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The First Flash of the Yiddish Theater in Czyzewo

by Dov Brukarz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

What is meant by the concept of Yiddish theater in Czyzewo? Competition from a professional collective, actors and directors? God forbid! The song that caressed the ears, sneaked into the heart, woke a sorrowful feeling and the song that echoed cheerfully, lively and happily with hundreds of voices in the room, carried from mouth to mouth. And the plays? Did they intend to create a new style of dramaturgy in Czyzewo? No one then thought of this. There were intimate figures, rooted in the depth of the soul of the people who always yearned for a simple, healthy entertainment and loved to ridicule the ridiculous person, Kuni Lemls and Binkes-Pinkes and together all drew their inspiration from the old Jewish Purim-shpiler [Purim actors], who during the dark days of the bleak persecutions and vexations, entertained the Jew in the ghetto.[1]

This was also the strength with which we conquered all difficulties in putting together our theater collective. This also was the secret of their success. The fullest harmony always reigned between the Czyzewo audience and the amateur theater collective.

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A theatrical performance was carried out for the first time at the beginning of 1916, under the German occupation.

A young man, Goldsztajn, a photographer from Ostrow (the only photographer in the shtetl) was staying in Czyzewo. He began to organize a dramatic section.

A commission of 10 people was chosen at one of the library meetings:

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Goldsztajn, Ungresbard, Plocker, Badaczker, Szerszyn, Mordechai Brukarz, Moshel Lubelczyk, Shalom Czelianogora. All of these are no longer among the living and, yibodl lekhaim,[2] Berl Brukarz and Avraham-Josef Ritholc, who became the director.
Avraham-Josef Ritholc undertook to put together an ensemble and lead the first performances: Der Restauran [The Restaurant],

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Der Shadkhan [The Matchmaker], Beym Fotografist [At the Photographer]. However, the question arose of a suitable hall. It was decided to make use of the train station for this purpose. No trains functioned then for civilians, only for the military. The large hall was not in use yet.

It was discussed with the head of the train station who agreed without difficulty to make the building available for this purpose. He also placed boards for us for a stage. The first performance took place during Chanukah.

Before the start of the performance, a children's choir sang the German song, Heil dir im Siegerkranz [Hail to Thee in Victor's Crown]. After the three one-act plays, a dance and a gossip game, flying post [a relay race in which a letter is passed from person to person for delivery] took place.

Avraham Josef Ritholc directed all of the work. He adapted the music, put together an orchestra in which Simkha Litman's son, who is now in America, Moshel Litman's son, shot by the Poles, Itshe Lubelczyk, died in Syria, played fiddles. He himself adapted the melodies, created, directed and led the dances. In addition, he played a role in each one-act play.

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From the right: Moshel Lubelczyk, Shmulke Wengorz, Shalom Grynberg

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The initial members of the dramatic circle were: Hershel Baraczker, died in America, Moshel Lubelczyk, died in America, Shalom Grynberg, went missing after his arrest by the Russians, Shmulke Wengorz and Moshel Zysman, victims of German violence, Berl Brukarz and Dwashke Kanet, today Dvora Brukarz – both are in Israel, Starkowski Fishl, Chaya-Rivka Gromadzyn-Kirszenbojm, Nekha Glina-Zysman, all are in America today, in the orchestra.

The success of this evening was very great and we immediately began to prepare the performance, Der Wilde Mentsch [The Wild Man], for Purim. All of the income was designated for the Maos Khitim [society providing matzoh and other foods to the poor for Passover]. We baked matzohs in the bakeries of Dovid the malamed [religious school teacher] and Sura Ete's son Yisroelke for an entire week and sent them to poor families. We did the same with potatoes, wood and coal. Almost all of the young people in the shtetl helped with this work.

In time the drama circle was enlarged. Those who joined were: Belitshe Bolender, Sheva Surowitz, Esther Boran (perished in Poland), yibodl lekhaim, Hendl Glina-Ginsberg (today in Israel), Itsl Kirszenbojm (today in America) and others. During its existence the dramatic circle performed the following plays: Der Yidishe Harts [The Jewish Heart], Hertsele Meyukhes [Hertsele, the Man of Aristocratic Descent, an operetta by Mojzesz Richter] and Sura Sheyndl fun Yehupets [Sura Sheyndl from Yehupets]. The income was donated to the Folks [People's] Library, which was enriched with hundreds of books.

