the condition that he simultaneously prepare for the exams.

Due to financial difficulties and family problems, he was obliged, against his will, to withdraw from medical studies, having to settle for certificates from the hospitals and doctors mentioned, giving him the right to practice as a “feldsher”[paramedic]. Because the title feldsher did not satisfy him, he completely withdrew from medical practice, devoting himself exclusively to photography, by which he supported himself his entire life.

Despite his wide–ranging knowledge, Rotenberg's character was very unstable, easily swayed by outside influences. This explains the inexplicable metamorphoses he underwent, going from a fanatical besmedresh student to an Octobrist revolutionary, then a devoted member of the Polish Socialist Party, later a Bundist, then a Zionist, then an observant, religious Jew, then an active member of the Mizrachi [religious Zionists]. It must be added that throughout all these transformations, Rotenberg was always sincere, without any ulterior motive, in his devotion to the ideal he believed at the time to be the only true one, serving it with all the mental and physical powers he could muster.

A. Y. Rotenberg was very sympathetic to Hashomer Hatzair and was the first of the ten patrons of the local branch.

Interestingly, as energetic as Rotenberg was in his younger years, so did he become reserved, calm and modest in his older years, distancing himself from organizational activity and not getting involved in community affairs. But he always remained good–natured, optimistic, and was loved by young people, whose society he always enjoyed.

He was a lover of music and song, and on Saturday nights, a group of musical maskilim would gather at his house and form a chorus. With his hoarse voice, but good ear, he would perform the most difficult cantorial music and other musical works.

A. Y. Rotenberg also had an inclination for art, which was expressed in, among other works, a picture he created portraying the prophetic vision of Isaiah, “It will be in the end of days”, which was a unique combination of drawing, watercolor, and pastels.

He was killed, along with the entire Staszów community. Honor to his memory.

 

Mordkhe Goldwaser “Zeygermakher” [Watchmaker]

Outwardly a simple, quiet craftsman, a plain Jew with a big, black beard, always with a cap on his head, surrounded in his modest workshop by an entire antiquarium of assorted clocks, sewing machines, Primus stoves, and the like – Mordkhe Goldwaser was a very learned man, full of Jewish erudition, Torah and Talmud, and at the same time quite well versed in secular topics.

Officially, Mordkhe Goldwaser distanced himself from the town maskilim. He didn't want to be seen as one of the “enlightened apostates”. Nor was he one. Despite his learning in secular subjects and his liking for all kinds of books in addition to Torah, he held fast to his religious convictions. He remained deeply religious, belonging to the most respectable Mizrachi group in the town.

On the other hand, the town's maskilim willingly spent time with this unique, religious intellectual, enjoying his discourses on worldly topics, which were always interwoven with learning and wisdom, with parables and stories, that made it easier to understand even the most difficult concepts. These discourses were made even more effective by the calm, sedate matter of fact tone in which Goldwaser spoke. He never got angry, he never lost his composure, but remained the kind of person called [in The Ethics of the Fathers] “one who is mighty and can control his urges”, explaining his beliefs with a smile.

In his private life and with his business clients he was also simple, calm, sincere and honorable, a man who knew nothing and didn't want to know about swindles or shady dealings. Above all, he was a Jew who strongly believed in the moral value of living by the fruit of one's labor.

He was killed by the Nazis in Poniatowa, near Lublin, along with 800 other Jews from Staszów.

 

Hershl Wolman, the Blindman

It was a real riddle: blind from childhood, Hershl Wolman was a Torah scholar who could tell you, often very precisely, where to find a certain passage, quote or reference in the traditional Jewish texts, just as he could quote entire passages from the modern Yiddish and Hebrew writers. It had to be that Nature, which had injured him so seriously, robbing him of his eyesight, had compensated him with a phenomenal memory, so that everything he heard or that was read to him remained forever engraved in his mind.

