by Szlomo Shonmi
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
In the town of Dąbrowa Górnicza, where most of its residents were non-Jews, some fifty years lived a Jew there by the name of Szlomo Josef. There wasn't a person in the town who didn't know him. Szlomo Josef came to Dąbrowa in the last decade of the previous century [19th], as the groom for Sara-Lea who was the daughter of a resident of the town. He studied Torah and carried out the work of the Creator, and ate kest as was customary at the time. When the days of kest ended and when he had to provide a livelihood for his household, he stood up and traveled to the rabbi from Gur to ask his advice and hear what he should do. The rabbi said to him: The town wants you to be a schochet [ritual slaughterer! Josef replied to him: I will learn the slaughtering work and I will be a shochet, but what will happen to Szmul the shochet? My grandfather Mojsze-Szmul, my mother's father, who was present on the same occasion, relates that when the rabbi received this reply he smiled but did not add anything further.
Szlomo Josef returned from Gur to the town of Dąbrowa, and continued to sit and study and he didn't become a schochet. Through a lack of an alternative his wife, Sara-Lea, began dealing with a livelihood for the home, and opened a convenience store. However the store didn't exist for long, for several reasons: Most of the customers were non-Jews and Szlomo Josef didn't know the language of the country, and was also not interested in knowing it, and the whole issue of commerce didn't interest him. When a Jewish customer came to the store, and bought bread amongst other things, his first concern was that the buyer would not eat without washing his hands beforehand, and offered the customer to enter into a nearby room and provided him water and a towel. The store stood without a trader and very quickly without merchandise, since people stole everything that they could. Sara-Lea was occupied most of the day taking care of the babies that had arrived in the meantime, and she also had to go and fetch the merchandise. After a short while she was compelled to shut down the business.
From trade she moved on to teaching: She began as a teacher for girls, and Szlomo Josef taught boys, however he didn't want to receive a wage because he didn't want to exploit the Torah. After a number of years they obligated him to receive a wage, however matters relating to a livelihood never worked out. Through the awareness that each town and village in Poland there were various types of characters, it seems that Szlomo Josef was one of a kind, and not only in his town, and in all the surrounding area, its doubtful if there was anyone like him. He was an orthodox Jew and extremely pious. From praying alone he would use up his meager strength, his body behaving like the saying all my bones will have their say, and prayers for him were a whole ritual, day and night sitting next to the Torah and carrying out the Creator's work. He had no idea about finance, and was not interested in money. His customary daily routine was going to the Bet Midrash to pray, and when the prayers were over he returned home, he ate a little to revive the soul and sat down to study. Between one prayer and another, and between study and study, he would deal with visiting sick people and charity for the needy.
It is known that he was sickly all his life, and lacked a livelihood, however all this didn't prevent her from running about and taking care of others, if it was a sick person to be visited, or someone sitting unemployed and there was a shortage in his home, everything needed to be done in order to help him. And here he didn't differentiate between Chassidim of his own kind and tradesmen and simple people, and didn't favor one above the other, and he did all of this surreptitiously and humbly in order not to offend the person.
He had a well developed love of the Jewish people. He was willing to shed the clothes from himself to give to someone that had none. He once met a beggar along the way, brought him home and gave him a bed to lie down on, and the sheets were clean and ready for a festival. When his wife came and asked what had he done? He replied that the Jew was sick and needed to lie down in bed.
In the book about the Dąbrowa Górnicza kehila, a community which
was destroyed by the German predators and their Polish helpers, surely someone
can be found to describe a beloved Jew who walked our town, and Ruwen
Lichtcyjer is his name. The nickname was because of his work in buying milk and
This beloved Jew turned his entire home into receiving visitors. Once, on going to nearby Będzin, he met a Jew walking barefoot, he didn't deliberate for long, he removed his boots and gave them to the Jew, and he himself returned barefoot. Dąbrowa residents who met him walking barefoot, thought that Heaven Forbid he had lost his mind, they still hadn't comprehended how far his love of the Jewish people went.
Szlomo Josef was my uncle. His wife, Sara-Lea was my grandmother's sister. He had three sons and three daughters, Elkana the eldest, Dawid-Zelig and Arje Lajb, Chajka, Rachel and Miriam. Rachel was my wife. We lived in Warsaw and Miriam was in Warsaw with us. My two sisters, Neta and Tamara, lived together.
Towards the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the German murderers incinerated all the Jewish neighborhoods by heavy aerial bombing and all of Jewish Warsaw was alight on that same night. The house in which we lived at 59 Mila Street was completely burnt down. After the town fell into the hands of the Germans and the Polish surrender, my wife traveled to Dąbrowa with our five year old girl, Ester, and her two sisters to Dąbrowa. She thought that with her mother and father it would be better
I wandered to Brisk [Brest], and after that to the Siberian wilderness. After the destruction I never found a remnant or a trace of anyone. On the third day after the outbreak of war the German soldiers were already marching in the streets of Będzin, and on this very same day they incinerated the synagogue and the surrounding houses, and they shot any Jew trying to save himself.
Dawid-Zelig married a schochet's daughter two and half years before the beginning of the destruction, and lived near the synagogue, and on the same day was burned alive. This was the first stroke to Szlomo Josef. Elkana the eldest, lived with his wife and his two children, in Częstochowa, and they all died when the Jews of this town were annihilated. Miriam, the young daughter, was killed in Warsaw.
Chajka the eldest and her husband Jiszajahu, my uncle, my father's brother, and his three children, as well as my wife, my nine year old daughter Ester and Lea my mother-in-law from Dąbrowa were taken with all the Jews of the town to Auschwitz on the 7th of Av 5703 [8th August 1943] and were murdered there.
