by Yehezkel Cohen
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The influence of my grandfather Feibush Lipka of blessed memory (my mother's father) upon me was very great not only during my childhood, but also as I matured and became independent. His patriarchal personality and refined spirit always accompanied me. He was a scholar as well as a dedicated Zionist in his heat and soul, who infected others with his enthusiasm.
His refined and enlightened personality served as a symbol for the Zionist movement in the town, where he radiated his personality primarily upon the Zionist youth. I recall how I enjoyed sitting with him for hours on end, as he told me about his trip to the Holy Land before the war, about the holy places that he visited and the sights that he saw. At such a time, his eyes burned with the fire of enthusiasm, as his words expressed his great love for the Land of Israel.
His emotional words penetrated deeply into my heart, the heart of a youth, and influenced me for a long time. He was the one who planted in me, and in the friends of my age, the love for Zion and the faith in the return to Zion. Under his influence, many youths became enthusiastic Zionists, who were no longer satisfied in following the normative path paved by their fathers.
I recall how he worked for the election of Rabbi Brod of Lipna, the candidate of the Zionists, for the Polish Sejm (parliament). The religious circles supported the candidacy of my father to the Sejm, whereas the Zionists, including me, fought for our candidate. My grandfather Feibush Lipka supported us with his whole heart, and utilized all of his powers of persuasion to that end.
His influence in town was great, and was recognized in all spheres of life. He had a great deal of property: sawmills a flourmill, lumber warehouses, land, and an electric generator that provided electricity to the entire town. Nevertheless, his great wealth did not blind his eyes and did not harden his heart. His headed the charitable institutions and supported his poor brethren with his money and advice.
He visited the Holy Land twice. The first time was in the 1880s, and the second time in 1914, at the eve of the outbreak of the
First World War. He returned from these visits enthused, and urged the townsfolk to make aliya to Zion.
Feibush Lipka merited to have sons and daughters who followed his path and took part in communal affairs. He also had a great deal of satisfaction from his grandchildren who were affected with his love of Zion and stood at the helm of Zionist activities in the town.
He passed away full of activity and full of years.
|Reb Feivush Lipka|
Translated by Allen Flusberg
Yosef Chaim Ruda was an active community leader who had a particularly significant impact on the Dobrzyn community. Always empathetic to all that was happening among his Dobrzyn brethren, he devoted a great deal of his time to community affairs.
It would take too long to go into all the details of what he did for dozens of years, working tirelessly for the sake of the town with no expectation whatsoever of reward. To this very day, many of those who emigrated from Dobrzyn long ago remember him and his many good deeds.
During World War I the number of townspeople in need escalated sharply. Yosef Chaim Ruda came to their rescue, seeing to it that free groceries were distributed to them. In this project he found loyal, dedicated assistants in Avraham Hirsh Kohn, z.l., and Yaakov Bielawski, may he live long, who lives among us in Israel.
The First World War uprooted a large number of Jews from various towns. Some of them made their way to Dobrzyn, where they found a temporary refuge to wait out the storm. Chaim Ruda came to their rescue with great passion, working day and night to take care of them. He was always thinking about the poor among your people, and he took care of them the way a father looks after his children.
He was also one of the founders of the Cooperative Jewish Bank and continuously headed its administration. He considered it a very important institution and worked hard to expand its activity. And indeed, this bank helped many of the people of Dobrzyn with both large and small loans, its central goal being to be able to provide firm support for the little guy.
Ruda also served as a member of the committee that assessed taxes, which met right next to the incometax office. In this role as well he revealed his humane approach and his great dedication.
However, most of all Ruda stood out in his Zionist activism, for he was a Zionist in every fiber of his being. He did all in his power to instill the concept of Zionism among his brethren and to help build up the Land, even though he himself was living far away, in Dobrzyn.
When Yitzhak Moshe Offenbach and Adolph Riesenfeld were officiating as the heads of the Zionist Histadrut in the town, Yosef Chaim Ruda and Yaakov Bielawski, may he live long, served as deputies, together carrying the burden of operations. The two of them were also members of the local committee of Keren HaYesod.
Like many other people his age, Chaim was, in his youth, a yeshiva student who studied Torah day and night. Once he grew up he became secular and Zionist, bringing down upon himself the wrath of the ultraOrthodox. On one occasion they even got up and threw him out of the synagogue. None of this was enough to prevent his extensive activity in support of Zionism, for which he travelled a great deal to Warsaw to attend Zionist conferences and various meetings that were convened in the city.
Ruda practiced what he preached. Under the influence of his relative, Shmuel Zanwil Pozner z.l., a Zionist activist who was wellknown in his times (and who immigrated to Israel from Rypin before the war and passed away here), he sent two of his daughters to the Land of Israel. Although he himself longed to come on Aliya, as well, it was not meant to be.
Yosef Chaim Ruda, his wife Rivka, and their daughter Esther Yehudit (Yudka), perished in the Holocaust. So too also his only son, Pinchas, who lived with his wife in the city of Kutno, where he worked growing flowers on a farm that belonged to Katriel Isaac. Ruda's oldest daughter, Perl Leah, did not escape this fate, either, even though she immigrated to Vienna several years before the war to acquire property she had inherited from her grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Fuchs, z.l. She stayed there, and when the Germans seized Vienna she was caught and sent to a concentration camp.
