« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 131]

The Zionist Movement and Its Factions

 

[Page 133]

The Mizrachi Movement

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[1]. 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[2], 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[3], 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

[Page 134]

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[4], 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[5]. 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.

[Page 135]

  1. We held that true Zionism demands the actualization of Zionism in private life, that is in making aliya to the Land of Israel. Youth in general aspire to actualization, which is not true for an older person who bears the yoke of life around his neck.
  2. The Mizrachi movement wishes to influence the Zionist movement with the spirit of Torah and tradition. We reject this method. One cannot sit with folded arms and wait while the chalutzim [pioneers] build the land, and then expect that they will allow us to determine the way of life according to our wishes. If we want the Land to be built in the spirit of Torah and tradition, we must be among the builders, and cannot fulfill our obligation by simply affixing a mezuzah. The primary reason is: it is not years which separate us, but rather our outlook, which is based on the type of society that we seek to establish in the Land. Something has taken place in the world. The revolutions in Russia, Germany, etc. have destroyed the rule of despots and ignited the hope of forming society based on equality, a society based on justice and propriety, and on Prophetic socialism. We reject materialism and the materialistic attitude, but not the ideology of equality.

    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…

I recall that my words of explanation were accepted with great understanding. The aforementioned Reb David became an active member. This man took on the words as a complete doctrine. Indeed, after some time, the distinguished brilliant ideologue and scholar Reb Shmuel Chaim Landau rose up and validated the motto “Torah and Labor”, upon which the entire aforementioned doctrine, which became the doctrine of Young Mizrachi and Hapoel Hamizrachi, was based.

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[6] 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.

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The Ger movement was probably the largest of the Hassidic movements in Poland prior to WWII. It was named after the Yiddish for Gora Kalwaria. return
  2. A shtibel is communal gathering place for prayer, much less formal than a synagogue return
  3. A minyan is a group of ten adult men who affiliate for the purpose of prayer. Today women are counted in most Conservative and all Reform Jewish communities, but in pre-war Europe, only adult men were counted. return
  4. A precursor to the Zionist movement. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hovevei_Zion return
  5. Based on Genesis 10:27. It is interpreted to mean permitting a freer mix of Jewish and non-Jewish ideas as long as the latter were in compliance with Torah (as opposed to blocking out all access to “outside” or “modern” ideas). return
  6. A hachshara was usually a farm or workplace where people apprenticed or studied trades that would be useful for life in Israel. return


[Page 136]

The Zionist Workers Movement in Mezritsh
Memoirs

by Ch. M. Zalsztejn of New York

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Summer, 1915. The Russian Army had retreated eastward, and the Austrian Army had conquered Mezritsh. This [situation] did not last for long, and the German Army came in its place. The residents felt the heavy hand of the conqueror from the first days of the German occupation. The Germans imposed a curfew starting at dusk, distributed food ration cards, and forbade the import and export of all products. They confiscated anything that they could: food, merchandise, and anything else. Communal life was paralyzed, and all political activities were forbidden. The Germans acted arrogantly. If a German was walking on the sidewalk, anyone who passed by had to make way. One had to remove one's hat before a German captain, and anyone who transgressed the edict was fined five golden Marks.

The population suffered the indignities of hunger. The young people were abducted and forced into labor, and many of them were sent to Germany. People slowly became accustomed to the harsh conditions. The first communal activity carried out by the youth under German occupation was the founding of the “low cost kitchen.” With the help of Yankel Cytryniak, a committee was set up to provide assistance to poor residents. For 10 pfennig, any needy person could obtain a plate of soup, a piece of meat, and bread. A delegation of the committee, headed by Cytryniak, requested a permit from the military governor to collect the required necessities. The work was performed by volunteers, and we were able to ease the suffering of poor people.

