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[Page 55]

A. Rabbis of Sokółka

Translated by Selwyn Rose

 

1. Rabbi Ephraim Fischel

Rabbi Ephraim Fischel was the brother-in-law of the Righteous Gaon Rabbi Ya'acov Meyer of Jałówka, and one of the students of the Gaon Rabbi Haim of Valožyn; he was also the sitting Rabbi of the Sokółka and Stawiski Beth-Din, and from the year 1855 in Maków, Poland (in the county of Łomża) in which he was active for 25 years and died in 1881. Rabbi Ephraim Fischel was considered one of the most famous Rabbis of his generation and shone as a teacher. His con-clusions were printed in many books of his contemporaries. Concerning one of them, “Emek Shaveh” (Equal Valley), by the Righteous Rabbi, Shabtai of Horodoc (Warsaw 1879), his comm-endation is found alongside that of the Gaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the Rabbi of Pusnė. His approval is also to be found in the book “Questions and Responsa”, the “Splendor of Tsvi” by the Gaon Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch of Zamość, Chairman of the Beit-Din in Altona, Hamburg and Nadesbek.

Rabbi Ephraim was also highly connected through his predecessors: his father, Rabbi Eliezer, was related to the Gaon Rabbi Shalom Shachna of Lublin, the teacher and master of the Gaon Rabbi Moshe Isseralisch (HaRaMAh) of Krakow.

Nahum Sokolov, who married in Maków and lived there for a number of years, was a relation of Rabbi Ephraim Fischel who was the town Rabbi and on most days would write in “Ha-Tsfira” interesting memories on the famous Rabbi as a patriarchal figure of a Rabbi of Israel in bygone eras.

When the Gaon Ephraim Fischel died, he wrote of him in “Ha-Tsfira” (1881, No. 7), that “……..He was one of a kind; he was a Rabbi during 50 years and lived according to his own lights; he chose for himself 'truth and peace'. He took a tiny salary and lived a life of austerity. One of the early immigrants of the old generation has left us.”

“His stateliness was in the Torah and good deeds, he was modest in his righteousness, the measure of which was hidden, and he served wondrously in the temple of faith not with jealousy and competition but only with good taste and love of the truth and he will be remembered for ever as a righteous person.” The piece was signed simply “S” (Nahum Sokolov).

In the book “Sayings of Authority” on the Torah by David Meyer ben Ya'acov Krolbitzki of Łomża, who was a Maggid in Warsaw, relates sayings of the Torah of Rabbi Ephraim Fischel Salomon. Rabbi Ephraim Fischel had two sons: Rabbi Joseph Shalom Shachna and Rabbi Mordecai, both of them born and grew up in Sokółka. Joseph lived in Sokółka, moved to Białystok and was considered among its brilliant students. His lessons in the Shaas in the Beit-Ha-Midrash named after Shmuel Bulkovstein (in the Traders' street) were always well-attended by the town's students who rushed to hear his “page of the Gemara.”

Rabbi Joseph Shalom Shachna's son, Rabbi Ya'acov Meyer Salomon was also a resident in Białystok, excelled in his studies as did his father but was a great businessman and trader but living nestled under the wings of the Torah and completing the “six orders of the Mishna” every year. With the outbreak of World War One he settled in Warsaw and there he died in 1925. In his will he requested that there should be no eulogies and that his heirs should learn a page of the Gemara every day – not for the sake of his soul but for the elevation of their souls. He left among his writings some columns: “And that is Ya'acov,” “Milin Darabanan” “Ways of Life”, etc. He had an immense biblical library containing many valuable volumes and articles by known writers. The source of Rabbi Ephraim Fischel's knowledge in Sokółka was the Rabbi and he it was, according to Rabbi Mordecai Neman, that caused the change in the family name to Finkle. He was learned in Enlightenment. He lived most of his life in Brest, Lithuania and died in Maków aged 70 in 1902.

Nahum Sokolov, editor of “Ha-Tsfira”, wrote (Ha-Tsfira 1930 no. 160), an appreciation of him: “He was a survivor of the students of the intellectuals of the old generation. He was a businessman but engaged in Torah commentaries also reading much on Haskala. Dignified, a brilliant scholar, influential, an adviser and spirited. He was the first in all public matters, the Torah and work and his value was highly esteemed in the eyes of his town.”

The son of Rabbi Mordecai was Eliezer-Yehuda Finkle, a regular writer in “Ha-Tsfira” and the rest of the Hebrew newspapers; he was famous towards the end of the period of the Enlightenment. The second son of Rabbi Mordecai Finkle was the manager of a private Jewish-Polish gymnasium in Warsaw.

Rabbi A. Y. Finkle recalled in his memoirs on the old-age of Rabbi Ephraim-Fischel with love and nostalgia. Thus he wrote: “He was himself completely abstemious and never in his life tasted wine or any intoxicating beverage. He was assiduous regarding the obligatory fast days but assumed the authority to lighten the burdens for others if they expressed any sense of unease. He was also stringent on himself regarding the Fast of Esther. He was generally moderate and modest and always respectful of others.” (“Ha-Tsfira” 1902, No.59).

 

2. Rabbi Avraham Ha-Cohen

A Rabbi in Sokółka during the years 1833 and 1837-1838, he moved to Karinki and there he was Rabbi about 35 years and died 1872 at the age of about eighty. Very little detail is known concerning his life: It seems that Rabbi Avraham Ha-Cohen was a descendant of a family of Rabbis – Kahane, in Tyczyn, the county town. It is known that his father-in-law was the son-in-law of the Gaon Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi of the Beit-Din Mstibovo and district, the author of the book “Delightful Days”.

That Rabbi Avraham was a Rabbi in Sokółka is known from “Responsa” in publication of the book “The Fathers of Dr. Nathan”, two annotations “Two Eliyahus” and “Abraham's son” to Eliyahu ben Avraham the Rabbi of Delatitch (near Navaredok). The book was printed at Vilna-Grodno in 1832 and signed with the name Rabbi Avraham “Our teacher and Rabbi” Joseph Ha-Cohen of Sokółka.”

Rabbi Avraham was considered a Gaon – genius – on Torah matters and when he died his eulogy was delivered by the biblical Hamaskil Rabbi Ephraim Gibianski in the Hebrew paper “Ha-Maggid” (1872, No. 13). The Rabbi was described as “……..an elder of the Torah house and of instruction, praised and revered for his directness and elevated wisdom. In addition the spirituality of his heart towards the Talmud and the scriptures his face was absent in every place which desecrated the truth and was unafraid before all.” It is not easy to find these days and at this time, a Rabbi excellent in the Torah and the degree of his contribution.” “A great honor was bestowed on Rabbi Avraham at his death. All work stopped and all shops shut and all the people, women and babies came to the funeral procession; no one was missing. Among the people who took part was also the Gaon Rabbi Yisroel from Salant. He also went with the cortege to the cemetery.”

The son-in-law of Rabbi Avraham Ha-Cohen Rabbi Shlomo Shprintz from Mezritch (a Rabbi in Wizna, Łomża region and later, America) tells us in his book “Sap Oil” that his father-in-law left behind among his writings two essays on the “Shulhan Aruch” - “True Judgment”, “The Judgment Vest” and a book of questions and responsa on “Dr. Nathan's Fathers“. Among the list of signatories are six names from Sokółka: Arieh-Lev Naaman Arieh-Lev ben Shabtai Shapira, Eliezer Tsvi ben Haim, Haim ben Yehezkiel, Shabtai ben Tsvi Hirsch Shapira and Haim ben Yehezkiel.

 

3. Rabbi Joseph (Yossele)

Known among the Grodno regional Rabbis as Rabbi Yossele the Zabłudówner from the town of Zabłudów – his previous Rabbinate (the Białystok region), where he officiated as Rabbi for about thirty years (1856-1886). Before that he was also a Rabbi in Sokółka according to the book “People From There” by Rabbi Haim Braverman, who was most accurate in his statements concerning the history of the Rabbis mentioned in his book (1891). According to another source he was also a Rabbi in Bereza and beyond the River Neman in Grodno (“Farstaadt”), that boasted of its generations of Rabbinic Geonim.

Rabbi Yossele was among the first students of the famous Mir Yeshiva (founded in the year 1816) and received his degree from the Gaon Rabbi Joseph David, Chairman of the Beit Din and Rabbinical teacher in that city of the Torah. In his youth he knew the Gaon Rabbi Yitzhak Elhanan. A strong soul-deep friendship between these two eminent people lasted all the days of their life. In the book “People From There” it is said that Rabbi Yossele was a “….great Rabbi of the Torah and distinguished preacher who owned an extensive library unlike any found in the whole of the Russian state.” The same comment about him was made in the book, “Settlement of the Fathers” (Vilna, 1893) that he was a great and famous Rabbi, fearful of and concerned about the word of God and also that “he had books greater in number than all the Rabbis within our borders.” And indeed we know from the older Rabbis in the area of Sokółka- Zabłudów, that leading Rabbis would come to him to see the highly esteemed and valuable library of Yossele.

The famous Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Eisenstadt, Father of the Beit-Din in Rasztowice and Utiyan mentions him in the introduction to his essay, “Beginnings of Repentance” on the Shulhan AruchEven Ezer”: “………But remember him for he is a good and loyal friend, the enlightened great and famous Rabbi. “Arigat ha-Bossem” honors and praises his name, our teacher and Rabbi Joseph, Father of the Holy Beit-Din of Zabłudów, where evidence for me is that he loaned me books from his illustrious and expensive library.”

