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Memories of Writers,
Types and Images

 

Poland
(To my mother, may she rest in the garden of Eden)

by Mordechai Temkin

Translated by Mira Eckhaus David

Poland, my homeland, my root and origin,
I left you when I was young,
As a bird that was left, in the isles of the sea I searched for a place,
In the landscape of the ancient land, desolate and poor.
How, my homeland? The biggest crises of my life
Have covered you like see waves.
But even when the sea is stormy, the azure islands are visible,
The past days I experienced in you illuminate me from afar!

Not as a leaf in the wind I was pulled from my homeland,
Not to the greatness I took off and left my nest.
The desire to an ancient homeland was in me,
So, I was torn with pain from my root like the turn from a mother's womb.
Even my soul disgust of your false land
And like a bee, pursued by the smoke of enmity,
I ran away from you with my loot,
Because you wanted to take more and more!

Oh, Poland, my homeland, my origin and my ancestry,
Together with you in the pit of captivity I dreamed my dream of a return,
A return to my country, in its disobedience and glory;
Ah, how I envied and was angry that you were redeemed first,
And with pride and redemption you despised my people!
But now, in your distress, with all my anger,
Can I mourn on you like a homeland that was lost,
When I'm full of contempt and non-consoling love? !


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Peretz in a Pogrom City
in the Period Between the Two World Wars

by Yoyl Mastbaum (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

In the winter of 1906, shortly after the pogrom in Siedlce, Jewish notables from Petersburg, Odessa, and Warsaw began to visit the beleaguered city. Their intent was to gather facts and materials about the criminals in the czarist government, led by Stolypin, who organized the pogrom and carried it out by means of the colonel of the dragoon regiment Tichonowski. I do not remember who came from Odessa; from Petersburg came the young student from Petersburg University—Prilucki (later a famous activist, writer, and linguist, Noah Prilucki, z”l), who was already known then in Poland through his letters in the Warsaw publication “Undzer Veg.” He inspired everyone with his vigilance and agility with the incriminating evidence and the way he proceeded with love and sympathy for the victims,, whom he trusted and encouraged. At the same time, the Warsaw newspaper “Undzer Veg” announced that Y.L. Peretz would come to Siedlce, and as I recall, the announcement spread like a flame.

Siedlce's Jews prepared for Peretz' arrival as if it were a great holiday. The city went topsy-turvy. The newspaper with Peretz' picture was grabbed up by everyone, and twice a day people went to the train station to wait, in case he would arrive, even though his arrival time had been announced. The older donors gathered together and compiled a report about the pogrom and an accounting of the damages to give to Peretz so he could make known to the world the guilt

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and the responsibility for the killed, the wounded, and the robbed Jews.

To welcome Peretz there were two amateur troupes who played “Hertzele Meyukhes.” The main players of both troupes wanted to show off for Peretz…

Also the students in the eighth level of the gymnasium, who mostly knew Nekrasov, Nadson, Pushkin, and Lermontov, learned to recite their poems in order to perform that evening which the young people had prepared for Peretz.

Our city had its share of writers, as I recall, a whole minyan of them. I will mention the most well-known: one of the writers was my friend, a semi-professional doctor, who had written a treatise about Nietzsche. He was prepared to show his manuscript to Peretz.

A second writer, Dovid Fleytist [flautist], a young man in a green shirt who wore dark glasses like a blind person, had learned to play the flute and spent his days writing poems.

With a third writer I had formed a deep friendship. In my younger years I was a clerk in a fabric business. My boss's grandson wrote sketches in Yiddish and he persuaded me to write “essays” on Tolstoy's teachings in Russian; as we proceeded with our daily labors, we switched roles: I began to write sketches in Yiddish and he—essays in Russian. Later there came a break in my writing life—my relatives, who were involved in revolutionary circles, asked me for proclamations and revolutionary announcements. I threw away my essays and sketches and turned toward insurrection.

On the day of Peretz' visit, a mass of people filled the streets. I remember that gray winter day. A sudden unrelenting snowstorm hit Warsaw Street, a quiet street of merchants.

Jews milled around in the street; hands were stuffed into sleeves as people looked out for the sleds that would bring people with news about the reparations for damages. And what did they expect

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from Peretz? Be assured—that he would certainly help them get back on their feet. Suddenly a sleigh appeared with people with upraised arms. Who were they?—Hometown friends who had seized the sleigh and brought Peretz.

Peretz was first out of the sleigh—“Let's go by foot,” he said to the young people. And where? It made no difference, right or left, to the little orchard or to the bigger park. It appeared that our guest was familiar with the city. He knew that Siedlce had a ”Yatzik,” a copper statue with the globe on its shoulders, and he began to speak about “Yatzik”; he knew that Siedlce had a gymnasium for nice young women, and he began to ask where they were, these students, and so they quickly appeared. Like butterflies around a light they began to circle him , all the nice young girls of the city, students and part-time students, romantic young men with their beloved prima donnas who acted in the theater and random girls and women wearing astrakhans and muffs and galoshes up to their knees, covered with frost.

“Welcome to you, Y.L. Peretz.”

“We love our guest.”

“Long live Peretz.”

Peretz, as he always did, felt alive and vigorous in the company of young people. A middle-sized, well-built figure with a big, bronze-like head. On his broad shoulders was a heavy coat, half-fastened at the neck. He stood there and with his large, laughing eyes, which could hardly be seen under his broad-brimmed hat, he looked at the young people around him. Peretz spoke to them in Polish, Russian, and Yiddish. It depended on whom he was addressing: to the beautiful, graceful gymnasium students he spoke Russian, to the housewives he spoke Polish, and to the young people, Yiddish.

I was seeing Peretz for the first time. He did not make the impression of a person who was so imbued with Yiddishkeit, with Jewish spirit, with Jewish popularity. You would have thought that before you stood a Polish nobleman, a gentleman who spoke Yiddish, but his sparkling eyes betrayed him and spoke their own Yiddish language.

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In the meantime, the circle of people around Peretz grew bigger. The doors arrived with their sons, daughters, and sons-in-law. Peretz was invited to the home of the oldest door, Nahum Weintraub, whose family were old Zionists. But Peretz preferred to go to the Hotel Angelski, where a room awaited him with two silver samovars and enough glasses for a large number of people to drink tea.

Peretz' private secretary, who looked like a puppet with deep blue eyes, had remained in the sled and had already departed with Peretz' luggage for the Hotel Angelski.

The snow was falling and the whiter the earth appeared, the blacker and darker appeared the broken windows, the broken up and ruined houses—open wounds that remained from the pogrom.

Traversing the streets, Peretz stopped women, old people, and children, and asked them if soldiers were in their houses (seeking verification that the pogrom had been an organized event). He was particularly interested in the chief leader of the pogrom, Tichonowski. Around the ruined houses were a glazier, a tin worker, and other craftsmen. Peretz conversed with them, inquiring about the number of damaged dwelling places, ruined buildings, and broken furnishings.

Finally we came to the Hotel Angelski. There Peretz retired from the crowd for fifteen minutes, noting things down. Then he went to his secretary, to the handsome young man with the deep eyes, and gave him the papers on which he had written. The crowd, meanwhile, had expanded. People came to give Peretz accounts of what had happened.

After having heard the crowd, he took a brief rest and then had a light conversation with the young people, among whom were some writers. He called for manuscripts, put his pince-nez on his thick nose, read over them and returned them immediately with his comments. His judgments were short but severe: “Burn this,” “A waste of time,” “Put it in the fire,” “Look for other work.” He was like a shochet who kills chickens and flings them away.

I escaped from this “slaughter” for a simple reason:

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I had withdrawn. I was helped by that young man, Peretz' secretary, whom I had known some years earlier. In 1902, in Brisk, where I worked as a ceiling painter and he was writing his first poems under the name “Menachem” (later—Menachem Borisho). Seeing me standing there in perplexity, he tugged at my sleeve and told me to wait until the morning, because today Peretz was “on fire.” I followed him—and thus I was rescued.

