Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
in Honor of Rabbi Szmul Cywiak Wyszków was renowned as a Jewish and Hasidic city. This name was absolutely right. To catch a glimpse was enough, especially of the market place and main streets during shabes [the Sabbath] and yontoyvim [religious holidays] in order for every Jew's heart to be filled with pride. Everything was closed. The Jews, dressed in their best and finest clothes, with tales [prayer shawl] bags under their arms streamed in large numbers to the bes hamedresh [synagogue, study and meeting hall], to the Hasidic shtiblakh [small Hasidic prayer house] and minyonim [groups of ten men needed to make a prayer quorum]. However the progressive youth quietly strolled and chatted about world, polish and local events. When people arrived by train in Wyszków, Jewish porters were there to offer their help.
The shtetl was rich in religious institutions. The seat of honor was occupied by the large bes hamedresh located in a large building with a courtyard. The Jewish kehilla [community council] was also located there (president, Icchok Epsztejn). Among its many functions was overseeing the permits for slaughtering animals the Talmud-Torah [free schooling until age 13 for poor boys] was located in the same building, under the direction of Reb Boruch Cywiak hyd [whose death god should revenge-used for Holocaust victims]. The shtetl's poor children studied there in four groups. There were people coming and going all day and during the evening. Members of various khevras [societies] ein yankev [Ein Yakov-Jakobs Spring. One of the best knows works of rabbinic literature-collection of legends, fables, moralistic passages and commentaries by Rashi], medresh [Midrash, homiletical exposition of the scriptures], mishnayes [ and others studied on their own or with melamdim [teachers].
The gabe [synagogue trustee] of the large bes hamedresh was Reb Jechiel Mejer Domb. The shamosim [sextons] were Reb Tuwia, Reb Szmul and others. Assistant shames Reb Herszynke also woke everyone for slikhos [morning prayers said during the High Holidays]. There was a large bookcase in the bes hamedresh containing religious books which were used by those who came to study from the well versed in Torah to the simple artisan. The tables were overwhelmed with tallow candles. To the left and upstairs was the women's section which was full every shabes and yontef [religious holiday].
One floor up was the Yeshiva Bes Yosef. During the summer, the tasty sound of their studying carried forth from the open windows. Their speech was Litvak and they studied musar [morals, ethics studied by Misnagdim, the opponents of Hasidism]. The yeshiva director was Szymon Chafetz, a very religious, good-looking man who inspired repentance especially during the month of elul [Aug/Sep last month of the Jewish year], the month before rosheshone [Rosh Hashanah New Year]. For a while the yeshiva director was Reb Szymon Srebrnik. He married in Wyszków and became a resident.
The list of religious institutions located in the bes hamedresh building does not end here. The mikve [ritual bath] was in the courtyard. The female bath attendant controlled all the Jewish wives, making sure they observed tares hamishpokhe [laws of cleanliness that applied to the family]. The men had to furnish their own brooms to beat themselves. As the water in the mikve always had to be moving, the last bather was Jechiel Mejer Rampa. During the first days of the Second World War, the Germans shot him near the mikve.
Against the mikve was the poultry slaughterhouse. Every erev [eve] shabes and yontef, especially erev yonkipper [Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement], the courtyard was full of women who arrived with a fowl to be killed. More than once a slaughtered hen, with its last strength, had stood up and even walked around flapping its wings
The hakhnoses-orkhim [free room and board for poor travellers and the impoverished] was also in the same courtyard and had two rooms one for men and one for women. The overseer was a small, blond man who also had another job: shoemaking. He and his family lived there. Next to him lived the town shames, Szmul with the nickname mvaz (Yiddishred) [speak] because the rabbi didn't know any Polish so once he was called to speak for the rabbi during a visit by a government official. Szmul shamas also had another job. He had a stand at the exit of the bes hamedresh courtyard where he sold cooked beans, peppered chick peas, candy and apples, by weight, measure and by the piece the majority of his clients were yeshiva students and boys from the Talmud-Torah.
