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[Page 64]

The Organization to Clothe the Poor

Written by Mojsze Cohen

To this very day, I cannot forget the impression made on me during my childhood by the actions of elderly, respectable Jews of Pabianice, who carried out the good deed of clothing the poor, needy children who studied in the Talmud-Torah in Pabianice.

It was in 1902-1903 that a Society to Clothe the Poor was founded in Pabianice. The aim was to take care of the poor children who studied in the Talmud-Torah, to make sure that they had appropriate clothes and shoes for the winter. This was an ancient, traditional Jewish good deed. The leaders of the group did not have the necessary resources and initiative to carry out these responsibilities

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properly. The poor children of the Talmud-Torah suffered from the wet and the cold, mostly during the winter months. On frosty and rainy days they couldn't go to learn in the Talmud-Torah under these conditions. On such days, the place was almost empty.

Once, on Sabbath Breishit, when the leadership of the local societies was usually chosen, four new people were chosen:

Reb Jojel Kochman,
Reb Jakob Wygodzki,
Reb Emanuel Kotek,
Reb Pinchas Michel Tenenbojm

On the initiative of Reb Jojel, the Society to Clothe the Poor began an intensive activity to clothe and provide shoes for the children of the Talmud-Torah, immediately after the Sabbath. They intended to do this before the rainy and frosty weather began, so that the children would not miss out on school. According to the ancient rabbis, after all, the whole world exists because of study. The initiator, Reb Jojel, donated enough leather from his tannery to make forty pairs of boots, and Reb Jakob Wygodzki paid for them to be made up. Reb Emanuel Kotik and Reb Pinchas Michel Tenenbojm undertook to provide forty shearling coats for the poor children. Said and done – within four weeks, everything was ready. By the time the weather became frosty and rainy, the poor children already had their clothing. Now they weren't forced to stay home from school with their needy parents when the weather was bad.

The hard up parents were very happy when their children were given proper clothing and shoes one day in the Talmud-Torah. As it happened, I experienced this as a child, and the dedicated activities of these four good-hearted Jewish communal leaders stuck in my memory.

Reb Jojel, who was still young at that time, carried the other three leaders along with him with his honest Jewish heart. Every year after Sukkot, they carried out the traditional good deed of clothing the poor. He continued to do this practical and honest work until 1916, when he became ill and was forced to interrupt his activities in the Society to Clothe the Poor. Later his son, Reb Jecheskl Kochman, and Mr. Matusz (Mordcha) Chmura continued his work in a more modern communal manner. The outbreak of World War II, which destroyed all Jewish institutions, also put an end to that beautiful institution – the Society to Clothe the Poor.

Reb Jojel Kochman died in 1927. Many years later, his name was remembered with the greatest respect for his important work of clothing the poor Talmud-Torah children in our city.

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Reb Jojel Kochman

* * *

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Representatives of various Zionist groups with Dr. Szwarcwasser,
the chairman of the Zionist Organization
Row One (left to right): R. Kantorowicz, M. Adler, Sz. Worcman, D. Mazynski, J. Bialik, Sz. Litmanowicz
Row Two: M. Pukacz, J. Szynicki, B. Grynbojm, J. Dawidowicz, M. Szynicki, H. Rajchman, J. Jelinowicz, J. Frida
Row Three: H Frajman, Sz. Alter, Engineer J. Zelynski, Dr. J. Szwarcwasser, H. Wygdorowicz, J. Wygocki, J.L. Adler

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A group of Zionist leaders in 1920
Standing (from left to right): Szraga Worcman, Engineer Jichak Zelynski (Gilun), Alter Grynsztejn, Jakob Szynicki, Mendel Szynicki, Michal Zloty, Josef Bialik
Sitting: Josef Dawidowicz, Mojsza Pukacz, Henoch Rajchman, Dr. Josef Szwarcwasser (Ben Renan), Jehojszua Alter, Henoch Frajman

 

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Mizrachi women's group

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Mizrachi girls' group

 

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Mizrachi committee:H. Minsky, D. Justowicz, B. Dumbek, J. Muszur, J. Pelet, J. Dumbek

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Group of Mizrachi women preparing to make Aliyah

 

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Hashomer Hadati

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Mizrachi farewelling new olim

