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Scholars in the City

by M. Tzinovitz

Reb Aleksander Ziskind son of Moshe Maimon

The religious sage Reb Aleksander Ziskind was the son-in-law of Reb Dov Ber Shapira and the brother-in-law of the Gaon Reb Yisrael Isser Shapira, the local Av Beit Din. He resided for a number of years next to his father-in-law in the city of Augustow, and influenced greatly in its unique spiritual-cultural character. However, when he went to live in Seirijai, he would come occasionally to Augustow, and his words on matters of Torah, wisdom, and public communal activism were heard by the men of the city as if he was one of the veteran residents of the place. Nevertheless, Reb Aleksander Ziskind was a scholar, upright, one of those who seek the welfare of the faithful in Israel.[1] He would also “pull with the pen of writers.” He published religious research articles in the Hebrew weekly “HaMaggid,” whose editor Dovid Gordon was his friend from the period of their being together in the city of Seirijai. He would sign these articles with the name “A”Z BR”M” (initials: Aleksander Ziskind son of Reb Moshe).

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Reb Aleksander Ziskind died in the year 5647 [1887] at the age of 78. In “HaTzefirah,” of the year mentioned above, (No. 158), Y. Broide, a resident of Seirijai from Kelm, published on his memory of the deceased, these words: “the elder deceased was one of the outstanding people of the remnant of the old generation for whom Torah and wisdom, wealth and honor, together surrounded and encircled him. His name went out for praise as one of the greats that were in the land, great was his knowledge in the Hebrew literature that he showed quite a bit in the abundance of his articles that were brought in “HaMaggid,” and he never, until his last day, departed from the tent of Torah. And more than Reb Ziskind was wise, he was even more engaged in mitzvot, and took part at the head of every good enterprise. He established a house for the study of Torah on strong pillars that would not weaken, and also the rest of the charity houses saw light in the light of his face. The end of the matter: he was head and first in all matters and ways of the community, and by his mouth every matter was directed.[2] To this degree his hands were faithful to God, and his witness, until his sunset.[3] And now, woe is me! Who will return his value to us?”

It should be pointed out that Reb Aleksander Ziskind Maimon left in manuscripts “Kovetz Ma'amarim V'Inyanim Shonim[4] that was published (3 5654 [1894]) by a childhood friend, the Sage Yaakov son of Yaakov in Vilna.

It can be added that the words of Torah of Reb Aleksander Ziskind Maimon are brought in the book of questions and answers “Ezrat Yisrael” of his brother-in-law, the Gaon Reb Yisrael Isser Shapira.

 

The Rabbi the Gaon Reb Yehoshua Heschel Shapira

He was born to his father Reb Dov Ber in Augustow and spent the years of his youth and his time as a yeshiva student in the tent of the Torah, under the supervision of his brother the Gaon Reb Yisrael Isser Shapira the local Av Beit Din, and also, with his father-in-law the Gaon Reb Lipa Chaim HaCohain, Av Beit Din of Zembrova (Lomza region). He officiated afterwards as Av Beit Din in the two important communities of Shaki (Suwalk region) and Shtutzin (Lomza region).

In contrast to his brother the Gaon Reb Yisrael Isser, Reb Yehoshua Heschel was opposed to the Chibbat Tzion movement. On the other hand, he stood at the head of the “Lomza-Suwalki Kollel,” and did much to strengthen the Torah institutions of the old Yishuv[5] in Jerusalem. He was the confidant of the Gaon Reb Yehoshua Leib Diskin, the Brisker Rabbi, in Jerusalem. There was an event, that when it became known to Reb Heschel, that one of the men of “ the Kollel” in Jerusalem, Reb Yehoshua Yellin, handed his son over to a modern school – Reb Yehoshua Heschel approved the decision of the men of “the Kollel” to expropriate the right of Yehoshua Yellin to benefit from the funds of “the Kollel.” Attempts by known personages from Suwalk, Lomza, and even from Augustow (Reb Mordechai Markus), did not help to nullify the decision of the zealots of Jerusalem.

When he went to his eternity in the year 5668 [1908], old and full of years, they eulogized him in villages near and far. In Augustow, the city of his birth, the Dayan Reb Azriel Zelig Koshelevski eulogized him. Reb Yehoshua's Torah innovations are found in other writers' books, especially in the book of questions and answers “Ezrat Yisrael” by his brother the Gaon Reb Yisrael Isser, Av Beit Din of Augustow. And also, in the book “P'nei Arieh HaChai[6] by the Rabbi Chaim Leib Rotenberg, who is known by the name “The Tzaddik[7] from Stavisk.”

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The Gaon Reb Yosef Zechariah Stern[8]*

In the year 5611 [1851], the young yeshiva student Reb Yosef Gedaliah Stern, the son of Rabbi Natan, who was Av Beit Din Neustadt-Schirwindt, resided in Augustow. Already then, this young yeshiva student had become well-known as a prodigy. In the year 5620 [1860], when he was 26 years old, he came to Warsaw to print his first book, “Zecher Yehosef,”[9] which contained his innovations on tractates of the Talmud. He turned to the two famous rabbis of Warsaw: Reb Yishayahu Moskat, the rabbi of Praga, and Reb Yaakov Gesundheit, Av Beit Din of the city, and asked for their agreements, as was the custom of those days, for the printing of his book. Reb Yaakov Gesundheit wrote to him: “I stood trembling and amazed at his sharpness and expertise in the sea of Talmud, Babylonian and Jerusalem, Tosefta and all the early and late decisors and responsa.” Reb Yosef Zechariah spent a short time in Augustow. After some time, we find him as the son-in-law of the Gaon Reb Mordechai Gimpel Yaffa – the rabbi of Ruzhany. When he died in the year 5664 [1904], the Hebrew press wrote articles of appreciation in the memory of this great person, who was a living treasury of many bookcases in all fields of the Torah, in the new Hebrew literature, in Hebrew linguistics, history, and more. In “Luach Achiasaph[10] for the year 5665 [1905], it is written about him: “Not a day passed that he did not reply with an answer to his questioners, among them – the greats of the rabbis from all the lands.”

