« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Pages 111-114]

Characters and Types


The Rabbi of Zloczew

by Eisek Faiwlowicz

Translated by Max Lipszyc

Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn was rabbi in Zlocew in 1862 and deceased in Zloczew in 1914. Zloczew was the sole town where Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn served as rabbi. Notwithstanding that he occupied the rabbinic post for over 20 years, he did not succeed in making close friends in our town. People had indeed a lot of respect for him, but nothing more… Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn came from an old and illustrious family of rabbis and erudites. His father, Rabbi Naftali Natanzohn was rabbi in Kahnin. His grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Natanzohn was rabbi in Gombin and later on, his brother Rabbi Note Natanzohn became rabbi in the same city of Gombin. His sister was Rebbetzin in Bloshki. His entire family was thus dispersed all over Poland. Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn had obtained at the age of 18, the title of Rabbi and Halachic Teacher and was a follower of the Rabbi of Ger. A short while later, he became son-in-law to a wealthy Hassidic family in Lintchatz. Truly, the bride, Reisele, had only one eye, but for this flaw, Rabbi Moshe Aharon received a stipend and a nice matrimonial income. In the 1850's, the person that occupied the post of Rabbi in Lintchatz was the well-known and great genius Malbim z”l. The Hassidim of Ger were great opponents to the Malbim z'l and Rabbi Moshe Aharon was in the lead as one of the fiercest. The Malbim was strongly disliked at that time by the Gerer Hassidim.

The Rabbi of Zloczew, Rabbi Moshe Aharon, remained childless his entire life. One said that he had been punished from Heaven for the misery he had given the Malbim. He had seemingly also repented…. This is what was said! Only, his deeds showed something different altogether as his jealousy was always strong and bitter. He never wavered about the means as long as he reached his goal.

In need of a Shochet (ritual slaughterer), I once heard a story about Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn that occurred in Zloczew about 1890. It was told to me by Rabbi Simcha Zisman Helfgot, who heard it from his father Rabbi Itschak Helfgot, who was a genuine Zloczewer, but lived later in Kalish. By the way, Rabbi Itschak Helfgot was later a table guest in Ger with the last Gerer Rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter Zts”l.

The story ran as follows:

In 1818 or 1819, there was a request for a Shochet in Zloczew. One day, there arrived for the daily prayer, a man who was at the same time a Shochet and also a good Hazzan. He quite pleased the congregation, but was faulty at not being a Gerer Hassid. And for not being a Gerer Hassid, he was declared a cripple and of no use. That same Shabbat, Rabbi Moshe Aharon paid a visit to the Gerer Rabbi - The Sfas Emes. When he returned from Ger, his disciples came by and told him that the situation was bad, as the greater part of the Congregation desired the Shochet Hazzan to remain in Zloczew.


Fooling the Congregation:

Rabbi Moshe Aharon told his followers he would find a way to cope with the Shochet Hazzan. Later that same day, when the Shochet Hazzan came over to Rabbi Moshe Aharon to pass a test, the Rabbi sent his servant to get ten men from the congregation - men who had their say, but had little or no knowledge of Ivrit (holy Hebrew language) or halacha. These ten men were quite honored by the invitation knowing that usually for matters of electing a Shochet or Hazzan, the most respectable people of the town were called for - erudites, rabbis, shochtim and the like, and certainly not simple men from the congregation who were far from being erudites.

As soon as the Shochet Hazzan appeared, Rabbi Moshe Aharon said to him:

“I have heard you are a good hazzan and also a proficient shochet, but what about halacha and laws? Have you studied these too?”

“Of course, I have learned”, was the Hazzan's answer.

So Rabbi Moshe Aharon went on asking: “Listen. A slaughtering knife may have an indentation (being unusable) and an animal lung may have an outgrowth. What is it you do when a knife has an indentation?”

“I will refurbish and repolish the knife until usable.”

“And what do you do”, proceeds Rabbi Moshe Aharon, “when the knife has no indentation?”

The Shochet Hazzan smiled at this question. It seemed a joking and unreal question. He did not imagine Rabbi Moshe Aharon would gather 10 men from the Congregation in order to fool them, to make believe that he, the Hazzan, knows nothing of the halacha. The ten men looked at each other and at the Shochet Hazzan with empathy in their eyes as if he already had failed the test.

From what happened in the room, the Hazzan understood that these ten men would not say a word that the whole situation was a theatrical game. He waited and silence fell in the room. Rabbi Moshe Aharon stood up and looking at the 10 men said: “See here, we are dealing with having a whole congregation eating, G'd forbid, treif (unkosher) food and this guy here is just laughing at it.” After these words, the Rabbi asked his servant to bring a book for him, not the halachic treatise Beith Yossef, neither the Tviot Shor - another treatise, but the Talmudic section Hulin. The Rabbi opened the book, turned a few pages and started to learn with great devotion.

