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[Pages 300-316]

Men of Letter and Men of Faith

by Chaim Olsha (Binyamina)

Chaim Olsha
Chaim Olsha


Our town, Sokoly, was different from other towns in our area. It numbered a total of about 400 Jewish families, and produced about 70 men of letters and men of faith: rabbis, shochtim [ritual slaughterers], preachers, doctors, teachers, and musicians. This is a relatively large percentage. Among them were more than 20 rabbis and scientists who were famous world-wide. A large portion of the rabbis and scientists who were sons of our town, now live in Israel and the U.S.A. and occupy positions of importance.

Following is a list of the rabbis and scientists from our town:


HaRav Chaim Aryeh [Rogowitz], of blessed memory
HaRav Shlomo Yaakov Rabinowitz, of blessed memory
HaRav Moshe Sanders [Sanderman][a relative by marriage of Yaakov Chaim Olsha]
HaRav Menachem Yona [Gutman], of blessed memory, father of Herzl Gutman, of blessed memory
HaRav Betzalel Atlas, of blessed memory, the Rabbi of Vizhneh [Wizna], the son-in-law of Herschel David Goldstein
HaRav Yehudel, son-in-law of Menashe Yehudel, the Rabbi of Janowice
HaRav Aryeh Leib Hallels, of blessed memory
HaRav Avraham Epstein, of blessed memory
HaRav Yosef Rosenblum, of blessed memory, who was murdered together with the holy martyrs of Sokoly, may G-d avenge their blood
HaRav Yisroel Olsha, of blessed memory, son of Yaakov Chaim Olsha
HaRav Yaakov Zvi Segal, Rabbi of Veremby and Dayan in Wyszkow
HaRav Shalom Segal, of blessed memory, Rabbi of Suprasly and afterwards of Trestanie [Trestin] (The latter two rabbis were the sons of Zundel Segal, of blessed memory.)
HaRav Yaakov Semyatizky, of blessed memory, Rabbi of Gaetz and Sniadowo, son of Aharon Yunhas
HaRav Yeshayahu Weinkrantz, of blessed memory, Rabbi of Orany [Verony], Lithuania, son of Barush the Shub [Shochet and Inspector]
HaRav Avraham Pachiner, who was appointed Rabbi of Zambrow, but didn't want to make a fuss over it, son of Mendel Pachiner
HaRav Ben MenachemYitzhak Meir Pachiner, Rabbi of Petach Tikva, Israel, and later Rabbi in the Bet Din HaGevoha [High Rabbinic Court] of Jerusalem, who also was the son of Mendel Pachiner
HaRav Mordechai Olsha, Rabbi of Atarot and Wilhelma [Bnai Atarot], Israel, the son of Eliyahu Olsha
HaRav Zvi Hirsch Dachowitz, of blessed memory, a Rabbi in America, formerly a Rabbi inVilna, the son of Shlomo Zalman Dachowitz, of blessed memory
HaRav Zaidel Charney, Rabbi in London, Birmingham [England], Boston, New York, and Bayonne [New Jersey], son of Yitzhak Charney, of blessed memory
HaRav Yaakov Goldberg, Rabbi in Kazluscyna near Slonim, son of Yisrael Goldberg, of blessed memory
HaRav Kalman Zelig Novak, who was known as Rav Kalman Pinsky, presently the Secretary of the Kaminetz Yeshiva in Jerusalem, son of Alter Novak
HaRav Chaim Shimon David, of blessed memory, Rabbi in America, brother-in-law of Alter Rachkowsky
HaRav Yechezkel Chait, Rabbi in America, son of Aryeh Leib Chait
HaRav Mordechai Wolffs, the Rabbi of Lomsicza, son of Shimon Wolffs and grandson of Eliezer Meir Wolffs from Jablona [Rav Mordechai's mother was from the Olsha family]
HaRav Avraham Chen, may G-d avenge his blood, the Rabbi of Sniadowa, son of Leib Chen, and grandson of the Shub [Shochet and Inspector] from Lomza
HaRav Avraham Yaakov Brill, of blessed memory, son of Pesach Brill and son-in-law of Itshel of Panevezhi [Ponevezh, Lithuania], a famous Torah prodigy [Gaon] and scholar
HaRav Itsha Zerach, of blessed memory, from the Suravitz family
HaRav Yisroel Goldstein, of blessed memory, son of Itsha Goldstein
HaRav Moshe Rabinowitz, son of Benyamin Rabinowitz, of blessed memory, murdered in a pogrom in Russia
HaRav Eliezer Patinka, may G-d avenge his blood, grandson of Leibel Dombrover, of blessed memory
HaRav Chaim Plut, may G-d avenge his blood, son of Naftali Plut, murdered in Lithuania


Shochtim [Ritual Slaughterers]

Avraham Shlomo Horowitz HaLevi, of blessed memory, brother of Shimon, Moshe and Yaakov the barber, the shochet in Pelcowizna [Praga/Warsaw] Poland and later a cantor and shochet in America
Mordechai Nowena, of blessed memory, the son of Menachem the oil maker, shochet in Choroszcz
Barush Marzimin, of blessed memory, the famous shub
Avraham Yitzhak, of blessed memory, a shub and cantor with the choir on the High Holy Days
Shmuel Leib Lev, of blessed memory, son-in-law of Avraham Yitzhak Lev
Aryeh Leib Chen, of blessed memory, shochet in Lapy and Lomza, son-in-law of the shub Barush
Aryeh Chait, shochet and cantor in Sokoly and later in America, another son-in-law of the shub Barush
Yehoshua Suravitz, of blessed memory, shochet in London, son of Moshe Yosef Suravitz
David Shlomo Hirshman, shochet in Kobylin, son of Yisrael Hirshman
The young man, Leibel Allenberg, of blessed memory, son of Baruch Allenberg
Mordechai Wigotzky, of blessed memory, cantor and shochet in Sokoly and later in Knyszyn
Mordechai Bodnovsky, cantor and shochet in Sokoly and later in America
Gedalyahu Suravitz, shochet in Argentina [married Chaya Leah Rogowitz]


Maggidim & Darshanim [Torah Teachers and Preachers]