 

The First Meeting

The “Turen Farein[1] was founded at that time. We rented the Rogzyk Hall on Warsaw Street. In order to cover the expenses, we organized an amateur troupe and put on several performances that were very successful. Every performance was cause for a festival in the city. All the tickets were sold out months before the performance. In the summer of 1916, a small group of us, people who had become attached to the dream of national and social liberation of the Jewish nation, decided to found the Tzeirei Zion [Young Zion] Party in Mezritsh. Our first illegal gathering was organized in the hall of the Jewish gymnazjum [high school], which was located at that time on Piszczanki Street. Our member, the late Mottel Goldberg, who was the secretary of the gymnazjum, took a risk and permitted us to arrange our first organized meeting there. From the outset we were worried about security arrangements. We stationed guards next to the building so that we would not be surprised by a sudden search. The meeting passed peacefully and met all our expectations. A significant number of our members, both male and female, immediately registered for the party. A leadership committee was then chosen. The following people were chosen for the first leadership committee of Tzeirei Zion: Moshe Tron, Yaakov Lebenglik, Tzvi Bojgman, David Manperl, Shmuel Rozenzwajg, Avraham Manperl, Esther Tandajter, Tovia Leb, and Menashe Dzyk. (There were others members whose names I have forgotten, and I hereby beg their forgiveness.)

Over the course of time, our struggles increased due to many obstacles, such as: [the organization's] legal status, [lack of] a premises, finances, etc. Nevertheless, despite these difficulties and obstacles, we forged a path for the youth of Mezritsh. Within

[Page 137]

a short time, we became the most active and popular Zionist organization in the city. We arranged lectures and debate–evenings, which attracted a large crowd not only from among our members, but also from groups that had reservations about our outlook. Our meetings were filled with an atmosphere of interest and warmth – at times even with an extra dose of warmth… From time to time, we invited lecturers from Warsaw who would attract large audiences. On more than one occasion, the hall could not contain all those who came to thirstily drink in the speakers' words. One of our great achievements in the realm of culture and education was the founding of the Tarbut [Culture/Education] School, which imparted education consistent with our ideals to the youth. Some members [of Tzeirei Zion], including Lejb Leb, Tzvi Bojgman, Moshe Tron and I, were chosen to the leadership of the school. We also laid the foundations for a library, which developed rapidly, becoming the largest library in the city. Bashka Himelsztejn (who died in Israel) served for years as our librarian. Thus it was that we became an important factor in the Jewish life of Mezritsh. Even those people who initially reacted scornfully to our work came to realize our increasing importance, and the expansion of our influence in various areas of the city's communal life. The Bund[2], which was the first to organize the workers and whose stature was very strong in our city, was unable to accept the increased importance of our organization with equanimity. In order to force a test of wills, they brought their leader, Nasibirski, to speak on the following topic: “Yiddish the Language of Progress; Hebrew the Language of Reactionaryism.” Our committee decided to take part in the lecture, and I was given the task of rebutting the speaker. I accepted this role unwillingly, with doubt in my heart: how could I, almost still a lad, stand up to debate a student of the Warsaw Polytechnion? The lecture took place on a Saturday afternoon in the hall of the Jewish Gymnazjum, situated then on Lubliner Street.

 

Hebrew – The Language of “Reactionaryism”

A large crowd came to the meeting. The lecturer spewed fire and brimstone upon Jewish reactionaryism, which, he said, poisoned the pure souls of Jewish students with chauvinistic language. [He spoke forcefully against] the reactionaryism and clericalism of the Chumash and Talmud. When the lecture ended and the chairman asked if anyone wished to ask a question or raise a point, I stood up and raised my hand. The chairman introduced me disdainfully as the representative of the petit–bourgeois Tzeirei Zion Party, known to march in lockstep with the clericalist camp and the masses of bourgeois Jewry. I began speaking, and stated that I did not want to deal with political matters, and would restrict myself only to the topic of the lecture. I said that language is merely a means of expression, and noted that the speakers of a language could be members of the proletariat just as well as bourgeois. The Jewish workers of the Land of Israel were Hebrew speakers, whereas the Jewish bourgeois did not speak Yiddish; so language [in and of itself] could therefore not be a sign of progressiveness or reactionaryism. I turned to the speaker and asked if he was aware that the laws Moses placed before the Jewish nation included social laws, which were considered revolutionary in those days, and which are no less significant than the social laws of our time. For example: [according to Torah law] one must not delay payment to a worker – he must be paid the same day. In those days, slavery was a normal circumstance, but in accordance with Jewish law a slave was required to be freed at the end of seven years – a notion which had revolutionary implications in those days. One after another, I listed social laws

