by Elka Klajnman, Ramat Gan
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
In my mind, the memories and experiences in connection with the writing of a Sefer Torah [Torah scroll] by my God-fearing parents are deeply engraved. I was then seven years old and I remember well the preparations and the solemn essence of the ceremony at the conclusion of the writing of the scroll.
My Grandmother's Will
My father would go to the soyfer [scribe] every night. I asked my mother, of blessed memory, where is my father going every night; they told me that we were preparing for a great celebration we would be having a Torah scroll written. Therefore, my father went to Motl soyfer.
I remember how the soyfer looked: a Jew of medium height, a pale face, a pointy beard, high, shiny boots, dressed in two kapotes [kaftans], one thin and the top one thicker, bound with a long, silk gartl [cloth belt worn by pious men], a large velvet hat from which a large yarmulke [skull cap] was seen, already a little worn out. He held a cane with a silver handle in his pale, thin hand. I often went with my father to him to hear the details of carrying out a great celebration.
Once going to the soyfer, I asked my father why we were having a Torah scroll written. My father said that his grandmother had wanted to have a scroll written, but she had died and before her death [she] had left a will stating that my father should continue to pursue this.
After Motl soyfer designated the time of the celebration for the completion of the writing of the Torah, my mother began to assemble the clothing for the Torah scroll. She herself embroidered the cover for the Torah with golden and silver thread. The lions looked alive. (This Torah scroll is located with Eliezer Gutlerner in Brazil. When he visited us in Israel, I asked him if the Torah scroll still existed; he said that it was as it had been, the sacred remembrance of my parents remained.)
We began to prepare for the celebration. My mother and father decided to employ Brayndl the cook, well-known in Krasnik, and her two sons as the servers. Brayndl, the cook, was a tall, broad woman with worn-out hands, angry; she spoke a little hoarsely. Her two sons, Avraham Hersh and Yankele Bik, were tall Jews, sturdily built, [with] blond beards with several gray
long hairs. Brayndl lived in one house with her sons. Before one entered Brayndl's house, one had to first enter an entryway outside. There was a wide door. From the door to the house, one's feet became tamped down with mud because the floor of the entryway was muddy. Brayndl opened the door with a warm good evening, inviting my parents in and saying: Oh, this is something new, are you marrying off your daughter? She is still only a young girl! No, my mother answered smiling, Brayndl, I want you to come to cook and bake; we are [dedicating] a new Sefer Torah Oy, she said, this a great mitzvah [commandment, often translated as good deed], as good as if one is making a wedding for a child. From a corner in Brayndl's room, a small door opened, a beautiful rosy face with a blond head of hair braided into a fat braid looked out. This was Golda, Brayndl's youngest daughter. She asked with curiosity: Mama, what is going to happen at their home? Brayndl said: They are dedicating a new Sefer Torah. She answered: I want to see it. Brayndl said: You will be able to; they will go through the streets and [music will be] played; there will also be people standing. Golda was happy and called out: When, When? My mother said: The second Tuesday, four in the afternoon.
Brayndl and her two sons came in the morning; they brought along all of their paraphernalia large bowls, pots, basins and immediately went to work. Dressed in wide aprons with faded flowers, she rolled up her sleeves and asked her younger son, Yankele Bik, to heat the oven for the challahs [Sabbath breads] and cookies. She sent Avraham Hersh to kosher the meat, to prepare the fish. Brayndl asked for a wide bench. We gave her everything she requested. Children, she said with a smile, I say to you that no one should disturb me. None of the neighbors' children should come when I am here.
|Jewish students at the Polish Folks-shul [public school] (powszechne)|
However, the children did not do her a favor… They came anyway, along with neighbors and older people. Brayndl was silent. She was busy kneading the dough, but unsatisfied that they had not heard her order. We had a neighbor, Bayla-Eta, who lived across the river, a poor woman, but a happy one. She came to us on the same day, saw Brayndl the cook, she ran to her and asked: What are you doing here? Brayndl answered her: Why does that concern you; go away from me, do not disturb me. Laya-Eta [her name is given above as Bayla-Eta] was not insulted and immediately sang, with great feeling, the song, Rozshinkes mit Mandlen [Raisins and Almonds]. She said to Brayndl: Help me and sing another song; sit near me. Laya-Eta sat down, told jokes, various stories.
Tuesday afternoon, many people began to come from the shtetl, neighbors and Jews from Hakhnasat Kalah shtibl [small synagogue of the fund to aid poor brides]. Women also came to earn a mitzvah, to repeat amen. And at their head was Bayla-Minka, the well-known Krasnik rich woman, short, always with a blessing, small, deep eyes, rosy cheeks, a wrinkled apron with large pockets. In one pocket, she kept crumbs of bread; perhaps she would see a dove or a chicken in the street and she would give it food. The children at the kheder [religious primary school] knew that Bayla-Minka offered good wishes in rhyme. When someone said akht to her, she answered, Mir zoln vern in himl zum gutn gedakht. Neyn Az Meshiekh vet kumen, vet men trinken med mit royter vayn. Tsen Ale tsadikim un frume layt veln dos zen. and so on. She said that she did not know how to pray, but she went to the synagogue and repeated every word being said.
As I said, she took part in our celebration. Dressed as if for Shabbos, a cap with red dots, a velvet petticoat with a white apron, sewn with wide lace; her shoes larger than her feet, the tips bent. She sat down close to where they read the scroll, so that she would hear it well.
Men began to arrive: the shamas [synagogue caretaker], Reb Itshele, a short Jew, resting on a cane with a silver handle; Reb Yankele Khazan [the cantor]; Reb Moshele Khazan. Reb Yankele Khazan was thin and tall, with a pointy beard, and wore two kaftans. The top one, thick; under it, a satin one, bound with a silk gartl [rope belt], a velvet hat, under it a yarmulke [skull cap] that reached to the nape of his nek. Reb Moshele Khazan was already an old Jew; he was given a great deal of respect. He read verses [from the Torah] with great entreaties and a crying voice, raising his eyes to heaven.
The entire shtetl was enveloped in joy. The shamas and his assistants carried the wedding canopy; the sacred Sefer Torah was carried under the canopy. Jews sang; the music played. Thus they went through the entire market, until the Sefer Torah was taken into the shtibl [one-room synagogue] where my pious father prayed.
Christians came out of their houses and asked in astonishment: What is happening here? The famous anti-Semite, Edek, stood on the side and said with mockery: When they carve up Jews, I will be the first one. Near him stood several other anti-Semites. One of them, Najs, said that, There will be a war because there are too many Jews here…
The Necessity of a Jewish School
As a child I already understood and witnessed the difficult life. There was not enough income.
