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The Rabbis of Dąbrowa Górnicza {cont.}

[Page 86]

Rabbi Rapoport's son-in-law, Mendl the Cohen, was judge in nearby Wygwizdów, near Sosnowiec, who was a son of Rabbi Lejbusz in Bogoria, a brother of the Stopnicer Rabbi and of great renown. Unfortunately, we have no details about the last years of Rabbi Rapoport.

2. Rabbi Alter Mosze Aron the Levite of Dąbrowa

Born 1868 to his father Rabbi Israel Tuwje Gutman Cwi the Levite, Chair of the Rabbinical College in Pacanów. Even in his youth he had the reputation of being a genius. He was a son-in-law of Ber from Niemce (close to Dąbrowa). Lived with and supported by his father-in-law. His father-in-law gave him a house in Sosnowiec, from which he received rent payments.

dab086.jpg [15 KB] - Rabbi Alter Mosze the Levite
Rabbi Alter Mosze Aron the Levite,
may the memory of the righteous person be blessed

He studied Torah in Będzin, and learned with 15 boys, who served as the basis for founding a yeshiva. Among them was Reb Szymon Krystal, a member of the Rabbinical Court in Będzin. He used to be a frequent visitor to the famed Rabbi Josef Engel in Będzin.

After his father's death in Pacanów, he took his father's place in the Rabbinate, in 1906. In 1911 he came to Dąbrowa. At that time the battle heated up regarding breaking away from the Będzin community and becoming independent, which came to pass in a rough struggle on 23 June 1909. January 1911 the independent Dąbrowa community was established, and soon after that, Rabbi Mosze Aron the Levite was elected as the first Rabbi of Dąbrowa. Even earlier, three years before, he had bought a house in Będzin and lived there. From time to time he would come to Dąbrowa and attend to the religious needs of the Jews. His election as Rabbi was confirmed by the governor. The Rabbi of Będzin, Graubart, felt a little insulted by the Dąbrowa community, and he did whatever he could to hold off the appointment of a new Rabbi in Dąbrowa. Helping him was the Rabbi from Łódź, Rabbi Elijahu Chaim Majzel, and the Kromołów Rabbi, Reb Natan Nachum Rabinowicz. But the treatments did not bring about results. The votes for the new Rabbi of Dąbrowa were confirmed, and he began his term as Rabbi in Dąbrowa.

The Rabbinical Levite was a Radomsker Hasid, a great benefactor, a fanatic in Jewish affairs. He was very involved in distributing free loans. He sold his house in Sosnowiec and built one in Będzin on Kołł¹taja 42, a new house. He did not allow any work on Sabbath; he paid his workers for Sabbath, even though they did not work.

[Page 87]

In 1912 he published a book, Light of the Century, with speeches (in two parts). The first volume has 128 pages and the second, 114 pages (published in Piotrków).

He calls himself “Alter Mosze Aron the Levite,” son of Rabbi Israel Tuwje Gutman Cwi the Levite of Pacanów, son of the Hasid Joel Josef the Levite, who died 24 April 1903. In the flyleaf of the book he relates that he was once a Rabbinical judge in Będzin, out of honor, without salary, a member of the Rabbinical Assembly, of which Rabbi Engel was the head, and also honorary chairman. After that he took over his father's place in Pacanów for eight years, and afterwards he came to Dąbrowa. His book was published by the young Hasid Reb Pinchas Menachem Finkelsztajn, son of Eliezer Elimelech (born in Pyrzyce [?]) from Dąbrowa in 1912. In the book are endorsements by the Ostrów Rabbi, Rabbi Szalom Majer Jechiel Szapiro; Walędówer [?] Rabbi, Rabbi Szlomo Chanoch the Cohen Rabinowicz (Radomsker Rabbi) of Sosnowiec, Rabbi Motele, the Trisker Maggid's son. Rabbi Chaim Majer the Levite from Neustadt, witnesses in his introduction, that in addition to all the years that the author served as Rabbi in his father's place in Pacanów, he taught students; his single goal was to bolster the Jewish religion. Rabbi Chaim Majer, the Pińczówer Rabbi, serves as witness in his testimonial about the author's father, that he was a sagacious scholar, and well-versed; and also about the young years of the son, the author, that he heard wonders about him and that he was a great scholar who learned Torah easily. He himself spoke with one of his students, and he found him also to be a scholar of Torah, who knew clear and deep layers of the holy books, which he taught.

