Translated by Marvin Galper Once, when I was a youngster, Yossel Sheimus arrived at our home with a blue-white collection box with a Star Of David stamped on it, and also the printed phrase Keren Kayemet L'Yisroel. He told us that on Friday he was going to be passing through the town collecting cash from the townspeople for the National Fund, for the purpose of redeeming land in Eretz Yisroel. At about the same time, I heard that Pinchas had gone through town with a little book, inscribing contributions to the Odessa Committee. One was required to pay three Russian rubles, in installments over the course of a year.
I remember being told that Chaim Dinkes, Efraim Eliyohu, Meilach Pekarski, and Nechemya Yankel (Zelig Isaac's) were enrolled as subscribers. The leader of the group was Alter Suprarski, who lived in Kursk, and visited Goniondz three times a year on religious festivals. Every Friday a young man would pass through the town collecting funds for Keren Kayemet. There were many who did not wish to contribute. They were generally either poor or tight fisted.
One of the wealthier men in town, Alter Yisroel, who was also a keen minded man, used to ridicule both the collection box and those who collected. They knew how to handle him. Alter Yisroel loved to stand at the lectern in the synagogue. He had the established prerogative to pray the beginning part of Slichos on the Saturday night of Rosh Hashana. The first group of young Zionist men consisted of Yankel (Dovid Rudskis'son), Hershel Finis, Hershel Leibel (Chayim Meyers'son), Yitzhok the son of the dayan's wife, Haikel (Schloime Yossels' son), Yossel Sheimus, Laizer Zelig, Mayer the watch repairman's son, Yisroel Yaysef Beryl, and a group of small kids.
They gathered behind the lectern and when Alter began to sing Motzoi Menucha, everyone started to thump on the benches and seats, and he stopped. They said that they were not going to permit Alter to be the leader of the congregation from the lectern until he began to contribute regularly to the collection box. Almost all the worshippers were accustomed to donate to the collection box were in agreement with these young men. A tumult ensued, and Alter Yisroel swore that he would take care of those guys, the unshaven ones. He gave the town constable, a heavy-set Russian with a thick mustache, the names of the young men.
It seemed like a good deal to the constable, He expected he'd end up with something in his pocket. He called the young men to him. Before going to see him they sent him in advance a fine pair of boots from Moishe Gershon the shoemaker. This dignitary scolded them a little for causing a disturbance in a public place, and then told them that he would
let them go this time. The boots had cost the men three rubles. After that, Alter Yisroel regularly contributed a kopeck to the National Fund.
On another occasion, Alter Suprarski came to town from Kurtsk and established a local Zionist organization, mainly from among the laborers and tradesmen. The group included Schmuel Baer Malasofski, Berushki the tailor, Laizer the blacksmith, and others. They rented a place from Zeike the wagoneer, near to Benyomin the scribe. Every Sabbath they met there to study a little Chumash and Tanach. Gershon Boruch studied with them for a while. Yitzhok the dayan's son would read them a little history. Also, for a brief time, they were given lectures by Gedalke the teacher.
Goniondz also sent Yankel Rudski as delegate to the Fourth Zionist Congress. On that occasion, he served as representative for the town of Grajewo as well. When they arranged a Zionist congregation in the home of Schmuel Chodorowsky, Yankel Rudski told all those present what he had seen and heard at the Congress in Basel. Yankel Rudski was an intelligent man, but he had a problem with stage fright. He could tell a story clearly and cleverly, but he couldn't speak in public. He had been enormously impressed with Usishkin The Iron General, and with Dr. Max Nordau. But, Rudski said, they were like a drop in the ocean in comparison with Theodor Herzl--his striking handsomeness, his wisdom and his greatness. Rudski didn't succeed in being able to have a conversation with him, but could only manage a hello. To do that, he had to wait especially for Herzl in a corridor, and then give him his hello. When Rudski shared this episode, there was a tear in everyone's eye at the minyaan. At Simchas Torah time, the Zionists had their own minyan.
