Outstanding Women in Our Town

By D. N., Translated by Jessica Cohen

As long as one-hundred years ago in our town of Buczacz, even in orthodox circles and among the landlords, there were some prominent noble figures of women who were Torah scholars, philosophers and progressive thinkers. In my opinion, they had a significant influence on several of their sons, in whom the spirit of progressive education began to glow.

 I shall mention the educated woman Golda Gottfried, who was born in approximately 1820, the mother of Rabbi Haim Gottfried, who shared the views of our townsman the well-known professor Dr. David Heinrich Miller, a classic linguist at Vienna University. This woman used to study Mishnah with the commentaries just like a man, and would talk enthusiastically about the “Alshich” and “Bina Le’Etim” commentaries on the Torah.

In my opinion, a great influence on the upbringing of the daughters of this generation was the talmid chacham who disseminated wisdom and knowledge among the youth, particularly among the young women of the town from wealthy families –: the teacher Rabbi Michal Baer, of blessed memory. It is said of him that he was a wise and sensible man, and influenced the youth of his time, especially the girls. I had the privilege of knowing some of his female students, namely Shindl Segal and her sister Tova Neuman, and my mother Sarah Leah Neuman. I can testify that they were well-versed in the Torat-Chesed of Rabbi Michal Baer. In their daily talk they would always intersperse verses from the Book of Proverbs and Isaiah, with sayings from classics such as Goethe, Schiller and others.

This circle of intellectual women was influential in its time during the first Austrian Parliament elections in the Buczacz-Kolomia district, in 1886. After a stormy battle, the well-known Jewish candidate Dr. Josef Shmuel Bloch was chosen, rather than the assimilated candidate Dr. Bik from Lvov, who was supported with force by the government. He was the first in the Austrian Parliament to appear on a public stage, on his own accord, against Jewish assimilators, as a defender of all Jewish issues, especially the affairs of Galician Jews. He put up a fight against the Viennese anti-Semites, such as Leuger, Schneider and others. He played a large part in the success against the blood libel court case in Tiszaeszlar, Hungary, and in his war against the dictator Prof. Rohling, a friend of the Habsburg monarchy. His German Book, Rohling Kontra Bloch, made a great impression in its time.

Among the women who were active during those elections were my mother Sarah Leah Neuman and Shindl Segal. They took action against the government authority and won – a rare case at that time. They also founded a women’s society called “Ezrat Nashim,” which was active for several decades in the field of mutual assistance.

Among the Buczacz women at that time, the fine personality of Shindl Segal was especially prominent. She was born in roughly 1848 and died in 1936. She was a philosopher, studied Hebrew, read and collected many books. In the weekly “Ha’Am,” published in Kolomia by the writer Silberbusch, she wrote a few articles about “Women in Israel.” She told me proudly of her visit with the author Peretz Smolenskin in Vienna, how she spoke with him in Hebrew, using complete sentences. She was widowed at a young age and worked hard to bring up her only son, a talented boy, until he grew older and went to study at the university in Vienna. There, he was one of the first members of the student society “Kadima,” founded by Dr. Herzl. However, as fate would have it, his life ended tragically before he finished his studies. And so, as a mourning mother, she descended into her grief.

And finally we should mention the noble soul Chaya Roll, who passed away, to our great regret, before her time.

 D. N.