The Talmud says that if the outgrowth peels from itself, it is kosher… and he ended with the words…the outgrowth has been peeled and is to be found on the knife.

The ten men did not understand a single word of what had been said, but they obviously believed the Rabbi. And again, the Rabbi looked at the Hazzan and cried out: “and he is laughing!!!!”

The Hazzan Shochet looked at the men around him. It was clear to him that the men did not even begin to understand that the Rabbi had tricked them. It was a comedy played by the Rabbi. It was also clear to him that he will never become a Hazzan Shochet in Zloczew. He lowered his eyes and said: “Be well Rabbi and accredit a Shochet that will be able to retrieve the outgrowth from the knife.”

The Rabbi did not feel offended for a minute. He even told the man farewell with a glimpse of dislike in his eyes. Farewell and better luck in another city.

Rabbi Moshe Aharon knew perfectly well he had plainly and simply broken the man's heart. But he couldn't care less as long as he could execute his will at any cost.

The Rabbi's followers were delighted at the way their mentor had solved the problem. His idea had been fantastic. They were pleased that the Rabbi had fooled the 10 uneducated men who in all truth did not understand anything of what had happened or what had been said. They had blind confidence in him.



The publishers need to make two comments about the above article.

Firstly: The description of the events of the story concerning the Shochet Hazzan and his dismissal by the Rabbi also has a subjective side. If there happened to be a complaint that the Rabbi fooled these 10 congregation members, then that story could not have been told by the latter. On the other hand, the Rabbi was certainly not interested in telling a tale concerning himself and implying his own misconduct. Thus, the only source of this tale must have been the Shochet Hazzan himself, which makes it a subjective opinion – either he did not understand the facts or he accused someone else of guilt.

Secondly: A second version of this story has been transmitted by Mr. David Grabiner. According to him, the story concerned a Shochet Hazzan who came to Zloczew from Milmarzitch and his voice was really appreciated by the congregation. But he had one flaw. He was slightly crippled in one hand. As the Rabbi was utterly scrupulous, he was afraid that while slaughtering the animals, the Shochet might make an unsteady movement with the crippled hand and then the whole congregation might eat, G'd forbid, unkosher meat. This was the reason he decided to dismiss him. To avoid the accusation of embarrassing one in public, the Rabbi decided to give the Shochet Hazzan a test.

Mr. Grabiner adds that it seems unnatural to request ten uneducated people for such an interview, and even more to pretend they did not understand a single word of what was going on.

I happened to know Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn in later years. Amongst all and everything he despised, he had a particular hate to Gerim (proselytes). I recall an episode that occurred in 1906. That particular Ger Zedek who had credentials from great rabbis that he was indeed a Ger Zedek and that his name was Avraham ben Avraham came to the study house of Zloczew and asked to be introduced to the Rabbi. He wanted the Rabbi to give him a credential letter to enable him to collect more money in the city. He was so strong-minded that I could not but introduce him to the Rabbi while explaining what the man desired. At that time, there were two personalities in the study house, Rabbi Jacob Hertz Krotch and Rabbi Meir Israeltchis - both halachic educators. Rabbi Moshe Aharon, listen to my words, gave a deep sigh and immediately asked the Ger Zedek where he came from and how old he was. 52, answered the man. “52” as in DOG, as is represented in Hebraical numeric calculations, added the Rabbi, showing his perennial antagonism to things and men.

Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn had at this time commanded the writing of a Torah Scroll. When his wife Reisel passed away, he held a hesped at her burial. He claimed that half of the book was legitimately hers and that he also gave her half of his own world to come. The Rabbi's Hassidim moved their heads in wonder and their wives envied the late Rebbitzin for the amount of world to come she was given. Rabbi Moshe Aharon married a second time. He took a very fine lady as Rebbitzin, but it had no effect upon his manners. The Hassidim wondered also why Rabbi Moshe Aharon visited two famous Gerer rabbis - the Hiddushei Harim and the Sfas Emes, but did not visit the last Gerer Rabbi - Reb Avraham Mordechai Alter.

Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn passed away in the good old age of 90 years in 1913.

