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C. Orthodox Zgierz

 

Religious Life

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Holiness and Nobility

… Zgierz was a fortress of the good spirit of man, and its residence were faithful to this spirit. There, during your youth, we absorbed the ideas of the lessons of our tradition, with its precise concepts and its sublime religious pathos. We merited the charge of thought and the unfaltering source of emotion, which had the ability of directing our deeds. We learned about communal life from the Hassidim. The meaning of communal life was closeness of hearts, dedication of one to the other. We also absorbed into our soul the splendor that enveloped the studiers and worshippers, and the holiness and mystery that enveloped the Beis Midrashes and shtibels – imparting to us the unique purpose of man and the stringent duties of the heart. Therefore, Orthodox Zgierz calls to us, and we are proud that it unites us with the duty toward good. We present its lines for the generation.

The editorial committee


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The Hassidic Movement in Zgierz

by Zeev Fisher

One of the wonderful movements that arose in the Jewish nation during the latter generations was Hassidism, which sprouted in Eastern Europe more than two centuries ago. This movement, which was religious in essence, led to far-reaching development in all areas of Jewish life until our day. As we shall see, Hassidism brought a change in the spiritual and social life of the Jews in Zgierz, as in other cities in Poland. It even laid the first foundations of the national movement of the Jewish nation.

The relationship to Hassidism of the people of our city of Zgierz was always not only as to a historical movement belonging to the past, but rather as to set of values, some of which can be identified even in our time. This was the approach among all strata of the Jewish population of Zgierz, even though it was not typical of the known “shtetl” – neither from the understanding of the general population, nor from the external character of life. Nevertheless, Hassidim cleaved to it and settled therein, and Admors also aspired to live there. The influence of ideas and words of Torah and wisdom brought with them all streams of Hassidism that existed in our city. Someone delving into them will always find ideas close to those expressed in the ancient and modern philosophic literature, or the ancient and new doctrines of moral learning. Therefore, even the young maskil found greatness in the Hassidic tradition.

Indeed, Hassidism in Zgierz found many supporters. It conquered the religious community and the religious institutions and influenced in a recognizable way the character of life of the Jews of Zgierz. Even though it was not a Hassidic center in the accepted sense of the term, but rather a place of concentration for Hassidim, it remained the backbone of the courts of the Admorim [Hassidic masters]. It is worthwhile to note that one could find in Zgierz the shtibels of various streams of Hassidim, at times opponents of each other, far apart in their ideology and customs. Nevertheless, Hassidic Zgierz brought them together without rivalry and disputes. Each Hassid went according to his doctrine, and all doctrines preached love of humanity, love of one's fellow Jews, and that one must judge every Jew favorably.

All the shtibels of the various dynasties in Zgierz appeared as a miniature ingathering of exiles. The Hassidim would frequent them, and faithfully preserve their doctrines and ways. They worshipped in the Sephardic style[1] and lived with faith in the Rebbe. They were certain exceptional individuals among them who studied and delved into Torah, both the revealed

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and the hidden[2] day and night. Several of them woke up every night to perform Tikkun Chatzot[3]. They donned ashes and lamented over the exile of the Divine Presence, the destruction of the Temple, and the fallen Tabernacle of David.

On the other hand, how great was the collective spirit that pervaded among the Hassidim. Young and old spoke to each other in the second person. Howe great was the sense of brotherhood and friendship in all the shtibels. It was considered natural to assist in various ways a Hassid who was having trouble or who had lost his livelihood.

There were many shtibels in our city, each with a different face, unique customs, their own tunes. Each imbued its unique imprint and visage upon its Hassidim, to the point that one could easily tell in which shtibel each Hassid worshipped, and to which Rebbe he would travel to visit. Each differed in the mystery of its melodies, which was considered a fundamental value in Hassidim, in the essence of the melody with relation to its fundamentals and the ancient Jewish resonance, for not every dynasty knew or was even careful about “small matters” such as these. However, one cannot describe shtibel life without the melody. The heart of every Hassid was attracted to the world of melody as a purifying wellspring, raising the day-to day life as well as that of the Sabbaths and festivals. The prayer, the feasts, and the joyous occasions were filled with hymns and melodies. The Hassidim sang with melodies that attract, that were full of longing and beauty for the people of the sanctuary on the Sabbath eves and the third Sabbath meal before the conclusion of the Sabbath.

As I recall them, the Hassidim of all streams in our city, I have thoughts that the world was not worthy for that Torah, for that love, for those tidings of spirituality, for that hymn that accompanies a person on his path that he follows in solitude. The world was not worthy of those Hassidim, and therefore they were the first to be taken by the storm of destruction.

Nevertheless, we will tell the stories of those wonderful people, for whom the world was not fitting. Therefore, we will pass before our eyes the images of the Hassidim of the city, the beauty of Zgierz Jewry, the charm of that spiritual world in which the poor and the beggar were princes, and the mute who did not have the power of speech were the wise men, for Hassidism was all about the realm of possibility. Everything is possible through the auspices of someone who knows how to listen, to love, to dedicate his soul, for that is Hassidism: the humanization of the fate of mankind.

Perhaps after the confusion of the times uncovers all the grace and beauty, wisdom and understanding in these wonderful stories and descriptions, they will serve as guides and lanterns for those stumbling through the paths of life, searching for a rectification for their souls and a resolution to their complexities.

Translator's footnotes

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nusach_Sefard back
  2. The Hidden Torah refers to Kabbalah and mysticism. back
  3. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tikkun_Chatzot back


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The Reprover in the Gate

by P. Sirkis

(40 years after the death of the rabbi of the city, may G-d avenge his blood.)

Forty years have now passed since the Nazis, may their names be blotted out, murdered the final rabbi of our community, Rabbi Shlomo Leib HaKohen, may the memory of the holy be blessed (may G-d avenge his blood). He was a scribe and a sword – that is, a scribe and an orator. From all the Torah and halachic novella that he succeeded in publishing during his lifetime, there is one book, Neve Shalom, that contains everything: Torah, Kabbalah, as well as philosophy. We include here some sections of his book, which will outline some of his customs, human ideas, and moral-human weltanschauung.

 

The Difference Between Man and Beast

… An immoral human being and a beast require physical guarding of their path so that they do not inflict damage with their beastly powers; One must fence in the beastly part of man with a literal fence, supervise it with guards, placing them at his side, as judges and police to guard the humanity with political laws. Without such, people would be like the fish of the sea, one swallowing the other alive. In order to ensure physical security and private ownership, it is necessary to impose authority and government with a cadre of judges and police, in a hierarchical fashion.

However, evil comes of this: “When a person rules over another for his evil”[1], for the guardians of the state, who are not separate from other mortals, also have animalistic, coarse, and boorish traits. In addition, they have the desire for rulership, power, and authority with all the rights associated with such, to differentiate between thee fortunate ones from those beneath them. From them and their crowds arise wickedness with the staff of evil. These strongmen exert authority upon the masses of people using the damaging rode. This is the root of the evil fruit, the reason for the revolutionaries leading to destruction.

As long as a person does not reach a high level of morality and does not rectify the evil and the bad; and as long as a person requires guardians and supervisors, who are also beasts like them – humanity will not reach sublime fullness.” (page 56)

 

Between Israel and the Nations

The essence of the Israelite people differs from that of other nations – the soul of Israel is intertwined with sparks of the Divine light, a miniature version of the traits of G-d, may He be blessed. This soul fills the entire body of the corpus of Israel and turns it into one unit; its power and string are in the unity, and there is a uniting of the traits for moral wholeness, clear of any stain and filth… Indeed, it differs in essence from the gentiles, which is based on the power of the sword, and is the inheritance of Esau “You will live by the sword,” and is built and exists through the force of the sword and the fist – to the extent that a person is stronger –

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The sword determines his judgement, to be or not to be. With the aid of the sword – that kills and destroys – he builds his personality and foundation. From the destruction of other nations he builds his existence and glory. If he succeeded in suppressing the weak and faltering, who have no strength to stand up against him, he overcomes nations, forcing them to their knees and displacing them with his harsh sword. Foreign forces arrive, always trying to swallow up the weak and the small. If we place an eye and look at the history of the governments of nations, we will see… that those that conquered nations not of themselves and excelled in their strength, subduing and slaughtering nations and kingdoms, have earned eternal fame. They are the mighty ones of renown, through blood, fire, and pillars of smoke, rivers of tears, the screams of the murdered and slaughtered under the sword, the destruction of complete cities full of plenty and wealth, now turned into mound of rubble – exalted through the strength of the greatness of the victors, for the wickedness, tactics of war, swords and weapons of destruction serve as measuring rods for the situation… For from the blood of the murdered ones, the clods of earth stick together to become the material for the edifice of the victor.

;However, the lot of Jacob is not like this. Its edifice is not based on the destruction of others, for the builders of the nation founded its house on the principle of “much peace.” For a measuring stick they used mercy, kindness, love of one's fellow and love of G-d. Through this did the clumps of our people stick to their fellow to become one and to build the sanctuary of the temple of the King. (page 172).

