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[Pages 458]
Members of the 'Mizrachi Pioneers' Council 1926
Seated R.to L.- A.L. Levitski, C.L. Itzbitzer, L.Y. Winnikoff, Z. Zaretzki, B. Kastrinski
Standing –Y. Tucker, Y. Kupin, N. Tucker, A. Sandlarsh, T. Govkin

 

The Keren Hayesod Board 1930
Seated R.to L.-Z. Zaretzki, Y. Ramah, L.Y. Winnikoff,
A. Levinson, Mrs. N. Levinson, D. Zisman
Standing – Z.Lutwak, A. Tash, A. Ashkenazi, M. Fierstein


[Pages 461]

The Underground Zionist Work

By l. Horoditch

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

In 1897, a few months before the first Zionist Congress in Basel, a Dr. Buchmal came to see me in Brest, in the name of the organizing committee of the Congress. He brought with him a letter of recommendation from Dr. Herzl himself. His mission was to ensure that there should be more Russian Jewish delegates to the Congress.

I immediately called several of our Chovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) members: Mordechai Sheinerman, Mordechai Padua, and Ben Zion Neumark. We discussed how to implement this matter. As was known, in Tsarist Russia, every meeting was seen as anti-government agitation and strongly prohibited. In spite of this, 20 people met at my home to hear Dr Buchmal speak of the necessity of participating in the coming Congress.

After the meeting, I remained alone with Dr Buchmal – we discussed the future of Zionisn until 7am. Then he told me that he had been instructed by the Zionist organizing committee to print a leaflet proclaiming the coming Congress for the whole of Russian Jewry, and to send a thousand copies of this leaflet to Jews who had a Zionist orientation. Dr Buchmal asked me to print this leaflet and distribute it. The matter was dangerous and difficult to achieve in those days, but the principle of ' to do and to be heard' was vital to our cause. I immediately applied myself to carry out this task.

I approached all the printers in the city – nobody wanted to print this leaflet fearing retribution from the authorities. It was obvious that the matter could not be accomplished – then Ben Zion Neumark came to me and I asked his advice. He said that he knew of a place where this document could be printed. When I asked which printer, he replied, the Military printing press in the Brest Fortress.He knew a Russian officer there whom he hoped would do it for his own motives. The daily army orders were printed there by the lithography method. The printer was a friend and would possibly agree.

Neumark took the handwritten text that Dr Buchmal had prepared – I advised him to print this proclamation without a signature, only signed the City of Brest and the month. Neumark took with him a bottle of brandy and a few rubles and went on his way to the fortress. A new dangerous world was before him, but later I saw him returning with a large packet that contained the printed leaflets.

The military printer had laid out the proclamation on the other side of the military orders – during the printing suddenly an army officier arrived and the situation was most uncomfortable, but the printer turned over the lithograph stone and quietly worked on the military orders. He had hidden Neumark with the already printed leaflets in a large cupboard in the corner. Immediately after the officer left, Neumark was let out of his box and the two of them worked until the 1000 copies were done.

Then we had the problem of distribution – firstly, we did not have addresses because there were no Zionist organizations allowed in Russia. We therefore had to write the names and addresses of the Chovevei Zion from memory. We occupied ourselves with writing addresses and used the list of leaders of the Odessa committee – but we were afraid to send so many letters from the city post office. For a whole week we would go to the railway station twice daily and throw the letters in the post boxes of the many passing trains, so that they would not know where the letters originated.

After several days there was meeting at my place of over 50 people and it was decided to send a delegate from Brest to the Congress, and I was unanimously elected. I traveled directly to Basel. At the Congress I was appointed as a coordinator along with some other delegates –it was not a great task. I remember that David Wolfson asked me to compile a list of all the delegates in exact alphabetical order. For half a day I went around to all the delegates one by one and compiled the list.

Upon returning from the Congress the main work of spreading the Zionist ideology began. Several months later I received an invitation from the Chief of Police to come to see him about an important matter. On arrival he showed me a copy of the leaflet. I pretended to read it carefully and remarked that it seemed that this leaflet was printed in the city of Brest, France, not Brest Litovsk. I remarked that I often got letters at my bank office addressed to Brest Litovsk but with a stamp of Brest, France. The officer liked my explanation and wrote in his report to the government authorities that according to his information, and after much investigation and questioning, this leaflet was not printed in Brest Litovsk. Besides Ben Zion Neumark and myself, nobody knew the truth of this matter for the next 20 years – no one knew about the printing of this leaflet in Russian in Russia.

This was how the first Zionists had to operate in those days.


[Pages 465]

The Mizrachi

By N. Rabinovitch

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

Before W.W.1 a rabbi called Yakov Reines came to Brest. And so the Mizrachi organization was founded with Michael Rabinovitch at its head. I know little of its activities then, but I remember one evening in 1905 when I came into Rabbi Soloveitchik's study house and saw three bearded Jews seated there. They were studying the “Ayin Yakov”, and listening to a young man who was reading it aloud and beautifully and simply explaining the commentary. I got closer and saw a young Jew, a talented and gifted student who was discussing the laws and interpretations of the Sabbath and religious customs. At the Sabbath prayers, I met this young man again; he read a lesson in Hebrew, and again for the mid-day students of the Torah.

