Rabbis and Rabbinate of Ostrów Mazowiecka
By Rabbi Mosze Majer Iser, New York
Translated by Ros Romem
Among the large and small communities of Jews in Poland, Ostrów Mazowiecka occupied a distinguished place with regard to its rabbis, gaonim and righteous men, whose names were famous and whose deeds glorified their congregations. Their books were like teachers of Jewish law whose words were heard and accepted by many, even beyond the borders of the towns where they officiated.
Although most of the Jews of Ostrów Mazowiecka were Hasidim, the community did not insist that when choosing their rabbis they be chosen from among the protegés of the Admorim. In many cases the candidates' greatness in Torah determined their appointment as local rabbis.
Among the rabbis of our town were Litvak Mitnagdim, known as opponents of the Hasidim. The Mitnagdim were popular with the general Jewish public consisting of various groups true scholars, famous Hasidim, extremist Mitnagdim, students of the enlightenment, public activists, merchants, artisans and also tradesmen. Neither was the group known as amkha missing.
Geographically our town was situated on the road between Warszawa and Białystok the area called Mazowsze, near the Wisla, Bug and Narew Rivers.
During Czarist Russian rule, our town was considered part of the Province of Łomża and after the liberation of Poland both our town and Łomża - the main city of the district - were annexed to the province of Białystok.
It is clear that the town's proximity to Litvak towns such as Białystok and Łomża led the Jewish residents of Lithuanian and Polish origin to mix and combine as Polish Lithuanian Jewry - notable for expressing itself in the Yiddish language with a special dialect.
This composition of our residents frequently led to misunderstandings and extended debates between the Hasidim and the Mitnagdim. When choosing a new rabbi was on the agenda, it was understandable that the ambition of each group was that the local rabbi be one of ours not always was one or the other group lucky.
I regret that we were unable to gather full details on all the rabbis who held the rabbinical post in our town. From what I could gather from various sources and from the mouths of the elders, we are able to tell the readers of the Yizkor Book of the Jews of Ostrów about twelve rabbis who officiated in our glorious town that no longer exists.
I am proud to recount what I know about them, although I am sure that my memories leave me with material to elaborate upon this manuscript.
It has been clarified that one of the first Rabbis of Ostrowa was called The Rabbi of Koil (named after his birthplace Kolo district of Kalisz) which was called Koil by Jews.
It is said that he was the son of a wealthy, honourable family who administered his flock highhandedly as a man whose income was not dependent on his congregation. On the contrary, his help was always required by the members of his community in the form of charitable gifts and long term loans. When they came to his door they paid him great respect, more than was customary.
Rabbi Fajwel zl, who was known as Rabbi Rebbe Fajwel Sokolker, came to officiate in our town after the Rabbi of Koil. I do not know if this name was given to him after he moved to Sokolka or whether he had lived previously in Sokolka and later came to officiate in Ostrowa.
After him came Rabbi Jehuda Judel zl, who was born in nearby Brok. Previously, he had officiated as the rabbi of the town of Sokolów (Siedlce district). He was a Hasid, a true follower of the Gerer Admor zzl. In his time a ray of light was cast upon the Hasidim and Hasidism in our town.
Rabbi Reb Judel zl, left us to officiate as Rabbi of Plock and later when his name was mentioned the title Rabbi of Plock was also added.
In 1883 our town had the privilege of appointing as rabbi, gaon Dawid Szlomo Margolis zl. He was one of the great scholars of Israel and was famous for his books Khidushi Maharashdam, a book of novel ideas about the Maharashdam who lived in Salonika, 1506 to 1589, which appeared in two parts. The first volume was printed in 1877 in Wilno and the second in 1882 in Warszawa. In his books the above mentioned Gaon revealed his greatness in Torah and the sharp-witted, incisive explanations on the questions about Shas and the decisions of the Rambam.
Among the Gaonim of Israel who encouraged him agreeing to publish his books were the gaon, Rabbi Szymon Sofer zl, the well known Rabbi of Kraków and Rabbi Israel Rapoport zl, Rabbi of Tarnów. It worth noting how they described the late rabbi, in their reviews of 1867. They conferred such honoured titles such as: the famous, great, gaon, Rabbi, the garden of daisies, the furrow of the fragrance in a garden of holy ones crowned by politeness, the right hand pillar, the hammer of strength and sharp-witted knowledgeable one whose teachings are clear and concise, etc.
Such titles were bestowed only on famous rabbis whose greatness in Torah rises from their books. Our rabbi, Rabbi Dawid Szlomo Margolis zl, revealed his knowledge and sharp-wit in the days of his youth, when he was among the disciples of the Gaon of the generation and righteous one Reb Awramele Landau of Ciechienów zzl. As mentioned in the forward to his book Khidushei Maharashdam and I studied under the late, famous, righteous, gaon, head of all the people of the Diaspora and Av Beth Din of the congregation of Ciechienów. When he studied at a great yeshiva he burdened me with a yoke of Torah and accustomed me to ways of extensive deep debate.
At the time of the printing of his books he was the Rabbi of Kalwarja, Suwalk district, and prior to this he served as rabbi in the towns of Luków (Siedlce district), Dzialuszyn (Kalisz district) and in the town of Neustadt (near Kraków).
In his books he told about the residents of his town Kalwarja, among whom there were many well-known people, sharp-witted and knowledgeable scholars as well as rich merchants who helped him with the actual printing of his books.
It is not known why he left Kalwarja in 1883 for the post of rabbi in Ostrowa. But the fact that such a great Torah scholar as famous as Rabbi Dawid Solomon Margolis zl, did so, proves that at that time our town was considered to be one of the important communities in Poland.
To our regret he did not remain long as Rabbi of Ostrów Mazowiecka, probably because he was a fanatical Mitnaged which Hasidic Ostrowa would not accept.
His name nevertheless continued to be blessed and the elders of the town would speak with great respect about the period when the Maharashdam zl, held the office of rabbi.
After him, from 1886, a famous Admor and gaon - gaon, Rebbe Gerszon Henoch Lajner zzl, who was known in the Jewish world as Rebbe Gerszon Henich, Rabbi of Radzyn officiated as Av Beth Din.
