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{Page 41}

Memories As Things Were

Jews in Local Government

{Yiddish text – pp 41-42}

{Photo page 41 bottom right – Reb Yehuda Mahler}

{Photo page 41 center left – Reb Chaim Mahler}

{Page 42}

Parliamentary Elections

Translated by Roberta Newman

In 1907, the first elections to the Austrian Parliament took place as per the new electoral law, which had been passed in November 1905 after a general strike called by the social-democratic parties in all lands under the domain of the Austrian crown. The achievement of this victory took place under the influence of the revolutionary events in Russia, which cast a pall of fear over the rulers of Europe and motivated them to consider ways of preventing similar occurrences in Austria.

During the political struggle for electoral reform, the Zionists in Austria, as well as Poale Zion, came out with the demand that a separate election-curia be created for the Jewish minority in order to ensure full representation in the parliament for the Jewish population , and in general, in order to assert the existence of a Jewish nationality claiming the right of national self-rule.

This initiative did not have the slightest chance of succeeding. Against it were arrayed not only the bourgeois segments of all the dominant ethnic groups in the Austrian lands, but also, and not least, the social democrats, who considered it national separatism. Nonetheless, it was a good opportunity for a propaganda campaign about Jewish nationalist ideas.

Even more significantly, the general parliamentary elections were an opportunity to introduce the broad Jewish masses to the idea of Jewish nationalist solutions to issues. Everywhere, there were demonstrations that stirred up the Jewish population and urged it to vote for Jewish nationalist candidates, some of which were organized in electoral districts where a Zionist had not slightest prospects of getting elected. In the Dembitz electoral district, no Jewish candidate ran for office in the first election, and therefore there was no critical mass. Here, the general ruling party, at whose helm stood the conservative aristocrats, fielded the priest Pastor from Biecz as a candidate. In his speeches, Pastor bitterly mocked Jews and in general, represented himself as an open anti-Semite. Opposing him was the secretary of the Dembitz court, Stanisław Dym, whose base of support included Polish liberals and some Jews, among them the lawyer, Fishler. Dym suffered a big defeat and, as a result, so did lawyer Fishler.

Dr. Fishler had never been a Zionist. In local politics, he had originally supported the Mayor, Tsauderer, a Christian convert and the owner of the only pharmacy in the city. Eventually, there was a falling out between them, and in the elections to the “Gmine” (community board), the Jewish majority voted for Fishler as mayor. But here, the government stepped in. The Lemberg governorship mounted a protest against the election and mandated that new elections be held.

In the meantime, the Dembitz aristocrats put on a big ball, to which they invited, among others, the two opponents: The pharmacist-convert and the Jewish lawyer.

"When the heart of the king was merry";[1] a few prominent non-Jews attempted to make peace between them. They brought Dr. Fishler over to the convert and waited to see what would happen. Dr. Fishler extended his hand to Tsauderer in peace, but the convert turned away... The laughter could be heard throughout the entire city. That was, it seems, the end of Dr. Fishler's social activism, a hiatus that lasted many years.

During the second elections to the Austrian Parliament in 1911, a Jewish candidate was finally run in the Dembitz electoral district, the Zionist Dr. Sirop from Nowy Sącz. There was no socialist candidate, and the ruling party candidate was a Professor Doktor Jaworski. The Dembitz Zionists, including Poale Zion, mounted a broad propaganda campaign that included the towns in the district. Among the Dembitz Zionists who appeared publicly at demonstrations were Kuba Nichthauser, Dintenfas[2], Efroym Rakover, and Dr. Piltser; and from the Poale Zion were Mendel Wilner, Moyshe Wurtzel, and the young student Pinchas Laufbahn . Rabbi R. Shmuel Horowitz and the Hasidim, along with the Mahazike ha-Dat[3] throughout Galicia, voted body and soul for the government candidate, the conservative Dr. Jaworski.

At the outset, the Zionist candidate had no chance of being elected. Indeed, the electoral district did not have a Jewish majority. Aside from this, the Zionist influence in all of the cities and towns was at the time quite minimal--by then, Dembitz was considered a Zionist stronghold--and opposing them like a wall was the Hasidic population, who shivered in deadly fear of a “candlestick” (as the militia men were called, because of the metal tips of their head-coverings), and who, in general, had no desire to “mess with erar.” ("Erar” signified in Austria the royal treasury and the tax office, but in the small towns it meant the government itself). He who campaigned against the ruling party candidate. or even worse, openly announced that he was voting “against the government,” placed himself in danger, placed himself at risk of higher taxes or of provoking a visit to his house by a sanitary commission, who would issue him a penalty or maybe even compel him to put up a wall. (The sanitary commissions had already been immortalized in Galicia in a widespread children's rhyme: “Aaron, pears, carob, up above stands a doctor--below stands a barrel, ten gulden fine"[4]). As a result, there was a great deal of fear, especially because the Starosta (district head) from Ropczyce personally came down and warned the Zionists. The “Starosta ,” Dr. Heller, a Polonized German, asked the Zionist “election-committee” (as it was then called) to stop campaigning for Dr. Sirop because “we won't permit your candidate to appear on the ballot.” He got a sharp enough reply from Dr. Piltser and Mendel Wilner, who, as a result were severely punished: in the next military “review,” the regime did Mendel Wilner the service of classifying him as “fit for service,” and so he served in the army from 1913 until the end of the war in 1918.

In the meantime, the youth in Dembitz were on a rampage. When an outside Jewish agitator for Professor Jaworski appeared in the town, he had to “withdraw with honor.” When one Dr. Margolis from Krakow alit from the train in Dembitz in order to agitate for Professor Jaworski, he found every horse-drawn carriage taken and one young man (Mendel Wilner) delivered to him a “letter of greeting,” that for sure brought him no joy... this person, alas, had to go into the city on foot, surrounded by youths who bestowed upon him such epithets as “Moszka,"[5] “Jewish traitor,” and others in a similar vein.

In Dembitz, a series of demonstrations took place in the Prostn besmedresh[6] and in other locations. Well-known Galician folk orators moved the audiences to tears. And this is how the Zionist candidate in the election district that, aside from Dembitz ,was comprised of Pilzno, Ropczyce, Brzostek, Jasło, Kołaczyce, and Gorlice, got the majority of the Jewish vote, notwithstanding the rabbis and the Starosta .

{Page 43}

Once upon a time there was...

by Ruchama

Translated by Roberta Newman

First years

From my earliest years on, I was drawn in to the circle of Zionist activity. Dembitz was one of the first towns between Tarnów and Rzeszów penetrated by Zionism, even before the end of the 19th century. In my era, as far as I remember, the driving force behind the young movement in Dembitz was Yudl Bornstein (may his memory be for a blessing), my future husband and life-companion. Though himself quite young, he demonstrated an ability to inspire large circles of youth in the town with the Zionist ideal, and it is no exaggeration to say that he was the initiator and mentor of almost every important Zionist achievement in Dembitz in this first period. Bravely and without fear of anyone he brought the Zionist idea to the most diverse circles. I myself became acquainted with the fundamentals of Zionism through him.

To this very day, I remember the memorial for Dr. Herzl, on the second anniversary of his death, that was disrupted by a group of Hasidim headed up by Rabbi R. Shmuel Horowitz. I was among the few very young girls who, at the memorial, were distributing black mourning bands[7] to people as they arrived and who were going around with pushkes collecting money from those assembled in the synagogue...

These girls were the first members of the Zionist women's association, “Dvorah,"[8] which had been founded that year at the initiative of Yudl Bornstein. Those who belonged to it included: Rivke and Malke Bornstein; Tauba, Tsile, and Salye Eisen; Dobe Gewirtz; Tonka Dintenfas[9]; Mrs. Zilberman; Golde Kriger; Fradl Toy[10]; Ruchama Grünspan ; Anna Bras; Manye Wurtzel; Salye Mahler; Bintshe Leibel; Bronka Nichthauser; Fridshe and Rokhl Sapir, etc.

Almost at the same time, Yehuda Bornstein founded the student association, “Geulah,” whose members included: Iser Dintenfas[11]; Marek, Kuba, and Moritz Bras--who were high school students. Later, membership also included students from other places who attended high school in Dembitz: Moyshe Bergner and Gabel from Redim (Radymno); Vistraykh and the Potasher brothers; Taytlboym from Jarosław; and several more who lived with the Dintenfas family and with the Liverant-Blumenkrants family, a family of teachers.

Zionist students from Tarnów came to help the Dembitz students with their work.

The name “Dvorah” was chosen by Yudl Bornstein. Back then there was a rule that a Zionist women's association had to carry the name of a female character from the Bible--Ruth, Miriam, Judith, and so forth.

There were often parties and evenings (wieczorki), and in general, it was a merry life.

A constant struggle was waged between young people and their parents, who could not tolerate the idea of girls coming into contact with boys in the associations. In many homes, real tragedies were played out between parents and the young generation.

These problems accompanied the Dvorah Association every step of the way. In the summertime, we used to assemble in the forest on the outskirts of the city; in the wintertime at the Bornsteins', near the train station. Pious Jews spread all kinds of gossip about us and this had an influence on some families who, on their own, would not have minded that their children belonged to a Zionist association.

I remember an incident, when Feygele Kriger, a pious and upright woman, who would string pearls and make “bindes” (as the pearl ornamentation on the headscarves worn by pious women instead of wigs were called), came one Sunday into the room at the Bornstein's where a reading about the history of Zionism was taking place. She had come to drag her granddaughter Golde (an orphan raised by her grandmother) home from the association. Upon noticing that there were twenty girls and not a single young man there, Feygele thoroughly checked out every corner of the room, and not wanting to embarrass her granddaughter, said only that as she was nearby, she had only popped in to ask when Goldele was coming home.

Golde and all of us really paid for that visit in blood, but we were lucky that we happened that day to be on our own[12]. At least this calmed down feelings for a while so that we could go on working until we succeeded in getting our own meeting place.

During that same period, a library with Yiddish, Polish, and German books was created at Yudl Bornstein's initiative. The librarian was Kopl (Kuba) Nichthauser, and after a while, Golde Kriger. Almost the entire youth of Dembitz belonged to this library until the Poale Zion founded their own library.

In 1907, once again through the efforts of Yehuda Bornstein, a branch of the “Hashahar” organization, which had spread throughout many cities and towns in Galicia, and whose members were recruited from among former besmedresh[13] boys, was created in Dembitz. Members of Hashahar in Dembitz were: Yitskhok Laufbahn;Yehuda Bornstein; Efroym Rakover; Mendl Leibel; Mayer Sapir; Shloyme and Moyshe Wurtzel; Shloyme Dar; Moshe Taub; Moshe Taub (II), today a farmer in Kfar Yehezkl; Vulvik; Gedaliahu Siedlisker, and others, whose names I no longer remember. In the intermediary days of Passover 1908, Bornstein convened the first countrywide conference of Hashahar in the hall of the hotel in Dembitz.

To tell the truth, even though Dvorah was called a “women's association,” at first only girls were signed up, or better said, teenage girls. For the most part, once one of them got married, she would leave Dembitz together with her husband. Only later could one find a few who remained in the city and remained active in the movement.

We had to expand our work so that the married members would also have a scope for their activism. Indeed, in Germany, under the leadership of Frau Doktor Ruppin, a “Women's Union for Cultural Work in Palestine” was created. This was, so to say, the mother of today's WIZO[14]. The work principally consisted of collecting money for the social and cultural work in Eretz Yisroel, for the creation of orphanages, medical aid, and so forth. Women's committees were created in various cities in Galicia for this purpose, and Dembitz did not lag behind. In order to make sure that not only a club of unmarried girls would be left, we transferred authority to Frau Doktor Fishler, and this, to be sure, gave us more visibility. I myself remained closely associated with this work even later, when I had left Dembitz and had settled in Wiesbaden (Germany).

