Community Life

The Jewish Community - Its Origin And Activity

by Dow Gorzalczany

Translated from Yiddish by Judie Ostroff Goldstein

Just like other Jewish communities in Poland, the Czyzewer Jew's existence was a difficult, bloody struggle. It's true, there were quiet years of calm living with the Christian neighbors. But there were also times when the surrounding world bristled with enemies and evil decrees were also lavished on the Jews in Czyzewo that provided their economic existence. Still the Jews in Czyzewo always had a community life in all its wonderful complexity and living traditions, acts of justice and pursuit of quality.

The Jewish Kehila in Czyzewo was different from others in that the Jews did not feel that they had an imposed government. The members and head of the Kehila (Jewish Community Council) were people from the masses, well liked and esteemed because of their generosity and dear care for the requirements of the needy in the community. So much so that the Kehila remained in our memory, either from our own experience or from experiences told to us by our grandfathers.

Jews in Czyzewo did not wonder or know about individualism. Every Jew was a part of the entire Jewish community in the shtetl. We were raised in the spirit of togetherness, belonging to the people of Israel. We absorbed this feeling with the milk from our mothers' breasts; togetherness was always the way of life for us, in our thoughts and our deeds. For us the concept of community was alive and warm. Accursed are those who disrupted and destroyed it.

I will try to tell about the things that have always remained in my memory, the things I heard about the Jewish Kehila in our shtetl. I will relate not only what I remember of their activities, but also what I heard as a boy at home, at the rebbe's in the heder, from the gabai in the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society), in the besmidresh (study house, synagogue) and in the Hasidic shtibl. From wherever Jews gathered and talked about times past and the people of those times.

From these conversations I understood that many years ago when Czyzewo originally became a settlement and began to erect a synagogue, a mikvah, (ritual bath) and a cemetery that it was necessary for someone to appear as an owner of these institutions. Whoever represented these motionless materials had to be worthy in relation to the government. The people at the office where the sale of the places for the synagogue, or the cemetery were registered demanded a name. The only one with a name was the rich man in the shtetl, not an ordinary Jew, a very learned man.

As a result, some years later a conflict occurred. As it happened, the rich man later became poor and the heirs, who searched presumptuously for the father's estate, hit upon this community estate that had been written in his name and did not want to give up believing that it belonged to them.

Such cases happened. They created a lot of bad blood and were the subject of discussions and gossip for many years.

People also told about various other affairs, such as the cost of supporting the rabbi and other religious institutions. In the beginning these costs were borne by the rich Jews and the heads of the kehila. Later the “roite faczajle”. The religious institutions were supported by the “monopolies” that they had for staples, such as salt, yeast, with help from threats of “prohibitions” and “excommunication”.

Some sources of funding were the Jewish slaughtering and the cemetery. The money that was collected was used to support community institutions and people. In this way the administrative body, called the kehilla, raised money in Czyzewo.

Until 1924, the kehilla “dozors” (members of the Jewish community council) were elected in a very primitive manner, exactly as the election for the town council. On a market day, the representative for the community appeared in the street, beating the traditional drum and announced the day when the election would take place for the town council. On that day people from the community came and put up a table, at which sat the bailiff with the secretary, the governor and a representative of the police. They called out the names of the candidates who had been selected to run so that people could vote for the new bailiff and members of the town council. Those gathered raised their hands for one or the other. But the record was written with whatever the “government” wanted. This was how the voting procedure was carried out.

This primitive method was also used for the kehila elections. The meeting took place in the besmedresh. The Gerer and Aleksander Hasidim put forth the names of candidates from their shtiblach. Later, there was also a representative from the Sholemburger shtibl. Amid the racket and commotion from the various factions, the members of the Kehila were elected. The names of members that I remember are Chaim Jidel Wasercug and Israel Icchok Gorzalczany. Later were Berisz Frydman who was head of the kehila, Herszl Malinowicz, Joself Boruch Lepak and Israel Jona Ratczkowski. Two of them were Ger Hasidim, 1 Aleksander and 1 “Sholemberger”.

The kehila did not have a special meeting place, also they did not have a secretary. The meetings took place at the rabbi's house. Their decisions were given verbally. Only extraordinarily important issues, or laws were written in the large pinkus (record book of the Jewish community) kept by the burial society which was kept in a special place at Boruch melamed's (Herszman), the trustee of the Burial Society.

What Were The Problems That Occupied The Czyzewo Kehila?

