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[Page 95]

Religious Life

 

Religious Institutions and Shtiblakh

by Motl Wenger (Montevideo)

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 hy”d [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 shamesReb 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” (Yiddish“red”) [“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

wys095.jpg - Management of the Wyszkower Talmud-Torah
Management of the Wyszkower Talmud-Torah

From right: Mordchai-Mendl Domb. Icchok Epsztejn, Icchok-Ber Rozenberg, Morchai-Mendl Olenberg

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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].

wys096.jpg - A lesson in the Talmud-Torah
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.

2.

The Hasidic shtiblakh are a separate chapter. A large number of Hasidim travelled to their rebbe for yontef. Often there were divisions of opinion between the Aleksander and Gerer Hasidim. The Gerer shtibl, neighboring the small bes hamedresh had its own building with two large rooms and a large number of followers. Every day several minyonim prayed there. Men studied there the entire day and there was no shortage of religious books. The Radzolower melamed also taught his heder [grade school for boys] there. The Lubowiczer Hasid, Reb Chaim Lis gave lessons while another group studied a page of gemore [gemara part of the Talmud that comments on the Mishnah] led by the Dean of Yeshiva Chochmei Lublin, Rabbi Reb Mejer Szapira. The Gerer shtibl was also known for beautiful melodies heard there especially when they celebrated shaleshudes [third meal eaten late in the day on the Sabbath].

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 hy”d, Chaim-Benjamin Wiernik (died in Israel in 1961) and others made sacrifices in order to establish this school.

3.

Among the community organizations one must mention the Merchants' Union on Strarzacka Street, opposite the fire station, where people could borrow at discounted interest rates. The Secretary was Mosze Josef Abramczyk and the President, Zelke Rozenberg. People said that he was a most honest man and gave generously to charity. The gmiles khsodim [loans without interest], bikur holim [visiting and caring for the sick-there wasn't a hospital, people were taken care of at home] and other philanthropic institutions helped a great deal in providing for the needy Jews and they attracted a large number of volunteers especially women, who worked for the good of the community.

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.

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I would now like to share with you what I do remember.

The first I would like to immortalize is my father Jechusza a”h [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 a”h. 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 a”h, 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

wys097.jpg - A group of 'Tzairi Agudas Yisroyel'
A group of “Tzairi Agudas Yisroyel”

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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 a”h 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.


Wyszkow - A religious town

by Velvl Olenberg (Haifa, Israel)

Translated by Sarita Zimmermann (Bethsheda, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

Wishkov/Wyszkow[1] was a religious observant-Hasidic[2] city, which in the course of hundreds of years, was ruled by various “good Jews,” “observant-Hasidic Jews” and their followers. Like in hundreds of Polish towns, there were also widespread wonderful and amazing stories in which the people looked for comfort, hope and a place for their suffering and happiness. I will not stop here for the various legends, which were widespread by the different religious Hasidic groups, about the greatness of their Rebbe[3]. In every religious house they told about them during the “three Shabbat meals,” “Melaveh Malkos” (meal at end of Sabbath) or on the anniversary of the Rebbe's death.

The most distinguished shtibelakh[4] from the Hasidim were: the Gerer, Alexander, Otwotzker, Amshinower and Radzyminer. Wyszkow also had its own Rebbe (on Pultusker avenue) who used to accept “kvitlekh”[5] and “pidyoynes.”[6] He used to gather two prayer quorums of Jews for the daily prayers. He was an itinerant-Rebbe. He used to travel for the most part of the year.

The “Khevre Kadisheh” (Burial Society) had a municipal character and did not participate in political issues. The gaboim(wardens)[7] of the synagogue were: Butche “the baker” Stolik and Moishe-Aron Olshaker/Alshaker. They were held in high esteem and had everyone's acknowledgment.

