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[Page 144]

The Cultural Life in Bransk up to the First World War
and the Accomplishments of Bransk Children Through Self–Education

Concerning culture, Bransk was backward. There were no educational institutions. Most of the children spent their entire day with the teacher, learning from the Hebrew a, b, and c to the five books of the Torah and the bible. Poor children had to leave the traditional Jewish school at the age of 13, or even earlier, because they had to help their parents who worked hard in their own workshops from early morning until late at night.

The only education a boy had was what he had learned with his teacher. The teacher taught him writing, beginning with the Hebrew a, b, and c and concluding with how to write a letter, mostly by copying a letter from a letter–writer.

Only those children of the more affluent continued on in the traditional Jewish school after becoming a bar–mitzvah. Children of those parents who paid with their last groshens continued in the traditional Jewish school to age fifteen or later.

Considering those circumstances, we must admire the Jewish youth who actually did accomplish something. It is true that if someone received a letter from America, he went to one of only a few people who could read it. Not everybody could do this.

Around 1900 teachers made an appearance in Bransk who devoted themselves to teaching Jewish boys and girls how to write Yiddish, Russian and arithmetic. It became stylish for children to study writing with regular teachers and not with religious teachers.

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The first teachers in Bransk – Alter the writer, Hershl Shuster's son. He was well–known for his calligraphy, a wonderful handwriting.


Leybl the Teacher at 17 in 1905 Bransk
Alter the Schreiber at 79 in America


Alter the writer did not earn much from teaching. He was forced to find a way to earn a living, so he taught himself photography. Within a short time he opened the first photography studio in Bransk.

His residence was in the courtyard of Yoshe Mulyer. Attached to the wall was a box with a glass window in which there were exhibited all his photographs, pictures of Bransk Jewish men and women who had allowed themselves to be photographed so they could send their pictures to their children in America who sent money back for this purpose. When you noticed a Bransk couple dressed in their Shabbos clothes with a prayer book in hand, you could be certain they were going to Alter the writer to be photographed.

I don't know if Alter made a living from these two trades. Alter was forced to go to America. He settled in Atlanta and surrounding states where he lived to a ripe old age.

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There was a teacher in Bransk by the name of Piker. This was a teacher whose name nobody remembers because he was known by the nickname of “the summer horse.”

The supervisor of a group of construction workers was a shoemaker, a Bransk son–in–law. He did not make a living from his shoemaker's trade. He was not a great expert in this work. He had a pretty handwriting, so he began to teach. He had many girl students and was a popular person. However, this did not afford him a living. Being a shoemaker and a teacher were not sufficient for earning a living, so he became the in Bransk. He was known only as Yosl the supervisor of a group of construction workers. There was no other name for him.

There was a teacher – Binyomin – for higher education for boy and girl students. However, there were few such students.

There were intelligent young men in Bransk who themselves became educated in various Russian cities and yeshivas. Their parents sent them to these cities to study Torah. When they returned home several years later, they were not only highly educated, but also worldly educated people. These young people became teachers. Itche Rutker was one of them.

Yudl the teacher, Shloyme–Hersh's son, was very well–known. In 1905 and part of 1906, he taught Jewish boys and girls to write Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian and arithmetic. His students were from both classes – poor and rich. In Leyzer Shane's house he taught Russian sentence structure (?) With Leyzer Cheslyer's girls, he taught Yiddish writing. At Binyomin Toker's he taught Yiddish writing and a little Russian with the boys and girls. Binyomin Toker himself was not interested in what the children were learning, but Bashe begged the children to learn how to write Yiddish. She was ashamed to ask strangers to write an address for her.

Yudl the Teacher addressed secret gatherings

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at the Kumant in the forest several times. There Yudl would interpret for the workers world events in the light of the Socialist spirit. Khaim Baker was not in agreement with the popular interpretations. They should be taught Marx's more worthwhile theory which is more important than everything. And yet, the youth were pleased with Yudl's popular talks.

