The Stryj Community (Kehila) Between the Wars
Translated by Susan Rosin
Until the end of world war one, the Kehila leadership in Stryj was not elected democratically and Jewish Community affairs were conducted by parnasim (synagogue and congregational presidents) and local notables.
From the Mid-Nineteenth century the heads of the community were: Lippa Halpern, Anzel Goldstern, David Halpren (a descendant of rabbi Haim Halpern, one of the wealthiest Jews in eastern Galicia in the 19th century), Zelik Borak, Isaac (Itshi) Sheinfeld, Abraham Luft, Dr. Fichner and Dr. Wiesenberg.
During the war years (1914 1918) the Kehila was not very influential due to the state of emergency. After the downfall of Austria, the Ukrainians declared the West Ukrainian State with its capital in Satnislawow with Stryj included within the new state. The new Government proclaimed national equal rights for all minorities and published a memorandum to that effect in three languages Ukrainian, Polish and Yiddish. Based on this declaration, representatives of western Galician Jewry congregated in Stanisławów to establish a Jewish National Council (Jüdischer Nationalrat). Most of the representatives were from the nationalist stream. The council goals were to strengthen the national life of Galician Jews, to realize the Zionist ideas of building the Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to energize the masses and communities for the greater good of the people in the diaspora and Zion.
The Jews of Stryj joined in that effort and decided to take over the community matters out of the hands of the assimilationists and the strong-men and make it a democratic institution representing the population and serving its needs.
In the early days of November 1918, during the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Jews of Stryj congregated for a meeting that was called by all the parties. Following the meeting, a procession marched through the city streets to the Kehila offices. A delegation of 50 people comprised of all political parties, soldiers, officers and militia members walked into the offices and demanded that Dr. Wiesenberg surrender the keys, the books and leave the premises. The assimilated community leader left under protest and the elated delegation sang the Hatikvah marking their victory. A temporary national council was established representing all parties, various religious movements, the labor, professional and economic organizations. The 48 member council was comprised as follows: Zionist: Dr. Shlomo Goldberg, Dr. Zeev Presser, Dr. Mordechai Kaufman, Dr. S. Wandell, Dr. Rosmann, Professor Max Bienenstock, Professor Spät, Dr. Norbert Schiff, Shalom Reich, Naphtali Ziegel, Magister Sternberg, the teacher Tauber, Rachel Katz, Abraham Apfelgreen, M. Wohlmut, Berel Stern, Ben-Zion Radler, Jacob Buksbaum, Shmuel Shenbach, Leibush Pickholz, Shmuel Ginsburg. Poalei Zion: Levi Opper, Abraham Hoyftmann, Berel Friedman, Shlomo Rossler, Professor Ekser. Economic organizations: Herman Krempner, Isaac Reich, Leo Teller, Moerdechai Wagner. Professional organizations: and societies: Abraham Levin, Israel Klieger, Davidman. Religious bodies (synagogues): Haim Redler, Shalom Stern, Shmuel Klein, Shlomo Garfunkel, Abraham Egid, Moidel Fritsch, Zvi Fefferbaum. The Bund: Israel Dornfeld, Isaiah Rossler, Moshe Wagman, Nathan Welker, Vove Kenigsberg, Benjamin Ber, and others.
The city was occupied by the Poles in the summer of 1919 and elections for the National Council were held immediately thereafter. The composition of the National Council was almost identical to that elected during the period of Ukrainian rule proving the stability and the aspirations of the Jews of Stryj in the struggle for their national rights through changing governments. However, the Polish authorities did not favor the rise of the Jewish National Movement and their desire for national rights. Supporting those that never joined the National Movement and the assimilationists they arbitrarily appointed P. Begleiter as head of the Community. The Zionist organizations protested this appointment and felt they were entitled to make their suggestions about elections for the community.
In 1922 after two years under his leadership and based on an agreement, the leadership of the community passed to
representatives of the Zionist parties. The community council had 16 members: Dr. Shlomo Goldberg, Dr. Zeev Presser, Dr. Mordechai Kaufmann, Professor Isaac Bernfeld, Magister Abba Sternberg, Zvi Krampner, Abraham Apfelgreen, Leibush Pickholz, Shalom Stern, Abraham Levin, Zeev (Wolf) Spiegel, Joseph Leibowitz, Shalom Schwartz, Shlomo Garfunkel, Israel Dornfeld and Nathan Welker.
