By Esther Graner-Rabbe
Translated by Pamela Russ
My father Yaakov Leyb was an eminent, respected man in town, always surrounded by friends and family, met by every person who needed a favor; and he mainly granted these favors in a discreet manner (matan beseser). In community matters he was one of the most active people. He was also one of the first followers of Dr. Herzl even before the First Congress, and together with others, he still in those years founded the Zionist Organization in Dobrzyn. My father had the position of chairman, and in a short time, he was able to attract other friends, mainly from the older generation. He had to overcome many challenges from the religious circles that said they would only go to Israel with the help of the Messiah (Moshiach), and he who goes to Israel to settle before that is a heretic. In conflict with the chassidim (religious Jews) was the well-known Zionist community activist Reb Yitzchok Moishe Ofenbach, whom my father came to help, and who later was at the head of the Zionist Organization. With his enthusiastic and persuasive speeches that he gave each Motzoei Shabbos (Saturday night after the end of Sabbath) he convinced many of the chassidic circles to believe in Dr. Herzl's national, political thought and movement. Reb Yitzchok Moishe, with his broad, community-minded stature, established a Zionist youth circle and later established the club Hatchiya that served as a gathering place and also for evening courses for the youth to learn Hebrew. My father was always the right hand man of Reb Yitzchok Moishe and helped him in his devoted daily Zionist work. Still at the end of the previous century, my father organized a circle of Hebrew readers, subscribed to the Hatzefira and other Zionist newspapers for the town.
And whoever was interested in knowing what was happening in the Zionist world came to Reb Yaakov Leyb Graner. Many times there were debates in our house on many different subjects. The house was always filled with visitors who my father welcomed warmly, and he discussed all kinds of worldly issues with them. My home, as I remember, was never sad but on the contrary, was always joyous. Groups of people would sit with a glass of tea until late into the night. There were also some Jews in town for whom reading a newspaper was a difficulty. For them, my father set aside a few hours during the daytime to read them the newspaper. That's how he would sit on the steps of his flour factory, a quorum of ten men (minyan) around him, and their ears perked to hear how Reb Yaakov Leyb reads the newspaper about the daily news. Of greatest interest to them was the Political Letters from Itchele in the paper Haynt (today). The letters were published each Sunday. The excitement around Itchele's commentaries on the political letters was enormous. They would discuss these with appropriate critique of the writer. It is noteworthy that these were Jews without a livelihood, and who barely had bread in their homes. And that's how they spent their years, with the hope of a better tomorrow.
My father also played a significant role in community life in Dobrzyn. He wanted and was able to accomplish a lot, but with communities in small towns it was not easy to agree on things. And so the struggle in community issues
was always sharp and bitter. For a long time, my father supported the city and then he undertook to renovate the synagogue that had been terribly neglected for a long time. In his time, the shul was redone almost like new. They changed the benches, chairs, and podiums, extended the women's section, and most important of all, brought painters from Plotsk not ordinary painters, but artistic painters who painted permanent historical scenes on walls and ceilings scenes such as: Mother Rachel's Tomb, Absalom's Tomb, the Tower of David, the Tombs of the Patriarchs, the Western Wall, and many other historical places. There's likely not even one person from Dobrzyn who doesn't carry these beautiful images of these artistic paintings in the Dobrzyn synagogue in his mind. Foreigners who visited this synagogue marveled at the artwork. Our synagogue was also prominent in the surrounding towns, and this was the pride of those from Dobrzyn.
The women of the Ezras Noshim (women's assistance committee) fulfilled their obligation and helped sew the curtain that covered the ark where the Torah was kept, and also made special drapes. They prepared the opening day of the synagogue with great splendor. That Shabbos, they brought in a famous cantor along with his choir from Lodz who sang the Lecho Dodi of the Friday night prayers, and the next day his prayers were filled with song; along with the help of the choir they created a holiday spirit in the town. The joyous event was tremendous and each person felt as if it was his own house that was being presented as new.
At the time when he held the position of supporting the city, my father also organized the cemetery that was without a fence for scores of years. The animals had broken through the flimsy wooden fence and ate the grass that was on the graves. Since there was no money in the fund, the community borrowed a sum of money, bought lots of bricks and cement from the brothers Mendel and Avrohom Hirsh Cohen, and built a tall fence (wall) that was visible from quite a distance. When the fence was built, the neglect ended and the Jews in the town had much nachas (pride) from Reb Yaakov Leyb Graner's accomplishment.