The Dvorah Association occupied an important place in Zionist work in Dembitz from the very beginning. In 1910 (by then I had already left Dvorah and had founded the more popular girls association, “Havatselet"), the Zionist local committee (at the time, we would say, under the influence of German, “lokal-komitee"[15]) inscribed Dvorah in the “golden book” of the Jewish National Fund in honor of the fifth anniversary of the association. By chance, the “Kaufmanischer” Association (today, one would say “merchants"[16] association) had brought down a well-known Zionist leader from Tarnów, Ḥayyim Neiger, for a lecture, and organized a celebratory gathering, that included welcome speeches. Aside from the main speaker, Ḥayyim Neiger, there were appearances by representatives from all the Zionist associations in the city, including me, in the name of Havatselet, and Naftali Shnier in the name of Poale Zion. I remember how overjoyed Ḥayyim Neiger was with my speech in Yiddish, because all the other women at the gathering spoke in Polish.

 

Havatselet

The members of Dvorah were, for the most part, from the intellectual and wealthy families of the town. They spoke Polish amongst themselves and associated very little with the other Jewish girls in Dembitz. The social division was too great to allow them to belong to the same association. I myself was an active member of Dvorah but my sense of social justice would not allow me any peace. I couldn't look with indifference at the fact that such a big group of girls who could have been capable of so much social activism remained, in fact, marginal.

I discussed this with a group of friends: Yitskhok Laufbahn , who had just arrived on a visit from Erets Yisroel; Pinchas Laufbahn ; Moyshe Bergner; Gabel; and a couple of members of Poale Zion, like Mendel Wilner, Naftule Shnier; and together we decided to found a Poale Zion girl's association. Yitskhok Laufbahn was the one who came up with the name Havatselet (there was a newspaper called Havatselet in Erets Yisroel). I told a couple of good, close friends about it--Fradl Toy,[17] later the wife of Mendel Wilner; Sore Dar; and my younger sister Rekhe, and we took the mission upon ourselves.

In order to recruit members for our new association, we ran around in all the alleys in town. It was hard work. The fathers and mothers would not, under any circumstances, agree to their daughters, God forbid, going to an association. In the study halls, there was a commotion. Girls who had up until then sat at home and had never shown any interest at all in “alien matters” suddenly began to go to lectures ("fortrege"), were bringing home books to read, and altogether began opening their mouths and angrily asking why they weren't allowed to leave the house and know about what was going on in the world. It was truly a revolution.

We held “fortrege,” arranged evening events, and worked hand-in-hand with Poale Zion. We received strong support and assistance for our work from the central headquarters of Poale Zion in Lemberg, who sent us, from time to time, speakers. A few times we even had a visitor, Berl Locker[18], who was then the party secretary and editor of the party newspaper, the “Yidisher arbeter” (Jewish Worker).

Havatselet was truly a great success and did a great deal to raise the cultural and social level of the youth in Dembitz.

It was only with the war of 1914 that the work was disrupted, until it was renewed a few years later in different form.

 

The first olim[19]

From Dembitz, as from all other towns in Galicia, there were a few pious Jews who traveled to Erets Yisroel in order to live out their last few years there, but even that was a rare enough phenomenon. It also sometimes happened that a Jew who was unsuccessful in business and went bankrupt, fled,[20] going to Erets Yisroel instead of to England or America. That way he could be sure that he wouldn't stray from the Jewish path. However, what never happened was for a person in the prime of his life, someone who could still wheel and deal and earn a living, to leave for Erets Yisroel. If someone had no way out, because he couldn't make a living in Dembitz (and there were many for whom this was the case), the road to Germany or America beckoned -- and earlier, also the road to London. Erets Yisroel was considered out of this world. In its time, in the years 1897-8, the attempt of the Ahavat Zion[21] society in Tarnów to establish a colony called “Makhanayim” in Erets Yisroel had strong repercussions in Dembitz. Most people, however, waited to see what would come of it. And when the rabbis, with the Belzer rabbi at their head, came out with an statement against Ahavat Zion's experiment, it was a done deal that that not a single Dembitz Jew would move an inch.

Ten years later in Dembitz, it was none other than the great-grandson of R. Itshele Dayn -- Yitskhok Laufbahn -- who would break through this particular ban of the rabbis.

No “Hehalutz” organization existed yet, back then, in 1908, and the Zionist organization, both in those lands and in the world as a whole, was still cold to the idea of pioneering aliyah[22]. Even though the hope that Zionism would realize its aims through diplomatic negotiations with Turkey and other great powers had been all but dashed, the old conception that “infiltration” (slow and all but illegal immigration to Erets Yisroel) would be counterproductive still held sway, especially when it involved young people without means of support. What would they do, poor things, when there was no work over there? The end result would be that they would return and all that Zionism would reap would be embarrassment and disgrace... This is what a few older Zionists thought, those who had the decisive word. A young man who, in spite of everything, wanted to go to Erets Yisroel, had to do it out of his own convictions and not expect a lot of help. He had to take care of his travel expenses on his own and his closest comrades had to help him keep it all secret from his parents: and even when they weren't in favor of it, because they remained behind, they had to bear the full brunt of the bitter hearts of the forsaken parents. Also, not infrequently, the result was that the Zionist organization wouldn't become involved in such matters. And no aspect of raising the money for the journey was easy, even though you could succeed in getting to Erets Yisroel with only a few dozen kroner. Some of the braver young people set off with a lot less. If only you could make it to Vienna! In Vienna, there was the Zionist office at 13 Türkenstrasse and soon or later, after much frugal living on your part, you would obtain there the necessary funds to get to Jaffa. Truth be told, they didn't throw money at you so quickly there. The first thing that happened was an attempt to convince the fervent young man that he should return home. Why should he go off to Erets Yisroel with no means of support? It was unlikely that he would find work there. Or, in any case, he would have to work very hard. But in the end, the person was expedited to Trieste, put on a ship, and he was out of their their hands.

Despite all this, the aliyah of young people from Galicia greatly increased in those years. It had two sources: Poale Zion and Hashahar.

Yitskhok Laufbahn was one of the first in Hashahar to decide to leave home and make aliyah. He might have been able to get his father to agree to it, but he didn't want to take any chances. In one way or another, he managed to raise the necessary sum, and only when he was in Trieste did he let his parents know about the journey. But as soon as the wall was breached in one place, other breaches followed. Laufbahn 's letters from Erets Yisroel to his comrades in Dembitz had an effect. They knew that one didn't lick any honey in Erets Yisroel, they knew about the hardships, but they decided to take the risk anyway.

The next to leave Dembitz for Erets Yisroel after Yitskhok Laufbahn was Hersh Volf (Tsvi Wolf), may he rest in peace, who died in Haifa two years ago at the age of 67. The third was Moshe Taub, who suddenly disappeared, and only later did it become known where he was. Both of them, after arriving in Erets Yisroel, joined Hashomer. After a while, Moshe Taub and a large group of Hashomer settled in Kfar Yehezkel, and were among the first to settle in the [Jezreel] Valley. Tsvi Wolf, who, had been interested in and lectured on agricultural problems even before he left Dembitz, was for many years the mukhtar of Kibbutz Bet Alfa and afterwards, an important administrator of the Jewish National Fund in northern Israel, who, through his expertise on the conditions of and relations with Arabs, played a key role in the laying the groundwork for the National Fund in that part of Erets Yisroel.

In Erets Yisroel, Yitskhok Laufbahn , who even in his youth possessed a sharp, biting pen (letters from Dembitz in the Krakow Yud and two series of articles in the Lemberger Togblat, “Mehaka le-Hatam” and “Mehatam le-hakha"), after a short time as a worker in Rehovot, became a staff member of the Hebrew newspaper, Hatsvi, and afterwards, one of the most prominent columnists in Erets Yisroel, editor of the weekly Hapoel Hatsair, the organ of the party he joined, and he became one of its most prominent leaders.

These were the first three olim from Dembitz to Erets Yisroel.

Afterwards, Moyshe Shtrik left. He, too, suddenly disappeared, the town buzzed. The situation earned me a lot of curses from his fiancee, who was a member of Havatselet. She suspected that I had known about his plan. This was a big blow to Havatselet back then.

Another oleh from Dembitz was Moyshe Bergner, who was actually from the town of Radymno, but who had grown to become so much a part of Dembitz that we considered him one of our own.

Bergner, a brother of the well-known writer Melech Ravitch, was a student in the Dembitz gymnasium and was the heart and soul of the student organization, Geulah. He had a lot of influence on the youth of Dembitz, both because of his talent and his fiery temperament. He had an ecstatic personality; once, when the comrades would get together in his room and start to sing, he suddenly grabbed a bottle of alcohol, poured a circle of it on the floor, lit it on fire, jumped into the burning circle, and danced an Erets Yisroel folk dance. He was an inspiration, both for his words and his joy.

Before his graduation, when he had already completed all his written work, he suddenly decided not to take his oral exams, but to leave for Erets Yisroel instead, so as not to get sucked into the pursuit of a diploma. He wanted to be a worker in Erets Yisroel. Nothing his nearest and dearest friends said could talk him out of it. He decided to burn all his bridges to the Diaspora behind him. He didn't even want to take any expenses for the road from his family in Radymno, but first went to Rozwadów, where he earned the money by giving lessons, and only then from went home with his family.

He left for Erets Yisroel in 1911, became a Shomer and a worker and exhausted himself, living in the toughest conditions. The spiritual restlessness in him wouldn't let him adjust to the conditions in any one place, and he began to wander throughout the country, placing himself in the most dangerous situations. And that's how it happened that during those years, he took a walk with another comrade to the top of Mt. Hermon even though it was life-threateningly dangerous. His brilliant descriptions of these wanderings were printed in the Zionist weekly, Vskhod, which was published in Lemberg.

Because he was an Austrian citizen, when the war broke out in 1914 he was drafted, and served as an officer in the Turkish [Ottoman] Army. After the war, he came to visit his parents, who at the time lived in Vienna--he was sick, exhausted, and full of doubt, and this is where he tragically died.

During this period, I too went around full of plans to go to Erets Yisroel, and this was also the case for my best girlfriends. But I didn't muster enough strength of will to surmount the tragedy my departure would have meant to my parents in particular and for my family in general. For the time being, I gave it up and tried to think of a way of carrying out my plan without victimizing my nearest and dearest, who I loved as much as life itself.

When I left Dembitz in February 1914 together with my comrade and husband Yehuda Bornstein, we had finally decided to go to Erets Yisroel as quickly as possible. But in the meantime, the outbreak of the war thwarted our plan, and it was not until 1924 that we were able to realize the dream of our lives.

{Page 47}

The beginning

by Naftali Shnier

Translated by Roberta Newman

I remember Zionism in Dembitz from summer 1904 onwards. At the time, I was hardly even of bar mitzvah age. This was around the time that Dr. Herzl died. Some sort of young man arrived in Dembitz and became acquainted with a few young people, a few students, and they founded a Zionist association. The headquarters was in Alter Gewirtz's house near the synagogue. There, they arranged a memorial ceremony for Dr. Herzl. For a while the association held regular activities, such as presenting speeches and singing Hatikvah.

While worship was going on in the synagogue, arguments about Zionism and socialism took place in the vestibule. There were a few young people who worked in Tarnów and who used to come home for the holidays. They brought a smattering of socialism to Dembitz. But Zionism was known about in Dembitz a lot earlier.

