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Second Part:

Community and Life-Style

 

The Zionist Movement in Grayeve

Itsik Gartshitshi (M.Phil.-Tel Aviv)[1]

Translated by Miriam Leberstein

In the years when the international Zionist organization set out on the road toward the great goal of building a Jewish homeland in Erets Yisroel, in that epoch which begins with the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1892, the Jews of Grayeve were already caught up in Zionist thought.

Like all Jewish shtetls, Grayeve was, in the 19th century, a town of pious, God-fearing Jews. The besmedresh [prayer and study house, small synagogue] was for them a fortress of Torah and piety, where they could forget their everyday worries and experience a few hours of spiritual exaltation. The Jewish holidays, which played a significant role in their lives, were connected with Jewish history and with Erets Yisroel: Khanike, a commemoration of Jewish heroism; Peysakh, a commemoration of Jewish liberation from Egypt; and Tishabov, a time of mourning over the destruction of the Temple. The vow that the Jewish exiles swore

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by the rivers of Babylon --”If I forget thee, Oh Jerusalem…” --was remembered by all Jews throughout the long generations of the Diaspora, and Grayeve Jews were no exception.

We must fully appreciate the significance of that vow for the Jewish people and its land. Without the connection to Zion and the old traditions, and without the longing for the holy land, the Jewish people would have long ago disappeared as a nation on the world stage, vanished without a trace. And without the longing for Zion, Zionism would never have become a popular movement. Obviously, anti-Semitism and persecution played a significant role in this process, but these factors simply helped Zionist thought to become deeply embedded in the broad Jewish masses.

On the other hand, it is also true that strict and fanatical observance of tradition also brought about a petrifaction of Jewish life. Tradition was a thick wall which new thoughts were unable to penetrate. Still, Grayeve did not remain a backwards, unenlightened shtetl. Quite early, it entered the arena of culture, secular education, and new ideas, including Zionism. Grayeve was a border town, linked by rail and roads to Germany, and to Russia and Russian Jewry. Because of the commercial traffic through Grayeve, and its communication resources, Grayeve Jews often travelled to Germany. From time to time, Jewish youth on their way to study abroad would also pass through Grayeve. Also, many political refugees, Jews and non- Jews, would pass through Grayeve in their flight from Tsarist oppression.

It is not easy to determine the influence on the Grayeve Jews of these people who passed through the town. But we can be sure that their contact with the Jewish intelligentsia of Grayeve exercised a certain cultural influence and helped to spread the new social and political ides of the great Yiddish and Hebrew cultural centers of Kovno, Vilna, Minsk, Kiev, Odessa, Warsaw, Konigsberg, and so forth.

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Links with the Large Cultural Centers

As time passed, several families from the larger cities settled in Grayeve. These families had already established lively and direct cultural links between the town and the large cultural centers of Russia and abroad. The educated members of these families would correspond with friends in their former homes. One such example is the connection between the Olshvanger-Verzhbalovski family with their enlightened relatives in Russia, Lithuania, and Vienna, especially with the writer, Miriam Markl-Mozeszohn, the daughter of Shimen Verzhbalovski and the aunt of the Grayever Verzhbalovskis.

In 1927, Avraham Yeri published in Jerusalem the letters which the renowned Hebrew poet Yehude Leyb Gordon wrote to Miriam Moseszohn in the years 1868-1887. Several years earlier, Prof. B.Ts. Dinaberg published in the literary journal “Ktuvim” [“Writings”], letters written to her by the Hebrew writer and Havevey Tsion [lover of Zion, member of the organization Hibat Tsion (Love of Zion)] , Lilienblum. From these letters one can see how much these writers loved and esteemed this intelligent woman.

Cultural and literary themes also served as the topics of long conversations when Miriam Mozeszohn came to Grayeve for extended visits. The regular participants in these conversations were: Olshvanger, who had studied at the Rabbinical Seminary in Breslau, and who had brilliantly mastered Hebrew, in addition to the most important European languages; Olshvanger's wife, who was a highly educated woman, considered to be the only woman in Grayeve who had graduated from a Russian gymnasium in the 1870's or 1880's, and who, together with her husband and sister, created a cultural atmosphere in Grayeve; and Reb [respectful term of address] Avraham Piurko, who was the Hebrew teacher for the Olshvanger children, and who later became

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the central and beloved figure among the educated Jews and scholars of Grayeve.

It isn't difficult to imagine the enormous influence these two families had upon the cultural development of Grayeve Jewry, especially when one takes into consideration that the members of these families were populists, who, despite their high level of education, knew how to relate to the common people.

Another factor that linked Grayeve Jews to the wider world must be mentioned. These families who settled in the town were unable to provide their children with a suitable education there, and sent them to study in the larger cities. This set an example for other Jews who later also began to send their children to large yeshivas or secular schools. These were not limited to prosperous Jews, like Khaim Itsik Ravidovits. The children of poor families were also sent to study in yeshivas out of town, for example, the son of the widow Khane Bashe Vaystlovski, Dr. Tsvi Vayslavski, well-known in Erets Yisroel, and about whom I will speak further in this article. His great achievements illustrate very well the saying of our sages: “Take care of the poor children, because they will bring forth learning.” These children became ambassadors of culture, through whom the Grayeve Jews – or, at least, the enlightened ones -- came into close contact with the new ideas, which, after a long struggle, were forged into the Zionist ideology and Zionism as a political movement. From all of this, it is clear that, quite early on – in the 1870's and 1880's—Grayeve was saved from the danger of petrifaction and from religious-traditionalist fanaticism.

Besides the above-mentioned Olshvanger-Verzhbalovski and Piurko families,Grayeve also had a class of merchant Jews, who were interested in secular matters and Zionist ideas and who found time to educate themselves in the literature of the enlightenment. The following such people should be mentioned: Khaim Itsik Ravidovits, Yezherski, Kahane, Kaptshavski, Beynesh Kolko, Mordkhe

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Rembelinker, Gvirtsman, Genakhovski, Kravtsinski, Kats, Khaim Katsprovski, Elimelekh Pomerants, Avraham-Itsik Faynshtayn, Sender Guzhik, Mordkhe Rinkovski, Markus,Shabtsi Frida, Vapinski, Ruvn Malakhovski, Henekh Raykhelzon, Itsik Gershtanski, and many more whose names I no longer remember.

 

The First Influences Prior to the Building of Erets-Yisroel

Apparently, Grayever Jews didn't travel to Erets Yisroel only out of longing for the holy places of the ancient land, in order to spend their life weeping, praying and studying Torah at the sacred graves and synagogues, or in order to die and be buried there, as did many aged Jews from various surrounding large and small towns, as early as the 18th century. Rather, the Jews of Grayeve understood the need to organize and to join the Hibat Tsion [Love of Zion] movement, whose goal was to aid and support the Jews who went to Erets Yisroel not to die, but to resurrect and rebuild the land.

