by Alter Honigman, known as Alter Meir David Lelewers
Translated by Jerrold Landau
As a city, Zawiercie is numbered among the new cities of Poland.
The elders of Zawiercie would say that the area upon which the city of Zawiercie was later to be built was forested still during the 1880s. The forest spread between the town of Kromołów on one side, and the town of Wlodowice on the other side.
The forest was bisected by the Warsaw-Vienna railway line. A small river flowed between the trees of the forest. Nobody knew its source, where it flowed to, and what its purpose was. The elders would further state that one side of the forest was owned by the Jews -- the two Haberman brothers from Kromołów, who were referred to as Dziedzices (landowners).
Before the inception of the factory in Zawiercie, there was a sawmill there (tartak in the vernacular). This also testifies to the fact that the city was built in the midst of a forest.
The elders would continue on: Later, people who were not local arrived. From their language and dress, we could surmise that they were from Germany. They built a fine house and installed several officials there to run the office. Later, they brought workers, who began to cut down trees from the forest (on the west side of the river and the railway tracks). Within a few weeks, a large portion of the forest had been cut down.
They began to build buildings building after building in the cut-down area.
When they began to bring in various machines, it became clear to everyone that they were building a manufacturing enterprise in the cut down-area.
Indeed, within a few months, the weaving and sewing factory had been set up. It later became known as the factory of Ginzberg and his partners.
Christian workers and farmers who owned little or no land began to stream to the forest, which had become a town within a short period of time. The area of the forest that had been cleared broadened, and houses began to be built there. The heads of the enterprise built houses for the officials and workers, and
built a bridge to ease the journey from the village to the factory and the section of the forest that remained on the eastern side of the factory.
This was the story of Zawiercie: At first it was a forest, then it was a town, and later a major Jewish city.
At the beginning of the enterprise, the number of workers in Ginzberg's factory was estimated at several thousand. In the year 5641 (1881), the year that I arrived in Zawiercie, the number of workers in the city (including their dependents) was approximately 15,000 18,000 people.
At the beginning of its development, the population of Zawiercie was almost all Christian Poles. There were also a few Jews among the population. With the establishment of the Ginzberg factory, more Jew were added to the population, as factory directors, officials, engineers, various tradesmen, etc.
|Uncaptioned. A view of the city|
From among the directors and chief officials of the factory, I recall the principal director, Lewenstam, as well as Ginzberg (a relative of the owner of the factory), who was also one of the principal directors. I also recall Wytszyc, Zylberstam, Landau, Mamelok, Zajdman, Broniatowski, Wyczen (the father and son), Zylbersrom, Kemfner, Brandes, and others.
The Jews of the area felt that Zawiercie has pride for sources of livelihood were being developed there. They began to settle there. Jews came from the cities of Piltz (Pilica), Żarki, Myszków, Wlodowice, Kromołów, Szczekociny,
Przyrów, Koziegłowy, Koniecpol, Lelów, Wieluń, Wydyslaw, Działoszyce, Miechów, Będzin, Częstochowa, Radom, Radomsk (Nowo-Radomsk), Piotrków Trybunalski, and other places.
The built up area continued to increase. The scattered houses came closer to each other in the midst of the upbuilding, and it was as if they formed into streets themselves. A certain place in the center of the streets, later a not so large circle, formed, and was called the marketplace. The Christians built a small building in the center of the circle, and placed a Christian statue there. At times, they conducted their religious services next to that building. With the passage of years, the directors of the factory built a well in the center of the circle, next to the statue. Four pipes came out of the well, partly circular, and facing downward. Water constantly flowed in a strong stream from the pipes into the pool, from where it continued to flow beneath the ground, through a pipe, into the river that flowed near the factory. Thus, the river always received new water.
A specific Zawiercie adage was created around the four pipes. That is: if someone's loan was cancelled, they would tell him to count the money owing to him next to the fourth pipe, for it was impossible to determine which of the pipes was the fourth
This adage also spread to nearby towns, but they did not know its meaning or origin.
Articles of clothing, various utensils, food, vegetables and fruit were sold in this marketplace. A sort of fair was conducted there every Sunday, the day of rest of the Christian residents. Slowly but surely, Jewish shops opened there (it was later called the Old Market), in houses that had been built either by Jews or gentiles.
With the passage of time, a new marketplace was opened in the fields of the Christian Jaglak. Houses of more than one story were also built around it. Thus, the city acquired a new marketplace. It was not easy for the Jews who lived next to their shops in the old marketplace to transfer to the new marketplace, and they had to be enticed to do so.
Some of the recently arrived Jews obtained work in the factory, and others earned their livelihoods from commerce and trades. A specific number of girls obtained work in the sewing and weaving departments of the Ginzberg factory, and the factory directors did not force them to work on the Sabbath.
Restaurants and inns for those who required them slowly opened. Thus did
livelihood begin to sprout up in our town. Zawiercie slowly turned into a magnet for the Jews of the area from near and farther off.
The residents of the city became accustomed to hearing the whistles of the factory a few times a day. These whistles called the workers to work in the morning, announced the noontime break, and recalled them in the afternoon. At 7:00 p.m., the whistles announced the end of the workday, until the next morning.
Times in the city were established by the whistles. The whistles were a type of clock for the population of the city.
|Uncaptioned. A view of the factory|
At first, it was difficult for the Jews of the city to get accustomed to the sound of the whistles that were heard from afar throughout the entire area, and were heard even stronger in the city. However, they did get accustomed, and lived in accordance with the whistles.
The market day arose as if by itself, and was an important factor in the development of commerce and trade. For the Jews, this was not only on the market day. Shops were opened literally in the houses on the streets, as well as in the circle that was called the market. Thus, it was possible to count one by one the shops that later became known as modern stores:
The store of Yechiel Windman for various textiles; the store of Brandeis for fancy goods; the store of Galster for textiles and women's ornaments; the store of Reb Moshe Rozen; the store of Reb Moshe Turner; the store of Reb David Abarbanel; the store of Reb Leibush Weinstock for clothing. Later, butcher shops opened to sell kosher meat that was brought in from Warsaw. The meat was under the kashruth supervision of the rabbis of Warsaw, for there was no local shechita [ritual slaughter]. The first slaughterhouse was in the city of Kromołów, and the butchers of Kromołów
would bring the meet to Zawiercie on a daily basis, and sell it at their booth near the river, on the street leading to the bridge. Since the shopkeepers would sell to their customers, primarily the workers, on credit from one payday at the factory to the next, and the price of the merchandise was cheaper than the prices at the general store that the factory directors set up for their employees, commerce continued to expand. With the passage of time, the houses reached the other side of the railway line on the east side of the city, due both to the wealthy Jewish homeowners who built houses for themselves, as well as those who rented dwellings.
This area was referred to as the forest both by the Jews and gentiles, for the houses were built among the trees in the forest. Shops were opened there as well, and various types of commerce developed, just as it had in the center of the city.
During those early days of our town, there was no central synagogue. People would worship in private houses or in the Hassidic shtibels of the various Admors. Thus, for example, the shtibel of the Hassidim of Radomsk was located in the home of Yankele Helberg, the father of Shlomo Pinchas and Shmuel (the latter being one of the first settlers of Raanana in the Sharon). Reb Yankele's house was on the other side of the railroad tracks, next to the Przeszjod. It was a two-storey house with a wholesale grocery store below, and served the entire region with its merchandise. There was a barrier there, guarded by a special guard. He would close the shop whenever the train approached, and would open it for the movement of people back and forth after the train passed.
Just as the Hassidim Radomsk utilized the home of Reb Yankele Helberg for prayer, other Hassidim used private residences for private prayer. It goes without saying, that non-Hassidim suffered from the lack of a house of prayer or a central synagogue where they could worship without being disturbed, as in other cities.
It is difficult to determine whether the Jews of Zawiercie sent representatives to the directorship of Ginzberg's factory; or vice versa, whether the directorship turned to the delegates of the Jews of the city. In any case, it is a fact that the synagogue was established. Rumors spread through the city that the directors of the factory set a condition
for the establishment of the synagogue of Zawiercie with funds provided by the factory: that the Jews of Zawiercie must take upon themselves, under threat of excommunication, not to purchase stolen goods from factory employees. It is not possible to verify whether the Jews of Zawiercie accepted this condition upon themselves. However, when I arrived in Zawiercie in the year 5641 (1881), the synagogue and Beis Midrash were already standing.
The building left a fine impression and decorated the street with its fine windows and beautiful structure. The building was built of red bricks.
The status of Zawiercie remained that of a town for a long time still, and it was subordinate to the city council of Kromołów. All the needs of the population of Zawiercie, both Jewish and gentile, and all family and communal functions were handled by Kromołów, even though Kromołów had a smaller population than Zawiercie. The city council, the government courthouse, and the police were all in Kromołów. The same situation existed with respect to communal affairs: the rabbi, shochet, and the cemetery were all in Kromołów, and served the needs of the Jewish population of Zawiercie as well. However, apparently there was a mikva [ritual bath] and bathhouse in Zawiercie, for when I came there, I already found a mikva. However, this was a primitive mikva under the private ownership of Shmuel Shushe. Shmuel Shushe said that the mikva building had recently burnt down, and he built another mikva with the assistance of his relatives, the Habermans.