 

Torah and Culture

The fathers of Haskalah perfected the wisdom of language, deepened and broadened it… However, instead of directing it to teach morality and love – they turned their tongue into a destructive arrow – with lies and deceit. They use the iron of the tongue to cause humanity to backslide. They used the pen of the scribe for lies, and the language that speaks grandly to purify the impure, to justify evil, and to accuse the righteous. This is the accursed diplomacy that is termed the running of the state. However, this misleading light brings myriads upon myriads of people to slaughter as we have seen in the world wars, and in battles, tribulations, disputes and hatred among nations – all these are a result of diplomacy, as is known. In the Torah of Moses, whose light is the candle for our path has given the path of life to humanity, the prohibition of “thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal,” and the Ten Commandments is the crown of splendor and completeness. The precious light and sublime morality of the Torah of Moses has penetrated the hearts of all humanity – that a nation shall not rule over a nation and a person shall not rule over a person to their detriment, that they not send their sons out to an internecine war, that the oppressor and oppression shall cease. The absolute command of “thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal” has protected humanity and ensured its life, not permitting it to lose the wealth of its possessions. The community and the individual found protection and preservation of its existence under the queen of wisdom and the morality of the Torah, for its light chased away darkness, lies, hypocrisy, and sycophantism. The sparks of its light burnt the snakes and scorpions. The spirit of Torah imparted life. The traits were cleaned, refined, and whitened, and how refined and exalted was the man. (page 176).

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Regarding Baseless Hatred

… The bullies, leaders, and heads during the time of the destruction [of the Temple], the lowliness of the regime and decline of the nation, the removal of the miter and the crown, and the horn of priesthood has descended to the dust. The factions and parties increased and multiplied. There were people who attracted the crowds to themselves, and confusion increased and filled the land with blood. Things reached the point where a person of strong heart and subterfuge, as well as the cattle-herds and those who ambushed the routes – did not find it lowly in their eyes to become the awaited savior or to be the straightener of the route… The mases were left to the obstinacy of their hearts through the guilt of the deceitful chiefs and leaders, disgracefully wanton. In the disputes and arguments among the chiefs and leaders, the battles at home and outside, the riots and revolts, for disputes increased – the victor prevailed, and hearts and opinions of the leaders separated. A nest of baseless hatred and jealousy among the leaders was placed…

*

These words and many more words of value, whose force is proper even today, were written by the rabbi of Zgierz in his aforementioned book during the 1920s, when the State of Israel was still in the realm of a dream.

What would he have been able to add had he lived in our day?

It was not for naught that the writer A. Sh. Litwin, in his article about the final rabbi of our city, nicknamed him “The Prophet Jeremiah of Zgierz” (Book of Zgierz, page 359).

Translator's footnote

  1. Kohelet [Ecclesiastes] 8:9. back


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Stories and Legends of the Elderly Tzadik

(From the book Tiferet Adam by Pinchas Zelig Glicksman)

His Method in Directives – Toward Leniency

Rabbi Shalom Hirsch haKohen was a pure Tzadik and also a Hassid in the usual understanding of people in the latter generations. – – – His countenance was bright, exuding goodness, sincerity, grace, and nobility. Everyone who knew him loved him and honored him as a holy man. Anyone with a bitter spirit would go to him to pour out his bitterness, and anyone who had a sick person in the house would go to him to get a blessing and to request mercy. Some said he even worked miracles.

I heard a wonderful legend from a man of faith: once one of the wealthy people in the city got sick with urinary retention. The sick person and his relatives had already decided to summon an expert doctor from abroad. The sick man was the only person in the city with a shaved beard. The rabbi sent his assistant to him to inform him that if he accepts upon himself

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to no longer shave his beard, and to do one of: paving the synagogue yard with stones or replacing the broken tin sheets of the roof of the synagogue, he will be cured of his illness. At first the sick person refused to listen to his voice, but when he saw that evil was decreed upon him, he agreed to fulfil the command of the rabbi. Then his insides quickly reopened, he had relief, and he returned to his health.

Rabbi Shalom Hirsch excelled in that he always tended toward the lenient rather than the stringent. When a question about whether something was permitted or forbidden came before him, and he found that the Taz was lenient and the Shach was stringent[1], he would decide in favor of the former, stating how great the Taz was, and how it is fitting to follow him. If the situation was the opposite, he would sing the praises of the Shach, and decide in accordance to him. Thus was his manner in issuing decisions, to decide in accordance with the more lenient view. The shochets in the city knew this very well.

… One of his decisions that I knew about from Father is worthy to be written in the book for eternal memory: one Passover eve, our fellow townsman Reb David Hendlisz, who was known as Davidche, a wealthy, erudite householder, came to a certain person's pharmacy. The pharmacist and Rev Davidche began to discuss the essence of the Jewish people, with its weaknesses and good traits. “The Jews are the friends of thieves,” said the pharmacist, “Their eyes are only toward monetary gain, and this is their ideal.” Reb Davidche said to him, “I will show you that this is not true. For if you give today to the lowliest Jew as much money as he wants in order to drink a cut of liquor, he will not listen to you, for this is forbidden to him by the laws of our religion. Thus, you will see that the aspiration of the Jewish soul is not solely for money.” The pharmacist retorted, “I will show you that any Jew I summon will drink liquor in my home.” Reb David said, “Let us make a bet for the sum of eight ducats” (A ducat is a golden dinar that has the value of approximately nine marks, and was called Tkuten by the Jews of Poland.) The pharmacist sent for the Jewish barber to come to his house to give him a haircut, and Reb David hid in one of the rooms in his house. The barber came and did his job, and the pharmacist paid him generously. Then he placed a glass of liquor before him in a friendly manner, and said, “Drink, it is a good drink.” The barber humbly said, “Do you not know, my master, that it is the eve of Passover today, and it is forbidden for us to drink.” “Drink,” the pharmacist enticed him with words, “do not speak foolishness.” “I will not drink.” “But I will give you a ducat if you drink,” the pharmacist enticed him. “I will not drink; it is forbidden for us.” “But I will give you two ducats, or three – you will even get eight whole ducats from me if you drink,” said the pharmacist finally when he saw his stubbornness. “I will not drink, even for one hundred,” responded the barber with complete decisiveness, as he took his hat and left. Then Rev Davidche came out of his hiding place triumphantly, took the money of the bet, and returned to his home. On his way home, he went to the rabbi's house and told him what happened in the home of the Polish pharmacist. The rabbi told him that, according to the law, it is appropriate to give this money to the barber. He immediately summoned him to come to his house and gave him the money.

Translator's footnote

  1. Taz: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_HaLevi_Segal Shach: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shabbatai_HaKohen back


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Wonder from Previous Times[1]
(About whom the Elder Tzadik appeared in a dream)

by Pinchas Zelig Glicksman

Here we will tell of the greatness and wonder of the “Elder Tzadik,” the first rabbi of Zgierz, Rabbi Shalom Hirsh HaKohen, may the memory of the holy be blessed, as is brought down in the book “Tiferet Adam,” by the well–known writer and biographer of his time, Reb Pinchas Zelig Gliksman. This was a letter that his father, Reb Avraham Hirsh Gliksman of blessed memory (one of the first Zgierz manufacturers and prominent activists) wrote to his wife, who was in rehabilitation in Carlsbad. We bring down the letter in the form and language in which it was written. It probably portrays the “enlightened” Jewish middle class in Zgierz of that time (the letter is dated: with the help of G–d, Friday of Torah portion of Noach, 5655[2]):

“To my dear wife… Last Sabbath, I witnessed one of the greatest heavenly wonders, of the resurrection of the dead, and I joyously recited the blessings ‘He who quickens the dead,’ and Shehecheyanu [He who kept us alive]. As you certainly know, Reb Moshe Wieland became paralyzed before Passover, and lost consciousness completely shortly thereafter. It appeared that he would soon completely go to oblivion. On the Sabbath, our neighbor Reb Motel Gliksman came to us and told me, ‘Reb Moshe Weiland sent to him that he should come to him, and if possible, he wishes to speak to us.’ Reb Motel said that it is indeed difficult to speak with him. The situation had already become hopeless on Passover. He visited him for the last time over Shavuot, and was convinced that, unfortunately, soon everything would over and he would never see him again. He did not understand what the invitation meant, that he wished that we should go together and be convinced what is happening. To our great surprise, Reb Moshe Weiland was happy, and well dressed, and extended his hand to us. He looked well, and spoke well, happy and cheerful. Reb Moshe captivated us and told us the following:

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“That which happened to him from Passover until Rosh Hashanah, he knows nothing about. He does not know how he became ill, how they dealt with him at first, how good friends visited him. In one word, he knows nothing and cannot describe that bitter time. Only one night after Rosh Hashanah, the righteous rabbi, the rabbi of blessed memory from Zgierz came to him while sleeping [i.e. in a dream]. He was greatly moved by that happening, and began to tremble violently. The rabbi then said to him: ‘Moshe, you must not be afraid. You will be well.’ After these words, Moshe began to weep profusely. The rabbi of blessed memory said to him: ‘Moshe, I will tell you again, you will be well.’ However, Moshe continued to weep very strongly. The rabbi of blessed memory stood by him for a long time with his friendly smile, appearing as if alive. Moshe did nothing other than weep. He felt very weak, as if he had no energy. He could not utter a word. Then the rabbi of blessed memory started to leave. As he noticed that the rabbi of blessed memory was leaving, he gathered all his strength, and shouted loudly: ‘Rebbe! Rebbe! Rebbe!’ With that shout, his wife came to him. He woke up, and saw his wife there. He could barely speak a word. Hi wife gave him some wine in a spoon. He tasted it and said to his wife, ‘Now I can assure you that I will be well. A very honorable man told me this twice.’

