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[Page 69]

The Day of Atonement in our Town

By H. Mendelsohn (Nezo York)


Already in the morning hours of the eve of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), certain disquiet could be felt among the Jews of our townlet. Everybody hurried to pray in public. The coming of the holiday was noticeable. The everyday hustle and bustle stopped suddenly, the usual gayety disappeared from everyone's face; everybody was seized by a feeling of gloom when the last preparations for receiving the Great Holy Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) were finished. People became friendlier to one another; the enemies of yesterday reconciled; shop-keepers, bitter competitors, smiled at one another, wishing to forget the harm done by one to another, for the sake of a piece of bread, during the entire year.

Everybody walked hurriedly to the afternoon prayer (Minha), lest they might – God forbid – come late. The synagogues were packed. Right next to the entrance there stood long tables with plates belonging to various charitable institutions like "Meot Hitim for Orphans (Financial Aid given before the Passover Holiday), Interest Free Funds for the Poor" (Gmilat Hesed) etc.; it's impossible to remember all such institutions since there was no lack of needy persons in the town. Everybody dropped a coin some a large one and others a small one – but all made a contribution, requesting forgiveness for their sins, and was there anyone who had not sinned?

The prayers were ardent and everyone felt the earnestness of the coming hour. Immediately after the afternoon prayer people rushed home to eat the last meal before the Great Fast. My father, dressed in a white garment, blessed the children while my mother was lighting the candles.

This unforgettable picture is still in my memory. The room is shrouded in partial darkness. My God-fearing mother, slight in stature and with a delicate face, never failed to thank and praise the Almighty and to say the benedictions, as he stooped above the tallow candles and cried.

"Why is mother crying?", I asked my older brother. "She is thanking the Almighty for the kindness He has shown her till now, and she is asking Him for health and means of livelihood for father in America and for all of us," replied my brother.

I knew, in fact, that father found it difficult to earn his living in America. Otherwise, we would not have to buy on credit and mother would not have to pluck feathers in the late winter-evenings, and to knit woollen table-cloths she did it with real artistic talent – as well as to work in gardens in the heat of the summer, in order to earn something. Therefore, her prayer asking for means of living for my father in America, was understandable to me; even then I could not grasp the meaning of her expressions of gratitude for the favours God had shown her, but my God-fearing mother thought differently.

Then we all went to the synagogue to "Kol Nidrei".

The Kamenetz Synagogue was a tall, circular building whose outward appearance reminded more of an ancient temple than of a modern synagogue. Inside it looked even larger and more beautiful. The blue-painted ceiling was so high that it could hardly be seen with a naked eye. Indeed, the ceiling represented the sky with sparkling stars exquisitely painted. But most striking was the hand-made woodcarving stretching along the entire height of the wall on both side of the Holy Ark. On one side were carved various wild animals living in the forest; their teeth were protruding and the beasts looked as if they were alive and always ready to defend the persecuted Jewish people against its attackers. On the other side various fruit trees were carved. They symbolized the time when the Jewish people would be in its own land and enjoy its own fruits. All this had been done by an artist endowed with great talent; it was told that he had succeeded to create only two such works and one of them was in our synagogue.

On the Yom Kippur night the synagogue was crowded and brightly illuminated by hanging lamps; a forest of burning wax candles cast dark shades; along the eastern wall the older men of our town, clad in white garments, were swaying slowly like old trees in a woods and murmuring prayers; complete silence reigned while everybody held his breath and waited for the cantor to been chanting the "Kol Nidrei".

The notables of the town also came to hear the cantor and they were standing on the pulpit with an expression of awe and reverence on their faces. As soon as the sounds of the "Kol Nidrei", chanted by the town cantor H. Yaffe and the choir, were heard, everyone was filled with awe and felt the approach of the hour of reckoning. Though many years have elapsed since those times, I still cannot forget the tremendous impression made on me by the sweet, soul stirring chant. The town-cantor H. Yaffe, rather short and with long white hair, was a man endowed with many talents. Besides being a cantor he also painted sign-boards for shop-keepers and was learned in the Law; though neither he, nor the local young people who sang in the choir had ever attended a conservatory, they all knew how to read musical notes and had to sing harmoniously. Whenever one of the young singers committed the slightest mistake, a glance of the cantor was sufficient to correct it at once. The cantor Yaffe possessed not only a powerful, wailing voice; he was an excellent interpreter of Jewish prayers. Even those who did not understand their text, could easily grasp their meaning. Who is able to forget his Rainfall Prayer and his other compositions – real pearls causing delight to everyone who heard them.