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund It would be unpardonable if when writing these memories of Goniadz were to forget the existence of the Agudas Tzeirei-Zion. The association was founded in an indirect manner thanks to General Zionists who formed under Comrade Jakob Rudski. When our unforgettable leader, Dr. T. Herzl, called together the Fourth Zionist Congress in Basel, the comrade, Reb Jakob Rudski, may he rest in peace, went as a delegate and when he returned he delivered his impression of the Congress and its various participants to a crowded circle of Jews. All who took part were convinced that Dr. Herzl was a true prophet sent from heaven to help in the final redemption of the Jewish people from their almost 2,000 year exile.
Present at the meeting were: Reb Jakob Rudski, Reb Pinkhas Kamenecki, Reb Chaim Kopelman, Reb Shimeon Chodorowski, Reb Moshe Halevy (today the latter is in Tel Aviv).
The Zionist World Organization created certain institutions for which we had to work and, chiefly, to develop the ideal of political Zionism. Thus were created: the institution of Keren Kayemet leYisroel [Jewish National Fund], to redeem the territory of Eretz-Yisroel, and the Colonial Bank to give financial support to the first colonists. In addition, the national spirit had to be developed among the young.
It also was necessary to draw a larger group as subscribers to the newspapers: HaTsefirah [The Siren], Hazman [The Time], to the journal: HaShiloah [Of Shiloah]; to bring
new teaching methods into the old kheder [religious primary school] and to transform it into a modern kheder. It should be understood that the work fell on the General Zionists who, by the way, it must be remembered, were the most esteemed men, business owners in the city, who derived great pleasure from studying a page of the Gemara in the house of study every night; they never missed praying three times a day. However, these Jews had great difficulties then in Russia: they were busy with their livelihoods. Therefore, little by little the national work fell upon the young, who would listen with enthusiasm to the conversations of the old comrades on Shabbos between Minkhah and Maariv [the afternoon and evening prayers] and little by little prepared for the campaign for the redemption of the land and the people.
Before beginning the work, the young created an association with the name Tzeirei-Zion. The following comrades took part in the organization: Josef Hercig, Yoal Meir Hacohan, Josef Bobrowski, Moshe Malozowski, Yehoshaya Rozenblum; Yehezkiel Perec Czerniak, Zundl Ben Akiva, Khunen Szilewski and Mordekhai L. Absholem (at that time he bore the family name Frydman-Furman), who was elected as the first president of the association. The main work of the association consisted of collecting money for K.K.L. Every Friday comrades with puskhes [cans] would go across the city and collect money for the National Fund. Others went on sales actions for the Colonial Bank (which was more difficult work); selling stamps for Keren Kayemet and the like. Every time a preacher would expound on Zionist thought in his sermon in the synagogue, the comrades would
consider themselves lucky, particularly when he would attempt to draw the young to the ideal of Zionism.
The dispute that the Zionists would carry out in the occupied communities cannot be described: they would consider themselves lucky when a Zionist candidate would win. The Zionist workers were, at that time, very fruitful and very successful. Because of the difficult circumstances that reigned at that time in Russia in regard to we Jews, the president of the association had to leave his dear city, Goniadz, and emigrate abroad. As recognition for his active work, he was recorded in the first Golden Book of Keren Kayemet by his comrades from his city.
Translated by Marvin Galper
The Bund consisted of a small group of workers and sympathizers. Goniondz was a poor town and did not have large factories as did the large cities. Attempts had been made to establish a textile factory, a pearl button factory, and also a bristle brush factory. None of these ventures, however, were successful. As a result there were no industrial workers available for recruitment. Consequently, the Bund involved themselves primarily in Yiddish cultural activities. They penetrated the town trilingual library (Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian) with the intent of shifting it's direction to learning Yiddish rather than Hebrew.
They were successful for a brief time period. However, they were ejected from the community and the folk library when the Tsire Tzion movement was established. Later the Bundists established a people's school with Yiddish as the language of instruction which operated at the same time as the Tsire Tzion Hebrew people's school.
They also founded new institutions such as the people's school in which Hebrew was the language of instruction. They enriched the library with books written in Hebrew, with the intent of recruiting new membership by means of the shekel. They also collected funds for Zionist causes.
