R' Shmuel-Moshe Lipman had merits of his own. He was known under the name R' Shmuel-Moshe Lipman, or Shmuel-Moshe Eisenhandler (which means a dealer in hardware); he had a hardware store. More than being at the store, he used to spend his time studying. The store was managed by David Lipman and his sister of blessed memory. R' Shmuel-Moshe was a great scholar and a cabbalist. He married in Ilove, was cantor and ritual slaughterer in Krasnosielce, in the Lomza Gubernia. Before the First World Ware, 1913, he settled in Vishogrod.
As a small boy, I knew R' Shmuel-Moshe leading the morning prayers in the Bes-Hamidrash during the High Holidays. He was a handsome man, wit ha rounded beard, distinguished-looking. Always cheerful, a smile upon his face. He was also a circumciser. When there was a circumcision in a poor man's family, he used to send money to him on the eve of it for the preparations. Unfortunately, he caught cold when he went, during a great freeze, to a village, to circumcise a child. A week later he died, on the 10th January 1924, the 4th of Shvat 5694, at the age of 61.
R' Shmuel-Moshe ceased to be ritual slaughterer when he was 51 years old, for he translated the verse: Al tochal mimenu na as N A meaning 51 (by the numerical value of these letters). At this age he returned to Vishogrod.
His wife was a pious woman; hers was a fine household, as written in Pirkei Avos: Let your house be wide open and let the poor be your familiars. It was a house open to guests, alms giving and granting loans without interest to the poor. On every Sabbath and holiday there were guests at the table.
They had three children with them in Vishogrod: Sara, the late Lea, David (long live he), and Rachel, besides the married children outside Vishogrod. He had 9 children altogether. The eldest sons were ritual slaughterers.
Sara-Lea Tyk was a truly excellent housewife. She fulfilled for her husband the verse from Prov. 31/23: Her husband is known in the gates, where he sitteth among the elders of the land. Her husband, R' Hayim Tykof blessed memory, was a young man of great studying abilities, a genuine scholar. Every morning he spent learning the daily lesson in Gemara, in company with Yankel Taub at the Bes-midrash. He possessed also secular education; he was a human being in the fullest sense of the expression. He busied himself with the needs of the community, was among the founders and active members of the Mizrahi. He helped to found the Yavne school, where Hebrew was being taught in Hebrew exclusively. The basic idea was learning and working, and it prepared youth for emigration to Israel. He was the president of the cooperative bank. As a matter of fact, he was an active party man, but he was like Aaron the Priest: peace loving, striving for peace.
His wife, Sara-Lea, was a true helpmate. She did not interfere with his sacred business; she did her share in the upkeep of the family, working at the candy store, and lent a hand with everything. She became quite renowned after the catastrophe, when she was in the D.P. camp at Eschwege, in the kibbutz of the Poel-Mizrahi. She was called mamma by all the young people of the kibbutz; she used to try and persuade young couples into marriage. When my oldest son was circumcised, she stayed up all night, helping prepare the bris.
After she came to Israel, she worked all the time in her profession, until her last day. Once, on her way to work, passing my house in Giv'atayim, she felt not well, came in, sat down, and died instantly, a painless death, like the pious woman she was. May she rest in Paradise.
Rachel's husband, Moshe Sapirshtein, was a fine Hassidic young man. He took over the business together with his brother and sister-in-law, treated them honorably, and kept up the tradition of a proper household. Unfortunately, Rachel died very young.
These are the origins of David Lipman.
David Lipman himself is a man of human kindness, warm-hearted, noble-minded. He was brought up both in Hassidic and Hassidism-opposing homes. Until 9 years of age he learned in Krasnosielce. Later on he learned in bes-hamidrash. But he also entered the movement of Enlightenment and helped to found the Zionist Center. He worked for Zionism in the years 1915-1923, participated in the dramatic circle, in the management of the library and led cultural activities together with Yoske Levine. Yoske was chairman, and David Lipman, secretary.
David Lipman felt the ground burning under feet in Poland, and in 1923 he immigrated to America. He married the late Eta, Mendel Goldman's daughter, from a distinguished family. Eta was an orphan, brought up by Seral'e Goldman.
