by Gershon Gelbort, Ramat Ha-Kovesh
Translated by Amy Samin
The year was 1922-23. The Hebrew school in Goniadz, which was founded around that time by Zairei Zion [Youth of Zion] and later joined the Tarbut chain, graduated its second class. The graduates of that class, boys and girls ages 16 17, some of whom went on to found He Chalutz [the Pioneer] and some of whom joined the Communist Youth; that group constituted the young men and women who returned from Russia, and who received their education and had spent all of the days of the war and revolution there. Those two youth movements waged a fierce battle for control of the youth. We, the students of the school, followed He Chalutz yet also listened to the stormy debates between that movement and the Communist Youth or, as they were called in our town, the Reds.
He Chalutz appealed to us more, and even while in school we used to call every fearless or exceptionally strong young man by that name. The members of He Chalutz brought Hebrew speech and Hebrew song out of the walls of the school and into the streets, and they also worked at labor that had once been done by others, by goyim [non-Jews]. Cutting down trees, landscaping, and portage all of those were matters of interest to the pioneers. And more than anything, the He Chalutz House, where people would gather to discuss and celebrate, to sing and to dance. And the house was also a center for youth who were not counted among the members of He Chalutz. We, young people aged 12 or 13, would gather outside, for we were not allowed to enter. We were accustomed to hosting the pioneers, and to accompanying them wherever they went. On evenings and Sabbaths we would assemble at the doors of the house. Their songs were not new to us, nor were their conversations about the Land of Israel foreign to us, for we were students of the Hebrew school. The only thing that was new to us was the activity surrounding immigration to the Land of Israel, the preparations. The arguments they had with the anti-Zionist youth regarding the Land of Israel and the Diaspora laid everything before us for re-evaluation and re-examination.
One Sabbath, we chanced upon a group of youth with one pioneer at the home of one of our friends. The pioneer told us of HaShomer [the Guardian] in the Land of Israel, and of the days of Tel Hai [a former Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel and the site of an early battle between Jews and Arabs]. We had a special connection with Tel Hai, because one of the fallen
was Yaacov Tuker of Goniadz, whose family still lived in our town. We decided to form an organization. We heard of three people during that conversation whose names we wanted to tie to the name of our organization: Berele Shweiger of HaShomer, Tuker, and Joseph Trumpeldor. Tuker, as one of our own, was very close to our hearts, and Shweiger for some reason found special favor with us. But in the end we chose Trumpeldor; he was the symbol, the guide.
We set these goals for our organization: a) Hebrew speech and b) physical education. They were intended as spiritual and physical preparation for the pioneer life.
When we rented a place and began operations, the wrath of our parents descended upon us: they saw it as a deviation from the regular way of life of a pupil in school. Some of us withdrew, and the first attempt at organization was undone.
Months went by. On one of our trips we were a group of 8 members we made an attempt to recreate the Trumpeldor organization, despite our parents' opposition. Our parents were not successful in destroying our organization, and the teachers to whom they appealed for help gave up. Our first months of activity were marked by growth and the organization of cultural programs. Our purpose was directed toward the youth from poor families. They tended to see Zionist organizations as the property of the bourgeoisie. We were able to bring a few of those youth into our organization, and we invested a great deal in them, starting with teaching them Hebrew and imbuing them with an elementary education and on to offering material assistance especially in the case of illness. The path we forged into the poor and artisan classes of our town broadened; in time, when in competition with the Tarbut school the Yesha school was founded (it only existed for a few years); we also infiltrated there and some of their students were active in He Chalutz Hazair.
We established our organized cultural activity through our own great efforts and with a little help from several older members. Only after a while did the members of He Chalutz become more interested in us, coming with a proposal to organize into a split-off group of He Chalutz, called He Chalutz Hazair [the Young Pioneer].
|The Goniadz Chapter of He Chalutz Hazair|
In March of 1924, when rumors reached us of the founding of chapters of He Chalutz Hazair in other places, we asked to contact the He Chalutz Center. In June of 1924 we received the first letter from the main office of He Chalutz Hazair and attached to it was a circular and recommendation for how to found a chapter of He Chalutz Hazair.
Basically, the school did all of its educational activities through us; our chapter basically completed all of the practical-political part. Classes in the school were infused with a socialist-Zionist spirit; and not just in Jewish studies, literature, Jewish history and Bible was the importance of socialism emphasized, but also in Polish history and literature classes. He Chalutz Hazair worked diligently on preparation for achievement and on cultivating the pioneering life in our everyday lives. This world view, which we brought with us from school, had to stand the political test in our meetings with youth and with other, non-Zionist groups.
