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[Page 107]

Cultural Revival in the Epoch Between the Two World Wars

 

Brina Botchka

Hebrew Courses and Renewed Zionist Activities

A very small number of people could have a realization, fifty years ago, that our people must think, speak and live out its life culturally in its own national tongue, Hebrew. Some reckoned that this is simply impossible. Others that we must speak in the language that our diaspora gave us, Yiddish. There were only a few fanatics who fought all these opinions and agitated for the teaching of Hebrew.

The first one in Ciechanow was Shmuel Yaacov Cohen. One who was learned in Torah and with enlightenment ideas. He organized the first group who were also Zionistically inclined. In the group were: Gershon Mlovsky, Tankhum Makover, Vaveh Burstein, Chaya Milner, Rivka Robota, Dvora Kviat, Bryna Kviat, Moishe Kviat, and others.

The first problem was – a location. Our group was greatly pursued, particularly by the Hasidic circles, and it was therefore difficult to get premises, so we met in our house. My mother Z”L, showed great sympathy for our need.

In the beginning the group was satisfied to work on itself. We organized discussions about Strindberg, Max Nordau, Peretz and Bialik. Dvora Kviat brought much life into our group. She had come at that time from Lodz and for a time was under the personal influence of the great writer, I. L. Peretz, but Shmuel Yaacov Cohen could not make peace with the idea that the only aim of our group should be its limited work, and he pressed for the opening of Hebrew courses on a large scale.

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A struggle started between him and Milner, who leaned towards the Bundists, but the majority of our group agreed with Yaacov's suggestion.

Various difficulties did not allow the plan to materialize. Since the Hebrew classes had trouble getting started, some of our members started to study privately, some by Gershon Mlovsky, some by Shmuel Yaacov Cohen himself. He had to resign from his teaching because he did not have the pedagogical ability.

Studying together drew us even closer together toward the Hebrew language, so that we used it at every opportunity. Shmuel Yaacov Cohen went even further in this thinking and tried to present our group as the first flag-bearers of the Zionist thought. It was decided to organize readings for the youth regarding Zionism. But how was this to be done? And once more we helped ourselves.

Our dear member, Chaya Rivka Robota, put her place at our disposal. At that time this was considered very dangerous because every gathering was forbidden by the Russian authorities. The readings attracted new members. There came: Fela Drezner, Raizl Shtutzke, Ita and Sorah Lala, Chaya Trombka, Finkelstein, Dorkeh Rosen, and others.

The main lecturers were Milner and Vaveh Burstein. The entire group was led by Shmuel Yaacov Cohen. Discussions took place as to what themes the readings should be on. Milner for general themes and Cohen for specifically Yiddish ones. And once more the majority supported Cohen.

With the outbreak of World War I, new needs arose for work in the community. Provision for homeless, protecting the population from epidemic illnesses, arrange food-kitchens, etc. Our group played an active part in this communal endeavor.

Soon a Hebrew school was organized. The Zionist Organization started it. The old dream of Shmuel Yaacov Cohen was realized. We immediately took advantage of the opportunity and started evening courses under the auspices of the teacher Khinich. The evenings when we were learning were the best of our lives. Yehudit Butche distinguished herself in these classes.

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In the courses, the teacher told us about the achievements of the Jews in the Land of Israel, starting with the Biluim, until the present yishuv. We studied Jewish history and this made ripe for us the idea that we must be the new pioneers of the yishuv in the Land of Israel. We decided to join the General Zionists as a separate body.

At the first meeting I gave the opening speech in broken Hebrew. I was not surprised at the poor impression my unpolished language made, because every Hebrew word that I uttered filled me with joy. We proclaimed the program of B'not Tzion (Daughters of Zion) that stated:

“Our aim is to prepare the Jews of the diaspora for the building of the Land of Israel and providing the pioneering core for this.”

Our work bore fruit. Let some names of the older generation be mentioned here, those who helped us with the first Zionist activities: Reb Ephraim Perlmutter, a learned Jew. He was already quite old but he showed much understanding of the youth. His room was always full of “enlightened ones” (maskilim) who wanted to hear a new word from him.

