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[Page 97]

The Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel

by Pinkhus Szildkraut

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

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The Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel Organization in Our Shtetl [town]

The Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel [youth organization of the non-Zionist orthodox movement] was founded in Kurow later than all of the other organizations because the fervent Hasidim as well as the scholars who did not travel to a rebbe [Hasidic rabbi] were against creating such an organization. They thought it would tear away the young men at the house of prayer from studying. It turned out to be the opposite of what in the past had drawn other young men from the house of prayer. From the young men from Kurow, who were dispersed among the famous Polish yeshivus [religious secondary schools], came news about “being spoiled.”

Yisroelke Frost, not born in Kurow, was in Kurow at that time. He was with his grandmother, Etl [the daughter of] Nekhamia.

Thanks to his initiative, a discussion was called of the oldest and youngest activists. Among the oldest taking part were Pesakh Shnuer, the son-in-law of the Sokolower Rebbe; Motl Zilberblum, the son-in-law of Itshe Shnuer; Noakh Lerman, Shaya Altman, Yisroel Gocziczanski,

 

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The Rabbi Dovid Kirszenbaum (London, Canada), son of Yosl Shoykhet [ritual slaughterer], co-founder of the Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel in Kurow

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Yakov Borukh Wizenklor and the Rabbi, Dovid Kirszenbaum, now in London, Canada.

Yisroel Lerman (later was a Garwoliner son-in-law); Yisroel Yitzhak – Sura Rywka the fisherwoman's son; Yankele [the son of] Hercke were among the younger activists taking part. The activists did not live in peace among themselves during their daily lives. For example: Yisroel Gosziczanski was always angry with Noakh Lerman because of the manufacturing business they owned as partners. There also were quarrels among the Hasidim: one traveled to Reb Shlomole Eiger in Lublin; the other to his brother Ezriel Meir [Eiger] in Pilev. There also was no peace between Kotsker and Sokolover Hasidim, but the sacred war united everyone. They decided to begin to carry out widespread activity among the young men in the house of prayer as well as among the young merchants who only studied a page of Talmud at night.

The activity of the Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel consisted of spreading the Agudistic literature, the daily newspaper, Der Yud [The Jew] (later, Dos Yudishe Togblat [The Jewish Daily Newspaper]. The youth newspaper was edited by Avraham Meir Krongrad (born in Nakhum Sokolow's shtetl [town] Wyszogrod). He once was with us in our shtetl and gave a lecture. After the lecture, Moshe Meir Feldberg declared about him that the young man would someday be the Agudistic Sokolow [a Zionist leader and Hebrew journalist].

The members of Agudas also subscribed to the Hebrew journal, Digleinu [Our Banner], which was edited by the famous Agudas journalist, Reb Aleksander Zishe Fridman.

Essays by Kurow young people, such as Yakov Sznajdleder and Shmuel Moshe, the only Jew among us who wore tzitzis with tkheyles,[1] the only Raziner Hasid, were published several times in this journal. The Kurow Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel was so well-known at the central office in Warsaw (once at Graniczne 9, then at Szwienta Jerski 22) that almost every Agudah leader who traveled to Lublin on party matters or to Yeshiva Chachmel Lublin [famous Agudas Yisroel secondary school in Lublin] stopped in Kurow. During the Sejm [Polish parliament] election activities, the famous journalists

[Page 99]

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The Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel

First row, from right to left: Alter Rapoport, Alter Szuchhendler, Avraham Moshe Zinger, Leibl Rozenzon (Bnei Brak, Israel), Hersh Sznajdleder
Second row: Kalman Cukerman, Zaynwl Fridman, Pinkhas Szildkraut (Tel Aviv), Simkha Bergerman, Lev Grosman (Ramat Gan), Chaim Avigdor Altman (Tel Aviv), Leibish Tszechanowski
Third Row: Moshe Meir Feldberg, Moshe Sztamfater, Yankl Sznajdleder, Melakh Gozsziczanski, Moshe Rozenberg (delegate from Warsaw, today he lives in Israel), Shmuel Lerman, Yehezkiel Gorsman, Simkha Bunem (a son-in-law of Yisroel Gozsziczanski), Avraham Honigblum, Avraham Oberklajd. All, with the exception of those designated by their place of residence, perished.

 

from the Yudishe Togblat, Reb Avraham Mordekhai Rogowy, Reb Ayzyk Ber Ekerman, visited Kurow. The Agudah [candidate lists] numbers 18 and 33 received more votes here than any other list.

