by Shabtai Keshev (Klugman)
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Edited by Stacey Swann
Grandfather and his Manners
It is a given fact that the people of Zawiercie knew each other. It is also a given that they knew Reb Mendel Meir, a Jew of average height with a yellow beard that flowed down to his chest. He was one of the two privileged people who had won the great lottery with the rights to receive merchandise directly from the large manufacturing factory Zawiercie. In addition, he owned not small home on Marszalkowska Street next to the crossing (przejście). He was the father of nine sons and two daughters. Nevertheless, I am very doubtful whether there was even one Jew in Zawiercie who could state that he really knew Grandfather.
Grandfather was closed within himself and reserved within himself. He was quiet and taciturn. He did not ask questions in order to stimulate a conversation, and he did not give answers that open the gate to lengthy conversation. He was one of the most socially isolated person that I had ever met in my life. Grandfather lived among his own people, in his town that did not live according to his principles, and there was not even one man in the town who befriended him. Furthermore, he was a loner even among his own Hassidim, the Ger Hasidic shtibels or the Pilice Hassidic shtibels, where he worshipped all his life. He walked isolated within the bustling Hassidic crowd, as if he was a misnaged (a term for an opponent of Hassidism) who fell into a crowd that was not his own. I never saw him carrying on a mundane conversation, or a conversation about politics, gossip, or about Hassidism, as Jewish people are wont to do. Throughout his life, he came only to worship in the Hassidic shtibel on Sabbaths and festivals. During the rest of the year, he would worship on his own in his house. And further, he was isolated in his own house among his relatives who would come to visit as well as among his children. He was a loner. I never saw him just conversing with people in a way that brings the hearts of one another closer together neither with relatives nor with his children. The distance that he set up between himself and his children was not just a distance of a parent, but rather flowed forth from his essence. He always followed the adage, do not mix with those who are different, and to him, the entire world was in the category of different.
Many people, especially some of his relatives, considered him to be arrogant. They even claimed that this superiority was baseless. Indeed, Grandfather was wise, and many both relatives and nonrelatives would come to ask his advice. Some people called him Bismark, but he had nothing to boast about regarding his wealth or scholarship. He was not greatly wealthy, nor was he a great scholar. If there was any selfimportance, it was of a unique type. It did not stem from any greatness on Grandfather's part, but rather from the fact that his view of his environment and the world was not totally positive. Perhaps we should
look for a solution to one mysterious riddle. Why did Grandfather, who was a Hassid, never travel to the Rebbe of Ger or even to the Rebbe of Pilica, which was next to Zawiercie, and who was considered an agency of Ger?
The People of Grandfather's Courtyard
I was still a young boy when a question about Grandfather's behavior came to my mind. The people of Zawiercie, just like the Jews of other Holy Jewish communities, pursued honors and public appointments. There were those who wanted to be the head of the community, those who wanted to be the gabbai of the Beis Midrash, and those who were satisfied with lesser appointments. Not so with Grandfather. He was a respectable householder but was never nominated to any public position. Once I expressed my doubt to one of my adult uncles who still lived in Grandfather's house. He told me the following story: When Grandfather came to Zawiercie from Żarki, he was a young man. He was the soninlaw of the rabbi of Żarki, Rabbi Moshe Bomes. He opened a hide shop which was not successful, so he liquidated it. He was accepted politely by the veterans of the city. His fatherinlaw, the rabbi of Żarki, moved also to Zawiercie and served there as a Rabbi. Grandfather was chosen as the head of the Chevra Kadisha immediately when he arrived in the town. This was a oneyear position, as was the custom of Chevra Kadishas. After this single year, it was impossible to convince him to accept any other communal position.
If this was arrogance, there was another aspect to it that was even stranger. Those people who by nature who had to suffer from grandfather behavior did not know anything about it. On the contrary, Grandfather's shop, which was a shop of the products of the Manufakture Zawiercie, included all kind of products just like all the other shops. Grandfather's shop was more than just a shop; it was a kind of office. Grandfather's main customers were wholesale dealers from a nearby region who were unable to purchase directly from the factory. Thus was the way of the merchants: They would come every morning with their bundles of cash money. This was different from the other manufacturing shops in Poland, which would sell their products for credit and for long terms payments. The Zawiercie Manufakture sold its products only for actual cash, at low price, for its products were low end. The merchants would meet with Grandfather in the sala which was the closed, wellfurnished room that was an inseparable part of every home of a wealthy Jewish person. They would discuss the prices and come to an agreement, then they would give Grandfather the order and the money. At this point Grandfather walked toward the factory. Several hours later, large wagons hitched with strong horses arrived and unloaded the merchandise at the store. These were days of joy. There was noise and bustle in the shop. There were other days, no small number of them, when customers did not
come, and grandfather, the lad who worked in the shop and us, the young children, we were all bored together.
The Jewish idlers, the unemployed, and those full of worries took maximum advantage of the days of boredom. They made Grandfather's shop a home to escape from their worries. These people could not find a solution for their worries, thus they took upon themselves the concerns of the worldatlarge in general and of the wealthy people and leaders of the city in particular. The first of those who sat in Grandfather's shop was Mendel Jakubowicz. He was a scoffer, a maskil heretic with no bread. He was dependent for his entire life on the table of his children from afar, whether in Łodż or Tomaszów. Other semiregulars were Fishel Pinczower, who was he teacher of almost all of Grandfather's children; Itshe Meirl, the black Goldberg; and other Jews. Some ordinary Jews always joined them, including temporary guests who popped in for a moment and remained in the store for many hours. I am confident that not one of them felt Grandfather's haughtiness.
Grandfather's habit in these conversations was creative: participation and nonparticipation. He paid attention from a distance, listening but not saying anything. He only interjected a word or piece of advice from time to time jesting coated in cotton, like some sort of hidden barb regarding the topic or one of the speakers. His face remained as serious as it was, and it was only possible to notice the smile from under his thick, yellow mustache. Grandfather fought it and succeeded in stifling it.