 

Reb Yerucham Fishel HaCohain Biskovitz

Reb Yerucham Fishel was born of a good family, a scion of a respected rabbinic chain. Reb Yerucham's father the Augustovi – the Gaon Reb Kalonymus Kalman - was the son of the Gaon Reb Nachman from the town of Orly. Together with his brother, the Gaon Reb Shabtai, composed an important book (innovations in the Talmud) by the name of “Shevet Achim[11] (printed in the year 5593 [1833]).

Reb Fishel had a son that was sharp in the Torah, Reb Yaakov Tzvi Biskovitz, who lived in Stavisk.

In the Biskovitz family of distinguished lineage is also included Rabbi Avraham HaCohain Orlianski from Bialystok, who went up to the land in the year 5643 [1883] and was the first rabbi of the mother of the settlements – Petach Tikvah. His son Reb Mendel Orlianski, the rabbi of Zikhron Yaakov (murdered in the riots of 5689 [1929]), was the son-in-law of Rabbi Yekutiel Koshelevski (Azrieli), born in Augustow, who filled the place of his father-in-law in the rabbinate of Zikhron Yaakov.

 

Reb Tzvi Korkovski[12]** and His Son Menachem

Shochet U'bodek in Augustow, and afterwards in Vilkovisk. He was known in the entire area as exalted in the Torah and righteous in all his ways. He devoted himself to Torah all his days, and to the service of God, and was punctilious about benefiting others.

His son, Reb Menachem Ben-Tzion, one of the greats of the Lithuanian rabbis, served as Av Beit Din in Novhardok, and afterwards, Preacher and Teacher of Righteousness in Vilna.

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While he was still a boy, Reb Menachem Ben-Tzion stood out in his vast knowledge in the field of Torah, and his intelligence in worldly matters. In the year 5641 [1881], when he was only 11 years old, he was orphaned by his distinguished father. The respected scholars, Reb Dovid Mordechai Markus from Augustow, and Reb Yitzchak Leib Rabinovitz from Vilkovisk, took an interest in his future. At the recommendations of the rabbis Reb Katriel Natan and Reb Yaakov Vilovski (the Ridvaz),[13] the Rabbi of Vilkovisk, he was accepted to the famous yeshiva of Volozhin, where he was one of its excellent students. The Gaon Reb Levi Soloveitchik, head of the yeshiva, would consult with him on the preparation of his lessons. While he was in Vilna, he became well-known as an excellent speaker.

 

Rabbi Yehoshua son of Reb Reuven HaCohain Blumental

Born in Augustow, he was a prodigy from his childhood. He learned Torah in the yeshiva of the Gaon Reb Moshe Sofer in Pressburg; afterwards he received Torah from the mouth of the Gaon Reb Arieh Leib Zuntz from Plotsk. He also learned with the Gaon Reb Yehuda Bachrach Av Beit Din Sejny.

In the beginning, he was appointed rabbi in the town of Lazdijai. After a short time, he was accepted as Rabbi in the provincial city of Mariampol. Since he was an extreme zealot in matters of religion, he was not satisfied by this city, in which most were enlightened, who did not accept his authority. He renounced the rabbinate, therefore, and returned to Lazdijai.

After some time, he was appointed as head of the yeshiva in Bialystok. When he would give the lesson, the place was too narrow to contain all who came to hear his wonderful analyses, which earned him the name “Yehoshuale the Sharp.” He also served as head of the judges in Bialystok. Differences of opinion broke out between him and the second Moreh Tzedek in the matter of a legal decision in the case of 18 geese that had been slaughtered together, and in the gizzard of one a nail was found. The geese were mixed together, and they did not know which of them was unkosher.[14] The second Moreh Tzedek declared all of the geese unkosher, while Reb Yehoshua declared all of them kosher, except for the one in which the sign of a hole in its side was found. This event caused a great disagreement among the scholars of the city. The matter reached the Gaon Reb Shmuel Avigdor Tosfa'ah, who laid his hand on[15] the permission of Reb Yehoshuale. Because of the disagreement, Reb Yehoshua no longer wanted to remain in this city, and moved to officiate as Rabbi in the city of Yanova.

In the year 5627 [1867] he was appointed Av Beit Din Kaminetz of Lithuania, where he served with blessing for 13 years. He died in Brisk of Lithuania, when he came there to inquire of physicians, on 11 Shvat 5640 (1880).

Apart from being great in the Torah, he was tremendously diligent. Despite the weakness of his health, he would rise every night at the hour of 1:00 after midnight, and would study until the morning prayers. On the night of the holy Shabbat, when he would rise at midnight to study, his righteous wife Sarah would rise to sit by his side and watch that he would not knock over the candle.

He had good qualities; there were none like him. He never got angry, and he fled from honor. He never flattered anyone, and he loved every person as himself. He did not turn the poor away empty-handed, even though his income was very insubstantial (his salary was accumulated from payments of one agora[16] (kopek) a week that every householder paid, and not all of them would pay).

Reb Yehoshuale left two famous sons after him: a) the great Gaon Reb Avraham Aharon HaCohain Burstein – the rabbi of Slobodka, and at the end of his days the head of the Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav[17]

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in Jerusalem. He died in the year 5685;[18]* b) The Rabbi the Gaon Reb Reuven Dovid Hachen Burstein Av Beit Din Kaminetz of Lithuania, killed in the Holocaust.

 

Reb Dovid Mordechai Markus

Reb Dovid Mordechai Markus was considered to be the significant scholar of the community of Augustow in the previous generation. He became well-known as a prodigy. He was in correspondence about matters of Torah with the Geonim of the generation, among them the Gaon Reb Yehoshua Leib Diskin (Av Beit Din Lomza, Brisk and Lithuania and other communities, and at the end of his life, in Jerusalem), and the Gaon Reb Yosef Shaul Natanson Av Beit Din Lvov. This Rabbi Gaon writes these words about Reb Dovid Mordechai in his well-known book “Sho'el U'Meishiv[19] (Part 1, the year 5628 – 1868): “Let the mountains deliver well-being[20] to the sharp, gifted K'vod HaRav[21] Dovid Mordechai from Augustow in the country of Russia.” In section 73 in the book mentioned above, the Gaon author brings words of Torah from the mouth of the Augustovi scholar. Reb Dovid Mordechai was one of the friends and one who had turned his face towards the Gaon Reb Shmuel Mohilever, Av Beit Din Suwalk, and afterwards, Av Beit Din Bialystok. Reb Dovid Mordechai, unlike other zealous scholars, was inclined towards the Chibbat Tzion movement, and saw in it rescue and great salvation for the Jewish people. In this matter, he was in complete agreement with the Maskil and the Hebrew writer Yosef Ze'ev Sperling from Augustow, although in matters of spirit Reb Dovid Mordechai was completely far from the writer mentioned above.

