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Until the First World War

Translated by Jerrold Landau



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The articles in this section and in all the lists of this book which do not have a specific author were compiled as a summary of oral testimonies which were heard from Dembitz natives, and from written items which were not sufficient to form sections of their own, but nevertheless did contain material that was relevant to the description of the time period under discussion.

The description of the Rabbinate of Dembitz was compiled primarily from the personal memories, and the trans-generational legacies of Mrs. Pearl Faust of blessed memory, and Mr. Yitzchak Freiman.


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The City and its Rabbis


We can gain some insight about the picture of the Jewish community of Dembitz from the fact that in the area surrounding the central structures of the old city – the church and the residence of the Priest – there were no Christian homes at all. There were no barriers at all between the rows of Jewish shops, with the exception of the King's thoroughfare and the courthouse building, which was erected at a later time in the field to the front of the church. The synagogue and ritual bath were located behind the rows of Jewish shops.

The physical and spiritual life of the Jews of Dembitz was not different from the life of the Jews in any other city of Lesser Poland. The Jewish accent has certain clear signs of a unique style, which is a sign that the community is of ancient origin [43]. The vocabulary of this dialect is very reminiscent of the language of the Jews of eastern Galicia, and is perhaps a sign that the first Jewish settlers of Dembitz came from there.

Very little has been preserved in the annals of history about the persecutions of the Jewish community by the governing authorities. We must thank the eminent historian Dr. N. M. Gelber who opened up for us several chapters of history that were previously unknown to us (see the previous essay).

The Jews of Dembitz were not particularly wealthy. Until the beginning of the 20th century there was only one Jewish house which was more than one story high. The residences were generally quite crowded. The Jews generally only managed to make ends meet in business. The Jewish masses used to wait impatiently for the fair of Bartel-Mark, which was a very important source of their livelihood. Many would also travel to fairs that took place in cities that were near and far, in order to bring home their sustenance.

By the beginning of the 18th century, the old city, which bordered on the west side of the Staszowka River, could barely contain the entire settlement. Jews began to settle on the other bank of the river. They began to purchase fields and to build houses in the new city. The square in the center of the new city was known as the Market Square. All of the buildings surrounding the market were built by Jews. Until the beginning of the 20th century, there was only one Christian store in the area. A similar situation existed in the old city. This one Christian store was the general store owned by Sradniczki, which also served as a restaurant for captains of the Austrian army and Polish government officials. The weaving, clothing, and shoe businesses were located on one side of the marketplace. This row of buildings was known as "Di Zeil" or "Di Potshene". The stalls were located beneath a covered area. Underneath the roof were the stalls of the weavers, the clothing merchants, merchants of colored cloth, ribbons, lace, and other material. Hidden behind the colorful display of the marketplace was the poverty and drab day to day concerns of the Jewish people.

The way of life of the Jews of Dembitz, even of the wealthy, was generally modest and restrained. Nevertheless, there were recognizable differences along the spectrum of wealth. There were those that would only taste a morsel of meat once a week. These differences could be discerned from the breakfast meal that the students of the cheder [44] would bring with them to eat during their recess: the children of the wealthy would bring buns or bagels spread with butter, while the children of the more needy, primarily those that lived in the back alleys, would bring two pieces of old bread, singed by an oven, and softened with a bit of garlic on top. Interestingly enough, a daily swap would take place. The eyes of the needy children would pop out with the desire of a half a slice of buttered bagel, and the children of the well-to-do would desire a piece of singed garlicky bread.

That Jewish poverty, which was lamented in "Katzvei Hakrach" [45] was well known in the eyes of the gentiles as well. They would be astonished at the severe poverty of their Jewish neighbors, who would sustain themselves from dry bread and garlic. Some of these gentile neighbors were more attuned to the poverty of their Jewish neighbors than the heads of the Jewish charitable organizations. Jewish people tend to be very discreet, and poverty was considered, even in Dembitz, to be somewhat of a disgrace [46].

