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[Pages 5-6]

Introduction

by The Editors

One should not ask about the purpose of this book, just as one does not ask what moves a bereaved mother to mourn for her child. The bitterness of the bereavement and loss that fills the hearts of the survivors in every place demands salvation. In every memorial meeting for the martyrs, the request is made to perpetuate a dear town. Of all manners of perpetuation – monuments, institutions, etc. – the publication of a “Yizkor” book is considered to be the most appropriate. With the photographs of personalities, of institutions, or of various social groups, and through the various articles, one can feel the vibrancy and liveliness of the richness and poverty of those, who in the midst of their difficult battle for physical sustenance, dreamed of the revival of the nation, the language and the homeland, and yearned for personal redemption from slavery. Not only did they dream, but they also fought for actualization.

There is one additional aspect in all of these books.

The new generation in the Land[1] tends to look at the previous generations as lower in stature. It does not understand the splendor of the sublime might that exists in the struggle for existence in the Diaspora – and not merely physical existence. This generation sees hundreds of years of Jewish history as a thin page. This outlook is fatal to the Jewish imprint of the generation, for without these links, there is no historical foundation.

When these books will be found on the bookcases of thousands of families, they will look upon the rock that hewed them and stand on the strength and might, that despite the fact that they were a lamb among the wolves, created economic and spiritual creations, preserved their tradition, and served as the seed of the generation of independence.

We are sorry that this book is noted for its lacunae. It does not contain sufficient material to describe the personal and national vibrancy that percolated among the youth during those unsettled years. There were not enough preparations, and the lack of funds also constricted the material. Without any fault to us, the decision came to publish the book at a later time, and without any fault to us, a significant sum of money was collected and transmitted through the great toil of the activists in the United States.

The initiative of the book was taken by the natives of Svisloch in the Land, with great assistance from activists in the United States and Canada, and primarily with the assistance of the important activist who toiled without tiring for the benefit of our natives and for the perpetuation of the name of the town until the time of his death, Avraham Ayin of blessed memory.


Translator's Footnote

  1. In this translation, the term ‘the Land’ with a capitalized L, refers to the Land of Israel. It is a translation of the Hebrew word ‘Haaretz’. Return


[Pages 7-8]

Photo page 7: A view of the marketplace.

Let us Remember[1]

A dirge

by Ch. Sh. Rubin

I will remember, I will remember you, the town of my birth;
Your well stocked market and its tied stalls,
Your outskirts, indeed two for the members of my nation;
With three – covered by the shadows of the tree,
Between the goaders of pigs and the cherry trees,
There were the stalls, do not be silent.

At this time and that time, your houses of worship
With the ringing of bells and the barking of dogs,
On the days of their festivals or in their festive processions,
Together in a large crowd, with crosses in their hands –
My eyes looked into their gaze as a serpent On the heights, I will divine your enchantment.

I will remember, I will remember you on the autumn nights,
I stumble in your mud, in your wide marketplace
To the light of lanterns, with flashing shadows,
The deed of the children I the house. Greatly,
You pour your enchantment in the gold light.

During the blessed days, the fair took place in your midst,
With the shine of the foreheads of thousands of heads,
A Jew with a splendid beard stands out.
Lone among the many, outnumbered in the crowd,
He debates in Yiddish and the vernacular
Regarding a chicken and a hen
To raise them for Kapparot.

On the Sabbath eves, the sun
Is at its peak
Itzi Kaspar goes about
With his hoarse voice;
Householder, go to the bathhouse!
The marketplace is filled then like a fair,
Honorable people, the simple folk
The bath fees in their hand.

The day declines, before nightfall,
Shia the beadle, he elbows behind him,
He paces thunders with his thunderous voice;
To the synagogue the people should gather.

One after another, candles are lit,
The stars of below in the foggy light;
The ambience of holiness from the small sanctuaries
From one side to the other are enveloped with the crows of rest
With the chant of “The sanctuary of the king, the royal city”[2].

To the light of the burning candelabrum
On the holy Sabbath night
Between the courses, during the break
Father tests me in Chumash.

In my imagination, your sanctuaries now:
In a corner, in the dark –
The splendor of the graceful icon,

In a place, with bright letters
Of Mishnas and Gemaras,
In the closet over the chest of drawers,
Stare out and sight with the vision of generations.
Now in the yard, gnaw
The descendents of impure swine
Upon the pure holy pages.

You are fortunate, for I have been informed by those who came out of there
That you were burned completely at the stake
And the letters, like souls covered with blood
Ascended to on high with holiness and purity[3],
The toil and the seat of the wandering people
The enemy cannot destroy.

I remember you once more, with a curse on my lips.
Your rivers, your streams
Should turn to blood!
The should perish in you, you murderous city
All living things, all birds, all fish.

Because of the blood of my brothers and sisters
You have covered with your soil;
And with the gravestones of the graves of my ancestors
You have paved your sidewalks.

My brothers, my sisters in Sislovich
The tyrant did not leave a survivor from among you;
A mother and her children, with their death cries
They gave up their souls in the sludge of the Vishonik.
The orphan and the bereaved was its bitter lot
For those who remained in this world, will I remember.

The Vishonik Forest, woven with lights and shadows
In you I enjoyed myself during the days of summer, as a relief from
The stench of my cheder, revolted by its walls,
How you have now turned upon me as a cemetery
For fathers, mothers, with infants in their bosoms!
Tell me, my forest, with the whisper of the leaves,
About the agonizing tortures;
And together we will gloomily recite
Yitgadal Veyitkadash.

Yitgadal Veyitkadash
Over crushed skulls
And shredded bellies;
A scream and a lament
With “Shma Yisrael”
Kel Maleh Rachamim,
Who is like You among the G–ds![4]

Sons and daughters of my forlorn nation
Tears do not flow for nothing.
The cup of tears is filled
A spark roasted in the ashes of the martyrs,
A flame arises from the many fires
For their journey, and a thousand generations;
For the seed of the Satan will yet fail for the remnant,
Its arms will be defeated with the help of the Rock of Israel.

Ch. Sh. Rubin (Egosewicz)


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Parts of this poetic dirge are rather cryptic in nature. My translation may not reflect the true meaning properly. Other parts flow more naturally. Return
  2. A snippet from the Lecha Dodi prayer of Friday nights. Return
  3. A reference to a story in the Talmud during which Rabbi Chananya ben Tradyon was covered with Torah scrolls and set on fire by the Roman executioners. During his agonies, his students asked him what he saw, and he said, “parchment burning, and letters ascending on high”. I suspect that the phrase ‘you are fortunate’, which seems quite out of place here, refers to the fact that the Jewish people as a whole continues on even after the Holocaust. Return
  4. References to various Jewish prayers. Yitgadal Veyitkadash is the opening phrase of the Kaddish prayer, recited during synagogue services by mourners. Kel Maleh Rachamim is the opening phrase of the prayer for the dead. Shma Yisrael is the doxology recited during the daily prayers, but is also recited by those near death. Return


[Pages 9-12]

Svisloch

(Its history from an economic perspective[1])

by Avraham Ayin

The town of Svisloch, which was called Sislovitz or Shislovitz by the Jews, already existed from the 15th century. It belonged to landowners (poretzes) with the name Fakusz. In the 17th century, the town passed over to landowners with the name Kriszpinow. In the 18th century, it became the property of the Tyskowicz counts. Count Wyncenti Tyskowicz made great efforts to enlarge and beautify the town. He constructed a square marketplace surrounded by houses. In the center of the marketplace, he built a square podium with a base of about 4 meters square and a height of about 15 meters. A large brass image was displayed on top of the platform, from which a meter long brass rod extended. In the town, it was said that the platform and its metallic point were intended to serve for protection from lightning and fires… Five main streets extended out from the marketplace: 2 to the east, and one to each of the other directions. At the entrances to the city at the edge of the streets, there were gates built of stone (“Brom”)[2]. Heavy doors closed them during the nights. Between the gates, the town was surrounded by deep ditches, so that the entry would only be through the aforementioned gates. At night, when the gates were closed, entry to and exit from the city was prevented. To the east of the marketplace, between Amstiwowa and Rudbaka streets, there was a section in which stores were built from large stones. The count used to conduct fairs there twice a year. Each fair lasted for four weeks. People from all of Lithuania and central Poland would come to the fairs. The merchants would display their wares in the stores. Tyskowicz planted a civic garden, containing walking paths, to the west of the city. A gymnasium was built in the southwest of the city, which in later years became a teachers seminary, that graduated teachers for the primary schools throughout the region of Grodno. With the passage of time, a synagogue courtyard was built to the northwest. In the southeast, houses were built along narrow lanes called “Okepes” (excavations).

