by Baruch Kaushansky (PardesHanna)
Translated by Ala Gamulka
|Soonya Bitensky, zl Founder of Maccabi in Bendery|
|Funeral of Soonya Bitensky, zl, near the Great Synagogue of Bendery|
In 1932 the emissaries of Hechalutz visited our branch with the intention of organizing members to attend a preparatory kibbutz. It was expected that after this preparatory time there would be certificates for Aliyah awarded to the pioneers in the program.
About ten members were sent in 1933 to Leoneti (near Bendery) to work in vineyards. There were 80 members in total from other Maccabi branches in Romania.
The work was exhausting and the living accommodations were poor. We were not really used to field work. The overseers dealt with us in a cruel manner. They brandished pistols while pretending to maintain order. These conditions were impossible and one by one we returned home.
The preparatory kibbutz in Leoneti eventually was dispersed a few months after its formation. However, the members of Maccabi did not give up and attended other preparatory kibbutzim. In this manner they were able to fulfill their dream of Aliyah.
by Meri Horodetzky (Netanya)
Translated by Ala Gamulka
Hashomer Hatzair was one of the first Zionist youth organizations in our town. Some years earlier, Maccabi had been established and it was active along with Zeirei Zion. However, Maccabi`s purpose was the development of sports among the Zionist youth. In 1921/22 a General Scouts group was founded by Lionya Kreisin, a young, idealistic Russian, and a student in the public high school. He was joined by a group of young Russians, some of them Jews. They followed the precepts of Baden Powell which advocated sayings, trips, the Ten Commandments of the scouts, common uniform and most important the symbol of scouting on our shirts.
Within the Jewish student body of Bessarabia, there was the formation of the following groups: Hatalmid (the student), Hahaver (the friend), etc. These were academic groups and did not have Aliyah as a goal in contrast to the Hechalutz who had Ukrainian refugees as members and who saw Bessarabia as a transit place on their way to Eretz Israel.
Ways were sought to accomplish the aims of Hechalutz, Hahaver and Hatalmid and some members, students in the Schwartzman Hebrew High School, decided to establish a branch of Hashomer Hatzair in Bendery. It was founded along the lines of other branches in Bessarabia Kishinev, Balti, etc. The model for the Hashomer Hatzair branch was the mother organization in Eretz Israel. There Hashomer Hatzair was involved in guarding Jewish settlements, especially those near the borders. A description was given in different articles in Yizkor and Our communities. Everyone bemoaned the death of Yosef Trumpeldor and his comrades during their defence of Tel Hai. The event became a legend and the Jewish youth all wished to emulate them and to come to Eretz Israel.
Those who were instrumental in the establishment of the Hashomer Hatzair branch in Bendery included Mussia Sverdlik (today called Mordehai Sever), Niunia(Natan) Bendersky, Yasha (Yaakov) Shvidkey, zl, Munia Poronchik (now called Menahem Efroni), Bibik Frank (Dov BenShaul), Sioma (Shevach) Bley, Sioma(Zalman) Etlis, Yitzhak Shaposnick(Shefi), Buzia Bernstein, and others.
The first house of Hashomer Hatzair was leased from H. Hatzkelevitz in his courtyard on the main street (Harozinskaya Ulitza). It was next to the cinema theatre Nauka Zhizen. Hashomer Hatzair presented theatre productions in a hall decorated with flags. In the middle was hung a picture of Yosef Trumpeldor (drawn by M. Sverdlik). Underneath was the slogan It is good to Die for Your Country in addition to other sayings. There were also announcements of activities, excursions, etc. (The first troop of Hashomer Hatzair in Bendery was named after Trumpeldor).
The news about the establishment of the branch of Hashomer Hatzair spread quickly in town and many young men and women began to attend meetings. They listened eagerly to the speeches of the young counselors. The activities were interesting: scouting trips, games, Morse Code, discussions on Zionist topics, news of the kibbutzim in Eretz Israel (Merhavia, Beit Alfa, Degania, Mishmar Haemek, etc.). Every discussion was, usually, accompanied by the singing of wellknown songs Kadru, Kadru, Pnei Hashamayim, Lo Bayom Velo Balayla, El Hatzipor by H.N.Bialik, Sahki, by Tchernikhovsky, etc. As the branch grew activities were transferred to a larger location near the area called Steppe and close to the town citadel (Karpost).
