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[Page 365]

Semyatitchers in the United States

D. Fristar

Donated by Robert Cherniak

Semytitchers began to come to the United States with the great flood of Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland after the pogroms of the 80s. The majority of them settled in New York, and some in Chicago, Boston, Newark and several other states. Like all of the other new immigrants of those years, Semyatitchers and those of the surrounding towns began to form their own organization or “society “.

 

Khevra Brisakhim Anshe Semyatitch[1]

The first Semyatitch Society in the United States was the “Khevra Bris Akhim Anshe Semyatitch,” which was created in New York in 1903. This Society is one of few landsmanshaft[2] organizations in America which, to this very day, follows its charter rules and has done so from the day if its inception.

The first minutes of the Society is dated the 12th of August 1903. From these minutes, we can see that the first organizers of the Semyatitch Landsman Society were the following people: Shabsi Kan, Avram Goldberg, Dovid Kesler, Philip Rabinovitch and Harry Greenshtayn.

According to a decision by these organizers, a meeting was called of all the former Samyatitchers i.n New York. This meeting took place on the 16th of August. The chairman of this meeting, Philip Rabinovitch, explained the necessity for having a Society of their own. After a lengthy debate, it was decided to create an organization with the name “Khevra Bris Akhim Anshe Semyatitch”.

The first President of the Society was Elye Khaim Shapiro; Vice-President – Khaim Peysakh Dembrovsky; Treasurer – Dovid Shtrasberg.

One of the main goals of the Society was to help its members in times of [financial] need or of sickness and to provide a burial place, which in New York was a real problem, quite different from the way things had been in the Polish villages of yesteryear.

The leaders of the Society also started to think about problems relating to the religious needs of its members. At the very first regular meeting of the Society, the 22nd of August 1903, it was decided to either buy or to rent a synagogue for the Society .The first Semyatitcher Synagogue was at 16 Ludlow Street and cost 23 dollars a month rent. The Society later very often changed the location of its synagogue.

From the second and third minutes, it can be seen that the membership of the Society grew rapidly. A new meeting was called to select new officers. It took place on the 17th of October. The President remained the same. Other officers selected were: Vice-President – Reuben Lev; Treasurer – Avram Goldberg; Secretary – Avram Guberman. On the 12th of November, the duties of Secretary were assumed by Peretz Barshteyn.

At the beginning of 1904, the Society hired two doctors, whose duty it was to examine in case of sickness and to determine how long they had been sick. The first doctors were: Dr. Romansky and Dr. Revinsky.

The Society had created its own constitution, which, after long discussions and many revisions, was accepted in the form which was printed in 1909 as shown in the following illustration:

 

   
CONSTITUTION
of the
___________________________

KHEVRA BRIS AKHIM
ANSHEY SEMYATITCH

Covenanted Brothers of Semyatitch
Benevolent Society

___________________________
Founded the 16th of August 1903

___________________________
Printed 1909

We are Anshey Akhim

___________________________
R. Oyerbakh, Union Printer, 126 Essex St.

 

If one were to judge by the minutes, the Society kept quite strictly to its own membership. Practically the only contact that it had with the Jewish world around it was when various other Jewish organizations used to send tickets to their theater parties or when they would just ask for donations: “Cloth the Naked” of East Broadway; “Home for the Aged” in Manhattan; “Orphan Shelter” in Jerusalem; “Food for the Poor” on the East Side and other charities.

The first big commotion in the quiet circumscribed work of the Society came in 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War. The minutes of the seventh of November 1914 already talks about the difficult situation of “our brothers in the old country”. On the 22nd of November, the Society called a big meeting of all of the Semyatitchers. A relief fund was established to help those remaining in Semyatitch. Special meetings of the Society officers were dedicated specifically to the situation of the Jews in the “old country”. A theater party was organized to benefit the relief fund. This event brought in over 100 dollars. One hundred dollars was contributed to the treasury.

During the time of the war, it was very difficult to send money overseas. It was only after the war was over that more aid from the American brothers reached Semyatitch.

The Society , which had up until recently had its own synagogue, had as its rabbi someone from Semyatitch or from one of the neighboring villages. In 1925, Rabbi Meyer Pam resigned his position as rabbi for the Society .It was decided to get papers for a Rabbi Shmuel Kushelevitch and to install him as the rabbi of the Society. Rabbi Shmuel Kushelevitch, however, didn't even last a whole year with the Society. In October, the Society decided to bring over Rabbi Eliezer from Semyatitch. In May, 1948, the Society decided to provide an affidavit for Rabbi Levy Byelitski, who was then in a displaced persons camp, and make him the rabbi of the Society .At the end of 1949, Rabbi Byelitski left the position of rabbi for the Society .

