A. Yeshiva or Concentration of Heders
Because I studied at the yeshiva in the heder of Tuwja Wolozin at the edge of the city, I knew it well. The way to the yeshiva led from Mlynarska Street (Mlyna Street), a sad, undeveloped street intersecting Cyganska Street, where a few single story buildings for soldiers stood. A Russian or Jewish soldier with a rifle stood guard there. More than once, I gave the soldier on guard duty some of the food my mother gave me.
The way to the yeshiva always awoke dark fear in me, especially in the evenings. I breathed more easily when I reached the flour mill of Icel Sojka (which stood not far from the yeshiva). The echo of its machines' strokes did not cease all night. It was always lit by electric light, a new phenomenon in the city, especially on winter evenings when we went home late at night. The mill's lights guided us on our way.
Who established the yeshiva and why is not known to me. I remember it even before World War I, in 191213, when I studied there after I completed my studies in the heders. Mostly boys from the city of Ostrolenka, for whom a little bit of Torah from the heder was not enough, attended the yeshiva. There were also boys from the area who ate teig (days) at the homes of the city's balabatim. There were a few classes in the yeshiva, and each class had its teacher.
Two people remain in my memory until this day: the teacher, Srul Drogoczynski, whose son was a student. He was a great teacher and clarified like no one else. He taught without pilpul, without casuistry. He instructed the upper class, where I studied, as did the head of the yeshiva. He was usually a quiet man, acting wisely, but sometimes he would get angry and shout, and would even slap a student's cheek. This kind of outburst came suddenly, with the force of a bomb
Afterward, the students engaged in their studies enthusiastically, and this would last quite a long time. The second was Mendel the Mashgiach [spiritual yeshiva supervisor], a great teacher with a long yellow, tangled, shapeless beard, through which a comb could hardly pass. He went from class to class, ascertaining that the children were learning well and behaving properly.
[Mendel would] suddenly approach and examine, asking impromptu questions to perhaps discover a hidden transgression. Thus he acted. The children did not hate him, but had reservations about him.
One of the constant examiners was Rabbi Eliezer Mintz, of blessed memory. A teacher, a textile merchant, an enthusiastic Chassid, he examined the upper classes.
It is said that there was also another sort of yeshiva, with one class and many students, where one lesson was given to everyone. This place of Torah was in Chovot HaLevavot, in the large study hall. Others say that there
was a yeshiva like this in the heder of Krawiec, where Mendel Lomzer lived and taught.
There were many young men from Ostrolenka for whom the urge to learn was strong and their great talents brought them to high levels of Torah. They were not satisfied with the yeshiva in Ostrolenka, and left to study in well-known yeshivas. As is said, Exile yourself to a place of Torah. Later, some of them became gaonim and famous rabbis, such as Rabbi Zindel and Rabbi Michel Ostrolenker, the two brothers (the sons of Chana Szejna-Gitel the Baker, who lived on Cyganska Street, near the house of Reb Josel Mejrann). Famous gaonim and students, who received a place of honor in the wide world of Torah; Rabbi Josef Ostrolenker, known as a great teacher and a genius in the yeshiva world, and others.
When the population was transferred out of the city in 1915, when World War I broke out, the yeshiva was burned down, together with the city's houses.
In about 1920, a Bejt Josef yeshiva was established in Ostrolenka, at the initiative of the Warsaw yeshiva center, with the famous yeshiva heads Rabbi Awraham Zalman, Rabbi David Budnik and Rabbi Hillel Vitkind (today, the head and principal of the Beit Josef yeshiva in Tel Aviv).
Between the two World Wars, all Nowardok yeshivas in Poland, Russia and other countries, including the one in Ostrolenka, were called Bejt Josef. They were named after the saintly Rabbi Josef Joizel Horowitz, of blessed memory, the founder of the Nowardok Yeshiva with its special method of musar [ethics]. In Ostrolenka or other places where Bejt Josef yeshivas were established, their students tried to appeal to the Jews, and inculcate in them their spirit of ethics and world view. For example: Look around you, little man. Where are you going? To where do you hurry? Have you not seen the results of man's running? Have you not seen the last generation? Did your friend take with him everything he acquired in his life? Ethics asks that you also look at nature, at the life of the stormy sea, which rises in terrible high tides that attack with pride, pushing the earth, and breaking when they reach dry land, as if they never were, with no memory of them.
