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[Column 145]

Several Additional Comments about
the Zionist Movement in Our Shtetele

by Shmuel Teitelbaum

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

kur146.jpg

 

Our town was stirred by the publication of [Theodor] Herzl's Judenshtat [The Jewish State]. The nicest young people in our shtetl organized and united for Zionist ideals. At that time, during the Tsarist regime, Zionism was illegal. However, the strict prohibition did not stop the group of idealists from working for the idea of creating a Jewish home in Eretz-Yisroel.

The work of that time was not easy. In addition to the fact that it had to be carried on in secret from the regime, they also had to endure much trouble from their own [people]. Our shtetl, like the other shtetlekh of that time, did not want to accept a new Moshiekh [redeemer] – as the Zionists were called. Every new idea was heretical for the shtetl. So the group explaining the significance of Zionism for the Jewish people had to have the appropriate people who were capable of appearing in public at the synagogues and houses of prayer with informational speeches.

Many branches of the Strasburg family lived in Kurow. The Sztrasburgs were the most class-consious and most distinguished [family] in Kurow. All were pious Jews. They went to pray at the house of prayer three times a day. Who from the old generation does not remember the pious, Reb Nakhum Sztrasburg with his long beard and peyes [side curls], with the long Sabbath caftan and velvet cap? Reb Nakhum's personality had an influence on all strata of the Kurow population, particularly on the artisans. He was a Zionist and also a cultural activist.

Reb Dovid Hersh was one of the original co-founders of the Zionist organization in Kurow. Reb Moshe Sztrasburg, of blessed memory, also was one of the first. He was very fanatical about his ideals.

Reb Mekhl Brutman, of blessed memory, was an esteemed member of the middle class, a rich man. He also was the first idealist in the shtetl. His enthusiasm for the Zionist ideal was so great that in 1921 he took his two oldest sons and traveled to

[Column 146]

Eretz-Yisroel. Arriving in Jaffa, he was hit by an Arab bullet and fell dead. Thus ended his Zionist activity of many years. As already mentioned, at that time all political activity was forbidden. The Zionists created a prayer society and used it to disguise their Zionist activity. The society collected money for the National Fund and sent it to Odessa, to the address of Grinbaum and [Avraham Menakhem Mendel] Ussishkin. The Zionist society also organized a memorial for [Theodor] Herzl every 20th of Tammuz [3 July 1904 – date of Herzl's death] and the group said Kaddish [memorial prayer for the dead] for the deceased leader.

At every opportunity, the society expressed its national [Zionist] feelings. Even Lekha Dodi [Come my beloved – Friday night prayer welcoming the Sabbath] was sung with the melody of Hatikvah [The Hope – now the national anthem of Israel]. The secret, limited activity of the society was carried out until the occupation by the Austrian Army. Fresh strength then came from the house of prayer. The new arrivals were:

Moshe Finkelsztajn, Yankl Rochlsman, Irmye Fridmacher, Hersh Nirenberg, Leibl Landman, Moshe Najmark, Avraham Ahron Sztern and Dwoyra Teitelbaum – Yebodl Lekhaim [“he should be distinguished for life” – a phrase used when including the living and the dead in mentioning a group of people].

Avraham Ahron Sztern was an esteemed teacher at that time and began to spend time with literature. It was said about him that he had read almost the entire Jewish literature (today he is in Colombia), taking part in the Yiddish press. Dwoyra Teitelbaum made a name for herself with her Zionist activity in Kurow and later at the Lublin center.

The newly arrived set as their task the creation of a cultural section at the Zionist organization. The cultural circle was non-partisan; all strata from the shtetl clustered around it. The cultural society opened a library of several hundred Yiddish books. Readings from various Jewish writers were arranged on Shabbos [Sabbath] as well as during the week. A large crowd was drawn to these evenings.