The main “Khevres” (groups of scholars) were the Khevre Talmud, Khevre Mishnoyes[8], Khevre Toireh (Torah), Khevre Khok L'Israel (laws of Israel), Khevre Midrash[9] , Khevre Mesilas Yeyishorim (dedicated to Justice and Equity), who used to pray in the main synagogue. The small synagogue belonged to the Book of Psalms Group. The said groups used to “buy a Rebbe” for themselves, for him to study with them and be their spiritual leader. Each small Hasidic house of prayer and study(shtibl) and society-group used to elect the wardens(gaboim) who were in charge of the budget, pay the monthly dues, sell “Aliyahs” (the honor to be called to the Torah) and established special cashbox of funds for “gmilas-khesed” (good deeds). They used to help the “downhearted or fallen” with a single action, to help them “stand on their own two feet.”

A big change took place with the creation of the “Zionist Beis-Medresh,” (a gift from Eli-Mehyer/Eli Meier Goldman) under the management of Henekh Kaluski, Yakov Yakubovicz/Yakubovitch, Dovid Gurni/Gurner, Leybish Pshetitzki/Pszhetitski, Yitskhok “Itche” Ba'harab/Barab, Yakov Nayman/Najman/Neiman and others. They were in charge of “Keren Kayemet” and “Keren Hayesod”, helped create the organizations and clubs: “Ha'khalutz”, “Hashomer Hatzair”, “Maccabi”, “Gwiazda”[10], “Betar”[11] -- and hereby received great support and backing from the population.

The Jewish Community was made up of representatives of all sorts of circles. President - Yitzkhok Epsztein/Epsteyn; Vice-President - Mordkheh-Mendl Olenberg/Alenberg; Secretary - Moishe-Yosef Abramczyk; Management committee group: Yitzkhok-Ber Rozenberg/Rosenberg, Yitzkhok Mondry, Shmuel Elboim, Bertche/Bercze Oldak, Henekh Kaluski, Dovid Gurni/Gurner ande Haim-Nisn (Natan) Vengrov. The community did not provide for a Jewish school. All children received a religious education in kheydorim[12] or had private teachers (girls also used to study with private teachers). With the founding of the Tarbut School by the Zionists, the “Agudah” society established the “Beis Yakov” school (for girls). The government used to support the elementary schools (powszechnej)[13] with Jewish teachers.

For the poor families that wished to give their children a religious upbringing the city established a Talmud-Toireh[14]. About 120 children studied there and also received bread and hot cacao every morning, a lunch at midday - and holiday clothes and money. The Talmud-Toireh-school committee was made up of Mordkheh-Mendl Olenberg/Alenberg (President); Yitzkhok-Ber Rozenberg/Rosenberg Yitzkhok Epsztein/Epsteyn; Mordkheh-Mendl Domb. And the first founders of the Talmud Torah: Shloime Fridman (Alexander

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-Hasid resides today in Canada) and Mendl Epsztein/Epsteyn/Epsztejn/Epshtein, today (i.e., in 1964) in America. In order to support the teachers and melamdim (learned-men; teachers) the committee established dues to be paid by the Jewish community. The expenses for the kitchen at the Talmud Torah and clothing for poor and needy children was taken care of by the “Joint[15]” and the Wishkever Committees in America.

The more important of the institutions (in Wyszków) was the General Gmilas-Khesed Kasse (philanthropic cashbox of funds), (President --- Shaike Posztolski/Postolski, who emigrated to Eretz Israel in the year 1943 after long wandering thru Russia with his family, he died some time later. He took part in the founding of the “Irgun Yoitzeih Wishkov b'Israel)[16]. The members of the administration of the Gmilas-Khesed Kasse were Borukh “Benny” Dobres, V. Grabina, Henekh Kaluski, Yakov-Dovid Pshetitzki/Pszhetitski (from the founders of the “Irgun Wishkever Organization in Israel” and cashier until the year 1957), Mordkheh-Mendl Olenberg/Alenberg and others.