The generally held viewpoint among the Jewish population was that poverty and riches are decreed from Heaven, and there is not much that one can do to change one's situation save beseeching G-d for mercy. Jews tend to be merciful people, and supporters of the poor. In Dembitz there was charitable giving, particularly in a discreet fashion. A commonly held view was that poor people were created so that people would have an opportunity to fulfill the commandment of giving of charity. Before the First World War, there was no attempt to form an organized, centralized charitable organization in Dembitz. The charitable giving was conducted on an ad hoc basis.

This pressing poverty was the prime reason for the emigration of Jews from Dembitz to the larger cities and far off lands. At first, the destinations were Germany and London. When the gates of England were shut, the emigration began to the United States of America. This emigration was the cause of the continual dwindling of the Jewish population of Dembitz during the last 70 years of the existence of the community. This dwindling continued despite the large rate of natural increase.

With all this, Dembitz was a city of G-d fearing Jews, who learned Torah without fanfare. No famous Torah scholars arose from Dembitz, with the exception of the Rabbi Reb Chaim Natan Dembitzer of Krakow, who was one of the Torah giants of the 19th century. He wrote many books which bore his name, and testified to his family history from Dembitz.

The sprouting of the Chasidic movement influenced Dembitz. Many of the Jews of Dembitz were disciples of the renowned Chasidic Master Rabbi Naftali of Ropczyce, whose influence was significant in the whole area.

When the Rabbinic chair of Dembitz was vacated by the passing of the previous Rabbi, Rabbi Henech Gewirtz, the Chasidim of Ropczyce wanted to appoint Rabbi Reuven Horowitz as Rabbi. He was the youngest son of Rabbi Eliezer


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{photo page 28 top – A Corner in the Market-Place}

of Zukow, and the grandson of Rabbi Naftali of Ropczyce. However, there was also a large following of the Chasidim of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman of Wielopole in Dembitz, who objected to having a Rabbi who was not from their own group. Wielopole was also a town near Dembitz [47]. The dispute continued for may years. During this time the Rabbinic activities were administered by the two Rabbinic judges: Rabbi Yitzchak who was called Reb Itche Zilberman, and Rabbi Elizh (Eliahu) Gewirtz, the son of Rabbi Henech Gewirtz, the last Rabbi of Dembitz before the take over of the Rabbinate by the Chasidim of Ropczyce. Rabbi Henech's gravestone, which survived the Holocaust, and is located in the cemetery near the gate, testifies to the fact that he was the last Rabbi of the entire City. His epitaph reads:

Stones Shall Cry out from the Wall
Woe to the Loss of this Great Person
The Rabbi of the Entire City [48]
Rabbi Elizh served as a Judge without any interest in monetary gain. He earned a very good livelihood from his significant business interests, which were looked after by his wife Chanale. Rabbi Elizh's son was Reb Daniel Gewirtz, who was a very influential person in the city. All communal matters were conducted according to his will, and he decided that as long as his father Rabbi Elizh the Judge was alive, nobody would serve as the chief Rabbi of Dembitz. Only when Rabbi Elizh Gewirtz passed away did Reb Daniel accept Rabbi Reuven, the son of Rabbi Eliezer of Zukow, as head of the Rabbinic court of Dembitz. Several more years of dispute took place until the Chasidim of Ropczyce prevailed over the Chasidim of Wielopole, and the Righteous Rabbi Reuven settled in the city.



The Pious Reb Reuven

In the book "Ohel Naftali" (Lemberg, 5671 – 1911), a Chasidic story is brought down which describes how Rabbi Naftali of Ropczyce promised the Rabbinate of Dembitz to his sons and descendants. The following is the quote from the book: "At one time, the Rabbi Reb Naftali of Ropczyce came to the community of Dembitz, and gathered together the heads of families and their children, and made a great feast for them. He himself gave all the children wine and said: ' The angels were not able to start up with Moshe Rabbeinu of blessed memory at the time of the giving of the Torah, since they had partaken of the feast of Moshe's ancestor Avraham our forefather [49]. You should all know that one of my descendants will be a Rabbi here, and since you all have benefited from my feast, you will not be able to do harm to him.' He then said to one child, whose name was Shneur, and to two others: 'Remember this!'. Later, these three youths became leaders of the community." End of quote.

