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Translated by Yehudis Fishman As I come to present an overview of the Torah giants in our generation among whose descendents I am honored to be counted I want to first of all single out the source from which I obtained this information, and to give credit to my informants. I was the youngest child in our family, and when I was still a boy, I would spend most of my time in the presence of my father of blessed memory, both when studying and in our daily walks. In the days of summer and also in the days of winter, we never skipped our walk after the evening meal. The path was generally regular and took around two hours. During these walks my father would relate to me, among other things, family events, both from his side and my mother's side. It is the essence of these stories that I will try to tell to the best of my memory.
In truth, his son-in-law did not disappoint him; he became greater and greater and stood out in Torah among the greatest rabbis of that time and in that area.
In those days there lived in Horodenka Rabbi Yeshaiya who was later famous as the rabbi of the city of Yassi, and was called Yeshaiya'kele Yasser.
Rabbi Meshulem Wagner "poured water on the hands" (ie. personally attended.-trans.) of this great rabbinical genius. Rabbi Yeshaiya also ordained Rabbi Meshulem into the rabbinate and was profuse in his praise. After the passing of Rabbi Meshulem's father, the rabbi of Shatz, the leaders of this community sent Rabbi Meshulem a letter asking him to come and take his father's place. However, Rabbi Meshulem Wagner rejected the offer, with a phrase from the book of Isaiah: "To bow my head like a reed before people," is impossible for me. Thus he forwent the rabbinical appointment and the inherited legacy and allowed the communal leaders to select another Rabbi according to the desires of their hearts.
After the "ten good years" that he was supported from the table of his father-in-law, it was decided in the family that after Sukos, Reb Meshulem would begin to engage in business and attempt to earn his own livelihood. Reb Meshulem succeeded also in this, and during the winter, placed all his effort in business. However his father and mother-in-law did not look favorably on the change that took place in the life of their son-in-law, because he stopped devoting most of his time to the study of Torah. They waited till Passover; after the Seder night, they walked to the house of their son-in-law. When Reb Meshulem heard the sound of their footsteps together with their quiet sobbing, he went to wash his hands and open the door to see what had happened. After he invited the unexpected guests in, and asked what was the matter, his father-in-law gave his mother-in-law permission to open the conversation. She said, "Is this why we exerted all our efforts and provided for all your needs for ten complete years, according to the bounty of Hashem upon us, even providing you with wax candles to be able to learn at night? After all this, look what has befallen us "
And here, Reb Meshulem jumped up and asked: "If so, what is your wish? Please tell me." The answer was not long in coming: "We want you to go back to full time learning, as was your practice when you were depending on our provisions."
He replied, "If this is your will, I promise to do so right after the holiday." Indeed, he redoubled his efforts at learning, and appeared only sporadically in the store that his wife Chaike ran. At those times, he would give out more in charity than they earned Soon he heard his wife grumbling over this strange behavior, and got very upset. So, what did he do? He took out the drawer that contained the money for that day and threw it outside. His wife accepted his reprimand, and from that day on, didn't interfere with his ways and customs.
Once when he was traveling about on his business to the economic centers of the time, he happened upon the city of Premishlan, and went into the study house of Reb Meyer'l Premishlaner. Reb Meyer eyed him and commanded his attendant to remove the fourth section of Yad Hachazaka from the bookcase. He began to read aloud to Reb Meshulem from the end of the thirteenth chapter of the laws of Shmitah and Yovel (the sabbatical and jubilee years). "Not only the tribe of the Levites alone, but rather each person, from all who come into the world, will dedicate their spirit and understand from their knowledge to be set apart to stand before G-d, and to serve Him . and he casts off from his neck the many calculations that people seek, behold he is the Holiest of the Holy, and G-d will be his portion and inheritance for ever unto eternity and he will merit to have in the world whatever he needs to sustain him, as the Kohanim and Levites merited " And the blessing of the tzadik of Premishlan was fulfilled in Reb Meshulem.
Another time, he happened upon the study house of Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson and Rav Mordechai Zev Atinga in Lvov. After they enjoyed sharing novel Torah thoughts with him for over an hour, they asked about his city of origin. When they got his answer, they both were surprised and said that they would have never imagined that "in this southern land," a young man so full of Torah knowledge would be found. So too he visited the study house of the tzadik (holy man) and author of the book Daat Kedoshim, (Knowledge of the Holy Ones), who lived in Botzatz; he, too enjoyed the spiritual fragrance of Reb Meshulem.
The people of his own city also knew how to appreciate him. When they offered Rav Moshe Teomim a position as the Rabbi of Horodenka, the leaders of the city turned to Rab Meshulem and asked if he would go with them to the city of Yaburov, where Rav Teomim lived, to check him out. Because of his recommendation, they accepted Rav Teomim as the rabbi of Horodenka. However, after a few years, something happened to spoil the relationship between these two righteous men. It was concerning an aguna (a women whose husband was missing and a Halachic decision was needed for her to be permitted to remarry-trans.) According to Reb Meshulem Wagner, she was not allowed to remarry but according to Rav Teomim, she was allowed. From that day, it was like a mountain had grown between the two of them, and they never made peace.
