Every party acted according to its outlook and views. However, all of their activities had one side that was equal, in that they didn't limit themselves to the four cubits of private benefit, or local benefit, but their ultimate goal was the good of the entire nation.
The most active party in the city was the Zionist party, and we have devoted earlier pages of this book to describing the founding of the Zionist association and its early activities. I mentioned there the names of several of its founders and their endeavors.
However, over time the first group came apart; some of them passed away, some of them left Kielce, some of them, one by one, abandoned the camp and became indifferent to the national project. Many left Zionism and joined other groups.
But in their place new members arrived, most of them from the seats of the study hall. They stood with the Zionist camp as a solid rock. Even during the most difficult days of the Zionist movement they stood at their posts and did not abandon camp.
Zionism encountered crises after the death of Herzl, ZL, the initial enthusiasm faded. Also during the period of the Russian liberation movement, many left the national movement and the vision of the rebirth of the nation in its homeland. Impatient spirits found themselves disappointed when they saw that the redemption was tarrying and began to believe that the political and social revolution would bring salvation and redemption to the nation of Israel as well. They deluded themselves that the source of anti-Semitism lay in the policies of an autocratic government that was backwards in its reforms for the benefit of the masses, and in order to divert people's anger in a different direction, purposely inflamed the hearts of the masses to hatred against the Jews, by pointing to them as exploiters of the populace, as the only ones responsible for the decrepit state of the nation. But when the revolution succeeded and the people will take the reins of government in their own hands and establish democratic rule, then the situation of the masses would be improved by social reforms. In the new conditions, the country would turn into a Garden of Eden, peace and goodwill would exist between the nations and there would no longer be any place for anti-Semitism.
the twenty fifth anniversary of the movement, 1909-1934
Thus argued many of those who turned their backs on the Zionist movement. Also later, when the revolution did not succeed, and the reactionary force returned to its former rule and demonstrated its power in riots that it held in dozens of cities and towns, in spilling Jewish blood and in despicable plots that they conspired against them Zionism did not succeed in those difficult days in acquiring new adherents in Kielce or in penetrating the masses, on the contrary, many of its earlier disciples left it.
Bitter disappointment attacked the masses of Jewish people at that time, they saw no salvation or redemption in any of the movements, despair overcame them, and to escape their distress they left their places of residence, took up the staff of the wanderer and immigrated to the countries of the Americas and to other parts of the world. The Zionist movement at the time was quieted; its impress was no longer noted on the Jewish streets. Besides selling a few Shekels and gathering money for the Odessa committee, there was no real Zionist activity on the Jewish street.
However, even in days of crisis like these there were a few for whom Zionism was a part of their spiritual essence, their faith in it was strong and no force could uproot it from their hearts. They stood on guard and kept the flame burning so that it didn't go out. They endeavored to keep an eternal flame burning on the altar of the Zionist idea.
I will mention here mention the names of the active Zionists who were most distinguished in the field of Zionist action in Kielce.
In the front row stood the Kajzer brothers. They were the priests of the Zionist idea in Kielce, they lived the life of Zionism, did not let the Zionist flag out of their hands in all conditions and circumstances. While still on the benches of the study hall they began to spread the Zionist idea among their comrades in scholarship.
Later as well, when they left the study hall and began to work in negotiation and trade, the Zionist idea continued to glow and shine in front of their eyes. They arranged their homes, educated their children in the spirit of the Zionism they had been instilled with in the days of their youth. In Kielce, the name Kajzer was a synonym for the concept of Zionism. The elder of them, Szymon Kajzer, ZL, who owned an emporium for books and writing implements, made his home a center for the Zionists. In his shop and also in his home, those friendly to the idea and to action would gather to consult about Zionist matters. When a young man happened to arrive in the city and was thinking of joining the Zionist circle, his first path was to the home of Szymon Kajzer. He was the address for the pads of Shekels for sale, flyers and brochures with a Zionist content to be distributed.
Even during times when Zionist activities were forbidden by the Czar's government, Kajzer continued his activities for Zion in spite of the ban and in spite of the searches of the police, who would visit his home from time to time. Once, the police arrested him, when they found pads of Shekels in his possession. When he was released he continued with his work.
Meetings of the local members were held in his house. In order to throw off the police, the members didn't enter or leave all together, but one at a time from different directions. They would take short cuts, walk a round about way to show that they had another goal in mind until, quite innocently, they found themselves at Kajzer's house.
When a Zionist speaker came to Kielce, or a national preacher or activist their first stop was the home of Sz. Kajzer.
Towards the end of his life he traveled to the land of Israel as a tourist. He wanted to first see the conditions there and later also to settle there with his family. He toured the country up and down and returned to his home to liquidate his business and his assets and realize the dream of his soul; however, death caught him first, and his bones did not get to lie in the soil of the holy land, object of his heart's desire his entire life, whose rebirth and reconstruction he had so yearned to see.
