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Ostrowiec Becoming Modern

[Page 224]

The Development of Modern School Systems

by Iser Boymfeld, Rio de Janerio

Translated by Tina Lunson

As a native Ostrovtser who spent the best of his young years in the town I feel a strong desire to tell about the great efforts that the conscious part of the Ostrovtse Jewish population made to modernize its education system and make it appropriate to the demands of the new era and the new needs that had been created in our town, as in other towns of Jewish Poland after the First World War.

Before the First World War the Jewish children in Ostrovtse were educated according to the familiar example. They began with an elementary teacher who taught the them alphabet, and later went over to a teacher who taught them khumesh mit RaShI [the Five Books of the Torah with RaShI's commentary]. Then came the teacher for Talmud, starting with the “arbe avos nezikim” [concerning damages] then going to more difficult chapters such as “nedrim” [vows] and Talmud with commentaries and to the laws of purity in the “Shulkhn orekh”.

I remember the elementary teacher from my time, R' Asher–Leyb, a tall Jew, broad shouldered, in his fifties. One studied with Asher–Leyb in a large salon in which there was one long table with two benches for R' Asher and one smaller table with two benches for his belfer or helper. All together about 60 students studied with R' Asher.

R' Asher's kheyder also employed the traditional–for–the–times braided whip, with which a teacher held the pupils in fear.

R' Abish taught us khumesh mit RaShI. We also began to study Talmud with R' Abish: bava kama, bava mitsiye, kidushin. R' Abish did not use a whip, but a kind of ruler which he had made himself from a thin board. A rap with that ruler gave a child swollen hands more than once.

R' Khayim was a higher teacher for us; people called him Khayim the lender. He had a total of 8 students. He taught Talmud with commentaries, the tractate for the holidays. He also taught the reading of the Torah from a scroll, with a trope.

At R' Khayim's we studied the lesson in the morning and repeated it later in the day. In the afternoon R' Khayim either slept in his alcove or was busy with the clients who borrowed 5 to 10 rubles from him.

R' Kahayim did not have a whip or a ruler. But when R' Khayim twisted your ears you felt it for a long time. He also had other ways to punish the unruly pupils. Such a boy had to help the rabbi's wife with the housework or go into penitence.

Bar–mitsve boys studied with R' Azriel, a small, thin little Jew of skin and bones with a pointed beard. R' Azriel put his whole soul into the pupils and rarely ate to his fill. His ambition was that his pupils could be examined successfully by the elite of the town.

These that I have mentioned were not the only teachers in Ostrovtse. They were the most well–known.

At the same time that public life in town was dominated by old life–ways, the haskole [haskalah, Jewish Enlightenment] began to secretly permeate it. I recall how I once saw in a study–house that as the adult boys Yehoshue Rozenman, Ruven Halpern and Shloyme Naforstik were studying, they were hiding something under the Talmud volume. I was intrigued and I could not rest until I knew that these were the then–famous books “Ha'tue b'darkhey ha'kahyim” and “Kevures ha'mor” [Wanderder on the path of life and Burial of the Ass] by Perets Smolenskin. I was drawn and gradually became close to the above–mentioned study–house boys and was their go–between for carrying the “Ha'tsfire” from one to another and the Yiddish and Hebrew haskole books like “Oheves tsion” [Love of Zion], “Ashmot shomron” [Sins of Samaratins], “Even negef” [Stumbling block] and others. I usually got the books from the secretary Hernes Kantor, who in Ostrovtse was called “the philosopher” because

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loved to talk about RaMBaM and his “More nevukhim” [Guide for the perplexed]. It seems that even though his name was Khayim Ginsburg, the observant Jews called him “the soul catcher”; nevertheless for arbitration and for business matters they turned to him and had the greatest respect for him. At that time I was 14 years old.

My grandfather Zundele Boymfeld must be counted among the maskilim [followers of haskole] in our town, and was known as an anti–hasid. My grandfather R' Zalman Yoshes, his brother, could not find peace with him. My grandfather, who studied with the Ber Rebi, could not make peace with the thought that his brother could be anti–hasidic. My father had a fine library in his house and many communal matters had been decided in our home.

During and after the First World War, the Jewish environment in Poland had begun to develop an intensive cultural–social life, and life in Ostrovtse had taken on a different face. The beginning was quite modest. A small–loan society was founded in 1914, and was the first expression of the self–activity of the new, rising Jewish youth. The society was founded in the house of the Mints family with the participation of the writer of these lines. Later new institutions sprang up in the environment of the loan society: a public library, the Zionist organization “Mizrakhi”, a “Poaley tsion”, professional unions, secular schools and other institutions.