Two young friends visited all the Jewish homes every Friday afternoon seeking contributions. They attended every joyous family occasion, such as weddings or circumcisions, and solicited donations for the National Fund. Their wish was to have a Keren Kayemet donation box in every Jewish home. Those who made substantial contributions were inscribed for a perpetual memory in the Golden Book in the land of Israel.
Another activity was the establishment of the traditional Simchas Torah minyan organized by the Tsire Tzion. The Rudski home, the most attractive site on the town square, was made available to them on a gratis basis for this purpose. On Simchas Torah, all funds contributed for the honor of carrying the Torah were donated to the Keren Kayemet fund. These occasions were great Zionist demonstrations. The spacious area was filled to overflow with people. Masses of people also assembled outside due to the lack of sufficient space within. The tall and thin Yoel Mayer Cohen, with his serious face, would stand in the center surrounded by his chorus. They would sing To The Bird Of Paradise and Hatikva. Yehatzkel Cherniak would sing Shine Forth, O King From Your Abode from the kedusha of the morning service in the musaf singing style of Cantor Nochum, may his memory be for a blessing. One felt the powerful faith of the congregation as they responded in unison, Soon, and in our days. Their passion is difficult to convey in a written document.
They also allowed themselves a little humor. At that time, the wealthiest man in Goniondz was given a Torah to carry around the room with the comment, help the poor. All
present would respond with hearty laughter. This was good-natured humor, and was experienced as friendly by all.
The powerful influence of Zionism on the town can be seen most clearly in the extraordinary number of persons who migrated to Israel. It is worthy of note that the Zionist influence was so extraordinary that, when the writer of these lines would pass through town selling shekalim, he didn't even neglect to stop at the home of Laib Maskovski, the leader of the Bund, may his memory be for a blessing. In response to my request that he buy a shekel, Laib answered, As Bund leader I cannot buy a shekel. But I will accept one in the name of my wife.
Translated from Yiddish to English by Dr. Isaac Fine
Edited by David Goldman, Avraham Yaffe, Tel Aviv, Israel The Bund was a socialist labor movement that had a noticeable influence in the European Jewish world at the turn of the century. Its influence was felt in Goniondz. Goniondz, was not an industrial town, unlike some others in the environs of Bialystok. There was a folk saying, When a rooster crows in Druskoenig, (a resort area near Grodno) it is heard in four provinces - Grodno, Vilna, Suvalk, and Kovno. So it was with Goniondz. Our shtetl was connected by the railroad with Bialystok on one side and with the town of Grayve, near the German border, on the other side. One could also reach the German border through passage on the Bober River, in several directions through the forests. The river Bober waterway led to the great lakes around Yagustove-Suvalk on one side and to the river Nemen near Grodno by the other side. In other words, Goniondz lay at a crossroads, and was open to winds from all sides.
The three major industries of the environs were (1) textiles - Bialystok and neighboring regions, (2) clothing - Smargon in Vilno province, and Krinke in Grodno province, and (3) pig-hair brushes in Trestine (near Grodno), Kniesin and other nearby towns, and also Vilkoviski in Suvalk province. This group of industries gave rise to a proletariat of hundreds and thousands of Jewish laborers, and provided the foundation for the Bund.
The Bund organization in Goniondz had its origins in the small pig-hair brush factory of Zeidke, the son-in-law of Chayim Trotz. Zeidke was a sharp-tongued temperamental young man. He loved to participate in the discussions of young men and women who were involved in the enlightenment. He wasn't interested in study at the House of Study, and relocated himself in the nearby town of Trestine. He became a brushmaker there, and at the same time was active in party propaganda for the local Bund group. When he returned to Goniondz he married and had children. He opened a little brush factory, in Feivel the baker's backyard, which looked out on the synagogue hill.
