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[Page 149]

Rabbi Dr. Mordechaj Fogelman

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau

Translation edited by Hillel Kuttler

 

Rabbi at the Vatican

Engraved on my uncle's gravestone , among other things, is this: “He loved every person of the Israeli people. He loved every letter of the Israeli Torah, and he loved every stone of the Israeli land.” And this is not just a manner of speaking. Those who truly knew him can tell that there is not the least exaggeration in these simple words, and that everything is meant.

Perhaps a few episodes from his life, pictures and stepping-stones connect to a random puzzle I can figure right now. Imagine a rabbi, in terms of Chassidic appearance, davening wearing a Chassidic sash, and his entire look is of an old-days' rabbi. Picture him seating, leaning over a unique manuscript at the Vatican's library, conversing with one of the cardinals who was surprised to see this figure in the library.

Rabbanit Bella Fogelman Rabbi Dr. Mordechaj Fogelman

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The cardinal doesn't know what language to address him in, but this rabbi can actually talk to him not only in Italian, but in Latin as well, and not only Latin, but also in Greek. It seems like the cardinal knows Hebrew, and he invites the rabbi to lecture for the Vatican's priests, in Latin, about Maimonides' philosophical teachings.

The library was his life's focal point, where the lights were on every night until 2 a.m., and then again from 6 a.m.; this library was his treasure; and it was loaded with thousands of sheets of papers, covered in his handwriting.

He had an amazing memory and astonishing familiarity with his books. When he was teaching, or studying for himself, he was careful to keep a sheet of paper and write down every idea, question, comparison or thought that came to mind. The books were filled with these sheets, and it seems that, given the years of thorough work, it was possible to extract a whole, new library from these collected remarks.

He published a book dealing with branched commentary on the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), and in the prologue stated that this essay is based on 12 years' work, the years he spent as Katowice's rabbi. The original manuscript was lost in Poland during the war, and as far as we know none of it survived the fire. Therefore, the creation presented in his book, and the thousands of written papers, are in fact a genuine Israeli creation.

I see these pictures of a Jew teaching Torah in the small community in Kiryat Motzkin until it becomes a city. His routines were the same through 45 years of rabbinic service: a lecture every morning after prayer, and Daf Hayomi (daily page of Talmud that is learned in order throughout the year) class very evening, and accompanying the youth – especially bar mitzvah boys, tens of them appearing in his house for the old-fashioned weekly lecture in Talmud every Sabbath afternoon.

Whoever hears these stories might think that he was merely a man of books, submerged in his studies and nothing else. But the most unique thing about Rabbi Fogelman was the fact that all this was just a part of his rich personality, as emotionally primary as it was for him. As humble a scholar as he was, he remained a man of actions, a community leader as dynamic as one could be.

The idea of the Sabbath and its legal validity was loudly and widely discussed then in the Israeli public, and a part of this discussion was the question of public transportation during the Sabbath. A new train line, Israel's first railway line, is to be opened near his town, and is destined to work during Sabbath. This quiet and humble man takes a bus to Tel Aviv and goes to visit Israel's first minister of transportation, the late David Remez. He stands before the minister, crying like a child: “I feel like the rabbis in Europe, pardon the comparison, who had to visit the Polish prime minister and beg for mercy against anti-Semitic laws. Do I have to come to you, a minister in Israel's government, and ask that Israel's trains be shut during Sabbath? Is this what we've been waiting for all these years? The State of Israel is not a company or a cooperative. It belongs to the government of Israel, and bears the name of Israel.” He spoke about state and government, and he cried. The minister called his secretary and

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told him to instantly cancel the train's published schedule and prepare a new one that does not include travel on Sabbath. I can't forget how excited my uncle was when he told us how Remez put his hand on his shoulder and told him: “I'm afraid you will soon miss my type of heretics.”

This was not the last time he struggled over the traditional Jewish character of his country; some of these struggles were in his town of residence, Kiryat Motzkin. When public buses were supposed to pass through it during Sabbath, he organized a major prayer rally on Sabbath afternoon, after which hundreds of people went down to the main street. He took off his talith and spread it on the road, and so did the others. Obviously, the bus drivers refused to drive over them, and they stopped. Ever since this Sabbath, no buses drove through Kiryat Motzkin during the Sabbath. Another rabbi could have perhaps made a fuss about it, but he was a rare character: a humble and moderate man in his opinions, never looking for a conflict. The opposite was true – he was never persistent about anything to do with his personal honor and status, yet wa decisive and resolute when it came to values and Jewish foundations, such as education and Sabbath.