In Wishkov/Wyszków there was also a Yeshiva[17] “Bais Yosef,” a Novorodker Yeshiva lead by Rebbe Shimon Arie Heifetz/Khofets. Over 50 students from Wyszków and its surrounding area, studied in this Yeshiva. The out of town students used to eat “teg”[18] in the homes of different wealthier members of the community. But the main support for the Yeshiva, the Talmud-Toireh (school system) and the Gmilas-Khesed philanthropic fund came from America. Also the Wishkover Committee in New York, under the direction of Mrs. Rokhl Radziminski/ Radzyminski, sent every year $1,000.00 dollar for Passover, from this - $100.00 went for the Talmud Torah, $100.00 - for the Yeshiva and $100.00 for the Gmilas-Khesed Kasse The remaining $700.00 was distributed among the poor for the Holiday. The people who belonged to the Wishkover Committee that distributed the money received from New York were: Yitzl/Itzel Radziminski/Radzyminski; Mordecai-Mendl Olenberg/ Alenberg, Yitzkhok-Ber Rozenberg/Rosenberg and Henekh Kaluski. This Passover aid had a great meaning for the poor citizens.

The Zionist Organization revived the town. The young people were mostly Zionists. Also the religious jews began to prepare leaving for Eretz (the Land of) Israel (then called Palestine), specially with the tide of the third aliyah[19](Yisroel Itzhok Tik and his family, the Shenberg/Szejnberg's and others). Tik was an Otwotsker (from Otwock) Hasid, and the Otwotsker Hasidim sent with him letters for the Warker (from Warka) Rebbe, to the grave of the old Otwotsker Rabbi Reb Mordechi-Melakhem Kalish ztz'l[20] in Tiberias whom they used to call the Rebbe from Eretz Israel, one of the founders from general “Kolel” in 1863.

The great Zionist (Movement) revival, the Ha'halutz[21] movement and the third aliah were the main initiatives of the “Agudah” (association). Also the Bund (Union of the Jewish Labor Party) was at that time a big force and its adherents used to travel thru the Americas, instead of Eretz Israel.

After the death of the Wishkover Moreh Horeh (the decider of matters of rabbinical law), who was a Hasid of the Alexander Rebbe, the Gerer Hasidim wanted to install one of their Hasidim as Moreh Horeh. This started a difficult struggle of the selection of the different candidates, who needed to give sermons. The Otwotsker Hasidim presented their candidate, the Alexander supported the Otwotsker candidate, and their opinion decided all the issues. The Gerer conducted a bitter struggle against such said candidate. The Otwotsker Hasidim took advantage of the oportunities from the Gmine-President Itzhok Epsztein/Epsteyn/Epsztejn/Epshtein (a Gerer Hasid), when he travelled to Ciechocinek[22] for health reasons, and the Vice President of the Jewish Community (Kehileh/Kheila) Mordechai-Mendl Olenberg (Otwotsker Hasid) proceded with the election of the Otwatsker Hasid as an enlightened teacher and received the confirmation of the position as the person in power.

At the same time the Aleksander Hasidim put forth their candidate as a Shoykhet (kosher butcher- slaughterer) Reb'[23] Yoshua Vengersh, a popular man, who also had the support of the Zionist prayer group, so therefore the Gerer Hasidim decided not to allow him to win. This struggle of the Aleksander Hasidim which continued for a long time was backed by the Otwotsker Hasidim and by the enlightened people. All these Hasidishe Group dealings had deep reverberations …


