The Jewish Religious Community in Radom dates back to the period before 1765. Its main function was to oversee the religious and social life of the local Jews. In the 19th century it was also known as Kehillah and synagogue supervision. In the interwar period the term ‘community’ returned, and its activities were regulated by state law, which demanded communities to provide their members with a possibility to "satisfy their religious needs". The specific competencies of the Communities included:
- the organization and maintainance of a rabbinate
- the establishment and maintainance of synagogues, prayer houses, ritual baths and cemeteries
- the supervision of the religious education of the young
- the provision of kosher meat
- the management of property, foundations and all institutions belonging to the community.
The authorities of the religious community consisted of the Council elected in five-point elections (anonymous, direct, equal, universal, proportional) from which the Board was elected for a four-year term. One of the essential requirements of the electoral procedure was the "civic integrity of the candidate", which turned out to be an ideal ploy in the electoral battle, especially at the stage of creating lists of candidates. Jewish religious communities exerted a very significant influence on the whole Jewish community and everybody, even non-religious Jews, took a keen interest in it and Radom was no different. Unfortunately, the conflicts and the struggle for power in the Radom Community, which lasted throughout the interwar period, became known all over Poland and worried a significant number of Radom Jews. "I will always work for Jews, but never with them," – said Ben Zion-Gold’s father, a social worker and urban councilor, quoted in a book about Radom published in 2011.
The conflict started back in 1914 when two candidates competed for the position of a rabbi: Chaim Landau from Zawiercie and Chil Kestenberg, a young Jew from Radom. Although Landau won, Kestenberg sought support from the Russian authorities, and he was eventually appointed. Kestenberg's position was also confirmed in 1916 by the Austrian occupier. At that time, threemore rabbis were added to the rabbinate: Mendel Kestenberg, Aron Milman and Mendel Weingort. The first elections to the Radom Jewish Community after the restoration of independence took place in June 1924 and were won by the orthodox supporters, who got ten seats; the Zionists came second with nine seats and and three seat went to folkists.*
This arrangement became a source of numerous conflicts, resulting in the intervention of the ministry, the resolution of the Community and the introduction of the temporary management with Mendel Horowicz, Icek Majer Leslau, Moses Rubinsztajn and Henryk Stiller - mostly affluent industrialists and supporters of Chil Kestenberg, who retained the position of the rabbi thanks to them. The 1927 elections gave a decisive victory to the Zionists, Kestenberg’s fierce opponents. Jechiel Frenkiel became the head of the Jewish Community and Samuel Tajtelbaum was appointed rabbi. He was, however, not well versed in his duties and regulations, had little knowledge of Polish and de facto became a tool in the Zionist fight for political dominance among the Radom Jews. Also, this council did not last a full term and it was resolved in February 1930 by the local governor on the grounds of economic ineffectiveness and suspicion of embezzlement and falsification of promissory notes. Jechiel Frenkel intervened with the Polish parliament and the governor’s decision was revoked. In the end, however, the governor won and appointed a temporary board. It consisted of six orthodox supporters (Leibus Frydman, Rachmil Gutman, Marek Zelcer, Berek Wajnacht, Icek Dawid Zylberberg and Chaim Tennenbaum), four Zionists (Beniamin Nachman, Michel Najman, Berek Garfinkiel, Moszek Wajntraub) and nonparty candidate Lejbuś Mendel Zylberberg. Chil Kestenberg’s supporters outnumbered other members, which led to a large-scale effort to remove rabbi Tajtelbaum. At the beginning of February 1931, an arbitration committee consisting of the most eminent Polish rabbis arrived in Radom. After a three-day deliberation, it delcared that " the position of the Chief Rabbi of Radom belongs solely and undisputedly to the Venerable Rabbi Chil Kestenberg." However, this opinion was non-binding for state authorities and rabbi Tajtelbaum remained in his post.
Next elections to the Radom Jewish Religious Community took place in 1931. The Kestenberg orthodox supporters used all possible means to win them, including the abuse and over-interpretation of unclear electoral law. Despite this, they lost with the combined forces of the Zionists. In addition, the latter successfully sued their opponents and, as a result, the election was declared void. The negative campaign continued for the whole year and gave the Orthodox party victory in the 1932 elections ; they won 12 seats, while the Zionists only 6. Eliasz Tanenbaum became the Head of the Community Board. (It allowed Kestenberg to return as Radom's main rabbi. His position, despite the Zionist protests, was ultimately confirmed in 1938 by the Supreme Administrative Court and Kestenberg kept his position until the outbreak of the war). Unfortunately, the members of this board also misappropriated resources and, as a result, in 1935, the mayor of Radom established another temporary board, headed this time by the industrialist Abram Mordka Den.