It was undoubtedly the Hebrew weekly Hamagid [The Preacher], published by David Gordon, that did the most to awaken the Jewish youth of Grayeve to the great historical events in [Zionist] Jewish life of those times: BILU [student group which took its name from the Hebrew initials of the Biblical verse,”House of Jacob, let us go up]; Dr. Liev Pinsker's brochure, Autoemancipation[1882]; and the Katovitser Conference [held in Katowice, Silesia, November 1884]. From the earliest years of its publication, beginning in 1857, in Lyck, Germany, not far from the Russian border, Hamagid was an organ of outspoken nationalist character. It published the plans of Rabbis Tsvi Kalisher and [Yehuda] Alkaley to build Erets Yisroel upon a modern foundation. In Hamagid there appeared the translation of “Rome and Jerusalem” by Moses Hess. In his articles, the editor urged and warned the Jews not to engage in the conflict between the Poles and the Russians (as in 1863, at the time of the Polish uprising against Russia) but to follow their own path, that is, to build their own homeland in Erets Yisroel.

Hamagid became even more pro-Zionist after 1881, after the terrible pogroms in Russia. From that time on, it published articles by such renowned Havovei Tsion [Lovers of Zion, i.e. members of Hibat Tsion] as Pinsker,

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Rabbi [Shmuel] Mohilever, Rabbi Eliasberg (From Riga), Sir Laurence Oliphant, Dr. Albert Kahn (the teacher of Benjamin Edmond Rothschild), and others. Starting in 1881, Gordon became one of the most important personalities in the Hibat Tsion movement.

Of course, Grayeve was the first town in Russia to receive the newspaper right after it came out, as early as the same day, because many Grayeve Jews spent the entire day in Germany. In addition, according to the report of Elimelekh Pomerants, Yudl Faynberg of Grayeve and his wife, a fervent Zionist, were in close contact with David Gordon, who thus exerted a direct influence on the town. Of course, Piurko was a loyal reader of Hamagid, and along with him, his many students.

In addition to these, about 15 people in Grayever, according to Pomerants' report, received Hamalits [The Advocate], published by Aleksander Tsederboym, which began to appear in 1860. (15 people subscribed, and 50 read the newspaper.) This newspaper also had a nationalist character and supported the Havevei Tsion. Among the Grayever Havovei Tsion who received Hamalits were Khaim Katsprovski, Ravidovits, Abraham Itsik Faynsthayn, Pomerants, Itsik Vitkievits (now in America) and others.

And when Hatsefira {“Dawn” or “Morning”] began to appear in 1862, it, too, found many readers in Grayeve. From my earliest childhood, I remember how the Jews would go very early to the post office, and even to the train station, in order to get their copies of Hatsefire, because they couldn't bear to wait for the postman to bring the paper to their homes. How much the editors of Hatsefira valued its circulation in Grayeve can be seen from the fact that after the first Zionist Conference in Basel in 1897, Pomerants, who was then the Hatsefira agent, received as a gift from Nokhem Sokolov the works of Y.L.G. [the Hebrew poet, Yehuda Leyb Gordon] and Smolenski.

The Hebrew teachers A.M. Piurko, Binyomen Goldberg, and Gran played an important role in the process of bringing Zionist thought to Grayeve. At that time, the study and writing of Hebrew were by no means identified with Zionism, as they are today.

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But in Grayeve, thanks to the Zionist Hebrew Press, Hebrew was synonymous with Zionism, and the Hebrew teachers were therefore very important to the movement.

At this point, we should mention the Grayever melameds [teachers of young children] of that time -- Simkhe-Hersh, who was pro-Zionist; and Berl the Melamed – because it very much depended on the melamed whether the study of the bible and of Talmud by a young child awakened a love for Erets Yisroel and a hatred of life in the Diaspora, or satisfaction with the Diaspora and indifference to Erets Yisroel.

Grayeve was also visited by magidim [preachers], who knew how to arouse great enthusiasm for the Hibat Tsion movement. One of these, according to Pomerants, was the magid Drugitshin, who repeated to the Grayeve audience the sermons of the renowned Rabbi Mohilever.

The Grayever Lovers of Zion were in close contact with Rabbi Mohilever, who was then rabbi in Bialystok. They would turn to him each time the religious fanatics in Grayeve and surrounding towns would try to obstruct various Zionist efforts, and Rabbi Mohilever had enormous influence on the Grayever Jews. The pious considered him a holy person. As for their own Grayever rabbi, an intelligent man, and very beloved by the populace, the Zionists were reluctant to antagonize him when they felt that he didn't fulfill his obligations to the community. This can be seen in the following example:

Once, the Grayever rabbi refused, out of fear, to sign a telegram to the president of the Russian Duma [parliamentary body], urging the government to take action against pogroms in Bialystok. [Alexander] Olshvanger (Jerusalem) and [Elimelekh] Pomerants, angry at him, went off and sent the telegram with the signatures of the presiding members of the Jewish kehile [organized community]. (One of these, who signed reluctantly and fearfully, was the devoted Zionist Moti (Mordkhe) Abramski.) By playing his usual active role in the matter, Olshvanger risked serious consequences, since at the time he was serving in Grayeve's army regiment. The Grayever Zionists not only were not afraid to act in opposition to the rabbi's wishes, they also knew how to influence him, and to get him, not a member of Hibat Tsion, to hold sermons in the besmedresh in favor of Erets Yisroel.

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The Founding of the Havevei Tsion

It is impossible to determine precisely when and where the founding meeting of the Grayever Havevei Tsion [Lovers of Zion; alternate name for Hibat Tsion] took place. Perhaps such a meeting never even occurred. But there is no doubt that in Grayeve, as in other larger towns, the Havevei Tsion movement began soon after the pogroms of 1881. This is evidenced by the following:

Shortly before the Katovitser Conference of 1884, the council of the Warsaw Havevei Tsion decided, at the suggestion of Sh.P.Rabinovits, to publish the portrait of the esteemed birthday celebrant [Sir Moses ]Montefiore [British Jewish philanthropist who supported Jewish settlement in Palestine], and to sell it in Russia and other countries. In addition to other goals (educational, financial, honoring the celebrant), this would also serve as a membership card for the Lovers of Zion movement. Each Jew who purchased the portrait would thereby declare his participation in or sympathy with the movement. Thanks to the active, energetic Lovers of Zion of Grayeve, such as Elimelekh Pomerants, Beynush Kolko, Tsvi Kaptshavski, Barkovski, Khaim Katspravski, Avraham-Itsik Faynshtayn, Elihu Vaks and others, the Jews of Grayeve responded very well, and the portrait of Montefiore, which sold there for one ruble, appeared in almost every home.

This great success was made possible in large part by the propaganda program that the Lovers of Zion group in Grayeve had developed in the several years since its inception. Grayeve also sent greetings to the birthday celebrant. The thank you note that Montefiore sent in return to Olshvanger, still remains in the Jerusalem home of his daughter, Zelma Verzhbalovski.

The small group of Havevei Tsion in Grayeve consisted mainly of young maskilim [followers of the Jewish Enlightenment Movement], modern Jews with modern beliefs. And although they didn't reject the Jewish religious tradition, they remained isolated, and the broad masses of religious Jews did not actively join with them, but passively supported them. The attitude toward the movement on the part of a significant segment of the town's religious Jews changed after Khaim-Itsik Ravidovits settled in Grayeve. When he arrived, the religious Jews understood that here was a strictly observant Jew, a man deeply learned in Judaism, a true scholar from the Volazhiner yeshiva.

