During the time of the old Polish reign (the Zecz Pospolita) in Malch, a town of the Brisker district , the Jewish community was under the supervision of the Brisker province. In the year of 1644, the Jewish community of Malch was accused of killing a worker. The court, however, determined that it was a false accusation.
In the year of 1765 there were 209 Jewish taxpayers (according to Bershadski's register). In 1847 the Jewish population in Malch numbered 521 inhabitants. During the census of 1897 the total population of Malch was 2159 inhabitants, 1201 of whom were Jews (according to the Jewish-Russian Yevereiskaya encyclopedia from Brakheis-Efran, Volume 10, Page 571).
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY IN MALCH
By Shmuel Apelboym
The town of Malch was located about two kilometers from the first Russian railroad line "Moskow-Brisk" between the stations Panadine or Bludne (on the east side) and Lineve or Oranczyce (on the west side).
During the Russian reign, the town belonged to the Pruzaner district and the Grodner Gubernia (a province in Czarist Russia). During the Polish reign a new railroad station, Pawlovicze, was constructed and then Malch belonged to the Polish government.
About 200 Jewish families lived in Malch. They made a living by working as tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, bakers and small businessmen. There were also two grain dealers and people in religious affairs, a rabbi, a ritual slaughterer (shoykhet), a sexton in the synagogue (shames), teachers of children in cheder (melamdim) and others. There was no industry in town (Malch). Some people barely made a living, some made a decent living, some were generous. There were virtually no people who were well off.
Although Malch was smaller than its neighboring sister cities: Kartuz Bereze (on the east side and Pruzany (on the west side), it was known all over that Malch distinguished herself in her Jewishness. It had a respectable name among the Russian Jewry before the war, particularly with her yeshiva (Jewish school for higher education, often a rabbinical seminary) which will be described more fully in the following pages.
Nobody knew how old the region was that was inhabited by the jews. They had always estimated that Malch was hundreds of years old. This information was obtained from the three cemeteries that were located in town.
The "old cemetery" was almost in the middle of the town. It started at the school yard and ended at Zaluzer street near the border of the old cemetery on the north side where the big yeshiva Bet-Hamidrash was located; on that field two tomb stones could be seen. They were the stubborn witnesses that clearly revealed that this was "a holy place". Nobody knew, however, that some of their ancestors could probably be buried there. Only one, Yitshe the book binder, could remember that in the month of Elul one should go to their parental graves. To whom?, he himself did not know. There were probably past generations that were forgotten. From when?, there were no documents available.
The second cemetery was on the Pinsker road. It was already full of tombstones and probably twice as large as the old cemetery. In that cemetery one could read the inscriptions and titles of very famous personalities, people who were renowned in the Jewish community. In that cemetery, near the edge, stood two tombstones that drew the attention of visitors. There lay a husband and wife who died under tragic conditions. The couple, Alter Viner and his wife, who were well known in town, were found dead from smoke inhalation while taking a bath on the eve of Passover in the first decade of this century. They were found in the morning. A doctor from Pruzany came there but it was too late. The whole town escorted them to the cemetery. They left one daughter who studied in Petersburg and a large library of Hebrew and Russian books that were subsequently transferred to Rabbi Yudel-Chaim Auerbuch.
When the second cemetery was almost filled up, the voluntary burial society began looking for a place for a new cemetery. The members of the burial society were: Avigdor Kaplan, Moishe-Isaac Glotzer, Moishe Israels, Israel Zack and others.
Malch belonged to the "Porets" (landowner) Zawadski who was already an old man. His land and estate with all possessions were managed by his son-in-law Sviede, who under no circumstances, regardless of any amount of money, wanted to sell his land for a cemetery. Unexpectedly, a chance opportunity presented itself; the old Zawadski died and the neighboring landowner, Felie-Staszewicz, did not want anything else, only that the Jewish children of the Malcher school, Bet Raban, should read the psalms for the deceased in his palace and also at his funeral.
Then, Hesher Galperin, Hershel the Baker, delivered a moving recitation of the "prayer for the dead" and as a monetary reward (given by Staszewicz), Sviede (the son-in-law of the deceased) gave the Jewish community a gift - a place for a cemetery.