[Page 138]

that were part of Jewish law. I asked the speaker if he was aware that all of those laws were written in the language which he had defined as “reactionary and chauvinistic.” Did he really believe that the poems of Bialik[3] or Frug[4] contained poison for the souls of Jewish children? At this point, the Bundists attacked me with words of disparagement and calls of shame, and did not allow me to continue. Thus ended my first debate on the topic of Hebrew versus Yiddish.

 

The Balfour Declaration and its Echoes

In November 1917, the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration, which lit up the dark horizon of Jewish life. The bloody world war involved Jewish youth, and Jewish blood flowed like water in all the armies of the warring factions. Pogroms completed the destruction and hardship felt on the Jewish street. Poland, White Russia, Ukraine, Galicia, Carpatho–Rusyn, Romania, and others – all nations in which Jews resided, defenseless and helpless – attacked our people like bloodthirsty beasts. Furthermore, there were bands of plunderers and murderers who killed and looted and filled the outskirts of the cities with heaps of new victims.

In those days of gloom, despair and helplessness, the Balfour Declaration served as a portent of better, brighter days for our wretched people. The Balfour Declaration blew the breath of life into all Zionist parties. Our Tzeirei Zion Party grew overnight and numbered 200 male and female members. We did not delude ourselves regarding the future. It was clear to us that the Balfour Declaration gave us only the right and possibility to build our homeland. With time it became clear that it would be necessary to fight bitterly and to make heavy sacrifices to actualize this right and possibility.

At the time of the festivities that took place in Mezritsh in honor of the Balfour Declaration, I gave a speech in the name of Tzeirei Zion at a mass assembly. The gathering made a strong impression. The rapid increase in the number of our members obligated us to significant Zionist activity in all areas. Our members expressed special desire to enter into hachshara [preparation for aliya]. The stream of chalutzim [Zionist pioneers] that strove by any means to reach the shores of the Promised Land energized the youth and increased their preparedness for aliya. The first members to make aliya were David Manperl, and our male and female Adelman members. The goodbye speeches in honor of the olim[5] expressed the yearning of the heart, and the desire for national and social liberation. “We will follow in your path” – I reminded everyone; “you are only the first and the best, but you will not have to wait long for us”.

In 1918, a new wave of disturbances broke out against the Jews in liberated Poland. The most severe and bloody pogrom was perpetrated in Lemberg, where 100 Jews were murdered, and several synagogues, including the Choral Synagogue, were set on fire. The bloody nature of the pogroms and their cruelty shook Polish Jewry to its foundations. At a meeting of the Tzeirei Zion leadership committee, it was decided to summon all of the Zionist parties and organizations to a mass rally in order to express our anguish and wrath. All the organizations and parties that were invited came to the rally. The Bund responded to the invitation with a letter stating that it was not willing to participate in a rally that included bourgeois parties.

[Page 139]

The rally took place in the Great Synagogue. The synagogue was filled to the brim. Thousands of men and women milled about in all four of the women's galleries and in the two side halls and rooms. Many who were not able to enter stood and listened outside. An atmosphere of mourning and anguish pervaded. The Holy Ark was covered with black. I had the duty of opening the rally. “We have gathered here not only to weep for the innocent victims,” I said, “but also to express our angry protest against the Socialist government of free Poland, from which we had hoped for protection and equal rights.” I added, “The Lemberg Pogrom brings disgrace to the renewed Poland. As long as the government does not prove that it is doing everything in its power to punish the organizations and perpetrators of the pogrom, we will regard it as responsible and as a participant in the riots”.