As has been stated, there was no rabbi in Zawiercie. If a question of kashruth or some other halachic question arose, they turned to the rabbinical judge, Reb Yisraelke, who owned a hide shop. In order to differentiate him from a different Reb Yisraelke, who was also a Hassid but was not a scholar, they referred to Yisraelke the judge as Reb Yisraelke HaTov (Reb Yisraelke the Good). After some time, an additional rabbinical judge, Reb Yitzchak Grinfeld, settled in Zawiercie. The people of Zawiercie nicknamed him Reb Yitzchak Szladowski, since he was the son-in-law of Szladowski of Sosnowiec.
Even after Rabbi Yehuda Leib Ganzweich, the rabbi of Kromołów, moved to Zawiercie some time later, the two aforementioned rabbinical judges remained in their posts. Furthermore, if a complex Torah adjudication was taken place, they would also include my father Reb David Honigman (Meir Lelower) as a judge, since he possessed ordination and the authority to judge. Nevertheless, he did not want to accept the post of Rabbi.
Rabbi Yehuda Leib of Kromołów was a rabbi of the old fashioned style. He was a scholar, discreet and modest. People also said that he was a Kabbalist. However, he was not well-known in his time neither as a public disseminator of Torah nor as a preacher or an activist. He would not even deliver the customary sermon on the Sabbaths prior to Passover and the High Holy Days. Since he administered rabbinical duties to the people of Zawiercie even when he lived in Kromołów, he came to the conclusion that it was permitted for him to move and settle in Zawiercie, even if having received an official appointment as rabbi from the people of the city. He moved from Kromołów to Zawiercie solely on his own initiative. This
aroused opposition among that section of Zawiercie Jewry headed by Leib Hertzberg and his son Elimelech (Meilech) Hertzberg. This opposition was a source of suffering and aggravation for Rabbi Yehuda Leib, but he did not abandon his post. We do not know if anybody looked after his livelihood. There was not yet an organized Jewish community in the city, and the ephemeral institutions that were founded later were set up by private individuals solely for short term needs and the requirements of the times. I do not recall how this rabbi earned his livelihood. Apparently, private individuals supported him. He had two sons, Reb Avraham who owned a textile shop and Reb Mordechai who was an agent for the lottery fees.
Rabbi Yisrael Leib Ganzreich was a scion of the Tzaddik of Neistat, the author of Maor Vashemesh and a relative of the Admor of Chęciny. He was also a wonderful prayer leader. He used to serve as the prayer leader in the Beis Midrash, and astounded his listeners with his prayers and melodies. He transmitted these skills to his son Reb Avraham Ganzreich, and to Reb Avraham's son Reb Yeshaya Simcha Ganzreich. The aforementioned Reb Avraham was a merchant from his youth. He had a textile shop in the city. After the passing of his father, Reb Avraham served as informal rabbi and rabbinical judge in Zawiercie.
Reb Moshe Leib Herzberg, the competitor of Reb Yehuda Leib, was a populist personality. He was a Hassid of Stryków, with a hot temperament. He did a great deal in Zawiercie from a communal perspective. He had a large house and a beer distillery next to it. He also had an ice hill from which he used to sell to customers during the hot days.
Reb Moshe Leib's beer and ice businesses flourished. His level of self-confidence was therefore very inflated. Even though he had fine traits, was generous, and hosted guests; due to his hot temperament, he did not know how to maintain an appropriate proportion, and he ruled the city with a heavy hand even though the residents of Zawiercie of that time did not formally choose him. His confrontational relationship with Rabbi Yehuda Leib did not let up. He never made peace with the rabbi, but the rabbi did not give up his post. Thus did Rabbi Yehuda Leib die, sated with tribulations and suffering, after a few years of serving, but also not officially serving, in the rabbinical post of the city. He was buried in the cemetery in Kromołów.
The synagogue and the Beis Midrash were the two spiritual centers that encompassed the majority of the Jews of Zawiercie.
A variegated congregation, including wealthy people, Torah scholars, worshipped in the synagogue. There were few Hassidim
among them. The majority were Misnagdim [non-Hassidim]. There were also circles of enlightened people, as well as members of the middle class, and tradesmen of all types.
The chief spokesmen of the synagogue were: Reb Hershel Zylberman (who was nicknamed Hershel Paker or the Old Paker). He was adamant that the synagogue should conduct services in the Ashkenazic rite. He did not tolerate it if someone would conduct the prayer services and include the words Veyatzmach Purkanei. He was an educated man, honored and accepted by people. His nickname Paker came from the fact that he directed the packing division in the Ginzberg factory. They would pack the textiles in the Ginzberg factory in large bundles, which were strengthened by iron fasteners. He would primarily employ Jewish workers in this contracting work that he directed as a special department of the enterprise. His assistant, who later took over this contracting work, was his son Arka (Aharon). Even Arka Paker and Reb Hershel's son-in-law Reb Birech Blatt (who was also the Gabbai of the synagogue) and Reb Yosef Sobelman were all among the worshipers in the synagogue. Aside from these, other individuals who set the tone of the synagogue included Reb Avraham Borensztajn, the veteran Torah reader who read the Torah in good taste; Reb Leibush Frank, one of the first maskilim [enlightened people] and lovers of Zion of the city; Reb Zalman Margolis; Blumenfeld, Reb Avraham Borensztajn's brother-in-law; Elimelech (Meilech) Herzberg, the son of the aforementioned Moshe Leib; Galster; Moszkowicz, the father, and Shlomo Baumac. Shlomo Baumac's son serves today as the head of the division of personal hygiene of the Ministry of Health in Jerusalem, and is one of the well-known psychiatrists in Israel. There were also prominent members of the middle, commercial class, and tradesmen in the synagogue.
Reb Shabtai Spivak served as the cantor of the synagogue. He was appointed in place of the prayer leader, nicknamed Reb Alter Chazan, since they wanted a bona-fide cantor. They therefore sent a delegation to the synagogue of Pilica, where Reb Shabtai served as the cantor of the synagogue, in order to negotiate with him to move from Pilica to Zawiercie.
When this matter became known in Pilica, the people of Pilica informed the delegation from Zawiercie that under no circumstances would they permit Reb Shabtai to leave Pilica.
After these threats, the delegation returned empty handed. However, a short time later, the same delegation returned to Pilica and brought Reb Shabtai with them
to Zawiercie for a Sabbath so that they could listen to his singing and prayers. Reb Shabtai passed the test and was accepted as the cantor of the synagogue of Zawiercie.
The people of Pilica felt that Reb Shabtai was stolen from them and therefore informed him that they would not permit his family to leave Pilica and join him in Zawiercie. They did all this, of course, because they felt that they were taken advantage of, since Reb Shabtai was removed from Pilica literally in the darkness of the night.
After a short time, the people of Pilica made peace with their situation and revoked this threat. (They had no choice, since Reb Shabtai's family also left in the darkness of night.)
Reb Shabtai the cantor indeed remained in Zawiercie.
Reb Shabtai was also an expert mohel [ritual circumcisor], who took care to do his work with the best standard of hygiene. He got along well with people. He was pious, cultured, and also a communal activist to the extent that communal activity existed in those days. He was also a known lover of Zion in the city, and his end testifies to his commitment, for he made aliya to the land of Israel after serving as the cantor of the synagogue in Zawiercie for many years. He settled in Magdiel with his family, and was one of its first builders. There too, Reb Shabtai was an honorable person. He owned an agricultural farm. He died in Magdiel. Several of his descendents are still living among us.
In order to describe his noble personality, it is worthwhile to note one incident, in which he saved two lives thanks to his talents and his alertness.
This occurred one morning, in a silent moment around dawn. Reb Shabtai the cantor crossed the Street of the Train (Later, Marszalkowska), enveloped in darkness and slumber. In the darkness, he recognized the wailing sound of a woman calling from one of the stores for help. The store was lit up.
He ran to the store. When Reb Shabtai reached the door, he realized that the young women in the store had been overtaken by labor pains. The woman was alone in the house, for her husband had left the day before on a business trip. The woman felt that there was some danger if she went to summon the midwife, for she suspected that she might give birth along the way.
Without thinking for long, Reb Shabtai ordered her to get into bed immediately. She did as she was commanded. Speedily, Reb Shabtai prepared himself from a sanitary perspective.
Aware of the great responsibility and the great danger, and also realizing that there was no time to call anyone for help, Reb Shabtai delivered the baby. After a short time, he concerned himself with tending to the two souls in the best way possible. In the morning he sent for the physician, who did not believe that the birth had taken place without the care of a midwife.
This matter was a topic of conversation among all Jews in the city for a long time after it took place.
Reb Shabtai was the son of the Cantor Reb Yosele Medszialosicz. His brother was Yehoshua, a cantor in Miechów and later in Działoszyce. Both were famous cantors in their day.