When Reb Reuven ascended to the Rabbinate of Dembitz, he was still a young man. Nevertheless, he managed to win over the hearts of the residents of the city. When a marriage took place, it became the custom to bring the bride to Reb Reuven in a carriage prior to the wedding ceremony so that he could give her his blessing. Within a short time, Chasidim began to flock to him from all western Galicia in order to break bread with him at his table, and to listen to his words of Torah.

Rabbi Avraham Chaim Simcha Bunem Michaelson describes the character and customs of Reb Reuven in his book "Ohel Naftali". From the time he was twelve years old, he would not sleep on the Sabbath, but would rather spend the day dancing in the presence of the Sabbath Queen [50]. When he settled in Dembitz, the community set up four watches of people to sing and dance with him. He even did so in the week that his mother the Rebbetzin passed away. He explained to his relative Rabbi Michaelson, who was present at that occasion: "Since my standard custom is to do so, if I would not do so on this particular Sabbath, it would be as if I made a public display of mourning". [51] This event took place in the year 5732 (1872).

The first wife of Reb Reuven, the daughter of the righteous Reb Isser of Rozwadow, died in her youth after she had borne him one son. This son was Reb Alter, who inherited the Rabbinical post after him. His second wife, the Rebbetzin Dvorale, was not of Rabbinical stock. She was the adopted son of one of his Chasidim. After Reb Reuven lost his first wife, one of his Chasidim, who was very wealthy, and owned much property, came to him and said: "Rabbi, G-d gave me much property and money, but He did not grant me children. Therefore, I adopted the daughter of my brother. Please take her as a wife, and I will give you all of my money and riches." The Rabbi took the young woman Dvorale as a wife. Aside from the money and property which she brought into the marriage, she bore him two sons and three daughters.

Reb Reuven, who was constantly occupied with Torah pursuits, did not deal at all with the economic matters of his home, nor with the incidental business of the Rabbinate. The Rebbetzin Dvorale took care of all these matters. She continued to purchase property, in addition to from the property which she had brought into the marriage. Reb Reuven's house was next to the synagogue in the old city. The Rebbetzin purchased property on the other side of the river, in the place where her son Rev Shmuel would later set up his home. She leased this land to the neighboring non-Jews as pastureland. A long time later, after Reb Reuven had passed away, she sold these properties one by one, whenever she had to marry off one of her sons or daughters.

Reb Reuven conducted Rabbinical judicial matters along with the Rabbinical Judge Reb Itche, who was not one of his Chasidim. They generally got along, but there were occasions when there was friction between them.

On one occasion, when two plaintiffs requested a Rabbinical judgement on a certain issue, the Rabbi and the Judge debated the law, and Reb Reuven physically pushed the Judge Reb Itche in the heat of the debate. Reb Itche fainted and had to be brought to his home. Reb Reuven felt very bad about this matter, but he felt that it was not in keeping with his honor to apologize, until the head of the community Reb Daniel Gewirtz ordered him to apologize to the Judge, with the threat that if he would not make amends, "He would send him under guard to Rozwadow", from whence he had come. Even after that occasion, peace did not reign between the head of the Rabbinical court and the Judge.

About this they relate: Once Reb Leibush the shochet [52], the father of Reb Tovia the shochet, came to Reb Reuven with a complaint against the Judge Reb Itche that he had permitted as kosher an animal who had a lesion on the lung in the shape of the letter vav. Reb Reuven called the Judge and requested that he repeal this decision. Reb Itche refused to do so, and Reb Reuven commanded that all the synagogues should issue a declaration that those who had bought this meat should be aware that it is not kosher.

When Reb Itche, who never ate the meat of cattle at all, heard of this declaration, he asked that some meat of that animal be bought for him, and he ate it. A dispute broke out in the city, and the heads of the community sent an emissary to consult with the Rabbi of Lwow, Reb Yitzchak Shmelkes, the author of the book "Beis Yitzchak". He decided in favor of Reb Yitzchak Zilberman, and decreed a fast upon all those who spread a bad name on the kosher food.

