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[Page 26]

Avraham Yaacov Papierna (1840-1919)
Teacher and Literary Critic

by Shlomo Greenspan


The above lived in Plotzk for 45 years. He came there when he was appointed as a teacher of Jewish religion in the Russian governmental secondary school. Being a Russophile, he advocated adherence of the Jews to Russian culture and dissociation from Polish cultural influences, and soon became Inspector on behalf of the Russian educational authorities for all the Jewish religious schools (known by the name of "Heder") and advised the authorities on the possibilities of modernizing these institutions.

He made a name for himself as a literary critic and his essays on Hebrew literature exerted considerable influence on his contemporaries. In his essays he fought for the raising of cultural standards and against the ornate and unnatural pseudo-Biblical style employed by most of the "Haskala" Hebrew writers. He also wrote books on modern methods for teaching Hebrew and Russian.

Thanks to his activities he enjoyed great popularity in Plotzk and although the extreme religious circles regarded him with suspicion, his personality was respected by the general Jewish public and his home served as an important cultural center.

The Jewish population of Plotzk celebrated his 70th birthday in 1910.

Avraham Yaacov Papierna is considered the most illustrious of the three great Jewish literary critics of his time in Poland, who guided Hebrew literature onto new ways.



[Page 27]

Aharon Ben Moshe Kahanstam (Konstam)

by Eliyahu Eisenberg


This article is a tribute to the memory of Aharon ben Moshe Kahanstam (1860-1920), a Plotzk-born outstanding Hebrew pedagogue who devoted his life to the spreading of Hebrew education in several places in Poland and Russia. He was a pioneer of modern Hebrew and established courses for Hebrew teachers who later contributed a great deal to Zionism and Hebrew education.

As a young man he began to practice Law but soon decided to devote his life to education. Upon leaving his job as an assistant in an advocate's firm in Plotzk, he studied to become a teacher. When offered the directorship of a Lodz Jewish religious school, he accepted this challenge enthusiastically and wrote in his diary: "a new epoch begins in my life".

Kahanstam was soon regarded as a central figure of Hebrew education. He showed a lively interest in his pupils' social background and was very active in social work.

From Lodz he moved to Petersburg, where he spent nine years in the Jewish educational sphere. During all those years he was constantly in conflict with sponsors, administrators and other officials who had no understanding of sound educational principles. In 1907 he moved to Grodno where he founded and directed the "Pedagogical Courses of Grodno", whose influence on Hebrew education was outstanding.

Students and teachers who were privileged to study under Aharon ben Moshe Kahanstam admired his fine personality and a number of them published in Tel-Aviv in 1936 a book called: "Rishonim" (The First), dedicated to their unforgettable teacher and leader. These memories contain details about his devotion to the cause of Hebrew education, his influence on all those who came into contact with him, his struggles and zeal for progressive teaching methods, and the appreciation of the assistance he gave Jewish girls who aspired to the teaching profession from which they were barred in those years.

His last stage was the Ukrainian city of Kharkov, where he became the guardian of Hebrew education till the last minute of his life. He succeeded in ignoring the existence of the Bolsheviks who tried and finally succeeded to liquidate all national and Hebrew schools in Russia.

When he died in 1920, one of the mourners, although an opponent, stated: "With the death of Aharon ben Moshe Kahanstam the conscience of the Hebrew teacher has passed away".

"Although the venues of his influential and blessed activities were outside Plotzk", says the author of this article, "we can't publish the Plotzk Memorial Book without paying tribute to a great son of our town".



[Pages 28-32]

Lives of Famous Plotzk Rabbis

by Shlomo Greenspan


Rabbi Yehuda Leib Margolies – a Pioneer of Science and Fighter for Justice

It is to the credit of the community of Plotzk, that its rabbinical seat was occupied during the eighties of the 18th century by an outstanding personality, who did much to tear down the spiritual walls of the ghetto, with which the Jews of that period were still surrounded. This man was Rabbi Yehuda Leib Margolies, also known as Rabbi Yehuda Perle (1747-1811 or 1818).