This happened at the end of the nineteenth century. At that time, I was still a child, a student of Yudl the melamed (teacher of elementary Hebrew). I had the opportunity to visit Zeidke's brush factory. Yudl's daughter had to bring dinner to her two brothers who worked for Zeidke. Once, at nine in the evening, when all the students had left school for home, she suggested that I accompany her to the brush factory. It was a cold winter night. Outside, a snow had fallen and a strong wind was blowing. Within the brush factory, however, it was light, warm and cheerful. Work tables were placed down the length of the room, with great iron combs placed upon them. The workers stood, each by his own comb, and combed the pig-hair. The hands of the workers moved quickly as they sang. Dust from the pig-hair filled the room. My rabbi's two sons stood in a corner of the room. They were making small packets of the cleaned pig-hair, then tying each pack with a string. We were fascinated by their work, and stayed there watching them. I found myself feeling drowsy about eleven at night. When we left at that time, the workers stayed on and continued at their tasks.
To me, as a child, the brush factory seemed full of light and song. When I became older, I saw it from a different perspective. The working conditions were oppressive, sixteen hours a day, from seven in the morning until eleven at night. Workers took their meals in the factory. During the summer, the windows were opened, and the breezes blew the dust away. In winter they were closed. The dust went into the eyes, the nose, the mouth, and from there to the lungs. Friday was a shorter day. Then on Saturday night, they had to work from sundown until eleven or twelve at night.
In that work-setting, the local Bund initiated a struggle for better working conditions. The organization demanded a maximum working day of twelve hours, which did not require working Saturday night. I remember the occasion when my rabbi, Rabbi Yudl returned from a talk with the shop owner. Zeidke responded, What a nerve those workers have, demanding that I release them from work duties on Saturday night! After resting all day Saturday, they could do wonders on Saturday night! Reb Yudl, whose sons worked there, felt that his reasoning was correct. The workers threw stones through the brush factory windows. At the end, the shop owner gave in to their demands, allowing a shorter workday and freedom from work responsibilities on Saturdays. This victory lent courage to those in smaller work settings where only one or two laborers were employed.
I recall that at that time there was a ladies' tailor in Goniondz. His name was Yankel, and he had come to town from Kobrin. Kobrin was my family's hometown, and we visited him often. Yankel was an observant Jew. He was a poor man, and was dedicated to his family. He had bought his sewing machine from a Singer sewing machine company agent in Bialystok by means of monthly installment payments. The contract was a strict and cruel one. The Singer Company would confiscate a machine after a default of one monthly payment, even after years of regular and reliable payments. When the agent came to town for his monthly visit, Yankel was terrified. The Singer man stayed at Rochul Maishe's , eating and drinking under the company expense account. More than once, Yankel came to us pouring out the bitterness of his heart. The agent was in town, and he didn't have the cash for his payment. The bandit will take away his machine, and his family will perish from hunger! My sister Esther, may her memory be for a blessing, who helped mother with domestic duties, was a friend of Rochul Maishe's' daughter. More than once she went to the agent to plead with him that he should not confiscate Yankel's sewing machine, and for him to extend the term of payment.
In the beginning of the Bund organization in the shtetl, Yankel the tailor suddenly became an exploiter because he had only one girl working for him. Yankel complained that his relationship with his worker had gone to wrack and ruin. As soon as it became eleven at night, his worker would start looking at the clock, God forbid she should work overtime. When I became an apprentice he told me we're going to work until midnight and before holy days until two or three in the morning, sleeping a few hours on the workbench or under the bench. The boss used to wake the employees up for work at five in the morning. But now better days came to our shtetl, brought about by the arrival of the Bund.
That was only one aspect of Bundist activity in our shtetl. The other more severe aspect was connected with the danger of arrest and exile in Siberia. I refer to the revolutionary agitation against the Tsar and his regime. The workers met in late night hours on the synagogue hill, or, during summer nights, in the Kolkovichisner Forest, which was about two kilometers from town. That was conspiratorial activity, and they were on the lookout for police and government agents.
I, a young boy who had just graduated the Russian school, was studying Gemara (part of the Talmud) in the House of Study. Once, between early afternoon and sundown prayers, Leibel-Akiva, the son of Bobers, took me to a corner and asked me to write letters for him in Russian which were invitations to a Bundist meeting in town. The invitation asked them to meet at a certain specified place in the forest, where he, Leibel, would make a speech. He hadn't wanted to write the invitations himself since his handwriting might be recognized. The end result was that he was shadowed by the police. They warned his sister that they would send him to Siberia if he didn't leave immediately for America. Leibel didn't wait to be asked. He went to the United States as soon as he heard the news. Later, he brought over his sisters.