[Page 114]

Tzvi Yitzchok Katz

by Israel Katz (New York)

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Hyman Katz (son of Israel Katz z”l)

( ) writer's comment
[ ] translator's inserts, remarks

In the time of World War One, I remember as if in a dream: the swift hammering shut of doors of the shop, the clanging of bolts and chains. And soon after that: Cossacks on horses, with spades [pick–axes] banging and breaking down doors. They dragged out my uncle Moishe Aaron [who was still a young boy] and took him away to be hanged [in the middle of town]. A Polish landowner, Grobski, who owed us money, and wanted to be rid of this debt, thought up a false statement on my father [to frame him] and told the Russians that my father was no more and no less than a “German spy.” But my father managed to hide himself, and with a group of other young people he “stole across” the border at night and got to the then “liberal” Germans.

One generation later, at the beginning of World War Two, around November 1939, when the Hitlerist thugs were already in Poland, my brother Godel and I hid in a room. From the train station Sieradz, terrible sounds were heard. Terrible shouting by the German SS, who tried to outdo the frightening moans and sobs of their victims, and everything together resulted in a dreadful wailing, a cry to the heavens, that, I think went on forever, and continued terrifyingly. Louder, closer on the road near us


Zvi Yitzchok Katz

[Page 115]

where we lived – and carried all the way to the city. This is what was brought from the surrounding towns – Jews as guards in the well–known Sieradz prison to ensure calm and divert the attention of the Poles from the upcoming national holiday of independence – on November 11.

The deep moaning continued all night, the longest night I have ever lived through. The following morning, the entire road was cluttered with all kinds of clothing, shoes, boots, hats, gloves, scarves, torn coats, and everything smeared with blood and mud.

A few days later, I and a group of Zloczew friends, ran from the German murderers and “stole across” the then still new and loosely guarded border to “free” Russia. Between the two World Wars we lived in our town, as millions of other Jews in the towns in independent Poland, among Poles who hated us with an incomprehensive, wild loathing. Their hatred of the Jews was so huge that they even forgave their eternal enemy – the Germans, and forgot their historical misdeeds. When the [the Germans] demonstrated a new wild hatred for the Jews, the Poles became their friends and helped them [the Germans] enact their gruesome plan for destruction of the Jews.

When you remember the circumstances and the conditions under which the Jews lived, you have to be in awe of the energy and life skills of the people, who, despite all of this, lived and created such a spiritually and culturally rich Jewish life that grew in Poland of that period. Thinking back, I have to especially note the energy of my father, who after being homeless in Germany, went on to rebuild his home. For him this did not mean rebuilding only the material things of life, a livelihood, but also this was a new place to live as a proud national Jew. The Jewish small town was still seeped in the old chassidic way of life. And my father, even though he came from and studied in the yeshivos, became an opponent of the old ways, and fought against the chassidim who did not allow in any haskalah [enlightened] ideas. When he came home from Germany, he was a “German,” as they called the European dressed Jews. For many, perhaps this name was appropriate – they idealized the “German culture” – but not my father. He saw the Germans with their “culture” in their true light. In our family album there was a picture of my father dressed “Polish” wearing a “Maciejówka” [literally “Maciej's cap”], the dark blue hat with a full brim, tall boots, riding pants, frock, and a rod in his hand. This was in the time right after Poland's liberation, when the thugs freed their nationalistic sentiments. They beat, robbed, and sliced off the beards of Jews. It was a terror then to be seen in the Polish villages – which really was a necessary thing to do for the livelihood of many Jews – with any symbol of Jewishness. At that time, my father also dressed himself “Polish.” And to justify his fleeing, he wrote on the back of the photograph four rhyming lines (he sometimes liked to write with lyrics):

“I had to dress myself like the Polish fanatics,
In order to protect myself from the Polish hooligans.
But for the cultured German anti–Semites
It did not help, even when I changed my clothing.”

[Written phonetically, the rhyme is readily apparent in the Yiddish version of these four lines:

“kh'hab zikh gedarft kleydn vi di foylishe fanes,
aoystsuhitn zikh fun di foylishe khuliganes,
aber fer di kulturele deytshe antisemitn,
hat nisht gehalfn afilu ven kh'hab meyn hlbshh gebitn.”]

