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Life in Kolomyya, story 3


By Chaim Tzvi Teomim, Excerpts From The Book

In January 2005 I received from Bob Beecher a photocopy of the book written by Teomim in Hebrew. For the next 3 years I tried to get the book translated. Several people attempted to do translation and were able to contribute a few pages. In the words of one volunteer,”This document is written in what I call Transitional Hebrew - the quasi Biblical/Talmudic language used by the turn of the 19th century Askenazi Jews...” Unfortunately those that did contribute to the translation were not able to stick with the project. In 2007 I was fortunate to make contact with Hannia Moore of New York. She under took the translation project. In September 2008 she completed the project which consisted of 70 translated pages. We, the members of the KRG, are forever thankful for Hannia’s expertise in dealing with this version of Hebrew and her ability to complete the task.


Originally Rabbi Yaakov Teomim, father of the author, was asked by the heads of the local Chevra Kadisha (Jewish Burial Society) to arrange its regulations which were recorded in two old ledgers from earlier times. Unfortunately before Rabbi Teomim could make any progress on the task, he passed away. The heads of Chevra Kadisha then turned to the son, Tzvi, to complete the task. Tzvi completed the task and gave the old ledgers to a gabai (treasurer) to hold. The ledgers were kept in the gabai’s house, which shortly after burned to the ground. The ledgers were lost forever. Tzvi then under took the task of trying to prepare new ledgers. This book is the result of his labors. The author himself acknowledges that much of the information in the book is from hearsay and his own recollections rather than from reference documents.


According to the book, Kolomyya was established in 1214 by Prince Henri Kolomeyja, King of Halichi or Red Russia. The town was said to be named after him. Local folklore says the town was named after the nearby river, Kolomeyja. The Slavs had named the river because the horse and buggy drivers would come down to wash the mud off their cart wheels. They say that Kolomeyja is made up of two words kolo - myl, where kolo is wheel and myl is wash. In 1271 during the rule of King Lew I, permission was granted to those Jews who were expelled from Ashkenaz (Germany) to settle in Rus districts and they settled in Kolomeyja too. In 1340 the Tartars attacked Red Russia and reached the border of the Kingdom of Poland. King Kzamierzew fought against them. In 1366 he succeeded to take over the districts and have them under his control. He then bought the rights for the Halitchi throne for 2,000 florins and proceeded to settle many Jews and Askennazies to inhabit the land and its culture. In 1387 during the days of King Wladyslaw Jagiello Red Russia and all its districts came under the reign of the Polish government and its laws. Kolomeyja was elevated as the capitol of the Pukucie district. It was said that in 1411 King Wladyslaw was paid 1,000 rubbles by the Russians for Kolomeyja and Sniatin along with the entire district of Pokucie. During the rein of Empress Maria Thereza in 1772, Galicia along with Kolomeyja and the District of Pukucia were brought under Austrian rule.


In 1569 the royal council in Lublin decided to tax the Jews with revenue going to the City Treasury. Jews would be under the laws of the municipality same as other residents. Jews could live in the town and were granted permission to build a synagogue. They were given a plot on the outskirts of town for a cemetery and allowed to build a house for the guard there. That guard’s house later became a hospital on Kamianka Street. In 1589 the Turks and Tartars attacked the town and killed its residents and demolished the town. Later the town was rebuilt and extended beyond the river Prut, which surrounds the town. In 1648 Chamilnitzky, said to be the deadly foe of Jews came into town and killed mercilessly. In 1715 the town was under the commission of minister Stabislav Potozki. At that time the Jews out numbered the gentiles and they were doubly taxed more than the gentiles. The Ukrainians forced many Jews to convert. Meir the Jew was caught by the Haydukim and was taken to their house of worship to be converted. Later it was announced by the municipal authorities that a forced conversion was not valid. This incident was recorded by local court in the book, The Tabela 1765. In 1827 a big fire erupted in Kolomyya and it burned down several hundred homes and the Big Synagogue. Again in 1865 a large fire broke out and consumed all the homes, synagogues, and houses of learning. It was during that fire that the old ledgers were destroyed, These ledges held the chronicles of the town to that point. In years 1848 a plague broke out and several hundred men and women died. In 1849 the total number of residents was about 8,000 with only about 460 homes. In 1852 there was a drought in the town. In 1853 on Yom Kippur during the Neilah prayer hoodlums caused panic in the Big Synagogue in the women’s section in order to rob their jewelry by yelling there was a fire. Thirty three women and two kids died as a result. Since then it became law that women were not to wear jewelry on Yom Kippur.


