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[Pages 217-223]

Chapter 24B

“Ezrat Yetomim”
[Orphans' Aid]

Translated by Amalia Shtrosberg and Daniella Givon

The famous melamed [teacher of the youngest cheder children – ed.] of the time in the town, Abraham Hersz Osina, lived in a poor two room apartment on 17 Długa Street. Abraham Hersz was a well–educated man and a great Talmud scholar. He knew Hebrew, Russian, Polish, German, and was versed in the literature of those languages, but in spite of all that, was very poor and made a living teaching young cheder children. Despite being very observant, having a beard and side locks, praying with two pairs of phylacteries, and keeping all the mitzvahs, the religious Jews did not like him, whispered that he was a secret heretic and did not send their children to him. His students were children of enlightened parents, educated or partly educated, who wanted their children to acquire wider knowledge in addition to Jewish studies from the scholar Abraham Hersz Osina. The ones who studied there were the son of Reb Mosze Aba Ajzensztadt, Paltiel, the son of Szmerl Grynberg, Misza, the son of Jakub Lerner, Aharon, the sons of Leibel Konopny, Dawid and Berl, the son of Szymon Rydel, Jakub and others.

Besides his own children, Abraham Hersz had another child living with him, a poor and solitary orphan of some relative, who wore torn clothes and was barefoot, and went hungry because his guardian was so poor. Abraham Hersz Osina's students felt for the lonely poor orphan who lived with their melamed. They shared their food with him, and did not spend the little pocket money their parents gave them, but saved it in a small cash box and used it to buy him some clothes. As the cheder students' help increased, they were able to assist several other orphans when they heard that they suffered hunger. They brought them meals and at times bought clothes for them.

One freezing winter night in 1903, friends of Rabbi Zalman Grynfarb sons', Mozes and Dawid, and his talented daughters' arrived at his home. They were friends from school and the cheder: Szyja Zylberglajt, Wolf Tuchklaper, Minia Weintraub, Madzia Kahana, Liba Zajdencwajg, Berl Minc, Jechiel Grynberg, sister and brother Niedźwiedź and others, who used to spend time together, playing cards, reading literary news and poetry. The sentimental Dawid and Mozes Grynfarb and their sisters sang this folk song:

It was raining and snowing.
As I walked quickly down the street,
I met a young girl, half naked, half barefoot and soaked…
Her bare feet splashed in the flooded pavement
and a look of annoyance
shone in her childish glance…

(Translated by Al Stein)

When the song ended, someone said: “Today I met a poor girl like this walking barefoot in the snow, with her hand outstretched begging for a few kopecks, a piece of bread.” Someone else said, “Me too, I met a child like that on the street, dressed in rags and begging for alms”. When I asked him ‘who do you belong to? Who is your father? Who is your mother?’ He bent his head down in shame and very quietly said: “I am an orphan, I have no father and no mother and no home.” I think it is time to do something for these children, someone else said. These young people collected the pocket money they had to play cards and created a fund for helping poor orphans.

The following day the youth, together with Abraham Hersz's students, set out to look for an apartment to house the orphans. A poor tradesman called Reuwen Blacharz, who lived in a two–room apartment on 22 Długa street, agreed to rent one of his rooms for the orphans.

A delegation of these youth turned to a Jewish community, and presented their plan to community heads Mosze Temkin, Y.N. Weintraub and Herszl ƚliwka. Their plan was to create a home for orphaned children who could then get immediate help. They bought several beds, and goodhearted people donated some articles for the house, some clothes and food. Twelve lonely orphaned children, who wandered the Jewish schools or streets were taken in. They were given a bath, clothes, and “Ezrat Yetomim” was founded. From the day it was established, “Ezrat Yetomim” enjoyed great support in the town. Other people joined the abovementioned people and Aharon Hersz's cheder students in the effort. The circle of people who were interested in the fate of the poor children grew, and “Ezrat Yetomim” became a big and important institution in the city.

“Ezrat Yetomim” was housed in Reuwen Blacharz's meagre apartment for several years. Then it became too small. As the number of orphans increased there was no room for everyone. The Jewish community was turned to, and the community responded by providing two rooms below the rabbi's apartment, which served as a “bet din”, or rabbinical court. “Ezrat Yetomim” moved to the new quarters.

