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[Page 239]

The Gemillut Chesed in Stoibtz
– The Benevolent Society in Stoibtz

by Getzl Ryser

Translated by Libby Raichman

 

In the year 1929

In the middle days of Passover, April 1924, Avrom Ya'kov Charchurim, driven by a desire to help the next person decided to establish a Gemillut Chesed Fund. The first meeting was attended by the following people: Avrom Chayat, Aharon Machtei, Alter Yosselevicz, Ze'ev Tunik, Berl Bruchansky, Elyakum Milcenzon, Mordechai–Fyvl, Kivovicz, Shlayme Palei, Reuven Tunik, and Getzl Ryser. The active members of the management committee immediately started a capital appeal in the town in order to raise money to establish a fund that would serve as seed capital.

Immediately after its establishment the Gemillut Chesed turned its attention to the more needy people. They began to give out small loans. The first lists of borrowers were mainly workers and small market traders who were selling herring, salt and pitch. Its status was legalised by the Polish Government in August 1929. It was located in a room in the market place rented from Shashe Borsuk.

At that time there developed in Poland the American “Joint” – “Yekappa”. This organization with its headquarters in Vilna, centralised the Gemillut Chesed in our area and financed such social institutions. The “Yekappa” would give out long–term loans interest free, according to the size of the capital of the borrower.

The meetings would take place every week: on Sunday and Monday evenings. On Sundays they would collect the money and on Mondays they would give out the loans.

Matters like accounts, protocol, reports etc. were conducted regularly and precisely under the strict control of our auditing commission and from the centre in Vilna itself.

 

In the year 1930

The institute was not yet so popular then and also not so necessary because those who needed the Gemillut Chesed borrowed from one another. The Rabbi of Stoibtz, the Gaon, Yoel Sorotzkin, may his righteous memory be blessed, reported that before the First World War he had a Gemillut Chesed in his house but not on such a large scale. The shopkeepers and merchants had a Folk–Bank that loaned money on interest. The new institution was of a philanthropic nature. The shopkeeper and ordinary home–owner were ashamed to go to the Gemillut Chesed for loans but the founders foresaw the later difficult economic years when the Jews of Poland would have to be supported. In 1930 around Chanukah time the management of the Gemillut Chesed called a general meeting in the new synagogue to present a report of their activities in the past year.

The chairman of the meeting was Elyakum Milcenzon. According to the report of Aharon Machtei the first 700 zlotys in the funds was turned into 2000 zlotys. The members were (unpaid) volunteers. Their expenses were minimal: paper and ink. The general meeting decided to tax every member with a monthly fee of 50 (groshen) pennies. Amongst the members were not only those who lent money but all the inhabitants of the town.

The chairman Elyakum Milcenzon read a protocol from the “Yekappa” delegate from Vilna who came in March 1930 to audit our activities. He expressed his satisfaction with the activities of the management in the area, of raising their own funds for interest free–loans, their prompt collection of the loans and applauded the proposal of members' dues.

Thanks to this, the “Yekappa” always allocated new loans to us but not larger than our seed capital.

 

In the year 1931

In this year the economic situation in Poland began to worsen and the needs became greater so the Gemillut Chesed arranged a Chanukah evening in the home of Yechezkel Volfson. The evening brought in a clear profit of 500 zlotys. Since then it became very popular and it remained a tradition to organize a Ball every Chanukah for the benefit of the Gemillut Chesed.

[Page 240]

The next general meeting was a stormy one. People of various levels felt that it was important to be represented on such a committee. For the first time secret ballots were held and the following were elected: Avrom Ya'akov Charchurin, Elyakum Milcenzon, Lipman Dorsky, Leibe Kumak, Berl Tunik, Shmuel Vineshtein, Hirshl Kushnir, Reuven Tunik, Getzl Ryser.

The first auditing committee: Eliyahu Chinitz, Mordechai Machtei.