However, I heard that on the day that Rav Teomim passed away, Reb Meshulem Wagner shut himself in his room, closed the shutters, and cried bitterly. When those who were close to him entered, and were shocked to see him so upset, he replied that with the death of his "rival," he has no one left to debate with. From that they realized that their argument was not of a personal nature, but rather that each one thought he had arrived at the truth through his individual approach.
Reb Meshulem Wagner had two daughters. The older one was married to Yehudah Pasvig, and the younger one married my grandfather, my father's father, Reb Mordechai Zev Shnitzer Halevi. My grandfather was born in Kitov, and was a descendent of Moshe'le from Kitov. He was a true Torah scholar and a wealthy merchant, who did business in iron materials.
My father was born in 1870, and was named Chaim after Reb Meshulem's father. His parents gave him a Torah education, as was traditional in those times. He was educated at the knee of his grandfather Reb Meshulem, and learned Torah from his mouth. When he was still a youth, many exceptional talents emerged in him. At eighteen he was already ordained as a rabbi, and among the great scholars of the generation who ordained him were Rabbi Landaw from Sadigeira and Rabbi Feivele Shreier from Bohurodshein. The latter added a comment to the ordination document that he was prepared to travel at his own expense to "crown" my father in one of the congregations wherever he would be called to the rabbinate. So too my father was involved with responsa to halachic questions among the greatest scholars of his time, including the Maharsham from Borzhan, Rav Steinberg from Brody, Rav Arak from Butshatch-Tarnov, and others. In his youth he stood out through his sharpness of mind and was not intimidated by the illustrious and famous, when he felt that the truth was on his side. More than once he responded as a battling storm, and was even embroiled in a deadly critique against a famous rabbi. He said that the latter made a mistake in something that even beginners should not err in. However, in his old age I heard from his mouth a touch of regret about this. Even in old age, as his strength did not diminish nor his eye dim, he continued to examine the truth in all its aspects. He never made peace with the "layman's approach," as was called the more superficial approach of study: learning Talmud as if one were reciting psalms this he never could tolerate during his whole life. Speaking of Tehillim (psalms), my father was accustomed to chanting them daily; early in the morning before prayer, as he would walk back and forth in his room.
Until this day I will not forget the sweetness of his chanting; I'd be fortunate if I could achieve all the complex melodies that my father used in reciting those lovely verses.
In his youth he taught many students. He would give lectures to the most talented students those whose heads and hearts were capable and motivated enough to comprehend and pay attention to an in-depth lesson of Talmud with the intricate commentary of the Baalei Tosaphos. Among his best students were Reb Dovid Zeidman, Reb Vovie Kimmel, Reb Naftoli Kugler, Reb Nachum Shpund, Michal Naiman, Simcha Shartzer, and others.
My grandfather on my mother's side was Reb Elimelech Ashkenazi.
When Rav Moshe Teomim passed away, on the fifth day of Kislev in 1888, the city was divided as to which of his sons should be chosen as his successor. His son, Rabbi Naftali Hertz Teomim seemed like the most appropriate choice for the position. However, among the eulogizers of Rav Moshe, was also his son-in-law, Rabbi Elimelech Ashkenazi, who had served as a rabbi in Gur-Hamora in Bukovinia. Rabbi Elimelech's words captured the heart of his listeners, but to the extent that they tended toward choosing him as the successor of the departed rabbi, they bypassed the son. In truth, after much weary give and take, Rabbi Ashkenazi was chosen as the successor of his departed father-in-law.
During the time that he presided in our city until the day of his death on the sixth of Adar in 1916, he was able to raise many students and to shepherd his flock in the ways of Torah. He was a member of the group, Chibas Tziyon, lovers of Zion, and he was one of the few rabbis in his generation who supported the attempt to purchase the esrogim from the land of Israel, rather than from Korfu, even though the latter were more physically beautiful. He also put his seal, together with Reb Feivel Shrier from Buhorodsheim, on a proclamation praising the use of the Israeli esrogim over those from Korfu.
Rav Ashkenazi's house in Horodenka was imbued with nationalist spirit, and love of Zion and the Hebrew language. It was known to me that my aunt, the rabbi's daughter, whose name was Bluma Reize, decided to change her name to the Hebrew version, Perach Shoshan, many years before this custom spread among the Jewish people. The rabbi's daughters were filled with the fragrance of Torah, and they assisted him during times of need by answering questions that were sent to him, or by writing down his original Torah ideas. He left many Torah thoughts in writing, but they were lost in the Holocaust, together with those who were guarding them.
In addition to his greatness as a Halachic authority and his talent as a speaker and preacher, my grandfather, the rabbi, also excelled as a melodious cantor. During the summer, he was accustomed to pray in the big shul, and in the winter, he would pray in the study house. My older brothers were lucky to hear his prayers and would always try to recreate the songs and prayers that they heard.