This lively activity continued until 1918 when the Poles took over the government. The Hallercziks [followers of the anti-Semitic Polish General Josef Haller] arrived and the persecutions of the Jews began. Beards were cut,

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beatings, torture. Czyzewer young people came together in the Polish military. The war with the Bolsheviks began. In these conditions there could no longer be any talk about communal work.

In 1922, this was several months after I was freed from military service, my wife's entire family and I, which then numbered nine people, left for Yisrael.

The Rubinowitz family, or as they were known, Meitshke Binyamin Sender's [family], also left with us for Eretz-Yisrael. These were the first pioneer families in Czyzewo.


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. A Kuni Leml is a fool. The name is derived from the name of a character in a play, Shnei Kuni Leml Two Kuni Lemls – by Avraham Goldfaden. return
  2. May they be separated for life – said before or after mentioning a living person among those who are dead. return

Days and Nights on the Magic Stage

by Simkha Gromadzyn/New York

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

I do not intend to cover everything that was done in the area of Yiddish theater in Czyzewo. I left for America at the end of 1925. Others will probably write about the later years.

The pioneer, Avraham Yosef Ritholc, the father of Yiddish theater in Czyzewo, and Berl Brukarz should tell about the rise of the Yiddish theater. He [Berl Brukarz] is perhaps the only one living today of those who took part in opening the Yiddish stage in Czyzewo in 1916. First near the train station, later in the storeroom of the firemen, which remained the Yiddish theater building until the end.

I will provide only some characteristics of the time when the theater was led by me.


Traveling Troupes

In the course of time, various traveling troupes came to the shtetl [town]. There were those that would integrate the local

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forces into their performances; others performed alone, with their own strengths.

Two traveling troupes particularly remain in my memory. Meir Winder led one of them. Maks Pokoj [Pozkowski] led the other one. They produced operettas and dramas. The audience, particularly the young, went en masse to their performances.

I remember an episode:

Meir Winder's wife, who also performed in his troupe, was then already in the later months [of her pregnancy]. Returning home to the inn of Yitzchak Chaim, Yudel's son, after a performance in a cold, unheated room, she felt ill and they had to send for a midwife.
Very early in the morning, the entire shtetl knew that the actress Winder had given birth to a son at the inn of Yitzchak Chaim, Yudel's son, where a bris [ritual circumcision] took place on the eighth day.

Later, Winter was one of the most distinguished actors in the Warsaw Yiddish

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theater. He was warmly welcomed by the Yiddish press when he came to America in a guest role.

Several words about the leader of the other local troupe, Maks Pokoj.

No wife traveled with him, but a bride, also an actor; we called her Miss Perlman the Soubrette [a female character in plays and operas, who is flirtatious]. She really was talented, pretty and sang with a touchingly sincere voice. She often did not eat enough in the great frost, in the unheated room.

All of these actors loved our shtetl. The enthusiastic young people also showed a love and sincere respect.

In 1920-1921, right after the Bolshevik invasion after a short pause, an amateur theater group organized itself in which I was very active and to which I gave a great deal of time and effort.

Among the best plays performed were:

Jakob Gordin's Di Shkite [The Slaughter] and Khasie di Yesoyme [Khasie the Orphan], Leon Kobrin's Der Dorfs-Yung [The Village Youth] and Tsebrokhene Hertser [Broken Hearts] by Lateiner, which actually was our first play.
We rehearsed it [our first play] the entire winter. We performed it for the first time on Purim. It was an enormous success. Many people had to leave because of a lack of seats. The firemen's barn was fully packed.

The performances were a success not only among the “common people” but also among the intelligentsia. After the performance Doctor Gelbojm

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went onto the stage and shook my hand, expressing his satisfaction with my direction and with the good acting by those taking part.

The next Shabbos night we again presented the same performance, again with great success.

