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The Source of My Origins (cont.)

Why Suffer in the Diaspora?…

I was a teacher in Dusiat for a while, and afterwards moved to Rakishok (Rokiskis). There I joined the movement Hashomer Hatzair, and after six months became head of the ken (“cell”).

A year later I was offered a good job in Ponevezh (Panevezys) where I spent the next seven years. Two years after my arrival, I was appointed head of the Hashomer Hatzair ken, with 500 members, the second largest in Lithuania. The biggest ken was in Kovno (Kaunas).

When the split in Hashomer Hatzair began, I joined the minority, and the next day they put the clubhouse under lock and bolt.

I was one of the founding members of “Netzach[3], and devoted myself to establishing new clubs. I earned my living as an accountant, and later, as a company agent. That made it possible for me to travel from place to place and visit branches of the movement. By day I was in the company of agents and salesmen, and as evening approached, I changed clothes and went out in the movement uniform to visit the local clubs.

After eighteen months of service in the Lithuanian army, I went back to my job and to movement activities. In 1934, I moved to the central administration of Netzach in Kovno. For a year I worked in the Eretz-Yisraeli office of the training center, and my salary was one of the sources of subsistence of our hachshara (training collective). It was a difficult time, and we were down to our last crumb of bread. When the food in our collective was exhausted, more than once we were compelled to accept invitations from comrades in order to dine at their table… But we never revealed our destitution to a soul. Sometimes I would go out to the shtetls as an emissiary for Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael[4] or Keren Poalei Eretz Yisrael[5], and these opportunities saved us the travel expenses for visiting the various branches.

My mother did not object to my plans to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael. She only objected to the training. “Why should you already suffer here?” And when I explained to her that this was preparation for life on kibbutz and work in Eretz Yisrael, she related the following story:

We had a maid. Once I found her sitting in front of the hot stove with her head inside, smoke covering her face and penetrating her eyes… I was shocked and asked her to explain what she was doing. The maid said innocently: “Soon the year will be over and I'm not sure if you will agree to renew my employment. I will therefore have to return to my parents' house where the stove doesn't have a chimney, and the smoke is always in the room, and I want to start getting used to living inside the smoke now…”

And you too, the pioneers, do the same thing. Why get used to suffering here in the Diaspora? When you're in Eretz Yisrael, you'll get used to it even without training…”

Before I immigrated to Eretz Yisrael, I went home to say goodbye. It was during the 1936 disturbances in Palestine, and there was great anxiety about the fate of the pioneers… I remember on the last night I felt someone next to my bed. I lifted up my head and saw mother standing by me. “I have one request of you. Be cautious and take care of yourself!” That is what she asked, and she continued: “I never even once thought of stopping you from going to Eretz Yisrael. You will go wherever you have to go. Of that I'm sure. And also to dangerous places. But you don't especially have to jump into dangerous places. Be careful…”

When I was about to leave for Eretz Yisrael, I meant to stay longer with mother and the family in order to compensate them for my long absence from home, but the announcement from the Jewish Agency was very clear: you must leave immediately. The gates of Eretz Yisrael may be closed any minute because of the disturbances.

I made aliya in September 1936. The movement had intended concentrating a Litvak garin (group) in Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, but after a short visit to the place, my preference was to live in Kibbutz Afikim.

In 1937, a friend brought me a package from my mother, and in it was a dress for my wife, Aliza. According to my friend, she told my mother it was a pity to spend money on a dress that obviously would end up in the collective clothes depot. And to this, my mother replied:

“First of all, if my daughter-in-law wears the dress once, 'dayeynu' – it would be sufficient. And secondly, if every mother sent a dress to her daughter or to her daughter-in-law on the kibbutz, then the collective depot would have more, and accordingly, there'd be more for each member…”

My Mother's “Golden Book”

My mother wrote letters to every one of her sons who were scattered in many countries, and in a special notebook she used to record from which son she received a letter and when. And she would remark remorsefully: I have exchanged my sons for paper, but this notebook is my “Golden Book”…

Contact with home was lost when the evil destroyer appeared, and all was disrupted.

Yosef Yavnai: Aaron Poritz wrote me that a son called Yosifon was born to him, named after Yosef Trumpeldor.

Malka Gilinsky: Yosifon and his family lived in Keidan (Kedainiai). His father, Aharon, was a teacher there. Yosifon used to visit Dusiat frequently, and I remember him speaking not one word of Yiddish, only Hebrew.