The founders of the loan society were Menye Blankman, the brothers Yekhiel and Elieyzer Pantser, Yekhiel Halpern, Ziml Halpern, Moyshe Kats, Simkhe Mintsberg, Mayer Rozenman, A. Kroyngold, Yankev Vaynberg and Iser Boymfeld.

The organization “Mizrakhi” was founded by Motl Sheyner, Moyshe Kats, Leybish Halshtok, Yehoshua Kuperman, Elimelekh Halpern, Mordkhe–Mayer Nisker, Avrom Dovid Kroyngold, Yankev Koper, Iser Boymfeld and others.

The Zionist organization was founded by Avrom Yankev Mintsberg, the brothers Yehiel and Elieyzer Leyvi, the brothers Shmuel and Ezra Bomshteyn, Simkhe Mintsberg, the brothers Blankman, Elieyzer Mintsberg, the brothers Yekhiel and Elieyzer Pantser, Yehiel Malinak, Yekhiel Halpern, Yekhiel Vaynberg and others.

The Poeley tsion organization was founded by Ayzik Benker, Fayvl Shteynbok (died in Brazil), Shmuel Sharfshteyn, Itsik Nusinovitsh, Hersh Kudlovitsh, Yosl Finklshteyn, Shmuel Shpayzmakher and Itshe Lustman.

The “Bund” was founded by Avrom Shertsman, Itshe Zinger, Shmuel Beyglman, Sh. Fishman, A. Grober, I. Frumerman, Velvl Patsontek and Yitskhak Vagshol.

The noted party organizations created the movement for establishing modern Jewish schools in Ostrovtse. The first modern school in Ostrovtse was the Tarbus school. It founders were Avrom Malokh, A. I. Mintsberg, Simkhe Mintsberg, Yehiel and Elieyzer Leyvi, Yekhiel Mayer Blankman. The director of the school was A. Kestenberg, whose wife helped him in his work. 120 students studied in the school.

After the Tarbus school, the Mizrakhi school was founded, in which there were 350 pupils. Many children could not be accepted because of lack of space. The founding of that school was thanks to the devoted social activist Moyshe Lederman, who was for many years president of Mizrakhi, a member of the city council, vice–president


The Tarbus folks-shul

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of the Jewish council and whom everyone in the town valued and loved. The director of that school was A. Viner, and the teachers were Erlikh, Shakher, Rabinovitsh, Rumianik, Mandlboym, the brothers Zilberberg, Temse Ayger. Blume Mushkes and others taught the kindergarten. There was a year when, due to the pressing demand from parents, the Mizrakhi school accepted 380 children, which was beyond its capabilities and could not be sustained.

Later the “Poaley tsion” founded the “Folks shul” in which 150 children studied, under the leadership of the teacher Zamiet–Shkovski, Fayvl Shteynbok and others.

The new, modern schools created a brilliant educational opportunity for the Jewish child. The schools had good, suitable venues with the necessary furniture, maps, pictures and instruments. The schools used the best pedagogical education methods. The school became a second home for the child. The children loved the teacher, who know how to win the trust of the child. They went to school with eagerness. Parental committees were established and school holidays were instituted at which the parents and children spent happy time together.

Further, the modern schools attracted the Jewish child who had a very weak desire to go to a backward kheyder. The observant religious Jews were thus also forced to reform their educational institutions. Then modern Talmud–Torahs were established where there was also secular knowledge and the children wore school uniforms. But the modern Talmud–Torahs had less success than the Mizrakhi schools that were located in the center of the town, had good teachers and good direction. The Mizrakhi school was known for its children's presentations and so was called on in the surrounding town to give some of the presentations.


The first Jewish students in the Ostrovtse boy's gimnazium [high school]

Modern education was naturalized in Ostrovtse until Hitler may his name be blotted out destroyed everything.

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Charitable Jewish Institutions in Town

by Paltiel Brikman

Translated by Tina Lunson

Ostrovtse, just like all other provincial towns in Poland, did not especially excel in the social conditions of its Jewish population. Poverty, want and lack of sanitary services were almost a normal condition. Residences where people lived together with a large number of children in one room, with at most one little side room, and the barrel for water, the slops pail and the oven for baking and cooking as well as heating, were a very common situation in the streets of the poor.

