Bukowsk and its Jews
Written by E. Sharbit
Translated by William Leibner
When did Jewish life start in Bukowsk?
The township of Bukowsko, as officially designated, is situated southwest of the city of Sanok or Sunik in Yiddish, at the foothills of the Beskid, on the border between Austrian Galicia and Hungarian Slovakia, until WWI. Since then, until WWII, it was the border between Polish Galicia and Slovakia.
The origins of Bukowsko and its development are hardly known, since there are few written records. The same applies to the Jewish settlement in the township. We are therefore forced to build the memorial pages on the oral stories told by the people as well as by the customs of the inhabitants of the area. There are also a few written pages and some scattered historical facts that we used to help create an image of the township. The items were written in such simple manner that their authenticity was beyond a shadow of doubt.
We were unable to pinpoint the date of the Jewish arrival in Bukowsko. But, we know that Jews lived there as a group, since there was a Jewish community or kehilla under the leadership of a well-to-do person and a Rabbi to care for the spiritual welfare of the community. The first written indication of the existing situation is sketched towards the end of the 18th century as the facts will be presented.
We know that the entire trade and commercial life of the township and the surrounding area was in Jewish hands. The workshops and even the transport system to and from Bukowsko to Sanok was in Jewish hands. The only exceptions were: the sale of pork and its derivatives; Christian religious needs; the postal system and government services, which were provided by non-Jews. The stores and workshops were located in the center of the township as were the Jewish residences. Similar to all other townships with a large Jewish population, people lived in the center of town. It is apparent that the layout of the township was the responsibility of some planning committee or a similar body that planned the entrance to the township, the streets, the public buildings and the centrally located market place or rynek. The cattle market or targowica and the slaughterhouse nearby were located on a side street near the river. The courthouse, the bureau of records, the elementary school, the church, the drugstore, and the medical facilities were located in the center of the township. Of course, the weekly market day and the special fair days attracted large crowds from the surrounding areas that remained in town for a few hours to a few days. The presence of so many people stimulated commercial activities and provided plenty of work for the artisans and workshops of Bukowsk.
It is important to point out that Bukowsk was known for two commercial products, namely metal and building materials. These items were sold in large quantities. The place also had a few drinking bars where beer and vodka were sold on the spot. Transactions were frequently consummated at the pubs where one also purchased food, while drinking. Farmers also purchased large quantities of alcoholic beverages for home consumption. People also bought wines and spirits for religious needs such as kiddush(blessing the wine). In this connection, we have to remember a large building by local standards was situated in the middle of the market for at least two generations, namely the propontsia (headquarters of the liquor authority in the township). Selling of liquor was a government monopoly and one had to bid for the license. Mordechai Wilk and Shlomo Ginzburg owned the liquor license of the township that in effect gave them control over the sale of all alcoholic beverages in Bukowsk and the surrounding areas.
We can conclude by stating that the economic life of the township was self-sufficient in the sense that it provided its own needs, as well as those of the surrounding areas. It never attempted to grow beyond the local market or the local needs. The old timers of the township, do mention two different enterprises that produced products for other areas, namely there was a soda factory that also provided goods to the city of Sanok and a leather factory that sold leather to shoemakers throughout the region.
Jewish life revolved around the synagogue, the rabbi and the spiritual leaders of the community. The life of the township was similar to all other Galician hamlets. Bukowsko had three synagogues that served the three main Hassidic branches of Judaism in the area: Dynow, Zanz [Nowy Sacz ] and Sadigora. The synagogues had a long history, but we do not know when they were built. Of course, way back in history they were all similar, but with time differences developed and evolved into bitter infighting between the various Hassidic groups. We know of the synagogue named for Rabbi Mendel of Rymanow, but know little about the other synagogues. Rabbi Shlomo Leib of Lantshana prayed at the Rabbi Mendel synagogue when he was the rabbi of the township. He left later for Rymanow where he continued his religious studies. It was obvious that other synagogues existed along with this synagogue.
Jewish cultural life revolved about Jewish religious life. There was no secular life here or in other small Galician townships. We have to remember that in the period in question Jewish children did not attend regular schools except for the cheder where they studied simple religious matters. Those that showed potential were encouraged to continue their studies at the study center attached to the synagogue. Here they had at their disposal a large library that contained all the volumes of the Talmud, the commentaries, many research works from the past to the present. The library contained only religious texts. Although little is known about the religious education in Bukowsk, still it produced some native religious scholars and also induced others to reside in the township. This cultural religious life permeated Jewish life in the township. It produced a number of religious authors that published their works and became well-known in the Torah world. Chaim Futernik published several works, one of which The Shaar (p.582) appears in the book. Another book of his entitled Erech Haim [Value of Life] was very popular among Talmudic students. Most of his works dealt in defining or explaining Talmudic terms in Hebrew. Talmudic students used these books to help them understand passages in the Talmud.
