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[Page 22]

Beginning of the Jewish Community

The cemetery was purchased in 1820. Up to that time, the deceased Jews of Bransk and the villages were laid to rest in Orla. Later on, an agreement was reached with the Jewish community of Bocki, and they were permitted to use their cemetery for the Bransk deceased.

The Bocki community placed great demands for this privilege. They demanded that Bransk pay a portion of their taxes. Many times they demanded no less than 100 gildn burial money. Later they demanded that the Bransk Jews supply recruits for Bocki in accordance with the proportion of one[a] recruit for 10 burials. They wanted these recruits in advance. Many times they could not agree on the same day and the deceased's body remained overnight in Bocki. There was no place to keep the deceased's body. The wagon that had brought the deceased's body to Bocki had to return to Bransk, so the Bransk Jews had to remain with the body all night.

This forced the Bransk Jewish community to search for a place for a Bransk Jewish cemetery.

Burial societies already existed at that time because they took the deceased's body to Bocki after they had ritually cleansed the body.

After an agreement with the town administration, the community either received or purchased the ground for the old cemetery.

This area was low, with lime and water. It belonged to the (katuzski?)–where once there were carried out death sentences. According to legend, Jews who had received death sentences during the time of the Polish Kingdom were buried there.

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According to the descriptions by the Bransk Polish writer Novitski, who in the diaries of Rutker–Bronye's, found various important historical facts about Bransk. It is told there that in the area of the old cemetery, death sentences were carried out on young Jewish people on a particular Sunday, affording everyone from Bransk and Brezhenitse the opportunity to be present. The hangman was even praised for his good work. They were buried there where the old cemetery is now located.


Cited from the Pinkas

After the second death sentence had been carried out in the cemetery, the town was pleased. For a period of eight months there were no deaths. The first deceased was a young girl, the daughter of an organ–grinder. This only grave was guarded day and night because it is not permitted to leave the deceased's body alone on the cemetery. Nobody refused to do his duty. For eight months, this one grave was guarded until another deceased's body was buried there, and they were freed from their obligation.

Footnote (Mindle Crystal Gross)

  1. This was a movement to protect the Polish language by teaching it to children who otherwise would speak Russian Return

[Page 24]

Bransk during the time of the Polish Matyezh[a]

The first unsuccessful Polish uprising took place in 1831. There is a legend from that period that the Matyezhnikes hanged a Jew in the village of Sheklik. The Jew was a cantor and he traveled from town to town to pray on Shabbes. On his way from Bocki to Bransk, he was captured by the Matyezhnikes. They accused the Jew of espionage. The Jew defended himself, and not knowing how to say “cantor”, he said he was a tailor. They put him to a test and he could not sew. He was hanged. The Sheklik Christians did not permit the deceased to be buried. They kept watch over him. The Bransk rabbi, R' Meir[1] Nekhe sent women Friday evening in order for them not to be suspected. The women brought the deceased's body to town and he was buried that same Friday evening.

About the second Matyezh in 1863, the following story is told: people were afraid to be out and about because they would be accused by Poles or Russians. But both of them took revenge in such matters. The Jews who lived in the villages were actively pursued, so 70 Jews from various villages moved into town. They felt more secure there.

In 1863, on a winter's night, a large horde of rebels entered Bransk. They found out that the commissar was in Dvora's brick house (Avrum Shkop's mother). They burst in, dragged the commissar out and hanged him from the tree near Dvora's

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brick house. They also hanged a soldier, Rozhitske. The following day Russian military, under the direction of General Manukin, entered Bransk. They immediately accused Dvora that she had betrayed the commissar. They demand of her that she give them the names of the Poles. Dvora was tortured and afraid of being jailed. It took a lot of money to obtain her freedom. The Poles knew that Dvora could have turned them in but did not want to and yet, when they came into town, they committed robberies. At the pastures they ate the cows. Jewish women even hid just to be safe.


Cited from the Pinkas

A Terrible Act During the Matyezh

In the village of Tchane, eight kilometers from Bransk, an unfamiliar poor man arrived for Shabbes Khanuka in 1863. The peasants accused this poor man of espionage. Gutman Tchaner pleaded with the Poles to let this poor man live. It did not help. He was hanged. The Poles permitted the murdered victim to be taken to Bransk for burial. The deceased was buried in the poorhouse cemetery. The community sent the guard of the dead[2] to spend the night there. The following day Jews came to the poorhouse to say psalms and found the guard dead near the murdered victim. It is told that Moshe–Itsl Mendl's, dressed like a Russian officer, rode around with General Manukin to help capture the murderer of the Jew, and the robbers of Jewish possessions. Jews had to make larger contributions of payments than the Poles when the Matyezh was subdued.

