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[Page 564]

Yisroel Rosenblum
– The Head of the “Beis Lechem” Synagogue

by Dovid ben Yosif

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

People from Siedlce remember well the small shop in an old wooden building at 67 Pienke. It belonged to Yisrael Rosenblum, the head of “Beis Lechem.”

The “Beis Lechem” members were old–style Jews for whom the notion of charity had not taken on a modern character. They all undertook to make a hot meal on one day of the week, Shabbos, for a hungry family. They themselves went with their baskets to the courtyards to collect challah, bread, and other foodstuffs and then carry them into the flimsy homes of the needy and the hungry.

The center of the “Beis Lechem,” the control center of this organization, was its head, Yisrael Rosenblum. His family always contended that the Beis Lechem took up ore of his time and labor than did his own children – his own home. And all of it was centered in his shop.

Since Beis Lechem worried most of the time that hungry families should have a hot meal on Shabbos, in Rosenblum's shop on Friday afternoons the “real carnival” began. A notable woman would enter, looking as if she had just finished busying herself with Shabbos matters, and she would engage in quiet conversation with the head of “Beis Lechem.” She had come to ask for something to eat on Shabbos for someone else. Soon the head of “Beis Lechem” would ask another member to buy a couple of challahs, bread, herring, and then to take it to a particular address.

After that, every Shabbos, those for whom the woman had interceded would be visited by the “foodbearers” with two challahs, bread, sugar, and other food. And then he himself was in that situation. The number of needy, of hungry people, increased, and even more, the number of donors decreased–lamented the head.

Erev Pesach was in Rosenblum's store the high season, when an oppressed person, an anguished person, who has been driven to the extreme and has no hope of celebrating Pesach, comes to Mr. Rosenblum and pours out the bitterness of his heart. And he, the head of “Beis Lechem,” says nothing. He has pushed through walls so that he would not allow that any Jew should, God forbid, have to celebrate the “season of our freedom” in hunger and have an empty table instead of a Schulchan Aruch [a set table, but also the title of the Code of Jewish Law].

In later years, Yisrael Rosenblum was feeling oppressed. He complained that the hearts of our “righteous ones, sons of righteous ones” had become hardened. No one was touched by another's need, another's sorrows. No one was moved that his neighbor on the other side of the wall was languishing from hunger. Each one was satisfied if he had provisions, if he had what he needed.

Yisrael Rosenblum never complained about his own situation. He never said that his shop barely provided him a living. He worked always for the poor of Siedlce who needed help – that is the kind of Jew that Yisrael Rosenblum was.


[Page 566]

Reb Yitzchok “Eisner”

by Yisroel Winograd (Buenos Aires)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

One of the most remarkable characters that Siedlce lost under the horrific rule of the barbaric Nazis was, without doubt, the person everyone in Siedlce knew as Yitzchokl, or, as he was called, Yitzchok “Eisner.”

Who does not know Y.L. Peretz' story “If Not Higher?” in which the Litvak discovers that instead of ascending to heaven, as the Chasidim believed, the rabbi of Nemirov on the night of Selichos goes into the woods, chops some wood, and carries it to a poor, sick widow, where he himself tends to the stove while saying the Selichos prayers?

Exactly such a remarkable person was this Yitzchok “Eisener,” who had the nickname “Eisener” because he owned an Iron business. But he was not the one who dealt with customers. It was she, his wife, who was the breadwinner and took care of their home. Yitzchok “Eisener's” labor, however, was important: he came into the business every Passover eve, at the search for chametz, or on a Friday market day and fall on the floor, even in the presence of Christian customers, prostate himself on the ground, and say to his son or to his wife: “Look! This is the lot of humankind – man comes from dust and returns to dust. When a person dies, people take him out and give him his due; so why worry about income? He who gives life provides food! Is it not better and finer to imitate the ruler of the world – “As he is merciful, so should you be merciful to others!”

[Page 567]

And Yitzchok “Eisener” never thought about or worried about his profession. His job was to the hospitals or to the homes of the poor where there were unfortunate sick people whom people did not know to visit, and he did whatever he could to lighten their sorrows, because it was simply not a question for him about doing sol

It had been known to happen that his wife made Yitzchok “Eisener” a new overcoat for the winter, but he would meet on the street a poor man who was shivering from the cold, so he would immediately, on the spot, take off the new garment and give it to the poor man.

So this, we see, was his way of life: for the whole day during the week he would go to the sick and unfortunate and help them, some with personal help using his own money and some with words of comfort that gave the helpless the strength to deal with their physical ills. And on Friday nights, however many people in the Ger prayer house where he prayed needed meals, he would invite them to his table.

More than once he was asked: Reb Yitzchok! If you did not take all these guests, they would eat on Friday nights at a richer person's house. So why do you take everyone to yourself?” But for Reb Yitzchok it was not a question; he was only afraid that those people would have nowhere to eat.

Early on Shabbos mornings he would wake up and take a basket and go around calling: “Good Shabbos, Jews! Bread in the basket!” And he procured bread for the “Beis Lechem” – organization that distributed food to the poor for Shabbos. This was the Reb Yitzchok's custom: not to think or worry about himself.

Once, his wife experienced a deadly shock, because the police were seeking her husband. And when they found him, they wanted to give him a heavy sentence because of a Communist love…

And here was the story: There was a secret love between a Jewish girl and a Christian boy and the Jewish girl was prepared to go to a Catholic Church to convert, but in the meantime not wanting to lose any time, she became pregnant and bore the Christian a baby boy. This mother lay in the hospital without any marriage ceremony,

[Page 568]

to be sure, the hospital by the market, and took great pride in her son. Reb Yitzchok “Eisener,” who came to the hospital to help a sick person, heard about there whole “wedding” with no celebration and decided to do something for the young mother. No sooner said than done: He began to visit the woman often and bring her snacks and he often put a couple of zlotys under her basket along with other little things, and he played with the newborn as if it were his own child. Gradually he gained the confidence of the mother, so that on one particular morning, when the Christian boy was supposed to take the woman home that evening, he played specially with the baby and danced with him. While dancing, he danced with the child in his hand into the neighboring room, where he had already put a mohel, and as quickly as it takes to say “Shema Yisroel,” he had circumcised the child. Reb Yitzchok returned the circumcised child to his mother with a mazel tov and quickly disappeared. When the Christian boy learned that night about the bris and the Jewish godfather, he rejected both the young woman and his now damaged Jewified offspring.

The police, you understand, looked everywhere for Reb Yitzchok “Eisener” the benefactor, but thanks to three things – money, funds, and riches – this scary story ended well

* * *

Aside from having devoted himself to the sorrowful and suffering, he was also very humble. When he was learning and would encounter a difficult passage or an obscure comment in Tosafos, he was not ashamed to ask even a bright young child for an explanation saying: “Don't look at the pitcher but at what is inside the pitcher.”

On Simchas Torah, no one could approach R, Yitzchok: he would assemble a large number of children or young men, as many as he could find, and he went out into the street with them in a rapturous dance in honor of the Torah. His ecstasy was like the spreading of rain, as if he were entirely freed from the vanities of this world and had become something heavenly that rose higher and higher, if not higher! And if one wanted to awaken him from ecstasy and otherworldliness, it was enough to say: “Reb Yitzchok, there are sick people around

[Page 569]

who need a prescription, who need your help,” and he would leave his ecstasy and run off to help the ailing, forgetting about his otherworldliness.

