Community Institutions / Chaim Wolnerman
My intent with the articles in this section is to make a modest contribution to
the memorial book dedicated to the memory of my birthplace, Oshpitzin, a
remarkable city in West Galicia, a city which included many generations of
nobility and Jewish splendor: its famous rabbis; its famous heroes and
philanthropists; its outstanding Hasidim and their prominent Mitnagdim; the
various political factions; the youth movements and the pioneers in the
vanguard; the scholars and intellectuals; the multifaceted intelligentsia; the
craftsmen and tradesmen all pure and holy, straightforward and upright,
sweet and beloved who were martyred for the sake of their people, its
Torah and land.
Among the inhabitants there were the wealthy and famous as well as the poor and
beggars, Jews with large families who, although struggling for a living and
their sustenance, still saw fit to devote time to Torah study as well as to the
mitzvotof charity and kindness, helping others either directly or through the various
[benevolent societies] which were active in tandem with the synagogues,
batei midrash, and
in all parts of the town.
Had we merited that these thousands of our townsmen would still be with us,
they who were exterminated, cremated, and destroyed by the marauding enemy,
Hitler and his henchmen, we would have been able to have our children and our
grandchildren meet these noble-spirited, beautiful souls of our ancestral
homes. We would have been able to demonstrate their illustrious lives of the
highest steadfast purity, as anchored in countless generations of distinguished
Jewish life. Now, however, that it has not been granted us, it is our duty to
tell our coming generations about the beauty and grace of this city's Jews,
about their shining lives suffused with goodness in content and form. We will
tell those who follow us about our ancestors' holy lives, their battle and
stubborn stand against assimilation and deviation from the path of the
Patriarchs, about their love of Torah and their love for humankind, about the
yearning for Redemption and Return that was the cornerstone of the lives of
these genuine Jews, who once were and are no more.
The Synagogues and Batei Midrash
The public and communal life in our town, as in all towns of the Diaspora at
that time, was centered in the synagogues and
and their environs, from whence came forth Torah and the respect which is a
prerequisite to Torah. In the dozens of the city's synagogues, the Jews
gathered to pour their hearts out before their Creator in song and prayer and
to study Torah at morning or evening study sessions. In these synagogues,
cheders were maintained where the young received their education from early age
to maturity and old age. (The Maskilim and secularly learned also came from
this cheder background).
Indeed, at all times of the day and night you could hear the sound of Torah,
song, and prayer coming out of the
which were in all parts of the city.
The Jew's Street (lately renamed as Berka Joselewicza Street in honor of the
famous military hero) was the very heart of the spiritual and communal life.
On this street were all the buildings of the Jewish
kehilla,most of the synagogues and
batei midrash, the court of the
admor, etc. I will begin, then, with their locations at the beginning of the
street. I will attempt to memorialize in this article some of my youthful
memories and impressions of the synagogues and
that I remember. May this listing serve as a monument to the fundamental and
original Jewry of my birthplace, Oshpitzin, before the Holocaust.
The Prayer House Named after RYakov Wulkan
The Jew's Street was narrow, without sidewalks, and continued in the form of a
long L from the main square to Koleyowa Street. The first house on the right,
opposite the Municipal Building, belonged to R Yitzchak Sedger[?], one of the
city's prominent citizens, a very wealthy Jew who owned the shop that sold
metal and building materials and who owned much real estate. In R Yitzchak's
house, which extended to the end of the first block of the street, there was a
small synagogue with a women's section, named after its founder, R Akiva [?
Here as such, and not as in title as Yakov] Wulkan. This was a pleasant and
quiet place, a little sanctuary for the family of the synagogue's founder. The
house's tenants also prayed there along with other worthies, such as R Shaul
Brenner, R Moshe Kaufman and others. R Yitzchak Shroite[?], an outstanding
and great scholar, very stately with a pleasant voice, conducted his Talmud
lessons throughout the week and would lead the prayers on the Festivals and
High Holy Days.
of the Chrzanower Hasidim
On the left side of the street stood a house of very lengthy proportions, which
also was shaped in the form of an L. The eastern section extended along the
Jews' Street all the way to the courtyard of the
R Elazar. This impressive building belonged to the renowned elderly
philanthropist, R Yisrael Kluger, the patriarch of a large family of children
and grandchildren, some of whom were merchants and public figures; others were
and active in the community, as well as well-educated and Maskilim of great
perspicacity, some of whom especially his grandchildren were the
leaders of the religious Zionists. (Just a few survived after the Shoah: a few
of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren; our well-known friend, Yitzhak
BR Yosef Kluger-Dembicer, Tel Aviv-Zurich; Zalman BR Shlomo Gross,
Israel-Germany; the daughters of R Yudel Levi, and the daughter of R A.