The gatherings were all secret, but when Yudl came to synagogue at end of the Sabbath for afternoon prayers following such a secret forest gathering, the Bransk rabbi, Rabbi Shmariyahu Margolis immediately approached him and said: “It is not suitable for you and your family to be friendly with such people.” With his usual friendly nature, he asked Yudl not to be involved with such people.

All the Bransk teachers are responsible for the little bit of worldly education the youth received during the first five years of the 19th century. They were all true to their mission.


Bransk Library

In 1905 a library was set up in the attic of Maishe Hitsl's house. There were many Yiddish books – Mendele Mokher Sforim and Sholem Aleykhem were very popular. Jewish girls were frequent visitors and good readers of the popular Yiddish books. No longer did the story books they had previously borrowed from the book seller satisfy them. We must explain here the institution that was called the book seller. This was a tall thin Jew with a short beard who used to come to Bransk every few weeks, stop in at the old house of prayer and study where he would spread out his entire stock of books, the books of the Torah, prayer books and calendars upon a table. The Jews in the synagogue would stand at this table and read, undisturbed, all that was laid out there. This was a sort of free library. Sometimes someone bought a book. This book seller however, had a secret stash of Yiddish storybooks to sell or lend. When everyone had left, the book–seller took out this pack of storybooks (he already had his customers) and sold

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or loaned them out until his next visit. Somehow he earned a couple of groshen from the sale of these books. You understand, that also in secret, he had Hebrew books of the kind that could not be seen in the synagogue on the book seller's long table. He kept them hidden for select individuals.

When the library was opened, all the book sellers' and workers' children came to take out books. Among the Hebrew books there were widely known two books – “Amusing Ways of Life” (?) and “Lovers of Zion.” that were the most popular. Little–by–little, the library was enlarged with books of various kinds for all classes of readers.

The chief initiative for the library came from Yosl Mishlibofsky, Maishe Hitzl, Rose, Khaim Baker, Shmuel–Leyb, Berl Leybishe's son, Blume Mishurek and Yudl the teacher.


Yudl Libofsky
Khaim Baker, may he rest in peace
Founders of the first library


Several idealistic young people paid the most attention to the library and finding books. The library grew in popularity. Others saw it as a destructive tragedy that would lead to apostasy.

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Illegal literature now begins to make an appearance, usually in secret and is distributed to selected individuals.

By the end of 1906, when the greatest number of youth were no longer in Bransk, Avrum Maishe Smurzhik. The books were now kept in secret. Khone remembers who has a book as no records are kept. The books are hidden in secret places that only Khone knows about.

In 1910 the library becomes popular once again. Books from the library can be found in every house. There is a strong desire for education. The books released their thirst to read, to study.

In 1917 the library is refreshed by the various parties that then existed in Bransk under the nose of the Germans who occupied the town at that time.

Thanks to the fact that the books had been carefully tended to all those years through the devotion of young boys and girls, there was founded in 1905 a library by the Bransk youth who are now spread throughout the world.

Zalman Yeshaye the mailman was a very interesting type. I do not know how Bransk came to have a Jewish mailman.

Zalman Yeshaye was the mailman for many years. He was an elderly Jew who could not read or write Yiddish nor most certainly, Russian. Yet he conducted his responsibility as mailman with the greatest efficiency. He never mixed anything up. When he took a letter into his hand, he knew immediately to whom the letter belonged. He must have had a sixth sense that never failed him.

When the Bransk youth learned how to write somewhat, it became stylish to go on the mail coach, i.e. waiting for the wagon that brought the letters from Bielsk. The youth now took their own letters. Zalman Yeshaye always received the kopek from them for a letter that they took themselves.

Zalman Yeshaye also had e second means of earning a living. He distributed the warrants s since Bransk did not concern itself with worldly matters and did not have any trials that was a rarity.

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Of course, Zalman Yeshaye was a poor Jew and had to do a little bit of tailoring work in order to earn something for the necessities of life.

Theatre was unknown of in Bransk. The Purim players of whom several, especially those from the various gr5oups of friends, performed from house to house during Purim, and this was enough for Bransk.