One fine morning, when the congregation was entering the synagogue, all the windows in the association were broken and that was it, the association was dissolved... it ceased to exist.

On the second anniversary of Dr. Herzl's death, a couple of high school and college students got together and organized a “committee” of a few of the more progressive householders, like Yehuda Bras, Manek Geshvind, Herman Wurtzel, and I think, also Shemaya Widerspan. And the first item on the agenda was the organization of a commemoration for Dr. Herzl. This time, it was going to take place in the synagogue, and in addition, a speaker from Krakow was engaged, a doctor of some sort. That day, before afternoon prayers, the members of the “committee” and a few young people came into the synagogue all dressed up. Yehuda Bras and Yoynele Geshvind came in top hats. They began the memorial ceremony and the doctor from Krakow got up to say a word. Suddenly, just as he began to speak, in came a gang of Hasidim with a rabbi at their head and they began to loudly recite the afternoon prayers.

This went on for a little while and then Yehuda Bras slapped Yankev Veb, the ringleader of the Hasidim. Nor did the Hasidim remain completely innocent. There was a big brawl. Lecterns were broken, blows flew like boards. As they say, a regular battlefield. Strewn around the synagogue were broken lecterns, yarmulkes, snuff boxes, belts, and so forth. R. Leybish the beadle had a tough time cleaning up the synagogue afterwards.

The members of the “committee” came home as if from a war. Yehuda Bras's top hat was crushed. Manek Geshvind's frockcoat was torn, and the speaker, the doctor from Krakow, barely escaped with his life.

And from that point on, Zionists in Dembitz were hounded. A Zionist in a family was like a black mark. No one wanted to make a match with such a family. Itsikl Laufbahn was thrown out of the Hasidic besmedresh[23].

But even though the Zionist idea had barely taken hold in town, it was already too late to uproot it, especially among the students. The leading light, the trailblazer and leader of the Zionist youth in Dembitz from the beginning of the twentieth century until right before World War I was the young Yudl Bornstein (may his memory be for a blessing), about whom one can say that not a single thing of this sort happened in Dembitz without it being his initiative.

It was thanks to him, Yudl Bornstein, that the Poale Zion organization was established in Dembitz. It started with a club of autodidacts founded by Yudl Bornstein, with a membership that included Mendl Dar, and Shloyme Ruvn Wurtzel, and his brother, Moyshele. Later, I, too, was recruited.

The library and the autodidact club was located in a cold, dark shtibl[24], lit by a kerosene lamp, and at this point, I don't remember the name of its owner. We sat there every evening and Yudl Bornstein taught us the “theory and practice of Poale Zionism” by Dr. Daniel Pasmanik. Other courses were led by the student, Kuba Nichthauser and so because of the autodidact club I grew into becoming a Poale Zionist.

A little later, we--Shmuel Precker, Mendel Wilner, and I--called together all the tailors, shoemakers' journeymen and apprentices, and founded a Poale Zion organization. A Yugnt organization was set up for boys under 18. Those older than 18 we took into the Poale Zion association, and later, comrades from other occupations (bakers, salesmen) also joined.

The tailors' strike

The membership of the Poale Zion organization in Dembitz consisted, for the most part, of workers in the tailors' trade -- journeymen and apprentices who worked in various workshops, who dealt with both second-hand and custom trade.

The working conditions were dreadful. On Saturday night, right after havdole[25], the workers had to go into the workshops, sit down by their machines, and work until late into the night. This is how they worked every day, from 7 in the morning until late at night, until the boss himself told them to go home. As it is said: Need breaks iron.

This went on until the organization got involved. The Poale Zion and Yugnt wanted to wage an educational campaign among the workers and apprentices. Every evening, there were different course and lessons. Every Sabbath, a party, an evening with a glass of tea and snacks. But the garment workers couldn't come because they were working then. What to do? A special assembly of all garment workers was convened on a Saturday and a decision was made not to go work on Saturday night, beginning with that very evening. No one went to work in their workshops.

This was the first shot fired. The bosses did not mount any resistance and that's how it remained. However, eating made the appetite grow. A couple of weeks later, the committee of the Poale Zion organization, together with representatives of the garment workers, came up with a plan to call a strike of all garment workers. The work-hours should be from 8 in the morning to 6 o'clock in the evening, with an hour's break to eat lunch. About wages, it seems, nothing was said. These demands were delivered to the bosses and they, naturally, rejected all of them. What nerve to expect such luxury! And the workers went out on strike-- the first time in Dembitz's entire existence.

There was a bit of a stir in town. All of Dembitz was in an uproar. Naturally, the workers, for the most part, lived room and board with the bosses. So a kitchen was set up in the union headquarters, in Motl Kreyndl's house, and meals were cooked for the strikers. And in the evening, bundles of straw were brought in and spread on the floor and the strikers had somewhere to sleep. The union headquarters became their home.

The strike lasted for nine days. The bosses ran in like lunatics and called in the “burmistrz"[26] and the police. Until the mayor came from Ropczyce with a commission to investigate what was going on here. What's going on? A revolution, God forbid? But since the mayor was no help, the bosses blanched and began to cave in. When the central committee of Poale Zion sent a member of the intelligentsia, the lawyer-candidate (junior lawyer) Dr. Piltser, to lead the strike, the bosses really got scared. No small thing, that the strike was now being led by a real lawyer and not just some kids! And so they gave in. Every one of them came to the union headquarters and stood in line to sign the contract that Piltser drew up.

And thus ended Dembitz's first strike.

{Page 49}

Dembitz Jews

by Mendel Wilner

Translated by Roberta Newman

R. Lozer Perlshteyn is the first name that comes to mind when one thinks about the Dembitz that once was. It was too late for me to have known him personally, but what I was told about him is deeply engraved in my memory.

R. Lozer was quite a wealthy man. Suffice it to say, that in those days he was the owner of the Dembitz Uhlan regiment[27] barracks (between the marketplace and R. Yehuda Mahler's house), fields of a few dozen acres, buildings, a steam-powered sawmill, and so forth. There is a story about how a soldier from the garrison wanted to elicit a nice bribe from R. Lozer, but R. Lozer wouldn't have anything to do with it. So the officer up and went to court and gave his “officer's word of honor” that it was the opposite: R. Lozer Perlshteyn tried to bribe him, and he, the officer, would not agree to it. The result: R. Lozer Perlshteyn was sentenced to eighteen months in prison, his property was confiscated, his children driven into poverty, and he himself, the proud Jew, not able to bear the shame of having served a prison sentence, left for London, where he died in dreadful poverty.

His son Itshele was, until his dying day, a passionate maskil[28], the first to organize a club in Dembitz for reading German books.

Another instance of the tragic ruin of a family in Dembitz involved the Gewirtz family. R. Alter Gewirtz was the son of the power broker R. Daniel, who, in his time, was the power in Dembitz, and was famous from Krakow to Lemberg. His son, R. Alter, wanted to become a millionaire. He wasn't satisfied with his big machine works and so he invested a lot of money in some sort of fabulous little mill with which he hoped to take the world by storm. This beautiful dream petered out, however, and R. Alter's holdings passed into the hands of strangers. R. Alter died abroad in great poverty, and in addition, to his sorrow, a tragedy befell his son, Eli Gewirtz.

Eli Gewirtz was one of the most capable young men in the town. He was not only a great religious scholar, but was also extremely well-versed in secular literature. About his unbelievable intelligence, wondrous things were recounted. One time, he bet that he would learn Veber's foreign-language dictionary inside and out and he demonstrated his success in the matter of a few days... Eli Gewirtz was the darling of his family, but all their hopes and dreams came to naught because of an unsuitable match. The freethinking maskil was matched up with a pious wife, who couldn't tolerate his heretical ways, and the marriage ended in divorce. Eli Gewirtz left Dembitz, and not long afterwards, it was reported in town that he had fallen in with Christian missionaries in London. It was even said that he had become an prominent member of the Christian clergy there.

(Dembitz, apparently, “heard sounds but didn't know from which forest they were coming”... Eli Gewirtz left London and went to the United States of America no later than the beginning of World War I (perhaps because he was a citizen of Austria-Hungary) because already in 1915, a short theosophical book in English by Elias Gewürz was published in Los Angeles. The author was identified in the preface as a “great master” of a theosophical order, with a grandfather who was the “head of a yeshiva in a town near Krakow.” This book, which appeared in two editions, is in the possession the Jerusalem professor and scholar of Kabbalah, G. Scholem[29], who maintains that within it, there is no trace of Christianity or Christian influence. So, what then? According to Professor Scholem, Elye Gewirtz was, “like all theosophists,” a plagiarizer: he cites old kabbalistic texts, in a way that doesn't make much sense; he uses splendid material from manuscripts that he says he saw in Cambridge and Oxford. But Professor Scholem has read the same manuscripts, and there is nothing of the sort there -- D.L.)

This was the fate of the great-grandson of R. Henikh and the grandson of R. Daniel Gewirtz.

A well-known figure in Dembitz was “Dr. Reis” -- a Jews from western Galicia who settled in Dembitz as a doctor and became just like a native of town. Actually, he didn't have the formal title of “Doctor.” He was a “practical medic,” a doctor with half an education, which was permitted in the old Austria because of a shortage of matriculated doctors. A happy man, a jokester, he would stop for a chat with anyone, and because of all this, he had a large Jewish and non-Jewish clientele. For a long time, aside from him, there was only one non-Jewish doctor, Benda, in town, and neither of them had trouble making a living. About Judaism, there was a lot that Reis didn't know or didn't care about. He used to say about himself, that he observed only one holiday: “kishkele holiday."[30] He was, however, a devoted Austrian patriot, and because he was well-versed when it came to choral music, in order to ascend to “high society,” he and R. Simkhe khazn[31] (Siedlisker), set their hearts establishing a choir that every August 18th, on the Kaiser's name day, sang in the synagogue and in the street, in the middle of the marketplace. The best singers in the choir were Khananye Vizen, Khayim Zeyden, Berishl Grin, Shloyme Zeyden, little old me, Henek Shnier, the boy from Ropczyce, Shmuel Ulman, and Yisroel Siedlisker . The director was R. Mayerl Gewirtz.

This same choir, but reinforced with soldiers who were former chorists trained by cantors, and who were stationed in Dembitz, sung on holidays in the synagogue. I still remember the great joy of the trustees, who, along with the entire congregation, derived great pleasure from our solos--especially the joy R. Simkhe took in R. Dovid Reder. Because of this, he always invited all of us to his house for kiddush[32]. And they're still talking about the concert of prayers that we would give at R. Mendl Mahler's in the old city, with the fine roast geese to munch on...

R. Mendl Mahler was the eternal head of the Kahal[33] in Dembitz. He reigned in the Kahal and ruled over their businesses with a steely stubbornness. When someone brought in a protest against the communal elections, “Uncle Mendl” put it away on the chandelier, that is, he never bothered with such things. And this was an honest man, a respectable man, a regular leader of prayers for the rabbi during the Days of Awe. His brother was R. Yehuda Mahler, the wealthiest man in town, the chairman of the liquor licensing board, with an extensive family with many branches. Another brother of R. Yehuda Mahler was R. Itshe Leyb, and I still remember how he played at Jewish weddings.