“His wife appeared very emotional, and wondered how he was able to speak so clearly after being without the power of speech for such a long time. She gave him a bit more wine. He held himself for a short time, and his wife extended both of her hands to him. Then his wife noticed that he was able to move both legs, and was able to move various other parts of his body. The lameness completely disappeared. He felt stronger. They called the two physicians, Kohn and Janszer, who had treated him earlier. They barely agreed to come to him. They could not believe that he was still alive. Finally, they came, and they saw him speaking

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and moving. When they saw that he could move all parts of his body, they both said simultaneously: ‘to jest widocznie cud boski’ [It is a miracle of G–d].

“They prescribed kefir, wine, and soft–boiled eggs. The improvement speeded up. On Yom Kippur, he already was able to worship appropriately, and recited the Yizkor for the holy rabbi of blessed memory with great feeling, such as he had never felt previously. Today, he is well, blessed be G–d. At first, he asked to be able to go out, or at least for his friends to come to him. It is barely possible to comprehend how both blessings came true.

Your husband, who appreciated and honors you.”

Translator's footnotes

  1. This article is written in non–standard Yiddish. I was unable to translate it literally, and some of the nuance may be missed. However, the main idea of the blessing given by the Rabbi of Zgierz to a very ill man, which then came true, should be clear. back
  2. There is a footnote in the text here indicating that this is 1895, but in reality it would be in the autumn of 1894. back


The Hassidim and Shtibels in our City

by Z. Fisher and P. Sirkis

For various reasons, few lines were dedicated to the cheders in our town in the Book of Zgierz, despite their great influence on day-to-day life. Therefore, in this addendum, we include some of the essence of the cheder.

The Hassidic movement, which conquered and enthused the hearts of a significantly large portion of Polish Jewry, did not pass over our city of Zgierz. It penetrated our city at the beginning of the 19th century, that is with the founding of the settlement and the start of the Jewish community there. However, the Hassidic community of our city only grew and expanded during the years of the first rabbi of the city (5587-5637 / 1827-1877), who was the Tzadik and Hassid Rabbi Shalom Hirsch HaKohen, may the memory of the holy be blessed, a major student and associate of Rabbi Mendele of Kock. The large Yeshiva founded, famous in its time, which was founded by the rabbi and in which he served as Rosh Yeshiva, was a cause of this. It attracted lads and young men from the cream of the crop of the studiers of Torah and Hassidism from all ends of the country of Poland. In this way, Zgierz became a city of Torah and Hassidism through the years, and its fame spread widely.

Indeed, it was not only the students and Torah studiers who were attracted to Zgierz, for scholars and Admorim also took up residence there. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the rabbi of Brzeziny

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(nicknamed “The Brzeziner Rebbe”) lived in our city. He lived in the home of Moshe Baruch Szwarc on Łęczycka Street. Many Hassidim from Łódź and the area came to his funeral. The community set up an honorable Ohel [cemetery canopy] and a wooden fence around his grave, which was always full of kvitels [petitionary notes]. His grandchildren were known as “The Brzeziner Rebbe's Einiklech.” The Rabbi of Żyrardów, Rabbi Todris, may the memory of the holy be blessed, also settled in Zgierz during the First World War. He lived on Strykówska Street in the home of Reb David Weis. He had Hassidim, mainly local. He is buried in the Ohel of the Rebbe of Brzeziny.

The following settled in Zgierz after the First World War: The Admor of Sochaczew, Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztajn, may the memory of the holy be blessed; and the Admor Rabbi Menachem Mendel Landau, may the memory of the holy be blessed, of Stryków (see Book of Zgierz, page 374-379), one of the veteran Admorim, who imprinted his stamp on a splendid community of Hassidim for about a half a century, and played an active role in the arena of observant Judaism. He excelled greatly as a leader. His grandson, the Admor Rabbi Avraham Landau, may he live long, continues in his tradition of Torah in Israel.

The Hassidic community was quite recognizable and honorable within the Jewish population of our city. It often had a decisive influence with respect to local and communal programs. Its representatives were active in almost all areas of societal life in the city, and one of them served as the head of the communal council for many years. His humane disposition was attuned with the social and class structure, which came from all classes and segments of the Jewish community. Worshipping together, shoulder to shoulder in the shtibel (Hassidic prayer house) were: industrialists and workers, wealthy merchants and poor workers, Torah giants, authors of books, and simple Jews – all united in a feeling of Hassidic unity, the Hassidic essence, and the aspiration to reach the level of holiness, Hassidic trust, and love of one's fellow Jew.

On the right side of the rabbi in the dissemination of the Hassidic doctrine in Zgierz stood also veteran Hassidim of renown such as Reb Nota Heinsdorf of blessed memory, a sublime personality with generous traits, a scholar, one of the fervent Hassidim of Kock and Ger, who spent most of his day occupied in Torah, and also directed the young men of the city in Hassidism and the service of the Creator; his brother-in-law Reb Leibush Pozner of blessed memory, who in his youth would travel to the Rebbe Yitzchalkl of Worka, and who also followed Reb Mendele of Kock after his marriage. He was recognized as one of the fervent Hassidim of the city. These two entered under the wings of Gerrer Hassidism. During the days of the Admor, the author of Sfas Emes, the philanthropic Hassid, of the finest of the city, Reb Shlomo Sirkis of blessed memory, also joined Gerrer Hassidism. After the death of Reb Nota of blessed memory, he became the standard bearer of Gerrer Hassidism in our city. And finally: the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Leib HaKohen, may the memory of the holy be blessed, was also one of the veteran Hassidim of Ger – however that holy service did not disturb him one iota from his regular learning regimen and classes.

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There were also family and personal connections between the House of Kock and one of the first Hassidim of Koch in Zgierz, Reb Yaakov Moshe Pozner of blessed memory, one of the pioneers of textile manufacturing in our city. His son-in-law, Reb Yitzchak Zelig Frankiel of blessed memory, was also an enthusiastic Hassid of Kock, married the daughter of the middle Rebbe of Kock, Rabbi David Morgensztern, may the memory of the holy be blessed. Reb Yitzchak Zelig's daughter Yocheved married Rabbi Chaim Yisrael Morgensztern, may the memory of the holy be blessed, who later became known as the Rebbe of Pilow, the author of the book Shalom Yerushalayim. Thus, a double bond was formed between Kock and Zgierz (see the Book of Zgierz, page 203). The following were also among the first of the Hassidim of Kock-Aleksander-Ger: Reb Yosef Hirsch Kahana Szapira, an elder and honorable person of the community, and his son Reb Refael Yaakov Kahana Szapira (a student of the Rebbe Henich of Aleksander, may the memory of the holy be blessed) who was known in the city as a generous host of guests, with an abundance of love and blessing; Reb Itzl (Yitzchak) Orbach, from a well-known rabbinical family, a man of kindness and much action; Reb Yosef Zaklikowski, nicknamed Yosef Sokolower, who merited to visit the Chidushei Hari'm[1], may the memory of the holy be blessed. He was afflicted by tribulations throughout his life, and nevertheless always maintained an elevated spirit and happy face. Elder Hassidim took every opportunity to repeat his sharp statements; Reb Leizer Holander, one of the first shochtim [ritual slaughterers], who took up residence in Zgierz on the direction of Reb Mendele of Kock; Reb Moshe Bendekower, who had a sharp tongue in his many debates with Hassidim of various Admorim; and several other Hassidim, longstanding members of the communities and among the first of the Hassidim of Ger, whose names we have forgotten to our dismay, and about whom we know only from hearsay.

 

Shtibels

The Shtibel of the Gerrer Hassidim

Ger grew upon two founding pillars of Polish Hassidism – Przysucha and Kock – and forged its own path with the passage of time, that was more fitting to the needs of the new times. In Ger, Hassidim attained, in the common sense of the term, a democratic form and populist character. Its emphasis was on Torah, the fulfillment of the commandments, and good deeds. It was at the pinnacle of Polish Hassidism in numbers of Hassidim and in its broad social character which had a place for anyone who accepted the yoke of its authority.

There were many Hassidic personalities in the Gerrer Shtibel in Zgierz, including exceptional singers and prayer leaders, Torah scholars, an authors of books.

People such as this, who were raised and educated in this sublime environment and atmosphere – as far as our memory reaches – with appreciation and reverence, the names of those Hassidim who worshipped in the Gerrer Hassidic house, almost all of whom were murdered b the Nazis, may their names be blotted out – according to their set place in the shtibel in the home of the Hassid Reb David Bendkowski of blessed memory – I recall as follows…

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It is Friday night between Mincha and the Welcoming of the Sabbath service. The shtibel is full to the brim with Hassidim. The silk and atlas kapotes sparkle in the light of the candles and polished chandeliers. The heads are covered with velvet hats and streimels. The faces are resplendent for great the Sabbath Queen. In a few moments, Yosele Baluter will approach the podium and begin Lechu Neranena with his sweet, pleasant voice. In the meantime, some are reviewing the weekly Torah portion and others are melodiously humming the Song of Songs.