Yosef Chaim Ruda's wife, Rivka, managed to escape to Warsaw after undergoing an extremely arduous journey that was the lot of all the refugees who were running away. In her testimony before someone from the Social Department, she related the story of the liquidation of the Dobrzyn community and told about the death of her husband. He, too, had fled with all the others from the town, carrying with him only a single suitcase containing his clothing. The tribulations of the journey and the deathly terror that he had experienced had sapped what little strength he had had left. During their wanderings he and his wife had hid out in a farmer's house, but he had fallen ill there and had never recovered.
The name of Yosef Chaim Ruda, who was among the active leaders of the community of Dobrzyn, is unalterably bound up with the community life of the town. His image and his activities are indelibly imprinted in the minds of those who came from the town; they recall his benevolence and kindness, as well as his great devotion to the Zionist ideal.
|Yosef Chaim Ruda,
one of the leading Zionists of Dobrzyn
Avraham Dor (Dobroszklanka)
Translated by Allen Flusberg
As far back as the early 1920s I already knew R. Yitzhak Moshe Offenbach. He was then a middle-aged man of average height, adorned with a full beard: a splendid patriarchal, illustrious figure. He was a respectable merchant who dealt in processed leather; but the most important part of his life was his communal activity.
It was in communal work that he invested most of his time and vision. He was active in all of the town's public institutions, serving for many years as chairman of the Zionist Histadrut. The townspeople considered him an inspiring spiritual leader whose opinion everyone eagerly sought out. It would be difficult to describe the cultural life of Dobrzyn without viewing him as a central figure, someone who, with wisdom and energy, encouraged others to be actively engaged and inspired them with his noble spirit.
I recall in particular the lectures he gave every Sabbath in the auditorium of the Abba Yosef school. These lectures attracted a large crowd, and many a time the small lecture hall was unable to hold all those who came to hear him.
|R. Yitzhak Moshe Offenbach, chairman of the Zionist Histadrut of Dobrzyn|
More than anything else he liked to lecture about Herzl and his era. He would very skillfully describe the enormous contribution made by the seer of the Jewish State to the development of the Zionist idea. With sincere excitement and great ardor he would count out, one by one, the laudable actions of the great Zionist leader. The audience could sense how much he admired Herzl and how committed he was to his ideas. Indeed, how profound and important his influence on us young people was, and how much he contributed to enhancing our Zionist education.
His educational ability would reveal itself even more after his lecture ended, when the audience began asking questions, whether to clarify some detail or dispute what he had said. How patient he was as he answered everyone's questions; he would reply good-naturedly and cordially, his words revealing his affection for those gathered there.
His presentation on the 20th of Tammuz, the anniversary of Dr. Herzl's death, was considered a special event in the life of the town. He would colorfully describe the deeds of the great Zionist leader and the revolution that he initiated in his people's thinking. With much enthusiasm he demanded that his listeners follow in Herzl's footsteps, striving to fulfill his aspiration, for it was only this fulfillment that could guarantee the continued existence and prosperity of our people.
R. Yitzhak Moshe Offenbach was one of the founders of the Hatechiya Club and played an important role in its activities. The club was located in Sperling's house, opposite the fire station auditorium, and it served as one of the most important Zionist institutions in Dobrzyn. Among the important activities that took place in this club was the teaching of the Hebrew language. The Hebrew course met four evenings a week and was taught by some of the best educators in town, among them: R. Shaul Blum (son-in-law of R. Nisan Melamed), Yaakov Bezura, and others.
|Mrs. Breina Offenbach|
At this moment an image of R. Yitzhak Moshe comes back to me. I see him seated at one of the Hebrew classes, near the teacher, Bezura, leaning back in his chair as he cups his ear. A smile appears on his face when he hears students giving the correct answer to a question, all in Hebrew. It is as if this noble, dedicated man senses he is experiencing his reward.
Very soon after the Balfour Declaration, a branch of Keren Kayemet was established in Dobrzyn at his incentive; and very quickly this branch became well known for its ability to collect contributions. This institution excelled not only in collecting money to be transferred to the head office in Warsaw, but also in extensive Zionist activity.
How happy R. Yitzhak Moshe was when, with glowing eyes, he escorted the first pioneers of the town who were about to immigrate to the Land of Israel. I, too, was one of these pioneers; and I recall to this very day the stirring well-attended party that was made in our honor. He passionately repeated words of encouragement to us, explaining that as the very first we would pave the way for the many others that would follow.
For many years he headed the Zionist activity in the town, providing his advice and guidance to the movement as he toiled incessantly, his devotion unlimited. Many absorbed his passion and joined the Zionist movement, viewing him as its leader. From among them he chose trustworthy aides who served as deputies and followed in his path.
He also educated his own children in the spirit of Zionism, planting in them his great love for the Land of Israel. And indeed, most of them immigrated to the Land while he was still alive; and the others, together with their mother, after he had passed away.
However, he himself was not fortunate enough to fulfil his own aspiration, to immigrate to the Holy Land and settle there. He passed away in the Polish Diaspora as the dark clouds began gathering over Polish Jewry.
To this very day the image of his noble figure and the memory of his praiseworthy actions accompany those who hail from the town.
by Yaakov Rimon
Translated by Allen Flusberg
My father and teacher, Ephraim Eliezer Granat, z.l., was born in the town of Biezun, in the province of Plock, Poland, on the 10th of Tevet, 5629 (1869 [sic]), to his father, Rabbi Yosef Tzvi, and his mother, Chana Chaya. (He was their twelfth child; his mother was 55 years old when she gave birth to him.) He was educated in the bosom of Torah and Hassidism, but he was also interested in modern Hebrew literature. While he was still young he moved to the town of Dobrzyn on the Dreventz River, where he lived and was active for many years, until he immigrated to the Land of Israel.