Even eminent, known printing houses in Vilna that approached the complete “Shulhan Aruch” for the section “Yoreh De'ah” containing multitudinous explanations, used the library of Rabbi Yossele. Rabbi Joseph died in extreme old age early in 1886. In the book “S'ragei Tova” – “Well-woven” (Vilna – 1892) by Rabbi Isaac-Leib Stoliar, who was Rabbi in Odelsk near Sokółka, there is a eulogy to Rabbi Joseph which emphasizes that he was “…a great Torah scholar and wise in secular matters of the world who led the town in the spirit of his understanding, who would pawn his precious books in order to honor a guest……..”

The expositor of the scriptures, Rabbi David Avraham Pelham of Lublin, the editor of books by Rabbi Ya'acov “Ha-Maggid” of Dubna, mentions in his own books, new interpretations of the Torah he had heard from Rabbi Yossele.

While he was Rabbi in Sokółka he was close to his father-in-law Rabbi Ya'acov-Meyer Halperin who was famous as “….fearing the Lord and concerned for His word” and was Rabbi in Białowieża (Grodno area) and Voranava, (the Vilna area). One of Rabbi Yossele's sons was Rabbi Haim David Shlomo Rabbi of Nowy Dwór (Sokółka region) and in the year 1906 gave his approval to a book of sermons “Delightful Days”, whose author was Rabbi Kalman Meitkass, the Maggid of Sokółka.

 

4. Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf Weizćcker

Rabbi in Sokółka until 1873, from where he moved to officiate with the Rabbinate of Skidal where he served 12 years retiring with honor; dying in 1890.

Ha-Tsfira” published an article by his grandson Haim Yohanan Margolin on the death of the Rabbi known during his life as a wise man; many people – even non-Jews – came to be judged by him and he was known as the righteous man of his generation; many who came to him repented.

According to the chronology of the Sokółka Rabbis, Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf Weizćcker was the Rabbi of Sokółka after Rabbi Yoel and served in the Rabbinate until 1874 (Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf was Rabbi in Skidal seventeen years – 1874-1890). In “Ha-Maggid” (1872 No. 14) these comments were written concerning him and his special activities: “The groaning cry of terrible hunger projected into space beating with great force on our ears from our brethren in Persia, has stirred the hearts of our own dear townspeople. And in the verses containing the words of '…and they shall take for me a donation,' supporting deeds of charity, the time of quick awakening they, too, went out to save their unfortunate brethren through the attempts at collection by Rabbi Yisrael Joseph Zadwaranski. He who went out to do these deeds will be remembered for this honorable work. A sum of 42 silver Roubles was collected.” A sum of 42 Roubles was quite a lot in those days, 90 years ago. The names of all the generous donators of half-a-Rouble or more was detailed as follows: Moshe Zachrekin 5 Roubles; after him came Rabbi Eliyahu Stein and his son Rabbi Avraham Stein 2 Roubles each; donations of one Rouble each came from: Rabbi Ya'acov Tsvi Halperin; Meyer Shapira; Pessah Eliyahu; Joseph Leonawiski and Moshe Haim Marentz. Of half a Rouble: the Beit-Din Rabbi, Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf Weizaecker (above); Aharon Feynman; Joseph Shmuel Katzenellenbogen; Mordecai Kantor; Tsvi Ushkawitz; Avraham Joseph Zadwaranski; Yehezkiel Karsch; Avraham Tsvi Lau; his brother Mordecai Lau; Avraham Danzig is the offspring of Rabbi Avraham Danzig of “The Life of Man” in Vilna; Yekutiel Saperstein and Yitzhak Epstein.

 

5. Rabbi Ya'acov Moshe Margolin

He was close to his father-in-law in Sokółka and an assistant to the Rabbanut in the town. For a while he was Rabbi in Wasilkóv, as a replacement for his father the Gaon Rabbi Avraham David Margolin. A descendent of Rabbi Baruch Schick of Shklov, a relative of the Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna), he “dwelt in the shadow” of the Torah in Białystok and died there in 1920 at the age of 70.

His Talmudic greatness was discovered in his work “Jewels of the Sea” which was printed in Warsaw 1933 (part 'A' on Halacha and part 'B' on legend), published by his son, Rabbi Haim Yohanan Margalit a Warsaw scholar. His book was endorsed by a large number of “greats” of his time. The Gaon and Rabbi BeZalel Ha-Cohen, the Righteous Teacher of Vilna wrote of him: “His splendid dynasty already marks him for a great man among the great of his generation and for his like one needs no evidence”. Therefore the Gaon Rabbi Yitzhak Elhanan Spector, Father of the Beit-Din in Kovno referred to him as “The Famous Great Rabbi.”

Rabbi Ya'acov Moshe Margolin was a candidate for the Rabbanut of Sokółka, with the support of the Righteous Gaon Rabbi Molholiver of Białystok who was his main support. However, because he was so modest and refined he didn't want to become involved in arguments and declined, as he also declined the offer of the Rabbanut of Wasilkóv and, as mentioned, was far from public fame while sitting in Białystok for more than thirty years, shy and retiring, behaving with great modesty and genteel ways. He sat in one of the Batei-Midrash in his own personal corner, learning and teaching with much intensity and without showing his Talmudic and scholarly greatness. But several of the town notables knew of his presence and that a great man was among them. There was Rabbi Ya'acov Moshe with comprehensive, wide-ranging knowledge in all aspects of the Torah and was a specialist of the entire Bible, in grammar and in usage of the language, because his method of study was according to the Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna and Rabbi Haim of Vohlyn. His grave in the (new) cemetery in Białystok is in the rows of Białystok's Geonim and her illustrious Rabbis.

 

6. Rabbi Shraga Feivel Sarna

Within the circle of Rabbis in Lithuania he was known as Rabbi Feiveleh the Poilisher. He was born in 1826 in the town of Przasnysz in the Płock region. He was recognized from childhood as an “elevated spirit”, with a phenomenal memory and a lightening grasp of the Talmud and “Ha-Rishonim” (the great Rabbis of the Middle-ages), whose words were close to the spirit of the Torah. He learned from his father the eminent Rabbi Joseph and from the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Landa, Chairman of the Beit-Din Ciechanów, and received from him his doctrine and line of thought on spirituality which was a blending together of the nature of the Hassidim and the Mitnagdim, his world view, his behavior and his holy ways.

While he was yet 16 he was ordained Rabbi Feivel for instruction by his teacher and Rabbi the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Landa and Rabbi Benjamin Diskin Chairman of the Beit-Din of Łomża. He married the daughter of Rabbi Yitzhak Margalit Chairman of the Beit-Din of Shtutchin (Łomża region). After he was Rabbi in Sompolna (Kalisz area) and in Popelyan (Zamot, Kovno area) he became Rabbi of Siyag* (Suwałk area) where there had been previously two Gaonic Rabbis Rabbi Yehuda Bachrach editor of “Nimukei Ha-Grom” on the Mishna and Rabbi Yitzhak Avigdor “The Pomegranate Grove”. The Rabbi had also been in Ostrów-Mazowiecka (Łomża area). But because the dispute between the Hassidim and the Mitnagdim on the matter of precepts was unresolved with neither side willing to concede, he accepted the Rabbanut of Sokółka and officiated there from 1873-1882. From there he moved to Horodok (Białystok region), where he remained nine years. He died in Białystok in the spring of 1892. The death of Rabbi Feiveleh was announced in “Ha-Tsfira” and he was described in the column as a man of truth who hated greed, was modest, and “…regarded not the rich before the poor.” On his tombstone in Białystok were inscribed these words of praise: “A monument to a righteous soul, the return of a righteous soul to its abode in heaven. You worked industriously while living. A Gaon, you were a Gaon of splendor for which the Torah was your crown, the famous Great Gaon our Teacher the Rabbi Shraga Feivel; May the Righteous be remembered for a Blessing.”

Rabbi Feiveleh Sarna left behind him many new interpretations of the Torah and commentaries on the sayings of the sages but his writings never saw the light of day. His name is mentioned in Questions and Responsa: “Pillars of Light” by the Gaon Rabbi Yehiel Hillier, Father of the Beit-Din Suwałk, and in “Binyan Olam” by Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac member of the Beit-Din Tyczyn, Suwałk; although he was still young he was described by Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac: Many of his decisions found their way into the vast sea of the Talmud.

The two sons of Rabbi Shraga Feivel Sarna were Rabbi Yehoshua Tsvi and Rabbi Haim Ya'acov. Rabbi Yehoshua Tsvi Sarna was a Torah scholar drawing the attention of writers, an associate of Geonim and Rabbis and also academic writers. In his childhood and youth he lived with his father in Sokółka and would send letters to the Hebrew newspapers, “Ha-Melitz” and “Ha-Tsfira”. Also while living in Białystok and other towns he interested himself in the situation of the Jews in Sokółka and visited there with his family and would write to the press on items of interest that occurred in the town.

In one of his articles in “Ha-Tsfira” (No. 132), he wrote of a fire that broke out in Sokółka in 1889, where sixty families were left with nothing and he turned for help and donations and charity for the victims transferred the proceeds collected to the town Rabbi, Tsvi Hirsch Director.

