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[Page 123]

[Photo:] Rabbi Isaac Yaakov Kalenkovich


The last rabbi of Drohitchin, Rabbi Isaac Yaakov Kohen Kalenkovich, was born in 1870 in the town of Klishchel (near Byalistock). His father was R. Yitzchak Shmaryahu Kalenkovich was a scholar, merchant and community leader. Rabbi Isaac Yaakov's mother, Beila, was a businesswoman. All the landowning nobles of the area would come to shop in their store. Rabbi Isaac Yaakov had four brothers and two sisters. One brother, a rabbi, died very young, and this brother's wife later married the famous Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as Chafetz Chaim, who raised one of the two remaining orphans.

        Rabbi Kalenkovich spent his youth in the yeshivas in Grodno, Lomza, Slabodka and Volozhin. He received ordination from several rabbis including the great rabbinical leader, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, the rabbi of Vilna.

        In 1889, Rabbi Kalenkovich married Chana Yehudit Reichman, the elder daughter of the rabbi of Drohitchin, Rabbi Menachem Reichman. Between 1889-1903, Rabbi Kalenkovich spent his time in yeshiva studies, and his wife (with three small children) ran a small grocery store, which provided them with their livelihood.

        In 1903, Rabbi Isaac Y. Kalenkovich officially became rabbi of Drohitchin after his father-in-law moved to Palestine. Rabbi Kalenkovich received no direct income from the community, but in his role as rabbi he had a type of monopoly on the sale of yeast, which provided him with some income. He had to pay rent from this income to the rabbinical judge, Rabbi Ze'ev Miller, the son-in-law of Moshe Poritzker.

        Prior to becoming the rabbi of Drohitchin, Rabbi Isaac Yaakov suffered from the same dreadful lung ailment that brought about the sudden death of his brother, the rabbi.
The doctors told Rabbi Isaac Yaakov that if he wanted to survive, he would have to be very careful about his health and hygiene. Evidently, this tragic event had a strong influence on the rabbi's way of life and his role as rabbi in the community.

        Between 1910-1914 Rabbi Isaac Yaakov initiated the construction of the modern bathhouse and “ultra-modern” mikvah ritual bath in Drohitchin (they were the first ones of this type in the area). The ritual bath, he insisted, should be built from tile, and fresh water provided for each bather. He argued that women couldn't be criticized for not immersing in the mikvah when the water wasn't clean.

        Cleanliness and hygiene were of prime important to Rabbi Kalenkovich. He opposed the ritual of metzitzah [whereby the circumcisor removed blood after a circumcision with his mouth] as was the custom. Since he was a skilled circumcisor, he would use special cotton to draw out the blood. He even went further. If a circumcision was to be performed on a Sabbath, he would wash his hands and nails with soap [which is otherwise forbidden on the Sabbath]. He also never kissed the Torah scroll when he was called up to the Torah (which occurred frequently because he was a Kohen), and did not kiss the tsitsit [prayer shawl strings].

[Page 124]

[Photo:] Seated, from right to left: Rabbi Menachem and Mrs. Riva Mindel Reichman, Yosef and Sheina Golda Kalenkovich (grandchildren). Standing, from right to left: Rabbi Zvi Eliyahu Reichman, Mrs. Chana Yehudit Kalenkovich, Devorah and Rabbi Reuven Reichman, the children of Rabbi Menachem.

        His two traditional yearly speeches (on the Sabbath before Yom Kippur and the Sabbath before Passover, as was customary in those days) were timely and consistent, and he dealt with local issues. He also never reported anyone to the gentile authorities, and never instructed women to wear wigs, or men to wear tsitsit, etc., because he believed his role as rabbi was to lead in community-wide issues.

        During the critical years of World War I, he organized citywide committees to assist the poor and needy. He led a struggle against the distillers who used wheat, rye and potatoes to make schnapps at a time when people were suffering from hunger.

        After World War I, Rabbi Isaac Yaakov dedicated all his energy to rebuild the ruined and burned down Drohitchin. With the aid of money from former residents of Drohitchin in the United States, a large synagogue was built on the site of the burned Old House of Study, as were a large religious school, public bath and workshop.

        Thanks to his dedication to community issues, the rabbi established many good friendships. His house always a center where people could share their joys and sorrows with him. (A merchant who had a good business approached the rabbi and told him the details about his successful business. Another businessman came to ask the rabbi's advice on how to get out of a bad business arrangement).

        The rabbi had a good business sense, which he inherited from his mother. He always gave good business advice. His devoted friends and visitors respected him greatly, and were generous with financial contributions they gave him. This was especially true after a fire broke out twice at his house in a brief period, and his friends and supporters from Drohitchin in the United States made sure to provide him the means to build him a new house worthy of his stature.

        In 1928, Chana Yehudit died after a brief illness. She was 58 years old. The death of his wife was a major blow to Rabbi Kalenkovich. In addition to having been a devoted wife and mother of her children, she was the family provider. Many years later, Rabbi Isaac Yaakov remarried. His new wife was a highly respected woman from Baranovich named Mrs. Michela Chafetz. She bore him a daughter named Beila.

        As soon as Rabbi Isaac Yaakov took over the rabbinical position from his father-in-law, R. Menachem. None of Rabbi Isaac Yaakov's sons entered the rabbinate, and the

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