Szlomo Josef himself underwent terrible torture until he was freed by death. The German murderers and their Polish helpers tortured him with particular cruelty. His appearance served as a game and an attraction for them, they dragged him away a number of times and returned him until he remained alone and he no longer had where to go or whom to go to
I met the son of Josef Gringras in Israel, and he told me that he once managed
to take his father away from the Polish guards by a bribe, and Szlomo Josef was
also in the same place, and he wanted to take him, and Szlomo Josef told him
that he no longer had a place to go to or whom to go to because everyone had
certainly been murdered
thus a bitter and hasty end befell all the family
and not a remnant or a trace remains from it.
by Juda Londner
(A brief biography as told by his wife Frida, long may she live)
Translated by Lance Ackerfeld
Icchak Janowski (Narcyz), son of Mordechai-Lajb Janowski, took his first steps in life in the twilight years of the downfall of patriarchal Chassidism in Poland. At the end of the 19th century this Chassidism was enveloped with a cloak of extreme orthodoxy, and was compelled to struggle with surroundings that was rebelling against convention, which had begun questioning, investigating and looking for answers.
A fundamental discussion was taking place between fathers and sons; in the home and in the street, in whispers and vocally. Fathers endeavored to seal the cracks that appeared in the wall, in a pleasant way and with a firm hand. However the rays of light penetrated wave after wave into the homes and took hold of the youth in their multitude. The youth listened with open ears to the call of revival and national rebirth, and Dąbrowa Górnicza was in this sense not unlike other towns.
In this same transitional period Icchak Janowski began to take his first strides in life. He was not pampered, not dressed in a striped nightgown, and not in a silk nightgown: He was the sixth son in the family and following him there was another young sister. However there was an ample share of warmth, adoration and love that he received from both his mother and father. They couldn't provide him with more they didn't have anything for themselves. The tools that his parents gave him, a love of fellow man, woman, child, plant and still life, assisted him as he strode on the path of life and it was this that upheld his spirits when he was plunged into reality, till his last day.
The conversation between him and his father ended as soon as father learnt that
the boy was endowed with inherited rabbinical qualities. From that time on his
father trusted him and let him spread his wings.
Icchak worked hard till his wings were firm. His first education was in the cheder, like all the Jewish children. Later he studied with the teacher, Sadokerski, who settled in Dąbrowa. He was a good and beneficial teacher, with a higher intensive education. After a lesson he would routinely go to the homes of the students, to make sure his students were all right at home. As said, life didn't pamper Icchak: At the age of sixteen he left home, rented a room in order to study. He would teach and maintain himself from the lessons, which took away the possibility of regular studies.
|Icchak Narcyz Janowski|
The 1905 Revolution was borne on waves of an awakening for freedom, equality and unity. The coal and steel laborers in Dąbrowa Górnicza were drawn into this wave, they went out into the streets and protested. The town sooty from the chimney smoke, was used to protests, however protests like these it had not known. The echoes of freedom were pleasing to the ears of the masses who were enticed to every protest. Everyone demonstrated, from the servants in Jewish homes, to the clerks in stores up till the laborers standing next to the steel smelters.
Icchak was a youth during these stormy years, but was endowed with quick absorption. In his home they discussed a great deal, the father and the older brothers spoke about the subject, and he listened carefully. A new world was opened to him. There was a world of social and humanitarian problems that he hadn't been familiar will up until then.
And together with the awakening of social problems, he suddenly encountered national-Jewish problems that followed the riots in Kishinev [Chişinău]. Icchak read a great deal, studied, agued, endlessly deliberated over which direction to follow: The direction of emancipation of humanity, or firstly the emancipation of his people, that were part of the general human problem.
Icchak was not a hasty decision maker: Only after he had comprehensively
clarified and formulated the issue, he would decide. And he decided on the
direction of emancipating his people, and from then on his eyes were turned to
Eretz Yisrael, the country in which he could realize his dream of national
The Hashomer movement in Dąbrowa Górnicza
Many years after the appearance of the Zionist movement on a political platform, it still didn't have an educational youth movement, with an affinity to Zionism, which could in time be the vanguard of Zionism.
The Hashomer movement was nourished from its establishment by various external influences. It was greatly influenced by the scout movement.
The Jewish youth was attracted to this movement. In both the Jewish street and the patriarchal Chassidic home there were strong desires to establish an educational Jewish youth that would provide a release for youthful energy. In family homes, in general, the spirit of the Jewish youth of the home wasn't understood. In Polish towns, and Dąbrowa amongst them, the Jewish youth grew up weak and pale faced. There was a strong impact of the brave deeds of the Hashomer in Eretz Yisrael in the Polish and Lithuanian towns, and they increased the attraction to change the situation.
Within this atmosphere the Hashomer Zionist youth movement was founded, that bore a shade of scouthood. The Shomrim called their home a ken [nest], since a youth meeting in the movement home was warm and pleasant.
The prime of the youth in Dąbrowa went to the Hashomer ken:
Jakob Szlifka, Abram Grosfeld, Menachem Wajnszel, the Rechnic boys, Kanarek,
the Storchajn girls, Gita, long may she live, and so on and so forth. Icchak
Narcyz also went to the ken.
He immediately became a central figure: he lectured, held discussions, clarified and explained problems that arose relating to adolescence.
Frida Strochajn also came to the ken. She was also brought to the ken by the same national desires that beat in the hearts of the Dąbrowan youth. However Frida Strochajn had an additional problem: She had yet to complete the discussion with her father, Reb Gecel Strochajn zl who was amongst the guardians of the walls of the town in which cracks had appeared.
