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{421}

The Eiger Family

by Engineer Avraham Eiger

(Events from home)

The life and youthful years of my father Reb Moshe Tzvi (Hersh) Eiger of blessed memory were bound up with the life of his uncle Reb Yossel Rubensztejn and his entire family.

{Photo page 421: Moshe Eiger and his wife Miriam.}

Moshe Eiger was born in Zgierz on July 18, 1859 (5619). His father Reb Eliezer, who had rabbinical ordination and should have become a rabbi, died young during the time of the cholera epidemic. His mother Zissele and her brother Yossel Rubensztejn brought up Moshele. Our entire family was located in two houses on the Jewish street: the Wagmans, the Lesmans, and the Grynfarbs. Their aunt also lived there, the widow Freida Rachel, a woman of valor who managed a textile manufacturing business. In those times, when many German hand weavers came to Zgierz, there were many small-scale manufacturers from Silesia there, and Aunt Freida Rachel would purchase merchandise for her business from them. The German manufacturers lived mainly on the following streets: Hernstrasse, Glukstrasse, and others. Jews had access only until the “Szlaban” (city gate). Past that was already German “domain”. The German families who later became well known lived there: Ramish, Achert, Binder, Krusha, Lorenz, Mierhoff, Bretshneider, Ernst, and others.

Yossele Rubensztejn was the first in Zgierz to set up two hand workshops with the help of a German who would purchase chemical materials from the Wagman's shop. That same German also informed him about all of the goings on of the weavers' guild, and also familiarized him with the appropriate literature. Rubensztejn quickly became fluent in the German language, and similarly learned the trade thoroughly. He was even in contact with Jewish manufacturers in the Sudeten [1], and became known as a specialist in the textile business. People came to him not only from the nearby cities of Lodz, Ozorkow and other towns, but also from Lithuania, Podolia and other such places. The following master weavers who later became well known were his students: Busak, Heller, Aronson, Pruszinowski, Epsztejn, Sawelson, Horowicz, Gold and others. His was the first Jewish textile school in the region. He took on students for a two-year training period, with full support, with which his wife Malkale was involved. His students included, aside from the aforementioned, his sons Meir and Leizer and his sons-in-law Avraham Zylberszacz and Leizer Sztachelberg, as well as Moshel Eiger.

Moshe Eiger, possessing a certificate from Rubensztejn, was employed as a designerr in one of the largest Jewish factories in Lodz, the “Moshe Aharon Wiener” firm. He was 17 years old when he obtained this post, and he quickly became known as a first-class tradesman. He was 22 years old when he married his cousin Miriam. She was a pretty, educated woman who was taught by her father David Fuerszter. David Fuerszter was called the Kaminsker Landowner (Poretz), for he served as an administrator for the best of the Kaminsker and Radomsker Poretzes. His children were educated in the religious spirit, but also with Polish culture. He himself even took part in the Polish uprising in the year 1863, and later was rescued by his peasants. Miriam's older sisters were Mrs. Hendeles, Mrs. Bornsztejn (her husband David Bornsztejn was from Tomaszew) and Mrs. Hamburger from Sosnowiec.

In Zgierz, on account of the work and business relations with the Germans, Jews were mainly educated in the German language, and also in Russian. This was a time when a significant portion of the Poles had almost completely become Germanized, and even took German woman for wives, as did Rudowski, Maczewski (of the beer brewery), Pawinski, Pienkowski and others, who educated their children in the German spirit. These were the original root of the later “Folks German” in Zgierz, as in all of Poland.

After their wedding, Moshe and Miriam Eiger lived in Lodz. However, after an unfortunate fall by their first child, Leizer, who fell from the third floor of the house in which they lived – Moshe Eiger, out of great agony and pain, resigned from his position at Wiener's and returned to his hometown of Zgierz in order to be among his family.

There, he began to work with his own hands and accounts, but fortune did not favor him. At that time, a very honorable commissar lived in Zgierz, Reb Shlomo Sirkes, who came from Podolia. They merged professionally, in the entrepreneurial spirit, with honesty and dedication, and formed the firm “Sirkes and Eiger”. The firm grew in a short period of time and they became wealthy. The firm purchased the factory of Philip Margolies in the New Market, and expanded it. It later became the largest Jewish factory in Zgierz, and the firm “Sirkes and Eiger” became famous for its products not only in Poland, but also in the far of lands of Russia of that era.

Now that his existence was secured, Moshel Eiger again found time to occupy himself with his favorite – Hebrew language and literature. Aside from his wide ranging correspondence with the Hebrew writers of that era in Odessa, Petersburg and other places, he himself took to writing and publishing several articles in the Hebrew periodicals. He became friendly with the Maskil who was older than he, Reb Tovia Lifszitz, as well as with Isuchar Szwarc. The three of them were the leaders of the Haskalah and national emancipation in the Zgierz community. In truth, it did not go so straight and smoothly, for the largest segment of the youth came from Hassidic homes, where the tendency toward literacy and knowledge was not even brought to the mouth. Those three arranged get-togethers on Sabbath evenings – “Sabbath discussions”, in which a significant portion of the youth participated, paid attention, and were enriched in Torah and in knowledge. These get-togethers took place every Sabbath in the homes of one of these three Maskilim. At the beginning, David Friszman used to take part, until he moved to Warsaw.

To their activities, one must also ascribe the bringing to Zgierz of the Hebrew writer and Maskil Reb Binyamin Katzenelson (father of Yitzchak Katzenelson) who opened a Modern Cheder in Zgierz, which utilized the “Hebrew in Hebrew” teaching style for Bible and also for higher education. The curriculum consisted of Jewish subjects until noon, and secular subjects (Mathematics, Russian, etc.) in the afternoon, which were taught by H. Wachtel, the teacher of the public school. Among others, the following people studied at the Modern Cheder: Yaakov Kahan, Shmuel Szwarc, Aryeh (Leon) Lifszitz, Avraham Eiger, Weiss, Shlumiel, Fabian Grynberg. At that time, when most of the children from wealthy homes were educated in the assimilationist spirit or under the influence of the anti-Zionist “Assistance Association for German Jews” – the youth of Zgierz from the Jewish middle class congregated around the three aforementioned Zionist activists, through whom the Zionist idea was spread in an organized fashion (obviously discretely, since organized political activity was forbidden in Czarist times).

In the year 1898, the first Russian style business school was founded in Zgierz. As is known, Jews were accepted in Russian government schools based on specified quotas. The newly opened Zgierz business school had all of the rights of a government school, and Jews were accepted there without a quota. Therefore, Jews came there from all parts of European Russia. Only a few of those youth were from Zionist roots. The largest segment of them were Socialists. Even the former directors of that school, such as Siniawski and later Golowodski were left-leaning. Moshel Eiger used to arrange discussions with students in his house every Sabbath (we lived in Eberling's house and had two rooms in the courtyard for that purpose), but this as not very successful. The youth of the school belonged to P. P. S., Bund, S. D., and were not inclined toward Zionism. The activists who later became known, who received their education in the business school, included Czerniochow, Dr. Jakob Eicjner, Ajzensztadt, Weiss, Michel Grynberg, Bryn, Pacanowski and others, who already at that time had begun their work in the domain of the school.

Moshe Eiger was chosen as a delegate to the Second Zionist Congress in Basle in 1898. He gave a speech there.

He was also among the founders of the so-called “Eiger Association” (families who stemmed from Rabbi Akiva Eiger [2]). At the get-together in Berlin in 1913, Moshel Eiger gave a toast speech in Hebrew, which was well received by the 700 members of the Eiger family.

After the First World War, Eiger prepared to travel to the Land of Israel. However, he later gave up this plan (under the influence of Dr. Nordau, who believed that the Land of Israel requires “muscular Jews”). With his cooperation, the important manufacturer and Zionist, Wolf Reichert traveled from Zgierz to the Land of Israel in 1921. He was the director of the first completely automated textile factory of several Zgierz factories (among them was also the “Sirkes Brothers” firm).

In later years, after the death of his wife in 1930, Moshel Eiger moved to his daughter's home in Lodz. He continued to play an active role in Zionist institutions and the national funds (Keren Hayesod and Keren Kayemet) in Zgierz.

He published a collection of songs in Hebrew and Yiddish in 1913, called “Leben Lebat” (To the Son and the Daughter) (an anthology of songs by Moshe Tzvi Eiger). This provided a window into the soul of that great Jew Reb Moshe Tzvi Eiger.

His refined soul departed in 1935. He was buried in the Lodz cemetery near to his dear life partner Miriam.

May their souls be bound in the bonds of eternal life.

