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[Pages 87-93]

Prayer and Torah institutions
and Religious Ministrants in the town

by Yehudah Rozenwax

Translated by Sara Mages

A. The Synagogue

The synagogues, Batei HaMidrash, and the assembly of scholars were the glory of each Jewish town, and each and every member of the community was blessed with them. Indeed, in the harsh Diaspora, which sated her Jews with bitterness even during their so called days of “tranquility,” the synagogues and Batei HaMidrash were a place of “spiritual importance,” and every person poured his bitter words and his prayers in them.

Gathering next to the synagogue

Dobrzyń was also blessed with a big and handsome synagogue, which was the glory of the community. It was built in the 18th century, but for another purpose - a factory. The members of the community, who purchased it, gave it a grand look, as befits a Jewish synagogue.

Paintings, the work of artists, decorated its ceiling and its walls, and colorful stained glass windows, which drowned it with splendor of sacred tradition, adorned its windows. The colorful mosaic floor was very nice and was considered, at that time, to be a masterpiece. Above all stood the big and beautiful Aron Hakodesh, which was the focus of the worshipers' hearts.

[Page 88]

Also the women's gallery, which ran along three walls - south, west and north - was tastefully built and decorated with crystal lamps, as befits a modern synagogue.

The building itself stood on a high elevation, near the river, and was surrounded on all sides by a stone fence. The entrance leading to the synagogue was wide and astonishingly pretty.

The wedding ceremonies were held in the synagogue's courtyard, opposite the grand entrance, and the bride and groom were brought there from their homes accompanied by a large crowd. A band delighted the celebrators and a comedian scattered his sayings and jokes. Also the cantor didn't sit idle and sang in honor of the couple.

There was also a choir in the synagogue that accompanied the cantor in his prayer, and as it was proper and required, a conductor conducted it. I now recall two members of the choir who were its pillars: Moshe Schlesinger who now lives in the United States, and my late brother Yitzchak of blessed memory.

B. Beit HaMidrash

Beit HaMidrash served as a place for prayer and a place to study the Torah and the Gemara. They gathered there three times a day to pray, and studied the Torah in the hours between Mincha and Ma'arive. Most of those who came to Beit HaMidrash were craftsmen and just Jews, who came to pour their emotions, listen to a commentary on the Torah in order to forget their poverty, sufferings, and daily concerns.

On the Sabbath, the preachers preached before the congregation. Many times, preachers and scholars, who weren't local, appeared in Beit HaMidrash and managed to gather a large crowd who drank their words of wisdom and their teachings.

Indeed, the religious subjects that were studied together, were seasoned with words of morality. They pulled the hearts, warmed them, and awakened the community members to perform good deeds - to take care of the poor and the weak.

Beit HaMidrash was a gathering place not only for prayer and Torah study, but also a place for secular conversations, when everyone sought the closeness of the other and natured together their confidence and faith.

Beit HaMidrash, like the whole town, was erased from face of the earth by the malicious hand of the wild beast, Hitler's soldiers and their defiled helpers. The magnificent synagogue was also destroyed, and the cruel hand didn't skip the cemetery. Again, there is no marking on the graves of our beloved parents, brothers and sisters…

[Page 89]

C. Rabbis and Slaughterers

The Rabbinate was a very respectable position in the Jewish towns, and the rabbi had a significant influence on the community's life. Therefore, it is not surprising, that the election of a rabbi served as a debatable ground between the various sectors of society - especially among the Hassidim who belonged to different rabbinical courts.

And so it was in Dobrzyń that her Hassidim belonged to various rabbinical courts: Gur, Aleksander, Otvosk and more. Each group wanted to appoint one of its members as a rabbi, and that caused quarrels, strife and hatred, and soured the atmosphere in the town.

I remember the running around and the intensified struggle in our community after the death of Rabbi Sonabend, the righteous of blessed memory. Various rabbis appeared before the public with their sermons, to show their strength and their knowledge, because this is how a rabbi was examined. Due to these quarrels, the town was left for a long period of time without a leader. In addition, it wasn't easy to find someone worthy to assume the high office after HaRav Sonabend, who was one of the great Torah scholars of his generation.

The situation worsened when two rabbis, who didn't receive the community's appointment, settled in Dobrzyń. Even when I left the town, in1925, on my way to Israel, there was still chaos in the town and a new rabbi wasn't elected.