A short time later we produced Di Shkite. This time, it was directed by Meir Ribak. Immediately afterwards, we presented Dem Fotografist [The Photographer].

Meir and Yosef Moncarz and Yakov Jablonka, guests from America, came to one of the presentations. They sat, understandably, in the first row and applauded with great enthusiasm, saying aloud: “They are acting like true actors.”

The Dorfs-Yung and Khasie di Yesoyme were directed by Avraham Yosef Ritholc. Taking part were:

Rochel Zajonc, Perl Perlmuter, Brayna Glina, Sura Mankuta, Shayna Zysman, Khantshe Gromadzyn, Yenta Baran, Liba Szerszyn, Chaya-Sura Kirszenbojm, Chawtsha Gromadzyn, Shmulke Janowski, Yehoshua Lepak, Simcha Gromadzyn, Yosef Wiszniak, Yitzchak Hersh Gora, Itsl Kirszenbojm, Yosl Cymes, Yakob Ciranke, Isser Litmans, Simcha Prawda, Mordechai Brukarz. Our make-up artists were: Avraham Yosef Ritholc and Hershel Moncarz. Leibel Akselrod was both cashier and bookkeeper.
Moshel Blajwajs is worth a separate description. He was the engine of the amateur dramatic group. There were no difficulties he could not vanquish. [He was] a dynamic type with a great deal of initiative. It often happened that someone in the amateur dramatic group did not come

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Mordechai Brukarz

to a rehearsal. Moshel Blajwajs disregared any frost, any darkness, any mud and ran to the member to track him down and bring him to the rehearsal.

His creative spirit encouraged us in our work.

He carried around a great plan that our troupe should go to the provinces as guest performers in the shtetlekh: Andrzejewo, Zaromb [Zaręby Koscielne], Nur and a whole series of others. His dedication to the amateur dramatic group was limitless.

Prompting was among the most difficult and responsible work in the amateur dramatic group. Mordechai Brukarz, the prompter, had to labor with each actor separately, at the rehearsals and on the stage, from behind the cabinet. He would nimbly help

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in every confused situation when something ceased to work for a minute because of this or that fault.

Directing the first presentation, I gave the matter of [obtaining] props over to several members of the group and [listed] for them exactly how each act was to look. For the first act, which represented a hospital, it was necessary to have several small beds and clothing for a nurse. Another scene was to take place in a rich salon. There was no electric lighting yet in Czyzewo then. We had to create the impression of wealth through the presence of various objects. I myself had to wear an elegant tailcoat that I borrowed from Yudel the badkhen [wedding entertainer]. No one else in Czyzewo would have such clothing.

It occurred one evening that I walked into the theater with my pack of clothing, barely pushing through the thick rows of people who were waiting at the box office for tickets; armed policemen maintained order; firemen guarded against a fire. Shtarke yungen[1] made sure that no one entered without a ticket. Then I was in the room; I asked that the curtain be opened and I wanted to see how the scene in the rich salon had been prepared. I became dejected. The table and the chairs, the short, small curtain on the window, the small wall lamps – everything was drenched in poverty.

There were still three hours until the start. We would not start earlier than 11 o'clock at night and the performance lasted until four o'clock in the morning. With Yosef's help (his name was Yosef-Aba. Jokers called him Abtshe and added Abtshe the cat), I succeeded in saving the

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situation. He immediately ran to the Beis haMedresh [house of study or prayer] and brought the extra bright oil lamp from there. Others left to bring six “Viennese” chairs, vases of flowers, beautiful framed pictures on the walls. I ran home and took the drapes that my sister had washed and pressed in honor of Passover.

Just that day my sister looked into the theater and probably immediately recognized the drapes. I trembled; I expected that she would attack me, shout, curse.

I was so surprised when my sister came on the stage after the performance and with a smile helped me take down the drapes. Everyone in the room laughed.

– A young person's idea…
It seems that the success of the performance had an effect on them.

The rehearsals would take place in the theater office. There was no lack of curious people who came to watch. Understand that such curiosity greatly interfered and we had to carry out a ban on strangers being present during the rehearsals; one of the members stood at the door and did not let anyone in.