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Only someone who has long immersed himself in the study of Talmud can properly appreciate the level of erudition attained by Khaim Itsik Ravidovits. One can rely on the opinion of one such authority, Rabbi Kook, as expressed in his preface to the book, Merhavi [Interpretations by] Itsik, which Khaim Itsik Ravidovits published in Erets Yisroel in 1929. But, as great was the joy of the religious Jews over Khaim-Itsik Ravidovits the Talmudist, equally great was their surprise when they learned that he had joined the Havevei Tsion, and had become the central figure in their circle.

After a while, many religious Jews in Grayeve followed in his steps, and signed on as members of the “Odessa Support Committee.” (This was the abbreviated name of the legalized Lovers of Zion movement after 1880.) A short time later, thanks to the expansion of the activity of the Havevei Tsion under the influence of Ravidovits, even Hasidim entered the movement, as did even the so-called “practical people.” (Ravidovits was not only a great religious scholar, but also a fine merchant, very successful in business, and this, apparently, attracted not a few Grayeve merchants to the movement.) As Pomerants reports in his article about Ravidovits (in Haaretz, [the newspaper, The Land], October 11, 1936), Grayeve was practically the only town in the entire area at that time, that counted 90 members of the Odessa Committee. And with the growing activity of the movement in Russia, which began with its legalization, the Grayeve Havevei Tsion also began to develop an energetic program on behalf of Erets Yisroel.

 

Selling Wine and Planting Trees

Pomerants repeated some of the facts in the above-mentioned article in conversations I had with him 13 years after its publication, and these were also substantiated by other Grayever Zionists living in Israel.

With money lent by Khaim Itsik Ravidovits, the Grayever Lovers of Zion bought esrogim [pl. of esrog, citron used in observing Succot] from Erets Yisroel, and sold them in Grayeve and the surrounding towns. Ravidovits not only lent the money, he went from one besmedresh to another,

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holding sermons, promoting the product, and the Havevei Tsion kept selling esrogim until they had driven out the esrogim imported from Corfu, and had become almost the sole esrogim dealers in the entire Lomzhe-Suwalk area.

When the Carmel Society was established in Erets Yisroel in 1890, the Grayeve Hovevei Tsion, with the help of Ravidovits and others, purchased its wine, and the young people went door to door selling it, in that way forcing merchants to buy wine from Israel.

In the year 1894, the Havevei Tsion movement in Russia decided to celebrate the 70th birthday of Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever by planting a garden in Hedera, [Jewish settlement in Palestine] to be named Gan Shmuel [Shmuel's garden]. This garden had an additional, important (perhaps the primary) goal: to dry out the swamps of Hedera and in that way to combat malaria, which spread illness and death among the Hedera colonists. Grayeve played an honored role in this undertaking: Grayeve Jews planted over 100 trees, at a cost of over 600 rubles, quite a significant sum for the town.

Of course, the constructive assistance which the Havevei Tsion movement provided to the colonists through the above-mentioned undertakings were a heavy blow for the khaluka people in Erets Yisroel who spent their years praying and studying Torah and lived out their lonely lives thanks to the money they received from Jews in the Diaspora. [Khaluka was a system of free housing and subsidized living expenses that supported the religious Jewish population in pre-Zionist Palestine.] In their campaign against the Havevei Tsion, the khaluka people stopped at nothing, and even denounced them [to the authorities]. As a result of these denunciations, in 1894 Eliezer Ben Yehuda was arrested as a suspect in an attempt to organize an uprising by the Jews in Erets Yisroel against Turkey. This vile action by the Jerusalem khaluka people aroused the fury of all Jewry. And when, that same year, a khaluka emissary came to Grayeve to solicit funds and at the same time began to inspect tsitsis [fringed undergarment worn by Orthodox] to see if they were kosher, the Grayever Hovevei Tsion became enraged and under the leadership of Elimelekh Pomerants they set out

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throughout the town to find and throw away the pushkes [charity collection boxes] of Rabbi Meyer Bal Ha Nes. Very many Grayever Jews who at that time withdrew their support for the khaluka Jews began to sympathize with the Odessa Committee and even contributed money to the Jewish colonists in Erets Yisroel.

From that time on, Grayeve became known as a town with an openly expressed Zionist character. The Grayever Zionists energetically and scrupulously carried out the decisions of the central Havevei Tsion bodies, and their ranks continued to grow broader and stronger. And if anyone, from inside or outside, tried to hinder them, they soon found ways to deflect them. When several of the so-called “political Zionists”, like Beynush Kolko, Borkovski, et al., who were dissatisfied with the Odessa Committee, began separately to collect money to help a family to travel to Erets Yisroel as colonists, the Grayever Havevei Tsion contacted Rabbi Mohilever, and he turned to the Grayever rabbi, demanding that he warn the opponents of the Odessa Committee not to dare to do such things. And his intervention helped.

 

A “Shmite” Year and a Heter-Iske

An incident occurred involving a shmite year, during which it is forbidden by the Torah to cultivate the fields, vineyards, or engage in other agricultural enterprises. It seems to me that this was the year 1894. Because of their difficult circumstances, the colonists in Erets Yisroel were given permission by the rabbis of the Hibat Tsion movement to engage in agricultural activities and to sell agricultural products, just as the great rabbi, Yehude Ha Nasi had done, for humanitarian and nationalist reasons. But the Shtshutshiner rabbi did not, in this case, accept the point of view of Rabbi Yehuda Ha Nasi, the creator of the Mishna. Rather, he sided with Rabbi Pinkhes Ben Yair, the fanatical opponent of Rasbi Yehuda Ha Nasi, and forbade the Shtshutishiner Jews to buy esrogim from Erets Yisroel that shmita year. And Rabbi Mohilever once again intervened at the request of the Grayever Havevei Tsion, and the Shtshutshiner rabbi had to submit.

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Barely a year had gone by after this victory by the Grayever Havevei Tsion over the shmite issue, when a new difficulty arose in the form of heter iske [a business document which permits one to receive interest from a loan, by restructuring it as an investment.] The second Zionist Congress in Basel had founded the Jewish Colonial Trust, and appealed to the Jewish people to help establish the financial apparatus to build the land by buying stock shares. A prominent Grayever Jew, M.B., a great Talmudist and a wealthy merchant, who was opposed to Zionism, came forward and declared to the pious Jews, that buying a share entails receiving interest, which is absolutely forbidden by the Torah. This created a threat that the sale of shares, which Dr. [Theodor] Hertzl had so wished would occur among the broad masses of the people, would fail in Zionist Grayeve.

Faced with this difficulty, the Grayever Zionists turned to [Zionist leader David] Volfson, and he immediately responded: “We may not be greatly pious, but we did provide for a heter-iske.” Volfson's response was disseminated in all of the synagogues, and even the Grayever rabbi himself gave a sermon in favor of the Colonial Trust. The Zionists then threw themselves into selling shares, and they had colossal success. They sold over 600 shares, which brought the Colonial Trust over 6,000 rubles, quite a significant sum for a town like Grayeve. There were families that bought only one share, and others that bought two or three. Kh.I. Ravidovits bought the most shares – 25—for cash.

