As in all Polish cities (especially between the two World Wars), so it was in Ostrolenka. Jews and community workers dealt with public and cultural matters, organizational activity, Zionist funds, libraries, loan and savings funds, etc
As much as possible, I wish to briefly touch on my youthful realizations, the city's community workers and personalities, and the institutions and organizations I knew and worked for.
In 1929, I began to be involved with the Keren Kayemeth. Meetings were held in Pesach Hochberg's house every Sunday. He was Chairman of the fund.
Every year, an exhibition was held by the Keren Kayemeth, including a fete held at the Jewish-state school on Lomza Street, at the home of Lejbel Sredni.
The yearly fete brought in a great deal of money. In addition, revenues were collected through the blue Keren Kayemeth boxes and from fundraising. I remember that we took a great deal of money out of Nadborny the Butcher's boxes. There were large sums each week in the box of Mendel the Water Drawer (Tall Mendel). The committee was very active. All the Zionist parties were represented in it, for example, HaShomer HaTzair, Mizrachi, HeChalutz, HeChalutz HaMizrachi, Al HaMishmar, etc. The committee consisted of:
Pesach Hochberg HeChalutz; Sarniewicz-Kaspi Mizrachi (in Israel today); Herszel Skrobacz HeChalutz HaMizrachi; Fejga Jagoda (Secretary of HaShomer HaTzair); Aron Szperling (Rightist Zionist Workers, in Israel today), as well as HeChalutz Berel Zabludowicz; Josef Wonszak Tze'erei Zion; Icchak Rapaport Al HaMishmar, General Zionist, in Israel today; Malowany Josefa HaShomer HaTzair, in Israel today (the wife of the Deputy Mayor of Tiberias); Jehuda Chomont Icchaki (in Israel today), etc .
On holidays, and especially on Yom Kippur Eve, bowls were placed in the synagogue for donations for Keren Kayemeth. Youths and adults performed community work with unimaginable enthusiasm, sometimes at the expense of their own personal business.
The community work for Keren HaYesod took place at the home of its Chairman, Mendel Bialy, owner of the sawmill. All activities and preparations for the 18th Congress were assigned to him. (At the sales of shekels in Ostrolenka for the 18th Congress, 90% was given to the city's workers party.) Every year, an emissary arrived from the center in Warsaw to receive a new commitment for the following year. Mostly youths were involved in this, because the adults were busy with their livelihoods. As a Zionist youth of 19, I worked with great success, with the help of Rabbi Berg from the center. Member Bialy was impressed by my activities and tried to convince me to become a General Zionist. He related that during World War I, when he was in Russia and wanted to be an honest socialist and make a living by labor, they told him: as a former bourgeois, you have no right to work In this way, he tried to convince me.
It happened thus: there was a Jew from Wojciechowice, by the name of Ajblum, if I am not mistaken, who lived in America and became very ill. He made a vow that if he recovered from his illness, he would contribute 5,000 dollars for an important and good cause. As soon as he recovered, he sent the promised amount in the name of two representatives in Ostrolenka: Herszel Szperling and Chaim Pinczas Gingold.
Thus, the charity fund was established.
The members of the fund's committee were Menachem Frydman, Michel Sarniewicz, Efraim Chmiel (Chamiel), Noske Jabek, Anszel Lew and Herszel Szperling.
The Chairman of the charity fund was Aron Zusman. It existed for many years and, later, merged with the municipal Jewish bank. In the beginning, the Chairmen of the bank were Menachem Frydman, Efraim Chmiel (Chamiel), and later on, Noske Jabek. The bank's founder and Secretary was Anszel Lew, who was responsible for all bank matters.
The Workers Organization was run by its Chairman, Member Zlocisty, and its Secretary, Aron Wylozny. From time to time, they organized fundraising. Fundraising for Linat HaTzedekwas held annually. It should be noted that, to collect money for Linat HaTzedek, a play was held by amateur actors with Aron Wylozny. The presented Ashmodeievery year, and Aron Wylozny always played Ashmodei. They actually had great success. The play was held at the Shofe, apparently a warehouse on Ostrowy Street.
In 1922, the first professional organization was founded in Ostrolenka, in which there were representatives from all types of professions. It was founded in the building of Berel Nadborny, where the Bund hall was. At the time, the Chairman of the organization was Aron Zusman, and Szajke Aszer was Secretary. The Morgensztern Sports Club was in the same building. It belonged directly to the Bund, which was interested in attracting the youth to it, and offered them involvement in sports. It brought them a sports instructor from Warsaw, organized trips, etc . It tried to raise sports to a high level. In this way, they wanted to please the youth, especially those in Shomer HaTzair.
In the beginning, they succeeded in attracting in particular simple youths and also observant ones (it was said then that the Bund controlled the Jewish market in Ostrolenka).
The professional organization existed only eight months. Someone instigated an incitement. In the hall, they left Communist literature, which was then dangerous and treyfe Therefore, its activities were stopped by the Polish government and its representatives were sent to the prison in Lomza.
In our city, there were two active parties the Zionists and the Bund. We, the Tze'erei Zion group, called HaKica, were the driving force in major activities and campaigns. The Bund was strong. Its people knew how to work and capture the workers' hearts. There was no real proletariat in our city, however, because it had no factories, but rather trade workers, such as tailors, shoemakers, carpenters and builders. Out of the blue, representatives of the two parties gathered and decided to establish a joint municipal library. It was easy to decide, but how to implement it? The Tsarist government looked with disfavor on all social and cultural progress. There was the threat of the Revolution, and no party could operate legally. Zcharja Nadborny saved the day. A confirmed bachelor, he lived all alone in a spacious apartment, dealt in trade and was involved in the local authority. He was educated, liked to read books and had a penchant for public activity. When we turned to him with our proposal to attend to the acquisition of a license for the library, he agreed immediately. After a short time, he acquired the license, and there was great joy in our camp. He was responsible for political legality vis a visthe authority. A special fund was established to found the library and purchase books. The library opened quickly. We purchased many books, and the number of readers grew daily. After the honeymoon ended and with it, the common joy of our success, the struggle began for influence in running the library. We, the Zionists, demanded an increase in the purchase of Hebrew books, while the Bund wanted Yiddish books. A war took place between the two camps, as to which would succeed in winning more readers, thereby increasing its influence and gaining the right to make decisions. The librarians of both parties met three times a week and exchanged books for readers. But the war for influence became worse every year. Zcharja Nadborny, who was in fact responsible, acted as a sort of conciliator and mediator, because he was liked and accepted by both sides. He was always elected to the library's administration, because, thanks to him, it existed.
