by Yossef Zisholtz (Tel Aviv)
Translated by William Leibner
I remember how our city looked at the beginning of the twentieth century. There were no paved roads or sidewalks and following each rain there were pools of water and mud in the streets. There were no streetlights except for rays of lights emerging from window slits or from the lanterns that were carried by the children going home from the heder or Hebrew school. There was no central water distribution, people used water from the river and from a well that was located near the city border and belonged to a non-Jew.
Near the river stood the old burned down synagogue that served the community for hundreds of years and was the source of legends and horror stories that frightened the inhabitants of Kałuszyn. The spirits and ghosts inhabited the place according to these legends. The people were afraid of the ghosts in the river and the insane on the land. Still the place attracted people
Located in the area between the mikvah or ritual bath and the old study center was the dark consecrated room for the insane people of the city. There was Sender the balie or laundry hamper since he was terrified of laundry hampers. The same Sender used to walk through the market place and collect multi colored candy wrappers with pictures of people on them. These wrappers made him happy. There also lived the abnormal Hebe who was terrified of white sleeves protruding from the jacket sleeves. Frequently, the tall insane Awraham Chaim made his appearance in the market and began to preach about the Messiah. Youngsters surrounded him and listened to his ravings about the coming of the Messiah .
Every Jewish boy was terrified of coming close to the dark room where the insane resided, yet the place was a magnet for the daring.
The same fear existed along the road to Szedlec and Wengrow. Two cemeteries were located along this road; the old cemetery and the new cemetery. From the golden letters inscribed on the tombstones, history was reflected. With trepidation and fear one took a quick glance at the tombstone of Rabbi Elhanan, then one stood in front of the big tombstone of Rabbi Elhanan's son, Rabbi Zeligel that was very close to his father's tombstone. From here one want to visit the tombstone of the wife of the Rabbi Zeligel, namely Rechel- and entire Rabbinical dynasty here at the cemetery. Whenever there was a free day, people would head to the cemetery, especially on the ninth day of the month of Av. Then we came as heroes for we carried wooden swords that were shaved by Yehoshua, Motel and Eliyahu, carpenters in the community. We implanted the swords in the graves of the great rabbis and the heroes left the place with great confidence.
The cemetery became the place of festivities during the great typhus epidemic that swept the city. A wedding was arranged at the cemetery between two insane people, supposedly this event was going to stop the epidemic. Of course the entire Jewish population went to the wedding at the cemetery where the unfortunate couple was being married between all the tombstones. The youngsters tried to be in the fore front to watch the ceremony.
The city was very Hassidic and G-d fearing. The honored place in town was the old shulhoif, the Rabbi's house where Rabbi Meir Shulem conducted his services at the beginning of the century. He was a grand son of the Saintly Jew.
There was an ample and pear orchard on the grounds of the shulhoif and the Hassidim would rest on the ground dressed in their shtreimels or fur hats and kaftans while humming Hassidic tunes.
Two wooden houses stood there; one was the house of the rabbi and his family and the other one in the court yard was the study center and next to it facing the Warsaw Street was the Alexander shtibel or small synagogue of Alexander Hassidim.
When the Rabbi Meir Shulem passed away and his son became Rabbi of Porissow, he would always come to Kałuszyn and stay for a month. Of course he would stay in his late father's house. During this stay, the Porissower Hassidim would congregate almost daily to hear torah lectures and celebrate the presence of the Rabbi in town. The organizer of these events was none other than the fiery Porissower Hassid Itche Meir Furmanski who later left for Palestine and became a construction worker.
|Meir Itche Furmanski
During this month of celebrations Awraham Weinmacher entertained the Hassidim with his musical tunes and renditions. The participants were pleased especially with the tune for the prayer entitled Eshet Hayil or a woman of valor. The Hassidim inside and outside the building hummed the tunes with delight.
In the ninth year when the old study center was dismantled in the shulhoif. All metal beams and poles were taken for the construction of the new big synagogue in the same area. Many carts hauled stones to the area to lay the foundation for the new building. The following well to do people were involved with the construction of the synagogue: Yankel Stein, Reuven Michaelson, Itzhak Munk and the Rabbi Yehezkel Shtulman. When the old study center was completely dismantled, a small study center was established where the rabbi Yehezkel Shtulman lectured daily to his group of mishnayot attendants.
