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Kloyzes [small synagogues] in Będzin

M. S. Geshuri (Brukner)

Translated by Meir Bulman

1) Ger [Góra Kalwaria] Kloyzes


Będzin was very far from the capital of the Ger dynasty, although it did not prevent the expansion of the ranks of Ger Hassidim in Będzin. There were 3 Ger kloyzes in Będzin, and each served as a center for Ger Hassidim.

Góra is a quiet town, a 2-hour ride on the small train from the capital of Warsaw. The Ger dynasty was founded by Yitzchak Majer Alter, also known as the Chiddushei HaRim, who began the dynasty as an extension to Kock. HaRim [Rabbi (Harav) Yitzchak Majer] would say, “Rebbe Bunim of Przysucha led the world with love, the Rebbe of Kock directed with fear, and I lead with Torah.” His pupil and friend Rebbe Chanoch of Aleksander said, “Przysucha was love, Kock was fear and Ger is glory, which includes both.”

In addition to knowledge of Torah and devotion to observance, HaRim had knowledge of psychology and how outreach methods. He was admired by all of his contemporary Hassidic masters as a great leader. HaRim passed away in 5626 [1866/1867]. At his death he had approximately 30,000 followers. He was succeeded by his young grandson Rebbe Aryeh Leib of Ger. Rebbe Aryeh Leib authored Sfat Emet, which is considered among the best books of Hassidic literature of the last generations. He passed away in 5665. His son, Rebbe Avraham Mordechai of Ger, was the last rebbe to reside in Europe. He made aliya during the Holocaust in Poland after visiting Palestine several times. he relocated to Jerusalem where he passed away.

Ger was based upon the two pillars of Polish Hassidism, Przysucha and Kock, and eventually paved its own path, which was in better sync with the needs of the time. Ger gave Hasidism a democratic form and an appeal to the masses. The gates of Ger were open to anyone who desired. The Rebbe came in contact with thousands of Hassidim from all over the country. However, Ger did not contribute any new Hassidic philosophy. It favored synthesis and thus it highlighted Torah, mitzvot, and good deeds. Ger led Polish Hassidism in its membership count and its broad social appeal, which allowed entry to anyone who was willing to accept its authority. Ger's realistic approach gave it the power to use Aguda, whose founding in Poland embodied the struggle for supremacy among Hassidic dynasties. Ger turned Agudath Israel into an important factor of social life, which was based mainly on support for the Polish government.

Ger Hassidim fortified in Będzin thanks to Aguda's important role in the town. The son-in-law of the Sfat Emet, Rabbi Hirsh Henich Levin, grandson of Rebbe Chanoch of Aleksander, was appointed as the rabbi of Będzin. The Hassidim said that the Ger Rebbe prophesized his son-in-law's appointment. Since then, the Ger Rebbe occasionally visited Będzin, where he was hosted by his son-in-law or by Mendel Szapira on Potock Street. The Rebbe's visits strengthened the influence of his followers in Będzin. The struggle for the appointment of a rabbi was not easy and lasted many years. That was a primary aim of Ger Hassidim everywhere; to conquer all community institutions and control the town.

Ger had three synagogues in Będzin:

  1. the large kloyz on Jasna Street
  2. in the new market square and
  3. in the Aguda house on Małachowska Street.

The forces of Ger were concentrated in those synagogues. Ger fought and forcefully conquered because they were zealous and fight-happy more than other Hassidim.

The small Ger synagogue was at the beginning of Modrzejówska Street. Its members were sharp young scholars who were supported by their fathers-in-law. Those scholars were a force and if a victory for Ger was necessary when appointing a shochet or community clerk they were willing to cross through water and fire. When tough men were needed, they heeded the call and they did not need the help of others as every one of them was quite tough.

The large Ger synagogue had its own designated building since the old times. It was home to many Hassidic figures such as Reb Yekel Szapira and his large family. His son, Reb Mendel Szapira built a glorious Hassidic house in Będzin. Reb Mendel Rozenzaft, son-in-law of Yekel, devoted his life to helping his fellow man and he was often seen fundraising for the poor, and was active in a charity organization. He was wise, righteous, and a pronounced God-fearing man who was also highly admired by progressives and took part in their charitable institutions. Among those who prayed there were men such as Lipa Kaminer, brothers Avraham and Kalman Liwer – both community leaders on behalf of Aguda, Moshe Chaim Kaminer – editor of the Aguda publication Yiddishe Wochenblatt, Moshe Sztayer, Shlomo Yitzchak Rynski – chairman of the Aguda and the community, Paltiel Unger, R.M. Szenberg, Moshe Berger, Yitzchak Katzengold, and Peretz Taub.

Ger of Będzin also had great singers and cantors. Yekel Szapira served as cantor in the large Ger synagogue. He led Musaf, Kol Nidrei and Ne'ilah prayers on High Holy Days. He still led prayers at the age of 90. He passed away some years before the last war erupted.

The younger Berel Ajchenwald led morning prayers on High Holy Days. He too was considered a force among the Ger musicians and his loud voice was always heard at Hassidic celebrations.

Aharon Koplowicz led Musaf prayers in the large synagogue. His pleasant voice attracted many worshippers, even those non-Ger Hassidim. Musicians praised his prayer style.

Another loyal force was Leibish Frohman, son of Mendel Frohman, the designated musician in the home of the rebbe of Pilica. Leibish made Pilica proud.

Ger and Aleksander were the largest and most central dynasties in Polish Hassidism, up until the current generation. Therefore, there was a silent hatred among the followers of each dynasty, although to lesser extent in Będzin. The followers of each saw the opponents as those who strayed from the righteous path; “can it be? How can one be a true Hassid without travelling to Aleksandrów Łódzki?” and the Ger Hassid also dismissed the Aleksander Hassid in a similar way; “they are not Hassidim because they do not travel to Gora.” That dynamic began while the Sfat Emet led Ger and Yerachmiel Yisrael Yitzchak led Aleksander. Both were great. The latter was a wiseman whose witty remarks are still passed from one person to another.

The hatred between the followers of each dynasty was not reserved to the old generation and passed to the younger ones. The rivalry was so extreme that the young scholars of each kloyz avoided meeting one another. They too dismissed one another. They could not fathom that a man from another kloyz may also be a scholar. Great scholars existed in both camps, in the older generation and in the new. Scholars sat around the tables of all kloyzes.


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Both camps gathered the best among the town's Jewish population but there was a vast difference in behavior between their members.

The path that Aleksander followed was simpler than Ger; humility and equality. At an Aleksander kloyz one could find various craftsman who were equal among their peers. The Ger followers were prouder; no craftsman attended their synagogues. Most were combative and involved in disputes over a rabbi, shochet, or cantor. They were tough and possessed true Hassidic chutzpah. They were also great, sharp-minded scholars, the legacy of the Chidushey HaRim and Rebbe Mendel of Kock. Yet the Ger Hassidim knew to celebrate no less than others. On Simchat Torah after the meal, the Hassidim gathered in groups and went to celebrate. The young men went to wealthy homes where they ate roasted goose coupled with imported wine. Sharp-minded Hassidim went to drink with distinguished veteran Hassidim and between songs repeated a teaching of the rebbe.

Life in the Ger synagogues of Będzin was very lively and they were a blessing of leadership and positive traits, which Orthodox Judaism excels in.


2) The Radomsk Kloyz

Many questions arise when researching the history of Hassidism in the Zagłębie region, especially in Będzin. First, what was the name of the first Hassid in Będzin, the first kloyz in Będzin and what dynasty he followed. The answers, if given, would clarify many mysteries in the history of Hassidism in Zagłębie. Because hope for clear answers is futile, it is necessary to make do with plain assumptions and estimates.

The first Hassidic masters in Congress Poland were Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak “the Seer” of Lublin, Rabbi Yisrael “the Maggid” of Kozhnitz [Kozienice], and Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apta [Opatów], author of Ohev Yisrael. Those three cities are far from Zagłębie which, until after WWI, neared the German and Austrian borders, truly the edge of the Polish-Russian world. A common saying was that when a rooster crowed in Modrzejów, which bordered the three sates, he was heard in Germany, Austria, and Russia. Undoubtedly the aforementioned rebbes had followers in Zagłębie but because of the distance between them they visited them less often because of the costly journey. The people's rebbe, David of Lviv, shortened that journey for his followers in Zagłębie. Rebbe Shlomo Rabinowicz of Radomsk, a pupil of Rebbe Yissocher Ber of Radoshitz and Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Przysucha, further shortened the journey. Rebbe Shlomo was famous for his righteousness, wisdom, and miracles. A second source of attraction to the Rebbe of Radomsk was music. Radomsk was central in Zagłębie Hassidism. The synagogues of the dynasty in Będzin and the area frequently sang the songs of Radomsk, and people frequently supplied new music.

The elder Radomsk Hassidim who reside in Israel say that in 5645 [1884/1885] Będzin was yet to include large territory and the town was limited to a small number of streets surrounding the old market. The number of kloyzes in the town was also limited, and only the Hassidim of Radomsk, Ger, Sochatchov, Aleksander, Kock, and later Chentshin [Chęciny] had their own synagogues, while the remainder were new arrivals who did not attract much attention.

The Radomsk kloyz was a large center of Torah and Hassidism. Dozens of young men studied there enthusiastically, including non-Radomsk men. Scholars of the older generation were represented an especially large numbers. At the time, the kloyz was in a house that served as a passageway between the fish market and Zawala Street. The yard always bustled and the pleasant tune of Torah study echoed. Later, the men from other kloyzes who studied in the Radomsk kloyz initiated study in other kloyzes as well, especially in the Aleksander kloyz. The competition did not spoil the study in the Radomsk kloyz as other men replaced them and the sound of Torah once more echoed loudly.

Radomsk Hassidim were plentiful in Będzin and Zagłębie in general because of its proximity to Radomsko. Some of the most important Hassidim resided in Będzin, such as Yechezkel Friedman, who was a member of the rebbe's choir conducted by Leiser of Łódź, and Kalman Bendiner (Friedman) who was an honorable jester to the rebbe )like Mordechai Rakover to the Seer of Lublin). The founder of the Radomsk dynasty visited Będzin often. He usually was hosted by his follower Moshe Hirsch Fiszel, a wealthy man who owned the largest store in Poland. Various legends about his wealth were told in Będzin. Later he gained a serious competitor in the same field, Nachum Zuckerman who was also a Radomsk Hassid. When Moshe Hirsch's business was declining while his competitor Nachum was rising, Moshe said, “Nachum and I are on prongs of the same ladder; he is rising and I am descending. When we meet in the middle I will ask him, 'how powerful are you that you rise? So you have 15,000 Rubles. Are you not ashamed to rise and compete with me, a man whose wealth is unimaginable?'”

The Radomsk Hassidim occupied a central place among the Hassidim of Będzin, and the best Jews gathered in its kloyz. The reminder of the kloyzes stood out less and were less imporatnat. Some details are missing about the first kloyz of Radomsk Hassidim in Będzin. That kloyz remained the largest and oldest in Będzin, even as the other Radomsk kloyzes were added to the town. During its first years of operation the kloyz was in the home of David the painter near the “Mountain Castle”. Moshe Aharon Levi taught two classes there all day.

Many important men attended the n the first Radomsk kloyz in Będzin such as R' Shlomo Szajn, Avraham David “steel brain” Openhajm, Avraham Yaakov Rajch, Moshe Hirsh Fiszel and his son Reb Avraham. Shlomo Szajn was among the town's wealthy who owned a screw and nail factory and other businesses in Sławków and owned a wholesale metal store and warehouse in Będzin. Among his clerks was Berish Prager, an enlightened Ger Hassid, with an old-school education but he was a loyal member of Mizrachi and a devoted Zionist. Yaakov Rechnic was an enthused Hassid who owned a shoe store. He always had Hassidic books open in front of him even while operating his business. Lipa Kanal (Hillel Fechter's son in-law) was a wealthy wood store owner who was not a Radomsk Hassid but did pray at the kloyz. Tzvi Fechter (Hillel's son) was later instrumental in shaping the dynasty of Rebbe Shlomo Henich Rabinowicz from Sosnowiec. Avraham Yaakov Rajch was an educated Hassid with knowledge of grammar who wrote for Ha-Tsfira and taught students from the most prestigious families in the town.


