Translated by Ruth Yoseffa Erez
Narajow, a small town on the road from Brzezany to Lwow, not too famous, without any distinguished people, except Moshe (Moyshe/Moishe) Nadir, the famous Yiddish writer.
I heard from my grandfather, R' Yossef (Yossia) Neuman (Yosha Wawas), the city's Rabbinical judge, that Narajow's rabbinical chair was important and there were always famous Torah scholars occupying it. But while Jewish Galicia was influenced by the enormous wave of the Hassidic movement, and in every town and city there was a Righteous man (Tzadik) seated, Narajow did not take part in this Chassidic enthusiasm. In Narajow there was no Rabbi and there was a reason for that.
Nearby Peremyshlyany (Premishlaner) had their famous Rabbi Meir'l (Meir), and neighboring Stratyn had a whole dynasty: the Brandwein family, the righteous men of Stratyn, the first of which was Rabbi Yehuda Zvi who inherited this leadership from Rabbi Uril' (Uri) of Strzeliska. A branch from the Stratyn family made Aliyah about 70 years ago, one of their descendents served as the Histadrut's (Israeli labor federation) Rabbi, and he is Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Brandwein (zl).
And again I heard from my grandfather, about his father R' Zeev (Wawa Neuman), who was a respected astute student, blessed with a large family, and seemingly had a big influence on the community. And Rabbi Wawa was a Misnaged and did not ascend to Peremyshlyany or to Stratyn. It was important (most likely) for Rabbi Avramtche of Stratyn to draw Rabbi Wawa to the Hassidism, and there was a personal correspondence between them. A few letters were kept in our house and I read them (it's a pity that they were destroyed during the holocaust and the destruction). The Rabbi from Stratyn was not able to convince him and R' Wawa Neuman remained a Misnaged.
Most of the Jews in Narajow became Stratyner Hasidim, and they even built a synagogue (Kloiz) called the Stratyner Kloiz. Rabbi Avramtche from Stratyn was of course invited to the dedication of the Kloiz. The Rabbi came to spend a Shabbat in Narajow and personally invited Rabbi Wawa to pray with him in the Kloiz. Rabbi Wawa refused and did not come, that's how deep he sunk into being a Misnaged. In his last letter to Rabbi Wawa, Rabbi Avramtche writes: it looks like you are beyond repair and you will never be a Hasid, but all your sons are destined to be Hasidim. Rabbi Wawa had seven sons and surely they all became Hasidim, except for my grandfather, Rabbi Yosha who stayed neutral. He understood and respected the Hasidism, but did not ascend to their Rabbi. He explained it to us: The Mitzvah of respecting your father is a very important Mitzvah!
Other than the Stratyner Kloiz, there were three more synagogues in Narajow. The big synagogue was built of wide stone walls with small windows placed high close to the ceiling, and a single entry with a heavy door. It was constructed in this manner for one apparent reason, to be used for protection and shelter during a pogrom.
In the entrance to the synagogue there was a Torah study house that was nicknamed the Small Torah study house, where the very early morning prayers took place. It was mostly used by commoners, as opposed to the big Torah Study house that was gloriously built and bordered the Rabbi's apartment. Actually the pulse of the Jewish life in town was best felt in the Kloiz, which was very simple and lacked any signs of glory. Simplicity and humbleness were characteristics of the Stratyner Hasidim. It was a big hall with big windows around it. During the celebrations of Lag Ba'Omer, Purim or a commemoration of a Tzadik's death day, they would light many candles on all the surrounding windows and there was an illumination that lighted the whole area. On the 20th of Tamuz, the date of Hertzel's death, we would have the same lightings in spite of the objection of the anti-Zionists. We would have fierce arguments and symposiums between Hasidim and Hasidim, Zionists and Zionists and Zionists and anti-Zionists, all in the same Kloiz. That's where we had election meetings for the Zionist Congress or, vastly different, election gatherings for the Polish Siem, that's where we heard emissaries from Israel, preachers and others who came to admonish or speakers from all the Zionist parties. Between the Mincha prayer and the Maariv prayer the Kloiz was packed with people, there was no need to announce the subject because there were always those who would listen and argue.
The Kloiz was buzzing with activity from early dawn until late at night, even when there were no praying going on, people would seat and study Torah and Gomorrah, divided into classes (two guys who were studying together were called a class). Book sellers would visit the town every now and then, they would spread out their merchandize on the long tables in the Kloiz and the youth would buy or read different Bichalach stories. Wanderers and riff raffs would be welcomed guests in the Kloiz; they would sleep behind the ever burning big hearth. During the late night hours, they would tell us Arabian nights tales.
