« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 404]

Memoirs Dedicated to My Father R.[1] Feibish Lipka[2]

By Yeshayohu Nosson Lipka

Translated by Allen Flusberg


Right on the border of former Germany, on the very bank of the Dreventz[3] River— facing the well–groomed German town of Golub, on the opposite riverbank—that is where my beloved town of Dobrzyn was situated. It was a community of more than two thousand Jews who had woven colorful lives there for many generations. It was a place that was modest and serene, delicate and tidy; a town pervaded by cordial warmth whose populace was devoted to one another.

On the Polish map the town took up quite a small area, but within the central Jewish circles of Poland it had made a name for itself as a place with a rich social life, one that embraced nearly all the Jewish parties that existed in Poland. There were Judaic scholars, intellectuals, communal leaders, leading personalities, as well as generally gifted people who contributed their skills to the town. Among them there were two I would like to mention with the greatest of respect: the founder of the Zionist organization, R. Yitzchok Moishe Offenbach z.l.[4]; and the leader of Poalei–Tziyon[5], Bunem Zaklikowski z.l.


My father, R. Yosef Shraga (Feibish) Lipka—or, as he was called in Dobrzyn, Reb Fahbish—was known, not only in Dobrzyn, but also in the entire region, as a Jewish scholar, one who was an expert in the Talmud and the Poiskim[6]. Moreover he had an excellent memory and was able to address a variety of questions on these subjects, where answers required true expertise. He knew the Hebrew language well and was acquainted with secular literature. In spite of his great knowledge he did not shut himself up in an ivory tower, but rather delved seriously into political–social problems, particularly Jewish ones.

Paying little heed to his own status as a Hassid, he was just about the only person in town who disseminated the idea of the Love of Zion[7] within Hassidic circles, among whom it was until then considered beyond the pale, anathema[8].

Since he was close with the Otwocker rebbes[9], he had the opportunity—which he utilized—via religious lectures, large gatherings, etc. to convince the Hassidim and the other pious Jews that it was not enough to recite, thrice daily, “May our eyes behold Your return to Zion”[10], thereby fulfilling one's religious obligation. Rather one should fulfil it in actual practice, recognizing that only the Land of Israel can complete the Torah of Israel. The Mizrachi Movement[11] is the proof that he and his close friends and colleagues were successful. Today this seems quite obvious, but many years ago it was not so simple and straightforward.

Among his friends were the well–known rabbi and religious–academy head, Rabbi Yitzchok–Yaakov Reines[12], also known as the Rabbi of Lida[13]; the Gaon of Kutno[14], Rabbi Yehoshue'le Trunk[15]; Rabbi Kowalski of Wloclawek[16]; Rabbi Brod of Lipno, and many others, z.l. And of course the rabbi of Dobrzyn, Sonabend, a warm and liberal person, who was especially lenient [in Jewish law].

[Page 406]


I recall the long discussions that my father would have with the Otwock Rebbe, Rebbe Menachem–Mendel[17] z.l., when he stayed over at our house. It appears that these very discussions had the proper effect, for at the end of each one I could see a look of spiritual pleasure on both of their faces, that of my father and that of the rebbe. The rebbe must have been thinking: Feibish is right, after all, with his proofs and clear statements. Several times my father remarked to me: “The rebbe is clearly interested, since he does want to hear all about it. That is his will, and it is one's will that leads one to faith.” And one time, when the two of us had just left the rebbe's bedroom, the rebbe called us back and said to my father: “Feibish, I see that it is the will of Heaven that I have been staying over at your house. I have been listening attentively to the idea of the Return to Zion. You are right: we have to shed the bitter burden of exile, and it our sacred duty to arouse our people to merit fulfilling, by their actions, the commandments that are dependent on living in the Land. Keep up the good work, Feibish.” My father beamed with joy. And the same thing happened when the rebbe's brother, R. Moshe'le[18] z.l., stayed over with us.


Not only was he propagandizing Zionism among the religious Jews, but also among the German Jews, most of whom were almost completely assimilated.

Russian–Polish Dobrzyn was separated from the German border town, Golub, by a bridge over the Dreventz River and a customs house for paying tariffs. And by the way in Golub there was a pharmacist named Riesenfeld, a warm Zionist and a very fine man. The walled city of Torun (Toyern in Yiddish) was a two– or three–hour train ride away from Golub. Since Torun was renowned for its excellent medical specialists, those who were ill came for treatment there from far and wide. There was a large medical diagnosis facility in Torun. When a sick person came to see a doctor, the doctor would send him to the facility, where he would be examined for all kinds of diseases, physical and psychological—not just the single malady he had come for. He would be poked, measured, weighed and thoroughly examined, and a report would be written up; only afterwards would the specialist take care of him. For those times this approach was a great accomplishment.

Naturally there were many doctors and professors there, and many of them were Jewish: Brandwein, Blank, Goldmann, etc. My father, who had recently been suffering from headaches, had gone to see Dr. Goldmann, a neurologist. Once, as I was entering my father's hospital room to visit him, I came upon the following scene: my father was sitting up in bed, surrounded by a quorum of doctors, as he lectured them about Zionismus (as Zionism is referred to in German). Several of them were nodding their heads, others were taking notes, and all had serious looks on their faces. My father finished to enthusiastic applause, and they said: “Herr Lipka, wir müssen sich öfter zusammenkommen.”[19] Afterwards almost all of them joined together and became active Zionists.

[Page 407]


One may ask: why should it have taken a religious, bearded, Ost Jude[20] clad in a long kapote[21] to convince them of the correctness of Zionism and to turn them towards this idealism? There was already more than enough literature on the subject: books, pamphlets, magazines; speakers etc. These were certainly educated people who themselves had acknowledged that they had heard of Zionism and had read about this movement. Here is the answer: first, my father had a unique approach: when he spoke he actually had something to say, and there was truly something to listen to. He had an outstanding talent to explain the most difficult subject in a popular, simple way, binding together the mind and heart—logic and emotion—and illuminating it all with humor. His scholarship and worldliness complemented one another. He gauged the intelligence of his listener and adjusted his words accordingly, drawing him slowly into the subject matter, and all in a convincing way. Anyone who had heard him speak once was drawn to him like a magnet to hear him again; and, to hear him, one needed no more than “R. Feibish will be speaking today in the synagogue, beis medresh[22], shtibl[23], or in the Zionist premises,” and people came from all directions. He was tolerant to a fault. It did not bother him to speak to an audience of girls or of young people; nor did it bother him whether they did wear hats and caps or were bareheaded. He never criticized, and he always began with the words “My dear fellow Jews!”

[Page 408]


My father loved people and was democratic to a fault. “Tall” or “short”, wealthy or poor: for him it was all the same. Just like everywhere else, our town had “pani[24], those who considered themselves well–born, elite.. These people thought it would be improper to “lower” themselves, to be among “those kinds of people”. My father found this attitude ludicrous. Whether in synagogue, in the beis medresh, in the shtibl, at festive occasions, or in business, he never bragged or was arrogant. “Nahum,” my father would say, “let me have a sniff of your tobacco,” as he put his finger into Nahum's snuffbox. “Aaron, let me try your glasses on,” he would say as he sat down with the others in the beis medresh, on a bench with a long table, near the door, and he would converse and study with them. And all of this was natural for him, and sincere. One of the “pani” would have had a fit before “doing something like that.”

Several Jews were employed in our sawmill, in our mill and in our lumber warehouse. Among them were some ardent Bundists[25]. Well, they would often have discussions with my father. He would ask them to first sit down comfortably, not like a boss with employees, but rather like a person with his equals. He would not notice even for a moment that this confounded them. And so these discussions would last for hours.

Like anywhere else, our town also had “certain elements”. So…if someone was caught, he was put in custody and…beaten. My father would immediately intercede and stop the beating. “Do not judge someone until you are standing in his place,”[26] “All of Israel are bound together in friendship,”[27] and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”[28] were for him the primary foundations of ethics. He helped dozens of needy people covertly, and he had the same attitude toward non–Jews. Intuitively sensing his sincerity and intimacy, people would come to him for advice about their problems. And indeed he helped them with both counsel and action. Had he had the desire to be a rebbe[29], he would have had many Hassidic devotees, and actually he was one in effect, unofficially. When someone addressed him as “Reb Feibish,” or “Pan[30] Lipka”, they were expressing themselves with respect and sincerity. But he was a modest man who shrugged off even the minimum “eighth part of an eighth of pride” that a learned scholar is supposed to have[31]. He fled from glory and honor, and he avoided the public sphere. Yet people chose to consult him specifically and to seek him out for his leadership.

[Page 409]


The local priest of Dobrzyn was friendly to the Jews. My father was a very close friend of his. For hours on end they would talk about religion, philosophy, world politics and municipal problems. Those were the days of the cooperative organizations: spolkas[32] zgodes[33], swoj do swego[34], and other afflictions. Of course my father would show him the disingenuousness of all these things. His influence helped: the priest began using his sermons to condemn all the incitements and libels against the Jews. The atmosphere in the town improved and became normal. The farmers from the surrounding areas avoided the spolkas and returned to the Jewish shopkeepers.

One day the priest informed my father that he wanted him to visit him the next day. What was the occasion? An important guest, a very learned priest who knew Arabic and Hebrew, was coming over, and the local priest wanted my father to have a conversation with him. I was very curious to hear a priest speak Hebrew, so I went along. As we entered the house, we saw a plump, broad–shouldered man sitting at the table, reading a book. Seeing us, he said, in a jesting manner, “Dzień dobry, Maszku! ” (Good morning, Moishele). Now, we knew very well that for the Poles “Maszek” was a derogatory name for a Jew, an expression of contempt. “Dzień dobry,” we answered as we sat down.

Just then “our” priest came in. He went over to my father and said in a loud voice: “Ah, dzień dobry, Panie Lipka! (Good morning, Mr. Lipka.) We were just talking about you.” The guest quickly stood up and said, “Przepraszam bardzo (pardon me very much) for insulting you by calling you Maszek. I didn't know that you were the Pan Lipka that my friend has been telling me so much about.”

My father looked at him with a smile on his face and said: “I heard that you know Arabic and Hebrew. Well, all right, I don't really know any Arabic, but let me hear your Hebrew. Do you have a book in Hebrew?” “Certainly,” he answered, taking a Chumash[35] out of his valise. My father stuck his finger between the pages and opened it; it opened to the section of Balak[36]. “Read,” my father said, and the guest began to read: “And Balak the son of Zippor heard…”, and continued on and on—correctly, without getting stuck, truly amazing! His pronunciation of Hebrew was excellent, and he immediately translated into Polish—precisely, effortlessly. My father tested him on other parts of the text, but the guest really did know it all; he was a true expert[37].

“Good,” my father said, “Very nice. I must be honest with you, I didn't expect you to know it so well. But let me ask you, do you know who wrote the Pentateuch?

“What do you mean, who?” said the guest, astonished. “Why, Mojżesz[38], of course!” “Right, correct!” answered my father. “And we know that ‘Maszek’ is a corrupted, jesting form of Mojżesz. Could it have even occurred to you that you were insulting me by calling me Maszek? If not for that ‘Maszek’, there would not have been any Torah or religions. You would not have been a learned priest and would not have had such a nice, comfortable position. If not for that ‘Maszek’ you would be herding livestock today, mildly speaking.” (My father did not want to overdo it, but both priests understood which livestock…) My father continued: “There was another great ‘Maszek’, Maimonides,” and he went on, quoting in Hebrew, “From Moses to Moses there has not ever arisen anyone like Moses”[39]. (The guest understood this immediately.) “When you called me ‘Maszek’ you gave me the greatest compliment. This shows that in your fanatical hatred of Jews you are ignorant fools!”