His brother Nechemja was also devoted to the Zionist idea his whole life. He was the agent of the Zionist Organization in Kielce, all the affairs of the Zionists were in his hands: the affairs of the national funds, matters pertaining to immigration to the land of Israel. His wife, Ester Kajzer, a woman of valor, and activist in WIZO [Women of the International Zionist Organization], also participated in every Zionist and national enterprise. They sent their son Icak to the land of Israel; he is now a doctor in the Israel Defense Forces. Their commercial ties did not allow them to leave their dwelling place and to move to the land of their inspiration themselves. Their younger brother settled in the land of Israel when he was still young and as a construction worker he worked towards the rebirth of the country. The flesh-pot of the Diaspora did not have the power to draw him back to his parents and his brother, who lived a life of wealth and lacked nothing.
At the side of the Kajzer brothers stood the Zionist Mosze Piekarski. A man of noble spirit, instilled with Jewish values, well read in its ancient and modern literature, he devoted his physical and spiritual strengths to the Zionist idea and the rebirth of the nation in its homeland. His home was also filled with a Zionist atmosphere; his children were educated in the national-Zionist spirit. He was a model and exemplar of the Jew who was complete in his attributes, his opinions and his manners. Attached to the tradition of his forefathers, he did not regard the new currents in Jewish life negatively. His opinion was that whatever a Jewish mind conceived and thought, whatever Jewish energies created and activated was dedicated to the nation, and entered its treasury of assets. Having common sense of his own, he knew how to appreciate the common sense of others too.
As the head of the Zionists in Kielce he did much to infuse the Zionist idea in the hearts of the Jewish masses, and to this end he gave popular lectures on subjects and problems of current interest and also in the field of Hebrew literature. He was one who did what he said. After the publication of the Balfour Declaration, when the vision of generations began to be realized, he liquidated his assets and moved to the land of Israel with his family, to the land his heart desired.
When he arrived in this country he did not take up trade as he had in the Diaspora; he knew that the land needed active hands to be renewed from its desolation and he became a farmer. Even though he was approaching old age, he approached the difficult agricultural work in an unaccustomed climate with youthful heat and enthusiasm. The idea that he had been able to be one of the builders of the homeland and among those making its wasteland fruitful, made all the work pleasant to him, including the most difficult. This is the figure of a Jew complete in all aspects!
Here is another elevated figure of one of the Kielce Zionists: Alter Ehrlich, the son-in-law of Rabbi Cwi Zagajski. Alter Ehrlich this is a delicate figure, an undramatic sort of generous character. The son of a wealthy family he chose in his life not a life of pleasure and private happiness, as his situation warranted and allowed, but devoted himself with every fiber of his being to the national task, the Zionist task, in which he found satisfaction for his soul and ease for his spirit. He did not seek out other pleasures. True pleasure he found only in the opportunity to do something for the good of the nation. Every piece of information that contained a hint about some Zionist success, he brought to me in excitement, and his face glowed with inner joy. It was as if a private life did not exist for him. He lived the life of the nation. He rejoiced in its joys and was saddened by its sorrows.
As the son of Chassidim, he did not initially leave their community even when he was a Zionist. However, he was not able to remain in their company for long. He could not tolerate the mockery, the scorn and the pointed remarks at the expense of the Zionists on the part of the zealous Chassidim. His sensitive soul was full of love and affection for every single individual of the people of Israel, and jealousy and hatred were foreign to his spirit and he was unable to calmly tolerate the arrogance of certain Chassidim who felt that they themselves were the creme de la creme of the nation; and that those who were not members of their community were like garlic skins in their eyes, and they would annul them like dirt [a phrase from the Passover rituals].
He separated himself from them not out of hatred, heaven forbid, but because he was unable to remain in their narrow confines. His soul yearned for spaciousness and wished to include all segments of the people all were important in his eyes.
According to his views, every single limb of the national body had an essential role. Although there were weaker limbs, limbs which would eventually detach themselves from the body. But as long as the limb is part of the body, and is supported by it it was not superfluous, it has value for the entire body. There is a mutual influence between the body's limbs.
This was the opinion of Ehrlich the Zionist, at which he arrived not as the result of thought, but which flowed directly from his heart's values, from the warm affection that burned in him like a holy flame for his people who were enslaved and bound by the bonds of the exile. Zionism was an exalted vision of his heart, upon whose realization the redemption of the nation depended, as well as its internal and external liberation, and he devoted himself to the movement and worked and acted in its favor until his last breath.
Even during the days of his long illness, he did not abandon his national work. He was also a delegate to the Zionist Congress in Vienna. With the aid of his wife, who was a loyal partner in his Zionist endeavors as well, he continued to weave in his spirit's dream the long thread of the redemption of Israel, so that its tip would reach a rebuilt and liberated Jerusalem.
