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Ostrowiec Becoming Modern

[Page 224]

The Development of Modern School Systems

by Iser Boymfeld, Rio de Janerio

Translated by Tina Lunson

As a native Ostrovtser who spent the best of his young years in the town I feel a strong desire to tell about the great efforts that the conscious part of the Ostrovtse Jewish population made to modernize its education system and make it appropriate to the demands of the new era and the new needs that had been created in our town, as in other towns of Jewish Poland after the First World War.

Before the First World War the Jewish children in Ostrovtse were educated according to the familiar example. They began with an elementary teacher who taught the them alphabet, and later went over to a teacher who taught them khumesh mit RaShI [the Five Books of the Torah with RaShI's commentary]. Then came the teacher for Talmud, starting with the “arbe avos nezikim” [concerning damages] then going to more difficult chapters such as “nedrim” [vows] and Talmud with commentaries and to the laws of purity in the “Shulkhn orekh”.

I remember the elementary teacher from my time, R' Asher–Leyb, a tall Jew, broad shouldered, in his fifties. One studied with Asher–Leyb in a large salon in which there was one long table with two benches for R' Asher and one smaller table with two benches for his belfer or helper. All together about 60 students studied with R' Asher.

R' Asher's kheyder also employed the traditional–for–the–times braided whip, with which a teacher held the pupils in fear.

R' Abish taught us khumesh mit RaShI. We also began to study Talmud with R' Abish: bava kama, bava mitsiye, kidushin. R' Abish did not use a whip, but a kind of ruler which he had made himself from a thin board. A rap with that ruler gave a child swollen hands more than once.

R' Khayim was a higher teacher for us; people called him Khayim the lender. He had a total of 8 students. He taught Talmud with commentaries, the tractate for the holidays. He also taught the reading of the Torah from a scroll, with a trope.

At R' Khayim's we studied the lesson in the morning and repeated it later in the day. In the afternoon R' Khayim either slept in his alcove or was busy with the clients who borrowed 5 to 10 rubles from him.

R' Kahayim did not have a whip or a ruler. But when R' Khayim twisted your ears you felt it for a long time. He also had other ways to punish the unruly pupils. Such a boy had to help the rabbi's wife with the housework or go into penitence.

Bar–mitsve boys studied with R' Azriel, a small, thin little Jew of skin and bones with a pointed beard. R' Azriel put his whole soul into the pupils and rarely ate to his fill. His ambition was that his pupils could be examined successfully by the elite of the town.

These that I have mentioned were not the only teachers in Ostrovtse. They were the most well–known.

At the same time that public life in town was dominated by old life–ways, the haskole [haskalah, Jewish Enlightenment] began to secretly permeate it. I recall how I once saw in a study–house that as the adult boys Yehoshue Rozenman, Ruven Halpern and Shloyme Naforstik were studying, they were hiding something under the Talmud volume. I was intrigued and I could not rest until I knew that these were the then–famous books “Ha'tue b'darkhey ha'kahyim” and “Kevures ha'mor” [Wanderder on the path of life and Burial of the Ass] by Perets Smolenskin. I was drawn and gradually became close to the above–mentioned study–house boys and was their go–between for carrying the “Ha'tsfire” from one to another and the Yiddish and Hebrew haskole books like “Oheves tsion” [Love of Zion], “Ashmot shomron” [Sins of Samaratins], “Even negef” [Stumbling block] and others. I usually got the books from the secretary Hernes Kantor, who in Ostrovtse was called “the philosopher” because

[Page 225]

loved to talk about RaMBaM and his “More nevukhim” [Guide for the perplexed]. It seems that even though his name was Khayim Ginsburg, the observant Jews called him “the soul catcher”; nevertheless for arbitration and for business matters they turned to him and had the greatest respect for him. At that time I was 14 years old.

My grandfather Zundele Boymfeld must be counted among the maskilim [followers of haskole] in our town, and was known as an anti–hasid. My grandfather R' Zalman Yoshes, his brother, could not find peace with him. My grandfather, who studied with the Ber Rebi, could not make peace with the thought that his brother could be anti–hasidic. My father had a fine library in his house and many communal matters had been decided in our home.