Engineer Avraham Eiger

(Remark: I found the need to add to the “The Eiger Family” article a short family description and a letter from Karol Eiger. Translated and adapted by V. Fiszer.)
His children:
Engineer Avraham Eiger of blessed memory;
Dr. Salomon (Shlomo) Eiger of blessed memory – he was a member of the directors of “O.R.T.”. He was involved with the social Zionist path. He was killed in the Warsaw Ghetto. His wife Dr. Charlotta Eiger was murdered in Auschwitz;
Karol (Akiva) Eiger of blessed memory, a social activist. The founding and existence of the Maccabee Sporting organization in Zgierz is bound up with his name. He died in Tel Aviv;
His daughter Rosalia Levenson-Eiger of blessed memory – murdered in Auschwitz;
His daughter Rota Eiger lives in America
{Photo page 426: Avraham Eiger of blessed memory).


A few words about Avraham Eiger of blessed memory:

The writer of the article about his experiences, Engineer Avraham Eiger, was the oldest son of Reb Moshel Eiger. He was born on May 14, 1886 in Zgierz. He studied in cheder, and later in the Modern Cheder of Reb Binyamin Katzenelson. In 1898, he moved from there to the newly founded business school where the Jewish students (who were also from Polish provincial cities and even from Lithuania) who enjoyed the liberal attitude toward them by the Judeophile director Golowocki. A. Eiger graduated from that school in 1905.

He traveled to Moscow in 1906 to attend the “Imperatorskaya Moskovskaya Technitsheskaya Utshilishtshe”, from which he graduated in 1910 with a diploma as an engineer-technologist. He worked there as an operator in a textile business. He returned to Zgierz at the time of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

He went to Lodz in 1921, where he married Masha (Elania) Rozental, a daughter of the well-known Lodzer cloth manufacturer and social activist Yankel (Julius) Rozental.

He came to Israel via Romania in 1942.

Avraham Eiger had a warm feeling for the Zgierz society, and later, for the Holocaust survivors. He also served for a certain time on the committee of the Organization of Zgierz Natives in Israel.

He died on June 21, 1970. May his memory be an honor.

{Photo page 427: Reb Moshel Eiger, the speaker at the 20th year anniversary celebration of the Maccabee group. {Translator's note, on the photo, it indicates 1912-1932.)}


{428}

The Industrialist – the Poet

Z. Fisher and Y. A. Malchieli

Lines about the person of Reb Moshel Eiger of blessed memory
“When I thought about from where the spirit came to me to wade through verse, I remembered that the place is the factor, for Zgierz is a city that produces poets.” (from his letter to Avraham Chaim Michelson)

Among the people who were graced with extra spirit, who spiced up the atmosphere of Zgierz and raised the honor of the city, one person excelled. He was short in stature but great in spirit, the well-known Zionist industrialist Reb Moshe Tzvi, known locally as Reb Moshel Eiger.

He was born in Zgierz in the year 5619 (July 18, 1859), and was orphaned from his father at a young age. His father Reb Eliezer Eiger, who was a candidate for the rabbinical seat of Zgierz, died in the cholera epidemic that ravaged through the country of Poland. The orphan Moshele was educated by his mother Zissele, under the supervision and guidance of his uncle, his mother's brother Reb Yossel Rubensztejn, who was a diligent man of action. He was the first one to set up a hand-run weaving machine in Zgierz. He founded a school for textile studies, and served as a teacher and mentor for the expert weavers in Zgierz and the region.

Young Moshele, who was the sixth generation from his great-great-great-grandfather, the Rabbi of Posen Rabbi Akiva Eiger of holy blessed memory, grew up and was educated under the guidance of his uncle, who concerned himself especially with his spiritual education and his competence in Judaism and in secular knowledge. When he took note of his unique diligence and wonderful talents that were beyond his age, he decided also to teach him the textile business in his school.

As can be seen, the Eiger family was not only blessed with wisdom and Torah, but also with the knowledge and competence to succeed in matters of livelihood. Moshele quickly absorbed the field of weaving and textile creation. After his uncle gave him his professional diploma, he was appointed as an expert and fashioner in the well-known textile firm in Lodz “Moshe Aharon Wiener”. He also married his cousin Miriam.

Several years later, Reb Moshel returned to Zgierz, with his name preceding him. He was already known as a first class expert in the textile industry. He then entered into partnership with one of the known textile professionals of the city, Reb Shlomo Sirkes. The well-known firm “Sirkes and Eiger” was founded, which was known throughout the world, and was the largest firm in Zgierz. His unique prominence was not only on account of his status within the textile industry that flourished in our city, and made Zgierz famous in the markets of Poland and wide Russia. He had unique characteristics that were stamped upon his spiritual personality, that raised him to the heights and placed him in one line with the eminent personalities that lit up the horizon of the Jewish community of Zgierz, whose shine reached afar. He was interwoven with the threefold thread that included Tovia Lifszitz and Isuchar Szwarc, who raised the flag of the national Jewish revival movement in our city with strength and pride.

Reb Moshel Eiger exuded grace and mercy from his essence. As he was once described by I. Szwarc, Moshel was a lover of his fellow Jew on par with Reb Moshe Leib of Sasow. He not only had an “exemplary” personality in the narrow sense of the term, but his noble way of conduct displayed his aristocratic face as if through a lens. This was particularly true with respect to his personal relationships, for he enchanted and attracted the attention of everybody.

His mannerisms and interpersonal relationships set him up as an example for the public, who saw him as a splendid descendent of that Gaon and halachic decisor of Posen, whose portrait decorated the walls of the home of every Jew who was an enthusiast of Torah throughout Poland. His relations with people were generous, blessed and upright. He had on his office desk a small marble plaque on which was engraved the verse from the Book of Proverbs, “Anger rests in the bosom of fools”, in order to protect himself so that he would not let down his guard during his hectic business dealings.

Indeed, Moshel Eiger was known as a scholar and wise man. The wonder was that during those years when his work machines worked without stop to expand the output of textile production in order to supply the merchandise needed for the hungry markets throughout the expanses of Russia; the weaving machines let out their exhaust day and night, and thousands of workers were hitched to machines to produce products – when the entire city was bustling with the great symphony of work, who could imagine that one of the great manufacturers of the city, short Reb Moshel Eiger, turned aside from his large-scale business to write poems and chapters of verse. He was a diligent manufacturer and also a poet, and this does not make sense. These two characteristics do not blend together from a logical, practical standpoint.

Yaakov Kahan relates to us in his memoirs (Haboker, January 23, 1953), the following from the year 5655 (1895):

“At the end of Kislev 5655, there were general exams in the upper classes of our school, and on one evening of Chanuka there was a festive concluding celebration of the oral exams in the presence of the invented parents. I recall that I was examined on Isaiah and on general and Russian history. I read Pushkin's ballad, “The Song of Oleg the Wise” by heart. My aunt sat beside my father, and both of their faces were beaming. I won the nicest prize: The Choicest Poems of Yehuda Halevi, published by “Achiasaf” in a splendid volume.

One moment remains in my memory from that evening. One of the parents of the students, of the Maskilim of the city, and incidentally a descendent of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, found it appropriate to compose a poem in honor of the event and to read it before the students after the conclusion of the exams. This poem was connected to historical memories of the holiday of Chanuka, and was composed for the younger generation.”

Indeed, Reb Moshel Eiger wrote poems at every opportunity that presented itself – on the occasion of festivals, on memorial days, for communal and family celebrations, or for each new year. These poems were written partly in Hebrew and partly in Yiddish. Some of them were a blend of the two languages, in the form of unruly art. Some of these poems were published in a small book in the year 5684 (1924) called: “To the Son and Daughter, a Collection of Poems by Moshe Tzvi Eiger”. On the title page was the following dedication: “To my dear and precious son Avraham Eiger, this compilation is given as a memento from your father Moshe Tzvi Eiger, Lodz, 24 Nissan 5685.”

We will bring down two poems from his poetic treasury, from which we can understand the soul of their author:

In one poem that he wrote to greet the new year of 5683, he questions the character of the upcoming year, and asks:

“Tell me, whose daughter are you, oh New Year, are you the daughter of Heaven or Hell?
Will you bring good news, or send upon us difficulties, and what will drop from your lips, gall or nectar?
With what group will you come to us, with the vale of weeping, accompanied by angels of peace, or angels of destruction?
Do you bring a cup of comfort, a cup of blessing, or a cup of wrath and curse?
Your sister 5682 – was an accursed and castigated year, that filled us with bitterness, only evil and anguish;
And we went down and cannot arise, will G-d curse? Was it not enough?”
In another poem that he wrote in Lodz in 5655, he curses and agonizes over his dwelling in the Diaspora. The title of the poem is: “A Voice Calls unto me…”.
“And now, what is there for me, to freeze in the cold, without air to breathe, without sun and light?
Living with fear and terror around, you were like thorns for your neighbor, for denigration and hate…
And there is no hope that the wrath will let up and pass, so why should I dwell hear, old and without reason?
It is enough! There have already been seven dirges and lamentations… take up your stick and your bundle, and go to your Land!”
Here, the manufacturer-poet apparently struggles with himself. He left “lines of thought” with an empty line, and concludes in astonishment and agony:
“Year after year passes, and in my place
I am still sitting, and dreaming my dreams…”

In a letter to Mr. Avraham Chaim Michelson that was written in Lodz on the second day of Chanuka, 5682 (1922), he writes:

“In honor of the Torah person, who studies and learns, a basket filled with Sifra [3], Mishna and Gemara; a communal activist, well-known for praise, the trustee of the charitable organization. He can do anything difficult, Reb Avraham Chaim the son of Michel;

I wrote these verses last Saturday night, for I wanted to travel to you in Zgierz for the Keren Kayemet celebration, to read them at the time of the lighting of the candles. The Satan intervened, and the trip did not work out for me, and the song remains without “rectification”. However, since the time has not yet passed, I am sending them to you. Perhaps you will have the opportunity and desire to read them before the young people of our city, so that they will know what the people hope from the pioneers of the People of Israel, and especially from the natives of Zgierz, that faithful bastion of Zionism.