Even though this appointment did not meet with the approval of the Gerer Hasidim, (the largest, most important group of Hasidim in Ostrowa. As followers of the Koczek line were among the opponents of the Radzyner Hasidim because the grandfather of Rebbe Gerszon Henoch zl, Rebbe Mordchai Josef zl, of Izbica left Koczek in 5660  with his colleagues and flaunted himself as an Admor.) They took into consideration that the candidate was already renowned throughout the Diaspora for his great wisdom and genius and they agreed to elect him as the Rabbi of Ostrowa.
It should be noted that because he was young (twenty-nine years old, born in 5598 ), he succeeded in arousing the admiration and wonder of all the scholars of that generation with his book Sidrei Taharot. His book resembles gemara for the chapters on protocol of purification in the Mishnah. He collected valuable pearls - sayings of the sages, tanaim and Babylon and Jerusalem shas. He also collected all kinds of books with his commentaries resembling the commentaries of Rashi where he poses questions and answers in good taste, drawn from doctrines of others and adding a little of his own. He was an amazing man in his wide knowledge and in the skill of his explanations. He was the one of a generation, a sponge that absorbs everything and also like a well, does not lose a drop of the obvious. His knowledge of languages, people and natural sciences was profound and clever. He had all the qualities of a philosopher, poet, writer and a brave and fearless fighter for his beliefs. His character was most noticeable in his fight for the blue cloth he produced from the snail, which he wove into the fringes for prayer shawls and the four fringes which is still worn today by the Hasidim of Radzyn.
Although he dressed as an Admor, like all the Admorim of Poland, he differed from the norm. A rabbi does not leave his home unaccompanied by his assistant. He would go about on his own like everyone else. He was a pleasant man who treated everyone the same great and small without any barrier between himself and visitors to his home. Obviously this behavior endeared him to all groups of society and his influence increased from day to day.
And here is a paragraph from an article published in Hatsfira on Monday, the eve of Passover, 1886 - about six months after he became Rabbi of Ostrowa in which it states:
Our town, which had always been a place of dispute whenever the question of appointing rabbis, ritual slaughterers and other religious positions arose, was united - all the parties and factions agreed to appoint The Rabbi of Radzyn as their rabbi and champion the famous gaon, Rebbe Gerszon Henoch Lajner, shlita. Hasidim, Mitnagdim, observant as well as maskilim agreed to appoint him as the rabbi of our town. Immediately - a short time after his appointment - his vast influence is felt and the fruits of his activities blessed. In the six months since his arrival in our town his important achievements are:
In general our rabbi succeeded in awakening a spirit of brotherhood in our town and a sense of public responsibility so great that it cannot be described.
To this day various stories are told about him, one of which is worth relating here., told to us by elderly people who knew him from his youth. When he was a boy and studying in heder, he made himself a round table that constantly rotated. It was completely covered by chapters of the Mishnah and other books and this youth who would become great would grab the gemara or book he needed for his studies, remove it and read it. All this so as not to waste time and slack off from his studies in order to search for a book. Stories like this one were told about him and became a part of conversations held between Mincha-Ma'ariv in the synagogues. His astuteness and ability to grasp even the most complicated matters attracted many people to his door early in the morning to ask his advice and to seek solutions to their problems.
When the big dispute broke out and the Governor sided with the opponents of the rabbi, even the famous gaon, the Rabbi of Łomża Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Rabinowiec zl, came from Łomża to Ostrowa. He consulted with our rabbi about this matter and at his request our rabbi went to Łomża and in his wisdom he succeeded in ending the quarrel.
During this same period, the rabbi zl, developed a great idea about the discovery of the snail from which the blue wick which we are commanded to dab on the fringes can be produced. He decided to travel far afield to the Mediterranean countries to search for it.
At the beginning of 5647  he left Ostrowa and returned to Radzyn. He devoted himself to the discovery of the snail for the production of the blue cloth, throwing all his enthusiasm into the work, using his knowledge and especially his dedicated persistence in the fight against the opponents of the activity.
His days were numbered and after four years on the 4th of Tevet 5651 [December 1891] he died. His death had a great impact on all Jewry who felt Israel had lost a great man.
The Rabbi of Piotrków
After The Rabbi of Radzyn left, the Mitnagdim defeated the Hasidim and by a large majority a Mitnaged rabbi, who was known by his nickname, The Rabbi of Piotrków, was chosen.
The Hasidim did not accept defeat and when the rabbi strongly opposed the appointment of a young Hasidic shokhet, brought by them to Ostrowa, a huge dispute broke out. The Mitnaged rabbi could not bear the bickering and after a short while he resigned as rabbi of Ostrowa.
The Mitnagdim could not forgive this and they organized, became even more powerful and again succeeded in appointing a new Litvak, Mitnaged rabbi.
Reb Dow Berisz Szapiro, son of the famous gaon, called Reb Ajzel zl, Rabbi of Slonim, was the leader of the Mitnagdim at that time.
Rabbi Berisz Szapiro was a rich man, owner of a large store, a great scholar, who was deserving of being a rabbi but who did not want the responsibility of the rabbinate.
Thus he suggested a fellow student of his father's (the gaon Rabbi Ajzel of Slonim) as a suitable candidate for the rabbinate of Ostrowa. Rabbi Szymon Dow Onolik was renowned throughout Lithuania as The Black Genius. He had been teaching for over ten years in the Lithuanian town Szaki and was known as one of the great scholars and gaonim of Lithuania.
On his initiative, a delegation of three honorable citizens of the town, Reb Berisz himself, Reb Bromberg (a wealthy resident of the town) and Reb Dan, a known scholar and property owner, went to Szaki to offer the position of Rabbi of Ostrowa to Rabbi Szymon Dow Onolik.
When this became known in Szaki, the townsfolk went to the home of the rabbi and informed him that under no circumstances would they allow him to leave Szaki.
The people of the town spoke to the rabbi's wife as well and asked her to convince her husband not to accept the offer. They reminded her how the Hasidim of Ostrowa had persecuted the previous rabbi for being a Mitnaged until they had forced him to leave town. Her husband being both Mitnaged and Litvak would certainly be objected to even more.
Finally it was agreed that the rabbi would travel to Ostrowa alone and after assessing the situation in situ, if he decided to stay there, his wife and children would follow. The Ostrowers held a lovely reception for the rabbi, but were disappointed when the rabbi's wife did not arrive.