I will mention here also Mosze Kalichsztajn, ZL. He was also one of the outstanding Zionists in Kielce. He also came to Zionism from the benches of the study hall. The Zionist idea took him hostage and did not let him go until the day of his death. He was devoted to it not only with abstract love, with him Zionism took a concrete form. First of all, he gave his sons and daughters a Zionist education. And when they grew up, most of them moved to the land of Israel and settled there. He himself also moved to the land of Israel and lived there for a number of years. Here in Israel he did difficult labor and did not get upset; for the land of Israel he accepted everything with love and satisfaction.
However, he was not buried in the soil of the land of Israel, of which he was so fond all of his life. He returned to visit his old birthplace for family reasons and remained there for several years. When he was preparing to return to the land of his aspirations, whose praises and glories he had never ceased to sing, he took ill with a terminal illness which cast him upon his deathbed, from which he did not arise again.
This enthusiastic Zionist did not have time to pack his belongings and to return to the renewed homeland, to his offspring, who had meanwhile become involved with the land that was being reborn.
The inhabitants of Kielce gave him great honor at his death, eulogized him properly and as befits a man who devoted his life not only to selfish goals, to establish a standard of life for himself, but for the national task, its culture and the rebirth of its homeland.
Among the outstanding Zionists a leading position was given to Mosze Rotenberg, ZL. The son of a family of lineage, the grandson of the Rabbi of Witoslaw in the Kielce district, he entered the Zionist circle when still a young man, there he found his place. He lived the task of the nation body and soul. He worked for his brother and the members of his community in the city of his birth in public institutions, and in gratitude the inhabitants of Kielce elected him to be a member of the municipal council; in the council he was elected to the municipal authority. There he stood, firm as a rock among the Polish members of the city authority who were mostly anti-Semites and struggled with them and did not allow the municipality discriminate against the Jewish inhabitants of the city.
However, he could see in his soul that there was no future for Jews in Poland, in which anti-Semitism was growing stronger. He moved to the land of Israel with his family and settled there. Here he also did not disdain any work; every job, even the most difficult, was attractive to him, for he knew that working here was national work; the homeland would be built only by much hard and exhausting labor. In the land of Israel he devoted the entire warmth of his heart to the work of Kofer HaYeshuv [Ransom of the Yishuv tax owed to Turkish authorities] and organized the payments of Kofer HaYeshuv from [fees from] transportation and margarine. He was also very active in the Conscription Appeal which was founded during World War II as the financial project of the Hagana.
One of the most popular and favorite figures among the Zionists of Kielce was Szmuel Lewartowski, ZL.
From his youth an enthusiastic Zionist, public activist and devoted to the common weal.
He was one of the founders of the Zionist Association in Kielce. During the pogrom in 1918 he was seriously injured during the Zionist meeting, when he defended the national honor. He was active in the Zionist institutions and a generous contributor to the national funds, was known as the gabbai of the Zionist study hall and synagogue of the Zionists, Sha'arei Zion [Gates of Zion] for many years.
Not only Zion captured his heart, but also the fate of the disadvantaged and those suffering in society was another area of his broad public activity.
With all the warmth of his heart and his energy he was devoted to the Orphanage, and was also one of the activists on the committee of the new old age home, Moshav Zekeinim.
Concerns for education were also not foreign to his mind he was among the first to be a patron of the Jewish Gymnasium and one of its loyal friends and supporters.
In 1937 he visited the land of Israel to investigate the possibility of settling here with the members of his family; he remained in the land for three months and was enthusiastic about every thing large and small that was being done in our land.
Upon his return he fell victim to the Fascist and anti-Semitic regime in Poland. He was jailed in the infamous camp Bereza Kartuska on suspicion of transferring funds to the land of Israel.
When Hitler's minions entered Kielce he was taken along with the forty respected Jews of the city as a hostage. During the days of the Nazi occupation he was known as an indomitable spirit which did not give in to the suffering that existed in the alleyways of the ghetto, and perished together with his wife, Rachel Lewartowski, nee Szofman, who was an exemplary Jewish mother, and their two daughters, Guta and Cwia.
His third daughter and two sons survived who, thanks to the Zionist education they received from their parents, moved to the land of Israel in time and still live here.
There were other active personalities in the Zionist party; but these were also well known in other spheres of action and I will yet have an opportunity to mention their names and discuss their activities.
In general, the Zionists of Kielce were very aware of everything that was going on in the Jewish world and the outer world and reacted according to the principles of Zionism.