Footnote (Mindle Crystal Gross)

  1. This was a movement to protect the Polish language by teaching it to children who otherwise would speak Russian Return

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  • Rav or Rabbi Return
  • Shomer hamet or wakhter Return

  • [Page 26]

    Bransk During the Time of the Kantonistn[a]

    There were already rumours that they would begin to take recruits. It was being said that they would not take anyone who was married, and there began a rash of weddings in Bransk in order to result in the birth of children.

    Motke–Farber's (Taptchepski) told me when I was still a child, that his father, Velvl–Shaul's, was at that time a child of eleven years. He was playing with his friends at the Grutch ? when suddenly his father Shaul takes him and leads him to the khupah.[b] Little Velvl shed bitter tears. He felt ashamed before the children who ran after him, shouting “married, married.”

    Jews decided to fast and maybe this would hold off fate. Money was also collected for Grodno, i.e. the police chief of the guberniya.

    The order from Nikolay the First[1] arrived, stating that all Jews must register in the Meshtchanske district books. The Jews of Alyekshener and Malyesher belonged to Bransk. This included 52 villages around Bransk.

    Jews thought about where to register. They sought to register with such places where they had friends and community affairs leaders. Many Branskers registered in Orla, in Tchekhenoftse, but nobody registered in Bocki because of the disputes Bransk had had with Bocki about the Bransk burials of the deceased.

    Very few Bransk community leaders registered boys in Bransk. The fewer registered

    [Page 27]

    – the fewer recruits. Eventually, the day arrived in 1827.

    The heads of the community are summoned and they are informed that they must supply 1 recruit for the year 1826, 1 recruit for 1827 and 1 recruit for old unpaid taxes.

    Darkness engulfed the town. People flee from Bransk. Those registered to Orla flee to Orla and are immediately taken as recruits because Orla recognized them as strangers and not as regular town residents.

    Bransk community leaders quietly assembled a list of the poorest tailors' boys who would be the first victims.

    On a winter's night, Leyb–Tate's[2] shows up in Bransk. He was the Orla “catcher.” He had come to Bransk to catch the Branskers who were registered in Orla.

    The Bransk community engages Leyb–Tate's to be the Bransk catcher. His helper was someone whom no one knew. Later on, there were other “catchers.”

    It is unknown who the first caught recruits were, only that they were of the poorest working classes is a certainty. Ruven Katsev relates: “I was a child of eight. One night, Leyb–Tate's came to our house with his Bransk helpers and desyatnikes.[c] I was sleeping with my brother who was 13. The catchers ordered me to stand, measured me against my brother, and began to grab my brother. My mother begins to scream, to cry and wail. My brother and I become silent out of fear, cannot shout. The drunken catchers are stronger. The older brother is taken away from our house. We mourned and yearned for him, but little–by–little, we forgot him.

    “40 years later, exactly on Tisha b'Av, my brother shows up in Bransk, dressed in the military clothes of a major. It turns out that he is no longer a Jew. He had been baptized. We put distance between us, and yet, he begged us, so we went with him to the cemetery, to our mother's grave. The entire

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    town accompanied us. His heavy crying broke the hearts of all.

    His words were: “Mama, why did they tear me away from you? Why did they tear me away from my religion?” People point to a certain grave where one of the catchers is buried.

    The Major Sashin trod and spit upon the grave, stuck his sword into the grave and spat again. Everyone who witnessed this felt fear. Major Sashin wanted to meet with HaRav Meir–Sholem Ha'koheyn,[3] who was the rabbi of Bransk at that time. Rabbi Meir–Sholem requested that he not be brought because he, the rabbi, is too weak. He would not be able to endure this. Major Sashin bids goodbye to his brothers Ruven Katsev[4] and Mordekhay Furman[5] and leaves. He sometimes writes a letter but no one answers him.


    Ruven Katsev, age 95


    When Ruven Katsev told this story, he was more than 80 years old, but he cried like a child.

    Yankev–Yosl the tailor relates that they caught Mendikhe the tailor,

    locking him in the little community prayer house of the old small–synagogue/house–of–study until he was sent to Bielsk. The tailors

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    came to the old synagogue and vehemently protested: “Your children are at home. You are taking away from us the only ones to feed our poor families.” The leader of the protest was Binyomin–Leyb the tailor. Reb[6] Dovid, the then community representative shouts: “Throw out this sheygetz.[d] ” The people quickly implemented Reb Dovid's order. Binyomin–Leyb's the tailor receives a beating resulting in broken bones and is thrown out of the synagogue.