Also, the bais medrash was fixed. The walls were painted, a new oven was built so that the yeshiva boys that learned there in the cold winter days should not suffer from the cold, and also so that the congregants should be warm when they come to pray.
My father organized a small guest house (hachnosas orchim) that was located not far from the street where the synagogue was. It was a tradition in Poland that the Jewish poor people, or goers as they were called, would go from town to town, and in each place would have the opportunity to spend two days and two nights in the guest houses where they would have a place to eat and a place to sleep. Along with that, they were permitted to collect alms from the congregants in the synagogue and from those learning in the bais medrash for those two days that they were in town. After those two days, they would receive a sum of money from the community fund, then they would leave and continue with their journey. Amongst them sometimes were also women and young children. For years they were homeless, practically like gypsies, but by the end of the 1920s the number of goers had diminished and after that it stopped completely. It is worthwhile to note that the phenomenon of the Jewish wanderers in these towns, especially in Poland, was a direct result of the difficult economic situation after World War I. It is also worthy to note that if the goer would have to leave town on a Thursday, then he would be kept over the Sabbath and they would send him for meals to the home of a wealthy man. What incredible compassion did Dobrzyn model for the many surrounding towns.
In the general destruction in Poland, much of the wrath was poured out onto the Jewish community of Dobrzyn. All the holy places, such as the shul, the bais medrash, and all
the other community institutions were destroyed. The cemetery was demolished and the streets were paved with the tombstones. About 90% of the population died in the killing camps and some in the vast wasteland of Russia. This is how the story of the dear, beloved town of Dobrzyn ended, after being in existence for many generations, and after bringing forth many dedicated Jews, among them my father Yaakov Leyb Graner, and all who remember him, know what he accomplished for the town and for her Jewish population.
But, all is not lost for the Jews (lo alman yisroel). Our greatest comfort is that with our own hands, we built a Jewish state. And Jews all over the world are proud of their country. We owe much thanks to our parents who raised us in the spirit of love for Israel. My father also belongs to them he raised his children with this same spirit, and in that atmosphere an entire generation of Jews was raised in Dobrzyn.
May his soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life
by Shimon Yosef Platnerz (USA)
Translated by Allen Flusberg
In this essay I would like to recount several factual anecdotes that reflect on the personality of Bunem Zaklikowski, his great virtues and his good nature.
Once when he and I had run into each other in the street, he asked me whether I would be willing to stay overnight at a sickbednot alone, it should be understood, but together with someone else. When I found out that the sick person was one of my cousins, I realized who was acting like the real relative here.
The needs of the poor classes of the town gave him great concern. He was unable to rest whenever he became aware that one or another family was in need of help, and he would use any means available to ease their situation. For this purpose he put together a drama group that would give theatre performances, with the proceeds donated to help the indigent.
The entire town knew him, and he was everyone's friend. When aid was urgently needed for someone, no matter whom, he immediately knew whom to ask for it; and it was rare that anyone would turn him down. If it ever happened that a politically persecuted comrade had to be transported to Golub, Bunem was the point of contact. He was also the first to lay the cornerstone for an unauthorized library during the era of the Russian regime. Later, during the German occupation, the library was legitimized and became an important cultural center for a large number of the residents of the town. He was respected by all the parties for his devotion to the town and for his ceaseless interest in those who were in distress; it did not matter to him which party they belonged to.
As leader of the Poalei Tziyon, he often had to polemicize against party opponents, but in this capacity, as well, he was honest and frank, without any kind of demagoguery.
Under his leadership, the Poalei Tziyon grew and expanded its ranks, becoming one of the most important parties in the town. We who were on his staff learned a great deal from him, and we think back upon his dignified figure with respect.
For personal reasons he left the town and moved to America. There he married and established a fine home and a good livelihood. But his character did not change, and he renewed his party activity in the vast city of New York. He also maintained his link to his comrades in the old country as usual once he was in New York, and in spite of the distractions of earning a living he always found time to work for the community.
His home was open to friends and landsleit, and his face would always glow whenever he greeted a friend who came from the Old Country.