In 1928, a celebratory banquet was organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the “Khevra Bris Akhim Anshe Semyatitch”. This was the biggest celebration that the Society had ever undertaken either before or after. The success of the banquet was attested to by the fact that the net profit was over 3 thousand dollars.

In connection with the anniversary celebration, the Society was presented with a Torah scroll, donated by Avram Moishe Goldberg. The presentation was made in a very festive manner: the entire membership of the Society marched from Goldberg's house to their synagogue carrying the Torah, accompanied by an orchestra.

The biggest upset in the activities of the Society came when newspapers and radios started to report the Holocaust which the Nazis perpetrated on the Jews of Europe in general and on the Jews of Semyatitch in particular. An autonomous Relief Committee, under the auspices of the Society , was quickly formed. it can't be said that the work of this committee was as effective as those bitter time demanded. Officers of the Society often criticized it and asked that it become more active and energetic on behalf of the Jews of Semyatitch, who survived Hitler's Holocaust. A year or two after the World War, the majority of the surviving Semyatitch Jews were to be found in Italy or in Palestine.

At a meeting of the officers, that took place on the 26th of October 1947, Mendl Gafni, a guest from Palestine and a member of the “Center for Semyatitch Émigrés”, was present. He was requesting aid for the approximately 50 Semyatitch immigrants, who were already in Palestine. He also wanted to create an interest-free loan fund for them.

In February , 1951, the Society decided either to purchase or to build a house in Israel in the memory of the Semyatitch martyrs. The main initiators of and activists in this project were Dovid Kimchi and Ben-Tsion Mazur. The chairman of the special commission formed for this purpose was Harry Feldman. A host of activities were held in order to raise the money necessary to complete this project, but after two whole years the money raised was still insufficient to even think about buying a building of our own. The suggestion of Dr. Sukenik was therefore accepted, that for a portion of the money, beds by bought in the new hospital in Israel named after Dr. Khaim Weitzman. Plaques were to be hung on these beds saying that the beds had been bought by people from Semyatitch who were now living in America.

The result of lengthy negotiations between the Society and the “Semyatitch Club” in New York, was the following accounting: $3000 for a house in Israel; $500 for loans; $500 for a memorial book and $250 to plant a forest as a memorial to Semyatitich.

For the first time, on the 15th of June 1947, survivors of the war took part in a meeting of the Relief Committee. They were Dovid Kimchi and Avram Volakh. Kimchi delivered a lengthy report on the conditions of Semyatitch immigrants in Italy, the place from which he had just come. He also complained about how little money the Semyatitch Relief Committee in New York was sending the survivors.

The Relief Committee then decided to send the Semyatitchers who were in Italy 250 dollars as well as the previous amount. In addition, it was decided to send every Semyatitch immigrant 15 dollars. The Semyatitchers in Newark, New Jersey did a lot to help the Semyatitcher immigrants in Italy.

The Society, together with the Relief Committee, also provided several Semyatitch immigrants with American visas.

During the course of its three-year existence, the Relief Committee doled out $4,968.97 for Semyatitcher immigrants in Israel, Italy, Germany. Austria, Poland and France. The committee was disbanded at the end of 1949.

The Society, which is now celebrating its 60 year anniversary, is still in existence. Its activities are now not great. The gatherings are less and less well attended. Its membership keeps on falling. The effort to attract those Semyatitchers who came to New York after the Second World War were not effective. They were the same Semyatitchers – but from two different worlds. And the newly arrived Semyatitchers formed their own organizations in their new land.

 

Friends of Semyatitchers in Israel Club

The second organization for Semyatitchers in the United States was formed in New York in 1951. The founders of this club had a meeting on the 9th of June 1951. It was opened by Ben Mazur. Introductory remarks were made by Dovid Kimchi and Alter Feldman. The chairman was Joseph Kupperschmidt and the Secretary – Velvl Zogadni. After a lengthy discussion, those who were present decided to create an organization named” Friends of Semyatitchers in Israel Club”. Ben Mazur was elected President, Joseph Kupperschmidt – Vice President, Willy Ruben- -Treasurer. On the Board were: Leonard Chesnet, Alfred Ungar, Masha Okan, Velvl Zogadni, Elye Kaplan, Moishe Puterman, Dovid Kimchi, Lee Ruben, Helen Mazur.