The worshippers of the synagogue in Zawiercie were lovers of cantorialism and melodies. A testimony to this is the fact that the synagogue was often given over to itinerant cantors who would conduct services in an exemplary fashion before a large congregation as a type of concert. Entrance was only granted to those who had purchased tickets. The tickets were sold throughout the week prior to the Sabbath in which the guest prayers were to take place. From those days, I recall the guest cantor Bogas who arrived with a choir of 18 singers each of them excellent. I recall that one of them was a tenor with a powerful voice who was therefore called Yeshaya Gorgl. He was a native of Lublin, and he was a shoemaker by trade. He was taller than everyone else. Once another Lublin resident, Mr. Ashkenazy, heard him. Mr. Ashkenazy was a wealthy forestry merchant who later became one of the first residents of Tel Aviv,. Yeshaya Gorgl sang the songs that he used to sing as he worked; and, as Mr. Ashkenazy told me, he advised him to move to Warsaw where he should complete his studies, for he had the potential of becoming a great cantor. He took the advice of Mr. Ashkenazy. Later, this Yeshayahu Gorgl moved to America, and became the cantor in one of the well-known synagogues of Chicago.
I also recall another itinerant cantor an 11 year old boy who conducted services as a cantor. Tickets were also sold for him. He had one choir member his 13 year old brother. They conducted services under the supervision of their father. I recall the pleasant prayers of this child to this day.
From this we can establish that there were lovers of music among the members and worshippers of the synagogue.
The directors of the Ginzberg and Partners Factory only worshipped in the synagogue a few times a year, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Their wives would come dressed in splendid festival clothing. The men would be wearing dress coats with tails, top hats, and tallises in the form of scarves, in the style of Germany. The seats on the eastern wall of the synagogue would be saved for them on those two days. They were honored with aliyas to the Torah, and they offered generous donations. They expressed their satisfaction with the prayers of the cantor Reb Shabtai, and, no less, they expressed their full satisfaction with the traditional prayers and pleasant melodies of my revered father Reb Meir Lelower, who would conduct the Shacharit service in the synagogue and the Musaf service in the Beis Midrash. He would also conduct Kol Nidre and Neila on Yom Kippur.
I recall that when my father left the Beis Midrash after the Maariv Service following Yom Kippur, some of the woman worshippers waited for him near the exit in order to wish him a good year, and express their wish that he would pray in Jerusalem in the rebuilt Holy Temple. Indeed my father prepared to travel to the Land of Israel immediately after the First World War. However,
he died before that time, and did not merit seeing the Jerusalem that he so pined to see. He was buried with great honor in the Zawiercie cemetery.
Reb Shabtai was a faithful friend of my father. They joined together in communal work in the various institutions of the city.
These two men, along with Reb Avraham Bornsztajn, set up the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) even before there was a cemetery in Zawiercie. My father Reb Lelower was the head of the organization, and he was known as the Gabbai Rishon (Main Trustee) of the Chevra Kadisha even when he still lived in Lelów. The other gabbaim included Reb Shabtai Spivak, Reb Hershel Janowski, and Reb Yisrael Briger. Candidates for membership in the organization were accepted by recommendation from honorable men. The gabbaim of the organization would arrange an annual festive meal during the week of the Torah Portion of Vayechi Yaakov, which concludes with the death of our forefather Jacob.
In truth, we should note that throughout the time surveyed in these memoirs, no organization worthy of mention was set up. There was not even a benevolent organization or charitable fund for the local poor set up alongside the synagogue. Later on, several social benefit organizations were set up, as will be noted later, but at this time, they did not exist.
I should also note to the credit of the members of the synagogue, that, throughout the time that I lived in that city, no disputes worthy of mention broke out amongst the worshippers with respect to aliyot and hakafot.
It is appropriate to praise the custom in the synagogue that the Hakafot on Simchat Torah were not distributed by the gabbaim of the synagogue, but rather by the gabbaim of the Chevra Kadisha. The aim was to prevent disputes among the worshippers.
On the eve of Hoshana Rabba, as Simchat Torah approached, and also on the evening of Shmini Atzeret, the gabbaim of the synagogue handed over the distribution of Hakafot to the gabbaim of the Chevra Kadisha. They stood before the ark and distributed the Hakafot to the worshippers as they saw fit. Quiet and politeness always pervaded in the synagogue during that time.
Only once do I remember that one worshipper, a shoemaker by trade, burst forth and called out to the distributors of the Hakafos, Is this right, that you honor someone who in my opinion is less important than I with the second round, whereas you give me the forth round. Furthermore, you have given him the Hakafa of 'Ozer Dalim Hoshia Na'.
The gabbai who was distributing the Hakafos quieted him immediately by calling out only one thing to the rebel, Quiet! If you open your mouth again, after Simchat Torah you will be inscribed in the book of the brazen people. We will remember that you have violated the honor of the synagogue and the honor of the holy Torah. The rebel overcame his inclination as he did not want to destroy his relationship with the Chevra Kadisha lest they take revenge when his time comes. After this simple retort, the Hakafot continued without disturbance.
|Reb Berl Shamash and his wife|
With regard to the Hakafot on Simchat Torah, I recall only that mild isolated disturbance. I recall a more serious issue with respect to selecting the gabbaim for the entire year on the night of Hoshana Rabba, as was the custom each year. During the period we are dealing with, a bottle of liquor was the most effective and strong means for gaining a voice in he elections. With my own eyes I saw how two Jewish residents of Zawiercie who were worshippers in the synagogue rolled around, apparently drunk, on the ground that was full of rainwater and mud, one atop of the other. The two fighters were shoemakers. I recall their names, but I will refrain from mentioning them out of respect for the deceased who have now been in the World of Truth for a long time.
I wish to fulfill my duty with respect to the shamash [beadle] of the synagogue during the period that I lived in Zawiercie. This was Reb Betzalel Feder who was known to every native of Zawiercie as
Betzalel Shammash. I recall his name Feder because he signed as one of the witness to my Tenaim [pre marriage documents] 60 years ago, and I still have this document in my archives.
Reb Betzalel was an elderly, educated man who used to boast to the lads studying in the Beis Midrash that during his youth he was a researcher, and therefore knew, for example, how to determine the years, through the Atbash methodology which day of the week the Jewish holidays can fall on. He also knew why one month is full and another is deficient. He also knew why there are leap years every few years in our calendar. Reb Betzalel conducted other research in this manner. He would enter the Beis Midrash at a time when the Yeshiva lads were immersed in their studies, and suddenly start to ask his questions. For example, he would ask for an explanation why in the Sabbath prayers, the Sabbath is referred to in the feminine at Maariv, in the masculine at Shacharit and Musaf, and in the plural at Mincha. I recall other of his questions, A year has 12 months is that not true, lads? You know that we bless the new moon before each Rosh Chodesh. How many times a year do we bless the new moon?
Reb Betzalel Shamash opened a cheder not to disseminate Torah to young boys. They were, as is known, shkotzim, ruffians and wild, who would overturn the benches of the Beis Midrash. Therefore, teaching Torah to young children seemed like a lowly job to Reb Betzalel. Therefore, he opened in his residence, which consisted only of one large room, a cheder to teach girls from the ages of 4 12. The purpose of that cheder was to teach how to recite the morning blessings, how to read Shema in the morning, and how to recite the Grace After Meals.
At the outset, Reb Betzalel was successful. His cheder for girls developed. However, the number of students slowly declined. They literally did not want to learn with him. The reason was not known until one Sabbath eve, after candle lighting, several neighbors sat outside the doors of their homes after their husbands went to the synagogue to welcome the Sabbath, and conducted a friendly conversation among themselves. They talked about various matters, and eventually came to the topic of the cheder of Reb Betzalel. During the conversation, they realized that many of their daughters refused to attend Reb Betzalel's cheder, because he liked to pinch them -- as they stood up to recite the words of the siddur specifically in the place upon which they sit down
The extent to which the curiosity of Reb Betzalel Shamash reached can be demonstrated by the following little story.
The lads of the Beis Midrash loved to jest around with this Reb Betzalel. One of the lads told him that he dreamed a dream: In his sleep, he saw and heard how he, Reb Betzalel the Shamash, argued with the shamash of the Beis Midrash Reb Shmuel Chaim Praszewiczer, who was no longer alive at that point. Reb Shmuel Chaim claimed that he had passed away because of Reb Betzalel, for he always bothered him. How did he bother him? In the following manner. Reb
Betzalel deprived him of the income that came from the householders indirectly, over and above his small salary. Reb Bezalel did not share equitably with Reb Shmuel Chaim. The dreamer said that he stood up for Reb Betzalel in the dream, stating that this was not the case. On the contrary, as far as he knew, Reb Betzalel always treated Reb Shmuel Chaim with appreciation and respect, and never deprived him.
Reb Betzalel heard the dream, and did no say anything. Rather, he immersed himself in his thoughts.
It was obvious that the made-up dream had its effect on him, for the next day, he approached the lad who apparently had the dream, and asked him: It is good that you justified me, but I want to hear, what did Reb Shmuel Chaim of blessed memory respond after he heard your words?...
by Alter Honigman, known as Alter Meir David Lelewers
While the synagogue of the city of Zawiercie was solely a house of worship, the Beis Midrash was a place of prayer and study combined.
Whereas in the synagogue, there was no custom that the worshippers invited a poor person to be a guest in their home for the Sabbath, this was the regular practice in the Beis Midrash. On Sabbath eves after the services, some of the poor people would line up themselves next to the exit. Each of the worshippers took one of those standing. The invitation was issued by waving a hand by the side of the guest whom they wished invite. Each householder invited a different guest. It never happened that a poor man remained on the Sabbath without food or shelter while the Jewish residents of the city enjoyed the Sabbath delicacies with their families in their homes.
Sometimes, the guest was only invited for the Sabbath eve meal. Other times, the householder invited the guest to come the next day for the Sabbath day meal.
