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Religious Life:
Chassidim, Rebbes and
Charitable Organizations

 

Religious Life

Written by Mojsze Jakubowicz (Canada)

Synagogues, Houses of Study and Chassidic shtiblach:

Jewish religious life in Pabianice was concentrated, as in every Jewish city, in the synagogues, the Houses of Study and the Chassidic shtiblach. We will begin with the synagogue in the old part of the city, which was located on Buznyczna Street. It was a large and roomy building whose extension was

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built around the turn of the twentieth century. This is where the non–Chassidim of our city used to pray: respected factory owners and ordinary Jews, most of whom wore “short coats” [i.e. dressed in modern European style]. The women's section of this synagogue was where the wives of Chassidim prayed. More than once, the occupants of the women's section revolted when the men down below wanted to introduce something that did not agree with the Chassidic way of doing things. Of course, the city's rabbi also used to pray in the synagogue.

The synagogue also served as a meeting–place on special occasions, such as celebrations and get– togethers, or when the city played host to special Jewish personages. Once, when the Rebbe of Ger came to Pabianice and Chassidim from the entire region came to see him, they all prayed in this synagogue, which could accommodate a large number of Chassidim.

The most famous of the cantors who prayed in this synagogue was Cantor Jermiohu Wendrownik. For many years, Reb Mojsze Adler was the president of the synagogue. He was also its last president. The synagogue was destroyed during the first month of the war under the bloody reign of the Germans. The destruction began on the second day of Rosh Hashana 1939, at about eleven in the morning. On that day, German soldiers – may their names be wiped out – entered the synagogue and began to demolish it. The next day, our Polish neighbours – mostly from Pewl – finished up the job of demolishing the synagogue. It took an entire day, and the next morning as well, for hundreds of them to carry away the wood, until all that was left were the four naked walls – a symbol of the Destruction…

* * *

The House of Study in the old part of the city was located at 24 Warszawska Street. Mostly non– Chassidic Jews prayed there. They prayed there daily, without exception. Preachers gave public lectures there. Years ago, Jews used to study there as well. City boys from all classes sat in the House of Study and studied there until they were married. There wasn't any place else to study, except for the House of Study, until the Ger Chassidim arrived. Since they suspected that the boys were becoming secularised in the House of Study they took their students off to the shtiblach. That is when the House of Study stopped being the place to learn.

The House of Study had its own preacher. He used to speak there every Saturday. Reb Zacharja Federman was the last preacher.

* * *

The most prominent of all the Houses of Study in the old part of the city was the Ger shtibl, which was located at 7 Mejdana Street. That's where religious Chassidim prayed along with Ger stalwarts, such as the Joskewiczs, who were related to the Rebbe of Ger by marriage; the son and sons–in–law of Pabianice's rabbi; grandchildren of the Rebbe of Ger and the great and the good of our city. The shtibl consisted of a separate yard, one large room and one small one. The boys and young married men prayed in the small room and studied there in pairs as well. So the sound of Torah–study could be heard in this shtibl all the time, day and night.

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The householders had their own “Page of the Day” group, so that they could study a page of Gemora every morning before prayers. Their rebbe was Reb Arye Horowicz. In the evenings, between afternoon and evening prayers, my father – Reb Jichak Jakob Jakubowicz, of blessed memory – taught Mishna there. In the other room the various sons–in–law all learned at one table, while a large group of boys learned at a second table. They ranged from the age of twelve and into their twenties. All of them studied. They used to study in pairs – an older one together with a younger one – and sometimes all night long. Especially on Thursday nights, the melody of Torah–study could be heard everywhere in town.

During the last years [before the Holocaust], the youth was organized into a Chassidic group called “Khevre” [gang]. Its purpose was to develop the Chassidic dedication of its members, to travel to Ger very often, to celebrate little feasts, to read Chassidic books and to attract as many young men as possible to the pious “Khevre”. Their activities were successful and up until the outbreak of World War II, they had about fifty members. With very few exceptions they were murdered.