The guest was stunned and, for a while, was lost in thought. Shaking my father's hand, he said: “No wonder my friend regards you with such high esteem. I learned a great deal today, and I will never forget it.” Meanwhile, the priest of Dobrzyn was beaming, smiling from ear to ear.

[Page 411]


My father and my brothers conducted a great deal of business with the surrounding Sroros[40] (Pritsim[41], but the word “Porits” was almost never used in our parts). From them we purchased wooded areas, grain, cattle, and horses; and from us they would buy flour, wooden planks, and timber. They would also order stodoles (barns), stalls and other structures. We would prefabricate these orders in our huge courtyard, and then reassemble them on site. My father was never obsequious to the “Jasznie–Wielimadznies” (titled, gentry landowners); he told them the truth to their faces, and they respected him for it. Among them was a quite important nobleman, the Zbójno hrabia[42] (count in English), a conspicuous playboy, tall and well built. He liked to play chess with my father, and to discuss world politics, Poland and even Palestine with him. He strongly supported the idea that the Starozakonny[43] (the Jews) should return to their land. He said that all honest patriotic Poles should feel the same way. Other noblemen who were present when he said that would weakly mutter “tak, tak” (yes, yes). In their conversations, when they were doing business with us, they would be very careful to explicitly use the word żydzi—the polite, grammatically correct term, rather than żydy, the vulgar, disdainful form–for the plural of żyd, i.e. Jew.

During the German occupation of the First World War, the hrabia was so “broke” that he was compelled to sell off a large part of his famous “Zbójno forest”, the largest forest in the vicinity. Here my father showed him and the other gentry that money is not everything to a Jew. Thanks to this count's liberalism and the favorable opinion of Jews that we knew he had, my father did not want to try to get a bargain from him. Instead he paid him the best price. We could have made a fortune from this transaction, but my father said that no treasure, no matter how great, could outweigh the value of making a good name for Jews—to encourage Gentiles to be friendly to the Jews. The hrabia never forgot it, and he publicized it among his noblemen friends.

[Page 412]


Now I would like to describe an interesting event that took place at the end of the spring of 1914. As always my father travelled to a spa, this time to Landek, in Silesia[44]. After the attack in Sarajevo[45], the guests in Landek who were foreign citizens were trying to get home before they would be interned. My father, too, boarded a train to go home. Two stops before Torun[46], the train he had taken was brought to a halt; all Russian citizens aboard were taken away to Stettin[47], and from there through Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Petersburg to Warsaw, a journey of several thousand kilometers. My father and I met up in Warsaw, where I was at that time, and together we took the train to Ciechanow[48]. There we hired a closed carriage, which brought us back to Dobrzyn along a very dangerous route.

Rumors about my father's long journey spread quickly in the town, and dozens of people came over to hear about his impressions of the trip. He also received an invitation from the German command headquarters in Dobrzyn. They were interested in finding out about the movements of the Russian troops, and also about what types of arms he had seen along the way. My father told them that he had seen many troops with a large number of weapons. They called him in several times, but were unable to obtain a clear statement from him; he was not a military man and did not understand much, if anything, about the nuances and fine points of weapons[49].

However, in the end the meetings with the German command did indeed bear fruit: my father and the commandant became good friends. Later this friendship brought a great salvation to the town:

The entire populace of the town had been brought to the town square with the accusation that someone had fired on the German soldiers in the town. The square was surrounded by armed soldiers. At a critical moment my father spoke to the commandant and convinced him of the innocence of the population. “Yes, it is possible,” the commandant mumbled, and later gave the order that the populace should leave town. In this way the incident in the town square ended, thanks to my father's intervention with the commandant.

[Page 413]


Most of the members of my family were timber and grain dealers. During his early years my father studied in the Slonim[50] Yeshiva, where he received smicha[51], but he didn't wish to use the Torah as a kardom lachpor boi[52] and became a merchant. Later he built a sawmill as well as a large four–story [flour] mill. He was successful in business; after becoming very wealthy he turned everything over to my brothers and busied himself with Zionist propaganda. My brothers would consult him only for the most important transactions.

At that time he was elected in the Plock region as a delegate to the First or Second Zionist Congress. He then travelled to the Land of Israel for the first time, and upon his return he was ready to take the family on aliya. At home, within the family, we spoke about it very seriously, but in the meantime some problems came up and the plan was cancelled.

The German occupation created various problems in the town, and my father would in each case intervene with the German authorities—just as he did in the incident that took place at the beginning of the war, as mentioned above.

When the war ended my father again brought up the idea of aliya to the Land of Israel. It was after the Balfour Declaration, which had generated a great deal of enthusiasm in the town. We then owned a huge fortune, consisting of: an electricity station in the town, several estates, sawmills, a [flour] mill, houses, wood camps, forests, and other assets. My father's plan was to set up a factory in Israel that would manufacture orange crates; at the time orange crates were being imported from outside the country. But then another hindrance came up: the Russian–Polish War[53], which put my father's plans on hold. Still he didn't want to give up his life's dream; as he became more infirm with advancing age he decided to make the journey to Israel, where he would find his final resting place. Unfortunately, however, fate dealt him a cruel blow at the very end. He suddenly fell ill, and after several days he passed away at the age of 79.

With my father's passing, part of my world came to an end, as well. I was in a state of despair, feeling that I was done for, with no plans whatsoever for the future. It was then that my fate brought me to America.

[Page 415]


We were a large family with many branches, consisting of sisters, brothers, children, grandchildren, and even adult great–grandchildren. Among them were personalities who edified the Jewish community of Dobrzyn. There were also people who played a large role in the financial world, since they were owners of large industrial works, estates, forests, and various businesses.

The descendants of R. Feibish Lipka's dynasty studied in high schools and also in higher education. All were raised in the spirit of the Land of Israel, with Zionist leanings.

Already in the early 1920s some of his children and grandchildren immigrated to the Land of Israel. My brother Yaakov and his two sons started a business building houses in Tel Aviv. This brother was an expert builder who would join forces with the engineer in designing a building. His children helped out with the actual work. He wanted to create a livelihood for members of the extended family who would be immigrating in the future. But the 1926 crisis in the Land of Israel abrogated his building plans, and with a heavy heart he returned to Poland. Unfortunately my brother was not the only one; now, in 1963, I heard from Zipporah Cohen of Tel Aviv, who was here on a visit, that my brother Yaakov and several other members of my family who were in English Mandatory Palestine, as it was then known, had bought plots of land and were about to bring over the remaining family. But when Grabski reduced the tax rate a bit[54], and also because of the housing crisis, thousands of Jews, among them also my brother Yaakov and his children, went back to Poland and perished tragically in the widespread destruction.


Dobrzyn had approximately three thousand residents, of whom somewhat more than half were Jews. Most had a livelihood. On market days—Tuesdays and Fridays—the “Tarek” (the local term for town square, the marketplace) used to be filled with the farmers from the surrounding villages, one wagon right up against another. Jewish men and women would be buying and selling chickens, eggs, dairy products, grain, horses, cattle, etc. Jokesters used to tell the following story: once a Jewish man needed a rooster for kapores[55], and, holding up the chicken he had selected, but not knowing how to tell [whether it was male], he asked the lady farmer who was selling it, “Czy to ja, czy to ty[56] (is that me or you?)—[meaning,] a rooster or a hen. Oh, well…what jokesters can come up with!

The farmers, in turn, bought the following from the Jews: food supplies, fine fabric, haberdashery, shoes, boots, clothing, tools, etc. In Dobrzyn there were two [flour] mills, two sawmills, several shoe workshops, clothing workshops (“tandetnikes”)—all in Jewish hands. There were also several bakeries (Shmuel Prum, with his famous “kaiserkes”— lachmaniot[57] in Hebrew), a soda–water and “kvass” factory, a chicory factory, a soap factory, a lodownie[58], etc. There were also several Jewish estate owners: We owned Grudza[59]; Moishe–Yaakov Kohn owned Zakrocz[60]; Rojna and Szmiga owned Szitna[61]; Zeinwel Yom Tov owned Cholewy[62]; Hersz Dobrzynski owned Dzalin[63]; and Florman owned Zarembe[64], a small estate. It was all legitimate—perfectly honest and legal.

Another source of livelihood, an open secret, was “moilecherei”, a term used in Dobrzyn for smuggling (perhaps derived from the Hebrew word moilich, meaning bringing across or transporting). To legally bring merchandise into Dobrzyn from the German border–town Golub one had to pay customs tax. But that would not be any good! Citizens of both countries had documents called “cartes” that would allow them to cross the border. So they crossed and “moilecht” brazenly, as much as they wished. Mostly men's and ladies' garments, canned goods, liquor, chocolate, cigars, cigarettes, cameras, watches and dozens of other articles. When they were going across to Golub, the moilechers looked like slim young girls, but when they came back they looked like pregnant women carrying twins. Surprising? They would put on a few pairs of pants, vests (what would you expect, no vest?) and jackets; and on top of everything a palto (an overcoat). They would stuff the pockets of these garments with underclothes, ladies' bags, as well as the items mentioned above. They went back and forth this way several times a day. Fonye[65] the Thief would look the other way, his palm outstretched. Once Fonye made it look good: one day before the arrival of the government inspector (from Plock), the local inspector “captured” a couple of moilechers. Their brother moilechers compensated the captured ones until their cartes were returned to them. This was routine.

There was also another category of a political nature, which was called ariber–shvartsn[66]. Those who were smuggled across—among them non–Jews, as well—included people who did not wish to serve Fonye[67], political lawbreakers, and others who had their own private reckonings. Most of the time they were taken across the river at night in a łódka (a small boat). It often happened that they swam across the river during the daytime, although the objeszczikes (border guards) used to shoot at them and miss…It must have been set up in advance—what else?…

One should not think that Dobrzyn was a town consisting of only wealthy people, shopkeepers, and smugglers. Far from it. But since it was a border–town, smuggling was unavoidable. Besides, only a small number of Jews were involved in it. At the very least Fonye the Pig would benefit, and Jews would derive some livelihood thereby. In our town there were honest, hard–working, cordial people who labored physically: shoemakers, tailors, porters, wagon drivers, butchers, fishermen, carpenters, watchmakers, artists (incidentally, the Dobrzyn artist and monument mason was the brother of the renowned sculptor Enrico Glicenstein[68]); a tinsmith, a furrier, a rope maker, sausage makers, a barbecue lady, water carriers, musical bands, government teachers who were Jewish, and a soifer[69]— all cordial, warm Jews. Even the barrel–organ player and the Jewish thieves had a special Jewish romantic flavor, à la Motke Ganef[70]. Since my childhood I have felt some kind of gnawing, deep sympathy for these very people.

And on weekdays, very early in the morning, all these Jews would be the first to arrive at the Beis Medresh; they would pray with heart and mind, beseeching the Creator for health and livelihood, not only for themselves but for all of the Jewish people. There was a powerful sense of friendship and unity among the Jews of Dobrzyn. Kasriel Sonabend, may he rest in peace, the son of Rabbi Sonabend, would lead the prayer service with great fervor. It should be mentioned here that all the Jews of Dobrzyn at the very least knew some prayer–book Hebrew and, in their own simple way, understood what the words meant.

