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[Page 189]

Community Institutions / Chaim Wolnerman

My intent with the articles in this section is to make a modest contribution to the memorial book dedicated to the memory of my birthplace, Oshpitzin, a remarkable city in West Galicia, a city which included many generations of nobility and Jewish splendor: its famous rabbis; its famous heroes and philanthropists; its outstanding Hasidim and their prominent Mitnagdim; the various political factions; the youth movements and the pioneers in the vanguard; the scholars and intellectuals; the multifaceted intelligentsia; the craftsmen and tradesmen – all pure and holy, straightforward and upright, sweet and beloved – who were martyred for the sake of their people, its Torah and land.

Among the inhabitants there were the wealthy and famous as well as the poor and beggars, Jews with large families who, although struggling for a living and their sustenance, still saw fit to devote time to Torah study as well as to the mitzvot of charity and kindness, helping others either directly or through the various chevrot [benevolent societies] which were active in tandem with the synagogues, batei midrash, and kloizer in all parts of the town.

Had we merited that these thousands of our townsmen would still be with us, they who were exterminated, cremated, and destroyed by the marauding enemy, Hitler and his henchmen, we would have been able to have our children and our grandchildren meet these noble-spirited, beautiful souls of our ancestral homes. We would have been able to demonstrate their illustrious lives of the highest steadfast purity, as anchored in countless generations of distinguished Jewish life. Now, however, that it has not been granted us, it is our duty to tell our coming generations about the beauty and grace of this city's Jews, about their shining lives suffused with goodness in content and form. We will tell those who follow us about our ancestors' holy lives, their battle and stubborn stand against assimilation and deviation from the path of the Patriarchs, about their love of Torah and their love for humankind, about the yearning for Redemption and Return that was the cornerstone of the lives of these genuine Jews, who once were and are no more.

[Page 190]

The Synagogues and Batei Midrash

The public and communal life in our town, as in all towns of the Diaspora at that time, was centered in the synagogues and batei midrash and their environs, from whence came forth Torah and the respect which is a prerequisite to Torah. In the dozens of the city's synagogues, the Jews gathered to pour their hearts out before their Creator in song and prayer and to study Torah at morning or evening study sessions. In these synagogues, cheders were maintained where the young received their education from early age to maturity and old age. (The Maskilim and secularly learned also came from this cheder background).

Indeed, at all times of the day and night you could hear the sound of Torah, song, and prayer coming out of the batei midrash and Hasidic kloizer which were in all parts of the city.

The Jew's Street (lately renamed as Berka Joselewicza Street in honor of the famous military hero) was the very heart of the spiritual and communal life. On this street were all the buildings of the Jewish kehilla, most of the synagogues and batei midrash, the court of the admor, etc. I will begin, then, with their locations at the beginning of the street. I will attempt to memorialize in this article some of my youthful memories and impressions of the synagogues and kloizer that I remember. May this listing serve as a monument to the fundamental and original Jewry of my birthplace, Oshpitzin, before the Holocaust.

The Prayer House Named after R’Yakov Wulkan

The Jew's Street was narrow, without sidewalks, and continued in the form of a long L from the main square to Koleyowa Street. The first house on the right, opposite the Municipal Building, belonged to R’ Yitzchak Sedger[?], one of the city's prominent citizens, a very wealthy Jew who owned the shop that sold metal and building materials and who owned much real estate. In R’ Yitzchak's house, which extended to the end of the first block of the street, there was a small synagogue with a women's section, named after its founder, R’ Akiva [? Here as such, and not as in title as Yakov] Wulkan. This was a pleasant and quiet place, a little sanctuary for the family of the synagogue's founder. The house's tenants also prayed there along with other worthies, such as R’ Shaul Brenner, R’ Moshe Kaufman and others. R’ Yitzchak Shroite[?], an outstanding talmid chacham and great scholar, very stately with a pleasant voice, conducted his Talmud lessons throughout the week and would lead the prayers on the Festivals and High Holy Days.

