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[Page 179]

A Metropolis

 

[Pages 39-43 Hebrew] [Pages 181-186 Yiddish]

This is what life in our town was like

by Yosef Rozengarten

Translated by Leon Zamosc

The Jewish community of Zychlin was not large, but it had rabbis, dayanim, Torah scholars, public personalities and activists of political parties. There were several heders, a large synagogue, a beit hamidrash, and shtiebels. The courtyard of Rabbi Menachem was used for minyanim and for the meetings of the Linat Tzedek society.

Interesting things happened in the shtiebels. For example: after Shabbat prayer, they would hide the prayer shawls of those who did not pay their dues or their share of the rent. The idea was to force them to pay and redeem them, otherwise they would not have a tassel to wrap themselves in on the following Shabbat. (The Hasidim had two prayer shawls: one for weekdays and the other for Shabbat and the holidays).

On Friday afternoon, as Shabbat approached, there was a lot of movement in the streets of Zychlin as the Jews rushed to the mikveh to prepare themselves for the reception of Shabbat.

Before Shabbat began, the shulklapper Avrahamele would go around with a small wooden hammer and knock three times on every Jewish door to announce the beginning of Shabbat. And the Jews hastened - some to the synagogue, some to the beit hamidrash, and some to the minyanim and shtiebels for Shabbat.

Most of the craftsmen, small merchants, owners of carts and the common folk prayed in the beit hamidrash. The dayan, Rabbi Aharon Yehuda, a pious and righteous man, stood before the ark on Shabbat, the regular holidays, and the High Holidays. On Saturday afternoon, he studied the Torah portion of the week with the common people, who listened intently to his every word.

The dayan fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. He only ate to strengthen his slender body and soul, so that he would be able to serve the creator of the world. His voice was weak, but he sounded loud. The Jews respected and adored him.

The synagogue and the beit hamidrash were adjacent to each other, but were different in their external and internal appearance. With the mikveh, which was also nearby, they formed a kind of triangle. The rabbi's house bordered the beit hamidrash, whose door faced the entrance to the beit din. There was an ancient well in the middle of the space between both buildings. The people of the town had always drawn water from the well, until it was replaced by a “modern” pump.

There were four main streets in Zychlin: Budzyner, Buszkower, Pasieka and Podwal. They framed the market square. Separated by the square, Budzyner street faced Podwal street, and Pasieka street faced Buszkower street. In addition to these main streets there were, of course, side streets and alleys.

The main entrance to the town was from the Pniewo train station, three kilometers south of the town. The other entrance was from the direction of the neighboring town Gombin, whose only access to the train was through Zychlin.

Horse-drawn carts and carriages connected the train station with the town. The owners of the carts competed for passengers, which often led to quarrels.

Before the war, there were about 650 Jewish families in Zychlin, mainly craftsmen, petty traders, peddlers and laborers. Few Jews were affluent, except for Moshe Mendel Wojdeslawski, who was certainly rich. There were some who made a decent living, but most of the residents had humble livelihoods and many were poor. The Jewish shops were mostly concentrated in the market square, while the Jewish butchers were located near the church.

Once a week, on Thursdays, there was a local fair and twice a year, a regional fair. The noise and commotion began the day before the fair, with the arrival of merchants who came from afar to compete with the local merchants. They would all set up stalls for their goods and very often things did not go smoothly. Just as out-of-town merchants came to the Zychlin fair, so did the Zychlin merchants go to fairs in other towns. For everybody, the days of the fair provided the main source of income. Farmers from all over the area came to sell eggs, chickens, butter, and potatoes. Cattle and horses were also traded. After selling their produce, the farmers spent their money buying goods and groceries. .

After a day of toil, the Jews would go to evening prayers at the beit hamidrash and, occasionally, to hear a maggid who happened to be visiting the town. They would “swallow” every word that came out of his mouth. We, the children of the heders and the yeshivas, gathered on the stairs that led to the ark in order to watch the maggid up close and hear his words of wisdom. There were always volunteers at the door of the beit hamidrash collecting donations for the maggid, and care was taken to invite him to a hot meal and a place to stay overnight.

After the death of Rabbi Itche Meir Zachil at the young age of 40, the Ger Hasidim succeeded in crowning Rabbi Mordechai Alter, another rabbi from the Ger dynasty. Inspired by him, the Ger Hasidim tried to impose their authority on the community and especially on religious Judaism in our town. However, they met the vigorous opposition from the vast majority of the popular groups and even from some of the religious Jews. The opposition was headed by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Meir Rozenblum, who had been a committed Zionist since the beginning of the movement. There had always been confrontations between these two factions, and more than once it had been necessary to summon great rabbis to settle their disputes.

Until the First World War, the town's Jewish children and boys were educated in heders and yeshivas. The people of Talmud Torah made sure that nobody was excluded for lack of means. There were yeshiva students from other towns studying with us, especially youngsters from poor families. They were fed by residents of our town who also took care of their accommodation.

The charitable institutions in the town included the Linat Tzedek Society, Bikur Cholim, Knesset Kala, and Talmud Torah. There were also anonymous donations.