{photo page 29 bottom – Road to the Railway Station}


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The Rabbi Reb Alter

This dispute did not weaken the commitment of the Chasidim of Dembitz to their Rabbi. This commitment continued to grow with the passing of Reb Reuven, when his eldest son Reb Alter inherited his position. Rab Alter had a blend of the qualities of a pious individual with an awareness of the ways of the world.

An interesting description of the wisdom and ways of this righteous person can be found in the book "Zichronot Mechayay" [53] by Mr. Yosef Margusham, who knew the Rabbi Reb Alter during the 1880s.

"In the middle of the winter the Rabbi from Dembitz, Rab Alter Horowitz, came to Radomysl. For an entire week, the Rabbi was the guest of the father of my father-in-law Reb Yudel Steiglitz, who was one of his principal disciples. He was en route to his father Reb Reuven Horowitz, who was the grandson of the elder Rabbi, Reb Naftali of Ropczyce.

Of course, on the day that he arrived, I came to greet him. I stayed in Radomysl for the Sabbath, and I took note of his customs at the table. I was also with him before he returned to his home, and I gave him a kvitel [54]. I also gave him a donation of 50 gold coins of very fine quality.

I was not sure what to write on the kvitel. At that time I was not yet a merchant, and I did not have any children yet. I only wrote on the kvitel my name and the name of my wife, with the words "for success, and physical health".

The Rabbi took the donation immediately and put it in his pocket. However, he read over the kvitel two or three times even though it was very brief. He then asked me: 'Do you really need a kvitel?'

I did not understand the meaning of his comment. I later discussed this with the father of my father-in-law, who smiled with pride and explained to me the meaning of these words thus:

– Since you are still a young man who is supported by his father-in-law, and you are not occupied in business, and you do not have children at this time – with what should I bless you? …

However, I understood these words in a completely different manner. Since Reb Alter knew very well that I was a "Maskil" [55] and a man of little faith, so he asked me why I was bothering with a kvitel?

From that moment on I was together with him several times. I looked at him as a very astute Jew, and I consulted with him often about my business affairs. I always gave him a very respectable donation, but I never gave him a kvitel again. He was astute enough never to ask me for one, even though he surely would ask for one from other people.

The Rabbi of Dembitz, Reb Alter Horowitz of blessed memory, was in truth a very precious Jew, who was very wise in the affairs of the world. He was knowledgeable in many different fields, as if he was a very experienced businessman. He would offer proper advice to all of his Chasidim on their business affairs.

Whenever my father-in-law had an important decision to make, he would consult with the Rabbi of Dembitz, who was to him like a close, faithful childhood friend. When my father-in-law left Zagorzyce to look for another property, the Rabbi of Dembitz became involved in the matter in great detail, and advised him on several different properties.

Reb Alter, as I have mentioned previously, was an expert in many different fields. He even was familiar with the horse trading business…

One of his Chasidim was a horse dealer from Radomysl by the name of Hershel. He would constantly fill up many train wagonloads of horses to send to Prussia (14 horses would be placed in one wagon). Since Radomysl did not have a train station, and the village of Czarna did not have suitable facilities, he set up his first warehouse in Dembitz.

He and his helpers would make the rounds to many fairs in many towns, and he would bring the horses he bought to Dembitz, and from there, he would send them by train to Prussia.

Whenever Hershel was about to arrange a shipment of horses to Prussia, he would first come to the Rabbi of Dembitz to ask for his blessing on the business undertaking. He would give the Rabbi a donation of gold coins according to the number of horses that he was shipping in that shipment to Prussia. At times he would ship 40 or more horses in one week.

The Rabbi was not satisfied in simply giving the blessing to his Chasid. Rather he requested that whenever Hershel would arrange a transport of horses to the train station, he should bring them first to his house, so he could take a good look at them.

On several occasions I had the opportunity to be present as Hershel's horses were being displayed before the righteous Rabbi.

