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[Page 55]

Life and Youth

 

[Page 57]

Turka My Town

by David Yisraeli-Langnauer of Zera

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Boaz Ben-Pelech

{Photo page 57: Uncaptioned. David Yisraeli-Langnauer}

For my father, my brother Yosef, his family
And all of my family who are so very dear to me.

The years pass, and in their stream, a person removes his thoughts from the near past, and certainly from the distant pass – thus, slowly but surely, my town of Turka, my birthplace, and the place where my large, wide-branched family lived among very many other Jewish families, is being forgotten. My small town, where I saw light, was raised, studied, came of age, and was drawn from you many decades ago to my land – the Land of Israel. Today I bring to mind: how could it be, how did it happen that time erases many experiences of my youth from the tablet of my heart? The youthful period disappeared; the strongest impressions that were imprinted upon me were forgotten. However… is it possible to forget those days, filled with aspirations, dreams, and a desire for action? Is it possible to erase the experiences that took place within the confines of the Beis Midrash and the life of the movements? Is it possible through this forgetting to push aside splendid, deep images of young children, which for me were literally monumental? Is it possible to forget the various personalities whom I met each day, the friends from my childhood and youth; encounters with Jews every day of the year, whether for the bad or for the good? I knew them well, lived with them, and loved them as they were, during the entire period of my life there in the town – as mischievous kids, as students in the cheder, in the kloiz during services… during regular discussions of worldly matters, there behind the oven… in the street, in the store, at work, and in every place…

I have strong longings for my family, my friends, and the Jews of the town who perished during the terrible extermination perpetrated by the impure ones. In my imagination, I wander from picture to picture, join them line by line, image to image – and before me is the town in its wholeness. This town that had been cut off from the world and is no longer… and I am trying to revive it – is it possible? I wish now to capture the slope of the mountains,

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{Photocopy page 58: A report card. Translator's note: of the Safa Berura Hebrew School.}

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as we would climb them as children, with our yarmulkes, and our peyos blowing in the wind… We will relive the wonderful activities that were carried out in the Hashomer Hatzair chapter and in the other wonderful youth movements of our town… We will meet various characters, some more important, and some less interesting… We will recall many of its Jews, even if I cannot recall the name of every one, but we will recall all of the souls, for they are all holy in our eyes… We will whisper to them in any human form. We will even mock them and joke about their flaws… I will attempt to clarify in my imagination the hiding places of the distant past, but for various reasons, I will suffice myself with mentioning a few personalities, some who stood out in the life of the town and others whom I feel an important need to describe here due to their uniqueness.

*

The first Hebrew teacher was Moshe Shreiber. This is not a derogatory name, Heaven forbid, but they called him “Shreiber Der Hoiker” (“Shreiber the Hunchback”). He was well loved even though he was an odd personality. He was short, with fascinating, refined lines on his face. He never gave in to his suffering or his physical handicap. He was saturated with Torah and wisdom, and was knowledgeable in both Hebrew and general subjects. His expertise in the old and new literature was wonderful, and he attempted to disseminate this expertise to the masses. He was one of the first to disseminate “Safa Berura” (The clear language) in town. At the end of the First World War, he returned to the town with the other refugees who had left. He founded the first Hebrew school, called “Safa Berura.” At that time, this school was a thorn in the side of the Orthodox of the town, but the stream of lovers of Hebrew grew despite their anger and wrath. Children and youths studied the language, and organized clubs and groups of friends. These first ones were the founders of the Hashomer Hatzair and Hechalutz chapters. They studied Hebrew literature and Zionist history with the help of Moshe Shreiber. In this manner, the Zionist idea penetrated the masses.

Everyone who knew Shreiber related to him with love and admiration. He was the “Ben Yehuda”[1] of our town, for he spoke Hebrew to his son in his home, and everyone who came to his house spoke the Holy Tongue. His students included the members of the leadership of the chapter and the heads of Hechalutz at that time: the Schnellers (today Chushai), Weisman, Tz. Shein, Nagler, Rusler, M. Langnauer, and others. They were the ones who disseminated and literally lived the language on the street and in the various social activities. Shreiber was a dedicated Zionist. Everyone who met him was affected by his Zionist devotion, which was his practical way of day to day life. On account of his private library, many people came to read books of great importance. At his place, I secretly read Ranak[2], Ahad Haam, and Shakespeare, everything mixed up… With his agreement, I also succeeded in smuggling these books into the kloiz, where I studied these impure books with my friends… Indeed, in his house, the

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Zionist circle sprouted and flourished. It later became seriously active, bringing to life and strengthening the Zionistic pioneering philosophy that united the organizational framework of the youths and the pioneers in the town. The development and attractiveness of these splendid movements can be significantly attributed to the merit of Shreiber. To my sorrow and our sorrow, he did not merit actualizing his life's dream of settling in the land – among all of us who knew him from up close. May his memory be blessed with us forever…