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The kloyz had a “secluded club” whose members prayed with the kloyz but not on celebratory days and even on memorial days, when they celebrated separately. The club was led by Yaakov Rechnic, Lipa Kanal, Tzvi Fechter and others. They gathered in Hillel Fechter's home in the Gzichów suburb where they discussed scholarly matters and drank liquor. Not every Hassid could share their company.

The big and veteran Radomsk kloyz was on Jatka Street. Its audience included figures such as Gershon Rechnic, Shimon Plesner, Shlomo Friedman who was a well-known cantor. The Rosh Yeshiva of the Radomsk yeshiva prayed there, Mordechai Gold who was a Hassid and a great jester and musician with his son Eli Gold who was an excellent musician. Other important congregants included Berish Szylcer, Shimon Cymerman, Yosef Lask (Olkuszer) brothers Mordechai Yosef and Yechezkel Ber Openhajm, brothers Chaim and Meshulem Liwer, Josef Glajtman, Nuta Kutner (childless) and Kopel Londner (son-in-law of Kalman Bendiner). Membership in that kloyz was greatly respected.

When the “progressive Hassidim” appeared, a second kloyz for Radomsk Hassidim was established in the new market (the kloyz was called also the “Katowicer Shtibel” because its members traveled to Katowice for recreation). Its gabbaim were Chaim Wolf Steinhardt, Moshe Lask, Berish Rembiszewski, Aharon Hendler and others.

The third Radomsk kloyz was in the home of Chaim Szajn, an important and wealthy man. Most of its congregants were Radomsk Hassidim. Among its congregants were Yechezkel Friedman and Yankel Siskind, both famous cantors. Chaim emigrated to Israel after the Holocaust, in Tel Aviv without where he lived in poverty and died there a few years ago.

Like any other kloyz, Hassidim left occasionally for various reasons (see below about the founding of the Sadigura-Boyan kloyz when several Hassidim seceded after the Tiferet Shlomo passed away). For example, Shlomo Friedman, who was a great cantor left for the Amshinov kloyz.

After the Tiferet Shlomo passed away, the ties between his successors and the Hassidim of Będzin and Zagłębie were further tightened. The Chessed L'Avraham and his son the Kneset Yechezkel (so-called by their Hassidim after the names of their books) were seen more often in Będzin. Joy and song were plentiful in the homes of Radomsk Hassidim. Radomsk tunes were sung in other kloyzes too, especially by Kock Hassidim in Będzin who were enchanted by the beauty of the songs.

The rebbes of Radomsk's personalities contributed much to their followers and kloyzes in Będzin.


3) The Aleksander Kloyz

A.

The Aleksander dynasty began in the fourth generation of Hassidism in Poland. Aleksandrów łódzki is a weavers' town near Łódź. Rebbe Yitzchak Majer Alter of Ger resided in Aleksandrów. His method was enthusiastic and sharp like Kock. However, he was close to 70 years old and led for few years. He passed away in 5630 (1869/1870). After his death, most of his followers followed Ger, and the first dynasty in Aleksandrów ceased temporarily. Rabbi Fayvel Dancyger, rabbi of the towns of Grójec, Sierpc, and Maków, founded the Aleksander dynasty. Dancyger was the primary inheritor of the Warka dynasty which inherited from Przysucha advocating for love of Israel and love of man. Rebbe Yechiel was his son and successor. He served as rabbi in Torchyn, Grójec, Pilica, and finally Aleksandrów. He was a righteous, humble man who worshipped God faithfully and enthusiastically. He refused to accept leadership [of the dynasty] until a rabbinic court panel of three ruled that he could not refuse. His enthusiasm was famous. In general, he was a loyal successor of Worka and he expanded an deepened its teachings for love of Israel, concern for the Jewish people, joy, brotherhood among the Hassidim and love of Torah. Like Worka, the Aleksander dynasty was a dynasty of emotion and good deeds more than of depth, although Rebbe Yechiel was a great Torah scholar and studied kabbalah.

After Yechiel's death in 5654, his son Rebbe Yerachmiel Yisrael Yitzchak led the dynasty. Two large factions of Aleksander left the dynasty. However, most Hassidim remained loyal to Yerachmiel, who expanded Aleksander's reach. He was a great scholar of Torah was very knowledgeable in Kabbalah. His wisdom and wit were famous in Poland. His sharpness and extremity on matters of fiat and his demands from Hassidim competed with those of Rebbe Mendel of Kock. He was very much admired by his followers, who also feared him. When Yerachmiel was to succeed his father, Rebbe Avraham of Sochatchov said of Rebbe him, “the Hassidim said of Worka that it was a pillar of charity, Biała was the pillar of Torah, and Aleksander was the pillar of worship. And I say that he symbolized all three pillars on which the world stands.” Rebbe Yerachmiel was the author of Yismach Yisrael. He died in 5670 and was succeeded by his brother, Shmuel Tzvi Dancyger.

When rebbe Yerachmiel passed away, a dispute arose over who would succeed him; his son, his brother, or his pupil. Rebbe Shmuel Tzvi lacked special traits and was perhaps more typical than others of the Worka style: he had a kind heart, pure faith, humility, concern for each of his followers, love of Israel, and devotion. He died in 5684. His teachings were gathered in the book Tiferet Shmuel. He was succeeded by his son Rebbe Yitzchak Menachem who perished in the Holocaust on Yom Kippur eve of 5703 (1943/1944).

 

B.

The Aleksander kloyz in Będzin was like a miniature kingdom. It was a single, large, kloyz in which hundreds of Hassidim gathered. It even hosted a yeshiva.

The financial state of Aleksander Hassidim and others in Będzin was better than in other Polish towns because of its proximity to the German border. But the Aleksander philosophy was not deviated from; the Hassidim walked the median of the golden path without emphasizing worldly pleasures and without the chutzpah typical among Ger Hassidim. They behaved in a soft and noble manner with the hearty Worka musicality and an inner Hasidic fire and outward simplicity.

However, the kloyz in Będzin suffered from the many twists the dynasty experienced when one of its leaders passed away. After the passing of the Yismach Yisrael in 5670 (1909/1910), the Będzin kloyz was dark. Many Hassidim traveled to Aleksandrów for the funeral, and those who remained in the town patrolled the kloyz like mourners.


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They sat on overturned benches like it was Tisha B'Av and mourned like their father had died. A few days later, they began making peace with fate and the reality that the Rebbe is no longer alive. One cannot be without a rebbe and so two sides formed: some supported Shmuel, the brother of the late Rebbe, despite his shortcomings as a strict and introverted man, while others supported Rebbe Mendel of Biała who resided in Stryków. Each side wanted to influence the other. Eventually, Aleksander prevailed and most of the kloyz members remined loyal followers of the Aleksander dynasty. Indeed, Rebbe Shmuel was a good rebbe in every aspect and everyone who knew him well knew that he was righteous, holy, and pure. His teachings were fiery. He served as Rebbe until his death in 5684 (1923/1924). Once more, the Stryków Hassidim wanted to leave Aleksander and go to Stryków but they were unsuccessful. The Aleksander Hassidim prevailed and continued to travel to Yitzchak Menachem, the son of the late rebbe. Many Hassidim who did not visit the Tiferet Shmuel returned to Aleksander when Yitzchak Menachem led the dynasty. He was more active in the field of spreading Hassidism. Yeshivas with names like Beit Yirael, named after the Yismach Yisrael were founded In Poland, including in Będzin.

When the last war started, when the Nazis invaded Poland, the Aleksander Rebbe hid in Łódź, and later in Warsaw and Otwock. German newspapers wrote of him as “der Grossrabbiner oys Aleksander.” Stürmer published a photo of the gravesite of three rebbes.

In 1941 Aleksander Hassidim in Palestine attempted to obtain a certificate so the Rebbe could emigrate there. They reached an agreement with the gestapo to allow Rabbi Dancyger, his wife, and one son passage to Italy in exchange for large sum. But the Rebbe refused and said, “you want me to leave the Jewish people during such troubled times and save only myself? No. I reside among my people and with my people I will leave myself to die.” He was murdered alongside his followers in Treblinka. Bless his memory. The dispute between Ger and Aleksander in Będzin about authority over Polish Hasidim, a dispute which continued from the dispute between Worka and Kock, continued, but Aleksander Hasidism excelled in a moderate approach on that front as well.

The Aleksander kloyz was among the few kloyzes in Będzin before the town's expansion roughly 70 years ago when the town had only a few streets and a market in the center. The kloyz was on Kołłątaja Street for many years, until the Nazis destroyed it. Its congregants included activists and important figures, including Mendel Dąb – a wealthy and lead activist, Leibish Bochowitz – president of HaMizrachi in Będzin, Yitzchak Aharon Landau – a community leader, the posek Rabbi Dan Lipszyc, Berish Rapaport and others. It had 200 - 300 members.

 

C.

Aharon Dąb, son of Mendel Dąb from Będzin, a veteran Aleksander Hassid now residing in Antwerp, Belgium, wrote to me and described his memories of interesting events in the Aleksander kloyz in Będzin.

Even as a youth he was active in kloyz life. He brought the customary bowls of hot food on yahrzeits and Rosh Chodesh (at the time the kloyz was on Modrzejówska Street. There were 2 more kloyzes on that lot and a third one was added later). He recalls a short man over 80 years old named Kalman Siskind. Kalman was given special honors because he had traveled to visit Rebbe Mendel of Worka, and Aleksander is a continuance of Worka. On such yahrzeits the elderly Kalman would tell stories that happened in Worka or in Przysucha by Rebbe Bunim and the attendees listened to his stories attentively.

At the time, the Aleksander kloyz had already taken a central role in the Jewish life of Będzin. 2 of the 4 shochetim of the town were among its members, including Yisrael Moshe Shochet (grandfather of Knesset Member Michael Hasani). He was gifted with great storytelling abilities and an immensurable memory of Hassidic stories. On winter shabbat nights the Hassidim would gather in the kloyz. The tin stove blazed as the Hassidim sat drinking around the tables and he told stories, which sometimes dated back to the Baal Shem Tov's time. Thanks to his immense talent, the Aleksander Rebbe appointed him to be the Purim Rav, a role which he successfully filled for many years.

In the days of his youth the tunes of the famous Yekel Prager, main songwriter of the Aleksander dynasty were prevalent in the kloyz. Additionally, there were music lovers who would travel to the Rebbe for the holidays and each time brought back new tunes. In later years, the tunes of the Modzitz dynasty took hold, especially after the Aleksander dynasty established marriage ties with the Modzitz dynasty. In the final decade a new music star was discovered in Aleksander, a musically gifted man from Łódź named Getzel. He composed many tunes and his marches were famous. He himself was not a cantor but he conducted the choir on the High Holy Days and his conducting and choir attracted many followers to the Rebbe. Of course, eventually Getzel's tunes became central to the Aleksander kloyz in Będzin and no celebration or memorial took place without them.

Yisrael Auerbach led [holy day] Musaf services in the kloyz. He was a God-fearing, pronounced Hassid who led prayers pleasantly. It was difficult to persuade him to lead prayers on an ordinary Shabbat, and if Mendel Dąb eventually persuaded him, he gave much spiritual pleasure to the audience.

The brothers Monye and Yitzchak Aharon Auerbach, virtuous and wealthy men, were among those who led prayers year-round. Other prayer leaders were guest shochetim from various towns in Poland. Aleksander Hassidim made special efforts to employ students of the Yismach Yisrael Yeshiva in Aleksandrów after the students married. They were usually employed as shochetim and had to know how to lead prayers because in such towns the shochet had to fill the role of a cantor too. Such a student who visited the kloyz on Shabbat was greatly honored, including leading all services and the singing during Se'udah Shlishit. Ordinarily, singing during the Shabbat morning prayers in the Aleksander kloyz began with “El Adon” and the guests were honored by singing starting at “Hakol yoducha” in a Modzitz tune, and then El Adon was sung to the tune of one of Getzel's marches.

