by Mina Kroshnitz (Faivishevitch)
Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer
Most of us were children of poor homes. The burden of making a living weighed heavily on our parents and made them old before their time. It stole their joy of living and caused them endless worries. My father and mother would often sigh, and sadness gnawed at their heart. Only on the Sabbath, holidays and on joyous occasions would they be relieved of their worries and harsh thoughts. Then their spirit would be ennobled and uplifted, and a bright smile could be seen on their faces.
Of course, their moods would be conveyed to us their children. Our childhood joys would be extinguished under the worried look of our parents.
We were young, however, and that was our greatest asset. We clung to our youth and drew happiness from it as if from a well.
The Tarbut [Culture] school, where we received an elementary education, was a bright home for us. The teachers, almost without exception, were cordial and good, and although strict, they were our educators and guides. They got us involved in Zionist activities: throwing a few grush into the Keren Kayemet [Jewish National Fund] collection box, and taking part in other JNF activities, which made us aware of belonging to the camp of builders of the new Land of Israel. Singing songs in school of the new pioneers and reciting poems of our national poets deepened our nationalistic feelings.
It was therefore only natural that we should be members of the various Zionist youth movements which existed in our small town, mainly Hashomer Hatsair [Young Guard], which was the most important educational youth movement in our small town as well as in all the surrounding towns and villages.
The Tarbut school also served as a local chapter for the cell. We were given a few rooms where we would meet and conduct our activities. Who can today, after so many years, transmit so much warmth, joy and hope which our local chapter gave us?
Various sayings of an educational nature spoke to us from the walls, which were decorated with pictures of personalities and national heroes who were an example for us of how to live and serve our people. We would make different kinds of chains cut out of colored paper with which to decorate the rooms so they would be prettier and more attractive. The cell was the beautiful home we dreamed of.
In the evening, we would listen to talks by educators and group leaders: Motte Kivelevitch, Haim Sonenzon, Hillel Shmulevitch, Gittel Movshovitch and Moshe Persky. After every talk, we would comment on what we heard and, on many occasions, the talk would turn into an argument. These talks broadened our view of life, opened new horizons and strengthened our spirit.
Later, we would sing for hours on end, song after song, without stop. Oh, how many songs we knew by heart! Every song left its impression and effect. Here a slow, dreamlike melody makes us yearn for the lovely nights of Canaan and for the Jordan River, which murmurs its secrets in the stillness and here a vigorous melody stormily bursts forth with a resounding echo, Yula - Yulala! We can no longer sit in one place; hand in hand, arm in arm, we start dancing with fervor and enthusiasm until we fall down exhausted, dripping with sweat.
[Information from Allen Katz: Middle row kneeling 4th from right - Greta Katz (nee Jankelowitz)]
One of the most enduring memories was taking part in a training course [colony] during summer vacations in the area of Nalibak by Lake Kroman.
For us, the colonies were the first step towards independence and training for the collective settlements, the first stage which prepared us for pioneering life in Eretz-Israel [the Land of Israel].
During our stay in the colony, we put into practice the scouts' command: we lived in the lap of nature, came into contact with the forest and its creatures which we came to love. We also loved one another and we saw ourselves as children of one family.
We would dig a depression in the ground for a place to sit and make an earthen table in the middle. We would sit around the table until late at night and sing. Later, we would light bonfires, dance around the fire and sing:
We sing songs around the fire,
The night is dear
We're not getting tired
We would return home from the colony burned from the sun and wind, well rested and with renewed strength for the coming school year.
Friday night: Sabbath candles burn on the table. The little flames flicker and move as though they would like to be living creatures. The family sits around the table: father and mother, my little sisters and little brother. There is often a Sabbath guest whom father brought home from the synagogue.
Father makes kiddush [sanctification of the Sabbath over a cup of wine] in a loud voice. He has a pleasant voice which is a delight to hear. Father generally enjoys singing a good piece of cantorial music. And he puts a lot of feeling into the kiddush. We respond in chorus: Amen!
When we've finished eating our Sabbath supper and have waited for father to recite the grace after meals, we quickly leave the house. It's more crowded in our chapter's cell than it is all week. You can hardly get in. Tonight, a meeting of the whole cell is taking place with the representative of the National Defense, who has come for a visit.
The guest talks about the situation of the Jews in Poland, their lack of rights and lack of expectations. He tells about the achievements and activities of the movement in Palestine and about the tasks and duties of the Hashomer Hatza'ir youth. We are proud of our movement and with the responsibility which we bear for the destiny of our people. At that moment, we are prepared to make the greatest sacrifices for our people and country which is meanwhile more a dream than reality.
After the talk, we stand in rows in the schoolyard, group by group, level by level, for the closing ceremony of the formation of the guard. Then we hurry off to the Neiman River.
The river lies extended in the moonlight like a silver ribbon. A slight breeze combs its surface and brings out its beauty as if by magic, captivating the eye. We climb into rowboats. The vessels cut through the water and our singing pierces the deep stillness of the night.
It's already two o'clock in the morning. I quietly open the door and try to walk on tiptoes so as not to awaken those who are asleep. Father and Mother, however, having already woken up from the first part of their sleep, are lying on their beds absorbed in thought in the darkness. Their thoughts do not give them rest. Mother asks:
Mineleh, is that you? What time is it?
I answer quietly, hardly audibly:
Yes, it's me. It isn't late yet.