The cash situation was: Lent 3200 zlotys and cash in hand 800 zlotys.

That evening Yitzchak Yosselevicz, Ze'ev Tunik and Berl Bruchansky brought the 800 zlotys that they collected in the town from loans without interest, with the idea of turning it into a fixed–term loan. They explained that it was difficult for them to collect the money because the public did not yet have full trust in the organization. In the case of the wealthier people, their funding was philanthropic because in the meantime the money that was borrowed was used up and did not come back. Only later when term–loans were paid back, were we able to return the money to each one at their home. The public were amazed. Shmuel Tunik the head of the Fire Brigade, lent out 3 dollars for the first time and explained that he is lending this only because three important people approached him and he could not refuse. But as the Gemillut Chesed returned the money to him in 2 months he reflected and marvelled: “See they brought the money back”. The second time he already lent 10 dollars but also on condition that it was paid back. The Gemillut Chesed had an account of 25 dollars with him. At that time in Stoibtz that was a fine sum of money.

 

In the year 1932

The Gemillut Chesed looked for sources to increase their turnover in view if the growing needs of the Jewish population. They decided to turn to the Folk–Bank to take on the Gemillut Chesed as a member and to assign a loan without interest to the extent of 1000 zlotys to be paid out every week. The bank delayed our request until the general meeting of the bank. The general meeting, where there were mostly members of the Gemillut Chesed, decided with a 2/3 majority vote to give us the loan.

Using the opportunity that Moshe Bogin and Chaim Dvoretzky were alderman and magistrate (of the town) in 1934, the Gemillut Chesed undertook an action to receive an annual subsidy of 500 zlotys which was actually confirmed. Part of the plan for this money, included the introduction of a system that allowed bigger short–term loans. At the general meeting it was unanimously decided to entrust the future management of the Gemillut Chesed to the old managing committee.

 

In the year 1935

The site of the Gemillut Chesed funds in the house of Shashe Borsuk had become too small so it was decided to renovate the ante–room of the old Bet Midrash and create two rooms from it for the Gemillut Chesed, for interested parties and for the committee. In our own place on Shabbat we used to

 

sto240.jpg
At the Buffet of the Gemillut Chesed Ball
Standing from right: Tie Bernshtein, Yitzchak Borsuk, Dovid Kumak, Ya'akov Kumak, Bashke Milcenzon, Mendel Isenberg, Pinchas Tunik, Feigl Bruchansky,
Hirshl Kushnir, Leah Ryser, Hirshl Kumak, Chaye Sheindel Kumak, Hodde Lipkovsky, Reuven Tunik, Getzl Ryser, Lippe Dorsky.

 

[Page 241]

organize a minyan for prayer and prepare ginger cake and brandy. Before Chanukah we set up a Ball committee specifically with young members in order to ensure the continuity of the Chanukah Ball. Members of the Ball committee were: Batya Milcenzon, Chayenke Sagalowich, Henye Esterkin, Miriam Milcenzon, Rivke Kantarovicz, Leah Dvoretzky, Roze Tunik, Mina Ryser, Chaye Sheindel Kumak, Berta Rubin, Chaye Klutsak, Leah Ryser, Feigl Rozovsky, Chashe Tunik, Michl Tunik, Idl Dovid Kapilovicz, Bebbe Baskin, Ya'akov Ryser (son of Shmerl), Yosef Tunik (son of Chaim Mashe's), Nachum Isenberg, Berl Bernshtein (son of Yeruchim), Dovid Kumak, Boruch Garmizze. Of the older women: Nechame Kantarovicz, Channe Liebe Sagalowich, Sarah Isenberg. The most active members of the committee of the Ball were: Lipman Dorsky, Fyve Aginsky, Hirsh Kumak, Reuven Tunik, Getzl Ryser.