The Old Kloiz of the Chrzanower Hasidim

On the left side of the street stood a house of very lengthy proportions, which also was shaped in the form of an L. The eastern section extended along the Jews' Street all the way to the courtyard of the admor R’ Elazar. This impressive building belonged to the renowned elderly philanthropist, R’ Yisrael Kluger, the patriarch of a large family of children and grandchildren, some of whom were merchants and public figures; others were talmidei chachamim and active in the community, as well as well-educated and Maskilim of great perspicacity, some of whom – especially his grandchildren – were the leaders of the religious Zionists. (Just a few survived after the Shoah: a few of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren; our well-known friend, Yitzhak B”R Yosef Kluger-Dembicer, Tel Aviv-Zurich; Zalman B”R Shlomo Gross, Israel-Germany; the daughters of R’ Yudel Levi, and the daughter of R’ A. Goldwirth and her family). In R’ Yisrael's house – on the western end – there were two synagogues, one with a direct entry from the street, the old kloiz of the Chrzanower Hasidim, called the Chrzanower Shtibel, in which some eighty people – not including the youth – prayed daily, a group of important balebatim, leaders of the community and its shepherds, such as R’ Avrohom Gross, who had for many years been the head of the kehilla; his brother-in-law, R’ Zev Wolf Rotenberg; R’ Zelig Wolf; R’ Eliezer Kaner, his son R’ Kalman and son-in law R’ Yisrael and their sons; R’ Yehuda Silbiger; R’ Shimon Dov Steinfeld; R’ Wolf Samet, and others.

As in most of the city's synagogues, here, too, they did not engage a cantor, and the prayers were led only by those selected by the elected gabbaim, except for twice a year: on Rosh Hashana for the Ma'ariv and Musaf services, and for the Ma'ariv and Hakafot of Simchat Torah, using the special nusach [liturgical style] of the Divrei Chaim of Sanz. These would then be conducted by the chief rabbi, the great gaon, Rabbi Yehoshua Pinchas Bombach, and after his death the custom continued with his son and successor Rabbi Eliyahu [who perished in the Shoah]. This custom was instituted as a result of the following occurrence:

As was customary from antiquity, the chief rabbi attended the Great Synagogue (Ashkenazi nusach) most of the Sabbaths and Holidays together with the “commoners” and the kehilla heads, on whom he was dependent for his livelihood. This, too, was one of the conditions of his appointment to the post, that his official place of worship would be the Great Synagogue.

As is known, there were at that time two factions in the Jewish population of Oshpitzin: the Ashkenazim, who prayed at the Great Synagogue using the Ashkenazi nusach, the enlightened and modernists in top-hats, as against the Hasidim, people who gathered around various admorim and who prayed in the Sefardi nusach in spite of their actually being of Ashkenazic descent.

During the time when the chief rabbi's post was occupied by the most excellent Rabbi Bombach, the author of Divrei Yehoshua, the Ashkenazim were in the majority and held sway over the kehilla and began to restrict the rabbi's activities. Once on Rosh Hashana, during the recess prior to the blowing of the shofar, when the worshippers were congregated in the synagogue courtyard, a quarrel broke out between the two sides. The hubbub grew as the rabbi and his adherents neared the courtyard, where he became aware of the disturbance, and in order not to enter the fray, he turned around and fled to the nearest house, the kloiz of the Chrzanower Hasidim. (The rabbi, by the way, was not an adherent of this Hasidic dynasty). Upset and frightened, the rabbi approached the table on which the Torah scrolls lay, intoned the blessings prior to the shofar service, blew the shofar, and continued with the Musaf service. The rabbi's actions amazed the people; the quarrel ceased immediately and the rabbi continued thereafter to pray in the Great Synagogue for the Sabbaths and Holidays. From that time on, each Rosh Hashana after the Shacharit service, he would leave the Great Synagogue and go to the kloiz of the Chrzanower Hasidim for shofar blowing and Musaf. From then on, it was also his custom to participate in the Hakafot of the Chrzanower Shtibel, which were conducted according to the nusach of the Divrei Chaim of Sanz. His son and successor continued the tradition. On these special days the shtibel was too small to contain all those who came to enjoy hearing the sweet melodiousness.

This location, i.e., the kloiz and its women's section, were used as chadarim, classrooms for a lower yeshiva for students aged 11 to 13, whose teachers were Rabbi Moshe Simcha Teitelbaum, the Lodzer melamed, and Rabbi Dovid Reifer, the head of the Etz Chaim Yeshiva.

