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[Page 148]

Będzin Types

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

1) Reb Mosze Winter

by Szymon Israelowicz

In one of the houses on Modrzejower Street that was full like a beehive of Jewish families lived Reb Mosze Winter, a small Jew with a blond little beard and nearsighted eyes with eyeglasses. At four in the morning one could already meet him at the Będzin trains station absorbed in his daily work on the Będzin-Ząbkowice line. Everyone knew him – from his call “świeże obwarzanki,” “frishe beigl, frishe beigl” [fresh bagels, first in Polish and then in Yiddish]. And everyone who arrived on the early express train from Warsaw had the pleasure of Winter's fresh, crackling bagels. He dragged the heavy basket on his bent back, day in and day out, summer and winter, and called out in his hoarse voice – “frishe beigl”…

However, when Friday, 12 o'clock came, Mosze Winter put away his two baskets and became a completely different Mosze; his back straightened up and his face brightened.

He left for Mendl the tavern keeper's Friday, after welcoming Shabbat and finishing the Shabbat meal, to meet friends, to converse about the week in politics and to hear the news of the city, accompanied by a glass of beer with salted chickpeas and beans. Early on Shabbat, Reb Mosze Winter would seize the opportunity to read a few chapters of Psalms and to go over the weekly Torah portion and then go quickly to the first minyan [10 men required for praying] in the synagogue, finish praying, perform the kiddush [prayer over wine] – and again took to his baskets… But this time, not bagels – taking two neighbors as helpers, he would go from house to house and call out: “Gut Shabbat Yiddelech” [Good Sabbath Jews], and hearing the singing voice of Mosze Winter and those accompanying him, they began to bring challahs and other Shabbat foods and quickly the baskets were filled. He left with the baskets for the poor homes, where Shabbat had not been prepared. Reb Mosze had the information about where and who needed to have challahs brought quietly for Shabbat so that no one would notice. Later, he went to the Będzin jail and provided Shabbat food for the Jewish arrestees. Reb Mosze Winter was “himself an institution,” an official without a budget…

2) Der Tehilim Yid
[The Psalm Jew – one who recites Psalms]

by Dawid Ben Klonimus

Bendet Dawid Pik – no one knew who he was, but everyone knew Reb Bendet Dawid, “the sharpener.” Always poor, but not going door to door as a beggar, God forbid, he was a tradesman, a sharpener of knives and scissors. He would go around the city with his “stand” and bang a piece of iron with a hammer that hung on the side of his “workshop.” This would be a sign that Bendet Dawid was here. He did not earn a great amount of money from sharpening the knives because the servants did not accept his “art.” However, the knives he sharpened did have one “virtue” – one could not cut one's hand with them…

Well, never mind! Reb Bendet Dawid was not very bothered by the mockery on his account. When he was not busy sharpening, he went to the large Bet Midrash [House of Study], stood at a reading desk in the ante-chamber and recited Psalms. Here, while reciting Psalms, no one could be compared to him. With his hoarse voice, he would let loose and recite heartily with singing and without end, until his wife… Yes, Reb Bendet Dawid had a wife, a small one, a cripple, with a hunchback and a voice that made even Reb Bendet Dawid interrupt his recitation of Psalms when she “screamed.” Here she came running into the Bet Midrash and screamed in a way that no one understood her screaming, except her husband. “Well, enough already, sinful woman, stop screaming, I am coming!” – he would complain to her.

His wife dragged him home to first eat his breakfast at one o'clock, because if not for her, his Yiddene [Jewish woman – this word often has a derogatory connotation] who took very good care of him, he would not remember that he must eat, because eating is only to be able to make a blessing. However, if one recites Psalms, his life is complete… Bendet Dawid had only one desire in life – a watch, so that he would be able to get up at night at midnight for study and prayer [recited to commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem]. The crying, hoarse voice of Reb Bendet Dawid would be heard from his cellar night in and night out.

In later years when there was no income to be made in the city, he went to the villages around Będzin with his machine to sharpen axes and knives for the peasants. He would leave in the early morning after praying, taking his machine on his shoulders, reciting Psalms by heart, from time to time stopping, interrupting his recitation of Psalms and banging his hammer and calling in his hoarse voice, “Knives sharpened! Knives sharpened!” He often received beatings from the non-Jewish boys in the villages or they would set their dogs on him. Then he would return home bloodied and with torn clothing. He would not have any complaints to God and accepted everything with resignation. He was also satisfied if he was given potatoes instead of money; he did not bargain. However much he was paid was good. He would return home happy and singing a chapter of Psalms.

He went blind in his last years. He would go out in the street with his wife and recite Psalms and actually he died in the middle of reciting Psalms…

3) The big winnings

by Motek Hampel

There was a Jew in Będzin who lived in an alley that led to the Gerer shtibl [one room Hasidic house of prayer]. He was named Szmul Cukerfeld, but he was known by the nickname “Stafa.”

