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[Page 512]

My grandfather's home

by Abram Tenenbaum

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

My father and teacher Reb Szymon Tenenbaum z”l was born in Dąbrowa in 1882 to parents Reb Symcha Binem and Frajdl Tenenbaum z”l. My father was the eldest son of the family and after him my grandfather had another four sons and two daughters.

Grandfather was pious and learned. He liked the reading of the Gmara and perusing through the holy books. He was a cantor with a pleasant voice. He would receive the musaf [additional prayer] during the yamim nora'im [days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur]. He made a living from trading coal. Grandmother Frajdl ran a private school for girls in her home. This wasn't a modern school in today's terms, rather it was several groups of girls who for some reason did not fit in the general schools. The pupils were mainly poor or middle class, who learnt elementary general knowledge from Frajdl Tenenbaum, and in particular to read and write Yiddish and Hebrew. The school fees didn't cause a particular problem, since everyone paid according to his ability and one could imagine that the income from the lessons was very minor. She did this more as a mitzvah than to make an income. The children grew up in Grandfather's house, and over time each began going on his separate way. The sons Szlomo and Mosze Jakob traveled to America, close to the outbreak of the First World War, whilst Grandfather was not pleased with their decision to travel. However, he agreed regarding his son Szlomo, who through his rebellious behavior, did something that was not done at the time in a orthodox home: He exchanged the typical Jewish cap for a brimmed hat and wore a modern suit, and in a religious home like that of Grandfather this was a total revolution. I remember how Grandfather once came to our home weeping profusely, and could not calm down because of the evil deed and about the unfortunate news that his son Szlomo, as it were, had taken on bad ways, wearing a goy's [gentile] clothes. Grandfather was angry for a long time over Szlomo and for some time he came to live in our home. Grandfather didn't want to say goodbye to him before his journey until he promised to be observant and to put on tefillin [phylacteries] in America.

The fourth son Nathan was traditional and a gentle soul, an industrious trader and ran a store in Sosnowiec. He was married there and raised of family with eight children. All of them were killed in the Holocaust, apart from one daughter who survived and is situated in Israel.

The youngest son Eliezer, was a person with a modern outlook, dressed according to the latest fashion: A cane with a silver knob, he had an aristocratic air: He was a qualified accountant and managed the dealings of the Strzegowski factories. During a later period, in about 1920, Eliezer founded the Ludowy Bank in Dąbrowa and was its manager. Later on, he married the daughter of Dawid Zigrajch, an industrialist and owner of businesses, and he left the bank and managed the businesses of his father-in-law.

He was an ardent Zionist, amongst the leaders of the Zionist Histadrut there and in Dąbrowa and outside of it. He had an exceptional temperament and would actively participate in Zionist conventions and conferences. He was amongst the generous donors and fund-raisers for the needs of the land of Israel. He held the subject of Zionism loftily.

He is attributed with a special technique of participating in anti-Zionist meetings and lectures of the Bund and the Jewish communists. There he would carry out stormy arguments, which sometimes ended with blows, but a person like Eliezer would not hesitate and be frightened of entering the lions' den. On his business card he had printed “I will not be silent for Zion” and indeed he carried this out in practice.

dab512.jpg [14 KB] - Reb Szymon Tenenbaum
Reb Szymon Tenenbaum

It is a shame that he didn't manage to go and live in Israel that he so dearly loved and fought for.

The oldest daughter, Rachela, married a businessman, Berl Piotrowski from the town of Kielce.

The youngest daughter, Sima, a Zionist from her early youth, was active in Dąbrowa in the Hebrew culture projects and in the Zionist movement.

[Page 513]

She was a poetic soul and apart from Hebrew music also loved classic Polish music. She made aliyah in 1934.

My father and teacher Reb Szymon z”l was born on the 18th of Cheshvan [31st of October] 1882 and died on the 10th of Sivan [16th of June] 1940.