Its early founders were Chassidim who clustered in the shadows of various Admors, whose attitude to the land of Israel was a positive one. The Chassidim of Radomsk, Piaseczno, Checiny and a portion of the Alexander Chassidim joined the Mizrachi movement in Kielce. Only the Gur Chassidim stood apart and did not allow anyone of their number to move into the Mizrachi. The married students [avrechs] whose hearts were devoted to laboring for the nation were forced to leave the sztibl [small synagogues attached to specific Chassidic rabbis] and the Admor as well, in whose shadow they had clustered until now. The Zionist idea, which penetrated deep into the hearts of the masses of the nation of Israel, also in circles which had been, up to this time, its chief opponents overcame the courts of the Admors as well, whose field of vision had until now been limited to the four cubits of the members of their courts and their adherents and had not strayed from their narrow framework.
The young rabbis who came to Kielce to preach religious Zionism caused a revolution among the various ranks of the Chassidim. The Chassidim and very orthodox were surprised by the appearance of rabbis propagandizing Zionism, a role that until now only members of the free intelligentsia had filled, who were far from traditional Judaism.
First a young rabbi named Rapaport visited Kielce, the rabbi of the small town of Andrzejewo in Lodz province. With fiery words he preached the Zionist concepts. His words awakened voices and strong yearnings for Zion deep within the hearts of his listeners. This was an unimaginable sight that a rabbi with a rabbinical cloak should stand on the platform and speak in praise of Zionism and shower praises and compliments on those who stood at the head of the movement and on its leaders, and the name of Herzl would be mentioned by his lips with awe and honor. Words of mockery, protests and smears about Zionism and its words had been heard from the mouths of rabbis up until now, and suddenly, here was a revolution in the spirits of the rabbis. One after another they come up and join the Mizrachi, join the wing of the religious Zionist, and begin widespread public relations on the Jewish street.
The words of these rabbis found listening ears and a wide field of activities opened up before the lovers of Zion. The echoes of redemption were in the air. On one side were the horrors of the war, which had especially injured Jewish habitations, false libels, expulsions, riots, murders, which poured down upon the heads of the Jews during the war years. In spite of the full participation of the Jews in the war, at the side of all of the other soldiers, they were still not exempt from the disasters; their homes were destroyed, their families moved from place to place. It was not enough that they spilled their own blood on the battlefields, the additional blood of their fathers, brothers and sisters who remained behind the front lines was spilled as well. Jewish blood was spilled for no reason and no purpose. The tragedy of the Jews in all of its terror was revealed to all eyes.
On the other side, rumors of a Jewish legion fighting in the land of Israel to release its homeland from the yoke of the Turks. They heard about a second Cyrus in the form of Balfour, the British Foreign Minister, who publicly declared before the nations that the land of Israel would be given to the Jews, and that they would establish there a national home for their brothers who were scattered in all the countries of the world. All these rumors excited the minds and prepared the hearts to receive the consolatory words of the Zionist propagandists and to join their ranks.
The zealous opponents of Zionism in the city wanted to weaken the tremendous impression that the rabbi of Andrzejewo made upon his Chassidic listeners, especially upon the younger ones, therefore they put out a story that some Zionist propagandist had dressed up like a rabbi and was traveling around the cities of Poland in order to steal souls from the Torah of God and obtain them for the camp of the free-thinkers and those who had overthrown the yoke [of religious observance]. However, these scornful words had the opposite effect. People were no longer innocent and gullible enough to believe everything, as they had been at the start of the Zionist movement. The war, and mainly the press, which was mainly pro-Zionist, had done its work, eyes were opened, hearts were prepared to understand how things truly stood. The Zionist movement became dominant on the Jewish street and became a grass-roots movement.
This mood allowed the founding of the Mizrachi Association in Kielce, which had illustrious people among its founders: Hilel Oberman of the Piaseczno Chassidim, Zew Kluska, of the Alexander Chassidim, Icak Kirszenbaum of the Kozienice Chassidim, Jakob Szlomo Zylbersztajn, of the Radomsk Chassidim, Izrael Zylbersztajn and Zyskind Herman, of the Sokolow Chassidim, Awraham Ber Ajzenberg of the Checiny Chassidim, and aside from them, a large group of young people and avrechs [married yeshiva scholars], who had left the sztiblach because they couldn't bear the atmosphere that reined there.
After the first rabbi, a second rabbi came to Kielce, Rabbi J.L. Zlotnik from Gombin [Gabin], a great speaker; with his words, spoken with enthusiastic pathos; he took many souls hostage. Women threw their jewels at his feet; men committed themselves to donate large sums to redeem the land. The youth were charmed by his speeches and were ready to get right up and move to the land of Israel, and even to sacrifice their lives for the homeland. I have never seen such enthusiasm envelope the masses as that which was revealed when this rabbi spoke about Zion and Jerusalem. Those gathered carried the speaker on their shoulders. Cheers and applause were deafening. The tremendous impression that this rabbi made in his speeches was not erased from the hearts of his audience.
