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[Page 127]

Ways and Activities
of a National Leader


A Portrait of a Civic and National Leader,
Yekhiel Ben Yisroel Frenkel

Collected and adapted by Leibel Richtman

Translated by Janie Respitz

Yechiel Frenkel, son of the famous scholar Israel Frenkel and Sprintze (the daughter of Yechiel Kirschenbaum), was born in Radom in March 1883. His early studies were at his father's school, with the preacher Reb Mordechai Zvi Halevi Weisman, the “Great One” and with Reb Mordechai Bornstain. Later he completed his studies with Professor Dickstein in Warsaw. After receiving his high school diploma in Radom he attended the Sorbonne in Paris. His wife Tziporah came from the talented and scholarly Szwarc family. Her father, Issachar Moshe, was a known writer and Zionist leader in Zgierg, Poland. Her brothers were prominent in many fields, Samuel Schwartz of Lisbon, Portugal, [the author of the book “The Anusim of Portugal”] a famous historian, Mark Szwarc of Paris, painter and sculptor of international repute, Simha Schwartz, engineer in Haifa and Dr. Alexander Szwarc, chemist in Montreal

For some years Yechiel was a teacher, but later became an accountant at the Bank of Riga in Radom, and was the first Jew to be a member of the Town Council. He was also interpreter at the District Court. In the last 12 years in Radom he was director of the “Johann Kohn” furniture factory.

He was active in community work and particularly in Zionist causes. He was a founder of the “Young Zion” [Tzeri Zion] organization in 1902, and president of the Zionist organization in Radom for 30 years. He was also chairman of the local and district committees for the Jewish National Fund, Palestine Foundation and Palestine Office, as well as chairman of the board of Directors of the local high school. He was a delegate to all national Zionist conferences and a member of the central committee of the Zionist organization of Poland.

At the invitation of Usishkin and Dr. Bernstein-Kohn he participated in the secret conference in Odessa, under conditions of great danger. He was a delegate to the following Zionist congresses :8th Congress in The Hague in 1907, 12th Congress in Carlsbad in 1921, 14th Congress in Vienna in 1925. He frequently served in important Congress committees. With the establishment of the Jewish Agency he was chosen a member of its council.

Yechiel Frenkel was a member of the Relief Committee of the American “Joint” during World War One, chairman ( from 1921 to 1934) of the City Councilman from all progressive parties, the only Jewish member of the City Control Commission, a member of the National conference of Polish Municipal Governments. In the years 1923 to 1931 he was president of the popularly elected Kehillah of Radom.

As a veteran Zionist, in June 1935 he made Aliyah to Palestine, where he continued his welfare activities. He joined the Cultural Committee of this General Zionists in Tel Aviv as well as other committee community councils an organizations. He founded the “Association of Veteran Zionists”, the “Organization of Radomers in Israel”, the “Radom Loan Association” in Tel Aviv. He was also one of the leaders of the Union of Polish Jews in Palestine

He was an avid and constant contributor to the Jewish, Hebrew and Polish press: ”Hatzfira”, “Immigrants from Poland”, “The World”, “Haint”[ Today], “The Echo”, “Country”, “Hazamon”, “Haboker”, “Radomer Zeitung”, etc .He also translated many important works and published the exchange of letters between his father[ R' Israel] and Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, augmented with his own commentaries. He translated his brother-in-law's book “The Anusim of Portugal”. He died in Israel October 7, 1953.

After Frenkel's death his apartment on 6 Goldberg St in Tel Aviv was turned into a meeting place for the Radomers in Israel and their spiritual centre. Called “Beth Frenkel”, it contains his large library and offices of the Credit and Loan Association.


Excerpts From Tributes to Yechiel Frenkel

By Moishe Rotenberg:

….We found in him a constant teacher and guide. His presence at a meeting already secured that a solution would be found to our most difficult problems.

