In the year 1901, or maybe even earlier, Laizerkeh Salasheh, who was a small and dark shoemaker with small dark eyes, and as agile as quicksilver, was never at home. He sat all day long in Menachem-Laizer's tavern, with all the coachmen waiting for someone to come in and order a drink and a bite for which Laizerkeh would have to pay by some kind of a performance.
He got together a group of shoemakers and tailors and began performing. They played 'The Shmendrick', 'The Old Father' and 'The Sale of Joseph'. All year long they waited for the good Purim and the beautiful Passover. Then Laizerkeh exploited all his talent and 'flew' around the whole town. First they went up to Fishel Moshe Gotttel's, then to Akiva Rubinstein and for a finale they went up to the late Rabbi, Reb Mordecai-Yosef where Laizerkeh showed what he knew. The Rabbi often said: Laizer, Go to the big city, and you will become a Mentsh.
That was what really happened. One fine morning Laizerkeh left Radzyn and went to Lodz. There he was successful and he went on to Warsaw where he met Y.L. Peretz (famous Yiddish author and playwright) and became the great artist Laizer Zalasheh and later became a member of the famous Vilna (theatre) Troupe.
The Radzyner troupe of shoemakers and tailors were left like sheep without a shepherd and decided to continue performing The Sale of Joseph. They continued doing so for many years until many of the actors passed away and with them so did The Sale of Joseph.
In the year 1910-11 the play Bar Kochba was performed in Radzyn by intelligentsia of that period (p.192) that included Ben Zion Greenbaum, Yantshe Gottel's, Laizer Firshtenberg, Chanina Glazer, Mottel Goldwasser and others. Someone by the name of Kaminsky, a Jewish soldier who was stationed at the time in Radzyn, helped them. There was then no theatre building in Radzyn at the time so they performed in a horse stable on the Raientowka Street near Hershel the rope maker's place. However, despite the fact that no posters were posted, the shed was full of people. Everyone went to see the performance of Bar Kochba. Even the local officials came. At that time women did not participate, so the cantor's boys choir showed what it knew.
There were almost no further theatre performances until 1915-16 except for Tikun Tifferet (The Grand Reconstruction) The boys from the Bais-Hamedrash (seminary) presented this dressed like Russian Cossacks with whips in their hands and speaking Russian. They could not appear in the streets for fear that the Russian police would chase after them yelling Jewish traitors. Therefore they ran only through the back streets. They would go into a house and take up positions as if they were soldiers, and one of them would shout out in Russian Musicians! Play the First Moscow March! Then began singing with gusto. When they finished singing, one of them went up to the table and put a card on it on which was written Chevrat Tikun Tifferet (The Grand Reconstruction Society) that had the stamp of the Rabbi and of the teacher on it. Another one went around and collected up a few Zloties, and then they rang a bell and disappeared like clowns.
In this survey I want to tell about the development of the branch of Hashomer Hatzair (The Young Guards) in our town and about the Hashomer youth, who even at that time, contributed greatly to the development of the concept of 'Zionist-Pioneering self realization' among the youth in our town.
From the very beginning, our path was not paved with roses. We had many opponents on all sides. First there was a fierce argument between our parents and us. We did not succeed in convincing them that the only solution to our problems was our territorial concentration in the Land of Israel. We warned them for a long time, pointing to the approaching holocaust, but all this were just a voice in the wilderness. They were unwilling to listen to the younger generation. Therefore there was no choice but to wave the flag of revolt in front of our parents. We told the young people: Do not listen to your father's moral principles.
That was on one side. On the other, were the socialist and anti-Zionist parties that appeared in the Jewish community and waged a strenuous campaign for the souls of the young people of our town. Who can ever forget the unending political agitation and arguments? However, in the end, our prognosis, that viewed the land of Israel as the historic homeland of the Jewish people and the place for its territorial ingathering, was victorious. In those days it took much strength and courage to stand up and fight for our just way, which today is almost unchallenged even by its opponents.