Also the appointment of the slaughterers was accompanied by a struggle between the various Hasidic groups, each seeking to appoint one of their members. Indeed, tempers flared, from time to time, because of such natters, as if the members of our nation didn't lack worries, troubles and suffering, that were their lot in the Diaspora…


[Page 90]

The Jewish Education in Dobrzyń-Golub

(The “Heder”, the “Melamed”-the Rabbi, and the advanced teacher)

Shmuel Meiri (Miniwski)

Translated by Sara Mages

“If you have learned much Torah, do not take credit for yourself---it is for this that you have been formed” [Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter 2:8]. This view, which saw the highest value of Torah study, was the guideline for the Hassidic education that grew and developed in Poland in the first half of the 19th century.

The teaching language in the old “Heder” was Yiddish, and the Hebrew language - the “Holy Language” was only a secondary study, because it was only intended for prayers by the “ordinary people,” and for understanding the writings of the Holy Scriptures. The girls didn't go to school, and only later a separate school, “Beit Yakov,” was established for them.

Dobrzyń was renowned for its large number of old style “Hadarim,” which were intended for students from prestigious rich families, or for students whose parents belonged to the “Shtiebelekh” of various rabbis.

A daring step to change these “long-standing practices” and the ancient tradition, which took root in the old “Heder,” with all its faults and benefits, was done at the beginning of the 20th century with the establishment of “Heder Metukan” [“Reformed Heder”] by a small group of dignitaries from the city of Golub. This “Heder” was much more advanced, the study of the Hebrew language was added to its curriculum, and the teachers paid attention to the national-religious education. However, the existence of “Heder Metukan” was a bone of contention between the city treasurers and its leaders. Many of them saw it as a “dangerous Heder,” improper, wasteful and non-Jewish in its nature. They boycotted it and fought against it with bigotry, war to the death…No wonder that the “Heder Metukan” couldn't hold out, and again, the old “Heder” for the children of the poor and the needy, remained in control.

According to tradition, at the end of the “period,” during the intermediate days of Passover or Sukkot, the rabbi ran around, knocked on the doors of the parents, the masters and the benefactors,

[Page 91]

to get new students. The “Melamdim” [teachers] received tuition for each “period,” and extra gifts for the holidays and festivities. The sons of the rich studied individually, sometimes with teachers in their own homes. However, the primary educational institute was the “Heder,” which was located in the rabbi's home. The studies started early in the morning and continued until nightfall. The rabbi maintained a strict discipline and used punishment to deter those who violated the discipline, without all the educational measures that are in effect today.

The students of the “Heder”- “Yesod Hamala

From the right: Schlechter, Yehoshua Flusberg, Alter Piaskowski, and Avraham Natan Postolsky

However, when we look back at the education in the old “Heder,” which have become the laughingstock of the intellectuals of the previous generation, we have to admit that this “Heder,” with all of its faults, was the forefather of the new school, in all of its forms and phases, in the Diaspora and in Israel. After all, it was the very basic concept of the elementary school. If not for this “Heder,” the children of the ordinary people wouldn't have studied the Torah. As it is says in the Gemara about Yehoshua ben Gamla who ruled: “There should install teachers of small children in every district and town, and they should bring him at the ages six or upward…at the beginning, the one who has a father learns the Torah from him, and the one who has no father, won't learn the Torah…”

The old style “Hadarim” were located in the various Batei-HaMidrash of the Alexander and Gur rabbis, next to the synagogues, and mostly - in the rabbi's house. From early morning, young children, destitute children, and just

[Page 92]

Jewish children sat and learned the Torah and the prayers from the “Melamed” [teacher]. The textbook was the Siddur, and the studies merged with the prayers, which were said on the spot. It was a traditional religious education, in the holy language which was translated to Yiddish.

It is my duty to mention one old “Heder,” the exemplary “Heder” of my relative, Rabbi Meir Fajwel, son of Yehudah Bromberg of blessed memory, who was a biblical scholar and an inspiration. He had a deep and sincere love for the abandoned, lonely, and the orphaned child. Innocence, nobility and greatness merged in him, in the modest R' Meir Fajwel, who taught the Torah in his “Heder” to the children who came from poor homes, and if not for him, they wouldn't have learned the Torah at all.

The headstone on his grave, in the old cemetery, is unique in its Hebrew style and content, kind of a tender elegy written in the language of our ancestors. It testifies to the magnitude of his soul, and the modesty of a person who dedicated his life to teach the Torah to the children of the poor.