In 1861 the number of residents in town increased to around 16,000 of which some 8,000 were Jews. Lazar Dubam, a Jew, was elected as a delegate to the State Council (Landstag). In 1879 the Jewish population increased to about 9,000 out of 18,000 total residents. Rabbi Shimon Sofer, from Krakow, was elected as a delegate to the Legislative Council (Raichsrattch). Dr. Yosef Shemuel Blach, from Vienna, Dr. Maksymilian Trachtenberg, Dr. Zeinfeld, Dr. Henrich Von Kalisher were also elected as delegates. Mr. Yan Klesky was elected to be President of the City Council (Birgermeister) in Kolomyya.


In 1881 on Yom Kippur King Franz Josef I came to visit the town. Jews came out to welcome him and as was the custom presented him with bread and salt. In 1912 the town welcomes the visit of Carl Franz Joseph with his wife Tzeita. They stayed in town supposedly for 5 months from April 17 to September 13, 1912.


In 1912 there were 30 synagogues, two houses of learning and the Big Synagogue in Kolomyya. Most of the synagogues were built after 1840. After its fire in 1827, renovations were made to the Big Synagogue making it one building in stone. Renovations were completed in 1842. Rabbi Tzvi Meriminov rededicated the Big Synagogue. Because the community was unable to fund complete rework on the Big Synagogue, walls were left unplastered and repairs were not completed satisfactorily. It was left in this semi-renovated condition until 1864 when the synagogue gabai was able to find money to complete the renovation. Then the gilded holy ark was brought into the synagogue. With inheritance left by Rabbi Gershon Zrzli’h the ark was decorated with an iron bima by a smith and still existed as of 1912. In 1908 the synagogue gabai was able to renovate the exterior and interior of the building using funds raised by the community President Mr. Yosef Funkenstein. A substantial amount was designated from the community fund for this effort. Additional funds were contributed by community philanthropists to pay for workers on the project. Funds from the will of Yosef Shlomoh Friedman also were applied to fixing up the Big Synagogue.
Artisans were brought in to draw, paint, and decorate the synagogue. The wealthy brothers of the house of Benes in Vienna contributed an artful copper lamp. It was decorated with knobs, flowers and overlaid in gold. The brothers were born in Kolomyya. The synagogue was lit up with gas lamps and was the pride of the Jewish community. Much thanks was given to the managers of the synagogue, Mr. Yona Kiezler, Mr. Mendel Friedman, and Mr. Yitzchak Zeidman for their efforts in the renovation project. In 1908 on the eve of the holy Shabbat, a terrible fire broke out in a house of learning. Eleven Torah scrolls and the Holy Ark were destroyed in the fire. By quick action of the shames the town was alerted to the fire and the building was saved from total destruction.
However, the building was immediately closed, because the floor was covered with the ashes of the Torah scrolls. The house of learning gabai went to the home of Rabbi Yaakov Teomim to ask how the ashes from the burnt Torah scrolls should be handled. It was directed that the Jewish community should meet at the house of learning, gather up the Torah ashes, and carry them for burial at the new hospital grounds. Notices were posted requiring that people who had prayed at this house of learning should, say prayers, fast, and make a donation. Several people for the Chevra Kadisha who purified themselves in the mikva were elected to gather up the ashes of the Torah scrolls and put them in ceramic bowls. Twelve bowls were filled with ashes. Ripped Torah parchment sheets, the ark curtain, and covers for the Torah scrolls were collected. All these items were placed on a bed brought in by the Chevra Kadisha and the Rabbi spoke soothing words on this material. The thousands of people there were moved to tears and then the bed was carried out for burial.


In 1860 the corner stone for a Talmud Torah building, to be named Tamchin D’Orayta, was laid . Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech M’dinov was the founder. Some 300 boys were enrolled in the school. In addition to traditional Jewish teachings of the Torah, the students were taught to write in the language of the state. There was a garden/park next to the building for the boys to walk and play during breaks. The estimate value of bequests in 1912 was some 45,000 crowns and income from this money supported the needs of the Talmud Torah. Additional income is derived from Shabbat and holiday pledges and donations and collections from weddings and bar mitzvahs. The community fund also provide about 2,000 crowns yearly. Members of the committee that managed the school were: Alter Knepper, Avraham Shmuel Heller, Michal Hetter, Tzvi Bloch, Chaim Shalom, and Yuda Zeidman.

In 1854 the Head of the community bought a hospital. It holds over 20 beds for the intake of poor patients. A special doctor visited twice a day, and patients’ needs in food, drink, and medication was supported by the community fund. In 1912 the heads of the community added a second floor to the hospital to care for the increased requirements of sick and poor patients. The organization Bikur Cholim’s goal was to provide care for the poor who resided at home by providing free medication or helping to subsidize its purchase. The organization’s yearly expenses were some 6,000 crowns. Income came from the community fund, pledges and donations, and bequests. The resources in 1912 came to about 30,000 crowns and was under the organization’s president Yuda Kreps. In 1899 the son of the community head built an important center with spacious halls to support the poor.