The kindness of David became apparent, when we came to Israel. On our arrival we were sure of our future here, but meanwhile, until one is settled, one needs a loan of several hundred pounds, and on easy terms, to be paid off in easy rates, without heavy interest rate. It was a great boon you could appeal to the Eretz Israel Society of Vishogrod. This was constructive help, providing a basis for livelihood. It is well remembered that the Loans without-in-Israel was founded and managed by David Lipman, until 1955 together with Yoske Levine of blessed memory, and afterwards by himself, assisted by our distinguished friend Menahem Silbershtein.
We do know that David Lipman's painstaking work and devotion is being appreciated by our American members, and they keep helping and supporting our fund.
On this occasion it must be stressed: we may be proud of our activity in the field of loans on easy terms. A new immigrant receives honorably a loan that enables him to establish himself. When somebody finds it hard to meet the expenses of a child's marriage or of changing the apartment after years, or changing over from a slum to a decent apartment he knows where to apply, and gets his loan easily, without trouble and worry, and without interest.
Our loan fund is a tremendous humane achievement and being established, as it is, by David Lipman, and supported, by his initiative, by our Americans, we accompany him with our best wishes. Such a truly good man ought to live long, for his kind heart and his meticulousness are a source of help and consolation to people.
David Lipman is an honor to our little town, and we shall bestow honor upon him by holding him in high esteem.
Long live David Lipman!
The treasurer was second after the Rabbi; he was one of the seven dignitaries of the town. He was the custodian of Jewishness, even hunted up the means involved in its upkeep. He attended to the maintenance of the religious officials: Rabbis', cantors and beadles; to the supplying of wheat money, candles, Kiddush and Havdoleh wine, bread for guests, alms for the poor. If it so happened that ten needy guests remained on Sabbath eve and they must be assigned families for their Sabbath meal, this was done by the treasurer. IT was also his task to make the necessary repairs in the synagogue.
Naturally, it was a difficult job to be a treasurer, still more difficult, to be a disinterested one. Happy the little town that had a clean-handed gabbe. There were towns where men fought for this post, in spite of the difficulties involved in it, as there were profits to be made out of it.
Vishogrod had the luck or was it merit? to have a treasurer, whose praises were told for many years, a virtuous man, clean-handed, working disinterested. It was the grandfather of R' Menahem Silbershtein, R'Moshe Cohen. He was a gabbe a hundred years ago. His sons were called, respectively, Hayim Moshe Gabbe's, and Leizer Moshe Gabbe's.
Hayim Silbershtein was for many years treasurer of the synagogue of Vishogrod; Leizer Moshe Gabbe's was treasurer of the small synagogue of Gur. The treasurership passed on from generation to generation.
Leizer was a Hassid of Gur, a good cantor. His wife, Sorche of blessed memory, was a pious woman, a match to her husband. He had a hardware store. He had seven children: Braha, Ita, Ides, and Menahem, Shlomo, Shmuel, and Menashe Ephraim. R' Leizer was during many years busy with public affairs, a member of the board of community. He looked after Jewish public matters: easy-loans fund, Talmud-torah, bes-Yaacov, Heder y'sodei torah. In his time, when he was in charge, the roof of the synagogue was constructed. He participated in all matters concerning public needs, in the manner of the gabbe's of yore.
Menahem added a link to the dynasty chain, and developed a modern manner of social activity.
Brought up in the spirit of Gur and of religious schools, he turned from both to the road of Zionism. Still young, he was one of the leaders of the Zionist Center. He contributed much to the propaganda work, looked after the library, held talks, taught Hebrew, drew youth into the ranks of Zionism, procured money for the national funds, and was the natural leading Zionist in town. Menahem was a leading member in politic and economic institutions, in the bank and in town council in the party and at the welfare office, and in schools and educational institutions, as well. He took are of needy Jews; of subsidies for the National Fund, or children's schools; of hospitalizing a sick poor Jew at the town's expense; and stood watch lest the Jews become stepchildren o the municipality.
It was essentially gabbeship but in a modern manner.
But the dynasty did not continue much longer. The Hitler war wrought the ruin of Menahem's home and kin and drove him into the ghetto of Warsaw. He went through all the horrors there, and participated actively in the revolt.
On the 26th of April 1943, in a fight with the Nazis, he was deported to Lublin, Blizyn, Mielec, Flossenbürg, Leitmeritz and Mauthausen
After all these events and sufferings Menahem has remained himself the faithful servant of the Vishogrod community in America and in Israel. He manages the affairs of the Society, and although his time is much taken up with business of his own, he together with David Lipman put himself to the service of the community, and is now chairman of the Society.