There were some worshippers who asked the Shamash [beadle] to send them a guest for the Sabbath eve on a regular basis, without asking beforehand. The Shamash distributed tickets, referred to as plet [raffle], to assign these people to a place for Sabbath. The hosts always had poor guests.
Unlike the synagogue, whose entrance was close to the side of Marszalkowska Street, the entrance to the Beis Midrash was in the western end of the courtyard. First, one entered a small anteroom. On the opposite, there was a door through which one entered the hall. The Beis Midrash was not particularly large. When you entered, you saw the Holy Ark toward the east and next to it on the right, was the podium upon which the cantor or one of the worshippers who served as a prayer leader would lead the services. The balemer [podium] for the reading of the Torah was in the center of the hall. In front of the prayer leader's podium, there was a frame upon which was written I keep G-d before me at all times. The four letters of the name of G-d were written in capital letters, and around the frame, there were all types of artistic images of holy animals in various colors lions, leopards, deer, and rams. The tongues of the lions hung out. Aside from this, next to this frame, there were all types of toys and flowers. On an empty shelf and on one of the external panel of the Holy Ark, next to the prayer leader's podium,
the names of sick men and women were written, with a wish for a complete recovery, so that the prayer leader would remember to mention the person in the Refaeinu [heal us] blessing of the weekday Shmone Esrei.
Next to the walls there were four tables, along which the worshippers sat in agreed places on Sabbaths and festivals. This was not the weekday protocol. During the week, several minyanim [prayer quorums] took place, and most of the worshippers recited their prayers while standing or while pacing from wall to wall. On both sides of the entrance there were two bookcases full with books about Torah topics. These were used by the lads who studied in the Beis Midrash as well as by the worshippers who wanted to learn or review a book before or after the services. Next to the door, there was a sink with utensils for washing hands. A large oven to provide heat in the winter was on the left side of the door.
On the Sabbath, when each of the worshippers sat in their usual places, the seating was as follows:
Rabbi Yisrael Leib sat next to the Holy Ark, on the left side. His son Reb Avraham sat to the right of the Holy Ark. My father, Reb Meir Lelower, who incidentally served as the regular prayer leader in the Beis Midrash for several years, sat immediately behind the rabbi. Next to my father's place was the place of Reb Mordechai, the son of the Rabbi.
The householders sat around the tables. I will mention them in order (to the extent that my memory serves me correctly): the elderly Reb Todros, Reb Leib Kira (his family name was Zawader), Reb Chaim Grynsztejn, Reb Leibish Joszkowic, Reb Feivel Messer, Reb Akiva Hochberg, Reb Chaim Wartsman, his brother Reb Leibish Wartsman, Reb Beibe Birenfrajnd, his son Avraham Yossel, his brother Yeshayahu, Reb Chaim Besser, Reb Koppel Bogajer, Reb Leibish Bogajer, the brothers Berl and Shmuel Betszke's, Reb Yisrael Storozom, Reb Yeshayahu Grynsztejn who was nicknamed Yeshayahu Porambar, and his son Leibel. There were also worshippers standing with no regular seats for the Sabbath. The first one who prayed next to the table upon which they would read the Torah was Reb Yisraelke Briger, who was the regular Torah reader. Those who worshipped standing included Reb Shmuel Swika, whose place was in front of the holy ark, as well as the lads Leibel Grynsztejn, Shmuel-Moshe Storozom, Binyamin Swika (Reb Shmuel Swika's brother), and the brothers Reb Avraham Yitzchak and Shlomo Kleinfeld (who also sat in their seats).
It is worthwhile to dwell more about the personality of this Reb Shmuel Swika, who was a wealthy householder. One can say that he was a Hassid, as well as a modern man and a maskil. In the town he was known as a Baal Teshuva [master of repentance].
Reb Shmuel stood in front of the Holy Ark and always recited his prayers with great enthusiasm. He did not change his place, and did not sit down during the services, even on Yom
Kippur. The devotion exhibited by his movements and his constant encouragement for his two young sons, who sat next to him and who had been warned by him not to divert their mind from the Siddur in front of them, demonstrated that he was a very pious and observant man.
Why was he nicknamed the Baal Teshuva? The residents of the town and its neighborhood would respond to this question as follows: At one time, Reb Shmuel was a clerk in one of the government offices, and he wrote also on the Sabbath. One day, Reb Shmuel decided for some reason to stop working on the Sabbath. Furthermore, he donned Hassidic garb, traveled to the Admor of Radomsk, and took upon himself to refrain from speaking about non-holy matters on the Sabbath, and also to speak only in Hebrew during the Sabbath since he was not fluent in Hebrew, he spent most of the Sabbath day in silence, not speaking at all.
He took an additional good behavior upon himself. He would host a poor guest at his table every Sabbath.
I should also mention the gabbaim [trustees] of the Beis Midrash. The chief gabbai was Reb Todros the elder, and his assistants were Reb Chaim Worstman, Feivele Messer, Chaim Besser and Reb Akiva Hochberg. Reb Shmuel Chaim Proszewicer was the shamash of the Beis Midrash. He was a poor man, blind in one eye. Reb Shmuel Chaim earned a meager livelihood. He earned his living with difficulty. His main source of livelihood came from his daughters who worked in the Ginzberg factory in the spinning department. They were among the many poor girls of Zawiercie who went to work in the factory.
In the Beis Hamidrash it was a custom to elect the gabbaim on the night of Hoshana Rabba, since at that time, the congregants were awake, reciting the Night service for Hoshana Rabba.
The election of gabbaim on the night of Hoshana Rabba always proceeded without disturbance. There was no conflict, as was usual in those days.
On Hoshana Rabba, the Rabbi served as the prayer leader, and conducted the ceremony of the waving the four species (lulav, etrog, hadas, and arava) with great fanfare. Interwoven in this ceremony was the recitation of incomprehensible kabalistic names. He read them from the large, old prayer book placed before him.
It was the custom in the Beis Midrash that the Torah scholars would wear silk and atlas clothing on the Sabbath eve and Sabbath day. Others who were not considered to be Torah scholars wore woven woolen garments. It once happened that one of the worshippers, a butcher by profession, came to the Beis Midrash in silk clothing on the Sabbath. They taught him a lesson in the following way: The following Sabbath, when he was about to sit in his usual place, he found a sharpener of butcher's knife on the table.
The matter ended peacefully and quietly. The man didn't react publicly to this embarrassment. His only reaction was that, from that time on, he came in his usual black woven garment as usual.
On Simchat Torah, it was the custom that two of the worshippers were the grooms: My father Reb Meir David was called as Chatan Torah and the gabbai Reb Todros as Chatan Breishit. Reb Todros would invite the entire congregation to his home for a Kiddush on Shabbat Breishit. Most of the congregation came to the Kiddush. Reb Todros would always treat the congregation with, among other things, dumplings and rice-stuffed cabbage that were not particularly tasty. We the children tossed them into some corner on the floor or at Reb Todros, who was engaged in a conversation and did not know who throw the food. Those who saw did not react, because on Simchat Torah, everything was permitted
The third Sabbath meal (Shalesides) was not conducted in the Beis Midrash, but rather in the Rabbi's house, with the window blinds closed. The reason for this was that the Rabbi's house was on a side alley of the marketplace, next to the houses of the gentiles. The alley led to the Beis Midrash. It once happened that during the third Sabbath meal, just before the grace, [birkat hamazon] when it was already getting dark, a stone flew through the window. Miraculously, the stone did not injure any of those present at the third Sabbath meal at the rabbi's house, but several window panes broke. It was clear that a Jewish hand was not involved in throwing the stone. One of the gentile neighbors, to whom the hymns must have been revolting, apparently threw this stone. From that time, the people in the Rabbi's house closed the window blinds.
After the death of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Gancweich, his son Rabbi Avraham Gancweich was promoted be the Rabbi. The son was the town's chief Rabbi for only a few years. His father's opponent, the parnas and gabbai Reb Moshe Leib Hercberg, also opposed the son. Reb Avraham vacated the rabbinic seat, and later became an Admor, but this was after the time when I lived in Zawiercie.
From rumors I heard, I can state that Reb Moshe Leib and his associates appointed Rabbi Landau of the Strykow Hassidic court as Rabbi of Zawiercie.
On a winter weekday, when darkness still enveloped the streets of the city, one could already see sparkles of light in the windows of the Beis Midrash. The light was lit by the guests and poor wayfarers who would sleep in the Beis Midrash, with no other place to sleep. They slept on benches without a sheet or pillow, or behind the oven.
The guests would wake up early and light the kerosene lamps. The lamps hung from the ceiling with metal wires. During the winter, they would light the oven. Then they would sit down, some in front of the oven and some behind it, and recite Psalms.
The shamash Reb Shmuel Chaim was the first of the residents of Zawiercie to come to the Beis Midrash in the morning. Following the Shamash, came a Jew who sold tea, coffee and baglach. He had the rights to place an urn on one of the tables next to the entrance. The worshippers of the first minyan began to gather. From outside, daylight gradually began to break through the windows of the Beis Midrash.
