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[Page 275]

Ostrolenka in the Diaspora


Writers, Artists and Cultural Activists


Menachem Flakser



Menachem Flakser was the son of the well-known public figure, Reb Chanoch Flakser and his wife, Rachel, the daughter of Reb Efraim Goldbruch, of blessed memory. He was born on 11 April 1898 in Ostrolenka. He studied in a heder and in yeshivas. From 1918, he lived in Warsaw and was on the staffs of the daily Yiddish newspapers, Das Yiddishe Folk (The Jewish People) and Heint (Today). In 1924-1925, he studied at the Sorbonne University in Paris and was one of the founders of the weekly, Pariser Bletter (Paris Pages). In 1926, he was one of the founders of the daily newspaper, Unser Express (Our Express) in Warsaw.

After World War II broke out, fate brought him to China, to the city of Shanghai. There, he established the weekly, Unser Leben (Our Life), in three languages: Yiddish, Russian and English. Since 1947, he has lived in America and worked at YIVO (the [YIVO] Institute for Jewish Research). He published the work, The Bibliography of Yiddish Literature in the U.S.S.R. from 1918-1948, and collected testimonies of Holocaust survivors. Since 1950, he has worked on a regular basis at The Forward newspaper.

Since 1920, he has published poems, stories and critiques in periodicals, such as Ringen, Chaliastre, Warszawski Almanach, Warszawer Szriften, Biecher Welt, Literarischer Bletter and others. He translated into Yiddish Kellerman's Ingeborg, The Extraordinary Adventures of Julia Jurenito and his Disciples, The Stormy Life of Lazar Roitschwantz and The Thirteen Pipes by Ilya Ehrenberg, a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, children's stories by Anatole France and more.


Yitzhak Kachan




Yitzhak Kachan, is the son of Reb Chaim Dow, the Ritual Slaughter and Examiner, and Chaja Bejla Kachan. He is a writer and lecturer. He was born in Ostrolenka and went to Australia at the beginning of 1938. Since then, he has been active in Jewish public life in Australia. Yitzhak Kachan lectures on literature and appears at assemblies commemorating the Holocaust. He writes literary essays and critiques published in periodicals in Australia and abroad. He is one of the editors of the literary periodical, Die Melburne Bletter, and edited a book in honor of Ber Rozen, adding his own comprehensive introduction to it. He has written theatrical and cinematic critiques for many years. He is a member of the Yiddish Committee of the Writers Association in Melbourne. At the Peretz Upper School in Melbourne, he taught the subjects of the history of the Jewish people and literature to senior

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grades. He also taught at the popular university in Melbourne. He was invited to Argentina to serve as principal of an upper school in Buenos Aires, but did not accept the invitation for personal reasons. Over the years, he was one of the editors of a periodical of cultural and social matters, Unser Gedank, in Melbourne.


Meir Margalit




Meir Margalit was born in Ostrolenka, the son of the community worker, Reb Aron Jakow Margaliot, of blessed memory, and his wife, Fejga, may God avenge her blood.

He was a theatrical actor at the Ohel Theater in Israel, primarily playing leading roles. After World War I, when Ostrolenka was rebuilt from its ruins, and life, including the city's cultural life, began returning to its usual routine, the Zionist organization established a drama circle and Meir Margalit became its main star. He demonstrated amazing dramatic talents and abundant humor, played different types, and brought every gathering to life with his jokes and the way he spoke.

Even when he was only 13-14 years old, he participated in skits and comedies. Watching the Vilner Troupe when it came to Ostrolenka, finally convinced him that this was his destiny.

In 1922, when he was 17 years old, Meir Margalit emigrated to Israel through HeChalutz. Here, he looked for construction and agricultural work, and later joined the Labor Legion in Jerusalem. In 1923, he joined the dramatic studio of Manya Arnon and, in 1924, was invited to act in Moshe Halevy's Ohel group.

When Ohel became an established theater, Meir Margalit became one of its mainstays. He played leading roles in more than one hundred plays, such as Harpagon, Jourdain, Arnolfe and Argan in Molière's comedies. He played the role of Hašek's Good Soldier Svejk more than 800 times, reaching unrivaled international theatrical heights. He played the role of Vasil Antonicz in Kolkhoz of Women, Falstaff in Shakespeare's Merry Wives, Jeeter Lester in Tobacco Road, Benyamin in The Travels of Benjamin III, Menachem Mendel the Dreamer, Shraga Feivish Goes to the Negev and many others. Finally, he has appeared in Ephraim Kishon's HaKetubbah 300 times, and still appears on Ohel's stage.