There was no manufacturing in the shtetl. Old Jews only studied Torah. In every house there were a half dozen children, one smaller than the next. That was how we lived, poor, but respectfully. It was characteristic that the children from the poor homes developed well, were successful, always happy, sang, took part in various presentations. We had a strong desire to study. However, the opportunities were small. There were only two schools in Krasknik, one Polish, one Jewish school for Jewish children. There was not enough room in the Polish school for all of the Jewish students. The director
of the school, the anti-Semite Pitlokowski, began to sort: first the children of well-to-do parents arrived and a small number of poor children. I belonged to the smaller number. Many Jewish children were left without a school. When we began to learn, we immediately noticed that the Polish students considered the Jewish children as subservient and related to them like a severe boss.
On Shabbos [Sabbath], the Jewish children did not attend the Polish school. When we asked them for the lessons, several laughed, others [gave us the wrong lessons]. I could not bear this and confided in my family. My mother understood me; she said:
My child, in Krasnik there are still places to study, you will register with Yosele lerer [teacher] (Helman). He is a good teacher. He runs a private school in his house.
I agreed with my mother; I was registered with this teacher, with whom many children studied. In time, more and more of those who left the Polish school came.
It was crowded in the one room. Yosele brought a Jewish teacher from Galicia who taught us Polish, Mrs. Gutsha. Tall, with a head of brown hair, blue eyes, long, thin legs, always in a good mood, she walked through the Krasnik streets with great pride.
The Beis-Yakov School
However, pious Jews wanted there also to be a religious Jewish school where Yidishkeit [a Jewish way of life] and Frumkeit [piety] could be taught. Modest women in the city again were occupied with this: Surale Melzak, Surale Adler, Graydke Dawidzon, Tirtse
|The Girls Association of Israel says goodbye to Sima Zajde on her departure for Eretz Yisroel|
Nordman, Rayzka Fridman, Ita Rozenbusz. These women were strongly devoted to the task of creating the Beis Yakov school, dedicated much time, effort and money. They requested that the well-known director of the Beis Yakov schools, Sura Szenirer, be sent to Krasnik. Along with her, they recruited the school-age daughters of pious families. They studied praying, Khumish [the Torah], as well as reading and writing.
On Friday night, the Jewish girls went to prayer with the female teacher. It was so beautifully Jewish. Surale Melzak, of blessed memory, was the creator of the Beis Yakov school in Krasnik. A good, pious soul. Of medium height, pale, a modest face, a large sheitl [wig worn by married women], with wide, curled grooves, long, golden earrings. She died in Eretz Yisroel.
by Shlomo Sztajnbok, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The greatest celebration in Krasnik surely was the celebration of the completion of the writing of a Torah scroll when the Torah scrolls that well-to-do Jews or various groups had arranged to have written at their expense were dedicated, and therefore, they considered themselves the [in-laws] at such a celebration. The shtetl also rejoiced at this event.
This time, the Krasnik apple merchant had the merit to carry the Torah scroll. Nearby in the synagogue, Bashe Itshe Kiser's [husband] Melekh, the chairman of the Yaftshazhes [?] (as they were called), created an uproar. Melekh was dressed up as if for Shabbos in his high, silk yarmulke [skull cap], with a small black tie in the collar of his white shirt, his prematurely grey beard, combed. He ran around distracted, gave orders, taking care that everything would be ready in the evening, for the great celebration. But he was faraway in his thoughts. He could not forget his wife, Bashe, who had died very young, who had not lived to see the great day of the celebration of the new Torah scroll.
A foot-tapping on the steps, accompanied by childish laughter, interrupted the thin thread of remembrance. This was the noise from a bunch of children accompanying the klezmorim [musicians], who appeared right at the door. Someone showed them the spot designated for them in a corner near the window.
The sun slowly sank at the horizon, taking leave of the shtetl. The red-hot gold with which it had decorated the windowpanes of all of the windows was erased and disappeared as if by a magic spell.
The small [klezmer] band began the tune, Keylim [vessels]. Elie, who played the second fiddle, sat down heavily on the first seat. He was an old man, with a large balding head and erect ears and his mostly grey mustache burned brown from smoking was close to his mouth. There was actually always a constant aroma of burned, cheap tobacco coming from him. From behind his glasses, which sank into the swollen, wrinkled pillows [under his eyes], red, burning, sick, constantly tearing eyes looked out.
The first fiddler was a Jew with a naked skull and tired, dull eyes and the pale face of a recluse. The old, greasy fiddle squeaked, groaned, when one pulled a string and one had to yield to it.
The clarinetist was tall, solid. From his thick, red beard could be seen full, fleshy lips. He burst into sad flourishes with his eyes closed. The drummer was a small, stocky porter in his military jacket, already without epaulets; his red, blown-up face was sweating, truly wet, as if he had just come out of the bathhouse. He looked for a place where he could rest his large drum. Near him was his thin comrade with
a hunched back; on his thin neck sat a small head with a pointed bird-like face; he was full of anger if someone objected to his striking of the brass cymbals; he praised himself for his instrument and let everyone know that thanks to his instrument, the entire orchestra was heard…
Zisha, a blond with blue watery eyes and tiny mustaches under his straight eagle nose, polished his trumpet; his thin proficient fingers danced on the keys when he blew something into the world. Moshe the bandleader turned to the musicians. They all looked at him. He winked to them and this was supposed to mean, we are starting. Soon, all of the notes poured together and there was a joyful reverberation. The sounds spread through the shtetl [town], penetrated into every Jewish house, chasing away the weekday, making them forget the worries about income, igniting a flame of hope, awakening and calling. The small Jewish shops began to close. The overworked artisans left their work. The children were released from the khederim [religious primary schools] for their meals.
When the first dark shadows of the incoming night began to take shape in the shtetl, everything flowed to Reb Zaynwl Leib's spacious inn.
There, near Melekh, the room was already covered in a great deal of light, so that one had to keep their eyes half-closed for a time. A group was around the table where the new Sefer [Torah scroll] lay open, wrapped on one side. Nearby were several parchment sheets. Over them, was Motl the scribe, small, agile, with anxious eyes and an almost-still young face, framed in a black, silky small beard. He was in constant conversation with his partner, Yekele the cantor, who was also a scribe. He had to look up to him because Yekele was taller, boney, with long arms. There was always a smart, warm smile in his twisted, close-together eyes. With his high forehead and sparse beard that ended in a point, he looked like a Chinese mandarin. Both men were belted in their woolen kaftans, slit in the back, their yarmulkes [skull caps] slanted back. Both had large handkerchiefs with which they were constantly wiping themselves from their foreheads to their throats.
Both were occupied with positioning the women who were besieging the table. They had come to assist in the sacred work sewing together the parchment. Too many women had come to make a prick. However, the scribes were experienced and from their experience they found a solution. A woman drew a [needle] through with the [thread] made of kosher calf veins and one of the scribes pulled it out, so that a second woman could then draw it through. Thus all of the saintly women of the shtetl could benefit from the great mitzvah.
Cool, mild breezes began to blow from the nearby meadows and brought refreshment after the hot departing day.