A big pot of carrot stew stands on the outer part of the oven in the kitchen. In the moonlight, I fill up a plate with stew, a cow's foot and a small piece of challah and sit down to have a meal The taste of the stew passes to all the limbs of my body. I chew the food quickly and the plate is soon empty.
Without forgetting to brush my teeth, I take off my jacket and white blouse with the blue Hashomer Hatza'ir necktie and get into bed. It doesn't take long and I fall soundly asleep.
In a dream, I see the Jordan River and the mountains of the Holy Land with a bright blue sky above. No one can be as happy as I am.
I've had this dream for so many years and feel comfortable with it. It's good to dream even when you're awake.
by Chemda Simchoni (Movshovitch)
Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky
In memory of my sisters Shayna and Eshka and my brother Yosef - members of Hashomer Hatza'ir
In Lubtch there were 3 youth movements: Hashomer Hatza'ir, HeChalutz and Betar.
I will especially write about Hashomer Hatza'ir since I was educated in this movement and also was a leader there, and I knew it closely.
The Hashomer Hatza'ir Group in Lubtch was founded in 1928; a long time after the Hashomer movement was active in the large cities. It had impressive achievements despite the fact that the town was distant from Jewish centers, its youth almost never met with youth from other cities, and organization of the youth movements in our town was started late. When the Hashomer Hatza'ir group was founded, it began to flourish, and the young people came to it gladly, since they were thirsty for social secular frameworks and for Zionist activities.
The ideas of the Hashomer Hatza'ir, that educated towards socialism, collectivity, Zionism, Hachshara [training farms in that region preparing for life on a kibbutz] and Aliyah [immigration to Eretz-Israel] charmed the youth. Wearing a uniform was mandatory, in order to equalize the poor and the rich. The spoken language was Hebrew, which we knew to speak anyway, thanks to the welcome activity of the Tarbut School in our town.
We didn't have experienced leaders. We acted daringly and even with youthful passion, and we educated the younger ones amongst us with much devotion. Today it is hard for me to understand where we derived the courage to act and teach when we were not even 18 years old.
From time to time, an older member from the provincial administration (Hanahagat Galil), from Baronovitch would visit us; during these meetings the group would celebrate, everyone came in wearing white shirts, songs were sung with much gusto and called for awakening and self-realization. The singing was followed by a discussion centering on the ways of the Movement, on life on the kibbutz in Eretz Israel, on the Hachshara and on the Workers Movements.
The Movement succeeded in bringing the youth (some of whom had never left the town limits) together with youth from other towns, by organizing joint summer camps and work camps which formed the basis of Hachshara groups and Aliyah groups.
It was not easy to convince the parents, who were traditional, to allow their children to go to the camps. A young person who left his house was considered to be going to a bad culture. We had to go from house to house, explaining, promising and lobbying until the parents consented, even with a heavy heart full of worries.
The youth - they too were anxious and excited in anticipation of the meeting with the unknown, and with a heart full of hope awaited the future: for changes in their way of life, for the revolution in values of life, while wishing to realize the ideals that they had been educated towards in the Movement.
The first meeting of the Lubtch group with members of the group from Nelivoki took place by the Kromanitza. This meeting made our hearts beat, we set up a camp in the nearby forests, we sang songs of longing for Zion and danced around the bonfire, which inflamed the youth with feelings of friendship and desire to live shared lives.
A determining meeting for graduates of the Lubtch group was a meeting with the Baronovitch graduates: there the idea of self-fulfillment and aliyah to Eretz Israel ripened.
The importance of the youth group was that the youth, who previously lived in an atmosphere of generations of torpor, was awakened to search for new ways; the apathy disappeared, they left the yeshivot in order to learn a trade and to work in productive occupations; they began to look for new paths, in order to change the existing ones and many made aliyah to Eretz Israel.
The Hechalutz Youth Movement
The HeChalutz Youth Movement was aimed at young people who were older than 18 years old.
The graduates of Hashomer Hatza'ir also joined the HeChalutz Movement, despite the fact that they were younger than 18, because they could not wait to make aliyah to Eretz-Israel and their turn to make aliyah was hastened in this way.
Sitting from right to left: Moshe Bakst, Avraham Leibovitch, Mordechai Kivilivetch, Y. Bresslavsky, Leah Osherovsky, Bilka Zalikovsky.
Standing: Chaim Yankelevitch, Leibeh Kivilevitch, Simchah Chaimovitch
Hashomer Hatza'ir and HeChalutz succeeded so well in installing the desire of the youth to make aliya, that many of the HeChalutz members that did not get certificates left for Eretz Israel as tourists and remained there illegally. Others arrived as illegal immigrants by different schemes.
The Beitar Movement
I cannot expand on Beitar in our town as their Guidelines by which they acted in the movement were completely strange to my way of thinking. I was a fanatic for the ideology of my movement, and not interested in Beitar, which basically was against the Workers Movement.
The Beitar Movement was active in Lubtch, it succeeded in attracting a group of young people from the town, and gave them a completely nationalistic education, in the spirit of the Zionist-Revisionism of Ze'ev Jabotinsky. They also underwent army training (without weapons). At some stage a Hachsharah kibbutz of Beitar was set up in Lubtch, to which youth from different parts of Poland arrived. The kibbutz fought hard for its existence economically and was eventually forced to close down.
It is a pity that only a very few individuals from this movement, youth of our town, succeeded in making aliyah to Eretz Israel.
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