Already in his youth he was drawn to HibbatTzion, and he joined the Mizrachi movement when it was just getting started. He wished to attract the Hassidim to the religiousZionist movement and to the redemption of the People and the Land; since he was an author and a poet, he published an article entitled On Zionism and Hassidism in the monthly Hamizrachi, which was published under the editorship of the author and historian Rabbi Zeev Yavetz. He signed the article Ephraim Eliezer EvenShayish. He was active in and around Dobrzyn, supporting the settling of the Land of Israel, and he ran a campaign to favor citrons from the Land of Israel and CarmelMizrachi wine produced in the Land of Israel. He supported the Jewish National Fund in fundraising for the redemption of land from ownership by foreigners in the Land of Israel. On Yom Kippur Eves he would struggle with and fight against the fanatical Hassidim, placing a contributionbowl in the synagogue for the benefit of the Jewish National Fund; he was persecuted by these fanatical Hassidim because of his Zionism. He established a charity association in Dobryzn, and in addition energized his friends and acquaintances to participate in groups that were dedicated to the study of Talmud or Mishna. He served as a Talmud teacher in Dobrzyn; and since his love for the Hebrew language was boundless, he established a Hebrew library in Dobrzyn. As its administrator, he toiled to bring the young people closer to our national language.
While he was still undergoing persecution by the Hassidic fanatics for his Zionism, his older sister, who was also opposed to Zionism, aligned herself with the fanatics and decided to sit Shiva for him on the basis of the rumor that he and his family were preparing to immigrate to the Land of Israel. And not only that, she actually traveled to Otwock to speak to the elderly rebbe of Warka, Rebbe Simcha Bunimmay the memory of the righteous be a blessingand told him about the rumor. The elderly Hassidic leader sent a message to my father, telling him to come to him. When he asked my father his intentions, my father answered: It is true: we are immigrating to the Holy Land. The rebbe spoke to my father, who was a beloved follower of his, privately, for many hours. But in the end when my father left the rebbe's study, his face was glowing as he reported, The rebbe gave me his blessing and even promised to follow me to the Holy Land…And indeed, since the rebbe did not merit to immigrate to the Land of Israel during his lifetime, he stipulated, before his death, that his body be buried in Tiberias. The Torah scrolls and sacred books that were in the rebbe's house are presently located in the synagogue Kehal Hassidim that my father established in the neighborhood of Neve Shalom, in Yafo.
In the year 5667 (1907), my father overcame material hardships and immigrated to the Land of Israel. He settled in BateiVarsha of R. Shaul Fenigstein z.l., and served as a Talmud teacher for R. Shaul's children. After two years, in the year 5669 (1909), my mother, Esther Chava the daughter of R. Yechiel Bunim Elstein, z.l., immigrated and joined him. With her came two of her sons, Yechiel Bunim and Yaakov, may they live long. My sister, Chana Chaya Katcher z.l., the wife of Moshe Yaakov Katcher z.l., remained in Dobrzyn together with her husband and their children; and my brother, the wellknown poet R. Yosef Tzvi Rimon z.l., who came before any of us, was already living in Jerusalem at that time.
As stated above, my father settled in Yafo. He and my mother had an agreement that was like that of Issachar and Zebulun: she conducted business and my father studied Torah. My mother had a grocery store, and every day my father would come for an hour or two to do the bookkeeping.
In Neve Shalom that was in Yafo, my father established a BeitMidrash for Hassidim who had emigrated from Poland. It is in existence to this very day, under the name Kehal Hassidim, on Baal Shem Tov Street. Since he was affable and spoke knowledgeably and intelligently, my father became wellliked not only by the Hassidim, but also by the Perushim, and even by the freethinkers; and many benefited from and were helped by his good advice. Our grocery store became a meeting place for immigrants from Poland, who used to come to my father for guidance just after they arrived in the Land. Among them also were Jews from Dobrzyn who immigrated to the Land at that time. The Kehal Hassidim synagogue served as a center for the Polish Hassidim who came on Aliya and settled in Yafo.
My father was also an expert in modern [Hebrew] literature, and he published several articles, lists and poems in the Hebrew newspapers of that period: Moriah and Herut. In Yafo he initiated the founding of an association for purchasing plots of land to expand Jewish settlement on the basis of mutual aid, and he published a passionate leaflet on this subject.
My father authored four books: (1) Pelach Harimon: interpretations of various placenames that appear in the Bible, Mishna and Talmud; (2) Hadat Vehadaat: questions and answers between a father and his son on the subject of faith and religion; (3) Michteve Tzair Shehizdaken: ideas and thoughts on the revival of Israel and Judaism; and (4) Nachalat Ephraim: a compilation of articles on the subject of religion and faith. I am sorry to say that because of a lack of funds the only one of these books that appeared in print was Nachalat Ephraim, a book describing a father's testament to his son. It was published by Pinchas BenTzvi Grayevsky, Jerusalem; it was widely acclaimed, and the author Eliezer Steinman incorporated three of its chapters in his book Sefer Hamaala, which includes a selection of testaments throughout the generations, up to the present time. Since I feel that because of my impaired vision I will regrettably not be able to do anything with my father's manuscripts, I have transferred them to be preserved for all time in the manuscript department of the ReligiousZionist archives, which is near the Rav Kook Institute in Jerusalem. It is my hope that perhaps these manuscripts will someday see the light of day.
