The Jewish Community - Its Origin And Activity
by Dow Gorzalczany
Translated from Yiddish by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
Just like other Jewish communities in Poland, the Czyzewer Jew's existence was a difficult, bloody struggle. It's true, there were quiet years of calm living with the Christian neighbors. But there were also times when the surrounding world bristled with enemies and evil decrees were also lavished on the Jews in Czyzewo that provided their economic existence. Still the Jews in Czyzewo always had a community life in all its wonderful complexity and living traditions, acts of justice and pursuit of quality.
The Jewish Kehila in Czyzewo was different from others in that the Jews did not feel that they had an imposed government. The members and head of the Kehila (Jewish Community Council) were people from the masses, well liked and esteemed because of their generosity and dear care for the requirements of the needy in the community. So much so that the Kehila remained in our memory, either from our own experience or from experiences told to us by our grandfathers.
Jews in Czyzewo did not wonder or know about individualism. Every Jew was a part of the entire Jewish community in the shtetl. We were raised in the spirit of togetherness, belonging to the people of Israel. We absorbed this feeling with the milk from our mothers' breasts; togetherness was always the way of life for us, in our thoughts and our deeds. For us the concept of community was alive and warm. Accursed are those who disrupted and destroyed it.
I will try to tell about the things that have always remained in my memory, the things I heard about the Jewish Kehila in our shtetl. I will relate not only what I remember of their activities, but also what I heard as a boy at home, at the rebbe's in the heder, from the gabai in the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society), in the besmidresh (study house, synagogue) and in the Hasidic shtibl. From wherever Jews gathered and talked about times past and the people of those times.
From these conversations I understood that many years ago when Czyzewo originally became a settlement and began to erect a synagogue, a mikvah, (ritual bath) and a cemetery that it was necessary for someone to appear as an owner of these institutions. Whoever represented these motionless materials had to be worthy in relation to the government. The people at the office where the sale of the places for the synagogue, or the cemetery were registered demanded a name. The only one with a name was the rich man in the shtetl, not an ordinary Jew, a very learned man.
As a result, some years later a conflict occurred. As it happened, the rich man later became poor and the heirs, who searched presumptuously for the father's estate, hit upon this community estate that had been written in his name and did not want to give up believing that it belonged to them.
Such cases happened. They created a lot of bad blood and were the subject of discussions and gossip for many years.
People also told about various other affairs, such as the cost of supporting the rabbi and other religious institutions. In the beginning these costs were borne by the rich Jews
and the heads of the kehila. Later the roite faczajle. The religious institutions were supported by the monopolies that they had for staples, such as salt, yeast, with help from threats of prohibitions and excommunication.
Some sources of funding were the Jewish slaughtering and the cemetery. The money that was collected was used to support community institutions and people. In this way the administrative body, called the kehilla, raised money in Czyzewo.
Until 1924, the kehilla dozors (members of the Jewish community council) were elected in a very primitive manner, exactly as the election for the town council. On a market day, the representative for the community appeared in the street, beating the traditional drum and announced the day when the election would take place for the town council. On that day people from the community came and put up a table, at which sat the bailiff with the secretary, the governor and a representative of the police. They called out the names of the candidates who had been selected to run so that people could vote for the new bailiff and members of the town council. Those gathered raised their hands for one or the other. But the record was written with whatever the government wanted. This was how the voting procedure was carried out.
This primitive method was also used for the kehila elections. The meeting took place in the besmedresh. The Gerer and Aleksander Hasidim put forth the names of candidates from their shtiblach. Later, there was also a representative from the Sholemburger shtibl. Amid the racket and commotion from the various factions, the members of the Kehila were elected. The names of members that I remember are
Chaim Jidel Wasercug and Israel Icchok Gorzalczany. Later were Berisz Frydman who was head of the kehila, Herszl Malinowicz, Josef Boruch Lepak and Israel Jona Ratczkowski. Two of them were Ger Hasidim, 1 Aleksander and 1 Sholemberger.