*

Let us now unite ourselves with an interesting personality in the arena of Jewish humor and performing arts in our town, our acquaintance Melech Brauer. Whenever I met him, he had a good joke or sharp statement fitting to the times on his lips… He had a true Jewish sense of humor. I do not know from where or from what “academy” of arts he learned his acting skills; however his readings of Sholom Aleicheim, Mendele, Der Tunkler, Moshe Nadir and others at the parties and celebrations of the movement were an experience for all those present. Who does not recall his stage performances? Brauer was the one who, in his time, dared to arrange famous plays such as those of Hirshbein, Gordon, Goldfaden, and others. He found many of his actors in our chapter. With his sharp eye, he found “acting” skills literally on the street. The rehearsals for the plays were an experience for all participants. Needless to say, everything was done under very primitive conditions… He coordinated the music himself, and the music was performed by Schwartz and the Ofermans.

I have described him with only a few lines; however I have written them with tears… and this time, not with “tears of joy”…

*

Meilech (Melech) the doctor (April) – it was with this name that both young and old, Jews and gentiles knew him. He stemmed from an Orthodox, Hassidic family. Melech came to town from Lvov or its vicinity many years earlier, and began to work as a medic and assistant of the chief doctor of the city hospital that was located at the edge of “Oyben Dorf.” It was there that he obtained his great experience in the field. (How it worked out that he became the assistant to a Polish doctor – we will not know…) Many of the townsfolk would not take their sick to the real doctor before Meilech-Doctor gave his “diagnosis” and expressed his opinion about the state of the sick person… Is it possible to forget how Meilech read out the prescriptions out loud? The Latin Language took on a unique form with him, and was understood only by him… And was there in the world a more delicate and refined hand that that of this Doctor Meilech as he would examine the body of a sick person?

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When he would enter the house of the sick with his loving, broad smile, with his sweet and spicy Yiddish expressions, he would change the atmosphere immediately and remove “sixty measures” of the sick person's suffering. When he was first summoned, at any hour of the day or night, he hastened to offer his assistance to both the houses of the poor as well as the wealthy. How interesting it was to see him driving on a carriage to visit the sick, as he waved his hand right and left with an exuberant “Dzieñ Dobry,” and smiled heartily at anyone passing through the street. He administered first aid on the second story of his home, where various instruments for different purposes were scattered on his table. “Operating” on a finger, repairing a break, and other such treatments were carried out by his special, expert hands. He never used his special talents for his own needs. If someone was unable to pay the fees, Melech would sneak out of his house in a way that even a thank you could not be extended to him… Some people said that he even used his own money to purchase the medicines that he prescribed… Indeed, he was a fine, interesting personality in our community of Turka. Who can forget him?

*

For many years, Naftali Kraus, a Jew dedicated to Zionism with heart and soul, was the patron of the Hashomer Hatzair chapter of out town. He experienced ups and downs in his economic and business life. He endured many changes in a very short time. Despite this, he never held back even one iota with his special dedication to the Hashomer Hatzair movement and other Zionist movements. It was his character to be dedicated and to concern himself with the public. Whenever a problem affected any of the movements, he did everything he could to solve it through his connections with the local authorities. He was very active during election times for the Sejm, the town council or the community. Alongside this relationship to the community, he was also a source of support in any matter for any individual. He was prepared to help in matters of work, aliya, preparation of papers for the district office, and other such needs. Everything that he did was done with a sense of love for his fellow Jew. Along with his children who are living here in the Land, we will remember him forever.

*

Now we will discuss a completely different type of personality – Moshe Shein. The concept of “popular orator” was exemplified in this man. From the time we knew him, he belonged the Social Democratic Party and served as it spokesman in the town. Whether it was before elections, before the First of May, or before any other communal event – Shein always stood at the head of the activity. His speeches were delivered with pathos. He would stand atop a barrel in the center of the city and speak – primarily in Polish. With his strange gestures, he would enthuse his audience, which consisted of people of all ages and types, without difference between race and religion. Most of the time,

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he closed his eyes and spoke everything that was in his heart… He would often move from the topic of elections to a different topic in the middle of his speech, whether to a matter connected to municipal issues or even to a debate on a religious topic… He was involved in the communal activities of the city; he was a mediator, and someone who pursued justice. Masses of people would consult with him regarding their private matters, and he would serve as a proper intercessor. He was an impressive personality in our landscape. M. Shein was of the same large, wide-branched family in the town whose children and descendents were active in the various youth-Zionist-pioneering movements in particular and often stood at the help of these movements. Indeed, they conducted all of their work with talent and great dedication. Some of them are continuing their activities in our Land. We will recall their family with reverence and love.

