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[Page 256]

SECTION 4

Rabbis Community Figures
and Simple People

 

The Tzaddikim and Rabbis of Kozienice

by Rabbi Avraham–Abba Zuckerman, Haifa

I have responded to the request of the Kozienice Organization to write a few words in order to immortalize this town, but there is no beginning to write about Kozienice without first mentioning the holy Maggid.

It is said in his name: “Were it not that I lived in Kozienice, no one would know of its existence.”

Were I gifted as a writer, I could still not succeed in capturing the Maggid's holiness on the page. He was the pillar of the town and of the Maggid's street … The Maggid's street – thus was the street known during the rule of all the nations who ruled Poland.

Thousands of pages and books without number have been written on the glory of his holiness and that of this town. To our sorrow, it ascended the pyre together with all of exiled Israel at the hands of the Germans, may their name be wiped out.

May God avenge their blood before our eyes, speedily and in our day.

 

Only Descendants of the Maggid Bore the Title Rav

As is known, no one in this town ever bore the title of Rav or Bes Din except members of the golden chain of descent from the Maggid. His descendants were endowed with the title of Rav of the town until the office passed to Rebbe Yisrael Eliezer Hoffstein, the founder of and worker at Kfar Hasidim. Every judge or chief rabbi who served in Kozienice was called simply chief rabbi (Moyre tzedek) or authorized teacher (Moyre hoyra'ah). I mention their names here in order to immortalize them until the coming of our redeemer. Naturally, this list extends only to 1927, when I left for Israel.

Rabbi Ben–Tzion, born in Kozienice, served in high style as rabbi of his native town after his father, Rabbi Pinkhas; until he left Kozienice and settled in Worka where he served as rav and bes din.

Rabbi Yoysef, born in Kozienice, the son of Rabbi Zelig Eliezer, descended from one of the honoured friends of the Maggid.

These two rabbis were killed in the Holocaust.

May the Lord avenge their blood.?

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Rabbi Yoysef–Yehuda Mintzberg

Rabbi Yoysef–Yehuda Mintzberg was born in Ostrowca, the son of Rabbi Shmuel of Ostrowca. Torah and greatness were united in him. His great and righteous teacher, the Genius of Ostrowca, said of him that he knew how to decide legal questions properly.

Rabbi Mintzberg served as rav and bes din in the town of Czepelow before coming to Kozienice.

As a well–educated young married man, I was naturally in contact with all the rabbis in town, but in Rabbi Mintzberg's house I was one of the family, not – God Forbid – for political reasons, as was usual in Polish towns – mayn rebbe, dayn rebbe, etc. – but simply because of the vineyard of the Lord, the wealth of learning and piety which I found there.

His big room was filled to overflowing with legal books and responsa, books of pilpul, and the like.

It is no wonder that his library was so rich. He was the son of a wealthy scholar who left him this library, and whoever had not seen the library of Rabbi Y.Y. Mintzberg had never seen a library in his life. The margins of his books were filled with notes, variant readings, and discussions of Torah, all in his handwriting, which resembled print.

He was, as it were, a basket full of books. His acuity was boundless. Again, it is not to be marvelled at that at the time of his bar–mitzva he had completed the entire Talmud with toysfos and all the commentaries, for he grew up in a household of such acuity that there was none greater, viz, the house of the Genius of Ostrowca. Therefore, I was able to clarify and explain every obscure matter. Over such as he one can truly bless, “Blessed is He who hath given of his wisdom to those who fear him.”

 

We Established Torah Institutions

Aside from his devotion to scholarship, his thoughts were also occupied with humanity: “ he loved Israel and brought them near to Torah with all his heart and soul. When he returned from Russia after World War I after being held hostage along with his friend Rabbi Ben–Tzion”, he said to me, “Reb Avraham–Abba, if the verse, “And Jacob came safely,” is to be fulfilled in me, something must be fixed.” He did not leave me until I had promised him to work to correct a certain matter in our town.”

I fulfilled my promise with the help of God: in a very short time, a talmud–torah, secondary–school yeshiva, and Tikkun Eruvin society had been founded in our town. Naturally, this was all done with the help of the community and distinguished householders, several of whom I mention here in order to immortalize them: Reb Levi Mandel, Reb Tevye Mandel, Reb Yoyel Weinberg, Reb Shloime–Pinkhas Leibishes, and others.

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Evening Classes for Adults

Since one mitzva engenders another, the tzaddik, foundation of the world, Rebbe Arele, came to me, saying that he was about to establish evening classes for adults, and asked me to be the principal and lecturer. Having no choice – one cannot refuse the great – I promised to do so, and with the help of God I fulfilled my promise properly all the while that the Rebbe stood at the head of the institution.

It is fitting to end on a happy note. I pray to Him who hears every prayer that the merit of the righteous and holy men mentioned here will defend us and all of Israel until the coming of the Redeemer, speedily and in our day, Amen and Amen!


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My Father Rabbi Yoysef Yehuda Mintzberg

by Tova Mandel, Tel–Aviv

I was fifteen years old when I was orphaned from my father, Rabbi Yoysef–Yehuda Mintzberg. How can I remember him?

Nevertheless, an image of my father made up of memories and stories I have heard sketches itself before my eyes.

In my mind's eye I see the glory of his face and the nobility of his spirit. His tall figure is before me, his warm glance still caresses me.

Father loved us, and we loved him. How happy we were when father devoted his attention to us; we did not want for his warm and loving gaze.

Until our happiness came to an end one cloudless morning. Father passed away. He was forty–seven.

At so early an age, and in so sudden a manner, he parted from us forever.

An oppressive grief descended upon our house.

