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[Page 551]


“Klayn Michale” [Little Michael],
the joker of Jewish Dąbrowa

by Pinchas Lustiger

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld


The arguments clubhouse

The Jews of Dąbrowa were society lovers, and lovers of people that could exchange opinions and entertaining stories. Their greatest pleasure was to meet with a circle of friends and carry out a discussion on higher worldly issues. They would gather as groups at the corner of the street, carry out loudly vocal arguments about any subject they were interested in. These were miniature “parliaments”.

All the world's secrets were comprehensible to them, and there was not an event that was not clarified by them in detail. They were so knowledgeable in world events that there was nothing that escaped them, and for every problem there were experts that displayed great knowledge and an incredible command of the subject.

These were the argument clubhouses.

The most famous of these clubhouses was the clubhouse on Okrzei Street, in which all the whose who from the street's residents congregated. They were categorized by humor, which was always prominent amongst them. The most mischievous and refreshing humor that everyone enjoyed. Amongst them there were people with a very developed sense of humor that loved to joke about every subject that was spoken about. These ruled the roost in every conversation. They presented the tone in every argument. Usually they were serious arguments and on a high level, but they would get into jesting mood, and would tell entertaining stories, fine jokes: they would speak humorously with a touch of self mockery, making fun of one another with incidental jibes, insults and even juicy expletives and the rule that was not surpassed amongst them: no one took it to heart, and at the most they would reply with even greater jibes.

Someone standing from the side might think that some sort of wild brawl had erupted between them: The truth of the matter was that it was only a battle of words and in the end they went on their way in a friendly and cordial manner, they shook hands amiably, bidding farewell till the next meeting. On the same occasion impressive jokes and brilliant off-the-cuff quips were created.

There was always a varied crowd of curious spectators gathered around them. This audience didn't participate in their conversation, but rather listened freely and filled the surroundings with laughter each time that a good joke was heard or various off-the-cuff quips were spoken. They called them the “kibitzers”. The kibitzers are those that spread each joke and off-the-cuff quip amongst the crowd, and the following day it would be heard in each and every home – Dawid or Szaja Feldberg said… Lajbisz Zigrajch told… and laughter and gaiety filled each home.

When the time for a meeting approached the tradesman would leave his workshop, the storekeeper his store, the trader his marketing and the kibitzer his business and would hasten to the arguments clubroom. This was a pleasant way to spend time, fascinating amusement, entertainment that no-one was willing to miss for all the money in the world.

If it happened that a stranger would happen into their midst, he wouldn't know what their customs and laws were. The man would begin participating in the argument and the group would start sending venomous jibes in his direction. He would boil with anger and avenge his insult; however they would deride him with a slap on the hand and belittle him: “He doesn't understand a joke”. And finally the man would leave the group with his nose up complaining: “I will not return to this group of clowns”.



Troubles suddenly appear

The skies darken. Disturbing reports arrive portending bad news. Rumor follows rumor: a war is approaching, and it is liable to break out at any time. Prices soar sky high, a lack of vital consumer products is felt, here and there, there is talk of a possible conscription. The situation finds a manifestation in the daily meetings in the arguments clubhouse. The argument was animated and meaningful. Commentators analyzed the situation and articulated their forecast. They drew maps on the footpaths and on the walls and tried to guess possible moves.

And it suddenly seemed that the conversation flowed with restraint and in a controlled manner. They stood standing where they were and a strange and irritating silence prevailed around them. Everyone stood with their head lowered and eyes staring into space, emerged in melancholy thoughts about was liable to occur. The burdensome feeling filled everyone's hearts and unsettled their peace of mind. Behold, a terrible war was threatening them (referring to the First World War) with all its terrors: violence, blood spilling, disasters and wanderings. In the main their hearts were shattered to fragments with the thought of what fate would befall their children, liable to deal with remaining alone without defense or care.


[Page 552]


All these thoughts rocked the very essence of their souls and they had a nerve wracking nightmare that weighed heavily on their souls and a deep groan burst forth from their hearts.