The Visitors' Society [Chevras Mevakrim]

In that same house belonging to R’Yisrael Kluger, on the second floor, almost on top of the Chrzanower shtibel,but with access through a stairway inside the house, there was another bes medrish and synagogue named after the Visitors' Society. Many business and working people prayed here, and it was led by the gabbai R’ Chaim Bruner-Kaufman and his sons.

This bes medrish was in fact an integral part of R’ Yakov Unger's apartment, but a side stairway led to the large hall which served as a cheder, where R’ Yakov Unger taught the many students who came under his tutelage for decades. R’ Yakov was a great talmid chacham, a scholar and enlightened, a skilled teacher using a unique method. He taught boys from the age of bar mitzvah and up the Talmud and Tanach as well as proper and correct Hebrew writing skills.

Many stories circulated about him, one of which was that at times he succumbed to alcoholic excess, i.e., that sometimes he would overindulge. When this happened, his students mistreated him and there was a total lack of discipline and respect for authority, the very traits that he enforced rigorously in his cheder.

Most of the Zionist youth at that time, and especially the religious branch, imbibed their basic knowledge in Hebrew in R’ Yakov's cheder. Most acknowledged it and were very appreciative. A goodly number of Mizrachi members did, in fact, gather later on and pray in this bes medrish of the Chevras Mevakrim.

The Kloiz of the Tzadik Rabbi Elazor [Reb Luzer’l]

At the street's elbow, on the southwest corner, at the top of the hill which was popularly known as “R’ Luzer's Hill,” the “court” of the admor R’ Elazar Halevi Rosenfeld was located; this hill of several hectares had a flat summit. On this peak and on the slopes there were dozens of mature, tall, and many-branched chestnut trees. This plot was in its pristine state; it had never been cultivated and was a splendid place, the air clear and fresh, shadow and light dancing between the trees and branches. Here and there were benches that had been taken from the bes medrish, on which sat some elderly Jew surrounded by the youths who attended the bes medrish. If, for example, it was the elderly R’ Shmuel Hersh Landau, who had gone blind many years ago, he would sit and recite by heart; you would always find around him youngsters who were astounded at the amazing memory of the old man, who would recite from the Chapters of Mishna, complete with their commentaries, word for word. The youngsters tried more than once to put him to the test, whether it was the commentary of Rashi, or Bartenura, or Tosfot Yomtov, etc., but he always came out on top, since he was letter perfect in them all.

The “Hill” was always abuzz with people, especially in the afternoons and at dusk, when you would find groups traipsing back and forth, discussing and arguing over texts, others standing in a circle and hearing Torah tidbits, Musar lessons, or Hasidic tales. Thus the entire hill, at its summit, was entirely black with kapotes and hats, since the kloiz and the “Hill” were the center of the lives of the adherents of the admor as well as all of the Hasidim of the House of Bobowa (before the split, after which each group built its own kloiz farther down the street – more about them later).

On the north edge of the hill, a long and high wall divided the “Hill.” The wall consisted of brownish-red stones, and stretched from the top of the hill to the bottom and separated the Holy from the profane, between the property of the admor R’Elazar and the boundary of the Silesian Order, their church and famous school and adjacent dormitory. A devout Jew strolling in the courtyard of the admor would not unnecessarily approach the intervening wall except to pass water.

Along the eastern side of the hill stood the house and forecourt of the admor. On the left was the synagogue and adjacent to it the women's section, which was also used as a sukkah by moving the roof, which rested on metal tracks. The sukkah was adorned with antique tapestries, and beds and furniture were placed there so that the admor would not have to leave it. Ritual objects that were the heirlooms of the ancestors of the Kaminka dynasty, Zans, etc., were moved in so that it was transformed into a temporary home for the admor and his family. (This is not the place to describe the beauty, splendor, and holy grandeur of the sukkah and the festivals in the rebbe's court). To the left of the women's section there was a huge library where the rebbe sat at table on the Sabbaths and Festivals, and next to that a private room where the rebbe could be alone (and was also used as a bedroom), and beyond that were the rooms of the household, and at the end the separate kitchens for dairy and meat meal preparation, and the washrooms.

The synagogue, a separate building, was larger and taller than the living quarters, and consisted of one large hall, somewhat dusky, with shelves of s'farim along the high walls, and long tables with benches on both sides, where the young men were always seated in the company of balebatim and elders poring over the Talmud with the sounds of Torah resonating day and night.