Reb Dovid Mordechai contributed much for the good of the settlement of the land of Israel, and he was one of the heads of the supporters of the Palestinian[22] Council in Odessa, which acted for the strengthening and establishment of the new settlements in the land of Israel.

Reb Dovid Mordechai Markus died in the year 5670 [1910] at the age of 62. The article of appreciation on his memory appeared in the Hebrew newspaper in Vilna “Hed HaZman.”[23]

 

The Religious Maskil Reb Ziskind Arieh Treves

Reb Ziskind Arieh, the son of Naftali Treves from Augustow, poured with his soul the best of his excellent scholarliness into the students of the Lithuanian with a moderate critical approach, according to the methods of the Talmudic sages Reb Tzvi Hirsh Chayut and Reb Shlomo Yehuda Rapoport (ShI'R)[24] from Galicia. This pouring can be seen in his important articles on the pages of the Hebrew weekly “HaMaggid,” which appeared in the frontier town adjacent to Augustow – Lek. Those who understood the matter saw in this young Augustovian a bright future, however he was plucked from life in the spring of his days. In the year 5633 [1873], Shlomo, the son of the Gaon Moshe Yitzchak HaLevi, informs us, in the newspaper “HaMaggid” (the year 1873, No. 7), that he was distinguished by his excellent memory, that the words of our Sages, may their memory be for a blessing, from the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, and legends, were fluent on his tongue, and he succeeded also to create new interpretations, which he had in mind to publish. This scholar was young in days. He died at the age of 25.

We find words of appreciation of his greatness in the Torah and the wisdom of Ziskind Arieh Treves in the anthology “HaPisgah,”[25] whose editor and publisher was Rabbi Hillel Dovid HaCohain Treves – Rabbi of Vileki. On the occasion of his being published in a collection of articles of Divrei Torah[26] from the pen of his relative from Augustow by the name of “Dovev Siftei Yesheinim,”[27] the Rabbi editor writes these words about the deceased: “The Rabbi, great in Torah and wisdom, a treasury of Torah who is an ornament of pride[28] and glory, the crown of knowledge, the deceased Reb Arieh Ziskind, may his memory be for a blessing, the exalted son, honored among his people, the elder Reb Naftali Treves, may his light shine,[29] from the city of Augustow, born in the year 5609 [1849]. While he was still[30] young, the great Torah scholars were surprised by his deep common sense and by his wonderful memory that caused every heart to tremble and quake. He gathered in the hollow of his hand[31] in the shortness of days in which he lived all the sheaves of Torah in all its fields, and like a great leviathan he gulped into his mouth all the water that was in the Talmud, and all the talmudic literature, so that there was really no secret that escaped him in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, the Toseftot, the homilies of our Sages, may their memories be for a blessing, and their legends. The greatest of the experts assailed and were astonished by him in their speaking with him, on the greatness of his expertise, which one would have to go far to find one like him, in these last periods in Israel.

The deceased was an energetic and exalted critic until he became one of the great critics in Talmudic literature. If God had not taken him in his youth and we had not lost him, he would have illuminated the land[32] and rays of light from his hand[33] for his light to appear over all the settlements of Israel. He would have been one of the heads of the geonim of Israel and one of the singular ones of the generation.

 

Reb Zalman Arieh Koptziovski

Born in Vishai, Suwalk region. Son of the respected Koptziovski family, among whom are included greats of the Torah, respected merchants, and highly active in Zionism and the settlement of the land of Israel. He took to wife a daughter from the Keinan family in Augustow, became the brother-in-law of Reb Dovid Mordechai Markus and the writer Yaakov Frenkel. Reb Zalman Arieh was a distinguished scholar. After the death of his brother-in-law, Reb Dovid Mordechai, he was considered the head of the scholars in the city. In the days of the First World War, Reb Zalman transferred his dwelling place to Moscow and there he found, in the year 5678 [1918] his final resting place. The Rabbi the Moreh Tzedek Reb Arieh Zelig eulogized him in his absence, and these are his words according to his book “MiMe'onot Ariot.”

“One of the notables of our city, exalted in Torah and famous in his name. The walls of the Beit Midrash will confirm that his voice reached them like the voice of a lion, and that he would study with desire and vigor. All the worshippers would have already left and he remained alone in the Beit Midrash in his fixed place, studying with depth the issue in the serious tractate. In his life he was a wood merchant, and when he would travel outside of the country, he would come beforehand to the Beit Midrash and study Torah. Sometimes he would go deep into his learning, until he did not sense at all what man was passing before him in the hour of his learning.”

 

Reb Arieh HaCohain Lap

Rabbi Azriel Zelig, who eulogized him, describes him with these words:

“He was already considered a learned person and of a good family. He was a community leader for many years, and one of the heads of the community, and all the matters of the city were decided by him. He gave his soul for communal matters and the needs of the city, and he was quick to gather money for the synagogue and the Beit Midrash, and a building for guests, and gaining strength like a lion[34] to go to the Beit Midrash, even if it was far from his house.”

The father of Reb HaCohain Lap was Rabbi Elchanan Tzvi, Av Beit Din of Vizhnitz and Zablodova; one of his brothers was the Rabbi the Gaon Efraim Dov Lap, Av Beit Din of Verblova, one of the great of the rabbis of Lithuania, author of the book “Zivchei Efraim.”[35] With this he was a faithful Zionist and helped Rabbi Y.Y. Reines in establishing the “Mizrachi” organization.

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Reb Eliyahu Sender HaCohain

Rabbi Azriel Zelig, who eulogized him in the year 5677 [1917], describes the deceased as “exalted and precious,” a legacy to the yeshiva of Volozhin not for the purpose of receiving a reward,[36] and as one who received a letter of thanks from the Gaon Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin Av Beit Din and Head of the Rabbinical College of Volozhin for his activities there. He was one of the early risers to the Beit Midrash for prayer.