The second son of Rabbi Feivel, Rabbi Haim Ya'acov, lived in Horodok his father's Rabbinate. There he was a Rabbinical delegate of the Lithuanian Yeshivot and was excellent in the many missions he undertook; he was known as a great lecturer and preacher whose “….mouth brought forth pearls” and commanded the literature of Midrashic legends and even investigative literature. Towards the end of his life he was the “Maggid of his town Slonim” with the approval of the Righteous Rabbi Mordecai, Father of the Beit Din in town, where he delivered orthodox lectures in Lithuania.

The son of Rabbi Haim Ya'acov, Rabbi Yehezkiel Sarna, was a star student of the Yeshivot of Radin and the traditional “Congregation of Israel” in Białystok-Kovno. He was the son-in-law of the Gaon Rabbi Moshe Mordecai Epstein Father of the Beit Din and Rabbi-teacher of Slobodka (author of “Levush Mordecai” – “Mordecai's Clothes”) and helped him to create a branch of the great Yeshiva in Hebron, City of the Patriarchs in Palestine. And he is still the first Rabbi, instructor and manager of the Hebron Yeshiva in Jerusalem, member of the presidency of “Council of Torah Greats” in Israel and “Agudat Yisroel; considered to be one of the great authorities of Hassidic Jewry and as one of the special survivors of the “Ha-Musar” movement from its founding by the Gaon Rabbi Yisrael Salant.

Rabbi Salant's brothers-in-law, the Rabbis of Sokółka, were Shlomo Shmariyahu Margalit Father of the Beit Din in Romaškiai and Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Director (son-in-law of Rabbi Yitzhak Margalit).

 

7. Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor

Rabbi in Sokółka in the Years 1883-1900. He came from the town of Kopcze to be the Rabbi in Sokółka about the year 1884. As the brother-in-law of Rabbi Feivel Sarna, who had transferred to Horodok, he came with the recommendation and personal connections to the congregation of Sokółka. It seems that his first year in Sokółka wasn't very successful. There were among leaders of the community in Sokółka on his side who had asked for him to be nominated as the congregation's Rabbi and teacher by virtue of him being a noted educator but as time passed the dispute calmed down and Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor became acceptable to all factions in Sokółka by virtue of his excellent and higher learning, his public activities and for his courtesy, and in his day his Rabbanut was considered a “Golden Age” of the Sokółka congregation. References to the dispute in Sokółka can be found in an article in “Ha-Melitz.” (1887 vol. 35) in which Yisrael Scherr, a resident of Sokółka says as follows:

“A few who are dissatisfied with the (new) Rabbi who has been there for about a year, would wish to nominate a Rabbi over them – the righteous teacher and the supporters of the Rabbi object to this. The matter has reached the ears of the Regional inspector (Ispravnik) and after he invited both the above they signed a document before him that they would prepare their claims to the learned Rabbis of the Torah and their decision shall be final. The other will agree to leave the town and seek a Rabbanut elsewhere.”

Yisrael Scherr adds the observation that: “Shame and embarrassment cover our faces that we need Christian administrators to settle rabbinical issues” and only a few days later he tells us in the same newspaper (Ha-Melitz vol. 50) denies “….the government-selected Rabbi faults Sokółka” and finalizes: “Concerning the Rabbi, I can promise faithfully (writes Rabbi Leib Fadalski*) that he sits securely and will manage our community as is seemly.”

The sympathy of Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch towards the Rabbanut of Sokółka is based on the fact that in old age “His honor the famous and praiseworthy great Rabbi in Torah and instruction, our teacher and Rabbi, Tsvi Hirsch was from the Holy congregation of Sokółka”. (From the foreword to his book “Binyat ha-Shalom.”).

Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor was born in Białystok. His father, Rabbi Shalom was a man of some substance and a master-baker (he was known there as Shalom the Baker) and his son was described as “….a magnificent leader, fearing God, friendly and respectful to the sages, a generous man and well-known for that generosity.” Rabbi Shalom gave to his son Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch a glittering Torah education, Rabbi Shalom prepared for the Rabbanut. At first he was Rabbi in Kopcze (Suwałk region) and from there came to Sokółka.

The Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor was among the most famous of his generation of Rabbis. Blended together in his person were all the potential good qualities of a spiritual leader in Israel and was respected by all sectors of the community. An important work of his was “Building of Peace”; it was published in Vilna in 1892. His new aspects of the Torah are noted for their keen and pungent depth and also his erudition on the Babylonian Talmud, Ha-RaMbAM and the early expositors; his clear words are equally notable on Halacha. His words are ramified and many-branched giving satisfaction to thinkers on his utterances and “ins and outs” on every topic.

In the foreword to his book, he records a second volume ready for printing, on the “Six Orders” (i.e. – the six orders of the Mishna), and commentaries and the correspondence that he had concerning them with the greatest Rabbis of the time, either he asking and they answering – or the opposite. The book, so diligently researched and prepared, never saw the light of day and is considered a tremendous loss to Rabbinical and Talmudic literature scholarship.

Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor shone above the other Rabbis in the area also because of his adherence to “Hivat Zion” and even showed favor to national Zionism. From his point of view he was of one opinion with the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Molholiver, the Rabbi of Białystok and when he would come on one of his visits to the town of his birth he always sought out the exalted “Hivat Zion” Rabbi to get first-hand information on the latest news and events in the movement and the ties between them and the situation of the new settlements in Palestine. There was also personal correspondence between him and Rabbi Aharon Orlianski, the first Rabbi of Petah-Tikva, who was a friend from his youth and a fellow-student in the Białystok Yeshiva.

One can surmise from his joining the political Zionist movement that Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor attended the Zionist Congress in Warsaw and the Rabbinical meeting, that took place with the spread from the Zionist Congress in Basle in 1898, in which he himself was an official delegate. At the Zionist Congress, the Rabbi of Sokółka, together with other delegates forming a group of other Rabbis, was received by Dr. Herzl. Their conversation was dedicated to questions of “culture” that sparked many arguments from the Rabbis' side. They sought to influence the agenda and not have the problem debated. They also sought Herzl's agreement to form a special committee of Rabbis in the Zionist movement. Unlike many of the Rabbis who left the movement when both the proposals were rejected, Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor remained faithful to the Zionist movement even afterwards and would verbally and in writing, personally demand, on the due dates the donation and dues to the various funds that the Zionist federation founded (like: The Colonial Bank, The Jewish National Fund, “The Palestine Committee”), in Odessa and from collections throughout the Jewish world in Russia. Through him the Zionist movement became firmly entrenched in Sokółka and encompassed a large proportion of the town's Jews, among them academics and Hassidim of stature like Rabbi Shimon Katzenellenbogen.

With the foundation of “Ha-Mizrach” in Vilna by Rabbi Y. Reines of Lidda in 1902 a branch was founded in Sokółka, which took an active part in local Jewish activities. “Ha-Mizrach” in Sokółka operated an internal collection to help victims of the pogroms in Kischinev in 1903, in which they raised 120 Roubles.

At that same time Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor was no longer the Rabbi of the town of Sokółka. In 1900 he accepted the honor of being Rabbi for the congregation of Mścisław county in White Russia (Mahilov region) as replacement for the Gaon Rabbi Hillel Mileikovski.

In 1903 Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor founded a big Yeshiva in Mścisław in which he presented lessons to the senior class. He succeeded in giving roots to the study of Torah in the east Reissin area through his great concern for deciding all cases of dispute between the heads of the Yeshivot in his Yeshiva and one of the most active in that position was the well-know Gaon Rabbi Elhanan Wasserman (May G-d replace him), who later founded and managed the famous Yeshiva Baranowitz.

Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor died in 1915 and was buried with much honor in distant Kiev (on his way to lecture to doctors), in the Jewish cemetery on Lukianovki Street and next to the graves of the Gaon Rabbi Meir Yehiel Michel and Rabbi Raphael Netta Rabinowitz, the author of “Writers' Grammar” on the Babylonian Mishna. The cemetery was destroyed by the Soviet-Ukrainian authorities. There were warm obituaries in the general Hebrew press to his memory of the renowned and revered Rabbi. With the transfer of Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor from Sokółka to Mścisław the son-in-law of Rabbi Yitzhak Goldin became a candidate for the Rabbinate of Sokółka but because of the objections of Rabbi Koczak and Rabbi Karlin this candidacy was thwarted, because Rabbi Yitzhak Goldin was young and too “progressive” for them and espe-cially because he was a fervent Zionist. The Rabbanut passed to the hands of Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Rabinowitz.