We were successful, thanks to the Almighty, and in the first week after the rabbi's arrival there was a wedding in the wealthy Reb Bromberg's family. The rabbi was to have received his payment of one hundred fifty rubles (a large amount at that time) and they gave him only seventy-five rubles with the balance remaining in escrow until the rabbi's wife would take up residence in Ostrowa. However this pressure was to no avail, for the rabbi's wife was adamant: She did not want her husband to be a rabbi in a town where there were so many Hasidim who opposed the appointment of a Mitnaged Litvak rabbi such as her husband. It is better for me said the rabbi's wife, to stay in poor, peaceful Szaki and earn a modest income than to go to a town of disputes. The rabbi had to accede to the wishes of his wife. At the end of the year when they offered him the position of rabbi in nearby Tykocin [Yid. Tiktin] where his teacher and Rabbi, Reb Ajzel of Slonim was rabbi, he took over the rabbinate in Tykocin and held the position for six years. Afterwards he became the rabbi of Siedlce and died there in 1907 at the age of fifty-nine.
After the Rabbi of Szaki, Rabbi Wajngot of Lifna was appointed rabbi, but it is not known whether he was Rabbi of Ostrowa before becoming Rabbi of Lifna or visa-versa.
He was the father of Reb Nachum Lejb Wajngot, founder of the Orthodox party in Poland called Agudat Israel and editor of the Yiddish newspaper Dos Vort.
After the Rabbi of Lifna left our town he was replaced by a rabbi known as the Rabbi of Parczew who was Mitnaged, even though his wife was from a Gerer Hasidic family.
This rabbi, who was by nature far removed from Hasidism and its leaders, suffered greatly from the interference of the Hasidim in communal matters. He became severely ill from misery and died in 1894.
Again the appointment of a new rabbi was on the agenda. This time an effort was made to find a candidate who would be acceptable to everyone, the scholars as well as the Hasidim; the Mitnagdim as well as the maskilim and also the large group known by the general term amkha [the masses].
At the same time a shameful event took place in Czarist Russia. A certain criminal of Israel who had converted from Judaism in order to annoy, who was supported by renowned anti-Semites, found himself a special activity. It consisted of sending cruel slanderous information to the Czarist government in Peterburg [St. Petersburg, Leningrad, Petrograd] in which he made despicable false statements about the Hasidim describing them as a senseless cult which hated the Russian crown and was liable to endanger its existence. It came to a point where the Czarist government considered closing down all the synagogues belonging to the Hasidim and declaring all those taking refuge in this group as an illegal cult which should be fought to its complete destruction. The Russian government ordered its minister of education to prepare a detailed analysis of this movement, its nature and purpose and to present the study for government discussion prior to its decision on the matter.
The minister of education at that time, Mr. Zynger (?) approached Rabbi Jechuda Lejb Gordin, who held the position of Rabbi of Augustów (Suwalki region), with a request to prepare a detailed memorandum on the subject: What is Hasidism?
The rabbi completed this important task and in a booklet, in Russian, he wrote a comprehensive analysis of Hasidism from the philosophical, scientific and mystical aspects. That a rabbi, even one already renowned as a Torah scholar and an excellent speaker could succeed in compiling a book about Hasidism in perfect Russian, greatly impressed everyone and the author was published with praise from everyone.
One of the most important people of our town, Reb Noach Fajncajg - a well-known supplier of the Russian Army - frequently visited Augustów on business and became very friendly with Rabbi Gordin. On his return home, he invited seven good townspeople to his home and suggested that they invite Rabbi Gordin to accept the position of rabbi, which was vacant in our town. Reb Fajncajg spoke with great enthusiasm about this candidate and noted that Rabbi Gordin was capable of being liked by everyone in town no matter their affiliation. The maskilim would enjoy his wide knowledge and education; the scholars his greatness in Torah and the Hasidim his great collection of thoughts and expertise in Hasidism and all its ramifications. The latter could not believe that a rabbi who had such a positive attitude towards their movement - was not one of them, for how otherwise could they have ever unanimously agreed to elect Rabbi Gordin as Rabbi of Ostrowa.
Rabbi Gordin met with a delegation consisting of two important members of the sect, Reb Dow Berisz Szapiro and Rabbi Ben-Cjon Rabinowiec, known as Rabbi Ben-Cjon Ostrower. He was one of the outstanding Gerer Hasidim who enjoyed studying under the Admor, Rabbi Mendeli of Kock zl, the author of Sfat Emet who was also a great scholar.
At their meeting with Rabbi Gordin, at the rabbi's home in Ostrów, they amused themselves with him on matters of Torah and Jewish law and were amazed at his vast knowledge and all its complexities.
When they began to deal with Hasidism, it was the opinion of Rabbi Ben-Cjon, of blessed memory, that the rabbi spoke especially of Chabad Hasidism and he considered him to be a Lubavitch Hasid. Rabbi Ben-Cjon tried to ridicule this doctrine of Hasidism, but the rabbi disagreed with his conclusions and brought him decisive evidence from his profound knowledge of the Tanya and of all the Chabad Hasidic literature with which to contradict his critical opinion. And when Rabbi Ben-Cjon heard all this, he considered that he was in the presence of a Hasidic rabbi of the Chabad doctrine (Rabbi Ben-Cjon shortly thereafter was shown to be in error).
After the community had sent the rabbinic contract to Rabbi Gordin, he had doubts as to whether it was worth his while to go from quiet Augustów to Ostrów, so full of Hasidim.
It is said that at the same time Rabbi Israel Mejer zzl, known as the Chofetz Chaim, visited Augustów and Rabbi Gordin revealed his doubts to him. The Gaon of Radun [Yiddish, Radin] of smiling countenance answered him: What is this fear of Hasidism? What do they usually do? They drink a glass of whisky to your good health. So drink a glass of whisky and deal with them . Rabbi Gordin took the advice of the Chofetz Chaim and agreed to accept the post of rabbi in our town and in 1897 he settled in Ostrowa.
Rabbi Gordin was born in 5613  in Recyca in Witebsk Province, where he excelled in his studies and was very diligent. Until his bar mitzvah he studied under the local rabbi gaon, Rabbi Jerachmiel Zyskind Kac zl. Then he moved to the small town Sbir, where he studied under gaon, Rabbi Mosze Danyszewski zl. Rabbi Mosze Danyszewski was the rabbi in Sbir and through his spirit and knowledge influenced his pupil the persistent youth and was famous as the prodigy of many talents.