During and after the First World War, the Jewish environment in Poland had begun to develop an intensive cultural–social life, and life in Ostrovtse had taken on a different face. The beginning was quite modest. A small–loan society was founded in 1914, and was the first expression of the self–activity of the new, rising Jewish youth. The society was founded in the house of the Mints family with the participation of the writer of these lines. Later new institutions sprang up in the environment of the loan society: a public library, the Zionist organization “Mizrakhi”, a “Poaley tsion”, professional unions, secular schools and other institutions.

The founders of the loan society were Menye Blankman, the brothers Yekhiel and Elieyzer Pantser, Yekhiel Halpern, Ziml Halpern, Moyshe Kats, Simkhe Mintsberg, Mayer Rozenman, A. Kroyngold, Yankev Vaynberg and Iser Boymfeld.

The organization “Mizrakhi” was founded by Motl Sheyner, Moyshe Kats, Leybish Halshtok, Yehoshua Kuperman, Elimelekh Halpern, Mordkhe–Mayer Nisker, Avrom Dovid Kroyngold, Yankev Koper, Iser Boymfeld and others.

The Zionist organization was founded by Avrom Yankev Mintsberg, the brothers Yehiel and Elieyzer Leyvi, the brothers Shmuel and Ezra Bomshteyn, Simkhe Mintsberg, the brothers Blankman, Elieyzer Mintsberg, the brothers Yekhiel and Elieyzer Pantser, Yehiel Malinak, Yekhiel Halpern, Yekhiel Vaynberg and others.

The Poeley tsion organization was founded by Ayzik Benker, Fayvl Shteynbok (died in Brazil), Shmuel Sharfshteyn, Itsik Nusinovitsh, Hersh Kudlovitsh, Yosl Finklshteyn, Shmuel Shpayzmakher and Itshe Lustman.

The “Bund” was founded by Avrom Shertsman, Itshe Zinger, Shmuel Beyglman, Sh. Fishman, A. Grober, I. Frumerman, Velvl Patsontek and Yitskhak Vagshol.

The noted party organizations created the movement for establishing modern Jewish schools in Ostrovtse. The first modern school in Ostrovtse was the Tarbus school. It founders were Avrom Malokh, A. I. Mintsberg, Simkhe Mintsberg, Yehiel and Elieyzer Leyvi, Yekhiel Mayer Blankman. The director of the school was A. Kestenberg, whose wife helped him in his work. 120 students studied in the school.

After the Tarbus school, the Mizrakhi school was founded, in which there were 350 pupils. Many children could not be accepted because of lack of space. The founding of that school was thanks to the devoted social activist Moyshe Lederman, who was for many years president of Mizrakhi, a member of the city council, vice–president


The Tarbus folks-shul

[Page 226]

of the Jewish council and whom everyone in the town valued and loved. The director of that school was A. Viner, and the teachers were Erlikh, Shakher, Rabinovitsh, Rumianik, Mandlboym, the brothers Zilberberg, Temse Ayger. Blume Mushkes and others taught the kindergarten. There was a year when, due to the pressing demand from parents, the Mizrakhi school accepted 380 children, which was beyond its capabilities and could not be sustained.

Later the “Poaley tsion” founded the “Folks shul” in which 150 children studied, under the leadership of the teacher Zamiet–Shkovski, Fayvl Shteynbok and others.

The new, modern schools created a brilliant educational opportunity for the Jewish child. The schools had good, suitable venues with the necessary furniture, maps, pictures and instruments. The schools used the best pedagogical education methods. The school became a second home for the child. The children loved the teacher, who know how to win the trust of the child. They went to school with eagerness. Parental committees were established and school holidays were instituted at which the parents and children spent happy time together.

Further, the modern schools attracted the Jewish child who had a very weak desire to go to a backward kheyder. The observant religious Jews were thus also forced to reform their educational institutions. Then modern Talmud–Torahs were established where there was also secular knowledge and the children wore school uniforms. But the modern Talmud–Torahs had less success than the Mizrakhi schools that were located in the center of the town, had good teachers and good direction. The Mizrakhi school was known for its children's presentations and so was called on in the surrounding town to give some of the presentations.


The first Jewish students in the Ostrovtse boy's gimnazium [high school]

Modern education was naturalized in Ostrovtse until Hitler may his name be blotted out destroyed everything.