 

8. Rabbi Shmuel Goldin and his son Rabbi Haim

The son of Rabbi Yitzhak, a respected Rabbi from the village of Lunna (Grodno area) and the uncle of the Gaon Rabbi Yehezkiel Abramski (head of the Beit Din, London) now in Jerusa-lem). Apart from his Torah and Yeshiva background and education in Eshishuk Zheludok and Raduń he earned for himself much general knowledge and Russian and he also shone as a plea-sant preacher and for being knowledgeable in religious research literature. In 1902 when he was 22, he married the daughter of Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor. He lived in Kollel “Kovno” and was ordained by Gaon Rabbi Yitzhak Elhanan Spector and Rabbi Shlomo Ha-Cohen (Righteous Teacher) of Vilna. He remained about seven years in Sokółka until he received the Rabbanut of Łapy (Łomża) in 1899 and after that in Seirijai (Suwałk area). He was also ordained officially as Rabbi under the authority of the Government and appeared before the Regional Minister of Suwałk. He was noted for his excellent and improved Hebrew grammar (his brother was the known writer Ezra Goldin of Łodż, editor of the literary work “The Time” in which Haim Nah-man Bialik published his poem “Sons of Poverty” – later changed to “Constant”). Rabbi Yisrael Goldin occasionally published articles and columns in the Hebrew press that captured much in-terest. He was a loyal “Hivat Zion” and through his closeness to the Gaon Rabbi Molholiver of Białystok his influence was considerable; his penetrating and enthusiastic sermons emphasized nationalism, religion and the value of the return to Zion and the renewed resettlement of Pales-tine.

The influence of his sermons on behalf of Zion while he was in Sokółka was an important factor in strengthening the movement in the town. In “Ha-Tsfira” (1898 vol. 63), this except from his personal correspondence was published:

“From the town of Sokółka, in the Grodno area, they write that in the last few days the Love of Zion has awoken in the hearts of the congregation and about three hundred people from all parties have become one association to raise regular generous donations for the committee's finances to support the agricultural workers in the Holy Land. The Zionist idea awoke more strongly with the Gaon Rabbi Yisrael Goldin, the son-in-law of Father of the Beit-Din who will preach delightful sermons on “Hivat Zion” and on the “Midot” (tractates), arising from them and whose basis is in the unity of the people.”

That and more besides; the writer reminds that during the First World War, Rabbi Goldin was a refugee and lived in Białystok where he occasionally preached in the Beit Ha-Midrash in New World Street on praising religious Zionism. He also helped considerably in the rehab-ilitation of the national-Torah school of the “Shaas” students on Nobles Street that was canceled during the war and restarted as “The Academy”. During the rededication ceremony an elementary school for boys and girls (separate) and “The Higher Academy” both functioned for Torah and the wisdom of Israel. At the end of the war Rabbi Yisroel Goldin returned to his town Seirijai that in the meantime had become part of an independent Lithuania. Also there he was active in the “Ha-Mizrach” movement and traveled much and made many visits for the benefit of the Zionist treasury and interests of the movement.

During the 'twenties, Rabbi Yisroel Goldin moved to Rochester in the United States where he was installed as Rabbi and officiated until he died in 1949 at the age of eighty. Rabbi Yisroel Goldin was considered one of the “Elders” among the Rabbis. His opinion was respected on mat-ters of religion and Jewish law and as well as day-to-day matters of religion. His status as certi-fied teacher of Halacha was with the “greats” of his generation. Alas – few of his sermons were published. Nevertheless in the monthly rabbinical journal “Ha-Pardess” (The Orchard) and in the book “Questions and Responsa” “The Words of Michael” by Michael Ha-Levy Tannenbaum, Father of the Beit-Din in Łomża two of his Responsa on matters of Halacha appear.

During his years in Sokółka, his son Haim was born and he became one of the most important Rabbis in America. Rabbi Haim received his Torah education from his father and in the Yeshiva of Rabbi Shimshon Katzenellenbogen in Sokółka, in the Yeshiva founded by his father in Mścisław and also learned Torah in the famous YeshivaKnesset Yisroel” in Slobodka-Kovno. He was certified as a teacher by important Rabbis, like Rabbi Haim Hertz Halperin, Head of the Beit-Din Białystok and the Gaon Rabbi Shimon Shkop, Father of the Beit Din (teacher/Rabbi) in Briańsk.

During the 'thirties he, too, moved to the United States and officiated as an exemplary Rabbi to one of the respected congregations and is considered one of the elders and most learned among the learned in America.

 

9. Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Rabinowitz

(1901-1908)

Born in Tyczyn, and related to Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann, commentator on the “Tosephet” Yom-Tov of the Mishna. Apart from his greatness as a Torah scholar he was known for his God-fearing stance, known for his generous donations and hatred of greed. He refused to take the accepted fee for his judgments and rulings on the Torah nor would he accept the usual “festival gifts” and not even the fee for “selling Hametz” on the Passover. He was loved by all the parties and pleasant to everyone. The poor and wretched received special attention from him and he dispersed everything he had. His Rabbanut was exemplary; in the matter of Shechita the butchers of the town accepted his word and his decisions were considered Holy and not open to question.

In 1908 he received the honor to be the official “Righteous teacher” in respected Grodno. In him the Haredim saw a person of shining charisma and authority for strengthening the Torah and the disintegrating way of life. But he was esteemed among the progressives who saw in him a Rabbi who stood firm on his opinions without equivocation and was dedicated with all the warmth of his heart to topics in which he was master. During the First World War he was totally dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the local refugees that amassed in Grodno in February 1915 and descended on the Jews of Grodno with edicts of exile from the town hanging over their heads. One day early in the year, Rabbi Moshe Yehuda preached a heartfelt sermon in the Great Synagogue of Grodno and encouraged the congregation not to be disheartened by the threat of the decrees. He opened the Holy Ark and prayed, weeping and wailing. He suddenly collapsed fainting on the floor from the depths of his feelings and emotion. A doctor was quickly called and extended his help but to no avail; within the hour the Rabbi's spirit returned to He who gave it. Virtually the entire town attended his funeral and the eulogies were inspiring and moving. (Ha-Tsfira vol. 40): The deceased left behind him a wife and five children with no source of sustenance.

Taken from the book “Hemdat Yamim” (Delightful Days), by the Maggid Rabbi Kalman Haim Meitkin, replacement of the Holy Congregation of Sokółka (Published in Peterkov 1906).

The book contained approving comments from several Rabbis in the area of Sokółka, among them: Rabbi Moshe Yehuda, the Gaon Rabbi Zalman Sander Kahana Shapira, Father of the Beit-Din and Rabbi/teacher Krynak Benjamin Dishka the Rabbi of Trestiny, Ya'acov Rabinowitz, Father of the Beit Din in Sopotkin.

This is the text of Rabbi Moshe Yehuda concerning the book by the Maggid Meitkass: “We approach the Maggid from our community who put before me his book “Delights of Life” a collection of comments concerning the “Thirteen Midot” from the book “Honeycomb” by the “Gaon and Rabbi of all the Diaspora” Yonatan Eibschuetz (Zal), “created for the good of our people, to ease the inquisitive, to find every sentence easily and quickly to add to the elevation of his remarks a good mixture. Therefore this authentic good work 'stems from the hand of God' and all who assist him help to put his good intention into action; everyone who helps him, all who give his hand, will be blessed from heaven with good things, Selah. He will see his sons and his sons' sons living in the shadow of the Torah and good deeds and when the book is published I will receive myself, a copy at a nominal price.” Signed Moshe Yehuda based in the Holy Congregation of Sokółka, 1845.

Rabbi Moshe Yehuda also gave his endorsement in 1905 to the book “Joshua's Horn” (Piotrków 1906) to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Nahman Epstein, containing both sermons and articles on Halacha and legends, which won approval from the learned Rabbis - Rabbi Joseph Dover Soloveitchik Father of the Beit-Din Brest in Lithuania, Rabbi Eliyahu Haim Meisel Father of the Beit Din Łodż, and others. The author of the book, Rabbi Yehoshua Epstein, Father of the Beit-Din Koryczan (Sokółka region), was himself born in Sokółka his eminent father Rabbi Nahman was the son of the wonderful leader, respected trader Rabbi Shimon bar Shlomo Sidransky (Rabbi Shimon bar Shlomo Sidranski (Zats”l) of Sokółka, honest businessman who worshiped God with a simple and uncomplicated worship” (from the foreword to the book). Rabbi Yehoshua Epstein, related on his mother's side to the family of Rabbi Arieh Leib Epstein Father of the Beit-Din in Koenigsberg, and author of the “The Orchard”, and Rabbi Shmuel bar Meyer Ha-Levy Father of the Beit Din Kovrin, (grandfather of the Gaon Rabbi Arieh Isaiah Karelitz, author of “Vision of Man”), who also adorned the book and wrote of his offspring Rabbi the enlightened (the “Strong and Blessed”) “Fear of the Lord, his treasures are know and publicized in his Torah and his fear is pure” Rabbi Epstein writes about Rabbi Moshe Yehuda: “The great famous Rabbi Gaon of the Torah and erudition.”

 

10. Rabbi Yitzhak Ha-Levy Schuster

A native of Butrimantz (County of Vilna), offspring of the family of the Righteous Rabbi Meyer Frehner, educated at the famous Yeshivot of Slobodka and Kollel “Kovno”, son-in-law of Rabbi Nahum Greenhaus, Father of the Beit Din Troki and was close to - and later a member of the Kollel – “Ha-Avrachim Ha-Metzuyanim” founded by the Gaon Rabbi Haim Ozer Grodinski in Vilna.

With the attempts of Rabbi Nahum Greenhaus, on his return to Sokółka, to get his son-in-law installed as Rabbi of the town (after Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Rabinowitz moved to Grodno) Rabbi Yitzhak Ha-Levy was indeed accepted as Rabbi of Sokółka and officiated from 1907 until the last days of the congregation. At the time of the terrible Holocaust the Rabbi and the members of his congregation in Sokółka all perished together.