Around the long table, covered with a white tablecloth, sit mainly the old people; the communal elders sit at the head of the table: Reb Lipa Berliner (nicknamed Lipa Zelcer, as he was once a salt merchant), one of the elders of the city and one of the chief gabbaim [trustees] of the Chevra Kadisha; Reb Chaim Leibish the children's teacher, who, in his time, basked in the shadow of Rabbi Henech of Aleksander; Reb Shmuel Yechezkel Turberg, a prominent Hassid, who occupied himself with Torah for all his days: Reb Moshe Hirsch Porisower, the prayer leader in the shtibel; Reb Shmuel Koren (nicknamed Shmuel Hassid, due to his Hassidic prominence); Reb Laib Parizer, a Hassid of Trisk, one of the honorable householders of the city, and his son Reb Aharon, the son-in-law of Reb Natan Adar; Reb Shabtai Hauszpigel, the prayer leader for Shacharit on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, one of the excellent teachers of children in the city, along with his sons Reb Avraham Aharon, an artist, whose works included the Kegavna and Berich Shemei[2] in gilt frames decorating the walls of the shtibel, and his sons Yosef and Bendet; Reb Leibish Rozenberg (The White Leibish), who always had a book open in front of him even though he was a travelling agent, and his son Reb Michael-Mendel who served as a prayer leader on Sabbaths.

I recall the melancholy that imbued us in the shtibel during the Third Sabbath Meal, when Reb Michael-Mendel would sing Bnei Heichala. His son Itza was a young scholar. Michael-Mendel's son-in-law was Reb Yechiel Yitzchak Rappaport (the genius), who later became a preacher for Mizrachi and a rabbi in the city of Uniejów.

Among these upright people, who tended only toward the good, I recall: Reb Mendel Baron (Mendel Lencycer), a Gemara teacher; Rebi Leibel Haron, elderly, with fine traits, who gave charity in secret; Reb Yisrael Moshe Rozanowicz, a gabbai [trustee] of the Yagdil Torah Yeshiva; Reb Yosef David Garzon; Reb Leibel Buzyn (Leibel Lipa's), a prominent scholar, and his son Feivel; Reb Efraim Bornsztajn, a Hassid and G-d fearing man; Reb Noach Mendelson, a scholar and G-d fearing man, who knew and told stories of Tzadikim and Admors; Reb David Berliner (David Lipa's), a modest, G-d fearing man, and his sons Yitzchak, Yaakov and Yehoshua, and his son-in-law Yehoshua Reisman.

Reb Shimon Fiszer, a modest, humble man with fine traits, who would greet every person. He had the rights to the honor of taking out and putting back the Torah in the shtibel. Along with his sons Wolf and Yaakov; Reb Mordechai Shmuel Cudkowicz, a scholar, mohel [ritual circumciser], who composed the annual calendars for Sabbath candle lighting times for all the cities of Poland; Reb Falik Kohansztam, who was known for his wonderful memory; Rabbi Natan Elberg, the son of Rabbi Yechiel Ichel , the author of books, who, after years, also served as the rabbi in the cities of Błaszki and Sanok, and his sons David, Tovi and Yehuda (later a known author in Israel); Reb Yitzchak Eksztajn (Yitzchk-Ek)

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the teacher and educator of the children of the Hassidim; Reb Chaim Moshe Kohen, one of the elders and notables of the community; Reb Michel Princ, one of the city honorable and his son Reb Daniel.

Standing next to our eyes: Reb Mendel Noach Koren, a prominent scholar, the head of the Yagdil Torah Yeshiva in Zgierz; Reb Fishel Bunim Holander, the elderly shochet, one of the veteran Hassidim. His son-in-law was Reb Mendel Wechsler, a sharp scholar, one of the students of the author of Avnei Nezer, who later was accepted as head of the Yeshiva of Krakow. His sons were David, Leizer, Leibel, and his son-in-law was Reb Yaakov Shimon Izbicki; Reb Chaim Eizenszmidt, a shochet, the second son-in-law of Reb Fishel Bunim, one of the fervent Hassidim of the shtibel; Reb Avraham Kuperman, a Torah scholar, and his son Moshe, veteran Hassidim; Reb Pesach Gurner, a Hassid and G-d fearing man, and his son Shlomo, one of the fine students of the Yeshiva.

The following were revered by all their acquaintances: Reb Yosef Bialistocki (Yosef Shmuel Chasid's), a fervent Hassid, a teacher of Torah to the public, the author of the book Mesora Gedola, and his sons Shmuel and Simcha; Reb Yitzchak Nekriz (Reb Itshka), a great scholar and fearer of Heaven, who had authorization to give halachic decisions, the Torah reader in the shtibel, as well as the shofar blower. Anyone who never saw him during the shofar blowing does not know what holy awe is: and his sons Yaakov, Avraham, Nota, and Chuna; Reb Baruch Nekricz, the brother of Reb Yitzchak; Reb David Bendkowski, who dedicated several rooms in the courtyard of his house for the shtibel, and used to receive the maftir honor regularly: and his sons Reb Shmuel, Reb Pinchas, Leibel, and Mordechai; Reb Moshel Aharonson, the son-in-law of Reb Yisraelche Boas, his sons, and his son-on-law Reb Yaakov Aryeh Minc, a philanthropist and charitable man, who employed Hassidic young men in his business.

The list is even greater, and we recall the people in one breath. With this we also express the trait of equality of the Hassidic community.

These included: Reb Shalom Henich Boms and his sons Yosef Izik, Tovia and Nota – he occupied himself with charity and benevolence all his days. He concerned himself with guests in the shtibel, and arranged Sabbath meals for them with the worshippers; Reb Yitzchak Meir Cohen and his son Yossel; Reb Avraham Shmuel Weisberg; Reb Itza Meir Sztajer and his sons. He served as prayer reader on Sabbaths and festivals; Reb Yitzchak Praszker, a gabbai; Reb Moshe Lipszyc and his sons-in-laws, the young men Reb Avraham Yaakov Kac and Aharon Kac; Reb Avraham Baum and his sons Chaim and David; Reb Henich Banda, a pious Hassid, who lived from the toil of his hands; Reb Elya Tenenbaum (the Tall Elya), a tall man, who was also a gabbai in the shtibel; Reb Elya Zalman Bornsztajn, a veteran Hassid; Reb Pesachya Praszker; Reb Yeshaya Henich Segal and his son David; Reb Shmuel Yosef Lypszyc, who also sat in his store and studied; Reb Yosef Ber Lewkowicz, a veteran Hassid and his son-in-law, the scholarly Reb Hirsch Leib Zelcer, and his son Yerachmiel (the author of the book Ner Lameah); Reb Yaakov Librach and his sons: Reb Shimon, a fine young man, who years later was accepted as a rabbi in place of Reb Ichel, and Zeinwil; Reb Mordechai Natan Kupersztoch, who was authorized to issue halachic decisions; Reb Yosef Hirsch Szpira and his sons: Moshe Wolf and Yehuda; his brothers Reb Avraham and Reb Moshe – the sons of the well-known Hassid Reb Refael Yaakov Kahana Szpira, charitable people, honorable people of the city.

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The aforementioned Reb Shlomo Sirkis, from among the fine people of the city, a generous philanthropist and benevolent person, well-known for hosting guests, a man of many deeds and action, one of the heads of the community of Zgierz, close to the Admor of Ger and his sons, a representative to the Polish Sejm, a member of the leadership of the city council of Zgierz; his brother Reb Daniel Sirkis and his sons. He was also a communal leader, who did a great deal for religious Zionism; Reb Hershel, Rev Pinchas, and Reb Peretz Sirkis; Reb Binyamin Szaranski and his sons Yitzchak, Meir (later the author of books), and Nota; a modest, G-d fearing man (the son-in-law of the aforementioned Reb Nota Hajnsdorf), who was also in the religious institutions of the city; Reb Berish Bechler, an administrator in the communal council; Reb Kalman Mendel Zajda, a teacher of young children and his son Reb Moshe, who was also a teacher in the Yesodei Hatorah School.

Reb Yosef Mandelman (nicknamed Reb Yosele Baluter) was a fine singer with a sweet, pleasant voice. He served as the prayer leader for Musaf on festivals and the High Holy Days. He was always in a sublime spirit. He aroused people to joy and dance. His tasteful and meaningful words made the rounds among the Hassidim and scholars; Reb Meir Mandelman; Reb Hershel (Hershel Ozerkower), a scholar from among the young Hassidim; Reb Eliezer Korcarz, a modest man, a Hassid and scholar, who lived from the toil of his hands, with his sons Yehuda Leib, Meir, Gershon, and Yosef, and his son-in-law Reb Yechiel Meir Mankita, active in the religious educational institutions; Reb Henich Ehrzon, great in Torah, an author of books; Reb Asher Izik Gelbard and his sons Eliahu, Shmuel Zelik, and Leib; Reb Shimon Wronski and his brother Eliahu; Reb Tovia Kopel Boms, a prominent scholar, the son-in-law of Aharon Parizer; Reb Yisrael Zaken, a sharp Hassid.