The Hassidic meetings and conferences that were held at the shulhoif became famous throughout the area. As I mentioned earlier, the shulhoif was the bastion of Porissower Hassidut led by Rabbi Meir Shulem and then by his son Rabbi Yehoshuale. Near the shulhoif was another center of Hassidic meetings and their rabbis namely the house of Shmuel Miodownik who was a rich timber merchant. He had a large place with spaciousl large rooms. He also built a sizable addition in front of the house where the rabbis resided during their stay in Kałuszyn. The Rabbi of Skwernic, the rabbi of Otwock and the well known Rabbi Yehiel Meir who was known as the fasting Rabbi stayed at this house. The last Rabbi was known for his abstention from food and many a day he lived on a glass of tea.and a biscuit. Each evening, crowds of Hassidim waited to be received by him but he had to limit the number of visitors since he was very weak.
The Kalibialer Rabbi also lived near the shulhoif for a number of years. He lived in the courtyard of Dawid Ruge in 1908 before they built there the mill. I was then a student of Elimelech who was the son of the Kalibialer Rabbi.
A big building used to stand where they built the mill. The building was the synagogue of the Kalibialer Hassidim. The wife of the rabbi administered the courtyard and was an excellent host to the poor Hassidim. She often distributed the rabbi's clothing to these needy Hassidim. The Kalibialer Rabbi was once asked why he always carried a towel on his hand and he replied that his wife was a generous
person and may leave him without a towel... The Rabbi lived for a number of years in Kałuszyn and when he left the place where he resided was dismantled and the big mill was built by Dawid Ruge.
All three places, namely the mill courtyard, the shulhoif, and the courtyard of Shmuel Miodkower were part of the kingdom of the Hassidic world in Kałuszyn where the incantations of prayers and torah study could be heard in every corner.
The shulhoif was the center but there were shtibelech and small synagogues throughout the city where one heard prayers and students chanting their studies.
The Gerer, Alexandrer, Skierniwtzer, Korzenitzer, Parissower, Amshinower, Rodziner, Ostrowtzer, Minsker, Kocker, Otwocker, Sokolower, Kalibialer, and Strikower Hassidim used to travel to their rabbis on Saturdays and holidays and took with them all their troubles and problems. They hoped to meet the rabbi and receive a blessing from him. Of course many rabbis passed or visited Kałuszyn and mobs of Hassidim would await the arrival of the rabbi and surround the place of their stay in order to get a glimpse of the rabbi and possibly a blessing. The Rabbi of Kałuszyn Naphtali who was a son in law of Rabbi Zelig the son of Rabbi Elchanan also had a following of Hassidim, especially from in the nearby small hamlets. Thus Hassidic Jews would travel to and from Kałuszyn to spent with their Rabbi Shabbath or Holiday. Of course, the porters and haulers made a living and contributed to the festivities
The non-hassidic groups celebrated life in a different manner. They concentrated in studying in groups and stressed inter human relations between the members. They studied the Talmud, the Ein Yaakow, Messilat Yeshurim, Mishnayot, Chai AAdam and commentaries.
At the Bikur Cholim association, Moshale Einbinder, Welwel Tokarz, Gedalia Kaptzan and Yankele Zisholtz worried about the sick people in the city. They provided medications and sent volunteers to the homes of the sick. The Association of Haknassat Kala under the leadership of Motel Bashleger, Moshe Eibinder, and Yehoshua Lubliner helped marry many poor Jewish girls by providing them with the necessary dowry. The association of the Talmud Torah provided for the education of the poor Jewish children who could not afford to pay tuition. The Gmilut Hessed association under the leadership of Aaron Butche Shreiber, Ezriel Eibshitz, Asher Motel Aronson and Yankel Goldwasser provided short term non-interest loans to help the needy. The Hahnassat Orchim association under the leadership of the teacher Ephraim Shlief in the house of Moshe Jaworski provided a place to sleep for visitors to the city.
These associations dealt primarily with social welfare and inter human relations within the Jewish community. They were concerned with the rules of good human conduct. The Mishnayot study group was mainly an educational study group of the torah although it contained social provisions in its charter namely to help needy members who experienced difficulties, especially health problems. The study group was initiated by Rabbi Yehezkel Shtulman in his fourth year as Rabbi of Kałuszyn. The Rabbi would deliver his mishnayot lectures in the small study center near the new synagogue and the water well. When the rabbi passed away, his successor Rabbi Shmuel Kopel Kleinberger continued the lectures established by Rabbi Shtulman.