During the prayer services the synagogue was packed and the worshippers stood crammed together, even in the aisles and corridors. It was then impossible to move in any direction, and even the courtyard was crowded with worshippers, especially on Festival Days, when even the rooms in the rebbe's house were filled, for as described above, most of the Bobower Hasidim gathered around the rebbe. Not only they, but also in attendance with the worshippers of the kloiz were most of the elders of the town and its talmidei chachamim such as R’ Mendel Wachsman, R’ Yosef Laufer, R’ Shmuel Zvi Landau, R’ Shmuel Better, R’ Yissachar Kahana, R’ Yehudan and R’ Dovid Lazar, they and their sons and sons-in-law who were considered the first families of Bobower Hasidism. Others, too, would come, such as Rabbi Mordechai Boruch Danner, the city magid, the elderly R’ Sholem Hakohen Binder, R’ Eliyahu Hirschthal, Rabbi Pinchos Greher, the author of the volumes Beis Pinchos, the yeshiva head, R’ Mordechai Krakowere, R’ Osher Zwerling and their families, all adherents of the admor, and joined by Hasidim from near and far, all came. The crowding was so great on such days that it was unbearable.

In the southeast corner of the bes medrish there was an opening to the oven for baking the Passover matzot. (The oven itself stood outside the bes medrish). The halakha of “Thirty days before Passover one should study and investigate the Passover laws” was kept here in all of its details. The place simply turned into a matzo factory for the admor and his household, who would themselves carefully examine the wheat kernels, grind it into flour, strain it, and bake the matzot, especially scrupulous for matzo shmura for the Passover. The yeshiva students and young men would form into bands, groups of 40 to 50 each. Each chevra received its turn for a specified period by lottery and had its allotment of hours for baking their matzo shmura. This was done with great fervor accompanied by song. The peak was reached on the eve of Passover, at the time when the rebbe himself, together with his family and a number of “select” Hasidim, all already attired in holiday clothes, kapotes and shtreimlach, urged each other on with calls: “For the sake of the mitzvah of matzot,” all the while chanting Psalms and with exalted spirit preparing and baking the shmurah matzot – the Passover eve matzot. This unique experience was truly unforgettable.

Between “R’ Luzer's Hill” and the fenced-in synagogue courtyard, there was a gully in which were embedded slabs of cement interspersed with steps leading downwards to the bathhouse and mikve. This was a very large structure in which there were dressing rooms and lockers, bathing rooms, bathtubs, a giant Turkish bath and two mikvaot. A section of the upper floor was used by the kehilla for offices and a meeting hall for the council and the administration, but the only entrance to this section was by a small overpass that connected directly from the courtyard to the upper floor. Behind this house there was a machine room that contained the equipment that served the bathhouse with steam. The boiler was as large as that of a locomotive.

One more kehilla public facility was nearby. This was off by itself, a small hut that served as a slaughterhouse for fowl. The area always looked as if it was wintertime, but this was but an illusion, for in reality these were chicken feathers, and especially the down of ducks and geese, strewn about the area.

The Chevra Kov'ei Itim LaTorah

[Society devoting time to Torah study]

Adjacent to the left side of the bathhouse, just at the bottom of “R’ Luzer's Hill,” there was a large attractive building, the synagogue of the Kov'ei Itim LaTorah. This synagogue was elegant both inside and out in its unique style: high windows with stained glass, walls adorned with frescoes, artistic light fixtures and wood carvings adorning the Holy Ark; all of these contributed much to the magnificence of the synagogue itself and to the worshippers, all of them noble balebatim and refined people, men who studied Torah and were dispensers of charity and benevolence.

This synagogue, too, had a very nice women's section, a large room without frescoes, but very bright and clean. The seats were comfortable and had backrests. In recent years it housed the cheder of R’ Shlomke Rath, a somewhat short Jew, for which he was called “The Little Rebbe'le” or “Short Shlome'le Melamed,” who taught the little children.

Next to the southern end of the synagogue, at the entrance to the women's section, there was a two-story building that belonged to the kehilla and was designated for housing of the klei kodesh [religious functionaries]. On the upper floor lived R’ Alter, the longtime shammes of the Great Synagogue, and the first floor was intended for the city dayan and his family. It had formerly been occupied by the Rabbi Gaon Nosen Note Landau and, after his demise, by his successor the Rabbi Gaon R’ Yechezkel. They and their relatives were regular worshippers at the adjacent synagogue, where they set the tone in all things.