The following spent all their days immersed in Torah: Reb Yehoshua Kaufman and his brother-in-law Reb Leibish Dimant, also a scholar, formerly a Hassid of Sadagura; Reb Shlomo Rozencwajg, a man with an upright heart, beloved by people, the son-in-law of Reb Yudel Szapszowicz; Reb Bendit Frenkel, a prominent scholar, a teacher of older students; Reb Yona Krakow; Reb Daniel Lencycki, an enlightened Hassid; the two brothers-in-law: Reb Zeev Elya and Reb Zev Michel Rajchert, honorable members of the community, lovers of the Zionist idea. Later they left the shtibel and founded a house of prayer for Mizrachi supporters along with other Hassidim of the city.

The following Hassidim moved with them to Mizrachi: Reb Baruch Bizberg and his sons Pinchas (later an author of books) and Yosef; Reb Manis Engel; Reb Bunim David Przytyk and several other Hassidim and enlightened Torah scholars; Reb Shmuel Zelik Gelbard, a teacher of young children; Reb Mendel Frohman, a modest, Torah scholar; Reb Betzalel Gutgold and his son Baruch; Reb Wolf Gliksman, elderly, a veteran, fervent Hassid; Reb Avraham Chaim Michelson, the son of the chief rabbi, and head of the rabbinical court of Warsaw Rabbi Tzvi Yechezkel Michelson, the author of books on Hassidism and Admorim; the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Mendel HaKohen, the son of the first rabbi of Zgierz,

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expert in Torah and the wisdom of Israel. After the death of the rabbi of Żyrardów (who lived in Zgierz), is Hassidim chose him as the rabbi and spiritual guide; Reb Fishel Gliksman, a well-known teacher of young children in the city, his son Shimshon Wolf, who was also a teacher; Reb Berl Celnik; Reb Leibel Wyszygrodski, active in the religious institutions of the city; Reb Pinchas Celnik, the son-in-law of Reb Binyamin Szcraranski, secretary of the community of Zgierz; Reb Moshe Sofer, a pious Jew stringent in observance of the commandments; Reb Itzel Tuchman; Reb Meirl Librach, a veteran Hassid, the son of Reb Elia Asher Librach, an honorable member of the community; Reb Mendel Tugendreich; Reb Yaakov Luksenberg; a man of a pure path, who owned a strictly kosher restaurant in the city; Reb Ozer Kirsztajn; as well as Reb Manli, a righteous, upright man, needy, with many children. His wife had been sick for many years, and he, in his straits, worked hard to support the household and bore his yoke silently and submissively. Oh, how sad and desperate was his gaze, which was always directed downward.

However, today is the Sabbath, and the splendor of its sanctity also lit up his thin, peaceful face.

Many other Hassidim, students of Torah, modest in their ways, upright of heart, of a pure path, imbued with grace and knowing how to take an accounting of their souls were numbered among them. Many of them influenced the masses of the residents of the city with their exemplary behavior and traits – especially the youth – to maintain and respect the Jewish values, and to continue in the traditions of the nation.

We loved these uniquely wonderful people, but, to our great sorrow, we are unable to present their names here, for, due to the pressures of the times and the passage of times, their names have departed from our memories. All we can do today is to beg the forgiveness of their families and relatives.

From all of Polish Jewry, which was annihilated by the Nazis during the Holocaust years, the Hassidic movement undoubtedly suffered a harsh, terrible blow. In every city and town conquered by the Germans, the Hassidim were the first to be beaten and degraded to the dust even before they were deported to the crematoria. May their memories be forever, and their good deeds remain as an example for all of us for generations.

 

The Shtibel of the Hassidim of Aleksander

The Hassidim of Aleksander went with the great tune and nobility, along with the heartfelt melody of Worka Hassidim, with religious fervor, internal Hassidism, and external simplicity.

The Shtibel of the Hassidim of Aleksander was second to the Shtibel of the Hassidim of Ger in size and number of worshippers in our city.

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The following are the names that are still in our memory, or that we have succeeded in gathering from others:

The rabbi of the city Rabbi Yechiel Ichel Elberg and his son Eliezer, Rabb Yisrael Yitzchak Gad, the shochet, and his son Berish, the cantor of the synagogue and a shochet; Ezriel Cukier and his sons Feivel-Mendel and Yonatan; Mendel Kuperman and his sons Michel and Moshe-Aharon (alive in Israel); Chaim Mendel Herzog; Shlomo-Zalman Herzog; Shmuel (Shmuelke) Landau, a descendent of Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, the author of Noda BiYehuda, a prayer leader on the High Holidays, and his sons Moshe and Yechiel; Hershel Ickowicz; Moshe Ickowicz; Yankel Ickowicz; Leibel Goldberg, a member of the communal council, and his son Moshe; Berish Rozenblat and his sons David, Avigdor, and Moshe; Yankel Liberman and his sons Yechiel and Boaz; Shimon Liberman and his sons; Anshel Waldman, one of the heads of the Chevra Kadisha; Kalman Kalmanowicz; the Adler brothers; Meir Lerner; Chaim Kohen; Abba Kohen and his son Yitzchak; Henich Shaar (Lasker): Shimon Czernikowski and his son Avraham; Fishel Rus and his son Nechemia; Aharon Zakon and his son Menachem; Abba Baum (cereal maker) and his sons Yaakov and David (lives in Israel); Yankel Himel; Mendel Cwajghaft and his sons; Avraham Yaakov Jankielewicz, a teacher (nicknamed Monopolnik) and his sons Pesach, Wolf, Shimon and Yitzchak; Mendel Jakubowicz; Zisha Turcinski (nicknamed Zisha Glezer) and his son Yaakov Meir, who studied Ein Yaakov in the evenings with the householders in the Beis Midrash. There were many others, many Hassidim and their children, whose names have been forgotten from our memory due to time and the era of tribulations. We hereby beg the pardon of their family members for this.

 

The Small Gerrer Prayer House (Klein Gerrer Shtibel)

From Mordechai Glazer the son of Reb Yaakov of blessed memory

As I remember the Small Gerrer Prayer House (also called the Parizer Shtibel) on Pilsudski Street in the home of Reb David Szmuklerski of blessed memory, the following names of worshippers, who worshipped together with my father, remain with me: Reb Leib Parizer, the elderly Torah scholar, and originally a Hassid of Trisk. He moved from the Gerrer Shtibel and founded the prayer house (which was called by his name); his son Reb Aharon Parizer; Moshe Meir Bryn, the gabbai, and his son Mordechai; Moshel Dawidowicz, the Torah reader, and his sons. There were excellent prayer leaders who knew how to sing among the Hassidim of Ger in the small Shtibel; Mendel Morgensztern, who served as the prayer leader for Musaf on the High Holy Days, whose pleasant voice attracted worshippers from outside the circles of Gerrer Hassidim as well; Avraham Leib Kohen, the shofar blower; Eliahu Yaakov Glazer, who lead the Shacharit service on Sabbaths, and his sons; Mendel Warszawski, who lead Shacharit. They were all musically inclined in their prayers; Shalom Hirsch Grynberg, the deputy gabbai. These had a constant role in the shtibel.

I still recall the following worshippers: Aharon Yosef Berger, who was a member of the city council

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and chairman of the community council in our city, and his son David; Natan Adar and his son Yaakov (lives in Israel); Gedalia Grynberg, a veteran of the community; Wolf Lipszyc; Mendel Librach; Leizer Landau Itche Meir Zylberberg; Eliezer Shlumiel; Feivish Praszkier; Kastiel Ginzberg; the Braun brothers; Shmuel Dawidowicz and his sons; Zalman Yeshayahu Kohen; Mordechai Jakubowicz and his sons; Avraham Morgensztern, a communal activist and member of the town council; Mordechai Dawidowicz and his sons; Yisrael Jakubowicz and his son Mendel; Yisrael Yudofsky; Baruch Lipowicz; Yudel Kohen; Yisrael Lenczyski; Chaim Meir Frenkel; Asher Weinbaum; David Libow; Yosef Meir Haron; Michel Morgensztern; Issucher Lerner; Aharon Kaltgrad; Mendel Kaufman; Binyanim Krisztal; and other worshippers whose names I no longer remember, but their images are always before my eyes.

After the Mincha service on weekdays, some of the worshippers would study a page of Gemara or Mishna. This house of worship also served as a meeting place for the youth who came with their parents for services. Most of the youths in Zgierz belonged to Hashomer Hatzair during the years after the First World War and onward.

On the Fast of Esther and the eve of Yom Kippur, there was a plate for the Jewish National Fund alongside the plates for charity and the Half Shekel. Emissaries and speakers from the World Zionist Organization would also often appear there.

 

The House of Prayer of the Hassidim of Sochaczew

From the time that the Admor of Sochaczew, the rabbi and Tzadik Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztajn may the memory of the holy be blessed, moved to the city of Zgierz, this branch of Hassidim spread out in a significant fashion through the city and its area.

The connection between the Hassidim of Sochaczew in Zgierz and the Admor strengthened, and the fame of the Rebbe spread as a disseminator of Torah to the flocks of students, whom he educated toward refined Hassidism. Important people were among the Sochaczew Hassidim, and thanks to this, the influence of the Sochaczew Hassidim in the life of the community and communal institutions was significant.

All of the Sochaczew Hassidim in our city worshipped in the house of prayer, which was built specially and served also as a Beis Midrash for Yeshiva students. Many people studied there, and some were quite prominent. This was through the influence of the Admor, the author of Avnei Neizer, who placed his mark on the Torah studies.