Gaon, Rabbi Jechuda Lejb HaKoen Korlicer, the rabbi of Michliszki, while lying on his sickbed, stipulated in his will that the young genius whom gaon, Rabbi Mosze Danyszewski glorified and praised so highly be appointed in his place as rabbi. And indeed Rabbi Jechuda Lejb Gordin became the Rabbi of Michaliszki when he was twenty-four years old.
In 5646 , he was appointed Rabbi of Augustów and afterwards, in 5657 , Rabbi of Ostrowa. A new era began with his arrival in Ostrowa. His influence on all groups was of inestimable importance. Because he was a speaker par excellence, people literally flowed from all ends of town to hear his speeches, their content enthralling the listeners and quite enchanting them.
The rabbi succeeded especially in attracting the maskilim, who as would be expected, were delighted to hear his speeches in perfect Russian and richness of expression. He made a speech on the occasions of the royal family birthdays and government officials, army officers and priests would rise early to attend the synagogue in order to hear these addresses. They aroused excitement and general acclaim among the gentiles as well.
It was said that he corresponded with many famous Russian writers, most notably with L.N.Tolstoy. He became particularly famous among these writers when he published his Russian books What is Hasidism? and What is the Talmud? in which he proved and denied all the claims of the anti-Semites Fefferkorn, Rolling and others who were against Judaism and the Talmud. It should be noted that the material in his books was also used by the defense counsel of Mendel Beilis in the famous court case, which took place in 1913 in Kiev.
Rabbi Gordin also collected all the speeches he had made on various occasions and published them in a book called Slova. He received an award of appreciation from Czar Nikolai II for this book.
It is obvious that Rabbi Gordin revealed his main strength and valour in Torah in his great book of questions and answers Divrei Jechuda. The book contained questions and answers on all the ramifications of Jewish law as applicant and respondent as if it was between himself and the great scholars of Israel of his generation.
In his book Degel Jechuda he raised the level of addresses by stating everything in a learned, knowledgeable and pleasant manner for his listeners and readers. Due to him our community became renown and was proud to have a genius and sage such as him living in our midst.
To the regret of his many friends and acquaintances, Rabbi Jechuda Lejb Gordin left our town in 5664  and went to Samorgon (Wilno Province) where he published his third book Tshuvot Jechuda [The Responses of Jechuda] which also included questions and answers on all sections of the Shulkhan Arukh. In 5673  he was appointed rabbi and Av Beth Din of Łomża, the capitol of our Province.
For a long time Ostrowers viewed the seven years of Rabbi Gordin's rabbinate as the seven years of prosperity in which the community grew and developed in every way. The quarreling between the various groups ceased and true peace reigned among all factions.
Although Rabbi Gordin was a Mitnaged and a true Litvak he was gifted with a Hasidic soul and the enthusiasm with which he spoke of Hasidism and the wonderful Hasidic music which he used to play on every appropriate occasion, drew even the fanatical Hasidim to him. Their spiritual leader, Rabbi Ben-Cjon Rabinowiec was also included among the rabbi's closest friends and it should be noted that there was a mutual liking between the rabbi and the community. When the writer of these passages once visited Rabbi Gordin when he was already the Rabbi of Łomża, he expressed himself emotionally in these words: I miss Ostrowa. I feel how much I love it and it loves me and added I have an excessive fondness for Ostrowa, because I wrote most of my books there, for the benefit of many people.
After the outbreak of war between Russia and Japan, which brought in its wake the liberation movement, the parties aiming to overthrow the Czarist regime increased and extended their underground activities. The freedom fighters among the Jews also became more vocal and aimed at penetrating the foundations of traditional Jewish life and bringing about its collapse. Their main aim was to eradicate the old the Jewish way of life for generations and to introduce the new the spirit of rebellion against all that was accepted and rooted in the life of the people. These aims went against the spirit of Torah and Jewish tradition. Within religious circles, the spirit of opposition and the desire to preserve the existing at all costs were awoken. The initiators of an organization to combat the danger hovering over the Jewish youth were the Hasidim, but a considerable number of the religious Mitnagdim agreed with the idea and were willing to cooperate with the Hasidim to achieve this goal.
Therefore they agreed to search for a great rabbi with moral authority who would be capable of halting the trend of youth distancing themselves from religion.
After a search of several weeks, they chose a great rabbi, the son of an honourable family, Rebbe, gaon, Reb Josef Kalisz, the elder son of the Admor, Rebbe Menachem Kalisz zzl, of Amszynów, the grandson of the Admor, Reb Icchok zzl, of Warka.
Although he was still young about twenty-seven years old he was received in Ostrowa with great honour. Because in addition to his own good family, he was also the son-in-law of the famous gaon Reb Chaim Eliezer Waks zzl, Rabbi of Kalisz and the son-in-law of the gaon of the generation, Rebbe Jechoszua'le of Kotno zzl.
That the gaon of Kotno zzl, chose him to be the husband of his granddaughter (her father had been the Rabbi of Kalisz) was a sign that indeed this young man was a great Torah scholar. He also was well mannered and of good character. He excelled in particular in his love of the people and his heroic desire to live to benefit every Jew.
Because of his appearance, his good heart and his gracious behavior he was liked from the first moment by the delegation that went to offer him the position of rabbi in our town. Its members returned full of admiration and eager to see him as the rabbi and champion of Ostrowa as soon as possible.
It should be noted that thirty years prior to this the first Admor of Amszynów, the Tzadik Rebbe Jakob Dawid zzl, (son of the Admor, Reb Jechazkiel of Warka) came to Ostrowa, arriving erev Shabbat, to collect money for the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim. When he wished to spend Shabbat there, radical opponents vehemently demanded that he leave the city. And behold thirty years later all the townspeople came out to greet his grandson, chosen by them as the rabbi of Ostrowa. Apparently this was the blessing of the old rabbi. The town that had rejected him on erev Shabbat would now receive his grandson with every form of honour on his coming to dwell permanently in their midst as rabbi. It happened in Ostrowa, as it stands written, the righteous proposes and the Almighty, blessed be he, disposes.