On the day after the “slaughter,” Menachem arranged for me to meet with Peretz in the Hotel Angleski. I showed him one of my poems, and he recommended that I publish it in “Undzer Veg.” I later published it in “Neie Tzeit.”

I need to recall a few words that Menachem Borisho wrote to me years later about our acquaintanceship in Brisk and later in Siedlce in the Hotel Angleski.

“Do you remember the streets of Brisk?—The officers, the young men of the gymnasiums, the young women of the gymnasiums with the brown bows in their hair, the external students and those who lived at home who were dressed in their student uniforms. Do o you remember on the street a painter with pants covered with whitewash who had come to work in Siedlce and there became a comrade?

“Later, after a long while, we met again in Siedlce at the Hotel Angelski, I, a person with a writing career of a whole two months and you, a beginner even more than myself. It was a pleasure for me, after those Brisk days, to help you enter the literary world.”

The three of us spoke for a long time. It is difficult after so many years to convey what that conversation entailed. Peretz was sitting in a well-upholstered chair from the Hotel Angelski with a fat cigar between his fingers. He had already finished with the materials about the Siedlce pogrom. He now spoke of the young men and women of Siedlce, about the writers, speaking in a soft Peretz tone. The conversation involved an elusive theme that interested us neophyte writers: what literature should a young writer read: lyric or epic works? Menachem held that a young writer, first approaching

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should read everything without being choosy; Peretz, however, had a different idea: “No, not so, Menachem. Reading a book is often like a cure, and when one needs a bromide for his nerves, he shouldn't take castor oil for his stomach.” They conducted a lively debate in which I dared not take part. I just asked Peretz my particular question: what should a person like myself read?

Menachem answered for Peretz: Read what you want.

Peretz repeated his earlier words: If you need a bromide, don't take castor oil.

I worked up my courage and asked Peretz:

Nu, and Maeterlinck and Wispianski? Peretz answered with his ironic smile: Wait a while for them. Read epic works.

I looked at Peretz with great surprise. It was well known that Maeterlinck and Wispianski were Peretz' pillars of fire and that he wrote under their influence. Peretz revealed his belief that people should read long novels, descriptive, with a realistic background. It appeared that he, the lyrical writer, surely loved what he himself lacked. He cited examples from Greek literature, mentioned insightful ideas, brought out analogies, seeking to convince young Menachem, but all of a sudden the door opened and a group of young men and women entered. They wanted to hear Peretz' thoughts on Zionism, about Eretz Yisroel, where they had decided to go. But none of them dared to open their mouths, until Peretz himself began.

“What can I do for you young people?” Peretz inquired.
They answered with one voice, like a group of children: “We, we want to go to…”
“To Eretz Yisroel, eh?” Peretz interrupted. “Good. What will you do there?

“Study, Mr. Peretz. We will study there.”

“Study what/“.

“Art.”

“What art?”

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They all exclaimed, “In the Bezalel School.”

“Oh, Bezalel?” Peretz inquired.
He tried to dismiss the matter with a joke.
“You ask, 'Where?' Go to Vienna. It's true. If you want to study art, Vienna is better.”
He soon dropped that tone and began to talk about famous Zionist leaders, especially Dr. Herzl. I do not know how Peretz then felt about Zionism, but he spoke about Herzl with great enthusiasm. From Peretz' words about Herzl and his accomplishments, one could tell that he was among a group of young Zionists. They all began to sing the popular song of those times “There Where the Cedar”—and the most prominent voice was that of Peretz himself.

*
* *

It is good now when almost fifty years separate us from this magical man to ask the question: what constituted this man's great strength? How did he so beguile us that we still talk about him, comment on him, study him, translate him. I have already given the answer. In the first days when I met him in Siedlce, Peretz belonged to the people, who were led by a deep intuition. Peretz inspired more than he spoke, sang more than described. In comparison with Mendele and with Sholem Aleichem, he seems fragmented, but his fragmentation is a kind of wholeness. He was totally intuitive, extemporaneous, improvisatory. It is no wonder that he had no spiritual crises, that the secular in him did not conflict with the spiritual, that optimism and pessimism could happily coexist in his soul; and the master, who with so much light and Shabbos holiness forged the golden chain, could lead us in the darkness and profanity of “Night in the Old Market.”

I remember his words from 45 years ago in Siedlce, in the city theater, and I see in them a prelude to the two contradictory works.

It as a dark evening. The streetlights burned darkly and our hearts were heavy. On the stage of the

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half-destroyed theater stood two men: the younger, good-looking Menachem Goldberg (Borisho), who recited Peretz' “The Watchman,” and the great master, who improvised a wonderful speech about the destruction in Siedlce, which he concluded with these words:

Know, my dear Jews, that destruction is a bitter passage, but a momentary one; but the world is not headed for destruction. It is headed for rebuilding, for exaltation, for light. Let there be light.


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My homeland
In the first horrors

(Chapter from a story)

by Mordechai Ovadia

Translated by Mira Eckhaus David

The days of the World War II arrived.

The children returned from the Heder in groups with flashlights. They were afraid to look up to the sky. Terrible signs of fire were seen in the sky. At home, they whispered full of fear and their hands shook while holding the newspapers. At the end, they locked themselves in the houses and the women were forbidden to cry. After a night of frequent and horrific shootings, the Austrian Germans came. The streets were filled with infantry and car corps. Loud shouting filled the air: Cigaretten! Cigaretten! Cigaretten! The locks in the gates creaked and the sidewalks became full of people. Clever Jews tried to speak Yiddish. And suddenly, within all this noisy and crowded environment, shootings began, one after the other – people started running full of terror and fear, as if frightening rocks were falling from the sky. Dad grabbed Menashe in his arms, and his hat fell to the ground. Menashe turned his head away. Next to the hat, a man knelt and fell. It reminded him the “kneeing” at Yom Kippur pray – but when he noticed the red puddle near the man that fell, he started crying…

In the days that followed, hunger raised its head, spread and caused illness.

The storefronts of the city shops offered shiny and fatty herrings while the children of Israel blink and swallowed heinous saliva. Raphael, Menashe's cousin, became ill and died. Menashe is from the seed of the Cohanim, and is not allowed to enter the cemetery, yet he did not know how this sight engraved in him, when my grandfather went out of the cemetery, plucked weeds and throwed them behind him. The sight was engraved in him as a symbol of horror: a man's conversation with death lurking behind his back for every step of his life in the world.

The tragedy affected the whole being of the boy, he who prayed three times a day and recited “Shema” with intent with his eyes closed. His entire hope was lost.

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He did not want to surrender to the dark necessity, he did not want to die. Then, for the first time he looked at the people of the house, at the adults, begging for mercy, a little mercy for a delusional frightened boy who does not want to die.

After a short time, Grandpa died. He went as a man in a hurry to a pre-determined path for him; In the morning he defecated, prayed Shacharit and went to bed to rest forever.

The adults, stood crying and lost too. Menashe recalls the sight again: a man's conversation with death lurking behind his back for every step of his life in the world, and he grasps a secret, the horrible amongst secrets.

And the Germans vigorously ordered cleanliness, and boiling disinfection boilers buzzed all day in the streets. And first of all, to “clean” the buffet in which only the rotten bread that is mixed with bran, blackened. In those days my mother's brother, who was a single, was taken to forced labor, to distant places and the people at home were very gloomy because everyone liked him. After a long year with a gloomy winter, he returned home, very skinny and ill, and with his field bottle in which he ate all day potato peels soaked in water.

For many hours the boy was with the young, pale uncle and listened to his frightening horror stories.

In the meantime, many things were banned from trade and even eating, and the Jews were forced to bribe for a living and starved to death. The distress has increased greatly and in the Beit Midrash people who spoke about Israel and Darshanim calculated the end and added gematria and the boy still expects a salvation as it should arrive soon.

One cloudless morning, proclamations were displayed in the open air saying: The Polish people have been liberated on their land! And here and there the last of the poor German officials are expelled with their hands on their heads. And the day after, the Polish Legionnaires were all over the land.

And before they can tell the wonders about the Maccabi Pilsudski to the Polish people, and here is a new legend approaching the country, the Bolsheviks are attacking the country.