 

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Chassidic young men

The shtibl was a fortress of the “Aguda”. Before each election, people went there to hear political speeches and the activists of the religious camp came from there. There was a self–help fund called “Koylel” in this particular shtibl. Those who could afford it made weekly contributions to support the less well–off members of the congregation. Poor people and guests who came to our city also used to come into the shtibl, and every Friday night Reb Jidl Moses used to make sure that the guests were invited to someone's home over the Sabbath. On weekdays, the boys used to ensure that honoured guests had a ticket that allowed them to eat breakfast or dinner with a local family.

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One of the honourable members of the shtibl's congregation, Reb Icze Goldring, created a special, shorter, private walk to the shtibl in his old age. He paid Wolf Radigowski of Konstantyn Street to allow him to cut through his yard and to open a door in the fence that surrounded the shtibl.

The shtibl existed for years and was always a centre of Torah and Chassidism. No exceptional events ever occurred there, except for occasional little disagreements, which were only natural.

Once a year, most of the Pabianice Jews came to the shtibl. This was on the night of Shemini Atzeret, when in the synagogue – where they prayed Ashkenazi–style – there were no dances circling the hall with Torah scrolls, while this was exactly what they did in the shtiblach. Quite often, Reb Mendele Alter, Pabianice's rabbi and the brother of the Rebbe of Ger, would come into the shtibl on this night. Then it was truly joyous. The whole city would look on as the Chassidim – dressed in their fur hats and their silk coats – danced around with the scrolls. The last president of the shtibl was Reb Isischar Frankental, who was one of Josel Ostrowski's sons–in–law.

* * *

The shtibl of the Aleksandr Chassidim took the second place in the city. The shtibl was on Warszawska Street. The rich factory owners of Pabianice prayed there, including Reb Fajwl Ber and his brothers, as well as some Jewish scholars. These Chassidim did not get on well with the Chassidim of Ger – like most of Poland. They often disagreed about various municipal matters.

The Sochaczew shtibl, which was also on Warszawska Street, was located in Ostrowski's yard. It attracted fewer Chassidim than the other shtiblach that we have mentioned. It had a reputation for attracting the best Jewish scholars, the sort of Pabianice Jews who were students of the author of the “Orni Nozer” and the author of the “Shem Meshmuel” – both well–known rebbes of Sochaczew. During the last years before the Holocaust, the Ger Chassidim also opened shtiblach in the old part of the city. One was on Szul Street, in the house of Abram Jakob Joskowicz. This is where the “modernised” older Chassidim prayed, people like Jichak Wajskol – who was a member of the city council – and others. The second shtibl was on Warszawska Street, in the yard of Rejca the baker. Local comedians called it the “Ba, ba, shtibl”, because many clean–shaven young men prayed there.

* * *

Religious Institutions

The Aguda's educational institute, the “Light of the Torah”, was located in the cheder where a large percentage of the children of Pabianice received their general and their Jewish education. Later on, this cheder had a large building of its own on Kapliczna Street, which was donated by Reb Icza Goldring.

Pabianice's rabbi, Reb Mendele Alter, who was the initiator and builder of the cheder, was very hopeful about the success of this school. The path to the school building passed the window of the rabbi's house. This was so that he could always see the children, the Jewish Studies teachers and the General Studies teachers, as they walked back and forth to the school. For some time, there was also a yeshiva located there. My father, Reb Jichak Jakob Jakubowicz, was its director. Local boys studied there, as well as boys who had grown up elsewhere.

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The children of the poor studied in the Talmud–Torah, where they received a religious education. Clothes were also provided for them by the “Society to Clothe the Poor”. Reb Emanuel Kotek, the poultry dealer, was very active there.

 

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Mizrachi school with the teachers Wolf Szer and Ch. Solnyk

The Mizrachi [orthodox Zionists] also had their own Yavnah School, where the children received a national religious education.

There were also private educational institutions. It is worthwhile to mention the “Derochi Nam” School, which was organized by Reb Jakob Jankelewicz. This was a modern religious school, based on similar schools in Warsaw and Lodz. The ultra–orthodox, headed by Reb Mendele, were the sworn enemies of this school.