Last winter there was an incident with a waistcoat. Shmuel Aginsky died – the “sheshtak[1]”, that's what they called him because he had a sixth finger. At his purification (a rite performed on a dead body before burial). The Chevrah–Kadisha found a waistcoat on his body in which there was sewn 400 roubles in gold and 10 and 5 rouble banknotes from the time of czar Nicholas. The Chevrah–Kadisha took 300 roubles and gave 100 roubles to the Gemillut Chesed fund. The trustees of the Chevrah–Kadisha were: Leizer Leib Shrif, Ezriel Ruditzky and Kalman Inzelbuch.

 

In the year 1936

The Gemillut Chesed took the trouble to look for ways of contacting their fellow townsmen from Stoibtz, living in America in order to receive financial support from them. They had no

specific address. Rabbi Lieberman used to receive “Maot Chittim” (wheat money) every year before Passover to distribute amongst the poor but he didn't want to give us the address as he was afraid that Rabbi Sorotzkin would also ask for contributions from America to provide wheat money for the poor. Therefore it was decided to publish a letter in the New York newspapers, in the “Forverts” and in the “Tog” addressed to the fellow townsmen of Stoibtz. The last mentioned actually responded warmly and sent us 1000 dollars – at that time equivalent to 5000 zlotys. We immediately added it to our seed capital and also claimed support from our central “Yekappe” in Vilna. They sent us another 5000 zlotys as a long–term loan without interest.

Batye Milcenzon left with her family for South–Africa. The Gemillut Chesed decided to give her a letter of thanks for her active assistance and activities in the Gemillut Chesed. Our esteemed chairman Lipman Dorsky, gave her the letter in the presence of the many who farewelled her and the writer of these lines. Bashke Milcenzon promised to help support the Gemillut Chesed (no matter where she will be). In a couple of months Bashke's first letter arrived with a cheque for £5. At that time in Stoibtz £5 amounted to 130 zlotys. Since then we received £5 from Bashke every month until the outbreak of the Second World War.

A large number of members of the Folks–Bank were automatically pushed out because of the burden of the interest, protests about promissory notes and the stringent demand for precise repayments.

The annual traditional Chanukah Ball continued with success.

Searching for a means of increasing their income, the Gemillut Chesed decided to publish a Golden Book. Fyvel Maltchadsky from the printing shop displayed great initiative in putting together the Golden Book with a beautiful art page and well–suited pearls from the Talmud. On the top of the title page, in a half circle, shone these words in gold letters: “The world is sustained by three things by Torah, by worship and by loving kindness” and at the bottom of the page, these lines called out: ‘And with three things, benevolence is more important than charity: charity – for the poor, benevolence is between the rich and the poor(for everyone): Charity is not returned but benevolence is: Charity is for the living, benevolence is for the living and the dead’. At the bottom it was dated with the year and a detail, a gematria from a verse “if you will lend money to my people”[2] etc.

The introduction to the Golden Book was written by Rabbi Yoel Sorotzkin, may his righteous memory be blessed, in which he wrote amongst other things: “If there are still beautiful deeds in the world then the most beautiful is loving kindness. And the “Zohar” (Book of Jewish Mysticism) assures that those who engage in loving kindness are assured of a long life”.

The Rabbi the gaon[3], Rabbi Yehoshua Lieberman also sent a preface. His approval was pasted into the book with another letter from Reb Eliyahu the ritual slaughter, may his righteous memory be blessed. In his time he saw the Gemillut Chesed lending 200 zloty for firewood for the poor who freeze in their homes from the cold with their little children. Reb Eliyahu himself promised to collect money from the town. He brought quotations from the destruction of the Temple how three communal leaders from Jerusalem undertook to maintain the city, one with flour, one with salt and one with wood and our wise men praised the man who gave the wood, most of all.

