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[Page 355]

The Mizrachi Organization of Czyzewo

By Eliahu Gora of Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau


At this time, we do not have in our hands the exact date of the founding of the Mizrachi organization in Czyzewo. To our great sorrow, none of the elder founders who stood by the cradle of its foundation are still alive. As far as we can estimate, this was at the beginning of the 20th century. However, what we do know from the handful of survivors of the Mizrachi organization who live with us today in our Land, and were active among the religious youth in our town – that the annals of the existence of Mizrachi in Czyzewo can be considered to have started from the first appearance of the idea of that movement in the general Jewish world: that is during the last decades of the 1800s.

Our small town was always attuned to every new movement in the life of our people, whether social, cultural, communal or general. The fundamental idea of national renewal in its variegated manifestation, whether from the founding of Chibat Zion[1] or afterward, as well as the national Zionist movement founded by Dr. Herzl of blessed memory that spread in the Jewish street, penetrated our town as well and conquered strong fortresses in the hearts of the young generation – most of them fine young men, the children of Hassidim immersed in Torah and people of good deeds. Czyzewo, as a fortress of Hassidism, was blessed with many such people.

With the crystallization of the national religious idea in the framework of the world Zionist movement that resulted in the founding of the Mizrachi movement; a group of young men found in it a suitable domain for their national spirit and their religious foundation. They went ahead and founded the first group of the national religious movement, and with this they established the foundation for the Mizrachi organization in all its manifestations, which was organized later and existed in Czyzewo for all the years until its destruction.

The spiritual resource from which the pioneers of the national idea received their sustenance was, among others, the Hatzefira newspaper, which was published by Reb Zerach Starkowski of blessed memory. He was also known therein as the correspondent regarding life in the town. This activity was obviously conducted underground, and was hidden from the Hassidic parents, who saw this newspaper as “treif and passul” [2] and would be prohibited as “bal yiraeh and bal yimatzeh” [3] in a Jewish home. Indeed, the influence of the Hatzefira newspaper was significant. People would enter secretly into the women's hall of the great Beit Midrash in order to read the newspaper in unison. They would exchange impressions and enjoy the aroma of the national spirit that this newspaper imparted to them. They would also arrange meetings and gatherings of youth in order to instill the idea of the religious national renaissance to them.

Reb Chaim Yehoshua Tancze, particularly excelled in this holy work. He was one of the unique people in our town given that he was a Jew imbued with Torah, a Hassid and a Maskil all in one. He served for all these years in the task of the secretary of the Jewish communal council. The following were his friends who gathered around him and helped him with this factional work: Reb Moshe Najmark, Reb Yaakov Landau, Reb Yechiel Gozlancki, Reb Fishel Bronsztejn, Reb Fishel Lubelczyk, Reb Moshe Aharon Belfer, Reb Shalom Kitaj, Reb Meir Shimon Rybak, the brothers Avraham Yosel and Binyamin Slucki, Avraham Lampert, and Reb Yechiel Asher Prawda of blessed memory. There were also those who worshipped in the Great Synagogue: Reb Yosel Baruch Lepak and Reb Shmuel Velvel Kandel of blessed memory. Their efforts were expressed not only in the conducting of publicity meetings, but also in collections for the Jewish National Fund and other Zionist activity.

czy355.jpg [35 KB] - Hashomer Hadati and Young Mizrachi
Hashomer Hadati and Young Mizrachi

The following story, which I heard in Israel from Reb Moshe Najmark of blessed memory, will testify to the level of holiness to which they related to the Zionist movement and its leaders.

On the day of the passing of Dr. Herzl of blessed memory, they gathered for a memorial evening in the women's hall in the Great Synagogue, where they eulogized him appropriately and studied chapters of Mishna for the elevation of his soul. This fact proves clearly the level of feelings of awe and honor to which they related to the founder of the Zionist movement, even at the first steps of nationalistic religious activity. This organizational and ideological activity continued on throughout all the years until the end of the First World War.

The activities of the Zionist movement moved to a very different level in the year 1918, after the Balfour Declaration. The era of intensive activity for the building of the Land started, as did the period of the Third Aliya.