And in such a manner we were standing on the Yom Kippur evening and deriving pleasure from the soul-stirring prayers.

During the entire Day of Atonement hardly anyone was seen in the streets. Complete silence reigned over the whole townlet: only the chanting of prayers in the synagogues could be heard. The "Neilah" Prayer which concluded the services on the Day of Atonement was recited by the cantor with much heartfelt emotion. Every word expressed sorrow and supplication. Was it not the last hour in which the fate of everyone would be sealed? Who could know what one's own fate would be? But as soon as the cantor lifted his hands up to Heavens and cried our in his powerful voice: "Open the gate, for the day is almost gone!", all of us believed that the gates had really been opened, that our prayers had been accepted; with a light heart we uttered the phrase "Next Year in Jerusalem", and so the Yom Kippur service in our town came to an end.

When I reflect upon those bygone times and think about those Jews who are not with us anymore, I begin to realize how many talented people perished in our own town and how great their achievements would have been if they had lived in other places and in different circumstances.

There are no Jews and no synagogues left in Kamenetz. All that remained are the memories. Who can forget them?


[Page 73]

The Years of my Youth in Kamenetz-Litovsk

By Hatzkel Kagan


Many images are engraved in my memory, and first among these are the religious teachers ("melamdim") of my youth who planted in my heart the desire to learn.

Click here to extend the picture I remember Joseph Vigotov. A fine person, a scholar and active in communal work, he was a teacher at the "Talmud Torah" School, which was located in a side lane in the Christian quarter, where the court was later situated. His beautiful commentaries on the Book of Psalms still resound in my ears. It sounded poetic when he recited melodiously the chapter "Ashrei Haish" and when he exclaimed "Lama Ragshu Hagovim"; all of us in the room felt as if it were a call to the whole Jewish people. We all loved learning together with him.

I remember also Ben-Zion, a more "modern" Rabbi, a teacher and a pedagogue. He taught us the Bible, the Talmud, the Grammar, arithmetic and writing. It is interesting to note that when we learned the Book of Esther his comments bore the character of a modern explanation. We could see vividly the events of the past. Every Saturday, instead of having an ordinary lesson with us, he would read us stories from the "Hagada". Their beauty captivated us, and this was largely due to the exciting manner in which they were read aloud by our teacher. As to the words of rebuke he directed at us, they sounded more or less like this: "Listen fellows. Now, at the time you are young, it is time for you to learn. You will have enough time in the future to stroll on the bridges and to wander in the streets. However, if you study, you will be respected by your fellowmen, no matter where you find yourselves".

Another memory is linked with my father who used to pay frequent visits to Rabbi Burstein. My father was active in the community's affairs and people from all walks of life praised his honesty and Willingness to help others. Once, on a Saturday, my father took me with him to be examined by the Rabbi, as was customary in those days. Noticing my nervousness, the Rabbi calmed me. I passed my "exam" well and smoothly, to the satisfaction of both the Rabbi and my father.

Every day the Rabbi honored the Main Street by walking along it on his way to the "Shepsel" Synagogue where he used to pray. He preached twice a year in the large brick synagogue – on the Saturday which falls between the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement and on the Saturday which precedes the Passover.

The Rabbi officiated at wedding ceremonies which usually took place outdoors near a synagogue and were attended by the majority of the town's inhabitants.

The Rabbi was respected in the town by all kinds of people for his wise advice given on various problems. He used to travel to North America to sell the books he wrote.

The members of his family were educated too. Rabbi Burstein's house was very near to the house of Motie "Klepechiner".