Due to public pressure, the authorities approved elections for the Kehila on November 5th, 1924. A voters' list of 1,200 was published. The authorities disqualified many of the Zionist voters, but the activists did not stop their efforts and 200 voters were added to the list. Dr. Abraham Insler spoke at a large gathering and emphasized the Zionism closeness to religious and traditional values. The Zionists and orthodox created a joint list of candidates and only Agudat Israel boycotted the elections. The elections led to victory for the Zionist lists who won about 80% of the votes. Dr. Insler was elected as the Kehila head but could not officiate due to his other political and public commitments. In January 1925 the Polish authorities surprisingly cancelled the legal elections, and new ones were announced. In May the same year the Zionist list triumphed once again in spite of the authorities objections. Dr. Shlomo Goldberg was elected as the head of the kehila, and Mordechai Kaufmann, Prof. Isaac Bernfeld, Dr. Z. Presser, Magister Abba Sternberg, Dr. Norbert Schiff, Zvi Krampner, Aryeh (Leibush) Pickholtz, Eliezer Apfelgreen, Abraham Levin, Shlomo Gurfunkel, Mendel Horowitz, Shmuel Klein, Israel Dornfeld and Shalom Stern. Agudat Israel was defeated again. Proportional elections to the Kehila were held for the first time in July 1928. Five parties presented their candidates to the voters. The national list received 800 votes, Agudat Israel 386 votes, Yad Harutzim (Diligent Hand) (craftsmen) 192 votes, Poalei Zion 148 votes and a private party 276 votes. The private party candidates represented only their private interests and not the greater good.
In November that year elections were held for the leadership of the Kehila. The ten member leadership was elected from the three streams Zionists, joint list of Zionists and Poalei Zion and Agudat Israel with some smaller political factions. The Zionists and Poalei Zion gained 6 spots guaranteeing a majority for the national parties.
The Zionist and national parties gained a majority again in the July 23rd, 1929 elections. The Zionist organization got 9 representatives out of the 15 council leadership positions and the craftsmen 1. Agudat Israel again appealed the elections results to the authorities thus delaying the important work of the council for the good of the Jews of Stryj. The members of the national movement offered to work with Agudat Israel but the latter preferred that the authorities appoint an administrator. This situation continued until 1932 when a new election law was enacted. The following members were elected: Zionists - Dr. Mordechai Kaufmann, Moshe Aaron Wohlmut, Zvi Krampner, Shimshon Steiner, Shalom Stern, Shlomo Gurfunkel; Hamizrahi - Selig Zwilling, Zeev Spiegel and Jecheskiel Lehrer; Hitahdut (Union) Party - Dr. Azriel Eisenstein, Haim Neuman, Leib Schwamer; Agudat Israel - Shammai Gertner, Shimon Weiss, Mendel Horowitz, H. M. Neubauer, and Moshe Zechariah Goldberg; Yad Harutzim (diligent hand) Abraham Levin, Michel Hammerschlag; Unaffiliated Leibush Pferbaum, Mordechai Lorberbaum, Prof. Bernfeld and after his passing Nathan Welker.
The new council's main role was to recover the kehila financially and to provide the social and religious needs of the community. It was also decided to allocate a budget for the national funds for Eretz Israel.
In 1932 the kehila budget was 189,179 zloty. The following funds were allocated: education and culture - 10,600 zloty, social programs 36,350 zloty, investments 15,000 zloty. The budget for that year grew by 20,000 zloty. The kehila took over the management of Chevra kadisha,
the Jewish hospital and the Talmud Torah.
In 1936 the community was headed by Dr. Presser, with Dr. Mishel as vice-chairman, Benjamin Klein as Council Chairman and Israel Zeidman as vice-chairman. In 1938 the kehila opened the Dr. Bernfeld public library and was headed by Baruch Neumann.
There were differences of opinion with regard to the choice of a new rabbi after the death of Rabbi Ladier. Certain elements wanted to undermine the work done by the Kehila and its head Dr. Presser that was supported and well liked by the community. The authorities took advantage of the conflict and entrusted the kehila to the non-Zionist Jewish Economical Society. The Jewish public opposed this arbitrary appointment and demonstrated its support of the kehila executives led by Dr. Presser. It needs to be noted that a delegation of Hamizrahi, Agudat Israel and the Belz chassidim visited the local commissioner and expressed their support of the kehila leadership under Dr. Presser.
This was the last Community Council of Stryj Jewry. The red army occupation ended the Jewish autonomy.
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