It once happened that at a rehearsal of the Shkite they came saying that three members were standing in front of the entrance asking to be allowed to come in. This was: Shaya's daughter Perl with her friend and one stranger, who had just arrived from Mlawa. All three were beautiful girls and I did not have the heart to refuse them. After the performance, I even accompanied them

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home. The girls were enthusiastic about our performance, particularly the stranger from Mlawa, who was named Leah Zilberstzajn, and now she is my wife.


The Road Becomes More Difficult

We prepared for Kobrin's Dorfs-Yung in a serious mood. We took to studying the roles with great seriousness. Everyone rewrote their role and tried to make it come out even better, more honest. The rehearsals proceeded with a great deal of fervor; there was help, a gesture was corrected, modulation of the voice. Little by little the atmosphere of a school began to be created, an intimate, but a serious one. Everyone came to learn that for which he had yearned.

Everyone in the group had their little bit of theater experience, but the types that we presented were true, folksy, authentic ones. We felt familiar with them. This helped us to give them form, the expression we wished.

The more rehearsals we had, the more complicated the matter of theater and the laws of acting became. Each day we understood even more the colossal difference between wanting to be an actor and the actual, real demands of the stage.

Therefore, we really worked, studied the text together, then the gestures, moving with our heads, with our eyes, with our eyebrows. Each performance was an experiment at which we learned. Everyone felt that something already had been achieved. But with each further performance

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the road became more difficult. Everyone placed greater demands on themselves.

Simkha Prawda played the role of Khatse the preacher, the muser zoger [moralist] in Dorfs-Yung. He wanted to embody his role and whenever he had a free minute he used it to learn the mimicry, the gesticulation and the particular melody of a preacher.

Once he entered our oil manufacturing shop on a Friday market day, did not look around at anyone and again walked to the large room and closed the door behind him.

No one rushed. There were many customers and, truly, we had an open door. An hour later, when it was a little quieter, my father heard some sort of voice from the large room, the voice of a preacher who was giving an admonishing and heart-rending sermon. He slowly opened the door and saw Simkha, rocking and speaking to an empty room, entirely removed from the outside world. He did not see and did not hear what was going on around him.

My father called loudly to my mother:

– Chaya-Rayzl, come here, you will see a theater…
Simkha did not hear and continued to play his role.


Translator's Footnote:
  1. Literally, “strong youth” – a phrase that refers to strong, young men who would defend the Jewish population of a city or shtetl from any threats from the non-Jewish population. The shtarke jungen usually included butchers, because they were already “armed” with the knives of their trade return

The Third and Last Period
of Yiddish Theater in Czyzewo

by Dov Gorzalczany

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

As has already been said, under the leadership of Avraham Yosef Ritholc at the beginning of 1916, a dramatic section was organized at the Yiddish Folks [People's] Library with the purpose of supporting the library with its earnings and a portion also would be used for social help.

Everything was paralyzed during the years of the Polish-Bolshevik War; there was no possibility to continue with any communal activity and until 1922, the majority of those most involved with the

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theater section and many leaders and activists at the library emigrated from Czyzewo. Among others were: Hershel Baraczker (died in America), Moshele Lubelczik (died in America), Alter Szerszyn (died in Israel), Yohanan Angres-Bard (perished in the ghetto) and, eybodi lekhaim,[1] Berl Brukarz (now in Israel), and Avraham Yosef Ritholc (in America).

After the emigration of the founder, conductor and director of the Jewish theater in Czyzewo, Avraham Yosef Ritholc, the leadership of the music ensemble and dramatic

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Yohanan Angres-Bard
(Perished in the Warsaw Ghetto)


circle was taken over by his student, Simkha Gromadzyn, who later also emigrated to America.

Simkha left no students after him who could take over the leadership and it must be said in truth that because of his departure from the shtetl [town], the amateurs and the entire dramatic circle actually was orphaned because, in addition to Simkha, Mordechai Brukarz, Leibel Akselrod, Chana Glina, Nekha Zysman (Glina), Sura Mankuta (Berkowicz), Itsl Kirszenbojm, Chaya-Rivka Gromadzyn (Kirszenbojm), Shayna Baran, Shayna Zysman and Shifra Ritholc also emigrated.