The purpose of the Golden Book was twofold. Firstly to record the esteem of Jewish personalities in Stoibtz. A section was dedicated to marriages, circumcisions, Bar Mitzvahs and anniversaries: of the weddings that were inscribed (those that I remember) there was: Shlayme Harkavy's daughter Chaye and her groom whose inscription took up a whole page. All the help societies of Stoibtz had things in common with the “Gemillut Chesed”: That was their bank. The money they collected was kept in the funds of the “Gemillut Chesed” who paid out the money on each occasion.

[Page 242]

The top was inscribed with the wedding in “Torah letters” and wishes of joy from the “Gemillut Chesed”. After that came the signatures of the bride and groom, all the in–laws and the officials. The wedding brought in 75 zloty; The second wedding was of Henye Esterkin and Mordechai Inzelbuch, the third wedding of Rivke Kantarovicz and Nissen Harkavy. The barmitzvah inscriptions were Feike, the son of Shimke, his son Shimon Epshtein and Leah Chaim Yaynes's grandson, Yulik Pintshevsky. Both donated 10 zlotys. All the help societies of Stoibtz had things in common with the “Gemillut Chesed”: That was their bank. The money they collected was kept in the funds of the “Gemillut Chesed” who paid out the money on each occasion.

 

sto242.jpg
The market place on a day of rest

 

In the year 1938

The traditional Chanukah evening progressed and evolved into a Chanukah Ball and brought a good income. With the help of Avrom Tsechanovsky as middle man, the management committee bought a metal box and built it into the stone wall of the old Bet Midrash. At Purim time there came to the Gemillut Chesed two working groups of matzah bakers – Menachem Kushnir (Yashke Berkes Henne's son) and Leibl Aginsky (Shashe's son) in one group, and Shlayme Kumak the brickmaker with his two sons Yehoshua and Chaim, in the second group. As they had no money they used to say: we have come to the Gemillut Chesed as a third partner – we will provide the hands and the machines and the Gemillut Chesed must give the money. At the outset the Gemillut Chesed rejected this proposal. The fact is that they had to be helped so the Gemillut Chesed began to negotiate with the Ma'ot Chittim committee (wheat money) that had at its head Reb Yitzchak Shmuel Epshtayn, Reb Leibetske Bruchansky (Esther's son) and the esteemed chairman Reb Lipman Dorsky. The Gemillut Chesed provided the flour for both undertakings. The first 100 pood (the weight of 40 Russian pounds) of matzah was divided between the Ma'ot Chittim takers and a few members of the Gemillut Chesed and sold for a really cheap price.

 

In the year 1939

This was the last year of the existence of the Gemillut Chesed in Stoibtz. The monthly report of August this year that was sent to “Yekappa” in Vilna, already showed 24000 zloty in circulation of the 14000 seed capital and 6000 zloty from “Joint”–“Yekappa” in Vilna. The rest of the money from local members' loans – 420 zloty, cash loans in the cash–book 308 zloty, old debts, that means those that have not paid in recent months – 6%, unwilling payers – 2%.

On Friday morning the 1st September Hitler attacked Poland. On Sunday evening 3rd September, a meeting of the Gemillut Chesed took place in a mood of war. A small number of people brought money and a small number of women whose husbands had been suddenly mobilised, came to take loans.

[Page 243]

On Monday 4th September we gave out 8 loans of 50 zlotys to 8 families. When we locked the door Reb Lippe spoke up: “It seems that we have ended our careers”. Suddenly, quite early on Sunday 17th September, on the Fast of Gedalia, Soviet tanks came into Stoibtz and from behind, a strong motorised army.