After these two rabbis other rabbis of repute would visit Kielce from time to time. Especially Rabbi Amiel of Grajewo, who was later the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, made many souls for the Mizrachi idea. This rabbi was a speaker of a different sort, he spoke from the mind and not from the heart. In his style the brain was stronger than the emotion. His words were logical. He would convince not with his pathos, not with his enthusiasm, not with his flowery words or empty phraseology his strength was not in these. He was moderate in his speech; emotionally calm, he would analyze the matter about which he was speaking. With his logic, his great knowledge of our ancient and modern literature, and that of other nations as well, with his literary style which would have placed him among the first rank of modern speakers with these qualities of spirit he triumphed over his opponents and gathered souls to his opinions and views, which were all devoted to the nation, to Israel, to its teachings and its land.
Faced with this rabbi, who had a reputation also as a Gaon [religious prodigy] in his own generation, even the zealots lowered their heads, the fiercest opponents of Zionism did not dare to assault him crudely and mockingly. Their opposition to his opinions was expressed by proof texts from scripture and Jewish law that forbade connection with evildoers, who have thrown off the yoke of the Torah.
At a debating party which was held in the Kostarski hall, in which members of the Aguda participated, and at which their best speakers gave speeches, with the goal of weakening the great influence of Rabbi Amiel upon his listeners, his opponents didn't dare to attack him with crude epithets as was their wont; they referred to him politely and with manners, with quotes taken from Jewish law and lore with which they attempted to prove that the path of the rabbis who were joining the Zionist camp was not the correct one and is opposed to the Torah and also to the decisions of later arbiters.
The rabbi, of course, gave them satisfying answers; the national emotion that beat in his heart, together with his healthy logic gave him what to say in response and he contradicted their words with ease. According to the verse: answer the fool with his nonsense, the rabbi gave proofs with the generosity of his great knowledge, that according to Jewish law and the arbiters there is no ban on joining even with free-thinker, when the good of the entire nation is their goal; the reverse is true, when they reveal a love of Israel and give their lives for the nation, they are kosher Jews and cannot be considered with those who sin against the nation, whose actions cause catastrophe for the entire people.
The explanation of one of the maxims of the sages that I heard from this rabbi at that party remains etched in my memory. He quoted the sayings that are brought in the Talmud about the reasons that led to the destruction of the second Temple. In one place it says: Jerusalem was destroyed only because people based their words upon the law. and in another place it says: Jerusalem was destroyed because of baseless hatred. These two reasons are the same in their essence, there were people who wished to sow hatred between the various parts of the people, they would search and find a law, and based upon it they would justify their acts of separation.
After Rabbi Amiel's visit to Kielce the Mizrachi grew stronger and many members joined its ranks.
Kielce was also fortunate enough to greet Rabbi Kowalski of Wloclawek. This enlightened rabbi had become famous among the Jews of Poland from the time he was elected as a Senator in the Polish Senate. It was a time when the election of the president was supposed to take place, the head of the Polish state. The president, according to the country's constitution, was elected by a majority of the votes of the delegates of the Sejm [parliament] and the Senate. The candidate for the head of the state was Professor Narotowicz, a well-known democrat, and he had a good chance of winning an absolute majority of the votes. This progressive and popular candidate was a thorn in the sides of the Endeks [National Democrats], who objected to his election. In order to reduce the number of democratic voters, the Endeks used acts of terror against the delegates of the Senate and the Sejm. They enlisted student thugs to stand in long rows along the streets that led to the Sejm who would stop the democratic delegates and especially the Jewish delegates and force them to retrace their steps, and if anyone refused to do the bidding of the thugs, he would be savagely beaten.
Rabbi Kowalski was not afraid of this terror, and with unusual courage traveled to the Siem by carriage, together with Deuczer, the delegate from Agudat Yisra'el, in order to fulfill his civic and Jewish duty. The thugs, of course, had no respect for the aged and honored him with a hail of blows. The rabbi and Rabbi Deuczer, beaten and injured, entered the gates of the Sejm to cheers of encouragement and respect. The democratic delegates shook their hands in appreciation of their coming to fulfill their responsibility without regard for the dangers involved.
When this rabbi came to Kielce on Zionist business, his reputation preceded him and the city's inhabitants showered him with honor. The synagogue was opened for him and there he preached to the audience sermons that attracted the heart of whoever heard them, in their content and in their beautiful style. Every time the rabbi appeared to give his speeches the synagogue was filled to the brim.
This rabbi did not avoid bringing quotes and opinions of Jewish and non-Jewish scholars to bolster his opinions. Ranak [Rabbi Nachman Krochmal], Achad Ha'am [Asher Ginsburg], also Hegel and Kant were people he frequently mentioned, not to argue with them, but to demonstrate how the words of our sages in ancient times also contained opinions and views that were expressed by wise men who lived many years after them. He used simple and popular language, which came from the heart, full of love for the nation and all it held holy. He was not used to bringing a verse and introducing the many problems it contained, like the other preachers, and afterwards by sophistry solving them with clever thoughts; instead he approached a verse directly, in order to reveal its true meaning. Maxims of the sages he approached without short cuts and revealed their inner meaning. He based his words on his knowledge of the ancient and modern literature of Israel and Jewish history. His speech, which usually lasted for two hours, did not bore; the gathered stood as if nailed to their places, their ears pricked up to listen and not to lose even one of his words. He opened new horizons before them. Things they had never heard, their ears told them and all of it in simple language understandable even by someone who had not read and learned much.