Now, when the boy heard slippery, fragmented things, his heart pounded in his chest like a clapper in an agitated bell. Pale and frightened boys of Israel, who grow up every day and every hour under the wings of terror, kissing the mezuzah every evening and giving in their soul to the Creator in supplication: “until the next day, a merciful Father in heaven, until the next day”, were spreading the rumor about the Bolsheviks, the “red” Bolsheviks, headed by the Jew Rabbi Aryeh Trotsky, and members of the ten tribes, the “red Jews” beyond the Sambatyon, who will bring redemption to Israel and the world.

But the bitter disappointment was not long in coming. As a herd, the “saviors” raided the

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shops and in exchange for “tickets” took everything they could. They were taking old Jews from the city's dignitaries to sweep the city streets, and they are sturdy guys, their hands in their pockets, smoking fine cigarettes and saying: “Napliavat”, “Borjzoim”…

A few hectic days have passed and again cannons roar up near; in the middle of the night the Bolsheviks ran for their lives, and in the early morning the Poles returned, drunk with victory and lust for revenge and murder.

A slight horror accompanied the Jewish boy everywhere, at home, in the Heder and on the street, the horror from the Creator, and in contrast, of the Yetzer Ara that spreads its net at every step, and here came the horror itself and the soul of the Jewish boy fluttered like a dove in the hawk's claws.

Oh, those long, black nights, the howl of the winds and the trembling of the window glasses and floors to the sound of the thunder of the cannons without darkness, without darkness … and into the morning- into the morning a pale, weak universe peeks, and the heart is full of pity for people, flesh and blood, there, in the killing fields … and he jumps from his place with fear to any sound in the door and in the wall.

Now they have stopped whispering. A certain Jew bursts, a brother of a tormented and precious fate and the fear peeks out of his trembling beard, and he tells in panic about dozens of Jews that were hanged on the forest trees and were smeared with tar and burned alive, and others who were killed along to the sound of the harmonica. Red-faced peasants spit on their palm and strike with a sickle on heads and necks, to the beat of wild dances and a strangled “Shema Israel”. Once Menashe saw with his own eyes how two soldiers hit in the street a Jewish with a wide white beard, beating him alternately, systematically, until blood flowed - finally they spat and let go of him …

The horror danced and stuck its crooked nails in the terrified soul of the boy…


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Memories from the Gymnasium Days

by Dr. Chaim Lifshitz

Translated by Mira Eckhaus David

My happy youth years are related to the city of Siedlce, to which I arrived from the capital Warsaw, in 1909, to study at the Gymnasium. The memory of the pogroms days that were carried out by the tsarist armies at the end of the first failed revolution, was still alive at that time at the Jewish residents. The grocer from the grocery shop, who was a direct victim of the pogroms, was telling me details about the pogroms. But in the city, the life of the Jewish youth, that was swept away by the wings of the resurrection, was already fermenting. Those were the years in which Adv. A. Heartglass' “assistant” was walking on the sidewalks of Siedlce, on his way to the court. While us, the members of the youth movement Hanoar Halomed, who were already heading Zion, accompanied him with awe: he was one of Helsingfors conference heroes!

In the boarding school of the students, on Sankiewicz Street, counselors and tutors have found the youths of Siedlce and the nearby towns, whose souls longed for secular pursuit. “Hazamir” (“the nightingale”) was still the sole legal center, around which the Yiddish public nature was concentrated and where the girls from Sloshny's families dominated in the splendor of their manners and in the pleasantness of their voices.

Certainly not many survived that Pre-Zionist period in Siedlce. Levy Gutgeld and his Zionist generation were still youngsters, and the Zionist cell I remember is the Landau's home - one of the Mintz brothers' bank employees. The immigration, especially to Belgium, has taken almost all of the vibrant youth out of the town.

Only few of the locals learned in the gymnasium: out of the six Jewish members in my class, only one was born in Siedlce. I will also mention Elhanan Levin, who was known in Siedlce as a prodigy, who became several years later one of the leaders of the Revisionist movement in Warsaw. Maybe there is still someone who remembers the student who luckily won one day a large sum of money and Levi Gutgeld's father handed him a bag full of gold coins in the presence of a large crowd. It was a farewell gift from Siedlce before I left it in 1913. The years of the First World War passed and after the Russian exile I returned “home” to Warsaw. After a short time working for the central

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committee of the Zionist Organization in Poland, Levi Gutgeld was also in the group of collaborators with me. There was a special closeness between us. I remember Siedlce with the kindness of my youth. When I visited it, I found only a few of the past - the war scattered them all over the world, but I willingly shared myself in the life and worries of the Zionist movement in Siedlce.

And for those who still remember those days I will say: we did not imagine the bitter and hasty end that came upon our dear and glorious communities in Poland. However, we also did not imagine that we would be privileged to live in the State of Israel. We were not asked if we were willing to pay that price. But many of those who did not arrive to Israel, took comfort in their last moments that this is how it will be in the far distant future.


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Types and Figures from Siedlce of the Past

by Y.N. Weintraub

R. Mannis, the City Preacher

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Reb Mannis lived in an earlier time, before the time of Rabbi Eliezer Shalom Pietrkover (who was called “Petrkover” because he was later on the rabbi of Pietrkow). The city shul was at that time made of wood, as opposed to the beis–medresh, which was made of bricks and stood on the spot of the current township administrative office.

In that very beis–medresh, the city preacher R. Mannis spent all his time, day and night. He was a great scholar and a very poor man. For his words of Torah in the beis–medresh he received a stipend of eighty groschen a week, but not in coin. Rather he received this stipend only in goods: from the baker he received bread and from the grocery kasha and lights.

Aside from his public words of Torah, he also wrote his insights on the Torah. He did not receive enough money in his stipend to buy paper, so he used to use different scraps of paper that people had used as shopping lists. These insights remained in their manuscript form with R. Mannis' grandson, R. Asher Gedalyahu Goldberg.

These manuscripts also contain R. Mannis' calculations about his living expenses. When he exceeded his 80 groschen per week, he tried to make up the “deficit” by fasting. He fasted often, many times from Shabbos to Shabbos.

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Despite his poverty, he always took care to have fish for his Shabbos meal in order to honor Shabbos. The manner of buying for Shabbos in those days was different from today, when everyone goes to the store to buy fish. At that time, two owners of inns sold cooked fish to the whole city for 5 or 10 groschen per serving. But not everyone could indulge in this “luxury.”

One of the two inns belonged to Etke Kaweh, the mother of the later community activist Rokhel Etkes. From her, R. Mannis would buy fish for 5 groschen to honor Shabbos. But Etke wanted to have the merit of having R. Mannis eat her fish at no cost, so every Friday she would sent fish with her daughter Rokhel, who was at the time a young girl. The young Rokhel Etkes was, you can be sure, could not easily prevail on R. Mannis to accept the gift. Every time that that Rokhel Etkes brought fish to R. Mannis, he would give her a blessing.

People had that time maintained that R. Mannis had a holy soul: when he met a Jew, he soon saw into that person's soul. The Seer of Lublin, the Jews would say, rebuked R. Mannis a bit: he wished that his holy soul should be more transparent, so that whatever he knew, he should not keep to himself.

Among the many stories that people told about R. Mannis, it was also said that at that time there lived in Siedlce R. David Weinschenker and his wife Royze. Once, their daughter, a young bride, was ill with typhus. They sent their son–in–law Naftali to R. Mannis so that he would pray for the sick girl. R. Naftali ran quickly to R. Mannis, who had just come home from the beis–medresh to rest a little. R. Mannis said they should take the engagement agreement and lay it on the sick girl's head and she would recover. But, he added, she would not live long. And so it happened–in a short time, the sick girl passed away.

People also said that the aforementioned R. Naftali Neuman, wanted to marry for a second time and came to R. Mannis for his advice. R. Mannis ordered R. Naftali to write down the woman's name.

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“Why?” R. Naftali responded. “I'll just tell you.”

“No, write down the name,” R. Mannis answered. The result was that R. Naftalki Neuman complied. R. Mannis took a look and quickly told him what she looked like and even what clothes she was wearing.