Neighboring the courtyard was Rabbi, Reb Jakob-Arja Morgensztern's house. He was the Wyszkower rabbi. Every year at sukes a long suke was put up in the long courtyard. Wyszków was certainly worthy of it as our rabbi filled the place of the Lomozer and Radzymin rebbes. During yontoyvim a great number of Hasidim would come to him and a large suke was necessary. There is a story that when the Wyszkower Hasidim wanted to build a brick suke [Sukah, wood hut with branches for a roof where Jews eat and sleep on Succot, the Feast of Tabernacles], a
Management of the Wyszkower Talmud-Torah
From right: Mordchai-Mendl Domb. Icchok Epsztejn, Icchok-Ber Rozenberg, Morchai-Mendl Olenberg. [Page 96]
rich Jew donated the roof, another the windows, a third the walls and still another the floor. But they couldn't find anyone to donate the foundation so the suke was never built
The so-called small bes hamedresh was on Strarzatke Street next to the town fire station. There was a custom there, upheld by the khevra tilim [Psalm society] that before praying the men gathered to say tilim [Psalms].
A lesson in the Talmud-Torah and then they prayed together. Abraham melamed taught his grammar students there all day long. Reb Zysze Kaluski taught there between minche [afternoon prayers] and maariv [evening prayers], along with the khevra tilim. There was always a large crowd.
Every erev rosh hodesh [start of new month] the khevra kadisha said yonkipper kotn [eve of the new month was a fast day for religious Jews]. There was a women's section in the small bes hamedresh. The gabe was the gravedigger and the shamas drove the hearse. Every day the shamas rapped with the pushke [charity box similar to the blue and white box for Keren Kayemet] and begged for several groschens [pennies] to be dropped in he kept the black hearse in the bes hamedresh courtyard.
The wealthier Jews prayed in Eli Mejer's bes hamedresh on Kosciusko Street but only on shabes and yontoyvim. There had been a modern heder there previous where modern Hebrew was taught.
Above the Gerer shtibl were the orthodox organizations Agudas Yisroyel, Poeli Agudas Yisroyel [Orthodox Zionist organizations-established later than other Zionist groups] and the political party Agudas Yisroyel. Each organization had its own room and its own library. The men went there every day to read the daily orthodox newspaper that was published in Warsaw (Togblat). Poeli Agudas Yisroyel also sent its young men to Hakhshara [trained Jewish youth for life in Israel for all Zionist groups] and then to Israel.
Another Gerer shtibl was located on Kosciusko Street, in Szolom Zysman's courtyard. The split among the Gerer Hasidim occurred due to honest differences of opinion. The Kosciusko Street group was more progressive.
The Aleksander shtibl was on Senatorska Street at Reb Fajwel Szron's house. They were a small group of Hasidim, but were like one family. They studied the entire day and all of them were acknowledged scholars.
There are still other shtiblach to enumerate: the Warker or Otwocker shtibl in Fiszer Street. Open all day long, men studied regularly from religious books kept in the large hall. The Amszynower shtibl was on the market place at Fefke Szuster's. The well-to-do, dear Jews and scholars studied and prayed there. The Radzyminer shtibl was the rabbi's neighbor, located in the same house. They were large in number. Among the Hasidim who studied there was Reb Symcha Sznek murdered during the first days of the war [Second World War].
In Gdalia shokhet's [ritual slaughterer] courtyard there was a Bes Jakob School for girls from religious families. Many volunteers such as Jakob Josef Plonczak, Bercze Oldak, Boruch Cywiak hyd, Chaim-Benjamin Wiernik (died in Israel in 1961) and others made sacrifices in order to establish this school.
The Aleksander Hasidim were famous in the city, not only as scholars but also as people who behaved as if they were one family. They made sacrifices for each other and offered help regardless the cost to themselves. Unfortunately I don't remember all of them, but every one of them should be inscribed in the Memorial Book.
I would now like to share with you what I do remember.
The first I would like to immortalize is my father Jechusza ah [olev hasholom may he/she rest in peace]. My father's family had been Wyszkowers for many generations. His father, Icchok Hersz Wenger played a large role in building a lot of religious institutions. There was a hakhnoses orkhim for impoverished men in his house. My father grew up in this environment. My father married the Sterdyn rabbi's daughter, my mother Rywele ah. Reb Eliezer haLevi Ajbeszyc was a rebbe of the last Aleksander rebbe, Reb Menachem Mendl. He took my father to Aleksander to teach him Hasidus. What I remember is that every shabes, summer and winter, in the morning after the mikve, the majority of Aleksander Hasidim gathered at our house, drinking tea from the shabes kettle which was prepared Friday before sundown. They told Hasidic stories about helping one another. The first to arrive was Reb Benjamin. People called him that because he was a stutterer. He lived across from the large bes hamedresh and was the gabe for the khevra mishnayes and the first to open the large bes hamedresh. Reb Benjamin gave away the last of his money as an anonymous gift and then became a great man at hakhnoses orhim. (His wife's name was Basia).