Reb Gecel Strochajn was wealthy, popular and distinguished in the Dąbrowa Górnicza kehila. On occasion he would travel to visit his rabbi from Radomsk, return home rejuvenated, carrying with him handfuls of blessings and hopes.
Frida Strochajn didn't accept the severe demands of her father. She questioned, researched, and requested an answer to all of life's questions that she was confronted with: Social national and humanitarian questions and so on.
Frida found an answer to her questions in the Hashomer ken. There she did not have beliefs forced upon her that she didn't accept. There they discussed, they explained to one another and tried to convince each other. Icchak Narcyz was amongst the lecturers in the ken. He explained or clarified problems of paramount concern that were faced. He spoke gently, pleasantly, using his hands a little.
In the evening, after the activity in the ken, the shomrim would go out for a walk. The town at night was laid out before them: The chimneys of the factories constantly expelled waves of smoke, laborers with carbide torches in their hands hurried to the mines, from Jewish homes a weak light flickered. Silence fell on the street and only the barking of dogs could be heard. Icchak and his friends were so engrossed in their discussion, that they didn't notice that they had left the confines of the town and the hour was already after midnight.
And in the home of Reb Gecel Strochajn there was unrest. The mother, Chaja-Sara a graduate of the Warsaw gymnasium, with a good command of Polish and German, would frequently read foreign language books, the complete opposite of the holy books that Reb Gecel perused she maintained a traditional, religious, Jewish home. She, more than Reb Gecel, insisted that her daughter didn't stray from the level of behavior that was accepted of girls of the time. Therefore, she was very worried on seeing that the hour was already after midnight and Frida was still not home. The shadows on the walls prophesized evil: Frida was late in coming home! She was certainly walking outside of the town with a boy! Good Lord, what will the rabbi from Pińczów have to say, the rabbi of Dąbrowa, if he learns that the daughter of Reb Gecel Strochajn, the Radomsk Chassid, is walking outside of the town with a boy?
The nights and days of unrest that transpired in the home of Reb Gecel did not
cease, rather they increased. One fine day the news reached their home: Their
daughter was in love with Icchak Janowski, son of Mordechai-Lajb and Gitel from
Reden. Their endeavors did not help, pleasantly and with a firm hand, to
extract the craziness from her head. A shiduch [matchmaking] was
expected with a yeshiva student from a wealthy family that her father had
chosen for her from amongst the Radomsk Chassidim and she didn't need to marry
the son of a poor family. Indeed Icchak was well known to Reb Gizl because of
his studiousness and knowledge of the Torah, however what was the connection to
the marriage of his daughter? His eyes were turned towards a groom from amongst
the Radomsk Chassidim.
Icchak Narcyz amongst the first for Dąbrowa in the Third Aliyah
At the end of the First World War, Europe was redistributed: Poland became an independent state.
Icchak, who was a pacifist by nature, saw the war as pointless killing. The atmosphere in young Poland in its first strides, was already chauvinistic this displeased him, he dreamt of the rejuvenation of his people by work and sweat in Eretz Yisrael. Hence he didn't consider the offers to deal in teaching in the town of Solotvina in Zisko with a good wage, and one night, in 1920, he reached Bratislava accompanied by Frida and sister Nesia and from there they traveled to Vienna.
Vienna served as the last stage before aliyah. He lived in barracks that the
Austrian army evacuated, and was supported by the Zionist Organization. He
lived in poverty and lovingly receiving his tribulations and in the month of
Elul of the same year an end came to his wanderings and he arrived in Eretz
His first steps in Eretz Yisrael
He was enchanted by the beauty of the country. His poetic spirit began to surge and he expressed it in poem and in story.
The financial situation at the time in the country was not a bed of roses. In spite of everything he was always in high spirits and a cheerful and jocular spirit always surrounded him. He worked on the Tiberias-Tzemach road, the road served as a meeting place for the intelligentsia of the Third Aliyah, The road invigorated and strengthened him, and his soft hands became calloused. Everyone knew and respected him for his worldly wisdom and his understanding attitude to his fellow man, and he was appointed as labor supervisor.
More than one evening he felt the need to be alone, a depressing feeling of
loneliness enveloped him. He walked amongst the tents of the camps, listened to
the arguments and yearned to take a part in them. More than one evening he was
completely enthralled in discussion and persuasion but on evenings of
depression he wasn't able, his heart was far, far away with his childhood
There, in the Hashomer Hatzair ken in the coal town the first thin threads were woven between him and her. And with time the relationship conquered his whole being. He always saw her tall figure and recalled her concerns and worries before his aliyah via a circuitous route.
Icchak could no longer tolerate the experience. He left the Tiberias-Tzemach road and moved to Jerusalem.
He worked in carpentry there, saved money and sent it to Frida so that she make aliyah. After sending the money he felt more at ease, his eyes brightened and began counting the days till she came like a man counts the days before his release.
Reb Gecel and his wife Sara didn't think the same way: They had their own plans for the future of their daughter. When Icchak made aliyah they thought that time would take care of matters and the distance would diminish the relationship. How surprised they were to see that on one week day a letter came that had been sent from Jerusalem, and in it money for Frida for the costs of aliyah. Frida was proud of this gift, knowing that he hadn't easily saved up the money, whilst Reb Gecel received the news as a shock.
On the day of departure he did not say goodbye to her, just thrust a closed
letter into her hand requesting that she remains a religious Jewish woman. In
1922 Frida reached Jerusalem, and their joy was boundless.
Jerusalem in the year 1922: Surrounded by barren hills and the neglect in the alleyways slightly tainted the holiness and the beauty of the place. Here and there were educational institutions; greenery and trees had begun to sprout up above the bareness. Icchak and Frida, with the great excitement that their feet trod on Jerusalem soil, did not pay attention to the neglect; in their imagination Jerusalem was embellished with beauty in every place, just as they had heard in their childhood.