In 1936, the Bund** stood for election for the first time. In the coalition with the Zionists, it achieved the best result, leaving smaller clubs and parties far behind. Orthodox supporters and minor parties formed a broad "anti-socialist coalition" within the Council, and elected Abram Moses Rubinsztajn's chairman. The orthodx supporters’ good results once again cast suspicion that elections were rigged as they had a majority in the election board. The authorities chosen in this way did not stay in power too long and only after a dozen or so months, the governor appointed the fourth temporary board in the interwar period. In May 1938 the last pre-war elections to the Radom Jewish Community took place. Once again, thanks to a pragmatic program and an effective campaign, the Zionists won. However, the power structure in the Board was still scattered and it failed toappoint a chairman of the board (Jojna Zylberberg and Abram Sztajnowicz received the same numer of votes). Appointing a permanent board proved impossible, protests and the intervention of the governor followed and, as a result, the temporary board presided until the Germans entered the city.
All the above difficulties impacted greatly on the financial and economic situation of the Radom Jewish Jewish Community. The law gave the Community the right to generate income from three basic sources: compulsory municipal tax, cemetery fee and ritual slaughter fee. The surviving records ahow that the Radom Community (like many others at the time) was struggling financially, mainly due to arrears in the payment of community contributions. In the meantime, the existing funds had to cover a large number of expenses, a large part of which were administrative costs. The Community paid the rabbi and the two other rabbis, the cantor, the ritual slaughterers and other office workers ***.
In addition to that, the Community also subsidized charity institutions and organizations, which included: Ezra, the Jewish Home for the Old and Disabled, the hospital in Limanowskiego Street **** as well as Gemilat Chesed, Chewera Kadysza Wechejset sul Emes, Talmud Torah, Linas Hacedek, Szomraj Szabas Hasad. ***** During the German occupation, when every day was a struggle for life, all past conflicts were forgotten. During the liquidation of the large ghetto, on 16 August 1942, Rabbi Kestenberg was killed.
„If he was ever guilty of any wrong-doing he completely vindicated himself on that day when he attacked, with his bare fists, a German storm-trooper who had just killed a child. Rabbi Kestenberg died a martyr's death. Those who witnessed the scene will always remember Rabbi Kestenberg not as a controversial figure in the fight for the rabbinate but as the courageous man of patriarchal stature who gave his life in a fight for his people's dignity.” (The Book of Radom; The Story of a Jewish Community in Poland Destroyed by the Nazis).
The classicistic townhouse at 9 Żeromskiego Street, erected in the first half of the 19th c., was the seat of the Jewish Religious Community in the interwar period and constituted the centre of the Jewish political life in Radom.
The building complex, apart from the main house, consisted of parallel annexes. The list of tenants sharing these premises with the Jewish Community in the interwar period reflects to a certain extent the spirit of this place and the atmosphere of the Polish and Jewish cultures co-existing side by side. The list includes Majer Ajzyk Sznajderman – a children's tailor, ”Express i Rekurs” – a request office, ”Maszynotyp”- a mechanical shop, Aron Landar's clothes shop, Merchant and Craftsman Loan Office, Ltd., Józef Słupka – the hairdresser, M. Rzelechnicka and Aron Goldberg – the haberdashers, the Rekord printing house, Abraham Fuks’ manufacture, W. Frej’s engraver’s shop, Stefan Wałowicz's radio repair shop, Henryk Zioło's wickerwork factory, Goldberg's shoe shop, Sara Kosoj's shoe shop, Łai Goldsztajn's machine shop, Benjamin Hochman's bodyshop, Chaim Korman's tailor's shop, Stanisław Ogórkowski's dental practice and Stanislaw Cymerman's surgery.
S. Piątkowski, Żydowska gmina wyznaniowa w Radomiu w latach 1918-1939, Biuletyn Kwartalny Radomskiego Towarzystwa Naukowego, 2009, z. 4; Tenże, Dni życia, dni śmierci. Ludność żydowska w Radomiu w latach 1918-1950, Warszawa 2006; K. Urbański, Gminy Żydowskie duże w województwie kieleckim, Kielce 2003; Tenże, Almanach gmin żydowskich województwa kieleckiego w latach 1918-1939, Kielce 2007; Ben-Zion Gold, Cisza przed burzą. Życie polskich Żydów przed Holokaustem, Kraków-Budapeszt 2011, The Book of Radom; The Story of a Jewish Community in Poland Destroyed by the Nazis, USA 1963.
