Kamyk was almost the smallest of the shtetlekh [towns] around Czenstochow, but it distinguished itself with its rich history and with lively young people.
The Jewish quarter of Kamyk was separated from the Polish one by flowing water. This division was planned the one God knows by whom. However, the Kamyk Jews, it appears, did not want to be suspected of having created a ghetto for the Gentiles so they placed the religious officials, the synagogue, the rabbi, the mikvah [ritual bath], the Shamas [man who assists in the running of the synagogue] in the Polish quarter.
The Jewish population of Kamyk consisted of 100 families, the majority cattle traders and butchers. They would go to the surrounding villages to buy something or go to a market in other shtetlekh.
Understand that Kamyk also had several Jewish shops, several teachers, a few shoemakers and tailors who clothed the Kamyk population.
Almost every family had its own piece of field that was seeded with a small amount of potatoes, rye, wheat and this was a contribution to their livelihood.
In the old times the young people would, immediately after being let out of kheder [religious primary school], go with their fathers to a village or travel with them to the market and, in time, become perfect merchants. However, with the arrival of new times, this changed. The young
began to be drawn to the large city, Czenstochow, a journey of two hours walking. The first step was taken by the young shoemakers and tailors. Thoughts about becoming better shoemakers or tailors than their fathers arose in their heads. In addition, the large city, where one lived differently, one spent time differently and one grew up differently than in the shtetl, drew them like a magnet. Small groups of young people began to leave for the larger city of Czenstochow; they worked there, they grew there in a city atmosphere, met new people, new friends and comrades. In 1905, the Kamykers in Czenstochow took an active part in the freedom movement or, as it was called, Akhdes [unity].
Kamyk also had its own industry: tanning. At the beginning, thick leather (konine kon is the Polish word for horse] was produced. Several factories were erected; professionals were brought from the larger cities; a better sort of leather was produced and the entire industry took on a broader public scope.
Kamyk was also known for its fires. They called: Kamyk is on fire. Frequently, a fire would devastate an entire street or several streets at once. For weeks and months, families with eight or 10 children would wander around in barns and stalls with the cattle and poultry and were frightened of another fire.
Kamyk believed that the fires were God's punishment, until it was shown that it was the handiwork of the local hooligans.
Zandsztajn, a Jewish dignitary, resided in Kamyk. He conducted himself like all of the Polish noblemen in the area. He had a courtyard almost like a palace, surrounded by a fruit and flower garden, with many fields, meadows, forests, cattle, horses, with a sawmill and a steam mill. The mill and the sawmill brought life to Kamyk. Wagons carried wood from the forest; the sawmill cut boards and sent them to the city and Kamyk had income.
The Kamyk Jews, as is customary, were proud of the Jewish lord in the shtetl, although they felt wronged and insulted that the Jewish landowner held himself strictly separated from the poor Jewish population and the estate guards, who carefully guarded everything that belong to the estate, looked at everyone with angry eyes.
Many times the Jewish lord distributed potatoes. This would take place during winter at the time of great need.
Kamyk would celebrate dedications in a local manner. Mainly, it was the Khevra Tehilim [Psalm Society], which celebrated siems [celebrations for the completion of the writing of a new Torah scroll] for several Torah scrolls. Each dedication was a true holiday in the shtetl that would last several days. Young and old would take part in the great celebration, with musical orchestras, food, drink, song and dance.
The solemn holiday spirit of the dedications would leave a deep longing for them when everything returned to weekday life.
The Khevra Tehilim also would often celebrate the end of Shabbos and would end Simkhas Torah [fall holiday celebrating the completion of the year-long Torah reading and the start of the new year of Torah readings] with dance and song. The hakofes [procession with the Torah scrolls] would be accompanied by illumination.
Natural beauty also was found around Kamyk. The most beautiful was the famous Nisn Barg [Nut Hill]. The young, who would come home during the summertime for Shabbos after working in Czenstochow during the week, would refresh themselves in a sea of green in which the entire shtetl and its fields, forests, waters and meadows were submerged.
