Translated from the Yiddish by Pamela Russ
|Grozow (Hrozowa) a town, 211 inhabitants. The town was given privilege [official status] in 1693; two monasteries, Nikolski and Jan Boguslawski; two Greek Orthodox churches; a Catholic church; two Jewish Houses of Prayer; one synagogue; eleven stores, and one beer factory.|
|(According to the Encyclopedia of Brockhaus-Efron)|
They said that a Polish magnate from the Grozowok estate distributed a large area of his land and established a town by the name of Grozow.
This town was to serve as a center for the surrounding counties and for the farmers of the densely populated villages.
The town spread out with its four streets between tall, wooded mountains on one side, and a deep swamp on the other side. A narrow river ran nearby and met with the flow higher up from the Njeman.
The population comprised mainly of Jews who settled there from the surrounding villages. And that is actually what they were called: Bolewiczer, Boslawyczer, Khrynower, and so on. The majority of the families carried their lineage [names] from their grandmothers, such as: Rivas, Chayos'es, Rashes. There were also those who carried their lineage [names] from their grandfathers: the Aryehs, the Khunes, and the Borukhs.
Of the more respected families it is important to mention the Rivas, from whom there was Avremel Rivas Wygodski, the great host, and his brothers Shimon Rivas (Segolowycz), Dovid Rivas Segolowycz, their sisters, sons, and daughters. They were wholesale merchants and traded with the neighboring farmers and the Jewish merchants.
From the Chayos'es there was her son-in-law, the great merchant Reb Mikhel Epstajn and his daughter Golde, the founder of a large manufacturing business. Her husband was Reb Pesach Grinwald who was brought over actually from Lithuania, a great scholar and a handsome man. He died very young of consumption, leaving behind no children.
Also Leybe Szwarcbard, the village chief, was of the Chayos'es. He mastered with the Russian language to a degree, and therefore they would choose him as the head. He did not keep the position for long for certain reasons, and in his place there was the elderly, poor Khaim Zusel Krigstajn (the grandfather of Duvid Uzdan).
Leybe Szwarcbard's younger son Khaikel, from childhood, demonstrated a great talent for painting and sculpture. As a ten-year-old boy, he painted large landscape pictures and portraits, of which I remember the picture of his uncle Reb Pesach Grinwald, whose portrait hung for many years in Reb Mikhel Epstajn's room. He also etched and sculpted all kinds of figures from soft stone. They said in town that his mother came from Vilna, was a sister to the famous Antokolsky [famous Russian-Jewish sculptor, 1843-1902]. The family, whose lineage was from the grandmother Khashe, was not a wealthy one, and from here there were sextons, melamdim [religious teachers of young children], and small village merchants. The grandmother Rashe, as is said, was a capable woman with a strong character. Her sons, Itche Rashes and his brothers Duvid and Shaul had several fingers of their right hand chopped off. The grandmother Rashe did this with her own hands when the children were still very young so they would not be taken as conscripts. The wealthy would be reprieved by other means.
The well-known family Grozowski or Rozowski (according to Mendele Mokher Seforim) comes from a certain Reb Feivel Hrozower, a Jew, a great scholar, a yeshiva principal. From that family come all the Grozowskis and Rozowskis across the world. From them comes the famous writer and linguist Yehuda Leyb Grozowski, the author of the Hebrew dictionary.
From the Shulman family, the first residents in town, it is important to mention the Hrozower dayan [judge in rabbinical court] and gabbai [beadle], who was Reb Shmerl Shulman a Jew, a righteous man, and who received rabbinic ordination from the Slutsker Rav, Reb Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik. He lived and sustained himself from his toil, and never agreed to take on the position of rabbi. The Shulman family had many offshoots and its members are spread out, particularly across America, as shochtim [ritual slaughterers] and rabbis. The well-known Hrozower Rav, Reb Shmuelke, was a son-in-law of the Arkowyczes. The family name of the Aryeh's was Szklyar. They were builders, butchers, smithies, were physically strong, capable people, with healthy muscles, and if a scandal broke out about a Jewish resident, or a fight between Jews and drunken peasants, it was enough that Aryeh's should appear in the marketplace and then the drunken peasants and the gypsy horse traders would run off as mice into their holes. It's worth mentioning the name Oreh the saloonkeeper, or Oreh Khrynower, also a host for the second class, as opposed to Reb Avrohom Wygodski's respectable inn. There, in Oreh's cellar, friends could share a good whisky and a bite to eat.