Because of those unbearable conditions, the Jewish council was forced to develop multi–branched charity activities in various areas. We will try to record a few charity institutions and their activities here.


Lines ha'tsedek [homeless shelter]

This institution was located on Shener Street. The manager of the pharmacy for the shelter was a thin little Jew with a sparse yellow beard, Yekhiel Yanovski. He was almost a complete pharmacist, knowing what to give an old Jew for a cold, a poor mother for her children who had measles, had the pox or just a fever. Jews also went to him for a wad of cotton, a vial of iodine.


Biker kholim [visiting the sick]

The tasks of the bikur kholim were many, from going to sit with the very ill overnight to borrowing various medical equipment that would be useful to the patient. It was a very difficult and sacred work and Yankele Hertsog was the faithful director of that institution.

He also led a second institution which was called “Gut shabes, yidelekh” [good sabbath, Jews]. This was an institution that undertook to provide poor families with khale for shabes. Each shabes morning two Jews would carry a big basket by its two handles and with the call “Gut shabes, yidelekh!” they knocked at Jewish houses and [p. 228]

people happily gave them khale that they had baked extra on Friday just for this mission. Shmuel Povroznik and another Jew had claim to go around with the basket and call out, “Gut shabes, yidelekh!


Gemiles khesed kase [small loan fund]

Almost everyone had to come to the gemiles khesed fund, whether to make a loan himself or to provide an endorsement for a friend or a neighbor. One could borrow from 100 to 500 zlotych from the fund and repay it at weekly rates from 1 to 5 zlotych. Akive Roset had given a room for public prayer, and it was that minyon that put together the committee for the fund every Monday and Thursday, and Jews came there to pay their installments. The only one who was paid for his work in the fund, a few zlotych a month, was Yosl, Motl Shamli's oldest son. The last president was Mendl Brikman and his assistants were Pinye Vatsharsh Sherman, Yankele Tarshish, Khane Rivke's son–in–law and others.


Hakneses orkhim [taking in guests]

This noble task of helping homeless and displaced happened especially when the Jews of Konine were driven out to Ostrovtse. The entire Jewish population of the town took in the refugees as their own relatives. One case will serve as an illustration: A woman, Montshke was her name, was standing in the middle of the market square with one of her sister's daughters and from their condition it was clear that they felt themselves refugees, as uprooted from their home and thrown into a town where they had no friend and no rescuer. One of the town proprietors, Yekhezkel Vaynberg, approached them and took them into his home, where they lived with his family until they all were taken away to Treblinka.


Public Kitchen

The Judenrat [Nazi–imposed “council of Jewish elders”] organized a public kitchen in the venue of the “Mizrakhi” group, which provided around one thousand lunches a day. The leaders of this effort were Moyshe Likht, Khayim Fishl Silman, Itshe Vishlitski, Mendl Brikman and Yehude Ratshimora.



There were two yeshives in town. One was called “the Rebi's yeshive” and it was supported by the Hasidim of our town and of other towns. The second was called the “Novorodke yeshive” and the entire burden of maintaining that yeshive fell on the Ostrovtse Jews. The boys of the yeshive had “eating days” among the population of the town. Besides that there was a yearly bread–action in the study–houses and each householder was obligated to give a kilo or two kilos of bread each week for the yeshive boys. The yeshive boys lived around the old and the new study–houses and the shul. Passers–by on Old Kuniavska Street could overhear the well–known Musar melodies as they studied. The attire of those boys was conspicuous too: A big tall hat, a long frock–coat with an open blouse, disheveled.

There were also small aid institutions in Ostrovtse, and on Purim for the feast, besides the usual help for the poor, couples collected money for the Poor Brides' Fund and other charitable institutions that functioned in the town.

May these lines of mine be a living memorial for the holy work that the Jews in Ostrovtse did in order to come to the aid of their impoverished brothers.

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[Political] Parties and Societies in the City

by Eliezer Kuperman

Translated by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's remarks

The oldest association in the city was the Chevra Kadisha [Burial Society]. It was composed of sincere, honorable Jews from all regions. Mordechai Neshes, the haberdashery merchant, a descendant of many generations of teachers of chassidim of Lublin, was the beadle [manager] for many years.