The chaos became even greater when a political split began among the Czyzewo young people and in 1926, the library split – right and left. It was as, if in a way, both sides had nothing.

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The main pillar that supported the library, where all of the modern young people in the shtetl were concentrated, was the income from the dramatic section and if it mainly ceased to exist, it was evident that everything fell, everything ended.

In 1927 the Zionist young people again organized the Folks-Library, as well as the dramatic circle that produced various Yiddish plays with their own strength and often with the help of foreign traveling troupes or directors.

The following people participated in the drama circle:

Avraham Cukrowicz, (now in Israel, Cur), Gedalia Surowicz (in Israel), Peshke Fenster (in America), Chuka Akselrod (in Honduras), Pesha Lepak (Markowski, in Israel), Chaya Sura Kirszenbojm (in Israel), Sheva Lubelczik (Gorzalczany, in Israel), Yehuda Mankuta (Brazil), Dovid Riba (in America), Shayna Riba.


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Alter Szerszyn
(Died in Israel)

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Yechiel Ahron Serka, Dovid Moncarz perished, may God avenge their blood. The plays that they presented were:

Karbin's Der Dorfs-Yung [The Village Youth], Der Rumenisher Khasane [The Romanian Wedding], Mit Fremde Hilf [With Foreign Help], Der Karger [The MIsser] by Moliere, Vi Zenen Meine Kinder? [Where Are My Children?] Dos Groyse Gevins [The Lottery] by Shalom Aleichem, Kaptsnzon et Hungerman [Pauper's Son and Hungry Man by Avraham Goldfaden, also known as Di Kaprizne Kale-Moyd The Capricious Bride] and so on.

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From time to time, the older amateurs, Shmuelka Wengorz, Shalom Grynberg took part in the presentations; both are no longer here.

In the course of time, new strength replaced those participants who emigrated.

On the 1st of September 1939 everything came to an end…

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Our Drama Circle

From right to left, standing: Dovid Moncarz, Leibeleides, Sheva Lubelczik, Dov Gorzalczany, Sura Kirszenbojm, Gedalia Surowicz, Pesha Lepak, Yakov Gromadzyn. Sitting: Moncarz, Ceranka, Gora, Cukrowicz, Chana Gorzalczany The director Chana Akselrad and Mirka Riba
In the second row, sitting: Binyamin Plocker, Rivka Gromadzyn, Berl Cukrowicz and Shayna Riba


Translator's Footnote:
  1. Eybodi lekhaim is a traditional phrase meaning “may they be separated for life” – it is used to separate the names of the dead and the living when they appear in the same sentence. return

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The Library – The Center of Cultural Life

by Dov Gorzalczany

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The beginning. The reader will find the history of the founding of the library in Czyzewo in the memoir written by Dov Brukarz. Looking back, my memories reach only to the year 1925.

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After wandering through various premises, the Jewish library finally came to rest in the house of the Szczupakiewicz brothers. This house was located on the train road almost outside of the city. There, on Friday

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nights, the kerosene lamp could be extinguished without fear and there also could be help from a Shabbos-goy [a non-Jew who performs the tasks forbidden to Jews on the Sabbath].

In this premises, I began to take my first steps into the modern world.

The library in Czyzewo, just as in many shtetlekh [towns] in the larger Polish provinces, served not only as an institution to receive a book and to exchange a book that had been read; it also served as a reading room, as a meeting place for the young, a place for readings, conversations, theater rehearsals, a communal club. This was a substitute in miniature for all kinds of communal, modern places and institutions.

The library room was open all seven evenings of the week from the early evening hours until 11-12 at night. Books could be exchanged three times a week. The other evenings were spent reading newspapers and other periodicals, playing chess and checkers.

The Friday nights and Shabbos nights were for various so-called cultural undertakings, such as readings, evening courses, judgments of books, and so on.

The library was supported by the weekly member dues, by the income from readings and by theater presentations that the dramatic circle gave several times a year.

