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[Pages 57-59]

The Excitement Among the Youth

by Avraham Bronshteyn

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The city was located on the banks of the Reat River. The heights of the city, with its building and huts, most of them Jewish homes, literally rose from the midst of the city. The Sobor, the building of the Pravoslavic Church, looms atop of the summit of the hill, in a large, fenced courtyard. The historians would say that the Sobor was built by Stefan the Great, the prince of Moldova who lived in the 16th century. This is possible, but the city was known many years before that era. Archeologists were able to find, in their excavations of the foundations and the heights, artifacts from the time of the Tatars and even from earlier years.

On the top of the Sobor Hill and on its left the bridge

On the top of the Sobor Hill and on its left the bridge

 

The city was built upon a hill and valley. It is surrounded by mountains on two sides, based upon rock and limestone. The wide, fruitful valley spreads out beneath the mountains. It was perhaps for this reason that many residents of the city had dreams and visions. Their heads were in the heights and their eyes looked longingly at the vast expanse that spread out before them.

Branch of 'Bnei Israel' in training in Serbinika (agricultural ranch)

Branch of “Bnei Israel” in training in Serbinika (agricultural ranch)

 

On the slope not far from the Sobor, stood – to differentiate between holy and profane – the Great Synagogue, “Di Groise Shul”. It was old, or so it appeared in contrast to the Christian church. It was about 1/3 sunken into the ground, supported by pillars. It was gloomy from the outside, but filled with light on the inside. It was decorated with floral drawings on the walls, and the view of the eastern side was jolly. Surrounding the synagogue stood the low houses of the Jews, old like it, with small windows and walls whitewashed with shiny white. A blossoming tree poked out of the yards here and there.

On the narrow streets surrounding the old synagogue, not far from the tall Sobor, the special Jewish character, the “Bessarabian” was molded and forged – just like in other places in the rich and fruitful area – the worker, living from the ground, as a toiler or tenant – or as a merchant of wheat or agricultural products. This Jewish character was for the most part not expert in the “secrets of the Torah.” He was simple in his ways, accommodating to guests, with a wide heart open to all who turned to him.

When vast Russia entered the age of capitalism, railways were built, and industrial enterprises and mines sprouted up. Bessarabia took part in this economic rise. In it too, railways were built and factories were founded, primarily for the production of agricultural products.

Orheyev was far from the railway line, but the economic development reached it as well. Large flourmills were established, which sent their products afar. There were factories for oil and other smaller factories. The wine and fruit business also developed. The city widened and grew, spreading out broadly from the historical hill around the Sobor and the old synagogue. Roads and buildings, communal institutions and schools were added to it. During that era of development (approximately in the time prior to the First World War), a large hospital was built for the Jewish community of the area. A gymnasium for boys was opened in addition to the gymnasium for girls that was already in existence.

Then, a new factor arose in the city – the studying youth. At the end of the previous century, the ideal of the young generation in the city was to develop and open for themselves a store, or to emigrate abroad to do business in “a free manner” without restrictions of the “boundaries of the settlement,” and to thereby lay the foundations for their private economic lives. Then the studying youth appeared and brought with them different ideals: distancing themselves from commerce, or becoming a doctor, engineer or a teacher. New mottoes appeared: to work for the “masses”, to raise the level of the “people”, and to give even their lives for it and for its redemption. The words were indeed vague and clouded. The influence of the powers that spread throughout the intelligentsia and progressive workers throughout the expanse of Russia was great. However this did not prevent these vague desires from being revolutionary with respect to the somnolent and frozen life of the city at that time. They excited and enthused the youth in all strata.

This was the era of the rule of the youth on the Jewish street, the rule of the excited spirit in the midst of the youth. The previous generation did not have anything new to say. Things were said particularly about the Romanian conquest and the rupturing of connections with Russian Jewry and the great Russian revolution – a rule of shameless pillage of the treasures of the region and a state police built upon the open instilling of fear and bribery. They were indeed saved from the tribulations of the pogroms and the civil war across the Dniester, but they also lost the great spiritual influence that came from there. Severed from their roots, the masses of youth in Bessarabia rose up, and had to search for the influence from their own midst and to find new content and a way of life. The agitation was great, and the tribulations of the searching for a path were difficult.