Joy and happiness were taken from me.

And I was fifteen at the time.

I will attempt to sketch a general outline of my father's image from fragments of memories.

My father was born about 1880 in the town of Ostrowca, near Kielc.

His father served as rabbi of the town.

My father studied in the yeshiva of Rabbi Yekhiel, the Genius of Ostrowca. He distinguished himself with his quick grasp and breadth of knowledge. He was thirteen when Rabbi Yekhiel ordained him to the rabbinate.

As was the custom in those days, my father married at a very early age. At the age of fourteen, he married my mother, Malke Levin, the daughter of Reb Meir Levin of Macziow, in Wohlin, who was of the same age.

Mother used to tell us that after the wedding she would take off her wig and play with it. It delighted her.?

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My father lived with and was supported by his father–in–law in Macziow for several years.

He did not touch the dowry he received from his father–in–law, but took the entire 10,000 rubles and gave it to the Rebbe of Porisow.

At about the age of twenty, my father assumed the rabbinical chair in Czepelow near Zwolin.

He served as rabbi there for ten years.

My two sisters, my brother, and I were all born there.

About 1910, my father became rabbi in Kozienice through the efforts of the Porisower hasidim and with the agreement of the influential Zemach and Mintzberg families.

The Gerer hasidim opposed the choice of my father, but over the course of time he endeared himself to the wider public and was chosen chief rabbi of Kozienice.

At the outbreak of World War I, my father was sent to Russia at the command of the military government, and was held hostage for three years in a jail in Moscow.

My mother and the children went to live with her father in Ostrowca until the days of rage had passed.

Scarcely any impressions of our residence at my grandfather's stayed with me and those which remained have been forgotten with the years.

My father was freed at the end of the war, and we returned to Kozienice.

My father inclined to Zionism all his life. All the town's Zionists prayed in his shul, but he never dared to demonstrate his Zionism in public.

I remember very little of his community activities.

I know that he was very active in this field – he devoted years of his time to the yeshiva in Lublin.

In 1928, my father fell ill with appendicitis.

The doctors in Kozienice and its environs failed to diagnose his illness, and it was thus neglected.

When it intensified, my father was taken to the hospital of Dr. Soloveitchick in Warsaw, where he died at the age of forty–seven.?

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An oppressive grief descended upon our house.

The town of Kozienice trembled at the dreary news.

Rabbis and eminent scholars from the entire district attended my father's funeral.

Stores, workshops, and businesses were closed.

All the residents of the town went to pay their respects to my late father, and to bewail his sudden death.

As a token of appreciation for my father and his work on behalf of the town, the community officials decided to pay my mother his full salary for the rest of her life.

And so, the officials kept their promise until the outbreak of World War II, and my mother enjoyed my father's full salary.

I went to Israel in 1933. Before leaving, I married my husband, Levi. I parted from my mother, my brothers Hillel and Moishe, and my sisters, Hadassa and Rokhel.

I did not realize that this was my last good–bye even though my heart was pinched.

The survivors who lived through the war told me that my mother was shipped to Treblinka and killed. My brother, Hillel, who distinguished himself by his help to all the needy at the time of the Holocaust, refused to be parted from her, and they were killed together.

May their memory be blessed!

The same bitter fate visited my sister, Hadassa, her husband, Mordekhai Bornstein, and their two children, Roizele and Itchele; my sister, Rokhel, who lived in Ostrowca with her husband, Nossen Lieberman and their three children.

Of our extensive family, only my brother, Moishe Mintzberg, and I survived. During the war, he fled to the Soviet Union, where he passed the seven levels of hell, and in 1964, after much wandering succeeded in reaching Israel, and has lived in Ramat–Gan ever since.

The heart is pinched with anguish and does not wish to be consoled.

How have we been left alone?

May their memory be blessed!


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How Great The Calamity

by Tzvi Madanes, Tel–Aviv

Would that my head were all of water, and my eyes a fount of tears, day and night would I weep the defilement of the daughter of my people.

Your sons are all fallen in captivity, flames of fire have consumed your houses of study. Your heart is torn to pieces for the glory of Israel and its defiled Torah.

Pyres of fire consumed the Torah scrolls, and they forced us to dance around them. Enemy guards surrounded us. "Where is your God?" they asked with scorn.

The head of the congregation, Reb Yoysef Dayan, was hitched to a plow, and a Jew beat him with a whip. Blood and sweat soaked his clothes, and his soul departed with the Sh'ma.

This was on the Day of Judgement. They toiled as of yore. Reb Moishe Donnerstein arose in prayer and supplication, and the enemy clove his temples.

Khaneche Danziger and Khayele bas Reb Melekh were not parted in life or death. They lay without breath of life, their blood mingled in a puddle.

In talis and tefillin, Reb Herschel Popilnik, scholar and man of action poured out his heart. He did not finish his confession, and his blood was spilled like water.

Feige Shabbason – the enemy called her out, the Jewess. She, charming and modest, tarried. A shot was heard in the house. The children lost their sister, and thus fate turned bitter toward them.

Here lie scattered bodies, little children slaughtered like fowl … This is Torah, this its reward? How great the calamity, and how great the sorrow.

The destruction of an entire house. The children and their mother lie without breath of life. As a bird spreading its wings over it young, thus was Alter Bornstein's wife with her children.

The family of Dr. Abramowitz fell like heroes. Before the murderers came to destroy them, their father gave each one a pill, and thus these bold ones found their death.

Reb Elimelekh Freilakh, of the elders of the town, walks with the congregation. He holds his grandson to his body, their hearts beating to Kiddush Ha–Shem. Thus the congregation of Kozienice was ended and completed.


