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[Pages 116-117]

Herzl Society in Brzezin

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

In 1904 a Zionist organization was created in Brzezin and took the name Agudas Herzl [Herzl Society]. This occurred several months after the death of the creator of political Zionism and founder of the World Zionist Organization, Dr. Benjamin Zav (Theodor) Herzl. In order to especially honor the memory of the immortal maneg [leader of a movement], the founders decided to call the organization by his name.

The founders of Agudas Herzl in Brzezin were immediately in contact with the Zionist representative in Lodz, the well-known rabbi, Dr. Jelski, preacher from the “German” [Progressive] synagogue in Lodz, who was one of the first Zionists in Poland and had under his jurisdiction the Zionist organizations in Lodz and the Lodz area.

We bring here three documents concerning the founding of Agudas Herzl in Brzezin. The documents were written in Hebrew, which demonstrates the attachment of the first Zionist leaders in Brzezin to the old-new language of the Jewish people. We print here a Yiddish [now English] translation of the three documents.

Document 1

Herzl Society in Brzezin

Founded on moytsi Shabes [the end of the Sabbath] koydesh lseyder lekhlikhol meyartsekhs - el horets...[beginning of parsha {Torah portion} called Lekhlikhol, from Genesis 12.1] i”g [one version] marheshvan trs”h [eighth month of the Hebrew calendar 1904] October 1904.

The committee:

Chairman: Chaim Icek Grynfeld

Vice-Chairman: Mojsze Ber Hamer

Secretary: Mojsze Fiszman

Treasurer: Szymon Krongrad

Controller: Arje Nubinski

Organizational Representatives:
Lajbus Fuks
Jakob Sulkowicz
Nachman Gutkind
Herszel Cwerner
Statute of the Organization:
1. Every Jew may become a member only with the approval of the chairman.

2. The list of members is maintained by the vice-chairman, and new members have to apply to him.

3. Every member must pay monthly dues, in accordance with his ability, for the organization and for the general Zionist organization.

4. The money collected from the monthly dues goes to our local organization, and the rest of the money, according to the vote of the committee, which meets at the end of every year, that is, at the end of the month of Elul.

5. Every member who sells five shekels [Palestinian/Israeli coins] [1] to people who do not belong to our organization and also buys a share (in the Jewish Colonial Trust) will be included as an honorary member and will have the right to participate in committee meetings.

6. Every new member must pay, upon joining the organization, the sum that the committee decides.

7. Two members of the committee will collect the dues on a monthly basis.

8. A member who does not pay his monthly dues over the course of three months will be removed from the organization.

Document 2

b”h [borkhashem – with God's help], Tuesday, parsha Vay-khi, Tevet, (December 1904), Brzezin.
Lkoved [In honor] of harav hakhokhm [the sage] Dr. Jelski
Warsaw
Zionist Circle – Lodz
In response to your letter of the third of [the month of] Kislev, page 10, Number 61, we have the honor of enclosing the minutes of our last meeting with the names of the committee and the bylaws according to which our organization operates. In the next few days in Lodz one of our group, Warszajnlich, the Chairman, will visit you concerning our organization, and he will purchase the amount of shekels we need, also forty pamphlets of “The Shekel.” We received the ten pamphlets of “Doctor Herzl,” and we distributed them among our members. We thank you very much for the pamphlets. We can assure you that this will help spread our great concept in our town.

Finally we ask you again to certify our organization and to send us letters and circulars. We also ask you to send us twenty-five receipt booklets to record the payments of installments for the shares (in the Jewish Colonial Trust) that we are promoting among the friends of our movement.

With respect and with Tsion greetings [Zion is in our hearts]

Chaim Icek Grynfeld

Document 3

Minutes of the meeting of the Herzl Society

Moytsi Shabes parsha Mikets [parsha read during Hanukkah], the third of [the month of] Tevet (January 1905)

A. The chairman opened the meeting and read aloud the answer from Dr. Jelski of Lodz to the letter regarding the establishment of the Herzl Society in Brzezin.