I remember this fact: once, on the evening of Shemini Atzeret, when the rabbi used to go to the Ger shtibl to dance with the Torah scrolls, the leaders of that congregation went to fetch him. He refused to come, because the householders of the shtibl sent their children to the “Derochi Nam” school. When the leaders returned and told everyone, a huge argument began. The main complaint was aimed at Jidl Moses, because one of his sons had attended that school. After much discussion, the rabbi came and gave a sermon in the shtibl. He said that sending children to that school was the same as sacrificing children to pagan gods. Reb Jekel Jankelewicz, who had prayed at the Ger shtibl before, no longer came there after this.

The school got a lot of publicity out of all of this and continued to grow.

There was a “Beys Yakov” school for girls, which was organized by the “Aguda”. This is where a lot of the young girls in our city received their religious education.

* * *

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The Rabbis of Pabianice

Of the earlier rabbis, I am familiar with Rabbi Pyk, the father of Reb Abram Elijohu Pyk (the author of Jewish religious texts), Rabbi Finkelsztejn (along with his son Reb Dawid) and Rabbi Jakob Kuczynski (who died before World War I). All of them were buried in the Pabianice Jewish cemetery.

Without a doubt, Reb Mendele Alter was a spiritually rich person. He was the brother of the Rebbe of Ger and the chairman of the “Aguda” in Poland. He deserves a totally separate monograph to be written just about him. I hope this will still happen. I would just like to concentrate on a few interesting moments amongst his activities in our city.

The rabbinical elections to decide whether or not Reb Mendele should remain the rabbi of Pabianice were marked by bitter struggles. Before the elections, Reb Mendele Alter said that that he would agree to remain the rabbi of Pabianice only if he received seventy–five percent of the votes. Plenty of energy and money were expended in order to ensure this outcome.

No political campaign anywhere could match this one. Yet, after all the effort, he failed to receive seventy–five percent of the votes in the election. The assembled rabbis and the rabbi of OstrowceReb Majer of blessed memory – prevailed on Reb Mendele to remain in his position despite the lower percentage of votes received.

Amongst all of Reb Mendele's activities in our city, it is worthwhile mentioning his rules about performing marriages, circumcisions and other life–cycle events. This was in the early 1930s. At that time, many people almost bankrupted themselves paying for these celebrations. Everyone wanted to imitate the rich and those who really could not afford it borrowed money. As a result, many went bankrupt. To help prevent this, the rabbi produced a whole sheet of rules about how these events should be organized that was binding on rich and poor alike. Some of these rules were:

Weddings could not be celebrated in halls;
Only ten non–family members could be invited;
It was forbidden to organize different kinds of tables for the rich and for the poor.

To a certain extent, these rules helped people to avoid bankrupting themselves when celebrating a life–cycle event.

It is also worthwhile to remember another one of his rules. At a time when poverty was expanding through the city, he ordered that on one Sabbath no fish should be served and that the money saved should be given to charity. Later on it became a regular rule, and every week the wealthier families gave money to charity that was known as “fish money”.

He ran the community with an iron fist and as a result he had many enemies, especially in progressive and national Zionist circles. People also used to come to ask Reb Mendele Alter for advice and blessings. On the Sabbath and on Jewish festivals, he used to entertain his followers at his table [like a rebbe] and spoke about Torah matters to crowds of Chassidim. A few years before

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the war, he took up a congregation in Kalisz and left our city in the hands of his oldest son, Avremele. Reb Avremele had many disagreements. He only succeeded in remaining the head rabbi of Pabianice by cheating during elections. Reb Avremele published a book of stories about his grandfather.

One older rabbi in the new part of the city was one of the best known and one of the greatest Jewish scholars in all of Poland. He published a scholarly volume called “The Sayings of Menachem”.

At various times, other Chassidic rebbes also lived in Pabianice. During the last years before the Holocaust, the following rebbes lived there.

The rebbe of Sochaczow, who was a great scholar, was one of the most admired rebbes and the representative of the third largest dynasty of rebbes in Poland. He lived on Mejdana Street. Quite a few Chassidim used to visit him on Jewish festivals.