At the end of the First World War, the good news about the Balfour Declaration, announced on November 2 1917, was heard all over Poland. The whole town awoke from the slumber of the war years. There were heated debates in Zionist and non-Zionist circles. The orthodox religious Jews painted the Zionists as unbelievers who were pushing things despite the fact that people were not ready for the coming of the Messiah. But most of our townspeople received the news enthusiastically, and the day of the Balfour Declaration became a holiday.

A public meeting was convened by the Bnai Zion Association in the hall of the Polish elementary school on Pasieka street, in front of the houses and flour-mills of Moshe Mendel Wojdeslawski. Crowds flocked to the assembly dressed in holiday clothes. The hall was too small to accommodate everybody. Veteran Zionist teacher David Steinberger (Shamir), wearing a tuxedo and beaming with joy, was the only speaker. He explained the meaning of the Balfour Declaration. The large audience occasionally interrupted him with stormy applause, and the gathering ended singing the Hatikva anthem with elation.

Public life became vibrant. A democratic community committee was elected with representation of most of the Zionist parties. Avraham Yitzhak Rozenfeld, the chairman of the Bnai Zion Association, was elected as head of the community committee. The secretary was David Steinberger, who also served as secretary of the Bnai Zion Association.

Zychlin's Jewish population was overwhelmingly Zionist. All the Zionist parties had branches in our town: General Zionists, Mizrahi and Hapoel Mizrahi, the Folkist party, Tzeirei Zion (later the Zionist Socialist Party, which united with Poalei Zion Right), Poaeli Zion Left, Hashomer Hatzair, etc. These groups were active everywhere and excelled in fundraising for the Zionist foundations: Keren Kayemet, the Jewish National Fund, Keren Hayesod, Torah and Avodah, and even held a fundraiser for the benefit of academics from the minority groups in Poland. There was also a small group of the Bund party, but it did not have significant influence. The members of Agudat Israel were zealous defenders of religion.

 

Freiheit (Dror), youth movement of the Zionist-Socialist party Poalei Zion in Zychlin

 

Another novelty after the end of the First World War was the opening of the Tarbut school under the direction of Zionist teacher and activist David Steinberger. He brought pedagogical innovators from Warsaw, including his brother Yosef Steinberger, and also organized Hebrew, bible and Jewish history evening classes. During the national holidays, there were readings and dancing and singing performances by the school's students.

Three dramatic theater circles were also active. One of them, run by the Bnai Zion Association and led by David Steinberger presented, among others, the play “Mentschn” by Shalom Aleichem. The Tzeirei Zion group, led by Israel Zafran, presented “Der Dorfs Jung” by Leon Kobrin, “Uriel da Costa” by Karl Gutzkow, and other plays. The third circle belonged to Poalei Zion Left, which brought in an outside director whose name was Hermelin.

Occasionally, drama groups from other towns visited Zychlin. As an avid teenager I loved to go to the theater. However, I did not have money for the tickets and I had to do it in secret due to my parents' misgivings. Eventually, I took advantage of a request from the theater staff. They needed typical Hasidic clothing items (like fur hats, silk capes, etc.) for the presentations. So I “stole” the stuff from our closet and, as a reward, I got free access to the plays.

There were two libraries in our town, one of the Bnai Zion Association and the other run by the Poalei Zion Left. We also had a sports association, which conducted an extensive operation under the guidance of the teacher Zayde. The festival they held in 1918 gained a reputation throughout Poland. We also had a soccer team, under the auspices of Tzeirei Zion and Poalei Zion.

Very famous speakers visited our town. Before the First World War, Rabbi Hillel Zeitlin came to Zychlin. Among the people who loved culture, his visit made such a big impression that it became a local holiday.

 

Some of the first Zychliner emigrants to Eretz Israel
From right: M. Lajzerowicz, Y. Kelmer, Moshe Kelmer, Y. Wojdeslawski, L. Olsztyn, Y. Rozenberg

 

Zychliners emigrated to Eretz Israel participating in all the aliyahs, starting with the second aliyah. The name of the first emigrant was Fenigshtein. Today, there are about 150 families from Zychlin in Israel, living in cities, towns, moshavim and kibbutzim. Some of them occupy prominent places in various public and party institutions.

There was a wonderful, motivated, lively and fresh youth in Zychlin. There were sparks in the youth groups that, were it not for the Holocaust and the destruction, would have ignited into torches and large luminaries.

Zychlin was a Mother of Israel town. Jewish craftsmen, small merchants, peddlers, laborers, water-pumps and lumberjacks, Jews all year round, Jews of Shabbat and worldly Jews. Unfortunately for all of us, they are no more.

In 1925 I emigrated to Eretz Israel. Those who came after me or went to other countries, especially Holocaust survivors, will add to the story of life in our beloved town, because the more it is told, the better.

 

Zionist-Socialist youth movement Poelei Zion Right, bidding farewell to Yosef Rozengarten and his wife Bracha as they emigrate to Eretz Israel, October 4, 1925.