In “Beside the Dying” [a story whose literal title is “At the Head of the Death Bed”] by Y.L. Peretz, the Angel of Light tells Nachman. of Zbarash: “Come with me to the Garden of Eden, where you will not hear of any ill or helpless and you will find yourself among those radiant with God's grace, with golden crowns on their heads.” Nachman replies, “But what will I do there, where there are no unfortunates and sufferers who need aid? No, I will not live only for myself! Better I should go to Gehenna to help the weak and tired, those who are lost, accursed, and forgotten by God so that I can share in the sorrows of my fellows – my place is there.” So, too, was Reb Yitzchokl: always running from rest and tranquility and working only to alleviate the troubles of those who are in need. But it is clear that the dark fate of world Jewry as a whole and of our brothers and sisters in Siedlce in particular could not elude the holy personality of that dear excellent Jew who was known as Reb Yitzchakl “Eisener.”

May his memory be blessed!


[Page 570]

The late Hazan Yosef Pasovsky

by M.S. Gashuri

Translated by Mira Eckhaus David

On 12 Menachem Av, 5711 - The day the Zionist Congress convened in Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel, the Hazan of Siedlce, Rabbi Yosef Dov Pasovsky, left us. In Orthodox Jerusalem, he acquired sympathy and a place of honor. So far, friends and acquaintances have not recovered from his death. Indeed, since the death of the renowned Hazan, Rabbi Bezalel from Odessa, in Jerusalem of more than sixty years ago, the place has remained empty of veteran Hazanim, with inspiration and control in the traditional Hazanut, until the Hazan Y. D. Pasovsky from Siedlce in Poland came and established his seat in Jerusalem.

He belonged to the same small number of Hazanim, presenting themselves at the first appearance in full force, and his respectable majestic appearance added much to his great personality.

He was born in 1882 to his father, Rabbi Netanel, the rabbi of the town of Zietela, Grodno, the author of the books: “Meshivat Nefesh”, “Emunat Atchi'ya”, and “Gan Hadassim”. At the age of 13, Yosef Dov was accepted as a student at the well-known Yeshiva Novarduk, where he studied poetry at the time from the local Hazan Boyarsky. Until the age of twenty, he studied in various yeshivas in Lithuania and received authorization from Rabbi Mordechai Salonimer. But his heart was drawn to Hazanut, and he learned Hazanut from the Hazan of Smorgon, Zimmel Mashvitsky, and with him he systematically learned to read and write musical notes, the vocal scales, and received good musical-technical training. In 1904 he was admitted, while he was still young, to the synagogue in Bobruisk as a poet and the second Hazan (the famous Aryeh Leib Rotman was the first Hazan there). For a long time, he was singing for famous Hazanim in southern Russia and had many successes.

[Page 571]

After he has married in 1907, he was invited to pass in front of the box in the municipal synagogue in Slonim and in 1912 he was accepted as the urban Hazan in the Great Synagogue in Siedlce, where he was preceded by artists Hazanim, such as Zeidel and Yaakov Rovner and Tikotinsky. He served as the Hazan 23 years, until he made an Aliya to Israel. He had a lyrical baritone voice with a color and he was a great prayer and an excellent Hazan. In his pleasant prayer he always attracted a large audience and even on winter Saturdays. When he prayed in front of the pillar, the synagogue in Siedlce was at full capacity. He arranged a choir for him, and the audience enjoyed its performances very much, but due to lack of budget it was scattered.

In Siedlce he was liked and respected very much, because he was a Torah scholar, knew Hebrew, knowledgeable in ancient and modern Hebrew literature and also knew Russian literature, a polite man and a wise student with no flawless in his clothes. From the disciples of P. Minkovski from Odessa, who knew the traditional Hazanut and Hazanut literature founded by David Novkovski, Shlomo Kashtan and their friends. His figure in front of the box was most convincing in his upright posture, in his precise movements, and he especially captivated his listeners with the tensed soul that had reached in him to achievements. He knew by heart pearl creations that were written by the gifted creators: Weintraub, A. B. Birenbaum, and more; And he designed the sung works as if he were the author, with the power of inspiration and joy of creation that excite the audience from the beginning of the prayer till its end. He continued the glorious golden chain of Hazanim and poets in Israel who passionately illuminated the darkness of Diaspora life.

And then he decided to put an end to the life in exile and to make an Aliya to the Holy City of Jerusalem. The Jewish community in Siedlce held a glorious farewell party for him, and all the people of the city attended. On the day of the trip, all the people of the city gathered in the halls of the train station and greeted him with a blessing of “safe trip”. He was a member of the association of Hazanim and conductors in Poland, attended a national conference in Warsaw and was elected as a member of the National Council.

His appearance in the Eretz Israel in 1935 made an impression. He passed in front of the box in the “Ohel Shem” Hall in Tel Aviv and in large synagogues in Jerusalem, appeared on the Hazanut songs program at “Kol Yerushalayim”, was a member of the council of conducting Hazanim and lovers of religious poetry in Israel, and almost never missed visiting the Hazanim club in Jerusalem and participated in the discussions held on the problems of the Hazanut in Israel and around the world. In his house he had a library of the best Hazanut literature of A. B. Birenbaum, whose works were very popular with him, especially the Talmudic Rhapsody “Bema Madlikin”, and of the works of Little Yeruham, Nissan Belzer and others, and even created his own recitations for prayers in the traditional spirit. The Hazanim in Jerusalem saw him as a creative and vibrant force, who embarrassed the young ones, he was a nice conversation man and it was interesting to hear his stories from the world of Hazanut

[Page 572]

and the lives of the great personalities who served as Hazanim in Russian cities. He even placed young Hazanim in the traditional Hazanut, and many of his students hold prominent positions in the Jewish communities in Brazil, Argentina and more.

It was a great privilege to see almost all his family members in Israel involved in Torah and work life and in the resurrection of Israel, and always when he remembered that he was lucky to make an Aliya and sit in Jerusalem, he blessed “She'hecheyanu”. During his long illness, he was often visited by music lovers and Hazanim that spent hours with him in a pleasant conversation on topics of building the country and reviving the Hazanut in the country.


[Page 573]

R. Yisroel Gutgelt

by M. Dromi

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

He came from a rich, scholarly Chasidic family – Gutgelt from Grodzisk. R. Yisrael married Sarahle in Siedlce, the daughter of Yossele Enzeles, an important man, a merchant and a great philanthropist who every week donated to many honored families as well as supporting a variety of organizations.

R. Yisrael Gutgelt, as soon as he arrived in Siedlce, showed an inclination for business activities. He was always busy. He would sit and study in his well – furnished personal library, whose walls were covered with shelves stacked with books: the Talmud, religious texts, commentaries, Chasidic books, and works by various authors. In his library Gutgelt found spiritual satisfaction. Outside of that, he conducted businesses in salt, kerosene, and herring. In his later years he was also a lumber merchant. Despite his profitable businesses and his spiritual life, he found time to deal with community affairs. There was hardly a community organization to which he did not belong: the bank, merchants organizations, the “Ezras Y'somim,” the “Briyos,” the hospital, the governmental evaluation commission, the city council, several years as a dozor in the religious community. Also in 1926, when the religious community was given a broader foundation, R. Yisrael Gutgelt became the chair of the community council.