When I thought about from where the spirit came to me to wade through verse, I remembered that the place is the factor, for Zgierz is a city that produces poets. From it came forth David Friszman, Yaakov Kahan, Yitzchak Katzenelson, and I the least of them – like the galbanum in the incense [4].”

In the margins of the letter, he greets all of his acquaintances, particularly Isuchar Szwarc and Yosef Meir Harun.


At the end of his life, his spirit fell for he felt that all of the work of his hands was completely worthless. Even his desire that he longed for, for Zion, failed him.

In his words “to the son and daughter”, he writes the following at the end of his work of poetry (in Sivan 5684 – 1924):

“… At the time of my old age, when I have performed a brief inventory of my life, I see to my great anguish that all of my travail was carried away by the wind. The world war and also the general depression that followed it consumed almost all of my effort and wealth. My only consolation is that during your childhood and youth, I hired for you Hebrew teachers so that you could study the Hebrew language and the history of our people. However even that did not fill me up satisfactorily, For on the day that you stood up under their own permission, you forfeited everything, and this Torah was almost forgotten from your hearts. Therefore I said that I will compile into a book all of the remnants of my poetry that is still with me. If it will come to pass that you, my children and dear grandchildren, ask about the meaning of the book, you will say to them: “This small collection of poems that your grandfather wrote at various times – you should attempt to study it in our Holy Land, and this will be my small reward. Your father, Moshe”
In the preface to these poems, a number of lines are written in pencil, which is a type of will to those that come after. He wrote:
“Indeed I am neither a poet nor the son of a poet, I was busy in my factory, and I had a great deal of interaction with the workers, for I myself was the master and director. Nevertheless I wrote a great deal in Hebrew and also in Yiddish, whenever I found the time. Now that I am old and the time has come to make a small accounting, what benefit did I get of all the travail that I worked throughout all the days of my life?

I already have written my first testament, and from that time, my fortune has increased further… I realized then that it was from G-d that I am able to leave to my children after me. However currently, the last war from 1914-1918 has put an end to my toil and fortune, and only very little is left in my hands to leave to my children after me. Nothing is left of all my property. From all my hopes, and all of my enterprises… nothing is left, only one comfort, that I conducted business faithfully, and did not…”

(This introduction was copied by Mr. Zev Fiszer. In the places where there are lacunae, the text was written in a cryptic fashion and it was not possible to interpret.)

He was a special person. His body passed away, his great material achievements were as if they were naught, but his spirit remained whole. That, he did bestow upon his children after him and also upon the natives of his city.

Reb Moshe Tzvi Eiger died with a good name in Lodz in 1935. He was brought to rest there next to his partner Miriam.

May his memory be blessed.

Z. Fiszer and Y. A. Michaeli


{432}

Akiva (Karol) Eiger of blessed memory

Y. L. Weinstein and W. Fisher

Akiva, the youngest son of the manufacturer and Maskil Reb Moshel Eiger, was one of the most popular personalities in the Jewish societal life of Zgierz. From his earliest youth, he displayed a tendency toward societal work, including in the nationalist youth groups.

As a son of a warm, Zionist father, and a student of the Hebrew writer and teacher Binyamin Yaakov Katzenelson, the feeling for Jewish self-identity, along with the idea for a national Jewish emancipation, awakened in him early. When he later became a student of the business school, he had the opportunity to overhear the discussions of the older students – among them also his older brothers Avraham and Salomon, on topics that were of utmost importance to the Jewish youth in Eastern Europe at that time. Akiva did not pay attention to the fact that the greatest portion of his school colleagues belonged and agitated for various Socialist, leftist groups on the Jewish street, and was not influenced by their slogans. On the contrary, the idea that his father had implanted in his consciousness became more timely – the idea of the renaissance of the nation, of the Jewish national awakening.

{Photo page 433: Akiva (Karol) Eiger of blessed memory as an officer in Ander's army. [5]}

It was already clear to the Zionist cultural activist that alongside the revival of the Jewish spirit, must also come the rebirth or reshaping of the Jewish corpus, that had been neglected over the generations. A young, healthy and sturdily built Jew with a dignified head and muscular body; brave, bold with heroic deeds for his people and his land – according tot he Zionist educators, that was a necessity for the building up of the homeland.

Reb Moshel Eiger, Akiva's father, was the prototype of those that were found in ancient Jewish history – at the time of the Maccabees. Indeed, in all of his speeches, he would elucidate with great enthusiasm on the heroic stories of the dynasty of the Hasmonaim in order to demonstrate that it was that type of Jew that we must have in order to build up our Land, and become a nation with national equality.

That ideal, which the father instilled in the young Akiva, gave him no rest, and he fulfilled it at the first opportunity. With the assistance of a few friends, including the energetic and fiery Zionist Leon Rusinow, he created the first Jewish sports club in the years before the First World War. It was a branch of the cultural organization “Hazamir”, in which he was also an active member. With a generous hand, he provided all the needs of such a tournament organization. With his organizational skills and disciplined character, with great might and boundless dedication, he succeeded in creating a healthy and resolute backbone of a modern sports organization, that quickly developed and grew into a wide-branched Jewish tournament and sports organization and obtained a prominent name among Jewish sportsmen in Poland. After it joined the Maccabee Jewish world sports organization, the Zgierz tournament organization became an educational focal point for the larger portion of the youth of Zgierz. This was not only for physical culture, but also to a greater degree for the spiritual, national-Jewish culture. Thus did Akiva attain the possibility, albeit partial, to develop the ideas of his father.

Akiva Eiger was greatly beloved by the Zgierz youth. Paying no heed to his status, he became a friend and close pal of his tournament brothers, and helped many of them with their needs. He was a true and dedicated patron of his creation – the Maccabee Jewish tournament organization. He served as its president until the destruction of Zgierz.

Akiva was also the president of the Jewish manufacturers union and the founder of the Jewish bank. The small businessmen and craftsmen found him to be a good intercessor for their needs in the tax offices, in matters of credit, or with bank loans.

Akiva-Karol Eiger was a proud Jew and an exemplary citizen. During the time of the First World War, he joined the civic militia in order to maintain order in the city. Years later, he joined the fire-fighting commando. He encouraged others to emulate him in both roles. Aside from everything, he demonstrated to the local Poles and Germans that Jews do not stand apart from others, and that they do fulfil their civic duties.

After the occupation of Zgierz by Hitler's Germans, Akiva was arrested and sent to the concentration camp in Radogoszcz, where he endured difficult physical and spiritual afflictions. Miraculously, he succeeded in sneaking out from there, and he arrived in Romania after a series of dangerous detours. From there, he went to Cyprus. There, he enlisted in General Ander's army, where he became part of the Third Carpathian Brigade of General Kopanski, as an officer in the cultural and educational office. From Cyprus, he went to Tabruk, where he took part in the battle against Rommel's army. After the battle, while on leave, he went to the Land of Israel along with the brigade. Then he continued on the Iraqi desert where he enlisted several Zgierz natives into the army. Together with his close friend, the former secretary of the Zgierz Maccabee, Moshe Yaakov Grand (incidentally, who will later give us over details of A. Eiger in Ander's army in his own memoirs), he participated in further battles, until he reached Monte Cassino.

As a lecturer about Jewish matters in the Near East in the second department of Ander's army in which there were (until their arrival in the Land of Israel) approximately 5,000 Jews, Akiva did a great deal to improve their specific situation with respect to the large camp of Poles, so that no anti-Semitism would be experienced. Similarly, honor and praise is due to him for the efforts he put forth in order to ensure that the army leadership would issue an order that permitted and authorized Jews under Christian names to officially revert to their Jewish names and Jewish belief – an act of the highest form of idealistic Jewish patriotism, which is not yet well enough known and appreciated.

