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Bransk Khasidim

Almost all the khasidim in Bransk were not born in Bransk but came from near and far Polish cities and towns.

In 1900 there were about two prayer quorums of ten male adults of khasidim from various khasidic dynasties. They had their own khasidic shtibl[1], and there they held their quorums of ten male adults on Shabbos and on holidays.


Shloyme–Hersh Yentchman
Itskhak Kashemakher


Among the well–known are Mordekhe'le the Khasid of Nayshtot, Dovid Khazn of Tchekhenoftse, Abele of Volomin , Sholem–Itche Melamed of Sakole, Sholem Hitzl of Drogetshin, Zavl–Hersh of Sokole, Ben Tsiyon Melamed of the Shedlitser area, Meir–Khaim of Simyatchev, Shloyme Hersh of Sokolove, Khaim–Fishl Melamed of Orla, Kalman–Maishe of the Kobrin area. Only Yankev Mordekhay was born in Bransk.

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In this group were found Gerer, Radzeminer, Alleksandrer, 1 Kotsker, Kobriner and Slonimer, and yet all the khasidim lived peacefully among themselves.

The khasidim shtibl was the spiritual centre of all the Bransk khasidim. They congregated there on Shabbos for prayer and in the evening for the shalosh seudas[2] all the khasidim came together, each bringing with him a piece of khale.[3] There were about ninety small flasks in the khasidic shtibl and everybody sang Sabbath songs together, listened to the wonderful stories about good Jews which never seemed to run out. Visiting khasidim brought new khasidic thumping melodies which they heard from their rabbi and studied with the crowd. Kalman Maishe quickly adapted these thumping melodies. Dovid Khasid, with his strong voice, practiced the new style.

The large melave malke seudas[4] which always took place every year during the night of the first slikhos[5] was a big celebration. To this melave malke the khasidic wives prepared a good grits with a piece of goose. Little k5hasidic boys brought the hot food to the khasidic shtibl and for this were paid a kopek each. The khasidic youth gladly paid the kopek to the little boys because they themselves would have had to do this work.

The biggest celebration took place Passover eve at Shmuelke Aynbinder's when they baked the shmurah matzah.[6] The Zarember teacher kneaded the Passover dough, everyone rolled it out, but they had to have a redler.[7] When the matzah. was finished, they all began to pray, uttering praises and afterwards having a little taste of Passover brandy. It was necessary only for a few drops of spirits for all to become jolly. It was an internal happiness that was felt at khasidic celebrations. Such celebrations helped them to get through the rest of the year in the terrible poverty that most of the khasidim experienced.

The enthusiasm of Simkhas Torah[8] is impossible to describe. The entire khasidic population went from the khasidic shtibl to the khasidic homeowners where they found tables already laden with

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what had been prepared earlier for the holiday. The good food quickly disappeared from the table and the khasidim disappeared from there as well, going to a second khasidic home, and so forth, until the evening. Then it was time for afternoon prayers and the khasidim were quite drunk as they marched to the khasidic shtibl, praying the afternoon prayers almost at dark. And then


Efraim the Teacher
Ginsberg the Teacher
Two Khasidic Jews


evening prayers in a week ending somber style. The arrival of autumn could already be felt, with the cold and rainy days. They had no wood, no warm clothing. After evening prayers little Mordekhayle would call out that all should carry up the summer garments to the attic and bring down the warm coats. Khasidim sighed heavily. The warm clothing was already long torn and had patches upon patches.

From time–to–time, the Kobrin or the Slonim rabbi would come as a guest. They would usually stay with Shloyme Hitzl in the brick house and hold their “tables” there. The entire town would come to witness the khasidic “tables”. Only the most important people would be invited, but the most honoured would be the khasidim. They felt that the celebration was theirs. In general, the khasidim lived in a friendly fashion among themselves.

The little khasidic children on the festivals had a special complaint.

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This was when it was necessary to bring a pail of water from Elye Vatnik's well for the Levites[9] to place It before the Kohanim[10] to enable them to perform the priestly benedictions . Avrum–Zavl Hersh's was a Levite, already a youth of 18 or 19 and was embarrassed to carry the pail of water through the street. Therefore he paid a bribe to the little khasidic boys for bringing water from the well. There was no money permitted on a holiday, so Avreml had to give a package of cigarettes. After the holiday, he bought the cigarettes back for two kopeks.

The khasidic children later became interested in all community activities. They quickly became familiar with politics and put forth candidates for the town council and knew how to get these candidates elected.

Through the activities of the younger khasidim together with the new additions from neighbouring towns, they became active in various areas in “ha'shomer ha'Shabbos”[11] and carefully watched the rows of candidates to ensure that no one slipped in through the back door on Shabbos. Ben–Tsiyon the Zarember's was the one who took upon himself the duty of helping the One Who is in Heaven to keep watch over Jewish children to ensure they did not stray from the straight path and G–d forbid, have any Jewish concerts or theatre performances that is forbidden by the true God on Shabbos.

The situation has changed lately. New people appear in the khasidic ranks. Jews dress with a smaller hat and become khasidim, travel to Ger, return well educated in the Aguda[12] movement, they are no longer interested in any new khasidic melodies. They become interested in the daily Aguda Tzaitung newspaper and agitating for the elections. The political activities of the khasidim results in many in town being angry at them. Eastern (?) wall Jews and unaffiliated are united in their hatred towards the khasidic politicians, but they can do nothing. The khasidim already have their own khasidic shtibl which is the centre of their activities. They no longer have to worry about paying rent money.

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Among the politically astute khasidim were the four Konopyates brothers: Yisroel, Yankev, Mates and Aron Shmuel, Klodke, Itskhak Finkelshteyn, Alter Gotlieb, Ben–Tsiyon and others.


