« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 49]

Town Meat Tax
and Management of Synagogue Affairs

Both of these institutions were associated with each other because the management and the meat–tax were inseparable.

Like all other towns, Bransk had its own Jewish town needs, such as paying the rabbi's salary, providing him with a residence and heating. Bransk also had to partially cover the expenses for the upkeep of the police – the commissar and the one policeman who received their salaries from the government. The Bransk community contributed to this indirectly. The amount was a thousand rubles a year which the community paid to Grodno.

In order to raise these monies they instituted the meat tax. This is a tax on meat and fowl. This tax had to be paid prior to the slaughter of the cow or the fowl by the shokhet[1] and a voucher had to be brought to him. The voucher was bought from the khukar.[2] He was the one who kept the meat–tax. Do you remember the voucher of Yenkl Khukar? If not, I will remind you. It was a piece of white paper on which was written “to slaughter some fowl” or “to slaughter a cow” and signed by the khukar. This had to be bought from the khukar and then the chicken or the calf taken to the shokhet and in addition, pay for the slaughtering.

In this way Bransk took in monies for the community fund. These monies had to cover all town expenses. Each week the khukar turned the money over to the gabay (manager) of the town. Nobody knows how the monies that came in were controlled. What is known

[Page 50]

is that the town leaders always complained that there is no money and we need other sources of income, like sale of salt. This was never successful. The town gabay or the chief treasurer were the decision–makers, even in town matters. They even called meetings many times of a number of businessmen, but nobody knew who had the honour of being invited to a meeting.

The secret of who were so lucky was held by Shaike Broyda because it was he who summoned the businessmen to the meetings.

The meat–tax, being the only source of revenue in town was closely guarded. Should it ever occur that a butcher had something slaughtered by a shokhet from a neighbouring town and did not present the voucher, he suffered bad consequences. The rabbi immediately pronounced the pots in which the meat had been cooked as treyf[3] (unclean), even when the shokhet who had done this was G–d fearing and the slaughter had been kosher.

In this way there developed and revolved around the meat–tax the community leaders, the public and ordinary folk.

The first khukar that we remember is Yenkl Khukar. He was the khukar for decades. Then, through the intervention of Yoke Berlin, the meat–tax was turned over to Motl Rabinovitch. There were two brothers, Motl and Yankl Rabinovitch. They were big land–owners, celebrities, who rode into town behind four horses in tandem. In addition, they were very learned and very philanthropic. When they occupied the courtyard on Marvizne, Rabbi Shloyme Hersh, Julius Cohen's father, worked there as general manager because the Rabinovitchs had another business in forestry. Times changed. The two Jewish noblemen became poor plain people. Yankl Rabinovitch commits suicide in 1896 and Motl remains without livelihood and receives the meat–tax in Bransk.

However, Motl did not devote himself personally to the meat tax,

[Page 51]

so he hired strangers to take care of it. This resulted in the meat tax losing money and suffering a deficit. Bransk turns the meat tax over to Aron Khukar and then to others. However, Bransk purchased the vouchers and this brought money into the town coffers.

The treasurer was Yitskhak Shapira, knowledgeable in Torah, but a very stingy Jew. He did not eat and could not tolerate others eating. Itche Shapira had a beer brewery and a little horse to transport the barrels of beer. Yenkl Fuks, the father of Hyman and Louis Fox, told me here in New York, that he worked for Shapira in 1880 or a little later, and he suffered a lot, not from the hard work but he could not tolerate how the little horse became skinnier and skinnier from day–to–day from hunger.

This Itche Shapira was the treasurer, so you can imagine how easy it was to pry out a few rubles for town necessities. He would say: It is a shame to spend money for foolish things.


Gaboyim and Community Leaders

These were influential Jews. The first was Reb Dovid Berman. His daughter was called Esther Reb Dovid's. Reb Dovid ruled with an iron hand.

During the time of the kontanistn , when Binyomin–Leyb the tailor came to complain about why the sons of poor Jewish tailors were being taken as recruits and leaving their own sons alone, Reb Dovid Berman threw Binyomin Leyb the tailor out of the old small–synagogue/house–of–study. Binyomin–Leyb was badly beaten up.

Reb Dovid was the Gabay of the Burial Society and of the old small–synagogue/house–of–study. He was replaced by Reb Yekhiel–Leyb Zeyfman, a businessman. He had a candle factory. He was a calm person. One could speak to him although it never did any good.

[Page 52]

Yoke Berlin, Reb Dovid's son–in–law, was a very stern community leader, precise but a dictator. Everyone was afraid of him. He had a position in the Bransk administration. Christians tipped their hats to him.

Later on, the position of Koziyanem[a] rabbi is instituted in Bransk. He becomes the first Koziyanem rabbi. He also becomes the accepted leader in all parts of Bransk town life. Following him as Koziyanem rabbi was Gedalye Berl Shloyme. This was a Jew of great strength, a hard–working small businessman. He could also sign his name in Russian so he became the Koziyanem rabbi.

