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[Page 343]

The Great Synagogue



(Religion, Benevolence, Culture and Education)

“… In the future, the synagogues and the study halls in Babylonia will be transported and reestablished in Eretz Yisrael…” Babylonian Talmud Megillah 29a


Synagogues in Augustow

by Rabbi Yekutiel Azrieli




I bring to light the synagogues and their activity on the holy days and the secular days. They concentrated around them all the members of our city, almost without exception. There, the people of almost every status found a place for themselves; the worker, the porter, the waggoneer, the craftspeople, the small merchant, the wholesaler, the forest merchant and the exporters of wood from the forests of Augustow.

In the synagogues that were scattered throughout the city, every street with its own synagogue, they prayed morning and evening. In a few of them they also set various Torah lessons between the afternoon and evening prayers. There Jews of the town also found for themselves a place to converse, each one with their friends, from the aspect of “speaking about his worries and it will benefit him.”[1]

* The Great Synagogue was wrapped in legends. Its wonderful structure, tall in height and on a large plot, was able to contain about 2000 people inside of it. On its tall windows, artistic colored suns. The Holy Ark was double; with the opening of its doors, another two doors were opened above, which covered over a gloriously made menorah with its arms, its calyxes, and its flowers.[2] The synagogue served also for large public gatherings of both joy and sorrow. There were also in the vestibule of the synagogue two branches, kloizen, that prayed in them morning and evening, regularly every day. Formerly the large yard of the synagogue served for setting up wedding canopies for the weddings of members of the city.

* Facing each other stood two prayer houses on the one side of the street of the Great Synagogue, and across from it, on the other side of the street, a Beit Midrash, in which there were also two branches, kloizen, in the vestibule. The name of this street was The Street of the Synagogue (Shul Gasse).

The Beit Midrash served as a place of prayer every day, evening and morning, and also for lessons, and for various Torah learning. Also, individuals who worked diligently in Torah study secluded themselves in it during the course of the day in order to learn inspiration from within

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The Remains of the Synagogue in Augustow


Yatke Kloiz” after the Destruction (1945)

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The Great Synagogue (south side) After the Destruction


Beit HaMidrash

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and to use the Torah library that was there. Beit HaMidrash served also as a meeting place for Torah sages: two groups to study Talmud, a group to learn Mishnah and Ein Yaakov, and a group that recited Psalms on the winter nights after midnight until the light of morning, and heard a Torahdrasha[3] on one of the chapters of the Psalms.

Beit HaMidrash served as a forum for the Rabbi's homilies, and every visiting scholar was honored in it with a drasha before the community. From the podium of the Beit HaMidrash all the public calls went out that concerned the public and the community, and it also served as a regular place of prayer for the local Rabbi.


The Prayer House Previously. Today, a Dairy


The two wings that were in the vestibule served as a gathering place for prayer and learning for specific groups. They called the right-hand wing “The Chevra Kadisha Kloiz,” and the left-hand wing they called “The Shoemakers' Kloiz.” The left-hand wing principally served as a place for Torah lessons, in which the public was organized, maintained a “maggid shiur[4] at its expense, and would very much multiply joy on Simchat Torah, and also they were punctilious to celebrate there with much magnificence the 7th of Adar, the day of the birth and death of Moshe our Rabbi, peace be upon him, in prayer and in lighting candles according to the numerical value of his name – 345[5] - in a framework made in the shape of a Magen David[6] and hung from the ceiling.

* The synagogue that stood on the Street of the Butcher (Yatke Gasse), they called the “Yatke Kloiz.” Previously they called it Kloiz HaChassidim. This synagogue was distinguished by a concentration of owners of important houses, knowers of

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Torah. The Shamash of the synagogue also was a man who knew Torah, the teller of the lesson in the Shas group of this synagogue.

In this synagogue they also prayed morning and evening. It served as a center for learned people, those who came out of the yeshivot, who made it a regular place for their studies. There was also in it an important Torah library.

* The worshippers of Beit HaMidrash and the prayer houses (the kloizen) carried the yoke of the financial support of the members of the yeshivot who came for recuperation in the days of summer, to breathe clear air in the pine forests that were next to the city. The members of the yeshiva persevered in Torah study even when they were found in our city, and left it in bodily and spiritual health to continue in their studies with greater vigor in the halls of the great yeshivot.


The Great Synagogue (1945)


* There were also another two prayer houses: on the Bridge Street (Brik-Gasse), and on the Long Street (Lange-Gasse) in which public prayer three times a day did not stop. And Torah lessons also took place in them every day, and especially on the Shabbatot, by tellers of lessons who knew Torah. They were cherished by the worshippers out of love and affection for their glory and magnificence. Tzedakah and chesed funds for every need were maintained by them, out of respect for others who were in need of chesed, for an hour or for a long time. A society for visiting the sick (Leinei Tzedek) for the time of trouble and illness.

