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[Page 407]

Rabbincal Judges and Torah Sages

Rabbi Sholem Menashe

By S. Pitlik

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

A small slender Jew with a creased face drawn with sorrow because of the plight of the Diaspora Jew and a smile of his resolve and faith. His place of prayer was behind the platform, near the door, in the Green prayer house. The gabbeys (synagogue deacons) asked him to sit along the prestigious eastern wall, but he liked to sit with the ordinary folk, the simple people, who struggled for their daily bread. He studied Torah with them; he was their friend and comrade. Every Sabbath, early in the morning, whether in the snow and frost of winter, the rains of autumn, or the heatwaves of summer, he would clap loudly at sunrise, waking his students. They would obey his urging and stretching like young lions, would follow him to the synagogue, where a special attic was allotted for them to study with Sholem Menashe. Sabbath mornings there was Chumash with Rashi, and during weekdays there was a page of Gemarrah between Mincha and Maariv. There were hours allotted for the study of Ein Yakov, Chai Adam, Midrash Rabah, and Midrash Tanchuma. His students especially liked Chumash and Rashi.

Sholem Menashe had a special method of teaching. His explanations were interspersed with words from the Midrash and interpretations. It all seemed like one complete explanation. The great scholars of Torah also liked to attend his Rashi lessons. After the Sabbath prayers the congregants would come to Sholem Menashe and wish him a good Shabbos. He would respond with a shining face, his face especially radiating towards the small children accompanying their parents.

On Yom Kippur he would lead the closing prayers at the lectern. In his old age, his voice was severely weakened and the congregants had difficulty in hearing his prayers. The gabbeys wanted to give him the chance to be heard, but to save his strength – but no one dared tell him that.

On the day of his death, the city was steeped in sorrow. Many cried as they followed his coffin. Masses of men, women and children accompanied him to his eternal resting-place in the cemetery, a long distance from the city. Piercing sobs were heard during the burial of this most holy and unique man. He was a symbol of the love of the Torah and a symbol of the love of Israel.

[Page 409]

Rabbi Yitzchak (Itzaleh) Dayan

By Tzvi Ginat (Grynberg)

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

He was a teacher and a renowned judge in Brest. From all the corners of the city and from surrounding and distant villages people would come to him with questions about Kashrut, because it was known that no one was a greater expert in the laws of Kashrut than Rabbi Itzaleh was. The cost of coming from far away was worth it.

His entire life was occupied with answering questions about the laws of Kashrut, especially in the period before Passover, which was the peak time for asking questions. Every Passover Eve, masses of Jews would invade his home because the period between Purim and Passover was like a long day, with a great deal to be done before Passover.

In those days, Rabbi Itzaleh was busy all day long at the building of the rabbinical court. Men and women came to ask questions about the customs and rules of baking Matzos, and the koshering of utensils, the selling of the chametz, etc, etc. In the week before Passover, the rabbinical court supplied extra teachers to answer the questions, as Itzaleh could not manage the amount by himself. But the main burden still fell on him as he was the definitive authority on the subject and everyone wanted his blessing for the High Holidays. Itzaleh was accustomed to wish everyone a kosher Passover. Besides his blessing, he would also answer their questions to assure them that they would have a kosher Passover.

When the elderly man would return to his home on Passover Eve, there was still a great deal of activity there – one would jostle the other in order to see him first. Rabbi Itzaleh would bless those present for the holidays and ask them to be seated. He would take off his coat and put on his white robe, and this is what he was accustomed to do. He would go from one to the next, from seat to seat, from the first to the last. Everyone he approached would stand up and ask their question. Rabbi Itzaleh would judge with a wonderful skill, and after a pause his voice would be heard “kosher', “kosher”, “wait, perhaps we'll be able to make it kosher, one has to think it over”. “Kosher”. “Ay ay ay, my children, what have you done? This cannot be kosher”.