We express our sorrow that, due to the passage of time and the years of tribulation, we have been unable to recall very many of the numerous Sochaczew Hassidim of Zgierz – and we apologize to their relatives! The following are those whose names still live in our memories:

Rabbi Yisraelche Boas, an honorable member of the community, one of the elders of the city and a leader of the Sochaczew Hassidim, and his sons:

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Chaim Boaz and his sons Yitzchak and Mendel; Shalom Boaz and his sons Avraham and Meir; Avraham Boaz, a member of the city council; David Boaz, Noach Boaz; Leizer Poznerzon and his sons Yaakov and Zecharia; Chaim Poznerzon; Mendel Bornsztajn (Siedlicer); Wolf Kwiabski and his sons; Feivish Szerman, a teacher; Yitzchak Meir Halpern and his sons; Yitzchak Yakir Lisak, a teacher; Aharon Bornsztajn and his sons; Shimon Sribnik and his sons Moshe Yaakov and Leibush; Yaakov Szerakowiak and his sons Yechezkel and Fishel; Reb David Kozlowski; Reb Yisrael Paltiel Frogel and his sons; Reb Shlomo Dawidowicz; and other Hassidism whose names, to our sorrow we no longer recall.

 

The House of Prayer of the Stryków Hassidim

When the Admor of Stryków, the rabbi and Tzadik Rabbi Menachem Mendel Landau, may the memory of the holy be blessed, moved to Zgierz, his Hassidim set up a special home for him, with an adjacent Beis Midrash for Yeshiva lads and a House of Prayer. The Beis Midrash was filled to the brim on festivals, and especially on the High Holy Days.

The names of several of the regular worshippers of that place still remain in our memory:

Rabbi Avraham Berliner, elderly, and one of the honorable members of the community; Leizer Sztachelberg; Yudel Szapszowicz and his sons; Natan David Szapszowicz and his sons; Shlomo Szapszowicz and his sons; Avraham Szapszowicz and his sons; Shalom Hirsch Szapszowicz and his sons, Shmuel Benet; Yitzchak Berliner; Natan David Kac and his sons; Yisrael Mordechai Praszker; Godel Frenkel; Melech Frajsztat; Mendel Laskier; Leibush Szrerakowiak and his son Fishel; and many other good Jews, followers of Torah, whose names, to our sorrow, have been lost from our memories. We apologize to those who are still alive.

The House of Prayer of the Stryków Hassidim served as a center for Torah and Hassidism. Tens of lads and young men studied there. There was no battle there with various opponents, but rather living Torah and Hassidism, lighting up the path of life and deeds for people, and actualizing the traits of Hassidic piety: modesty, love of one's fellow Jew, fervent prayer, devotion, brotherhood, charity, chastity, etc. In the center stood education toward diligence in Torah as a primary rather than subordinate value. The entire routine and curriculum of the Yeshiva was under the constant supervision of the Admor, From time to time, he would test the students and present some of his novel ideas to them. The Rebbe's dedication to the Yeshiva was his daily bread. No effort was too hard when it came to the existence of the Yeshiva. The students returned the love to him as well.

His Torah discussions at his table on Sabbaths and festivals lasted for many hours, and attracted studious, knowledgeable Hassidim, wo cleaved to him with boundless faith and reverence. After his death, his place was filled by his son,

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the Admor Reb Yaakov Yitzchak Dan Landau, may G-d avenge his blood, who perished in the Holocaust (The rabbi of Kinow). His son, the Admor Rabbi Tovia Landau, may he live, serves as the Stryków Admor in Tel Aviv.

There were other houses of worship and regular minyanim [prayer quorums] in private house in the city, such as the House of Prayer of the brothers Pinchas and David Wand. From among the worshippers in that prayer house, we remember Itza Meir Bialystocki and his sons; David Honiksztok; Michel Radogowski.

The worshippers of the Hassidim of Żyrardów included: Avraham Mandel, the gabbai [trustee]; Shlomo Cyncynatus; Yosef (Yoshke) Lewin and his sons, and others.

Translator's footnotes

  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yitzchak_Meir_Alter back
  2. Certain portions of the prayer service, evidently drawn in calligraphy. back


In the Old Gerrer Shtibel

by Natan Nota Nekritz

In Zgierz, the Gerrer Hassidim were the majority of all Hassidim. The large shtibel at the home of Reb David Bendkowski encompassed over 200 Gerrer Hassidim as worshippers.

The regular prayer leaders on the High Holy Days were: the teacher Reb Yitzchak Eksztajn – Shacharit and Kol Nidre; Reb Shabtai the teacher (Hauszzpigel) – Musaf. It is interesting that despite the fact that Reb Yitzchak was known for his lovely voice, the prayers of Reb Shabtai, tasteful and from the heart, moved the worshippers more deeply. His voice was infused with soul and feeling, and emanated from a veritable Jewish broken heart.

My father, Reb Yitzchak of blessed memory, was the shofar blower on Rosh Hashanah, and the regular Torah reader. Mourners or people who were observing yahrzeit would lead the services on weekdays. On regular Sabbaths, Itche Meir Sztajer or Michael-Mendel Rozenberg lead the Shacharit service. Yisrael Moshe Razanowicz would lead Musaf.

There would be a break between Shacharit and Musaf on Sabbaths and festivals, during which the youths and lads would sit at long tables and study. On festivals, after the break, Yosele Baluter (Yosef Mandelman) would always lead the services.

After Reb Shabtai the teacher passed away, Yosele Baluter became the

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regular prayer leader for Musaf on the High Holy Days. We children literally idolized him. His appearance in the shtibel would evoke a cheerful feeling. A happy smile of Hassidic sublimity always shone from his full face and thin beard. He was a young man with a hearty, lyrical voice, who enchanted everyone with his singing. His joyous Hassidic marches and enthusiastic dances carried away the old and young. Where Yosele was, there was no sadness. He would especially lead the youth and make things joyous in the shtibel.

He and his close family would always dress up in costumes on Purim. He would sit at the table and conduct himself in accordance with the Aleksander style, as those gathered would enjoy with contentment. “A Heavenly blessed artist,” people would murmur in amazement.

Yosele Baluter was also a great scholar with an excellent knowledge of Bible. His sweet, melodic recital of Hebrew penetrated everyone's hearts. When he led services on regular Sabbaths, he was assisted by a few musically inclined youths, of whom there was no shortage in the shtibel. On the High Holy Days, however, he sung with a special choir of youths and older lads. One of these youths was my close friend Wolf Fiszer.

Almost every Hassid had his Sabbath when he travelled to the Rebbe. Thus, every Sabbath, several Hassidim were absent from the shtibel, as they had gone to Ger [Góra Kalwaria]. Naturally, this was also the primary source for Yosele's new tunes. He had a fine, musical ear, and an exquisite, quick grasp for new “things.” Yosele would rehearse in the shtibel the new tunes and marches several times a week with the musically inclined Hassidic youth. We children had already finished our school day. We returned from cheder at noon and went to the shtibel, where were sat around the table and listened with wonder as Yosel Baluter taught the new Gerrer melodies to the youth.

When Yosele sang, who thought about livelihood or food?! One did not feel hunger at all. The teaching of the melodies lasted until late afternoon. Only when the wives and mothers arrived in the shtibel with a commotion did people remember that they also had a house and home. They returned home, as if carried by the wings of the Divine Presence. The taste of Yosele's singing with his singers accompanied us the entire way.


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In Memory of the Worshippers
of the Synagogue and the Beis Midrash

We are sorry that we have not succeeded, despite our strong desire, in bringing down more names of the synagogue and Beis Midrash attendees, the vast majority of whom were householders of the intelligentsia and regular Jews of the city. The vast majority of them do not have even one survivor to recall their names and perpetuate their memories. Indeed, the following names of people that are memorialized here were brought to memory with great difficulty, as the memory weakens with time.

 

May their memories be a blessing, and may G-d avenge their blood.