During his first visit in Israel in 1958 he soon interested himself in a fitting memorial for the Vishogrod martyrs; the memorial tablet in the holocaust cellar was put up at his own expense. But all his interest was dedicated to the book.
In 1969 Menahem visited Israel again, and he has not given up his idea any more. He did not rest until he convened us, and after meetings and discussions at the expense of his planned-ahead trips and entertainment the editor was appointed and we set about publishing the book. Menahem knew our straightened financial circumstances, and he pledged his responsibility for money by collecting it, or if necessary, giving of his own.
Menahem's place in the Silbershtein dynasty of Gabbaim will be an honorable one. In erecting the memorial the book Menahem proved himself faithful to the Vishogrod community even after it has ceased to be. His public activity achieves the dimension of social and moral quality. Such was the dynasty from its beginnings, and Menahem is continuing. Long lives he.
R. Pinhas Levine's Zionism was actually an intuitive feeling, something in his blood he was born with, an inherent part of his life and his being, without any examinations of program and contents, actual achievement and redemption. His intuition itself and the strong impulse of his soul sufficed him to devote his entire life to Zionism, his station in life and his livelihood, without caring for the serious consequences and difficulties that arose.
R. Pinhas Levine neglected his means of maintenance, left the providing for food and upbringing of the children to his wife, and he himself busied himself exclusively with Zionism and winning over souls to the idea. To him, Zionism consisted in three things: in careful study, in devotion to its idea presently, and in bringing up children and youth as the reserves of the people and the hope of its deliverance. To these three things R. Pinhas dedicated himself entirely. Day and night he used to sit and study and ponder over theoretical and philosophical books, in order to establish Zionism on a philosophic basis lest it suffer damage, God Forbid, when put to the test of social modern thought, and in order to provide it with academic as well as practical justification. For this purpose he considered Immanuel Kant the greatest philosopher of his own and the previous generation, the ultimate authority that clinched everything. He became an expert on his philosophical system and his thinking method.
After Kant, more relevant to his theme, came R. N. Sokolov. He used to read all his articles and his dictum was to him the final confirmation of what he had grasped by himself u way of thinking. Sokolov was his steady correspondent, as was customary between friends, and used to send him all his books, each one close to its publication, together with personal remarks and revelations apt to clear up anything indefinite or requiring further reflection, and only alluded to in the text.
These readings of R. Pinhas were followed up by lighter reading matter, to still his simple literary thirst for things of life and descriptions of full life of a people that has to cease to be a problematic people and to become an actual nation, together with all the peoples, whose members are simple and natural humans.
Many nights he spent sitting in the light of a kerosene lamp, fitted by him with a reflecting lampshade, in order to concentrate its light and enable him to read much without getting tired.
The town of Vishogrod that was familiar with men spending their nights in study, appreciated this man Pinhas, who devoted his nights to another kind of study, and he was held in no lesser esteem than other highly honored men.
Now, perhaps, a surprising thing should be pointed out, bearing credit to our little town. As a rule, a man used to be judged and estimated according to his success in business and income, and woe to the man whose wife was supporting him. But to R. Pinhas Levine another kind of measuring rod was applied; although being an impractical man, he was accepted as somebody beyond their comprehension, worthy of high esteem and to be proud of.
R. Pinhas Levine fulfilled in life what was to him the second criterion of Zionism: he used to leave his home every now and then, and roamed about and called at the small nearby towns, exhorting Jews to spiritual awakening, appearing as self-appointed orator in their synagogues, holding up the reading of the torah, mounting the pulpit and making speeches and arousing the enthusiasm of the crows, to become at once the transition generation to deliverance. His words, coming down from his inner heart and without any after thought, were always taken seriously and the seed was sown in the hearts. In this respect he was a prophet in his own country: he showered his speeches from all platforms in Vishogrod, as he was wont in other towns. Vishogrod loved him together with his speeches. If it happened so and he was not on the orators' list at certain occasion, he was asked and invited to make a speech, even if it did not seem to him a fit occasion. There was a harassing impulse in him, urging him on to hasten and win souls, to shock, to awaken and stimulate them to self-redemption. He never was free from this urge; all of a sudden, on a simple working day, he was seem going with his bundle to the next town, to set there glowing embers ablaze lest they go out and lest their national warmth and redeemed human light be dimmed.