[Pages 44-45 Hebrew] [Pages 186-188 Yiddish]

A bundle of memories

by M. Koren

Translated by Leon Zamosc

I remember Zychlin as I saw it at the dawn of my childhood. Dark in every way. A town without any lighting. I remember my fears when I ran home at night from the heder through the market, which was full of fools. I also remember when the town was “modernized” and a chandelier was installed at the synagogue. We were very proud of Zychlin then. In the evenings the lamp moved back and forth and cast a red light around it. I think that my fears grew more then than before it was installed. Now there was also lighting inside the houses, but enlightened public activity did not exist. The Russian authorities did not allow the Jews to organize any institutions except the heders and a beit hamidrash.

Under the cover of darkness and distress, however, there was a strong yearning for a free public cultural life. A change took place in this respect in our town, and in the whole of Poland, during the First World War, when the Germans occupied the country in 1914. We must not and cannot forget what Hitler's barbarians would do to us later, but at that time, when we were under the yoke of the Russians and Poles, the arrival of the Germans spurred an awakening in the town. For their own political reasons, they allowed the establishment of social, cultural and sports organizations, as well as the functioning of political parties of all shades. In this respect, I should note that public and cultural life in Zychlin was more developed than in other towns, including some that were larger than ours.

Today, with the hindsight of time, I must say that there were mistakes in the way we conducted the activities of the political parties at the time. But I prefer to abstain from mentioning the names of those who repeated seven times a day the phrase “Next year in Jerusalem” or those who opposed the idea of establishing the State of Israel. We were active in Zionist parties whose main goal was the foundation of a Jewish state, but each party had a different political and ideological approach. We were torn and divided. Nevertheless, our hopes were fulfilled. It cost a lot of sacrifices and blood, but the State of Israel exists and the people of Israel is alive.

I remember well a characteristic episode from Zychlin's cultural life. The members of the Jewish Drama Circle of neighboring Kutno had offered us to come to town and present a play that they had prepared and adapted for the stage. We rented the hall for the show and started selling tickets. On Saturday night, the group of actors from Kutno showed up. We had announced that the show would start at exactly 8:30 in the evening. However, the preparations continued until about ten o'clock. I do not really remember whether the show turned out to be as good as our friends from Kutno had promised, but I do remember that when it was supposed to finally start the lights went out. We brought an electrician, who tried to fix the breakdown. By midnight, the hall was still shrouded in darkness. A few people in the audience demanded their money back, but all the others sat patiently waiting for the show to begin. All this happened in the middle of the summer, when the sun rises early. And as the first rays of light appeared on the horizon, the actors finally took the stage and the play began … [Pages 45-47 Hebrew] [Pages 188-192 Yiddish]

Our little town

by Miriam Jacobi (Mania Olsztyn)

Translated by Leon Zamosc

Although Zychlin was a small town, it was big and wonderful in its spirit. It had everything - everything needed for a developed and cultured town. The Polish population was economically established, but the bulk of the town's soul was the Jewish community.

The Jews of Zychlin, seemingly simple people, also worked. They were honest and good. They were active in a variety of occupations and in commerce, and some of the merchants had dealings with their Gentile neighbors.

There was usually peace between us and the town's Gentiles, but anti-Semitism was also present in Zychlin. Like the rest of the Jews in the Diaspora, we often heard the hostile remark: “Go back to Palestine!”. The anti-Semites did not know it, but that was precisely our greatest dream…

We were free to develop our social and cultural aspirations. Among us, there were Jews who were completely free and there were Jews who were ultra-Orthodox, traditionalist and meticulous in their fulfillment of the mitzvot. We were organized and united, big and small together, as one large family. Together we suffered and together we rejoiced. And one great ambition beat in the hearts of us all: to go and live in the Land of Israel.

Here I would like to mention some of our wonderful people, such as the late Yitzhak Kelmer. He was the living spirit of the General Zionists in Zychlin. If I am not mistaken, at some point he was the chairman of the Jewish community. But Yitzhak never waited to be elected to public office. For all the people of the town, he was a faithful and devoted father, someone who dedicated his life to helping others. ln our hearts, he will never be forgotten.

We once asked Yitzhak: “when will you go to Eretz Israel?”. He replied with a wide smile:“There is a lot of work I still have to do. First I must make sure that all the town's Jews are able to go - then I will start thinking about myself.” But he would not be able to make it: when the Nazi oppressors arrived in Zychlin, Yitzhak was among the first to be murdered.

I also want to say something about our Zionist home, about my mother and my dear brother Leibush (Aryeh), who are no longer with us. My parents were dedicated Zionists in heart and soul and all our ambition was to live in Eretz Israel. Our economic situation was good, we lacked nothing. Yet we dreamed about going to Palestine. My father and the boys were tinsmiths who worked in the villages of the landowners, and my mother had a shop of kitchen utensils. When it became known that we were preparing to leave, some of the Gentile friends tried to convince my mother that Jews like us should not leave Poland: “You are good, dedicated people and we love you. Please stay with us. Here you make a good living, but Palestine is a land of deserts where you will suffer hunger and poverty”.

My late mother, wonderful in her pride, stood before them holding her head high and replied:“Yes, it is good for us with you, but we are in a foreign country. We want to live on our land, in our homeland, where our people are waiting for us, in our place, and it is better for us to eat dry bread in the Land of Israel than to stay here”. I was in the store with my mother and, hearing her wonderful words, I burst into tears of excitement.