I found out that this young man was Shmuel Josef Halperin – we befriended each other and became close. I saw and admired his greatness, his ideals and high standards, and his love of the Torah. I saw that despite his pressing need for income for his family, he gave himself wholeheartedly to the Torah and the public good.

Many years passed and he went to Israel. Later on we met again in the destroyed city of Brest. Shmuel Josef came to see me one day and asked:” why are we silent? Why don't we form a chapter of Mizrachi here in Brest?” Together we went to see Rabbi Israel Mashgiach and we decided to rent a five roomed house – I myself paid the rent for an entire year, and there we founded a school named “Chaim” after Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. In that school we taught Talmudic, Jewish, and general studies. Shmuel Josef channelled all of his energy into this school.

He himself was a grandson of Rabbi Chaim Volozhyner; he was religious and steeped in the Torah. He would come and listen to his students studying. At his instigation the Grayever Rabbi was appointed as the head of this yeshiva. His followers also brought the chass society into the school, and Rabbi Shmuel Josef would conduct a lesson daily, but he was far removed from seeking honor and awards. At a general assembly of over 300 particpants, the Mizrachi movement was re-established in Brest. The committee members were: Shmuel Josef Halperin, David Sussman, Asher Ashkenazi, and Naphtali Rabinovitch. The Mizrachi movement accomplished a great deal - its members participated in all community work, and worked for both the Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod. If not for Rabbi Shmuel Josef, Mizrachi would not have existed in Brest.

Once, he opened a meeting with the words:” as long as we are visitors in a foreign land, we must look after ourselves and our causes”. He proposed to obtain a permit to build a building on the empty lot next to the great synagogue. This was to be the headquarters for the Mizrachi and it's institutions. With the assistance of Shmuel Pomeranitz, they built the one storey “Tachkamoni” school in 1923. Rabbi Shmuel Josef was not satisfied with that and asked:” what are we doing for our orthodox youth?” He asked and replied to himself. He began to form the Mizrachi Youth, which combined Torah learning with work. He demanded a joinery where the students could work and learn carpentry and woodworking skills during the day, and to study Torah in the evening classes. The students themselves made all the doors and windows for the school.

Once on a Sabbath, he came to see me and proposed that we form a society for the orthodox women. Immediately the Mizrachi Women's Society was formed. Later on he built a second story on the Tachkamoni building for a high school with 16 classrooms and a great hall that held prayer services every Sabbath and Holyday. He advocated that besides Torah studies, students should also learn general studies and naturally, Hebrew. Studying general studies and culture would not harm a young person who studies the Torah.

In 1925, Rabbi Shmuel Josef Halperin settled in Israel. He lived in Tel-Aviv, later in Kfar Saba –liked and respected by all. He was modest and retiring, he would study day and night. He gave lessons in Torah, which he himself constantly studied all his life.


[Pages 467]

Mizrachi Youth and Mizrachi Pioneers

By S.Shamir (Petrushka)

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

The religious Zionist movement was very active in all aspects of the community life in Brest, as well as Zionist activities and work. This included educational methods, the religious youth, and pioneer agricultural training before going to Israel.

This group attracted the best type of officials, and their influence was great in all layers of society. The Young Mizrachi and Mizrachi Pioneers were the best and most attractive movements in Poland. They had the best organization and influence over the religious youth, and contributed a great deal to the popularity of Zionism, and their concept of Torah and Work.

At the head of the movement stood Rabbi Shmuel Josef Halperin, (who died in Kfar Saba), David Sussman, N. Rabinovitch, S. Petrushka, Asher Ashkenazi, Baruch Kwiatkowski, Dov Hazan, Lieb Kravetski, Kalman Neiman (who died in Jerusalem), Ben Zion Menes, Gershon Kassovski, Josef Rosenberg, and Zelig Grynberg (killed in the Holocaust).

The first achievement of the Mizrachi movement was to build the “Chaim” school. Rabbi Shmuel Josef Halperin and Rabbi Chaim Gershon with their friends and associates built this institution where 100s of student attained knowledge and Torah learning. The Young Mizrachi and the Mizrachi Pioneers held evening courses in Hebrew, biblical studies, the geography of Israel, and had a large library, as well as a joinery workshop for the training of the pioneers in carpentry and woodwork. The movement was influential in the many Zionist activities including Keren Kayemet, Keren Hayesod, and the Shekel Bonds.

In the elections to the City Council, the Mizrachi successfully nominated David Sussman as their delegate, and Asher Ashkenazi was their representative and deputy chairman on the kehilla council. The Mizrachi Women's Organization participated in all the community and Zionist work. Especially active in this was Deborah Felsenstein.

The Mizrachi developed its educational institutions. The school at Pilsudski Square was too small for all their enrolments - after many stormy battles, they managed to obtain a block of land and a permit to build the “Tachkamoni” school, which became the definitive school in Brest.

Rabbi Shmuel Josef Halperin

 

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