During the years from 1910 there were in Bransk young people who dared with their own talents to present a theatre performance at Avrum Shkop's brick house. Shloyme Efraim was the most talented of this troupe and himself played five roles in the presentation of “Shmendrikunye.” He pleased everyone. In general Shloyme Efraim was a very talented boy.

There was a gramophone in Bransk. It was at Shayke's son–in–law's. This was a box with a large horn. During the summer evenings the Bransk women would gather at the window, listening to the hearty Yiddish songs which had never been heard in town.

Mothers whose children were somewhere in America wiped their eyes with their aprons upon hearing such songs as “A Brievele der Mamen Zolstu Nit Fargesn.”

There were no children's schools in Bransk. Later, church schools made an appearance in Bransk.

Some Jewish children already left Bransk, went to study in the gymnasiums.[1] These were usually from the more affluent.

There was a large number of Bransker who through self–education, attained much and among whom we must mention:

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Yosef–Khaim Heftman

The famous poet and articular linguist. Even as a child he exhibited a great talent for writing. He studied at that time with his rabbi and wrote something about him. . This fell into the hands of the religious teacher. The rabbi took this composition to Maishe . Mate's the ritual slaughterer. . Yosef Khaim's father. All of Bransk waited for the blows Yosef–Khaim would receive for writing in such a joking . manner about his own rabbi, in order to teach other boys not to go down such a path that is suitable for a Mendele Mokher Sforim and not for a Bransk boy. Rabbi Maishe. Mate's, the gray and grizzled elder read it and said: “What do you know of this child? Everything that he wrote is God forbid, not a lie.”


Yosef Khaim Heftman


Yosef–Khaim had a special talent in being able to learn foreign languages. Within several months, he was writing and reading English and French.

The writer of this article, Julius Cohen, spent much time with Yosef–Khaim, studied with him. His poet's soul was possibly an inheritance from his great father, Rabbi Maishe Mates.

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He wrote as an articulate linguist and much poetry. Here I present several of his poetic creations and how they were created.

I was with Yosef–Khaim in the new house of prayer and study for afternoon prayers where he was supposed to say the mourning prayers (kaddish) for his father. He stands for the eighteen benedictions said in the three daily prayers (shmoyne esray) for a very long time. Then he says to me: “Do you know Yudl, what I wrote standing shmoyne esray? And he sings it to me in a quiet voice:

No, I do not pray now with intent
Cannot now shed any more tears
Because the moon is shining through the window
And the stars are telling me something.

I remind myself of the childhood years
The night is telling me a story
And in my heart there are born
Songs and new meanings.

Motifs, a beginning, an end
Melodies that ring from afar
The night tells me a legend
Of long ago old times.

When the Revolutionary movement was in full swing by the end of 1905, Yosef–Khaim Heftman wrote:

Canons are thundering
A flash of holy blood
Masses with flags
Brothers. Do not shed your blood.

At the beginning of 1906, when many arrests were made, thousands of young men were already incarcerated in the prisons,

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Yosef–Khaim wrote the following as a consolation for the many arrestees:

“Give me your hand through the bars of the windows
I squeeze your fingers to my heart and I swear
Soon the courageous fighters are coming again
Returning with the old and mighty weapons.”

On one particular Shabbos evening, I was at Yosef Khaim's house. Darkness had already descended. His mother did not yet want to turn on the lights, wanted to be certain to keep the holy Shabbos until the last minute. Yosef–Khaim says to his mother:

Take the Havdalah[2] candle
Light a fire already
Say now the God of Abraham
Shabbos has gone
The worries return
Abele is lighting up his store.
Abele was a religious Khasidic Jew. If his little store opened, one knew it was certainly permissible to turn on lights Shabbos evening.

All of the above were cited from my memory. I never rewrote them. (Editor)

Yosef–Khaim goes to Brisk (Brest–Litovsk)[3] –where he is contacted by certain people who are interested in his talents. He becomes the editor of newspapers in Warsaw. He is now in Palestine and the president of the writers' union in Eretz Yisroel[4]

He is also the president of Irgun Yossi of Bransk in Tel Aviv that is active in helping Bransk survivors to settle in Eretz Yisroel.