Several fires broke out in Svisloch. Thrice, a large portion of the city went up in flames: in the 1830s, in the 1880s, and in the summer of 1910. After the fires, the town was rebuilt anew, and its external appearance was improved by walls and fine houses.

 

The Jewish Settlement in Svisloch

We do not know exactly when the Jewish settlement in Svisloch arose. However, it is clear that there was a Jewish settlement for two hundred years. The cemetery of the town serves as proof to this. The gravestones whose inscriptions can still be read are from the 18th century. However, there are stones older than these, from which the inscriptions have been obliterated. Furthermore, at the entrance to the cemetery, this is a section where the gravestones are sunken into the earth, and it is difficult to know that people were buried there.

From the evidence in the cemeteries, it is possible to deduce that the Jewish community was small. It only began to grow in the 18 century, when the town passed over to the Tyskowicz counts. Wyncenti Tyszowicz built up the shops and conducted the fairs. These brought in merchants from afar, who turned into permanent residents. I see corroboration of this in the history of my Ayin family, whose roots were in Grodno, and settled in Svisloch during the 18th century. These were called “novikim”, which means newcomers in Russian. The Jewish settlement grew to the extent that in the 1847 census, there were 997 Jews in the community of Svislovich. In the subsequent 50 years, the population was doubled. According to a government census in 1897, the Jewish population numbered 2086 souls[3]. The population grew despite the emigration to England, America and Argentina[4]. The development in the town of the Jewish community, as well as the Christian community, spurred on the economic development of the Jewish population.

 

The Economic Life of the Jews of Svisloch

During the early years of the community, the majority of the Jews of Svisloch worked in the lumber and grain trades, and were shopkeepers and craftsmen. Business blossomed when Tyskowicz conducted the fairs. Hotels, guesthouses and taverns were built. During the 1830s, when the stores were burnt, and there was nobody to rebuild them (the counts of the Tyszkowicz were intermixed with the Polish uprising, and fled abroad), the large fairs ceased, and many Jews were left with a dearth of livelihood. The Jews began to seek out new sources of livelihood. Some studied tanning. At first, they worked the hides of large animals. Later, they learned to work with finer hides. For this purpose, experts were brought in from Germany who taught them how to work all sorts of good hides. The pioneers of tanning were Pinchas Brzanki, Sender Mincz, Eliahu Rubin and his sons Itche Pinchas Levinsztyk. Tanning increased significantly. At the end of the 19th century, there were already approximately 10 tanning enterprises in the town, which employed several hundred workers.

The profits of the tanning workers were higher than that of the tradesmen. At times, they were three times as high. The town was in need of outside workers. These were brought in from the neighboring towns and villages. The high standard of living of the workers, and their purchasing power, raised the standard of living of the shopkeepers and the tradesmen. The following were numbered among the shopkeepers: Zdanowicz, Olinski and Liss. Their shops were general stores. In these stores, one could purchase anything from a shoelace to a nickel samovar, salted fish, fine sardines, galoshes, fine hats, sheets, etc.

In 1906, when the railway line between Siedlice and Blagaya was completed, and there was a railway station 2 kilometers from the town, the contact with the larger cities of Volkovisk, Bialystock, and even the capital Warsaw improved. New residents were attracted to the town and the population grew. There were already approximately 3,500 Jews in Svisloch before the First World War. During the First World War, refugees arrived from the town of Lapitch, Minsk region, and some of them remained as permanent residents of Svisloch.

 

The Economic Situation after the First World War

After the First World War, the tanning industry in Svisloch operated only on a small scale, for the principal market for processed hides, Russia, was closed to Svisloch. Therefore, many residents were left without livelihood. Emigration from Svisloch increased on account of the economic recession and Polish anti–Semitism. They immigrated to wherever they could: Argentina, North America, and when the quotas to America were filled, immigration to the Land of Israel began. Nevertheless, due to natural increase, the number of Jews in the town did not decrease. At the time of the Nazi conquest of the town, the population numbered approximately 3,500.

The emigrants from Svisloch during the final decades congregated primarily in the cities of Liverpool, New York and Montreal. Most of them adjusted well and took their places in manufacturing and various professions. They also became involved in communal work. In this realm, it is fitting to mention Rabbi Dr. Belkin and David Lewis. The former is the son of Shlomo Belkin, a Hebrew teacher in Svisloch, a writer in Hebrew newspapers, and an activist in the Zionist movement in the town. His son Dr. Samuel Belkin studied in yeshivas in Poland and America, and earned his doctorate. Now he is the president of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Yeshiva and School[5].

David Lewis is the son of Moshe Lewis (Moshe Losz or Moshele Chatzkel's). His father Moshe was an activist in the Bund movement in Svisloch, and was active in the social and cultural life of the town. His son David currently lives in Montreal, where he serves as the general secretary of the Jewish Workmen's Circle of Canada[6]. He is a lawyer by profession, but he dedicates his time and energy to the S. S. P. He is also known in Socialist circles in the United States, and among the leaders of the workers in England.[7]

Avraham Ayin (secretary of the assistance committee of Svisloch natives in New York.)


Translator's Footnotes

  1. There is a footnote in the text which reads as follows (note, the footnote is not marked in the text itself – this is probably an omission): I extracted the historical facts from a research work that was written by Waclaw Kozlowski, a student of the teacher's seminary in Svisloch. Return
  2. There is a footnote in the text here which reads as follows: In my day, there were no more than 3 “fromim”: the other ones, on the roads from Brisk and Grodno, were no longer in existence at that time. (Translator's note, in the text, the term is “brom”, whereas in the footnote it is “from” – singular of “fromim”). Return
  3. There is a footnote in the text here which reads as follows: The number of Jews in 1847 and 1897 were taken from a Jewish encyclopedia in Russian (Yevreyskaya Encyclopedia). Return
  4. There is a footnote in the text which reads as follows: A number of Jewish families immigrated to Argentina in the 1890s, where they settled in the land of Moshavat Chevon. Return
  5. I.e. Yeshiva University of New York. Return
  6. David Lewis was later to become head of the New Democratic Party of Canada (i.e. the Socialist Party of Canada), and served as a prominent parliamentarian. Return
  7. There is a footnote in the text which reads as follows (note, the footnote is not marked in the text itself – this is probably an omission): Regarding the Land of Israel, BL”S worked with a national feeling that was nurtured by Hebrew education and the political events that are described in other articles in this anthology (the translator and the editor). Return


[Pages 13-18]

History of the Community of Svisloch

by Reuven Egosewicz

Photo page 13: Reuven Egosewicz of blessed memory

Reuven Egosewicz, the son of Reb Eliahu and Rachel Horodner, lived in Svisloch until after the First World War. He received his rabbinical ordination, and preached to a traditional, social movement. He immigrated to Antwerp, Belgium, and devoted his time to research. He immigrated to the United States around 1930, where he continued on his research, leading a life of asceticism, researching the Talmud and its commentators. He published three books of research in Yiddish, “The Old Greek Philosophy”, “Principles”, “Faith and Apostasy”, “Explanations on Baba Kama”.[1]. He also left manuscripts. He died in Israel at the beginning of the year 5772[2].