He devoted much time, energy, and money to the Talmud Torah. He was totally dedicated to it. While he was dozor, he worked so that ritual slaughtering would become a community function so that the Talmud Torah would receive

[Page 574]

a percentage of the income. In the Talmud Torah he established a locksmith workshop so that the young men who graduated from the Talmud Torah would have a place to learn a trade. He insured that on the board of the Talmud Torah would be people who understood how to improve religious education. One of them, R. Henech Steinberg–Kalushiner, made a revolutionary proposal regarding teachers. R. Henech moved that in hiring a teacher for the Talmud Torah, they should see whether he could teach children, whether he was capable of explaining things, whether he was totally suited to be a teacher, because it was customary in the Chasidic prayer houses that a young man who had gone through his dowry became a teacher, with no regard for whether he was capable of doing it. R. Henech fought this system. He was regarded as a subversive.

Another exceptional member of the Talmud Torah board was R. Shlomo Shmuel Barbanel, a great scholar who came to the board because of R. Yisrael Gutgelt.

R. Yisrael Gutgelt was much loved by the Jewish populace as well as the Christian. They would call him “Zhid wierny” – loyal Jew. When he walked down the street, he never waited for anyone to say “Good morning. He greeted everyone – young or old – first. Officially he belonged to the Agudah, and in many organizations he represented the Agudah. He was a Ger Chasid, and in his heart he was a Zionist and spoke with real love about Eretz Yisroel. Perhaps his home influenced him. His home was purely Zionist. His two sons, Levi and Yossele, whom we have discussed elsewhere, and also his three daughters were Zionists. Even his wife was always collecting money and giving to Keren Kayames. To an extent he was influenced by the Zionist leader Hartglass. R. Yisrael Gutgelt often told me that Hartglass made him understand that Zionism had saved the Jewish young people from going over to communism or abandoning Judaism. But more than anything he was affected by his warm Jewish heart.

In secret he would give Hartglass, from time to time,

[Page 575]

Sums of money for Keren Kayames. I also received money from him for Keren Kayames. When he gave it to me, he said, “I trust your discretion,” but he knew that I was putting it in the Keren Kayames pushke.

Yitzchak Greenbaum came to Siedlce to begin a campaign for Keren Ha'yesod and there was a gathering of the merchants' organization. R. Yisrael Gutgelt, chair of the organization, greeted Greenbaum and wished him success. After the meeting, Greenbaum proposed that Gutgelt should contribute to Keren Ha'yesod. Gutgelt's answer was: “I would gladly give, but I am not allowed to. Still, since people should not say that I don't give because I want to hold on to my money, I will give a certain sum to the national council.” And truly – the next morning I received a large some of money from him for the national council.

In the last years before the outbreak of the Second World War, he lost most of his possessions and was in dire straits.

He died on the night when the Nazis burned the Great Synagogue and beis–hamedresh.


[Page 576]

In Memory of the late Levi Gutgeld the 14th

by Baruch Yaffe

Translated by Mira Eckhaus David

Friends asked me to raise some lines in memory of Levi Gutgeld, a friend, who did not get to see the fulfillment of his dream and who perished in the Diaspora by the oppressor.

About 35 years passed since we first met. We have been a short time together but after that we parted ways. But this period was unique; both in itself and in our lives, and its signs did not wipe out.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, the Russians expelled the Jewish inhabitants from Brisk, Lithuania, a fortress town. A group of Brisk refugees then moved to Pinsk, and after it was occupied by the Germans, they were transferred to Siedlce, Poland. In this group there were also some young people caught up in Zionism from an early age.

The meeting of these young people with the Zionist youth group in Siedlce was almost a two ends meeting. And perhaps that is precisely the reason why these two were attracted one to the other. Differences of origin, environment and tradition – were all piled up together in this case. The Brisk people from Lithuania came from an environment that was full of “opponents” whose Hebrew education was a combination of the education of the Beit Midrash, the new Hebrew literature and the external influence of the realistic Russian literature. From the Jewish political point, the members of this group were under general Zionist influence, which was strong in their hometown, with tendencies towards Tze'irei Zion” (Zion youth) who then began their first steps to establish a special organization. While the members of the Zionist group in Siedlce, their environment was entirely “Hassidic”, their Hebrew education was the education of the Hassidic “Stiebel”, and to the extent that there was an external influence, it was the influence of the romantic Polish literature. From a Jewish political point of view, Siedlce had a tradition of tendency towards the “Bond” and Yiddishism. And here these two groups met at an critical hour, during a clash of worlds and views in Poland.

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With the German occupation, the possibilities of a legal organization for political action opened up before the Jews of Poland. The Polish Zionist organization (then still undivided and undefined, in which all the Zionist parties participated) was established on the one hand, and the Agudat Israel movement, which was especially supported by the occupation authorities (or by its advisers on Jewish affairs, who were members of extremist Orthodoxy in Germany) on the other hand.

The merged group developed a feverish action: founding a Zionist association, a Zionist club, evening Hebrew classes, organizing a Zionist school, science lessons for adults, assemblies and lectures, attacks on the fortress of the Yiddishism - “Agudat Hazamir” - and attempts to conquer it for Zionism and Hebrew, active participation in the general politic life from the Zionist aspect, etc. The living spirit in all this action among the Siedlce youth group was Levi Gutgeld.

* * *

So, I see him in my mind as if it was the first time I saw him: short, blackish, with shiny eyes, curly hair, wearing a capote and a small Hassidic hat. When we became closer and started a joint operation, I discovered that he is all lively and boiling, tireless, full of initiative and vigor, ready for any work and any idea of a new action. With literary tendencies and delicate aesthetic taste. His writing style was original, with a tendency to linguistic and conceptual surprises.

At the time we met, Levi Gutgeld was particularly influenced by two older local Zionist figures: the late M. M. Landau, and may he live long, Heartglass, who nowadays lives with us in Israel. Landau was a Torah scholar, an educated Hebrew Zionist, with tendencies as one of the people, gentle-minded and good-natured and avoided daily political activity that involved friction and clashes with various people. He was sickly and died shortly afterwards when he was very young. Heartglass was already known at the time, a sharp Zionist publicist, but was entirely immersed in the Polish culture and still did not know Hebrew nor Yiddish. The possibility of his action among the Jewish masses was, therefore, very limited. Beside that, due to his general public activity and in connection with his appearances on various occasions, he was suspicious in the eyes of the German occupation authorities and had to compel himself to abstain from political-Zionist action. The common ground of these two, is that although they did not participate in the day-to-day action at the time, their impact on our behind-the-scenes action was enormous, and their share of advice and guidance was enormous.

Dozens of episodes from Levy Gutgeld's action in those years come to my mind. I will mention only two: one from the period of the German occupation and the other from the period of the German defeat and the period of independent Polish rule.

I mentioned above the German advisers on Jewish affairs. One day, Dr. Carlebach and Dr. Cohen came to Siedlce

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and held a public meeting, in which they conducted propaganda for the Agudat Israel. But they did not know how to separate their role as members of the “Aguda” from their official role as advisers to the government. Our group, led by Levi Gutgeld, treated them as members of an opposing political organization, and when they began their attacks on the Zionists, we started interrupting them. When they saw that the crowd was mostly against them, they remembered their official position and called the German military police. As a result, we found ourselves a few days later, before a German interrogator as accused of harming the representatives of the occupation authorities. We claimed our claims and probably also the German interrogator understood how ridiculous the matter was and let us go.