There was also a group that studied mishanyos [Talmud], a Tehilim group [for reciting Psalms], and a Linat Tzedek [hospice for the poor, sick, and homeless] group. The Linat Tzedek would send people to spend the night with someone who was sick, without discriminating if the person was poor or rich, and they would also send medication to those who were sick, and also bring clean clothes in order that the invalid remain clean. The charity distributors from the Linat Tzedek would spend the night with the invalid in order that the household members would be able to rest and care for the ailing person during the day. In general, the messengers from the Linat Tzedek would bring a certain feeling into the house that the family was not alone and that someone was caring for them. Often, the visit by the Linat Tzedek was almost like medicine from a doctor.

The women would take care of the sick women and would bring them hot food, fresh soup, oranges, and other foods, to revive [divert] the hearts away from the ailing one and from the family. This caring tradition of helping one another in these situations was quickly copied by the [Ostrowiec] compatriots in New York in their new home. Before there was even a discussion of a new Society of Ostrowiec, those from Ostrowiec now in New York incorporated the beautiful traditions of the Linat Tzedek, and the same took place in Toronto, Canada.

The first political party in Ostrowiec was the Jewish PPS, the Polish Socialist Party. It began its function in 1903, and was founded by the assimilated Radom Jew, Frankel, who was a bookkeeper in the bank of Yosele Feffer.

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On one particular Shabbath afternoon, I was at a meeting of the Jewish PPS in the forest, for the first time. Shmuel Grazdei, a shaggy shoemaker who worked in Warsaw, grabbed me once with his strong hands, totally unwarned, set me up on the stump of a chopped down tree, and told me to speak to the crowd in Yiddish. His introduction of me was something like this:

“Let the former Beis Medrash [Study Hall] student, Eliezer Moshe'l Pinchas's speak to us socialists in Yiddish and explain to us how to liberate Poland from hands of the hateful Russian Czar Nicholai'ke; how to instate for us the eight-hour workday.”

Me, a thinned out young boy, just having left the bench of the Beis Hamedrash, understandably agreed to follow all the mentioned demands of my “protector,” and I translated all this into Yiddish and explained this with verses from Ethics of the Fathers, through which I demonstrated that it was not necessary to have a ruler to quash the Polish people and the Jews. I explained that when the Polish nation would be liberated, then the Jews would also be freed, just as Moses freed the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and then gave us manna in the desert to eat. For us, the manna would be if we would carve out an eight-hour workday, and meanwhile, we should work from seven in the morning until seven in the evening, not like now, from morning until twelve at night, and all night on Thursdays.

My speech, which was a combination of modernism and teller of tales, seemed to be appreciated by the crowds, and the apprentices, as well as the older workers themselves, elected me as their representative. Frenkel was the liaison between the Polish and Jewish proletariat. We received notices from Radom, which were spread secretly throughout all the warehouses.

At that time, I was already a watchmaker, having studied with Sholom the watchmaker on Church Street, and every Shabbath, after the cholent [stew cooked overnight for Shabbath], I would study in the forest with the young students about socialist religion. The older craftsmen would drink beer at Hinda Roisa's, and others went to the new Beis Medrash to hear Reb Yoshe translate a chapter of Ein Yakov [compilation of the non-legal material of the Talmud, for those who lacked the schooling for the original text]. The conspiratorial gatherings in the evenings were held at Manye'le's, Lipa Ostrowska's daughter. She, a real Pole, who studied in a Polish upper-class boarding house, would allow us entry in the evenings to her wealthy home to hold the committee meetings. In this wealthy home outside the city, we were sure of a “good eye” from the Russian gendarmes who watched out for the revolutionary rioters. Often, members of other groups came to these meetings – from the “Bund,” the S.S., and “Poalei Tzion,” from Warsaw and Radom. But we did not allow any other party to be created.

In 1905, in the numbered free days, our party actually governed in town, and it aggressively instituted a twelve-hour workday, from seven to seven. Free gatherings in the marketplace were prevented. Mottel Fuks, a grandchild of the Apter Rav [chief rabbi of the chassidic group of Apt (Opatow) in Poland], directed the party's work, while holding a gun in hand. After his arrest, the Polish terrorist groups shot a few Jews in town, and the gunmen were suspected of denouncing [the Jews]. Of the party activists, many left to Warsaw, and the Russian reaction raged in Poland.

