« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 155]

The community of Ostrowiec excelled in its original Jewish way-of-life and the special nature of the holidays and festivals. Customs and folk rituals, which were almost unknown in other Jewish communities in Poland, were preserved in this community.


Deep-rooted Jews with an original way-of-life

by Pinchas Soroka, Tel Aviv

Translated by Sara Mages

Ostrowiec, in the Kielce Province, was a typical Jewish town with a Jewish population of about seventeen thousand people. Among the many rooted Jewish types, which were usually found in Jewish communities in Poland, stood out the distinguished personality of the tzaddik, HaGaon Rabbi Meir Yehiel zt”l, who was well known throughout the Jewish Diaspora. After his death his son, Rabbi Yechezkel'e, who was also a great scholar in the Torah and Hassidut, served in his place. During the Holocaust he perished in Sandomierz on the sanctification of God's name. Ostrowiec also excelled in its diligent Torah scholars, its noble lineage and sons of good families. All the life of the city was centered in the houses of prayer, the Hassidim's shtiblekh[1], the Old Synagogue and the two Batei Midrash, the old and the new, that the voice of the Torah did not cease in them at all hours of the day.

The Novardok Yeshiva, which was headed by my brother-in-law, HaRav R' Mordechai Shimonovitch from the city of Dervana, introduced a new color to the city's life. This yeshiva, and Yeshivat Beir Meir, turned the city into a learning center in the entire area, and hundreds of students flocked to it in order to be admitted to one of the two yeshivot whose names gained fame throughout Poland. Also non-observant Jews set time for the Torah, some in Chevrat Shas, some in Chevrat Mishnayos[2] or Chevrat Tehillim[3]. The voices of schoolchildren mingled with the pleasant tunes of the mitzvah meals, which were a daily occurrence in this town that was steeped in Torah and good deeds.

Before my eyes stands Di Hoyche Shul (“The Tall Synagogue”) and I see the porters who sat on the steps and waited for livelihood. And across from them the carters, all of them vivacious Jews who were busy all days of the week with livelihood concerns and on Shabbat and holidays eve they took on a different form and it was impossible to recognize them at all. They became neatly polished Jews that Neshamah Yeterah[4] radiates from their faces. And here are the “Moshelekh” and “Shlomelekh” at their games in the winding alleys of Di Hoyche Shul. And how can I not mention those Jews who were ready to walk through fire and water to help one Jewish soul. I see them all in their sorrows and joys as one big family.

I remember the picture that came back every four weeks, when they took out the rabbi, whose body had shriveled after forty years of fasting, on an armchair and carried him to the Shulhoyf [synagogue courtyard] for Kiddush Levanah[5]. This procession had the character of a ceremony, in term of the Ark carrying its carriers[6], and the whole town was waiting for this procession on Saturday night, which served as a fitting end to the Holy Sabbath.

[Page 156]

The Jews of Ostrowiec - an original way-of-life

Already at the prime of my youth, as a student at the Novodurdok Yeshiva, who wandered from place to place after leaving the family home in Bolshevik Russia, I had the opportunity to get to know many cities and towns. And I realized that the customs of the Jews are similar everywhere because they absorb them from our ancient tradition. But Ostrowiec was kind of unusual in this sense, and in these lines I would like to describe its original way-of-life.

Ostrowiec wasn't a big city, but because of the reputation it gained in the Jewish communities because of its vibrant life, and mainly thanks to HaRav R' Meir Yechiel Halevi Halstock z”l, who was one of the greatest personalities among the religious leaders of Polish Jewry, its image was portrayed among the Polish Jews as a large city with a large and vibrant Jewish population. Indeed, it was difficult to find a more picturesque city among the Jewish communities in Poland in terms of the wide spectrum of folk types, and in terms of maintaining the religious rituals, that it is doubtful if they were preserved in other Jewish centers in Poland.

Once, when I was walking to the yeshiva on the eve of Passover I heard the voices of a crowd of people. I immediately noticed large groups of people with clay vessels in their hands who flocked to the river to draw mayim shelanu[7] for baking Matzah Shmurah[8]. I joined the crowd and participated in the singing of the Hallel[9], and the singing of the new “march” which was renewed not long ago by the Rebbe of Modzitz. It seemed to me that these were the Egyptian Jews who were celebrating their liberation from harsh slavery. Those, who have not seen this sight with their own eyes, cannot imagine that oppressed and poor Jews, can suddenly transport themselves in their imagination to another reality and live it as if it was their everyday reality.

The devotion of the songs and the dances was so great, that they did not feel that they were dancing in the deep mud that covered the whole city during the days of the month of Nisan when the snow began to melt. To prevent their long black coats from getting dirty in the mud, the Jews lifted the wings of their clothes and stuck them inside the belts and the sashes.