And indeed, we were the first entire family of Zychliners who returned to Eretz Israel. Many of the older boys and girls had already left Zychlin. My brother Leibush and my older sisters were among the first pioneers. It was them who attracted the whole family.

I was a girl when we came to Israel, and it is difficult for me to remember all the people of Zychlin. But it is even more difficult to forget the place where you are born, and especially a place where you spent the gorgeous days of the dawn of life, your youthful days. We had a beautiful youth. Zychlin's youngsters were the most animated youngsters of the region. They took good care of us. We had schools with good teachers from Warsaw, evening lessons in Hebrew, and a library. We read a lot and attended cultural classes, drama classes, art, reading, recitation… And all of that we did on our own. There were youth movements in the town: Hashomer Hatzair, Tzeirei Zion, General Zionists and others. There was a mandolin orchestra and there were choirs. My brother Leibush participated in all these activities. He had a great talent for art and poetry. But he passed away when he was only 52 years old. Our consolation is that he died a natural death and is buried in the holy land of Jerusalem. May his memory be blessed,

The town itself was beautiful. Extensive green fields, miles of tall grain crops in the summer, plenty of fruit orchards, ornamental gardens, a small bridge sloping over a water pond, a train passing by… I loved walking around the town, and spent my youth in the fields. I enjoyed going out to the train station from time to time. I would sit there, looking at passengers waving their hands, not knowing who these people were. There was a childhood joy in that. The town also had flour mills and a large sugar factory. They belonged to the Gentiles, but we enjoyed watching the movements of the people who worked there. The sound of the sirens marking the lunch breaks and the beginning and end of the working day added a touch to our childhood experiences.

I spent my youthful days in Zychlin and I loved the town. I enjoyed everything! I was sorry when I had to move to the big city of Lodz and work to continue to study and stand on my own. It was a completely different way of life. I spent two years in Lodz, far from what was most precious to me, until I fulfilled my dream and came to Israel with my whole family on the Hanukkah of 1926.

The first year in the country was tough, we endured real hunger, but we were not disappointed. My late mother was the living force among us. She saw that the situation was difficult, but her spirit did not fall. She said: “Children, we will all roll up our sleeves and start working so that we can live with dignity.”

She was sick for most of her years in Palestine, but she never despaired or longed for the life of exile. She was happy to live and die in Eretz Israel.

We had no relatives left in Zychlin, but we thought often about the friends and acquaintances we left behind, especially when the persecution of the Jews and the mass killings began.

Our small and beloved town is gone, with all those people who did not get to come to us. In their bitter fate, their aspirations and holy lives were sacrificed, along with those of millions of Jews, on the altar of evil. Our hearts bleed when we are reminded of that horror. Pure, good, and honest Jews, who did their work in peace and with integrity, blameless people… victims of terrible burning and killing.

A crime that will live in infamy.

May their memory be blessed. [Pages 48-48 Hebrew] [Pages 192-193 Yiddish]

A Town full of Yiddishkeit

by Santze and Rashe Berman

Translated by Leon Zamosc

I was sixteen when I left Zychlin but I cannot forget the town. Everything is in front of my eyes: the long Budzyner street, Pasieka street, the market, Podwal street, the river, the bridge, the sugar factory, the businesses of the Jews, the few “gentlemen” of the nobility, the poverty, the landlords, the Hasidic followers and their opponents, the honest craftsmen, the rabbi, the synagogue, the beit hamidrash, the mikveh, the well, the water-pump, Shimshon the baker (his fresh pastries radiated exquisite aromas that stopped the breath of everyone who passed-by), Mendel Meir the Zionist butcher (the Hasidim did not eat from his slaughter), the tzaddik Rabbi Aharon Yehuda of blessed memory (who was thin because of his many fasts, and perhaps due to lack of food in his house), the Rebbe of Zichlin, whose followers came from near and far to receive his blessing…

Everything had a special charm: the organizations and institutions, the youth movements and their enthusiasm for deeds. The town had a special character, wanting to be active in everything that had to do with Jews and Judaism.

For hundreds of years there was a Jewish settlement in Zychlin. With blood and sweat our ancestors built the town. Despite the rejections, decrees and disturbances they remained loyal to the Jewish tradition for generations. Jewish Zychlin could be proud of its honest, idealistic activists, who preferred the public good over their own private interests. It was the privilege of Zychlin to bring forth faithful sons of the people of Israel, Torah scholars and famous personalities. The town could be proud of its vibrant, multi-talented youngsters.

With their own money, which came from hard and arduous labor, the Jews of Zychlin built a synagogue of splendor, houses of religious learning and lay education, institutions for charity and kindness. And all of that, the institutions and their builders, the leaders and the masses of the people, old and young, were so brutally destroyed.

Our house was for its own name, and our martyrs do not have monuments. Their ashes are scattered across the death camps, the ghettos, the forests and the fields.