One of the most important problems was the price of shehita (ritual slaughter), which in the last years was the only source of income for the Jewish kehila in Czyzewo. The work of the kehila was to fairly divide the income between the rabbi and the slaughterers.

Many times they also had to take over the ritual bath from those who were in charge of it. There was trouble from the Department of Health. They had not adhered to the laws of cleanliness. It happened many times that the head of the Kehila had to sit in jail for a day or two on the charge of “uncleaniness” and other sins.

The Czyzewo mikvah (ritual bath) was a “low one”. When one wanted to immerse oneself, one had to go down about forty steps. The Department of Health was of the opinion that this was not hygienic and demanded that the mikvah be raised. The rabbi was against this and was obstinate about it.

The Czyzewo rabbi, Szmul Dawid Zawladower was not a Ger Hasid and as a matter of course not a keen fanatic, but in the case of the sunken mikvah he maintained a staunch position and stood like steel against raising the ritual bath.

The rabbi had the backing of the Ger members along with the Kehila leader. They were not frightened of the Department of Health that had every time it came to the shtetl searched the mikvah and wrote a protocol about the sunken ritual bath. As a result, a kehila meeting would immediately be called to find ways to fight the enemies who were interfering in Jewish religious affairs…

There was important business for the kehila to attend to. They had to establish an “eyrev”. This was to let the Jews of the shtetl know where it was possible to carry something on Shabes. Our rabbi was strict about keeping Shabes and did not approve of half measures in regard to the “Eyrev”. It was necessary to surround the entire shtetl with a wire, set up on high poles such as the telegraph lines. Inevitably the hooligans would climb the poles and tear the wires. Most of the time they did this on Shabes morning so nobody would be able to fix them. Many times I remember my father standing still in the middle of the street and gaving me his tallis (prayer shawl) to carry. Somebody had suddenly informed his that the “eyrev” was torn and one could not carry anything.

In later years, the dozors realized that they should modernize the eyrev, to use a combination that would be allowed according to the law, and not dependent on the whims of the hooligans.

This did not eliminate the influence of the youth on the activities of the Kehila, it was not the end of their problems or the end of the eyrev being torn. Instead of solutions the gray destruction arrived that so cruelly interrupted the generations of life for the Czyzewer Jews.

Since the feud at the end of the 19th century about a Hasidic and Mitnagid ritual slaughterer, which ended in a victory for the Ger Hasidim, there were not any large fights in the shtetl. The ritual slaughters were Ger Hasidim and even when they were old and their hands shook, nobody bothered them and everything was quiet in the shtetl.

Elections In The Modern Manner

By the end of the 1920's when new election laws were introduced in Poland for small towns, in Czyzewo the elections were held using modern methods, with a list of election rights and a list of candidates, for the town council and the Jewish kehila.

The truth is that in practice the election did not have any relevance for the Jews in the shtetl because the Endekes (Polish anti-Semitic National Democratic Party) hooligans stood at the ballot boxes with sticks and did not allow the Jews to vote. This was the reason, that in Czyzewo where the Jews made up 90 percent of the population, and 50 percent of the entire Dmochy Glinki district, that there was not one Jewish representative on the town council and or on the expanded council.

Due to the same Anti-Jewish motives the effort to end the status of Czyzewo as a settlement in order to have the rights of a town with a mayor did not have a positive result. Czyzewo, until the end, remained with the rights of a settlement (colony).

The new election law created a fuss for change in the form of the kehila and the compositon of the representatives.

The new law provided Czyzewo with a Jewish community council of eight dozors. With the support of thirty signatures, a list of candidates was put forth. The goal of the elders was to close the door of the kehila to the progressive youth and maintain control. They had close relations with the Sanacja (Polish ruling party) and they collaborated with the government in establishing voting rights. However, they were not entirely successful in barring the road for the young people from having an influence on the activities of the kehila. In 1928, for the first time in Czyzewo, the Zionist parties participated in the kehila elections. My unforgettable comrade and friend Jechiel Aszer Prawda was elected as a dozor.

Jechiel Aszer Prawda was an interesting person, a fighter for Zionist ideals, a generous and active mizrachist and a strong supporter of the Zionist funds. He worked on behalf of Keren Kayemet and Keren HaYesod (now Jewish National Fund) in our town. He was also religious, prayed in the Aleksander shtibl where he had, by the way, a lot of problems due to his Zionism. He was persecuted and they threatened to throw him out of the shtibl, but he did not give up. He did not stop his work and for him Israel came first.