Zvi Hirsh Semioticzky, son-in-law of Aharon Yona, of blessed memory. Many called him “the Kelmer Maggid from Sokoly”
Yosef Sarbrolow, of blessed memory, son of Moshe Aharon Sarbrolow, of blessed memory
Yeshaya Wolf Meisler, of blessed memory, a famous maggid, the son-in-law of Dov Goldin
Menachem Mendel Olsha, the son of Yaakov Chaim Olsha, of blessed memory
Mordechai Novak, of blessed memory, a famous rabbi, preacher, philosopher, and teacher in Germany
Shlomo Glubman, son of Shraga Feivel Glubman, an ethics preacher [Maggid Mashrim] in Bialystok and Grodno


Doctors and Scientists

Dr. Fishel Olsha, son of Zvi Olsha, a doctor in Israel, who died in the prime of his life
Dr. Zundel Sokolowitz, a doctor in America, the son of Alter Sokolowitz
Engineer David Zholty, the son of Aharon Zholty, murdered by Poles after the War, in 1945
Dr. Chaim Label Kafka, an agronomist, lives in America
Dr. Rabiner Bernard Kahan, now in America [formerly Berl Konopiati]
Dr. Eugene Borowitz, Professor of Judaism at the Rabbinical Talmud Academy [Bit Midrash L'Rabbanim] in the U.S., known as a theologian and deep thinker in American academic circles, a descendant of Herschel Aharon Yonas
Dr. Menachem Levin, son of the teacher Yitzhak Levin, a chemistry researcher who received an international prize for his work in international chemical research
And last but not least, Professor Dr. Patinkin, the grandson of Label Dombrover, Professor of Economics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem



Chaim Label Rosen, son of the teacher Chanoch, located in America
Zelig Surasky, a teacher in Sokoly all his life, the son of Nechemia Surasky
Yitzhak Levin, Head of the Sokoly Branch of Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael (The Jewish National Fund)
Label Semiaticzky, son of the famous preacher [Maggid] Zvi Semiaticzky, a famous teacher and pedagog in Grodno, Vilna, Warsaw, Odessa and Tel Aviv, who died in the prime of his life
Raphael Gutman, of blessed memory, teacher and pedagog, a well-known professor in Warsaw; murdered by the Nazis in Bialystok
Mottel Shafran, may G-d avenge his blood, a teacher in Sokoly and later a watchmaker; murdered in the Bialystok ghetto
Chaim Michael Goldin, may G-d avenge his blood, a teacher in Warsaw; murdered in the Warsaw ghetto
Berl Konopiati, teacher of Hebrew studies in Sokoly; now known by the name Dr. Bernard Kahan, lives in America
Leah (Leatshi) Sarah Maik, completed her studies at a teachers' seminary in Vilna; was a teacher in Poland, Lithuania, Tel-Aviv, and America
Gittel Leah Lev holds an important teaching position in Tel-Aviv
Rivka Borowitz, completed her studies at a teachers' seminary in Vilna
Mushka [Melissa] Olsha is a teacher in America
Liba (Liebtcha) Zilberstein, may G-d avenge her blood, completed her studies at a teachers' seminary in Vilna
Brill Rachelsky completed studies at a seminary in Vilna
Yona Czenkowsky, of blessed memory
Zvi Lipnowitz, of blessed memory



Yisroel Fizuk and Moshe Meir Eliyahu, of blessed memory, the two sons of Michael Eliyahu, of blessed memory, the sexton of the synagogue and former gravedigger



The brothers Abba and Yaakov Mordechai Seines; the latter was a famous comedian in Bialystok.

In Sokoly there was a famous humorist by the name of Eliezer Faltes, who died in Israel.

Two of the world's famous authors are children of Sokoly: Avraham S. Hayman, the director of the World Jewish Congress, son of HaRav Chaim Shimon David Hayman; and his brother Sydney Hayman, the famous American writer.


Yaffa Suravitz, Yehuda Olshker-Eilan, Rachel Borowitz
(Right to Left) Yaffa Suravitz, Yehuda Olshker-Eilan, Rachel Borowitz


I wish to particularly point out the first three Rabbis on the list of Rabbis from the older generation, who left extended families in Sokoly. The first was Rav Chaim Aryeh [Rogowitz], of blessed memory, from whom the family of HaRav Aharon descended. He was a distinguished scholar, a very righteous man; a person of good character, charity, and righteous deeds. His wife, Chaitche, was a wholly righteous person. After the death of her husband, she implanted in the heart of her only son, Menachem, and in the hearts of her two daughters, the good characteristics that she and her righteous husband possessed. Sarah, the baker, also was a descendant of Rav Chaim Aryeh. She and her husband, Bezalel David, a very righteous person of excellent character, managed their business with justice and honesty and raised their sons and daughters in the spirit of the Torah and tradition. They took Torah scholars as husbands for their daughters.

Another descendant of the same family was Shmuel Rogowitz, of blessed memory, the son-in-law of Avraham Yitzhak, the Shub. Shmuel Rogowitz was a great scholar and a good-natured person. His pleasant smile always drew many friends to him. He lived in America for several years. For a certain time he was in Israel where he became acquainted with Rabbi Kook, of blessed memory, who influenced him. He already wanted to settle in Israel, but for various reasons, he was unable to actualize his thoughts. In the end, he returned to his family in Sokoly. His wife had a grocery store and Shmuel himself taught lessons in the English language. Shmuel also had a deep knowledge of Kabbala [Jewish mysticism].


Shmuel Rogowitz.  Passed away at the age of 76, in 1940.
Shmuel Rogowitz. Passed away at the age of 76, in 1940.


In his old age, his eyesight became weaker. When Yona Czentkowsky began to learn Kabbala, he heard explanations from Shmuel Rogowitz.

Shmuel Rogowitz had two daughters and an only son. His first son-in-law was Gedalia Surowitz, the husband of Shmuel's daughter Chaya Leah, who learned the trade of ritual slaughter of chickens at an early age. Afterwards, he emigrated with his family to Argentina, where he died. Shmuel's only son, Chaim Aryeh [Rogowitz], who inherited his name from his great-grandfather, the scholarly and righteous Rav Chaim Aryeh, was the owner of a shop selling manufactured products in the city of Zabludow. He had a good reputation in the whole area. He was murdered in the Bialystok ghetto, may G-d avenge his blood. Chaim Aryeh Rogowitz's two daughters reside in Israel.