    The catchers were of the worst types and yet, the community heads were friendly with them when drinking a l'khaim. For a difficult job, they brought in Leyb–Tate's from Orla. He was a terrible sadist. He called his victims bastards. When a mother opposed him, he gave her a terrible beating.

    Friday evenings were the best time for catching. The search began Shevuos–time right up to the holidays. Those who were caught at the beginning of the summer were imprisoned in the old synagogue/house of prayer in the little house with grates on the door and fortified with strong bars. Food was thrown in to them in the morning – bread and barley soup, and on Shabbos – a khale. The work of feeding the prisoners was the responsibility of the bath attendant who ensured that the bastards did not receive any food before praying. Shofar blowing was arranged specially for them. When they were taken to Bielsk, each received an arba–kanfes[e].

    This is how those who were caught were kept in the Jewish jail that was a part of the old small synagogue/house–of–study. It was impossible to escape from there. They were guarded day and night, each time by different guards. Nobody demurred from this duty of guarding those who had been caught – (bastards according to Tate's designation.)

    It happened that the guard was once Moshe–Aron's the hat maker. He was a calm person, so some good friends attacked Moshe–Aron's, placed a sack over his head and freed the boy.

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    A terrible commotion erupted in Bransk. The community wants Maishe–Aron's. They want to get even with Maishe–Aron's for the boy, and his mother–in–law, Rokhl the midwife intervenes and she succeeds in getting her son–in–law freed.

    Of those who succeeded in fleeing, most ran to the Galician border, to Brod, Austria. After the edict several returned home and they called them the Broder. This is how Berl Broder obtained his surname.

    The community heads of Bransk had various methods of avoiding recruitment. First of all, they did not register their sons, but if they did they assigned them to other parents. Everyone knows that Yekhiel Leyb's second name is Zeyfman, so he registered his son Zelig to Leyzer Gevir's father. Everyone called this Zelig, Zelig Yekhiel–Leyb's and his surname was Hurvitz.

    There were those who knew these things, could not tolerate these doings on the part of the Bransk community heads and informed the police chiefs when none was registered. One of them was Nakhum Shrayt who was a bone in the throat of the community heads. Something had to be done to stop this, so they caught Nokhum on a Shabbos night and put a sack over his head. To his good fortune, someone passed by and Nokhum Shrayt was saved. This worked and Nokhum remained silent.

    In addition, the catching came to an end. General military service was begun.

    Motye–Leyb's the glazier relates that his brother Avrum was caught, but he returned 45 years later, an educated person and finds his father Zalman the glazier still alive.

    About the other returned Nikolayevski's[7] soldiers, there was Yenkl Royfe. He somehow was able to become a doctor. The other one was Alishke, who experienced great trouble at his return to Bransk. After forty years no one knew him or wanted to know him.

    [Page 31]

    The community felt sorry for Alishke and made him the sub–Beadle[8] of the Shlyakhetske small–synagogue/house of study[9].

    Yaleshke heaped revenge on the Bransk children of the rich who came to the small–synagogue/house of study to fool around. He beat them. They are afraid of him and quickly run away to the other small–synagogues/houses–of–study.

    This was Yaleshke's revenge upon the grandchildren of the people who were responsible for his 45 years as a solder.

    Footnotes (Mindle Crystal Gross)

    1. The capture of young Jewish boys for forty years of military service. Return
    2. Wedding canopy Return
    3. A group of men acting as corporals Return
    4. A non–Jew or a Jew who dares to speak his mind in front of those in power. Return
    5. A ritual four–cornered garment Return

    Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

    1. Russian Czar Return
    2. Father Return
    3. Priest – a Jew who is descended from Aaron the High Priest Return
    4. Butcher Return
    5. Wagon driver or coachman Return
    6. Mr Return
    7. Russian Czar Return
    8. Jewish beadle – shames Return
    9. Later called the third small–synagogue/house–of–study Return

    [Page 32]

    Bransk Synagogues,
    the Old–Small–Synagogue/House–Of–Study

    When Napoleon's armies were chased from Russia by Poland, they usually burned everything as they retreated. Only sturdily built houses remained. In Bransk, there remained the stone structures already mentioned previously. The Russian government granted one building to Boyeken. He was a Russian lord. That is why it is named for him. The second was bought by Yosl Benye's family and that is why it is called Yosl Benye's stone structure. The third was sold to the community of Bransk as a small–synagogue/house–of–study. The community rebuilt it, added a second floor and the little rooms that later served as the rabbi's residence, Talmud Torah[1] and the jail for those children who were caught.

    According to the pinkas, the small–synagogue/house–of–study was completed in 1821 and became known as the old small–synagogue/house–of–study.

