The Kehillah
The Jewish Community and its Organization

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The roof of the synagogue was made of metal and the windows were arched. The synagogue replaced the previous synagogue which was torn down in 1915. The synagogue was constructed of cement and still stands, though it no longer exists as a synagogue but has been used for different purposes, e.g. a cinema and a plumbing supply store.

From an 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.

Services were 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.       

Meyer Yoiel's 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 rich Meyer.

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 quickly settled.

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.

Ożarów 19
photo and written excerpts from "Memories of Ożarów: A Little Jewish Town That Was" by Hillel Adler. Translated by William Fraiberg.




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