The Aleksander kloyz relocated to the home of Emanuel Feinsky, an avid Aleksander Hassid. He neighbored Yesodei HaTorah, which also housed Ger newlyweds supported by their parents-in-law. At the same time, knowledgeable students returned from the Maków yeshiva, including an Aleksander Hassid named David Green who initiated the transfer from the Radomsk kloyz, where men from various kloyzes studied, to the Aleksander kloyz. That created a nucleus of students that eventually became the yeshiva in Będzin.


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On the lower level of the Aleksander kloyz there was a bakery that specialized in baking water bagels, which were a source of income for several Jewish merchants. Among them was one great merchant who sold his goods on the train between Sułnowice and Ząbkowice. Every Thursday night, the students studied Torah all night at the kloyz. At midnight, they paused studying and went down to the baker for bagels. The kloyz did not stay on that site for long and it transferred to Kołłątaja Street where it remained until the last war.

I recall the visit of the Tiferet Shmuel to Mendel Kleiner's home in Sosnowiec. The days of the Rebbe's residence in Sosnowiec were like Chol HaMo'ed and every day Hassidim traveled by train from Będzin to Sosnowiec where they gathered near the rebbe's room.

The relations between Ger and Aleksander Hassidim were marked by tolerance. The contrast was not very pronounced. The Aleksander Hassidim voted in the town's rabbinic elections for Rabbi Hirsh Henich Levin and even visited the rabbi's home on Shabbat and holidays. The peace was a result of mutual tolerance, and aside from a small group of hot-headed individuals in both sides, bot camps were comprised of clear-headed, wise Jews who treated one another courteously and almost never disagreed.

During WWI (1914-1918) and the German invasion, the financial state of the Jews of Zagłębie and Będzin was not bad, and some became very wealthy. In the Aleksander kloyz there were men who began trading and were very successful. Among them was a man named David who was a genius from a simple home with liberally-minded parents. He had an unusually sharp mind and wisdom and was always invited to serve as a mediator. Shlomo Schlesinger, a member of the kloyz, took him as a groom for his daughter, despite his physical deformity. He entered the club of Aleksander Hassidim and became one of its most beautiful and respected young married men. In the early 30s he was persecuted for his active role in Aguda and he eventually left the Aleksander kloyz and some say he joined Ger.

 

Following section edited by Dr. Rafael Manory

4) The Sochatchov [Sochaczew] Kloyz

The town of Będzin Rebbe was fortunate, and Avraham Bornstein, the first Rebbe of Sochatchov, author of Avnei Nezer, was born there in 5599 [September 1938–Sept 1839]. His father was Rabbi Ze'ev Nachum, who was among the greatest rabbis of his generation, a descendant of the Rama and the Shakh, who was later appointed rabbi of Olkusz and greater Biala.

I described his biography elsewhere in this section. I must add that he did much for settling the land of Israel. In his book Avnei Nezer he ruled that the commandment of settling Eretz Israel is still applicable in our time. Not only that, but those who reside abroad perform a big mitzvah if they buy land in Israel, in particular if it would earn them an income while they reside abroad, and it will be considered a little as if they settled in the Land of Israel.

And in order to actually apply this ruling to himself, he sent his prodigal son Shmuel to the Land of Israel to buy land for him. It did not come to fruition only because of a Turkish decree forbidding sale of land to Jews.

Rebbe Avraham passed away in Sochaczew on Adar 11, 5670 [Editor's Note: As this was a leap year, the month here should be either Adar I (20 February 1910) or Adar II (22 March 1910).], at the age of 71. He was succeeded by his only son, Shmuel, the author of Shem M'Shmuel, father of Rebbe Dovid, who passed away in Warsaw during the Holocaust. The latter's brother, Rebbe Chanoch Bornstein, replaced him as the Sochatchov Rebbe and he leads the Sochatchov Hassidim in Israel.

Rebbe Shmuel and Rebbe Dovid often visited Będzin, where they were usually hosted by their followers, Yaakov Guttman, who was also the community leader, R' Ze'ev Werdyger and others. Ties between the Sochatchov Hassidim in Będzin and their leading dynasty of Rebbes were very strong and the influence of the Hassidim on community life was visible thanks to that.

The Sochatchov Hassidim had a large kloyzin Będzin. Both its first and second locations were on Modrzejówska Street. It was larger than the Aleksander kloyz. It was eventually transferred to Mendel Hittlemacher's house. The large kloyzhad 200 members. There were also 2 smaller kloyzes for Sochatchov Hassidim, one in Blima Guttman's house and the other in the home of R' Yeshayahu Hendel Ehrlich of blessed memory. The ranks of Sochatchov Hassidim included important figures whose influence on community life in Będzin was visible, including the very bright Rabbi Yosef Engel. Rabbi Engel was a native of Tarnów and authored Lekach Tov, Beit Ha-Otzar, Teshuvat Ben Porat and more. He resided in Będzin for some time and he too was very inspired by the kloyz's atmosphere.

Many scholars studied Torah at the Sochatchov kloyz, some of whom were great scholars. The study was influenced by the Rebbe, the author of Avnei Nezer, who emphasized Torah study. The name of Sochatchov was honored by all the Hassidim in town. The kloyzhosted a fair number of wealthy men, scholars, and people of good standing.

On Shalosh Regalim [Editor's Note: The three holidays of pilgrimage, Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot] many Sochatchov Hassidim visitedę Rabbi Frumer, the Rabbi of Koziegłowy, when he resided in Sosnowiec. He was among the senior Sochatchov Hassidim and among the excellent students of the Avnei Nezer. The Rabbi would share ideas of Torah, Hassidism and Kabbalah much to the joy of the attendees.

Among the first gabbayim (community treasurers) were R' Hendel (friend of the founding Sochatchov Rebbe) who was the driving force behind all things Sochatchov, R' Meni Lichtenfeld and others. R' Henich Youngster (the posek from Katrina) and R' Yosef Kalisher (Hirshberg) were regular lecturers in the kloyz. The Sochatchov Hassidim included residents of the town who were known for their dignified traits like R' Yedidya Parnas, a wealthy Hassidic man (whose sons-in-law were great Torah scholars like R' Moshe Mordechai, son of the Rebbe of Pilov, and R' Hershel Luftig, and his son was the son-in-law of the Shem M'Shmuel), and the generous R' Hershel Luftig, R' Yosef Chaim Reich (pupil of Yosef Engel and leader of Musaf prayers on the High Holydays), R' Yosef Prawer, R' Yehoshualeh Dayan, the posek R' Aizik Manela, R' Mendel Eilenberg, Mendel Ehrlich, R' Yaakov Guttman (leader of Shacharit on the High Holydays and a community leader), R' Betzalel Kupperwasser, R' Shlomo Shidlowski, R' Shmuel Levin, R' Yaakov Landau, R' Avraham Leib Greenwald (city council member), R' Mendel Reich, R' Meir Hershkowitz, R' Shlomo Binder, R' Shraga Hollander, R' Eliezer Tcharnucha, and the excellent prayer leaders R' Aharon Chaim Manheim (who led Musaf on the High Holydays in the final years), R' Yisroel Fisher and others. The last community treasurers (gabbayim) of the kloyzwere Yaakov Guttman and Yosef Grondman (who perished in the Holocaust).

The Sochatchov kloyzin Będzin was considered among the most important kloyzes in town and had a highly respected place in public life.


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5) The Sadigura–Boyan [Sadhora–Boiany] Kloyz

Many Hassidim in Congress Poland wondered how the Sadigura–Boyan dynasty found its way to Będzin. There were dozens of kloyzes in Będzin, and aside from the aforementioned kloyzthere was no kloyzin Będzin for a rebbe from Galicia or any other country. However, the founder of the Radomsk dynasty had followers in western and central Galicia.

The question was difficult to answer considering geographic realities. To travel from Będzin to Sadhora or its neighboring Boiany, one had to travel by train along all of east and west Galicia and reach Chernivtsi, the capital of Bukovina, which was an Austrian region until the end of WWI. Sadhura and Boyany were close to Chernovitsi, and were home to Rebbes from the Friedman family of the Ruzhin dynasty. Traveling from Będzin there entailed traveling troubles and wasting a lot of time on the road. What, therefore, was the cause for traveling far in the Hassidic world?

Numerous Hassidim in Będzin also had difficulties understanding when faced with that fact and the burden of “lack of understanding” bothered many people. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate the reasons [for this travel].

The Radomsk kloyzwas, at the time, the most senior and important in Będzin and the best of the town's residents and leaders were among its members. However, when Tiferes Shlomo passed away, the foundations of the dynasty were shaken. The Hassidim mourned the loss of an irreplaceable Rebbe and had difficulties in adjusting to the reality that the righteous man, who had led them through everything and was their patron in all aspects, was gone never to return. Adjustment to the new situation harmed the Radomsk kloyzhard. Many Hassidim left the dynasty and became followers of a different dynasty, in a different city. Due to the sorrow and the shock cracks started to appear in the Radomsk kloyzin Będzin.

One of the late Rebbe's close associates, Avraham Menachem Manela, son of Yechezkel Lasker, a wealthy nail factory owner in Będzin, was called to action and along with the town's rabbi, Rabbi Itche Kimmelman (also a Radomsk Hassid) began searching for another rebbe. R' Manela did not spare his time and resources and he traveled great distances, visited various Rebbes' courts and evaluated each dynasty's traits and advantages. After many searches, the choice fell on Rabbi Avraham Yaakov of Sadigura, son of the founder of the Ruzhin dynasty, whose Hassidim regarded as a royal figure. The result was presented not long thereafter; a year after the Radomski Rebbe passed away, 1870, the Sadigura kloyzwas founded in Będzin and attracted much attention from the Hassidim and debates pro and against. The founding of the Sadigura kloyzwas astounding at first and after that its first Hassidim in Będzin began joining it including Isaac Ehrlichman, R' Itche Kimmelman, R' Moshe Hirsh Fishel and his grandson R' Leib Englard, R' Hirsh Leib Hauptman (known by his nickname “Der Frantsoyz” [“The Frenchman”]), Gitman Richter and others. Thus, a window to the far-away Sadigura dynasty was opened in the Zaglebie province.

The kloyz's first location was in R' Yosef Ehrlich's home. The first treasurers (gabbayim) included R' Mendel Oppenheim, who also served as the gabbai in the Bet Midrash, and Sholom Lasker the owner of the flourmill and a great scholar (dubbed “a Lamed Vavnik”) and his brother Dovid Lasker. The prayer leaders of the kloyzwere Gitman Richter for Musaf, Shlomo Zilberberg (who later relocated to Lodz), R' Chaim Hauptman, Dovid Lasker (who loved the Sadigura tunes and the tunes of the resident cantor of Boyan, R' Pinyeh Spector, even more, and thanks to whom the Boyan melodies spread in Będzin. They attracted much attention from the community because the ideas of the person who in immersed in them fitted their musical wisdom.

The Ruzhin Rebbe's yahrzeit on 3 Cheshvan occupied a special place among the celebrations that were traditional in all kloyzes. Hassidim of other dynasties also came because the news of the Sadigura dynasty were widespread and it was considered the most festive in all Galicia.

It often happened that a Boyan Hassid from Bukovina or Galicia who came on business or other matters, became a guest of honor at the kloyz, where he felt that he was within his people and the mere existence of a Boyan kloyzin Będzin pleased him very much. That fact quickly spread among Sadigura Hassidim who saw it as unusual, a sort of hand of God because the Sadigura Rebbe never visited his Hassidim in Będzin. The Hassidim in Będzin visited Sadhora on the High Holidays and more often on Sukkot when masses visited the Rebbe's castle and the town was full of Hassidim.