Every evening there were study sessions at the Kov'ei Itim led by first-class talmidei chachamim.

The Great Synagogue

Let us retrace our steps and return to the Jews' Street. Standing there and facing each other are the Great Synagogue in all its glory, both inside and out, and the Great Bes Medrish. Both of them, together with the adjacent kehilla buildings, represented the center of Jewish community life throughout the year.

The Great Synagogue was indeed a very large and magnificent building, quite impressive architecturally. The building occupied about a third of the entire length of the Jews' Street. On its right side there was a large courtyard, which served as the only access to the meeting hall of the kehilla council, and behind it was an enormous park, which seemingly never had been properly cared for, since the undergrowth was wild and only its trees were very tall and overlooked everything.

The building was constructed in the form of a fortress, with metal gates and massive, heavy wooden doors. The windows were narrow but very tall, and the walls very thick.

The synagogue had been built and refurbished after a fire that had previously destroyed the earlier edifice, one that had been constructed entirely of wood, sometime between 5580 and 5590 [1820-1830].

The entrance to the synagogue itself was through the palosh, where the daily services took place, particularly on the cold winter days, since inside there were no heating arrangements for fear of a conflagration. (The previous synagogue had burned down after being set afire by a heating device that used wood and coal). In order to enter the synagogue proper, one had to descend several steps in consonance with: “From the depths I call Thee, O Lord.”

The interior was very impressive. The walls were covered with marvelous frescoes all flowing together under the rounded dome, making the ceiling into a form of a chupa above. The ceiling and its coloration looked like the blue sky, with scattered shining stars, and around it were the twelve signs of the zodiac. The walls, too, were covered with marvelous drawings by a master craftsman. The bima was raised and enclosed by a screen and covered by a canopy fashioned of scrolled iron and brass, and of carved wood. There were quite a few steps leading to the Holy Ark, which was of gigantic proportions and took up a sizable part of the eastern wall. Around the Ark and above it were exquisitely hand-carved wooden decorations, all for the beautification of the sanctuary. The lighting was dim: only wax candles and paraffin were carefully lit, for electricity had not yet reached Oshpitzin and its environs. It was in the Great Synagogue, the first of all of the city's buildings, that electric lighting was installed and was first used during the High Holy Day Services in 5686 [1925].

The synagogue had some 2000 seats, including the women's section: moshavim [fixed seating] that belonged to balebatim or their heirs, that had been purchased in perpetuity through the sizable contributions made to finance the building of the synagogue, and there were seats that were leased for yearly fees.

The nusach of the Great Synagogue was – unlike the rest of the places of worship in the town – in the Ashkenazic rite. The synagogue had a steady cantor, R’ Yosef Helfman, who with a youth choir would pleasingly chant the prayers of the Sabbaths and Festivals. On the High Holy Days, however, the chief rabbi, Rabbi Eliyahu Bombach would himself lead the prayers: on Rosh Hashana, the Shacharit Services, and on Yom Kippur he intoned all but the Shacharit and Mincha Services. His clear, sweet voice penetrated the hearts of the worshippers. Hundreds of worshippers who were not regular attendees at the Great Synagogue would gather there on these days just to hear his prayers and chants. There was so much overcrowding on these days that the large courtyard and the street around the synagogue were thronged with people.

Among the regular worshippers were many Maskilim – most of the academics, judges, physicians, attorneys, etc., who would make an appearance primarily on the High Holy Days, and less so for the Festivals – as well as plain folk. Most were modernists, at least in their dress, so that many among them wore top hats, but there were also two or three wearing shtreimlach, to counterbalance.

The synagogue was always spotless, quiet, and very orderly, since all knew and admired the masterful job done by R’ Alter, the veteran elderly shammes who subdued young and old with just his glance, and everyone recognized the growl of that most impressive gabbai,R’ Avrohom Jachtzel, who was completely involved in all synagogue affairs as well as other communal affairs, such as the chevra kadisha, etc.

The gabbaim in the recent period before the Shoah were R’ Berish Barber and R’ Avrohom Wulkan.

One night at the beginning of the winter of 5700 (1939-40) a final end came to all this splendor. The city was patrolled by uniformed groups of the special German forces, may their memory be blotted out. It seems they were well practiced, especially in the destruction of synagogues, and silently approached and set the building ablaze. The inferno was great, but no help came. The Germans had surrounded the area and threatened with drawn guns to summarily shoot anyone daring to leave his house. They called this a “strict night curfew.”