After their marriage they began establishing a marital nest. He continued working in carpentry. They lived in the Mashchenot [the first Jewish neighborhood established outside the Jerusalem walls]. The furniture in their apartment was meager: a large square basket with a lid on top, which she had brought from Dąbrowa, a cupboard crammed with books, and in the corner stood a bench. They weren't able to continue living in this apartment for a long time, and the moved to the Kerem neighborhood, to a room which belonged to a family of converts. Their food was scanty: vegetables, bread and jam. The food was cooked over a primus stove, the smoke and the soot were absorbed in the food. After a period they were compelled to take their belongings and move to Zichron Moshe.
Frida, who had only yesterday left a wealthy home, didn't complain about these living conditions. She lovingly and calmly received the meager wage that Icchak brought home, doing the ironing with a heavy iron heated by coals, and was often scalded. At night the home was illuminated by a kerosene lamp which threw shadows on the walls. The shadows caused a strange atmosphere in their room.
The carpentry, where he worked went bankrupt, and so he went to Talpiot to look for work. Through a lack of employment Frida was compelled to go out to work in housekeeping. Her parents sent letters to their daughter in Jerusalem and asked her how she was and about her livelihood. Frida replied to them, telling them about her great wealth, and that she wasn't suffering for any shortage and in the meantime, unemployment and a lack of livelihood were regular visitors in their home.
The laborers kitchen at the time, served as a central meeting place. There the new immigrants, who had only just arrived, met with their friends who were already living in Jerusalem. Most of them were still unmarried. Mordechai Narcyz, Icchak's brother-in-law, worked as an accountant. On his recommendation Frida was given work.
The Betzalel art school, managed by Professor Boris Szac, served as a focal point for the best students from European Jewish centers. They had a special interest in the revival of Jewish art, in ancient religious artifacts that had been forgotten, in frescos and drawings done on stone from the First and Second Temple periods.
Mordechai Narcyz, Icchak's brother-in-law, was accepted as a student in Betzalel and Icchak was accepted as a secretary. During their time the museum expanded, new departments and teachers were brought in. Icchak received a small room and a kitchen in the school, and they were extremely happy. In 1925 their first born son, Uzi, was born.
Professor Szac wanted to strengthen the future for the artists, and hence purchased a plot near the museum in order to establish a neighborhood (Neve Betzalel). He sold blocks to the workers by payments. Icchak also bought one and had to pay three lira per month from his wages. He paid off a debt to his parents and brought them to Jerusalem.
Working under the wings of Professor Boris Szac, turned him into an
enthusiastic collector of religious artifacts. Many times the professor
consulted with him about his ideas before putting them into action. He would
wake him up in the middle of the night: Icchak, Icchak, where are you? I
have a great idea and I need you give your opinion on it. Frida became
annoyed: Is it possible to wake a man from his sleep, because of some
idea that popped up in the professor's brain?! Icchak calms her. If
Professor Szac has an idea, it is not a selfish matter or for his own personal
pleasure, and certainly it has a Jewish national background and aspect, and it
should be heard even in the middle of sleep.
He purchased antiquities, mainly Jewish religious artifacts. What adoration he held for them: The menorahs, candlesticks and the perfume boxes which decorated his hope were the embodiment of Jewish history. He wrote rhyming poems, placing each of them in a special folder, well packaged, as if he had planned for a long journey. All the raw secrets of his soul were wrapped up in these files, would they ever see the light? Would someone decipher them some time?
The Betzalel school continued to develop and produce many series of artists who were organized into a group. The group opened a store for selling art objects. Icchak served as their merchant, traveled to Zionist congresses to distribute works of Jerusalem artists. At the same time he founded the publishing house called Bnei-Betzalel. They published art books during the same period. At a later stage he founded an additional publishing house called Shlomit. In the meantime the family grew: In 1928 Gadi was born and in 1936 Raya was born.
In 1932 his good friend Professor Szac passed away. The demise of the professor brought on a deep sorrow in the museum and on Icchak, and he was unable to free himself from this grief.
In 1936 the riots broke out, tourists stopped visiting in Jerusalem, and the art store was in a difficult situation. Icchak lost all his savings and remained in debt for a number of years.
In the War of Independence his sons Uzi and Gadi took part in battles in Jerusalem and its surroundings. Frida, Raya and Icchak themselves stayed in Jerusalem for the whole period of the war. He anxiously followed the progress of the battles and at the end of the war, from which all his family came out unscathed, he donated a soul deliverance payment to the national funds. Thus the old and new were intertwined for him: This is how his forefathers behaved the soul belongs to the heavens and if it was safely returned a payment was due.
After the War of Independence, business returned and improved. In 1955 the first grandchild, Rony, was born, the third generation of descendants of the Janowski Strochajn families from Dąbrowa.
With great courage Icchak suffered an incurable disease. Every morning he set out to work in the store selling Betzalel works in King George Street, which then belonged to him. It is strange how he saw in his youth what awaited him, whilst still in the town of his birth in Poland:
A dark cloud hangs over meAnd he suffered and continued on his daily way. Once again his lips whispered a poem whilst still in Poland:
And I won't know what awaits me
Once again pains, to me are thrown
Hasn't the time come that they leave me alone?
Hasn't my cup of suffering been filled?
Weren't you cruel to me through my life
Haven't I had sufficient afflictions?
Are they returning today?