After Sukkot a Soviet liquidator came to liquidate the banks and cash boxes. The Gemillut Chesed also received an invitation. Our chairman Reb Lippe was afraid to go to them (they call a person like him a “kupetz”) (a merchant). Then I, as WIZO–chairperson and with my standing as a worker, together with our bookkeeper Shmuel Yosef Zlatkin and a few Gemillut Chesed books under arm, went to the commissioner and presented ourselves to him. He asked me what my function was, in such a rotten business? At my answer “assistant chairman” he asked what was my monthly salary? Answering “nothing”, he looked at me angrily and asked: “from what did you live?” I told him everything and also my life story. Then his became mood became milder and he asked me to sit down. I then found the courage and asked Shmuel Yosef to sit down too. The commissioner questioned us about everything and wrote it down and took control of the books, mainly the figures (he couldn't read Yiddish). He asked us to put aside the books and the promissory notes and bring him the whole inventory. On leaving, Reb Shmuel Yosef Zlatkin said to me: “there were perhaps people who complained that we are not running our affairs well. Now we will see how Stalin will run the Gemillut Chesed in Stoibtz”.

The only thing that we didn't hand over was the Golden Book. I hid it in my attic, thinking that perhaps there will one day be a world again. It was burnt together with the attic on the historic Friday 27th June 1941, when the Germans came in.

This is how the story of the living Stoibtz ended together with the living Gemillut Chesed. Eight years later, on the 23rd March 1949, after terrible years of suffering and pain, we are again founding a Gemillut Chesed in the names of the holy ones of Stoibtz, in our free State of Israel, forever and ever.

 

sto243.jpg
The founders of the Gemillut Chesed in the names of the holy ones of Stoibtz, in Israel
From right: Getzl Ryser, Yechezkel Ben Moshe, Moshe Borsuk

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. From the Hebrew word “shesh” meaning 6. Return
  2. A passage from Exodus 22 verse 24. Return
  3. A gaon is a genius. Return


The Bikkur Cholim – Visiting the Sick
(Society for the Care of the Sick)

by Getzl Ryser

Translated by Libby Raichman

The society “Bikkur Cholim” with its trustees: Rabbi Yehoshua Lieberman, Yitzchak Shmuel Epshtein, Mordechai Faivel Kivevicz, Avrom Chayat, Moshe Flaksin, Yosef Yuzelevsky, Yosef Miskov, Moshe Zilberman. Their task was to help poor, sick people with a doctor and medicines. Dr. Sirkin was employed by the Bikkur Cholim on a small monthly salary. He only attended to the sick with a note of authorization from the Bikkur Cholim. Medicines were given out by the pharmacist Shimon Kitayevicz according to the doctor's prescription, with the signature and the stamp of the “Bikkur Cholim”.

The funds and the accounts of the “Bikkur Cholim” were managed by the doctor together with the pharmacist every month. In serious cases the society also used Dr. Greenberg and the local hospital. Besides that the “Bikkur Cholim” also loaned out various medical supplies: first aid–bandages, iodine, aspirin, thermometers, cupping glasses, vessels, containers for ice and hot water, circular rubber tubing to put under a sick person and various other things. All of this was distributed at home in exchange for a pledge (to ensure their return). They kept an inventory and a cash book. Everything was written down but the names of the sick who received support were written with initials or signs. There were cases where the “Bikkur Cholim” supported the poor and prevented many others from becoming ill. Almost every Jew in the town paid a monthly voluntary membership fee of half a zlotte or more.

 

Women's Committee

This was a society to help lonely women and orphans. The trustees of the women's society were: The Rebbetzin Michle Lieberman, Risha Margolin, Channe Sorre Neifeld, Nechame Kantarovicz, Tzivia Chayat, Chaye Rubin, Esther Rochl Machtei, Chashke Harkavy, Itke Neifeld, Channe Bruchansky. They had a list of women members who paid a monthly fee. They also received support from America from people from the Stoibtz community who had emigrated: H. Tsurilnik and Dr Tunik. Bashke Milcenzon from Africa also helped from time to time. Their task was to provide orphans with clothes and shoes and also to teach them a trade.

