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Hehalutz, General Zionist (cont.)

Teaching Values

Boys and girls went to summer colonies, or “leadership colonies” and when they returned, they brought a fresh spirit with them, new songs, exciting experiences and new ideas - how to continue activities and increase in strength. We all wanted to increase our knowledge of the land; we read, we argued, and we discussed various subjects while the main goal in front of us is one: Aliyah to the land of Israel. Nonetheless, it was clear to us that our goal isn't simply moving from one land to another. We asked ourselves what is it that we want to do in the new land, because we knew this - in the new land we do not want to carry on with the lifestyle we have in the 'galut' (land of exile/diaspora). We felt a need for something new, for a real change in our lives. We dreamed of being a healthy and young generation, deeply rooted in the ground and close to nature. The question before us was: how can we achieve it? How can we make this change inside us? And another question, no less crucial than the previous - how will we be able to provide for ourselves in the new land? For that reason we designed a ladder of values with its top reaching the sky and began climbing step by step, a step with its value, a step with its goal. We have reached a decision that we have to differ from our ancestors' way of life and occupations. We will not be merchants, peddlers or brokers; we will not be occupied with “air business” (luft-gisheften, in Yiddish). We must adjust to any physical labor in the fields and in the workshops, and we must create all we need for our existence, know how to live from our labor, just as this verse says, “In the sweat of thy face, shalt thou eat bread.” The attitude towards work became a focus of our educational ideology and perspective. We spoke of the joy of working, of creating, and the satisfaction that comes with it. In order to accomplish such high aspirations, we had to develop suitable traits within ourselves, and for that we have devoted an important chapter in our educational training program. We were taught courage, moderation and personal values, enduring tests, overcoming difficulties and determination. We highly considered the need to change habits that did not fit our program and explained the importance of a positive approach to life. Much of our time was devoted to clarifying terms and passing eternal values like justice, truth, honesty, humility, mutual help, and more.

Thirst For Knowledge

We also paid attention to learning national values and to planting them in our people's awareness. 'The History of the People of Israel' by Gertz and Dubnow was a mandatory course for each of us. And when we became familiar with a small portion of our people's never ending cultural heritage, we desired to know the great thinkers and philosophers of the Zionist ideology. We read and studied the writings of L. Pinsker, M.L. Lilinblum, Rabbi Mohaliver, Ahad Haam, Dr. Herzl, M. Nordoy, and many more. We read the Modern Hebrew literature; Frieshman, Mendele, Shalom Aleichem, Shalom Asch, Peretz, Berditchevski, Schneor and others. The library of the Zionist Union could barely satisfy our thirst for books, and whatever was missing we sought in other libraries while purchasing new books. This is how we were familiarized with the fruit of the thoughts of the best thinkers and philosophers, day after day, week after week, months and years; moreover r- most of us studied Hebrew and have reached the ability to have a light conversation in Hebrew and to read and write. In this connection we fondly remember our Hebrew teachers Shlomo Karo and Yaakov Gelber.

Activity in the Halutz Hmerkazi continued. Through the years, a team of activists developed into a branch leadership. Each had a designated position, and each knew their task and responsibilities. From spontaneous and improvised activities we have reached a well-planned program, agreed on and approved by the leadership.

The leadership was comprised by these members - Tzvi Majerowicz, Chaim Markovitch, Genia Kampinska, Arie Kashpitzki and I. Each of us filled a certain calling for a period of time, and we have done so with great responsibility and loyalty. While Genia, Chaim and I served as instructors, Tzvi was our representative to the central Public institutions, other youth movements and the local Zionist Union. Genia was the instructor of the girls' group and, through her inspiration, they have developed a system by which the girls themselves prepared a presentation on a certain subject and presented it to their group while Genia is present too. This group included, among others: Loshka Davidovitch, Eva Davidovitch, Hinda Djubass, Sarah Freund-Majerowicz (wife of the writer of these lines). The “Gur Arie”(Lion's cub) group- the boys- had Ephraim Markovitch as their instructor, but most discussions were led by Chaim Markovitch and Avraham Kroll. Among others, this group included: Zecharia Altman, Moshe Grauman, Shimshon Grabiner, Avigdor Troskolski, Israel Lifshitz, Gershon Meirovitch, Faivel Meirovitch, Moshe Meirovitch, Ephraim Markovitch, Mendel Markovitch, Yaakov Maroko, Menashe Kozhokh, Ephraim Kampinski, Yehoshua Kashpitzki, Avraham Shmidt (Shemer) and Yudel Schpiler.

The “Gur Arie” group of the Halutz Hamerkazi

 

Pola Vishnivska was the instructor of young girls group “Havatselet” (lily) that included: Rozha Gad, Fruma Davidovitch, Pola Vishnivska, Sara Kampinska, the sisters Rozha and Hava Kampinski, Tova Kashpitzka, Tsipora (Faigaleh) Kashpitzka and Mash Shmid (Ben-Avi).