The spirit of the shulhoif and the multitude of shtibelech and synagogues greatly influenced the daily life of the Jewish community and the individual Jew who considered himself part of the community and shared the responsibility of the community in good and bad times. When a Jew was seriously sick, psalms were recited and the woman run to the synagogue to beg and pray for the sick one. They also visited the sick party and brought with them home made jams to strengthen the patient and gave all kinds of suggestions how to remedy the situation. The food delicacies and the mental advice were supposed to strengthen the patient and get him on the road to recovery.
Death of a Jew in the community was felt by everybody as our sages say: when a member of the group dies all members have to worry. Indeed, stores and workshops closed and the artisans left the hammers and scissors at the workbenches. Everybody headed to escort the funeral.
The Jews were concerned with their daily needs and worries but a funeral or a festive occasion brought them all out to share the event regardless of their individual problems. The large outpouring of the Jewish community strengthened the individual Jew who was surrounded by a sea of animosity and gave him comfort in the fact that he was not alone but a member of a group or community. The large Jewish participations at festivities and funerals reinforced the theoretical concept that all Jews were brothers and had things in common.
We can judge the brotherhood ties of the Jewish community when we recall the great fire in Kałuszyn that started on the Shabbat that was also the holiday of Shavuot. Jews from everywhere started to rush in order to rescue what could be saved from the burning places. They exposed themselves to the fire but tried to save what could be rescued for the unfortunate people whose homes were burning. If anything, this deed proved the devotion that Jews had for each other.
The Jews also devoted a great deal of their energies to planning and executing weddings. Who doesn't remember the wedding of Rabbi Naphtali's daughter? Moshale Einbinder and Welwel Tokarz riding horses preceded a procession of singing Hassidic Jews and dancing crowds of people throughout town announcing the wedding event. The magnificent set tables with the famous Polish and Galician rabbis seated next to them, the beautiful wedding gifts glittered, the music played and the city was lively during the entire week of the Shevah Brachot for seven days the young couple eat at different homes
When the son of Dawid Gelibter decided to marry an out of town girl, a large crowd escorted him to the railway station in Mrozy. People sang and danced along the road until they reached the station. Here they wished him good luck on his decision to marry. The young couple will then leave for the USA.
I shall never forget the funeral of Rabbi Yehezkel Shtulman. The funeral procession
began with people carrying the mishnayot books opened to the page of the last lecture. The crying scene of his wife and daughter at the sudden death of the rabbi was heartbreaking. I carried in my arms a young handsome orphaned boy with curled side curls. The people cried and tears were shed by the participants of the funeral. Particularly moving were the tears of the young boy whom I carried for I still remember the picture
This was not the only big funeral in the city; there were others namely the funeral of the wife of the Rabbi named Rechele and the funeral of the first wife of the Rabbi Naphtali. Old and young mourned and the women visited the gravesides to express their sorrows.
At the funeral of Itzhak Leib Goldstein, the children were the main mourners. The funeral cortege was headed by the Talmud torah students. He provided tuition for all the poor students and provided them with clothing and shoes. These children indeed lost a patron and this was seen on their faces as they were thinking of the tomorrow. Still they expressed thanks to the departed benefactor.
A terrible scene is part of my memory and always returns, namely; following Polish Independence, a Jewish couple was murdered outside the city limits. Their bodies were brought to the shulhoif and the Jewish community passed before them and uttered the famous saying: Our hands are clean and our eyes have not seen. This was one of the first signs of what Jews could expect from the new Polish government
Thus the Jewish community mourned its death and celebrated its festivities.
There were also periods when the community was embroiled in disputes and fights as to who should be the new rabbi. The arguments and fights spread throughout the shops, synagogues, shtibelech and study centers. The pros and cons lasted for some time.
When Rabbi Meir Shulem passed away, the Gerer Hassidim objected to the selection of his son Yehoshuale as the next rabbi of Kałuszyn. The disputes and arguments were heated and led the young rabbi to accept the position of Rabbi of Porissow. The Rabbi of Kałuszyn became Rabbi Yehezkel Shtulman. When the latter died, the Gerer Hassidim insisted that the position be granted to Rabbi Yehiel Meir, the son in law of the departed Rabbi Shtulman. Rabbi Yehiel Meir was also a Gerer Hassid,. and this is why the Gerer Hassidim wanted him.