As the name of the organization states, the club's main goal was to help Israel, or better said to help the Semyatitch immigrants in the land of Israel. From the minutes of the “Club” we can see that money, and packages of food and clothing were sent to the newly arrived immigrants in Israel, until they could manage on their own.

The “Club” also collected money in Israel for the necessities of its own members. During the term of its existence, the members of the “Club” collected $3,000 for the Society for the purpose of building s synagogue in the memory of those Semyatitchers who had died in the Holocaust, several hundred dollars for the sick fund, $550 for a cardiograph for the sick fund.

During this time, hundreds of dollars were also donated by the “Club” to the United Jewish Appeal.

The question of whether or not to give money for a hospital was the cause of many heated discussions. Some of the members, lead by Dovid Kimchi, were against giving money to any cause which was affiliated with a political party. This lead to long, drawn out negotiations between the pro and con factions on this issue. Involved in these discussions were also the representatives of the Israel Committee of the Semyatitch Society.

When the great crisis involving the Sinai occurred in Israel in 1956, the “Club” immediately called a special meeting of its membership. The members then assessed themselves even more and raised a fund of $700 for Israel and sent it on the occasion of Ben-Gurion's 70th birthday.

The “Club” also helped local charities every once in a while, but on a small scale. Among the local causes helped were: Rabbi Shmidman's Yeshiva in Brooklyn, the A Leisin School in Brooklyn, and the Byolostoker Old Age Home.

A whole separate chapter could be written about the “Club's” relationship to the memorial book of the Semyatitcher community .It would make sense that the memorial book would be a central concern of the “Club,” but because of misunderstandings between the “Club” and those who were actively working on the memorial book, it didn't work out that way. Nevertheless, the “Club” donated $700 to the memorial book effort.

In October, 1961, Ben Mazur resigned as President of the “Club”. Stella Kupperschmidt was elected to take his place. Leonard Chesnat was elected to take the place of Willy Ruben, the resigned Vice-President. The other new members of the board were: Florence Berman – Finance Secretary , Rachel Chesnat – Corresponding Secretary , and Masha Okan – Recording Secretary .The new President, however, resigned after ten months and Ben Mazur was once again elected to take her place. He is still the President of the “Club”. Joseph Kupperschmidt was elected as the new Vice-president.

 

The Semyatitch Committee for Israel

Several months after the founding of the “Friends of Semyatitchers in Israel Club” still another organization of Semyatitchers was formed. This organization, consisted of newly arrived Semyatitchers, for the most part but it operated in cooperation with the Semyatitchers in New York.

 

sie369.jpg
Semyatitch Friends of Israel Club

First row from left to right: F. Boyman, Kh. Toyb, F. Marmor, B. Sendik, S. Veys, Kh. Shnayder
Second row from left to right: Zh. Boyman, L. Rubin, S. Kupperschmidt, F. Zagadni, R. Chesnat, S. Fridman, L. Baran, B. Baran
Third row from left to right: V. Ruben, V. Zagadni, Y. Kupperschmidt, B.- Ts. Mazur, L. Chesnat, D. Fridman, A. Sendik

 

sie370.jpg
The Board of the Semyatitch-Drogatchiner Youth Club (From right to left)

Sitting: Abie Blustein, Dovid Kimchi, Gershon Lev, Harry Shabbes
Standing: A. Volakh, D. Statski, L. Flatitski, Y. Statski, A. Maurer, M. Korn, R. Korn, H. Shabbes. H. Kimchi, B. Goodman, L. Goodman

 

This happened as a result of the resolution that the “Khevra Bris Akhim Anshe Semyatitch” passed on the 10th of February 1951, concerning the building of a house in Israel to commemorate the Semyatitchers who had died in the Holocaust. The resolution was introduced by Dovid Kimchi. A special committee was formed for this purpose. Its first meeting took place on the 17th of February 1951. At this meeting, Alter Feldman was elected Chairman. The Secretary was Dovid Kimchi and the Treasurer – Ben Mazur. Later Willy Rubin, F. Maggid and Joseph Kupershmid were co-opted. The name was also decided upon: “Committee for Building a House in Israel” (in the memory of the Semyatitchers who had died in the Holocaust) sponsored by “Khevra Bris Akhim Anshe Semyatitch”. This name was later changed to “The Semyatitch Committee for Israel”. It was clear from the first name that the “Bris Akhim” was always the last part of any committee name. This fact had been mentioned at the first meeting as well.

The main goal of the committee was to raise the necessary funds to buy a house in Israel -between 3 and 5 thousand dollars. The first general meeting that was called specifically for this purpose brought in $1,200.