When the World War broke out in the year 5674 (1914), my father and his family were supposed to be deported from the Land as enemy nationals. However, my father chose to accept upon himself all the tribulations of the war; he clung to the Land, hoping he would not be wrested away from it. Together with his family he went through the torments of the expulsion from Yafo and suffered for several months in the deportee camp located in Kfar Sava, where they lived in open tents built of eucalyptus wood. The main food there was sorghum seeds that are used as poultry feed. Under these harsh, morbid conditions, while he was suffering hunger, my father wrote his book Nachalat Ephraim. The expulsion remained in force, bringing the family to Samaria, where my mother passed away during a typhus epidemic on the 1st of Nisan, 5678; she was buried in Zichron Yaakov. My father dedicated his book Michteve Tzair Shehizdaken to her memory. After the expulsion ended my father returned to Yafo, where he fell ill from all the hardships he had experienced. He passed away on the 2nd day of Adar II 5679 and was buried in the Old Cemetery on Trumpeldor Street in Tel Aviv.
|R. Ephraim Eliezer Granat (Rimon)|
|Esther Chava Granat (Rimon)|
by Mendel Sonabend
Translated by Allen Flusberg
My departed mother, the Dobrzyn Rabbanit, studied during her youth in the Plock gymnasia together with the future Zionist leader, Nahum Sokolow. She knew four languages well: Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and German.
She was well educated and quite intelligent; she would always be reading works of Tolstoy, Turgenev, Gorky, Mickiewicz, Heine, Bialik and Peretz. The Dreyfus trial caught her interest, and she followed it on a daily basis, reading in particular the reports by Max Nordau. She was also interested in music and art, to which she dedicated much time.
She ran her household with modesty and good taste; she dressed nicely and properly, and dressed her children well, too. She did not leave concerns for running her household to the housemaid only, but rather gave thought to every detail, like someone who wanted to leave the stamp of her personality on everything. Her esteem and fulfilment came from her husband and children.
No sigh ever crossed her lips; her face always glowed with a loving smile, and nothing was ever lacking in her home. We children wondered where she got it all from, as we knew full well that the salary of the town rabbi was not particularly high.
In spite of our great economic hardship, she did not hesitate to help all who were in need; she was willing to share her last slice of bread with others. I recall how she once stood on a Friday, as the Sabbath was approaching, in front of the candles she had just lit, covering her gleaming eyes with her hands and then passing them over the flames as she blessed the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And while she was quietly murmuring the words of the blessing, she burst out in heartrending sobs. At that moment I saw before my eyes a Jewish mother who was asking God for health and success for her family members and for all the Jewish people. I got up on a chair and embraced her; I kissed her and comforted her, saying: Right away Father will be coming home from the synagogue; he will greet us with the blessing of ‘Shalom Aleichem’, so please don't let your face show signs of sadness. Immediately the sadness disappeared, her face lit up, and she stood ready to greet my father.
And indeed at that very moment the door opened. Our father came in with his face shining, cheerfully declaring: A Good Sabbath! A Good Sabbath! Two guests came in with him, Russian Jews who were about to cross the border on their way to the United States. My mother hastened to bring the gefilte fish to the table as she labored to make the guests' Sabbath as pleasant as possible.
My father noticed the sadness on the guests' faces. They were probably thinking about their families and were worrying about what would happen to them. My father quickly cheered them up, assuring them that everything would work out well. Don't worry, fellow Jews, don't worry! he said over and over. He poured some wine into their cups and toasted them, Lechaim, fellow Jews, lechaim!
Observing that the guests were wearing light clothing, my mother hurried over to the closet and took out some warm clothing. She gave it to them and wished them a safe trip, saying Go in peace and arrive in peace!
This is what my mother the Rabbanit was like, a modest and pure woman, whose heart was devoted to her children, her husband, and to all who were in need or were experiencing difficulties.
R. Ber, son of Shmuel Kristal, a Torah Scribe
by Shmuel Meiri-Minisewski
Translated by Allen Flusberg
Our large family, as I look back on it, left indelible marks in my heart and became part of my substance, my very being. I remember it for the idyll that it was; I recall the serenity and quiet that encompassed it, as well as the modest conduct and atmosphere of sacred spirituality that held sway.
The town of Dobrzyn-Golub on the Dreventz River was the cradle of my extended family on my mother's side. My mother, Beila of blessed memory, was the daughter of the Torah scribe Ber Kristal. The many families of the house of Kristal were indeed endowed with something crystal-like: they were imprinted with a unique mental substance that expressed itself with singular characteristics of humility, modesty and tranquility. These qualities distinguished the sixteen Kristal families that were headed by my grandfather, R. Ber Kristal.
He was handsome and noble, and he imparted his gentility to his progeny. His face, encompassed by a long, white beard, expressed majesty. His intelligent eyes, thirsting for knowledge, radiated wisdom. And all of his being emanated holiness, giving him an aura of charm and inspiring respect.
Patriarchal attitudes, which were common in those days, did not hold sway in my grandfather's home, for all of his being was devoted to writing religious scrolls and studying Torah unselfishly, for its own sake. He would separate himself from everyday matters in order to concentrate on his sacred labor with all his might, to purify himself and to dedicate himself to writing Torah scrolls, tefillin, mezuzot, charms, etc.