    In the 1832 pinkas, one year after the Polish uprising, there is another small–synagogue/house–of–study in Bransk. This was an old house purchased from a Bransk Christian by the name of Pavlovski. It got the name of the “new small–synagogue/house–of–study” twenty years later after it was beautifully rebuilt.

    In the pinkas we find in the rabbinical writings of the second rabbi, Rabbi Yudl Kharif, that on the second day of Rosh Hashonah and the second day of other festivals, he is supposed to pray in the new small synagogue.

    According to the names in the new small–synagogue/house–of–study, one can imagine that the rich or the newly–minted house–holders prayed there,

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    because we find there Yosl Benyen, Yoken, R'Dovidn, Yerukhim Goldberg, Yekhiel–Leyb's, Nokhum Iteld, Yoske–Menukke's, Itskhak Shapira, Yoshe Libashitz, Shmuel Kotlovitsh. The simple folk remained in the old small–synagogue/house–of–study.

    Later on another group of well–to–do men organize: Yankev–Meir's Kharlop,

    the Gottliebs, and they found the third small–synagogue/house–of–study which was also called the Shlyakhetsker small–synagogue/house–of–study.

    The shoemakers and butchers led by Avrum Vayner purchase Binyomin–Leyb's the tailor's old house and establish the fourth small–synagogue/house–of–study with the name Poale Tsedek. In 1908, they build a new building and it becomes one of the most beautiful small–synagogues/houses–of–study in town.

    The Holy Ark with its carvings is a masterpiece. After the death of Avrum Vayner, the important work of Poale Tsedek is conducted by his son, Leybl Vayner.

    The tailors were organized before the shoemakers. They had a minyan in the attic of the new small–synagogue/house–of–study. They were not their own bosses because the revenue from the donation–box belonged to the new small–synagogue/house of study. During the Days of Awe, they had to pray downstairs.

    There were energetic leaders such as Khone Kashtan, Arye Krok, Sholem Krok, and with the help of Dovid–Hersh's Rubin[2] (his nickname is Shtsiyopke) undertook the work of building a tailors' small–synagogue/house–of–study. They had many disruptions. The authorities did not permit too many synagogues in Bransk. They opened the synagogue without permission and it actually happened that it was shut down by the authorities while they were in the middle of prayer.

    At this point, Nosn Zelvin intervened. He was known as the Moscower, because he had lived in Moscow until the Jews were chased from there.

    Nosn Zelvin was a remarkable type, very learned in Talmud. At the same time, he was very knowledgeable in Russian. His Russian speech was impeccable. His voice and his diction

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    was that of one Russian born. In spite of the fact that he had been chased out of Moscow along with all the other Jews, he nevertheless remained a true Russian patriot, devoted to the Czar. In Bransk, Nosn Zelvin earned a living by writing petitions to every important official. Nosn Zelvin went to Petersburg, to Moscow – everywhere. When someone had a request to the higher–ups of the gubernya or the Russian district, even the capital city, Nosn Zelvin was able to have entry there. Whatever he undertook he accomplished.

    When the tailors' small–synagogue/house–of–study was closed by the authorities, Nosn Zelvin becomes very busy. He writes to Grodno, but it doesn't help. He writes to Petersburg appealing to the highest administration and receives permission to open the small–synagogue/house–of–study in the name of the young Czarevitch.[3]

    Upon receiving such permission, Khronye Pototski sent all the wood needed for building a small–synagogue/house–of–study. At the end of 1909, the new beautiful Bransk tailors' small–synagogue/house–of–study opened.

    The khasidim also built their own house of prayer. Mordekhay–Hersh's the teacher donated the place for this purpose. Up to that time, they always rented various places for prayer. Mordekhay–Hersh's earned a steady invitation as an ever–welcome guest at every khasidishe mlave malke's.[d]

    These were the Bransk synagogues.

    Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

    1. School for instruction – higher elementary school Return
    2. Family of Roy Cobb through his paternal grandmother Return
    3. Prince Return
    4. Evening meal marking the end of Shabbos. Return

    [Page 35]

    Bransk Rabbinate

    Bransk was a fortunate town vis–à–vis its rabbis. All the Bransker rabbis were the greats of their generation. Many were famous not only in Poland, but throughout the entire world.

    By 1822 the Bransk community is already organized. They now have their own cemetery. There arose the question of a rabbinate. By that time there had certainly taken place all kinds of disagreements among the Jewish residents of town and of the villages surrounding Bransk. There were arguments because of livelihood, leasing a farm from the nobleman or opening a tavern where there was not even enough income for the existing tavern owner. This led to fighting and insults. What was missing was the tradition of generations, the Jewish authority who could delve into the details and bring about a resolution between the opponents. In a word, there was the need for a rabbi in the newly organized community of Bransk.