New winds of freedom and equality, finally culminating in the French Revolution, began to blow even in the hermetically closed world of Polish and Russian Jewry, which frowned on any secular education whatsoever. The Talmud was the sole source of knowledge, when Rabbi Y. L. Margolies took upon himself to spread the knowledge of Nature amongst the Jews, for which he was not even attacked by the most orthodox, due to the great authority which he enjoyed. Margolies was labeled by Aharon Zeitlin as an "anti-Mendelsonian enlightener", i.e. a "Maskil" who remained within the religious camp. Dr. J. Zinberg describes him in his "Literary History of the Jews" as a fighter for the ideals of enlightenment and against the forces of darkness. Dr. Joseph Klausner, as well as Ben Zion Katz in his "History of the Enlightenment of the Jews in Russia" quotes him as advocating the coexistence of secular knowledge and science with piety and the fear of God.

Rabbi Y. L. Margolies was the author of nine books, mostly dealing with Natural Sciences, Philosophy, Grammar and others. His foremost work, "Or Olam", first appeared in 1777 and saw several editions. In this book he showed himself to be a follower of the Aristotelian school of philosophy, which in his opinion is not in conflict with the Law of Moses. In his book "Tal Orot " (Pressburg, 1843), he comes out in favor of a more tolerant and liberal attitude towards the Christian nations, amongst which the Jews dwelled, and preaches higher moral and ethical standards in the relationship between the well-to-do and the poorer segments of the Jewish communities. His fearless stand in the forefront of humanitarian and social reform made him widely known, far beyond the confines of Plotzk, so that he was well remembered as a spiritual leader in Poland for many decades after his death in Frankfurt on the Oder in 1811 (or 1818).



Rabbi Zysza Plotzker

A Monograph of an outstanding rabbi, who lived in Plotzk in the 19th century. Since 1830 the above served as rabbi of Plotzk where he was very active in establishing peaceful relations between various groups who fought for influence in the community. His house became a Torah-center, frequented by many Chassidim eager to hear his discourses on the Sacred Books.

He collected pious sayings of the Hassidic Rabbi of Przysucha, whom he revered, in a book which was published after his death. Several other books of his were published by his grandson several years before the outbreak of the Second World War.

In 1940, when the Nazis were about to convert the old Jewish cemetery of Plotzk into a garden and use the tombstones for street paving, some of his adherers went to the cemetery (103 years after his death) and transferred his remains to another place. The author adds that in spite of the long time which had elapsed since the burial of Zysza Plotzker, his bones had remained intact…



Rabbi Shmuel Ben Azriel

In the second half of the 18th century there served a rabbi in the community of Plotzk, whose spiritual home was the school of German rabbis. His father, Rabbi Azriel, had been rabbi of Landsberg and he himself had studied in his youth at the Yeshivoth of Amsterdam. Having lived some years in Poznan he was appointed rabbi of Kutno and later on of Plotzk, where he died in 1772.

Rabbi Shmuel published two books : "The pillars of the World" (Amude Olam), Berlin 1741, and "Samuel's Belt" (Hagurath Shmuel), Frankfurt on the Oder.

His book "Amude Olam" contains several interesting biographical notes, amongst which we find the description of a ritual-murder accusation leveled against the Jews of Poznan as a result of which two-third of the Jewish community, together with Rabbi Shmuel, had to flee from this city.

After lengthy negotiations the matter was finally brought to an end when the Chancellor of Poland forced six witnesses from the Polish aristocracy to testify to the innocence of the accused Jews of Poznan.



Rabbi Arye Leib Zunz (Reb Leibel Charif)

The Rabbinical chair of Plotzk was occupied during the first quarter of the 19th century by a great and well-known sage, Rabbi Arye Leib Zunz, who was appointed at the age of thirty to the seat of Rabbi Y.L. Margolies. He had already been famous in the Rabbinical world since his eighteenth year of life, when he compiled a book by the name of "Yaelat Hen".

Having served in Plotzk for a period of ten years, he remained ever after faithful to the town by giving the title "Rabbi of Plotzk" in all the 25 books written by him. He was known among the Jews as the "Plotzker Rav".

After leaving Plotzk he served the community of Praga, near Warsaw, after which time he retired in order to devote his latter years solely to the writing of books. Most of them were actually published only after he passed away in 1833, a number of them reaching several editions. Some of the greatest Polish Rabbis were pupils of Rabbi Zunz; most famous amongst them – the founder of the Chassidic Dynasty of "Ger", Rabbi Itche Meir Alter, the "Baal Hidushey Harim".