Malka's three daughters moved graciously among the crowd that constantly grew thicker. They welcomed everyone with respect and with embarrassed smiles of young girls. The mass of people in the street grew and assembled around the pump; larger and smaller groups of eager people arose behind the two widely grown green chestnut trees. The young from the shtetl made use of this night to meet with acquaintances and discuss [political] party and private business. Everyone spoke loudly and laughed. Couples in love had the opportunity to meet undisturbed and unnoticed among the large mass of people.
The night passed quickly. A large moon swam out of the blue darkness and with it also appeared the first masked rider, who was greeted with shouts of hurrah by everyone assembled. They knew that this was Naftali, Elya Moshe's son. He had borrowed [the horse] from his father, Elya Froyke the wagon driver, and had combed and braided colored ribbons into its mane. It was his role at every leading of a new Torah scroll to organize a small group of riders, all with colored, weakly-lit lanterns that dangled on long sticks.
From the spacious inn, the march began to the large synagogue, which the small, very old Itshele Shamas [beadle] with raisin-like eyes had already opened with his large keys. He lit the lights in all of the lamps and waited at the door. The singing and music were heard from afar and announced the approach of the congregation. In the darkness of night, the costumed riders in their bizarrely colored attire, looking like fantastic figures, wandering from an unknown world, were in front; after them, Zisha with his trumpet, the two fiddlers, the clarinetist, the small porter and his too-large drum and the musician who did not cease banging the cymbals with all of his strength. After the band appeared, the rabbis and the Torah scrolls and the new scroll under the khupah [wedding canopy], decorated with a carved silver ornamental crown and large yad [pointer in the shape of hand with an extended finger] over the sheet metal. The silver shimmered in the light of the burning candles that illuminated the celebratory march to the large synagogue with its external contours, it resembled a massive fortress from the Middle Ages.
Like a raging river that tears out the oak, the crowd surged to the open door of the anteroom. Whoever joined the crowd was carried by the storm up the steps and from there into the synagogue. Everyone wanted to be the first and to grab a spot from which the rabbis and cantors at the pulpit and the first hakofus [circular procession with the Torah scrolls] could be seen.
After a few minutes, the synagogue was packed. The women, girls and children were seated on the seats around the walls. Only at the welcoming of a new Torah scroll was a little bit of wantonness permitted that women would be permitted in the men's section of the synagogue. When everything quieted down, the religious ritual began with the traditional prayers and singing, in which everyone took part with fervor, singing and responding loudly with Amen. The entire congregation was radiant and ruled by a mystical ecstasy. At that moment, the wall between poor and rich, young and old, was erased. Everyone was in the past, during the revelation of the Torah under Mount Sinai; they were ready to shout with one voice: Na'ashe v'nishma [We will do and we will hear].
After the new Torah scroll was enclosed in the ark, the great holiday ended. People began to reluctantly leave the synagogue. No one wanted to crawl back into the grey weekdays, into the hard weekdays.
A pale-rose light arose in the east that extinguished the stars. From somewhere in the distance, the roosters stubbornly began to crow and announce a new day…
|Hashomer Hadati [The Religious Guard]|
by Shmuel Goldner, Bat Yam
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
In Krasnik, as in other cities and shtetl ekh [towns] in Poland, we began to go to kheder [religious primary school] at age three. They wrapped the boy in a talis [prayer shawl], carried him into the kheder where the melamed sat him at the long table, showed him the alef-beis [Hebrew alphabet], gave him a candy and the boy was a student. Then the small three-year-old children were brought to the kheder every day by the belfer [assistant teacher], where they sat the entire day. They learned for only a few minutes, but they were in the kheder all day, playing together.
The first khederim taught the youngest boys; there we learned to read Hebrew from a siddur [prayer book], Khumish [Five Books of Moses the Torah] and Rashi.
In my time, the teachers of the youngest boys were: Reb Hersh Melamed [teacher in religious school], Reb Avraham Brand, Reb Shmelka. The parents chose the melamed who pleased them. Family traditions also had an effect as to sending the children to which melamed.
There were up to 50-60 children in the khederim for the youngest children. There was great crowding. The children played outside on the summer days. However, everyone was in the house during the winter. A wooden receptacle stood in the corner where the small children took care of their needs.
Even girls were sent to the khederim for the youngest children, so that they could learn to pray.
We studied in the khederim for approximately six to eight terms, that is up to three years. The student learned something more with each term. At about five to six years of age, we began to study Khumish. The young boys were taught the first scriptural verses from Leviticus, with an entire explanation. On this occasion, a great celebration was held in the house, with a fine kiddush [a blessing said over a cup of wine at a celebration with refreshments]. The so-called farshtopte kep [blockheads] had made a start at age six.
We began to study Gemora [Talmud] in the second category. If a child was capable, he was transferred to a second level of melamed who, in my time, were: Reb Kheyb-Leib and Reb Yakov Moshiekh (Erlichzon). They had few students who sat around a large table, the teacher at the head of the table and they studied Gemora with the children. The teacher came on Shabbos [Sabbath] to examine [the progress of] the children.
Another kind of khederim was the Talmud Torah , where the poor children studied, orphans who could not pay tuition. They studied there for free. The teacher at this kheder was Reb Hersh Graniech. The managers of the Talmud Torah gathered money to support the institution.
The children at the Talmud Torah would go to the houses of women giving birth and read the Keriat Shema [Recital of Shema the central Jewish prayer] in a loud voice and all together. Reb Hirsh [spelled Hersh above] Graniech walked in at the head and the children after him. Understandably, there was no lack of women giving birth in the shtetl ; the children had this work almost every week. In return, the children received a small bag of candies and cookies. The good things attracted other boys who joined in on the way and the entire group entered the house, stood near the woman giving birth and read Keriat Shema .
None of the Talmud Torah students grew up to be learned men. After a few years of study, they left to work in various trades. From them arose the young Jewish Krasnik proletariat and artisans.
The whip commonly in all of the khederim ruled with regard to the child who sinned. The blockheads received more blows. As the rabbi understood, the child did not want to apply himself… Every teacher wanted to know that he had good children. When they
learned of a good child, the teacher wanted to obtain him [as a student].
The money paid to the teacher was not equal for everyone. The poor paid less; the well-to-do, more. They were as interested in the good children from poor houses as they were in the rich children.
There were fewer students in the third category of khederim because a number of them did not continue their learning. They left to study something else various trades, one with his parents, another with strangers.
Children aged about eight to nine years came to the khederim for young children. They were already learning Gemora [Talmud]. On Friday, also Khumish [Torah]; before Passover, Song of Songs. Before Shavous [the holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people] The Book of Ruth. During the summer days, until evening; winter until seven or eight at night. The students came to the kheder with small lanterns to be able to go home with a burning candle in the small lantern.