The cellar was filled with kegs of wine and Oreh himself was an expert at making raisin wine for the city's working men. His son, Meyer Oreh's, was known for his physical strength, and put the fear of him across the entire settlement. Later, as a soldier in the Russian army, for badly beating an officer, he was arrested and sent to a disciplinary battalion. From there he escaped to America.
The Beis Medrash stood neighboring Oreh the saloonkeeper's inn. Once there also was a cold synagogue nearby, but in one of the frequent fires, the cold synagogue burned down and was never rebuilt. It was generally not crowded in the Beis Medrash, first because the people prayed in the shtiebel [informal house of prayer] of Folish, and second because at that time many people of the city immigrated to America. But during the Days of Awe, the Beis Medrash was overly filled because all the surrounding residents and their large families filled up the town and also the synagogue. At the Eastern Wall of the Beis Medrash [place reserved for the prominent], other than the Rav and the leaser of the Hrozower courtyard Reb Shloime Neikrug, a scholarly Jew, the major faces of the town who stood there were those of better lineage, wealthier ones, such as the Arkowyczes, Mikhel Chiyes's and his sons, the Rivas Reb Avrohom Wygodski, his brother Shimon Segalowycz (the different name Wygodski was as a protection of freeing himself from military service), and his son the wealthy merchant Leybel Shimon's still, the Eastern Wall was also democratic. Among the prominent people were Nakhum the shoemaker, and Moishke the smithy.
The former had a chazaka [more than three times give ownership] for the Torah reading on Shabbath during the afternoon prayers, and on Mondays and Thursdays. The latter, a hardworking Jew, who worked with his sons in Kuznie, but he was a refined and humble businessman in town, and he took a teacher as his son-in-law for his daughter. There was also Shaye Khana's Greisukh and some time ago he was a village leader and for all kinds of reasons he ran off to America. When he returned, he was a successful butcher in town, and his set time was at twilight when he would recite the verses of Ashrei temimei derech [happy are those whose way is perfect; Psalm 119, prayer of someone who delights in and lives by Torah], and Shir hamaalos [Song of Ascents], with a strong and sweet voice. His son Khone, a hide merchant, was a maskil [an enlightened person], wrote flowery correspondence in the Hebrew newspapers. There was another maskil in town, a secret one, Khatzkel Hurwyc, also a hide merchant, brother-in-law to the famous Y.L. Grozowski. In my childhood years I discovered in his house a treasure of Hebrew literature Khur Oni (Robinson Crusoe),
Caption: Reb Khaim Zusel Krigstajn (Reb Duvid Juzdan's grandfather)
Ahavas Tzion [Lovers of Zion], until the next issue of Hashakhar [The Morning] (Smolenski's). From there, the Enlightenment spread across town. In a corner at the pulpit, there sat an old Jew, Reb Khaim Zusel Krigstajn, a rare type. He used to be a resident, but later he moved to Hrozowa with his daughters. The sons remained residents in the village. Reb Khaim Zusel mastered the Russian language. Boys and girls used to come to his small house to learn to read and write Russian. He remained a poor man all his life, even after he was elected as village head.
The more important teacher in town was Reb Shmerl Shulman, who did not agree to sit at the Eastern Wall and always sat on a side bench in the Beis Medrash.
At the large wall clock in the synagogue, there sat Reb Avrohom Shaye, a Jew over 100 years old, Reb Avrohom Wigodski's first father-in-law. Even though he was practically completely blind, he still sat in the Beis Medrash the entire day and studied everything by heart. The yeshiva students, who came home during their period of vacation time, would go into the Beis Medrash to study a page of the Gemara [Talmud]. When they encountered difficult concepts, they would turn to Reb Reb Avrohom Shaye and he, the blind one, answered all their questions. Shmuel the tailor, although I do not remember him as a tailor that's what they called him, was an excellent baal tefila [leader of prayers] on Shabbath and on the holidays, and had fixed ownership of leading the morning prayers during the Days of Awe.