When they arrived to the river the group scattered along the shore, and in awe and reverence began to pump the river water while filtering the water through a pure clean cloth. Suddenly, one of them burst out with a mighty voice, like a commander in chief that everyone is abides by his command: Khatzkel, why are you silent! Khatzkel, like a disciplined soldier, smoothed his well-groomed beard and began to sing. The entire holy group accompanied him with their singing, with great enthusiasm and the outpouring of the soul, and it seemed that they were approaching Olam Ha'Atzilut[10]. If they haven't heard the voice of Shimaleh Melamed, “Jews alive!” that awakened them all from the world of hallucinations - who knows when they would have arrived with the water to the city... Shimaleh Melamed started to dance in the mud and urged the Jews to return with cheerful singing to the Shulhoyf. This revelry ended with Ma'ariv [evening] prayer and heartfelt wishes for the next year.


The second day of the holiday of Shavuot

On the second festival day of Shavuot in the Diaspora, the day of the passing of Na'im Zemirot Yisrael, King David, may he rest in peace, the city's Jews gathered in the Old Synagogue to recite Psalms. The synagogue was filled to capacity with Jews from all walks of life, among them Hassidim, public activists and common people. Each time they finished the Book of Psalms they said Mi Sheberach[11] in public for the rabbi and the great Admor. In this manner they kept on repeating it until they reached the hymns of Shir Hama'aloth [“Song of the Ascents”]. Here there was a short pause and the gabbai went on stage and sold the hymns of Shir Hama'aloth[12] to the highest bidder. The Jews tried to compete with each other to increase the price. After the end of the auction, there was an unusual atmosphere of anticipation and excitement


An incident caused by Birkat Hamazon*

by I. Birnzweig

Translated by Sara Mages

It happened in the year 1928 when the shtiebel of the Ożarów Hassidim was at the Mintzberg's house. The three minyanim of worshipers, who gathered there every Shabbat, were mostly from the common people who came to hear a sermon from Naftali Rosenberg (Naftali Moshel'e Abelis), and Hassidic stories. They used to sell Birkat Hamazon for Seudah shlishit [the third meal] at an auction to the highest bidder. Once, Avraham Greenberg (Avreml “Zumb”) and Eliezer Mintzberg (Eliezer “Sheigetz”), who lived in the same house, competed for Birkat Hamazon. Avraham Greenberg always added to the price and did not let Eliezer Mintzberg to win this mitzvah. In the end, Eliezer became angry and left the shtiebel in fury. A short time later, when the worshipers gathered again for the Melaveh Malkah [“Escorting the Queen”] meal, they did not want to believe what they were seeing: all the window panes were shattered, the heating stove was lying broken on the floor, and the tables and the benches were broken. The electric wires were torn! Darkness all around and the cold autumn wind blew through the broken windows. Everyone was shocked when they saw the destruction and there was no doubt in their hearts who did it.

The enraged crowd found Eliezer sleeping peacefully. They woke him up from his sleep and forced him to immediately appear in court before the judge Itcha Meir Huberman. At the trial, which took place late at night, all the worshipers testified against the suspect, and he was forced to admit that the act of destruction was done by him because they did not let him win the mitzvah of Birkat Hamazon. The judge ordered him to hire workers early the next morning and repair all the damages. The spirits calmed down only after Eliezer Mintzberg signed a commitment to comply with the judgment, and all those present dispersed to their homes.

* “Blessing after meal”

[Page 157]

that I did not understand the meaning of. And here appeared a thick-bearded Jew, who all days of the year earned his livelihood from his work as a porter, and Beril Chachkes was his name. He left at the head of all those present to the rabbi's house holding a large wax candle in his hand. On the way they continued to sing the verses of Shir Hama'aloth, and every few steps stopped to recite the Mi Sheberach prayer. As in every year, an argument broke out by the entrance to the rabbi's house, which of them would be honored with the lofty role of sitting the rabbi in the armchair and carrying him to the synagogue. The Hassidim claimed that only they were entitled to it, because for this purpose they immersed in the mikveh today and purified themselves in order to be worthy of carrying the rabbi to the synagogue. The common people, from Chevrat Tehillim, claimed that all the joy was theirs, because it is the day of the passing of Na'im Zemirot Yisrael. And they had another claim in their mouth: they are the regular worshipers at the Great Synagogue, and every Shabbat they finish the Book of Psalms and therefore they deserve the honor.

And while arguing and exchanging harsh words, a Jew, R' Khatzkel Mer who was known as “Khatzkel Got [God],” who had been known all year as a modest man, a tzaddik and a scholar, appeared from somewhere. He raised his hand towards the crowd, and out of courtesy to this dear Jew everyone fell silent. He asked the crowd to let him decide who would be given the honor to carry the rabbi to the synagogue. And so it was - “Khatzkel Got” ruled and the audience agreed.