The character of “Klayn Michale” appears on the horizon

Okrzei Street was busy and bustled with life. The workshops and the stores emitted people, mainly on to the footpaths, under whose shadow the well known and so familiar panorama of the Dąbrowa environment was revealed. The gigantic red chimneys were spewing out black columns of smoke.


dab552.jpg [23 KB] - Klayn Michale's daughter and her husband
Klayn Michale's daughter and her husband


Suddenly a gust of wind came and dispersed the smoke and the sky became covered in a black cloud heralding evil. And in the crowded throng, in the hubbub of vehicles raising dust, of traders marketing their wares, in the distance the beloved character of Klayn Michale was revealed on the horizon.

He meandered his way along, dragging his feet with difficulty as they supported his weary limbs. He was short with a large head like a watermelon nodding above his shoulders, grey cheeks, blue eyes and gold threads poking out from his thin blond beard.

Klayn Michale was renown in the streets of Jewish Dąbrowa, amongst the distributors of his "wertelech" [words] which warmed the soul. He had a sarcastic tongue and witty speech. The very appearance of him in the street was enough for everyone's attention to focus on him. His speech, his facial expression – all these conquered the heart of those who saw him and placed him at the center of the throng, and there was a great interest in him.

The rumor took wings amongst the children that the great clown had appeared in the street, and immediately he was surrounded, they danced around him, applauded him and sang:


A small, little jester  
There is only one of him in town.  
Pitzkele [little one], little one  
He is as tall as Tom Thumb  
Today you are a visitor  
Tell us something funny.  
Hurry up already, be quick  
Make us a little happy.  
Sweet Klayn Michale  
Pose us a riddle.  
Hurry up and be daring  
And tell us a secret.  

And he would respond with a consenting and satisfied smile to their song. Thus would Klayn Michale go along, till he fell straight into the lions' mouths – the members of the arguments clubhouse. “Why are you looking so down!” broke the silence. “Why the melancholy? Has your boat gone down at sea? Smile, and remove the worry from your hearts. There will still be good days – just don't give up”.

“What do you know happened today?! You apparently come from an imaginary world and see rose colored daydreams”, everyone affronted him in unison.

“What is the price of bread today? Go and find semolina, sugar or oil, and where can you get a Monopolka?” (brandy) chuckled Reb Lajbisz Zigrajch with derision.

Klayn Michale, who was hurt by this jibe, smacked his lips and in his eyes there was a strange twinkle. He growled. “Don't be difficult or your teeth will fall out.” Reb Lajbisz boiled with anger as an experienced and great speaker. “That occurs when everything is as usual. Prove yourself today! Today your strength has been weakened. Your brain has come undone, your head is full of straw. Look what you're doing. You are accumulating boxes filled with glass and porcelain vessels in your storeroom, making sure that the stock is the choicest and paying good prices for them. When war breaks out, the value of the stock will be worth that of fly's wings”.

“You also”, speaking to those around him, “There is no intelligence in your addled brains. You are preparing packages of textiles and all sorts of shmonses [junk], isn't this crazy and idiotic? I your friend warn you: you are placing your money into a dubious venture.”

“What is there to do? Why not give us advice”, the crowd did not relent.


[Page 553]


“You want to safeguard your money?” shot Klayn Michale at this critical point. “And when the day comes to earn a lot of capital and become rich? Collect fir trees, baths to bathe the new born baby at Christmas, matting, lulavim, hoshanot [both used during the Sukkot festival], maror [used during the Pesach festival] – now is the time to buy these very cheaply, and when the time comes for them to be active stock you will rake in handfuls of money and gold”.

“When the war breaks out there won't be a lack of maror”. Someone let slip. “But this maror won't be kosher for Pesach!” replied Klayn Michale on a triumphant note.

“Don't give us advice, take care of yourself and not your fellow man”. Emanuel Weltfrajnd hurled at him. “Look in the mirror and see your lousy face. You look like an angeglapte hoshana” (a beaten up hoshana [willow branch used during the Sukkot festival]).

“Manners” Klayn Michale began yelling. “I am indeed smaller than you by a couple of heads but greater than you in years. Manners. You filthy thing, if only you would go up in flames on Shabbat so they can't put you out, you skyscraper you”.