The second was Reb Szymon Srebrnik (Szymon melamed). He really studied day and night and learned everything by heart. He was a great Jew. Before his death I met him in Bialystok running from the German murderers. One of his cheeks was bandaged. He told me that the cruel murderers had ripped off half his beard.
Then comes Reb Mordchai Kaufman (Reb Mordchai, Chone's [son]). He was always the khevra medresh rebbe and Dean of the Hasidic yeshiva. All questions concerning religious law were referred to him. When Reb Mordchai died in Warsaw a eulogy was given for him in the large bes hamedresh as he was a great, poor man. He took care of everyone. I would also like to mention his son Israel who was truly a simple human being and also a great scholar and teacher. He only knew the way from his house to the Aleksander shtibl.
The Aleksander Hasidim's Cohen, Reb Wilenski ah, arrived later. He was a great Torah scholar and loved by the entire community. With his patriarchal beard, calm pace and behavior in general he gave the impression of being a high priest who cared for all of the Jewish people. He always said that men must always help one another. He wife Bejla, a woman of valor, helped him in his dry goods store. She also took part in his anonymous donations to help Jews. That is how their sons and daughters were brought up and how the entire city was reflected. They grew up to be scholars and community activists and they continue even today.
Then Zysze Kaluski, Motl blacksmith's [son] arrived. His pleasant way of teaching attracted a lot of Jews. He studied with the khevra tilim in the small bes hamedresh, neighboring the Gerer shtibl. A lot of Hasidim came to study with him. I would like to add that in his old age the wealthy Wiszkower, Dawid Gurner studied with Reb Zysze and began attending the Aleksander shtibl and gave large amounts of money to Jewish charities.
Our neighbor Reb Fajwel Szron, a brother-in-law of Reb Szymon Srebrnik, also came [to our house]. Reb Fejwel's wife argued with him about why he devoted himself to providing for every Jew except those in his own house. He brought all the Aleksander Hasidim to his house and it became the Aleksander shtibl. He took care of everyone. Fate wanted that this Jew, Reb Fajwel live his entire life as a Hasidic Jew, even in Russia. His son was a high-ranking officer there who provided him with kosher food. He had the privilege of coming to Israel and lived there to a very old age.
The Porember rabbi arrived after. He was the moyra-hoyra [rabbi who decides matters of rabbinical law] in Wyszkow. His lesson in Hasidus was help one another and the Most High will also help. The Lord of the universe wants only good hearts.
Langer [tall] Lejbl also came [to our house]. (I've forgotten his family name). People called him the Warsaw genius. He was a Hasid who never thought about earning a living. His wife drove to
A group of Tzairi Agudas Yisroyel [Page 98]
Warsaw to sell poultry (already dead), while he sat in the shtibl studying, went to the rebbe's and sniffed a lot of tobacco.
Then Reb Leizor Sapirsztejn arrived. He lived near the railroad station. He was one of Zelman Grosbard's neighbors. People called him the Rebbe of the Wyszkower Aleksander Hasidim. When there was a leisure day [a holiday], a Hasidic yontef, or a yahrzeit [anniversary of a death] for a rebbe, a rosh hodesh, shushan purim [celebrated only in walled cities, Purim is when Queen Esther saved the Jews from Haman] the men went to Reb Leizor's. He was a very charitable man. My father ah told me that before Reb Leizor died he called together his closest hasidim and begged by father, who was a shoykhet, to kill a fowl for him so that he could perform a mitzvah before dying. It was as if he wanted to fulfill the entire Torah. Then he asked for nine measures of water to immerse himself in, then ordered the great genius to say a chapter of mishnayes with him and quickly died. A remarkable thing: his wife the rebitzin [rabbi's wife] (as people called her) went in the same way.
One must also add Reb Icchok Hersz Rotbard, Reb Szlama Frydman, Reb Henech Brzoza, Reb Jechiel Kaluski (one of Zysze Kaluski's sons who died in Acco [Israel]), Reb Zelman Felner, Reb Jechiel Szulc and Herszl Szulc (the Szulc's decided to go to the Gerer shtibl when the Aleksander Hasidim were without a shtibl for several months) and Reb Berl-Dawid Kwiatek.
All the Aleksander Hasidim were distinguished scholars, studied with khevras, were active in public service, were sextons, rebbes, etc.
When the moyra-hoyra (the former rabbi in Poremba) was alive, for shaleshudes the men sang shabes hymns at his table and listed to Torah. After his death, the shaleshudes was celebrated in the shtibl.
I have written only about the Hasidim I remember.
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