One can imagine the enthusiastic mood that prevailed in Grayeve during the time of the sale of the shares, so that even Dikar the Apostate, the cashier at the train station, bought two shares, and gave a down payment, and even declared himself ready to purchase the Zionist shekel [membership in World Zionist Organization] (according to Pomerants' article in Hatsefire on June 18, 1931, which appeared on the 25th anniversary of the Bialystok pogrom, in which Dikar's son died defending a Jewish girl from the pogromists.)

 

Illegal Zionist Activities

Thus did the Grayever Zionists carry out with zest and ardor every task set them by the Zionist organisation,

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whether the activity was public and legal, or whether it was forbidden by the Russian government. Indefatigable and fearless, they worked for the Jewish people and its land, Erets Yisroel.

The Zionists were not scared away, and did not cease their activities, even in the years when the Zionist movement, along with other political movements in Russia, was strictly forbidden, when even participating in a meeting was to risk going to prison. The illegal meetings of that time would take place in the home of Kh. I Ravidovitsh, in the bakery, or in Mordkhe Abramski's storehouse. During these meetings, several children of parents who were at the meeting, or others, under the supervision of today's Dr. Shimen Ravidovitsh (Chicago), would stand watch on the street. And if they saw a suspicious person or a policeman approaching, they would immediately sound an alert. Papers, letters and documents would quickly be hidden, and the meeting would transform itself into an educational society which had gathered to hear lectures by Pomerants on history, by one of the Olshwangers on medicine, Katsprovski on religious rules governing commerce, or Ravidovitsh on Talmud.

Pomerants relates that in 1900 word came that all the members of the Zionist central committee in Vilna had been arrested. When the news was told to Kh.I. Ravidovitsh, and he was warned to be careful, he and Kaprovski gave the following response: “If I.L.Goldberg and his comrades can do time in prison, we have no right to save ourselves and the work must continue as before, whatever the conditions.”

And the Zionist work in Grayeve did continue as before, in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian. They continued to sell shekels throughout the town, and the proceeds were sent over the border to Prostke. As before, Leybl Kats would abandon his shop and go door to door selling the Keren-Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] tokens. As before, there would be bitter arguments between the supporters of “Alt-Nay-Land” under the leadership of Katspravski, and the followers of Ahad Ha'Am [Asher Ginzberg], led by Pomerants and Hershl Kaptshavski. And, as before, the Grayeve Poali Tsion[2] [Workers of Zion, a political movement] would meet in their office in the house of Getsl the Leaseholder on Shul Street, disguising the meeting

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as a group coming together to study a chapter of Mishna or the Torah portion of the week. And after the meeting, they would sing the well-known Zionist songs of the time: Mishmar HaYarden [Guarding the Jordan]; Al Tal v'al Matar [Let there be no Dew nor Rain]; Di Shvue [The Vow]; S'u Tsiona Nes v'Degel [Rise up Toward Zion, Flag and Banner] and Al Am HaDerekh [On the Road].

 

Children in the Zionist Movement

Like the adults, the children and youth were not scared away from the ban by the Russian government, and participated in every fund-raising effort, and went wherever they were sent.

Yashe (Yosef) Karenietski, the son of the mashgiekh [overseer over the laws of kashruth], (today he is called Yosef Karni and has worked since 1922 as chief bookkeeper in Vad HaLeumi [National Committee]) relates that once, when he was nine years old, he was sent to sell New Years cards door to door for Keren Kayemet. Suddenly, he noticed that Kurtselapov (I don't know if that was his real name, or only a nickname for the fat policeman) was running in his direction. He followed him from one street to another until it got dark. Not until midnight did the nine year old Yashe come home, tired and fearful.

This same Karni also relates that when he was a young boy, he, the young Shimen Ravidovitsh and their friends, were given the task of distributing the shekel among the Jewish soldiers serving in the Grayever regiment. And in order to carry out this assignment, they had to circulate around the barracks for hours, very fearful, until they managed secretly to sell some shekels.

Zionist education of the younger generation was very important in Grayeve. And the older Zionists knew how to attract the young children to the work. Avraham Ravidovitsh (Tel Aviv) recounts that

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the Grayeve Zionists always employed children to sell esrogim and lulavs [palm fronds used in observance of Succot] as well as to prepare the lulavs. But the children weren't satisfied with these jobs. Avraham and his friends would make little rings from the left-over lulav leaves, which they would sell to other children, giving the money to Keren Kayemet. Shifre Ravidovitsh (Shifre Levin, Afula) recounts that on the Sabbath, Kh. I. Ravidovitsh would take the children on an outing on the Shtshutshiner Road, and play with them in Hebrew.

When the Hertzl Gymnasium was founded in Tel Aviv, three children left Grayeve to study in that institution: Yankev Ravidovitsh (a doctor in America); Yosef Karmin, today a very active teacher in schools in Erets Yisroel and the author of various textbooks in the field of natural history; and Yeheskl Papovski, who later became one of the most active and devoted Zionists in Grayeve and a longtime teacher in the Tarbut schools [modern Zionist schools in which Hebrew was the main language of instruction.]

Dr. Tsvi Vayslavski also did a lot to get children involved in Zionist work. Avraham Ravidovitsh relates that Dr. Vayslavski used to persuade the children to work at collecting money for Keren Kayemet and advised them on how to deal with the difficulties they encountered in that thankless task. But this wasn't Dr. Vayslavki's only, or most important, field of endeavor. In 1907 he undertook to distribute Dos Yidishe Folk [The Jewish People], the central organ of the Zionist movement. Later, he did a lot to distribute Hebrew periodicals and literature in Grayeve. In 1911, he was one of the most active Zionists in Grayeve. Together with Hershl Kapstovski he would organize meetings of the active Zionists: Rembelinker, Pomerants, Faynshtayn, Ravidovitsh, Rinkovski, the Olshvangers, et.al. (The meetings were held at the homes of Faynshtayn, Ravidovitch, Rinkovski, and at Berl Rozen's, in Yamshun's house.)

Dr. Vayslavski was at that time one of the chief speakers and gave many talks on Zionist themes. The intelligent speeches on Jewish history which he delivered to the young and to adults were very significant. These talks awoke in Grayeve's Jewish youth a love for

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Jewish history and literature and thus helped to form their Zionist world view. Dr. Vayslavski was then already one of the most gifted students of Prof. Yosef Kloyzner, who was then renowned for his literary activity and his talks on Jewish history in Odessa, which was at the time one of the most important centers of the renaissance movement in Hebrew literature and culture.