[Page 227]

Charitable Jewish Institutions in Town

by Paltiel Brikman

Translated by Tina Lunson

Ostrovtse, just like all other provincial towns in Poland, did not especially excel in the social conditions of its Jewish population. Poverty, want and lack of sanitary services were almost a normal condition. Residences where people lived together with a large number of children in one room, with at most one little side room, and the barrel for water, the slops pail and the oven for baking and cooking as well as heating, were a very common situation in the streets of the poor.

Because of those unbearable conditions, the Jewish council was forced to develop multi–branched charity activities in various areas. We will try to record a few charity institutions and their activities here.


Lines ha'tsedek [homeless shelter]

This institution was located on Shener Street. The manager of the pharmacy for the shelter was a thin little Jew with a sparse yellow beard, Yekhiel Yanovski. He was almost a complete pharmacist, knowing what to give an old Jew for a cold, a poor mother for her children who had measles, had the pox or just a fever. Jews also went to him for a wad of cotton, a vial of iodine.


Biker kholim [visiting the sick]

The tasks of the bikur kholim were many, from going to sit with the very ill overnight to borrowing various medical equipment that would be useful to the patient. It was a very difficult and sacred work and Yankele Hertsog was the faithful director of that institution.

He also led a second institution which was called “Gut shabes, yidelekh” [good sabbath, Jews]. This was an institution that undertook to provide poor families with khale for shabes. Each shabes morning two Jews would carry a big basket by its two handles and with the call “Gut shabes, yidelekh!” they knocked at Jewish houses and [p. 228]

people happily gave them khale that they had baked extra on Friday just for this mission. Shmuel Povroznik and another Jew had claim to go around with the basket and call out, “Gut shabes, yidelekh!


Gemiles khesed kase [small loan fund]

Almost everyone had to come to the gemiles khesed fund, whether to make a loan himself or to provide an endorsement for a friend or a neighbor. One could borrow from 100 to 500 zlotych from the fund and repay it at weekly rates from 1 to 5 zlotych. Akive Roset had given a room for public prayer, and it was that minyon that put together the committee for the fund every Monday and Thursday, and Jews came there to pay their installments. The only one who was paid for his work in the fund, a few zlotych a month, was Yosl, Motl Shamli's oldest son. The last president was Mendl Brikman and his assistants were Pinye Vatsharsh Sherman, Yankele Tarshish, Khane Rivke's son–in–law and others.


Hakneses orkhim [taking in guests]

This noble task of helping homeless and displaced happened especially when the Jews of Konine were driven out to Ostrovtse. The entire Jewish population of the town took in the refugees as their own relatives. One case will serve as an illustration: A woman, Montshke was her name, was standing in the middle of the market square with one of her sister's daughters and from their condition it was clear that they felt themselves refugees, as uprooted from their home and thrown into a town where they had no friend and no rescuer. One of the town proprietors, Yekhezkel Vaynberg, approached them and took them into his home, where they lived with his family until they all were taken away to Treblinka.


Public Kitchen

The Judenrat [Nazi–imposed “council of Jewish elders”] organized a public kitchen in the venue of the “Mizrakhi” group, which provided around one thousand lunches a day. The leaders of this effort were Moyshe Likht, Khayim Fishl Silman, Itshe Vishlitski, Mendl Brikman and Yehude Ratshimora.



There were two yeshives in town. One was called “the Rebi's yeshive” and it was supported by the Hasidim of our town and of other towns. The second was called the “Novorodke yeshive” and the entire burden of maintaining that yeshive fell on the Ostrovtse Jews. The boys of the yeshive had “eating days” among the population of the town. Besides that there was a yearly bread–action in the study–houses and each householder was obligated to give a kilo or two kilos of bread each week for the yeshive boys. The yeshive boys lived around the old and the new study–houses and the shul. Passers–by on Old Kuniavska Street could overhear the well–known Musar melodies as they studied. The attire of those boys was conspicuous too: A big tall hat, a long frock–coat with an open blouse, disheveled.

There were also small aid institutions in Ostrovtse, and on Purim for the feast, besides the usual help for the poor, couples collected money for the Poor Brides' Fund and other charitable institutions that functioned in the town.

May these lines of mine be a living memorial for the holy work that the Jews in Ostrovtse did in order to come to the aid of their impoverished brothers.

[Page 233]

New Winds Are Blowing

by Isser Boymfeld

Translated by Yaacov David Shulman

Ostrovtse, a town with a train station in the Kielce Voivodeship, was known for its large metal factory, where 24,000 men worked in three shifts. 17,000 Jews lived in the town.