This sacred labor produced a deep, melancholy look on his face. And if he felt that his concentration and devoutness were not complete enough for his task, or if he was fearful that he might be disturbed by profane thoughts, he would fast, study the Zohar and read from Tehilim, until he became confident that he could commence working. Only then did he dare take up the feathered writing quill and reverently begin his service to the Creator with trembling hands and an anxious heart.
How great was the contrast between his everyday life, his conduct with ordinary people, the joy and happiness he shared with his family, and the way he distanced himself from any extraneous thoughts or from the tiniest of pleasures while he was working. It was as if there were two worlds within his soul: one, a warm heart, devoted to his family, open to others and especially affectionate to children, to whom he would endear himself with little jokes as he pinched their cheeks; and the other, a heart zealous for the tradition, an extreme zealousness deriving from love for the Creator and from studying the sacred: learning for its own sake, without allegiance to any of the Hassidic courts.
He was certainly reclusive, closed up in his own world, with no dependence on anyone else. And for this reason people from all strata of the community liked him, viewing him as a dignified personality who was fit to judge between a man and his fellow, whether for criminal or civil matters.
I recall that once, when I was a child, he sat me down on his lap, swinging me up with ease as he smiled endearingly. He tested me on the weekly Torah portion, on Mishna and Gemara, treating me with singular gracefulness and tenderness. He encouraged me, refreshing my memory with a simple hint and a pat, making comments as his penetrating smile made my eyes light up. He was making sure I did not fail, since I was his pampered grandchild, the only child of my parents. And in his heart he carried the hope that I would someday be given the title of Rabbi in Israel, a wish that was somewhat fulfilled when I became a student at the Warsaw rabbinical school Tachkemoni, under the training of the prodigy, Rabbi Soloveichik, and Professor Balaban.
He barely eked out a living, but he overcame the bleak reality of his circumstances through his virtue and the purity of his soul. I will never forget how he would sometimes secretly collect food to distribute to the poor of the town; or how, despite the exasperation of our family members, he once wrote a mezuza for a poor woman without taking any payment.
Within our home an atmosphere of tranquility and joy is present; all is arranged properly in its place, with a palpable feeling of sanctity in the air. In a corner, next to a wide table, my grandfather is stooped over the holy books, laboring at writing. He is completely unaware of the mundane world, for he is immersed with all his heart and all his might in a world of radiance and holiness.
And when a mundane thought did pass through his mind, he would quickly put his feathered quill down on the parchment he was writing on. Sighing deeply, he would go out to immerse himself in the mikve to purify himself. Only then would he return and go back to his corner, purified and at peace, fit to continue his holy work.
Members of the family were careful not to interrupt him, to allow a deep, inner connection between him and the sacred letters to be formed; for they would be united by signs and twiddles into something resembling a pastoral composition. I used to imagine hearing the beating of wings of angels as they hovered over him, rising up from the squeaking noise of the quill. At those times the veins in his forehead would bulge from great concentration and mental exertion; and from his mouth there emerged a silent prayer of the signs, based on hidden, mystical teachings, the prayer of a kabbalist who was overpowering the Mastin.
How his face would radiate as he labored, and how great his joy was when he completed the writing of a Torah scroll. He felt that the work had been done through the inspiration of God's Presence, like a priest who was engaged in the sacred. And indeed he was a priest, a kohen directly descended from Aaron the Priest.
And if you would like to know from where he drew the power to concentrate so completely, with no fatigue, throughout a period spanning more than two generationsthen go to the Beit Midrash that is located right near the old cemetery. There you will find him sitting by himself, wrapped in his tallit, his gaze fixed on the tiny letters of rare holy books. In the margins of their pages he is adding his own novel ideas and pilpul, marginal notes of reflection and insight, words whose liberating power make his spirit soar.
To this very day I still have my little sack with tefillin inside it that are written in his crystal-clear handwriting, tefillin that he dedicated to me when I reached the age of responsibility to fulfil the commandments. I recall how his face radiated when he saw the tefillin straps wrapped around my arm.
It is fitting that as we bring up the memory of my grandfather, with his many virtues, we should also mention his wife Freida Michla of blessed memory. Small in stature, she knew how to create a peaceful atmosphere around my grandfather, who was so different from other people. She was a pleasant and humble woman, whose entire dignity was within her. To her daughters she bequeathed true religion, righteous conduct and charity, which left an everlasting imprint on them.
Once the Kristal-Brauns were the family with the largest number of branches in Dobrzyn. With the passage of time, however, and because of the difficulty finding means of support at the beginning of the twentieth century, many of them immigrated to America, on the other side of the ocean. Today the family has branched out even more, its various parts scattered among several lands. But to this very day the unifying connection, following family tradition, has not been severed; it is a particularly powerful link, for all the good qualities that were acquired in their town, Dobrzyn, still live on among the family members.
The many large families often gather together, particularly on the holidays. At the Passover Seder they sit together, nearly 300 people, in one of the halls. This custom has become a holiday tradition and an opportunity for socializing get-togethers of the family. The Association of Families publishes a pamphlet called Kibbitzer, with advertisements for family events: celebrations, births and birthdays, weddings, blessings, letters and announcementsthat is, all that has transpired during the year within the extended familynot only the American contingent, but also those that live in other countries, particularly in Israel. The pamphlet is called News of the Kristal-Brown Family, and it is published by New York family members Tilly Sperling and Ira Kay. The goal of this welcome enterprise is to collect and publicize every news event that is connected to the large, widely scattered family.