It was a very suitable place, elevated and sandy soil in the small forest Samorovke. Also, the chopped off trees were utilized by the community in order to put a fence around the cemetery. This was summer time in the month of "AV" in the year of 1911 or 1912.
The cemetery was renovated in 1914, before Rosh Hashanah, during the time of World War I. The first burial was the Jewish book of Exodus. The torn or used holy books and prayer books were gathered from all places in town and were packed in four boxes. There was a funeral and the boxes were buried in all four corner of the cemetery. Rabbi David-Tebel Dinowski delivered a moving eulogy in the big synagogue and the whole town wept bitterly. The first person who was buried in the new cemetery was Moishe Yosef Israels, one of the members of the burial society and the town leader.
THE JEWISH INSTITUTIONS IN MALCH
Just as in all Jewish communities, Malch also had associations and social organizations. There was a burial society for both sexes, There was a 'Talmud Torah" (a religious school) for children whose parents were unable to pay for private instructions. Chaim, the sexton of the Kavkazer synagogue, was the Rabbi in the Talmud Torah.
A society for visiting the sick was established. They provided medication for the poor and sick people. The same society furnished different dwellings for the sick people: "Carmel", "Portvine", "the Ungarishen". The manager of this society was the Rabbi Moishe Isaac Glotzer, the teacher..
There was an institution whose concern was as follows: if a poor person goes from house to house begging for money, that person should not leave any house empty-handed. For those inhabitants who were not able to give anything, the institution gave them small cardboard coins stamped with the seal of the institution. These people would exchange the cardboard coins for small coins - three coins for one grosz. The poor man turned in the small coins for real coins. The treasurer of this 'coin institution' was also the above mentioned Moishe Isaac Glotzer.
Malch also had a free loan association where one could borrow from one to ten rubles without any interest. This was the first loan office in Malch that existed until half of the first decade of this century (about 1905) Afterwards, the "Yika" was established which helped construct modern banks in all towns. Such a bank was also created in Malch.
There was also a society whose purpose was to stay over night with the sick people when their relatives got tired from constantly watching them during their prolonged illness. There were young men and women who belonged to that society. They stayed with the sick people, poor or rich (there was no professional helpers or nurses). This was considered one of the most sacred duties.
So much for the institutions. There were also individuals who devoted their time to community work, namely, help and charity. There were people who voluntarily devoted their time and energy for this activity.
My grandmother Mushe, may she rest in peace, was the first one who would find out in whose family there was not enough food, clothing and medication. She would care for such people without making any noise or commotion.
Similarly, Feige-Leah Kantorowitz, my she rest in peace, she had a warm Jewish heart. She would specialize in visiting the sick people. Her warm words made them healthy. Even now there are tears in my eyes remembering her conversation with a mother of a very sick child.
Another fine person was Nechamke Tenachum's Lazarowski. Before the eve of every sabbath and the eve of the Jewish holidays, she used to collect challas (white braided bread), fish and meat from those inhabitants who could afford to donate and give the food to the needy people. They treated her with great respect and honor and would lead her to the nicest challa with the best portions of fish and meat that she brought to them.
I would like to mention a characteristic incident at a funeral: it was a custom of the entire town to escort a deceased person in order to fulfill the commandment of escorting the dead. I remember the time when our neighbor, a young man, passed away. He did not leave anything for his widow and four small children. My mother, may she rest in peace, stood up and said to the assembled people: "Jews, the dead man will not be touched until we provide the widow and orphans with proper livelihood". She was the first one to take out three rubles as a contribution. This made a real impression, and right away a substantial sum of money was collected.
The Jewish community had to have a bathhouse with a ritual bath. The bathhouse in Malch was not only used by Jews but the peasants in that area also used to bathe in the same place.
The bathhouse in Malch was comfortable, constructed with brick and had good, modern equipment. It was built in the beginning of the 20th century at a cost of approximately 5,000 rubles - a very large amount at that time. The expenditure was paid for by the proceeds of salt sales. The manager of the "salt sale" was Aaron Moishe, the tailor. No Jew could use any other salt except the salt from Aaron Moishe until the loan for the bathhouse was paid up.