“True”, said Dawid Feldberg, “Klayn Michale is correct. In all of your huge body you don't have the measure of shrewdness, intelligence and wit that Michale has in his little finger of his little hand, and so some manners”.

“If he is so bright”, said Emanuel raising his voice, “If he is so clever that he advises others how to make money, he should have started dressing like an aristocrat with his pockets full of money and gold; living in a palace and on his table food fit for kings. Here look at him – his clothing is shoddy, his trousers are oversized. Tzilkes (foot wrappings instead of socks) are poking out of his shoes, he lives in an attic in the Reden colony and for lunch they serve him yushke (a national soup for the poor of the town).

“It seems it isn't enough to have wisdom and knowledge”, said Iszaja Feldberg. “In addition to that you need something else – the smallest droplet of luck”.

“And I say to you”, said Reb Lajbisz Zigrajch. “For all that Klayn Michale is a millionaire: he has a million suggestions of how to make money”.

“But he himself”, said Emanuel, “has incredible difficulty earning a couple of gold coins. Tell me Klayn Michale, if you are the smartest and wisest man on earth – why is it that way?”

In reply to the question Klayn Michale began to hum a song with a pleasant tune:

Because I am little Michale, of the Reden community
Luck and Death will speak little of me.
You better not make fun of me
Because you can become swollen as a vat.
The people of Huta may have always been famous for their wisdom
But for we the people of Reden it only clicks on a tooth.


(this expression means that it isn't significant to them… they could not care less)
 

This was a jibe to the people of Huta [Bankowa], and also to the people of Reden who were a minority in the Dąbrowa community, though for all that they had a majority of intellectuals and public figures and of that they were proud.



Klayn Michale sets out in a steadfast struggle against the Angel of Death

Suddenly Klayn Michale placed his hand on his brow, looked at the huge Emanuel Weltfrajnd and cried: “I am green! I am green!” This was a hint to the immigrants going overseas.

During the same period the people would relate: An immigrant came to New York and saw the skyscrapers for the first time, he yearned to see their tops. He looked up and up and leaned back till he fell over, to the amusement of the passers-by who declared: “A green one, a green one has come to our city”.

This is exactly how thumb-sized Klayn Michale looked at the skyscraper Emanuel. He leaned back his small body till his hat fell off. Everyone was amazed to see that his head that once had plenty of hair was today without a single strand of hair.

“What happened to you Klayn Michale?” everyone asked him in amazement. Why did you shave your head? Are you ill, heaven forbid?”

Mosze Piter was more overwhelmed than everyone. He had a frown on his somber face and in a weepy voice burst out: “You trouble-maker for the Jews! You Gentile! You transgressed an explicit prohibition from the Torah: You shall not pass a razor over your head! An unforgivable sin hangs over you, Gentile!”

However Klayn Michale was not very moved and he coolly silenced them. “Sh!, Sh!, let there be silence. What is this fuss that you've made? It's been some time that I've encountered such a commotion around me. You want to know why I shaved my head? It's your right to ask, and it's my right to reply or not to reply, but I will reply to you”.


[Page 554]


Silence enveloped the surroundings and all faces were towards him. They stood open-mouthed and kept interested in what he was saying.

Klayn Michale, his face suddenly paled and grew somber, and his whole appearance spoke of sadness and pain. He began calmly, his speech slow, weighing and choosing each word: Gentlemen! You surely believe that some disease has afflicted me, like boils, and you are liable to add another name to my already poor name, and it will be as long as the Jewish exile: Klayn Michale – Parech. You should know that this is a false claim. Then why did I shave my head? So pay close attention and listen. I have reached the end of my days and I feel that my strength is waning, and the shadow of the Angel of Death hovers over me. Oy! Angel of Death! The Devil should take away the Angel of Death since from the day that he came into being no-one is certain in his life. Surely he is standing somewhere and sharpening his carving knife. And if my day comes, the Angel of Death will come looking for my head – he will think that that's it, will forgive me, and put me back”.