[Page 418]


Friday, in the mikve[71], a few hours before candle–lighting[72]. We youngsters have been fooling around the whole time. We are pouring buckets of cold water over each other's heads. Suddenly our fathers, already dressed, are shouting: “Get out! Go home!”

We jump out of the baths like roosters. We barely have a chance to dry ourselves, and still half wet we slip on our underwear and our shirts, which stick to our skin. Our skarpetkas[73] are wet, and in this state we drag ourselves home, home!

Our house was on the other side of town. The fact that we didn't get pneumonia could only have been because of the merit of the Sabbath. Mothers, you see, would not have let us go in that condition. Ah, you dear, warm, devoted Jewish mothers! They would have drunk up and kissed every toe on their children's feet.


The eve of Rosh Hashana. We are unpacking the Israeli wines. We youngsters are tearing the straw covers off the bottles and are turning them into “Land of Israel caps” that the Jewish colonists and shepherds wear. That picture of the two Jews on the bottles of wine always intrigued us children. These must certainly have been two of the spies, who are carrying a cluster of grapes on their shoulders[74]. And we think about it as we look at it and stroke it with such a warm feeling, somehow, of home and longing. And the pineapple, the apfelsinen[75] (oranges, tapuchei–zahav in Hebrew). The next day, in the shtibl, the special Torah–reading chant of “And it happened after these things…”[76]: the words and melodies are so drawn out and exotic. You can just see Abraham with Isaac, with the young boys who were left with the donkey, as they pace slowly and with difficulty through the sandy desert, until “On the third day he saw the place…”[77] So the fantasy weaves along, and before you know it we are going to Tashlich[78] at the Dreventz River. Gentile toughs[79] throw stones down at us from “Rokers Mount”[80], and we youngsters “storm” the mountain and chase them away.

[Page 419]


The eve of Yom Kippur. Quite early, people begin to shlog kapores[81]. For me this has always been a painful experience to endure. What do they want from these poor, unfortunate chickens? When I hold my chicken, how his little heart beats as I say “Bnei Odom[82], and how sad his face is! Once I got so angry that I cut the cords off the birds' little feet and chased them away. My stepmother, who was very devout, was shouting, “Feibish, have a look, the meshumed[83] has been up to something again!” My father answered, smiling, “He probably put the chickens someplace so that they would live longer.” It was getting late, so on that Yom Kippur Eve we shlogged kapores with money for charity[84].

And now an idea has occurred to me: why not write a list (a long one) of the names of all the enemies of the State of Israel on a piece of paper and shlog kapores with it? After the ritual you could burn the piece of paper. That would cover symbolism, appropriateness, and ceremony.

Then afterwards, around the time of Mincha[85], came the distribution of money in the various charity boxes. My father, wearing a white kitl[86], blesses me and all the grandchildren. In the shtibl, before Kol Nidrei[87], the fiery declaration: “By the authority of the Court on High and by authority of the court down below…”[88] As I see it, these few words reflect the essential perspective of the Jewish religion. Before accepting our sacred holiday, the day of introspection and reckoning, we proclaim: let not a single soul be rejected. Even the greatest sinner should not give up hope, since the relationship between one person and another is of the utmost importance. Etc. And after that, the lyrical–tremulous uplifting chant, the supreme ancient yet new Kol Nidre! After Maariv, my father and several other Jews remain in the shtibl and we say “Shir HaYichud[89], a most beautiful religious poem. Then the next day the fast. The capable, determined little faces of the young children who want to do what the “big kids” are doing[90]. But after a while our spirits hang on the tip of our noses: we are inhaling smelling salts. And finally the blowing of the shofar, and we walk home slowly with unburdened hearts.

[Page 420]


After Yom Kippur and the Eve of Sukkos[91] we young children and my brother Mordechai–Mendel were busy erecting a large sukkah[92] that was big enough for all three families, many invited people, and just plain guests. We were banging, hammering, sawing, decorating the walls with beautiful rugs and hanging various fruits.

Plenty of sechach[93] was available. We had to just watch out that Lillis, the shrew—the mischievous goat—should not snatch it away. (We youngsters were rearing cattle and chickens, and we had given each its own nickname. The shochet[94] had no power over them.) Lillis, however, managed to grab a bundle of sechach with her mouth and fled, as if to say: “I am after all a Jewish goat, so let me also enjoy Sukkos.” But Zagrai, the old dog, now saw his opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty, and in a way to settle scores with Lillis for the hard jab she had given him with her horns a while back. He caught her by the leg, and with a loud shriek she gave up the bundle of sechach.

The little roofs that were opened and closed by thick ropes wound on wheels were the pride of the sukkah[95]. And when my father and brothers were inviting the ushpizin[96], we kept looking at the door…oh, well, we thought, maybe next year.


[Page 421]

Purim. Last night we read the megilla[97] with its special drawn–out, up–and–down melody: “And it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus…”[98] Stamping of the feet and noisemakers at the mention of Haman's name[99]. Delivering shalach manos[100] with the traditional white napkin over the plate. The actor in a Purim disguise with Aharon Tzukevich's (Aharon Shliepak) little song: “Happy Purim, kish kish kish; let us all eat some good fish; let us all have some good wine; ten pennies into the bottle!” Or: “Berl on the fiddle, Shmerl one the bass; play a little song for me; have along some gas.” The older kids would put on long, white frocks with large blue stars of David, either sewn on or colored on, and they would collect money for the Jewish National Fund. It also sometimes happened that a large group of Gentile toughs[101] would attack these collectors of charity, who were barely able to rescue themselves. My nephew Yitzchok–Yaakov once split open a Gentile tough's head with an iron rod. People collecting money for Mo'os Chittim[102]would also appear at the Purim Seuda[103].


Passover Eve. The sense of spring. Something so proud. The heart is so joyful. We are washing, scraping, whitewashing walls, plastering ceilings, and kashering[104]. We take the Passover utensils down from the attic. The mysterious B'dikas Chometz[105]: husband and wife walk through all the rooms with a candle and feather in their hands, brushing crumbs of bread that they find into a large wooden spoon. A bunch of youngsters meet up on the mountain behind the synagogue, where they burn the chometz[106]. My father writes up the Chometz Sales Document in ornamental writing, reckoning out very precisely all that he was “selling” to the Christian flourmill supervisor, Plocharski.

The Seder. The tablecloth, white as snow, is laden with all the good food. The Passover wines from the Land of Israel. The silver cup for my father. The special Cup of Elijah, also silver. The crystal cups for the other adults, and for me the little glass with the ear–shaped handle. Everything is so clean and tidy. And the atmosphere is so joyful and warm. Father, dressed in a white kitl[107], is on his recliner[108]. I ask the Four Questions. The Haggada is read with a special narrative melody. The tasty dishes. (What else? The Haggada without kneidlach[109]?) “Stealing” the afikomen[110] and the negotiations between my father and me to “redeem” it. My price: a new little chalet; a new pair of shoes; new pants; a new hat; and “pocket money”, as much as I desire. My father smiles amiably and accepts these terms. The few frightening, suspenseful minutes when the door is opened and we say “shfoich chamoscho[111]. Who else can so painfully understand it better than our unfortunate, martyred people, especially the generation of the last World War? For the other nations it was a war over power, but with respect to our people it was a cold–blooded campaign of eradication. Even as a child, since I began to understand what the Hebrew words meant, “shfoich chamoscho” was of primary importance to me. After that…“Vayehi Bachatzi Halaylah[112] and “Oimetz Gvuroisecho[113], the two artistic poems. The author reduces entire epochs and important historical events to two lines, and all so colorfully and dynamically. We sing “El Bnei”, “Echod Mi Yoideia”, “Chad Gadyo”. My eyes…are…getting…heavy…Maybe because of the little glasses of wine, or because of the late hour…and I fall into a long, sweet sleep.

And afterwards an entire week of “playing” with nuts. Mostly shlofkepl and bitch. It often happened that when the little hole was full of nuts a “lapser”, an awkward, tall creature with paws, came running over, put its two large paws into the hole and ran off with the nuts. Once, however, we played a trick on it: we filled the little hole with kleister (an adhesive) and mixed in a lot of India ink, which is very hard to get off. We covered it with nuts and “let” the creature grab it with his paws. He smeared his new holiday suit up and we laughed hysterically.

On Choil Hamoied[114] children also used to go to the family to get “painted” eggs. The mothers used to cook them in onionskin, and they would come out colored.

[Page 423]


The eve of Shovuos[115]. Quite early we would go out beyond the town, looking for “reeds” near the water. We would cut them down, bring them home and place them in the windows. The next day, Akdomus[116] with its unique melody. And the idyllic and simple Book of Ruth. The tasty dairy dishes. The bewitching end of spring and beginning of summer weather! We youngsters get together and we all feel so good!


The Eve of Tisha B'Av[117]. We are all so sad and mournful. Nevertheless we youngsters tear up kretz (prickly thorns), and during the recital of Eicha[118] stick them into people's beards. Later, when we were somewhat older and understood the meaning of our national day of sorrow, and the sad, mournful Eicha melody had penetrated our souls, we recited the Kinois[119] together with the grownups. I don't know where the custom originated from, but on Tisha B'Av we young boys used to stick wooden swords into the graves of our dead family relatives. As for me, my young heart sank when I did this on my mother's grave, especially since Tisha B'Av was actually the anniversary of her death. The bystanders would look at me with compassion.

[Page 424]


The “going to recite Krias Shma[120]” to the women who were giving birth. We young cheder children are standing near the bed of a woman in labor, looking at the “Shir Hamaalois[121] that have been hung around her bed to protect her against the mazikim[122], but in reality it is the goodies we will be receiving that are on our minds. We begin each group of two or three words in a loud, monotonous staccato, the way captured, hungry woodpeckers sometimes let out a refrain of “one–two–three”. And we stretch our little hands out for the cookies, lollypops, raisins, almonds and nuts. We would be lucky if Mrs. Rusak, the midwife in the white coat, was there: she gave out double–size portions. It sometimes happened that a woman in labor asked, “Why the big hurry?” and made us start all over again.


That is what the holidays and customs of the Jewish town looked like. Idyllic, simple, warm. That is how we felt as children. We record it here so that our children, grandchildren and all their descendants, to the very last generation, should at least have an inkling of the past joy and pain in the little Jewish town. And that goes for us, the survivors, as well. So, one of these days try humming a Kol–Nidrei tune, an Akdomus melody or a megilla chant, and see if you don't get that feeling of yearning. And you will berate yourself: “Ah, where can one find the belief of yesteryear…and the faith, hard as stone, that comes with it?” After all, most of us are not religiously observant. And the tiny little inconsequential portion of This World that we capture, we fritter away, after all, because we are not even one tenth corrupt enough to be able to possibly utilize it completely. If so, let me at least warm myself with the small amount of faith of yesteryear, and meanwhile plan a future of belief. That is the fundamental basis of our existence…as a Jewish people in the State of Israel and in the Diaspora…

[Page 425]


R. Chatzkl was my first teacher. I don't remember his family name. From him I learned some fundamental Bible–Hebrew and began a bit of Chumash[123] and Rashi[124]. How glad he was that R. Feibish had entrusted his little boy to him! But I was in his class for only one term, because once I had caught on he was much too slow for me. While Rebbi[125] Chatzkl was still teaching Noah[126] to the other little boys, I was already up to Deuteronomy, having studied on my own.