 

Reb Meir Koifman

The father-in-law of the Rabbi Gaon Mordechai Eliyahu Rabinovitz, Av Beit Din of Vashlikova and Sapotzkin. In his book “Torat Mordechai[37] that was printed in the year 5669 [1909], the Rabbi brings a few pleasant new ideas about Torah in the name of his father-in-law. Reb Meir Koifman was the distinguished friend of Rabbi Katriel Natan. He brought the Mitnagdim[38] to reconciliation with their rabbi, and to their agreement to return him to their city when Rabbi Yehuda Leib Gordin moved from Augustow to Ostrow-Mazowiecka. He was expert and sharp and served as the teacher of lessons in the Talmud Society. Professionally he was a pharmacist, and earned his livelihood from the pharmacy.

 

Reb Yisrael Barukh Lieberman

He was one of the great scholars of the yeshiva of Radin, blessed with ability and with distinguished qualities. He was one of the assistants of the Wise Rabbi Reb Yerucham Lebovitz in Mussar studies in the famous yeshiva of Mir.

After his wedding, he opened a shop for the sale of fabrics, and engaged in the needs of the public as one of leaders of the community. Before the outbreak of the war, he emigrated to the United States, but his family was killed in the Holocaust. This crushed his spirit. He shut himself up in his room in the Bronx, which is in metropolitan New York, and engaged in Torah day and night.

He likewise spread Torah in the Talmud and Mishnah Societies, not for the purpose of receiving a reward. He died at the end of Rosh HaShanah[39] 5722 [1942]. At his funeral heads of yeshivot, rabbis, his many friends and students participated. Among others, Reb Dovid Lifshitz, a member of the presidium of the Rabbis' Association, and previously Av Beit Din Suwalki, eulogized him.

The article in appreciation of his memory appeared in the rabbinic monthly “HaMaor[40] in New York, Cheshvan-Kislev Edition, 5722.


Transaltor's Footnotes:

  1. 2 Samuel 20:19 “I am one of those who seek the welfare of the faithful in Israel.” Return
  2. Exodus 41:40, Pharaoh speaking to Joseph: “You shall be in charge of my court, and by your mouth shall all my people be directed…” Return
  3. His death. Return
  4. “Anthology of Articles and Various Matters.” Return
  5. The Jewish settlement that existed in Israel before the aliyah of the modern period. Return
  6. Face of the Living Lion. Return
  7. Righteous person. Return
  8. Original note: * He is Vofsi in the famous poem of Y.L. Gordon “The Tip of the Yud.” Return
  9. “In Memory of Yehosef.” Return
  10. “The Almanac of Achiasaf.” Return
  11. “The Dwelling of Brothers.” Psalm 133:1 “How good and how pleasant it is that brothers dwell together.” Return
  12. ** The uncle of Chaitza Aleksandrovitz. Return
  13. An acronym for Reb Yaakov David son of Ze'ev. Return
  14. The presence of a nail in the gizzard would render the goose unkosher. Return
  15. Supported. Return
  16. An agora is an Israeli coin of the smallest denomination, named from 1 Samuel 2:36 “…every one that is left in your house shall come and crouch to him for a piece [agora] of silver…”. Return
  17. “The Rabbi's Center;” named for Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of the land of Israel, and the founder of the yeshiva. Return
  18. * His son is the member of the KnessetReuven Barkat. Return
  19. “Asks and Replies.” Return
  20. Psalms 72:3 “Let the mountains deliver well-being for the people, the hills, the reward of justice.” Return
  21. A title of respect for a Rabbi, along the lines of “Your Honor, the Rabbi.” Return
  22. Pre-state Israel was called Palestine by the Romans, as distinct from the Palestinian people, who first begin to use that appellation after the Six-Day War in 1967. Return
  23. “Echo of the Time.” Return
  24. An acronym of his name. Return
  25. “The Summit.” Return
  26. “Words of Torah.” Return
  27. The lips of those who sleep. Song of Songs 7:10 “And your mouth like choicest wine. Let it flow to my beloved as new wine gliding over the lips of sleepers.” Return
  28. Ezekiel 20:7 “…or out of their beautiful adornments, in which they took pride…” Return
  29. This expression is used in reference to one who is still alive. Return
  30. There is a typo here, but in the original book “HaPisgah” the word is “b'odenu.” Return
  31. Proverbs 30:4: “Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hand?” Return
  32. Mei'ir la'aretz” from the first blessing before the Shma: “You illumine the world and its creatures with mercy…” Return
  33. Habakkuk 3:4: “And rays of light from his hand…” Return
  34. Babylonian Talmud Brakhot 3b:22 “From midnight on, he would gain the strength of a lion.” Return
  35. “Sacrifices of Efraim.” Return
  36. Pirkei Avot 1:3 “He used to say: do not be like servants who serve the master in the expectation of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve the master without the expectation of receiving a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you.” Return
  37. “The Teaching of Mordechai.” Return
  38. Opposers of Chassidism. Return
  39. The Jewish New Year. Return
  40. “The Lamp.” Return


The Rabbi the Gaon Reb Betzalel Ze'ev Gibstein,
May the Memory of the Righteous be for a Blessing

by M. Tzinovitz

 

Aug110.jpg

 

The Rabbi the Gaon Reb Betzalel Ze'ev Gibstein was born in Augustow in the year 1883. He learned in the famous yeshiva of Volozhin, until his marriage to a daughter of Augustow – Mrs. Kendle Yocheved Povembrovski.

All his days were dedicated to the study of Torah and the service of God. He fasted a lot, until he became weak, and he was forced to postpone the wedding and strengthen his body. After he married he continued to fast during all the days of the week. His wife turned to the greats of the Torah and to the doctors, and these tried to convince him to stop the self-denials, but to no avail. He continued on this path of his until the day of his death on 8 Sivan 5720 [1960].

Father, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, refused to accept on himself the yoke of the rabbinate, and began to engage in the commerce of turpentine, a product of his factory.

