by Motell Sobelman of New York
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Chevrat Lechem LaAniyim [The Society for Providing Bread to the Poor] and Chevrat Hachnasat Kalla [The Society for Assistance of Poor Brides]
In memory of my father Zalman Chil and my brother Avraham Sobelman, who were murdered together with the six million martyrs of the Holocaust.
There were always various societies in Mezritsh, but I will write here about only two. These were benevolent organizations in which my father and brother were active. As a child, I literally grew up in them.
The two associations, Lechem LaAniyim and Hachnasat Kalla, were actually like sister organizations. The people who were active in one of them were automatically members of the other.
The membership of the associations consisted of simple tradesmen: shoemakers, brush makers, tailors, wagon drivers, butchers, wheelwrights, carpenters, furriers, shopkeepers, merchants, and businessmen beloved common folk, hardworking, burdened with their own concerns for livelihood and other family problems, who dedicated all their free time to helping poor families with their needs.
Mezritsh was an industrial city, a working city, with tens of thousands of workers in various trades, so there was never a lack of problems. From time to time, bitter strikes and lockouts took place, lasting for months.
It was also the case that business in the pigbristle sector was bad, and the merchants were unable to sell their merchandise. There was unemployment in the brush making trade, and this soon spread to all other trades. This led to widespread unemployment, and the neediness grew. The workers of Mezritsh were never very wealthy, and they had no savings, for they had nothing to save. They barely earned their livelihood when they had work, and they starved and suffered when they had no work.
Every Sabbath morning right after services, Lechem LaAniyim sent pairs of people with two sacks to every street and alleyway to collect bread, challah, and other baked goods. They went from door to door until the sacks were full. My father's partner was always Bentze Wysznia, or as he was called, Bentze the Villager. He was a beloved man who would rush to perform the most difficult tasks to help those in need. My brother's partner with the sack was the Mute Brush Maker's eldest son, Hersh Leib Barne (or Bernard), a young man full of energy. The sacks with bread would be brought to the house of Hershel the Mute, as they called him. His name was Hershel Wodnicki.
That Jew was literally a legendary figure. He earned his livelihood in the shoemaking business. He lived on the Broken Street [Tzebrochener Gasse] in a small, low house with a straw roof. Nevertheless, his home was always lively, light, and full of people. He ran his shoemaking business there all week. On the Sabbath, his small house seemed to become larger, and was clean and neat. It turned into a holy place where the members of the association would conduct [Friday evening] services. They would worship early so that the society members would be able to visit all the houses in the city to bring all the collected bread to Hershele's house. There, the bread was divided into portions: a larger portion for a larger family and a smaller portion to a smaller family. The bread was distributed on the Sabbath afternoon. It was sent discretely, so that nobody would know who was receiving the bread, and the poor families would not feel insulted.
I recall that when I was a boy of seven or eight, I was given a portion of bread every Sabbath evening to bring to a family that was waiting for it. They told me that I must go by the back alleyways and not stop to talk to anyone along the way, so that nobody would know what I was carrying and to whom I was bringing it.
For Passover, Lechem LaAniyim distributed money to those in need, for matzos as well as other necessities for the festival.
Lechem LaAniyim collected money in the following manner: They sent two appointed people to every wedding in the city wearing the uniform of a general with swords at their side and masks with tall, colored hats. They looked elegant, like soldiers from Achashverosh's army. On the eve of Yom Kippur at Mincha time, they sent two people to every synagogue, Beis
Midrash, and shtibel where services were taking place. Every worshipper would throw a few groszy into the plate. This was the income that the associations used to conduct their activities. The members carried out their work quietly and modestly, so that their activity would not be broadly visible to people's eyes. Nevertheless, hundreds of families were supported by them.
|First row (from right) standing: Yitzchak Fajerman, Shimon Szyker, Berl Sztejnkrycer, Lipa Blumengold, Yosef Fajerman, Shlomo Landsberg, Yehoshua Roizn, Mottel Mandelbaum, Moshe Tabakman, Shia Berezowski
Second row, seated; Fishel Tandajter, Alter Nusband, Moshe Tugender, Berl Rosnberg, Hershel Fajerman, Izik Hechtman, Yudel Lederman, Kalman Finkelsztejn, Michel Kamien.
At the beginning of the 1930s, they convinced Reb Hershel Fajerman, the soninlaw of Moshe Norewker the Shochet's, that he should serve as first gabbai [trustee]. Reb Hershel took them into his father's courtyard, where they were given a place for their activities.
The Hachnasat Kalla society was located in the house of Avrahamke Singer (Avrahamke the Shoemaker). He lived in an alley behind the Beis Midrash of the Wagon Drivers. That society was also greatly needed and important. They made it possible for poor girls to get married in an honorable fashion, and not, Gd forbid, to remain old maids. Avrahamke the Shoemaker was a beloved, dear Jew with a heart and soul. The society disbanded after his death, however.
|The following is a translation of the above article photocopied from the Mezritsher Trybuna, December 20, 1929.|
On Monday the 16th, a very significant event place took place with the opening of the local Jewish hospital.
The hospital, both from the inside and the outside has been fully completed, and is [now] both practical and serviceable. Mezritsh is now one of the cities in Congress Poland that has such a functional hospital.
This much needed institution was founded thanks to the tireless, superhuman efforts of M.G. Sajete with the assistance of Mr. G. Sandperl and Y. Goldstein, as well as with the local hospital committee.
The hospital, as has been said, was set up … for the day to day care of the sick. We recognize the dedication of those who were involved in the building of the hospital.
The following is a translation of the above balance sheet:
The balance sheet for completion of the third floor of the hospital. Mezritsher Trybuna, December 20, 1929.
|Officers Podoliak and Bernstein||470.|
|Sand and gravel||2,039.20|
|Cement and mortar||3|
|Locks and blacksmithing work||4,243.95|
|Linen and bedding||6,855.37|
|Sewing the linen||553.60|
|Tiles for the ovens||2,490.50|
|Tin and metal sheets||1,618.|
|Installation parts||46,769. |
|Surgical implements||13,475. |
|Cash for a dwelling for the doctor||444.|
|Collected from the city of Mezritsh: cash 14,720.66, owed 1,270.92||15,551.58|
|From Mezritsher city council||3,000.|
|From the Mezritsh Jewish communal organization||19,468.51|
|Collected in Warsaw. Cash 5,959.76 owed 2,738.80||8,698.56|
|Benefits from business||132.|
|Old ovens, scrap, and a piece of pipe||126.|
|Collected in America.||Cash 10,300 dollars, owed 1,700 dollars|
|total 12,000 dollars||106,560|
|Collected by Mr. Sajete||8,017.57|
|Total owed:||1,700 dollars, 4.009.72 zloty|
|Total outlay through M. G. Sajete|
|For America||1,700 dollars|
|From Mezritsh||1,270.92 zloty|
|From Warsaw||2,738.80 zloty|
|Debt to the hospital||8,017.57 zloty|
|Total||12,027.29 zloty 1,700 dollars|
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