There was another strong candidate for the position of Rabbi of Kałuszyn namely Shmuel Kope Hacohen Kligsberg who had been the religious judge or dayan of Kałuszyn. He was presently Rabbi in Modzic (Ivanograd) but wanted to be rabbi in Kaluszym and came to the city to give a lecture but it was disrupted. Both sides persisted in their demands and the dispute raged with no compromise in site. Finally, the Rabbi of Ostrowce accepted the post of mediator and settled the mater by appointing Shmuel Kope Hacohen Klinberg as the Rabbi of Kałuszyn. The city and all the factions accepted the mediation.
The disputes and arguments continued later but they would revolve around political parties, ideologies and rabbinical sermons.
|Horsecart near the water pump|
Jewish life flowed undisturbed for generations in Kałuszyn until a few years prior to WWI. Life consisted of work and torah study. You followed the patterns of your parents, no questions or discussions. Then things started to change in Kałuszyn.
Water used to be delivered by the water porters Zalman and Shlomo. They carried it from the river and the well. Suddenly water barrels on top of a horse drawn cart delivered water. The coachman would whip the horse and simultaneously shout Fresh Water. Then they found water in the market square and dug a well. At first, the well consisted of two big wheels to hoist the water and then it was replaced with a metal pump. By pushing the handle down and up, water would disgorge from the pipe.
The streets and passages also started to change, following the paving of the market square. And in the 15 th year, the first sidewalk was constructed that stretched from Yankel Stein's store up the hill to Shulem Zabielski- and young people could begin to promenade. Light appeared in Kałuszyn when the first gas lamp was lit next to the Christian pharmacist's house. Zalman Wassermacher was the attendant of the lamp and each evening he would pull down the lamp and light it and then pull it down again to shut it. The youngsters had a ball watching the lighting of the lamp and thought of Cahnnukah. They were mesmerized by the event and kept repeating he is coming, or he is lighting. Also the adult population took an interest in the change.
The study centers and the synagogues also started to use the gas lamps to provide light and no longer depended solely on candles. Meanwhile the building of the new synagogue progressed. The scaffolds reached higher and higher under the supervision of the building master, a Hassidic Jew named Moshe Dworah Ketches. He encouraged the workers to take time out to pray and even gave small lectures on the construction site.
Everything was changing in the city, more and more shops and workshops opened. Dawid Ruge had built a big mill next to his house and Yehezkel Hendel built there a comb factory. The dyeing plant, the furrier shops and other shops and workshops worked at full speed and provided jobs for the Jewish workers.
Later on, during the war years, Kałuszyn received electricity that completely changed the face of the city. The youth streamed to modernity. Political parties, associations made their appearances and disputes and arguments continued between them. Still the prevalent face of the city was that of a city of work and torah study. Hassidism was strong and the fear of God was prevalent throughout Kałuszyn. Jews continued to pray and study in the shtibelech and study centers. The tunes that emerged from these places indicated that Jews still adhered to their religion.
Where are all these Jews? The Hassidim, the artisans, the brides, the grooms, the Talmud torah students, the yeshiva students, the supervisors, the worshippers, the cantors, the rabbis, the dayans , the beadles, the sextons, the klezmerim? Is there a Jewish sign at the shulhoif or at the two Jewish cemeteries?
So many prayers evoked the holy land and so many times we wished each other next year in Jerusalem but so few people exercised this commandment of living in the land of Israel.
Let the souls be remembered for ever. It is a pity to waste words. Remember what was and is no longer.
By Moshe Frucht, Tel-Aviv
Translated by Gooter Goldberg
Near the river, on the square close to the old beis-medresh stood the old wooden shul . It used to be said that it had been there for four hundred years. Stories circulated about the shul, stories that sent shivers down peoples' spines.
At night people feared to go near the holy ground, since the corpses were beckoning to Torah study and woe betides those that refused the demands of the dead. The moment one heard such a call one was obliged to immediately enter the shul, ascend the balemer  and stand behind the open Torah. Most importantly, on the way out one was supposed to move backward It was related about a passer-by who heard a voice from the shul calling him up to the Torah. The man in fact entered, found on the balemer an open book, read the appropriate chapter; however, unfortunately forgot to back out on leaving and dropped dead on the spot
The old shul stood there for four hundred years and by the end of the 19 th century had burned down. The ground on which it stood remained vacant and only the fear and the stories survived.
