by Avigdor Stano (Steinhardt)
In recalling our old native town Michalovce we also bring up, with a holy terror, the memory of those Jews who were part and parcel of the Jewish congregation like The still hat, Mendel Galik, the congregational secretary known as Galik Notarish. He, as well as others who left a mark on the Jewish character, will be recalled in this book. I recall with a holy reverence also our Jewish teachers.
I refer to the time when there was not yet in the town a Talmud Tora, namely an official Elementary School with uniform. The committee of the congregation took care to provide the Jewish inhabitants with an adequate Mikva, ritually fit for women, a first class circumciser, a good cantor with a sweet voice and sweet prayer, ritual slaughterers, butchers and other public commodities. But as for a Jewish education that was each father's private interest. Let the fathers worry about this. This was none of our interest and concern. The fathers, in fact, cared for it. However difficult it was for most of them to pay the tuition fee, there was not even one paternal home which did not see that Kadishle, and in many cases even his daughter, would attend one of the best Chaderim.
The first stage of the Jewish education and the first feeling of being a Jew was experienced in Itzkovitz' or Hecht's Heder. The former, Rabbi Aria Itzkovitz was a Jew of an average stature, level headed and tranquil and of much patience towards his pupils. Of his level was Rabbi Hecht, a tall energetic man with a rounded beard. He was gifted with the skill of handling the sacred flock which had been delivered to his hands. Those were the two experts from whom the greater part of us received the first elements of our Jewish career. There we began the Alef-beit.
Usually when a tachshit reached the age of 4-4 1/2, he was seized by his father, who disregarded his son's spiritual development or the necessary transitional stage of a kindergarten, and dragged to one of the above mentioned Chaderim. The bad smell of trousers which filled the room still rises in my nose.
The children wanted obviously to take revenge on their fathers for usurping them of their liberty so early but actually, punished their mothers who had to wash their trousers daily.
Of this sort of teachers was also Rabbi Feibel Steif, a lean tall Jew with blue eyes whose Cheder was in Ressler's yard. He was the tutor of fine young Hassidim. In his Cheder one started with the Alef Beit and passed on to Ivri, prayers up to several Humash verses. Having finished
one of those Chederim, one could move up to others, where more Humash and a little of Rashi or Bible were assigned. Now I can call to mind Rabbi Mordechai Steif son of Rabbi Feibel, Rabbi Kretzer or Rabbi Aharon Harussi who was the owner of a factory in the yard of Aichenboim, the first Zionist of Michalovce. Later, in Bar Mitzva due time, one came to the experts (the professionals): Rabbi Moshe Blau or Rabbi Jacob Itze Meller. They had one thing in common: a red beard. On the other hand they were essentially different. Rabbi Moshe Blau was neat, strictly dressed, a man of authority who introduced the maternal discipline, though without strain or nervousness. There one learned a good portion of Humash with Rashi, a proper page of Gemara with Rashi, a little bit of Tosefta and, for the Bar Mitzva, also the address. His approach was serious, he carried out his mission accordingly and took care that his pupils would obtain good results. Every morning we collected a minian and thus he permitted us to pass near the Ark of Law. He paid special attention to the Jewish history, to the Bible and even to Hebrew orthography.
Most of the townsmen used to graduate those two Chaderim. At the age of 14-15 they started to learn a profession, to be a fine craftsman or a witty merchant. Another part dedicated itself to various faculties of universities like medicine, engineering or law, for which other preparation than the knowledge of Alef-Beit or Raba was needed.
Those who preferred to continue their studies of the Gemara, to be exact, those whose fathers wanted it, could do it at one of the best Yeshivot of Central Europe or in the townlet itself, at the Yeshiva of Rabbi Yona Zvi Ponfader.
