Yitzchak Yossel: A Jewish boy saved from apostasy

The story I’m about to tell you here, like many other stories about Siedlce of time, was not, unfortunately, written down. It was told and retold by the elderly, who passed it from generation to generation.

And so it was. Immediately after the rebellion of 1863, in the village Vimisli near Siedlce, lived a Jew named Yitzchak-Josel. A simple and decent man, who held the lease to the local mill.

One day the mill broke down and Yitzchak-Josel has summoned a German technician to fix whatever was needed. An argument broke out between the two concerning the technician’s salary, and before they parted in anger the German said to threw Yitzchak-Josel: “Wait, wait, you will remember me forever!”

Since that day, Yitzchak-Josel became a different person. He strayed from the path, started drinking and did not supervise the mill properly. He was very careful, however, not to let his wife, a decent and modest woman, find out about this behavior.

A Jewish servant worked at Yitzchak-Josel’s home, who noticed the change in her employer and told his wife. The dumbfounded woman wrote to Weingerov, her husband’s hometown, to his family, in order that one of them will come and try to restore him to the better.

A short time later Yitzchak-Josel’s two brothers came to Vimisli. Seeing their brother deviated from the Jewish religion and making the cross sign at every opportunity, they thought that insanity attacked him. They tied his hands, locked him in a room and hoped that the madness will pass, but they did not notice any improvement. On the contrary – the situation has worsened, and even with tied hands, he would make the sign of the cross with his tongue, on the holy books.

With great difficulty they managed to persuade their brother, Yitzchak-Josel, to go to the Rabbi with them, Rabbi Yitzhak Bensciz. When they came to the Rebbe and told him the reason for their arrival, the Rebbe shook his head sadly and said to them that Yitzchak-Josel has no chance of improvement. They returned to Vimisli and left their brother alone. A few weeks later Yitzchak-Josel converted formally and accepted the Pravoslav religion.

Yitzchak-Josel had two children, a ten-year-old son and a four-year-old son. He took the eldest with him and converted him to Christian religion as well. His wife took his younger son and ran away with him to Siedlce and thus saved him from apostasy.

The convert became very angry at his wife for ‘tricking’ him. He traveled to Warsaw to complain to the Governor General, the graph Berg. He ordered the governor of Siedlce, Gromeko, and the city’s police chief Drach, to take the child from the mother and see that he’s educated in the spirit of the Christian religion.

It didn’t take long for the police chief to find the mother, intimidate and threaten her, and forcibly removed her child. With the approval of the governor, he adopted the boy and made him a legitimate son. But since he had no children of his own and there was no one to care for the child and raise him, he handed the boy to the Christian chief medic of the local military hospital, who was then living in the 11 Fiinknh alley, at the home of Rabbi Yitzchak-Gad Kornblum.

The Boy, who really missed his mother, cried incessantly. He could not get used to the new educator. The mother came every day to Yitzchak-Gad to see her child, but the medic would not let her contact her son in any way. He claimed to be responsible for him personally and was asked to look after him well and not allow the mother to see him. With great difficulty the mother managed to obtain permission to kiss her son one kiss every day.

Over time, the child grew accustomed to the new environment and even began to speak Russian. However, his teachers instilled in him a hatred of Jews, and he did not want to speak Yiddish with his mother. But she didn’t rest and kept trying all kinds of tricks to save the boy from the Gentiles.

At that time Rabbi Israel Meizlish served as Siedlce’s Rabbi. The mother came to him every day, and begged him to do something so she could get the boy back. Rabbi Israel gave her a letter to his father – Rabbi Baris Meizlish, from Warsaw, to try to act on the matter, but the father said he could do nothing. As we know, Rabbi Meizlish took an active part in the uprising of 1863. After the uprising he was subjected to severe persecution from Tsarist regime and could not act as he pleased. He did, however, offer some advice to the mother – because it is impossible to act administratively, she had to claim custody of her son in court.

The courts were then under Polish jurisdiction. The mother did as adviced by R. Baris and claimed her son’s father was not her husband – Yitzchak-Josel, and therefore he has no authority over the child and he cannot act to convert him. The real father, the woman claimed, is someone else. She presented a Jew to the judges, who claimed to be the father of the child. But the police chief Drach was adamant: the child is a Christian, and nobody else has any right over him. Thus, due to lack of evidence, the trial was lost and the child remained with the Christian medic.