R. Chatzkl had two sons. The elder of them, tall with dark hair, was serving in the Russian army. When he was home on leave, he would always sing for us in a long, drawn–out tone: Poyechal Kossack! The second son, Mechl, used to make skates for us out of a piece of wood into which he would force a piece of hard tin. The skates would be fastened onto our shoes with leather straps, but we fell down more than we actually skated. In order to hang on to their poor little bit of livelihood, the Rebbetzen[127] would often treat us to roasted potatoes.

Since my father loved me dearly and gave in to me, I ran around all summer, free as a bird. When once in a blue moon he ostensibly wanted to actually castigate me, he would say to me: “Yadush (undisciplined, ‘Yatl'), what [mischief] have you now again been up to?” And his clever eyes gazed at me with such heartfelt warmth. There was one thing that I did learn very well: Hebrew from the book Safa Chaya[128] (the older among you readers probably remember this very book): puzmak, ozen, ish tzava[129]. My “teacher” was (Yaakov?) Arda.

My second rebbi, from whom I learned Chumash–Rashi and Posuk[130], was R. Avrohom Gottlieb, a fine, good–looking man. He never beat us or slapped us around. While teaching, he would “make” cigarettes. He would lay the tobacco out on paper, spraying it a bit; then fill a metal tube containing little wrappers with the tobacco. He would close the tube, sticking one end into a “thimble”. He would force a thin, metal pushing tool into the other end. He would do all this quickly, without even looking at his hands. Only rarely did a thimble tear. He would shear off the upper portion of the cigarettes and pack them into a textured little box. The man must have “stuffed” millions of cigarettes throughout his lifetime; nowadays it takes a machine half a day to do the same thing.

He was good at making models of the objects that he taught his students about. He made a miniature model of the Biblical Tabernacle in exact detail: the planks, the curtains, and even the clasps and sockets[131]. Everything was precise, in proportion, and properly scaled. He also made a model of the breastplate, the Ephod and the turban[132].

When he and R. Nisan (another one of my teachers) sat down to play chess (in Dobrzyn parlance, shoch[133]), it would take them days to finish the game. And no wonder, since it took them hours to make a move. They didn't rush each other. They drank tea and smoked; it was a true diversion for them.

We'd leave them to their chess game and off we'd go to play palant[134]. In this game R. Avrohom's son, Chaim'ye “Matchek”, was an expert player, a daredevil[135]. He never missed the ball when he swung at it with the stick, and he would hit it a great distance, far away where no one would be able to catch it. And he struck the ball so gracefully and with such ease that even the Gentiles—for it was, after all, their national sport—would stop in their tracks in wonder. And not only did he hit the ball far, but also high, very high. Here in America, he would have been a first–class baseball player. He also had a good, sweet voice and sang well.

We used to make the ball out of old galoshes. We would cut the rubber into long, thin strips, and then wrap them together to form a large, hard core. If anyone would be hit in the head by it he might see stars…When someone did catch the ball the friction of the impact would chafe his hands.

My third—and favorite—teacher was R. Nisan Dembowicz. A worn–out, tall man. He was indeed strong as an oak[136], and strict! (We used to call him “Cossack”, because he didn't let anybody, even the finest and wealthiest people, push him around.) With him I studied Chumash–Rashi, then Posuk, Mishnayos[137], Gemoro[138]; and even on the Sabbaths I had to study Perek[139]. With him you “had to” study and “had to” know. If not, then you felt the taste of Amalek. Amalek was a long leather strap, doubled over. Obviously Amalek was not to our liking.[140] So that led us to a hovo nis'chakmo[141] plot: how to get rid of it. Someone had heard that if you rub a lot of garlic onto leather and then strike it, it instantly bursts. He was ready to swear to it—amazing what a child can come up with! But this was all we needed to hear. The next day, when the teacher left the room for a few minutes, the two “shtarke[142], Avrohom Moshe “Obal” (Tinski) and Hersh–Leib “Faife” (Glitzenstein) rubbed the Amalek hard with garlic, and volunteered to “provoke” the teacher. When we resumed class, “Faife” bleated loudly like a goat, and “Obal” bellowed like an ox. The teacher grabbed the Amalek as we waited for the miracle: Amalek was about to be sprung apart! But unfortunately it was the two victims who were nearly sprung apart. And they also had to wash the garlic out well.

But the amazing thing was that in spite of everything we really liked this teacher very much. Children want to have a disciplining authority over them. He was not only a good teacher, but he was also our spiritual leader. He inspired us to courage and valor: that we should not be afraid of the Gentile boys, that we should stand up to them and fight back, even when we were being beaten. This had a strong effect on us, and we did fight back.

During the winter, when the section of the Torah about to be read in synagogue was Vayigash[143], he would play out his fantasy, telling us what the “midrashim[144] had to say about the meeting between Joseph and his brothers, the other sons of Jacob…Manasseh and Ephraim[145] were in Joseph's suite. One of them went over to Judah and the other to Simeon, and they planted a slap on the back on each of them. Judah and Simeon then called out to the other brothers: “Strange, that felt like a slap from one of us: it really hurt. But that's impossible—and we've been offended. Naphtali (the “hind that has been set loose”[146])! Go run through the streets of the city and then let us know how many houses there are here.” When Naphtali returned, Judah let out a shout: “Get ready, brothers! Today all these houses will be smeared with Egyptian blood!” And meanwhile the hair on Judah's chest stood on end like steel spears. But of course Joseph understood everything they had said[147], and he ordered that they be surrounded by the bravest soldiers, the strongest charioteers and the fieriest horses. He disarmed them and locked them up in a fortress…And more and more fantasies of this kind. We young boys were sitting crowded together, listening with bated breath, and feeling lofty and strong. On that night we left our lanterns behind in the cheder and walked home with stones in our hands, ready to defend ourselves.

And needless to say, Judah Maccabee[148] as well. It appears (now, from my present perspective) that this teacher had gotten access somewhere to the First and Second Book of Maccabees of the Apocrypha[149], since he told us all of the stories of the Maccabees that appear there, in complete detail. And similarly he told us about King Solomon's greatness, as recorded in the Second Targum[150], and many other stories, all about valor.

Lag BaOmer[151] was truly special. We felt so secure around him as we marched into the woods with our bows and arrows and our knapsacks of food. There, in the woods, he told us in great length about Bar Kochba's heroic deeds[152], and his face glowed with passion…Afterwards he showed us how to defend ourselves with a stick, even against four simultaneous attackers. He said he had learned this in the military. He ran together with us in “vishtsiges” and showed us how to jump over a wide ditch, something that looked impossible to us. No longer was he just our teacher at that time, he was also a guide.

And he was also the baal koirei[153] and baal tokeiya[154] in our Otwock shtibl[155]. He also apparently thought a great deal of the commentary of the Malbim[156], because often he told my father: “The Malbim says this,” or “the Malbim understands it this way,” “the Malbim…”, etc.

After something happened he established something new: a teacher came into our cheder to teach us Russian. This teacher had an unusual name: Krautwurscht. We were very proud and jealous when we heard our teacher conversing so easily and rapidly with him in Russian. This Krautwurscht set up the black tablet with chalk in diagonal lines quickly and precisely and wrote down words, which looked like they had been printed! We started with the book Ruskaya Rietsh (older readers probably remember: “lapa, fila, kashka”).

After him my next teacher was Yosef–Elya, the “Little Stick”. He had an innovation that was quite effective: if any student looked up from his Gemoro book, the teacher quickly grabbed him by the neck with the curved crook of his walking stick and pulled the boy's face down to the book. This idea must have come to him from goose herders, who used to do the same to geese that had wandered away from the “pack”. With him we studied only Gemoro with commentaries. He had a mean temper, and learning from him was not satisfying. It was all pell–mell. A couple of months and that was it!

My last teacher was R. Chana Mendelson, “Shventi–yan”. Why “Shventi–yan”? Because if someone was absent from cheder for a day, he would ask him the next day, in a hoarse, bass voice: “What kind of holiday was it yesterday, Shventi–yan?” He didn't use any “tools” to beat us. With him I studied Gemoro with Toisfos[157] and other commentaries. When we were reading Talmudic passages that were a bit “spicy” out loud, he would hurry us along, shouting, “So, keep going already, you sheigetz–like boy!”[158] We had “lost our place” and had to start all over again…We learned well from him and were very unrestrained, somewhat too unrestrained.

For a while all the teachers grouped together in a single cheder, a sort of yeshivo ketano[159], with classes and teachers—Saloman, Levinson, and others—for languages and secular subjects. Meanwhile the First World War broke out. My brothers' children and I then studied with private teachers in Plock and Warsaw. We were preparing ourselves for entrance to the Wlolclawek Jewish Gymnasia[160].

However, it was my father who was my very best teacher. During vacations on our estate, Grudza, we would wake up around 5am and study with great satisfaction until 8. In those few hours we “covered” more than would be done in an entire week of cheder study.

What a pity that Girso deyankuso[161] cannot suffice indefinitely. Apparently the statement “Thou shouldst contemplate it day and night”[162] is true, but concern about livelihood, family and health weigh very heavily…So why does it say “thou shouldst contemplate it” in the singular? Isn't the Torah meant for all the Jews? But the answer is quite simple. If all the Jews were studying constantly, who would be tilling, sowing, fashioning, building, etc.? It is the rabbis and spiritual leaders who should be busying themselves with Torah study.

[Page 430]


From the outside the Dobrzyn synagogue was not impressive. A not very high, but very wide and massive building—it was said that years back it had been a barrel factory—but inside, right near the entrance, before the pulpit, at the small incline to the women's section, there was a painting of the Tomb of Rachel, our matriarch. And flanking it paintings of the Tomb of Samuel and Absalom's Pillar. In other places, further into the synagogue, paintings of the Grove of Abraham, the Cave of Machpelah, Mount Zion, and other Biblical sites. Further in, next to the Holy Ark, from the beginning of the soffit to more than halfway up the wall, there hung plush, deep–red curtains. They were folded in a very natural way and covered over by a semicircular bow, which held them by flattened, gold–colored cord, with gold tassels at their end. It looked so natural you'd think you could go over to raise the curtain up or lower it a bit, or move it this way or that. But the masterpiece was the soffit. There, where the walls ended and the soffit began, one “saw” hundreds of artistic “knobs”. A huge, eggshell–colored sheet was “fastened” to them; it contained paintings of thousands of delicate flowers, each within its own square. Approximately halfway along the soffit, way up, near the glass cupola, through which daylight penetrated, the sheet was folded into two large triangles. Each end was “fastened” to a large “knob”. In the open, visible parts, Biblical fruits could be seen pouring out from one side as if from a cornucopia (horn of plenty): grapes, figs, dates, almonds, apples, pomegranates, etc. On the other, bare triangle, Biblical musical instruments were laid out in various poses: a harp, a violin (in another form), sitars, cymbals, tambourines, timbrels, fifes, trumpets, shofars, etc. It was a marvelous artistic masterpiece. It was said that the artists worked on it for almost an entire year. While the Torah was being read in our shtibl, I used to leave to go over to the synagogue and gaze in amazement at the masterpiece until the prayer service ended. Many times I came home with a stiff neck. But it was worth it! So pleasurable!

[Page 431]


And now a little about the language of Dobrzyn. Because of the proximity to Germany, some words sounded strange, particularly their endings. When one wants to indicate a small or adorable item in German one adds the ending “chen”. The Jews of Dobrzyn appropriated this ending, but transformed it into a combination between a soft, compressed “chof” and a partially smeared–out “yud”, which together came out as “chye”: a meidchye[163], a yinglchye[164], a tishchye[165], etc. The ending “chye” was also utilized for diminutive or beloved little people. For example: “Let's go to the Rusakchyen.” “Let's ask Avrohomchyen.” “Shmuelchye (Kohn), sing something!” And so on. The older people went even further and said “meidelchyer” and “yingelchyer”. All right, this was going a bit too far[166].