Many stories about Reb Leibele Charif made the round amongst the common people and it was widely believed that all his blessings and wishes would come true. One of these tales concerns Rabbi Avramele of Ciechanow.



Rabbi Abraham of Ciechanow, the Plotzker “Ilui”

Rabbi Abraham the Zaddik of Ciechanow, one of the famous Chassidic saintly men who influenced the Jewish community of Plotzk during the first half of the 18th century, was descended from simple folk. His father, Reb Rafael Dobrzinski had sent him as a youth to study Torah in Plotzk where he very soon made a name for himself by his steady learning and thorough knowledge of the Holy Books. One of the richest men of the community, Reb Dan Landau, gave him his daughter for a wife. He remained in the house of his father-in-law, even adopted his family name until he was called to serve as Rabbi of Ciechanow, where he came under the influence of the Chassidic sect. Although he was not at all eager to act as a Rebbe, the Chassidim of his town and the surrounding area elected him as their Zaddik. Numerous tales are told of his wisdom and erudition. (See Yitzhak Rafael – "History of Chassidism", Tel-Aviv 1946).

After his death in 1875 several of his books such as "Abraham's Virtues" were printed. The popular image of the Rabbi motivated his great-grandson Zysche Landau, a poet who was born in Plotzk, to dedicate one of his poems to the memory of that great man, 40 years after he had passed away.



Rabbi Yissachar Dov Graubart – N. Sokolov's Rabbi

Rabbi Y. D. Graubart was born in 1842, at Shrensk, where he studied at the local Yeshivah and from where he was called to serve as Rabbi of Plotzk. He married the daughter of a local Dayan, Rabbi Ascher. Among his pupils we know Rabbi Yona Zlotnik of Plotzk and Rabbi Yehuda Leib Zlotnik, who became a well known Rabbi in Canada and carried out a great deal of research in the sphere of Jewish Folklore. Best known among his pupils was Nachum Sokolov, later the President of the World Zionist Organization.

Exceptional wisdom and knowledge, simplicity and humility were the outstanding characteristics of Rabbi Graubart. Great love for and understanding of the average simple Jew motivated him in all his Halakhicdecisions. He gave the Hovevei Zion unofficial support. One year before his death in 1912 he also participated in the Founding Conference of the Agudath Israel movement which took place in Kattovitz. Rabbi Graubart passed away in 1913 at Bedzin, where his son Rabbi Yekutiel succeeded him until his immigration to the U.S., where he served as rabbi in Brooklyn, Chicago and Canada. A daughter of Rabbi Graubart, Rosa Jacobovitz, was well known in Poland after the first World War as a Yiddish poetess. One of her poems is dedicated to "My Father".



Rabbi Eleazar Cohen

When Rabbi Eleazar Cohen was appointed to the Rabbinate of Plotzk, he was already at the age of 65, but his bonds with the town go back to his early youth. Born in 1791 in Warsaw, he was sent by his wealthy father at the age of 9 to study at the Plotzk Yeshiva. In Warsaw he continued his studies under Rabbi Arie Leib Zunz, who had also served, at a different period, as Rabbi of Plotzk. Many years passed, when Rabbi Eleazar, serving at that time the community of Makov, received a call to become Rav of Plotzk. However, he was very hesitant to accept this call, since he was well aware of the fact that various factions, not all of them strictly orthodox, existed within the community. He consulted, one after the other, Rabbi Abraham of Ciechanow, the Zaddik of Kotzk and Rabbi Itche Meir, the Zaddik of Ger. Their consensus of opinion was that he should not be deterred by any hindrances and proceed immediately for Plotzk. Finally, he consented to serve there on condition that a unanimous letter of appointment be sent to him over the signatures of all Plotzk community leaders. The full text of the letter of appointment is quoted in the Hebrew section.