Mordche Rimvrot in the tsarist army
The shtetl from end to end was Jewish and only on the fringes Gentiles resided.
The latter had no control in shtetl and even were in dread of the Jews.
The authorities were represented in town by a sergeant and three policemen, who hardly ever interfered in the day to day affairs. However, they were quite strict in matters of conscription; mainly they tried to ensure that people paid the soul redemption, the ransom of four hundred roubles one had to pay for not making oneself available for the draft. But even in that activity they were not always successful.
Once they were pursuing the son of Eleazar Toporek who refused to pay ransom. The sergeant and his underlings burst with drawn sabres into the room where Toporek's son was hiding. Eleazar Toporek who was a brave Jew, gave all four such a hiding that they barely got away in one piece.
Every Saturday in beis-medresh they used to make a big mi-shebarech in honour of the tsar, may his glory be exalted and the top brass used to come to be present during that prayer. On the day of the tsar's birthday and on the day of the manifesto candles were lit in the windows, flags were displayed and the street gutters were whitewashed in order to show how happy the town was. Perhaps, indeed it was, since the manifesto reduced the length of military service from eight years to five (and subsequently to three and a half).
Economically too, people managed to get by. With a cone  of sugar you could grease the palm of the sergeant and thus facilitate trade.
In town the days and years passed in peace and tranquillity. In the shtibls and chevres  people studied scripture and recited psalms. Those who were employed used to, after long hours of toil, drop in, still in working clothes, for the evening prayer. All and sundry prayed, young and old. Even the young people believed that missing a prayer invited danger: one may not survive the night. So they feared and prayed.
Rebbes  used to pass through the town, collect kvitls  from people, dispense blessings and good wishes, and collect pidyen. Itinerant preachers used to attract large crowds who listened spellbound, imbibing morality tales and enjoying the stories and parables. The town even had its own preacher Reb  Yisroel Osher, who used to affect deeply the listeners with his parables and comforting words.
From time to time there used to arrive messengers from the Holy Land, people wearing shtraymls or fezzes, who collected donations for yeshivas and for Reb Meir Bal Haness. Once a great impression was made by two Yemeni Jews who looked like messengers from the ten lost tribes  from beyond the Sambatyon River . The whole town came out to see these outlandish Jews.
The town was brimming with Chassidic shtibls, but also with chevres of the misnagdim . The chevres were called chevre bochurim . The name stuck even after the members became grandfathers.
The chevres were established by artisans: talaysim  -makers, makers of cheap shoes and clothing, pelisse-makers, wood turners. Each trade founded a chevra. Even the rag dealers who plied their trade in the villages had their own chevra.
The chevres would meet in order to pray and to study (scripture), each according to its custom the rag traders and carriers used to recite psalms, the shoemakers, tailors and turners studied Chumash  and the talaysim-makers studied the Mishnah .
The chevres were also the venues for celebrations and for a drink. When a chevra used to write a Sefer-Torah  the whole town was included in the celebration of siyum-hasefer . The chevra used to generously give out drinks and alms and the symcha  was immense. People came out on horse-back dressed up as Cossacks and Circassians, and the town musicians showed off their talents. Such festivities were conducted by merry-makers: Efroyim Shliep, Velvl Tokarz and Layzer Goy. Ahead of the musicians used to march Noah, the schnozzle. As the holy object was being taken to the synagogue, the whole town was following: at the head of the procession marched the Rebbe, followed by the Rabbi. Even the women took part and enjoyed themselves as mush as the men.
The chevra of the rag traders, who were not known for excessive Torah learning, used to write however, lots of sforim , conducted one siyum after the other and handed out barrels of wine and beer.
In 1898 a theatre troupe came to town and performed Shulamith in the fire-fighters' hall. I was then eight years old and went to see the great wonder. The hall was packed, the entire populace was already seated, and I was still standing at the door trying to find a way to get inside. One of the actors noticed me and asked me what I wanted. I explained that I didn't have the money for a ticket and he suggested that I bring a blanket needed as a prop for the play. I quickly ran and brought the item. As a reward I received a good seat in the hall and watched Shulamith with bated breath
Since then troupes arrived in town regularly. People went to the performances dressed in their finest. New forms of celebrations took hold, new winds were blowing The people from the chevres more and more raised their heads against the shtibls, Chassidim and the rebbes Not only because of Torah, but also for the sake of bread.
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