Malch had three synagogues.
The first was the large yeshiva, Beth Midrash, which stood in the school yard. With its largeness and height it excelled among other synagogues even in the largest neighboring cities - Bereze and Pruzany. The synagogue had 2 large tiled ovens which burned up a lot of wood that consumed a big percentage of the total income. The bookcase was placed near the wall on the west side. Next to it there was a large old box containing objects belonging to the community and some were in pawn of the free-loan society. The synagogue had two additional rooms that were accessible from the entrance. In one room (on the right side) there were synagogue objects such as candles, kerosene, the wedding canopy with the posts and the purification board. In the second room the people used to study Mishnayes (set of the six volumes of the mishnah, the collection of post biblical laws and rabbinical discussions of the 2nd century, B.C., forming part of the Talmud), Hafetz Chaim, Shulhan Aruk (the collection of laws and prescriptions governing the life of an orthodox jew) and the Pentateuch (5 books of Moses). The podium of the synagogue was plain, the holy ark was very beautiful, there were 7-8 torah scrolls in the holy ark among them was the distinguished Yikar Hamtziyutan. In 1908 or 1909 there was a big holiday in Malch. The women collected money in order to copy on parchment the 5 Books of Moses. They brought the scriber, Rabbi Elyezer, from Slonim who always wrote the torah scrolls in Malch. When the copy was finished, it was brought to the synagogue. Musicians played on their instruments, people ate cake and drank whiskey. Yosel-Ber, the shingle layer, who had a special talent for carving wood, enhanced the beauty of the ark and podium. The synagogue burned down in 1915, on the eve of the high holidays when the Russian army retreated. The torahs had been taken out beforehand. The synagogue was rebuilt in the 1930s.
The second, the smaller new synagogue was located opposite the first. Although it was called "the new" nobody remembered when it was built, therefore it must have been constructed in the previous century. In this place there was the Shas Society who studied Gemora (that part of the Talmud which comments on the mishnah) between the afternoon and evening services. The learning sessions were conducted by different people at different times including Rabbi Moishe, Rabbi Shimon's son, his son-in-law, Feivel, Rabbi Bezalel, a very knowledgeable person, a wise man, a charitable man and my father, Rabbi Mordecai-Simcha, who would fill in for him many times at the learning sessions. The second synagogue was also burned down in 1915 during the retreat of the Russian army. This new synagogue was never rebuilt.
The third, the Kavikazer synagogue was located at the south end of the town on Chvaniteker street which was also called the Kavkazer. It was the smallest synagogue but the inside of the ark and the platform with the podium were made in a beautiful style. In the Kavkazer there also was a Shas Society. The study sessions were conducted by Ruben Leib Volinietz, a very learned man. Incidentally, he was my Rabbi until I started learning in the yeshiva. The third synagogue remained intact during the fire destruction in 1915. The entire area nearby was also untouched. This was the only synagogue during the first German occupation.
THE RABBIS OF MALCH
With regard to the chairmanship of the Rabbinate in Malch, I will start with Rabbi Zalman Sander Kahana Shapiro of blessed memory.
I heard from my father that before Zalman Sander there was Rabbi Benjamin Zev Wolf, a very learned and wise man who passed away at a young age (he lies in the cemetery on the Pinsker road). He left a young wife with two small sons. There was a very distinguished man in that neighborhood, Rabbi Zalman Sander. He was a son-in-law of a very rich man who offered him room and board in Kobryn. Rabbi Zalman Sander became a widower with five children, four sons and one daughter. He was asked to take over the Rabbinate in Malch. He married the young widow of Rabbi Benyamin Zev Wolf. (see the biography of Rabbi Zalman Sander written by M. Tzinuvitz).