Rebbe Reb Joseph Kalisz ministered to the members of his congregation in Ostrowa, on one hand, high-handedly and on the other with the love of a father for his sons. His heart was aware of everything that would benefit the multitude. While he was there he fixed an eruv which allowed the residents of the town not to desecrate the Sabbath by walking from place to place while carrying objects and vessels that a person would need during Shabbat. He also made praiseworthy changes in the public institutions. At this time, the local Yeshiva and Talmud Torah blossomed and thrived. Regular times were fixed for the study of Torah in every house of prayer and shtiblach and the sound of Torah was heard in every corner. The rabbi - whose wrestling with holy studies was indescribable - would frequently sit by candle light all night studying, until the light of dawn, without let up, if during the day the troubles of the town had forced him to stray from his studies. His home was always open to the needy, to feed them and quench their thirst. He would overcome all obstacles in his path to help everyone as much as possible. He initiated and founded the Society Ma'achal Kosher for Jewish soldiers serving in the Russian army in adjacent Komorowo.
As the Jewish Holidays, especially the Yomim Nora'im and Passover drew near, he would request the military authorities to release the Jewish soldiers so that they might spend the holidays in the homes of their brethren in Ostrowa. He always succeeded in his efforts. In 5678 , he was called upon to replace his father the Admor, Rebbe Menachem Kalisz zzl, at his death and so he left. The thirteen years that he was our rabbi will be recorded as a glorification and blessing on the history of the rabbinate in our town. The people's affection for him was engraved on the hearts of those who knew him and those who loved him. Even after he was elevated to the seat of Admor in Amszynów many streamed to visit him there on holidays and among them were also more than a few Mitnagdim who became Amszynower Hasidim and gathered there under the leadership of their Admor!
After the departure of this righteous man from town, it was clear that only a Hasidic rabbi stood a chance of taking his place a fact also understood by the Mitnagdim. The Gerer Hasidim, headed by Reb Ben-Cjon, took the initiative in finding a suitable rabbi for the vacant post. They set their sights on, gaon Reb Mejer Dan Plocki zl the Rabbi of Warta (Province of Kalisz) who was considered one of the great scholars of that generation and who was also one of the most important Gerer Hasidim.
Rabbi Reb Mejer Dan zl, had already written several important books that were very well received by Torah scholars and the teachers. The books were Khemdat Israel innovations about the Rambam and questions of Shas; Kley Hemda, commentaries on the Five Books of Moses. In 5670  Rabbi Plocki published his book Sha'alu Shlom Yerushalaim which created a great sensation in the rabbinical world. In this book he revealed all the frauds of a well-known swindler, who was known by the fictitious name Rabbi Szlomo Jechuda Friedlander. This swindler supposedly discovered in some library in the Near East the Yerushalmi Seder Kedoshim, an ancient manuscript, that he published in 5667  to deceive people and to become rich at the expense of those who trusted him.
Rabbi Plocki's revelation greatly embarrassed many of the great Jewish scholars from whom the charlatan forger succeeded in obtaining their good-hearted agreement to publish the forged Yerushalmi. They attempted to discredit the conclusions of Rabbi Plocki, but through his holy determination and incisive evidence, which could not be denied, the rabbi proved the truth of his revelations in the material published in the above mentioned book. As a result, Yerushalmi Seder Kedoshim was banned from reaching the Jewish community!
With this genius - who had been one of the pupils of the famous rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Eliezer Waks of Kalisz, Rabbi Jehoszua'le Tronk of Kotno and Rabbi Abraham'el Bornsztejn of Sochoczów zzl our town gained merit and was glorified and honored.
His term of office as rabbi was a source of spiritual pleasure for the learned, Hasidim and Maskilim, as every word from his lips was full of wisdom and knowledge. He brought wit and vaster knowledge to the listener, knowledge coming from the depths of the sea of the Talmud and its commentaries from all the sources of knowledge found in ancient Talmudic literature and the books of the original Hasidim.
Our rabbi, Rebbe Mejer Dan zl, did not limit himself to his congregation. His vast energy, great vision and distinguished position he held in the rabbinical world as one of its greatest scholars elevated him as one of the leaders of the Jewish religious community in Poland. He was appointed the head of the Rabbinical Association of Poland. He was also one of the important organizers and founders of International Agudat Israel and one of the founders and president of the famous yeshiva in Warszawa.
In order to consolidate the Jewish religious community and to expand into the Jewish world at large, the rabbi wandered from country to country, visiting France, England Germany and Belgium. He also visited the United States twice and in all these countries he was received with great honour as befitted the glorious gaon he was.
By virtue of the rabbi, Ostrowa became a very important place. Many people would turn to him for answers to their questions on difficult and complicated matters, especially those concerning releases [divorces] for deserted wives.
Rebbe Plocki also played a large part with regard to changing the attitude of the Gerer Admor about settlement in the Land of Israel and the aliyah of Hasidim, including ordinary people, after he persuaded the Admor to visit Israel. One can see how much the Gerer Rabbi liked our country from his famous comment on the matter of new ideas on the Torah, which he renewed during his stay in the Holy Land. There is no Torah like the Torah of the Land of Israel and by the definition of his innovations like fruit with which the Land of Israel is blessed.
Although Ostrowa was renowned in the world of Jewish law because of her famous rabbis, the town reached its peak of fame and glory when Rabbi Plocki resided there as its rabbi and spiritual leader. One of the admirers of the rabbi expressed himself well when he explained in a famous article: how wise is the man who knows his place. Meaning, the wise man is he who by his wisdom and his greatness causes those near and far to know his place his dwelling place.
As it was said about Dubno in Wolhynia why is it called Dubno? Because the Magid of Dubno lives there so it could be said of our town that it is called Ostrów because the Gaon of Ostrów lives there
His love of the yeshiva and its pupils in Warszawa gave him the idea to leave his rabbinate in Ostrów, and to settle in Warszawa and to devote himself with all his strength and enthusiasm to yeshiva business. But, bitter death came and violated his ideas. He died of a malignant disease on the sixth of Nisan 5688 [March1928], during a visit to Warszawa and he was laid to rest there.
For two years our town sought a suitable and worthy candidate to fill the position of rabbi during the bereavement over the death of Rebbe Plocki zl, but they did not find one.
The heavenly one assisted us. The Admor of Amszynów, Rebbe Jozef Kalisz, who had been Rabbi of Ostrowa until his father the Admor zzl died, came to visit Ostrowa.
His visit caused many to long for the good old days when his honour dwelled in our town. The dignity and beauty that was bestowed upon the people and institutions, those that were already there and those that he founded, were remembered. The community leaders concluded that it was desirable to renew the union with the House of Amszynów and at their suggestion his son-in-law, Rabbi Rebbe Jakob Szraga Zinger hyd, was appointed local rabbi on the fifteenth of Shevat, 5690 [January, 1930].