And behold, an unusual sight was revealed before me: the doors of the house were opened wide and the rabbi appeared sitting on an arm chair that was carried on the shoulders of Jews who had won this great mitzvah. The feeble body of the rabbi, who had fasted for forty years, appeared in front of the large crowd that gathered near his house. Everyone rushed towards him in order to win the great experience and touch the armchair, like when the Torah scroll is taken out of the Ark before the reading of the Torah. In this manner the large crowd returned, with Chachkes at their lead as he was holding the lighted candle in his hand, and accompanied their rabbi to the synagogue. After they finished all the Psalms once more time, and after a sip of l'chaim, this original public celebration ended.

Translator's footnotes

  1. A shtiebel (pl. shtiblekh, meaning “little house” or “little room”) is a place used for communal Jewish prayer in contrast to a formal synagogue. Return
  2. Chevrat Shas and Chevrat Mishnayos are associations for the daily study of the six tractates of the Mishnah. Return
  3. Chevrat Tehillim, Association for the study of the Book of Psalms. Return
  4. Neshamah Yeterah (lit. “Additional soul”) is a popular belief that every Jew is given an additional soul from the entrance of each Sabbath until its termination. Return
  5. Kiddush Levanah (lit. “Sanctification of the Moon”) is a Jewish ritual, performed outside at night, in which a series of prayers are recited to bless the new moon. Return
  6. Many miracles were associated with the Ark. For one, “it carried its carriers.” When the Kohanim lifted it for transport, instead of them carrying the Ark, the ark carried them. Return
  7. Mayim shelanu (“water that has slept”) is water that had been drawn in the evening and left to cool overnight. Return
  8. Matzah shmurah refers to matzah made from wheat which is guarded from the time that it is harvested. Return
  9. Hallel (lit. “Praise”) is a Jewish prayer, a verbatim recitation from Psalms 113-118, which is recited by observant Jews on Jewish holidays as an act of praise and thanksgiving. Return
  10. Olam Ha'Atzilut (lit. “The World of Emanation”) is the highest of four worlds in which exists the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Return
  11. Mi Sheberach [“the One who blessed”] is a public prayer for people in need of healing. Return
  12. Shir Hama'aloth [“Song of Ascents”] is a title given to Psalms 120-134. Return

[Page 163]

The Days of Awe in Town

by Mendl Hartshteyn

Translated by Tina Lunson

A rov once taught his son how to conduct the rabbinate, which he would take over:

“Listen!” he said. “You might complain to the community council that the rov needs a raise in his salary. They will argue that the mikve needs a new roof. But if you say that the mikve needs a new roof, they will argue that the rov needs a raise.”
What is implied from that?

It implies that the rov must influence the community indirectly. That was the case with the Ostrovtser Rov.

He very rarely mixed in town matters directly. But his indirect influence was unusually large, literally unlimited. For everything that happened in Ostrovtse one had to reckon the many cases in which the influence of the tsadik was felt. But the most vivid case was erev yonkiper in Ostrovtse.

It was a spectacle that did not have an equal in all of Poland. And whoever saw it one time could not forget it in his lifetime. It was a scene that no one prepared, no one directed, but created spontaneously by oneself.

As is known, the Days of Awe in Ostrovtse did not begin with the purchase of tickets for entry to the shul and with listening to a cantor. For us the Days of Awe began on rosh-khoydesh Elul with “l'dovid uri v'yeshaye” [psalm 27 of David: the Lord is my light and my salvation] and with the blasts of the shofar.

As soon as the first blast was heard, a shudder went through each person. People went around wrapped up in themselves and thought about the coming Day of Judgment. People prayed more diligently, protecting themselves with a word. Women carried their korbn-minkhe prayer books with their handkerchiefs inside, and went. Those going to shul for a simple weekly service and those who went to the cemetery to talk with the previous generations cried their hearts out.

With each day nearer to rosh hashone the fear grew, until shabes at night for the first slikhes. Then people came into town from the villages around, with shawls around their shoulders. They stood in the study house by the door and trembled with fear.

And when erev rosh ha'shone arrived there were literally rivers of tears flowing in the women's shul. It started with the rabeynu-shel-oylem and could not go on for long. Just rising up and sitting back down again was enough to tire out our weary-from-their-labors mothers and grandmothers.

It was a little lighter in the khasidik shtibl. They softened the first slikhes with ushering out the shabes, serving potatoes and borsht at two o'clock in the morning, so they could skip half of the erev rosh ha'shone slikhes.