This summarized the Nowardok discourse of ethics, intended to bring men to self-examination and deep subservience. There was great concern for the Judaism of the young generation, as the waves of the
wars diminished the ethics of men, and threatened to spread hatred, the decline of Torah and anti-Semitism in the world.
With the establishment of the Jevseki and communist organizations in Russia the period of the Denikim and the Kolczaki, from which the smell of Jew hate emanated, and the forced waste of Torah study time Then these homes of ethics, the Bejt Josef Yeshivas, founded by Rabbi Josef Joizel, of blessed memory, arose like strong waves, sanctifying God's name, and standing against them with courage and iron tenacity, like fortified walls.
After his death, his heirs established about 80 yeshivas in large and small cities, such as Warsaw, Bialystok, Pinsk, Poltusk, Siedlce, Lodz, Riga, Ostrow-Mazowieck, Ostrolenka, etc .
The heads of the yeshivas were Rabbi Chaim Gladsztejn and his brother-in-law, Rabbi Mosze Dawid Szarf from Lithuania. The principal of the yeshiva was Rabbi Chaim Bilinicki; the head gabbai was Rabbi Josef Nasielski, of blessed memory (the father of Pesia Szereszewska, of blessed memory, the community worker and famous personality in the world of Torah education). He, some balabatim in Ostrolenka and Rabbi Icchak Bursztejn, of blessed memory, supported and maintained the place.
There were four classes, in the yeshiva, with 80 students. The place of study was the large study hall. There was a kitchen which provided three meals a day for the heads of the yeshivas and the older students as well, who did not wish to eat teig at the homes of the balabatim. They slept at the homes of the balabatim, who set aside rooms for this purpose. The yeshiva also received financial support from the city's Jews and from the American Joint.
Later, the yeshiva moved to the Jewish Community Building on Kilinskaga Street. A committee of saintly women was also organized. They helped collect money, food and everything required for the yeshiva. This continued for years, until the Nazi ax man came, and uprooted everything.
Who comes from Ostrolenka and does not remember the Bejt Josef yeshiva in Ostrolenka, located between Kilinskaga and Gdanska Streets, in the Jewish Community Building, opposite the burned synagogue? Day and night, the voices of Torah and ethics of the yeshiva students were heard. I wish to dwell on the conditions under which the yeshiva operated. As is known, the yeshiva was supported by donations from townspeople. Young men came from all areas to study there. They received room and board. It may be said that in every second house, a yeshiva student boarded, and not for payment. A comfortable bed and teig was given to the yeshiva student. The students safeguarded a teig place where they were shown friendliness and devotion. When a student left the yeshiva and went to learn at a larger one, he transferred his teig place to his brother or a good friend. The head of the yeshiva and the teachers ate in the yeshiva's kitchen, which was run by the saintly and merciful mothers who cooked there. They worked in rotation, instead of running their own homes. Sometimes, their children wandered around, waiting for their mothers, who were busy with yeshiva matters or community business. They were not only concerned with kitchen matters, but took care that there was something to cook and that salaries were paid on time. A meeting was held every month, and everything was arranged who would take care of the kitchen, who would collect money.
The donation collectors combed the length and breadth of the city without missing a corner. Everyone contributed according to his ability.
I would like to mention here the names of the saintly women who contributed of their time for this purpose:
There were others, whose names I do not remember. Among the yeshiva students were talented young men, who excelled in theatrical acting on Chanukah, Purim and holidays. Plays were held in the synagogue, in the women's section. They presented Ashmodei, Ahashverosh, Judith and Holofernes and others. Of course, admission was charged to provide income for the yeshiva.
To our sorrow, everything was destroyed. There are no more Jews in Ostrolenka, and the voices of Torah that echoed in the city have been stilled forever.
We honor their memory. May God avenge them.