After the war, in approximately 1952, Akiva Eiger returned to Israel – this time in order to settle there. He took great interest in the Zgierzers in the Land, and volunteered for the committee Zgierz Organization in Israel. However, a serious illness suddenly laid him up. He never recovered. He died on the 19th of Kislev 5714 (November 26, 1953) in his 63rd year of life.

From his sickbed, he wrote a few words for the Zgierz memorial day, dedicated to the destruction of Zgierz:

“I regret that I cannot be with you as you sanctify the memory of our murdered fellow natives; however my heart is with you. Let this memorial gathering unite us with brotherly relations and mutual help among our survivors, as we recall their memory. Be strong!”
Thus did Akiva Eiger bid farewell to the survivors of Zgierz.

Y. L. Weinsztejn, V. Fiszer.


{436}

Reb Yaakov Binyamin and his son Yitzchak Kacelenson

Tzipora Katznelson Nachumov

Reb Yaakov Binyamin Katzenelson

Our father Reb Yaakov Binyamin Katzenelson was born in Kopyl, and moved as a child with his parents to Bobruisk, one of the largest cities in the Minsker Gubernia. Bobruisk is the cradle of our large family, which gave rise to the famous Buki the son of Yagli [6] (Dr. Katzenelson), and our cousin the Israeli leader Berl Katzenelson. Furthermore, Yitzchak Tabenkin, the leader of Achdut Haavoda (the Union of Workers), is also the son of our father's sister.

As one of the finest Yeshiva students in Volozhin, father received his rabbinical ordination even before his Bar Mitzvah.

During his early youth, he took interest in Russian language and literature. He arrived at the Haskalah path of Jewish life along with the rest of his contemporaries.

He joined the Chovevei Zion and Chovevei Sfat Ever movements. At the founding of the Haeshkol Hebrew Journal, he was invited to Warsaw as one of the important editorial workers.

He left his post and became a teacher on account of differences of opinion over the methods of the editor Nachum Sokolow. A few well-known Maskilim and householders of Zgierz (Isuchar Szwarc, Tovia Lifszitz) invited him to direct a modern cheder.

This took place at the end of the 19th century, when Zgierz was still considered as older than Lodz, which had first become an industrial center.

As a modern Hebrew teacher in Zgierz, father had two famous students: the poet Yaakov Kahan and his own son. He was honored and loved by everyone who esteemed his national educational work

We settled in Zgierz immediately after the High Holidays of 1884, at the beginning of the term. The important men of the city were already waiting impatiently for the famous Maskil Binyamin Yaakov Katzenelson, who was to start a new, modern era in Jewish nationalist education in the boundaries of Poland. From among the householders, the erudite Isuchar Szwarc took special interest in the cheder. He was the father of the famous painter Marek Szwarc and the scientific researcher into the history of the Marranos in Portugal, Engineer Shmuel Szwarc.

The finest families, included several from nearby Lodz, sent their children to the Zgierz modern cheder of Reb Katzenelson. However, he did not spend more than two years in Zgierz. He was attracted to the growing industrial metropolis [7], that had already absorbed the nearby villages, and into which flowed streams of Jews, who streamed in from all of Poland and wide Russia.

Father became closer to “jargon” [8] and wrote a few poems in Yiddish about the bloody Petlora pogroms after the First World War.

Aside from his work “Olelot Efraim” (published in 1889), he also wrote “Chazon Ben-Yamini”, “Yehuda Maccabee”, and “Gedalia Drag”. His literary pseudonym was “Ben-Yamini”.

Yitzchak Katzenelson

When his family came to Zgierz from Karelitz in 1894, Yitzchak was not yet eight years old.

Zgierz, the prosaic, smoky from the factory chimneys, had a bright shine in Yitzchak's life. The only good thing that he used to mention about Zgierz was that it was the birthplace of his poetic talent. Perhaps he was influenced thus by his older friend and student from Father's cheder, the poet Yaakov Kahan, whose Hebrew poems evoked wonder from the Hebrew circles and pride from our father.

{Photo page 438, right: Yaakov Binyamin Katzenelson.}

{Photo page 432 left: Yitzchak Katzenelson.}

The ambitious Yitzchakl, looked at the success of his friend, who at the age of ten wrote his first Hebrew, juvenile, yet juicy, charming song that penetrated all the readers, and became a classic song in the kindergartens:

“On the window, on the window
Stands a pretty bird”, etc.
In 1896, the Katzenelson family moved from Zgierz to Lodz, where his father opened a modern cheder. However, Yitzchak returned to Zgierz nine years later, this time, in order to learn a trade as a master weaver with his uncle (his mother's brother) Mordechai Gershon Horowicz, a textile manufacturer. This was in 1905, the year of the first Russian revolution. There, Yitzchak found the height of revolutionary activity, strikes and demonstrations. The uncle did not like the fact that his nephew befriended the “Achdut people”, and also feared serious consequences, so he sent Yitzchak back to his parents.

Yitzchak Katzenelson was very popular and beloved in Zgierz. When he arranged the children's costumes for his Hebrew school theater in Lodz, many Zionist oriented young people from Zgierz traveled to witness his accomplishment. Katzenelson came to Zgierz often, when he was invited by cultural institutions when they held their lectures on Hebrew literature and art.

An excerpt from the book “Yitzchak Katzenelson” by Tzipora Katzenelson-Nachumov, published in Buenos Aires, 1948.

{439}

The Poet and Writer Yaakov Kahan

Y. A. M.

{Photo page 439: Uncaptioned – Yaakov Kahan.}

Yaakov Kahan was born in Slutzk Byelorussia, on the 1st of Tammuz, 5641 (1881). He moved with his parents to Zgierz when he was still a baby. How did the family end up in Zgierz? The poet himself tell us about this in his writings:

“This city (Lodz) always attracted to itself and to several nearby towns that developed as manufacturing cities in its wake, new alert powers from other areas of Jewish settlement in Russia. They slowly expanded their business with all provinces of Russia through their networking and vigilance, and they even reached to Siberia and Bukhara. It is important to point out that almost all of the commissioners and “comiviasors” (traveling merchants) were Jews from Lithuania and other areas.

My father, who had a wonderful handwriting and was knowledgeable in bookkeeping, also tried his luck and turned to this endeavor that had many opportunities. In one of the towns, he had a relative from his father's side, Reb Shlomo Horowicz. He found an opportunity to study the ways of business with him. Slowly but surely, he became a bookkeeper and correspondent for his brokerage business. Despite this, his salary was not sufficient to bring his wife to him. She remained in her parents' home with their firstborn daughter, and he would only visit her at the time of the major festivals of Passover and Sukkot. Only five years later, one year after he went into his own business, did my mother come with their two children to the dwelling that he had prepared for them in that town, which is Zgierz. I was a child of a year and a quarter.”

In his memoirs, Yaakov Kahan writes that his father was of a good lineage, which included the names of the great Gaonim of Israel. His great-uncle was Reb Yomtov Lipman HaKohen, the rabbi of the community of Zambrow and the region. The first who lives in the memory of the family was Reb Moshe Kahan of Slutsk, who was both an expert in Torah and a wealthy man. He was the brother-in-law of the author of the “Or Chadash”, and also wrote an approbation for that book.

Yaakov's grandfather married Esther the daughter of Reb Zelig, the son of the rabbi of Dolhinov. Reb Zelig was an intelligent man who served as a regional official. He was in charge of the collection of the excise on liquor, which was leased from Count Jozel Gincberg. He was also an excelled violin player. He was especially a great scholar. He earned his livelihood in a meager fashion, albeit honorably.

He had four sons. The eldest Michael was the cantor in the Zeichev Synagogue in Kiev. The second, Yaakov Hirsch owned a weaving factory in Rozhava of the Minsk region. The third, Binyamin (born on the 27th of Iyar 5616 – 1856), was the father of Yaakov. The fourth was Shmuel Aharon.

Yaakov's father was religiously observant and careful about the observance of commandments. Simultaneously, he possessed secular knowledge. Yaakov entered the cheder of Katriel, and elderly Lithuanian teacher, when he was six-year-old. The teacher apparently did not draw near the heart of the boy, who felt himself as if he was in jail. Nevertheless, apparently, the rabbi instilled many of the foundations of Judaism into him, which were absorbed by his soul, and served as a sure foundation for the future. After studying in this cheder for three years, he transferred to the modern cheder of Binyamin Katzenelson.

Binyamin Katzenelson was a native of Kopyl, and was educated in the Yeshivas of Volozhin. He received his rabbinical ordination. However, like many others who were caught up in the current of the Haskalah, he involved himself in the study of Hebrew and became a teacher. He worked for a time at the Eshkol institution of Sokolow, and also published a book “Olelot Efraim” (in the name of Y. Ben-Yamini). This was a book of verse, written in the spirit of those times, at the beginning of Chovevei Zion, that stood as a symbol of the revolution of the Haskalah movement, intermixed with romantic longings for tradition.