The other episode belongs, as mentioned, to the second period. In the elections for the Polish Sejm, appeared in the town of Biala that is near Siedlce, as a Zionist candidate, Adv. A Heartglass (which was born in our town) against the candidate of the writer A. D. Numberg, that represented the Folkists. The Siedlce group was called in to help the Zionist candidate - both because of the physical proximity and because the candidate was a city resident. And again, Levi Gutgeld was the living spirit in the successful propaganda operation and organization. (As a funny episode of the propaganda of those days, I will mention one story. Heartglass, who was a delicate person, refrained from appearing in assemblies for his own benefit. Noah Prilotsky, the head of the Folkists, who appeared at the assembly in favor of Numberg, used the following argument: “Do you know, Jews, why the Zionist candidate himself did not appear before you? Because he does not know how to speak to you in your language, because he does not speak Yiddish.”). In the argument that followed this speech, one from our side (Dr. late Esther Mengel) responded: Mr. Prilotsky told you that our candidate does not know how to speak to you in Yiddish. You will probably be interested to know that the Folkist candidate does not know how to speak at the Sejm, because he does not speak Polish … “).

* * *

After a while we parted ways. I left Siedlce and moved to Warsaw, to work in the secretariat of the Central Zionist Committee. We continued to meet for joint work at conferences, etc. I left Poland and moved to London in 1920, as a delegate to the Zionist conference on behalf of Tze'irei Zion, “Hapoel Hatzair”; I did not return to Poland anymore and made an Aliya to Israel in 1921.

For years we were still in touch by letters. While I was in London, Levi Gutgeld notified me about a newspaper in Yiddish that he is publishing in Siedlce and at his request, I published letters from London in this newspaper. When I made an Aliya to Israel, the letters relation between us became more and more loose until it stopped completely.

Maybe others will talk about the last period in Levi Gutgeld's life. But I'm sure that if he was asked, he would have said that the period I tried to describe was the most important and interesting period of his life.


[Page 579]

Mordechai Meir Landau

by Levi Gutgeld

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Mordechai Meir Landau was a quiet, intelligent Jew whose mind contained European ideas and whose soul contained the subtle Jewish beauty of a Torah scholar, and from that combination emerged acuity and good humor.

Every Jewish institution in Siedlce was bound up with the name of Mordechai Meir Landau. He devoted a great deal of time, effort, and energy to the Siedlce Jewish library. Thanks to him it existed from 1904 until 1912. What it took in those years to bear the responsibility for a Jewish library – a community one, at that – under a Czarist government, how many dangers that involved – is difficult to grasp today.

Mordechai Meir Landau was born in Brisk in 1876 to very observant parents. At ten years old he was already proficient in the Talmud. At fourteen Mordechai Meir began to study in the city's beis–hamedresh, where hundreds of growing boys studied. Among them were some who had sampled the Haskalah. Mordechai Meir met them, and soon he began to hide “forbidden” books under his copy of the Gemara…

Secretly he undertook to learn languages and mathematics. But he did not leave the beis–hamedresh. The Haskalah

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did not tear him away from the past, for which he had deep feelings. His modest, self–effacing bearing made him beloved by everyone, and even the strict supervisors in the beis–hamedresh overlooked his “apostasy.” The young student had a stepfather who helped Mordechai Meir in his secular education. He got him language teachers, particularly French and German.

In 1900, Mordechai Meir Landau arrived in Siedlce. He became the son–in–law of Y.N. Weintraub. In Siedlce, Landau became interested in community work, especially with Zionism. In 1904, the Jewish community library became legal under his name. In 1907 he created the savings and loan bank, later called the Udzhalow Bank, which we will describe elsewhere. He was also active in the Jewish business organization for mutual aid and on the relief committee after the pogrom.

In 1914, at the time of the First World War, Landau created the relief committee and worked with it in the city's citizens committee that existed during the German occupation. Later he took advantage of a public position on the city council. Landau always looked carefully after the interests of the Jewish population. Everyone paid attention to his speeches, and he even got the attention of his anti–Semitic opponents.

In 1915, Landau helped to create the Hebrew evening courses. A year later he established the local Zionist committee and in 1917 the educational organization “Da'as,” which, during the First World War, conducted a Hebrew–Yiddish folk school and Jewish evening courses for young people,

When he returned from the Second Zionist Congress in 1917, his health declined. Nevertheless, at the end of 1917 he attended a meeting in honor of the Balfour Declaration. When he came to the words “Zion, will you not ask” [the opening words of a poem by Yehuda Halevi], he cried so hard that he could not finish his talk. People immediately took him home, and he never recovered from his illness.

Mordechai Meir Landau died on the thirteenth of Sivan in 1918. All of Jewish Siedlce took part in his funeral.


[Page 581]

Kalman Galitzky

by Y. Goldberg

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

— 1 —

A highly sympathetic appearance, especially favored by his pince-nez, aristocratic manners, and a ringing voice.

He was the son of a poor teacher. As was the custom, until he was 18 he was crowded onto a bench in the beis-medresh. Later he threw himself totally into the Haskalah and philosophy. He became a teacher and set up a private school.

In his school he was both the principal and the teacher. He gave lessons in Russian and Hebrew. After a hard day of work, he would sit until late into the night over philosophical texts of Kant and Hegel, Schopenhauer and Spinoza, Rambam and Ranek, swept up into higher worlds, occupied with the immortality of the soul, the meaning of life, and other sophisticated world problems.

He was greatly persecuted for his free thinking, almost to the point of excommunication. He was strongly opposed by the then rabbi of Siedlce Rabbi Dov Her Analik. The Russian government gymnasium wanted to hire Galitzky to teach religion, but the rabbi strongly opposed him to the government, not wanting to allow such an apikoros to teach religion.

A circle of the enlightened (maskilim) and young people formed around Galitzky, people who had been “caught up in the story.” Quietly and in secret they would talk to him a bit about higher matters. He would help them with books from his well-stocked library and give them advice.

Kalman Galitzky was one of the those who wanted to found in Siedlce an “Agudas Achim” society on the order of of Achad Ha-Am's

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“B'nei Moshe,” whose purpose was to raise the morals of the Jewish youth and, in hindsight, to influence the older generation. In “Agudas Achim,” Galitzky gave lectures, to which many people paid close attention. He was also among the founders of the organization “Jewish Art,” and he spent a great deal of time there as chair.

In 1915, during the First World War, Galitzky left Siedlce along with the evacuated Russian gymnasium. He set himself up in Chernigov (Ukraine), where he experienced several terrible family catastrophes, which left him a broken man.

Once, in the middle of a talk, standing on the dais, his heart failed. He was 61. Far from his home and in foreign surroundings, he gave up his soul.

— 2 —

Yitzchok Moykher-Sforimnik

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

Yitzchak Lipietz, with his bright, homey face, good-natured, smiling eyes, and white, patriarchal beard, was known among the Jews of Siedlce as Yitzchok Moykher-Sforimnik [which means Yitzchak the Book Dealer].