Shabsi Verpikhovski and wife
Ben–Tsiyon Zarember and wife


On September 11th 1939, when the Nazis bombed Bransk, the Khasidic Shtibl[13] was burnt from the incendiary bombs. The khasidim devoted to their tradition, arrange their assembly of ten adult males at Yankev Yentchman's house in the town. During the time of the Soviet reign and later in the ghetto (under the Nazis), they kept their assembly of ten adult males going.

The khasidisher element did not want to mix with the mitnagdishen.[14] adherents in the ghetto. The khasidim, with all its followers in Bransk, ends with all other Jewish religious and free institutions on November 7th 1942 with the evacuation of Bransk residents to the gas chambers and ovens.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Khasidic and Ultra–Orthodox House of Prayer and Study Return
  2. Wikipedia – the “third meal” customarily eaten by Sabbath–observing Jews just before the end of Shabbos. Return
  3. Wikipedia – a special Jewish braided bread eaten on the Sabbath and holidays (among South Africans, the majority being of “Litvak” stock refer to khallah as “kitke”) Return
  4. ”The ushering out of the queen,” the evening meal marking the conclusion of the Sabbath. Return
  5. Prayers recited days preceding Rosh Hashannah, usually at midnight. Return
  6. Smurah means “watched.” And it is an apt description of this matzah, the ingredients of which (the flour and water) are guarded from the moment of harvesting and drawing. Return
  7. One who makes punctures in the dough. Return
  8. Wikipedia – Simkhas Torah – “Rejoicing of the Torah” is a celebration marking the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings, and the beginning of a new cycle. Return
  9. From the tribe of Levi such as the brothers Moses and Aaron. Return
  10. Priests in English, Kohen in Hebrew and Yiddish, Kaplan in Polish, Kagan in Russian, Kayhen in Lithuanian Yiddish, Cohen or Kohn as a surname. Return
  11. Guardians of the Sabbath. Return
  12. Agudath Yisroel Ultra–orthodox anti–Zionist movement commonly referred to today as “haredim”. Return
  13. This was a few houses away from the home of Rubin Roy Cobb's maternal grandparent's home, Akiva Skornik. Return
  14. Wikipedia – Misnagedim is a Hebrew word meaning “opponents” (who are mainly from Lithuania or commonly referred to as “Litvaks” which most of Bransk Jewry identified with – the Litvaks originated from present day Lithuania, Latvia, North–Eastern Poland [Bransk], and West Belarus and commonly refers to opponents of khasidim Return

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Society for the Study of Talmud and Society
for the Study of the Repetition of the “Oral Torah”

The Khevra Shas (Society for the Study of Talmud) was founded during the time of Mr Shaul Regensburger, the third rabbi of Bransk. The facts are confirmed in writings in old books that were given to the Khevra Shas in the name of a deceased Jew in 1865.

The daf yomi[2] (page of the day) has lately become popular, when all cities and towns study the same page of gemora every day. All of Poland studied the same page on the same day. The siyum (conclusion) was carried out on the same day.

The teachers of the daily page of gemora were from the old small–synagogue/house–of–study Rabbi Tsukerman, from the new small–house–of–prayer/house–of–study Rabbi Khaim Leyb's Lyev, Hershl Stolyare's son–in–law from the third small–synagogue/house–of–study, Mr Meir Kestin, from the Poale Tsedek, Mr Shloyme Kontchik from the Khasidim Shtibl, Rabbi Avrum Yankev Sekerevitch. The “tisch” (table) were usually attended by scholarly Jews who derived pleasure from learning and from the teachers who were great scholars.

I remember that during the time of the first German occupation the Khevra Shas was led by Ezra and Khaim Stolyartshik. At the table tens of people would stand by to hear them. After the lesson, Aharon Velvl the baker would relate the news from the newspapers. Everyone paid attention. The scholars did not leave their seats. Aharon Velvl had a talent for telling the news although he would sometimes not be clear. Suddenly somebody said: “It is almost eight

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o'clock and we will not be allowed to be on the streets. It is time for evening prayers and we have to go home. ” There were sometimes those who fell asleep during the lesson, but nobody ever slept during the conclusion. A shame to waste a drink.

The Khevra Mishnayes now consisted of a different class of Jews. Here there were simple Jews who could not study by themselves, so they sat listening to the teachers. Many of them actually could do this and others not so. However, the audience was pleased.

The Khevra Mishnayes teachers were Mr Maishe Yehuda from the old–house–of–prayer/house–of–study, Khaim Pentman from the new house–of–prayer/house–of–study. It is unknown how he knew Torah. From the third house–of–prayer/house–of–study there was Mr Shmuel Kruk, and from the Poale Tsedek, house of–prayer/house–of–study, Yosl the porter. Avrum Meir Kanapyater was from the Khasidim shtibl. There was no Khevra in the tailors' house–of–study/house–of prayer, but you could encounter Khone Kashtan in the old house–of–prayer/house–of–study at the Khevra Shas. Mordekhay Askard was at the “tisch” of the Khevra Mishnayes also in the old house–of–prayer/house–of–study.

All of these khasidim were very popular. There was no one missing. It was a duty that each gladly fulfilled. The two Khevras were active during the German occupation and as well during the Soviet regime only in two houses–of–prayer/houses–of–study. In the gas chambers of Treblinka there perished all the Torah Jews and scholars. Not one of them was fortunate enough to survive.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Wikipedia – The component of the Talmud comprising rabbinical analysis of and commentary after the Mishnah. Return
  2. Wikipedia – is a daily regimen of learning the Oral Torah and its commentaries (also known as the Gemora), in which each of the 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud are covered in sequence. Under this regimen, the entire Talmud is completed, one day at a time, in a cycle of seven and a half years [it still carries on to this day]. – Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Yeshivas Khakhmei Lublin, Poland inaugurated this on the first day of Rosh Hashanah 5684 (11 September 1923). The concept of Daf Yomi was initiated by the World Agudath Israel [anti– Zionist] movement in Vienna on 16 August 1923. Return

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Talmud Torah Of Bransk

There are lists in the pinkas of the Khevra Kadisha of subsidies for the Talmud Torah for the year 1861.