The kehila did not have a special meeting place, also they did not have a secretary. The meetings took place at the rabbi's house. Their decisions were given verbally. Only extraordinarily important issues, or laws were written in the large pinkus (record book of the Jewish community) kept by the burial society which was kept in a special place at Boruch melamed's (Herszman), the trustee of the Burial Society.
What Were The Problems That Occupied The Czyzewo Kehila?
One of the most important problems was the price of shehita (ritual slaughter), which in the last years was the only source of income for the Jewish kehila in Czyzewo. The work of the kehila was to fairly divide the income between the rabbi and the slaughterers.
Many times they also had to take over the ritual bath from those who were in charge of it. There was trouble from the Department of Health. They had not adhered to the laws of cleanliness. It happened many times that the head of the Kehila had to sit in jail for a day or two on the charge of uncleaniness and other sins.
The Czyzewo mikvah (ritual bath) was a low one. When one wanted to immerse oneself, one had to go down about forty steps. The Department of Health was of the opinion that this was not hygienic and demanded that the mikvah be raised. The rabbi was against this and was obstinate about it.
The Czyzewo rabbi, Szmul Dawid Zawladower was not a Ger Hasid and as a matter of course not a keen fanatic, but in the case of the sunken mikvah he maintained a staunch position and stood like steel against raising the ritual bath.
The rabbi had the backing of the Ger members along with the Kehila leader. They were not frightened of the Department of Health that had every time it came to the shtetl searched the mikvah and wrote a protocol about the sunken ritual bath. As a result, a kehila meeting would immediately be called to find ways to fight the enemies who were interfering in Jewish religious affairs
There was important business for the kehila to attend to. They had to establish
an eyrev. . This was to let the Jews of the shtetl know where it was possible to carry something on Shabes. Our rabbi was strict about keeping Shabes and did not approve of half measures in regard to the Eyrev. It was necessary to surround the entire shtetl with a wire, set up on high poles such as the telegraph lines. Inevitably the hooligans would climb the poles and tear the wires. Most of the time they did this on Shabes morning so nobody would be able to fix them. Many times I remember my father standing still in the middle of the street and gaving me his tallis (prayer shawl) to carry. Somebody had suddenly informed his that the eyrev was torn and one could not carry anything.
In later years, the dozors realized that they should modernize the eyrev, to use a combination that would be allowed according to the law, and not dependent on the whims of the hooligans.
This did not eliminate the influence of the youth on the activities of the Kehila, it was not the end of their problems or the end of the eyrev being torn. Instead of solutions the gray destruction arrived that so cruelly interrupted the generations of life for the Czyzewer Jews.
Since the feud at the end of the 19th century about a Hasidic and Mitnagid ritual slaughterer, which ended in a victory for the Ger Hasidim, there were not any large fights in the shtetl. The ritual slaughters were Ger Hasidim and even when they were old and their hands shook, nobody bothered them and everything was quiet in the shtetl.
Elections In The Modern Manner
By the end of the 1920's when new election laws were introduced in Poland for small towns, in Czyzewo the elections were held using modern methods, with a list of election rights and a list of candidates, for the town council and the Jewish kehila.
The truth is that in practice the election did not have any relevance for the Jews in the shtetl because the Endekes (Polish anti-Semitic National Democratic Party) hooligans stood at the ballot boxes with sticks and did not allow the Jews to vote. This was the reason, that in Czyzewo where the Jews made up 90 percent of the population, and 50 percent of the entire Dmochy Glinki district, that there was not one Jewish representative on the town council and or on the expanded council.
Due to the same Anti-Jewish motives the effort to end the status of Czyzewo as a settlement in order to have the rights of a town with a mayor
did not have a positive result. Czyzewo, until the end, remained with the rights of a settlement (colony).
The new election law created a fuss for change in the form of the kehila and the compositon of the representatives.
The new law provided Czyzewo with a Jewish community council of eight dozors. With the support of thirty signatures, a list of candidates was put forth. The goal of the elders was to close the door of the kehila to the progressive youth and maintain control. They had close relations with the Sanacja (Polish ruling party) and they collaborated with the government in establishing voting rights. However, they were not entirely successful in barring the road for the young people from having an influence on the activities of the kehila. In 1928, for the first time in Czyzewo, the Zionist parties participated in the kehila elections. My unforgettable comrade and friend Jechiel Aszer Prawda was elected as a dozor.