Lipietz received the name “Moycher-Sforimnik” not because he dealt in books but only because he had a library and gave books to readers. He was the first librarian in Siedlce, during czarist times, before a legal library had been established.

At that time, Jewish Siedlce belonged to the most conservative and fanatical city in Poland, where maskilim suffered all kinds of persecutions. Not only was learning worldly subjects unacceptable, but learning Tanach was accounted a sin. If a young man wanted to take a look at a book of theory or to read a secular book, a “piece of uncleanness,” as the religious called it, he could not be sure of his life.

Yitzchok “Moykher-Sforimnik,” an idealistic maskil, ignored it all

[Page 583]

He set up a library of Hebrew and Yiddish works, such as: “The Guide for the Perplexed,” “The Kuzari,” “The Wanderer in the Paths of Life”; Yiddish Maskilic books, such as: “The Black Young Man,” “The Jewish Eve of Passover,” Goldfaden's poems and theatrical works, Peretz' “Holiday Stories,” and other current anthologies and journals.

Yitzchok Moykher-Sforimnik needed no canalogue. He knew all the book in his head and could find them in the dark. This peculiar librarian had his own system and order in relation to his readers. He loved to lose himself in conversation with his readers, to philosophize, to interrogate them about their reading, and to distribute to each one reading materials appropriate to that person.

“Yitzchok Moykher-Seforimnik” was an outstanding scholar, an expert in the Talmud and its commentators, and he was simultaneously familiar with Hebrew and Yiddish literature, sitting day and night “before the Torah and his work,” digging in the detailed, faded lines of old books and inscribing his fine handwriting from cover to cover in his notebooks. Lipietz was himself and author of books. He wrote in Hebrew and in stylized Yiddish—from fables to prayer books, pious prayers, and “Yehi-Ratzons” [“May it be His will] that would draw forth tears from righteous women,” a “G'dolos Moyshe” that God-fearing women would would say on Simchas Torah with great joy, inscriptions on tombstones, and so on. Yitzchok Lipietz was himself a religious, careful Jew, but his religion did not prevent him from partaking in the Haskalah and getting readers for his library.

The following compositions came from his pen: “Chanukat Ha-Chashmonim,” “Im L'mikra U'l'msorat,” “Pach Ha-shemen,” “Mishlei Avot,” “M'ta-amim,” “Ve'haya Mishneh,” “Binat N'vonim,” “M'ta-amim Ha-chodesh,” “Shivchei Knesset HYisrael,” “Succat Shalom,” and others. Despite the scores of books that he published, which enriched the publishers, the author lived all his life in poverty; he also did not concern himself with whether readers paid for the books they borrowed or even whether they returned them.

Early on, Yitzchok Moykher-Sforim loaned his book secretly. Later on, all of Siedlce's Jews knew that

[Page 584]

R. Yitzchok “ruined” young people with his books, but respect for him was so great that even the most religious people did not want to take action against him.

Yitzchok Lipietz was truly the pioneer of modern Jewish culture in Siedlce and the first distributor of Jewish books.

— 3 —

Yosef Rosenvasser

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

The Jewish national revival movement at the end of the nineteenth century resonated broadly among the Jewish youth of Siedlce. Interest in national problems and in community action increased.

The nationally inclined young people organized themselves in a Zionist group, at the head of which stood the temperamental and elderly Yosef Rosenvasser, or, as he was known—Yossl the Cantor's Son.

Yosef Rosenvasser had invested tremendous effort in organizing the Siedlce library, which was later taken over by the “Yiddishe Kunst” organization.

When the library was beginning, the great question was—where to get books. There was no money to buy them. They therefore had to seek private donations. Rosenvasser applied himself to this work, and he even approached a Russian baron, an officer from the local Russian garrison, Baron von Kleist, asking him to give books from their collection for the Jewish library.

[Page 585]

How did Yosef the Cantor's Son come to the haughty Baron von Kleist?

Rosenvasser's acquaintance with the officer stemmed from the cigarette business. Yossl was a specialist in making cigarettes. He learned the art of fixing different types of tobacco to satisfy the taste of the Russian officers.

Baron von Kleist became friendly with the Jewish cigarette maker, and in conversation proved himself to be a friend of the Jews and a believer in Zionism. Rosenvasser told his Russian friend about the Jewish library that the Zionist youth were establishing and about the dearth of books. Baron von Kleist quickly gave to the library a significant sum and a large number of valuable books in Russian and German. His example inspired the manufacturer Feigenbaum, who donated a large number of Polish books by famous authors.

These foreign-language books formed the basis for the library. Yosef Rosenvasser and his Zionist group organized a fundraiser and bought Yiddish and Hebrew books.

In 1900, when the library was in operation, Rosenvasser was satisfied with his work and and was happy that he had been allowed to lay the foundation for the Jewish library in Siedlce.


[Page 586]

The Feldsher A. Gron

by Yakov Tenenbaum

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

[A “feldsher” was an unlicensed medical person, rather like the old–fashioned “barber–surgeons” who may be familiar from eighteenth–century novels.]

The feldspar A. Gron never graduated from a university; I guess he never had a middle–school education. Still, he healed sick people and was loved by his patients. People told wonderful stories about him, as for example: “Doctors had given up on my life, but Gron came, cure, and the illness disappeared as if by a wave of the hand.”

Gron knew how much confidence his patients had in him, but that did not encourage him…he was anything but pleased. Gron really hated his vocation. He loved medicine as a form of knowledge, but not as a profession from which to earn an income.

A good friend of his once confided to him that he would take an exam to be a feldsher. Gron warned him not to undertake such foolishness because he would regret it for his whole life. And here is what was amazing: He himself was at the top of the local feldspar organization, where for many years he was the vice–chair and secretary, fighting tooth and nail for the interests of feldspars, even though in his private life he opposed the feldsher vocation. “Doctors without ‘titles’” – he would say – “should not exist…People ask of us even more than they ask of doctors, and that makes the attitude and treatment of the society of feldshers so miserable…Our misfortune is that we do not have a free hand. Although we are open to all approaches, we lack independence. On the one hand we are exploited and overused by the community, while on the other hand we are hated by the doctors for the competition that we give them.”

[Page 587]

Gron was quite capable of standing at the top of his vocation, so that he could be compared not simply to a bad doctor, he knew anatomy as well as he knew the fingers of his hand, and he often loved to interrogate young doctors in the hospital. He would pose questions to them that none of them could answer…He also used to say that doctors could have no love for an intelligent feldsher.

Gron also had a poetic spark and used to write a great deal. Most successful is something he wrote about his own death: He describes an early morning…A lament comes from the house at Pilsudski 48 (where he lived for a number of years). A Jewish woman goes by with a basket of rolls and wonders why people are crying. They answer, “Gron the feldsher has died.” “Oh! Vay! Vay! He healed everyone and couldn't help himself!” He did not finish the sketch. And why not? He said, “Life itself will complete it…”

And so it was: He died shortly thereafter.


[Page 588]

Hershel Tenenbaum, of Blessed Memory

by F. Drumy (Popovsky)

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

I met Hershel Tenenbaum one evening in 1916 through a Hebrew course. After that, I saw him at all the Zionist meetings and social events. He always sat quietly and listened. He never took part in the discussions, and when action was decided upon, like collecting funds or taking political action, he participated quietly and modestly, earnestly and precisely.