After years of terrible experiences, you can see how minimal the protection was – the European dress that he wore when he returned from Germany. The clothing was revolutionary and evoked angry blood from the chassidim who would torment him for that. But he did not fear the chassidic cheders and he held himself as he thought correct. This is how uncompromising he always was in his behavior. In the later years, as the community treasurer, in order to demonstrate that you can manage a community in an orderly fashion – and not how it used to be before – with voluntary donations – in order not to use community monies – which he himself had collected , he

[Page 116]

used this money to cover [fix] the roof so that it should not rain in, had the shul's yard cleaned, and put up a new gate so that no goats could get in and make the place dirty. When the chassidim of the Agudas Yisroel broke off the wooden Magen David [Star of David] from the new gate, since they saw within that Zionist heresy, he had a steel Magen David placed at the top of the shul. His Zionist pride and understanding about a nationally proud Jew brought him to headlocks not only with the chassidim. We dealt with the landowner [“poritz” – also translated as nobleman] of Nowy Wiersz. Other Jews, when they would come out into the courtyard, would bow to the landowner, kiss the hem of his clothing, and address him with “your grace,” as was done at that time. But my father – not only did he not copy all those “royal” acts, but he would criticize and accuse the anti–Semitic NDK government [Polish Nationalist Party] in Poland. This was an unforgivable audacity in the eyes of a Polish landowner, and after such a speech it would take a long time before they would call him [my father] again for business. But this did not cause him to change his behavior, and when he saw something wrong being done, he fought it regardless of who was the guilty party.

He was a very good man by nature. At the end of World War One, before Passover, when the farmers of the surrounding villages no longer had many products to sell, and many Jewish families in the towns were already overtaken by hunger, my father managed to convince the landowner to send a few wagonloads of potatoes into the towns. Potatoes were the staple in the diet at that time. My father told him that he wanted no profit from this and he asked the landowner to sell the potatoes for a reduced price. He stood in the marketplace and personally saw to it that everyone should be able to take advantage of this bargain, and for many this was really a lifesaver.

When he would leave the village and go home, he would always take into his wagon the so–called “state goers” [State of Israel supporters], and when dropping them off in the town, he would give them some monies as charity.

Once, Lipman Noach the porter complained to him that his son had no shoes, so he took off my shoes and gave them to him. He was always ready to do someone a favor. When a cousin's son wanted to go study at the Vilna “Tarbut” [young leadership studies] seminary, and this was (according to those times) extremely costly, my father provided him with travelling and registration monies. He also gave the porter Itzik Mordechai money for a horse and wagon so that he could become a wagon driver, which was a better financial position. It is difficult to list the innumerable favors and deeds that he did.

The circumstances in Poland were such that the majority of Jews were forced to occupy themselves with small business. My father was also involved with this. But doing business for him was such a challenge you cannot imagine. His real interest was in other things. He loved to carve. He carved out a chess set or chiseled in stone various images. He also loved to read fiction and current affairs and political writings. But the best for him was to study philosophical works. He wrote from Warsaw how Einstein's theory of relativity was described, Freud's psychology, and other works of philosophy that he would study with great concentration and great pleasure.

He was the ideal father. At times when you looked at children's needs as “silly,” and gave them some slaps for their behaviors, he, as much as possible, gave in to us for everything. But what we loved most was when he would take us for a stroll on a Shabbath evening (and in those times, which father took his children for a stroll?). On the way to the forest he would weave the fantasy about a future life in our own land.

He remained the “truth sayer” until the final moments. At the beginning of the Second World War, when the Germans were already in Poland, and my father

[Page 117]

was working in the Sieradz mill as a manager under the guard of the Germans, a German soldier, who was a guard for this building and who was influenced by the Hitlerist propaganda, said that the Jews were guilty for everything bad and they caused the war – he once said to my father in a rage:

“Because of you, Jew, I have to be here in a war and far from my home.”

My father replied politely that it was not worth it for us to cause a war because we had a better and calmer life before, and were not endangered in any way.

This “Yekke” [German] was a little confused so he tried to mix this up by saying that “the Jews in beards and sidelocks were guilty for the war.” But my father once again unsettled him by saying calmly: “Because someone wears a beard makes his appearance different, but not his character.”

Not knowing how to answer, the German turned around and left.

There used to be a saying in our town: “What is the value of being smart if foolishness is more effective.” The German “foolishness” and more so their brutal lust for murder was effective, and millions of lofty and holy souls were gruesomely murdered. And my father, who so closely personified the Jewish persona – went together with them.

He was tall, and he would always stand straight, and likely, his final steps were also taken like that. But in my memory he remains as I saw him last when I went to say goodbye to him in the mill before I left to Russia. When I put out my hand he looked at me, his eyes filled, and he turned away. My hand was left hanging in the air and for the first time, I saw him bent over.

May his memory be blessed!

[Page 118-119]

Yaakov Bilewski

by Mordechai Majerowicz

Translated by Daphna Brafman

Yaakov Bilewski,
a man of talents and
“born to be a leader”

He was one of the outstanding figures in Zlozcew's public arena, a central figure in the town's Zionist movement who stood as its head for many years.