In 1907, I was arrested in Warsaw and sat in prison in Brisk. In 1909, the mass arrests began in Poland, and they arrested almost all those who had fled from Ostrowiec, and they were taken in a procession of convicts to Radom. In the prison in Radom, at that time, I already met about thirty others from Ostrowiec. In a separate wagon, with “great reverence,” I was escorted by two gendarmes, and brought to the Radom prison along with the instigator Yakov Hershele the boot [spats] maker.

The Czar's police prepared a political trial for us, but since in those Czarist times there was still legal justice and law, and according to those laws a police agitator was not allowed to be a witness, we were freed because of lack of evidence and were placed under police watch. In 1910, they also released Elye Boksenbaum. I met him in Toronto along with other former arrestees of the Radom prison, among them,

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the old Turek, a religious, reputable man, who, though innocent, sat in prison because of a denunciation of the informer Avremele Racziemoro, who simply bullied and avenged innocent Jews for personal reasons.

The Polish terrorists tried to shoot this informer, but they only wounded him. Only when the Pilsudski legions entered the city in 1915 with the Austrian army, did they shoot him in front of everyone as witness, in the marketplace. He was the only informer in Ostrowiec. The other Jews who were shot by the terrorists under suspicion of being informers, actually died because of the revolutionary chaos of those times. The young Ostrowiec revolutionaries did not produce any traitors. It was possible that the holy face and warm personality of Rav and Rebbi R' Meir Yechiel, of blessed memory, had a great influence on the youth of those times.

* * *

Eleven years after having left the town, in 1921, I came back for a visit. These were the difficult years of inflation, of oppression, of persecution by the Polish Sanatzia government [the government of Joseph Pilsudski between the First and Second World Wars]. Nonetheless, I found a rich cultural life in town, and many different parties, from the really religious to the extreme leftists. At a meeting of the leftwing Poalei Tziyon, I was amazed at the deep knowledge and intelligence of the participants.

By that time, the chassidim of Modzitz had already established a group of people who would immigrate to Israel, and this was the group that founded Kfar Ata, near Haifa. As they said in town at that time, the Ostrowiec leader and great tzaddik [righteous man] of the generation blessed them and encouraged them to immigrate and settle in Israel. With their great self-sacrifice and poor means, each one helped the other until all the members of that group immigrated and settled in Israel.

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New Winds Are Blowing

by Isser Boymfeld

Translated by Yaacov David Shulman

Ostrovtse, a town with a train station in the Kielce Voivodeship, was known for its large metal factory, where 24,000 men worked in three shifts. 17,000 Jews lived in the town.

After the First World War, which broke out in 1914, Ostrovtse grew extensively. In town, various institutions cropped up: sports organizations, libraries, schools, drama circles, a choir, and more.

This provided the impetus to transform the old–style cheders (one room school houses) with their melamdim (Torah teachers of young pupils) and bahelfers (helpers) into new–style cheders–i.e., talmud torahs (classroom schools). At the same time, there were yeshivas, Hasidic shtieblech (small synagogues) and batei midrashim (Torah study halls) with morning and evening classes.

Jewish laborers began engaging in political–economic activism in 1905, in the revolutionary movement against the Russian czarist regime. A few were sent to Siberia for their illegal political actions.

The town of Ostrovtse was almost completely Jewish. Jewish houses stood in all four directions around the marketplace. A Christian seldom moved onto the main streets. 70 per cent of the Jewish Ostrovtse population derived its income from business; 20 percent from crafts–cobblers, tailors, bakers, carpenters, glaziers, smiths, tinsmiths, construction workers and others; and 10 percent were professionals–melamdim, teachers, associated staff, doctors, dentists, pharmacists and others.

The overwhelming number of Jews in Ostrovtse were deeply religious. I will mention my uncle, Dovidl Boymfeld (or, as he was known to everyone in Ostrovtse, Dovidl Kalman Yashes), the leader of the Sabbath observant Jews. Every Friday eve, before candle lighting, he and his comrades would go out

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into the town and demand that stores close. Many times, he caused damage to the barbershops that were cutting hair or shaving beards a little bit late into the night. On Monday morning, he would pay for all of the damage. This happened numerous times.

The young Dovid came up with new ways to put an end to the backwardness of the town. In 1914, the first youth gathering in Mintzes' beis medrash took place, in which the writer of these lines participated. At this first youth meeting, a gemilus chesed [free loan] fund was created in order to help the craftsmen who could not pay the weekly wages of the journeymen working under them, because their own boss was taking a bath or enjoying an afternoon nap and did not sympathize with these tailors, cobblers or carpenters whose journeymen were waiting to be paid. Many times, it happened that a craftsman would avoid his journeymen by coming home come late at night, and he himself did not have enough for Shabbos. The fund helped many such craftsmen, lending them up to five rubles, which they would pay back over the course of the coming week.