The rebbe of Radoszyc was an extremely pious rabbi. He would fast from Sabbath to Sabbath and prayed and sang beautifully. He was the people's rebbe. Jakob Aron Chmura was the leader of his congregation. Almost all the fishermen used to come to the rebbe of Radoszyc. He lived in Poznanski's house on Szul Street.

The rebbe of Komorna was a newcomer to Pabianice. He was the descendent of a dynasty of rebbes from Galicia. He had many followers in Pabianice and the region and was famous as a “miracle worker”.

There was a monument on the Pabianice Jewish cemetery, where the rebbe of Ruda was buried. People used to come to his gravesite to ask for his help in times of trouble.

* * *

The “Light of the Torah” School in Pabianice

Written by Naftoli Krul
(the cantor of the “Shomrim Laboker” Synagogue in Montreal)


As in all cities and towns, in Pabianice, education – especially the education of little boys – was in the hands of the cheder teachers. They were not always suited to their task. Most of them were elderly Jews who had not had much success at business or trade and who therefore became cheder teachers. The qualifications required of them were not too high.

In most cases, the chedarim were located in the home of the cheder teacher. Such a teacher never lived in a big place. Most of them lived in attics, in conditions that were far from hygienic. Of course, none of this added to the prestige of Jewish religious education.

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In our city, this was how Jewish religious education was carried out until after World War I, when a group of leaders of the orthodox community began to get organized. They made a successful attempt to bring some order and control into the education of future rabbis. The “Light of the Torah” school was founded, based on similar modern chedarim that were located in Lodz, Warsaw, and other cities.

If I remember correctly, the founders were:

Reb Josef Bornsztejn,
Pinchas Lewi,
Reb Ari Horowicz,
Reb Jakob Ferenc,
Reb Josef Pacanowski,
Reb Josef Joskowicz, Reb Bendit Rosental,
Reb Mojsze Gedalja Zelichowski, Reb Ruwen Frohman,
Reb Emanuel Sztern,

and others – all of whom were tortured to death by the Germans.

At first, the school was located on Papzeczna Street in Szczerkowski's hall. The cheder began to function there with a few grades, for which they engaged properly qualified introductory Hebrew teachers and teachers of bible and Gemora. They also hired general studies teachers to teach Polish, German, Maths, Yiddish and Hebrew.

The Yiddish and Hebrew department was run by Reb Icze Majer Birnbojm (who was called Icze Majer the teacher). Soon the original location was seen to be unsuitable and the school shifted to house number fifteen on the same Papzeczna Street. Here the rooms were much better suited to the school's needs.

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The overall leadership of the school lay in the hands of Reb Jakob (Jekl) Ferenc (of blessed memory). He was a scholar and a follower of the Jewish Enlightenment, who understood the institution. The children respected him and paid attention to him. As its first headmaster, Reb Jekl Ferenc managed to establish the school on a firm footing. The students were expected to advance to a higher level class at the end of each school year. Awards were given out in all subjects that were taught, as well as for behaviour, cleanliness, etc.

Reb Jekl Ferenc, the first headmaster of the “Light of the Torah” school, was forced to retire due to ill health. He was replaced by Reb Mojsza Nachman Wroclawski from Zdunska Wola, who was a scholar and a good organizer. He ran the school very well for a long time.

When Reb Mendel Alter (of blessed memory) came to Pabianice, the “Light of the Torah” school developed and grew. He emphasised education and dedicated much of his time to it. His exams became famous amongst the students. With his strong personality, he would personally participate in the development of the students. The older boys put special effort into their preparations as a result.

Rabbi Reb Mendele Alter realised that the location rented for the “Light of the Torah” school was too small, although it placed a great financial burden on the school. He came up with a plan to erect their own building, with a pre–school for the little boys who learned general studies there: they learned Torah and a trade. Reb Mendele and his committee moved from idea to action. They found a wonderful donor in Reb Iczel Goldring of blessed memory, who donated the land on which the beautiful two–storey building of the “Light of the Torah” school was later built.