Yaakov was born in a traditional-religious home, and this is the way his father, r' Yitzhak (Yitchi)-Meir, an enthusiastic Ger Hassid, a wise and devoted learner, knowledgeable and sharp in studies of the Talmud and the Mishna, brought him up.

It is, therefore, no wonder that already in his early years at his father's home did Yaakov absorb big portions of spiritual and educational enrichment, and on that foundation he added more and more layers during the years he studied in Beit Hamidrash and Yeshivas. But young Bilewski, in as much as he was involved with the family's ultra orthodox customs and way of life, and in as much as he was devoted to holy studies, did not limit himself to that world. On the contrary, from it, he inhaled the vital essence that served him as background for jumping into the thought about the spirit of Judaism and it's future while searching for a road that leads to the vision of national renaissance.

With the outbreak of World War One, he immigrated to Germany, and with it came the opportunity to acquire and absorb a secular knowledge and to enrich his spiritual treasures by exploring the European culture and education. Being gifted with unusual talents, he widens his horizon and knowledge to such extent that will benefit him in days ahead when he sees blessing in his rich public activity for the fulfillment of the Zionist ideology, an ideology that became the calling of his life and that filled his entire being. Upon his return to Zlozcew after the war, he became completely immersed with his heart and soul in our town's public activity. Being close to the traditional circles, he devoted his efforts to bringing them close to the Zionist ideal and getting their involvement with the movement.

Yaakov Bilewski was a man of many talents, undying vitality, and strong personality, born to be a leader who demands from himself and his fellowman, with unlimited devotion to his way and public duties. Due to so much activity, he could not even find time to provide for himself and he, therefore, knew poverty and shortage all his years. To help him with a minimal income, a position was arranged for him as an agent for the insurance company “Reuniona Adriatika Desikorta” hat operated under the auspices of the Jewish Agency. The leaders of the movement, headed by Yitzhak Greenbaum, arranged this matter. Bilewski was also dear to the great Zionist leader when he stood as the local Histadrut head of “Al Hamishmar” party (As known- the general Zionists in Poland were divided into two parties: “Et Livnot” and “Al Hamishmar”, and Yitzhak Greenbaum led the latter.)

In the field of art, Yaakov Bilewski devoted time
and ability to producing artistic shows
and he even took part in directing them


Central Activity

All year round, Bilewski was deeply immersed in the activity of the Zloczew's local Histadrut. But in times of general awakening, as in days of tests and decisions, elections to the Zionist Congress etc., his activity exceeded the local boundaries and he became involved in central duties that were bestowed upon him by the central leadership, and did so with his typical loyalty and devotion. As a talented lecturer he traveled throughout the land, appearing before members and supporters and others of the people of Israel, and making converts to the Zionist cause.

Yaakov Bilewski was also a man of good values, a good friend and a man whose good manners influenced his surroundings and who shared his rich knowledge with those who sought his friendship.

It is difficult to exaggerate when describing Yaakov Bilewski's important part in the development of the Zionist arena of Zloczew. He was a man of many actions who did not spare himself from interest and activity in the various tasks. He was involved in the cultural world and devoted his time and ability to produce shows and even direct and participate.

With the outbreak of World War Two and the Nazi occupation, he went through all the misery and tribulations under this monstrous regime and he was unable to escape the preying nails of the Nazi beast. He perished in the Shoa together with thousands of the town's holy and pure martyrs, may God avenge their blood.

With his tragic death, the Zionist movement has lost one of its most devoted and gifted servants and messengers, and Jewish Zloczew lost one of its dear sons and outstanding figures.

His memory will dwell in our hearts with love.

[Page 120-122]

Rabbi Gedalye Moroko

by Eisik Faiwlowicz

Translated by Motl Rosenbush

Reb Gedalye was one of those enlightened spirits among the Jews of Zloczew. He possessed the talents of a “gaon”, a genius. When he was 16, he already had the reputation of a “harif”, a fiery and shrewd mind. And by age 18, he had received the title of “more-hora” - rabbinic legal scholar from many great rabbis. But, since the greatest number of Polish Jews, and especially those in small villages, lived in penury, Reb Gedalye himself was also a poor man. In spite of this, he made light of his poverty.

He made his living teaching several young men, but only those whose fathers were able to afford a higher tuition. Reb Gedalye had only four students and his fee was two rubles a week per student.