Reb Alter would stand outside the gate of his house, near the King's road that led to Pilzno. In the large courtyard in front of his house there would be standing about 40 horses with their drivers. Each horse would be passed in front of the Rabbi, and the Rabbi would ask him how much he paid for it.

The Rabbi would hold a thin stick in his hand, and he would look at each horse with piercing vision and great understanding.

Once in a while he would suddenly say:

– Hershel, what is this on its right foot?

Hershel, who previously had not noticed this, would be compelled to admit that the Rabbi was correct: on the horse's right food there was indeed a small wound which required immediate bandaging.

Once in a while, when one of the horses did not please the Rabbi, he would ask one of the drivers to mount the horse and ride it a bit, so that he could "see how it rides".

He would estimate very closely the price that each horse should fetch. At times, someone would say to Hershel:

– Hey, they pulled one over you. You will not profit much from this white horse.

Reb Alter did not have any children. He was not a big spender of money. The Rabbinate and the leadership of the Chasidic group would bring in significant sums of money, and he always had more than enough money. Therefore, he would often lend money to his Chasidim at very reasonable rates, and at times it was as if he was a partner in their business affairs…

One of his relatives, Mendel Kelinman, who was a very large forestry merchant, always owed him thousands of gold coins. When he went into bankruptcy – due to a dispute with the residents of Gottwiert – the Rabbi was short thousands of gold coins which he never recovered. Nevertheless, Mendel remained one of his Chasidim, and the Rabbi would continue to assist him in financial matters.

The Rabbi of Dembitz was a very wise and sweet Jew. There are not many Jews like him. May his soul be bound in the bonds of everlasting life!"


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The wisdom of Reb Alter with respect to business affairs was revealed to his followers through signs and actual miraculous events. Once, so they relate in Dembitz, it came to the mind of Reb Alter that one of his Chasidim, Reb Yoel Gritzman, must purchase the house of one of the gentiles in the city. He called to his assistant Reb Yisrael and said: go to Yoel Gritzman and tell him to purchase the house of so-and-so the gentile. When Reb Yoel heard this, he got dressed and came to the Rabbi and complained: "How can I buy that house when I do not have any money?" Reb Alter said to him: "Give him a down payment". Reb Yoel hesitated by the door, then he went, and the next day he found the money to make the down payment ...

The Rabbi Reb Alter was weak from his youth, thin, and childless. However he conducted his Rabbinic court with great honor and regal trappings. Since many merchants would bring him a great deal of money, gifts, horses, and all sorts of finery, he was able to move from his original house near the synagogue and build a house on a larger property. This new estate served as the home of the Rabbis of Dembitz until the end of Jewish Dembitz. On this property were stables for horses, wagons for wayfarers and horse drivers. There was a large Sukka [56] for the Festival of Sukkot, which had a retractable roof, and was large enough to accommodate the Rabbi with all of his Chasidim and his entire entourage. There were also sleeping rooms, a kitchen, and a study hall. All of this was surrounded by a large fruit garden in which fruit of the land of Israel grew: grapes, olives, peaches, and cloves which were used for Havdala [57]. The dried clove plants were put on coals every Friday, [58] Reb Yisrael Reiner would bring them on a griddle into all the rooms of the house, so that the rooms would absorb an aromatic odor in honor of the Sabbath.

Reb Alter had four Gabbais: the first, Asher Appel, handled his external affairs and slept with him in the same room, the second would write his notes, and a third would stand near the door. The fourth, Reb Yisrael (Reiner) was in charge of supervising them all. He held this position from the days of Reb Reuven, and he was Reb Alter's private advisor. He was responsible for insuring that all of Reb Alter's many plans came to fruition, in particular with respect to commerce and business.

Reb Yisrael had apprenticed with Reb Reuven. This is how it came to be: Reb Yisrael's mother was a first cousin of Reb Reuven

{photo page 31 bottom right – Reb Yisrael Reiner}

{photo page 31 top left – Making their way home from the Synagogue}

and was married to the Rabbi of Tarnow, who did not live very long after Reb Yisrael was born. What did Reb Reuven do? He married off his widowed cousin to a Chasid of his, Reb Kalman Feffer, who was quite wealthy and owned much property, and the child was educated personally by Reb Reuven. When the child grew up he became his right hand man in all his affairs, and Reb Reuven married him off to the daughter of a Chasid of his, the Shochet of Rieglice.