A dramatic section also was created,

[Column 147]

kur147a.jpg
Standing: Itshe Flisfeder, Moshe Blumels, Leizer Hersh Kenig, Berl Hitelman, Moshe Apelbaum, all perished
Sitting: Shmuel Hanisman (lives in New Zealand), his wife Sonya, Perl Sztrasburg, Pesakh Libskind, Yehiel Anker – all perished

 

which from time to time presented theater pieces. Many people from the surrounding shtetlekh [towns] came to such performances. The cultural society really was a non-partisan institution, but it was under the influence of the Zionist organization, which controlled its activities. The managing committee of the cultural society chose as librarian none other than Reb Nakhum Sztrasburg. His task was to match a book with each reader and also to buy new books.

The Zionist organization and the cultural society created a Hebrew school for children at Reb Chaim Rozen's house. The teachers were:

 

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Mekhl Brutman (murdered in Yaffa), his wife, Blimele, their son Fishel [live in Israel]

[Column 148]

Tagfojgel and Irmye Fridmacher. Later, the teachers were: Bricman and his comrades. The school existed until the rise of Poland because the war between Russia and Poland broke out then and the majority of the comrades were mobilized in the young Polish Army. After the war ended, the comrades returned and a recruiting action was again organized that was crowned with great success. New members also joined, among them several important people, whom I and all those who maintained contact with them can never forget. They included:

Itshe Rozen and his wife, Chana, Moshe Blumels and his wife, Sura Ester, Shaya Leib Hanisman, Moshe Apelbaum.

They all stood in service to the cultural-communal work for 20 years. The comrades of the Kurow Zionist organization not only united with the collective Zionist ideal, but even more than this, they were like one family, with love and devotion for one another.

An example of this friendly relationship: in 1932 one of the comrades decided to immigrate to Eretz-Yisroel, but he did not have the entire sum of money for the trip. The comrades loaned him 1,000 zlotes, not even thinking whether the man in question would be able pay the debt. Later, the comrade did send the money back.

With the building of the Zionist movement in our shtetl, Hasidic Jews also did not

[Column 149]

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Nakhum Sztrasburg
(died before the war)

 

remain indifferent [to Zionism]. Mizrakhi [religious Zionists] arose. Its chairman for many years was Reb Yakov Wajnrib, may his memory be blessed. Reb Yakov Wajnrib was a learned man. It was said of him that he knew the entire Tanakh [Torah, Prophets and Writings] by heart. I had the opportunity to work with Reb Yankl [nickname for Yakov] in the area of the Keren Kayemet LeYisroel [Jewish National Fund]. Reb Yankl, as the representative and the writer of these lines as treasurer. Such a pious Jew, God fearing and, at the same time, devoted to Zionism!

Reb Gershon Henekh Wurman, of blessed memory, a communal worker, also was beloved by the Kurow Jews and non-Jews. Reb Gershon Henekh was a co-founder of Mizrakhi in Kurow. The other co-founders were:

Reb Yudel Brik, Gershon Zelcer, Yakov Hochman, Ahser Eidelsztajn.

Reb Yudel Brik was dozor [synagogue warden] at the kehile [organized Jewish community], elected by Mizrakhi. Reb Yudel conscientiously carried out his assignments, both on behalf of the shtetl and of Zionism. The Zionist organization worked closely with Mizrakhi on all Zionist undertakings. The majority of the members also prayed at [the] Mizrakhi [prayer house]. Many members later emigrated [to Eretz-Yisroel], Halutzim [pioneers] also among them, who had gone through hakhshore [agricultural training before immigration to Eretz-Yisroel].

Our shtetl also had Hovevei Zion [Lovers of Zion], who did not belong to Mizrakhi or to the Zionist organization. This was none other than the distinguished Kurow Rabbi, Reb Arya Mordekhai Rabinowicz. Another one was Reb Dovid Rozenberg, the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] in Kurow.

Reb Arya Mordekhai sat dignified on his rabbinical seat in Kurow. The shtetl provided for his income. How could it be otherwise? But the rabbi did not want to be the shtetl's kest kind.[1] He and his entire family traveled to Eretz-Yisroel to help build Bnei Brak. The rabbi knew that his residence in Bnei Brak would be a tent and he also knew that they had not prepared water for him there, but it would have to be carried several hundred meters.