What he wasn't able to see with his eyes, he was able to grasp with his intuition, with his highly developed instinct and powers of understanding – another gift from Mother Nature, that enabled him to participate in discussions and debates as an equal among equals, with the other maskilim of the town.

And when he did engage in a discussion – something he was always ready to do – he didn't do it in an academic way, as a disinterested participant. He would throw himself into it, body and soul, his enthusiasm carrying everyone along with him. He would get carried away to the point of choking, endangering his health.

In addition to his grasp of Jewish learning, and in Yiddish and Hebrew literature, our blind man also had a strong feeling for music, and sang very well. Possessed of a deep baritone, his voice would stand out from among an entire choir, which he graced with his beautiful sound. He was also very interested in new musical compositions and their composers, as well as musicians in general.

With love and reverence he would caress each new book that came to him. Not able to see the book, he would use his sense of touch to examine it, assessing its weight, thickness, the cut and quality of its paper.

His manners were so refined, he would never complain of his bitter fate, would never allude to or even suggest the bitter troubles he had to endure from his wife. With stoic calm, he would accept it all, and at the same time do everything he could to help support the family, teaching boys a bit of Gemara, or giving lessons in the Bible, Hebrew, etc.

During the Nazi deportations, this rare human being did not report to the market place assembly point, but stationed himself in front of his house, singing in a shocking and heart rending melody about the great tragedy that had befallen his people. He stood there a long time, until killed by the assassin's bullet.

 

Reb Avrom Leyb “Shames” [sexton]

Always quiet, never complaining to God and making no demands of the town leaders or the Jewish community, he carried the burden of caring for the besmedresh entirely on his own shoulders.

He was a simple man but religiously observant and innocent. Everywhere and always, people needed and made use of him. He was always among the poorest of paupers, but he never bemoaned his harsh fate. He had great difficulty supporting his family. He was the last to leave the besmedresh and the first to arrive at dawn to open it. His job was to light the kerosene lamps, prepare water for the washbasins, heat the oven in winter, keep things clean and orderly, etc.

Often, he would stay up all night keeping watch over a dying person, constantly reciting psalms, and in the early morning, barely able to stand on his feet, would prepare the cleansing board and other things needed to prepare the corpse for burial. He shared the sorrow of the unfortunate families and helped them to overcome it.

Every year he said kaddish for someone, just to keep their name alive. On Tisha B'Av[3] he read the Book of Lamentations for the entire community. Everyone was moved to tears by his profound weeping and the mourning expressed in every passage. Holding the prayer book in one hand, and a candle in the other, he would movingly recite “How does the city stand desolate,” and raising his hands to God, lamented “The roads of Zion are in mourning…”, and even more heart–rendingly continued, “Fountains of water gush from my eyes.”[4] The congregation was so carried away by these lamentations that they didn't even feel the thorny burrs thrown at their side–locks and beards.[5] Or maybe they subjected themselves to these missiles willingly, as a symbol of pain and suffering over the destruction of the Temple.

Reb Avrom Leyb was everyone's helper. He served everyone – the burial society, the night watch, etc. – never asking to be paid. Often you would find him, lantern in hand, on a dark winter night, returning from the cemetery, where he had helped bury a poor person in the frozen, snow covered ground. With an aching heart, he would make the ritual tear in the clothing of the bereaved family, and would say kaddish for the deceased.

Despite his hard work in the besmedresh and in many other communal jobs, he had a hard time making a living, and if not for the help of his wife and children, who knit and wove warm slippers, the family would have starved. When winter was over, the shames' family would work at crushing matzo to make matzo meal and farfel for the community, earning money to buy what they needed for the Passover holiday.

When there was a wedding or circumcision, Reb Avrom Leyb would earn a little money for setting up tables and chairs and afterwards returning them to the besmedresh before the first minyan [prayer group] arrived to pray.