A wandering bookseller began to take out various books from his boxes. He had placed the boxes, locked and bolted, in one of the corners of the Beis Midrash. His place was also next to the oven. He would arrange his books according to their various types: Chumashes, Siddurs, Selichot books, Kinnot books, Karban-Mincha Siddurs, books on morality, Praises of the Baal Shem Tov, Midrash books, Gemara for beginners (Lekach Tov), as well as, to differentiate between the holy and the mundane, story books (Baba Maaseh, The story about seven beggars, Centra-Wontra, books of fate, and other such books).
Many of the worshippers who didn't intend to buy, would approach the table of the bookseller, took one book or another in their hands, leafed through it, asked about the price put it down, and moved on. There were also those who occasionally purchased a book. In any case, there was always lots of action around the bookseller.
There were also various types of prayer books, some covered with gold and silver on the outside, which the eye saw and the heart coveted. These were designated for the lads of Bar Mitzvah age.
The bookseller displayed his goods, some for sale and some to raffle off. One could win a book, a prayer book, or any other of the bookseller's books through the raffle, after paying a small sum to enter the raffle. With palpitating hearts, the children placed their hands into the bookseller's sack and take out three wooden dice with numbers on them. If the numbers added up to 21 or 31, as was agreed upon by the bookseller and the children, they won any one of the books that they desired. However, the winner still had to pay an additional sum, as set by the bookseller. The bookseller always swore that he was selling the book to the winner at a sale price that is, for a small sum over the cost price of the book. As I recall, most of the participants lost this raffle.
Some of the youths who studied in the Beis Midrash would also pass through the worshippers offering to sell them homemade cigarettes. The price of two cigarettes was one kopek.
In the meantime, people took their seats by the table. Lads sat separately, or a father set with his young son who came together to study Gemara. The trilled sad voices that accompanied the Gemara studying began to blend with the voices of the various worshippers different types of voices worshipping the Creator.
Various minyanim of worshippers rotated until close to noon. Among the worshippers there were those, especially Hassidim, who dragged out their prayers or who remained after their prayers in order to participate in a Yahrzeit commemoration for the relative of one of the worshippers. The Shamash would bring out liquor and baglach that the observer of the Yahrzeit ordered. They drank Tikkun and Lechayim and wished the observer of the Yahrzeit some wishes that I did not understand. As they wished each other Lechayim, I only understood the conclusion of the wishes, Let the time of the Messiah's arrival come, so that we will be redeemed and go to the Land of Israel.
At the end of the Shacharit services near noon, some people still remained in the Beis Midrash.
Local youths as well as those who came from various places to study Torah, learnt in the Beis Midrash. There were those who took their meals on a daily basis teg at the same place and those who ate at a different place every day. Every youth who was not a resident of Zawiercie had a permanent place to eat on the Sabbath.
The sounds of Torah could be heard bursting forth from the walls of the Beis Midrash. Above them all, one could hear from a distance quite far from the Beis Midrash, the voices of the students of Reb Yisraelke Zisman, who was nicknamed Der Guter Srulke (Reb Yisraelke the Good). For several hours a day, Reb Yisraelke taught a Gemara class to the students who studied with him. One could also hear the melodic voices of the students of Reb David Rosenblum, the teacher [melamed], who, for some reason, set his place of teaching in the Beis Midrash.
The traffic in the Beis Midrash began to increase before the afternoon service [Mincha]. This was especially the case on those days when a Magid [preacher] from some Yeshiva would rise to deliver a sermon. The audience in the Beis Midrash listened with great attention to the sermon of the Magid, who spiced his words with parables, anecdotes, and explanation of the stories from the Bible. The Beis Midrash students were among the audience. Listening to the melodies and to the lecture style of the Magidim was a profound experience for the worshippers.
After the Ma'ariv service when the crowd had dispersed, the young men or a small number of the worshippers continued to sit at the tables, each one with his own Gemara, or two people with one Gemara, and warm themselves with the light of the Gemara. It was a spiritual enjoyment beyond measure for those who enjoyed no other pleasure in the world.
People also studied in the shtibels. They drank Tikkun  more frequently. A Rosh Chodesh feast was held on the eve of every Rosh Chodesh [New Moon].
This atmosphere imbued constant optimism in the hearts of the Hassidim, most of whose lives were not that easy, for Above all, there is a Father in heaven, there is Divine providence, He Who gives life will give sustenance. Such adages were on their lips.
One can say that in Zawiercie, the following adage of our sages [Chazal] was fulfilled: Wherever
the Jews were exiled; the Torah was exiled with them. The custom in other large cities of Poland or Lithuania was that a young man who graduated the cheder would travel to a Yeshiva outside of his hometown. This custom did not exist in Zawiercie. In Zawiercie, our lads continued their studies in the Beis Midrash. Great scholars, even Gaonim, came forth from Beis Midrashes in other cities.
In Zawiercie, the Lithuanian custom that the Beis Midrash students continued their studies in outside Yeshivas, such as Mir, Lomza, or Volozhyn, did not exist. If there was an occasion such as this, it was a rare case.
The reason for this was that the parents of these youths, most of whom were poor, felt and expressed their opinion that a young man who desires to fulfill himself can also do so in the local Beis Midrash, which was full of books. The most important thing was the power of will. As proof, they mentioned examples of many scholarly rabbis who emanated from such Beis Midrashes, without going to Yeshivas and without traveling. The truth must be stated that such scholars that were mentioned by the parents as examples were not the rule in Beis Midrash life, but rather the exception. Perhaps a scholar came forth on occasion, or even a genius, who was self taught, without a Yeshiva, without teachers, and without organized study. Most of those who remained in the Beis Midrash did not succeed in continuing with their studies for long. Some went to seek their purpose in life. Others advanced in secular studies and became Maskilim, with free-thinking ideologies, and still others decided to study a profession.
In truth, it must be noted that gaonim [Torah geniuses] did not come forth from the Beis Midrash of Zawiercie, but no small number of Maskilim and educated people did come forth. The atmosphere of the Beis Midrash in our city was not easy for the young men. I will describe an incident when the Beis Midrash was closed to the young men for several weeks. This step was taken as a punishment, since treif-pasul was found with some of the young men.
The process of leaving the Beis Midrash for various purposes, at a time when few went to study at a Yeshiva, also happened to the youth of Zawiercie. Most of those who remained in the Beis Midrash were caught up in the spirit of the Haskalah that was spreading wide over Polish Jewry at that time. In Zawiercie, things came to a head in a strange manner. The following is the story that was upsetting and stormy at that time.
The Shamash Reb Shmuel Chaim Proszewicer felt that the candles that he got from the worshippers of the Beis Midrash as a charity were impaired. At first, he suspected that the poor guests who slept in the Beis Midrash had a hand in the travesty. However, he also suspected that the young men of the Beis Midrash wasted too many candles in their late-night studies. He began to search through drawers and all sorts of other places where the candles might have been hidden.
However, rather than candles, the shamash found various books that do not belong in a Beis Midrash. He found Polish textbooks as well as accounting textbooks. Furthermore, and woe to the eyes that see such, he found books by Mapu and Smolenskin, such as The Love of Zion, Wandering Through Life, Ayit Tsavu'a An Ignominous Burial, etc. He also found a book of Shemer (Nachum Meir Szeikewitz) and Blaustein in Yiddish. There was also no shortage of books that were covered with the pages of the Hatzefirah periodical.
At first, the Shamash said that he did not know what to do. He was afraid of hurting the sons of the wealthy householders, since doing so was liable to affect his own livelihood. However, his feelings of religious responsibility overcame him and he reported the dreadful discovery to the gabbaim of the Beis Midrash.
They also could not digest the scandal. They had to decide how to react to this dismal episode that proved that the town had been led astray. The people in the town thought that these fine young men were engaged in Torah and Divine service. Instead, they were exploring such a treif-pasul.
They sat and discussed. Finally they decided to publicize this scandal. Simultaneously, they decided to close the Beis Midrash to the young men as a punishment.
One day, one could read a detailed announcement atop the doors of the Beis Midrash about the discovery in the drawers of the desks and even buried very deeply between the holy books, as well as on the bookshelves. As a result, it was announced that the gabbaim of the Beis Midrash decided to forbid the young men from entering the Beis Midrash until further notice.
As if they had been conferring among themselves, most of the young men decided to take the opportunity that was given to them to realize their thoughts about the purpose of life. These thoughts had occupied their mind all through the entire time of their studies.
Some of them went to study secular subjects in order to prepare to enter a school so that they could study toward a degree.
One of those who decided to travel to the Yeshiva of Lomza was my friend Yaakov Tovia, the son of Reb Avraham Yitzchak Kleinfeld. I studied together with him, and he was one of the most excellent students.
And so it was: A few weeks later, Yaakov Tovia traveled to the Yeshiva of Lomza with the consent of his parents. As his childhood friend and also as a friend from his student days, I promised him that I would join him at the earliest opportunity.
However, in order to realize this promise, I would have to convince my parents to agree to my trip, and at that time, I was less than 15 years old.
My parents listened to my aspiration and to my request to set off on this journey. Their response
was not a definitive refusal, but also was not a consent. They also felt that a youth who wanted to learn could do so in any place especially in the Beis Midrash. Was the Beis Midrash lacking in books? -- they asked. It has Gemaras, commentaries and various books of Talmudic didactics.