Let us now recount the activities of our branch of Hashomer in our town. As a result of this prognosis, we educated the youth toward a new life, one of labor and toward a new culture, which eliminates the burdens and fears that had become symbolic of those times. We sponsored hikes and trips outside of the narrow confines of the town. We hoped that the clean, pure air of the country would penetrate into the bodies of Hebrew youth. Our aim was to heal the body of the Jew. For that purpose we sponsored summer camps that also served to prepare for the founding of agricultural training farms. However, many mocked us: The Shomrim are playing at being soldiers they said.
How was this to be done? How to mobilize the financial means for maintaining teachers? Despite the difficulties we managed to maintain evening Hebrew courses. I must note with pride and praise the devotion of those teachers who worked hard for this goal and strengthened the Hebrew schools. The Hebrew language was heard. The young people began to sing Hebrew songs and to read the newspapers that reached us from Palestine and in that way learned about what was happening in our homeland.
We collected money for the Jewish National Fund, the Keren Hayesod and other funds. I still remember the cynical derision when we came to empty out the National Fund collection boxes, but we were not ashamed because we saw this as one of the pioneering tasks to which we educated the youth. This was in the period in which there was almost no immigration to Palestine. The mandatory government issued only a very small number of certificates so that there was no choice but to immigrate to Palestine by other means.
The history of the chapter of Hashomer Hatzair in our town begins with its founding close to the end of the military actions in 1920. It was among the first branches that began functioning in Poland. At first various other scouting movements influenced it. Slowly but surely, its own particular method was established becoming the foundation of our movement, and brought us to where we are today. As already noted, there were difficulties even at that time. The struggle over the soul of the Hebrew youth was bitter. The other movements such as the 'Bund' and the 'Communists' fought against us fiercely offering a different solution to the problems of the Jewish people, and influenced to a great extent the ideological unrest in our ranks.
I remember the arguments that took place inside our branch at the end of 1924 about the ideological way of the Hashomer Hatzair movement. In the end we overcame the deviants even though many of them left our ranks. The older members managed to overcome this difficult situation, and as a result the beginnings of immigration to Palestine, the so-called 'self-realization' began.
I remember the immigration to Palestine of the first members of our branch. How we envied them! We who were very young took over both the leadership and educational direction. The period was the one of immigration. At that time every member understood what 'self realization' demanded of him. It was not enough to declare that you are a Zionist and a pioneer. Pioneering means self-realization in all walks of life.
There were various elements among the youth in our branch. Some came from well-to-do homes, some from religious homes, and some were children of merchants, etc. and some even from partly assimilated homes who had studied in Polish secondary schools. All of these elements affected the development of our chapter. Therefore it was necessary to merge all these elements into one strong bloc.
In the early years of our existence no working class youth joined us. They were not attracted to our way. With the passing of time, this youth, too, was attracted to our movement and a united bloc including all elements of the Jewish youth in our city was created.
On the seventh anniversary of the founding of our branch, in 1927, its leaders produced a booklet called דרגא (The Ladder) that was an authentic expression of the fulfillment of our aspirations. In it we found true literary expression for the activities of our branch at that time. After that anniversary there was a changing of the guard in the leadership. The older generation immigrated and those that had been pupils up to now took over the leadership. The younger generation took charge vigorously and carried on with the activities. New problems appeared such as preparing a new generation of leaders, leaving for agricultural training, etc. At that time the Hechalutz (Pioneer) Organization was formed. To summarize: The 30's were years of intensive activity and efforts in our branch.
The time for our Aliyah (immigration to Palestine) arrived. The younger generation took over and continued on faithfully along the same course. However the Holocaust and W.W.2, that destroyed most of our people in Poland, extinguished the light of our dynamic Hashomer branch that had carried on broad and blessed activities through which many young people found their way to the Land of Israel.
With the awakening of communal life in our town, after the end of the German conquest at the end of WW1, many political organizations of different types were established, among them different youth movements. There was an outburst of activities in all facets of social life: expansion of the existing libraries, sports organizations, cooperatives, trade unions etc. Political antagonisms grew. The youth were caught up in a desire for social and political solutions for the rest of the world and for our people. Amidst all of this craving and search for change in the world and for the Jewish people, an important cultural nucleus was created in almost all of the youth movements affecting the cultural life of the town, namely dramatic groups. Such groups were organized in all the youth organizations from Hashomer Hatzair to the Craftsmen (with their performance of The Sale of Joseph).