The second of the three first Rabbis, the brilliant scholar Rav Shlomo Yaakov Rabinowitz, of blessed memory, was not only a great scholar, but he also was descended from a prestigious line of over twenty great giants in Torah and wisdom. Rav Shlomo Yaakov's brother, HaRav Eliezer Michael Rabinowitz, was the Chief Rabbi of Paris, who translated the Talmud into the French language.

HaRav Shlomo Yaakov was a handsome, charismatic man who impressed everyone. Rav Shlomo Yaakov had two sons: the eldest, Rav Yisroel Rabinowitz, was the Rabbi of Lapy and the city of Porszewo. He wrote ten works of pilpul [sermons] and drosh [exegeses]. Rav Shlomo Yaakov's second son was Benyamin Rabinowitz, the son-in-law of Yaakov Chaim Olsha, the wineseller [tavern-keeper], of blessed memory. He was an exceptional scholar and was given Rabbinical ordination by his father, Rav Shlomo Yaakov, but Rav Benyamin didn't want to wear the mantle of the Rabbinate and became a Gemora teacher, to older students who were preparing to enter a yeshiva. Benyamin Rabinowitz was an excellent calligrapher. He loved to write different words in marvelous cursive script, such as the words: “with G-d's help” [b'ezrat HaShem], “in honor of” and especially his unique signature of his family name.

In addition, Rav Benyamin had a pleasant, sweet voice and was an excellent leader of the High Holiday prayers. He also blew the shofar and read the Torah for the Chassidim. Even though Rav Benyamin came from a family of Lithuanian objectors to the Chassidic movement, he became a Chassid under the influence of his father-in-law, the Chassid Yaakov Chaim Olsha, and was one of the permanent attendees at the table of the famous Alexander Rebbe, Rabbi Yechiel, of blessed memory. The Alexander Rebbe treated Yaakov Chaim with great respect, because he saw in him unique fear of Heaven, enthusiasm in prayer, and the like. At the advice of the Alexander Rebbe, Yaakov Chaim once took his young son-in-law, Rav Benyamin, the learned Lithuanian, who lived with him after his wedding, to visit the Alexander Rebbe. The warm regard of the Rebbe and the Chassidic students at his table, as well as the singing and dancing, had a great influence on Rav Benyamin, and he decided to travel to visit the Rebbe a second, and then third, time, until he became one of his disciples. He prayed with two sets of tefillin, and the Chassidim were proud of him.

Rav Benyamin had four daughters and two sons. His first son, Shlomo Rabinowitz, was drawn to art at a young age. He learned graphics in Warsaw, but at the same time, he was swept into the illegal socialist movement. He was arrested and sat for a number of years in prison in the company of other freedom fighters. After he was released, Shlomo Rabinowitz traveled to Berlin in order to complete his artistic studies. There, he became acquainted with a group of active Zionists, and under their influence he was drawn into their movement. He emigrated to the Land of Israel during the Second Aliya, settled in Jerusalem, worked at the Bezalel School of Art where he attained an important position. He married a girl from a prestigious family. But he died in the prime of his life, on the 9th of Av, 1954. He is buried in the cemetery on Har HaMenuchot, in Givat Shaul, Jerusalem.

Rav Benyamin Rabinowitz' second son, Moshe, learned in the moralist yeshivot before World War I. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Rav Yudel became the head of the yeshiva where Moshe Rabinowitz was learning and he moved the yeshiva to the city of Kiev in the Ukraine. At that time, there was a typhoid epidemic in Kiev. Moshe Rabinowitz became ill with the disease, and was forced to lie in the yeshiva's study hall, because all of the hospitals in Kiev were filled to overflowing with patients. Nevertheless, with G-d's help, Moshe Rabinowitz recovered from his illness. A short time later, I met him in a large library and invited him to the home of our cousin Yitzchak, the son of Shlomo Olsha, in Kiev. There, Moshe Rabinowitz told us all about the history of his yeshiva until it moved to Kiev, and how he had become ill with typhoid during the time of the pogroms in Ukraine. He also told us that they had proposed a match for him with the daughter of the scholar Yitzchak Epstein from Zhitomir, who was related by marriage to the chief manager of the enormous firm “Zubrovno”. He was offering to give him a large dowry and provide him with food for as long as he would sit and learn.

Moshe Rabinowitz had already been ordained as a rabbi and was known as one of the best students of the yeshiva. He was the assistant to the head of the yeshiva. We were invited to the engagement party, which was to take place in Kiev on the 15th of Av. The wedding was set to take place on the 10th of Kislev. To our great sorrow, two months later the great tragedy, the terrible pogrom that lasted three days, which is known as the Dinikin Pogrom, took place in Kiev on the holidays of Shmini Atzeret, Simchat Torah and the following day, Shabbat Parshat Bereishit. During these three holidays, over 1500 Jews were murdered in Kiev, among them Moshe Rabinowitz. He left many notebooks filled with new Torah commentaries and philosophical investigations. We took his notebooks of Torah commentaries with us when we returned to Poland after the War. It was our intention to publish them. Unfortunately, to our sorrow, all of these writings were confiscated by the Bolsheviks at the border. May the memory of Moshe Rabinowitz, of blessed memory, be engraved in this memorial book, together with all the rest of the holy martyrs of our home town, Sokoly.

The third of the first three Rabbis was Rav Moshe Sanderman [Sanders], of blessed memory, an eminent scholar, a very wise man. He was an excellent lecturer who drew the hearts of everyone, especially those of the general Jewish public, to his wonderful lectures. But the Chassidim in Sokoly at that time found that the Rabbi was not sufficiently pious for them, that he conducted himself with excess nobility, aggrandized himself and dressed elegantly, characteristics that were inappropriate for a rabbi. The Chassidim began to pursue the Rabbi and threaten him in various ways, until he was forced to leave Sokoly. After that, he was accepted as the Rabbi of Melitopol in the Crimea. Rabbi Moshe's daughter Itka, who was a beautiful girl, married the young Torah genius Yisrael, the son of Yaakov Chaim Olsha, who afterwards became a rabbinic judge in the city of Wysokie-Mazowieckie. He passed away in the prime of his life.