In the 1920's, a school was established to teach the Hebrew language. Shifra Marcus, a young intelligent and full of energy woman, who happened to arrive to Narajow from Tarnopol, was able to form the school and run it mostly by herself. Prior to her coming, there were a few attempts to form a Hebrew school but to no avail. Due to Mrs. Marcus (who is now in Israel) and her vigorousness, the school survived for a few years, the youth knowledge of the Hebrew language grew, and we were able to read Hebrew books and newspapers that arrived from Israel. The town's youth was effected by Shifra Marcus' Zionist passion and it initiated the era of the Zionist organizations, the first of which was The Youth Guard (Hashomer Hatzair).
Rabbi Zvi Grosswax (zl) and my brother Shlomo (zl) who read the newspapers and were familiar with the business of the youth Zionist movements were strictly against the opening of the Hashomer Hatzair branch. They were very concerned that the youth will move away from the religion and the tradition. You must remember that at that time, even the communist Hashomer Hatzair members were amongst those who came to pray at the synagogue both in the morning (Shacharith prayer) and at night (Maariv prayer). Despite that, there were already signs of secularism and defilement of the Shabbat, but not in public. Rabbi Grosswax knew of a Zionist religious youth movement Mizrachi and knew personally Rabbi Dr. Federbush (zl) who was the head of the center in Lwow. Dr. Federbush, who was a candidate for the Polish Siem, came to Narajow to lecture and to promote his party, which was the radical party of Isaac (Itzhak) Greenbaum (Greenboim) as opposed to Dr. Reich's party. When he visited Narajow, Dr. Federbush was a guest at our house. Back in those days, there were no hotels in Narajow. When an envoy from Israel happened to come to town, he would stay with one of the respectable home owners. My grandfather debated some difficult questions in the Talmud with the Doctor, who was an astute scholar, and later that night they spoke about Zionism and religious Zionism, and about youth who desserts their fathers' ways. Finally he looked at me and he said: You will organize a group of youngsters for HaMizrachi. I was only 15 at the time, too young for HaMizrachi Youth, so the Doctor suggested calling it HaMizrachi Flowers, and that's how it started. From this group grew a big and prosperous branch of Narajow's Bnei Akiva.
A few years later, a Mizrachi activist from Eretz Israel came to Galicia, the comrade Skortovski. He told us that in Eretz Israel, the religious youth call their movement Bnei Akiva (Akiva's children). This name captivated us and we also called our movement Bnei Akiva, unlike the centers in Warsaw and Krakow that called their religious Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hadati (The religious Guard).
During the 1930's. Bnei Akiva was organizing training groups to get their members ready for the pioneering realization in Eretz Israel. One of the first groups was in Kozowa on the Polish Rumanian border. I joined this group in 1932.
In Kozowa, a new world opened to me. Kozowa was a center of carpet industry, where the carpets were woven using simple manual looms. This industry supplied many jobs to all the Jewish youth and to the training groups whose members learnt the profession quickly and well. The local youth was well paid, well dressed and happy. That was in complete contrast to the so to speak home owners youth in Narajow, for whom manual labor or handicrafts were despised and did not match their pedigree, which is why extreme poverty and neglect ruled everywhere.
When I came back from Kozowa I sold the idea of a carpet industry to Narajow. Rabbi Grosswax and Yehezkel Herz liked the idea. We brought looms and instructors from Kozowa and most of the youth busied themselves with it. Bnei Akiva training group that was forming in Narajow and whose livelihood came mostly from cutting down trees joined the carpet weaving too.
In 1935 I made Aliyah to Israel, before and after me a few more native Narajow pioneers made Aliyah and a few more who were able to flee the terrible holocaust are in America.
May this chapter in the book serve as a tombstone to the small community where I spent my youth years.
|Mizrachi youth of Narajow - 1931|
Translated by Ruth Yoseffa Erez
On 1933 The Zionist Youth movement was formed in Narajow (Today's Israeli Scouts). Its predecessors were Hashomer Hatzair, HaMizrachi, Betar etc.
Narajow was a small town with a few hundred Jews; the older ones had no special affinity to Zionism. Many of the younger ones on the other hand - who were members of youth movements and many of them members of Hashomer Hatzair and HaChalutz (the Pioneer) made Aliyah to Israel towards the end of the 1920's. Narajow's Rabbi, an educated man, respectable and active in HaMizrachi movement, was elected as a representative to the Zionist Congress.
Zehava Herz (today Shmushkin), a young, pretty, energetic and educated woman, took it upon herself to organize the Zionist Youth in Narajow.
I had the privilege of being one of the first members and the originators of this movement. Our group included 10-15 members, almost kids, whose ages were between 12 and 15. We w mostly girls but there were two boys as well: Shmuel Weiss and Itzhak Herz (Zehava's brother). They were the best youth in town, with great potential: full of energy, aspirations and hope to fulfill their ideals. Zehava took them into her hands and with enthusiasm and devotion started to instill Zionism in them through meetings and conversations.