I should like to mention the name of Shlomke Mandelblatt, the permanent secretary of the municipality. He warmly responded to all those who applied to him for help and advice. He always had an encouraging word for them as he filled in questionnaires for those who were getting ready to emigrate or had received a call to military service. Another example of extending help to his fellow-men was given by "Little" Mendele Levin. Mendele, the Hassid, went around with a basket on Saturday afternoon to collect "halot" for the needy. I remember the joy of the housewives who carried the "halot" for him; they blessed him for he had enabled them to fulfil a religious precept (mitzvah).

My memory takes me to a winter day in 1927. On a frosty Sunday morning, we, a group of young boys, were walking in a street inhabited by Christians. Suddenly we heard a voice of crying children. It came from a Christian house with a thatched roof and tiny windows covered by snow. We entered the house and saw a number of huddled childish fioures dressed in rags, and crying because of hunger and cold. It turned out that a weaver's family with many children lived in that little house. Shmerl Solnitze, Shaye, the Melamed's son, who was together with us, was the first to react. He exclaimed that in such terrible conditions the children would die of hunger and cold and he called us to act immediately. We entered the neighboring houses and recounted what we had seen. Soon, firewood, food and money were collected and each one contributed whatever he could.

A philantropic organization carrying the Hebrew name "Linat Tzedek" (Hospice for the Poor) was active in the town. Its purpose was to aid the families of the sick. The "equipment" it possessed was very modest indeed. It included several thermometers to us in compresses, a clyster and a rubber container for holding ice. The ice was for use in compresses applied to the head. When the typhus epidemic was raging in Kamenetz a young man and a young girl from the "Linat Tzedek" organization used to visit the sick every night. They attended to the patients, gave them juice to drink, applied cold compresses to their heads and helped in other ways, thus bringing relief to numerous families.

The Great Yeshivah, with dozens of students from various towns and cities, played a great part in the life of our town. Many families drew their livelihood from the institution. The Yeshivah bordered on the Beit Hamidrash where the students learned avidly and ardently arguing vigorously about the Law. In the time between the after-break into a song, whose moving, sad melody plunged the outside onlookers into gloom. But during the joyful celebrations of the Feast of Water Drawing (Simhat Beit Hashoevah) and Rejoicing of the Law (Simhat Torah) the students sang and danced joyfully.

On the Sunday preceding the Day of Atonement, with an orchestra playing, Kamenetz welcomed the arriving Head of the Yeshivah, Rabbi Barukh Baer. Young and old, men, women and children streamed to the highway. After a long wait they finally saw the arriving Head of the Yeshiveh and his assistants. The people of Kamenetz cheered the arriving guests who were welcomed with great honor by prominent town representatives.

An apartment had already been prepared for the Yeshivah Head and his assistants. It was located in the Main Street, in the house formerly occupied by a pharmacy.

The Yeshivah became an integral part of the town. It exercised great influence on its spiritual life, particularly in the earlier period when there were no secular Hebrew or Yiddish schools.

While dealing with the educational and cultural aspects of our life in Kamenetz I ought to mention the four Sapirstein brothers: Asher, Shlomke, Velvel and Hershel. They were well known in town as teachers, each one of them in a different field. I attended the class led by Asher Sapirstein. The lessons took place at his home in a side lane near the Kobrynska Street. Even today I still remember his lovely Biblical chants.

Shlomke taught a group of children including Yosel, the son of Ephraim Kotebe, Golde and Feigl, Rivele's sisters.

Shmelke taught my class geography, natural sciences and noon and evening prayers the Yeshivah students would arithmetic. Velvel and Hershel worked as teachers in other towns.

Asher used to stage well-known theatrical plays like "The Sale of Joseph", "Shulamit" and others. His three brothers Velvel, Hershel and Shlomke, as well as Shlomke's wife, Zelda, were the chief actors. Also Isaac Wolender and Sara Rudnitsky also played their parts exceedingly well.

Asher staged the well-known Goldfaden operetta "Di Kishefmacherin" ("The Sorceress"). The actors were a group of young workers – boys and girls – Sender (David Pasheker's son) played the role of "Babe Yakhne", the witch; a tailor's apprentice who played the role of the little "Duckling" sang very nicely. Bashka, Maya Golde's daughter, a pretty young girl who appeared in the main role as "Babkelech" acted and sang beautifully. The operetta was successfully performed several times. The public warmly applauded the actors.