The members of his family who had been invited to his table for the Seder were sitting next door in the dining room waiting impatiently for the old man to arrive. From time to time his daughter, the widow Sheine, would open the door and look in to see if there were many questioners left. Only when they had all left would she open the wide door to the dining room. His eyes were full of joy, his face shone – he had only found two non-kosher instances. His eyes would wander over all those seated at his table, he would take a golden cup and make Kiddush. His voice carried through the stillness of the night “He who chose us over all other nations and elevated us….”

Rabbi Itzaleh was a great Mitnaged – at the time there were not many Chassidim in Brest, their righteous men had not yet settled there. In the neighbouring townships on the other side of the Bug River, there were many Chassidim and Rebbes. The nearest township was Biale Podlaska, and there lived the Bialer Rebbe.

Reb Hersh –Ber was a very learned man and a manufacturer of military uniforms. His second wife, Sloveh, was a granddaughter of the judge Rabbi Itzaleh. They were a very pious couple, who gave much to charity and donations to the poor, and prayed a great deal. However, they were not granted to have a son.

Once, Hersh-Ber was travelling to Warsaw – as was the custom, the travellers would interrupt their trip with a stay in the inn at Biale. It was the month of Cheshvan and there were heavy rains in the streets. The inn was packed with Jews who sat at long tables and ate. The noise was great and they drank toasts and shook hands on business deals.

As the renowned Brest merchant Reb Hersh - Ber sat at a table, another man from Brest sat down next to him and opened a package with a blessing for the traveller. He took out a copper tin containing smoked fish and almond cakes. At a corner of this table there was a discussion about the Biale rebbe. The man from Brest told of his visit to the righteous man, and spoke of his power with enthusiasm. At that moment, the thought flashed through the mind of Hersh- Ber that perhaps he should go go to see the rebbe, at the end of the day, he decided that there was no sin in going to say hello, and perhaps getting his blessing…. by the end of the prayer after meals, his doubts had vanished.

Hersh-Ber did not tell anyone about his trip to the Biale rebbe. Over the next few months he kept this secret and only on the eve of passover when Sloveh told him her own secret did he tell of his visit to the Rebbe and that the Rebbe had said to him: ”Travel well and in good health and with the help of God your wife will have a son”.

On he second cay of Passover, Sloveh took her daughters to visit her grandfather's home, as she always did. Entering as usual she presented the children to receive their blessing. Afterwards Sloveh sat quietly and asked her grandfather with a lowered head:”what sort of blessing are you giving me today?” The old man turned and looked at his granddaughter and said: “with the will of God, my granddaughter, you will have a peaceful birth”. Sloveh stood up and saw that her grandfather's eyes were open, a sign that he had finished his blessing. She could not control herself anymore and appealed to him:” dear grandfather, finish your blessing with the birth of a son, and God will say Amen”. The judge penetrated her with his eyes and said, ”You silly fool, do you believe that a person can change an original deed? A daughter is also accepted by the Lord Almighty; because this is an addition to Jewish life.”

At this she told him about the promise made by the Biale rebbe. At the door of his house she heard her grandfather's voice: “ tell your Hirsh-Ber that from my point of view there is no avoiding that he should go in peace every week to Biale and there visit the Biale rebbe's table every Sabbath”.

Some months later Sloveh gave birth to a boy. The rejoicing was great, but the child suddenly fell ill, his temperature rose, and one night his soul left him. The judge went to visit his granddaughter in the mourning period to console her. Less than a year had passed before Rabbi Itzaleh Dayan died.

[Page 413]

Reb Elyakim Getzel

By Tzvi Ginat (Grynberg)

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Elyakim Getzel would give sermons on the Torah in the ”New Prayer House” twice a year, on Sabbath Hagadol and Sabbath Shuva. Once, on a Sabbath Shuva, he castigated his audience so harshly, that the entire congregation trembled, and Reb Michael Chalfon called out “get down from the pulpit, Elyakim Getzel. Today it is Sabbath Shuva and you are harshly criticizing your fellow Jews!” The others joined in and called out ”get down, get down” - Reb Getzel paled and fell in a faint.