This constant jesting was one of the characteristic traits that Grandfather used in his conversations with the young children, his children, and grandchildren. He also used this form of speech with the type of people who were most beloved to him: the people of his court. This was the large circle of tradesmen who served the household or its members. There was Meir, the cobbler, the Jew with the long, white tin beard and the glasses tied to both sides with two flat, faded strings. Shaya, the hunchback, who was expert in modifying clothing styles to the current style, and was, therefore, hated by the young generation of Grandfather's children who were under Shaya's care until the age of Bar Mitzvah when they were transferred to Ber, the tailor. In this entourage there was also Reb David, the tinsmith, who had a long, white beard and would tar the roof of Grandfather's big, long house. Of course, Walberg is not missing from this list. He was the barberdoctor who would give the children haircuts in normal times and would administer enemas, castor oil, cupping glasses, and other such tasty things during times of illness. Grandfather would chat with these people more than with the Jews of the shop and the Hassidic shtibel that is to say, he chatted according to his manner.
Michal and Jaszek
Grandfather had two other people with whom he would start a conversation two gentiles. Michal Gajak and Jaszek. Michal Gajac was just an oven builder, but Grandfather promoted him and made him a builder. Michal, was quiet, dedicated and faithful, and he honored people in general, Grandfather's family in particular and most of all Grandfather. He became the person who repaired and constructed anything that was required in the house. Grandfather would sit and explain, in his Polish, the plans to Michal. Michal would nod his head, sometimes from side to side as a sign of disagreement, but more often up and down as a sign that he understood and agreed. Grandfather would sit and listen to Michal's explanations, accounts, reservations and his personal issues. A few lines should be dedicated here to Michal's assistant, Jaszek, on account of the following story.
Jaszek was the guard of Grandfather's house. He was a gentile who spoke Yiddish like one of the Jews. He would spice it with many idioms, words and expressions from the Holy Language. He was an alcoholic, and in addition he was dealing with hunting snakes (which he would put into spirits, the reason for which I do not know to this day). He was also known for beating his wife. When he was not drunk, he would enter Grandfather's house to get instructions. Once he uttered a saying that became an adage in Grandfather's house, in his shop, and with many of our acquaintances. With it, Jaszek managed to get Grandfather to burst out in hearty laughter.
Grandfather's habit, all his life, was that he did not eat breakfast. He would retire by himself to the sala between noon and 2:00 p.m. to worship for a long time. After his prayers, he would eat lunch by himself, before the group came home from the cheders and Beis Midrash. He had a custom that after reciting the hamotzie blessing, he would pour a small glass of liquor for himself from the bottle. After pouring, he would put the bottle back in the closet. It happened that one time Jaszek came to Grandfather's house right when Grandfather was sitting down for lunch. It was a hot day, and Jaszek stood in the yard next to the window, waiting for a chance to ask Grandfather his questions. Then he saw a strange thing, which he could not imagine. There was a bottle of liquor, and it was not finished in one gulp. He could not control himself, and despite all the honor he felt in his heart for Grandfather, he asked, Reb Mendel Meir, there is liquor left? Grandfather could not control himself, and he burst out in laughter. This was one of the very rare occasions where Grandfather laughed heartily. Jaszek's assertion became an adage even beyond Grandfather's home.
Grandfather brought to the world eleven offspring, none of whom really resembled him, neither in their physical appearance nor in their personality. This was not only the case with my uncles and aunts who left the path of
their father, but also with the two sons who followed his paths and manners. My uncles Herszel and Yisrael were not like their father, even though each of them took more than 1/60th of his essence. The divide between fathers and children is an ironclad rule in human life. Each generation has its own struggles in life, with Gd, with people, and each generation has its own solutions. This is the case in uneventful years, and even more so during times of storms and destruction. The times in which Grandfather's descendants grew up were days of hostile changes in the life of Israel (Jewish People in the diaspora) in Poland. It was a period of moral change. Those were the years in which the boundaries sanctified for many generations were breached. The new generation had to forge its own limits as well as its new content.
At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, every Jewish home was a battleground between the old world and the new world: Hassidism against the Haskala (Jewish enlightenment), Zionism, Socialism, and assimilation. It is no wonder that Grandfather's house was also a battle ground of this nature. However, the bulk of the battle was not upon Grandfather's shoulders but upon Grandmother's. It was Grandfather's way not to complain directly to his children, but rather to go through his faithful emissary: Grandmother. She was under constant pressure in a manner invisible to the eye: a pressure from her husband, whom she understood more than the children did, and pressure from the children, whose spirit she understood more than their father did. Grandmother, who was the opposite of Grandfather, both in her appearance and in her soul, was always occupied with this sublime diplomacy in extinguishing the constant fires between the father and the children.
My father, Nachman David, was Grandfather's eldest son. A sort of invisible, but very real, wall existed between Grandfather and my father. At times, the wall took on a very obvious form, and at times it could only be noticed by a very astute eye. Father was much loved by Grandmother, as is the case in many families where the woman loves her firstborn child more than the rest of the children. Grandfather loved his second child, Uncle Binyamin, more than any other son.
My own knowledge of my father and the stories I heard from my mother and other relatives helped me to create an image of my father's struggles with his life and with his surrounding before I came to the world. In his youth, father was a literal apikoros [heretic], even though he was never a maskil. When he reached his conclusions about the Jewish religion, he felt the need of simple love of life. Unlike Uncle Binyamin, he was not prepared to fight for his ideas. He kept his beliefs to himself but conducted his life in accordance with his ideas.
Father was similar in temperament and character to Grandmother. In contrast to Grandfather, who was moderate and cautious, who would weigh each matter 101 times, Father was quick to make decisions and act. In contrast to Grandfather, who was closed within himself, Father, like Grandmother, was involved with people
with all people: old and young. In contrast to Grandfather, who was slow to anger and slow to appease, my father got angry easily and was very easy to appease. Grandfather was calm externally and stormy inside, whereas Father was stormy outside and peaceful inside. However, I do not think that it was only the differences in character that formed the wall between Grandfather and his first born son.
The primary battle between those two was the religious life. Father's relationship with the religion was very complex. Grandfather's way was to teach his children Torah, Torah and even more Torah. When the children reached the age of ten or eleven, he sent them to study in the house of a certain teacher, expert and veteran, Shlomole of Koziegłowy, a town near Zarki. Stories I heard from my uncles about this teacher, about whom they told jokes for many years, I know that he often used his strap and at times my uncles escaped from his house. If my memory is not wrong, my younger uncles, Efraim and Yehoshua, who were approximately my age, excelled in perpetrating the escapes. Father (and it seems to me, also Uncle Binyamin) studied later on, between the time of their Bar Mitzvahs and their weddings, with the rabbi of Amstow. Even though Father was not one of the greatest scholars, he left the Rabbinic schools with great proficiency which, combined with his great memory and quick comprehension, made him a great scholar. But while Father was a notable scholar, he was very far from anything that had a connection with actual religious life.