We rented a room and started to take care of the social, functional and administrative aspects. We had a money box to cover our financial expenses with the monetary participation of each member, and immediately started a course to teach the Hebrew language. It was clear to us that knowing the language will help in accomplishing our goal and will get us closer to achieving it. We used to get together twice or three times a week for conversations (today we call it meetings). Those conversations varied and covered different subjects such as: The history of the Jewish settlement (Yishuv) in Eretz Israel, Jewish history, Eretz Israel's (then Palestine) geography and the Settlement's heroes. All those subjects were distant and foreign to us until that time. Suddenly we started to have interest in anything that was connected to Eretz Israel. The little library that we formed in our center helped us as well. We wanted to get older as fast as we could so that we could join the training groups and fulfill our dream to make Aliyah to Eretz Israel, to be one of the heroes, to join the pioneering movement and build the state of Israel.
I vividly remember one of the stirring conversations about the Settlement's heroes, the conversation about Tel-Chai and the heroism of Yosef Trumpeldor and his friends. We were excited and proud to have such personalities amongst the Jewish people; we identified with them, talked about them and read a lot on this subject. I know that I personally, was extremely influenced by these conversations and readings and I am sure that they formed my identity and instructed me in later times, in major and crucial decisions in my life.
As time passed by, our center evolved, another group of youngsters joined us and we, the adults, instructed them. Among other things, I organized a course to teach the Hebrew language, in which I shared with them the little knowledge that I already had. It must be noted that we worked vigorously and energetically and had a lot of activities. We decorated the hall as best as we could, and purchased a Ping Pong table as part of our sports activities. We had excursions and inter-town meets to listen to lectures and exchange opinions and views; we had plays and parties and different games, as well as singing nights and Hora dancing on Saturdays. Everything ofcourse was in Hebrew, whose words we did not always understand, but it was dear to us We learnt Hebrew literature, Bialik's poems and Tchernihovsky and many more. We issued the movement's newspaper, in which any member who showed talent or interest in writing could participate, and there were those amongst us who were very talented. It is proper to mention here Rivka Halperin (zl) who was blessed with such talent and with many other wonderful traits, and who contributed a lot to our movement. Rivka perished in the Holocaust.
For a while, some of the members would go to summer community during the summer vacation which was one of the happiest and most fun activities of the movement. Our center grew and earned more respect in town, which was apparent in the elections to the Zionist congress. We would sell a respectable amount of Shekels, and win many votes. A special experience for us was the Purim holiday. We would start practicing a few weeks before on performances and dances. During the holiday itself, a few groups or couples would pass among the houses and perform in each house, and all the donations were dedicated to the movement. I remember one Purim when me and my good friend Ester Zinger (zl) wore Hungarian costumes and danced the Chardash, a performance that had a big success.
Since there was a lot of buzz around us and we had so many activities, we attracted members from other movements. From what we've heard, some didn't necessarily join us for ideological reasons; rather they did it because we had many girls in our center. One of these was Hersch Ehre (today, my husband Zvi Kvodi) who left the Hashomer Hatzair for us.
|The Zionist Youth group|
In 1917, Zehava Herz the founder, instructor and head of our center, started preparing to make Aliyah to Eretz Israel. When it was time, we naturally had a fancy party, we took photographs and departed from her with a lot of sorrow and jealousy here she is about to realize her dream. We strongly hoped to meet her soon in Eretz Israel.
Our connection with Zehava was very tight, we exchanged letters. Many times she would mail us the Hatzofe newspaper, and then we would gather together - it was almost a festive occasion - and do our best in reading the articles and deciphering them, mainly to learn about what was going on in Eretz Israel. Zehava left us a substitute as the head of the center, a guy from Rovno named Lolek Rubinstein, who came to our town to teach Hebrew and was already back then, a member of the Hagana in Lwow (he lives in Israel now). After a while he left, and Shmuel Weiss who was a graduate of our group became the head of the center. On 1939, Shmuel decided to make illegal Aliyah to Israel and on the eve of the war he left Narajow. After 6 months of trouble and hardship, he arrived to Eretz Israel. For a while he was a member of Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak, and today he lives in Even Yehuda.
When the war erupted, our dreams were shuttered, but the Zionist spirit was with me throughout the war. Most of the members and our families perished in the Holocaust. My husband and I (we got married during the war) fled and tried to cross the border from Russia to Tehran in order to get to Israel from there, but unfortunately we were unable to do so. Only after a long period of turmoil and suffering we finally arrived in Israel on 1949 when we were already a family with two daughters who were born, by the way, on historical dates: one during the battle of Stalingrad and the beginning of the turning point of the war and the other on an even more important date, the day of the Declaration of Independence of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948.