After the above-mentioned work, the Dąbrowa Rabbi challenged himself to publish a large, holy book. That was Grains of the Earth, on the five books of Moses, in five volumes. The first volume, on Genesis, had 288 pages; the second, 296 pages (with testimonials from the Gerer Rabbi and the Radomsker Rabbi from Sosnowiec, dated 1928). The second volume was easier to publish, because a rich man in Dąbrowa, Reb Icchak Menachem son of Reb Chaim Mosze, covered the publication expenses. The author mentions him in the second volume. The third volume had150 pages. The fourth, 160 pages (printed in 1931/1932). The fifth volume came out in 1933 and has 198 pages.

dab087.jpg [39 KB] - A group of young men in Agudat Israel
A group of young men in “Agudat Israel”

[Page 88]

All volumes were printed in Piotrków. The author says, in his introduction, that he still has manuscripts for summaries of holy books and legends. The Dąbrowa Rabbi also wrote testimonials for other writers' books, like that of Rabbi Alter Ezriel Majer Ajger of Lublin.

The Rabbi was in charge of Dąbrowa for 24 years. He was very famous for his learning and clarity in all worldly matters. The Hasidim regarded him very highly; first of all, he was a Hasid, and second, he was a scholar and intelligent. He was sick in his last years. He used to go to Kraków to be healed by doctors and professors. The last time he traveled to Kraków with his family to see the doctor, his condition worsened overnight, and he died in his son-in-law's house, 3 December 1933, at the age of 62. He was brought back to Dąbrowa. His funeral was prepared the same day. In the communal building people sat and mourned, and the chairman Najfeld, in the name of the community, bemoaned the great loss of the Rabbi to the Dąbrowa community. The gathered stood and listened to his words, and afterwards they organized the funeral. A special committee was elected which informed all the Rabbis in Zagłębie and in the nearby towns and villages. The next day, noon, the Rabbis of the surrounding town started to gather. The Rabbis of Będzin, Strzemieszyce, Szerokie [?], Lublin, Czubin [?], Rabbi Dawidl Halbersztam and Rabbi Jehoszua Glikman (Sosnowiec), Rabbi Halbersztam (Old Sosnowiec), Rabbi Dan Lipszyc, Rabbi Chanoch Dawid Fridberg, the Radomsker Rabbi, all came. The Będzin Rabbi, the Trzebinier, Rabbi Dawidl Halbersztam, Rabbi Jehoszua Glikman, Rabbi Dan Lipszyc, Rabbi Chanoch Fridberg, and the deceased's son-in-law, Rabbi Blumenfeld of Königshütte [Królewska Huta / Cherzów], gave eulogies and took leave of the departed Rabbi. After the eulogies, the Hasidic custom of “hakofes” [circular procession with the Torah Scrolls] was observed, and the mourning procession proceeded towards the cemetery.

The funeral was drawn out because there was a question about who would replace the Rabbi. The Rabbis who attended the funeral invited the communal representatives in order to decide together about the Rabbinic question. However, they did not come – with the complaint, that the Rabbinic question in Dąbrowa needs to be decided according to common sense and not by a law from the Rabbinate. In the end, the Rabbis ruled that the son-in-law, Rabbi Reb Baruch Epsztajn, should become Rabbi in place of the deceased. All the Rabbis, in their eulogies, indicated that Jewish Dąbrowa should carry out their ruling, and they should agree, that the Rabbi's son-in-law, Reb Baruch Epsztajn, should become Dąbrowa's Rabbi. The governing group of the community voted for a stipend for the widow for her entire life, 3,000 zlotys a year. Afterwards they granted another 300 złotys.

3. Rabbi Baruch Epsztajn of Dąbrowa

After the Levite's passing, the Jews of Dąbrowa wanted to nominate his son-in-law Rabbi Josef Blumenfeld to take his place. However, Rabbi Blumenfeld did not want it; he announced, in the presence of the deceased, that he would make aliyah to Palestine, and until then he was Rabbi in Królewska Huta. He authored a book, Pick-pocketing and Fear, with a declaration, “Also Josef,” (published in New York, 1958). The nomination of the old rabbi's son-in-law, Rabbi Baruch Epsztajn, was realized.

He was from the Ożarów-Opoler Rabbinical dynasty, grandson of the great Lajb, who founded the dynasty in Ożarów. He was a son of Jechiel the ritual slaughterer of Klimontów near Radom. Even in his young years he was known as a genius. As a boy he was already communicating with the well-known Rabbis of Pierworzyno [?] and Łokacz, from the leaders of the young men of Agudat Israel.

[Page 89]

He was born in 1897. After his wedding he lived with his father-in-law, the Rabbi of Dąbrowa, and after the father-in-law's passing he felt his place as a teacher of instruction and a candidate for Rabbi. However, the Hasidim from Radomsk and Ger blocked his way to becoming Rabbi and opposed him. He received a majority of votes, but his opponents strove to negate them. After a great deal of effort and difficulties, he was at last installed as Rabbi of Dąbrowa. He did not enjoy his Rabbinic position, however, because his opponents hindered him very often. He had five children.