Footnotes

  1. The correct spelling in Polish for Wishkov or Vishkov is Wyszków. Return
  2. Hasidic (Hasidism)= A Jewish mystic movement founded in the 18th century, in eastern Europe, by Baal Shem Tov that reacted against Talmudic learning and maintained that God's presence was in all of one's surroundings and that one should serve God in one's every deed and word. Return
  3. Rebbe = Is the honorific title or term that refers to the leader or founder of a Hasidic movement or dynasty. Return
  4. shtibelakh = is the plural in diminutive of the Yiddish word “Shtibl”- a religious study-house/es of the Hasidim. Return
  5. “kvitlekh” = notes with petitions to the mystical Rebbe and G-d. Return
  6. “pidyoynes” = payments to the Hassidic Rebbe for advice. Return
  7. Gabeh (sing) Gaboim (plural) Trustee or warden of the synagogue; manager of the affairs of a Hasidic Rabbi. Return
  8. Mishnah refers to the collection of post-biblical laws and rabbinical discussions (plural term is Mishnoyes in Yiddish, and Mishnayot in Hebrew). Return
  9. Midrash refers to post-Talmudic literature of Biblical exegesis (explanation or critical interpretation of the Bible) which refers to the compilation of homiletic teachings and stories based on the Hebrew Bible, prophets and other writings. Return
  10. Gwiazda (Polish word, pronounced: g'viaz.da) meaning: Shining Star (a sports club in Wyszkow, similar to Maccabi) Return
  11. Betar = Jewish youth organization of the Revisionist Zionist movement founded by Vladimir Jabotinsky. Return
  12. kheyder (sing.) kheyidorim (plural in Yiddish) = Traditional religious school for boys younger than 12-13 years, where they learn the Hebrew-Yiddish alphabets, the Khumesh (Pentateuch), traditions, etc. Return
  13. (powszechnej)= Polish word for universal. Return
  14. Talmud-Toyreh is a tuition-free Jewish elementary school maintained by the community for the poorest children. Return
  15. Joint = refers to the Joint Distribution Committee in U.S, which aids Jews in distress overseas. Return
  16. Irgun = organization. “Irgun Yoitzeih Wishkov b'Israel” translates to: The Organization of Wishkow people who went out from Wyszków and are (now) in Israel. Return
  17. Yeshiva = A Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily, higher Talmudic and Torah learning. Return
  18. “teg” (days; but some use the term “oyf teg”, i.e., on days) = When a student went to study at a Yeshive in another city, he could sleep on the yeshiva premises. For dinner, a student, would be invited to someone's home on a pre-established day that the community gabetes (women caregivers) committee, used to arrange for each student that needed it. Return
  19. aliyah = (Hebrew word whose literal translation means: ascent) It refers to the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the land of Israel. It is one of the most basic tenets of the Zionist ideology. Return
  20. zt”l = (zekher tzadik livrakha) stands for honorific words used when referring to a very religious, a righteous or pious deceased person; it translates to “May The Memory Of The Saintly Be A Blessing.” Return
  21. Ha'halutz = the Pioneer - (a Zionist organization). Return
  22. Ciechocinek a Polish spa town located on the Vistula River about 182 kms (abt. 114 miles) from Wyszków. Return
  23. Reb or R'= is an honorable way to refer to a person, like ‘Mr.’ in English. Return


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My Memories of the Yeshive[1]

by Shimon Zakharia Malowanczyk (Tel-Aviv)

Translated by Hilda Rubin Rockville, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

Our Yeshive, although it was to be found in Wishkov/Wyszków[2], it was supported by the (big) city. It bore the name “Nevordiker Yeshive[3]” and was run in the spirit of the moral teachings of Rabbi Yisroyel Salanter[4], according to an ethical way. There were about 200 young men students in six classes.

From 5 in the morning till 9 at night the students were immersed in learning. From very early in the morning their learning took place till 7:30 am, then the students would davn shakhres[5] (pray the morning prayer) with much enthusiasm. A group of students would stand a good half hour saying the shmone-esreh (the 18 benedictions). After their praying the students would go and eat breakfast in the kitchen, which was supported by a group of Wishkever[6] householders and was run by a special women's committee that was very active in this field. To the householders' committee belonged: R'(eb; i.e., Mister) Eyli Rozen, who worked day and night for the good of the Yeshive; R' Avraham Lerman, R' Borukh Stolik (also known as Butche), and R' Alter Szukegnik. In the women's committee were active: Khaveh Markushjamer/Markuschamer/Marcuschamer, Leyeh Ostrovyak/Astroviak and Dvoyre, the rope maker (knitter). Their worry was, that the Yeshive-bokherim[7] should have where to eat substantially and also have a bed where to lay their heads. They (these ladies) decided in which Wishkever household the boys would go “esn teg”[8]. The members of both committees, the men's and the women's, truly served as “fathers and mothers” for the Yeshive-boys.