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A Jew, a poor man, may it never happen to us, and he lived off the złotys he earned from dragging and carrying valises and packages near the train at the old station.

This was his profession and earning a living was as difficult as parting the Red Sea. There was only a piece of bread and a weak krupnik [barley soup] with which to live through the day and this does not speak about clothing and shoes for his older daughters, who had no prospects for marriage, if not for the luck that was destined for them from heaven…

His son, Chaim'l, with a blond head of hair, white large eyebrows and near-sighted eyes, grew up without attending a cheder [religious elementary school] because he needed to work in the sugar warehouses of the colonial wholesaler, “Hampel and Goldsobel,” while still very young in order to help his father earn money.

Reb Szmul was as proud as he was a failure. He did not ask anyone for any favor and when he was sent some clothing for his children, he refused to take it, arguing that the Lord would help…

He was a simple Jew, not a scholar, but an honest Jew, believing in God and obeying all of the laws and mitzvahs [commandments].

When he would leave early in the morning for the station for his livelihood, he would first finish praying with religious ecstasy and bliss so that the prayers would be welcome and God would send him a quicker salvation so that he would not witness the sorrow of his sons who grew like fast growing weeds and non-Jews and the sorrow of his daughters who had been eligible for marriage for a long time.

Reb Szmul tried his luck playing the lottery because he believed in his “good fortune.” Every month he bought a lot in the office of Szlezinger-Kokotek and although he was never sure of even winning back his “stake,” he was not disappointed, uttering no sound of regret from his mouth, not giving up hope, not losing his faith – and he played again.

On a beautiful, clear day, it was announced that he had won the great winnings, a large sum of money; it was said to be over a 100,000 złotys or perhaps even more. At first he did not believe the news because he was sure that some “band” of clowns was babbling nonsense, probably they were laughing and mocking him because one can always make fun of a poor man, a pauper…

However, when he was convinced that the number of his receipt checked with the number of the large lottery winning number, he fainted. A doctor had to be called.

Reb Szmul was a wealthy man, a millionaire. They were tearing off his door and would not let him rest. Each time, a new delegation came from some sort of yeshiva [religious secondary school], from a charitable organization, from a group providing for poor brides, nor only from Będzin, but from the entire area because his name had reached so far away and the newspapers had written a great deal about him. He would not shame them; he gave them nice gift and wished them everything good, like a tzadik [righteous man].

And when Reb Szmul now came to the Bet Midrash to usher in Shabbat, he was welcomed by the gabbai [assistant to the rabbi] and worshippers with respect. He was seated as an equal at the Eastern Wall* with all of the rich men and prosperous middle class. He married off his daughters well, gave them the nicest and most expensive, best clothing; he gave each a good dowry because they had very nice and successful husbands of whom he was proud.

*[Translator's note: The worshippers in a synagogue face east when praying; the eastern wall is where the rabbi and prominent members of a congregation pray.]

He no longer had to work; he could live out his life quietly and happily with his wife, if not for the frightening war in which he was annihilated with his entire family.

4) Będzin – The “singing” town

Będzin sang; it was happy. A stranger arriving in the city could get the impression that the luckiest cities in the world belong to Zagłębie, that people from Zagłębie are carefree, dance in the streets.

Orchestras went through the streets. Men and women, well rehearsed. They actually provided modest concerts, marched from courtyard to courtyard and played the newest hits and sang the most timely and newest songs.

I sometimes think that these orchestras belonged to a bunch of young people who were content to march through the streets and to drive away the gloom of the community, to strengthen the courage, to bring out cheerfulness and spirit among the population. These orchestras created elegance and culture and today this is a necessary task.

Tens of such orchestras could be counted in one day; they could be heard playing so gloriously that work had to be interrupted and one had to stick one's head out of the window.

But why is it they stick out their hands and demand money? It is not, God forbid, a donation, it is a fee for an artist.

It was said that these courtyard musicians consisted of intelligent and studious young people. It was not only said, but was actually the truth. Some wore academic caps on their heads or caps from their corporations, in order to demonstrate and illustrate: See who we are… This, gentlemen, smelled a little of abuse. They were no longer playing on instruments, but on the nerves of passersby.

However, it was a fact that these young people took to courtyards playing and singing in order to receive a piece of bread.

Time was, the courtyard musicians had to follow the style, throw off their torn shoes, put on fine pants, a summer shirt, shave their faces, comb their hair – not go astray with their tuneless fiddles, not ask for pity, but transform themselves into wandering artists.

And as the Christians do, so do the Jews. Here, too, on the Jewish street, old men and women beggars, who feigned blindness, deafness, dumbness, lameness and simple cripples, an army of Fishke dem krumen* [the lame].

* [Translator's note: Fishke der Krumer is the name of a novel by Mendele Mocher Sforim – Sholem Yankev Abramovich – written in 1869.]