Jechiel Aszer Prawda was an interesting person, a fighter for Zionist ideals, a generous and active mizrachist and a strong supporter of the Zionist funds. He worked on behalf of Keren Kayemet and Keren HaYesod (now Jewish National Fund) in our town. He was also religious, prayed in the Aleksander shtibl where he had, by the way, a lot of problems due to his Zionism. He was persecuted and they threatened to throw him out of the shtibl, but he did not give up. He did not stop his work and for him Israel came first.
Not even private business could keep him from his Zionist activities. Business, family everything was immediately put aside when he was needed to help with elections to a congress, or a celebration for the opening of the University in Jerusalem. He did this openly and boldly, not like other young Hasidim who kept their Zionist sympathies deep in their hearts, but did not express their sentiments openly, so as not to come in conflict with their Hasidic environment.
The elected members of the kehila were:
- Zebulon Grosbard Ger Hasid
- Israel Jona Raczkowski Ger Hasid
- Lejbusz Frydman Ger Hasid
- Alter Wolmer Aleksander (kehila head)
- Zindel Lew Aleksander
- Josel Boruch Lepak Szolemburger
- Jehiel Aszer Prawda Zionist
- Majer Monkarz Besmidresh
Officially there was only one Zionist on the kehila, but unofficially 2, because Lepak who was a Szolemburger candidate was also a member of Mizrahi  .
The Kehila Activities Are Modernized
Jehiel Aszer Prawda's being elected to the kehila had great relevance in modernizing the activities of the kehila.
The changes were noticeable. They had a secretary who introduced order. The first thing was the kehila taxes and then they organized the ritual slaughters' fees. No slaughterer could be paid in cash only with a note from the kehila.
The rabbi also had to accept changes. The character of the roite faczajle disappeared. The newly organized kehila set a salary for the rabbi that suited the dignity of a spiritual leader. At the shtetl mikvah, a special section was created for bathtubs. It was no longer necessary for people to descend 40 steps to immerse themselves in the public mikvah. For a set fee one was able to order a hot bath from the attendant. Some of the Christian population made use of the bathtubs as well. When taking into consideration the sanitary conditions in our shtetl, one can understand the great significance of these bathtubs.
The kehila also turned their attention to the cemeteries. The old and new cemeteries were enclosed with red brick fences.
The most important event was obtaining a place to build a Zionist People's
House where all modern community life in the shtetl was concentrated.
Obtaining the place for this purpose did not come about easily. Day and night the young Zionist bosses, who were among the top taxpayers and also had influence in various other community activities, did not cease demanding their due. In the end, after a lot of trouble and effort, they were able to get the place to build the house. The modern grade school for boys and girls, with young Hebrew teachers was also located in this house and the Zionist organizations held their meetings there.
In 1935 there was another election for the Kehila. The youth of Czyzewo had grown up and now there were many more Zionists with voting rights. Despite their strength being divided among many factions, through the general influence of the Zionist movement, they were much stronger than in the past. For the first time the monopoly on the office of Kehila head was wrested from the Hasidim. The results of the election even surprised the Zionists.
The members elected to the kehila council were as follows:
For four years the new kehila council led activities with its particular
merits and faults. The Jewish population had a clearer understanding of Zionist idealism. The Zionist dozors helped spread Zionist consciousness to the Jewish population through their activities. Zionist speakers, who came from Warszawa, appeared in the bes medresh. The idea of Zion had become deeply rooted in all classes of the Jewish population in Czyzewo. Young and old were devoted to the idea with their hearts and souls until the great destruction arrived and wiped out everyone and everything.
Dedicated to the memory
of my Uncle Jehiel'ke,
a wise man in Czyzewo,
from whom I inherited his
position in the management
of the bank.
Translated from Yiddish by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
In 1925/26 after the inflation, when economic life in Poland had become more stable, commercial enterprises needed credit and confidence. Long-term loans were an important part of business. There were not any banks in Czyzewo. The large banks were not interested in opening branches in such a small provincial village.