There was manufacturing of lanterns. The children themselves made them out of paper, placed a small candle inside which lit the dark Krasnik streets. Understand that the rich children had lanterns made of tin, ordered from a tinsmith with small glass windows. We were jealous of those who had such lanterns. Those made of paper were made with folds. It could bend and the small candle often fell over and everything burned. So we made another one.
There were three teachers in these khederim: Yekele Titer; Der Langer [the tall] Avrahaml and Motl [son of] Ben Tzion.
During the week we studied Gemora and on Shabbos we were examined [as to how much we had learned]. If the parents had studied, they came to them to examine [the child]. On the contrary, the parents who had not studied were satisfied with asking the teacher how their jewel was learning or sent the examiner to a neighbor. In this kheder as in others, we studied for three semesters that is, a year and a half.
Then we transferred to the khederim of the fourth category. The melamdim took information about the students from each other so that they knew with whom they were going to the table…
Only a few students studied in the khederim (number 4). The weak ones or those from poor houses were sent to learn a trade. With each higher class, there were fewer students who studied there, but the tuition was higher. There were three teachers at this level (during my time); Shlomole Mendl's son, Leibl Zaklikower, Ayzyk Leib.
We learned a great deal of Gemora with them; they did not go to examine students on Shabbos . These were Jews, learned men. It was possible that a rich child was examined on Shabbos , done for the parents. However, on Shabbos the students examined themselves. That is, on Shabbos afternoon, a group of three or four children went to several middleclass men, learned men, to be examined without a teacher. I was examined by Reb Moshele Hajnsdorf, Reb Borukh Shoykhet [ritual slaughterer], Reb Layzer Sholem and by Bertshe Yisroeli Karper's son-in-law. These were examiners who did not torment the children. It was easy with them; they did not ask any difficult questions.
I remember Reb Borukh Shoykhet and Reb Layzer Sholem positively. It was a pleasure to be examined by them. On the contrary, Reb Bertshe tired us with difficult questions. We emerged tired and broken from him and with the feeling that we had not been successful.
All of the members of the middle class treated us with fruits after the examinations. To tell the truth, we cared more about the fruit than the examinations.
Later, the rebbe began boasting of how we had had great success during the exams. The rebbe sent the sharpest students to the most severe examiners. Sometimes the rebbe mixed the weak among the strong so that there would be someone to answer a difficult question. We graduated from the kheder at the age of 12 or 13.
The highest level came later Reb Yehiel Berishl's kheder. There, 12-14 students studied Gemora [commentaries on the Torah] with a bit of Talmudic commentary, difficult Talmudic tractates and Talmudic debates. We were 13-14-year-old children. Reb Yehiel was a great clarifier, severe, constantly holding his belt near him. When a student let his mind wander or stared vacantly, the teacher applied his belt to him. We felt the taste of learning with him possibly because of this, that he was a good clarifier, or because we already were older or both reasons together.
Reb Yehiel had a reputation as a great learned man. He was taken as an arbitrator at din-Torahs [arbitration according to Jewish law]. As strict and angry as he was in the kheder, among the people and at the house of prayer he was just a joker and sociable type.
Although we lived under a strict regimen, there was no lack of the pranks that we did. We particularly caused trouble when we were going home from kheder during the winter at around nine o'clock at night. There was a wire with a bell to the house at Davidzon's shop, so, so we made use of the bell…
In the summer days, we would disappear to the river, near the mill, to bathe…in our shirts. When we returned to the kheder, the teacher touched our shirts. He saw that they were wet, he gave it to us with his belt so that we were bathed in tears.
|Female Students at the Beis Yakov School|
When the little roulette wheel would appear at the market, we disappeared from the kheder to see how it moved. Later, we received ours [were disciplined]. However, we again played various tricks and pranks, as was suitable for childhood years.
After graduating from Reb Yehiel Berishl's kheder, we started studying at the house of prayer by ourselves, without teachers. Pairs came together and studied. Then came the time of assiduous students of Talmud who woke up before sunrise and studied until late at night. Not many went to the house of prayer; the majority began to learn a trade. We studied in the house of prayer from 14 years of age until we got married.
The teachers at the house of prayer were divided into two groups small and large. The smaller [group] could not yet study by themselves; they asked about bits of the Gemora [Talmud] from the larger [group], or from the older members of the middle class who came to prayer. They made good use of asking them questions. From time to time, the city employed a Jew, a learned man and paid him. His task was to study a lesson of Talmud with the grown, young men, to provide them with a difficult bit of Gemora. This was mainly Reb Moshe Gniewaszower, a sharp scholar who was brought from outside the city. He would travel home for the holidays.
At certain times, Reb Bertshe or Reb Nakhumile the vinegar maker did it.
We have to add the kheder of Reb Noakh Brajter, a more progressive one, to all the kinds of khederim. There they studied Tanakh [the Torah, Prophets and Writing] without secular studies.
Girls studied in the Polish folks-shul [pubic school] (powczechna ), but they did not want to send boys from the Hasidic circles there because they had to study with uncovered heads. Rich Jews hired gymnazie [secondary school] students to teach writing and arithmetic with various teachers: Reb Borukh Shreiber [writer], his son, Reb Ayzyk and others. Later, the same was done by Jewish gymnazie students.
If someone sent his daughter to a gymnazie , he was persecuted by the Hasidim, or thrown out of the shteibl [one-room synagogue] because one had to study on Shabbos at the gymnazie . Altogether, several girls in the entire shtetl studied there. Boys even fewer.
Reb Avraham [son of] Moshe Ahron ran a kheder that was actually for adult young men. They studied with him for a few hours a day. They also were involved with a trade with their parents. Reb Avraham [son of] Moshe Ahron was a weak Jew; he almost never went outside. I remember that when he died, Reb Shlomole Eiger, the Lubliner Rebbe, came to his funeral. The Khevre Kadishe [burial society members] had to go to the mikvah [ritual bath] before the ritual purification [of Reb Avraham's body]. The entire city took part in the funeral.
A similar type was Reb Hercka Moshe [son of] Borukh. He sat the entire day in his house and studied; we would go to his house. An apartment under the roof. He did not go outside particularly on Shabbos [Sabbath], only to pray. He was afraid he would inadvertently desecrate the Sabbath.
Our parents' self-sacrifice to have their children study was great. They kept the bread from their mouths and sent the tuition money to the melamed [religious teacher]. They did not prepare Shabbos for themselves, to be able to pay the melamed, who was never a rich man. [He] barely survived, lived in need, like the [one paying] himself…
Children would come to the kheder without a piece of bread, hungry, enviously looking at other children who eat unlimited food. Sometimes they cheated a piece of bread from another child. However, [most important] was letting the children learn. Where food and clothing were concerned, the main thing was learning and growing up to be a learned man. Honor and riches would come later. Traveling to a yeshiva [religious secondary school] was not popular in Krasnik. The house of prayer served as
a yeshiva [religious secondary school]; there the future rabbis and scholars grew up.