{Photo page 50 – Reb Nathan Grünspan}

One of R. Mendl Mahler's daughters was the wife of R. Nathan Grünspan , whose home as always open to anyone who sought knowledge. Nathan Grünspan was a quiet man, a miser when it came to speaking. He was endowed with a sense of practicality and effectiveness in his business dealings. Even 60 years ago, Nathan Grünspan was the industrialist of Dembitz. He operated his wheelbarrow factory on a large scale, even for export, and employed dozens of workers, including his own children. His oldest daughter Ruchama later married Yidl Bornstein, one of Dembitz's most important sons.

 

Melamdim[34]

Without exaggeration one can say that up until World War I, the great majority of children in Dembitz went to school in the kheyder[35] of R. Nokhem Neimark, or “The melamed from Tarnów,” as they used to call him. He was a pious, honest man and an observant Jew through and through.

When I was barely three years old, my father, as was the custom, wrapped me in his prayer shawl and carried me in his arms to R. Nokhem's kheyder. This was a narrow room with two windows and a long table, at which dozens of children were compelled to learn about Judaism, from the alef-beys[36] to khumesh-Rashi[37]. There wasn't enough room for everyone at the table, and so in the summertime, a portion of the students would spend their time outside near the big trash box which served as the boundary of Lorents the pig-farmer's pigpen.

R. Nokhem had two assistants: Yosl, a more refined young man, who did his work meticulously, and an unter-belfer[38] Dovid, who was much less well-regarded by us. In the kheyder, boys and girls studied together. The unter-belfer had the habit of pinching the attractive, well-fed girls, especially those from the wealthier homes, and we boys strongly resented this. We were sure that because of this he would go to hell and never get out. Aside from this, we bore him a grudge because he was the one who made the children “bundles” when they did something wrong.

What did a “bundle” look like? The sinner would have his trousers pulled down, his hat turned backwards on his head, was given a broom to hold in his hand, and forced to stand that way for a while inside the chimney. When the frightened child was taken back out of the chimney, the other children had to sing a ditty and “make a beh"[39] at the one being punished. Later, we contented ourselves with putting the boy in a sort of “dress” near the door. And the aggravation of the children poured itself out on the unter-belfer, and so we would earnestly sing under our breaths the following ditty:

Belfer gehelfer[40], little clipped tongues,
Be a kapore[41] for all boys--
Belfer gehelfer, little clipped dumplings,
Be a kapore for all girls.
Sometimes it happened that the rabbi himself, R. Nokhem, would take the errant boy, unbutton his trousers, and whip him. The burning shame was worse than the actual physical pain. Once, R. Nokhem whipped a student, Simkhe Sheynfeld, but he wouldn't submit and kicked out with his feet and cut the rabbi on the tip of his nose with the nail of his big toe. The rabbi went over to the wall, sought out a dusty bit of spider web and put it on his nose for a cure and stuck it there with a bit of brown packing paper. And he went around this way all week long to our great amusement...

Once, when the whipping went on without end, a few boys brought pieces of garlic from home and the rubbed them onto the straps[42] of the whip. This was an amulet, so that the straps of the whip would fall apart... Another time, the whip was stolen and hidden somewhere--but no one had the guts to destroy it entirely.

Aside from R. Nokhem, the melamed from Tarnów, we also had a Shiele Gewirtz, a Tuvyele, a Shakhna Pinkes--all of them melamdim of very young children.

One of the the gemore[43] melamdim was R. Yosele Volf, a learned man, a Czortków Hasid--with him it was a pleasure to learn. His Hasidic nigunim[44] captured the heart. He was always hungry, but he never succumbed to melancholy. Not to mention, when Rosh Khodesh Elul[45] arrived, we children has wonderful time--the rabbi, R. Yosele took off time to go on foot to see his rabbi in Czortków.

Most of R. Yosele's students were from Hasidic homes. I still remember how we were seated in the classroom. Sender Binshtok, and little old me, who were among those who had good heads for learning, sat right next to the rabbi. When it came to reciting the gemore in preparation for the Sabbath examination[46], we were the first. If he was unhappy with the way we answered a question, he would cry out: “Woe to you, iluim[47] of Dembitz!”

Our comrades at the time were Shevekh Leibel and Yosele Riter from Kamieniec. More than once, because of the behavior of his students, the rabbi put aside Prophets to wonder aloud, what would become of their Judaism. Some of them, he bitterly preached, were as worthless as mud, and he described hell for them.

Much beloved was studying with Blind Lishele, R. Elishe Lerer. He was blind and you could do whatever you wanted during class--the rabbi could not see where or who to hit.

The melamed R. Hersh Dovid Blayvays had a more pedagogical approach to teaching. He was not trusted by the Hasidic fathers, and was even persecuted, but those who studied Bible with him had the Torah of the prophets firmly engraved in their memory.

Some of the other melamdim I had later on, such as a Yoysef Preger and R. Itshele Vayndling, should also be mentioned with great respect.

Among the melamdim in Dembitz one must make particular mention of R. Binyomin, the beadle of the Prostn besmedresh[48], a tall, good-looking man, whom everyone treated with great courtesy. He had the privilege of providing the householders from his study house with wax Yom Kippur candles, and this he did with total finesse: every candle was labeled with the name of the householder in printed letters. And there was a sense of great festivity when R. Binyomin Shamesh[49], with a high kolpak[50] on his head, walked through the market, from store to store, with one of his sons trailing behind and carrying the wax candles. Even fifty years ago this seemed like a bit of living history... itself, a burning wax candle.

 

A story about a captain

Dovid, the melamed's unter-belfer, later on volunteered to join the army and rose to the rank of staff sergeant, until he was finally--according to urban legend--elevated to the rank of captain!

It seems, so the story goes, that a military draft board arrived in Dembitz to sign up new recruits, and they set themselves up in the Rekht Hotel, which was managed by R. Yisroel Mahler. The captain of the board asked R. Yisroel: “Is R. Nokhem, the melamed from Tarnow still alive?” But as soon as the captain heard that he was, he told him to summon him and to say: “The captain of the draft board wants to see you!” The first thing that R. Nokhem did when he got the message was to faint... He didn't understand what was wanted from him. First of all, he no longer had a kheyder and he didn't want any kind of favor from a captain; secondly, he had no son to send to the army... but what good are wishes? R. Nokhem had to pick himself up and go to the Rekht Hotel to talk with the captain.

When R. Nokhem presented himself before the captain, the first thing he did was to bestow a blessing upon everyone, in particular, the blessing one recites when one see angels.

In short, the captain asked R. Nokhem in German whether he remembered when a Dovid belfer worked for him.

"Yes,” R. Nokhem replied. “I paid him off and threw him out. He was a real nasty piece of work; he touched little girls...” And he would have gone on, but the captain wouldn't let him continue: “It's me, R. Nokhem, your unter-belfer..."

R. Nokhem was beside himself and in order to mollify the captain, he said to him: “Yes, yes, if you had remained with me, you could have become a dardeke-melamed[51] for me...”

 

Teachers

Children in Dembitz, almost all of them, received their first secular learning from R. Lipe Gewirtz, Herr Krantz, and also from R. Yoske Beyer. Of the teachers who we learned from in our riper years, one must with great respect mention Herr Liperant and his sister Libtshe Blumenkrantz.

Mrs. Blumenkrantz had, as boarders, children from the surrounding villages whose parents did not have any way of providing them with a proper education at home. From among them, I remember the two pretty Riter sisters from Kamienec, the future Dr. Israel Sandhaus from near the town of Pilzno (who later married my dear comrade Rechtshe Grünspan ) and his brother Dovid (Dovidke).

To Mrs. Blumenkrantz's would often come as a visitor the son of her sister who lived in Tarnów and who was also a private teacher, known as “Pani Zosia.” This was the young Karol Sobelsohn, later known as Karl Radek[52], executive member of the Communist International and unfortunately, a popular world personality.

That being said, this did not exhaust all the possibilities for secular education in Dembitz. Together with my comrades Henek Shnier and Moyshe Wurtzel (Koyan), I began to learn bookkeeping from a correspondence course from Royshn's commercial school in Tarnów. Aside from that, there were the Jewish students from the Polish high school in Dembitz--Kuba Nichthauser, Gabel and Moyshe Bergner. From them I learned Polish literature, history, and things like that. German literature we had already started to study with Herr Liperant. He introduced us to Schiller's “Don Carlos,” “Intrigue and Love,” the “Wallenstein” trilogy, and other German classics. Yiddish literature was not yet widely known in Dembitz, aside from the Mayse-bikhlekh[53], which were disseminated by the book peddler. The pioneer in this arena was the Poale Zion library.

 

The blind baritone

One of the more unusual types in Dembitz was Blind Lishe (Wulvick).

Blind Lishe (Elishe) had lost his sight in both eyes in his youth. Despite this, he became a gemore-melamed, and every year a cantor in the Prostn besmedresh, where he recited the morning and supplementary services every Sabbath. This, one can believe. But how he managed to recite the morning and supplementary services for all the holidays, including the high holidays, from beginning to end is hard to grasp. He had a phenomenal memory, and what a voice he had! A deep baritone that sounded like an organ.

One evening Jews came to pray the late afternoon service at the synagogue of the new city. Suddenly, just as the service was about to begin, a company of fifteen Austrian officers arrived. They belonged to a military geographical expedition, which was traveling around in the entire surrounding area (Dembitz, Mielec, Radomyśl, Przecław, etc.) in order to draw up new atlases and maps and such. That day they had finished their work in the area and arrived in Dembitz. Not having anything to do and seeing Jews going into the synagogue, out of curiousity, they went, too, in order to see how Jews in Galicia “machen das gebet[54].”

The congregation was dumbfounded. They started murmuring about what should be done. To pray in front of the officers in an ordinary weekday way would be unseemly. So they hatched the plan of summoning Blind Lishe, and, indeed, he, with his organ-voice, recited the afternoon and evening services as they should be recited. The officers were pleased and the Jews were pleased: they had done what they had to satisfy the state!

{Yiddish text – Page 53}

Reb Shlomo Mordkowitz

Translated by Ronald M.Miller

by Naftali Shnier

A quite remarkable folk type in Dembitz was Reb Shlomo Mordkowitz, the only fishmonger in the shtetl. They called him Shlomo Monik.

Every summer he would wear a white linen suit. In the winter he would wear a fur coat, also with a white cloth trimming. In all his clothes he had deep wide pockets. From the left shoulder to the left hip he had a rope by which hung a flat tin flask with 93 proof spirit which was closed on top with a tin lid. In his deep pockets he had broken pieces of water bagels. In this outfit he would go out into the villages near the streams where there were fish. This is where he would buy his merchandise. When Shlee–am-ka (that's what the goyim called him) would arrive in a village all the goyim would surround him. He would give everyone a drink and with it a piece of a bagel from his pocket. With this he would buy their loyalty, and they would do anything for him. (Literally: Jump across the water for him).

Every Thursday Shlomo Monik would display his wares in the marketplace. The fine carps for the rich people and the little herrings for the poor souls.

When the holy Sabbath came, Reb Shlomo dressed in a black sheepskin coat in the winter, and a black cotton kaftan in the summer with a shreimel on his head. This is what he wore when he went to shul to pray. But in the shul he only davened shachris; for the torah reading he used to go with a whole group of friends to his shtiebel which they called the tailors' shtiebel because once only tailors davened there. There in the tailors' shtiebel which is called Yad Harutzim, Reb Shlomo and his friends would end their Sabbath prayers – they read from the Torah and recited the mussaf prayer. After davening, Reb Shlomo would invite the entire congregation to his home for Kiddush and a bite to eat. Pieces of buttercake or cheesecake and of course and it goes without saying, beautiful portions of fish. This was his habit all of his life.

When Simchas Torah came he made a really fine meal in his home. His wife Ita and together with a few other women would roast geese, they would also have fish and shnaps and a barrel of beer wasn't missing either.