Theoretically, during daytoday life, he was like any of the Jews of the town. He would go to worship on Sabbaths and festivals in the Ger or Pilice Shtibel. He would even wear his silk kapote with the katifa cap. (These were sewn in the manner of the intelligent people by a modern tailor and were the final word in the fashion of the modern people among the Hassidim.) Throughout his life, he would purchase Maftir all year, Maftir Yonah on Yom Kippur, and Chatan Bereshit for the Sabbath of Bereshit. Three times a year, the entire community of Hassidim would come to his house to celebrate, and the wine would be spilled as water. Nevertheless, he quietly behaved like one of the free thinking people in the land, in a manner such that even Mother or I would not know (nevertheless, I knew, and I also understand that Mother knew). Still, his behavior was not hypocrisy, but rather he had some conflict and he tried to accept the situation.
Father was a man who delights in life. He loved beauty and nature. To this day I do not understand how such a provincial Jew filled his home, some fifty years ago, with pictures, birds, goldfish and flowers. I suspect that he even found money for such things during difficult times and did not notice the talks or gazes of those around him, who would look at him as someone out of his mind. Have you ever seen a Jewish merchant, householder and Gerrer Hassid occupying himself with such trivia?
Father was not a Zionist. He was not, Gd forbid, antiZionist; however, in ordinary times he was occupied with other things: business, flowers, birds and entertaining guests. Almost all of Grandfather's children worked for some time in commerce. However, Father was a true businessman, a businessman from birth,
who loved his profession and swam in it like a fish? Second to him was Uncle Yehoshua. Father loved to welcome guests in his home, both allies, Jews who were Hassidim or freethinking, and nonallies, people from the elite of the Russian or Polish officials. This friendship with the nonallies often resulted in positive things for the Jews of the city. He was an inherently lobbyist. He loved to do good for a Jew, and to help Jews in need of favors. Father never withheld any effort in helping a Jew and never took any benefit for himself.
He had another odd trait he loved literature but not Hebrew literature. That is to say, his primary interest was foreign literature. I had my first encounter with Polish literature in our house. As time went on, Yiddish literature became common in our home and later, even Hebrew literature. However, here began the complicated relationship between Father and the younger generation and this led to the tense relationship between us.
Uncle Binyamin was grandfather's tragedy and perhaps he even was his own tragedy. He was one of two sons of Grandfather's who were distinguished scholars. The second was Uncle Yisrael. Uncle Binyamin was the first of Grandfather's children whom Grandfather truly loved. I am sure that no other son earned such an intense love. Uncle Binyamin was actually the first of his sons to cast off the yoke of Torah and fear of Heaven. He became a sort of Israel sinner to spite his community. A person has to imagine for himself the Zawiercie of more than fifty years ago in order to understand the meaning of the words. A Jewish man, particularly from a known Hassidic family, who would not go to services on Yom Kippur! Even the Germans (die Deitchen) who were officials of the factory (that is: Zawiercie), the high directors who were assimilated and sons of assimilated Jews, would come to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, whereas Yumele, as my uncle was called by all the people of the town in a way of provocation and affection, would not come! He only agreed to come to pray in the synagogue on Yom Kippur in later years after a great deal of pleading from his Grandmother.
Uncle Binyamin was perhaps the first heresy (apikoros) of the city. In particular, he was the first apikoros among the Hassidic families. He went through the traditional paths that all his contemporaries went though: the Beis Midrash, Haskalah, and Zionism. Even though he received no secular education at his parents' home, he himself was very diligent in acquiring broad knowledge. He reached the point of speaking fluent German. He was very studious in Hebrew until literally the end of his life. He was one of two of Grandfather's sons, the other being Uncle Chaim, who had deep knowledge of the Hebrew language and loved it without limits. Uncle Binyamin also wrote songs. Some of the songs had a real poetic spirit. He had all the traits to develop into a poet or writer,
but he did not have the luck. After his first wife died, he married the daughter of a very wealthy family (Frysztajer, from Rachów near Lublin). His fatherinlaw died when he was still quite young, and he inherited the entire huge estate, together with the sons and the daughters, who were even younger than him. What would young people do, when they have no experience and no desire to become the owner of an estate, to prevent their wealth from deteriorating?
Of course, Uncle Binyamin did not restrict himself only to the subjects of literature and language. During those days, there were changes that have an impact on the people, the nation and the world. For some people these changes were like evil dreams. Some people had to work hard to bring the desired change. The Haskala and Zionism joined together to view the Jewish way of life in the Diaspora in a negative way. From this partnership, an actual HaskalaZionist enterprise was founded in Zawiercie: The Konsum or cooperative, a consumer shop. I was a young child in those days, and I only recall the clean store the local's practice that was set up by Uncle Binyamin and some of his friends. (If my memory is not wrong, the store was somewhere opposite the factory). As far as I recall, my uncle and his two close friends, Shlomo Baumac, and Yosef Sobelman, were the primary workers of the cooperative.
The ‘cooperative’ did not last long. The victory of the political reactionaries in Russia brought along with it, as a matter of fact, also a spiritual reaction. These were the days of Saninism in the life of Russia (social, personal, and sexual nihilism). Its echoes reached even the borders of Zawiercie. I have never discussed with Uncle Binyamin this period in his life, even though we were very close with each other during the fifteen years prior to the war. Even so, I am certain that the Russian nihilism had a great and deep effect on him. Due to its influence, he distanced himself from all communal matters and devoted himself to his private life: to maximize the pleasure of this world to the extent that life can provide. Grab and eat! Grab and eat! was the imperative of the time, and they all followed it. Unlike father, who had periods of repentance and of returning to his former life, not only formally and externally but also really spiritually, Uncle Binyamin never repented. For all his life, he remained the same Apikoros maskil that he was during his youth. Unlike Father, who was an enthusiastic merchant, Uncle Binyamin was not a merchant at all. Even during his latter days, during the final decade before the war when his economic situation was very good, he did not live from commerce but rather from other businesses. In contrast to my father, who did follow the old path yet there was always a wall between him and Grandfather, Uncle Binyamin and Grandfather understood each other and honored each other, despite the many differences between them, until their final breath.