Rabbi Zalman Sander was a renowned rabbi and was well known in the Jewish world. His appearance was not the best, short with a hunched back, but he was famous in his generation for his high quality teachings. All of his children were great students and rabbis, one of them a rabbi in Kovno. His daughter married Rabbi Yaakov who was a wonderful talmudic scholar. Rabbi Zalman Sander authored many books full of sharpness and scholarship. He was the person who made Malch well known in the Jewish world. His arrival in Malch could have been in the 1880s. In the 1890s he founded the Malcher yeshiva that was held in high esteem as a torah center for several decades.
During that time, the famous Voloziner yeshiva was, due to denunciation, closed by the Russian authorities and Malch had attracted hundreds of young people. The Malcher yeshiva brought out famous men and well-known wise men, some of whom became eminent as leaders of the Jewish people. The rabbi of Lineve was a student of Rabbi Zalman Sanders, another Rabbi Aaron Shmuel Moishe Yaakov was a rabbi in Milaitszicz. The yeshiva brought life, joy and spirit to the town. In the summer evenings the familiar Lithuanian gemara melody could be heard from the synagogue throughout the town. In the wintertime the student's lights radiated far away from the synagogue's windows.
The yeshiva was supported by funds provided from outside sources, messengers would travel to the Jewish settlements and would collect money for the yeshiva. Some of the names of the messengers were - my grandfather, Moishe Schwartz, Rabbi Betzalel Visoker, Rabbi Tenachum Lazarovski, Rabbi Yaakov Chaim, and also Rabbi Zalman Sander himself used to travel in the interest of the yeshiva. The students of the yeshiva were provided with food but very little else. The local people would, from their side, help by inviting the students into their homes mainly on sabbath and holidays.
When the rabbi would leave, he had an assistant, a dayan (a judge). They called the rabbi, the "skidler" because of his frequent absence. Some people in town were, in some respects, dissatisfied and this
brought about quarrels and division among those people.
In 1904, a delegation arrived from Krinik, Grodner district, an industrial town of Jewish tanners and lured Rabbi Zalman Sander away from Malch. Before his departure all mothers brought their children to the rabbi in order to receive a blessing from him. I also had the rare honor to be blessed by him. I was a young boy at the time. The rabbi transferred the yeshiva to Krinik. Afterwards he emigrated to Eretz Israel and passed away there.
The rabbis received their income from the yeast payment and the town was obligated to provide the rabbi with wood and naphtha for the whole year.
When Rabbi Zalman Sander departed, the town began searching for a rabbi who could also manage a yeshiva. They had even gone to Telz to Rabbi Shimon Shkapen who was also the head of the famous Telzer yeshiva. Possibly he was recommended by Rabbo Zalman Sander. The whole town walked on the Vigoder way, which led to the railroad station in Lineve in order to welcome the new rabbi.
Malch did not make a mistake, Rabbi Shimon was the right person to take over the chairmanship of the rabbinate after the departure of Rabbi Zalman Sander. He was a genius among the Jews. The yeshiva of Telz followed him and was transplanted in Malch. The new arrivals, along with the remaining local students, enabled the yeshiva tradition not to be cut off.
Rabbi Shimon was very handsome, tall with a gorgeous face. When he would walk on the street wearing his cylinder (tall hat) on his head, I imagined how possibly the head of the diaspora jews looked. As the head of the yeshiva, his system was a rarity. His method of instruction was a conversation piece in the art of teaching.
It was not meant for Malch to retain Rabbi Shimon. He moved to Brainsk along with the Malcher yeshiva. From Brainsk he moved to Grodno where he passed away.
As a replacement for Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Dovid Tebel Dainovski was brought to Malch. He was the head of the yeshiva in Piontnice near Lomza. This was in the 1920's. On a beautiful summer day the whole town walked on the Vigoder way in order to welcome the rabbi. He arrived with a big family, 7 children - 4 sons, Israel, Moishe-Mordecai, Shmuel-Leizer & Simcha and 3 daughters, Bracha, Nechama & Hashe.