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Rabbi Ben Tzion–Freilakh

by Leibele Fishstein, Tel–Aviv

The bes–medresh was packed with worshippers in tallis and tefillin, but no one had yet approached the amud.

“Shakhna! Why don't you go to the amud?”

At that moment, three mighty blows on the bima rent the silence.

“Raboysay! There will be a big celebration in town today. Rav Ben–Tzion Freilakh, freed from Siberia, is coming on the second train. We're all going out to welcome him.”

Nobody davened with the minyan anymore. Everyone davened by himself, in order to be among the first to bear the news.

At one p.m. the street leading to the station was filled with people, Jews and goyim, waiting for the great rav.

The station was about two km. from town. Droshkys with specially invited guests and distinguished householders went to the station. On the way back they stopped at the bridge by the town's entrance, their occupants got out, and went into town on foot. The escort wore their holiday best, and Ben–Tziele walked at their head.

He was a tall man with long bright yellow points to his beard, payes hanging to his shoulders like tubes, and a high, brown shtreimel on his head. His fur coat was unbuttoned, allowing his tzitzis to show.

He walked with dignified steps. With a smile on his face, he greeted the crowd on all sides.

Ben–Tziele was the master of the bes–medresh. Shabbes afternoons he would teach the week's Torah portion to the crowd in the bes–medresh, explaining and illuminating every verse in Yiddish.

On Friday night the davening did not start until Ben–Tziele arrived. The khazan did not begin the Shmone Esrei until Ben–Tzion gave him the word.

On Rosh Ha–Shana his brother, Avrum–Khaim, had the right to daven shakhris on the first day and musaf on the second. The same on Yom Kippur. The rest of the davening belonged to Ben–Tziele.

His quiet, murmuring lament Al Da'as ha–mvkom ve'al Da'as ha–Hakuhol froze everyone in their tracks, and nothing was heard but his lament and the crackling of the candle flames.?

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Blowing Shofar on Rosh–Ha–Shana

With Ben–Tzion standing on the bima with the shofar in his hand and his tallis over his head, it seemed as if every sound from the shofar hit the ceiling, seeking a path to heaven.

At the amud, he used to dance in time to his singing. Everyone around would sway back and forth and beat time with their hands. He also used to cry so that I took pity on him. I would think that the world was about to end, and that he and his lamentation had to save it.

The women were delighted by his davening: “You hear a word, a song, a dance. There is a power in his very marrow.”

His brother, Melekh Reb Pinkhasl's, was another sort entirely: of middle height, rotund, with a short blond beard, wore a shtreimel on shabbes and yontef. Twisted fringes of hair hung down from his shtreimel. He was a merchant, owned a mill, and employed a score of workers, some of them Jewish. His hoarse voice did not prevent him from standing at the amud and davening from beginning to end on Rosh Ha–Shana and Yom Kippur, and not allowing anyone else to approach.

The third brother, Avrum–Khaim, was tall and broad shouldered. The skirts of his garments were always undone. He was always in a hurry, as if he had scores of businesses. Even his davening at the amud was always at such a pace that the women couldn't catch up to him.

 

The Czepelower Rav R'Yoseph Yehudi Mintzberg

The Czepelower Rav was popular among a large section of the population of Kozienice who were his admirers (Czepelower hasidim). He was renowned as a great scholar and sage. He was tall, with beautiful, clever eyes and genteel noble features. Din–toyres and conversations on societal, communal, and political matters among distinguished householders often took place in his house.

His celebrations on Simkhas–Toyre, Khanuka, and Purim were very merry. On Purim, the Czepelower hasidim prepared a special program. Every year, Ya'akov Ring (Yankel Zeigermacher) used to put together a selection of humorous poems and Purim songs; he played his fiddle, and the whole crowd sang along, danced, laughed, and had a good time. Many hasidim would get dressed up and make merry.

Whoever frequented the Czepelower Rav, noshed on many good and clever words. For example, he used to say that “a rav is not a person,” because the night before, he had conducted a din–toyre until midnight. Finally, the litigants said, “You know what, Rebbe, we're going to go to the people.” This means that a rav is not a person.?

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The Czepelower Rav was a son of the Ostrowcer. His wife came from a rabbinic family, and ran a nice, warm household. Every guest was received cordially, and treated to a cup of tea and citrus preserves.

The rav had two sons, Hillel and Yisroel–Moishe, and three daughters, Hadas, Rokhel, and Tove.

In 1928, he suddenly fell ill. His family and friends did all they could to save the beloved rav. They brought doctors in from outside, then sent him to a specialist in Warsaw. But it didn't help, and the rav passed away.

The whole town mourned and lamented the loss of a great sage.

Almost the entire Mintzberg family was killed by the Nazi murderers during the last world war. His daughter, Tove Mintzberg, now Mandel, survived because she and her husband had emigrated to Israel in 1933.

His son, Yisroel–Moishe, is also living. He saved himself by a miracle in Russia, and like his sister, lives in Israel today.

The Czepelower Rav made no use of the shul and bes–medresh. He kept aloof. Everything was in his apartment: a courtroom, a large hall for davening, and his dwelling. A separate kingdom, in a word.

The only other rav was Reb Yoysef, a man who did nothing but study, a batlan. He was small and stooped, with a high back. He was always studying. You wouldn't go to him with a din–toyre, but he was an expert on women's questions: a needle in the gizzard or a swollen liver on a fowl, not to mention exorcising the evil eye.

What he lived on, God only knows.