Rabbi Reb Mendele Alter personally travelled to various cities to collect money to fund the new building. The foundation stone was laid by the municipal leaders, and a short time later the beautiful building was ready. It was opened with great ceremony. Also located in this building were the local offices of Aguda” and its youth organizations – these developed worthy activities and created a circle in which young people who graduated from the school could live according to the laws of the Torah.

Every night, a group studied the “Page of the Day” or Mishna, or Ayin Yakov for young people who were busy all day in a shop, a factory or a trade.

The “Light of the Torah” school continued to be of social importance. That is where the Jewish hospital was organized, under the leadership of Dr. Szwider. The dirty German hands defiled the “Light of the Torah” building. It was from there that our sick people of Pabianice were deported. They shared the fate of all of those who were sent to the park near Grusza and Ender – from where they never returned. Together with others who were identified as belonging to category B, they were sent to the gas chambers of Chelmno, where they breathed their last holy breaths…

* * *

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Lask – the Neighbouring Community
and Older Sister of Pabianice

Written by Engineer Dawid Dawidowicz

Jewish towns of Poland, how deeply you were engraved on our hearts! Towns, old Jewish communities, often with an interesting Jewish history, with old buildings, old synagogues and old Jewish cemeteries, with letters designed as Jewish art-work, the painted walls of the small wooden synagogues and engravings on the centuries-old, bent gravestones. A world full of Jewish folk-types used to live there. True, they were small-town Jews, but they were full of modest heartiness and honest Jewish life-styles – not like the strict “Shulchan Oruch” requires, but more like the simple texts that elderly Jews used to read in the House of Study during the grey hours of the late afternoon…

Today, when there is no longer any sign left of these Jewish towns, the heart cries over how little we visited, loved, or knew these small, old Jewish communities that surrounded us, with their rich, unresearched treasures of Jewish folk-art, folk-creativity, and, most of all – with their Jews. The simple merchants, the vendors in the market, the tradesmen, the inn-keepers… And so many unknown, hearty people among them, truly amongst the thirty-six saints in whose honour the world continues to exist. They were able to sacrifice in order to help those who were close to them and to carry out good deeds…

I am sharing some of my memories that are relevant to our neighbouring city, Lask.

* * *

The old Jewish community of Lask was the closest neighbour of Pabianice. Over the years, I visited there two or three times during our “Hashomer” summer camps that were in the village Pawlowice. From there we used to hike to Zelow, Belchatow and also to Lask. The first time that I spent some time in Lask was in 1925, before I left for France. I came there to get a passport. Pabianice, the big factory city, still belonged administratively to the regional town Lask, as it had since Russian times.

I took Jankl Sztern's bus to Lask. It was known as Jankel Tanya Kitchen (obviously he had once had a sort of cheap inn and that's where his nickname came from). He was a coach driver, but at the same time he sold rags. He owned a bus and drove people to Kolumna, the wealthy summer colony for Jews from Lodz and Pabianice – which was on the road to Lask – and to Lask itself.

The bus was old and the passengers felt the “taste of death” as it travelled along. It seemed that time hadn't changed this kind of travel much. It reminded me of travelling in a horse-and-wagon or in a coach driven by coachmen from Lask.

These old-time, large and heavy wagons, pulled by two or even four horses, would transport people and merchandise to the markets. Much later, but before the tramways began to connect the small towns with the large metropolis of Lodz, these wagons brought the surrounding Jewish settlements closer to the Jews of Lask.

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As everyone knows, every second Jew in a small town had a nickname as well as a family name. Jews in Pabianice also had a nickname – “Pabianice converts”. It was, of course, no great honour for us. One person was responsible for it. This was Dwojra the convert, the only Jewish girl who – fifty years ago – left Judaism because she fell in love with a non-Jew.

The Jews of Lask had a nickname as well. They were called “pinchers”. This actually began with the coachmen. They used to carry little knives in their pockets, so-called “pinchers”. They consisted of a simple blade in a wooden cover. These “pinchers” served mostly as a knife for cutting bread while on the road, or to mend a wheel, or in case of danger, when, as the coachmen used to say, they needed to “give it” to someone, or to “run over” someone, or when they just needed to “spoil” someone: then the “pincher” served as a useful weapon.