However, there were also words that only the people of Dobrzyn used and only they understood. And here is a list of several of them:

“Shmeikpapchye”: a cigarette or cigar holder, made of wood, Bakelite or amber.

“Shahnchye”: the most distinguished, the best. For example: “He is the shahnchye of the family.”

A “hohtchye”: a membrane. When a lady wanted a fat chicken, she poked it and blew the feathers out to find out if it had a hohtchye.

“Tumbank”: a checkout counter, where customers pay the shopkeeper (dalpek in Hebrew).

“Rithshahzenes”: ice skates.

“Nahges” or “Ahngelaigte kloitskes”: little dumplings made of potatoes or wheat flour.

“Ahnzaltsen”: putting money into the pot during a game.

“Opkutern”: winning money at a game of cards or dice, or in a “bones” game.

“Lapsen, tsilapsen”: to steal, to snatch away fearlessly, to swipe.

“Chlihpsen, tsichlihpen”: to steal silently.

“Plimp”: a water pump. Who doesn't remember the plimp in the “torek”?

“Fledervish”: a feathered wing of a slaughtered chicken, used for dusting around.

And here is a gem: “tsipronchye”. Even if you had ten heads you would never figure it out. I'll even give you a hint: Two men are sitting in a synagogue and one of them says: “The ‘tsipronchye' was as sweet as sugar today.” So what's your guess, that it's marzipan? Not at all! You didn't figure it out! Tsipronchye is very simple: a young boy soprano[167]. So the sentence means that the little soprano's singing was a delight to the ear.

“Ziller”: an attic.

And still more and more…

And that's it for Dobrzyn “philology”.

[Page 432]


During the German occupation of World War I, Dobrzyn prospered greatly, both materially and in spirit. The town did not have the dreaded “naszi”—Russian, and “wasze[168] —German, problems that the Poles threatened and carried out many times, helping the Russians rob, and shooting Jews as “spies”. Dobrzyn was fortunate that from the moment the Germans first entered the town, the Russians never came back. After the well–known expulsion, the populace returned, and a very vigorous trade began. The Germans paid well for thousands of horses, cattle and grain. From Germany Jews bought soap, snuff, cigarettes and other items that were difficult to obtain in Poland at the time. Merchants arrived from far and wide. Several dozen poor families from various parts of Poland were housed and supported by the Dobrzyn Jews. The charity endowment of Dobrzyn was always full, there being no other city where the guests were covered as generously as in Dobrzyn. But Dobrzyn confirmed that “man does not live by bread alone.” A wealth of social–cultural activities blossomed. Talks, discussions, presentations, lectures, debates were being conducted throughout the town. “Herzliya” and “HaTechiya”[169] were teeming with young people. The local Poalei Tzion[170] branch was animated by the energetic and intelligent Bunem Zaklikowski. So also the local branch of Bund. In the beautiful library there were meetings, conventions, planning, etc. Often there were theatrical performances. In “Der Dorfsyung[171], the cantor's son, Yaakov Boruch Degala, outperformed even the Kelmer Magid[172], and it was a pleasure to hear and see it. This very talented young man would have gone very far here in America. People from Rypin and Dobrzyn would often get together. And as an aside, it should be noted that the young ladies of Rypin were quite charming; some were real beauties. Even today, although many of them are grandmothers, they still have their former charm and lovely features.

Who says that you have to give false compliments to be accepted? Here, in these few lines, I've gotten into the good graces of those spellbinding creatures, and with nothing more than the honest truth.

That's still nothing compared to the following: There was once a Jew who, when he was leading a prayer service in the synagogue, made a sacred, far–reaching benediction over women. When he got to “mevorech hashonim[173], he recited it slowly, very seriously, and ended it with an extensive chant of “Boruch atto…mevorech hanoshim.”[174] Participants in the service who were nearby, and clearly heard what he had said, opened their eyes wide, shrugged, and cried out indignantly “Mna! Mna![175]” But shout as they might, the benediction had already risen way up high. I am almost certain that when that benediction, enunciated with naive innocence, reached the Throne of Glory, He Who examines our innermost thoughts smiled at it, so to speak…

Let's get back to the cultural–social business. We brought over lecturers, sermonizers and speakers such as Mileikowski, Itkin, Zerubabel, Hillel Zeitlin, Noach Prilucki, and others. The little town was flourishing culturally. How beautiful the charming little couples looked when they went out to sell the little blue–white flowers for the Jewish National Fund! The culturally rich Chanukah entertainments. The Purim festivities. The Passover and Sukkos Choil–Hamoied[176] get–togethers with those from the nearby towns of Rypin, Sierpc, Lubicz, Lipna and others. So festive and cordial, so warm; a mixture of genteel romance and cultural refinement. How many entrancing words were murmured, and how many young hearts fluttered!

Ah, the town of yesteryear, the town that was! The walks on the main road behind the barracks and the brick factory, and from there down to the “struga[177], where you could catch tiny little fish, “kobzes”, with your bare hands. “Going to Zarembe”[178], a nearby small Jewish estate, and resting at the halfway point in the “zagoi” (a young little forest); the official excursions out of the town and the picnics. The Hashomer Hatzair[179] that I established when it still had a very different character. The Dobrzyn Jewish “army”: the scouts, which “Field Marshall” Shmuel Boruch Rusak led with iron discipline (don't touch it, Sh.! Don't erase anything![180]) The Jewish firemen, with Hershel Lent as deputy.

The meetings in the synagogue and beis medresh! R. Yitzchok–Moshe Ofenbach, finely dressed, with a combed, grayish beard, starts the meeting with an extended “Raboisai![181]; my father speaks, and smiling brightly he begins with “My dear fellow Jews”. Hersh Isaac speaks emotionally. Avrohom Zudkewicz speaks briefly and to the point; and others and still others.

By the way, with respect to Hersh Isaac: he had good–looking, learned children. One of them, Yehoshua, was one of the very first students in the Haifa Technion. The oldest, Kasriel, devoted his entire life to developing a black rose, but I don't know if he ever succeeded. He and his brother, Aharon, had a large garden in Kutno; one of the daughters (Rurzka?) was a beautiful blond; and Yehuda drew quite well.

The meetings of the Dobrzyn Zionist Vaad–Hapoel in our house. Mendel Prum (Mendel “Shaigetz”[182]), a youngster compared to the other members but a good fellow, calls out: “And now we are going to select the permanent subordinates.” Moshe Warszas, the very efficient secretary, smiles amiably.

The spontaneous appeal for Keren Hayesod[183]! Jewish women, daughters of Israel, gave away their most precious jewelry for the sacred objective. When the news came of the Balfour Declaration, I was in the Gymnasia room. Bochurski, the Hebrew teacher, walked in and recited the Shehecheyonu[184] benediction in a loud voice, as tears streamed down from his lovely grey eyes…and also from ours…Jewish Wloclawek was in upheaval! Joy and gladness![185] An exalted mood! I am imagining how Dobrzyn must be in jubilation. And afterwards the hachshara[186] activities.

I must take this opportunity to dedicate a few lines to an intelligent and much–neglected woman: Chana–Chaya Katcher, of blessed memory, a sister of the religious–lyrical poet Yosef Tzvi Rimon. There did not exist a single book that she hadn't read.

And this is how the social–cultural activities transpired in our town. The young, the old; the religiously observant, the modern; the wealthy, the plain people; each and every one did his part fully.

The constant voting confusion with the “slips of paper” of the various parties and of the little parties. The quarrels to “convince” the people, the voters. Each party wanted to rescue the Jews—what else?

[Page 435]


And More, and Still More Memories

Memories. They keep flowing as they emerge from the fog of the past.

Tu BiShvat[187]: Eating the stone–hard carob, dried out figs and almonds. It was simply a miracle that our appendixes didn't burst. Another miracle: stuffing ourselves during a “ Sholom Zochor[188] with salted, spiced chickpeas, and drinking up kvass and soda until our bellies ached.

Going home from cheder on winter nights while holding a lantern to avoid the deep mud.

The never–ending battles between us guys and the Gentile boys, using stones, nail–embedded sticks, whips, and strap buckles—until they begged us to let them alone.

The sleigh rides in the frosty winter nights! They would always remind me of Frug's “Yiddishe Troike[189].

The days of summer, bathing in the Dreventz River, as naked as Adam.

Shivering on a cold night in the sukkah.

Going on the Sabbath for an “examination”. How happy we were when the examiner pinched our cheeks, said “very good”, and rewarded us with Sabbath fruit.

Carrying the lulav and esrog[190] through the streets. And how the dayan[191] would reverently poke himself in the belly with the lulav during the waving[192]. Still, saying “Vetsidkos'cho[193] is not applicable.

Marching on Simchas Torah[194] with the banners, with the red apples and the candles that had been forced into them. Being called up to the Torah “with all the young boys”[195].

Playing “Beiner 21” on Chanukah; and the teachers and fine Jews with kvitlach on Nitul[196].

The “Boruch Sheptorany[197]”. How strange both father and son felt afterwards. Father said, “Oy vei, no longer a father.” And the son: “Oy vei, I've become a full–blown Jew. I'll have to be careful: from now on, all my sins will be on my own head.”

Putting the tsitsis on a four–cornered garment[198].

Talking about exclusive clubs: the hours just before evening on the eve of a Sabbath or holiday in the synagogue, in the beis medresh, or particularly in the shtibls. Divided up in various groups, Jews were smoking enjoyably and conversing about everything: world politics, local affairs, worries, advice to one another, updates—until someone called out: It's time to start the Evening Service. And beginning with Borchu, everyone sang along the traditional dai–da–dai–ta, the dai–di–dam! And they ended with the loud, drawn–out “HaMaariv Arovim!”[199]

The Purim and Simchas Torah festive meals, fit for a king, that the brothers Mendel and Avrohom–Hirsh Kohn made in their house for the Alexander Hassidim. We drank until dawn, singing!

The funerals with the traditional “Charity rescues one from death”[200] and the jingling of the charity–box.

The blaring music of the wedding marches that proceeded to the outdoor chuppa[201] where the ceremony took place, usually in the synagogue courtyard.

During twilight in the beis medresh, between the Mincha and Maariv[202] prayer services: Jews are studying, talking, reciting Tehillim[203]. Suddenly a mother comes running in, a Jewish mother who is ready to sacrifice herself for her beloved child. In a heart–rending voice she cries out loudly: Jews, recite Tehillim for my child, who is dangerously ill. In the blink of an eye a grave silence descends on the entire place. The shamash[204] approaches the mother and asks her what illness her child has. Then he goes over to the Holy Ark and pulls the curtain open so quickly that the rings holding the curtain on the metal rod screech loudly. The heavens have split open! Only the gold–threaded embroidery on the Torah–scroll covers gleam out from the dark, sacred hidden place. The Jews—all the Jews: shoemakers, merchants, tailors, wealthy men, porters, teachers, and plain people—all of them, all recite Tehillim with such passionate humility that their prayer must, undoubtedly, at that very moment, reach all the way up to the Throne of Glory…and…proclaim…that the child should experience a complete recovery.

And still more and more memories that don't “connect” so easily after forty or fifty years. These are, however, the links of the long Jewish golden chain. Each link is an expression of an aspect of Jewish life, every generation in its characteristic manner. And thus the chain is extended, for the chain keeps going on…and it will continue until the end of generations!