The Mizrachi organization was reconstituted in Czyzewo. Reb Yechiel Asher Prawda of blessed memory stood at the head of the movement. The following members joined efforts with him: Simcha Ljew, Yaakov Astranzanski, Yudel Richter, and, may he live, Reb Yechiel Eliasz, who was among the first of the Chalutzim (Zionist pioneers) who made aliya. During a later period, the following members excelled in their faithful efforts: Moshe David Litwak, Yisrael Yitzchak Ljew, and may they live, Eliahu Zylbersztejn, Pinchas Frydman, Eliahu Gora, Yaakov Kandel, who are today in Israel. The son of the rabbi, Reb Chaim Zwoldower of blessed memory was also active. All of them were the children of Hassidic parents, who were themselves frequenters of the Beis Midrash. They gazed and were affected by the national spirit that began to express itself with greater energy among Polish Jewry.

As a result of this blessed activity, factional institutions were founded, such as the Yavneh School, and the Hashomer Hadati youth movement. The movement also supplied appropriate representation to all the communal bodies and institutions that were in existence, such as the communal council, the fund committees, and election committees for the congresses, etc.

A new era of vibrant activity began with the organization of the Hashomer Hadati youth movement. The establishment of the chapter of Hashomer Hadati stemmed the tide of the migration of the religious youth to the liberal youth movements. The sons and daughters of Orthodox homes who joined us took upon themselves the yoke of Zionist doctrine blended in a fine fashion with the love of the people of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the Land of Israel. These youths were blessed with the values of the nationalist Zionist movement, and bore the flag of Mizrachi in our town with pride.

Through the efforts of the religious youth, a Kibbutz Hachsharah [4] of “Hechalutz Hamizrachi” was established. It only existed for a brief period, but the pioneering influence of the youth was quite recognizable. The following martyrs were among the active counselors in the Hashomer Hadati organization: Baruch Grossbard, Dov Lubelczyk, and the girls Tova Zylbersztejn, Yehudit Rotman, Moncarsz, and the Szwarc sisters, may G-d avenge their blood. As well, there were the following people, may they live long, Yehoshua Walmer (in Nicaragua), Chaim Belfer, Eliahu Zylbersztejn, and Avraham Kandel (the latter three in Israel).

A significant number of these boys and girls came from homes of Hassidim of Gur, who were opposed to any movement that had even a scent of Zionism, even if religiously based. However, they became enthralled with the religious Zionist idea with the entire flame of their hearts, and their young souls worked with enthusiasm and love for Zion and Zionism together. They were infused with faith and hope that the day would come when they would be able to make aliya to the Land of Israel, to build it and be built by it. However, to our sorrow, fate was cruel to them, and they did not merit to do so. Most of them went to the stake and perished together with all the Jews of Czyzewo in the terrible Holocaust that was perpetrated against the splendid Jewry of Poland. May G-d avenge their blood.

Their holy memory will never depart from us!

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[Page 361]

Memories from the Hachsharah Kibbutz in Czyzewo

By Aryeh Porat of Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Holy and blessed is your memory, my town of Czyzewo, regarding your Jewish residents who perished at the hands of the murderers, may G-d avenge their blood; and regarding those, may they live long, who found refuge in all lands of the earth, especially those who are living with us today in our Land.

Czyzewo is the second town in the annals of my life that my soul became attached to with bonds of blood and love, and that became an inseparable part of me.

I arrived in Czyzewo in 1934 and was appointed as the director of one of the Hachsharah depots that had already existed there for about a year previously. I stood at the helm of this Hachsharah kibbutz for two years. It consisted of approximately 40 boys and girls, who regarded themselves as strangers in the exile of Poland. Their entire desire, longing and purpose was to make aliyah to the Land of Israel. As was needed in the previous era, they had to become used to a difficult life and to hard work in particular – pioneering work.

During this period of time, I was able to get to know a significant portion of the residents of the town. Their memories from that time are etched in my heart, and I remember them with love.

Prior to my arrival in Czyzewo, I imagined that town as a place of manufacturing and industry that was short of working hands, and I thought that the hands of these “kibbutzniks” would be a blessing for the residents, and that the large amount of work in the town would be a blessing to the kibbutz, that would enable it to maintain itself in an honorable fashion. How great was my disappointment when I saw before me a remote town, like all other forlorn towns in Poland prior to the war, infused with the exilic reality that prevailed at the time. Then, I feared greatly for the future and continuation of the Hachsharah Kibbutz in such a place such as that were there was a dearth of work. However, when I got to know the Jews of Czyzewo from close up, the fear dissipated. A new feeling replaced the disappointment, a feeling that I still carry with me as a duty until this day. That is: the Jewish objective.