After the First World War, when they tried to renew the life of our community in the city, many people looked up to my father, of blessed memory, and offered him the rabbinical seat, as the successor to his father-in-law. At the same time, the communal head got a letter of recommendation from the rabbis Steinberg and Arak, who wrote approximately like this: "Our well-known friend, the righteous Rabbi Shnitzer, is a 'wondrous vision,' in our times, and is worthy of this position, and the merit of the rabbinate belongs to him according to the law of our holy Torah." However, my father rejected the offer, just like his grandfather, Rabbi Meshulem Wagner had. From that time on, our community, as was the fate of many other communities, had no leading rabbi.
After much wearisome negotiation with the heads of the community, my uncle Rabbi Aryeh Leibush, may G-d avenge his death, was accepted as a rabbinical judge, and he kept his position until he was killed in the holocaust together with other holy people in our community. My aunt Blume Raize, together with her husband Rabbi Alexander Ashkenazi, was saved and went to Israel after the war. Their son Elimelech, who was named after his grandfather Rabbi Elimelech Ashkenazi, served as a rabbi for an observant congregation in Sao Paolo, Brazil. He founded a yeshiva there named, "Kol Torah" (Voice of Torah) named after the yeshiva in Stanislav, where his father presided. Thus, the chain continued
Translated by Harvey Buchalter
Following the disaster, the Mayor summoned the victims and warned them that as a result of the tragedy, residents could not rebuild their houses as close to one another as before. He proposed that some of them should rebuild on the open meadow, and whoever took him up on his offer would receive all of the building materials free of charge. My father, Hirsh Kirshner (of blessed memory) was the first to take the offer and soon began to build in the open meadow.
The meadow was very spacious with side green stretches. Around it were fields planted with many kinds of grain. On one Shabbos, when a group of us took a walk on the meadowland, someone smelled smoke coming from a new house. He then called out, "Hirsh is the first one to smell smoke on the meadow." Thus my father earned the nickname Smokey Hirsh.
With the passing of time, about 70 Jewish families settled on the meadowland, establishing a village or shtetl, complete with shops, busy traffic, and an inn. The meadowlands also had its own minyan and it also built its own little shul.
My father was one of the first Horodenkan emigrants to America, in 1889. But a year later he returned. I was born in 1891. I studied in the Baron Hirsh School, and then in the Municipal School, where I completed the 6th course in 1904. I was immediately hired as a transcriber [something like a court reporter] where I worked until 1907. Purely by chance, my parents found out that I was writing on Shabbos. Not being able to withstand the shame of having a son who was a Shabbos-desecrator, they promptly pointed me on the road to America.
There I became acquainted with some of the first Horodenka immigrants: Yonkov and Nuach Reif; Itzak-Saul and Aaron-Yosef Diffier, Yehuda-Yosef and Itzhak Lechner, and Morris Ressler. From them, I learned the true stories of the lives of the original Horodenko immigrants, aside from what I had found out from my father. I remember all the anecdotes that are herein related very accurately. And I take it upon myself to portray them exactly as they occurred.
The management of the city was in the hands of the Poles, even though they had the smallest number of inhabitants in the city. The high-government officials, such as the Governor, the High Court Judge, and the tax collector were appointed by the government in Lemberg. They were all Poles, as was the Mayor, who was voted into office by the residents of Horodenka. The Ukrainians were unaware and not involved in politics. And so, without fail, a Pole with the help of the Jewish voters was always voted in as Mayor.
This lasted for many years until the Ukrainian attorney Okunievsky settled in the town. He took upon himself the task of ending this situation. He founded the Narodny Dam (House of the People), which was similar to the Poles' Sokol. He traveled from village to village, enlightening the peasants, showing them the injustice of their lives. In the national elections, he put himself on the ballot and also organized the peasants. After several years of tireless work, they succeeded in electing Okunievsky-supported candidates to the Reichstag. Okunievsky promoted several clerks, court reporters, and transcribers in his department. His most outstanding appointment was a young Jewish man, Karl Fenster.
Horodenka also had several ombudsmen: Leib Merboym, Yudel Wasser, and Moishe Fidler. The ombudsmen used to prepare cases, even once an appeal to the high court. They did it for a much smaller fee than the regular attorneys. Their activity was not strictly legal, but they always found a way of getting around the restrictions. The one most highly regarded was Moishe Fidler. He had a sharp mind for jurisprudence and even Okunievsky often used his talents.
A new, modem courthouse was built in the town in 1902. The new judge was Kalischuk, and the rest of the judges were Poles. All judicial authority of the three towns and 28 villages in the Horodenka vicinity fell within the jurisdiction of the Horodenka court. It was later decided that on a once-a-month basis a Commission consisting of a circuit judge and a clerk would be sent into the towns and the larger villages to hear minor cases.
Horodenka also had a sizable trade in livestock: horses, cows, and swine. This market, the Tarhavizeh, was outside the city limits, in the meadowlands. Important merchants from other cities or even from beyond the nation's borders bought livestock for export.
In the meadowland was also the tobacco warehouse, built by the government in 1905. The production and sale of tobacco and cigarettes in Austria was a monopoly of the regime. Special officials always inspected the peasants' harvest to see if the yield corresponded to the amount of seedlings planted, and it they were carrying out an illegal trade in tobacco.