The community received him with great joy, but became divided in their loyalty to him, as soon as he had preached his first Sabbath sermon in which he demanded the strictest possible observance of the day of rest. The more enlightened opposed him vehemently, whilst the faithful were very happy to have him as spiritual guide. During his 6 years of tenure of office in Plotzk (1856-1862), Rabbi Eleazar was constantly embroiled in various frictions with the Gabayimof the community; so that he had no interest in renewing his contract and went on to serve in Pultusk and Sochaczew. His life-work "Hidushey H'Redak" was published after his death (1913) by his son Yehoshua.

One of Rabbi Elazar's young pupils was a student from Wyshogrod, Nahum Sokolov, who describes in his memories the movement of the "Enlightenment", which had penetrated the community and changed its old-worldly atmosphere, a fact which made Rabbi Elazar's position there so complicated.



Rabbi Azriel Arye Leib Rakowsky – the Fighting “Mitnaged”

The rift which developed within the Jewries of Poland and Lithuania in the 19th century, when the ideas of progress and enlightenment, originating in Prussia and Eastern Germany, collided with the Hassidic way of life, did not bypass Plotzk. The sect of the Chassidim became so strongly rooted there during the second half of that century, that their opponents, who were in charge of community affairs, decided to invite as their Rabbi a personality, who was known as an uncompromising opponent of Chassidim. Their choice fell on Rabbi A. A. L. Rakowsky.

When he arrived in town the Chassidim immediately fought him vigorously, so that he was forced to leave Plotzk for Lomza. An epidemic, which broke out soon thereafter was regarded as a punishment of Heaven and a delegation of notables was sent to Lomza to persuade the Rabbi to return to his flock. From then on his position in the community was considerably strengthened, although the Chassidim never adopted a friendly attitude towards him. He persisted in introducing modern teaching methods and other progressive innovations in the local Talmud-Torah. The Chassidim retaliated by denouncing him to the Russian authorities, which almost led to his arrest.

The establishment of a Jewish hospital in town and various improvements in the situation of the poor are to his credit. He served the community for 17 years until he could not bear the communal friction anymore and accepted in 1880 a call for Mariampol, where he passed away in 1893.



[Pages 33-35]

Jewish Life in Plotzk in the Light of Hebrew Periodicals
of the Second Half of the 19th Century

by Shlomo Greenspan


“Hamelitz” on the Beginnings of Zionism in Plotzk

At the beginning of this article the author stresses the fact that the Zionist idea had adherents in Plotzk, long before the Zionist organization was founded. Yitzhak Lederberg (great-grandfather of the Nobel-prize winner Dr. Yehoshua Lederberg) went to Eretz Israel in 1830 and a few decades later the Zionist activities of Plotzk-born people were already widely-known.

In 1891, with the foundation of a branch of the "Hovevei Zion" movement in Plotzk, formal Zionist activities began.

The author quotes excerpts from the then famous Hebrew periodical "Hamelitz", reporting on Zionist conventions and daily Zionist activities, including money-raising campaigns which took place in Plotzk.



Itzhak Grinbaum and Aharon Becker – Pillars of Zionism in Plotzk

In his essay "The Jews in Plotzk", I. Grinbaum, formerly a leader of Polish Jewry and first Minister of the Interior of Israel, describes how a Zionist youth-group was founded in Plotzk at the end of the 19th century. That group was named "Mazkeret Shmuel", in honor of Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, a famous leader of the religious wing of the Zionist movement.

I. Grinbaum, and A. Becker (from Lithuania) who had settled in Plotzk, were the founders and initiators of that group. The latter became soon leader of the younger generation, on which he exerted great influence.

The above-mentioned "Hamelitz" dedicates a special review to that event and mentions the obligation undertaken by members of the group to pay between 10 and 25 "kopeikas" (Russian coin) every month.

The same periodical published an article at the beginning of this century from which we learn that the local Zionists earnestly endeavored to assume responsibility for the affairs of the Jewish community (Kehila) in accordance with the Zionist aim and slogan of "Kibbush Hakehilot" (Conquest of the Communities).



The Pre-Zionist Epoch of Nahum Sokolov

The great Zionist leader and famous Hebrew journalist and writer Nahum Sokolov was brought up in Plotzk. Before he joined Zionist groups formally, and took part in manifold Zionist campaigns, there had been times when he dissociated himself from Zionism. This information is contained in an article published in another Hebrew periodical of those times, called "Hamaggid".