Above all, R. Pinhas was devoted to the Jewish child and boy. He was able to spend many hours with children, like with equals. He regarded them as the bearers of his vision, the most serious and perfect ones, and he treated them with seriousness and respect. Anytime and anyplace he was liable to gather round him boys of all ages and keep them spellbound with his thought and vision of the future. They also, clung to him and honored him according to his worth and above it. It was curious, too, how these unruly youngsters, these pranksters, unwittingly were behaving deferentially in his presence. They, too, estimated his personality with a special measure of worth and importance.
He prized in equal measure all the youth movements that arose in Vishogrod and existed there. He did not want to probe into the divergences they ascribed to themselves. To him they were, all of them, seedlings of his sowing and realizers of his life dream.
I recall, when the well-remembered ceremony of hoisting the Beitar flag in the town took place, my beloved grandfather R. Pinhas was invited to the presidential platform. He took in thirstily the whole colorful show of disciplined youth, and warm tears, happy tears, trickled incessantly down his cheeks.
Shalom Ash coined it an occasion the notion talent for Eretz-Israel in his story of the same name. Of R. Pinhas Levine it might be said he was blessed with a talent for Zionism. He nearly was born for Zionism, as the notion of making a nation, of acquiring qualities and changing values, in a generation which had the task to prepare itself for a long journey towards a still non-existing state. All his life he was under the apprehension of danger that perhaps we might inadvertently miss the possibility to turn the apprehension of danger that perhaps changes our nature. Therefore he was burning with perpetual fire for implanting these qualifications in the people, in each Jew, and he never had a moment's time for temporary matters, for making a living, etc.
He seemed to be a man with no knowledge whatever of the worth of money and the ways of acquiring it. But when it was the matter of Zionism, R. Pinhas revealed himself as an excellent financier who knew how to create something out of nothing. Thence stems his constant devotion to the Jewish National Fund. Between speech and speech and between sermon and sermon he worked for increasing the income and donations to the J.N.F. Nobody appointed him; he by himself embarked on it, and thanks to him the J.N.F. was a continuous presence. Whether there was a committee or not the General committee of the J.N.F. knew that in Vishogrod the Fund was active. Every now and then he went to Warsaw to report the income and his activities. His calls were a well-known thing in Warsaw, and the heads of the Fund considered him their representative in any respect, and they listened to his opinions. In the Funds periodical, Our fund, R. Pinhas was mentioned as a man who identified with it and personifying it.
For the sake of income to the Fund he would not back from any means. He was known to have gathered lumber from anywhere to build with his own hands booths and let them to merchants in fairs and this increase the national fund. Gentiles came to his son, a shoemaker, to order shoes; he used to impersonate a saint, to give them a (Hebrew) blessing, and was given for it money for the J.N.F.
Out of his great love of Zionism he abhorred all the movements, which distorted its image. Being himself strictly observant, he could not forgive people like him who preached against Zionism. Every religious Jew, who tried to see in the National Federation a forcing of the coming of the Messiah, he suspected of heresy, as a man who misinterprets the Law. He changed his prayer and added Zionists to the Just, wherever the latter are mentioned.
He hated, therefore, also the Jewish communists, who preferred the liberation of other nations to the liberation of Israel, and therefore he hated also the Russians, who exploited the naivety of people thirsting for liberation to strengthen their empire, swallowing up small nations and their cultures.
When the disaster reached Vishogrod and I decided to escape to Russia, he was shocked. The Germans, to him, were a transient affliction, whose cruelty was hard, but would pass away. Whereas Russians devise against the soul and spirit and prepare the instruments for entire annihilation. The spiritual annihilation was in his eyes harder than the physical one. He loved the Jewish people, the bearer of the Jewish religion; he loved his religion, and thence came his love for the language in which our religion was received. He was not able to forgive anybody who tried to hurt the values of Jewish culture, religion and the Hebrew language. He spoke Hebrew with Sephardic pronunciation and used it in writing as a living language. When hearing its sounds over the radio, and from over there the haftorah and the weekly section of the Law were broadcast, and the daily chapter, he experiences deep pleasure. He used to come to his son Yonc'e who possessed a good Philips radio set, to hear the Voice of Jerusalem, and tears of joy were running down his beaming face. When he heard it the first time, he stood up and said the appropriate blessing.