There were many Sadigura Hassidim in Będzin and the kloyzhosted some of the best members of the town's intelligentsia. However, when Rebbe Avraham Yaakov of Sadigura passed away, the impact shook the kloyzin Będzin. Rabbi Kimmelman and Asher Ehrlichman joined the Ger kloyz, and many followed them. Yet, those loyal to the Sadigura dynasty did not relent and established a Boyan kloyzin the Lasker home, where it remained until it was moved to Lemmel Londner's home on Modrzejówska Street until the start of the last war.

The Boyan Hassidim remained loyal to their late rabbi and continued visiting his son Rebbe Yitzchak, who founded a new branch of the Ruzhin dynasty in Boiany. Rebbe Yitzchak was an enterprising man and knew how to attract a large crowd of Hassidim. He too built a lavish castle in Boiany like the rebbes of Sadigura and Chortkiv (Czortkòw), who advocated for the unity of Torah and glory.

The name of the kloyzwas changed from Sadigura to Boyan but the number of its Hassidim was much smaller than in its first version. The Boyan kloyzwas a gathering place for Hassidim and in it too the tunes of Sadigura and Boyan were heard. R' Pinyeh Spector's tunes gained a special reputation. Spector, a Russian native, was a famous cantor who served in the Rebbe's Court where he wrote music and directed performances. Letters that contained the Rebbe's Torah musings were read on Shabbat and holidays and served as one of the resources used for strengthening the ties between the Rebbe's court and his Hassidim wherever they were.

The behavior of the Boyan Rebbe was very humble, and he took interest in every person who approached him; he commanded his followers to be active in the community, and to be chartable always. He was an outspoken lover of Eretz Israel and guided his Hassidim in that direction. He sent much money to Eretz Israel and made special efforts to increase funding for this purpose. He rejoiced every time he heard of someone immigrating to the Land of Israel. The Boyan Rebbe had kloyzes in Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias, and Tel Aviv.

The Boyan Rebbe never visited his Hassidim in Będzin. Only one of his sons, Yisroel, who later served as Rebbe in Leipzig and made aliya and passed away in Tel Aviv, visited the nearby Katowice, beyond the border. However, he did not visit Będzin because he feared his honor might be degraded.


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The Boyan Rebbe escaped to Vienna in 1914 when WWI erupted and the Russian Army breached Austria's borders in Galicia and Bukovina, as did all the other Ruzhin Rebbes (Sadigura, Chortkiv, Husiatyn and others), where they continued practicing Hassidic leadership. He passed away in Vienna on 17 Adar, 5677 (11 Sept. 1917) and was buried there. R' Leib Englard represented Będzin in Vienna when the Rebbe passed away. Since then, the kloyz's influence in Będzin weakened to the point that it was barely noticed.

We have mentioned above the founder of the Sadigura kloyzin Będzin, R' Avraham Menachem Manela Lasker. His grandson Michel Lasker, who resides in Tel Aviv, has Avraham's will, dated Nisan 8, 5659 (19 March, 1899) and written in Hebrew. The will is interesting in both its content and Hebrew style. The will testifies that he was a Hassid with every fiber of his being. He left behind an estate worth 40,000 Rubles (a large sum in those days) and instructed that a percentage be contributed to the poor of the kloyzes of Radomsk, Ger, and Sochaczew. Larger sums were devoted to the Boyan Rebbe and the widows of the Rebbes of Radomsk and Sadigura, the family of Rabbi Moshe Biderman of Lelov, [who was then] in Jerusalem. He also requested that no words of praise be etched on his tombstone; he promised that he examined his deeds to see if there was any trait worthy of being etched on his tombstone but could not find one and his successors would shame him if they wrote praise on it.

 

6) The Kromołów Kloyz

The Kromołów Hassidus was not considered a dynasty of its own, nor was it the creator of a new line of Hassidic thought, but rather a branch of the Radomsk dynasty. Its founder was Rabbi Nosson-Nachum Rabinowitz, one of four sons of the Chessed L'Avraham of Radomsk. After his death (13 Elul, 5651 (16 September 1891)), all his followers traveled to visit Rebbe Yechezkel Helberstam of Sieniawa, who ordained Kenesset Yechezkel as the Rebbe in Novipola and from there he went on to serve as Rebbe in his father's place.

Regarding the other sons—Shlomo settled in Olkusz and was a fish trader. The youngest among them, Rabbi Yaakov, who was the most liked by Chessed L'Avraham, served as the rabbi of Resesnizia [Editor's Note: most probably Radziechowice, a town very close to Radomsk] and passed away at a young age in Otwock. Rebbe Nosson-Nachum began serving as the Rebbe two years after his brother, the Knesset Yechezkel, inherited the Radomsk court and settled in Kromołów, a town located about 5km from Zawiercie. A small rift occurred among Radomsk Hassidim, but most of the followers and the senior Hassidim remained in the densely populated Radomsk.

The Rebbe of Kromołów was a talented organizer and succeeded in attracting many Hassidim. His kloyzes could be found in many towns across Galicia and Poland and he even had two kloyzes in Krakow. He had kloyzes almost everywhere in the Zagłębie region, including villages where Jews resided like Niwka, Dańdówka, Zagórze and more.

Because of WWI the Rebbe had to leave Kromołów and relocate to Zawiercie but he did not change the name of the dynasty. His gabbai, Chaim Berkowitz, was a God-fearing scholar, an excellent cantor and singer who led Musaf prayers on Yom Kippur far from the from memory due to poor sight, and knew the tunes of the Tiferet Shlomo very well.

The Kromołów Rebbe was also a great prayer leader, a skill he inherited from his father the Chessed L'Avraham. Senior Hassidim in Israel say that one year before his passing, he led Musaf prayers on both days of Rosh Hashanah, aided by his loyal servant Reb Tuvia whose style is well-remembered among the Hassidim, and their souls nearly departed when they heard his heartfelt prayer.

The Kromołów kloyzin Będzin was founded the year that Rebbe Nosson Nachum began serving as rebbe, i.e. 5656–7 (1896–7). It began as a minyan without a name or Hassidic allegiance that was hosted by a well-known Radomsk Hassid, Nachum Zuckerman. Zuckerman approved the turning of the minyan into a kloyzfor Kromołów Hassidim that was then housed on Dombrowska [Editor's Note: Most probably Dąbrówka] Street.

After the rift in the Radomsk dynasty following the Chessed L'Avraham's death, some Radomsk Hassidim in Będzin transferred to the Kromołów kloyzand even visited the Rebbe. On Shabbat, 3-4 minyanim prayed at the kloyz. However, despite the official split between the two sibling dynasties, the split between the Hassidim was insignificant. The Radomsk Hassidim travelled once to Radomski and once to Kromołów, feeling a closeness between the two. I never heard of disputes between the two groups.

Among the gabbaim and activists in the kloyzwere Yisroel'ke Zigler, Leibush Seribrenner, Avraham Heydeh (formerly a Warka Hassid who transferred to Kromołów when the Rebbe died), Yisroel Grossman (who was a blood relative to the Radomsk dynasty), and later Mordechai Daffner (who was very close to the Rebbe's court), Yoel Roicher [?], Elchanan Gottleib, Shlomo Bulimovski, and Chaim Leib Bulimovski (who died in Tel Aviv).

Among the prayer leaders and musically inclined were Yisroel Zigler and Avraham Heydeh and his son Moshe who led Shacharit, Orrish Fleishhacker who was a great scholar. In the field of Hassidic music and love of music there was no difference between Radomsk and Kromołów. Those musically inclined in the kloyzprayed pleasantly using Hassidic tunes, and there were those who frequently traveled to the Rebbe where they orally learned new tunes by heart and imported them to the kloyzcantors who quickly incorporated them into services.

The last location of the Kromołów kloyzwas in the Kuck home on Modrzejówska Street.

The Kromołów rebbe visited Będzin often and would stay in Melech Rosen's home on Shabbat and in Avraham Galiczer's on weekdays. On such occasions the Hassidim enjoyed the Rebbe's aura of holiness, crammed in the hundreds when the Rebbe prayed and to his “Table” on Shabbat. And on weekdays they visited him, to be seen and to receive a blessing to fulfill the wishes written on notes.

The love for Eretz Israel that dwelled in the hearts of the Radomsk Rebbes and Hassidim did not decrease in the days of the Kromołów dynasty and many made aliya when it was possible. When Kromołów Hassidim from Będzin arrived in Eretz Israel, they made many efforts to establish a kloyzin Tel Aviv that would serve as a club for the Kromołów community in Israel. The main efforts on this issue were made by Pesach Sribner who made Aliyah in 5694 (1934) and by R' Leib Piotrkover (the Hassidim used his town of origin and not family name) and recently died in Tel Aviv.

When WWII began, the elderly Rebbe Nosson-Nahcum had to find shelter in the Warsaw ghetto. The Nazis murdered him and other Rebbes when the Ghetto was destroyed. May God avenge his blood.


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7) The Amshinov [Mszczonów] Kloyz

The town of Mszczonów is located near Warsaw on the main road from Warsaw to Lodz, and was famous across Poland for its rabbis and Rebbes. For over a century, it generated spiritual influence, Torah and holiness for masses of Hassidim and admirers. However, Mszczonów, which was destroyed in the Holocaust, did not constitute a target on its own.

The founder of the Amshinov dynasty was Rebbe Yitzchak Kalish of Warka, who was famous for his righteousness and his mercifulness so he was called “The possessor of mercy.” He was a pupil of the Seer of Lublin, Rebbe Dovid of Lelov and Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa.

He began leading a community in the town of Zhurik [Editor's Note: This might probably refer to the town of Czersk] and eventually relocated to the town of Warka, which is near Warsaw. Many followed his guidance, including many of the generation's most righteous men.

The Warka Rebbe excelled in love for fellow Jews, to which he was completely devoted to a level of self-sacrifice. His entire life was long chain of Love of Israel and devotion to his nation. He passed away on the last day of Passover 5608 (1848) in Warka and was succeeded by two famous sons: the elder Yaakov Dovid—the Rebbe of Amshinov and the middle Rebbe of Warka, Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Warka.

The first Rebbe of Amshinov, R' Yaakov Dovid, was renowned as one of the great geniuses of his time. Many of the generation's great men asked him questions on matters of Torah. He served as the rabbi of many towns, including Przysucha and Gora, and eventually was appointed rabbi of Mszczonów.

He had an original personality that emitted honor and glory. His physical appearance gave him a royal stature. His holiness and abstinence attracted the attention of visitors. His face beamed when he oversaw his “Table (tish). Everyone felt an immense spiritual elation when he delivered words of Torah to his followers and when he recited the hymns in the traditional Warka tunes. His prayer fulfilled the verse “all of my bones shall say.”

He spent most of his years in Warsaw where, like his righteous father, he served the public and succeeded in canceling many evil decrees. He passed away on 4 Kislev, 5638 (10 November 1877) in the health resort of Mirano, Italy. He was buried in Mszczonów and was succeeded by three sons: Rebbe Menachem of Amshinov, Rebbe Yermiyahu of Opole, and Rebbe Yeshayahu of Peshischa.

Rebbe Menachem inherited his father's throne at the age of 18 and led his community for 40 years. He was an excellent activist who, because of his extensive work for the community, sometimes ate his first meal in the late hours of the night. He consoled many troubled souls and anyone who visited him on Shabbat felt like it was a quasi-Eden. Hundreds sat at his holy table and enjoyed the light of his pure words.

When WWI began, he relocated to Warsaw to be close to the seat of government so he could quickly advocate for anyone who requested. The people of Warsaw praised his dedicated efforts to find shelter for homeless people expelled from Warsaw's neighboring towns. He passed away in Kislev 5678 (Decenber 1917) in Warsaw and was succeeded by three sons and a daughter; Rebbe Yosef of Amshinov, Reb Shimon Shalom who passed away in America, and Rebbe Avraham of Radomsk.