The debates followed an accepted format in Question and
Answer Evenings. Each person wrote down any question he wished to ask and put the paper into a box set aside for that purpose. Among those who attended these parties which carried on late into the night due to the intense and vital atmosphere were the Communist Youth, who tried to take advantage of the opportunity to spread their message to us. These evening conversations were conducted in Hebrew, and with no other alternative - the Yiddish-speakers would speak Hebrew by way of pre-prepared texts.
The second thing worth mentioning is the internal newspaper, Tel Hai, which was published from time to time for a number of years. The participation of the members was tremendous. Also here we were aided by the school. Every written assignment by one of our members that was praised by the teachers was published in our newspaper. Over time, the teachers also began participating in the paper. At the beginning, we would copy it by hand into a number of limited samples, later we would reproduce by means of a hectograph,
which allowed us to introduce improvements. Every year we would publish an edition dedicated to Tel Hai. Sometimes we would work all night to ensure that the paper would be published on deadline. Its appearance was cause for celebration in our chapter.
As one of the foundations of our education we decided upon getting close to nature, and began taking short trips outside of the city, to fields and nearby villages, and we eventually took more extended trips, to nearby cities. We dreamed of village life, of the farming life on the soil of our homeland. Therefore, we very much wanted to get an understanding of the life of the farmers and villagers nearby. We traveled in neat rows, and with both commands and songs in Hebrew our need to perform in public was also met. Our first big trip, to the nearby town of Trestina, was arranged especially and it led to the founding of a chapter of He Chalutz Hazair there. The trip had a major influence on the youth there. The chapter grew, and even young children began knocking on our door. We limited the acceptance of members to ages 14 and up.
The trips to nearby towns became a tradition. Through them we aided in the founding and strengthening of chapters in the surrounding area. Eventually we organized joint trips of several chapters together.
Those trips and meetings emphasized the need for frequent communication and mutual assistance every day of the year. For that purpose, in 1926 a regional council of six chapters was established. One of its roles was to found a joint library, a regional newspaper, and a subscription to Davar [a Hebrew language daily newspaper]. With the increase of chapters in the area and the founding of training kibbutzim [communal farms] the first area-wide bureau was founded.
Nevertheless, the trips could not satisfy the training needs of the pioneers: our hearts were drawn to agricultural work. How great was both the happiness and the jealousy when two of our members, happened upon a farmer plowing his land who allowed them to hold the plow and employ it for the length of an entire furrow. The plowmen were covered in pride and the others were terribly envious. Many went out into the fields in search of such a good goy. The desire was awakened to request similar opportunities in the gardens of the Jews. And they found them. We began with the planting of a vegetable garden at the home of
the parents of one of our members. On that first day of our work, when we appeared with hoes in that garden, it was like a holiday. Many people surrounded us and watched some with enjoyment and others with scorn. From that moment on we were the permanent vegetable garden workers. We put together plans for planting a large vegetable garden of our own. We had our eyes on a piece of land, and we had the required sum of money, but we were prevented from this plan by the question of how to guard the place. The whole plan failed because of this grave issue. In addition, we had begun cutting trees and we sometimes competed in that area with He Chalutz.
Meanwhile, there was a training factory at the He Chalutz Educational Center. The important training points were located far away from us, so only a few left our chapter to go for training. There wasn't much information. And when two members of He Chalutz arrived on vacation, we immediately called together a large gathering of youth, dedicated to training. A great many youth from all levels of society attended the gathering, as did the Communists. The members revealed all in the matter of training, including in their remarks stories, songs and tunes from the training experience. For many hours we sat, crowded together, and never tired of listening. For us, those hours were an uplifting of our souls. But just when the gathering had reached its peak, the Polish police suddenly appeared and broke up the gathering, and forbade us to meet in the future.
The blow hit us right at the peak of our chapter's development, just when we had the feeling that we had sprouted wings and had developed the strength to stand up to opposition from outside. We held our activities in secret until we obtained a license. We began to organize into small groups of 5 10 members. We held conversations at some distance from the city, we arranged meetings in dwellings where the shutters were closed tight and someone stood watch outside. Announcements and information were delivered by word of mouth. This kind of activity had a bit of the romantic about it that united the minority, but took away the opportunity for growth, for establishing a large chapter that would captivate all the youth, as we wished we could have done.
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