Goldwirth and her family). In R Yisrael's house on the western
end there were two synagogues, one with a direct entry from the street,
of the Chrzanower Hasidim, called the Chrzanower Shtibel, in which some eighty
people not including the youth prayed daily, a group of important
balebatim, leaders of the community and its shepherds, such as R Avrohom Gross, who had
for many years been the head of the
kehilla; his brother-in-law, R Zev Wolf Rotenberg; R Zelig Wolf; R Eliezer Kaner,
his son R Kalman and son-in law R Yisrael and their sons; R Yehuda Silbiger;
R Shimon Dov Steinfeld; R Wolf Samet, and others.
As in most of the city's synagogues, here, too, they did not engage a cantor,
and the prayers were led only by those selected by the elected
gabbaim,except for twice a year: on Rosh Hashana for the Ma'ariv and Musaf services,
and for the Ma'ariv and Hakafot of Simchat Torah, using the special
[liturgical style] of the Divrei Chaim of Sanz. These would then be conducted
by the chief rabbi, the great
Rabbi Yehoshua Pinchas Bombach, and after his death the custom continued with
his son and successor Rabbi Eliyahu [who perished in the Shoah]. This custom
was instituted as a result of the following occurrence:
As was customary from antiquity, the chief rabbi attended the Great Synagogue
nusach) most of the Sabbaths and Holidays together with the commoners and
heads, on whom he was dependent for his livelihood. This, too, was one of the
conditions of his appointment to the post, that his official place of worship
would be the Great Synagogue.
As is known, there were at that time two factions in the Jewish population of
Oshpitzin: the Ashkenazim, who prayed at the Great Synagogue using the
nusach, the enlightened and modernists in top-hats, as against the Hasidim, people
who gathered around various
and who prayed in the Sefardi
in spite of their actually being of Ashkenazic descent.
During the time when the chief rabbi's post was occupied by the most excellent
Rabbi Bombach, the author of
Divrei Yehoshua, the Ashkenazim were in the majority and held sway over the
and began to restrict the rabbi's activities. Once on Rosh Hashana, during
the recess prior to the blowing of the shofar, when the worshippers were
congregated in the synagogue courtyard, a quarrel broke out between the two
sides. The hubbub grew as the rabbi and his adherents neared the courtyard,
where he became aware of the disturbance, and in order not to enter the fray,
he turned around and fled to the nearest house, the
of the Chrzanower Hasidim. (The rabbi, by the way, was not an adherent of this
Hasidic dynasty). Upset and frightened, the rabbi approached the table on which
the Torah scrolls lay, intoned the blessings prior to the shofar service, blew
the shofar, and continued with the Musaf service. The rabbi's actions amazed
the people; the quarrel ceased immediately and the rabbi continued thereafter
to pray in the Great Synagogue for the Sabbaths and Holidays. From that time
on, each Rosh Hashana after the Shacharit service, he would leave the Great
Synagogue and go to the
of the Chrzanower Hasidim for shofar blowing and Musaf. From then on, it was
also his custom to participate in the Hakafot of the Chrzanower Shtibel, which
were conducted according to the
of the Divrei Chaim of Sanz. His son and successor continued the tradition.
On these special days the
was too small to contain all those who came to enjoy hearing the sweet
This location, i.e., the
and its women's section, were used as
chadarim, classrooms for a lower yeshiva for students aged 11 to 13, whose teachers
were Rabbi Moshe Simcha Teitelbaum, the Lodzer
melamed, and Rabbi Dovid Reifer, the head of the Etz Chaim Yeshiva.