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When he did not succeed, he switched to trading in hides, wood, and more. When all his money went down the drain, he decided to dedicate all his time to Torah study. From then on, his support was from his brother-in-law in the United States. In the years 1926-1929, he served as Director of the yeshiva of Slonim. Since he was satisfied with “a kav[1] of carobs,”[2] he divided his salary among the yeshiva boys, so that they could excel in their studies. For two years, he officiated as rabbi of the small community of Rozhinka, which is next to Grodno. His brother-in-law advised him to emigrate to the United States, but Father, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, refused to travel to the “eretz hatreifa,”[3] and preferred to go up to the land of his heart's desire all the days, which is the land of Israel. In the year 1931 he fulfilled his dream.

 

Da'as Torah Title Page
Aug111.jpg
Book of Knowledge of Torah
An Explanation of the Torah by Way of Common Sense
By
Rabbi Yehoshua son of Betzalel Ze'ev Gipstein[4]
From Augustov.

 

All his days Father was “hidden among the baggage” and fleeing honor. All his time – dedicated to Torah study and writing. Two of his books – “ Pirkei HaGaon[5] on Tractate Avot, and “ Da'as HaTorah” Part 1 on the Torah, were published while still in Poland. In the land were published: “Da'as HaTorah” Part 2 “Cheker Kohelet,”[6] and also a booklet published by the center “Beit Yaakov” by the name of “Hishtalmut HaAdam v'HaShabbat,”[7] and another booklet of interpretations of prayer. He left a manuscript on the Talmud that he did not get to complete.

Father was extremely careful in his speech, for fear of “lashon hara.”[8] Therefore he was nicknamed by many “The Silent One.” His love for the land of Israel knew no boundaries; in Zionism he saw “atchalta de'geulah.”[9] He was a member of the Mizrachi movement, which he extremely valued. Father founded the branch of “HeChalutz HaMizrachi[10] in Augustow. The first training groups of “HeChalutz HaMizrachi” in the area were organized by the signed, below, with Father's full assistance. Our house served as a lodging place for the first pioneers that reached the training collectives. Father, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, was happy that it was within his ability to contribute to the strengthening of the settlement in the land in general, and especially for religious settlement. I remember the first couple that went up to the land from “HeChalutz HaMizrachi

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in Augustow: Eliyahu and Devorah Gardovski. They were approved for aliyah[11] by father, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, because the center of “HeChalutz HaMizrachi” had limitless confidence in him. Father, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, was very sensitive to injustice. He aspired to social righteousness. In the Torah, he saw the way that would lead to the uprooting of evil and a world that is entirely good.[12] The Shabbat and festivals of Israel were in his eyes symbols for this aspiration towards “the complete perfection of humaneness that even righteousness and honesty are only a rung to the final step,” and the final goal is “a day that is entirely Shabbat.”[13] From here was his great admiration for acting for settlement in the land in general, and particularly for the collective settlement.

Betzalel Gibstein

Rishon L'Tzion, Adar 5726 [1966]

 

Reb Chaim Yitzchak Ravidovitz

Born in Augustow to his father Reb Avraham Shlomo and his mother Shayna, most of whose toil and effort went to guiding him on the path of Torah. He learned in the yeshivot of Mir and Volozhin. He married a woman from Grayevo and fixed his place of residence and trade there. In the year 5675 [1915], he moved with his family to Bialystok. Reb Chaim Yitzchak was a wealthy man. He dealt in exporting merchandise from Russia to Germany. His warehouses were in Prosetkin, which is in eastern Prussia. With the outbreak of the First World War the Russians plundered the warehouses and sent them up in flames. Reb Chaim Yitzchak became impoverished.

In the year 5682 [1922], he went up to the land of Israel, and established the first shack in the settlement of Merchaviah. Despite the difficult conditions, Reb Chaim Yitzchak saw the period of his work in agriculture as the happiest in his life.

Reb Chaim Yitzchak Ravidovitz (in the land of Israel he changed his family name to “Ravid”) was a significant scholar. His book “Merchevei Yitzchak[14] will testify to his scholarship, was published in the year 5689 [1929] and included “innovations, explanations, and resolutions in the words of Rashi[15], may his memory be for a blessing, on the order of the Talmud.” The Gaon Reb Avraham Yitzchak HaCohain Kook writes in his approval of the composer of this book: “a superior man, greater than many, excellent in his name, in his deeds, and in his place, my comrade and friend the great Rabbi, a clear thinker, a treasury of delight and purity of heart, one of the crown jewels that frequently visits the sacred ground, and among the residents of our holy and renewed settlement. And here is the precious person the rabbi the author, may he merit a good long life, amen, one hand grasping the work to develop and plough the holy soil with the toil of his hands with sacred love and the love of an artist, and his second hand holding the tree of life,[16] in the toil of the Torah.”

Reb Chaim Yitzchak was the son of Reb Avraham Sholom; Reb Avraham Sholom was born to Reb Shimon; Reb Shimon was the son of Reb Moshe-Zalman; the father of Reb Moshe-Zalman was Reb Sholom Shachne – the first rabbi of Augustow.

Reb Chaim Yitzchak Ravidovitz died in the year 1936 in Merchaviah.

[Page 113]

Reb Shlomo Tzvi Kalyer

Was born in Bialystok. Ordained for instruction by the famous rabbis Reb Refael Shapira, Av Beit Din and Head of the Rabbinical Seminary of Volozhin, Reb Chaim Naftali Hertz Heilpren Rabbi Av Beit Din Bialystok, Reb Yitzchak Eliyahu Ginzburg, Moreh Tzedek in Bialystok, and Reb Dovid Payence Av Beit Din Knishin.

About a year before the outbreak of the First World War, Reb Shlomo Tzvi took to wife the daughter of the Augustovi scholar Reb Avraham Shiff, and he, too, settled in Augustow. After a few years, he moved to Suwalki, to officiate as one of the heads of the yeshiva that was there. Afterwards he was appointed Av Beit Din of Filipova, and in the year 5684 [1924] he moved to Suchuvola, where he officiated as Av Beit Din until the days of the Holocaust, when he was killed together with the members of his community.

Rabbi Shlomo Tzvi Kalyer was one of the best rabbis of the young guard that was active between the First and Second World Wars. He preached with lovingkindness, and was active and activating in the field of national-religious education. He was one of the signers of the public appeal of the rabbis' group in Poland to support the “Keren HaYesod[17] with fundraising.