With the outbreak of the war by the German-Nazis, he shared the same fate as all the Jews in Dąbrowa. The Nazis murdered him and his family in 1942. He has a brother in Israel who was earlier in Belgium – Jechezkiel the Levite Epsztajn, and a brother's son, Mosze.

dab089.jpg [35 KB] - "Szoszana Class", Dabrowa 5695 (1935)
“Szoszana Class”, Dabrowa 5695 (1935)

[Page 90]

The religious life
in a warm, poor house

by Efraim Lenczner

Translated by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal

The synagogue in Reden was not distinguished for its external architectural style. The inner furnishings were also far from luxurious for the holy books within. One of the reasons for this was that this House of Study was not owned by the Jewish community in Dabrowa and not supported by its budget, as was, for example, the town synagogue. Instead it was located in the private home of Reb Szymon Sliwka, of blessed memory (later it belonged to his widow Frymetl, of blessed memory). The inhabitants of Reden should not be blamed for this. They were active and dedicated participants in all social and political institutions. They did not find it necessary to be concerned about making their place of prayer outwardly presentable; it was a primitive house of study for the masses, serving also as a gathering point for assorted politico-social and philanthropic institutions.

As is known, the community leaders of Reden – headed by Reb Henoch Gerszon Szpilberg, of blessed memory – proclaimed the construction of a synagogue in Reden in the years 1910-12. For this purpose, they undertook a collection and created a fund under the name “A brick for a kopeck [Russian coin].” Coupon booklets were distributed among the businesses selling the “bricks.” Unfortunately, the plan never came to fruition because of the evil decree of the Czarist government against the Jews in Dabrowa, and later because of the First World War, in 1914. Savings lost their value; this was also the fate of other institutions, as, for example, the Loan and Savings fund, which ruined Reb Szlomo Halperin, may the Lord avenge his blood, Szternik, of blessed memory, Zilberszac, of blessed memory, and others.

With the end of the First World War and the establishment of the independent Polish republic, the concern of religious affairs was delegated to the authorized council of the Jewish community, which unfortunately had a limited budget, because the Miejska Synagogue was the official synagogue and was of course subsidized by the Jewish community council. (By the way it was also built by funds from two donors: the walls were from Berl Fuks, of blessed memory, and the roof from Reb Mosze Micenmacher, of blessed memory). The Jews in Reden made do with the existing House of Study. They made small improvements from time to time, and they also welcomed distinguished guests from Palestine, like Reb Lejb Yafeh and Uri Zatlawski and others.

This synagogue was a center for all Jews in Reden for prayer, for charitable acts, and for all socio-political matters.

[Page 92]

The Krimilow Hasidism in our Town

by Cwi Rechnic

Translated by Avi (Abraham) Stavsky

It was known that our town had an organized Jewish life, with Jewish communities of all sorts, including social and political organizations. However, within this life moved a [special] community which was popular and totally Jewish. These were the Hasidism who flourished around various “Rebbes”, and it is upon one of these communities which I am focusing somewhat.

In Dąbrowa there were known the Krimilow Hasidism (Krimilower Hasidism) to which belonged my parents and myself. They were unified around their rabbi, Rabbi Natan-Nachum Rabinowicz, of blessed memory, whose seat was in Zawiercie. Our town had 3 “shtibelach”: Barden, in the house of the baker, Rabbi Zelig Miodownik; Balat-D¹browa, in the home of Rachel and Szlomo Rechnic; and the central [shtibel] in the house of Berl Kanarek.

A particular facet of this Hasidism was despite their religiosity and Hassidic life was that, along with their rabbi, they were Zionists and firm builders of the Land [Palestine]. My memory as a young member of the “Shomer Dati”, which never missed an opportunity to direct their prayers and efforts to the “Keren Kayemet Le-Israel,” was that no one ever refused [to help]. They even delayed their prayers [where necessary] for the benefit of “current affairs”. They were involved in Zionist Congresses and attended the speeches of Weizmann, Sokolow, Usyszkin and others.

The Shitbel, whose members came from all strata of the city, was a true brotherhood of members. It ran a benevolent society which more than once saved Jews from the shame of hunger. I particularly recall the situation wherein a Jew worked with a large family which could not afford to feed itself. He diligently enlisted the aid of citizens to come to their aid until they could get back on their feet. This was not an isolated incident. These simple and pure Jews were [true] Hasidism in body and spirit as well as Zionists with nationalist feeling. They felt the pains of all our “bnei Israel” brothers and were the hope of our homeland.

Unfortunately, they did not live to see the miracle of [the] renaissance of our people in Eretz-Israel, and were among the millions of our brethren who died “al kiddush Hashem” at the hands of the Nazi murderers, cursed be their memory.

