Fishel Dromi (Popwski): About the Community

Until 1926 the Jewish community office in Siedlce was called “Das Dazaar Stiebel” – community management Pavilion. The name matched the community’s situation at the time. The external appearance of the place and status of the “Dozorim “(elected community representatives) was like a “stiebl” (a small Hasidim synagogue).

It was a long and narrow room. At one end, near the door, sat Rabbi Isaac Tannenbaum. The Rebbe registered the newborns, gave the parent permission to the municipality to register the child there, or to erase him in the event of death, God forbid.

At the other end, near the eastern wall, sat his son – Hershl Tannenbaum, the secretary of the Jewish community. When a member of the community administration entered the room for some question, or when a meeting was held there, the secretary’s desk was used, as there was no room for more than two desks.

Community activity was reflected in the collection of community taxes and payment of salaries to the rabbi. As for the ritual slaughter, this was the subject of the ritual slaughterers themselves. Out of the community budget, assistance was also provided to “Aidat Orphans” and to the old people’s home. The burial society, in contrast, was a private company, and during the burial an important role was played for the “bed carriers.” They played their part devotedly, even in the heaviest rains, or in the frost of the winter. They left their jobs or their trade to do “true kindness” (Hesed Shel Emet).

Not all residents paid their taxes to the community. Of the 4,000 Jewish families in the city, only 10% paid taxes. It was the only source of income for the community.

The Zionist parties conducted broad propaganda in order for all members of the community would pay taxes so that the public’s needs could be adequately addressed.

Community members were also registered at the “Dozorim” and had to get the approval of all matters of the community. For example, the new contract with the Cantor – Yossef Passowski, was signed by rabbis, the “Dozorim” and respectable landlords, the taxpayers among the residents.

In 1926 democratic elections were held for the community administration. The candidates were: the Zionists, “Ha’Mizrahi”, “Agudat Israel”, the Folkists and menial workers (the craftsmen). The “Bund” and “Poalei Zion” boycotted the elections because the community was considered a religious body. The right to vote was given to all men from the age of 21, even if they did not pay taxes. Women had no right to vote

When the votes were counted, it turned out that out of the 20 members of the community council, the “Aguda” received 10 seats, meaning 50%, which did not win a majority for the party. The Zionists received four mandates and the Laborers – four, as well. Three of the manual workers were members of the Zionist committee organization, so that the committee actually numbered seven Zionists. The fourth elector of the list of manual workers was also a fan of Zionism. The Folkists and “Mizrahi” received one seat each.

Before choosing the chairman of the community, the writer of these words asked for permission to speak and declared:

“For years, the Zionist movement waged a propaganda war against the character of the Jewish community, saying that Jewish communities should be not only religious but also secular, and should encompass all of Jewish life, not only to support Talmud Torah but also secular schools, If Jewish parents are interested.

It was argued that the Jewish community should take care of all the religious, cultural, and social needs of Jewish society; Establish libraries, evening courses, sports associations, support the construction of the Eretz-Israel, and so on. The right to vote must be given to any person from the age of 18, regardless of gender and regardless of whether or not he pays taxes.

But the government does not want to change the character of the Jewish community, and continues to treat the Jews as a religious community only. Jewish women are prevented from voting to this important institution.

Although we are not satisfied with this electoral system, we nevertheless decided to participate in it and to continue to manage our public relations in the community. The Jewish community need not be religious only, but also free and secular.

But when we see the attitude of the government representative in the city – the ‘Starosta’, which is against the law, with the intention of helping the Aguda against the Zionists, I hereby declare that we will not recognize the chairman of the Jewish community, but see him as a representative of the ‘Starosta’ only. We will not recognize its provisions until it is not changed, as the law requires, and as a protest, I declare on behalf of the Zionists and the manual workers that we will not participate in the election of the chairman of the community administration. “

Dr. Schleicher translated into Polish and Yiddish message and said at the end:

“I wish to congratulate the chairman appointed by the authorities.”

The ‘Starosta’ replied the message will be conveyed to the governor of the province. Rabbi Israel Gotgelt was elected chairman of the community thanks to the votes of the members of “Aguda”.

Thus ended the first meeting of the community council.

“Aguda”, encouraged by the ‘Starosta”s attitude, began to make plans which were approved by its majority in the community’s management. Only religious needs were taken into account.

“Aguda”‘s representatives in the community council were Jacob Shtzeranski, Shimon Ridel, Moshe Shlifka, Eliahoo Tanenboim, Sander Kantor, Bonem Hoberman, Moshe Zakon, Israel Zlotowski, Berisz Gorzlkh and Yaacov Tzokr.

Representatives of the Zionists were: I.n. Weintroib, Asher Harrell, M”A Eisenstadt and Dr. M. Schleicher.

The Zionist menial workers were represented by Z.N. Malin, Shmuel Warman, Aharon Moretzky and Berl Srebnik.

Joseph Roznzomn was the Folk’s representative and “Mizrahi”‘s was V. Orlovsky.

Board members on behalf “Aguda” were Israel Gotgelt, Efraim Holber, Berish Jakubowicz, Toovia Shifer, and Asher Moshe Nilknboim. The Zionists and menial workers were represented by Moshe Goldbrg, Yehuda Vioda, Natan Hersh Gorstein and Fieshel Popowski (Dromi).

Community management operations under the direction of Israel Gotgelt were paralyzed, because the opposition didn’t cooperate. Finally the order came from the regional government, to cancel the appointment of Gotgelt and select a new chairman, by raffle. The veteran Zionist activist – Y.N. Weintroib won the role. There was a possibility of progressive work and a real order in the life of the Jewish community. Within the framework of the arrangements the community accepted the responsibility for slaughtering and the Shochatim received a salary. The people of the Hevra Kadisha were persuaded, and in their praise it should be noted that it was not difficult to convince them that it was better for them, that the last honor would be given to the dead by the community. The group of women who handled the purity of the deceased remained independent, and their income was distributed to the needy, as secret charity.

The management team included: Poria from the soda-water factory, the wife of Rabbi Leibel Rosenberg, Hana Ribobski, Hana Popowski and others. On the other hand, the management of the institutions that received greater assistance included a representative of the community administration. I was the representative in “Aidat Orphans”.

Before Passover, the community administration organized a kitchen for the Jewish soldiers. A “charity” fund was also established, which gave hundreds of Jews loans of up to 200 Zolti without interest. Small merchants and craftsmen, who could not afford to take bank loans, also withdrew from this fund.

Thanks to these measures Siedlce community management became public representatives in every sense of the word.

When he realized that the Zionists seek to liven up the Jewish community, Israel Gotgelt, also selected by “Aguda” and one of its leaders, would consult with Zionist leaders regarding important questions. Indeed, the Zionists fulfilled the promises made to the audience at the first council meeting of the Siedlce community that they would introduce a secular spirit into public conduct.

After I left Siedlce, at the end of 1932, there was cooperation between all members of the community administration. Representatives of the Bund and Poalei Zion were also elected in the last elections to the community’s management. Only after elections were held for the rabbi of the community, which led to a struggle between the Mizrachi and the Aguda, did the relations between the members of the Aguda and the Zionists deteriorate.

So things continued until the outbreak of World War II, the Nazi Germans completely destroyed the life of the Jewish community in Siedlce.

Written by Fishel Dromi (Popowski) in the book: “Ancestors Tell Siedlce”.
Translated from Hebrew by Mr. Yuval Romano.