My grief in the mirror fallsIn Tevet 5716 (1955), he didn't wake up. In the Jerusalem hills his grave was dug, looking over a landscape rich in splendor and hope. Icchak Narcyz, son of the Dąbrowa Górnicza kehila, loving husband to Frida, was conquered for eternity.
As the graves and shadows lower.
I carried out battles in the mire:
The body and the soul within fight,
Everyone will ask for vengeance
And peace is not imposed in battle.
Firstly the body gives way
No long able to burden the pain,
The suffering is too much,
The body is injured, it says enough.
But the soul desires life
It can live concealed in a crippled body,
My soul, my ruined body
It's no good for either of them, they are one,
The suffering and the bereavement are no good,
Languishing for loss yearning I could
Years pass. Life compels Frida to move on. The struggle with the cruel disease
that Icchak wrestled and fought in the month of Tevet 5716 1955 was
ended but for her he lived on. A testimony to this appeared whilst the State of
Israel was carrying out its struggle for survival: His son, General Uzi Narcyz,
who maintained his father's legacy, combined the two sections of Jerusalem into
one Jewish city and thus realized the dreams and aspirations of his father,
whose entire soul was within this vision.
by Juda Londner
Translated by Jerrold Landau
known as "Menachem the soother"
A linguist and philosopher
May 3rd St. was almost completely settled by Jews. It was a street whose residents were solid. They had clean yards, and the fronts of the houses were whitewashed and groomed.
When you entered this street, Zawidska girl's gymnasja would be immediately in front of you. The building before this was the Lwodzinski business school. To the left of that area there would be the Szylanka Coffee House, whose customers were all Jews from the cream of the crop of the city. The idea of the establishment of a Jewish sport organization was hatched there. If you walked a few steps to the right of the street, behind the gymnasja, you would hear the din of the voices of the Jewish students from the Mizrachi Hebrew School, in the large yard of Sender Reichman. Up further was the house of the P.P.S. Social Democratic Party, the sport halls, the library, and reading halls, which were frequented primarily by Jewish youth thirsty for knowledge. The favorite speaker for the Christians and Jews was Dr. Wincier of Będzin, who spoke on popular scientific topics. He was a veteran Zionist.
As you existed the cultural house, you would continue upward until you reached the city hall that bustled with life, with its hundreds of people entering. There was a particularly large crowd on the days that payments were distributed to the unemployed a task that the city hall took upon itself. The Jews, especially the merchants, needed the city hall to obtain business permits. Two Jews would enter the city hall as they would their own home the intercessors Reb Vove Fajner of blessed memory, who was good and did good for any Jew who had an issue with the civic authorities; and the feldsher (medic) Reb Moshe Mitelman of blessed memory, who was an official representative in the sanitation division. He saved more than one Jewish merchant from a conflict with the sanitation laws. During the time of a typhus epidemic, he would make the rounds from one Jewish home to the next, without expecting payment, bringing aid to the sick.
Two houses further down was the house of Gliksztajn. The rabbi of the city, Rabbi Aharon Alter Moshe HaLevi, known as the Rabbi from Paczinow, lived there. The large Talmud Torah of Agudas Yisroel was a large courtyard. Its founder was the man of many deeds, Reb Moshe Ajzenman of blessed memory. To the left of that yard was the house of Reb Tzvi-David and Manya Wajnszel of blessed memory. Before the Talmud Torah opened, they operated a school for Jewish students in a Chabad style. Menachem Wajnszel of blessed memory and six other children grew up in that house.
If you did not tire from walking, and went up a bit further along the street, you would reach the bakery of Fryzyrowicz. A chimney stuck out of his house from which white smoke rose all the days of the week, testifying that inside they were baking fresh bread and rolls, the aroma of which wafted afar.
Houses of Jewish families stood on both sides of the street. The street bustled with the noise of women and children from morning until
evening like the Sambation. However, the entire road rested and calmed on the Sabbath. The difference between Sabbath and weekdays was noticeable and obvious, as the difference between day and night. The Beis Midrashes of Mizrachi, the Gerrer Hasidim, Kromołów, and Radomsk were on that street. They were full of worshippers who prayed with intention and devotion. Each of them thought in their hearts that their form of prayer was the most acceptable to the Master of the World. Menachem spent his childhood on that street, where he absorbed the rich Jewish reality.
In the home of Reb Tzvi David and Manya Wajnszel, the echoes of the voices of Jewish children coming to acquire Torah knowledge from him still echo. He had a large measure of love and awe of the honor of the task that was placed in his hands, to disseminate Torah to the Jewish children. Reb Tzvi David was a Hasid of Chabad who came from Volhynia on the border of Russia, where the Baal Shev Tov, peace be upon him, was. He wrote the book Kanaf Zemirot, and sent the manuscript to the United States to his rabbi from Lubavitch, the rabbi of the Chabad Hasidim. They called him the Litvak due to his Lithuanian Yiddish accent.
Rabbi Alter Aharon Levi, the rabbi of the community of Dąbrowa, did not like him. In the many disputes in Jewish law and legal decisors, on Talmudic discussions and the Yoreh Deah section of the Code of Jewish Law that were conducted between them, people said that Reb Tzvi David Wajnszel always had the upper hand. Therefore, the rabbi said about him that he was a statue head, a Litvak, etc. Rabbi Alter Aharon Levi influenced the parents to refrain from sending their children to Reb Tzvi David the Litvak's school, and many parents heeded the opinion of the rabbi. Therefore, there was hunger in the home of Reb Tzvi David and his seven children.
Menachem was the oldest child of this Chabad family of nine souls. He was a tall, thin lad, with dark eyes and a penetrating glance, always seeking the answer to questions. He wore the traditional Jewish garb of that time, with gentle peyos curled over his fine cheeks as he paced to and fro in his room, immersed in thoughts.