This clearly shows that there was a Talmud Torah in Bransk. It had lately been arranged that the Khevra Kadisha contribute 20 percent of its income to the town Talmud Torah. Usually the head gabay of the Khevra Kadisha was the one who was actually in charge of the Talmud Torah.

Like in all Polish towns, the little Jewish boy in Bransk received his education from private teachers. Every poor man paid tuition with the last grosz[1] of his money.

However, there were those who could not pay at all for a rabbi. The teachers themselves were very poor and could ill afford to teach these poor children. In order to prevent such poor children from not being able to read and pray, the Talmud Torah was established. This was the free schoolroom for poor children.

The parents of such children had to be satisfied with the Talmud Torah education they received and certainly did not have a say in the way the community school was run. Regardless of any displeasure they may have felt, they could not protest. Certainly no one would have paid them any attention. The Talmud Torah was located in one of the rooms of the old house–of–prayer/house–of–study, there where the rabbi's rooms were.

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The Talmud Torah teacher was the poorest of all the teachers. He endured the most trouble from his non–paying students. Most of them were orphans or had fathers who were poor and downtrodden, and were not interested in their childrens' education.

The boys felt free to play various tricks on the rabbi, and that is why the Talmud Torah teacher's work was so difficult. One thing was a certainty for him, he received his wages every week and did not have to wait for the boys to bring the rabbi his tuition fee.

The necessary money was collected at Purim, Khanuka, and Khol Hamoyd.[2] On erev Yom Kippur the pledge plate with a long list printed in the script of the Sefer Torah: Talmud Torah of Bransk – was prominently displayed on the table.

The name “Talmud Torah boy” was considered by the boys to be one of which to be ashamed. And yet, there was pity felt for the Talmud Torah boys because everyone knew that such a child suffers terrible slaps and beatings from the rabbi, and nobody defended them.

In 1911, a special modern building is erected in Bransk for the Talmud Torah. Yoske Menukhe's becomes the gabai of the Talmud Torah. The Khevra Kadisha gabai no longer has a say about the Talmud Torah. A sign is mounted on the building – Kheder Tsiburi,[3] no longer Talmud Torah. The entire Talmud Torah was an insult in Bransk to the parents and the children.

Several children from various groups could not be found in the Kheder Tsiburi. All were taught by one teacher.

One thing is certain, that during the time of the Kantonistn there was no Talmud Torah in Bransk because no mother would send her child to the Talmud Torah. He would surely have been taken away by the “catcher” to become a soldier for the Tsar Nikolay.

The Talmud Torah was founded after the time of the Kantonistn and continued during all times. In this way

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Bransk took care of its poor children, ensuring them of a somewhat Jewish education in accordance with the understanding of the time.

During the last years, the Talmud Torah has taken on a folk character. Many Jewish children, poor and rich, studied there. They were taught by modern teachers and received a worldly education. Yosef Zeyfman, Hershl Vaser and Khaim Klodke were the Yiddish teachers. Rubinshteyn taught worldly subjects.

Then Bransk pointed its finger at such children: “These are Talmud Torah children.”

In 1939, when the Soviet government comes to town, all the kheders and the Talmud Torah are disbanded. Modern schools are established for all the town's children.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Wikipedia – In Poland a grosz (plural grosz or groszy, depending on the number) is 1/100 part of a Zloty. Return
  2. Intermediary week–days between the first two and last days of the holiday – Passover (Pesakh) and Tabernacles (Succos) Return
  3. Folk school. Return

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Acts of Benevolent Lodging
and Visiting the Sick in Bransk

The Khevra was founded in 1893, during the intermediary days of Pesakh by Yankev–Meir Kharlop, Dovid Milner and Yosl Dubiner. Yosl was also called Yosl Kosovitski, or Yosl the Royfe[1] and Abele Khasid. There were many illnesses in town that year. The measures taken by the Khevra consisted of helping the sick to get a doctor, medicine, blood and paying a visit to them.

The income of the Khevra was made up of weekly collections from the homes in town. Shloyme Blok would go about with his pushke[2] wrapped in a white paper that read: “Linat Ha'tsedek” and “Bikur Kholim”[3]in Bransk.

Every kitchen had a pushke from the Khevra. Every woman, prior to candle lighting, would drop a coin into it. Erev Yom Kippur, a collection plate would be in the Synagogues. A pushke would also be set out at weddings and ritual circumcisions.

From this collected money, they had to take care of one who was sick and poor, and provide a doctor and medicine, or the barber–surgeon Prazhmen and sometimes also pay Bashe–Royzen the grandmother, for poor new mothers. They also had to prepare berry juice for sweating, instruments, tubs, bladders, odds and ends, etc.

When someone needed a doctor, he came to Dovid Milner for a voucher. He also gave a voucher. to the pharmacist. The instruments were kept at Abele's. He gave the instruments only when a pledge was given. The best pledge was for a Yom Kippur makhzor.[4] If the instruments were not returned in a timely fashion, then Shloymeh–Efrayim and Avrum Makofski would go into town together

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to bring them back to Abele. The berry juice was at Frumele's. When there was a benevolent lodging, the rich did not attend but instead hired somebody for this purpose. They mostly hired Shepsl the porter or Mikhalke the porter. This afforded these two poor men a small source of income.

Shepsl the porter would spend a night sitting at the bedside of a sick person. Tired from a day of carrying heavy packs on his back, he would fall asleep. He would rise at five o'clock in the morning a kikhl[5] or an apple or have a sip of sweet tea, and on a good day wish the sick, clean the sick person up a bit and also clean off the table. He would drink the juice, nibble person a complete recovery. The sick person could not benefit too much from this, so the Khevra found a new solution, that one must himself attend a benevolent lodging and not hire anyone else. The members of the Khevra were almost all townsmen and women.

