From Poland to America: A Giant’s Journey

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Aharon Efraim Poshk (affectionately known as “Archik”) was born and raised in Poland in the early 20th century. The Poshk’s, direct descendants of the the illustrious Gerer dynasty, were very well known for their community involvement and for their role in stabilizing the Polish Zloty after its hyperinflation in the early 1900’s.
The youngest of six siblings, R’ Archik was recognized as a child prodigy at just 5 years old, already able to perform advanced arithmetic. R’ Archik remembers shtetl life vividly; accompanying his father to shul, learning gemara with his grandfather early each morning, helping his mother pluck chickens and knead challah for Shabbos, baking matzohs for pesach and singing Gerer melodies at the warm & inviting Shabbos table.
In the shtetl, at home & in school the spoken language was their colorful mother tongue- the language of Yiddish, which Archik would fondly use even later on in life after immigrating to America. Occasionally, he would use an old Yiddish proverb or zinger to one of his American-born friends, who oftentimes didn’t understand his Yiddish phrases or sayings, but they would always smile politely knowing that he thought it was a clever line that could only be conveyed in Yiddish.

Fearing that his precocious mathematical genius would eventually bring him to be allured by the Haskala movement, his parents squirrelled away enough Zlotys to send him to an exclusive cheder. Despite the overcrowded classrooms and meager lunch rations, Aharon Efraim retains fond memories from back in his Cheder days. He cherished his time in the classrooms of Veitzen where he excelled in academia and would outshine his classmates.

As R’ Archik approached his adolescent years, he decided to build on his innate mathematical genius and pursue a career in the world of finance so that he could provide for his family amply & support the impoverished Jews of his community. After an education in the University of Warsaw, Archik went to work for the Rothschild’s financial advisory division, which served British nobility, including the British Royal Family. Archik, being the community & family oriented man that he was, did not leave “the heim” for his new job, but rather he commuted each week to the British bank that he served. Archik served as Deputy Chairman & was the personal financial advisor of Queen Elizabeth I, who knighted him in 1934 for his accomplishments in banking and finance.

On September 1st, 1939, the German army attacked Poland. Archik’s family was forced to leave their home town and stay with relatives in Lodz. Knowing that he would likely never return and be able to retain the wealth he had amassed, Archik sold everything he could and bought with those funds a highly desirable French Louis-François Cartier watch, which he would eventually smuggle over the border in his underpants.

Foreseeing a further deterioration in Poland, Archik sent his wife and child to America while he stayed behind to make arrangements for the rest of his family. Shortly after, Jewish travel was heavily restricted, and Archik found himself in the impossible situation of needing to escape Poland. Brilliantly, Archik decided to shave his beard and leverage his youthful look and petite build so that he could present himself as a member of the Szymanowski Polonaise Dancers, a traveling dance group for Polish youth. The ruse worked, with Archik ultimately being granted a visa to leave Poland and board a ship to America.

The time spent disguising himself as a Polonaise dancer had been an especially challenging time for Archik, not just to survive physically, but also spiritually; to retain his faith & religious observance. In the days leading up to the high holidays, during the month of Elul, as a measure to achieve a higher level of purity, Archik had taken upon himself to immerse himself in a mikvah daily & to sound a shofar in accordance with the age old custom of sounding a shofar following morning services, no matter what the cost. Archik had incorporated this into his daily routine during pre-dawn hours by one of the country’s major rivers, the Oder, Vistula and Warta.

Early each morning, Archik would sneak out of his living quarters for a ritual skinny dip in the nearest natural body of water, followed by the morning prayers, culminating with the blowing of the shofar. During one such trip by the Vistula river, the spirited cry of the shofar blasts were overheard by a nearby SS officer.
As the officer began to search for the source of the noise, Archik heard the sound of footsteps rapidly approaching and took cover by jumping back into the water with his shofar in hand. The officer began to scan the area, carefully scanning all directions to locate the mysterious shofar sound. Knowing that if he were found he would surely be killed, Archik had to stay out of sight so as not be discovered by the Nazi officer. In a panic, Archik came up with a brilliant idea on how to do just that… he would need to stay underwater & could use the shofar as a snorkel so that he could remain hidden in the murky Vistula waters for as long as needed!!
Despite the officer’s thorough survey of the landscape, he had been unable to spot any sign of movement. Another one of Archik’s clever ruses had worked. He had survived this episode and it served to further strengthen and perpetuate his commitment to the service of his Creator.

After a couple of years dancing Polonaise competitively, R’ Poshk was reunited with his wife and daughter in America, who had managed to retain their faith.