The theatrical activity was a great contribution to the town's cultural life.

There were in the town three important cultural institutions. Those were the Shalom-Aleichem Library, the Children's Library and the Y. L. Peretz Library. The last one had a rich choice of books in Yiddish. The youth read avidly the books of our great classics: Mendele (Mokher Sfarim), Peretz, Shalom-Aleichem, Shalom Asch, Abraham Reisin and others. The literary critics Baal-Maha-shavot, Niger and Trunk were also widely read. But the world literature and its classics in Yiddish translations were not neglected either. During walks taken in the summer evenings we used to discuss and express our opinions on the books we had read.

In its premises in a little street in Odalina, the Y.  L. Peretz Library arranged well frequented "box-evenings". Everyone who wanted to ask a question could do it by writing its contents on a piece of paper and dropping it into a box which stood on the table around which the organizers read out the question and asked whether anyone from the public could reply to it. Many of those present replied according to their knowledge and lively debates ensued. Our knowledge was enriched thanks to this collective learning. Literary evenings, where excerpts from books were read and anlyzed, also took place. The critical judgments were usually on a high level. Thus the Library was for us the key to knowledge which could be attained by everyone.

The Zionist Organizations. The Z. O. had its "headquarters" in Relken's house. It propagated the Zionist idea and its activity was most intensive among the youth of the town. The organization sold "shekels" which were the annual membership fee to the Z. O., collected money for the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Foundation Fund. Speakers from the Central Organization would come frequently to stimulate the collections.

The Zionist organization was active in the cultural field, too, and organized on Saturday literary evenings with the participation of guest artists. I recall an interesting evening devoted to a trial of Shakespeare's "Shylock". The hall was crowded and the air stuffy, but complete quiet reigned when Lipa Horovitz, one of the local Zionist leaders and a talented speaker, was reading the contents of the play. The assembly followed with interest the proceedings of the trial and listened intently to the prosecutor's and defendant's speeches.

The right wing of the "Poalei Zion" Party was also active in Kamenetz. It was located in a house next to Beit-Hamidrash. The youth organization "Freiheit" ("Freedom") which was affiliated to it. had a self-education circle. Speakers from Brest used to visit us often. The comrades Rogzhansky and Sheinman organized propaganda meetings, whose theme was a Jewish homeland constructed on socialist principles. In 1927 a conference of Youth organizations took place in Brest in the hall of the artisans' union. I was one of the delegates. I received instructions from Israel Freier and Haya Krakowsky. The principal speaker at the conference was Shpizman from the Head Organization in Warsaw.

The youth in our townlet was searching for a purpose and a practical aim in life, but even learning a trade was a problem. There were excellent tradesmen and craftsmen in Kamenetz: shoemakers, tailors, furriers, carpenters, smiths, tanners, a cartwright, a potter, and three barbers. One or two of each trade possessed his own house.

Nevertheless, the earnings of the skilled workers were not sufficient to make ends meet. People worked long hours six days a week. Finally, trade unionism began to gain a foothold in the townlet. An organizer from the tailor's trade union arrived from Brest and a strike was declared in tailoring establishments. Tailors and sempstresses gained an 8 hour working day and better employment conditions. A strike broke out in shoemakers establishments too, but the employers put up strong resistance and did not give up. This time the strikers gained only shorter working hours.

A leftist underground organization was formed in the town to fight against lawlessness in the province of Polesie, to which Kamenetz belonged. Indeed, the Poles regarded Polesie as their colony and the Polish police maltreated the peasants. No wonder that the propaganda spread by the organization struck deep roots among the impoverished local peasantry.

Before May 1st, secret meetings were held to stress the importance of the Workers' Day. Every gathering assembled in a different place – in "Mogilki" in the nearby woods, in the "valley" past the Kobrynska Street or in homes of workers who lived in side lanes. Young boys were standing guard to warn the assembled of any possible danger.

