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[Page 205]

The Martyred Chalutzim
from Slobodka Leshna (1919)

I. Teitelbaum

Translated by Claire Hisler Shefftz

During the Polish-Bolshevik war in the Ukraine, a Polish division under General Zeligowski tore through Bessarabia and Bukovina and stopped in Kolomea during its winter march to Poland.

Kolomea was then temporarily occupied by the Rumanians and the border was near the shtetl Otynia between Stanislav and Kolomea.

During their stay in Kolomea, General Zeligowski's soldiers (“the wild division”, they called them) often attacked Jews. But Jewish workers organized a civil patrol and gave the hooligans quite a few beatings.

During the march to Otynia, Zeligowski's soldiers carried out a pogrom against Hachshara HaKibutza from HaShomer HaTsair which was an agricultural school owned by the Jewish Colonization Association in the village of Slobodka Leshna.

On the sixteenth of June, 1919, the hooligans killed three student Halutzim: 1) Joseph Bal- the son of butcher Moshe Bal from Franzishkaryuzifar Street, 2) Tsvi Rotenberg, the son of the restauranteur Rotenberg from Yagielanskai Street near the Post office, and 3) Shmuel Presser from Stanislav. Members of the Bartfeld family were also murdered.

The dead were brought to Kever Israel in the new Kolomear cemetery on Klebanye Street. Almost the whole city took part in the funeral. Adjoining graves were prepared for the martyred near the main entrance to the cemetery.

Even officers of the Austian army who had been former Halutzim, delivered eulogies: Lieutenant Engineer Shlomo Rores, Lieutenant

Teacher Poizer-Dresher, and an Oberlieutenant from Prague, a son-in-law of Kolomear resident Max Vaykselboim.

When the Polish army turned toward Kolomea in September 1919, the three Jewish officers who had spoken at the funeral were taken before a military court and accused of insulting the Polish people and the Polish army. The sentence was a relatively light one. Rores and Dresher were demoted to a lower rank and the Prague lieutenant was sent out of the country.

The “hero” of the “wild division”, General Zeligowski, was the same one who later, in 1920, plundered Vilna for Poland and carried out a pogrom against the Jews there.

    Translator's note:

    For another account of this incident, see Shtetl Memoirs by Joachim Schoenfeld, New Jersey, Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1985, p. 212. General Lucjan Zeligowski (pronounced Zheligovsky) is mentioned on page 221 as having occupied Wilno (Vilna). The author, born in 1895 in Sniatyn which was some miles west of Kolomey, lived in that Galician town until World War I. He provides historical background about Jews in Galicia as well as accounts of typical Jewish life in Sniatyn and his service in the Austrian army. He also describes how Jews fared under independent Poland in the years between the two world wars.

[Page 212]

The Apostate Newcomers Are Honored
and the Resident Apostate is Trounced
[a] [1]

by Shlomo Bickel

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Kolomea was a pious city. There were present, it should be understood, also a considerable number of members of the Enlightenment. However, they mostly behaved with dignity. They were enlightened, but they did not separate themselves from the remaining Jews, not with their clothing, not with their way of life and not even with the education of their children.

Even the pious associated with and boasted of the arriving Maskalim [followers of the Enlightenment], Reuben Asher, Broydes and Hersh Leib Sigheter. Reuben Asher was a sharp wit and recited witticisms, and the pious ones would often forget about his heresy because of his comments. Hersh Leib Sigheter was a splendid badkhan [wedding jester] whose humorous rhymes and curious stories were enjoyed. While his literature was close to the heart, the heretical touch in his songs and stories was disregarded and his entertaining with his jokes and with his learned insight was thoroughly enjoyed.

Hersh Leib Sigheter was, it appears, himself a little bit amazed by the mild climate he met in the Galician city. As he underlines particularly in his autobiography that when “he came to Kolomea, he was embraced by the Maskilim as well as by the scholars with great respect. In his Hungarian birthplace Sighet [Sighetu Marmatiel, Romania] he had had to endure persecutions and finally had to escape from the rage of the rabbi who placed a ban on his newspaper, Hashemesh (The Sun), and here in Kolomea, not only did they pretend not to know of the Sighet rabbi's ban, but Hersh Leib was invited to Shlomo Halfen's home on a Shabbos [Sabbath] night and he recited Torah [Five Books of Moses] to a group of scholars who scalded

[Page 213]

their tongues by doing two things at once: eating hot borscht with potatoes and laughing at Hersh Leib's jokes and badkhn–like antics.[2]

One of my uncles, who spent several such Shabbos evening meals with Shlomo Halfen and who remembered a considerable number of Hersh Leib's songs and jokes until his death, would often tell me about the famous Sighet badkhn and people's poet, who spent three fortunate years in Kolomea paradise.