Reb Yisrael's house was next to the garden and courtyard of the Rabbi. Even though he had his own family, he would spend all his time in the house of the Rabbi, first Reb Reuven, then Reb Alter, and after Reb Alter's passing, Reb Shmuel. The Chasidim of Dembitz used to come to Reb Yisrael for advice in their affairs, whether it be family affairs, business affairs, or communal affairs, in particular after the passing of Reb Alter.

Reb Alter did not live a long life, due to his weak state of health. His untimely death caused a dispute over the Rabbinate of Dembitz, between Reb Betzalel, the husband of Gittele, the eldest daughter of Reb Reuven, who at first lived with his father-in-law, and later settled in Pilzno, and between Reb Reuven's son Reb Shmuel, who was already a Rabbi in the town of Prystyk.

This dispute shook the whole city, until even the local gentiles became involved. When the Jews would stand in the marketplace and argue among themselves, whether for the side of Reb Shmuel or the side of Reb Betzalel, the gentiles would become involved in the argument, some "Za Shmulem" and some "Za Zalkem" [59]. The dispute continued for about three years until the Rabbi of Sieniawa was brought in as an arbitrator. He decided that the Rabbinate of Dembitz should go to Reb Shmuel, the son of Reb Reuven, and that he was to compensate his brother-in-law Reb Betzalel with 3,000 gold coins, so that he could buy into the Rabbinate of Pilzno. Reb Betzalel did not live long after he took over the Rabbinate of Pilzno. His death caused a renewal of the dispute with Reb Shmuel. After Reb Betzalel died in Pilzno, his relatives and supporters decided to bring him to Dembitz for burial beside his father-in-law Reb Reuven.


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However, the Rabbi of the city, Reb Shmuel Horowitz, did not agree to this, since he wished to reserve the spot beside Reb Reuven for his own use. Indeed, when Reb Shmuel passed away in 1923, he was buried to the right of the Reb Reuven's grave. Reb Alter was buried to the left.

With the death of Reb Alter, the era of grandeur and honor of that Rabbinical dynasty came to an end, and a new era began.

The Rabbi Reb Shmuel

The Rabbi Reb Shmuel removed all the previous grandeur of the Rabbinic courtyard, with its wagons and horses, and he fired the horse driver. He lived a very modest lifestyle off his share of the Krowka (the communal coffers which came from of the income from ritual slaughter, weddings, burials, etc.) Also living off the Krowka was Rebbetzin Reisa the widow of Reb Alter, the ritual slaughterers, the Rabbinic Judge, the Cantor and the Mohel (ritual circumciser). Chasidim, both rich and poor, would come for Sabbaths, festivals, and vacations, and would eat at Reb Shmuel's table. The table spread was very simple, in accordance with the means of the Rabbinic court, which had diminished in size. On more than one occasion, the Rebbetzin Gitla complained about this state of affairs to Reb Yisrael the Gabbai, who managed the household affairs [60].

Several Jews of Przytiki were among the Chasidim of Reb Shmuel. They became associated with him during the time that he dwelt in that town. However, to his distress, not all the Chasidim of Reb Alter followed after Reb Shmuel his heir. Several of the supporters of Reb Betzalel remained opposed to Reb Shmuel until the end of their days, and they would travel on Sabbaths, festivals, and other days of gathering to Pilzno in two or three wagons. As they passed the courtyard of Reb Shmuel, they would burst out in song in loud voices in order to provoke him. This caused Reb Shmuel great distress.

When Reb Shmuel ascended to the Rabbinical position, the power of the Rabbinic household decreased in another way as well. Slowly but surely the Maskilim, who were few in number at this time, began to strengthen in the city. Winds of change began to take root among the youth. At that time the Rabbinical household began to co-operate with the ruling authorities in the area of elections and other areas. This accusation [61] became much more serious during the time of his successor Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech.