 

The Role of the Kheder-Mesukn

[Kheder-mesukn: reformed, modern religious school for young children]

A special role was played by the modern kheders, the so-called “khadorim-mesukonim” run by Karmin, Piurka, Pomerants and Lis, which were well-attended by the children of Zionists as soon as they opened (about 1908). Pomerants and Lis didn't limit themselves to teaching Hebrew; they provided a broad and energetic education. The very young children at these modern kheders absorbed a viewpoint, consciously or unconsciously, on various

 


A group of schoolgirls from the Hebrew Tarbut School

 

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Zionist problems. At the time of the language war in Erets Yisroel, before the First World War, (over whether Yiddish or Hebrew would be the language of instruction), the children of the Pomerants kheder mesukn were brought into the fight and energetically took the side of those who declared a strike in protest against the attempt to make Yiddish the language of instruction. And it was perhaps thanks to the children's position, that the adults organized to send money in support of the strikers. And although sending money from Russia to Erets Yisroel was a very difficult and complicated matter, the Grayever Zionists found a way to send the money through London.

The khadorim-mesukonim created a Zionist atmosphere in the entire town, awakened a love for the Hebrew language, and contributed much to its spread among broader segments of the Jewish population. Three years after the founding of the kheders, there already existed in Grayeve, according to the report of Dr. Vayslavski, quite a large number of Jewish boys and girls who understood Hebrew very well. And, as reported by many Grayever Zionists living in Israel today, the young people listened with joy and enthusiasm to lectures by Dr. Vayslavski (who was then still called Hirsh-Leyb), who already spoke a rich and literary Hebrew. And the Grayeve Zionists were great experts on that matter, since very many themselves wrote a rich, beautiful, expressive Hebrew. This can be seen by reading the speech given at one of the memorials for Herzl by Mordkhe Rembelinker, who spoke so eloquently and with such feeling, who was a true intellectual in his speech, bearing and understanding, and who, sadly, died before his time.

Among the various educational endeavors carried out by the Zionists on behalf of and with the help of the young people was the founding of the Grayever library in 1912. As soon as permission was granted to open a library in the name of the Lovers of Hebrew society, Leyzer Zilbershtayn, Itsik Gershtanski and Pomerants began to work on its establishment. They purchased a large number of books in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian, and they opened the library in a

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house on the Rabbi's lane. The librarian was the daughter of Rafalovitsh the scribe. In order to strengthen the financial foundation of the new institution, the founders immediately, in its first year, mounted a production of King Lear (the first theater performance in Grayeve.) The participants were Mordkhe Rembelinker, Leyzer Zilbershtayn, Itsik Gershantski, Alte Ravidovitsh (Rechavie), et al.

 

Conflicts with Rabbis and Fanatics

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Zionist movement in Grayeve was already closely tied to the international movement. The Grayeve Zionists were already sending representatives to national conferences and to the Zionist Congress. They elected Elimelekh Pomerants as their representative to the conference in Minsk in 1902, in order to propose the very important plan to conduct cultural work on two fronts: among the religious and non-religious Zionists. Pomerants fell ill and did not attend the conference and his mission was entrusted to Mr. Rutski from Gonyandz, who had also represented Grayeve and made the above-mentioned proposal (known as Ussishkin's Plan). [Menakhem Ussishkin was a member of the Executive Committee of Hibat Tsion.]

In 1903, Kh.I. Ravidovitsh was a delegate to the 6th Zionist congress in Basel and along with Tsioni Tsion [Zionists for Zion], he voted against Dr. Hertzl's Uganda Plan [to establish the Jewish homeland in East Africa.] As Pomerants relates in his article about Ravidovitsh in Haaretz, the Grayever Zionists, under Ravidovitsh's leadership, threw themselves into a difficult and bitter struggle against the anti-Zionist fanatics and rabbis who had gathered around the Kovner rabbi, and Rabbi Akiva Rabinovitsh, publisher of the sinister and reactionary organ, HaPeles [The Scale]. By revealing the sinister and fanatical plans of the group, the Grayever Zionists emerged from the fight victorious and Grayeve earned for itself a reputation as a fortress of Zionism.

This and other victories, in Grayeve and beyond, encouraged the Zionists even more, and from time to time, Grayeve sent emissaries to the nearby towns in order to win them over to Zionist thought.

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Thus, the Grayeve Zionists worked tirelessly and successfully in several areas: propaganda, selling of shekels, Keren Kayemet, education, and cultural work, until the outbreak of World War One (1914). Actually, until the last minute, just two days before the war broke out, and suspense grew from minute to minute, when one could already detect the smell of gunpowder in the air, and many people in Grayeve had already packed and others had even left town –in that suspenseful atmosphere Pomerants sat in Ravidovitsh's store in Prostken and organized the proceeds from the sale of shekels and sent them to Cologne.

 

In the Difficult War Years

The Grayever Zionists lived through several difficult years, years of forced inactivity and impatient expectation and waiting for the end of the war, years of deep worry over the fate of the Jewish people in Erets Yisroel. In this regard, it is appropriate to mention

 


The administration of the library
Top row, from right: Yosef Karni, Khave Shtrasberg, Markus, Rokhl Piurko, Ladelski, Itsik Piurko
Bottom row, from right: Khanovski, Zalmen Sutker, Ida Shtraserg, Isakhar Kaptshavski, Leybl Ziberski, Meyer Vaks

 

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the following from Pomerants' article: When the news reached Bialystok that Dr. Yankev Ravidovitsh (America) had joined the Jewish division of the English army, which was fighting against Turkey on the Gallipoli front, Kh. I Ravidovitsh was visited by one of the Grayeve merchants. This man, who had a reputation as a speculator, who had profited by speculating on the need of the hungry masses, said with biting sarcasm to the worried father: “Is it really true, then, Mr. Ravidovitsh, that your son went to welcome the Messiah?”[3]

To this, Ravidovitsh answered: “Whether my son will bring the Messiah, I cannot say. But that he will not bring hunger to the Jewish masses like some Jewish merchant-speculators – of that I am entirely certain.” And Ravidovitsh added: “If England would change its position and would send Jewish soldiers to the front in Erets Yisroel, I would also send my son Shimen” (today Dr. Shimen Ravidovitsh, professor at the University of Chicago.)

In summer 1915, the Germans took Bialystok and a half year later, the Jewish families who had left their beloved town in 1914, returned. The youth of Grayeve began to work energetically for the realization of their ideal, which they grew up with, which had straightened out the hunched Jewish backs, which had made them free, proud people, and filled them with self-empowerment and with love for the Jewish people, for its history, and its great cultural values.

 

New Youth, New Cultural Forces

New, young forces –youths aged 17-20 -- now entered the Zionist life of Grayeve. They threw themselves into the work with youthful enthusiasm. With ardor and stubbornness and with their energetic activity, they drew in the majority of Jewish youth. As soon as they returned to Grayeve, they met to reorganize Zionist work in the town. The most active among them were Yosef Karni (Jerusalem), Yeshayohu Abramski (Tel Aviv), Sholem Khanovski and Dvoyre Khanovski (Tel Aviv), Moyshe Khanovski (Ramat Gan),

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Borekh Khanovski, Etke Khanovski, Rokhl Piurko (Tel Aviv), Merke Khanovski, Feygl Vilenski (Sweden), Brustin, Shloyme Radam (Tel Aviv), the daughters of the Lifshits family, Menashe Furman (died in Tel Aviv), Shalakhman, Itsik Piurko (Jerusalem), Hershl Tenenboym. For a short time the following worked with them: Yisoskher Kaptshavski, Leybl Zilberski and the Shtroysberg sisters. Later, the following joined with the [Zionist] youth: Pomerants, Rembelinker, Eliezer Zilbershtayn, Faynshtayn, Gvirtsman (who literally spent everything he owned on Zionist causes). The more religious active Zionists joined Mizrakhi, such as Leybl Kats (died in Erets Yisroel), Ber-Velvl Khanovski, Khaim Tuvie Khanovski (died in Tel Aviv), Khenokh Raykhlson (died in Haifa), Mordkhe Abramski (died in Tel Aviv), Tutelman, Markus, et.al.