Many Jews derived their livelihood as tavern-keepers. On market days the taverns became filled with peasants who came in to drink a glass of maschke [pure grain whiskey] and have some tavern food. They never failed to drink away the profits made from the goods they had just sold. Once in a while "solid citizens" came in to chat and have a glass of beer. In the taverns one could also buy wine and beer for celebrations of all sorts.
In the city there were also storefronts that combined as hotels, restaurants, and taverns. Haim-Mendel Koch, Benish Schmid, and Tadrus Kugelmas owned the best-known inns. Out-of-town merchants, salesmen, travelers, landlords and priests stayed there, and sometimes even actors who came with their theater troupe. There you could always get a good meal and you often had the opportunity to play a game of cards. More often than not a prosperous person or a priest went back home from the card game with empty pockets.
As is known, no trade can possibly exist without credit and loans. Thus, there were some banking establishments which arranged credit. There was a Polish bank, the Kasa Ashtennashii, and the Young Man's Bank (the Sportsbank). There was also Moshe KamiPs bank, in addition to a few loan sharks who always took a higher percentage from those forced into having to deal with them. Near the Baron Hirsh School was a moneylender who gave small weekly loans for small businesses, at a low interest rate. Stetanovitch, the manager of the Horodenka Benevolent Society started up a pawn shop, and some called it a " rag- bank!" Here one could put down timepieces, rings, earrings, candlesticks, furs and clothing. One paid three percent per month. The manager and bookkeeper of the bank was a Young Jewish man, Michel Ofenberger.
The soldiers who were waiting to be drafted were mustered out at the end of summer, following the harvest; the call-up letters were delivered at Yom Tov, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This created a great uproar in the town. In addition to this, all of the new recruits from the surrounding villages young men of "innocent laborers" who were wild and always brawling swiped produce from the Jewish stalls. In short, everything became topsy-turvy.
The activity of the police was limited, because keeping order in the city and surroundings belonged to the militia, which carried out its duties in the name of the national government and the municipality. They carried out their investigations in cases of theft or assault, or even murder, arresting the suspect, preparing the accusation, delivering it to the court, and so forth. They were the overseers, testifying to the legality of commercial ventures, the taverns, and the men's social clubs. They also made sure the Jewish merchants kept their shops closed on Sunday.
A "report" by a militia policeman often was punishable by a fine of from 10 to 20 Crowns. But you could also pay the tine by "sitting" in jail. For each five Crowns, you could sit for one day in jail. The verdict was rendered so that you went "to sit" on the Friday before sundown, and that was considered one day. Saturday and Sunday were each considered two days. And so, one could "sit" out the punishment without losing out on a day's work.
Reb Ashkenazi had no sons, but had nine (!) daughters. His son-in-law Chaim Schnitzer was an outstanding scholar and was called Chaiml. Chaiml's father, Mordechai Shnitser, had an inn which was managed by his youngest son, Simcha Shnitser.
The big shul stood not far from the study hall. Its neighbors were the various hasidic kloizen, the men's social hall, the bathhouse and the mikvah.
The shul was immense and built of brick. On the exterior, the bricks were plain and "flat," and the shul appeared somewhat old-fashioned. The entrance was through a huge gate which opened and closed by "Polishim" (side patios) on both sides. The shul did not have a ceiling; the roof was criss-crossed with long, thick rafters from which hung the brass chandeliers. However, the huge building with the aron-kodesh eastward facing and the bimah in the middle, made a grand impression.
In the great shul mainly younger people and business-types davened. The hasidim who belonged to the small congregations didn't daven there. There you could listen to a cantor daven and thus go back home earlier than you could from the study hall, or from the kloiz, where they davened deliberately and with great fervor.
In the great shul the principal cantor, Yossi, used to daven. His family name was Shapiro, but they always called him Cantor Yossi. He had a lovely voice, and for the High Holy Days ,he called upon his own choir. Whoever heard him chant the Kol Nidre will never forget it. Many of the singers gradually went to America. They included Abraham Feyer, Moshe Dolinger, Baruch-lsaac Shpierer, Antschel Meltzer, Joseph Dolinger, Ellie and Schloime Hus, and Abraham Berkover.
The baal-kiroh (Torah reader) was Shalom-Hirsh Fink. He had a sweet, strong voice which you could hear from the most distant comer of the great shul. His pronunciation of each word and his cantillation was a pleasure to listen to.
On the other side of the shul, steps led up to the women's side. The majority of the women didn't know how to daven and said each prayer and blessing which the farzogerins (the women whose job it was to pass on the prayers she heard coming from the men's side), dramatically called out to them.
Apart from the weekday davening, the great shul was always empty; for smaller minyans it was more comfortable davening at the "gate-house" (alcove to the shul). Even on Shabbos, the great shul did not fill up. But the great shul did fill up when there came to town a Torah scholar, either for a Shabbos, or in the middle of the week. In shul each year there was held a lively prayer service in honor of the coronation of Kaiser Franz-Josef in which the Jewish students from all the schools and practically all the Jewish residents joined.