[Column 150]

However, none of this kept our rabbi from leaving the wages and the great respect [he had in Kurow] and traveling to Eretz-Yisroel. Reb Dovid Rozenberg did the same thing. He was the shoykhet in Kurow for many years, which was surely easier than agricultural work. However, one day the shtetl learned that Reb Dovidl was traveling to Eretz-Yisroel. He would become a colonist there. The Jablon Rebbe would teach him cultivation, planting and harvesting. The shtetl said that it was none other than Moshiekh's tseytn [the time of the redeemer].

Dovid Rozenberg was one of the initial builders of Kfar Hasidim.

The Zionist organization and Mizrakhi stood together in a constant fight with the three opposing parties: Agudas Yisroel [Union of Israel – Orthodox party], Poalei-Zion [Workers of Zion – Marxist Zionists] and the communists. At almost every public appearance of the Zionists, Mizrakhi had conflicts with the opposing parties. The Zionists and Mizrakhi never carried out any joint activities with Agudah [Agudas Yisroel], except in 1929 during the year of the meora'ot[2] in Eretz-Yisroel. Then, the Mizrakhi and the Agudah carried out a joint action. The directive came from Jerusalem.

The Zionist organization in Kurow also had a Tarbut [secular Hebrew-language] school. It had public rights equal to Polish state schools. Hena Zager from Pinsk was the teacher who ran the school. The school only existed for one year. The Kurow Jews were deeply stuck in the psychology of exile and did not want to exchange the Polish anti-Semitic school for a national [Zionist] Jewish one, which would insult the nobleman.

Another paradox: Moshe Finkelsztajn and I happened to gather the money from the K.K.L pushkes [Keren Kayemet LeYisrael – Jewish National Fund – money boxes]. We entered the home of a Zionist Jew who well knew the significance of the K.K.L. There were several Christians sitting in the house who also knew us. As we got closer to the pushkes, to remove the collected groshn, the “nobelmen” asked

 

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Dwoyra, the wife of Nakhum Sztrasburg, died before the war

[Column 151]

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Tarbut School

1st row from left to right: 1) Yona Rozenblat, 2) Shmulik Finkelsztajn, 3) Eliezer Teitelbaum (Israel), 4) Rochelsman, 5) Melekh Rochelsman, 6) Moshe Najman, 7) Moshe Teitelbaum (Israel), 8) (?), 9) (?), 10) Yosl Hanisman (New Zealand)
2nd row from left to right: 1) Chaim Hersh Teitelbaum (Israel), 2) Yitzhak Ricer, 3) Hersh Teitelbaum, 4) Velvl Kenig, 5) Moshele Ginzburg, 6) (?), 7) (?), 8) Berl Najmark, 9) Kalman Teilbaum [likely Teitelbaum] (Israel)
3rd row from left to right: 1) (?), 2) Temela Rozen, 3) Chaya Rozen, 4) (?), 5) (?), 6) Elenbojgen Golda, 7) Elenbojgen Liba, 8) Hanisman Shaya Leib's daughter (Israel), 9) (?), 10) (?), 11) Sztern – Fayga, Yosl's daughter, 12) (?), 13) (?)
4th row from right to left: 1) Itshe Hanisman, 2) the teacher Henya Zager (Israel), 3) Handlsman – son of Beynish the shoemaker

 

the house owner the significance of it. The answer – dzieci się bawią (children are playing). This already was at the time when Hitlerism was close to the regime and Madam [Janina] Prystor [a parliamentary deputy and the wife of the Polish Senate president of that time] had introduced a ban against Jewish ritual slaughter. When Zionism was no longer a dream. Ten of thousands had already traveled [to Eretz-Yisroel] and hundreds of thousands were candidates for emigration. Fifteen years before the rise of the Jewish nation, a Zionist Jew did not have the boldness to declare the true significance of the K.K.L. and to the nobleman said it was “child's play.”

Although, in truth, everyone longed for Eretz-Yisroel and the pious also said “May our eyes behold Your return in mercy to Zion” three times a day. But they could not go. They needed to wait for Moshiekh ben Dovid [the redeemer, son of David].