The library also served as a meeting place for
youth. After exchanging books, we went for walks outside of the city or spent time at someone's home.
Thus, the city's library was a center for meetings of the two strong movements which operated then in Ostrolenka's Jewish community. Jewish comradeship and tolerance for the opinions of others was created there. We invested a great deal of energy and dedication in our work, because it embodied the dream of founding the independent cell structure of liberated Jewish society, built on democratic foundations.
It was in 1915-1916, when Ostrolenka was under German occupation. The inhabitants began returning to the destroyed city, which then comprised about two hundred families. At the same time, severe epidemics broke out: intestinal typhus, typhus exenthematiecus, dysentery, etc. There was a sick person in every home, and sometimes more than one in a family. A number of young people, headed by Pesach Hochberg, met to discuss how to get out of this dangerous situation, and what could be done to help both the sick and the healthy, who were on the verge of becoming sick at any moment especially those caring for patients.
We decided to call an urgent meeting of the townspeople, who came without delay. The meeting was held in Benedon's courtyard. (It should be noted that most of those who had returned lived in the Benedon barracks, which had been converted into private apartments.) A decision was made to establish a body called Linat Tzedek. Its purpose would be to help the sufferers as much as possible. A seven-member administration was elected: Pesach Hochberg, Welwel Bajuk, Rachel Benedon, Kalman Pianko, Szlomo Benedon, Josef Wonszak and Chaja-Rachel Flamenbojm. At the first meeting, Pesach Hochberg was elected Chairman, Szlomo Benedon Secretary and Josef Wonszak In-charge of Financial Affairs. Members Hochberg and Pianko took the organization's legal matters upon themselves. Wonszak and Benedon committed themselves to finding quarters and furnishings as soon as possible. At the same time, it was decided to call on the populace for financial assistance through monthly membership dues, as well as a special payment when purchasing fish. Members S. Benedon, Flamenbojm and R. Benedon pledged to do this. It was also decided to arrange overnight stays for two people at the home of a patient, from 9:00 P.M. to 6 A.M. It was suggested that we turn to the youth and ask them to volunteer for overnight stays, so that family members could rest after tending the sick all day. This task was assigned to Members Wonszak and Benedon. It was also decided to use the first monies collected by the fund to purchase essential equipment for the care of the sick: thermometers, enemas, hot water bottles, cupping glasses, bedpans, etc. The first meeting was held at the home of Pesach Hochberg. The pace of the committee's work is worth mentioning: already on the second night, a meeting was held in our apartment (on the Ostrowy Road, not far from the fire brigade cabin). All necessary furnishing were purchased immediately. An equipment cabinet was ready even before the equipment itself was. A place was given to us by the mayor, in one of the buildings that was not damaged during the war.
On that same night, the overnight stay project began. On the second night, we sent seven pairs. Each day the number grew, until it reached 18 overnight stays during one night. We were received everywhere with great enthusiasm. Everyone was grateful. After a few days, we had the necessary equipment, although in small quantities. Two members of the administration, Bajuk and Pianko, the owners of the city's only pharmacy, brought it from Warsaw and sold it at cost. After we had equipment, we established shifts at our quarters from nine until one in the afternoon and from five until eight at night. Linat HaTzedekwas open to the public. In exchange for payment or goods, equipment was loaned for no more than seven days. Whoever needed more time had to come and extend the time period, or pay for every day beyond the period set.
About the matter of payment upon the sale of fish: every Thursday or Friday, near every fish stand, stood a pair who collected a negligible payment from purchasers. An official receipt, bearing the seal of Linat Tzedek, was given for every kilogram of fish purchased.
It should be noted that the fish sellers themselves helped this holy work, moving things along, adding a word or a saying. I remember that Chaja, the fish seller (the wife of Icchak Dorfman, of blessed memory), would say: Give, give children, whoever does not give to Jacob gives to Esau. Raszka, the wife of Fajwel Finkelsztejn, of blessed memory, expressed it differently: Give, give women, if you have enough for fish, there will be enough for pepper. Other fish sellers as well, whose names I do not remember anymore, contributed sayings and jokes to promote the holy cause. But we have not yet said enough.
When we had collected a sufficient quantity of equipment and no special expenses were anticipated, we expanded our activities to the social area. If we came to stay over at a poor home, we brought foodstuffs with us for the patient's benefit, and made sure that he ate and
got stronger, to get him on his feet as soon as possible.
Things progressed so far, that our organization was of consequence for the doctor and the pharmacist. It was enough to show them a note bearing our seal to receive a fifty percent reduction. As the remaining fifty percent was paid by Linat Tzedek, the patients received these services free of charge. When a patient received a certificate from the doctor to get baked goods made of white flour (at that time the sale of white flour was prohibited), he received the flour without charge, on presentation of our seal. The situation became much worse when the night watchers themselves fell ill, and there was nearly no one left to send. It was therefore essential to limit the overnight stays to urgent and severe cases only.
When the epidemics passed, many were no longer among the living, including those who had volunteered for overnight stays. In time, when life stabilized and the populace no longer required overnight stays, we moved our activities to another sphere, albeit in the same social format. We frequently visited the homes of the poor (of which there was no shortage), where the elderly, the sick and small children lived, all of whom needed medical and material assistance. However, our financial resources from two sources the sale of fish and monthly membership dues had greatly decreased. People maintained that with the abolition of Linat HaTzedek, they were exempt from continuing to pay. Therefore, we looked for new sources, like fundraising days and fetes, which we held frequently. Revenues from these events enabled Linat Tzedekto continue to maintain our important assistance project.