B. The treasurer gave a report that to date the sum of nineteen rubles from monthly dues and other income has been collected by our members.

C. The bylaws were unanimously accepted by all members, and it is determined that they should be written into the organization book by the chairman.

D. The motion of the vice-chairman, Mr. Dawid Hamer, not to obligate the members to buy shares in the Jewish Colonial Trust, even on installment, was tabled until the next meeting.

E. The motion of member Szolem Litwin concerning reading Tanakh [Five Books of Moses] and chapters of Jewish history every Shabes before the members, was rejected by a majority vote, because the local conditions are against it and could damage the development of our movement in our town.

F. The meeting came to a close with the singing of Zionist songs.

Chaim Icek Grynfeld z”l [may his memory be blessed]

 

brz117.jpg -  A class of children in a state school in Brzezin
Reb Chaim Icek Grynfeld,
founder of the Zionist
organization in Brzezin

 

Reb Chaim Icek Grynfeld was a Hasidic maskil [adherent of Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment movement] and occupied an honorable position among the distinguished people of the town. He was among the rashoynim, the first prophets, of the Zionist movement in Brzezin. At the time when political Zionism was still in its early days, Reb Chaim Icek Grynfeld came and created the first Zionist organization in our town, the Agudas Herzl. This was in the year 1901. Important documents about the previously mentioned organization have been cited above.

We also want to relate here a very tragic episode in the life of Reb Chaim Icek Grynfeld, which had at that time provoked a storm of protests on the part of the inhabitants of our town, both Jews and non-Jews. We have in mind here the historical situation when Brzezin was occupied by the Germans during the First World War and the occupiers had condemned to death, among others, the leader of the community, Reb Icek Grynfeld, who, at that time, occupied an important post in the kehile [Jewish community] of Brzezin.

“In the year 1914, Friday, Parsha Noah” [day on which that portion is read], his son, who is now in Israel, told us, “Jews and Christians went to plead that the person condemned to death be freed. The protest activity on the part of the general population had such an effect that the very next day, a commission from the general staff in Warsaw was brought in, and after they had listened carefully to all the details, he was freed.” On the day he was freed, he took upon himself a voluntary oath to observe a fast every year on that day, and he indeed did observe it like a pious Jew.

Between the world wars Reb Chaim Icek Grynfeld emigrated to Palestine and died there. Koved zayn ondenk![Honor to his memory!]


[Pages 118-121]

Jewish Sports in Brzezin

by Abe Rosenberg

Translated by Renee Miller

Edited by Fay Bussgang

Brzezin, between the world wars, was like a two-sided coin. On one side, the blooming of a community, secular life, elementary education for children, libraries, lectures, cinema, and theater-performances – on the other side, economic decline and hopelessness.

After the First World War, Brzezin did not recover. The hermetically sealed Russian marketplace and the anti-Semitic governmental policy had a strong and catastrophic effect on the tailoring industry, which was Brzezin's only source of income.

With difficulty and bitterness the town struggled for a piece of bread. The more difficult conditions, the hopeless outlook for the young, the mass immigration that took away the best and most active young people, and perhaps the premonition of the future catastrophe – weighed heavily on the mood. And when one falls into such a mood, one looks for escape in secular pleasure, living in the present moment. One of these pleasures, which grabbed the hearts and minds of the small town youth, and older people too, was sports – physical culture in all its forms.

Before the end of the First World War, physical culture and organized sports were unheard of in Brzezin. Of course Jewish children played, ran, leapt, swam, skated, and wrestled. But this was rather instinctive, before caring for the body became so popular.

Before Brzezin became a tailoring town – in the early 1890s – most of its Jewish inhabitants were famous for their strength. It was not an accident that even the elderly could not remember a pogrom, not because their Polish neighbors loved the Jews so much, but simply only because they were afraid to pick a quarrel.

