Itzhak Caspi: Siedlce – a metropolice of Israel

There are different opinions and theories concerning the year in which Siedlce was established and there are also different opinions about the meaning of the name “Siedlce”. Siedlce is mentioned, for the first time and in few slim details, in an official document in 1448, in the diplomatic codex of little Poland. It may be assumed that the settlement existed since before this date, possibly from the first quarter of the XV century.

There’s no exact date of Jewish settlement in Siedlce. It might have been discovered in one of the notebooks of the charitable societies that existed a hundred and fifty years ago: Bikur Cholim, Chevra Kadisha, Mishnayot and Pirhei Shoshanim, which contained a lot of historical and demographic information about the community, alas – the notebooks were lost in the Holocaust.

Common knowledge claims that until the last quarter of the 18th century, Siedlce was a private rural estate of Prince Aoginski with only a few Jews living there. Between 1770 and 1780, the prince established the city of Siedlce. He set up a magnificent town house called “Old.” In the same building he also set up stores for Jewish shopkeepers in the area. He also built a synagogue for the Jewish residents.

Siedlce wasn’t like other cities, which excelled in their rich and vibrant history, earned a reputation as cities of great scholars, famous rabbis, philanthropists, writers, artists and activists, or as places where major ideas, social movements, such as Vilna, Lublin, Volozhin, Warsaw And Odessa.

Nevertheless, the community of Siedlce was attentive to everything that happened in the Jewish world and its surrounding. Although it did not become famous, Siedlce served as a mirror for the war of various movements in Judaism over the past several centuries, in which Hasidim and Opponents, religious and educated, social and national movements, clashed. Members of the Hibbat Zion movement, who donated for redeeming the land of Rehovot, rose up in it.

Delegates from Siedlce went to the Katowice Conference. Immediately after the establishment of the Zionist Organization by Herzl political Zionists have formed organizations. Some of its inhabitants immigrated to America under the influence of “Am-Olam” and a large part flowed with the pioneers of the Second Alyia to the land of vision and national revival – Eratz-Israel. Today the Jewish community of Siedlce in Israel numbers two thousand people. Some of the old veterans and some of their descendants who placed roots in the homeland and consecrated with their blood the heroism of Israel for the security and against the enemies of the people and humanity during 2nd World War.

This is not the place for a comprehensive survey of the history of the Jewish community in Siedlce, but it should be noted that since 1750, since the outbreak of the Hasidic and the opponents’ war in Siedlce, the community included great figures whose names fit into fascinating plots

In the Notary offices in Siedlce an old will was saved, written in ancient language, written by Rabbi Haim Grinberg and dating back to 1790, and a contract in Hebrew and Polish, which was signed in 1812 by Rabbi Bonem from Pshisha and three other Jews. The Rebbe, Reb Bunim, who had been delegated from by Jewish Jacob Eisenberg was apparently the owner of the concession for taxing kosher meat in Siedlce, and he waived this right in favor of three other Jews.

Jews from Siedlce played a significant role in the Polish uprising in November of 1830. A historical battle took place nearby – the battle near Aigan Grove. Adjacent to it felled, in 1809, the Jewish colonel Barak Iosilebitz, who commanded a battalion of Kosciuszko soldiers who fought against the Austrian army. Also in the area, in the year of the revolt, the son of Colonel Joseph wrote the famous proclamation calling on the Jews to fight together with the Poles for a united and free Poland.

In later times, various types of people appeared on the Jewish public scene. From here went – on the 3rd of Heshvan, Ts”a, Rabbi Yehuda the Hasid with a large number of members of his faction (five hundred died on the way), to Jerusalem and purchased land, the place is now known as Hurva Synagogue and is called The Ruin of Rabbi Yehuda the Hasid .

Among the people born or active in Siedlce, whose scope of activity has gone far and whose names are prominent, in the field of spiritual leadership, literary creation, national public opinion and the pioneering movement, these figures will be mentioned here:

In the first line – the rabbis: Rabbi Manis Maggid from Ostrow the city preacher until his death (TKZ”H), lived a life of poverty and balanced the budget deficit by fasting. He sometimes sat fasting from Saturday night until Saturday evening, wrote a book about the Torah and innovations and left it to his grandson R. Asher d Gedaliahu Goldberg, brainy and spiritual, too. But not like his grandfather – Rabbi Manis the preacher, the ardent opponent, the Grandson – Rabbi Asher Gedaliahu was an enthusiastic Skarnibitz hasid.

Very much like the Rabbi Manis the preacher, was Rabbi Moshe Hirsch Weingarten, author of emendations on Shas and four Shulchan Aruch, which remained in scripture was burnt by one of the fires Siedlce often had. Except for one book, “Mram Zvi”, this was published. Despite being an Opponent, he was well versed in the books of Kabbalah.

After the death of Rabbi Hirsch, Rabbi Eliezer Piotrkow sat on the chair of Siedlce Chief Rabbi, working a lot in organizing social life in the city, especially after the period of “kidnappers” (the Cantonists).