A group of his medresh boys approached us with a request that we admit them to our circle, with the condition that we change our name to Hafkhiya. There were: Asher Mantzki, Wolf Butzka, Yaacov Tziekhanover, and Yechiel Trombka. The group brought a new energy to our activities. Soon we acquired books and set up a library.

Our influence in Ciechanow started to be felt.

 

The Mizrachi Organization

At the end of World War II, when the Balfour Declaration was announced, the Jewish masses in Poland became strong supporters of Zionism. The religious Jews also started to get closer to Zionism. That's when the Mizrach was organized in Ciechanow.

Rov Bronrot, who was the Rov in Ciechanow at that time, was one of the four founders of Mizrachi in Poland. It was through Rov Bronrot that the Mizrachi was established in Ciechanow.

Religious Jews of Ciechanow grouped themselves around the Mizrach. The first of the religious Zionists were: A.D.Vinditsky, Shlomo Rubinstein, Dovid Lakh, Skurnik, Shlomo Gotfried, Shlomo Brenner, Aharon, Shmuel Burko, Henekh Sokolover, Avraham Laib Berk, Avraham Gotfried, Henekh Goldman, Shimshon Noymark, Binyamin Bronrot, Moishe Makover, Herschel Misher and Yekhiel Friedenberg.

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The first meeting place was by Noach Grub. When the party grew, the organization went over to the home of Shlomo Rubinstein. There the party grew in all its activities; its own bais hatfilla (house of prayer) was established; evening classes were started, lectures on serious subjects, money was collected for J.N.F.

At the first conference of the Mizrachi in Poland two delegates attended from Ciechanow: Shlomo Rubinstein and A.D. Vinditsky.

Besides the general activities of the Mizrach in Ciechanow, special care was given to religious education that had to be adjusted and brought up to date. The Mizrachi leaders wanted to have such a school that would educate the children in Torah with respect. Worldly/secular enlightenment education that should not lead to a break-away from religious Judaism, love of Israel and knowledge of the Hebrew language.

The Mizrachi people themselves did not yet have a clear educational program, but the desire was to educate a religious youth, suited to the modern time, and that they should be able to be chalutzim in the historical land of our people. With this program there was established in Ciechanow a Cheder Mizrachi (a Mizrachi School). Moishe Kirshenbaum was the director. He was a wise, learned man, knew the Hebrew language; and the executive of the Cheder were: Herschel Misher, Shlomo Rubinstein, Natan Skurnik, Yekhiel Friedberg. A special teacher was brought from Warsaw. His name was Shore.

Unfortunately, this cheder lasted only two years. The Mizrachi, still a young organization at that time, did not yet have a sufficiently intelligent pedagogic force. The teachers who taught in the cheder came from the personnel of the Povzekhners.

Rov Bronrot, who saw that it was too early to conduct their own school, used all his energy to reorganize the Talmud Torah. He brought in melamdim (teachers) who had pedagogical abilities and were able to suit the teaching to the times in which we were then living. The melamdim who began to teach at that time were: Zachs from Warsaw, Shultz from Makow, and the famous Rabbi Shlomo Zalman. The already-mentioned cheder school was changed into a place of Hebrew courses and Judaism learning for children of the povshekhneh schools.

[Page 111]

In the year 1926, the Mizrachi went for the first time to the Kehillah elections, in a block together with the General Zionists. At that time the first democratic Kehillah election took place. The main strife was between the Agudah and the Zionist block. From the Mizrachi there were elected at that time: Natan Tzeitog, Dovid Lakh, Shlomo Gotfried, Brenner and Henekh Goldman. During the election for the Kehillah executive the Zionist block got in touch with the artisans (hand-workers). The Mizrachi candidate, Natan Tzeitog, became the Kehillah president.

In 1930 the Mizrachi already went to the Kehillah elections with their own list. At that time the Agudah won. The Mizrachi only got one mandate at that time, Dovid Lakh.