Such a man was R. Pinhas Levine. The torchbearer of national regeneration and the perpetual fire of the feeling of revival. He burned with the flame of redemption and was humbly devoted to it. A very peculiar man, whose peculiarity was a test for the generation, which was ordered a great national change, and according to its readiness to change it went the way of liberation or annihilation.
Unfortunately, he also perished and was destroyed in the great disaster and did not live to see the great deliverance whose buds he had fostered and whose roots he had watered with his soul's freshness.
A great soul was among us, and only here have we known it.
In the year of 1915, 8 days before Purim, when all Jews were driven out of Vishogrod, I was a child of 6 years. When we returned to Vishogrod, we found doors and windows broken in, the furniture plundered. The German police was in command in town. A little German, named Yoel Koppel was mayor. The war continued till November 1918. Food was scarce; the Germans requisitioned everything and sent it to Germany. We subsisted scantily on ration cards. People were literally starving. In those days American Jews were sending food, and a soup kitchen was established. It had two branches in Blume Haye's yard and at Leibel Zlotnik's.
There was a committee managing the kitchen. Nearly all those who had little children received food there. For each child there was a sweetened milk can a week, additionally. Each morning there was sweet cocoa with long rolls baked of American flour; you could eat your fill. At noon you got milk-rice. In the committee were: Hersl Shwirz, Mendel Fersht, Yitzhak Meir Kon, Sinye Meir Kronberg, Sinye Mordecai Baum, Ickl Gersht, Yehuda Leizer Klein, Avraham Shinkman, Faivel Meir Lichtenshtein, and Yoske Levine. All these men had business of their own. They devoted to the kitchen their free time- except Yoske Levine. He was a young newly married man, and he was very active. He watched devotedly over the kitchen from early in the morning till late into the night. At 7 o'clock in the morning he was already on the spot, supervising the distribution, lest anybody be wronged.
He was a very handsome aristocratic-looking man, well dressed. At that time I was learning in the Heder of the lat R'Bunim in the shoemakers' lane bordering on Zlotnik's place. Several of us children were hanging around, to see what's going on. Yoske always used to call out to us with a kind smile, give us rolls and say: Eat, children and come every day! Back home I related to my parents Yoske was a very kind man. My late parents said Yoske was Pinhas-Hananya Sopher's grandson: like grandfather like grandson.
About Pinhas Levine it is written in the memorial book. He was a deeply learned Jew, one of the first Maskilim and Hov'vei Zion. Yoske Levine took after him. He was progressive, founder and leader of the Zionist Center. The older generation of pious Jews did not like it over-much. But Yoske Levine enjoyed enormous respect. He was considered an honest, incorruptible man. He was a member in most of the social institutions. Everybody attached importance to his opinion, though he was still young.
In 1923 Yoske Levine felt the ground in Poland burning under the feet and made up his mind to go away. He immigrated to America. He was back at a time in Vishogrod and took with him the eldest daughter, Pola, who is living till now in America.
When Yoske Levine came to America, new horizons in social and welfare activity for the needy opened up before him. He organized, worked, created. He was not concerned with theory only, but And Moses grew up and went out unto his brethren and saw them in their suffering. He saw the poor and needy part of the Vishogrod Jews. He had the help of the late Gutman Hollendar, Leizer Bunim's son, David Lipman (long may he live), and of the old Society; and twice a year there arrived a sum of money from America in Vishogrod in winter for distributing wood and coal and buying sacks of potatoes, and at Passover time for matzos, wine and food for the needy.
The aid was given secretly, not to shame anybody, Heaven forbid! Certain sums were also given to meritorious people to help them out with their livelihood.
Yoske Levine's help kept coming until 1939. In winter 1939/40, close after Sukkot, was the last time money from America was distributed in Vishogrod. I was present at it.