There were no great experts in Tanakh [The Five Books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings] and all of the commentators in the shtetl . It was said in Krasnik: He is a great scholar in the Gemora [commentaries], an ignoramus in Torah. An exception was Reb Nakhumiale the vinegar maker, who knew a chapter of Khumish [Torah] and Ramban and Ibn Ezra [commentaries by Abraham ibn son of Ezra]. Reb Yosuf Felzenszulb knew a verse from the Tanakh . If one wanted to find a verse, they went to Reb Yosuf at his shoe shop and they immediately learned it. Reb Moshe Hofert also could recite a page from the Midrash [commentaries]. They did not engage with the books of study, such as Khovot haLevavot [The Duties of the Heart], Moreh Nevukhim [The Guide for the Perplexed]. There was actually ignorance in this area. If there was a young man who looked at The Guide for the Perplexed, he was stopped.
All sorts of books were in the House of Prayer; Mishnius [Oral Torah], the Talmud, responsa and Rabbinic commentaries, Rabbinic opinions and others. Old books, really antiques. However, the Krasnik House of Prayer did not possess people who were experts. Very few in the shtetl had books in their houses. A Talmud could be found with only a few members of the middle class, other books even fewer. So, that basically, the House of Prayer was the source of books for all of those who wanted to study or read a book.
The house of prayer was always full; they sat at the tables and studied day and night. The house of prayer was not closed at any hour; someone was always there. Even the police officers and wartownikes [sentries] who walked around the shtetl [town] on guard, would come in at night and warm themselves at the oven. Sometimes, also grab a nap. They actually saved their lives at the house of prayer oven, particularly on nights of winter blizzards.
After Maariv [evening prayers], during a winter day, one could swim in the house
|The Krasnik Synagogue (1924)|
in water from the snow that people brought with them. Studious people would leave the house of prayer for khtsos [rise for study and prayer at midnight in memory of the destruction of Jerusalem] or at one o'clock at night. Others would get up at two or three in the morning. Some would be up the whole night studying.
The voice of Torah did not stop for a second. It sounded through the windows especially at night oriental, monotone, hearty and joyous, each according to their voices and feelings at the moment. Many angry men left their houses and spent their time at the house of prayer with a religious book. Those who did not have any dinner in their house remained at the house of prayer so as not to see the grief of their children, who begged for a piece of bread. Those who did not have a few groshn to buy kerosene for a lamp found it in the house of prayer. The house of prayer gave everything: a home, a place of Torah, a meeting place for various business and match-making. In joy and in need we found a home in the house of prayer.
Religious books were located in the Gerer shtibl [small, one-room synagogue] and in the Lubliner shtibl; one sat there and studied, in contrast with other shtiblekh that served only for praying.
From time to time, an attempt was made to create a modern kheder where children from all kinds of khederim could learn. Such an attempt was made in 1922. Bershte, Srule Karper's son-in-law, was director of studies. The kheder was located in the new house of prayer in Jakov Meshiekh's and Motl Ben-Tzion's house. They studied in several classes, in the large hall, in the women's section and in the minyon of the Hakhnoses Kale Society [society to help poor young brides]. The house of prayer had been closed for a time; after remodeling, they opened such a kheder school. The teachers, instead of teaching in private rooms, taught at the new house of prayer. The khederim continued to remain in private hands.
They did not teach any secular subjects, but all recesses were everyone together. Everyone started at the same time and ended at the same time.
The director of studies at the yeshiva Bershte walked around with a ruler in his hand (no longer a whip). A child who was late or sinned in some way had to lay down his hand on the table and receive blows.
The Polish government caused hardships, wanted to close the khederim, because the sanitary conditions were unsuitable and the private khederim did not have any means to uphold all of the directives. This was one of the main reasons not to organize the khederim in private houses.
Later, there was success in voiding the edicts of the Polish government. The melamdim [religious teachers] were allowed to come back to maintain the khederim. For various reasons, the schools failed after a short time and everything remained as it had been…
|A group of friends from Betar [Revisionist Zionist youth organization] in Krasnik|
by Yakov Ander (Ender), Holon
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
As is told, the Yavneh School [religious Zionist school] was founded in the year 1925 or 1926 by the follower of the Enlightenment and teacher, Yosef Helman (Yosele Lerer [Yosele the teacher]). A tall, thin Jew, he was a dozor [member of the synagogue council] at the kehile [organized Jewish community] and a councilman at the city hall. One of the first leaders of Mizrakhi [religious Zionists]. He had a good style of writing and many marriages occurred thanks to his letters between a bride and groom. There was almost no society or cultural institution in which he was not represented. Together with Richter, they were the first teachers at the Yavneh school.
As usual in the small shtetlekh [towns], the Jewish schools or khederim [religious primary schools] with the exception of the Talmud Torah [free religious school for boys from poor families] were not supported by the kehile [organized Jewish community] and, therefore, they always had a deficit. Thus the school was unable to have its own house, even its own room. We studied in the premises of Mizrakhi. All Mizrakhi activities took place in the same premises. They prayed there on Shabbos [Sabbath] and holidays.
Later, in the 1930's, a kindergarten (Froebel School [Friedrich Froebel creator of the idea of kindergartens]) was led there by the women's organization, WIZO [Women's International Zionist Organization]. Belonging to the leadership were: Ester-Rikl Grosman, my mother Laya Ender and Pesa Brawer. In the leadership of the Yavneh School were: Mordekhai Buchbinder, the chairman of Mizrakhi, Shayme Elbaum, Leibl Fortal, Shmuel-Leib Grosman, Shmuel Flug and Avraham-Moshe Czeszla. The first premises was in the house of Yerukham Kawa, not far from the large synagogue. Because of a difference of opinion about the question of education between the teachers, Helman and Richter, the former resigned and Richter was left with an aide, Yankl Walholc. However, Richter's methods were reworked.
|The Yavneh School|
The leadership decided to modernize the school. This was in approximately 1930 or 1931. I then began to study at the Yavneh School. They moved to new premises at Eliezer Rebitwa's [house]. They also switched the teacher Richter and, for the first time, brought a teacher from [outside the city] Gancewicz from Kowal. He was a very meticulous person, even hit the children to a tempo. However, he was a good teacher. He was at the position until about 1934. He was fired for reasons I do not know. It could be because he hit the children. After Gancewicz, they hired the teacher Shlomo Halberstam of the well-known rabbinical family from Lublin. He was a gaon [brilliant man], full of Jewish and worldly knowledge as well as a good speaker.