One of the most important activities of the Mizrach in Ciechanow was the spreading of the idea of buying land in the Land of Israel. Rov Bronrot, together with a group of Mizrachi entrepreneurs, led in management of three purchases in Ciechanow, and many Jews paid down hundreds of dollars for this purpose. Yoel Weingarten, the well-known Agudah active member also participated in purchasing at that time.

Those concerned placed much hope on these purchases. Unfortunately, they could not raise a sufficient sum and the purchase could not be made in what is today the city of Rehovot.

After the defeat in the elections of 1930, the Tzirei Mizrach (young people of Mizrachi), started to organize. The leader was Michael Shaft, a young man with much Jewish knowledge, a refined man and a respected householder. He had an influence on the religious youth. He brought together the first group of Tzirei Mizrach, including: Pinhas Friedman, Natan Bronrot, Yaacov Bronrot, Simcha Fuchs, Dovid Blumstein, Moshe Trombka, Leib Gotfried and others.

They rented premises on Warsaw Street. There a club was opened, with a reading room, chess, etc. Every Friday evening there was an Oneg Shabbat. The Rov would give shiurim (lessons on holy scripture). Michael Shaft also gave lectures on Talmud, Tanach etc., for a long time.

Then a new initiative started for the construction of a new Mizrachi School called Yavneh. The Tzirei Mizrachi brought teachers from other cities. From Pietrkov came Levinovich, a founder of Kfar Etzion (he died in Israel's War of Independence). A shul was established in the Yavneh school, for the parents of the children. The Yavneh school did not develop on a grand scale, but it existed until the outbreak of war.

Thanks to the teachers in the Yavneh school, the group of the Mizrachi was strengthened. The young people organized a group conference in Ciechanow, sent delegates to conferences and participated in all Zionist work. The Tzirei Mizrachi, with Michael Shaft at its head, created additional institutions such as Bait-lekhem, a soldiers' kitchen, and others. The organization had a broadsheet that contained very interesting material. In 1936, Mizrachi won at the Kehillah elections and had two mandates. The Kehillah then went over to Zionist hands.

Reb Shlomo Rubinstein and his wife occupied an important position in the Mizrachi movement. He devoted his free time to the movement as well as money and energy. Every national religious Jew found, in his home, a warm home and an open heart.


[Page 112]

Zisha Berko

Activities of the Right Poele Tzion

After the split in the Poele Tzion movement into right and left, that took place in the year 1921 at the Vienna conference, nobody believed that it would be possible to create a party of the Right Poele Tzion in Ciechanow. The Bund had an influence on the workers. There was a Hashomeir Hatzair organization in Ciechanow at that time, but children from middle-class homes belonged to it, and the organization concerned itself mainly with sport. In spite of this we started to organize a party of Right Poele Tzion.

The organizers of this movement were: Yishakar Berko, Dovid Gogol, Laibl Srebnagura, Chaim Lala and the writer of these lines. The first location of the

[Page 113 - upper]
Group of Right Poele Tzion
Group of Right Poele Tzion

Picture Index

[Page 113 - lower]
Hechalutz Hatzair's first group
Hechalutz Hatzair's first group

Picture Index

[Page 114]

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[Page 115]

Second group of Hechalutz Hatzair
Second group of Hechalutz Hatzair

Picture Index

Poele Tzion was in the house of Yishayahu Robota, on the Yiddishe Street. We started Hebrew courses that were led by Isaachar Berka. A large Zionist Socialist education program was carried on through lectures, special evenings, and readings.

I made aliyah to Israel in 1929. The activities of the Right Poele Tzion carried on. According to the news that I received, the movement grew a lot. The organization of the young Poele Tzion was founded, Freicheit (Dror). The Poele Tzion party went independently to the elections of the Kehillah and brought in its representatives. In various community institutions Poele Tzion chaverim were active. Through their initiative a Hachshara was established in Ciechanow.

Amongst the last active members of the party of the Right Poele Tzion, I remember: Nachum Melman and Yaacov Borokhovich. Other chaverim were also active but their names are not known to me. They did not live to see the day of the realization of their Zionist socialist ideal and perished during the German destruction of the Jews.

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