Sokoly's Elderly Rabbi, Rav Menachem Yonah, of Blessed Memory

HaRav Menachem Yonah Gutman, the father of Herzl Gutman, besides being a great Torah scholar, sharp and wonderfully expert, was a man of fine character who gave charity in secret. The great wisdom of the elderly Rabbi was apparent in his many Torah decisions in cases that were heard before him. In his day, it was extremely rare for a Jew to go to the gentile courts. The elderly Rabbi was able to straighten out the most difficult conflicts. As an experienced attorney, he always knew how to reveal the truth.

When he was unsuccessful in clarifying the truth with gentle words, he would also make hard, threatening statements that he would undertake forceful measures and apply prohibition and excommunication. At my father's, I, myself, saw a pile of Rabbinical decisions regarding a Jew from a certain village, who had come to the Rabbi for more than ten hearings in the Rabbinical Court and did not want to carry out the court's decisions, until the Rabbi was forced to declare a prohibition against dealing with that Jew and publicize it in every town and village in the area, stating that it was forbidden to slaughter cattle and chickens for this Jew [provide him with kosher meat], not to circumcise his sons, not to count him in a minyan [minimum prayer assembly of ten Jews] and not to arrange an engagement or marriage ceremony for his sons. By means of these prohibitions, that Jew was forced to come to the Rabbi to beg forgiveness and to promise to fulfill the decrees of the Rabbinical Court, if the Rabbi would only cancel these prohibitions. Most of the time, the Rabbi straightened out the disputes and made difficult Rabbinical decisions through his wisdom alone.


Regarding the Goodness of the Rabbi's Heart and His Lovingkindness

Once, a young girl fell ill with a dangerous disease on the eve of the Sabbath. At that time there was no doctor in Sokoly, so the members of her family ran, crying and wailing, to the elderly Rabbi, asking him to rescue the patient from danger with his blessings. The Rabbi calmed them all with his heartfelt blessings, until such time as the patient began to feel better and at last was entirely out of danger.

Two more facts: Every day, after the morning prayers, the Rabbi, still wrapped in his talit [prayer shawl] and tefilin [phylacteries], would approach Shmuel the blind man, on the pretense of giving him some tobacco to smell, and at the same time he would push a few kopeks into his hand, in a manner that others would not detect. After prayers, Shmuel the blind man would go to buy bread rolls for breakfast.

When I was still a lad of 12-13, I went once with another boy, Label, the son of Yaakov Hirsch Segal, to collect contributions in the city for a poor woman who was sick. Both of us were ordered not to tell anyone for whom we were collecting donations. The usual contribution we received was one kopek. A few people asked us: “For whom are you collecting?” As usual, we didn't want to say. Some people gave us two kopeks instead of one, explaining that if we were boys who were able to keep a secret, they had to give us two kopeks. When we came to the elderly Rabbi, he also asked us: “Boys, for whom are you collecting contributions?” As usual, we explained that we had been ordered not to divulge the name of the recipient. Then the Rabbi stroked our cheeks and explained to us that the Rabbi was an exception; a Rabbi has to know about all the poor and sick people. We told him and he gave us ten kopeks. We were astonished that the Rav gave us ten times more than any other homeowner.

These are only a few facts about the elderly Rabbi's kind heart and generosity. I knew him very well, because I was like a member of his household due to his grandson, Roni's Herschele, who was my friend. Herschele grew up in the house of his grandfather, the Rabbi, because his father had been killed and his mother Roni had remarried.

The Rabbi's daughter, Chaya Feigel, of blessed memory, was wise and good-hearted. She also gave charity in secret, like her father. Her husband, Moshe Avraham Ginzberg, of blessed memory, was the owner of a store where he sold sewing supplies, housewares and leather. He was a brilliant and wise scholar. He was always very busy. He used his free time to learn Torah.

The intelligence and good deeds of the Elder Rav Menachem Yona were inherited by his son, the well-known businessman, Herzl Gutman. It is hard to count all the good deeds that Herzl Gutman did in his lifetime. It is worth remembering a few instances among the many others that remain in my memory.

Rav Herzl established the new Burial Society in our town. Prior to doing so, he consulted with his father, the Rabbi, as to whether it was permissible in a small town such as ours to have two burial societies. He explained his reasoning that the existing society caused anguish and financial strain on innocent and poor people who were unable to pay for burial or burial plots. The members of the Burial Society argued with mourners, with orphans, with bereaved parents and the relatives of the deceased. They didn't consider anyone whose only possessions comprised a horse and wagon, or a single cow, and they acted arbitrarily toward them. They argued: “Thank G-d, you're a Jew who has a house. You have a cow, or a horse. So sell one of them in order to bring your old mother to a Jewish burial!”

Crying and begging were of no help to the unfortunate Jew. It was decreed that he must sell or mortgage his cow and pay off the sum demanded of him.

It happened that a young villager died. He was the son of the miller. The Burial Society demanded 60 rubles for the burial. The father, the miller, obtained 35 rubles with great difficulty and begged them to accept a promissory note from him for the balance. The men of the Burial Society answered him that they do not sell land by deferred payment, and that there is support for this in the Torah: our Father Abraham was not allowed to bury our Mother Sarah, unless he would pay 400 shekels in silver to the seller. The miller was forced to mortgage his coat and pay them the balance due.

And another sad incident on the subject of burial: A poor woman, whose husband had died, was asked to pay the sum of 50 rubles for his burial. She managed to gather together only 30 rubles, explaining and pleading that there were small orphans who remained and that all her cash had been spent during her husband's protracted illness. Nothing helped, and the woman was forced to find the entire amount.

When Rabbi Menachem Yona heard about these arrogant, capricious actions of the Burial Society, his eyes filled with tears and he asked his son if indeed he was able to establish a Society that would act with mercy and truth? “Yes!” answered his son, “and I believe that the Blessed One will help us.” The Rav blessed his son, that he should be successful in his good works, to prevent contempt for the dead and the deprivation of widows and orphans.