Rebbe Yosef of Amshinov (born 5638 (Sept 1877–Sept 1878)) quickly gained fame as one of his generation's greatest men, the most outstanding among Polish Jewry. He continued the Amshinov tradition of activism and loving dedication to the people of Israel. Thousands followed him. In his time, the Amshinov dynasty and traditions were resurrected after they were abandoned by his father.

He frequently visited Zagłębie and Będzin and expanded the ranks of his followers, to the point that they established their own kloyz. There, the sound of Torah was heard because the Amshinov followers were very proud of their learned Rebbes and they too wanted to learn Torah. He passed away in Otwock in Shvat 5696 (February 1936) and was buried in Warsaw in the ohel [crypt] of his righteous father. He was succeeded by righteous sons. His sons-in law included Rebbe Shmuel Shlomo Liner of Radzyn and Rabbi Elimelech Halstock, the ABD of Nasielsk and son of the Rebbe of Ostrowiec. His son, Rebbe Yitzchak Kalish, escaped to Shanghai with his righteous uncle Rebbe Shimon Sholom and he resides in America.

About 30 years ago the Amshinov Rebbe visited Będzin where he had several Hassidim, who established their own kloyzlater. The Rebbe was hosted by Mendel Domb, who was an Aleksander Hassid but treated the Rebbe like he was his Hassid. During his two visits to Będzin Rebbe Yosef of Amshinov was hosted by his relative and Hassid, Bunim Boneheart.

Since 1930 the Amshinov kloyzwas on Małachowska Street (in Liwer's Bet Midrash) after it was transferred from a different street. Chaim Rubin served as its gabbai. Its prayer-leaders were Bunim Boneheart (paternal descendant of Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa), Chana Londner (a great and pleasant prayer-leader) served as prayer leaders. Reb Berrish Yaakobowitz was the Baal keriah. The latter was once an Aleksander Hassid who later joined the Amshinov camp. Other Hassidim also left the Aleksander kloyzafter a rift and transferred to the Amshinov kloyz.

 

8) The Radoshitz [Radoszyce] Kloyz

Radoszyce was a town near ancient Przedbórz that, after thousands of Hassidim began flowing to it, became a center of Hassidism and competed with the stricter and deeper-reaching Kotzk dynasty.

Radoszyce was home to the founder of the dynasty, Rebbe Yissocher Baer Baron, also known as the “Saba Kadisha” who, at first, did not wish to add to what he learned from his masters, who were the Seer of Lublin, Rebbe Yisroel “the Maggid” of Kuzhnitz, Rebbe Mendel of Rimanov and the Ohev Yisroel of Apta. The Saba Kadisha was the successor of popular Hassidism founded by Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, the main focus of which was the deep exploration of Hassidism and its implementation. It did not advocate probing of Hassidic-Kabalistic ideas nor the debating of various misnagdim (oponents). Instead, there was living Hassidic instruction that illuminated one's path in life, his deeds and execution of all Hassidic traits: humility, visiting the Rebbe, love of Israel, enthusiastic prayer, brotherhood, charity, devotion, etc. Love of Israel and the Rebbe were in the center. The Saba preached for visiting the generation's great men because one could reach fulfillment only through him. The Saba saw the pidyon (monetary contribution) to the Rebbe as linking the Hassid to him. Humility was one of Saba's central traits. He emphasized pure and simple faith, as opposed to the Hassidism of probing and understanding. He also was opposed to the delaying of prayer times that was prevalent in Peshischa, Kotzk, Ger and Aleksander. Furthermore, he opposed to the shortening of piyyutim (prayer songs) and to omitting Tachnun. That approach was not because of ignorance, as Kotzk Hassidim disparagingly contended, but because of loyalty to the teachings of his master, the Seer of Lublin. He frequently said that even if a man would reach his peak of fulfillment, he still must travel to the generation's most righteous man because only through him one could reach total fulfillment.


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He also used miracles to bring blessings upon the nation of Israel. Another reason for using miracles was to spread faith in G-d throughout the world. Indeed, the Saba was considered the greatest miracle worker in his generation.

After the Saba passed away in Sivan 5603 (May–June 1843), his son Yisroel Yitzchak Baron succeeded him as Rebbe. Yisroel passed away in Warsaw in Kislev 5618 (November–December 1857) at the age of 48. His son Rebbe Yaakov Dovid succeeded him as the Rebbe of Radoshitz. Rabbi Hillel Finkler, the Saba Kadisha's maternal grandson (son of Rabbi Yitzchak Finkler, son-in-law of “the Holy Saba”) also served as Rebbe of Radoshitz and became a famous miracle worker like his grandfather. Thousands of Hassidim visited him to receive his blessings. He longed for the settlement of Eretz Israel his whole life. Along with his appeal to the masses, Rebbe Hillel was also a great, sharp-minded scholar.

Radoshitz is considered the root of a number of dynasties that sprang from it such as Pinczow, Suchedniów, Sendishow, Strikow, Kaminsk, Sosnowiec, Stropkow and others.

Radoshitz Hassidim established a kloyzes in Będzin and other towns in Zagłębie and they travelled together to their Rebbe. One of the Rebbe's household members served as the Rebbe in Sosnowiec.

 

9) The Pilica [Piltz] Kloyz

Pilica is considered an offshoot of Ger. The town is located between Zawiercie and Wolbrom.

The Rebbe of Aleksander, Rabbi Chanoch HaCohen Levin, served for several years after the Chidushey HaRim passed. After the Aleksander Rebbe passed away in 5630 (between Sept. 1869 and Sept. 1970), some of his followers transferred to Rebbe Pinchas Eliyahu, the Chief Judge of the rabbinical tribunal of Pilica, husband of Rebbe Leib of Ger (the Sfas Emes). Rabbi Pinchas continued the Ger tradition, which advocated sharpness and enthusiasm like Kotzk with added Ger traits. During Rabbi Pinchas' tenure, the lines between Ger and Pilica became blurred. The Hassidim traveled to Ger and to Pilica interchangeably. On Shavuot and High Holy Days in Pilica, one could meet hundreds of wealthy men from Lodz and Pabianice who were considered senior Ger Hassidim. Despite the distance, they travelled to Pilica and brought with them the Ger atmosphere of sharpness and warmth, to the point that the difference was unrecognizable and often it seemed that Ger transferred itself to Pilica.

Indeed, the Pilica dynasty identified with Ger in all matters; the dynasty celebrated the yahrzeits (yearly memorials) of the Ger Rebbes. Familial and martial ties strengthened the bond between the two dynasties. Even in the kloyzes of Ger and Pilica there were no differences; the Ger Hassidim did not refrain from visiting the Pilica kloyzand vice versa.

The Justman rabbinic family of Pilica greatly expanded the number of its Hassidim. The famous musician R' Mendel Fruhmann, cantor in the Pilica Rebbe's court, attracted many Hassidim from afar who came to enjoy his music. During the Yamim Noraim (the “days of awe” between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) he seemed like the High Priest before and after service in the Holy of Holies. He was joined by his son, R' Leibel Fruhmann, who married a woman from Będzin and since then was member and wonderful singer in the Pilica kloyz. He frequently sang wonderful, enchanting tunes which his father composed and everybody was trying to learn them and bring them as a gift to his town and his home. Those tunes were a powerful attracting force and they remained in one's memory.

The Pilica kloyzin Będzin resembled the home of the Rebbe in Pilica because of its pleasant songs. R' Leibish learned the secrets of music from his father and used them to lead prayers magnificently. The podium was his own and he had no competitors.

The kloyzwas located in the new market. Its activists included R' Alter Mitsmacher, R' Kuppel Kopolowitz (also a prayer leader), R' Itche Meir Kurland, R' Fishel Weissbrod, R' Shlomo Rapport, R' Yisroel Reiskind—a well-known scholar, and the joke-teller, R' Hirsh Nathan Vilaga.

Ger Hassidim were occasionally seen in the Pilica kloyz, especially on yahrzeits and various celebrations. They were led by R' Leibel Fruhmann, who was the attractive force with his pleasant voice that made his listeners happy.

 

10) The Suchedniów Kloyz

Rebbe Elimelech Yaakov Yitzchak (“R' Melech”) Rabinowitz of Suchedniów was the son-in-law of Rebbe Hillel, the son of Rebbe Yitzchak, the son-in-law of Saba Kadisha, who married [Rebbe Yitzchak's] daughter Frumt. In his second marriage R' Melech became the son-in-law of Rebbe Eliezer Dovid of Radoshitz, his [former] brother-in-law.

His father, Rebbe Pinchas of Końskie was a grand Rebbe and grandson of the “The holy Jew (“HaYehudi Hakadosh”).

He was educated in the home of his righteous father. In 5667 (between Sept. 1906 and Sept. 1907), he was appointed as the Rabbe of Suchedniów, where he also led a Hassidic court. In WWI, he relocated to Kielce. He passed away on 22 Elul, 5698 (18 September 1938).

Before he passed away, he wept bitterly. When his Hassidim asked him why he was crying, as they took it upon themselves to support his orphans, he replied “I am crying because unprecedented tragedies will befall Israel and much blood will be shed.”

His wife, Rebbtzin Rudel, was killed by the Nazis with all of her children.

The Suchedniów Hassidim in Będzin established their own kloyz. Avraham Goldstein (Gira[?]) served as its gabbai.

 

11) The Pińczów Kloyz

Rabbi Chaim Meir Finkler, the Rebbe of Pińczów, was the son of Rebbe Yitzchak of Radoshitz and grandson of the Saba Kadisha of Radoshitz. He was a genius and a great Torah scholar, who received Hassidic teachings from his uncle, Rebbe Yisroel Yitzchak of Radoshitz, Rebbe Chaim Meir Yechiel “the Seraph” of Mogielnica, and Rebbe Shlomo of Radomsk, whom he considered his primary rabbi.

He fasted often and abstained from worldly pleasures. For forty years, he fasted and spent most of the day praying and studying Torah. His prayers lasted long hours and were accompanied by bows and heartbreaking moans. He would eat a small bowl of porridge and drink a cup of tea, which he drank in one gulp so as to avoid over-enjoyment. It is told that when he drank the tea, one could hear the water rumbling through his empty stomach.

His devotion to Torah study was wonderous. Once, his hat caught fire from a candle and he did not notice.

Because of his strict daily schedule, only high-ranking Hassidim would travel to visit him. The masses did not visit Pińczów.

He authored many books on Halacha and Hassidism. His published works included Imrei Chaim for the month of Adar and Minchat Yehuda on the Torah. All of his books were published anonymously because of his humility.

During WWI he left Pińczów and settled in Kielce. However, he did not last long there and passed away in Shvat of 5679 (January 1919). An ohel was built at his gravesite in Kielce.

He was succeeded by his son Rebbe Eliezer Finkler of Kielce-Sosnowiec.


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Rebbe Eliezer Finkler of Kielce, son of Rebbe Chaim-Meir of Pińczów, was the son-in-law of Rebbe Meir of Stopnica, known as Rebbe Meir of Apta the Second, son of Rebbe Pinchos Meir of Apta author of Or Lashamyim [Light to Heaven].

He was born in 5618 [ca. 1858]. From 5677 [ca. 1917], he served as a Rebbe in Kielce, the last town in which his father served. In his old age he relocated to Sosnowiec where he lived to an advanced age.

Like the other Rebbes of the Radoshitz dynasty, he labored most of the day in Torah study and prayer. He never had a vain conversation. He was soft natured and kindhearted. He disregarded all order and control that was typical in Hassidic courts. There were no scheduled times, neither for “table” (a Hassidic custom of gathering the Hassidim around a table) nor for services. Instead, it was suddenly announced that the Rebbe was holding a “table”. That is interesting because he himself was neat and organized. He gained fame as a miracle worker and many people visited him. He passed away in Sosnowiec on Shvat 10, 5697 [Friday, 22nd January 1937] at a very advanced age.

The kloyz of his followers was on 17 Kollątaja Street, in the same house as the Aleksander Kloyz. The gabbai of the kloyz was Keshishova.

 

12) The Rozprza Kloyz

Rozprza was a continuation of the older Przedborz dynasty. The “progeny” exceeded its “parent,” both in the extent (number of Hassidim) and in the quality of Hassidic ideas.