All my efforts to find the first source from which Svisloch sprung were for naught. The paths led me only to the date 5570 (1809–1810). That year, the book “Marot Hatzovaot” (Colored Mirrors) by Gaon Rabbi Moshe Zeev the son of Eliezer, which contains the approbation of the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Yechezkel “Katzenelfoign”, the head of the rabbinical court of the community of Svisloch[3].

47 years later, in the year 5617 (1856–1857), the famous rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Meir Yonah Shatz of blessed memory served in Svisloch. He was the author of the books “Hashiloach” on the aggadaic material of the Tractate Brachot, “Pesach Leil Shimurim” on the Passover Haggadah, “Petach Dvir” on the Itur, and Har Hamoria” on the laws of sacrifices from Maimonides .” Aside from those books that he succeeded in publishing during his lifetime, the following remain in manuscript form ready for publication: A short commentary on the entire Jerusalem Talmud; a commentary on “Hilchot Gedolot” that he wrote when he was the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Brest Litovsk; the book “Mei Shiloach” that is novellae on the aggadaic material of the Order of Moed, other novellae on halachot from the entire Talmud, and questions, responsa, and notes that were written in the margins of the Talmud, the Rif, the Rosh and the Ran; and also novellae on the Zohar and emendations to the Zohar and Machazor Kol Bo[4].

Rabbi Meir Yonah died in the year 5651 or 5652 (1890–1892). He served in the rabbinate of Svisloch from the year 5617 (1856–1857) until his death, aside from a short break in the interim where he served as the rabbi and head of rabbinical court of Brest Litovsk. From this we learn about the importance of the community of Svisloch at that time, for there was a relationship regarding Torah leadership between it and Brest Litovsk, whose rabbinical seat was considered as the most important of the entire region. The following are words that emanated from the pen of Rabbi Meir Yonah himself regarding Svisloch in his introduction to “Petach Hadvir” that was published in the year 5634 (1873–1874):

“We ask about the welfare of the guests, that is the people of the holy community of Svisloch in the midst of whom I have resided from the year 5617 (1856–1857). They have borne all of my faults. They are an honorable community. There are also those who are great in Torah and the fear of Heaven, upholders of Torah. Their Beis Midrash contains a library filled with old and new books.”

The Torah greats of the year 5634 (1873–1874) had all passed away before I could know them. I only know from hearsay about the scholarship of my grandfather Reb Chaim Shmuel (the father of my mother Rachel of blessed memory), about whose greatness and righteousness they would speak wonders. He had the merit that they would wait for him before the repetition of the Shmone Esrei in the old Beis Midrash, the place of worship of Rabbi Meir Yonah[5]. Similarly, I have heard about Reb Baruch Ayin, who later lived in Amdur, that he was one of the Torah greats during the life of Rabbi Meir Yonah – as is evidenced by his book “Dvar Mitzvah” on the topic of the enumeration of the 613 commandments, and a commentary on the words of Maimonides in the Book of Commandments and “Yad Sharashim Asher Hishrish” by Baruch the son of Rabbi Eliahu Ayin of Svisloch, Warsaw 5644 (1883–1884).

In order to be able to properly appreciate the genius of Rabbi Baruch, it is sufficient to note the following fact: When Svisloch went up in flames in the summer of the year 5670 (1909–1910), and the old Beis Midrash that contained a rich treasury of old and new books was also burned, Rabbi Baruch wished to make up the loss to some degree, and he donated more than 500 valuable books. My brother Reb Yehuda Leib of blessed memory (who died after these lines were written), a great scholar who was asked to classify the books, expressed his astonishment that all of the books were full with glosses by Rabbi Baruch, and these were only a portion of the books from his collection.

I also merited to know Reb Moshe Zalman Rubinstein of blessed memory. Apparently, he was also a Torah great of the year 5634 (1873–1874). About him as well, and his scholarship and righteousness, legends were told. Even though their origins cannot be corroborated, the stories testify to his greatness[6].

During his old age, Reb Moshe Zalman sat in the Beis Midrash of Amstiwowa Street. My rabbi and teacher Rabbi Moshe David of blessed memory, the main teacher of the town, who was expert in the early and latter commentators, was also part of that group.

Several people with rabbinical ordination worshipped in the new Beis Midrash: Reb David Meisel – who had a sharp mind and was the son–in–law of Reb Shmuel Malshinker, Reb Meir Leibush and Reb Avraham Olkanicki.

It is fitting to devote a few lines to Reb Shmuel Malshinker himself. He was a Jew graced with fine traits, who devoted his energies to the Beis Midrash that was called by his name. He was a Torah reader, a prayer reader, and the teacher of Mishnah to the congregation. He set up the Beis Midrash as a study hall for Yeshiva students from out of town.

Reb Shlomo Belkin, also studied in the Beis Midrash of Reb Meir. He was known as a scholar in the Holy Language. He was a teacher. He was the father of Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin, the president of Yeshiva University. Reb Shmuel moved to Slonim when he was already in his forties, and received his rabbinical ordination.

However, the largest number of scholars was found in the old Beis Midrash. Reb Mordechai Slutski worshipped there. He was a scholar and a scribe, who himself authored books and edited the books of others[7]. Like him, Reb Yisrael Zelcer was a shamash in the Beis Midrash. The diligent studier Reb Leib Chaike's studied in this Beis Midrash. Reb Yosha Darciner, whose entire aspiration was to go to the Land, also worshiped there. Even the rabbi of the city Rabbi Yosef Rosen, who was later appointed as a rabbi in Passaic, New Jersey (U. S. A.) would pay attention to what he said.

Reb Yerachmiel would sit among the great scholars at the second part of the eastern wall. My father of blessed memory sat next to him. I permit myself to relate the following fact about my father: when I was in Bialystock, I entered the Beis Midrash to display my didactic powers that I had recently acquired from the Yeshiva of Mir. One of the scholars, who knew that I was from Svisloch, asked me who I was. When I told him that I was the son of Eliahu Horodner, he said to me, “Would it be that in another ten years, you would be known as your father.”

The town did not only excel in scholarship. It excelled in dedication and activism without the expectation of obtaining a reward. When the Beis Midrash was burned among other buildings, Reb Shmuel Malshinker volunteered for the manual labor. He worked with mortar and bricks, and simultaneously did not neglect his communal work. All of this was not for personal benefit. In this manner, Reb Shmuel was not exceptional. Reb Yosef Katzenelboigen (Yoske Grodzinkes, a descendent of the famous Rabbi of Brisk Rabbi Avraham Katzenelboigen) dedicated his entire life to communal work: the Talmud Torah and Zionism. He was also selected to one of the first Zionist congresses. An important communal task was the responsibility of my father of blessed memory, who worked hard to support his household. He was the gabbai (trustee) of the old Beis Midrash, Maos Chittin (Passover charity) and Tzedaka Gedola. (My father of blessed memory was modest and did not belong to the wealthy class. From the 5–6 rubles that he earned a week, he was like Hillel in his time, dedicating half of it to tuition. Why did they see fitting, indeed, to give him the responsibility of such an important trusteeship?) My father's student in communal work, Reb Feivel Lev (Feivel the Goralnik) later accepted communal work upon himself. We should mention Reb Melech “the Valker” – a righteous man who performed the most difficult and menial charitable acts. He would visit the sick and tend to them even during an epidemic. He would comfort the bitter of heart. If Reb Melech saw a Jew working hard, he would immediately help him in order to fulfill the commandment “You shall surely bear his burden with him”.