Two of my uncle's sons, David and Michael, perished in the Holocaust. Only one of the four sons, the youngest Moshe, survived. He lives in Paris and is an electric and radio engineer.
Uncle Nachum, Grandfather's third son, was perhaps the most unfortunate of all the children. Bad luck accompanied him since his youth, and perhaps from even before. In contrast to my father who was an expert merchant and Uncle Binyamin the scholarmaskilapikoros, he was a simple man who had no high ambition. Then a tragedy occurred. His wife, whom he loved as his soul, was afflicted with melancholy disease. It happened when she was engaged to him but still living in her father's house. Only a person who can bet his entire life on one roll of a dice could have done what Uncle Nachum did for his fiancée and later for his wife, Dvorale, who became sick again after they got married. This unhappy love lasted for many years. My aunt got sick, recovered, and got sick again. In the end my uncle, on the advice of the physicians, was forced to divorce her. It was a tragedy for both of them. My aunt recovered after she married another man. This tragedy left its print on the entire life of Uncle Nachum. He later got married and had children with his second wife as well. However, his life was shattered, for his heart was attracted to his first love, his childhood love.
Uncle Nachum did not seek greatness, but life brought him respect. Uncle Binyamin supported him with one hand and rejected him with his other hand. They were business partners for many years, until their paths separated. However, even after separating, some unknown force pulled the simple person into the domain of the person who was more successful, more knowledgeable and more intellectual.
Uncle Nachum was never interested in any politics, or in any battles with the Holy One. He was the most typical person of our city during that time. He was a trader. He wasn't one of those attending the Hassidic Shtibel. He did not distance himself in particular from the old tradition. I wonder if he ever forgot to recite the mincha service. However, he understood the new generation well and never thought of waging war against it.
One son survived, also named Moshe. He lives in Hadera, Israel.
In Poland at the beginning of the 20th century, as everyone knows, there was an unwritten rule among the Hassidic families. The boys would go to the Beis Midrash and Yeshiva to study Torah and Talmud. The girls would go to study education and Polish culture. Grandfather's house was not the exception to this rule. The first daughter that was born in the house, Elka, graduated from the local Pansia Polish girls school. I wonder if anyone ever attempted to tell her about Jewish culture or about the history of the Jewish people. She was an excellent student, as was often the case with Jewish girls. She probably unknowingly was absorbed by the Polish culture.
This left its marks. When she got involved in a different culture, she obviously
became alienated from the Jewish culture, about which she knew nothing. At that time many young Jewish people joined the movement of national Zionism, Enlightment (Haskala, secular culture ) and assimilation. It seems to me that were it not for the influence of Uncle Binyamin, Aunt Elka would have gone far, far away, losing her way, like other Jewish girls. She would have become radically assimilated or would adopted the Polish revolutionary ideology. However, the girl was attracted to her brother's home, which was completely freethinking, albeit with Jewish content.
Sometimes, in a place that one finds the rescue, one also finds the peril. The danger was very serious. In any case, this is how Grandfather saw it. Uncle Binyamin had a brotherinlaw who would frequently visit their house. He was a modern young gentleman who wore short clothes, was clean shaven, and spoke Polish. Of course, what could such a young lad do to avoid falling in love with a young girl, beautiful and intelligent, who dreams of leaving the narrow confines of her provincial, Hassidic Jewish home of some fifty years ago? And what could such a young girl do to avoid returning love with love?
Grandfather could not bear such a tragedy. This was a greater blow than the blow he had received from Uncle Binyamin, for here issues of modesty also came into play. Only very rarely did I see Grandfather lose his temper. One of these rare occasions was when he found out about the love between Elka and Leon Prisztajer. Only once did I see Grandfather raise a hand to hit one of his children. That was this time. He stormed, fumed and threatened, and nobody in the house dared to calm him. Of course, the first victim of his great anger was the books, the impure secular books. I recall that at that time of his greatest wrath, his second daughter Yentel Janka arrived home from her Polish school with a schoolbag on her shoulder. The books were tossed immediately into the fire atop the oven.
There was something unique about the relationship between Grandfather and the children. Aside from Uncle Binyamin, none of them dared to absolutely disobey him. In another house, the daughter, probably, would have fought for her right to love. Aunt Elka did not insist. Grandmother used her great wisdom and deep diplomacy to exorcise the malicious spirit of love from her. It is quite possible that my aunt was not even in love at all, for she was a novice in matters of love, and the lad was the one who enticed her.
Aunt Elka seemed to stand at the periphery of nationalist and communal life. The time before the World War I had an impact on the young Jewish people. Zionism was still in its infancy in Congress Poland. Assimilation and nonJewish Socialism were prevalent. Elka remained within the realm of life of the spirit, which was Polish literature, of course, until she accepted the will of her parents and married a Jewish lad from Grandfather's social class, from a wellpedigreed, Hassidic family. She became a proper Jewish woman once she got married, a faithful wife and dedicated mother, as were her mother and grandmother.
Her three children survived. All of them, including the writer Rivka KvyatkovskyPinhasik, live in Israel.
As is known, there are seventy facets of the Torah. Nevertheless, its spiritual aspect is to do kindness, walk humbly with Gd, love humanity and love Israel. Many chose a face of the Torah for themselves. Uncle Hershel chose its soul. He was the tzadik of the family. Not in vain, the Gerrer Rabbi said of him, I do not have many Hershels.
Already in his youth, he chose a way of doing charitable work. I recall Uncle Hershel helping those who wandered the street, the poor people who go begging from door to door. It was probably in the year 1910 when Uncle Hershel set up the hospitality place in one of the rooms in Grandfather's house actually in the attic above Grandfather's apartment. I do not recall exactly how long this institution lasted, but I do recall that it was not for too long. Nevertheless, this personality trait lasted to the end of his life, whether he was one of the lads of the Beis Midrash or the gabbai (accounts manager) of the book purchase society, Kinyan Sfarim, or during his adult years when he had already lived in Wolbrom or Krakow, where he did what a Jew did in Poland.