There were cases such as the communistic young people who agitated with their parents and poor, pious people that they should vote for communist [candidate list] number 13. They promised the poor people that if they voted for the communist list and the communists won, obtained power, the rich would have to share with the poor and there would be no more anti-Semitism. There would be a Garden of Eden on the earth. However, the poor, pious Jews did not want a Garden of Eden that was against the Torah. They voted for the Agudah list, which was supported by all Torah scholars.

The Tzeirei Agudah already had a tradition that every Simkhas Torah [holiday commemorating the completion of the yearly reading of the Torah and the start of the reading for the new year] and Shabbos Bereishis [the Sabbath on which the first Torah portion of the Hebrew calendar is read] they would separate from their Hasidic shteiblekh [one-room prayer house] where they prayed every Shabbos and holiday… They made their own minyon [prayer group of at least 10 men]. Every year, at another rich young man's [house], such as at [the house of] Chaim Shneur, Elimelekh Gozsziczanski, Shmuel Lerman and Yehezkiel Grosman. Yitzhak Fiszman came to the hakofes [the circular procession with the Torah scrolls performed on Simkhas Torah] of Tzeirei Agudah every year and, [although] sick, danced “V'taher Libenu” [Purify our hearts] with the group. Moshe Tuvya Kawa also joined the Agudah young people for Simkhas Torah. Later, he was an active Agudah member. Yankl Gutman, Yehezkiel Gutman's son, Shaul Pomeranc, Meir Lewin and still other young Hasidim also came.

The Tzeirei Agudah Yisroel also were involved with the repair of prayer books. Every Friday and holiday eve, two members would go through the shtetl with a pushke [can for collecting donations] and collected money to buy new religious books, as well as to repair the old ones. [The task of buying] new books would be given to Yoski Khazan [the cantor], so he would bring them from Lublin or Warsaw.

[Page 100]

Shaul Einbinder worked at rebinding old religious books.

In general the Kurow house of prayer was rich in books, as is appropriate for a scholarly shtetl. The Tszeirei Agudas also was involved with helping the emissaries, who came to collect money for various yeshivus [religious secondary schools]. During the time between Minkhah [afternoon prayers] and Maariv [evening prayers], when the emissary gave a sermon, several young men moved the table close to the door so it would be harder to leave, lit several large candles, put down the books of Kaballah; [there] also was an appeal from the rebbes and rabbis to support the yeshiva.

The next morning, the rabbi from Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel went with the emissary to ask for money from those who had not been in the house of prayer the night before. The members of Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel also took care of providing food and a place to sleep for the emissaries and ordinary preachers who came to Kurow almost every day. It was enough that one of the older young men would send a note to whatever income earner there was: “Today you have to give food and a place to sleep for the emissary” – and no one dared to refuse.

There also was a Beis-Yakov [orthodox school for girls] School in Kurow. The founders of the school were:

Surale Itsha Shneur, Sura Mulis, Nekhema Yuta Fridman and Hershl Wachman's wife, Chana Yenta (now in Israel). The women carried on vigorous activities for this school. They subscribed to several issues of the Beis-Yakov Journal (published in Lodz under the editorship of Reb Eliezer Gershon Fridnzon). Shlomole Gerszon's daughter and a granddaughter of Fayge Riwa, Ruchl Szildkraut, was a teacher at the Kurow Beis-Yakov School for a while, until Editor Fridnzon learned that there was such a talented girl in Kurow; he invited her to

[Page 101]

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Chaim Yosef, brother of Pinkhas Szildkraut; he perished

 

Lodz to work as an editor. Later she went through a course for teaching tailoring. The central office in Lodz sent her to Czszenow to be a Beis-Yakov teacher there and also to teach tailoring at Bnos Agudas Yisroel [division of Agudas Yisroel – Orthodox political movement – for girls]. This was in 1938-1939. She came to Kurow during the Hitler war and perished with all of the other martyrs. Ruchl Szildkraut also was a very talented violin player. She was certainly the only girl in Kurow who rode a bicycle (the Agudah leaders did not approve of this).

The Tzeirei Agudas Yisroel also maintained contact with the well-known Agudah activist Szceranski. The Kurow Agudists [members of Agudah] grew to know him better after the death the head of the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva, Rabbi Meir Szapira, of blessed memory in 5695 [1935 – Rabbi Szapira actually died in 1933]. The Rabbi Ahron Erlich, later the Markuszower Rabbi, also invited Kurow Agudah communal workers many times for consultations because the relationship between the young men at the house of prayer and our rabbi, Reb Elimelekh Guterman were not particularly good.