Reb Avrom Leyb wasn't just a plain Jew, an ordinary shames. He was a learned man. But he was always a humble man, a wholehearted and honorable man, in the best meaning of those words.

 

Reb Aron Sofer [scribe]

Reb Aron Sofer was an exceptionally good–natured man. A religious and very modest man, he was also very poor. Poverty reigned in his home. He never had enough to eat, except on official fast days, which he scrupulously observed. But he accepted this all with resignation, never complained about his hard circumstances, and even joked about his misfortune.

Reb Aron was a scribe, writing mezuzah[6] scrolls and even Torah scrolls.[7] But he couldn't earn a living. Only at the celebration of a bar mitzvah, for whom he had written the parchment for the tefillin,[8] or at the celebration of the completion of a Torah scroll, was he able to eat his fill. But the other days of the year, he went hungry.

Reb Aron Sofer longed for the world to come. Because even those people who ordered a couple of tfilin from him were themselves paupers and couldn't pay him. The rich people bought their tfilin parchments from Reb Mordkhele Wajslicer (Avrom Yosl's father in law) or from Yoyne Bimko's grandfather, or from Rabbi Reb Dovidl. Other people used old tfilin inherited form great grandfathers and would settle for new tfilin cases.

The same thing happened when it came to writing a holy book. He would receive an order to write a Torah scroll for a Talmud study group or for the charity for poor brides, but seldom received payment. Despite that, he would greatly rejoice when he would deliver the scroll with great ceremony to the synagogue, and afterwards, in the shtibl of the organization, even at the royal banquet which was celebrated on the occasion. There, the paupers –Reb Aron Sofer among them – would content themselves with a piece of herring, a white roll and a glass of beer, while the rich people got goose, chicken gizzards, etc. But Reb Aron Sofer was not insulted – all that mattered was that it be merry. Music played, people sang and danced, honoring the Torah. And when they said a few good words about Reb Aron Sofer, his joy was boundless – such an honor, such a privilege – surely he had earned a place in heaven.

During the week, Reb Aron Sofer usually prayed in the Hasidic besmedresh. But on the Sabbath and holidays he always attended the Rozvadover shtibl.[9] There he had the “concession”[10] to recite the early morning prayers at the pulpit, and the evening prayers on Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur.

Reb Aron had a special task on Yom Kippur eve: to administer lashes [symbolic flagellation] to all the important men in the synagogue, with his thick sash. Afterwards, each man would discretely slip him a few coins. He was accorded this honor because of the belief that he was an honorable and kosher Jew, completely without sin. He had never wheeled and dealed, never cheated, or deceived anyone. That is why he received the privilege of whipping others to cleanse them of their sins.

Reb Aron was always in the besmedresh, reading a page of Gemara, a chapter of Mishnah, or just immersing himself in a question along with other paupers while warming himself at the oven. His house was very cold. There was never enough money to buy a bundle of wood and he and his family froze. To sit by the oven in the besmedresh was a great relief.

His wife stood in the market place with some bagels and beans and barely earned enough to buy some bread. Despite this, Reb Aron had faith, and even made fun of the rich people who got no pleasure from their lives. “How can such a goy [non–Jew] like Doctor Niewirowicz or [the Jew] Reb Yisroel Karpen derive pleasure from the good food on Sabbath or holiday, when they stuff themselves all year long?” or: “What kind of pleasure can a person have when he puts on a fresh shirt every day? Can he feel the difference of putting on a fresh shirt on a holiday?”

Philosophizing thus, Reb Aron would continue: “When I go hungry all week, and on Sabbath eve I eat a piece of fish or on Sabbath a good cholent [stew], it's a real banquet delicacy, and when I go on the eve of Passover to the mikvah [ritual bath] and put on a clean shirt in honor of the holiday, after long months, is there anyone equal to me, and does anyone have as much pleasure as I do?” The greatness of the pleasure, Reb Aron continued his philosophical discourse, is in its rarity. A person enjoys his piece of bread when it is his only piece. The more you have of something, the less it's worth. The Sabbath cholent is a feast just because you've been hungry all week…”

Reb Aron had fashioned his own theory of poverty and was content with his hard fate, as is appropriate for a true believer, who is convinced that this world is just an antechamber to the World to Come, and that the saintly person will be rewarded in Paradise.