The Kibbitzer is distributed among all the branches of the family. It is published in a fine, cultured format that demonstrates the good taste of the publishers, who are filled with deeply rooted Jewish culture and consciousness. So also a Blue Book called Family Tree of the Kristal-Brown Family has been published. It lists all the members of the family branches, and shows how they have branched out from one another over the generations. And this common thread continues up to our own time: members of the extended family visit one another and make sure to remain in close contact with one another. And all this thanks to the activities of the above-mentioned family members, two intelligent and noble ladies.
The great effort that is being invested in gathering and editing material, done purely voluntarily, strengthens the family link, which is expressed via family gatherings and mutual support, both spiritual and moral, in a time of need; all is done unobtrusively, with minimal fanfare. This family-cultural enterprise has preserved the family connection down to the seventh generation, and through it has greatly influenced Jewish feeling and consciousness. And all this is connected with the genealogy of the house of my grandfather, R. Ber the son of Shmuel Kristal, and the house of my grandmother, Freida Michla née Braun. The bond between the generations has not been severed; for it is connected to the noble image of my grandfather and to the tradition of his modest, sacred deeds, which has been passed down orally like a legend.
The tight family bond expresses itself in various memorial services, gatherings, and retrieval of memories, a kind of conversation between generations. The flame that the scribe R. Ber lit in our hearts has not died out, and the young generation of Kristal-Braun descendants is being educated by its glow.
Indeed, the link has not been severed, nor has the Jewish-Zionist fountain of faith dried up. A testimony of this is the work of Sidney (Shmuel) Danziger, son of Sheine Kristal, daughter of Shmuel of blessed memory, and his wife Gloria. They are among those who head the United Jewish Appeal, and they contribute their own strength and capital to the success of this enterprise. The energetic Sidney Danziger is very close in his heart to Zionism, and he has been utilizing his great influence within the centers of government in his country to move the hearts of those who shape American policy and persuade them to favor Israel. There was a time when he was close to the late Senator Robert Kennedy; in his letters to him he expressed his positive attitude to the policy of the State of Israel.
When the Six-Day War broke out, he published an appeal to the Jews of America, urging them to contribute to the Emergency Fund. He had inherited his affinity for Zionism from his mother, Sheine Kristal-Danziger of blessed memory, who hailed from Dobrzyn. He also inherited his noble spirit from her. She had once articulated the idea of visiting the Land of Israel and settling there. However, Sheine Kristal did not live to fulfil her aspiration to settle in Israel. She died in America in 1959, leaving four children: Henry, Benjamin, May (Ida) of blessed memory, and Sidney. All her life she was a person of simple faith who educated her children to be good and compassionate.
In this article I have sought to highlight the spiritual strength that has distinguished our family. I am emphasizing it especially now, when materialism is spreading and dominating everywhere. I have also endeavored to highlight the importance and value of the family, which also continues to lose its value and influence in the era of technology.
It is my hope that these recollections, which have left their stamp on me, will serve as a valuable legacy to the members of my family and to future generations, as the image of my grandfather, R. Ber the son of Shmuel Kristal of blessed memory, from the town of Dobrzyn, Poland, hovers before their eyes always.
by Yaakov Rimon
Translated by Allen Flusberg
My sister, Chana Chaya, the daughter of R. Ephraim Eliezer and Esther Chava Granat of Dobrzyn, was the wife of Moshe Yaakov Katcher of Dobrzyn, who passed away in the Bronx, New York. From childhood on she was educated in the bosom of Religious Zionism. Her love for the Land of Israel knew no bounds. Already in the year 1910several years after my father z.l. immigrated to the Land of Israelshe and her husband, as well as their baby boy, came on Aliya to the Land [of Israel] with the intention of settling there. But fortune did not smile on them. Her husband became ill with pestilential fever, and the doctors were unable to find a cure for him. Having no alternative, my sister and her husband had to go back to Dobrzyn, Poland. Just before she left she visited the holy places of Jerusalem. She collected small stones and grains of sand in a little sack; these she kept all her life and even left instructions to bury them with her in her grave. Her letters to our father were full of yearning for the Holy Land. All her life she dreamed to return and settle in the Land, but she did not merit it.
Several years before Hitler y.m.sh. rose to power, my sister and her husband were able to immigrate to the United States with their five children. They were accepted for immigration by virtue of a document that I obtained from Rabbi Kook, z.tz.l., certifying that my brother-in-law was a religious functionary; and as such his entry to America was approved.
In New York my sister dedicated herself to community work. She collaborated with the Landsmanschaften Supporting Israel. She was active as a member of the committee of the Dobrzyn townspeople, and she greatly aided the transfer of clothing and food to Israel. Two years after the establishment of the State [of Israel], she and her husband made a trip to Israel. They brought with them a Torah scroll that had been rescued from Dobrzyn, the town she had been born in; it was brought into Bnei Tzion, the central synagogue of the Montefiore neighborhood, with great pomp and ceremony. The committee of immigrants hailing from Dobrzyn held a country-wide meeting of Dobrzyn townspeople to honor my sister and her husband. The meeting between the townspeople and my sister was dramatic. Many wept with joy for having lived to see her again. From all the speeches that were given in her honor she enjoyed the great recognition that so many had shown her and their appreciation for her character.
Again she wished to settle in Israel. She traveled throughout the entire country, visiting the house of the first president, Dr. Weizmann z.l.; but unfortunately the president was ill and she was received by one of his aides, who carried on a long conversation with her. She tried hard to persuade her husband to settle in the Land, but his business affairs required him to return.