From 9:30 till 2:30 the students studied with intensity.

[Page 103]

The walls from the Yeshive and from the Beis-Hamedresh[9] absorbed the scholarly words of the Torah over the many long years that the Yeshive was housed there. It also happened that, for a group of Yeshive fellows who also studied through the long winter nights, the “outside” world was only an antechamber for them - as compared with the spiritual world of their Yeshive. If a Wishkever Jew wanted to experience the feel of the spiritual life, he would enter the Yeshive and would experience complete fulfillment.

At 1:30, psalms-lessons were recited at the classrooms. From central Bialystok through the auspices of Rabbi Avrom Yafo Shlit'a[10] very special brilliant teachers and scholars were sent to Wyszkow such as: Rabbi Nakhman-Dovid Landinski, Rabbi Leyzer Levinsky, Rabbi Aron/Aharon Stolner, Rabbi Noyekh Stolner, Rabbi Yosef/Yoysef Lomzher, Rabbi Abraham/Avrom Tsitrin/Cytrin/Cytryn[11]. They were all fine lecturers and taught with much scope and vision.

The spiritual head of the Yeshive was the Rabbi Shimon Heifetz our headmaster, and Rabbi Avrom Tsitrin/Cytryn served, too. Rabbi Shimon was absolutely a saint, who was unconcerned with the outside world. He could live on bread and water. His major teachings were concerned with “Midas Toibes”[12]. Rabbi Shimon would lead discussions twice a week, after which each student would select two more fellows and in threes, they would stroll back and forth discussing what it took to be good Jew. They would talk about how to avoid doing evil and how to perform only good deeds. These strolls were called “birzshes.”

Every day for one hour the students learned how to look at themselves with an eye for self-criticism. And each time before Rosh-Khodesh (Beginning of the Month) a committee was formed to work on self-critique. The leaders would conduct interesting discussions. Then afternoon prayers were said with much enthusiasm and strong feelings. The “Our Father-Our King” (special Rosh Hashone, i.e., Jewish New Year prayers) also were recited.

In its early years the Yeshive was conducted in the Beis-Hamedresh. Later on the synagogue a special building was added to serve as the Yeshive. That entire building served as a temple for the people of Wyszków. It was people from our city in America, who sent money for this endeavor.

Also, Rabbi Abraham/Avrom Tsitrin/Cytryn gave fine lectures with appropriate moral teachings that had a lot of influence on the local townsfolk who would come to hear them. One of the local landlords very much wanted Rabbi Avrom as a son-in-law - and he succeeded in this. He took him into his home and treated him as he would his own son[13]. The Germans murdered Rabbi Avrom. It is told that before he was shot he was able to accuse them in a speech and threaten them with terrible consequences for the deeds they were committing against Jews. He died (as a martyr) on Kiddush-Hashem[14]. May his memory be blessed!

On Shavues[15], at night, the entire Yeshive would be on alert. Everybody would be studying intently and saying the special Shavues prayers. At 4 in the morning they would all go to the mikve (the ritual bath) and then davn (pray) with much enthusiasm. After the praying, there was a repast with the blessing of the wine. And then, there was Hasidic dancing done with such enthusiasm that everyone felt at that moment they were able to communicate with the creator himself… From 12 noon, till 5 in the evening everyone rested. Then there were evening prayers in the Yeshive and all enjoyed themselves studying. These Shavues celebrations were conducted by: Rabbi Avrom Tsitrin/Cytryn, Rabbi Noyekh Stolner and Rabbi Shimon Heifetz.

When the month of Elul arrived the spirit of holiness truly entered the Yeshive. The students attacked their prayers with great devotion and the learning intensified. All sorts of prayers were recited - much repentance sought. After an awakening of a spiritual morality, the lights would extinguished so that each person could take

 

wyz103.jpg - 'Beis Yakov' School from Agudas Israel (political arm of Ashkenazi Torah Judaism Org.) in Wyszkow.
“Beis Yakov” School from Agudas Israel (political arm of Ashkenazi Torah Judaism Org.) in Wyszkow.