[Column 152]

The middle-class was happy with just giving a little bit of money for Eretz-Yisroel. After the Balfour Declaration and after the San Remo Pact, one could see the desire that our shtetl groups had expressed:

The entire town assembled in the synagogue. Young and old, pious and half-pious, had brought their kiddush [blessing said over wine] cups, their pieces of gold and gave them to Eretz-Yisroel. Women took off their rings and earrings and gave them to the Jewish nation. The Jews gave away everything. Only not the most important: they did not hurry to immigrate to Eretz-Yisroel. Everyone wanted to go, but on the last train. However, the last train, to our great pain, came too late.

Let us honor the memory of our dear, Jewish shtetl, Kurow.


Translator's footnotes

  1. A kest kind is a child or more often a son-in-law who is studying in a yeshiva – religious secondary school. The father provides the means of living for his daughter and his son-in-law. Return
  2. In August 1929, the Arabs attacked the Jews in Palestine, killing 133 and wounding hundreds of others, as well as destroying Jewish property. These attacks are known as the meora'ot – events. Return


[Column 153]

A Kurow Trade

by Moshe Hanisman, Rio de Janeiro

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

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Posacka occupied an esteemed place among the larger small industries of our shtetl [town]. It was completely in Jewish hands. Both the owners and the workers were Jews. No one knew how the industry arrived in Kurow.

And no one in the shtetl could say that he had seen a finished floor, laid with flooring or “parquetry,” as it was called. This quadrangle board, two or three centimeters thick, of oak wood, crafted with flowers, shaded with wood of other colors, such as rose, cream, white and black, were exported to the rich houses. It was there when one was fitted into the other in an appropriate pattern did they show their entire beauty.

The manufacturers were two brothers. Leibele, the older one, had a sickly appearance and a long beard.

Moshe Noakh, the younger one, had a thick, half-round beard, was healthy, strong and fat, with whom no morsel [of food] was lost.

They both wore long clothing and Jewish hats. Moshe Noakh was the main partner in the factory. He was the buyer and seller, the traveler in country and abroad.

On the other hand, Leibele stayed at home. He had little to do. He carefully balanced the calculation of how little [time] to devote [to the job] and how much more could be earned by working.

They brought in the master craftsman system in order not to have to deal with each worker separately. They gave the sheds that they had outside the city to the master craftsmen. They provided raw material and paid with finished goods. The master craftsmen could hire as many workers as they wanted and paid whatever they wanted…

As the master craftsmen took over the leadership of the workers, the working hours grew longer and on Thursdays they had to work late into the night. Often

[Column 154]

returning from work, they met Aysik the “morning singer,” who would wake up the shtetl with the traditional –

“Stand up holy Jews,
Stand up, stand up,
Stand up for Psalms!?”
When Moshe Noakh was about to return from his trips, he would be awaited by all sides – the master craftsmen, the workers and also the shopkeepers who provided goods on loan. Many women workers were insulted and left because they [Leibele and Noakh] did not want to give them what they had chosen, and even worse were returning [their work] and taking that which had previously been designated for them.

Moshe Noakh also would come for the High Holidays and leave right after the holiday. This continued year after year.

The manufacturer returned once at the beginning of winter. He did not, as was his habit, let it be known, but quietly, one by one, asked that the master craftsmen be called and he told them the work would have to stop. “It is now difficult to sell. This secret should be kept as long as possible from the workers. as long as it can be. However much wood everyone has should be finished.”

As the weeks passed and the workers did not know what to do without work, several spoke together and went to the manufacturer.

Moshe Noakh sat in a warm, lighted room without his caftan and with a yarmulke [skullcap] on his head; a gold chain was suspended as if thrown across a bridge from one vest pocket to the other. He was reading a religious book. He quietly answered the gutovnt [good evening] of those entering and he closed his book and invited them to the table… “Perhaps, a glass of tea?” They remained at the door…

He stood up with his heavy body, walked next to them and led them to the table.

– We would like to know what is happening about our working?
[Column 155]
– We must have faith… Letters are beginning to come in… I believe that better times are now coming and you will earn more, as you had earned before.

– Perhaps we can work on something to store away?

– God forbid! May God protect us!!

The shtetl was small, the possibility of working at something else still smaller. Need began to knock still harder at the doors of the worker houses.