Many years ago, during an exhibition of Jewish paper-cuts – the so-called “little roses” – at the Jewish Society for Folk-Art “Gneza” at the Tel Aviv Museum, I found, to my great amazement, one such Lask “pincher”, which had enabled the unknown folk-artist to cut beautiful folk-motives into paper to decorate the lectern of the prayer-leader.

Let's return to Lask itself. After travelling for half an hour, I arrived in Lask. I went straight to the marketplace. My first stop – you understand – was the Municipal Centre. After filling out the necessary form, I still had two hours free. So I decided to walk around the town.

I returned to the marketplace in order to eat in the first inn that presented itself. I sat down at a small table. The owner was a Jew with a long beard, with a yarmulka on his head and wearing a black coat, through which you could see his tzitzit. He came over, greeted me with a mighty “Sholem Aleichem”, after which he followed the old rule and asked me where I came from and what my name was. Of course, I answered him in the order that he had asked the questions. Soon, to my great surprise, it turned out that my father not only knew the innkeeper well, but that they knew each other from the Dworta yeshiva.

“What do you know?” the innkeeper said turning to me in a friendly manner. “I studied with Joska (my father) in Dworta with Reb Majer Dan. Ay, ay, such a meeting! Don't forget to tell your father that you ate at Zendl's – God forbid you should forget! And besides all of that, you are a Lask descendant…”

The end of this greeting wasn't clear to me. But after breakfast he came up to me again and said, “And now I'll tell you, if you don't already know, that your great-great-grandfather, the rabbi of LaskReb Majer Cylich, may his memory be blessed – is buried here in Lask. Oy, oy, was he a saint! A great man amongst Jews! His grave is near Reb Welwl Chalif's grave… Maybe you would like to see your grandfather's grave?” he said to me suddenly. “It's worth seeing, and besides, it's also a good deed…it's before Rosh Hashana…to visit an ancestor's grave… “

I still had enough time. Reb Zendl put his hand on my shoulder and, as if he was an old acquaintance, he began to show me the sights of Lask.

The Jewish cemetery was right next to the marketplace, behind the wooden synagogue. Most of its gravestones were already broken, sunken into the ground, covered with moss that had grown right into the stone, covering up the inscriptions and ornaments so that there was barely any sign of them.

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“A lot of people come, even scholars who want to see the gravestones, but the rabbi”, Reb Zendl explained to me, “doesn't allow anyone to walk into the cemetery. He says that it would be a desecration of the holiness… This is the first Lask Jewish cemetery. It's very old”, he added. “Reb Majer Cylich, may his memory be for a blessing, his grave is in the second Jewish cemetery, not far from here. After he arrived in Lask, in the year 1790: that is when we started to bury people here.”

The second Jewish cemetery of Lask looked like a deserted garden that was overgrown with old tall trees and weeds. These large gravestones, well-decorated and covered in writing, looked like old religious volumes. In this small city – which had been known as little Danzig throughout Poland for a hundred and fifty years – they told of a Jewish life that had already passed.

It was very calm at the cemetery. There was not even the sound of someone reciting the prayer “God, full of compassion”.

“Since the year 1793,” my father's friend said to me, “no Jew has been buried here.”

“It shouldn't happen to us, but an epidemic broke out in our city at that time, so they closed this cemetery and began to bury people in the third Jewish cemetery on the Widowa Road.”

An elderly Jewish lady, with a pious head-covering, suddenly appeared between the gravestones. She was followed by a goat that chewed the weeds very happily.

“And here is your grandfather's grave,” Reb Zendl interrupted the quiet, “and here is the grave of his friend, Reb Welwl Charif.”

I don't know if it was a feeling of respect for my unknown great-great-grandfather – whom I had suddenly discovered thanks to Reb Zendl – or maybe just a feeling of respect for the artistic gravestone. These feelings ruled my mood as I stood near the graves of these two rabbis of Lask.