The first rabbi that I remember was Reb Shmuelke Epstajn. They say that in his younger years he was a merchant. Much is said about his wisdom, scholarship, and sharpness. For many years, he held the rabbinic seat in town. In his older years, he immigrated to Israel and gave the rabbinic seat over to his son-in-law Reb Shimon Tzvi Skokolski (also a former merchant), a smart, worldly individual. For certain reasons, he gave up the rabbinic seat, and in his place there was HaRav Reb Khaim Fishel Epstajn, an enlightened person, a Zionist, who published Hebrew Zionist songs in the newspaper Hapisga [The Summit]. The city's learned ones were his opponents (because of his Zionism, but he was beloved by the people until a confrontation broke out and his earnings, which until now was tight, became even less. Because of that he was forced to find a rabbinic position elsewhere, and he was taken on as a Rav in the Lithuanian city of Sajni.
They say that when Reb Khaim Fishel and his family left Hrozowa, many important men escorted him way beyond the city.
One of the escorts said: But, Rebbe, Hrozowa is still a fine city!
The sharp-witted Reb Khaim Fishel responded: Yes, now that the important people are here and not there in the city, Hrozowa is really a fine town.
The Rav that took the position after him was Reb Nakhman Yosef. He took great interest in the economic situation of the town. Through his efforts a loan-and-save fund was founded.
One of the Hrozowa families traced their lineage from their grandfather Borukh: Mikhel Borukh's, Meyer Borukh's, Moishe Aron Borukh's, and their sisters.
In Hrozowa they used to say that the grandfather Borukh would go to trade at the fairs but would always be too late.
From there, they took the expression: He is taking his time like Borukh at the fair.
There were many cheders [religious children's schools]. Avremel the chasid [pious man] was a teacher of young children and Beryl Khaim Grozowski was the Gemara teacher. Until bar-mitzva age, the young boys would study in the cheders, and after that, some went off to study in the Slutzker yeshivos, and the rest helped with their parents' work and stayed in the city until their conscription, and then they left to America. The more refined girls remained at home waiting for their betrothed. Daughters of the poorer class became seamstresses or helped their parents in the bakery, and so on. Some of them left to the nearby or even faraway places and served as domestics in wealthy homes, restaurants. When they came back to the city a little better dressed, made up, hair done, the religious women in town would give them dirty looks.
In the year 1888, there was a terrible fire in town and the entire marketplace burned down along with all the stores and Minsk Street. Slowly, the town recovered, and prettier houses and shops were built. As they say: After a fire, you get rich. I don't remember any other great fires.
In 1903, I left my home town. According to the information that I received during my wanderings, the town served as the country house for the area. Hrozowa was renowned for its forests, and summertime the city was filled with country homes. From Hrozowa, community activists and businessmen came to America, such as: Yisroel Szweidelson, the chairman of Slutsker Relief in New York; Shmuel Borowski, one of the founders of Histadrut Ivrit [organization for spreading Hebrew language] in New York and former principal of the renowned Makhzikei Talmud Torah in Borough Park [promoting religious Jewish education]; Duvid Udman, a prominent businessman in New York who was very instrumental in publishing the book Slutsk and Its Surrounding Areas.
Also, Sh. Nakhmani (Nakhmanowycz), one of the founders of Kheder Metukan [the improved kheder] in Slutsk, teacher in many other schools such as in Kieve and in Israel, editorial board member of this book and translator of the new Russian literature into Hebrew, is also originally from Hrozowa.
The terrible fate of the destruction also reached the Hrozowa Jewish population. As one of the olim [immigrants] to Israel relates, he passed through Hrozowa in 1946 looking for Jews, and found just one woman by the family name Wendorf. I think that she came from the above-mentioned Shmuel Schneider's family. After that, the entire Jewish population was killed by the Nazi murderers.
Translated from the Yiddish by Pamela Russ (According to a Letter from New York to Sh. Nakhmani)
In your letter you ask that I describe my memories of our home town. I thank you very much, but unfortunately I am a small writer, and secondly, I left Hrozowa fifty-five years ago and forgot almost everything. But still, I will try to push my memory and write something, maybe it will be worth something for the Yizkor Book.