[Page 154]

Leyb Yankev Fraynd the Khazn's Son

Studied in the yeshivas of Brisk, Minsk and Vilna where he receives his ordination from the brilliant (Ha'gaon) Rabbi Khaim Oyzer Gradzhensky in the presence of Rabbi Sholem Dovid Rabinowitz, author of the book “Questions of Peace.” After he receives his ordination, he begins to educate himself in general worldly matters. Simultaneously, he enrolls in the Czarist Russian Conservatory in Vilna where he studies music, theory and singing. At this same time he is a co–worker in the Hebrew newspaper “Hazman” (The Time).

Even as a child Leybl had a bent towards astronomy. While in Vilna, he becomes active in this, conducting a scientific correspondence with the director of the Petersburg University observatory, Professor Sergei Pavlovich from Glazenap. The professor becomes interested in the young Leybl's talents and he presents Leybl's astronomy work before the administration of the Russian Czar's astronomy organization. The organization elects him as member–correspondent. Leybl Fraynd sends to the Czar's Scientific Academy a report in which he establishes scientifically – “The reason for positive and negative in the Vinkl movement in the trigonometric functions.”

Professor Glazenap read the aforementioned paper at the meeting of the basic (?) mathematics division of the Czar's Academy of Science. As a result Leybl is elected as correspondent of the Nikolayever head physical conservatory in Petersburg.

Leybl's striving for more education leads to him being a student at the Royal Academy of Technology High School of Dresden. He graduates from the technical school with a degree in engineering. He leaves Dresden. He arrives in France to engage in further studies. While he was in Toulouse for one year, the First World War erupts. He arrives in Bransk. When the Germans invade Poland,

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he goes to Harbin[5] in the Far East and from there to Shanghai where he becomes active as an engineer, and then he takes to business.

In Shanghai Leybl finds limitless opportunities for community activities. He becomes friendly with the Sephardic Jews. Later he organizes an Ashkenazi community, a Zionist organization, a literary and musical society.

According to the announcements of the central committee of Zionist organizations, Jewish communities in the Far East. He organizes in Shanghai the printing of Yiddish books, Russian and Hebrew dictionaries for those Jews in the Far East who have not had any books or religious books because of the war.

In 1923 he meets Professor Albert Einstein with whom he spends a scientifically orientated three days. Professor Einstein gives him an autograph in which he calls Leybl a colleague.


Professor Einstein's letter to Leybl the khazn's son written on the Japanese ship


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With the help of engineer Novomysky, he who had received the concession (for minerals) of the Dead Sea, he sends hundreds of pioneers (khalutsim) from Russia to Eretz Yisroel. He organizes the first Jewish (synagogue) chorus in Shanghai, opens two synagogues there. He writes Hebrew prayers for special fiery prayer services at which ambassadors, ministers and other officials are present. At this same time he writes scientific articles for the local English press. Leybl helps all artists who used to arrive in Shanghai on their way from Russia to other countries. Aron Levediev, Mr and Mrs Arke, Mr and Mrs Bodkin, Bulman, the artistic ensemble “Zmira” is helped with everything possible.

As honourary representative of HIAS (Hebrew Sheltering and Immigration Aid Society) in the Far East, he helps hundreds to receive visas to travel to America, Palestine and other countries, making use of his personal friendship with English and American diplomats.

Because of Hitler's horrors, there arrived in Shanghai 23,000 Jewish refugees. They are helped by him with everything possible. Many, through his initiative became self–sufficient in Shanghai.

In 1940, when Lithuania, half of Poland and Latvia are occupied by the Soviets, Leybl became aware that in Kovno (Kaunas) there are many Jews who would have had the possibility to emigrate if they received transit visas from any country that had good relations with the Soviets.