Great and thunderous laughter erupted from everyone and cut the silence. Reb Lajbisz Zigrajch was the most enthusiastic about the joke, and from so much laughter he slipped and fell on Reb Israel Mosze, the bookbinder and both of them fell down and continued laughing.

Passers-by looked at them in amazement and with quite some complaint: In this disturbing period Jews stand about without a worry in their heart laughing in delight, as if all their problems had been solved and everything was well in this world. Only one wasn't laughing. Klayn Michale. He stood motionless without moving a single muscle in his face. Only his amused eyes gazed and looked around. He presently ceased his silence and said: “And if the Angel of Death finds me after all, there is an agreement with the Chevrat Kaddisha that during the tahara [washing the dead prior to burial] they won't wash around the arm pit, since I am very sensitive there and they are liable to tickle me”. Since the restriction had been removed and Klayn Michale had begun talking about the Angel of Death, everyone put in a hand and created a hefty combined front against him under the leadership of Klayn Michale. They aimed their heaviest weaponry against him and began a ruthless hubbub of ridicule and hurtful defamations. And each time someone joked or said an off-the-cuff remark on his account, a wave of laughter broke out again.



Klayn Michale [should live] till one hundred and twenty

Emanuel Weltfrajnd, whose enthusiasm of Klayn Michale's wit had reached a peak, held him by the lapels, lifted him up a little so that he was standing on the tips of his toes, shook him there and back, and Michale poked out his tongue in and out and shifted his eyes to and fro, like a clown. Then Emanuel drew out his long finger and threatened: “Listen here Klayn Michale! It is totally forbidden to cheat your fellowman and the Almighty even more so, but the Angel of Death! Give it him with all your might, deceive him, cheat him, mock him and ridicule him, make him the laughing stock, trample him, turn him into a pile of bones, Klayn Michale [should live] till one hundred and twenty.

And somber faced Mosze Piter, who always seemed to show all the world's sorrows in his face, suddenly changed. From his grey eyes sprouted kindness and a heartwarming smile spread over his face. His sizeable beard, falling down his chest like an avalanche of snow, provided him with an aura of importance. He put out his hand to Klayn Michale, shook it firmly and subserviently and said: “Thank you Klayn Michale. You were right. I take back my insulting words, you are not a trouble-maker for the Jews and not a gentile. Life is holy, and for the sake of life it is even permitted to transgress a prohibition from the Torah, [you should live] till a hundred and twenty Klayn Michale”

“Till a hundred and twenty”, everyone slapped him on the back.




[Page 555]


Dąbrowa types

by Dawid Krauze

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund


There was a family in Dąbrowa with several sons; he was referred to as the “White Kalman.” He was a shoemaker by trade and lived at the start of Old Dąbrowa. There was also a large family, “Nechemia Goldblum.” He was called “Chemia katzav” [Chemia butcher]. He loved to do joyous jokes. But he himself was never seen laughing. He would go to the market to do business. Once he tried to make sure the chicken that he was going to buy was not limping. He tied up its feet and placed it on the ground. The chicken felt it was free; it ran away and a chase began to catch it. Another time, going to the market, he took a living frog with him and while buying and selling bargains, he placed it on the ground near a seller of greens. The other seller felt something alive in his pants and began to wonder why the crowd standing around was laughing.

Once Nechemia, going to the market with White Kalman, found a little box of snuff and after sniffing, decided that the bargain would remain with Kalman because Nechemia would pass there on the way to the slaughter house and from time to time enter and take a sniff of tobacco. The first time Nechemia came back from the slaughter house, on Shabbat evening, at 12 midnight, he knocked at Kalman's. To the question who is knocking, he answered: “I, Nechemia. I want a sniff of tobacco.” Kalman's wife got out of bed and let Kalman in and gave him the box to sniff. Nechemia sniffed and told of various events and stories and sat until morning and left. Reb Kalman's family was not very happy with such a visit because they had to go to work in the morning.

And after several months there was another such visit, but after the second visit Reb Kalman's entire family was properly loaded and was ready to fire.