Even though R. Mannis was a fervent misnagid, and even though the Chasidim and misnagdim of the time had terrible disagreements, the Chasidim told stories that praised him. Thus, for example, the Chasidim would tell that once the old rabbi of Kotzk was traveling through Siedlce. Arriving at Warsaw Street, the rabbi got out of his coach and went into the beis–medresh for a couple of minutes. R. Mannis was at that moment deeply engrossed in a Talmudic passage and did not notice the rabbi. Only later, when the rabbi had already departed, R. Mannis clapped himself on the head and said, “There was a fire in the beis–medresh. A great man was here.” When he began to inquire who that man was, people told him that it was Rabbi Mendel from Kotzk. R. Mannis ran out of the beis–medresh and ran a couple of versts [almost a mile and a half] outside of the city until he caught up with the wagon and greeted the rabbi.

R. Mannis, even as a committed misnagid, maintained a strong friendship with one of the famous Chasidim of his retime in Siedlce, R. Kalman Areles.

R. Mannis died in Siedlce in 5605 [1834–35] and he lies now in the cometery there. From the inscription on his tombstone we can see that before he was a preacher in Siedlce, he was a rabbi in Ostrow.

* * *

Since I have mentioned the Great Shul, I will tell something about it. After the great fire on Hoshana Rabba of 5611 [1840–41], when the wooden shul was completely burned down, people began to collect funds for a new shul. Five years later, in 5617, the foundation was laid for the brick shul. The stones for the foundation were sold at auction. The laying of the first stone was purchased by D'voraleh the Lubliner, the wife of Rabbi Moyshe Greenberg, for a thousand zlotys. With this mitzvah, she honored the then rabbi, Rabbi Shalom Pietrkower.

In the Siedlce fire that broke out in 5630,

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the roof of the shul burned, along with the Aron Kodesh. That Aron Kodesh was a work of art. Work on it took two years, and according to the inscription on it, it was completed in 5621 by Y. Zwibak and his two sons. At the time of the fire, only parts of the Aron Kodesh could be saved, and they were used in the current Aron Kodesh.

 

R. Eliezer Shalom Pietrkower

Rabbi Eliezer Shalom was a diligent worker on behalf of the congregation. With the permission of the current dozors–R. Mayer Nissan Nussbaum, R. Gedaliahu Saltzman, and r. Noson Zilberzweig, he created a fund for ransoming prisoners, redeeming Jews who had been arrested. They also declared a tax on the yeast and salt sellers; the sellers then passed the tax on to the whole community. No one dared to sell salt or yeast aside from those approved of by the community court and the doors.

R. Eliezer Shalom used to collect pledges. People say that he once came to a community bigwig, one of the oldest residents, R. Mayer Orszel, to collect a pledge for ransoming prisoners. R. Mayer Orszel at first wanted to lower R. Eliezer's evaluation. R. Eliezer, in protest, went to the bookcase, took out a volume of Gemara, and sat down to learn. When R. Mayer Orszel asked the rabbi what it meant to protest in such a fashion. He responded: “'Love upsets the natural order'” [quoted from Genesis Rabbah], by which he meant to say that he considered the mitzvah of charity to be so great that sometimes he must lower his honor before it.

R. Eliezer Shalom went after those merchants who raised their prices. At that time, the trade in fish for Shabbos had begun. There was a story that a visiting Jew, from Sokolow, had brought fish for Shabbos to Siedlce. The fishermen resented this and they damaged the fish. The Jew ran with a complaint

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to Rabbi Eliezer Shalom. R. Eliezer Shalom soon came to the fish market (which was then in Pszeyozd Street, which was also called R. Berl Hershke's Street). R. Eliezer Shalom looked at the fish of the local fishermen and said: “Your fish are not kosher, because they have worms in them.” Soon the report spread through the whole city, and no one wanted to buy fish. So it was for a couple of weeks, until the fishermen came to the rabbi and made an agreement that they would no longer raise prices.

Rabbi Eliezer Shalom left Siedlce under the following circumstances: The holder of the option to sell yeast–one of the Siedlce big shots at that time–adulterated the yeast. Consequently, on Shabbos the challahs did not turn out well, and there was dissatisfaction in many homes.

There were some people who wrote “complaints” about R. Eliezer Shalom. When the government got involved, R. Eliezer Shalom decided to leave and Siedlce and become the rabbi of Pietrkow.

R. Eliezer Shalom was known as a great scholar, and people used to say about him that he was the kind of scholar of whom it was said [quoting the Talmud], “Who is a real Torah scholar? He who thinks about Halacha at all times.”

 

The Greenberg Family

One of the first Jewish families that began to play a role in Siedlce in the second half of the eighteenth century was the many–branched Greenberg family.

The patriarch of the family was R. Chaim Greenberg. He was in his time quite rich. He owned many houses and locations in Siedlce, like the locale of the beis–medresh of R. Yisroel Greenberg (a great–grandchild of R. Chaim Greenberg), buildings number 14–16 on First of May Street, a few houses on Puste, Teatralne, the location of what are now numbers 13–165 on First of May Street, and the whole of Sondowa Alley from Pilsudski 16 (the numbers of the buildings and the names of the streets–as they were before the Second World War).

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In the Siedlce records there is a will of R. Chaim Greenberg's written in Hebrew in 1790 stating that he gives to his eldest son David 10,000 zlotys via the magistrate for a site that he had sold. It appears that this concerned the sites on which now stand the buildings of the district court.

R. Chaim Greenberg had two sons: R. David and R. Avraham, and one daughter. David Greenberg was also called Dovid Weinschenker. In the building at the corner of Teatralne and First of May, which once belonged to R. Shmuel Brukarsz (peace be upon him), he ran a tavern [in Yiddish, a “weinschenk”]. R. David Greenberg served as a door. With his own money he bought a spot for a cemetery. This is the cemetery near the Jewish hospital.

The above–mentioned properties R. Chaim Greenberg gave to his son R. Avraham. R. Avraham was the son–in–law of R. Yisroel Chelemer, who was known as a great scholar and knew many languages and other secular subjects.

At that time in Mezritch there was a blood libel against thirteen Jews, accusing them of killing a Christian child and using his blood to make matzos. The trial of the thirteen Jews was held in the district court in Lublin. The authors of the blood libel had, you understand, no evidence that the Jews had murdered the Christian child, but they insisted that the Zohar said that Jews use Christian blood for religious purposes. The court needed a Jew who could translate the Zohar into Polish. But in the whole area, they could find no one except R. Yisroel Chelemer, who lived in Siedlce. Thanks to his clarifications, the Jews were spared a great misfortune.

The Greenberg family, it appears, was the first to grasp that a child should learn the local vernacular. According to the “Official Journal of the Podlasie District” of 1824, on the list of students who finished the vocational elementary school is the name of Miss Hinde Greenberg of Siedlce, who received a certificate for excellent studies.

Chaim Greenberg's daughter married R. Kalman Chasid.

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Avraham Greenberg had five sons: Mottl, Shimon, Yechiel, Yitzchak, Moyshe, and two daughters.

Yehiel Greenberg was the father of Yisroel Greenberg, who established a beis–medresh that was called by his name, “R. Yisroel Yehiel's Beis–Medresh.” He also left a will establishing a Talmud Torah (this is the Talmud Torah building on Brawarga Street). Moyshe was the husband of Dvorah from Lublin and the father of Malia Miendziszecki, who was known in Siedlce for her wine business and especially for her righteousness. Moyshe, Chaim's youngest son, was connected by marriage to the then rabbi R. Zishe Plotzker.

Among Avraham Greenberg's five sons, Mottl and Yitzchak were well–known Kotzk Chasidim. The war between Chasidim and misnagdim was fierce. At that time the rabbi in Siedlce was R. Moyshe Hersh, a fervent misnagid. The Chasidim persecuted him terribly. People say that once when R. Moyshe was at the third Shabbos meal, someone threw a dog through his window. It appears that one of the people responsible for this trick was R. Mottl Greenberg.