The closeness to nature, the fresh, mekhayedik [delicious] air from the surrounding fields and forests, and the resulting satisfaction, made the children of the town physically sturdy.

Shabes [Sabbath], yontov [holiday], after cholent [baked dish of meat, potatoes, and beans kept warm from the day before], when the parents took a nap, young people went out in the street, onto the meadows, and let loose their accumulated energy. We sprang over the zhike [little river], carried on valkes [fights], and played various games. One of the most popular games was palant. This was a team game with a pilka [ball] and a klipeh [a sort of stick], very close to the American game of baseball.

The rise of tailoring had a negative physical effect on the state of health in the town. The crowding, the unsanitary conditions, the long hours of work, sending children at an early age into stuffy workshops contributed to a physical decline.

The First World War changed the situation radically. The clothing industry became paralyzed overnight. Need, simple hunger, as well as the Germans, took over the town.

How strange! Although Jews suffered from hunger, it did not show outwardly on their faces. They were forced to resort to their former occupations. Traveling through the villages, smuggling – which involved immense, physical risk – and the difficult treks over the highways and through the forests, these straightened out the bent backs and returned color to the pale emaciated Brzeziner tailors. The generation that was brought up in those four years was taller and more robust than their parents.

The period 1917–20 was the springtime period of secular community life in Brzezin. All the secular parties and organizations came into being at that time. One of the first was the Zionist youth scouting movement – Hashomer Hatzair.

Hashomer Hatzair, modeled after the English scouting movement, in addition to spreading the Zionist ideal among youth, popularized and promoted the slogan “in a healthy body, a healthy spirit.” Its members engaged in elementary gymnastics, gymnastic formations (such as pyramids), and quasi-military exercises. On their overnight trips they slept in tents on the bare ground in fields or forests. In khaki shirts and knickers, they marched through the streets of the town in military formation, keeping time to music with Hebrew songs.

Hashomer Hatzair lasted but a few years altogether, but it left an enduring stamp on the youth of the town, who had become almost entirely disconnected from the old way of life. The changes manifested themselves both in style of clothing and also in the satisfaction derived from being in the open air.

 

brz119.jpg -  Brzeziner Jewish children in a sports competition
Brzeziner Jewish children in a sports competition

 

On sunny Shabes afternoons, in the summer moonlight, the young people played on the lakes near Probeken and sang sweet haunting Russian romantic, Zionist, and worker songs. In addition, in winter, when the frost crackled, we skated there on steel ice skates or rode in sleighs.

The predominant political and spiritual set of circumstances caused an overemphasis on the value of the balance between muscle and mind, body and soul. This led to the rise of the sports movement at the beginning of the 1920s.

The first to take part in athletic games were the children of the Brzeziners who had been evacuated with the Russian armies at the beginning of the First World War and had come back to Brzezin after the revolution.

About 1921, in Szymaniszki, about two verst [verst=.66 of a mile] from the town, opposite the Tadzin forest, on a flat field that was ideally suited for football [soccer], the children of the former Brzezin aristocracy began to play – the brothers Zygmantowicz, Dawid Szotenberg, the distinguished toyerman (goal keeper) Stach Krengel, the Bercholc brothers, and others.

Because they were few in number, they encouraged, gathered and taught the young ones, who were captivated and threw themselves with might and main into sports.

In a short time, hitting the ball took on epidemic proportions. At dawn on Shabes summer days, instead of going with one's father to pray, the young people, through roundabout detours, in order to avoid the “evil eye,” were drawn to the playing field (boisko). There, they threw off their Shabes clothing, put on short pants, shirts, and special shoes and with great zeal took to training. During the week they hit balls at all the vacant lots, in the courtyards, and in the streets. Little by little, a group emerged that dominated the sport, and they were ready to participate in the game in an organized way.