On shabes tshuve the Rov spoke in shlul. This was not a sermon the the simple sense of the word. He threw his talis over his head and spoke quietly to himself. Hundreds came to this droshe. And only those few standing close by heard a tenth of what he said.

It is erev yon-kiper. Mother drags the children from bed as though it is a fire – kapore shlogn! And the day is short. There is so much to do on this day. No time to eat. And eating on this day is actually a mitsve, as great as fasting on yon-kiper.

Nevertheless all the women were ready early, lighting the candles a good hour before sunset and making the streets and houses full of frightful weeping. Everyone was running, dressed in their best clothes, with big holiday prayer books in their hands and teared faces, to see when the Rebi went into the shul…thousands [p. 164]

came: Jews with taleysim, women with terrified children, filled the streets from the Rebi's door to the shul courtyard, without even enough space to drop a pin, balconies and roofs full of people. Porters and strong men joined hands to clear a path so the Rebi would be able to get through.

“The Rebi is coming!” The tumult went like a wind among the mass of people and then stilled, because the Rebi was not yet ready, it was one of his khasidim running from the house by himself.

“The Rebi is coming!”

There broke out a tumult as though the earth would turn over and the heavens would split. And the closer the Rebi approached, the louder the shouting became. Thousands of women shouted with all their strength and with loud weeping:
“Holy Rebi! Pray for us!”

“May my child be protected from goyishe hands!”

“May my daughter come through in peace!”

“A complete healing for my husband!”

“Holy Rebi! Holy Rebi!”

The Rebi proceeded bowed over and twisting, appearing as though the pains of the people struck him in the head like heavy stones. He was literally carried into the shul.

Then everyone dispersed to their minyon for kol nidrey. After that experience they recited the prayers in a very different fashion. The entire body was permeated with yon-kiper dread.

So Ostrovtse appeared, with its sixteen thousand Jews whose destruction we lament for decades already.

[Page 165]

Shabes and Yontiv in Ostrovtse

by Yekhiel Magid–Rozenberg

Translated by Tina Lunson

Although almost thirty years have now passed since the foul Nazis tore into our town Ostrovtse, that gruesome era is still fresh in my memory.

I went through all seven orders of hell in the Nazi ghettoes and death camps. I cannot forget the heartrending scenes and the voices screaming to heaven and the cries of the innocent grandmothers and grandfathers, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters and little children tortured to death.

I recall with deep pain and woe that black day when, at the end of 1944, they took me and the rest of the surviving Jews in the town from the factory “Zaklodi Ostrovyetske” on the way to Auschwitz.

I knew the Ostrovtse from before the khurbn [destruction] very well, when it was a town and a people of Yisroel. Just as Vilne, the Yerushalayim of Lite, was proud of its gaon [genius], and its celebrated rabonim, Talmud experts and yeshives, so was our town Ostrovtse proud of its gaon R' Mayer Yekhiel Haleyvi Halshtuk of blessed memory and of her other rabonim, Talmud experts and yeshives.

Ostrovtse possessed more than 20 hasidic shtiblekh [prayer rooms], two large study houses and two small study houses – Vakhnes besmedresh and R” Akive Raset's besmedresh on one floor of his large house – and an old historic wooden shul.

Ostrovtse was also famous for its two yeshives: the Novagorodker yeshive “Beys Yoysef” and the yeshive “Beys Mayer”, in which nearly three hundred pupils studied. The yeshive Beys Mayer was directed by the old Ostrovtser Rebis' son, Rov and gaon Rov Yekhezkele of blessed memory. Also R” Leybush Yoshes of blessed memory provided a daily lecture in Talmud, and who in that time was a dayan [judge] who held court in the beys–din shtibl and decided on difficult questions. Many pupils were ordained to the rabbinate through there, ordination which was given by the head of the yeshive together with the head of the beys din from Krakow R” Moyshe Yisroel Silton of blessed memory, a grandson of the old Ostrovtse Rebi who was already known at that time as a genius, and R” Leybush Yoshes of blessed memory.

Still today in the wide world I encounter Torah students who are proud of the fact they several decades ago they studied in yeshive “Beys Yoysef” or in “Beys Mayer” in Ostrovtse and they mention that splendid era in their lives with much enthusiasm.

In the streets and lanes of Jewish Ostrovtser it was always possible to hear the voice of the Talmud students, the “Abey said” and “Raba said” of the study houses and khedarim. Those very heart–sweet Talmud–melodies of our people that permeated our young years would accompany us throughout our whole lives.

By dawn the study–houses in Ostrovtse were packed with pupils. The “regular folks” came to pray and also quickly slip in some psalms, and after grabbing a bite at home they were off to their work or business.