One time Mottle convinced his brother Yehiel, who was a solid misnagid, that he should go with him to Kotzk for Rosh Hashanah. R. Yehiel was a great scholar and did not know much about Chasidic customs. He thought that he could go there to study and pray. But in Kotzk he found that no one studied and no one prayed as he was accustomed to. He was very upset, and immediately after Rosh Hashanah he returned to Siedlce. When he arrived at home, Yehiel had his brother summoned to the religious court and accused him of ridiculing the Torah. Mottl Greenberg was a happy man and always made other happy with his Chasidic tunes and Polish songs that he had learned.

In addition to being a devoted Chasid, R. Mottl Greenberg was also a diligent worker for the needs of the community and was particularly taken with collecting pledges for social welfare. When R. Mottl once came to collect a pledge from his uncle R. Alter Greenberg, who was known as an important member of the community, he did not want to give

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as much as Mottl had expected. Mottl therefore played a trick and took from a shelf an expensive Chanukah lamp. When Alter Greenberg realized what had happened, he did not hesitate to take R. Mottl to court. The court ruled that Alter must swear that he suspected Mottl of stealing the Chanukah lamp. This oath had to be made in the shul. When Alter was ready to swear, the current rabbi, R. Yisroel Meizlisz, arrived and would not allow the oath, but he ruled that Alter Greenberg should give 150 zlotys to charity and pay the court costs and R. Mottl should return the Chanukah lamp.

One of Avraham Greenberg's daughters, Feige, married Yitzchak Eizik Rapaport. This was at a time when not everyone employed family names and people were called according to their fathers' names. Later, when the rule was made that everyone must use family names, those who had already been using family names had the right to change them. R. Yitzchak Eizik Rapaport then changed his family name to Czarnabrode. The Czarnabrode family in Siedlce stemmed from him. Yitzchak Eizik had two sons: Dovid (who was referred to a Dovid Eizik's) and Paltiel, and four daughters

 

R. Yitzchak Eizik Rapaport–Czarnabrode

Yitzchak Eizik came to Siedlce from Kortszow, a shtetl near Otwoc. He was a great scholar and a God–fearing man. He was noted for his good works and he always pursued righteousness. He also knew how to write Hebrew and Polish. While R. Yitzchak Eizikl spent all his days studying Torah and praying, he had no idea how to make a living. His wife ran a business. R. Yitzchak Eizik had a dyeing business. In those days, such a business was, in a real sense, limited. In order to have the right to run such a business, one had to take a test. Yitzchak Eizik took the test and received permission to conduct a dyeing businessl.

Yitzchak Eizik was often took an interest in Kabbalistic books, and he knew well the

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Zohar. Although he was a misnagid, he would go several times a year to the Koszenicz Magid.

Yitzchak Eizik can also be counted as the first “lover of Zion” in Siedlce. The idea of “love of Zion” was not then as widespread as it was later, at the time of the “Bilu” [an agricultural movement for Palestine]. But Yitzchak Eizik longed all his days to go to Eretz Yisroel. Since he was a descendant of R. Yehuda HaChasid, he wanted to create a committee to buy the ruins of Yehuda HaChasid's synagogue in Jerusalem as well as the surrounding area, which was then in Arab hands, forlorn and filthy. Yitzchak Eizik wrote about this to many rabbis and important people of that time, in order to collect money for that purpose. All of this came to nought, and he was left exhausted.

But the idea of buying the ruins of R. Yehuda HaChasid in Jerusalem allowed him no rest, and he turned to R. Moses Montefiore in London. R. Yitzchakk Eizik, who knew Hebrew, wrote a letter about the whole matter. This letter made a great impression on R. Moses Montefiore and he sent his representative to Jerusalem and bought the whole area around the ruins and rebuilt the shul that had been there. He also established a Jewish neighborhood. This neighborhood is even today called “The Tent of Moses and Judith” in honor of R. Roses Montefiore and his wife. This whole venture cost R. Moses Montefiore a lot of money.

Yitzchak Eizik, aside from spending all of his days in the beis–medresh absorbed in Torah and prayer, also diligently looked after the needs of the community. He strengthened the “Mishnayos” Society and the Talmud Torah. The Talmud Torah did not have its own location, so that the students had to learn with the children in the beis–medresh or in other spots, like in the women's beis–medresh or in the women's shul or elsewhere. The Talmud Torah was being neglected. Every Friday, Yitzchak Eizik would go by himself to collect money in order to pay the teachers. He would bring to his home the Talmud Torah children and himself

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clean them and wash them. Those who had nothing to eat, he would feed.

Aside from these good deeds that occupied him, he was a gabbai in the beis–medresh and in the Chevra Kadisha, and he sent money to Eretz Yisroel for the Jews who lived there.

R. Yitzchak Eizik was loved by everyone in Siedlce. In the year in which he died, many people named their newborn children after him.

R. Yitzchak Eizik had two sons: Paltiel and Dovid, and four daughters. Dovid was called by his father's name–Dovid Eizik's. One of his daughters was the wife of Moyshe Friedman, who was known as Moyshe Reb Eizik's. He was noted for his learning and was a student of R. Eliezer Kharlap of Mezritch. In his later years, R. Moyshe was blind, but he would always sit and learn with others. A second daughter was the wife of Hersch Leyzer Rubinstein, who was also one of the greatest scholars in the beis–medresh.

 

The Rabbi Reb Moyshe Hersh Weingarten

We don't have any certain dates for when Rabbi Moyshe Hersh came to Siedlce. The only thing we know is that R. Moyshe Hersh was the rabbi before R. Eliezer Shalom. Before arriving in Siedlce, he was the rabbi in Sokolow.

From the time when R. Moyshe Hersh was the rabbi in Sokolow, a number of legends were told about him, as they were about many great rabbis. I will relate one, a typical story, that illustrates R. Moyshe Hersh's greatness.

At that time in Sokolow there was a Jewish informer, who used to inform to the police about young people who were then taken by the “kidnappers” [those who seized Jewish young men for the army]. R. Moyshe Hersh sent for this informer and warned him that he should no longer do what he had been doing. But the informer did not want to obey the rabbi and continued in his work. Suddenly he became ill. He began to fail and could no longer be an informer. Everyone was amazed that someone who had seemed so healthy had suddenly become so ill. Meanwhile, people became

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aware that at the time when the informer became ill, R. Moyshe Hersh had gone somewhere, but no one knew where. Later they understood that RT. Moyshe Hersh was staying in a cellar and had made a golem in the form of a bird; the bigger the bird grew, the sicker the informer became. He saw in his illness a punishment for not having obeyed the rabbi, R. Moyshe Hersh, and he told this to the police. The police wanted to start a legal proceeding against R. Moyshe Hersh, so the rabbi left Sokolow and became the rabbi of Siedlce.

In Siedlce, R. Moyshe Hershe was not only rabbi but also the city preacher and every Shabbos he would teach Torah lessons for everyone. And every day he would teach a lesson for the young men.

The rabbi R. Moyshe Hersh was a great scholar. He wrote many books, commented on the whole Torah and offered revisions on the Talmud and on the four parts of the Shulchan Aruch. All of his books remained in manuscript and were later deserted at the time of the fire, with the exception of “Mars Tzvi,” which was published with the assistance of his son R. Baruch Rodzhiner, who also wrote an introduction, but from this book, too, there remain only excerpts.

On the first Pesach after R. Moyshe Hersh arrived in Siedlce, people say, he called for a batch of kneidlech to be made in his kitchen, and he put them in the window so that everyone could see. He wanted to show that the matter of “gebrochts”, that the Chasidim held to be forbidden at that time, was not a law given to Moses at Sinai, and that people could make kneidlech to celebrate the joy of the holiday.

R. Moyshe Hersh had four sons and two daughters. Three of his sons became rabbis. The oldest, R. Aaron, was a rabbi in some foreign land; the second, R. Yosef–in Pilev; the third, R. David, was the rabbi in Kharszel; the fourth son, R. Baruch, who was married in Rodzin, although he was an ordained rabbi, did not want to serve as a rabbi and preferred business dealings. R. Moyshe Hersh would say about his son R. Baruch: “Although it state in the Torah 'The balances of deceit are in his hand' [Hosea 12:8], that is not true of his son, who is an honest businessman.” R. Baruch Rodziner was also known as a great scholar and a righteous man, and the rabbi of Rodzin, R. Gershon Henich, showed him great respect.