After the First World War, which broke out in 1914, Ostrovtse grew extensively. In town, various institutions cropped up: sports organizations, libraries, schools, drama circles, a choir, and more.

This provided the impetus to transform the old–style cheders (one room school houses) with their melamdim (Torah teachers of young pupils) and bahelfers (helpers) into new–style cheders–i.e., talmud torahs (classroom schools). At the same time, there were yeshivas, Hasidic shtieblech (small synagogues) and batei midrashim (Torah study halls) with morning and evening classes.

Jewish laborers began engaging in political–economic activism in 1905, in the revolutionary movement against the Russian czarist regime. A few were sent to Siberia for their illegal political actions.

The town of Ostrovtse was almost completely Jewish. Jewish houses stood in all four directions around the marketplace. A Christian seldom moved onto the main streets. 70 per cent of the Jewish Ostrovtse population derived its income from business; 20 percent from crafts–cobblers, tailors, bakers, carpenters, glaziers, smiths, tinsmiths, construction workers and others; and 10 percent were professionals–melamdim, teachers, associated staff, doctors, dentists, pharmacists and others.

The overwhelming number of Jews in Ostrovtse were deeply religious. I will mention my uncle, Dovidl Boymfeld (or, as he was known to everyone in Ostrovtse, Dovidl Kalman Yashes), the leader of the Sabbath observant Jews. Every Friday eve, before candle lighting, he and his comrades would go out

[Page 234]

into the town and demand that stores close. Many times, he caused damage to the barbershops that were cutting hair or shaving beards a little bit late into the night. On Monday morning, he would pay for all of the damage. This happened numerous times.

The young Dovid came up with new ways to put an end to the backwardness of the town. In 1914, the first youth gathering in Mintzes' beis medrash took place, in which the writer of these lines participated. At this first youth meeting, a gemilus chesed [free loan] fund was created in order to help the craftsmen who could not pay the weekly wages of the journeymen working under them, because their own boss was taking a bath or enjoying an afternoon nap and did not sympathize with these tailors, cobblers or carpenters whose journeymen were waiting to be paid. Many times, it happened that a craftsman would avoid his journeymen by coming home come late at night, and he himself did not have enough for Shabbos. The fund helped many such craftsmen, lending them up to five rubles, which they would pay back over the course of the coming week.

This first youth gathering also founded the first library in Ostrovtse, which stood until the destruction of the entire Ostrovtse Jewish community.


Workers of the sport club, Yutzshenka


A few months later, after the founding of the library, the first Bundist group was formed.

In those years, a struggle took place between the Agudah and its most important rival, the Mizrachi, regarding who would influence the youth of the shtieblech and batei midrashim.

A bloc consisting of Mizrachi, Tze'irei–Mizrachi, Zionists, Tze'irei–Tzion, Po'alei Tzion, and politicians, in which sometimes the Bund also participated, was active in the elections to the gmina and town government, and attained a significant representation that the Agudath had to deal with.

The first contest with the Agudah took place on November 2, 1917, when the Balfour Declaration was celebrated in a mass ceremony held by the Zionist organizations from right to left, Shomrim, sports clubs, women's organizations, Tarbut and Mizrachi schools. Each group had its own flag, and a few even brought their own orchestra. Despite the fact that the Agudah, and the rabbinate as well, tried to prohibit street celebrations and gatherings in the great synagogue, all of that interference was put aside, thanks to the work of our community leaders led by the gmina vice chairman, Moshe Lederman,. This demonstrated the strength of the organized youth, which with the help of sympathetic elements ended the privileged positions of the religious community leaders, who had for many years allowed no one to speak. From then on, a new attitude began to form regarding the youth in our home town of Ostrovtse.

Religious life was concentrated in 40 Hasidic shtieblech. Foremost were the Gerer and Aleksander Hasidim. The two large batei midrashim were attended by craftsmen, as well as misnagdish (non–Hasidic) householders. The small beis medrash belonged to the tailors. It was in fact called “the tailors' beis medrash.” They had a tradition to recite psalms every day before dawn.

The large synagogue belonged to the ordinary folk: craftsmen, hand workers, unskilled laborers, porters, butchers. They set the tone for the synagogue–always taking into account, however, the view of the Ostrovtse rabbi.