In 1924 the B.K.S. (Brzezinski Klub Sportowy) [Brzezin Sports Club] was formed. The founders and lead players were Stach Krengel, the brothers Janek and Moniek Zygmantowicz, Dawid Szotenberg, Abram Abramowicz, the brothers Izrael and Jehoszua Kornblum, the brothers Chatzkel and Dawidke Bercholc, Anczel Lustig, Aszer Bocian, Syne Zilberman, and others. The club consisted of several druzhines (teams), part of the Polish football league, Class C. Later the club moved up to Class B. The club had a number of first class players and competed with such masters as L.K.S. [Lodzki Klub Sportowy] and Lodzer HaKoakh [power]. In addition to soccer there were also sections for ping-pong (table tennis), cricket, tennis, and recreational activities. The club had its own premises on Rogow Street.

In 1926 the sports club Shtern (Gwiazda) [Star], which was under the influence of the leftist Poale Zion, was formed. Among the founders and players were A. Abramowicz, Majer Ber Szwarc, Mojsze Goldman, and others. In additon to soccer they had a section for recreational activities. Mostly, they devoted themselves to excursions (wycieczki) in the surrounding areas, which were distinguished by their natural beauty. Their premises were on High Street at Mojsze Kopel's.

In the year 1927–28, the T.M.S. (Towarzystwo Milosnikow Sportowych) [Society of Sports Lovers] began. Among the founders and players were Dan-Aszer Fogel, Nahum Nowak, Icie Mandel, Lajbl Jerozolimski, Szmuel Rozenkranc, Lajbl Szyftman, Benjamin Bonian, Zelig Frydman, and others. This was a non-party club with the following sections – ping pong, bicycling, and recreational sports. Their premises were on Apothecary Street.

Besides those mentioned above, at a lower level, existed the club HaKoakh, the Sports Association of Hitachdut, and the Prond (Stream), under the influence of the leftists. These clubs did not last long.

Besides organized sports clubs, the youth were strongly devoted to swimming, ice skating, bicycling, tennis, and gymnastics.


As described in this chronicle, the reader can get some notion of the role that sports competitions, matches that usually took place on weekends, played in the life of the young. The excitement, the nervous tension, the glee or sorrow when the town club won or, kholile [God forbid], lost a match. If I may be so bold, both as an onlooker and often as a participant, I will try to describe the precious picture that is left engraved in my memory of those wonderful days, of my own unforgettable childhood years, of the superb youth of my generation, of our passionately beloved town Brzezin that was so horribly annihilated with fire and sword. [Fire and Sword – title of classic Polish novel.] May the cold fire that still smolders in ashes that cover that desert Brzezin warm us in the autumn cold. . . .

A Shabes afternoon in summer. Right after eating cholent, the young people begin to shuffle out of their houses. From all the streets and lanes, groups are drawn to Nowe Miasto [New Town] on the way to the playing field. Near the German church, where the highway begins, the mass of people become denser – most of the girls in white dresses, young boys in short pants in bright summer suits, and Hasidic young men in their Shabes black eybitslekh [long coat], which makes them stand out on the silver-pebbled highway.

The road goes uphill. At the very top, on the left, the Tadzin forest shines green. The sky is a deep blue, here and there interwoven with small silver-white clouds. A midsummer sun burns with pale fire over the yellow-green corn-covered fields, which sway slightly in the barely felt wind. In the plush green meadows, black and white cows graze placidly.

On the field, dressed in multicolored uniforms, the players practice, surrounded on all sides by living walls of onlookers. The nervousness, the tension, makes the midday heat seem even stronger. We wait impatiently for the sedzia's [sendzia's] (referee's) whistle. With something like spite, the opposing players from the other town practice with such cold-bloodedness and skill that our feelings of uncertainty increase. Decent, nice boys look over the opposing players with a critical eye and promise themselves quietly whom they would teach a lesson if he were to become a petak [pentak] [jerk]. Now begins the usual ceremony. The captains greet each other. A whistle cuts through the overheated air. Play begins.