A quote from the Book of Job was etched on the gravestone and expressed the great tragedy that had befallen Lask around the time of Reb Majer's death. Two small lions held up a religious volume that was labelled “Religious Volume” and “Good Name”. An engraved eagle flew above it, reading the book. It decorated the top part of the gravestone. In addition to these Jewish symbols, the gravestone was decorated with garlands of grapes – the fruit of the Holy Land. They encircled the text on the stone. On the other side the mason had engraved a line of twelve religious volumes and decorated them with little deer that were leaning on them…

I took out some paper and a pencil to sketch my great-great-grandfather's gravestone. Reb Zendl didn't stop me. He was obviously enjoying having a “tourist” around who was interested in his explanations and his knowledge of the Jewish leadership of Lask.

After this unexpected trip to the cemetery, he finished our tour of Lask with a visit to the third Jewish cemetery, which was far from the city.

My first visit to Lask was like a discovery for me. For the first time I recognised a treasure trove of Jewish folk-motives, an interesting chapter of our folk-art.

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On the way home, I almost became upset with my father for not having told me anything about Reb Majer Cylich, the rabbi of Lask. With his natural modesty, my father answered me with an old Yiddish saying:

“Pedigree is a fine thing, but someone else's pedigree is even better.”

Nevertheless, he allowed me to convince him to tell me some interesting details about our grandfather of Lask, who was the head rabbi of Lask during the late eighteenth century. He was also a representative to the Council of the Four Lands [the Jewish parliament].

* * *

My love of Lask developed not just because of Reb Majer, my ancestor with the artistic gravestone, but more perhaps because of the old artistic streets (the Butcher Street, the Tanner Street and the marketplace with the wooden synagogue). They told of an old Jewish settlement with a rich tradition.

Lask is known throughout the world thanks to one of its first great rabbis, Abram ben Jechiel Michel Hacohen, a mystic who lived in the first half of the eighteenth century. They say that for years he used to fast from Sabbath to Sabbath. In 1770 he settled in Jerusalem and ten years later he was chosen as their representative by the other rabbis of Jerusalem. For fifteen years he travelled throughout Europe, collected funds, gave speeches in synagogues, awakened the people to repentance and good deeds, worried about community matters and, most of all, cared for the Jews who were then living in the Land of Israel.

After returning to Jerusalem, the Turks arrested him as the man responsible for the taxes of all the Jews in the Holy city. He was tortured to death in prison. His religious volumes were printed in the most famous Jewish publishing houses in Europe at the time.

Lask gave the Jewish world not only famous rabbis, but also artists. Hillel Benjamin of Lask was known in the history of Jewish art as one of the first builders of the beautiful wooden synagogues in the neighbouring towns of Lutomirsk, Zloczew, Dzoloszyn and Kurnyk. Heinrich Redlich, the talented graphicist was renowned as a coppersmith thanks to the Russian Count Galitzyn. His plates of Raphael and Mateyko's pictures, as well as of the famous picture “A Jew in the Library”, made him famous in the world of Polish-Jewish art.

The following inhabitants of Lask during the nineteenth century are famous:

Emanuel Lasker, the chess champion;
Edward Lasker, the founder of the German National Liberal Party;
Elsa Lasker-Schiller, the poet;
Harold Lasky, the late British Labour leader;
and the English Laskys.

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We should also mention the Yiddish author [Joseph] Opatoshu, whose family ties can be traced back to the town Lask.

Reb Pinchas Zelig Gliksman, a brother of the famous Lodz industrialist and philanthropist, came from an old Lask rabbinical family. He published two volumes about Lask, its rabbis and its leaders. The first one was dedicated to the first rabbi of Lask, Elijukim Gec. The great-grandson of Reb Elijukim was Reb Jeszaja of blessed memory, the grandfather of our Razpszer rebbe, Reb Emanuel Weltfrajd, who I have already mentioned in my memoirs. His second book was also published in Lodz in 1926. It broadly describes famous rabbis and geniuses of Lask.

Christian Lask is no less famous in Polish history than its Jewish community. The famous Prymas Lasky came from there, and a picture of the great Italian Renaissance painter, Andrea Della Rabia, was found in one of Lask's churches.

* * *

I want to finish this chapter about Lask with a Chassidic story about Reb Majer Cylich.