Since that time many years had passed and Reb Getzel avoided coming to the New Prayer house. Over time a serious conflict had developed between the congregants, several of who supported the head Shammes (beadle), Moshe Chaim, who wished to lead the prayers over the High Holydays. Other congregants supported bringing a cantor, Chazan Oberman from Drochi, who was accompanied by a four-man choir. The conflict worsened until the side for the cantor won.

That Sabbath Shuva, Elyakim Getzel was invited to give a sermon in the synagogue. He began with an example about a cantor and said thus:

In a town there were two merchants that had quarreled, one had strongly offended the other, and an enmity developed between them that lasted a long time. The offended man thought that he who had offended him would come and apologize to him in the month of Elul, but it was already Rosh Hashana, then the eve of Yom Kippur, and nothing had happened. It was some time later at the final banquet, as the Jew put on his robe and blessed his grandchildren and got ready to go to the synagogue that the other showed up at his home with several youths and conducted them in song “Rabbi Joseph Chaim! Rabbi Joseph Chaim! Chaim! Chaim! Let us forgive each other!

The offended one replied sorrowfully – an entire year has passed and you did not come to apologize; now you come to make fun of me! Get out immediately!

The lesson is this my friends: the Creator of the universe stands and waits a whole year that you should apologize and reconcile with him, comes the month of Elul and nobody comes and the synagogue is empty. Rosh Hashanah comes and the synagogue is full of people but their prayers are without devotion and holy fervor. Yom Kippur for Kol Nidre they put in a cantor with a choir and he begins with a song “For everyone”, and the choir echo his words, in all the prayers for forgiveness they just repeat what he sings. So I say to you my fellow Jews, that one should simply ask for forgiveness with a broken heart: Forgive us God, repent with us, console us, and help us against our enemies.

As soon as Reb Elyakim Getzel had finished his sermon, one Reb Yankeleh got up to the pulpit and begun thus:

I'll give you another example my friend, there once was a powerful king who reigned over tens of nations. He had an only son who did not go in the correct direction. They tried to influence him with good words but to no avail. They debated over what to do with him –one minister suggested that he be exiled from his father's house –in exile there was hope that he would change. The king like this advice and ordered that his heir be sent to a distant land. The minister promised to look after him. However, he mistreated the prince, so the son sent a letter to his father asking for mercy: “father save me!” The minister did not allow this letter to be delivered and wrote a letter instead saying that the king's son does not remember his father at all. The son complained bitterly, what sort of father is this who exiles him and does not reply to his letters? The king's first born complained about his father who would not answer him in front of ambassadors. The statesman replied - this is impossible; perhaps your letters have not reached him. He advised him to send a letter to his father with silly chitchat and water color drawings and between the lines write several times ”father save me!” The minister would probably allow such a letter to be sent to the king. The king would surely understand that matters were not what they seemed from this letter.

The minister read this silly letter and thought that one could send such idiocies to the king. The king was offended after reading this letter and called his advisors, who said to check this letter thoroughly – it's not what it seems. They called experts who deciphered “father save me”. The king was pleased and immediately ordered his son brought back to him. He also punished the minister who persecuted his son.

The moral of the story is this, my friends. The beloved son Ephraim is a sinner, and because we have sinned we have been exiled from our land into the Diaspora. The Creator thought that the Children of Israel would reply to Him. The gentiles, on the other hand, believe that they have the right to persecute Jews because there will be no one to save them. The Jews cry “father have mercy on us”, but the angels do not deliver this message to the Holy throne. The Creator is angry that His children have forgotten Him and deserted Him. The angels hear the Jews cry in indistinct and incomprehensible words – but between the silly songs the words are melted together into a cry for help, and the Almighty recognizes that the Jews are appealing to the Creator of the Universe on His holy throne for help, and in that moment He has compassion for them and forgives them.

[Page 415]

Reb Tzvi-Hirsh Barlas

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Reb Tzvi-Hirsh, the son of Mordechai Barlas, was one of the last of the 'old Brisk D'Lita', which was under the Council of the Lithuanian Nation. A city of Torah Sages and learned men, which shaped the character of 'Litvish' Jews of those generations. He was also one of the first of the new Brisk D'lita that was transformed from the town of his birth to a city built on trade, economic wealth and skills. He was born in 1804 and died in 1882 at almost 80 years of age.