It happened that someone forged a signature on a piece of paper. It turned out that this was a death certificate for someone who supposedly died in Bransk with a certain name. The person who had this name, however, was alive, but he was insured in Petersburg. So the insurance company forewarned by experience became interested. They came to Bransk looking for the deceased. Gedalye Berl Shloyme's finds out just in time and must flee to America where he suffered bitterly his entire life and died almost in his 90th year.

Velvl–Daniel's was one of the town leaders and as it happens, a democratic individual. He never prayed to the east[4] but instead he was always below at the table.[5] He was also gabay of the Burial Society and involved in all town affairs.

Ezra Goldberg takes his place. He was a big wholesale merchant. My mother, Khane Shloyme Hersh's bought barrels of herring from him to pickle. He was a very honest merchant and good–natured person.

For his daughter's wedding, which was held in his home, he prepared large tables with a wedding meal for hundreds of poor who came from surrounding villages and enjoyed the roasted meal. He conducted town business very strictly.

Itche–Gimpl's, called Grazhinski, was an uneducated

[Page 53]

Jew but clever. He worked his way up to a position in the administration . Christian petty bourgeoisie came to his tavern to enjoy themselves. Thus he was actually summoned to meetings because they had to. Itche–Gimple disliked the community leaders and they felt the same about him.

Elye Gotlieb was the owner of a Bransk ironworks. He was not a gabay and did not want to be one. He was once a rude trustee and did not want this job. Nevertheless, he played an important role in town matters.

Itche Mr Dovid's Rozenboym was a handsome businessman and actually tried his hand at everything but did not have any luck.

Khaim Pentman, nicknamed Fyorn, was gabay of the Burial Society. He was an uneducated Jew with a big mouth, yelling and insulting. He had something to say about everything. He constantly irritated the butchers. He would demand payment for burial in an amount greater than one gave as a daughter's dowry, and insisted on dollars. He would pay the rabbi's salary in small change, throw it on the rabbi's table and saying: count, rabbi. In general, Khaim Pentman was not beloved by Bransk Jews because of his commonness.

Shaulke Farber was a Koziyanem rabbi, a very modest person, quiet and calm. The entire town respected him. He was rabbi in 1914, a very bitter time. Because of the war everybody was required to have a passport with a photograph. However, nobody was registered. How do you issue such certificates? Meir–Khaim Simyatitski came to his rescue. He was a brilliant Jew, a Kotsker khasid. He was very learned in world matters and in Torah. Meir–Khaim, in his entire life, never forgot a single thing. He remembered everything when someone was born even 50 years ago. Meir–Khaim helped Shaulken. He confirmed that so–and–so was born in Bransk on such a date. Shaulke was able to issue a certificate that was correct because Meir–Khaim was never wrong. In this way many Jews in Bransk were legalized, receiving official documents thanks to Meir–Khaim

[Page 54]

memory. Shaulke was a dyer , also made kvas, was a scribe, a prayer leader and remained poor from all these trades. Shaulke liked to do favours without charging any money.

The Germans arrived in Bransk in 1915. Shaulke Farber (dyer) is no longer rabbi. He takes to earning a living, displeases the Germans and is sent to a German prison. He returns to town a broken man, sick, and dies shortly thereafter.

The entire town accompanied this good–natured, truly honourable Shaulke Farber.

Yerukhim Goldberg becomes the rabbi after Shaulke Farber. He conducts all business properly. There are no complaints against him even though he was not lazy to make a couple of marks. The position of Koziyanem rabbi is outlawed with the decree of 1924.

In the old small–synagogue/house–of–study. Reb Dovid, Artche Yekhiel–Leyb's, Dovid Mishurek, Zalman Kotsk, Yudl Vulker, and the last Avrum Yentchman, the brother of Julius Cohen rebuilt the old small–synagogue/house–of–study which took on a different character.

The last gabay, Avrum Yentchman, is murdered by the Poles along with his wife Khaye Sore, shot the night of November 15th 1942 in the street near Artche Katsev's house.

In the new small–synagogue/house–of–study. : Mr Yekhiel–Leyb Zeyfman, Itche Shapira, Yoshe Liboshitz, Avraham Pulshanski, Fishl Spishiner, Motke Golde, Yoske–Menukhe's, Khaim Leybl Golding, Sanes son–in–law. The latter was taken to Treblinka on November 7th 1942.

In the third small–synagogue/house–of–study : Yakev Meir Kharlop, Elikh Gotlieb, Khone Vaynshteyn. The last was Meir Kestin[6] who was taken to Treblinka November 7th 1942.

In Poale Tsedek: Mr Avrum Viner, his son Mr Leyb–Viner's. Mr Leyb–Viner perishes along with 70 Bransk Jews because of the informant Ishaye Tsuker on November 14th 1942.

[Page 55]

In the Tailors' small–synagogue/house–of–study : founder Binyomke the tailor, Aryeh Krotz, Alter Kapelikhes. Alter Kapelikhes was taken from Bransk to Treblinka November 7th 1942.


Khaim–Leyb Golding
Leybl Viner, gabay of Poale Tsedek


Khasidim house–of–prayer: led by Velvl Sofer, Yankev Mordekhay Vilk, Shloyme –Hersh Yentchman, Sholem Itche Kalman Maishe Ginsberg the teacher. The last, Khaim Klode is shot along with 70 Jews on November 15th 1942 because of the informant Ishaye Tsuker.