These synagogues became the magnificence and splendor of the community of Augustow. The sound of the Torah that reverberated from within them

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proved that the Augustow community kept faith with the faithful Jewish spirit, which continued the Jewish tradition from generation to generation.

Zikhron Yaakov

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Job 32:20 “Let me speak, then, and it will benefit me…” Return
  2. Exodus 25:31 “You shall make a lampstand of pure gold; the lampstand shall be made of hammered work; its base and its shaft, its cups, calyxes, and petals shall be of one piece.” The word for shaft is misspelled here, with a kaf כ instead of a kuf ק. Return
  3. A homiletical teaching. Return
  4. One who preached a lesson. Return
  5. The Hebrew letters of the name Moshe: Mem = 40, Shin = 300, and Hey = 5. Return
  6. Shield of David, a Jewish star. Return

The Great Synagogue

by Elchanan Sarvianski

The Great Synagogue was a tall building, whose walls were thick, and its windows tall and narrow. The windowpanes were colored and decorated with pictures, the roof and the rafters were supported by 8 round pillars, built from burnt bricks, in a diameter of about 80 x 80 centimeters, which served as a place for national rallies. They ascended by seven broad steps, to a vestibule of the synagogue. From the vestibule one would descend at a depth of seven steps, to fulfill what is said: “From the depths I called Yah.”[1] In the balcony was the women's section. In the vestibule, wide open, were two small prayer houses, the Kloiz of the Butchers, and the Kloiz of the synagogue.


Previously “Yatke Kloiz.” Today, a flax warehouse.


The aron kodesh in the Great Synagogue was a masterpiece, and work of art. It was three stories tall. On its doors and its two sides were wood carvings and images of leopards, snakes, eagles, birds, cherubs,[2] and various verses. Also on the round pillars, which supported the aron kodesh on its two sides, were fine carvings. On the third floor there was a Torah crown, with all kinds of

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carvings. On the opening of the aron kodesh, the doors opened at once on all three stories. On the first floor were the Torah scrolls. On the second story the tree of knowledge was carved, and on its branches, its fruits.[3] On the third story there was an image of an eagle[4] made of wood, standing on a small menorah.[5] Above it, in the dome of the ceiling, two great lions were drawn.[6]


The Remains of the Magnificent Aron Kodesh


The great Synagogue was open only on Shabbatot and festivals. Among the worshippers were: The Rabbi the Gaon Reb Katriel Natan, and the Rabbi the Teacher of Righteousness Reb Azriel Zelig Koshelevski. Among the prayer leaders who passed before the ark in the synagogue on Shabbatot and festivals were Reb Reuven Rotenberg, peace be upon him; Lobel, may peace be upon him, the shacharit leader;[7] the tailor Reb Mendel Kolfenitzki, may God avenge his blood; Reb Velvele Hotshein (the baker), may God avenge his blood; the leader of the mussaf[8] service, and sometimes the leader of Kol Nidre, the shochet Reb Gedalyahu Gizumski, may God avenge his blood. When Reb Katriel Natan served as Rabbi in the city, he was the shaliach tzibur for Kol Nidre. The gabbai at that time was Reb Pinchas (Piniya) Ahronovski, may God avenge his blood, and the shamash, Reb Moshe Dovid Morzinski, may God avenge his blood. On Shabbatot and festivals in the afternoons many of the Jews of Augustow would gather in the synagogue to recite chapters of Psalms until Mincha,[9] and after it. Among the regular “passers before the ark” in the kloiz of the butchers were included the butcher Reb Sender-Moshe Kaplan; may God avenge his blood, Reb Mottel (the Farbrenter[10]) may God avenge his blood; Reb Mendel Kolfenitzki, may God avenge his blood. The gabbai was Reb Zovel Korotnitztki. Most of the worshippers there were butchers, and with them, the shochetim: Reb Chaim-Zalman Kaplan, and his brother-in-law Reb Moshe-Lev Shidlovski.

On Shabbat night, after a festive evening meal, the butchers would gather in their prayer house, and learn the weekly Torah portion from the mouth of Rabbi Reb Azriel Zelig Koshelevski, may God avenge his blood. On the secular days, the shochet Reb Gedalyahu Gizumski, may God avenge his blood, and the shochet Reb Chaim Zalman Kaplanski, may God avenge his blood, would teach there the “Ein Yaakov.”

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Across from the Kloiz of the butchers was found the Kloiz of the synagogue; the shamash was Reb Brill (the painter), may God avenge his blood, and the gabbai, Reb Asher Hempel, may God avenge his blood.