On a frosty morning, the shtetl was surprised. Jewish woodcutters began to appear at the market – Pintshe and Asher – both contractors. They both stood on the side of Lubliner Street.

Pintshe was a healthy, young worker, dressed in boots, a padded short jacket, with long sleeves, light-hearted, the axe in his hand like a cane for a dandy. On his head was a plush cap. He had large, dark, laughing eyes. Because of the frost, he danced several steps back and forth.

On the other side of the “sawhorses” on which they sawed wood stood Asher, a powerful Jew in his forties. With a red beard, a Jewish hat on his head, the bottom half of his caftan folded over, raised to the waist and held by

[Column 156]

a belt, he also jumped from side to side and clapped one foot against the other.

One noticed anxiety about them. They began to walk in and out of the houses as if was summer.

Leahele the [wife of the shoykhet – ritual slaughterer], as soon as she saw someone, she [repeated] again that she was the first to see the new woodcutter. Bustling, she had run to him. The workers from the other trades consented; any work that created wages to quiet the hunger is good. There is nothing to be ashamed of!!...

Berishl the shoemaker, about whom it was said that the stones shook under his feet, came running from the other corner of the shtetl [town] where he lived. He said that lying at his house were two wagons of wood that were begging that right be done by them. Before he finished speaking, Pintshe, with his sawhorse on his shoulder, and Asher with Berishl behind him already were going.

In the cloth shop, at the gifted Shlomo-Shaul's, people also were assembled. Mendl the Germara-melamed [teacher of biblical commentaries] shouted out:

Moshiekh's ]redeemer's] times!” – the gifted Shlomo-Shaul's looked after them and pensively said:

– It is not only lucky for we artisans, but also for the entire world that they and their equals understand not to save their strength.


[Column 155]

A Beis-Medrashnik[1] (Writes) about the Beis-haMedrash

by Simkha Wajnman, Ramat Gan

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

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The Beis-haMedrash [house of prayer] played an honored role in the life of the shtetl [town].

Every Jew, no matter what class or strata to which he belonged, had his connection with the Beis-haMedrash. The teacher, the merchant, the artisan, everyone had his recorded spot in the Beis-haMedrash, one at the eastern wall, one in front of the oven, where everyone gathered to converse, to discuss, to hear the news. Here, everyone unloaded his energy, everyone gave his opinion about city matters, choosing a dozor [member of the synagogue council],

[Column 156]

bathhouse attendants, representatives to various institutions which the shtetl had.

Here was [heard] the public opinion and if a speaker came from any party, his place was at the Beis-haMedrash. The entire spiritual life in all its hues was concentrated here.

Overall, it served as a place for the old Jews to warm themselves by the oven during the winter days. Whoever had a cold house, a broken oven or did not have the means to heat [his house] or

[Column 157]

for whom it was simply boring to sit at home – they came to the house of prayer near the oven, talked and listened to speeches and spoke about various things, about large wonderful cities in the wider world and about other things that had nothing to do with town matters.

The kheder [religious primary school] gave the child an elementary religious education – how to pray, Khumish with Rashi [The Five Books of Moses with commentary by Rashi] and a little Gemara [Torah commentaries]. When a child reached 10-12 years, the question arose: what happened next? There was no secular school in the shtetl and there also was no need for one. They began to think of teaching the child a trade. The shtetl had two trades: shoemakers and tailors. The majority of them lived in difficult conditions. The attitude toward trade was a contemptuous one, particularly toward the mentioned trades. So, every father did everything he could so that his child would not have to learn a trade. The father would send his child to the Beis-haMedrash. The 12-year old child would begin to feel that something had changed in him in the Beis-haMedrash. He became independent, no longer under the rule of the rabbi and also no longer under the control of his father. He could come and go from the Beis-haMedrash whenever he wished, no one controlled how he used his time, if he studied or if he played.