I will never forget the moments when we parted, as the taxi that was going to take her to the airfield in Lod stood waiting. She was helped into the taxi weeping silently and faint, as if her heart was telling her that she would never again see the land of her childhood dreams. After she had returned to the United States she spoke often in meetings and gatherings about the State of Israel and her experiences there
After a difficult illness of paralysis, lasting two years, death came and released her from her harsh agony.
She was a well-educated woman; in her youth she had studied Mishna and Bible with our father. She could read Hebrew, and she wrote comments and responses on various topics in the Yiddish press. In all her responses she defended Israel with warmth and zeal. The wound she carried in her heart, for not being able to settle in the Land, did not ever mend completely, not even up to the very last moments of her life. She died at home on 1 Elul 5717, as her husband, her four sons and her daughter stood gathered around her bed.
May her memory be preserved forever in the hearts of all who loved and cherished her.
|Chana Chaya Granat-Katcher|
|R. Moshe Yaakov Katcher|
by Yehuda Rosenwaks
Translated by Allen Flusberg
The Bielawski family was known in Dobrzyn for its devotion to the Zionist ideal and to all that was connected with the Land of Israel. Their house was always open, and in it all those whose hearts burned with a love of the people and the Land used to come together.
As for Chaya Shifra: even though she was the daughter of R. Hersh Ber Berman, an ardent Ger Hassid, she soon became one of the leading activists supporting the Zionist ideal; together with her husband, she devoted her energy and her time to every activity that was connected with the Land of Israel.
In spite of the opposition of the Hassidim, who still viewed the Zionists as heretics, deniers of the belief in the coming of the Messiah, Shifra and her husband were not deterred from transforming their home into a center for every Zionist activity: every evening they would hold meetings and gatherings, with the aim of boosting and intensifying Zionist activity.
Shifra, of blessed memory, was a wonderful, noble person: a personality who stood out within the town for her dedication to community affairs and for her great concern for anyone in need. This community activity kept her extremely occupied and robbed her of much free time; nonetheless she was able to be an extraordinary spouse, mother and grandmother who influenced her family members with her devotion and love.
Once the Bielawski family had immigrated to the Land [of Israel], their home continued to serve as a center for people hailing from Dobrzyn; these fellow townspeople flocked to their home, whether to experience the warmth permeating it or whether to receive advice and guidance.
Once the Dobrzyn Townsmen Organization had been established, the Bielawski couple, with their characteristic enthusiasm, joined, and provided their home for Committee Member meetings. Here, during our many meetings, we felt ourselves completely at home, with Shifra glowing with joy as she hosted her fellow townspeople and again brought back memories of the old days.
She dealt with the townspeople like a wise and devoted mother, concerned most with the most recent arrivals, those who had survived the Holocaust, who found in her a sympathetic ear and an understanding heart.
Even in the last few years, when she was already ill, she did not cease providing for the needy; she conducted this sacred work incognito, toiling tirelessly under her final moments.
With her death we lost a wonderful, gentle person. Her husband, daughters and grandchildren have been bereaved; and the DobrzynGolub Townsmen Organization has become bereft of a loyal member, who did so much for her fellow townspeople.
Her altruism and devotion to her townspeople will succor us always!
|Mrs. Chaya Shifra Bielawski, of blessed memory|
Translated by Allen Flusberg
Stunned, gloomy and silent we stand over your grave, my dear one. Thirty days have passed since that bitter morning on which you closed your eyes forever, leaving behind wretched, wounded hearts throughout the land; people who refuse to believe that this was indeed what fate had demanded. Even the heavens wept and raged on the day of your death, when we were all bereaved of Grandmother.
You were and will remain for us a symbol and ideal of a Yiddishe grandmother, overflowing with compassion, integrity, modesty, frugality, altruismand above all, a pure faith in the Creator.
Never again a warm, encouraging caress at a moment of crisis; never again hot stew in honor of a holiday; never again an afikomen present on Passover; only a cold, silent gravestone and a great many stories, memories of an era that will never come back again.
I recall one cold, rainy Friday when I came by to see you, and I observed several beggars sitting on the stairs as you brought them hot soup and meat, and as you gave them clothing and candy for their children Only after a lengthy interrogation did you admit, with a modesty that was so characteristic of you alone, that they came by every week.
When we came to visit you in the hospital, the nurses asked us why you had not requested anything, and we found it hard to explain to them that you did not want to trouble them, so you were suffering silently. And indeed, who among us knew how much you had suffered during all that time when you were being moved from one hospital to another and from there home. And only the powerful desire to live and to see the good fortune of the family were able to strengthen your heart and lengthen your life.
Your tears were the only thing that revealed from time to time what it was that you were keeping to yourself as we stood around helplessly, hoping that perhaps a miracle would take place, and you would recover
Your house on Yehuda Halevi had always been a residence for all of us, a warm home from which caring and love radiated out to members of your family, wherever they were, and in which everyone gathered on holidays to celebrate together joyfully.
We remember that you were always ready to be a loyal advocate, with no limits and no compensation, for your sons-in-law and your grandchildren; and even when we were to blame you knew how to come to our defense, in your own special way, with forgiveness and understanding. And just a few weeks ago, on some Friday, when you were in crisis and terribly weak, you refused to light Sabbath candles in bed; but instead, overcoming your frailty, you put on your Sabbath clothing and your white apron, so that you were prepared like a queen to greet the Sabbath; and you rose, leaning on the table for support, to make the blessing over the candles.