Religious educational institutions in town were completely his and his wife's initiative. On our way to the synagogue, the rebbetzin would look for Sabbath candles on window sills, and when she saw any, she told us to memorize the addresses. The following week, she would return to these addresses and ask if they have young children. She explained that she's about to open a religious “Omen” kindergarten, and how beneficial it will be for the children to learn a little about themselves, to absorb Jewish values and so on. “Omen” – today “Emunah” – was the Mizrahi Women Organization of which she was a member. From this humble beginning, this 25-children kindergarten later evolved into a network of religious kindergartens, an elementary school, and a girls' seminary (“Segula”) as well the Bnei Akiva yeshiva, “Perach Aharon.” It is indeed hard to find a leadership that is so broad and involved in its community's every aspect of life.

The library is not only large in numbers, and not only valuable. Emotionally, it is immeasurably dear. It was not just a library in the rabbi's house; it was in his heart. There is no book in here he did not know, not a page he didn't read or a line he did not study.

Rabbi Fogelman was born on the Jewish New Year's Eve. He escaped from Katowice at the same time of the year, taking in his handbag only his mother's Sabbath candlesticks, a talith and tefillin. That's what a refugee who left an eight-room apartment took with him. In this bag were his most important books, like his four-volume Shas, which is what he wanted to escape with. I assume that these books are still here in this library now. They should be, for they are the foundation of it all.

(From a speech given at the opening of a library named after Rabbi in Tel Aviv)


[Page 152]

A Jew of Vigor

Rabbi Iser Frenkel

Translation edited by Lisa Newman

Rabbi Fogelman was a Jew of emotion, and when he happened to visit here during his last years; he would fill with joy simply because he is walking in a lively, crowded neighborhood. So many words held a historical context for him- walking through Bavli street, suddenly remembering it's full name is “Talmud Bavli”, and a few steps ahead finding oneself in the street named “Talmud Yerushalmy ”. And here is his daughter, living in Kosowsky st.- named after another great Rabbi, And here he is walking into Tosefta street. These are his words, not mine. He was full of enthusiasm at the fact that every street he walks down in this neighborhood carries in its name meaningful historical and emotional messages that were clear to him. This enthusiasm probably explains the decision to move his private library to this location.

(From a speech given at the opening the Rabbi Fogelman Zt”l Library in Bavli neighborhood, Tel-Aviv)


A Unique Rabbi

Att. Israel Tajtelbaum

Translation edited by Lisa Newman

I recall a few incidents involving the actions of Rabbi Mordechaj Fogelman. As a Rabbi, his prime mission was to spread and support torah, and he saw a special challenge to him in teaching the Jewish youth and bring them closer to the values of Judaism. In order to accomplish it, he set himself as the patron of the Hebrew “Talmud Torah” boys' school in Katowice. He was constantly in contact with the administration, and participated in all the celebrations, ceremonies and events. I remember many times on which select students were invited to his fancy apartment. I remember the impressive library. I was invited there myself not once, with a group of other boys- the Rabbi tested us on the material we learned in school, and prepared us for future issues and subjects we were about to deal with. I must mention that Rabbi Fogelman was also giving lectures in high schools that taught in polish, if there were any Jews studying in them. the classes were defined as “Religion” lessons.

I can recall from my childhood the Rabbi's speeches, given in many languages- Hebrew, polish- specially on Sabbath, when he spoke about current events or the weekly Parasha.

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I remember many get-togethers on Poland's national holidays, on which all of Katowice's school kids would come to the synagogue and a ceremonial prayer was held, after which rabbi Fogelman gave a speech in his fluent Polish- so fluent it would regularly amaze the polish governmental officials, the mayor and the district's governor.

I had my bar mitzvah at the great synagogue, and was merited to receive the Rabbi's blessings. I tried to keep in touch with him all along. When I was in Israel, I was corresponding with him` and when my eldest son turned 13 years old, I invited him to our celebration. I wrote to him a detailed letter, telling him what I was up to in Katowice, the destruction, the burning of the synagogue. Rabbi Fogelman answered that despite his age and defected health, he cannot turn me down. Him, showing up at the bar mitzvah party was an exciting, unbelievable sight, especially o all those original Katowicers who hasn't seen him in 40 years.

I remember the way he would start a Jewish-oriented project, which wasn't an everyday thing: Katowice was never known as particularly religious. He led the public Sabbath afternoon service at the great synagogue, and tens of boys and girls would come to participate and actually run the service on their own, in his guidance.

The Rabbi's house was always open to those seeking his advice or aid. I remember how, as a small child in 1938, Jewish refugees arrived Katowice from Austria after the “Anshlus”, and he started and led an exclusive committee purposed to help them.


A synthesis of a scholar and a researcher

Dr. Naomi Goldfeld-Fogelman

Translation edited by Lisa Newman

The most dominant reason to open father's library to the public is that both Yishayaho and I are only children of survivors' families/ he came from a Zionist family from Czernowic, and his grandfather was one of the local Mizrahi leaders. I felt obligated to keep the library as a whole, single unit as to match father's will to contribute to the community, a contribution of spiritual values to enrich it members. As there is no library of this special type in the area, I found it natural to place in the center of Bavli's community. I remember how much father appreciated this synagogue, how happy he was to linger here every time again, and get to know its streets unique names.

