by Yekhiel MagidRosenberg
Translated by Tina Lunson
There came a wild water and it extinguished the illustrious Torahfilled town Ostrovtse, which had been called by the name of the teacher, rabbi and genius Rebi Mayer Yekhiel Haleyvi may his holy memory be for a blessing. Ostrovtse was full of geniuses of Torah, teachers, instructors and judges, and even plain Jews, householders, were experts and astute in Talmud and its commentators. There came a wild water and it extinguished the town… and all at once it was all exterminated…
There were twentysome Hasidic shtiblekh [prayer rooms] where people prayed as a community three times a day, studied a page of Talmud with commentaries and the page of the day; people there were engaged in piety: every shabes they made a kidush, drank a l'khaym toast, celebrated the third meal together, and observing the end of the sabbath; observed the yortsayts of various rabbis, sang zmiros and songs of joy. The congregation of the Hasidic shtibl was like one family. One helped the other with monetary support, arranging a loan.
There were two yeshives in town. The first was the Novorodok yeshive Beys yosef with its more than 200 pupils whom the town maintained with eating days. The older boys ate in their own kitchen and slept at various families' homes. That yeshive used the new besmedresh and the two small studyhouses of Rov Yekhezkel Shener and Rov Shleyme Tsheshler. The old besmedresh was free for the town's besmedresh boys. The yeshive boys were mostly
|The Yavne library of the Mizrakhi|
from the surrounding towns, and each family was happy to maintain a boy by giving food one day a week or a shabes. Those who were not able to offer food one day, because they themselves were hungry, took in a boy to sleep, just to have the mitsve.
|The kheyder Or Torah of the Mizrakhi|
The second yeshive, Bes mayer, named after the old Ostrovtse Rebi Mayer Yekhiel Haleyvi of blessed memory, had some 150 boys who were taken care of by the town proprietors. That yeshive was called the Hasidic yeshive. There they studied Talmud and commentaries with all the commentators, such as Shkh, Tz, Ktsushakhushan, Pney Yehoshua, Shita M'kubtses, Khidushey ha'Rm, some Mharsha, Mhrm, Mhrshl, Rash. We also studied the laws of slaughter [of animals for food] and rules of purity. Directing that yeshive was the young Rebi Rov Yekhezkel, the son of the old Rebi. He granted ordination for slaughterers and rabbis.
The laborers of Ostrovtse never had enough to eat but every day before dawn they hurried to pray together in the besmedresh and often they took time to add a few chapters of psalms. The same thing happened in the evening, after freezing a whole day in the market, trying to earn a few groshen. These were men such as the wagon driver, porter, water carrier, or even the tailor, shoemaker and other craftsmen after a day of work went to the besmedresh for the afternoon and evening prayers. Afterward to sat a the tables where they studied Ayn yakov, Orekh Khayim or even the page of the day. Each one had his group and each group had its table where they studied together every evening.
When a magid [itinerant preacher] came to town to give a lecture in the old besmedresh or the big shul, everyone came to hear the sermon and everyone
scraped together their last few groshen to toss into the plate for the speaker, who stood by the door. Often the laborers did not have money to buy a piece of bread or a few rolls and milk for the children. But they told themselves, God will provide tomorrow.
Shabes morning all the studyhouses, and the big shul were stuffed with laborers and craftsmen who had thrown off the weekdayness and were now free to pray were reciting psalms with enthusiasm. Beyond the study houses and the big shul the Hasidic prayer rooms were overflowing.
Poor children studied in the big TalmudTorah for free. Yellow Osher from Bodzekhov was a teacher there. The children there also learned to read and write Yiddish and Polish, and arithmetic. The TalmudTorah was in the middle of town, by the market, in the Vakhnes besmedresh, so that it would be close to the poor Jewish children. The headmaster of the TalmudTorah was R' Meshele Orenshteyn (R' Meyshe Henekh's) and the assistant headmaster was R' Yisroel Guterman) Marme Beylis). The teachers were misters Elieyzer, Shimeon Mordkhay, Leybl the yellow, Khayim Binyumin and Itshe Mayer.
The TalmudTorah began by teaching the alphabet with the elementary teachers and went up to Talmud with commentaries. When one graduated from the TalmudTorah one generally went to the yeshive Bes yosef, which consisted of a small yeshive and a larger one. Besides that, there were another dozen kheydorim in town with very good teachers who studied privately with students from families of means.
Pity the beauty that lies buried in the ground, pity those who are lost and will never be found.
by Yechiel Rozenberg
Translated by Libby Raichman
[ ] translator's remarks
After the Russian revolution of 1917, numerous yeshivot that existed in Soviet regions, were placed in a difficult position, because the government forbad any religious activity in areas under their jurisdiction. The leaders of religious Judaism therefore decided to move the yeshivot and the thousands of young male students who studied there, to Poland, where the yeshivot would then be relocated, and where the greatest concentration of Jews in the world existed.
The first yeshiva that was moved to Poland was that of the moralists, and was situated in Novordok, Polisyah, on the border of the USSR. The yeshiva was called Bet Yosef, named after the lauded head of the yeshivah, Rabbi Yosef Yivyazil. After this trial, that succeeded beyond expectations, many branches of this yeshiva were opened in various Jewish centres in Poland, first in areas of Lithuania and Polisyah and afterwards in congressional Poland, as far as Warsaw, the capital.