He was also very exacting about work in the Jewish community, and even at the time when his father, R. Yitzchok, was the secretary and he, the son, helped him in his work, he tried to a certain extent to improve his father's work, although his father was responsible and not Hershel.

When he became the official secretary of the Jewish community and was in fact responsible for the work, he showed no partiality to anyone. Even from his father he expected more precision in observing his work hours, and he gave him advice about his daily work.

In 1926. when he was selected as a member of the community board, I began to work more closely with Hershel Tenenbaum. I saw in him a man who was trustworthy and responsible in keeping his word. He took care that the decisions of the board or the council should be carried out, even when he was not happy with them because they were not in accordance with his convictions,.

[Page 589]

At the time, the Agudah had a majority not he community board. He used to say: “What's done is done – we have to carry it out.”

So quiet, peaceful Tenenbaum, who lived to carry out all the decisions of the higher authorities, did not carry out the decisions…

As Siedlce Jews who survived the Holocaust relate, there were instances when the “Jewish council” did not pay the full tribute [demanded by the Germans] or when they did not fulfill the orders of the Germans. The Gestapo summoned Hershel Tenenbaum and asked why the “Jewish council” had not carried out the orders exactly. Hershel always responded that he was guilty and not the “Jewish council.” “I,” he would answer, “cannot carry it out.” He received blows from them, but that did not persuade him to blame anyone else.

Thus did the quiet and peaceful Zionist soldier take on his responsibility for the Siedlce Jewish populace in normal times and demonstrate energy and national pride when the danger of the German murderers hung over his head.

He was tortured to death by the Germans along with his wife and two children.


[Page 590]

My Teachers

Y. Goldberg

Translated by Theodore Steinberg

My teachers were each men of distinction. Not as pedagogues, heaven forbid, but in another way. Aside from teaching, each of them had a vocation, a specialty from which they derived a bit of an income. To this day I do not know which was more important to them, their teaching or their craft. Let me memorialize several types of Siedlce's teachers.

 

Itzele Boich [Paunch]

My first teacher, who first showed me the clef-beys, was—the elementary teacher Itzele, or, as he was known to us, “Itzele Paunch,” because for a teacher, he had a large stomach. He had a scratchy voice, like a chazan after Ne'ilah. This hoarseness gave him a certain respect. The city considered him the best elementary teacher, and all the highest class people thought it was required to send him their children.

As I later came to realize, he did not know more than a little Hebrew, and as to the meanings of words—not at all. Still, after teaching us the syllables, he jumped right to Chumash. But Chumash meant not Genesis and not Exodus, but Leviticus.

The cheder consisted of a big room with a low beamed ceiling and two windows that looked over the courtyard. The walls were grey, though every Pesach they were whitewashed, and the floor was washed when it was not Pesach, and also when the “director” would come,

[Page 591]

once a year, to examine “Russian language” and to give out “awards.” This room was divided by a thin wall, behind which was the rabbi's “bedroom.” That same bedroom bordered on the kitchen and the baking oven, under which was a storage area in which to put chickens and with which they used to frighten the children by saying they would be put there if they misbehaved. Opposite the door there were a washtub and a bucket for cleaning and next to those a bed.

Behind the wall, in the “bedroom,” lay the rebbetzin, who was lame and moaned. When the rabbi was not in the room, the children would carry on and make a mess. This would upset the ailing rebbetzin, who, wanting to get even with the “delinquents,” would call with a weak voice to one or two of the students and, taking them by the hand, use her skinny fingers to give them a sharp pinch on the arm, which they would not soon forget. Thus would she quell her anger.

Boys and girls learned together. The boys were in cheer from eight in the morning until nine in the evening, and the girls would come for a few hours. At the head of the table would sit Itzele with his greasy hat on his head. In his right hand—the “pointer” and by his side the whip with its rawhide. With his hoarse voice he would say quietly: “Kametz alef—o. Kametz beis—bo.” Across from the rabbi said Avraml, the assistant, who liked to pinch the girls while they were learning. The second assistant—Chaim—would bring the children to school and take them home and take care of their needs.

When someone would bring food for a child, the rabbi would take the parcel, examine the portion, nimbly put a part of the cutlet in his sleeve, and then divide the rest in pieces, saying to the child: “You see? I made a lot for you. so give me a littler for my Moyshele.” Naturally he would not wait for an answer, and he took a sizable portion for his son. Two or three times a day we would study with the rabbi and his assistants for five or ten minutes a time. But we were kept busy the whole day.

[Page 592]

At R. Itzele's we made a certain kind of “goat”. that would be sold at the fair on market days. Each child would receive a piece of dough from which to make little goats. They were made in the following way: one took a piece of dough and rolled it out in his hands. Then one formed two horns on top and four legs on the bottom. Then it was baked until it turned a light brown. People in the market bought them for a groschen each. For this “labor,” the rabbi allowed us to play for a couple of hours each day, a nd some would get a pinch on the cheek for being a good boy.

Chaim the assistant had the job of making Chanukah dreidels, graggers and Haman-noisemakers, pennants for Simchas Torah and bows [presumably for Lag B'Omer], and we would help. Once, I remember it clearly, he lacked some red paint for making the stripes on some bows. Without thinking, he pricked his finger and used the blood to make the red stripes on the bows.

In addition to being a businessman, the rabbi was a bit of an entrepreneur. He dealt with fowl, which would lay eggs in the storage area, and with a goat, which provided milk for the ailing rebbetzin. Sometimes when there rabbi would ask a student, “Nu, what sound does kametz alef make?' the chickens would answer, “Cu-cu-ri-cu!” And the goat would add, “Mehhhh!” In this way the chickens and the goats grew up with the children of the wealthy, and we would often wonder what kind of reincarnations they were!

Before we left for home, the rabbi would station himself by the door, allowing the children to leave one by one, saying to each of them: “For God's sake, tell them at home that you learned with me three times, that you ate your whole meal. If they ask if anyone struck you, you must say no.”

“Good night, Rabbi!”

“For God's sake, come early tomorrow!—good night and good year.

[Page 593]

Yoshe Nose

From Itzele Paunch the elementary teacher, I went on to Yoshe Nose, the Gemara teacher. His school was near the cemetery, not far from the shul. Altogether there were 10-12 students there.

This rabbi got his nickname because he had a flat nose and spoke very nasally. Instead of a beard, he had only a few yellow hairs, He looked a lot like a Chinese person without the pigtail that the Chinese used to wear—instead he had two pigtails, one either side of his face—two braided side-curls.

His rebbetzin was a tall, thin woman with red-circled eyes. She was always occupied. She ran a big business with geese. Whole carts with wooden crates would come to the door of our school and then disappear down the road that led to Warsaw. But always running around in the courtyard of the school were scores of fat white geese that there rebbetzin each week would sneak away and transport to the wealthy homeowners.

These flocks of white geese, around whom we worked, took on fantastic forms in my childish mind, and when it came to there Talmudic legend of Rabbah Bar Bar Chana, it seemed to us that we saw the “white geese” with our own eyes. [Rabbah Bar Bar Chana was involved with a number of fantastic stories, including one that included giant geese.]