I now recall the multitude of Zionist and communal activities in which we were engaged together throughout the years. He was bound to our Kehillah by the very threads of life and laboured unceasingly, with body and soul, for its development and progress.

For three decades (from 1900 on), the Zionist Organization in Radom was completely identified with his name and deeds. I remember the day when he was chosen as a delegate to the Zionist Congress in The Hague. Each day we received from him his interesting impressions and reports.

He was the first to restore normal operation of the Kehillah after the First World War.

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Frenkel's name on the election ticket was enough to ensure victory for the party he represented.

He was successful in securing many immigration certificates from the central Palestine Office in Warsaw which held him in high esteem. Thanks to his efforts a significant number of Radomers could leave Poland before the war. When in Palestine he devoted all his energy to the welfare of his townspeople who settled there. He instilled in them a spirit of Brotherhood. He was always ready to assist his fellow Jews, using frequently his wide influence and connections with personalities and institutions. In particular he did a great deal for the new immigrants by helping them to get adjusted and start a new life after the State of Israel was created. Rarely can we find an individual with such unselfish devotion to an ideal who could do so much for others, often beyond his physical strength like, the life of Yechiel Frenkel, of blessed memory.


Yehuda Leybush Tzuker:

He was the admirable son of a great father, exalted Torah leader, a great scholar with idealism and combativeness for justice, with a clear conscience and rare gentleness; a respected teacher, a devoted friend and worthy community spokesman.

He was an aristocrat without the stiffness that creates distance. In his many honourable positions and merits, he had a kind attitude toward the simple man and a special veneration to every honest and precious person.

Every soul who was saved from our great destruction was dear to him and he looked for ways to help. Despite his advanced age, he would run around, impatiently without his cane, from one foundation to another, interceding for the new immigrants, to help them get settled with a roof over their heads and a livelihood. He always carried this burden to help others often neglecting himself and his family. He was loved and respected by all who knew him and everyone feels this great loss.


Rabbi Dr. Sh. Traystman:

Reb Yechiel Frenkel of blessed memory. What do these words “of blessed memory” mean? According to Gersonides (Rabbi Levi ben Gershon) the explanation is that remembering a righteous man is a blessing for all who remember him; they should follow his path, learn from his deeds and continue his actions for the good of others, for the good of the nation and the State. This way his memory will be blessed to such an extent it will rise up and influence for the good and will bring blessings upon our children, eternally.

He devoted himself to helping our people and sanctified his life for the idea of reviving our nation. His heart, the heart of a sincere Jewish person, was aware of all that was happening to the Jews. He was not only a Zionist in the diaspora, he was a Zionist in Zion.

Until his final day his soul was connected to the Book of Life, for our new life in our land. We hope, that in the union of eternal life of our people, the Almighty will weave his soul with the eternal life among us.


Pinkhas Gal (Fogelman):

While maintaining close ties with a portion of the intelligentsia which was concentrated around “Izraelitz”, Frenkel tried to influence them in the spirit of Zionism. However, he did not want this to lead to war. He could not forget the fact that the Bekermans supported socialist institutions and the Temerzons and Muliers were devoted communal workers. Therefore, it broke his heart, during the First World War when Zionist youth declared war on the assimilationists at the time of the first elections to the Radom City Council. The fight was particularly aimed at their delegate Dr. Yuzef Bekerman. This was difficult for Yechiel Frenkel who was brought up in the ideal atmosphere of cooperation. It was very hard for him to adapt to these combative methods which were being applied. He was first and foremost a man of culture and European tact, then a politician.

However with time, his devotion to Zionism became stronger than his personal and societal sentiments. At the time of the fight, dealing with the shaping of the Jewish communal body (which was expressed in the sermon given by Rabbi Kestenberg), Yechiel Frenkel stood with all his honour and courage, against the flag bearer of the assimilationists, Yuzef Bekerman.