These were Bransk community leaders and gaboyim.

Footnote (Mindle Crystal Gross)

  1. In Czarist Russia a state–appointed rabbi Return

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Ritual slaughterer. Return
  2. Examiner. Return
  3. Not kosher, unclean. Return
  4. At the front, that faced East towards Jerusalem, when prayers were held. Return
  5. At the desk from where the Torah was recited or prayers were lead from. Return
  6. Henry Cobb (Khlawne Kobylanski), the father of Rubin Roy Cobb worked for a Kestin in Bransk as a cabinet maker. A son of Kestin settled in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) before WWII and visited the Cobbs in Johannesburg in 1953. Return

[Page 56]

Bransk Scholars

We have learned from previous chapters that Bransk was fortunate in that its rabbis were exceptionally brilliant men of their generation. Bransk however, also had a significant number of scholars from the first years of the 18th century up to the end.

Among the first were Mr Dovid Berman the gabai, Mr Yosef Betsalel, his brother Maishe Khaim. This Maishe Khaim was a remarkable Jew, with the long white stockings. During the entire year he prayed at home with his minyan, and only during the Days of Awe did he come to the small house–of prayer/house–of–study. The poresh[1] Reb Leyb Farbshteyn, The poresh of the new small–synagogue/house–of–study, Mr Avrum Yekutial, Binyomin the watchmaker, who was a patriarchal figure with his snow–white beard, Mr Yankev Meir Kharlop, Aron Yenkl Royfa, Mr Itskhak Shapira, Mr Meir Khaim Simyatitski, Mr Yankev–Mordekhay the khasid, Shloyme–Hersh the khasid, Fishele Bog, Aron Branski, Leybl Vein, Yoshe Liboshitz, the latter five were already interested in world matters, read Hebrew newspapers. Of the later scholars: Alter Vilk, Motel Kanopyate, Avrum Verpikhovski, Meir Kestin, Meir Khaim two famous sons–in–law, Avrum Yentchman, the last gabai of the old house–of–prayer/house–of–study, Rabbi Avrum–Yenkev Sekarevitch, temporary rabbi in Bransk, Rabbi Khaim Leyb Lyev, Hershl Stolyer's[2] son–in–law, best student of Rabbi Shimon Shkop's yeshiva, who later receives a recommendation from Rabbi Shimon Shkop, Rabbi Ben–Tsiyon Kagan, Diodke Maishe Gusikhe's son–in–law, who came from Bocki. The latter five taken to Treblinka on November 7th 1942. Avrum Yentchman falls victim to German bullets the night of November 15th during the fire in the empty ghetto.

[Page 57]

Of the latter group of gaonim[3] who left Bransk and settled in other towns, there must be included: Mr Shaul Yentchman, the eldest son of Mr Shloyme–Hersh. He was called Shaul'ke. Even as a young boy he was called a prodigy according to the information from Rabbi Maishe Matmid in Brooklyn, married and settled in Parisov deep in Poland. He was one of the greatest privileged persons of the Gerer rabbi. Thousands of khasidim come to Ger and Shaul'ke is beloved as a gaon.[3]

The two Warsaw khasidishe millionaires Shaye Ayzenman and Mendl Bliaz engage Shaul'ke to be he who will learn Torah with their sons. Shaul'ke remains with the Warsaw millionaires for more than twenty five years as their teacher of Torah. Even after the sons married Shaul'ke continued to study Torah with them.

During the last years, Shaul'ke lived in Parisov. When the ghetto there became surrounded Shaul'ke required that all Jews fast to the point of starvation so as not to perish in the lime kilns. The Jews laughed at him. Shaul'ke, in his late eighties, almost ninety years old, begins to fast. He succeeded. The Germans did not burn his body because he died of hunger of his own free will. He refused to leave the ghetto with his own children and grandchildren who saved themselves.

We must mention Reb Yankev Rukhamkin, Khaim Fishl Melamed's son, Itskhak Kashnik's brother. Yankev Rukhamkin married in Volozhin and became famous there as a great gaon * and had an iron business. All Volozhin loved and respected him as the most honoured businessman and great learner. He studied with other great men in Volozhin.

Mr Yankev Rukhamkin apparently also perished along with the Volozhin community.

[Page 58]

Rabbi Borukh Cohen

He is the son of the Bransk Rabbi Meir Sholem's Ha'koheyn. He was of the time of the great gaonim in town. As a child, I remember how Rabbi Borukh Cohen, or Borukh the Rabbi's as they called him in Bransk, gave a sermon in the new small–synagogue/house–of–study speaking about the Khovovey Tsiyon (Lovers of Zion).[4]


Rabbi Borukh Cohen, of blessed memory


Borukh Cohen could not accommodate himself to Bransk. He goes to America around 1901. In New York Rabbi Borukh Cohen is accepted with great friendship by all the landslayt. He becomes their spiritual leader. The landslayt, not having a synagogue, could not help their worthy rabbi. Rabbi Cohen obtains a position as ritual inspector of kashrus in a certain kosher salami factory. However, he cannot tolerate how his name is used for uncertain kashrus and he immediately resigned.