On May 1st, 1928 a public demonstration took place. The demonstrators – mostly young peasants – arrived in their Sunday clothes. The men wore red ribbons, the women donned bright dresses and red kerchiefs. They gathered in the market square opposite the Russian Monastery. When one of them began making a speech, the police intervened, dispersing the gathering and arresting several demonstrators. The assembled peasants dispersed, throwing stones at the police. The townspeople refrained from taking part in the clash.

On a winter's night, plain-clothed and uniformed policemen, who had come from Brest, carried out a search in a dozen houses and dragged out of their beds youths suspected of revolutionary activity. These were the first arrests that occurred in town. The parents and other relatives cried helplessly while the young men were being taken to the Brest Prison.

For a long time afterwards the town remained gripped by fear and uneasiness. But the young people displayed political maturity, discussed social problems and hoped that in the future life would be more beautiful and just.

Our small town awakened to new life thanks to increased motor traffic, especially after buses had begun to run regularly on the Brest-Zhabinka-Kamenetz route. The bus station became an attraction for young and old. They used to wait for the arriving buses to meet the passengers, or receive greetings from Brest and Zhabinka and to take a look at the "new faces" of people from other towns who arrived in Kamenetz. People would also meet at the station to see the outgoing buses. Whoever wanted to have a bite could get it from Motke Kotek who sold foodstuffs of good quality. His kiosk was standing right next to the station in Brest Street opposite the row of stores.

This regular communication enabled the Kamenetz youth to visit Brest frequently, and enriched the cultural life in our town. Wandering theatrical groups often showed up in Kamenetz, particularly during the holidays of Passover, Shavuoth and Succoth, and performed many well known plays. The performances took place in Motye Klepecherer's barn or in a large building in Otzalina. The spectators enjoyed the shows which ended late at night.

On the whole the young people strove to leave for the wide world. Those who had an opportunity to emigrate to the United States were considered the most fortunate. Many left for Argentine, Cuba, Palestine, Australia and other countries. Our townsmen struck roots in and became citizens of many countries, and established families. Their children acquired higher education and became teachers, physicians, engineers, druggists, chemists, businessmen, skilled craftsmen, etc.

Though our life was restricted, it was nevertheless varied. After all, people learned in traditional religious schools ("heder"), continued in Talmud Torah, in the Yeshivah, had private teachers; they married, raised children, belonged to political parties and dreamed of a better future; they read books and newspapers. Several persons subscribed to one copy and it went from hand to hand.

I ought to devote a few lines to the shops. They provided the main source of livelihood for the Kamenetz Jews. Most of the stores were in two rows divided from one another by wooden partition walls.

On ordinary weekdays the shopkeepers used to wait for customers. On hot summer days the two rows of shops provided pleasant shade. In winter time, amidst frost and snow, one had to stamp one's feet to keep oneself warm. Women clutched little pots filled with charcoals to warm themselves. In winter, they wore hoods, long scarves and knee-high felt shoes.

The principal source of income was market-day. On every Thursday and on the fifth day of each month, peasants from the neighboring villages came to Kamenetz to do their shopping. There were also yearly fairs named after saints. Then shopkeepers hired boys and girls to keep an eye on the merchandise brought specially for market day. The young helpers received one and a half Zloty a day for their work. The merchandise usually came from Brest by wagons drawn by horse.

It must be said that the wagon-owners in Kamenetz, who were fathers of large families, were respectable people and made a decent living. Yeshivah students ate at their tables on fixed week days and on Sabbaths.

The coachmen of Kamenetz-Litovsk were considered as belonging to the merchant class. The wholesale merchants from Brest greatly respected them for their honesty and put faith in their word.

Those entering the town to sell their goods had to pay a special toll. The tax collectors were Jewish youths hired by the municipality. This led to dissatisfaction on the part of the peasants coming to town. They used to come from far and near in order to sell a horse, a caw, a calf, a lamb, a pig, chickens, ducks, geese, eggs, corn, fruits, hides, pig hair and wagon loads of timber. Horse merchants and cow merchants used to come too. When the intermediaries with their big sticks clapped their hands the deal was regarded as concluded.