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In his later years, R. Moyshe Hersh's vision deteriorated and he was almost blind, but that did not stop him from learning Torah. He decided issues and learned, as he had always done. One time the rabbi of Warka, Rabbi Yitzchak z”l, was passing Siedlce and visited the rabbi. When R. Yitzchak noticed that R. Moyshe Hersh had vision problems but still answered religious questions and sat there learning, he asked him about it; R. Moyshe Hersh answered that when it came to learning or answering questions, he felt that “his eyes were illuminated by the Torah” [from the siddur] and could see everything.

Although R. Moyshe Hersh was a misnagid, he was a mystic adept in the Kabbalistic books. He would fast from Shabbos to Shabbos, awaken every night at midnight, immerse in the mikveh, and then pray for the restoration of Jerusalem.

When he was older and he felt that he was weak and his vision no longer served him, he withdrew from rabbinic work. The job was taken by R. Eliezer Shalom. R. Moyshe Hersh died in 1857. His grave was for a long time deserted and almost lacking a monument. Some years later, R. Yisroel Sinai Zidenzweig a”h passed away. He was a relative of R. Moyshe Hersh. He was buried near the rabbi's grave. R. Yisroel Sinai's children later put a double monument over the two graves.

The Chasidim persecuted R. Moyshe Hersh because of his opposition to them. As the Chasidim later recognized R. Moyshe Hersh's excellence, they felt remorse and became reconciled with him. This quarrel between the Chasidim and Misnagdim could be called “a quarrel for the sake of heaven” that has “lasting value,” because both sides were seeking the truth and later on reconciled.

It is worthwhile to remember a fact: “R. Moyshe Hersh's son, R. Baruch Radziner, became connected by marriage with Mottl Greenberg's son–in–law. Mottl Greenberg had been one of R. Moyshe Hersh's opponents and persecutors. Mottle later felt strong remorse over his persecution, land when he learned that his son–in–law would be connected to R. Moyshe Hersh's son, he encouraged the match and felt close to R. Moyshe Hersh, who was no longer alive.

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It is also appropriate to recall one of R. Moyshe Hersh's daughters, who was a great scholar, both in Talmud and commentators as well as in secular subjects. She often demonstrated her scholarship to her father in deciding ritual issues. Leah Liebe was married to Meir Kroyshar from Warsaw, the son of Yisroel Kroyshar, a well–known family in Warsaw at that time. When she was 90 years old, Lea Liebe maintained an interest in Yiddish books and with Yiddish literature: Sholem Aleichem, Peretz, and Mendele. Leah Liebe spent her last years with her children in Siedlce, where she passed away.

 

Meir Nissn Nussbaum and R. Kalman Chasid

At the same time that R. Mannis was the city preacher, R. Meir Nissn Nussbaum was the president of the Jewish community council [in Yiddish, “parnas–chodesh,” leader of the month]. That was the title that was then given to the dozors, because each month one of the three served as leader.

Meir Nissn Nussbaum was an educated man. He knew Hebrew and Polish (and had translated into Polish the book “B'Khinas Olam”). He was a great scholar and would learn every day with the Talmud Society. Professionally he was a contractor, in addition to which he owned an inn. R. Meir Nissn was in great favor with the government of the time, and they had the greatest confidence in him. When R. Meir Nissn represented the Jewish population on a draft board, he was enough for him to say that he knew someone was weak for that person to be excused from military duty.

Although R. Meir Nissn Nussbaum was one of the most fervent misnagdim, he was friendly with one of the greatest Chasidim in Siedlce at that time, with R. Kalman Chasid, who was his neighbor.

R. Bunem would often stay with R. Kalman Chasid; he would come on business, even before he was known as R. Bunem. He was employed by the well–known woman Temerl from Warsaw, who used to supply materials to the military, and he, Bunem, would frequently come to Siedlce.

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When R. Kalman introduced R. Bunem to R. Meir Nissn Nussbaum, they, too, became friendly. They engaged in discussions and played chess.

One time, while they were playing chess, R. Bunem made a bad move. He asked R. Meir Nissn whether he could take back the move. R. Meir Nissn responded, “What's done is done.”

“You're right,” R. Bunem said. “A person has to be careful not to make mistakes, lest it happen that that he make mistakes that he cannot correct.” The rabbi R. Bunem would correspond with R. Meir Nissn Nussbaum about Chassidism, faith, and other subjects.

R. Kalman Chasid was one of the greatest Chasidim in Siedlce. Many rabbis would stay with him. The following shows how much he was respected: One time R. Kalman was at a bris. Also there was the Stoliner rabbi, R. Asher. The baby's father honored the Stoliner rabbi by making him the sandek, and he gave another honor to R. Kalman. This surprised many people and they commented on it to the father, that he had given a smaller honor to R. Kalman than to the Stoliner rabbi.

R. Kalman studied day and night. But he was not occupied with making a living. His wife tended his business. Early in the morning it was R. Kalman's custom to bring for his wife in the store a piece of bread spread with butter. When his wife once asked him the meaning of this custom, he said, “It is written in the marriage contract that I gave you, 'I will work for you and provide for you as Jewish husbands do.'” But if I do not provide for you, I do not fulfill this obligation.” R. Kalman learned all day with a group of boys and young men.

R. Kalman Chasid's son–in–law, R. Yitzchak Gad Kornblum was the only person in Siedlce who spent the whole year in Danzig and came home for Pesach.

Yitzchak Gad was an employee of the firm “Fayance,” which sent grain and wood

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from Poland to Germany via the Vistula. This firm was the first to send barges on the Vistula. R. Yitzchak Gad was well known in the firm where he worked for his excellence.

One time, his manager, in a conversation with another merchant, stated that he had no finer employee. The other merchant bet that he could undermine R. Yitzchak Gad. Later, when R.l Yitzchak Gad came to that merchant to buy grain, he set before him a lesser product and promised him a reward if he accepted that. R. Yitzchak Gad rejected this proposition. Then the merchant said to him, “You should know that your persistence has cost me a great deal of money.”

R. Yitzchak Gad stayed with the “Fayance” firm for his whole life. When he was older and could no longer work, the firm made him an emeritus. In 1900, when he was 70, R. Yitzchak Gad departed for Eretz Yisroel–at which time the firm gave him a great sum of money. He lived there in a home for old people and died in 1905.

 

The City Preacher R. Yisrolkele

After the preacher R. Mannis (this must have been in 1908), the city preacher was R. Yisrolkele. He came to Siedlce from Wengerow, together with R. Yizchak Goldman, who's settled here. The preacher R. Yisrolkele wrote many treatises, and R. Yitzchak Goldman served as his amanuensis for 3 groschen per sheet.

R. Yisrolkele was a great scholar and was considered a miracle worker as well. He would expel dybbuks, give spells, and write amulets. R. Yisrolkele wore a caftan made of parchment. Every time that he had to write an amulet, he would cut a piece of parchment from his caftan and write the amulet upon it.

R. Yisrolkele was a fervent misnagid, so that the Chasidim would persecute him and harass him. One

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of the Kotzk Chasidim once fooled R. Yisrolkele at the third Shabbos meal. The leading man among the Chasidim was then R. Mottl Greenberg, who was entitled to wear the clothing of a clergyman. He was sitting at the head of the table wearing a shtreimel. When the preacher R. Yisrolkele entered the prayer house, he was seated near R. Mottl.

In order to make fun of R. Yisrolkele, the Chasidim acted as though R. Mottl was the the Chasidic rabbi. They proposed that the preacher should say a few words of Torah. R. Yisrolkele said some words of Torah, but they were not, you understand, in accordance with Chasidism, and the Chasidim were not happy with what he said. They began to go after the preacher. From all sides they began to poke him with pins. It was then dark in the prayer house and he could not see who was poking him, so he began to shout, “Rabbi, they're poking me!” R. Mottl did not know that the Chasidim had fooled the preacher. He thought that the preacher had just come to discuss Torah, so he called to the preacher: “If one will speak of Torah before Chasidim, one must also receive with love their pins. They poke me, too,” said R. Mottl, “ if they don't like my words of Torah.” The preacher saw that he could not win, so he left the prayer house and ran away.

