The Rabbis and their Prayer Houses
Ozarow, Poland

Ozarow is part
of the Museum's World Jewish Communities program

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The Ozarow rabbi, Reuven Epstein, a descendant of one of the great rabbinic dynasties of Poland, was an excellent Talmudist. During the sessions of the rabbinic tribunal, everyone would appreciate the way he managed to reconcile his judgments with the code of the Mishna. One day a quarrel broke out between the shoemakers' guild and the tailors' guild. The dispute quickly degenerated into a brawl and the police lost no time in intervening. The matter was brought before the local court. Rabbi Reuven Epstein appeared before the magistrate to testify. It was a nice dilemma! How could one Jew testify against another Jew? To minimize the problem, the rabbi pronounced: "Shoemakers and tailors aren't nice people." Which the shoemakers' lawyer took to mean:

"Shoemakers! Tailors aren't nice people." A subtle distinction. In the end the entire matter died down, but the saying gained wide currency in the region.


     Rabbi Reuven Epstein died in the summer of 1940. The commandant of the German unit in place in Ozarow authorized a funeral which the Jewish population could attend. The cortege got under way flanked by members of the Judenrat, and on the roofs of each of the Lustig and Lesniewski houses, a soldier was on guard to prevent other German soldiers, unaware of the ceremony, from firing on the crowd.

: Reb Reuven Epstein, the Grand Rabbi of Ozarow, deceased in 1940

     Rabbi Reuven's son, Rabbi Yechiel Epstein - already married and the father of two children - succeeded him as rabbi of Ozarow under difficult conditions, the occupation and the ghetto. Two years later, in September 1942, the mass deportations began. Chana (Chantche), Rabbi Reuven's daughter, was interned in the camp at Skarzysko.

     According to Polish witnesses, Rabbi Yechiel Epstein died in the course of the liquidation of the Ozarow ghetto in October 1942. He probably lies in the common grave of the 120 victims executed in the Ozarow cemetery. After the tragedy Chana lacked the strength to resist further. She left us at the age of twenty.

     Rabbi Hersh Epstein belonged to the same line as Rabbi Reuven, but his role remained secondary. Since the organized community didn't subsidize him, he recruited his followers among the merchants, craftsmen and other respectable people from the post office district.

     Rabbi Chaskiel Taub lived on the market square. He too received no subsidies from the community, but his existence hardly compared with Rabbi Hersh's. He was supported by the devout from Modjec, who were both more numerous and more affluent. They were famous throughout Poland. It was said that they knew the most beautiful chassidic melodies, and that every year they celebrated the glory of their rabbi with a new song. Some of the most important families of Ozarow formed part of his congregation: those of Mendel Eidelstein, Mordechai Birencveig (the ritual circumciser of Ozarow), the Weinrybs, the Cukiermans, the family of Chaim-Meyer Goldblum (whom we called the "Spivoks" or singers), and others still. Rabbi Chaskiel Taub died during the summer of 1939, leaving a daughter Perele, the wife of a young rabbi who had just been appointed in Zawiechost.

     After the liberation of the Zawiechost ghetto, I stuck close by this young rabbi Moishe, the son-in-law of Rabbi Chaskiel, at the camp of Skarzysko. Our paths stayed the same until April 1945. Upon our arrival at the camp in Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, Rabbi Moishe was so weak that he couldn't step down from the rail car. We carried him off on a stretcher. I drew near .... His half-closed eyes seemed to be looking at me, but already he didn't recognize me. He died 15 days before we were liberated.

     Reb Shachne Fryd was one of Ozarow's notables, a well-regarded dealer in construction lumber. He kept his house, with its own Sefer­Torah, permanently available for worship. The devout would gather there on Sabbath and on holy days.

Reb Yossele Mintz was only a blacksmith. Yet, he possessed all the qualities which would have made him a worthy rabbi. He devoted most of his time to study, while his wife managed his business. The most religious Jews frequented his prayer house. His son-in-law Nuta Halpern was the first Ozarower to represent the interests of a cooperative bank.

There was also a prayer house in the Adler enclave. The Sefer-Torah went back to my great-grandfather Hillel and was handed down from generation to generation. It had a place of honour in the home of my grandfather Shloime, then in that of my father Shmuel, the house of my birth.

When my father died in 1921, the Torah went back to my grandmother's house. Later the Torah found its way to Reb Itche Weinberg, the oil presser, since his shop had more room for worshippers.

The prayer house of Hershel Niskier, the son of Meyer the Soldier, began with the Sefer-Torah of his sister Raize!. All of the faithful of the Tcherkaski-Hoif would gather in his shoe repair store, which was set up for the occasion. Raizel was well-regarded by all these devout people, as well as by all the families of the lane that Shyale the Shoemaker lived on.

The parents of the children who attended the Yavne School organized their own prayer house at Kopel Orenstein's. Practically all of them belonged to the Mizrachi Zionist movement, or were at least sympathizers.

To all of these places of worship we have to of course add the Main Synagogue of Ozarow where we celebrated the Sabbath and all the services on holy days. On certain exceptional occasions, such as that of the national ceremony of the 11th of November, special services were also conducted there. In 1935, for example, on the occasion of the death of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, the Jewish community of Ozarow gathered for a memorial service attended by a delegation from the town administration led by Major Adamski, Kabacinski, the town clerk, as well as the local police chief.

*  *  *

     We should note that in Ozarow there were three important rabbis, a synagogue, a temple and five prayer houses. The town also had another religious characteristic: a wire went around the town. If it remained intact, the town was like a citadel, which would permit the religious Jews to carry about objects, such as a talith, on the Sabbath. This cable was regularly inspected.


Also see "The Ozarow Family Torah."  next ►►

Ożarów 2
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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