The Jews could only weep from afar at this blaze, which consumed the House of the Lord.

The Great Bes Medrish

The Bes Medrish building was a large structure in whose right corner was a massive gate that enclosed some twelve steps leading to the entrance of the Bes Medrish.

A wash-basin was installed in this stairway and next to it was a huge barrel of water which served for the ritual washing of hands for all who entered the Bes Medrish and for the Kohanim before going up for the Priestly Benediction. On the further end, facing eastward, there was a small room, palosh in Polish, where there were extra minyanim on weekdays for those who had Yahrzeit or had other obligations to lead the service, and if the honor had already been given to another in the Bes Medrish, he would gather a minyan or more people for prayer in the palosh. A big door set in the southern wall gave access to the Bes Medrish itself, whose three walls had many windows, very high and with metal bars, one next to the other with the intervening space looking like a thick pillar. The east wall, however, had a massive, built-in Holy Ark, which had been inserted into the wall itself, with a fenced-in platform where the Kohanim would go up to bless the people.

On the northern wall, opposite the entrance, a large clock was suspended that would always keep perfect time. Many good Jews would daily set their watches by this clock, so as not to have to refer to the clock over the church. The Bes Medrish hall was quite large, so that on weekdays various groups could say their prayers in small groups from sunup to noontime, and on Sabbaths and Festivals the entire congregation would pray together, at which time the Bes Medrish was full from end to end.

There were two things that were glaringly missing in the Bes Medrish:
(a) A women's section;
(b) s'farim, prayer books and texts – there wasn't even a bookcase, except for the space behind the stove on the southern wall where there were some shelves in the wall that had doors that swung on rusty hinges and emitted screechy groans when they were opened. These shelves were completely empty of books, except for tattered shemos [no longer usable books or random pages of sacred writings] that people brought there for later burial.

I had always wondered why this place was called the “Great Bes Medrish.” True, the building was large and many prayed there, but it was in no way a real bes medrish in the usual sense of a place where one learns Talmud and where study-groups meet regularly. There was perhaps only one aspect of the place that did fit in with the name, for from time to time when emissaries came from Eretz Yisrael or others came on missions to raise money for their causes, they preached and exhorted from the dais of the Bes Medrish [drasha means sermon or speech on Torah topics, thus relating to medrish].

This is how things were, at least in recent times and as far back as I can remember.

The gabbaim, R’ Chanoch Goldstein, R’ Shlomo Gruber, R’ Mendel Haber, R’ Chaim Weisberger, and R’ Dovid Grinbaum, were the ones who saw to all the needs in the Bes Medrish, including the salary of R” Chaim Shimon Miller and his famous choir led by my friend R’ Ahron Daniel Miller, himself a renowned chazan and mohel (taking after his father), now in Brooklyn, New York.

The Bes Medrish Named for R’ Yakov Schneider

As pointed out earlier, the hub of the kehilla complex was on Jews' Street. Jewish communal life in Oshpitzin, however, was to be found in nearly every street where there were Jewish homes, here a little bes medrish or a larger one, there a cheder or yeshiva from which the sounds of Torah and prayer could be heard day and night. As the street continued, in a house close to the Great Bes Medrish, there was a very long narrow building (more than 30 meters) that fronted the main square (Rynek Glawny) and whose end reached Jews' Street. This house had been built by the respected philanthropist R’ Yakov Schneider and named for him. The frontage had been intended for businesses and dwellings, with the rear section planned for warehousing and storage. In this rear section there were large stores of cigarettes and tobacco products owned by the proprietors of “Traffic,” the principal agency of the government monopoly, and run by R’ Eliezer Schneider and his partner R’ Moishe Wolf. Should you go up a narrow wooden unlit staircase you would have reached a pearl of a place, full of light and luster, which had been dedicated as a House of God. The room was not too large and at its end was a smaller room for the women, yet very charming, orderly, and clean. This was “Schneider's Shtibel” as it was called, after R’ Yakov.

This little sanctuary had originally been founded, it seems, for a handful of the family and friends, such as the progeny of R’ Yakov Schneider, R’ Pesach Hollander and family, R’ Zvi Nebenzahl and family, and the like. With the passage of time, however, these limitations were breached, but the place maintained its character and exemplified closeness and friendship towards all who came.