Taakov Brettler donated 20,000 crowns toward the maintenance of a building to house about 30 poor elderly men and women, blind and lame. About 40,000 crowns was needed for its upkeep and other benefactors contributed. About 1,500 crowns was needed monthly to maintain the shelter and the hospital next to it and it was supported by the community fund. Food and clothing was provided. A synagogue was also built for these infirmed and elderly residents to pray in the morning and evening. The shelter was established in 1899 and dedicated in the name of the King Frantz Joseph I. The shelter was managed by Mendl Brettler. A soup kitchen/cooking house was established for the poor in Kolomyya under the name Ezra. Every day some 100 poor Jews were served a dinner of meat, soup, and bread for a small cost. Respected women of the town ran the cooking house and prepared the meals. Other community activities included organization, Kol Israel Chaverim which taught Jewish boys agriculture in the village of Slovoda Leshna, which was located next to Kolomyya. This same organization acted as a bank for small loans to merchants and craftsmen on installment plans and was managed by David Weizelberg. There was a school for Jewish boys provided by the Baron Hirsch institution. A school, Safa Chaya (Living Language) provided Hebrew language studies.


The cemetery which once existed on Kamianka Street was quite ancient by 1912. The tombstones in cemetery at that time had fallen into disrepair. Some sunk deeply into the ground while inscriptions on others were barely legible. In 1883 the cemetery was locked and a new plot was established. In 1894 under the guidance of Yaakov Brettler the community raised a significant amount of funds and purchased a virgin plot of land for a new cemetery. Rabbi Yaakov Teomim dedicated the new cemetery. There was a big turnout of the community with ritual prayers. The president of the community, Dr. Trachenberg delivered his address in German and the heads of the community distributed wine and sweets. In the evening the Chev’ra Kadisha served a large meal.


The author recalls rabbis who served in Kolomyya. Avraham Wolfish, Shimshon Gintzburg, Yosef Eizik. Shemuel Zinvil Segal, Dawid Freger, Avraham Katz, Yosef Katz, Chaym ben Yehoshu, Aharon Shemuel Keidnover, Dawid Kohen, Dawid ben Shelomoh, Leib Pistener, Menachem Mendel, Yeshay ben Aharon Meshulam, Noach Efraym Fishel ben Moshe, Yitzchak son of Nachman Halevi Epshtein, Nachman Tzvi son of Titzchak Halevi Epstein, Meshulam son of Nachman Halvie, Tzvi son of Moshe, Titzchak son of Nachman Halevi, Chizki Nachum son of Yitzchak Toybesh, Mordechai Ziskind son of Yehuda Leibush, Pinchas son of Yosef, Eliezer son of Shlomoh, Gershon son of Yehuda, Yoel son of Shlomoh, Hillel son of Baruch Bendit Lichtinshtein, Yehoshua Eliezer son of Moshe Yosef Chodorov, Uri Fayvel son of Israel Moshe Halevi Shrayer, Asher Antshel son of Mordechai Ashlenzai, Yaakov son of Efrayim Teomim (the author’s father and grandfather), Israel son of Moshe Chayim Efrayim, Shalom Aron Leyb son of Naftali, Avraham Mendl son of Aharon Moshe. The author recalls some rebetzen. Chaya daughter of Zalman wife of Rabbi Kopel. Necha daughter of Yitzchak Drabitsher.


The organization, Gemilut Chasadim, in 1795 established a corner stone for the building of the beit hamidrash (house of learning). Rabbi Yerucham Ben Dov Kohen and his wife, Zelda had donated the funds for this and raised funds to outfit three beit hamidrash. Rabbi Yekutiel Zusia son of Avraham Ari Halvei willed 500crowns to be put towards the construction. The Rabbi Chayim son of Dov Hochman dedicated 1,000 crowns towards the construction. The brothers Brettler contributed a roof for the building. Rabbi Taakov Beydof donated beams for the ceiling. In 1833 the organization purchased a Torah for 15 red ones (gold coins). On the first day of Slichot 1906 a dinner was held to dedicate the building. Chayim son of Yitzchak donated a guilded ark in his wife’s memory. Rabbi Chayim son of R’ Yitchak Hertzig gave a Torah and a bima. Reyzel daughter of Shemuel and Toyva daughter of Kalonimus Kalman donated Torah books. It was a custom of the Chevra to meet at the gabai’s home on the last day of Pessah to have dinner and share in the joy of friends. Each year on L’G’ Baomer they would hold elections for the managers and directors.


