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[Page 593]

A tale of two towns

(In appreciation of the Zionist activities of Mordechai Gotlib, long may he live)

by Juda Londner

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

The town of Wolbrom, where Mordechai Gotlib grew up, is located between Miechów and Olkusz. The later, served as a district town center, and you had to go there to take care of all government matters.

From a Jewish, communal and social point of view, these towns served as a mirror on a small scale of what was happening in the world at large and the Jewish world in particular; political parties from all factions, organizations and philanthropic societies, constituted a tapestry of life, that a person in this world deals with and seeks to carry out.

Wolbrom, in which Mordechai Gotlib made his first steps in public Zionist activities, to a certain extent rose above the previous two towns, knew how to glimpse into the greater Jewish world, growing and changing without harming it. Herzl's tidings of a movement for settling in Zion took roots here with greater ease, even with Jews who studied in the Bet Midrash [yeshiva].

The town lost its serenity on the day that the “Hatzfira” [The Siren] newspaper from Warsaw began arriving in the home of Reb Elchanan Gotlib z”l, that opened a window to the regenerating Jewish world.

The Zionist home of Reb Elchanan Gotlib, Mordechai's father, had an influence on the whole of Jewish Wolbrom. In his home a glorious page in the history of the Zionist movement was written.

He had a handsome face, was a Radomsko Chassid, and a religious and extremely learned man, a prayer leader with a pleasant and pleasing voice that sent tremors through the heart strings of the worshippers. In spite of him being a loyal and dedicated Chassid, his heart was secretly drawn to Hebrew literature. The “Hatzfira” newspaper which reached his home was considered at the time as an infiltration into a field closed to the Chassidim, a glimpse into the outside world. However Reb Elchanan glimpsed but was not caught up by it. He maintained his faith in G-d with the same diligence that he did before the “Hatzifra” came to his home. He held a special affection for the articles written by Nachum Sokolow and to the “Politishe briv” [political letter] to Joszan that appeared in “Heynt”.

It was from their mother Judit z”l, an intelligent woman, with a Zionist awareness, who had a command of several languages and was knowledgeable in Hebrew and foreign [Polish] literature that Mordechai and his brother first heard about Herzl. Her stories that were related with great charm, inspired the imagination of young Mordechai and equipped him for the future.

Judit's dealings with charity were part of her personality that completed her superior attributes. She had a money box with three compartments – one for charity, one for poor brides and one for widows and women in confinement, without which she couldn't exist. She couldn't wait till they came to her home to request charity, and went by herself to the needy, gave charity surreptitiously using all sorts of pretexts of loans; in order not to embarrass, heaven forbid, the needy.

Good deeds in the warm home of Reb Elchanan and Judit Gotlib fell like drops of dew on the soul of young Mordechai, which was absorbed deep in his heart and sprouted wings in his Zionist direction and public activities.

As he grew, in the beginning he began teaching publicly, teaching the Hebrew language, Bible and Jewish history; to awaken an identity and a sense of belonging to the revival movement that came with Herzl's Zionist movement. With the founding of the Zionist organizations in the villages and his town of Wolbrom, Zionist fund activities began with the “Keren Kayemet Lesrael” [Jewish National Fund] and the “Keren Hayesod” [Foundation Fund]. Following the Balfour Declaration, Mordechai Gotlib launched with his full height into activities intended to inspire the realization of the Zionist dream amongst his people.

Polish Judaism in the villages didn't rest on its laurels; there were all sorts of political factions that sprung up whose aim was to hinder the revival process, and which the “Bund” [movement] expanded on, and tried to halt it and fed the Jews with all sorts of half-baked ideas. Mordechai Gotlib had to struggle and argue within this arena, in order to prevent transient factions from establishing roots. He would leave his home on Sunday and return on Saturday. There wasn't a lecture that the “Bundists” or the Jewish Communists didn't try to disrupt or silence with their heckling, but he held his own. The Jews came often to listen to his Zionist doctrine and he became a well known name in the region.

With the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1925, a wave of joy and excitement arose amongst world Jewry, their hearts beat with pride that they also had a university in which Hebrew was the taught language. Whilst the event filled the hearts of the lovers of Zion with pride, it received an angry reception, derision and a belittling by the enemies of the Hebrew language. There was an intense language war in the Jewish street at the time, Yiddish being victorious most everywhere and even in the national groups; its followers derided the Hebrew language and ridiculed and disparaged it.

[Page 594]

Mordechai Gotlib delivered a lecture in the synagogue in his town in fluent Hebrew and a pleasant voice, which was completely filled and was attended by well-known personalities. His words were heard with excitement and wonder that the language of the prophets, which wasn't in daily usage, could express real meanings. As on the day of the opening of the university, in their way, the enemies of Zion tried to disrupt it, however the enthusiasm which Mordechai instilled in his lecture, nullified their disruption and they weren't heeded. The admiration of the people of his town rose considerably.