The second speaker was Reb Baruch Meir Rosenblum, the beloved communal speaker of the Jews of Mezritsh. He eulogized the Lemberg martyrs in a voice choked with tears, as the large crowd responded to his words by bursting out weeping. When the third speaker, Reb Mordechai Berman, ascended the podium and began his words, a group of strongmen stormed up to the podium and began to push aside the members of the organizing committee who were sitting on the dais. Those who resisted were beaten. “In the name of the Bund, we are taking this rally into our hands,” declared the chairman of the Bund, whose name I do not wish to mention here. A great tumult broke out in the hall. Fists were raised from all sides and fistfights broke out on both sides of the dais. I protested and did not allow myself to be moved, but a strong hand suddenly grabbed hold of me, lifted me up, and threw me off the dais. At that moment, the wagon–drivers of Mezritsh broke in and tossed the ruffians off the dais. The chairman of the Bund attempted to calm the crowd with deafening shouts, but he too was pushed off the dais. The rally disbanded, the large crowd dispersed by the police, which had arrived.

We did not want to believe that the Bund committee had initiated the ruffians' disruption of the rally. We therefore decided to turn to the Bund committee with our complaint. When we came before the leadership of the Bund, we asked them whether they were prepared to distance themselves from the acts of the ruffians. The chairman replied, “We see no need to apologize to the organizers of the rally. We have nothing in common with the bourgeois…” They advised us, far from politely, to leave the hall.

In 1919, we decided to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Dr. Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism. The memorial gathering was organized by the Tarbut School. Lejb Leb, Menachem Ber (the current chairman of the Organization of Mezritshers in Israel) and the writer of these lines took part. A large crowd came to the gathering and listened attentively to the words of the speakers, who praised Dr. Herzl as a star that had streaked through the skies of the Jewish world.

 

A Strange Event

I wish to re–tell an episode in which I played a central role. At about the time the German Army left Mezritsh, the Central Zionist Committee recommended that we organize a memorial ceremony in honor of

[Page 140]

the Zionist leader Dr. Czelnow[6], who had died. It was decided to establish a settlement in the Land of Israel in his name. To this end, a booklet was published that described Czelnow's personality, his activities on behalf of the Zionist movement, and his contribution toward the development of the Land. A fundraising campaign was announced to collect money for the settlement. Lists of donors and receipt ledgers were prepared. At that time, Mezritsh was in a district known as a war zone, and Zionist activity was officially forbidden. Despite this, the Zionist organizations operated in an organized fashion, though without a direct link to the center in Warsaw. Radzyn, which was outside of the war zone, maintained a direct link with Warsaw, and therefore all of our communications went via Radzyn. When I was in Radzyn for private business, all the material for the fundraising campaign for the Czelnow Moshava [settlement] was handed to me. I returned home in a wagon with the material for the Czelnow campaign placed above a barrel of oil for the manufacture of soap, which was the justification I had used to obtain an [import] permit from the German command.

 

mie140.jpg
“Lieutenant” Kvap, who inflicted fear on the population of the city

 

When I arrived back to town on Lubliner Street, the soldiers of the command stopped me and requested my permit for the barrel of oil and the package in my hands [containing the Czelnow Moshava materials]. I had a permit for the barrel of oil, but I did not have any permit for the packet. The soldier ordered the wagon–driver to take me to the command station, where I was subject to a detailed inquiry: What is the literature in my hand, what purpose does it serve, and who gave it to me? I told them that a resident of Radzyn gave me the material and that the person to whom the package was intended would be waiting for me at the entrance to the city. The interrogator threatened me with a whip and demanded that I tell him the name of the person who had given me the package. If I refused to comply, the barrel of oil would be confiscated and I would be deported to Germany. I maintained my position and claimed that I did not know the identity of the person who gave me the package. I was imprisoned and brought to the army bunkers outside the city. Every day they brought me to the command center for an inquiry, flanked by two guards armed with bayonets – one ahead of me, the other behind me. The commander, Kvap was his name, would shower me with shouts and threats, stating that I would rot in jail, and that I would be deported to Germany to perform harsh labor as punishment for illegal political activity. I did not capitulate.