With Yoshe Nose we studied Chumash, Rashi, and Gemara. Sometimes when we were learning, we would play a game or play with “buttons,” and when the rabbi noticed us, from anger he would shove a dirty finger into his mouth and bite until it bled. More than once, he would unbutton our pants and swat us, counting “one plus one, one plus two” until we assured him that we would no longer do it. Aside from whippings, we also were subjected to “packages.” The rabbi would choose a student who had misbehaved, unbutton him, take out his shirt, bind his arms, and put heavy things on his shoulders, things like boots, for example. The student would have to stand in this way for a couple of hours. Meanwhile

[Page 594]

moisture would leak from his eyes, from his nose, and from his mouth.

During our learning time, there was often a black “kozele” (named for a fragrant resin) in the shape of a lump of sugar, about the size of a half of a finger. This “kozele” the rabbi had bought in the pharmacy for a few groschen each and stood it on a glass of water that was covered with a piece of paper. When the “kozele” was lit, it smoked for a long time, until it burned through the paper and fell into the water. Later the rabbi would take it out, let it dry out, and then use it again. It was a kind of disinfectant against evil spirits that arose during the lesson…in order to determine who was guilty, the students would often touch their noses—and woe to that student who had a warm nose…During the break, we were put out in the courtyard and turned over to the geese.

I left Yoshe Nose in the following circumstances: One Shabbos, after napping, the rabbi came to hear my lessons. My father chose a Talmudic passage and called on me to recite it. My recitation did not go well. Suddenly I felt a sharp pinch on my leg that felt like a burn on the thick part of my leg, and I jumped away. My father was surprised and did not understand what had just happened. When my recitation ended, I told my father about that vicious pinch that the rabbi had given me. This story caused my father to reprimand the rabbi strongly and take me away from him.

 

Avraml Koshke

This teacher belonged to the same category as the earlier one that my father had exchanged for Yoshe Nose. He was called Avraham and came from More.

[Page 595]

Because everyone from that town was known to us as Koshkes—he was known as Avraml Koshke. Avraml was no sleepyhead. He was a modern person. He had worked for “noblemen.” He was always telling tales and wonders about “Russia.”

From that period I remember several students. One, a butcher's son, was an only child whose mother had gotten him with the help of a “good Jew” and who, when he was born, his father “paid for him” with gold coins that he had vowed for sacred needs.

The boy wore white linen clothing for his health, and he was quite nervous. They were always bring things to school for him to perk him up. In school we always worried about him, because he was wild and daring. so it was dangerous to provoke him.

The rabbi really suffered because of him. He used to pour tobacco into his grits, so that the rabbi would choke, and he would direct strong curses at the rebbetzin. When the rabbi napped, he would glue his beard to the table with sealing wax. When the rabbi awoke, he would tear out part of his beard. Once when Rabbi Avraml wanted to punish him, he took out a “gypsy” knife and slit the rabbi's trousers from top to bottom so that the rabbi stood there in his underwear.

The rabbi had a student who was cross-eyed. His eyes seemed to be angry with each other: when one eye looked to the north, the second, as if in anger, looked to the south. Furthermore, he couldn't properly pronounce many letters of the alphabet.

One afternoon he interrupted our class and cried out, “Priends. My mother had a pig. It dave a swill when it was scored, so they shot it.” [This is an attempt to render the gibberish that the author presents. He adds that in actuality the boy's mother had given birth to a deformed child. Translator's note: this is a really distasteful story about a child who obviously had some physical problems.]

[Page 596]

The study day began as we busied ourselves with “fritters.” That dish was traditional with all teachers from time immemorial, though in other schools only the rebbetzin made the fritters. In addition to the fritters, each child patronized the “bean woman,” as we called there Jewish women who sold peas and beans and cherries.

The rabbi himself was always occupied with some kind of business. He had to get things ready for the rebbetzin, who had a “stall” at the market. The rabbi was a specialist in making paintbrushes. And we assisted him in this work. We would lay out the individual bristles for the brush, get them all ready, cut the wooden handles, and the rabbi would bind the brushes and with a sharp ax he would even them out.

When we finished this task, we would take a turn at learning. But while we were learning, the rabbi always had other work. He would take pieces of copper, put them on an iron form, and hammer out “three-ers,” (coins worth three Russian groschen), perfect and round as the real thing, and with these “three-ers” he would buy cheap tobacco and other necessities. He would take a box of matches and split each match into two or four pieces and twist them up in blotting paper like cigarettes. They had the habit of extinguishing themselves all the time.

Tuesdays and Fridays were market days. The rabbi would help the rebbetzin at her stall and then come home after half a day. Each time he would leave, he would tell us that we should review our lessons. But as soon as he had closed the door behind him, we played games like “kama-kama-tir” and “sharde-barde,” and we would give each other potches. The students knew all kinds of tricks. The spoiled kid specialized in rolling back his eyelids and frightening everyone. A second kid specialized in curling his tongue and making four “figs” with both hands. Thus we amused ourselves until the end of the day.

On Fridays after lunch, when the rabbi returned from the market,

[Page 597]

while the rebbetzin remained at her stall, he would bring back in his big red handkerchief little fish and prepare them for Shabbos. He would cut the fish as we went over that week's Torah portion. If someone got something wrong, he would grab him by the ear and pinch him until it hurt like fire.

None of this bothered us, because we knew that we would soon be free for half the day on Friday and for all of Shabbos. We were so excited that we quickly forgot the pinches and the Torah melody, the potches and the ear-pullings; and like freed birds we whooped and shouted as we quickly ran through the streets and alleys.

 

Yoshe Mottl Heshe's

My rabbi was called Yoshe, and with his father's name: so Yoshe Mottl's. But since his wife Heshe was the boss in the house, people called him by the full name Yoshe Mottl Heshe's.

My rabbi was considered the best Gemara teacher in the city. He was not much more than a neglected pauper, like all teachers. He had a proverb or a saying for everything, which he used to convey with a throaty voice.

He had studied in a modern way, with a particular style. He knew how to make clear a bit of Midrash or Tanach with the commentary of Malbim. Sometimes he would come out with liberal idea that had stayed with him from the bygone time of the Haskalah, to which he had been connected.

The rebbetzin Heshe dealt in lime. Mean and talkative, she was always at odds with her competitors, whom she covered with curses and threats. Her wig, which was always sprinkled with lime, used to fall over to one side, and her face was always inflamed.

The rabbi had great difficulty with her, but he always kept silent about it.

The lime, which was always in their place and

[Page 598]

on the street, often covered the students as well as the rabbi and rebbbetzin. People would drive up a wagon of lime. We would have to unload it and then help to prepare it. We would help to pour the dry material, then pour water, mix it with a special tool, filter it, and cover it with boards until it was set.

Understand that our clothes would be covered with lime and our boots would be as white as milk.

Among the students in the school was one who never took part in this labor. He only observed from a distance. He was the son of a rich old wood merchant. So dainty and slim, he was like a newborn. This young man had never tasted butter, schmaltz, milk, eggs, or meat. He had never tasted fruit. He lived only on liquids. He drank tea in an original manner: into a glass full of sugar, someone would pour a bit of tea, which he would drink. With the sugar that remained in the glass, the rebbetzin could make do for the rest of the week.

No one ever struck him, because he was very high-strung. If someone disturbed him, he would scratch his nose until it bled, so that the rabbi would lay a cold key on him, moisten his handkerchief and put it on his nose, and pacify him as one might a small child.