Yaakov Binyamin Katzenelson was brought to Zgierz from the city of Karelitz of Lithuania (the city from which Reb Yaakov Milichowcki hails from) through the efforts of Isuchar Szwarc, who met him in the circles of the writers and Maskilim in Warsaw. His first efforts in Zgierz were difficult. There were few students, and he was there alone, without his family. Slowly, the modern cheder expanded. In the fourth year, Katzenelson moved to a large premises, and brought his wife and two children, as well as an assistant to help him with the lower grades of the cheder, that had grown significantly.

Yaakov spread his wings in that cheder. He learned well Hebrew, grammar and Bible. He also studied Russian, arithmetic and other subjects from a special teacher who taught in the modern cheder. Yaakov excelled in all of his subjects, which brought joy to his father, who took pride in his son and saw to it to educate him in the path that he saw as correct, in accordance with family tradition. He was particularly insistent that he join him in prayers at the synagogue. This synagogue experience on festivals enriched the soul of Yaakov, and set his sprit to the future poetry.

The dwelling of the Kahan family was in the home of Reb Avraham Yaakov Weizenfeld. This closeness with Weizenfeld served as a strong influence in enriching the spirit of Yaakov. Weizenfeld's home was a gathering place of writers and Maskilim, and the young boy stood at their feet, and absorbed everything that he could at his age.

Yaakov's mother

Yaakov's mother Pesia was born on the 15th of Elul, 5616 (1855) [9]. As opposed to the custom of the times, she studied Torah as one of the boys, and was the only girl in the cheder among the other boys. She did this without the knowledge of her parents. She studied everything except for Talmud. Nevertheless, she absorbed words of the sages that were always upon her mouth, together with verses of Proverbs, chapters of literature, and pearls of journalism. She took interest in every discussion and in every group. She was more careful than his father was in matters of religion and the fulfillment of commandments.

Yaakov loved his mother very much. “A flood of memories and painful longings for my mother, who was taken from me at an early age” – writes Yaakov Kahan in his memoirs, “prevents me from even beginning to write about all the good that I received from her during those few years that I had the privilege to flourish in the light of her eyes. – – – My relation to her is filled with feelings of love and an endless embrace. I revered and feared my father, and there was always somewhat of an aloofness between us that was hard to overcome. There was no division at all between Mother and I. Her goodness was always bestowed upon me with open hands. He commands were given with a bright face, and even her words of chastisement were calm. She knew how to spice them with verses of Bible, statements of the sages, and at times even a story.”

His mother's death spread a spirit of depression upon young Yaakov, and he was immersed in deep sorrow. He exerted himself over the upper spheres and “eternal questions”. In the meantime, he found the “Hamelitz” newspaper of Chovevei Zion in his father's bookshelf, bound in fifteen large volumes, dating from the early 1880s. He also received volumes 1 and 2 of Hapardes from the Maskil Reb Tovia Lipszitz, which included the works of Achad Haam.. There was much therein to enthuse the heart of the proud youth, whose heart was filled to the brim with the national spirit and zealousness for the honor of Israel.

He was invited by his sister to Bialystock in his seventeenth year. He went there for a few weeks [10]. There, he gave lessons as a teacher of German to beginners. At that time, the famous rabbi of the city, Reb Shmuel Mohilever died (18th of Sivan 5658 – 1898), and the house of the rabbi turned into a gathering place bearing his name “Beit Shmuel”. Yaakov often visited that house, listened to the lectures, and took part in the cultural activities.

Yaakov Kahan writes the following about his sojourn in Bialystock, “The main value of my sojourn in Bialystock was that I breathed a different spirit. I saw new people, a new environment, and even attained a certain level of independence for the first time. All of this was without doubt a catalyst for my maturing, even though within my spirit there still rested a bit of the solitude of the child who watches the stormy sea from opposite, and still is not able to take part in it, and he finds some salvation from his own pain of longing by pouring himself into the agony of the entire nation. The poem “To the poet” (written in three stanzas) gives over the spirit of those days to some degree.”

Yaakov returned to Zgierz when he heard that a seven-level business school was about to open. His intention was to enter the seventh level after preparing for the exams of the six levels. He also received a letter from his father informing him that he was asked to appear before a military evaluation committee to establish his age, since his birth certificate had been lost. His plan to enter the business school was not realized, since only five levels were opened. He also found a surprise at home. When he returned home on the eve of Passover of 5658 (1899), he found a new one-year-old brother Yosef, who was born to his father's second wife.

Awakening to Poetry

In the meantime, a strong change overtook Yaakov. His spirit was filled with poetry, and this general feeling was expressed in the poem “Thoughts of Spring”, in which he expressed the vision of his spirit and his longing for the spring of the national renaissance:

“The awakening of the national feelings in the nation”, states Yaakov Kahan, “the blossoming of the national hopes with the appearance of Herzl, the spark of new powers in Hebrew literature, gladdens me and strengthens in me the multi-faceted vision of national revival, all of these enthuse in me the poetic spirit; all of these penetrate into me, and at times I find myself in a spirit of drunken dreaminess. My communion with nature was deep and decisive.

He wrote the first poems, including “In the Garden”, “Night Darkness”, “In the Heart of the Forest”, “The End of all Flesh”, “Visions of G-d”, “Sunset”, etc. The latter was also the first that was published in Hashiloach, edited by Klozner. The poem “A Meditation in Memory of Judah Maccabee” was also printed in the “Yearbook”, edited by Sokolow in the year 5660 (1900).


The taste of freedom that he felt in Bialystock encouraged him to find a source of income. At the beginning of the year 5660 (1899), he accepted some classes in Hebrew. His first students were the young children of Isuchar Szwarc. At the same time, he also tried his hand in publishing articles on the new style of literature. These were published in Hashavua of London.

Yaakov moved to Lodz at the beginning of 5661. This city always enchanted him with its splendor. During those years, he was put up by his aunts (his mother's sisters) and almost all of his mother's brothers. He enjoyed these experiences of being close with these families and being their guest. At this time, with his thirst for the variegated life of art and its splendor, his desire for complete independence that grew stronger, along with youthful feelings of love – all of these attracted him to the large city. He would come to Zgierz as a “Sabbath guest”. He would also spend the summer months, vacations and festivals there.

“It was pleasant for me to rest there (in Zgierz) from the hustle and bustle of the large city” – said Yaakov Kahan – “to return and visit my forests around it, and to have solitude with my soul. Indeed, most of what I wrote during the two years that I was in Lodz (from the autumn of 5661 until the autumn of 5663) was written in Zgierz.

On the Ascent of the Mountain

During his stay in Lodz, Yaakov had the opportunity to meet his fellow native David Friszman. They were friends from their youth, and very close. He was the editor of “Hador”, and gladly accepted one poem, and later another poem authored by Kahan. He was also effusive in his praise of his poems that were published in “Olam Katan” and in “Luach Achiasaf”. His feeling of debt to such a strong inquirer and stickler as Friszman encouraged Kahan to continue in his creative work with greater strength. He appreciated his closeness and friendship with the writer and editor, and knew how to relate to him with reverence and approval.

After his poem that he wrote at the age of ten about the death of his mother, he continued to write about his impressions. In the year 5660 (1899), his first poem (“A Meditation in Memory of Judah Maccabee”) was published in the “Yearbook” edited by Nachum Sokolow. In the summer of 5662 (1902), his first anthology of poetry was published (“A Book of Poems”, published by Tushia in Warsaw) after a long wait, much thought and editing. He left for Switzerland in 1903 to complete his studies. Six years later, in the year 5668 (1909), Yaakov received his Doctorate of Philosophy degree from the University of Berne, for his work on “A Critique on the Concept of Pride”.

From the First Zionist Congress, Kahan dedicated himself to national-cultural activities. He was one of the founders of the Ivriya Zionist student's organization, and its director in the year 5666 (1906). From the year 5670 (1910) until the First World War, he worked for the strengthening of the status of Hebrew in his role as head of the “Organization for Hebrew Language and Culture” in Berlin. He published Hebrew manuscripts, including the “New Hebrew” (5672) that set up in a forum befitting of the Shiloach of Achad Haam. During the years 5676-5678 (1916-1918) he served as a teacher of Hebrew literature in the high school in Lodz. In the year 5678 (1918) he began his activities as the editor of Hatkufa, published by Shtibel in Moscow, and later also in Warsaw, along with Y. P. Lachower. Later, he himself was the editor of a fine section on literature in Hatekufa.

In the year 5684 (1924), he accepted a position of supervisor of Hebrew studies in the bilingual schools of Poland. In the years 5687-5993 (1927-1933), he lectured on Hebrew literature in the Institute of Jewish Wisdom in Warsaw. He made aliya to the Land in 5684 (1934), and settled in Tel Aviv. From 5684 and on, he edited the anthologies of Knesset together with Y. P., renewed Hatekufa, and edited volumes 28 and 29. Two years later, in the year 5689 (1938) his creation, the dramatic symphony “At the Pyramids” won the Bialik Prize. The Massada publication published his poems under the auspices of “The Committee for the Publication of the Manuscripts of Yaakov Kahan”. In the year 5703 (1942), he was chosen as the chairman of the literary board that was affiliated with the Bialik Institute.