*

I will describe a dear personality, someone I will always recall with appreciation and affection, for the man was close to my heart. He was a friend of my father of blessed memory, and a friend of my family, Reb Aharon Spiegler of blessed memory. There were not many like him in the town. He did not stand out in communal activity, nor did he elbow his way into an important position in the kloiz or any other place, for he found his honor in any place where he was found… I knew him and his family, for I would spend a lot of time in their house, just as my friend Shmuel was like one of our family. Reb Aharon earned his livelihood through the toil of his hands. He was a tailor, and two of sons worked with him. He exemplified the concept of a man who occupies himself with Torah and labor. He was an educated man. Torah never departed from his lips. Even though he was part of the Hassidic, Torah studying community from a social perspective, on the inside he was a progressive man. He was patient with his fellowman. He educated and raised his sons in the same spirit. Spiegler was knowledgeable in philosophical concepts from various schools of thought, and he was familiar with the various streams of enlightened Hebrew literature. He tried to acquaint himself with Modern Hebrew literature. He knew how to quote from classical works in their original or in translation during his family and social conversations. Debates with him on world philosophies were interesting. During the free time on Sabbaths and festivals, I would always see him simultaneously looking into holy books and secular books… He had the image of a maskil with fine, generous traits. It was pleasant for us young people to enter his domain and listen to his conversations.

*

Rabbi Eliezer Mishel, who was nicknamed “The Golgower Rabbi” (on account of the city in which he served before he was appointed rabbi of Turka), was a man with a Jewish heart and spirit. In the town, he was known

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as a “neutral” rabbi, meaning that he was not a Hassid, but was also not a misnaged. He was graced with sublime character traits. In addition to his greatness in Torah, he would greet every person with whom he came into contact in a pleasant manner. He was pleasant to all those who came to his rabbinical court for adjudication or to ask questions of kashruth and matters of ritual purity. He found a common language with everyone, and his influence was not small. The rabbi was an expert scholar both in the revealed Torah and in the hidden Torah [kabbalah]. He had a sharp mind and the gift of expression to explain various subjects in Jewish law before those who came to be judged by him. When he was in exile in Budapest during the First World War, the rabbi authored a book of response and sermons, and he also published footnotes to the Tosafot[3]. As a youth, I used to accompany my father of holy blessed memory to visit him and worship in his home. My father was one of those who frequented his home, and one of his friends and admirers. The rabbi's entire family was friends of our family. My father of holy blessed memory served as the prayer leader on the High Holidays in the rabbi's shtibel for many years. I recall his public lectures on Shabbat Shuva and Shabbat Hagadol[4], and the great event of the Balfour Declaration is etched in my memory. I recall the mass gathering that took place in the Sadagora Kloiz at that time. (Incidentally, the Sadagora Kloiz was the sole remnant after the destruction of the city during the First World War.) The leaders of the Zionist movements spoke with emotion, giving expression to this great event. The sermon of the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Mishel, was literally top notch. We felt that this was a liberation from all of the “impediments” which were restricted on account of communal relations and maintaining communal peace – both from the side of the assimilationists as well as from the side of the Hassidim[5]. His words were literally in the spirit of a Zionist manifesto, and were it not for his greatness and wisdom, the foolish Hassidim in the city would certainly not have forgiven this “sin” of his…

Rabbi Mishel was a wonderful and noble personality to everyone in the city. His facial appearance befitted him. His silvery beard that flowed over his robes, exuded honor, and added the charm of his appearance. Aside from his expertise in Torah, he was expert in the ways of the world, and knew several languages. Most of the Jews found it interesting to hear his opinion on important world matters, and especially on matters of the Jewish world. To us, the Zionist, pioneering youth, to the General Zionists and Mizrachi, it was clear that the rabbi was a Zionist from the depths of his heart. It was sufficient to hear how he blessed and took leave of those of us, myself included, who were making aliya to the Land, and had come to receive his blessing. The manner of his farewell and his blessing was an expression of a love of Zion. It is worthwhile to note that aside from his virtues, he was also known for his simplicity. He did not set up a barrier between himself and the community, and many people were his friends with heart and soul. He was not only the city rabbi and rabbinical judge, but also a friend, a scholar, and a lover of his fellow man. There is no doubt that his personality forged the character of the Jewish community during the period of his tenure. His honor was the honor of the Jews of the city, of all strata.

*

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It is difficult for me to conclude my article without mentioning with a large breath of reverence the families, big and small, who forged the character of the town, who took control of all the areas in which they set their variegated efforts – good and upright tradesman, merchants, shopkeepers, shamashim [beadles] and other clergy – together formed a large community.

However you should know: I do have to do this, but I do not have the power to present to you the families, with their names and personalities, one by one. How can we skip over the Jewish proletariat there, “on the Stryj,” without presenting a faithful impression and picture? Indeed, these were the proletariat in the active sense, and not of a single variety. We knew them well and appreciated them at the time, when our friends worked together with them in the sawmill. This was a relatively short time before this group made aliya to the Land. Of course, we must turn northwest toward the “Cyglania,” and then turn eastward “to the Petrik” – in every corner and every hill, we set foot on a mountain and a valley, the proud feet of the Jewish youth; we will remember all of them forever, and we will perpetuate them eternally in our hearts.

In conclusion, I will remember our father Reb Yisrael of holy blessed memory, our brother Yosef and their families, who did not merit being with us here. Can we tell about them? Can we film the experiences of our life as one family? An article will not express our love, reverence, pain and sorrow over those who were so very dear to us. Those, who were taken away from our bosom – is there a day, holiday, or festival when we do not recall you?