And again after a certain time, when Reb Nechemia returned very late from the slaughter house and wanted to “pay such a visit” for the third time, Reb Kalman's wife got out of bed (Reb Kalman, himself, was then very sick) and looked for the box of snuff, opened the door and gave it to Reb Nechemia, saying: “Go in good health and leave us at rest…”




Three bakers

by Cwi Magen (Magerkiewicz)

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld


There were three bakers in the Reden colony – and the three of them were Jews. They were the only suppliers of bread and pastries for the Jewish and non-Jewish population of Reden and the nearby region.

The eldest of them was Reb Henoch Frajman. He was a short Jew, lean, his beard tangled, but he was muscular and strong. Every night he would knead hundreds of loaves of bread by himself, with his bony, strong hands, that were slightly flat and pale and not particularly high in quality, however in those days any bread was sold was eaten… During the day, however Reb Henoch would awake after a short sleep, and would participate in Torah learning, and Torah for Reb Henoch – amounted to studying the Zohar [major book of Kabbala]. He wasn't a great scholar and with immense difficulty he knew how to read the small Rashi [paramount Torah and Talmud commentator] letters in which the Zohar was written, however, the dilapidated book, its pages yellowed from so much use, would not leave his hands during all his spare time during the day and particularly on Sabbaths and festivals.


[Page 556]


Reb Henoch was an enthusiastic Lover of Zion and he never stopped speaking about the renewal of the country [of Israel], and he would use references of various abbreviations he would find in the Zohar. However together with this, he didn't rely only on the numerological abbreviations from the Zohar, but rather was one of the regular donors to the K.K.L. [Jewish National Fund]. The blue box was full and crammed with monetary notes and quite significant sums, and was proud of the letters of appreciation that he received from the main office in Warsaw for his generous donations for the renewal of the country [of Israel].

Reb Henoch's wife – Bluma, was the complete opposite of him, she had large-sized body and a domineering personality in everything related to the running of the business. They had four daughters and two sons.

At the beginning of the nineteen thirties, during the crisis in the building industry, large stores were built by the Christians, who also marketed high quality pastries. The family left the colony and Dąbrowa in particular. For some time they lived in the nearby town of Ząbkowice, and later moved to Łódź, into accommodation belonging to relatives. From then on there all contact and communications ceased.

The second baker, by seniority was Reb Szlomo Lewinsztajn. Reb Szlomo was a tall and plump Jew, with a potbelly and a forceful hand. Work in the bakery was carried out by laborers, whilst he himself would sit in his store in the main road, selling bread and rolls and “grab” conversations with passers-by near his house. His wife was called Hinda – she was very skinny and a housewife. They had well-behaved sons, who over time helped their parents working and managing the business. Two of them tried, when the war broke out, to reach Israel, they crossed borders illegally and reached Romania and Hungary. There traces of them were lost, as were traces of the rest of the family of which not a single one of them survived after the war.

Reb Zelig Miodownik was the third baker. He was different from the two other comrades in trade, in his status, in his looks and his more modern behavior. The output of his bakery was several times greater than the other two. His businesses were successful not only in the colony but also in the region, including villages and towns.

Reb Zelig's bakery was sophisticated and modern. In fact he did not have machinery – this was not yet known about in our region – but it excelled in its size, its cleanliness, in the number of ovens and many laborers that worked three shifts in it (including Sabbaths). The output was substantially greater than the other bakeries. Thousands of loaves of bread and other baked products were baked each day. Special wagons, harnessed to horses, would transport the bread for distribution each morning to the shops and convenience stores in the region.

Reb Zelig was from the well-known and respected Miodownik family. They were amongst the town leaders and status holders in the public and Jewish community life in the town. He had an infirmity in both his legs, that weren't able to support his huge body, but together with this he was not low in spirit, he had a warm facial expression, a man of jokes and affable.

His wife Zlata was a quiet and humble housewife, who didn't interfere at all in his financial businesses and not even in his private life, and raised their only son Icek.