Hersh Leib Gottlieb[3] already was then a Jews of about 70 and his clever, sad face was encircled with a grey beard that was cut short, which looked like a wreath of wilted greens.

– If you saw him in the street – my father said – you would never in your life think that this Jew had such a golden mouth. He had a clever, Jewish face, but his eyes showed his fear and therefore he gave the impression that this Jew must be a person who does not speak. And he was the true silent one… a fiery tongue and as soon as he opened his lips, there was the desire to laugh. To begin with, he started – it was at the home of Misnagid Shlomo Halfen – with cutting remarks about observant Jews and Hasidim. His host [Shlomo] smoothed his beard with pleasure and the sons–in–law and the sons laughed with great pleasure; and when he, Hersh Leib, felt that the audience was his, he began slowly to include in his witticisms and in his songs so much heretical poison that it became awkward to sit through it. They were ashamed to look at Shlomo Halfen, in case it was painful to him. And once – my uncle recorded in his memoir – Shlomo hit Hersh Leib lightly on the shoulders and half in jest and half earnestly said:

– You must atone, Hersh Leib!

Hersh Leib did not ask why, but turned to Reb Shlomo's son–in–law, Simkha, who was a gentle Jew, very knowledgeable about Tanakh [Bible] and a grammarian, and asked him in a totally serious tone:

– Reb Simkha, what gender is atonement, male or female?

And, as Reb Simkha, as was his manner, calmly and with an embarrassed smile answered: “Female,” Hersh Leib raised his back and covered his face as if to show despair and roared:

[Page 214]

– The devil knows! And I have so little of the yeytser–hora [evil inclination] toward her [atonement]!

Everyone laughed heartily – My father assured me – And forgot that the joke was nor only heretical, but that it reeked of quite a lot of foul language. But my father himself had surely laughed at Hersh Leib Sigheter's wisdom repeated more than 30 years later in Chernowitz [Chernivtsi].

While Reuben Asher Broydes and Hersh Leib Sigheter had so much success in the city, [other] well–known members of the Enlightenment during those years did not have such good fortune, particularly among the pious. At the same time that Reuben Asher's pointed witticisms were going around and respect was given to the Sighet heretic, Hersh Leib, Khaskl Itsik Rosenstock[4], a local follower of the Enlightenment, had to endure suffering incited by the Hasidim. Khaskl Itsik was not a source of jokes and did not dazzle with humor. He was a poor melamed [religious school teacher] in a long caftan with a shtreiml [fur hat worn by some Hasidic sects] and never missed the afternoon and evening prayers in the small synagogue. In general, he spoke little and what he thought, he never spoke except with a few chosen ones. Nevertheless, this quiet Jew drew the rage of the pious as if through human magnetism. As is said, he prayed every day in a group, but pious young people furtively observed him and “knew with certainty” that he did not even move his lips. On a Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement], when Khaskl Itsik again sat as did all Jews covered with his talis [prayer shawl] at his reading desk, the same pious young men observed furtively that the teacher was reading a newspaper. It probably only appeared that way to some since Khaskl Itsik would not dare to bring anything but a Makhzor [prayer book used on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur] to the synagogue and there never was any direct proof of heresy against him. However, the community had the holy spirit. Khaskl Itsik Rosenstock was the deepest, the most educated and the most obstinate heretic in the city.

He lived for all his years on Spinoza Street because he had great respect and love for the Amsterdam gaon [often a title of respect for someone learned in Torah] and was a complete expert on his works. Khumashim [Five Books of Moses], Gemaras [commentaries] and other permitted books lay on the table and on several shelves near the wall in the front room, where Khaskl Itsik studied with his students. In an alcove that the sun never reached and which was pitch dark, he

[Page 215]

kept his philosophical books. He usually would drop in there after the afternoon prayer and sit by the flame of a candle end and study the entire night. And Khaskl Itsik was not only interested in philosophy, he truly, breathlessly read and could not tear himself away from books about mathematics and physics.