{photo page 32 bottom right – Reb Shlomo Zalman Frankel, the Rabbi of Daliowa.}

When Reb Shmuel passed away in 1923, a great controversy broke out into the city as to who would be his successor. There were two candidates: The first was Reb Hershele, Tzvi Elimelech Horowitz [62], the son of Reb Shmuel, who had not yet received his full ordination. The second was the Rabbi of nearby Daliowa, a descendent of the Rabbis of Wielopole. This controversy was a renewal of the old controversy that had taken place in the city before the appointment of Reb Reuven.

A committee of Rabbinic sages was appointed to adjudicate this matter. This committee included the Rabbinic Judge Reb Berish Shilai, Reb Ruvele Kluger, Reb Chaim Schlesinger, Reb Chaim Brik, and Reb Alter Pechter. The communal council was in favor of Reb Hershele because of the rights that came to him by virtue of his ancestry, but with the condition that he would first be required to receive his full fledged ordination, according to all its dictates. However the head of the community, Reb Hersh Taub, was not of the same mindset. He wished to appoint the Rabbi of Daliowa as the Rabbi of the city, and he set forth his stand by bringing him to settle in the city. However, the community would not be able to support the livelihoods of two Rabbis. The community was low in means due to the fact that the export of Kosher meat to Krakow had ceased. This endeavor used to bring a respectable sum of money to the communal coffers.

Reb Hershele was supported primarily by his Chasidim. He would frequently travel to their towns. He also held court in Dembitz, but not with a great multitude of people.

In subsequent elections to the communal council, Reb Hersh Taub was no longer elected. A large number of his supporters went over to the side of the Rabbi. In his stead, Reb Tovia Zucker was elected as head of the community. The Rabbi and his opponents eventually made peace with each other, and they co-operated in their running of communal matters, and in their opposition to the Zionists and their associates.

An additional factor in the diminishment of the influence of the Rabbinical family was a dispute among the descendants of Reb Reuven who still remained in the city.

The family members of Reb Reuven who remained in town included his son-in-law Reb Yisrael Yosile Unger, who gave up the Rabbinate after the First World War to become a loan broker in nearby Tarnow. When his son Eliezer grew up, he became associated with the Mizrachi movement[63] and taught in the Hebrew school of Dembitz. Afterward, he became a communal activist in Tarnow, and he was one of the first people to bring news of the specific details of the Holocaust to the land. This made a great impression, however, we will not elaborate on it here.

Reb Shmuel's younger brother, Reb Naftalchi Horowitz, married the daughter of one of his father's Chasidim, Reb Motele Weinberg, a well-to-do large scale merchant from Dokla. He lived with his father-in-law for quite some time. After his father-in-law passed away, Reb Naftalchi tried to continue his business affairs, but did not succeed, and went bankrupt. He then returned to Dembitz, and acted as a Rabbi "unofficially", i.e. he did not receive a share of the communal coffers.

Another piece of bad luck befell Reb Naftalchi, as related among the Chasidim of Dembitz: From his youth, he had a pleasant voice, and he knew how to sing beautiful melodies, and to lead prayers to the great enjoyment of his listeners. Once, his uncle the Rabbi of Zukow requested Reb Naftalchi to travel to him with his entire family, and he prepared for the journey. His older brother Reb Alter, who was already the Rabbi of Dembitz, told him not to go since there was an ongoing dispute between the communities of Zukow and Dembitz. Reb Naftalchi, however, was adamant. He continued to prepare for the journey, and he certainly would have went. However he was attacked with a sudden hoarseness, and this hoarseness lasted the rest of his life, so that he could no longer be a fitting Cantor. As can well be understood, the Chasidim of Reb Alter saw in this as a sign and punishment from Heaven.

In 1924, after the First World War, Reb Naftalchi left for America to collect money, and he was successful in that endeavor. However, his son Ruvele squandered this money, in his attempts at financial affairs. He went bankrupt several times due to lack of experience, lack of understanding of the workings of business, and an overly generous heart.