 

a self reckoning and weep quietly as he communed with the creator… One could truly feel the approach of the Yom-Hadin (Day of Judgment) and that the holy sparks were flaring with more power.

With a particular loyalty feeling to the Yeshive a group of community activists, among them Avrom/Avraham Lerman Avraham z”l (of blessed memory), distinguish themselves by looking after the families of the teachers and the master teachers who taught the students. A. Lerman organized some groups of religious Jews who used to collect weekly-money for the Yeshive from the different stratum groups from the population. If someone couldn't go on his collecting shift, Avrom Lerman would take his place. Not only would he go on the rounds collecting from the homes, but also if the collecting were “short” he would give from his own pocket the missing sums. And of course, extra money was always needed…

He would deliver the collected money to the wives of the heads of the Yeshive so that they could prepare the Sabbath meal. Not once, but many times did the he, the principal from the Yeshive, Rabbi Shimon Heifetz say:

-“Reb' Avrom, G-d should give you strength for what you do for us. If not for your devotion, who knows how we would manage. In all our dire moments you come to help us. We shall always remember what you have done for us!”

Thanks to the loyalty and devotion of those Jews, it was possible to continue and maintain, without interruption, the teaching of Torah to the students at the Yeshive in Wyszków.

To hear, test and examine the students at the Yeshive, would come the Rabbis: Reb' Dovid Bodnik, Reb' Khaim Stetchiner and Reb' Hillel Vitkind. For the testing, everyone prepared himself day and night for weeks. It was the ambition of all to receive an outstanding certificate.

Such was the life at the Yeshive in Wyszków.


Footnotes

  1. Yeshive (in Yiddish, Yeshiva in Hebrew) A Jewish school of high Talmudic learning. The Wyszkower Yeshiva was very well known, and lots of students attended from other shtetls, many from un-wealthy homes. The Yeshive's women trustees cared for and provided necessities like food and shelter; some times, they even gave them some extra groshns to spend. Return
  2. Wyszków = Both words Wishkov or Vishkov are how they sound in Yiddish, the correct Polish spelling is Wyszków. Return
  3. This Yeshive was later named, Yeshive Beis-Yosef. Return
  4. Rabbi Yisroel ben Ze'ev Wolf Lipkin, the father of the Musar movement of Orthodox Judaism. Return
  5. Shakhres (Yiddish; Shakharit, in Hebrew) is the daily morning prayer of the Jewish people, said, to have been established by the patriarch, Abraham, when he prayed in the morning. Return
  6. Inhabitants, people from Wyszków. Return
  7. The boy-students from the Yeshive. Return
  8. “esn teg” literally mean “eat days.” When students went to study at a Yeshive in another city, they had breakfast at the Yeshive, but for dinner and for overnight, the women's committee made arrangements for the boys to stay at homes “for a day.” This was called “esn teg” or “oyf teg.” Return
  9. Yiddish for “House (of) Interpretation” or “House (of) Learning”); it refers to a study hall, whether in synagogue, yeshive or any other building. Return
  10. Shlit”a is an acronym occurring with the word Rabbi, meaning “Rabbi of leadership.” Return
  11. There are 2 or more ways of writing various surnames. Return
  12. Good Virtues and Good Behavor, Trait of Goodness. Return
  13. It is known now that Rabbi Abraham/Avrom Tsitrin/Cytrin/Cytryn's father-in-law probably was Yakov-Arie Shtaynman/Steinman, originally of Amselof. Avrom's wife, Bella/Beyle, born in Wyszkow, was the daughter of Yakov-Arie, and Rabbi Avrom ben Shamai Ha'leivi Tsitrin/Cytrin, who was the son of Sarah Rivka Gelman, later became recognized as a Rabbi in a larger city (in Rowno) and was famous for his interesting work there, too. (See pg.193, “Sefer Wyszkow”.) Return
  14. Kiddush-Hashem means “sanctification of the name.” It refers to a religious or moral action by a Jew that brings honor, respect, and glory to God. It is considered to be sanctification of His name, that causes a person to die for one's Jewish beliefs and reverence to God. On pg.193 (“Sefer Wyszków”), you can read “The last request of a martyr,” the last letter found in a pocket of Rabbi Avrom Tsitrin/Cytrin/Cytryn's jacket. He wrote it just before the Nazis killed him. He was the Rabbi of Rowno after he had served for many years as Rabbi and teacher at the Yeshive “Beis-Yosef” in Wyszkow. In the letter he asks “not to be forgotten together with all the other Jews killed unjustly. Return
  15. Shavues (in Yiddish), the religious festival of Shavuot (in Hebrew). The word Shavues/Shavuot means weeks, and the festival marks the completion of the seven-week counting period of the Omer (a measure of grain) begun during Passover. Shavues commemorates the anniversary of the day G-d gave the Torah, the 10 commandments, to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai. Return