The Rabbi Yitzhak Ha-Levy was considered among the “Greats” of the Torah in Lithuania and Poland.

The abundance of essays on Talmudic literature and ten on sermons and legends, he also was first and foremost in all general matters disseminating Torah and strengthening the religion. He was especially active during the period of the German conquest in the First World War when the total life-style and the adherence to the established order of tradition changed, with difficulties in the economic and spiritual life both growing, he stood guard on matters of the Jewish public and religious life and ensured that the basic and intrinsic nature of the religion was not blurred or erased in spite of the changed economic times and ruling authority.

During those difficult days, he stood at the head of the Talmud-Torah, in which there were 300 pupils, students were preparing themselves for the Yeshiva and he worried about supporting orphans whose parents had been killed in the war and the disturbances in Russia and Ukraine. He worried about the Rabbis of the county and other spiritual leaders of Sokółka and stayed in contact with aid and assistance organizations first in Germany and then the “Joint” in the United States, in order to ease the dependence of the sufferers and distressed.

Rabbi Yitzhak Schuster was extremely active in the public religious Haredi organization after the First World War as well Unlike his father-in-law Rabbi Nahum Greenhaus, one of the founders of “Ha-Mizrach” in Vilna in 1902, he tended towards the Haredim that focused on the Agudat Yisrael movement and even took part in the first World Congress in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1919. He, and the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Dover Kahana-Shapira, Father of the Beit-Din Kovno were the first two and only Lithuanian Jews to take part in that congress.

In the summer of 1919, there was a convention of Rabbis in Grodno in which many Rabbis from the communities in the county took part. An active committee of five Rabbis was elected among whom was the Rabbi of Sokółka who was proposed by the meeting. The following deci-sions were adopted: 1) to establish from the best of our Rabbis to teach and educate with heads of the Yeshivot by specialists in pedagogy. 2). to publish a daily newspaper according to Jewish Haredi precepts. 3) to establish an association of Rabbis of the County of Grodno and the rest of the communities of Lithuanian Poland. 4). to organize effectively the running of the Rabbanut and the matters of Ordination especially regarding salaries of the Rabbis and the slaughterers in these counties. 5). to establish a strong federation which will protect matters of religious Judaism and awaken the heart of the people and to lead them in the spirit of the Torah and the tradition.

Because of the war between Poland and Soviet Russia, which dragged in the region of Grodno-Sokółka, these proposals were never put into effect. In the meantime as the storm abated and the signing of peace between the belligerents, two religious parties came into being – “Agu-dat Yisrael” and “Ha-Mizrach” whose centers were in Warsaw and who had branches in these towns.

With the continuous contacts of Rabbi Yitzhak Ha-Levy with the various aid organizations abroad – Germany, England and especially with “Ezrat Torah” in New York, the Rabbis of the communities received material help for the area of Sokółka: Rabbi Moshe Gershon of Dąbrowa, Rabbi Zalman Kossowsky from Janów, Rabbi Moshe Tsvi Yudzhik* from Novy Dvor, Rabbi Moshe Mordecai Epstein from Kuźniczka, Rabbi Lipmann from Ostrów, Rabbi Yisrael Leinderstein* from Suchowola, Rabbi Haim Meyer Shmuel, Righteous teacher from Sokółka. Indeed with all Rabbi Yitzhak Schuster's attachment to “Agu-dat Yisrael” he never openly showed antipathy to the Zionist Federation and its funds. He always interested himself in the advancement of renewed settlement in Palestine hoped for its peace and even donated in secret. With the establishment of a “Haredi Department” in the offices of the “Keren Kayemet” in Warsaw, his soul yearned to join the signatories to the list of Rabbis who published a pamphlet favoring the project but he was lacking the necessary courage to cut the bonds with “Agudat Yisrael”.

 

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Rabbi Shmuel Stavrowski

 

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Talmud Torah - Lesson with the Rav Rabbi Yitzhak Ha-Levi Schuster

 

[Page 73]

B. The Distinguished People of Sokółka

1. Rabbi Meyer Marcus - Sokółka Rabbi until 1868

Biography: He was born in 1840 in Sokółka to upright, respected parents In his youth he went to Białystok studying in one of the Yeshivot and excelled in his studies to a marked degree. His parents sent him afterwards to Vilna to the Seminary for Rabbis. After he finished his studies there he returned to his home town, Sokółka and was selected there as recording Rabbi under the auspices of the Government. He also officiated in Navaredok and established a school for Jewish children. He performed all his functions and undertakings with great excellence.

In 1868 he returned to Białystok and officiated again as recording Rabbi for thirty-four years. He died there in 1901 at the age of 61.

The newspapers “Ha-Tsfira” and “Ha-Melitz” published eulogies memorializing Rabbi Meyer Marcus. It was said of him that “…he conducted his office with great diligence, with wholehearted honesty. The entire population of the town respected him for his behavior and pleasant manners, his pure soul and ethical standards, for his modesty, righteousness and love of all men. There was nothing in Białystok's charitable actions in which he did not play a leading part. He was active in the “Yad Harutzim” – a project to teach sustainable trades to orphans and abandoned children. He devoted much of his personal time to them even though it laid upon him considerable worries and even sorrow and pain.. He was also an energetic worker and among the founders of “Supporters of the poor” and his activities for the general welfare of all was exceptional. He was a shining example of honesty and integrity thus, even the Government recognized his qualities and honored him.”

He was among the “Ha-Aliya Ha-Me'atim” and excelled in his erudition, and the fear which preceded his wisdom; he was a faithful Jew to his people in his life-style, walking in the ways of the Torah and the customs of Israel.

Ha-Melitz” records Rabbi Meyer Marcus, the recording Rabbi, was one of the first to give support to the ideology of “Hivat Zion” with his awakening many years ago, in 1881. “He was among the first industrious workers in Białystok in the establishment of the movement. He was always at the forefront of its operatives and collections and projects and always with inconspicuous modesty.” On the occasion of his funeral three-thousand Roubles were collected for his now-destitute family.

On the membership of Rabbi Marcus the recording Rabbi, to the Hivat Zion movement in Białystok, A.S. Hirschberg, in his “Sokółka Notebook” (part A), writes: “He performed his tasks to completion. He was a religious teacher in the Reali School. A preacher in Russian in the Great Synagogue on festivals, he was pleasant to mankind, unaggressive in his manner and in arguments in meetings was considered the compromiser and peacemaker.

 

2. Rabbi Shimshon Katzenellenbogen – Sokółka

Rabbi Nissenbaum in the journal of his visit to Sokółka (“Ha-Melitz” – 1898), especially emphasizes that the “…head of the Zionists (in Sokółka) is the head of the town's Yeshiva.”

And indeed it was something of a unique event in those days, as in most of the Yeshivot Zionism was an evil which should not be sought after and only a few students engaged in under-cover activities in the movement. When Sokółka was daring enough not only to entertain the ideology but that the head Rabbi of the town's Yeshiva was openly active and involving himself spiritually in Zionism, here in the center of town, at the Yeshiva in Kórnik! Very active and zeal-ous, considered a Gaon on the Talmud is the Rabbi Baruch Lawski (author of “Minhat Baruch”) and it was he who reacted strongly and openly against all Zionist activity. But in Sokółka itself there arose resistance from the Hassidim of Karlin and Koczak against the Zionist movement. For all that, they tolerated and supported a Zionist Yeshiva in the town of Sokółka. The greatness and erudition on the Talmud of Rabbi Shimshon stood him in good stead with regard to his Holy work of maintaining the Yeshiva for the young and talented students.

Rabbi Shimshon Katzenellenbogen was born in Sokółka (his father was Rabbi Ephraim – among the veteran residents of the town), and not only was he distinguished in the Torah and precise in following the Mitzvoth he was among the skilful in the concept of “Machshevet Yisroel” (“Jewish Thought”), and in the research of religion; original in blazing a new trail in daily life, very cautious in his relationships with the general public and with individuals concerning his actions for Zionism which he perceived as a saving anchor and solution for the problem of the next generation of Russian Judaism. His approach to Zionism was more through education rather than the usual outright “propaganda”. Being faithful to his own way, he placed before himself as a target the education of the youth and he saw his world and pride in the Yeshiva of Sokółka, which was, in practice, a symposium for Torah and Zionism together. It was an educational establishment unique of its kind in the chronicles of the Yeshivot in Lithuania in those days. They came running from near and far to his Yeshiva even from the district of Łomża a few students, whose parents were interested in providing for their children a Torah education, ethics and Jewish thought via a religious leadership and with faithfulness to the values and ideals of religious Zionism through personal fulfillment.

The Yeshiva only existed for a few years. The people of Sokółka didn't understand him and he had no backing from outside. The man was exceptionally modest and had none of the sophistication necessary to “make friends and influence people” through propaganda in order to gain their support or to contribute financially to the support of the Yeshiva like other Yeshivot in those days. He was entirely on his own with no budgetary basis and the daily lessons which were given to his students, not with a view to gain a medal, were an agony and he was forced to reduce the activities of Sokółka's new Yeshiva. In the meantime, the new big Yeshiva of Rabbi Y. Reines was founded in Lydda in the spirit of religious Zionism combined with secular studies. In contrast another large Yeshiva was founded in nearby Krynak named “Branch of the tree of Life” established by Rabbi Z”Lman Sender Kahana-Shapira from the house of the Rabbi from Wolêcin. In this Yeshiva were gathered together chosen students from other smaller Yeshivot in Sokółka and the surroundings. Rabbi Shimon Katzenellenbogen, who stood alone, was forced to reduce his Yeshiva to a very modest level and be satisfied with teaching in his house, next to the municipal slaughterhouse with a few chosen students who had completed “Heder” in Sokółka, educating them and preparing them for a more suitable Yeshiva.