Aside from the great shul and the house of study where the Maspolim (non-hasidic Orthodox) prayed, the town had a great many kloizen (shuls of hasidic rebbes), each for a different stripe of hasid. Chortkover, Katitchinitzer, Vizhnitzer, Kosover even the Schatzer rebbetsen had her own group of hasids. There were two Chorkover kloizen, one new and one old. Aside from them there was a Stoliarisch kloiz, the Kinski kloiz where the teamsters davened and many kloizenim and minyans in different parts of the town. In the bigger kloizen, one could find a tew young lads or students "oit kest" (talmudic students from the schtetlach who came to town, boarding with families) sitting and learning. In any case, Horodenka was considered to be a hasidic town. A once-in-a-lifetime event was the visit of a renowned rebbe to town. The hasidim waited for their (visiting) rebbes to arrive on the train, met him with wagons, and accompanied by music, drove him to town. And it was the lucky hasid who had the rare honor of the rebbe lodging with him.
Horodenka also had its chief rabbi, rebbe Michele Hagger, one of the three brothers of the Vizhnitza dynasty. The hasids bought him a big, beautiful building on Zolishtecker road near the Baron Hirsh school. It had belonged to the Polish official named Tzuloif. Next to the house was a large park with flowers and fruit trees and even a stable for a few horses and a wagon.
In town there was a hospital a long, tall building which stood on the cliffs near the river. The Catholic diocese, under the authority of the "kraiz-fisicus," or the government-appointed doctor, managed the hospital. Right before I left the town, they built a new and modem hospital building in the meadowlands, on the way to Zaleszczyki. Aside from the "Fisicus hospital" were also three other doctors in town: the old Dr. Roschko, who was also the mayor for many years; Dr. Tzaponovsky, and the Jewish doctor, Kanafas. For the less serious cases. Shimshon Rauer was called. He could "place cups" (essentially, bleed) and leeches and could "figure out an illness." ln town, there was also a Jewish veterinarian, Dr. Bach.
The brotherhood of Bikhur Holim would hold elections each year during Succos and elect the director, or "boororim" as he was called. The first Shabbos after Succos they held a kiddish in the home of the "booror-rishon" (head, or director). The Shabbos after Succos was dedicated as the Shabbos of the Bikkur Holim. Prior to the festival of Pesach, they would congregate in the great hall of the shul to "drink wine and crack nuts."
Should, God forbid, anyone die, the body would have to be delivered to the chevrah kedushah. The chevrah kiddushah folk watched over the body. They would bring the prepared body to the cemetery, dig the grave, and "deliver the body to the land of Israel (holy ground)." Poor people were buried at no charge to the family, or for a nominal charge. But when a wealthy person died, a "healthy corpse" as they called it, a great deal of money was charged to the family and there was no way they could elude payment!
The chevrah kedushah held elections once a year and celebrated a kiddish on the tirst Shabbos after Pesach. This was their special Shabbos in the great shul. Many people considered it a mitzvah and a great honor to be a member of the chevrah kedushah.
The interior of the schvitz was a world unto itself. From the highest bench, one could hear the shout, "Another ladle-full, another ladle-full." This meant that more water needed to be poured over the hot stones, so that steam would rise. Then they would swipe their scorched bodies with "brooms" (switches). There was also a mikvah in each bathhouse where one immersed oneself for the ritual purification following the "schvitz." Very observant Jews would immerse themselves before the start of Shabbos, before davening, both summer and winter.
Aside from the government bathhouse there was also the privately owned one, belonging to Ellie-osef Schpierer. During the summer, people would go to the limestone wheel of the great mill, and also Sabicks River. Many also went to cool off in the waters of the Tschervaneh River.
I should also remind readers that in the Horodenka sweat bath a tragic event occurred. On January 27th of 1901 the Horodenka Landsmanchatt Society in America received the sad news that the boiler of the schvitz had exploded and that many people perished. We immediately telephoned the grieving crowd in the Horodenka great shul, where rabbis and several congregants "watched over" the bodies of the deceased. We also mailed a letter to Horodenka in which we blamed the leaders of the Jewish community for their negligence.
The Baron Hirsh School was in a building on Zalischticker Road, just beyond the rebbe's courtyard. The director of the school also lived there. The first Director was named Berliss, and the teachers were Mazler, Chamedes, Kuzman Chana and Nora, who were Yankel Feyer's nieces. Later on, Mazler became the director. The director of Hebrew Studies (Religious studies) was Zanvul Weiselberg, and he was also the strictest teacher. For the slightest infraction, he would take out his bamboo rod.
Some Jewish children went to study in the Lemberg Royal School, in the Kolomyja Gimnasia, or in the Zaleshchiki Teacher Institute. Later on, a Polish Gimnasia was founded which was attended by many Jewish children.
For girls there was a separate six-grade municipal school, similar to the one for boys. Several girls went on for further study in Polish seminaries (private schools) in Zaleshchiki or in Ukrainian schools in Kolomyja, where they graduated as teachers. These were Roisa Yurman, whose married name is now Morganstern, Hannah Shpierer, whose married name is now Dufler, and Feige Vildman, the wife of Isaac Shpierer. All three now live in America and are members of the Horodenka Benevolent Society.