Potters would display earthenware pots, bowls and dishes.

Shopkeepers displayed colored kerchiefs and nailed boots right at the entrance. Cheap ready-made clothes were, with a pull here and a squeeze there, made to fit the peasant who put them on. The cartwright prepared brand new cartwheels ready for sale. The smiths were very busy shoeing horses. The hardware merchants exhibited sickles, harrows, nails and other tools needed by the villagers. The bakers had been working hard to supply the stands with fresh breads, rolls, with garlands of large and small "beigeleich".

Beyle Hoch served soda-water from a copper container wrapped in ragged cloth and sold chocolate-colored ice-cream from a barrel. The look of halvah, various delicacies and even herring, tickled the palates of the onlookers. The villagers ate bread with herring which was kept in barrels. The pubs and taverns were full of men and women from the neighboring villages. They drank vodka and had a bite of fried fish. Curses of drunken peasants could be heard all the time. The crowds milled about, buying and selling or just looking around. An organ-grinder, with a parrot on the barrel-organ, was busy selling horoscopes. Peasant women paid a few groshes to learn about their fate. Ordinary swindlers and pickpockets, who had come from faraway to try their luck, had a field day. Cries and shouts of the victims who lost all their money were heard long afterwards.

The merchants and shopkeepers were busy trying to attract the attention of the peasants and persuade them to enter the shops. Then interminable, exhausting haggling ensued. Even those inhabitants of Kamenetz who did not engage in any buying or selling joined the crowds and watched the proceedings of the market day. With sundown the market ended and everyone left in all directions.

One of the simple pleasures we enjoyed was the stroll along the Main Street along Kobrynska Street which stretched to Napiski and to the bridges across the river. The river was the division between Kamenetz and the suburb Zastavye. The youngsters liked rowing on its waters. Sometimes they sang to the accompaniment of a musical instrument. In springtime the meadows on both sides of the river were covered with yellowish flowers and looked like golden carpets.

The stroll on Saturday night or on holiday was something of a tradition. Everyone put on his best clothes and went out into the Main Street, – married couples, lovers, groups of boys and girls. Some spoke softly, others expressed their opinions loudly trying to persuade the opponents with their arguments. The subjects of the talks were varied and included literature, politics, world and local events.

This went on for generations. I can still hear the youthful laughter in the streets of Kamenetz of Kamenetz that exists no longer...


kam069e.jpg [6 KB]
Rabbi
Reuben David Hacohen Burshtein


[Page 85]

Kamenetz - The Memories of my Youth

By Itzhak Sheinfeld (Brooklyn, N. Y.)


Kamenetz – the little town where I was born after World War I, where I went to school and spent the years of my youth.

Our family lived in the Kobrynska Street, near the hospital. My father was a wood-merchant, who made trips to the adjoining townlets and country-side to buy plots of timber; the trees were cut and sold for use in building. When I was a little boy my father took me with him on some of his trips and I admired the village-Jews. My father used to mediate whenever differences arose between a Jewish villager and his White Russian, Christian neighbours.

Neighbours from the Kobrynska Street often gathered in our house to discuss local problems, to find ways and means of helping a needy person or of securing the water supply for the inhabitants of the street. That was quite a problem since the municipality refused to sink a new well and the management of the hospital did not allow us to use the well belonging to the hospital. The Jewish inhabitants of the Kobrynska Street had to supply the financial means and laborers to carry out the work, but the efforts were necessary and successful. I remember the Yeshivah students, walking in the streets and engaged in lively discussions on religious subjects.

During the winter-evenings we heard sounds of hammer-blows coming from the smithies of Pesah Gorinsky and Gedaha Rubinstein; at the same time the vanes of the wind-mills belonging to two old Jews, Rav Yeshayahu Ash-kenazi and Rav Israel Timiansky were turning with a groan.

In the inclement wintry evenings the old religious teacher, Alter Velvel trudged in deep snowdrifts to teach the children the fundamentals of Jewish religion, the prayers and recitations like "Mode Ani" and "Kriat Shema".