He gained his first knowledge of Torah and Talmud on the lap of his father. When he got older, he continued to delve into Kabala, and the book of Zohar never moved from under his arm. Those who would come to the home of Reb Tzvi David remember him standing in a corner, immersed for hour upon hour in books of Kabala and Talmud. He would listed to the statements of his father's students and give them pointers. At that time, his mind did not venture off his interest in Talmud. He had a sharp mind, and was diligent. When he was on the threshold of adulthood, he was already expert in the study of Talmud, and he knew entire chapters by heart. He was quiet, and paid little attention to his environment. His thoughts on the Talmudic tractates led him to seek solutions to problems above the issues of the day. Thus things went until the age of 17 or 18.
The Jewish Emancipation Movement After the First World War
The star of Chaim Nachman Bialik shone in the arena of Hebrew poetry. His poem Hamatmid [The Diligent Student] and poems of reproof Achen Chatzir Ha'am [Surely the People is Like Grass], and Ba'ir Haareiga [In the City of Killing] moved the conventions in the Jewish community of that time. In his book Auto-emancipation, Y. L. Pinsker wove a new path in front of the generation. Rabbi Tzvi Kalisher's book Drishat Zion and Moshe Hess's book Rome and Jerusalem captured the two camps in religious and working Jewry, who began to regard Zion as the sole solution to the problems of the nation. Pinsker' book was of special influence, for it explained the roots of anti-Semitism in depth: it is not emancipation that will save us from destruction, but rather auto-emancipation, the freedom of the individual and the return to the sources, to an independent state.
Menachem began to read these books in secret, and to exchange ideas and impressions with his friend Moshe Hirschfeld of blessed memory, the oldest son of Chaim David Hirschfeld of blessed memory. The conversations were always conducted with an embrace of the world, and with depth.
As they were walking one evening next to the railway station that separated between Austria and Germany, the border guards called on them to stop. They were so immersed in their conversation that they did not hear the call of the soldier. Moshe Hirschfeld was shot to death. For many years, Menachem could not forgive himself for the loss of his good friend in thought and ideas.
His father sensed the change that took place in him, that he did not act as before, that he paid attention to himself, checked himself in the mirror, and was careful with his clothing. He sent him to the far-off Yeshiva of Volozhin in order to distance him from the influence of the modern Haskala and the street. He did not remain Volozhin for long, for the conditions were not in accordance with his spirit and consciousness. He could not get used to sleeping on hard benches and eating teg [a rotational system of meals at Yeshiva] with householders. Therefore, he left the Yeshiva and returned home.
The Balfour Declaration and Joining Hashomer Hatzair
The Balfour Declaration aroused boundless hope and joy in the hearts
of all the Jews of the world. For Menachem, this was a new period of thought. He would not longer search for his way and dig in general. Rather, he had a clear path: Hebrew, Zionism, and the actualization of the Zionist idea. He founded Hashomer in Dąbrowa along with Avraham Grosfeld, Yitzchak Janowski (Narkiss), Szpigelman, the Struchajn girls, Gita Frenkel, and others, so as to give the Jewish youth the feeling of the Land of Israel and the actualization of the Zionist idea.
|A combined leaders seminar for the "Hashomer Hatzair" members
from Dabrowa and Zawiercie in 1918
on the right is Menachem Wajnszel
The Hashomer movement in the city, headed by Menachem Wajnszel, declared a revolt against that way of life. They removed the traditional, long garb, and began to dress in European style, go about bareheaded with wild forelocks, gather in the chapter hall during the evenings, and preach about productive life. Menachem was the first to begin to teach Hebrew to the youth in our city, read Hebrew literature, and set up groups for the dissemination of the Hebrew language. Thanks to him and those like him, the echoes of the language began to be heard in Dąbrowa.
Longing for Aliya to the Land
Poland became an independent country at the end of the First World War. The promises of the Polish authorities for the granting of freedom, democracy, and cultural rights to national minorities were not fulfilled. Conflicts and attacks against the Jews began. Despite this, Menachem regarded it as his personal duty to enlist in the Polish Army, even though there was no obligation for this as he was a Russian citizen. In the depths of his essence, he was a pacifist who disliked army life.
During his active service in the Polish Army, he wandered through the towns of Poland and Galicia, checked out the way of life of the Jews in the towns, and noticed their eyes and longing toward the Land of Israel. As a member of Hashomer Hatzair, he found a chapter and common language with the youth in every place.
His brigade, an infantry brigade in the Polish Army, camped in one of the towns of Galicia. He made himself known to the local Hashomer youth one snowy, winter morning. They invited him to the Chanukah party. The chapter hall was too small to host
all the groups under their banners at one time. Menachem was invited to speak on the value of Chanukah in those day and at this time. He spoke in fluent, picturesque Hebrew that enthused all those present. He brought to life before them the symbolism of the War of the Maccabees for the future of the nation, and strengthened the desire to continue to struggle for its reestablishment.
This party turned him into a regular at the chapter. He visited it during every furlough, and encouraged its members to study the Hebrew Language and Jewish history.
The goal that he set for himself when he was in the Hashomer chapter in Dąbrowa was to go to the Land of Israel through any means possible, without concerning himself about the dangers involved in such. He met his future life Hela in the chapter in Galicia, and told her the secret of his aspiration. He again did not see himself as isolated in his aspiration. The evenings that they spent together enriched his momentum and will. Thus, he found his true helpmeet, with energy and desire to actualize the ideal. They began to work through all means, and attained the necessary papers. She traveled from town to town with him clandestinely without army fatigues. He found support and encouragement in every place from the members of the Hashomer Hatzair chapter, until he reached the border. The next day, he crossed over to Germany to Dusseldorf.