After a few years passed, at the time of the Polish regime, in one of the rooms of the Talmud Torahstood a locked cabinet, in which there were various medicines. On it was a sign Linat Tzedek. Only a small group of people was still active in this important institution which helped others (although in reduced proportions). I say important, because in those times it was particularly important. Ostrolenka's Jews were not wellto- do. During World War I, they were expelled from their city, which was almost completely destroyed in battles between the Russians and the Germans. From 1920-1921, the Jews came back empty-handed and began rebuilding their lives. Under these conditions, any assistance was very important. Many of those who returned home after years of wandering afar, in Russia and other countries, were physically and emotionally sick and broken. The need arose to establish a body to extend minimal assistance to the needy. There were no expectations from the Polish community. Throughout the years, they saw the Jews as a superfluous factor.
The role of Linat Tzedekwas to extend medical assistance, albeit in reduced proportions, such as cupping, taking temperatures, enemas and other minor treatments difficult for the average Jew to acquire. Another important task entrusted to members of the organization was to care for the sick when the strength of family members weakened. There were not yet many hospitals with professional nurses in those days, so mutual assistance was very crucial. Linat Tzedek's activity continued thus, until they became aware that the treasury was emptying and that the means to purchase modern equipment was lacking. The financial situation of the townspeople was not bright and the number of contributors dwindled. Discussions and consultations began as to how to acquire additional income to prevent the organization's collapse. It was decided to play theater, with performances by amateur actors. The plays were a great success. They were presented to achieve two ends: revenues were dedicated to supporting the continued work of Linat Tzedek, and cultural pleasure, so lacking, was brought to the townspeople. The first play presented was The Sale of Joseph, which met with success in and around Ostrolenka. Shlomit, Bar Kochvaand other plays were later presented. I will mention a few of the drama circle's promoters: Arcie Wylozny and the brothers Mosze Symcha and Szabtaj Ma-Towu. The beloved member, Pesach Hochberg, is worthy of special mention. He turned over a room in his house for play rehearsals, which often continued far into the night.
Ostrolenka's two Jewish doctors, Dr. Karbowski and Dr. Gutman, were not born in the city. Dr. Gutman, whose father worked as a medic-healer in and around the city, came there as a youth and was closely connected to the Jews of the city. He was considered an Ostrolenkan, as opposed to Dr. Karbowski, who came to Ostrolenka in the thirties, and did not become attached to the townspeople. There was no contact with him, except when he was called to a patient's bedside. He inclined toward assimilation, and never contributed to Keren HaYesod or to Keren Kayemeth. Even when Pesach Hochberg, may God avenge his blood, and a representative of the fund's center from Warsaw visited him during the yearly fundraising, he refused to contribute, contending that he did not believe in Zionism because it was utopian. As a doctor, he was widely accepted and popular among the Poles.
His Judaism found expression on Yom Kippur Eve, when he prayed in the Mizrachi Zionist minyan, held in the building of the teacher, Filar. Almost every year, a farmer from the area appeared in a wagon to call him to take care of a patient. Returning from the house call, he would arrive exactly when Jakow Dancyger finished the prayers. Then he would say in Polish, What a pity, I came late to Kol Nidrei. When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, pogroms broke out in Berlin and other cities. Many Jews left Germany then. The city Zbaszyn, on the German-Polish border, filled with many refugees that streamed there every day.
In every city and village, and in Ostrolenka as well, all the organizations set up committees to help the needy in Zbaszyn.
When Dr. Karbowski was invited to the committee he came, to everyone's great surprise. He did not know how to speak Yiddish, but he understood it. He was active and worked with the committee a great deal. When an anti-Hitler conference of Poland's Jews convened later, Dr. Karbowski was among the representatives at the conference. As a representative from Ostrolenka, I sat next to him. After hearing all the speeches made by the Polish Jewry representatives, the doctor told me that he had been very impressed by the speech of Rabbi Rubinsztejn of Vilna. I thought to myself how true the saying was, that What is not accomplished by intelligence will be accomplished by time. After the conference, Dr. Karbowski's attitude changed completely, and he began to contribute generously to Zionist causes. Dr. Gutman was his opposite. He was a man of the people in the full sense of the term. He was not ashamed to use the mother tongue, and did so everywhere. With patients, on the street or walking on the sidewalk, he was always accompanied by some community workers. He spoke with them in Yiddish about cultural matters, being expert in Yiddish culture and Yiddish classicism. When he visited patients, he talked to them about their illness and explained how it developed and what caused it. He knew everyone in the city and their tribulations. When he met someone from a patient's family, he would ask after his health. When he visited a patient whose difficult condition was known to him, not only did he not take money, but he even left money to buy the medicine he prescribed. He did not consider his profession as a means of advancement. He saw it as a humanitarian one, for helping people. He was a Jewish doctor in the full sense of the term, with a warm heart. He was proud to be a Jew, even though it sometimes harmed him professionally. He was pleased with the achievements of the working masses, because they were the poorest in Poland at the time. He saw himself more as a proletarian than an academic.
It was hard to find a doctor in Poland who was as close to Jewish society as Dr. Gutman. He was gladdened by good news and worried during times of trouble.
When we write about Jewish doctors in Ostrolenka, it is impossible to omit a famous personality Fajwel Lejb Herc, who eased the pains of Jewish patients, and was once an orderly in the army of the Russian Tsar. This Jew, with a gray beard, a long kapoteand a Jewish hat, did not heal with modern medicine, but with folk remedies. Most of his patients were elderly. He was expert at cupping, enemas and spreading all sorts of ointments on the back. When he could not help, a doctor was called.
The young men, before they were drafted into the Polish army, wanted to give the townspeople something to talk about. They did clownish things. They took down Dr. Karbowski's sign and hung it on Fajwel Lejb Herc's door, or they brought the wagon of the purification room [where the dead are washed prior to burial] to the home of Dr. Karbowski. The people of the town enjoyed their clowning very much.