The Visitors' Society [Chevras Mevakrim]
In that same house belonging to RYisrael Kluger, on the second floor, almost
on top of the Chrzanower
shtibel,but with access through a stairway inside the house, there was another
and synagogue named after the Visitors' Society. Many business and working
people prayed here, and it was led by the
R Chaim Bruner-Kaufman and his sons.
was in fact an integral part of R Yakov Unger's apartment, but a side
stairway led to the large hall which served as a cheder, where R Yakov Unger
taught the many students who came under his tutelage for decades. R Yakov was
chacham, a scholar and enlightened, a skilled teacher using a unique method. He
taught boys from the age of bar mitzvah and up the Talmud and Tanach as well as
proper and correct Hebrew writing skills.
Many stories circulated about him, one of which was that at times he succumbed
to alcoholic excess, i.e., that sometimes he would overindulge. When this
happened, his students mistreated him and there was a total lack of discipline
and respect for authority, the very traits that he enforced rigorously in his
Most of the Zionist youth at that time, and especially the religious branch,
imbibed their basic knowledge in Hebrew in R Yakov's cheder. Most
acknowledged it and were very appreciative. A goodly number of Mizrachi
members did, in fact, gather later on and pray in this
of the Chevras Mevakrim.
of the Tzadik Rabbi Elazor [Reb Luzer'l]
At the street's elbow, on the southwest corner, at the top of the hill which
was popularly known as R Luzer's Hill, the court of
R Elazar Halevi Rosenfeld was located; this hill of several hectares had a
flat summit. On this peak and on the slopes there were dozens of mature, tall,
and many-branched chestnut trees. This plot was in its pristine state; it had
never been cultivated and was a splendid place, the air clear and fresh, shadow
and light dancing between the trees and branches. Here and there were benches
that had been taken from the
on which sat some elderly Jew surrounded by the youths who attended the
bes medrish. If, for example, it was the elderly R Shmuel Hersh Landau, who had gone
blind many years ago, he would sit and recite by heart; you would always find
around him youngsters who were astounded at the amazing memory of the old man,
who would recite from the Chapters of Mishna, complete with their commentaries,
word for word. The youngsters tried more than once to put him to the test,
whether it was the commentary of Rashi, or Bartenura, or Tosfot Yomtov, etc.,
but he always came out on top, since he was letter perfect in them all.
The Hill was always abuzz with people, especially in the afternoons
and at dusk, when you would find groups traipsing back and forth, discussing
and arguing over texts, others standing in a circle and hearing Torah tidbits,
Musar lessons, or Hasidic tales. Thus the entire hill, at its summit, was
entirely black with
and hats, since the
and the Hill were the center of the lives of the adherents of the
as well as all of the Hasidim of the House of Bobowa (before the split, after
which each group built its own
farther down the street more about them later).
On the north edge of the hill, a long and high wall divided the
Hill. The wall consisted of brownish-red stones, and stretched
from the top of the hill to the bottom and separated the Holy from the profane,
between the property of the
RElazar and the boundary of the Silesian Order, their church and famous
school and adjacent dormitory. A devout Jew strolling in the courtyard of the
would not unnecessarily approach the intervening wall except to pass water.
Along the eastern side of the hill stood the house and forecourt of the
admor. On the left was the synagogue and adjacent to it the women's section, which
was also used as a sukkah by moving the roof, which rested on metal tracks.
The sukkah was adorned with antique tapestries, and beds and furniture were
placed there so that the
would not have to leave it. Ritual objects that were the heirlooms of the
ancestors of the Kaminka dynasty, Zans, etc., were moved in so that it was
transformed into a temporary home for the
and his family. (This is not the place to describe the beauty, splendor, and
holy grandeur of the sukkah and the festivals in the
court). To the left of the women's section there was a huge library where the
sat at table on the Sabbaths and Festivals, and next to that a private room
could be alone (and was also used as a bedroom), and beyond that were the
rooms of the household, and at the end the separate kitchens for dairy and meat
meal preparation, and the washrooms.