Another famous author was David Arieh Tzuntz, the son-in-law of Alter-Leizer, the bookbinder. He was not born in Bukowsk, but lived and created in the township. He was an erudite religious scholar that wrote several books notably Gdolot Jonathan based on the life Rabbi Jonathan Aibshitz that was published in Israel. He also wrote a book entitled Atereth Yehoshua based on the life of Pnei Yehoshua. We must not forget to mention that the township had many fine and outstanding scholars that led the spiritual life of the community. Some of them will be described later.
We do not know the reasons that led this famous Rabbi to settle in Bukowsk and assume the spiritual leadership of the community. He came from afar to this small place to spread the wisdom of the Pshischa Hassidic movement. He was successful in implanting the roots of this Hassidic faction that contended with the established Hassidic factions of Ropshitz and Dynow. There was a great deal of objection to the new wind that Rabbi Shlomo Leib tried to induce into the community. There was no direct opposition, but a great deal of innuendo made it uncomfortable for this saintly person to continue to live in Bukowsk. He was not even offered the post of halachic authority in town. The biographer of Rabbi Shlomo Leib, David Matityahu Rabinowitz, mentioned already in another connection, stated that: his adherence to the precepts of the Rabbi of Pszyscha arose a great deal of opposition that forced Rabbi Shlomo Leib to defend him. Most of the Galician rabbis refused to follow these precepts and in the end he was forced to leave Bukowsk. In spite of the great opposition to his teachings, Rabbi Shlomo Leib was personally highly respected in Bukowsk. He was considered a great scholar and a pious man. People started to visit Bukowsk to see him. He had some followers and students in the hamlet amongst them the future Rabbi Shmuel of Tschinowa. Even the children of the most vociferous opponents of Rabbi Shlomo Leib admitted their errors and acknowledged his piety. Rabbi Shlomo of Bobow, grandson of the Rabbi Haim of Zanz, urged the Jewish artisans to maintain the apartment where Rabbi Shlomo Leib lived in Bukowsk.
The second Rabbi of the hamlet of Bukowsk was the saint Rabbi Elieazar Weissblum or as he was later called Rabbi Elieazar der Reisher, the Yiddish name for the city of Rzeszow. Rabbi Weissblum moved to this city and remained there for life. He was not the Rabbi of the town, but received Hassidim and followers from the city and the vicinity. He remained in Bukowsk for a very short period of time, somewhat less than two years. We did not find any reason for his leaving Bukowsk. We could however assume that there was some Hassidic dynastic rivalry that forced him to leave the hamlet. Just as there was opposition to Rabbi Shlomo Leib in Bukowsk, so must there been opposition to Rabbi Elieazar. The Hassidic population in town was apparently bitterly divided and this prevented the acceptance of a Rabbi. During the period in question, there was a great deal of animosity between the Hassidic courts of Zanz and Sadigora, even in Bukowsk. Rabbi Elieazar was a great grandson of the Rabbi Elimelech of Lejansk, father of the Galician Hassidic movement. The Rabbi was a personality in his own right. There is extensive literature that describes his private life, as well as his saintly career [see footnotes on p.583].
He was the first Rabbi to be accepted on a permanent basis in Bukowsk. He remained in the hamlet until he passed away on the third day of the Sukkot holiday in the year 5669 (1908). He gained a sizable following in Bukowsk that continued for three generations, until the destruction of the community. The Rabbi spread his spiritual influence to the Jews that lived in the vicinity, as well as the nearby villages. He conducted himself with understanding and simplicity. He attracted many followers in his own right besides the Hassidim that followed his late father Rabbi David Shapiro of Dynow, the author of the book Tzemach David . His grandson, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro wrote in his introduction to the book of Bnei Issachar that his grandfather was an inspiring person and many people of all ranks of life sought his guidance. His house was always open to all people and they could always join the family for a meal.