[Pages 49-50 Hebrew] [Pages 193-197 Yiddish]

Remembering the shtetl
on the eve of Yom Kippur

by Bracha Berman-Kroshinski

Translated by Leon Zamosc

A market square with a water pump in the center of town, framed by four streets. That's all. Around the square stood the church, many Jewish shops, the shtiebel of the Ger Hasidim, and the “Izba” - the meeting place of the Hashomer Hatzair youth, the library, and the Zionist organizations. On Budzyner, the street that faced south, one would find the town's only pharmacy, a hotel and several shops, two of which sold candy and ice cream. On that street lived the Zychlin Rebbe, which used to be visited by his followers during the holidays. From there the road led to the Pniewo train station, passing through the Brown-Boveri factory (electrical motors and transformers) and the sugar factory in Dobrzelin. Many residents of the town and the surrounding villages made their living working at these factories.

The opposite street, known as Podwal, turned north, leading on its left to the town's park. In the summer, acacia and jasmine trees bloomed in the park, which had a promenade and was the favorite meeting place for the youth. Further on to the right, the road led to the forests that stretched as far as the nearby town of Gombin, where people used to make frequent excursions.

To the east was Buszkower street, smaller than the others, which led to the cemetery. Wanting to increase its importance, the municipality had located the post office, the telegraph, and the savings bank on that street

Along Pasieka street, which led west, were the schools, the municipality, and the flour mill, which belonged to Moshe Mendel Wojdeslawski, the richest man in the town.

Near Budzyner street there was a small alley. The carriages that took people to and from the train station used to park there. Located between that alley and Pasieka street were the municipal school, the mikveh and the residence of the town's rabbi, who was a relative of the Ger Hasidim's Rebbe Avraham Mordechai Alter.

On holidays and Saturdays everything changed. On Friday evening the shops closed, the Jews dressed for Shabbat and they went to pray - some to the synagogue, some to the beit hamidrash, and some to the shtiebel of the Hasidim. All the worries of the week vanished - Shabbat came, rest came.

Zychliners knew each other well. They educated their children in practical mitzvot and were always ready to help the needy. Sick or lonely people did not feel abandoned. They knew that the others were concerned about them and would extend a helping hand when it was needed.

There was a yeshiva in Zychlin, and there was not a single Jewish child who did not study in the yeshiva, the heders, or at home with a private teacher. The Jewish families made every effort to instill in their children the spiritual values of previous generations.

The young were inspired by Zionist ideals, and their ambition to return to the Land of Israel was strong. In the days after the First World War, the ideals of self-liberation and taking matters into one's own hands were very strong. The Zionist movement expanded in all its variants: Poalei Zion Right and Left, Mizrahi, Tzeirei Zion, Hashomer Hatzair, and Agudat Israel. There was also no shortage of young Jewish communists at the time, which was a source of concern for their parents.

It was not easy for the children of Hasidic parents to fulfill their desire to learn Hebrew, go to summer camp, or attend vocational training courses in preparation for aliyah. For their parents, it was like a stain in the family's reputation. There were heated arguments between husbands and wives on how to curb the urges of their children, among party members on how to lead and win elections, and within the Zionist youth movements on how to speed up emigration.

If it was not possible to get a visa for Palestine, the youngsters would in the meantime go to a big city, Warsaw or Lodz, to attend a public high school or a university, to get to know the world and expand their horizons. They dreamed of a better, more beautiful world, as envisaged by our prophets. Inspired by humanist and socialist ideas, they went out into the wide world, rejecting the traditional values of the small town. Their sentiments were deeply human and sincere.

The town they left behind was brutally destroyed. Its Jews were murdered and every sign of its old Jewish life and culture was erased. Geographically Zychlin still exists. In the spring, the lilac, acacia and jasmine trees bloom again, but the Jews are no longer there. Gone are shtiebel of the Ger Hasidim, the “Izba”, the arguments about the Rambam, and the discussions about Marx. We no longer hear the melody of the Gemara or the Hatikvah. All that remains is the deep pain, and the mitzvah to never forget.

The town is no more. Went up in smoke and flames, wiped out by the cruel hands of the Nazis. In the fires shaded by fire, only memories remain, which accompany us, the survivors, in our wanderings across seas and continents: torn in our souls and torn in our hearts, thrown into other lands. It is as if a plant, after being uprooted from the ground, is replanted in soil covered with shade.

 

On the eve of Yom Kippur

The Jewish town, bloodied, crushed and destroyed, was filled with Jewish virtues that had been passed down from generation to generation. It still illuminates the life of an entire week with a Sabbath of kindness and love, thus creating the specificity of Jewish uniqueness. The day of Yom Kippur is indeed a brighter light in the soul of every Jew in exile - and he asks himself: “Where is the power to forgive so many evils?”

When the world, with its beautiful promises, disappoints, we remain alone and seek the power that elevates the offended and crushed to holiness.

The light of the town where we sang the Sabbath hymns and camp songs celebrating our great ideals, the light that brightened our melodies of “Lecha Dodi” and “Tachezakhna” has not been extinguished. And when we hear them again, somewhere in a place of Jewish exile, our thoughts go back to the town. We take the candle again and go to the synagogue…

It is getting dark in the autumn. The day still warmed by the sun, smiling and smiling with the satisfaction that it is a day on this sinful world when people forgive all the little quarrels, shake hands and wish each other a “good signature” for a new year which, written in heaven, shall be sealed for good.