All work, both office and administrative, was done voluntarily by the managing committee members, so that the expenses consisted of rent, lights, heat and small office expenses.

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Newly published books were always purchased with the money remaining after covering all of the expenses. In 1925, the treasure of books numbered 800 copies.

The number of members and readers did not exceed 120.

In addition to all of the concerns and tasks was the problem of “authorization” [because] a public institution at that time in Poland needed to have the permission of the regime. Many difficulties and great expenditures were connected with obtaining this for an independent local institution, so the organization had the idea of creating a division of the Zionist organization.

Such an institution, which was a political organization, could carry on unlimited cultural activities. The library actually was called the Library at the Zionist Organization in Czyzewo.

There being no other choice, all of those who were leftists and opponents of Zion agreed to this legal status. Some were members with active or passive voting rights and the majority consisted of readers. The difference between a reader and a member was only that one [a member] could vote and be elected to the managing committee and the other [a reader] could not. No one ever had their right abridged to read and exchange as many books as they wished abridged.

In 1925 the central office of the Zionist organization in Warsaw increased its activity and sent emissaries to the provinces for an inspection.

That was a [Zionist] Congress year. They were interested in increasing the memberships in the Zionist movement.

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Therefore, such a delegate came to the shtetl and turned to the managing committee and asked for a meeting to be called where he would speak to the comrades about memberships in the Zionist organization.

An active comrade from the far left, Comrade Jabka, was then a member of the library managing committee. Naturally, he was against calling such a meeting in the library premises. They tried to persuade him. It was a timely issue; the delegate was leaving in the morning and memberships were increasing in any case. Whoever did not want to come to the meeting did not have to; it was a voluntary matter, nothing more. It would be an evening of “distain for Torah.”

However, nothing succeeded. They could not persuade him and the antagonism began.

The meeting took place. The delegate left and it appeared as if everything would return to normal, but the opponents, whose blind hatred to everything that smelled of Zionism was so stubborn, did not think so and they did not give up the further fight.

On a beautiful morning it was learned that the library had been robbed. All of the books were taken; only those that could not be carried were left. Even the tables and chairs were taken. No search was successful, police and not police; the library ceased to exist.

A transition period passed. The best and oldest comrades emigrated during the years 1924-26. Among them: Leibel Akselrod, chairman of the managing committee (today in America), Shmulke Janowski, secretary (today in Uruguay), Simkha Gromadzyn (today in

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America), Kirszenbojm and others. Mordechai Brukarz, of blessed memory, also emigrated. Only the young ones with little experience remained. Therefore, it took two years until a new library began to sprout.

A founders meeting for the organization of a new library was called on a Shabbos during the winter months of 1926.

The Messrs Meir Leibel Zysman (today in Mexico), Chava Akselrod (today in Honduras), Yitzchak Hersh Gora, Avraham Cur (Cukrowicz), Gedalya Surowicz, the writer of these line (all in Israel), Shayna Riba, may God avenge her blood, were the organizers.

About 50 young people took part in the managing committee. It was decided to found a library; the legal name of the institution was “A Division of the Tarbut[1] Central Committee in Warsaw.”

A self-taxation was carried out and a fundraising collection. We rented premises from Nechemia Perlsztain. In the mean time, the few books saved from the thief in 1925, brought by the readers, served as a foundation.

These were young people who came to us from the farthest left.

And the activities of reading and exchanging books, literary talks and events connected with them began again. Later, the library moved to a larger premises on the first floor of Alka the shusterke [either a female shoemaker or wife of a shoemaker].

Groups of opponents again were created. This time, from the far right, a group of

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Revisionists. The Betar [Revisionist Zionist youth movement] young people began to revolt. However, the managing committee strengthened itself and overcame the new revolt.

At that time, this was during the years 1930-33, the young, particularly in the national camp, became strong members of the proletariat. A new power, the League for Working Eretz-Yisrael, arose then.

The young leaders of this movement saw the library as a bit of competition. They made attempts at taking control of the library managing committee and thought perhaps of cooperation with the party.

A bit of friction took place that damaged the dramatic circle and as a result decreased the income for the library.