Let these few lines serve as a monument to my town Turka, and a recitation of Kaddish.

 


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Eliezer Ben Yehuda, one of the founders of the Modern Hebrew language. Return
  2. Rabbi Nachman Krochmal. Return
  3. The Tosafot is one of the major commentaries on the Talmud. Return
  4. Shabbat Shuva is the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Shabbat Hagadol is the Sabbath before Passover. It is customary for the rabbi to deliver a major sermon on both of those Sabbaths. Return
  5. Both groups, for different reasons, opposed Zionism. Return


 

[Page 121]

The Poale Zion Organization and Around it

By Chaim Pelech

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Boaz Ben-Pelech

{Photo page 121: Members of the Poale Zion organization in Turka taking leave of their member Dr. Manes Brenes just before he made aliya to the Land.}

At the beginning of 1919, Shlomo Pelech founded and organized the Poale Zion Zionist workers' party in Turka. Moshe Shein, the former Zh. P. S. member, joined it. Since at the time there were no other workers' organizations in Turka, Poale Zion encompassed all of the workers in the city, and even many small-scale businessmen from our city. It conducted wide branched cultural and societal work among the poor Jewish population.

 

Work Committees

The work was organized into work committees. Each committee made several improvisations. The cultural committee arranged readings on various themes. Those readings attracted workers and young people due to their interesting repertoire. Yosel Brenes undertook the dramatic work. His task was to organize a dramatic club, and he did this successfully. He assembled a dramatic group that played the best literary pieces. Melech Meiner worked in that group. There was a story that Melech Meiner had it in his head to perform “The Robber” of Schiller and Yossel Brenes was against it: “For you cannot do such a thing with amateurs!”, he said. Melech Meiner continued to persist, and said that he would take the entire task and responsibility upon himself. Thus it was. Melech Meiner toiled and led that undertaking – and Turka had what to laugh about for two years… The performance went from 8:00 p.m. until 4:00 a.m. You can imagine what took place after that in the town…

{Photo page 122: uncaptioned – a photo of a group gathering.}

However Melech Meiner, who was influenced by German literature, was not behind the times… He then had the idea of holding a debate about “Virtue and Addiction – a Philosophical Contract”. Yossel Brenes and Mordechai Pikholtz complained: “Melech, this is not for your sake; you cannot hold such a debate…” Melech Meiner did not obey (Shlomo Pelech supported him)… On fine Sabbath, Melech Meiner held his philosophical debate… Do not ask what went on… The audience confused him, and they laughed a great deal. Such a topsy-turvy piece of work had not been seen in Turka for a long time.

The Poale Zion party was very popular in town. They had a large premises in Yaakov Liber's house. In that premises, they performed Yiddish theater, made balls, and conduced widespread activity.

Poale Zion worked in all the institutions that existed in Turka at that time. Their representatives were included among the assistance committee of the Joint, they were volunteers of the Jewish orphanage, and they worked on the Jewish national committee. And conducted a struggle against the bourgeois Zionists.

 

Rifts

Things went on as normal until… discussions took place in the party regarding the right and the left. Melech Meiner, Chaim Chiel, Chaim Pelech, Yosef Ortel and Ziel Zawel were among the left group. The discussions were dogged. Shlomo Pelech warned that they should not break up the party, and if such is not possible, the dictatorship must be from the proletariat, so it will be good for us…

One fine Friday, a delegate came to use from Lemberg. He was a Hebrew teacher by the name of Barkowski, and completed the rift. Both sides remained in the same location, and conducted joint activities on occasion. The youth group, consisting of 48 people, went over to the Left Poale Zion. After some time, the Right Poale Zion united with the Hitachdut Party and became very active, particularly in various election campaigns, in the city council and in the cultural organization, they had their representatives in the orphanage, in the Gemilut Chasadim (Benevolent) Bank, in the certificate committee, in the Keren Kayemet committee, and in Keren HaYesod.

The party conducted cultural activities. I remember the literary judgement regarding Stringdberg's 1 wife, which went on for four Friday evenings, and arose great interest among the Turka public.

{Photo page 124: The Hechalutz organization in Turka, 1933.}


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. August Strindberg was a Swedish dramatist, 1849-1912. Return


[Page 129]

Zionist Activists

By Chaim Pelech

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Boaz Ben-Pelech

 

Yosef Koppel

{Photo page 129: The Hechalutz Organization of Turka, September 15, 1934.}

In the Zionist organization of Turka, the oldest organization in the city, there were many people that excelled with their activity as general activists. Yosef Koppel was one of them. Koppel excelled as an honest and honorable activist and as a nationalist Jew. He was the director of the Gemilat Chassadim Bank. That institution developed greatly under his directorship. The bank functioned very well and efficiently, and administered assistance to hundreds of small-scale merchants and craftsmen. He led the bank for more than twenty years – always with responsibility and without subterfuge.