But new types of women beggars appeared, women dressed almost according to the newest style, others dressed as rebbitzens [wives of rabbis]. They went in pairs.

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The results were really better; they received more than a groshn, because their external appearance drew respect.

It was said that it was decided at a meeting of the Jewish beggar family to stop the then current method of impersonating cripples and instead of wearing torn and dirty clothing, beggars should dress elegantly. Instead of begging, they should go to “collect” money.

Along with playing and singing, the Jewish street was “Europeanized.” Not only unrehearsed orchestras, but singers could also be heard. “The song about the Titanic” ship – 'Wrane, wrane fli oyf meyn kever' [“Crow, crow, fly onto my grave”] was no longer sung, but instead the newest Jewish songs. A Polish singer-beggar also tried his luck with an anti-Semitic song; the Jewish singer then tried all sorts of national songs or purely worker songs, depending upon which courtyard he entered…

The Jewish cantor also took to strolling through the streets, in courtyards, even several cantors together and they would sing a hashchivenu [A prayer for peace – part of the Shabbat evening prayers] or other compositions of Mosze Kosewicki and Gerszon Sirota. Cantors were seen in yarmolkes and ba'alei-tefilot [men who recite the prayers in synagogue] with velvet hats on their heads and belts around their kaftans.

Będzin, the singing city; she sang from poverty and need.
    (Zagłębier Zeitung, 1937)
Der Shwartser [The Dark One]

Chana Szental-Raviv

During her earliest childhood years Ch. S. [Chana Szental] revealed an inclination to perform in the theater. The late Mosze Kaminer, the young community worker, encouraged her and thanks to him she appeared for the first time in the meeting hall of Tzeirei Zion, to which she belonged.

There were great arguments at home with her parents for whom it was no honor that their daughter would become an actress.

At age 14 she was tested by Sztatler and Rechnic, the directors of the Będzin Muze [Yiddish dramatic society], where she became a member until her emigration to Israel in 1925. At the Muze, she appeared in “Dybbuk”, “Chafni un Pinchas” [Chafni and Pinchas], “Der Meturaf” [The Worthless], “Dorf's Yung” [Village Youth] and other plays.

She also acted with the famous director Dawid Herman (there is more about about him – in the Hebrew part of the book: “In Memory of the Personalities of Będzin”) – in whose dramatic school she was supposed to study, but because of her emigration to Eretz Yisrael, her idea was not realized. Arriving in the country [Israel] she joined the artistic worker studio Ohel,* where she appears to this day.

*[Translator's note: The Ohel Theater was founded in 1925 by Mosze Halevy. Its actors divided their time between theater work and physical labor.]

She took part in the classical repertoire of Shakespeare, Shaw, Ostrowski and others, as well as in the Biblical performances of her theater. She particularly excelled in the role of Madam Zylberknopik in Abram Goldfaden's plays, Di Machsheyfe [The Sorceress] and in Shulamit, for which she was greatly applauded.

She went abroad with Ohel four times. The last time in 1950, while in Europe, she found none of her family because all had perished.

5) Crazy Sara

by Chana Szental-Raviv

As other Jewish cities, Będzin also was no exception and it possessed its fools and crazy people. There was no institution that took care of them (later, such an institution was established in Brzozowice). Będzin was built and progressed and simply did not have any time to look at the unfortunate - so they did drag themselves around through the streets, without a roof over their heads. They spent the night in the “poor house” in the anteroom of the synagogue, or in a corner of a meeting house. There were those who were calm and those who were wild; there were seasonal and yearlong crazy people, as for example the crazy Mordechai, who could wear the crown of all of the crazy people in the entire county, “Iwan Sztralaj,” “Welwele Ajgerist,” “Sztrobel,” “Majerl Dąbrower” and on and on. We will not write about all of them. There is nothing to boast about in their wisdom, but for the popular “Meshuggene [crazy] Sara”, who held the title “the city crazy woman,” we will give a short report, described by Mrs. Chana Szental-Raviv.

(The Ed.)

Several spiritually ill people could be seen running through the streets of Będzin, who as a rule did not do anything bad to anyone, and they were left alone and not bothered. But children would tease them and call after them, Meshuggener. Only when they were angered for no reason and for spite did they defend themselves, throwing stones and appropriate curses. Of the unfortunate creatures of God, the Meshuggene Sara is engraved in my memory. She was particularly well known by everyone because in the course of a day she would run through the entire city, from one corner to other, covered with colored rags and laden with wood, pieces of coal and provisions for which she had begged. She was always in torn clothing and barefoot, although she had been given clothing and shoes out of compassion. But she never did wear them and hid them for her… child, which was her illness. It was said (I do not know how much truth there is in it) that she had a daughter who committed suicide, or died of a natural death. From this she lost her sanity and kept talking about a child, a story with real curses which she kept repeating, because she always recited a “monologue” – and in the middle of speaking she would beg for a donation, which she was quickly given, only in order to be rid of her as fast as possible. And this was her “sermon”:

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“Give a groshn, quicker, I do not have any time. If you do not want to give, then give me a needle. You should be stuck with darts in the next world. Give a piece of coal, quicker. Sara is cold, you are warm. Your intestines should burn, you should shiver and you should be thrown in gehenom [hell]. Ha, you hide from me? Do not be afraid! I will not do anything to you. My child wants to drink. Quiet, quiet, do not wake up my child; it is sleeping. Faster, give me a donation. I must escape; they want to beat me! I should live so long that I have stolen nothing. Let me warm myself. Sara's hands and feet are frozen. Give me a piece of bread for my child. Hurry, hurry.”