[Page 235]

Rabbi Meir Yechiel Halshtak, who was born in Sabin in 5610 [1849–50], had illuminated the town with his righteousness and brilliance since 1888. After ten years as rabbi in Skernyevitz, he came as rabbi to Ostrovtse in 5649 [1888–899]. Very quickly he gained the love of all the townspeople–even the Christians. Whenever a Christian had a dispute with a Jew, he only wanted to go for judgment to “the rabbi.”

It is worth noting that one of the students of Rabbi Meir Yechiel Halevi, the Ostrovtse tzaddik, was Rabbi Shmuel Brodt, who later served as the Mizrachi representative in the sejm. From time to time he would leave the sejm in Warsaw and go to Ostrovtse in order to discuss matters with his rebbe. He would always hurry to Ostrovtse to gain the benefit of the great Torah light that shone in Ostrovtse and illuminated the entire Jewish world. In Rio de Janeiro as well, there was a student of the Ostrovtse rebbe, a ritual slaughterer named R. Berish Diamond.


[Page 252]

The Revisionist Zionist Movement in Ostrowiec

by I. Birnzweig

Donated by Avi Borenstein

Like in every Jewish town in Poland, Ostrowiec was also home to various youth organizations and movements from all streams, yet the different branches of the Revisionist Movement particularly excelled in their public activity, such as the Brit HaTzohar [Union of Revisionist Zionists] and Brit HaHayal [Revisionist Zionist Association]. The lectures held every Saturday at Brit HaTzohar by Adv. Friedenthal, who is now in Israel and by the late teacher Rabinovich, May G–d Revenge his Blood, were renowned among the youth movements and many came to hear them.

Among the figures who stood out the most in these organizations activities, were the Chairman Yisrael Rosenberg, May G–d Revenge his Blood, Shmuel Zussman, who represented the movement before the municipality and the community's committee and Secretary Moshe Goldfinger, who is now in Israel.

The Jews of the town experienced an exceptional experience when Zeev Jabotinsky appeared in Ostrowiec. The film theater was too narrow to hold all the masses that came to hear the leader and the nearby streets were filled with Jews listening to the speech from speakers installed especially for the occasion. Mr. Friedenthal had the tremendous privilege of receiving the distinguished guest and opening the lecture. Y. Rozensweig had a big part in the success of this event, after investing numerous hours preparing it. The lecture was followed by a party with festive tables at the home of Mr. Heine, the richest man in town and father–in–law of the Rabbi from Gur, who offered him his spacious and luxurious apartment. We sat there with the great leader until the early hours of the morning, listening to his words without feeling time pass.

Brit HaTzohar was established in 1927 by a group of youngsters headed by Yaakov Orbach. It evolved into an active and strong body that took part in the town's cultural and political activities.

Two years later, Shmuel Grossman and Eli Mintsberg established the Beitar Movement, which quickly developed and included most of the town's youth within a short time, mainly thanks to teacher Rabinovich, who contributed valuable cultural contents to the movement's activity, many ran to the lectures and cultural balls that he hosted. Beitar also organized summer camps, defense sports training, trips and more. When members of Beitar walked the town streets wearing their uniforms, they were considered by all as the start of the Hebrew army.

After the Nazis began WWII in 1939, an underground Command Center was established by the honorable Messieurs P. Shar, Rabinovich, K. Waldman, S. Goldman, Bluma Grossman and Rachel Steinbrat. Brit HaHayal was organized thanks to Captain Yakir Goldberg (Har Zahav), who came especially from Warsaw for this purpose. He managed to gather a number of young Jews after their service in the Polish army and lectured to them about the purpose of Brit HaHayal. Adv. Tzisel agreed to assume the role of commander and together with the rest of the Command members – Yaakov Zeltser, Eli Levi and others – managed to infuse the acknowledgment that all military veterans should take advantage of their military experience to benefit their brothers, wherever they may be and should protect Jews and their property from Antisemitism. However, they considered getting to the Land of Israel as their main goal, whereas at the time it was closed to Jewish immigrants. Many of them came to the Land of Israel as part of the Aliya Bet [illegal immigration by Jews], which was organized by Mr. Zaitsik from the Center and took part in protecting the Jewish settlements from Arab thugs.

The Nazi evil put an end to this vibrant life and our precious youth was destroyed.

Let these lines serve as a memorial for all the members of the movement who did not live to see their idea victorious in free Israel. May their souls be bound in the bond of life.


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