He was blessed with personal charm, a power of attraction and persuasion and captivated everyone that he spoke with. He had the high forehead of a scholar, good looking and handsome, with eyes that showed mirth, tenderness and kindness. His beard was neatly combed and he was exceptionally meticulously dressed. At that time in the towns in Poland it was rare that a Jew of stature in education and righteousness like my father z”l, would maintain a pleasant and aesthetic appearance in his clothing. He exposed himself to gossip and lashon hara [slander], Heaven forbid! However a man like Reb Szymon was not influenced by usual matters and he knew how to differentiate between trivial and important issues. Unpretentious and modest, he was shy and good-mannered. In spite of his greatness in Torah matters he was not fanatical. He took advantage of his influence, position and spiritual nobility to bring people closer to the words of G-d and a devoted life using fine words and appropriate allegories that reached the heart. He directed the Jewish masses of Dąbrowa to religious thought, he was qualified as a rabbi, however no-one called him by this honorable title but simply called him Reb Szymon, Reb Szymele or Reb Szymon Binems (after his grandfather). And under no circumstances did he want to use the title, he avoided esteem. If he was invited to Torah conferences, receptions or celebrations, without exception he never sat on stage or at the head of the table. In any case one needed to request and persuade him that he consent to take his place at center stage.

We also, he descendants, learned this precious attribute: To be modest and avoid esteem. It is better, he claimed, that they talk about him rather than subjugate him.

From his earliest youth he excelled in his Torah logic and was endowed with a love of Israel [Jewry]. As an excellent lecturer and with a phenomenal memory he amazed scholarly circles, in his ability to analyze problems and complicated dilemmas in the Talmud and Talmudic literature. He had a command of the Hebrew language in writing and speech and knew Yiddish and world literature well.

He placed the treasure of his wide knowledge, his talent and vigor available to the Jews of Dąbrowa, and in particular to the lovers of Torah amongst them. He worked relentlessly till his last day to fabricate the spiritual character of the Jews of Dąbrowa and also in various cultural and social fields.

In the later part of the First World War and during the war years, this was a period of poverty and depravation, and a fear of what was to come. In the synagogue, that was not so large, in Reden, a social meeting took place of the Jews of the region, after the ma'ariv [morning] prayers several times a week Reb Szymon would appear and give lectures on Torah subjects, current affairs in the best way that he could. The place was too small to accommodate everyone that came. There were also not enough benches. People stood rigidly. In summer it was more convenient. The windows were opened and the audience spread over a greater area.

The lectures became well known and popular. Every lecture was an unforgettable experience, and the audiences grew. People would wait impatiently, and after each lecture, as a breath of fresh air, the Jews would exchange opinions with neighbors and friends. They had a material for thought and discussion. They came from all circles, religious Jews, shopkeepers, tradesmen and simple people. They came from distant places; to hear new ideas in Torah, and to absorb the spiritual atmosphere.

A class of Gmara students

Our town was not blessed with many religious institutions and seminaries, and every father who endeavored for his son to be learned in Torah approached Reb Szymon. And thus he began to organize classes for boys to study Gmara and Tosafot [additions], into which the prime of the youths with interest and ability were concentrated, and they carried out intensive studies throughout most of the hours of the day. This was a high school for oral law.

The class included boys from all parts of the town. They walked a long way to get to this place of the Torah. Amongst others I remember the brothers Chaim and Eliezer Prezerowicz, the brothers Fiszl and Elimelech Londner, the brothers Jakob Dawid and Mosze Szlomo Siwek, Szymon Hirszberg, Jekele Rozenek, Herszl Sztorchajn, Lajbl Perkal, Josef Izraelowicz, Isachar Hajda, Ruwen Londner, Herszl and Jekutiel Strzykowski, Herszfeld and also many others. Many of them are living with us in Israel and remain scholars.

Although his physical abilities were limited, pressure was brought to bear on him to include more and more boys.

Apart from that, independent Gmara pupils, young Yeshiva students, used to come to Reb Szymon in the evenings after encountering a difficult issue and in a short space of time, next to the table, everything had been clarified and the people left him feeling content and confident.

Due to the state of his health, after a lengthy period he was compelled under pressure from the doctors, to reduce his activities in the field lectures and speeches in the synagogue and to adjust to a quieter lifestyle.