Footnotes

  1. Maskil (plural: maskilim): a proponent of the Haskalah. Haskalah [“Enlightenment”]: the movement in Eastern European Jewry to spread modern education in European languages, literature and sciences, generally alongside study of the Jewish religious classics. NOTE: The “enlightened thinkers” in the title of this article is “maskilim” in the original. Return
  2. In this article, Moshe Rotenberg is describing his own father. (LL] Return
  3. Tisha B'Av: The Ninth day of the Hebrew month Av, occurring mid-summer, a fast day commemorating the destruction of both the First Temple in 586 BCE and the Second Temple in 70 CE. Return
  4. “How doth the city,” etc. All these quotations are from the biblical Book of Lamentations, which is chanted on Tisha B'Av to an elegiac melody. Return
  5. The throwing of burrs or thorny parts of plants so that they would stick in beards or sidelocks was a traditional prank by Jewish youngsters on Tisha B'Av. Return
  6. Mezuzah: a ritual decoration at the entrance to a Jewish house (and optionally at the entrance to rooms in the house), consisting of a small, elongated box, mounted diagonally, containing a parchment scroll on which is written, in small handwritten Hebrew calligraphy, the two paragraphs Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21. It was part of the job of a sofer (a traditional Jewish scribe) to craft this sacred object for use by members of the community. Return
  7. In Jewish religious services, the Torah (consisting of the books Genesis through Deuteronomy) is read ceremonially on Mondays, Thursdays, Sabbaths and festivals from a large parchment scroll. The entire Torah must be written by hand in Hebrew calligraphy on the scroll, a task performed by a sofer and generally taking at least a year of solid work. Return
  8. Tfilin (also “tefillin”): A standard Jewish ritual object, consisting of two small black leather square boxes, with black leather straps attached. The boxes contain parchment on which is written, in small handwritten Hebrew calligraphy, short passages from Deuteronomy (including the Shema) and Exodus. It is standard in traditional Jewish ritual for Jewish males to wear these during weekday prayer, one wrapped around the arm and the other on the forehead, in obedience to the verse, “You shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be a symbol between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 6:8 and 11:18) It was part of the job of a sofer (a traditional Jewish scribe) to craft these sacred objects for use by members of the community. Return
  9. Rozvadov shtibl: A small prayer gathering-place (either a small building or a room in a building) in Staszów for a select group of Jews who identified with the Jewish community of Rozwadów, either because some of them originated there or because they were loyal to the Hasidic rebbe of that community. Return
  10. “Concession” (chazoke). Custom ruled strong in the finer points of Jewish religious practice. This included the widespread practice that if someone in the community historically played a certain role, however small, in the ritual routine, it was their right to continue in that role until they voluntarily relinquished it. Return


[Pages 359-362]

Chaim Berish Rosenmuter

by Reuven Blank, Haifa

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

Chaim Berish was born to poor, honorable, pious parents, who struggled hard to make a living, without much success. His father, Hershl Shimele Rakowers, travelled around the small villages, buying agricultural products to resell in town, and also dealt in feathers, doing everything he could to support the household. His mother, Blume the chicken plucker, also helped to earn what she could, but they still had trouble making enough to buy what was needed to celebrate the Sabbath.

In contrast to the helplessness of his impoverished environment, Chaim Berish distinguished himself with his boldness, his clear understanding, his mischievousness, and his organizational skill.