I recall the following fact: Once I went to him to purchase something. I chanced upon his wife (she was involved in the business) weeping strongly. I asked her, “Mrs. Koppel, why are you weeping?” She answered me, “Why should I not weep – I have a husband who is a bank director, and my husband, the director protested about my five promissory notes that were not paid… He protests about his own promissory notes!…”

I had long known Koppel as an honorable Jew, a son of the judge Elia Koppel. However that fact left a strong impression upon me as something unbelievable.

He was also a very educated man. Under his leadership, the Zionist organization in Turka displayed a great deal of activity in many realms of political and societal life. Still later, when the organization was already led by Dr. Winter or later by Dr. Glick, his influence was still strong. He was numbered among the oldest and first Zionists in the city.

He also took part in the electoral activities for the Austrian parliament on behalf of the Zionists. He campaigned in the city for the candidates – for Dr. Zipper against the assimilationist Dr. Levenstein.

 

The Brothers Baruch and Nissan Maj

Baruch Maj was also numbered among the first Zionists in Turka. He was an intelligent and honorable man. He worked for the party for his entire life, and stood in its first ranks in the darkest of times. Already in the years 1907 and 1911, he was involved in the great struggle for the nationalist candidate Dr. Zipper. At that time, it was still difficult to be a Zionist in Turka. However, Baruch Maj was not from among the cowards. His idealism and dedication to nationalistic matters overcame all difficulties.

His brother Nissan Maj was also a dedicated activist in Turka. In 1919, Nissan Maj was the secretary and council member of the Jewish national council. He demonstrated that he was very capable in political affairs. The opposition did not know what to do about him. Still, everyone had the greatest of respect for him because of his capabilities.

In 1920, Nissan left for Pressburg, and from there for Israel. He died in Israel in 1963. His older aforementioned brother Baruch died in Turka when he was very young.

{Photo page 131: uncaptioned. A group photo.}

 

Matis Operman

He was a representative in the cultural organization. He excelled in his willingness to work for the Zionist organization. As a great liberal, he acted for the entire Jewish population of Turka. He was probably murdered by the German murderers.


[Page 144]

Moshe Shein

By Chaim Pelech

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Boaz Ben-Pelech

Moshe Shein was an interesting and special personality. He was the first Socialist in town; he founded the Z. P. S. (Zydowska Partja Socialisticzna) Jewish Socialist organization, which was, on a nationalist scale, a division of the P. P. S. Polish Socialist organization.

This took place still in 1911. Moshe Shein rented a room in the attic of Mordechai Klein's house. There, he assembled the “proletariat” of Turka: a few young tailors, a few young shoemakers, and a couple of young carpenters. There were no women there, for they were ashamed…

Shein was connected with the small P. P. S. group that was in Turka; He was liked by them as well, for he appeared on stage at their meetings, where he spoke with enthusiasm, gesticulating greatly with his hands… On May 1st, 1911, he organized, together with the P. P. S., a workers' demonstration. This was the first time something of this nature took place in Turka. Jews indeed claimed that this was the end of the world: Such smart Alecs going in the streets of Turka with red flags, and together with the Christians!

However, Moshe Shein did not listen to them. He was very active. Still in the same year, during the election campaign between the assimilationist Dr. Levenstein and the Zionist Dr. Zipper, he worked on behalf of Dr. Zipper. He organized election meetings and demonstrations against Dr. Levenstein day and night. He was not afraid of anyone…

Aside from this, he had some sort of a “speech job” in Turka. In a certain house on the Rynek, he had a table with a bench – and he delivered Socialist speeches to Jews and gentiles. He had a Ukrainian friend named Kopushtak, and both disseminated Socialist propaganda. When Moshe was speaking, Kopushtak sat on the stool and acted as chairman… He loved it when Moshe spoke. He was dressed with a bright red bow. He stood at the table and delivered fiery propaganda regarding a Socialist order…

Shein was never lacking a topic for a speech. His topics included the matters of the profinancia 1 that suddenly took hold; the Starosta 2 Lokamski with whom Moshe Shein had spent the years; and other topics. Above all, he was a very honorable person and a nationalist Jew.


After the First World War, Moshe Shein changed somewhat. The world concerned him less, and he began to take interest in Jewish problems. He then joined the Poale Zion party, which had been founded in Turka by Shlomo Pelech. He served as chairman of the party for a long time, and was also a representative on the Turka city council, having been elected by Poale Zion. His popularity was very great among both the Jewish and Christian populations. Everyone trusted and had faith in him.

Later, in 1933, when Hitler took control of Germany, he said that Jews must flee from Poland. He used to say that Hitler is not only in Berlin, but he would soon be in Turka too…

He indeed set out on his way. He sold his small house in 1935, and left for the Land of Israel. Unfortunately, he did not live long there.