Yoske Levine's activity gathered strength after the Second World War, when the last survivors from Vishogrod came to America. Yoske Levine was very dedicated in his interest in the new immigrants. He met them as a leader, a comrade and a friend, with good advice and deed. When we, the survivors, were in the D.P. caps in Germany, all Vishogrod Jews received parcels from Vishogrod Jews in America, owing to the initiative of Yoske Levine, and that led to a feeling of unity among them. When we came to Israel, and founded the Irgun (Organization) and the free-loan Fund, when Golda Gutman came to Israel and promised the first subsidy to the Fund, the money came through Yoske Levine. He, together with David Lipman (long may he live), began to send over money. It is a pity he did not live to see with his own eyes the results of what he had worked.
In 1969 we issued 28 loans, adding up to the amount of IL. 14,950. Tons of immigrants were aided by Yoske's initiative, by our Irgun.
Unfortunately, Yoske Levine was untimely and abruptly taken away. On returning from Shabbat prayers, he was killed by the car of a Reformist Rabbi, on the side-walk. His death is a loss for his family, and for us Vishogrod people, as well.
His children and grandchildren, a man of such moral excellence. His son Hanoch, is living in Israel, and is chairman of the Irgun Yotz'ei Vishogrod. Daughter Pola Zwern is in America; her husband is judge there. Daughter Andzia is living in Australia. She is married to our Woftsche Sladov.
We are proud Vishogrod has produced such people.
Americans tell us Yoske, in his old age, became fanatically pious and strictly observant, and deeply involved in the metaphysical problem of the Jewish people. They also tell us, that when you say Yoske Levine helped, that means Yoske Levine went around looking for the needy. He did not wait for them to come and ask; Whosoever saves a single soul meant with him continuing the saving of the Jewish nation, which for 200 years had subsisted by deep faith and a deep esteem for the human Jewish individual.
We are proud Vishogrod served as environment for such great souls.
Thus Naphtali the Yeshiva student became son-in-law to Menashe Tab, a respected Jew of Vishogrod, a great merchant, an influential man, and a Gur Hassid. Menashe gave him his oldest daughter Haya Zirl, tall and handsome, and promised three years of board and lodging.
The years passed quickly, children were born: Yosl, Dvora, Bezalel, Leibl and Sara. As soon as the board-and-lodging years were over, poverty became a permanent guest at Naphtali's. Misery and want resigned there, the only thought and care was for livelihood.
In 1896 R' Moshe Yehezekel Biderman of blessed memory, had need of an assistant to decide in matters of Kashruth; thus R' Naphtali became a petty judge and ruled on questions of ritual fitness, and Jews had their peace of mind.
He continued in the same capacity also with R' David' Bornshtein of blessed memory, who later became the Rabbi of Sochaczew.
The salary was small, the family grew larger, and with it the expenses. They were obliged to do with a minimum. Life was hard, there were hidden cares. The consequences made themselves felt, first of all, upon the mother of the family; she fell ill and passed away still young.
R' Naphtali the judge remained a widower for the rest of his life. These were only the beginnings of his tragedy. Also later on, in R' Davidl's time, his financial situation was not any better. Whoever entered his home was aware of the heavy nightmare reigning there; a mere crust of bread was considered a luxury. The only happy day of the Year was Purim, when the rich men of the town used to send their ritual judge bounteous presents. After Purim came eve of Passover time. Then Naphtali the Judge prepared himself for two matters: the sermon in the synagogue on Great Shabbat, and the petty incomes of Passover, like cleaning ritually the sugar in the sugar factory in Malowiez, the same with three ovens for baking matzos, and selling the leaven. With this income he paid off debts accumulated during the whole year.
Owing to these rather bad circumstances, the oldest son, Yosel of blessed memory, a clever one, grew up with affected lungs, and later died. The next son, Mordechai, seeing the difficult situation, became of sabot maker. The third son, Bezalel, was always sitting at the table and making cigarettes, until the tobacco ate up his lungs, and he died young, in his 18th year. Simhale died at the age of 14-15, Sara the daughter was continuously ill. All were obliged to work towards the upkeep of the family.
One may imagine the state of mind and the feelings of R' Naphtali after all those heavy blows of fortune. Thus, his own state of health too, became unstable. Added to all this was a continuous conflict with the Hassidim, the important men, the learned scholars and the big shots in town.