R’ Israelkalah was an undeterred opponent fighter, known as a scholar. He used to wear a kapote of parchment, and because he dealt with the expulsion of dybbuks, giving talismans and writing amulets, he used to cut pieces off his garment and write amulets.

Chief Rabbi Dov Ber Anolik of Tiktin sat on the chair in Siedlce for 18 years, a brilliant personality and a pastor worthy of the name. Dedicated as a father to his community. In the days of the pogrom he negotiated with the evil authority, out of pride and with danger to his soul.

As in a crooked mirror, Siedlce would seem to be the registered in the Jewish folklor (Noach Perlotzky, Zamalbeker Far Yudishen Falklar, Pilataje on Kultur Gashikta, 1-Ta’ar Band, Nayar Farlag, Vorsha 1912). It is said: Siedlce = Sed-Letz (devil-playful), its people: stingy, Thieves, usurer, gluttonous and in summary: Siedlce is a spark from hell’s fire.

Indeed, the real folklore reflecting the values of the Jews of Siedlce was handed from father to his son and grandfather to his grandson, it’s main subject being the Hasidic-Opponents War that raged for 150 years. Here are some stories about miracles and miracle-makers, rabbis, etc.

Of R. Manis Hamagid, considered by the people as a prophet, we are told:

A girl was engaged to a man and contracted typhus. When the angel of death knocked on her door, they went to Rabbi Manis to ask him to shake the world and to undo the evil decree. R. Manis thought for a moment and replied: The girl will rise from her illness, but will not last long. So it was.

It is told, in the name of the Seer of Lublin, that he decreed that R. Manis’ spirit of holiness will always be visible, and would not be able to hide it.

Manis was known for his zeal as an opponent.Nevertheless, the Chasidim admired him and liked him. R. Mendele of Kotzk has heard of him as well. Once on his way from Kotzk to Warsaw, R. Mandeli went to the study hall to become acquainted with the opponent of the scholar. R. Manis was immersed in his studies and did not notice the visitor who had since left the Beit Midrash. Then the Maggid said: Here was a pillar of fire. When the guests told him about the guest, R. Manis ran a number of yurists on foot until he got to the wagon and congratulated R. Mendele the blessing of Shalom Aleichem.

There was a common story in the city about Rabbi Moshe Hirsch Weingarten, who previously served as a rabbi in a nearby town, Sokolow-Podlaski:

The story of an informant who gave away Jewish religious scholars to the authorities in the days of the “kidnappers” (Kantonists), Rabbi Damata warned the informer to desist from his actions. The latter did not listen to the warning; suddenly the informer fell sick with body paralysis. In the town they whispered that since the informer had fallen, the rabbi had disappeared and his traces were unknown. It later became known that Rabbi Moshe Hirsch was secretly involved in creating a clay Golem. And the more the Golem became, the more the villain’s disease grew. The informant saw this as the rabbi’s hand in the matter and complained to the authority. Rabbi Moshe Hirsch was forced to leave Sokolow and reached the seat of the Rabbinate in Siedlce.

And another figure among the gallery of characters: R. Israelkalah the Maggid, who arrived to Siedlce in TR”H and had a reputation of a fierce opponent. When Hasidim coveted him jokingly, they once invited him for the sake of chasing away the spirit of “Dibuk” who entered one of the men. He came to the place and began to deal with all kinds of virtues, drew a circle in chalk and took a Lulav and Etrog in hand and shook it to the four winds of the sky, etc. But the Dibuk did not move and did not leave the young man. The Rabbi asked to bring a barrel full of water and ordered the Dibuk to jump into the water. But the Dibuk did not obey this time too. The Hasidim caught the Rabi and threw him in the water.

The Chassidim did not stop the persecution and harassed him, until he abandoned the city at Hoshana Rabba TRI”A.

And moving from stories about intellectuals whose value is folkloric and whose authenticity is dubious to a series about men of action.

Reb Isaac (Rapoport) Tsernobrodh was considered the first fervent Zionist, who sent a memo to the known minister Rabbi Moshe Montefiore, said to have inspired the land purchase of the neighborhood of “Ohel Moshe VeYehudit” in Jerusalem by the Minister.

Over the years, a group of men of action, Authors, Zionists and socialists, Revolutionaries and pioneers fulfilling their goals emerged.

In Siedlce lived and worked a knowledgeable man of a patriarchal nature, an educated Jewish scholar, student of general culture Rabbi Itzhak Nahum Weintraub, faithful disciple of Rabbi Shmuel Mohliber and Rabbi Itzhak Weisenboim. A man who has faithfully served the Zionist idea throughout his life. His son-in law M.M. Landau, a native of Brest-Litebesk, a loyal Zionist who, all the days of his life until his death in 1918, devoted himself to infiltrate the Zionist idea among Siedlce’s Jews, was among the founders of the Zionist library which merged over the years with the “HaZamir”‘s library.

A Zionist activist, Philanthropist and a generous contributor שמג wealthy was R’ Asher Orz’l. An activist of the conservative-religious camp was Rabbi Israel Gotgeld. Both perished in starvation and in the distress of the Nazi Holocaust.