At that time, Tseiri Mizrakhi [Young Mizrakhi] was founded. So that the members would not be persecuted at the house of prayer, because the rabbis were from Agudah [non-Zionist Orthodox organization], it was arranged for Halberstam to study with them on Friday nights. Thanks to this, Halberstam became very popular, because non-religious young men from Zionist organizations also came to his Talmud lessons. The members of Agudah then began to look for ways to disturb Halberstam's lessons. A young man, who simultaneously occupied the post of director of studies at the Khinikh [Jewish education] school of Agudas Yisroel, was hired by the Kohens as a bookkeeper. He also was a very learned man. Agudah hired him to teach Talmudic lessons at the house of prayer. Thus one disturbed the other one. It happened every Friday night, followers of both sides organized and it actually came to blows. The police had to intervene. It continued this way until Halberstam left Krasnik.
At that time, the Yavneh School increased its number of students and they had to rent (later buy) a house on Wieczbowe Street. The Mizrakhi central office sent a director named Aron for the school. He came from Kresy [the Polish borderlands]; the teacher Drizin also came with him, both young men of the new style. They arranged the school in a modern way. Aron, the director, hired two aides, teachers from Krasnik: Moshe Ajzen and Yehosha Tajchman. The director taught Hebrew, Tanakh [Torah, Prophets and Writings], knowledge of Eretz Yisroel, history and song. Incidentally, he played the violin beautifully. Drajzin [spelled Drizin above] taught the same subjects to the younger classes and literature to the older ones. They were helped by Yehosha Tajchman. Moshe Ajzen and, then, Moshe Wajntraub, taught Gemera [Talmudic commentary] and Khumish [Torah]. Later, Drajzin occupied the post as director of the Yavneh School in Frampol. A young man from the Torah vaAvodah [Torah and Work], Yakov-Dovid Wajntraub, was hired for his position and he replaced Drajzin with success. That was the blossoming period for the Yavneh School. With the help, Aron, the director, they performed various plays in Hebrew, which had great success thanks to the help of the Krasnik artist and make-up artist, Nakhum Roznel.
The Yavneh School existed until the outbreak of the Second World War.
by Nakhum Roznel, Tel Aviv
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
We gathered on a Shabbos [Sabbath] at the home of Motl Himel, the photographer from Janow. There were a few Zionist-oriented young people there: Motl Fridman from Janow, Sholem Sobel, Shmulik Brafman, Nakhum Rozental, Yosl Helman, Avraham Szafran, Yisroel-Avraham Blada, Hersh Griner, Berish Erlichzon, the Wajsberg sisters, Bluma Sobel, Motl Brener and Roza Wagner.
The chairmanship was held by Motl Fridman. We considered and discussed how to lay the foundation for a cultural life in Krasnik. But in order to collect money, we had to begin acting in theater.
We had a one-act play by Sholem Aleichem and we decided to perform it.
The Shabbos on which we were supposed to give the performance, the Krasnik Rebbe, Reb Dovid, and his old father came to pray in the large house of prayer with a forceful: Jews! What is going to happen to our city? Young men and girls have come together, they are going to perform theater... Not one Jew who believes in God should go to the theater!
After the speech by the rebbe, Motl Fridman went up to the bimah [reading table from which the Torah is read] and declared: We have been in the dark enough; the world advances! We Krasniker must also benefit from knowledge. Therefore, everyone come as one to the theater on Shabbos night!
Before we opened the [box office] at the firefighters' hall, a row of visitors already was standing, waiting to buy tickets. But before the start of the performance, Yosl Brener's mother arrived at the theater with a broom in her hand and shouted: Where is my Yosl; I will give him comedy with the 'young rascals.' She
|A group of Krasnik halutzim [pioneers] in Eretz Yisroel|
wanted to force her way on to the stage. However, they stopped her until Yosl finished his role. We can only imagine what happened at his home.
Once, we decided to bring Yitzhak Grinbaum to Krasnik. We received a positive answer from Warsaw. One cannot imagine the joy. All of the Zionist organizations in the shtetl [town] took part in the welcome for Grinbaum. The reception was impressive We rented the hall of the fireman's firehouse. Yitzhak Grinbaum's speech was an extraordinary success. At the speech were also a representative of the regime and the policeman, Kaminski, a hooligan who heckled and disturbed the speech. I told him [Kaminski] that he should not disturb the speech, that if he asked, he could speak. When the presentation ended and the audience dispersed, the managing committee (Yosl Helman, Shaul Herszenhorn, Nakhum Ruznel, Avraham Blada and Yehosha Tajchman) remained with Grinbaum until the morning and accompanied him to the train.
Arriving at home, my wife said that Kaminski had looked for me. I immediately left for the police post. Kaminski began to ask me who had brought Yitzhak Grinbaum; I told him that it was we, Zionists. He answered that we are not Zionists, but communists. More and more, he asked me new questions until I asked him when he would free me. He answered that he had time...
I sat at the police post for a day and another day he still held me.
My wife ran, [saying] I should be freed, without a result. My comrades decided that a delegation of three would go to Warsaw for intervention. On the third day, I was freed.
Shaul Herszenhorn, Yehosha Tochman [Tajchman above] and Yosl Helman went to Warsaw.
A few days after they returned from Warsaw, the hooligan Kaminski was sent away from Krasnik.
Thus did we work for Zionism!
by Ruchl Murmiski-Bek, Givatayim
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
The first premises for Gordonia [Zionist youth organization founded by Ahron Dovid Gordon] was located at Moshe Ceszler's [house] at Wesole Street. There, at the end of the 1920s, the first members, who came mostly from middle-class homes, were organized. It did not take long and the first young girls joined the organization. Understand, the middle-class parents also contributed to the development of the wide spread cultural work. In time, the organization developed greatly, grew and young members joined, mostly from the Folks-shul [Jewish public school].
The organization was divided into three classes: Awakening, observing and beginning. The classes were divided into groups. The leader of the organization at that time was Moshe Fajngold. Instructors were: Shlomo Zelinger, Rukhl Sztajngas and Yitzhak Goren. These were magnificent figures. They gave all of their free time to the development of Gordonia.
The activity of the organization, among other things, expressed and celebrated every [Jewish] national holiday with enthusiasm. Conversations and lectures about the significance of the holiday were carried out for this purpose; collecting money for Keren Kayemeth [Jewish National Fund] and Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal] was sacred work for us; gymnastics and excursions were also on the agenda. All of this had the effect that we all lived together closely and well; the organization was our second home. There was no occasion where a member did not come to the meeting hall. The dances occupied an esteemed place. We would dance the hora [circle dance] for an entire hour, with great enthusiasm.
One of the great events was the arrival of a member from the central [committee] leadership. We prepared for this for an entire week. We decorated the meeting premises so that it would look as if on a holiday. The arriving comrade from Warsaw would
|A group of girls from Gordonia|
hold meetings with the leadership of the organization, carry out conversations with all groups, teach a new song. We immediately knew the song by heart and the singing was carried by the wind. Later, the song would be carried to other shtetlekh [towns] where a branch of Gordonia was located.
The singing of Hebrew songs, learning about Zionism, acquainting oneself with life in Eretz Yisroel gave us the ability to understand the problems of Jewish settlement there and to long for the moment when we would emigrate there.