 

Ice Society

This society was a branch of the “Bikkur Cholim”. It's main task was to provide the sick with ice in summer. The trustees of this society were: Eliyahu Machtei, the ritual slaughterer, Yitzchak Shmuel Epshtein, Leibetzke Bruchansky (Esther's son), Hille Akun, Shmuel Vineshtein, and Shmuel Tunik the butcher. At Chanukah time they would collect about 200 zlottes around the town and hire an ice room[1] from one of the soda–water factory owners: Aharon Isenberg, Nechame Kantarovicz and Avrom Epshtein. They packed a room full of pieces of ice chopped out of the Niemen River and left them there for the summer. “Oh that we may be healthy and not need it” – these words were said by the trustees when they parted company each time.

 

Wood Society

The task of this society was to provide wood for the poor in the winter. The trustees were: Reb Eliyahu Machtei, the slaughterer, Reb Yitzchak Shmuel Epshtein, Reb Lipman Dorsky, Velvl Tunik, Berl Moshe Ryser, Getzl Ryser. They used to go and collect money around the town, buy wood and in the evening hours they would go to whoever was in need. They approached the house or the courtyard quietly, unloaded the wood and went on their way so that no one would see or hear.

 

Bread Society

This society provided the poor with bread. The trustees were men and women: Avrom Chaim and Tzivia Chayat, Frume Reshe Epshtein, Beile Aginsky, Azriel Ruditzky and his wife, Hille Akun and Leibe Kumak. Every year all the community leaders contributed to the bread fund. The minimum contribution was the value of a pood[2] of bread a year. The society would give the poor person a voucher for a bakery – to Yashe Berke Hennes or Ozer Bernshtein the son of Beile Eshkes, for the value of 2 poods of bread a month. The society always took regular care of its accounts with the bakeries.

[Page 244]

 

sto244.jpg
The Trustees of the Bread Society
From right: Hillel Akun, Azriel Ruditzky, Ozer Kirzshner the beadle at the new Bet Midrash

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Ice rooms were used to bring down the temperatures of those who had a high fever. Return
  2. A pood is a Russian measure equivalent to approximately 16 kilograms. Return


[Page 245]

The Artisan's Association

by Getzl Ryser

Translated by Libby Raichman

The Artisan's Association in Stoibtz was founded in the year 1925 under the leadership of these members: Shlayme Utiyevsky, Avrom Levin, Baruch Garmizze.

Its first task was to defend the interests of the artisan workshops and to fight against the various laws that the Polish government proclaimed against the Jewish artisan.

They also fought against the “Guild–Law” that the Government decreed. These laws were intended to take away from many specialist Jewish artisans the possibility of having their own workshops – the Association worked intensively to elicit the artisan permits that would allow the Jewish artisans to run their own workshops. The Association also took issue with the tax office and fought for a fair assessment of various state–taxes imposed on the Stoibtz Jewish artisan.

The Association included all the Jewish tradesmen of all trades in the town and was the legitimate representative of all the Jewish artisans in every institution. It was almost the strongest economic organization in the town.

The core of the Jewish artisans in greater Poland were under the influence of the populace and voted anti–Zionist. Yet, the Association in Stoibtz itself, was almost all Zionist. The greater number of artisans paid into the funds of the Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod and almost all their children belonged to various Zionist youth–organizations.

They all met with the murderous hand (of the Nazis).

In honor of their memory.

 

sto245.jpg
Sitting from right: Gershon Ryser, Chaim Klutsh, Moshe Flaksin, Hillel Akun, Boruch Germizze, Shlayme Utyevsky, Shmuel Vineshtein, Ya'kov Leib Bernshtein, Yosef Yuzlevsky
Standing from right: Shlayme Gorfinkel, Eli Nalibutsky, Yitzchok Bernshtein, Eliezer Zretsky, Shimshon Vineshtein, Ze'ev Slutsak, Guthard, Shmuel Goldberg, Gutl Manushevicz, Shlayme Burda, Ya'akov Savin, Reuven Machtei, Mordechai Posniak.

 

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