[Page 437]


The first time that I was going with my father as a sędzia (magistrate) in the Polish sąd (court). The uplifting feeling of respect for the Jew!

Putting tefillin[205] on for the first time. My first cigarette. My first shave. My first meeting with the Otwock Rebbe together with my father. My first time in a Jewish Gymnasia.

The first punch in the chin that I gave a Gentile who was picking on an elderly Jew. I knocked him down and he was bloodied; he got up and ran away. And it was all because of R. Nisan's influence.

My first day in an exclusively Polish Technical University in Bydgoszcz (formerly Bromberg). Hundreds of eyes shoot piercing glances at me; I and the only other Jewish young man, who was from Kutno, return the piercing glances with contempt and stubbornness …And still more “firsts” and other memories.


Such are my memories about myself. The events unravel and come back together, wrapping themselves up like a ball of thread. The ball gets larger and larger. It rolls away faster and still faster…until it disappears somewhere in the endless misty emptiness…

[Page 438]


I have described life in the Jewish town of Dobrzyn. The memories and feelings of a little Jewish boy who is just starting to read Hebrew, as he becomes a Chumash–Rashi–Posuk boy, then a big boy who studies Gemoro, and then finally a Gymnasia student. There were hundreds of thousands like me. I have written up the depth and creativity of a Jewish community. This all might have been more or less the same for at least a thousand cities and towns throughout Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, the Baltic lands and even Western Europe. There were dozens, even thousands of R. Feibishes, hundreds of thousands like our family, and millions of Jews like those of Dobrzyn.

Six million! Six million martyrs who were so cruelly cut down, one third of our people! There are no words to describe the great disaster. When the prophet Jeremiah cried out “For your ruin is as vast as the sea; who can heal you?”[206], he could not have foreseen that even worse could befall our people. But it did happen, and the world, with few exceptions, didn't lift a finger to stop the destruction. Each and every time there was another excuse. Unlike the past, today we are more informed; our “friends” and “great” people have after all reacted, and we Jews have always been the scapegoat for the sins of the entire world.

Of course we cannot bring the Six Million back to life, but the prophet Ezekiel's Vision of the Dry Bones[207] will come true when we will all be united again in our own country, free from foreign rule and oppression, defended by our own strength: a nation like all other nations, in our land Israel.


Bluma Lipka, wife of Mordechai Lipka[208]


Henik Lipka, a son of Mordechai and Bluma Lipka[209]


Jerzik Hirsz, a grandson of Mordechai Lipka[210]


Rorzka (on left) and Henich (center), children of Bluma and Mordechai Lipka[211]