Begging a groshn, a piece of bread and a little coal, she sat satisfied on the sidewalk near the gutter singing this song with a sad melody: “Cut open my heart, you will see my pain; my love, my love, have pity on me.” She sang a lullaby for her daughter. She put her to sleep. The child slept; she broke out into a wild laughter, took all of her packages and left to again go through the streets.

In 1928, when there was a deep frost in Poland, she was found lying dead, frozen in the street.

When I came to Israel 30 years ago and wanted to enter the Ohel, I gave an improvisation of Meshuggene Sara during my examination – and I had a successful examination.

Legends about Będzin

by Tobiasz Israel Kaminski (Canada)

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Legends about the rabbis, spiritual leaders, communal workers and, naturally, the Jewish masses are braided in the history of Będzin and of its development and growth.

As each legend is a reflection and characteristic of the spiritual life of the people and of the environment around which the legend was created – so were the Będzin legends a key to our past life. They give us an idea of how the earlier generations saw life and what kind of interpretation they wanted to plant in us – their children and children's children. The older generation believed the legendary stories to be actual events and they spread them among the cheder [religious elementary school] children and young people.

Rabbi Jicchak'l and his death

Parallel to the modern Będzin which developed and grew with a surprising speed, old Będzin lived and wove its life. Around the synagogue neighborhood, near the “hills,” the open one and the closed one, to the “other mountain” that also had a name that is seldom brought to the lips or put on paper… the remembered “Untern Berg” [under the mountain – a reference to the poor who lived below the richer people] was mostly inhabited by the poorest Jews of the city.

On a summer day, children as naked as Adam, exactly as their mothers bore them, would be found playing around the collapsing little houses. Their parents were busy with worry about earning a living, that is going from house to house and collecting small donations. It was even said that many of the professional schnorrers [beggars] had considerable kniplech [savings] somewhere, but begging was a part of their being that they received by inheritance…

The old cemetery, which lay sloping with hundreds of headstones, was near the unterberg neighborhood; among them, many had sunken into the ground and were rubbed off. At this cemetery, which simultaneously served as a mechitzah [curtain or other form of divider separating women from men in Orthodox synagogues during prayers] between both hills, was found – always lit by an eternal light – an ohel [structure usually built over the grave of a holy or prominent person] that was, according to what was said, the grave of a former Będzin rabbi, Rabbi Jicchak'l.

The following is told about Rabbi Jicchak'l and his ohel:

It was still in the good old times when God's word and Torah ruled over all Jews from young to old. Strolling couples arm in arm were not seen then and certainly the young girls of marriageable age did not dare to wear clothing with short sleeves. In those former times all grown men were found in the Bet Midrash [synagogue or house of study], with a Gemara [rabbinical commentary], Ein Yaakov [non-legal ethical teaching of Talmud] or with a chapter of Psalms. The Yiddishe techter [Jewish daughters – Jewish women] always were at home with their mothers as King David says (Psalm 45, verse 14), “(as well as) every honorable princess dwelling within, whose raiment is of golden settings…” Indeed Jews earned good income in merit of the Torah and good deeds and tranquility and peace reigned in the world.

In great part the conduct of the Będzin Jews was influenced by the above-mentioned Rabbi Jicchak'l, who then sat on God's throne [was the rabbi]. He was a holy Jew to whom one would turn from near and far for blessings, or to have edicts on the Jewish community in general or on individuals revoked. Many Jews did repentance as a result of his influence, became good for God and for the community…

When Rabbi Jicchak'l felt his death approaching, he called together all of the scholars and God-fearing mystics in the city to his house. He wanted to “look into” the heart of each one in order to see who was worthy to be his replacement on God's throne and a defender of the Będzin Jews.

Lying in bed thus in thought, looking into the hearts of those gathered, he suddenly cried, tears flowed from his eyes without end.

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The reason for his crying – he said – was that he did not see anyone who would qualify to be an intercessor for the Będzin Jews on the eve of the severe edicts that were approaching.

Then he again closed his eyes and suddenly his face brightened.

“Now I can move away from the world,” he said. They agree in heaven that I will continue to be the intercessor even after my death…

“Build an ohel around my grave. Place sforim [sacred books] in it and an eternal light should burn in my ohel to remind every passerby not to turn from God and his Torah…”

With these words he breathed out his soul.