At first, I was thinking about figuring an ancient, unusual name for the library, which was “Knesset-Midrash”, a combination. It appears in an early 12th century kabala book, in a description of a Jewish community in Spain. But a place named “Knesset Midrash” on a street named “Knesset Hagdola” is fairly too much. Even simply “Beit Midrash” is a rather specific and obligatory name.

I would like to quote the Rambam, who stated that: “sleeping is not allowed in Beit Hamidrash. If one does that, his wisdom will be torn to pieces. And one shouldn't talk in Beit Hamidrash, except about Torah. Even if someone sneezes, one shouldn't say to him 'bless you' and the rest is obvious. The holiness of Beit Midrash, a hall devoted to studying, is greater that the holiness of a synagogue.”

As I was working in Ropme's Jewish community library I found a copy of a journal dated in 1927, published in which was an article by the young professor Fogelman, titled “Synagogues”. He then analyzes different concepts that are part of the synagogue's essence.

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As this pace is purposed to be opened to the public, we decided to call it simply “A library and research institute”. This is not a lending library- it is meant to be a place where people can find a quiet corner where they can meet, think, give and listen to lectures, and research.

His library is in fact a symbol of continuity, of the revival given to these boxes of books buried in Katowice's Jewish cemetery in 1940. it's a symbol for re –construction as an integral part of the community center in Bavli. Visitors to my parents' graves in Kiryat Motzkin were able to see there a memorial stone dedicated to family members who were murdered in the holocaust. It was a part of our daily education.

In this hostel that was called “the home of Mordechaj and Bella”, a home that was dedicated to memory of 6 millions, they history of their generation was kept as a symbol of Judaism, Zionism and humanity.

And then there are my parents' books: Mother's book, titled “from my family's home to the present”, an autobiography written with simplicity, telling the story of life in Poland, of friends and family, and the happenings that followed the holocaust, and father's book. His book “Beith Mordechaj” won with the Tel Aviv Municipality Kook Award, and it truly reflects his literate, historical and philosophical education and his scientific approach to the Jewish ancient resources.

The inaugaration of the library in the name of Rabbi Fogelman called the “Mordechaj and Bella House”
Seated from the right: Rabbi Isser Frenkel, Rabbi Y. M. Lau and Dr. Dr. Naomi Goldfeld Fogelman (speaking)
21 Jan. 1988 - 2nd Shevat 5748
The inaugaration of the library in the name of Rabbi Fogelman called the “Mordechaj and Bella House”
Speaking: Attorney Israel Tajtelbaum
Seated: Rabbi Isser Frenkel, Rabbi Y. M. Lau

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This is a harmonic synthesis of a learned scholar and a researcher. He was fluent in many languages, in addition to Greek, Latin, German, Italian, Polish, English, Yiddish and on top of it all- he was a man of Hebrew. It is reflected in the clear, coherent Hebrew of his book.

He spent some years in Florence, where he traveled after graduating in Switzerland, inspired by Rabbi Tzvi Perez-Vhjayet who was also his mother's teacher at the Hebrew academy in Vienna. In Florence, father wrote his PhD work in Italian, which was dealing with “the organization of Jewish communities in Palestine during the first centuries AD”. In the introduction he writes that “the Israeli people is now beginning to rebuild Palestine, which never ceased to be the ground of its past and its whole existence, the soil on which its national life took place”. It was in 1925. “We learn from world history, how our reality was not created from a vacuum, 'una creazione ex minimow”. Therefore, his research has more than simple archeological research importance, but a substencial practical value. We are now re -creating Israel's Jewish community that was his guideline. I think that his book, “Beit Mordechaj”, which actually ran out, should reach more young people, because it is so readable. You can read it, understand it, and there's nothing threatening in the fact it is actually a compilation of questions and answers in Jewish law and Halacha.

(Spoken at the inaugaration of the library in the name of Rabbi Fogelman, in the Bavli neigborhood in Tel Aviv on the 2nd of Shevat )

January 1988 - 2nd Shevat 5748
The inaugaration of the library in the name of Rabbi Fogelman called the “Mordechaj and Bella House”. Invited guests
January 1988 - 2nd Shevat 5748
Dr. Noami Goldfeld-Fogelman, Cila Katriel (Hoppen)

kat156.jpg [37 KB]
The large eight armed candelabra which was located in the Great Synagogue until it was burnt down. The candelabra was found and purchased by Rabbi Tsnin in 1960 from a antiques trader in Vilna for $20,000 and nowadays is displayed in the Chabad Synagogue in Los Angeles. At its base of the candelabra is a stamp of the artist “Rusa”. Rabbi Tsnin serves as the head of Chabad on the west coast of the USA

 

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