The young Zionists rented a hall in Yamshun's building and began methodically and skillfully to carry out one activity after another. First, they began to recruit new members for the united Grayeve Zionist organization called Agudat Bnai Tsion [Society of the Sons of Zion]. After an energetic,

 


A group of Zionist activists after a Keren Kayemet action
Standing, from right: Sholem Khanovski (Karni), Etke Khanovski, Yehoshayu Abramski, Borekh Khanovski, Katshalski
Sitting, from right: Itke Halalit [sp.?], Menukheke, Leybl Leybl Ladelski, Malke Khanovski

 

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house to house propaganda campaign, they succeeded in recruiting 100 new members. A. Pomerants was elected chairman; Yosef Karni, vice-chairman; Yeheskl Papovski, secretary (he wrote a splendid Hebrew, in an exceptionally beautiful handwriting); Yeshayohu Abramski, treasurer; and Mordkhe Rembelinker , representative for Keren Kayemet. When Rembelinker became very sick in 1921, Abramski became the representative for Keren Kayemet, and he developed a very active program until he made aliyah [emigrated to Israel] in 1926. After him, Hershl Gershtanski (Tel Aviv) took over this difficult job, and fulfilled his obligation with the same devotion until the Second World War in 1939.

The Zionist organization developed a wide range of propaganda and cultural activities, and organized public programs on Zionism and other themes, and public discussions, with the additional participation of representatives of other parties, from Grayeve and elsewhere. As I recall, the first public lecture was given by Mr. Milaykovki, who was sent by the central office of the Zionist organization in Warsaw. The public discussion evenings would often end in shouting and even in physical fighting, thus helping to crystallize the viewpoints of two opposing camps –Zionist and anti-Zionist.

In the same hall, there would also be held celebratory gatherings. One of these was to celebrate the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917 [in which Britain recognized the right to a Jewish homeland in Palestine]. On the day that Grayever celebrated this great event, all the stores were closed, and the entire Jewish population gathered in the shul [synagogue] to hear sermons and speeches. After the mass meeting in shul, in the evening, there was a lecture by Mr. Piantnitski from Warsaw, and discussions, with the participation of a Bundist speaker.

On Saturday evenings, a small group of educated boys and girls organized lectures and recitations that were of an especially appealing cultural character. Members of the older generation, such as Mordkhe Rembelinker, also participated. The active members of this group were: Yesoskher Kaptshavski, Leybl Ziberski, Rokhl Piurko, the Shtroysberg daughters, et al. They would gather together, as their fathers did, in the besmedresh, in the evenings and on the Sabbath, to read

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and to discuss various books. They would also organize public gatherings with recitations in the reading room of the library. The proceeds were donated to the library to purchase new books.

In addition to this group, another group was formed in 1916, consisting of several young people who devoted themselves to studying Hebrew literature on their own, and chiefly to publishing a Hebrew weekly which appeared in pamphlet form, written in a clear, fine handwriting, and illustrated with drawings. It had stories by Leybl Goldshteyn (today the popular Hebrew author, Ari Ibn Zaav), sketches and humorous pieces about life in Grayeve, and articles about current events. The most important of the weekly's staff were, as I recall: L. Goldshteyn, Adamshteyn, Emanuel Kolko, Fayvl Shtroysberg, and Yeheskl Obiedoynski. This group would also organize lectures on Hebrew literature. The group was called Agudat HaNoar [Young People's Society]. Its members set themselves the task of disseminating Hebrew language and considered themselves patriots of Erets Yisroel and fighters for the Jewish people. Yosef Karni devoted much effort and time to this group. He supported its development, delivered lectures and published their articles and stories in his weekly.

 

Lectures, Theater Productions, Courses, Celebrations

After the young Zionists had returned to Grayeve, their first job was to gather the books form the library, which had disappeared during the time in which the majority of the Jewish population had abandoned Grayeve. The library, with its reading room, became the most important center for cultural work for the entire town, not excluding any [political] party or social class.

Evening classes were also established, with a limited but systematically conducted curriculum: Jewish history, Hebrew literature, and Tanakh [the Pentateuch]. The teachers were: Buzshoze, Elimelekh Pomerants, Yeheskl Popavski, and Yosef Karni. The classes were held in the Zionist offices in Berenzon's house. Youth from all classes and sectors of society studied there. Well-off students paid a

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monthly fee, and those who were indigent did not have to pay. Through various means, the Grayeve youth created a kind of educational fund, which covered the costs of tuition for those who couldn't pay. These classes were held for several years. In the evening, one would encounter in the streets of Grayeve boys and girls 15 to 16 years old, hurrying with Hebrew books and notebooks to the classes in the Zionist offices. After the classes, loud discussions among the student would continue until late.

Out of these evening courses there began to develop activities meant for a broader audience. These included the interesting lectures given by the teacher, Buzshoze, and Leybl Godshteyn; and theatrical productions, in which not only the students and young Zionist activists participated, but also others, non-Zionists, such as Zalman Sutker. These theater productions accomplished two important goals: they served as exceptional propaganda for Zionism, and they also brought in significant sums of money, which were designated for the library and for the Zionist organization.

Every holiday and every day commemorating an event in Jewish or Zionist history, there were theater performances or evenings of recitation and readings, which created an atmosphere of Jewish culture in Grayeve. One can easily imagine the great social and nationalistic value of these performances by the young Zionists. Grayeve Jews no longer had to limit themselves to praying, studying Torah, and taking an afternoon nap on the Sabbath. There grew up a new need to get together to enjoy culture, art, and literature, and when there came a Sabbath or holiday when “nothing was happening,” as they used to say in Grayeve, the individual, as well as the community, would feel he had been deprived of a somehow important and enjoyable thing. Even the religious Jews were no longer satisfied with the ways that had observed the Sabbath and holidays in former years.

After the Mizrakhi [religious Zionists] organization was established in Grayeve, there wasn't a Sabbath or holiday that the older generation didn't rush off to shul or to the old besmedresh to hear the sermons of Rabbi Emiel, which were learned in their content, and splendid in their form and style. And, like the sermons of Rabbi Emiel,

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the inspiring Zionists speeches that Yosl Zaydenberg gave in the shtibls [small Hasidic synagogue] and besmedreshim also attracted the people of Grayeve. From time to time, a Zionist from out of town would come to give a sermon, attracting a large audience on a weekday as well.