  • Tikun 1-The gabai is responsible for informing the organization of a death.
  • Tikun 2-Should the person who died be poor there would be no cost to handle the burial. If the dead person was one of means a proper compensation as ordered by the gabai would be required.
  • Tikun 3-Tailors of the organization would sew the shrouds for free for a poor person. For a person of means a suitable fee would be charged as determined by the gabai.
  • Tikun 4-Tailors not of the organization would not be allowed to sew shrouds unless they agreed to turn over many money they received for their service to the gabai.
  • Tikun 5-Even tailors who have sewn the shroud must serve in portage if called upon.
  • Tikun 6-When the dead person is brought to the cemetery non-organization members are not obligated to do the digging or burial. They can if they want to and it would be a mitzvah for them.
  • Tikun 7-This Chavura is given each year first Sabbat after Shavuot, Shabbat Nachamu, first day of Sukkot, Shabbat Resshit, Shabbat Hanukkah, and Shabbat p’Para. By given it means the gabai has the mitzvah of being called to the Torah
  • Tikun 8- Elections are to be held every Chol hamoed of Passover with five qualified arbitrators to appoint gabaim faithful to majority opinion.
  • Tikun 9-The first Shabbat after the Shavuot Festival and the first day of Sukkot Festival go to the first gabai. The second gabai gets the Shabbat Nachamu and Shabbat Hanukkah and the third gabai gets Shabbat Breshit and Shabbat p’Para.
  • Tikun 10-On most of these Shabbats there are bridegrooms, they will not miss out on their part. they will stand with the gabai and mitzvah on the following Shabbat. They will be compensated for not causing a loss of a mitzvah to the Chavura.
  • Tikun 11-It is the responsibility of every gabai to sponsor at his own expense a festive meal on his Festival.
  • Tikun 12-Each member of Chavura is to give Festival money on each festival when the gabai wants to make a festive meal. Those not contributing are not allowed to go to the Torah during that festival. If the gabai should call such a person to the Torah the gabai would be fined.
  • Tikun 13-If a member of the Chavura should go to another Chavura for a festive meal, he was required to only give a portion of the required donation to his own Chavura as long as he went to the other Chavura. If he then did not go to the Chavura he then had to make the required donation to his own Chavura.
  • Tikun 14-The trustee is to give from the box one and a half Shein to the gabaim who are to provide the festive meal, and two Reiigish Shein to the gabai in charge of the Sukkot Festival.
  • Tikun 15-Any member who acts in appropriately toward the gabai or when called to the bimah will have punitive measures imposed, including prevention from going to the Torah on Sabbaths or festivals for one year and will be required to give one Shein to the charity.
  • Tikun 16-Each gabai on his Sabbath had to call up to the Torah each member of the Chavura, and those he could not call up should be called up on the next Sabbath.
  • Tikun 17-The gabai may call to the Torah anybody he deems fit and no Chavura member is to be kept away.
  • Tikun 18-If a man wants to join the Chavura he must give a down payment, then the entire Chavura decides my majority vote of admission. The new member has no vote during the first year. At the end of the first year he has a polling station and appointment. At the end of 2 years he would be eligible to become a gabai.
  • Tikun 19-Every member of the Chavura may take in a son or son-in-law and would not have to make an advance payment. He is only required to provide wine or honey water for the Chavura.
  • Tikun 20-During Chol hamo’ed Pessah and Chol hamo’ed Sukkot the accountant is to add up the money. The trustee is to record the amount in the enactments.
  • Tikun 21-If someone wants to purchase a holy item from the money accumulated, the gabai should not make such a purchase unless there is a majority in the group and they agree on which item to purchase.
  • Tikun 22-If a member of the group shall start a fight among the members in the synagogue or outside, he would be punished by dismissal for two years. At the end of that time he can reapply, ask for forgiveness, and pay a fine to its charity.
  • Tikun 23-The arbitrators shall not charge the group more than two Reigish Sshein for drinks, more than they take from the mlatshin or from other people who want to join the group.
  • Tikun 24-The group would select one or two pages from the amendment and have each member sign them. Unless one specifically signs the amendment he is not allowed to cast his ballot at the ballot station.
  • Tikun 25-If the dead person was prominent, the people performing the purification ought to first immerse themselves in a mikva. If in a cold season, they should prepare a steam bath and the gabai has to pay it from the box/safe.
  • Tikun 26-Reviews all the tikunim that have errors and need to be corrected. It covers assessments and who will be charged or not charged, and membership requirements.
  • Tikun 27-If the Chavura of bed carriers bought some article of holiness for the synagogue it was forbidden to sell that article or sue it for collateral.
  • Tikun 28-Members of the Chavura who are in charge of the b’’m have to comply with instructions of the gabai whether staying overnight with a patient at risk or staying with him for confession. They don’t comply a fine will be imposed. For the second time the fine will be doubled and for a third time the member will be dismissed from the Chavura.
  • Tikun 29-The shames of the Chevra Kadisha must comply the gabai instructions. If they do not comply the gabai may remove them and assign others to the task. The gabai will assign a fine, and if they don’t pay they will not be allowed to go to the cemetery.
  •  Tikun 30-When there is a death the shames will go to a bed carrier gabai to consult on price to be charged for a burial plot and a proper location according to the deceased honor. The shames are not allowed to do anything without the gabai’s permission.
  • Tikun 31-The shames are not allowed to put up a tombstone without a note from the gabai of G’milut Chasidim.
  • Tikun 32-Two people of the Chavura must go every day a half hour before the hospital’s lunch time and must write down the names of the sick. If any patient reports of ill-treatment the two people receiving the patient’s report must report it to the gabai who will seek a remedy to the problem.
  • Tikun 33-When a hospital patient is at risk, the gabai has to send two people to spend the night with the patient and the gabai has to stay there one night too.
  • Tikun 34-The inspectors of the hospital must check to see if anything can be improved. If the improvement is not made, the gabai must take it up to higher authorities to be considered.
  • Tikun 35-The inspectors have to be vigilant in providing necessities of the diseased to revive his soul.
  • Tikun 36-When a person of great wealth dies, the gabai dn’h is not to determine a charge for him without consulting first with the gabaim of the Chevra Kadisha.
  • Tikun 37-The gabaim will distribute charity boxes to some people to collect donations. The boxes are then turned in to the trustees who will give them to the account. The account shall deliver the money to the fervalter of the hospital and obtain a receipt saying they received the money in the name of the departed. Tikun
  • 38-The fervalter is to sell the gabai dn’h the shrouds at a wholesale price. The gabai is to maintain records of what was paid for each shroud.
  • Tikun 39- The tailors have to sew the shrouds with the gabai dn’h’s knowledge and if they do not comply a fine will be assessed on them.