The spirit of Salomon Maimon[5] lived in the poor religious teacher from Kolomea's Spinoza Street. Perhaps he was just as proficient as [Maimon] in Talmud and in knowledge, but he lacked the other's tempestuous boldness, the other's intellectual rigor and certainty, as well as Maimon's writer's splendor. Like Maimon, Khaskl Itsik learned German through the difficult language of Kant and Hegel and like him, while learning the language, recorded the ideas in the book with penetrating philosophical questions. However, he did not have the courage to carry his questions over the threshold of his alcove because he was afraid of losing his teaching job and he was even more afraid of the fury of the Sadagorer and the Boyaner Hasidim who, God knows why, as is said, considered him a terrible enemy. Khaskl Itsik shared his ideas with a select few people in the city. And these people, among whom was my father, connected with the religious teacher–philosopher with a deep love and with such a deep silence.

And remarkably the less we heard from Khaskl Itsik, the more he would come to pray even more and on time, so his students could better study a page of the Gemara and they were surer of his piety, and the Sadagorer enemies seethed more and more at the silent and mysterious teacher. A bit of the psychology of the police lived in the young Hasidim who were ready to destroy a criminal when his crime could not be proven.

Until one summer day, Shabbos at the third meal, when the young people in the small synagogue were overtired, threw sharp–witted aphorisms and towels at each other and did not know what to do with their energy, which gushed from their bodies, just then Khaskl Itsik Rosenstock strolled in with his stately, fine stride. It happened as such cases of mass psychosis always happen. One of the young people shouted that “one whose lack of piety brought shame to the Jewish people” had come and no one later knew when

[Page 216]

and how 10 hands grabbed the poor teacher, turned him with his face down and attacked him with lashes from yarmelkes [skull caps], blows with gartln [rope–like belts worn by pious men] and even several fleshy blows. It became a riot … Fathers uttered bitter words of reproach to their excited sons and a quarrel almost broke out with the elders, who condescendingly tried to reproach the fathers of such sons. However, two good things came out for both sides in that twilight. The Hasidim finally had certain evidence of Khaskl Itsik's heresy. How? The most secret students of the philosopher finely came out of hiding and publicly began to praise their rabbi [Khaskl Itsik], that he is just as great as the Rambam and… that he had his ways of Yiddishkeit [a Jewish way of life]. Khaskl Itsik was finished both in the synagogue and in the kheder [religious primary school]. [His] clandestine students gave the philosopher a monthly salary and he spent the several years that he remained alive in his house on Spinoza Street and occupied himself with the books of the Amsterdamer [Spinoza] and in other books through which he could better understand the five parts of his [Spinoza's] Ethics.

Khaskl Itsik now lived calmly and without concerns about income, but he could not overcome his fear of the Hasidim who had punished him previously. He rarely appeared in public and he read quietly with his visitors, as if he were whispering a secret. My father, who was one of Khaskl Itsik's close friends, once told me about an event that throws a particularly sharp light on the fear that the Hasidim inspired in the poor teacher and of the strange way of revenge with which he quieted his heart against his enemies.

My father, who after his marriage lived in a small shtetl [town] near Dniester in Galicia Podolia, always visited his rabbi when he came to Kolomea. One night – he knocked on the door of his [Khaskl Itskik's] house on Spinoza Street. The door was locked and he felt as if Khaskl Itsik was afraid to open it. He asked who was there several times and did not believe my father when he answered. The way the poor Jew fluttered around the room in fear and could not decide to open [the door] because it could be a Hasid who was pretending to be one of his good friends. In fear, he did not recognize the voice of one of his close

[Page 217]

friends and when my father finally entered the room, he saw lying on the table a copy of the excommunication against the Hasidim that the parnasim [trustees] and rabbis of the Brod kehile [organized Jewish community] issued during the large yearly market of 1772. The excommunication could not in essence have any more value for the follower of Spinoza, than, for example, In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov [stories about the founder of Hasidism]; both were for him the products of demons. Yet the human weaknesses cooling the heart led Khaskl Itsik to reread several times a year the sharp precepts against Hasidim of over a hundred years earlier, and he felt lightness in his heart [knowing] that the great–grandfathers of his torturers had received the true judgment. And perhaps this was not any human weakness, as can be seen, but really true philosophical greatness that the teacher from Spinoza Street had the rare strength to console himself with such a confused comfort as the excommunication of 100 years earlier. If those young Hasidim had possessed Khaskl Itsik's historical vision, perhaps the excommunication of Spinoza of two hundred years earlier would have been enough on that dawn in the synagogue.