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. The liquor monopoly. Return
  2. Starosta is a mayor or regional head. Return


[Page 158]

Ordinary Dear Jews in Turka

By Chaim Pelech

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Boaz Ben-Pelech

{Photo page 158: uncaptioned. A group photo, labeled as “The Turka Orphanage”.}

{Photo page 159: “Don't cast me away at the time of old age…”}

There were many dear and nice Jews in Turka. They were called up to answer to every need that a portion of the Turka Jews required.

Avraham Yaakov Sprung was a highly upstanding Jew and person. He had a flour processing plant. Every Thursday, he gave flour to many Jews for the Sabbath and said, “You will pay me next week.” He did this in a manner that nobody would know, without publicity. This was the giving of charity discretely.

Nachman Brenes was a dear Jew. He gave large donations of much more for various benevolent institutions. He was a popular man with a good character.

Malka Hirt gave the greatest contributions in the entire city to all the benevolent institutions. She had an open hand and a good heart, which was a rarity. There were no poor people in town who did not receive a stipend from Malka Hirt. Weddings of the poor, circumcisions of the poor, sick Jews, sick children – Malka gave to them all. There was no equal to her in goodness. May she live long.

{Photo 160: Pinchas Gotlieb at the marketplace.}

Chaya Dinstag lived in Sokolik and was a very pious woman. She came to town every week, and gave weekly stipend to her poor women. She gave especially to religious causes.

Mordechai Warzoger was a dear, upright Jews. He was a veteran Zionist. He went to the Land of Israel, returned, and was murdered in Lemberg.

Leizer Bort was a good Jew, who gave charity with an open hand.

The optician Feldman was a fine person and a good Jew. When a new synagogue was built in Turka, it cost a great deal of money. He gave charity with an open hand to all philanthropic institutions. He was chairman of Yad Charutzim for many years. During the Ukrainian period, he ran to the Ukrainian lieutenant in the city, and with self-sacrifice, he chased the Ukrainian soldiers from town, holding the revolution in hand. May he live long.

The director Bernstein from the large sawmill in Stryj was the chairman of the Jewish orphanage. He built the house and maintained in during difficult times.

Avraham Weiss, Asza Weiss' son, was the administrator of the orphanage. He dedicated his entire life to the orphans.

Dr. Rozenberg, himself a sick man, always went by foot to poor sick people. Often, he would take no more. Dr. Rintel and Dr. Freundlich were involved in the same business.

Melech Brauer was a veteran Zionist activist. Baruch Koppel, Naftali Kraus were veteran Zionist activists. Berish Laberbaum, Matis Maus, Mendel Filinger, Shlomo Feiler (the son of Izak), Moshe Krebs, Moshe Rozen (the son of Shlomo), Yossel Brenes (the son of Yaakov), Shlomo Ceckis – all of them constantly worked for various Jewish nationalist and philanthropic organizations.

{Photo page 161: The Rynek.}


[Page 167]

Stories from Turka

By Chaim Pelech

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Boaz Ben-Pelech

 

A. Reb Hirsch and the Get [1]

There was a Jew with us in Turka called Reb Hirsch. He used to enjoy drinking a little. One evening, he came home and said to his wife, “Gittel, dress up in your Sabbath clothes with your head kerchief. We are going to the rabbi to get divorced. Get dressed quickly!” Gittel saw that her Hirsch was drunk. She said to him, “Go lie down to sleep, for you are not completely with us today. And secondly, why all of a sudden do you want to get divorced from me? We already have grandchildren – in your old age did you decide that I am not suitable for you?” Hirsch said to his wife, “Gittel, you know Hirsch very well. If Hirsch says we must get divorced, then you must go to get divorced. Fifty-five years was enough to be plagued with you…”

Gittel realized that she cannot do anything with him. She dressed up in her Sabbath clothes with her head kerchief. Reb Hirsch took Gittel under his arm and they set out to the rabbi. The door opened and he said, “Good evening, Rabbi”. The rabbi answered, “Good evening, Reb Hirsch. Oh, what type of a guest do I have? Sit down Reb Hirsch.” After Reb Hirsch sat down, the rabbi asked, “Reb Hirsch, to what do I owe the honor that I have a guest now?” Hirsch answered, “Rabbi, I came to you to get divorced from my Gittel. Rabbi, I beg of you, do not ask me why and what. I am going to get divorced from my dear wife, and nothing will come from your questions. If Hirsch says to write a Get – you indeed know Hirsch well – nothing will help.”

The rabbi saw that Hirsch was as drunk as Lot, and that it was impossible to reason with him. He searched for a pretext against him. Hirsch was a poor man, he had no money. He would request a large sum of money for the Get, and certainly nothing would come of it. He told Hirsch, “Good. If you, Reb Hirsch, want a Get, I will write you a Get. What can I do with you? … I will make it cheap for you – the entire Get, including the writing, will cost you 30 Crowns. (In those days, a Get costs 6-10 Crowns)…”

When he heard this, Reb Hirsch jumped up from the bench and told the rabbi, “Rabbi, G-d is holy and the Torah is holy, but you, rabbi, are a sheketz of skotzim [2] and a devil of your father's father until Abraham our patriarch… You want 30 Crowns from me for a Get. Gittele, go home and cook supper… Good night, Rabbi!...”