He lived quietly with his family, albeit it in poverty. The landslayt called upon him whenever it was possible to act as m'sader kedushin.[5] of which fact the writer of this article, Julius Cohen, is proud to this very day that Rabbi Borukh Cohen of Bransk was the

[Page 59]

m'sader kedushin at his wedding on November 12th, 1907 in Brownsville, in the home of the writer's uncle, Hertske Fuks.

Rabbi Borukh Cohen later goes to Eretz Yisroel and settles there. He finally fulfilled his dream of Khovovey Tsiyon and turned it into a reality. He spent his last years in Eretz Yisroel.

Pesakh Filipovski, Alter Maishe Hitsl's son, was one of the great gaonim. He got married in Shavel, Lithuania. Later he was the head of the Slonim yeshiva. Pesakh is one of the Bransk great gaonim who disseminated Torah among the Jewish people. He did not want to make a career of the rabbinate for which he was qualified. Pesakh was taken from Slonim along with the entire Jewish population of the town and perishes as a martyr with everyone.

Maishe Leyzer's Vilk is the son of Gedalye Berl Shloyme, the Bransk Koziyaner rabbi. He was a great Torah learner and a student of the Slobodke yeshiva where he was one of the best students. He prepares for the rabbinate, but he is forced to go to his father in America where he works as a shokhet. For many years he lived in towns in the Catskill Mountains. He died in 1926 in Liberty, New York.

Worldly Educated and Maskilim (Followers of the Enlightenment )

Bransk did not have any ties with the big Lithuanian cities where Haskala (Enlightenment) first began.

There were sometimes to be found those people in whom the desire for education was strong, but they were quickly pushed out of Bransk. Bransk did not believe in too much education and was satisfied with the several subjects taught in town and wanted to keep the rest in an atmosphere of ignorance.

There was a story printed in “Moment” by the writer Tsitron in his series Apostates about a Bransker during the time of the Kontanistn.

It is a story about one Khlavne[6] Royzkele's. They lived in

[Page 60]

a house that was lately known as Itche Yenkl the tailor's house. This was Royzke's house.

Khlavne, already a father of two children, was a great student, but could not find any friends in Bransk with whom to study, so one day he said goodbye to his wife and children and went to various strange places to study. He arrives in Kamenetz Podolsk where there were many students and maskilim. Khlavne quickly becomes well–known as very knowledgeable. There gather around him many young men who believe as he does. He is also interested in a worldly education. He and a friend of his, the son of a Degensburger activist arrive in Vilna where Khlavne prepares for the exam for higher education. Friends of the rabbi's synagogue help him. He becomes very popular with the Vilner scholars, maskilim and the rabbinical students and their parents.

His friendship with the Degensburger activist's son results in his becoming sent to Petersburg medical university. He is now certain with his future and his education as well.

Khlavne Royzke craves for his wife and children, he writes to them that they should come to him in Petersburg. They did not answer him. In Bransk he is already regarded as an apostate.

Khlavne returns to Bransk in order to convince his wife that he is a Jew, an educated Jew. Bransk greeted him with stone–throwing, with dirt. They ran after him in the street, shouting “apostate.” He was forbidden to see his children because a rumour had been spread that he had come to take the children to convert them.

Khlavne Royzke, broken in spirit, without energy, leaves Bransk and returns to Russia where he converts.

His wife, through the courts, demanded a get[7] He insisted that the get should take place in the council offices of the church. There is no other way. The get took place in the office of the Grodno church council.

[Page 61]

This was the end of one who dared to leave his home to seek an education or enlightenment elsewhere in the world.

Only at the beginning of the 19th century did it become a necessity for every young boy who wanted somewhat to learn or achieve high grades in a worldly education to leave Bransk for other city yeshivas or just large cities in general where they received the possibility of an education.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Recluse, one who devotes himself exclusively to the study of the sacred books. Return
  2. Carpenter, cabinet maker. Return
  3. Geniuses – plural; Gaon – genius singular. Return
  4. The Zionist group that was established before Hertzl's Zionist Conference in Basel in 1897. Return
  5. One who formalizes and makes official a Jewish wedding ceremony Return
  6. The same very unusual first name of RCC's father. The Yiddish spelling of the name is the same and the only place where I could find the same name, besides in Bransk, was in Bialystok. The name is of Slavonic Czech origin that probably originated in Prague ca. 11th century and then spread from there to North–East Poland. The Hebrew name is Lapidut (or Lapidos) who was the husband of the prophetess Deborah (Judges 4:4). Return
  7. Jewish religious divorce. Return

[Page 62]

Cantors and Ritual Slaughterers in Bransk

The first town shokhet who is remembered in Bransk is Mr Isakhar Shokhet.[1] My father would speak with great respect about Mr Isakhar. It is not known when he was in Bransk and when he died. According to what my father related, Reb Isakhar was very much loved in Bransk. All the elderly Jews who mention him are in agreement that he was an important and respected personality in town.