All would be well and good, but Reb Gedalye had one major weakness – he had a strong habit of giving slaps…

I'll never forget the time it happened to me – 54 years ago. The new school term had just begun after Pesach and my father had sent me to study with Reb Gedalye in the beit-hamidrash. On the very first morning, as I sat down next to his two students, he suddenly slapped me so hard that I became confused for a few minutes, and I remember this slap till today… he would do this quite spontaneously. After this slap, I no longer wanted to study with him. Sometime later, my father went to him and requested that he not slap me anymore. Reb Gedalye agreed to it and I began to study with him again; but it lasted only weeks – until he hit me again. His reason was that he had to hit all his students and he could not make an exception for me. But not interested in his rationale, I ceased to study with him – forever.

At that time Reb Gedalye was about 30 years old, but later his personality changed. He had more serious things on his mind than to slap people around. I know that my brother Vove had studied with him for more than two years and had never been slapped. His world outlook began to change. He would devote himself to such outlandish activities as were beyond the comprehension of the local Hassidim. For example, he arranged for sick people who were poor to obtain their needed medications and at night they had night attendants look after them. For Reb Gedalye, it made no difference if the sick person was a tailor or a shoemaker. He would often say that a sick shoemaker is just as sick as an ailing Hassid. He always took the side of those weaker and oppressed. It was very easy to conclude that Reb Gedalye was more at ease among the enlightened than among the Hassidim.

Zloczew was indeed a small town, but it always had 6 or 7 Talmudic court judges. Nevertheless, when people had questions that needed answering, they would turn instead to Rav Moyshe-Arn Natanzon. Only in cases when the Rav was sick or away for a few weeks summer holiday would people turn to the court judges to ask questions.

Reb Gedalye was an Aleksander Hassid and his greatest pleasure was when a Ger judge of the Ger “study house”(shtibl) declared an issue to be “non-kosher”. Reb Gedalye would then say: “Of course it is non-kosher, since the judge has made it non-kosher”.

Reb Gedalye was familiar with Talmud and post-Talmudic commentary and very proficient in the writings of the early rishonim and later aharonim teachers. He remembered where a full stop occurred or where a letter was scraped out, and with his acuity, he could prove that because of the full stop or the scraped out letter, the question could be declared kosher.

The Ger judges said that Reb Gedalye had a great heart, a clear, sharp brain and, as a result, he could not possibly have a sense of rigor…. His quick comments were always aimed at the clergy. For example, three young Ger students were sitting and studying; the middle one was called Avrom-Shimen. Reb Gedalye walked by them and declared: “If you look at the tail you will see fire”– the letters for fire: “alef” and “shin” form the first two letters of the name “Avrom-Shimen”.


A Sexton with Definite Heritage Rights

I recall an event in Zloczew dating perhaps to 1906 when the sexton of the synagogue died and left an heir for his job – a son, still a young man, who wanted to take up his father's position. Opposing sides formed immediately. And, as was their wont, the Ger Hassidim sided against the young man right off. Their complaint was that since the sexton must from time to time perform the duty of “badekn di kale”(to cover the face of a bride), and since the sexton often sits in the office where women come for advice asking questions of a “female” nature, and since the young man is simply not that observant, so the Ger Hassidim did not want him as sexton.

The young man, on the other hand, argued that he was entitled to the sexton's job because his father, his grandfather and great-grandfather were sextons for more than 100 years in Zloczew and, therefore, the position was owed him.

But since the opposing sides themselves could not come to agreement, the only recourse remaining was to set up a court in which each side would be represented by three arbitrators who would appoint a decision-maker from among themselves. The Zloczew Rav - Moyshe-Arn Natanzon refused at all costs to be mixed up in this whole affair. And so the Ger Hassidim had to go to other towns in search of four rabbis of whom one was a decision-maker.

Reb Gedalye voluntarily undertook to take the side of the oppressed son of the sexton and brought on two others as arbitrators.

The congregation was tense with curiosity and waited for the next day for further developments. It was already late morning after breakfast as we stood on the steps to the beit-hamidrash which led to the courtroom and we waited impatiently. Finally, we saw from afar the four rabbis approaching. Suddenly, Reb Gedalye blurted out: “Well, folks, say a benediction “boyrey pri adome”. You now see the “four simpletons” (thus Reb Gedalye saw and appreciated the clergy). When the arbitrators resumed discussing the issue of the sexton in the courtroom, the Ger Hassidim had by then conveyed their compromise to their arbitrators - to pay the widow of the sexton a certain sum of money as well as provide other amenities, and to add a forewarning, that even under the direst of circumstances, the young man could not become sexton.

Reb Gedalye, in the meantime, had managed to prove to the arbitrators that according to law the claim of a sexton to “heritage” is a deciding factor. The “decision-maker” of the rabbis stood up and explained to Reb Gedalye and his arbitrators that it was quite foolish on their part to make a stand against the community, that the compromise is a fair one, and this issue must be resolved peacefully.