 

Rebbe Yekele Shapira

Rebbe Yekele Shapira was the only rebbe in town. He was Reb Yoysef's brother, and had a genteel, delicate, pallid face. He was always sick, broken, his soul barely sustaining itself within him. He observed his rabbanus in a detached wooden house.

A good bit of yeast, so the shabbes khalles would come out well, could be bought only from Reb Yekele's wife. On this account, religious women bought their yeast nowhere else, because the khalles turned out well with the rebbetzin's yeast.

His hasidim were picked men: calm and quiet paupers.?

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Two Brothers, Two Rebbi'im

Across from the bes–medresh stood a large, long house of brown brick. It looked unfinished, although it was already several score years old.

Two brothers lived in this house. They were conducting a war between themselves as to who should be rebbe number one and who number two.

They were the descendants of the Kozienicer Maggid. There were two kingdoms in the house: in one half lived Reb Melekhl and his sister Brokhele (she lives in Kfar Hasidim); in the other half, his elder brother, Reb Arele. Reb Melekhl with his pious, bearded hasidim, and Reb Arele with beardless, clean–shaven, non–religious hasidim.

Hundreds of hasidim from throughout Poland flocked to Reb Arele's table. Magitowa Street was filled with people. On yontef, all the tables were overflowing, not to mention all the people who couldn't find a place at the table.

Reb Arele used to disappear from the table in the middle of the evening, go into his private chamber, and take a nap. After his nap, he would appear before his hasidim and ask whomever he ran into to show him his tzitzis. Woe unto him who was not wearing them. The rebbe took him by the ear into another room, took a towel, moistened it in water, twisted it double, ordered him to lie down on a long bench, and he – the rebbe himself – spanked him in the tukhes.

As he got up, the rebbe said to him, “You know what that was? I gave you a pledge (as in a pawnshop).”

Happy was he who had the luck to receive a “pledge” from the rebbe's hand.

“Dance!” the rebbe suddenly commanded. They all embraced one another. The mass of people swung in a circle. The rest crawled onto the benches and tables, singing, and clapping their hands in time.

 

Ya'akov Did Not Give Up His Socialism

In the midst of the dancing, a young man burst in crying, “Rebbe, give me a remedy for my child. Things are very bad with him.”

The mass of dancers froze in astonishment.

The rebbe approached the young man and gave him his hand. “What's your name?;?

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“Ya'akov.”

The rebbe tilted his head back and put his hands over his eyes. He stood like this for a long time. The crowd was mute and still.

Suddenly, he snapped out of his trance and shouted, “Ya'akov, dance!”

The rebbe left the hall and soon came back with a bowl of oranges. Slowly he climbed onto the table and threw the oranges over the heads of the dancers. All those standing on the tables and benches dashed after the oranges. The crunch was immense, and the rebbe kept yelling, “Ya'akov, grab an orange!”

Ya'akov had scarcely managed to make his way to an orange when the rebbe yelled, “Ya'akov! Go home quickly and give your child a bit of the orange.”

Ya'akov Bondol – for so he was called – was clean shaven, short–coated, and a bit of a socialist. His wife had forced him to go to the rebbe for a cure.

When the child regained its health, Ya'akov became a fervent hasid of the rebbe's, but he did not renounce his socialism.

 

Let the Goyim Platz

On Lag–B'Oymer there was an assembly of all the hasidim in the great square near the rebbe's house. They marched through the main streets in rows of three, the rebbe at their side, counting like an officer, “One, two, three, four” only counting in Hebrew.

Goyim? What goyim? Which goyim? Who's asking them? Let them look and platz!”

On Purim, the antryroom of the shul was turned into a theatre. At the rebbe's command, a stage was put up. Binyomin–Khaim Yagges and Vadyalle Kokos and other such “artistes” performed Joseph and His Brothers after the reading of the megilla.

From the same stage, Avrum–Abba (now a rav in Haifa) used to teach the weekly portion every shabbes afternoon. Avrum–Abba was the rebbe's chief adviser.

Reb Velvel Klein of Lodz, the shammas, was the rebbe's administrator and chief of supply. He used to store the tens of cases of wine which rich merchants sent the rebbe before every yontef in a special supply room.

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The Story of a Pinch

During the Shmone–Esrei on Simkhas–Toyre Shabsi Katz took advantage of the opportunity of standing behind Velvel Klein. He pinched him. When Velvel turned around from the Shmone–Esrei to see who had pinched him, Shabsi was already standing in another corner. Velvel looked everybody in the eye in order to find the guilty party, but alas…

After davening, Velvel told the rebbe, took his golden watch from his vest pocket, pressed the rim, and opened the cover. “I'm giving you five minutes. If the culprit doesn't come forward, he's going to regret it.”

The five minutes were long past, and the guilty party had still not presented himself.

 

Shabsi's Wife Gets Well

Shabsi Katz's wife was in great danger. There was faint hope of her recovery. Desperate, Shabsi decided to make an end of the secret which had been boring through his heart the whole time. Thinking that he had sinned against the rebbe, he decided to confess that it was he who had pinched Velvel.

When Shabsi had told the whole story, the rebbe burst out laughing and left Shabsi alone in the room.

“What can this mean? Instead of becoming angry with me, the rebbe dismissed the whole thing and disappeared,” complained Shabsi to himself. Standing in the large room, he felt as if his knees were buckling beneath him.

He stood like this for a long time, not knowing what to do. Should he leave the room and go home with nothing? Or wait here until the rebbe's return?

Fatigued, he started looking for a place to sit, but there was only one armchair in the room – the rebbe's – and he did not dare sit down on it.

Suddenly, the door was flung open and the rebbe rushed in, crying, “A hundred bottles of wine for the table!”