 

B. Roizele's Wedding

Many years ago, there was a girl called Roizele in Turka. She was a little “odd” but not crazy… She loved to dress up nicely, but more often than once she went around “spiffed up” in torn dresses. She used to go into many rich homes, talk a great deal and tell various stories. She was gladly received in all of these places, and everyone in the city became her acquaintance.

One year in the early summer, a Jewish worker from the wide world came to Turka. He was probably a bit like her, and he fell in love with Roizele. Roizele went around boasting that they would soon be getting married. When the town found out about this, some Jews, especially women, went around to collect money for a wedding of a poor girl. Everyone gave money for Roizele's wedding! The wedding was indeed planned with great pomp, and all of the women of means came from all sides to help Roizele.

A few days before the wedding, Roizele went around from house to house to invite everybody. Roizele said, “My wedding will be a wedding the likes of which Turka has never seen since its founding… the ceremony (chupa) will take place in the middle of the Rynek. Many relatives will come to me, and everyone will see how beautiful a bride I will be!…” People made sure that the wedding dress would indeed be decorated with various sparkling stones and pieces of metal, and the chupa was indeed planned for the middle of the Rynek.

The wedding took place on a Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Two boys – one of them was Anshel Reis – ascended the roof of the city hall, one on one side of the roof and the other on the second side. At exactly 3:00, they began to blow trumpets. They thereby alerted the entire city that Roizele's wedding was commencing.

As soon as everyone heard the blowing of the trumpets, all of the Jews, including women and children, set out for Roizele's wedding. Jewish homes were emptied and locked, and everyone went to the Rynek, along the route from Moshe Shechter's place until the bridge that led to the small alley where Roizele lived with her poor mother. Then the entire band of the large Operman family, with all of their assistants, drummers and flutists, began to play. The musicians were divided into two groups. One group played in the alley near the bridge where Roizele lived, and the second group played in the Rynek itself. The trumpeters on the roof also blew incessantly. In the meantime, hundreds of Christians ran out from the city. They thought that the Jews had taken leave of their minds…

Finally, they went to the chupa. One group of musicians accompanied Roizele to the chupa, and the second went opposite her. But then something happened: so many people were passing by that it was impossible to lead Roizele through. The route from the bridge to Moshe Shechter's house was one solid mass of people. People shouted and begged: “Let the bride and relatives proceed to the chupa”. However, it was impossible… They could not pass. Everyone wanted to see Roizele the bride, and people were afraid that the young couple would proceed on…

At that time, there were a few Jewish bricklayers in Turka. They were healthy, communally-conscious people with strong muscles. They saw the fear, and they began to push through and make order. With great effort, after two hours, they succeeded in getting the couple to the chupa. After the chupa, the real celebration began.

Afterward, another curiosity arose: loafers arranged a different spectacle. They arranged a makeshift room for the bride and groom so that they could have some privacy after the chupa. When the couple was already inside, someone from this group pulled at a string, and boards of the room separated…

Don't ask about what took place…

 

C. A Scandal in the Tailor's Synagogue

On Sukkot of 1922, a large scandal took place in the Tailor's Synagogue of Turka. Some pregnant young woman, who wished to have a son, bit off the pitam of the only etrog in the synagogue – such ill fortune! [3]

It happened like this: The Tailor's Synagogue purchased an etrog for use during the services, and for it members to recite a blessing over in their homes. To that end, the gabbai (trustee) of the synagogue, Reb Avraham, asked someone, Shlomo the Geregerins [4], to go around to the houses each morning so that the families of the tailors could recite the blessing over the etrog. As the gabbai was an experienced and practical man, he told Shlomo that as he goes from house to house, “You should not give the etrog to anyone n the hand. You should be especially careful in a house where there is a young wife – for such people are always interested in biting the pitam…” Shlomo answered him, “Don't worry, Reb Avraham. Don't be concerned about the etrog. You can leave it to Shlomo…”

And indeed. Shlomo was a relatively tall Jew with a fine beard – and one could trust him…

Shlomo went out and was supposed to return with the etrog before the services began. He could not be found… It was already 8:00, 8:30. The gabbai was supposed to go to the synagogue with the etrog, and Shlomo was not there… The gabbai began to think that something happened with the etrog – and there are no other etrogim that can be obtained in the city! Without having an option, the gabbai went to the synagogue without the etrog. As he neared the place, two Jews ran up to him and explained that Shlomo had brought the etrog to the synagogue. As they drew nearer, two people ran to him to inform him of the misfortune. They opened the little box and saw – the pitam had been bitten off!

Do not ask about the end of the story. When the congregation recovered from the great misfortune, they ran to the surrounding synagogues… for one cannot worship without an etrog! The rabbi indeed issued an edict that if the congregation has no etrog, it can conduct the services without an etrog – but this did not help!