The love of the Hebrew language and his strong desire to revive it to a living, spoken language blended into a common objective for him. In his first steps in that city, they immediately recognized his talents as a teacher who could teach Torah doctrines to the community. He became the uncoronated representative of the Hebrew Language in Dusseldorf. He organized courses for adults, disseminated Torah in public, and helped Golda Myerson send olim to the Land. Through his influence, a family made aliya in 1921, which later established a cutlery factory in Tel Aviv that provided employment to Jews.
The difficult struggle for existence that Reb Tzvi David the Chabadnik carried on to sustain the eight family members on May 3rd St. in Dąbrowa, in the courtyard of the final rabbi, Rabbi Aharon Levi, caused him great difficulties and shortened his life. One bright summer day he returned his soul to the Creator of the World.
The mother Manya took upon herself the great burden of raising the children, but her concern for Menachem's fate disturbed her the most. She never ceased sending letters and asking about his wellbeing. Why did this one choose specifically to go to the Land? Why did not he not remain in Germany, set himself up firmly, and become wealthy? He answered her in the style of a popular poem, I want to return, plant myself, and forget the exile completely.
In the Land of Israel
Before he set out for the Land, he tarried in Italy, where he arranged illegal immigration. Incited Arab disturbers mauraded about the Land, intending to slaughter the Jewish community there. Trumpeldor and his comrades bravely defended Tal Hai in the Galilee. Zeev Jabotinsky and the Hagana people returned battle to the disturbers and their English abettors at the gates of Jerusalem. The Land was divided, and the store was yet to arrive.
At the end of 1921, he sailed on a ship through the heart of the sea to Jaffa, arriving with several other pioneers to the coast of the Prophet Jonah. A holy trembling overtook him on his way to that Land, but he did not bow, prostrate himself, or kiss the soil, for this would have been too cheap of a spectacle for Menachem. He turned all his emotions and excitement inward, as he walked through the first Hebrew city in the world as if moonstruck. He did not believe that he merited such a thing. He was literally like a stone. He looked in the eyes of all passers-by, for perhaps they would verify for him what his heart refused to believe. Menachem, who vowed to be the revivor of the Hebrew Language, began to slowly awaken from his drunkenness when he heard the echoes of natural, mischievous Hebrew from the small children of Tel Aviv. Then he believed that he had merited a great merit.
He began to fulfil that which he promised his mother Manya. He worked at all types of jobs in orchards, and later as an educator in the Goldschmid Orphanage. He disliked looking for work. To him, standing before employers was a disgrace. He was always first to be recommended for work, and to be prepared and ready. All jobs that he worked at to this point were forced and not free. He felt that he was designated for work that was not prone to change, that would have an eternal value. He tried his hand in work that was close to his spirit, in the translation of books from German to Hebrew. He translated two books, but found no satisfaction in that.
With Eliezer Ben-Yehuda in the Preparation of the Hebrew Dictionary
It was 1923-24. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was in his full sprit of creativity. The language was striking deep roots. There was no need for a brigade of defenders. The Habima theater came from Moscow and set up its home here. The Herzliya High School [Gymnasium] in Tel Aviv produced graduates each year whose language was Hebrew. The University on Mount Scopus broadcast to the Jewish world that scholars in the Hebrew Language would appear on the landscape soon enough. Ben-Yehuda's innovations enriched the treasury of words in the daily newspapers. His son Itamar, the editor of the Haor newspaper, was
was the live broadcaster of his father's innovations. In his drawers and cabinets were loaded with cards upon cards of the innovations of Ben-Yehuda based on the treasuries of the past. They had to be sorted, filtered, imbued with a living spirit, and given a modern resonance.
Menachem was recommended to be Ben-Yehuda's assistant in preparing the first fundamental Hebrew dictionary, from which all the coming generations drew when they came to broaden the bounds of the language.
As he stood in the corner of the house of his father Reb Tzvi David immersed in Talmud, rabbinic decisors and Kabala, he did not know that a native of Dąbrowa Górnicza would at one point give forth all the essence of the language that he had absorbed, to revive it into a day-to-day living language.
A new experience awaited him every day when he arrived at Ben-Yehuda's house. Ben-Yehuda was a man of pleasant mannerisms, a conversationalists who drew the hearts close, was active and urged others to action, and was strict without compromise regarding the purity of the language. For Menachem it was an experience to work in proximity to this man. Each day, he stood hunched over pages, some of which were moldy from age. He did not pay attention to the several liters of paper dust that he breathed into his lungs. The satisfaction from his work took his mind off any health problems. He swam in the sea that was wholly his. He felt that the work that he did was invaluable and non-exchangeable.
He married Hela, who had arrived in the Land in the interim, on 3 Kislev 5685 (1935). He informed his childhood friends in Raanana Pinchas, Naftali, Yaakov, and Shmuel who together dredged up Zionist faith from the wellsprings, about his pleasant marriage.