Today, there are two doctors, may they enjoy long life, who were born in Ostrolenka, Dr. Zalman Drezner in Israel, and Dr. Biezuner, the son-in-law of Litwer, who lives overseas.
In 1920-21, tradesmen and merchants stood on shaky financial legs. The economy was not yet on a firm basis, especially in small villages and in Ostrolenka.
Poverty was very prevalent. From time to time, tradesmen worked 24 hours a day with members of their families, and then went to the market to sell their goods very cheaply. This situation lasted a few years. Only after 1924 did it begin to improve, with the economic improvement in Poland. A tradesmen's organization was established, which set laws and regulations. All professional tradesmen united. They began to understand that work and sweat are necessary to support a family. It was also necessary to educate children so that they would grow and be healthy, proud Jews.
The wellspring of Jewish livelihood was the rural population. At the market on Tuesdays and Fridays, farmers from the area gathered with their fruits and crops. When they finished selling everything, they went to purchase various kinds of merchandise and whatever they needed. This was repeated every week. When the shoemaker, the tailor, the milliner, the carpenter and the merchant succeeded in accumulating a little money, they went out to sell their merchandise at fairs in neighboring villages, increasing output and thus, income.
An impetus toward improvement for tradesmen and small merchants was given by the Polish government when it settled two army regiments in Wojciechowice (three kilometers from Ostrolenka). Although this was a new source of income for the Jews of Ostrolenka, most had to work hard to make a living. Supported by the tradesmen's and merchants' organization, to ease the burden of the downtrodden, a delegation was sent to the central bank in Warsaw which was connected to the Joint (if I am not mistaken), with a request to authorize opening a bank for assistance in Ostrolenka.
After much effort and drawing on political connections, a decision was reached and the bank opened, to the great satisfaction of the townspeople. It was a holiday. The bank helped solve the financial problems of the tradesmen and merchants. A committee was democratically elected and the tradesmen's organization won five of the nine mandates.
The tradesmen's organization was represented in the committee by Awi Awraham, Zelig Nowinski, Alter Granowicz, Noske Jabek, Srolke Zlocisty and Josef Nowinski. I don't remember those from other organizations. The guiding hand of the bank was the well-known and beloved teacher, one of the city's first Zionists, Anszel Lew. The bank made long-term loans at low interest rates. Thanks to the easy terms, many Ostrolenkans with limited ability could support themselves with dignity. The tradesmen's organization also established an independent charity fund. They gave loans (sometimes in secret) only to tradesmen whose income had decreased because of illness or other reasons. They sent them a certain sum of money, so that they could stand on their feet and support themselves with dignity. They also helped widows and orphans who remained without a livelihood. They gave them a pseudo-loan, as if they were expected to return it, but never asked for the money. The fund's budget was covered by monthly payments from members.
The organization also set up a drama studio, which gave theatrical performances in and out of the city. The actors were working people, who contributed of their time for the good of the organization. They also had minyanimwhere they prayed on Sabbaths throughout the year, and where they collected contributions to cover their budget. On holidays, they purchased places in the study hall (whoever could afford it, bought a seat on the mizrach[east] side, and whoever could not, at the entrance to the study hall). The organization had great influence in various municipal matters. In the Jewish community (Gmina) as well, they held an important position.
In the last years, before World War II, bestial anti- Semitism boasted a great deal. The saying To each his own brainwashed all anti-Semites and strangled Jewish economic and cultural life. Desirous of emulating the Nazi's anti-Jewish methods, the Polish government did not understand that with this type of conduct toward the Jews, it was tying a rope around its own neck. The boycott it declared pervaded all areas of Jewish life, including trade and labor. In any event, the Jews began to feel that danger was approaching. They tried to stand in the breach and fight for existence, until the Nazi ax fell on Jewish heads and destroyed everything that had been built over generations all over Poland, including in our city, Ostrolenka.
Work and Livelihoods
Economically, all Polish towns were similar to each other pressured economically in the bed of Sodom and Gemorrah [where, if guests were too short, they were stretched to fit; if they were too tall, they were cut down]. There were specific Jewish trades, such as tailoring, carpentry and shoemaking. It was not possible for Jews to study a profession in school or, especially, to enroll for advanced training in a specialty. A few individuals excelled on a professional level.
It should be noted that there were two Jews in Ostrolenka who worked in a profession of the goyim, Awraham Aron the Builder and his sons (among the first immigrants to Israel) and Tuwja the Carpenter and his sons. The tradesmen's condition was usually far from satisfactory. They worked from dawn until late at night. When Friday came, it seemed that an additional day of the week was lacking, to earn enough for the Sabbath. The housing situation was difficult, space was lacking. When children grew, they knew that worries grew with them. There was no possibility of setting them up financially, as necessary. After a hard day's work, the only break was in the evening, when they went to afternoon-evening prayers. After prayers, they sat around the table and learned Torah. There were all sorts of small study groups. At the head of each was a rabbi. The fullest table was the place where Ayin Yakovwas studied. The beautiful legends helped them forget their troubles. They entered a beautiful world. A strong impression was made when an emissary arrived and described the wonders of the Land of Israel, or when a magid preached about this world and the world to come, about hell and paradise.
Most of the city's merchants were grocers. To open this kind of a business, a great deal of money and knowledge was necessary. Each tried to open a store near the barely-surviving store of his neighbor's, so that there was not enough business for either. Each store was like a small general store. You could buy everything there: groats, sugar, herring, oil, kerosene, all sorts of sweets, etc. In this kind of store, the only thing lacking was a livelihood. Trade in fabrics, leather and clothing was more complicated. There was a need for money, and money was scarce. So they wrote [promissory] notes and the nature of notes is that they never get lost. Then things became really merry. When the note came due, they ran to look for a loan. When they didn't get one, they tried to change the due date. If it could not be changed, then there was no choice but to close the business. Most of the time, they reached a compromise and the business remained open. So the wheel turned back and forth. Of course, there were those who were quite well-to-do in the city, but most barely supported themselves. There was also employment that was both a profession and a trade, like watch making. The balabatimbent over backwards to make their sons simple tradesmen and sent them to learn watch repair.