The same thing happened for the afternoon and evening prayers, when they came to the study house after a long difficult day of toil for a livelihood, which did not come easily… After the afternoon and evening prayers there was no reason to hurry and one could allow oneself to listen to a word about “politics”, about what was written in the newspapers about the blow that “Fanye the pig” received in the war with Japan, over there in far–off Manchuria. And later they left and went home to whatever poor supper with their wives and children.

Friday morning the town already recognized that the sabbath eve was coming and then the holy sabbath. There was the clamor of the fishers in the market and the women with their baskets in hand who bought whatever they could for the sabbath. The live fish were thrashed around in washtubs of water and enticed from a distance. Efroym Neyzshu went among all four rows of the market and in all the Jewish lanes and held forth in a loud voice

[Page 166]

In b–o–o–o–o–d a–ray–en!” [To the bath!]. In the evening the shul–clapper went around over the town with his wooden hammer and rapped on the doors and windows of all the Jewish homes and shops and announced the coming shabes.

To welcome shabes the shul, the study–houses and all the Hasidic prayer houses were over–filled with prayers, and the children dressed in their best clothes, washed and scrubbed for shabes. The strains of lekha doydi floated over the town – that elevated song with which our people took in the kingdom of the sabbath each week, that dear princess shabes who frees us for twenty–four hours from all our worries and brings happiness into every corner of our homes.

Lekha doydi, likras kale, peney shabes nekabolo.

[Come my beloved, to greet the bride, let us welcome the sabbath presence!]




Arriving home from the study–house one can hear the sacred “gut shabes” [good sabbath] and one gives a broad greeting to the angels who have accompanied them and then recites “A woman of worth, who can find…” – that love song to the woman, the mistress of the house, who illuminates our Jewish homes. After kidush [blessings] one sits down to eat the shabes feast. Some sit at a finely–laid table with everything, the two big braided loaves, fresh fish, a rich chicken broth, a piece of chicken and a good tsimes [stew] to top it off; and some have to make do with two small rolls and a little special–for–shabes “drobiazg” which consists of feet, wings and necks which the woman has cooked into a miserable barley soup. And where there is nothing else, diced herring is also fish.

After singing the zmiros and after–meal blessings one might study a little khumesh mit RaShI [Torah with RaShI's commentary] and some may read the weekly Torah portion. And so one may fall asleep at the table, being tired from toiling the whole week, and from the worry about how to bring a livelihood into the house.

Early sabbath morning the study–houses and the big shul were packed with the Jews of the psalm group. Later they began to recite the morning prayers and afterwards went home. In the street they would see the people of the “Bread Group” with big baskets and at their “Good sabbath, Jews” the women brought out cookies, braided loaves, cake, strudel, rolls and whatever they had. The “Good sabbath, Jews” folks very quietly distributed the goods among the poor people who were ashamed to go begging in the street for charity. The secrecy was strictly observed, and no one in the town knew who benefitted from the help. The women of the “Good sabbath, Jews” accepted out of love, that their husbands would come home late for the afternoon meal because they considered it a great mitsve and were very happy that their men devoted themselves freely to it, in the name of heaven.

It was a custom in Ostrovtse on Rosh Hodesh Elul [new moon of the last month of the year, Elul], the eve of Yonkiper and on Tishe b'ov [9th of the month of Av] that people went to the cemetery. On l”g b'omer [33rd day of counting the omer after Passover] the children ran around with bows and arrows and on Tishe b'ov with little wooden swords, which their kheyder teachers gave them. On the fifteenth of Shevet, the new year for trees, each kheyder had a feast. Each pupil brought from home a couple of groshens and the rabbi's wife bought some carob, figs and dates and all was very merry.

For khanike people used to study an argument from the Talmud Shabes 21:

“If it is extinguished, does he need it or not need it. Is one allowed to use its light or not?” On khanike we ate latkes and cracklings from the roasted geese that provided fat for peysakh [Passover]. Children played with tin khanike dreydlekh [four–sided spinning tops] that they had gotten in kheyder. The dreydlekh had the four letters, nun, giml, hey, shin, representing “Nes gadol haya sham” [a great miracle happened there]. And we kheyder–boys interpreted it as “Note the thief picks locks”.

On Purim, Berl Tshotshke and the musician without a nose went with their Purim–players to the houses of the wealthy Jews and performed the “Sale of Joseph” play. Hundreds of Jews, men and women, stood outside the windows of the wealthy and caught every word of the Purim–players. The children ran around with their wooden gragers [ratchets] that they had gotten in kheyder, and during the reading of the megile [scroll] they started making noise with the gragers whenever they heard the name of “Heyman”.

For Passover we stopped going to kheyder. An older boy learned a Talmud interpretation for Passover and a younger child learned the four questions so that he would know them for the seyder and not embarrass his parents. His head was also busy with the thought of how on the seyder night to steal the afikomen. The game with Turkish nuts was very popular among children during Passover.