However, the Nisn Barg was more beloved than anything else. After [eating the] cholent [Sabbath stew], we were drawn to it. When the over-worked shtetl became absorbed by sleep, the young would go to the Nisn Barg with a newspaper, with a book, with an illustrated journal, to lie and feel as if in an enchanted palace . . . when they reached the top of the hill it seemed as if not only did Czenstochow lay at their feet, but that the entire world could actually be reached with their hands.
Two people in the first ranks of the Kamyk youth distinguished themselves: Berl (Beny) Yelen and Hershele Erlich. They had two separate bodies with one soul. They were the dreamers of Kamyk. Yet despite their limited possibilities, through their actions they accomplished their dreams.
First of all they created a young circle among themselves and endeavored to create reading material for themselves, from a newspaper and journal to philosophical works. When the circle grew larger they undertook the creation of a youth organization with the name Khevra
Bokhurim [society of young men], with its own minyon [prayer group] and own Torah scroll.
However, the Kamyk zealots sensed that something else was hidden under the Khevra Bokhurim, with its own minyon and a conflict flared up in all of the corners of the shtetl, in the street, in the synagogue, in the shtibl [one-room prayer house] and even in the mikvah [ritual bath] everywhere they spoke of the misfortune that had appeared in Kamyk.
However, the young won. The Khevra Bokhurim became a reality with its own minyon. The first Shimkhas-Torah [the autumn holiday celebrating the completion of the yearly Torah reading] that the young men celebrated surpassed the Khevra Tehilim [Psalm Society]. When the society arranged a march in the street with candles and song, candles were lit in every window for their sake. Kamyk had not seen such a picture before. Even the gentile neighbors celebrated the holiday with them.
With the outbreak of the First World War all of the factories and workshops closed in the cities and shtetlekh. The Kamyk young returned to their fathers and mothers from the cities for financial support. The young circle with its two leaders did not neglect the opportunity and often arranged gatherings and meetings that held together the young and developed their feeling for communal questions and interest in literature. Representatives of the workers movement would often be brought from Czenstochow, such as Rafal Federman, Shmuel Frank, A. Chrabalowski, Hershl Gotayner, Moshe Berkensztat and others.
With the end of the First World War, the economic situation in Kamyk did not improve, nor get worse.
The greatest part of the Jewish population was hungry. Children walked around naked and barefoot. Thanks to the efforts of the influential group of the young who were connected to the Czenstochower S.S. [Socialist Zionists], later Fareinikte [united], Kamyk received help with food that America had sent for Poland. A kitchen for children was opened where they received several meals a day, they were provided with a little clothing and finally a nursery was created named for Y. L. Peretz, with which all of Kamyk found joy and pride.
It should be understood that without the help from Czenstochow, from the Tsysho (Central Jewish School Organization) and from friends in America, this would have been impossible. The soul of the nursery was Faygele Berliner, the first teacher, who with her deep love for the children and self-sacrificing dedication raised the nursery to a very beautiful level. The Kamyk children, as well as the entire population of Kamyk, paid her with love and respect.
The first class of the folks-shul [Jewish public school] opened during the second school year. Friend Berl Yelen was already in American then and he supported the work with all of his strength.
When the delegates from Czenstochower Relief in New York came to Czenstochow to create the Y.L. Peretz house, they also visited Kamyk and gave the Kamyk school 100 dollars.
With the help of the Czenstochower Dramatic Circle, performances, readings and dance evenings also were arranged that would bring in financial help.
A parents committee also existed at the nursery and it would often arrange parents gatherings. Orthodox Jews were represented in the parents committee who understood that their children were better educated in a modern school than in the old-style kheder.
Kamyk also took part in the election struggles in independent Poland and a great number of Jewish voters supported the progressive socialist candidates.
In general, Kamyk moved forward at the head among the shtetlekh around Czenstochow with its activist youth who struggled for a better life and carried along the shtetele [small town] with it. We must not forget Kamyk.
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