He arrived on the shores of Ellis island on Rosh Hashanah eve. Fearing that he would not be able to immerse himself in a kosher Mikvah for the day of judgement, he jumped into the waters of the upper New York bay so that he could be certain that he would be prepared with appropriate purity for the holy day. This was how he began his journey in America, setting the stage for a life of continued unwavering Jewish observance.

With his vast experience in the world of finance coupled with being a reputable & well respected businessman, Archik was able to rebuild his financial standing with a consulting business for convalescent homes, Poshk Financial Services, which subsequently brought him to syndicate many nursing home deals with big investment firms. He attributes his successes to his sharp business acumen, his tenacity & most importantly God’s help.

R’ Poshk never forgot the pain he felt when he needed to shave his beard and discard his yarmulka in order to escape Europe. He therefore took it upon himself to promote these two mitzvos as much as possible. Till this day, he refuses to shave his beard as a proud display of his Chassidic heritage and his refusal to assimilate. Using the capital he saved up after years of building up his nursing home empire, R’ Poshk opened a business manufacturing yarmulkes in Jerusalem, known as Aleph Aleph Kipot (the two Hebrew letters are a reference to the hebrew initials of his name, Aharon Ephraim). Aleph Aleph Kipot pioneered the six paneled polyester yarmulka that has become so popular today, giving R’ Poshk tremendous nachas. As R’ Poshk is apt to say “vu zenen di nazis itst?” (where are the Nazis now?).

Using the wealth he amassed from his many business dealings, R’ Poshk remained very active in the Jewish community at large. R’ Poshk’s philanthropy and community service can be seen in communities across America, but being an exceedingly humble man, we will likely never know the full extent of his chesed.

Nothing warms the soul as much as walking into shul on Shabbos, R’ Poshk dressed in his finest old world garb, waiting patiently to begin Shachris, with that same Cartier watch that he smuggled out of Europe peeking from his sleeve…and hearing him warmly shout at the chazzan: “Haflah VaFelah!”

R’ Aharon Ephraim Poshk, to this day, represents the true essence of a Jew. So devout. So humble. So kind. So physically small. But an absolute giant within. Upon those like him it can be said מתי יגיעו מעשי למעשה אבותי.

{Matzav.com}

14 COMMENTS

  1. There are some holes in this story. Why would the British Crown have a “personal financial advisor” living and working in Poland. Also, Mr Poshk was not knighted by Queen Elizabeth, the first or second in 1934 or at any other time.

  2. There are some holes in this story. Why would the British Crown have a “personal financial advisor” living and working in Poland. Also, Mr Poshk was not knighted by Queen Elizabeth, the first or second in 1934 or at any other time.

  3. This story is amazing… I always thought the snorkel had some shofar origins but never knew the original inventor had such an inspiring life story. Mi k’amcha yisrael

  4. This story is truly inspiring.
    His commitment to going to the Mikva, his resourceful use of the shofar, and his adherence to Torah observance even after emigrating from the shtetl is impressive.
    Giving to the community after achieving financial success in the “Goldene Medina” is admirable.
    כן ירבו כמותו בישראל.
    From now on I will only buy Yarmulkes from Aleph Aleph Kipot.

  5. I knew Reb Archik as a young bochur when we learned b’chevrusa in the novardiger beis Midrash outside pletsk. The author is right about everything, but didn’t mention anyone who knew Archik as a bochur knew about – his voice. While he spoke with a very high pitched voice, when he opened his mouth to sing everyone was instantly brought to a state of ecstasy. His baritone Barbarshop falsetto would shake the walls of the beis Midrash. He was the main inspiration for Meiliech kohn currently the most popular and possibly greatest singer of the century. Meilech’s grandfather studied with him chazonis and taught meilech everything Reb Archik knew.

    • There is a little known fact about Archiks youth-hood when he and his family fled On September 1st, 1939 to Lodz. it was during that time, when Archik was purchasing his watch at the zegarmistrz or watchmaker at Ludwika Zamenhofa 14, 90-264 Łódź, Poland an event unfolded that would change his life forever. standing next to him in line was a young strapping sephardishe lad that was a descendant of Spanish nobility. In fact his family was one of the last families to leave Spain during the inquisition. There was a story of a great great great uncles friend who met his end calmly reciting Shema on the Auto de Fe. this Sefardishe lads name was Hanan, and he mentioned to Archik that he was interested in opening a watch band factory in America. Archik begged him to remain a Chacham but unfortunately the call of business nebach led him to invest in Real Estate instead. they met years later and Archik convinced him to be more involved in the klal. I’ve been told that he now grows organic tomatoes that are kosher Lepesach even for Chabad.

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