On the eve of Shavuos we kheyder boys went to the river and collected fresh green sweet flag, brought them home and spread them over the floors in all the rooms. We decorated the panes of the windows with various pictures that we called “reyzelikh”.

On the second day of Shavuos, for the yortsayt of King David, Ostrovtse held a ceremony for introducing the light into the shul. The old Rebi z”l and a large contingent of regular folks from the “Psalm Group” who considered this their holiday, led the parade. The light was carried by one of the elders and respected psalm Jews, and every one of the contingent believed that it was his duty to touch the light with his finger.

Entering the shul, which was decorated with greens in honor of Shavuos, they set up the lit lamp and Reb Velvele Grinberg began to recite “A Psalm of David” and later people recited whole psalms there.

On the eve of Tishe b'ov we kheyder boys busied ourselves with burrs and during the reading of Lamentations in the study–houses and Hasidic prayer–rooms we pelted the congregation, who were all sitting on over–turned benches. After Lamentations we went out into the street and threw burrs at the passing girls, who were very fearful of them because if a burr fell into their hair it was very difficult to get it out.

The eve of yonkiper Jews used to lay suffering in the entry hall of the old shul and beg the shames [beadle] to whip them on their naked bodies. This was called “beating stripes”, in order to atone for past sins.

Especially etched into our memories was conducting the old Rebi on erev yonkiper to the big shul for kol nidrey. All of Jewish Ostrovtse, young and old, men and women, accompanied the Rebi on his way to the shul and the Jewish soldiers from the Ostrovtse barracks formed a human chain so that it was possible for the Rebi to press through the great crowd of thousands that besieged the shul courtyard. The weeping and the shouting reached the high heavens, because each person wanted to beg the Rebi for a good and healthy year through his strength and merit.

A few days before sukes [sukkot] we kheyder–boys had our hands full with work, assembling the suke from some old boards which the fathers and older boys tied together. But decorating the suke so that it would have a respectable appearance and be comfortable for sitting in – that was the assignment for us, the younger kheyder–boys.

And finally – a few words about the old Ostrovtse Rebi, Rov Mayer Yekhiel Haleyvi of blessed memory. During his lifetime thousands of Hasidim came to him in Ostrovtse for every holiday and especially for the Days of Awe. On the anniversary of his death masses of Jews came to Ostrovtse from every corner of Poland, who felt it was their duty to honor their Rebi and to throw a kvitl [petition] into the monument built over his grave.

Tables were set up from Note Koval's forge all the way to the cemetery, at which Jews sat and wrote their kvitlekh. A great feast was held in the Rebi's courtyard on the night of the yortsayt. People went continually to the cemetery all night and all day. The town was packed with Hasidim, rabbis, rebis and judges from all Poland. Many families rented out or simply gave over their apartments for beds for the pilgrims to the Rebi's grave.

Poor people from all over Poland came to Ostrovtse for the Rebi's yortsayt in order to earn a few zlotych and none of them had anything to complain about. The revenue was considerable.

Lining the road to the cemetery were tables set up by various institutions with signs: “yeshives bes–mayer”, “yeshives bes–yosef”, “Talmud–Torah”, “Lines ha'tsedek”, “Rov Mayer bal ha'nes”, “Tsdoke matan b'siter” “Keneses kale”, “Ezras nashim”, “Keren kayemet”, “Kibuts ha'mizrakhi”, “Kibuts shel agudas–yisroel” and so on. It occurred to me to stand with the donation plate for “yeshives bes–mayer” because I had studied in that yeshive for a long time and it was very dear to me.

Heart–rending scenes occurred during the day of the Rebi's yortsayt. Thousands of people, men and women, young and old, besieged the gravesite. The smell of the burning candles filled the whole cemetery, the monument held thousands of tossed kvitlekh in which men and women had expressed all their longings and yearnings, and the weeping and the crying reached the heart of heaven.

* * *

May these recollections of mine serve as a matzeyve [gravestone] and a eulogy over the grave of the Ostrovtse Jewish martyrs who were so horribly cut down by the barbaric Nazi Ameleyk.

[Page 170]

The “Jewish people”
Take a Torah Scroll into the Synagogue

by Yechiel Magid-Rozenberg

Translated by Libby Raichman

Today, the people of Ostrowiec are taking a Torah scroll into the synagogue. The great festivity in the town – was indescribable. Rich and poor, young and old, simple Jews and aristocrats, ordinary folk and the learned, men and women – all celebrating this great festive occasion of rejoicing with the Torah.