I remember how one Shabbath or Jewish holiday my parents were coming home from the synagogue and were speaking about a curious thing: After the Torah reading, Fruma Laya's young son went to the podium and delivered a speech about Israel. He encouraged people to donate money to settling in the Land of Israel, and he encouraged the listeners to actually leave the exile [that they were in].
As they [my parents] were talking, my uncle Reb Shaya Khana's came over, and they asked him how he felt about the Zionist speech in the synagogue. This is what he said: What are you talking about? The things that today's children can think of and accomplish! My mother mixed in and added: What is there to talk about. If we will merit it, and repent, then the Messiah will come and take us all to the Holy Land.
About Your Mother:
I remember your mother Fruma Laya. She was the midwife in town, but not one who had trained in this. In general, in the small towns, there were no trained midwives yet.
Both the rich and the poor would summon her. Other than the woman who had the baby, the homes were filled with small children, and she would have to take care of all of them. She worked very hard and not everyone had the means to pay her, but she was never angry about this. A mitzvah [good deed] is better than money, she used to say.
Reb Yakov Greisukh and His Brother Shaye Khana's (Reb Shaye Greisukh)
My father was a deputy in the city's administration. The elder official was Leybe Khiyotes (Leyb Szwarcbord). The twelve deputies would meet in the city office. If they would bring a Jew to the station to be arrested without a passport, and he would say he was a Hrozower, my father would sign and confirm that he knew this Jew and his father, doing anything to remove the Jew from non-Jewish hands.
My uncle, Shaya Khana's, as the elder official, was once caught with this type of false signature, and a heavy punishment was to come, so then he ran away from Russia. But in a short time they gave him amnesty and he returned to Hrozowa and led a beautiful life.
My old grandmother Soroh was a righteous woman. She would take care of the old and sick. She was also devoted to the poor children and orphans who studied in the Talmud Torah [religious schools for children].
She would wash their laundry for free, taking care that they were clean and fed.
Translated from the Yiddish by Pamela Russ
The town was far from Tawrig, not only in distance, but it also far in civilization and life status.
I was a young child when my parents came to Hrozowa. So my memories are really as I remember them piecemeal.
As a young rabbi, full of ideals, my father quickly pushed against the resistance of old powers in town who were not supportive of the Rav's pressures to do good for the population. My father's first project was to rebuild the baths and the mikvah [ritual baths]. He found it broken down, presenting a danger to the people, in winter it was badly heated and offered a cold ritual bath. So he decided to reconstruct the building
Caption: HaRav Reb Khaim Fishel Epstajn
and brought a boiler [steamer] that heated the water with steam and even whistled to notify the people when it was time to light the Shabbath candles. This required money, so my father took upon himself the debt of hundreds of ruble. Finally, he had to pay the debt for years from his earnings. Years later, the community repaid the debt to him.
A second issue was fodder for the animals. Almost every Jew in town had livestock for dairy, so there was an agreement between the community and the owner of the courtyard that a certain area of the baths belonged to the city so that the livestock could feed there. When this elderly owner died, his daughter, the princess, wanted to nullify this arrangement.
With time, as the city officials saw that the Rav was a true leader, they came to the Rav so that he could take care of the issue of the fodder.
My father went to Minsk and gave over the issue to the well-known lawyer Shimshon Rozenboim (later to be a minister in Lithuania), whom my father knew from the Zionist gatherings in Minsk.
The dealings with the courtyard were handled by my father in Hrozowa and a decision was made that was agreeable for both sides. In the city, there was a constable, a bribe taker, who settled himself in the Jewish shops and on the two market days, Sunday and Thursday, he told the Jews to keep their shops closed.
My father went to see the Slutsker district official, and the constable lost his job.
I also remember, as a young boy, that there was a police officer sitting in the house, and he was looking through my father's religious books and letters. Someone had informed the district officials that the Hrozower Rav was preaching revolution and that he was conducting illegal Zionist activities. They took my father away for an interrogation and searched through his papers and religious books. All his correspondence was given over to a censor. In a few months' time, everything was given back with an apology.