May their memory be for a blessing.

[Page 100]

I was a student of “Motel-Melamed”
(Motel the schoolteacher)

(Memories of the Cheder – religious elementary school)

by Pinchas Lustiger

Translated by Dr. David Dubin

I had the honor of being a student of Motel-Melamed. That is what I thought: to be a student of Motel-Melamed was a great honor, and every gentleman would do himself honor by sending his son to draw from the wellspring of Torah from the lips of Motel, who was the finest teacher in our town, and his fame was extolled throughout the region.

They called him the “modern teacher”. He would always be scrubbed & immaculately clean, and his outer appearance was beautiful. When he walked in the street he garnered everyone's attention. They regarded him with awe and pointed their fingers: Motel-Melamed is walking! “Ahh, Motel-Melamed! He is the finest teacher in town. My son also learns from him” everyone would say proudly.

Motel would stride at his own pace with contentment and ease, and his steps were measured. He wore eyeglasses, and his dark beard was always combed and well-groomed. Graying hair added to attractiveness and an air of levelheadedness and grace. He wore a long black coat (“capote”) and carried an umbrella in his hand, wore shiny & sharp boots, and he walked proudly without facing right or left, but rather looking straight ahead. A sense of mystery whirled about this man, constitutionally quiet and introverted, constantly ruminating and conversing very little with other people. Nevertheless, everyone honored and exalted him, because Motel-Melamed was utterly dedicated to a vital mission: to spread Torah amongst his students.

Motel was different from all the teachers in town, both in appearance and in his teaching method. I inquired and investigated his exact origins and place of birth and where else his teaching methods are used, but no one knew the answers. The method was his, and only his. To this day, when one of his students is called to Maftir (for a section of Torah reading), and he recites the blessings using the tune of Motel-Melamed, everyone's mouth utters: “where is that from? What type of Hassid are you?” Indeed, he had amazing tunes for Shir Hashirim (The Song of Songs), for Akdamut and for the poetry within it that were specific to him and only him.

[Page 101]

The students, and especially the clowns among them, would regale with their fanciful stories of how they would “take care” of their teachers: One told of how he glued his teacher's beard to his desk as he nodded off, and when he awoke he raised the desk with himself; a second related that he tied his teacher's leg to his desk so that when he rose to discipline a student he dragged the desk along with him; a third told how he fastened nails into the chair, so that when the teacher sat he jumped up as if possessed.

Such talks were never told about Motel-Melamed, as he was always treated with manners and respectful awe. No student was ever disrespectful or would raise his voice to him. Motel knew to show a student such as this the strength of his arm, he never spared a wayward student the rod, and he multiplied the lashes in order to enforce the lesson.

I can pull from my memory images of the Cheder. As if from the darkness the cheder appears before my eyes in its glory & beauty, but also with its shortcomings. A large, dark room full of dust & grime, the majority filled with benches, crowded with children of all ages, jabbering in their high voices. Always chaos, noise and tumult. Though beyond the benches arose the pleasant voices of some students learning, most of the students stood in one corner of the room, conducting their business, engaged in games, gossiping about this and that.

How we envied – on our way to cheder – the gentile students, who were well-groomed, wearing lovely uniforms, and on their shoulders book bags full of textbooks and writing implements. And how beautiful were their school buildings! Housed in fine structures with high windows, letting in much light, and inside, everything clean and polished, the walls adorned with pictures and maps and large blackboards.

This was the teaching method in cheder: On Sunday we began learning the weekly Torah portion. The students sat crowded and cramped on the benches, at their head standing a small desk next to which sat Motel-Melamed. Motel would read a verse from the Bible, translating each word into Yiddish, and afterwards, everyone in the class: “and he said – hot gezogt”, “God – Got” “To Moses – tsu Moishe”, etc.

Wednesday would be testing day for the outstanding students; on that day the students would arrange themselves in a line around the desk, the first would recite the verse with its Yiddish translation followed by each student reciting the same verse. If a student failed – Motel would punish him to the utmost allowable, with the punishment commensurate with the severity of the error. Motel took account of small errors as well as severe ones, with small errors punishable by a “gemkele” (a blow on the chin), a gross error by twisting the ear and a severe error by a slap with a ruler.

A great and decisive issue among the students involved the problem of who would be first in line? If the first knew, the second would hear the answers from him, the third heard from the two before him, etc. If the first did not know, he would be punished, and the second would then have to review the verse, and if the second did not know, he would be punished and the third would be required to review the same verse. If the first did not know, it often led to all the students being punished, so usually an older, outstanding student who knew the Bible well would lead the line. Motel-Melamed never interfered and didn't determine the order of the line; this was an internal affair amongst the students.