Our last Rabbi was born in Aleksander, next to Lódz. His father was gaon, Rebbe Icchok Meir Zynger the son-in-law of the Aleksander Admor, Reb Szmuel Cwi Dancyger composer of The Glory of Samuel. During his childhood, until he turned eleven, he was educated in his grandfather's house, the Rebbe of Aleksander. Then he was sent to his other (paternal) grandfather, gaon, Reb Elijahu Zynger, head of the Beth Din in Kalisz (previously the head of the Beit Din in Pszysza). Besides his regular daily lessons in gemara, his grandfather introduced him to another world; to decision making and teaching. Thanks to his abilities and his wonderful diligence he became renowned, when he was only eighteen years of age, as a scholar who was destined for greatness. He became engaged to the daughter of Rebbe Josef Kalisz zl, who was our rabbi at the time. During the summer of 5677  the wedding took place with great glory and splendour in our town. The two grandfathers, Admor, Reb Szmuel Cwi Dancyger of Aleksander on the groom's side and Admor, Reb Menachem Kalisz of Amszynów on the bride's side, arrived along with a lot of Hasidim to celebrate the wedding of their grandson and granddaughter. The seven days of feasting were days of happiness and rejoicing for everyone in town.
For the thirteen years between his wedding and his appointment as Ostrowa's rabbi, the young rabbi applied himself to Torah in his father-in-law's house and thereafter in his grandfather's house in Aleksander and Amszynów and truly never stopped studying.
From the time he took on the yoke of the rabbinate of Ostrowa in 5690  - he was devoted to town matters. He tried to administer his congregation the way his father-in-law Rebbe Josef Kalisz zl, had instructed him, until the arrival of the wave of 5699  prophesied evil for Poland's Jewry in general and for residents of medium sized and small towns in particular.
No one knew what was brewing for Polish Jewry, but the people were frightened and ill at ease. Our rabbi tried to give strength to the weak-kneed and to encourage their spirit with sayings of Hazal, according to whom even when the sharp sword was beneath one's throat one must not despair of mercy
But to our regret the apprehensions of the despairing became reality. Tragedy struck when Hitler's airplanes, may his name be cursed, dropped bombs that destroyed, killing and causing every living thing to perish, it did not bypass our town
The first bomb fell on Ostrowa on the third day of Tishre [September] before Slikhos [penitential prayers], on Jozef Prawda's home, on ulica Jatkowa, amputating his legs and instantly killing his son Icchok Gerszon. The confusion that erupted in town because of this tragedy cannot be described. On Sunday, which was also the first day of Slikhos, the Germans entered Ostrowa and on that day they took fifteen Jews and shot them to death.
Although leaving the house was life threatening, our rabbi endangered his life and together with Reb Mosze Rozencwajg, Reb Szymon Hersz Goldwaser and Reb Farbiarz, went out to bury the martyrs who had been murdered through no fault of their own, the victims of Nazi cruelty. The Nazis ordered the gravediggers and the relatives of the dead to descend alive into the grave and take care of burying their dead. The weeping family members of the dead softened the cruel hearts of the barbarous ones and by a miracle the gravediggers and the family members were saved and they returned to their homes
On the second day of Rosh Hashanah 5700 , the Nazis imprisoned the rabbi and secretary of the congregation, Tuwia Makower, in the old Beit HaMidrash. They dragged them to the place where they tortured people and threatening them with pistols, forced the secretary to cut off the rabbi's beard and then the rabbi to cut off the secretary's beard and tormented them both with dreadful cruelty.
The Jews of our town thought, in innocence, that by fleeing to other places they could save their lives and many fled with their families to an area conquered by the Red Army which was not far from Ostrowa.
Our rabbi also decided to leave town, but before he had time to do so, he was captured by the Gestapo and ordered to provide five kilos of gold within twenty-four hours. The only way to accumulate the amount of gold he had to provide was by the removal of Jewish women's wedding rings. Since most people had already left it was impossible to fulfill the Nazi demand and he fled in the dark of night to nearby Zambrów and from there to Slonim, where he found refuge in the home of his relative Rebbe Szlomo Wajnberg, the Rabbi of Slonim.
Our rabbi recovered a little and went to assist the Ostrower refugees now concentrated in Slonim and the surrounding area. Like a merciful father he helped and cared for everyone.
The rabbi wanted to go to Wilno, which was under Lithuanian rule and so he sent his eldest son Jechiel Menachem Zinger to arrange a place for them. In the meantime, the Red Army had taken control of Wilno and after the cancellation of the non-aggression pact between the Germans and the Russians (on the twenty-second of June 1941), the Nazis took control of Wilno and he could not leave. When the Nazis conquered Slonim, they ravaged it. Among the first martyrs was Slonim's rabbi, Rabbi, gaon, Reb Jehudah Lejb Fajn zl.
The tragic end of our rabbi zl, was learned from a letter written by Dr Nach Kaplinski of Slonim (lives in Israel and to this day works as a doctor in Kupat Cholim Klalit) presented here in its entirety.
Rabbi Zynger and his family arrived in Slonim from Poland in 1939.
I do not know of his life during the days of the Soviet occupation until 1941. During the German occupation he would come and go at the community committee. He was the strength of his congregation, many of whom were living in Slonim and as a refugee he was the contact between the community committee and the refugees. He cared for many in need of economic assistance and was invited to all the extended meetings of the committee, where I would frequently meet him. I was impressed with both his enthusiasm and his honesty.
After Slonim lost its rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Jehuda Lejb Fajn zl, -Rabbi Zynger, even if unofficially, became the Rabbi of the town. His place on the community committee was permanent. He did a lot of work in regard to providing food and assistance to people and took care of all religious matters (such as marriages etc.). Recently in the months of May-June 1942 I met with him almost every day.
At the onset of the great slaughter of 29th June 1942 he was in hiding with his large family and he was taken from there (on 30 June 1942) by the Belorussian police. That morning I saw him and his entire family when they were being moved under police guard on Bernadinczy Street to the jail. They were executed on the first of July 1942 at the mass graves of Slonim's martyrs on the highway to Czepelów.
I emphasize that his good name was renown among the residents of Slonim in those days of suffering.