But that did not end the Chasidic persecutions of the preacher. They created other woes for him. One time a Chasidic young man came to him and said that there was someone through him a dybbuk was speaking, and he asked the preacher to go and exorcise the the dybbuk. The preacher accepted the invitation. He was taken to the Kotzk prayer house. There he found a young man who pretended that a dybbuk was speaking through him.

The preacher said some spells, made a circle of chalk, took a lulav with an esrog and shook them in all directions. The dybbuk, however, did not budge. Then the preacher called for them to bring a barrel of water, and he ordered the dybbuk to come out and into the barrel of water. When the dybbuk would not be roused to do what the preacher said, the preacher became discouraged, because he did not know what else to do

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and he wanted to leave. But the Chasidim took him and dumped him into the barrel of water.

Another time the Chasidim inscribed a cross on the preacher's reading stand in the soul. They also did not hesitate to spread slander about the preacher's wife, that she went with strange men, which would have prevented the preacher R. Yisrolkele, who was a kohen, from living with his wife. His wife was deeply embarrassed. She was taken to the magistrate so that she could be sent, according to the laws of the time, to prison. But a couple of prominent citizens were found who knew that the whole thing was a slander and so it was dismissed.

The preacher R. Yisrolkele led a yeshiva. One of his students was the aforementioned R. Yitzchak Goldman, a Jew, a Torah Jew, who learned night and day. R. Yitzchak always told a variety of stories about R. Yisrolkele.

The Chasidim of that time never gave any rest to the preacher and he decided to flee from Siedlce. He fled on the night of Hoshana Raba in 1911. When he was outside the city limits, people say, he put a curse on Siedlce that it should be burnt. In the morning, indeed, in the morning the great Siedlce conflagration broke out, as is known in the history of Siedlce, and the Great Synagogue and many houses were burned down.

All the people who took part in persecuting the preacher, people say, came to a bad end. They regretted the indignity to which they had subjected him.

Over all there was a time off quarrels between the Chasidim and the misnagdim, during which one side would do things to the other. Among the stories about such pranks is the following:

At that time in Siedlce there was a person called R. Leibl Kaveh (or R. Leibl Etkes), the father–in–law of Rokhel Etkes and the founder of the Kaveh family in Siedlce. R. Leibl Kaveh was a religious and upstanding Jew. He lived in the same house where Rokhel Etkes lived later.

It was R. Leibl Kaveh's custom before dawn, when it was still dark, to don his tallis and tefillin in his home and then go to the beis–medresh. He was careful

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not to go through Warsaw Street, where there were stores but only through Kosze Alley. He did this with the intention of not giving the evil eye to Jews who were taking in money. (At that time people used to open their stores before dawn.)

R. Leibl Kaveh insisted that he would encounter the divine spirit. Since he knew that the divine spirit required seclusion, he shut himself up in his house in a special room and had no dealings with the outside world. He occupied himself only with Torah and prayer.

When the Chasidim became aware of this, they could not leave it alone. Since R. Leibl wanted to encounter the divine spirit, they decided to make sure that he would not. Once they came to him when it had been almost four weeks since R. Leibl had secluded himself and they started to knock on the door. R. Leibl did not want to open the door for any reason, but they attacked the doors furiously. R. Leibl became angry. Thus the Chasidim achieved their goal, because they had made him angry and they knew that the divine spirit would not come to him because of the line, “The divine spirit will not settle on one whose heart is not joyous.”

R. Leibl throughout his life resented the Chasidim because they stood in the way of the divine spirit.

 

R. Matisyahu Rubinstein

R. Matisyahu Rubinstein was one of the remnants of the old generation, one of the old Kotzk Chasidim and recognized scholars in Siedlce.

He was a man with a sharp mind, a great memory, and knew many stories about old SIedlce, from the time of Russan domination onwards. If anyone wanted to know anything from those days, he had to ask no one besides R. Matisyahu. It was fascinating to speak with him. In speaking, he would use scholarly witticisms and beautiful proverbs. His shop in Papszetszne Alley, which was also where his home was, always served as a gathering place for wise people.

R. Matisyahu Rubinstein knew a great deal about astronomy; I was convinced of this more than fifty years ago when we studied Rambam together,

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the laws of the new month, in which R. Matisyahu showed great proficiency.

He also studied Kabbalah and was deeply immersed in Torah and prayer. His prayers, by himself in the beis–medresh, lasted several hours every day.

Even with his profound religiosity, R. Matisyahu was not overzealous and was tolerant of the younger generation, and he attempted to understand their aspirations and their demands.

In the last two years of his life, R. Matsyahu Rubinstein became quite feeble, but he was still diligent in Torah and prayer. Even three days before his passing, he went to pray in the beis–medresh, and, as was his custom, he prolonged his prayers.

He lived for 84 years.

His funeral was attended by a large crowd from every level of Siedlce's populace.


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Avrahamele Rosenberg

by Hersh Abarbanel (Buenos Aires)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Yizkor…When we remember with reverence and veneration our intimates and near ones from our home town of Siedlce, who were killed in the time of the Hitlerian cataclysm, when we call up the characters and images of our destroyed shtetl, who shared in the bitter fate of European Jewry—in order to commemorate and eternize their memory, it is also appropriate to remember an earlier epoch and to recall the figure of Avrahamele Rosenberg, who, with typical Jewish earnestness, took up the unequal battle—the battle of the Jew without rights under the czarist regime, with a willful police chief and a governor, who were at that time like the sole rulers over the domain of Siedlce.

Russian Jewry under the czarist powers had to withstand a succession of persecutions and pogroms, discrimination, degradation, and violations of rights. Jewish Siedlce was no exception. Siedlce shared the fate of all Russian Jewry.

* * *

In the nineties of the previous century, the governor of Siedlce was a certain Sabatkin; the vice-governor was Liaskowski, who had a Jewish wife, and a young

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22-year-old police chief, Semientowski, whose uncle was a minister in the Russian government.

The characters of these three rulers, in whose hands lay the fate of Siedlce Jewry, were quite different. The governor appeared to be a milksop and entirely under the control of the brutal young police chief. Even when the police chief had an illicit relationship with the governor's wife, and it was an open secret, the governor either did not “see” it or was powerless to react.

The vice-governor was largely independent of the two of them and often did good things for the Jews, very often under his wife's influence. However, the police chief was a bitter hater of Jews and with sadistic glee caused them many misfortunes.

In addition to the vexations and persecutions of Siedlce's Jews, which the police chief oversaw with brutal glee, he extracted bribes from them and demanded money arbitrarily in the form of weekly or monthly payments. Even Moyshele, the synagogue sexton, who also led the morning prayers, he oppressed.

One Friday evening before Kabbalas Shabbos, he came into the shul and threw him out. Only after Moyshele gave him 300 rubles as a bribe did he say to him, “Nu, now you can go say “Ha-melech.”

One Yom Kippur he entered the Ger prayer house and dragged out a couple of Jews. He put them in a carriage and drove them around the city, cutting off the beards of Jews and cutting away the hems of their kaftans—such was a frequent pastime for this brutal police chief.

* * *

Avrahamele Rosenberg, or “Dear Sir,” as he was known—because that was how he addressed everyone—was a Jew about whom people said, “He wouldn't let anyone spit in his kasha” [an old phrase that means he would not take abuse from anyone]

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He did not seek adventures and he was not ostentatious, but in a confrontation where Jewish honor was at stake, without hesitation he took up the challenge and with all his strength he fought for Jewish honor.

Avrahamele Rosenberg's name was a byword in Siedlce and its surroundings. People spoke about his extraordinary courage with respect and appreciation. Avrahamele Rosenberg also took up the fight against the infuriating police chief and defeated him.