Those gathered would leave the synagogue full of pleasure and relaxation; their eyes had seen and their ears had heard, that in their own generation there were rabbis who were worthy of the rabbinical cloak and who were graced with a heart full of the love of Israel, and who had an eye that could see to great distances, encompassing times and places far removed from their narrow field. Everyone saw it as a sign of the times when a group of rabbis appeared who were patient and who were willing to work for the good of the entire nation and did not limit themselves to the four cubits of their own communities. The rebirth of the nation's hopes for redemption is what, finally, awakened its words, its propagators, those who aroused it and its heralds.
The Mizrachi' at that time gained esteem in the camp of its opponents as well. They learned that the movement included famous Torah leaders of the day, whose qualifications, purity of spirit and depth of thought should not be ignored. The Mizrachi became a major carrier of all Jewish values: Torah and commandments, national goals and rebirth.
Among the nationalist rabbis who visited Kielce the figure of Rabbi Zew Gold, president of the International Mizrachi Association, especially was engraved on the hearts of its inhabitants. This was the type of rabbi they had in the western countries. The rabbis of the west attempted to influence their listeners not only with depth of thought and precision of mind; but also with their outer look, with the harmonious movements of their limbs, the expression on their faces, and mostly the way their voices went up and down. They had something of the art of an actor. Rabbi Gold was expert in these attributes to a very great degree. When he was speaking, he passed pictures and figures before his listeners, and with his gestures, his facial expressions and the colors of his voice he gave them a three-dimensional shape. It seemed to you as if they were standing, live, in front of you.
When he first spoke in Kielce he reminded the audience of the popular legend that in the days of the Messiah, the Jews would walk upon a bridge of paper and would not fall into the water, and their enemies would walk upon a bridge of iron and would perish in the depths. The way he told this legend charmed his listeners; with his graphic speech and his gestures he awakened the imagination of the audience until it seemed to every one that the bridge was in front of us, the Jews were walking securely and their enemies faced the yawning abyss.
He had the power to transport his listeners from the real world to the imaginary world. When he described the life in the land of Israel he gave it colors, light and glow; the shadows faded in the light that he was able to grant them with his gifts of speech. He did not deny things or change the facts, he did not want to win hearts to the movement by altering the situation; but it seemed as if the deep love that dwelled in the heart of this speaker for the homeland that was renewing its youthfulness, this forced us to see all the forms of its development as positive phenomena which warmed the heart, until even the shadows within them shone with the light of rebirth.
An argument between the sellers in the Tel-Aviv market was in itself a negative social event. The fight of poor women over a meager penny this was certainly not a pleasant vision for sophisticated minds. But with an artist-speaker like Rabbi Gold, who saw sparks of rebirth and development even in the ugliness of life, the insults of She-donkey! Despicable one! Stupid! become pleasant to the ear, showing the distinct signs of the rebirth of the Hebrew language, which had penetrated even to the lower classes of the Jewish settlement there.
The pathos that did not leave him for even a moment did its work; the listeners were charmed by his manner of speech and were hypnotized by him when he stood on the platform and described to them, like a movie, scene after scene of life in the Jewish settlements in the land of Israel as it was being reborn.
The Jews of Kielce yearned for Rabbi Gold. An announcement of his arrival would fill their hearts with joy. The last time he visited the city he lectured in the hall of the local theatre. Great masses of people came then to hear his words. The hall was crammed with people, because Rabbi Gold was a great favorite of the Jews of Kielce.
Also Rabbi Sz. Brot, head of the rabbinical court of the holy congregation of Lipno, a delegate to the Polish Siem, visited Kielce once.
Mizrachi celebrated the completion of the writing of a Torah scroll. In honor of this important event this rabbi was invited to glorify the celebration of a commandment with his presence. This gave the Jews of the city an opportunity to meet this important rabbi and to hear his wonderful sermon from his mouth, which demonstrated the depth of this sharp mind and also his amazing knowledge in all areas of Judaism.
I will also mention here the visit of Rabbi Bronrot of Ciechanow in Kielce, who later became head of the rabbinical court in the Tel-Aviv community. He was a type of Chassidic rabbi. Even after he joined the Mizrachi camp he did not cease from remaining close to the Admor of Alexander. When he arrived in Kielce, the Alexander Chassidim received him with great respect as a most important one of their number.