This was in accordance with Talmudic advice: A man will always teach his son a clean and easy craft. There were also Jews without a profession, or commercial and financial abilities, who supported themselves from luftgesheft[air business]. About them it was said It is as hard to support men as it is to split the Red Sea. These were luftmentchen[people who lived from the air, middlemen]. In the market, which took place twice a week, Jews like this walked around all day. When one of them heard, for example, what Lejbel or Berel wanted to pay for a purchase, he added 10 cents and sold it, as did a second and then a third
Most of the merchants themselves were Torah scholars. In their childhood, they had learned. After a hard day's work in their wretched stores, they would sit in the shteblin the evening, dwell on a page of Gemara and forget all the troubles of the day. Or, when the Chassidim sat and told miracle stories about the Rebbe, or tales of righteous men, they entered another world, a completely good world. (It should be noted that the merchants were mostly Chassidim. They gathered in the shtebland stayed far away from the tradesmen, who prayed in the study hall).
The Polish government's sharp taxation system, the goal of which was to break the Jewish merchant and
tradesman economically, made their situation worse. The Jew had to give, but got nothing in return. There were no Yiddish or Hebrew-speaking state schools. The universities were closed to Jews. There were no Jewish clerks in government offices. It was hardest for the Jews when the boycott began on Jewish trade. With the approval of the Polish government, signs were put in front of stores: Don't buy from the Jews.
The difficult economic situation, and particularly the tax problem, drove all forces to unite and repel the attack. A tradesmen's organization and a merchants' organization were established, which were connected with their Warsaw centers. Each organization had a charity fund to serve its members. They sent representatives to evaluation committees at tax offices. A bank was established in the city where interest was not paid. The center in Warsaw was supported by the Joint. The organizations were not satisfied with merely economic activity. They also ran political activities. When elections were held for the Jewish community, the city council or the Parliament, they were their official representatives.
Except for private heders, there was a municipal Talmud Torahfor poor children. As opposed to heders, where only Torah studies were taught, at the Improved Heder the Yavneh School there was a synthesis of Torah and general studies. In the Improved Heder, the hearts of the children were implanted with the love of Hebrew and the Land of Israel. The founder of the Yavneh School was Zalman Gorzelczany. Two excellent Hebrew teachers are also worthy of mention:
At the head of the Bejt Jakowin Ostrolenka stood Pesia, the famous teacher, the daughter of the lamdanRabbi Josef Nasielski. Her father studied Gemara with her. It was a pleasure to talk to her. Every conversation was related to the sayings of our sages, to Aggadot[legends], to explanations of difficult passages. She had a highly analytic mind and enormous will power. Her students were attached to her, full of knowledge and love for the Jewish faith and their nation. In the Polish state school for Jewish children, where they learned in Polish, the goal was to inculcate Polish culture into the children. They taught religious studies and Jewish history, but took care not to include Jewish nationalism. Most of the school's students were girls, because the boys were in schools of their own. The teaching personnel came from outside. Most of them were assimilated, without a strong connection between them and the parents. They only wished to find favor in the eyes of the Polish rulers.
The maturing youth, without the ability to study and enter the economic sphere, used their time to walk on the Lomza road and talk about politics. Just as doing something from the wrong motives may eventually lead to doing so with higher motives, at the end, this political philosophizing brought about the creation of a wonderful group of organized youths.
All the political groups had their own parties in the city. It was natural that each new party, small or large, had a chairman, a committee and even an evaluation committee.
The parties, which had large memberships, were: Labor Zionist (S. Z.) (one of them, Mosze Margalit, of blessed memory, community chairman for a time, emigrated to Israel in the '30s); the Bnei Akiva organization (and later, HaShomer HaDati) and Beitar, the revisionist youth organization.
The Bund socialist party ran intensive activities in
the city. They had a rich library (it may be said the only one in the city). They sometimes organized lectures on current events, bringing famous speakers. The Rozenblum brothers were very devoted to the party.
All the sectors mentioned above had to come into contact with our Polish neighbors. Only one sector did not come in contact with the outside world. It acquired its needs from Jewish inhabitants. I will mention only a few here, for example: the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Bursztejn, of blessed memory, who was actually far from municipal matters. He was a great Torah scholar with a majestic appearance (the author of the famous book Metamei Yitzchak). Two judges: Rabbi Jermiah and Rabbi Jakow Szlomo, both of them great teachers and very devout. Rabbi Chaim Berel, the cantor and ritual slaughterer, also a Torah scholar, very friendly and respected by the inhabitants.
On every Thursday of the week, women could be frequently seen passing from store to store, collecting donations. The money they collected was for various purposes. For example, for honorable families that did not have money for Sabbath expenses, and where it was necessary to keep their names secret or for the groom of a Jewish daughter of an honorable family that did not have money for the wedding. These women gave assistance in a way that would not embarrass the needy.
This was a group of philanthropic women with a list of all the needy. Their help reached all the needy among the simple, common people.
Times were hard for the Jews then. The Tsarist regime wished to rule the Poles and distract them from thoughts of rebellion and uprising. It adopted the method of divide and conquer and incited one nation against the other. The Poles, always gorged with hatred of Jews, distracted themselves from their ideal and their ambition to free the land from the yoke of Russian occupation. They recklessly grasped at hatred of Jews, declaring a boycott of them. The boycott's slogan found fertile ground in the Polish mobs, who were incited by the hatred and venom that the intelligentsia spread among them. The election for the all-Russian Duma served as a pretext for the boycott against the Jews. The Jews of Lodz voted for the P.P.S. (the Polish socialist party) candidate. They saw him as someone who would protect Jewish interests in the Duma. This angered the Poles. The N.D. (nationalist) party stood at the head of the boycott proclamation. Violently angry, these anti- Semites were active in their war a holy war. They disseminated slogans, like To each his own (that is, Poles go to Poles) and Don't buy from Jews and don't sell to them. The Poles were stricken with total blindness. They became addicted to this despicable task and paid dearly, because they distracted themselves from the essence. Only World War I ended the boycott of the Jews in 1914, because it no longer interested the Russians. One of their shameful deeds was setting fire to Jewish homes in cities and villages throughout Poland.