When fateful Wednesday arrived, the students would arise early, rushing to cheder as the anxiety would roil their hearts, and loudly negotiate among them: who would go first, then second, etc.

One of the outstanding students was Jehoszua Majdman “Bobbe”. Why Jehoszua “Bobbe”? Because of his long, round nose with a central prominence. This Jehoszua Bobbe, he was the great hope of all the students: if he would stand first in line – all expected to escape harsh punishment, if he refused – a bitter day was expected – receiving the statutory beating.

Jehoszua well knew his position, thus he became haughty, lording it over the other students, teasing, annoying and vexing them. He was usually asked to be first in line, but he did not quickly agree, because despite being an excellent student he was destined to absorb several decent blows of the hand, and only after begging, pleading and cajoling, and after receiving many gifts did he agree.

When the time of the exam arrived Motel-Melamed sat by his desk in all his glory and gave three raps on the desk.

Trembling passed through the students, and they began to run about and spin around as if possessed. The top five approached the desk with knees trembling, shaking from anxiety, arranged themselves around the desk with Jehoszua Bobbe at their head. Jehoszua was a tall young man with a pale, freckly face, his eyes darting here and there uncomfortably and fearfully. He stood stooped, his head bent and his eyes fixed inside the Bible.

Silence pervaded the room, the slightest rustling wasn't heard, a feeling of pressure reigned and everyone faced the elite quintet. These were the brave ones marching first into the line of fire.

[Page 102]

Suddenly, a shaky and choked voice broke the silence: “These are the generations of Noah…”, and afterwards the second and third down to the end of the row.

The first verse went by quietly, but when he got to the second verse, Jehoszua failed; he began to mumble and to guess and finally didn't know. Motel raised the ruler, and Jehoszua raised his trembling arm near his chest, raising and lowering, raising and lowering, this time Motel-Melamed missed his mark, and the ruler shattered on the desk.

The students did not hide their joy, assuming that today there would be no punishing blows, but Motel-Melamed did not agree. He bent over, dug around, searched and found: from his boot he retrieved a shiny, new ruler and waved it in the air to the consternation and heartbreak of the students. Motel knew his ruler was defective, and he prepared a spare in reserve. “Cats such as you are,” he stormed, “what, did you think today would pass without discipline? That's why I planned a day ahead!” With that statement he took Jehoszua's hand in his fingertips, raised it slightly and applied the requisite blow. Jehoszua shook his hand as if to shake off the blow, blew into his hand to cool it slightly, rubbed his hand on his back and then took his aching hand in his other hand and continued. This time he completed the verse gracefully. Just a “gemkele” (a blow on the chin), and two ear twists.

When the blows came aplenty, Jehoszua would alternate offering his right and left hands. Sometimes he got confused, offered his right hand, remembered that he was mistaken, but before he could retract it a mighty blow would fall on his right hand.

After the examination the students would congregate in a corner of the room to lick their wounds. Those who had been hit would stretch out their hands to display them; they were red as fire. Everyone jostled to see Jehoszua's palms, felt his skin, tried to grasp it, but could not, because the skin on the palms of his hand was hard as the sole of a shoe from the blows.

Despite all this, none of the elite five ever thought to abdicate his place by the desk during the exam, for it brought them honor and increased their esteem. Only Jehoszua hinted that he would not stay at the head of the line, and this left a sad feeling in the students' hearts.

Then out fear was realized the next Wednesday, early morning as the students assembled to choose their places in line, Jehoszua announced sharply, “I won't be first anymore.” These bad tidings struck the students with shock, and when they recovered, they tried to speak to him entreatingly, smoothly, offering many gifts, but to no avail, as Jehoszua remained steadfast in his bitterness. “I will not be your perpetual sacrifice!” he announced emotionally. “Each of you should take turns at being first in line, then you will each feel the bitter taste. I renounce all your gifts, and even if you fill this room with gold, I will not go first this time!”

All the entreaties and answers were for naught, Jehoszua stating: “Justice! Where is the justice and integrity?! Will I always take your blows for you in return for a bowl of lentils? I demand justice!”

Even the harshest of the students could not withstand the bywords of justice and integrity. The concepts of justice and integrity were well inculcated into the students, as hadn't they always recited: “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue,” yet we could not arrive at consensus about who would head up the line, everyone being evasive, so it was decided to draw lots.

Let's go, take a handkerchief, tie a knot, and whoever loosened the knot would go first. The fateful knot was loosened by Jankele Grobajzen. The students greeted him with a joyful reception, grabbed his shoulders, raised him up and wished him success.