The “senior” group, a group I had the privilege to instruct, included: Mordechai Garbinski, Yehoshua Loel, Mordechai Meirovitch, Tzvi Meirovitch, Chaim Markovitch, Yoseph Pick, Reuven Frind, Avraham Kroll and Arie Kashpitzki. As mentioned, we designated each member to prepare and present various subjects and this was a stimulant for action and independent thinking. Each trained oneself and when we tested our activities and evaluated them, we could look back with satisfaction. The results were perfectly satisfactory. At a later time, in 1935, we went through a crisis and the movement was about to split. The movement's head at that time, Chaim Margaliot, stated during an argument in Lodz - “as long as we have well-organized branches, and activists like the ones we have in Kalisz and Zloczew, the crisis does not bother me.” This statement had a firm foundation because we were known as a well-organized branch. From this compliment, our motivation grew and this strengthened our confidence that, when we reach our Land, we shall accomplish our dreams and build a society founded on justice and honesty, a society in which each shall live from the labor of his hands and respect the other.

A group of youth of the Halutz Hamerkazi

 

The years of youth and adolescence continued until the spring of 1930. Time for 'Takhlit' has arrived, meaning time for our physical training ('Hakhshara') in preparation for the fulfillment and the aliyah. At that time, the movement maintained few training farms throughout Poland, one of them was in the brick ovens compound of Lodz where Yoseph Pick and Arie Kashpitski had gone for training in 1930, and went to Israel in 1931. There was no end to our joy, the first Halutz Hamerkazi pioneers were given 'certificates' and made an aliyah.

Meanwhile, we continued our training with full power. Reuven Frind and Hadassa Kovalska joined the training at the “Akhva' kibbutz in Gora Kalvaria in 1932, and made aliyah in 1933. Mordechai Garbinski and Tova Kashpitska were also trained at that time in Gora Kalvaria, and they made aliya in 1933/34, and in kibbutz 'Akhva' in Gtoitz - Yaakov Maroko was trained for aliyah.

Later, Shimshon Garbiner, Masha and Avraham Schmidt followed, and in 1936 - Sara Kampinska as well.

A regional meeting took place in the beginning of 1936 in Zloczew. Participated: Chaim Margaliot- Chairman of the general headquarters, Y. Buchman, Y. Galitski, Y.M. Templhoff, A. Ptsigovski, B. Kostrinski and H.Z. Stein- all members of the general board of the movement, and delegates from the entire Lodz region. Most of all, I remember the Kalish delegation, all dressed the same and they left a special impression on all those present.

During the two day conference, lectures on various subjects were presented: our organization in the Land of Israel, training and aliyah, cultural activity, our activity agenda for the KKL, future projects and more. Different decisions were made; among them was the decision to expand the training kibbutzim (farms) of the movement with an emphasis on building agricultural farms for the training of the movement graduates in preparation for aliyah. A committee was elected with Chaim Margaliot as its head and I had the honor of being a part of it. A list of estate owners in the Zloczew area was collected and the elected committee approached the owners and negotiated the possibility of using their estates for Zionist goals. At the end of the negotiations, 3 training points were established in the farms of Mendel Glitzenstein, a Jewish estate owner in Nikhmirow, Dominewski-Bazpoleh and Morzhinowski in Stolz. Within a short time, the three farms were filled with action and interest. Graduates of the movement poured from all over Poland and began working in the field, as they are full of excitement because they saw it as their last station in the Galut, a station that will lead them to their destiny - the Land of Israel.

A youth group of the Halutz Hamerkazi during one of its journeys in 1931

Lying on the ground from right are Dvora Loel and Hershel Shtern.
Sitting on the right are Sheindel Schnapper, Hanna Vastman, Rada Unikovski.
Sitting higher from right are Yerakhmiel Kek, Gotche Djubas,
Alter Yekhimovitch, Miriam Rogodzhinski, Masha Kozhokh,
Mordechai Shtchukovski, Leah Kuzhukh, Israel-Moshe Yekhimovitch.
Standing from right are Rukhama Loel, Avraham-Yoseph Kokhman,
Rodjeh Kokhman, Shlomo Loel, Tova-Libeh Shmulevitch.
On the tree is Getsl Sharatski

 

It was a fruitful and intensive summer. The number of branch members kept growing. In the fall of that year, I joined the group of Nikhmirow and more members were about to join us. But because of shortage of 'certificates' (immigration permit), preparations to leave ceased and, because of that, we had to change plans and resume our routine daily activities.