Here is not the place to describe our town, particularly because my friend Avraham Ayin already preceded me[8]. I wish only to mention people whom I was together with, or who I knew them in some capacity; these proved that the town in its youth did not embarrass its elders. I knew the friend of my elder brother Chaim Shmuel Aharon the son of the rabbi (the son of the rabbi of the city, the rabbi and Gaon Shneur Zalman Pines of blessed memory) who was later known in the Slobodka Yeshiva as “the Genius from Svisloch”, and of whom great things were told about him as well in other Yeshivas. Today he is known as the splendid Gaon Rabbi Aharon Kotler.

Another friend of my brother was the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Feivel Rubin of blessed memory who became known as a Torah great in Lida and Ponovitch. The conditions of his life brought him to a situation where he began to work in the tannery of his grandfather, to the perspective of “a plate of platon[9] placed in a dirty place”. He met his death at the hands of the Nazis. I also wish to mention my friend who succeeded in Torah, the head of the Yeshiva of Volozhin, the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Shimon Langbard, who lives in the Land of Israel.

Many scholars and maskilim were natives of this town. Some of them passed away and some are alive. Some are scribes and disseminators of Torah, and others are active in communal life. These are only a small part of the intellectual fruit that the town of Svisloch produced. These are the ones I knew. Some of them were known as Svislochites because they remained in the town for only a short time[10].

Considering that the town of Svisloch is only a tiny point on the map of cities and towns in which the Nazi monster wreaked destruction, it can be seen from here the type of fruitful garden of intellect that the Nazi beast cut off with its destruction.

Reuven Egosewicz of blessed memory


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Four are listed here, although the number given in the text is three. Baba Kama is a Talmudic tractate. Return
  2. It is currently the year 5766 (2005–2006), so this date is obviously in error. Return
  3. There is a long footnote in the text as follows: Note: it is appropriate to point out that Reb Yechezkel of blessed memory was the third child of the famous rabbi of Brisk, Rabbi Avraham Katzenelboigen of blessed memory, the father of seven sons (see page 17 in Daat Kedoshim of Eisenstadt Viener). From that research, it can be deduced that Rabbi Yechezkel was already elderly in 5570 (1809–1810). In that research, it appears that Rabbi Yechezkel did not occupy any rabbinical post prior to Svisloch. From there, it appears that he served for many years in Svisloch prior to the aforementioned date, since, as was usual, first rabbinical posts were taken by rabbis in their younger days. It appears that Rabbi Yechezkel was greatly honored among Torah scholars. As proof to this, the aforementioned Rabbi Moshe Zeev, who was so great in Torah that he was appointed as the head of the rabbinical court of Bialystock, sought after the approbation of Rabbi Yechezkel for his book after he already had obtained the approbation of the rabbi of Brisk. From this we learn that Svisloch was a very important community. Return
  4. There is a footnote in the text as follows: See “A Bitter Eulogy on Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever” written by the son of Rabbi Meir Yonah, the rabbi and Gaon Reb Mordechai, who was also a rabbi in Svisloch. Return
  5. There is a footnote in the text that reads as follows: I heard this from the mouth of Reb David Brzkowski, one of the elders of Svisloch, who serves as the shamash in the Beit Yisrael synagogue in New York. One can rely on his words, for he was already an adult at the time, and from the death of Grandfather until the present sixty hears have not passed, and it says “one remembers until sixty years”. I was fortunate to know this Reb David well, for through him, one can peer at the G–d fearing characters that Reb Meir Yonah mentions. This Reb David upholds the adage “The moon was not created except for learning”, for he sits until after midnight during the night studying Mishnah. However, he does not act haughtily as a scholar, for according to the Halacha he is forbidden to fast. He also fasts on BaHab, on the eve of Rosh Chodesh (Yom Kippur Katan) and on Mondays and Thursdays – of which I am familiar from my youth. (Translator's notes: the latter listed fast days are minor fast days observed by custom by especially pious people. The last sentence is somewhat garbled, and does not seem to make sense.) Return
  6. There is a footnote in the text as follows: In New York, his granddaughter married Mr. Avraham Ayin, the secretary of the Svisloch Mutual Benefit Organization. Mr. Avraham Ayin was a relative of Rabbi Baruch. Reb Zeev Ayin of blessed memory also belonged to this family. His elder brother Reb Moshe Ayin gave over to me the genealogy of his relative Reb Baruch Ayin. Return
  7. There is a footnote in the text as follows: The book of Rabbi Mordechai Slutski was entered into the catalog of the Jewish Theological Seminary under the name of “Azharot for the Festival of Shavuot” by Rabbi Eliahu the Elder, with the commentary from the old generation, published anew and with a commentary called Hidur Zaken, Mordechai Slutski of Svisloch, Warsaw, 5660 (1899 – 1900). Return
  8. There is a long footnote in the text as follows: See the article of Avraham Ayin “The Town of Sislovich” in “YIVO pages”, September–October 1944. Similarly, “The Economic Life of Sislovich”, May–June 1945. I pointed out to Mr. Ayin several lacunae in his article, which he himself expressed his wish that I fill. For example, in his description of a wedding in Sislovich, he neglected to mention the feast for the poor that was no less fancy than the feast for the relatives and friends, and at times even more so fancy. One must not forget that this feast was not to find favor in their eyes, but exactly the opposite, to find favor solely in G–d's eyes. Poor people from the area would gather together for this feast. Among them were talented jesters and good hearted beggars who entertained the guests. Other ceremonial meals such as the feast of the “Chevra Lina” would instill light in the darkness of the life of the exile. The charitable distributors of Maos Chittin and Tzedaka Gedola, as well as the providing for guests that Father of blessed memory busied himself with along with Reb Zelig of blessed memory (The Oleboder teacher) the trustee of Hachasat Orchim – would relate to the recipients in an honorable manner, in particular to the poor who would receive charity from Tzedaka Gedola. The recipient would feel no lack of his honor. Return
  9. I am not sure what the word ‘platon’ is referring to here. It could mean one of: Plato, feuilliton, or platinum. The adage is unclear. Return
  10. As an example, I mention the name of Mr. David Lewis (Losz), a famous lawyer and the national secretary of the Canadian Socialist union. Return


[Page 19]

The Spiritual Leaders

The Editor

As in other Jewish communities, the spiritual leadership was in the hands of the rabbis. Differentiating between kosher and treif (non–kosher), family life (marriage and divorces), Torah based court cases between man and his fellowman, representation before the government, primary supervision over the houses of prayer and charitable institutions – all of these were decided by the rabbi. It goes without saying that all of these demanded an understanding of life, practicality, personalities, and the power of convincing. However, in a place where in the eastern wall of the synagogue, all of the laymen who were great in Torah were sitting, it was up to the rabbi to supercede them all in Torah so that they would relate to him with honor. Thus was it in Svisloch two generations ago, when the Beis Midrashes were rich with laymen who were great scholars, and they determined who was fitting to serve as the rabbi of the town. Greatness in Torah was what made a rabbi fitting for his position. The rest of the requirements were of secondary importance. When the scholars of the town became fewer, the weight of other characteristics, such as impressive appearance, wisdom of life, oratory skill, etc. grew in importance.

As we have read in the previous article, we have no information regarding spiritual life of the town from the early generations. Only little is known about Rabbi Yechezkel Katzenfoigen and later about the Kochav Hameir Rabbi Meir Yonah.


The History and Personality of Rabbi Meir Yonah
the Commentator on Haiatur

The Editor

(From what was told to his grandson the writer Yaakov Rabinowitz to Dr. B. M. Lewin)

Rabbi Meir Yonah (his family name was Brancki, and in order to clear up some confusion, in his old age he received a passport with the name Meir Yonah Glanowski) was born in the year 5577 (1716–1717) to his father Rabbi Shmuel Zalman who was the rabbi of Suchowola near Bialystock.