On Shabbos Parshe (chapter) V'ira,[6] the Khevra made a kiddush at Avrum Shkop's brick house. The rabbi would say a few words from the parsha, the attendees would partake of the good cake and drink the strong shnaps.[7] Mordekhay Hersh the teacher and Aryeh Krotz were specialists in eating the cake and drinking the brandy.

You understand that Friday prior to the kiddush they went to everyone to collect 20 groshen towards the kiddush.

On Purim or Khanuka Yankev–Meir Kharlop, Yerukhim Goldberg, with Dovid Podratchik would themselves go through town collecting a few rubles for the Visiting of the Poor Sick. Nevertheless there was always a deficit. On the first of every month, Prozhmer would bring about 50 vouchers for the seriously ill. Dr Tkashkevitsh would bring vouchers for the very sick. Bashe–Reyze would bring several vouchers for women in childbirth and a few ritual circumcisions. The pharmacist would bring vouchers for castor oil, Chinese powders, black salve, (species of mushroom?) water, suppositories and spirits of camphor. Yosl Kosovitski would bring a couple of vouchers for twisted fingers, casting a broken leg or hand or for a couple of children's throats. Yosl was a specialist in such things. Nobody could clear a child's throat as well as Yosl the–barber–surgeon:

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Righteous Administration of the Benevolent Lodging in Bransk

Sign in front of the group reads:
Administration of the Poorhouse and Hospital for the Poor
Bottom row: Ayzik Fakhter, Beynish Okon
Second row: Hersh Avol, Mordekhay Golde, Yankel Patoker, Khaim–Leyb Golde and Maishe Fatinke
Third row: Khaykl Rakhovin, Alyeh Yentchman, Alter Glik and Yankev Pribut
Top row: Zakhryh Oskart, Alter Saperstein, Shimon–Dovid Pribut and Elye Gershon Perlman


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Yosl Dubiner was a wonderful human being. He had three names: Yosl Dubiner, Yosl Katavitski and Yosl the barber–surgeon. The work went on without complaints. The Bikur Kholim (Hospital for the Poor) C was a truly democratic institution.

In 1915, when the Germans occupied Bransk, sicknesses in Bransk increases 300 percent and income decreases. They call a meeting, new people show up, younger, Asher Nyman, Itskhak–Mordekhay Vaser, Hershl Hurwitz, Khone Schwartz, Mr Maishe–Mordekhay the son of Rabbi Shimon Shkop, and me (Julius Cohen). We decide to continue working in the Bikur Kholim but to increase the income through modern means, such as arranging spectacular shows, readings, concerts, with the participation of a Bialystok Jewish amateur troupe. Money is raised. Sickness increases in severity. It was the time of the German occupation, and there was little food, no wood for heating homes and the result was – hunger, typhus, diphtheria in increasing amounts in town.

In 1918 when the Germans leave the town, many have to flee Bransk because of political or other reasons. The rabbi's son goes to Grodno, new people join to work devotedly. The most active during the last years are Shabtay Chomski, the Kadolbafkar Rimer, Khaim–Leyb Golding, Mr Khaim–Leyb Lyev, Beynish Okon, Motye Aba the hat maker's son–in–law and Akiva (aka Kiva) Skornik.[8] The Khevra had various medicines and instruments. This was supplied by Shabtay Chomski, Dr Kaminyetski and his wife, both good doctors. The Khevra arranged lectures at which there was taught hygiene and cleanliness.

During the first air attack on Bransk on September 7th, 1939, all the instruments, books and medicines of the Poorhouse and Hospital for the Poor of Bransk are burned. And so ends the finest democratic institution after an existence of three years along with the demise of the entire Jewish community.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Old–time physician, one not formally trained; bonesetter Return
  2. Collection box. Return
  3. Acts of “Benevolent Lodging” and “Visiting the Sick.” Return
  4. Festival Prayer Book. Return
  5. A sugared rusk. Return
  6. Parshat Vayera (Genesis 18:1 – 22:24) is the 4th weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading. The verses refer to the dramatic story of the Akedah – the binding of Isaac that is central to Jewish liturgy and thought. God told Abraham that He will make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore and through Abraham's offspring all the nations on earth will be blessed. Return
  7. Alcoholic drink Return
  8. The maternal grandfather of Rubin Roy Cobb Return

[Page 91]

Hospitality for Poor Guests[1]
– Aid for Poor Brides[2] – Loans Without Interest[3]

There were 2 houses for lodging poor visitors in Bransk: at Binyomke the teacher for special guests, such as a preacher or a courier of a yeshiva or an old–aged home[4] in Jerusalem. A guest such as this stayed at Binyomke the teacher where there was a special room with five beds with straw mattresses and warm quilts.

Binyomke did not rush headlong into inviting the guests, firstly, the guest had to be dressed properly, secondly he had to show his signature for who he was and that he was legal, and not God forbid one of those who had been caught up in socialism. He had to say definitively, when he will leave. When Binyomke was not at home, Khane Riva requested all the requirements be met or she would not permit them to enter the house. Most likely she must have already been chastised by Binyomke for not being careful. Yet Binyomke would complain: “Everyone comes to Bransk, only to Bransk, from all over the world they come only to Bransk.” He earned one ruble per month.

The second house was for lodging poor visitors and was located in the Poorhouse and was for coarse Jews, wandering poor Jews who would beg from house to house and receive a prutah. Most of them were scruffy and filthy, for these people there was the hekdesh.[5] This was the domain of Antshl the assistant–beadle or the gravedigger. There they also had beds with mattresses but they were old and musty. When these poor men were finished with their work in a day or two,

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they were required to leave. If they did not do so, they would not receive a voucher from Maishe Yehuda for Shabbos. On Thursday, they would cash in the prutahs at Nokhman the hat–maker and receive a couple of zekserlekh[6] and continue on their way.