Many of his accomplishments were made as head of the Jewish community and head of the Zionist organization. However his greatest influence was a result of his personal charm, and his kindness and gentleness when dealing with people.


Leybl Rikhtman:

With his death, a tree was uprooted from our lives with an abundance of ripe fruits.

A community activist of the highest level, initiator and builder of various institutions in Radom and here in Israel. Penetrated with love for the Jewish person and tolerance even toward his opponents. Torah and enlightenment, passionate Zionism and a deep belief in better ideals for mankind.

[Page 129]

All of this made up the personal charm of well-respected Reb Yechiel Frenkel.

For tens of years he was the leader and guide of Radom Jewry. From early childhood he was harnessed to the communal wagon and Zionist activity where he gave all his energy.

Fighting for his convictions or his opinions he always listened to the convictions and opinions of his opponents. Fighting for general Jewish issues and the interests and honour of our Jewish community, he still found the time not to neglect the individual. He befriended people and helped Jews with all he had. He was a source of love and friendship to all and everyone felt it.


Pnina Revikov:

A year and a half before my father passed away I had the privilege to meet his friend Reb Yechiel Frenkel. Each time I met him he left a strong impression on me. I was always astounded by his spirituality, wisdom and quick orientation. I was also amazed by his devotion to and care for others. With his wide range of knowledge and other talents he was a modest man.


Sholem Stravchinsky:

Yisroel Frenkel had three sons and their inheritance was not material but rather: high morals, a strong will, a sharp memory and the talent of being a masterful community spokesperson.

His son Yechiel was devoted to the Zionist movement and community matters; the second son, Dovid, was attracted to the Polish Socialist Party (P.P.S). The third son Piotr, belonged to the “Bund”. All three served their movements with great enthusiasm and devotion just as their father spread Torah and Jewish enlightenment. Dovid and Piotr suffered a lot as a result of their activities. They both sat for years in jail and endured beatings. They both had to escape the country and returned with the outbreak of the First World War. That is when they turned to economic matters and took on important financial positions in town. Yechiel was involved in diversified communal work and he was seen as the spiritual inheritor of his father.

For about six years I had the opportunity to observe Reb Yechiel Frenkel as the Zionist representative on city council. He would explain his positions to the problems on the agenda with reflection. He showed great tolerance to his opponents. When an opponent needed his help, he removed himself from party trivialities and was glad to help.

When distributing permits he did not differentiate between friends and candidates from other parties. When I approached him for a certificate he said to me: “with all my heart I will give you and the other members of the left wing Poalei Zion permits. In my eyes you are all good Jews and good Zionists. Party “frameworks” are not important. What is important is that Jews go to the Land of Israel. There we will work things out…”

And another nice trait: the warm relationship between the family members. For nine years I lived as a tenant in Dovid Frenkel's house and during that time I got to know the family. It was a pleasure to see and hear how they greeted each other. Every time they met it was a great event, as if they had just returned from overseas and hadn't one another for a very long time…


Yisroel Grintz in “Hatzfah”:

He was not only respected by Jews but also by Polish society who saw in him a talented, straight forward and honourable leader.


Shoshana Mushkatblit – Cohen in “El Hashomer”:

He embodied this entire period of Polish Jewry. A thoughtful person who could analyze the reality and built a world view based on philosophical foundations. He symbolized the Zionist movement, its aspirations for a national revival and Jewish pride. The fate and problems of the Jews always touched his heart and he was always ready to provide encouragement and help.

Yonatan Toybman, representative from the Jewish National Fund:

Jews like Frenkel instilled faith and confidence in the hearts of our people, awakened them to defend their rights and fight for national revival.

Frenkel is a world that no longer exists. A magnificent chapter of history has ended.


A.Y Bzhezhinsky, representative from the Old Timers Organization:

Reb Yechiel Frenkel was the lion of communal workers. He was not only a personality, but an entire institution, an address. Societies and individuals from abroad would send money for the movement in his name because everyone trusted him fully.