After his father died in the prime of his life, Rabbi Meir occupied the rabbinical seat of Suchowola at the age of 18. From there he moved to Porozowa, where his father had served as a preacher and judge before he moved to the rabbinate of Suchowola. From there he moved to Konyuszany and from there to Svisloch (called Shishlovitz, in the Horodno region). In the year 5632 (1871–1872) he was accepted as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Brest Litovsk (Brisk) (see Ir Tehila, the book on the community of Brisk and its rabbis). After he lived in Brisk for a year and a half without his family (his wife was a merchant and did not want to leave her store and be dependent on the rabbinical salary, he was forced to return to Svisloch. Brisk took Rabbi Yosef Ber[1], the father of Rabbi Chaim Brisker, as a rabbi. Rabbi Meir Yonah dedicated his efforts to books that were thought of as stepchildren, and that were not dealt with much or even only very little (The Jerusalem Talmud, the Itur, Halachot Gedolot, and the orders on the Temple service and sacrifices by Maimonides). In the year 5634 (1873–1874), he published the second volume of the Itur, a book that had been dealt with in the ancient tradition (see Shem Gedolim and Orchei Haitur by Rabbi Yerucham). Heavy tragedies in his family had an ill effect on him, however he overcame them and completed the first half of the first section in 5643 (1882–1883), and the second half in 5648 (1887–1888) (see the end of his introduction to the second half of the first section of the Itur).

Photo page 20: The Gaon Rabbi Meir Yonah.

The publisher Reb Yitzchak Goldman advised Rabbi Meir Yonah to emend the text of the Itur internally with his glosses and notes; and if he wishes to maintain the unclear versions, he should only include them in his notes. If he were to do this, Reb Yitzchak would take it upon himself to publish it, and would also provide him with funds, books and the like to ease his work on his other books. However Rabbi Meir Yonah trembled and said, “Far be it from me to touch the ancient text, even if it is unclear. All emendations are only speculation, and if I were to err, Heaven forbid, I would mislead the public.”

In the years 5643–5644 (1882–1884), he also published his book on the Passover Haggadah called Lepesach Leil Shimurim, and his book Mei Shiloach on the legends of tractate Berachot of the Talmud.

In the year 5647 or 5648 (1886–1888), the first section of his great work on the section of his large book on the sections of the Temple service and sacrifices of Maimonides was published.

Rabbi Meir Yonah's energy for work was boundless. Until he took ill, he was particular about his daily hour–long walk outside the city, even on rainy and snowy days. He became ill with cancer in the year 5650 (1889–1890) and died on the 17th of Sivan 5651 / June 23, 1891 ).

The following manuscripts remain from him: four large volumes on the Jerusalem Talmud (in which he also included the novellae of his eldest son Rabbi Avraham Aharon, who began to write a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud, but only succeeded in completing the order of Zeraim[2], for he died at the age of 49). In the year 5644 (1883–1884), he completed two large volumes of Hilchot Gedolot, Mei Shiloach on the legends of the Order of Moed, and a book on Maimonides. All of these were burned along with his entire library in the large fire that took place in Svisloch a few years before the war.

Rabbi Meir Yonah was an Orthodox man, and very particular to the point of extremism. During his youth, he would persecute Hassidim. He aroused the wrath of the wealthy and well placed people of his city when he took the side of the laborers and the poor. In his last years, he was also persecuted by them. He never extended a greeting to any person who came to him as long as he thought that he was coming for a Torah judgment. He would not look at the disputants until he had issued a legal decision. After that, he would ask them to sit down, and would greet nicely any guest who came to his door.

He preferred breadth to depth in his style of learning. In his library, there was almost no book without his notes on the margins, including in the Zohar and the prayer book of the Ari (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria).

His hatred of Hassidism (that weakened in his latter years of life, when he would even speak in their praise, after the denigration of religion increased in his place) did not interfere with him occupying himself with books of the hidden Torah[3], even though he discouraged others from occupying themselves with them.

In laws of the permitted and forbidden, civil laws, he would deal primarily with the early rabbis. (An adage said in his name was, “I myself am a latter rabbi”.)

I heard the following story from the butchers of a city near Svisloch. Once on the night before Passover, he sat for eight hours until the morning, searching for a possibility of declaring kosher an ox that had cost the butchers 80 rubles, and if it were to be declared non–kosher, the city would be left without meat for Passover. In the morning, he sent his shamash (assistant) to call together a quorum of laymen. Together with them, and under the responsibility of all of them, he declared the ox to be kosher. When one of the laymen challenged him, he stamped upon him with his foot. The butchers said that in his day, they became rich, and after his death, they became poor. Despite this, he was strict upon himself.

The gentiles of the region who would come before him for judgments with Jews, would place oil into the eternal lamp on his grave after his death (something that became evident after beadle had forgotten a few times to put oil in the lamp during days of snow and mud, and it was found burning. After the matter was investigated, it was discovered that gentiles had put oil in it.)

From among his children, it is worthwhile to note the following: a) Rabbi Avraham Aharon (family name is Rabinowitz), a great expert in the Jerusalem Talmud and early rabbis, a very modest man, and a bit of a Maskil, who was accepted as a rabbi in Konyuszany, and left the rabbinate in the middle of the night out of fear because of the shadows of a dispute; b) Rabbi Mordechai (family name is Shatz), a man of generous character traits, a modest man who forewent his own honor, who had a bitter spirit in his old age after he had lived a bitter life because of the dispute in Svisloch. He was the rabbi of the minority in a city where the majority, including the wealthy of the city, took for themselves a different rabbi. This Rabbi Mordechai was among the first in Bialystock of those who purchased land in Petach Tikva.

(Note: from among the grandchildren of Rabbi Meir Yonah, it is worthwhile to note the famous writer Yaakov Rabinowitz, who died in the Land; and, may he live, Mr. Avraham Glin, a Maskil, the author of the book Ayin Beayin, and among the first settlers of Ein Ganim in Petach Tikva.)

The Editor


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Soloveitchik Return
  2. The first of the six orders of the Mishna. Return
  3. Hassidism places a stress on the hidden (i.e. mystical) aspects of the Torah. Return


[Page 22]

The Rabbis after Rabbi Meir Yonah

Rabbi Mordechai the son of Rabbi Meir Yonah Shatz

Photo page 22: Rabbi Mordechai the son of Rabbi Meir Yonah.

He was known just as Rabbi Mordechai, without the title of Rabbi of the City. He had an impressive appearance, was modest, and avoided disputes even though disputes followed him. After the passing of Rabbi Meir Yonah, his son was not invited to serve in his place. In the city, they would say that this was because Rabbi Meir Yonah did not command that his son should be the rabbi of the city, certainly because he did not feel him worthy of such. I heard from Mr. Avraham Glin the grandson of Rabbi Meir Yonah that at first Rabbi Mordechai was wealthy. He was a large–scale merchant of dyes in Bialystock who also had business connections with London. However, he suffered great losses during a recession. He sold everything in order to pay his debts, including the plot of land that he had purchased in Peach Tikva. After he lost his fortune, he answered the call of some of the residents of the city to serve as rabbi, even though most of the residents of the city had accepted Rabbi Shneur Zalman Pines as rabbi, who was known by the name of “Stadtrav”. Rabbi Mordechai was loved by the masses on account of modesty. Even though members of his community were very dedicated to him, he lived a life of poverty and tribulation. He had a minyan in his home, and only on festivals would he would he come to the synagogue where the simple masses would congregate, for the honorable and wealthy people of the community would be in the Beis Midrash. Rabbi Mordechai wrote several books: Ahavat Mordechai, Torat Mordechai, and Hesped Mar (Bitter Lamentation, about Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, the rabbi of Bialystock and one of the first of Chovevei Tzion).