The founder of the Przedborz dynasty was one of the first in Polish Hassidism, Rebbe Yeshaya son of Meir Weltfreid (Eternal Joy), a descendant of Elyakim Getz, author of Even HaShoham. He was among the wisest men of his generation, a great scholar and a genius among geniuses, earning him the nickname “The Bookcase” from his Rebbe, the Seer of Lublin, who testified that “the light of his Torah shines (on him) from one edge of the world to the other.”

The town of Przedborz, which is located in the Końskie region, near Radoszyce, had an ancient community that was considered a fortress of scholars. It was famous for its ancient wooden synagogue, which, legend says, was constructed by Esterka, the wife of Casimir III the Great. Przedborz earned the description of “miniature Eretz Israel” and was famous for its scholars and speakers.

Rebbe Yeshaya was the study partner of the “Yehudi Hakadosh” (Holy Jew) of Peshischa. At first, he was chosen to serve as the town's rabbi. After the Seer passed away in 5575 (Sept. 1814 to Oct. 1815), he gained the title of the Rebbe of Przedborz where he continued the Hassidic method as he received it from his Rebbe the Seer. Rebbi Meir of Apta called him “the Prophet Isiah.” He excelled in modesty and in escaping fame. He passed away on Elul 4, 5591 (13 Aug. 1831) in Przedborz and an ohel (commemorative structure) was constructed at his gravesite that attracted many visitors,

His only son, Rabbi Emanuel, succeeded him as the rabbi, and after Rebbe Moshe of Lelov made aliyah to Jerusalem, he assumed service as Rebbe. He frequently visited Rebbe Yechezkel of Kuzmir and Rebbe Shlomo of Radomsk. He passed away on Shvat 27, 5628 (20 Feb. 1968) at the age of 63. His ohel is near that of Rebbe Yitzchak Kalish of Warka.

His son, Rebbe Avraham Moshe Weltfreid, succeeded him. Avraham relocated to Rozprza and his court was named after the town. During WWI he relocated to Piotrków and later returned to Przedborz, where he passed away on Elul 22, 5678 (30 Aug. 1918) at the age of 78. He was buried next to the ohel of his great-grandfather. He gained a reputation as being wise and knowledgeable on worldly issues and even Polish nobles visited him often. He was also a music lover and demonstrated his strength in composing tunes and serving as a cantor whose tunes, which included artful tunes, were sung in the courts of other Hassidic masters.

His righteous sons resided in Pabianice and Tomaszow.

He had an audience of followers and admirers in Będzin who sang his tunes happily, to blatantly demonstrate their Rebbe's musical strength. The advocate of the kloyz in Będzin was Yeshaya Weinstock. The kloyz's cantors were Chaim Struchlitz [?] and Yosef Epstein, who was a grandson of the Rebbes of Rozprza and Neishtat. Members of the Będzin community who reside in Jerusalem and in other towns sing their Rebbe of Rozprza's songs at celebrations, Shabbat and holy days, and between songs they praise their Rebbe as a possessor of great traits.

 

13) The Chentshin [Chęciny] Kloyz

The town of Chęciny is located next to the county seat of Kielce. Its Jewish fame began since the founding of a Hassidic dynasty by Chaim Shmuel Horowitz, a grandson of the Seer of Lublin, a dynasty that survived until the Holocaust. His father was Rebbe Eliezer son of Rebbe Mordechai Zev son of Rebbe Zvi – the second son of the Seer of Lublin, son-in-law of the Rebbe Yosef Baruch Der Gutter Yid [“the Good Jew”] of Neishtat, a miracle-working righteous man, son of Rebbe Kalonymos of Krakow, author of Maor Veshemesh [“Light and Sun”]. The Seer was, famously, the greatest and most sanctified figure of Polish Hassidism.

The Rebbe built a large compound in Chęciny, which housed a nice apartment, a synagogue, a mikveh, and a designated building for the sukkah where he secluded himself year-round. He did not strive for masses of followers. His wish was to surround himself with a select group of Hassidim. He demanded from himself and others a quality Hassidism and he believed in his great powers, powers of a leader of intellectuals. He reached out to spiritually wealthy men of strong character who were well versed in all prongs of Torah. He did not reach out to mediocre people. He became famous as a miracle worker and pained and broken Jews, afflicted with suffering and wounded by life, came from afar and waited many days to meet him. He did not quickly respond to his seekers because he was immersed in the study of Torah. He met with followers after midnight. When individuals and communities were under pressure, he became a rebbe for the masses.

 

A.

R' Chaim Shmuel of Chęciny, a town with an ancient castle, was a great scholar with a sharp mind, who dwelled day and night in the depths of Halacha; he gained the reputation as great Torah scholar among the rabbis. Every year he would complete the study of the entire Babylonian Talmud and the four volumes of Shulchan Aruch [Editor's Note: The Book of Concise Jewish Law]. He also studied books on Kabbalah and Hassidism. He inherited from his grandfather the trait of loving the people of Israel and Eretz Israel and expecting the Redemption. He was an avid song lover and his sons and his followers inherited that love and sang much at every celebration.

Joy was one of the central tenets of the Chęciny Hassidic philosophy. The Rebbe did not accept sad Hassidism. Love for friends, spiritual and material charity, love for mankind were thought of as a direct continuation of love for God. Scholarliness and physical needs were bonded together. Services were late in Chęciny and when prayers commenced, they were fiery. Song was valued very highly at the “Table,” and enthusiastic singing sprang from the mouths of the Hassidim, singing that purified one's body and soul.

On the outside, Chęciny was not better-looking than other towns in Poland, but after entering the town limits, one would immediately feel a unique spiritual elation. Since its rabbi dwelled in the town, the town strongly influenced the spiritual state of its residents and guests. The guests felt it all; Chęciny's song and dance became famous. When the Rebbe travelled to


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visit his followers, he brought happiness with him along with its values, to the point that material world expanded (and merged with the soul).

R' Chaim Shmuel inherited imagination from his grandfather, the Seer, and was a unique figure in the Hassidic world. He was the first among Polish rebbes to approve the kashrut of Carmel wine from Eretz Israel, or as it was called “Zionist wine,” which Hassidim and leaders of other factions viewed as suspicious. Nobody dared openly dispute him because they feared him.

On weekdays the town bustled with visitors who came to seek the Rebbe's advice and simple Hassidic Jews who came to enjoy his holiness. The town bustled even more on the eves of Shabbat and holy days. The holiness of Shabbat and festivals left an immense spiritual impression on the town's residents and its guests, who felt an indescribable sense of holiness.

During WWI the Russians compelled Chęciny's Jews to leave the town. The Rebbe relocated to Kielce, where he passed away on Tevet 18, 5676 (25 Dec. 1915). He was succeeded by his son Rebbe Yehoshua Heshel Horowitz of Olkusz.

The Chęciny Rebbe had many kloyzes in Poland. He had many followers in Zagłębie, especially in Będzin. The Rebbe would not allow the Hassidim to establish their own kloyz as long as they could find shelter in other kloyzes. Later, a Chęciny Hassid in Będzin could not control himself and founded the kloyz. Once the kloyz was founded it was home to many Hassidim.

The Rebbe of Chęciny occasionally visited Będzin and other towns in Zagłębie. In Będzin he was hosted by his follower Lipa Kanal. His son Yehoshua Heshel was also hosted there during his visits.

 

B.

R' Lipa Kanal led the camp of Chęciny Hassidim in Będzin. He was grandson of Rebbe Meir of Apta, author of Or Lashamyim [Light to Heaven]. He was born in Szczekociny and moved to Będzin after the wealthy Hassid Hillel Fechter took him as groom for his daughter. The first Chęciny kloyz was located on the Bet Midrash street (Zamkowa) and in 5693 [1933] it was transfred to 37 Modrzejówska Street. Dovid Turner, Aharon Yehoshua Bronner and Yosef Baruch Lichtig hleped Lipa Kanal in founding the kloyz. The group of veteran Chęciny Hassidim in Będzin included Yeshaya Rotter, Wolf Hirsh Mintsmacher, the gabbai Mendel Speiser, Moshe Spiegel, Yaakov Spiegler, Mordechai Dovid Gruchovina, Avraham Shaffir (Beisichener) and Hershel Zuckerman, who used to bring ice cream during the summer and give candies to children on Shabbat. In addition, there were 5-6 minyanim of young men. During the “golden age” of the Chęciny Hassidim there were two more kloyzes in town. The grandson of the elder Rebbe Yaakov Yitzchak Shapira HY”D also hosted a minyan routinely and in order to strengthen him, he was occasionally joined by Chęciny Hassidim, including Chaim Itshe Kanal, who also served as his Yom Kippur cantor. The latter always traveled for the other holidays to the Chęciny Rebbe who resided in the last years in Olkusz, where he always led services. When the number of Chęciny Hassidim visiting their Rebbe in Olkusz increased, a small minyan remained in Będzin for Shavuot and Rosh Hashanah. Every Hassid wanted to be with his Rebbe in Olkusz during those holidays.

The Rebbe actively ensured that his Hassidim in Będzin would not be deprived of a cantor during the holidays. Yosef Baruch Kanal, who now resides in Ramat Gan, says that one time they were joined by his uncle Hershel Minzberg from Lodz, a wonderful cantor and singer. The usual Musaf service leader, Yeshaya Rotter (tombstone engraver), seized the opportunity and traveled to Olkusz. When he went to greet the Rebbe, he commanded him to immediately return to Będzin to lead Musaf.

On holiday eves, Olkusz bustled with life and movement. The musicians among the crowd, especially the young ones, began learning new tunes, especially from the sons of Yekkel Sofer (Pardes) who came from Lodz. They brought new songs with them to every holy day, mostly Modzitz tunes and some Aleksander. Thus, they returned home after every holyday with new tunes, in addition to the Hassidic-spiritual assets. They sang those songs until the next holyday, especially the younger men who were ashamed of singing old tunes that were not yet over a year old.

The celebration of the yahrzeit of the founding Rebbe of Chęciny on Tevet 18 left a special impression. The Hassidim sat for many hours and listened to the elder Hassidim tell wonderful stories and sing wonderful songs of Chęciny until the train departed to Kielce, the burial place or Rebbe Chaim Shmuel and many traveled to perform a ceremony of lying on his grave.

The founding Rebbe once visited Będzin to celebrate the completion of the scribing of a Torah scroll initiated by Mordechai Dovid Gruchovina and he stayed in his house. Joy in the Hassidic strongholds was great. It was after the passing of the town's rabbi, Rabbi Hirsh Heinich Levin. As usual, there was a dispute between Ger Hassidim with Agudath Israel and Aleksander Hassidim with Mizrachi. Both sides proposed rabbinic candidates. Activists from both sides attempted to persuade the Rebbe of Chęciny to support them. The Rebbe replied to both sides by saying, “I knew “good Jews” who achieved what they wanted through prayer and by the table without politics.” By that he prevented the Chęciny Hassidim from taking stances on all sorts of disputes.

The Rebbe of Olkusz was very rigorous in his observance of Etrog and said it was a unique mitzvah. The Rebbe said that the word Etrog is an acronym for Emunah [faith] Teshuva [repentance] Refuah shelema [healing] and Geulah [redemption]. God Willing, may it be so.

Almost every Chęciny Hassid was musically inclined and knew how to lead services and sing marches and lead dances full of rhythm and pleasantness. Leibush Sushek had priority on leading services on Shabbat and holy days but he did not insist on it, so every Hassid could enjoy it as a right.

The elder Rebbe traveled almost every year to the springs in Marienbad, Austria. Before he crossed the German border the Rebbe stayed with us (my father and my grandfather were among the Chęciny Hassidim who were the closest to him). The Rebbe's sons who fraternized with my father, Rabbi Elizer Brukner (passed away in Jerusalem in 5693 (1933), occasionally stayed in our house in Modrzejów, which was to the right of the Austrian border near the bridge over the Przemsza River, which served as a water border between Russia and Germany on one side and Russia and Austria on the other.