My fortune turned out positively, for at that time the Magid Reb Yaakov of the Yeshiva of Lomza came to us. He delivered a sermon each evening in the Beis Midrash between Mincha and Maariv, and everyone enjoyed his fine sermons and beautiful parables. He stayed at our house and ate with us, for at our house the food was strictly glatt kosher. I revealed my secret to him and asked him to support me when he talks with my parents. Indeed, with the assistance of Reb Yaakov the Magid, who talked with my father and described the nature of the Roshay Yeshivas and the manner of study in that Yeshiva, my father agreed to permit me to travel to Lomza. It was decided that since it was now before Purim, I would go after the Passover holiday. Reb Yaakov said that he will be in Lomza at that time and promised to help me go through the preparatory stage in a short time. Then I will be able to enter the Yeshiva itself.
The awaited time arrived, and the preparations for my journey began. From the packages, suitcases and cakes prepared for the journey, it was obvious that someone in the house was getting ready for a journey. If anyone asked about these preparations my parents would answer with unhidden pride that Our young man is traveling to Yeshiva.
In addition to my joy that I was going to the famous Yeshiva of Lomza, I was also happy that I would be passing through Warsaw. There, in a large suburb near Warsaw, lived my grandfather. My soul longed to see the city of Warsaw, and to see my grandfather who would give me a blessing for my new path. I was then in the Seventh Heaven with great satisfaction.
Then Satan arrived in the image of a Jew, acquaintance of my parents. He destroyed all my plans.
What are all the preparations at your place? he asked as he entered our home.
They answered this Jew, as to everybody else: Our young man is going to the Yeshiva of Lomza.
In three days I was expected to go.
When this Jew heard the response of my parents, he approached my father in an emotional voice: Reb Meir David! If it is your will that your son should enter a bad company and that you should suffer, Heaven forbid, embarrassment from him then indeed send him there. Is it your desire, Reb Meir, to turn
your son into a Litvak? Let me tell you, the acquaintance Jew turned to my parents, Upon my soul, I have heard with my own ears from one of my acquaintances in a certain city whose son has studied in a certain Lithuanian Yeshiva, and he, the son has returned as a different person, not the same person that he was before he went. First of all, he speaks in a Lithuanian accent. He wears a polished, iron, necktie. His 'fear of Heaven' has been impacted greatly.
To make a long story short, the result of the advice of this Jew was that I did not go to the Yeshiva of Lomza.
I returned to the Beis Midrash. However, it was no longer the same studying that I had done there before. I no longer had the desire to learn. One day, my father saw me as he was passing by the Beis Midrash in the morning hours, and noticed that I was sitting in front of the Beis Midrash between two young men, and chatting with them. He immediately informed me that I had to learn a trade, since he saw that my soul does not desire Torah. My father said, It is not proper to sit idly and chat. I agreed immediately and informed my parents that I had wanted to study a trade for some time, but I postponed telling them so as not to upset them. Since the recommendation came from their side, I now grabbed on to the new offer.
|Reb Meir David Honigman, nicknamed Meir Lelewer|
The question was: what trade should I study? It would have to be a trade that would not degrade my parents and the relatives.
One evening, my parents sat and began to list one by one all the trades that a Jew would be able to use to earn a livelihood.
Tailor, shoemaker these are out of the question. We had not reached that stage yet, Heaven forbid. A hat maker? The hat makers are all desperately poor, my father said. A tinsmith?
Indeed, they all have income, but my mother did not want to hear about it. She said that the tinsmiths have to cover the roofs of houses, and one can fall, Heaven forbid. Therefore, we must not even speak about it.
I was present at every family consultation. At the end of a worrisome discussion, I said that I would agree to be a watchmaker and a goldsmith.
My parents immediately agreed to my offer. My father even cited as a proof that one of the Admorim of Poland knew this trade. Not only this, my father added, but a watchmaker can be pious. Furthermore, it is a clean and easy trade, as our rabbis have taught us, 'One should always teach his son a clean and easy trade.'
It was decided that I would study the watch making trade
The studies and education were like in all the Jewish towns in those days.
At first, the child was taught Kametz Aleph Oh. Then the child studied the Siddur, reading, Chumash and Rashi. After that, they went straight to the Beis Midrash.
In order to start studying in the Beis Midrash, one must have passed through all the stages with their various teachers.
For example, there was the Melamed Reb Eliezer the Blind (nicknamed blind since he was shortsighted), as well as Reb Itche Baruch Melamed. The latter was younger than Reb Eliezer-Lozer. The students of this melamed gained nothing more than a bit of Chumash and a small knowledge of Gemara. This was not only because his own level of knowledge was low, but he was also occupied with selling eggs. His wife was the seller, and he helped her.
Aside from these, there was also a melamed for Gemara Reb Davidl Radoszycer. This melamed gave a broad knowledge of the Talmudic Order of Nezikin to his students. He used to teach with a stick in his hand, and he often used this stick when necessary and also when unnecessary.
A student who completed his course of studies with Reb Davidl Radoszycer could graduate to study with Reb David the Melamed the aforementioned Reb David Rosenblum. From Reb David, one would go straight to the Beis Midrash.
However, there were parents who wanted to ensure that their children would also know how to read and write. From the time of the beginning of the development of the town, students of this category would be taught by Reb Moshe Flaszer, who maintained a cheder for this type of study. He taught boys and girls, in separate classes, Yiddish writing and arithmetic. There was also Alter Shapira.
However, aside from Reb Moshe Flaszer, there was a teacher who would go to the houses of the students and give hours (shtunden in the vernacular). His name was Hirsch Lerer. In the last years of my stay in Zawiercie, a teacher came from Bêdzin, and opened a school for Yiddish, Polish and arithmetic. Of course, he also taught the students to sing Polish songs. His name was The Teacher Lewinski. He also took his students out to the light of the world and went on excursions with them. His students sang Polish songs as they were walking in procession.
Of course, the parents of the Jewish children of Zawiercie opposed a school of this type. As a result, the school closed due to a lack of students. The teacher Lewinski left as soon as he had come.
During the period we are dealing with, I cannot point to any spiritual institution that was founded and initiated by the people of the town, and which influenced the education of the youth who were growing up during that period.
We have described two spiritual institutions: the synagogue and Beis Midrash, in addition to the Hassidic shtibels. All of these undoubtedly had a positive influence on the youth from a religious and spiritual perspective. However, they did not have influence on every youth.
There were children of the town who grew up without Torah and without any education by their parents. Their parents were completely busy with worries of livelihood.
The town did not derive much satisfaction from these children, who later became part of the youth of the town. It was not the fault of these youths that they became what they became. They grew up without Torah and without education.
These youths instinctively felt that they must organize themselves of course without the spiritual-educational leadership and guidance that would lead them to positive deeds and behavior. Instead, they organized themselves toward improper and immoral acts under the influence of youths from outside who came to Zawiercie to work at various jobs and to help in running the stores.
These were the young tradesmen some of them employees who earned their livelihoods with difficulty, others were apprentices to the tradesmen or craftsmen. There were also those who worked in the shops as messengers, porters, and the like. They organized themselves from their own initiatives, without any
social purpose at all. There was a custom to impose some sort of fee upon any worker, tradesman, or household servant who had recently arrived in the city that is: the custom was to impose a tax on all the new workers. The tax was according to the work or the position. Those who refused to pay would suffer serious beatings from the members of the group.
From the above one can conclude the degree of spirituality and ideology of these youths.
Then, for some reason, this organization somehow split into two organizations. One competed with the other, and each of them entered the realm of the competing organization. One could often see shameful results: members of one organization would attack the members of the other in the marketplace, and they would beat each other up until blood flowed. The conflict continued until the few policemen who were then in the town intervened and separated them.
The payment that the organizations received from the new workers was called protegtsia gelt, or more accurately protensia gelt protection money or silence money.
Actually I should say: some of these youths who grew up without education did not participate in these organizations. They sought more positive actions. They organized dances. Every Sabbath, they would gather in different places where they would study the art of dance, or dance. This group of youths was of a finer type.
From the above, we can conclude that during the described period, there was no guiding or leading hand in the town. There was no one amongst the Jews of the town to take care and to ensure that these youths would be directed towards a respectable way if not to the path of Torah, then at least in the path of good, respected manners, and a minimal level of education.
This youth organization with the negative behavior did not last long. As a result of a certain incident, the commander of one of these aforementioned organizations was forced to escape from the town. Both organizations disintegrated.
The flight of the organization's leader was involved with the following event:
The ruffian Yosele Dar a shoemaker by profession almost didn't kill a young man who was a resident of the town. It was a young man who studied in the Beis Midrash one of those who looked and were injured, were becoming involved in secular affairs: half a Hassid and half a Maskil. The event happened on the eve of Shabbat Chazon in the mikva [ritual bath]. The usual practice was that Hassidim and men of good deeds would immerse themselves in the mikva only in honor of the Sabbath, but due to the mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple, they would not use soap. They would immerse, but not wash themselves.
The Hasid-Maskil youth sat on the floor of the mikva room, washing with soap and hot water. Then the ruffian Yossele Dar entered, turned
to the bathing youth, and reminded him that it was the eve of Shabbat Chazon, and that it was forbidden to wash with soap.
In this manner, Yossele wanted to please the Hassidim who were sitting in that room on benches next to the walls some undressed, some dressed sitting in the steam that ascended from the mikva and filled the mikva room.