Together With Dr. Mazia and the Writer Tchernichovsky in Preparing the Book of Principles of Medicine and Natural Science
Aharon Meir Mazia was born in 1858. He was one of the pioneers of new medicine in the Land of Israel. He was educated in the Mir Yeshiva and the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary of Berlin. He was a graduate of the University of Zurich, and trained in the healing of tropical diseases that were rampant in the Land. He was the doctor of the Moshavim of Judea sponsored by the well-known philanthropist. He worked a great deal to improve the sanitary conditions in the Moshavim, and in the battle against fevers and eye diseases. In 1902, he was appointed as chief physician of the Bikur Cholim Hospital of Jerusalem. He was one of the founders of the Language Committee, and the editor of the Harefua journal in the Land of Israel. He was the author of the Book of Principles of Medicine and Natural Sciences. He cites from the Treasury of Medicine and Health of Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Schechter. The role of Menachem in the compilation of the Book of Principles of Medicine and Natural Sciences became recognizable, and continued throughout the entire time of his tribulations.
|Menachem Wajnszel, on the right, in the company of the author
He was employed for half days as Dr. Mazia's chief assistant. He spent the second half of the day as the secretary of Professor Schatz at the Bezalel School. I am full of wonder over the unusual level of fruitfulness with which the Creator graced him to carry so much knowledge, and to be able to split his day into two positions, each in a different reality, almost opposite of each other: here to dissect the ancient Hebrew language into pieces, to dust off the fluff that time had put upon it, to grant a modern ring to the medical concepts so that every scholar can easily understand it. During the second half of his day, he worked as the secretary of the exacting Professor Schatz to tend to Jewish art, to forge Jewish objects of beauty, a task that was in the realm of esthetics. He worked honorably at both jobs. He knew how to blend both. He was alert and expert at each part of the job, and everyone found him to be an incessant source of knowledge.
Dr. Mazia saw his role as refuting the libels of the opponents of the revival of the Hebrew language, who did not believe that a generation of Hebrew physicians whose language would be Hebrew would ever arise, and whose anatomic knowledge would find an exact expression in the Hebrew language. They never thought that there would be a medical reality in the
Hebrew Language, and that nations would have to set foot toward Jerusalem to draw from the Hebrew vessel. Menachem was proud that it fell to his lot to be Dr. Mazia's assistant.
|Menachem Wajnszel ("Menachem the Comforter")
sitting in the center in the company of Yitzchak Janowski (Narkiss) z"l, Freda Narkiss, Nesia Narkiss,
Gita Narkiss, Mrs. Schatz, Hela Wajnszel (Menachem's wife), and Professor Schatz, founder of "Betzalel"
Dr. Mazia did not merit to see the publication of the book, for he died in Jerusalem in 1930.
Menachem was the only one who remained who knew the secret and work methodology of Dr. Mazia. He was invited by the Language Committee to continue this work. He was recognized in the Language Committee for his phenomenal memory. He was a member of the committee. The committee recognized his knowledge in the field of translation. Menachem understood that compiling a book of medical and natural science principles was beyond his capabilities. For that, a physician is needed. Therefore he recommended that the Language Committee invite the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky. His recommendation was accepted, and both worked on the book together.
Tchernichovsky followed in the footsteps of Dr. Mazia with his exactitude. However, he made the principles a bit lighter. The friendship between the writer and Menachem was great, and one completed the other in expertise in the Hebrew Language and its sources.
During Dr. Mazia's lifetime, the editorial board was headquartered in his private home in Jerusalem. The workplace was a room full of books and dust, which caused asthma, from which he was not cured until his final day. It is strange that people who dedicate their efforts and energy to creative work do not find themselves in a pleasant working environment.
His wife Hela did not see much wealth or contentment from this work. There were already two children at home who required livelihood. However, she made do with what was given to her. She worried about the deep cough from his lungs and the blue color of his lips, but Menachem did not pay attention to this.
With the death of Dr. Mazia, his daughter Mrs. Isaacson continued to concern herself with and support the publication of the dictionary. Since the book was published by the Omanut Publishing House of Tel Aviv, the committee also moved to Tel Aviv and was housed in the Palatin Hotel.
Menachem and the writer Shaul Tchernichovsky worked tirelessly, dredging word after word from the treasures of the language of the covenant, and clothing it with medical principles from a foreign language. Thus, day after day, in a meager situation, in poverty, and even in hunger, without having the ability
to get to work, he carried out the work on the glosses from the bed, with a high fever and shortness of breath. One prayer never left his mouth: that he be given the ability to conclude this work in which he had invested so much energy and love.
After superhuman efforts, the book was completed and published in 1934, in a festive ceremony with writers and honorable members of the community. Word of the publication of the Dictionary of Principles of Medicine and Natural Sciences was spread throughout the Jewish world, and its echoes reached afar. Praise and accolades for all those who toiled for it were given out, even to those who did not lift a finger. Menachem did not pursue honor. He hid from the limelight in all his affairs. The festive celebration and fame given to him; and on the other hand, the minimal compensation granted to him hurt him very much. He was affected by this disregard of his great work in editing, and the anguish caused his illness to worsen. If the minimization of his role in editing the dictionary was not sufficient, the promises that he received to arrange new work for him were also not fulfilled. He remained without livelihood for several months, until he received a job as a proofreader in the Omanut Publishing House, and after some time, also in the Achdut Publishing House.
From his early childhood, Menachem absorbed the principles of Hashomer Hatzair of performing good deeds for one's fellow. He preached these principles in public, and saw beauty and sublimity in people, raising them to the summit of poetry in him. He believed in performing good deeds and providing salvation at times of tribulation. However, reality covered his face. He did not become bitter, did not seek revenge, and did not become disappointed. However, when his eyes met the gaze of Hela and the children in his poor house, he closed his eyes, and an internal shame afflicted him.
Menachem felt that his end was near. On the day of his death, he asked his wife to stay near him. He read his regular quota of three newspapers, and moved on to read a book. As he was reading, he fell asleep, and his soul departed.
He died young, at age 39, in 1936. That was the year that the skies covered over with clouds. Disturbances and incitement again spread through the roads of the Land, and bereavement became commonplace. It was symbolic that in that year, Dąbrowa Górnicza lost this precious son.
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