While he was in Augustow he helped the religious Zionists to organize the “Mizrachi” Union. He would also preach for the establishment of “HaMizrachi” and “HeChalutz HaMizrachi” each time that he came from Suchuvola to visit his family in Augustow.

 

Reb Avraham Shiff

His wife had a grocery store in Augustow, and he himself learned Torah.

Reb Shiff published 3 books:

a. “HaTorah Velomdeha[18] is a commentary on the Song of Songs by way of the simple meaning. According to the introduction of this book, this is one pamphlet from his book “Torah VeDerekh Eretz.”[19]

The book was printed in 5673 (1913) on the Hebrew Press in Bilgoray which is in Lublin region. At the end of his introduction to this book he expresses his thanks to his father-in-law “The Rabbi the Gaon, sharp and expert in all areas of the Torah, the “Ma'ayan HaMitgaber,”[20] wise and complete, Shlomo Tzvi Kalyer, may his light shine, who comes to my aid in my every matter,” and he blesses him that God will grant him the privilege of ascending to the heights of success and publish his precious innovations. The book mentioned above is adorned with the agreements of the two Geonim of the generation, Reb Chaim HaLevi Soloveitchik from Brisk, and Reb Moshe Betzalel Luria from Suwalk, who point out that with the permission of the author, this Reb Avraham son of Reb Shimon from Augustow, there is also a composition on Tractate Baba KamaHarei Besamim.”[21]

b. The book “Derekh Oniyah,”[22] on “Eilu Treifot[23] which is in Tractate Chullin (Bilgoray 5692 [1932]). This book clarifies most of the issues with correct, reasonable, explanations, explanations from the small to the dialectical. And explains most of the disputes of the Tannaim[24] and the Amoraim.[25]

At the end of the book is brought the opinion of the author that shaving the beard by electric mechanisms is a prohibition of shaving really like with a razor, and with it one transgresses the prohibition “do not destroy the corners of your beard.” These shaving mechanisms are “new destroyers,”[26] and it is forbidden to use them to remove a beard.

[Page 114]

The author points out that he has in his possession another 15 books awaiting publication. He requests that whoever wants to print one of his books, mentioned above, at his expense, or to take upon himself the work of selling, should let him know.

The books that were not brought out in print are: “Oniah B'Lev Hayam,”[27]Sefer HaBrachah,”[28]Mo'Adim L'Simcha,”[29] a book on Tractate Women “Milei Nezikin,”[30]Ma'ayan U'Mikvah,”[31]Sefer HaChanukah,”[32] the book of “Inyanim Shonim,”[33]Sefer HaMitzvot,”[34]Shofar Gadol,”[35]HaMashal HaKadmoni,”[36]Deluta D'Avraham.”[37]


Transaltor's Footnotes:

  1. About 1.3 liters. Return
  2. Babylonian Talmud Chullin 86a: “The entire world is sustained in the merit of Chanina ben Dosa, my son, and yet for Chanina, my son, a kav of carobs, i.e., a very small amount of inferior food, is sufficient to sustain him from one Shabbat eve to the next Shabbat eve.” Return
  3. The unkosher land. Return
  4. Although the name is spelled “Gibstein” in the Augustow Yizkor Book, the name on the title page of this work is spelled “Gipstein.” Return
  5. “The Chapters of the Gaon.” Return
  6. “Study of Ecclesiastes.” Return
  7. “The Perfection of the Human and the Sabbath.” Return
  8. Literally, “evil speech.” There is an entire body of halakhah that governs speaking about others, even saying nice and/or truthful things, when they are not present; when it is permitted, when it is forbidden, and when it is required. Return
  9. Babylonian Talmud Megillah 17b; the beginning of the redemption. Return
  10. The Mizrachi Pioneer. Return
  11. Emigrating to Israel is always “ascending.” Return
  12. The world to come. Babylonian Talmud Chullin 142a: “this aforementioned verse: “That it may go well with you” (Deuteronomy 5:16), as referring to the World-to-Come.” Return
  13. Mishnah Kodoshim, Tamid, 7:4 “On Shabbat they used to say: “A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day” (Psalm 92). “A psalm, a song for the time to come, for the day that will be all Shabbat and rest for everlasting life.” Return
  14. Open Spaces of Yitzchak.” A play on the name of his settlement in Israel, Merchaviah. Return
  15. Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki 1040 – 1105. An important commentator on the Torah and Talmud. Return
  16. The Torah. Return
  17. “The Foundation Fund,” established in 1920 at the World Zionist Conference in London. Return
  18. The complete title of this book is “K'vod HaTorah Velomdeha,” the Honor of the Torah and Its Learners.” Return
  19. Torah and the Way of the World.” Return
  20. An ever-flowing spring: Pirkei Avot 2:8 “…Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus is an ever-flowing spring…” Return
  21. “Mountains of Spices.” Return
  22. “The Way of a Ship.”: Proverbs 30:19 “How a ship makes its way through the high seas…” Return
  23. “These are Torn” i.e., unkosher. Return
  24. The Sages of the Mishnah, ca. 1st-2nd centuries CE. Return
  25. The explicators of the Mishnah, from the time of the death of the patriarch Rabbi Yehudah HaLevy (219 CE) to the completion of the Babylonian Talmud (about 500 CE). Return
  26. Leviticus 19:27. Return
  27. “A Ship in the Heart of the Sea.” Return
  28. “The Book of Blessing,” Return
  29. “Festivals of Joy.” Return
  30. “Words of Damages.” Return
  31. “Wells and Pools.” Return
  32. “The Book of Chanukah.” Return
  33. “Various Issues.” Return
  34. “The Book of the Commandments.” Return
  35. “A Great Shofar.” Return
  36. “The Ancient Proverb.” Return
  37. “The Door of Abraham.” Return


Learned Men That I Knew in the Days of My Childhood

by Rabbi Yekutiel Azrieli

Reb Avraham Shiff, may the memory of the righteous and holy be for a blessing, was a student of the Gaon Rabbi Reines, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, of Lida. He wrote an interpretation of “The Song of Songs”, and a significant book by the name of “Oniot Socher[1] on Tractate Bava Kamma. He made a living from a produce shop, but did not stop reading day and night. During his study time in his regular place in the Vyatka-Kloiz he did not stop his learning, and when he was forced to stop, he would speak only in lashon hakodesh.