Education and Cultural Life

Articles written by Nahum Sokolov are a faithful source for the reader who wishes to acquaint himself with the general trend and ideas of the younger Jewish generation of Plotzk, which at the end of the 19th century strove for the introduction of "general" studies side by side with Jewish studies. In his articles Nahum Sokolov describes the miserable conditions under which Jewish youth lived – without proper clothes, half-hungry, arguing with their parents about the necessity of general studies in order to change the depressing living conditions then prevailing in the Jewish communities.

Under the influence of the "Haskala" (Enlightenment) ideas, some families began to send their children to general secondary schools but had to fight for their right to do so with conservative groups who considered general education as the first step towards the repudiation of Judaism. The problem of writing on Sabbath-days hindered many parents, faithful to the Jewish religion, from sending their children to "general" schools.

We also find in these periodicals letters about the financial difficulties encountered by the Jewish community in maintaining its schools and paying the teachers' salaries. In order to overcome those difficulties – we learn from the "Hamelitz" – the communal leaders even agreed… to organize a theatre-show in order to collect some funds.

But in spite of the "Haskala" movement the rabbis were very popular with the general public and leaders of the community showed them great respect.

In the "Hamelitz" of 1890 we read an interesting story about a rabbi who successfully passed an examination in Russian. The periodical adds that the examiners admired his "thorough knowledge of the Russian language".



Public Institutions and Social Work

An 1891 issue of the above periodical describes the growing poverty of the Jewish population and the necessity for overseas emigration. The retail merchants were forced to pay high interest for goods purchased on credit from wholesalers. A proposal was made to establish a wholesale store for the benefit of the retail merchants but for some unknown reasons this plan never materialized.

There existed in Plotzk a society whose members volunteered to visit sick people at the hospital as well as to distribute among them tea and sugar. The society "Bikur Holim" did a fine job in preventing a typhus epidemic in 1867.

Artisans were organized in various professional unions who aimed at rendering social aid to members.

In another issue of "Hamelitz" we read about a legacy of a rich woman (5000 Russian rubles) for building an asylum for old people, unable to earn their living. The establishment of that institution was very important as from other sources we learn that in those days many Jews in Plotzk reached a very high age.



Relations with Polish Neighbours

Although there is no special evidence on anti-Jewish riots, we read about an incident which occurred during a Jewish funeral. Two Polish landowners barred the way of the mourners and did not let them enter the Jewish cemetery. As a result 30 Jews were injured. Fortunately, the district governor, who was friendly towards the Jews, helped them in restoring their rights to the cemetery.

A certain Niemski used in his book, while describing the beauty of the town, offending expressions with regard to the Jews of Plotzk and their way of life, calling them "a caravan of Gipsy-Jews" etc.



Emigration

From many Polish towns a mass-emigration started at the end of the 19th century. Plotzk's part in that emigration (especially to the U. S. A.) was not considerable, because its Jewish inhabitants did not suffer in those days as much from anti-Semitic riots as Jewish communities in the Ukraine and Bessarabia.

Not far from Plotzk two important industrial centers, Warsaw and Lodz, attracted many jobless Jewish young people who tried to find employment as factory workers in those towns. This was not too easy because even Jewish industrialists were not always willing to employ them out of fear of negative reactions from Christian workers.

The Jewish emigrants had to sell all their belongings in order to be able to buy boat-tickets to the U. S. A. or to cover at least their travel-expenses to Berlin. Their sufferings on the way to America, not having any hope to earn their living where they were born – are described in the periodicals of that time.



A perusal of the Hebrew press at the outset of the 20th century convinces us that the members of the Jewish community of Plotzk were among the first who adjusted themselves to the new era of Jewish national renaissance.





[Page 36]

Nahum Sokolov’s Youth

by Florian Sokolov


The author, who is the son of the famous late Zionist leader Nahum Sokolov, describes his prominent father's youth in Plotzk.

It appears that young Sokolov was greatly influenced in his time by the Jewish atmosphere of the community, its youth, Jewish national movements, rabbis and centers of religious and secular education. Nahum Sokolov, throughout his life, even while a resident of great European capitals, remembered his childhood in Plotzk. In one of his letters to his daughter he reveals in nostalgic expressions his great affection for "his beloved Plotzk".