Not even private business could keep him from his Zionist activities. Business, family – everything was immediately put aside when he was needed to help with elections to a congress, or a celebration for the opening of the University in Jerusalem. He did this openly and boldly, not like other young Hasidim who kept their Zionist sympathies deep in their hearts, but did not express their sentiments openly, so as not to come in conflict with their Hasidic environment.

The elected members of the kehila were:

  1. Zebulon Grosbard – Ger Hasid
  2. Israel Jona Raczkowski – Ger Hasid
  3. Lejbusz Frydman – Ger Hasid
  4. Alter Wolmer – Aleksander (kehila head)
  5. Zindel Liew – Aleksander
  6. Josel Boruch Lepak – Szolemburger
  7. Jehiel Aszer Prawda – Zionist
  8. Majer Monkarz – Besmidresh

As can be seen from the above list, the Zionists had very little influence. This result was caused by the elders who made the voting age 25, did not give women the right to vote and a dozor had to be at least thirty years old. The Zionist movement in Czyzewo was made up of young people.

Officially there was only one Zionist on the kehila, but unofficially – 2, because Lepak who was a Szolemburger candidate was also a member of Mizrahi.

The Kehila Activities Are Modernized

Jehiel Aszer Prawda's being elected to the kehila had great relevance in modernizing the activities of the kehila.

The changes were noticeable. They had a secretary who introduced order. The first thing was the kehila taxes and then they organized the ritual slaughters' fees. No slaughterer could be paid in cash – only with a note from the kehila.

The rabbi also had to accept changes. The character of the “roite faczajle” disappeared. The newly organized kehila set a salary for the rabbi that suited the dignity of a spiritual leader. At the shtetl mikvah, a special section was created for bathtubs. It was no longer necessary for people to descend 40 steps to immerse themselves in the public mikvah. For a set fee one was able to order a hot bath from the attendant. Some of the Christian population made use of the bathtubs as well. When taking into consideration the sanitary conditions in our shtetl, one can understand the great significance of these bathtubs.

The kehila also turned their attention to the cemeteries. The old and new cemeteries were enclosed with red brick fences.

The most important event was obtaining a place to build a Zionist People's house where all modern community life in the shtetl was concentrated.

Obtaining the place for this purpose did not come about easily. Day and night the young Zionist bosses, who were among the top taxpayers and also had influence in various other community activities, did not cease demanding their due. In the end, after a lot of trouble and effort, they were able to get the place to build the house. The modern grade school for boys and girls, with young Hebrew teachers was also located in this house and the Zionist organizations held their meetings there.

In 1935 there was another election for the Kehila. The youth of Czyzewo had grown up and now there were many more Zionists with voting rights. Despite their strength being divided among many factions, through the general influence of the Zionist movement, they were much stronger than in the past. For the first time the monopoly on the office of Kehila head was wrested from the Hasidim. The results of the election even surprised the Zionists.

The members elected to the kehila council were as follows:

  1. Zebulon Grosbard – Gerer
  2. Eli Rubin Malzman – Aleksander
  3. Itcze Zilberman – Ger-Aleksander
  4. Jehiel Aszer Frawda – Mizrahi
  5. Chaim Szczupakiewicz – General Zionists
  6. Mosze Blajwajs – Revisionists
  7. Fejwel Zyglbojm – League for a Working Land of Israel
  8. Mejer Monkarz – Besmedresh

The Zionists had every possibility to elect one of their own as head of the Kehila. – The Hasidic representative evidently appreciated the strength of the Zionists and began exhibiting a willingness to yield. – But he had also, unfortunately, sensed the lack of unity among the Zionist organizations and that led to Zebulon Grosbard, a Ger Hasid, being elected as head of the Kehila.

For four years the new kehila council led activities with its particular merits and faults. – The Jewish population had a clearer understanding of Zionist idealism. – The Zionist dozors helped spread Zionist consciousness to the Jewish population through their activities. – Zionist speakers, who came from Warszawa, appeared in the bes medresh. – The idea of Zion had become deeply rooted in all classes of the Jewish population in Czyzewo. – Young and old were devoted to the idea with their hearts and souls until the great destruction arrived and wiped out everyone and everything. –

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Dedicated to the memory
of my Uncle Jehiel'ke,
a wise man in Czyzewo,
from whom I inherited his
position in the management
of the bank.