In those days the branch of Hashomer Hatzair in Bendery reached its highest growth and development and it had a few hundred members. We had closer contact with branches of Hashomer Hatzair in Bessarabia and Romania (Kishinev, Iasi and Bucharest). We took part in countrywide activities by attending conferences and demonstrations in various locations. These activities were always dedicated to topics important in the Jewish world. At the beginning of 1923 our first two members to make Aliyah were Shlomo Klavenski (now Shlomo Levni) and Mordehai Sverdlik (Sever). The latter used to send letters and even books to the Bendery branch. Some of these were Hakevutza, Bnei Krinitza which discussed issues relevant to the group. This maintained a real contact with Eretz Israel.
As our members grew older there was a new issue that of personal fulfilment. There were stormy discussions as to whether we should continue our studies or make Aliyah. In addition there were internal struggles with parents and teachers who did not agree that we should stop our education as it would result in the interruption of our future careers. Around 1925 there was a preparatory kibbutz established in Iasi. Many of our members attended this preparation for pioneering. Among them were Yehiel Eidelman (Efrati), Bibik Frank (Dov Ben Shaul), Yitzhak Shaposnick (Shefi), Shlomo Zeidel, zl, the brothers Krassik, Hannah Shvidkey, Zhenia Zaik, etc.
The first contact made by Mordehai Severalready in Eretz Israelhad many results. The next group of pioneers were the family of Efraim Veinman (Carmi) and the Reznik family whose two daughters were members of Hashomer Hatzair. They were followed by other members and our connections were even closer. In the meantime, those members who were not yet ready, for personal or family reasons, to go to the preparatory kibbutz in Iasi or Balti, established a local preparatory kibbutz in the garden of Rabbi Efraim Drabmridiker (the Rabiner) located in a suburb near the old railway station. There existed already a permanent group of adults and we, the young ones, joined them. We had come during holidays to help them in the garden. This group was also hired in town to cut trees and to work in factories.
Soon there were clouds in our existence. There were sad reports about blood riots in Eretz Israel and Aliyah stopped. The economic situation in Bessarabia worsened as a result of the depression and the tightening of the political regime. In Romania, many antiSemitic leaders were in charge and the Jews were the first to suffer from dire restrictions. All this influenced the general wellbeing of our youths and created personal breakdowns. They did not see any future for themselves in their place of residence, but they had no hope of making Aliyah. There were restrictions on numbers made by the British mandate. As a result, some of our members had to immigrate to North and South America. Among them were close friends such as our beloved counselor Niunia (Natan) Bendersky, Sioma (Zalman) Etlis, Yaakov Tilis, Auerbach and others.
|Hashomer Hatzair branch in Bendery in the 1920s|
Second row from left Ilusha Zaik (leaning on a stick); last on the right Lionya Kaushansky;
Top row Meir Horodetzky (from Netanya);
Center of top row Yonah Shvidkey, zl, (was member of kibbutz Ein Hamifratz)
|Hashomer Hatzair in Bendery (Tighina) the first group from Aryeh Division who made Aliyah in 1932.|
It must be noted that in this time of depression inside and outside, when our youth was in bad shape, there were some Communist instigators that influenced them and they managed to entice some of our best members. They believed that the Communists would solve the problems of our people. This interruption passed after help was received from Hashomer Hatzair in Kishinev. Again there was a reawakening among our youth and activities were resumed. There was a drama group which presented the play Mentchen by Shalom Aleichem. This left a lasting impression.
In 1928/29 the signs for a new world war and antiSemitic actions were evident. The leaders of the haters of our people were Goga and Koza and their followers. They managed to stop the growth of Jews with political and economic means. The authorities were harder on the Jews of Bessarabia and accused them of being more loyal to the Soviet Union across the Dniester than to Romania. In particular, Jewish youth suffered since they were not permitted to study in Romanian universities. The secret police, the infamous Sigurantza, constantly arrested these young people accusing them of belonging to the Communist party.
The Romanian authorities followed all activities of Hashomer Hatzair. There were arrests and searches for forbidden literature or anything else they found objectionable. We were forced to pretend to join forces with Maccabi. Soon the authorities began to bother Maccabi as well. We tried to change our location from the residence of the Shvidkey family or our house. It is obvious that due to the persecutions by the authorities, the Hashomer Hatzair branch suffered and its influence on the youth of Bendery lessened. The golden age was over and only remained a memory in the minds and hearts of its members.
The first world Maccabia took place in Tel Aviv and members of Maccabi were permitted to participate. The illegal Aliyah by some of our members gave us hope. The door opened, if only slightly, for our own Aliyah.