Reb Moshe Arbstein, may his memory be for a blessing, was a distinguished student of the Volozhin yeshiva, a timber merchant, one of the notables of the town in his time, aroused respect, and was loved by humanity.

Reb Moshe Shmulian, (Shlomo Yashes), may the memory of the righteous and holy be for a blessing, was one of the elite students of the Slobodka yeshiva in Kovno. He dedicated most of his time to Torah. He was “…one who is modest and humble, who bows and enters and bows and exits…”[2] He fixed his place of study in the Vyatka-Kloiz. It is also said of his father that he was also a great in the Torah.

Reb Chaim Yoel Grodzin, may the memory of the righteous and holy be for a blessing, the man of the book, learned man, had a shoe store. He preached regularly from the bima[3] of the Beit Midrash to the “Psalms Society” on Shabbat nights in the winter seasons.

The old shochet u'bodek, Reb Shlomo Meitkas, may his memory be for a blessing, who had an impressive majestic appearance, involved himself in collections for the sake of Heaven for the good of institutions of Torah and benevolence in Jerusalem, the Holy City, out of his devotion and incomparable love. He was the initiator of all kinds of ideas to increase the donations. Every calendar, or symbolic napkins that came to him from Jerusalem for distribution among the contributors, he would kiss, in order to inhale into himself the holy air of our land that clung to them.

[Page 115]

His 2 sons-in-law: The shochet u'bodek, Reb Moshe Leib Shidlovski, may the memory of the righteous and holy be for a blessing, a scholar, one of the distinguished learned men inside and out. “All say “Glory!”[4] from the aspect of “A man's wisdom lights up his face.”[5]

The shochet u'bodek, Reb Chaim Zalman Kaplanski, may the memory of the righteous and holy be for a blessing. A learned man, well-liked by humanity, welcoming to every person, engaged in deeds of tzedakah and benevolence.

Reb Gedaliah Gizumski, shochet u'bodek, may the memory of the righteous and holy be for a blessing. In his youth, he studied at the Great Beit Midrash, and specialized in slaughtering work in our city. He was distinguished by a pleasant voice. He sang pleasantly for many with his prayers. He devoted himself to the mitzvah of welcoming guests, for passing impoverished guests.

Written for memory from hearsay: Reb Yisrael Wistinetzer (Gilda), may his memory be for a blessing, the student of the Gaon the “Chatam Sofer,”[6] in the yeshiva in Pressburg, Hungary. He was a teacher of Gemara to students in our city more than a hundred years ago; the father of my grandfather on my mother's side.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. “Merchant Ships.” Return
  2. Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 88b. Return
  3. The raised platform in the synagogue where the prayer leaders, Torah readers, and preachers stand. Return
  4. Psalm 29:9. Return
  5. Ecclesiastes 8:1. Return
  6. Moses Shreiber, 17621839, known as Moshe Sofer, also known by his main work Chatam Sofer, “Seal of the Scribe,” and an acronym for Chiddushei Torat Moishe Sofer, “Innovations of the Torah of Moshe” Sofer. A sofer is a scribe. Return


Lipsk

by B. Efrati

Lipsk was a small town in the region of Augustów on the way to Grodno. With the First World War, there were about fifty Jewish families living among 200 Christian families.

Part of the Jews made their living from agriculture, another part from small business, but most of them were laborers. In the town there was an old wooden synagogue with a triangular roof, and also a Beit Midrash, in which there was also the Rabbi's living quarters. Rabbi Y.L. Rozenberg, may his memory be for a blessing, taught Torah every day, Mishnah, Ein Yaakov, and Gemara in the congregation of his community. Part of the Rabbi's time he dedicated to acting as a Shaliach Mitzvah[1] to surrounding yeshivot. The Rabbi's father-in-law was Rabbi Naftali Hertz Kaplan, may his memory be for a blessing, an important person in the town. He was able to go up to the land and to be buried there. He was the grandfather of Shabtai and Daniel Kaplan, may they be distinguished for a long life.

I am reminded of something curious: in Lipsk the Jews read from a Sefer Torah[2] in the Christian church. “The incident that took place, took place in this way:”[3] In the year 1915, the Germans conquered Lipsk. They immediately began to gather all the residents, the Jews and the Christians. A rumor spread that they were going to transfer all of us to Germany as prisoners. When I passed by the Beit Midrash, I slipped inside to say my farewell to the Torah scrolls and the Beit Midrash. It crossed my mind to try and rescue at least one Sefer Torah, and I took it with me. When we got to the church, a new building with thick walls, the Germans brought all of us inside. It became clear that the intention of the Germans was to find cover for the residents who lived in small wooden houses, and many of whom were being wounded by the shrapnel of the Russian bullets. Yes – that's how the Germans behaved at the time, before they learned the Torah of Hitler, may his name be erased. The Jews organized themselves, therefore,

[Page 116]

in one of the corners of the church, prayed, and read from the Sefer Torah. After the German retreat, the Russian command expelled the Jews to the Russian interior, suspecting that they were German supporters.

At the end of the war, a few Jews returned to Lipsk and they were there until the murdering Nazis came who annihilated all of them. I raise with this the memory of the Jews of Lipsk: the Kaplan, Feingold, Staviskovski, Strozinski, Brustein, and Berger families, and others. May their memory be blessed.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. An emissary sent to do a mitzvah. Return
  2. Torah scroll. Return
  3. This phrase appears many times in the Babylonian Talmud, for example in Pesachim 82b. Return


Sztabin

by Leah Sherman

 

Aug116.jpg

 

From among the mists of the past, Sztabin, the town of my birth, rises before me. That same small, picturesque village standing on the banks of the Bobra. Streets with no road or sidewalk. Doubtfully a town, or even a village.

The homes were low and on them were thatched roofs. Here and there – a new house with a roof of wooden tiles. In the village, there dwelt only about a hundred Jewish families, but the lives of the community were conducted as in a large city. All the institutions existed: a synagogue, a beit midrash, a cheder, a rabbi, a chazzan, and a shochet. There were in town a few householders who had rabbinic ordination. The Jews supported themselves with commerce and labor. Cultural life was very meagre. The State school, in the national language, had only three classes. We, the youth, learned Hebrew in the cheder – specifically with the method of “Hebrew in Hebrew,”[1] and other learning we acquired in the government school.