The splits also led to a decrease of the level of the theater repertoire and of the technical and artistic organization of the performances.

Almost every political movement created its own dramatic circle; each organized theater performances just for practical reasons (income). So the level [of the performances] fell, as has been mentioned, particularly after the emigration of a number of comrades.

However, despite all of the difficulties the library had, it existed and developed. Those who carried the responsibility for the existence of the institution, remember well the discord of the year 1925.

The number of Yiddish, Polish and a small number of Hebrew books slowly grew and in 1929 it reached 1,500 copies.

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Although the institution was purely Jewish, the doors also were open for the Christian population. During the last years before the [Second World] war, Christian readers began to come in. Almost the entire intelligentsia in the shtetl borrowed books from us and were official readers [paying] monthly dues.

The library bought a large radio apparatus (almost the only one in the shtetl) when electricity came to the shtetl (only at night) through the Messrs. Lepak and Szczupakiewicz. Every evening, when the electrical power began to function, the radio apparatus began to increase the interest of visitors.

In May 1939, during the well-known speech of reply by the Polish Foreign Minister, Pulkownik [Colonel Josef] Beck, may his name be cursed, the electricity gave a special power to this broadcast and the library premises was packed with people from every strata and class. Jews with beards, Hasidim, for whom this was the first visit to the premises, came to hear the speech on the radio.

The entire street was packed, like at the greatest event and we placed the radio apparatus near the window so those who could not come inside could also hear.

The library activists then received their satisfaction in official recognition from the shtetl that their work was important. The older generation realized that it was not worthwhile to carry on a conflict and go against the storm. But…

On the 6th of September 1939, the library house along with a third of the

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shtetl disappeared in the fire of the Hitlerist incendiary bombs and the most important institution, which had so helped the spiritual development of the young in Czyzewo and had so much promise for the future, had its existence ended forever.

At this opportunity, may we remember

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the names of the young people, just child community workers, who are no longer alive and who voluntarily gave so much energy and devotion to the library:

Shayna Riba, Dovid Moncarz, Kirszenbojm and Rotman.


Translator's Footnote:
  1. The Tarbut schools were secular Zionist Hebrew language schools that prepared their students for life in Palestine. return

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We Build a Beis Am[1]

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The Building Committee:

Moshe Blajwajz – Canada, Motl Szczupakiewicz – America, Yisrael Wengorz – Argentina, Dov Gorzalczany – Yisrael.

Yehoshua Lepak, Noakh Edelsztajn, Pinya Zysman, Yechiel Asher Prawda, the last one – all perished. May their blood be avenged!

* * *

It could not go further!

Komets alef o. Komets beys bo.[2] The teacher of the children, naturally only of the boys, was the jailer. (I do not know even now why my first teacher was called the jailer). Possibly, he once was a locksmith by trade and had no luck [as a locksmith] and became a teacher of the youngest students.

It also was impossible to accept as a fact that the “kheder” [religious primary school], where our future children would someday study Torah, would be a “kitchen” in which the boys absorbed the smells of the “meager cooked foods,” as well as the abuses shouting and very often, also, curses, with which the “rebbe”[3] would treat his “rebbitzin” (his wife[4]).

In addition to the unsanitary conditions and their bad technical comforts,

[Column 446]

children sat on high chairs with their feet hanging in the air for the entire day and still other things.

There was a group of young people, future fathers, who came together and decided to build a house for a modern kheder, a Kheder Metukan[5].

Finding an apartment was once the main problem for every modern institution. Various attempts already had been made to organize a modern kheder. Several fathers, such as the unforgettable Yechiel Asher Prawda, Shmuel Velvel Kandel and so on, brought a modern teacher, a certain Portnoy, to Czyzewo, who taught the children according to system of the Kheder Metukan.

However, a suitable place that would be appropriate for the conditions of a modern kheder was not even available sometimes. They again had to use private apartments. So the above–mentioned eight friends also took to this problem.

First of all, at the first deliberations the comrades taxed themselves with sums of 100 zlotes and less, each according to their ability. A collection action was carried out

[Column 447]

among the fathers of the future students and they began the work [of building the kheder].