All the shops in the market and surrounding streets have long been closed. From afar one can hear the weeping voice of a mother wishing the children a happy new year. A trembling voice of a father blessing the children.

You enter Shiloh - the biblical place of Ancient Israel. Men stalk in long capotes, soft boots with white socks and fur hats on their heads. Women in wigs or velvet head wraps, with guipure collars or white silk scarves, walking with candles in their hands. Their frightened eyes looking into the distance,

The synagogue is crowded, full of people and lit candles, the air is hot. A woman is sobbing quietly in a corner. Her heart is full of sorrow. Where is her son? Her Yosele, for whom the town had become too narrow and who had decided to go out to the wider world. Here it is so cozy, so close to God… And there everything must be so strange… Even for God it is too far away. Who knows if his prayers will be heard there? And maybe he won't go to school at all… But in his heart he will certainly miss the town, where everything is so simple and sincere.

The sun has already set, leaving a reddish-brown line of clouds in the sky on the west. From the distance, where the old synagogue is located, the melody of Kol Nidre.

Is it just a prayer of remorse for bad deeds and a statement to improve oneself, or a collective expression of a desire to do something better? The melody is the same, the words the same, the difference is just the place. From a small town to a metropolis.

Is this an expression of mental reckoning? Does this Jewish collective expression of remorse convey the desire for something better for us, for our children, for our people? Or is it a “routine” prayer that is just recited to pay a debt to God before going back to life as usual?

No! Our prophets have said that such “routine” prayers are not heard in heaven. Let's keep that light in our souls and continue to lovingly build our Jewish continuity.

Only then our prayers will be truly authentic.

[Pages 51-52 Hebrew] [Pages 198-200 Yiddish]

The cradle of Zionism

by Bracha Yair (Olsztyn)

Translated by Leon Zamosc

Many years have passed since I left Zychlin. Many changes have taken place in the world and in our country, but I have not forgotten the foundations of Zionism in my town. Frequently the image arises before my eyes. Zychlin in all its forms: the humble life of exile, the hostility that surrounded us for many generations, the eternal fear of hatred against the Jews. Even so, we had a wonderful, vibrant youth. That was the honor and glory of our town.

I remember my childhood days, when we learned to love our land through the holidays and traditions at home. Every holiday was related to Zion and the celebration and redemption of the people. The prayers were imbued with hope and supplications for the return to Zion: “and we thought of Zion and we were like dreamers.” I remember the deep sorrow and mourning on Tisha B'Av. Shadows hovering around and on the walls, projected by the candle flashing in the corner. Mother sits on the floor, reads the book and weeps over the destruction of the Temple, the glory of our country and our people in the past. As the prophet Jeremiah put it: “How lonely lies the city that was once full of people!” It is hard to describe the mystical emotion that I felt. I began to dream about returning to Eretz Israel.

Part of my childhood connection with Zionism had to do with the beloved Rozenfeld family. It was a family blessed with many children and poverty often knocked on their door. The late Avraham Rozenfeld, a watchmaker, was one of the founders of Zionism in Zychlin. He was an educated man whose very presence inspired respect, and his house was home to the most enlightened men in town. He attentively followed what was happening in the world at large and especially in the Zionist movement. I was friends with one of his daughters and, when Rosenfeld and his comrades discussed some subject, we would hide in a corner of the house and listen to everything that was said. The conversations were about Zionist congresses, about the great leader Teodor Herzl, about the pogroms in Romania and the blood libels in Russia, about the expulsions of Jews and so on.

In 1915 the Germans invaded Poland and introduced some progress and culture. We were allowed to engage in sports and open libraries and schools in Hebrew. The youth got organized with the formation of groups of scouts and pioneers. With incredible joy and vigor, we got involved in public activism. We were thirsty for knowledge and education. The Bnai Zion Association was created by Pinchas Getzel, Rivka Chelmski, Riva Rozenberg. David Steinberger (Shamir), Aharon Kanarek, Avraham Rozenfeld, Yitzhak Kelmer, Meir Helmer, Yehezkel Helmer, and others.

I remember the day I registered as a member of Bnei Zion. How proud and happy I was to be part of the Zionist movement and to be able to work for the realization of the noble Zionist ideal. The founding members engaged in the sacred work, opened libraries, and organized evening classes. My late brother Leibush (Aryeh) Olsztyn, with other friends from Poalei Zion, founded a dramatic circle and I participated in performances. We sent all the proceeds to the organization's main office in Warsaw, which donated the funds to the Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod.

One of the activists was my friend Chava Najdorf, whom I deeply loved and whose image stays in my heart to this day. She was an educated and noble girl with a strong will to overcome all the difficulties of life. Her personality illuminated everything around her. We studied Hebrew together and she was familiar with every cultural subject.

The personality of the late David Steinberger (Shamir) looms large in my memory. He was one of the founders of Bnai Tzion. He came to Zychlin from the big outside world, equipped with a great deal of knowledge. He had a blessed influence on the Zionist youth in the town. He instilled in us his love for the Hebrew language and every lesson with him was an unforgettable experience.