* * *

Reb Abram the Gemora Teacher

Written by Jichak Grynsztejn

To the eternal memory of my dear, cut-down family – thirty-three souls in Pabianice – who were killed by the Germans

That's what they called him – Reb Abram the Gemora teacher. Not many people knew him and even fewer knew about him and his life. He wasn't from Pabianice. His name – Reb Abram the Gemora teacher – was said with great respect. All of the other cheder teachers in Pabianice, like Aron Lejb from Stercew and Mendel Pinjes from Wola, were poor people. They ran their chedarim in their small homes, next to the beds and the kitchen. These cheder teachers went out on their own to collect the school fees owed to them, received little and lived in poverty. Each of these cheder teachers was unique in his own way, in his treatment of the children and in his method of teaching. Aron Lejb, a short man who was no taller than his students, sometimes treated the children well and sometimes badly – depending on his mood. He would beat the children with a sack that held two potatoes. Mendl Pinjes had a bad temper. He would whip the children until they were half dead.

Their students were almost all from the poorest level of society in Pabianice. You would rarely find them teaching the children of wealthy families. Besides, it was during World War I. The children went hungry and so did their teacher. Poverty was visible in all aspects of life. Children wore wooden shoes on their little feet and their coats and pants were patched. We became used to the poverty and thought that things had always been this way and always would continue to be so.

Reb Abram the Gemora teacher was an exception to the rule. He was like no other cheder teacher. His appearance was absolutely neat and clean. His flat consisted of three rooms, a kitchen and a corridor. His furniture was princely and held many flower-pots. All of this commanded respect.

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After the teacher who taught Hebrew and prayers – a man from Wola – and after Mendel Pinjes, who taught bible stories, I came to the Gemora teacher – Reb Abram – as a ten-year-old prankster.

When my father, of blessed memory, held me by the hand and led me (with luck) into Reb Abram's cheder, my little heart beat fast. I wondered fearfully what he hit children with?

When we entered the half-darkened corridor, I was still afraid and asked my father whether he was taking me to the doctor. I was calmed by my father's kind words and, when he opened a second door, my fear left me right away. Its place was taken by childish curiosity. I looked around the beautiful room with great respect. The clean, unpainted wooden table was yellow and white and very clean. I had never seen such a clean table in a cheder before. The table was the largest piece of furniture in the room. It attracted my attention. Boys were sitting at the table on benches that were as clean as the table. Even the boys looked different from the students in the other chedarim.

The walls of the room were decorated with brown, polished boards that were as tall as the students. I noticed this as soon as I came into the room. Reb Abram's greeting and his warm words to my father reminded me where I was. I started to look at the rebbe shyly. My father didn't say much. Everything must have been worked out in advance, or else maybe my father didn't want to interrupt the class, which had already been interrupted by our entrance. “A good day – A good year” – and my father left.

The rebbe instructed the other boys to sit closer together in order to make room for me. I packed myself in between them and made friends with them right away.

I sneaked a look at my new teacher. He had narrow shoulders and mild eyes. He didn't ask me anything, but told me to study the weekly portion along with the others. I had never settled into any other cheder so quickly as I did in this “wealthy” cheder with the handsome and clean teacher.

After we had been taught for two hours, the teacher ordered us to sit quietly. He was going to pray. He went into the next room and closed the door. The boys started quietly to tell about the wonders of the teacher's behaviour. Suddenly I heard someone say, as if the room were empty, words which were cut off and repeated a number of times. The boys explained to me that the teacher prayed differently from everyone else.

My later best friend, Jojel Poznanski (of blessed memory), told me the great secret. The teacher surely was one of the thirty-six saints for whose benefit the world is allowed to exist, because his behaviour was – “you'll see for yourself soon enough.” He never prayed with a quorum because he said each word seven times and he pronounced it differently each time. He said his prayers in the third room, which was large and almost empty. In one corner there were various kinds of flower pots, large oleanders and all kinds of other plants. These were his quorum. The teacher stood at a lectern, as the cantor does in synagogue. Two candles burned on the lectern. His prayer shawl covered his head and no one was allowed to come in and disturb him – not even his wife. She stayed in the kitchen and prepared soup. This was both his breakfast and his lunch. He ate three times a day, the third time after saying the midnight prayers.