[Page 36]

Beginnings of Zionism in Plotzk

by Itzhak Grinbaum


The author, who was a leader of Polish Jewry before World War II and the first Minister of the Interior of the State of Israel, describes the period between the first and second Zionist Congresses, when the first Zionist group was organized in Plotzk. The author describes in this connection the various cultural activities as well as the disputes prevailing between Zionists and their opponents in the community. He mentions the names of local Zionist leaders and of personalities of the different groups ("Bund", Polish Socialist Party and others) with whom he maintained contacts during his political career. He portrays, among others, the life of Esther Golde, a woman fighting for socialism, who played an important role in the general Polish Socialist Movement and did not display any interest in Jewish problems. Grinbaum visited Plotzk after the war but found no Jews there.

The classical assumption that the disappearance of the Jews from the economic, cultural and social life of the town would create a vacuum did not come true.



Itzhak Grinbaum was the Guest Speaker at a Memorial meeting of the Plotzk Association, which was held in 1951 in Tel Aviv. On this occasion he delivered a thoughtful speech, containing many reminiscences of the town in which he spend nine years of study at the local gymnasium.

Mentioning the various cultural and educational institutions, he drew loving portraits of the teachers Shmuel Penson and A. Y. Papierna, the revolutionary leader Josef Kwiatek and others, who left their imprint on the minds of the young generation, and thanks to whom the Jewish Youth in Plotzk became spiritually elevated and intellectually more broad-minded.



[Page 37]

Inauguration of the Jewish Gymnasium

by Y. M. Zlotnik


Excerpts from a booklet, published in 1917, which includes the speech delivered by the then rabbi of Plotzk, R' Yona Mordechai Zlotnik at the inauguration of the first Jewish secondary school in Plotzk.

The attitude shown by the above to general and secular Jewish education was at that time quite different from that of other rabbis. He understood the modern spirit of the Jewish youth well and knew that their assimilatory trends would not be checked by "Chadarim" and "Yeshivot" alone. For that reason Rabbi Zlotnik saw in the establishment of Jewish secondary schools a stronghold of Judaism. He demanded from his teachers' devotion to their extraordinary responsibilities. "We are now on the eve" said the rabbi, "of the establishment of Jewish secondary schools and you, the teachers, have to be pioneers in this field, and in the future you will be recognized for your work".

His speech contains a few sentiments directed to the Christian population. He explains that for the good of both Jews and Christians primary education should be separate because just as it is impossible to give Christian children a good Christian education in Jewish schools – Jewish religious education is possible only in schools established exclusively for Jewish children.

The late Rabbi Zlotnik expressed his hope that one day a Jewish central institute for higher education – a university – would be established. The rabbi expressed already then, in 1917, his longings for a Hebrew University to rise in Jerusalem.

He concluded his words to his pupils by expressing his hope that they would adapt themselves through the influence of the new school to the aim of returning to their homeland Eretz Israel.



[Pages 37-38]

Memories of the Past

by Shlomo Rozen


The author pays tribute to some personalities who lived in Plotzk at the beginning of the century, especially of the Chassidic circles. He describes their orthodox way of life, adherence to different Chassidic rabbis and their influence on that part of the younger generation which devoted itself to the study of Torah and its commentaries. He also mentions a famous cantor whose prayers, together with a choir, afforded the listeners great spiritual enjoyment.

The second chapter describes the various groups of Jewish orthodox youth who gathered in the local Beit Hamidrash. Some of those young people later became famous in Jewish life in Poland and elsewhere, among them Rabbi Zlotnik-Avida and others.

The third chapter is dedicated to the new ideas of progress, within both secular and religious Zionism, which shaped the ideologies of those young people. The author mentions the activities of Itzhak Grinbaum, Rabbi Lifshitz and others.

The second part of this article deals with the assimilationist groups of the Plotzk Jewish community (the Kempner family and others) and with the people who lived in the vicinity of the "Iron Gate" – a market place where simple folk (tailors, butchers, fishmongers) lived and worked. The author nostalgically describes these types of Jews, who added a special flavor to the multifaced Jewish population of Plotzk.


plo140.jpg [30 KB]
Drawing by Yaacov Guterman



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