Translator's Footnotes

  1. R. = Reb, an honorific roughly equivalent to English “Mr.” Return
  2. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn–Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn–Golub Society, Israel, 1969), pp. 404–438. Return
  3. Polish: Drwęc Return
  4. z.l. = contraction for Zichroinoi Livrocho = of blessed memory Return
  5. Poalei Tsion = Workers of Zion, a Zionist Marxist–socialist organization and party (Labor Zionists). See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poale_Zion. Return
  6. Poiskim = authors of post–Talmudic literature settling Jewish law (literally adjudicates). Return
  7. Love of Zion (Hebrew: Chibas Tsiyon): a movement that promoted Jewish nationalism in the Land of Israel, predating the Zionist Movement by about 20 years. See, for example, the following link: http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Hibat_Tsiyon Return
  8. Yiddish: treif posul, rachmono litslon (literally: forbidden evil, may God save us from it) Return
  9. Otwock (pronounced Otvotsk), a town in Poland, ~30km southeast of Warsaw. Simcha Bunem (~1851–1907) , a Hassidic rebbe (religious spiritual leader of a Hassidic group), who was a scion of the Hassidic Vurke dynasty, settled there for a while, but moved to the Land of Israel in 1905. See the following link (retrieved May, 2014): http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Vurke_Hasidic_Dynasty. Return
  10. “May our eyes behold Your (i.e. God's) return to Zion”: a sentence from the Jewish silent prayer (Amidah) that is recited in the three daily (Morning, Afternoon and Evening) Services. Return
  11. Mizrachi = a religious Zionist movement Return
  12. Reines (1839–1915) was a member of the Hovevei Tsion (Lovers of Zion) movement (see Footnote 7). See the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yitzchak_Yaacov_Reines. Return
  13. Lida, Belarus, lies ~150km west of Minsk, Belarus, and ~200km northeast of Bialystok, Poland. Return
  14. Kutno, Poland is located ~60km north of Lodz. Return
  15. Yehoshua Trunk of Kutno, 1821–1893, who supported the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel. See, for example, the following link: http://www.hevratpinto.org/tzadikim_eng/126_rabbi_israel_yehoshua_tronk.html. Return
  16. Yehuda Leib Kowalski (1863–1925), who was a leader of the Mizrachi movement in Poland Return
  17. Menahem–Mendel Kalisch, a son of Simcha Bunem of Otwock (see Footnote 9), succeeded his father as rebbe of Otwock. He died in 1919. Return
  18. Avrohom–Moshe Kalisch was Simcha–Bunem's son and Menahem–Mendel's brother. Return
  19. German for “Mr. Lipka, we must get together more often.” Return
  20. Ost Jude (German) = Eastern European Jew Return
  21. kapote = kaftan Return
  22. beis medresh = study hall Return
  23. shtibl = prayer house, small synagogue consisting of a single prayer room Return
  24. pan = sir or gentleman (Polish), i.e. the genteel Return
  25. Bundists = followers of a socialist/Marxist organization that supported cultural autonomy for the Jews within the countries of Eastern Europe, rather than a homeland in Palestine. It also favored Yiddish, rather than Hebrew, as the cultural language of the Jews. See the following links (retrieved May, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundism; http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Bund. Return
  26. Maxim of Hillel, a 1st–century BCE rabbi (Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] 2:4) Return
  27. Chaveirim kol Yisroel (Hebrew), from Sabbath blessing of New Moon in Jewish prayer book; see also Babylonian Talmud Hagiga 26a. Return
  28. Leviticus 19:18, which Rabbi Akiva (early 2nd century) referred to as a major principle of the Torah (Bereishit Rabba on Gen. 5:1). Return
  29. rebbe = Hassidic spiritual leader, who heads a group of Hassidic followers and gives them personal, individual advice. Return
  30. Pan = Sir, Master (Polish). See Footnote 24. Return
  31. Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 5a. Return
  32. spółka (Polish) = partnership Return
  33. zgoda (Polish) = agreement or accord Return
  34. swoj do swego (Polish) = his to his (literally), i.e. keeping trade to within our own kind Return
  35. Chumash = Pentateuch Return
  36. The section of Balak starts from Numbers 22:2 and continues to Numbers 25:9. Return
  37. Yiddish reads “er hot geyocholt mit a groiser yud” = he yocholt (was capable) with a large “y” Return
  38. Mojżesz (Polish) = Moses Return
  39. a well–known Hebrew maxim in which the second “Moses” refers to Moses Maimonides Return
  40. Sroros = noblemen, landed gentry Return
  41. Pritsim = noblemen, landed gentry (plural of Porits) Return
  42. Count of Zbójno; there is a village with this name about 115km south of Dobrzyn Return
  43. Starozakonny (Polish) = (literally) Old–Faith Believers, a euphemism for Jews that was used to avoid the more pejorative terms based on żyd. Return
  44. Landek, Poland, presently near the southern border of Poland, is located ~400km south of Dobrzyn. In 1914 Silesia was part of the German Empire, while Dobrzyn was in Poland, part of the Russian Empire. Return
  45. The attack referred to is the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June, 1914, which led to the outbreak of World War I. Return
  46. In 1914 Torun (presently in Poland) lay within West Prussia, which was itself part of the German Empire. The distance from Torun to Dobrzyn is only ~40km. The train ride would ordinarily have continued from Torun to Golub, West Prussia, from which the passengers would have disembarked and walked over a bridge across the border to Dobrzyn. Return
  47. Stettin = Szczecin, Poland, which in 1914 was called Stettin and was in the German Empire. It is located ~450km west of Dobrzyn. Return
  48. Ciechanow is located ~100km north of Warsaw, and ~100km east of Dobrzyn. Return
  49. Yiddish: hilchois gevehr, literally “the rules and regulations of arms”, hilchois being the Hebrew/Yiddish word for detailed religious rules and regulations, as in hilchois shabbes = the laws of the Sabbath. Return
  50. Slonim, currently in Belarus, lies ~500km east of Dobrzyn. Return
  51. smicha = rabbinical ordination Return
  52. kardom lachpor boi (Hebrew) = a means of making money (literally, a spade to dig with). The expression derives from Pirkei Avot 4:9. Return
  53. 1919–1921. See the following link (retrieved September, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish%E2%80%93Soviet_War Return
  54. The reference is to Władysław Grabski, the treasury minister of Poland in the 1920s. See the following Web site (retrieved June, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W%C5%82adys%C5%82aw_Grabski. Return
  55. Kapores (Hebrew: kaporois = atonements), a ritual carried out on the day before Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), in which a Jew would wave a purchased chicken around his head, reciting “…let this chicken be my atonement (kaporosi)….” Males would wave a rooster, while females would wave a hen. The chicken would be slaughtered, and either the meat or its monetary value given to charity. See the following link (retrieved June, 2014): http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/989585/jewish/Kaparot.htm Return
  56. Czy to… (Polish). The Jew who is the butt of the joke apparently had a very limited Polish vocabulary. Return
  57. lachmaniot = rolls Return
  58. lodownie (Polish) = ice maker Return
  59. Possibly the Grudza that is located ~7km southwest of Dobrzyn was the site of this estate. Return
  60. Possibly the Zakrocz that is located ~30km southeast of Dobrzyn was the site of this estate. Return
  61. On Szmiga and the Szitna estate see “The Synagogues and Shtiebels in Dobrzyn”, pp. 264–269; also Dzialdow and Sanger, “Religious Life in Dobrzyn,” pp. 284–291, both in reference cited in Footnote 1. Return
  62. There is a village with the name Cholewy ~180km southeast of Dobrzyn; perhaps this is the location of the estate referred to. Return
  63. See p. 345 of Rosenwaks, “My Bundle of Troubles in the Russian Military”, in reference cited in Footnote 1. About 10km south of Dobrzyn there is a Działyń that is possibly the site of this estate. Return
  64. Written “Zaręba” in Polish, it is located about 2km south of Dobrzyn Return
  65. Fonye” is a colloquial term for Russian and for the Russian regime. Here it refers to the Russian border inspectors who collected customs tax. Return
  66. ariber–shvartsen = smuggling people across a border Return
  67. in the military Return
  68. Glicenstein (1870–1942) was a famous sculptor who was born in Turek, Poland (200km south of Dobrzyn). He eventually settled in Rome, Italy, where he changed his name from Chanoch to Enrico; and he died in New York. See the following Web site (retrieved June 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enrico_Glicenstein. Return
  69. soifer = a scribe who writes and corrects Torahs and other handwritten scrolls Return
  70. Motke Ganef (Motke the Thief) was a 1923 Yiddish novel written by Sholem Asch. It depicts, somewhat romantically, the lives of Jews living outside respectable society: Jewish circus performers, thieves, pimps and prostitutes. Return
  71. mikve = ritual bath. It was customary for men to go there before the Sabbath. Return
  72. Lamps or candles are lit shortly before sunset Friday evening, i.e. prior to the beginning of the Sabbath. They provide illumination for the first few hours of evening, when lighting or adjusting a fire is forbidden. Return
  73. skarpetkas (Polish) = socks Return
  74. The reference is to the spies sent out by Moses to Canaan, who “cut a vine with one cluster of grapes and carried it on a double pole…” (Num. 13:23) Return
  75. apfelsinen (German) = oranges Return
  76. The story of the “binding of Isaac,” beginning with Gen. 22:1. Return
  77. Gen. 22:4 Return
  78. Tashlich (Hebrew) = casting, a Rosh Hashana ritual in which Jews symbolically cast their sins into a body of water. Return
  79. Yiddish: shkotsim, a term of derision Return
  80. Rokers Mount overlooked the Dreventz River. See map on pp, 8–9 of reference cited in Footnote 1. Return
  81. shlog kapores = conduct the ritual of kapores (see Footnote 55). Return
  82. Bnei Odom (Hebrew) = human beings, the first two words of the introductory prayer (based on Psalms 107) to the Kapores ritual. Return
  83. meshumed (Hebrew) = apostate (literally); here it means rascal, with a suggestion of heretical behavior Return
  84. Since the second half of the 20th century, that is the way most observant Jews conduct this ceremony: with money rather than live chickens. Return
  85. Mincha = afternoon prayer service, conducted in the early afternoon on Yom Kippur Eve Return
  86. kitl = a loose white robe worn on Yom Kippur Return
  87. Kol Nidre = prayer chanted by the cantor at sunset, at the beginning of Yom Kippur, nullifying in advance any personal vows that might be taken by members of the congregation within the coming year. See the following Web site (retrieved July, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kol_Nidre Return
  88. Ending with, “…we declare it permissible to pray with sinners.” See the previous footnote. Return
  89. Shir HaYichud (Hebrew) = Song of Unity, a liturgical poem that some recite on the night of Yom Kippur Return
  90. i.e., fast; children are not obligated to fast until the age of 12 or 13. Return
  91. Sukkos = one–week festival of Tabernacles, beginning 5 days after Yom Kippur Return
  92. sukkah = tabernacle, temporary dwelling where all meals are eaten during the festival Return
  93. sechach (Hebrew, literally cover or thatch) = plants, often reeds, used to form a sparse roof for the sukkah. This roof, designed to provide shade from the sun but no protection from rain, is a critical component of the sukkah. Return
  94. shochet = ritual slaughterer Return
  95. When it rains there is no obligation to eat or dwell in the sukkah. The little roofs are lowered into place to cover the sechach, keeping the sukkah dry during rain. They are cranked open when the rain ends. Return
  96. Ushpizin (Aramaic: guests) are symbolic guests that are invited into the sukkah: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…See the following Web site (retrieved September, 2014): http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Sukkot/At_Home/The_Sukkah/Ushpizin.shtml. Return
  97. megilla = handwritten scroll of the Book of Esther, read out loud to the congregation in synagogues on Purim Return
  98. First verse of scroll (Esther 1:1) Return
  99. Customary noisemaking during the megilla reading to symbolically blot out the name of Haman, the villain of the Book of Esther who sought to have all the Jews exterminated. Return
  100. Shalach manos = gifts of portions of food to friends and relatives, a Purim custom fulfilling Esther 9:22, “a day of…sending portions of food to one another”. Return
  101. Yiddish: shkotsim. See Footnote 79. Return
  102. Mo'os Chittim (Hebrew) = money for wheat (literally), i.e. charity for the poor, originally to provide them with requisite provisions for Passover (which occurs four weeks after Purim) Return
  103. Seuda = special festive meal of Purim, held on the afternoon of the holiday Return
  104. kashering = cleaning and scouring eating utensils, in this case to rid them of any leaven and thereby make them suitable for use on Passover Return
  105. B'dikas Chometz = ritual search for chometz (leaven) on the night before Passover Eve Return
  106. The ritual burning of chometz (leaven) takes place on the morning of Passover Eve. Return
  107. kitl = loose white robe, tied at the waist, worn by the leader of the Seder (see also Footnote 86.) See the following Web site (retrieved August, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kittel Return
  108. Recliner to fulfil the custom of reclining at the Seder as a symbol of freedom Return
  109. kneidl (plural kneidlach) = soup dumpling (also known as “matzah ball”), a traditional staple of Passover Return
  110. afikomen = a portion of matzah set aside to serve as the last dish to be eaten at the Seder meal. Since the afikomen is an integral part of the ritual, the Seder cannot continue until it is consumed. In many families the children “steal” it and hold it hostage to trade it for gifts—one of the many traditions that have been introduced over the centuries to keep the children awake and involved throughout the entire Seder. Return
  111. shfoich chamoscho = Pour Your wrath [onto the nations who do not know You, for they have devoured Jacob…] (Psalms 79), which is recited with the front door open to express the atmosphere of freedom during the Seder. Return
  112. Vayehi Bachatzi Halaylah = “And it came to pass at midnight”, a poem recited at the first Seder Return
  113. Oimetz Gvuroisecho = “Your numerous mighty deeds”, a poem recited at the second Seder (outside Israel), in place of Vayehi Bachatzi Halaylah (see previous footnote). Return
  114. Choil Hamoied = Intermediate (Days 3–6 outside Israel) of Passover, when most forms of labor are permitted by Jewish law Return
  115. Shovuos = Pentecost, celebrated on the 50th day after the first day of Passover. Return
  116. Akdomus = Introduction, a liturgical poem, written in Aramaic as an introduction to the Ten Commandments. It is recited in the synagogue on the morning of Shovuos. See the following Web page (retrieved August, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akdamut. Return
  117. Tisha B'Av = the 9th day of Av (corresponding to July–August), the anniversary of the destruction of both the First Temple (in 586BCE) and the Second Temple (in 70CE), commemorated as a fast day Return
  118. Eicha = Lamentations, the Biblical poems lamenting the destruction of the First Temple Return
  119. Kinois = medieval poems of lamentation, recited on Tisha B'Av Return
  120. Krias Shma = Recital of the verses beginning with “Hear, O Israel…the Lord is One” (Deut. 6), which express the foundation of the Jewish faith Return
  121. Shir Hamaalois= “A Song of Ascents” (Ps. 121), a page with the psalm written on it, together with various charms. See, for example, the following Web site (retrieved August, 2014): http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/healthy–in–body–mind–and–spirit–2/41.htm. Return
  122. mazikim = injurious demons Return
  123. Chumash = Pentateuch Return
  124. Rashi = a concise commentary on the Pentateuch, written in Hebrew by Rashi (an 11th century scholar who lived in Troyes, France), and commonly taught to beginning students together with the text. Return
  125. Rebbi = teacher of little children Return
  126. Noah is the second section of the Book of Genesis. Return
  127. Rebbetzen = the wife of the Rebbi (teacher) Return
  128. Safa Chaya = (Hebrew) “The Living Language” Return
  129. Hebrew words for stocking, ear, and soldier, respectively. Return
  130. Posuk (Hebrew) = verse (literally), term used for the Prophets, the 2nd section of the 3 sections (Torah, Prophets, and Writings) of the Hebrew Bible Return
  131. Following the detailed description in Ex. 36 of how the Tabernacle (the portable sanctuary used by the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt) was constructed Return
  132. The priestly garments, as described in some detail in Ex. 39. Return
  133. By contrast, the Yiddish word for chess is pronounced “shach” Return
  134. Palant is a Polish sport, similar to stickball and baseball. See for example the following Web site (retrieved August, 2014): http://www.ghs–mh.de/traditions/topics/health/sports_pl.htm. Return
  135. Yiddish: mazik Return
  136. In Yiddish, demb = oak Return
  137. Mishnayos = sections of the Mishnah, the concise book of Jewish Law written down in Hebrew in ~200CE. See the following Web site (retrieved August, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mishnah. Return
  138. Gemoro (or Gemara) = literally “study by tradition” (Aramaic), the detailed analysis and discussion of Jewish Law based on the Mishnah and additional traditions, completed in Babylon ~500CE, and written in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. The Mishnah and Gemara are the two components of the Talmud. See the following Web site (retrieved August, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemara. Return
  139. Perek = Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), one of the books of the Mishnah, describing the chain of tradition and listing ethical teachings and maxims of the early Rabbis. Return
  140. In Jewish tradition, Amalek is the name given to the arch–enemies of the Jews throughout the ages, as based originally on Ex. 16:8–16. Return
  141. Hovo nis'chakmo = “Come, let us deal cleverly…” the words of Pharaoh, conceiving a plan to enslave the Israelites in Egypt (Ex. 1:10) Return
  142. big, strong boys Return
  143. Vayigash = “And Judah approached him [Joseph]” (Hebrew), a section spanning Gen. 44:18 to 47:27. Return
  144. midrashim (plural of midrash) = (Hebrew) the exegetical works of interpretation of the Biblical narrative, written by the rabbis of the Talmudic period Return
  145. Manasseh and Ephraim were Joseph's sons. Return
  146. hind set loose = As a result of this metaphoric name for Naphtali (Gen. 49: 21), Naphtali was viewed by the Midrash as a fast runner. Return
  147. since, unbeknownst to his brothers, he understood the Hebrew they were speaking to each other Return
  148. The hero who led the Jews of Israel in the Maccabean rebellion against Syrian–Greek religious oppression (165BCE), which ultimately led to the political independence of Judea. Return
  149. In that period the Apocrypha was essentially unknown to the vast majority of observant Jews, and very little of the narrative of Maccabees I and II had made it into the midrashic works Return
  150. Second Targum (“targum sheni” = second translation), a translation of the Biblical Book of Esther into Aramaic. The translation incorporates midrashic stories, particularly about King Solomon. See the following Web site (retrieved August, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Targum_Sheni Return
  151. Lag BaOmer = the 33rd Day of the Omer count (of the 50 days between Passover and Pentecost), a minor holiday celebrated with archery and outings to forests. See the following Web site (retrieved August, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lag_BaOmer Return
  152. Bar Kochba has been enshrined as a hero for the (unsuccessful) rebellion he led in Israel against the Roman Empire in 135CE. Return
  153. baal koirei = the person who every Sabbath chants the appropriate section of the Torah as he reads it from a Torah scroll, a difficult task that requires memorizing and practicing, since the words are written with no punctuation, no vocalization marks, and no chanting notes. Return
  154. baal tokeiya = the person who sounds the shofar (ram's horn) on Rosh Hashana, a task requiring much practice and some talent. Return
  155. Small prayer-room synagogue used by the Otwock Hassidim. See Footnote 9. Return
  156. Malbim = acronym of Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel (Weiser), a 19th-century rabbi who wrote a creative, widely read Biblical commentary. See the following link (retrieved August, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malbim. Return
  157. Toisfos = literally: Additions (Hebrew), commentary on the text of the Talmud, written mostly around the 12th century, and printed as a gloss in most editions of the Talmud, together with the commentary of Rashi. It's in–depth analysis resolves inconsistencies between texts appearing in different parts of the Talmud. See the following Web site (retrieved August, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tosafot. Return
  158. Sheigetz = derogatory term for Gentile, here suggesting uncouthness. The entire quotation is written in the pronunciation common to that part of Poland. Return
  159. yeshivo ketano = a more advanced, high–school level school for religious studies Return
  160. Gymnasia = high school Return
  161. Girso deyankuso (Aramaic) = what is learned in youth. This refers to a statement in the Talmud that what is learned in youth is not forgotten as easily as that which is learned later in life (Babylonian Talmud Sabbath 21b; Rashi's commentary on it). Return
  162. Joshua 1:8 Return
  163. little girl (compare German Mädchen), the Yiddish word for an unmarried young woman being “moidReturn
  164. little boy, the Yiddish word for boy being “yungReturn
  165. small table, the Yiddish word for table being “ tishReturn
  166. meidel” and “yingel” already being the Yiddish diminutive of “moyd” and “yung”, respectively, so the additional “chye” or “chyer” was superfluous. Return
  167. tsipor being the Hebrew word for bird. Return
  168. Polish: nasze i wasze = ours and yours, from the Polish motto “for our freedom and yours”, which refers to exiled Poles fighting in foreign armies with the anticipation of achieving independence for Poland. See the following Web site (retrieved August, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_our_freedom_and_yours. Return
  169. HaTechiya (Hebrew) = the revival or renaissance, the name of a local Zionist club (see E. Tzala, “Pain and Suffering in the Second World War,” p. 356 of reference cited in Footnote 1). Return
  170. See Footnote 5. Return
  171. Der Dorfsyung = “The Village Youth”, a dramatic play by Leon Kobrin. Return
  172. Kelmer Magid = the fiery Preacher of Kelme (town in Lithuania). See the following Web site (retrieved August, 2014): http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/lita/Lit1427.html#Page1437. Return
  173. mevorech hashonim (Hebrew) = Who blesses the years (yearly seasons), a prayer requesting properly seasonal weather. Shonim = years. One of the benedictions of the Shmoineh Esrei (Eighteen Benedictions), it is recited by the prayer–service leader on weekdays during his repetition. Return
  174. That is, he transposed the letters of the last word, hashonim, pronouncing it hanoshim (=the women), so that it came out “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who blesses the women”. Return
  175. Mna (Hebrew) = deny Return
  176. See Footnote 114. Return
  177. struga (Polish) = stream Return
  178. See Footnote 64. Return
  179. A socialist–Zionist youth movement that encouraged immigration to Palestine and settling in kibbutzim Return
  180. Apparently a request made by the author to the editor Return
  181. Raboisai = Gentlemen Return
  182. His family name meant “religiously devout”, while his nickname meant Gentile. Return
  183. Keren HaYesod (literally “The Foundation Fund”), a Zionist fund founded in 1920 to support the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine. See the following Web site (retrieved June, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keren_Hayesod. Return
  184. Shehecheyonu = “Who has granted us life” (Hebrew), a benediction that might be recited spontaneously by someone who has lived to attain a long–sought goal: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.” See the following Web site (retrieved September, 2014): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shehecheyanu. Return
  185. Simcha veSasson (Hebrew), paraphrasing Esther 8:17 Return
  186. hachshara (Hebrew) = Training in farm work to prepare for moving to an agricultural settlement in Palestine Return
  187. Tu BiShvat = 15th day of the month Shvat (corresponding to January–February), a minor holiday that commemorates the New–Year's Day for fruit–bearing trees in Israel Return
  188. Sholom Zochor (Hebrew: welcome, male) = celebration on the Friday night following the birth of a boy Return
  189. Yiddishe Troika (= Jewish Three–Horse Sleigh), a song, with lyrics written by Shimon Frug, about riding in a horse–drawn sleigh. See the following Web site (retrieved August, 2014): http://www.polishjewishcabaret.com/2013/02/a–yiddishe–troike–di–yidishe–troyke.html. Return
  190. lulav = palm branch, esrog = citron. These two species are grasped by hand together with two others, willow and myrtle branches, on the holiday of Sukkos to fulfil the commandment of Lev. 23:40. Return
  191. dayan = judge in Jewish religious court Return
  192. The four species are ritually shaken or waved during certain parts of the morning prayer services of Sukkos. Return
  193. Vetsidkos'cho (Hebrew, literally ‘and your righteousness’, from various verses in Psalms, also quoted in the Jewish prayer book): a euphemism for hypocritical piety Return
  194. Simchas Torah = Rejoicing of the Torah, a holiday immediately after Sukkos, commemorating the end and beginning of the yearly cycle of reading the entire Torah Return
  195. Customarily on Simchas Torah all the young children receive a common “aliyah” (being called up to the Torah to recite a benediction of thanks for receiving the Torah). Return
  196. kvitlach = pieces of paper; Nitul = Yiddish euphemism for Christmas. See the following Web site (retrieved August, 2014) for an explanation: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2009/12/holy_night.2.html. Return
  197. Boruch sheptorany (Heb.: blessed is He who had freed me): a blessing recited by a father when his son reaches the bar–mitzvah age of 13. The father has been freed of responsibility for the actions of his son, who is now considered responsible for himself. Return
  198. tsitsis = strings tied with a traditional, fixed pattern of twists and knots on each of the four corners of a ritual garment that is worn daily in fulfilment of Num. 15:38. Return
  199. Borchu” is recited by the prayer leader at the beginning of the Evening Service, and “HaMaariv Arovim” is recited by him at the completion of the first paragraph of the service. Return
  200. Based on Prov. 11:4. Return
  201. Chuppa = canopy for wedding ceremony Return
  202. Mincha and Maariv = afternoon and evening services; the time between these two prayer services is usually short, hence many of those who attend these services remain in the synagogue between them. Return
  203. Psalms, sometimes recited as a prayer for the ill Return
  204. shamash (often pronounced “shammess” in Yiddish) = beadle, person whose job it is to run the synagogue on an everyday basis Return
  205. phylacteries, worn during morning prayers by men starting at age 13 Return
  206. Lam. 2:13, the Lamentations scroll being attributed to the prophet Jeremiah Return
  207. Ez. 37 Return
  208. From p. 405 of reference cited in Footnote 1 Return
  209. From p. 410 of reference cited in Footnote 1 Return
  210. From p. 417 of reference cited in Footnote 1 Return
  211. From p. 422 of reference cited in Footnote 1 Return