An interesting episode from Chaim Berish's childhood – he was at the time all of 8 years old – illustrates the boldness of his character. During World War I, the Jews, afraid of the Russian soldiers, hid themselves away in cellars. One day, two Russian soldiers entered the cellar where Chaim Berish's family was hiding, along with others. You can imagine the commotion that ensued. The women were screaming, the children were crying, and no one knew what to do. Only one person kept his head – that was little Chaim Berish. Calmly and confidently, he approached the soldiers and began to play with their shiny buttons and their rifles, as if nothing was amiss. This immediately had a calming effect on everyone, and the “visit” ended well.

When Chaim Berish turned 13 and graduated the local school, his mother “handed him over” to a leather-stitcher to learn the craft. (His father had in the meantime died in America, and his mother's material circumstances were deteriorating from day to day.) At about the same time, he joined Hashomer Hatza'ir [Young Guard]. There he found an outlet for his painful longing for learning and knowledge. There, his organizational abilities were revealed, and he was elected to an array of committees. In every program, whether educations or political, he took an active role and was a member of the leadership.

Chaim Berish was also intensely active in the trade union where he was a member, and one of the most energetic and determined fighters for social justice. Hashomer Hatza'ir showed its confidence in him and elected him their representative in the leadership of the union.

The extent to which people trusted and respected him, and believed in his abilities,

can be seen in the fact that when the secretary of the trade union, Meyer Cimerman, left ‘ in 1922, the general assembly of the leather stitchers elected Chaim Berish, a boy not yet 16 years old, as acting secretary of the union.

When the above-mentioned Meyer Cimerman later returned to Staszów, and died of tuberculosis, Chaim Berish delivered a public eulogy at the cemetery. He blamed Cimerman's death on the capitalist order, holding it responsible for the so-called “proletarian illness” that was an inevitable result of the difficult sanitary conditions in which the poor were forced to live.

This event brought Chaim Berish to the attention of the police, who accused him of agitating against the existing order, and from then on, kept a close watch on him.

Chaim Berish also found time and energy for the cultural program of the Hashomer Hatza'ir branch. Among other accomplishments, he participated in self-education programs and was one of the most prominent and active members. He saw his activity in Hashomer not simply as a pastime, or a place to broaden his knowledge. More importantly, he saw it as a way of life, to which he was deeply committed. He was the first to try to defend the continued existence of the branch and to insist on the goal of “personal fulfillment.”[1]

In fact, he was one of the first group of 12 who in 1926 went on hakhshore [Zionist training camp]. Working skillfully all day at farming, he spent the evenings, just as ably, dealing with the questions that were then on the agenda of the Hashomer Hatsa'ir movement, such as: whether to use Yiddish or Hebrew in the diaspora; whether to have positive or negative relationships with political struggles in one's provisional home; the Arab question, and so on.

In the summer of 1927, after the working season ended, Chaim Berish went on hakhshore for a second time. This time, he encountered members from other towns, and this left a lasting impression on him.

As previously noted, Chaim Berish was, like the entire Staszówer group, very left wing. As an uncompromising opponent of the existing social order, he didn't entirely reject the diaspora, and felt it necessary to actively work with the most extreme political parties. His encounter with others at the second hakhshore convinced him that there were people in the [Hashomer Hatza'ir] movement who thought differently, who – in complete contrast to his views – placed their main emphasis on the national moment. Chaim Berish was disappointed, and distanced himself from the movement, until he finally left it entirely and like many others, joined the Communists.

Naturally, this radical step was greatly influenced by the crisis that then affected the Zionist movement in general and the hechalutz [pioneer] movement in particular. This crisis resulted from the practically hermetic sealing of the gates to Eretz Yisroel by the British mandate power, brutally robbing many young people, who had totally bound up their personal fate with the principal of personal fulfillment, of the ability to realize their dreams. This crisis also made enormous strides in alienating a part of the thinking and truth-seeking Jewish youth from the interests and needs of their own suffering Jewish people, pushing them onto the slippery slope toward national self-denial.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that Chaim Berish's dynamic drive toward eternal truths, could not be satisfied by halfway measures and could not remain confined by the narrow framework of the Zionist pioneer movement. He sought “wider horizons” and was attracted by the enthralling slogans of “world revolution” and “cosmopolitanism” and so one.