Immediately upon my arrival, the Committee of Friends of the Kibbutz was founded, which called itself “Patront”. It took upon itself the task of concerning itself with places of work to create something from nothing for the Kibbutz, so that it would not know hunger and want.

The members of this Patront were of varying ideologies. However, this “Jewish objective” united all of them – and they were one. The following are the names of the people who were members of the Patront:

Shalom Grynberg, Berish Grade, Yehoshua Lepak, and Noach Edelsztejn of blessed memory. Dov Gozlancki, and Mottel Szczopkiwicz, may they live long.

We had permanent and temporary workplaces. There were those people of means who were able to permit themselves to give set places of work. These included Dov Gozlancki, who provided work in loading and unloading fertilizer, chemicals, naphtha, and other such tasks. There were others who, even though they did not have an excess of work, nevertheless took the duty upon themselves to give permanent work to the members of the Kibbutz.

This is in praise of those dedicated people who provided work, such as:

“Mendel the Aliar”. He was the owner of an oil refinery [5]. This Mendel was old, tall, thin, and hard of hearing, with a constant smile on his face. He employed two members of the Kibbutz on a permanent basis. On days when there was a dearth of work, or when he did not have anything with which to keep them busy, he would sit with them and tell them stories of the past. He did not reduce their pay.

Yitzchak Wasercug. He was a handsome Jew. It was said that he was wealthy. However, the wheel of fortune turned away from him, and his fortunes declined. However, the good, warm Jewish heart remained with him forever. He employed a few of us to change the water in the city mikva (ritual bath). He would say, “indeed we may or may not need the mikva for today, but you certainly need work. 'If there is no grain, there is no Torah [6]'. Work and receive your payment.”

Saneh Stocinski. He was a member of Aguda [7]. He was not so taken with “Zionism”. He waited day by day for the footsteps of the Messiah to be heard on the streets of Czyzewo. Nevertheless, he was a splendid Jew, and he relations with us were good and dedicated. During the time that we worked in preparing the crates for packing the fruit, he would warn us: “Workers, protect your shoulders from the gusts of wind, so that the nails will not twist you!”

Shimon the tailor. He had thick, black eyebrows. He was approximately fifty years old, and he had some white hair. He had a thick, rough voice, but a warm, soft heart. He would say: “Send one of you to me to work, send him, it does not matter, so long as he knows how to at least sew a button. Why should my lot be wanting in providing work for the Kibbutz members?”

Noach Edelsztejn. His yard was full of twigs organized lengthwise and widthwise. He would purchase more on a daily basis. He would call over the woodchoppers from the Kibbutz to come to work, and treat us casually. He would say. “Sing children, for 'work is our life, and will save us from all tribulation'!”

Chaim Szczopkiwicz owned a building materials warehouse. This was our permanent workplace. It was a place of refuge for us. He would say: “If one of you remains without a day of work, send him to me, and I will keep him busy with something.”

Yankel and Rishka Kitaj were not specifically among those who gave work, but were numbered among the Kibbutz members. They actively participated with us, both in our joys and our worries. In one word, we prepared ourselves and bound ourselves together. Yankel's pockets were always filled with sweets, and each of us knew about this. He did not give, but whoever wished any would have to place his hands in his pockets and take out “whatever came onto the fork”. During such a “pickpocketing” effort, it was evident from Yankel's face that he was deriving a great deal of pleasure. When a Kibbutz member would take ill and have to remain in bed, we knew for certain that the merciful hand of Rishka, Yankel Kitaj's wife, would take care of him and assist him with all his needs, including giving medicine on time or a glass of tea.

Oh, Would It Be That I Were Able!

I will never forget the words of Leizerke the son of Yankel and Rishka on the day that I packed my suitcases on the eve of my making aliyah to the Land, and it is as if I can hear them still today. He turned to me and said: “Throw out all of these shmates [8] in your suitcases and take me in their place…” Oh, how I wish I could have… Similarly, I remember one boy whose name was Kocmacher, who came to us at the Kibbutz. He was the son of poor people, and his entire desire was to make aliyah to the Land of Israel. However, he was lacking the necessary means in order to actualize this desire. His many pleas and requests for me to help him cut through my heart. I stood before him helplessly and thought: “I desire with my heart to help you, but… Oh would it be that I were able.”