After the First World War, with his term as Rabbi of Vishogrod come to close, Rabbi Davidl left Vishogrod and became Rabbi of Sochaczew. Vishogrod was left officially without a Rabbi. At that time R' Naphtali became very active and involved in the community life. He introduced some order in school, in the Bes-Hamidrash, the ritual bath, the cemetery, dropped in often at the slaughter house and became author of a book. He also started meeting with and talking to guests, Jews and non-Jews, in town and outside it. He became by and by an authority in large parts of the town, if not with his eternal opponents, then with the simple town folks, who were the biggest part of the Jewish population of the town.
In spite of his restricted possibilities, R' Naphtali used always to give handsome alms to poor people, and also to meritorious men from other towns who came looking for help.
According to the statute of communal and religious autonomy, Vishogrod had the right to proclaim, within a certain term, election of the town Rabbi. The election could have taken place quite a time earlier, even, but for the struggle going on behind the scene, the official motivation of the majority being that we were not ready for the great expenses connected with this step. Finally, the Governor of Plock officially proclaimed elections of the town Rabbi in Vishogrod for the fall 1925.
Months earlier, already, the smell of the stormy election campaign was being felt in the little town. It was life-and-death struggle of two opposing parties. One was the corporations of shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, stitchers, petty grocers, peddlers, butchers and simple folks about town. Their main argument run that it was absolutely imperative to elect R' Naphtali as Rabbi, for he had spent nearly all his life of sufferings in the town, had gone through all imaginable hardships, had served the community faithfully and had not had due recompense for a whole life of distress, sorrow and misfortune. Moreover, he was a great scholar, worthy of occupying the seta of Rabbi of Vishogrod for his later time of life. From a purely humane viewpoint, they argued, R. Naphtali must be the Rabbi.
On the other hand, the poor and small town was not financially able to take upon itself a new Rabbi; this would involve enormous expenses, whereas R. Naphtali was at hand, available.
The arguments were objective and logical, appealing to the heart and the feelings of all the simple Jews in town. The election bloc of R' Naphtali also published proclamations, big and small, with explanations and instructions whom to vote. In one of the proclamations it was recalled, how the Judge, in time of danger, during the First World War, had hazarded his life and gone to the military quarters of the Russian satraps, in order to revoke the bad decrees on the Vishogrod Jews. So it was also when Spudnik the carpenter's son had been caught, the baker of pretzels, and condemned to death. So it was also, when he went to intervene to save the life of the hostage R' Avraham Simha Reichman; and he had succeeded.
R' Naphtali, on his part, asked for mercy for taking in account his hard-suffering family, those alive, and those already on the Vishogrod cemetery, and begged their votes. His adherents, headed by Moshe Gemach, Israel Gedalia Daitz Ozer-Meir Goldberg, Meileh Gemach, and many others, devoted time and money, and worked wholeheartedly to bring the cause to a victorious end.
The second opposing bloc consisted of Hassidim of Gur, Warka, Amshniava (Mszczonow) and others. The rich men among the Hassidim started a stubborn election campaign. For this purpose they put into action the best forces. Their argument was, that Vishogrod had a tradition of Rabbis of generation-old lineage of rabbinic dynasties, a tradition of great scholars, great authorities, and R' Naphtali must not be elected. For this purpose they brought over other candidates for the rabbinate of Vishogrod. The first among them was the Rabbi of Zagrova (Zagorow). He talked in the bes-misdrash for 3 consecutive evenings, a great speaker and an inexhaustible source of learning and wisdom. He put a spell on everybody with his wondrous arguments. They also brought over the Rabbi of Neishtadt, and he too, talked in the bes-midrash. Their first candidate, as opponent to R' Naphtali, was the Neishtadt Rabbi, a very young man.
Now started the last stage of the election campaign. Both parties put into action the best forces, both blocs arranged meetings, and conducted individual house-to-house canvassing. The Gentiles even were involved in the election campaign.
Election day was a day of extreme tension. Nobody worked. Everybody wanted to win. Great ambitions were at stake. One hour before closing the polls, the situation became clear, and Lipa Wierzbinski together with Hershl Shwirz came out to save the situation, to win over some votes. It was already to be seen that they had lost. Another half-hour, another ten minutes, people stand under the windows and listen to the counting of the votes. The victory of R' Naphtali the Judge is sure already, and here is the final result: R' Naphtali Spivak has been elected Rabbi of Vishogrod.