Among the Tzeirei Agudists who do not appear on this photo and have not yet been mentioned in my description must be included:

Hershl and Moshele, sons of Sura Rywka. Hershl was considered among the great scholars in the shtetl and was known for his calligraphic handwriting (he created the shivisi[2] for the house of prayer cantor's desk. His mishenikhnas Adar marbim b'simkha [our joy increases with the arrival of the month of Adar because of the celebration of Purim] and Mazel Adar Dagim [Zodiac sign of Pisces – a fish – for the month of Adar] – which he printed, shone from the eastern wall in our house of prayer). Moshe Yosl Fridman – later a bookkeeper at the Markuszower Bank; Chaim Yisroel Kartman, Hershl Lewi, Chaim Yehoshua Oberklajd, Velvl Barlige's oldest son, Mend Leibl, son of the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] – he later became the shoykhet in Izbica Lubelski. Davtsha Zalcman, Meir the son of the shoykhet, Yakov Szer, Yehiel Tenenbaum, Dovid Hersh Goldgewaks, Zysele's grandson Borukh (Hersh Gershon's [son] took pride in his neighbor's good head), Hershl Najmark, Shmuel, Yitzhak's son, Nekhamia Grosman (Yakov Lajzer's youngest son), Avigdor's son Yosl Shyala, Yankl Shaya the baker's son, who studied in Kotsh with Reb Yosele Morgnsztern), later

[Page 102]

became a Kuzimerer son-in-law; Yankl and Avraham Kaplan, Yosl Yankele (Shimkha Meir's son, was in the Soviet Union at the time of the [Second World] War, joined the Polish Army. Survived the war; after the war he was sent to Wolyn as a sniper to fight against the Polish A.K. (Armia Krajowa [Home Army – underground army during the occupation]) and fell at their hands, Shmuel Altman – the “press commissar.” Every morning he would be the first to wait for the mail in order to take Dos Yudishe Togblat [The Yiddish Daily Newspaper] and the Agudistic propaganda material, bring it to the house of prayer and distribute it. He was happy that the Togblat arrived earlier than Heint [Today] or Moment.

During the last years before the war, when the Agudah began to work for Eretz-Yisroel, its slogan was building the land in the spirit of the Torah, and the well-known Agudah leader, Dr. [Yitzhak] Breuer, of blessed memory, said: With Zionism we will conquer the land from the wasteland, from the desert wilderness.

In opposition to the Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] and Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal], the Agudah created the Keren HaYishuv [fundraising organization for religious education in Eretz-Yisroel] as well as hakhsharah [preparation for emigration to Eretz-Yisroel] places in various locations, and also divided its number of certificates [from the British for legal emigration to Eretz-Yisroel] proportionally. The Kurow Tzeirei Zion Agudas also carried out extensive activity for the holy work.

In 1934, the Agudah central office turned to the Kurow Tzeirei Zion Agudas Yisroel to send several members to hakhsharah to then be able to emigrate to Eretz-Yisroel. Alas, there was not anyone in Kurow who would agree to go to hakhsharah and to emigrate…

I was in Lodz then and I was informed about this. I agreed immediately and traveled to hakhsharah in Warsaw, at Twarda Street number 16; I was there for about two years. This was a tragedy to my father, of blessed memory. Once, I learned that my father was in Warsaw, as a messenger for the Kotsker Rabbi, may the memory of a righteous man be blessed. This was when a trial was taking place against the well-known forest merchant and Kotsker Hasid from Markuszow – Ayzyk Migdal – accused of

 

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Yankl Meir, brother of Pinkhas Szildkraut – perished

[Page 103]

setting fire to the Czerziner forest (found on the road between Kurow and Ryki).

Entering the house of prayer of the Pulwer Rebbe, Reb Moshe Mordekhai, may the memory of a righteous man be blessed, at Muranowski 44, I went over to my father and said hello and he did not answer me.

Later, when I finished the hakhsharah and awaited a certificate, I traveled to Kurow to persuade my father to agree with me, but my mother Miriam (Mariaml), may she rest in peace, had told my father:

[Page 104]

– Listen (because they never called each other by their names, [they only said] “listen” and “look”), you have already lost the fourth guide to Gan-Eden [heaven]!
The meaning was this, that we were four children: my sister Rywka and brother Yakov Meir – they already were lost souls from the country… My oldest brother Chaim Yosef, who actually was a religious young man, was a fervid Hasid of the Rebbe Kuk, of blessed memory – so he also was a lost one. The only hope lay in me and my desire to go to Eretz-Yisroel was a great tragedy for them.

 

Translator's notes:
  1. tzitzis are the fringes attached to a talis [prayer shawl] or other ritual garments. Tkheyles are blue wool threads woven into the fringes of the talis. Return
  2. shivisi – “I have placed [God always before me]” – a picture of the seven-branched menorah with a verse that serves to create the proper frame of mind for praying. Return

 

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