We may say that all of us, even the brothers and nephews who thrust off the yoke, loved Uncle Hershel. In his youth they said of him that he had perfect virtues. Among his virtues was his love to carve wood with the help of a small saw. I think that he also learned to play the violin. He was handsome with dark skin, and his expression was warm and cordial. A thread of human kindness attracted people to him and inspired them to trust him.
As had been said, my uncle did not veer from the paths of his youth. On the contrary, as he got older, his embrace of the Torah and the commandments became stronger. Among Grandfather's children he was, perhaps, the most indifferent to business life. With him, it was not merely a matter of lack of talent. Above all, it was a matter of internal resistance, a lack of internal drive to make peace with all the corruption that the practical world forces a person to comply with. It is no wonder that he did not succeed in the world of business and was forced step into a different world: the world of education. He became the principal of the Aguda School in Krakow and continued there until his last day at the hands of the Nazis.
He perished with his entire family, his wife and children. He was one of the four of Grandfather's children who left no descendants. The only monument that he left behind for himself was the book Divrei Tzvi, a commentary on Pirkei Avot with a Yiddish translation
Uncle Yisrael was more like Grandfather than the other children, even more than Uncle Binyamin. Binyamin was similar to grandfather only in his physical appearance and in terms of arrogance. That was not the case with Uncle Yisrael. He was mentally like Grandfather. He was withdrawn and reclusive. He was extremely taciturn, and the price of getting a word from him was as high as the Treasure of Korach. There is nothing new about it. Uncle Yisrael was a distinguished scholar. His erudition did not come easily through his quick comprehension and good skills. He carved the Torah out of his soul. He gave up his time, his youth, everything all pleasures of this world. He was very diligent. Anyone who did not see him in the Beis Midrash, always sitting in the same place, always quiet, always studying in silence, always immersed in a book in front of him, from early morning until late at night, has never seen a diligent student in his life.
The Torah remained the joy of his life also when he got married. Unlike many other Beis Midrash students who unwittingly use the sharpness and depth of the Sea of Talmud when they enter practical life, he remained estranged and separated from practical and business life which, according to the norm, should have also become his world. He was never successful in earning a place for himself in practical life, even temporarily, and even during the seven years of plenty. He quickly lost the dowry that was given to him from both sides and became a person with no means of support. Despite his poverty, he never quit the tents of Torah. His only interest was to study the Torah, day and night. I am convinced that after a day of hardship, he waited for the advent of night so that he could immerse himself in the sea of Talmud and the early and late commentators without the daily worries and without the tumult of his children.
This is how he lived his entire life. He served as an unofficial shochet [ritual slaughterer], first in Zawiercie and later in łodz. He always had all the buttons done up. He was quiet and modest, a man for whom Torah was the joy of his life, his only consolation in life. He perished during the Holocaust. His two sons and one daughter survived. The three of them live in Israel.
Though his brothers, Hershel and Yisrael, the closest to him in age and spirit, were solely men of Torah and Hassidism, Uncle Chaim was a fine mixture of Torah and worldliness. He was an intelligent, religious man in the finest sense of the term. He had all good things: Torah and Hassidism, enlightenment and a propensity for communal work, both in matters of this world and matters of eternity.
He was the first man in Poland, or at least one of the first few, who attempted to merge Torah and religion with modern ideas. Even before the First World War,
when the words organization and institution were immoral in the eyes of Hassidic Jews, he was the first to discuss, with the people of Agudas Yisroel in Germany, the establishment of some type of Agudas Yisroel in Poland. The behavior of Orthodox Judaism of Frankfurt stood before his eyes from the perspective of Torah and education, with the addition of one thing that Frankfurt did not know about: the love of the Land of Israel.
Uncle Chaim was an activist by nature. He wanted advocate change and to improve the world. That is what gave him the drive to establish Agudas Yisroel in Poland. He recognized the need for improvement in the life of the Jewish nation, but he did not want to throw out the baby with the impure water. Thus, he remained observant of Torah and the tradition until the end of his life, as well as a lover of the Hebrew language and the Land of Israel.
In addition to his activism, which declined greatly after he became involved in practical life, he had one other great love the Hebrew language. As was noted, he was second to Uncle Binyamin regarding his knowledge and love of the language. Also his very close friend, Yosef Brauner, was faithful to the Hebrew language. I often suspected that Uncle Chaim was attracted to Yosef not because of his ideas for I had many reasons to suspect that Yosef was discreetly freer in his ideas than he allowed himself to be known in public but rather because of their mutual love of the Hebrew language.
Uncle Chaim was one of the sons of Grandfather who remained a merchant at times less successful and at times more successful. However, he was never only a merchant. Books and matters of the spirit and eternity were the breath of his life. Newspapers were his vice. He always had newspapers in all languages sticking out of the pockets of his clothes. He was always prepared to enter into a debate about some hot topic of current events, even when he was very busy with his business.
He perished in the Holocaust, but two children survived his son, who is a journalist, and his daughter, both in Poland.
by Matilda WerdigerSpiwak
Translated by Jon Levitow
They had to get my father out of Pilica in secret because the people of the town didn't want to let him go. The rest of the family also had to be smuggled out later. The transport consisted of my mother, my brother Yosef, oneyearold, and me (then two or three years old). The rest of the children in the family were born in Zawiercie.
The episode almost didn't end happily because the young roughnecks in Pilica threatened violence, but we had some good friends in Pilica (named Hochcayt today they are contractors in TelAviv and Goldkon), and they calmed the Pilicer crowd down.
When we arrived in Zawiercie, we could find no suitable place to live. We stored our things at Hendl Homer's store and looked for an apartment. The elderly Moszkowicz (the soninlaw of old Momeloks) had a five room apartment in a small, wooden building next to a large orchard on Marszalkowska St. He was asked if he would rent the apartment to the Cantor, and he answered, First I want to look over the Cantor's wife! He wanted to know if she was clean.
Moszkowicz looked over the Cantor's wife, and he agreed to rent the Cantor the apartment. At the time only Dobe the baker and the elderly Moszkowicz lived in the building. We lived in the apartment on Marszalkowska for twentyfive or twentysix years. Then it fell victim to a great fire.
Our apartment soon became a kind of club for a range of social classes in the city. My father played the violin (he played first by ear and then learned to read music), and he began organizing a choir. This was quite an attraction in Zawiercie.