And so we awoke one suffocating summer night to the sounds of the alarm bell ringing from the heights of the city hall tower. Through the window, we saw red skies and understood that a fire had broken out on Ostrowy Street. We ran to the fire's location, and saw Jews running in panic from house to house, trying to save whatever they could from the devouring flames. The fire progressed very quickly from house to house, pitilessly and completely destroying the labor of the Jews and their property. Many houses were burned that night and many families remained without a roof over their heads. The next morning, the victims of the fire combed the ruins of their homes and rummaged through the still-smoking charred wood, hoping to find something of value and use. The unmerciful Jews, those children of the merciful, immediately organized a committee to help the fire's victims. First, they housed the families in public places, like the study hall and synagogues. Others squeezed in and brought their
relatives to their homes.
Of course, this did not yet solve the main problem of livelihood and housing. Only after the horse is stolen is the barn door closed. Fearing that there would be a repetition and that a fire would break out again, special watches were set every night. We, the youth, were recruited for this work. We walked around the streets of the city in groups, with our weapons thick sticks in our hands, and so we guarded and protected the peace of the Jews. We saw ourselves as a special army, standing guard to thwart the plots of our enemies, so that no evil would occur. A regulation passed by the city elders and community workers gave special orders: near every house there must be a large barrel full of water. All householders must equip themselves with fire extinguishing equipment and tools necessary for times of trouble, such as buckets, axes and a long pole with a pick at its end for destroying walls. And this was not all. Although there was a fire department in the city, it was not much relied on, because there were no Jews in it. The Jews themselves did not rush to join the fire brigade, because they considered it a shameful thing. How could a self-respecting Jew take up such foolishness, which smacked of the army? It was suitable for the sons of Esau. In any event, the Poles were satisfied with this state of affairs. For them, the organization served as an underground for secret work against the Russian regime. Fire brigade work required some army-style training. Under this guise, they could gather and hold secret meetings. They had a band. Every Sunday morning, the fire brigade, in all its uniformed glory and with a military gait, marched through the streets of the city, led by the band. We, who were pranksters then, ran after them and accompanied them on their way to a grove near the city. Truth to tell, they got no joy of us. When they got out of the city, they chased us away contemptuously and, shamefully and enviously, we returned to the city. We asked ourselves what we had done to deserve this humiliation and why our fathers were not firemen. There was no answer.
After a short time, however, the city elders began to deal with this problem. Their request of the fire brigade management, that a few dozen Jews join their ranks, was turned down and the reason was known. The Poles were kind enough to agree to our joining their ranks only after they made a strong demand of the Governor- General in Lomza. And who went? Clearly, no respectable Jew would deem it proper to join the fire brigade, particularly because the Poles stipulated a condition that everyone had to bring a new suit, a copper helmet, an ax and other tools. These expenses were covered by monies received from the municipality, in which the Jews participated. The city elders understood that a personal example was necessary. The advocates of this idea, my father, of blessed memory, Jechezkel Kupferminc, and Henach Flexner, of blessed memory, were the first to volunteer for the fire brigade. After them came a large stream of volunteers from the common people: strong men and tradesmen, who used an axe in their daily occupations. Because individuals could not find such sums, the community allocated the money needed for clothing and equipment from its budget. My father, of blessed memory, although he was too old about 56 wore the special uniform with joy. The copper hat was polished and shining on his head, as he marched every Sunday with everyone else, every inch a soldier. In his eyes, this was a matter of saving lives, not reduced dignity.
We, the youth, were content. We were no longer outsiders at a Gentile wedding, but equals among equals. The Jews excelled at fire fighting training, such as exercise, climbing on ladders and roofs, caring for various fire extinguishing machines and pumps and, especially, marching together in the city's streets every Sunday. We waited for Sundays. When the fire brigade marched, next to every father marched his children, while he beamed with joy. Once a year, the fire brigade held an annual training day and a big picnic in the grove near the city. A simple day of enjoyment in the grove, with demonstrations of different feats connected with its work. Later, they moved on to games and had a huge feast. Joy was boundless.
To relieve the suffering of the fire's victims, the community decided to raise money in different ways. Even before the fire, a cinema had opened in the city, but no one dared use it. Again, my father and Henach Flexner, of blessed memory, initiated a good deed. They decided to lease the hall for a week and show a film there. I remember what it was about to this day. It described the beginning of the settlement of Europeans in America, the wars against the Indians, and all the difficulties and misgivings along the way until they arrived at their land. Yes, it reminded us of our future, our aspirations to emigrate to Israel and the war with the Arabs. The movie enchanted and encouraged us, the youth, to dare to think of practical steps to fulfill our dream. Large notices on the city's streets announced that
the film presentation would take place for a week, and that its proceeds were dedicated to the victims of the fire. Of course, the price of a ticket was higher than usual. Special tickets were created for those who could afford them. These were distributed by volunteers of public status, certain that they could raise funds when people bought tickets at fair prices. Revenues exceed all expectations. With this [campaign], the townspeople were given public permission to visit the cinema. Of course, the strict and rebellious still argued against it. During that week, the hall was completely full: old people and young filled the hall every evening, and the queue was long. From then on, going to the cinema became acceptable.
The cinema hall began to serve us as a place for recreation and entertainment during days when happiness in the Jewish street was not great
The story of the Jewish firefighters in Ostrolenka who united with the municipal firefighters is very closely tied to the name of an important inhabitant of our city, Henach Flexner.
Although he was a lamdanand a refined Jew, whose reputation preceded him, he did not dwell in heaven. He had a sense of worldly matters and those of the city's Jews.
I am reminded of an incident: in the summer of 1913, a large fire broke out on Ostrowy Street. Many Jewish families suffered from the fire. A campaign opened in the city to support its victims.