In the meantime, the German police force did not rest, and they searched for the person who had given me the package. Since I had declared that I had received the material in Radzyn, they also searched

[Page 141]

in Radzyn. On the tenth day of my imprisonment, when they brought me to the commander, as was their daily custom, they asked me whether I might recognize the person who gave me the package if I saw him. I responded that it was possible, but that I was not sure, since I had only seen him for a moment and I had no reason to look at him. The commander gnashed his teeth, and issued an order to bring in several residents of Radzyn, including the person who had given me the package. I stood dumbfounded for a moment, as the searching eyes of the interrogator stared at me. “Who gave you the package?” he asked me in anger. I quickly regained my composure and answered in a sure and decisive voice, “No! I do not recognize any of them.” “You can go,” the commander said to the people of Radzyn. To me he shouted angrily through his lips, “Today I am sending the documentation of your inquiry to the military commander of Biala, who will order a field trial for you.” Then he said to me, in a more pleasant voice, “I am giving you another three days to tell me who gave you the package. Do not tell me that you do not known who gave you the package. It is to your benefit to tell.” Gesturing to my two “escorts,” he ordered them to return me to the barracks on Radzyner Street.

My friends did not sit idly by. They pursued all sorts of measures to prevent the matter from being transferred to the commander in Biala. After a lengthy negotiation with the tyrannical Kvap, and after remaining behind barbed wire for 18 days, they freed me in exchange for a payment of 300 gold Marks. The barrel of oil was confiscated even though I had a permit for it from the command.

 

The Unprecedented Demonstration

In 1920, a meeting of the League of Nations in San Remo approved the British Mandate in the Land of Israel. This was a great political victory, after all the disappointments and conflict. Due to the initiatives of Tzeirei Zion, an inter–organizational conference took place, at which it was decided to organize a festive gathering and demonstration in honor of the event. A demonstration of this nature had never been seen in Jewish Mezritsh before. It was an unforgettable experience that warmed the hearts of the Jews of Mezritsh for many years following. For the first time in the city's history, all its Jewish residents came out of their homes and gathered in the market square. The large square bustled with masses of people – old and young, men, women, and schoolchildren led by their teachers. The [Jewish] firefighters were there, preceded by their band. All of the communal organizations, with the obvious exception of the Bund, enlisted their members. A sea of blue and white flags fluttered in the air. The balconies [of the homes surrounding the square] were decorated with flowers and rugs, and people stood on the balconies and looked out. Even the surrounding rooftops were packed with people. Members of the rally's organizing committee stood on a balcony in the center of the Lubliner Street. All of the organizations were represented in the organizing committee. The mass rally was opened by the chairman of the [board of] directors of the Jewish gymnazjum, Mr. Winkler. This was the first time in the annals of the city that the strong and proud echoes of Hatikva were heard on Lubliner Street. A joyous, festive spirit enveloped the large crowd, which felt gratitude and having reaching that significant moment. The elder [statesman] of the Zionists of Mezritsh, Reb Baruch Rosenblum, recited the Shehecheyanu blessing[7] in a trembling voice, and many eyes filled with tears. Representatives of all the organizations delivered brief speeches, and their words were greeted with thunderous applause. The emotions and enthusiasm

[Page 142]

of the Jews of Mezritsh were expressed through increased donations to the Keren HaYesod and Keren HaKayemet[8]. The Jews of Mezritsh celebrated this historical occasion until late into the night with song and dance, which later continued in the meeting–halls of the communal organizations.