The synagogue was empty for the entire holiday, and the gabbai had to beg a few young people to come to minyan (the quorum required for services)! He himself was ashamed to seek out a strange place to worship…

 

D. Feiga Malia the Woman of Incantations

Feiga Malia the Anshprecherin (Incantation recitor) was a very interesting woman from the older generation. When a woman or a child became ill, they called Feiga Malia. She extinguished the coals – for this was a means against the evil eye. Her other remedies included: incantations over various metallic coins, or simply direct incantations over the sick person that they should become well. If someone had been frightened by a goat or a dog – she had to resort to more technical means: She hoarded lead, which showed whose child was frightened… With an incantation directed to the lead, the child was helped. At least, that is what Feiga Malia said…

Aside from this, Feiga Malia was the leader of the woman's Chevra Kadisha (burial society), which sewed shrouds and washed the deceased women. She was also the official “beggar of pardon” of the deceased women [5]. Nobody knew how Feiga Malia had learned her trade. She had a special incantation with a special tune for every occasion. Nobody could even imitate her. The manner of her begging of forgiveness was not so simple – she did it so masterfully. Aside from this, she had a different incantation for each deceased person.

She also knew where everyone lay in the cemetery. When the month of Elul arrived, when all of the women went to visit the graves of their parents – she was the person whom everyone approached, for the women from the city and surrounding villages did not know where their dead lay, and they were afraid to wander around the cemetery. Feiga Malia saved everyone…

If a woman came to her, Feiga Malia would speak curtly and almost officially, “Who are you, what are you called, and from where are you?”. As soon as she said her name, Feiga Malia knew everything. She led the woman to the grave of her mother or father, and shouted out, “Lay down, Rachele, on the grave of your holy mother, the great pious Gittel the daughter of Yente, and request from her that she should run to the Heavenly Bezn (Beis Din) [6] and beg that your husband and your children should all be well, and that no illness should come through the threshold of your house. Your husband should have a livelihood, and his livelihood should be with riches and honor. G-d should send your eldest daughter her appropriate match, so you will be able to make a wedding for her with an upright and observant young man, and you may have contentment from your daughter as with all good Jews…”

The woman finished hearing Feiga Malia's statement. Then she threw herself onto the grave and wept and shouted with all her energy. Some women became so engrossed in weeping that they no longer knew where they were in the world…

However, Feiga Malia kept her accounts. When she concluded her first statement, she knocked the gravestone with her cane and shouted out, “Gittel the daughter of Yenta, your pious daughter Rachel lies over your grave. Arise and run to the Heavenly Bezn (Beis Din), beg and tear through worlds for your honorable and pious daughter, that she her husband and children should be healthy, that they should have livelihood and all good things; that no evil eye should harm them. Go, run and beg for your granddaughter, Rachel's eldest daughter, that G-d should bless her with her appropriate match. Go and beg for all of your children, and for all of the Jews, that they should be helped, and our enemies should not have joy, until the Messiah comes, Amen!”

When Feiga Malia finished that second statement, she leaned on her cane, and shouted out for a third time: “Enough Rachel, you have done what you can for your holy mother…” The woman quickly arose from the grave, paid Feiga Malia her fee. Feiga Malia then went over to another woman who was waiting for her…


Feiga Malia worked hard for her entire life. She never had any time to rest. During every spare moment, she would concern herself with her ill and poor women and children. She would go around to the houses of the poor to inquire and see what is going on in the house. If she found that the woman was ill, Feiga Malia would say, 'Sara, you are ill again… Has Melech the Doctor visited you already?”. When the ill woman answered, “No”, Feiga Malia would then summon Melech the Doctor that he should quickly come. Feiga Malia had the greatest of respect for him. After such a visit, Feiga Malia would take out a cloth from her pocket, and go around to collect money for the ill person.

Above all, she would collect money for poor people for the Sabbath every Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, she would go around an entire day with a bag to collect rolls, challas, and candles for the Sabbath – everything for poor Jews. She never rested. Day after day, she had someone to worry about.

When Feiga Malia went off to the other world, there was nobody to intercede. There was no second Feiga Malia in town. Women remembered and sighed, especially the women from the surrounding villages…


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. A Get is a Jewish divorce document. Return
  2. A sheketz (plural shkotzim) is a derogatory term for a gentile. Return
  3. An etrog (citron) is one of the four species that are used as part of the Sukkot ceremony, as prescribed by the Torah. The pitam is the woody stamen of the etrog. If the pitam is removed from the etrog, the etrog is no longer valid for the commandment. It is considered by some that biting off the pitam of an etrog (of course after the holiday is over) is a fortuitous omen for the birth of a male child. Return
  4. Shlomo the Gregerins means Shlomo the son of the mother who was known as the noisemaker. Return
  5. The Chevra Kadisha conducts a formal ritual washing ceremony (called a tahara – purification) on a dead body. Women perform this rite for women, and men for men, for obvious reasons. After the tahara, a representative of the Chevra Kadisha begs forgiveness of the deceased person for any impropriety that took place during the ceremony. Return
  6. Court of Law – referring here to the Heavenly court. The text makes a point of showing how she mispronounced the word. Return

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