Margalit is known as a dramatic reading artist, primarily monologues and humorous selections. He produces hearty laughter from his listeners.

In 1956, he received the Ramhal Prize (after the Gordon Prize) for Theater Arts from the Tel Aviv Municipality. He was recently awarded the Aronowicz Prize, as well as the Professor Dr. Yosef Kloyzner Prize from the Kloyzner Club. In 1964, he received the Israel Prize for Theater.


Dr. Chaim Chamiel (Camiel)




He was born in Ostrolenka in 1917, the son of the well-known Mizrachi activist, Reb Efraim Chmiel, and his wife, Bejla Rywka, of blessed memory. He studied in heders and yeshivas. In the Lomza Yeshiva, he was among the most excellent students. He began to write at the age of 12. In time, he became a teacher at the Yavneh School in Ostrolenka. He founded HaShomer HaDati and was chosen as a member of the organization's national committee in Poland.

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In 1938, on the eve of World War II, before he left the city, he was a teacher at the Yavneh Hebrew School in the town of Motela (near Pinsk).

In 1939, after difficult wanderings, Chaim Chamiel reached Israel on the illegal immigration ship, Asimi. Members of HeChalutz HaMizrachi and Akiva (a general Zionist organization) were also aboard. Immediately upon arrival, he was hired as a teacher and educator in the Religious Youth Village (near Haifa).

Later, he settled in Jerusalem and studied at the Hebrew University. In 1945, he began to work in the Youth and Pioneering Department of the Jewish Agency. From 1950, he headed the Department of Jewish Religious Education in the Diaspora. Later, when the Department of Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora was established, he became its head.

Chaim Chamiel studied Hebrew literature, and Bible and Psychology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He wrote a research work on the literature of the Enlightenment, for which he was awarded the Kloyzner Prize from the Tel Aviv Municipality and his M.A. degree. Later, he wrote a research work, Poetry of the Middle Ages (which appeared in literary publications), and received his Ph.D. in Hebrew Literature of the Middle Ages.

For some years, Dr. Chaim Chamiel was a lecturer in modern Hebrew literature and the poetry of the Middle Ages at Bar Ilan University. To date, he has published four books of poetry: MeOfek LeOfek [From Horizon to Horizon] (published by Moreshet), children's poems (published by Tzioni), Nof Adam (published by Emunim) and Moked Ve'Niyar (published by Rubin Mass, Jerusalem). In addition, he edited various collections on subjects of religious education and instruction, including the Ma'ayanot collections (eight volumes) and Questions in Education and Teaching Judaic Subjects. At the same time, he was a member of the administration of the World Hebrew Union and the ACUM organization of writers and artists.

Since the publication of the Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka, he has published more books of poetry and research.


Chaim Drezner




Chaim Drezner, the son of Jakow and Dwora Drezner, was born in Malowany. He studied Torah in heders and yeshivas. He was among the founders of Tzerei Mizrachi in Malowany.

In 1924, he came to Ostrolenka as the son-in-law of Srolke Szron, and lived there until the outbreak of World War II, in 1939. He was among the city's good inhabitants and was active in all public institutions. A religious man and a Torah scholar blessed with the ability to convey information, he disseminated religious Zionist thought (Mizrachi) among the city's residents, and also visited towns and Jewish settlements all across Poland for that purpose.

Besides his rhetorical ability and expertise in public affairs, Chaim Drezner wrote articles and skits in the Heintike Neies (Daily News) newspaper, published in Warsaw. During the war (after all the Jews were commanded to leave the city by order of the Nazis), he went to Russia with his family, to a hard life as refugees. Only thanks to his ability to adjust to circumstances did he succeed in keeping his bearings during that stormy period.

With his return to Poland after the war, he continued his cultural-Zionist activities. Later, he went to Austria and met with Holocaust survivors in Displaced Persons camps. He encouraged them and tried to convince [them] that the only real way was to aspire to Zion. He also continued these activities when he reached Germany, where he was elected as a member of the HaPoel HaMizrachi executive committee, and published articles in the HaPoel HaMizrachi journal, Die Yiddishe Schtimmer, published in Munich.