Herzl Gutman and two of his close friends, Pesach Brill and Zalman Yachness, met together and made a detailed plan. After that, they called a large general meeting in the new Bet Midrash.

Almost everyone in the city, young and old, attended the meeting, except the members of the old Burial Society. Herzl Gutman made a strongly worded speech, pointing out the pain and suffering that were caused to widows and orphans at the height of their sorrow.

A new Burial Society was established, whose principles were not to take burial payments from all mourners, but only three rubles for ordinary expenses. Only men of substance who were able, could contribute as much as their hearts desired for public purposes and for repairing the cemetery fence.

Yet another episode related to the activities of Rav Herzl Gutman:

Many decades ago, there lived in our city a learned man of good character, Avraham Mendel Amarat, of blessed memory, Zundel Segal's brother-in-law. He had once been a fabric merchant and fell upon hard times. He made a living by teaching Torah to a number of youngsters. He had a pleasant voice and was the permanent Cantor for the Musaf prayers on the High Holydays in the new bet midrash. He also filled the job of Custodian for the hostel for the poor and invited people to sleep at the bedsides of invalids.

In his old age, Avraham Mendel served as sexton of the new bet midrash after the departure of Mordechai the Sexton, who meanwhile had become wealthy. Thus, Avraham Mendel was given a source of income so that he would not have to depend on charity, and he would have easy work to do. At that time, Herzl Gutman took care to ensure that another poor Jew would earn his bread by operating two stoves to heat the Bet Midrash before the congregation came to pray.


Rafael and Shammai Gutman
Rafael and Shammai Gutman


Herzl was accustomed to come to the synagogue either before or after noon, in order to fill the large hanging chandeliers of the synagogue with kerosene and to clean their glass. He did this in order to make it easier for Avraham Mendel and so as not to burden him too much, since Mendel was old and near-sighted.

Herzl greeted everyone with a “Good-morning!” or “Good Shabbos”. Thus he fulfilled the expression of our Sages, “Be the first to greet every man.”

This is not just my opinion of Herzl Gutman. The two great Torah sages of Sokoly, Pesach Brill and Zalman Yachness, said of him: “Herzl is wise, intelligent, and a statesman. If he were chosen as a representative to the Duma in St. Petersburg, he would resolve all the differences with his sharp intelligence.” Zalman, who was a Zionist, added: “Our Herzl is Dr. Herzl in miniature…”

Herzl Gutman agreed to be an arbitrator in disputes between Jews, but only upon the agreement of both sides, so that neither one of them would be deprived.

Herzl Gutman's wife was identical to her husband in good character and in performing good deeds. She came from a distinguished family from Tykocin, the daughter of Meir Kalman, of blessed memory, a wealthy, learned and wise man. Their three sons: Shamai, Raphael and Yossel, and two daughters: Chana Rivka and Yenta, were Zionists. Shamai and Raphael were present at the Zionist Congresses in Basle, following which, they delivered detailed reports to the public in Sokoly. They both founded the first Zionist party in Sokoly.

Zalman Yachness presented evidence from the Talmud, showing that after the destruction of the Temple not every Jew was ready to return to Eretz Yisroel, and how Ezra the Scribe convinced the multitude to return and rebuild the [Holy] Land, it being a great mitzvah to return to Zion.

After the meetings, the youth would sing songs which I taught them such as “In the Fields of Bethlehem”, “The Sand and the Stars”, “Rav Yehuda HaLevi”, “Zion, Zion”, and others. I had learned these songs when I was in Grodno.

Shamai Gutman married a wealthy girl and opened a business in Bialystok. As a Zionist, he was swept up by the Second Aliyah. He sold his business and emigrated with his family to the Land of Israel. He did hard physical work in Israel, forgoing a life of plenty and luxury. Shamai was an active Zionist and among the first builders of Ramat-Gan. He died a few years ago. May his memory be a blessing!


Standing, right to left: Malka Yatom, Penina Gutman, Moshe Pevzner, Yehudit Yatom, Yosef Gutman, Avihu
Sitting: Yehuda Yatom, Shammai Gutman


Raphael Gutman, Herzl's second son, married the daughter of Chena Natan Galpern, a scholarly and learned man. Raphael and his wife worked as teachers in the city of Malbe in Poland and afterwards moved to Warsaw.

Raphael was renowned as a pedagogue par excellence and also received a degree in pedagogy. His textbooks acquired good will among the public. He published the books for schools, in the Hebrew and Polish languages. He was the father of two sons and a daughter. All of them completed high school.

In the days of Hitler, may his name be erased, the family lived in Bialystok, where all of them were murdered in the ghetto, except for one son who managed to escape and reach Australia. There he attained a degree and the rank of a professor in the field of music.

Herzl's third son, Yosef Gutman, has been living in Israel for many years. He is one of the founders of Moshav Be'er Tuvia. He owns a large and beautiful farm, and is engaged in communal work in his village. Yosef's daughter, Yenta Yatom, is a veteran resident in Israel and is the owner of a beautiful farm in Raanana.


These Are the Generations of My Father, Avraham Yaakov Olsha, of Blessed Memory

My father told me why he didn't reach a high level in Gemorah studies like his friends Moshe Zvi Peikarsky, Yaakov Aryeh Goldstein, and others, with whom he learned from the famous Gemorah teacher, Rav Label Hallels, of blessed memory.

My father was orphaned from his father at a very young age. As the first born son, he helped his mother in her store and bore, together with her, the burden of making a living. Thus his learning was irregular and, understandably, he fell behind his peers. He was jealous of their advancement and regarded himself as deprived.

When my father reached the age of Bar Mitzvah, his Uncle Avrahamche brought him to the Rabbi, the elderly, righteous Rav Yitzhak from Vorka, of blessed memory. My father then opened his heart and told the Rav that worry over making a living was distancing him from learning Torah.

Regarding this, the Rav said to him: “Study is not the main thing, but rather deeds. Because of honoring your mother, a widowed woman who takes care of young orphans, you will be rewarded with a livelihood and a good reputation, and your good deeds will be valued.”

The words of the Rav penetrated deeply into my father's consciousness, and he attempted to increase his good deeds and give charity to the poor and to yeshiva students.