After the conquest of the city by the Nazis, the synagogue served them as a warehouse. In the middle of the year 1944 they fixed their headquarters there. The Russians paid attention that the Germans were in the house; they blew it up and destroyed it.

The Beit Midrash was open all the days of the week. On secular days, and also on Shabbatot, two minyanim would pray there. In the evenings they would learn Torah there. Reb Itshe Chositzer, may his memory be for a blessing, until his aliyah to the land, and after him Reb Velvel Zelivanski, served as shamashim in it. Not far from the entrance, for the entire width of the Beit Midrash, two tables were set up with long simple benches next to them. The table that was on the right side belonged to the study of Gemara (the Shas Society), while the one on the left was for the Mishnah Society. Next to the Gemara table sat the sharp-minded; the pharmacist Reb Meir Koifman, Mintz, Reb Binyamin Markus, Chefetz, Reb Yisrael Barukh Lieberman, and others. Among those who sat at the tables of the Mishnahs: a thin and short-statured man, but with a sharp mind, Reb Zissel Zlotnizki; Reb Sender-Moshe Lenzinger and his father; Yisrael Katzman and his father (tailors); and many more. At this table Rabbi Reb Azriel Zelig Koshelevski guided and taught. In the other corners of the Beit Midrash, yeshiva boys would learn individually. Next to the stove two scholars exalted in Torah and in years would sit: one blind, Reb Yaakov Rubenstein, (a tavern owner), and his partner, Katzman the elder, who merited four generation of Torah learners. Reb Yaakov Rubenstein used to sail in the sea of the Talmud by heart, and Katzman the elder would accompany him in his reading from the open Gemara. In the circle of friends they would review their Talmud until the middle of the night. Also in the Beit Midrash building were another two prayer houses. On the right side of the entrance, the Kloiz of the Chevra Kadisha, the gabbai, Friedman, (the oven builder), may God avenge his blood. Reb Chaim Yoel Grodzin used to teach the weekly portion there every day, and on Shabbat in the afternoon, Mishnahs. On the left side was found the Kloiz of the shoemakers, and Reb Itze Preis, may God avenge his blood, used to teach in it. The Beit Midrash was entirely destroyed, to the foundation, by the Nazis, and no memory of it remains.

The Yatke Kloiz, which was not like the other small prayer houses, was found inside a special building. A large building, pleasant enough, and in it was a new and beautiful aron kodesh. The building was found on Mitzkivitzke Street (Ziava Gasse). Its rear portion bordered almost to the old cemetery. Many prayed in it, of all classes. The gabbai was Reb Itze Rotenberg, may God avenge his blood, the shamash was Reb Meir Lozovski (Grubauer), may God avenge his blood.

In the year 1932, or 1933, the “Yatke Kloiz” celebrated the completion of the work of the new and beautiful aron kodesh. At the time of the putting of the Torah scrolls into it, the band of the young men of Augustow played: Bidek; Zhimka Kaplan; the son of Shimon Rozenhof, a Ratzk man; Leibl, the son of Shaika the chimney cleaner, and Shaika himself was the drummer. The walls of the building remained intact, but within, all was destroyed.

Kfar Malal

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Psalm 130: 1 “A song of ascents. Out of the depths I call You, Adonoi.” Return
  2. The cherubs are celestial winged beings with human, animal, or birdlike characteristics who function as throne bearers of the Deity, or guards. In the Torah they are found in pairs, guarding the way back to the Garden of Eden, Genesis 3:2 “He drove the man out, and stationed east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life,” and sitting on top of the ark of the covenant, Exodus 25:20 “The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They shall face each other, the faces of the cherubim being turned toward the cover.” Return
  3. The Torah is called the Tree of Life, and its partner in the Garden of Eden was the Tree of Knowledge. Its fruit is the fruit that the man and woman ate before being expelled from the garden. Return
  4. The eagle is a symbol of the Exodus: Exodus 19:4 “'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Me.” Return
  5. The menorah here is not the 8-branched Chanukah menorah, but the 7-branched menorah that stood in the Jerusalem Temple, its seven branches representing the 7 days of creation. Return
  6. The lions are the symbol of the tribe of Judah, the tribe from which the Davidic kings descend, and one of the two surviving tribes of Israel after the exile of the “10 lost tribes” in 722 BCE. Jews today trace their lineage either to the tribe of Judah or the tribe of Levi. Genesis 49:9 “Judah is a lion's whelp; On prey, my son, have you grown. He crouches, lies down like a lion, Like the king of beasts–who dare rouse him?” Return
  7. The morning prayers. Return
  8. The additional service that follows the morning service. Return
  9. The afternoon service. Return
  10. The “burning” or pious one. Return


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