In particular, suspicion fell on the fire brigade, comprised only of Poles, who did not intend to put out the fires as required and so it was decided that Jews would be recruited to the fire brigade. And who, of course, ran the recruitment, if not Reb Henach Flexner? Everyone in the city respected and honored him.
One Sunday morning, bearded Jews in silk hats appeared and decided to organize a fundraising campaign for the families victimized by the fire, in cooperation with the Poles. So a party in the municipal garden, including a lottery, was announced. Musicians played, L'Chaimwas toasted and, at the end, bearded Jews with silk hats danced with Christians and proclaimed To unity!.
Reb Henach Flexner was also the founder of the city's loan and savings fund. Its salaried accountant was the teacher, Anszel Lew, who later established a small merchants' bank.
The first teacher in Ostrolenka was Markl in my time, he was already old. The famous Szlomo came later. He taught children who became fathers, and then the children of the fathers. He had no children and lived to a ripe old age.
2. Lazer Eli
He taught the Pentateuch, Rashi and a sermon for the Passover Seder. A terrible accident happened to him. His wife went to the river to draw water. It happened in the winter. The river was very frozen. She slipped and drowned. Her children said that she had several hundred Russian rubles After a few days, she was found under the ice. Some of his children are in North America.
3. Mosze from Rozan
He taught Gemara and was a community worker in Linat HaTzedek. His home is in Uruguay.
4. Mosze Baruch
By heart, his blind son taught children the Pentateuch and Rashi.
5. Mosze Chaim
He had a pointed beard and was a Gemara teacher. He was a professional shofar and tobacco box maker.
This man's talent in the carving craft was wasted. He worked more for pleasure than for a livelihood. His grandson is in North America.
6. Mendel Lejb-Herc
He taught the Pentateuch and Rashi. He was a gabbaiin the Alexander Chassidim shtebl, where his hederwas.
7. The Thin Teacher
He was the son of Mordechaj Farber. He taught the Pentateuch and Rashi, and had a few other livelihoods.
8. Jaloszke Melamed
He was the son-in-law of Mordechaj Farber, with the family name of Malach. He taught how to read aloud from the Torah during synagogue services.
9. Julke Neszkesz
He taught Gemara. Two of his children are in Israel (a friend of Szlomo Dorfman in Israel).
10. Aszer Melamed
He taught in the Talmud Torah in Ostrolenka, where children were taught free of charge.
11. [The Teacher] from Kelczewa
The son-in-law of Lejb Blachowicz, he was a Gemara teacher who loved to argue with the secular. He quoted as often as possible As inventions multiply in the world, so the believers and the observant multiply more who pray here and God hears in Heaven. The secular never wanted to believe, but today we see that when they speak in America, they hear in Ostrolenka.
12. Japonczyk the Teacher
He was well-known in the city, really a household word. His wife was the cousin of Awiezer Kupferminc Reb Chackel Kupferminc, the son.
13. Szmuelke Jajczar
Besides teaching, he sold eggs.
14. Mosze-Pesach or The Goworowoan
He was an excellent Gemara teacher, explaining well and translating, but he had methods of punishment. He would strike students, especially on Thursday, examination day. It was important to him that they understand that what they learn should not be lost. Fear fell on students who knew they would have to start studying with him. He was the richest of the teachers. His wife ran a separate business. She had a table full of merchandise on the street. She baked bread for the Sabbath, prepared cholent[a meat stew traditionally eaten on Sabbath] and had other sources of livelihood. They had six daughters and one son, who was a member of the Bund. (They lived in Josel Mejrann's courtyard.)
15. Mendel Lomzer
He was a Gemara teacher and very hot-tempered.
16. Awrejmel Melamed
He was a Gemara teacher and taught individual young men during the morning hours only. During the rest of the day, they had to study on their own. He had a grocery store but during the daytime, he was a merchant. For many years, he lived in North America with his entire family. Today he is in Israel.
17. Icze Josef
He taught Gemara to young men. His two sons are in North America.
18. Dawid the Redhead, the son-in-law of the glazier
He was a Gemara teacher. The father-in-law, the son-in-law and their families are in North America.
He was a Gemara teacher. He was old even in my time.
He lived to a ripe old age.
20. Gutman Czak
He was a Gemara teacher, the son of Fajwisz. After World War I, he did not return to Ostrolenka. His daughter is in Uruguay.
21. Meir Jankel
He was a Gemara teacher. He supervised good behavior. He lived to a ripe old age.
22. [The Teacher] from Koluszyn
He was a Gemara teacher. He taught only two or three young men. He was sickly. His wife helped to provide a livelihood in her store.
23. Mendel Czerny (Czernes)
He was a teacher with a heart. Every child wanted
to study with him. When children's fathers signed them up for time with Mendel, they were overjoyed. In comparison to other teachers, he taught the Pentateuch, Rashi and beginner's Gemara.
24. Nachman Melamed
He was among the best-known teachers in the city. He was considered one of the best, and taught older students who were about to enter a yeshiva. He taught a page of Gemara with the commentaries of the Rasha [Rabbi Szlomo Ben Eliezer], delved into issues and explained well and easily to his students. Sometimes he shouted or struck the students. In the worst case, he would call the father of a student who had difficulty learning, so that he could examine the student himself and shout at him, or give him a few slaps on the cheek. The students respected him very much.
25. Zalman Grala
An Alexander Chassid, he served in the army in Wojciechowice and Myszyniec before World War I.
26. Nechemia Melamed
He was a special teacher, unusual and very knowledgeable in Hebrew. He always dressed well and cleanly. His beard was nicely combed, all his manners commanded respect. Chassidim did not want to send their children to him, because they looked askance on his unique behavior. He did not teach Gemara, just Hebrew, Bible and reading aloud from the Torah at synagogue services to mature young men.
27. Anszel Lew
He gave classes in heders, an hour a day. He taught the Russian language and mathematics. He had the special function of teaching students the title of the Russian Tsar and his family, so that they would be ready when the district inspector visited the heders. This was required of all hedersand places of study by the Tsar's government. He was an agent of the Jakar Insurance Company of Petersburg. He was the manager and head of the Chevrat Zionin our city. He was also the Secretary and In-charge at the bank of the loan fund in our city (His son, Dawid Lew, fell in Israel as a Haganah fighter.)