The prutah was a Bransk coin, a little cardboard stamped “Prutah of Bransk.” The poor man came to Nokhman the hat maker and received ninety prutahs for thirty groshen.[7] With this capital, the poor man went around to houses begging. A housewife would give a grosh and ask for two prutahs change. A rich housewife would ask for one prutah change. When such a poor man received a grosh and did not have to give any change, he was in seventh heaven.

However, it once happened that the prutahs of Bransk flooded the town. Poor men did not come to Nokhman the hat maker for prutahs because they had enough prutahs. The writer of this article (Julius Cohen) must now confess that he caused the inflation, because he, simply by virtue of being at his father Nokhman the hat maker's, got the stamp, stamped prutahs and gave them to poor men cheaply at the rate of ten for a groshen. I do not know who suffered from this damage because Nokhman the hat maker was beloved for his honesty. The community had to pay out to the poor men according to the official rate – three for a grosch. Nokhman complained, that someone was copying the prutahs. In case such poor men did not want to leave Bransk before Shabbos, there were those jokesters who copied Maishe Yehuda's vouchers for Shabbos. It so happened that at one homeowner there were two guests for Shabbos. One was the legitimate one and the other the false one. The homeowner was suspicious, how did they send two guests for Shabbos. Well, so be it. If Maishe–Yehuda sent, there are no complaints. Avrum–Maishe Bertche was the forger of Maishe–Yehuda's vouchers.

The hekdesh was the designated place for such guests. The gabai of the guest lodging was Avrum Vainer. The expenses were

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minor. To heat the hekdesh which was the taharah shtibl,[8] the poor went begging for a couple of pieces of wood. They went to the neighbors, to Beyle–Feygn, to Zislen, to Shames the Vatnik (?),[9] to Yankl Zavl or to Aron Velvelekhe, the bathhouse attendant.

Others simply took apart fences or stole a couple of pieces of wood from the small–synagogues/houses–of–study, and this is how they slept in a warm hekdesh.

During the war years 1914 and beyond, there are no more guests, and the first–class guest lodging closed. Those who did come all looked as if they belonged to the second class of guests, and that is how the hekdesh continued. Later they arranged to have guest lodging for the better class at Yenkl Brezhnitser.

They found there a poor man with two small children who had perished and were never identified. And so ended the Bransk lodging for poor guests, two years before the entire Jewish population perished.


Aid for Poor Brides in Bransk[10]

Until this very day I do not know who were the gabayim or gabay'etes (women) of the aid for poor brides, only that if a poor bride was to be married, somebody made sure that she would not be shamed.

Gershon–Ber the shadkhan[11] had only to find a couple, and the rest was taken care of.

As a young boy I (Julius Cohen) noticed that Leybl Styelman, Dovid the shmid[12] or Tsivye the rimerke[13] and Rokhele from Bocki going around the town collecting for the expenses of a wedding for a poor bride. Rikl Beeber[14] and Yokhe Vayn, Khaye Yenkl Khukar with Stsyaptchikhe also went around collecting for this purpose. These sort of weddings took place at Itche the garbater,[15] Zalman, the rabbi's Antshl Bagreber's daughter. In order not to embarrass a poor bride, they collected linens/bedding. They hired klezmer and brought Shloyme Efrayim Badkhan to sing/talk about the bride. Shprintse the bathhouse attendant already knew

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with 40 years of experience, already knew whom to invite to such a wedding.

When the Gutman Klezmer played at such a wedding, the fiddler spoke to everyone's heart, not only played but cried with tears.

The Khevra was a self–created one during the time of the plague in 1892. At that time the town married Itche the tanner[16] to the seamstress as a remedy to put an end to the plague. The aid for poor brides remained as a permanent institution.

The money that Gershon Ber earned for making such a match consisted of the right to be present at the wedding and enjoying a good wedding meal. Maishe Aron the the matchmaker was a strong competitor of Gershon Ber the matchmaker but he never could surpass him.

The proudest accomplishment of Gershon Ber's career was when he married off Khinke Brokh. This was a single woman of about 50, six feet tall. There was a big celebration at Khinke Brokh's wedding to a 22 year old groom from somewhere in the Kiev gubernya.[17] Tsivye Rimerke, Rokhl–Bashe –Sime's danced. Mordekhay –Hersh the teacher and all from Khanale Farber's family were invited. Everything was beautiful. Gershon–Ber felt himself to be a very important and successful matchmaker. Dowry was created. The groom received a new overcoat.

Regrettably, the celebration was short–lived, fell apart because the groom quickly disappeared along with the dowry and the new overcoat, and Khinke Brokh remains an eternal aguna.[18]


Free Loan Society of Bransk

This was the name of the Khevra dedicated in 1863 after the Polish matyezsh (uprising). The economic situation at that time was such that Jews began to open little stores. Artisans had to prepare wood, especially the turners. The turner industry was very well–developed. All the peasants needed wheels for spinning their flax.

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There was no place to obtain a free loan. Who would lend a poor man a couple of rubles, Then the community activists created such an institution where one could borrow money through a pledge. They would bring to Mr Dovid a pair of earrings, a ring, seven strands of pearls, necklaces or a good watch. They would receive a loan of five to ten rubles. The borrowers had to bring 30 groshen each week. This was a hardship. The poor people who borrowed were ashamed to go to the rabbi every week and Mr Dovid's sons did not want them as visitors every week. So they found a solution, that each could pay back the five rubles all at once and retrieve his pledge. This was even more difficult for the poor borrower. This resulted in the pledged item being held. Later, Ezra Goldberg became custodian for the pledges. When a child became sick and a couple of rubles were needed for the barber–surgeon, they once again came with a pledge. Mr Ezra looked the item over: “it is not worth much,” he sighed, but he gave five rubles.