The occupying Nazi forces entered Będzin on the fourth day of the war and all of the kloyzes ceased to exist. However, the Hassidim of Będzin met in private homes until the final destruction of the Jewish community of Będzin on Tamuz 29, 5703 (1st August 1943).


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C.

Lipa Kanal, the leader of Chęciny Hassidim and the founder of the first kloyz in Będzin, was buried in the Będzin cemetery. He passed away in the Ghetto on 27 Cheshvan, 5702, (17 November 1942) struck by grief and poverty after the Nazis captured his young son-in-law, Avraham Yaakov Meisels, for a forced labor camp, leaving behind a wife and three small children, the oldest of whom was a four-year-old who asked his grandfather “Why did the evil men take my father?”

The pain and suffering that Będzin experienced did not, of course, bypass the Chęciny Hassidim. I should mention the gathering of Chęciny Hassidim after the Nazis stopped Jews on the streets and shaved their beards. Ashamed, the shaven religious men, including the gabbai Mendel Speiser, Chaim Itshe Kanal, Avraham Spiegel, Yeshaya Rotter and others, covered their face with kerchiefs. All of them, who were mostly elderly men, looked at one another's shaven face until Mendel Speiser could not hold back tears. Then Wolf Hirsh Mintsmacher the optimist, also shaven, entered and began shouting “Why are you crying? In an hour or two the Red redeemer (the Soviets) will arrive and we must drink L'chaim already.” And this is how the optimists debated the pessimists until the bitter and cruel end…

*

Rebbe Yehoshua Heshel Horowitz of Chęciny-Olkusz was also displaced when the Nazis arrived. Until then, the Hassidim of Zagłębie gathered around him and awaited his words. Chęciny Hassidim who reside in Israel talk about him to this day with deep and total admiration. They tell stories about him that prove that the Rebbe predicted many events and made rescue efforts to the best of his view of the situation. A few days before the War erupted, the Jews of Będzin began running to places farther away than the German border. Chaim Itshe Kanal did nothing without asking the Rebbe first. He travelled to the Rebbe in Olkusz to seek his advice once more. The Rebbe replied in no uncertain terms to stay put. He also instructed to tell friends and persuade them to stay in Będzin and God will have mercy. It turned out that the Rebbe was right.

It is hard to describe the suffering of those who ran from Będzin as they lost lives and property, and suffered bombings, shooting at Jews, and much more. After a week or two, those who survived began returning to their places on foot because Jews were barred from travelling by car and train. The Hassidim who returned through Olkusz came, of course, to the Rebbe. One morning, the Rebbe came out of his room and ordered, “You all have to stay in Olkusz today and not return to Będzin, Sosnowiec, etcetera.” Nobody knew the reason for that. The next day they learned that that day, during certain hours, the Germans shot all the Jews who crossed the bridge in Sławków and threw them into the river. After that period, the rebbe stopped giving advice and answering questions, saying that Hastarat Panim [“face hiding,” meaning that G_d was very angry (Deuteronomy 31:17)] was immense so he could not give answers.

In the summer of 5702 (1942) all Jews in Olkusz, including the Rebbe's family, were deported. The Rebbe alone was extracted by the well-known Judenrat leader Moniek Merin. The Rebbe was driven in a Gestapo car to his son-in-law Yehoshua Dayan in the Sosnowiec Ghetto.

Yosef Kanal says that on the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5703 (September 1943), about 30 minutes before candle-lighting time, he witnessed Merin come to the Rebbe to ask for a blessing for the new year. All of those in attendance in the Rebbe's apartment jumped out of their seats because the all-powerful “king” was in their presence and he could decide who can stay in the ghetto and who is deported to Auschwitz. Rabbi Yehoshua the dayan, the Rebbe's son-in-law, brought him a chair. Another brought refreshments. But when the Rebbe saw him entering, he arose and said, ”nu, nu, light the candles.” The Rebbe did not want to sit with him even for a moment – although Merin himself rescued him from Olkusz and brought him to Sosnowiec – because “it is forbidden to gaze upon the face of a wicked man.”

A descendant of the Chęciny Dynasty lives in Israel. Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira, maternal grandson of the Chęciny Rebbe, filled important roles in building the Country and his three sons played significant roles in the religious youth movement. Additionally, his grandson, the Rebbe of Ozharov serves as a rebbe in Tel Aviv and is known for authoring “Eish Dos,” [The Fire of Faith] and his granddaughter's husband (son of the Rebbe of Grochów) built a magnificent farm in Motza near Jerusalem. Chęciny Hassidim gather occasionally in Tel Aviv on the elder Rebbe's yahrzeit or on other occasions and they always discuss the practical sides of strengthening the Chęciny dynasty in Israel.

 

14) The Sokołów Kloyz

Two varieties of Judaism, Polish and Lithuanian, blended and left their mixed mark on the intersectional town of Sokołów near Siedlce. Sokołów was not a new dynasty but a branch of Kotzk with some modifications. It was led by Rabbi Yitzchak Zelig Morgenstern, who was born in Kock in 5624 (between August 1863 and September 1864) to his father Rebbe Chaim Yisroel of Pilov five years after the passing of his grandfather, Rebbe Mendel of Kotzk. He was appointed as the town rabbi of Sokołów in 5654 (September 1893 to September 1994). After his father passed away in 5665 (September 1904 to September 1905) many of his father's followers crowned him as a Rebbe, bonded to him lovingly and visited his home often.

His father, Rabbi Chaim Yisroel, son of Rebbe Dovid and grandson of Rebbe Mendel of Kotzk was known for an ambitious wide-scale plan: mass Aliyah of religious Jews, “in the hundreds of thousands,” (as he wrote in his letter to Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Alter, the Ger Rebbe and author of Sfas Emes) [Language of Truth]. The olim would not depend upon kollels' funds but would buy land and produce food by their toil through agriculture and various other industries. He fleshed out his plan in detail from both a Halachic and a practical perspective and approached its implementation. He published his plan in the book Shlom Yerushalyim. [Peace on Jerusalem]. He did not just talk but also did; he raised substantial sums from candidates of Aliyah and from various rich donors. The funds were purposed for buying land, purchasing houses, and preparing agricultural equipment. He invested a lot of work in his plan but many obstacles blocked his path. Firstly, many rabbis and Rebbes were indifferent or objected to the plan, which was a novel concept. It seemed infeasible and many doubted that it was desired from a religious perspective. Secondly, it was difficult to raise such vast sums. Even the most generous donors did not give donations of that size. When he encountered resistance from religious figures, he went over their head to the people. But the funds he raised were not enough to purchase land and build houses.

Then the Rebbe of Pilov initiated the idea of sharing his plan with the well-known donor from Paris Baron Edmond de Rothschild. He sent the funds he had to Rothschild and requested that he add the funds needed to implement the plan. However, at the time, the Baron was immersed in disputes with the settlers in his colonies,


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and also, the Baron's advisers, French assimilators, who did not have much sympathy for religious Jews warned him to not become entangled in that matter. The Baron heeded their warning and returned the money to the Rebbe, refusing to handle the matter. Without alternative, the Rebbe returned the money to the donors and Aliyah candidates.

Later, a similar plan was initiated by Yitzchok Gerstenkorn, a Skierniewice Hassid. After immeasurably hard work and exertion, the city of Bnei Brak was founded. The only consolation to the Rebbe of Pilov was that some of his Hassidim made Aliyah.

After he passed away (5665, 1905) he was succeeded by his son, Rebbe Moshe, who remained in his father's court while his brother R' Zvi Hirsh became the Rebbe of £uków. The third brother, R' Yosef, served as a Rebbe only after his brother Rebbe Moshe passed away and he succeeded him as the Rebbe of Kotzk. Thus, the Kotzk dynasty continued to exist as did its kloyzes.

Rebbe Yitzchak Zelig, the Rebbe of Sokołów, was a unique personality and had contradictory character traits. The contradiction was rooted in ancestral heritage; he was like his father but also different, or he was different because he was similar. Like his grandfather of Kotzk, the grandson did not walk a straight path nor did he walk in his grandfather's path.

The Rebbe of Sokołów was a great scholar and exerted unparalleled diligence. He was well-versed in all of Torah, Oral or Written, including Tanakh, a field that was neglected in the Hassidic world. He devoted his night to studying Torah and writing his insights on it. His discussions of Torah at his table on Shabbat and holy days lasted for many hours, sometimes until dawn. He was also a great teacher; he shaped his students as a Rosh yeshiva, lecturer, leader in Agudath Israel, and as a writer. His unique style of Hassidic leadership attracted scholarly, wise Hassidim who stuck with him with unlimited faith. He expressed everything emotionally with lightning and thunder. Nothing was cold or dry with him.

He visited Eretz Israel in 5684, a visit that made a very big, deep impression. When he returned, he stayed in Warsaw in a follower's home, and a large crowd gathered in the large courtyard to see him. When the Rebbe heard the noise, he opened the window and very enthusiastically called the to the crowd, “Jews, make Aliyah, for the Land is very good!”

He passed away in Otwock on Cheshvan 3, 5700 (16th October 1939) and was buried in the cemetery in Poland's capital near the grave of Rebbe Avraham Mordechai Alter, son of Chidushey HaRim and father of the author of Sfas Emes.

The Rebbe visited Będzin As am activist for Agudah where he stayed in the home of Chaim Dovid Henker [?], a working Sokołów Hassid whose sons were known as grand scholars.

Dovid Prawer was the leader of the Sokołów kloyz in Będzin and its most energetic activist.

 

15) The Wolborsz Kloyz

The founder of the Wolborsz dynasty was Rebbe Berrish Turnheim, a tzaddik of the older generation. He was born in Piotrków in 5563 (between Sept 1802 and Sept 1803). He began as the “assistant” to the Seraph of Mogielnica and after his passing was in the company of Rebbe Eliezer, son-in-law of the Maggid of Kuzhnitz. He was humble and evaded fame. The town of Wolborsz, located about 14 km from Piotrków, was once a priests' estate where Jews were not allowed to reside. It is told that 160 years ago, the Yid Hakadosh exiled himself and Rebbe Dovid of Lelov, his travel mate, arrived in Piotrków and did not find a single Jew there. The Yid Hakadosh ordered Jews to settle the town and ignore governmental impositions, because “from there a big light will emanate and illuminate the world.” That light was the light of Rebbe Berrish. Rebbe Berrish developed the local Jewish community, and was the founder and treasurer of the local Hevra Kadisha and Bikur Cholim. He was selected to serve at the town's rabbi at the age of 59 and became a permanent resident of Wolborsz. Hassidim and admirers began arriving from all over the country and he became the Rebbe. He was renowned as a great miracle worker. He fasted from Shabbat to Shabbat and ate only a small amount of fruit. He made Kiddush with a cup carved out of Eretz Israel stone, which he encased in silver during Kiddush, accompanied by his words, “today we crown Eretz Israel.” He was credited with creating the [Hebrew and] Polish proverb “za [a] Kiddush – ta [this] chidush [renewal], za Havdalah – wielki [great] mapala [downfall].”

He would greet his Hassidim only after midnight after he had completed Tikkun Chatzot in the attic above his synagogue where the Rebbe usually secluded himself. He passed away on Cheshvan 2, 5638 (Oct. 19 1877) at the age of 75. He was buried next to his parents in Piotrków, in accordance with his will. He authored a book named Avodat Yissachar [The Work of Yissachar], which was published by his grandson, Chaim Barcuch Dambinski, the Rebbe of Tuszyn], in 5672 (between Sept. 1911 and Sept. 1912).

He was succeeded by his firstborn son, Rebbe Yaakov Moshe Turnheim, who was very righteous and followed in the footsteps of his father. He kept songbirds in his home and the Hassidim said that more than once they influenced the Rebbe's worship. He greeted his followers, who gathered in droves in front of his door to receive his blessing to the sound of the birds.