The Hassidim heard how the man had angrily, in a loud voice, warned the youth a few times, and they did not react. Rather than responding to Yossele, the youth took the wooden bucket that was standing before him and poured all the water on the head and the clothes of the ruffian.
Yossele left the room thoroughly wet. Meanwhile, the youth entered the mikva pit, and the preacher of morality returned with a log. He searched for his opponent all over and found him standing in the water. He took the log and beat the head and body of the young man again and again. None of those present dared to interfere with the acts of the ruffian or prevent him from doing what he was doing. The young man was injured, and the water turned red from all the blood. The youth began to sink in the water, with his eyes half closed. He passed out.
Those present began to support the beaten youth and pull him up. They called for help. However, most of those present were either naked or half naked. The ruffian escaped immediately. He apparently felt that this time he had gone too far, and suspected that he had killed a man.
With great effort, they brought the youth to the hallway and called a doctor. According to the situation, they all felt that Yossele had killed the young man. However, the doctor determined that the young man was still alive, but he narrowly escaped death.
Meanwhile with the efforts and initiative of the ruffian's uncle, the beaten youth was brought to the factory hospital. He lay there on his sickbed for several weeks, and he left sick and disabled.
On the advice of his uncle Reb Leib Kira (Zawader), the ruffian left the town and moved to an unknown location. Reb Leib arranged something with the town authorities, and indeed Yossele returned to town after some time, with no punishment and no trial, for nobody was prepared to testify against him in court.
During the period of the absence of the chief ruffian, the leadership of his protegtsia organization disbanded, as did the second organization.
This story demonstrates the degree to which the youth of that period were afflicted with a combination of indifference and ignorance, devoid of leadership. For this reason, ignorant, gangster youths grew up at that time.
In general, sanitation in the city was not under any government supervision. The Jews of the city did not feel that they were lacking in health institutions unlike their Christian neighbors who demanded action in the area of health from the authorities. By the way, I do not recall whether the residents paid any taxes to the civic authorities during the period in question. Every individual maintained the sanitary situation in his house to the best of his ability, and in accordance with his own concepts of hygiene. Well-off individuals, and most certainly wealthy people, had bathrooms in their private homes. Most of the members of the community fulfilled their bathing needs during their weekly visits to the mikva only on the Friday afternoons. Whereas the mikva was a religious imperative for the Orthodox Jews, it was essential for the poor people, so that they could bathe at least once a week.
Just as the authorities did not take any interest in general issues of sanitation and did not forbid the residents from pouring sewage onto the streets they also did not take interest in paving the streets. During the summer the streets were full with dust up to the sky. During the winter and on rainy days the streets were covered with mud and slush. In the evenings there were no street lights.
On dark nights people would often collide with each other. Often they bumped forehead to forehead. The residents accepted such things as a matter of course.
Though occasionally, the Kromolów town's council and police force took interest in the sanitation situation and also conducted health related activities: They set up quarantines, poured carbol among the houses and paved the sides of the roads with whitewash. However, when did they do this? When the plagues broke out.
Once, a smallpox epidemic broke out. Everything was arranged as I stated above. When a cholera epidemic broke out, rescue stations were set up. There was a rotation of volunteers at night.
Actually when such epidemics broke out, the Jews of the town woke up and were ready to help, even if such assistance was fraught with danger. That was the way the Jews of Zawiercie operated when a cholera epidemic broke out, affecting many families. They set up stations, manned day and night by young volunteers, who were constantly prepared to assist with the help of various devices that were in the stations for times of need. Boiling water and brushes to clean and warm up any infected person were always available. There was also plenty of spirits.
Of course, the trash in front of the houses and the sewage were removed only when a policeman passed by, since people were afraid of a report. This attitude can be understood if we recall that most of the residents attributed the diseased to a punishment from heaven for human sins and failings. They would say: Suppose we avoid tossing garbage or filthy water outside, what would it matter? Would this help at all to stop the epidemics?
All these are only nonsense! There is a Guardian of Israel in Heaven, they would say.
Just as the young people did what was demanded of them to offer help and rescue when needed day and night the Orthodox Jews, both young and old, never stopped reciting Psalms in a congregation. Even elderly and righteous women responded with kind help, and acted to the best of their ability so that G-d would have mercy and remove the illnesses from the Jewish homes. Their pleas never left their lips. They would go to the cemetery to supplicate over the graves of their ancestors and righteous people. They circle the cemetery several times step by step. They would search out sinners in the town.
The adage that if you seek, you find was fulfilled several times. During the period of the cholera epidemic, there was a young man in the town who was not a native of Zawiercie, and nobody knew where he was from. The young man came to the city like many others who had come. He served as an assistant (belfer) with one of the melamdim [teachers] of the city. He was one of those who slept in the Beis Midrash. He was ready for any task that the shamash or any other person asked him to carry out of course with the condition that some sort of payment was promised.
Then, the young man was once found next to the window of the burnt mikva that faced the courtyard. They found him there toward evening, standing and peering into the mikva to watch the women as they were immersing. He succeeded in doing so by scratching off a bit of the paint from one of the windowpanes.
It is self understood that this young man received that which was due to him. After he was beaten, he disappeared. Just as nobody knew from where he came, nobody knew to where he disappeared.
Slowly, the diseases abated. The epidemic was halted thanks to the supervisory efforts of the authorities over hygiene and meticulous cleanliness, as well as to the fact that no person was permitted to travel from city to city without an examination and a shot against disease. However, before it stopped, there were great losses of men, women, and children within the Jewish community of the town.
The Christians also suffered great losses, but they were not known to the Jewish community.
It is important to point out that the hospital of the factory helped a great deal to minimize the disasters during the days of epidemics by distributing medicines and medical equipment, as well as through
various communal announcements to the community. There was information about how to handle food while eating. Information was distributed telling the people not to be afraid to inform when one of the family members fell ill. There was a request to inform the rescue station as soon as possible about every case. The information stations explained that in early stages of the disease it is easier to help the sick person.
In normal times, the Jewish community of the city had little or no connection with the hospital of the factory, except on the rare occasions when a physician of that hospital was summoned to a seriously ill person for consultation. So it was, even during normal years, fear was falling upon the Jews of the town when they heard the word hospital. Perhaps it was an old widespread prejudice not only among the Jews of Zawiercie at that time. The mention of the word hospital next to the bed of a sick person would immediately cause fear and trepidation, since superstition said that one should refrain from mentioning such It was a fact that a Jewish woman never gave birth in a hospital.
It was an accepted custom, which could not be questioned, that a woman must give birth at home, whether she was rich or poor.
The difference was that a well-to-do family set aside a room for the woman in labor, whereas a poor family, who in general lived in one or one-and-a-half rooms, would set aside an area around the bed of the woman in labor by using a sheet to partition the room in half.
During that period, few cities had certified midwives. In Zawiercie, for example, the midwife was a Christian woman who lived amongst Jews and was involved in their lives. Her dwelling would be door-to-door with a Jewish family. She was nicknamed Zhandarin, that is an elder widow of a policeman of the gendarmes. She spoke fluent Yiddish, just as a Jewess. This woman understood the stages of childbirth. They would call her when a woman was in labor pains. In general, it was the husband's task to inform the midwife about what was taking place. If this took place at night, he had to wake up, even in the middle of the night, and knock on the window shutters of the midwife to summon her. She was ready immediately. After a short time, one could see her preparing, first of all, boiling water in the kitchen. From there, she entered the room of the woman in labor, or went through the sheet partition of a woman in labor who lived in a single room dwelling.
The husband would sit in the next room, or on the other side of the sheet, and recite verses of Psalms so that the birth would take place in peace. Every few minutes, the midwife would exit the room of the woman in labor, or come to the other side of the sheet, with her sleeves rolled up above her elbow. She would calm, in Yiddish, both the frightened husband and the woman. She would say, G-d will help.
Indeed, we came a long way since then. Therefore, it is worthwhile to describe the measures
and remedies that were utilized in order to protect the woman in labor and the child from illnesses and mishaps that were common under such circumstances.
First of all, they placed under the pillow of the woman in childbirth two protective amulets in the shape of knives: a sharp knife and a chopping knife (hackmesser). These knives protected against witchcraft. Aside from this, they purchased printed protective pages from the booksellers known as Shir Hamaalot, since the following was printed at the top of every protective page: A Song of Ascents, I lift up my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come..
Under this psalm, a design that looked like square puzzles would be drawn. Each square had the names of one of the holy fathers. The names of Adam and Eve were on the first line of the two squares, followed by Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and finally Jacob and Leah.
The following words were on a special square:
Mechashefa lo tichyeh.In large letters in the middle, the following verses would float.
Tichyeh mechashefa lo
Lo tichyeh mechashefa
Liyeshuatcha kiviti HashemAside from these verses of protection, there were sentences with names that were not understandable, and could only be understand by those versed in Kabala. These verses were:
Hashem liyeshuatcha kiviti
Kiviti Hashem liyeshuatcha
Sinai Vesinsinani VesamnaklofThis verse was repeated three times.
The Shir Hamaalot was surrounded by the verses of Anah Bekoach Gedulat Yemincha Tatir Tzerura until the end.
It is my duty to note that there were very few cases of disease when it comes to the mother in labor or the baby.