Also, when the “chevre yidden” (Jewish group) had their fill of food and drink they would go with candles in their hands, singing, to shul to the hakafos – At the head of the group, the children and the grandchildren would go with simchas torah flags and with a candle in a potato or in an apple.

When the hakafos honors were given out, there would always be a scuffle (or argument) with, who else but the Gabbai, Reb Itche Shlage, for giving one of Reb Shlomo's friend a less than desired hakafos.

This is the way things were all the years until all of the group with Reb Shlomo amongst them, went over the world of truth (all died), before the first world war broke out.

{Page 53}

Jokers

Translated by Roberta Newman

Dembitz never lacked for jokers. Playing a trick on someone was regarded as doing them a big favor, the more so and especially if you could spread the joke around town and expose the victim to polite laughter.

Something like this befell R. Shimele--whose family was known as the “Tsheplyes,” for whatever reason I don't know. Nu, R. Shimele, may he not be shamed, was known to enjoy a card game--in Dembitz, someone like this was called “A Hasid of Piantek.” (Piantek -- a well-known manufacturer of playing cards in the old Austria). Once, on a winter evening, he sat up playing cards until late, but didn't want to stop yet. What could one do to prevent his wife from dispatching him to a bleak end? He went off to the innkeeper, R. Yisroel Mahler, and had him pack up two roast goose gizzards-- a gift for his wife. And so he was feeling confident that he was all set, he was pleased with his ruse, and he put the package under his coat so that it hung out beneath and went off, back to the pack of cards.

But what do his good fellow card-players do? One of them went out into the marketplace, packed together in a very precise way a sort of package of frozen horse manure and swapped it for the gizzards in R. Shimele's coat purse. You can imagine for yourself the welcome that R. Shimele got at home when he opened for his gift for his wife...

Anyhow, the city had a little something to laugh at. But it was worse when a Jew got a hankering to dress like a non-Jew. Then the entire town played with fire.

R. Dovidl Reder, a brother-in-law of R. Itshe Mahler, was a real joker. Once, he wanted to buy a few poles for firewood from a peasant and the non-Jew asked for who knows how much...it wasn't to R. Dovidl's satisfaction, since it wasn't as if the sticks had been raised feeding on the non-Jew's garbage. For sure, it was stolen Jewish labor-- and therefore should he have to pay such a high price for it? So he told the peasant: “Listen up, Kumye, if you sell me the poles for cheap, I'll tell you a secret which can earn you a lot of money...” The non-Jew allowed himself to be convinced and R. Dovidl quietly confided the “secret” to him: “You should know, that this year Succoth falls next week already. If you come to the market with skhakh[55] then, you will make money without end. But listen, don't tell anyone else about this, so that you will be the only one at market and can set your own price."

The non-Jew was happy but spilled the “secret” to all his good neighbors, and the next Wednesday, the entire village set off for Dembitz with wagons full of skhakh even though it was still in the middle of summer.

The deceived non-Jews boiled over with anger: What was the meaning of such a mean trick? One could hardly calm them down. R. Dovidl, naturally, had to avoid the marketplace for a long time so that he wouldn't be recognized by the non-Jew.

There were two Yehude Leybs in Dembitz. One was Yehude Leyb Dayen[56] and the other Yehude Leyb, the barber. R. Yehude Leyb Dayen was a great scholar and sat studying day and night. Sitting this way and studying in the Prostn besmedresh[57] next to the eastern wall near the ark, always preoccupied with philosophical questions, he had quite a stately appearance. When he prayed, he was sedate; he didn't sway back and forth or rave. Apparently, he was a misnoged[58].

The other one, Yehude Leyb the barber, was aside from that ,a folk doctor, an expert, and in addition to that, a klezmer musician who played at Jewish weddings. If, God forbid, anyone got sick, the first one they called was Ide Leyb. He would even write prescriptions in Latin and he helped a lot of people. Some held him in higher esteem than a professor. If he told someone to call a doctor, they did. Therefore, the doctors in town were very friendly with him, especially Dr. Reis. He could be found in Ide Leyb's barber shop more than in his own office.

It not infrequently happened that if a Jewish woman fell ill after a heavy Sabbath meal and sent the maid for Ide Leyb, the maid would go and summon R. Yehude Leyb Dayan...

Once, the opposite occurred. In the home of a housewife, milk ran under a meat pot in which a duck was just then being roasted. So the maid, a village girl, went, as per habit, to Ide Leyb Balbirer.

In Ide Leyb's barber shop there was always a group of jokers engaged in jolly conversation. One of the group said to the girl: “Ide Leyb just left. Bring the little duck here and when Ide Leyb gets back, he will determine whether it's kosher or treyf[59].

So the girl brought the duck and in the meantime she went to visit a friend while she waited for the dayen to come. When she returned, the joker told her that the dayen had just then deemed the duck treyf , and so the girl left the duck and the group of jokers had a wonderful feast.

{Photo page 54 bottom left – Behind the Bridge}

{Page 55}

The Jewish Heart

Translated by Roberta Newman

"A funeral"

More than once, Jews of Dembitz (those who were not wealthy) stood up in public for a poor man who was being wronged. Once, a merchant by the name of Tankhem tried to evict, from an apartment, an highly esteemed poor Jew who hadn't paid the rent. A crowd of adults and children gathered around the house making a great deal of noise, and suddenly came up with the idea of “a funeral.” Children made a “coffin” out of a few boards and covered it with a black rag, and, banging on a piece of tin and chanting ,"Meys mitzve[60], Tankhem is dead!” They marched in a long line to Tankhem's business in the opposite corner of the marketplace. Tankhem and his children quickly stopped doing business, closed the window shutters , and only then did a hail of stones rain down upon them.

Tankhem realized that he was no match for Dembitz. The man remained living in the apartment, but it didn't take long for Tankhem and his family to move away to another city. He couldn't live down the terrible shame.

D.L.

 

Bailing out a Jew

More than once, when a Jew, God forbid, had a business that failed, other Jews came to his aid, above and beyond their own resources.

I remember: Herr Shinagel, the father-in-law of R. Shlomo Bornstein and the grandfather of Yudl Bornstein, a Jew who at the time was considered a rich man, signed a contract with the military board, along with R. Khayim Wilner, to build “the red barracks” on the outskirts of the city not far from the Wisłok River.

These simple, provincial Jews were completely ignorant of the fact that in order to make a profit on a government contract in Galicia, you had to know who to bribe... so indeed, both partners failed miserably. When the commission looked over the work they found so many faults in its construction that instead of making a profit, they lost everything they owned. Herr Shinagel declared bankruptcy. R. Khayim Wilner remained with nothing.Ten Dembitz householders gave written guarantees for 50 guilden apiece -- and with 500 guilden a Jew could get up on his feet again and go back into business.

The ten were: Nathan Grünspan , Mendel Reiner. Wolf Ader, Berish Vizen, Melekh Wurtzel, Moshe Yosef Sommer, Hersh Schuldenfrei , Mendl Volitser, Yisroel Mahler, and Naftali Ulman.

M.V.

 

Help me, R. Osher....

An interesting case of self-sacrifice for a friend happened when R. Osher Taffet, a Jewish householder with a great entrepreneurial spirit, the manufacturer of soda water in Dembitz, died on the operating table in a Krakow hospital. The board of the hospital wanted to autopsy the deceased, something which, in those days, was regarded as desecration of a corpse. Leybush Altman, a wealthy Jew and a good friend of the deceased, placed himself at great risk, and, despite all the prohibitions, carried the corpse out of the hospital on his own shoulders and gave it a proper burial. Before he lifted R. Osher's corpse, he said to him: “R. Osher, I am going to redeem your honor. Help me so that I can carry you.”

M.V.

{Page 55}

Theatre

Translated by Roberta Newman

Every few years a circus would appear in town and set up its big tents in the marketplace. Even the more respectable middle class Jews would go to the circus, with its horses and jugglers, since it was an era in which Yiddish theater had the reputation of being a venue where “Jews were made fun of.” Therefore it was rare that a Yiddish theater wandered into Dembitz by mistake. It simply wasn't worth it. Nonetheless, I remember that once, Moyshe Rikhter and his famous troupe descended upon Dembitz.

There was no choice. From time to time,you had to perform something with your own resources. I remember one episode in connection with these sorts of theater performances. In an attempt to organize the youth of the poorer classes, Poale Zion hit upon a solution: they would put on their own play. With the participation of some more well-known actors from the Krakow Yiddish theater, they decided to perform “Kol Nidre,” “Father and Mother's Troubles,” and “Hertsele the Aristocrat."

Until the time came when three of these actors lusted after an easy serving girl. They committed petty larceny and were caught. When they were brought before the court and one of them was asked where he had gotten the sum of money that had been found on him, he answered that he had received it for playing a part in a play. When they summoned me, the leader of the dramatic club, to the investigation and my testimony didn't square with the claims of the accused, two of the actors were sentenced to short prison terms. And no good came of this for the dramatic club.

M.V.

{Page 56}

The Baking of Matza Shmura[70]

by Yehuda Pechter

Translated by Jerrold Landau

My memories from over forty years ago of the baking of matza shmura in Dembitz will certainly add no novel ideas. Matza shmura was baked in the same fashion in all of the town of eastern Europe. So what can I add? Did the Hassidim of Dembitz follow any law or custom that was different than the rest of the Hassidim of Galicia? Nevertheless, I feel that my description will add one more line to the portrait of the generations that were annihilated, one small iota of the picture of the sublime and holy world which was woven seamlessly together with the secular life in our city, just as it was in all of the towns of Galicia.

My grandfather of blessed memory, Rabbi Chaim Schlesinger, who was the ritual circumciser (mohel) of Dembitz, would go out to a village close to town already during the harvest season in the middle of the summer, in order to visit the one Jewish farmer in that village and harvest with him from a specially designated part of his field the wheat that would be used for the matza shmura. My grandfather and this Jewish farmer were the only ones who would be involved in the harvesting of this wheat.

The wheat was harvested and threshed with holy purity, and was placed in a white cloth. This cloth was not washed with starch, as starch was actual chometz [71]. Grandfather brought the wheat home in that cloth, and later placed it in a special place in the attic of the Hassidic Beis Midrash, next to the house of the Tzadik Rabbi Alter Pechter of blessed memory. There, grandfather spread out the wheat onto well laundered white sheets with his own hands in order to dry it properly. Only between Purim and Passover, once they had dried completely, did he sort out the “heads of garlic”[72], which were also considered to be complete actual chometz, and those who were extremely meticulous in the performance of the commandments would be very careful that not one “finger” should be found among the wheat that is being prepared for the matza shmura.

At this point, the wheat was transferred with great care to Reb Yosef Levi, who was the teacher of the older youths. He owned a hand mill consisting of two round stones one on top of the other, one moveable and the other immovable. There, at the house of Reb Yosef Levi on Lakbencin Street, the grinding would take place. Grandfather and myself, his young grandson, would grind the wheat together.

I became quite adept at pouring the wheat into the hole of the moving stone during the time of the grinding. I was very careful not to G-d forbid spill any of the wheat on the ground, since this treasure was more precious than gold. The milled flour was placed again in the above mentioned kosher cloth, and we brought it back home with good luck. We tied it on a nail near the ceiling so that the active “chometzdik” hands of the children should G-d forbid not touch it.