 

brz120a.jpg -  The Brzeziner Sports Club 'B.K.S.'

 

brz120b.jpg -  The Brzeziner Sports Club 'B.K.S.'
The Brzeziner Sports Club “B.K.S.”

 

The first minutes go according to the previously adopted plan. Each player is at his position. The ball goes from player to player, as agreed, as was planned during endless practices. But something happens here. The opponents go on the offensive; they bring the ball to our goal. They have already torn through the defense. The only hope lies with the stretched out goalee. He runs out of the net, grabs the ball and falls on the ground. The opponents try, with their feet, to take back the ball. He is injured. The wall of onlookers, with an angry roar, rush to help their beloved player. A fight that does not last long breaks out. Cooler heads, older saner onlookers, and the referrees mix in. The play continues.

The opponents get the upper hand. Twice already they have kicked the ball into our net. The splendid goalee, who is constantly bombarded, plays miraculously and heroically and is rewarded with grateful shouts and applause. The game is coming to a close. The players, covered with perspiration, are almost dead on their feet. The opponents bombard, the goalee skillfully grabs the ball and throws it deep into enemy territory. It is overtaken by the center forward who gives it, blitz-shnel [lightning fast], over to the right wing. He carries it all the way to the corner, centers it, and, with the power of a bomb, it is driven into the opponent's net. A wild, triumphant shout rips out of hundreds of breasts. The match is really lost, but our honor is rescued.

The sun has finally gone down behind the meadows when the dense masses reach Nowe Miasto. A cool evening breeze caresses and cools the agitated crowd. The church bells have rung. Through the windows that blaze in shining purple from the setting sun is heard the sweetly sung nign [melody] of “God of Abraham” [a woman's prayer marking the end of the Sabbath].

By the time the crowd reaches the marketplace, the first stars are already twinkling. Some go home, a number go to daven [pray] the weekly mayrev [evening prayer]; others go to the bar at Szotenberg's, where, with a glass of beer or tea, they soberly analyze the lost match.

The players on the opposing team, although conquerors, behave modestly, swapping compliments and reciprocal appreciation. Etiquette demands that we accompany them to the bus that takes them home.

On the thickly tree-lined Koluzki Street, where the players depart, a dark-blue sky can be seen. When we reach Wolfszmidt's orchard, the full moon shines forth.

Clouds of dust, the smell of gasoline, outstretched hands, of hidd [bravo], do widzenia [good-bye], and the bus disappears in the blue distance. We cut through the orchard, the deep, grassy fields, and the trails among the rye and come out on the Rogow highway.

From the valley, where the town lay half asleep, here and there a small fire sparkled. On the edge of the horizon, the outline of the nocturnal secretive forests shone darkly. The forests shone in the pale-golden light of the full moon swimming in the dark blue sky. The night lay still, heavy and fragrant. We had finally sung all the songs. We did not want to go home. The pleasure of the past day slowly evaporated. The morning ahead lay gray and cheerless. Only one song was left to be sung, a song that fit the spirit, which was overburdened with sadness, longing, and gloom.

On Rogow Street, in the gloom, in the shine of stardust immersed in moonlight, the doomed generation sang Icchok Kacenelson's song:

A world, a world, you don't worry,
Soon the day arises.
But eternal is my sadness,
Eternal is my lament.
Somewhere a dog howled heartrendingly in the silence of the night. Like shadows we dispersed for home. Like shadows in the night, like eternal shadows in the eternal night.


Note:

  1. The Zionist shekel constituted a personal membership certificate in the World Zionist Organization and was proof of payment of membership fees. Paying of the shekel was a condition for the right to vote and eligibility for election to the Zionist Congress. (See <http://www.wzo.org.il/politics/Structure.html>.) Return

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