In Ostrów Mazowiecka there was a Bank Ludowy (Populist Bank) and a branch was opened in Czyzewo, but the anti-Semitic wind that blew from this institution and a difficult bureaucracy and in addition the next to incapable Mr. Beker made it impossible to do business with the Bank Ludowy. Therefore a group of Jewish merchants came together: Jeshaja Gorzalczany, Fiszel Lubelczyk, Lejbisz Frydman, Eli Rubin Malcman, Zebulon Grosbard, Dan Knorpel, Jehiel'ke Gorszalczany, Alter Wolmer, Lepak, Czczupakiewicz and others and they decided to create a Jewish cooperative People's Fund in Czyzewo.
It is proper to note that in Czyzewo, that the
Societal institutions were not yet controlled by any party, but rather, primarily, by the Hassidic shtibels.
The first committee was made up of: J. Gorzalczany, Israel Jona Ratczkowski and Knorpel (an Aleksander, a Ger and a Zionist).
The bank's board had six people: Grosbard, Frydman, Malcman, Gorde, Wolmer, Szauel Hersz Blajwajs (three Ger and three Aleksander Hasidim). The staff was made up of three people: Hebel secretary, Serko cashier and a messenger Chaim Szapiro.
The committee, board and personnel were all either Ger or Aleksander Hasidim. The youth and the Zionists were contemptuously ignored not one representative.
And so this went on for many years.
The main activity of the bank was to make loans up to three hundred zlotys. These were to be paid back over the period of one year with an interest rate permitted by law. For larger merchants the bank made loans up to 1,200 zlotys and also dealt with currency exchange. The large wholesalers benefited from the banks with loans based on their inventory.
All those who were active in the bank were shareholders and every member had to invest
up to 10% of his credit. They invested the money long term at the central.
The main clients were the small stores and artisans who were desperately in need of help.
At the beginning of the 1930's, Knorpel liquidated his wholesale liquor business, left Czyzewo and returned to his hometown of Ostrowa. There were also changes on the committee. Jeszaja left his position and it was taken over by Jehiel'ke Gorzalczany. Knorpel's position was taken by a Gerer, Lejbisz Frydman.
There was an economic crisis and our shtetl was not exempt.
Storekeepers and artisans had trouble meeting their payments. Some of the largest merchants had a down turn in their businesses and could not honor their obligations. There was also a psychological crisis. The bank had lost its good repuation. It was no longer a bank. It had become a homey informal club.
The anxiety level had dropped. Who should I be afraid of? What, the committee will harm me? They should only try and people would stop reading in the shtibl on Shabes!!
Afterwards Jechiel'ke Gorzalczany was the head of the committee and when he took over there was a majority with two Gerer and so theytook over the affairs of the bank.
People were afraid of Knorpel and Jechiel Gorzalczany. The threat of shutting down the reading in shtibl on Shabes did not have any effect on them, especially since Jechiel'ke prayed in the
Aleksander shtibl. But just as the committee was free of the impartial members, the affairs of the bank went down hill.
Really, Israel Jona Raczkowski was a strong man, but he was not able to take the pressure. Then there arrived an even more important negative factor, the bookkeeper was a specialist at his trade, a clever writer. His handwriting was exact and he was a smart man, but very slow. As is usual when an institution stops growing, it loses momentum and the work increases. There are extra letters, extra messages to debtors and in the end the secretary could not handle the work and a mountain with old, unbearable matters. To the incomplete balances of several years, neglected in the bookkeeping was also added the malevolent unpaid balances. The central, through its controls, was alerted and in the end concluded it had to shut down the line of credit.
About getting help for the bookkeeper, there was no question about it. There was not a Ger Hasid who was an accountant. The only Ger Hasid they could find had already left Czyzewo and was in Israel busy establishing cooperative banks for Poali-Agudas-Israel.
Among the Zionists there were accountants. They even offered to help without pay, but they were suspected of wanting
to get a foot in the door of the bank, learning the inner workings and then would rebel against the leaders.