[Page 104]

The Keepers of the Sabbath in Town

by Arie Shtelung Sokol (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Translated by Hilda Rubin (Rockville, MD)

Reviewed by Frida Grapa Markuschamer de Cielak (Mexico City)

Translation donated by the Historian Enrique Krauze (Mexico City)

The Society of the Keepers of the Shabbes (Sabbath)[1] was founded in 1922 in the shtetl Wishkov/Wyszków[2]. My father, Khayim-Henekh (Shtelung/Sztelung) was one of the most active members in the society. Their purpose was: to make sure that no one in the shtetl would defame Shabbes.

At that time I was living and working in Warsaw. From time to time I would visit my parents and family. The most inconvenient way to get there was by train because there were only two departures a day: morning and evening.

Once, I arrived in Wyszków on Friday evening. It was already 5 minutes after the candle lighting. My father knew that I would arrive with a “shtokh in Shabes” (a “stich” in Shabes) and so he had warned my mother that she should feed me immediately upon my arrival and not wait for him. The reason for this was so that he would not have to eat with a defamer of Shabes when he arrived from his prayers. He did not want to sit at the same table with such a person.

My mother (Esther-Mindl Sokol) was delighted to see me since we hadn't seen each other in a while. She wanted me to sit down and eat. As she put out the food she told me about my father's decision not to eat with me. In no way did I agree with this attitude. After all, a son comes to his parents for Shabes and the whole family would not sit down together at one table?

Seeing that I was so adamant, my mother gave this advice -- that I should immediately stand and davn(pray) and finish my praying just as my father would arrive from shul[3]. I should then greet him with a “shalom” and that he would then forgive me my transgression.

However, my father was a stubborn man and additionally was a devoted member of the Society of the Keepers of Shabes. He couldn't allow himself to go back on his decision not to wish me “shalom” nor to sit at the same table with such a one who would defame the Sabbath.

I finished praying the ‘Shmone'esreh’[4] as my father came in I held out my hand to him. He ignored my hand and stated that according to the law he could not extend a “shalom”[5] to a defamer of the Sabbath. And he ordered my mother to serve my food to me, separately.

This infuriated me and I left he house. But -- where should I go?

My two older brothers lived in shtetl[6]. Both were married. Moyshe (the older one) and Yakov, the younger. I decided not to go to either one of them. I wandered silently around the street for a while and then headed for Avruml Markuschamer who had a restaurant. His restaurant was a meeting place for members of various groups and organizations-- mainly the Bundistn, (because Avruml himself was a Bundist[7].

Entering Avruml's place at a time when everyone else in the shtetl was sitting down to their Friday-eve festive meal, was a puzzle for Avruml. But I quickly explained the reason for my “visit”. He and his wife[8] greeted me warmly and insisted that I sit down and eat together with them. When I wanted to pay them for the meal, (after all this was the way they earned their living), but they wouldn't take any money. (Today [i.e., in 1946], he lives in Mexico (Monterrey) and I send him my thanks!)

After that, I went into the street looking for my pals - Zindl/Zundl Elboim, Avremke Burshteyn/Burshtin, Itche Shayke and others. (They were all killed in the years 1939-1945)[9].