“Rebbe,” cried Shabsi in a trembling voice, “my wife is very ill. The doctors have taken everything from me. All my possessions would not be enough for so much wine.”?

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“Pawn your wife's jewelery and get a hundred bottles of wine!“ Then God will give your wife a complete recovery.”

His wife regained her health. The jewelery was redeemed, and Shabsi became the rebbe's devoted hasid.

 

Ulica Magitowa

After the Maggid's death, the gentile city council hung a sign on the street where he had lived: Ulica Magitowa the Maggid's Street.

The thick–walled shul stood on this street. Although it had been built

130 years before, it looked unfinished. Inside, there was no ceiling.

When the khazan was singing during the davening, the birds under the roof would chirp along, making it seem as if they, too, had come into the shul to pray.

It was most beautiful when a bridegroom was “showered” with sweets (a bavarfns). The birds would swoop down very low over the people's heads in order to catch the nuts.

From the shul to the river behind the town, not a single goy lived on Magitowa Street. Yet, the panes in all the windows were broken: shkutzim who used to pass late at night would amuse themselves by tossing a stone through a Jewish window.

The shul was closed, except on shabbes and yontef.

When the shammas opened the shul on Friday evening, he would first knock three times on the door.

All kinds of legends were told about these three knocks. For example, that demons prayed in the shul at night. If you went past the shul after midnight, you imagined hearing how those passing by were called to the Torah.

 

The Bes–Medresh

Near the shul stood the great bes–medresh, which rested neither day or night. People sat learning in the entrance, let alone in the bes–medresh proper in which every table was occupied.

At one table, someone sits bent over a big gemore, learning; at the next, a whole group quibbles loudly; they're saying Psalms at a third.

Two tile stoves stood at the western wall. Crazy Bezalel slept on the bench by one of them. During the day he carried water from the market pump or the tap for housewives doing their laundry; they used to get their own water for cooking.?

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Gavriel slept by the second stove. All day long he went from house to house with makhzoyrim, story–books, letter–writing guides, fringed undergarments, and the fringes themselves. At night he went home to sleep on his bench by the tile stove.

The long tables and benches stood by the walls. The centre, around the bima was empty. On erev Rosh Ha–Shana and at Kol Nidre, the empty area was completely filled.

At the right–hand corner of the eastern wall a brass khanuka menora was nailed to the wall. When the shammas, Avrum–Moishe, made the blessing, “to light the khanuka candle,” snowballs prepared by pranksters flew over his head. It was a sort of custom. A miracle would have taken place here, too, if the shammas had not been hit by a snowball.

The greatest miracle took place this Khanuka, for there was not yet any snow.

 

The Maggid's House

Behind the houses fronting the street, not far from the bes–medresh, stood a wooden house so low as to seem half–sunk into the ground.

From without, it looked like a cell. The two six–paned windows started from ground level. The house was bent away to one side, had a dutch–door at the entrance, and in the corridor, a floor of pressed clay. In the room, a table, an armchair, and a cane with a bent handle hanging on the chair. Also a canopied bed and several bookshelves.

Every Saturday night, Rebbe Eliezer would recite Ha–Mavdil there, and afterwards pass fragrant spices around.

 

The Crown Rabbi

Rabbi Ya'akov–Hirsch Weinberg, the government–appointed rabbi, was the most interesting character in town. His bearing and attire were appropriate to his office. He was a born aristocrat, a pedant: neatly dressed in black with a collar and tie. He knew several languages and was involved with all the government officials.

Jewish children who wanted to leave the country or go to the big city for work and who had no passes, had to go to the crown rabbi for a birth certificate.

The rabbi went to the city hall, took a thick book from the shelf, went over to an official seated at a small table and said to him, “Here, in this place write Moishe–Dovid Stein, born twenty years ago. You know how to fill out the rest. Make a birth certificate and a pass right away.”?

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Melamdim

The noise of children was heard from a window looking out of a roof on a side–street. This was the kheder of the melamed of the youngest children, Yisroel–Mendele.

He was small, round as a tub, and high shouldered. His head rested upon his shoulders as if he had no neck. His feet could not be seen when he walked, for his capote reached the ground. It seemed that he was not walking but gliding forward in the air.

He never walked through the streets alone, but was always seen with tens of children, some with their visors cocked to the side, some with the flaps open at the back of their pants and their shirts sticking out. Some of the children had two types of shoes: two right or two left, one black and one brown. He went with the children from one woman in childbirth to another to read the Shma.

This was his privilege. He had taken it over from his father, and no other melamed took it away from him.

When there happened to be two or more readings of the Shma on the same day, the children were happy. Their pockets were stuffed with nuts and cookies which they divided up among their brothers and sisters at home.

When it got dark outside, Yisroel–Mendele himself lit the little candles which he himself had made from tallow which he took from dripped–down yorzeit candles in the bes–medresh. He put a candle in each child's paper lantern, which he had likewise made.

The children set out merrily through the streets on their way home. He turned the table over to his wife, Khave, and went to the bes–medresh to daven mayriv.

Khave resembled her husband. Following his example, she always wore a dress which practically swept the floor. It seems that her long dress was calculated to conceal the difference in the length of her legs. One was shorter than the other and her body inclined sharply to the left. Her only adornment was the calico bonnet on her head.

Every evening, when Yisroel–Mendele was in the bes–medresh, his place was occupied by Khave. That of the little boys was occupied by marriageable girls whom Khave taught to bentsh likht, bentsh the new moon, and to make a blessing when removing a piece of dough for burning.

