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[Page 82]

The Kałuszyn Community


The Kehilla in Kałuszyn[1]

By Sholem Soroka

Translated by Gooter Goldberg

An independent Jewish Kehilla[2] in Kałuszyn already existed, according to historical sources, in the second half of the 19th century. Since then we find the name Michlzon among the leading personalities of the Jewish kehilla of Kałuszyn; Reb[3] Motl Michlzon was succeeded by Reb Shloyme. Both were, each in his time, leaders and shtadlonim[4] of the Jewish community. Their names were mentioned in conjunction with all important community events – approaches to the tsarist authorities[5] to revoke various taxation gzayres[6], as well as regarding all conflicts between the different strata concerning the post of town Rabbi. These disputes were the result of the differing needs and influence, according to social position, of the various groups of the population.

At the head of the kehilla committee in our (20th) century was Reb Ruven Michlzon; the parnaysim[7] were: Yidl Aybeshuts, Sholke Kramarz, Yankl Shtayn, Yitschok Munk, Nosn Otsap, Sholem Zabielski, Layzer Bornshtayn, and Shmul Eli Fraylich. Hershl Feldman, Yisroel Faygnboym and others. For many decades the secretary of the kehilla was Aron Butches – Taytlboym.

In the activities of the kehilla one could always discern the energetic and forceful hand of Ruven Michlzon as project originator and administrative mover. His word was decisive in all kehilla institutions and also carried weight in all government offices on matters pertaining to Jewish Kałuszyn. The community saw in him a devoted defender of Jewish interests.

The mere fact that more than 80% of the population of Kałuszyn were Jews had broadened the aims and activities of the kehilla. Beside its denominational functions the kehilla had to concern itself with social problems, mainly financial assistance to the disadvantaged strata. There certainly was plenty of need. Also, the problem of health was always confronting the kehilla ; there were no hospitals in town, no first aid posts. The town was constantly in touch with the “Tchista” hospital in Warsaw and used to send there its impoverished diseased. The kehilla also supported all the charitable societies in town like visiting the sick, providing lodgings, render medical assistance to the towns poor.

Among the religious needs the main ones were: the upkeep of the kehilla building and the beys-din[8] chamber; the payment of salaries to the town rabbi, the dayanim[9] and beadles ; the upkeep of the big synagogue, the smaller houses of study, the cheders[10] and yeshivas[11]. In general, the care for religious education was part of the kehilla activities. The kehilla committee did, however nothing for secular Yiddish education or the establishment of a Yiddish school out of fear of the apikorsic[12] subjects of study.

The kehilla was also the guardian over kosher[13] slaughtering. The parnaysim kept increasing the tax of the slaughterers and butchers, which the board members considered an important source of the kehilla budget. This was a cause of constant conflicts between the parnaysim and those they taxed. The Rabbi was always the final arbiter.

The growth of Polish antisemitism often forced the kehilla to devote all its energies to confront the anti-Jewish laws and regulations. The working class in town greatly assisted the kehilla in its struggle to defend Jewish interests, although the strictly religious character of the kehilla prevented the workers' parties from establishing with it a permanent collaborative relationship.

The workers' movement also exerted pressure on the kehilla to take greater care of the day-to-day needs of the poorer sections of the community.

kal083e.jpg Outside the kehilla window
Outside the kehilla window


All its expenditures had to be borne by the kehilla itself. Neither the state nor the municipality contributed to the kehilla budget. The main source of income was a special tax (on the community) at a rate (per capita) determined by the state; however, the impost on individuals was the kehilla' s prerogative. This caused constant friction among the dozors[14] of the taxation committee: each one had his “favourites” (who deserved leniency). The rich didn't want to pay and the poor didn't have the means. The “birth pangs” of the kehilla budget were therefore quite strong.

Thus the difficulties of collecting the tax were considerable. The people didn't have a great respect for the majesty of their own Jewish institution and used every conceivable excuse to postpone the inevitable. The kehilla was often forced to turn to the municipality for the enforcement by gentile bailiffs. More than once have non-Jewish collectors thus taken off a Sabbath table a set of candle sticks as security for the kehilla tax.

Apart from all the income and expense concerns the kehilla elders also kept an eye on Sabbath observance. They were making certain that the shops were closed Friday evening on time. More than once would the Rabbi himself, accompanied by the Shabes guardians go out on an inspection and remind the “freethinkers” that it was time to close up. Now and then this would cause “incidents” that would end up in the courts.

During the first year of our (20th) century the kehilla had to deal with contention about “succession” following the death of a Rabbi. These disputes were not always exclusively for “the sake of…” The same can be said about the strife against the head of the kehilla Reb Ruven Michlzon. However, the strength of his personality, his capable work on behalf of the community and his standing with the authorities, forced his opponents to make peace with his leadership of the kehilla.

True to the legacy of his father and grandfather, Reb Ruven Michlzon dedicated many years to the Jewish community in Kałuszyn. With the destruction of the latter at the hands of the Nazis, also perished her devoted public servant.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is an unedited translation from the Yiddish (די ייִדישע קהילה אין קאַלושין) of an article in “Sefer Kałuszyn”, published by the “Kałuszyner Societies in Israel, the United States of America, Argentine, France and other countries”, Tel-Aviv, 1961. Return
  2. “Community” - the designation of Jewish social units, used for the Hebrew terms edah , kehillah , and kaha l. Ideally the community denoted the “Holy Community” (Kehillah Kedoshah), the nucleus of Jewish local cohesion and leadership in towns and smaller settlements. Particularly after the loss of independence, as the Jews became predominantly town dwellers, the community became more developed and central to Jewish society and history. From the Middle Ages on the community was a “Jewish city,” parallel to and within the Christian and Muslim ones” (Encyc.Judaica).
    In Yiddish (and implicitly in this article) the word was used for both the instrument of Jewish denominational autonomy (an institution) as well as simply for “community” (hence the adjective “Jewish” {Yidishe} in the heading). The word is not translated in this article unless the context clearly indicates that it means “community”. Return
  3. Traditional Jewish title (like Mr.) Return
  4. Plural of shtadlan – intercessor. Shtadlones – intercession was the classical post-exilic, pre-modern Jewish defence mechanism. Return
  5. Since late 18th century Poland was dismantled and occupied by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Kałuszyn was in the Russian sphere. Return
  6. Plural of gzar – fateful sentence, evil decree. Return
  7. Plural of parnes – one of the (elected) heads of the community. (U.Weinreich's Modern Yiddish-English Dictionary, Yivo, Mc-Graw-Hill Book Company, New-York, 1968). Return
  8. Judicial council – Jewish (religious) court. Return
  9. Plural of dayan – judge (associate rabbi). Return
  10. Cheder – Literally “room” in Hebrew. The word was used for a religious elementary school. Return
  11. Yeshiva – rabbinical college. Return
  12. From apikorsos - A Hebrew expression from the Second Temple era used to denote agnosticism, heresy, non-belief. A non-believer was called an apikoros. The word is derived from the name of the ancient Greek materialist and empiricist philosopher Epicurus. Return
  13. כשר kosher, in accordance with Jewish law; valid; fit for; honest, sincere, ttrustworthy. Return
  14. Same as parnas: from Polish “dozór- inspection, oversight, supervision”, hence: overseer, custodian. (Harkavy's Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary, Yivo, New York, of 1928 translates dozor as “synagogue warden”). Return

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