The youth in town looked upon the Rav with great respect and would even comfortably accept the Rav's speeches of rebuke that they were roaming around in outside fields [areas].
Hrozowa was also the only town where the socialists did not dare come to the Beis Medrash to give their speeches as they did in other towns under the printed name Pistolets. I remember how my father eulogized the Lebedower Rav whom the revolutionaries shot during an attack.
My father's influence in the town grew every year. Thanks to him, many young Hrozower boys left to study in yeshivos. With the young students in town, my father would speak and talk. A significant portion of the response in his book Teshuva Sheleima [Complete Responsa] comes from that time. They would come to him from the surrounding areas for legal courts [conducted according to Jewish law].
For the town, the Rav's house was a place that connected with the outside world. My father and two other colleagues subscribed to the Peterburg Russian newspaper Birzhevaya Vedomost [Trade Bulletin] and Hatzefira [The Siren].
In 1905, when the news came about the pogroms of the Jews in Bialystok, Siedliec, my father went around worn out and broken. In town, people were afraid of the fairs, concerned that the peasants should not make any pogroms. Some young students came from Slutsk with bashlyks [cone-shaped headdress hood, especially worn by the Russian military] on their backs, and
strolled among the peasants. A rumor spread that the Jewish Samooborona [self defense] had electric wires with them to burn down villages. The peasants disappeared and very quickly ran home.
Peasants used to come to the Rav if they had issues with the Jews.
In town they said: The Rav won't last long with us. They're going to grab him away from us. But it was fated for my father to hold the rabbinic seat in Hrozowa for ten years. Many times, he was a candidate for larger communities, but his love for Zion blocked his way: Older rabbis looked at him crookedly because of his Zionism. Only when he became Rav in Sajni and published his book Teshuva Sheleimah did they forgive him.
Taking the rabbinic position in Sajni happened in Hrozowa in a dramatic way. One autumn evening, two Jews came to town and asked about the Rav. The people asked about the two Jews, who confessed that they came from Sajni, from the Subalko region, an old respected community, and that they wanted to take on the Hrozowa Rav as religious leader of their own community. They politely tried to dissuade these two Jews and even threatened to beat them off to make them leave as quickly as possible. But in a few weeks' time, my father assumed rabbinic position in Sajni.
On a cold winter day, the entire city escorted the Rav and his family on the Kopulyer road to say goodbye. We, the children, sat wrapped up on the post office sleds of Reuvke Pulman, that took us to Horodaj to the train. In the open field, my father gave his farewell speech and the crowd broke out in cries. My father wiped his eyes and we frightened children cried along with him.
My father was the Rav in Sajni until the First World War. Then he was in a German prison as a guarantor, was a fugitive in Slutsk, and then was taken on as Rav in Libui (Libowa).
He came to America in 1923 and then became the head of the kollel [Torah study center for married men] in St. Louis, where he died in 5702  at the age of 68.
Other than She'eilos U'Teshuvos [Questions and Answers] on the four sections of the Shulkahn Arukh [Code of Jewish Law], he also published a book Medrash Hakhaim [Explanations for Life], about deeper explanations.
Translated from the Yiddish by Pamela Russ (excerpt from Shlomo Reb Khaim's)
When Reb Nakhum from the town of Roizew [Rzeszow] married off his last daughter, he remained a widower in his old age. He promised himself that he would die in Israel. But since a person needs with what to live before he dies and a Jewish person also needs to get married, that means one needs money, so what does one do? Well, Reb Nakuhm did what other Jews in the same situation would do For several years, he went around among Jewish children, from one city to the next, to say good bye that means, to collect nice donations and make appointments, if possible, for the next time as well, God willing. This type of livelihood, saying goodbye, is considered by Jews to be conducted possibly by someone who is going to die and is more respected than other collectors, idlers; and it is also the manner of someone who survived a fire. He already smelled of graveyard leaves in Israel, he was already a candidate to be a Jerusalmite Reb Nakhum went around like this for a few years and did not, Heaven forbid, lose any money because of the Jews. He was invited, to one for a supper, to another for something warm, and when he went to say goodbye, they also slipped some money into his hand. From his side, Reb Nakhum made many promises to them. This one for this, and that one for that to pray for one person at the gravesite of Reb Meir Baal Haness [Jewish sage, 139-163 AD, miracle worker], and for another to bring earth from the Holy Land Reb Nakuhm did not forget the town of Kopulye where he had acquaintances and a few distant relatives, and one fine summer day he went there to say his goodbyes.