After World War I, when assimilation increased among the Jews, there was a woman in Krakow named Sara Schenirer (of blessed memory), a seamstress by profession, but of great spirit. One day, she declared We have more than enough dresses for the body. From today on, I will begin sewing dresses for the soul, because they are not to be found. She began visiting rabbi's homes to recommend her program. Boys studied in heders and yeshivas. Girls learned in state schools, and studied only about Poland and Polish history. Because Judaism was completely forgotten, she decided to establish a school for girls called Bejt Jakow (based on the Sages' interpretation of the phrase: Thus He said to the House of Jacob that is, speak in this manner to the women), so that young girls, too, would learn about Yiddishkeit (Judaism) and how to be punctilious in keeping laws and understand the study of Torah. Of course, they [the rabbis] liked the idea, wished her success and promised to assist her activities. In the beginning, there were a few girls in the school, and they learned in a small room where Sara lived. Then, more students enrolled. After a few months, she began to send them to other communities to spread the Bejt Jakow idea.
In time, girls from cities and towns came to Krakow, and from the small room there grew one of the largest seminaries in Poland. The Bejt Jakow idea penetrated every remote corner and came to Ostrolenka in 1928. Miss Schenirer came to us then, bringing a teacher with her. She gathered a group of religious
In the center: Szejna Kapusta (one of the first Bejt Jakow teachers)
people and began to explain the importance of Bejt Jakow to the Jewish home. Immediately, a committee was chosen and they began enrolling children. A one-
room apartment was rented from Efraim Chmiel, of blessed memory, and every girl was tested to determine her level and place her in a suitable group. (Of course, they learned how to pray and write in Yiddish at home. Some of them studied with Masza, the teacher.) This was the order of studies: in the morning, they attended the primary school and, in the afternoon, Bejt Jakow. There, they studied prayers, the history of the Jewish people, Bible, laws, Torah everything pertaining to Judaism, and also some Yiddish.
The first Bejt Jakow school did not operate for a long time. It closed after half a year. The students did not pay, and the teachers did not receive a salary. Because of a lack of this kind of teacher, new ones did not come, particularly under such conditions.
After about two years (during the intermediate days of Passover), the teacher, Pesia Nasielski, came to us from Poltusk, together with some of her students (she taught at the Bejt Jakow there). Once again the committee convened, a bigger place was rented, and a large meeting was called in the study hall. Pesia Nasielski appeared there with her students and explained the importance of this kind of a school for Jewish girls. The committee immediately contacted the center in Krakow and asked that they send a teacher. Meanwhile, the number of students increased greatly. The new teacher of the renewed Bejt Jakow school was Szejna Kapusta, who made a supreme effort to raise it to a suitable level. An administration was set up to assist her, consisting of Icze Sapir, Jakow Nasielski, Motel Kadzidler (Dolowicz), Chaim Eliezer Hendel and others. In addition, there was a women's committee. They all attended to the school's needs: teacher's salary, rent, electricity and any other expenses, including taking care that every Jewish girl attended the school.
During this period, approximately 150 students attended the Bejt Jakow school in our city. Near the school, an Agudat Yisrael Girls group was also established. Their teacher gave Bible classes and lectures on various subjects. On Sabbaths, the girls spent nearly all day at the school. In the morning, they came to pray. In the afternoon they divided up into groups: the girls were leaders and talked to the younger ones about the Torah portion of the week. In the summer, they studied Ethics of the Fathers. In the winter, after saying Borchi Nafshi [Bless, O My Soul, the Lord my God], they read to them from various works, such as the writings of Dr. Lehman or Samson Raphael Hirsch, etc. They also took trips and held conventions. The girls fulfilled all sorts of social commitments that the center delegated to them, such as collecting monies for Keren HaYishuv [an Israel settlement fund], explaining the importance of the Land of Israel and the meaning of the words U'venai Yerushalayim [And may Jerusalem be built ] and V'techezehna ainainu [May our eyes see ]. In 1934, when the Agudah established the first Hachshara [training program for settlement in Israel] for girls, Ostrolenka sent its first delegate to Lodz. After she took a six-month preparatory course there, she emigrated to Israel.