    You understand that more than one meeting took place. There were enough candidates for the Bransk rabbinate. Many of the village residents were learned Jews, experts in the Torah. They had a strong influence in the choice of a rabbi for Bransk.


    Rabbi Meir–Nekhe's

    He was the first Bransk rabbi. Rabbi–Meir Nekhe's was a Bransk son–in–law. This woman, Nekhe, must have been an important personality for the rabbi to be called Rabbi Meir–Nekhe's after his mother–in–law. According to the pinkas of 1822 (5382). It was decided to grant a written rabbinical document to Rav Meir–Nekhe's. It is mentioned therein that he is a great expert in Torah and that there is no one equal to him in Bransk. In this written document he is called the first rabbi, Rabbi Meir, in the tradition of generations.

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    The following points are found in the written document: paying him a salary of 27 gildn a week, providing him with living quarters and heating in one of the rooms of the old small–synagogue/house–of–study. It is mentioned that by Passover the poorhouse must become the responsibility of the community.

    In honour of the holiday, or for reading from the Torah on Shabbos Hagodol and Shabbos Shuva, there is the addition of a bottle of wine, tea and sugar. The rebitsn[1] receives the right to sell Shabbos candles. She must give two–sixths of the profit to the community. Also included in his salary are monies earned from the sale of khometz[2] and the rendering judgments.

    As a young man I saw the rabbi's apartment several times. It was like a jail. The walls were wet and it was dark and damp. There was never a bit of sunshine there. Living there were Yenkl–Parifke's the crazy one and Moshe–Aron's the shadkhan.[3]

    Rabbi Rabbi–Meir Nekhe's did not derive much joy from the Bransk rabbinate. The Kontanistn edict had been implemented. Little children were caught and held captive in one of the little rooms on the other side of the wall from his apartment. Jewish mothers were always wailing and crying there, banging their heads against the wall. The prisoners protested and cursed everyone. Rabbi Meir–Nekhes and his wife, good–hearted, could not tolerate the heart–rending cries of the unfortunate children and their mothers. His heart burst from pain.

    The wet walls cried along with the rabbi, with the mothers from the other side of the wall until he died at a young age. This was the fate of the first Bransk rabbi, Rabbi Meir–Nekhes, of blessed memory.


    Rabbi Yudl–Kharif's

    He was hired as the second rabbi of Bransk to replace Rabbi Meir–Nekhe's. He was a great genius. Branskers used to say that the Divine Presence always shone upon his countenance.

    Rabbi Yudl–Kharif's also dies at a young age. He is buried in the old cemetery near Rabbi Meir–Nekhe's

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    Old Meir–Itsl's wife used to speak with pride about the first two Bransk rabbis who were her relatives. She named her eldest son Yudl Meir after both Bransk rabbis.


    Rabbi Shaul Regenbirger

    He is chosen to fill the place of Rabbi Yudl Kharif's, of blessed memory, as the third rabbi of Bransk. Rabbi Shaul Regenbirger is not like the former rabbis . He protests. He does not like the wet apartment where the dampness creeps into the bones. He does not like the Bransk homeowners who have a desire to hire brilliant men as their rabbis and do not provide them with the most basic suitable conditions enabling them to live somewhat decently.

    Rabbi Shaul Regenbirger decides to leave Bransk. He receives a written rabbinical document either in Lomzha or Pruzhene.

    Many people gathered at his departure from Bransk and stop his wagon. Others lie down on the ground near the horses, not allowing him to move. They shout: “Rabbi, do not forsake us.”

    Rabbi Shaul Regenbirger stands up in the wagon and says to the crowd: “I must not be here. Here is not my place of death. It is an edict from above. You have insulted me. No good will result from my remaining here. I refuse and G–d will help you.” This had an effect. With much crying, they all bid goodbye to Bransk's third rabbi, Rabbi Shaul Regenbirger. For a long time, especially by those in the crowd, there was talk about the farewell with their beloved rabbi of Bransk.


    Rabbi Meir–Sholem's Ha'koheyn

    He was the fourth rabbi of Bransk. He was hired in Bransk in 1870. He was a brilliant man. He came from a family of geniuses in Lithuania. He quickly became beloved in town. He was by nature a very endearing person. Bransk respected him very much and was very proud of him for his genius and for his good nature.

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    The Bransk community heads did not understand how to properly value such a shining personality. His salary was minimal, barely enough for the necessities of life. His residence was the same wet, dark and damp little apartment. The simple folk virtually idolized him but did not have a say in influencing either the community heads or the leaders that they should make the rabbi's life more comfortable. Rabbi Meir–Sholem's Ha'koheyn while living in this apartment becomes ill. The bala bosim[4] do not take this seriously. His situation worsens. It is already too late to do something to save the life of this great genius.