He was a giant of Torah, and a very wealthy man. He was the grandson of Rabbi Tzvi-Hirsh Freiluker, whose children were great scholars, and exactly like him, they did not earn their living from theTorah. They were occupied in business and trade - they conducted their business abroad in foreign lands such as Austria and Germany and were very wealthy. He originated from the family of the author “Tosephet Yom Tov” – a tradition of the family was to celebrate Adar according to the book Megilat Avah – all his days he studied the Torah and researched the Talmud and Kabbalah. Reb Hirsh the Researcher they would call him. His surname Barlas - was from the initials Ben Reb Leib Sofer (The son of rabbi Sofer). His daughter married Rabbi Avraham Moshe Grosleit, the son of Rabbi Pinchas Michael Grosleit, the author of 'Leket Hakotzrim', and 'Divrei Pinchas' (Warsaw 1860), and who was the Rabbi of Antopol near Brest, and a famous ethicist in the whole region. The two families, Barlas and Grosleit, took a great part in the economic development of the city, and owned large stores and buildings in the center of the new city. After the death of Rabbi Jacob Meier Padua, they wanted to elect Tzvi-Hirsh as rabbi, but he declined. He promised to bring them a rabbi that was worthy of the position. He went to Lemberg (Lwow), and thanks to his business connections with local rabbis and learned men; he influenced Rabbi Tzvi-Hirsh Orenstein to accept the rabbinical seat in Brest. Rabbi Tzvi-Hirsh Orenstein arrived in 1861 to take up this position.

Rabbi Tzvi-Hirsh Orenstein was the author of the book 'Or Ha Tzvi” (published in Lublin in 1875). The contents were the words of the Torah and teachings, with examples and solutions and also showed his wonderful erudition and knowledge of philosophical literature from the middle Ages. The book was printed in 500 copies that were sent free of charge to libraries and synagogues and to the great rabbis of that generation. In his testament the author requested that the book should be reprinted in fifty years time.

Rabbi A.L.Feinstein who was his peer and friend, mentions in his book “Ir Tehila” the subject of the tombstone on the grave of Reb Tzvi -Hirsh Barlas - a man who was a Great in Torah, a friend of the Sages. Through his efforts the wisdom of the Torah and its teachings were preserved for eternity in the book “Or HaTzvi”

[Page 417]

Rabbi Benjamin Korman

By Leah Dagnit

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

I think that not many of the Brest residents knew this particular person, who for decades bent over his scrunched up pieces of paper and wrote his treatise on the interpretation of the Sabbath. I remember his figure from my childhood, and his glowing face, dreamy eyes, and soft hands that stroked my head.

I was rarely privileged to be in his presence – in my home he was spoken of with the greatest respect. When my father would mention Reb Benjamin's name, his face would light up. For thirty years his older brother Benjamin wrote his book “Helkat Benjamin” (Benjamin's Portion), a commentary on the Sabbath. Where did the title come from? Because he said that this is my entire portion of the world's effort.

For 30 years he did not look at the outside world. He had a wife and children, but they were outside the realm of his vision. My father and his brothers financially supported his household. My father was an expert in the construction of railway tracks – he wandered with his family all over Greater Russia – the steppes and remote settlements. He would set up temporary buildings and houses for the specialist workers, such as the engineers, tradesmen and the priest – and one Jewish family. My grandfather would tell me about Brest with tears in his eyes, about the synagogue of Israel Wolf, the city parks, the King's Garden. According to his description, it seemed to me that it was the most beautiful park in the world.

Arriving in Brest after W.W.1, I found a neglected garden and Israel Wolf's synagogue was no more than a wooden shack. I understood that in grandfather's eyes, longing for his hometown, they seemed thus. My father, who had always lived amongst gentiles, considered his brother Benjamin as the light of his life. On one of his visits to Brest, he built a synagogue in the vicinity of my uncle's home, so that he could sit and study in peace and be immersed in the Torah.