However, that Khaskl Itsik was in fear when he read the excommunication and that he closed and locked the door and gate behind him, this surely was not like Spinoza… And something else also was not according to [Spinoza's] Ethics. After the teacher calmed down, he again considered if there was anyone in the room besides him and his student and, trembling violently, he began to curse with pointed, barbed curses, particularly against the Hasidim from Sadagora and Boyan.

* *


How did Khaskl Itsik Rosenstock look during my time, that is, in the years just before the First World War? Completely different, totally different. He was called Mekhl Kon and was dressed according to the latest male style. An elegant, round beard, a well cut afternoon jacket or Schwalben coat, as it was called then, and a thin cap. He did not speak Yiddish or Polish. He spoke German and read the newest novels that appeared at the book market. He was not fond of

[Page 218]

Bernard Kellerman's Der Tunnel [The Tunnel] (Kellerman was too in love with technique) and saw that the Jewish–German writer, Jacob Wassermann was marching downhill in his literature in his last work, Die Juden von Zirndorf [translated as The Dark Pilgrimage]. He was a great admirer of Richard Dehmel, but he explained to us that the profound poet–personality of our time was the young, pure one, [Rainer] Maria Rilke.

We went home from the boring literature courses that we heard in the gymnazie [secondary school] and we encountered Mekhl Kon on the street. If he was in the city, he strolled two or three times a week around noon to Mickiewicz Street and met some of his young friends there. Young Jewish students from the fifth, sixth classes seeing “Herr Kon” raised their hats with joy and approached him. He began to talk about German literature and everyone listened to him with open mouths. They first began to realize that Professor Wishniewski's course of an hour or two earlier [had taught] them nothing. Then, the master group scattered and a few, three or four young people, remained. They all accompanied “Herr Kon” home and they made an appointment to meet in the Folks–Garten [public garden]. In the afternoon, around five, they met in a side alley and Mekhl Kon opened new horizons for the students. He gave us a lecture about philosophy; he led us to [Friedrich] Nietzsche's and [Arthur] Schopenhauer's works. He criticized their ideas for us and inspired us with their language and once suddenly launched into a long speech about Hasidus. And I saw before me a miracle worker, not the kind I had read about in [Heinrich] Graetz's Jewish history and, of course, a completely different one than those that had reached me through the tradition of my enlightened family. He spoke about “wonder rabbis” [rabbis capable of performing miracles] with such tolerance and such a thoughtful love that at the first opportunity when the Vizhnitzer Rebbe came to Kolomea for Shabbos [Sabbath], several of us students went to the Vizhnitzer synagogue, mixing with the joyous enthusiastic Jews and took part at the table like true Hasidim with fervor and rapture. And something more: He told each of us something nice and interesting about our deceased grandfathers and great–grandfathers, whom he knew and woke in us a strange feeling and insight and pride in our family and for those “who had gone on the eternal road.”

[Page 219]

And Mekhl Kon was a quiet one, hidden and a timid person as once was the remarkable teacher of Spinoza Street. And he was the most effective teacher not of a generation (it was not in accord with his temperament), but among several individuals of a generation. And I think the individuals learned everything from him and that without him their private lives would have looked different, much slighter and much noisier.

  1. From the book, A City of Jews, New York, 1943 Return

Translator and Coordinator's notes:

  1. This story appears in the table of contents of Bickels's book as "The Newcomer Apostate's Honor and Resident Shpinozams – Trouncing – page 108. – CHS [Coor.] Return
  2. A badkhn is an entertainer who performed at weddings and holiday celebrations [Trans.] Return
  3. Hersh Leib Gottlieb was also known as Hersh Leib Sigheter, indicating that he was from Sighet. [Trans.] Return
  4. The Khaskel Itzig Rosenstock of this story may be the one listed in the Kolomea vital records (AGAD JRI) as Chaskiel Izak Rosenstock who died in 1900 at the age of 70. – CHS [Coor.] Return
  5. Salomon Maimon (1753–1800) was a Jewish rationalist philosopher born in Lithuania who did most of his writing in Germany. He was influenced by Maimonides whose last name he adopted as well as by a brief stay with the Hasidic Maggid of Mezrich. – CHS [Coor.] Return


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