When we studied, we were always so tired that we took naps, and that is how we learned.

Right in the middle of our studies, suddenly there would be a knock at the door and on the threshold there would be a whitewashed non-Jew with a clay dipper who would yell out: “I need lime.”

The rabbi would lay his handkerchief on the page and tell us to review our lesson and he would be right back. His sons would go with him. And we—instead of reviewing our lesson—would play word games, like making up nonsense sentences based on the first letters of words.

[Page 599]

[Translator's note: He gives examples of these games which are untranslatable.] We made our own “telephones” from a string with two matchboxes, one on each end.

We also discussed politics, each of us sticking firmly to his convictions. We also knew that the emperor's portrait, which hung in every classroom, was such that when the emperor died, its appearance would change…

Aside from the workman who wouldn't. Buy lime and would interrupt our studies, we were rescued by sundry other people. Thus, we would suddenly be visited by the lottery man. From his red handkerchief he would pull out, as if by magic, a silver Chanukah with lions, an alarm clock with a cuckoo that he would play for us (such a pleasure), a spice box with a tower and a little pennant at its top. Each student would buy a lottery ticket, in the expectation of great luck. Another time we would be visited by a man who placed on the table a model of the “mishkan” that he had made with great skill according to the description in the Chumash. We did not know whether to regard the “mishkan” or the man, who had a head like a government minister and who told us that that had served him well throughout his life. Yet another time we were visited by a man with huge eyebrows and a black tangled beard. For two groschen he allowed us to look into a box that contained beautiful pictures that enchanted our souls.

 

Avraham-Hersh

Quite different was my last teacher—Avraham-Hersh Assine. If I have described my earlier teachers with a certain frivolity, for Avraham Hersh I have want to express the deepest respect and gratitude.

[Page 600]

Even before the advent of “improved schools,” with their new methods, Avraham Hersh understood what people needed to learn. He hated pilpul, hairsplitting, and simplifications. He loved clear learning, learning that was correct and tasteful. My rabbi was then a young man of around thirty. He was tall, with childlike ears. His face was creased and surrounded by a thin black beard.

He was the model of a true, devoted maskil, imbued with that spirit. Earlier he had read the most recent Hebrew and Yiddish books, and he loved to share his thoughts and feelings with his students.

One of his closest and most devoted friends was a young man named Yankl Pigove, a very interesting person. His very name indicated that the young man was an apikoros and an all-around malicious fellow. He frightened all the religious Jews of the city.

This Yankl Pigove was the son of a poor tailor, whose family was referred to by the surname “Gypsy.” [Author's footnote: There is an interesting story about this name in Siedlce, but I will relate that elsewhere.]. He was a hot-headed young man who was granted rabbinical permission to study. He knew the entire Tanach by heart, and he quickly learned Russian, German, French, and many other subjects. He also put together a Hebrew dictionary, which a publisher issued with a few changes and called his own. Because of his status as an apikoros, he was as if excommunicated, and even the freethinkers were hesitant to be seen in the street with him. Even so, my rabbi was friendly with him, and although he could have lost his teaching position because of him, this Yankl Pilove was his constant guest.

Of the four or five students who studied with Avraham Hersh, the rabbi showed special attention to two: myself and

[Page 601]

Yankl Yoln [fn.—Yoel Mastbaum, the well-known Yiddish writer]. whom he treated with special love and attention after our lessons were over. When all the children left for home, we remained, and the rabbi would read with us books like “Ahavas-Tzion,” “Ashmas-Shomron,” and “Ayit Tzavua” by Mapu and other Hebrew books.

On those beautiful summer evenings, we three—the rabbi and his two students—went walking outside the city and the rabbi would show us the beauties of nature, where everything is “wonderful, harmonious, and Godlike.” He would be delighted with the landscape and with the gorgeous sunsets. Avraham Hersh would enthusiastically study the prophets with us, using a special tune, singing “The vision of Isaiah ben Amotz”…and other verses so that they entered one's soul. And we felt as though the prophet Isaiah stood there on a high mountain with a snow-white beard and spoke to the rebellious children of Israel.

Sometimes a restless spirit that offered no peace would occupy the soul of this man; then he would take up his fiddle—he had an old, broken instrument—and play different Jewish tunes and songs. Sometimes he would paint landscapes and figures.

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah he would be busy painting special new year greetings on pink sheets of paper. On these sheets he would paint lions and eagles, garlands, mosaics in different colors, gold and silver, and in the middle he would inscribe with professional lettering flowery wishes for the new year.

These new year wishes would be bought by young men and women, mostly brides and grooms, who paid well for them. His specialty, however, was woodcarving.

Near our school lived Yidl Sholkis [fn.—First a teacher, then a noted woodcarver, at that time the first and only one in Siedlce]. My rabbi, Avraham-Hersh, would often visit him, to observe

[Page 602]

his work, which pleased him greatly. Not long after, he made the tools he made—actually one that combined functions—and soon he was an accomplished woodcarver and earned some income in that way. While we were learning, there sat on the table the twisted leg of a piece of furniture, a piece of a headboard for a bed, or a cornice from an oak closet—and the rabbi would carve with a chisel while we learned. He would dig away with his pick! We would carve out a half-finished page and make connections between them. And we would divide our attention between the Chumash and the carving.

The rabbi's artwork had a tremendous effect on us students. When we arrived home from school, Yoel would try to paint pictures, while I—tried a variety of activities. I made hourglasses, water machines in which the water circulated and…fiddles. One time, this resulted in a battle between Joel and me. I had made a fiddle and showed it to Yoel for his criticism. Instead of saying anything, Yoel grabbed the fiddle and would not return it. I grabbed his hat and ran into my house. Yoel followed me into the furthest room and asked for his hat back. And I—for the fiddle, which he had broken out of anger. Unable to come to an agreement, Yoel closed the door and said to me:

“You're taking my hat? You won't get away alive,” and he showed me a crude knife…

I saw that he was deathly pale, with bulging eyes, with his knife at the ready, so without hesitation I returned his hat.

* * *

Aside from these jobs, the rabbi also wrote essays. He wrote a guide to Hebrew grammar based on the Tanach, accompanied by a simplified translation in Yiddish.

I remember that one time an unknown man ent4red the classroom,

[Page 603]

an old man with a pack of books. The rabbi picked one up and began to sing

What do I see through the window?

They are coming like doves…

[Fn.—These words come from a folk song by Elyakum Zunzer called “Shivas Tzion.”]

Later I learned that the old man was an author and that he had translated into Hebrew poems by Elyakum Zunser and Goldfaden. The rabbi was close to him and gave him addresses where he could bring his “merchandise.”

The rabbi had a long and difficult war with the rebbetzin. He wanted his son and his daughter to be educated people, but learning did not come easily to them, particularly to the son, so he tried to force upon him Russian grammar and exercises. Consequently, in the school all hell broke loose and the rebbetzin would scream, “Nu! And what if he doesn't know….”Rifmatik. So he won't be a “doctor.” I don't care.”

So it went for the rabbi. He wanted his son to have what he had been unable to get. Consequently, he acted with us, his students, especially Yoel and myself, more like a friend, generous and faithful. He remains in my memory until this very day.

 

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