Every production of any one of the dramatic groups, including both its preparation and its performance, was an important event in the life of the town. The audience at these performances which was always large was mainly made up of the supporters of the political line of the performers. Therefore these performances served as an activating factor in the cultural life of the whole town.
Many theatrical talents in Hashomer Hatzair were revealed in these performances. I want to mention two of them Rachel Lazar and Lichtenstein, who were later murdered by the evil Nazis.
I remember that once one of the actors, Yaakov Z'alaza from famous Vilna Troupe, came to our town. The members of Hashomer Hatzair utilized the opportunity to meet with him, and he agreed after a number of meetings when he was convinced that these amateur actors were capable of performing the play successfully, to prepare a production of the play Der Dorfsyung (The Country Boy) by Kobrin. After a few weeks of preparation, the play was performed under his direction and with his participation. This production was of course very successful and was the ultimate accomplishment in this field in our town.
|5687 - 1927|
(The following article has been taken from Darga (The Ladder (above) which was published by the Hashomer Hatzair organization in Radzyn in 1927 on the its seventh anniversary. They picture both the vigorous and effervescent life of the youth in our town.)
It is important to point out that in our movement in general there was for many years a tortuous and misleading social education that brought us, in addition to some useful experiences, some serious crises that cost us a lot of blood. This happened as a result of the actual blurring of our social goals on one hand and the fear of the leaders who were afraid of creating socialist restraints on the youth on the other hand.
With the crystallization of the essence and the framework of our social position in both Israel and in the Diaspora and the accumulation of educational experience, our educational path took on more and more the suitable form and content.
Those who are acquainted with the conditions in the provincial towns and especially of those in provinces knew that most our youth are under the negative influence of their home environment which was in many cases anti-Zionist. They were always filled with 'doubts' and 'questions' about our way and as a result they did not believe their leaders. Therefore there was a need to prove to our pupils that we were not hiding anything from them including the truth about social problems, the political system, and its future.
As a result of this method of uncompromising socialist education we flourished in Radzyn. We tried to give our people not only a romantic longing for a moral life and a strong desire for social justice but also the scientific basis for social theory and socialism. This brought the young people to believe in our seriousness about the above and to believe in the justice of the solutions that we offered to social problems.
We succeeded in the area of Chalutzic education (education for a life as pioneers in Israel) and there were many reasons for this success the most important of which were: a. the continuing immigration of our members and b. their social status.
The persistent immigration from our branch had strong and continuous influence on the enthusiasm of our younger members for 'The Land of Israel' and was a very important educational element. All of the discussion groups, parties and camp fires were nothing compared to the immigration of one person especially if he was a group leader who was emotionally bound up to his younger pupils.
First there was the tradition of handing down the leadership from older to the younger and their following in their footsteps, all of which started first as a dream and ended up with the actual parting from brothers and personal acquaintances.
The son, who understood the economic changes and saw the economic changes in which the families of our members found themselves, their shaky financial basis with the father who carried on meekly and with inertia without the possibility of assuring the family's welfare, became fiercely critical of the traditional way of life. Together with casting off of the sickly Menachem Mendel impetuosity came great dissatisfaction with the whole meaningless culture.
From inside this intellectual confusion and its ensuing spiritual emptiness burst forth the redeeming-enslaving word of complete personal salvation and the cultural renewal through Chalutziut (Zionist Pioneering).
I don't want to tell only the historical facts. I would rather give you a short review of our ideological development during the different periods.
Seven or eight years ago we were a group of young boys who had just felt the breath of the free world after the loosening of the last knots tying us to the religious school and shtibl. (Small Chassidic prayer hut). We were free! But after a short period of being filled to the brim with freedom, the mind again began to search in all directions. What to join? How to take advantage of this opportunity? Where to invest our natural enthusiasm?