Regarding the Yeshiva of Rabbi Shimshon that existed for a number of years in Sokółka from 1896-1908, Rabbi Shmuel Molholiver of Białystok guaranteed funds to support it and even sent the erudite scholar Rabbi Yitzhak Yavorkovski from Białystok to Sokółka to assist the Head of Yeshiva Katzenellenbogen in the management and expansion of the Yeshiva. Rabbi Yitzhak was the student of the Learned Rabbi Molholiver from the time of his Rabbanut in Suwałk. Rabbi Yitzhak was the owner of a textile-weaving factory in Wasilkóv (close to Białystok) and when he became somewhat impoverished he became an impressive Torah teacher in Białystok and an adherent to the “Hivat Zion” movement and preached sermons in the “Hevrat Torah” of “Hovevei-Zion” founded by Dr. L Hanowitz* and A. S. Hirschberg.

Rabbi Yitzhak thought that in Sokółka, he will have ample time and was active for about a year. In the meantime, the eminent Rabbi Shmuel Molholiver passed away and his generous offer came to nothing and there were no practical people in Sokółka or Białystok to replace him. Disappointed, Rabbi Yitzhak returned to Białystok and was appointed Teacher/Rabbi at the municipal Yeshiva and there he died in 1909. His sermons were included in his book “Pronouncements of the Heart”, printed in Białystok 1910; the pulse of the spirit of Zionism can be felt in them and they were much sought after in religious Zionist circles at the time.

Rabbi Y. Nissenbaum writes concerning the Head of Yeshiva and leader of Zionism in Sokółka Rabbi Shimshon Katzenellenbogen that “…he adds another teacher to the Talmud Torah and tries to provide him with students from different towns and instruct them in the Talmud. He does not say “Enough!” of his work in town but when time is available he travels to other towns to spread there the ideas and ideals of Zionism; he is also a “Lover of Zion” in the old sense and now he will work in his own town for the good of our brethren working on the soil in the Holy land.”

Rabbi Shimshon Katzenellenbogen took part in the Zionist Congress of the Vilna region in 1908. In the photograph taken at the Congress (found in the book “Heartbeat of the Diaspora”), he is photographed together with other famous Rabbis: Rabbi Shmuel Ya'acov Rabinowitz the representative delegate of four areas – Kovno, Vilna Grodno and Suwałk. In 1911/2 he was a participant in the Zionist Congress of Russian Jews that took place in Minsk. His participation was recorded in “Ha-Tsfira” (1912 vol. 239): “Information received from Yashinowka on the return of our delegate Head of Yeshiva Rabbi Shimshon Katzenellenbogen, from the Zionist Congress in Minsk tells that he delivered a speech based on his sermons in the Beit-Hamidrash and the Zionist Association here moved into action and collected 100 Roubles for Zionist causes and increased the number of “Shekel” holders assisting our association.” He also delivered a sermon “…before the gathering of the Congress and his words impressed the audience which then offered a weekly donation to the Zionist cause.”

Rabbi Shimshon also rotated among the towns in the Łomża region and because of his good name which preceded him as an eminent and knowledgeable speaker and forceful exponent of the Torah without looking for “rewards” and an adherent of Zionism with all his might and soul, the doors of the Batei-Midrash and there was not one Rabbi that dared to enter into conflict with his assertions on Zionism. At the second Congress of the “Ha-Mizrachi” movement that took place in 1903 in Lydda Rabbi Shimshon was a participant and was elected as a preacher for a number of regions in Lithuania, to establish branches and to organize “Religious Zionism” in the towns of their area.

He lived in Sokółka all his life, being very active in the service of Zionism and its principles without receiving any advantages or benefits. In all his activities he saw only his aim and vision as a spiritual refuge and haven in Israel for our generation. He was among the most modest and humble of men in his manners and. He did not live to see the Holy land but was murdered in the Holocaust together with his Sokółka community.

 

3. Rabbi Shmuel and his son Avraham of Kupiškis

Rabbi Shmuel from Kupiškis was one of the generation of erudite men of Sokółka. For a time he was Rabbi in Yanishok (Kovno region), but relinquished the post and led a sedentary and studious way of life in Sokółka where his wife, owned a shop and relieved him of the cares of supporting the family. His son Avraham Makovitski was born in Sokółka. He studied at the prestigious Yeshiva of Vohlyn. He was a brilliant student of the eminent Rabbi Shlomo Solobeisczyk* and a friend of Shlomo Poliaczyk well-known as the “Spirit of Maytshet”. He studied in the Kollel “Kovno” and was ordained into the Rabbanut by Rabbi Shlomo Ha-Cohen the Righteous Teacher

 

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The welcoming committee for Rabbi Slodzanski (the son-in-law of Rabbi Schuster)
on his arrival for installation as the town Rabbi in 1930

 

of Vilna. He studied with the well-known group of students of the eminent Rabbi Haim Ozer Grodzinski in Vilna. Rabbi Avraham became Rabbi in Golubichi (Vilna region) and later in the towns of Novi-Vitebsk, Yekaterinoslav, Krwawy Róg and Burdyniszki, during the First World War. During the period of the Soviet regime he moved to Kharkov as replacement for Rabbi Eliyahu-Aharon Mileikowski, who at that time immigrated to Palestine and became the head of a Yeshiva in Tel-Aviv. During the Second World War, with the invasion of Nazi Germany into Russia, Rabbi Avraham removed to Samarkand, returned to Kharkov and died there in 1956.

Rabbi Avraham was considered a great innovator and wonderful preacher and world-wise. One of his sons succeeded, after the Second World War, to emigrate from Russia (via Poland), to Israel. He lives now in B'nei-Barak and is an eminent teacher in the B'nei Akiva Yeshiva in Kfar Meiron.

M. Cinowicz


[Page 79]

Sokółka Mirrored in the Hebrew Press

a. Charitable Organizations and Torah Newspapers

In “Ha-Melitz” from 1881 Rabbi Yehoshua-Tsvi Sarana, the son of Town Rabbi Feivel Shraga, resident of Sokółka, writes about the public institutions in the town:

“Our town, even though among the small towns, can be considered, with its charitable deeds and their distribution, as competitive with the much larger towns in our area. Most of the people have a good-hearted, generous spirit. They are honest and members of every charity; at their hands several different organizations were founded: Shaas, Talmud-Torah, a charitable pension fund, Bikur-Holim (sick visits), hospitality and many more. They have also taken notice of the general public's needs and already two years ago built a new bath-house and Mikva in total compliance with Halacha, the erection of which cost thousands of Roubles.”

On the founding of institutions in Sokółka another writer from Sokółka, Avi Satur writes in “Today” (Petersburg 1886 vol. 108): “The charitable deeds of our town are numerous. We have here: Bikur-Holim, a “hospitality” group (for wayfarers), a dowry committee, and the people of our community perform deeds of charity and kindness to every poor person and any in need of spiritual support “the poor seeking ease from wretchedness will not find a clenched fist.”

He especially takes note and compliments the basic need of supplying kosher food to Jewish soldiers working with their regiments and camping next to Sokółka. He also reports on the Talmud Torah in Sokółka. But still the writer, as an educated man, knows to emphasize that a house with a bad name has no Torah and no humanistic approach. As against that, the Jewish residents of Sokółka value very highly the existence of the Russian government's “…School for Children of Yeshurun which was opened not long ago in our town and is doing very well.” He compliments the “…the erudite teacher, Mr. Epstein who is officiating there in an exemplary fashion, for the good work and his kindness to the poor children of our town, providing them with free instruction and knowledge, and sees a blessing in teaching them; and when he was not long ago the responsible minister of all the schools in our county it was this school that particularly pleased him; he would be surprised at the honor and the good organization spread throughout it.”

Regarding the “Talmud Torah”, concurrent with the development of the Zionist movement in Sokółka the good people of the society concerned themselves with improving the curriculum in that educational institute. Especially dedicating himself was the eminent Talmudic scholar Rabbi Shimshon Katzenellenbogen who added another instructor and opened a senior class that acted as a preparatory class towards entry to a Yeshiva, in which the best students, with the completion of their studies in the “Talmud Torah”, could continue their studies.”

 

b. The Russian Army Camp Near Sokółka

The local reporter, Avi Satur of Sokółka writes in “Today” vol. 108, 1886:

“Sokółka (Grodno region): A living spirit began to beat in business circles in our town because according to an high-level Russian government command, accommodation will be built to house a regiment which will camp in our town. At the moment there is only part of the regiment. The construction has already commenced and all the workers have their hands full. Some of our own townspeople are also employed on the project; it creates contracts for the sale of bricks, stones, wood and iron and all the necessary materials. The barracks will be splendid and beautiful, four storeys high. There will also be Officers' Quarters. According to rumors there will also be shops for the sale of a wide variety of goods. The work is expected to take three years to completion. For the time being our businessmen and the laborers are earning money and the economic situation of the town which has been somewhat reduced of late will improve a little.”