On the side street Sholovska, in a little hut in Rabbi Isaac Alfent's yard, there bubbled the spring of Talmud. A famous and celebrated former Yeshiva principal, a wise scholar, married a wealthy maid, or let's better say, married a rich proprietor of Komonovitza, near Michalovce. The proprietor acquired two nice bridegrooms to his daughters, as a rich and pious proprietor could afford: The Yeshiva principal of Uns-Dorf, Rabbi Yona Zvi Ponfader and Rabbi Zrilka Friedman, a learned and sharpwitted man. Later, when this father in law was summoned to the next world, his property passed away. The two idlers who had been spending weeks in learning the Gemara in a six square flower bed could not naturally hold a hundred acres land under their control. Thus, they deserted it and moved to the townlet. And what could an idler live on? On the
Yeshiva! Rabbi Yona Zvi Ponfader originated from a nice Jewish family in Oberland Yalanta. He was the only child of a textile merchant. Being deficient of any Rabbinical ancestry, he could not get an appointment as a Rabbi in one of the big congregations in spite of his vast knowledge of Talmud and religious literature. Because of his tendency to pursue Talmudic studies he did not want to engage in trade, a field which was below the dignity of this Jewish scholar. Therefore, to be able to occupy himself with the Bible and sustain his family, he opened a Yeshiva (as the verse says: Without the study of Law there is no Seemliness).
He was a Jew of an average stature and had an outstanding red beard which was as large as his shoulders. He used to remain within four cubits of his house which was always full of books, among them some very rare. There he taught from four o'clock in the morning till eight o'clock at night, in winter as well as in summer. He was not only a tutor, but also a scholar who found much joy in self tuition. He was very pious but not fanatic, and those were two qualities he demanded of his pupils. His attitude towards Zionism was not warlike. In those days when the Kozaks fought the Zionists to the bitter end, he represented a rather mild point of view. He did not encourage Zionism but was not fundamentally against it.
In his Yeshiva one learned Talmud with all the interpretations, an uncommon thing in the big Yeshivot. He knew to create a tension in learning and it seemed that his pupils were pushed by an unseen force of limitless possibilities. In case there was an outsider in his Yeshiva, he used to explain quietly and calmly: if you don't want to learn you don't need to, but don't sit here among us in vain. You waste your father's money as well as your dear time. You could learn a profession in the meantime and assure yourself a future.
After some years of studies, a boy was ready to resume his studies in the finest Yeshivoth. His main export was to Tarnova Yeshiva which was conducted by his close friend, Rabbi S.D. Ungar who was the chief Rabbi there. He needed not be ashamed of his products, because among the 220-250 Yeshiva boys in Tarneva his pupils formed the elite of the group.
Let us mention for example some of the best heads: Rabbi Shie Rubin, Meir Goldberger, Hershle Shwartz, Mordechai Farkash and so on. (The editorial board knows of Avigor Steinhardt). They were all a good example of Rabbi Yona Zvi's instructive ability.
But what happened to a Yeshiva boy? We agree willingly with Rabbi S.D. Ungar's witty remark that such a boy could become anything but a pious Jew
by Dov Lahav (Blau)
Jews, get up for Slihoth, the beadle's call convoked the tenants of the street. In darkness you could hear then, the hurrying steps of Hassidim, Yeshiva boys and craftsmen who came from all over the townlet.
Life resumed its course in the street.
All the rivers pour to the sea and all the town-Jews pour to the Bath-House street. There was scarcely a minian of houses in that street. In its edge stood the Bath-House. The Jewish congregational institutions, the slaughterhouse and a stand for kosher meat. Nearby was the Labortz, the cruel stream which marked the border and in which the water streamed quickly. All the town citizens flooded to this river to watch its wonders.
Many events happened near the river. There I grew up and developed, there I fished on the Sabbath and there I glided on the ice when its water froze and looked like a mirror with clear water, full of fish underneath.
We watched the river when the snow melted and huge bulks of ice dashed down to the ice breaker which protected the bridge where we stood, watching the flood tide of water overflowing the banks and inundating the area. Whole houses with their owners were swept by the flood together with trees that had been uprooted and fishermen's' boats, left in time by their owners. When the storm had calmed down, young girls went out to wash their clothes gayfully. Moshe Itzik, the water dragger, went up and down the wooden steps fetching water to break the street tenants' thirst.
The street was busy by day as well as by night, in summer as well as in winter. When the Days of Awe came, the Jews, dressed in their best clothes and upright, went to throw their sins and redeem them with mouth full of prayer songs which still clung to their tongues in the synagogue.