It is important to note here that the “Khevra Bris Akhim Anshe Semyatitch” designated $1,000 right at the initial meeting, where it was decided that there should be a house in Israel to commemorate those Semyatitchers who had died in the Holocaust.

In their efforts to broaden their activities and to raise more money, the committee made several attempts to get in touch with Semyatitch organizations in other cities in America and Canada, but especially in Newark. Unfortunately, the other groups did not exhibit a reciprocal interest in the committee, and it had to limit its outreach work to New York.

At the committee meeting of the 20th of October 1951, Ben Mazur explained that the “Friends of Semyatitchers in Israel Club”, which had been formed in June of 1951, had decided to work independently, but its members would continue to attend events held by the committee. From then on there was a difference of opinion as to how divide the monies raised among the various institutions in Israel. After discussions at a series of meetings, it was decided to stick to the original plan to build a house in Israel which would be an agricultural school for children.

On the 30th of January 1955, at a joint meeting with the “Khevra Bris Akhim Anshe Semyatitch,” it was decided:

  1. to give the United Jewish Appeal the sum of $3,000 to build an elementary school in Israel
  2. to allocate $500 for a memorial book
  3. to spend $250 to plant a small woods in the memory of the Semyatitchers who had died in the Holocaust

Point number 3 was rescinded at a later meeting.

The “Semyatitch Committee for Israel” existed until the beginning of 1956. The last slate of officers was: Chairman and Recording Secretary – Dovid Kimchi, Treasurer – A. Cutler, Trustees – G. Kramer, Bzhezinski and Rachel Chesnat, Finance Secretary – G. Kramer.

 

The Semyatitch- Drogatchner Friendship Club

The third and youngest of the organizations of newly arrived Semyatitchers in New York was the “Semyatitch-Drogatchner Friendship Club,” which was created in 1962.

The goal of this newly created organization was to send money to Israel for Semyatitchers. During the short time of its existence, it managed to send needy Semyatitch immigrants many more hundreds of dollars than the United Jewish Appeal. One Semyatitcher in New York was helped with $400 during a serious illness. The club has a series of gatherings and meetings: It had approximately ninety members, for the most part younger people.

The founders of the Semyatitch-Drogatchner Friendship Club were: Helen Shabbes, Abe Blushteyn, Gershon Lev, Rina Korn, Hershl Shabbes. The officers and board were Dovid Kimchi – President, Yisroel Morer – Vice President, Hershl Plotnitski – Trustee, Rina Korn – Treasurer, Hershl Blushteyn – V ice President, Gershon Lev, Rubinshteyn, Dovid Statski, Leybl Gutman, Kalman Kuperhant.

This young club is very active. Its membership is growing and all of its events were very successful.

 

Semyatitch Memorial Book Committee in New York

On the 22nd of December, a meeting was held of a majority of the Semyatitchers. There it was decided to publish a memorial book, which would immortalize the history, life and death of the Semyatitch community. The Chairman of the committee, the whole time that it was in existence, was Willy Rubin. The Secretary was Dovid Kimchi and the Treasurer was Joseph Kupershmid. The active members of the committee were: Levy Rubin, Hershl Shabbes, Abraham Volakh, Motl Bruker, Hershl Plotnitski, Yisroel Morer, Kalman Kuperhant.

The plan of the New York memorial book committee was, at first, to publish the book in New York. Due to various difficulties, this became impossible. That is why the committee allied itself with the “ Association of Semyatitch Immigrants,” in Israel, which agreed to a partnership and to publish the book in Israel. The book was to be both in Yiddish and Hebrew. If it were to prove possible, there would also be a summary in English.

In putting together this picture of Semyatitch between the two World Wars and in describing the Holocaust, especially Buchenwald and Treblinka, the eye-witness accounts and memories of the following people were used: Hersh Plotnitski, Mordechai Bruker, Yisroel Morer, Borukh Cutler, Dovid Kimchi, Willy Rubin, Abraham Volakh and Hershl Shabbes.

 

sie372.jpg
American Committee for the Semyatitch Memorial Book (From Right to Left)

Standing: Ann Morer, Helen Shabbes, Yehudis Volakh, Helen Kimchi, Lee Rubin, Harry Plotnitski, Lily Plotnitski
Sitting: Irving Morer, Harry Shabbes, Abie, Volakh, Dovod Kimchi, Isser Robinovitch (Rubin), Yosl Kupershmid, Max Bruker

 


  1. Society of the Covenant of Brothers of the People of Semyatitch Return
  2. People who come from the same town Return

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