The synagogue, a separate building, was larger and taller than the living
quarters, and consisted of one large hall, somewhat dusky, with shelves of
along the high walls, and long tables with benches on both sides, where the
young men were always seated in the company of
and elders poring over the Talmud with the sounds of Torah resonating day and
During the prayer services the synagogue was packed and the worshippers stood
crammed together, even in the aisles and corridors. It was then impossible to
move in any direction, and even the courtyard was crowded with worshippers,
especially on Festival Days, when even the rooms in the
house were filled, for as described above, most of the Bobower Hasidim
gathered around the
rebbe. Not only they, but also in attendance with the worshippers of the
were most of the elders of the town and its
such as R Mendel Wachsman, R Yosef Laufer, R Shmuel Zvi Landau, R Shmuel
Better, R Yissachar Kahana, R Yehudan and R Dovid Lazar, they and their sons
and sons-in-law who were considered the first families of Bobower Hasidism.
Others, too, would come, such as Rabbi Mordechai Boruch Danner, the city
magid, the elderly R Sholem Hakohen Binder, R Eliyahu Hirschthal, Rabbi Pinchos
Greher, the author of the volumes
Pinchos, the yeshiva head, R Mordechai Krakowere, R Osher Zwerling and their
families, all adherents of the
admor, and joined by Hasidim from near and far, all came. The crowding was so great
on such days that it was unbearable.
In the southeast corner of the
there was an opening to the oven for baking the Passover matzot. (The oven
itself stood outside the
bes medrish). The
of Thirty days before Passover one should study and investigate the
Passover laws was kept here in all of its details. The place simply
turned into a matzo factory for the
and his household, who would themselves carefully examine the wheat kernels,
grind it into flour, strain it, and bake the matzot, especially scrupulous for
for the Passover. The yeshiva students and young men would form into bands,
groups of 40 to 50 each. Each
received its turn for a specified period by lottery and had its allotment of
hours for baking their matzo
shmura. This was done with great fervor accompanied by song. The peak was reached
on the eve of Passover, at the time when the
himself, together with his family and a number of select Hasidim,
all already attired in holiday clothes,
shtreimlach, urged each other on with calls: For the sake of the mitzvah of
matzot, all the while chanting Psalms and with exalted spirit preparing
and baking the
matzot the Passover eve matzot. This unique experience was truly
Between R Luzer's Hill and the fenced-in synagogue courtyard,
there was a gully in which were embedded slabs of cement interspersed with
steps leading downwards to the bathhouse and
mikve. This was a very large structure in which there were dressing rooms and
lockers, bathing rooms, bathtubs, a giant Turkish bath and two
mikvaot. A section of the upper floor was used by the
for offices and a meeting hall for the council and the administration, but the
only entrance to this section was by a small overpass that connected directly
from the courtyard to the upper floor. Behind this house there was a machine
room that contained the equipment that served the bathhouse with steam. The
boiler was as large as that of a locomotive.
public facility was nearby. This was off by itself, a small hut that served
as a slaughterhouse for fowl. The area always looked as if it was wintertime,
but this was but an illusion, for in reality these were chicken feathers, and
especially the down of ducks and geese, strewn about the area.
The Chevra Kov'ei Itim LaTorah
[Society devoting time to Torah study]
Adjacent to the left side of the bathhouse, just at the bottom of R
Luzer's Hill, there was a large attractive building, the synagogue of the
Kov'ei Itim LaTorah. This synagogue was elegant both inside and out in its
unique style: high windows with stained glass, walls adorned with frescoes,
artistic light fixtures and wood carvings adorning the Holy Ark; all of these
contributed much to the magnificence of the synagogue itself and to the
worshippers, all of them noble
and refined people, men who studied Torah and were dispensers of charity and
This synagogue, too, had a very nice women's section, a large room without
frescoes, but very bright and clean. The seats were comfortable and had
backrests. In recent years it housed the cheder of R Shlomke Rath, a somewhat
short Jew, for which he was called The Little Rebbe'le or
Short Shlome'le Melamed, who taught the little children.
Next to the southern end of the synagogue, at the entrance to the women's
section, there was a two-story building that belonged to the
and was designated for housing of the
[religious functionaries]. On the upper floor lived R Alter, the longtime
of the Great Synagogue, and the first floor was intended for the city
and his family. It had formerly been occupied by the Rabbi Gaon Nosen Note
Landau and, after his demise, by his successor the Rabbi Gaon R Yechezkel.
They and their relatives were regular worshippers at the adjacent synagogue,
where they set the tone in all things.