The Beis-haMedrash also helped the ordinary children be drawn to learning. Those who were distant from learning received a drive to study through contact with Jewish scholars. Jews gave time and effort to the child of a shoemaker, of a carpenter or of a butcher, for example, who showed a wish to learn, so that some of them in time became the city's great scholars. All of this was a product of the connection that the Beis-haMedrash created between all parts of the population. It is worth mentioning a number of such artisan children:

Yakov Chaim Bajgers, Itshe Leib Ricer, Dovid Hersh Mordekhai, the carpenter's son, or for example, a grandson of Yeikiv the butcher, whose entire family was proud that one of them studied in the Beis-haMedrash.

There were those who were not great students but capable for communal matters. They were the leaders of the future organizations, from the Zionist to the extreme left. To the Zionist organization belonged:

[Column 158]

Itshe Rozen, Moshe Blumels; to Betar – Moshe Wachman and many others. Moshe Rubin, the son of Dovidl, a leather worker, occupied an important place in the professional union. With the communists: Feyvl Wachhazer, Avraham Wachhazer. We encounter Beis-haMedrashniks on every level of the communal-political life.

The bridge that led the young from the Beis-haMedrash to public life was Reb Yankl Wajner. He awoke a national [Zionist] consciousness among the young men of the Beis-haMedrash and in the very religious circles. Great shocks and changes occurred in the religious-fanatical circles because of the new political leanings which invaded the shtetl. And whoever among the young accepted Yankl Wajner's ideas, left the Beis-haMedrash and joined Mizrakhi [religious Zionists].

The Beis-haMedrash served completely separately for the older Jews, merchants who came to study in their hours free from commerce. Many times, around three o'clock in the morning, when it was still dark, there was a sweet feeling, hearing the ecstatic melodies that rang out in the silence of the night. Meir's son, Yankl Simkha Wajnman (my father), belonged to this category.

It also was a custom that on Thursday night a number of young men stayed up the entire night. There were moments when the young men had the need to free the mind from long exertion; they sent someone to buy Moshe Kalman's turnip cookies and other good things and they refreshed themselves. The remnants were thrown at someone's head; they laughed and were refreshed. When the dozores did not provide enough wood to heat the ovens, they made barricades; all of the furniture in the Beis-haMedrash was placed one on top of another, blocking the entrance to the Beis-haMedrash. They had small feasts and played chess.

When the organization Shlomi Emuna Yisroel [Trust in Israel] was created, the Beis-haMedrash was enriched with new vibrancy. A managing committee was chosen that provided the Beis-Medrashnikes with newspapers, literature and secular knowledge. Discussion evenings were led where everyone could ask questions and be edified by things that were foreign to him.

All of this was given to us by the Beis-haMedrash in our shtetl.


Translator's footnote:

  1. One who attends a House of Prayer Return


[Column 159]

Bikur Kholem and Library

by Gershon Wajrde, Los Angeles

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

 

kur159a.jpg

 

This was around 1912 or 1913. We were a group of young men with Moshe Najmark at the head and we felt that we had to do something in the shtetl [town].

We did not know exactly what. However, the impulse was there. Then we came together at Moshe Najmark's house and we decided to create a Bikhur Kholem [society to visit the sick]. We collected a little money

 

kur159b.jpg
Moshe Najmark, his wife Brukha-Eta and their three children – all perished

[Column 160]

and we bought a certain number of things: an enema syringe, a hot-water bottle, a thermometer and other useful things. We kept the things at Moshe Zalman's house. He then lived in Itshe Sznajer's house. If someone became sick and he did not have anyone [to take care of him], we went to sit with him. This lasted for a time until one of our group, Moshe Litvak (Beyrekh Karliner's step-son), came from the Lider Yeshiva [religious secondary school]. He said that he wanted to clarify [some things] for us. We called a meeting. The meeting was well attended. Almost all of the young people in Kurow came. He gave a fiery speech. He persuaded us that the Jewish people were awakening and that we young people should not just be involved with such old institutions. We had to bring a little education to the young.

It was decided to create a library. We collected a little money. We traveled to Warsaw and bought a few books, but we could not obtain permission from the Russian regime. We went to them three times and they refused us. The books were with Moshe Najmark for a time. Then, Moshe Najmark became afraid to keep the books. I took the books home. I kept them in the bunk bed. This lasted until the Germans entered Kurow. Then we began to found the cultural union.

 

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