And so, Chaim Berish fell victim to his own pursuit of truth, the truth he never could or never did find.

Photo caption: p.360 Chaim Berish [Dov] Rosenmuter


Footnote

  1. “Personal fulfillment” was a principal, and distinguishing, goal of Hashomer Hatsair. (ML) Return


[Pages 361-362]

Reb Hershel Wolman (may God avenge his blood)

by Sara Zalcman, Sao Paolo

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

 

My Rebbe

“The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.”[Isaiah, 1:1]

“Say it, Sorele, say it louder” – this was how my rebbe, Reb Hershele the Blindman, taught the Bible.

Way back when, when his soul first descended to this sinful world, the light was taken from his eyes, and he remained blind for his entire life. It wasn't granted to him to see the buds open, or the flowers bloom; he never saw the splendor of the purplish red sky at twilight, or the nightingale as it sang its song to the Creator.

When we saw him sitting at the window of the single room that served as bedroom, kitchen and classroom, murmuring and turning his sightless eyes to mysterious infinity, it appeared as if he had developed the ability to see, and that his blindness was just imagined. And, in truth, when he had lost the ability to see the external world, he developed an internal vision, the ability to see into the future, to see images while he was awake, an amazing memory, and a rich, artistic imagination.

When he taught his students the story of how Joshua son of Nun marched upon Jericho, it wasn't told as if it were some long past occurrence; in his imagination, it was as if he himself were participating in this glorious conquest. When we came to the chapters in which the prophet, in his fervor, excoriates the Jews, the rebbe's voice took on such a demanding, grating tone, just as if he himself were the prophet.

His blindness erected a barrier between him and reality. That was why the images and prophetic visions of thousands of years ago shone for him as in a mirror, erasing the distance between them and today's reality.

Once, as was my habit, I was on my way to study with the rebbe at dusk. Through the window I could see him as his sightless eyes stared into infinity, and a smile appeared on his face. Surely, I thought, he is thinking about far off worlds, about redemption and happiness. I remained standing, not wanting to disturb his dream. Suddenly, he was awakened from his reverie by a commotion: his two sons, holding a discussion, had begun quarreling. At that moment, I came in. ”Oh, quiet, Sorele's arrived, Sorele is here.” This is how all my lessons began. When he explained certain mistakes I had made, you could clearly see how he was actually living the story, how he strode freely along the roads of the Bible, how clear every detail of the Bible stories was to him.

Once, right after Shevuos, I was studying Chumash with him. He suddenly stopped and said, “Listen Sorele, to what I'm going to tell you. A few days ago, at Shevuos, I went for a walk in the field. How splendidly the field was greening, how wonderfully the blooming flowers were shining. I could sense it through their aroma, the aroma of paradise.” And as he enthusiastically described for me the surrounding nature, pearly tears trickled down his face. Yes, you could really sense how great and infinite was the world that he could see with his unconscious, his internal self. In this way fate had endowed my rebbe with the power of imagination, beating out the rhythm of his sad life.

His sad life became even sadder when his “woman of valor”, Miriam'l Khane, the one who nourished him, served as his eyes, and his support, was taken from him. There was no longer anyone to ask, “Hershele, aren't you hungry?”-- no longer anyone to bring him a bit of hot soup for lunch. And so the months and years of his tragic, lonely life stretched out.

Then came the time when the God of Wrath released his flames all over the world and sent down the devil of death in its German guise, reaching my town, Staszów. The skies were covered with smoke, enveloping the Jewish communities in black, endless mourning. In those horrifying days, when rivers of blood and tears flowed from every door and window of Jewish homes, the devil's wings also covered my unforgettable rebbe, Reb Hershele, tore him from his dream world, to share the fate of all the other Jews of Staszów. Honor to his memory.