On Sabbath and holy day evenings, the Bundists used to walk along the main road towards Osoviec singing songs of the revolution. I recall a part of one of these songs:
Our Messiah is coming!
The Jewish worker in Russia, Lithuania and PolandThe socialist cultural activities of the Bundists consisted of distributing leaflets in Yiddish among friends and sympathizers. They had a small illegal library in Yiddish. The more cultured members of the organization would visit the Hashachar Zionist library, and read periodical articles and books there.
He lifts up the flag of freedom!
From time to time, they would suddenly organize agitation assemblies, which frightened the Jews of town. Early one morning, they surrounded the House of Study during the prayer hour. They commanded that no one should leave and, by brandishing a revolver, threatened those who did to try to walk out. An agitator from Bialystok stood at the synagogue altar and made a speech. A fear fell upon all the worshippers within. They were afraid of being hit if they tried to leave the scene and also were fearful of the police, should they become aware of what was happening. I, a young boy active in all the Zionist work in the shtetl, was also among the Jews in the House of Study at that time. I tried to take a stand against those outside, The Bund is not going to give me any orders! I said to myself. I started to leave. Moishe Fievel the cobbler grabbed me and held me with his strong hand. He warned, If you don't go along with us, we'll finish you off! At that moment, he was approached by Mottel-Mendel's the grain merchant in the marketplace, my friend from Hebrew school. He said to Moishe-Fievel, Don't forget that this is the son of Avrom the judge. Soon after that, Moishe-Fievel let me go. Later, on another occasion, I ran into Fievel in Grayve, when I was a Hebrew teacher there. My neighbor was a cobbler and Moishe-Fievel worked with him. He was arrested there for his Bund activities.
One of the Bund leaders in town was Slaveh, the son of Shusterke. He was a short fat fellow. He dressed very well, even on weekdays. Slaveh was a young tailor who had worked in Bialystok and came back to our shtetl a fervent Bundist. During the night meetings on the synagogue hill, when the walkers stood below and he stood at the lead, he would begin his speech, Friends! Our task is to elevate the class consciousness for the benefit of the worker. While saying the word elevate he would always make a demonstrative gesture with his hand. He was also a frequent visitor to the Hashachar library, which was located in Shloime Yossel's' house. Chaikel was the most active organizer in this library. He would always come with a friend, read the periodicals and explain the implications to his friend.
Mottel-Mendel's was one of the best known and most loved of the Bundists. I remember his participation in the funeral of the youngest daughter of Avrom Kurtzer the teacher. He lived in a corner of the marketplace near the entrance to Dead Man's Alley (Meissim Gasse), through which all funeral processions passed, avoiding Church (Tifla) Street. Avrom the teacher had three daughters. They were all beautiful and were all seamstresses. Their mother would bake challah and kichel. The youngest daughter, who would sew until the late hours of the night, came down with tuberculosis and died very young,
at 20 years old. At the funeral a group of Bundists participated with Mottel in the lead. He is the one who sang Peretz's song about the fate of a seamstress: I sew and peddle, and peddle out gray braids. The song and the music cast a gloomy mood on all those present. After the father said Kaddish (the prayer often said by mourners), one of his friends cried out: Down with the bourgeoisie! Down with the Tsar! and shot a revolver. Immediately, everyone scattered in all directions. Neither the Burial Society, nor of course the father of the deceased girl, were pleased with this Bundist outburst, but everyone kept silent.
The Bundist movement in Goniondz was a small sidestream in contrast to the great current of the Zionist movement, which captured all ranks of the townsfolk, especially the middle class, which constituted the majority of citizens in every city and town. Nonetheless, the Bundists did make significant contributions. They improved the working conditions of laborers in town, contributed to cultural development, and developed organizations which provided self defense against the wave of pogroms which fell upon the Jewish communities of Russia at that time.
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