Reb Jechiel Oszer Prawda of blessed memory

By D. Gorzalczany

Translated by Jerrold Landau

With holy trembling and admiration of his personality and character in his personal life, and his faithful dedication to the Zionist movement, I recall the name: Reb Jechiel Oszer of blessed memory, may G-d avenge his blood.

He was born in Czyzewo at the end of the 19th century into a home saturated with Jewish Hassidic tradition. In addition to the watchful eyes of his G-dfearing father Reb Szlomo Jiszai – he stood under the strict supervision of his grandfather Reb Moshe Prawda of blessed memory, in whose company he used to visit regularly during his youth the court of the Rebbe of Aleksandrow. From there, he absorbed the Hassidic atmosphere that pervaded there, and he remained faithful to this Hassidic tradition until the end of his life.
He obtained his Torah education from the Yeshivas of the cities that were near to our town. There, he was numbered among the best of the Yeshiva students. He also was considered one of the finest young men in the Aleksandrow Hassidic circles of Czyzewo, among whom he regularly studied Talmud and Halacha.

He was serious in his thought, studies and prayers. Every day, he repeated with great concentration the prayers: “And a redeemer shall come unto Zion”, “And let our eyes witness the return to Zion”. With the founding of the Mizrachi movement in Czyzewo, he was one of the first to join its ranks. He dedicated his best efforts, activity and years to it. He restricted his private, family and economic life in no small manner on account of it.

czy766.jpg [25 KB] - Reb Jechiel Oszer Prawda, his wife, and five children

Reb Jechiel Oszer Prawda,
his wife, and five children

Reb Jechiel Oszer was one of the leaders and advisors of every Zionist institution. There was no activity in any Zionist institution that was not directed by Reb Jechiel Oszer, with regard to its planning and actualization. In the demonstrations against the “White Paper” and against the evil activities of the British Mandator in the Land of Israel – we see Reb Jechiel Oszer at the head of the marchers. Reb Jechiel Oszer was one of the chief organizers of the festivities celebrating the opening of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. Reb Jechiel Oszer appeared as the prime speaker at the public gatherings in the synagogue or under the open sky. His pain and anger infected the community as he demonstrated his protest against the disturbances in the Land of Israel in the years 1929 and 1936.

He established the first committee for the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (Jewish National Fund) in which he served as the first director. He participated in all activities on behalf of the fund. Reb Jechiel Oszer regarded the placing of the blue and white boxes as now less of a Mitzvah than the fixing of a Mezuza upon a Jewish doorpost. He carried our every activity for the benefit of the Keren Kayemet with a heart full of love and dedication. He performed every activity, small as well as large, with a spirit of holiness and awe. There was no activity whose performance he felt beneath his dignity. Reb Jechiel Oszer was among the first organizers and first donors at the founding of the Keren HaYesod.
The question of education was the chief of all of his desires. Even though he himself received his early education in the old, traditional cheder, he felt an internal need to change the course of education for the younger generation, and especially the need to instill the Hebrew language to them.
To that end, the Modern Cheder was founded, where they studied all of the Jewish subjects in Hebrew, which eventually pushed aside the Yiddish language completely. In addition to Hebrew, the Polish language and arithmetic were studied, so that Jewish children would not have to attend the non-Jewish public school.

His faithfulness to the Zionist idea and his dedication to Zionist activity placed him in a very serious situation. On the one hand, Reb Jechiel Oszer of blessed memory, a keeper of Jewish tradition, was careful about all of the commandments, easy and hard. He sported a trimmed beard, wore a traditional kapote, and had a Hassidic hat on his head. He was numbered among the Hassidim of Aleksandrow, with whom he worshipped and studied. Every moment of his free time was spent in the Hassidic shtibels, which were the “rock from which he was hewn”. When relations deteriorated between the Hassidim and Zionists in our city, Reb Jechiel Oszer of blessed memory was asked to forego his Zionist idea and to desist from all Zionist activity, or to forego and leave the shtibel. It was evident that he was suffering from deep internal agony. His education and habits drew him near to the atmosphere in which he was raised, however the Zionist idea did not take leave of him. With great heartache and agony, he left the shtibel. The commandment of Zionism grew and was victorious over his habits.

The emotional and dear man went around during the last months of his life in solitude, lost in his thoughts. How did his bright thoughts end? When his eldest son grew up and concluded his course of studies in the town, he did not send him to continue his studies in Yeshiva in one of the towns of the Diaspora, but rather to the Yeshiva of Harav Kook in Jerusalem. His plan was that he would also send the rest of his children to Jerusalem when they grew up, and that he would make aliya later on. However, the bitter fate had different plans, and he himself did not merit to make aliya. He was too late.

He, who was beloved and close to people for his entire life, and always worked faithfully in communal affairs, was not able at all, and did not agree to take on any task that was offered to him in the Judenrat. Until… the bitter day came, the 8th of Av 5701 (1941), when the threads of his life were torn apart by the German murderers and their Polish accomplices. He was deported with the first transport to the village of Szulborze and he perished along with the entire community of Czyzewo.

There, in a communal grave, his sublime dreams and plans were buried along with him. His body is buried “there”, but his pure soul hovers in Israel along with the rest of the martyrs of our nation. May G-d avenge his blood.
Woe about those who are lost and who will not be forgotten.