Flour mill of L. Gluzgold

Flour mill of L. Gluzgold

Seated from left to right: 1. Leibe Gluzgold 2. Rima Gluzgold (wife)
Standing: 1. Efrayim Daskal 2. Avraham Kupchik 3. Aizik Rozenfeld 4. Shmuel Teytelman

 

Opinions consolidated in two directions: with the nation for independent life and national revival in the homeland – Zionism; or with the agitation and great revolution that passed over wide Russia and the nations surrounding it. In fact, the two movements were influenced from each other. As is known, the Bund struggled to find Jewish autonomy and to create some sort of independent Jewish life in the exile. From its side, Zionism was also greatly influenced by the revolution and its mottoes about social justice, a society without oppressors and the oppressed, the honor of work and labor, etc.

Gymnasium for boys, Class of 1925

Gymnasium for boys, Class of 1925

Photograph taken at the reunion in 1935.
Those in Israel: Dov Sinai, Ganya Zimerman, David Shrayberman

 

In our city, both streams of the Poale Zion movement had very little influence. The Bessarabian Zionist youth, who were mainly studying youth or were led mainly by them, with their class divisions that existed, was quite small. They more easily accepted the doctrine of Tzeirei Zion (Young Zion), for they saw them as more integral from the perspective of the Zionist longing and being based on the idea of individual actualization and the building of the future life in the homeland. The path of the class war, the forging furnace behind the revolution, and the strong social changes that must be traversed were seen as too “extensive” to reach to the desired goal of social justice. What was “simpler” and “quicker” than personal actualization? We will all become chalutzim (pioneers). We will establish Kibbutzim, we will live from the land in general, and manual labor in particular, and the future fine society will arise! The Bessarabian youth, even though they lived in cities and towns, were very far from being true city youth, with all the sophistication. Nature and manual labor were never strange to the youth, and it is no wonder that they followed their ideal spirit, which to us seems slightly naive from our more distant perspective. This Bessarabian youth established a movement of hundreds and thousands of pioneers who were prepared for actualization, the vast majority of whom made aliya to the Land and bestowed of their spirit to the workers movement in the Land.

One of these youth movements was the “movement” or “organization” of Bnei Yisrael in Orheyev and its environs. It was influenced by the doctrine of Ahad HaAm on the one hand, and the Tzeirei Zion movement of southern Russia and Bessarabia on the other hand. From Ahad HaAm it not only received its name Bnei Yisrael (patterned after Bnei Moshe), but also the idea of pioneers marching in front of the people, directing and showing the path to the masses. It inherited the idea of individual actualization that was to be expressed primarily by the pioneering path, and secondly by the use of the Hebrew Language in the day to day life of the members of the movement.

The influence of this movement in the life of the small city was indeed amazing. There were farmers in our city, but the deliberate movement of “gymnasium students” to agriculture – something like this had never happened before. There were Jewish woodchoppers in our city, albeit few, for wood chopping was for the most part performed by gentiles. However, the existence of woodchoppers from among the children of the most honorable householders in the city – there never was such a thing. The Bnei Yisrael pioneering house quickly became the sole and most important meeting place for the youth of the city. A new wind blew there. It suddenly became clear that the new ideal that was contrary to the existing reality, not to be a merchant, was progressive albeit not yet complete and sufficient. A complete person who is worthy of honor was obviously a revolutionary who overturns the norms of society – but this too was different than the norms of his life; for those who descended from the school bench straight to a life of labor and toil; who forewent with astonishing ease the conforms of life in the orderly parental home and who exchanged them for work with the spade in the field or vineyard, sleeping on uneven boards in the pioneering house and eating food that was at times insufficient…

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