Reb Gedalye listened to his words as if hearing a nice story by a “shrewd rabbi” and he responded: “Hear me, gentlemen! As I see it, you have some very smart ideas about what is a compromise, but I want to tell you something: you may recall that the government emitted an edict obliging rabbis to pass a test. Polish Jews began to panic that as a result of this edict it may turn out that four Polish towns will have to have only one rabbi, because what rabbi will be capable of withstanding an exam? Later, when railroads were built in Poland, everyone thought that horses would become so cheap that one would buy a horse for 10 kopeks. Who would need horses if one could travel by train? But nowadays, gentlemen, continued Reb Gedalye, we see the very opposite, that horses are more expensive and that each town has four rabbis - a sign that the horses became “rabbis”. And now, gentlemen, Reb Gedalye continued, I accept your “compromise”. With this, Reb Gedalye ended his speech.


Helping the Sick

In 1919, after the First World War, when there was a great plague in Poland, and the small towns simply had no means to protect themselves against the tragedy, Reb Gedalye organized in Zloczew a private first aid station, turning the bais-hamidrash into a temporary hospital. He worked day and night and helped hundreds of people, but as a result of hard work and constant stress he became weak and then sick. Alas, he was unable to save himself from his illness and died a victim for his ideals and high sentiments. This great Jew and human being devoted himself to his last breath in a campaign to help others. It is a great honor for all Zloczew that it had in its midst one of the enlightened spirits of Polish Jewry, Reb Gedalye Moroko.


Eisek Faiwlowicz Z”L

Eisik Faiwlowicz lived for many years in New York. When, after World War II, Zloczew refugees arrived in America, his door and his heart were wide open to them. Anyone who sought him out would always encounter a warm readiness and a will to help with whatever he could. Many times he would drop his own activities and would run off to assist a co-citizen to settle some matter – to have a roof over one's head or a job to earn a living.

His activity did not limit itself to the problems of individuals. Possessing a broad worldview, he undertook initiatives in the interest of the broader community –Eisek was one of the major founders of the Zloczew Society in New York and became its honored representative. Imbued with a deep sense of obligation to perpetuate the memory of our unforgettable Jewish town of Zloczew, so tragically wiped out, Eisik Faiwlowicz devoted time and creative energies to make a major contribution to the spiritual memory of a lost community. In 1956, he wrote a memorable introductory overview of Jewish Zloczew, from earliest times on to World War I. It was sent on to the editors of the Zloczew book committee in Israel.

(The text written in an ordinary folk Yiddish is printed in its entirety in the book of Zloczew – editor's note).

On May 17, 1968, Eisik Faiwlowicz passed away after an illness. He would have still been able to achieve a lot. The surviving refugees of Zloczew Jewry mourned the death of their devoted comrade and friend and will always remember him with consideration and love.

[Page 136]

Women of Zloczew
(In memory of my beloved and unforgettable mother Devora Katz)

by Israel Katz (New York)

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Hyman Katz (son of Israel Katz z”l)

( ) writer's comment
[ ] translator's inserts, remarks

I remember when, as a child, they took me to the wedding of a relative of ours, and the bride sat on a padded [decorated] throne [seat]. It was made of three wooden washboards that they used for washing the laundry. These stood alongside the inverted tubs – one on top of the other, one smaller than the other. They were covered with colored paper or sheets, and on that, on a softly padded stool, sat the bride in a white satin dress, like a queen.

At the sides of the throne, there were all kinds of potted flowers, and young, dressed up girls – the bride's friends – were singing the old Yiddish love song – “The Little Margaretkas [daisies].”

In the next room there were only men. The groom was at the head of the table, and around the table – were the in–laws, relatives, and guests. All were sitting and warmly talking or listening to those who, at this auspicious time, were speaking about the Torah. None of the men even cast an eye towards the women, who – as appropriate for women – were busy with “silly matters.” …

Later came the “marshelik” or the badchan [professional jester], who began reciting his rhymes with a tragic melody, opening with these words: “Cry, dear bride, cry,” and the bride actually was able to cry, because at that moment when her throne was dismantled after the wedding, her relative freedom was ended. At one time – a girl did not have to study – it was enough for her to be able to write a little and read a little bit of Hebrew. The only thing that she did was – to help with the housework. And the peak of this simple life, was actually the throne on her wedding night.

The young man, on the other hand, studied in cheder from a young age onwards, or in yeshiva or in Beis Medrash [higher studies], and when he came to the head of the table on the night of his wedding, that place at the table remained his. He became the head of the household.