Recorded from the mouth of Mr. A. Glin


[Page 23]

Rabbi Shneur Zalman Pines of blessed memory

{Text footnote: I approached the son of the Rabbi and Gaon Aharon Kotler[1] several times in order to receive information on the story of his life, but to my dismay, I was not answered. I was forced, therefore, to write something from my memory. The editor.}

He was accepted as rabbi by most of the town, including the scholars. He was short, thin, and weak, and despite all of this he was accepted as the rabbi after Rabbi Meir Yonah of blessed memory for no other reason than his greatness in Torah. I remember him from my childhood. I would visit the house of the rabbi as a friend of the delightful child Arka (today the Rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Aharon Kotler). We studied together with Father of blessed memory, and we sat on “watch”[2] together. The house of the rabbi shone with the splendor of the Gaon. Wonders were spoken about the eldest daughter. She excelled with her sharp intelligence, and knowledge of Hebrew and the sciences. Later, she became a doctor. Arka was extolled for his sharp answers to the questions of the teachers.

The rabbi himself spoke very little. His voice was weak, his words were pleasant, and he was greatly honored by the important people of the city. On festivals, he would preach primarily about matters of Halacha and would receive signs of approval from the scholars.

The dispute between the sides was conducted with bitterness, but his voice was not heard. Nevertheless, apparently this dispute was one of the factors that led to his untimely passing.

The editor


Translator's Footnotes

  1. He was the Rosh Yeshiva of the very large Lakewood Yeshiva of New Jersey. Return
  2. Mishmar or “watch” is an all night learning session. Return


[Page 24]

Rabbi Yosef Rozen of blessed memory

Photo page 24: Rabbi Yosef Rozen and his wife.

After the death of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Rabbi Yosef Rozen was accepted as the rabbi of Svisloch. He had an impressive appearance, thin, tall, with a countenance that exuded good naturedness. His scholarship exuded sharpness. In addition, he was intelligent and expert in the matters of the world. Therefore, even people who tended toward skepticism would come to him for Torah judgments. He would always lean toward the path of compromise. In a dispute, he would mediate between the disputants, to their mutual satisfaction.

He did not particularly excel as a preacher, and he did not have the power to move hearts. However, he words were filled with content and sharpness. The scholars – and there were many scholars in Svisloch – were particularly satisfied. He was not extremist in his Orthodoxy, and he was able to accommodate the spirit of the times.

Most of the people of the community were on his side. As previously, a few stood at the side of Rabbi Mordechai Shatz, who cloistered himself within the four ells of Halacha and did not become involved in the dispute that became sharper and more serious even with the success of Rabbi Rozen. My father of blessed memory said that the rabbi complained before him and expressed his bitterness about the dispute, to the point where he loathed the rabbinical seat of the town. After the First World War, he moved to America, and obtained an honorable position in Passaic near New York.

He was tied to the Land of Israel with the strands of his soul, and he even invested money there. He purchased property in Jerusalem, and visited Israel at set times. He died at an old age.

Y. D. Egosewicz


[Page 25]

The Rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Mordechai Dov Eidelberg,
may G–d avenge his blood

Photo page 25: Rabbi Mordechai Dov Eidelberg, may G–d avenge his soul.

He was born in the year 5640 (1879–1880) to his father the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak of blessed memory, a rabbi in the region of Bialystock, a descendent of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Friluker, and adherent of Brisk, a descendent of the Rema of blessed memory.

Rabbi Mordechai Dov was numbered among the expert students of the Chofetz Chaim of holy blessed memory, whose Torah and ways were his path of life. He authored books on Halacha (law) and Aggada (lore). As is related, the Chofetz Chaim of holy blessed memory set aside times to study his compositions.

He married his life's partner, the righteous, pure of heart and pure of deed, Mrs. Chaya Applebaum, who came from a family of Torah greats. She was the granddaughter of the author of Kerem Chemed on the four sections of the Code of Jewish Law, and a descendent of other such individuals.

After his marriage, he studied in Volozhin, and was known there as the Diligent One of Bialystock. He received his rabbinic ordination from the leaders of the generation, including the Gaon Rabbi Rafael Shapiro of holy blessed memory, who honored him to the degree that when he was to be out of town, he delegated legal decisions on the permitted and forbidden to this Rabbi Mordechai.

He served as a Rabbi in Liska, Lithuania, and in Kantakuzovka of the region of Charzon, where he wrote his halachic work Dovev Siftei Yeshanim in memory of his mother, peace be upon her. This book was burnt in the fire that broke out in the publishing house of Poltava.

In the year 5677 (1916–1917), he was accepted as the rabbi in the city of Nikolaev of the region of Charzon. He managed to bring many closer to Judaism due to his fiery speeches, primarily the youth who had turned to the Left leaning parties in that era. With the outbreak of the war, pogroms broke out in the city and the region, and Jews were killed on the roads and attacked in the cities by bands of murderers. Many refugees from the region streamed to Nikolaev, and the rabbi knew how to protect them within the community due to his connections with the government. When the Red Army captured Nikolaev, they imprisoned the leaders of the city, including the rabbi. He was freed after a short time, and the government issued an apology for his imprisonment.

During these difficult years, his house was open to any in need, any who were hungry or thirsty. Once during the years of famine, it happened that one of those who came snatched a half a loaf of bread from the table of his house. This loaf was obtained after standing in line for many hours. When the members of the household suggested to the rabbi that he should close the door so that the house will not be a free–for–all for everybody, he did not agree, saying: “All those in need are like children to the rabbi, and one does not close the door before children.

In the year 5682 (1921–1922), when the refugees were permitted to return to Poland from Russia, the rabbi of Bialystock returned to his native city. There, he did a great deal to help the rabbis who had suffered in Russia, via an organization that sent food packages there. There, he also published the first section of his book Chazon Lamoed, a book of responsa and investigation on realistic topics of the time in Soviet Russia.

In the year 5684 (1923–1924) he was appointed as the rabbi of Svisloch, Grodno region, a relatively well–off town. This community regarded its rabbi with honor and esteem. Through his sermons, he worked for the strengthening and the study of Torah. Their reverence for their rabbi extended to the point that the entire community accompanied him when he took leave of them.

From Svisloch, he moved to Makow in central Poland. He endeared himself greatly to the people of the community, despite the fact that the city was hassidic and he was a Misnaged. This was because of his greatness in Torah, his generous character traits, and his honesty. He always stood by the working people. Even the head of the Bund chapter would bring labor disputes between the workers to the rabbi.

In the year 5688 (1927–1928), he was chosen as the rabbi of Plock on the Wisla River. There too, all streams of the community loved him, including the assimilationists. Benevolent organizations were founded in city thanks to his efforts. In Plock, he published three move volumes of his work Chazon Lamoed. The fourth volume was dedicated to the laws of the second day of festivals in the Diaspora.

His activities also spread out beyond the borders of Plock. He was a member of the active committee of the Union of Rabbis of Poland. He assisted the Yeshivas of Lithuania, and he appeared before the government and the ministries of Poland. He was invited to adjudicate complex cases that even involved gentiles, and they placed their trust in him.

The relationship of the rabbi to the Land of Israel was one of love and dedication. He sent three of his sons to the Land of Israel to study Torah.

In the year 5690 (1929–1930), he visited the Land for the marriage of his son. Rabbi Kook of holy blessed memory wished to appoint him as the rabbi of Petach Tikva. However because of the many urgings of the people of Plock, he pushed off his settlement in the Land for some time. In the interim, he purchased a plot of land around Gan Yavneh. However, he stumbled upon untrustworthy people, and he lost his money without receiving the Land.

During the time of the Holocaust, when the Germans entered Plock, they tortured the rabbi and made him perform hard labor.

He fled from Plock to Lomza, and was accepted as a rabbi there. From there, he wandered about and arrived in Lachowka, where he was accepted as a rabbi. There, he concerned himself with providing assistance to the rabbis in exile in Siberia. His letters attest to the greatness of his spirit, and to the help that he extended to his fellow during those difficult days.

In one of his letters, he writes about his invitation to serve as a rabbi in the community of Novorodok.