This first youth gathering also founded the first library in Ostrovtse, which stood until the destruction of the entire Ostrovtse Jewish community.


Workers of the sport club, Yutzshenka


A few months later, after the founding of the library, the first Bundist group was formed.

In those years, a struggle took place between the Agudah and its most important rival, the Mizrachi, regarding who would influence the youth of the shtieblech and batei midrashim.

A bloc consisting of Mizrachi, Tze'irei–Mizrachi, Zionists, Tze'irei–Tzion, Po'alei Tzion, and politicians, in which sometimes the Bund also participated, was active in the elections to the gmina and town government, and attained a significant representation that the Agudath had to deal with.

The first contest with the Agudah took place on November 2, 1917, when the Balfour Declaration was celebrated in a mass ceremony held by the Zionist organizations from right to left, Shomrim, sports clubs, women's organizations, Tarbut and Mizrachi schools. Each group had its own flag, and a few even brought their own orchestra. Despite the fact that the Agudah, and the rabbinate as well, tried to prohibit street celebrations and gatherings in the great synagogue, all of that interference was put aside, thanks to the work of our community leaders led by the gmina vice chairman, Moshe Lederman,. This demonstrated the strength of the organized youth, which with the help of sympathetic elements ended the privileged positions of the religious community leaders, who had for many years allowed no one to speak. From then on, a new attitude began to form regarding the youth in our home town of Ostrovtse.

Religious life was concentrated in 40 Hasidic shtieblech. Foremost were the Gerer and Aleksander Hasidim. The two large batei midrashim were attended by craftsmen, as well as misnagdish (non–Hasidic) householders. The small beis medrash belonged to the tailors. It was in fact called “the tailors' beis medrash.” They had a tradition to recite psalms every day before dawn.

The large synagogue belonged to the ordinary folk: craftsmen, hand workers, unskilled laborers, porters, butchers. They set the tone for the synagogue–always taking into account, however, the view of the Ostrovtse rabbi.

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Rabbi Meir Yechiel Halshtak, who was born in Sabin in 5610 [1849–50], had illuminated the town with his righteousness and brilliance since 1888. After ten years as rabbi in Skernyevitz, he came as rabbi to Ostrovtse in 5649 [1888–899]. Very quickly he gained the love of all the townspeople–even the Christians. Whenever a Christian had a dispute with a Jew, he only wanted to go for judgment to “the rabbi.”

It is worth noting that one of the students of Rabbi Meir Yechiel Halevi, the Ostrovtse tzaddik, was Rabbi Shmuel Brodt, who later served as the Mizrachi representative in the sejm. From time to time he would leave the sejm in Warsaw and go to Ostrovtse in order to discuss matters with his rebbe. He would always hurry to Ostrovtse to gain the benefit of the great Torah light that shone in Ostrovtse and illuminated the entire Jewish world. In Rio de Janeiro as well, there was a student of the Ostrovtse rebbe, a ritual slaughterer named R. Berish Diamond.

Ostrowiec Becomes Modern

by M. Piltzmacher

Translated by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's remarks

South from Radom and east from Kielce, in the southern part of the so-called “Crown of Poland,” up the hill, there is a busy, productive, and industrial city of trade spread out – Ostrowiec. The city had great importance for Poland, and was also known in the larger world.

The name of the city in Polish as “Ostrowiec,” but everyone, even the Poles, who came to the city to trade and buy, expressed the name of the city as the Jews did, “Ostrowca.”

Looking at the city from Klimkowicz, from the factory area side, or from the train station, half the city seemed to be within a hand's reach. The half that stretched up the mountain gave the impression that the houses were built one on top of the other, with one house is able to see into the neighboring house.

On a mountain on the right was the city's church that was located at the very edge of the lower Polish area – the Stav. There was a mix there, of Poles and Jews, and only a small street led from the church to the marketplace, with its streets and small roads which were densely populated with Jews only.