In Dąbrowa Górnicza

Two homes had the privilege of Mordechai: the home of Lajbisz Zygrajch z”l (his father-in-law), and the home of the Zionist organization of which he was a member. He appeared in both homes as a breath of fresh air.

Reb Lajbisz Zygrajch z”l was considered as the town's wealthy. He was a Kromołów Chassid, however he gave his daughters a Zionist education. His wife Sarale z”l was the same age as the Sztorchajn and Frenkel girls who opposed convention, sought equality in deed and recognition of their worth. She was a Zionist in her own right and was active in Zionist funds.

When Mordechai arrived, the activities in the home increased; the Bible became an open book and its chapters were recited by heart by the family members. Even when all hopes of life dispersed with the arrival of the Nazis, Reb Lajbisz's son, Fiszele, went on his last journey reciting chapters from the Bible.

The Zionist organization, the youth movement and in particular the “Hashomer Hatzair” movement, had the benefit of a man, who was not only active in Zionist fields, but was also active in other fields; he was a type of magnet, that drew in people into Zionist activity, dared to the fields and consensus of the organizations and turned them into a single organization.

Jewish Dąbrowa Górnicza awoke when he arrived there. He opened up evening Hebrew classes. The rooms of Zionist organization that were desolate during the week, bustled with youths who came to his lessons, and the echoes of his efforts were heard in the streets. He debated with strong opponents like Reb Mosze Ajzman z”l, from the “Agudat Yisrael”, who was orthodox and uncompromising but for all that, they still remained friends.

He had a special admiration for the “Hashomer Hatzair” movement; it was the largest of the Jewish youth movements in the town. The elite of the Jewish youth assembled there. The desire to know and learn was immeasurably greater there; the hammer found its anvil in deepening and strengthening the Zionist idea. He lectured about Zionist history, the Bible, and taught in the Hebrew language. The older members of the movement found him to be a talented man with whom they could debate and formulate their Zionist concepts.

Dąbrowa Górnicza, with all the many activities, was deficient in speakers who knew how to speak about Zionism in public. This lack was felt in every direction. When he came to our town, the situation changed; at assemblies and festivities that were dedicated to people and events in the Zionist movement, that took place on behalf of “Hashomer Hatzair” and other movements, he was the main speaker to address in Hebrew and finish off in Yiddish. And his words were heard well, and were absorbed by the Dąbrowan “masses” and he created a Zionist audience and atmosphere.

He thus marched arm in arm with all the Zionist movements in Dąbrowa, for the Zionist endeavor. He was very active in the “Keren Hayesod” and “Keren Kayemet” fund drives, at local meetings and regional conferences, and if Dąbrowa earned records in these fund drives, the greater part was due to him.

Mordechai lives these days in Jerusalem, presently as a pensioner. With these words we repay a debt for deeds of the past and wish him a good long life.

[Page 595]

Sarale Bajtner, z”l

by Abram Bajtner

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

This was a name that preceded her, a name that included many aspects; charity, help for poor, assistance to the weak, “Linat Tzedek” [housing for the poor], [“Hachnasat Kala”] dowry for a poor bride, “Bikur Cholim” [visiting the ill], “Chevrat Kaddisha” [burial society] and so on. General speaking: a whole institute – but this was only one woman amongst the many righteous women in Dąbrowa.

She wasn't very tall, solid, full of energy and activity, with nine children: orthodox, free spirited, left-wing and right-wing: and for all that harmony prevailed in her home, under her inspiration and the influence of her radiant and edifying personality.

There were good, righteous and compassionate Jews in Dąbrowa Górnicza, Jews took care of each and everyone, however, one thing they had missing: a medical institute that would take care of the weak and poor in time of trouble. This institute was run by a number of Jews, and amongst them Sarale Bajtner.

dab595.jpg [13 KB] - Sarale Bajtner
Sarale Bajtner
a righteous woman in Dąbrowa

In the nineteen twenties, typhoid and dysentery plagues raged following the First World War and the Polish-Russian War that came after it, and left the population lacking basic nutrition, and means of sterilization. In many Jewish homes these sicknesses were regular visitors and mercilessly killed family members. Sarele, together with Jakob Fiszel z”l and other noble-minded Jews, gave help and assistance to the needy ill. There was fear of entering these homes because of the contagious disease; neighbors ran away from the infected house; however who visited them? Sarale Bajtner! She would stand next to the well in the courtyard of her home, and next to her was a tub of soapy water, bathing the heads of children with ticks, changing their upper clothes and underwear. In her home there were young and older children, however no one was infected, by virtue of her kindness in treating the ill.

I would meet Sarale sitting by a sewing machine and vigorously sewing undergarments. I didn't know what this haste was for; someone had passed away and there was no one to sew the burial shroud for him. Or suddenly she would leave her home, even on Thursday or Friday night, and together with two other women, would go and collect donations for some urgent need. More than once I asked her: Why are three women needed? Isn't two enough? She replied: The donor gave in honor of the collectors, and not for just one collector.