When Yisroel–Mendele returned from the bes–medresh Khave was already through with the lessons, and had covered part of the table with a towel and placed the evening meal atop it: a salt–cellar with salt, a bread, near it a knife, a glass of tea, and a spoon on which lay two saccharin tablets.?

[Page 272]

Yoysef Hanover Ran A Modern Kheder

In a basement room across from the bes–medresh there was a kheder, or rather, a school. The children called the melamed “teacher”, not “rebbe”. His name was Yoysef Hanover; the local householders called him Yoysef Singer because the kheder had been modernized and all the lessons were taught to a tune.

From the entrance–door to the window, which stood between the ceiling and the level of the ground, stood a long table with benches. To the right was a proper school–bench with a lectern with holes cut out for inkwells. Children learning khumash and Rashi sat at the table, bar–mitzva boys at the lectern bench.

The teacher, Yoysef, was short and thin, with broad shoulders. He had a long black beard, a large forehead, and a yarmulke so small that it barely covered his bald head. His hands were always wrapped in bandages from finger to sleeve. He suffered from chronic eczema, a curse visited upon him because of his beatings.

Every morning before sitting down at the head of the table, he used to take the military belt with a Russian crown on its brass buckle from his pants and place it near him on the table.

Lying on the table, the belt excited different fantasies in every boy: Now I'm lying over the whipping–bench and the belt jumps over my back; now I'm hiding under the table because I didn't want to lie on the bench, and the teacher's chasing after me with the belt. I get a blow with the brass buckle, a lump forms, or else a hole with blood running out.

Once, when the teacher had kept up his beating from morning until it was time to go home, a feeling of vengeance awoke in the children. On the way home, they all stopped for a while.

“Boys, we're going into the bes–medresh. We can't talk here.”

They went into the bes–medresh, secluded themselves in a corner, and decided to liquidate the belt. They drew lots on the spot to see who should take the belt outside. The lot fell to little Leibele.

Leibele didn't sleep all night. He lay in bed with his eyes shut, making plans for spiriting the belt away without the teacher's knowing….

And what to do with the belt? Dig a hole and cover it? Maybe throw it into the river? Yes, that's the best – into the river with it. It'll swim far away. If someone bathing in the river should find it, he won't know that it's our belt.

The execution was carried out the next day. The river carried the belt far away.

[Page 273]

The following day, the children looked at the place where the belt always lay. They looked at the teacher. He was silent. Who knows what will happen today? Maybe he thinks he lost it somewhere.

A few days later, a mat made of leather shoelaces twisted together lay in the belt's accustomed place.

In the mornings, they davened with a minyan. Every day a different boy davened as khazan at the amud. The davening was sung with a merry tune from beginning to end.

The studies took place exactly as in a public school: a brass bell rang every hour, a five–minute recess followed, then the bell rang again.

Yoysef's wife, Blume, was always complaining about her luck in having to share a basement room with a kheder and go mad from the noise. Fortunately, the room was the size of a barn, so she sectioned it off with a partition made of blankets hung from iron rings. On her side of the “wall” there was a dining–room to the left by the window, and a bedroom to the right.

They had three sons. The eldest, Zelig, was a quilter. He worked for a Warsaw–ite who, heaven preserve us, had no children and who treated Zelig as if he were his own son.

The second, Binem was a shoemaker and the third, Herschele, would also not be a melamed when he grew up, concerning which his mother, Blume, was already concerned.

 

Borukh Melamed

A small, narrow little room. The table and two long benches were squeezed in between both walls. The table, by the window. On the other side of the window, outdoors, was a large pump with a long iron stock. In summertime, there was always mud around it; in winter, glossy ice, like a mirror. The pump was covered with straw in the winter to keep it from freezing.

There was a fair in town on Thursdays. Peasant carts were lined up the length of the street on both sides, one beside another.

The window had to be shut all summer, because of both the noise and the stench caused by the horses.?

[Page 274]

On the days of the fair, the entrance–door to the kheder was left open to let in a little air.

Across from the door in the long corridor was Loser's old clothes shop. Peasants went in and out of it, one with trousers thrown over his shoulder, another with a jacket in his hand.

The studying out loud resounded down the length of the corridor. The goyim going by used to stop and look into the kheder. Some laughed mockingly, others put their caps on out of respect and stood looking for a long time. Borukh was already so accustomed to this that he didn't even turn his head to the door.

His wife, Feigele, had a small shop near the window. It seems that she had divided the room in two, one half for the kheder, the other for the shop. A barrel of axle–grease, a barrel of kerosene, a bag of salt, a barrel of herring, and blotting papers for rolling cigarettes were all she had to sell.

Borukh was calm, meek, and shy, and she – his wife – was always agitated. “A melamed wanted me,” she used to scream every Friday night, “Some bargain I got. You sit and teach the children all week, and on Friday I don't have what to make shabbes with. If it wasn't for the couple of groschen I take in from the shop, I'd really be well off.”

 

The Public School

The compulsory education law called forth anxiety among many Jews. The children would have to sit in school bareheaded. The very religious did not send their children to school: “What will be, will be.”

Moishele Berishes was an exception. He was a pious and deeply learned Jew. He had a hardware and shoemakers' accessory store. When you went into his store to buy something, he was always sitting behind the counter with a book in his hand. He would kiss the book, close it, and put it aside.

His boy was named Melekh. He was the only boy in the school to wear a hard, round black cap and to hide his payes behind his ears.

The shkutzim at school would sneak up behind him and throw his payes from behind his ears so that they were in front of them. Melekh hid them again. Did he have any choice? If he were to go and tell the teacher, the teacher might order him to cut them off.