Germans (Witszicz, the elderly Levinsztayn and Holenderski, Zilbersztrom), Jews like Szlomo Baumac, Leybesz Frank, and Avrum Bornszteyn, and common people also came to the house. Long time good friends from Pilica used to come and stay overnight. There were no lack of travelers from the district of Dzialoszyce (where my father was born) and Skala near Ojcow (where my mother was born). At least for a while, the house became a kind of private travelers' hospitality institution.
The elderly Moszkowicz quickly became a close friend of my father. He even made my father the guardian of his children in his will.
In fact, my father had a knack for guardianship. There was a Jew in Pilica named Felznshteyn. Before he died, he summoned my father and said, I have a badtempered wife. After my death, please be the guardian of my two sons, Nechamye and Yekl.
After Felznshteyn's death, the two young boys were brought up in our house in Pilica. One of them became the tailor Nechamye Felznshteyn (Hayml Lewkowicz's brotherinlaw) and the other the painter Yankl Felznshteyn, a redhead, who was once said to have killed a policeman in 1906 or 1907. They also had a sister, Solye, who died from typhus during the First World War while still single.
The mother of the Felznshteyns was named Cirele (called CireleEat! because she always ate in front of the mirror and conducted a sort of dialogue with herself, as follows: Cirele, what's wrong with you? Eat! But I have no appetite. Cirele, one has to eat see what you look like! But I don't have any appetite. Finally, she would turn to herself in the mirror, pinch her own cheek, and say, So eat, Cirele! One has to eat! See what you look like.
Then she would start eating.
There was a hatmaker living in Moszkowicz's house a quarrelsome man. He had the ability to talk his customers into anything when he wanted to make a sale. In the event that a village customer didn't want any of his hats, he took his revenge.
He put the most recently fitted hat on in such a way that he could squeeze both thumbs between the band of the hat and the customer's forehead. It would really hurt, and the customer would cry out in pain.
Tomatoes grew in the orchard on a patch of land that bordered Moszkowicz's orchard, but we children were convinced that tomatoes were not kosher because Jews in Poland never used to eat them.
In recalling Moszkowicz's orchard, one should also mention the big Kiddesh receptions for the synagogue attendees that my father (and all of us children) used to set up in the orchard. During these events, scores of participants sometimes hundreds of them from all classes of society and all different cultural levels came together as brothers for the Sabbath. They sang and shared words of Torah and of politics, discussing what had been written in HaTsfirah. It was a kind of Hasidism without a Rebbe, a higher Hasidism the Hasidism of the Love of Zion. that those closest to my father within his circle promulgated ceaselessly and amid great difficulties.
I remember the religious awe that my father, Leybesz Frank, Shloyme Baumac, Avrum Bornshteyn, Zalman Margolis, Yome Klugman, and others showed as they put away their bonds from the Colonial Bank in boxes.
SimkhesToyre was a particularly big occasion. Tables and benches were full of activity. People drank punch and cracked nuts, gradually loosening up, until even the Enlightened Ones, a large part of whom had been Hasidim in their youth, let themselves go in a Mitsve dance.
In short, it was a time dedicated to life!
These Sabbath receptions gave you strength for the rest of the week and the SimchesToyre receptions for carrying on the struggle to make a living during the rest of the year. The majority of the people who took part in these receptions did indeed struggle to make a living. There were no rich people among them.
I remember how in 1905, The year of the first Russian Revolution, red flags were flown by Anya Bornshteyn (later Margolis), Gutek Bornszhteyn, Yisroel and Pesze Margolis, one of the merchants in the town square and one of Itsze Erlich's sons. Borech Abarbanel gave speeches from the balcony of their house. Afterward some of them left the movement, and most of them eventually became propertyowners again.
Many Zawiercie institutions for young people were conceived at my fashion business: for example, the Guard library (later the Young Guard), Youth of Zion, and others. Tickets to events were sold at our shop it was a kind of club. Guest speakers and activists from other cities would appeal first of all to us to me and my sister Rokhl (today Goldkorn) who was very active, together with Rokhele Bauman and others. My sister Sheyndl (today Bril) was also active until she moved to Israel in 1924.
I suspect that no one nowadays remembers such types of people as the town eccentrics like Yankele, who walked to Pilica to get a haircut because it cost a penny less, like Berele Betshkes, a godfather, not entirely in his right mind, who befriended children. He was, however, a brilliant mathematician, who could complete the most complicated calculations like a computer. And who writes about the nonJewish caretakers in the Jewish houses, some of whom spoke Yiddish with the appropriate Hasidic intonations? And who mentions the gentiles from the courtyard between Opteczne and Porebska streets, near the entrance to the mikve, who knew not only Yiddish but all the Jewish blessings as well, who knew how to put on tefillin and were friends with the Jews?
My closest friends were: Fela BornszteynTabaksblat (her son is now the director of the Israel Opera),
Yentele and Sorele SzladowskiGreenfeld (their sisters Feygele and Miriamel were younger and were the friends of my sister Rokhl and her circle), and Kurland's two daughters (Sale and Leoshye). Khantshe Zilberszteyn (Fayvl Zilberberg's oldest daughter) was one of my closest friends.
Leybesz, Meir, and Yisroel Frank
I would be careless if I failed to mention the Frank family. Leybesz was a fine, enlightened person, an active Lover of Zion. I remember him from when he was involved in a lawsuit with the factory regarding one of his houses next to the factory houses. He eventually did nothing but work on his lawsuit. Almost the entire city came to his funeral.
His son Meir Frank gradually became recognized as the leader of the Zionists in town and in the area. Beginning with the 5th Zionist Congress, he represented the district of Bedzin. He was an excellent speaker and educator on behalf of Zionism, but his principle activity was organizational and practical work: social services, the Jewish National Fund organization, education, and recruitment of young people. At the age of seventeen he was already arrested for his work on behalf of the JNF. His early death shocked the town, where he was much loved.
Yisroel Frank was also a devoted Zionist, the likes of whom one sees very rarely. He was not much of a speaker, but after the First World War, the burden of Zionist activity in town lay on his shoulders. His sister was also active. Cyle Frank was a very intelligent, sensitive, and able woman.