Thanks to the expanded activity of the young Zionists and of the older generation, Grayeve became a Zionist town in the full meaning of the word. This would have been very clear to anyone who lived in Grayeve in the days of the San Remo Conference in April 1920 [at which the Allies in World War One confirmed the pledge of the Balfour Declaration concerning the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine] and the establishment of Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal; literally “the foundation fund”] in July 1920.

In the spring of San Remo, which fell on [the holiday] Lag b'omer, all the businesses were closed, even the Polish ones. The school children of Hashomer Hatsair marched to the shul holding national flags, accompanied by the majority of the town's Jewish population. In the shul, Rabbi Emiel gave a talk, and then Yosef Karni, in the name of the Grayever Zionist organization, strongly protested the arrest of [Vladimir] Jabotinksi [leader of the Revisionist Zionist movement] in Erets Yisroel. And just when the children and the older audience had left the shul, a demonstration spontaneously broke out, and people went off to the Bogusher Woods singing Hebrew songs. In the evening there was a festive gathering at the Zionist office, with speeches by Pomerants, Rembelinker, Yosef Zaydenberg and Yosef Karni.

At the time of the foundation of the Keren Hayesod, there occurred in the shul, after the speeches, and later in people's homes, that which in the Book of Exodus is called vayisparku [generous giving; from the verses in Exodus 32:3 et seq.in which the Israelites stripped off their jewelry to build the Golden Calf]. And not only the rich or well to do Grayever Jews, but also quite a few poor ones, laborers and artisans, joyfully gave as much as they could.

That same year, the opponents of Zionism, the Hasidim, were won over, and if they didn't actually join up as members, they demonstrated their sympathy by giving money to the Zionist fund. Yosef Karni relates that one Yom Kippur eve, he proposed that the Zionists visit the Hasidic shtibls, too, when they went out to collect money for Erets Yisroel. People laughed at him, because none of the Zionists could imagine that they would find anyone among the Hasidim who would give money. So he went alone, and to the amazement of the Zionists, he

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brought back from the Hasidic shtibls twice as much as was collected in the other houses of worship.

 

The “Shomer Hatsair” and the “Khaluts”

With the founding of Hashomer Hatsair [The Young Guard], not only the majority of the youth, but also the majority of the children, became Zionists. The leadership of Hashomer was twofold. There were the young instructors, like Leybl and Yisroel Vaks (Tel Aviv); Yekheskl Rinkovski, that inspired speaker with his lovely, poetic language; the talented theater personality, the good and intelligent Khatskele; Yisroel Radom (Tel Aviv), Mordkhe Masenznik, et al. And there were the patrons, who consisted mainly of Zionists, like Leyzer and Moniak Zilbershteyn, but also of non-Zionists, like Zalmen Sutker, who devoted much work and effort to the organization.

The importance of the patrons was immeasurably great. Thanks to them, Hashomer Hatsair inspired trust in the Jewish parents, and they confidently agreed to let their children enroll in the movement. The organization grew from

 


A group from Hashomer Hastair
Rokhl Shidlo, Tevel Gartsitski, Rokhl Rozenboym, Yehtskl Keynun, Tsvi Kirshenbaum, Khane Gratshteyn, Shabtsi Yakubinski, Isroel Novalski

 

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day to day, and expanded its activity among and on behalf of the young people (Hebrew courses, lectures on Zionist and general themes, and excursions), as well as in all areas of the general Zionist programs. Through its chorus (under the direction of Zalmen Sutker,) its sports program, its general participation, it enriched and embellished every Zionist celebration.

In later years, after the movement was reorganized, the most active participants were Itsik Gartshinski (the son of Moyshe), Aron Kravtsinski (Yagur), Zishke Gartshitski (New York), Paltiel Pasternak (South America), Yisroel Kirshenboym (Haifa), et al. They carried out the work of Hashomer Hatsair almost until the last year before the outbreak of World War II (1939).

With Hashomer Hatsair, we actually have already entered a later stage in the development of the Zionist movement in Grayeve. We must, however, return to 1917, and give an overview of another Zionist phenomenon, a movement which didn't limit itself to raising money, to send others to Erets Yisroel, a movement which set itself the task of preparing its members spiritually and physically to make aliyah – that is, the Hekhaluts [Pioneer] movement, which was established in Grayeve in 1917. And it should be noted that the Hekhaluts movement in Grayeve was founded entirely independently and without the influence of the general Hekhaluts movement, which was

 


Hashomer Hatsair on an excursion to Ganiandz in 1928

 

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founded by Yosef Trumpeldor in Russia after the October Revolution of 1917, and which spread to various cities of Russia, Lithuania, and Poland right after the first Hekhaluts conference in Kharkov in 1918. In 1917, there did not and could not exist, any link between Russia and the occupied areas of Poland.

The history of Hekhaluts in Grayeve is as follows: In the summer of 1917, the Christian peasants in the nearby villages stopped selling their products to the Jews. Their slogan was “Jews, go to Palestine.” The economic situation for the Jews was unimaginably bad. It was impossible to obtain milk, butter, eggs, meat, etc. The shortage of these products became even worse when the German military authority confiscated from the peasants every food they produced. Every well-off Jew then bought himself a cow and poultry; the poorer ones bought a goat.

 


A group of khalutsim in 1926

 

In order to alleviate the great want of the masses, there was established a public kitchen, in which the following were very active: Rabbi Emiel and his wife, Amtsi Piurko, the daughters of Mikhl Vilenski,

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Khaim-Tuvie Khanovski, et al. Then, the Grayeve Jews remembered that they had fields (”doyalkes”) that could be cultivated, and a few of them began to do so, e.g. Nekhemie Bukovski, (Tel Aviv), Khanovski, Abramski, and Levit.

But if some of the older Zionists and others found some sort of solution to their economic plight by cultivating their fields, at the same time a handful of young Zionists got together -- Shloyme Radom (Tel Aviv), Meyer Bialostotski (Tel Aviv), Azriel Ladelski (Kfar Eta), Moyshe Khanovski (Ramat Gan), and Rastigalski – and decided to study agriculture and go to Erets Yisroel. Without material help and even without moral support, they began to carry out their plan with their own resources. (The only Grayever Jew who was enthusiastic about the plan from the first, and who encouraged and invigorated the young idealists with his words was Yisroel-Yankev Grudzeminski, the bookbinder. He was also the first Grayever Jew to leave for Erets Yisroel after the war.)

They attracted several additional young people and the handful grew into a group of 14 members, among them the daughters of the scribe (for a Jewish girl of the Grayeve middle class of that time to join Hekhaluts to study agriculture and to go to Erets Yisroel was certainly a unique and even revolutionary occurrence.) They acquired a horse -- who doesn't remember the Hekhaluts' white horse? -- a wagon, several pitchforks and shovels. They rented a stable from Nosn Zilberman. They leased one garden

 


Hashomer Hastair on an excursion in 1932

 

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near Masienznik (Train Street), a second on Bogusher Street, near Vaynshtayn, and somewhat later, part of a field of 10 morg [unit of measurement, about an acre]. Then they began to bring manure to the fields. (One can imagine how the Grayevers carried on every time they drove manure through the streets.) And they set to work, with great effort and no experience, but with youthful obstinacy.