When the third aliyah began, many members of our organization came to Palestine. I arrived with other friends in 1926. Each one of us laid a stone for the building and progress of the country. We raised a new generation that would continue the sacred work after us. Our families are extensive and involved in the life of the country, which is a source of satisfaction and happiness for all of us.

The heart aches for those who were not able to fulfill their ideal and see the resurrection of our people in their land. Their work and memory will be blessed forever.

[Pages 52-54 Hebrew] [Pages 200-201 Yiddish]

The town of my childhood

by Helena Tzinamon-Bodek

Translated by Leon Zamosc

Zychlin - the town of my childhood, the world of a little girl who could not imagine life beyond its limited confines.

Now, from the distance of time, after all the suffering we endured during and after the war, I see Zychlin in a more sober light: a scanty, poor little town, and yet so close to my heart.

I evoke the image of the main square, dominated by the towering church. Every week on Sunday, the sounds of the organ and the chants of the faithful rose and resounded from there. Crowds of Gentiles wearing their best clothes for the holiday - peasants, clerks, burghers, all the local "aristocracy" flocking to the church from all sides of the town. On that day, the Jews disappeared from view, locked in their small, stuffy apartments, behind their dark shops. Shabbat, on the other hand, was the day of the Jews. The main streets were crowded with people, well-dressed boys and girls, noisy adults and children, loud conversations in Yiddish interwoven with Polish words.

On weekdays, the Jews stood out in the town. Their shops and workshops provided the population with groceries and goods, especially on market days. Bustle, bargaining, quarrels over attracting customers, especially among the farmers who gathered in the market with their carts laden with dairy products and agricultural produce. In the market in the center of town, the residents stocked up on groceries for the entire week, from vegetables and fruits to fattened geese, which Jewish housewives used to buy for the Shabbat celebrations.

On Fridays the town rested peacefully as the sun went down. In their homes, the Jews were preparing for Shabbat. The candles gleamed in polished candlesticks, on tables covered with white tablecloths, spreading their light on the kiddush wine, the glasses, and the challah covered with an embroidered napkin. The table was set for the reception of the worshipers returning from the synagogues and the Shabbat meal.

In the packed Synagogalna and Zdrova alleys, where the synagogue and the offices of the Jewish community were located, there was a lot of activity. Men with beards and payot, some with fur hats and others wearing regular caps, hurried to the synagogue, individually or in groups. More than once, an insolent young Pole, seeing a bearded Jew, would throw a stone at him. In general, there were passable relations between Polish and Jewish residents. There was tolerance, but it was not devoid of a copious dose of mutual derision.

There was a group of Polish youth in the town who were under the influence of the antisemitic party Endecja (National Democracy), but they did not pose much danger to the Jews. Anti-Semitism was prevalent mainly in the lower strata of the Polish populace and was rooted in religious hostility. On certain Christian holidays, for example Corpus Christi, it was not advisable for a Jew to be seen on the street during the procession. However, Christians usually treated “their” Jews properly and became accustomed to them - until the Nazis arrived. The Jews had their own cultural life – their heders, schools, libraries, and charitable and public institutions. Their impact on the general life of the town was very significant. Their temperament, vivacity, and industriousness gave the town a special character. Therefore, when the Jews of Zychlin were brutally annihilated, the town also died out. True, a place called Zychlin still exists, but it is no longer Zychlin, the town of my childhood.

 

Laying the cornerstone for the Zychlin House in Tel Aviv, 1965

[Pages 52-54 Hebrew] [Pages 200-201 Yiddish]

Traditional versus modern

by Ben-Nachum

Translated by Leon Zamosc

Esther Malka Zyger was a well-known figure in the town. After the death of her husband Shmuel Zyger, she had to take care of five children, three of her own and two from Shmuel's previous marriage. Despite her economic troubles, she was gifted with a social sense and devoted to others. Her best friend was Chaya Rachel Helmer, the wife of the late Reb Yehoshua Helmer, who perished in the Holocaust.

 

Esther Malka Zyger

 

Noah Zyger, an older son of Esther Malka's husband Shmuel's first marriage, was one of the students of the beit hamidrash (most of whom were old enough to stand on their own, and yet remained “close to their parents' table”), It was natural that they would socialize together (this was in the mid-1910s), and they would meet in the house of Noah, who lived with his father's first wife in a room and a kitchen. Esther Malka did not resent the fact that these relations disturbed the normal order of her family's life. On the contrary, she accepted it with sympathy, as if they were all members of her own family. She shared herself in their dilemmas and problems.

And there was one problem that was “hot” in those days. Young people were expected to fulfill the sacred principle of honoring father and mother. In traditional homes, any deviation from that norm involved mental anguish, both for the parents and the sons. Now, the usual Jewish dress at the time was long clothes, and a round hat with a hard brim. But we wanted to move from that to a more modern attire: a short garment and a hat with a soft brim and indented crown.

 

Traditional people: Members of Torah and Avodah in Zychlin

 

We could not buy one of the new garments because, being dependent on our parents, we did not have our own money. So we took a torn Shabbat garment and asked the tailor to fix it. The tailor, who sympathized with us, changed it into a short garment. This would typically take several weeks and was done in secret. In the meantime, we would try to get a modern hat, which we then kept secure in some hidden place. Until the long-awaited Shabbat came and in which we would show up at home dressed as a “gentile”.

