administrative point of view, Ozarow was only a village to
which certain neighbouring hamlets were attached. These
were each represented by a seat on the town council.
The Jewish population was administered by the
"kehillah", or the community organized around an elected
authority, comprising a President and several councillors.
The kehillah was responsible for the synagogue and the
house of study. It supervised the religious education
given in the primary Jewish school - the "cheder"; it
maintained the cemetery and the ritual bath (mikvah) and
it controlled the ritual slaughter of animals. It was
responsible for the rabbi, the beadle, a secretary and an
employee whose job it was to distribute administrative
mail and deposit taxes.
held in the synagogue only on Sabbath, on holy days and on
the occasion of exceptional national ceremonies.
The rest of the time, we used the house of study, where
services began very early. The workmen would come to pray
there before beginning their long day of toil.
The kehillah took particular interest in the proper
running of the cheder. As soon as they reached the age of
three or four, little boys began courses of religious
instruction and Yiddish. The great majority of Ozarow Jews
had absolutely no means to pay for the education of their
young children. The kehillah provided it, with the result
that no boy was ever deprived of primary school. It was
also the community that subsidized still other religious
schools: Beth-Yakov for the girls, and Yavne, a Zionist
school of the Mizrachi movement. The community derived its
revenues from its monopoly on ritual slaughter. Its
ownership of the ritual bath and the cemetery also
provided it with some funds. But its financial situation
was always precarious. In fact, Ozarow had very few
taxpayers and these always lived with the sense that they
were paying for everyone else!
That's why you had to pay for a place in the cemetery,
although for the poor it was of course free. The community
tried to appeal to the generosity of those who in Ozarow
could be described as well-off. Sometimes it did not
hesitate to take advantage of the most unfortunate
circumstances, as the story of Meyer Yoiel's shows.
had a house of his own in the very centre of the village -
a large residence with a beautiful facade. He was a cloth
dealer and had no debts. For Ozarow, he was therefore a
rich man. In the 1930s his wife died, leaving him alone
and without heirs.
The members of
the kehillah came to the weeping widower. He would have to
pay a good price if he wanted the deceased to be buried in
the cemetery. It took a whole week of negotiations before
an agreement was reached!
A year went
by. Meyer travelled to another town where he made contact
with a poor family with several daughters to marry off.
The eldest agreed to become the second wife of the old and
Alas, he did
not savour his new marital bliss for long. He died,
leaving his young wife with an estate, but childless. Once
again, sounds of haggling with the kehillah echoed through
the vast residence of the late Meyer Yoiel's. But this
time, the young widow was more pliant, so the matter was
You may be
shocked that the kehillah would take advantage of such sad
circumstances in order to fill its coffers, but in a
village as poor as Ozarow, necessity knew no law.