The author included rules copied from the old ledger of the Chevra Kadisha, Gemilut Chasadim. The old rules appear similar to those 39 rules enumerated above, so they are not reproduced here.


The author tells of a story involving a Jewish man, Zichri Shtein, who was hiding out in a house on Kaminka Street to avoid forced draft into the army. On one Sabbath all the member of the house went to pray except one young girl who remained at home. A farmer broke into the house, raped and murdered the girl. When authorities came to investigate they found Zichri hiding in the house. He was arrested for the rape and murder and taken to prison in shackles. He was sentenced to death. One day the farmer showed up in court and came before the judges where he admitted to the murdered girl. Shtein was released and resettled in the town of Kitov. Every year he would have a big and joyful feast for his family to celebrate the miracle that saved him. He tells of another miracle of sorts. Some time in the 1870s a Jewish soldier, Eli Kessler, passed by a Catholic house of prayer of the Ionians late at night. He saw a candle burning inside. He was suspicious and called the police to come and find out who would be there this late. When the police entered the church they saw that a thief had broken open the charity box and removed all that was in there. To put the blame on Jews, the thief wrapped the statue of their savior in a talit and put a yamulka on his head. The police searched the church for the thief and soon found the superintendent, Hediek Zalutzki, in hiding with the money from the collection box. He immediately confessed to the crime and the scheme to put the blame on the Jews. Zalutzki was sentenced for 8 years in prison and the Jews were spared the impacts from the bogus frame-up.


The following men were listed: Yosef Funkshtein, President; Aharon Cohen, Vice President; Yaakov Beydof; Mendel Brettler; Tzvi Kreises; Alter Knepper; Avraham Shmuel Heller; Ari Leybush Halevi man of Horowitz; Dr. Eliezer Tzifser; Gershon Tehoya; David Viezelberg; Zindel Ivanier; Titzchak Chiyuth; Titzchak Zeidmann; Leibush Kreises; Michal Hester; Marcus Schiller; Marcus Scharf; Dr. Maximilian Trachenberg; Moshe Landa; Mendl Frieman; Mendel Rama/Rata; Nathan Bishel; Pinchas Halevi man of Horowitz; Tzvi Bloch; Kopel Becher; Shlomo Zalman Grienberg; Shmuel Brettler.

Copyright © 2008 Alan Weiser

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