The former rabbis stayed at Gitel Hienke's and Michel Lifshitz's houses. Rabbi Dovid Tebel moved into Fradlen's house. When the new rabbi arrived, the yeshiva was lackluster. However, thanks to his effort, it did not take long before a great number of students arrived from the famous Slobokder yeshiva. They were great scholars. Among them was Rabbi Shlomo who in a short time became Rabbi Dovid Telel's son-in-law. Also, a large group of students arrived from Piontnice. The yeshiva was restored to its former splendor. A new subject was introduced; they started teaching ethics and morals as it was the custom in Slobodke.
The rabbi was a genius and a deliberate person. It took him a long time to give his lesson of just one page of the gemara. He gave his lesson twice a week and would explain the essence of the entire tractate.
His rabbinical court room (a sizable parlor) had a huge library packed with books. The shelves on all the walls from the floor to the ceiling were filled with books. He was also an enlightened person and was knowledgeable in the Hebrew language. Day and night he would sit and read a religious book. The following episode was related about him:
In one of the very cold winter nights, very late, a Pavlovitcher peasant walked from Pruzany and was completely frozen. It was already dark in all houses. Only the rabbi's place had light (at that time he stayed at Baruch's (the Potshter's new and large house). The peasant knocked on the door with his head as he was unable to move his frozen hands. The rabbi opened the door, took him inside and saved his life.
The yeshiva was not aware of the personality of Rabbi Shlomo who became Rabbi Dovid Tebel's son-in-law and his associate. He also gave lessons twice a week, thus the Malcher yeshiva had two chiefs besides the supervisor who would, from time to time, teach ethics.
The yeshiva existed until July 1914 when World War I broke out. Because of the war, the students went back to their homes. Before the Germans arrived, the rabbi's family left for Minsk and only one rabbi and his wife remained. The rabbi's precious and rare books were totally destroyed. After the war, during the new Polish regime, Rabbi Dovid Tebel assumed the position as the chairman of the rabbinate in Piontnice near Lomza.
The Grodner Rabbi Maiun from Israel, who was here, told me that Rabbi Dovid Tebel Dainovski, along with his congregation, perished as martyrs (killed by the Germans in World War II).
I do not know of any subsequent rabbi in Malch.
STUDENTS AND "CHEDERS"
(TRADITIONAL RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS)
Was there any town where there were no cheders and students? Everywhere the fathers and mothers of the children would save up from their hard-earned money in order to pay for their tuition. Malch was no exception.
The teachers who taught the young children in the religious school were with us from the beginning. Among them were Shmuel Freides, Elie Sorotchik (the hunchback) and one tall Jew who was married in Malch. I do not remember his name.
The Pentateuch teachers were: Hershel Niche's and Katriel the Melamed (the teacher of children in the Cheder). They also taught the bible and writing in Yiddish.
Moishe Isaac taught the Hebrew language, Ytzhak Gersh, a great pedagogue, taught his children Jewish culture. He also taught the gemara (Talmud). He left Malch and settled in Pruzany where he taught in the famous Abramovitcher school. Pinchas Alkan (Jacob Chaim's) taught Pentateuch, bible and Hebrew.
My father, Mordecai Simche's, spent his young years in Vilno (the Jerusalem of Lithuania). He breathed in the air of the rabbinical school and was satiated with the juice of the Shtrashun library. He taught his students Pentateuch, bible, Talmud, Hebrew and Russian.
Rabbi Ruben Leib was a Talmud teacher. He taught Bar Mitzvah boys and prepared them for the yeshiva.
There were also teachers like Schmuel Feivel's (Pomeraniec) who knew Hebrew very well; Yeheskiel Zuk who taught Russian and Benjamin Warszawski who gave his lessons in Yiddish.
Just before the outbreak of World War I a group of people called upon the society of the Enlightenment Promotion to help them open up a school or arrange to conduct courses in order to learn the Russian language. They received a reply that said a delegate who would be traveling by train would stop in Malch to evaluate the cultural situation. The delegate did not arrive because the war broke out. As I mentioned before, there was a Talmud Torah (a tuition free elementary school) maintained by the community for the poorest children. The rabbi there was Chaim, the Shamus (the sexton in the synagogue). He taught the children all subjects from reading of Hebrew to studying Talmud.