The money for this institution was raised from the pushke contributions, town gatherings, from the erev Yom Kippur bowl with the note “Gmilas Khesedim of Bransk.” The Khevra Kadisha had to hand over a portion of its income for this purpose.

This institution was not very popular. People were embarrassed and ashamed to borrow. When someone's mortgage was held they felt very debased. Over the years there remained many items with the Khevra. During the First World War when the Germans entered Bransk, the Gmilas Khesed ended. The German soldiers took the pledged items for themselves. Nobody mentioned that it belonged to them. Everybody was ashamed. This was the end of the free loan society in Bransk.

There arises once again an institution, better organized and handled more efficiently. More about this in later chapters.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Hakneset orkhim Return
  2. Hakneset kalah Return
  3. Gmilas khesedim Return
  4. Mayshev Zkeinim Return
  5. Hekdesh – filthy place –Poorhouse – hospital for the poor. A word borrowed from the Mishnah and the Talmud, in which it means “a coin of smaller value”. It was an ancient copper Jewish coin worth about one thousandth of a pound. Return
  6. Coin of six groshen Return
  7. A small Polish coin. Return
  8. Shed at a cemetery in which Jewish dead bodies are cleansed before burial Return
  9. Garment maker Return
  10. Hakneset kalah Return
  11. Matchmaker Return
  12. Blacksmith Return
  13. Harness/saddle maker Return
  14. Great–Aunt of Rubin Roy Cobb, family lives in Atlanta, GA USA Return
  15. Tanner Return
  16. Znaydektshikhen Return
  17. Province or State Return
  18. Wikipedia – Agunah – is a halakhic term for a Jewish woman who is “chained” to her marriage. The classic case of this is a man who has left on a journey and has not returned. For a divorce to be effective, Jewish law requires that a man grant his wife a get (divorce) of his own free will. Without a get no new marriage will be recognized. Return

[Page 96]

Psalms Society[1], Splendour of Young Men[2], Tailors[3],
Brotherly Love[4], and Book Correction[5]

As we know from the previous article, the Bransk scholars had their Khevra Shas. The others, who were not so scholarly, had their Khevra Mishnayes.

The uneducated was not familiar with many things, and needed something of a spiritual nature. The Psalms Society fulfilled his desires. Here at the Psalms Society he felt equal to everyone else. He could read into the Psalms whatever he wanted. These were his prayers to G–d, his thanks for everything.

It is difficult to state with any certainty, when the Psalms Society was founded, but surely it has been in existence a long time. It is told, that the Psalms Society gifted the old house–of–prayer/house of study, with a candelabra of twenty four candles that burned from Friday's candle–blessing until daybreak on Shabbos morning. Then the second tier of candles would ignite by itself. In this way, early Shabbos in the winter was the best time to recite Psalms in the Synagogue near the large candelabra. Also the time for reciting Psalms was according to their rules on the 7th Adar, being Maishe Rabeinu's[6] yortsayt, Shavuos[7], Hashanah Raba[8] and summer Shabbosim in the evening before ashrei temimei derekh[9]. The Psalms Society came to a mourner's house to recite Psalms.

The teacher and gabai during our time was Avrum Portselaynik who was beloved by everyone for his baking of kasha kugels and potato kugels that tasted heavenly. [10]

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When he was gabai the Psalms Society carried out all the rules, carefully and precisely watched. He went to all the synagogues to see how the reciting of Psalms was progressing. It was determined, by whom and where the Psalms would be recited at the lectern.

He retained the old house of prayers/house–of–study for himself. Fishl Spishiner had the claim in the new small–house of prayer/house–of–study. Following him was Leyzer Filipovski, in the Merivinker in the third small–synagogue/house–of–prayers, the Shmultchikes, then Asher Tikatzki, in the Poale–Tsedek small house–of–prayers/house of studies, there was Yoel'ke Shuster; in the Tailors' small–house–of–prayers/house–of–studies, Binyomke or Kaprutke; for the Khasidim Kalman–Maishe. There were synagogue gabayim like Leybl Stelman, Dovid Ezriel, Mordekhay–Ayzik but Avrum Portzelaynik was the chief–gabai. After Passover, at the Psalms Society, there was wine, nuts, and at Shmini–Atzeres[11] – kvas[12] and apples.

When Avrum Portselaynik suggested choosing a new gabai, they answered: healthy may you be, and he was the gabai of the Psalms Society. A fine funeral was held for him after his death. Rabbi Avrum–Yankev Sekrevitz eulogized him. Lipe Portzelaynik, Avrum's son takes over the position of his father as gabai. He is a modern Jew, without a beard. In the market he is interested in displaying his knowledge about a horse, but he is a good gabai of the Psalms Society. He contributed some brandy for the holiday celebrations.

The Psalms Society also functioned during the war years. During the time of the Soviets, Lipe paid no attention and sent Jews to recite verses of Psalms. Lipe went with all the others to Treblinka's gas chambers, on November 7th 1942.

In the partisan detachment in the Bransk forest, Hershl Shpak, as the eldest, led the recital of Psalms. Quietly he mentioned the gabayim who had preceded him, Lipe and Avrum Portzelaynik.


Splendour of Young Men[13]

This was a Khevra of young men, the working youth. The founders were Avrum Broder, Khaim Odeser, Motl Shuster, Shaye the Afrikaner[14], Falek

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the tailor, Alter Maishe Gusiki, Alter–

Maishe–Aron the butcher and other such young men. In 1890, the Tiferet Bakhurim[15] wrote its own Sefer–Torah. They have a minyan every Shabbos at various homes, at Binyomin Leyb the tailor, at Alter–Arkes, also at Maishe Susel, even prior to the time of Yankl–Zalman Avrum's.