Every evening there were study sessions at the Kov'ei Itim led by first-class
The Great Synagogue
Let us retrace our steps and return to the Jews' Street. Standing there and
facing each other are the Great Synagogue in all its glory, both inside and
out, and the Great Bes Medrish. Both of them, together with the adjacent
buildings, represented the center of Jewish community life throughout the year.
The Great Synagogue was indeed a very large and magnificent building, quite
impressive architecturally. The building occupied about a third of the entire
length of the Jews' Street. On its right side there was a large courtyard,
which served as the only access to the meeting hall of the
council, and behind it was an enormous park, which seemingly never had been
properly cared for, since the undergrowth was wild and only its trees were very
tall and overlooked everything.
The building was constructed in the form of a fortress, with metal gates and
massive, heavy wooden doors. The windows were narrow but very tall, and the
walls very thick.
The synagogue had been built and refurbished after a fire that had previously
destroyed the earlier edifice, one that had been constructed entirely of wood,
sometime between 5580 and 5590 [1820-1830].
The entrance to the synagogue itself was through the
palosh,where the daily services took place, particularly on the cold winter days,
since inside there were no heating arrangements for fear of a conflagration.
(The previous synagogue had burned down after being set afire by a heating
device that used wood and coal). In order to enter the synagogue proper, one
had to descend several steps in consonance with: From the depths I call
Thee, O Lord.
The interior was very impressive. The walls were covered with marvelous
frescoes all flowing together under the rounded dome, making the ceiling into a
form of a
above. The ceiling and its coloration looked like the blue sky, with
scattered shining stars, and around it were the twelve signs of the zodiac.
The walls, too, were covered with marvelous drawings by a master craftsman.
was raised and enclosed by a screen and covered by a canopy fashioned of
scrolled iron and brass, and of carved wood. There were quite a few steps
leading to the Holy Ark, which was of gigantic proportions and took up a
sizable part of the eastern wall. Around the Ark and above it were exquisitely
hand-carved wooden decorations, all for the beautification of the sanctuary.
The lighting was dim: only wax candles and paraffin were carefully lit, for
electricity had not yet reached Oshpitzin and its environs. It was in the
Great Synagogue, the first of all of the city's buildings, that electric
lighting was installed and was first used during the High Holy Day Services in
The synagogue had some 2000 seats, including the women's section:
[fixed seating] that belonged to
or their heirs, that had been purchased in perpetuity through the sizable
contributions made to finance the building of the synagogue, and there were
seats that were leased for yearly fees.
of the Great Synagogue was unlike the rest of the places of worship in
the town in the Ashkenazic rite. The synagogue had a steady cantor, R
Yosef Helfman, who with a youth choir would pleasingly chant the prayers of the
Sabbaths and Festivals. On the High Holy Days, however, the chief rabbi, Rabbi
Eliyahu Bombach would himself lead the prayers: on Rosh Hashana, the Shacharit
Services, and on Yom Kippur he intoned all but the Shacharit and Mincha
Services. His clear, sweet voice penetrated the hearts of the worshippers.
Hundreds of worshippers who were not regular attendees at the Great Synagogue
would gather there on these days just to hear his prayers and chants. There was
so much overcrowding on these days that the large courtyard and the street
around the synagogue were thronged with people.
Among the regular worshippers were many Maskilim most of the academics,
judges, physicians, attorneys, etc., who would make an appearance primarily on
the High Holy Days, and less so for the Festivals as well as plain folk.
Most were modernists, at least in their dress, so that many among them wore top
hats, but there were also two or three wearing
The synagogue was always spotless, quiet, and very orderly, since all knew and
admired the masterful job done by R Alter, the veteran elderly
who subdued young and old with just his glance, and everyone recognized the
growl of that most impressive
gabbai,R Avrohom Jachtzel, who was completely involved in all synagogue affairs as
well as other communal affairs, such as the
chevra kadisha, etc.