It should be understood that his wish was fulfilled and joy and calm reigned for Israel [for the Jews].

Years passed and the name of Rabbi Jicchak'l was really not forgotten among the older Jews. But the younger generation did begin to forget him…

It once happened that two “Germans” came to Będzin for several days.*

*[Translator's note: The word German appears in quotes which may indicate that the reference is to assimilated Jews, who may or may not be German because many German Jews were adherents of “reform” Judaism.]

Going for a stroll on Shabbat, not far from the above-mentioned ohel, one of them had a desire to smoke a cigarette. Not having any fire with him, he decided that he would enter the ohel and light his cigarette at the eternal light. His friend remained outside the cemetery.

Waiting, he suddenly heard terrible screaming from the ohel. Returning to the ohel he saw his friend lying on the ground in convulsions not able to move or to say anything, the smoking cigarette in his mouth.

He tried to lift him, but he was as if forged to the ground… He quickly ran for help, but when the help arrived it was too late. Death had liberated him from his suffering. The villain had received his judgment for desecrating Shabbat in the rabbi's ohel.

Signs were seen here that Rabbi Jicchak'l still kept a watchful eye on his grave. Będzin Jews were pious and engaged in Torah and good deeds. The friend of the dead man also repented and became a pious Jew.

Reb Bunem of Przysucha and the trial of the gabbai of “Kinyan Sforim”
[Kinyan Sforim – the acquisition of sacred books] [1]

A Jew once came to Będzin with a letter of recommendation from a famous rabbi of that time. He was in need of several hundred rubles in order to marry off his daughter of marriageable age. In as much as the bearer of the letter was himself an intimate of the same rabbi, the young men from the house of prayer decided that the gabbai [assistant to the rabbi] should give him several rubles from the Kinyan Sforim money.

It had to happen that the story of giving away the few rubles to a society for marrying off poor and orphaned girls in the community should reach the gabbai of the house of prayer, which belonged to the Mitnagdim [opponents of Hasidism] camp and, therefore, the young men who were Hasidim were frowned upon.

Agitation began that the young men squandered kehila [organized Jewish community] money.

The agitators hoped that through several pieces of gossip Hasidism in general would simultaneously successfully be made loathsome and they demanded that the Kinyan Sforim gabbai be brought to a public trial.

On Sunday, when the public trial was supposed to take place, a large, curious crowd came together – followers of both sides (Hasidim and Mitnagdim]. A victory by the middle class meant a victory for the opponents of Hasidism and a victory for the young men meant a victory for Chasidut [Hasidism].

The gabbaim of the house of study and several followers and ordinary members of the middle class sat at the long and wide table near the eastern wall and began to negotiate this lawsuit before the rabbinical court…

The Rabbi, Reb Bunem, who was a resident of Będzin before he became rabbi, had just returned from a trip and a visit to the Kučnicer Maggid [preacher]. Hearing about the trial and about the results that the judgment against the young men could bring to the Hasidic movement, he decided to be present at the trial and to intercede for the above-mentioned young men.

The Rabbi, Reb Bunem, entered just as the accusers began to lay out their arguments against the party to the lawsuit. They demanded that the gabbai of the Kinyan Sforim and its members who had advised him to give away the money be prohibited admission to the house of study and also they should pay a fine.

The rabbi listened to the words for the entire time and said nothing. Suddenly he banged on the table and called out:

“Before I refute your arguments, I want to ask you to tell me the literal meaning of the verse in Psalms (Psalm 119, verse 176): “I have strayed like a lost sheep; [seek out Your servant for I have not forgotten your commandments].”[2]

When none of them answered, Rabbi Bunem continued: “In order to explain the meaning of this verse I have to tell you a story that happened years ago in the woods.

“Once a plague broke out among the animals.

“The lion, the king of the animals, called together all of his subjects and asked them to explain how they had last nourished themselves in order to find out whose sin brought the outbreak of the plague. The first of those gathered to come out was the tiger.

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He said that being in the woods, he was caught by a terrible hunger. Suddenly he heard a noise. And when he turned around he saw a person who had lost his way wandering around the woods. With him, he had stilled his hunger.

“The lion said, 'You have not committed any sin. God himself gave you strength in order that you should be able to feed yourself even with human flesh.'

“Then the bear approached. He explained:

“Once, not having eaten for two days, he saw the guard of the woods going to the woods without a gun. He liked the guard because he would chase the hunters who would come to shoot at the animals. He did not want to bother him, but his hunger so tortured him that he attacked and devoured him.

“'This cannot be the cause of the plague, you did not commit a sin. Everyone of us would have done the same,' said the lion.

“After him came the fox and said that he also went around without food for a long time. Then he saw a father calling his little son who had disappeared from under his hand. Lifting his head, he saw that the child stood not far. He dragged away the child and tasted him.