 

mie142.jpg
A festive parade through the streets of the city in honor of the Balfour Declaration

 

I moved to Soviet Russia at the end of 1920, and when I returned to Mezritsh from Russia after an absence of 2 ˝ years, I found the party in a weakened state. The veteran members had made aliya to the Land or had immigrated to other countries. The founders and builders of the party were no longer young, and fresh, young people had not come aboard… The disappointment with the Mandate government, the riots that took place in the Land during 1920–1921, the disruption of aliya – all these contributed to the weakening [of Tzeirei Zion]. In searching for ways to renew and strengthen our activities, we reached the conclusion that the only option was the foundation of a youth movement. The youth, however, were captivated by extreme [political] trends. We had a difficult dilemma before us: [how] to find a path to the hearts of the youth who were fixated with the notion that the final battle with Capitalism was at hand, and that the social revolution was imminent?

 

The Struggle for Unity

One of those who contributed greatly toward raising the party's status, working to organize the youth, was our childhood friend Arele Cukerman, who later made aliya to the Land and fell in a battle with Arab gangs. He knew how to influence the youth who had given up on the Bund youth movement to join our “Freiheit” [Freedom] youth movement. Within

[Page 143]

a brief period, we had set up four youth groups with 30 people in each group. They studied the history of the Jewish nation, the history of Zionism and the Hebrew Youth movements, the geography of the land of Israel, the history of Socialism, and other such things. Many of these youths later made aliya to the land, and others participated in the work of the party.

 

mie143.jpg
From among the first members of the Poalei Tzion party in our city
In the photo: P. Sposhnikov, Yenta Reinwejn–Katz, Yosef Reinwejn, Avraham Fiterman, Gavriel Shapira, Aharon Cukerman, Ch. M. Zelcsztejn, Bashka Himelsztejn, and others

 

Around this time, one of our principal activists, Menachem Ber, was called upon by the central committee to serve in the role of secretary general of the party. We bade him farewell with mixed emotions: on the one hand, we knew how much we would miss him in our work; on the other hand, we were proud that one of our own had been called upon to fill a high position in the party leadership. Comrade Ber later made aliya to the Land along with his wife, and continued to serve in important roles in the Histadrut, the Workers Party of the Land of Israel.

During those days, the question of uniting [the Tzeirei Zion youth movement] with Poalei Zion arose within the party. There were lively debates in the movement's newspapers, as well as at meetings. The two parties, Tzeirei Zion and Poalei Zion, drew close to each other from an ideological perspective.

As is known, a schism took place within Poalei Zion in 1920, as it broke up into the right– leaning Poalei Zion and the left–leaning Poalei Zion [see pp 148–153 for more details on Poalei Zion (ed.)]. There was a difference of opinion among us. The rightist branch of Tzeirei Zion was against unification. The Mezritsh chapter of Poalei Zion was in favor of unification, for there was no ideological or fundamental difference between Poalei Zion and Tzeirei Zion.

[Page 144]

 

mie144.jpg
Lejb Jaffe (in the center) with the activists of the Zionist movement in our city
In the photo: Dr. Kaplan, Shmuel Pinchas Javerbaum, Moshe Reuven Slodki, Hershel Bojgman, Chaim Shapira, Moshe Rozenzumen, Yitzchak Sapir, Dr. Sh. Herman, Yaakov Yidel Gorman, Peretz Manperl, Leizer Charlap, Y. Wiener, Shenker, Mordechai Hausman, Peretz Barg, Getzel Czanki, Y. Ajdelbaum, Heshel Zauberman, Yaakov Lebenglik, Yosef Fiszer, Hertzel Szejnmel, David Cederbaum, Aharon Javerbaum, Feivel Rajnwajn, Nota Hausman, Yosef Cukerman, Shmuel Wysznia, Yaakov Szlifka, and others

 

[Page 145]

The central committee of the party called a special meeting to deal with the issue of unification. The writer of these lines represented the Tzeirei Zion chapter of Mezritsh. The plenary of the central committee decided, by a large majority, in favor of unification of the two parties. The decision was carried out at a unification convention in 1925. The two parties united into one party called the Zionist–Socialist Poalei Zion Workers Party. A revival of party activities took place in the wake of unification. The year 1925 was marked by an increase in all areas of activity. The most important event that year was the aliya of many of our members to the Land of Israel. The aliya of the members to the Land was always accompanied by mixed emotions. We were happy that our members had succeeded in actualizing their dreams by making aliya to the Land. At the same time, parting from our friends, with whom we had forged bonds of common effort and friendships of many years, was difficult for us.