Over time, my father settled in the village of Plonka near Lapy, where he opened a tavern. This village became famous because of two Torah scholars who lived there, who were known as “the Wise Men of Plonka”.

My father was an honest man, who welcomed guests and was beloved by everyone. Jews and Christians both respected him. Here, it is worth telling something characteristic of the relationship between my father and the Christians:

My father once found 65 rubles and immediately brought them to the priest, so that he could announce about the loss in the church. The priest was familiar with the customs of the Jews and loved to discuss matters of religion with my father. He would ask him various questions, such as: Why do the Jews say, “a mistake of a goy is permitted?” or, Why do Jews say in the blessings of the Morning Service: “Blessed…who did not make me a Goy?”

My father explained to the priest, that the name “goy” is used by the Jews to refer to idol worshipers, but not, G-d forbid, the nations of the world who believe in one G-d, Who created the heavens and the earth, and the difference is only in the belief in the Messiah. With regard to the blessing, “Who has not made me a Goy” it is not meant as a deprecation, just as the blessing “Who has not me a woman” does not degrade the honor of a woman; rather, men give praise and thanks to the Holy One, blessed be He, Who has given them the privilege of obeying more commandments, from which women are exempt.

My father tried to prove to the priest that the Jews respect religious Christians, and brought him an example and evidence that this is so: When a Jew travels in the same wagon with a Christian and sees him crossing himself, he certainly does not feel that he is in any danger from him, in comparison to a non-religious Christian, who does arouse a feeling of concern in the heart of a Jew traveling with him through the forest.

All of my father's explanations and commentaries found favor in the eyes of the priest, and he spoke to him a great deal about questions of state and social issues. After the six main Christian holidays, the priest invited my father to come so he could empty the church's charity box and exchange the coins in town for large bills of money. My father was also able to borrow loans from the church, if he wished.

Later, the authorities issued laws, among them a law that it was forbidden for a Jew to own a tavern in his own name, but it should be registered in the name of a Christian, who would work for a wage.

My father traveled to the Alexander Rebbe to ask his advice and receive his blessing. The Rebbe advised my father to move to live in Sokoly, where he owned a house he had inherited. In Sokoly, he opened a bakery, where he worked with the help of his family. The Rebbe's blessing was fulfilled. The income was plentiful, and grew from day to day. My father proportionately increased his charitable donations and welcomed guests to his Sabbath table.

On the Sabbath, after the morning prayers, he would invite the congregation to refreshments, and following the afternoon prayers – to the “third meal.” My mother would serve fish or pickled foods and stewed fruit to all of the diners. Regular guests in our house were: Palta the baker, Yaakov Chaim Olsha, Zundel Segal, Barish the shochet, Avraham Mendel Amar-Maller, and others.

Father always implanted in the hearts of his children the good characteristic of just and honest negotiation, and mentioned the saying of our sages in Tractate Shabbat, page 31: “When a person arrives in the World of Truth, he isn't asked about the sins he committed, but rather: Did you give and take faithfully? This means: did he manage his business fairly and honestly? These are matters between man and his fellow man. And regarding matters between man and G-d, he is asked if he set times to learn Torah? This means, did he fulfill the commandment to learn Torah?”

My father tried to fulfill the saying of our sages with regard to both of these questions, as required. Even on market or fair days, he would learn his chapter in “The Law of Israel.”

Our father told us that, according to the morality books, a person should always choose a mitzvah to do as he sees fit, and that he should perform it with self-sacrifice. He took it upon himself to fulfill the mitzvot of charity and redemption of prisoners. I felt his happiness when he distributed significant sums of money to people in our town.

Regarding the mitzvah of redemption of prisoners, here I will mention a few facts:

Kalman Yankel's wife Zlatka was arrested. Her husband once sent a shipment of merchandise in a crate, for which he had to pay customs duties. His wife committed a crime in connection with this shipment and they put her in prison. The court requested a high amount of bail in order to release the woman until the court date. If my father had not provided the bail money, the woman would have rotted in jail for many months. My father also freed butchers who became entangled with the Law when skins of stolen cattle were found in their possession; Moshe Koppel the shamash, who made illegal whiskey, and Avraham from the town Volky, who was imprisoned for stealing geese and was sent to the Lomza prison - which was actually a baseless accusation.

My father always succeeded in finding the large sums for redeeming prisoners, and he was happy to fulfill this mitzvah.


Zundel Segal, of Blessed Memory

Zundel Segal, the chassid and scholar, was born to a distinguished family of mitnagdim [opponents of the Chassidic movement] in Tiktin, and became a very strong mitnaged.

My father, of blessed memory, told me that his uncle, Avrahamche Olsha, had two spoiled children: his son Yaakov Chaim, and his daughter Sarah Rachel. The daughter was beautiful and intelligent and her father married her off to the genius from Tiktin, Zundel Segal. He promised his son-in-law to provide their food at his own table for 10 years so that he would be able to spend his time learning Torah.

Avrahamche's son Yaakov Chaim became engaged at the age of 15, and celebrated his marriage two years later. He continued to eat his meals at his father's table also after he was married.

Yaakov Chaim and his brother-in-law Zundel ate at the same table with Avrahamche, and each of them conducted himself in his own way, according to his own customs.

Zundel's wife, Sarah Rachel, was familiar with the holy books. She knew most of the prayers and chapters of Psalms by heart. She was also nicely familiar with the books Menorat HaMaor [“The Candelabrum of Light”] and Tze'na U'Re'ena [a Yiddish commentary on the Torah]. She influenced her husband, the mitnaged, to study Chassidic literature and books of the Chassidic Rabbis and to travel to one of these Rabbis to prove the degree of truth in the stories about these righteous men. She brought proofs from the Talmud that a man should listen to his wife, as our sages have said “Heed your wife ….”

Zundel was influenced by his wife's words and began to study the Zohar and the writings of the Holy Ari. He travelled to Rebbe David of Bialy, where he met scholarly Chassidic Torah students.

When they found out that Zundel was a mitnaged and wished to recognize Chassidism, they told this to their Rebbe Rebbe David called Zundel and spoke with him about Torah. He invited him to remain for an additional Sabbath. Zundel told Rebbe David that it was his wife who had influenced him to learn Kabbala and travel to the Rebbe. Rebbe David then blessed Zundel, that sons would be born to him who would be scholars, rabbis and Chassidim.

