Rabbi Mordechai Shimonovitz
Rabbi Mordechai Shimonovitz was born in the city of Darawanna, in the Vilna Province. In his youth, he studied at the Mir Yeshiva and at Beit Yosef, the Novardok yeshiva to learn from Rabbi Yosef Yozel Horowitz, also known as the Alter of Novardok. Later, Rabbi Shimonovitz opened a new branch of the Novardok - Beit Yosef yeshiva in Ostrowiec.
Ostrowiec residents respected Rabbi Shimonovitz for his righteousness and honesty. Rabbi Shimonovitz expanded his work and established several small Beit Yosef yeshivot in nearby towns.
He was murdered by Nazi Gestapo member Peter in the days following the deportation to Treblinka in October 1942.
Translation (by Yechezkel Anis) of 2 Hebrew articles of 1971 Ostrowiec Yizkor Book, Page 179 :
Written by: Pinchas Soroka
As he was my brother-in-law, I had the opportunity many times to share the company of R. Mordechai Shimonowitz, the head of Yeshivas Beis-Yosef. I got to know his personality very well. He fulfilled the mitzvah of “Love your fellow man as yourself” in all its great simplicity. In the evenings he would visit the various quarters where the yeshiva students slept and took care that they all had adequate blankets to cover themselves with during the cold winter nights. If it should happen that a student was without a blanket, he would remove his winter coat and cover the sleeping boy. Then he would make sure the next day that the boy be given a warm blanket.
His trust in God was unmatched, the verse “Trust in God with all your heart” being his life motto. Once, he was supposed to travel to Warsaw for a conference of Yeshiva heads but had no money to cover the travel expenses. In spite of that, he set out on the journey in the hope that the Almighty would arrange the necessary money for him along the way. On his way to the train station, he met Yudel Riskower (may God avenge his blood), a Yeshivah student who was returning from some nearby villages after having emptied the pushkas (charity boxes) that were for donations to the Yeshivah, carrying with him a nice sum of money. Thus, R. Mordechai found himself with the necessary travel expenses and continued on his way to Warsaw without being surprised at all by what occurred, taking it almost for granted.
The Ostrovtzer Rebbe, R. Meir Yechiel, would refer to my brother-in-law as Reb Mordechai the tzaddik (righteous one). If a Jew would approach the Rebbe with a request that he pray for his health or livelihood, the Rebbe would send him instead to “Reb Mordechai the tzaddik”…
Written by: Rabbi Dov Zaid of Zvhil (Berl Zeviller)
My teacher and rabbi, the righteous Gaon R. Mordechai Shimonovitz ob”m, was born in the city of Darewanne [near Vilna]. He studied in the Mir Yeshivah and afterwards switched to Nowardok. Upon reaching adulthood, a large inheritance came his way, but when the Elder of Nowardok decided, with the outbreak of WWI in 1914, to relocate the yeshivah to Russia, R. Mordechai forfeited all his property so as to purchase wagons and horses for moving the yeshivah to its new locale. Four years later, after the yeshivah had established itself in the town of Pogachiv, R. Mordechai was summoned by the Elder to serve as headmaster and administrator of the yeshivah.
Mordechai was respectful of all people and weighed carefully everything he said. It was common to see him holding his finger beside his mouth, as if he wanted to remind himself and others about the obligation to guard one’s speech. He is the one who instituted the practice in the yeshivah of addressing each other in the third person, rather than the familiar second-person, so as to keep interpersonal relations respectful.
When he returned from Russia to Poland, he established his residence in the city of Biala Podlaska near Miedzyrzec. He married the daughter of the Gaon R. Nachum Soroka, a Torah scribe from the town of Rovno, also sister of R. Pinchas Soroka, who lives now in Tel Aviv. The distressing incident whereby all the young couple’s possessions, including their wedding gifts, were stolen on their wedding day, was unable to cast a pall over the occasion and the wedding was exceedingly joyful. After a few years, R. Mordechai relocated to Ostrowiec where he won the admiration of its townspeople and its celebrated Rabbi, R. Meir Yechiel Halevi ob”m. The yeshivah that he headed there became known far and wide, and young men streamed to it from all corners of the country, their numbers reaching 250. R. Mordechai, unsatisfied with that achievement, opened junior yeshivos in other towns, such as Szydlowiec, Staszow, Wierzbnik, Janow Lubelski, Kielce, Ozarow, Sandomierz, Opatow and others.
For twelve years the couple remained childless and then a daughter and son were born to them. When the Nazis entered Ostrowiec and set out to massacre the children, R. Mordechai shielded his children with his body, refusing to leave them until struck by the Nazis’ bullets. The one who brought him to Jewish burial was unaware as to who this holy man was. Divine providence alone saw to it that his grave was dug alongside the graves of the Ostrovtzer Rebbe, R. Meir Yechiel Halevi ob”m, and R. Isaac Mendel ob”m, who had dedicated his life to filling the material needs of R. Mordechai’s yeshiva.
It's only fitting here to mention my teacher and rabbi, R. Yisrael Rozenberg ob”m, one of the best mentors and expositors in the yeshivah. He also stood out for his pleasing voice. Whenever he led the prayers during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, he would bring the community to tears with his heartfelt and sincere supplications.
Yisrael Rozenberg was born in the town of Jadimoba which is close to Deblin. In the war between Poland and the Bolsheviks, he was inducted into the Polish army. When the Poles reached Kiev, he deserted the army and joined the local Novardok yeshiva. After the war and the ensuing pardon, he returned to Poland and was appointed as a rabbi first in Biala Podlaska and then in Ostrowiec. After some years, he moved to Staszow and then to Bielsko-Biala, a city of factories. There he was appointed as Yeshivah head and rabbinic judge. When the Nazis entered the city, he fled together with his youngest son Yosef to Russia where he perished in one of the hard labor camps. The women in the camp had pity on the small child, protected him, and eventually brought him with them to the Land of Israel. Here he was privileged to raise a family and teach a class before a large congregation in a synagogue in Bat Yam, his place of residence.
The Yeshiva of the Moralists “Bet Yosef”
Details of Rabbi Shimonovitz's work in Yeshiva Beit Yosef in Ostrowiec
The Death of R' Mordechai Shimonowitz
Testimony by Arie Zabner about Rabbi Shimonovitz and his family’s last days