Today, seating in Haifa with my family, I rejoice in being fortunate to fulfill my youth dream.
|Hebrew course - Narajow|
Translated by Ruth Yoseffa Erez
Excitement and sacred awe overcome me when I sit to write a few anecdotes to describe the character of, and to remember, my home town, Narajow. I consider writing those memories down a humble contribution to this literary monument, whose purpose is to commemorate the memory of the Narajow community whose people were murdered in the Holocaust.
For different reasons, some of which are understood, it is not an easy task to put on paper, even just a small part, of our town's life. Things seem vague, absorbed with forgetfulness vapors. Only a few of the Narajow people survived, and there are no other sources from which one could get information or refresh the memory.
Little Narajow was a neighbor to the bigger city, Brzezany. Its population consisted of 4,000 people, and was a peaceful combination of Jews, Poles and Ukrainians. The people from these three origins lived together quietly and had lively commerce connections. The town was situated next to beautiful mountains, and was surrounded by dense forests and fertile fields. Even now, many years after I left it for Eretz Israel, I remember its looks very well. The memory of each stone, path and house is inscribed in my remembrance for ever.
It seems that the memory of the place where a person was born and where he left those that were most dear to him cannot be erased. These memories are stronger even than the teeth of time.
Despite it being one out of thousands of small towns, which like Narajow were scattered around the vast open spaces of Poland and Russia, to me ,it is as if it had its own character. It wasn't a rich town, but it had a proud spirit. Her sons did not submerge in wealth, but were attracted to knowledgeable matters. Only a few could afford going to high school, but the big majority concentrated on self learning to widen their horizons.
That was the background to the prosperity of the different Zionist youth movements. The first one was HaShomer Hatzair, which many of the local youth joined. From this movement came the first Narajow'ers to make Aliyah to Eretz Israel, among which were Yoel Marcus and Berla Halperin. The last one left on 1935 To Spain to fight in foreign fields, and that's where he found his death.
My Zionist activity started while I was still young, when I started the Betar group in Narajow, which most of the youth joined. Some of those who joined came even from HaMizrachi and brought their library with them, saying that it belonged to them since they are the ones who brought it to HaMizrachi in the first place.
One morning, I remember this incident vividly, when the doors were opened to our Betar center, the person in charge was shocked to see the place was in complete chaos and the library disappeared. But worst of all was the fact that the picture of the head of Betar movement, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, was torn and thrown to the floor.
The guy came running to me astounded, and in his mouth there was one word: Pogrom! It took me a few minutes to get the story of what happened from him. I was badly hurt as well. I felt that this is something that I can not let go in silence. I ran to the police and told them what happened, after a short investigation; the police arrested two HaMizrachi members.
This story brings to mind my grandfather Israel (zl), who was one of the most wonderful characters in our town. My son carries his name. Despite his older age, he was surprisingly involved in the political life, was interested in what was happening in the world but specifically of what was going on with the Zionist movement.
Every morning, when he came to the Kloiz to pray, there were already youngsters there that made sure he was updated on everything in the political arena. He wanted to know especially the number of certificates that were about to be approved, and who was waiting in line to make Aliyah.
And so, my grandfather Israel, whom I loved dearly, came to our house yelling What have you done to me?, You put Jewish boys in jail. He pointed a blaming finger at me: My eyes cannot stand this; we have to release them immediately! . Of course, I was influenced by my grandfather's words, and I went to the police and asked to release them.
Understandably it wasn't so simple, but finally we found a compromise and it all ended well.
There were a few other wonderful characters in Narajow. I remember, for example, Rabbi Grosswax, who was a big scholar, with a liberal way of looking at things and served as a member of the world executive of HaMizrachi movement. I remember the Rabbi when Betar movement had a regional conference in Narajow and how it ended with our beautiful march where we were greeted by the Rabbi, which served as a great attraction to all Narajow Jews.
But the youth social life was not limited to the Zionist youth movements. There were also some more fun and romantic aspects, and to describe them Narajow's post office must be mentioned. This was the central gathering place for the entire town's youth.
How can I forget the long hours that I spent waiting next to this post office, not only for a letter that I yearned for but to meet someone, to talk and to gossip, to set a date this institution was almost part of us. Who can count the number of couples that originated next to it? Who can forget the pleasant recollections that go together with its memory? Narajow's post office.
On May 3rd 1939 I made Aliyah to Eretz Israel and never saw my hometown again. I came to Israel as an enthusiastic pioneer, and it comes as no surprise that after a few days I was part of the proud group of construction workers, who while singing both outwardly and inwardly, were building Tel Aviv. Back then, everyone was proud to belong to the construction workers group, the social elite of the soon to be state of Israel
As far as I remember, representatives from all the youth movements in Narajow made Aliyah and had families in Israel.
|Betar training group in Narajow - 1933|
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