When he arrived in the Land of Israel and saw there was no one looking after the old timers, he founded the Old Timers Organization. Until his last days he set an example for everyone with his devotion and care for the continuation of the organization.

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Dr. Y. M. Grintz:

Yechiel Frenkel was once in the hall of “Mizrachi”. The chairman, Yakov Kleinman spoke about him and he answered. This was the custom when a representative from one party came to the locale of another party: at first it is praised, but after…However, I remember this time it was different: they talked about Torah, brought forth passages and visions and told legends and parables. It was gushing with knowledge and wisdom, respect and friendship from both sides. That same good feeling remained even after Frenkel's passing because we really felt close and dear to him.

Besides his love of Zion, Yechiel Frenkel inherited from his parent's home a love of Torah. Besides Yiddish books, I saw on his bookshelf “Meyer's Conversation Lexicon”, a German encyclopedia and German, Polish and French classics. But his most beloved was the bible as well as commentaries. He loved using them in conversations and correspondence. He also loved to play with the pearls of the rich Hebrew language.

He loved books and collected them, but with the same love he could donate a book. I once expressed interest in an article in his father's book “Sadeh Tzofim” which I liked very much. He immediately gave me the book. Years later when I worked on the Hebrew Encyclopedia, I used an article from that book which I had memorized.

Yechiel Frenkel loved Jews, all Jews, and he was loved by all.

My Father's House

by Miriam Frenkel Szwarc

Translated by Janie Respitz

Life in the home of my parents, Yechiel and Tzipora, was like other houses, interwoven with joy and sadness. Our material situation was not magnificent, but my parents did everything to ensure we had a happy childhood, without worries. My father was kind and gentle. He was an optimist and taught us to look at the good things in life. His inner calmness influenced us and his fatherly warmth embraced us.

My mother also behaved like this although it was more difficult for her: she was a suffering woman who tried to hide her pain. At the age of thirty the light of her eyes was extinguished. For a healthy person it is hard to imagine what she went through. But for us, she carried her dark fate with courage as not to trouble anyone.

From the time we were able to understand our father until the end of his life, we did not stop learning from him. He broadened our horizons, raised our voices and I felt proud and lucky to be his daughter.

We loved to hear his stories about his childhood and youth, about his father, our grandfather, who died so young. I always regretted not having had the privilege to know my grandfather. My grandmother was widowed young and left with 7 orphans. She had very little to live off but she had great spiritual energy. She raised her children to do good deeds and to take on important tasks. The children inherited the virtues of their father however she raised them and strengthened their characters.

Despite his hard work to earn a living and working for the community, my father found enough time for us. He always had an expression, a parable, a story from the bible or Jewish history, or secular literature. We were always amazed by his remarkable memory and his linguistic talent. Our mother would enjoy listening to his lectures. The most talented student among us was my brother Gavriel of blessed memory who died young. None of us recovered from this loss.

I would like to mention the relationship between my father and my grandfather Reb Yissachar Shwarc (my mother's father). They experienced an amazing spiritual closeness. Until my grandfather's death in 1939 they corresponded regularly. Something they both enjoyed. My father took pride in his father-in- law and the whole Shwarc family in general. He felt a special love for his brothers in law Shmuel and Simcha Shwarc. The destruction of European Jewry affected him greatly. With the destruction of the Radom Jewish community his brothers Dovid and Pinkhas were killed as well as his sister Emilieh and her daughters. This was a shock he could not overcome. In addition, his sister Shoshana's husband, Eliyahu Shpayzman died here. He also lost his two best friends here, Mr. Shteynman from Tomashow and Mr. Vinikov from Brisk. They were both chairmen of the Zionist organization in their old home towns. Many old friends, Zionist old timers, lived here in poverty and my father worried about their difficult situation. He organized the Old Timers Organization and as chairman, he donated all his energies to it until his last day.

(This chapter was revised by Leybl Rikhtman)


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