The bench for studying the Talmud was too crowded; the well-trodden path to the 'education bench' was too low. We put an end, once and for all, to personal 'ambition' in all of its forms. But we did not know what to do with ourselves after that.
For a long time there had already existed somewhere the source of a particular youthful creativity that we had somehow not heard about- Hashomer (The Guard- A Zionist Youth Movement), We looked into the 'record books', learned the 'commandments' and started working. We started with scouting. We the 'book worms' went out into the fields and woods. Out there, far from the city, the group leaders, all them outstanding young men, must have exposed the innermost weaknesses that we were ashamed of. We felt that here, in this place, we held the control of our lives and that here is our home. But in what direction should we go? We could not continue to be influenced only by the early cult of the scouting. Our unrest drove us further. Where to? was no longer the question. It was clear that Hashomer was the answer to that. But where do we go further with Hashomer?
A group called 'Hatchiya' ('The Rebirth') was established which in eight months forged a nucleus of leaders for the organization. New people were added, some of whom unlocked the secret of their up until then silent, but plainly rebellious, souls. At that time, the first Seniors Circle was established. I remember that long period as being a great and beautiful dream. Though we called ourselves the Seniors Circle we were only children!
I remember the lively gatherings where our young spirits blossomed. We loaded all the pain of being both human and Jewish on our backs and thought about salvation. But we still saw everything only in our own personal mirror. I am the center of everything! Although we planned to make the whole world a happier place through our principles, we measured everything only by our own personal standards.
How innocently and honestly the good Yaakov, our group leader, would project before for us the picture of our future lives in the homeland in the Small Kvutza (small collective).
Now we can evaluate it objectively. We were a group of people who had reached the age of doubt and clung to the idea of collectivism but from purely individualistic reasons. More than once we even reached a doubtful pessimism. The habitual question at our meetings was: What is life?. The answers were always romantic outbursts, natural romanticism! The influence of the first Seniors group covered everyone and everything. Even the meetings of the 'Kfirim' (Young Lions) were saturated with this legendary format through which we saw the Land of Israel, the commune and our future, in general. Also, in those months, the immigration of our members to Israel began and grew.
With the collapse of the first Seniors Circle, through immigration to the land of Israel, a distinct crisis developed in the attitude of those who remained behind. It began with personal ambitions and ended with a reevaluation of many of the strongly established norms in our lives and work. The doubts about the dreamt-up youthful plans, the search for personal happiness among the adults, together with the fact that more and more of young people had lost their experienced leaders by immigration, caused them to fall under the corrupting influence of the street'. All of this together called out in us a revolt against locking ourselves up in our own realm and even against the realm itself ! Days arrived when everything blistered with the longing for unlimited horizons. It was not only a change in our ideological activity or a sudden change in the ideological outlook; it was a link in the greater chain of our psychological development, an absolute and unavoidable link. It was a massive revolt of the individual against himself, when self hate leads to losing oneself in the whirlpool of maddening communal activity.
At that time some of the more restless among us, who were more affected by their psychological inner conflict and went as far as denying the essence of the movement, were torn away from the course of their rebellion. At the same time, the organization, that had been guided in its most critical moments by its healthy instincts, began slowly and step by step carrying out a process of reshaping itself in the spirit of newly emerging currents.
After somehow limiting the spontaneous eruption, and on the background of the educational activities (which had already for some time become the focal point of the movement's activities), a new foundation was laid which guaranteed further development along quite different lines.
Instead of the inflated individual pain, the essence of the national and social questions was stressed. The Land and the Kibbutz (collective settlement) were no longer oases for helping the individual, but healthy solutions for the sum of all the national and social problems that confronted us and were the essence of this latest period. Self realization was no longer understood as being only the expression of the chosen people syndrome and its negation of the surrounding reality which drives people to 'escape 'and to isolate themselves. It was understood as being the only conclusion to be drawn from our way and from our serious intentions with the ideal of Zionism and the acts of social pioneering.
This is the short summary of our intellectual development in Radzyn.
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