One day, a group of about 20 young men from a yeshiva in Russia arrived in Ostrovtzah, and at their head, were two young students - Reb Yisrael Rozenberg and Reb Mordechai Simanovitz. As soon as they arrived, the people of the town ran to the courtyard of the prayer house, where the group of yeshiva students were located, to see the strange guests. They had never seen anyone like them. What captured the attention, mainly, was their attire, that looked more like the attire of a Russian farmer, than the traditional dress of the Jews of Poland. Instead of the Jewish hat that was a sign known to all the Jews of congressional Poland, the young men who were visiting, wore Polish hats, with long peaks, or brimmed hats, that were regarded among the Jews of Poland, as Gentile clothing. Instead of the long Kapotte [long coat traditionally worn by religious men] of the Jews of Poland, the men wore short coats, from which protruded the four long tassels of their undergarment, that all reached to their knees.
The group consisted of exceptional students but most remarkable among them were three who proved to have great expertise in the Talmud and as a Beit Din. They were: Tzvi Charsonar, Isser Zvanker and Yitzchak with a scar on his face. These three students were called the eternal triangle by the people of the town. They took an active part in the administration of the yeshiva and were regarded as central to it. They also excelled in their powers of persuasion, and their talent of sermonizing from the pulpit in the synagogue, brought the Jews of the town in their masses, to listen to their sermons from
|The preparatory class of Yeshiva Bet Yosef|
the pulpit of the prayer house. Thanks to the great enthusiasm of the heads of the yeshiva and the eternal triangle, the yeshivah progressed quickly and after a short time, the number of students reached 200.
The integration of the yeshiva into the lives of the residents of the town was perfect. The manner in which the yeshiva students recited psalms and taught ethics, aroused enthusiasm among them all, and with their passion, they stole the hearts of the many Jews who were present in that place. Very soon, the yeshiva turned into the centre of religious life in the town. If there was a person among the Jews in the town who was seriously ill, and needed prayer from God, they turned to the yeshiva, donated sums of money for charity, and lit candles - and all the students of the yeshiva ceased to study and began to recite Psalms, ending with a mi sheberach for the sick person. After reciting these psalms, that were said with exceptional fervour, so much so that they became entranced, and everyone was convinced that if salvation would come to the sick person, behold, it would not come from Avremtshe the male nurse, and not even from the doctor, Dr. Vachudler, but from Hershl Charsonar and the students of his yeshiva.
In the early period, the leading members of the community found it difficult to maintain the yeshiva, where more than half of its students came from the surrounding areas. The First World War that had recently ended, had impoverished the Jews of the town, who, even before that, were not particularly wealthy, but despite that, they made an enormous effort to satisfy the students with food and clothing. The special committee that was established for this need, imposed the idea upon the more established members of the community, to adopt for themselves, young men from the yeshiva, and to provide them at least, with lodging. The women of the town, mainly from the middle class, undertook the responsibility of laundering and repairing the clothes of the students. They wanted to contribute their share to the combined effort of the Jews of the town, to sustain the yeshiva that brought glory to the name of the town, in the entire vicinity. After a few years, when industry developed in the area, and the factory in the town increased the number of workers, and began to work in three shifts, the situation of the Jews of the town improved, and as a result, the situation of the students of the yeshiva, improved as well. The established members of the community invited them to have meals at their tables and sometimes, particularly on the Sabbath, the demand for the young men who were in need, increased, and the Jews of the town fought for the privilege of taking a yeshiva student home as a guest for the Sabbath meal.
In fact, there was also another reason that the Jews
of the town competed among themselves to entertain the students of the yeshiva in their homes - the daughters of the community leaders, matured in the meantime, and reached a marriageable age, and the yeshiva became the main source of bridegrooms, particularly for the daughters of religious families. These families comprised the greater majority of the Jews of the town. Indeed, many of the yeshiva students who came from Russia and from the surrounding towns, settled in Ostrovtzah after they married daughters of families in the town.
After a few years, a dispute broke out between the two heads of the yeshiva Reb Yisrael Rozenberg and Reb Mordechai Simanovitz, regarding the method of administering the yeshiva. Reb Yisrael was opposed to the system that was founded by Rabbi Yisrael from Salant, that was based on challenging existing laws without resolve and climbing the walls [in search of solutions]. He wanted to adopt the system used in the yeshivot of Lithuania, such as the yeshivot of Radin and Mir, that were more humanitarian, more practical, and less disconnected from normal life. In this dispute, Reb Yisrael was at a disadvantage and was compelled to leave the yeshiva of Bet Yosef and move to the nearby village of Stashuv, where he founded a new yeshivah together with one of the young men of the eternal triangle Yitzchak with the scar on his face. Over time, Reb Yisrael was appointed Rabbi of Stashuv and Reb Yitzchak became leader of the yeshiva, in his place.
After the departure of Rabbi Yisrael, Reb Mordechai remained the only leader of the Bet Yosef yeshiva in Ostrovtzah. He carried out his task faithfully, for as long as the yeshiva existed, until the destruction in the days of the Nazis.
At the time of the first deportation of the Jews of Ostrovtzah by the Nazis, Reb Mordechai, who had been childless for 10 years, hid together with his only daughter in the attic of Henye's house in Drildzsh street. The Germans discovered his hiding place. They separated adults who were fit for work, from the children who were destined to be sent to Treblinka. Reb Mordechai did not want to hand over his daughter to the German murderers and hid her under his coat. The S.S. people who found her, were compelled to remove her by force from his hands and murdered her in front of her father. Rabbi Mordechai spat into the face of the murderers and cursed them. In retaliation, the Nazi animals shot him, and he was killed on the spot.
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