Dr N. Kaplinski
The eldest son of our Rabbi hyd, Reb Jechiel Menachem Zynger, who survived and today lives in the United States received this sad message first.
Our rabbi, gaon Rebbe Jakob Szraga Zynger, his wife the modest Rebetzin Juta and their sons and daughters Rojza, Pesia, Efraim, Eliezer, Szmuel Cwi, Rywka Chaja, Szyfra Dwojra, Sara Golde and Jozefa hy'd were killed by the damnable Nazis, ymsh.
By Josef Leszcz
Translated by Ros Romem
I reflect on memories of my childhood, the town where I was born and the Jews who lived there. What made this town special and different? It certainly was not because I spent most of my youth there. Naturally those years are pleasant for everyone. In the course of my life I travelled a great deal on business to most of the cities in Poland and was familiar with the life of Jews in small towns, weekdays and Shabbat. Despite fifty years absence from the town where I was born I can still see before my eyes all the personalities of our town whose likeness, in all their beauty and nobility, I have never found elsewhere. Like a father I see each one as a special person in his pursuits, actions and way of life.
Torah, knowledge and wisdom, Hasidism, righteous deeds and Zionism for the sake of Zion, joined together under the same roof. And it was so splendid that despite it being the fortress of the Mitnagdim and the Hasidim (with Rabbi Ben-Cjon Rabinowicz zzl, at its head) there were no disputes or gossip there.
Everyone in Ostrowa respected the rabbi of our town, Rabbi Reb J. L. Gordin zzl. They admired him as their shepherd and their teacher. He was not only a great Torah scholar, but had a multifaceted personality. He represented the community with the authorities, had a full command of Russian and corresponded with great gentiles, among them the Russian author Tolstoy, who asked the rabbi to write a book on the ethics of the Talmud.
An address by Rabbi Gordin was an exciting event in the community, especially among the great Torah scholars. His speeches were built with architectural genius, as he combined tradition, myth, midrash, science and also inflamed the audience with moral chastisement.
The rabbi who followed the Mitnaged Rabbi Gordin zzl was the Rabbi Rebbe Jozef Kalisz zzl, who after the death of his father Rebbe Menachem zzl, continued as Admor of Amszynów. The entire community showed him respect and deference.
Rebbe Josef was a distinguished, pious, charitable man and also had an affect on the Mitnagdim who saw him as an innocent, righteous man, full of humility.
During the First World War, as the number of Jews who had lost their property and were on the verge of starvation increased, a committee was formed aimed at helping the needy. (At the same time a moratorium on debt was declared and there were those who lost all their money). The head of the committee was Rebbe Kalisz. The committee imposed a tax on everyone according to his means and the size of his business. There were merchants who were so bitter about the moratorium that they refused to donate to the committee. Rebbe Kalisz fought against all the tightwads, even prohibiting and deferring all appeals to the courts until they proved they had donated to the committee.
Translated by Ros Romem
Born in Ostrowa. The Hasidim said that he resembled his grandfather, the first Rabbi Jakob Dawid, after whom he was named.
He received his knowledge of Torah from his father and the great students of Torah in Ostrowa. He excelled in the study of teaching and when he was young he memorized the entire Shulkhan Arukh and Orekh Chaim.
At seventeen he married the daughter of Rebbe Szlomo Joszkowicz, son-in-law of the Gerer Admor, Reb Abraham Mordchai Alter.
For a number of years he lived at his father-in-law's in Góra Kalwarja while he studied, with dedication, early every morning at his father-in-law's home and he was very well liked by the Gerer Hasidim, who were known for their conservatism and devotion to their dynasty. By his holy behavior and exceptional humility he drew the attention of those who came to the Gerer rabbi's court.
Even the Gerer Admor himself was impressed by his aristocratic appearance and natural charm and on more than one occasion the rebbe praised him in the presence of his sons and his Hasidim.
For a while he lived in Warszawa at his father-in-law's and studied at the Amszynower shtibl. When he acquired a great name as a Torah scholar and teacher, he was appointed head of the Beit Din in Zirdów near Warszawa. Despite his youth, he administered his rabbinate like an old, experienced person and decided all the needs of the congregation. The devotion of the Amszynowers to him cannot be estimated.
His handsome appearance and his curly black side locks gave him a regal splendour.
In 5697 , after the death of his father Rebbe Jozef, he was appointed in his father's place. All his father's Hasidim attached themselves to him lovingly and faithfully.
In his behavior as Admor, he used his father's methods, drawing every Jew closer and taking an interest in each person's situation. The community of Amszynów asked him to come to their town to replace his father as rabbi, but the community of Zirdów would not let him go. After a discussion, a general compromise was agreed upon. He would act as head of the Beth Din in both communities.
On the anniversary of his father's death, hundreds of Amszynower Hasidim gathered in Warszawa. He took this opportunity to survey his Hasidim, set a table and discuss Torah.
The utterance of Torah on Shabbat reminded the Amszynower Hasidim of the good days when they were intoxicated with the pleasantness of the words of his father zzl and they were comforted by his great son who appropriately was prepared to take over from his father.
With the outbreak of the Second World War he was forced to leave Zirdów. For nearly two years he hid in various places in Warszawa. His last hiding place was in an attic, where he contracted typhus. The doctor's efforts were in vain. In one of the winter months of 5702  his life was extinguished in wretched Warszawa.
He was buried near the grave of his grandfather, Rebbe Menachem and next to his father's grave, Rebbe Jozef.
His wife the Rebetzin, and his four children were annihilated by the Nazis.
By his grand-daughter Rachel Rozenblum-Slucki
Translated by Ros Romem
Rabbi Cynowicz was an outstanding personality who held a position in education in Ostrowa for twenty years and afterwards in Łomża for thirty-five consecutive years.
Rabbi Cynowicz was born in Zambrów. His father the rabbi and Talmud scholar, Rabbi Chaim Cwi, would sit day and night studying Torah while his wife dealt with the factory to support the family. His father prayed for several hours a day, adorned in tallit and tefillin, after which he would remove a piece of clay from one of the cracks in the ceiling to place upon his eyes in order to remember death and to repent daily.
He fasted for various periods of time and ate every day only after Mincha. Of his four sons, Rabbi Abraham Jozef was the cleverest. Even in his youth his name was renowned through out the region. He became a teacher in Ostrowa at a young age and he worked there for twenty years until he was brought to Łomża where he held a teaching position for thirty-five consecutive years.