There were many devoted Jews in Kamenetz. Asher Sapirstein, a private teacher, taught smaller groups and opened a "heder" which drew many pupils. The religious chants, the melodies of chanted prayers and biblical intonations can never be forgotten. Asher Sapirstein, a traditional religious teacher of the new type hired another teacher who gave lessons in the Polish language to anyone interested in it.

In 1928, the government decreed that all children between the ages of 6 and 14 must learn the Polish language. The Talmud-Torah employed a teacher from the Polish State elementary school to teach Polish as a regular subject. I should like to add that Jewish girls had learned in the Polish State elementary school before the Jewish boys.

Later on five Jewish boys registered to enter the Polish school. They were: Herzl Sapirstein, Mendel Szczytnicki; (Bezalel's son), Itzhak Sheinfeld, Shimon Wolfson and Israel Maretzky. We did it ignoring the fact that the majority of Kamenetz Jews frowned upon us. But we still learned Yiddish and Hebrew in the "heder" of Asher Sapirstein; later on our Hebrew teacher was Velvel Haim Kirshenbaum, an ardent Zionist.

The Jewish youngsters did not feel at ease among the Christian pupils. Therefore we were encouraged when two years later more Jewish boys enrolled in the Polish school. The majority of them finished their studies at the age of fourteen. Many went to other towns to enter religious learning institutes (Yeshivot).

The Zionist movement "Gordonia", under the leadership of Pinhas Rudnitsky, occupied the most important place among all youth organizations in Kamenetz, and was the most active one. When the Revisionist party – the "Beitar" – was founded in the town, Lipa Hurwitz and Binyamin Bogatin became its local leaders.

Leadership of the Gordonia movement in Kamenetz-Litovsk
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Members of the "Beitar" joined the Volunteer Fire Brigade; the municipal council and the mayor Piotrowski appreciated the abilities shown by the young fellows. When the town-orchestra was reorganized and named "The Firemen Orchestra" it included members of the "Beitar".

Kamenetz was the focal point for the surrounding townlets. Members of the "Gordonia" and "Beitar" from Wysokie Litewskie, Czemopczyce, Zhabinka, Szereszew and other localities, took part in the Lag Baomer celebrations. The Zionist Organization invited the local, higher officials to participate in the festivities. In addition to the town-mayor, the police-chief, the judge and the officials of the local council, all Jewish house-owners were invited.

In the thirties, with the approach of the elections to the World Zionist Congress, a festive atmosphere reigned in Kamenetz. The elections evoked great interest and almost every Jewish household bought a "shekel" in order to acquire the voting-right.

Pre-election propaganda campaigns were conducted by the various organizations. Public meetings were held in the synagogues, in the building of the old, Polish elementary school and in the theatre-hall. In addition to local speakers well-known public figures from others towns also came to Kamenetz to speak.

Despite differences of opinions on political matters friendly relations existed among the political organizations and party-leaders. Pinhas Rudnitsky, for example, who led the local "Gordonia", was a close friend of the "Beitar" leader Binyamin Bogatin.

Click here to extend the pictureIn the years 1936-37 the activity of the Zionist Organization in Kamenetz weakened and almost ceased. There was, however, a group of young people who collected money for the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund); the treasurer of the Fund in Kamenetz, Yosef Grinblatt used to send the contributions to the Head Office in Warsaw. The group consisted of: Itzhak Sheinfeld, Yosef Feldman, Noah Goldberg, Reuven Szczytnicki and Yacov Weizhandler.

Our companion, Israel Goldshall, a native of Pinsk, was at that time teaching in the Pinsk Talmud-Torah Secondary School. In 1939 he became a teacher in Kamenetz and taught the children Hebrew.

Following discussions with him, on the subject of reviving the Zionist movement in Kamenetz, it was decided to establish a branch of the "Hashomer Hatzair". Yosef Feldman was named as the leader and Itzhak Sheinfeld as the secretary whose duties would include also correspondence with the Central Office in Warsaw. Noah Goldberg became the second-in-command and Reuven Szczytnicki the treasurer.


“Hahalutz” Youth movement in Kamentz
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“Poale Zion Youth Movement”
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