To everybody it was clear that fresh, young strength was needed in order to save the bank. But the Hasidic committee was waiting for a miracle that in the end did not happen. It became more and more difficult. So, at the end of 1936 bank activity had reached the point of stagnation. It was virtually closed. First Israel Jona began negotiations with the Zionists.
A meeting was called to elect a new committee and a board. Two representatives for the young people together with Pinie Zysman were elected.
The new committee had to present itself before the central in Warszawa and this would affect the necessary line of credit. Confidence in the town grew,
the economy picked up and money began to flow in. Debtors began to pay. There was a complete turn around.
At the annual meeting in 1938 a workable report was presented. The accountant had put things right. The bookkeeper was put on probation either he carried out the work or somebody from the committee would do it. There were two people who had the capabilities
A young committee member gave the report. The Zionists' appetite had grown with eating. Having two representatives they wanted more. And if in 1938 they did not manage to do better, then it was sure to happen in 1939. But the bloody bandits of the Nazi beast had settled all the accounts, all the conflicts between the old and new world were liquidated.
A candle to the memory
of my friend Jehusza Lepak,
a faithful public worker.
(Charitable Loan Funds)
Translated from Yiddish by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
There are three things people need
Torah, Avoyde (work) and gmiles khsodim.
Torah, there was in large measure, in various places one heard Torah teaching. At all hours of the morning and in the afternoons and at all times of the year, a page of gemara (commentaries on the Mishnah in aramaic) was heard from the bes medresh between minha-maariv (afternnon and evening prayers) using a well known gemara melody from the lowest to the highest octaves. Or the different quiet, calm teaching in the small bes medresh of the Khevre Mishnayes (Mishnah Society) in the small hours of the morning, or the sweet, ringing, childish voices from the dear heder boys.
Avoyde, Czyzewo was a worker's shtetl. Almost the entire shtetl was involved in manual labor. Everyone worked very hard - not only the artisans, but the storekeepers and peddlers also.
The women and children were also harnessed to work. Also the second meaning of avoyde serving the Lord in this Czyzewo was not lacking.
Gmiles Khsodim, This Jews dealt with amongst themselves. But an organized institution was missing that would give interest free loans, not only to rich merchants, but essentially to those who were financially weak, the needy.
A group of young Zionists activists got together and decide to create a gmiles-khesed fund. Among the founders were Jehusza Lepak, Dan Knorpel, Nach Edelsztajn, Pinie Sysman, Jechiel Aszer Prawda, Abraham'l Grynberg, Jechiel Aron Serko, Jakow Jablonka, Josel Litmans hyd, Motl Szczupakiewicz, Mosze Blajwajs, Israel Wengorz, the writer of this article Dow Gorzalczany and Aron Eibyszyc.
Everybody at the meeting contributed 100 Zlotys and that was the founders' capital. Well-to-do friends loaned large sums on a short-term basis
and so it began. Hundreds of loans were given without interest to those in the shtetl the most in need. The maximum loan was 100 zlotys but from time to time exceptions were made and larger loans were given.
The Joint(Joint Distribution Committee) in Warszawa gave a subsidy to the fund 1 1. The administrative work, such as giving out the money, collecting money, accountancy, etc. was done on a voluntary basis by the committee members: Lepak, Jablonka, Grinberg, Edilsztejn hyd, Blajwajs, Szczupakiewicz, Wengroz and Gorszalczany. Also there were no expenses for rent.
At first the fund was run from Mosze'ke Gorzalczany's store. Later, in the small bes midresh of the so-called Sholembergs and at the end, after it was built, they had they own space in the Bet-Am (People's House).
The fund was busy giving loans, receiving payments. Every Sunday the committee members were on duty by turns. After several months the Zionist Gmiles Khesed fund reigned supreme in the shtetl as the only one in this field. The Agudat Israel (Orthodox anti-Zionist party) dominated the Czyzewo businesses and did not think that the Zionist G.Kh. Fund would be a success by giving out loans. The only criteria were the borrower's need and a lot of Gerer Hasidim were among the borrowers at the fund. Perhaps therefore, what this was, was a popular necessary public
town institution the Gerer opened a second Gmiles-Khesed- Fund that also rendered a lively activity. They also worked on Sunday evening and their office was at Szlama Zywieca's.