At the night of the 14th of Nissan between mincha and maariv [73] before the search for the leaven, about twenty members of the Beis Midrash of the Hassidim would go to the nearby brook with new wooden vessels in their right hands and porcelain cups in their left hands in order to draw the “water that rests overnight” [74] for the baking of the matza shmura. This water was brought into the Beis Midrash of the Hassidim and covered over with white clean cloths.

After the congregation finished the maariv service the “water that rests overnight” was brought to the house of Reb Alter Pechter, in order to insure that no drop of chometz would fall into it. Reb Alter and his family were trusted to watch over the “water that rests overnight” as the apple of their eye.

On the next day, on the eve of Passover in the afternoon, the Hassidim would gather into a special bakery which had been made kosher and purged for this purpose several days previously, and everything was ready for the task at hand.

The “water that rests overnight”, and the flour had already been brought to this bakery. A large, long table was constructed out of boards supported on a framework. Already from morning, rolling pins made out of strong wood were brought to roll the matzot. Wooden piercers were also available to make the holes in the matzot, as well as baker's shovels to remove the matzot from the oven. Now the “holy work” of baking the matza shmura of the eve of Passover was ready to commence.

Dressed in their silk tunics and armed with their rolling pins under their arms, the Hassidim stood ready and prepared to fulfil the commandment of the baking of the matza shmura of the eve of Passover, their eyes waiting eagerly for the first dough to come out of the bowl, so that they can knead it in haste, in memory of the haste with which the people of Israel left Egypt.

As soon as Reb Chaim Schlesinger lifted up the first dough, it was divided up into pieces and distributed to the rollers, who were ordered to take care that from the beginning of the kneading until the conclusion of the baking of the matza, not more than eighteen minutes would pass, in accordance with the law. During the time that they were occupied with this mitzva, they would sing the chapters of Hallel[75] with great gusto, such gusto that we cannot imagine in our days.

As the pierced matza dough was placed in the oven, each of the rollers would call out loudly “for the sake of the commandment of matza, place the matza in the oven!” in order to goad on the baker.

At the conclusion of the baking of matza, the community would celebrate with toasts of “lechayim” on plum wine (slivovitz) that was kosher for Passover, accompanied by soft boiled eggs. They would bless each other with “Congratulations! May we do this again next year, G-d willing! Next year in Jerusalem!”. Each of the workers would be given one or two matzos as a reward for their work.

The matza shmura would be brought home in white sheets, and would be placed in a special place apart from the regular matzos which had been baked about two weeks previously.

Thus did the worshippers of the Beis Midrash of the Hassidim in the holy community of Dembitz bake their matza on the eve of Passover with humility and trepidation.

{Photo at bottom of page 56 – Reb Efraim Steinhauer, the medic}

{Page 57}

Dembitz Cameos

by Daniel Leybl

Translated by Roberta Newman

In Szkoła[74]

It cannot be said that there was great joy among the Jews of Dembitz when the authorities in Galicia began implementing the law of universal education. Indeed, it had been about a hundred years since Herz Homberg had tried to bestow upon Dembitz his German school for Jewish children, and (like in all the other cities and towns in Galicia) ran into a wall of Jewish orthodoxy and anti-secularism.

But what is a hundred years finally when faced with a stiff-necked people who keep to their own ways and tremble at any change that might lead their children astray from the path of righteousness?

Truth be told, from the outside, from the big cities--from Lemberg, for example--new winds were blowing. The Haskalah[75] had sown her seeds in Dembitz, too. A group called Shomer Yisroel, which wanted to introduce more modern methods into Jewish education, was suddenly heard of. A few young people, infected with the ideas of the zeitgeist, thought about reforms in the kheyder,[76] but they had no real influence. Kheyder remained kheyder, complete with the same method of instruction and learning introduced into these environs way back in the 17th century. And in Dembitz, of course, there was no civilized Jew who didn't send his children to kheyder. Even those who were considered practically converts. Would you pull your children out of kheyder and send them to the non-Jewish school, delivering them into the hands of the Gentiles to transform into non-Jews? True, one should know a little German, how to read and write, and a little bit of arithmetic. But for that one didn't need any non-Jewish school. It was enough that they would at age 12 or 13 study for a short while with Krantz or Liverant -- this would be enough to enable them to become a merchant and even a wealthy, successful one. For that matter, which of the big wheels in town had ever attended a non-Jewish school? May it only be said of us, too. This is the way the Jews of Dembitz thought about the matter, and the more prominent among them did everything they could to circumvent the new laws. Only it was bad that youhad to pay a fine if you didn't send your boy or girl to school. It also wasn't easy to defy the authorities. After all, it was only a Gentile school, where the Jewish child would feel alien and be not so easily led astray as they could be in the heretical schools of Jewish teacher-priests and treyfnyakes[77].

From year to year, it became easier and easier to get used to the idea that one had no choice about whether to send one's children to the Polish school. And thus, one all the more kept to the old ways in the kheyder, so that there, in the afternoon hours, the child would receive the Judaism that the non-Jewish schools wanted to strip away. All the more since it was the wealthy who were the first to give in -- they, who had the resources both to pay the fine and engage a private teacher in their homes for the Gentile subjects. And so gradually, the number of Jewish children in the Polish school grew.

First, they began to send the girls there and then they broke down and began to send the boys, too. Until it became almost a general school for the Jewish children - a type of morning supplement to the afternoon kheyder.

It was indeed difficult for the Jewish children in that school. Okay, you got slaughtered by the non-Jewish boys when leaving the schoolyard--that was nothing. You fought back, war was waged. The Jewish children would make a stand near the courthouse, with stones, on trial.[78] From there it was easier to run home or to go get help. The non-Jewish boys would station themselves across the way. And then the “shooting” would start. Much worse was the “beating of the paw” for the smallest infraction. But the absolute worst was the “potsher."[79] It was not necessary, God forbid, for the Jewish children to say potsher; however, you had to press your hands together when the Christians pray to their God. The teacher says the potsher, the non-Jewish boys hold up their hands, palm to palm, holding crosses, and say their prayer. And the Jewish children had to stand up alongside them and hold their hands evenly outstretched, palm to palm, and remain silent. This was a bitter silence, as if we ourselves didn't have a God.

And another torture: there were two very assimilated Jewish boys, who held their hands the way the Gentiles did. They looked at their lips to see if they were joining in the prayer. And later, when we had left the school building, we gave them their reckoning. And the non-Jews came to their aid, and the war raged on...

Nonetheless, it cannot be said that the realm did not see to the care of Judaism. For this, a special “religion hour” was set aside, where the “religion teacher,” Yidl Tewel, who was also the “registrar,"[80] and sometimes also the Kahal[81] secretary, had to inculcate the Jewish kheyder boys with the "Zakon bozhy,” the Five Books of Moses, in Polish, in the most abridged way possible.

The Jews of Dembitz would, no doubt, having been willing to give up that Torah--if the religion teacher, that impudent man, wasn't such a fanatic, and made the abridgement even shorter. Of course, he knew it was a pointless exercise.

Despite this, the children held a grudge against him from the first grade on. True, he didn't hit the youngest children “over the paw” with a ruler like the arithmetic teacher, the non-Jew, Berger did. On the contrary, he was nice to the children, just like Pietruszewski, the teacher for Polish. However, he was committing a terrible sin against Judaism and this the children could not forgive.

The school proper was on a small hill in front of the chapel. This was a big, two-story building with a courtyard and garden attached to both the chapel and the school. Here, all the grades learned except for the first grade. The first grade, in two divisions, attended school in the “shtube"-- a small hut behind the chapel, on the other side. Nuns were the teachers there, in heavy, brown dresses with white, stiffly starched headdresses, with crosses hanging from their necks. They were very nice to the children, even to the Jewish children, but even though they were also pretty enough, they caused us dread. They kissed the non-Jewish children on their fat hands, while the Jewish children would settle for a “curtsey” and would hold themselves aloof. In general, fear emanated from the entire corner behind the chapel. On one side were the gardens; on the other, the high wall around the chapel, at which you had to gaze up, higher and higher, until the top, over which could be seen the roof of the tower with the cross, which cast a pall over everything. Every day, Jewish children would count the bricks in the wall, to see how every day, the chapel was sinking a little because the earth could not bear the load. The Jewish children took care not to have their hats, God forbid, fall off outside in front of the shtube so that they could not be mistakenly believed to be removing their hats before the cross. And it was indeed because of that cross that the animus against the religion teacher Yidl Tewel was so great...

The cross of the chapel peeked into two windows of the first grade. The Jewish children couldn't forget this for a single minute. You want to take a look outside, see how the snow was falling, and you would see the cross; you glanced at a bird flying by, and you would see the cross. All the time. And here comes the religion teacher, who takes off his hat and stands there with bare head. This could be understood, at least. All of us, we ourselves, went bareheaded into the classroom. But then comes the worst, when the religion teacher would sit down and take attendance and would barely have begun to tell us something-- when he would get under the chair behind the table that stood near the window and you would could see only his boots and his short frock coat. Children are curious. We would bend down and peep underneath: what was he doing there? And then one witnessed a terrible sight: Yidl Tewel taking a flask out his breast-pocket, taking off its lead stopper, and putting it to his mouth: glug, glug, glug. He drank, with his bare head, and the cross peered in from outside... terrible... terrible...the hearts of six-year-old Jewish children ached at the sight of such licentiousness...

{Page 57}

Rabbi R. Ruvn's Sabbaths

When Rabbi R. Ruvn was installed on the throne of the rabbinate in Dembitz, he was still quite young. When the holy Sabbath arrived, he didn't know what to do with himself. The spirit of holiness was blocked from him and allowed him no rest.

Well, so, one can pray the Sabbath service with the full melodious sweetness of "Yoytser hameures."[61] What's so bad about that? How much can one make the Sabbath prayer more Sabbath-like than weekday prayers when the weekday prayers themselves are already a Sabbath? Let's say you peruse a holy text. So what more could you want? After all, this is what he did all week long. And would his studying suffice to fulfill the commandment? Only study, study, and what about deeds? Jews, Jews, study is not enough. One needs deeds, deeds... so what should one do?

When a Jew works hard all week long on the road and comes home from the fair to his wife and child for the holy Sabbath, it is indeed nothing but a mitsve[62] if he seeks out a taste of rest and peace. But he whose livelihood comes to him at home and who has rest and peace all week long, how will he observe the Sabbath?

Oy, Jews, Jews, it is bitter to be a rabbi, since he can't sanctify even the Sabbath in a proper way.

Once, he fell into melancholy. But he was, after all, who he was. Would he, God forbid, slip into dreaminess, close his eyes and think about what was up and what was down, when here in his house the Sabbath queen in satin slippers twirled around silently, silently, waiting for his loving glance?

R. Ruvele had been grappling with “weekday Sabbath” and “Sabbath-ness during the week” from childhood on, from when he was still living in the house of his father, the Rabbi R. Eliezer from Dzików. He was a good boy. Sitting over the gemore[63] or a muser[64] book, he swallowed the Torah. You sensed that here was a great man in the making. But on Friday night something of a spirit of rebellion would come over him. At the table, at lunch, he would barely recite a blessing over the piece of challah and fish soup that was put before him. At twilight, when his mother the rebetsin[65] brought him a saucer of broad beans from the Sabbath soup, he barely looked at it. He was on the point of something that, that.... this, this--- He waited until the beadle lit the Sabbath candles in the seven candlesticks and his father began to recite the Song of Songs, the poem of the shekhine[66] who conversed with the Holy One, blessed be He, and who is also, on the other hand, the Sabbath Queen. Now she was once again in the house of the King and not in exile. Now, by the radiance of the Sabbath light, the Land of Israel is in every Jewish home and in every Jewish home she is there, the queen. Everyone sees her as he deserves. In the home of a householder, there was a Jewish wife with a pair of long earrings and a brooch on high on her bosom: and in the home of a rabbi, a rebetsin, a paragon[67] in all her glory; and in the home of a poor man-- a quiet little wife, very charming but with tears in her eyes. One Ruvele, the son of R. Eliezer, saw the Sabbath queen as Shulamith in the Song of Songs: Mah yofu pemikh b'naalayim, how lovely are your steps in your slippers of satin... Around him he sensed her whispers: Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth--for thy love is better than wine... His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me..[68]

When his father finished the Song of Songs and the Sabbath cantors began “O come, let us sing,"[69] Ruvele swayed in his father's hisbodedus-shtibl[70] and began to dance. Dance, first in an matter-of-fact sort of way, and then much more passionately, a dance for the shekhine, the Sabbath Queen, Shulamith, and all Friday night he danced and danced, first in the hisbodedus-shtibl and later in his father's study house when the congregation had already left.