When he arrived home, Zundel told Sarah Rachel about his meeting with the Rebbe and there was no end to her joy. From then on, Zundel turned into an enthusiastic Chassid, who prayed with two pairs of tefillin, learned the Zohar and other books on Kabbala. The Rebbe's blessing of his wife also was fulfilled. She gave birth to three sons, who became great in Torah.

Their oldest son, Nachman David, resembled his father in looks and his movements, and was one of the great Chassidic scholars in the city of Vishkov.

The second son, Yaakov Hirsch, was the rabbi of the city of Zarembia and after that in Vishkov. Everyone loved him for his good nature and wisdom.

The third son, Shalom Yitzchak Segal, of blessed memory, did not learn in yeshivot, but in the cheder schools in Sokoly. He learned from his father Zundel. Later on, he learned in a Chassidic shteibel. His companions in school were Mendele Olsha, who became a maggid, Leibel Chen, who became a shochet, and my brother Shlomo Olsha, who didn't want to continue his studies and became a merchant.


Alter Sokolowitz and his wife Malka Leah
Alter Sokolowitz and his wife Malka Leah


Shalom Yitzchak was drafted into the army and was sent to Petersburg. From there, he was sent to Helsingfors in Finland. He was respected by the officers and the soldiers, and they called him “Rabbi.” He returned from his service in the army with a letter of ordination from the Rabbi of Helsingfors.

After a short time, he was married in the city of Trastin to the daughter of Moshe Tzadik, of blessed memory. After the local rabbi in Trastin passed away, Rav Shalom Yitzchak was chosen unanimously as rabbi in his place. By the way, Rav Shalom Yitzchak Segal has a son-in-law in Israel in the Brenner neighborhood, and he is Shmuel Weisel, the son of the Rabbi of Baranowitz.

Rabbi Zundel Segal also had two daughters: the eldest, Chaya Liba, was married to Chaim Simcha, a wood merchant. The second daughter, Malka Leah, married Alter Sokolowitz, a teacher and scholar, in Sokoly. Alter Sokolowitz' three daughters, Chaya, Gitta and Itka, are in Israel. Alter's son, Zundel, is a doctor in America.


My Childhood

The elderly shamash, Chaikel, the father of the shamash Moshe Koppel, called the Jews to prayer in the synagogue twice a day, with a drawn out tune: “In sh------ul ar-----ein!” [“Co----me to the syn---a---go---gue!”] At an early hour of the morning, he would go through the streets of the city according to an established order: from Tiktini Street to Gonsovsky and at the end, to Mountain Street. After calling, he would fill his nostrils with snuff, with the feeling that he had fulfilled a holy mission. Above everything, he enjoyed having someone on the street ask him for some snuff.

When someone in the city passed away, when someone was brought from Lapy or the surrounding area for burial, Chaikel would call people to the synagogue as usual, but instead of calling “In shul arein,” he called only “In shul”. Immediately, everyone understood that someone had passed away, and they would ask the shamash, “who died?”

In my childhood, the children would tell what they heard from their parents. Part of the synagogue building was located in the grounds of the cemetery. Therefore, the dead people came there after midnight to pray and read the Torah. If a Jew passed by the synagogue at that time and heard them calling him to bless the Torah and he did not go in to do so, it meant that he would die during that year. And so people were afraid to walk by the synagogue alone after midnight, but did so in pairs or with a lit candle, which was regarded as a person, in their hand. We asked our teacher Mordechai Yachi Zlatys if what we heard about the dead was true? The teacher laughed and said that children and women should not be afraid, because they aren't counted as part of a minyan and therefore it was enough for children, when they passed by the synagogue after midnight, to hold all four of their tzitzit in their hand, or to say three times the verse: “He will command his angels to guard you on all your paths,” and then the dead and the spirits will have no command over life.

Chaikel the shamash would awaken the Jews on the Sabbath before dawn, to get up and come to the synagogue to say Psalms. In a pleasant, continuous tune, Chaikel would go and wake them, starting at the street of the bathhouse [Bathhouse Street], calling in order the names of the homeowners: “Barush, Mashal, Zalman, Avraham, get up for morning prayers – it is already 3:30!” When he had gone another 15 or 20 steps, again he would call out: “Eliyahu! Eliyahu Leib! Meir! Shlomo Zalman! Get up for Psalms, it is already 3:40!” In the courtyards, he did not go around from house to house, but stood opposite and woke all of them. Chaikel the shamash determined the time with precision and would go through the streets without paying any attention to the weather, neither to snow and ice, or winds and storms. At 5 o'clock in the morning, he finished his job.

Almost all of the men in the town got up to say Psalms according to Chaikel's invitation: some went to the bet midrashes to learn gemara; some went to the Psalms group at Kalman's brown house and some to the Torah group in the attic of the old synagogue, where Hershel Aharon Yonahs gave his pleasant lectures in his pleasant voice; some to the mishnayot group in Pesach Fleer's house, where Pesach Brill would first read the chapters of mishnayot out loud to his audience, and after that Shmuel Leib the shub would repeat them; some went to the bet midrash, where first Shmuel Motti and after him Yona Czentkowski were the permanent lecturers; some to the shoemakers' minyan, where they learned “Chayei Adam,” and some to the two Chassidic minyanim, where they all learned. All together, there were a total of nine houses of prayer and learning in Sokoly. They were all full of Jews, who had gotten up before dawn to serve the Creator.

At 7 o'clock in the morning on the Sabbath, Chaikel would call the congregation to the synagogue with his special tune, and would do the same for the afternoon prayers.

Chaikel received his salary of two rubles per week from donations that he would collect every Friday. He would skip over the homes of the poor. Chaikel had additional income from circumcisions and weddings. With difficulty, he would gather several gold coins per week, and he was nevertheless always satisfied.

Chaikel's wife, Chaike, earned her bread from orders for celebrations in the name of the in-laws. She would always available. For these occasions she wore a holiday dress, and with a smile on her lips, she went out to fulfill her high position. She would turn to the public, saying: “My dear ones and my honored ones! The bride and the mother-in-law have ordered me not to leave your place until you promise to come to the wedding!”