Avi Satur also informs us that there are arrangements for supplying kosher food, prepared by the Jews of Sokółka for the Jewish soldiers found in the army camp close to town:

“Needless to say, it is important to tell you of the goodness of heart of our people who are concerned for the welfare of our brethren, the Jews serving in the army-camp. There are about forty Jewish soldiers serving at present among them, God-fearing Jews, educated ones and speaking various languages. Since they will be here for three years, they will be given plenty of food and sustenance especially the required “Three Meals” on Shabbat. And now in the field they will have a special building where they can eat all their meals every day.”

To cover the cost “…many of the residents will donate a fixed amount each week and at the head of this praiseworthy Mitzvah stood the eminent Gaon, and Father of the Beit-Din Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor, who thought of it, brought it to fruition and is making every effort to ensure that nothing is forgotten. May his name be blessed.”

On the same topic Michael Lipschitz, of “Ha-Melitz” informs us in 1888 (vol. 94), in which it is mentioned “…the good deeds and kindnesses being done for our brethren, the Children of Israel, working in the army, in supplying them with kosher food.” And if indeed the matter is very difficult to do, since our residents “…will earn their bread by the sweat of their brow and in sorrow they shall eat their bread,” nevertheless, they will not be found wanting in the matter of kosher food for the soldiers and everything that is in their power to do – they will do.”

 

c. Coordination of Aid and Charity into a “Central Committee”

The enterprise known nowadays as “Local Office of Social Welfare” was created in Sokółka in 1888. Thus announced Michael Lipschitz in “Ha-Melitz” (1888 vol. 94):

“Not long ago a good efficient organization came into being in our town of Sokółka due to the efforts of our town leaders. A committee was formed to regulate all the needs of the community and to provide assistance to the poor and distressed among us and also the casual wayfarer; until now all the charity organizations operated with little or no direction or order; every day the poor, needy and distressed flooded the various charity establishments, disrupting the work and exploiting the city's resources as if it were a bottomless cornucopia – and there was no one there to manage and control, no accountant to oversee the finances…but from the moment that the committee was formed matters became manageable and order was introduced. All the community's poor have their needs and concerns attended to in the best possible way with equal treatment to all the people of our town. All our people – from the smallest to the greatest volunteered with all their heart and soul to donate a fixed amount to the “Council House” every week and we now have only one collector, a responsible person who will come once a week to collect the donation and from his hand all the charities will receive the amounts due to them from the central fund.”

The “Council House” that was founded in Sokółka was a new idea in its day, eighty years ago, and its effect was to nullify, on the one hand, the constant return of the needy for more and on the other hand to register formally only those really in need of help. The “Council House” therefore granted cash awards in an honorable and modest fashion for their sustenance. This custom began in 1869 in Białystok. One of the initiators was the Recording Rabbi Meyer Marcus, who was born in Sokółka. It seems he, and our town notables – among other towns - were influenced by Białystok.

Apparently the “Council House” did not last long in Sokółka before disappearing. The reason was that the limited collection was not sufficient to fulfill the demands of the needy who kept returning for more in spite of the injunction against that. Neither the poor, nor the collections received the necessary support in a suitable fashion and the committee was forced to reduce its activities to the point where it became only a very modest institution.

 

d. Medical Assistance for the Poor of the Town

In “Ha-Tsfira” of 1894, vol. 127 the following details were published in the name of Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor, Father of the Beit-Din of the town:

Blessings and thanks in the name of the Congregation of Sokółka and in the name of Dr. Leo ben Ya'acov Landa (grandson of the Gaon our teacher and Rabbi Avraham Landa {May his Righteousness be remembered for a blessing} the Gaon and Father of the Holy Beit-Din of Sypitki and afterwards of the Holy Congregation of Šimoniai in the County of Suwałk) who will now move from his home to Łodż, for all the good he did while he dwelt among us here in Sokółka for seven years. He worked wonders with his medicine and worked long with the many sick who feared for their lives; he took pains to assist the poor of our town, to nurse them and heal them even on their death-bed and many times acted without payment saying, “If I save one soul I have earned a much higher salary.”

“Because this man loves his people and his faith and educates in his way a dear and honorable portion from the Christian residents of Sokółka. And on sixteenth of May the city read my call: her leaders, her judges, her army officers and priests – all joined in a special ceremony – a “Farewell Party” for this Jewish doctor who is leaving us to go to Łodż. Because “Nobles and priests, army officers – all sought him and all of them he healed.”

Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch describes the party in which the above notables took part: “They raised full glasses of champagne” and they expressed their heartfelt thanks and complimented him profusely, presenting him with a loving memento – a photograph album and on a memorial silver plate was engraved: “To a Doctor with a humanitarian heart from his admirers.”

The Rabbi from Sokółka finishes his words of gratitude with:

“Therefore it is our obligation to enlarge this honorable man for honesty and to compliment him from the depths of our hearts, that he should succeed in Łodż where they will soon know his greatness and value and will honor his name and his acquaintances will be blessed, and may God be with him and prosper his way onwards and upwards.”

 

e. On the Two Colonies Issakowka and Palastina, near Sokółka

In “Ha-Tsfira” from 1898 (vol.181), the Rabbi Patriszca*from Odelsk, with the permission of the Recording Rabbi confirming him, refers to the settlement Issakowka as follows:

Recently there appeared in the settlement close to Odelsk faithful delegates of the Baroness Clara Hirsch, to evaluate the situation of our brethren, the farmers - twenty families - who have been settled there some fifty years, longing together with their wives and children to work the land and to do all the field- and garden-work, quickly and energetically with the industriousness of natural-born farmers. Their efforts have been reduced to nothing and their situation very sad; they are in much distress and difficulty because the number of souls in the families has increased beyond the possibility of the land to sustain them and provide their essential needs. They turn in their desperation to the known generosity of above Baroness that in the greatness of her kindness and her good heart she will not delay in sending a special delegate who will examine the fateful, poverty-stricken and unhappy situation of the farmers with a perceptive eye and that their distress will touch his heart and ensure that he finds for them a solution to their pressing needs and extend the necessary assistance.”

Regarding the support of Baroness Clara Hirsch via the Jewish Colonization Association, “Ha-Tsfira” in 1899 (vol. 158), brought the following information on the Issakowka colony and on the second colony close by “Palastina” by the writer signing himself as “S” (Sha'ar – “gate”), of Sokółka:

“In the name of the two colonies “Issakowka” and “Palastina” in the region of Sokółka, I express thanks and blessings to those who stand at the head of the Jewish Colonization Association, that so abundantly improve their people's situation by sending them aid via the writer of these columns: the purchase of fertilization and improvement materials for the land, for also promising to provide them with a loan, the necessary sum to dig water wells the lack of which is felt in both colonies.”

“To the sorrow of the colonists' hearts, the Lord did not send his blessings of produce to the land this year and the grain did not prosper well, and the variant did not produce sufficient yield to sow the fields and their eyes once again are lifted for support to the generosity of the Jewish Colonization Association to extricate them from their straits.”

A.S. Hirschberg of Białystok also takes the opportunity to inform that Sokółka's Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor had a program merge a number of colonists from the above two settlements in a plan for the settlement of Ekron (Mazkeret Batya) the founding group of which comprised 11 families from the colony of Pavlova near Rozinoi (Grodno region). For various reasons the proposal did not materialize.

 

f. Rabbi Yitzhak Nissenbaum on Jewish Sokółka in 1898

Rabbi Nissenbaum visited Sokółka in 1898 as a delegate the Odessa branch of “Hovevei-Zion” (“The Odessa-Palestine Committee”) and stayed there a number of days. He published in “Ha-Melitz” a short article on the lives of the town's Jews in those years from the general point of view in so far as it touched the “Hovevei-Zion” movement which was quite well-organized in so far as the situation in the neighboring towns was concerned.

1) General description:

The town “S” (Sokółka - M.C.), is situated between two large cities, the Administrative B (Białystok) and the regional G (Grodno) – and Sokółka itself – the regional capital. There are about ten leather-processing factories employing a few hundred Jewish workers but most of the Jews in this town – like those of many others – live a life of sadness and pressure on the meager results of small trade and businesses. In terms of public needs the town is not lacking: there is Bikur Holim, a welcoming group for visitors, a Talmud Torah and also a Yeshiva and so far as ritual needs are concerned they are also endowed. In addition to the Rabbi – Father of the Beit-Din, there is also a Righteous Teacher and a volunteer force of firemen, based in the market square, they taught themselves to fight fires………”

The Zionist Society has nothing to be ashamed of from comparison with either of the two larger, nearby neighboring towns (meaning Białystok and Grodno – M.C.). In certain aspects Sokółka even outdoes them. In this small town the Colonial Bank also found a response: two-hundred and fifty people deposited their donations to Zion here. The town also had a Zionist Rabbi who went to Basel to participate in the Second Zionist Congress at his own expense. In his letter to the notables of his town about the Congress he speaks with great admiration of the influence on their readers (meaning Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Direktor – M.C.) …In the town of Sokółka is a garrison with many officers, and there is also a commercial enterprise for imported wines and under the auspices of the Zionists there is a house dealing in “Carmel Wines”. According to what I have and heard confirmed by the officers, many Jewish people drink the wine. When we all sat together in one of the houses talking and discussing Zionism and the settlements, one of the good people there had the good idea of bringing two bottles of “Carmel” wine. The shopkeeper gave a startled look to the customer while his eyes asked: “What's the celebration here? Is there a big party for a rich bridegroom here? If they had asked me for one bottle I wouldn't be wondering why. They have already become accustomed to the doctors of Sokółka telling the sick to drink “Carmel Wine” – but two bottles, “Who knows two……….?”