At the end of the eighteenth century, Reb Majer came to Lask from Lissa and became the local rabbi. Chassidism was beginning to spread throughout Poland, especially to Lublin and Pszyscha. Chassidism didn't take hold so easily in Lask. Reb Majer, a friend of Reb Akywa Ejger, was certainly far from the Torah of Chassidism. When Reb Majer's son, Reb Szmuel, got married in Szydlowca, the “Holy Jew” of Pszyscha was there. When he found out that Reb Majer was in Szydlowca, he wanted to meet with him. The “Holy Jew's” Chassidim considered this to be an insult to their rebbe. So they turned to Reb Majer and asked him to come to the Pszyscha rebbe. “To whom shall I go?” Reb Majer asked. “To the Jew,” the Chassidim answered him. “And am I not a Jew then?” Reb Majer asked further. The rebbe of Pszyscha insisted that his followers tell him when the crowd was heading towards the wedding canopy, so that he could see Reb Majer from a distance. Then the “Holy Jew” said, “It's worthwhile to make an effort to be and see such a Jew”.

All in all, Reb Majer was a true Chassid. They say that once he got up in the middle of the night in order to study. When he went out into the street to refresh himself before beginning his studies, soldiers grabbed him, because at that time there was a law that you couldn't leave your house during the night. The soldiers took Reb Majer to jail because he had broken this law.

On the way, Reb Majer knocked on the beadle's door and called out, “Get up! They want to jail Majer!”

The beadle asked, “Which Majer?” But the rabbi called out again, “Get up and save Majer!” The
beadle did not answer again, because he went back to sleep.

The next morning there was a commotion in the city, because the rabbi had been jailed. Of course, they did what they had to do in order to free him. The beadle was upset with the rabbi, asking why he hadn't called out to him.

“I called out: 'Save Majer!',” the rabbi answered.

[Page 63]

“But why didn't you say that it was you, Rabbi?”

And Reb Majer answered, “Even when trying to save yourself, you shouldn't rely on the dignity of the Torah.”

* * *

How was it that the Jewish cities and towns produced people of such high moral calibre, people who deserved to be called holy? Without a doubt, the holy congregations consisted of Jews with great humane and ethical values and deserved to produce such gentle figures.

* * *

The Jewish Hospital
and the Society to Help the Sick

 

pab063.jpg

Written by Dawid Papjernik

When I was a small boy, my father began to take me with him to pray, which meant that I held his prayer shawl when he was not allowed to carry it. My father prayed with a quorum in the small House of Study, which consisted of about two quorums. These were simple, homespun people who called themselves “The Visitors of the Sick.”

This quorum was founded to ensure that there was someone to look after the sick who needed to be cared for. I remember that more than once people knocked on our window in the middle of the night, to let my father know that whoever was meant to sit with a patient had not arrived. On such occasions, my father would get up and go to find out what had happened. Sometimes he didn't return until dawn. The activities of this group broadened. They bought instruments, such as glass cups for cupping patients. These and other necessities were stored at our house. Sometimes we children would be sent to collect the cups from one place and bring them to another patient.

The need for such a self-help organization was always present in Pabianice. As its activities grew, the institution began to be called The Dwelling of the Righteous. They turned to the community and were granted space in the building that housed the Jewish communal organizations, so that they could continue to help the sick. They opened a clinic with a doctor who treated poor children either for free or for a small fee. I also remember that my father had begun to make plans to found a children's summer camp, in order to send children to enjoy the fresh air outside the city for a few weeks during the hot summer months.

[Page 64]

pab064a.jpg

The children at a “Dwelling of the Righteous” summer camp

I grew up and left Pabianice. In far-off Canada I heard from simple people of our folk, all of whom had their own families to support. Despite this, they also cared for others and helped Jewish patients to be able to stand on their own two feet again.

My father died in 1930, but I know that his co-workers continued with their self-help activities until the great tragedy.

I write these lines in the holy memory of the Dwelling of the Righteous quorum and in memory of my father, may he rest in peace.

pab064b.jpg

Szlama Papjernik

 

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