in the recent period before the Shoah were R Berish Barber and R Avrohom
One night at the beginning of the winter of 5700 (1939-40) a final end came to
all this splendor. The city was patrolled by uniformed groups of the special
German forces, may their memory be blotted out. It seems they were well
practiced, especially in the destruction of synagogues, and silently approached
and set the building ablaze. The inferno was great, but no help came. The
Germans had surrounded the area and threatened with drawn guns to summarily
shoot anyone daring to leave his house. They called this a strict night
The Jews could only weep from afar at this blaze, which consumed the House of
The Great Bes Medrish
The Bes Medrish building was a large structure in whose right corner was a
massive gate that enclosed some twelve steps leading to the entrance of the Bes
A wash-basin was installed in this stairway and next to it was a huge barrel of
water which served for the ritual washing of hands for all who entered the Bes
Medrish and for the Kohanim before going up for the Priestly Benediction. On
the further end, facing eastward, there was a small room,
in Polish, where there were extra
on weekdays for those who had Yahrzeit or had other obligations to lead the
service, and if the honor had already been given to another in the Bes Medrish,
he would gather a
or more people for prayer in the
palosh. A big door set in the southern wall gave access to the Bes Medrish itself,
whose three walls had many windows, very high and with metal bars, one next to
the other with the intervening space looking like a thick pillar. The east
wall, however, had a massive, built-in Holy Ark, which had been inserted into
the wall itself, with a fenced-in platform where the Kohanim would go up to
bless the people.
On the northern wall, opposite the entrance, a large clock was suspended that
would always keep perfect time. Many good Jews would daily set their watches
by this clock, so as not to have to refer to the clock over the church. The Bes
Medrish hall was quite large, so that on weekdays various groups could say
their prayers in small groups from sunup to noontime, and on Sabbaths and
Festivals the entire congregation would pray together, at which time the Bes
Medrish was full from end to end.
There were two things that were glaringly missing in the Bes Medrish: (a) A
women's section; (b)
s'farim, prayer books and texts there wasn't even a bookcase, except for the
space behind the stove on the southern wall where there were some shelves in
the wall that had doors that swung on rusty hinges and emitted screechy groans
when they were opened. These shelves were completely empty of books, except
[no longer usable books or random pages of sacred writings] that people
brought there for later burial.
I had always wondered why this place was called the Great Bes
Medrish. True, the building was large and many prayed there, but it was
in no way a real
in the usual sense of a place where one learns Talmud and where study-groups
meet regularly. There was perhaps only one aspect of the place that did fit in
with the name, for from time to time when emissaries came from Eretz Yisrael or
others came on missions to raise money for their causes, they preached and
exhorted from the dais of the Bes Medrish [
means sermon or speech on Torah topics, thus relating to
This is how things were, at least in recent times and as far back as I can
gabbaim, R Chanoch Goldstein, R Shlomo Gruber, R Mendel Haber, R Chaim Weisberger,
and R Dovid Grinbaum, were the ones who saw to all the needs in the Bes
Medrish, including the salary of R Chaim Shimon Miller and his famous
choir led by my friend R Ahron Daniel Miller, himself a renowned
(taking after his father), now in Brooklyn, New York.
Named for R Yakov Schneider
As pointed out earlier, the hub of the
complex was on Jews' Street. Jewish communal life in Oshpitzin, however, was
to be found in nearly every street where there were Jewish homes, here a little
or a larger one, there a cheder or yeshiva from which the sounds of Torah and
prayer could be heard day and night. As the street continued, in a house close
to the Great Bes Medrish, there was a very long narrow building (more than 30
meters) that fronted the main square (Rynek Glawny) and whose end reached Jews'
Street. This house had been built by the respected philanthropist R Yakov
Schneider and named for him. The frontage had been intended for businesses and
dwellings, with the rear section planned for warehousing and storage. In this
rear section there were large stores of cigarettes and tobacco products owned
by the proprietors of Traffic, the principal agency of the
government monopoly, and run by R Eliezer Schneider and his partner R Moishe
Wolf. Should you go up a narrow wooden unlit staircase you would have reached
a pearl of a place, full of light and luster, which had been dedicated as a
House of God. The room was not too large and at its end was a smaller room for
the women, yet very charming, orderly, and clean. This was Schneider's
Shtibel as it was called, after R Yakov.