[Page 514]

It is obvious, that after such diverse activity, he had neglected livelihood matters, and Mother had to take care of household matters: to take care of Father who grew weaker, to take care of 8 children and run two stores that we had at the time: a convenience store and a wholesale beer store. It is understandable that Mother snapped under the work burden and we were forced to transfer the businesses to others. At a later period, around about 1920, a yeshiva or Yesodei Torah [Foundations of the Torah] as it was known, was founded in Miejski Street in the Wajnstajn buildings, under the management of Reb Josef, the son-in-law of the Rabbi from Dąbrowa. Reb Szymon was invited to give a Gmara lesson. There, as well, he had a reputation as a gifted speaker, with a capacity and ability to bring his message over in a pleasant way to his audience. Apart from the regular students, that there were allocated into classes, there were also independent spectators who participated regularly, Jewish homeowners from the area who found time during their work day to take part. Amongst them Reb Mendel Wajnstajn, the owner of the building, stood out in particular in his diligence. Apart from owning properties and businesses, he was a busy Jew, but didn't miss out on even one lesson.

I remember how Reb Mendel Wajnstajn was mesmerized by Reb Szymon's Torah teachings. One fine day he approached him and said: I have an abundant livelihood, G-d blessed me with wealth and businesses and I would like to give thanks for the Divine Providence which allowed me the opportunity to hear Torah and the wisdom that you speak. I am giving you, in appreciation, a permit to sell “Paris” coal, to obtain from one of the wholesalers directly from this famous mine a number of coal wagons each and every day, that only exceptional individuals, well-known traders or people with connections could obtain. And indeed our situation was improved over quite a lengthy period and it should be noted that the Yesodei Torah institute produced many learned youths.

A conversationalist

Our home was a home for the wise people committee. It was a meeting place for Jewish and non-Jewish intellectuals to exchange views. Amongst the regular visitors in our home I remember one Polish intellectual by the name of Professor Czybora, a history professor. He sat with Father, hour upon hour in the evenings, over a cup of tea with arguments and questions about the Jews, the religion and the reason for the mitzvoth, and Reb Szymon like an elderly Hilel knew what to answer for every question. He tastefully and respectfully presented the profusion of evidence from the Source [Torah] in good grammatical Polish, in order to clarify small issues in the same way as large issues.

Another couple of Christians, an intellectual group, who were connected to us by trade relations, took advantage of the opportunity of their free time to have a conversation, to sometime pose provocative questions, but as said, everyone left satisfied.

Respected homeowners became friendly with my father: Reb Heniek Gerszon Szpilberg, Reb. Ruwen Grosfeld, Reb Josef Cyna Klajnman, and Reb Jakob Fiszl. Conversations would continue on to the late hours. Most of their talk was about what to do in a certain sphere, and how to help here and there, current issues of helping the needy. And by-the-way, they were all clearly scholars. An important issue would always break into the conversation that had to do with religion and Halacha [Jewish law] and passed from discussion to discussion.

He was an enthusiastic follower of the Admor [Chassidic Rabbi] from Krimilow, and was amongst the founders of two shtibelech [small synagogues] for the Krimilow Chassidim in our town and was the driving force within them. Over the years a great admiration existed between the Rabbi of Krimilow and Reb Szymon Dąbrowa, as the Rabbi called him.

Amongst the thousands of Chassidim that followed the rabbi amongst them learned men, scholars, and extremely wealthy, there weren't many who achieved a relationship of respect and admiration like Reb Szymon attained. When going to the rabbi he would stand in his place and with great joy he would step towards him in greeting. After this he placed a hand on Reb Szymon's shoulder, and thus they would pace to and thro for a long time in an intimate conversation till they returned to the rabbis' seat or they secluded themselves in a nearby room.

At meal time, on Sabbaths and festivals the rabbi would often present new interpretations of the Torah. The meal would go on hour upon hour and after it was over, when the gathering and the rabbi were already too tired and the Chassidim dispersed to their lodgings, a stream of people to Reb Szymon's room would begin. Reb Szymon would repeat, word for word during the night hours all the abundance of revelations and mysteries that had been said by the Admor. And indeed the Rabbi knew what was embodied in this Jew and gave him all the books, essays and material to be published to the reliable hands of Father for proofreading.

My father spent days as well as nights doing this holy work. It was a difficult task that the rabbi had imposed upon him, he had to travel on missions to scrutinize the prospective grooms for the rabbi's daughters. When the daughters reached a marriageable age my father was summoned to the rabbi and he gave him the addresses of several prospective grooms and this is the way it went. He had enormous apprehension before setting out on a mission of this type, sleepless nights and pangs of conscience. He also involved us, the family members, and let us in on the secret. And all of us were excited about the great responsibility imposed on him and Heaven forbid that he fail. And indeed, he did not fail, and the rabbi was of the same opinion in his selection of the man.