A stroll on the Wyszków bridge on a summer's night was really quite wonderful. However, that was something that disturbed the Shabes Keepers Society. The Society members would follow every one of us like shadows watching to see if we were smoking cigarettes. Once I was caught smoking on a Friday night. The next day, on Shabes morning, it was reported to my father as he was davening (praying) his morning prayers in the Gerer Shtibl[10] that I, his son, I was smoking on a Friday night. My father denied the accusation, because he thought, that I did not smoke at all…

On Saturday nights after the Sabbath there was theater in Wyszków. It seems to me that it was Yakov/Yankev Vayslits and his troupe. The performances were held in the fire-fighters hall and the tickets were sold - in the fire-fighters “salon” that was located across from the Gerer Shtibl.

One Shabes in the morning I met my friend Sorotche Bzhoza (Khil Bzhoza's sister). We both went to the “salon” to buy tickets. There was already standing a Shabes Society member - a former teacher of mine. He stopped me with a question:

- “Where are you going Arie?”

- “I'm going to find out what's playing tonight,” I replied.

But he didn't let me go in. He grabbed me by both of my lapels and held on tight. I really had to struggle to get out of his grasp.

Of course, this incident was reported immediately in the Gerer Study House, where my father was to be found.

This was the way Shabes went on. The Shabes Society Members were dogging my every step.

For the second night I still didn't sleep in my parents' home, but at my brother's. Quite early Sunday morning, my father arrived and waited for me to get up. As I awoke he came over to me and extended his hand in “sholem”[11]. At this point I teased him saying that I really couldn't shake his hand, because it was… Sunday. The two of us went home. As we walked he tried to get me to understand that he couldn't have acted differently.

My father obeyed the learned books. He was a smart man and had strong feelings for his family. He was never silent about any injustice. That entire incident really bothered him. My mother Esther-Mindl, was also upset over the fact, that her son, coming all the way from Warsaw as a guest, had to eat at a stranger's table. At the end of my visit, my father took me aside and entreated me that I should do him a favor in the future and please not come on Shabes to Wyszków…


Footnotes

  1. Dih Shomrei-Shabes (in Yiddish) was a group of Orthodox Hasidim in Wyszków, concerned with the correct religious observance of the Sabbath. Beginning with sunset on Friday evening until sunset, Saturday, Sabbath meals, rituals, prayers, rest, etc., had to be observed (whereas certain activities were prohibited). The group was expected to fulfill such commandments, and have other Jews do so, as well. Return
  2. Wishkov = Wyszków is the correct spelling in Polish for the town. Return
  3. shul is the Yiddish word for synagogue. Return
  4. ‘Shminesre’ (in Yiddish) = It is the central prayer of every Jewish service that translates as the Eighteen Benedictions (‘shmone’ = is eight and ‘esreh’ is ten) Return
  5. “shalom” = Customary greeting of “hello” which literally means “peace”. Return
  6. shtetl is the Yiddish word for “town” (plural is: Shtetlakh). Return
  7. Bundistn & Bundist (plural and singular) was the word given to the people who belonged to the socialist organization: Bund - A Socialist Jewish labor Party Organization (or “General Jewish Workers' Alliance”). Return
  8. Avruml's wife, née Khayeh-Nekhe Goldstein. Return
  9. Zundl Elboim was the son of Peshe and Shmuel Elboim. In a chapter in “Sefer Wyszkow,” Yitzkhok Baharav/Barab writes about the tragic moment that Zundl was cruelly murdered by the Nazis in front of his mother, his 2 brothers and Yosef Meyer and Shloime Grapa who had given them shelter in their home in Sadowne after escaping from Wyszków when bombarded by the Germans. Return
  10. Gerer Hasidic house of study. Gerer Hasidim followed the teachings of Rebbe Yitzchak Meir Alter (1799-1866) from Gur (Góra Kalwaria), probably the largest and most influential Hasidic group in Poland. Return
  11. In this specific case the “sholem” greeting was used expressly with its literal translation of “peace” Return

 

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