This is how he welcomed the Sabbath. And this dancing opposite the Sabbath Queen remained with him all the days of his life. On the Sabbath, R. Ruvn would dance and sing, come thunder or lightening. Even when his mother, may she rest in peace, passed away, he danced that Sabbath. He had a premonition that if he refrained from dancing on that Sabbath, it would be "Aveles beparhesia."[71] He left praying at the lectern for others, even though he himself had a nice voice for singing. He enjoyed music, he liked to listen. Because when one sings alone, one becomes too preoccupied with one's self, and aside from this become susceptible to arrogance: Ay, ay, ay, how beautifully I sing. But it was different with dancing. When one dances like he did, “All my bones shall say,"[72] one forgets one's self entirely. And even more so, when one was dancing with the Sabbath Queen, opposite the shekhine.

This kind of dancing caught on among the Jews of Dembitz. Dancing this way together with the rabbi, it was as if they were dancing into seventh heaven. Just stick by the rabbi's coat tails and you will be freed of all the worries of this bleak universe. Here, on the spot, you will be as one already ascended to heaven. After a week of bustling around at fairs and standing half -days at the opening door of the shop waiting for customers, they sensed the Sabbath, the Sabbath Queen, her fragrant breath.

And so the rabbi wouldn't remain, God forbid, alone, and God forbid fall into melancholy, they mounted watch at R. Ruvn's every Friday night. Some left for the rabbi's right after the Sabbath meal, others took a nap and took the midnight shift, and some slept until 3:00 a.m. and took the last watch. Just so the rabbi could have company when he danced.

From them, from the these long-ago Hasidim, there remains in Dembitz a saying and nign: “And a weaver in colors[73]--and lived, only lived with zest...”

They weren't lacking a zest for life, that's for sure....

{Page 59}

Skating

There were two study halls in the newer part of Dembitz: the Prostn besmedresh[82] and the Hasidic besmedresh -- both were on a small hill opposite the synagogue, but the Hasidic besmedresh was on the other side, nearer to the gulley and to the mikve[83] that was near the gulley.

During their last dozen years or so, there was already no enmity between the two. But during the course of the previous century, there was fiery enmity between them. In the Prostn besmedresh, the service was prayed according to the Ashkenazi rite, while in the Hasidic besmedresh, they prefered the “Nusekh Sfard."[84] There were also, however, simple Jews, the “Prostakes,” not to mention the outright misnagdim[85], who were not in agreement with this. They fought and fought, and sometimes even came to blows, until they went their separate ways. Prostake children at that time would sing anti-Hasidic verses: “ Hasid Loshik, take some proshik,"[86] or, “Hasid-shine, have a meyse meshine..."[87] The Hasidim put up a big, wooden study hall and observed the Sabbath on their own. Jews in both study halls would sit all day studying, especially young men af kest[88]. When the custom of “kest” began to go out of fashion, though, and young men began to gradually start working for a living, the ranks in both study halls, the Prostn and the Hasidic, thinned out--and were replaced by Gemore melamdim[89] and their kheyders. R. Binyomin Shamesh and his students studied in the Prostn besmedresh, and Blind Elishe in the Hasidic one.

Nonetheless, both study halls had one thing in common: the gulley. During the wintertime, when the gulley froze over, the town's top skating rink was at the Hasidic besmedresh, to which youngsters would come on Fridays after school, about 11 o'clock in the morning, to do a little skating--they had no other free time during the course of the entire week.

There, there was no difference between Hasidim and Prostakes, no difference between “fur coater” and “overcoater"; between short peyes[90] and long, curled “corkscrews.” There, everyone showed what they could do. When a child showed up with “skating-shoes,"[91] it was the cause for great wonder. You skated in your shoes and more than one child ruined his soles.

Indeed, the fathers' shop looked onto the skating-rink. But it did them no good. Boys who studied with the melamed from Tarnow near the marketplace took a different route home, so that their fathers couldn't spot them. They snuck down the poorhouse alley and approached the Hasidic besmedresh from the back, where the outhouse stood, open with torn-down doors, and snuck in a little skating.

When a father noticed that it was twelve o-clock and his sons were still not home from kheyder, he knew just where to find them. He stuck a willow branch[92] into his boots and set off for the gulley.

As soon as one of the gang saw him, he would let out a shout: “Zelig, Zalmen, your father's coming.” You would remove yourself to the bank and stand there calmly, trying to look entirely innocent.

Father would arrive and ask , “What are you doing here?” And you would answer: “Nothing, I'm watching.” “Did you skate?” “Me? No.” But Father wasn't having any of it. He would pick up Zelig's foot: see here, still showing the evidence of skating! And here there appeared from somewhere the willow branch, and he whipped their legs wherever he could reach! Until Father would calm down, take a handkerchief out of his pocket, wipe his junior bridegroom's tears from his eyes and the “candles” from his nose, take both of his sons by the hands, bestow a kreuzer on each of them, and together they would set out for home.

On the way home, Father would ask his sons: “Did you ever see your grandfather, R. Berish, go skating?"

At the time, R. Berish was seventy-five years old.

{Page 60}

Between Two Worlds

About the great “learnedness” of Dembitz's Jewish elite when it came to foreign languages: even though they lived in close contact with non-Jews, just as it was with their proficiency in secular matters, they would, in order not to be put to shame, tell all sorts of tall tales. Perhaps, the same kind that you told about your peers in other cities, but here, it really fit.

Honest Jews, who didn't have anything in the least to do with non-Jews, except for a “Dzien dobry” [Good morning] every now and then while passing by--Jews who kept their noses stuck in the Torah and their work all day and night and could read non-Jewish letters only from the title pages of religious books or from the signs on some of the shops--to them, this was irrelevant. They lived in a different world. For them, an encounter with the other world was painful.

About R. Shmuel the Rabbi, they say that once, before elections, the district head decided to pay him a call all the way from Ropszyce, to make it clear that the regime desired that one vote for the ruling party. This was an event of some importance, because the aristocrats were capable of causing much harm, for instance, sending in “a commission” (a sanitarishe) and levying fines for anything or everything.

That day, the Rabbi was in a considerable uproar. Boys, messengers, were posted from all the way from the bridge over the gulley to the Rabbi's house, so that as soon as aristocrats riding on a "kolyes" were spotted, someone would run to the Rabbi to let him know. And that's exactly what happened.

When the Rabbi got the message, he was overcome by terror. As soon as the door opened and the district head appeared with his epaulettes and his entourage of militia men, he grabbed a chair, carried it over to the aristocrat over by the door, and when the latter asked him: “Jak sie masz, pan Rabin?” (How do you do, Herr Rabbi?), he quickly burst out in his Polish, barely dragged up from the depths of memory: “Lie down, please...” And the rest he indicated with a gesture. Out of great nervousness, he had forgotten how to say “sit” in Polish. And this was a major failing, because the rabbi of a town such as Dembitz was supposed to be able to pass at least a fourth-grade public school exam.

The “heretics” of Dembitz could hardly wait to hear stories like that. They were also fond of repeating the story about the Rabbi's sermon on the “Kaiser's nameday.” They would never know the agonies suffered by the Rabbi over this sermon.

On the morning of August 28, there was an assembly in the synagogue with a large audience of the most elite householders in their best Sabbath outfits (a few of them in top hats, and others in their new satin hats); the rabbi; the rabbi's assistants; with the head of the Kahal[93] presiding. Soon thereafter, the non-Jewish mayor, the director of the tax board with a few “financiers,” the commander of the garrison in uniform, three militia men with “candles"[94] on their heads, Harnung, the police chief, the Sędzia (magistrate), and other dignitaries arrived in the synagogue. The Rabbi ascended the reader's platform. When the beadle, R. Leybish, banged three times on a table, the Rabbi began his sermon: “Gentleman, it has been promulgated and announced that the kingdom is having a birthday. In a chapter of the Mishnah, it is written: 'Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for fear of it men would swallow each other alive.'[95] And afterwards, he gave a translation of the Mishnah chapter, repeating himself several times, and finished up in a few minutes more with the exhortation: “May the Kaiser and all the militia live and be exalted. Now, all Jews say after, after me: exalted, exalted, exalted!"

Right after the sermon, R. Moyshe the cantor sang “Hanosen Teshu'oh,"[96] and the aristocrats approached the Rabbis and thanked him for the fine celebration...

The Rabbi looked them in the eye, not knowing if they were mocking him or if they sincerely meant what they said, the evil-doers, and thought to himself: “Oy, gotenyu, may they die as fast as possible. Is it not yet time, Master of the Universe, for the Messiah to come?"

The Barracks

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{this is the only Hebrew section of the article “Portraits from Dembitz” by Daniel Leibel, which runs from page 57 to 61.
The remainder of that article is in Yiddish.}

In the middle of the 19th century, a cavalry unit was stationed in Dembitz, which contributed in no small measure to the livelihood of the Jews of the city. The Malter family operated a special bakery for the baking of the army bread (komis broit). Others supplied meat, and still others provided fodder for the horses. In addition, many of the families of the captains included members of the Austrian nobility who were among the best customers of the Jewish stores.

The main barracks were at first in a building rented from a Jew in the corner of the market plaza. The training grounds for the cavalrymen (reitshul) extended the entire length of the area behind the row of buildings of the market. The Jewish children of the area would spend many hours at the edge of the field watching the training exercises, and on frequent occasions the captains would send the riders after them, so that they could enjoy the spectacle of the hasty flight of the payos clad youths.

Nevertheless, there was one time in the year when the Austrian captains relied on the good will of the young Jews at the edge of the field. At that time, the schoolroom (cheder) of Reb Nachum “the teacher from Tarnow”, was located in a poor clay house next to the “reitshul”. As the days of Passover approached, the students were learning the Song of Songs [76] with its heartwarming melody. As the sound of the song reached the open windows of the captains in charge of the training field, they would stop their exercises for a while and stand by the windows of the cheder in order to listen to the song. When the cheder assistant (belfer) realized that the gentiles were enjoying the singing, he would encourage the children to sing with greater strength, and the children, who barely needed this encouragement would, with glittering eyes and joyous voices, break out in song: “Shir – a song, Hashirim – of songs; all songs are holy, however this song is the holy of holies; all songs were sung by a king, however this song was sung by a king the son of a king; all songs were sung by a prophet, however this song was sung by a prophet the son of a prophet, a king the son of a king, and a wise man the son of a wise man”…

This was just the beginning. The groups of captains would begin to throw coins into the cheder: copper coins and even small silver coins. Thus did the cheder assistant receive a special reward for his efforts. The second verse began. One of the children began to sing “Yashkeini”, and the rest of the children continued “he will kiss me, Minishikot Pihu – with the kisses of his mouth”, and so on. The captains were enjoying themselves as they saw before their eyes the peyos clad, unruly, Jewish children in a completely different light – in the light of a holy song, warm and living, serious and heartwarming. They tossed in more coins, shouted encouragement, an requested an encore. This was the day of victory of the Moisheles and Shloimeles over the knights and noblemen of the Austrian cavalry.