Leybl consulted a friend of his, a Japanese admiral in Shanghai who asks the Japanese ambassador to give the Japanese consul in Kovno permission to issue transit visas to travel through Shanghai. With these visas, which were issued in the thousands, all the yeshiva boys and rabbis and heads of yeshivas were saved from a certain death by Hitler. Many in 1941 arrived in Shanghai and Japan thanks to the visas from Kovno. Two boys from the Bransk yeshiva were among those who benefitted from the efforts of their landsman (fellow–countryman) Zelig, the son of Leybl Fraynd, the Bransker Khazn's son.

However, fate intervened and this great scholar, he who helped all

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unfortunates himself became a refugee.

1 month prior to Pearl Harbor, Leybl Fraynd arrived for business in Manila in the Philippine Islands. He remained in Manila as a refugee throughout the entire time of the Japanese occupation there. He suffered from hunger, without a roof over his head in concentration camps and looked death in the eyes more than once.

When the victorious American army marched back into Manila, Leybl immediately became active. He organized the prayer service to which thousands of Jewish soldiers from the States came.

During the war, Leybl composed a prayer of victory for the allied armies. He sends it to President Truman and is honoured with a thank you letter from the State Department in Washington.

At the end of 1947, Leybl the khazn's son and his daughter Balfora come to America where he hopes to receive permission to make it home.

This is the record of the boys who attained everything by themselves through self–education.


Personal Biographical Sketch of Leybl Fraynd

Avrum Branski is famous in Soviet Russia as an artist/painter of the first rank. He too received his education through his own courage and his own efforts.

Maishe Zalusker, surname Pasinkofsky, now famous in Boston as an important lawyer with the name M. Parsons, is also of the same category – self–educated in spite of the fact that he has distanced himself from all activities of the Bransk landsmanshaft.


Hershl the Recluse's Son

Was greatly educated. Studied together with Yosef Khaim Heftman. He was proficient in languages. His education took place in very difficult conditions and he suffered mostly from hunger.

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There was never so much as a piece of bread in his house, and yet, with the greatest danger to his life, devoted himself to education. During the Revolutionary years he was drawn into Warsaw


Hershl the Recluse's
Leybl Fraynd the Khazn's


in a central office. He constantly comes under the scrutiny of the Russian police and is arrested and sent to Siberia for a long time.

He returns home a broken and quiet man.

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Visible on him is the fact that life in Siberia had broken him. The young, intelligent and gentle person cannot recover. His every move is spied upon. He can no longer accommodate himself to any kind of work. He becomes ill and dies at a young age, never having been married.


Rabbi Avrum Yitskhak Edelman

This is Yenkl Ginsburg's son. He studied with his father and with the best Bransk teachers. He was a student of such famous Branskers as Yankev Mordekhay the Khasid and Binyomin the watchmaker.


Rabbi Avrum Yitskhak Edelman


At the age of 11 Avrum'tche comes to Visoke Mazavitsk. He studies there until he becomes a bar mitzvah. He then arrives in the Makaver Yeshiva and stays for two years. At the age of fifteen he is already in Trestine and is studying by himself. From there he come to Volozhin to the famous Torah–center of Russia which is led by Rabbi Rafayl Shapira.

The Volozhiner Yeshiva together with its leader arrives in Minsk at the outbreak of the First World War. The older boys

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together with Avrum'tche are advised by Rabbi Shapira to go to the southern Russian gubernyes (provinces).

Avrum YItskhak was already at that time ordained as a rabbi and goes with several other youths to Yekaterinoslaver. The local rabbis, Harav Gelman and Harav Shnayerson welcomed these Lithuanian youths.

In the southern Russian provinces there were at that time many Lithuanian Jews who had been sent out from the Russian–German border towns. Schools were arranged in the provinces for the Jewish children.

Avrum Yitskhak Edelman is hired by the Yekaterinoslaver rabbis as the head mashgiakh (supervisor of Jewish dietary laws) and director of these schools and yeshivas.

Sometime later he is sent to the smaller towns of Yekaterinrslayer and Bersoner provinces for the purpose of establishing evening courses in those towns for young working people by the name Tiferes Bokhurim.