The Jewish musicians, (Klezmorim), with their small band, have been preparing themselves for months for this solemn ceremony. If you managed to pass by the pond in front of the house where Ruvele Shpielman lived, or in front of the premises of Shimke Sherer's hairdressing shop – you could already, from a distance, hear the deafening sounds of the tuning of the violins, the beating of the drums, the blowing of the trumpets, and the clashes of the broad brass cymbals, from afar.

It was felt particularly, in the last days before receiving of the Torah. Whole days and nights, one could hear the tunes of the violins, the striking of the cymbals, and the sounds of other instruments, in preparation for this great festive event, so that everything should beat appropriately, that the participants should not, God forbid, be ashamed of their performance, and also have something to show to the Ostrowiec crowd.

The coachmen of the horse-drawn coaches were also inundated with work, preparing their horses for the march on the day of receiving the Torah. Each coachman made the effort to see that his horse would be the most beautiful, and most approved of, by the crowd. They were continually sprucing up their horses and trimming their tails.

Early in the morning, on the day that the Torah was to be brought into the synagogue, Berel Tshotshke and the blind Yakov Weisser – the two oldest porters in Ostrowiec, gathered all the porters at the market-place in a long line, at the railing, and gave them instructions on how to conduct themselves on that day.

At 8 in the morning, they were all, already standing, rested, washed, and dressed in their best Sabbath and festival clothes.

Reb Berel Tshotshke stood at the railing, and in a solemn mood, and in his folksy, simple Yiddish, gave his instructions:

[“] Pay attention, friends!

By virtue of the holy Torah, we are all alive. If not for the Torah, we would have already long been dead. I can tell you, that what is written there, takes care of us, more than all the “fine Jews”; therefore, our Yomtov, has given us something to rejoice, as God has commanded.

I also want to say, that today is not an ordinary day – today is a holy day, but may God protect you, you who are ‘devils’. If you will speak coarse and vulgar words, as is usual every day at your workplace, or if you coarsely scold, and abuse one another on such a holy day, a calamity will befall you.

Listen friends, to what I am telling you, and see that you will be pleasant fellows and not embarrass us, at least on this day. [“]

Then Yakov Weisser spoke and said: “Our Berel, who is more learned than all of us, has already informed you about this great day, and about the holy Torah. I want you to remember his words. Today, you must conduct yourselves in a dignified manner, because today is different from other days …. Today in Ostrowiec, we are taking a Torah scroll into the synagogue. Do you understand, you ‘devils’, what this means? A catastrophe will befall you if any of you, bring shame and disgrace today. The devil will not take you if you conduct yourselves today in a more respectable manner than usual.

Tomorrow, you will be free again, but today you must control yourselves and remember what you have been told!

The porters listened calmly to the words of their two leaders and nodded, as a sign that they understood everything, and soon went home to have a bite to eat, and to prepare for the celebration.

Yankel Katz, the owner of the tavern in the street of the synagogue,

[Page 171]

Binyomin Kestenberg, and Leibl Kerbel, received a message a few days ago, from the porters, that on Sunday, the day of taking the Torah into the synagogue, they should not sell brandy to any Jews because they could become drunk and there will be a scandal.

Ruvele Shpielman [Ruben Shpilman], leader of the Ostrowiec Klezmer band, dressed early on Sunday morning, in his beautiful, black tailcoat, with his starched hat, combed his fine beard and prepared himself for the celebration. Shimke Sherer also trimmed his Vandyke beard and put on his black dinner jacket.

The women in the town knew that today was the day of delivering the Torah and that they were not allowed to God forbid, pour out the slop pail outside in front of their doors. They swept, they cleaned and hung clean curtains on their windows.

Mothers washed their children, washed and combed their daughters' hair, coated their heads with oil, and plaited their hair into two beautiful plaits at the back of their heads, and tied them with ribbons. They dressed the children to the nines, in their Sabbath dresses, pants, shoes and blouses.

And what is happening today in Shvamme street – don't even ask. In this small, narrow street, the poor folk live: the shoemakers, the tailors, the butchers, the water-carriers, the coachmen and wagon drivers. This is also where the synagogue and the study houses are located, and rightly so, they regard themselves as the true relatives by marriage for today's festival.

To find a little water in the town today, is as difficult as the parting of the Red Sea, because from very early in the day, the pump in the middle of the market-place was besieged by hundreds of people, men, women and children, standing with pots, buckets, tea-pots and jugs in their hands, as well as the water-carriers bearing their yokes.

It was not possible to approach the pump in the street of the synagogue, not far from Pinyele Melamed. People from all the surrounding little streets are standing there crowded together, and the yelling is reaching to the heart of the heavens. Every housewife obviously wants to cook her quantity of food as quickly as possible, finish her housework, and go out into the street for the delivery of the Torah.