Her home was a meticulous, traditionally kosher home. Her husband, Reb Jakob Dawid z”l, was a Gur Chassid, however this did not prevent her from understanding the spirit of young people and their ambitions. She was a patron of the youth movements and participated in rallies of “Hashomer Hatzair” and “Keren Kayemet Leyisrael”.

She succeeded in making aliyah with her husband, even before the Nazi beast trod on Polish soil. During the war her thoughts were for the Jews of Dąbrowa that she loved so much, and some of her children that she had left there. Her maternal instinct was highly developed; in 1942 she woke one morning and described that she saw her son Lajbl in a dream lying dead on the ground. We didn't know the meaning of what she had said: In 1946, the first olim [new immigrants] came to the country, said that Lajbl had wanted to move from Działoszyce (where he had married) to Dąbrowa. Whilst crossing the railway line he was shot by Hitler's militia men and died on the spot.

She passed away on Saturday, the 7th of Kislev 5707 (November 1946). She was eulogized by Mr. Wajzl, a religious man from the suburbs near Haifa and Dr. Fogelman from Katowice, who was familiar with her activities overseas.

The remnants of the Dąbrowa Górnicza community in Israel and in the Diaspora lost, with her passing, a diverse and righteous personality, and a wonderful example to others, which she, with a history of philanthropic activities, had gradually endowed to the community.

May her memory be blessed.

[Page 596]

Israel Simchoni (Frajlich), z”l

by Josef Israeli (Kibbutz Ein Carmel)

Translated by Lance Ackerfeld

Bring glory to man:
Beginning with helplessness and the innocence of childhood
In adolescence wings of joy blossoming and yearning
In adulthood arrogant trials of struggle labor and achievement
And lastly – certain sorrow
And final silence:
A pile of ash

Uri Cwi Grinberg

Israel Simchoni was born in Dąbrowa Górnicza, a town of heavy industry in Lower Silesia. There were coal mines and iron furnaces in it. Thousands of laborers worked in then, mainly non-Jews, and perhaps even a few Jews. The Simchoni family lived in a suburb of the town. His father was a tradesman who looked after three sons and four daughters. When a typhoid plague erupted, after the First World War, the mother passed away and the father looked after his seven children. He provided for their sustenance and took care of their education. The father was a simple, warm-hearted Jew, who lived by the sweat of his brow all his life.

When Israel finished elementary school he was compelled to help his father to provide for the family. He found work in a steel wire plant, belonging to the Klajn brothers, where he worked till he set out for hachshara [training before immigrating to Palestine].

dab596.jpg [16 KB] - Israel Simchoni (Frajlich) z”l
Israel Simchoni (Frajlich) z”l
born in 1907 and died on the 17th of Tevet 5730 [1969]
on Kibbutz Ein Carmel

Israel was a member of “Hashomer Hatzair”. He visited the movement's clubroom and there he received a general and a movement education. When his turn came to leave for hachshara, according to the youth movement rule, he didn't go to a kibbutz belonging to “Hashomer Hatzair”, rather chose a training kibbutz of the “Hechalutz” movement in Siemiatycze and he worked in the saw-mill there. Some time later he moved to Kłosów and worked in the stone quarries there.

In 1929 Simchoni made aliyah and went straight to Ramat Rachel. He once told me that the Klajn brothers offered him to work in their plant in Israel, “Barzelit”, but he refused their offer because he decided to live in kibbutz.

Before he made aliyah he formally promised to his father and brothers that he would do everything so that they could make aliyah, and indeed, before the Second World War the father came to Ramat Rachel in accordance with Simchoni's request. Later on the oldest brother and one of the sisters arrived. His father lived a long life and died at a ripe old age.

When I arrived in Ramat Rachel in 1934, Simchoni already had a family, and the accommodation committee arranged for me to live with him, as his “adopted” son, as his trustee or as they called it at the time: “Primus”, till they built homes or sheds to accommodate the new immigrants.

Simchoni worked in Jerusalem, like the other members, as a porter in the railways and in the Dead Sea. These were difficult but profitable jobs. He was a healthy and strong man and didn't object to any work that he was offered. When a larger team of builders was organized to provide for the many tasks, Simchoni was drawn to the building trade and quickly made progress and was a good molder. There are many buildings in Jerusalem that the building team from Ramat Rachel erected, and Simchoni was one of the best molders in the trade.

We know well and remember about his life and activities in Ein Carmel; the first buildings in the “area” were made during the period of Giladi z”l up until the homes for the senior members. He worked as a top grade molder in the “Solel-Boneh” building company – and always walked about with a hammer in his belt and together with Eliezer Paz, long may he live. He knew his trade, knew how to read plans, in spite of the fact that he never received a formal education as is customary these days.

– – – Every man and his destiny. In the last years he became a sick man, and the man who was once full of activity dwindled and died. Woe for the loss!

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