This would be Jankele Grobajzen's first time at the head of the examination line. Jankele Grobajzen was a boy of short stature, with a sweet face, and known as a good boy who did well, even excelled in his studies. He wore a cloak which buttoned up to his neck, his fringed garment covering his cloak, with the fringes hanging outside his trousers, overlapping his belt.

When the three raps announcing the examination were heard, confusion arose amongst the students, fear and terror overcame them, and with failing feet they approached the desk. This time the quintet arranged itself as follows: Jankele first, Pincus second, Jehoszua Bobbe third,etc. All the students felt and prayed in their hearts that Jankele would pass his first baptism by fire in peace.

And in fact, at first it went smoothly, Jankele recited verse after verse in his soft, mellow voice smoothly and confidently, translating correctly without a single error.

But suddenly an obstacle appeared, and the wagon stopped rolling as if stuck in mud. Jankele tried valiantly, groaned – and it was futile.

Motel-Melamed raised the ruler, aiming to land the blow, the room was ruled by bitter, oppressive silence which weighs on the soul, only the sound of the flies' buzzing was audible.

[Page 103]

I stole a moment when Motel was chasing away a fly from his face, I whispered to Jankele, and it was as if the wagon got out of the mud and began to move. The students took a deep breath as if a heavy weight had been lifted from their hearts.

But Motel-Melamed was not oblivious to the goings-on, and two echoing claps of the hand broke the silence. “Cat that you are” he thundered at me, “when your turn comes 'tsum oys'zugen (to be tested)', you stand there like a stick, like a robot, not knowing what to say, but you know how to whisper?” Motel really went out of his mind, his anger not abating until he added a twist on the ear. Not just a twist, but a real twist that he turned the ear around three times forcefully, and as a finale he grabbed my chin and shoved it hard, he raised my head and didn't let go until he said in a melodious tune: “Thus will be done to the student who whispers to his fellow during a test!” and Motel-Melamed's rage abated only when he said that God does not forgive a sin like this.

I buried my eyes in the Bible out of shame, and my head was reeling. Suddenly the letters began to move, wiggle and dance a wild, demonic dance.

From that time onward, it was as if the heavenly spirit had abandoned Jankele, as he repeatedly made gross, severe mistakes, and the blows multiplied mercilessly and ceaselessly, Motel-Melamed seeming vicariously to want to force the Torah into our heads through the force of his arm.

Each time, poor Jankele offered his hand with resignation, not batting an eyelash, his expression not changing nor moving, only from his big, blue eyes his tears flowed in thousands of streams, pouring all along his rosy cheeks, dripping onto the Bible, wetting the holy letters.

Indeed, it was a “black day” for the students, remembered in infamy, all because of rebellious Jehoszua, but the evil did not pass over Jehoszua, who also absorbed his fair share of blows.

After the test, as was their wont, the students repaired to the corner of the room with bowed heads, ashamed of their failure, beaten and injured in mind and body, Everyone's attention was drawn this time to Jankele, all gathering around him, wanting to view the palm of his hand, to rub it and feel the skin. No one paid attention to Jehoszua or his palm.

Jehoszua stood alone. Perhaps he felt a pang of guilt over the suffering he inflicted on his friend, and perhaps he felt proud of having the strength to inflict such aggravation.

The students, whose only desire was to exact revenge on Jehoszua and to irritate him, did all they could to instill jealousy in him. They lavished many compliments on Jankele, flattered and praised him for his bravery, for his strong and proud appearance – he didn't fear to put out his hand as did Jehoszua – gave him sweets and many gifts, caressed and comforted him. This was a small recompense for Jankele for all he withstood during the examination, a small smile appeared on his noble face, and his moist eyes gleamed and expressed great satisfaction.

A Winter Day in Cheder

In those times, the cheder day was traditionally a long one, the students – who were free from their studies – played in the courtyard, but in the winter they were imprisoned all day long in the cheder.

When evening approached, the students waited impatiently and longingly for the teacher to go to the afternoon and evening service, and when the awaited time arrived, there was no end to their happiness, as their souls were redeemed, and they ran wild and misbehaved to the point of insanity.

Occasionally the students would sit in a circle on the floor and tell scary stories. By the light of the kerosene lamp which threw a weak light, the students sat huddled and crowded and listened to exciting tales; about famous thieves who distributed their plunder among the poor, about valiant robbers, chased by the police in the streets of the city as they escaped over the rooftops and jumped from roof to roof, with the pursuers unable to catch them. They told about demons and spirits and in contrast, about God astride the lowest heaven and His head reaching the seventh heaven, all comprised of great flames, surrounded by flying angels, seraphs awaiting his decrees, millions of souls arriving unceasingly, with God sending some to paradise and some to hell. And hell is so terrifying, where the sinners are roasted and singed seven times a day. And they told a fearsome and bloodcurdling tale about a Jew who passed a synagogue at night, and the dead called him in to read the Torah, and the next day he was found dead of fright.