Mothers dropped tears which fell like drops into the sea. Little children
who could have scarcely sinned, threw bread crumbs at the fish which were having their own feast and came in big groups.
Thus it happened each year.
Mendle, the blacksmith, splashed sparks from the heated iron seized by his pincers, while the beatings of his hammer added dim sounds to the street tumult. Yankle, the tinsmith mended roofs for winter, the shoemaker mended shoes for the street children who intended to learn the Bible by wise Rabbi Moshe. Sheie, the tailor, sewed with great dignity clothes for children. A peasant led two oxen and a cart full of geese, tired of stuffing, to the market. Other Jews ran about to secure a matza for Sabbath.
Thus it was but is not any more. However, the memory of the street I grew in, will live in my mind forever.
by Hermann Spira, Tel Aviv
The suggestion to found a Kadima Hashomer movement in Slovakia was brought up by Shapiro in one of the conventions of the Zionist movement (1922). He received on the spot the appropriate material and, upon his return home contacted with Herman Sebastian and Eda Weinberger who were ready to take an active part in the works of organization.
The movement consisted , in the beginning, of 16 members. A short time later, a club was opened in the flat of the tailor Vasershtrum, who was happy to be a witness of the Jewish Renaissance.
Our way was strewn with many obstacles, placed by the orthodox and the assimilators. We soothed the former when we declared that our members should, by no means, violate the holiness of the Sabbath, and won their confidence. The assimilationist gave up too. Thus had we become a serious factor in the Jewish life in Michalovce.
We organized theatrical performances and trips. We formed a group of girls and charged Mrs. Kelti with its direction. We also formed a football team which attained good results.
We held a library which contained, among other books, some on Jewish subjects. Our dramatic club and our balls attracted hundreds of
spectators and thus were we able to hand more than 10,000 crowns to the Keren Kayemet LeIsrael.
Many of our members emigrated to Israel and are of its most prominent founders.
by Anus Gregor (Hexner)
In 1928 I moved with family to Michalovce. I inquired whether any Zionist movement existed there and was informed only of the existence of a Girls Association. Later, I was told by Fried that here was place to hope that a Zionist movement including girls, would be formed. In the end of some months he informed me that the Hashomer leadership imposed on me the instruction of the girls within the framework of the movement. I declined at first because of my poor background but Issac promised to provide me with the adequate material: books of Dubnov, Babel and articles which I read and prepared.
The girls came. We organized conversation evenings, trips and literary processes. Every Sunday we visited the training centre in Medov where we tried to be as useful as possible. The conditions, the dwelling and the quality of products were very bad, as often it was with agricultural workers in the state. The girls who were responsible for the housekeeping were inexperienced. Anu, who accompanied us sometimes to the place, was unable to disregard the situation and took the regiment under her control. In winter the situation was worse. The hard work out-of-doors and the penetrating cold harvested many sick. The boys could stand it and in their absence from work were replaced by others. But the lack of girls complicated the situation and so even the sick girls continued to work.
Nathan's arrival marked a new stage in our activities. The girls were not allowed to attend the nest. Martha Weinstein had to hide lest she would be found by her grandmother who promised to bead her back if she found her there.
by Mori Farkash (Ben Ze'ev)
Some social and geographical changes came upon Europe in the beginning of the twentieth century and in the end of First World War. In Russia, it was the Bolshevist Revolution. The ideology of Marx was prevalent in that period and captured many, especially the youth which was fascinated by its promise of human salvation. The Austro-Hungarian monarchy dissolved and some other countries appeared on the map of Europe. These geographic changes gave birth to new, progressive forces. Side by side with the general national awakening, the Jewish nation won the Balfour Declaration (1917).
The economic crisis of the post-war period and the high rate of unemployment brought many to think about emigration to the U.S. and Canada. But the famous crisis which overwhelmed the U.S. in 1929 blocked the entrance for more new comers.