On a mountain to the left, was the center of Jewish life. There was the old wooden shul [synagogue], with a women's section walled in around it, that was likely added later on when the community grew. The synagogue courtyard had a wall around it with three round gates, and this was also the courtyard of the Batei Medrashim [Study Halls]. The old Beis Medrash was always filled with people who were praying and studying, and with Talmud teachers and their students. On the walls, were shelves packed with religious texts, and around the old, scratched up tables, there were old and young seated, studying with enthusiasm. Across from the old Beis Medrash, was the new Beis Medrash, which was a little more organized and less noisy.


Workers' Sport Club “Gwiazda” [“Star”]

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There, a more honorable, but religious aristocracy prayed. A few steps lower down was the small Beis Medrash where the more modern part of the Jewish population prayed, early in the mornings, on the Shabbat, and on the Jewish holidays. In the small Beis Medrash, there was an elderly Spanish Jew would teach poor boys how to pray, and teach them some Chumash and Rashi [Torah and commentary]. This was the Talmud Torah cheder [school for young children] where young boys studied, those whose parents could not pay tuition, and each Friday, the teacher's assistant would go to each house with a pushke [charity box] for the Talmud Torah, and that is how they would collect their weekly salary for teaching the poor children in the Talmud Torah.

In 1918, at the end of World War One, when the Jewish Workers' movement grew, the Poalei Tziyon established the first Jewish mandatory elementary school, where children from the poorest homes, both girls and boys, came to study. Here in school, children were taught with modern methods, to read and write Polish and Yiddish, math, and other important subjects. The joy of the children and the parents knew no bounds.

The Polish government later also instituted mandatory education for school aged children, without discrimination of religious belief or gender.

Also, the “Mizrachi” [religious Zionist movement] and “Shelumei Emunah Yisrael” [“The Whole and Faithful in Israel”], which were established then, ran a modern cheder, and brought in modern teachers from the larger cities. There was a great commotion among the city teachers, and one evening, a delegate of the most esteemed teachers presented at the central location of the professional union, which the Poalei Tziyon managed, and they demanded that they be included as members of the professional union, and be allowed to maintain their professional interests. They did not receive a decisive reply at the moment, but they were guaranteed that the union would consider their request and soon give an answer. The decision of the Central Bureau of the Professional Union was that the teachers were not employed by anyone specifically, so they could not belong to a professional union, and so the Central Bureau could not take them under their care, as they requested.

The Jewish labor society, which was very organized professionally and in the area of culture, occasionally clashed with the religious Jews in the city. So, more often than once, they found themselves in hostile relationships with their classmates, the Polish workers. Let me describe an episode of this hatred: It was after World War One, the spring of independence; it was the “Red” Guards of the PPS [Polish Socialist Party] who actually ruled. The professional unions of the PPS had control in their hands over the public jobs that the city implemented to alleviate the needs of the workers. A delegation of the Poalei Tziyon went to the PPS requesting that they also allow the Jews to take on public jobs. The Poles threw off the demands of their friends, the Jewish workers…

Life in the city was Jewish, it was both popular and characteristic [of the Jews]. There were Jewish shopkeepers, craftsmen, workers, merchants, wagon drivers, porters, and all other types that each city in Poland possessed. They could not survive with the overall poverty, so in an effort to improve their economic situation, the Ostrowiec Jews ran towards every possibility [for improvement]. That is why Ostrowiec “colonies” are spread out in the entire world.

Certainly, everyone now remembers their former home, where they were born and grew up, how they lived, hoped, and finally, ran from there in order to find better living opportunities. Today Ostrowiec has no Jews. What kind of city is this if it is without Jews? Today it is no longer Ostrowca, today it has returned to be called Ostrowiec…

[Page 237]

Jewish Labor Life

by Eber Beinerman

Translated by Pamela Russ

[ ] translator's remarks

Ostrowiec was one of the industrial centers in Poland, and excelled with its Jewish workers and laborers, such as tailors, quilters, carpenters, shoemakers, and others. Thanks to that, there existed a lively social life.

The most esteemed place at that time, between the two World Wars, was held by the Poalei Tziyon. In Akiva Rose's large building, with many floors, party life went on in its institutions: the youth organization, the library, the workers' kitchen, evening courses, and the professional movement. All these institutions gave the party the characteristic of a mass movement. Itzik Berger held direction of this entire institution, and as the organizer and speaker, he also played the dominant role in the societal life of Ostrowiec. Other directors and activists of Poalei Tziyon were: Moshe Piltzmacher, Feivel Steinbok, Yosel Finkelstein, Shmuel Shpeizmacher, Yitzchok Nusenovitch, Henoch and Shmuel Shamstein. Those who managed the youth movement were: Yoel Shneider, Avish Menerman, Moshe Kotik, Gidainski, and others.