Mordkhe Abramski used to lend them his horses to carry the manure, and Nekhemie Bukovski gave them very important instructions on how to cultivate the fields. The sarcastic comments by the anti-Zionists soon ceased. The idea resonated strongly with a large part of the young people, and other boys and girls began to ask to be admitted as members of Hekhaluts. But there were also the Jewish mothers who came to weep and wail over why their children were being forced to do such heavy and filthy work. As a result, the council of Hekhaluts began to accept as members only those who passed the “exam”; that is, those who weren't frightened off by having to jump into the manure bins and empty them. Every candidate had to demonstrate, in this way, that he would be able to withstand other trials and difficulties in the future.

 

The “Herut V'Tehiye” and “Hekhaluts Hatsair”

Several years later, after the split in Hashomer Hastair, when that fine youth organization had practically dissolved, there appeared another group of young Zionists who demonstrated just as much initiative and energy as the founders of Hekhaluts. This was the youth organization Herut V'Tehiye [Freedom and Rebirth], (although the Herut V'Tehiye did not do the kind of pioneer work that Hekhaluts had). The intellectuals of Grayeve, as well as the older Zionists, had almost nothing to do with this youth organization. But the organization had boys and girls capable of carrying out the work, who could fend for themselves. All on their own, they organized lectures on history and literature. Later, they brought in teachers from the town's Tarbut schools, Shikare and Kaplan, who, for pay, gave classes in history and cultural

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history. they took over the Jewish library and organized it. Yankev Shatsky,(Tel Aviv), Dovid Bialistotski (Netanya), Shloyme Bergenzon, Shloyme Fridman (the son of the “Russian” shopkeeper), et al., sat for long weeks and bound, numbered, and catalogued the books. And when they saw how few books the library had, they organized (again, on their own) several theater productions (Gordin or Goldfaden plays) in Grayeve and Shtshutshin. The main participants were Reyzl Bialistotski (Netanya), the Fridmans, et al.). And with the proceeds they bought books every month and enriched the library. With the appearance of the new books, there came new readers, and the library once again became an important cultural center for all of Jewish Grayeve.

A year after the founding of HV, I believe in 1924, there began a new Khaluts movement, Hekhaluts Hatsair, which the members of the dissolved Herut V'Tehiye later joined. In the beginning of its existence, the new Khaluts organization took in all of the Grayever youth –former students of the Tarbut schools and of kheders, apprentices to artisans -- who

 


A group of khalutsim on a Keren Kayemet action

 

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because of ideological or other reasons had not found a place in Herut V'Tehiye or in Hashomer Hatsair. The founders of the new Hekhaluts movement in Grayeve were Moyshe and Arye Elkan (Tel Aviv), Khaim Fridman, Avraham Berenzon (Dafne), Emanuel Berman (Tel Aviv), Yeshaye Stavinski (Ein Harod), Dov Marushevski (Haifa). The movement had a library named after Yosef Khaim Brener. Some of the books were donated, but most were purchased with the proceeds of various lotteries and evening events held in Grayeve and surrounding small towns.

There was also a drama circle and a sports club with the name “Power”, which often won in matches with Polish sports clubs. The members of Hekhaluts, like those of Hashomer Hatsair, would go to hakhsore [training farms where people prepared for aliyah] and a large number of them are today in Israel. In Hekhaluts, as in Hashomer Hastair, there were courses in Hebrew, there were daily talks and lectures on general, Jewish and Zionist issues, conducted by their members or by other Zionists from the town like Dovid Bialastotski or speakers who would come from other cities.

In 1929, a Revisionist party was founded in Grayeve, and connected to it, somewhat later, Betar [youth movement of the Revisionist Party]. The founders of the Revisionist party and Betar were Moyshe Ziberski (Tel Aviv), Avraham Rembelinker (Jerusalem), Elihu Verzhbalovski (Jerusalem), Atlasovits, Bobrovski (Tel Aviv). Betar conducted the same kinds of cultural and educational activities as the youth organizations previously mentioned (Hebrew courses, lectures on Zionist and general subjects) and, in keeping with Betar's ideology, very active military training for youth.

Finally, we must also mention WIZO [Women's International Zionist Organization, founded 1920, in England; pronounced “Vitso” in Hebrew] in which the most active members were: Hadasa Olshvanger, Dvore Verzhbalovski, Klare Rekhtman, the Lifshits daughters. WIZO, too, held lectures almost every week by Zelme Verzhbalovski (Jerusalem), Yekheskl Papovski, and speakers from out of town, about Jewish history, literature, and current events. The assembled women, Jewish mothers and daughters from all segments of society, would listen to the lectures with great interest and would also ask questions and participate in the

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A group from Hashomer Hatsair in 1929

 

discussions. It should be emphasized that that the WIZO activities served brilliantly to counteract the negative influence of the card club of the so-called Jewish “elite” of Grayeve.

The bazaars held by WIZO were very well attended. They were held very frequently, and aside from enlivening the whole town, they brought in a lot of money for the Keren Kayemet. When the bazaars were held, there would be various artistic events, successfully organized by Miss Kashdim (America), who was also very active in other aspects of Zionist life in Grayeve.

Naturally, with so many youth organizations, Zionist activity in Grayeve was carried out with great energy, and almost every Zionist undertaking had a successful outcome. The youth organizations occupied themselves with Keren Kayemet and selling shekels, etc., and the older Zionists were thus able to devote themselves to other kinds of Zionist activities. One of these –the most important –was the Tarbut school, which, despite many difficulties and obstacles, operated from 1920 until

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the Second World War. There was also a kindergarten connected with the school.

The school administration included Itsik and Frida Gershtanski (Tel Aviv), Vayner (Tel Aviv) et al.

It must be noted that there wasn't a single area of life in Grayeve in which the Zionists did not participate and work with all their strength for the good of the community.

 


The Magistrat

 


Grayever firefighters

 

Footnotes
  1. Itsik Gartshitski was born in Grayeve in 1904. He studied in kheders [religious elementary schools], then in the Polish gymnasiums [academic high schools] in Bialystok and Vilna. He studied literature and philosophy in the Vilna University, which he graduated with a master's degree in philosophy. Since 1935 he has lived in Israel, where he is a teacher in a Hebrew gymnasium. He translated Gradenvits' history of Miuzik into Hebrew, and co-authored several Hebrew textbooks for adults. –The Editors. Return
  2. The Poale Tsion movement in Grayeve apparently started after the Fourth Zionist Congress of 1901. It appears that as a result of the great differences of opinion, Pomerants left the General Zionists and together with Kalman Antshkovki and Berl the carpenter's son, founded the Poale Tsion in Grayeve. To this organization belonged: Moyshe Gershtanski, Rosman, Yosef Ziberski, Tikatshi, Ruven Malakhovski, Shabtsi Marushevski, Aron-Yankev Gartshitski, and many others. Return
  3. In the fortress of Gallipoli, the Turkish powers had, around 250 years earlier, imprisoned Shabtsi Tsvi, who was known as the False Messiah. Return

 

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