At the end of the last century, a new, much larger barracks were built at a distance from the city nearer to the Wislok river. The contact with the city dwindled, however the captains would come to town in the afternoons, especially during the summer, to drink and engage in further levity at the establishment of the gentile Srednicki, who made his living primarily from this.

They would sit next to tables that were set up in front of the store. Since the Jewish children enjoyed watching the captains, the captains would enjoy some fun at their expense. Before they would sit down outside, they would all arm themselves inside the store with handfuls of small coins and siphons of soda water. As the children came closer, one of the captains would throw a handful of coins at them. The children would begin to wrestle with each other in the dust of the marketplace. Battles would break out over each coin. This is what the group of captains was waiting for. They would direct their soda siphons all together in one massive stream of soda water in the direction that most of the children were congregated … to the great enjoyment of the merry donors …

The simple cavalrymen, who were for the most part drafted from amongst the farmers, were not able to permit themselves to engage in this type of fun. They would have been quite content if their honorable captains would play the same stunt with them, provided that they could buy a cheap cigarette “darma” from the nearby store. They had their own fun with the officials in the corridors of the houses between the hours of seven and nine, before the evening song of the guards which was the official song of the entire city. The children would accompany them with the following words: “Reitze, if you strike her she will scream; if you do not strike her, she will not scream” …

{Page 62}

Nicknames

by Mendel Wilner, Daniel Leibel

Translated by Roberta Newman

Nicknames held a special place in the life of the town. The wealthy Jews were referred to the way they themselves wanted, but a poor man without a nickname was an exception. Sometimes the nicknames rhymed with one another: such was the case with one--Alter Skarpak, then R. Wolf Petrak, followed by Miriam Khak, Yisroel Hak[97]. One impoverished family, from among the most unfortunate, had a rhyme within the nicknames itself -- Ozhebozhe, with an echo of laughter. All of these nicknames had their reasons, though these were quickly forgotten. But the nicknames remained.

But there were also “political” reasons for a Jew to get given a nickname.

During the census in January 1911, the Zionists and the Poale Zion agitated that Jews should register not Polish, but Yiddish as their “everyday language.” This propaganda campaign was a very lively one. Standing in opposition were the Hasidim, headed up by the Rabbi, who maintained that “We don't need Yiddish.” If the district head wants us to register goyish[98], let it be goyish!

A registration-commission from two non-Jewish departments, along with a policeman as a bodyguard arrived in the home of a Jew named Moyshe and they laid out the big questionnaire sheets on the table and began to “research” the Jews. The Jew could barely grasp what they were asking him. He was a habitué of the study hall and knew maybe ten Polish words. But he knew what the Rabbi had instructed: you should write "goyish.” Outside stood boys yelling through the window, “Yiddish, Yiddish,” but Moyshe would not let himself be misled. In answer to the first question, “What is your name?,” he answered properly. The second question, “Date of birth?”, he also made it through, but when it came to the question, “Język potoczny?” (everyday language), he burst out with, “Kakalik.” What he meant to say was, that he was a non-Jew, a Catholic, and so long years afterward, that's what he was called: “Moyshe Kakalik."

It was during the elections to the Austrian Parliament that Mendzhe Leibel, a passionate, active Zionist, got his nickname: “Chłopak”.... This was on the day of the election. At the polling station police and militia stood guard to make sure that only voters would enter. But who would dream of forbidding entry to such a well-known figure like Mendl Leibel, Mendl who wandered in and out of the polling place escorting Jewish voters and making sure that they voted the way they were supposed to? The district head from Ropszyce arrived and saw this young man with only a trace of a beard lording it over the polling place as if he owned it. He asked: "Kto jest ten chłopak?” (Who is this boy?) And so Mendl Leibel remained “Chłopak."

There were also nicknames based on the role someone had played in a Purim play back in his youth. A member of the Fink family, a craftsman and a member of the Jewish community board, had the nickname, “Kaiser,” because he had once played a king in a Purim play. And indeed, he always cut a “majestic” figure, with his nice, attractive well-kept beard....

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Translator's Footnotes
  1. Esther 1:10. Return
  2. Tintenfas? Return
  3. Upholders of the Faith, an ideological and political Orthodox organization active in Galicia and Bucovina. Return
  4. In Yiddish: "Arn, barn, bokser, oyvn shteyt a doktor--untn shteyt a fas, tsen gulden knas." Return
  5. Polish diminutive for the Jewish name Moyshe, a derogatory way of referring to a Jew. Return
  6. The study hall of the common, unlearned Jews. Return
  7. Yiddish: troyer-mashlekh. Return
  8. Deborah. Return
  9. Tintenfas? Return
  10. Tahoi? Return
  11. Tintenfas? Return
  12. That is, there were no boys present. Return
  13. Study hall Return
  14. Women's International Zionist Organization. Return
  15. The word "komitet" is preferred in Yiddish. Return
  16. Again, a more German word, "kaufmanischer" was apparently used instead of the preferred Yiddish "soykhrim." Return
  17. Tahoi? Return
  18. Berl Locker (1887-1972), a Zionist leader and politician. Return
  19. Jewish emigrants to Palestine. Return
  20. In Yiddish: gemakht plitah, "made refugeehood," as in "made aliyah." Return
  21. Love of Zion. Return
  22. Immigration to Palestine. Return
  23. Study hall. Return
  24. Small Hasidic house of prayer. Return
  25. Ceremony performed at the close of Sabbath. Return
  26. Pol., mayor. Return
  27. Polish light cavalry armed with lances, sabres, and pistols. Return
  28. Adherent of the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment. Return
  29. Gershon Sholem (1897-1982), pioneering scholar of Kabbalah. Return
  30. That is, he enjoyed eating holiday foods, such as kishke, stuffed derma. Return
  31. Cantor Return
  32. Sabbath libation. Return
  33. Autonomous Jewish community board Return
  34. Teachers of children in kheyder. Return
  35. Traditional school for younger children. Return
  36. Yiddish alphabet. Return
  37. The khumesh is the Five Books of Moses; Rashi refers to the bible commentary of Shlomo Yitzhaki (1040 1105), a medieval French Jewish rabbi, considered the "father" of all subsequent Talmud and bible commentary. Return
  38. A belfer is an assistant kheyder teacher. Return
  39. Taunt Return
  40. Helper. Return
  41. Scapegoat. Return
  42. Yiddish: remeten. Return
  43. Talmud, especially the part that comments on the Mishnah. Return
  44. Wordless tunes. Return
  45. First day of the month of Elul. Return
  46. Boys demonstrated for their fathers what they had learned during the week. Return
  47. Torah prodigies; geniuses. Return
  48. The study house of the poorer, unlearned Jews. Return
  49. Beadle. Return
  50. Fur hat worn on the Sabbath. Return
  51. Teacher of very young children. Return
  52. Karl Radek (1885-1939) , a socialist leader. Return
  53. Yiddish story books, a popular precursor to modern Yiddish literature. Return
  54. German: worship. Return
  55. Branches used to cover booths on the holiday of Succoth. Return
  56. Assistant to a rabbi, charged with deciding questions of ritual cleanliness and settling minor disputes. Return
  57. The study house of the poorer, unlearned Jews. Return
  58. Opponent of Hasidism or non-Hasidic Orthodox Jew. Return
  59. Unkosher. Return
  60. A deserted corpse, burial incumbent upon whoever discovers it. Return
  61. Song sung on the Sabbath Return
  62. Good deed, fulfillment of a commandment. Return
  63. Talmud, especially the part that comments on the Mishnah. Return
  64. Ethics. Return
  65. Wife of a rabbi. Return
  66. Divine spirit. Return
  67. Yiddish: geshtel. Return
  68. Song of Songs 1:2 and 2:6. Return
  69. Psalm 95 1 : O come, let us sing unto the Lord; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation. Return
  70. Hasidic synagogue devoted to meditative prayer. Return
  71. Public mourning, and therefore a desecration of the Sabbath. Return
  72. Psalm 35:10: All my bones shall say: 'Lord, who is like unto Thee, who deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him?' Return
  73. Exodus 38:23. Return
  74. Polish: school. Return
  75. Jewish Enlightenment. Return
  76. Traditional Jewish elementary school. Return
  77. Those who do not observe the laws of kashrut. Return
  78. Yiddish: mit protses. Return
  79. From pacierz, prayer (Polish). Return
  80. In Yiddish, matrikl-firer. Return
  81. Autonomous Jewish community board. Return
  82. The study house of the poorer, unlearned Jews. Return
  83. Ritual bath Return
  84. The Sephardic rite. Return
  85. Opponents of Hasidism, or simply non-Hasidic Orthodox Jews. Return
  86. Hasid Loshik, take some powder Return
  87. Hasid, die a violent death. Return
  88. The custom of boarding with one's in-laws early in one's marriage to facilitate continued study. Return
  89. Teachers of Talmud, especially the part that comments on the Mishnah. Return
  90. Earlocks Return
  91. e.g., skates. Return
  92. Yiddish: veryibl. Return
  93. Autonomous Jewish community board. Return
  94. Slang for their headgear. Return
  95. Pirkei Avot 3:2. Return
  96. A blessing for governments and kingdoms. Return
  97. Axe or knock on the jaw. Return
  98. Any non-Jewish language; e.g., Polish, Russian, German. Return


  1. Literally 'supervised matza'. This is the specially supervised matza or unleavened bread which is baked specially for the fulfillment of the commandment to eat matza on Passover. The wheat used is guarded from contact with water from the time of harvesting. It is permissible to eat regularly supervised matza on Passover, however many people prefer matza shmura for the seder nights, when the fulfillment of the commandment to eat matza takes place. Some people eat only matza shmura for the entire duration of the holiday. Matza shmura can be baked anytime before Passover, however it is especially meritorious to bake this matza on the eve of Passover. Return
  2. Chometz is the word used for leavened products which are prohibited on Passover. Any grain product that comes into contact with water, and is not immediately baked at a high heat, is liable to become chometz. Return
  3. I am not sure what this refers to. The term is given both in Hebrew “shumin”, and Yiddish “knobelach”, and both refer to heads of garlic. It is probably refers to the inferior grains of wheat. Return
  4. The 14th of Nissan is the day before Passover. Mincha is the daily afternoon service and maariv is the daily evening service. The ceremony of the searching for the leaven takes places on the 14th of Nissan after nightfall. Return
  5. Hebrew is “mayim shelanu”, literally “water that rests [overnight]”. This refers to the law recorded in the Code of Jewish law that the water to be used for the baking of matza must be drawn the night before the baking, and left to sit overnight in order that it be the right temperature so as not to promote the leavening of the dough. Return
  6. Hallel is the song of praise, taken from chapters 113-118 of the book of Psalms, which forms part of the service on the three festivals (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot), as well as the New Moon (Rosh Chodesh), and Chanuka. According to the Mishna, Hallel was sung during the offering of the Passover offering in the temple on the eve of Passover, and this singing of Hallel during the baking of the matza was reminiscent of that. Return
  7. Song of Songs is the biblical book known in Hebrew as “Shir Hashirim”. It is recited in the synagogue during Passover. This authorship of the book is traditionally ascribed to King Solomon, the son of King David. Return


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