The evening courses were run by one of the best intellectuals in the city, Zamieckovski, and under his direction, the first Jewish school was established.

The “Bund” had a very important place in the Jewish workmen group of Ostrowiec. Its location was at Peretz Zeigermacher's, under the name of “Grocer Club.” The “Bund” also had its own library, and organized open discussions about social themes. Those Bundists who managed this were: Szertsman, Itche Zinger, Shimele Fishman, Mamale Velman, Shmuel Beigelman, and Yosef Frimerman.

On the townsmen street, the Zionist organization held an honored position. They owned a rich Yiddish-Hebrew library, and a children's school. The Zionist directors were: Ezra Baumstein, Leizer and Yechiel Levi and Shmuel Baumstein.

Those who were busy with the youth, were: Yechiel Griner and Noteh Kuperman. Also, the Mizrachi school had a reputable place in our city, and the teachers were Erlich and Tumshe Eiger.

The most esteemed position in the school movement was held by the Folksshule of the Poalei Tziyon, where there were about 150 children, and during the summer the children spent their vacation in special summer colonies, far from the city. The heads of the school were Zamiczkowski, Kestenberg, and the beloved Yiddish-Hebrew pedagogue Feivel Steinbok (died in Brazil).

The professional movement included all the organized Jewish workers of all vocations, and was run by the central office of the professional unions. For a long time, the professional movement in Ostrowiec was directed by the leftist Poalei Tziyon.

The directorship of the Jewish Workers in Ostrowiec held a respected place in the workers' centers in Poland, where they were delegated. Among those who excelled were Yosef Szluszne, Zelinger, and Weissfelder. Yosef Szluszne also directed the famous strike of the matzo bakers in 1922,


Drama Circle

[Page 238]

which embroiled the city and ended with the victory of the workers.

In 1924, the activities of the workers' movement in town were extended. Avrohom'tche Beinerman, the town barber-medic, was sent as a representative of the left-wing Poalei Tziyon in eth community and in the city council. He was active for many years, until the Nazis murdered him. A second active representative had the same fate – Nachman Alman.

The two drama circles held an important position in the intellectual life of the Jewish workers' union, and in the Jewish population in general. At the head of one of the circles, of the Poalei Tziyon, there was Birkenvald for many years, who had a literary approach to the Yiddish theater.

At the head of the second drama circle, of the Bund and of the left-wing and the revolutionary part of the Jewish workers, there was Yitzchok Gruber, a talented, intellectual theater director, who performed difficult pieces on his stage, such as “Der Yeshiva Bochur” [“The Yeshiva Student”], and he competed with them. He was active in this area for many years until his death in Toronto (Canada).

There also began to emerge a sport movement, such as, for example, the sports club “Shtern” [“Star”], of which, the author of these lines was the founder. But because of the trickery of the police, the club was shut down.

There were also two workers' kitchens: one for the Poalei Tziyon, and the second for the Bund, which after a short time was dismantled.

In the year 1923, new breezes began to blow. The splits of the left-wing Poalei Tziyon and in the “Com-Bund” [“Communist Bund”], led to new groups in the workers' movement. New energies emerged: Mamale Velman, Shmuel Beigelman, Yosef Frimerman, Eli Goldberg, and others.

During the May 1st demonstration in 1926, in partnership with the PPS [Polish Socialist Party], there were great confrontations with the police. After that, the police arrested many Jewish workers.

On June 10, there came the bloody confrontations with the police on account of three engineers in the steel factory in Klinkowycz.


Poalei Tziyon in 1918


A huge demonstration was formed going to the magistrate who was just put in charge by the workers in the last 24 hours. As a result of the fighting with the police and the military reinforcements four people died and many were injured. After that, the police began to harass the Jewish workers, and particularly the leadership. Many were arrested and others were forced to leave Poland.

It is interesting to describe the huge demonstration in Ostrowiec on the day of the Balfour Declaration. On that day, the Jewish workers, regardless of ideology, went into the streets with red faces, to demonstrate their solidarity with the great Zionist freedom movement of the Jewish people.


Demonstration of the handworkers' union on May 3rd

From right to left: Note Briks, treasurer of the needle union (perished); Avrohom Shtarkman, chairman; Yeshaye Tzweigman, secretary; the flag bearer – Binyomin Mintz


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