wife of Rabbi Meir Yehuda Shapiro
With the passing of his father, Rabbi David Shapiro was immediately appointed to succeed him. His father's followers accepted him with open arms and he continued the same traditions. His court received all Hassidim with open arms and his warm personality gave the Hassidim the feeling of home. He was nicknamed Rabbi Duvidel and to his credit must be added the fact that old and young Hassidim felt at ease in his environment. Some of the more famous Hassidim in his court were: Yossef Leib Diller, Haim Stern and his sons Pessah and Shimshon that lived in Bukowsk and Elieazar that lived in Kumantscha, the brothers Yossef and Tzvi Elimelech Langsam and their children. All these people lived in Bukowsk proper. We, also, remember those from the vicinity, Menashe Iram and Moshe Yehezkel Sheinbach from Sanok. Gedalia Arom from Przemysl and his sons, Asher from Lizansk, Avraham from Tirawa-Woloska, and Elieazar from Bukowsk. All the sons of Gedaliyahu had their own qualifications. Asher was a great Talmudic scholar, Avraham was familiar with Hassidic literature and its interpretation. He became a consultant for publishers and edited many of the books on Hassidism.
During the Rabbi's tenure, his courtship was extended, a public bathhouse that contained a mikvah was built. Rabbi David Shapiro was a strict follower of purification and cleanliness. His successor was his son Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro, who continued his father's task of spiritual guide of the community. He married the daughter of the Rabbi of Dzikow, Rabbi Yehoshua Horowitz,.a leading Hassidic Rabbi and author of the book Ateret Yehoshua where reference was made to Rabbi David Shapiro of Bukowsk. During WWI, the court of the Rabbi Shapiro was almost completely destroyed and he lived in Sanok where he died.
The Dayan was an established figure in Bukowsk. All the various groups respected him, although nominally he belonged to the Dynower Hassidic group. He was a Talmudic scholar as seen by the questions he addressed to the leading rabbinical figures of the time. His elaboration on the answers indicated a wide knowledge of religious scholarship. Some reference books quoted the questions posed by Isser Eisenberg and the answers given to him. The authors rightfully called attention to the scholarship of the author and emphasized his knowledge in the field.
The divisiveness of the hassidic community created many superfluous religious jobs such as Rabbis and slaughters. In addition to the Rabbi of Bukowsk who belonged to the Dynow faction, the Hassidim of Zanz also had their own Rabbi, Rabbi Haim Pinter, the son of Rabbi Itzhak Pinter who was the first Zanzer Rabbi in Bukowsk. Rabbi Haim Pinter had a powerful voice and a fine musical ear that attracted many people to his services. Unfortunately, his leg disability caused him great pains and forced him frequently to visit medical doctors in Vienna. Finally, he decided to remain in the Austrian capital due to his medical problems. He continued to receive Hassidim in the large Imperial city. In the thirties, he resigned his position in favor of his son, Rabbi Avraham Pinter.
He was a great scholar and a capable person. He soon created a yeshiva that attracted many youngsters in the town and vicinity. The institution became famous in the area and made the Rabbi very popular in town
With the departure of Rabbi Shapiro during WWI, the Hassidim of Dynow had no Rabbi in Bukowsk. They favored the son in law of Rabbi David Shapiro. Indeed he was appointed Rabbi. He was a popular Rabbi, conducted excellent services due to his musical abilities and he knew how to read the Torah.
|Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum and his son David|
During the last seventy years, Bukowsk always had two schochetim, one represented the Hassidim of Zanz and one represented the Hassidim of Dynow. There was no great difference or war between the slaughterers. They respected each other and talked to each other. Still, the Hassidim preferred their own shochet or the one that belonged to their group.
He was very pious and was familiar with the religious texts. He stemmed from the city of Brody [today Ukraine] and was originally a Belzer Hassid. He was very popular with the Hassidic crowd. He was also familiar with popular medicine and administered a variety of cures. Frequently, Bukowsk had no doctor during the war and people went to him for help. As a matter of fact, he was called doctor. He took no fees for the visits.
He was not native to Bukowsk. He stemmed from Przemysl. His father was Gedalia Arom, a leading Hassidic figure in the Dynow courtyard that used to visit Rabbi Dawid Shapiro, author of the book Tzemach Dawid. Eliyahu Arom was a pious and observant person. He was highly respected in Bukowsk. He was also musically gifted and read musical notes, a rare thing in those days for a Hassidic Jew. He died and his son-in-law took over his position.
He served in this capacity for about twenty years in Bukowsk. Then he was appointed shochet in Sanok. He was well-liked in the city and was a master in his art. For further information about him in Sanok, you have to look in the appropriate section.
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