    Rabbi Meir–Sholem's Ha'koheyn, of blessed memory


    Rabbi Meir–Sholem died in 1884 at the age of 43. He was buried on the old cemetery next to the earlier Bransk

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    rabbis. The rebitsn is left with small children.

    It took much effort until she finally receives a couple of rubles to sustain herself and her family.

    The following fact, related to Julius Cohen by his uncle Hertske Fuks, a man of 80, who has lived in New York for more than 60 years, will afford an understanding of the respect all the residents of Bransk, especially the simple folk, had for Rabbi Meir–Sholem Ha'koheyn.

    In Bransk, as in all other towns, it was the style to have the wedding canopies set up in the street near the old small–synagogue/house–of–study, both winter and summer. On a certain winter day, the snow having just fallen, there takes place a wedding at the old small–synagogue/house–of–study. At these weddings, the youth would always make some mischief with the parents or with the groom, most especially if he was from another town.

    Precisely as Rabbi Meir–Sholem performed the blessing over the wine, a large snowball hit him in the face. The goblet of wine tumbled to the snow.

    The following day it became known in town that this mischief had been carried out by Berele–Manes's. Berele was a youth before whom the entire town trembled because he was capable of committing the worst things.

    Rabbi Meir–Sholem sent for Berele. Berele came to the rabbi. He admitted he had thrown the snowball at others. Rabbi Meir–Sholem delivered two fiery slaps to Berele. “Do you know, you mischief–maker, what you did? Because of you I wasted a prayer.”

    Berele Manes's left the rabbi without saying a word. He left humiliated.

    This clearly shows the great respect that all in Bransk had for their fourth rabbi, Rabbi Meir–Sholem Ha'koheyn, of blessed memory.

    According to the Yizkor Book that was published in New York by Rabbi Borukh Cohen, from 5421 to 5430 (1861 to 1870) there had not

    [Page 40]

    been anyone chosen to be rabbi in Bransk, or even if there was a rabbi in Bransk during this period of nine years.


    Rabbi Shmaryahu Margolis

    He is the fifth rabbi whom Bransk engages as its leader. We all still remember him. His patriarchal appearance, his silver–white beard, his proud, straight walk elicited respect and love from everyone. Rabbi Shmaryahu Margolis loved everyone as if they were his children and everyone returned his love in full measure.


    Rabbi Shmaryahu Margolis, of blessed memory


    It is also characteristic that Christians had the same respect for him. Christians willingly went to the Bransk rabbi

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    to straighten out their disagreements with Jews.

    He lived in a nice, large and comfortable apartment, first at Leyzer–Smurtchik's and then at Shepsl–Katsev's in the brick house. He did not need much because he did not have children.

    The rebitsn, Krayndl, had a wonderfully good nature. Her kitchen was always open for the hungry. She was always prepared to do charity for everyone. Julius Cohen remembers that as a young child he would go to the rabbi's house early Monday morning, entering through the back door. The rebitsn was already prepared with twenty rubles for charity for his mother Khane for the market, even though she had only requested ten rubles. Those who received charity at the market would always return the charity they had received [from the rebitsn].[5]

    The rebitsn had a house–maid. She was there a long time. Later on they married her to Yeshaye. He is called the Afrikaner because he later went to Africa.[6] Everyone calls him Shaye the rabbi's son–in–law.

    It is difficult to imagine the absolute authority Rabbi Shmaryahu Margolis had over the population of Bransk.

    Rabbi Shmaryahu Margolis died on the fifth day of Av in1906.


    Rabbi Shimon–Yehuda's Ha'koheyn Shkop[7]

    He was the sixth rabbi of Bransk. He comes from Maltch. Rabbi Shimon comes to Bransk with his large yeshiva. Bransk suddenly becomes famous because of its great rabbi and his large yeshiva. Hundreds of young men of Poland and Russia come to Bransk to study in the world–renowned yeshiva led by the Bransk rabbi, Rabbi Shimon Shkop.

    Rabbi Shimon himself teaches a lesson twice a week. All the town students come to be present at these lessons. He brings with him the famous yeshiva head and ritual inspector[8] Rabbi Alsvang.

    Bransk is proud of the rabbi, of the yeshiva. The community however,

    [Page 42]

    ignored his meager wages. Rabbi Shimon, a world–famous personality, did not receive a suitable amount which at the very least would enable him to live with the honour deserved by such a great person.