This rabbi clung to the habits of the rabbis of the older generation who generally approached the verses with questions and afterwards, in their efforts to answer them, inserted intentions and ideas into them, which suited the purpose of sermon. According to their final conclusion, all difficulties were removed, all questions were cancelled, the verses emerged from their veil, clear in every way.
Rabbi Bronrot did not like fancy speech; his style was straightforward, popular. He used simple means when he came to influence his listeners, and his words made an impression. The listener saw before him a rabbi, speaking words that came naturally from the heart, without pretensions before those gathered of brilliant, artificial words; therefore his words entered the heart and his influence was no less than that of the greatest of speakers for whom speaking was a profession.
After every visit of a rabbi, the Mizrachi received a new infusion of blood and continued its national labor with renewed energy. Young forces were added to it that were alert and always prepared for work. The Mizrachi acquired a lovely, spacious apartment with many rooms, and there installed the prayer room for the Mizrachi members, a room for the secretariat, a reading room. Evening classes in Hebrew and Jewish history were arranged; with classes in Talmud on Sabbaths and holidays as well as on The Kuzari [philosophical text by medieval Sephardic Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi], Chovat Halevavot [Requirement of the Hearts, a moral treatise from 19 th century central Europe], etc. Young and old were especially drawn to the Mizrachi hall for the Oneg Shabbat [Sabbath Pleasure] parties, at which participants found physical and spiritual pleasure; singing, poetry, dancing and interesting lectures, and after them a glass of wine or beer which warmed the hearts and raised them above the lowliness of life, spreading a sublime holiness among the members.
The classes in scientific texts were given in a new method, with historical and philosophical interpretation, and they were something of a surprise to their listeners, sort of a revelation of new worlds and the participants grew in number from Sabbath to Sabbath.
The Culture Committee, which was composed of the members Cwi Nibilski, Josef Kaszanski, Elijahu Iser Rozenblum, Fiszel Guthart and the writer of these lines, worked without cease and with great enthusiasm in order to strengthen the light of the Torah in the hearts of the young people and to keep them in the Mizrachi camp, so that they would not leave and go off to other camps and follow foreign slogans.
It is worth writing a few lines about every one of these members just mentioned.
Cwi Nibilski, the son-in-law of the Rabbi of Wloszczowa, was a married scholar filled to the brim with knowledge about Judaism, expert in ancient and modern Hebrew literature, fluent in foreign languages and well-read in their literature. However, he was shy by nature, humble, modest in his intercourse with others.
He never wanted to stand out or to brag about his knowledge; only in a narrow circle of friends did he come to reveal his soul, among them he found the appropriate atmosphere for his soul and spirit, and among them he would freely express his opinions and ideas, which came out of his mouth like an unending river current. It was pleasant to sit in his company or to walk with him during the summer days, on a Saturday afternoon, after learning in a class at the Mizrachi, between the fields of grain. He would explain every difficult saying in the Talmud or the Midrash, in Rashi and other commentaries in an easy manner by adding a word, or setting it in its proper place. Sometimes he would explain an enormous question by changing a letter. He would easily settle contradictions and straighten out misunderstandings, for this man was expert in the pearls of the Talmud and in various literatures, ancient and modern. By nature he was a literal thinker, and casuistry was hateful to him; he would attempt to banish the difficulty with understanding by studying the different versions [of text].
His powers of observation were highly developed. On walks along the paths in the fields, he would identify every bird and insect by name, and he would describe at great length the attributes and nature of every tree and grass; and it seemed to you as if some professor of science was standing before you and giving a lesson in zoology or botany.
His profession was bookkeeping. And in this too he injected much of his talent. For a long time he worked as a clerk at the Hebrew Gymnasium, afterwards at banks and private commercial concerns, and in every place he excelled in his precision and devotion to his profession.
Josef Kaszanski was a rival of Nibilski. Neither wanted to recognize the advantages of the other. Mr. Kaszanski had ambitions to be a poet. He would compose poems and send them to the newspaper editors; but they were never printed. His habit was to complain to his friends about the newspaper editors. He worked as a teacher of religion at the S. Wolman's Gymnasium for girls.
His faith in his own strengths and knowledge was so strong that he had successes in life because of it. First of all, he got the job as a teacher in the Gymnasium without any complication. Secondly, he became the official translator at the district court. Others, whose knowledge of languages and general education were much greater than the knowledge and education of this professor, didn't dare to vie for official posts, and he with his mediocre knowledge attained what others in their wisdom did not.
His post as official translator in the district court intensified the hatred between him and Nibilski. How? And why? I will tell things here as they happened, because they reflect the relations between the Jews and the Poles, which worsened drastically in the years before World War II. This detail comes to describe the generality.