The water-carriers can barely drag their feet. Today they must deliver the water as quickly as possible to the home-owners, as well as to the bakeries, and still manage to wash, dress in their Sabbath clothes, go out to the market-place, and rejoice in the Torah together with all the other Jews in the small town.

Ephraim Nyezshu is wandering around the whole day in a daze, worrying and wringing his hands: How will he take home all the food that will remain on the tables at night after the meal? So, his neighbor, Moshe Mendel Neihoiz – a known joker in Ostrowiec – advised him to prepare a small sack with a pillowcase, and to fill it each time, take it home, empty it, and go back and take fresh ‘merchandise’ again.

Even the Poles in the town, know that the Jews in Ostrowiec are celebrating a great occasion – “Zshidovske Shoyento”. One can actually hear them talking amongst themselves that “Zshidzi provadzon rodali do sinagogi”. That means that Jews are taking a Torah scroll into the synagogue today. So, they are actually coming to the market-place at night with their children to marvel at the Jewish celebration.

The two Jewish owned restaurants of Yechiel Leibl Azshes and Yosef Hoiz located in the middle of the market-place, was packed full of Jews the entire day. There were men and women with their children who had come specially from the surrounding small towns and villages, to participate in the celebration of the Ostrowiec Jews.

In the afternoon, it had already become very lively in the market-place and in the surrounding Jewish streets, but the celebrations only reached their peak in the evening, when the process of taking the Torah into the synagogue, began.

At the market-place, the Jewish horse riders appeared on their well-groomed horses, disguised as Circassians, Tsarist officers and generals.

Zindele was the first to ride out on his horse, and after him, the brothers Yechiel and Motl Azshes, Nochum Hartzles, Aharon Kisser, Yossl Kobale, Shmuel Drozshkazsh, Moshe Yogalle, the brothers Yossl and Hershel Dzshobatz, Chaskel Yedinovsky and Zissl Pappenoz, as well as the non-Jew Vovzshik. The latter had worked for Jews his entire life and was very close to them. He spoke Yiddish like water – borrowed a horse for himself on that day, disguised himself as a Russian Cossack and

[Page 172]


[Page 173]

together with all the Jews, participated in taking the Torah into the synagogue.

After the riders came the Klezmers with their bands. The first was Ruvele Shpielman with his large band – the king of the Ostrowiec Klezmers – dressed in his tailcoat, with his starched hat on his head, he rested his chin on the side of his violin, and with his refined hands he guided his bow over the strings and evoked the most touching melody.

After him came Shimke Sherer with his band. He was dressed in his black dinner jacket and played the clarinet, assisted by his group with their variety of musical instruments.

The last one to appear with his band was a klezmer dressed in his finest festival clothes who arrived in a retaliatory mode. For many years he was angry with Ruvele Shpielman and Shimke Sherer because they competed with him and did not allow him to play at the weddings of wealthy families. So, today, he wants to take advantage of the opportunity to show the Ostrowiec community that he can play as well as them. Every few minutes, he gestures with his hand to the drummer and to the musician with the broad, brass cymbals and they deliver such a powerful strike that the whole market shudders.

The Torah is carried under a wedding canopy accompanied by singing and dancing, and escorted by thousands of men, women and children, streaming in from all directions. And Berel Tshotshke and his fellow porters, who are maintaining order around the Torah, are working very hard to make a path through such a large crowd, so that they will finally be able to approach the synagogue with the Torah.

In the market-place and in all the Jewish streets, where the procession with the Torah passed on its way to the synagogue, masses of Jews stood on balconies and at open windows with lighted candles in their hands to participate in this solemn Torah procession with joy.

The greatest congestion and crowdedness were first encountered in the street of the synagogue and in its courtyard where it was impossible even, to throw a pin. People were pushing and shoving as each one wanted to get into the synagogue as quickly as possible.

The synagogue was packed with Jews, crowded. Even the women's section of the synagogue was overflowing, truly to the point of suffocation. In that section, the shouting was reaching the heart of the heavens, because everyone wanted to come closer to the small window, to see how the new Torah scroll is brought in.

As soon as the Torah is brought into the synagogue, the Holy Ark is opened. All the old Torah scrolls are removed and are carried out, to meet and welcome the new Torah. The traditional procession around the synagogue takes place accompanied by song and dance. Then all the Torah scrolls, as well as the new Torah, are replaced in the Holy Ark and with singing and dancing the crowd leave the synagogue and go home.

Later the great festive meal took place. All the klezmers and their bands entertained the crowd with their lively marches. The tall David amused the crowd with his humorous presentations. Jews ate and drank and wished each other “l'chaim” [to life], danced and sang and enjoyed themselves until the early hours of the morning … ….


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max G. Heffler

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 25 June 2023 by SK