28. The teacher from Rozan
His name was Azikzon. He was a teacher like Anshel Lew, but not a Zionist. His wife had a school for girls, where they were taught to write. She emigrated to Uruguay and lived to a ripe, old age. One of her daughters is in Uruguay; the rest are in Russia.
29. Women Teachers
The teacher, Masza Sztejnberg, taught girls to write letters. She herself wrote letters for women whose husbands emigrated to the United States or were in the army. Her daughter has been in Israel for many years (one daughter died in Israel), and the name of her husband is M. Medzowicz.
There were other teachers who were called Rebbetzins. They came to homes to teach girls Hebrew, or the girls came to them. There were a few of these teachers, but I do not remember their names.
We had a few Jewish-Cantonists. These were children who were kidnapped during the time of Nicolas I and forced to serve in the Russian Army for 25 years. They went through a great deal of persecution and torture to force them to convert to Catholicism, and were later released. Many of them withstood the torture and remained Jews. I met them when they were elderly.
He was a barber and elderly Jews had him cut their hair.
2. Herszele Fendel
That is what they called him. He baked black bread.
3. Chajkel Barabanszczyk
He was a drummer in the army and remained so all his life.
4. Awraham Kugel
He was a road stone paver. In the last years, he traded in old things. (There were also Cantonists who converted during their army service and lived in Ostrolenka as Christians.)
There were some of these in the city, 20 people, simple people, but with varied personalities: quiet,
common people and also others who had a big mouth, as it was called.
They had their own minyan. Every Sabbath, Reb Mosze Noske, a leather merchant, taught them a little Pentateuch. They worked as a cooperative and divided each day's profits equally. Among them was Shalom the Porter, who was called Shalom of the Stories. He had a talent of telling about what he read. I think he was the most learned among them.
As in all Jewish cities, Ostrolenka, too, had its klezmorim. They made people happy, played music and gladdened the weddings of Ostrolenka's Jews. They played before and after the wedding feast for the happy parents, the grandfather and grandmother, guests and inlaws on all sides, and especially for the groom and bride, who on that day took their first steps toward an unknown future of family life The usual deep Jewish music they played was combined with trilling gypsy music, which tugged at the soul. Melodies of devotion touched everyone's hearts. This was especially true for the groom and bride, who would remember the sounds for many years to come. They believed that they would succeed in life according to the way they played
Jewish klezmorimdid not make much of a living, but they tried anyway. Sometimes a livelihood would fall from a wedding, from the completion of a book [Mishnayot, or the writing of a Torah scroll, etc.], from a Bar Mitzvah and so on (there were those who made a living on the side), and from communities outside Ostrolenka.
There was a group of four klezmorimbefore World War II. Mosze Aron played first violin, Szpielman (who always wore dark glasses) played second violin, Anszel Jagoda clarinet and Lazer Icze bass. To make the bride and groom merry, a badchan[entertainer] was always brought from Lomza Reb Joel Wolowski, of blessed memory. They also called him Julke Badchan. He was an expert and had great talent in rhyming, excelled in improvisations and had acting talents. His son, Chaim Wolowski, besides being a talented impressionist, was also one of the best amateur actors in Lomza. He lives in Argentina today. The entertainer presented different types, comic and serious, for in-laws and guests seated at long tables. He masqueraded as someone else each time. He would sing a medley of songs, combined with sharp jests. The musicians accompanied him whenever necessary. The wedding guests enjoyed themselves, rolling with laughter.
For weddings of rich Jews, klezmorimwere sometimes brought from outside. It did not find favor with Ostrolenka's klezmorimwhen they brought musicians from Lomza, led by the musician Anszel Jagoda, who was from Ostrolenka. It should be noted that the last klezmorimwho played at weddings in Ostrolenka were the brothers Hone and Erszak (Czarben). The son of Krayers, Hercke the Wagon Owner, and a Christian who played the harmonica, played with them. The latter participated only in Jewish celebrations.
Someone who has remained engraved in my heart and memory was Mosze Aron, the klezmer, and especially his violin an unusual violin, wonderful sounds.
Who of our time does not remember Mosze Aron and the savor of his playing? He was always first violin. When I was a young, he was already a gray-bearded old Jew. It seemed to me that he had red eyes (probably from late nights of playing at weddings). When he grasped the violin under his collar, hugging it with closed eyes like something he loved, he poured out his feelings through all its strings, up and down. This captured the hearts of all his listeners, including me, a small boy among them.
I loved to stand for long hours near the in-law's windows, especially when the group of klezmorimplayed the tune Good Weekon Motzei Shabbat[Saturday night], or when they played the introduction for the in-laws and the groom and the bride, on the evening of a wedding. The introduction, as we called it, was the entrance to the wedding, bringing in the inlaws, the guests, and the groom and the bride, especially
during moments of self-examination before the ceremony under the wedding canopy. Treats were distributed and the entertainer rhymed rhymes. The main attraction was Mosze Aron with his violin. This was not just a violin, really not He expressed his feelings with so many deep, touching pleas and prayers that it was impossible to withstand. Whenever I heard about a wedding or an introduction that was supposed to take place somewhere, I could not rest and tried to be there with the other children. We stood near the windows, listening and listening without end. It was interesting that during the introductions, Mosze Aron poured out his feelings through his playing even more than at the wedding canopy and the wedding (to this day, I don't know why). Those who assisted him honored Mosze Aron, looked him in the eyes, and followed him according to his playing, his will and his requirements.
I remember that, since then, the violin has taken precedence for me above all other instruments.
May these lines be a shining memory of the Jewish klezmorimin Ostrolenka, the souls of people who gladdened Jews and are no longer. Those who died a natural death and those who were killed, murdered by the Nazi murderers, and who no longer hear their heartfelt playing in and around the city. Those, like them, who were murdered, destroyed and eradicated from the world of the living. May God avenge their blood.
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