In respect of the status of the Zionist movement in Sokółka, there was another element of Rabbi Direktor's activities together with his son-in-law, Rabbi Yitzhak Goldin. There is much to add to the credit of Rabbi Moshe Horowitz, Rabbi of the small town of Odelsk close to Sokółka (during the years 1899-1907). Rabbi Horowitz was famous as one of the finest preachers, a thinker for his excellent powers of self-expression in Hebrew. He would travel from town to town in the district as a Zionist preacher and while he was Rabbi of Odelsk he would occasionally preach in the new Beit Ha-Midrash in Sokółka on Hivat-Zion and political Zionism and awaken souls to action. His books “Sermons of Rabbi Moshe Horowitz” and “Visions of Moshe Horowitz” written on the purity of the modern Hebrew, written in clear, logical language, were widely distributed among the preaching Rabbis and made him quite famous.

“Rabbi Moshe Horowitz took part in the appeal of a group of Rabbis in Russia listed in “Ha-Melitz” on the collection of funds for the benefit of daily laborers in Palestine whose situation was hard-pressed (in 1900) with the removal of the trusteeship of “…the well-known benefactor” (Baron Rothschild), patron of the new settlements in Palestine. The appeal had as its target a collection to “…improve with time the known projects in Palestine by colonization” to assist and find for them constant work by the development of different factories each suited to the conditions of the area – for our brethren who have devoted themselves heart and soul to their people and love of country every building of which is the work of their hands.”

The Rabbi Moshe Horowitz was installed as Rabbi in Liguss* (Kovno area) and in Russlavel* and after World War One he went to the United States where he was the Rabbi of one of the congregations in New York.

In America he authored two further books “Observations of Rabbi Horowitz” (1934) and “Observations of Rabbi Horowitz” (1939).

 

g. The Grabski Period

The Economic Crisis in Sokółka 1926

Distressful hunger among the Jewish Population.

Sokółka is a typical, small Lithuanian town where all its Jewish residents sustained themselves not long ago with productive work and the Jewish workers, most of whom belong to professional associations, spend their evenings in the Beit Ha-Midrash studying a page of the Gemara.

That situation already ceased to exist for 17 factories processing furs that had employed several hundred Jewish workers between them, and in addition to that there were several craftsmen's workshops for shoes and hundreds of independent craftsmen and artisans whose livelihood depended on them. But at present complete ruin rules. Factories are closed, laborers and artisans are being released from work and the small traders are either “dying” or completely depleted.

When the information arrived about the situation in the once-industrial town – Sokółka –the delegate H. Farbstein went there to discover for himself from close-up the details of the Jewish population's plight.

The delegate Farbstein engaged in long conversations with representatives of the workers who described tearfully their terrible condition. Their previous employers can bear witness that they were never in need before of assistance and supported themselves by the toil of their hands. But now it is already a year that they are without work and they have already sold all their possessions. During the winter, when they had the opportunity of obtaining work in the forest, they would go and chop trees for a pitiful salary only to avoid the shame of holding out their hands for assistance. Today even that work has gone and they haven't enough food for one meal. Many of their women and children are starving with hunger and falling sick; some of them are sick with consumption. The sick fund has deserted them and they are now deprived of all medical assistance.

There are 250 laborers' families actually dying of hunger. This is also the condition of artisans. Of 150 families of artisans there are only 6-8 families with work; the rest are unemployed. Of 240 merchants and shopkeepers – the sources of sustenance of 80 of them are entirely exhausted and the remainder is slowly dying. Typically it is a fact that the owners of factories, that today cost thousands of dollars, are quietly dying from hunger. A Jewish notable in town visited one of these factory owners and found him in his own kitchen having a lunch made out of potato peelings. All these poverty-stricken people have been hit at the same time and the only thing that can improve their immediate economic situation – generally – is to return to their occupations.

It is a fact that when they went to collect “Flour for Passover” many of them who had been rich in the past asked from the shopkeepers - and with tears in their eyes from the Rabbi - that he should try to find them matzoth for Passover.

After considerable deliberation with the laborers' representatives, artisans, “Leinat-Tsedek” and “Lehem l'ani'im” (both charity groups), an agreement was reached that in order to save the Jewish congregation in the town that always sustained itself honorably and at a profit, it was essential:

a) To create an aid fund urgently – especially now at a time when there is no hope that the Jews can obtain Matzoth for Passover in time.

b) To provide the local Cooperative Bank branch with US$ 1,000-1,500 in order to grant loans for a period of one year at a rate of 6% interest. It being clearly understood and noted that most of the artisans and dealers do not wish to receive the support as “dole money”; they need the sum 100-150 gold coin in order to allow themselves to earn their keep in reduced circumstances on the market days held once weekly.

c) To provide “Leinat-Tsedek” a fixed amount of soap, medicines and essential hygienic materials and also a fixed sum of money in order to provide this community to the possibility of fulfilling its role as a health fund.

d) To open a kitchen for children which will provide 200 mid-day meals each day in order to save the children of the poor from consumption and other illnesses.

After his return from Sokółka, Delegate Farbstein visited the representatives of the “Joint” who hurried to dispatch US$ 500 for the immediate and urgently needed help. The Delegate Farbstein approached Dr. Bernhard Cohen in Berlin who hurried to budget a fixed sum to provide long-term loans and the opening of a kitchen for children. Apart from that, the above delegate approached the “TAZ” company for help with medicines for the “Leinat-Tsedek”.

In short: the situation in the town is catastrophic. It is especially dangerous because there is a business with important Jewish people for whom it is easier to die than it is to stretch out their hand and ask for help. For that reason it is important to stir up the attention of those Jews of Sokółka who are now in America, that they should arise and wake up to do something material and significant to save their brethren of their town from the ravages of hunger and disease.

In “Today” (above), from six months ago (vol. 238), we find about the United Jewish Appeal of the Keren Kayemet Foundation Fund, the following item: Mr. Y. Reizfeder visited Sokółka to improve the collection. He revived the work of the Council and the members for mobilizing all their strength and resources in order to complete the collection of debts from the late-paying supporters until the end of the civil year so that they can begin the year 1926 as a new project.

 

h. Assistance Given by Rabbi Yehoshua-Heschel Farbstein to Sokółka

In the elections to “close” the split in the Białystok-Sokółka areas in May 1919 the delegate chosen as Chairman of “Mizrachi” was the Pole Yehoshua-Heschel Farbstein.

In the newspaper “Today” Vol. 368, of Wednesday (Parashat Tsav), 9th Nisan 1926, an article appeared describing the distressing situation and hunger in Sokółka, following the economic policies of the Grabski administration, which was directed towards the Jews. Factories were closed, workers let go, small traders were forced to liquidate their businesses and the situation of the Jews were the worst hit of all.

Farbstein approached the Ministry of Supplies with the demand he supply essential food supplies to the Jewish residents of Sokółka. The Ministry immediately telegraphed the local Government in Sokółka regarding the matter, announced the newspaper “Ha-Tsfira” Issue 31 of 1919:

“The Delegate Farbstein visited Sokółka and learned first-hand that hundreds of Jewish families were actually dying of hunger. It was decided to create an aid fund urgently; to obtain for the local Cooperative Bank the sum of US$1,000-1,500 in order to provide loans for a period of a year at an interest of 6%; to provide for “Leinat Tsedek” a quantity of soap, medicines medical equipment and also a sum of money so that the organization could fill its role as the “Sick Fund” in a seemly manner; to open a kitchen that will supply 200 mid-day meals for children, who are threatened with exposure to consumption.”

Farbstein approached the “Joint” and other foundations and succeeded in improving somewhat the reduced circumstances of the Sokółka community. An appeal was sent to Sokółka Jews now living in America that they should wake up to the situation of their brethren in Sokółka and save them from the ravages of hunger.

 

9. The Incident of the Sokółka Youth Who Disappeared in 1879

In “Ha-Maggid” 11th Kislev 1879 there appeared a report about a youth from Sokółka who disappeared from his home and of his father pleading for information if he is found:

“It is now six years since my eldest son Sandor Kondanski, from here – Sokółka - (Grodno region), wandered far from home to Landan, and for about four years after parting from us I received letters from him now and again but for about two years now I haven't heard a word from him and all trace of him has been lost. Please – our brethren – Children of Israel – Have mercy on me and on my old age: perhaps one of you knows of his whereabouts, the place in which my eldest son Sandor is (found – the word is missing in the announcement) and to inform his honor the Great Rabbi Gaon (may he have a long life –Amen), Father of the Beit-Din of the address noted here below or “Ha-Maggid”.

His description: He is 22 years old, average height, yellow hair, a tendency to be red-faced, sharp-nosed and full-faced with red spots. He is expert in gents' tailoring.

The address of the Rabbi is: Rabbiner Sana in Sokółka Grodno”.

 

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