Aharon Hirsch Kompel (the last head of the community)
Shalom Zelmanowicz
Hirsch Gelkop
Hirshel Luftman
Shimon Ring
Noach Trocki, from the former communal council
Yosef Miechowski
Yaakov Gelbard, lawyer
Barak Cohen
Elia Szwarcbard
Moshe Cygler
Moshe Librach
Chaim Itche Segal
Avraham Morgensztern, journalist and activist
Moshe Skosowski, gabbai of the Beis Midrash
Avraham Skosowski, political activist
Avraham Leib Sloma
Moshe Gelbard, shamash of the Beis Midrash
Fishel Feldon, shamash of the synagogue
Baruch Gilbralter
Mendel Gibralter
Moszek Dziak
Yisroel Yudofsky
… Yudofsky
Moshe Szydlowski
Michel Szydlowski
Avigdor Rozalski
Henich Grand
Avraham David Grand
Yitzchak Trojanowski
Shaul Trojanowski
Zanwil Sochaczewski
Moshe Hirsch Grand
Yisrael Grand
Ziskind Grand
A. Y. Szperling
Wolf Szmietanski
Yoel Speiwak
Meir Szwarc
Yaakov Meir Kuper
Nachum Glowinski
Izidor Strykówski, former secretary of the community
Michel Radogowski
Getzel Szwarcbard
Gershon Petrowicz
Moshe Glowinski
Leon Krikus
Shmuel Kuperman
Yisrael Yitzchak Finkelsztajn
Wolf Lipszyc
Moshe Praszker
Moshe Reznik

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Avraham Meir Rochenzon
Yaakov Rozensztrauch
Avraham Szlumiel
Henech Frajsztat
Eliezer Mendlowicz
Avraham Wald
Shia Rotenberg
Fishel Lipszyc
Asher Horn
Motel Margulis
Pesach Landau
Hirsch Leib Landau
Shimon Srebnik, gabbai of the Beis Midrash
Shimon Henich Srebnik
David Gothajner
Zalman Grundwald (feldscher)
Yaakov Gliksman
Isucher Szwarc
Moshe Gross
Chaim Wolkowicz
Daniel Sirkis
Shmuel David Lefkowicz
Ch. N. Szrubka
Ber Cukier (Bezhe), active in the Chevra Kadisha
Shalom Zandberg, gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha
Meir Kolski
Berl Wajsbaum, gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha
Izik Sieradzki
Aharon Grychendler
Yisrael Mondszajn
Moshe Baruch Szwarc
Zalman Wiechucki
Mendel Warszawski
Avraham Pantl
Mendel Jakubowicz
Hirsch Gedalia Godlfarb
Henich Pantl
Aharon Jedlicki
Shlomo Szajnholtz
Shimon Princ
Henich Princ
Zisha Turczynski
Yosef (?) Turczynski (his son)
Nachman Turczynski
Meir Temerzon
Nachum Glowinski
Baruch Gibralter
Mendel Gibralter
Mendel Krisztal
Aharon Horn
Yosef Celgow
Hirsch Gelkop
Leib Feldon
Yaakof Gelbard
Yaakov Leib Rozencwajg, lawyer
Itzik Praszker
Gedalia Rozman
Yisrael Sztykgold
Shlomo Goldberg
Yeshaya Goldberg
Avraham Temerzon
Meir Fogel
Yerachmiel Bornsztajn
Nota Broner
Avraham Himelfarb
Nachman Baruch (Nachman Bisk)
Naftali Hirsch Rozenes, prayer leader in the Beis Midrash
Tzemach Rozenfeld, shamash of the Beis Midrash
Postowelski, shamash of the synagogue
And many other worshippers

[Page 91]

The Beis Midrash and its “Guard”…

by W. Fisher

Since the time of creation, the small stream, the Bzura, has flowed behind the massive eastern wall of the communal Beis Midrash. Its source is in the £agiewniki Forests behind Zgierz. This stream separates the Beis Midrash from two large factories that stand opposite, so close that their din often disturbed the fervent silence during the festival services.

For generations, a tall, wide-branched, poplar tree stood between the stream and the Beis Midrash. It spread its long, heavy branches over the roof of the Beis Midrash such that it seemed that it was some sort of High Priest raising his hands in blessing over the sanctuary in the Priestly Benediction, with the leaves uttering prayerfully: May G-d bless you… and protect you…

Elderly Jews used to relate that, since the Beis Midrash was standing there, the tree protected it from all types of disasters. More than one storm wind tore off the roofs of the houses, but the Beis Midrash remained intact to this day, for the tree covered it with a paternal hand. More than once did the calm stream overflow its banks and flood the houses and yards with its waters, but the waters never reached the threshold of the Beis Midrash. The swollen roots of the tree always held back the gush of the water. Also, no fire every affected it. Indeed, the factories were affected by fire several times, and the flames burst forth to here, heaven forbid… but, literally miracles! Several times, the tree received a zinc scorch from the other side, but the Beis Midrash was always protected.

Reb Wolf Sofer and Reb Fishel Bunim Shochet, from among the long-time neighbors, remember that they had received a tradition from the old Tzadik that, as long as the tree would stand there, it would protect and guard the Beis Midrash like a trusted guard…

The years flowed by like the calm waters of the stream, and they, the old, holy Beis Midrash and the old, majestic poplar, held an idyllic calm, as if they were spinning their heavenly thoughts and dreams for the Messianic times. Who knows how many stories and legends would have still been interwoven in their fine, interconnected lives, where it not…

[Page 92]

Then, just the other day, indeed one year before the war broke out, we heard that the tree near the Beis Midrash was no more. Only the broadly rooted, smoothly sawed down stump remained in the ground. There were various reasons as to why the heads of the community did so, but the reasons, whatever they may be, no longer have any relevance to our story.

The elder householders of the Jewish street wandered around unhappily with their heads crossed. One cannot permit this, under any circumstances… an unheard-of brazenness… the world is not wanton… one must ask the community, one must… others will yet feel the pain, some sort of a hint of something not good, G-d should protect us! And indeed, it became clear how an evil hand will cut down the powerful, green canopy of leaves that always graced the top of the Beis Midrash….

However, what is there to talk about now? That which happened cannot be avoided. The coming days and weeks would bring worry and uncertainty. There was talk of a war; the Germans were threatening to attack Poland. Dark clouds covered over the Jewish skies… The Jews felt that they were being left to wantonness…

It began specifically on a lovely, blue-skied Friday: the first bombs… And from then the subsequent events unfolded like a film reel. The Germans took over the city… The deathly frightened Jews were bullied… Every day brought new deathly decrees… The synagogue was burnt, and the Beis Midrash was set afire as well… They arrested, they beat, the shot… Now they were holding to only a bit of barren life… No, one does not ask, one does not speak. The tongue has been removed; Only the silent glances shout out fear and terror of death…

… And on one cold, gloomy winter-day, the Jews were driven out of their homes. Their final journey led to Che³mno and Treblinka.

*

Only sometimes, when mentioning the former Jewish reality, does one now also hold the thought: In essence they were both taken, they were both removed and annihilated by the decree of man, and simultaneously – the Beis Midrash and its “protector.” But for whom does this have meaning today?


[Page 93]

Two from among my Neighbors at the Eastern Wall
(From my youth in the old Aguda Shtibel)

by P. Sirkis

… Their set place in the Ger Shtibel was next to the Holy Ark. One, Reb Falik Konsztam was much older. He was one of the communal notables and of the veteran Hassidim of the Shtibel. He was close to the rabbinical families of Zgierz. The second was Reb Shimon Fiszer, nicknamed Reb Shimon Pabianiczer (he came to Zgierz from there)[1]. He had the regular rights to taking out and putting back the Torah in the shtibel, and nobody tried to take that away from him. Even though both of them were bound with bonds of friendship and good neighborliness, and would honor each other greatly, the differences between them were obvious, both in their personal comportment and in their character, to the point that these are etched in my memory.

In contrast to my neighbor, Reb Falik, who was a conversationalist by nature and was involved in every debate and dispute among the Hassidim, so as to make his opinion heard – the voice of Reb Shimon was not heard within the walls of the shtibel. The children of the Hassidim scurried around him, some talking about matters between one Admor and the other, others talking about elections to the communal council or other communal institutions – while he, the level-headed Reb Shimon, did not get involved. At such times, his lips were uttering chapters of Psalms or reviewing the weekly Torah portion. He did not stand out, he did not pursue honor, for his way of live was to comport himself modestly with the L-rd your G-d[2] and with one's fellow humans.

Translator's footnotes

  1. Pabianice: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pabianice back
  2. Micha 6:8. back


Jewish Education
(Chapters of memory)

by Zeev Fisher

To the extent that we remember it from the distant days of our childhood and youth, the cheder was, without doubt, a type of phenomenon in the general arena of education and pedagogy, a product of its times. The researchers will certainly yet weigh in on its various influences, whether directly or indirectly, whether negatively or positively, on the Jewish child, and in a greater sense – also on the spiritual (and perhaps also physical) development of a large and important of the totality of the Jewish people.

In our book, especially in the autobiographical section, we almost always find the cheder, in which the writer, poet or artist absorbed the special atmosphere that accompanied him and his creations, sometimes

[Page 94]

in all aspects of his life and activity. The well-known scholar and philosopher, Shlomo Maimon, who lived in the latter half of the 18th century, already studied the essence of the cheder and its influence on the way and thinking and modes of behavior of the child. He dedicated a broad, detailed description of the cheder, in which he took his first steps toward his understanding of Judaism and its spiritual world.

We include here two descriptions of the realities of the cheders in Zgierz. This first is of a cheder at the end of the 18th century, and the second, one generation later, is from the 1920s.

 

Cheders in the Memories of People of Zgierz

In the Cheder (from the memoires of the man of many deeds, Reb Daniel Sirkis of blessed memory)[1]

I began to attend the cheder of Reb Yaakovl, a Jew prone to anger, thin and weak, but strong enough to give his students slaps “of fire.” I suffered greatly from his beatings. This teacher did not show us any signs of love, and we did not bond with him at all. I spent a long time in that cheder, until I transferred to the cheder of Reb Shabtai-Feivish, who was loved and appreciated by his students. We especially liked his wife, who was good to the children and treated them with bread sprinkled with fine sugar. At times, we would even get mushrooms or fried potatoes. I began to study Gemara with Reb Shabtai-Feivish. We studied the chapter of Hamafkid, the third chapter of Bava Metzia. The teacher's house had two rooms. There was a long table surrounded by benches in the room in which we studied. The teacher was G-d fearing and meticulous in the observance of commandments. He fasted on occasion, and rose early for services. We also studies with him matters of morality and proper behavior. I spent three years in that cheder, and remember them lovingly.