We who are standing here will not ever forget what you imparted to us during your lifetime: the values that you bestowed on us as you served as a personal demonstration of a life of purity and faith, kindness and love, able to live in harmony with happiness, satisfaction and enjoyment of life.
You were a woman of valor, and in our eyes you shall remain a woman of valor forever. On your grave we promise to continue in the path that you delineated for us, as your image continues to walk before us.
by Minda Lipka Bornstein
Translated by Jerrold Landau
My late father was born in Dobrzyń. He served as the communal administrator (parnas) and was active in the Chevra Kadisha (burial society). He concerned himself with the Yeshiva students and supported them with his money. His home was open to those passing through the town.
His sons Wolf and Aharon Lipka, as well as his sons-in-law Wolf Szeinbart and Aharon Szlechter continued in the traditions of their father.
His memory will never depart from my heart!
by Avraham Dor
Translated by Allen Flusberg
The Kohn family was considered one of the longstanding, venerable families of Dobrzyn; its name had already appeared in community records dating from the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was a very extended family with numerous branches and households that were concentrated in and around Dobrzyn.
The family included many scholars and prodigies who brought it respect and glory. One of them, from the previous generation, was R. Meir'l z.l., the father of R. Mendel and Avraham Hirsh. R. Meir'l became famous as a great Torah scholar, and many of the townsmen would come to him, to be in his presence and to hear his penetrating drashot.
The brothers Mendel and Avraham Hirsh absorbed Torah and wisdom in their father's home, and they were well versed in Talmud and Poskim. Yet they also turned out to be successful businessmen who proved to be the financial base of the family.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a company called Meir Kohn and Sons was established. Its business partners were R. Meir'l and his sons, R. Mendel and Avraham Hirsh. Very quickly it became renowned in the nearby towns and villages for both its vast wealth and its many extensive businesses. It owned agricultural farms, forests, factories, and a great deal of cattle. In addition it owned a shop for farm machinery and work tools, machines and tools that landowners and farmers considered indispensable.
And indeed the shop expanded, its storerooms extending over a continuously widening area. From dawn until dusk, farmers flocked to it from near and far to buy whatever they needed for their work.
The brothers invested their energy and talent in the development of the shop, laboring hard and witnessing the great success of their handiwork.
Their financial success did not blind the eyes of the Kohn family, nor did it distance them from their impoverished brethren. On the contrary, their home served as a charity center for the poor; the wife of R. Mendel z.l., the now deceased Tzivya, orchestrated the charity operation with the help of women volunteers who sought to ease the plight of the town's needy.
Tzivya Kohn z.l. was a modest, agreeable woman who invested all of her passion into her concern for the needy. She carried out her work in a pleasant, delicate manner so as not to hurt the feelings of those families that had become impoverished and were endeavoring to hide their bitter fate from other people.
Various community matters were also decided in the home of R. Mendel Kohn. Here members of the Community Council met to consider various problems that had arisen in the town; and here also they convened for a din torah, with the spacious house serving both the litigants and the judges. I recall a famous din torah between R. Yitzhak Yaakov Szmiga and Yosef Ruina, which was held in R. Mendel's house and lasted many months. Many townspeople came to listen to the proceedings, and all were served tea and cake.
R. Avraham Hirsh z.l. distinguished himself in public service. He was considered one of the leading members of the Aleksander Hassidim. He was also once a candidate for the Polish senate, at the side of Tuvya Bialer of Lodz, to represent the Agudat Yisrael party.
The Kohn brothers also did much to advance education in the town, which until then was limited exclusively to study of the Torah, Mishna, and Gemara, with the children learning from the melamed in the cheder; the melamed's knowledge was limited entirely to the religious sphere. They [the Kohn brothers] and many others felt that there was a need to also provide the children with secular studies sidebyside with religious studies. In their endeavor to help establish a cheder metukan, the Kohn brothers contributed a plot of land that was adjacent to the Dreventz River, in order to build an appropriately large building on it. With the passage of time an elementary state school wound up situated there; it was designated for Jewish students only.
The Polish tax authorities, who were never particularly friendly to the Jews, fixed their gaze on the Kohn brothers' huge property, which had aroused the jealousy and enmity of many of the wealthy of Poland. Harsh taxes were imposed on them [the Kohn brothers], without any attempt to make a fair assessment, until they [their assets] dwindled and collapsed, especially as the years 192930 were years of a severe economic crisis throughout the entire world.
To save the little that could still be rescued, the brothers transferred part of their capital to Israel, investing it in the completion of a building that would house a silicatebrick factory in the port of Akko [Acre]. Construction of that building had actually begun in 1925. However, they were not successful in this endeavor either, whether because of a crisis in the construction business at the time, or because of the negligent way they were treated by officials of the Jewish Agency.
As compensation for the loss that they had sustained, they agreed to accept a plot of land in Kiryat Binyamin from the Jewish National Fund. One of the brothers, R. Avraham Hirsh, who came on Aliya to the Land in 1933, settled there with his family members and became a farmer.
Even here he showed that he was still quite capable: his farm became one of the nicest in the entire vicinity. Although he was already middleaged, he managed to adjust to the conditions in the Land; nor did he let go of the shovel and the hoe until his dying day.
The Kohn family and the memory of their good deeds will not be forgotten by their townspeople.
|Family of Avraham Hirsh Kohn|
|Mrs. Tzivya Kohn, z.l.|
|R. Mendel Kohn, z.l.|
|Tzipora Kohn, mother of Mendel and Avraham Hirsh Kohn|
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