Seeing that all efforts to get back her son failed the mother traveled to the Rebbe of Amshinov – R. David, of blessed memory, son of Rabbi Yitzchak from Varca and friend of Rabbi Mendel from Kotzk, to ask for advice. Kind R’ David was diligently taking care of public affairs, and upon hearing the mother’s request he promised to come to Siedlce especially  and see what can be done. Indeed, a few days later the Rebbe of Amshinov came to Siedlce and after consultation with Rabbi Israel Meizlish the two men agreed that common sense will not save the child, and cunning means or clever operation must be taken.

At the time lived in Siedlce – Kalman Griantzi (the first member of this family, which was called the city ‘ Kosatzas”). He was an energetic and daring Jew, who knew no fear. The two rabbis believed that Kalman will succeed in the mission. They called them, told him what the matter was about, and promised him a part in the next world if he saved the child from the gentile. They demanded that he promise, by handshake, not to tell anyone about what was said to him, and that once he got the child out of the orderly’s home he would bring him to Amshinov, to R’ David.

Kalman Griantzi gathered a few friends, each of them swore not to tell anyone about anything, introduced them to R’ David who ordered and advised them how to act. Now they headed to the house of a medic, began to watch it and track the man. When they heard the medic went to Warsaw to bring medicines to the hospital and his wife was left alone with the child, they decided to seize the opportunity. At night they put guards around the house, blocked all the doors and windows of neighboring apartments and tied them with ropes, so it will be impossible to open them from the inside. They did the same to the doors and windows of the medic’s apartment. Only one window was left open and they entered through it. Upon their appearance at night, the medic’s wife started shouting – they’re kidnapping her Jewish boy! She put up strong resistance against her attackers, slapped and beat them, until they had no choice but to tie her up and gag her. Now they hurried to take the child out the window again, and sealed it behind them.

As we have said, one of the medic’s neighbors was Rabbi Yitzchak-Gad. His family heard the screams and the sounds of commotion but could not get out and explore because the doors and windows were blocked. Finally, hearing the screams, the police arrived and opened the doors and windows. When they realized what had happened, they accosted Rabbi Yitzchak Gad, claiming that he, as a close neighbor, knew of the plot. By order of the chief of police Rabbi Yitzchak-Gad and his wife were arrested. With him were arrested other important home-owners, among them Rabbi Shimon Greenberg, whom, as the medic testified, has offered 1,000 Rubles to allow him to steal the boy.

These were difficult days for the Jews of Siedlce. Governor Gromek and the police chief Drach were among the worst city governors the Jews knew ever. Although Pogroms were not yet “fashionable”, Jews lived in constant fear. An intensive investigation began against the detainees. They were all finally released, except R’ Yitzchak-Gad. The magistrate came again and again to his cell in the prison and beat him up. He inquired and didn’t let go, trying to find the identity of the kidnappers.

At the same time, R. Baris Meizlish lobbied vigorously for the release of Rabbi Yitzchak-Gad, since there was no incriminating evidence against him. This lobbying helped and the man was set free.

And what was the end of the boy rescued from apostasy?

When the police learned that the child had been stolen, they immediately placed barriers in all city exits and all the travelers were searched. But the boy could not be found. He was hidden in a safe place in the city itself.

When the barriers were removed the child was brought to Amshinov, to R’ David, who raised him as his son. However, only few knew of it, it was a closely guarded secret from the general public, and no one knew where the youngest son of Yitzchak-Josel has disappeared to.

Years later Rabbi Yitzchak-Gad received an invitation for a wedding in Brisk, the groom side on the invitation was signed by Rabbi David Amshinov. At first, Rabbi Yitzchak Gad wondered who the groom was, but he later found out that this was the same boy who was abducted from his neighbor-tenant, the Christian medic, to save him from apostasy. This is how Rabbi David Amshinov tried to compensate Rabbi Yitzchak-Gad, who suffered more than any other in this case.

Kalman Griantzi and his friends kept their secret and did not talk about the case to anyone. Only when the secret was revealed much later they were praised for the bravery and devotion they displayed. They and the likes of which reads: “Even canisters are filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate”

At his old age, the apostate Yitzchak-Josel became a beggar.

Written by Yitzhak Nahum Weintraub in the book: “Ancestors Tell Siedlce”.
Translated from Hebrew by Mr. Yuval Romano.