Every Shabbos a different young man prayed at the lectern. They later became good prayer leaders. There was not a Shabbos that did not have a minyan. Aron Tsheshlyer was the zmiros[16] singer, Abele Khasid had a great love for the Khevra. He never chastised them. He was friendly to the young men. They became accustomed to him. If someone wanted to make fun of Abele, he later felt very insulted because the young men punished the person for it. On a winter's Friday evening, summer's Shabbos afternoon, they studied the parshes[17]. It was the Salanter young man, a student from the yeshiva. The rabbi then was Rabbi Khaim Leyb Lyev. All the youth would come to listen to him.

The gabayim served up until their wedding. If a gabai got married, they had to elect another gabai. The number of young men for prayer reached 150. Avrum Verpikhovski is taken to be a soldier in 1913, so Alter Trus becomes gabai in his place. Then the World War erupts and the Psalms Society disbands. Within a short time, Verpikhovski returns from the military and the Psalms Society is revived. We organized evening–classes, in which the intelligentsia becomes interested. The courses are varied. Rabbi Olshvank teaches parshe, Rabbi Khaim Leyb Lyev teaches us Mishnah, Hershl Stolyer's son–in–law teaches Jewish history by Graetz[18], Tzimbol[19], Tanakh and world–history are taught by Mr Khaim Hersh Braynsk. We receive permission for courses through the effort of Rabbi Shimon Shkop.

However, the times were not favourable for such activity. The German occupation–authority seeks out more people for forced–labour. We are turned in. On a Shabbos during prayer, the house is surrounded. They want to take us to work. The gendarmes[20] were unsuccessful. We closed the doors and slip out through back ways. Nobody is

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caught. The gendarmes remained looking like fools at the empty house.

This minyan was the last gathering of the Psalms Society of young men in Bransk.


Tailors' Society[21]

According to their pinkas, the Khevra was founded in1858. Up until then, there were tailors in Bransk but not an organized Khevra.

You most certainly have heard, that long–ago tailors travelled to the villages taking with them their young boy apprentices. They would leave on Shabbos after Havdalah[22], carrying their packs, and return Friday before the candle–light[23] blessing.

There were those who arrived on Friday in farm carts, tailors to the rich, such as Elye–Dovid, Brishke, Zalman–Avrum. Elye–Dovid was an artist, he traveled from rich woman (landowner's wife ) to rich woman and tolerated various demands from them. Bishke sewed for the rich and Catholic priests. Zalman–Avrum was also a tailor for the rich. These were the privileged tailors.

However, there were others: Vi Kokitze, Binyomke, Yankev–Yosl, Binyomin–Leyb, and the Shmultshukes. Later on there were Zushe, Maishe–Hersh Sane. They travelled on foot to the neighboring villages 20 kilometers distance from Bransk.

According to the decree of 1858, that master craftsmen with workman's rights may not be taken to be soldiers, a guild was created which received the right to punish all those who did not follow their rules. Since the tailors' boy apprentices were the first victims to be taken for service, the guild had a lot of power. When the guild confirmed that a boy apprentice–is a master craftsman, he could not be taken. The community became very angry because when they decided upon certain youths to serve in the place of their children, the guild destroyed their plans. Therefore, all the tailors and boy apprentices became good members of the guild. They established a minyan for prayer in the

[Page 100]

attic of the new small house–of–prayers/house–of–studies. The ten guild leaders led a wonderful life. Most of them would spend time resting in the tavern. The apprentice–boys were quiet in order to be protected from soldiering. They received little in the way of food and had to do all the work they were instructed to do. Among the first Branskers who traveled to America there were young master–craftsmen who simply could no longer tolerate the treatment they received from their guild–masters.

In 1887 the guild is disbanded, but the Tailors' Society – this was the name of the guild – remained with the minyan. The Tailors' small–house–of–prayers/house–of–studies was a later result of this. Then the Khevra was no more. Binyomke the tailor took care of the pinkas by paying attention to and obeying with devotion the pinkas.

The Tailors' small house–of–prayers/house–of–studies, was the outgrowth of the Tailors Society, is burned on September 7th 1939 as the result of German bombs along with a large part of the town.


Society of Brotherly Love of Bransk[24]

This Khevra was founded in 1896 by a group of master craftsmen. Its purpose was to furnish help to a member in a time of illness or, God forbid, death.

The leaders were Mordekhay Askart, Mordekhay Furman, Khaim Odeser, Bertche the quilter[25], Aryeh Kratz, and Motl the shoemaker. Its first bookkeeper, usually unpaid, was Yosef Kasavitzki. that when a member becomes sick, his wife should receive three rubles a week from Their rules stated the Khevra. When a member dies, God forbid, each of his children under the age of 16 should receive half a ruble a week.

The income of the Khevra consisted of a weekly fee A zekser a week. The zekser would go to the members every week with a book in which he made a little circle for each zekser he received.

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The master–craftsmen would go about town to collect for the Khevrah. Aryeh, Mordekhay Furman, Khone Kashtan, Avruhmele's Broder in one day, strolled through town and collected some additional zekser.


Bertche the quilter
Mordekhay Furman
Founders of the Society of Brotherly Love


A Purim–play[26] was arranged for after the Purim seuda[27]. The performers consisted of such “famous” actors as Alter Kopiliekhe, Yankel Fidel, Khaim Obzak, Gavrilke the shoemaker. The performances took place in Avrum Shkop's brick house or in Shtziopken's brick house. Aryeh and Mordekhay Furman spent an entire day selling tickets. There was room for 200 but they sold tickets for 300 or more so that the important people of the town would themselves come to the performances. Nobody ever dreamt of this. Well, so they actually did come for the sale of tickets of the Yosef's play. Don't ask what went on there. If the committee did not want to let any more people in, turmoil ensued. The actors who had invited their entire families refused to perform if their friends would not be admitted. When they finally settled the matter of the audience they were seated, then Khaike the butcher

[Page 102]

fainted. Once again a noise. It takes a long time until everything settles down. Now something else happens, a table upon which twenty five women were standing broke, once again screaming, once again fainting. The performance is finally presented and the audience is pleased.