My uncle would not accept the position of rabbi, as he did not want to make a living from the Torah. His whole life was dedicated to writing this book, for which he had received permission from Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. When he finished the book, my father traveled for three days from Orenburg to Brest for the celebration. He helped edit the book and prepare it for publication.

Once, after much pleading, my uncle agreed to see the emissaries who had come to see him about becoming the Rabbi of their shtetl. By the way, they requested to see his wife the Rebbetzen, who was short and no beauty. She did not find favor with the emissaries, who did not take kindly to her. My uncle told my father of this event with great amazement: “did you know that the Rebbetzin is not good looking? “…. He himself did not know of this his whole life.

[Page 419]

Rabbi Simcha Zelig the Dayan

By Rabbi Dr. M.A. Riger (Canada)

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Rabbi Simcha Zelig
the Dayan

My father was born in Novogrodek in 1864. In 1874 he came with his parents to Brest. He was influenced by the orthodoxy and interpretations of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Diskin, and from time to time would study Torah with him; in 1878 he was accepted to study by the head of the Beth Din, (Rabbinical Court) Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, who was the new Rabbi of Brest. When Yoshe Ber arrived in Brest, they brought my father to him for an examination. At this time his son Chaim was the head of the Yeshiva in Volozhyn. He commented to his father:“father, why do you test his learning (erudition), better to see how he studies the page”. From that day onwards there existed a special friendship between them –Rabbi Chaim would not make a move without my father's opinion in Torah and all other matters. As so it was his entire life.

In 1882 my father studied new interpretations of the Torah with Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik who was already then a famous scholar, although Brest was a famous city, full of renowned scholars and pupils. To achieve fame as a Great of Torah was no easy feat. After my father's marriage he settled in Volozhyn, which was a very famous community in the Jewish world. Amongst the hundreds of youths there were many who were prodigies and geniuses in Torah (Gaons). At that time my father was 20 years old and already known as an expert in the laws of our forefathers (the book Chidushei Rabbi Chaim Halevi) mentioned my father's innovations.

In Volozhyn at that time there were two Heads of Yeshiva: The Natzav Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, and Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. Each had his own system of teaching. The method of the first was to know the subject with all the reasonings from the Great scholars with wonderful expertise - this he also demanded from his students.

Rabbi Chaim's method was to analyze the subject for himself and to immerse himself in the originals and analyze the matter, especially the Ram Bam (Maimonides)

Most of the students were those who favored one method or the other, my father belonged to the select few that studied both methods.

When the ruling powers closed the yeshiva in 1892 and expelled Rabbi Berlin, my father was also dismissed. Rabbi Chaim proposed to my father that he come with him to Brest. Less than a year had passed and Yoshe Ber had passed away. Rabbi Chaim immediately asked my father to join him in Brest, to be the head of the Yeshiva in the Synagogue School, and to become the Head of the Rabbinical Court (Beth Din).

From that time on, he was the Head Dayan (rabbinical judge) of Brisk D'Lita and the surrounding district, and people came to him from all the surrounding towns with questions about the laws and customs.

His greatness was not only in his expertise with questions and answers, but also in knowing the laws and their original sources in the Talmud and the laws of our Forefathers. He was clear and precise about the laws as stated in Maimonides (Ram Bam), as he was about the rulings of the Sages of the last generations from Lithuania and Russia. Aside from the customs that he knew from books, he would investigate and research issues with the elders of the city, such Rabbi Scholem Menashe who had great influence with the leaders of the city, and over common folk.

His radical approach to Halacha (the legislative part of Rabbinical laws) understandably caused differing opinions and controversy. There were communities that elected preachers and officials that genuinely wanted to be in the Rabbinate, and there were some communities that elected rabbis through recommendations and connections, interestingly - amongst these were some rigorous adherents to Halacha. They caused great suffering with their rulings on deserted wives and poor people. My father recognized this when the question of a deserted wife came to his attention – he made great efforts to find a rabbinical exemption for her.