How can I conclude without mentioning Moshele Gromdzyn? He owned a grocery store on the Street of the Smiths (Szmydisza Gasse). He gave us an open credit for anything we need from his merchandise. He never came to us with requests and demands for payment.

How can I forget and not mention Chanale the milker, the “mother of the Kibbutz” whose route to distribute milk took her first of all to the Kibbutz. During her free time, she would come to teach the girls the manners of “the woman of the house” regarding cooking, laundry, and other housework. If someone took ill, she would immediately wish to summon the (Christian) doctor. This doctor would come even at midnight, and if we tried to pay him for his services, he would literally become offended. May his memory also be blessed.

Thus did the Kibbutz intermingle with the life in the town, and become a unified family among all the families. Among other things, it participated in the cultural life of the town with various performances and celebrations. It also as counted among the local dramatic circle, whose members included Plocker, and David Munkarsz, as well as, may she live Mrs. Sheva Gozlancki and others.

Finally, I will eulogize with a few lines my father-in-law Reb Alter Berish Grade of blessed memory and my mother-in-law.

I loved this man even prior to giving the official imprimatur upon the regarding the relations between the bride and groom. We would spend hour upon hour engaged in mutual conversation. He was an Orthodox man with a Hassidic outlook on the one hand, and with a realistic outlook upon life on the other hand. With enthusiastic words, he would awaken and encourage the endless struggle for an independent state in the homeland. He would say: “It is better to stand in fear next to a drawn knife of an Arab than to stand daily before the insults and denigration of the exile”. He would add: “You desire something ideal – you have a purpose in life, but we here are like 'sheep to the bountiful slaughter'…” I did not understand then how right he was. Our first concern was, how would the train rest in a Jewish state on the Sabbath?

It is most unfortunate, regarding him and the many others like him, that they did not merit to see with their own eyes that the Israeli train does rest on the Sabbath in the State of Israel. It is most unfortunate for those who have been lost and will never be forgotten!…

I also engaged in private teaching along with my task of running the Kibbutz. That is to say, I gave lessons. My students included children from Orthodox homes, whose parents opposed from the outset any secular learning, or that their children should study along with the children of the gentiles. However, slowly but surely, their eyes became opened to see in the footsteps of the catastrophic situation that prevailed in Poland at the time, that there is no other choice. The day would come when their children would have to uproot themselves from their homes and wander to different countries. Then they would encourage them to rectify what they had rejected.

When I remember my students now, I wish to make note of two of them whose talents and excellence in studies astounded me. One was the grandson of Reb Yisrael Yonah Raczkowski. His accomplishments in his studies, especially in mathematics, were so great that in a short period he accomplished what would have taken others twice as long. The second is Berele Lubelczyk. How astonished was I at his phenomenal memory. He had a quick grasp, and the understanding of an elder, settled man.

It is too bad! How unfortunate is it that such talented people with fine memories were cut off without mercy in an untimely fashion.

May their memories be blessed forever!

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Translator's Footnotes:
  1. Chibat Zion was a precursor to the formal Zionist movement. return
  2. These two words have halachic import. Treif (literally 'torn', from the Jewish law prohibiting meat from an animal that died due to a violent injury or an illness that punctured various internal organs), is colloquially used to describe any non-kosher meat; and 'passul' (literally 'invalid'), refers to a ritual object (e.g. Torah scroll, sukka, shofar, lulav, etc.) that is unfit for ritual use. return
  3. Literally “it shall not be seen and shall not be found” referring to the prohibition of owning chometz (leavened bread) during Passover. return
  4. A farm set up for practical Zionist training (i.e. learning farming for eventual use in Israel). return
  5. Oil here has the edible connotation ('shemen') rather than the fuel connotation. return
  6. A phrase from Pirke Avot (the Mishnaic tractate dealing with moral adages) indicating that Torah can only exist if there is physical sustenance to go along with it. return
  7. The non-Zionist Orthodox movement. return
  8. The Yiddish word that roughly translates as 'rags'. return

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