On the day of Purim these Purim–shpiler (players) went about town to various homes to sing a little and receive a zekserl. This money went to the Society of Brotherly Love. On Shabbos Purim, the Khevra prepared a Kiddush at Avrum Shkop's brick house. The guests to this Kiddush come in groups. First comes the group from the third small house–of–prayers/house–of–studies, then from the old small–synagogue/house–of study, and so forth. Brandy and cake disappear as soon as they are brought to the table. The following day they figure out the money. It does sometimes happen that the deficit resulting from the Kiddush is so large that they need to use a lot of zekserlekh to cover it.

Many of the young men in town became part of the large wave of emigration. The World–War in 1914, the German occupation destroyed all the Jewish Khevrahs.


Book Repair of Bransk[28]

This Khevrah had its own seal. Each book that left the bookbinder was stamped with the approval of the book repair Khevrah as well as to which small–synagogue/house–of–study the book belonged to.

The Khevrah took care to see that all the torn books of all the synagogues were repaired.

The income from this work consisted of a pushke[29] collection. Every Thursday Shloyme Blekh went around town with the pushke labeled “Book Repair of Bransk.” It so happened that sometimes there was not enough money, so the gabayim added to it from their small–synagogues/houses–of–study funds. The gabayim of the Khevrah were: Yankev–Meir Kharlap, Khone Farber, Avrum Vainer, Avrum Pulshanski.

The repair of these books was the main source of income for the town's bookbinder. They were Shmuelke the bookbinder[30],

[Page 103]

Itche Garbater, a very good expert. Lately there was Mates Lys, bookbinder. Zarember the teacher's son–in–law. He was both the gabai of the Khevrah Book Repair and also mended the books. The gabayim of the small–synagogues/houses–of study assisted him.

This bookbinder, Mates Lys, was shot by the Germans along with his parents on 25th June 1941. This took place in the middle of the street, the purpose of which was to frighten the population.

After the demise of the Bransk Jewish population, all the Jewish books of the synagogues were burned in public in the market place.

This was the end of the Khevrah Book Repair.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Khevras T'hilim Return
  2. Tiferet Bakhurim Return
  3. Khayotim (from Hebrew for tailors) Return
  4. Ahavos Akhim Return
  5. Tikun Sefarim Return
  6. Moses is always referred to as Moshe, or Maishe (as pronounced by Lithuanian (Litvak) Jews – which group the majority of Bransk Jews were part of – Our Teacher. He died on the 7th of the Hebrew month of Adar, i.e. his yohrtzayt (anniversary of his death) which date is observed throughout the world by all Khevra Kadishot that come together and recite psalms. Return
  7. Wikipedia – Feast of Weeks in English, Pentecost in Greek. Shavuot commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to the entire nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. The holiday is one of the three Biblical pilgrimage festivals – the others being Succot and Passover. It marks the conclusion of the Counting of the Omer. Return
  8. Wikipedia – The seventh day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. This day is marked by a special synagogue service, in which seven circuits are made by the worshippers with their lulav (from a palm tree) and etrog (lime). Return
  9. Wikipedia – Psalm 119 – the opening words being Ashrei temimei derekh, which means “happy are those whose way is perfect”. Specific verses are recited prior to the Shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah, by the moyel at a brit milah, during the recital of the weekday Amidah Return
  10. In the Yizkor Book it is referred to as gan eden – the Garden of Eden. Return
  11. Wikipedia – “the Eighth [day] of Assembly” in the Diaspora an additional day is celebrated, the second day being separately referred to as Simkhat Torah. Return
  12. Wikipedia – A fermented beverage made from black or regular rye bread. It is often flavoured with fruits such as strawberries and raisins, or with herbs such as mint. Return
  13. Tiferet Bakhurim – Ahavos Akhim Return
  14. Afrikaner referred to South Africa as Amerikaner referred to the U.S.A. Return
  15. Splendour of Young Men Return
  16. Wikipedia – Jewish hymns usually sung in the Hebrew or Aramaic languages, but sometime also in Yiddish. The best known zmiros are those sung around the table during Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Some of the Sabbath zmiros are specific to certain times of the day, such as those sung for the Friday evening meal, the Saturday noon meal, and the third Sabbath meal just before sundown on Saturday afternoon. Return
  17. Wikipedia – Heinrich Graetz (died 1891) was amongst the first historians to write a comprehensive history of the Jewish people from a Jewish Perspective. Return
  18. Wikipedia – “portion” or a section of a biblical book in the Torah. Return
  19. YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe – The tsimbl (cimbalom) was played by Jews generally and was a general component of the klezmer band until the Holocaust (Shoah). Return
  20. Wikipedia –“a soldier who is employed on police duties” per The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Return
  21. Khayotim (from Hebrew for tailors) Return
  22. Wikipedia – Havdalah is Hebrew for ‘separation.’ A Jewish religious ceremony that marks the symbolic end of Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and ushers in the new week. Shabbat ends on Saturday night after the appearance of three stars in the sky. Return
  23. Wikipedia – Shabbat candles are lit on Friday nights, 18 minutes before sunset, to usher in the Jewish Sabbath. In Yiddish, lighting the candles is known as “licht bentschen.” Return
  24. Tiferet Bakhurim – Ahavos Akhim Return
  25. Shteper Return
  26. Shpil Return
  27. Seuda Return
  28. Book Correction in Bransk – Khevrah Tikun in Bransk Return
  29. Alms box Return
  30. Bookbinder Return


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