All these stories left an indelible impression on the students.

The time came to go home, the preparations began, first they prepared the lanterns; some lit their lanterns with kerosene, some with a candle, taking a potato, creating a hole and placing the candle inside.

When the lanterns were lit, they began to dress, putting warm coats over their warm jackets, tying scarves that their good mothers knitted around their necks. They were covered from the soles of their feet to their heads, they put earmuffs on their ears and woolen knit gloves on their hands, their hats were lowered until only a thin slit remained for the eyes, the children looking like balls of wool. Before setting out everyone exhaled to test the cold. Indeed a “cold worthy of dogs” reigned outside.

[Page 104]

Outside they were greeted by a snowstorm whistling from every direction, snowflakes hitting their faces, a strong wing stifling their breathing, which constantly forced them to turn around and stop walking.

Darkness covered the road. Deep darkness. Only a thick coat of snow stuck out of the dark, and the road was empty of people.

The students walked wrapped in their coats, wrapped and invisible, only the light of their lanterns was seen gleaming and moving in every direction like small stars. When the snow crunched under their boots, the students walked wracked with fear, every shadow appearing as a terrifying and fearsome demon, and every noise was suspected to be the sound of a giant.

The fear was greatest among those students who had to pass the synagogue. They were afraid they would be called there to read from the Torah. But against this they had a proven remedy: When they reached the synagogue they unfurled their ritual fringes, held them in their hands plodding along the distance crying before them: “”Hear O Israel, Hear O Israel!” And behold a miracle!: The incantation worked and never did a student, passing the synagogue at night, get called to read the Torah. Pronouncing the incantation “Hear O Israel” always saved them from all trouble, shielded and guarded against all from all danger and all evils, from the living and the dead.

That evening returned home with tidings for mother: Today I began to learn Gemara (Talmud). Immediately a shower of raisins and almonds rained on my head, a charm for luck and blessings for acquiring Torah and wisdom, and afterwards my mother lay her joyous hand upon my head, caressed me softly and said: “good, good, my son, be entrenched and engrossed in Torah and become wise!”

The high price I paid for Torah I hid from my mother, the tears had already dried long before, palms red as fire, with skin calloused hard as the sole of a shoe from the multitude of blows, and the burning ears I never revealed to mother.

And despite all that no one was dearer to me than Motel-Melamed! All these blows left me with no scars, yet the Torah that he entrenched within me plowed a deep furrow in my memory. “A Childhood lesson is not forgotten.” Until this day I hum for my own enjoyment his amazing melodies.

[Page 107]

Memories of Dąbrowa

by Mordechai Gotlib

Translated by Dr. Hannah Berliner Fischthal

“How full of awe is this place!”

During a Shabbat walk on a side street in “Reden” in Dąbrowa, taken with my friends Mindsza Nusbaum and Dawid Każuch, of blessed memory, we overheard Gemara chants.

Do Jews who sit and learn in the middle of the day live in that house? “In this house is found,” said Dawid, of blessed memory, “the study house of our Jewish colony.” Corrections immediately followed. Actually, the study house was not built for the sake of study, but it was the remnant of an inheritance from the settlement there, which had its own minyan. Later it became a study house which is used up to the present day. I think of a synagogue as serving approximately 200 Jewish families, and I cannot believe my eyes. Is it possible that a community of Jews would not consider building a decent synagogue? It's simply shameful. “You came a little late,” the sexton of the study house explained. “Today there is, at least, a floor in the study house. There used to be times,” he said, “when the audience would be bathing in sand and dust during prayer; and it was also good…” – “In that case, you deserve congratulations for your efforts to insure that the enthusiasts would not jump up for 'kadosh' out of the mud… But tell me, please, why are the walls in the study house so black?” – “Our leaders,” explained the sexton, “are very nearsighted, and they probably don't see the black walls and the ripped ceiling… And furthermore, let's assume that they do see the blackness, so what should they do about it? You know that painting the study house would cost about 30 gulden?”

We did not answer the sexton on that argument. I remembered the words of the Będzin Rabbi Graubart, may his memory be blessed, when he once entered such a study house, and he screamed out:

“How full of awe is this place!”

[Page 108]

How the Dąbrowa community obtained a cemetery of its own

by Kalman Barkai

Translated by Avi (Abraham) Stavsky

The City of Dąbrowa had no cemetery of its own for many years, until the year 1929. [The remains of] all the departed were brought to the nearby town of Będzin for burial, and later to the city of Czeladź [in the Zagłębie Dąbrowskie area]. This continued until one day after an unfortunate occurrence, the Jewish Community in Dąbrowa decided to have its own cemetery.