The woman had to be a loyal servant for him, and run his household, bear his children, and was a help for him, or many times she herself was the one who worked for a living. For all that, her entire reward was the pleasure she had that her husband earned respect or that he was given a prominent aliyah [being called up during the Torah reading

Running a household was once not a simple thing. Just to make a fire in the kitchen was difficult, particularly in the winter, when the wood was damp and no matter how much you blew, the fire did not want to ignite. For that, instead of coal, they used to use peat. There certainly was a real smell from this that was felt in the small, narrow houses, but this was cheap. Today, it is carrying the water and boiling it, and especially, cooking the laundry when it had to be washed, and mending stockings at a gas light. For all these tasks, often the day was too short.

[Page 137]

Having Children

In our town, as in all the other Polish towns, there was a midwife to help “deliver” the child. There was no knowledge of gynecology as there is today. It was never even a thought to call a doctor, a male person, for this. This [midwife] was a woman who had an inclination for this and her own practice – who was dedicated to this. A few months prior to when the woman was prepared to deliver the child, she already began to protect herself from the “evil eye,” argue down [dismiss] the “evil eye,” by hanging up all kinds of cameos on her bed. And when the day of her labor pains arrived, all the nearby women surrounded the woman in labor and moaned and cried along with her. If it became too difficult for her, the women ran to cry out at the “gravesites” [of holy people] or “measure” the cemetery [in case that would be needed]. And if after many difficult hours of anxiety and fear, the child was finally born, the rush and fuss around the mother and her newborn first began, and the baby was in a separate room, removed from the others not just with doors but also with curtains across the doors so that, Heaven forbid, not even a little “gust of wind” should get to the child.

During this entire time of delivery, the husband was busy with his daily tasks, thinking very little about the situation. But when the wife, with good fortune, gave birth to the child, and let alone if it was a boy, everyone stuck out their hand [for a congratulatory handshake] or patted the father of the boy on the back in a brotherly manner, wishing him mazal tov, and winking with their eyes as to what an accomplishment he had achieved.


The Yoke of a Livelihood

Other than all this, the woman would also help with earning a livelihood. It also often happened that if the husband was a meager earner or was sick, or even if he was too religious and would rather sit in the “chassidim shteibel” [small, informal synagogue] than stand in a store or go to the fairs, then the entire burden of earning a living fell on the shoulders of the woman. My aunt would sit on the wagon filled with materials on a Sunday evening, materials that she would sell, and then drive around the neighboring towns to the fairs that would take place on different days in different towns. During the day, she would stand in the designated place and sell her materials, and at night she would drag herself with the wagon to another town. That's how she would struggle all week, in the rain, snow, heat, and frost. At that time, these women, who worked by themselves, or helped their husbands with the livelihood, were many – or even the majority. As this description was considered “normal,” the customers would call the men by their wives' name: They would call the woman – Ester'ke, and the husband “Mr. Esther.”

Despite these heavy burdens that the woman carried, she also found time to help out an orphan or a widow.


The Situation Improved Slightly

With the changes of living conditions in the town during the years before World War Two, the situation for the women changed as well. The youth tore themselves away from the backwards, enclosed lifestyle [attitude] towards a new world. They became pioneers [of Israel] and socialists. The father, the head of the household, could not understand nor did he want to permit the new changes to happen. He slapped, beat, and with great energy wanted to hold back progress. The mother understood more easily or felt for the children and the ongoing changes, and she stood up for them and worked on the husband that he should not be so strict. What happened after that was that because she was supporting her children, the mother slowly also began to change and even began reading newspapers.

Keeping together the unit of the family when the father and child began to be distant from one another, came naturally to the mother, not only as the mother of the children, but also with a specific function in family life: She was the one who maintained the contact most of the time with the outside world. In a large part, the woman was the one who was able to speak Polish. Since she was the “weaker” one, she was able to evoke emotion more quickly. Therefore,

[Page 138]

she was sent to ask a favor of the “Gentiles.” She was able to lie down in front of the horses (and she actually did that) of a Russian governor, asking that he hear out her request. The woman's intercession was always the most assured. Every time, except one time…. When the war broke out and the burning hell exploded over the Polish towns, thousands of Jewish women sent away their husbands to the side of the Russian occupation in Poland, to save themselves from the Nazi murderers, being sure that they, the women and their children, would be able to soften the murderers, or if not, the women would figure something out. They could never imagine that there could be such animals that would not be moved by women's tears or children's cries…


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Zloczew, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Lance Ackerfeld

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 14 Aug 2020 by LA