Kopl Szimen Minc
I would also like to mention Kopl Szimen Minc, who came during the First World War from Zarki, where he worked in his father's leather business. The father was too religious for Minc's taste, and because he also found the work difficult, he came to Zawiercie.
We organized the first courses in modern Hebrew in town with him, and from then until his early death (after a serious illness) he stirred generations of people in town to learn with him. He was a leftist (during the years of revolution in 1905 1906) and had to flee to Russia. He came back opposed to Socialism. He knew a great deal and had an analytic mind. He was an excellent speaker, such as you don't see every day, and a good comrade both to his peers and to his students. Unfortunately, he suffered from a chronic stomach problem, and it prevented him from moving to Israel. His son Sadya lives in Israel today, in Haifa, and his daughter Naomi is also there.
We also welcomed the orphan Pinchas Einhorn warmly in our home. He later became a tailor in Warsaw and Czestochowa and now lives in Canada.
Among the most frequent visitors in our house was Avrum Leyb Szames, who was the caretaker of the synagogue, and Moysze Zilberszteyn, who was a painter and a folksy character. He used to come over almost every evening and tell stories and anecdotes about Rabbis and deliver monologues like the ones found in the writings of Sholem Aleichem. Later he went through a difficult personal tragedy, his sense of humor disappeared, and he stopped coming over as often.
Avrum Leyb Szames was a dear person. You could tell from the way he spoke Yiddish that he spent his life among gentiles rather than Jews. He was a shoemaker by profession. He was devoted to the synagogue, the Rabbi, and the Cantor and was always desperate for a peyem from the word, Bohem or Bohemia, a Bohemian coin. During the winter he would always complain that he didn't receive enough for even a basket of coal or potatoes from the synagogue. That was how life was for the common Jew (in old and in rural Yiddish, common meant simply poor).
The caretaker in the BeysMedresh was the old caretaker, Wayngglik. He was a modest, quiet person always with a slight smile on his face. As I seem to remember, he used to come over and show my father his wood carvings. His son began painting Shivitis and Mizrekhs with butterflies and flowers. They were very beautiful and testified to the young yeshivastudent's talent.
|Arye (Lutek) Reznik*: Fauns|
He also copied Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel in Rome as well as those of other famous draftsmen and painters. You could see the skillful hand of a future painter in his copies. The young Waynglik did in fact leave Zawiercie. He eventually went abroad and became a wellknown painter.
Businessmen and Artists
All the businessmen and artists visiting Zawiercie used to stop over at our house. Renowned Cantors from around the area also used to visit, as for example the wellknown Czestochower Cantor, A. B. Birnboym, or Cantor Szerman from Bedzin.
Szloyme Baumac was a great lover of music and musicians. In fact, he used to visit us all the time, whenever someone arrived who had any connection with music. During such visits we talked about cantor music and music in general. Sometimes there were singing contests or people gossiped about music and musicians. One way or the other an atmosphere was created that influenced a wider circle in Zawiercie. Sometimes the prayerleaders from the small prayer houses also dropped in and made themselves heard. Truth be told, my father was no fan of the hopkes, Cossack marches, and tunes which filtered into the Hasidic prayer houses in various incarnations from operas and operettas. On the other hand, he seized upon and valued those tunes which had become sufficiently Judaized so that one could no longer recognize their sources.
More than once we amused ourselves, remembering how Szloyme Todroskes (later the religious judge in Jedrzejow or Miechov) told my father that he himself heard the military band in Petersborg at the funeral of Alexander III playing his Rebbe's favorite tune. In general we knew that it went the other way from the military bands to the Hasidic prayer houses and to the Sabbath songs. We also knew that Szloyme exaggerated all the time even when it came to the religious laws with regard to eating and to playing chess, but about this, about how the Rebbe's tune was played at Alexander III's funeral, he talked with such passion and piety, that a bystander could well have believed him.
While I'm talking about Szloyme, it would be right to relate the following incident: he was a frequent visitor at the home of Szolem Iserowski (In Zawiercie he was called, Szolem Cheese because once, before he started his shoe business, he ran a store for butter and cheese). It appears that Szolem (who later became one of the first settlers in Magdiel,Israel, where he died) was from the same town as Szloyme, so Szloyme felt at home with him.
Once, on a Sabbath afternoon, Szloyme came over to Szolem's house and said, Szolem, I have had heartburn since eating the tsholent today. Do you maybe have a little coffee? But Szloyme didn't say this expecting that Sholem would serve him coffee since, being almost a member of the family, he didn't need to ask. He himself went over to the coffee pot, saw that there was some coffee in it that looked very black, put the pot to his lips and gulped and suddenly he cried out, Szolem, you've poisoned me!
It wasn't really so serious. How could a person like Szolem poison someone from his own hometown for no reason?! Szloyme had made a mistake, and instead of grabbing the coffee pot, he picked up a pot in which the remainders of the Sabbath tsholent had been soaking.
Szloyme Todrokses was also a passionate chess player, but my father, who was a popular chess player in town, did not want to play with him because Szloyme played falsely he took his moves back and argued with his opponent.
Every few days Szloyme used to come over and plead, Well, Szapsi, shall we play chess? When my father said he didn't want to, Szloyme would bring up the Polish man who was known as the Zawiercie chess champion and said that, he positively beeeged me, but that Szloyme preferred to play chess only with Szapsi. Szloyme would say this, and in his fleshy mouth, which protruded from his large head with its large forehead, he held a cigarette, maybe twenty centimeters long. Szloyme's overall appearance greatly amused us children.
Szloyme was a good Jew, a learned person, but he was extremely temperamental.
While mentioning Szloyme and his love for chess, it should also be pointed out that Jews used to play chess quite often with nonJews, and it didn't bother the Polish chess players at all that their opponents were Jews with beards and peyes. Even the old priest, Father Jentara, used to play chess with Jews.
However, this idyll between Jews and Poles in Zawiercie lasted only until 19121913. When the rightwing Popular Democracy
movement proclaimed the What is Ours is for Us boycott against the Jews, Poles no longer wanted to play chess with the Jews, and relationships became difficult.
Before that my father used to meet with the Christian doctors in town because he knew something about medicine, and in serious cases the local doctors used to call him in (and, I believe, Szloyme Baumac as well) to serve as their intermediaries with the worried families of the sick.