Spontaneously nearly all the small town assembled at the house of the Rabbi. Jews and Gentiles congratulated him. But the Rabbi, out of joy, faints away. He is brought around; and now the sound of music is being heard behind the window of the Rabbi. Flaming torches are seen; his followers don him a new fur coat and a new fur hat, and boots, too, and lead him our onto the street. A festive procession gets started, Jews and Gentiles, young and old, and at the head the just-elected Rabbi, and with the orchestra they make the round of the town with the message of victory.
It was a feast of victory. The victory of the simple people; of the simple folks.
Thus R' Naphtali lived to be the last Rabbi of Vishogrod. Unfortunately he too perished, together with his holy congregation, by the dirty murderous hands.
From his childhood he stood out in society. His companions gathered round him and followed him; he was their spokesman and leader. His notion of life and of the situation of the Jewish people was quite self-reliant, and we swore by him as early as that.
When Avraham Meir grew up, it was evident he was destined to become a prominent community leader and a niche would be set apart for him in the gallery of men of the century. In his youth he was an organizer, planning and carryout out. His main local achievements, due to his initiative, were the easy-loans bank and the founding of the Beit-Ya'acov school that became an incentive to religious girls to free themselves from the generation-long routine.
He was good-looking, of middle stature, and possessed great personal charm. Being very modest, he did not avail himself consciously of this, which made him the more attractive. It was clear he went straight to the core of the matter-in-hand, not paying attention to outside circumstances even though they could be helpful by way of explanation or promoting his activities. This made him a rare phenomenon among party men.
When the organization of Zeirei Agudat Israel became established in Vishogrod, Avraham Meir made his appearance as a persuasive and pleasing speaker. He spoke to the point, keeping to the essential, and was fair in his arguments with opponents. He aimed at the discussed subject and did not mind who represented it. Avraham Meir was able to be on excellent terms with his opponents, without yielding a jot of his opinions. Avraham Meir Krongrad stood by his principles and sought to convince others to accept them, but when he did not succeed, he never took it out on the prospective objects of his persuasion.
Although he was deeply religious, he did not abstain from secular literature and was very fond of classic books. His private library was among the largest in town and contained Russian translated novels, like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Gorki, and Polish authors like Eliza Orzeszko. Avraham Meir kept perusing various encyclopedias; and he himself was a walking literary encyclopedia. Everybody knew, therefore, that from a lecture of Krongrad's he would learn something classic, of general value, on the man of all nations and times.
His activities in town brought with them connections within the movement, and he became renowned outside the town of Vishogrod.
Avraham Meir Krongrad, within his movement, challenged conventions and routine. There were many leaders whom he made feel comfortable because of his superiority and his erudition; but they could not refrain from admiring him.
For years he was among us, aloof and yet involved in them; towering above us in his mental capacity, but inkling in service and putting to our disposal all his abilities.
Also in daily dealings Avraham Meir kept modest; he never was guilty either of false humility or of purposeful haughtiness. He dealt with trifles and achieved great things; he spoke with restraint and aroused enthusiasm for the problems he stood for.
His profundity and original approach made him a rock of thought not to be shattered or conquered. His townsmen, who at first tried to make light of him, the prophet in his country, were eventually compelled to accept him, of their own will, and to refer to his superiority of ideas. You felt there was no quiescence for you when you were with him; you were in for mental agitation, and criticism and new outlook and shattering of illusions; but together with the uneasiness you felt that Avraham Meir Krongrad, out of the shambles of shattered routine that had been alluring and soothing, out of the shaken foundations of peace, would lead you on the rough path towards true peace. Therefore, he was so believed and followed.
He was eventually appointed Secretary General of Zeirei Agudas Israel in Poland and his many gifts found an outlet. He was editor of The Orthodox Journal for Youth published in Warsaw, and wrote its editorials. He published, in Polish, a periodical for religious academicians under the name Moriah. The editor was mgr. Prives, but Avraham Meir was the driving spirit and the initiator of its propagation of ideas.
He was very esteemed and liked in his Organization, by many; in spite of this he did not derive much satisfaction from his relations with the leaders of the movement. His Zionistic inclination and his constant yearning to emigrate to Eretz-Israel and to live there put him in a very awkward position and caused much personal grief.
He was taken away early in life and his gifts were not brought to a full development. It is a pity and a cause of sorrow. The Jewish nation has lost a leader and promising guide, and we, the Vishogrod people, have lost a prominent and faithful friend.
May his memory remain with us forever.
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