The first question was: obtaining a spot on which to be able to build. There could be no talk about buying a plot. In addition, there were no financial opportunities. The only way out was to obtain a spot from the kehile[6] as was appropriate for a communal institution.

There were enough spots that belonged to the kehile. The difficulty was only how to obtain the permission from the kehile managing committee. Of the eight dozors [members of the synagogue council], two were with us. This was Reb Yosl Boruch Lepak and Yechiel Asher Prawda, but this was not enough.

This was in the era when Reb Alter Wolmer, an Aleksander Hasid, was at the head of the kehile. The other one who represented the Aleksander Hasidim was Reb Zindel Lew. That the Gerer dozors would have any influence was unthinkable. We, therefore, had to find the means to neutralize the Aleksander [Hasidim]. This meant that they would be “pareve” [neutral] during the vote about giving a plot to build a Zionist kheder.

A number of members of the building committee were really very young people, but they belonged to the so–called “rich men,” people who were prosperous in their businesses, activists in the merchants' union, city wholesalers and so on.

One of them was given the mission to go to Reb Zindel Lew and prevail upon him that if he did not agree with giving a plot, at least he would not

[Column 448]

be against it, would be neutral. It was clear to us that after Reb Zindel's agreement, the chairman, Reb Alter, would not be opposed. Reb Zindel stood higher in the Hasidic hierarchy of small prayer house chairmen.

Our comrade applied all arguments and, finally, the strongest argument was:

That, finally, nothing would help you, nothing, if we did not get the plot in a good way, we would obtain the plot in a bad way and we would see that there would be impediments for our Hasidic fathers.

The answer given then by Reb Zindel Lew is still not clear to us today. He gave an incomprehensible rumble into his gray–black beard, his thick black eyebrows covered his lowered eyes and in no way could we know if he had smiled then or had looked angrily over the entire matter.

After this conversation with Reb Zindel, the group decided to start to build!

Comrade Motl Szczupakiewicz received the task of taking care of the plan, the community–certificate for building.

He took care of everything without any difficulty.

The plot that we had chosen for this purpose was on Nuder Road near the small well, right near the Striga [River].

The earth was very swampy there and in order to dry it out, we needed a great deal of żwir [gravel] (rocky sand). This was arranged by Comrade Kepak. The Sudker nobleman permitted us to take as much material as we needed from the Sudker gravel pits

[Column 449]

free of charge.

A mobilization took place of “men and horses” and all of the committee members appeared armed with shovels in their hands on a bright morning right at sunrise and [worked] until close to noon and a giant gravel mountain grew on the swampy land.

The Kitaj brothers and Lepak provided their horses and wagons for us. The building began.

A wooden house with four rooms was built on this spot that could be transformed into two large rooms according to what was needed.

Later, not only the Kheder Metukan, led by Mr. Yitzchak Szliaski, Yankel Tencza

[Column 450]

and others, but the Zionist organization with all its small offices was also located there.

The meetings and gatherings of Keren–Kayemet[7], Keren–Hayesod [United Yisrael Appeal], Shkolim[8], elections to the [Zionist] congresses, as well as a Zionist minyon[9], where prayers took place every Shabbos[10] and holiday and during the Days of Awe, took place here.

Every Shabbos before the reading of the Torah, members spoke there about the subjects of the day. Members of Haoved HaZioni[11] were concentrated here; the comrades would explain matters to the “ordinary people” with regard to Eretz–Yisrael and which had a connection with municipal work.

All of this blossomed, bloomed – until the 1st of September 1939.

Everything was destroyed!!!




Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Community Center return
  2. Children were taught the Hebrew alphabet using vocalizations of the letters. A komets alef has an “o” sound; the komets beys has a “bo” sound. return
  3. Hasidic rabbi, here used as an honorary title given to a teacher. return
  4. Rabbi's wife, here used as an honorary title given to the wife of a teacher. return
  5. Modern religious school return
  6. Organized Jewish community return
  7. Jewish National Fund return
  8. Membership dues collections for the Zionist organizations return
  9. 10 men required for prayer return
  10. Sabbath return
  11. The Zionist Worker return

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