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[Pages 42-43]

In Our Group

by A. Malovatsky

Translated by Jerrold Landau

In 1919, the stream of Jewish refugees from Ukraine to Bessarabia increased. For many of them, our city was a temporary stopover on their way to the Land of Israel. For the most part, these were chalutzim (pioneers) from Ukraine who prepared themselves for aliya while they were still in their places of residence.

Youth of Zion

Youth of Zion

Seated from right to left: 1. [feh]. Rotkov 2. Y. Dyukman 3. N. Davidovitz 4. L. Kleiner 5. Y. Shander
Standing: 1. Y. Kohan 2. B. Klepner 3. Y. Shvartz 4. L. Fisher 5. M. Rotkov 6. D. Dyukman 7. H. Barinboym

 

As a first step to assist and put up these refugees, the Zionist of our city established a Beit Chalutzim (House of Pioneers) in the yard of the well-known Zionist activist Gershon Weinstock of blessed memory. He set aside a wing for this in his spacious home. The pioneers sustained themselves by the fruits of their labor for the entire time that they were in the city. They strongly opposed the offers of the communal institutions to come to their aid with financial support. The youths did not reject any physical labor. Daily, it was possible to see them going from house to house armed with saws and axes, asking the local Jews to hire them for the chopping of trees. Many of the pioneers had a high level of intelligence. Their contribution to the culture, the education and the consolidating of the pioneering movement in our city was recognizable. The local youth would willingly visit the Pioneering House. The direct contact between them and the pioneers did much to strengthen the connection. A revolution took place in the hearts of our townsfolk.

At that time, a group of youths organized themselves through the efforts of Tzeirei Zion and leased a large plot of land in the region of Orheyev in order to prepare themselves for aliya to the Land. It is appropriate to point out the member Leibel Kleiner, one of the most dedicated and active people in the Zionist movement from his early youth. He put the best of his abilities into the organizing of this group. He himself also participated in the Hachshara (Zionist preparation). However, only a portion of the group succeeded in making aliya in 1920 as the first pioneers. These included Moshe Roitman of blessed memory (murdered in Haifa in the disturbances of 1929), and, may they live, Yaakov the son of Shaul Dyukman (Bar Shaul) Yitzchak Rapoport, Zeev Davidovitz, Yosef Shinder, his parents, and others.

The Hechalutz movement that spread out throughout Bessarabia struck roots in our city as well, and the number of youths who prepared themselves for aliya grew every year. In 1923 we were witness to the aliya of the Bnei Yisrael group from our city.

Our members of Tzeirei Zion were the first to become involved in every activity for the benefit of the Hechalutz movement. The Hechalutz center in Kishinev began a large scale activity for the training of chalutzim and transferring them to the Land, even though there were no sources of money that were sufficient to sustain the activities. From time to time, they would turn to the chapters in the cities of the field for help. I remember that the center declared a “Hechalutz Week” in Bessarabia, and then we began a large-scale activity in our city. We enlisted activists from all of the streams to publicize the aims of Hechalutz and to collect money. The activists of the Zionist movement volunteered to speak in the synagogues during the Sabbath services and our city was in the first row with respect to donations for Hechalutz Week.

The depression of 1926/1927 that affected the Land caused the return of some of our townsfolk, filled with disappointment and complaints. There were those who slandered the Land. The sworn opponents of Zionist seized this opportunity, and greatly castigated the Zionist movement. Even the General Zionists acted helplessly. Despite all this, the circle of Tzeirei Zion activists in the city was undaunted, and stood its guard. Even though the authorities forbade us from meeting, we overcame the difficulties and conducted clandestine activities. We conducted weekly meetings in the home of a different member each week in order not to arouse the attention of the secret police. The active members conducted discussions on issues of the day, and joined with the members of the ranks in the study of the annals of the workers' movement and the history of Zionism. The weekly publication of Tzeirei Zion in Bessarabia, “Erd un Arbiet”, was distributed by us to the local Jews.

The members of Tzeirei Zion took an active role for the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael (Jewish National Fund). They conducted the “Purim Players” activities in the city for the benefit of the fund. For that purpose, we prepared a brief play about the life of the Jews in the Diaspora and in the Land. When Purim came, the players visited the houses of the wealthy people where many guests would participate in the Purim feast, and performed their play. This way, they succeeded in collecting significant sums for the benefit of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael.