[Page 515]

An address for social welfare

The charity funds in town were limited and couldn't withstand the pressure of the demand. Families that became impoverished, poor Torah students, the needy ill, respectable people who needed assistance surreptitiously, all of them came to describe their woes in front of Reb Szymon. Those who approached him could not imagine to themselves how much health it cost him till their request was fulfilled or partially fulfilled. From his side he didn't spare any effort and the effort involved walking long distances in the heat and in the rain. In particular during holidays he didn't rest, on the evening of Yom Kippur, during Chol Hamoed [days in the middle of a festival] were these times, a convenient period to collect donations.

He was in a public committee together with Reb Szymon Ajzenman and Reb Szmuel Baumac on behalf of the Joint, and established kitchens for needy children after the First World War. It encompassed almost all the Jewish population in the town. It was a central warehouse with counselors that had to supervise the daily rationing to several locations in the town. Meals were distributed to the children every morning, with a cup of cocoa or a cooked food. It was considerable work to daily supervise a fair distribution so that every child received a complete meal. In the Reden area the kitchen was in the home of Chaim Lajb Jungster, under the supervision of Reb Szalom Fiszl.

There wasn't a public activity that he didn't take part in. He felt the pain of his people, a loyal son to the multitudes of Dąbrowa Jews.

When the Second World War erupted he sensed what was going to happen to all the Jews, he became disheartened, and repeated on different occasions – it is preferable not to see out the war.

And on the 10th of Sivan he lay down to sleep and did not wake up. He died a merciful death.

Fathers and sons

by Baruch Simchoni

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

“I can't imagine the images of people as they are, rather as they are reflected in my eyes”
(From “Mists of childhood” by L. Y. Peretz)

Amongst the fathers in our towns I remember Reb Zysze, who abandoned his trade (furs) and established a kosher mikveh for men and women, over a large area and open on its south-west end to the “pale” [Area where Jews lived]. In this place our fellow Jews could rinse, dip and purify their souls, and each of them held in their hands a vessel made from pale wood. The water from the mikveh flowed along open canals for some distance, to an uncultivated field which had an abundance of thorns growing in it, and whose spiky flowers were used on Tisha B'Av [a fast day commemorating the destruction of the temple] for throwing and sticking to the beards of others. This was a hint at the suffering, but mainly it was a custom to order to take one's mind away from the long and hot day of fasting whilst waiting for the sun to set, in time for mincha and ma'ariv [afternoon and evening prayers].

Reb Zysze's form trade was taken up by his son, Icze Majer, who left the “pale” and moved east to the developing Olman Street and continued marketing furs. My grandfather Reb Icchak Aron passed on his trade – butter and cheeses – to his eldest son Symcha, who also went east of the “pale of residence” and opened a store in the developing street.

From then on you met Reb Icchak Aron with a bundle of religious vessels, prayer books, mezuzot [parchment scrolls which are fixed to doorposts] and tefillin [phylacteries] and so on. And he was always saying in jest:

I will deal in religious artifacts and prayer books,
And won't need Jewish buyers.
Reb Symcha was an enthusiastic Chassid of the rabbi from Aleksander, and in his appreciation purchased the rabbi's book “Yismach Yisrael” [Israel will rejoice]. In this book (on a blank page) Reb Symcha would record in flowery script in the holy language the birthdates of his children, who had names in memory of deceased rabbis in order that their merits would be passed on to the children.

He called his first son Baruch, in order that blessing as well as joy would be part of his home. The day of the circumcision of the grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov [founder of the Chassidic movement] was the memorial anniversary of the death of Rabbi Baruchl from Medzhibozh [Miedzyboz – Russian town in the government of Podolia] of blessed memory, and due to his grandfather's pedigree, it had an influence on his Chassidim (in his courtyard the well-known joker Herszl from Ostropol could be found). He called his second son Jerachmiel – Israel in memory of the author of “Yismach Yisrael” – the second Admor in the dynasty of Aleksander rabbis.