The wife of Rabbi Meir Fajwel, Rachel Leah the “Melamedet” [female teacher], was a special person in the history of female teachers. She was endowed with special lofty qualities, and was her husband's helper. Indeed, she rewarded him well all of her life and it can be said that: “Her value is far beyond pearls, her husband's heart relies on her and he shall lack no fortune...” She divided her food between the hungry school children, who crowded in the room, dressed them and fed them.

I remember the time when the rabbi called his wife, the “Melamedet,” to help a slow student. She sat him down at the table, that a Siddur was placed on, and whispered in a calm motherly voice “My child, if you learn well, the good angels will come to serve you! And now repeat Aleph-Bet-Gimel.”

After the death of her husband she continued his life work as a “Melamedet” with great success.

Her three daughters; who absorbed the value of Judaism and love of humanity in their home, took care of sad incurable women, who were left widowed and lonely.

Their daughter, Pessie Bromberg, married the teacher Yitzchak Yakov Lewiston, a progressive teacher who taught in the Polish State School (a great achievement for a Jew in those days). He taught the Russian and the Polish languages to the Jewish children, and also taught various religious and secular subjects to the students who came to his home in the afternoon.

[Page 93]

He used to open the school day with the song: “Children, we have gathered at school…” Of course, he was an excellent teacher, who projected his charming personality on his students. His body was weak, but his teaching ability was excellent. He wore a modern hat on his head and a small thin beard covered his pale face.

Many of his students are in Israel today, and some of them immortalized the community in this memorial book. Even today, they still remember his lovely, gentle and charming image and remember him with admiration, because his heart and his home were always open for them.

These teachers, and others like them, laid the foundation for the progressive schools. Afterwards, these schools were a source of inspiration for Judaism, and undermined faith in the Jewish nation and the Land of Israel.

A class at school

 


[Page 94]

The Beginning of the Establishment of the Bund[1]

by Yaakov Gorni

Translated by Allen Flusberg

Note by translator: in the original, this article appears to be a translation, into Hebrew, of the Yiddish article appearing on pp. 298-299 of the reference cited in Footnote 1.

 

Translator's Footnote

  1. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn-Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn-Golub Society, Israel, 1969), p. 94. Return


[Page 102]

The Sholom-Aleichem Library[1]

by Chaim Lord

Translated by Allen Flusberg

The library in Dobrzyn, which was named after Sholom-Aleichem[2], served as the cultural and social center of the town. Several evenings every week, when the library was open, the young people would gather there. Sometimes it was just to spend time together and have friendly conversations; at other times it was to browse through books in the reading room; and at still other times it was to attend either a lecture or a debate on some contemporary issue.

However, it is difficult to describe the cultural and social activity of the young people in the town without referring to the library. It was there that they got together during evenings; it was also there that those who thirsted for knowledge—but did not have the means to study in a large city—acquired their education.

The library began as a covert facility in a time when libraries were regarded with suspicion by the Czarist regime of Russia. And indeed, in those days nationalist and social activity was associated with acquisition of knowledge, with reading the works of thinkers and revolutionaries whose writings were forbidden throughout the Russian empire.

At first the books were collected from various donors, particularly from the Folkists[3] and members of Poalei-Tsion[4], who had purchased them in Warsaw and Lodz and had contributed them to the library. As time passed the number of books ballooned. Most of them were in Yiddish and Polish, and later many were in Hebrew as well.

Fein, who was one of the Jewish communist activists in the town, ran the library, organizing it into various departments and guiding the readers with his advice. Sitting nearby to help him were: Menashe Florman (a Tsioni-Klali[5]), Meir Kaszczenowski and Shimshon Abramowitz (of HaShomer HaTzair[6]), and Eliezer Zelikowski (of Poalei-Tsion).

The library relied on a monthly membership fee, which gave members the right to borrow books and to participate in the various cultural activities that took place in the library auditorium. In addition, there were donors who supported the library with their contributions.

When I took over the administration of the library it already had more than 3,000 books and dozens of daily newspapers, as well as weekly and monthly magazines, that we received from various cities and countries. There were more than 100 members—a substantial number for such a small town—who were paying the membership fee every month.

Within this collection one could find works by the Yiddish writers Mendele Mocher-Sforim[7], Sholom-Aleichem, Peretz[8], and others. There were also translations into Yiddish of books on political economics, Marxism, etc.