“'You have also not committed a crime. The father, who did not keep enough of a watch on him, is basically guilty in that the child is no longer alive,' judged the king of the animals.

“Thus all of the animals came before the lion with various outrages they had done. However, none of them had made enough of an impression on him. Finally, very late, a small thin sheep came running in a rush with tears in his eyes and told the following:

“'Once on a winter night, when the cold would truly cause one to freeze, the wagon driver took pity on me and took me into his residence to spend the night. At night when everyone in the house was already asleep, I noticed that straw lay in the boot of my owner so that his feet would be warm. As I was very hungry, I threw myself at the straw and ate it up. My owner naturally did not find the straw when he woke up so that he had cold feet all day.

“Hearing the sin that the sheep had committed, the lion called out: 'Now, we have found the sinner among us, for which we all must suffer. It wasn't enough that his owner had given him a warm room, but he thanked him by eating up the straw from his boots so that his feet would freeze all day…'

“Immediately a court of animals was created in order to decide what kind of punishment the sheep should receive. After a short consultation, it was decided that the sheep would be killed and thus remove God's wrath from all animals.”

“This is - the Rabbi, Reb Bunem rendered – the interpretation of the verse, 'I have strayed like a lost sheep.' King David explained how a sheep lost its life over a little bit of straw, while the stronger and greater sinners hide themselves in a cloak of the fear of God and will punish the small and weak for the sins that they alone have committed…

“Here sit the judges,” he continued, “who have themselves committed injustices and sins.” Pointing his finger at each one, he said, “You, Reb Shmul, did you not take dowries given to you to hide by poor brides, saying that they had been stolen from you?… And you, Reb Mosze, do you not make money through interest (usury) and you transgress over several religious prohibitions with every loan that you give?… And you, Reb Zajnwel, have you repented for your sin with a married woman?…”

Thus did the Rabbi, Reb Bunem with a holy spirit look into everyone's heart and soul listing the sins that they had committed in their lives.

Shamed, the judges left the house of study and nothing came of the entire trial…

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“Zagłębier Leben” [Zagłębier Life]

by H. M.

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

In 1937, two years before the last war, Sz. Lewkowicz (Ben-Amotz), who worked at the “Zagłębie Zeitung” [Zagłębie Daily Newspaper] and was a co-editor since its creation, left the newspaper and created a new one with the name “Zagłębier Leben” [Zagłębier Life].

From a letter to me from editor Szpigelman, at whose newspaper I worked as the correspondent from Eretz Yisrael, I learned that Szpigelman was no longer interested in Lewkowicz's working for “Zagłębie Zeitung” because he had met Leibl Kerner, a capable young journalist, from Sosnowiec, an intelligent young man who had a command of the Yiddish language, was proficient in the legal discipline and had a light pen with which to write and engage in polemics. He was won over by the “Zag. Zeitung”.

Sz. Lewkowicz's work in “Zagłębier Leben” was not insubstantial. He was then editor, proofreader and administrator, he did all of the editorial and administrative work almost alone, not permitting himself to obtain help and to pay writers' wages as long as his newspaper was not earning money.

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Bed-154.jpg [36 KB] "Yiddishes Wochenblat" and others
Photo of mastheads of newspapers, among them
“Dos Yiddishe Wochenblat” [The Yiddish Weekly Newspaper],
“Zagłębier Leben”, “Anonsen Blat” [Announcement Page]
and “Undzer Telefon” [Our Telephone]

“Zagłębier Leben” labored until, in time, it received the sympathy of the population which gladly read it and advertised there.

The editor, Lewkowicz, was an interesting type without whom it is difficult to represent Jewish Będzin. A popular person, coming in contact with all circles in the city, he knew what was happening behind the scenes of all of the institutions, both communal and in general. There was no gathering in the city, no meeting in which he did not take part; he was also a good conversationalist. He loved to tell little stories. In time “Zag. Leben” worked itself up to a position in the communal life of the city. It was gladly read, thanks to Sz. Lewkowicz, who wrote in his usual spot, with his successful political supplements in which he reacted in an ironical tone to the hindrances of our life and made fun of the communal workers who rush to the eastern wall[3] with his satirical “Kach Lefl”[4] in which he mixed the muck of communal life – he interested the reader who was strongly delighted by the successful sayings and jokes.

Lewkowicz filled the columns of “Zag. Leben” almost alone, writing under various pseudonyms. Lewkowicz declared that his newspaper was an imperial organ, but in as much as he was a Zionist, the newspaper had a Zionist character, giving much space to all Zionist storms. He fought for Zionist matters in the kehila [organized Jewish community], in the rabbinate. Just as the Jewish neighborhood lived with the spirit of Eretz Yisrael at that time in Poland and the Jewish press dedicated many columns to our matters, Lewkowicz also introduced a special section for Eretz Yisrael. Zeev Landau-Artsi served as a coworker for Eretz Yisrael from Tel Aviv, in the “Zag. Leben” which from time to time published interesting letters from Eretz Yisrael, particularly about the life of the Zagłębie colony in the country.