The generous volunteers in the Agudas fund were Szlama Zywieca, Akiwa Stuczynski, Jakow Pinchus Fydeto, etc.
Looking at it objectively, both funds sincerely helped the shtetl. But the Joint suspended its support. The Joint was not able to understand why such a small shtetl had to have two gmiles-khosodim funds.
There were several attempts to unite both funds. Delegates from Central Joint negotiated an entire evening and were unable to reach an agreement. At that time, in the large cities, the differences between both camps were enormous and it was the same in the Polish provincial towns.
Neither was able to give up any prestige, each camp wanted to clearly emphasize the positive usefulness of their activities but, in fact, it did not matter, as this did not bother the loan-starved people. In fact, instead of one Gmiles Khesed Fund there were two and they could now get loans from both.
I want to take this opportunity to mention the gratitude that everybody felt for the murdered volunteers of both funds for their tireless volunteer work that was truthfully a blessing for the shtetl.
The survivors should, for a long time to come, be worthy of and devoted to charitable work.
(Overnight Righteous and Visiting the Sick)
by Dow Brukasz / Tel-Aviv
Translated from Yiddish by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
In one of the first years of the 20th century, cholera broke out in Czyzewo. The epidemic hit small and large alike and people were falling like flies. In the botei midrashim (study houses synagogues) people were saying Psalms all day and all the while people were barging in and running to the holy ark with lamentable sobs, but the cholera that started with one had spread.
Everybody went around gloomy. In the market place small groups of people stood and talked only about it. People spoke about past cholera outbreaks and what they had done in the past. A grave had to measure and a hupa (marriage canopy) put up in the cemetery and a poor young woman and a poor young man had to be married there. Everyone in the shtetl attended the wedding, which took place Friday afternoon. With white chalk they drew a line around the houses, under the widows. The only Christian doctor and the old-time barber-surgeon prescribed remedies.
This time in Czyzewo they created a Linat HaZedek society. Mendel Tsitses (the four tassels on the Orthodox undergarment) maker (Kanet) was in charge and there were several healthy and robust young people to help him. They were devoted to the work and stood ready to help day and night. As soon as
somebody became ill, they were sent for. They gave the patient and massage over their entire body, until the entire body had a red glow. It was said that this helped and that hundreds of people had been saved from dying.
When the epidemic subsided, the mission of Linat HaZedek ended and there was only the Bikur Holim society left whose assignment was to lend cupping glasses, rubber tubes, a hot water bottle and other necessities to the sick.
One person managed the inventory. Money to buy new products came from donations that were collected every week. This was done by specially chosen heder boys who, with a notebook in hand, went around with the gabai (trustee) from the society, who would write the name of the donor and the amount of the donation.
I remember when I was chosen to go around collection donations. The gabai from the Bikur Holim Society was Jehusza Nisen Tsitsis maker (Kupiec). He was also for many year the officiating cantor at the additional service during the Days of Awe in the
bes midresh. After him was Lejzor Josel's, or Lejzor Monczar.
Jehusza Nisen, along with most of his family, went to Israel in 1935 where he died 20 years later in Petach-Tikvah. But Lejzor stayed and was murdered in the ghetto.
Hakhnasses Orhim (Hospitality)
Until the First World War there existed in Czyzewo a Hakhnasset Orhim. For many years Aron Shames (sexton) took care of the Hakhnasses Orhim. Several years before the war Herszl Czarne's took over.
The Hakhnasses Orhim has a building with three rooms in the corner of the town. One of the rooms was always busy with a respected overnight guest. In the other two rooms were a couple of beds and straw mattresses. Poor men, strangers who had come to Czyzewo, were able to stay overnight there without asking permission from anybody.
During the First World War the building was burned down together with almost all of the houses in the shtetl. Only the houses on Szmidiszer Street were not burned.
Later when the shtetl was re-built, they erected the botei midrashim and the Hasidic shtiblach but they forgot about the Hakhnasses Orhim. The poor who came had to stay overnight in the botei midrashim or the Hasidic shtiblach. Also the women's section in the bes midresh was used for the poor who had to stay overnight.
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