Amongst the three bakers of the Reden colony, Zelig was the gentleman, and in spite of his infirmity he would leave his home in a special carriage harnessed to a fine horse, something which added to his great importance in the eyes passer-bys in the town's streets. In spite of the fact that he was not religiously orthodox, he allocated a house in his courtyard for a shtibl [small synagogue]. On Sabbaths and festivals several tens of important homeowners from the region prayed there: Reb Herszl Liberman and his sons, Reb Szalom Judkewicz and his sons, Reb Szymon Tenebaum and his sons and others and as a Chatan Torah [a person called to the reading the last portion of the Law] he would hold a kiddush [small repast or refreshments] in his home on Simchat Torah, for all the worshippers, open-heartedly and generously.

Our three bakers lived next to each other, however they never met up, and they had no contact between themselves, not as neighbors and not as having a common trade. There was a great distance that separated them, a social and class separation, which was impossible to bridge in any of life's fields. And it was only the Jew's enemy who bound them together and wiped them of the face of the earth, together with the greater majority of the Jews of Dąbrowa and the Reden colony. May their memories be blessed.


[Page 557]


Cwi Juda Lenczner, z”l

by Kalman Barkai

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld


The house in which Cwi-Juda lived was abounding with a yearning and longing for the renewal of the people. His parents, Reb Zanwel and Rachel z”l, knew how to merge tradition and Jewish law with the rekindling that was brought by Dr. Herszl's movement to the Jewish people. Their Kabbalat Shabbat [welcoming of the Sabbath] began with the same piety as with all the Jews of Dąbrowa but ended with nostalgic singing about Zion until after midnight, whose echoes were listened to attentively in the whole area.


dab557.jpg [15 KB] - Juda Lenczner
Juda Lenczner
from the Third Aliya and one of the founders
of the Woodworking Union of the Histadrut


In this house Cwi-Juda took his first steps. In his youth he was hunched over the Gmara in the Bet Midrash till late. When he grew up he joined the Zionist movement, that brought him to the land [of Israel] within the framework of the Third Aliyah. In 1921, abounding with the views of the Labor movement, he learnt the woodworking trade whilst he was in Vienna, knowing that only manual labor would regenerate the Jewish man. He was amongst the original founders of the Woodworking Union of the Histadrut. He united the woodworkers who didn't have an organization and reasonable working conditions. He was a member of the “Wood Industry” cooperative, the manager of the Solel Boneh carpentry shop in Tel Aviv in the nineteen forties. He was unpretentious and unceasingly dedicated to his fellow man. His intelligence and composure made him one of the outstanding people in Solel Boheh and the professional union.

I didn't know him in Dąbrowa, because he made aliyah eight years before me. When I came to Israel he received me warmly and asked questions about his home, about the people of Dąbrowa and the Zionist movement.

In 1930 he married Cypora Helfer from the town of Kazanów who was a nurse in a hospital. They established a warm family home and we, the few Dabrowians that were then, would visit them on Sabbaths, eating traditional foods and conversing. Unfortunately his wife passed away at an early age. The only son of Cwi-Juda, Benjamin, fell in the Six Day War during the battle of Jenin.

Juda z”l looked after the Dąbrowa émigrés before the organization was founded, and was amongst the first who established the organization. He advised new immigrants from our town to receive work, and took care of their needs during the first stages in Israel.

He passed away in 1961. Surrounded by family, friends and acquaintances, he was brought to rest in Kiryat Shaul.

(From the Davar newspaper)

He was born in 1899 in the town of Dąbrowa in Poland to his parents Rachel and Szmul Zanwel. He died on the 11th of January 1961.

When he reached adulthood he joined the Zionist movement, which captivated him and brought him to Israel within the framework of the Third Aliyah in 1921. He was abounding with the views of the Labor movement, began activities in this field: The first secretary of Woodworking Union in Tel Aviv, a member of the “Wood Industry” cooperative, the contractor's office and manager of the Solel Boneh carpentry shop in the nineteen forties; till his last day he persevered in his productive work with humility and endless dedication. Intelligence, composure, vigilance and sensitivity were the characteristics that always his mark in the pathways of life, that were strewn with quite a few obstacles.

Surrounded by family, friends and acquaintances - he was brought to rest in Kiryat Shaul.



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