* *
*

Avrahamele Rosenberg once entered a bakery to buy pastry. He paid with a large bill and received change. At that moment the police chief entered and seeing him standing over the cash register without acknowledging the chief, he yelled at him, “Scabby Jew. Don't you see who is here? Why haven't you moved?” Avrahamele Rosenberg's response, that he had not seen him, did not satisfy the police chief, who smacked him on that head.

Avrahamele answered sharply, and the police chief was infuriated and arrested him.

After a few days of detention, he ordered Rosenberg be brought to him and asked: “How did you dare answer a police chief like that?” Avrahamele even then did not hold back, and he answered him sharply. More time in detention he could not command, so he freed him. From that moment on, Avrahamele Rosenberg waged war against the police chief.

Avrahamele knew that complaining to the governor would be wasted speech, because he was so close to the police chief, so he complained to the vice-governor and told him all the troubles the police chief had caused for Siedlce's Jews. The vice-governor listened attentively, but he could not help him.

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One Friday, the police chief was a guest at the governor's summer house in Stok, a village near Siedlce. On his way there, he encountered a Jew—it was Berl Glazer—who was returning to Siedlce for Shabbos. The police chief stopped his carriage and ordered him to kiss his horse's behind.

Berl Glazer refused to go behind the horse, so the police chief beat him murderously with a stick, leaving him bleeding and beaten up in the middle of the road, until a peasant came by and helped him to the city. “Where are you going?” he asked the peasant. “To the home of Avrahamele Rosenberg,” he told Berl.

Avrahamele Rosenberg immediately took him to the vice governor in order to tell him what the police chief had done. The vice-governor, upset with this brutality, sentenced the police chief to seven days of detention. Hearing of this sentence, he went right to the governor, who rescinded it.

Thus began the war between the governor and the police chief on one side and the vice governor on the other. So vicious did the war become that the police chief put forbidden literature in the vice governor's office. Then the police understandably made a search and “found” the prohibited literature.

At that time, Avrahamele Rosenberg sent a complaint about the governor and the police chief directly to the emperor, but the complaint did not make it to the emperor, because the police chief's uncle—the minister—saw to it that the complaint would be misdirected. People advised Avrahamele to send it via Germany,. Avrahamele did so, and the complaint finally went directly to the emperor. The emperor sent the complaint to Warsaw to the governor general with a command to investigate the matter.

One day an order are for Avrahamele to appear before the governor general in Warsaw. Losing no time, he went immediately to Warsaw and hastened to the governor general, who immediately received him and

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inquired about the whole affair. Avrahamele told him everything, with all the details, and the governor general sent him to the chief prosecutor; the prosecutor received him in a friendly way, spoke with him for two hours, and said he would take care of the matter.

In the highest sphere of Warsaw s commission was named to go to Siedlce and there to investigate the matter.

The good brothers [?] soon transferred the governor and the police chief. The latter, who had ties to the underworld, hired a fellow named Tuviah Kashetz, for 500 rubles, to lure Avrahamele to the city, where the police chief would “set him to rights.”

Tuviah, however, was not stupid. He understood that after doing this bit of dirty work, the police chief would seem to be free of him so that he could not testify against him. Having already taken the 500 rubles for his job, he reconsidered and returned the money to the police chief.

The governor had prepared to receive the commission in a more respectable way. He called to himself all of the important Jewish citizens and warned them: if any of them spoke out against him, he would “teach” all the Jews of the city.

Having taken care of them, he sent for Rosenberg. Avrahamele knew well that he was not being summoned for anything good and that in the palace of his enemy, the servants could break his bones and no one would say anything. But one could not refuse to go when the governor called, One could not be boorish. He came up with a plan. Instead of speaking with the governor alone in the palace, he went to the police club.

It was a Friday, when all the commissioners from the surroundings used to come to the club on Langer Street. The governor was their leader. Avrahamele went to the club, observed the carriages that were standing outside, and seeing the governor's coachman in the carriage of his master, he knew that the governor was already inside. He went up to the doorman and gave him a coin, asking him to notify “his highness the governor” that the “Jew” Mr. Rosenberg wanted to speak to him. The governor called for him to be allowed in.

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Avrahamele went into the club. Around the table were sitting all the commissioners with the governor at their head. Seeing Avrahamele, the governor yelled in front of everyone that he should immediately and without delay withdraw the complaint against him, and if not…And he told the commissioners that if he had to leave, they would all lose their positions.

“Distinguished lord,” Avrahamele cold-bloodedly asked, “I sent three complaints. Which of the three arrived where it was supposed to I have no way of knowing. So which complaint should I withdraw?”

“I'll read them to you,” answered the governor, and he pulled out from his briefcase a copy of the most recent complaint, which his colleagues in Warsaw had sent to him, and began to read it. Coming to the spot where it said that he was old and operated under the influence of the police chief, he became embarrassed in front of the commissioners and tried to mumble. Avrahamele did not allow this and urged him to read it again clearly and distinctly. The governor had to read aloud about his weaknesses, at which all the commissioners laughed to themselves, knowing that this was the truth.

After the reading, Avrahamele announced, “To my regret, I cannot withdraw the complaint, because then I would have to face a trial for bringing frivolous charges against government officials.”

Controlling his anger in the presence of his subordinate, and recognizing that Rosenberg was a tough nut to crack, the governor invited him to the palace for an intimate talk, speaking in an unintimidating tone.

Avrahamele thought to himself, “ When one goes to war, one has to smell gunpowder,” so he went, with trepidation, to the palace.

First the governor politely extended his hands and asked him to take a seat. On the table were a variety of beverages. Seeking to frighten Avrahamele, the governor reproached him by asking why he had written in the complaint that he was old.

“I'm old? Look at this!” And the governor, with wild

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Fury, threw the cupboard that contained the glassware onto…the floor.

At the shattering of the glass, several servants came running in, but the governor dismissed them with a real Russian “blessing.”

“Now you can see,” said the governor to Avrahamele, “that my strength is undiminished.”

Avrahamele's teeth were chattering, but he took heart and responded, “Even a goy in sandals can break glasses. One expects from a governor that he would have enough strength of character to be in charge and to direct his own way.”

* * *

The upshot was that the commission came, called on Avrahamele, called on other Jews, investigated, and returned to Warsaw.

Avrahamele told the whole truth about the wickedness of the police chief and the incompetent rule of the governor. The other Jews, however, being afraid, decided that “silence is golden,” and therefore did not tell of the chicanery and inflictions of the police chief.

The sentence later came down that the police chief would be demoted. Out of shame at being defeated by a Jew, he threw himself under a train and died. Siedlce's Jews had taken vengeance on their Human, thanks to the fearless fighter Avrahamele Rosenberg.

But Avrahamele himself came to sorrow for seeking justice. Because the vice-governor became the governor of Kielce, the governor of Siedlce now had a free hand, and he used it to take vengeance on Rosenberg. With the help of the court, he arranged to have Rosenberg banished from Siedlce as an undesirable citizen.

Thanks to the intercession of Rochel Etkes, his mother-in-law's mother, people succeeded in having the governor allow Avrahamele choose where he would go, and he chose Kielce, where his protector Liaskowski was already the governor. He lived there for three years, during which he exhausted his resources, and died in his birthplace a poor man.

The governor of Siedlce felt some respect

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for his former courageous and upstanding enemy, so every Pesach he would send him a gift for the holiday.

When Avrahamele Rosenberg had gone to his eternal rest, the “Siedlce Vochenblat” wrote:

“This past Sunday, at the age of over 68, Avrahamele Rosenberg died. He was known as “Dear Sir”, one of the most interesting characters of the older generation. At the time of the well-known villainous Russian police chief Semientowski, the deceased showed the courage to battle with him openly, even to the point of open confrontation with the then governor Sobotkin, for which he earned banishment to Kielce for three years.”
So by us in Siedlce, as in other Jewish communities, lived proud Jews, who like righteous people from the prophets, would not make peace with their corrupt, tyrannical surroundings, and in a world of wickedness and injustice fought for justice and truth. They would not bow their heads to those who were more powerful and they believed in the ultimate triumph of righteousness.

 

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