In 1917, when the Czarist government fell and the Kerensky regime ruled, the organization called “Traditon in Freedom” was allowed to function. Avrum–YItskhak is sent to organize such groups in Rostov, Kavkaz where there were large Jewish communities. From Rostov he went to Kislovodsk where there were many thousands of Jews who had come from the war zones.

Avrum–Yitskhak Edelman makes an effort to organize a group from the Jewish community in Kisklavadsk. He receives from the district tribunal of Vladikavkan permission for this. Through Avrum Yitskhak's efforts, Dr. Asherovski gave a large building as a gift. All the Jewish activities were concentrated in this building. There was a synagogue, a place for visiting guests and an interest–free loan society. In this way, the Russian health/cure–town Kislavadsk became the first Jewish center for all Jewish activities In Kavkaz at that time the battle between the Bolsheviks

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and the Imperial armies was raging in Kavkaz. As a result, all the Jewish leaders were arrested.

Avrum Yitskhak Edelman and a couple of Georgian Jews set out on foot through the Kavkazer mountains to the town of Petrovsk, a port on the Caspian Sea. From there they arrive in Baku, then in Tiflis (Stalin's birthplace). They then go to Batum via the Black Sea to Constantinople, Turkey, then to Greece, Italy, Spain and from Spain to New York.

After he had been in New York for two months, Worcester, Massachusetts hired Rabbi Avrum Yitskhak Edelman as the rabbi of their large synagogue, Sha'arei Torah.

Six years later, Rabbi Avrum Yitskhak Edelman comes to New York to head the seat of the rabbinate in the Yagustaver synagogue in Harlem on 118th Street. However, the neighborhood changes and is no longer a Jewish quarter. Rabbi Avrum Yitskhak Edelman becomes the rabbi in the Makhziki synagogue, 808 College Avenue, where he holds this position to this day.

Rabbi Edelman learns through the newspapers about an event being held by the Bransk landslayt. He and his wife came to this gathering. He met there friends of his youth and landslayt. He enrolls in the Bransker Young Mens' and becomes active in all landsmanshaften work.

When the Bransk Relief begins its renewed activities in New York, Rabbi Avrum–Yitskhak Edelman is one of the most important and active of the Bransk Relief. He devotes much of his time for this holy mission to help the remnants of refugees in spite of the fact that he is very involved with Jewish community activities.

It is important to mention that his wife is also a devoted worker for all important activities. Their home is a gathering–place where many come to express their feelings, ask for advice or when they need to have someone to turn to for various religious institutions. They know of all the needy

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in the neighborhood and do much to help the poor. They help not only directly, but create much help through other means. The residence of Rabbi Avrum–Yitskhak Edelman is not only a house of wisdom, but a place of help and support and consolation for many downtrodden and poor in the neighborhood.

In the summer of 1947, Rabbi Edelman travels to Palestine to visit his father. He meets with the Bransk landslayt there, becomes interested in their lives – building and establishing. He returns to New York, speaks before many well attended gatherings about his impressions, about the new and proud life that is being built fearlessly in Palestine, with certainty and hopes that eventually they will be successful in fulfilling the generations long awaited dream of the people of Israel in Eretz Yisroel.

Bransk should be proud of such children who attained much through their own energy, through their will in spite of the greatest poverty.

This was Bransk, its leaders, its khevras, institutions, children, religious and liberated, its most joyous and most sad moments up until 1914 then the entire world trembled from a shot fired in the Balkan half–island that reverberated throughout Europe and resulted in the war of 1914 which we now call the First World War.

Footnotes (Rubin Roy Cobb)

  1. Private schools. Return
  2. The ceremony performed at the close of the Shabbos Return
  3. City from where the Kobylanskis originated from. Return
  4. The Land of Israel Return
  5. Wikipedia: Harbin – in 1898 the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway, an extension of the Trans–Siberian railroad by Russia commenced. Many Jews arrived fleeing the pogroms and persecution of Czarist Russia. Return


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