The newspaper was published until the march of the Hitler bandits into Będzin.

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Bed-155.jpg [27 KB] "Unzer Telefon"
Front page of “Unzer Telefon” [Our Telephone] – October 1913
and page of “Zagłębier Zeitung” [Zagłębie
“Zagłębier Leben”, “Anonsen Blat” [Announcement Page]
Daily Newspaper] – dates printed as Friday, 18 July 1919 (20 Tammuz 5679)

“Dos Yiddishe Wochenblat”
[The Jewish Weekly Newspaper]

by Lipman Berkowicz

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The newspaper began to publish in the year 5665 – 1925 under the editorship of Moshe Chaim Kaminer and Lipman Berkowicz.

It was during the years when orthodoxy awoke, became independent and took in its hands the representation of its own interests, created its own educational, cultural and economic institutions.

In Zagłębie, particularly in Będzin, where the packed Orthodox masses and many communal institutions were led by religious Jews, they felt the lack of their own platform that would report the events and accomplishments of the religious community to the wider public.

The writer of these lines took upon himself the initiative of publishing a weekly newspaper dedicated to general communal life and religious problems of Zagłębie and Upper Silesian Jewry.

The first issue, which evoked great applause and recognition by the Orthodox population, was published in the month of Shevat 5685 [January or February, 1925].

The first issues were printed in Zajdner's printing shop in Będzin, which was not convenient for us; we began to think about our own printing shop, but this was connected with many financial difficulties. After the printing of eight issues in outside printing shops, our editorial board acquired its own new typesetting shop where the newspaper was composed, but it was not printed in our own printing shop.

[Page 156]

The newspaper was widely distributed. The management did not give the newspaper to the kiosks or to the newspaper sellers, but sent it directly to the subscribers by mail and in this way the newspaper was supported by steady readers.

The informational part was well done and we gave objective reports about the local news, about the meetings of the city council, kehiles [plural of kehila – organized Jewish community] and about the work of the various institutions in Zagłębie, with which our newspaper earned great trust. There was no activist from any party and society who did not subscribe to the newspaper. Although it was a provincial newspaper, it had subscribers in almost all of the cities and shtetlech in Poland. At around one at night on Thursday, after finishing the issue, the newspaper was rushed to the submitted addresses, so that on Friday in the morning, the readers received the newspaper at home.

A difficult chapter was the advertising problem because the firms were connected with the advertising bureau that sent advertisements to the newspapers. There were sides with interests which applied all kinds of means so that our newspaper would not profit from such advertisements. But the management removed all of the difficulties so that the large firms that learned about the large circulation of our newspaper sent us their advertisements. The advertisement bureaus later changed their attitude and gave equal rights to our newspaper along with the entire Zagłębie press.

Dos Yiddishe Wochenblat served as a beginner's school for many writers and journalists who later became famous; if a tendency and talent with the pen was shown, the editor willingly responded and helped them develop their abilities.

Of the writers who made their debuts and worked steadily for the Wochenblat, it is worthwhile to record several: Gerszon Gura (now in Israel), Jechiel Fajner (Israel, well known under the pseudonym, K. Zetnik), B. Mandelbaum (America), Sztajer, Jakobowicz, Cajzler, Granatsztajn, Dawid Skornik, Berl Recht, Szczekacz, Kaner, Zajdman and more.

Today, when we page through the eight volumes of Wochenblat which contains a slice of Zagłębie life, we can properly appreciate the merits of the newspaper. Yearly documentation of well written articles from Wochenblat can be found in the yearbooks of the Yiddisher Visnshaftlecher Institut [Jewish Scientific Institute] (YIVO) which recorded a large number of articles that were published in the newspaper.

Będziner dialects

by Dawid L.

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Geographically, Będzin belonged to Congress Poland; the language of the Jews, with small changes, was similar to that of local speakers in Warsaw and Łódź. The nearness of the German border also had a certain influence. In addition, Będzin as one of the oldest cities in Poland also had its own dialect that was passed as an inheritance from generation to generation. Linguistically, the city was actually divided in two parts: the old Będzin – around the synagogue and the “Unteren Berg” [literally, under the mountain or hill; the area in which the poor lived], Grobla and Bukowina [Streets], that is, almost all of the city that lay around the Przemsza [River]. There lived the long time residents as well as the poor population, in small, sunken houses and they spoke a different Yiddish from the newer part of the city that was concentrated around Kołłątaja, Małachowski, Modrzejowska and other streets. The old city spoke a Yiddish that was similar to Viennese German that was characterized by among other things the hard patach [vowel sound signifying an “a”]:

Lafnloyfn [to run], kafnkoyfn [to buy], a shtanshteyn [a stone], a baynbeyn [a bone], a madmeydl [girl], gey a hamgey a heym [go home], flash mit baynerfleysh mit beyner [meat with bones] , tatatate, or tateshi [diminutive of father] – tatshifater [father].