The First World War almost erased Sztabin from the face of the earth. When we passed by way of the village in 1915, a few orphaned chimneys peeked at us from among the ruins. An immersion approach to language that teaches Hebrew material while speaking only the Hebrew language.


Translator's Footnote:

  1. An immersion approach to language that teaches Hebrew material while speaking only the Hebrew language. Return


[Page 117]

From My Diary

by Dr. Nechemiah Aloni

 

Aug117.jpg

 

I was born in Warsaw from a “mixed marriage.” My father, Naftali Hertz Linda, was a chassid born in Warsaw, and my mother, Channah Alta Borovski, a Mitnagedet[1], was born in Sztabin in the Augustów region. While I was a child, six years old, the family moved from Warsaw to Sztabin.

In the year 5674 [1914], the First World War broke out and the family wandered to Suchuvola and Jonava, and finally settled in Augustów. In this city I acquired my elementary education, and began high school. I participated in “HaShomer Trumpeldor,[2]Hashomer HaTzair,”[3]Yidisher Yugend Bund[4] and “HeChalutz.”[5] In the last two movements I was counted among the founders. In Kislev 5686 - December 16, 1925, I went up to the land.

Sztabin was a small town that was entirely built around the market square. The church occupied the right-hand side, and on the other side, one stone house – the local administrative office, and a few wooden houses. On the small surrounding streets stood low wooden houses with thatched roofs. When a fire broke out, all the houses went up in flames. The streets were not paved, the sand was deep in days of the summer, and a wagon only traversed it with difficulty. There was a Russian government school and “cheders” at various levels; one of them was modern and taught the first basics of the language. The synagogue served also as the beit midrash, and there was a rabbi who also served as the chazzan. An agricultural atmosphere prevailed over the town. Every family had a vegetable garden, some milk cows, a field parcel of land and a forest parcel. I never ate more tasty vegetables in all the days of my life than those cucumbers that were picked in the vegetable garden, wiped on my sleeve or pants, and eaten on the spot. My grandmother, Basha Leah Borovski, a daughter of the Aleksandrovitz family in Suwalki, was a wonderful character. In her room, she had a picture hung of the Western Wall and the holy cities: Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberius and Safed. When my mother was a little girl, may she live, my grandmother would lift her up and stand her on the heavy chest of drawers,

[Page 118]

so that she could better see this picture. Mother would spend a long time looking at each and every detail in the picture, and her soul became attached to the soul of the nation, and all her days she longed to go up to the Land, until she was able to, and to this day she lives there, for more than forty years.

On one of the days in 5681 [1920], the writer Gad Zaklikovski arrived in Augustów. He was a Sokolov man, a chassid dressed in a long kapote[6], with peyot and a beard. He “went out to bad culture,”[7] divorced his wife and left the town of his birth. I met him in Augustów when he was a writer, clean-shaven and with an exquisitely done head of hair, in European dress. He founded the “Yugend Bund” and gathered around himself many of the youth. He developed diverse cultural activities. Among others, he staged the play “The Kidnappers.” The production that was staged in a public hall was a great success. In the year 5673 [1913], the “Yugend Bund” disintegrated, and Zaklikovski assisted in the founding of the “HeChalutz” organization.

In the land, together with my brother Joseph, I joined the “Ma'avar[8] group. After a short while, I founded the “Hitamtzut[9] group together with friends from the Augustów region. During the years 5686-5687 [1925-1927], there existed a terrible lack of work in the settlements of Yehuda. I decided, therefore, to turn to studies. I enrolled for studies in the Hebrew Beit Midrash for Teachers in Jerusalem. In the period of my studies, I also worked in youth leadership in the “Noar HaOved[10] movement in Petach Tikvah and Machaneh Yehuda, Beit HaKerem and in the “Bachurot[11] movement in Jerusalem.

In the years 5692-5693 [1931-1933], I was in Germany as an emissary of the Labor movement in the land of Israel. For two years in Berlin, I led the youth movements of “HaBonim[12] and “HaNoar HaOved,” (Arbeits Kreiz) and led the branch of “HeChalutz.” I served as a member of the “HeChalutz” center, and secretary of the Hebrew Council in Germany. In these same years, I completed my studies at the Friedrich Wilhelm University and the Beit Midrash of Jewish Wisdom in Berlin.

After Hitler's rise to power on January 30, 1933, the British Government agreed to give one thousand certificates to the Jews of Germany. Three hundred of them were transferred to the possession of “HeChalutz.” One hundred and fifty went up first in the month of September 1933. I returned to the land at the head of that group.

In the years 5692-5697 [1932-1937] I completed my studies in Hebrew literature, Bible, and language.

After the completion of my studies, I engaged in teaching in high schools in the land. In the year 5704 [1944], I was appointed Scientific Secretary of the Encyclopedia HaMikra'it[13] published by the Bialik institute and the Hebrew University.

In the year 5707 [1947], I traveled to England for the first time to investigate Hebrew manuscripts that had been preserved there. I discovered a treasury of language and poetry.

At the end of the summer of 5710 [1950], I was in Jerusalem for the organization of the Institute of Hebrew Manuscripts. The initiator of the project was David Ben Gurion, the Head of the Government and the Minister of Defense. I was engaged with this project of assembling photographs of Hebrew manuscripts that were found in libraries all over the world - for thirteen years. In these years, I visited Austria, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, England, Spain, and Switzerland.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. A follower of the movement that opposed Chassidism. Return
  2. Yosef Trumpeldor (1880 1920, was an early Zionist activist who helped to organize the Zion Mule Corps and bring Jewish immigrants to the land of Israel. Trumpeldor died defending the settlement of Tel Hai in 1920 and subsequently became a Zionist national hero. Return
  3. “The Young Guard.” Return
  4. “The Jewish Youth Union.” Return
  5. “The Pioneer.” Return
  6. Caftan. Return
  7. Abandoned the path of chassidism. Return
  8. A group for workers, largely those newly arrived to the land of Israel, who were looking for work in collective settlements. Return
  9. “Effort.” Return
  10. “Working Youth.” Return
  11. “Young Women.” Return
  12. “The Builders.” Return
  13. Biblical. Return

 

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