Once, on the way home, a strong wind flung the cap from his head, and it rolled away so quickly that it was impossible for Melekh to catch it. The shkutzim saw this and gasped with laughter, and it seemed to Melekh that Janek or Antek had stood behind him and flung the cap so that the wind would carry it away.?

[Page 275]

The next day, Melekh reported them to the teacher. The teacher called both shkutzim and wanted to punish them, but they denied it absolutely. They didn't do it, they claimed, the wind did it. They broke out laughing so hard that the teacher joined in. Then he said to Melekh, “You should tell your father to buy you another cap, a soft one that won't be able to roll away.”

Jewish children amounted to fifteen percent of the boys' public school, but double that in the girls'.

 

The House With the Red Chimney

Behind the town, at the end of Warsaw Street, there was a forest on one side in which a colony for the children and teachers of the Medem Sanatorim in Warsaw was set up every summer. A large, one–storey, red–brick house stood on the other side of the highway. Although it was already old, the house looked unfinished, or else like a factory building, for a tall, round eight–storey chimney stood by the building. The house contained large rooms in which five parties were located: the Zionists, the Po'alei–Tzion, the Revisionists, the Bund, and the Communists.

Aside from small rooms, every party also had a large hall for readings and lectures with specially engaged lecturers from Warsaw. Every Saturday night, one of the parties held a lecture with a speaker from Warsaw. The hall was always overflowing. Opponents from other parties presented themselves after the lecture, and lively discussions developed.

Melekh Ravitch came very often with his literary–philosophical lectures, as well as Ya'akov Pat, Victor Alter, Henryk Erlich, Noah Prilutzki, and others.

Every party had its own library, and young people could be seen in the evening, going back and forth from “The Red Chimney” with books under their arms.

Every party had a drama group. These put plays on quite often in the kino. Their gifted directors Khaim Berman (who worked in his photo studio by day) and Paula Kirshenblatt (she worked in his quilting workshop) were busy with rehearsals every evening.

Every party had night courses for adults and night schools for the young. The Zionist organization's Hebrew courses were organized at a high level. A large number of the students who survived the war and went to Israel learned fluent Hebrew in these courses.

The Bund had a first–rate school and evening courses under the direction of the beloved teachers Yoyel Weintraub and Moishe Kohn. Their devotion to and love for educational work deserves to be honoured in the warmest words.?

[Page 276]

The first of May was celebrated on the scale of a large city. All the Jewish and non–Jewish socialist parties demonstrated with flags in the street.

There were twenty–four city–councilmen, twelve of them Jews, who played an important role in the town's economy.

Radom Street was the main street. All the businesses there were Jewish; even in the market all the storekeepers were Jewish. Only a few butchers were gentile.

On Thursdays, the whole area was occupied by Jewish stalls. On every side, one saw peasants bargaining and shaking hands with the storekeepers.

 

Shabbes in Kozienice

The marketplace had a different aspect on Fridays. All the tables were filled with fish, fruit, and vegetables. The customers were Jewish women who went home loaded down with baskets for shabbes.

On Friday afternoon, Jews with bundles of clean clothes under their arms went to the bathhouse. Aharon–Leib, the attendant, stood by the entrance collecting the admission fees. He and his family had worked all week to prepare the bath and the mikve: they drew out the old water, let fresh water in, chopped wood to make a fire in the boiler, tied small brooms for beating, and set hoops in the collapsed buckets.

It was scarcely dark when one saw the same Jews dressed for shabbes, walking slowly with siddurim in their hands to the shul and bes–medresh.

Shabbes candles sparkled in every window.

After the Friday night meal, the young people went to their organizations for “box–evenings”. It was a sort of custom that every organization had a “box–evening” on Friday night. During the week, people put questions into the box hanging on the wall. These were answered on Friday night.

Those young people who belonged to no organization went strolling back and forth in the darkness. Young couples in love clung to each other.

On shabbes afternoons in winter, our parents lay down to sleep, resting up from a week's work. In summer, people went to the forest to lie on the soft grass.

The religious went to the bes–medresh to hear Ben–Tziele teach the week's Torah portion. The non–religious youth went on excursions and to sports work–outs.?

[Page 277]

Kozienice Sews Shoes

Kozienice came back to life in 1922. Shoe merchants in Russia placed huge orders for canvas shoes. Seventy percent of the town threw themselves into this trade. Even those who were not professionals went to Warsaw, bought a set of iron lasts, and began sewing canvas shoes.

No house was without one or two shoe factories. Going by on the street, one heard the beating of hammers on all sides.

Loser, the khazan in the shul, set himself up a small shoe factory in which his two daughters stood at the worktable with hammer, pliers, and knife and made the shoes themselves. Binyomin, the son of Khaim Yagge the shammas, cut the hard leather. Itche Tokasz, Rivele Tokasz, Shmerel Holtzhendler, Avreimele Shabbason, and Moishe Spiegel also set up large shoe factories.

The greater part of the youth, whose parents were tailors, carpenters, and bakers, became makers of canvas shoes.

The notions–dealers became contractors. They brought uppers and lowers, tacks, nails, needles, and yarn from Warsaw.

The biggest contractor was Avrum–Abba, today a rav in Haifa. There was also a scribe, Shakhna, among the suppliers of soles. He had a large storeroom for leather, and nearby a small room to write sifrei–toyres and mezuzah.

New trades arose. Bookbinders became box–makers, carpenters heelŒmakers. Shingle makers made chips and boards. Mechanics brought in modern machines to sew the soles.

Boys used to take shoes to be sewn from all the factories and deliver them to the sewers. All the stitchers and seamstresses became shoe–finishers.