He passed away on Kislev 14, 5678 (29 November 1917) at the age of 89. He was succeeded by his son Eliezer Meir (passed away in Zduńska Wola, Adar 5689 (February 1929)). And his second son Zemach was a rabbi in Belchatow.

The Wolborsz Kloyz in Będzin was in the home of Reuven Liwer on Zamkowa Street, a building that had existed for 100 years. Not many prayed there. Its advocates included Berrish Turnheim, among the Wolborsz Rebbe's grandsons, who was a merchant, Shmuel Aharon Sushek and his brothers Leibish and Zissman. One of them, who worked in casting copper, married into the Rebbe's family. Zissman Sushek's daughter married Chaim Yechiel, the Rebbe's son, but the marriage was unsuccessful and the Rebbe's son emigrated to Ameirca after the divorce. The Wolborsz Hassidim of Będzin were active in town life and most were middle class craftsmen and merchants. Leibish Sushek was appointed cantor of the kloyz.

 

16) The Kotzk Kloyz

The Kotzk kloyz in Będzin existed since Rebbe Mendel's time (5548–5619, Sept 1747–Jan1859). Mendel founded the dynasty and his whole life was a continuous rebellion against agreed-upon routines, fixed habits, regularity and customs. His followers in Będzin also strove to walk in their Rebbe's path. His thoughts were echoed in the kloyz in Będzin also, and the atmosphere was still one of mystery, of secrets within secrets and hints of bold, deeply piercing combinations of ideas.

The Rebbe of Kotzk was like a firestorm. He quaked worlds so our world would not be calmly frozen and he stirred spirits so they would not be frozen in routine. His teachings were not intended to shine although they were like wonderful lightening. His speeches burned with passion not intended to illuminate but to ignite. He did not


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fully complete his thoughts and instead he left room for thought to the listener. Through that he encouraged deep exploration, towards forming an independent opinion. His refined opinion was an energizing, stimulating, fruitful force that awakened a tremendous fear of God, performed out of knowledge of the consistent truth that one must constantly struggle because truth is not something that is easily attained. One must search for and fight to maintain and guard the truth.

He was a fighter by nature and fought even with himself. He was a rebel, a natural revolutionary who could not and would not be content with his surroundings, his world, or himself. He refined his soul and left a deep impression on the souls of those around him. His tools were a bow and arrow. His words were smoldering coals whose fire was never extinguished. His teachings cut like a scalpel on live meat and penetrated one's soul.

Rebbe Mendel was a deep digger. And whereas before his time Hassidism penetrated hearts, he targeted minds. While Hassidism was originally a people's movement that contributed to Jewish life many shades and a philosophy of optimism and happiness, song and dance, Rebbe Mendel strove for the perfection of a small group of elite men. “Give me 200 Jews who did not bow to Ba'al, who will climb to the rooftops and cry, 'God is Lord,'” he said.

Rebbe Mendel occupied a special place within Polish Hassidism. He dismissed the comforts of this world. He did not place much faith in the collective and always searched for elevated individuality. His mind raced back and forth and he was always immersed deep in thought, in the abstraction of the soul from matter, full of contradictions and doubts. He was not a rabbi for the masses because he could not tolerate communal life. He turned away all beggars and note writers and those searching for good-luck charms; he was looking for the selected few, who were brave and patient. He searched for fragmented people searching for completion. He objected to men who lacked spirit, the weak men who waited for miracles and lived on others' leftovers. He hated the easy path paved before him and the masses that chased him. He intentionally searched for the hard, thorny path. And like Diogenes before him, he looked for the lone fighter. In the end he remained almost alone, as he withdrew from the world and secluded himself in his room until his passing on Shvat 22, 5619 (27 January 1859).

Until the Holocaust, the kloyz in Będzin bustled with Hassidim who were scholars, deep thinkers who toiled over Talmud and Halacha day and night, probed Rebbe Mendel's teachings and absorbed his words. He left much food for thought; lone sayings, abridged speeches, and proverbs.

In Będzin too there were Kotzk Hassidim who eagerly listened to the words of the senior Hassidim and were enchanted by their wonderful stories, and they absorbed the teachings of Rebbe Mendel.

The Kotzk saga did not end with Rebbe Mendel's life; it continued with various dynasties including Ger, Aleksander and more. Rabbi Dovid Morgenstern, Mendel's son, succeeded his father and the Hassidim who tended to stay put remained with him. His descendants were Rebbes in Pulawy, Lukow, Grabów, Sokolow, £omazy, and Warsaw. Among them excelled Rebbe Chaim-Yisroel of Kotzk and Pulawy, Rebbe Mendel's grandson who authored Shlome Yerushalyim, a work which bears importance to the Zionist idea (died in 5666, ca. 1906).

The Kotzk kloyz in Będzin began with a limited minyan. The kloyz was among the first in Będzin at a time when there were few kloyzes. Senior Hassidim included Meir Berrish Saperstein and Berrish Alderfligel who had traveled to Rebbe Mendel of Kotzk. Its activists included Hendel Shapira and Binyamin Yitzchak Shapira who were great scholars, among the first educated Zionists in Będzin who had traveled to Rebbe Dovid of Kotzk. Also, R' Isser Hirschson, R' Yaakov Zissmman Londner, R' Zissman Siegreich, R' Nutta Rosenzweig, R' Nosson Goldbosel, R' Yehoshua Leib Weingart (town leader) who had travelled to Rebbe Dovid, his son R' Eli Meir Weingart, R' Feivish Yekner, and R' Leibish Levkowitz. R' Leibel Tauman, R' Avraham Schneor, and R' Yitzchak Kleiner were the prayer leaders and their simplicity made for a pleasant prayer. R' Mendel Moletz led Musaf services in the Kloyz and R' Michael Shapira led Shacharit. Services in the Kloyz began late and the Kotzk Hassidim continued praying even after all of the other Hassidim had completed their Shabbat meal.

Each generation had its Hassidim. The Hassidism changed with every generation of the Kotzk dynasty. Generations came and went and the Kotzk dynasty continued, with a changed rhythm. After the turmoil of Rebbe Mendel, the calm of his son Dovid arrived. Rebbe Dovid was succeeded by his son, Rebbe Chaim Yisroel of Pulawy.

The last location of the Kotzk Kloyz was on Jatka Street. It is unknown how many Hassidim it numbered in previous generations. In its last days it numbered around 30 people. In Będzin too, one could find in the Kloyz quality people, noble men of Torah who were always hunched over Talmud volumes studying them with love and warmth; they were very powerful within the Torah and Fear controversy between Hassidim and “Mitnagdim” [opponents to Hassidism].

 

17) The Kuzmir [Kazimierz Dolny] Kloyz

The town of Kazimierz Dolny was located on the banks of the Vistula. It was the historical vacation town of King Casimir the Great and his Jewish wife, Esther. It first became known in Hassidism as the town of Rebbe Yechezkel Taub (who passed away Tevet 5615 (January 1855)), author of Nechmad Mizahav, a pupil of the Seer of Lublin, who dubbed him “the Tall Plonskite” because he was tall and elevated above all. Various Hassidic dynasties sprang from him, including Zwolen, Jabłonna, Neishtat and Modzitz, which excelled in its music. I have devoted one of my books to that dynasty entitled “Song and Hassidism in the Kuzmir Dynasty and its Offshoots” (Jerusalem, 5712, (1952) 284 pages)

Later, nother righteous man settled in Kazimierz, Rebbe Mordechai'le Twersky of the Chernobyl dynasty, author of Ma'amar Mordechai, son of Rabbi Avraham the Maggid of Trisk (who passed away 2 Tamuz, 5649, 1st July, 1889) author of Magen Avraham and he too was named for that town. He was very popular in his time and managed to acquire a large following and was active in visiting all of his followers' towns. He was known as a lover of travel.

He was musically gifted. He had a pleasant voice, and even when he prayed alone his prayer was loud and musical.

Rebbe Mordechai of Kuzmir and his father, the Maggid of Trisk, were world famous for their use of Gematria and acronyms, which are of 32 Rules of interpreting the Torah. All of their teachings and books are based on those 2 rules. After the Maggid of Trisk passed away, many followers passed on to his son and many learned from him the Hassidic path and method of study.

Rebbe Mordechai'le could not, at first, find a footing in his role as a Rebbe


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and for a long while he wandered without finding a place where he could reside permanently. He was hated and persecuted: he first served as a Rebbe in Wlodawka but the Russian authorities expelled him. He then settled in Galician Dubrovytsya, where he suffered from “competitors'” informants, who said he was a Russian national radicalizing the Jewish masses and the Austrian authorities deported him from there too. Once more he resettled, this time in Chelm, and again he was persecuted. He relocated to Lublin and then to Kazimierz Dolny, where he found many followers and could reside peacefully.

Rebbe Mordechai deeply valued Będzin, in particular thanks to his devoted follower and confidant, R' Shaul Meitlis of Będzin, who was a commercial agent in the Russian customs office in Modrzejów on the border between Russian Poland and Germany (Myslowice) and Austria (Jaworzno). Rebbe Shaul helped his master add to the ranks of his followers in Będzin and the region and accompanied him in his travels through the towns of Zagłębie and helped him a lot. The Rebbe found an enthusiastic friend who helped his master a lot because of his wealth.

When WWI began the Rebbe had to leave Kazimierz and relocate to Kielce, which during the war served as a town of refuge for rabbis from the provincial towns. He passed away in Kilece on Tamuz 5, 5677 (25 June, 1917) during prayer and while wearing his tallit and tefillin. He was over the age of 70 and childless.

The Rebbe occasionally visited Będzin where he stayed with his Hassid Shaul Meitlis. When the number of his Hassidim in Będzin grew, they founded their own kloyz, which was in the fish market in the Lederman home. From there it transferred to Moshe Elazar Altman's home and its latest location was on Modrzejowska Street.

 

18) The Zhurik Kloyz

The small town of Zhurik, which did not have transportation and good roads like other towns that were on the main road, and was far from a train station had its own Rebbe, unlike other, bigger towns. It was not simple to get a Rebbe.

Rebbe Dovid Aharon Twersky, one of three sons of Rebbe Yaakov Leib of Trisk (son of Avraham the Maggid of Trisk), was a descendant of the holy family of the Chernobyl dynasty. He resided in Zhurik and his Hassidim travelled from afar to enjoy his teachings and the light of his wisdom. He was famous as a miracle worker and many visited him to be blessed and be redeemed.

The decision to settle in Zhurik came after a quarrel between him and the Rebbe of Kromołów. They both wanted to settle in and serve as Rebbes in Zawiercie and both resided there for that purpose for some time. Eventually, Rebbe Nosson Nachum (grandson of the Tiferes Shlomo of Radomsk) relocated to the nearby Kromołów and Rebbe Dovid Aharon was accepted as the rabbi of Zhurik. That was in 1906. After that he began serving as a Rebbe. He acquired an audience of Hassidim and led prayers himself. He led all prayers from start to finish. On Yom Kippur he did not move from the podium from Shacharit to Neilah. After Kol Nidrei, the Hassidim danced enthusiastically and he participated. The Rebbe's pleasant voice was captivating. His reach was deeply spread throughout various towns and he had enclaves throughout the Zagłębie region to Częstochowa. He knew the secret of attracting Hassidim, who felt well in his presence.

The kloyz in Będzin was in Dovid Schweitzer's home in the new market and from there it was transferred to the home of Itshe Rosdesiol on Zawale Street. Meir Berry, Yeshaya Elbaum, Yechiel Wroclawski, Yaakov Wroclawski, Hirsh Ber Melnik, R' Elozer Leib Melnik and R' Chaim Chamchinski were active in the Kloyz. Prayer leaders included Elbaum, Nechemia Lostgarten, Moshe Rosenberg, Yisroel Strasberg, Zerach Tebtshikevits and Eli Skotsiels.

The Rebbe occasionally visited his Hassidim in Będzin and managed with his words to instill in their hearts a spirit of faith despite the harsh conditions under which Polish Jews lived. He stayed in the home of Eli Skotsiliers and there was happiness in his dwellings.

 

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