The transition from the hard to the soft ey is also interesting, as an example:

Ans, tswa, drey, [one, two, three], or a tepele, a lefele, shisele, with a soft lamed [“l”].

Będziners were known as great eaters and, therefore, had their own foods and expressions of which we present several examples here:

A doltn – it was said in almost the entire county about a Będziner, a Będziner doltn – it meant a cheese cake, bent on all four sides.

Epl-platz – made of grated apples, baked in a large pan. Almost a folk-food for Będziner, where the Jewish women would sell the epl-platz in the street and cover the pan with several cloths so that it did not get cold.

A yushke – a potato soup, a traditional food for Friday afternoons when the women did not have time and the men had not washed before eating. It is said about a well known rich man from Będzin who once asked his wife to also make a yushke for him: he wanted to know why the poor people cry so about this food… His wife made the potato soup, seasoned it with onions crumbled with good grivn [cracklings] and threw in a few little wings. “I do not understand why the poor people cry about the food; it is really a food of the angels,” he said…

A yoche or yoech – a meat soup.

A lachme broyt (from lechem [bread in Hebrew]), a coarse bread.

[Page 157]

A reftele [slice] or a gembele [mouthful] of bread – an ekl [end of the bread].

Krapn – a cake filled with apples.

Yagde kikelech [berry cookies] – cookies baked with berries.

Yaptsok – a Shabbos food, a kugl [pudding] of shredded potatoes – a tcholent [stew].

Fesper – eating between 4 and 5 in the afternoon.

There are other special expressions that arose on Będziner soil because of purely local reasons, for example:

A bachmana treger [a porter]. The expression comes from the German word Bucht [bay] – a [body of] water. The Będzin porters would always stand on the water bridge, so they were called buchman, bachmanWassermann [waterman]; it seems that when Będzin Jews began to be referred to with family names, porters were given the name Bachman. There was a large Bachman family in Będzin who were porters and, as the trade was inherited, all of the porters in Będzin were called bachman.

A hisher – from a local word; The Jews would say about a person born in Będzin that “he is a hisher,” that is, an aristocrat, because the hisher looked with contempt on the new arrival.

Farn to'er [before the gate] – farn toyer, this is what we called the start of Kołłątaja Street, where the building of the new part of the city had begun.

Di bu'ech – the river, from the German Bucht.

Fun driber – from the other side of the border. Będzin was located near the German border. Geyst ariber [goes across], kumst fun driber – comes from the other side.

A zoynea zelche [such a one], wos far [what kind], wolwil – [all synonyms for] cheap purchases.

Ire from the word ihr [she], which the Będzin beggars, who would go in groups from house to house on Thursdays and Fridays, would use; one would go onto the floors and announce to the owners: Madamishe [diminutive of Madam], five irn – that means five people, meaning they [the beggars] are five poor people.

Etzenk: etz geytenk geytir geyt [he goes].

Sarnawos fara [what kind].

Ifte wochde tsweyter woch [next week].

Eyernechtnfar nechtn – last night, ibermorgen – noch morgn [the day after tomorrow].

A bislbiselea tropn, veynik [a little].

A fatshenya – a tratoir [a sidewalk].

A manver – a fon [flag].

Glamba nar [fool].

A hader – a shmate [a rag] to wipe the dil [floor], or in Polish, padloges [floors].

A zarka – a bantse – give someone a slap.

A hemed – a hemd [a shirt].

A banda – a winter coat

Habelak [long coat] – a cape over the head.

Gey aroyesgey aroys fun tzimer [go out of the room].

A nichtern – on Shabbos evenings, the old women would abstain from needle work and concentrate on the spirituality of the week to come, simply a nichtern [one who abstains].

Mumen, muzmenas men muz, muz men [If one must, he must].

Ot izn iz erer is gekumen [he has come].

Ch'hob mich getu'en ti'en fragn, ich hob zich gefregt [I asked].

Gemegemengib mir [give me].

  1. Reb Bunem of Przysucha: born 5505 [1745] in Wodzisław, died on the 12 of Elul 5587 [September 4, 1827] in Przysucha. He married Rywka daughter of Mosze of Będzin (Sefer haChasidiut of Jicchak Werfl); Kinyan Sforim: a small weekly payment taken from the worshippers for a fund to buy new sforim and to repair sforim from a house of prayer. return
  2. I have strayed… Using the ignorance of the middle class, the rabbi presented a sentence of two judgments, also distorted the word bikkesh – which means “to seek,” for bakash that means “in straw.” return
  3. An ironic reference to ostensibly secular community workers who were quick to go to the synagogue. return
  4. Cooking spoon, suggesting stirring things up. Often translated as a “busy body” or “meddler.” return

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