* Orthodox Jews - in the Second Republic there were several Jewish conservative religious parties, but the most important was Agudas Israel, called Aguda. It claimed that life in the diaspora was transitional: when the Messiah cames, he will lead all the Jews to Israel. Aguda emphasized the importance of religious observance and the attitude of non-resistance to the state power. Aguda had the greatest following among the poor and the Hasidim. Aguda strongly opposed socialists and communists as the enemies of religion.
Zionists - supporters of the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. In the interwar period, the strongest Zionist party was Histadrut ha Cyjon be Polonijna (Zionist Organization of Poland). The Zionists of Histadruth implemented the program of the World Zionist Organization and, in addition to the establishment of the State of Israel, they demanded the recognition of Hebrew as an official language. The Zionists considered the activities of left-wing parties harmful as they did not advoactate the creation of a separate Jewish state.
Folkists believed that Jews in diasporas should be treated as national minorities. At the same time they promoted a secular character of the Jewish culture and the establishment of Yiddish as the official language and a transformation of religious communities into local Jewish self-government. During the interwar period these ideas were spread by Folks - in Poljen (Jewish People's Party in Poland). In Radom, the party was not oficially active, but its ideology was propagated the supporters of the Jewish Craft Club.
** Bund - Algemeiner Jidiszer Arbiter Bund in Poljen (General Jewish Labour Bund in Poland ). The Bund promoted left-wing ideas of a transnational unity, struggle against capitalism, takeover of power by workers and respect for minority rights. In between the wars, the Bund was always represented in the City Council in Radom and co-operated with the Polish Socialist Party.
*** cantor - is a person who sings or chants prayers in a synagogue or a prayer house; ritual slaughterer / shochet– a person performing a ritual slaughter. In accordance with religious principles, he severs the HYPERLINK "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esophagus" \o "Esophagus" esophagus and arteries with a sharp knife while saying a special prayer. Animals killed using any other method were not fit for consumption by religious Jews. Only a grown-up Jew, known for his piety ad well-versed in Talmud, could become a shochet. The right to perform a ritual slaughter was granted by a rabbi after a period of practice and exams.
**** There are seperate entries about "Ezra",the Jewish Home for the Old and Disabled and the hospital in Limanowski Street.
Talmud Torah - religious schools. Gemilat Chesed – a credit union offering low or no interest loans to small businesses existed in Poland since 1905. Its members paid a small monthly contribution and the local philanthropists and Communities supported it as well. In 1938, there were as many as 999 such credit unions. In 1927, Radom Gemilat Chesed had 242 members and had 1,310 borrowers. Jakub Diament, Henoch Wajntrub, Aron Frydland, Majer Herc, Chaim Korman, Moses Berger, Shmul-Chaim Berkowicz were the members of the board. Chewera Kadysza Wechejset sul Emes - the Ultimate Charity Society.
A religious organization whose members assisted during funeral ceremonies. The Board of the Society in 1935 consisted of Icek Bialski, Michel Fiszman, Mordka Rychtman, Zelik Goldfarb and Wolf Ajdelsztajn.
Szomraj Szabas Hasad - Observance of the Sabbath and the Principles of Religion. The organization was active in many Jewish Communities in Poland, in Radom until 1928. Its members propagated the principles of the Jewish faith, placing particular emphasis on the observance of the Sabbath.
Special patrols of the organization went around the town, checking whether all Jewish shops and businesses were closed during the holidays. In 1929, Radom Szomraj had almost 100 members and was run by Rachmil Gutman, Chil Tanenbaum, Aron Wajnacht and Motek Zelcer.
Linas Hacedek - Medical Help was established in 1910, suspended during World War I and reactivated in 1926. Its goal was to help the sick by taking care of them at home, in hospital and by providing them, after medical consultation, with medicines and food. Lina salso ran a dispensary. Linas Hacedek was located at no.1, Rwańska Street. In 1929 the Society had about 600 members and it was manager by Motel Ej Zman, Icek Bialski, Hersz Ela Goldblum, Lemon Shield, Marcus Landau and two doctors: Wolf Cung and Ignacy Lewi. At the end of the 1930s, Linas Hacedek became less active and had fewer than 100 members.
1. Current view of no. 9 Żeromskiego Street , photo by Paweł Puton
2. A postcard from the 1930s showing Żeromskiego Street and the building of the Jewish Community (the third from the right)
3 –9. Religious Jews from Radom, from The Book of Radom; The Story of a Jewish Community in Poland Destroyed by the Nazis, USA 1963
10. Religious Jews from Radom, interwar period, National Digital Archives
11. The seal of the Jewish Community in Radom, interwar period