Here was born the poet Mordechai Temkin. The author Joel Mastboim spent his childhood years here. The brother of the writer – Yodel – one of the heroes of the revolutionary “Spring” period, was sentenced to expulsion in Siedlce and was sent to Siberia, where he perished. A. M. Hartglas the Zionist activist of many rights and proud combatant of Polish Jewry found in Siedlce the First Field for his fruitful activity for the sake of Zionism. Here emerged educated figures such as Kalman Galitsky, Gurevich the teacher who was later the director of the Hebrew Gymnasium in Vilnius.

Rabbi Isaac Mocher-Sefarim the author of the “Inauguration of the Hasmoneans”, “Mother of Bible and tradition”, “The jug of oil”, “Proverbs of Fathers”, “For reasons”, “And it mattered”, “Wisdom of the Wise”, “For the new reasons”, “Praise the Israeli Knesset” and “Sukkah of Peace”.

The Brothers Moses and Abraham Gilbert, the latter was the founder of the “Society of Brothers” at the beginning of this century. The guild operated in the cultural and social field in Siedlce, a man gifted in the field of literature and drama, he was the first to lay the cornerstone of the Local Journal, Siedlcer Wort, and “Siedlcer Leben” and issued anthology stories and poems. Yaakov Tenenboim, a philithonist and witty pen holder, has published hundreds of phyllitons in local papers and in various Warsaw magazines. He wrote a number of plays and presented them onstage. Including “the skeleton”.

In due time a new shift formed, including the following writers: I. Goldberg published phyllitons poems and memoires. Y.P. Greenberg poet and prose writer, published books in Yiddish: “from the battlefield”, “Flowers” and “Dreams”, Y.H. Eisenberg wrote editorials opinion pieces, essays and composed a biblical drama about Herod and Miriam.

Levi Gotgeld was distinguished and dedicated with all his heart to the Hebrew culture was. His name associated with any of Zionism and cultural enterprises created in Siedlce and its surroundings, twenty years before the outbreak of the Second World War His qualities: a fiery Zionist fighter, a fanatical Hebrew, a witty and self-styled publicist, rooted in the sources of the language and in its spirit.

Asher Liwerant – acting editor of “Hsdlatzar and Oacanblat”, among the founders of the public library next to the public company “Yiddishe Kunst”, the founder of “Hebrew language speakers”, an activist in Siedlce on behalf of the Odessa “Hovevei Zion”. He lent his hand to all the Zionist and Hebrew institutions that had flourished in Siedlce over the years. He deserves the title “pioneer of the Jewish journalism in the provinces of Poland”, its impact in the Jewish community in Poland in the period between the two wars – has not yet been properly assessed.

David Grinfarb will also be mentioned, who wrote and published many lyrical poems and H. Tzinamon  from Krinitz, who was active in Siedlce in some areas, including literature, the author of the drama “Feast of the Forest” and many articles on the question of return of the Jews to agriculture.

A member of the Magshimim pioneers and among the founders of “Association” and “HaPoel HaTzair”, a member of “Davar” was Kalman (Lewartowsky) Bar-Lev, whose act of pioneering fulfillment served as a model for the pioneer and Zionist generation which followed.

One of the Yiddish writers camp who opposed Zionism was David Nimark, a former member of the “Alexa-Zeitung” in Warsaw, and now one of the writers of ‘Forward’ in New York.

Meir Shwartzman, of the Orthodox camp, set up a stage in “Unser Weg” Siedlce magazine, and published poems, stories in Yiddish and Hebrew in many newspapers and magazines. Recently, lyrical poems in Hebrew appeared, written by him and published by a Canadian publishing house, where the author now serves in a rabbinate role.

Mordechai Ovadya, one of the Pioneering and Hebrew youth movement is the young writers whose stories granted a reflection of Siedlce during the German occupation in World War I until the liberation of Poland. In his book “From the mouth of Bialik” he succeeded in recording an act that happened to the poet at the train station in Siedlce.

Shlomo Rozen came to Eretz-Israel with a storm of war, published a book ‘from the crash’ describing experiences in the early days of the Nazi occupation in Siedlce.

And from the layer of pioneer Zionist functionaries and senior-fulfilling writers: Neta Harpaz, Menahem Ben-Hillel, Alter Boaz, Itzhak Gerstenkorn and P. Popowski, who immigrated with pioneers from the second, the third and last Aliya.

Two of our city’s residents, a teacher and his student, their names on the plaque of honor for the victims of heroism in the homeland:

Hillel (Schwartz) Schori fell while working and protecting Ramat-HaKovesh, during the bloody events in TRZ”V-TRZ”T (1936-1939), formaerly a teacher at ‘Tarbut’. Was the founder and manager of the Hebrew class for a long period of time, edited a Hebrew periodical for youth called ‘The Alliance’.

Efraim Weiman, from Boat XXIII, went out on a commando mission to enable the British Army’s invasion of Syria in 1941 and never returned.

This testimony is edited from Yizchak Caspi’s book: “The scroll of riots in Siedlce in 1906″.
Translated from Hebrew by Mr. Yuval Romano.