[Pages 363-364]

Reb Alter Buchwald

by Michael Zalcman, Sao Paolo

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

“A mind of steel”: That’s what all of Staszów — “the voice of the people is the voice of God” — said about him. Jews came to him as they would to a judge, to settle their disputes, and as they would to a rabbi, to ask advice. Just as he was sober, objective, and thoughtful as a judge, so was he sincere and completely unbiased as a rabbi. That is because Reb Alter was distinguished by his innate trait of serving and applying the truth, in every situation and under all circumstances.

In personal relationships, it often becomes necessary to rebuke a person, or say something unpleasant. Many people avoid this; some, for the sake of keeping peace, a legitimate, often justified, goal. Many others, however, do it out a desire to ingratiate themselves, or out of a lack of courage, even when such courage is desirable or even necessary.

Reb Alter Buchwald wasn’t like that. He never tried to avoid the truth. He was always prepared to defend it, to confront his opponents with it. Often, in order to demonstrate the correctness of his position, he would undertake difficult responsibilities, even when this entailed unpleasant personal consequences.

These characteristics found their fullest expression in the following event. For years after World War I, the Jewish cemetery stood neglected, left open to horses, cows and goats, who roamed there freely, destroying the headstones and graves. When the community’s conscience was finally aroused by this overt desecration, the town undertook in the1920s to build a wall around the cemetery.

There soon appeared a Jew, an entrepreneur, who submitted an accounting for the costs of constructing the wall. Reb Alter Buchwald, my father in law, was among the town householders who were dealing with this sacred project. Learning of the amounts quoted, he became interested in the details, and it soon became clear to him that this man intended to make a living from the dead.

Already old and infirm, only recently recovered from a heart attack, Reb Alter nevertheless threw himself into the matter. Early each morning he came to the cemetery to direct the workers. As a result, the cost was less than half of what the entrepreneur had stated. To the entrepreneur’s question — “How can you do this? Why don’t you let a man make some money?”— he received a characteristically candid Buchwaldian response: “You don’t try to get rich from the dead or from poor people struggling to bury the poor.”

It should be emphasized that this work was accomplished in the face of stubborn, forceful resistance by the gentile neighbors, who found it very convenient to have a wide-open cemetery, not just to pasture their animals, but also as an easy shortcut to the meadows outside the town. This resistance was overcome only after a difficult, energetic, and years-long struggle by the Jewish kehile,[1] and especially by Efraim Zinger, who despite personal danger from the agitated and inflamed Gentiles, unceasingly continued his efforts, through the courts and the police, to put an end to this blatant desecration.

True to his nature, determined to do the right thing, Reb Alter Buchwald, despite his physical limitations and under the truly dangerous circumstances described above, continued his efforts until the wall was completed.

He died during the liquidation of the Staszów Jewish community on 28 Marcheshvan 5703 (November 8, 1942). May God avenge his blood.


Footnote

  1. Kehile: organized Jewish community. Return


[Page 364]

Hershel [Tsvi] Lewowicz

by Elchanan Erlich

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

Although Tsvi[1] Lewowicz's name is mentioned often in this book, in various contexts, I cannot close this section without adding a few words about the role he played in the organizational life of the town.

Born into an extremely religious Jewish home, he received the normal education for a Jewish boy, i.e. heder, besmedresh and yeshiva.[2] Tsvi was a rebel from his earliest years. With all his power he opposed the stagnant way of life and outlook of his conservative, religious home and environment. The more his pious parents opposed the new ideas and social forces, the more stubbornly Tsvi clung to them, refusing to retreat in the face of any measures taken against him.

One mustn't forget that his father, Reb Bentsion Lewowicz was among the archtypical representatives of the older generation, and was one of its most ardent defenders. He believed that the future survival of the Jewish people depended on the eternal continuation of the way of life and ideals sanctified by generations.