“I am disinclined from accepting this position because I have enough for me and for the sustenance of my grandson Yitzchak Nechemia[1] may G–d avenge his blood (the son of his daughter Reizl and son–in–law the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Chaim Goldstein, who accompanied him on his wanderings), and also to send a package to the family in Plock. Here in Lachowka, I have the peace to be able to dedicate myself diligently to Torah, and to arrange my writings.”

On the 8th of Cheshvan 5702 (1941), the bitter and violent day, the rabbi sanctified the Name of his Creator along with hundreds of Jews of Lachowice may G–d avenge their blood, who were taken to be murdered by the Germans, may their names be blotted out.

May his holy and pure soul be bound in the bonds of life along with all of the martyrs of the Holocaust.

Written by his son in the Land


Translator's Footnote

  1. “May G–d avenge his blood” appears after the name – but it would appear that at the time, the grandson was alive. This sentence seems to intermix the first person and third person in the narrative. Return


[Page 28]

Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Miszkinski of blessed memory,
the Last Rabbi of Svisloch

Photo page 28: Chaim Yaakov Miszkinski may G–d avenge his blood.

Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Miszkinski, a noble and unusual personality, was born in 5643 (1882–1883) to his father Rabbi Moshe Yehuda, a tenant on an estate in Berezniki, Suwalki region. He studied Torah from the mouths of the greats in the Yeshivas of Radin, Knesset Yisrael in Slobodka, and the Kolel in Volozhin. In Slobodka, he became attached to the Mussar (morality) method of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter. The portent of his life was Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer (Reb Itzele Peterburger) who was revered by him so much that he called his eldest son Yitzchak.

The Mussar methodology forged his character. He had generous character traits that were expressed already in the Yeshivas. Since he was the son of wealthy parents, his friends in Yeshiva would borrow from him and return the money to him after many years. He helped them not only monetarily but also bodily: he took care of his sick friends, even if the illness was contagious. He married the daughter of the rabbi of Konyuszany Rabbi David Pines. He first served as the rabbi of Stobno, Suwalki region. This town was destroyed during the First World War. The family of the rabbi also suffered from wanderings and losses. When Rabbi David Pines was called to serve in the rabbinate of Bialystock, his son–in–law Rabbi Chaim Yaakov filled his position in Konyuszany. He was loved by the members of the community, who recognized him as a true judge and as someone who was concerned about anyone who was suffering from a difficult lot. There were many stories about his righteousness.

During the time of the German occupation during the First World War, he did a great deal to lighten the suffering of his townsfolk that was caused by the tyranny of the rulers. When someone from the town was arrested on account of smuggling, the rabbi interceded on humanitarian grounds to ensure that all of the merchandise would not be confiscated, so that the staff of bread would not be cut off from the families. He did not cow before threats of imprisonment, and he succeeded in assuaging the anger of the ruler and in swaying him to his will. With his impressive appearance, the pleasantness of his ways, and his knowledge of foreign languages, he won the hearts of the rulers. The ruler of the town became a friend of the rabbi, and wished to improve his status. Once he advised him to accept a milk–cow, a source of salvation in those days. However, the rabbi refused to accept it out of fear that it might have been confiscated, and therefore there would be a stain of theft upon it. This matter further raised the honor of the rabbi in the eyes of the ruler. When this captain was appointed as the ruler of Zelovo, a relatively larger town, and its rabbinical seat became vacant, the ruler pleaded with him to accept the rabbinate of Zelovo, and promised that he would help him. However, to the astonishment of the captain, the rabbi refused to accept his advice and his assistance.

During the years 1919–1920, when the Polish authorities demanded that the rabbi turn over to them young Communists on the grounds that they had aided the Russians, the rabbi refused to do this, despite the threats by the Polish commander of a military judgment – which at the time implied the death penalty. The rabbi was saved only thanks to the intercession of the Catholic priest, his acquaintance and friend. The rabbi also did a great deal in the communal and educational realms. He was one of the activists in the Jewish banks and cooperatives of Poland. He participated in their conventions in Warsaw and Bialystock. He assisted the “Centus”, the national association for the assistance of orphans. He was especially diligent regarding education in his city. A national–religious school was founded, which taught general subjects in additional to religious studies.

Even though he was not an official Zionist like his father–in–law Rabbi Pines, who was one of the leaders of Mizrachi, he was dedicated to the idea of the settlement of the Land of Israel throughout his life.

After Rabbi Y. Rozen left Svisloch, this position was offered to Rabbi Miszkinski. However the community of Konyuszany urged him not to leave, and the rabbi acceded to this request. Only two years later, when Rabbi Eidelberg left his position, did Rabbi Miszkinski answer the invitation of the community of Svisloch and accept its rabbinate.

In Svisloch as well, he was dedicated to communal matters, especially to national–religious education with an intermixing of holy and secular. He endeared himself simultaneously to the Orthodox and liberal circles.

 

During the Second World War

When the Soviet battalions entered the town, they issued a decree of expulsion to the wealthy refugees (there were indeed such). The rabbi interceded on behalf of the refugees so that they would not be expelled to the interior of Russia; a decree which was then considered a disaster. His intercession did not succeed, and they were expelled, which indeed saved some of them. They did not touch the rabbi himself to expel him, as had happened to other rabbis, for even the local Communists did not accuse him. Thus, his bitter fate was to remain. At the time of the German conquest, he had the opportunity to flee to Vilna, however he listened to the instructions of Rabbi Chaim Ozer[1] to the rabbis of the region to remain with their communities. He witnessed its end, and his only consolation was that his two sons were in the land of Israel. In 1942, a few weeks before the end of Jewish Svisloch, the rabbi succeeded in sending a postcard to his eldest son Yitzchak in the land of Israel, through intermediaries in Turkey. Upon the postcard was a Nazi postage stamp with the visage of the devil may his name be blotted out, and on the other side was a few lines, which displayed nobility, self control, greatness of spirit and faith despite the anguish of the occupation. He ended with the words, “We have nothing upon which to rely except for our Father in Heaven”.

On November 2, 1942, the Nazi human beasts murdered the majority of the Jews of Svisloch in the Visvanik Forest. The first to be murdered were the rabbi and his wife, Rebbetzin Yocheved. His youngest son, 21 year old Naftali Hertz, was among those imprisoned in the Bialystock Concentration Camp, where he was murdered. As was related by an eyewitness, the rabbi delivered a sermon before those who were to be murdered, and spoke about Sanctification of the Divine Name.

(This article is based upon an article signed by V. Ben–Ir in the book Eile Ezkera, Volume 3.)


Translator's Footnote

  1. Grodzinsky, one of the leading rabbis of the era. Return


[Page 31]

Institutions of Torah, Education and Culture

Ch. Sh. Rubin

a. Traditional Education (cheders, the Talmud Torah, and their teachers)

From the time of Yehoshua ben Gamla, the High Priest who instituted “one must appoint teachers of children in each and every country, and in each and every city, and bring in the children when they are 6 or 7 years old”[1], there were teachers of children in all Jewish communities. As in those days when there were schools of the community and schools of individuals known as “The house of the rabbi”, similarly in every community and in every generation there were communal institutions called “Talmud Torah” and private ones called “cheders”. The communal ones served the poorer of the people, and were supported by the community. The private ones existed through the efforts of the teachers (melamdim).

Svisloch as well had a Talmud Torah that was located near the Beis Midrash. It has cheders in the private homes of the teachers, or in premises that were rented for that purpose. The status of the teacher was lowly, both from an economic and from a social perspective. This was particularly the case with the teachers of young children, from whom erudition was not demanded, and every good–for–nothing and poor person became a teacher. The higher level teachers were respected, for their knowledge of Torah earned them respect. Among the teachers there were those who were graced with knowledge and pedagogical skill.