The secret that my friend shared with me only strengthened my respect for this teacher. He seemed to me to be a heavenly angel. I couldn't imagine what was required of one of the thirty-six saints. I became so curious, that I decided to ask the teacher's wife about his behaviour. But how could I do

[Page 72]

it? She rarely came into the cheder and if you asked her anything, she didn't answer – although she was very friendly towards the children. Her appearance commanded respect. She was also dressed very cleanly and looked like a rabbi's wife. Her name wasn't easy, either. She was called Tamarl.

* * *

After a few days of studying with this wonderful teacher, I already knew that he had three daughters. The oldest one was married with children. The other two were no longer young, but they were very polite, well-brought-up girls with intelligent faces. The older one wore a pair of “squeezers” (eye- glasses) on her small nose. At this time, such glasses were a sign of great intelligence. The younger girls worked in a factory somewhere and we rarely saw them. Apparently they slept in the room where we studied, because we saw a broad bed that was always made with a plush blanket. The teacher often went up to the bed to smooth the corner with both hands so that it was like a table. He did this while we were studying on our own.

A pair of the teacher's boots stood at the foot of the bed. They always looked shiny and new, with one inside the other. They were always in the same position. He told us that the boots were already ten years old, yet they always looked new. He would say, “A person needs not to waste things and to be clean.”

Besides Caro's “Set Table”, he also taught us how to eat and drink, how to sleep with an open window, and how to speak.

“You should eat when you are hungry,” he taught us, “and you should drink when you are thirsty.” He showed us what he meant – every second day, whether summer or winter, he told a boy to bring in water from the pump and made a blessing over it. We said “Amen” and he would slowly drink the whole ladleful of water. “You only have to feed the body when you feel that you must and not just when you want to eat or drink. There must be order to everything in life. This makes someone a real person, when he can control himself.” That's what he taught us.

In winter he used to warn us not to wear shoes that didn't fit us properly. We should walk in the street with calm and measured steps. This commanded respect. We should not be rude to anyone, not to the elderly and not to the blind. Quite the opposite, we should run forward to help them to cross the street. Every day he taught us from his treasury of good behaviours. Our childish brains couldn't remember them all, but we did eventually remember and continue to remember. I have remembered him many times with a blessing on my lips.

He also taught with clear examples. When we read about the forty years of wandering in the desert, he would interrupt our studies for a moment, go into the other room and return with a scroll in his hands. He would unroll it and not allow anyone to touch it – only to look at it. We saw a beautifully drawn map that showed the wanderings of the Jews in the desert, from beginning to end.

When we learned about how the menorah in the Holy Temple was meant to look, he showed us a large drawing of the menorah with all its details.

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In this way, he explained all the difficult passages in the Gemora to us, as well as those in the Mishna and other religious volumes. He made it easier for these things to sink into our memory. We admired his wisdom and his teaching methods. We considered him to be a holy man, which is what his wife, Tamarl, called him.

Once a week, on Mondays, we learned maths and how to write in Yiddish. Our preparations for the writing class involved the participation of the teacher's wife. We boys pushed the table out so that we could sit comfortably while we wrote. The teacher's wife cleaned any dust off the extra board that extended the table. Then she would bring in some inkwells and ink and say, “Whatever you do, don't stain the table with the ink, because the stain won't wash out.”

Our maths exercises were about wagons, trees and boards that were sent down the Wystula River to Danzig, how much money each wagonload of wood cost and the final cost. The teacher's mind was full of forests and the sale of wood.

When it came to learning to write in Yiddish, the teacher told each of us to give him a sheet of paper from our notebooks. Then he would write out something for each of us to copy on these sheets. Before he began to write, he turned and turned the pen and thought until he began to write. Then the words flowed like water. He filled entire pages without stopping with his pearl-like handwriting. Finally he signed his name on each page and gave one to each of the boys.

I held on to these examples for years and enjoyed the beautiful handwriting. They were about forests and various types of trees, the value of each kind of wood and about sending wagonloads of boards and trees to Leipzig and to Breslau. I learned about the business of forests from these writing examples. I suddenly realised that there were very few forests around Pabianice. Then I realised sadly that I had little chance of dealing in forests in Pabianice. I did have a good chance of becoming a weaver or a barber. My teacher never spoke about these trades, which were so common in Pabianice. They just weren't mentioned. His fantasies transported us to another beautiful world of fields and forests and wealthy merchants.