After many years of suffering and sorrow in our Bendery community, when we reflect within a historical perspective, we realize that we were so right. We, young and inexperienced, saw a solution for our persecuted people. The only way was to go as pioneers to Eretz Israel and to pave the way for our coreligionists to come to our homeland.
by Pinchas Ben Shaul (Pinko) (Kibbutz Maabarot)
Translated by Ala Gamulka
I was unable to be one of the founders of Hashomer Hatzair in Bendery since I was too young at the time.
Hashomer Hatzair was among one of the first Zionist youth organizations in Bendery. It had three principles: Zionism, pioneering and kibbutz life and thus it became a prime Zionist youth group.
Everyone who joined had to personally identify with these principles by becoming educated along national lines, preparing for physical work (pioneering), making Aliyah and joining a kibbutz in Eretz Israel.
We lived in turbulent times of national and social reawakening. There was a fresh breath of life among the youth of our town. They were ready for action and learning. Hashomer Hatzair tried to find a solution for their national and social needs.
In the late 1920s, on the other side of the Dniester, the Soviet Union attracted the youth. It was soon after the great October Revolution. The names of Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin and Alexandra Kolontaya were enveloped in fables and charmed the Jewish intelligentsia in our town. Many of them were caught up in Communist ideas.
The intended land, Eretz Israel, was far away and was tightly closed. Aliyah was stopped and rumors of blood baths reached us. These rumors caused a depression in our older members who were on the cusp of making Aliyah. Some of them immigrated to Latin America as a temporary refuge until the gates of Eretz Israel would reopen.
I was young when I joined the movement and I was fortunate enough that my leader was Niunia (Natan) Bendersky. He was a charming and talented educator. It was not only his ideology and teaching that were wonderful, but especially his approach. He held personal discussions with each young member. He organized night trips and evenings by the fire. He managed to instill in us a desire for a better world, different from our daily existence. He also taught us values of purity, justice and belief in people. The atmosphere in all the groups, even in the older ones, was similar.
Our branch of Hashomer Hatzair as was the case in other towns was an island of Hebrew in the ocean of alienation, Red assimilation and the decrepit life of the Golden youth.
We spoke Hebrew within our house and outside it as well in addition to fulfilling all Zionist goals.
Every member of Hashomer Hatzair saw himself or herself as a temporary resident in the Diaspora until Aliyah would be fulfilled and kibbutz life achieved. The counselors were personal models and influenced the young members. They, in turn, served as ideals for the nonorganized youth who did not necessarily agree with our ideas. They treated us with respect and honor.
|Hashomer Hatzair Group with its Flag|
Our Hashomer Hatzair branch reached its heights at the end of the 1920s. There were hundreds of young boys and girls of all ages active in it. The education instruction followed a plan and was on a high level. We participated in seminars in Kishinev, in meetings, trips on Lag Baomer to the forests nearby and at public evenings at the Schwartzman Hebrew High School that brought in many people. Our Hashomer Hatzair also collaborated with other Zionist organizations such as Zeirei Zion, General Zionists and Gordonia.
The common activities were: donations to Jewish National Fund, public meetings to discuss events in Eretz Israel, elections to Zionist congresses and anything in the general framework of Workers of Eretz Israel. We ran into some problems, as well. The Zionist pioneering youth movement which had a radical Socialist ideology was suspect by the Romanian secret police (Sigurantza). We were followed for a long time and they watched us constantly. Many times, in the mornings, we found a lock with the wax stamp of the secret police on our door. It was accompanied by a polite invitation to present ourselves in their headquarters.
The best Jewish youth of our town belonged to Hashomer Hatzair and our educational activities continued in spite of all difficulties until the Soviet conquest and the annexation of Bessarabia by the Soviet Union. After that the axe fell on all nationalZionist activities since the Soviet authorities believed them to be against the regime.
The Soviet conquest brought about the end of a beautiful and eventful time within the Jewish youth in our town. The hopes of hundreds of young men and women were dashed and they were unable to fulfill their dreams.
Still, several hundred Hashomer Hatzair trainees from our town were fortunate to make Aliyah and to live in kibbutzim, settlements and towns. Everyone did it his own way.
They all contributed to building the country and helping in its development. Many of them were members of the Workers Union (Histadrut) and socialist Zionist parties. I will always cherish the wonderful counselors who provided us with all that is good and beautiful and who brought us to this day.
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