The Akerboi School was located not far from the Baron's estate. Only boys studied there, almost all of them Christians. Although in this part of town many Jews managed businesses both Jewish and Gentile ones Jewish students were rarely found in the Akerboi School.
As Shammos of the chevrah kedushah Dudeye Zellner would bring the deceased and the casket to the family home and he then busy himself with the arrangements. He appropriated the surname Zellner because as a young man he was a soldier (Zellner means "soldier"). He was left with a few medals from those days, which he always shined like new and wore on his chest.
The "market" job of figuring out how to distribute the tasks began even three to four weeks earlier. Each bakery needed a "kneader," eight orten" (dough rollers), a "shaper" to fashion the matzoh's round shape using the tooth-cut shapers, a "flour boy," and a "water boy" to bring the flour and water. And finally it needed a good and experienced "watcher." Let it be understood that each bakery searched around to find the best workers without having to pay out too much money for the work.
As soon as the work began, it went full-force six days a week and eighteen hours per day. Many of the very able housewives would visit the bakeries to observe how the matzoh was being baked, and to tip the bakery workers with "drinking money."
In 1900, a Jewish man from the meadowlands settlement area, Hershel Symes, brought about a revolutionary change. He brought in a machine to roll and cut the matzoh. This produced square rather than round matzoh. The oven was also different, as it was open on either side. From one side the "watcher" placed the matzoh, and from the other side, an assistant removed the baked matzoh. The other matzoh bakers searched frantically for a religious justification to outlaw the machine-made matzohs, but the rabbi who investigated the machinery and the entire baking process declared the matzoh Kosher.
The ceremony of "setting down the bride" was a sad one. The jester" would begin to "sing to the bride" and she wailed away with bitter tears, especially if she had lost one of her parents, or was orphaned. After that, the groom covered the bride's face with the veil.
The chupah was assembled under the sky. The bride called the groom and dared to step on his foot, which was considered a sign assuring a good life with him. After the kiddish was made, the blessings completed, and the groom had broken the glass, the musicians would cut loose with their instruments and play lively dance music, and with "dancing and splashing feet" the crowds carried on in celebration. They performed the "droshe geshank" ("the "bounty of the Law") ceremony, and they finally ended the evening with more dancing and music. Often, the musicians were separately paid, for their listening music, and then again, for their dance music.
In Horodenka there was a band consisting of Kalman Rosenkrantz and his son, Hersh-Koppel, the fiddler; Mendel Oispresser, the flutist; and the three Guttman brothers. Aaron Guttman played second fiddle, Yankel Guttman, the bass, and Leibzeh, the cripple, the "tazin" (a type of percussion instrument). The two Glassman brothers, Saide and Vulf, were truly virtuosos who often traveled to America to play and become well known. Often, when they came back to Horodenka , they gave music lessons to school children. Saide Glassman died in New York. Isaac Klizmer from Samarkovitz also died there.
And so what is the so-called Chalitzah? The bet din (religious court) assembles a minyan. The shammos delivers the wooden board on which bodies are laid for burial. Then a white sheet is raised, as one would hang a curtain to separate the corpse from the living. Then the court asks the brother of the deceased if he agrees to wed the widow. If he says no, he must put on a special show with a strap of leather tefillin on his right foot. And she must remove the corpse's shoe and spit three times in his direction. Then the court declares a judgment that the widow is free to marry whomever she will.
Such a case was "tried" when the eldest son of Schickel Kvesher, who was married to Shimele Zabo's daughter, died after a short time. The younger brother granted the widow Chitzah. This is something I will never forget.
They "didn't taste the honey" of the new land. A few became peddlers; most of them became furriers. They stood together with one another and shared whatever they had. They struggled to save a few hundred dollars in order to return to Horodenka and do whatever it took to open a small business and become a worthy, respectable person. This was the dream of each emigrant in those times.
Some of them fulfilled their dream, and after a few years of working in New York, returned to their families and remained in Horodenka. A few went back to New York after a short time. After they spent the money they had earned in New York, they concluded that Horodenka afforded them no opportunity to make a living.
Little by little, more and more young people, driven by the economic conditions, came to New York. The lonely life in a strange place, far from parents, from wives and children, from neighbors and friends, impelled the immigrants to organize landsmanshaft societies. In 1895, the first Sick and Welfare Society was founded. It celebrated its 65th anniversary in 1960.
The membership of the Society came together twice each month when the landsleit met to hear the latest news from Horodenka. Elections were held twice a year, and the "politics" of the election brought about heated arguments more than once!
The Society accomplished a great deal in the years of its existence. Primarily, the people who came later on didn't feel as lonely as the first immigrants. They came and saw familiar faces who provided them with a place to stay and with a job.