Again in the year 5706 (1946) he won the Chernikovsky Prize for exemplary translations, for his translation of Faust and Goethe. He also published an anthology of children's poetry called Birchat Boker.

He was honored with the Israel Prize twice, once in 5713 (1953) and a second time in 5718 (1958). He also won the Chernikovsky Prize for a second time, one year before that (1957) for his achievements in the field of Hebrew translation (for additional works on Heine and Goethe” [11]). That year, the publication of all of his letters in ten volumes was completed by the jubilee committee.

The works of Kahan were published in a variety of forms. The twelve-volume Jubilee edition was published in the year 5705, 5716. In the year 5724 (1964) a two volume edition was published [12]. In his latter years, he began to publish his memoirs in the Haboker newspaper (29 Elul 5712 / September 19, 1962) under the title of “Paths of my Life”. This continued week by week. In these, he dedicated several fine chapters full of appreciation for Zgierz, and its life.

Yaakov Kahan died in Tel Aviv at the age of 80 on the 1st of Kislev 5621 (November 20, 1960), and was buried in Jerusalem in accordance with his will.

His memory will be preserved in our hearts for praise and appreciation.

Y. E. M.


{445}

The Poet Yaakov Kahan

Y. Avishuv

It is possible that the struggle between “young” and “old” in our literature is nothing more than a happy joke, about which who knows when it began and whether it will end sometime. That thought swims around with me when I take it upon myself to write about the writer who is already over 75 years old: Yaakov Kahan. He has perhaps already three times more the years of literary activity than the entire lives of other younger writers.

Bialik greeted Yaakov Kahan with a Shehecheyanu blessing [13] over 50 years ago, after he read his first anthology of poems. Then Bialik wrote his famous article “Our Young Poet” in which he very warmly portrayed the three young ones – Yaakov Kahan, Zalman Shneur and Yaakov Steinberg. In each of the three, Bialik detected the “life juices” that fermented “like new wine in a jug, like boiling blood and lively flesh”. In each of thee he found, “beauty, strength, and wholeness”. He declared the following about Yaakov Kahan, “He is all silk in the morning wind”.


“Silk in the morning wind”… is indeed the seal of the gentle lyrics that flow out from most of Yaakov Kahan's creations. He concerned himself with the dove and the shmeterling [14], the silver swan that swims out from the blue azure and about water streams that flow out of fountains. His eye joined together playful wonder-stars and prayerful trees in the pale night. His heart twisted when he saw an orphaned flower tread under foot. His heart expanded with the spreading out of the morning dew.

From the very beginning, Yaakov Kahan was the poet of unification with eternal spring, the poet of gentleness and intimacy, the poet of crystallized life and of a lifelong holiday. “The herald of the beautify world”, called him one literary scientist.

However the poet and lyricist was a son of a people who were not created so idealistically so as to be able to look out and have pleasure from G-d's fine world. With time, the “herald of beauty” became the printer of agony and desire for redemption of his people. His song was crowded with agony and pain, and with strong protest against the strong people of the word and against the boot-lickers of his own people.

The poet of silk became a punisher, a sermonizer, and a warner in playful lines about leaves and grass. His songs went far off, until the “Song of Iron” – “The silent iron, that pushes up in revenge. For when a world is enveloped in darkness – for it has in it here a comfort, there a sureness, and finally, hidden hope.” The day came with the gentle poet sent us pastoral, nationalist songs, that called to a battle, to rebellion, to the conquest of the Land.


In his sixty years of literary activity, Yaakov Kahan was involved with various branches and genres of literary creation – from songs to drama. He recently said about this, “From time to time, I feel the inclination toward an other genre – like a tree that always gives forth new branches.”

Indeed, the canvas of his creations is very wide and full of various themes and motives. However, in all of his meanderings from one form to another over all of the branches of literature, he remains – it seems to me – a “big child”. Perhaps it was for such a big child that he wrote his superb, “Legends for Big Children” – “That which preserves in him the pureness and wholeness of the childhood days, despite the fact that they strongly attacked and ruined the streams of life.”

When you ask him which of his works he loves best, he answers: always the last work – like a mother who lover all of her children, but the youngest brings her more joy in all of her limbs. Aside from this – from her first steps until today, Yaakov Kahan wrote ballads and dramas, visions and great novels (all, “aside from a great novel”, as he himself said, “but never should a small poem be compared to great dramas”).

As in all of his incarnations – Yaakov Kahan was anchored in his lyrics, in the small joys and sufferings of human life.


Yaakov Kahan was born in the city of Slutsk in White Russia. However, when he was still a child, his family moved to Zgierz – the industrial and business city near Lodz, where David Friszman was also born. Nevertheless, very little of the business spirit of his childhood city rubbed off on the poet. Once, at a social gathering here in the land, the poet heard from a person who came from “those places” [15] that the large forests in the region of Zgierz were destroyed during the war. The poet signed with pain: “… my forests”. Those gathered wondered: until then they did not know that the poet possessed forests – until it became clear to them that the poet was not talking about a material possession, but rather about a possession of lyrical youthful life.


Regarding his sensitive-lyrical nature, the following fact can give testimony. Yaakov Kahan attained much higher education in German universities, where he studied philosophy and history – completely “dry” subjects, in which he attained the title of Doctor – however his “home” was always in the fine literature, particularly poetry. He invested his best desire and feeling into it. Friends and other curious people often asked: what was the purpose of so much study? He used to answer: “Only to mystify my fields”. – and his fields remained: storytelling, poetry, legends, drama…

Y. Aviyashuv, “Last report”, Tel Aviv, January 25, 1957, for the poet's 75th birthday.


{448}

Reb Mordechai Shmuel Cudkowicz

Yaakov Cohen

From among the residents in the house where we lived, I remember one couple who occupied a small dwelling on the ground floor, connected to a store that opened onto the courtyard. It was a store that sold hides, shoes, and other leather objects, from which the owner earned his living. They called him Shmuel Chasid (The Pious) due to his generous traits, that included sublime piety, modest demeanor, and self-abnegation. He was indeed a modest, humble and quiet man, who restrained himself from any extra comfort. He distanced himself from the communal debates and from anything that had the taint of evil talk or embarrassment to another person.

It is especially worthy to point out the wonderful relationship that Shmuel Chasid had with Rodel his wife. She was also modest and quiet, restraining herself from any excess conversation and from injuring the honor of any person. Apparently, she learned from the traits of her husband, and received a great deal from him, both from her love and reverence to him and also from her appreciation of his exemplary behavior toward her. It was a pleasure to see the peace, confidence, and refinement in the relationship between this couple, especially after ten years had passed since their marriage, and she had not yet given birth. Her husband had the permission based on Jewish law to divorce her, but twelve years passed, fifteen years passed, and more, and he never acted upon his privilege. Of course, there was no shortage of whispers, hints, and even reproof from friends and important people. He listened and was silent.

Indeed, Rodel did not forego any effort to find a way out of her predicament. She traveled to a Tzadik, asked doctors, and employed all sorts of remedies. Once, a day or two after the festival of Sukkot, my mother sent me to get her Etrog that was promised to her, so that she could use it for the potion that she was preparing. The woman took the Etrog, and before she gave it to me, she closed her eyes, whispered something, bit of the pitam [16] and swallowed it. This was strange to me, and I told it to my mother. My mother laughed and said: “Indeed it is a proven remedy”. She told me that the pure woman saw in the swallowing of the pitam a portent for the birth of a male child.

The fine life of this couple fluttered before my eyes as I wrote “Peretz and Naomi” many years later. Perhaps it was from them that I received the first impetus to write any poem.

Aside from his work in religious education, Reb Mordechai Shmuel was known as the author and distributor of the general annual calendar that was used throughout Poland.

Yaakov Kahan (from his memoirs “The Paths of my Life”)


{449}

The Sirkes Home

F. Abba

{Photo page 449: The Sirkes family – Reb Shlomo and his wife Sara.}

The Sirkes family is numbered among the Hassidic families whose influence was noticeable in our city throughout fifty years, from the 1880s until the 1930s, in economic, communal and religious life.

Reb Shlomo Sirkes of blessed memory

The father of the family, Reb Shlomo Sirkes, was born in the year 5620 (1860) in Yaryshev, out side of Mohilov-Podolsk. His father Reb Eliezer, a Hassid of Sadigora, died when he was five years old. He was educated by his grandfather Reb Daniel, and was regarded as a genius. His grandfather always took him to the Admors of Zenkov and Medzhibozh, the grandsons of the Admor of Opatow, the author of “Ohev Yisrael”.