[Page 439]

The “Dreamer” Who Did Not Live
to See His Dream Fulfilled

by Shmuel Meiri–Minivski

Translated by Allen Flusberg

History tells us of individuals who, with their numerous activities in various social spheres, laid the foundations for lofty ideals that supported the progress and development of the human race. With their spirit they lit a beacon, penetrating the fog that encompassed them.

Perhaps this is the correct meaning and significance of Our Teacher Moses, the great hero: Moses the leader, the lawgiver; the struggler whose aspirations were so diversified but self–consistent.

Adolf Riesenfeld (Avrohom son of Pesach) belongs to this very category of people. He was born in the year 1878 in Silesia. Although he was raised in a village, where he lived among Gentiles, he never forgot his Jewish brethren.

One could discern the love he had for his persecuted people in his daily life, in his speech and in his writing. He always used the expression “my people”, the people to whom he was bound heart and soul.

Riesenfeld was endowed with specific qualities that earned him the love and admiration of thousands of Jews who either knew him personally or had heard of him.

He was known as Riesenfeld the pharmacist, but he was also a leader and a prominent man who was active in the community and headed the Zionist Movement of Golub. He provided—in the full sense of the word—for dozens of families in need. He was a physician—though he had no diploma—who would help the ill; he was a writer, a speaker, and a dedicated family man. This is the type of person that Riesenfeld was.

I can still see his tall, dignified figure with the sympathetic smile on his lively face, a smile he retained even in difficult moments of doubt and sorrow.

I recall him also in his daily, tireless labor in the Zionist movement to which he devoted a major portion of his time, primarily to imbue the plain people of the Diaspora, who did not have a very deep understanding of their destiny, with the concept of Zionism.

He was always ready with advice, even when it was associated with material help, and it goes without saying that he often filled prescriptions for free for the needy.

Riesenfeld's home was known as a gathering place for people active in the community, both young and old, who would come together to discuss community and party matters. In these discussions his final say, backed up by clear logic, usually won the day.

Riesenfeld stayed in close written contact with several Dobrzyn townsmen who were living in America. Under his influence they provided respectable sums of money for the needy of the town. Whoever has read his letter to Jacob Fogel[2], written several days before the outbreak of the war—concerning the sorrowful situation of dozens of families who had remained with nearly no means of support, and the difficult state of most of the Jews in general—is able to sense the pained heart of this great person and dedicated Jew, as well as his fear for the fate of his destitute fellow townsmen.

Zionist activity was an integral part of his life. Immediately after the Balfour Declaration he undertook a series of presentations in both private and public circles, first in Dobrzyn–Golub and thereafter in other cities and towns, among them Danzig. His fluency in cultured German made an impression on his audiences.

He took part in several Zionist Congresses, which he attended accompanied by his wife, and later also by his daughter, Ruth. There he made the acquaintance of many Zionist leaders, among them Motzkin, Gruenbaum, Ussishkin and also Chaim Nachman Bialik[3].

His reports from Israel aroused great enthusiasm in his audiences, primarily after his visit there during the opening of the university in 1925. His deeply felt faith in Zionism, which he foresaw as the future of the Jewish people, gave him the courage and energy to plant these thoughts in the hearts of the Jewish masses who attended his lectures to hear his impressions of the Land of Israel.

Through an extensive correspondence with Zionist activists, he inspired intense activity to raise funds for the Zionist cause.

With his unwavering labor he served as an example for thousands of Jews; every Jew who found himself in his circle was exposed to and experienced the influence of his dynamic, lofty personality.

Riesenfeld, the people's friend, the dedicated father and parent, the follower of the German classics by Goethe and Schiller, never once imagined the great depth to which the German people could sink in their hatred of the Jews. As a result he never envisioned the approach of the horrific Destruction.

Jewish tradition reigned within Riesenfeld's home and family, and if he was forced to open the pharmacy on the Jewish Sabbath it was only because of the law that pharmacies were not to be closed on Sabbaths and Jewish holy days, and not even on any Christian holidays. But on Rosh Hashana[4] and Yom Kippur[5] we would see him in the congregation, praying in the synagogue that was located near the bridge, among his brethren Jews whom he loved so much.

Everyone found his enthusiasm for Zionism quite remarkable, knowing as they did that he came from an assimilated family; it was a riddle. It was known that he grew up among Gentiles. He was raised among them, and he was imbued with German patriotism within their educational institutions. But as soon as he came in contact with the Eastern European Jews, he changed his attitude completely and dedicated his life to the Jewish national movement.

From a rational perspective it is a bit difficult to analyze the factors that led Riesenfeld to make this drastic turn. But undoubtedly emotional factors must have been involved—influences that were not completely clear even to him, and certainly not to the rest of us.

It is our sacred duty to immortalize the name of this lofty individual, who more than most others devoted his life to the Jewish people in the Land of Israel; yet he himself did not merit seeing the dream of many years come true.

In the history of our people his name will be recalled as one of the first pioneers who laid the foundation for the development of the State of Israel.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. From My Town: In Memory of the Communities Dobrzyn–Gollob, edited by M. Harpaz, (published by the Dobrzyn–Golub Society, Israel, 1969), pp. 439–442. This Yiddish article appears to be a shortened and slightly modified version of the article, written in Hebrew, appearing on pp. 193–200 of this volume. See the footnotes there. Return
  2. Jacob Fogel, a native of Dobrzyn, had immigrated to the US in April, 1939. Return
  3. Bialik (1873–1934) was a Zionist poet and author who wrote in both Yiddish and Hebrew. See the following link (retrieved May, 2015): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayim_Nahman_Bialik Return
  4. Jewish New Year Return
  5. Day of Atonement Return


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Golub-Dobrzyń, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2021 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 5 Jul 2019 by LA