If the baby was a boy, for a full eight days following the birth, children came from cheder to recite
the Shema at the bed of the mother who had given birth. In addition they came on the night before the circumcision, for they believed that the night before the circumcision required special protection, primarily from sorcery. For this purpose, they remained awake all night studying Torah if they were able to study, or at least reciting Psalms. Therefore, this night was called vachnacht.
There were also exceptions where these remedies did not work at all. It happened that after all the trouble, the remedies didn't help, the woman or the baby exhibited signs of weakness, or extraordinary pains. They attributed the incident to the evil eye from various strange visitors, even from relatives or family members.
There was a remedy against the evil eye, as follows:
They took a glass of water, and placed breadcrumbs, pieces of wood coals, and a pinch of salt into it. People that were suspected of having being touched by the evil eye would dip their fingers into this water. They would then wet their forehead, near the eyes. Every young child knew that this remedy had been proven, checked out and was effective.
If, after some time, it was found that this remedy also didn't help, they would turn to pious G-d fearing Jews, pious scholars who knew how to recite incantations against the evil eye. There were one or two such people in Zawiercie.
The people were confident that they would be saved immediately, and that the evil eye would return from whence it came.
This is how the craft of incantations went. When a Jew turned to such a magic prompter, the first thing would be to inform the prompter of the name of the person afflicted with the evil eye, the name of the mother if the afflicted person was a male, and the name of the father if the afflicted person was a woman. The prompter would begin to whisper to himself the incantations, without moving his lips. It would be a considered a good sign if he began to yawn in the middle of whispering the incantation.
The following is the text of the spell version of the Rabbi of Nikolsburg, of holy blessed memory:
Three women are standing at the peak of a rock. One says she is sick, and one says she is not sick, and the third also says she is not sick. If it goes like this there will be no illness, no sick person and no weakness. If it is a man that tried to give the evil eye, let the hair of his head and beard fall out. If it is a woman, let her teeth and breasts fall off.
As a sea that has no path, and as fish or ants that have no vertebrae, thus let there be no
illness, and no weakness given by the evil eye. Not for them, or for the members of their household, for they shall be like the children of Joseph.
Ben Porat Yosef: Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near the well, its branches run over the wall. Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song. Arise, oh well, sing to it. The well that was dug by the ministers, the leaders of he people dug it, with the lawmaker, and a gift from the desert. From the gift to the inheritance of G-d, and from the inheritance of G-d to the heights, and from the heights to the valley.
Just as Hezekiah King of Judah was cured from his illness, may so so-and-so have no illness, no weakness. In the name of A'g'l'h', and before we can count to the number nine, let the Holy One Blessed Be He cure him (or her), that is to say: He will fill the quota of your years, and bless your bread and your water.
Managing illness was not over with incantations against the evil eye. Some people also used strange and unusual drugs against illnesses. I saw this fact with my own eyes.
I once visited an honorable Hassidic man who was older than middle age. I asked about him, and the members of the household said that he was lying sick.
I felt it appropriate to visit the sick man in his room, and provide the mission for which I came.
I found a sick man lying in the bed. I barely recognized him. His head was covered with a sack of flour, in such a way that one could barely see his face. If it were not for the portion of his white beard that stuck out from the sack, it was difficult to make out if the person as a man or a woman. I took interest in the illness and the situation of the sick man. I found out that the illness was called shoshana. I asked whether a physician had established the diagnosis, and they answered that they did not summon a physician because this illness is well known, and the remedies to cure it are also known.
I asked, If that is the case, who determined that your father is suffering from shoshana? They responded that the neighbors established this in particular the female neighbors who were experienced with this and recognized the disease from the symptoms: a swollen face and sharp toothaches. These are all signs of shoshana.
If that is the case, what are the cures that the 'experienced' neighbors recommended?, I asked again. They responded that they had done everything that they recommended, but the situation of the sick man had no improved. I asked, Can you tell me what remedies did you try to give the sick person, and of those which didn't help him?
The following are the remedies that they described to me:
First of all, the doctors do not know a great deal about shoshana. In order to cure shoshana, one must make the shoshana ugly and disgusting, and then it disappears itself.
This is what the women neighbors determined. How do you go about making the shoshana ugly and disgusting? It is simple! One takes the feces of a young child and spreads it on the cheeks of the sick person, in the place where it hurts. In addition, one catches a cat and places it in a sack. The sack must have a hole on the bottom through which one could pull the tail of the cat. The sack with the cat is left on threshold of the house. They place the tail of the cat on the threshold and remove a part of the tail with an axe. Immediately, while the blood is still warm, they again rub these two remedies on the face. Then, they cover the face with a man's sock that must have been worn on his foot for at least three weeks the longer the better. After applying these three remedies, they cover the face of the sick man with a partially emptied sack of flour. Now, they were certain that the disease would abate within a day or two.
What became clear after some time? -- that they had being wrong in suspecting shoshana. Rather, there was a gum infection under one tooth. This fact became clear to the members of the family of this man after they summoned the paramedic [feldscher] and he extracted the tooth. After several days, the man's health improved. This is what the family members told me, without any commentary from there side.
However, it would not be proper to state that all the residents of Zawiercie believed in such strange remedies and cures in order to heal a sick person. A large portion of the residents did summon the physicians of the town. In the case of serious illness, a medical consultation would be arranged. Then, they would summon another physician from the nearby city of Czêstochowa.
As was usual, when a member of the family was sick, they would first summon one of the feldschers: Reb Yaakov Hirsch Tczebiner or Reb Abele Edelis.
The former was slightly knowledgeable about medicine, and the latter much less so. Both had certified remedies. They would tell the family members to administer a dose of castor oil to the sick person if the symptoms pointed to a stomach ailment. If they suspected a cold, they would administer herbs that promoted sweating. Sometimes, they would place leaches on the person. On other occasions, they would practice bloodletting. If none of this was effective, they would say that a physician must be summoned. Of course, each paramedic had his own physician. Often, even before they summoned a physician, they would consult with highly regarded people who used to visit sick people. They relatives of the sick person would take their recommendations for a physician more seriously than the recommendations of the paramedics. My father was one of those who visited the sick in the city, and was considered an authority for consultations.
The first physician that I knew when I first came to the town was Dr. Lewi.
This physician was liked by the community due to his simplicity, his willingness to listen patiently to the relatives of the sick person, and due to the fact that he conversed with the people in Yiddish. He would wear a cloak (felerine in the vernacular), with a head cover and wide hem. His bald head was covered with scars, due to the fact that he never let his mother shampoo his head when he was a child
The elders of Zawiercie whose roots were from the nearby towns were telling they knew Dr. Lewi while he was still in Pilica. He was an orphan and an assistant to the teacher [melamed]. His name was Grunem. This Grunem disappeared, and nobody knew where he went. Then, after many years, this Grunem surfaced as a physician.
Dr. Lewi liked to spice his conversations with words of Torah, and to prove to those who debated Torah thoughts with him that it was permitted to eat chicken fried in butter, etc.
I recall that other physicians came to the city after Dr. Lewi. Dr. Paltin was a physician in the factory hospital. His assistant was the paramedic Reb Shlomo Shein, but he did not always agree to come to a sick person in the town.
After them came Dr. Wasserzug, who earned a good name within a brief time due to his refined mannerisms, his fine appearance, and especially his success as a physician.
After him, the Christian Dr. Paszerbinski, a native of Zawiercie, returned to the city as a physician. He was the son of the only pharmacist in the city at that time. Dr. Paszerbinski was the first Christian physician in Zawiercie.
After some time, the young Dr. Lewensztejn became known as a physician in Zawiercie. He was the son of one of the long-time residents of Zawiercie, from among the maskilim (partially assimilated) of the Jews of the city.
Not all Jews of Zawiercie believed in folk remedies and incantations. A large portion of the residents relied more on physicians than on folk remedies. The proof is that several physicians lived and earned an honorable livelihood in Zawiercie.
Professional caregivers for the sick were missing. There were no certified or uncertified nurses. Wealthy families would summon a woman to care for a woman in childbirth. This woman was nicknamed Warturin. These were generally impoverished elderly women who knew nothing more than how to perform the domestic chores in the home of a woman in labor, or how to recite Psalms.
In order to fill this gap, several Jews gathered together and founded the Linat Tzedek organization. They did not set up written regulation; however, it had a form of oral regulations. They announced the regulation in the various houses of worship on the Sabbath following the foundation of the organization.
The goal was to recruit volunteers according to invitations tickets sent by the Organization's gabbaim (treasurer). The volunteers were asked to spend the night with a sick person, to provide the patient's exhausted relatives a respite. The requirement was that they had to accept the responsibility for taking a night shift at any request of the trustees of the organization, in accordance with the notes that would be sent to members. There was another regulation that could have negative results. It was possible to hire someone to replace the member in the event that the summoned member was busy that night. This regulation resulted in several members of the organization never taking their turn, as they had committed to do.
With all that, the organization brought a great benefit to the community. As Linat Tzedek continued to develop, they would also lend out medical equipment that was not available in the home of the sick person. We should note that the initiators and activists of this organization were not from the wealthy circles in the town, but rather from the middle class, including tradesmen and small-scale traders. Often, a member of Linat Tzedek would come home from a hard day of work or a journey, and go out for a night shift according to the orders of the gabbaim. Then, out of exhaustion, he would fall asleep beside the sick person, and disturb the sick person's sleep by his snoring. Such incidents point out the concern of a person for others particularly among the circles of common folk.
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