At the age of eight and a half I transferred to another teacher – Reb Yosef Pomeranc, who tormented us mercilessly. To this day. I tremble when I recall this teacher; with his whip, his grabbing of our ears, and the blows from his heavy stick. It was through miracles that we were not permanently maimed. We were so afraid that we were wary of complaining to our parents. There would be no point in this, for the teacher was always correct. All his blows were “for the sake of Heaven” and we were lazy. There was no benefit in these studies, for we were full of fear of the future beatings that we would receive. Therefore, all the tests on Sabbath with

[Page 95]

my father turned into a hell on earth. Father used to test me in my studies in the presence of the strict eyes of the teacher. Of course, many of his questions were left unanswered. On Sunday, the teacher took his revenge upon me, and beat me soundly for the embarrassment I caused him.

I continued to bear this yoke for many more years, for this Reb Yosef succeeded in earning the reputation of a successful teacher. My father was busy with his wide-branched businesses, and depended on the teachers to impart knowledge to us. To my good fortune, Reb Yosef got tired of teaching and transferred to commerce. Then I was able to recite “blessed is He who freed me”[2]. When news reached our home that Reb Yosef left his teaching position, I was overcome with deep joy. However, I was wary of displaying it – lest that teacher return and repay me in multiples. So great was my fear of that teacher. When I was ten and a half or eleven years old, I transferred to the teacher Reb Chaim Leibush, an elderly, sickly Jew.

(From the book Zekof Hakoma [Straighten your Posture] by Pinchas Sirkis)

Translator's footnotes

  1. There is a footnote in the text here as follows: See the Book of Zgierz, pp. 454-455 for the personage of Reb Daniel Sirkis. back
  2. A blessing recited by the father of a Bar Mitzvah boy upon being freed from the responsibility of his son's sins. back


In the Agudas Yisroel Cheder
(Memoires from childhood days)

by Yaakov Chaimowicz

In memory of the institution in which very many of us had some connection to. Is this not – the cheder – and I refer here to the cheder of Agudas Yisroel in Zgierz.

I recall my native city of Zgierz only from my childhood, for I left it when I was fourteen years old. Therefore, I will of course tell here primarily of the life of cheder-age children.

The two-story building on Blotene Street that housed the cheder looked like it would topple over. The ground floor served for studies. It housed seven large rooms and one small room for the teachers. As I recall, the teachers were: Reb Hershele, the teacher of young children. A weak, short Jew, who did his best to impart reading skills to the young children; the second was Reb Simcha-Wolf, also short, who took interest in all matters in the running of the cheder and very little in his students. However, when he had to recite Psalms for a sick person, he would do this with his students with his full heart and enthusiasm. He also taught all the students of the cheder to write in Yiddish, and he taught his own students how to understand Chumash and Rashi.

To this point they related to us like children – with some understanding, and some patience. However, from that point, the relationship changed… The third teacher was Reb Avraham Woler (from the city of Wola). The students

[Page 96]

nicknamed him Der Sheleger (the beater). There was no relationship between the Torah that we absorbed from his mouth and the beatings that we absorbed from his hands. He was a bitter Jew who also embittered our lives. Our studies began at 7:00 a.m. and continued until 8:00 p.m., with small recesses during the day. We had general studies from 3:00 to 5:00. The teachers, primarily Poles, would come daily to teach us secular subjects. Through this, we also fulfilled the obligations of the state, which was particular about compulsory education. Our pious parents would never have considered sending us to a government school, for three reasons: a) it is forbidden to waste most of the hours of the day on the vanities of this world, b) girls and boys study together there, may G-d protect us, c) they study there without a hat, may G-d have mercy. Therefore, they found a solution: the teachers would come to the cheder for two hours, which would satisfy all opinions.

I studied for a very brief period with Reb Lipman, and I barely remember him. Someone called Rep Pinchas (nicknamed by the students Der Grober – the fat one) came in his stead. He also beat his students no small amount, but he also taught us, and we knew by heart everything that he taught us. Our fifth teacher was our acquaintance Rabbi Yitzchak Ek. He also managed the financial matters of this enterprise. He was the son of Kalman-Mendel the teacher. His relationship to his students was more refined and personal. His manner of explanation was also more understandable, and everything was in good taste and calm. Therefore, it is no wonder that he was liked by his students.

Nevertheless, any time I think about those days, I remember an event that took place with Yitzchak Ek, the teacher, and is etched in my mind to this day. The story was as follows: as has been noted, we were involved with the cheder from morning to night, and he did not even have a little bit of time for enjoyment or a game. Indeed, of what importance are such things to young Jews who were already studying Gemara with Tosafot [commentary on the Talmud], and who would shortly be 13 years old and could then be counted in a minyan [prayer quorum]. The days of Chanukah came, and we were free from studies from 5:00 p.m. When we returned home at night and saw how the young people were sledding with sleds over the frozen ice on the slope of Pilsudski Street, with sounds of joy and laughter filling the street – we were filled with jealousy and a great desire to be among them. Then the Satan stole the hearts of several of our friends, who decided to infiltrate the sledders and enjoy together with other lads in the area. We tried once or twice, and felt that we too were lads who could enjoy like the rest of them, until we forgot about the danger that would await if the matter became known in the cheder.

And suddenly – hey! In the darkness of the hour, someone exited the shtibel on that street, stumbled upon our sleds, and fell upon us with his full stature. We all fell in the snow and were quite confused, but when we realized that the strange guest was not one of us, but was rather our acquaintance Rabbi Pinchas the teacher, we fled and scattered in every direction.

[Page 97]

The next day, when we came to class, we were afraid and full of worry about what would take place that day. For if the matter would become known to our rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak Ek, our end would be bitter. Indeed, the rebbe already knew everything that had happened, for he began to interrogate one of our friends with his typical strictness, and the friend immediately admitted to our sin. Then Rabbi Yitzchak rose from his chair, approached the place where his stick stood, took it in his hand, and turned to the rebellious child: “From you, Yechezkel, nothing will come. You will be and remain a street child. But tell me, please, who were your collaborators in this disgraceful act, through which you damaged the good name of the cheder?” The lad began to call out names that were made up, and ended by stating that these lads were not from our cheder. When Rabbi Yitzchak heard the “explanation”, he got very angry and raised his voice, “Such a shegetz! It is not enough that you embarrassed me and the cheder with your deeds, but you are now so brazen as to lie to me!?” Suddenly he stopped speaking, without words and without beatings. He remained seated in his seat. His face became white as plaster, and nothing came from his mouth. It was as if he fainted. After he recovered a bit, it was as if he forgot the entire matter. He rose from his chair, and let us go home. Even our rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak, went home. He became ill and bedridden, not to rise again. He passed away. May his memory be a blessing.


The Hidden Light

by the editors

– – – Without any doubt, it was possible and necessary to broaden the story on religious life in our city, but we did not pretend, and it was not possible to provide all the spiritual wealth, and the spirit and soul of the Jewish community of Zgierz in this book.

For generations, our community was always rich in personalities and people of renown. We cannot quantify the powerful contribution that they made to the flourishing of Torah thought in the tents of Torah from generations ago until the destruction of the community. They raised the honor of Torah with the imagination of their ideas and the clarity of their intellect. Geniuses rose up within the walls of the yeshivot and Beis Midrashes. At times, they became famous as Torah giants, whose names preceded them, geniuses in wisdom, people of the sanctuary, people of logic with ethical values.

The articles and memories in this section are only a small slice of the body of the tree, hinting to the aromatic canopies in all realms of religious life in the city. However, they prove and stress that this was a rooted Judaism, full of strength, with a bustling soul, imbued with faith and dedication to human values, the values of life and the values of tradition, which imparted to the vast majority of the Jewish community.

[Page 98]

a constant way of life, and imbued it with a spirit of historic Judaism. A sort of blend between Torah and the nation was created, and relations were forged between all strata of the community, between the scholars and the simple folk, between the yeshiva students and the workers – relations of an organic family.

The cordiality of the simple Jews, a simplicity of the preachers, the healthy earthiness of the tradesmen – all this penetrated the Beis Midrash. Toiling Jews, merchants, porters – all were partners in Torah. The greats of Torah and Hassidism did not suffice themselves with words of preaching and guarding the spiritual image of their community. Rather, they aspired to improve and raise the faithful masses to a more developed level. People of stature forged the spiritual image of the community, guarded and developed the values of culture within it, and continued to guard the traditional heritage and image.

Among the tens of houses of worship, there were many Hassidic shtibels and groups for the study – of Talmud and Mishnah on one side, and of Midrash and Chayei Adam [a book of Jewish law] on the other side. Jews from all strata and ages would sit in them, whether for a communal class or alone, studying Torah, which was the heritage of the many. Each Jew saw himself as a partner in Torah, and all together formed a community of a unified will and a common lot.

In Zgierz, there were Hassidim of various streams, as well as Misnagdim. The unifying force in the community of Zgierz was that the differences of opinion that pervaded among the various streams never led to a chasm of the hearts. Indeed, at times there was tension between the camps, especially before elections, but in general, the Jewish community was typified by internal essence and soulful connection – this also made Zgierz unique among all other holy communities.

 

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