In the years before the First World War, there were two places in New York where Horodenka people could meet. Shaya Kirschner, Meyer Alinsky's son, and his wife, Golde, Aaron Itzhak's daughter, had a restaurant in the heart of the Jewish neighborhood, on Rivington Street. The landsleit unmarried men and women and those with families still in Horodenka would come to eat. On Sundays, families would also come, with wives and children to eat a good, broiled steak, drink a glass of cold beer and listen to the latest news from Horodenka. The second place was on Rivington Street where our landsman Mendel Dollinger had a money exchange and a shipping bureau where you could always catch the latest news from our town.
On two different occasions attempts were made to take members away from our organization. The first time was during the Dreyfuss Affair, when the entire world was absorbed in the exploits of Emile Zola. A group of young people from Horodenka founded an Emile Zola Society, but the Society didn't enjoy a long life. A few years later the same young people founded the Horodenka Young Men's Society, which also disbanded because of internal conflict.
In 1912, several of the members of the Horodenka Health and Welfare Society, under the leadership of Mendel Dollinger, left the Society and joined the Jewish lodge, Brith Abraham, but a few years later they re-joined the first Horodenka Society .
Soon thereafter we called for a general membership meeting of Horodenko young people in New York, on Sunday November 22, in a hall on Rivington Street. The following members were in attendance: Heskell Fidler, Leib Koch, Schmuel Neiman, Abba Teicher, Velvel Yurman, Isaac Neigisser, Schmuel Yankner, Moshe Weisel, Charley Yurman, Meyer Herman, David Yurman, Pesiah Teicher, Menashe Bomberg, Moshe Kirschner, Alter Sturm, and Max Becker. The provisional officers, who would serve until January 1, 1915 were the following: Scholem Kirschner, President; Mendel Rosenkrantz, Vice President; Schlomeh Dollinger, Protocol Secretary; David Yurman, Finance Secretary; Scholem Daifek, Treasurer; Leib Koch, Abba Teicher and Charley Yurman, Trustees: Schmuel Yanker, Speaker; Haskell Fidler, Director.
In the meeting that was held on Chanukah, December 2, 1914, we, together with the original Horodenka Society and with the Horodenka lodge, founded the Assistance Society for Horodenka war victims. We threw ourselves into this effort with the greatest intensity.
The New York Assistance Committee called a mass meeting of all Horodenka landsleit from New York and surrounding areas on a Sunday in February 1915, in the Romanian Shul on Rivington Street. The Shul was packed, and soon over $5,000 was collected. The Committee also began to target all landsleit who had not yet contributed. In addition, they arranged theater productions to raise money for the fund. As America was still neutral, we had the opportunity to send assistance to the Horodenka war victims and to those who were militarily evacuated as well as for those who remained in Horodenka. This was very difficult work, but it was done with love and sacrifice.
It was indeed difficult to assist our sisters and brothers following America's entry in the war, in 1917. We had lived to see the war's end, and in 1919 we sent Mendel Dollinger as our representative to Horodenka to distribute aid to the war victims. We also provided direct aid to those closely related to us. We also sent "a nice few hundred dollars" to provide to the needy, who otherwise had nothing for Passover.
We called a mass-meeting in the commodore Hotel where we quickly collected around $10,000. In addition, we had theatrical presentations to raise money. We sent packages or rations through Hirsh Leib and Yosef Meltzer to all Horodenkan survivors from whom we had received news of their whereabouts. We helped a great many landsheit to save themselves from their living Hell; we helped settle them in Israel, in South America, and in New York. Each free hour we gave ourselves over to this work; much of it was accomplished with our self-sacrificing president, Mendel Rosenkrantz. He delivered the ration packs to the post office in his own car. We also sent medicine to the sick; families in New York did this.
The activity of the Assistance Committee came to an end in 1951. Before the Committee disbanded, it gave the United Jewish Appeal a check for $2,500 to build a home in Israel. This represented the balance that remained from our contributions.
In 1932 we decided to admit new, married members who were under the age of 40, instead of 35. Six years later, in 1938, we decided to admit our children as members with all rights and benefits, for only five dollars a year, in order to afford them the opportunity to become familiar with our work, and for them to become the future leaders of our Society. From that time on, some of them actually held the office of President of the Society, the examples being Peretz Koch, Leib Koch's son; Hershel Fidler, Haskell Fidler's son; and now, Donald Neimark, who is not from Horodenka, but whose wife comes from the Rindner family of Chernelitza.
We continued to have cordial relations with the original Horodenka Society--and we involved ourselves in all the assistance programs. We attend their presentations, and they come to ours. During the first 25 years of our existence we put on a gala ball twice yearly, in May and December, and they were very successful. Every five years we publish an anniversary journal. In 1959 we celebrated our 45th anniversary, and we will celebrate our 50th year anniversary in 1964.
Our activities fall into many different realms. Until recently, the meetings were held twice monthly. Thus, we maintain contact among our members. From time to time we present lectures on current events and we attend presentations, but in the last few years many of the landsleit have moved to the suburbs and do not attend the get-togethers as often any more.