 

The Visit of Lejb Jaffe[9]

In 1925, the poet and Zionist activist Lejb Jaffe visited Mezritsh. Jaffe's arrival was a notable event in our communal life. No Zionist leader who had come to Mezritsh earned as warm a reception. A special committee was set up in which all the Zionist and communal organizations took part. When the visitor arrived in the city, he was escorted by an unprecedented procession including: representatives of all the organizations and groups in Mezritsh; people bearing banners from the sporting organizations, wearing their uniforms; two rows of cyclists followed by a convoy of “wagons” that were available in Mezritsh. People crowded into the streets and received the guest with applause. At night, a reception took place in the communal hall of Hitachdut[10]. A select group of activists who expressed their desire to help the guest with his task were invited. Lejb Jaffe enjoyed a unique experience when he visited the gymnazjum, where the principal and students were assembled. An eighth–grade student, who made a speech in Hebrew, greeted him. The guest visited the synagogue on Saturday morning, and addressed a mass meeting in the synagogue in the afternoon, accompanied by an honor guard of Hashomer Hatzair[11] and Hechalutz[12]. Words of blessing in honor of the guest were delivered by David Cederbaum in the name of the community, Dr. Kaplan in the name of the General Zionists, Mordechai Berman in the name of Mizrachi[13], Chaim Mordechai Zelcsztejn in the name of Poalei Zion, N. Hausman in the name of Hitachdut, M. R. Slodki in the name of Keren HaYesod, Mr. Yankel in the name of the Tarbut [Culture] national institutions, Tzvi Bojgman in the name of Keren Kayemet, Sh. Wysznia in the name of Hashomer Hatzair, M. Gorfinkel in the name of Hechalutz, Yaakov Lebenglik in the name of Eretz Israel HaOvedet [Working Land of Israel], and Ch. Y. Tugender in the name of the workers. Shimon Herman, the principal of the gymnazjum, stood at the head of the gathering.

On Saturday night, a tea party took place under the auspices of Dr. Kaplan, where a collection for the Keren HaYesod was announced. The guest delivered an inspirational heart–rousing speech. The next day, canvassers were enlisted to make the rounds from house to house in pairs in order to canvass for Keren HaYesod.

In the evening, an outdoor meeting took place. Lejb Jaffe delivered a speech that sounded like a prayer. At the end, the gathering burst out into a mighty rendition of Hatikva. This was the pinnacle of the festivities surrounding Lejb Jaffe's visit to Mezritsh.

[Page 146]

On the Long Road

The visit of Lejb Jaffe to Mezritsh gave Zionist activities in the city a large push. A newspaper called “Kol Mezritsh” [the Voice of Mezritsh] was published in honor of the visit. It included articles by Moshe Grynbaum, Moshe Smilneski, Lejb Jaffe, Avraham Gelman, Moshe R. Slodki, Tzvi Bojgman, and Chaim Mordechai Zelcsztejn under the pseudonym of Ben–Yosef.

 

mie145.jpg
A district convention with the participation of D. B. Malchin (in the center)
Among the guests – delegates of Poalei Zion in our city: Yisrael–Manes Gorfinkel, Avraham Fiterman, Ch. M. Zelcsztejn, Berl Manperl, and Aharon Cukerman

 

In the year 1926, the Poalei Zion chapter of Mezritsh arranged a regional convention, with the participation of D. B. Malchin, the Poalei Zion leader. The cities of Luków, Radzyn, Parcwo, Wohyn, Janowo, and Biala participated. The convention dealt primarily with organizational matters and ideas for increasing [party] activity, especially among the smaller branches, which were in need of assistance and guidance. A regional committee was chosen, which was responsible for carrying out the convention's decisions. The guest, D. B. Malchin, delivered a speech at the convention that left a great impression.