Bejt Jakow was an institution where girls continued in the way of their parents the way of Torah and Yiddishkeit. It is a Tree of Life for those who hold fast to it this is the source from which they drew vitality all their lives. To be a Jew and a human being was one of the principles of Bejt Jakow education, which bore the desired fruits. We saw how deeply the Bejt Jakow education penetrated the hearts of its students. In the most difficult situations, even in Hitler's concentration camps, in pain and superhuman suffering, they were imbued with the strength of Yiddishkeit and God's sanctity so much so that they preferred death to giving in to the advances of the impure They always sang And you shall love your God with all your heart and all your soul if only I could have the opportunity to fulfill this verse I would. And indeed, in the camps, they fulfilled it
Here I attempt to bring to mind experiences of my childhood. One clear morning, I wake up, open my eyes and see my mother, of blessed memory, standing nearby, urging me to get up and go to school. I quickly put on the clothes that had been prepared on the chair near my bed before I went to sleep, wash my face and hands, clean my mouth, take my satchel with my notebooks and run. I go out to Kilinskaga Street. Here, every day, I see the destroyed synagogue, where weeds now grow. It always reminded me of the destruction of the Holy Temple. We refrained from wandering near it at night, fearing the spirits and ghosts who resided there. Many tales were spread about them. Turning left, as usual, I see Reb Aron Jankel Margalit sitting on the wooden bench near his store, alone or with some townspeople, making jokes at the expense of someone, his face beaming with satisfaction. If he didn't sense my presence, I would succeed in passing without a pinch to some part of my body. Woe was to me, if I didn't sense when he came near me. I would scream in pain and he would chuckle with pleasure. I enter the lane of the Community House, pass the Nowardok Yeshiva, from where I hear the voices of morning prayers and, through the window, see the figures of young men adorned with phylacteries, swaying to and fro.
I continue on and come out on Cyganska Street. Then I see my school, with its big front courtyard and my friends, among the other pupils, playing all kinds of games until the teachers come and open the classrooms. And now I have joined them. The ball bounces up and down, the children chase it, fall on the ground, squabble and suddenly the teacher and the principal of the school appear and all the pupils run to the classrooms.
We sit on modern benches, prepared according to examples in Polish schools. The teacher, Zalman Gorzelczany, comes into the classroom and we take out our prayer books and begin morning prayers. My friend, Dancyger, of blessed memory, begins Ma Tovu in his pleasant voice, and after him follow Sender Lubelczyk, Sokol and Tejtelbojm, of blessed memory. Yes! The echo of their voices rings in my ears. Here I see them at our lessons, be it Hebrew or history. Standing, gesturing with their hands, answering in pleasant voices. The bell sounds, and we burst outside. The studies continue morning and evening. We came to school as children, and completed it with satchels full of the treasure of knowledge, on the verge of adulthood.
Days upon days, between the ringing of the bells, we absorbed knowledge and ideas about our nation, our Torah and the world. Here was forged a new kind of Jew, a proud, nationalistic Jew, for whom the idea of Zion was a guiding principle.
The school was founded thanks to my father, Reb Efraim Chmiel (Camiel), of blessed memory, whose love for education, science and Zion were boundless. (The wooden house in which the school was housed was built for this specific purpose by Mr. Bloumenkranz.) My father did not spare his money to strengthen the school during the first months of its existence. He fought against all the conservatives, who saw the teaching of the Hebrew language and the study of the Bible as a desecration of the name of God and heresy. May God protect us
The school principal, Zalman Gorzelczany, of blessed memory, an educated Jew and a good Zionist, gave us of his knowledge and perspective. He also tried to draw the youths of our city to our school.
The incredibly meticulous teacher, Filar, of blessed memory, zealously and tirelessly inculcated the knowledge of the Bible in us.
The teacher, Rozenbojm, of blessed memory, obsessed with the Hebrew language, Hebrew poetry and literature, inculcated Hebrew poetry in the youth. There was no end to his joy when I sang him a solo from the poems of Bialik, or from songs that he had written, which always throbbed with longing for a free Jewish people in its developed land.
The results of this education led the youths who completed it to establish Zionist organizations, such as HaShomer HaDati, HaShomer HaTzair, Beitar and HeChalutz.
This youth was aware of what was taking place in Israel, emigrated there and built and fought, when the time came, for a free Israel.
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