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The Jewish Community of Siauliai

by Jeffrey Maynard

Chapter Five - Jewish Institutions in Shavel

The Jewish Hospital

The Jewish Hospital was founded originally in 1891 in a wooden building with room for twelve beds. This was a small hospital for a large community. The businessmen of the city saw that there were great demands on this small hospital. At their head was the public activist and first Gabai of the large study house (Beis Hamidrash Hagadol), an enlightened man "of the old generation", Reb Eliezer Efrati, from the family of Reb Avraham Efrati, the father of the famous Efrati family. He tried to get the government to budget a sum of money from the meat tax contingency fund to build a new hospital and to repair the Beis Hamidrash Hagadol. In 1898 the Beis Hamidrash Hagadol was rebuilt as a fine two storey building. Similarly a fine stone building of two storeys was built for the Jewish Hospital, similar to hospitals in other big cities. There were 24 beds for general patients and ten beds for contagious patients. There were separate rooms for outpatients, a clinic, nurse and operations. The institution left a strong impression and there was also a society for visiting the sick (Bikur Cholim) which gave financial help and medical equipment free to the poor of the city who were convalescing at home.

Old People's Home

After the hospital was built, the old hospital was used as an old people's home, housing about sixteen people. The merchant Reb Ari Feibush was appointed as head treasurer. He hired a "Rebbe" to teach the inmates every day, morning and evening. The rich man Reb Artzik Cohen built a special prayer hall with his own money, a fine stone building, a place to pray, where many of the wealthier householders prayed and donated money to the home. This existed until it was burnt down during the First World War. After the war, when the exiled Jews returned to their homes in Shavel, it was refounded by the head treasurer (Gabai Rashi) of the burial society and head of the community, Reb Yitzchok Lopata in a building belonging to the philanthropist Reb Chaim Freinkel which was built before the war as a girls school. After Reb Lopata died in 1934, the rich man Mr. Reuven Shapiro was appointed in his place and built a new wing to accommodate more old people.

Guest House (Hachnosos Orchim)

The public workers of Shavel built a two storey stone building to give guests a place to sleep, for those in need and for local peddlers who traveled from town to town, and also for honored guests such as traveling fund-raisers for yeshivas or preachers, for whom there was a special room. The management of the place would sometimes give a little money to those who were in need.

The Talmud Torah

In a forgotten place, where many families lived closely together in poverty was a small building with little windows filled with air that smelled of dirt and refuse. Inside the Melamed (teacher) taught the Aleph-Bais to twenty or thirty poor, hungry children. After some years Reb Chaim Freinkel built a large two storey stone building for the Talmud Torah, and hired qualified and enlightened teachers who taught religious and secular subjects. Even the prosperous households sent their children to the Talmud Torah (fee-paying, of course). Some women founded the society "Malbish Arumim (Clothe the naked)" whose object was to provide clothes and shoes to the poorer students of the Talmud Torah, in 1896. It had 200 members. 1 Another group gave lunch every day to about 70 pupils.

After the First World War the name was changed to "The Jewish School", authorized by the government with licensed teachers. The headmaster (or principal) was Rabbi Pinchos Hofenberg, the son of Rabbi Chaim. He managed the school in the spirit of Judaism. The school was a symbol of Jewish nationalism and faith in Jewish redemption. Most of the teachers were Zionists, the center was the Land of Israel, and the children understood the Hebrew language and made an effort to speak it.

The Cheder

After the First World War, there were no Chederim of the old generation, because no one could be found who would teach for a living and because people sent their children to the preparatory school for high school. Some sent their children to the Jewish School, but the more pious (The Charedim) claimed that there was insufficient religious education there, and they started their own school. The founder was Reb Alexander Lipkin and it was known as "The Cheder" or "Lipkin's Cheder".

Hebrew School for Beginners

This was opened by the government in 1879. The rich and enlightened sent their children to a private school that was founded in 1851, and the masses would not send their children to the government school, and so there were few children until 1890 when the number became larger from year to year. In 1900 there were 138 children. The school had a library with 700 volumes.

Hebrew School for Girls

This was started in 1894 with one class taught be Mrs. Ash (Abramzon), and received a small amount of help from the municipality through the meat tax. The rich and the middle classes sent their girls to a "Pre-Gymnasium" of three classes which was founded in 1869 and then to the high school named after Tsar Alexander the Third, which was opened in 1898. The Jews covered part of the expenses and the municipality budgeted 500 rubles a year from the meat tax. In the first year the Hebrew Elementary School for Girls had 152 pupils.

Linas Hatzedek

Reb Yisroel Segal and Reb Mordechai Aharon Tzekhoizer founded the Linas Hatzedek society in the name of Rabbi Yosef Zechariah Stern, in 1895, 2 which brought great benefits to all residents of the city. Medical equipment was given to all who requested it, whether rich or poor, together with drugs. They would sleep near sick people all night to make it much easier for the families of the sick that had to work during the day.

Savings and Loan Cooperative

This was founded in Shavel by Reb Gershon Weitzman (in Palestine in 1938) who was it's first manager. This was funded by the residents of the city, especially the philanthropist Chaim Freinkel and the respected Nurok brothers who gave large sums of money. During the First World War, when the Jews of Shavel were expelled, so too was the co-operative dispersed and lost.

Bais Hamidrash Hagadol (Great Study House)

This was rebuilt in 1898 in stone with high windows on the East side which were made by an artist, a dome and a women’s gallery on three sides. Between Mincha and Ma'ariv Rabbi Shlomo Isaacs taught Gemorah, and after morning prayers the Shochet (ritual slaughterer) Reb Zundl taught Mishnayos.

