roslyn bernstein
3 min readJul 10, 2023

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The Rise and Fall of Two Shtetls, Woodbourne, New York, and Rozvadow, Poland

Rozvadow, Poland

When I go to my summer house in the Catskills borscht belt, we pass through the town of Woodbourne, New York which reminds me of Rozvadow, the shtetl town in Poland where my father came from. Woodbourne is two blocks long, a string of stores — selling vegetables, a mini-market selling kosher canned goods, a baby clothing story, a toy store, book store selling kosher books and Hebrew prayer books, two pizza shops, a chocolate café, and a bakery selling challah for Shabbos. Just this year a big new supermarket is being erected on the main street, a sign of the town’s growing population. The stores are surrounded by bungalow colonies on each side of the road, forming the little town as a center of Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish life in the Catskills. There is a worn down wooden synagogue with extra chairs set on the front lawn should there be a large congregation and signs everywhere about Jewish events and the nearest ritual bath or mikveh.

Mother walks their broods in lines, the girls dressed in identical print dresses, with matching bows in their hair and black patent leather shoes. The boys, of course, in white shirts, and black pants with their tsitsis (he fringes or tassels worn on traditional or ceremonial garments by Jewish Males as reminders of the commandments of Deuteronomy 22:12 and Number 15:37–41; and with their peyos or side curls hanging from their shaved heads. Unlike Rozvadow, Woodbourne had no large market/town square but it is near water, the Neversink River, where the Orthodox children feed bread to the geese.

Like Woodbourne today, Rozvadow in the time before World War II was a thriving Jewish community. It was centered on a large town square with a weekly market and located on a railroad track that ran from Krakow to Lvov. Small buildings stood side by side. Many of the buildings on the square were occupied by the wealthier Jews, while the less fortunate lived on the side streets. The town had all the services needed for living a pious life including synagogues, ritual baths, religious schools, kosher food stores and a cemetery. Today what remains of Jewish life in the market square are a few worn billboards about the past.

A few blocks from the square, the former Lubomirski Castle has been converted into the Muzeum Regionaine w Stalowej Woli, a historical museum about the region. One exhibition is devoted to the Jewish presence in the community.

When the Nazis entered Rozvadow, they murdered those residents who did not manage to flee across the San River to Russia. After WWII, Rozvadow ceased to exist as a separate entity and is today absorbed by a larger city Stalowa Wola.

I used the shtetl of Rozvadow in my novel, The Girl Who Counted Numbers. While the book is fiction, the shtetl lends a certain authenticity to the book because spending more than thirty years summering in the Catskills and driving through the tiny shtetl of Woodbourne made Rozvadow come alive for me.

Black hats and streimels, white shirts, tsitsis swinging in the mountain air, bakeries piled high with rugelach sweets for Shabbos, boys selling bouquets of flowers for the Shabbos table, Woodbourne in 2023 is filled with Orthodox Jews from New York and New Jersey in the summer, crowded streets and busy shoppers. Rozvadow remains in my book, a memory of life before the Holocaust.

My book The Girl Who Counted Numbers, is about the search for a man who was stayed in Rozvadow when his family left to America before World War II. Published by Amsterdam Publishers, you can buy the book here.

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roslyn bernstein

An arts and culture journalist for Guernica, Huff Post, Tablet. Books include The Girl Who Counted Numbers,Engaging Art, Illegal Living, and Boardwalk Stories.