A union, to which all shoe workers belonged, was established in the finest house in the centre of town. Its leader was Binyomin Khaim–Yqgges, its general–secretary, the Bundist councilman Yoyne Weinberg.

The union had its own laws and its own court. Whoever worked more than eight hours was punished. Employers who committed offenses were also punished.

Everyone employed in shoe–production made a good living, and thus other lines of work came to life.

Canvas shoes later went out of style, and Russia no longer asked for them. Leather shoes began to be made. Until the outbreak of World War II, Kozienice flooded all Poland with its shoes.

[Page 278]

Faivel Qger (i.e. Faivel Stallion)

Faivel made his living from a small cart half the size of a normal peasant's cart: four wheels and a shaft. A thick rope was tied to the shaft. He himself was the horse. He would lay the string on his left shoulder and hold the shaft in his right hand.

The cart always stood at the intersection of Lublin and Koshcielna Streets, near Leshish's Christian restaurant and the Bundist consumers' cooperative. One side of the cart was always empty, and Faivel always sat in the cart as if reclining in an armchair.

He held the lunch, which was brought him in a small pail by his wife, between his knees, and ate it with such appetite from his wooden spoon, that you would have thought the grits or scorched soup the finest delicacy.

When the cart was heavily loaded, he bent over. He did not feel that children were hanging on from behind. When the cart got stuck in the mud or sand, passers–by would push it out and children would scream, “Giddy–up, giddy–up.”

If someone was moving, no one could compete with Faivel's price for carting his things.

On Fridays, he brought kegs of beer from Yoyne Zemach's brewery to the restaurants; a box of siphons from Yoyel Weinberg's soda water factory; collected cholents and took them to the baker. On other days – a sack of sugar, a sack of flour, and what–not. It all paid him.

He had no need of a stall for his horse. He also needed no oats. He worked half–free. But he always managed to make a living.

In summer, he needed no shoes except to go to shul on shabbes.

His wife helped him make a living. She did laundry for rich Jews.

 

Binyomin and his Father, Khaim Yagge

Sara–Rivke was going fast; her hernia slipped out. Calling a doctor never entered her mind. What could a doctor do to it? Nothing. He'd order her to the hospital. Binyomin Khaim–Yaigge must be called. He was an expert in the field. With him, a few minutes go by, and bang! The fallen organ's back in place.

But what happens if Binyomin doesn't agree to come? In such cases he goes only to men. She tells them to ask the rebbe. If the rebbe commands it, Binyomin will come.?

[Page 279]

The rebbe commanded and Binyomin came. Before ten minutes had passed, Sara–Rivke was out of bed and healthy.

Binyomin was neither a doctor nor a barber–surgeon. He was a leather–cutter, a shammas in the shul, a badkhan at weddings, and also a big shot in the Bund. He inherited his specialization in collapsed hernias and being a shammas from his father.

His father, Khaim, was very smart and had a great mastery of stores. In his old age, when he could no longer get out of bed, Noah Prilutzki came to Kozienice especially to see him, and take down several stories and anecdotes which Kahim Yagge told.

Prilutzki asked him with what he could thank him for his stories. The old man answered, “The only thing which would be cheap for you and good for me is a bottle of vodka.”

“Where did you get such an idea, Reb Khaim?” wondered Prilutzki. “It seems to me that at a time like this vodka would be poison for you.”

On hearing the word “poison”, Khaim sat up, took a bottle of vodka from under his pillow, and, pointing to the bottle, said, “Thanks to this, I've lived to be an old man.”

 

Yissokhor Shoykhet

A quick glance testified that he was a shoykhet: a small, dried–up fellow with long hands, a small face, a few long hairs at the tip of his chin. Even his payes were sparse. His head was bent forward, so that his back looked high and rounded.

He tucked his pants into white socks which reached his knees. In the summer, he wore a buttonless cloth robe. His belt held it closed. It was always unhooked in the front, and his yellowish, woolen tzitzis would peek out.

He was so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he never noticed anybody, neither in the bes–medresh, where he stood without looking around for the whole davening, nor when shekhting – he took the birds, slaughtered them, and threw them away. He didn't even know who had given it to him; all he saw was a hand holding out money.

On erev Yom Kippur, my mother awakened me at four in the morning and gave me a few kapores to take to the shoykhet. I got into line and watched how skillfully and quickly he worked. This time, his son, Moishe, took the money.?

[Page 280]

The Band

Itzik had three sons. He himself played the fiddle, but his eldest son, Shloimele, played all instruments. Besides playing in his father's band, he was also leader of the firemen's band. This band played on every national holiday and at visits from highly–placed personalities. Shloimele marched in front with his baton and brass hat. Every couple of minutes, he turned towards the band, turned back, and waved his baton in time.

The second son, Yakel, had his own barber shop and also played in the band.

The third son, Meir, was still a boy of about twelve. He played his small fiddle and didn't miss any of the weddings.

There was another fiddler called Nekhemye Klezmer (musician). He merely strummed tunelessly to the beat. Although he could read music, his function was simple: to strum to the beat on his fiddle or the big bass which stood on the ground and produced low notes. He also had his own barber shop in the centre of town.

Tall Yisroel played two instruments, which he changed every couple of minutes: a trumpet and a long trombone. Besides playing in the band, he had an old clothes shop in his home and a stall in the market. His boy, Leizer, played the drum and cymbal.

Old, broad–shouldered Meir–Shakhna used to play the clarinet. He played no other instruments.

Nekhemye used to accompany the badkhan with a sad tune when the latter was singing of the bride. He was just a strummer, and his fiddle used to weep mournfully. When the bride was led to the khupe, tall Yisroel's trumpet drowned out everyone else.

 

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