There also was no lack of heartache. Not all parents agreed with the path that their children had chosen.
Of our first comrades who traveled to hakhshore [training place to prepare for emigration to Eretz Yisroel], I remember Shmuel Zilberblum, Ayzyk Fridman and Efroim Halperin. After they returned, they prepared to emigrate. Efroim Halperin and Ayzyk Fridman emigrated then. With great enthusiasm, the farewell banquet was prepared with greetings and presentations. Everyone wished that they were in their place. All of Gordonia as well as those who sympathized with our Zionist organizations went to accompany them to the train, on foot and singing Hebrew songs. At the train, Shmuel Zilberblum said farewell to them in Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish. The farewell speech made a strong impression on everyone. Christians, who were then at the train station, took off their hats.
Every summer, we would travel together to one area and rent an apartment from a peasant, close to a river and a forest. The life at the colony was arranged on a collective basis. Every branch brought their collected food products: sugar, kasha, beans, flour. At the colony, we carried out extensive cultural work, occupied ourselves in sports and arranged various entertainments. At the colony, we met with comrades from other shtetlekh and became very good friends, lived together like one family. Usually, such a summer colony lasted from three to four weeks. Coming home after spending time in the lap of nature, we felt young and in good spirits.
Later, comrades from the younger groups went to hakhshore. Life there had a very important significance for the preparation for life in Israel. We were occupied with various physical work, to which the majority of comrades were not accustomed. In such a manner we prepared ideologically, culturally and physically to emigrate. A large problem was escaping from our homes to go on hakhshore because most of the comrades were from religious homes and their parents were not in agreement that their children lead such a free life. Many of the comrades simply sneaked out of their homes at night and left.
We were supported with poor pennies that comrades paid as members' dues. We were not engaged in any politics. We were a Zionist youth organization and aspired to emigrate. Because of the difficulties with emigration, many comrades traveled wherever they could. A large number emigrated to Brazil, where I met them in 1965.
The meeting after 30 years was very moving. The joy was great. Gordonists in Rio de Janeiro arranged a magnificent evening for me at [the home of] Archie Fenenblat, at which we remembered the former times. The comrades felt, even now, a longing for Israel. Many of them visited Israel many times and several even settled in the Jewish land. To our pain, however, a large number of our comrades remained in the shtetl and were annihilated with all of the Jews by the Hilterist murderers. They were not destined to live the fulfillment of their dream the rise of the Land of Israel.
Their memory will always remain sacred to us!
by Yitzhak Goren, Mishmar HaSharon
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Our Jewish youth in the shtetl [town] would walk around in the small alleyways and had nowhere to use their energy and courage. Shabbos [Sabbath] afternoon, when the sun would begin to set in the meadows around the shtetl, shadows began to spread in the hills where the small houses of the shtetl stood. On the other side, the meadows extended very far, like a dark woods blocked by the horizon. In that twilight, masses of young people would stroll with measured steps on Rachewer Street, talking and dreaming about better days and a better future…
One summer, 1927, a few dozen young people, 16-17 years old, came together. They wore long smocks and Jewish caps on their heads. They were tortured by a yearning to end their grey reality. They had heard of the halutzim [pioneers] who were working the fields and gardens, building Jewish colonies, living in kibbutzim [agricultural cooperatives], where friendship and justice reigned. Their young hearts were filled with joy and hope.
At that time, a strong Paolei-Zion [Marxist-Zionists] and Freiheit [Freedom] organization existed in our shtetl. Sounds of Jewish workers' songs with motifs about Eretz Yisroel often carried from their premises. But our middle-class, Orthodox young men could not (and perhaps did not want to) find the path to Freiheit young people, although the dream was Zion, Hebrew and a pioneer life.
Until Moshe-Pesakh appeared, a little older than us with much experience in life. Without any doubt: he would surely lead us on the correct path. He told us about a party, Hit'ahadut [Labor Zionists], and its youth organization, Gordonia, whose goal was to emigrate to Eretz Yisroel and to build agricultural collectives there. This program agreed greatly with our strivings, feelings and dreams.
In the evenings, we would meet in various places in the shtetl, often in the house of prayer (in the house of prayer's small shtibl [Hasidic prayer room]. We were often driven from there: Out, young men, out, young rascals! Not having a place to gather, our first pursuit was to rent our own premises. However, where would we find such a large sum of money? And who would want to rent us a residence? Faced with such great difficulties, Moshe-Pesakh abandoned [the idea]. Without a leader, we remained completely desperate, not believing that we could continue to exist.
However, we did not dissolve. After a long effort, which took the entire summer, we succeeded in finding a premises. Really, a small room, but a warm mood reigned there. The premises was located at Wesala Street near Avraham-Moshe Tseszle, a fervid follower of Mizrakhi [religious Zionists].
The singing and dancing of Gordonia was heard in the Krasnik alleyways. In the evenings we would gather and pour out our feelings in various songs, lectures, discussions. At the beginning, our repertoire was poor. We did not even know the hora [circle dance], but from time to time, a new pioneer song would be brought and we welcomed it and sang it with great enthusiasm.
During his first visit, Mordekhai Hampel from the central office taught us the hora. From then on, we would dance every evening with great enthusiasm, to the depths of our souls.
At first, we were just boys, because giving a hand to a girl we did not dare. But times change.
The first girls appeared in the premises. Zisele Ender broke the ice. Then, many girls appeared at Gordonia small and large. In a short time, the hall was transformed into a center for the Krasnik young people. The songs and dances of Eretz Yisroel carried through the shtetl until late at night, until we fell from fatigue. Then we would gather outside at night under the star-filled sky (there was a small, locked courtyard there) and began again with quiet, melancholy songs that expressed love, longing, sadness…
Given that we disturbed the night's rest of the surrounding neighbors, we were forced to leave the warm corner and seek another spot until we also were driven from there.
We were not blessed with the cultural strength that would have allowed us to lead work among the young. Yet we, with our own limited strengths, did everything we could to raise the political and communal level of the comrades. Nearly 200 young people, aged from 12 to 20, were registered, divided into groups and battalions. On Shabbosim [Sabbaths] and holidays, we would march outside the city to meadows near the small river or to the castle and into the small forest. For an entire day, we were busy until late at night, conversing, singing and with various scouting games. The end was not always idyllic because Polish hooligans would attack us and the result was beaten heads on both sides.
Our fathers and mothers looked askance at our activities, particularly the head of the kehile [organized Jewish community]. They saw us as a band of boys and girls who were constantly singing and dancing together and often gave us a hard time with the authorities.