Activists of the Jewish Fund

Activists of the Jewish Fund

 

At that time, Chayim Shorer, a member of Hapoel Hatzair, came to Bessarabia to direct the collection for the benefit of the Workers' Fund of the Land of Israel (Kapai). When he came to our city, we gathered to take council in the home of Eidel Yagolnitzer of blessed memory, one of the General Zionists whose spirit was close to the Tzeirei Zion and who dedicated a great amount of his time and energy to it. We called a meeting, but to our great dismay, only very few answered our call. Shorer described to those gathered about the great depression that was taking lace in the Land, and the difficult conditions that pervaded in the settlement, especially among the community of workers. When he finished, the registration of pledges began. However, only one person, Dr. Nirenberg, not a Zionist but a faithful Jew who was dedicated to national causes, donated a significant sum.

In 1928, the first kernel of Poale Zion was formed in our city by the members Yisrael Weisman, the brothers Shlomo and Tovia Bozinyan, Baruch Lemberg and others. The members of Tzeirei Zion assisted the young initiators greatly, and dedicated much cultural and education activity to the members of the kernel.

The Aliya of Eidel Yagolnitzer

The Aliya of Eidel Yagolnitzer

 

The local authorities persecuted all Zionist activities, even those conducted with the permission of the central government. I recall one incident that is worthy of note. The director of the Keren Hayesod division in Bessarabia at that time, Yitzchak Berger of blessed memory, arrived in our city to open the annual campaign for that fund. He was armed with a permit from the central government in Kishinev. Based on it, the local authorities would issue a permit to conduct a lecture and a public gathering. A large gathering was arranged in the large kloiz, and that speaker portrayed to the gathering the worsening situation of Jews in the Diaspora, and the “tragedy” (tzaar) that is too great to bear. He called upon our community to generate to the funds for the settlement and development of the Land, etc. Here I should point out the importance of the pushka (charity box) of the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael. The detective who was present interpreted the words “tzaar” and “pushka” in their Russian meaning, that is to say: that the speaker was calling upon the gathering to revolution with the assistance of cannons (pushki in Russian). Based on this he issued a statement to the local authorities, which was transferred to the military authorities in Kishinev. Of course, Mr. Berger was brought to court. He was only exonerated after great intercession and efforts that lasted for a protracted period.

With the rise of the National Charanists (the National Farmer's Party of Romania) to government, a change for the better occurred in the political situation in Romania. The movement spread wide and opened a Zionist hall. On account of that, it was possible to conduct wide branched activity among the youth. Within a short period of time, hundreds of youths who left the study benches were attracted, and dedicated themselves to the movement. These included working youths. Counselors arose from among the youth, who were dedicated to the movement with heart and soul. They educated the members to strive for personal actualization.

The visit of the member Meir Grabovsky was also an event that left a great impression. He came to us in 1933 in order to organize the members of the workers movement in advance of the elections for the 18th congress. By chance, he became entangled with our secret police. The situation was as follows: after we verified the time of the arrival of our guest with the Tzeirei Zion center in Kishinev, we waited for him at the designated time. However, by chance, the car arrived early, and we were not there in time to greet him. When we arrived at the station, he had stumbled into a member of the Sigurnata secret police. The name Grabovsky which is a decidedly Russian name, the black shirt he was wearing, and his lack of knowledge of the Romanian language aroused the suspicion of the detective, who transferred the guest to the Sigurnata. When I found out about this, I hurried to Eidel Yagolnitzer of blessed memory, and we both went to clarify the reason for the arrest. Yagolnitzer, who knew the director of the secret police very well, entered straight into his office. After giving him an appropriate bribe, he freed the guest.

M. G. stated that the Revisionists disrupted his appearances in most places that he visited. He asked if there might be disruptions by them in our city as well. We calmed him with the fact that the Revisionists in our city were only a small group, and they certainly would not be brazen enough to endanger themselves, so they would not disrupt. Finally, Grabovsky appeared before a large gathering who listened to him quietly and with great interest. There is no doubt that his lecture earned a significant number of votes for the Workers' Movement list.

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