The capacity of his energy was amazing; it was like an inexhaustible spring. That is what Bunem Zaklikowski was like in Dobrzyn, and for many years also in America: a dedicated comrade, a friend, a person active in the community, always with a smile on his face; and as such we shall always remember him.
by Mendel Sonabend
Translated by Allen Flusberg
My beloved father, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Sonabend z.l., was born in Dobrzyn on the Dreventz River in the Plock Province. He was descended from an extended family of rabbis, religious prodigies and Kabbalists. His father, R. Rephoel z.l., a textile merchant with a keen mind, was the brother of Rabbi Avrohom Sonabend, the Rabbi of Nieszawa. Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Bornstein, the Rabbi of Gostynin, was the rabbi's brotherinlaw, and Rabbi Yissochor Groibard z.l., the Rabbi of Bendin, was his cousin.
Right after his wedding, my father was appointed Rabbi of Janow, a town in the province of Plock. Three years later, he received a letter of appointment from the community of Dobrzyn. The election held for the position of Dobrzyn Rabbi turned into a feud, an extremely bitter struggle, between the Ger Hassidim and the Aleksander Hassidim. The Rebbe of Ger, a worldrenowned, prodigious scholar who was known as the Sefas Emes, after the name of the book he had written, backed my father's candidacy; but the Aleksander Rebbe supported his own grandson for the position. The controversy between the two Hassidic groups knew no bounds. At the very last moment, the other residents of the town decided to back the Ger Hassidim, and my father won the election. Afterwards the Aleksander Rebbe wrote a letter to his followers, instructing them to accept the election results as the finger of God.
My parents arrived at my father's inauguration as Rabbi of Dobrzyn in an elegant carriagedrawn by four white horsesthat belonged to my grandfather, R. Mordechai Globus. A large crowd of Dobrzyn Jews had been waiting on the outskirts of the town to greet him. In a festive atmosphere they escorted him to the synagogue, where he was received with great pomp and ceremony. The synagogue was packed. The cantor and the choir sang Boruch Habo. My father gave a heartfelt sermon that was well received, and the Aleksander Hassidim congratulated him and wished him long life.
In his apartment there was a room in which the religious court met for adjudication. All four walls of the room were covered with shelves filled with books on Jewish law: Mishna, Talmud, Poiskim, Responsa, etc.; it had been a gift from my grandfather, R. Mordechai Globus, z.l. In the room there was a long table with two long benches and a tall chair. When adjudicating, my father would sit on this chair to listen to the claims of the two sides. Cases of property disputes, divorces, chalitza and the like would routinely be brought before him. For disputes he would announce his verdict only after the litigants indicated their agreement to abide by it by grasping the end of a handkerchief that my father would extend to each of them. Aside from these cases, individuals would also come to him to pour their hearts out about their troubles and to discuss personal family matters.
During the period of thirtyfour years that my father was the Dobrzyn Rabbi, he dedicated himself entirely to studying and to writing innovative Torah commentaries. When he passed away after a short illness, his last, dying wish was that the yeshiva students should be well taken care of. Throughout his life they had all been his students, taught by him, and he had practically raised them all.
My father had a deep affection for his yeshiva students. Twice a week he would go for a walk with them in the nearby woods. He loved the students like his own children. Delving with them into complex Talmudic passages, he would reveal to them interpretations that they had never heard before.
He would teach his students some of his Talmud lessons from memory, according to his own unwritten commentary. Shortly before his death he put this commentary of his into writing. He made several copies to distribute to his students in order to make it possible for them to learn these lessons by heart. These commentaries of his were accepted and became popular in scholarly circles.
Aside from being a great, Godfearing scholar, he was also highly educated. He was known as a gifted speaker who was capable of influencing his audience; his sermons on ethics would always arouse a great deal of enthusiasm. Among many of the town's residents he was truly venerated. Families whose personal lives were fraught with difficulties, and others who strayed from the path of virtue, found their way back under the Rabbi's influence.
My father often wrote in Hebrew and had a special love for this language. He particularly enjoyed reading Shirei Tifferet, written by the wellknown Hebrew poet N. Z. Wesel.
He passed away after a short illness, 34 years after becoming Rabbi of the town of Dobrzyn, the town in which, as stated above, he had been born.
My grandfather, R. Rephoel Sonabend, was also a highly regarded Talmudist who was active in the community. He, too, was born in Dobrzyn and died there. As a child he had already displayed prodigious abilities. He wrote a book criticizing the rabbis and scholars for their negligent attitude towards the ordinary, plain people, and for not providing them with a proper education.