Kloiz Desocherim - merchants prayer house.

This was a single storey stone building, very fine inside, whose walls were decorated with pictures such as the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Rachel's Tomb and with verses from the scriptures. The worshippers were not necessarily merchants but came from all classes. Among the worshippers were many important members of the community and leaders of the city. One was Rabbi Gaon Ari Getz, who was also Gabbai.

Kloiz DeChevra Tehilim - prayer house of the Psalms Society

This existed before the First World War. They prayed from first light to late into the night. When one of the society died, they would go and pray at his house for all seven days of the Shiva. They celebrated their annual festival on the second day of Shavuos, and some said Psalms all night in honor of King David.

In the year 1909 they built themselves a fine house of prayer which existed until it was burnt in the First World war. The businessman Reb Yitzchok Perkin rebuilt it with a large sum of his own money.

Kloiz deKane Bina

Shimon Cohen, in his book "Korot HaYehudim beShavli" explains that the reason for the name is not clear to him. They hired a special Chazan (Cantor) for all the days of the year, unlike any of the other places of prayer. Between Mincha (afternoon prayers) and Maariv (evening prayers) they learned a page of Gemorah, and at morning prayers a chapter of Mishna. After the First World War only the walls remained and in place of the Kloiz a single storey stone building was built for an orphanage, principally by Reb Moshe Shor from Plunge.

Minyan deChasidim (Chasidic Minyan)

The city of Shavel was always a city of "Misnagdim" and the residents had no idea and imagination of what Chasidim were. They heard just stories of miracles and wonders from the Rebbe and ridiculed them. The masses thought that the Chasidim were complete idiots that just drank and danced at prayer times.

Over a period of many years about a hundred Chasidim settled in Shavel and began to found the Minyan deChasidim. However, they fund that their way was blocked by the rabbis who were afraid that within a short while the Chasidim would appoint their own Shochet (ritual slaughterer) and rabbi and as a result there would be disagreements in the city. The Chasidim overcame this, and in the year 1902 founded Minyan deChasidim. Then the residents of Shavel saw that they had been irrational, and hat there was no black spirit as they had imagined. They began to respect them and involve them in decisions. A big crowd gathered every year to join in the ceremony of Hakofas which they did on Simchas Torah. Amongst the worshippers were the Tzadik Reb Yakov Yeshei, a student of Rabbi Mordechai Meltzer. In 1882 he founded a Yeshiva in the city of Druya.

Kloiz deSandlarim - Shoemakers Kloiz.

Here the worshippers also included more prosperous heads of households, and there were many pious men among the shoemakers. They prayed three times a day and hired a "Rebbe", Rabbi Boruch Akolonski from the Landkremer Kloiz. He taught them every day between afternoon and evening prayers.

Kloiz deChayatim - Tailors Kloiz

Every Friday afternoon everyone becomes a holy person. They run and make their preparations for the day is ending. They wash and change clothes as if they have no worries or shortages and each one and his children go to the house of prayer and sing with the congregation.

Kloiz deAglonim - Carter's Kloiz

Here too prayed some more prosperous heads of households. Among them were Reb Yehuda Leib Luntz. They kept the Sabbath, and each week before the appointed time, freed the horses and changed their clothes and went to the Kloiz with a good feeling.

Kloiz deKatzavim - Butcher's Kloiz

Amongst them were many who learned Torah and feared G-d and kept kosher. They hired a rabbi and gave their bread to the hungry and charity to the poor.

Kloiz deKabranim - Grave Digger's Kloiz

This was like the others. A Gemorah society, a Mishna society, between Mincha and Maariv they learned Gemorah and in the mornings they learned Mishna. Amongst the worshippers were some prosperous householders and many important people in the community, such as Reb Moshe Zebadia, Reb Yehoshua Shapiro. Reb Mordechai Arenshtam always had a lit-up face and a happy heart and spoke nicely with every person. He was not rich but gave charity to all people. He had a store for all kinds of produce, mostly made by his wife. his main income was from making raisin wine and he was known as "Reb Motel der Weinmacher". In the First World War a terrible thing happened to his family. His son-in-law Reb Pesach Philipovski, a rabbinical student at the Telz yeshiva was killed together with his young son by the Polish army.

Kloiz deAlshich

This was a stone two storey building which was built by the gabbais (treasurers) and businessmen Reb Binyomin Leib Destnik and Reb Zalman Yitzchok Grilobitsh. It existed until it was burnt in the First World War and only the walls remained. The community took over the building and built a shelter for refugees. A few large families lived in the building until the Second World War.

Kloiz deFreinkel

The philanthropist Reb Chaim Freinkel built this Kloiz at the end of the city near his factory. It was a fine stone single story building.

Kloiz deHeshel

At the opposite side of the city to Kloiz deFreinkel was "Heshels Kloiz", a low wooden building with small windows and black walls. The worshippers were the poorest of people, workers and artisans and unemployed. They stood in the early hours of the morning to pray and also cried over the dispersion of the holy spirit of G-d. In the evening they gathered, some to say psalms, some to learn "Chaye Adam" and some to learn from other holy books.

At the end of his book "Korot Hayehudim beShavli" (History of the Jews of Shavel), Shimon Cohen writes: "I described the worshippers in the Kloizes in order to give a description and a picture of the simple people and artisans, residents of the city of Shavli in those days and to differentiate them from the community of these times (he was writing in 1938) who have everything done for them..."

"The descriptions and pictures of the first men of all kinds that there are, those that founded my corner stones of all nation and language, who gave their souls to their people, and their good legacies, command us to relate them to generations long after them."

Copyright@1997 Jeffrey Maynard. This material may not be used for commercial purposes.