I recall the library auditorium that was decorated with photographs of Sholom-Aleichem, Mapu[9] and Bialik[10]. This auditorium had about 200 seats in it. Here—particularly on Saturday nights—we held cultural evenings that were dedicated to book reviews or to literary discussions. For example, one evening was dedicated to Peretz Markish[11], while another was dedicated to Oscar Wilde's work, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

In the auditorium we also had many meetings that were dedicated to Zionist activity, whether to organize the distribution of shekels[12], or to hear a report from the Zionist congresses, or to hear from a delegate who had recently been in the Land of Israel what was happening there.

No one knows what became of the library during the Holocaust period. Most certainly it was destroyed, sharing the fate of the synagogues and Houses of Study of the town.

 

Movie night to benefit Keren Kayemet[13]

Right to left: Yechiel Fogel, Freida Gorny, Tziporah Alberg, Azriel Dobraszklanka, Itta Rappaport, Lidzberski, Shmil-Baruch Rusk, Esther-Freida Frum[14]

 

A letter sent by the administration of the Sholom-Aleichem Library
in Dobrzyn to Wolff Lichtenfeld in Chicago.
[15]

 

Translator's Footnotes

  1. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn-Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn-Golub Society, Israel, 1969), pp. 102-104. Return
  2. Sholom Aleichem was the pen name of the famous Yiddish author Sholom Rabinowitz (1859-1916). Return
  3. The Folkists supported a Jewish cultural nationalism, with Yiddish as the national language of the Jews, within the countries of Eastern Europe. Unlike the Bundists (whose platform was otherwise similar), they opposed Marxism and socialism. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folkspartei. Return
  4. Poalei Tsion = Workers of Zion, a Zionist Marxist-socialist organization and party (Labor Zionists). See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poale_Zion. Return
  5. Tsioni-Klali = General Zionist, a Zionist party that was not affiliated with either the Social Zionists or the Religious Zionists. In the 1930s it split into two factions, one favoring cautious cooperation with the British in Palestine and the other advocating stronger opposition. See R. Medoff and C. Waxman, The A to Z of Zionism, “General Zionists” (Scarecrow Press, 2009). Return
  6. HaShomer HaTzair = The Youth Guard, a secular socialist-Zionist party that encouraged Jewish immigration to Palestine and communal living in kibbutzim. See the following link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashomer_Hatzair Return
  7. Mendele Mocher-Sforim =Mendele the Book Peddler, the pen name of Sholem Yaakov Abramovich (1835-1917), the first Yiddish novelist. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mendele_Mocher_Sforim Return
  8. I. L. Peretz (1852-1915) was a Yiddish-language author and playwright. See the following link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I._L._Peretz. Return
  9. Abraham Mapu (1808-1867) was a Lithuanian Jewish author who wrote the first Hebrew novel. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Mapu. Return
  10. Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873-1974) was a poet who wrote primarily in Hebrew. See the following link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayim_Nahman_Bialik. Return
  11. Peretz Markish (1895-1952) was a Yiddish poet and playwright who lived in the Soviet Union. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peretz_Markish. Return
  12. These “shekels” were symbolic banknotes that were sold throughout all Jewish communities. Purchasers obtained the right to vote for delegates to the Zionist Congress, while the number of delegates from each country was determined by the number of shekels sold there. The money raised by the sale supported Zionist activities. See the following link: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Zionism/shekel.html Return
  13. Keren Kayemet (Hebrew) = Jewish National Fund, an organization that purchased and developed land in Palestine for the settlement of Jews there. See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_National_Fund Return
  14. From p. 103 of reference cited in Footnote 1. Return
  15. From p. 104 of reference cited in Footnote 1. The letter, handwritten in Yiddish, reads as follows: Sholom-Aleichem Library, Dobrzyn on the Dreventz, August 8, 1922, to Mr. Wolff Lichtenfeld, Chicago. In the last committee session of the Sholom-Aleichem Library, we passed a resolution to contact members of ours who are now in America. We are now suffering a severe financial shortfall, which is making it difficult for us to develop the library, the only cultural institution in Dobrzyn, without support. We are therefore kindly requesting that you collect donations from among our members and other sympathizers whom you know, and that you send this money to us as quickly as possible at our return address. We are arranging that you may also send it to the address “Riesenfeld Golub”, for the “Dobrzyn Sholom-Aleichem Library”. With the hope that you will fulfill our request as quickly as possible, respectfully, (signature).Secretary, Sholom-Aleichem Library. Return

 

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