    Rabbi Shimon–Yehuda Ha'koheyn Shkop, of blessed memory


    Rabbi Shimon had a specific request – to dedicate his talents to increasing the study of Torah by the Jews. The town rabbinate required a lot of time, mainly about trivial town matters. Rabbi Shimon felt that he must free himself from the rabbinate so he could dedicate himself properly to his holy mission. Had his economic situation been sound he would probably not have wanted to leave Bransk.

    The Bransk community heads did not understand their great rabbi,

    [Page 43]

    or did not want to understand. He did not receive a raise in salary. This resulted in Rabbi Shimon's decision to leave both Bransk and the rabbinate. Rabbi Shimon relocates his yeshiva to Grodno. The big Jewish manufacturer Shershefski gives him a large building for the yeshiva.

    The day of Rabbi Shimon's departure neared. Bransk begs Khaim Pentman, the gabai[9] to double the rabbi's salary. Pentman refuses.

    Rabbi Shimon leaves Bransk in 1920. Goodbyes take place at the old small–synagogue/house–of–study. Children and adults cry bitter tears, wish much success to the world–famous and sixth rabbi of Bransk, Rabbi Shimon–Yehuda Ha'koheyn Shkop.

    When Rabbi Shimon's son, the old gray, grizzled rabbi who is now in New York told the editor the details, he shed bitter tears, like a child, as he recalled that long–ago time.


    Characteristics of Rabbi Shimon Shkop

    In 1915 when the war front nears Bransk, there is word that the Cossacks burn all the towns. Tcherenovske was already burnt. Rabbi Shimon becomes very busy. He collects money, putting it in his pockets. He is going to meet the Cossacks who are already busy burning the town before the arrival of the Germans. Rabbi Shimon stands, hands out ten rubles to each Cossack. He notices a Cossack officer eyeing his gold watch. Rabbi Shimon, with no further thought, takes off his gold watch and gives it to the Cossack officer. Bransk was saved. Bransk was not burnt.

    In 1918 the Germans are battling with the Poles. It was the third night of Khanuka. Germans attack Bransk, killing Jews and Poles and setting fires in all four sides of the town. Rabbi Shimon gathers young and old together and tells them to douse the fires. He appeals to the Germans for them to be allowed, at the very least, to put the fires out.

    The drunk and wild

    [Page 44]

    Germans insult him and hit him in the head. Rabbi Shimon does not leave. He shouts loudly to all the Jews: “Put out the fires, Jews!” Rabbi Shimon died in Grodno in 1939 by which time World War Two had already begun. Bransk chose his great student, the current yeshiva head of Bransk, Rabbi Khaim–Leyb Lyev, to represent Bransk. This is how Rabbi Khaim Leyb–Lyev's bid goodbye to his rabbi and the greatest rabbi of Bransk of all times, Rabbi Shimon–Yehuda's Ha'koheyn Shkop, of blessed memory.


    Rabbi Khaim–Leyb's Lyev, of blessed memory
    Rabbi Shimon's best student


    The seventh rabbi of Bransk arrives in town in 1920 on Rabbi Shimon's recommendation. Rabbi Ziv is accepted without any arguments.

    [Page 45]

    Rabbi Itskhak Ziv


    Rabbi Itskhak Ziv, of blessed memory


    He did not derive much pleasure, as at that time the war between Poland and Russia was raging. The Poles drive the rabbi to hard labour, hauling wood to build bridges. Bransk Jews want to take over for the rabbi, to do their own work and that of the rabbi. Rabbi Itskhak Ziv does not permit this. He works along with everyone else. The rabbi was famous as a very active person and teacher. The leaders of the Bransk community ensures that he does not live in the Talmud Torah. They give him an apartment in Rubin's brick house.[10] They now realized the mistakes they had made earlier.

    A tragedy occurs. Rabbi Itskhak Ziv becomes ill with heart problems. He is taken to Warsaw and it is there that he died. He is brought back

    [Page 46]

    to Bransk for burial. He is interred on the new cemetery near Rabbi Shmaryahu Margolis in the same (hut, booth, tent) where the ascetic Rabbi Leyb Margolis is interred.


    Rabbi Avrum–Yankev Sekarevitz

    He becomes the temporary and eighth rabbi of Bransk. After Rabbi Ziv died, his widow was left alone with two small children. It was too difficult to engage a permanent rabbi and also pay an allowance to the widow of the deceased Rabbi Itskhak Ziv.

    The community decides that Rabbi Avrum–Yankev Sekrevitz should be the temporary rabbi of Bransk, until such time there would be a rabbi who would take over the Bransk rabbinate which was also famous in Poland.

    Avrum–Yankev Sekrevitz accepts the temporary position. He receives only one–third of the salary. Two–thirds is paid by the town to the widow of the deceased Rabbi Itskhak Ziv.