After his marriage to Sara, the daughter of the philanthropist Reb Mordechai Helman of Dinowicz, he came with his father-in-law to Lodz and set up his home in Zgierz. He established a factory of fine woven goods along with Mr. Moshe Eiger. This firm, “Sirkes and Eiger” became famous in Poland and throughout the breadth of Russia.

Reb Shlomo was known in public as an upright and faithful man, who conducted business honorably. Thanks to the trust that he gained in the world of business, along with his great energy that he placed into the business, he did well, and became wealthy.

Despite his occupation in multi-branched business, he dedicated a great deal of his time and also money to daily difficulties and people in difficult circumstances. His donations to charity and good deeds were famous. He gave his money with a generous hand and a good eye, for the most part, more than he was asked. He did not speak about his kind works, which were his daily custom, in front of his wife and family. These things always became known to them incidentally, from the outside [17].

Reb Shlomo was involved in communal affairs. He was the chief of the founders of the Yagdil Torah Yeshiva in Zgierz, which existed until the outbreak of the First World War (1914), and was also a member of the communal council of Zgierz for many years. As a member of the council, he represented the Jewish community and was a member of various delegations. During the time of the First World War, he participated in the Jewish delegation that stood before the Russian army commander Otomanov in Vilna, that presented a request to rescind the command of expulsion of myriads of Jews who were residents of the regions that were adjacent to the front.

With the closing of the Russian markets and the confiscation of its merchandise by the German occupiers, the firm Sirkes and Eiger disbanded and ceased existence. Reb Shlomo left the world of business and manufacturing, and devoted the rest of his days to Torah, religion and communal activism.

He remained an upright man of solid character for all of his days. His garments were clean and his soul was pure. He was a scion of the family of the Bach (Reb Yoel Sirkes, the author of the Bayit Chadash commentary on the Shulchan Aruch), of the Schorr and Margolios families, a descendent of the Gaon Reb Tzvi Hirsch Schorr (the father of the author of Torat Chayim) and of the Gaon Reb Avraham Horowitz (the author of Emek Habrachah, the father of the holy Shla).

His wife Sara was also a charitable woman, who was known in our city as an energetic, wise person. She bore five sons to Reb Shlomo: Eliezer, Daniel, Tzvi, Peretz and Pinchas.

She died in Warsaw on the 29th f Cheshvan 5688 1928) and is buried there.

Reb Shlomo made aliya to the Land in the year 5694 (1934) and settled in Petach Tikva at first. He spent his last years in Jerusalem, involved with Torah and worship.

He died at an old age on the 18th of Cheshvan, 5702 (1943) and is buried on the Mount of Olives. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.

Reb Eliezer Sirkes of blessed memory

{Photo page 451: Eliezer Sirkes.}

Reb Eliezer Sirkes was born in the year 5640 (1880) to his father Reb Shlomo Sirkes of blessed memory, and his mother Sara, the daughter of Reb Mordechai (Motia) Helman of Lodz (the father of the well-known activist Reb Moshe Helman of blessed memory), of a family that was related to the Admor Reb Yehoshua Heshel of Opatow, the author of Ohev Yisrael. His parents arrived in Zgierz when he was three years old. He excelled as a person of blessed abilities, with a quick grasp of his studies already from a young age. He married Chaya (the daughter of Reb Chaim Rotenberg of Skryhiczyn) when he was eighteen. She was a descendant of the Gra (Gaon) of Vilna of blessed memory, and of well placed families in Poland.

After he finished being supported at the table of his father-in-law, he returned to Zgierz and opened the textile factory “Sirkes and Sirkes” with his brother Daniel. It developed well until the outbreak of the First World War. The Admor of Gur, the author of the Sfat Emet of blessed memory gave them his blessing and commanded them to study together every morning. This factory stood out in that it hired only Jewish workers, and closed down two days a week, on Saturday and Sunday, as well as, obviously, on Jewish Holidays.

Along with his work in the factory, Reb Eliezer found time to be involved in communal matters, even when he was young. His seal is stamped upon the life of Zgierz. He served as a member of the communal council and its president for nearly 25 years, from 1910-1935, with a small break in the years 1918-1924. He was elected as a member of communal council for a period of approximately 20 years, from 1916-1935. He was also a member of various civic committees, the valuation committee, the regional government, etc. He was the president of Agudas Yisroel in Zgierz, and a member of the leadership committee of Agudas Yisroel of Poland. He was a delegate to the large convention of the Aguda, etc. He was elected as a delegate to the Polish parliament (Sejm) from 1922-1927 on account of his party, in a block of national minorities.

His home was always open to the downtrodden and needy. Small-scale merchants and workshop owners came to him house to pour out their bitterness of heart to him, and to request his help before the tax collecting committees that imposed upon them taxes beyond their means. He would put aside his private business and run to the mayor, the valuation committee or other authority to obtain the leniency that was requested.

Reb Yehoshua Berliner-Baniel tells that Reb Eliezer once went at his request to intercede on his behalf for a reduction in the income tax that was imposed upon him. In order to meet with the appropriate official, Reb Eliezer worshipped in the first minyan in the synagogue on the day of Hoshana Rabba (his shtibel worshiped later) in order to have sufficient time to fulfil the request. When he returned, he informed him that his mission was successful. This was one incident out of many.

Like his father Reb Shlomo of blessed memory, he was numbered among the Hassidim of Gur and one of the faithful followers of that group. In his own faction (Agudas Yisroel) he was always among those who looked approvingly upon the Land of Israel and participating in its upbuilding. In 1919, he joined with his brother Reb Daniel in sending weaving machines and looms to the Land of Israel, an activity that was organized by the Zionist Mr. Zeev Reichert of blessed memory. As is known, these machines arrived in the Land, but they were not used, and they remained in huts exposed to the sun, and rusted. Only during the last war, when there was business with such machines in the land, and years of prosperity arrived, did these machines find their use in the factories of “Tzena” (utility in the vernacular), obviously, by others…

In 1924, he went to the Land of Israel with a delegation of Aguda (the Admor of Gur of blessed memory joined this delegation) in order to invest money there and to fund factories. He returned full of enthusiasm for the idea of settling the land, and made a strong decision to settle there.

Reb Eliezer had a weakness for the printed word, and he use to collect all daily newspapers starting from 1924, and bind them into volumes. He brought them to the Land, but they rotted in some cellar in Jerusalem after his death. He also brought “Pinkas Zgierz” with him, and the copy remained in Zgierz. His book collection was famous in our city. His collection included valuable first editions, which he would willingly lend out to the scholars of the city such as Rabbi Chanoch Henech Ehrsohn, Rabbi Nathan Elberg, and others. Reb Eliezer brought this valuable collection to the Land, and grew it to 15,000 volumes (including some rare collections of responsa, prayer books, Passover Haggadas, Hassidic books, and reference and study books). Toward the end of his life, he donated this collection to the Sfat Emet Yeshiva in Jerusalem This library is open to anyone who wants, and is called by his name “Ginzei Eliezer” (Eliezer's collection).

Reb Eliezer excelled in the entertaining of guests, and made sure to have a guest at his table on Sabbaths and festivals. It is especially worthwhile to point out one incident. Once, on the eve of the festival of Sukkot of 1920, when the war between Bolshevik Russia and Poland had not yet finished, a group of Jewish Russian soldiers who had been taken prisoner came to the shtibel of Gur, with torn clothes and rags on their feet. They were surrounded by an armed guard of Polish soldiers, and waited for invitations to the houses of the worshipers. Nobody came to their rescue. The Hassidim were afraid to take them home, lest they be suspected of having connections with the Communist enemy. Reb Eliezer was the only one who had the braveness of heart, and he took them all (more than ten Jewish soldiers) to his home. He fed them and gave them to drink, and did not deprive the Polish guard either.

That year (1920) in the midst of the war, soldiers of Haller's army (they were called Hallerczes) and began to attack the Jews of Zgierz on the roads of the city, cutting off beards and pulling off peyos. A pall of fear fell upon the Jews of the city, who closed themselves into their homes. When this became known to Reb Eliezer, he endangered himself, hurried to Mayor Szwircz, and succeeded in arrested the perpetrators.

Reb Eliezer succeeded in actualizing his goal at the beginning of 1935. He arrived in the Land with his wife and party of his family. He never saw his love of the Land as contradictory to his Hassidic world. His father Reb Shlomo made aliya before him. Two of his sons were in the Land, and his brother Reb Daniel was already a resident of Tel Aviv. He saw himself as reborn. He toured the land and enjoyed its sights. He lived in Tel Aviv at first. He quickly moved to the holy city of Jerusalem, purchased a dwelling and settled there.