Each year in the month of Elul (usually August/September.) we have a memorial gathering to pay tribute to the departed, tragic victims of the Hitler years. A huge crowd assembles to hear the eulogy (ha-safed) and the memorial prayer (al-male-rachamim) recited by our distinguished rabbi, Dr. Israel Schur.
We take part in the work of the "Joint," in the Federation of Jewish organizations in New York, in the associations of ORT, HIAS, in Histadrut, the Jewish Labor Committee and other important organizations to whom we contribute large sums of money. We also became very involved in the work to elect our member, Isidore Dollinger, District Attorney, a post which he still holds.
In 1942, Leibele Koch received the consent of the Progressive Horodenka Society to found a Women's Society which would bear the name of his departed wife, Sarah (Sadie). The organization was founded with the name Ladies Auxiliary, and still exists. Its most important objective is to help Horodenka landsleit who are destitute or sick to get back on their feet. The Ladies Auxiliary has about 50 members, mostly the wives of our members. They arrange, with our help, events for Chanukah and Purim for the membership. They become involved in the general assistance work that we undertake. They also help out individuals who come to them directly for assistance, and for other worthy causes. Their meetings almost always take place at the same time as ours.
In 1944 our President-elect Leibel Baer suddenly became ill and died a short time later, at age 50. He was born August 22, 1904 and died April 11, 1954. He was the son of Yohanan Baer, and left a wife and two children, two sisters and five brothers. We the members of the Progressive Horodenka Society and his dear friends were deeply grieved by the tragic event. We arranged a beautiful funeral and established in his name one of our most important foundations: the Leon William Baer Assistance Fund. He was put to his eternal rest in the cemetery of the Progressive Horodenka Society.
The first cemetery of our Society was consecrated in 1917. In 1936 we purchased a piece of property for a second cemetery, and in 1956 we bought a plot for the next generations for $9,000.
Granach. We arranged a wonderful reception for him and also an evening event in the Central Plaza Hotel. He was deeply touched by the "masses" of landsleit, of stage artists and writers who attended. Two months later he returned to Germany.
Two months later he came back to America and promptly got roles in movies and became very popular on the English-speaking stage. In America he voraciously took to work writing his autobiography. He wrote the book in German and it was soon translated into English. The Progressive Horodenka Society selected a committee to make arrangements to have the book translated into Yiddish. But soon we received the sad news that on Wednesday March 14, 1945, Granach died during an appendectomy procedure. He had become ill while performing one of his better-known roles, "A Bell for Adono" on the English-language stage.
The sad news made a devastating impression on all of his close friends. We immediately began to make arrangements for his funeral; it was held on Sunday, March 16, 1945. The funeral parlor was crowded with landsleit, friends, stage artists, writers and journalists. Eulogizers were Rabbis Jochanan Prinz and Israel Schur, Yacov Ben-Ami, N. Nathanson, Margo and Frederick March, Dr, Wachtel, and our President, Scholem Kirschner. The Cantor, Vinaver, accompanied by an organ, chanted al-male-rachamim.
A long procession of cars accompanied the casket to the cemetery. Words of reverence were recited at the open casket by the writer Nachman Meisel and our landsleit, Martin Birnbaum and Yitchok Isaac Schechter.
The book committee immediately took up the task of having the book translated into Yiddish. The work was given over to the stage artist and writer, Jacob Mestel, and the book was published by the YKUF, in an edition of 2,600. The autobiography of Granach is a valuable work and his everlasting monument.
In 1936, Isidore Dollinger, a young attorney, the son of our landsman Mendel Dollinger, was elected Assemblyman in the State of New York. There he served seven years, and was subsequently elected State Senator from New York. Five years later, in 1948, he was elected Congressman. Eleven years later, in 1959, he was elected District Attorney. The fact that he holds high office notwithstanding, he is a youthful man and a member of both Horodenka Societies. In 1936 he was President of the Progressive Horodenka Society. He is unfailingly willing to help out a landsman with both advice and the means necessary to carry out a task. His only son Edmund and his brother Abraham are also members of our Society and attend our meetings and our simchas.
Dr. Benny Gradinger was born in New York, but both his parents are natives of Horodenko. His father is Mendel Nuach, son of Anschel Gradinger, one of the first natives of Horodenko to come to New York, and his mother is Feigeh-Toibeh, daughter of Lazer-Yocov. He completed the folkshule and the high school with highest honors and then received his degree as an accountant from New York University (NYU). Later on he received his Masters and Doctorate from Columbia University. During the First World War, in 1918, he served in the Army Air Force and reached the rank of Colonel. He was chief of the Budget Office in the technical-development branch of the Army Air Force. Following this, he became the representative of the Director-General of the Relief Administration, Herbert Lehman. As is known to all, Herbert Lehman became Governor of New York and later Senator, and was a Jew with a "warm, Jewish heart." In 1955, Gradinger was a special consultant to the office of the New York state comptroller. He was a Professor of Finance at NYU. In addition, he manages his own financial firm. He has been a consultant to the Department of the Interior in Washington, and also a consultant to Israel.
He is a member of both Horodenka societies and has held many posts in the Progressive Society. He is involved in all affairs and is always willing to help with both advice and material assistance.
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