    Rabbi Itskhak–Zev Tsukerman

    He is the 9th rabbi of Bransk. He is hired in Bransk one year after the death of Rabbi Itskhak–Zev, of blessed memory. Rabbi Itskhak–Zev Tsukerman was an outstanding student from the Volozhin yeshiva during the time when Rabbi Hirsh–Leyb's and Rabbi Khaim Brisker were the yeshiva heads in Volozhin.

    In the rabbinical world he was well–known as Rabbi Itskhak–Lebedever or the Lebedever prodigy. At 21 he was the yeshiva head in Krementchug where he was known as the great. In 1908 doctors forbade him to teach a lesson. He is engaged as rabbi in Nove Ukrainka. In 1922 he and his family leave Russia and come to Poland. He is engaged as rabbi of Bransk.

    The khasidic element was not pleased at the beginning that Rabbi Avrum –Yankev Sekerevitch, who was a khasid and prayed in the khasidic house of prayer did not become the town rabbi.

    [Page 47]

    However they quickly forgot this and recognized the greatness of Rabbi Itskhak Tsukerman.


    Rabbi Itskhak–Zev Tsukerman, of blessed memory


    the last rabbi of Bransk Rabbi Tsukerman received honour and respect in Bransk . Regrettably, difficult times engulfed him in Bransk.

    The town suffered much from the anti–Semitism in Poland that had carried over from Hitler's Germany.

    He saw how the economic situation of the town was worsening from day–to–day. There are still many letters held in the Bransk Relief in New York that Rabbi Tsukerman wrote, appealing to Bransk landslayt in America to help the community carry out many improvements for the benefit of the Jewish population in town that they themselves could not manage to accomplish.

    [Page 48]

    On June 25th, 1938, his wife Esther became ill. She is taken to a hospital in Bialystok. She dies the following day and is buried there.

    Bransk sent a suitable delegation to her funeral: Leyb Rubinshteyn, President of the Jewish community, former President of the community Rabbi Khaim–Leyb Lyev, ritual slaughterer Yekhiel Kontchik and the gabay of the Talmud Torah Shmuel Levin who all went there to pay their respects to the deceased Bransk rebitsn.

    His son–in–law Rabbi Binyomin Kagan was also famous in Bransk. He was involved in many town activities.

    The situation grows much worse with the Soviet occupation of Bransk. The rabbinate is no longer valid. The youth looks at rabbis in general with disdainful eyes.

    His grandchildren are forced to go to the secular schools. Regardless of their refusal to do so at the beginning, due to various threats they later were forced to go to classes on Shabbos.

    This aggravated the old rabbi. There was nothing he could do about it.

    In spite of all this he was the respected leader of the town under the most difficult conditions. He carried out his work in the ghetto during the Nazi occupation.

    On November 7th, 1942, during the Shabbos of welcoming the month of Kislev, Rabbi Itskhak–Zev's Tsukerman along with the teacher Rabbi Avrum Yankel Sekarevitz were taken out of Bransk, where he (Rabbi Tsukerman), at the head of the entire community of Bransk come together as martyrs on November tenth, precisely at 4 p.m. in the gas chambers of Treblinka and then burnt in the lime–kilns that Hitler, may his name be blotted out, instituted as the modern inquisition of 1942.

    The farewell speech of Rabbi Tsukerman at the liquidation of the ghetto is in later articles.

    This was the end of the Bransk rabbis and the Brank rabbinate along with the entire European Jewry.

    Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

    1. Rabbi's wife Return
    2. Not kosher for Passover Return
    3. Matchmaker Return
    4. Homeowners Return
    5. Gmilos Khesed – interest–free loan to help make a living (as opposed to straight forward charity) Return
    6. Those who emigrated to South Africa were commonly referred to as Afrikaners Return
    7. Rabbi Shimon Shkop became the Rosh Yeshiva of RIETS (rabbinical school of Yeshiva University) in New York but returned to become Rosh Yeshiva of Grodno where he died in 1939 after the Nazis attacked Poland. Grodno was placed in the Russian occupied zone of Poland in terms of the Molotov – von Ribbentrop Agreement a few days prior to the joint German–Russian attack on Poland on September 1, 1939 Return
    8. Manager of synagogue affairs Return
    9. Mashgyakh – inspector to ensure ritually correct slaughtering of animals and chickens and all other foods and drinks were strictly Kosher Return
    10. Family of Rubin Roy Cobb through his paternal grandmother. Jack Rubin, the sole surviving son of the owner told that he had sold it after the war and it was converted to a clothing workshop. It was still there in 1998 when visited the town with his son Gavin Aryeh Cobb. Return


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