Disgrace and shame cannot be described in words. Such a Shabbat was tantamount to Tisha B'Av – a sad day of mourning. One must remember the kind of dogmatism that prevailed in those times in order to understand the courage that was required to change one's attire. It was not just a change in dress, but a challenge to tradition.

 

Modern people: group of friends in Zychlin, 1930

From right: Aharon Hanoch Kutnovski, Noach Plonski, Yosef Wolkowicz, Yosef Chelmski, Yitzhak Kelmer, Eliahu Ryster, Noah Zyger
Second row: Yaakov Noy (Neufeld), Avraham Foiershtein, Moshe Zyger

 

Even the irregularities in the form of wearing the old traditional Jewish hat would often involve harsh condemnation. In Zychlin there was a study room where, in cycles of three-four years, students prepared to continue later in the study of Gemara, Perush (Rashi) and Tosafot. The nickname of the Rebbe of the room was Reb Lakish[1]. He once saw one of his former students wearing the traditional hat leaning to the side of his ear and the forehead down. Said Reb Lakish in Yiddish: “Der ying vet oysgein tzu tarbut rah” (this guy will go down the wrong path). And indeed, that same guy emigrated to America, studied dentistry and developed new medicines that to this day are used worldwide. His name was Nahum Opatow, son of Shlomo Opatowski.

Esther Malka was among those who did not see a future for their family in Zychlin. In the early 1930s, with the help of relatives who had emigrated to Australia, she and her family left the town and went to live in Melbourne, where they died in good health.

May her memory be blessed.


Translator's footnote

  1. Rish Lakish or Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish was one of the greatest second generation Amoraim (scholars of the period from about 200 to 500 CE in Eretz Israel). He worked in Tiberias during the second half of the third century CE. Return

[Pages 204-205 Yiddish]

Elijah the Prophet shows up at Chaimke's doorstep

by Yosef Rozengarten

Translated by Leon Zamosc

I heard this story when I was small child.

Saul “the dove-catcher” was the son of the feldsher Chaim Leib. He and his friends had accounts to settle with Chaimke the teacher since they had studied with him in the heder. So they decided to pull a prank on him. On Passover seder night, they brought a tied goat to Chaimke's doorstep and waited until the teacher opened the door to welcome Elijah the Prophet and recite Shefoch Chamatcha[1]. When that happened, they let loose the rope and … in went the goat!

One can imagine the fright and the screams of Chaimke and his wife when they saw the goat. Saul “the dove-catcher” and his mates, who had been hiding behind the stairs, burst into laughter and fled away.

After calming down, the couple decided that it was not an ordinary goat, but Elijah the Prophet in the flesh, simply disguised as a goat. They regretted that, in their bafflement, they had not properly honored him with the glass of wine they had prepared for him.

In the morning the town went on a rampage. The event was the main topic of discussion in the prayer houses and especially in the beit hamidrash where Chaimke used to pray. Everybody envied him for the great privilege of being visited by Elijah the Prophet during the seder… He was honored with a special aliyah to the Torah and, drinking after the prayers, someone toasted his health: “Just as you were blessed by the visit of Elijah the Prophet, may you also be able to hear the trumpets of the Messiah!” All the worshipers answered, “Amen, amen!”

The rabbi's wife Chana and the women of the Ezrat Nashim charitable society pushed themselves to wish Chaimke a happy new year.

Watching from a distance Saul “the dove-catcher” could not stop laughing…


Translator's footnote

  1. Near the end of the Passover seder, the door of the house is opened for Elijah the Prophet, harbinger of salvation. Traditionally this is coupled with the recitation of Shefoch Chamatcha (pour your wrath) - biblical verses invoking God's anger upon those who oppress and torment the Jewish people. Return

[Pages 56-56 Hebrew] [Pages 205-206 Yiddish]

A joyous Purim

by Yaakov Ben-Binah

Translated by Leon Zamosc

The Ger Hasidim controlled the life of the community in Zychlin. They were led by Reb Moshe Chelmski, who had ruled for such a long time that it seemed as if he had been anointed for it. After the uprising in Russia and Poland against the oppressive regime of the Czar, demanding democratic rights, the people of Zychlin also organized in order to end the rule of the Ger dynasty. And they succeeded in doing it. For the first time a candidate of the people, Reb Yehoshua Fayvel Kelmer, was elected to replace Reb Moshe Chelmski.

The results of the election were announced in the month of Adar, which is a joyous time. One of the activists involved in the revolt was Reb Aharon Berman. He was so happy that he decided to celebrate the victory in a unique way. He brought two musicians at his expense and placed them in front of Reb Moshe Chelmski's shop. When they started playing, and the sound of the drum, cymbals and trumpet resonated throughout the town, the crowds flocked and gathered around. To everyone's delight, Reb Aharon Berman raised the hem of the capote and danced to the music.

For the Jews of Zichlin, there was dance, joy and gladness celebrating the people's victory and the defeat of the Ger Hasidim and Reb Moshe Chelmski personally.

The holiday of Purim turned out to be the most joyful that the Jews of Zychlin had seen in years.

 

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