Mr Eliyohu Shokhet hailed from Symyatitch . Mr Eliyohu was very well versed in Torah. He too, was much loved by the Bransk population, studied Torah with the people in the Poale Tsedek small–synagogue/house–of–study. The editor of this book still remembers Mr Eliyohu Shokhet very well. He remembers that Mr Eliyohu Shokhet was loved by the khasidic elements in town. On the other hand, the Bransk women had a heavy heart towards his wife. When a woman came to the shokhet with a fowl to be slaughtered for someone who was sick or had given birth, his wife always found an excuse: “Come tomorrow she said” the shokhet is not home, even when Mr Eliyohu was in the house, he is busy studying so his wife never wanted to disturb him. MCG It appears that his wife thought more about Mr Eliyohu's world to come than of the four groshn he would have earned from the slaughter of a fowl . Mr Eliyohu died at the age of eighty .

Mr Maishe–Matesyohu Heftman was the next shokhet after Mr Eliyohu. Whoever remembers Mr Maishe–Matesyohu knows that he was very learned, a Jew with a beaming countenance and a welcoming face. People could

[Page 63]

not get over his goodness, his loving and jolly nature. In general, there were few such nice Jewish types.

The butchers, who were usually very critical of a shokhet, most especially when he made a piece treyf[2], never had complaints of Mr Maishe Matesen that he, Mr Maishe–Mates, had made something treyf, and there was never a protest.

Mr Maishe Matesyohu , when he was not busy, spent time studying . Children could never engage in an argument with him. His good–nature always prevailed.

His wife was loved by all the Bransk women. When she went shopping everyone was eager to help her. Everybody knew that she did not have any time to waste. She begins to prepare for Shabbos on Wednesday and by Friday evening, she is barely finished.

We will speak in later articles about his son, Yosef Khaim, the town's writer and linguist.


Mr Yehoyshe Zelig Fraynd, Cantor and Shokhet

Following the death of Eliyohu Shokhet, Bransk engages a cantor[3] / shokhet. Bransk was fortunate with the first khazn /shokhet in the person of the friendly and clever Mr Yehoyshe –Zelig Fraynd.

The khazn, as he was later called, came from Vashlikove, from Amdur and Lahishen. His first performance in Bransk was during Khanuka. How well I remember his blessing over the Khanuka candles in the old small–synagogue/house–of–study. The synagogue was packed. The khazn appeared with a wonderful choir of specially chosen singers, young Bransk boys whom he had discovered during the short time he had been in Bransk. These were the Yangnikes, two dear, sweet little voices, Shmulik–Leyzer–Tcheslyer, Yoel'ke the Benduger and the Ganer.

As soon as the khazn concluded the blessing of the candles, it became quickly well–known. For years the entire town sang the blessing of the candles. It was

[Page 64]

a great pleasure to see how the town was happy with their first khazn, Mr Yehoyshe –Zelig Fraynd.

The khazn quickly became famous in town not only for his cantorial ability, but for his ritual slaughtering. He was a capable and swift shokhet and butchers idolized him as an artist in this trade. Even the grandmother Bashe Royze loved him for his ability and swiftness as a moyel. “A light hand, no evil eye” should befall him, as she would say.

The khazn quickly accustomed himself to the general life of the town. He became known throughout the entire area surrounding the town. People liked to spend a couple of hours with him. Everybody said he was a wise man, a Jew, speaking thus of him.

His home quickly became the centre of various businessmen who loved to sit in the large, warm house, companionably drinking a glass of tea which was always present on the table. The samovar was always on. Everybody listened with pleasure to the clever words of the khazn.

When the khazn's children became a little older there developed a new friendship between them and their kheder[4] friends. They were always together there in the house, studying together, and learning about worldly matters.

The khazn's house became even more popular with all the Amerikanerkes. It was there that they brought the letters from their husbands in America to be read and to write a reply. The khazn's wife, Sore, always said to Leybl: “Paste a stamp on the letter.”

The khazn's house was virtually a centre for young and old. All found a warm, friendly atmosphere there. It is characteristic that Mr Zelig did not make any attempts to endear himself to the community leaders, was proud of himself, his ability and wit. He even expressed that he would rather be a worker on his own than the holy dish of the Bransk community.

The khazn always had enough meat. He himself would purchase a little sheep or a calf, slaughter it, sell the hide and the cost of the meat was minimal. The khazn's wife, Sore, ensured that

[Page 65]

poor women would benefit from this. She made up packages of meat and Leybl would distribute them to the needy and poor women.

Bransk was rightly proud of its khazn–shokhet Mr Yehoyshe –Zelig Fraynd.


Mr Yehoyshe–Zelig's Fraynd, khazn
Mr Yisroel Sivavitch


The khazn's two sons, are in America. His eldest son, Leybl, is now also in New York. There is a special article in the book about him. His son Nekhemye is somewhere in Poland.


Mr Yisroel Sivavitch, Khazn /Shokhet, and Moyhel

Mr Yisroel Sivavitch was an artist in all three trades. He was an extremely nice looking personality, conducted himself in a modern manner, clothed very neatly. He was a truly intelligent person. His children studied world matters in the Bialystok Gymnasium and were very hygiene conscious. After a slaughter, he always washed his hands with soap. Bransk Jews were not accustomed to this and behind his back held grudges against him. However, the people really liked him.