One important event in the area of cultural activity was the organization of “oral newspapers”. The members would write articles on current events or literary topics and read them to the audience. This activity was very successful. We made efforts to set up oral newspapers in various cities of the district. This helped the hosting chapters financially.

In the winter of 1925, I left Poland and went to America. I took leave of my friends at an emotional farewell evening. Taking leave of family and friends with whom

[Page 146]

I had spent many interesting and happy years, travelling such a long road together, was difficult and painful. Fate led me in a different direction than I had dreamed. However, I never severed the connection with my past during all the years that I lived in America. From the day that I arrived in the new land until this day, I have been connected to the Poalei Zion Party as well as to all the organizations that represent the Zionist workers movement. I also did not sever my connection with Mezritsh.

In conclusion, I wish to point out that after almost a half century, it is very difficult to call forth from memory everything that once was. The catastrophe that overtook our people in the final generation has cast its shadow over everything.

This terrible disaster wounded our hearts. As the years have passed, the pain and the longing grow ever stronger. As fiery as our debates were in those days, as strongly as our opinions differed, so did we believe in our truth as we strove towards victory. The Holocaust cast a pall over the victory and poured bitterness on its fruits. The large, fine tree of Jewish Mezritsh has been cut down. A few branches have been scattered throughout the lands of the earth, but they did not flourish in every place. There is only one place where a shoot of the Mezritsh's tree was planted more than 90 years ago, which is growing and casting deep roots – offering some consolation following the disaster that overtook us.

Our hope is strong and our faith is powerful, that Majdanek and Treblinka will not return again. The State of Israel and the Land of Israel are our guarantees.

Translated from Yiddish by Y. Ronkin

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Turen Farein – Farein is the Yiddish word for “organization”. The Turen Organization. return
  2. The Bund – an abbreviation of the organization's full name: Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland; (“General Jewish Workers' Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia”). The Bund was a secular, Jewish socialist party founded in Russia in 1897. For more information see: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0004_0_03730.html return
  3. Chaim Nachman Bialik – See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayim_Nahman_Bialik return
  4. Simon Frug – See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Frug return
  5. Olim – Those who “ascend”. Immigration to the land of Israel is known as Aliyah – going up, and immigrants are Olim – those who ascend. return
  6. Dr. Yehiel Czelnow, a leader of Russian Zionism and the World Zionist Organization return
  7. The Shechecheyanu is a blessing recited on festivals, and at other joyous occasions, thanking G–d for preserving us and enabling us to reach this occasion. return
  8. Keren Hayesod – literally, the Foundation Fund is more widely known as the United Israel Appeal. For more information, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keren_Hayesod
    Keren haKayemet is also known as Keren Kayemet LeIsrael – the Jewish National Fund. For more information, see: http://www.kkl.org.il/eng/ return
  9. Lejb (Lev) Jaffe – editor of the Moscow Zionist weekly, printed in Russian. For more information see: http://www.academia.edu/1427770/Russian–Zionist_Cultural_Cooperation_1916_18_Lejb_Jaffe_and_the_Russian_Intelligentsia return
  10. Hitachdut – This party was formed by a merger of the “moderate” wing of Tzeirei Zion and Hashomer Hatzair (see below). It was composed of almost entirely white–collar workers, students and middle class youth, and members of the “liberal” professions (vocations requiring specialized education and training). return
  11. Hashomer Hatzair – Socialist–Zionist secular Jewish Youth Movement. For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashomer_Hatzair return
  12. Hechalutz – Also transliterated Hehalutz – was the umbrella organization of Jewish Youth movements devoted to training their members for life in Israel. For more information: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HeHalutz return
  13. Mizrachi – This is an acronym of Merkaz Ruhani – the religious Zionist organization founded in 1902. For more information, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mizrachi_%28religious_Zionism%29 return

 

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Miedzyrzec Podlaski, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 01 Sep 2014 by JH