The place, like most synagogues in town, also served as a study hall for yeshiva students. There Rabbi Dovid Bennet taught his lower classes, which later formed the nucleus of the Keser Torah Yeshiva of the Radomsko Hasidim.

The Old Bes Medrish of the Radomsker Hasidim

Further down on the east side of the street, in the courtyard of R’ Ahron Silbiger's house, stood a low structure housing two rather large rooms, which was well-known as “The Old Radomsker Shtibel.” This was, it seems, one of the oldest prayer houses in town, where the elderly Hasidim of Radomsk, R’ Elozer and R’ Eliyahu Koszicki, and their families were among the regular worshippers, even though they lived some distance from the place. Even when the new Radomsker synagogue was built, only a part of the group moved there, with the elders remaining faithful to their original shtibel.

Actually, there was another weighty special reason why this bes medrish could absolutely not close down. This was also the famous location where the wonderful rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Shlomo Posner, produced young scholars, and here he conducted his classes where hundreds of students received Torah and wisdom for many years.

Rabbi Posner was an institution all by himself, without party connections or any particular Hasidic court backing. He was recognized as an outstanding scholar, with a gifted system for transmitting his lessons in a lucid fashion. The many students whom he had taught admired him greatly and always respected him.

The New Bes Medrish of the Radomsker Hasidim and the Keser Torah Yeshiva

Not far from the Great Synagogue, on the left side of the street on the west side, between the Better house, which was built adjacent to the synagogue wall, and the Gutherz house (the brothers R’ Zimel and R’ Mantche) – the biggest house on the street, a four-story building of red stone, the only house on the whole street that had a sidewalk (where the children would play with nuts and stones) – there was a little hill that sloped downwards from the west for some 30 – 40 meters.

When we were little children, this little hill looked to us like a real mountain, and in the winter, on our way to cheder or on the way back, when a mantle of snow covered the city streets, the dimensions of the “mountain” seemed even greater, and our desire was to get to the top and slide down on improvised sleds made of boards or from pieces of rusty tin or even our school-bags, everyone according to his size and ability. The little ones slid only a few meters towards the street and the more daring ones turned towards the other side and slid like the wind for 20-30 meters to the fence around the well that had been dug there, or even further if we had managed to slide around and bypass the well.

The hill was popularly known as “Ber'ele Wintholz's Mountain,” so named by a little child some generations back, and the name stuck ever since.

R’ Ber'ele was a famous melamed of tots, who had instructed many of the town's children and whose cheder was located right next to the hill, almost set into it. Most of the hours of the daytime, if only the weather allowed it, a number of his pupils were scattered on the slopes of the green hillside under the supervision of R’ Ber'ele and his family. The cheder was too small to accommodate all the pupils simultaneously, so he arranged the lessons and recesses alternately to be able to instruct them all. The “mountain” was, therefore, almost always occupied by scattered children and that is how the name originated. Even later, after R’ Ber'ele was no longer the melamed and the hill was bare, the name remained as it was.

In the last decade before the war, a redeemer was found for a part of the hill, in the form of the Radomsker Hasidim who built their attractive synagogue and Keser Torah Yeshiva there. This was a beautiful, spacious structure befitting a house of prayer and study.

Most of the Hasidim of Radomsk in the city moved over to this new sanctuary and were headed by R’ Boruch Bennet, the son-in-law of the av besdin of Zator. He was a great lamdan and maskil, a man of wealth who owned a very large wholesale business and was also very active and successful in public affairs, a member of the city council, etc. R” Avromtche Gross, the son-in-law of Rabbi Ze'ev Rosenblum, the av besdin of Jaworzno and formerly the dayan and rabbi in Oshpitzin, and R’ Boruch were considered to be among the most important talmidei chachamim in town. Into this building moved all of the classes of the Keser Torah Yeshiva, headed by Rabbi Gaon Avrohom Oizer Alter, and the Radomsker institutions.

The gabbai and general factotum, who was involved in everything, was our friend R’ Mendel Mondschein, a wonderful Jew, charitable and benevolent. He gave his time, money, and personal effort for any good cause or any matter involving Radomsker concerns, but he was most especially devoted to the Keser Torah Yeshiva.

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