He later left for Vibarg, Finland, and was there for two years

[Page 66]

as a shokhet. He could not bring his family over to him, so he returned to Bransk. They no longer want him as their shokhet. The people are now interested in town affairs and force the businessmen to rehire Mr Yisroel Sivovitch as shokhet.

He did not devote himself to being a khazn. He disliked the Bransk businessmen and did not want to sing for them.

Mr Yisroel Sivovitch decides to leave Bransk. Bialystok wants him as their shokhet. He makes the decision that it is better to go to America. Within a short time, he brings his family over. It was fated that Mr Yisroel Sivovitch should be saved and that he and his family live in freedom in the United States

Mr Yisroel Sivovitch is now a shokhet in New York. To this very day he cannot forget Bransk as a town that was one of those in Poland that recognized and loved its truly devoted leaders and community organizers.

Mr Yisroel Sivovitch specifically reminded the writer of this article in New York of the nice and noble behavior of Yankev Yentchman. He never argues with the shokhet. He always accepted his decisions with respect. When his wife (he is referring to Reb Yisroel's wife), MCG before she left for America, came to pay several rubles that were owed to him, Yankev Yentchman refused to take the money from her. He told her that she, going now to America, would sooner need it while travelling. There would be servant girls of the businessmen who were sent with their chickens to be slaughtered precisely prior to the holiday before the candle blessing and when he refused to slaughter so late because he was certain that they did not need it for the holiday, the businessmen became angry and ill treated him for his behaviour .

[Page 67]

Mr Avrum–Hersh Shokhet

He came from Ostrove, a khasidic Jew, wearing a yarmulke under his hat. He did not get along well with the butchers so he did not do well in Bransk. He had a large family. In addition, Khaim Pentman the gabay of the Burial Society always derided him, only as he, Khaim could do. Mr Avrum becomes the shokhet and the first to dare call a strike if they would not increase his salary. This lasted an entire week, but for Shabbos he slaughtered for himself. He could not decide whether to leave Bransk without any meat in honour of Shabbos. The simple folk actually were on his side but the community leaders hated Avrum Hersh.

At the end, he returned to Ostrove.


Khatskl Kontchik

He came from Trestine. He was a good shokhet and a good prayer leader. It was said in Bransk that he was “equal to gold”, a human being to God and man. Anytime there was any disagreement, they went to Khatskl Kontchik, he would straighten things out and restore peace in the home. He is always recognized in town. He is sent to represent Bransk on various occasions. Within this person was embodied a world of goodness.

Khatskl Kontchik, along with everyone else in town, is taken to the gas chambers on November 7th 1942.

The shokhet's son is also taken to the gas chambers on November 7th 1942.

There were two more shokhtim in Bransk. They were the old shokhet/preacher who would go to the Jews in every village and do the slaughtering there, and the Vishinker shokhet who came to Bransk from Vishink when the Jews, because of the pogroms, were forced to leave the town. At the beginning, he was not permitted to do any slaughtering, but later

[Page 68]

when Vishinker Jews settled in Bransk, he was allowed to slaughter in the town.

The Vishinker shokhet also perished in Treblinka with all the Bransk Jews.

Yenkl Hershl the shoemaker and Isser–Shepsl the Butcher's son learned how to be shokhtim, but they were not allowed to perform any slaughters because they were from Bransk. It was the custom from long ago that their own should not be permitted to be the shokhtim in town.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Ritual slaughterer. Return
  2. Non–kosher. Return
  3. Khazn – cantor. Return
  4. Kheder – traditional Jewish religious elementary school. Return

[Page 69]

Burial Society and Gravediggers

The Khevrah Kadisha[1] was established in 1820 even prior to Bransk having its own cemetery.

As you know, Bransk's deceased were driven or carried to Bocki for burial. The funeral service was held in Bransk.

It is difficult to know, who were the first members of the Khevra Kadisha, because in the pinkas they are called Mr Flugi son of Flugi. It is known however, that one of the first gaboyim was Mr Dovid Berlin, followed by Mr Yekhiel–Leyb, and then Velvl–Daniel's, Mr Ezra Meir Kestin and the last, Khaim Pentman.

Not one from the general population was accepted into the khevra Kadisha . Only during the epidemic of (5520? [1860]), when the existing khevra could not by itself handle the difficult work, when simple folk were sought after to help them. Later, these temporary members became permanent members of the khevra. In this way, such Jews as Yosl Stoyler, (carpenter/cabinet–maker), Avrum Tevl, Nokhmen the hat maker, Zalman Yeshaye were included.

Like in all towns, the Bransk Khevra Kadisha in certain cases was very strict. They sought to receive a substantial amount of money from the family for the burial.

Their expenses were great. They have to pay a certain percent to the Bikur Kholim.[2] The Talmud Torah was also subsidized from the Khevra Kadisha money, as well as giving to the Ha'kneset Kala.[3] The fence around the cemetery had to be repaired constantly. There were fiery protests despite the fact that the Khevra Kadisha conducted itself like all

[Page 70]

the other societies in the Jewish towns of Poland and Russia and certainly no worse.