He would personally explain the laws to everyone, whether to the fanatical Zionists or to the leftist circles –when the Russians occupied Brest, Yasha the Tailor was made Commissar of the Slaughter House. At the first meeting of the Tanners it was unanimously agreed to follow any suggestion my father made. When many refugees fled across the Bug River into Brest, there were rabbis and schochets amongst them. My father organized accommodation for them in the slaughterhouse, which was controlled by the leftist workers.

By the way, the majority of learned men of his time would turn to my father with their questions, and everybody in the city honored him. He would not allow anyone to serve him. He would not don the Rabbi's hat and would not sit in front of the Holy Ark, as was the custom of the other rabbis. He did not expect others to defer to him and made it a point to be with his people. His room had no doors - that was a symbol that his house was open to all. The lowliest and the most miserable of people would spill their hearts out to him. He was loved by the people of our city – the community leaders unanimously wanted to elect him as Rabbi of Brest after the death of Rabbi Chaim in 1918 – but my father refused.

From 1894 he was the Head of the Beth Din in Brest until the bitter day in 1942 when the treacherous Nazis liquidated the city and it's residents. He was one of the first to perish in the Honor of God, in the city in which he lived most of his life. He spread the Torah to many and showed the way to his people.

[Page 421]

Rabbi Avraham Yitchak Halevi Bleiweiss

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Rabbi Avraham Yitchak
Halevi Bleiweiss

Avraham Yitzchak Halevi was the Head of the Beth Din in Brest for twenty-five years. Born in Warsaw in1868, he was the son of Raabi Tzvi Bleiweiss. At 18, he came to Brest. Already then he was renowned as an astute expert of rabbinical law, and of the Tanach. In 1894 he was nominated as Head of the Beth Din in Brest and for 25 years he adjudicated on Halachic law for the people of Brest. Not only did he carry the burden of the Torah, but also the burden of public office - he was selected to head all the delegations to the government. In the times of the pogroms he was oblivious to his own safety in preventing disaster.

Together with Zev Dov Begin and Rabbi Klepfish, Rabbi Bleiweiss stole into the fortress in the dark of night and rescued some Jews from hanging.

He was a goodlooking Jew, who carried himself with erect posture and commanded much respect. He wrote books and in his large library there were many old books and rare documents, which he wanted to donate to the National Library at the Hebrew university in Jerusalem.

He was a great man in Torah and great in his actions. He understood the younger generation and it's attraction to Zionism. In one of his letters to his relatives in Israel he wrote: It is said we will give speeches and learn, thanks to the efforts of the labor of their own hands, which those that went to broaden and develop our settlements in our holy land have achieved.

He died in 1936.

[Page 423]

Rabbi Eliezer Lipa Klepfish

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Rabbi Eliezer Lipa Klepfish

He was born in 1880 in Warsaw. His father, Rabbi Shmaryahu Klepfish, was the brother of the famous Chief Rabbi of Warsaw, Rabbi Zangwel Klepfish. Eliezer Lipa settled in Brest after W.W.1. He was a member of the Rabbinate there, and for a time he was the Military Rabbi.

After W.W.1 the life of the city was not normalized - the warring powers changed hands several times and the people lived under great stress and fear. Rabbi Klepfish, together with the secretary of the kehilla, Zev Dov Begin and Rabbi Bleiweiss made great efforts to help and save their fellow Jews. During the time of hostilities they risked their own lives and went to the fortress in the middle of the night and rescued the three Meyer brothers (who had been charged with espionage) and were about to be executed.

His wife, the Rebbetzen Yente Klepfish, was a longstanding member of the administration board of the orphanage and she would assist children to leave the walls of the orphanage and find work when they were older. Later, in the Brest Ghetto, although she was old and sick and broken, she organized help for the poor and sick and founded a soup kitchen for them. She secretly baked matzos for them before Passover.

Rabbi Eliezer Lipa died in August 1942 and was buried in the Jewish tradition next to his friend, Rabbi Avraham Bleiweiss.

His wife, the Rebbetzen, hid in the bunkers during the Nazi liquidation of the Ghetto, where she was found and murdered by some Ukrainian murderers.

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