At the age of 16, in 1929, Tsvi joined the Zionist organization. A year later, in 1930, Tsvi, always alive with new plans and new ideas, and impelled by an inner drive to create and renew, was no longer able to tolerate the then stagnating local Zionist organization and its members. With the full fervor of his young soul, with the stubbornness of a creative person who sees the end of the story from the beginning, with the sacrifice of a true believer for whom ridicule and temptation are but initial obstacles, encouraging one to persist, Tsvi established and ran – almost entirely single-handedly – a branch of Hanoar Hatzion [Zionist Youth.] This organization grew into a large mass organization and he was its moving force and most active member for the entire course of its existence, until the town was destroyed.

In the meantime, Tsvi also established the Hechalutz Haklal Zioni [pioneer organization of Hanoar Hatzioni] and a series of hakhshores [Zionist training farms] in the area, where young Jews prepared to make aliyah [emigration to Israel], with many actually doing so. In this way, Tsvi, whose original intent was to liberate the town youth from economic need, political oppression and national-cultural stagnation, contributed his part to the rescue of several youths from the Nazi forces who later attacked us.

Sadly, Tsvi did not have the opportunity to save himself. He was always tied up with work, unable to tear himself away from the organization's needs and demands: here, a cultural program; there, a celebration; here, an organizing mission in the region; there, a meeting of the branch or circle; or simply sending out memos (printed on a hectograph). He never had time to think about himself, until it was too late and the Nazi war broke out, severing all his connections.

During the Nazi annihilation effort against the Jews, Tsvi did everything in his power to organize an armed resistance. But the objective conditions in our region ended this effort in smoke, as more fully described in the next section [of this book], and Tsvi shared the fate of his people. He died at the “friendly” hands of the Poles, in the first two or three months after the “deportation.” May God avenge his death.


Footnotes

  1. The names “Hershel” and “Tsvi” are equivalent and interchangeable, the one (Hershel) from Germanic Yiddish, the other (Tsvi) from Hebrew. Both mean “deer.” Such pairing of names was common in Yiddish. (ML/LL) Return
  2. Heder: elementary religious school. Besmedresh: house of study, both formal and informal, frequented by youths and adults. Yeshiva: a formal or semi-formal academy, primarily for adolescents. Return


[Pages 365-369]

Cantor Motel Goldfarb, 1881-1946

by Tilly Gewirtz

Translated from Yiddish by Miriam Leberstein

Motel Goldfarb was born October 2, 1881 in Staszów, the youngest of five children of Itsik and Khana Kornblum-Goldfarb. As a young man, he always wanted to recite poetry at parties and events. His repertoire of Jewish songs and humorous stories made him beloved in the town.

In 1906, he married Toybe Wolman, and a month later the young couple emigrated to America. But they were homesick for Staszów, and after three years in America they returned home. After his reurn, Motel completed his studies at the school of Cantor Avrom Ber Birnbaum in Cz?stochowa and received his cantorial diploma. Soon after that, a daughter was born. Given this change in circumstances, he decided to return to America. He lived in the United States and Canada for 35 years, working as cantor and composer of religious music in a number of cities, including Toronto, Philadelphia, Altoona, Troy-Barnsboro.

He led a rich and meaningful life, dedicated to Jewish literature and culture and to Zionist activities. He died while reciting maftir shabbes[1] in the morning in the Toronto synagogue in 1946.

Motel will long be remembered for his noble character, and his innumerable good deeds on behalf the weak and oppressed. This fine singer not only knew how to pray and sing, but also raised his voice powerfully in the struggle against injustice, and would eagerly join a picket line in the struggle for workers' rights.

His wife, children and close friends will remember him best for his erudition, his constant seeking, and the ethical road he followed, his compassion in a materialistic world.


Footnote

  1. Maftir Shabbes—the concluding portion of the Torah reading. Return

 

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