In addition to the aforementioned gaboyim, there were many who never refused to come to a ritual washing the body of the deceased. Every generation had its Khevra –Kadisha members: Dovid–Gimple, Yankel –Meir's Kharlop, Shloyme


Avrum Rifke
Yankev Patoker
Various Khevra Kadisha types


Blok (?), Aryeh Krotz, Binyomke the tailor, Nokhum Trus , Motel Rimer, Avrum Rybke who was the official shroud–sewer, Tsalke Yosl Stoyler, MaIshe Viner, Dovid Kopkes, Khaim Klade, Velvl–Shepsl Katsev, Diadke the locksmith, Leyzer–Fishl Spishiner, Yankel Patoker, Shmuel Kodlubofsky, Khaim–Leybl, Yudl Voylker, , Avrum Verpikhovsky, whose fate it was as the greatest hero during horrific conditions

[Page 71]

to carry out his activities, to provide the deceased with their final honour. More about this in later articles.

The Khevra Kadisha had a custom of fasting on erev Shabbos,[4] before the new month, going to the holy place, to the old small–synagogue/house–of–study for minkha (afternoon prayers) to recite Yom Kippur Katan,[5] and then the seuda[6] would take place. Every gabay made an earnest effort to ensure that the seudas be better and nicer.

If you went to the market on any cold winter's weekday and smelled all kinds of aromas of broiled geese, you then understood why today is the Khevra Kadisha seuda. The general population would be very angry as to why the Khevrah had to have such rich seudas. . They did not know of the great difficulties that were encountered at a ritual cleansing where many times it was necessary to sweep worms out of the deceased. Certainly they did not know and did not see nighttime funerals that took place in the hardest frosts and the deepest snows.

The ceremony for electing the gabayim took place at the Khevra every Lag B'omer,[7] at which time they arranged a ballot box. Through an indirect vote, the arbitrators were elected and they had the right to choose the gaboyim. Usually the same gaboyim would be elected from year to year.

After the election of the gaboyim a dairy seuda would take place, but there was no shortage of spirits at this dairy seuda. These Khevrah members wended their way home through the streets in quite a happy and jolly mood.

During Shmini Atseres[8] the Khevrah were given beer and apples, and at the end of Pesakh, wine and nuts.

The Jews would bring their young children and grandchildren to all the Khevrah Kadisha celebrations, so that they too could experience pleasure.

The Khevrah Kadisha always fulfilled its work. Nothing deterred them even under the most difficult and worst conditions. In the sealed ghetto, under a hail of bullets and war battles, the Khevrah Kadisha was prepared while endangering their own lives, to provide ritual cleansings and funerals with honour in accordance with Jewish law.

The Khevrah Kadisha ends along with all Jewish organizations,

[Page 72]

with the entire Jewish life in Poland on November 7th, 1942 after existing for 120 years. Officially, one Khevrah Kadisha member, on November 15 th,,1942, single–handedly fulfills the rights of 70 murdered Jews and falls dead into a mass grave. More about this in further chapters.


Bransk Grave Diggers

The first who is familiar to the elderly Branskers is Itche Kutnik, the grave–digger. If you remember, there was a young married woman Kutnik in Bransk. Itche Kutnik was her father.

It is written in the pinkas that when Itche Kutnik went to open a grave at night as was then the custom, he took Avrum Ber the beadle along with him to light his way with a lantern.

Water had already entirely overflowed the road between the bricks. They walked in water, feeling their way. They thought the water was not deep. There was still ice in several places. Itche Kutnik took a step and fell in. Avrum Ber, half–dead, barely made it back to town. The town mourned: “Such a tragedy!” Two days later they found Itche Kutnik's body and buried him. Then the community decided to hire someone else as grave–digger. He was called Antkhele bagreber,[9] a little man, a quiet man, he was half blind. They were always frightened of him. In the small–synagogue/house–of–study he prayed separated from the others, alone at the table. He never had anyone next to him. At a Khevrah Kadisha seuda Aantchele was very important. He was asked by everyone to : eat Antchele, drink Antchele. And Antchele did not need to be begged. He ate with appetite all the delicious broiled meat.

Antchele was a special type of grave–digger. It took him no time at all to open a grave. He always took with him

[Page 73]

a stick, a long one. When someone died, Antchele immediately came with his stick to take measurements, exactly as if someone would steal the work from him. In 1892, during the epidemic, he managed to open five or six graves every day. He did not release the work until he was paid his money because he had already been cheated a couple of times. Antchele died too. To take his place they chose Hershl Pantz. He is also very capable but not as good as Antchele. He is also sub–beadle in the old small synagogue.

After his death, Yosl the porter is chosen to be the grave–digger and he too, is subordinate beadle in Poale Tsedek (small–synagogue/house–of–study).