From the time that Rev Naftalchi settled in Dembitz until he left there about ten years later, Reb Hersh Taub wished to appoint him as head of the Rabbinical court. However he met with the constant opposition of Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech. In the final communal elections, Reb Naftalchi joined with the Zionists, even though he had been among their chief opponents at the beginning of the century, and he was even among those who arranged festivities at the time of the death of Herzl in 1904 [64].

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech perished in the Holocaust along with almost all of his family. May G-d avenge their deaths.


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Translator's Footnotes
  1. A traditional Jewish elementary school. Return
  2. Katzvei Hakrach would mean the "Outskirts of the City". The reference here seems to be to some literary work. Return
  3. Seemingly, many poor Jews would prefer to subsist with little than to embarrass themselves by requesting help. Return
  4. Ropczyce and Wielopole are both towns within a 15 mile radius of Dembitz. Return
  5. This last line is somewhat ambiguous. It could mean "the Leonine Rabbi of the City", where Leonine would be a praiseworthy attribute "like a lion". The context seems to mean that he was "Rabbi of a Gathering of the City", which I have translated as "Rabbi of the Entire City". Return
  6. This refers to a Midrash (Rabbinic legend) that at the time that Moses ascended mount Sinai at the giving of the Torah, the angels were jealous that a mortal human had ascended into their midst. Return
  7. "Shabbat Malketa", a Cabalistic term for the Sabbath. Joyous ecstasy was a characteristic of the Chasidic movement. Return
  8. During the week of mourning (Shiva) following the death of a close relative, several mourning practices are observed, such as sitting on low stools, refraining from greetings, and the wearing of torn clothing. On the Sabbath that falls during Shiva, these public mourning practices are prohibited. Return
  9. Ritual slaughterer. Return
  10. My memoirs. Return
  11. Yiddish word for note it generally means a written request for Divine intercession for one's needs that is given to an illustrious Rabbi, who would intercede before G-d. This text uses the Hebrew word "Petek" as well as the Yiddish word "Kvitel". The word is used nowadays as well for the notes that people place in the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Return
  12. A person with 'enlightened' thoughts, who was beginning to loosen himself from the strictures of shtetl Orthodoxy (see note above on the Haskala movement). In the present context, it is evident that the person in question remained a religiously committed Jew, albeit with more liberal ideas than would have been acceptable as a follower of a Chasidic Rebbe. Later on in the text the word Maskil is used to describe those who have broken away from traditional orthodoxy completely. Return
  13. A tabernacle or booth used during the Festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) in keeping with the Biblical command. The Festival of Sukkot occurs in the autumn five days after Yom Kippur. Return
  14. A ceremony held at the conclusion of the Sabbath, in which a blessing is made over wine, a multi-wicked candle and spices. Return
  15. The Gabbai would be the person who managed the Rabbi's affairs. Return
  16. Za in Polish means behind. "Za Shmulem" means those behind Shmuel, and Za Zalkem, means those behind Zalke (a diminutive of Betzalel). Return
  17. It is not 100% clear from the context what the Rebbetzin was complaining about. It seems to be that she was complaining that the provisions for the guests should have been more abundant. However, it is not impossible that what is meant here is that she is complaining that there were too many guests coming to the household, more than the household could support. Return
  18. Seemingly of becoming too cozy with the government. Return
  19. Hersh is a direct Yiddish translation of the Hebrew Tzvi. Both words mean 'dear'. Thus, the names Tzvi, Hersh, or the diminutive form Hershel, are often interchangeable. Return
  20. The Orthodox Zionist movement. Return
  21. The opposition to Zionism often took on quite radical forms in Chasidic orthodoxy. In fact, this radical opposition to Zionism can still be seen today amongst the Satmar Chasidim.' Return
  22. The Hassidim believe, as do all Orthodox Jews, that the Messianic end of days will bring about a return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. The Hassidim here believe that the timing should be left totally in the hands of G-d, and any human effort to shorten the exile and return to the Land of Israel en masse before the Messiah arrives is inappropriate and doomed to failure. Return

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