He did not abandon his communal work even in Jerusalem. He found a place in the Aguda circles, and was numbered among those dedicated to the movement. He participated in a delegation to the High Commission, and in all other important activities of his movement. He was appointed as the director of the bank “Loan Cassa of the Orthodox People of Poland”. He was chosen as a member of the directorship of the Shaarei Tzedek and Bikur Cholim hospitals, Rabbi Meir Baal Haness, and other organizations. He endeared himself to anyone who came in contact with him, whether in his communal life or his personal life, thanks to his spiritual nobility and personal refinement.

Reb Eliezer merited witnessing the birth of the State. His children and grandchildren participated in the War of Independence, and he prayed that they would return healthy and whole. His prayers were answered.

Reb Eliezer died in Jerusalem on the 25th of Elul 5712 (1952) and is buried on Har Menuchot.

His wife Chaya was a pious woman, modest in all her deeds. She discretely occupied herself in communal affairs both in Zgierz and Jerusalem. She was conversant in all the chapters of Psalms. She was an expert in Tzena Urena [18] and also the legends of the Talmud. She died in Jerusalem on the 25th of Sivan 5722 (1962) and is buried beside her husband.

Five of the sons of Reb Eliezer and Chaya Sirkes of blessed memory perished in the Holocaust with their families. Six of their remaining sons live with us in the Land.

Reb Daniel Sirkes of blessed memory

{Photo page 454: Daniel Sirkes.}

Reb Daniel Sirkes was born in the year 5642 (1882) to his father Reb Shlomo Sirkes and his mother Sara, the daughter of Reb Mordechai Helman of Lodz. His wife Nechama was the daughter of Reb Yaakov Blass of Warsaw (the daughter of Reb Itza Blass, who was related by marriage to the Rebbe of Kock.)

He was modest in his manner, and had a personality that made an impression and arose honor. He was a scholar and a man of deeds, who spoke little, did charitable acts in secret, and was a man of spiritual completeness.

He was one of the chief activists of Zgierz and in Poland in general. He was at the head of the G-d fearing people in the Orthodox camp in Poland. He helped establish an Orthodox organization in Zgierz, and served as its chairman. However, his love for Zion and for the building of the Land took hold of him quickly, and he turned his back on Aguda that rejected, in his opinion, the building of the Holy Land, and dedicated most of its energy to matters of Diaspora Judaism. He joined the Mizrachi and was one of the flag bearers of that movement, as it waged war upon all opponents of Zionism from the right and the left. He was true to his heart and his inclination, and he decided to make aliya to the Land and to actualize the aim of Zionism with his body. Even though he was busy in Poland with many important matters in the real of education and communal activism, as the chairman of the Beit Ulpana (girl's school) in the city (1917-1918), the chairman of Mizrachi, the chairman of the communal council (1918-1924) and active in the highest echelons of the national movement – he abandoned all these, liquidated his factory in Zgierz, forfeited much of his property, burned his bridges behind him and made aliya in 1925 with all of his family. He purchased a house and settled in it.

Even though he was used to a life of comfort and luxury in Zgierz, he did not find it constricting to live in a dwelling of two small rooms with his wife and eight children in the Bukharian Quarter of Jerusalem. There, he educated his sons and daughters to love modesty, work, and a life of dedication. He did a great deal to even the temperament of his family, and he found a common language with the young, pioneering generation.

Reb Daniel stood up against stains that arose in communal life in Israel. He wrote articles on issues of the day in the Hatzofeh newspaper, of which he was a founder. His ideas drew closer to revisionist Zionism. As the chairman of the communal council of Tel Aviv, he led the community without playing favorites. He was also vice-chairman of the Mizrachi Bank, a member of the leadership committee of HaPoel Hatzioni, a member of the directorate of the Jewish National Fund, and a representative to Zionist congresses. He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and was very happy when he merited in this.

At first, Reb Daniel settled in Haifa. From there, he moved to Tel Aviv. With the transfer of the authority of the Jewish community to the city council of Tel Aviv, he decided to settle in Jerusalem.

In his book “With an Upright Posture”, that included an anthology of his ideas and saying, he spoke out against several ideas that were going through the Land, which he saw as contradictory to pure Zionism. He was always careful and cautious to speak the truth, and he did not refrain from lashing out at the time of need even toward the activists of his own party, if he saw them tilting toward national or communal themes that were not fitting with his ideas of the unity of the nation and the approaching of the redemption of the nation and the Land. Reb Daniel Sirkes dedicated his final years to the Yeshiva of Rav Kook of blessed memory, in which he saw as a blessed means of sublimely educating the nation and repairing its spirituality.

{Photo page 455: Representatives of the Zionist groups at a joint meeting. In the center – Reb Daniel Sirkes.}

Reb Daniel was fortunate to have all of his sons and daughters in the Land during the time of the Holocaust, and he saw a fourth generation in the Land.

Reb Daniel died of old age on the 9th of Adar 5724 (1965) and is buried in the family plot on Har Menuchot. He left of his fortune to charity and institutions.

His wife Nechama Matel was intelligent, refined, and charitable. She died on the 16th of Adar 5629 (1969 in Jerusalem. She left a large family that is rooted in the Land.

A street in Jerusalem is named for Reb Daniel Sirkes.

Leibel Sirkes of blessed memory

He was born in the year 1899 to his father Reb Eliezer Sirkes.

In his youth, it was clear that he was created for greatness. He was considered to be a genius, as a pit that does not lose a drop [19]. At the age of 12, he published his novellae in the Shaarei Torah monthly that was published in Warsaw.

He joined the Zionist movement in 1917, and was active in it until 1939.

He was always full of humor. He reacted to incidents in our city with pleasant rhymes and jokes. He wrote a number of books that were left to the shredder. The tragedy that overtook him in the year 1920 (when he served in the Polish army in the war against the Bolsheviks, was injured in a battle and lost a hand) did not affect his spirit and his commitment to communal life in the city. He loved his friends very much. They were always happy to greet him, and they sang together the songs that he composed.

He married Chana the daughter of Binyamin Fogel of Zgierz. They had one daughter, Sara.

He fled with his family to Warsaw in 1940. As is told, he encouraged all of his acquaintances and family members with his words that were always laced with humor and sharpness, even n those difficult days.

The fate of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto did not pass over him and his family.

His memory shall remain as a blessing among his friends and acquaintances.

P. Abba


TRANSLATOR'S FOOTNOTES

1. The German areas of the areas that later became Czechoslovakia. Back

2. A renowned rabbi in Posen Germany (1761-1837). Back

3. Sifra is a commentary on Leviticus from the Mishnaic era. Back

4. Galbanum (chelvona) is the one spice in the incense compound of the temple that had an offensive smell. Back

5. The Polish army in exile, that played a major role in the fight against the allies. Back

6. Buki the son of Yagli was the Prince of the tribe of Dan, listed in Numbers 34, 22. I am not sure what the reference means here. However, in the list of leaders, the word 'Nasi' (Prince or leader) is not appended to the first few names – Buki the son of Yagli si the first to whom the term is used. Back

7. Evidently referring to Lodz. Back

8. A term used by Hebraists for Yiddish. Back

9. There is a discrepancy of one year between the English and Hebrew here. Back

10. Evidently, his stay was extended. Back

11. I was not able to make out the works of these, which are brought down here: “Manginot Ivriyot” of Heine, and “Afigia Batauris” of Goethe. Back

12. A footnote appears in the text here, as follows: “A detailed bibliography of Yaakov Kahan and his works can be found in the “Lexicon of Hebrew Literature of the Later Generations” by G. Karsal, published by the Poalim Library.” Back

13. A blessing of thanksgiving for reaching a certain occasion. Back

14. A type of bird. Back

15. Apparently, a euphemism for the concentration camps. Back

16. The Etrog is the citron used in the Sukkot ceremonies. The pitam is the prominent wooden stamen of the Etrog. Back

17. There is a long footnote in the text here. It reads as follows: Rabbi Bromberg, in his book “The Greats of Hassidism” writes that two veteran Hassidim lived in Zgierz, Reb Nota Heindsdorf and Reb Leibish Pozner, who had business connections with Reb Sh. Sirkes. Once, Reb Leibish came to him and told him of the difficult circumstances of one of the leading Hassidim in Zgierz, who needed 10,000 rubles in order to extricate himself from his straits. He gave him a list of ten industrialists, including his name. After Reb Shlomo looked at the list, he took out 4,000 rubles and give them to Reb Leibish, to cover three names whom he was doubtful would give their share. The astonished Reb Leibish made haste to tell his brother-in-law Reb Nota, and they decided to tell this to their rabbi, the author of the Sfat Emet. The Admor of Gur answered briefly, “May my lot be with him”. They did not rest until they brought Reb Shlomo to their rabbi. He indeed became a dedicated Hassid of the Rebbe. After the Rebbe's death, he maintained his faith with his successor, and was counted among his Hassidim and faithful friends. Back

18. A Yiddish commentary on the Torah, designed especially for women. Back

19. A Mishnaic adage describing someone with a phenomenal memory. Back

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