After Chaikel passed away, the job of shamash was given to his son Moshe Koppel, and the job of his wife Chaike was given to Moshe Koppel's wife, Rivka. They were more modern and more suited to the spirit of the times, and knew the characters of those who did the inviting and those who were invited.


Pranks of the Children in the Cheder

Zelig, may G-d avenge his blood, had the job of bringing the elderly Rabbi Menachem Yonah to prayers every day. He did this work twice every day. Zelig was a learned teacher and Chassid. He was the permanent reader of the Torah in the old study hall, and he blew the shofar during the month of Elul and the High Holidays. He checked the shofars professionally, and repaired them as necessary.

Otherwise, Zelig was an excellent bookbinder. He knew how to cover the outsides of the holy books with gold and silver. Only on Sundays when he taught Talmud, he sat with us children around a single table. Other than Talmud, we learned chapters of the Bible and Psalms. The other days of the week, Zelig sat at a different table and reviewed the chapters with us at a distance, by heart.

The Rebbe was a strict teacher, and woe to the boy who didn't look in the Talmud or did not immediately understand what was learned. To punish us, he used a strap, a whip or a stick.

Ordinarily, we would look for ways to hide the strap or the stick from him. On days when he didn't have the above-mentioned tools for hitting us, our limbs found rest and repose.

We had happy hours, when there was a circumcision in town and our Rebbe went to accompany the elderly Rabbi to the ceremony. After a number of hours, Reb Zelig would come back drunk and ask us: “Nu, what did you do? Were you playing, or studying the Gemara?”

He would apparently start to learn with us, but his eyes would close immediately, and he told us that he would go to nap for 15 minutes. Actually, he would sleep for more than an hour, and after he came back to us he would keep us there until after the afternoon prayers, and in the winter, until 9 o'clock in the evening. But we always found ways to shorten the hours of learning.

For example, the kerosene lamp would begin to smoke. When the Rabbi would turn his head for a moment, one of us would succeed in putting something into the lamp. The Rabbi would remove the glass tube to clean it, and then we would wet the wick. We would say to the Rabbi, apparently the kerosene is dirty and we have to bring more. That is how we wasted hours.

On Fridays, we had good days. First of all, we learned only half a day. Second, after breakfast the Rabbi immediately went to collect donations for the Rabbinical Court with a charity box in his hand.

During these free hours on winter days we would slide on the ice, and we played with buttons during the summer. The Rebbitzen Raizel Leah was a good woman, and she never told the Rabbi what we did. She told us that she was married at a very young age. Once, when her husband, our Rabbi, returned from the synagogue, he saw her playing with small stones, and she was very, very embarrassed.


Zelig's Son-in-Law - Yorsho

The Rabbi had two sons and three daughters. One of his sons-in-law, Henich, was a teacher and he inherited our Rabbi's position after he passed away, as the shamash of the Rabbinical Court. He also was the reader and shofar blower in the new bet midrash. Reb Henich was particular about cleanliness and he took care of his beard and clothing so that they would look nice. He would polish the glass tubes of the kerosene lamps, in his house and in the bet midrash.

Reb Henich had three sons. The oldest, Chaim Leibel, was talented. He had a wonderful handwriting. He was occupied in teaching and in artistic work. The slogans for the coronation of Csar Nikolai II in 1894 in the Russian language were made by Henich's brush. His parents were sorry that they were unable to make it possible for their son to complete his studies in the field of art. Later, he emigrated to America. We know that he served as the secretary of the Chicago-Sokoly Association.

Of Zelig's two sons, we were more familiar with the younger one. The older son, who was a scholar and was ordained as a rabbi, hid himself away for a long time, apparently from fear of being drafted into the Csar's army. The younger son, Leibel, taught us in the cheder occasionally instead of his father. He was gentle and nice; we loved him very much. He knew how to pray and blow the shofar very nicely. Sometimes he told us interesting and good stories. He inherited from his father artistic talent and bookbinding skills.

One who once looked in the registry of visits to the sick and the “righteous sleep” (about 50 members) would be surprised at the beautiful decorations drawn there in honor of each one of the members. Rabbi Leibel's talent could be appreciated from these works of art.

He was the son-in-law of Berish the shochet and learned the laws of ritual slaughter. After a short time, he was accepted as a shochet in Lapy.

The Rabbi of Lomza, Rav Malchiel, passed once through Lapy and saw Leib the shochet, and witnessing his expertise and character, admired him. Some time later, one of the shochtim in Lomza passed away, and Rav Malchiel requested that the congregation hire Leib in place of the man who had died. The members of the congregation requested that the shochet who would be appointed would pay the widow of the dead man 1500 rubles. Rav Malchiel did everything and made it possible for Leib to be accepted as a shochet in his city. He was beloved by everyone and later he became the chief shochet. An invitation also came to him from Lodz to work there as a shochet, but the community of Lomza did not agree to release him.

Reb Leib wrote two articles on the subject of slaughtering and inspection, and it was worth looking at, when the articles were presented for printing, just to enjoy his artistic handwriting.

Reb Leib was the father of three sons. One of them, Avraham, excelled everyone with his knowledge. In his youth, he learned shchita from his grandfather in Sokoly. After he was married, he served as a rabbi in Sneiodowo, near Lomza. His expertise and learning were very much appreciated, and Reb Avraham was regarded as a great man in Israel.


Rachel Olsha, of blessed memory. The wife of Chaim Olsha.
Rachel Olsha, of blessed memory. The wife of Chaim Olsha.


Shmuel Leib the shochet told me in admiration about Reb Avraham and predicted a shining future for him, if not like Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky from Vilna, who was regarded, after the Chafetz Chaim of blessed memory, as the greatest rabbi of the generation in Poland and Lithuania.

The Rabbi of Sniadowo was very busy with the needs of the congregation. He was a humble man, and was beloved by all.

This is the fruit of Reb Zelig, the shamash of the Rabbinical Court (his wife was a relative of our family). Their blessed son Reb Leib the shochet and their grandson, the Rabbi of Sniadowo, a great man in Israel. They were murdered in the Lomza ghetto, among thousands of Jews, may G-d avenge their blood! Woe on our loss – we will not forget!


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