 

The Poritz brothers Yosef (left) and Dov-Ber studied engineering
in Dvinsk [Latvia], and St. Petersburg [Russia] (c. 1914)

 

Dov-Ber Poritz and his family (c. 1930)

 

“To my brother and uncle Yosef from my family: my wife Tanya; my children Tzvia, 7; Benjamin, 5; and Yosef, 9 months old”
[Courtesy of Olga Zabludoff (Poritz)]

 

Yosef Yavnai: Both Dov Poritz and his brother Yosef studied at the Jewish Vocational School in Dvinsk (Yevreyeskoya Remeslenavo Utchilishtcha), and later studied in St. Petersburg.

Yitzchak Porat told me that his brother Dov married a Russian girl and settled in Russia. He suddenly showed up in Dusiat just before the war, but since then there are no traces of his footsteps, and it is not known for certain whether he remained in the shtetl and perished there.

Yitzchak Porat herding sheep in Kibbutz Afikim

Ze'ev: Not everybody was willing to work with the sheep. Milking evenings and nights, walking behind the sheep in the field in sun and in rain - a branch that required much from the worker. But what is there, that would lead Yitzhak to avoid difficulties?

Kibbutz Afikim Newspaper. 22.2.1974.

Two Articles from the Kibbutz Afikim Newsletters[6]

Yitzchak Poritz – 16.8.1938

Do We Need the “Kaddish”?

Two rows of people stand like shadows leaning on the walls of the reading shack. They bite their lips and are silent…

This is the fourth time in a short period that we are making our way to the enclosed area on the banks of the Jordan, to add another mound…

The armed guards are at both sides of the silent people. The Arabs don't even let us bury our dead in peace…

The coffin is lowered … The fate is sealed…

And suddenly: “Yithgadal Ve'Yithkadash”[7]

Do we still need the Kaddish? In the hours of pain and torment does one of us slide back and revert to the same place from which we left, whence we fled and have continued to move away?

It is not right to say that this is a custom of generations and there is no way we can sway from the content of the words of this prayer. Since when did we begin to observe a custom without understanding its content? Since when did we relate to the Halacha without reflection? …

And please remember, we are not only responsible for ourselves, for the present life we intend creating, but also towards the younger generation of the communities of the Diaspora who are watching our activities here. And there is no belittling the decisive value of these kinds of occurrences on the educational movement of the kibbutzim.

We are also responsible for our young children, whose spirit is so flexible and who are so sensitive to everything. As for events such as these, they should have no place in an honest working community.

 

Yitzchak Porat - 1963

“Autumn Holidays” - Are They Only for “Autumn's People”?

There is silence in the big and spacious auditorium of the new dining hall… Many people are immersed in themselves. Suddenly strains of music burst forth from the tape-recorder. With his sweet voice, Jan Pierce creates an atmosphere of festivity and soul-searching… A kind of personal exaltation beyond the profane prevails in the two hundred members gathered there…

It is a holy day, and this is what is required from us in every generation; and in our generation, all the more so. The melodies and prayers evoke memories of a home that was destroyed and no longer exists. A beautiful world that sank into the abyss of destruction.

They also raise memories of brothers and sisters who survived across the ocean, and behind impenetrable masks. They remind us of the common fate of all Jews wherever they are…

This was not nostalgia…

Rather identifying with our people spread in every corner of the world, with Jews awaiting redemption. Everyone, everyone on this day and at this hour expressing their wishes and prayers in their strange and different languages …

When I looked into the big hall and saw the gray-haired heads, I searched for young people, but they were not there. I remembered the words of the Jewish poet Yehoash, who wrote on Yom Kippur: “Lord of the Universe! Do you know that this same boy, withered and thin, fasts and prays before you even though he has never sinned? He has never in his life heard about many of the sins. All the sinners are not here in the synagogue. They are sitting right now in fancy restaurants and eating sumptuous food (that is probably not even kosher) … ”

… A generation has arisen without knowing our past. This evening was important to them primarily, so that they might know and understand, evaluate and appreciate… Is it not mainly the youth who need to absorb Jewish consciousness into their souls? The kibbutz youth missed a golden opportunity, and it is a pity!

“Autumn Holiday” is not only for “Autumn's People”.

Footnotes

  1. (N.Z.CH.) Pioneer Scouts Youth Movement. Return
  2. Jewish National Fund. Return
  3. Land of Israel Workers Fund. Return
  4. [19] Porat, Yitzchak. Private Collection, Kibbutz Afikim.
    The dichotomy between Yitzchak Porat's outlook on Jewish tradition during two different periods in his life is apparent. The article written in 1938 to the backdrop of the burial of a young girl, contains a negation of the Diaspora and strong objections to the old traditions, while in 1963, on the eve of Rosh Hashana (New Year), already in the autumn of his life, he expresses remorse that the generation he and his peers raised has no connection to its past nor to Jewish tradition. Return
  5. Traditional Hebrew prayer recited by mourners. Return

 

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