“Ezrat Yetomim” grew and flourished in the new and larger apartment, which was located in the centre of the city. Alter Kaminsky and Munysz Rydel joined those who were already involved. The town's people helped with monthly donations, subsidies were given, the number of orphans increased, but here too, the space became too small. Management was very worried – where could they find a larger space to house all the town's orphans? The generous philanthropist, Fiszel Frenkel z”l, came to the rescue. He bought a property on Sienkiewicz Street for an orphanage and a seniors' home. The property consisted of two small houses. The back house became the seniors' home, and the front house became “Ezrat Yetomim”. The orphanage in the house on Sienkiewicz Street grew. Now there was enough room to accept more abandoned orphans, whose number soon reached fifty. More employees were hired and the number of supporters increased. But soon even this place became too small for such an institution.

In 1925, the Board together with a building committee decided to build a large modern building on the land donated by Reb Fiszel Frenkel. The building was designed to meet all the needs of the institution. The building committee was comprised of some of the most important men in the city: Icchak Nachum Weintraub, Uszer Orzeł, Izrael Gutgeld, Welwel Barg, Dawid Rubinsztein, Efraim Celnik, Alter Kamiński, Bonim Rotenberg, Herszl Rozengarten and Munisz Rydel. They began the construction with much enthusiasm. Hundreds of town's people came for the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone. The Jews of Siedlce donated generously for the splendid building which they all believed would be there forever for the poor orphans.

The building was two stories high and had all the modern amenities. The rooms were large and well–lit. There was a large hall for musical evenings, theatre plays, literary nights, political meetings, lectures and other activities which could not be held anywhere else in town because of the “swoi do swego” edict [economic boycott of Jews– ed.]. Hundreds of local Jews, who were very proud of the achievement of their favorite institution, came for the opening and donated beds and bedding, clothes and other necessities for the orphans.

After the large building was built, the number of orphans continued to grow and reached seventy. Cooks and cleaners, teachers and trainers were hired. In addition to school education, the children were taught trades and professions. They were prepared for the day they would leave the orphanage and be self– sufficient.

The most important men and women of the town took an interest in the orphans. Activists such as: Icchak Nachum Weintraub, Uszer Orzeł, Izrael Gutgeld, Welwel Barg, Dawid Rubinsztein, Efraim Celnik, Alter Kamiński, Abraham Aszer Kwiatek, Nachum Halbersztadt, Bonim Rotenberg, Ruchele Rabinowicz, the wife of Biała chasidim rebbi, Chaja Tenenbaum, Pua Rabinowicz, Ester Lewensztein– Czarnobroda, Guta Ferster, Jakub Jom–tow, Leibisz Weinsztein, Herszl Rozengarten, Abraham Bresler, Berl Konopny, Jehoszua Cukier and Munisz Rydel joined the annual general meetings over the last few years.

Supporters of “Ezrat Yetomim”, Board members, teachers and trainers made consistent efforts to provide the children with what fate had robbed them of: fathers and mothers. Board members joined the children for meals and activities on Shabbat and holidays, and on Pesach the most important people would come to celebrate the Seder with the lonely children. Old Reb Icchak Nachum Weintraub used to come and talk to the children and read to them. Everyone lavished warmth and attention on the children and tried to create an environment that would make them forget their bitter fate. The good cause of saving the unlucky orphans from their difficult lot and educating them to become self–sufficient citizens made “Ezrat Yetomim” the most beloved institution in Siedlce.

Four weeks after the beginning of the Nazi occupation, Russian troops entered the town and stayed for several days [September 1939, as a result of Ribbentrop–Molotov pact– ed.]. The Board of“Ezrat Yetomim” used the opportunity to move most of the children and the employees to Russia. At first they moved to Minsk. When Germany attacked Russia, “Ezrat Yetomim” was dispersed. Some of the children moved further into Russia and were saved. But some of them stayed in Minsk and perished there. Some of the employees and educators who left with the children did not have time to run away and perished as well. Among them was “Tarbut” school principal Bronsztein who was at the same time the Director of “Ezrat Yetomim”.

Some of the children who survived remained in Russia. Only a few returned to their destroyed town and to the building that was built for them, which was the only warm home they knew. But now they found the doors closed to them. Now the building housed a Polish Trades school, as the sign on the door said, in place of the old sign “Ezrat Yetomim” established by the philanthropist Reb Fiszel Frenkel.

The wandering orphans, some with hair white before its time, returned from bunkers and forests and taigas to the place that was their home and school, looking at it in pain. Now they had no place to go and their situation was even more painful. They looked with broken hearts at the building that was, until not long before, the pride of Siedlce Jews and a warm home for them.

The homeless orphans moved temporarily to a building which used to be a “mikveh” [a ritual bath – ed.] and then from there continued their wanderings, looking for a new orphanage.

 

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