Generally, during the summer, they used to eat their suppers by the light of the moon, if there was one. And if not, by the light of a small candle worth a groshen [penny]. They made it quick, and then good night, or very soon [it was goodnight], after they had aired themselves out a little. One summer night, however, a very bright one, you could even grab some pearls [moonbeams], there was a change in Reb Khaim's house: The table was set beautifully, candles were burning in a brass candelabra, it seemed festive. Reb Khaim had invited Rebbe Nokhum Roizewer for supper. There was a long, extended conversation at the table about the Western Wall and the Cave of the Patriarchs; about the Mount of Olives, and the matriarch Rachel's tomb; about destruction and gravesites, and they enjoyed a bite of figs during the discussion, dates, pomegranates, and carob. Everyone enjoyed the food, their eyes
were flaming, sparkling with great pleasure. Reb Nokhum was very talkative, speaking and speaking, as if he were already there, having already seen everything with his eyes, and everyone was staring at him, looking with love, with great reverence, and they were very envious of him that he was destined to be there [in Israel]. It is said so easily: Israel, Jerusalem! Imagining themselves in the airplane a country, a city a city, houses, earth, dust, waste, mud, but no! Something is different, and how is it different? You couldn't even imagine. There is no coarseness, only spirituality. You have to feel it. Today's names in Hebrew. Cities, places that are named in the Torah!
Later, the discussion went to more mundane things. Reb Nakhum really traveled a lot, bid farewell to many Jews, may there be no evil eye, and saw and heard an ocean of things! In this discussion, Vilna played the main role. They were more interested in Vilna than in any other city. Reb Nakhum told fascinating thing about [Vilna's] very well-known rabbis, about its extreme magnates, and very prominent men, about chassidic courts, yeshivos, and poor young students. Ay Ay! Leaving out about half the monarchy, somewhere on a small street where it was dangerous and where one dared not go at night [that was discussed] in a quiet, frightened tone. And at the end, he came out very heavy [on a discussion] of Berlin. These Jews, from those schools of Lilienthal's gang [he introduced Reform practices and modernity 1840s], he said, turning up his nose, and he began to tell stories and make fun of them, saying that they were wild characters, sitting, when no one saw them, with their heads uncovered, and were eating without having washed their hands! Their Torah was in their language, in short lines with figures of speech. All of it. Ay! Ay! Woe! One the oldest of them, they said, was eating snuff [of a candle] with bread. They said, he poked around a wax candle into the kasha [grains, cereal] and ate it Beautiful creatures, as it were Reb Nakhum says with a sigh Oy! Oy! Oy!
Well, half the monarchy, ya! This is what Shloimeleh thought about this. The half-kingdom were probably the evil forces, those good women, such as Lilith and Rusalkas [female water spirit in Slavic mythology], about which he had heard many terrible stories, how they misguided people with their motions, and that they are hundreds of times worse than the devil, even worse than Ashmedai [Asmodeus, king of demons] himself. Therefore, it was right that the Vilner did not dare go out at night into those empty streets. But Berliners, not clowns, intellectual Jews, Jews with their hands and feet, Jews without head covering, without washing hands [before eating bread], these types, it is impossible to understand! That means, how is this possible, a Jew and without a hat! That means, that means, a Jew! and he doesn't wash before eating! They are crazy, or are they missing some brains? Do they not know what type of judgment goes on there because of that? Tar, sulphur, iron knights! And even without all these things, how does it look to be a Jew without a head covering? But only these kinds of things Reb Nakhum said, a Jew who was leaving, who was going to Israel. You had to believe these kinds of Jews. There was no choice. These kinds of things were probably in Shloime'le's mind also, and the title Berliner, since then, already meant the following in his mind: a Jew without a hat, who does not wash his hands before eating bread with snuff.
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