Cantorial Music and My Father's Choir
Once, Szloyme Baumac brought over a young man who he had found in desperate situation on one of his train journeys. The young man had been traveling without a ticket, and the conductor wanted him arrested. Szloyme Baumac defended the young man, and it turned out after a short conversation on the train that he was studying singing in Vienna and was a rising star.
Baumac brought him to our house. The young man led the Sabbath prayers. Tickets were sold, and additional money was raised for him to travel on to Vienna. The young man eventually became a renowned singer. His name was Rabinowicz.
Once when we Cantor's children were still small one of the shul directors wanted to give us a used piano, but my father was afraid of what people would say. (The very religious said that having an organ in the house was offensive.) In fact, he did not accept the present even though he wanted very much that his children should be able to play.
However, my father taught all his sons to play the violin. Two of his daughters played the mandolin (something that was considered modern at the time of the German occupation during the First World War).
At any rate, we had the first gramophone in Zawiercie (it still had an acoustic horn).
My father often had to deal with opinion that is, with the public opinion of the very religious circles which had a large influence in town. Once, around 19111912, the Bedzin HaZamir organized a Chanuka evening. My father and the choir went there to sing. Afterwards he had to explain himself to these circles, who held that, a Cantor should not sing with his choir members at a ball.
My father and his choir were wellknown throughout the district. However, a few years before the First World War, a tragedy lay in wait for him: he lost his voice because of an inflammation of the vocal chords. This happened when he traveled to Dublin, Ireland, where he was being considered for Cantor. From then on the choir activity also declined, and my father suffered materially. The town started paying him less. Even our best friends began to talk against my father. Fortunately, he had already become independent of the municipal support thanks to his income as a teacher, from chemical work, and mainly from the fashion business that I started.
After the First World War, my father occupied himself more with educational and social activism (mainly in the Mizrakhi organization) and less with the musical life of the synagogue.
The Mizrakhi activism brought new Zawiercie personalities to our house, like Hayim Kron, Rabbi Yeszaya Szapiro, etc. Among the personalities from outside Zawiercie who visited or stayed with us, I remember Rabbi Zlotnik, Rabbi Nayfeld, Rabbi Brot, the preacher Mileykowski, etc.
Let me also memorialize Leybl Dimant in these lines, Iser Dimant's son. Iser was a fine, sensitive Jew, who took good care of the education of his children. He had a large tailoring workshop with eight to ten employees. Unfortunately, in Zawiercie of those days, a multifaceted talent like Leybl Dimant couldn't develop as he might have elsewhere.
This was even part of Leybl's repartee. He always complained that he was stuck in Zawiercie.
Leybl made his musical debut in our house, as a singer in my father's choir. He became a close friend of the family. Early on he worked as a glasspainter in the glassfactory. He was full of deep and various talents. He was a violin player with a wonderful tone. He sang very well. He had music in his fingertips. He was an idol among the Jewish youth in Zawiercie who studied music, and I have heard that a number of the Zawiercie young people of that time later distinguished themselves in the musical field.
Dimant acted in addition to playing music, and he started a theater, led a choir, and also painted very well.
Zawiercie was too small for him. He traveled all over Poland with his violin, but Hitler cast him back into the ghetto, where, along with all our other martyrs, he was murdered.
Leybezh Yoyl Leber and Lewortowski
Next to us in Moszkowicz's building later lived Leybesz Yoyl Leber and his industrious second wife (who I believe was named Feygl Leye). She went around the houses, going from one town to another looking for work, taking care of children, buying things and reselling them. Leybesz Yoyl was an extremely conscientious person, with a pale, sensitive face (and for this reason his Christian customers called him Death). Leybesz Yoyl used to stand in the small fruit concession in our building, always with an open religious book in front of him. His wife continually argued with him about how to conduct business: Leybesh Yoyl, a person has to know when to say yes and when to say no…
Leybesh Yoyl followed the orders of his energetic wife, but inside it gnawed at him. He would say, When you hear a band at a wedding, you know how it's going to be afterwards.
The violin plays, ‘He and she.’ The clarinet plays, ‘It serves him right,’ and the bass grumbles, ‘You've really done it now.’
A second industrious woman in our building was Mrs. Lewortowski. Her husband was confectioner, Szmuel Gedalye, a good man, hardworking, but always angry. Sore Lewortowski was a daughter of Berisz Dayan from Czestochowa. She was beautiful and energetic woman, who took care of the business end of the confectionary. Together with Mrs. Hendler (Kopl Hendler's wife, also an industrious businesswoman), she founded a woman's union for charitable purposes.
Szmuel Gedalye and his wife were from two different worlds. His brothers were not successful. One used to go around the neighborhood begging in a very original way: he would go into a BeysMedresh and faint (presumably by constricting his diaphragm somehow). The crowd took pity and collected money for him.
One time Szmuel Gedalye heard that his brother was lying unconscious in the BeysMedresh, and he couldn't be revived. Szmuel Gedalye went over and said to his brother, If you don't get up, I'm going to smash your head with a brick. That worked. The brother got up. In Zawiercie this became a wellknown story.
Szmuel Gedalye, who did not always get along with his wife, once became so exhausted from work that my mother invited him to my family's country house in Skala, near Krakow, where my mother used to spend some time every year with the smaller children. Szmuel Gedalye arrived in Skala on Friday afternoon. He loved it there; it was like Heaven. Naturally we had a kiddesh on Friday night. Szmuel Gedalye started to recite the blessing, and we could see that his nose was running (his nose always ran when he became excited). Soon a tear welled up in his eye. In the middle of the Kiddesh he started to sob, and he couldn't finish the blessing.
He missed his home…
That's how strong the connection to home was in those days. To be away from the family for a short time was a tragedy.
The Lewortowskis had a fine daughter, Gutke. She was a member of the Zionist organizations, like Tse'irey Tsyon, Hertselye, etc. People from our generation remember her well may her memory be for a blessing. Soon after World War One she married, and a few years later she died, some distance from Zawiercie where she lived.
In our building also lived Manele Reynharts (the father of Avrum Reynharts), Hamermessing the clockmaker, Sevek Moszkowicz, and his fatherinlaw Moric Vaynberg. These last two, who were inlaws twice over, were assimilated Jews, but all of us lived in the building in brotherhood.
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