The theory of Borochov teaches that the Jews are the first to be hurt in any economic crisis. It was verified by reality this time too. The Jewish youth stood before the dilemma where to go. Should they pursue the old course and engage in traditional occupations? Should they join their fathers and build their future within the family concerns? Or should they, with the collective efforts of all the family try a free profession like that of a doctor? There was a great demand for free professions but on the other hand studies in the various Yeshivot promised too an honest and feasible standard of living. These calculations were based on the presumption and the Jewish confidence that the crisis would pass and that no harm would befall the Jews.
In the meanwhile the Michalovcean students brought home, on vacations, a new message for the various solution-seekers, the message of the automancipacy of the Jewish nation, the Zionism. The Veinberger brothers, Moshe Schwartz and others found the Shomer Kadima, creating thus a frame for an activity amid the youth.
But the founders of local Hashomer Hatzair nest did not suffice in scouts' games with a Zionist background. In Israel land the pioneering collective settlements developed to a considerable extent. Bilu-days revived, and in addition to the plough the pioneers undertook to pave roads, drain moors and build up new settlements.
But it was necessary to let flourish the human aspirations with which everybody was infused. The youth had to dovetail it with its general Weltanschauung. The merging of the Jewish question with the Social idea was
a vital necessity to the Michalovcean youth and therefore, Furst's suggestion as to the non-politicalness of the movement was turned down. All our hours were devoted to study Judaism, Hebrew and the theory of Socialism. We organized also trips.
In the pre-historic period of the movement, we were visited by Chilek who sowed and cultivated some ideals. He defined for us the essence of the movement and cultivated the idea of self-realization. To this visit we attributed the reawakening of our movement, a reawakening which infuriated the religious circles. Another front was opened by the Jewish section of the local Communist Party, which was called the read assimilation. This circle considered us a rival which succeeded in infusing the youth with nationalistic theories, under the cover of revolutionary socialism which had nothing in common with the Marxist socialism and was designed to convert the youth from the world-wide socialism. One would think that the essential activity of the Communist party branch was conversion. Unfortunately it succeeded here and there.
As to us, we widened the horizons in the adult layer, founded the educational group in the Scout-layer, whom we acquainted with the collective movement in Israel and set out like the Israeli Tribes to wander in the deserts, with the young layer.
Side by side with the educational work we considered as most essential, the individual assignment. Freud's theory of Psychoanalysis served us a tool in our approach towards the men. In this way we learnt their problems and were able to lend them a hand. To many members, the nest became a warm home which replaced the real one.
The aid to the Keren Kayemet LeIsrael, was one of our most important activities. The collection of money was seen from the ideological point of view. Thus, passing through the educational cultivation and the manifold public activities, we arrived at the essential aim of the movement: training for emigration. Our first members set out for Kibutz A (Shaar Hagolan) and Kibutz B (Kefar Masaryk).
The Jewish public who treated us at first indifferently, changed its attitude and began to listen to our lectures. In speaking of the understanding and the appreciation of the public I have to remark the endless help and devotion of Mrs. Gleich who maintained eagerly the Zionist realization. She was very popular and thanks to her help we saw many doors open before us. She shared all our ideological scruples and all our experiences. Every campaign was prepared at her house. She was a deep thinker and
knew to advise and summarize. Her name is recalled with love by all the members and will always be remembered with deep feeling and admiration.
The rise of Hitler brought about an awakening in the world Jewry in general and in the Slovakian Jewry too. But nothing real resulted out of it: The Jews sufficed in silent revolutions and protests. They did not doubt that the trouble could reach them.
Different was the reaction of the youth. Part of it saw the Fascism as a world-wide problem and joined the Communist International. The Hashomer Kadima members made up their mind to follow the youth layer of Hashomer Hatzair and emigrate for settling down. The adults among the members established an Hechalutz branch and an Ma'apilim Society was organized as a part of a kibutz in that name which joined Gan-Shmuel Kibutz. In the end of some months they went for training and many live with us here.
In that period we drew to our circle Dr. Libia, of the blessed memory and Dr. Goldstein, may he live a long and happy life. We succeeded by mutual efforts to found the League for Working Israel which was presided by Dr. Goldstein.
My story ends with my emigration to my present kibutz, Gan-Shmuel.
Mori Farkash (Ben Ze'ev)
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