 

My Teachers

Reb Gedalia Sender, was a splendid Jew with a pointed face and a good heart. He was far from strict. Within the span of a few months, he would teach a child how to read from the prayer book. As was the situation of the times, the reading was synthetic. The letters and vowels were pronounced and joined together to form words: kometz aleph, a, etc. With the strangeness of the language, the young age of the child, and the lack of any connection between this learning and the world of the child, the few months that it took to learn how to read from the prayer book is to be considered a very short time. One must also take into account the large number of students who studies with him, for the tuition was very low, and Reb Gedalia Sender had to provide food for his family. Taking into account all of these difficulties, one must attribute the achievements to the personality and pedagogical skill of Reb Gedalia Sender.

We loved him very much, and I will never forget the year that I studied with him. The memories are only pleasant.

What was the secret to the success of Reb Gedalia Sender? I state that it is his methodology. He was an individualist. One never heard shouts around his cheder, for he taught each child separately, as he sat and caressed the child on his cheeks and brightened his face. Each and every letter took on a meaning. The aleph was like Hershel the water drawer who carried a pole with two buckets of water over his shoulders. The beis was a house with an open door. The gimel was a poor lame man who was to be pitied. The non–final kaf was drawn like the foot of Moshe Matis. The shin was like a Sabbath candelabrum with three prongs. Reb Gedalia Sender tried to make these associations. Others arose themselves in the child's imaginations. Who taught him this methodology? Not Farbel and not any other modern pedagogue.

He was able to practice his methodology because his cheder was hidden from the eyes of the householders who would have found fault in this methodology, since “the reward of a cheder is the shouting”. His house bordered on the large garden of the wealthy Zvulun, which was more uncultivated than cultivated. The students of Reb Gedalia Sender would play there all day in shifts. Even during the brief intervals that they studied, the studies were accompanied by the caresses of the soft hand of Reb Gedalia Sender and his pleasant words.

I did not know him in his latter years, but as I have heard, he died at a ripe old age.

 

The Teacher from Molibod – Reb Zelig

Once I mastered the reading from the prayer book, I moved on to the teacher who taught me scriptures. Not every teacher had the good fortune to not be scrutinized by the householders. They did not particularly scrutinize the youngest children, but when the child started studying scriptures, serious study was demanded, study in unison, that would not only be listened to but also articulated, for the reading must be out loud. These teachers were for the most part very impoverished. Sometimes, they did not have room for the cheder in their simple houses, and they rented a dismal room.

The teacher who was appropriate for this age was Molibod. He had a reddish–brown beard, longer than usual. He was burdened with endless family difficulties: an insane son who would walk through the wide marketplace and throw stones skyward as he uttered meaningless shouts; and older daughters who were close to insanity.

Our cheder was dark and its floor was half rotted. We would spend most of our day in this room along with the rebbe. In the winter, it would be to the light of the lantern. Toward evening, his wife would bring him lentil soup in an earthenware bowl, which he would eat heartily, by placing the entire cup of the spoon into his mouth. I remember that I became accustomed to his style of eating, and I did not forget it for a long time.

Photo page 33: Kindergarten.

Despite the gloominess, the studies were not without sparks of light, for the material of study was Bible accompanied by his heartwarming stories, accompanied by explanations from Midrash. The forefathers came to life with the light of our being. Everything became real to us. The experiences and impressions of our surroundings became personified with the Biblical characters in a cloudy light. Our father Jacob sitting in the tents of Torah – something about him looking like the rabbi of the city. However, the picture became brighter when strength was added to him, “And when Jacob saw Rachel… he rolled off the stone from the mouth of the well”. However, we did not understand the meaning of this strength, for what type of a stone would require all of the shepherds to gather together to roll it off?

Even the material in the Torah which is glossed over quickly in our time, such as the structure of the tabernacle, its vessels, and the priestly garments, was made pleasant by him no less than the stories. The treasure of the gold color, the blue and the purple, danced before the eyes of our imagination. How splendid and sublime was the image of the High Priest with the gold mitre on his forehead, with the breastplate and the apron intertwined with precious stones, with bells of gold at the hem of his clothes.

The enticing material atones for the external poverty, for the prolonged sitting without breaks, and for the continuous boring repetition.

With this, I loved my teacher Molibod and honored him. I was very anguished when I saw him in the Beis Midrash behind the podium and not on the east…

 

My Father of blessed memory (Reb Eliahu Horodner)

Photo page 34: Reb Eliahu Horodner.

When I started studying Gemara, I entered the cheder of Father of blessed memory. He was greatly honored, and was known as a great scholar and a scrupulously honest man. He was appointed as the trustee of a large charity and of the old Beis Midrash. He was even careful about separating out his own coins from the small coins in the charitable pot.

To his ill fortune, he ended up becoming a teacher. He hated teaching, and was strict in his teaching even though in conversations with friends he was pleasant and graced with a sense of humor.

Due to his righteousness, he never did his work with deceit. A student who did not know his studies would arouse his bitterness and ire. He would pour out the bitterness of his heart to the student, but even more so, he would pour out the bitterness to himself. The cheder was in his home – a large room divided with wooden partitions. In this house lived his 8 member family and Grandmother. The oven for heating and cooking was in the same room. Beneath the oven was a coup for several chickens that were being kept for kapparot[2]. I remember that before he bought this house, he lived in the dilapidated house of ‘Alter Pinchas’, where the situation was many times worse. It is easy to assume that one cannot be jealous of teachers who had to teach 8–9 year old children the Talmudic passages of the “ox that gores the cow” and “he who places a pitcher”[3] under such conditions.

Nevertheless, the learning took hold, for he did not accept more than nine students. That way, he would be able to concern himself with each student. Since the number of students was small, the tuition fee was high, and only children of the wealthy were accepted, or those who sacrificed the bread from their own mouths so that their children would master Torah.

There were several very good students in this cheder, who would arouse the jealousy of those less gifted. In addition, the Torah atmosphere that filled the home and the Beis Midrash, and the caresses and words of praise that were the lot of every good student inspired the students to study an excel, in such a manner that the dry discussion of the Gemara, spiced with the feeling of eternity, turned into a blessed vessel for those who were fitting, and something even stuck for those who were less fitting.

After time, he was appointed as a teacher in the Talmud Torah. The responsibility diminished, but the number of students increased. There were some children who were wild at home and wild in the cheder. All of this had an ill effect upon his health, and his upright and faithful heart stopped before its time.

Reb Moshe David was a teacher in the highest grade of the Talmud Torah. This was the highest level of study in the town. To go further, one had to go to a place of Torah. For what reason did Reb Moshe David merit this? It is hard to explain. Was it because of Torah? There were scholars of his level who worked in teaching, such as Reb Eliahu or Reb Zamah. It was because at this level, they no longer dealt with Gemara and Rashi, but entered into the ladder of didactics (pilpul), and Reb Moshe David had a sense of didactics. He did not satisfy himself with the didactics of the Tosafot. He enjoyed the Pnei Yehoshua. There were times when he would delve into the depths of the Pnei Yehoshua in class without being able to dig to the shore. Reb Moshe David would stand, with his splendid beard, swaying his entire body to and fro, as he smoked his cigarette and blew out streams of smoke, with the class in front of him. I imagine such a situation among our Sabras[4]… we were indeed righteous. There were individuals who were wild, but they received their punishments and calmed down.

Reb Moshe David's entire essence was Gemara. It was said of him that during the fair, he debated over the price of an egg with a gentile woman who asked for 4 groszy. He desired to play a joke, and he offered 2 kopecks (a kopeck is a coin worth 2 groszy). When the gentile, who did not understand, refused to accept, he told her in the tune of Gemara: “What is the practical difference, 2 kopecks and 4 groszy are indeed equivalent.”

Ch. Sh. Rubin (Egosewicz)


Translator's Footnotes

  1. A Talmudic quote. Return
  2. A ceremony on the eve of Yom Kippur that involves swinging a chicken around the head. Return
  3. Sections from the laws of torts in the Talmudic tractates of Baba Kama and Baba Metzia – among the most difficult talmudic sections. Return
  4. A Sabra is a term for a native Israeli. Return

 

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