by Meir Ejdelbaum
Translated by Jerrold Landau
The Mizrachi movement, consisting of Mizrachi and Mizrachi Youth, was founded by Reb Baruch Meir Rosenblum and his friend Reb Yaakov Wachtfojgel of blessed memory. There was no Torah-observant Jew in the city who was not a member or supporter of Mizrachi, a situation that did not exist in any other city or town in Poland. Various factors came together in Mezritsh that created a unique climate and style, a Mezritsh style, which prevented all extremism.
Mezritsh was not a city of Hassidim, even though there were Hassidim in the city. Though it was a confirmed city of Misnagdim [opponents of Hassidism], Mezritsh lacked the zealotry that was typical of Lithuanian Jewry on the one hand, and of the Polish Hassidic movement on the other.
During the First World War, and under the influence of German Orthodoxy, an Orthodox union was founded that was anti-Zionist as well as pro-German. With the establishment of Poland as a country, the customs of the Orthodox union were freed of German influence, and the group changed its name to the Union of the Faithful Believers of Israel [Agudat Shlomei Emunei Yisrael], or Agudas Yisroel, or simply the Aguda.
In truth, the Aguda in Poland was a branch of Ger. Hassidim generally tended to follow their Rebbes, the majority of whom favored the Aguda. Almost all of the Gerrer Hassidim belonged to the Aguda. Every Gerrer Hassid who was suspected of Zionism was dissociated from the shtibels, as affiliating with Zionism was considered blasphemous among the Ger. The other Hassids also followed their Rebbes but they did not see the Aguda as a foundation stone of Hassidism, and therefore did not dissociate such suspect Hassidim from their shtibels.
It was the good fortune of Mezritsh that it had no Gerrer Hassidim. That is, there were some, but not even enough for a minyan, and their influence was very minor. Some of the other Hassidim tended toward Aguda due to their allegiance to Ger, but they did not have the capacity to set up an actual organization. In Mezritsh, there were several minyans of Lomza and Sokolow Hassidim, but the Aguda was not successful in recruiting members from among them. Even among the Hassidim of Radzyn, which numbered several dozen, they were not able to gather supporters.
The vast majority of the Hassidim in Mezritsh were Mezritsh Hassids, but almost all of them supported Mizrachi. The reason for this was that the Rebbe of Mezritsh did not promote controversy, even a controversy for the sake of Heaven. He saw danger in the controversy caused by the Aguda, and he therefore did not wish to take a stand, which would force it upon his Hassids. Every Hassid was free to choose between the Aguda and Mizrachi. The Rebbe supported
the efforts of the rabbis to establish the Achdut Movement, headed by Rabbi Neufeld of Nowy Dw?r and Rabbi Chaim Davidson, one of the communal heads in Warsaw.
Even the Misnagdim in Mezritsh had diverse opinions. From the inception of the Chovevei Zion movement, most of the Lithuanian Rebbes opposed it, and in later years, their opposition to Mizrachi was even greater. These Rebbes and yeshiva heads opposed Mizrachi. The rabbis of Mezritsh did not join the opponents of the Chovevei Zion movement. On the contrary, the rabbi of Mezritsh, Rabbi Yisrael Isser Szapira of blessed memory, was one of the leaders of the Chovevim. He had great influence on the Jews. Later, his son, Rabbi Dov Szapira of blessed memory, who took his place, did not join the opposition to Mizrachi, and neither did the rabbinical judges of the city.
However, the final reason, the most important of them all was the essence of Mezritsh. There was something special about Mezritsh - it was very much an island within Poland. Mezritsh was influenced by Leipzig and other large cities outside the country, due to close and constant contact. For example, the Haskala [Enlightenment] was not foreign to Mezritsh. On the contrary, efforts were made to enable Japheth to dwell in the tents of Shem. Mezritsh learned to live along with all the streams [of thought], to struggle with some, but not to push them out and regard them as the mortal enemy. Heresy [apikorsus] became a term of persecution for any matter that was not seen as right among the masses in all [other] towns, and Zionism was considered on par with heresy, apostasy, and the like, Heaven forbid. The Mezrtisher did not regard Zionism in that light, and perhaps did not even see Bund members, who were numerous, in that manner. The zealotry that typified Judaism in other towns was remote from the people of our city. Of course, there were those who were zealous in their beliefs, but they were exceptions. It was the good fortune of Mezritsh that they did not determine the ways of the city nor did they forge its image.
Mizrachi, from its inception, conquered the religious [people] of Mezritsh. The leaders of the movement were Reb B. M. Rosenblum and Reb Yaakov Wachtfojgel of blessed memory. The members of the first council included Rabbi Wolf (Vove) Perlman, the brothers Reb Yehoshua and Reb Eliahu Manperl, their brother-in-law Reb Mordechai Berman, Reb Moshe Rozenzomen, the Sapir brothers, Reb Leibke Kornblit, Reb Aharon Kac, Reb Yaakov Goldsztejn, Reb Elia Zszlichowski, Reb Yosef Kagot, and others whose names I have forgotten. This writer was chosen as the secretary.
A chapter of Young Mizrachi was founded alongside Mizrachi. The writer of these lines was chosen as the chairman. Among the activists were my brother Reb Yehoshua Shub, Rabbi Moshe Zoberman, Mendel Helfenbein may G-d avenge his blood, Reichtaler, Mordechai Zwilowski, and others. One of them, Reb David Adelman, was an older man. He was influenced by the ideology that I had already developed and which became the doctrine of Young Mizrachi, but was rarely heard from others. In those days, there we had not yet made contact with the Young Mizrachi movement, which already existed in Poland.
I recall that at one of the first meetings of Mizrachi, I was asked by Reb Yosef Kagot, may G-d avenge his blood, why we needed our own organization. Did the age difference among us make full cooperation [between Mizrachi and Young Mizrachi] impossible? Did [our organizations] not cooperate in all areas? I thought then that from a practical and ideological perspective we were nonetheless different.
Our eyes search for the ideas buried in the Torah and the Prophets. Our sages of blessed memory spoke out against oppression of one's fellow. In short: we aspire to establish a society based on Prophetic justice, and the workers have the power to build it and nurture it…
When the founding convention of Mizrachi took place in Warsaw, we sent Reb Baruch Meir Rosenblum and Reb Yaakov Wachtfojgel as delegates to the convention. They were both elected to the high leadership positions. With the rise of the pioneering movement, we founded a hachshara depot in Mezritsh. Several of our members studied building theory.
I went to Warsaw in 1919, but I returned to Mezritsh every year for two months, and I was active in the movement during those years. However, after I left Poland, I could no longer participate, and others took my place.
I wish to add that we were very active in those days, and a great many people came to our celebrations and gatherings. At first, we met in the Talmud Torah, a stronghold of Mizrachi. Later, we rented the large hall in the house of the rabbi – at that time the rabbi had already moved away to live in Warsaw. Still later, we rented Nozszycki's mansion, where we had a fine meeting place with two large rooms, one of which served as the Mizrachi Beis Midrash.
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