At the end of 1934, I returned home with exciting news - my turn to make aliyah is coming in the spring. It isn't hard to guess how happy I was, but my joy did not last long because instead of the much anticipated visa, I received a letter from the headquarters telling me that they had to give my 'certificate' to another pioneer, Maklish, who was facing a draft to the army. My disappointment was as bitter as wormwood, but it was impossible to sit and lament and I returned to the 'line' - to the usual work and activity.

Movement's Way of Life

During that winter and the summer of 1936, we strengthened the branch and acted according to a well pre-planned agenda. We were interested in the ideology of the other youth movements. We strengthened the activity for the national funds. We distributed shekels and, in general, with all our vitality, we were involved in the activities of the local Zionist organization. We participated in movement conventions and party conferences that were organized in Lodz, Kalisz and Warsaw. We kept good neighborly contacts with the Kalish branch. We organized holiday celebrations, literary evenings, memorial days in honor of great leaders, and other festive events that attracted all the local youngsters and many adults.

The most successful activity, always exciting, and all the members of the branch gathered around it, was the Sabbath gathering, in the twilight hours, for a sing along. These parties usually overfilled the place. The evening was casting its shadows around and the last sunrays penetrated through the windows, long shadows began moving on the walls and the mood was elevated. We sat, boys and girls in circles, and together sang the songs of Zion while, from time to time a solo voice was heard, followed by a choir again and again. Loshka Davidovitch usually opened the singing and the 'Hevre' (a Hebrew term for a group of friends) joined her and the octaves were going up and up and all are joyful. Now came the turn of the soloists, especially good among them were Hinda Djobas and Sara Frind (Meirovitch). For her, singing was a spiritual expression, like air to inhale, like bread, and our parents were long done with the 'Havdala', the separation of holy from secular. But we did not lack candlelight; we felt much light and warmth inside without the use of artificial substances like oil and wood. Our singing was heard in the distance and attracted to our windows those returning from a Sabbath afternoon walk to the Sherdzhai forest, and this experience became the talk of the town, until the next Sabbath…

This Saturday night singing parties turned into a tradition and as soon as lights were turned on, dancing began and all were swept into the circles (even the older Zionist Histadrut members who could not pass this experience) that lasted until the late hours of the evening.

As The Leaves Fall

My long awaited aliyah had suffered yet another setback, but this time I wasn't the only one - the entire branch members had experienced a setback. We were unable to send any members for training that summer and preparations for going to the training camps were also stopped because there was no sense in training when there are no 'certificates'.

Winter came early that year and a cold wind began blowing in our direction because the membership fee was not enough to purchase wood to heat the place. Although we began bringing wood from our homes, we still lacked the warmth we had in previous years. The chill that spread within our walls disturbed us greatly and falling out of lines began.

With the coming of springtime, we recovered a bit and began taking trips. We renewed our Saturday nights sing along tradition and more. Here and there we received some encouragement, and as a result we even had some success, but the general mood had ups and downs. Again, we were called to designate candidates for training, and that gave us hope that soon the 'certificates' will come and the much-anticipated aliyah will finally take place. We strengthened and fortified the lines, activity was renewed and the branch was resurrected. Singing was heard and the noise made by the stamping of feet while dancing the 'Hora' was heard again. The young boys and girls again sat over the books and listened to lectures, and that went on until the summer of 1938. On March of that year, all three of us - my two brothers Tzvi and Avraham and I - were called to the army. All three at the same time!

A cold dark winter day welcomed most members who came to part from us. There were also friends from other youth movements. It kept snowing and a white blanket covered the muddy ground. The road was full of mud; the picture was gloomy. People did not say much, and 'Hora' they didn't dance either the same way they used to do when coming to part from a friend who left for the Land of Israel. Only quiet hugs with friends - emotional parting hugs. The 'Shalom' and 'Lehitraot' (see you) were different from other occasions as well.

Founders of the “Halutz” from the end of WWI

Pankavski, Davidovitch Moto, Kampinski Shmuel, Bilewski Yaakov,
Davidovitch David-Yoseph, Davidovitch Yekhiel, Shmuelevitch Mordechai.
Second row – Pankavski Yaakov, Davidovitch Berl, Yakhimek Yekhiel,
Yiglitzki Moshe, Brilant Gelbard Mendel, Yekhiel Meir, Groman Yitzek.
Third row – Besser Moshe, Jack Shmuel, Gavriel, Loel, David

 

We rushed to the car that took us to the train station in Sieradz. Although Polish authorities forbade soldiers' involvement in movement-partisan activity, I kept in touch with the branch, met with friends, and heard news from them. From here on, I counted the days left until my discharge and waited to renew my involvement and finally make the aliyah. But, unfortunately, two weeks before my discharge, World War 2 broke out and it devoured my best friends and destroyed all.

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