I remember such a case: on a summer evening, the Biskewicer Rebbe and a group of Hasidim appeared at the premises. To my question, What do you want,
A group of comrades from Trumpeldoria
[organization of followers of Joseph Trumpeldor], (July 1933),
at the departure of Shlomo Lemdiker [for Eretz Yisroel]
they answered that they had come here to study a chapter of Mishnais [Oral Torah] and put us back on [the right path]. They sat at the table, looked around carefully, noticed the pictures that hung on the walls: [Aron Dovid] Gordon, [Joseph] Trumpeldor, [Theodor] Herzl. One Hasid said to his rebbe, pointing to the pictures:
Look at what kind of spiteful people they are. The old Jew, A.D. Gordon, has a large beard and is photographed bare-headed and the young man, Trumpeldor, who has a shaved face, is wearing a hat…
Gordonia caused upheaval among the youth of the shtetl. Everything that was accepted in the ostensibly intelligentsia circles as cultural, progressive, we ridiculed. Beautiful, modern clothing, expensive suits of clothes, made a fool of people; we called ties, herring. Modern dance, balls forbidden to mention. In our eyes, all of the pseudo-cultural manners appeared hypocritical and laughable! We practiced simplicity in dress and in human relationships.
Finally, I will recall a certain person who stuck with Gordonia for all of the years. This was an adult young man, dressed negligently. He sang Hebrew songs with a deep, beautiful voice. He was named Sholem, but friends called him Comrade Sholem or Comrade Kark. He was not born in our shtetl; he came from the neighboring shtetl of Janow. His employment water carrier. He would carry water to the middle-class houses all week. And he would give his free time to Gordonia. His dedication to the organization was sincere. He was ready to sacrifice himself if anyone spoke a bad word about Gordonia.
Late in the evening, when there were few people in the meeting hall, members would go to him; he should sing various songs. His aspiration was to go with us to Eretz Yisroel, as he would express it.
He would always accompany us on the excursions outside the city. The girls would take advantage of him on the way, placing their coats on him when they got tired. Then, we did not see Comrade Sholem, in the end only a mountain of clothing moving. In the summer, when we would go to the colony, he came to ask me to take him along. To the question, What will you do there? He answered: I will carry water. He believed the day would come when Gordonia would go to Eretz Yisroel. And understandably take him along. He would also carry water in Israel…
Tens of comrades from Gordonia are now in Israel. Several live on kibbutzim [collective farms]; the majority spread across the country as well as various countries around the world. From time to time, when we have them as guests in Israel, we all gather together, recalling memories of Gordonia in our shtetl.
by Jack Goldbaum, Paris
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
At the time of the First World War, in 1916, when Krasnik was occupied by the Austrians, a Jewish People's Library was founded in the shtetl [town], led mainly by the intelligentsia. Workers were represented there in small numbers. But a number of them were successful in joining as members, took books to read. The writer of these lines also was a member of the library.
We would continually read books which went from hand to hand. A group of comrades would meet at a comrade's home on Friday night or on Shabbos [Sabbath] afternoon and go to the Rachewer forest and read there.
Once we received two books: from Dovid Edelsztat and from Yona Rozenfeld. For the first time we read worker poems, which called the workers to the struggle. We saw the bright light; it was revealed that there was a worker's class that struggled for a better tomorrow. If we wanted to live better, we had to fight for it.
At that time, a few hundred workers were located in Krasnik in various trades: tailors, shoemakers, hatmakers, carpenters, boot-leg quilters, tanners, and others. They would work from before dawn until 12 midnight. On Shabbos night, after Havdalah [ceremony marking the end of the Sabbath], they had to return to work until midnight or until the foreman told them to go home. They worked in miserable conditions.
At that time, Feywl Joszer, a saddlemaker, who had worked for two years in Tarnow, Galicia, came home for Passover. There he had enrolled in a professional union. As he had a good head and he knew how to write, he began to organize us and remained in Krasnik.
After only a short time, a professional union was founded of the trades. Feywl became the secretary of the union. We began to organize every trade separately, carried out strikes, issued demands and actually won the struggle for better conditions. We carried out cultural work. From time to time, we brought lecturers from Lublin, sent by the Bund, because at that time no other workers party existed.
It should be understood that the meisters [foremen] were not accustomed to this. At every action, there would be a great uproar. In the house of prayer, between minkhah and maariv [the afternoon and evening prayers], they would pick a quarrel with the fathers of the workers. How can it be? Reb Mendl, Reb Moshe, Reb Hershl how is it that you permit your children to become Tsitsilistn [socialists], strikers? It is the end of the world.
The meisters did not help. We organized better. We carried out great work. Even the servant girls joined the union. We organized them so that there was a complete upheaval. We bettered their wages.
Little by little, our strengths crystalized. We began to learn how to give lectures on various themes. A magnificent [group] of young workers grew and Krasnik had nothing to be ashamed of in comparison with other cities. Thus, good work continued until the liberation of Poland.
With the rise of independent Poland, there were disturbances with our union. Several older men who made up almost the entire managing committee of the union, as well as many members were called to military service. The union remained abandoned; there was no one to lead it. This lasted for two years, until
little by little, we began to return, but we found the union closed. In its place, there was a well-organized master craftsman union with Avrahamtshe Fajer as chairman.
We walked around dejected because we had heard the voices of the meisters, that the strikers were returning, but today was not like before, when they had left to serve [in the military]. Now they would find organized meisters and if they re-opened their union; they would not be received so easily. We did not lose much time. We had to do everything well and secretly; so that they would not know what we were going to do. We came to an agreement with Yankele, Elihu Shenker's [tavernkeeper] son, who also had been in the previous managing committee, that we would come numbering 10 men to him in the tavern on Shabbos [Sabbath]. He should let us in through the courtyard door.
Two of us came, took a cask of beer. To our parents this meant that we had gone to drink beer. But actually, there was a deliberation and a decision that we send two comrades to Lublin about the legalization to reopen the union: Comrade Rautsztajn and the writer of these lines. The same evening, we left for Lublin; in the morning, we met with the secretary of the professional union in Lublin, Moshe Wajsman, who gave us a letter to call upon the central office in Warsaw.
Over three days, the legalization by statute was arranged. We immediately traveled back to Lublin, to the labor inspector, who had to sign the legalization. Imagine the joy of all of the comrades when we reopened the union.
We immediately called together a managing committee and collected a sum of money to carry on activities.
In time, Comrade Zajdenbant returned from Russia and he helped us a great deal in the reorganization of the union. We placed him at the head of the leadership. We attained a 10-hour work day and carried out various strikes with success. We also carried out cultural work. The day came when we decided to send a demand to the meisters for an eight-hour work day. Because they did not want to give in, we decided to go out on strike which lasted for a few weeks. This time the meisters were stubborn, not wanting to give in. As there were many workers among the strikers who had wives and children, they believed that we had to end the strike. We had no choice; we reached a compromise of nine hours a day and the group returned to work.
Several comrades form the leadership also took part in the dramatic group at the Folks-bibliotek [People's Library], took part in various presentations and cultural publishing. It was very beautiful work.
I do not have more to provide about the activities of the union because I left to work in Lublin and later I traveled to France.
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