Hitlerism, which was rampant in Germany with its point aimed at the Jews, penetrated Poland also. Anti-Semitism, which lurked in the hearts of the Poles, raised its head and increased seven-fold. The Nazis were their exemplars and they imitated their actions. Wild anti-Semitic incitement began to take place. On the pages of the newspapers, from the platform of the Sejm and the municipal councils the anti-Semites dripped poison and venom upon the Jews. Assaults on Jewish students in the institutions of higher learning, riots against the peddlers on market days, were regular occurrences, to which no one paid any attention. This got to a point where Polish thugs dared to assault Jewish passersby in the streets of the city, or those walking in the city's parks with iron gloves and sticks in broad daylight and in full view of the police.
These things also happened to the Jews of Kielce.
One Saturday afternoon, when the Jews of the city went out, as was their habit, to walk in the city park and along Karczowka Boulevard, thugs assaulted them with bloody blows. When they went to the police for help and protection, they received the response that as long as no one had been killed in the fight between the two groups, they would not get involved. Fights like this can always break out, and one doesn't need to call the police for such ordinary matters.
The local paper, Kielcer Zeitung, published a detailed description of the events in the city park and together with this pointed out that the attitude of the police and its behavior were unjust: not only did it not respond to the events, but even after being turned to for help, it insolently [with chutzpah] evaded helping and protecting the victims.
The police considered itself insulted by the word chutzpah and sued the newspaper's editor, Cwi Nibilski, for insulting the police in print, when it [the police] was guarding the country and keeping the peace.
During the proceedings at court, Nibilski announced that the newspaper delivered the facts as they had actually occurred and that he had had no intention whatsoever of insulting the police. In his opinion, the term chutzpah, has a specific meaning that is: having a stubborn and brave position and does not contain any hint of insult. As evidence and proof of his words he brought the Talmudic sentence Chutzpah even towards the heavens is pleasing. And there it is impossible to put any other intent into the word chutzpah, except the definition appropriate to the sayings meaning, that is, a brave and stubborn attitude is successful even towards God.
The prosecutor, on the other hand, argued that according to the translation of the description it appears that the meaning of the word chutzpah was effrontery that knows no shame, and that is an insult to the police, which must defend its honor. The police are a public institution, and whoever injures it injures the political authorities. Finally, the accuser demanded that the court give the editor a severe sentence.
The court could not make a decision about this philological question and decided to postpone the proceedings until they could hear the opinion of a philologist, someone who was expert in linguistic questions.
As an expert, Professor Kaszanski was summoned, the official translator, this expert found it convenient to side with the police and testified that also in the Polish-Hebrew dictionary the word chutzpah was translated as bezczelnosc effrontery.
At this time, a lawyer represented for the newspaper who discredited Kaszanski entirely from being an expert in this question, but establishing that the person posing as an expert knew neither Polish nor Hebrew. As an aid to his words, he pointed out mistakes in his speech, and that he didn't know how to follow the stylistic rules of the Polish language, and that the court must not rely on the opinion of a man who doesn't have any familiarity with scientific questions.
During the speech of the lawyer, Kaszanski attempted to apply to the head of the court and demand that the latter protect him from the attacks of the lawyer, but with no result. The head of the court declared that the accused had the right to discredit the expert who is testifying against him with arguments that he, the accused finds to be correct.
The court postponed the proceedings once again in order to hear the opinion of Professor Szor in this matter.
The expert left the courthouse with his head hung low. He was humiliated in full public view before the judges and the people in the courtroom who had come to follow the proceedings.
This trial continued for a long time. Professor Szor did not respond to the summons of the court. He was out of the country at the time, participating in some scholarly convention. Meanwhile, World War II broke out and the order of the world was changed.
From then, from the beginning of the trial and its continuance, the hatred between Nibilski and Kaszanski grew stronger and each one of them would attempt to publicly demonstrate the ignorance of the other.
Despite the flaw of pride and the desire to be superior, which Kaszanski had, to a great extent, he also had positive characteristics as part of his make up. First of all, he was a national religious Zionist. And to a certain extent he knew the Torah, was well read in the Scriptures, in the Hebrew language and its grammar. Thanks to these characteristics he found a place in the ranks of the Mizrachi. He participated in classes for youth, gave speeches at various opportunities and worked on public relations for the land of Israel and its funds.
Since he was a member of the cultural committee of the Mizrachi, the other members with whom he came in contact influenced him quite a bit. Slowly, he grew to respect other peoples' opinions and to change his own opinion regarding his own importance.
Elijahu Iser Rozenblum he was a very special type of both public and national activist. It is worth spending some more time, therefore, and to reveal the hidden paths along which the spirit of this man developed.
If a person has a sensitive spirit and an inner ability to be impressed, no security measures will suffice. Even if he is hidden in darkness, even if he is kept from contact with other people, he will still extend his limits and absorb the opinions and the yearnings that are borne and reveal themselves in the space of the world.
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Updated 16 Sep 2005 by LA