Perhaps there will be someone out there who will greatly expand on the biography of the Sonabend family; and may he be rewarded for it.
|A group of people hailing from Dobrzyn in the Forest of the Martyrs
Sitting on the left: Kasriel Isaac, z.l.
|A reception for Moshe Yaakov Katchor, and wife, of New York
by Mendel Sonabend
Translated by Allen Flusberg
The Dobrzyn Rebbetzin was the daughter of Mr. Mordechai Globus. During her youth she studied in the Plock gymnasia together with someone who later became greatly renowned as a Zionist leaderNahum Sokolow.
My mother read and wrote fluently in four languages: Yiddish, Polish, Hebrew and German. Her writing was that of a natively intelligent, wellread woman. She read the classical Polish, Yiddish, Russian and German literature. She also read the secular press, and in the period of the Dreyfus trial she read the reports written by Max Nordau. She had a great appreciation for music and art.
She was also a good housekeeper who ran her home tastefully. She set the tone in clothing for herself, for the children, and for our father, the Rabbi, modestly and with much esthetic taste. She was active at home, despite the fact that we had a sturdy housemaid working for us. And in our home everything glistened; anything that we needed was there. She never complained and was always cheerful, with a smile on her face. Very seldom did anyone hear her sigh. In those days the income of the rabbi of a small town was very limited, yet nothing was lacking in our home. We children would often wonder how she did it all.
Sometimes when she was in pain she kept it to herself, neither wishing nor allowing herself to express it. She was always ready to help anyone who was in distress. That was what my mother was like: a loving, tender soul; no one ever heard a mean word out of her mouth.
As I go back in time to distant memories I have of her, I recall a particular Sabbath eve when she had just placed the silver candlesticks on the table and lit the candles. She covered her gleaming eyes with tender hands and then waved her hands in a circle around the slender flames. She recited the blessing with divine holiness, blessing the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in a spasm of sobs. At that moment I sensed her noble character: the courageous woman, the Jewish mother who had just quietly pleaded for health and good fortune not only for herself, but for everyone else. That was the first time I had ever seen her cry, and as a feeling of sadness came over me and I wished to calm her, she stroked me, saying: Get dressed, my child, soon your father will return from the synagogue; he will greet us singing ‘Sholoim Aleichem’ as he welcomes the Holy Sabbath. At that moment the door opened and our father greeted us with a warm Gut Shabbes. Two guests came in with him, and right away he began to recite Sholoim aleichem, malachei hasholoim, as he usually did.
The candles were burning brightly and the table was set. My mother served the fish and at the same time wished the guests good fortune on their tripthese were two Russian Jews who were about to travel to America after crossing the border to Golub. After dinner my mother took out some warm underwear and woolen socks and gave them to the guests, saying: Take these things and put them on, my fellow Jews, it is winter, and it is cold outside…
My father refilled the glasses with wine and drank a lechaim with the guests, wishing them a safe trip. When the guests were leaving our house, my mother was still quietly saying: May they only be safemay they only be safe.
by Avraham Dor (Dobroszklanka)
Translated by Allen Flusberg
Without a doubt one of the most interesting figures in the town was Mrs. Rivka Aleksander, who was an important community volunteer in the social realm for many years. Members of her inner circle, who witnessed her tireless daily labor, knew what an asset she was and understood how much strength and effort she put into her sacred life's work.
The townspeople wondered where she found the physical strength and the means to deal with all the intricacies of aid. The word baflen was quite foreign to her and practically did not exist in her vocabulary. She did everything with her own two hands: quietly, with humility and great modesty, and without any help from anyone.
In her later years, after her children in America insisted that she join them, she was actually depressed by the very thought that she was leaving behind widows and orphans who had no source of livelihoodthat is what she told her friends and relatives who came to say goodbye before she left.
But even in distant America Mrs. Rivka Aleksander did not forget her duty. While she was still a greene she set up a mechanism to send aid to the neediest of the town, and she continued her activity until she became bedridden.
With the deepest appreciation and greatest respect we here remind the Dobrzyners of the many years of charitable work accomplished by Mrs. Rivka Aleksander in support of victims of misfortune in our town.
|Rivka Aleksander, of blessed memory, one of the most active community volunteers in Dobrzyn|
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