Also while a teacher, with many troubles, he devoted time to Torah and would sit and study for many hours. He had a phenomenal memory. He had a vast library of rabbinical literature and he memorized every book, the author and the year in which it was published, etc. He liked antiques and he had collections of various siddurim, machzorim hagadot, khumashim as well as manuscripts. He was involved with people. He was good-natured and innocent and it broke his heart when Jewish money was lost or when some trouble befell Jews.
He liked to bring about compromises in disputes. He would draw young students closer and frequently invite them for a conversation on matters of Torah. Pupils of the yeshiva would come to him to be examined and afterwards he would take them under his wing and also give them good advice. Among his students were a number of young rabbis.
He was a lover of Zion and was one of the forty rabbis in Poland who signed an appeal for the Jewish National Fund at a time when many rabbis objected to this. People were constantly coming to his Beit Din chamber to ask his advice, to talk and not only to study Torah. He also loved reading secular literature, knew Russian, Polish and German and more than once appeared before the authorities, at the swearing in of soldiers or to give evidence as an expert on religion in the courts of law. As head of the community he frequently welcomed important visitors, such as the Prime Minister, ministers etc.
Capuchin monks would visit him and also debate with him or inquire about Jewish matters. Some of them spoke Hebrew and also knew Talmud and the Zohar.
The rabbi was also interested in medicine, read medical books and wrote several essays on medicine in the Talmud. Dr. Karbowski was his doctor and confidant and on more than one occasion, the conversation turned to medical matters and innovations. When he lay in hospital in Warszawa for three months, Dr Friszman, who operated on him, would visit him for two or three hours a day and converse with him.
He educated his two sons and four daughters in the spirit of Torah and tradition.
Rabbi Cynowicz revealed many novel insights into difficult Torah portions and he liked to write them down but not publish them, due to his great humility. His book "Salsalot Jozef was organized and published by his grandson, Szmuel Chaim Rozenblum. The book was received well in rabbinical circles and he received several letters of admiration from rabbis.
All his days he dreamt of making aliyah to Israel and spending the last days of his life there, but he did not achieve this. His righteous and gentle wife, née Sosnowski, from Szczecyn, died at a great, old age before the outbreak of the Second World War. The rabbi was expelled and tortured by the evil Nazis, together with all the members of the community and we do not know when and where his soul returned to the Almighty or where he is buried.
Translated by Ros Romem
A short while before he left the community, gaon, Rabbi Jehuda Lejb Gordin appointed Rabbi, Reb Abraham Frankel, father-in-law of Tejwel Kielewicz the renowned wine merchant, as dayan. Rabbi Abraham was a yeshiva student at the time, but even then he excelled as a scholar and was very distinguished. He was moderate and modest in his ways and was interested in every oppressed man and would hurry to his assistance. He was wanted and accepted by the community. In 1915, during the German occupation, when the epidemic that caused many deaths broke out, he was one of the victims. He left behind a widow and a son, who died in the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis during the Second World War (1939 1945).
Translated by Ros Romem
Gaon, Rabbi I.D. Szulwicz was a member of the rabbinate for fifty years and for nearly forty years he was rabbi in the communities of Ostrowa and Komorowo. In his youth he studied Torah under the elderly Admor of Aleksander, zzl. He received smicha from gaonim, Rabbi Chaim of Brisk and Rabbi Gincburg of Siedlce.
He was a superlative student, a great Torah scholar and an important man. He was known among the rabbis of Poland as an arbiter and authority. He completed the entire Shas every year for thirty consecutive years.
He loved people be they great or small, rich or poor. He was above politics. He loved everyone and everyone loved him. He was a Hasid par excellence, close to the house of the Amszynower Admor, grandson of Rabbi Jekele of Zaranowicz who was one of the outstanding pupils of Rabbi Bunim of Przescza, zzl.
He had a great love for Zion. He rejoiced in every achievement in Israel. Whenever he received an esrog for Sukkot [Yid. Sukes] from his son-in-law in Israel, he was overjoyed and favoured his worshippers in the Great Synagogue with a blessing over the Israeli esrog.
At morning prayers on Sukkot 1939, at the outbreak of the war, the esrog he received from Israel was the only one in the whole town and everybody in town, including the refugees from Pultusk and Ostroleka who were then in Ostrowa, said the blessing over the esrog.
Members of his family: his daughters, his sons and his sons-in-law, were all imbued with the concept and the love of Israel. Some of his family succeeded in making aliyah to Israel during the rabbi's lifetime, zzl, of which he was very happy and proud.
His home was a work centre for Israel in every aspect. The Beruria movement was established in his home by his daughters.
On the first day of World War Two the town was bombed in the morning. As he prayed a bomb fell inside the synagogue. He was severely wounded and never arose from his bed.
He was expelled to Białystok along with the rest of the Jewish community. He suffered great afflictions. He died and released his great and pure soul on the sixteenth of Shevat 5700 [January1940]. Thousands who were still alive attended his funeral. The rabbis of Białystok, a town that had yet to be destroyed, gave the eulogies.
His sons, Reb Jechiel and Reb Izrael with their families and his daughters Marja and Rywka hyd, were at the funeral. They died in the Holocaust together with the other Ostrowers who were expelled from Białystok and went to Slonim.
and Rabbi Reb Icchok Dawid Szulwiec (left)
Translated by Aviva Chrust Komaroff & Roslyn Joffe
In 5688 , after the death of our Rabbi, gaon, Rebbe Meir Dan Plocki zzl, his son Rabbi , Reb Izrael Natan hyd, became dayan and moreh tzadek in Ostrowa. He served in this position until the beginning of the Second World War in 1939.
He was a great Torah scholar, perhaps even a genius and from childhood studied without a break.
Whenever people entered his home morning, noon, evening or even late at night, he was always found studying and kept the mitzvah to study day and night.
This great diligence sharpened his mind and he put his thoughts into action. He wrote new interpretations of the Torah that his father later published in the books Hemdat Israel and Kley Hemda. Those who liked to study Torah enjoyed these books a lot.
He was brilliant and published his ideas and questions even to the Gerer Admor zl.
At the beginning of the Second World War he moved to Slonim, along with many refugees from Ostrowa, in order to save himself and his family. He was killed there along with his wife, four daughters and son-in-law.
May his soul be bound up in the bond of life and hy'd
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