What happened was thus: A Dąbrowa Jew by the name of Awremele Berman, had a marriageable daughter named Fajgl, who unfortunately lacked a dowry. Reb Awremele was quite concerned and explored [many] ways to ensure a groom for his daughter.

dab108.jpg [40 KB] - One of the first graves in the new cemetery in Dąbrowa
One of the first graves in the new cemetery in Dąbrowa
(the headstone of Joszua Swiczarczyk z”l)

He began many inquiries and after great effort, was successful in bringing a young man from Będzin, who agreed to take his daughter for a wife. Reb Awremele was overjoyed and the couple were married in timely fashion. However, fate conspired to ruin the man's situation. A typhus epidemic erupted in our town, and perverse luck caused the malady to strike the young groom, who soon died. Thus began the burial problem. As Dąbrowa had no cemetery, the Chevra Kaddisha [burial society] was obliged to buy a plot in Będzin. However there was no money for this. Furthermore it was a Friday and [Jewish law] prohibited keeping the body from burial. What to do? The representative of the Chevra Kaddisha suggested sending the body directly to the Czeladź cemetery, which had a policy of “no return from this cemetery.” However the Będzin Chevra Kaddisha wanted to show the Dąbrowa Chevra Kaddisha it would not allow lawlessness and there is no burial without the purchase of a plot. It sent the corpse back home. This caused unrest in the town. People intervened and one of them, Manes Lewkowicz took the cart with the body, depositing it in the courtyard of the Head of the Jewish Community. The incident was reported to the police and, this being a time of plague and the deceased known to have died of typhus, which might endanger the populace, the latter issued a writ against the Jewish Community, while the body was returned to the morgue at the city hospital. By Sunday the town Va'ad reached a settlement and the body was laid to rest in Będzin. The writ against the Community was settled and the matter was dropped before reaching a law court.

After this disturbing problem had been settled, the Va'ad of the Kehila sought in earnest to erect a [Jewish] cemetery. They held an emergency meeting and invited prominent citizens, [political] party members and the rabbi at its head, and resolved to tackle the problem immediately. A Jewish public activist purchased a parcel of land in Dąbrowa's Old Quarter from a gentile under the pretext that he wanted to build a brick-making factory. [Were it not for this ruse], the non-Jew would never have sold the lot. To prevent the previous owner from wanting to cancel the deal and keep the land, it was sold again and re-sold once more finally to a fourth buyer, after which a fence was erected around the property. Once the land began to be used as a cemetery, the non-Jews shouted complaints at the original seller, who in turn said he had sold it with the provision it would be the site of a brick factory, and called for legal prosecution of the Jewish buyer. This was to no avail, as the law stipulated that if the [parcel of] land was now owned by a fourth owner, the original owner had no further legal claim [i.e., the land was no longer his]. Thus ended the problem of a Jewish cemetery in Dąbrowa.

Here I want to add several stories my father attributed to Awremele Berman, of blessed memory. He was a wealthy Jew, the owner of a small house on Polno Street, with a brush-making factory.

[Page 109]

He also had a large land parcel upon which rested the home of Reb Josele Fasko, one of the principal builders of the main synagogue in town.

When Reb Awremele Berman lacked for funds, he sold space to Reb Josele with a stipulation in the contract that he allow a stand to be erected in the rear for the sale of brushes. They came to this agreement, however it transpired that Reb Josele Fasko began to dig foundations for a building. Reb Awremele decided to set up his stand and table for selling brushes right in the middle of the excavation work. Of course this led to confrontation, whereupon Reb Josele said this was NOT the area agreed upon for the brush sales. To which Reb Awremele replied, “since the precise area is not mentioned in our contract, I have the right to set up wherever I want.” The police intervened and halted all activity pending a judicial outcome. The [resulting] judgment ruled in favor of Reb Awremele and awarded him damages, following which the latter vanished from the scene. Reb Josele Fasko built a large house with a store in back and he had many Jewish neighbors.

I remember another story attributed to Reb Awremele Berman: he was a short man with a small beard and in his speech affected a pronounced “resh” [r sound]. He had been a member of the Dąbrowa Town Council even before there was a Jewish Communal Center, inasmuch as he was one of the first Jews to live in the city. Once they were all assembled at the home of Sziewicz, who was called “Rebele”, for the purpose of deciding the outcome of something important to the city. However the assembled spoke on different topics, each of which was vital to that person alone, and the proceedings dragged on. Reb Awremele became furious and went outside to the house of a neighbor called Plachta, who was a wagoner. He took from him a handful of straw and returned with it to the meeting. He then threw it on the table and said: “please eat the straw, as you are not worth more than this!” All the assembled [thus] got the hint, became insulted and immediately left the room without any decision having been reached on an important issue.

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