This little sanctuary had originally been founded, it seems, for a handful of
the family and friends, such as the progeny of R Yakov Schneider, R Pesach
Hollander and family, R Zvi Nebenzahl and family, and the like. With the
passage of time, however, these limitations were breached, but the place
maintained its character and exemplified closeness and friendship towards all
The place, like most synagogues in town, also served as a study hall for
yeshiva students. There Rabbi Dovid Bennet taught his lower classes, which
later formed the nucleus of the Keser Torah Yeshiva of the Radomsko Hasidim.
of the Radomsker Hasidim
Further down on the east side of the street, in the courtyard of R Ahron
Silbiger's house, stood a low structure housing two rather large rooms, which
was well-known as The Old Radomsker Shtibel. This was, it seems,
one of the oldest prayer houses in town, where the elderly Hasidim of Radomsk,
R Elozer and R Eliyahu Koszicki, and their families were among the regular
worshippers, even though they lived some distance from the place. Even when
the new Radomsker synagogue was built, only a part of the group moved there,
with the elders remaining faithful to their original
Actually, there was another weighty special reason why this
could absolutely not close down. This was also the famous location where the
rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Shlomo Posner, produced young scholars, and here he conducted his
classes where hundreds of students received Torah and wisdom for many years.
Rabbi Posner was an institution all by himself, without party connections or
any particular Hasidic court backing. He was recognized as an outstanding
scholar, with a gifted system for transmitting his lessons in a lucid fashion.
The many students whom he had taught admired him greatly and always respected
of the Radomsker Hasidim and the Keser Torah Yeshiva
Not far from the Great Synagogue, on the left side of the street on the west
side, between the Better house, which was built adjacent to the synagogue wall,
and the Gutherz house (the brothers R Zimel and R Mantche) the biggest
house on the street, a four-story building of red stone, the only house on the
whole street that had a sidewalk (where the children would play with nuts and
stones) there was a little hill that sloped downwards from the west for
some 30-40 meters.
When we were little children, this little hill looked to us like a real
mountain, and in the winter, on our way to cheder or on the way back, when a
mantle of snow covered the city streets, the dimensions of the
mountain seemed even greater, and our desire was to get to the top
and slide down on improvised sleds made of boards or from pieces of rusty tin
or even our school-bags, everyone according to his size and ability. The
little ones slid only a few meters towards the street and the more daring ones
turned towards the other side and slid like the wind for 20-30 meters to the
fence around the well that had been dug there, or even further if we had
managed to slide around and bypass the well.
The hill was popularly known as Ber'ele Wintholz's Mountain, so
named by a little child some generations back, and the name stuck ever since.
R Ber'ele was a famous
of tots, who had instructed many of the town's children and whose cheder was
located right next to the hill, almost set into it. Most of the hours of the
daytime, if only the weather allowed it, a number of his pupils were scattered
on the slopes of the green hillside under the supervision of R Ber'ele and his
family. The cheder was too small to accommodate all the pupils simultaneously,
so he arranged the lessons and recesses alternately to be able to instruct them
all. The mountain was, therefore, almost always occupied by
scattered children and that is how the name originated. Even later, after R
Ber'ele was no longer the
and the hill was bare, the name remained as it was.
In the last decade before the war, a redeemer was found for a part of the hill,
in the form of the Radomsker Hasidim who built their attractive synagogue and
Keser Torah Yeshiva there. This was a beautiful, spacious structure befitting
a house of prayer and study.
Most of the Hasidim of Radomsk in the city moved over to this new sanctuary and
were headed by R Boruch Bennet, the son-in-law of the
of Zator. He was a great
maskil, a man of wealth who owned a very large wholesale business and was also very
active and successful in public affairs, a member of the city council, etc.
R Avromtche Gross, the son-in-law of Rabbi Ze'ev Rosenblum, the
of Jaworzno and formerly the
and rabbi in Oshpitzin, and R Boruch were considered to be among the most
in town. Into this building moved all of the classes of the Keser Torah
Yeshiva, headed by Rabbi Gaon Avrohom Oizer Alter, and the Radomsker
and general factotum, who was involved in everything, was our friend R Mendel
Mondschein, a wonderful Jew, charitable and benevolent. He gave his time,
money, and personal effort for any good cause or any matter involving Radomsker
concerns, but he was most especially devoted to the Keser Torah Yeshiva.
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