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Burial Society Return
  2. Visiting the sick Return
  3. Aid for a poor bride Return
  4. Sabbath eve Return
  5. Wikipedia – “Minor Day of Atonement”, a practice observed on the day preceding each Rosh Khodesh or New–Moon Day, the observance consisting of fasting and supplication, but much less rigorous than that of Yom Kippur proper Return
  6. Festive meal Return
  7. Wikipedia – Lag B'Omer – is a Jewish holiday celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer. It marks the hillula (celebration), interpreted by some as anniversary or death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a Mishnaic sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century CE Return
  8. The eighth day of Succos (festival of Tabernacles) that merges with Simkhat Torah (ending and beginning of the usually annual cycling of the reading of the Five Books of Moses) Return
  9. Gravedigger Return

[Page 74]

Bransk Prayer Leaders[1]

All the Jews were capable of praying at the[2] lectern. The title of prayer leader belonged to a few who could pray during the Days of Awe at the lectern.

There were many such in Bransk.

Avrum Ber the beadle had great strength for morning prayers : others had great strength for additional morning prayers. When more small–synagogues/houses–of–study were established in Bransk, it was necessary to pay leaders of prayers. Sholem–Itche the teacher was one of them. He had two good assistants, Khilye the baker and Hertzke Fuks who has lived in Brownsville for more than sixty years, and is well known as a good leader of prayers during the Days of Awe in Sholem–Itche's style. Today, at the age of eighty, he still performs at the Midwood Jewish Centre. He complains that the children don't let him pray at the lectern. In Spring Valley, where Hertzke Fuks spends the summers, they do not know that Hertzke Fuks' style stems from Sholem–Itche's, as long as they are satisfied with his praying the closing prayer of Yom Kippur.

Zalman Shames and Binyomke Melamed, Avrum–Ber's son were good leaders of prayers but with additional talents. Maishe–Yehuda the beadle was a man of great distinction. For all prayers he was outstanding with his pleasant voice and he could pray at the lectern for several days running. His assistants were the Shmultchikes. The last assistants were Khaim Hersh–Zalman Rutker, Khaim Oddeser. Binyomkes assistants were Mendl Toker and Leybl Stelman who later became a leader of prayers.

[Page 75]

Itche Alyarnik, was good at leading prayers, a very good weeping prayer leader. His praying virtually caused the congregation to melt into tears. The crying began in the women's section, carried over to the men's section and developed into a great plea. With deep sighs all those praying pleaded with He Who is in Heaven to be written into the Book of Life. He did not need any assistants. All those who were praying assisted him.

Shaul'ke Farber, was a quiet and heartfelt leader of prayers. His praying was so filled with sadness, filled with such a pleading that they must be accepted. A Jew such as Shaul'ke Farber could not be forgotten.


Hertzke Fuks
Sholem–Itche's assistant
Fishele Bog, of blessed memory
leader of prayers


Fishele Bog, was a wonderfully hearty leader of prayers, but he shouted and had to strain his voice. His assistants were Avigdor Katsev, and sometimes Avrum'ke Katsev.

Leybl Stelman kept to his rabbi's strict style. He was a good leader of prayers, slow and full of heart. The women liked his praying very much. His brother Mendl Toker was his assistant.

Mendl Toker, also Binyomkes assistant, was one of the truly excellent leaders of prayer. The youth most especially liked Mendl Toker's praying and filled the new small–synagogue/house–of–study when Mendl RC prayed. Mendl actually studied his prayers during the entire year while he was at work.

[Page 76]

Leybl, his brother also assisted him, and sometimes his son, Maishke. Maishe Viner, Elye Gotlieb, Khatskl the Ritual Slaughterer, Kadish the Ritual Slaughterer, Dovid–Ezriel's, Yudl Voylker, Nisl Lavitch, Hershl Zagel,[3] Aryeh Kratz, Alter Kapelikhes, Avrum Sussen,[4] Yekutial Morvinker, Hershl Platrat, Yoel'ke Platrat, Avigdor Katsev, were leaders of prayers.

Avrum Verpikhovski was a modern leader of prayers. Khaim–Leybl Golding, Sanes son–in–law, was also one of the good leaders of prayers, well–liked in town and a participant in all town activities. The latter two were taken to Treblinka November 7th, 1942.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Ba'ali Tefilus (or Tefilos) – Leaders of Prayer Return
  2. Davend far'n omed – pray at the lectern Return
  3. Dov Berel Zagel (Segal, Chaggal) was married to Shaynste [Yaffa] Kobylanski, a sister of Rubin Roy Cobb's [] father Lapidut Khlawne Kobylanski [Henry Cobb – he can be seen on the right side of the middle row in the photo on page 417 of the Bransk Union in Johannesburg, South Africa; also two grandchildren of are named after him, viz. Ariel Deborah (the wife of Lapidut – Judges 4:4) Khlawne Frankel and Lapidut Khlawne Cobb]. They had a son Yossele. All three were gassed at Treblinka on November 7, 1942. Return
  4. Two Sussen [Sussin] families live/lived in Johannesburg, South Africa. Berel Sussen [he can be seen on the third from the right side of the middle row in the photo on page 417 of the Bransk Union in Johannesburg, South Africa] lived to the age of 104 and almost to the end blew the shofar at the Pine Street Shul in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Return


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Brańsk, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 26 Jun 2016 by LA