[Page 516]

dab516.jpg [30 KB] - Dąbrowa men from an overseas religious class
Dąbrowa men from an overseas religious class in 1920

In the coming days as his sons grew and the chadarim [primary religious schools] were almost all closed down, Reb Symcha had to decide for his son Chanoch, between the Agudat Yisrael school established by the Gur Chassidim and the Mizrachi Hebrew school. In the depths of his heart Reb Symcha was a supporter of the idea of the Land of Israel and he had to decide openly whether to send his sons to a Hebrew school whilst around him there were groups that were against Zionism, and hence he decided to extract a “claim” from his past, an old quarrel that had been abandoned between the Admor from Aleksander, Jerachmiel Israel Dancygier of blessed memory, and the Admor from Gur, Arie Lajb Alter of blessed memory. The outbursts of his father, Icchak Aron, didn't help though he lobbied for him, this mission was carried out according the command of the local rabbi, who did according to Agudat Yisrael.

Reb Symcha was able to see his son and daughter immigrate as pioneers to the Land of Israel. His second son also prepared himself for aliyah. Reb Symcha himself was ready to provide himself with a building related trade, considering the fact that without trade and physical labor there was no room in the Land of Israel, however the immigration certificate was delayed and the Second World War erupted.

When his first grandson, Ya'ir, was born in 5701 [1940/41] a telegram was sent to him from the Land of Israel (during the Second World War via the Red Cross] he certainly wrote down him name in the book, on a blank page on which were written the family birth dates and certainly found (a coincidence) that the name of his grandson was the same as the fourth rabbi according to the courtyard of the Aleksander rabbinate, the Admor Betzalel-Ya'ir (nephew of the author of “Yismach Yisrael”)

During the war Reb Symcha still held a prayer house in his home, in memory of his father Icchak Aron and earned honor for his father, and believed deeply, that through a continuity of generations and the integration of the generations was the reason that the Jewish people had survived up till then.

He was taken out of this same prayer house by the Nazi Satan, during the Yom Kippur of 5703 [21st of September 1942] he went on his last journey with the rest of his family.

[Page 517]

Reb Gimpel Trajman

by Juda Londner

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

With whom do we associate you, Reb Gimpel Trajman? To the tradesmen? Indeed you knew how to rise above the daily grey work day. Will we associate you with the idle “beautiful” Jews? Indeed you despised them. Perhaps we will associate you with the loafers and the gossipers? Indeed by nature you were reticent and you knew only deeds, and in fact good deeds, you were a Jew that knew how to combine manual labor, piety and good deeds. You knew how to smile through life, in spite of the fact that in your life, and within your family life, you didn't have much pleasure.

dab517.jpg [23 KB] - Gimpel Trajman
Gimpel Trajman, an esteemed Jew

The Gentiles that you worked for loved you so much, whilst amongst them there were confirmed Jew-haters, like Danski and Kamiec may their names and memories be erased, however they truly loved pleasant mannered Gimpel the metalworker.

When Reb Gimpel Trajman walked in Królowej Jadwigi Street, and on his shoulders a yoke with two buckets of tar, in order to repair the roofs before winter came, I was still a child, but I felt a special affection to this Jew of short stature with the broad shoulders and splendid beard, for his ability to swiftly climb up on the steepest and slanted roofs: because of his fearlessness he would lean over the edge of a roof to repair a gutter.

He had an intense love of Jewish children. More than once in the middle of his work, he would stop a boy on his way to the cheder [Jewish primary school], smile into his face, pinch his cheek and say lovingly: “This small one will be big” I loved this Jew because of his ability never to get angry, in spite of the pestering and disturbances that we, the children of Królowej Jadwigi, caused him in his courtyard, under the window of his workshop.

You were different from all the Jews in the street: not pale – always tanned, and your blistered but gentle hands, were always available for charity work.

You hurried on Fridays to the Bet Midrash [synagogue] so as not to miss the Kabbalat Shabbat [reception of the Sabbath]. You came and there were still pieces of tar stuck to your hands. Your Sabbath clothes suited you in particular, since with you there was a profound transformation from a daily life of six days of work and the Sabbath day of rest. This rest had a special meaning for you. At the end of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers, you stood at the entrance of the Bet Midrash, and ran the “competition” with my father, Reb Chanoch Londner z”l, as to who would take more “guests” home for the Sabbath meal, since without them you could not sit down to the meal.

You were concerned about your only son Moszele, who you gave the best Jewish education to. You brought special teachers of Torah and education to your home. Whilst he was overseas, and later in Israel, you dreamed that at some stage you would reach him in the Land, the Land you so yearned but never reached.

May your memory be blessed, esteemed Jew, Reb Gimpel Trajman.

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