At the end of 1949, he reached Israel and worked permanently at the Kupat Cholim [Health Fund) center.

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Mark Rakowski




Mark Rakowski was born in Malkin. In 1899, he moved to Ostrolenka with his family. They lived at the Kaczyny railway station until the outbreak of World War I.

In the '20s, he lived in Bialystok, supporting himself as a writer and translator. Later, he was also a publisher, publishing both original works and those he had translated.

His father, Reb Jakow Meir, of blessed memory, who was also known outside of Ostrolenka, was a learned man, with general knowledge. Among the “common” people, he felt like one of them. His father was the grandson of the famous Gaon, Rabbi Lejbele Plocker, and the nephew of the scholar and Hebrew writer, Awraham Abba Rakowski, who was a heder classmate of Nachum Sokolow and on the editorial staff of HaTzfira. (Among other things, Awraham Abba Rakowski wrote Masechet Shtarot, a sort of humoresque in the Talmudic manner and style, which made a great impression at the time.) His aunt, the wellknown writer, Pua Rakowski, who passed away years ago in Israel, was the sister of Reb Jakow Meir.

At the end of 1956, Mark Rakowski returned from the U.S.S.R. and settled in Poland. He was a respected member of the Polish Writers Association and received a salary from the Polish government. As he was fluent in many languages, he continued his work as a writer and translator with great success.

Mark Rakowski expressed his desire to visit Israel, where his two sisters lived. They were born in Ostrolenka and had lived in Israel for many years.

Recently, his seventieth birthday was celebrated in Warsaw, with the participation of his friends, admirers and guests from all over the world.


Helen Kajman




Helen Kajman was born in Szczuczyna, Poland on 7 November 1915, into a traditional home. She studied at the Goldstadt Gymnasium in Lomza and then at the Polish Teachers Seminary. She worked at the bank of the Joint in Szczuczyna.

In 1933, she married Mosze Aron Sojka and, until 1939, she lived with her husband and their two children in Ostrolenka. From 1939 to 1941, she was a teacher in a Polish government school.

During the war, Helen was in the Szczuczyna and Bialystok Ghettos. She was held in the Bialystok prison and in the Stutthoff, Ravensbrück, Auschwitz and Neustadt concentration camps. All of her family was murdered in the Holocaust. Since 1946, she has lived in America, married – for the second time – to Szymon Kajman, a native of Szczuczyna.

For eight years, she worked in the offices of the Poalei Zion party in America. Now, she serves as secretary of the Histadrut fundraising campaign in America, and is active in the social and cultural life of New York Jewry. Helen Kajman visited Israel and, as an enthusiastic Zionist, expressed her desire to emigrate to the Jewish state. She is endowed with literary talent, as was demonstrated in her story, The Last Smile of the Children of Ostrolenka, printed in this book. The outstanding writer, Yakov Fichman, often expressed his favorable opinion of her literary abilities.

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Yitzhak Ivri




Yitzhak Ivri was born in Ostrolenka. He was the son of a well-known Chassid, a God-fearing man, Reb Naftali Cwi Iwri, and his wife, Rachel Lea, may God avenge their blood. He studied in heders and yeshivas with famous great Torah scholars, and was on his way to scholarship and the rabbinate. He acquired broad schooling through external education, and found his place in the world of general culture. In particular, he felt an affinity to poetry and theater.

Yitzhak Ivri wrote poems and plays and founded dramatic circles. He himself appeared on the stage in leading and character roles. He published books of poetry. In 1932, he emigrated to Israel from Lomza (the city he lived in since World War I). Here, his book of war poems, Between Blood and Blood, translated from Yiddish, was published by the Yavneh Press. Other poems he wrote were published in newspapers and periodicals in Israel and abroad – Davar, Omer, Divrei HaShavuah, Letzter Nies, Moment, Heimish, HaPoel HaTzair and others. Since his emigration to Israel, he worked at the daily newspaper, Davar, the Histadrut journal. His poems were also set to music, and were often broadcast on Kol Yisrael and sung on overseas television programs by popular singers.

His well-known poem, Song of Resistance, was set to music and included among the songs in the Passover Haggadahs [the book containing the order of the Seder] of many kibbutzim, and sung there on Seder nights. The music for his poems was written by the composers Chaim Fershko (for solo songs), Yoachim Stutchevsky (for choirs) and others. Yitzhak Ivri is a member of the ACUM and Milo artists' organizations.


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