It was only once we got out into the street and I saw the weavers carrying the round wrapped white lengths of fabric and the white bits that were stuck to their black hats, that I wondered which trees I would be sending out into the world…

* * *

Years passed. I got older, but I didn't forget what my teacher had taught me. My whole life I have been followed by his clever words and I try to live according to them. His teachings were even holier for us, his students, when a few years later we – now grown-up young men – experienced his early death. He had prophesied it. Our teacher was sure that he would only live to the age of fifty. And that's what happened.

As we have already said, he ate little and was understandably weakened by this. Requests that he eat didn't help. His wife asked us to talk to him, because maybe he would listen to us – but none of us was brave enough to talk to our teacher about such things…

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His way of life and his death remained a mystery to me. How could he have decided the year of his death? It is against Jewish thought. And he was such a holy man and a scholar, he lived so beautifully and with such quiet honour and ran his cheder with such wisdom – it was truly an educational institution for that time and place. Curiosity didn't let me rest. While I was still his student I had tried to learn something about his life.

Once, when the teacher was not around, I asked his wife to tell me something about his past and who he was? “Children, you should know that he is a holy man.” This was her answer, but it didn't satisfy me. I wanted to know more.

I asked my father, but he couldn't tell me anything. He didn't know him. He didn't even know which rebbe he followed. He had only heard that he was a good Gemora teacher and that his name was Reb Abram.

I told my father everything. To my great surprise, it didn't make much of an impression on him. But I couldn't free myself of my curiosity and I kept on enquiring amongst Jews from Pabianice. No one could tell me anything about him.

He really wasn't like everyone else. His whole appearance, his beautiful face and his black beard, the lovely, shining eyes that looked out with such wisdom, his determined cleanliness and his pedantic mode of dress, all made me extremely curious about him. Once I met him in the street and it seemed to me that he floated and he could see without others seeing him. He walked with such a measured gait, enclosed within himself, as if nothing in the world interested him.

It was only when he became ill, before his death, that I succeeded in finding out just who my teacher was. I remember that difficult experience, maybe the first one in my boyish life. We came to school to study, just like every other day. We waited for our teacher to come in, but he didn't come. Only his wife came into the room, with tears in her eyes, and said that our teacher was ill and that he wouldn't allow for a doctor to be called… But she left anyway and came back with a doctor.

We waited very quietly until the doctor left. Our teacher's wife told us that the doctor only said that he was weak. He needed medicine, but he wouldn't allow her to buy it, because he refused to take it.

After being in bed for a few days, the rebbe arose. We continued to study. He felt well. You couldn't tell by looking at him that he had been ill.

A short amount of time passed in this way. We studied the Rosh Hashona maschita. It was before the Days of Awe. One afternoon we returned. Our teacher lay in bed. We didn't see him, but his wife told us that he wouldn't teach us anymore. We should say psalms for his health. We looked through our prayer books and started to pray very hard for him. When we finished, I asked his wife again to tell us about him, about his life before we knew him. She began reluctantly to tell us…

He came from Zamosc to Pabianice a few years ago. He came from a wealthy Chassidic family who sold the wood from a local forest in Zamosc. He himself was the accountant for such a business, was wealthy, very pious and was a Chassid of the rebbe of Ger.

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He spent many years in this forest. Everyone there also thought that he was a holy man. The peasants loved him and called him “the holy Jew”, because he did much good for everyone.

One day a fire broke out in a large forest and some people died. From then on, he couldn't find a place for himself anywhere. His conscience tortured him.

She also threw in a few words about a family disagreement, that he knew who had set the fire… He decided to leave that area and came to Pabianice, where he led a different life.

The next morning, all we students came to school with a shiver and our boyish hearts asked about our teacher's health.

His wife went into our teacher's room and asked what she should tell his students. He said that each one of us should come in, and he parted from us wishing us, “God should lead you on the straight road and should protect you…” With these words we left him and we never saw him again.

He died a few days before Rosh Hashona: our dear teacher, Reb Abram the Gemora teacher, may his memory be for a blessing. I will never forget him and although I am far from religious and far from being superstitious, my teacher Reb Abram still remains the holiest man I ever knew.

* * *

Religious Zionism in the Ger Chassidic Court

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Written by Moshe Cohen

[translation of the Hebrew text begins on page 258]

 

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